National Hug Your Cat Day

Copyright 2012 by JS Stephens

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Disclaimer: all original characters, not meant to resemble anyone living, dead, or in any other state of being.

Chapter 1

“So there really is a national ‘Hug your cat day'?” the small boy asked the librarian dolefully.

“Yes, although sources disagree on the actual date. Some say May 30, others say June 4,” she explained gravely.

The boy sighed heavily, then turned to his sister. “You were right.” He brightened, adding, “But you're still a booger brain!” She stuck her tongue out, and would have probably replied, but their father rescued them, ushering them to the children's section.

Martha Cox had heard the question and waited for the response. She smiled to herself, bending back over her laptop as she contemplated her proposal for web maintenance services for a new client. When Martha first took the unexpected step of free-lancing after years in a corporate setting, her friends were shocked, but it had turned out to be a good decision.

She had initially conducted all of her business from home, but found it too still. Although an introvert, she enjoyed having people nearby, even if she never interacted with them. The public library and the coffee shop made perfect places to work, with people milling about. The library had the bonus of her favorite table near the reference desk, where she overheard many interesting queries that the librarians fielded with ease.


Martha was still smiling over the whole idea of a “hug your cat” holiday when she packed up her laptop and files later that day. She waved to the librarian on duty, then swung her briefcase over her shoulder and headed out into the gathering dark. The ginger-haired woman pondered her dinner choices briefly, then decided on one of her usual places, a sandwich shop with a salad bar. The decision of salad vs. sandwich could be made when she arrived.

The web designer was fairly pleased with her life. She was in her late 30's, was healthy, and had no long term debt. Her friends would describe her as quiet and attentive, measured in speech and rarely given to impulse. Her thick ginger hair was cut in a conservative straight bob, her eyes a muddy green, and her figure sturdy. She was, as one friend said, “Not plain, not ugly, not stunning, but just medium.” Martha was secretly tickled at the description, since it was pretty true.

She pulled into a parking place, hid her briefcase in the trunk, then went into the shop. “Salad, for sure,” she decided as she went to the counter to place her order. As she waited her turn to pay, she noticed a small sign at the register, “Rescue Society - this Saturday at Pets R Us. Kittens and cats available for adoption. Adoption hours 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.”

“You gonna see about a kitten?” the cashier asked, noting Martha's perusal of the sign.

“Probably not,” Martha chuckled, “I haven't had a cat since high school.” She handed her card to the teenager, waiting for her to ring the sale. “Have a good evening.”

“No problem,” said the cashier, motioning for the next customer.

Martha built her salad, smiling at the thought of hugging a cat. She didn't know why this amused her so much, maybe it was that her last cat, Mr. Grumpy, never let anyone pick him up. He was a cranky old man, with ears notched like a gunfighter, rarely letting anyone outside the immediate family even approach him. But Mr. Grumpy shared her bed for twelve years, then died shortly after her high school graduation. She thought of his soft gray fur, his buzz saw purr, and his thumping tail. “Ah, I still miss you,” she thought.


Martha meant to only go to the office supply store, but found herself walking next door to Pets R Us after purchasing paper and ink for her printer. She stashed her purchases in the car trunk, then wandered into the pet store. It was bedlam, as might be expected on a Saturday morning, with kids running up and down the isles. She wandered closer to where the Rescue Society had stacks and stacks of cats and kittens in traveling cages, unwillingly making eye contact with some of the fine felines.

Now, Martha rarely made any rash decisions. Marrying Sam was one, and that proved to be a disaster. They barely made their first anniversary before calling it quits. The second rash decision was taking the buyout at work and starting her own business, which had proved to be a good decision. The third rash decision was staring her in the face.

The tag proclaimed that the cat's name was Regina, and that she was a spayed two year old female. She had been found abandoned after a tornado ran through a neighboring town, and her owner never claimed her. Martha read the description, then shifted her gaze to the stately black and white cat.

“Regina,” she said, trying the name out loud. The cat blinked slowly, as if acknowledging her name. “You sure are a pretty cat,” Martha said, “so your owner never claimed you?” The cat blinked again slowly, then stood up and stretched regally, front legs first, followed by hind legs, then ambled up the the front of the cage. “You do fit your name,” Martha chuckled.

“She is rather regal,” a woman said behind her. Martha stepped back in surprise, bumping right into the woman. “Hi, I'm Linda Meyers.”

Martha babbled, “I'm, uh, Martha. Martha Cox. I was just looking. I mean, Regina came over and I, well, just looking.” Martha made herself stop babbling, looking into beautiful grey eyes. “So, these cats are up for adoption?”

Linda smiled gently, dimples showing in her tanned cheeks. “Yes, would you like to see Regina? The store has meeting rooms for prospective owners and pets, and one just opened up.”

“That would be delightful,” Martha said, forcing her attention back to the cat. Regina flicked the tip of her tail, gravely considering the humans. Martha smiled, loving the cat's majestic presence.

“Follow me, Martha, and I'll bring Regina in a moment.” Dazed, Martha followed Linda into the room, sitting gingerly on the bench. She watched the dark blonde woman leave the room. Martha took a deep breath, wondering if she were crazy. Agreeing to see a cat? Was her little house even safe for cats? Would her furniture be safe? Why was she so intrigued by Linda's voice and eyes?

“Here we go,” Linda say, setting the carrier on the floor. She shut the door of the room and opened the carrier door before sitting next to Martha on the bench. Martha was aware of a light scent of sunshine, cut grass, and soap coming from Linda, then wondered why she noticed. “Regina, you may come out now.”

Regina mewed once, then ambled out of the carrier. The beautiful cat ambled around the room, carefully sniffing everything before launching herself onto the bench. Martha held her breath as the cat coolly assessed her with brilliant jade green eyes, then walked over to butt her head against Martha's arm. Martha cautiously held out fingers for the cat to sniff, then, receiving permission from the cat, gently stroked her black head.

Regina's fur was silky soft, black on the head and down the back, with white cheeks and a white belly. Her legs were white, with irregular black patches, but her paws were all white with delicate pink pads. Her medium length hair was just right, and felt wonderful under Martha's fingers. As Martha grew bolder with her caresses, Regina responded with a hypnotic purr that vibrated through her body. Martha relaxed, and Regina melted into Martha's lap, partially closing her eyes while purring louder.

“I've taken Regina to several shows, and you're the first person she's responded to like this,” Linda said quietly. Martha nodded, still mesmerized by the cat's purr. “Are you considering adoption?”

“Yes,” Martha replied, “I am. Regina, do you want to come home with me?” The cat blinked slowly, which Martha took to mean yes. “Then what do I need to do to adopt her?” she asked Linda.

“Paperwork, interview, and payment,” Linda said, “although I can start the interview right here. I don't think I have to worry about you two making a match,” she chuckled, reaching over the stroke the blissful cat.

Martha felt a light shock when Linda's fingers grazed hers as the blonde stroked the black and white cat. “Um, interview?” she asked tentatively. Linda smiled, launching into a series of questions about Martha's qualifications for pet motherhood, her living conditions, and her willingness to keep up regular vet visits. Martha answered in a daze, wanting to make a good impression on both the woman and the cat, who was now sound asleep on her lap. Linda concluded the interview with, “You qualify, Martha. Regina, how about we put you back in your carrier so your new mom can fill out the paperwork and get some supplies for you?”

Nearly an hour later, Martha was heading for the checkout line, having purchased food, bowls, cat bed, collar, brush, litter supplies, and other necessities. Linda went with her to make sure she didn't leave anything off, and was about to head back to the area where the rest of the cats were when Martha asked impulsively, “Would you like to meet for coffee sometime?”

Linda smiled, dimples deepening in her cheeks. “I'd love to, Martha. In fact, why don't we meet tonight at Uncle John's? Great coffee, good food, and live jazz. Say, 7:00 so we can chat before it gets loud?”

“Sure,” Martha agreed, “I know where Uncle John's is located. I'm looking forward to it.”

“See you tonight,” Linda said, waving as she walked away. Martha found herself smiling in response, then turned her basket to the line. Regina meowed once, as if approving her plans, from her carrier. “I am being rash,” Martha chuckled to herself. She could have sworn that Regina smiled at her.


Linda arrived a few minutes before 7:00, hoping to scope out a good table before Martha arrived. She guessed right, though, when she saw that Martha was already there with a table staked out. She smiled at the other woman, calling out, “Hey, you beat me here.”

“I wanted to make sure we had a good table,” Martha explained. “Do you want to get your coffee first?”

“No, you go ahead. I'll be ordering a sandwich as well, since I forgot to eat supper.”

“Oh.” Martha paused. “I guess I could get one too, I was too busy getting Regina settled to eat. So should I go first, or let you?”

“Go ahead, I'll hold down the fort,” Linda said, smiling at the redhead. She watched Martha stand up and weave her way through the milling customers, timidly approaching the counter. “There is something about this woman,” she thought, “and I intend to get to know her better.”

A few minutes later, Martha came back to the table with her coffee and receipt. “Your turn,” she announced. Linda stood gracefully, wending her way through the gathering crowd. She placed her order, then slipped back to the table with her mug of coffee, pile of napkins, and silverware. “Oh, I didn't know we needed to get our own silverware,” Martha said uneasily.

“Relax, it's not that obvious. But don't worry, they will bring our food to us,” Linda said, propping her chin in her hand. “So, Martha, what did you do with the rest of your day?”

Martha took a moment to gather her thoughts, tapping her chin with one long finger. “Well, after I left the pet shop, I took Regina home. I unloaded her stuff, set up the food and water bowls in the kitchen, and the litter box in the laundry room. It has an unused area under some shelves, so it's pretty much out of the way. I introduced her to where everything was, then let her get accustomed to the house while I caught up on emails and bills. By the time I was finished with that and changed clothes, it was time to leave. Regina alternated between hiding under the bed and sitting on the futon in my office. How about you?”

Linda sipped her coffee, reveling in the dark roasted goodness. “I stayed until nearly 3:00, filing paperwork, rounding up unadopted cats, talking to volunteers, then drove the van back to the rescue shelter. By the time we'd unloaded and I checked the van keys in, I didn't have much time to take my daily walk and get showered and dressed for tonight. It appears that I just managed to do so.”

The food arrived, and the two hungry women fell to serious eating before resuming their conversation. Soon they had demolished their meals and were on their second cups of coffee. Martha asked, “So, what do you do for a living? You know from my application that I am a free-lance web designer.”

“That's right, we haven't discussed that,” Linda said, grey eyes sparkling with mirth. “I am the office manager for a veterinary clinic in town I was originally with a CPA firm in town, but got tired of the long hours, and one of my friends was a vet in the practice. She asked me to be the office manager, and I jumped. I love it, I work fewer hours than I had as an accountant, and I get to play with all sorts of animals.”

“That sounds so wonderful,” Martha said. “So, do you have a web site?”

“Yes, we do, but come to think of it, we could use some advice on modernizing it. Care to take a look sometime?”

“Sure,” Martha enthused, eyes sparkling. Linda suppressed a smile, delighted that she had hit Martha's passion. They discussed the site for a few minutes, then fell quiet as the jazz combo entered the stage.

Hours later, then women left the coffee house, lingering at Martha's car. “Hey, I really enjoyed tonight,” Linda said, “why don't we get together again soon?”

“Really?” Martha blurted out, then blushed. “I mean, okay, if you like to.” She stopped, unsure how to continue.

Linda smiled, dimples playing in her cheeks. “Yes, really, it's rare that I meet someone as intelligent and genuine as you are, Martha. Do you like flower gardens?”

“Yes, I do. Hey, there's a special exhibit at the botanical gardens next weekend, maybe we could do that,” Martha said quickly. She pulled out a worn leather card holder, extracting a business card. “My numbers and email. I usually answer pretty quickly.”

Linda took the card, then dug out her own card holder. “My card.” She smiled, handing it over. “I'll call next week, see how things are going.”

“Okay.” Martha suddenly looked uncertain. “Do you think Regina is okay, being left alone for so long?”

Linda smiled. “I'm sure she's fine. Go home and just be with her. She's a good cat.”

“Oh. Good night, Linda.”

“Good night, Martha.”

Chapter 2

Martha spent all day Sunday puttering around the house, doing laundry and light cleaning. After lunch, Regina decided that she approved of the little house and followed Martha around, offering occasional comments. “I'd take you outside with me,” Martha said at one point, “but I don't know if you'd stay in the yard.” Regina simply meowed, but didn't offer to escape.

Chores completed, Martha sat down to watch a movie at her desk. She'd downsized when she was laid off, and had sold her TV, surround sound system, and DVD player, replacing it all with a better computer monitor that could handle HDMI from the cable box. She popped the disc into her laptop, then settled back in her chair. Midway through the movie, Regina startled her by jumping in her lap, settling for a snooze. Martha smiled, glad she'd made the decision to adopt the black and white cat. “You're more loving in less than two days than Mr. Grumpy was his entire life,” she confided as she slowly stroked the cat's silky fur.

Regina sat in her lap until Martha had watched the movie and a couple of the extra features, then stood up and stretched. Martha flinched as the cat flexed her paws, just grazing her with sharp claws. “Ouch, Regina, you have lethal weapons there,” she said. Regina turned and head butted her chin, causing Martha to melt. “But you are sweet,” she agreed, petting the cat. “Okay, what should we have for supper? You'll have cat food, of course, but I need something. Maybe a light salad. Come on, let's see what's left in the fridge.” Regina jumped out of Martha's lap, preceding her human into the kitchen.

Human and feline settled in for a light supper, watching the birds flittering around the flowering shrubs outside the breakfast nook window. Martha was contented for once, her usual urge to do something productive while eating stilled. “You are a beautiful cat,” she said, watching Regina as she watched birds from the window ledge. “I'm glad you came into my life.”

Regina turned and meowed, then went back to bird watching. Martha chuckled, glad that no one else was here to hear her carrying on a conversation with her cat. She rarely spoke unless talking to a client, so sometimes she felt like her voice got a little rusty on weekends. “So,” she said, “should I be bad and get one of those chocolate chip cookies, or be good and just have more iced tea?” Regina turned, regarding her with jade green eyes. “Right, you don't have all the answers. I'll just have to take the cookie and go for a longer walk in the morning.”

Martha got up and went to the cookie jar, helping herself to a couple of small cookies. Should she pour a glass of milk to go with them? Nah, that would require too much extra walking in the morning, she decided. “What do you think of Linda? I sure had fun last night.” Martha sat back in her chair at the table, nibbling a cookie. “I used to go out with my co-workers one or two nights a week, but I almost dreaded it. Don't get me wrong, Regina, I really liked them, but I'm not the boisterous type. They always wanted to hit happy hour at some noisy bar, and I'd rather have a quiet dinner with one or two people, so we can talk and have a chance of being heard.”

“Meow,” Regina agreed.

“Yes. Uncle John's was a little loud when the jazz combo got warmed up, but it felt so different. I enjoyed talking to Linda, I felt comfortable with her.” Martha nibbled her second cookie, marshaling her thoughts. “I mean, she really seemed interested in more than how many drinks she could have and still drive. We were in a coffee house, but they also served drinks.” She paused, thinking. “You know, I think I'll call her this week for lunch. It's time I made new friends. What do you think?”

“Meow, meow,” Regina said wisely.

“Thanks for your opinion.” Woman and cat fell silent, each lost in her own thoughts. The cat sat, watching the world outside her window while the woman gave in to her need to do something and got up to clean the dishes.


Linda finished the last of the bills, then glanced at her clock. Nearly 4:00, she'd finished early for a Monday. She pulled out Martha's card, tapping it lightly on her desk as she considered how to contact the intriguing woman. “Introvert, a little shy, but very likable,” she murmured. Maybe an email would be best. She grabbed the mouse and opened a new email window, typing in Martha's address. “How is Regina?” she typed in the subject line, then in the body, “Just checking. BTW, it is National Hug Your Cat Day, so give her a hug for me.”

“Good start,” Linda told herself. “Okay, new paragraph. I enjoyed Saturday night and would enjoy meeting for lunch some time. What is your schedule like? Mine is sometimes erratic, but I can usually get away by 1:00 or 1:30. Let me know at your leisure. Linda.” She clicked send, then leaned back in her chair, stretching her back. “Worst thing about a desk job is sitting at the desk,” she grumbled. George, the brown and tan Maine Coon office cat, meowed his agreement.

George ambled over, leaping effortlessly into her lap. She petted him while thinking about where she could meet Martha for lunch one day this week. There were several good restaurants nearby, but she wasn't sure what Martha's budget was like. Her favorite was a local Italian place that served the best pastas with great wines. Maybe wine wasn't for lunch, but dinner some night?

“Linda, I have a question,” a brown-haired vet said, poking her head in the door. “Did I startle you?”

“No, I always jump when you call, Carol. Come on in and take a load off.” Linda motioned to one of the chairs in front of her desk. Dr. Carol Jones was one of the younger veterinarians, a favorite with children who came in with their pets. The small, curvy woman had a smile that lit up a room, a musical laugh, and a sunny disposition. “What may I do for you today?”

“Well, I'd like to talk to you about a conference that's coming up. It's only a few hours' drive, so we wouldn't have to shell out for airfare. I've been seeing more cats with heart murmurs, and there's an excellent speaker on the topic on this conference.”

“Okay, do you have estimates for how much your expenses would be?”

“Of course.” Carol pulled out her tablet and tapped rapidly. “I'd already prepared it. Check your email.”

Linda turned to her computer, opening the email and glancing through it. “I think we could handle this. Did you have anything else you needed to talk about?”

Carol grinned. “No, but do you have something to talk about? I walked by a couple of times this morning, and saw you smiling. Who is she?”

“Woman, you know me too well,” the office manager replied. “But I'm not sure which way she swings.”

“So? If I weren't married, I'd be tempted. You just have that magnetic personality, that charm, that-”

“Stow it, Carol,” Linda laughed, “you know darn good and well you'd never leave Doug for me. He's willing to change diapers and take the kids to school, and I'd gag just at the diapers.”

“The kids are past diapers, my dear, and it's not much different from litter boxes.”


Carol smirked. “So tell me about her. Where did you meet? How many dates?”

Linda sighed. “We met Saturday morning at the rescue. Her name is Martha, and she's a web designer. She adopted Regina, or, I think Regina adopted her. She's not my usual type, quiet, introspective, but great conversationalist when you get her talking. It's rare these days to talk to someone who remembers all about depth of field and f-stops on 35 mm cameras, and which brand of film was best.”

“Ah, not the usual young chick who is just looking for a good time?” Carol needled the older woman.

Linda frowned. “Now you know that I'm not that way, Carol. I just dated one woman too young for me, and I got rid of her pretty quickly. I swear I didn't know that she was barely out of college. No, you are right, I usually want someone more high energy, like me.”

“But you don't know which way she swings? Any tingles in the radar?”

Linda laughed at the mixed metaphor. “She was briefly married, she said. It doesn't matter which way she swings, I think we can be friends.”

“So Regina took to her? I thought we'd never get that cat adopted, she never did want to go to anyone.”

“Carol, Regina took to Martha immediately. It was love at first sight both directions. I think the cat was waiting for someone who is quiet and undemanding.” Linda smiled, remembering watching cat and woman together.

“Then this Martha must be a good person. Regina is a very astute judge of human character,” Carol agreed.

“That she is. So I've just sent Martha an email, seeing if she wants to meet for lunch some time. We went to the cafe for dinner and music Saturday night, and I know I enjoyed it very much. I think she did too.”

The vet raised her eyebrows. “Okay, this must be serious, you've never taken a date to Uncle John's before, only close friends.”

Linda leaned back in her chair, tucking her hands behind her neck, staring at the ceiling dreamily. “It just seemed right.”

Carol laughed, then stood up to leave. “I have more appointments. Tell me later if I can go so I can send in my registration. Good luck with this one.”

“Thanks.” Linda smiled, thinking of places she could take Martha. Yes, this should be a great start to something good.

Chapter 3

Martha read the email three times, the last time out loud. “Well, Regina, what do you think?” she asked the black and white cat.


“You're right, it's just a lunch invite.” Martha pulled up her calendar on her laptop, browsing the week. “I don't have any appointments on Thursday, so maybe we can meet then. I should have the Stateson project finished by then, and that's the only deadline for something new.” The redhead continued to peruse her schedule, clicking through on various to-do lists. “Thursday is pretty clear. I'll be in that part of town as well, since I'm turning in the project and will be just a block over.” The cat blinked wisely, then yawned and settled back for another nap.

Martha allowed herself a few minutes to ponder the lunch invitation. How long did Linda get for lunch? For that matter, was she on an exact schedule, or could she be flexible? “Me, wondering if someone is flexible,” Martha snorted. She did really like that Italian place, maybe Linda would be interested in it as well. Only one way to find out. Martha stared at the email for a moment longer, then pulled out her phone. “Do you think I can wing this without a script?” she asked the cat.

Regina continued snoozing.

Martha glanced at her clock, seeing it was nearly 4:30. Would it be too late in the afternoon to call? Only one way to find out, she admonished herself. Gathering her courage, she tapped in the numbers listed on the email and waited for the call to connect.

“Green City Pet Clinic, this is Linda. May I help you?”

Martha nearly panicked, forgetting everything she was about to say. “Linda Meyers?” she finally blurted out.

“Yes. Oh, Martha, you must have gotten my email, I'm glad you called.”

Regina lifted her head, then languidly stretched and sauntered over to Martha. She leapt into the woman's lap, lending a much needed calming presence. “Yes, it is Martha.” Martha started stroking the silky cat, feeling her anxiety ebbing. “I did read your email, and wanted to set up lunch plans this week. How does Thursday look for you?”

“Thursday actually looks very good, Martha, if you don't mind going for a late lunch. I usually cover for one of the receptionists at noon so they can all get their lunches in.”

“No, I don't mind at all, Linda. Are you familiar with the Italian cafe?”

“One of my favorite places. Do you want to meet me at the clinic?”

Martha took a deep breath. “Sure, I'd love to. I guess I could fill out paperwork to get an account set up for Regina while I'm there.”

Linda chuckled. “You could, that's true. All right, I'll see you on Thursday. I'm looking forward to seeing you again, Martha. Tell Regina hi for me.”

“I will do so. See you on Thursday at 1:30 at the clinic,” Martha affirmed.

“Cool. Bye.”

“Good-bye.” Martha disconnected the call with a shaky finger, laying her phone on the kitchen table. “I have a lunch date,” she announced to Regina. Impulsively, she hugged the cat, who responded by swarming up and laying her head on Martha's shoulder. Cat and human sat like that for a bit, then Regina decided it was time to jump down. “I have a lunch date. Oh, God, what will I wear?”


Thursday started off pretty badly. Martha had a call at 6:15 AM with a client yelling about his web site being broken. Martha tried to log in to the control panel, but ran into a message that the username and password were invalid. Stressed, she checked several other accounts with the same web host, but all worked. She went to the site itself, only to be greeted with a message that the entire site was down.

Several hours later, she finally tracked down the issue. The owner had neglected to pay his annual hosting fee, so the company shut off access to his account. Martha hated dealing with this type of problem, but managed to get through to the client's accounting department and convinced them to push through an emergency payment to restore services.

This almost made her late to her presentation, but the knowledge that she would have lunch with Linda helped her get through without mishap. Well, without many mishaps. When she arrived at the Stateson Company offices, she was greeted with the news that their entire network had crashed just ten minutes before. This meant no computer services at all. “I'm prepared,” she reminded herself as she followed the assistant to the conference room.

Martha always brought her own laptop as well as paper copies of any presentation, so she was still able to show them the proposed upgrades to their web site. By the time the meeting was over, not only did she get the renewed contract, but she also got referrals to two other prospective clients.

Success in hand, Martha strode into the pet clinic, looking for Linda. She saw her behind the counter, talking quietly to a distraught older gentleman. Martha couldn't hear what they were saying, but gathered that something had gone wrong. She saw Linda lay a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently, then handed him a small dog collar. He stumbled past Martha on his way out of the building, tears streaming down his face.

Linda noticed Martha sitting quietly in the waiting area and motioned for her to follow her to the back offices. “Lordy, what a day,” Linda said when they arrived in her office. “Have a seat for a moment, I need to enter something in his record. I hope your day has been better.”

“I'll tell you over lunch. What happened?”

Linda sighed as she logged into her computer. “That dear gentleman had to bring his beloved little dog in to be put to sleep. His dog was nearly eighteen, and was developing a rapidly growing cancer, so he made the decision to be humane and end the poor dog's life. It was his last connection to his dear wife, whom he lost two years ago this month.” She typed rapidly, then saved the file. “So, lunch. Are you ready?”

“Yes, I am, Linda.” Martha followed the tall, willowy blonde down the hallway, nearly crashing into her back when Linda stopped abruptly. “I'm sorry, I wasn't watching,” she babbled.

“No damage,” Linda chuckled, turning slightly. “Martha Cox, meet Dr. Carol Jones, one of our vets. She did Regina's check up before we took her to the adoption last week. Carol, meet Martha Cox, Regina's new mom. We were on our way to lunch.”

“Delighted to meet you, Martha,” Carol said, smiling and shaking Martha's hand. “Regina was one of the most beautiful cats in our rescue. You should feel lucky, she didn't respond to just anyone. Bring her back in a few months for a follow up, will you?”

“Um, okay. Nice to meet you, Dr. Jones.”

“Just call me Carol. I'm off to see another patient, so you ladies have a wonderful lunch.” The brown haired vet flashed a brilliant smile, then hurried on down the hall. Linda smiled, thinking of her earlier conversation with the vet.

Martha followed Linda out of the clinic and down the street, slowly relaxing. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she missed the door to the cafe, causing Linda to gently take her arm to steer her the correct direction. The office manager's hand was warm through her sleeve, and she irrationally missed the warmth when Linda removed her hand. “Sorry,” Martha mumbled, blushing at her faux pas.

“Not to worry, my dear,” Linda replied as they picked a register line. “I've run into light poles before because I was thinking about something else. I've had the bumps and bruises to prove it.”

“Really? I thought I was the only one to do that sort of thing,” Martha replied, relaxing a little. She turned to look at the menu posted overhead, deciding on one of the pasta combos.

Moments later, the two women found a cozy table near a bay window, overlooking a small flower garden. Linda smiled at Martha, asking how her day was. “I guess better than the gentleman who lost his poor dog,” she replied, reaching for her tea.

“Well, my day is definitely better now,” Linda said, eyes twinkling, “just seeing you makes it better.”

Martha found herself blushing at the comment, ducking her head to try to hide her reddened face. “I admit I've been looking forward to lunch all week,” she mumbled.

“What a coincidence, so have I,” Linda said. “So, how about your day?”

Martha took a bite, chewing slowly to gather her thoughts. Swallowing, she finally replied, “I guess it would be boring to you, but it was nerve-wracking for me.” She described hunting down the issues with the web host for one client, doing a presentation with printouts, and managing to snag additional referrals. “So I guess the day turned out better than I expected, and now I'm here with you.”

“So their network crashed before you got there. You know, I never thought about printing out my presentation just in case the equipment didn't work, but you also had your laptop.”

“Yes, I try to be belt and suspenders, as my grandfather always said. Their projector was also on the fritz, so the paper was a good call on my part. One of their admins finally found a monitor so I could hook up my laptop to show some of the features, but I had to wing most of my presentation.”

Linda swirled a bit of bread in sauce, popping in into her mouth before observing, “You don't like it when plans go awry.”

Martha sighed, wiping her mouth. “No, I don't.” She looked anxiously into kind grey eyes. “Most people tease me about my control issues.”

Linda reached over, lightly patting Martha's hand. “I won't tease you.” She smiled. “Well, I might tease you, but not about that. My brother has always been the same way, needing rules, schedules, control. Today he'd probably be diagnosed as having a mild case of Asperger's, but we just thought of him as Jimmy.” She smiled gently. “I bet you had to screw up your courage just to go to lunch with me.”

“Yes, I did, and it's not a reflection on you,” Martha blurted out. “I just don't always understand social situations.”

“I can tell,” Linda said, still covering Martha's hand. “And I am a social butterfly. Well, my dear Martha, you can feel safe with me. I understand, but that doesn't mean that I won't push you a little to expand your boundaries.”

Martha pondered this a moment, finally saying softly, “I'd like that, Linda.”

Linda pulled her hand back, relaxing in her chair. “So, how is our Regina? Did you give her a hug for National Hug Your Cat Day?”

The ginger-haired woman smiled. “Yes, and she actually responded well. Linda, she laid her head on my shoulder, it was so cute!”

“I'm glad Regina has taken to you, Martha. Any lingering issues with her? She didn't trust any humans for the first few weeks in the shelter.”

“I'd have trouble trusting anyone if I'd lost my home to a tornado,” Martha mused. “No, no issues, but I'm having to learn how to be a good cat mom. I haven't had a cat in about twenty years, so I'm learning. Of course, Regina is helping. She lets me know when the litter needs to be scooped, when it is dinner time, when she needs fresh water, and when she simply needs to play. She loves my breakfast nook, I have a window seat that she has declared as hers. Good view of the back yard. We've discussed me adding a bird feeder so she'll have something to watch.”

Linda smothered a smile as she picked up her drink. It sounded like the cat had life well in paw, so to speak. Regina had pretty much ignored all attempts on the part of rescue volunteers to be friended. Maybe the cat had been waiting for just the right person. “I'm free this weekend, maybe we can go birdhouse shopping,” she found herself offering.

Martha's dark green eyes lit up with hope. “You'd go shopping with me?” she blurted out.

“Sure, why not? If you're not too busy, we could make a day of it. Meet for brunch, go look for a birdhouse or two, then take it from there.” Linda waited to see how the proposal went.

Martha pulled out her phone, absently tapping icons to check her calendar. She looked up, smiling shyly. “My Saturday is free. When and where do we want to meet?”

Linda almost said it didn't matter, but remembered how Jimmy needed structure and exact scheduling. “We could meet at 9:30 at the diner on Main. The prices are good and servings generous, and they serve really good coffee. There's that big home improvement store nearby, or the smaller local hardware store. Sound like a plan?”

“Sure,” Martha answered, immediately adding it to her calendar. She put her phone away, asking, “You don't mind going with me? I don't even know if you have a house or what.”

“No house, just renting an apartment near the clinic. I can usually walk to work, which I love. I've never felt like being pinned down by home ownership, which is one of the reasons my last girlfriend and I broke up. She wanted a house, I didn't. And she was upset when I left my high dollar CPA job to take over as office manager for the clinic.”

Martha looked up from her nearly empty plate. “You had a girlfriend? LIke a romantic one, not a friend one?” she asked curiously.

“Yep. That a problem?” Linda asked defensively.

Martha shook her head. “No, just curious. I haven't known many gay people. I mean, nothing wrong with that. Oh, crap, I can't really explain.”

Linda softened, smiling at the blushing woman. “Dear, it's okay. I don't have two heads, I just am attracted to women instead of men. I still like straight people, and I don't try to convert them,” she chuckled.

“I didn't think you did, Linda. Was taking the office manager's position risky?” Martha asked.

Linda blinked, trying to follow. “Oh, financially? A little, perhaps. I took a huge cut in pay, but then again, my expenses have plummeted. I've been at the clinic for five years now, and it has kept growing the whole time. So, didn't you take a huge risk as a free-lancer?”

“Yes. It was terrifying.” Martha pushed her plate aside, leaning forward. “I'm not one for taking huge risks, so going out on my own was a big step for me. So far, I've been able to pay my bills, put aside money in a retirement account, and work my own schedule. The worst part was figuring out the taxes, but once I had a system going, that wasn't so bad.”

Linda nodded. “You're lucky that you're so organized. I can't tell you the number of small business clients I had who were so wrapped up in their day to day operations that they neglected their tax filings. I did a lot of tax work, but after twelve years, I got so burned out that I jumped at the chance to leave.”

“How did you get the job?”

Linda smiled. “I'd started volunteering for the cat rescue, and became friendly with one of the vets. She mentioned that the practice she was part of had grown big enough that they needed someone to manage the business side, but they weren't sure how to describe what they needed. I offered to come evaluate their needs, and she accepted. After spending time with everyone and writing up a job description, they asked if I'd just take it. So I did, and that was the excuse my girlfriend was looking for to break up with me.”

“You mean she hung around while you were making money, but left you when you took a cut in pay?” Martha asked indignantly.

“Martha, you are really something,” Linda chuckled. “Yes, although things had been going downhill for quite a while. My crazy hours during tax season didn't help, but when I was suddenly home at a reasonable time, it cut into her party time, and meant we weren't going to be able to afford the big house she wanted. So she moved out of our townhouse, and I moved as soon as the lease was up. So tell me, what happened with your husband?”

Martha sighed, rattling the ice in her glass, glancing at her watch. “Um, I guess you could say not compatible. So I was relieved when he admitted having an affair with someone at work, and we agreed to divorce. My parents were upset, since Sam and I had been friends since junior high, but it was for the best. I've stayed friends with him all these years, and am friendly with his wife.”

“I see. Well, it's getting later than I thought, but I had a good time, Martha. So, we'll meet Saturday morning at 9:30 for brunch and birdhouse shopping. I'm looking forward to it.”

Martha shyly smiled. “Yes, Saturday morning. I will see you then.” She pulled out her wallet, counted her money, then uncharacteristically grabbed the bill. Linda started to protest, but Martha argued, “My treat. You can treat next time.” She handed the money to the waitress, adding, “Keep the change, miss.”

“Thank you. You ladies have a nice day now,” the waitress replied, stuffing the money and bill into her apron.

Chapter 4

Martha spent the rest of the day and the next day alternating between working and pondering. She'd known several gay men, but either didn't know or didn't recognize that she knew any gay women. It didn't matter, she liked spending time with Linda and looked forward to spending more time with her.

“What do you think, Regina?” she asked her cat. Regina replied by jumping in her lap, purring and rubbing her cheek on Martha's hand. Martha scratched the cat under the chin, eliciting louder purrs. “Linda's really nice, intelligent, and spontaneous. I'm smart enough, I guess, but no one could say I'm spontaneous. I like order, I like knowing my schedule, I like my life.”

Regina stood up so she could peer into Martha's eyes. “What are you trying to tell me?” Martha stroked the cat's silky fur, wondering why she hadn't had a cat before now. “I'm so predictable. Do you think Linda is okay with that?” Regina reached up, patting her gently with a paw. “I guess she is, or she wouldn't have made plans with me to go shopping for you a birdhouse.” Martha glanced at the wall clock. “All right, Regina, I need to get back to work. Break should be over.” The cat laid back down in her lap, continuing purring. “I guess I could work with you in my lap,” Martha said, reaching for her wireless keyboard.

She managed to get in the rest of the planned work before she allowed herself to start thinking about Linda again. Well, about friends in general. Aside from Sam, she'd had very few friends that she hung out with. There were the kids from her church youth group, but she rarely saw them outside of church activities. Sarah lived next door, but they didn't spend much time together after elementary school, when Sarah started made the school basketball team and moved in different social circles.

“Does Linda have friends?” Martha wondered as she closed out her work programs. “Surely she has a wide circle of friends she hangs out with, so why spend time with me?” She stood up, stretching, wondering what she would do for dinner. Regina jumped down from her self-assigned perch on the desk, following the woman into the kitchen. “Your dinner is simple,” she informed the cat, “I have to think about mine.”

Martha and Regina stood in front of the pantry as the woman pondered her choices. She could cook pasta and save some of it for later in the weekend, or open a can of soup, or forage in the fridge for salad fixings. She usually had a schedule she followed, but going to lunch with Linda had disrupted her routine. She finally chose simple, and pulled out a box of rice. A little rice, some chicken broth, a few strips of leftover chicken breast, some peas and carrots, instant dinner.

Martha cooked and continued thinking about Linda as Regina declined to wait, crunching her kibble. Martha realized that since she'd been laid off, she hadn't gone out with anyone much. At first, she saw her old co-workers every few weeks at happy hour, but that dwindled as some found other jobs and others moved away. She sometimes ate with clients or potential clients, but that was not social. She attended church and Sunday School, but most of the people her age were married with children. In short, she realized, she didn't have any social life. Maybe that was why she found herself thinking about Linda so much.


Saturday dawned overcast, threatening rain. Linda got up reluctantly, but started smiling when she remembered her date with Martha. She tossed back her covers, heading for the bathroom before continuing to the kitchen. She started the coffee, then grabbed the remote to turn on the TV in the living room. Her apartment wasn't large, but it was cozy. And not cluttered, like her ex-townhouse. She liked her little two bedroom apartment; one room for her bedroom, the other for her computer and books. Her living room was large enough for a sofa, coffee table, and TV stand.

Linda heard the coffee finish dripping, and went to retrieve her first mug of coffee for the day. She sank gratefully into her sofa, grabbing the remote to flip through the channels. She still had time before her shower, so she checked the news, weather, and sports while sipping her brew.

“Periods of heavy rain,” she mused, watching the weather report before flipping to the sports channel. “Wonder how that will affect our outing? Guess I won't convince her to go to the zoo today.” Linda smiled, thinking of her new friend, trying to imagine the web designer splashing through water puddles.

“Martha, Martha, Martha,” she said, smiling. “You are an enigma, and I'm going to figure you out.” She pulled her afghan over her legs, thinking. The ginger haired woman was interesting, and she had to admit that she was attracted to the sturdy woman. Not her usual type, she usually liked women who were more outgoing, more spontaneous, more sensual. But there was something lurking under the surface of the woman that caught Linda's attention.

Linda daydreamed while flipping channels and drinking her coffee, thinking about Martha. How Martha had captivated her while looking longingly at the black and white cat, Regina, in the pet store. She chuckled to herself as she remembered how the very aloof cat fell in love with the human almost instantly. Regina had ignored multiple people that day and other days, but had immediately taken to the soft spoken woman. Cats were usually pretty good judges of character, so Martha must be alright, she deduced.

“Crap, I'll run late,” Linda said, glancing at the cable box display. She turned off the equipment, swallowed the rest of her now cold coffee, and rushed to take her shower. If Martha truly was like her brother, arriving late would throw her off.

As it was, Linda arrived at the diner at the dot of 9:30. As she suspected, Martha was already there and had a table already. Linda felt her heart melt as she walked toward the ginger-haired woman. Martha caught sight of her and smiled shyly, offering a tiny wave. “Good morning,” Linda said as she sat down opposite of Martha.

“Good morning, Linda,” Martha replied, “it looks like rain today.”

“Yes, it does.” Linda picked up the menu that she knew by heart, just to have something to play with. “We can still look for birdhouses, and then maybe do something inside. That sound good?”

“Sure,” Martha agreed. “What is good here?”

Linda leaned over, pointing at Martha's menu. “The French toast is outrageous here. They use cinnamon swirl bread for it, and offer several choices of butter and syrup flavors. Pair that with scrambled eggs and peppered bacon, and you have a heavenly meal.”

“Is that what you are getting?” Martha asked, a little unsure.

“Yes.” Linda closed her menu as the waitress approached. “Good morning, Laura,” she said to the older woman.

“Morning, Trouble,” the woman replied, “Your usual?”

“Yes, and the same for my friend here. Laura, this is Martha, she recently adopted one of the cats from the rescue. Martha, this is Laura, best waitress in the joint.”

“Tell her the truth,” the woman cackled, scooping up the menus and leaving.

Martha raised her eyebrows in question. Linda sighed. “Linda is my great-aunt, and has called me Trouble since I was caught nearly burning down the barn at my grandparents' farm when I was eight. Laura was living at home that summer, and decided my name should be Trouble, and has called me that every since. But she's good hearted, and has been working here for the past, oh, twenty years or so.”

“I see.” Martha unrolled her napkin, laying it precisely in her lap, lining up her silverware to her left side. “You seem to know a lot of people.”

“I should, I grew up here,” Linda admitted. “I lived in one of those really nice townhouses near the mall when I was CPA, but after my ex moved out and the lease was up, I moved to my little two-bedroom apartment downtown.”

“I see.” Martha waited until Laura had laid their plates down and refilled their coffee mugs before continuing. “I live on the edge of downtown, in an older neighborhood. It's a small house, but I like it. Perfect for me and Regina.” She picked up her knife, carefully spreading the butter on the French toast wedges, then methodically pouring syrup over them. Linda watched, smiling. So much like Jimmy. “But we're still going to look at birdhouses.”

“We are at that.” Linda smiled blissfully as she took her first bite of toast. Excellent as always. “Oh, God, this is so good.”

Martha took a cautious bite, then a larger bite. She swallowed, then announced, “I like this. Thank you for recommending it.” She fell silent, devoting herself to devouring her meal. Linda enjoyed watching her friend as she tucked into her own meal.

The two women finished their meals, discussed where to find birdhouses, then decided to leave Linda's car and take Martha's while going from place to place. The threatened rain held off until they had walked into the first garden center, and then let loose with a roar.

They wandered up and down the aisles, looking at birdhouses, tools, plants, and anything else that caught their fancy as they listened to the rain pounding on the roof. Martha realized after a while that she felt comfortable with Linda, even when she casually put her hand on Martha's back to steer her down an aisle. Sam had done that constantly, and it felt possessive, but with Linda, it just felt soothing. She stopped trying to critically evaluate everything they looked at and simply enjoyed looking for the sake of looking.

Eventually, the rain stopped, and they wandered back down the aisle with birdhouses. Linda pointed out one that looked like a lighthouse, asking, “So what do you think of this one? Maybe a traditional birdhouse or feeding station, and this lighthouse? I like it.”

Martha looked at the birdhouse in question, pulling the package closer to read the side. She mentally calculated the cost of this birdhouse and bird feeder plus tax, then toted up her current financial status. She finally said, “I should be able to afford both, as long as we don't spend much else. How much is birdseed?”

Linda shrugged. “Hey, I can probably swing a bag of bird food, if you'd like.”

“You'd buy bird food for me?”

“Sure. Not a problem, Martha, all I ask is that you take a picture or ask me over to see them in person some time.” Linda was casual as she asked, aware that inviting herself over might not be the best thing to do.

Martha turned this over in her mind, then smiled at the blonde. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had anyone over, but the house was reasonably clean and tidy, so that shouldn't be a problem. Maybe it was time to have someone over. “Okay, Linda. Would you like to come over and help me hang them up? If the rain is finished, you can help me this afternoon.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Linda answered, quietly elated. “It sounds like the rain has stopped for now, want to get these and go somewhere else?”

Martha pulled out her phone, checking the radar before answering, “Okay. It looks like this wave of rain is over for a while.” She moved closer, pointing out the rain coverage to Linda. “See? The next wave shouldn't be here for a few more hours or so. Plenty of time to hang up the birdhouses.”

“All right,” Linda agreed. She waited while Martha carefully selected the best specimens of birdhouse and feeder, then reached for a bag of food, dropping it into the cart. “Let's get going,” she said, pushing the cart down the aisle. Martha nodded, following her toward the cash registers.


Martha had just finished hanging the new feeder and birdhouse as the heavens opened up, instantly soaking both women. They rushed inside, dripping on the kitchen tile. Martha's brain froze for a moment, trying to figure out what to do about the wet clothes. Linda smiled and asked, “Do you have any sweats we can wear while our clothes dry?”

The redhead blushed with embarrassment, not thinking of this herself. “Yeah, I think I do. I mean, I know have some. Stay there, and I'll get them.” She dashed to one of the bedrooms, then came back in a moment with towels. “Wrap up in this and follow me.”

Linda followed her to the master bedroom, where Martha had laid out two sets of sweats. Martha pointed to the master bath, saying, “You can take off your clothes in there and hang them on the shower door. I'll change in the half bath.” Without another word, she vanished with the green sweats.

The blonde office manager chuckled after the door closed. “Martha, you are so cute,” she said to herself as she walked into the bathroom. “My, nice tastes,” she commented. Someone had converted the old bathtub area to a large, glassed in shower, with multiple shower heads. Linda smiled, wondering if she dared take a quick shower to warm up. She decided against it, but allowed herself a brief fantasy of sharing the large shower stall with the ginger-haired web designer. “Bad girl,” she lightly scolded herself. She stripped off her wet clothes, hanging them in the shower, then toweled off before donning the navy blue sweats. “How did she know I love blue?” she asked her reflection in the mirror.

Dry and dressed, Linda walked back to the kitchen, where Martha was starting a pot of coffee and had laid out a plate of cookies. “Chocolate chip, my favorite,” Linda said, snagging one.

“Help yourself,” Martha said, amused. “Did you want to run your clothes through the dryer?”

“Sure, let me go get them,” Linda said, popping the rest of the cookie in her mouth. “Mmm, good.”

Martha watched the blonde, sighing unconsciously. “She's fun,” she confided to the cat, who was watching from the breakfast nook window. “She doesn't make fun of my need for order, either.” The cat sagely blinked, signifying her agreement.

A bit later, the clothes were merrily tumbling in the dryer, and Martha asked, “Would you like to watch a movie or something? I don't have a TV, but I have a large monitor in my office that you can see pretty well from the futon.”

“Sure, sounds like fun,” Linda agreed, curious to see the rest of the house. She picked up her mug and followed Martha back down the hall to the smaller bedroom. “Wow, this is cool!” she exclaimed, looking at the setup.

One wall had a futon, with bookcases on either side, filled with all sorts of books. Linda glanced at them, noting they were in order (naturally), and ranged from mystery to science fiction to reference to religion. The desk on the other side of the room had twin rolling cabinets tucked under the desk, and a hutch on top. The hutch had several well used computer and web reference books on one side, and multiple external hard drives on the other side. The return was on the left, and held a multifunction printer/copier/scanner and a small cabinet with various types of paper and envelopes in it. In the middle was a large computer monitor, with a laptop off to the left side, and a wireless keyboard and mouse tucked into a keyboard tray.

The interior wall had a closet that spanned the width of the wall, and the exterior wall had a double window, with a bench underneath it. Several boxes were neatly tucked under the bench. All in all, a neatly arranged room. “I like the layout,” Linda said, dropping onto the futon.

“Thank you,” Martha said, crossing over to the computer. She sat down in the office chair, bringing the laptop to life. “What would you like to watch?”

“Anything, I'm not particular,” Linda replied, curious what Martha would want to watch.

The web designer pondered a moment, then clicked open a window. She flipped through multiple files quickly, then stopped on one. “I confess, I'm a Julie Andrews fan,” she said, “and I love comedies. How about ‘Victor/Victoria'?”

Linda grinned. “One of my favorites!”

Martha queued up the movie, grabbed the small computer remote, then joined Linda on the futon. “Are you chilled?”

“A little.”

“There's a throw behind you, if you'd like to get it,” Martha said. Linda reached up and grabbed the dark brown fuzzy throw, draping it over their legs. Martha started the movie and leaned back. She felt oddly satisfied.

Halfway through the movie, Martha dozed off, her head leaning against Linda's shoulder. Linda was so engrossed in the movie that she didn't notice at first, but when she did, she smiled to herself. It felt natural to have Martha's head on her shoulder. She moved slightly, to get more comfortable, then took Martha's hand in hers. She heard a small sigh of contentment, and smiled broader. Regina wandered in, and Linda had the silly urge to motion for the cat to remain quiet.

Regina contemplated the women, then effortlessly leaped on the futon, settling next to Martha's legs. Martha snuggled against Linda more firmly as the cat stretched, then curled up in a tidy ball. Linda turned, lightly kissed Martha's head, then shifted her attention back to the movie.

As the credits started rolling, Martha woke up slowly, aware that she was leaning against Linda. She jerked up, heart pounding. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to lay on you,” she blurted out.

“No problem,” Linda said, blue eyes bemused, “I rather enjoyed it. But I would like to take this opportunity to visit your bathroom.”

“Of course,” Martha said, flinging the throw off their legs. She nearly fell down in her haste to stand up, looking around for the remote. Regina patted the small white remote, and Martha murmured, “Thanks, Regina,” and picked it up, clicking off the movie. She realized that she needed to visit the facilities as well, and fled to her bathroom.

Several minutes later, Martha ventured back into the office, where Linda was looking over her book collection. Her heart had slowed down to nearly normal, and she wondered what frightened her so badly. She stared at the tanned woman, confused by her urge to go wrap her arms around her. Martha had never been affectionate with any of her friends or family, much to Sam's chagrin. He was very physically affectionate, and she could not stand to be touched. But she not only had leaned against her new friend, but now wanted to hug her.

Linda turned, sensing Martha's presence in the room. She saw the confusion in the muddy green eyes, and felt her heart melt. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly.

“No. Yes. I don't know.” Martha admitted, “I'm not sure what came over me.”

Linda crossed the room, casually laying a hand on Martha's shoulder. “Are you freaked by physical contact?”


“Does this freak you out?” Linda asked, rubbing her thumb lightly against Martha's upper arm.

“Yes and no,” Martha admitted. “Is it wrong to like it?”

“No, sweetie, it's not wrong,” Linda answered calmly, “we all need affection sometimes.”

Martha looked into the quiet blue eyes, feeling some of her anxiety receding. She bit her lower lip, indecisive, then tentatively wrapped her arms around Linda's torso. She felt the other woman gently circle her arms around her, holding her lightly.

The web designer was confused and oddly soothed, trying to analyze the feelings, but finally just shutting down her thoughts. She sighed, scooting a little closer, feeling Linda tightening her grip. Martha shifted her arms a little lower, circling Linda's waist, letting herself just feel the warmth and coziness of the embrace. She closed her eyes, wishing she could stay in Linda's arms for a very long time. Finally, though, she pulled back, looking anxiously in Linda's face, hoping to see acceptance.

Linda saw the questions in Martha's face, and responded by smiling and bringing one hand up, lightly cupping Martha's cheek. “Better now?” she asked.

“Yes,” Martha answered, laying her hand on top of Linda's.

“Good. Sometimes, we all need a good hug,” Linda reassured her, “it's quite all right.”

“Okay,” Martha said, tension draining completely. She suddenly felt relaxed and tired, wanting Linda to stay, but also wanting to just go to bed and sleep hard.

“I'm sure my clothes are dry now,” Linda said, breaking the spell. “Thank you for a lovely day, Martha. I'll go get dressed and leave you now.”

“Will I see you again?” Martha asked.

“Most assuredly,” Linda said, dimples appearing as she smiled broadly. “I'd like that very much.”

Martha and Regina followed Linda out of the room, then headed for the bedroom to get dressed. A few minutes later, Martha went to the living room, where Linda was sitting on the couch, tying her shoes. “I really enjoyed today. I'm sorry I fell asleep on you.”

“I enjoyed today as well,” Linda answered, “and don't worry about falling asleep. You looked like you needed a good nap. Listen, how about I call you early in the week, and see about lunch or dinner again? Or do you want to send me your schedule?”

Martha thought a moment, then answered, “I'll email you my schedule.”

Linda stood up, and hugged Martha again. “I look forward to seeing you again,” she said.

“Me too,” Martha said, letting herself be hugged. She finally pulled back, escorting the blonde woman to the door, watching until she saw her car leaving the driveway. She shut and locked the door, then turned to the black and white cat, saying, “I really enjoyed myself. Regina, I might have a friend!”

Chapter 5

Martha gradually blossomed as she grew more confident in her friendship with Linda. Not only was she spending a fair amount of time with the office manager, she was learning to be a little more spontaneous. Her new found social confidence spilled over into her work life, as she found the courage to turn down low profit, time intensive projects, and concentrate on fewer, more complex, higher reward projects.

Regina also blossomed, learning to trust her human to provide more than food, water, and shelter. Regina slept near Martha every night, and appointed herself as Martha's helper during the day, chasing down paper wads, stray pens, and any twist ties that landed on the floor. She discovered that her human appreciated her services as paperweight, keeping a paw or tail on paperwork that might otherwise drift off the desk when the ceiling fan was running.

The cat also monitored her human's moods, knowing exactly when to jump in her lap and purr, lowering her stress level. She also delighted in laying in Linda's lap when the blonde woman came over, enjoying the way the human knew just how to scratch behind her ears and under her chin.

Life was good.


April Jacobs dropped by the clinic one Friday afternoon to pick up some medicine for her dog. As she paid for the medicine, she casually asked the clerk, “Is Linda around?”

“Yes, she should be,” the young woman answered, “Did you need to see her?”

“I thought I might say hi,” April said. The clerk nodded, and picked up the phone to call the office manager, explaining who was asking for her. She hung up, saying, “She'll be out in a moment.”

April stuffed the medicine and receipt in her purse, then wandered around the waiting room, looking at pictures while waiting for the manager. She heard a low voice ask, “You wanted to see me?” April spun around, grinning with delight, throwing her arms around the other woman. “I'm glad to see you too,” Linda said, pulling back. “What brings you around?”

“Heartworm medicine for Trisha,” April replied. “Damn, woman, you look good!”

Linda smiled, tucking a hand under April's elbow. “Why don't we go to my office for a moment and catch up?” She ushered the brunette back to her office, hoisting herself on the edge of her desk as April sat in the visitor's chair. “So, you show up again, eh?”

“Yes. I miss you, Linda, and the group misses you. Where have you been? By the way, you were absolutely right, Rita is the perfect woman for me. Trisha even approves, and you know how chihuahuas are about other people.”

“Great! I'm glad you two are getting along so well,” Linda said, crossing her arms over her chest. “How is the group? I've been a little busy lately.”

“Yes, we heard. Laura says that you've been taking a mysterious redhead to the diner most Saturday mornings. So spill the beans, girlfriend.”

Linda dimpled. “Well, her name is Martha, and she's pretty shy. I met her at one of the rescue adoption days, and we've been hanging out since.”


The manager frowned. “No, not really, she gives off mixed vibes. Like, she has no problem with me being gay, but doesn't show much interest either. She does hug quite well, which is something, considering she's like my brother Jimmy.”

“Introvert, scheduled, rules for everything, intellect out the wazoo?” April asked, laughing. “Jimmy's a nice guy, I would have gone for him if I leaned that way. So you found your opposite. What do you feel for her?”

Linda sighed, uncrossing her arms, standing up to pace. “I don't know, April. I really enjoy spending time with her, and she keeps me on my toes intellectually. She's the first woman I've met who really understands my passion for photography, and understands my need for more than a point and shoot camera. She's a free lance web designer, and quite a photographer in her own right. We've spent a lot of time visiting botanical gardens, zoos, parks, nature preserves, places like that. I've never been so relaxed around anyone, yet there's this tug. She's innocent in her need to be hugged and held, but I'm afraid I'm wanting more, but I don't now if she even knows if she's gay, straight, or bisexual. What do I do?”

April smiled, reaching to catch Linda's arm. “Do like you did with me, charm her. It sounds like she might be missing subtle clues, so you may have to just lay one on her one night.”

“Suppose it freaks her out, and I lose her friendship?” Linda asked, worried.

“That, my dear, is a chance you'll have to take.” April glanced at her watch, then stood. “I have to go, dear, but I wanted to invite you to the exhibit at the art museum. Bring Martha too, if you think she'd like it.” She fished a postcard out of her purse, laying it on the desk. “Details on the card. We'll meet at Sharon and Beth's house at 2:00, then go to the museum and decide on dinner afterward. Think Martha would like to go?”

“I'll check with her.”

“Good. I look forward to meeting her,” April said. She patted Linda's cheek, then kissed her lightly. “See you Saturday.”

“We'll see.” Linda watched April leave the office. They had dated briefly after Linda was single, but decided they were better as friends than lovers. April had introduced her to a group of people who appreciated art and music, often going to museums, galleries, and concerts. Linda realized that April was right, she'd spent so much time with Martha that she had neglected her other friends. Would Martha want to accompany her? She took a deep breath, then sat down and reached for her keyboard.


Much to Linda's surprise and delight, Martha agreed to go to the museum with her, and to meet her friends. When Linda picked her up, she was surprised again; Martha had a new haircut. It was much shorter now, formerly below the shoulder, now just over her collar, sides just long enough to tuck behind her ears. Instead of the top swept back, she had bangs. It looked fantastic.

Martha watched her friend's look of surprise and congratulated herself. She had gone for a haircut that morning, and impulsively told Philip to give her a new look. The hairdresser had been shocked, but recovered quickly and gave her the new haircut. He was quite proud of himself afterwards, and suggested that she wear something with a softer neckline to go with it. She agreed, and went home to find a sweater that some relative had given her a few Christmases ago. “Perfect,” she decided, looking at herself. Dark brown jeans, cream colored sweater with a loose, draped neck. Gold pendant with a few tiger eye beads, and matching drop earrings. A gold watch completed the outfit. “You like?” she had asked Linda.

Linda kept stealing glances at her friend throughout the afternoon. Martha utterly charmed her friends, discussing the artists quite knowledgeably. As they were leaving for dinner, April looked over and gave Linda a thumbs up. Linda smiled, placing her hand at the small of Martha's back, guiding her to the car.

Martha felt utterly relaxed with Linda's friends, and felt like she fit in for once. She knew that there were several couples among the women, but it seemed natural for them. She caught the glances and smiles, realizing that Linda's friends were wondering if they were together. She thought about it briefly as they were seated in the restaurant, wondering if they were becoming a couple.

She knew she thoroughly enjoyed Linda's company, and now the company of her friends. She looked forward to their time together, and Regina seemed to approve as well. Nothing like getting the cat's approval. Martha smiled to herself, ordering dinner as she continued to muse. She felt completely at ease with Linda's habit of taking her arm, or touching her back as they walked along, and looked forward to their hugs. A stray thought crossed her mind; what would happen if she kissed Linda goodnight? A shiver raced through her body as she contemplated kissing her friend, catching her off guard.

“Are you cold?” Linda asked, noticing the shiver.

“A little,” Martha answered. Linda immediately reached around, helping Martha drape her coat around her shoulders. Martha graced her with a genuine, warm smile, and Linda felt herself smiling back, fussing with the coat for a few seconds to extend the contact. “Thank you, dear,” Martha said softly.

Linda suppressed a delighted shiver. Dear? Martha had never uttered any terms of affection before. Linda was always calling everyone by “dear”, “honey”, “sweetheart”, or “babe”, but Martha? It wasn't in her usual nature. Linda gazed into the muddy green eyes, seeing a gentle affection and hint of desire she'd never seen before.


The rest of the night was a blur for Martha. Her mind kept circling back to the thought that she really, really wanted to kiss Linda. She couldn't remember ever wanting to kiss any other women before, but she also had never understood what her friends swooned about when they described kissing boyfriends, lovers, husbands. Linda had driven, so Martha allowed herself the rare pleasure of a glass of wine with dinner, and another one when the group went back to Sharon and Beth's house.

“Anyone up for a movie?” Beth asked as the group arranged themselves on the comfy leather couches.

“Sure, honey,” Sharon said, “let's watch something fun. “How about that classic, ‘Airplane'?”

The rest of the group was agreeable, so Beth popped the movie in and adjusted the sound while Sharon went to open more wine. Martha accepted a glass and settled against Linda, who slid her arm around Martha's shoulders. It felt good to be cuddled by Linda, Martha thought as she sipped her wine. She could feel her thinking growing increasingly muddled by the alcohol, but she just didn't care tonight. Linda would watch out for her.

Watching the movie with the group was grand. They'd all seen it multiple times, and were able to recite the dialog with the characters. Martha was amazed at the size of the TV, much larger than her monitor or Linda's TV. She giggled every time Lloyd Bridge's character said that it was the wrong day to quit some habit. She also noticed “Johnny”, and how hilarious he was. When he took a map and started making it into a bonnet, she blurted out, “I think he's gay!”

“You think?” asked Beth, laughing.

Martha felt herself blushing, and fought the impulse to hid her face. “Well...” she muttered, not sure how to extract her foot from her mouth.

Linda chuckled. “Yes, he was gay, Martha. Welcome to the world of gay characters hidden in plain sight.”

Sharon piped up, adding, “You ought to see ‘The Celluloid Closet'. You'd never watch certain movies the same way again. Heck, I knew I loved listening to my dad's Doris Day records as a kid, and listened to ‘Secret Love' over and over again. I can't watch that movie now without wishing Calamity Jane would go with the singer, Katie, instead of Will Bill Hickok.”

Martha sat bolt upright. “That's one of my favorite movies!” she exclaimed. She thought about it for a few minutes, then started giggling. “You're right,” she said when she finally got hold of herself, “there are scenes where it looks like Calamity Jane is in love with Katie. I never thought of that before.”

“Welcome to the wide wonderful world of lesbians,” Beth intoned. “More wine?”

“I'd better stop,” Martha said wistfully. She stretched, set her glass on the coffee table, then snuggled up against Linda again. Within seconds, she had fallen asleep.

Linda let her sleep for a little while, talking to her friends about upcoming events. They promised to email a list of upcoming art days, and Linda reluctantly woke up her slumbering friend. “Martha, wake up, we need to get you home,” she said.

Martha yawned and stretched, slowly rising. “Okay, I'm up,” she mumbled. She blinked several times, realizing that everyone was looking at her. She managed to remember her manners, thanking them for a good time.

Linda took Martha home, and walked her to the door as was her custom. By now Martha was sobering up, and felt like her nerves were super sensitive. “Would you like to come in for a bit?” she asked hopefully.

“Well, it's rather late,” Linda hedged, “and I thought you had church in the morning.”

“I can skip one time if necessary,” Martha said, unlocking the door and opening it wide. “Come on in.”

Linda followed her in, surprised when Martha turned around and took her by the waist. “What's up?” she asked.

“I am. Linda...” Martha was unsure how to proceed, but her entire body was crying out for closeness. She cleared her throat, threw caution to the winds, and kissed Linda soundly on the lips.

The kiss started awkwardly, but soon heated up. Martha was lost in the sensation of kissing Linda, feeling their bodies crushed together, wild sensations racing through her body like electricity. She'd never been this excited by kissing Sam, and couldn't remember getting wet just by kissing any man in her life. Yet here she was, kissing Linda fiercely, feeling like she was about to explode.

Linda finally pulled back, dumbstruck. “Wow,” was all she could croak out. Martha kissed her again, this time tenderly, then buried her face in Linda's neck. “Hey, talk to me,” Linda managed to say.

Martha lifted her head, eyes shining with desire. “God, that was incredible!” She stepped back, nearly tripping over the cat in the process. “If kissing you makes me feel this way, imagine if we actually did more!”

“Yes, imagine,” Linda croaked, still stunned by the sudden passion. She swallowed hard. “My God, woman, I've never been kissed like that.”

“You like?” Martha asked, smiling.

“You bet,” Linda managed, “but I'd really better go now, before I do something we both regret.” She hugged the other woman briefly, then leaned over to pet the cat. “Goodnight. I'll be in touch soon.”

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” Martha said. She sighed hugely as she shut and locked the door after Linda. “Regina, I think I am in love.”


“What happens now?” Linda wondered out loud, sipping her coffee. She had been in a long term relationship, had dated several women casually, but had never been so blown away as she was last night. The kiss had seemingly come out of the blue, but she should have recognized the signs.

“I didn't want to fall in love right now,” she grumbled, “I've enjoyed my freedom. I like my little apartment, I like walking to work. So why am I worried?” She set her mug down, slumping in her chair, listlessly stirring her yogurt and granola. “Is this for real? Or am I just an experiment?” Linda shuddered, thinking of the last seemingly straight woman she'd dated.

Connie had pursued her aggressively, making it plain she was available. Linda tried to take it slow, but Connie had managed to push things rapidly. Oh, the sex had been good, but after a few months, Connie apparently had satisfied her curiosity and went back to her husband. The husband she had managed to forget to mention. “I don't want to be another experiment.”

Chapter 6

Martha was happier than she had been in years. She had never enjoyed anyone's company so much as Linda's, and now wondered what might happen in the future. She found herself thinking of Linda at odd times during the day, even pausing work for several minutes to wonder what Linda was doing now.

They usually spend Sunday apart, as Martha went to church and Linda rested and caught up with housework. So she didn't think it odd that she didn't hear from Linda until later on Monday. They had gotten in the habit of meeting for lunch on Tuesdays to catch up from the weekend, and to think about the week ahead. But this Tuesday, Linda did not show up.

Martha was puzzled at first, then anxious, then angry. She had several time consuming projects on her plate, and could barely afford the time away for lunch. She waited for twenty minutes before finally calling, but her call went to voice mail. Puzzled, she ordered lunch, but only ate half before abandoning it. Where was Linda? Martha wasn't the type to show up at a friend's workplace or home unannounced or uninvited, so she finally went back home to work.

She sent a quick text after supper, thinking maybe Linda had gotten busy, but the text went unanswered. “What do I do now?” she asked the cat. Regina merely yawned, showing a mouth full of needle-sharp white teeth. “It's not like her to not answer. Suppose something happened? Would someone tell me?” She got up and started pacing, throwing out possible explanations as the cat watched her with sage green eyes. “Did I do something wrong?”


Linda stared at her monitor, listlessly inputting budget numbers in her spreadsheet. Her thoughts were consumed with Martha, and she felt guilty about not returning any calls, texts, or emails, but she was still shaken to the core. Was Martha just using her? Or were these feelings genuine and reciprocal? Was she just running scared?


Two weeks had gone by. Martha gave up trying to contact Linda, feeling like she was stalking the woman. She threw herself into work, spending up to fifteen hours a day working, then spending another hour to two hours walking. Walking the neighborhood, walking in the botanical gardens in town, walking around the nearby lake. When she wasn't working or walking, she was watching TV with Regina in her lap. What had she done? Linda dated women, so why was her kissing Linda so bad?

“I didn't do it just to experiment, it was genuine,” Martha told the cat. “I mean, I've never felt so close to anyone, and never felt so, well, I don't know how to explain it. I don't usually even hug my friends, but I crave her touch. I think about her, and want to do more. I guess I'm sexually attracted to her, but it's more than than, I think I'm in love with her. Is that the problem, Regina? Is Linda afraid I'd tie her down?”


A month had gone by. Carol Jones marched into Linda's office at closing time Saturday at 1:00, and shut the door. “We need to talk,” she announced.

“What about?” Linda asked, leaning back in her chair. “The clinic is doing fine.”

“I'm not talking about the clinic, Linda, I'm talking about you,” Carol said. “What happened? Suddenly Martha no longer comes by, you are depressed and out of sorts, and I'm worried about you. Did you and Martha break up?” Linda took her time shutting down her computer, stalling for time.

“Linda, I'm waiting,” Carol said, tapping her foot impatiently. “It looked like you had a good thing going, now all of the sudden you are avoiding everyone, you're not eating, and you're looking pretty ragged. We've been friends forever, and you didn't even look this bad when you broke up with your ex. So spill it, girl.”

Linda finally turned to the vet, saying quietly, “I'm not sure what's going on. Things were fine, we were enjoying spending time together, then a month ago we went out with a group of my friends for an evening. They liked her, and she liked them. When I took Martha home, she kissed me.”


Linda blew out a frustrated breath. “And I guess I freaked. Here I'd been calling the shots, pacing myself, convincing myself that she was straight and that I didn't have to worry about falling in love again, and she blew me out of the water. It was a hell of a kiss, Carol, and I realized that I was in deeper than I'd intended.”

The brunette stared at her friend. “You mean to tell me that you've been avoiding seeing Martha because you like her too much?”

“Well, yes, I guess you could say so.” She scratched her nose, contemplating. “Sounds silly, I guess. But Carol, I've been happily single for several years, love my little apartment, love my simple life.”

Carol stared at the office manager, then started laughing. “You beat all I ever saw, Linda. First you flirt with her, take her out, enjoy your time, and act like you're falling for her, then you freak out when she turns the tables on you. I'll tell you what I think is going on here. First, you're still skittish about any relationship, and second, you're afraid for anyone else to take charge. You like to think of yourself as footloose and fancy free, but you actually long to be in a committed relationship. You can't have it both ways, dear. You need to decide if you want to have a chance with Martha or not. That is, if you haven't blown it completely yet. I'd be furious with you if you treated me that way. Just think what she's probably going through!”

Linda dropped her head in her hands. “I hadn't thought of that, Carol. God, I'm such a fool.”

“Yes, you are. Now figure out a way to fix it.” Carol stood up and started to leave. She stopped by the door, adding, “But don't be surprised if she's skittish too.”


Martha was playing with her phone, trying to decide whether or not to delete Linda's contact information. After a month of silence, she had decided that the other woman hadn't wanted a romantic relationship, despite the way it looked. After the lunches and dinners, the weekends together, meeting her friends, it just seemed that Linda had deserted her.

Her phone rang.

“Regina, it's Linda. Should I answer?”


Martha's finger hovered over the answer icon, unsure. Finally, she stabbed it. “Hello?”

“Um, Martha, this is Linda.”

“Yes, I know, your name came up,” Martha answered curtly.

“Oh.” A long pause, and Martha nearly disconnected. “Okay, I know I was wrong, can I make it up to you?”

Martha leaned back in her chair, inviting her cat up into her lap. Regina leapt up gracefully, setting down, accepting Martha's caresses. “I'll be honest, I'm pretty angry with you right now.”

“I know, and I don't blame you. Listen, can we at least meet for lunch today? I really want to see you again, apologize in person.”

Martha started to immediately say yes, but changed her mind. “I've already had lunch.”


“I have plans,” Martha said, deciding right then to go out.

“Then when?”

Martha was torn. Make it easy on Linda, or make her wait and run the risk of her deciding it wasn't worth waiting for her. Regina purred and rubbed against her, and she made up her mind. “Are you working next Saturday?”

“No, it's my weekend off. I worked today.”

“Then I'll see you next Saturday. I'll let you know when and were later in the week. Goodbye.” Martha disconnected before she could lose her resolve. “Did I do the right thing?” she asked the cat. Regina merely butted her head against Martha's hand, purring loudly. “I guess I did. I can't decide if I'm furious with her, or really wanting to see her.” Regina looked at her, then swarmed up, laying her head on Martha's shoulder and wrapping her front legs around her neck. “Oh, Regina, you are so sweet,” Martha said, rubbing her face in Regina's fur. “At least I know you love me.”


Chapter 7

Linda had a hard time concentrating all week. She was tempted to pick up the phone, send a text, or send an email to Martha instead of waiting for the redhead to contact her. Would it be breaking the rules to go ahead and contact her? Would it scare Martha off? In the end, she simply decided to wait to hear from the web designer.

It wasn't until Friday afternoon that she heard from Martha. The office manager had finally managed to settle down, and was busy checking inventory when her phone rang. “Linda Meyers, may I help you?” she answered distractedly.

“It's Martha Cox,” the voice at the other end said.

Linda set down her clipboard and pen, pulling up a step stool to sit on. “Martha, I'm glad to hear your voice,” she said sincerely.

“Yes. Well.” There was a pause, and Linda had to force herself to be patient. She'd learned that jumping in to fill conversational space irritated Martha. Finally, she heard, “All right, let's meet for brunch tomorrow. You know where Patterson's is?”

“Yes, near the mall.”

“Good. Meet me there at 10:00.” A shorter pause. “Plan on being out all day.”

“So what do I wear?” Linda asked, wondering what Martha had up her sleeve.

“Summer casual. We'll be outside during the day and inside at night. Nothing formal. See you tomorrow. Goodbye.”

“Bye,” Linda said, unsure if Martha heard her response. She slipped her phone back in its holster, lost in thought for a few minutes. Summer casual? Inside and out? What could Martha be planning? Did Martha miss her as much as she missed Martha?


Martha changed her mind on what to wear at least five times between Friday night and Saturday morning, but finally decided on olive walking shorts, rust colored polo, and deck shoes. She would be comfortable, and her phone, keys, and wallet would fit easily in the pockets, so she wouldn't have to keep up with a purse. After a long shower and a chat with Regina, she dressed and left the house.

Naturally, she was nearly twenty minutes early.

She choose to sit in her car under a shade tree for ten minutes, not wanting to enter the restaurant too early. She pulled out her phone, intending to check email, but getting distracted by her weather app instead. At least it was supposed to be pretty today, sunny, light breeze, and highs only in the mid-80's. Unusual for early July. She looked up just in time to see Linda enter the building, and debated briefly about waiting until exactly ten to arrive, but knew she couldn't.

Dang it, she missed Linda.

She exited her car, pressing the lock button on the key fob, listening for the chirp of the horn. Satisfied that it was locked properly, she walked slowly to the entrance, a little nervous about seeing Linda again. Would Linda even want to see her, after rejecting her? How would they be around each other now? “No time to dither,” she firmly admonished herself.

The hostess took her to the table where Linda was already sitting. If there had been any doubt, it was erased now. Linda looked up with an anxious expression, rising uncertainly. Martha relaxed a little, offering a brief hug and kiss on the cheek. “Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” Linda replied, “good choice of places. I hadn't been here in quite a while. They have a terrific buffet.”

“I know,” Martha answered. Linda looked drawn, but good. Her ivory cargo shorts and pastel blue and pink polo looked terrific on her. “So, how is work?”

Linda smiled. “Busy. We have a lot of people bringing in their vets for annual shots, and we're been running specials on dental cleanings and grooming. We've added more dog runs and cat cages for boarding, and those are at capacity. More people going on vacation this year, I guess. How is your work?”

“Also busy. I've been experimenting with farming out some of the more routine development and maintenance to one of my former colleagues, seeing if I can keep more business yet not get overwhelmed.” Martha paused as the waiter came to take their orders. She resumed with “It's working out fairly well. Ken was always pretty solid with routine code, and really good at documentation, so I think this will work out. He's been doing a lot of temp jobs the past year, so this gives him more options. Shall we visit the buffet?”

“Sure.” Linda stood, catching herself just as she was about to put her hand at Martha's back. “Don't push it,” she warned herself silently. “I love their made to order omelet station,” she said as they picked up plates.

The initial conversation was stilted, but both women started relaxing as they ate. Martha wondered if she had been too hard on Linda, but it was Linda that had refused contact for so long. She just knew that she was a little confused, feeling so powerfully drawn to the taller woman, yet still feeling a little deserted. She wondered how Linda felt. She guessed that the office manager had been stressed, since she had looked so drawn at first, but now she was laughing and telling funny stories that the vets and techs had related to her. “Martha, it was hilarious. This little kitten had escaped her owner's arms, and was keeping three large dogs at bay. It was all we could do not to laugh until her owner managed to pick her back up and take her to the examining room. Those poor dogs were scared to death of this little kitten.”

“I bet Mr. Grumpy would have kept the dogs in line as well,” Martha commented. “He used to lie in the front yard under the trees, and wait for dogs to invade. He'd explode in a snarling mass of fury, yowling and running hard at them. I saw him chasing off a pit pull once.” She drained the last of her juice. “So, are we about ready?”

“Sure.” Linda smiled, grabbing the ticket. “My treat.”


“Because I feel like it,” Linda said as she stood up. Martha made a token protest, but allowed Linda to pay the bill. Linda paid at the counter, then followed Martha out into the parking lot. She watched Martha walking ahead of her, wondering what Martha had in store for them today. “Do you want me to drive?” she asked.

“Nope. Get in and buckle your seat belt,” Martha commanded, eyes twinkling. Linda playfully saluted, then got in Martha's car, taking care to fasten her seat belt. Martha smiled as she slipped her sunglasses on and started the car. “Ready for adventure?”

“I guess I am,” Linda answered. It didn't matter to her where they went, just that they were together. She watched as Martha pulled out of the parking lot, turning left to head out of town. Curious, she asked, “Where are we going?”

“You'll know when we get there,” was the only answer.

Linda shrugged, settling back to watch Martha drive. She realized that they'd always either met places, or she had driven, so this was a new experience. Linda slipped on her sunglasses, glad she was able to stare at Martha without being real obvious.

The blonde watched the ginger-haired woman as she maneuvered onto the highway, carrying on conversation, yet devoting most of her attention to the road. Linda was tickled at Martha's intensity, taking her driving as seriously as she did everything else. So how did she feel about the web designer?

“Here we are,” Martha announced, pulling onto a state park road. That's when Linda belatedly noticed the state park sticker on Martha's windshield, so they were waved through at the entrance. “One of my favorite places.” She pulled into a spot and turned off the engine. “Ready?”

“Ready!” Linda bounded out of the car, sliding her sunglasses on top of her head. It was cooler in the shade, with a light breeze. She followed Martha up to the visitor's building, where they picked up a map. “So we're going hiking? I'm not sure I'm wearing the right shoes,” Linda commented.

“Not really hiking, just walking an even trail out to the lake,” Martha corrected. “I come here when I can, sometimes to just sit and think, other times to take the hiking trails.” She unfolded the map, propping it against the railing of the deck at the back of the building. “See, we're here, and the lake is here. There's a great little beach area with picnic tables and benches, and a nice bridge going across the lake. The bridge is a great place for pictures. I figure we can explore some, then have a light snack.”

Linda watched her pointing, but almost losing track as she was very aware of Martha's arm brushing hers. Damn, was she going to be sensitive all day? Was Martha also feeling tingles? She glanced at the other woman's arms, and smiled when she saw the goosebumps. It wasn't cool enough to warrant goosebumps. “Sounds like a good plan. Lead on, oh queen,” she said playfully.

Martha smiled, confidently leading the way. She had noticed how Linda kept watching her today, and decided to enjoy the feeling. Never mind her confused feelings, she was in Linda's company, and that was all that mattered. She kept up a steady chatter, pointing out trees, underbrush, birds, and even a sleeping snake as they slowly walked the flat trail.

The trail curved before ending at an opening, revealing a beautiful lake and large beach. Martha watched Linda's jaw drop slightly as she took in the sights; the majestic white chalky cliffs rising on one side, the ripple of the water, the old stonework bridge spanning the lake, and the woods surrounding the other side. “This is beautiful,” she breathed, “no wonder you like to come here.”

Martha impulsively reached for Linda's hand, leading her closer to the water. “I love it here,” she said quietly, “but I've never brought anyone here before. I discovered this park after my divorce, when I just wanted a place to sit and contemplate.” She pointed to a wooden bench on the edge of the beach, shaded by a huge tree. “I'd sit at that bench, wondering what went wrong, feeling guilty because I was relieved. Sam was a good guy, and is still one of my best friends, but I just couldn't be married to him.”

“You've mentioned the divorce,” Linda said cautiously, “and the affair.”

“Yes,” Martha affirmed, “Sam had an affair, but in a way, I was glad. It made the perfect excuse to divorce.” They stopped at the water's edge, still holding hands. Martha was lost in thought for a moment, thinking of the first six months after the divorce. The alternating feelings of failure and relief, the anger and despair.

She shook off the memories, turning to smile at Linda. “I almost think Sam had the affair to give me an excuse to divorce him. He stopped dating the woman less than a month after the divorce was final, then didn't date again for quite a while. We continued to be friends, and confused our friends and families by still going to dinner fairly often.” Martha smiled bigger. “When Sam found a woman he was serious about, he asked me to be in the wedding party. I was his best woman, and he insisted that I wear a tuxedo.” She laughed. “I looked damned good in it, too.”

“So you were in your ex-husband's wedding, wore a tux, and had no clue that you might be gay?” Linda blurted out.

“Linda, I'm not the most adapt social person,” Martha drolly answered. “In fact, I'm pretty sure other women have flirted with me, but I was clueless.” She tugged lightly on Linda's hand. “Let's walk some more.” They started walking slowly toward the bridge, still holding hands. Martha found it natural to hold Linda's hand. Pushing the thought aside, she said, “I'm not big on labels, Linda. I'm not going to say I'm gay, straight, or bisexual, just that I enjoy spending time with you.”

“I enjoy spending time with you as well,” Linda said. “So, where do we go from here?”

Martha stopped, then pointed to the other side of the lake. “Over there.”

Linda turned the answer over in her mind, wondering if Martha was being literal (possible) or avoiding the question (also possible.) She decided not to press the question, but to enjoy spending time with Martha. Martha's hand felt comfortable in hers, even though she usually didn't hold hands or be affectionate with her girlfriends in public. She was comfortable with her sexuality, just cautious. “I'm sorry, what? I was lost in thought.”

“I noticed. How many girlfriends have you had?”

Linda thought a moment before answering. “I guess five. One in college, my ex, and three others I dated briefly over the last couple of years. I hadn't dated anyone in the six or seven months before I met you, however.”

“I see.” Martha turned this over in her mind, wondering briefly if she wanted to be considered Linda's girlfriend. Yes? No? Go back to friendship?

“My turn,” Linda said, breaking into Martha's thoughts. They had stopped halfway across the bridge, leaning on the railing, looking out at the beautiful scenery. “Were you ever aware of having a crush on a woman?”

Martha took her time answering. She had thought about this question often lately, looking back over her life, trying to decide if she'd seen clues before. “Well, I looked up to a senior my freshman year of college.”

“Tell me about her,” Linda said, turning to face Martha.

“Her name was Elaine, and she was in my fellowship group,” Martha started slowly, bringing up old, painful memories. “She took an interest in me for some reason. I guess it was when the group went on fall retreat, and her cot was next to mind in the cabin. Typical retreat, we spend time discussing theological and social issues, had some free time, got too little sleep, that sort of thing.”

When Martha paused for several minutes, Linda nudged her with an elbow. “Go on, dear.”

Martha frowned, vision turning inward as she remembered. “I don't remember why now, but the two of us went for a walk on Saturday night after dinner. I guess we had free time for a while, and there was a short trail from the cabin to the little creek. We went to the creek and sat on a huge rock, just talking. I was very shy in those days, and hadn't talked much to anyone.” She looked across the lake, blinking hard. “I don't know, we just talked, it was easy to talk with her. I was pretty uneasy about being hugged or touched, but when she wrapped her arms around me, I just relaxed. It felt good, warm, secure. I'm not sure if she was just being nice because I'd started shivering, or what.”

The web designer sighed. “A couple of the guys came up on us, saw us, and started teasing us about being girlfriends. I was bewildered, and she dropped her arms and yelled for them to back off. She was really angry with them, but told me to leave. I don't know what happened, but the guys looked pretty pissed the next morning. She didn't talk to me after that, and it hurt.”

“Do you think she was gay?”

“I honestly don't know. Shortly after that, Sam and I started dating, so I didn't see her much. She dropped out of the group, but I did see her just before graduation. I ran into her at the student center, and she started to ignore me, but changed her mind.” Martha started running her fingers through her hair distractedly. “She motioned for me to follow her, and we wound up in an empty office. When we closed the door, she said she'd kept up with me, and knew I was doing well, and just wanted to tell me goodbye before she graduated.”

Martha absently started twirling some hair around her fingers, a sign that Linda had figured was agitation. “I was impulsive and hugged her. At first she resisted, but then relaxed into it. I'm not sure how long we stood there, hugging, but it felt so good, Linda, and I didn't want it to quit. I could smell her perfume, feel her body tight against mine. She finally pulled back, kissed my cheek, and wished me well. I never saw her again.”

“That sounds like either she was gay or that she was just affectionate. Or, maybe she didn't know for sure either.”

“I know. I hadn't thought about it in years, but I thought about going to her dorm to try to talk to her after the retreat. I just couldn't get the courage up to do it, so I waited to see if she would seek me out.” Martha was lost in thought, wondering what happened to Elaine. “Anyway, that's my story, for what it's worth. No wild affairs, no long line of ex-lovers strung across the state,” she concluded.

Linda rubbed her thumb across Martha's hand reassuringly. “You know, it's refreshing to find someone who doesn't want to jump in bed immediately. The last woman I dated was only interested in sex, so that flamed out pretty quickly.” She stared at the water, remembering. “Actually, my ex was almost as bad. We met at a party, and nearly went to bed that night, but were too drunk to do anything. It was good for a while, but we were really not that compatible. I like art, hiking, softball, biking, beach volleyball, reading, and plays. She prefers to party all night, doesn't understand reading for pleasure, and barely finished her associate's degree. I think she latched on to me as a security blanket. But that doesn't matter now.”

Martha nodded, then let go of Linda's hand, stretching. “So, want to go play miniature golf? I know of a great little course nearby.”

“Sounds like fun,” Linda said, smiling at the abrupt change of topic. “Lead on.”

Chapter 7

Several hours later, the two women had finished their third game of golf. Martha surprised Linda by beating her handily in the first two games, then Linda came within a stroke of tying her for the third game. Linda hadn't anticipated this fiercely competitive streak in her friend, but was secretly delighted to see it. She hadn't played miniature golf in years, and found that she still enjoyed it. She used to play regularly at a course near work, some of her co-workers would get together a few Fridays a week to play. She smiled, watching Martha do a quick fist pump with her third victory. “Okay, Babe, you win again,” she said.


“As in the great Mildred ‘Babe' Didrikson Zaharias.”

“Oh, I get it now.” Martha chuckled. “I'm great with putting, but lousy with long shots. Dad tried to teach me golf one summer, but I never could get par. So we switched to mini-golf so I could enjoy my putting game.”

“That sounds fun. You don't mention your family much.”

“You don't mention yours, either.”

“Touché, dear.” Linda linked her arm with Martha's. “What now?”

Martha answered, “We turn in our clubs.”

“Literalist,” Linda chucked. Martha grinned at her. “Oh, you played me on that one. How about dinner?”

“I know just the place. Follow me.”

About twenty minutes later, Martha turned down a gravel road, following the gentle turns until it came to a clearing, where an old fashioned house sat, surrounded by gardens. “My God, what is this place?” Linda asked, stunned.

“It's called Sophia's Pasta Palace. I maintain their web site and advise on their social media outreach. The matriarch of the clan started cooking for neighbors at the end of the first world war, after her husband was killed in action. Prior to that, they'd farmed, and were very prosperous. The parking is valet only, so they can have the gardens surrounding the house instead of parking. It used to be a very formal place, but the current generation of owners made it more informal, and sales increased dramatically.” Martha glided to a stop as the valet opened their doors. “Thank you, Richard,” she said as a young man helped her out of the car.

“Richard?” Linda inquired.

Martha smiled, tentatively taking Linda's arm. “He's the captain of the valet corps. Son of the current owners, working his way up. Did you want to sit inside or outside?”

Linda thought a moment as they climbed the graceful stairs to the front door. “Well, outside, I guess.”

“Good choice, but you do need to see the inside as well.” The door opened, and a lovely woman in her mid-fifties greeted them. “Good evening, Grace,” Martha said.

“Good evening, love,” Grace replied kissing Martha lightly on the cheek. “Who do we have here?”

“This is my dear friend Linda Meyer. Linda, this is Grace Nichols, owner and manager of Sophia's, great-granddaughter of the original Sophia. Linda manages the pet clinic on the other side of town.”

“Linda, welcome to Sophia's. I know just the spot outside, Martha's favorite. It will be clean momentarily, in the meanwhile, have a glass of wine or cocktail at the bar.”

“Thank you,” Martha said, leading Linda to the ornate bar. They found two stools and sat and placed their orders. Martha said, “This bar is original to the house. The family had it built in the late 1860's when they built the place, since they also conducted business here. The whole house was built for entertaining, with large open downstairs areas, a large separate kitchen out back, and multiple guest rooms upstairs. The upstairs have been converted to more dining, and the gardens in back have been extended. The kitchen building has been enlarged and modernized. They are my favorite clients, very traditional, yet eager to embrace technology and new ways.”

“I see,” Linda said, looking around slowly. She approved of the decor, with lots of wood and beautiful fabrics; subtle lighting that set a mood, but was enough to read a menu by; and large, stately portraits of earlier generations. It felt formal and comfortable at once. She took a sip of her wine, pleasantly surprised at how good it was. “This is the house wine?” she asked curiously.

“It's from the family winery in California. Sophia's granddaughter, Dorothy, married into an old ranching family in California, and decided to explore growing grapes. She wound up starting a winery, and has quietly supplied house wine for a number of prestigious restaurants around the country.” Martha's eyes sparkled as she discussed the history of the family.

“Your table is ready, my dears,” Grace said, reappearing at their elbows. “If you would follow me, please.” She led them outside to a table that was nearly hidden from view, but that had a great view of the pond and the rest of the gardens. It was also near an outdoor fireplace, which was going. “It is a rather cool evening, so I asked that the fire be lit,” Grace explained as she handed them the menus. “Please, enjoy, and I'll send Alex to take care of you. Martha, a pleasure to see you again. Linda, a pleasure to meet you.” With that, the slender brunette disappeared.

“Who's Alex?” Linda asked as she opened the menu.

“Grace's baby daughter, a senior in high school. Alexandra, actually. Richard is interested in the operational side, but Alex is interested in the service side, so she chose to start as a waiter.”



Several hours and much delicious food later, Linda laid her napkin on the table. “That was the best meal I've ever had,” she declared. “The gelato and coffee was the best finish I've ever had. Martha, thank you for introducing me to this place.”

“You are welcome,” Martha replied, eyes hazel in the light. She sighed contentedly. “I usually come for an early working lunch here, and I've never brought anyone here before. It's a special place to me.”

“I can see that,” Linda say, gray eyes twinkling. “I appreciate you sharing it with me.”

Martha finished her coffee, watching Linda over the edge of her cup. She liked what she saw, and the day had been better than she expected. Linda had been appreciative of the hike, the golf, and now the meal. She knew without a doubt now that she had fallen in love with this woman, and she wondered if the feeling was reciprocated. Martha did not casually date, she was the type to make a commitment. Despite her failed marriage, she did believe in going in for the long haul. Ironically, Sam was still her most stable, longest relationship, just as friends. So what should she do from here?

There was no denying that she had terrifyingly strong sexual feelings for Linda. There had been times today that she had to restrain herself from just grabbing the other woman and kissing her senseless. Yet she had no experience with women, and Linda had dated multiple women. How would she compare? Was she ready to make the transition?

Martha continued to make small talk after paying the bill and leading Linda back to her car. They lapsed into a comfortable silence as Martha drove back to Patterson's and pulled in next to Linda's car. “Well, here we are,” she announced.

Linda smiled, turning to face Martha as she unbuckled her seat belt. “It has been a wonderful day, Martha, I really appreciate it. Say, I have to work next Saturday, but I'd love to get together again this week. I have Wednesday off, is there any way you can meet me for a movie, say around 4:00 or so?”

Martha didn't even have to consult her calendar. “I usually reserve Wednesday afternoons for administrative work, so I can knock off early.”

“Great. I'll you with the details by Monday, if not sooner.” Linda smiled.

They sat there, both unwilling to leave, but knowing they should. Martha finally said, “Well, I go to early services, so I suppose I should go now.” She reached up, touching Linda's face tentatively.

Linda gathered her courage and leaned forward to capture Martha's lips in a gentle kiss. She kept it slow and undemanding, but with a hint of promise. When she pulled back, Martha smiled dreamily. “It was a wonderful day, and I look forward to spending much more time with you,” Linda said quietly.

“Me too. I mean, I look forward to spending much more time with you as well,” Martha babbled. “Oh, I sound like an idiot.”

“Well, you're not an idiot,” Linda laughed, kissing her one more time. “Okay, I should really let you go now.” She slowly exited the car, unlocking her own. Linda got in and drove off, replaying the day in her head and approving.

Chapter 8

Martha prided herself on being prepared. She had put together their Saturday with much thought and care, thinking through alternatives at each juncture, like what museum to visit if it had rained, or where to go eat if they had been too tired for a long meal. She had even thought about kissing Linda again, but nothing had prepared her for the intensity of the feelings. Or the longing to continue the night, despite her great fatigue.

It was with much difficulty that she managed to sleep Saturday night, and to get up in time for services Sunday morning. Martha always attended early services so she'd have plenty of time the rest of the day to finish up any weekend chores, thoroughly read the newspaper, take a nap, and write up her summary of the sermon in her diary.

This Sunday was different.

Martha did make it to services, but daydreamed through the sermon, had difficulty following the service, and turned to the wrong hymn twice. When it was over, she broke with her own tradition and went to a coffee shop a few blocks up the street and had coffee and a pastry. Again, she was usually very disciplined and did not indulge in extra calories. She sat at a small table, leafing through the free weekly newspaper, sipping her coffee, eating her apple fritter, thinking about Linda.

When the coffee and pastry were gone, Martha got up and went on to her house. She put in her last load of laundry, then changed clothes to do yard work. She kept thinking about Linda, her hands, her eyes, how her lips felt. Oh, yeah, she was a goner. It had never felt this way with Sam, she mused. She had usually enjoyed sex with him to some extent, but never with that overwhelming intensity.

Martha continued thinking about Linda as she put away the mower and went inside to cool down Regina was peacefully snoozing in the breakfast nook, she noticed as she drank a glass of water. Well, no sense writing up the sermon, she had no idea what it had been about. Sure, she could download the mp3 and listen again, but she didn't feel like it today.

So she fired up her personal laptop and started aimlessly surfing. The cheezburger cats were funny. Nothing much in the news. Weather was going back to hot and sunny. Nothing needing her attention in email.

She unplugged her laptop and carried it over to the futon, grabbing her lapboard on the way. Martha settled herself, then took a deep breath. Should she search for this or not? She lightly drummer her fingers on the board, then decided yes. She cautiously entered a query into the search engine, and started reading through the results.


The day before had been so wonderful, so relaxing. Linda was usually the one to decide what to do on dates, so it was fun to let someone else take over. She was encouraged by the fact that Martha had been relaxed enough to be physically affectionate, holding hands while hiking, and those long, slow kisses at the end of the evening. Linda smirked as she remembered the kisses, and how she had to restrain herself from just ravishing her right then. She daydreamed, wondering what it would be like to be Martha's lover. Would Martha be bold? Shy? Willing to give her all? She pondered the possibilities, thinking back to her former lovers.

Her fling in college, Tanya. Linda smiled, thinking about the wild suite mate. It was the year that many of the girls on her dorm floor had affairs with each other. It was a small, private college, and it was nearly impossible to obtain birth control without an engagement ring, so many of the girls experimented with each other. Tanya had read an article in Rolling Stone magazine about college students experimenting with their own gender.

Linda smiled, still able to recall the Halloween party when she went as a football player and Tanya went as a cheerleader. It had been a lark, and neither one of them drank that evening, but they started flirting as a joke. By the end of the evening, the flirting had subtly changed, and they went back to the dorm arm in arm. She still remembered the realization that their respective roommates were gone for the weekend, and the joyous romp in Tanya's bed. No guilt, no fervent declarations of love, just hot sex.

Although it had been great physically, and repeated many times, they were absolutely clear with each other that it was just a fling, an experiment. Tanya went on to marry the boy she met her senior year, and Linda went on to be with other women. She briefly dated a co-worker after graduation, but she didn't want a commitment, and her co-worker wanted to find a wife. They parted as friends.

Then her ex came along. Linda grimaced, still unable to even think the woman's name without deep anger. The games, the flirtations, the seductions. It had been good for quite a while, but their schedules had been different. Sex was okay, not great, but in public, her ex acted the part of the loving partner. When Linda realized that she was deeply unhappy and wanted to change jobs, her ex broke up with her, making it plain that she wanted to be kept in the style she had become accustomed. Linda still remembered the pain when her ex announced that she had found a wealthy girlfriend, and Linda was to sell the house and give her half. Since then, she had a couple of brief flings, nothing serious.

But Martha. Martha Cox. Oh, her friend Carol had it pegged. Earlier in the day, Dr. Jones had come to her office and asked if she and Martha were officially an item yet. Linda had blushed, stammering something about taking their time, and Carol had just laughed. “I've known you for years, and you've never been like with for any woman,” she said, grinning, “not even your ex, who, by the way, I could not stand.”

“Yeah, you and everyone else,” Linda had growled. “Why didn't you say anything?”

“Sweetie, you wouldn't have listened,” the vet said. “Believe me, I dropped hints.”

Linda had to admit to herself that the vet had dropped hints. But she was not subtle at all about her approval of the web designer.


Martha called Linda on Tuesday, asking if she wanted to meet for supper on Wednesday. “I'd like to cook for you,” she offered, “it's not that far from your office.” Linda readily agreed.

Wednesday was, of course, slow in passing. Linda could hardly keep her mind on her work, and was teased by her friend Carol about her wandering mind. Martha, on the other hand, buckled down and got twice as much done so as to make the time pass more quickly. She quit working at precisely 3:00 and spend thirty minutes doing last minute surface cleaning before heading for her shower.

Five o'clock finally came. Linda had shut down her computer fifteen minutes before, spending the time stacking papers and files, making sure absolutely everything was put away and accounted for before grabbing her backpack and keys. It had felt funny to drive to work instead of walk or bicycle, but she wanted to make sure she was pulling up to Martha's house at 5:30 on the dot. It was only a ten minute drive, or fifteen minute bicycle ride, but suppose she stayed until after dark? She smiled to herself as she turned off her lights and locked her office door.

“Good night,” she called out to the receptionist.

“Good night, Linda,” the older woman called back. Linda whistled a tune as she walked out of the building. Life was looking up.


The doorbell rang at precisely 5:30, and Martha went to answer it. “Nice,” Linda murmured, kissing her lightly on the cheek before handing Martha a small bundle of mixed flowers. “This is not what I expected.”

Martha took the flowers, saying “You shouldn't have, but I love them. Let me show you what I did to the house.” She pointed out features, ending in the kitchen. “I put in the glass tile backsplash myself, replumbed so I could move the sink, and traded a web design for the granite countertops. I did all of the work except the granite and the electrical.”

“Woman, you continue to amaze me.” Linda helped Martha trim the flowers so she could stick them in a vase. “I'd never have thought of redoing the house myself.You've been busy lately.”

“Yes, I have. I was tired of the carpet, the popcorn ceiling, the old kitchen. Ready for me to put the steaks on the grill?”

Several hours later, the two women were sprawling on the couch in the living room, just talking. The cat was snoozing peacefully in one of the armchairs, occasionally opening one eye to check on them. The dinner had been fabulous, the wine well-matched, and the conversation easy. Martha looked at Linda, feeling a surge of tenderness and desire, thinking of some of the stories she'd read online. Her attention wandered for a moment as she considered the possibilities.

Linda noticed Martha's attention wandering and reached out to touch her cheek. “Hey, where did you go?” she asked.

Martha blushed, but stared Linda directly in the eye. “Somewhere very nice,” she purred. Linda smiled slowly, tracing Martha's cheek with her fingertips. “Oh, that feels so good,” Martha said, melting. Encouraged, Linda leaned forward, kissing Martha experimentally.

“God, it feels good,” Martha thought, returning the kiss. She'd thought about this a lot this week. Wait for a commitment, or go with the flow if it felt right? Well, damn it, she'd always done the right and proper thing. No more. She pulled back, and without a word, stood up and took Linda's hand.

Linda was surprised as Martha led her to the bedroom and pushed her on the bed. Was this really happening? It was her last coherent thought for several hours.

Martha felt a hot surge racing up her spine as she straddled Linda, kissing her fiercely. Strong feelings raced through her body, and suddenly all clothes were too confining. To hell with the stories and their tender queries of “Are you ready for this?” She came up and started yanking off her clothes and Linda's, reveling in the sheer sensation of skin on skin.

Linda was beyond shocked, but delighted as Martha took the lead. Linda was usually the sexual aggressor, but it felt great to have Martha take over. Her last coherent thought was, “Did Martha plan this seduction?”

Chapter 9

The year had flown by. Martha's new found confidence had enabled her to grow her business to the point that she had to hire one full time coder and one part time designer, and had moved her business from her spare bedroom to an office in the building next to the veterinary clinic. Linda had started spending more time at Martha's house, and eventually moved in.

Regina watched her humans with great satisfaction. Martha and Linda decided against a commitment ceremony, but did decide to have a party to celebrate moving in together. She was positively smug as she circulated among their friends, accepting tidbits and pats from the humans gathered there. She was very proud of herself for putting the two together on that fateful morning.

She send a prayer up to Bast, thanking the cat god for whoever invented National Hug Your Cat day. After all, without Martha overhearing the question in the library, she would have never stopped by the pet store, and Regina wouldn't have immediately realized that Martha would make a good partner for the volunteer for the rescue society. Yes, life was very good, she decided as she wound her way to her humans. Very good indeed.

The End.


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