"I’m not. I’m not!" Leigh tapped the steering wheel in an uneven, listless pattern. "I’m not getting sleepy." She shook her head from side to side and tried to focus on the road. She’d been driving through thunderstorms for hundreds of miles, and the rain had finally given way to one of the densest night fogs the trucker had ever seen. She’d encountered numerous wrecks along the way and knew better than to park her truck along the roadside — even with her fog lights on. Besides, she had miles to make up. Thirty miles per hour is no way to drive ‘cross country, she thought glumly. It was the middle of the night, and Leigh was miserable.
She blinked rapidly, but the motion still didn’t clear her vision completely. God, even I have my limit. "Need a place to stop." Sleepy blue eyes scanned the roadside. She was halfway between nowhere and the boonies. And yet …
"I think … yeah." Leigh nodded a little. "It can’t be too far away." It wouldn’t be on her map, she knew. She’d checked after driving away a few weeks ago. Apparently, Glory, South Dakota, was too small to warrant even a tiny dot. Leigh passed through this area every week on her route and had considered pulling off the Interstate and finding Fitz’s diner just about every time she drove by. But the road construction was over, and the detour was gone. And she realized that even if she wanted to find it, she really didn’t know exactly where Fitz’s was. Other than it was twenty miles from Glory. Wherever that was.
Leigh sighed. There was more to it than that, and she knew it. Her last, albeit brief conversation with RJ had made her hesitant to return. They hadn’t exactly argued, but still, it was awkward. Why, oh why, did she have to drive such a piece of shit? Leigh didn’t even know what kind of car Judith drove. Had never even thought of it. Ignorance, she decided, truly was bliss.
Taking a chance Leigh pulled off on the very next county road and headed north. She had to slow to no more than ten miles per hour when even her truck’s powerful low beams weren’t cutting through the dense curtain of hazy moisture. Another hour passed, and when she was certain she was good and lost Leigh pulled onto a wide dirt road and drove only about fifty feet. She eased her truck to the side, killing her engine and lights. Leigh half-expected to see the blinking ‘ritz’s’ sign in the distance. But she didn’t.
Unbuckling the seat belt, she popped open her door and dropped down onto the wet ground. The air felt heavy against her skin and fine mist instantly enveloped her, dampening her hair and clothes. She pulled in a deep breath of fresh, moist air. "I’m totally lost," she moaned, her eyes scanning her surroundings. She saw nothing but mud, prairie grass and fog. Leigh rubbed her temples and debated relieving herself outside. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see her in this weather and at this time of night. But then she remembered the ticks that had attached themselves to her ass while she was squatting a few years ago. Scowling, Leigh unconsciously rubbed her butt. Their removal was even more humiliating than their discovery. No, morning would be soon enough.
It was so dark she didn’t bother to close the curtains in the small living space of her cab. Instead, she stripped down to her panties and crawled into bed, pulling up the soft sheet. Her eyes fluttered shut and she exhaled slowly. Her body relaxed immediately, and she tumbled into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The male squirrel wearily sat up and cracked open his beady black eyes. "Where am I?" He looked around the back of what appeared to be a moving truck. Moving? "I’ve been kidnapped!" he wailed piteously. "Stolen from Potter Park. Torn from the breast of my community in the prime of my life!" The rodent tried to bury his head in his arms as he sobbed. But sadly, his stubby appendages were too short. Damn God and her sick sense of humor!
"You have not been kidnapped, fool," his long-time mate hissed. "You went on an all-night bender and passed out drunk!" The larger squirrel kicked at the half-crushed beer can that the male was leaning against.
He only groaned, looking at the can. It was white with black letters that proclaimed, ‘Beer’. Generic beer? When he pushed off the can it rolled over and the back was revealed. ‘Suitable for human consumption.’ Oh, the misery! How low had he stooped?
The sound of a honking horn caused the female to reach up to cover her ears but, like her mate, she couldn’t reach them without ducking her head awkwardly. She repeated her husband’s virulent curse, not knowing the chain of events their simple words would set in motion.
RJ blew on the embers, igniting the tinder so the flames would grow and consume the larger sticks. Once she was satisfied the fire was doing all right without her, she stood and picked up her beer from the table. Taking a drink from the long neck bottle, she watched the fire grow. I’m a firebug. It’s a good thing those stories my mother told me about playing with matches weren’t true.
Flea stood up from her spot in the very center of the picnic table and gave a good cat stretch, her arms outstretched in front of her, purring all the while. Then she proceeded to dig her nails into the table; it was the perfect scratching post.
"Ruth Jean Fitzgerald! What is it you that you think you’re doin’?"
"Mother?" RJ whirled around, quickly putting the bottle behind her back and spilling most of it down her legs when she did. "Damn," she muttered as she tried to surreptitiously toss the bottle away. Now I look as though I’ve pissed myself. I am twenty-seven years old. It’s not fair!
Flea smiled and plopped back, content to watch the show. She hated beer anyway, unless, of course, it was root beer.
Katherine Fitzgerald crossed to the picnic table, placing two large milkglass bowls down. RJ tried to look into the bowls, sure that they would be holding potato salad and coleslaw, both of which her mother made the very best of.
"Playin’ with matches?" The stout woman waggled her finger at RJ. "You know that causes people to wet the bed."
"Mo– " RJ swallowed hard at the look on her mother’s face. "Excuse me for interrupting, ma’am."
Katherine nodded and cleared her throat. "As I was saying … was that a beer you were drinkin’ at this hour of the mornin’?" She leaned over and discreetly sniffed the air, making a face at the odor now wafting from her oldest daughter.
RJ sighed and nodded; there was no use in denying it. Besides she really did smell like a brewery now that she was wearing most of her drink. "Yes, Mother, it was."
Katie gave RJ her famous exasperated look. "I don’t know what I’m going to do with you." She threw her hands in the air. "Your short hair, your drinkin’ and smokin,’ and don’t think I haven’t heard you cussin’."
"There’s not a respectable person who’d have a thing to do with a heathen such as yourself."
RJ sighed again. Normally she only got the lecture on Sundays, but with the town social being today, apparently Mother Fitzgerald felt the need to get it out of her system.
Flea sniffed and licked her lips, hoping Mrs. Fitzgerald remembered the olives in the potato salad. That was just the way she liked. But either way, Katie was a good mother. She should have been a cat.
One by one just about everyone in town began to arrive at Fitz’s. It was going to be a lovely day. The grass was still a little damp, but the light spring breeze and warm sun had mostly taken care of that. The enormous outdoor grill was going strong and would cook enough food to last the entire day. Picnic tables covered with bright red and white checked cloths dotted the grassy area behind the diner.
"Hey, you!" a strong male voice boomed from behind RJ. She slowly turned to face a young man about her own age and height. He had a head of bright red hair and his blue eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, but his smile was familiar. Liam Fitzgerald held up two long necks. "I’ll trade you a beer for a smoke."
"Yeah, and if Mother is lurking about I’ll get the short end of her temper again, Big Brother. No thanks."
"Mother is in the diner with Mrs. Amos and some of them old hens. You’re in the clear." He bumped shoulders with RJ. "Has your big brother ever led you astray before?"
"Do you really want me to answer that, you silly bastard?"
"Nah," he laughed. "No need." He jiggled sweating bottles, clinking them together. "So how about it?"
RJ snorted softly at her own lack of willpower and fished her Lucky’s out of her pants pocket. She tapped one from the pack and exchanged it for a beer. Taking a tiny box of matches from her pocket, she flicked her nail against a match tip, causing it to flare to life.
Liam bent and lit the cigarette, taking a deep drag as soon as he was able. He spit an errant piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took a seat on the picnic table, smoke swirling around his head. His bright blue eyes tilted skyward. "It’s a beautiful day. Going to be good for the picnic." He waited a moment before saying, "I hope that Mary comes down today. It’d be a shame to miss her."
RJ’s arched an eyebrow at her brother. "You be careful there, Liam. If Mother and Father find out you’re trying to get your hooks into one of those O’Rielly girls there’ll be hell to pay." And I would know. She smirked inwardly, thinking of Mary’s older sister. RJ stopped smirking, however, when she remembered the pretty brunette had taken up with the postmaster and they now had six kids.
"Are you gonna be telling on me, Little Miss ‘I wonder where the cute blonde trucker went to’?"
RJ choked on her beer and tried to hide the grin. But Liam was right. She hadn’t been able to think about anything since. And even her stash of ‘special reading material’ didn’t touch the ache that had appeared along with Leigh. "No, of course not. I’m just saying be careful, that’s all. I think Mary is a pretty girl." RJ shrugged. "She likes you well enough, I’m thinking."
"You know this to be fact, do you?" Liam perked up and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was around and listening. "How would you have this information, Ruth Jean? Don’t be holding out on me now." He suddenly sat up a little straighter as if the light bulb in his brain just blinked on. "And just how well do you know Mary O’Rielly? Hmmm?"
Leigh opened her eyes slowly, blinking at the bright sunshine. She swung her feet over the side of the bed and her bladder immediately protested the movement. "Oh, man. Bathroom now."
The trucker yawned and slid into the front seat with a little more urgency than usual. She automatically reached for her sunglasses and then seatbelt, wiggling a little as the cool strap covered her breast. She looked down and blinked stupidly, realizing she’d strapped herself into her front seat wearing only her panties. Leigh laughed, wondering just how many free truck washes she could score if she rode around like this. She unbuckled her seatbelt and glanced up to find …
"I’ll be God damned! I drove right by it last night in that fog."
Not five hundred feet down the road she’d turned off last night sat Fitz’s diner. The ‘F’ on the sign had been repaired. But the lights either weren’t working or not in use during the daylight.
Fitz’s equals bathroom. Fitz’s equals shower. Fitz’s equals good, hot food. Fitz’s equals buff, butch, beautiful woman chopping wood in skimpy undershirt with no bra on! Leigh’s mind screamed. The young woman scrambled behind the curtain in her cab and tugged on a pair of faded blue jeans and a mint-green polo shirt. She tucked the shirt in and skipped the belt, wiggling her feet into a pair of comfortable, well-worn high top sneakers. Leigh ran her fingers through her hair and grabbed the bag that contained her toiletries, a fresh pair of panties and a bra.
She was sliding across the front seat to get out when she suddenly stopped and began digging through her bag. When she found the antiperspirant she made quick use of it before tucking it back into the sack. She’d already insulted RJ’s truck; the last thing she needed to do was come walking back into the diner smelling rank.
Instead of driving to the diner, Leigh jogged the five hundred feet. It was beautiful out and by the high position of the sun she could tell it was early afternoon. She’d slept for nearly ten hours, but felt worlds better for it.
The small parking lot was full of mostly old beaters, though she spotted a shiny new Taurus and a 1980s model Chevy Caprice near the diner door. As she got closer she could see throngs of people milling in and about the diner. The air smelled like BBQ, and Leigh’s stomach growled appreciatively. It’s a party. I wonder if she’ll be there.
When Leigh pushed open the diner door, the conversion in the small building ground to a halt. Even the song on the jukebox seemed to end at that very moment. Nearly every set of eyes in the place turned to Leigh and stared.
Leigh could feel her face growing hot. She looked over to Mavis helplessly. "Am … uh … Am I interrupting something? I mean, are you guys closed? I didn’t–"
"Oh, don’t be silly. C’mon in. This is a little town party, but we’re still open, see?" Mavis gestured toward a harried-looking family of travelers that brushed by Leigh on their way out the door. With Mavis’ warm smile, Leigh began to relax.
Then the chubby woman turned around and announced in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. "It’s just Leigh."
A collective ‘ahh …’ rang out and then, as if by magic, the noise in the diner rose back to its usual level as silverware clanked and people laughed and talked as they ate their lunches or drank their coffee. The diner’s patrons all went back to what they were doing before Leigh walked in. All except Katherine Fitzgerald.
"I don’t mean to be rude, Mavis. But –"
"You know where it is?"
Leigh nodded quickly and wove her way through the tables to the bathroom in the back of the diner.
Katherine sidled up to Mavis, and both women stared at the door Leigh had just passed through. After a few moments Katherine needlessly asked, "So that’s the little thing that’s got the town so abuzz?"
"She’s the one caught RJ’s eye," Mavis corrected.
Katherine crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "I don’t like her."
"Well, I don’t!"
"You’ve never even spoken to her. She seems like a nice enough girl."
Katherine chose to ignore Mavis’ affirmation. "Does Ruth Jean know she’s back?"
Mavis snorted a little. "If she did, don’t you think she’d be sniffing around in here instead of playing with the grill out back?"
Before Katherine had a chance to answer, RJ strode in from outside. She headed straight for the bathroom to get cleaned up, but before her hand hit the knob, the door opened and Leigh stepped out. She was carrying her backpack slung over her shoulder, and her hair was wet.
RJ’s eyes widened. "Well …" She swallowed. "Hello."
Leigh felt a smile tugging at her lips at the sight of the tall woman. She was suddenly very glad she’d had time to brush her teeth and wash her hair in the small sink. "Hi." Her gaze drifted from deep green eyes down to RJ’s leg and she winced. "Looks like you didn’t get here soon enough." Her face scrunched up into a smile; she could smell that it was beer but wasn’t above having a little fun.
RJ’s shoulders slumped. She just couldn’t seem to catch a break when it came to this woman. "You see, I spilled a beer and I was just going to try to get it off my pants." She grinned. "It’s not what it looks like, really."
"It never is." Leigh peered down at RJ’s leg again, shaking her head. When she looked back up, she couldn’t help but notice Katherine Fitzgerald was staring at her with a look that could only be described as intense dislike or severe constipation. Leigh was betting on the latter since they were standing in the ladies’ room doorway. "Who in the hell does that woman think she is?" Leigh mumbled, tilting her head toward Katherine. "She’s giving me the creeps."
RJ bit down hard on her cheek to keep from laughing. She leaned over and whispered, "Why that would be my own sainted mother, thank you very much. If you’d like to just get it over with and call me younger sister a whore you will have insulted all the women in me life."
Leigh closed her eyes. "Oh, my God." First RJ’s truck, now her mother. With her luck, she’d have slept with her sister too, and she’d be one of the several women who had taken a scissors to her already limited wardrobe over the years. God, she hated when they did that. "I am so sorry," she said genuinely. "I always seem to be apologizing around you."
"It’s all right. Really it is. There are days when she gives me the creeps too." RJ gestured toward the back door. "Let’s make a quick exit out the back."
Leigh nodded silently. She was more than willing to follow RJ out of the diner and away from the intense gray eyes that belonged to Katherine Fitzgerald.
Once they stepped out back, RJ clasped her hands together rather nervously. "Can I get you something to drink?"
Leigh looked at RJ’s pants again and laughed. "No thanks. I think I’ll help myself." She strode past RJ over to where there was a table covered with a washtub full of iced drinks.
RJ decided to give up beer for the rest of the day. She wanted to keep her wits about her now that Leigh was here. She reached for a pitcher of lemonade and began pouring it into a paper cup. "So what brings you back this way?"
Leigh dug a Pepsi out of the ice. She looked at the glass bottle for a second. Where the hell did they get these? "Well, I needed to stop last night and I figured I was close to Fitz’s." She shrugged one shoulder, grunting a little as she tried in vain to twist off the soda top. "Frankly, I can’t believe I found the place. But here I am."
RJ watched her for a moment, then extended her hand for the bottle.
Leigh wordlessly passed it over and watched carefully as RJ lined the cap up against the edge of the table and gave it a hearty smack, taking the cap off in one swift motion.
RJ passed the bottle back, careful to hold it away from both their bodies as a little brownish foam erupted out the top. She took a seat next to Leigh on the bench. From behind her glass of lemonade, she offered quietly, "I’m glad you found your way back."
Leigh regarded her carefully for a moment. "Me too. By the way, I don’t think we’ve ever really been introduced." Leigh wiped the hand that was damp from her frosty Pepsi bottle on her jeans before holding it out. "I’m Leigh Matthews."
The brunette gently took Leigh’s hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "RJ Fitzgerald, at your service, ma’am." Boy, would I like to service you.
Leigh smiled broadly and spent several long seconds imagining the many ways she’d be happy to let RJ service her. RJ still hadn’t let go of her hand.
Flea snorted and jumped up from the table. There was only so much she could take before gagging out loud.
Leigh set down her Pepsi. "The pleasure is all mine, RJ." She paused for just a second before her curiosity got the best of her. "Is it okay if I ask why your mother was glaring at me? Usually it takes somebody’s parents at least a day to start to hate me."
She shrugged, clearly embarrassed. "It’s a mother thing, you know. And um …" she cleared her throat softly. "I may have mentioned you a time or two. My mother’s just a tad protective."
Leigh leaned forward, suddenly all ears. "Mentioned me?" And you hardly look like the type who needs protecting.
"Well, yeah. It’s, ah," she cleared her throat gently. "Not often that we get attractive blonde truckers through here." RJ glanced up at Leigh and held her gaze. "I may have mentioned that a time or two."
She thinks I’m attractive? A slow smile spread across Leigh’s face. Looks like they’d both been thinking about the other. She could see that RJ was blushing and she quickly said, "Don’t worry about it. I’d say your mother’s instincts are dead on. I’m basically trouble," she admitted freely. "Your mom just saved me the chore of having to do something incredibly stupid for her to dislike me. But um … well, if we get to know each other I guess you’ll figure that out for yourself."
RJ’s brows drew together, but she didn’t press for more information. What does that mean? From where I’m sitting she doesn’t seem like a stupid person.
Blue eyes flickered around the crowd. "So what sort of party am I crashing?" And why am I still here? I’ve got to get back on the road if I’m going to make it to Sioux Falls on time.
"There’s nothing I’d like better than to get to know you, Leigh Matthews. And you’re not really crashing a party. It’s just a town cookout. We use them just as an excuse to cook and eat good food. They usually last all day and well into the evening. Can you stay for a bit? Or do you need to get back on the road?" RJ glanced in the direction of the road.
"Oh, no. I can stay," Leigh said a little too quickly. Mentally, she kicked herself. Lord, I’m so pitiful.
"Good." RJ sat up a little straighter, proud of herself for having the courage to ask her to stay. "It may not be the most exciting thin’ you’ve done in a while, but there’s always good food. So where are you headed next? Someone waiting on you at home?"
"No." Leigh shook her head, and her normally bright smile was suddenly edged with sadness. "Nobody’s waiting," she said quietly.
"Then it seems like I’m a very lucky person today." RJ raised a single eyebrow. "Would you like to take a walk with me?" She whirled around and shot a dirty look at every pair of eyes that were fixed on her and Leigh. "So folks will quit staring at us like we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing," she said this just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Sure." Leigh jumped up from the table. She wasn’t anxious to explain to RJ, at least at this very moment, that she’d sold her and her dad’s small house nearly two years ago, that she only maintained a post office box in Seattle, and that she lived in her truck. Even if it was a really nice truck.
As they moved away from most of the crowd, the blonde found herself with the urge to take RJ’s hand as they walked. Instead, she stuffed her hands in her front pockets, keeping her eyes trained on the ground in front of her.
RJ walked slowly, turning around and walking backwards so she would always have Leigh in sight. "I’m sorry about that back there. They tend to be a bit nosey. We’ll have more privacy back here. That way you won’t feel like they’re all talking about us and they can feel free to do so. They’re the biggest bunch of busybodies you’ve ever met, but they mean well." She grinned. "I swear to you they’re harmless enough."
"They’re okay with thinking …" Leigh gestured awkwardly between them. "That there could be something between us. Sort of. Potentially?" If I have anything to say about it. She was used to stolen moments of privacy in bathrooms or cars or cheap motels with women who wouldn’t want their affairs known mainly because Leigh was a woman. It was a little disconcerting to think that the people at the picnic were watching them with curious eyes that still held no malice.
Leigh looked up at RJ, who was smiling as she walked. She didn’t seem worried. Of course it didn’t escape Leigh that they were moving in the opposite direction of RJ’s mother. The bright white smile intrigued Leigh, and she found herself wanting to know more about this woman. "So what do you do for a living, RJ?"
"Oh, me?" RJ spread her arms wide open. "I’m a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ type. I do a little of everything. I’m what you might call a handyman." She grinned and wiggled her brows. "I like to work with my hands."
The shameless flirting wasn’t lost on Leigh. In fact, the only thing unusual about the words was that she wasn’t the one saying them.
"I also do a little bit a work for the town of Glory. City Council has made me a guide or Welcome Wagon of sorts."
RJ tilted her head down as she spoke. "Sure. When we get a new resident, I show them around, help them find a place to live, a job, that sort of thing."
"Sounds interesting." You sound interesting. And you look good enough to eat. Pun intended.
"I suppose." The light spring breeze tossed RJ’s auburn locks, sending a tussle of hair normally combed back over her forehead nearly into her eyes. "It’s not so much, really. Glory is a small town, and we don’t get that many new folks. But I do me best."
Leigh opened her mouth to warn RJ that she was only two paces from walking right into a shed. But RJ spun around, threw open the door and growled loudly, "All right, you little monsters. Take your cigarette-smoking backsides outta here! I know every single one of your mothers and fathers besides." A small group of kids ranging from ten to twelve years old stared at RJ with round, guilty eyes. Too stunned to even move.
RJ put her hands on her hip and glared at down at the little delinquents. "Move!"
Leigh laughed as a gaggle of boys and one tomboyish- girl scattered like roaches caught by the kitchen light, both she and RJ knowing instantly that the lone girl was leading the pack of troublemaking boys. "I can see that you’re going to be a bad influence. You’re taking me someplace where naughty things happen, aren’t you, RJ?" she teased mischievously.
"Well, if you’re twelve and you’ve just snitched a smoke from your father, and you’ve come out here to have it, I guess so." RJ licked her lips and leered at Leigh. "But if you’re an adult and you’re both of the same mind, could anything you decided to do really be considered naughty?"
"Absolutely not," Leigh said softly. She was definitely liking the direction of this conversation and took a step closer to RJ. "And I never said there was anything wrong with naughty." She quirked a playful brow. "Naughty and I are intimately acquainted."
RJ laughed. I’ll just bet you are, lass. "Well then, let’s get comfortable, shall we?" RJ reached through the window of the shed just above the bench and pulled out a blanket. "Sometimes at night I come out here and look at the stars. I’ve found it’s better if you don’t get dirt in your shorts."
Leigh coughed a little on the stale smoke that still filled the shed.
RJ’s face creased into a frown. "Not to worry, we’re not staying in the delinquent hideout. C’mon." She grabbed Leigh’s hand. "Would be nice to cloud watch, wouldn’t it?" Without waiting for Leigh to answer, RJ snatched up the blanket and exited the shed, tugging Leigh behind her. She carefully spread out the blanket on a patch of grass beneath a large tree that stood alongside the small structure. The tree was on a slight hill and the grass on top was almost completely dry, despite the storms of the day before. While they could still just barely hear the music from the party in the background, they were tucked well out of sight.
RJ let go of Leigh’s hand and flopped down on the blanket, lacing her fingers behind her head and crossing her long legs at the ankle. She gazed up into the bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. After several seconds had passed and Leigh still hadn’t joined her, RJ said, "Sit down, lass. Don’t be pretending to be shy." The tall woman smothered a grin. "I have a feeling you’re just about as shy as I am."
Leigh snorted to herself and joined RJ on the blanket, suddenly feeling like she’d just met her match. "Won’t we get wet?" She could see the puddles all around them.
"Nah. We’re on a high spot. Lay back and close your eyes."
Leigh looked at RJ hesitantly.
"C’mon. I haven’t bitten anyone all morning. You’re perfectly safe here." For the time being.
"Said the spider to the fly," Leigh mumbled.
"I heard that."
"Heard what?" Leigh’s eyes went round and innocent.
RJ laughed, despite her attempt to keep a stern face. "Aren’t you afraid of getting struck between the eyes with a bolt of lightning for telling such lies?"
Leigh scooted closer to RJ and lay down. "Oh, I’m sure I’ll get a bolt in the kisser one of these days. But it won’t be for telling lies."
"You’re right." RJ rolled over and pinned Leigh to the ground by the arms. "It will probably be for the delinquents catching us doing –," she bent down and lightly kissed Leigh’s neck, hearing a tiny gasp, "– this. And –" Another kiss. "This."
"Can’t live forever," Leigh muttered happily.
"Tell me something interesting about yourself, Leigh Matthews."
Leigh’s eyes fluttered closed, and she threaded her fingers into silky reddish-brown hair, tugging RJ’s body closer. "Now?" she breathed. RJ’s kisses felt as good as she’d imagined they would. Soon she’d be nothing more than a puddle.
"I’m …" Leigh licked her lips and groaned. "Ooooo, that’s nice. I’m not sure I know anything interesting." She tilted her jaw upward to give RJ better access to her tender throat.
"I’ll be the judge of that."
"Why are you here?" the male squirrel groaned. He’d vowed never to be seen with her again.
"You don’t remember?" The female squirrel put her hands on her hips and glared at the smaller squirrel.
"Never mind." She sat down next to the male on the crushed beer can. "It’ll be quicker if I just tell you. We were doing the chicken dance–"
"On the fraternity hayride that was going in the park. Right. Go on."
"I was there with that really cute gopher from behind the north bench."
"I’m not sterile!"
"You’re right. I’m pregnant."
The squirrel fell backwards off the can. "Noooo!"
Just then the truck came to a stop and the driver got out, a thermos in hand.
"This is our chance," the male declared. "Come on!"
The squirrels jumped out of the truckbed, their tiny paws slightly sinking into the damp ground in front of Fitz’s diner.
"Where are we?" the female wondered aloud.
"I don’t know. Looks like a godforsaken wasteland to me, but I’m not going to discuss it in the parking lot." He was sure that chunk of squirrel he’d seen on the road a while back was his old high school sweetheart. Either that or his boss. He couldn’t be sure. Despite what they liked to say, they really did look all alike.
"Look." The male pointed. "A tree."
They both scampered around the diner, around the milling people and over to a tall tree alongside a small shed. "Continue with your story," the male said.
"There’s not much more to tell. Libations were flowing, and you fell off the wagon. Literally. Loser."
The male’s eyes widened as the night came rushing back to him. The hay wagon had stopped alongside a pickup truck and he’d seen his mate with that nasty gopher. In his rage he began to shake, then fall; the last thing he remembered was yelling, "Die bitch, die! I’m taking you with me!" as he pulled her over the edge with him. They had been on the very top of a tall stack of hay bales and the pickup truck had been Japanese. He couldn’t believe they’d survived.
The squirrels darted up the side of the tree, climbing high into its branches where they felt safe.
Panting, the male squirrel glanced down and saw a blanket with two female humans on it. The bigger human was suckling the smaller one. He cocked his head to the side. Wasn’t she a little old for that? Wait. "Those humans look familiar."
The female followed her mate’s line of vision. "The humans we spy on back home!"
"The hair ..."
She squinted. "The eyes ..."
"Just a little different. But not much. Same builds. Same wonderful screen presence no matter the location or genre." She rolled her eyes. "We all know what they’re going to look like."
"Genetic mutations because of the inherent weakness of their race?"
"Or lazy writers."
The women below talked and kissed and talked a little more, until the talking turned into broken whispers and the kissing grew more and more fevered.
The female squirrel watched as her mate walked out to the edge of a rickety branch. She could see there were many dead and dry branches mixed in among the new buds, and as her mate began to jump up and down, the twigs fell on the women below.
"What the –"
Leigh’s hand shot to her forehead when a good-sized piece of wood landed right on her head.
RJ was pelted in the back, causing her to interrupt her kissing.
Both women stood up and stared into the tree.
"What are you doing?" the female hissed. "Are you insane?"
"Bwahahahahahahaahahahah!" the male laughed hysterically, jumping even harder. "Come on, join in! They’re only humans!"
Just then the branch beneath the male gave way and he began to plummet to earth.
The female did at least have the decency to wave goodbye.
The male pawed the air and flapped his arms … but sadly, he was not a flying squirrel. So he dropped like a stone. His landing, however, was buffered by RJ Fitzgerald’s head.
"Jesus!" Leigh screamed and took a large step backwards when the rodent fell from the sky and landed squarely atop RJ, who, of course, began to yell, curse and spin in circles, trying to pull the squirrel out of her hair.
Before RJ could dislodge the squirrel, Flea appeared from out of nowhere and sprang into action. She bounded up from the ground and attached herself to RJ’s head in an attempt to dislodge the frightened, flailing squirrel.
The female squirrel’s eyes widened.
Leigh stepped forward to try to help, but there was nothing to be done. RJ lost her balance as soon as Flea pounced. The tall woman ended up tumbling down the hill, skidding to a stop in a large puddle of sun-warmed mud.
Leigh took off down the hill, sliding as she tried to make it to RJ in time. She’d seen the movie ‘The Birds’ when she was a kid. Who knew what a squirrel could do?
Flea used lightning-fast paws to fling the squirrel away from one of her favorite humans. She wanted to pursue the furry beast, but decided to allow his escape in order to stay with her traumatized woman. Her high-maintenance kind had had to seek therapy over much less. Flea’s golden eyes narrowed. She and the little squirrel would meet again. Oh, yes her mind purred. We’ll meet again.
"God, are you okay?" Leigh knelt down, heedless of the grime and pushed mud-soaked bangs out of RJ’s eyes. She peered down at her with concerned eyes.
RJ panted and flicked mud from her hands, realizing now she must be a right mess. A muddy mess that smelled like warm, wet, stale beer. "I’m fine. My ego is in shreds, and I’m really sorry to expose you to all this, but I’m fine." She sighed and looked at herself. "I should probably go get cleaned up. I’m so sorry, Leigh."
Leigh looked at RJ regretfully. "I suppose so." The voices from the party had grown louder and she suspected their respite from the crowd was just about over anyway. Leigh leaned in and lightly kissed RJ on the lips. "It’s been an adventure, RJ. But, yes, you do need to get cleaned up. And I need to go anyway." She was a little surprised at how tempted she was to say she’d wait for RJ to shower and hang around for the rest of the party. But the trucker tucked that thought away for future examination. Bracing her hands against her knees, she stood and reached out for RJ and said the only thing that she could think of at the very moment. "I’ll be back."
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