RJ grumbled to herself as she reached out for a screwdriver that was just beyond her fingertips. The garage was dark except for a hanging light attached under the hood and another flipped on over her workbench. She needed to keep the throttle spring just so …
"Damn thin’!" The tool at her fingertips clattered to the concrete floor, causing another stream of four letter words to be launched into the air.
"What would your mother say?"
RJ jerked her head up and collided with the underhood of the truck at the sound of Leigh’s voice. Her hand unclenched with the impact of her head and the throttle spring made a dutiful ‘sproinging’ noise as it flew across the room and clattered to the floor.
"Ow!" RJ rubbed the back of her head, glancing up sheepishly at Leigh, who didn’t even try to smother her chuckles. "Very funny. And my would no doubt try to wash my mouth out with soap, if you have a burning need to know." The brunette grinned as she continued to rub the back of her head. Now this was a lovely surprise. Despite the near-continuous teasing she’d endured after coming back to the picnic covered in mud, she found herself thinking of Leigh often. Maybe even missing her. But still, it was due to Leigh that she was putting up with two and a half tons of shit. She wanted a little revenge. "But hello to you, sexy. What brings you back this way?" RJ took a few steps into the corner of the room and bent down to retrieve the spring.
"Shower." Leigh jiggled the backpack that contained her shower supplies and a clean change of clothes. "Pete said I could use it again. I had dinner at the diner." She took a step closer to RJ. Stepping in out of the shadows, she smiled. "I was hoping you’d be there."
"My night off." She gestured to her truck. "I thought I’d give Carol a tune up. Her carburetor needed to be adjusted. She’s not purring just right."
"Carol?" Leigh peered at the charcoal-black bucket of rust. Typhoid Mary would be a better name.
RJ fetched the screwdriver and quickly attached the spring. "Yeah, Carol." She spoke with her head in the engine. "My grandmother named her Carol after the actress Carol Lombard. Me grandmother had a thing for short blondes too." She glanced up at Leigh and winked, surprised that in the dim light she could see a faint blush working its way up Leigh’s neck.
"So this was your grandmother’s truck?" Interested, Leigh joined RJ under the hood to see what she was doing. "And I’m not that short."
RJ snorted as she made the adjustment to the carburetor. "Five foot three and no more, or I’m not RJ Fitzgerald." Her eyes dared Leigh to disagree. But by the narrowing of Leigh’s baby blues, RJ knew she couldn’t. "And this was my Grandmother’s truck. Saved for three long years and bought it brand-spanking new before she went overseas in ’42." She wiped her hands on a rag. "And you are short, but you’re cute too. So that’s bound to count for something."
"Thanks." Leigh smiled wryly. "I think." Leigh retrieved a wrench RJ was eyeing. "So why keep something so ..." She gestured vaguely. "So–"
RJ glared at her.
"– antique?" Leigh finished quickly.
RJ was quiet for so long that Leigh worried she’d hit another sore spot. She was about to change the subject when RJ’s quiet voice breached the silence in the garage. "Because," the tall woman paused, "it’s all I have ... of hers anyway. It’s … well, it’s sort of sad story, lass." RJ glanced at Leigh, feeling unsure of what to say, but more in the mood to talk than she’d been in quite some time. "It’s probably nothing you’d want to hear about."
Leigh laid her hand on RJ’s forearm and gently squeezed. "You’re wrong," she said solemnly. She could feel the warmth of RJ’s skin through the gray overalls she wore and was momentarily distracted. She licked her lips. "I’d like to hear."
RJ nodded slowly as she finished removing the last spark plug. "All right." Another few moments and the plugs were replaced.
Leigh let her backpack slide to the floor as RJ clicked off the light above the workbench, casting it in gentle shadows.
RJ straightened to her full height and used her arms to hoist herself onto the bench, her long legs dangling freely over its edge. She patted the spot next to her so Leigh could join her.
With a boldness that surprised even Leigh, she didn’t join RJ on the workbench. Instead, she moved in front of RJ, standing so close that RJ had to spread her legs to accommodate Leigh’s body. The blonde woman’s hips brushed against RJ’s calves, then inner thighs as she came to rest nearly flush against the bench. She placed both palms flat against RJ’s thighs and looked up into her eyes.
The unexpected closeness seemed so intimate, so intense, that it was arousing and disconcerting at the same time. RJ sucked in a surprised breath.
A slow smile edged its way onto Leigh’s face, and she patted one of the thighs beneath her hand. "Go ahead."
RJ tentatively returned Leigh’s smile. "My Grandmother, for whom I’m named, by the way," she paused, "she delivered planes from base to base in the South Pacific. Where she was killed." Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Nothing like starting at the end of a tale! RJ looked away from Leigh.
With one hand, Leigh cupped RJ’s chin and gently guided the brunette’s attention back to her. For reasons Leigh didn’t understand, what was supposed to be an interesting story about RJ’s truck now seemed very important. To both women. "I never knew any of my grandparents," Leigh uttered quietly, hoping to put RJ at ease. She ran her thumb along RJ’s jaw before removing her hand. "So it’s nice that you at least have something from her. I didn’t know women actually flew. I figured back then they were all nurses and secretaries and stuff like that."
"Well, most were. But there were a few who flew. They didn’t fly fighter planes in combat, but they were how many of the planes got to their final destination. Especially near the end of the war, when every available male pilot was attached to a fighter squadron in some way. Women also flew cargo planes, even in the most dangerous fronts. My grandmother was shot down by the Japanese during a mission to deliver a bomber."
RJ’s smile was bittersweet. "Well, it’s not hardly your fault, now is it? Besides, it was a lifetime ago and certainly nothing to be brooding over now. At least not by me."
"So I guess you don’t know what happened exactly. Just that she was shot down?"
"No. I know more of the tale from me mother. Two Japanese fighter planes took off one of her wings when she was about a minute away from her landing point." RJ made a twirling motion with her finger. "The plane spun in circles and dropped like a stone into the Pacific Ocean. She broke both her arms and cracked open her head on impact, but was alive."
Leigh’s eyes went a little wide.
"‘Course she was trapped in the plane, which instantly filled with water." RJ cocked her head to the side, green eyes luminous in the dim light fluttering closed. "It’s not hard to imagine the burn of the salty water if you try."
"I …" Leigh wasn’t sure what to say. Her heart began to beat a little bit faster. "I don’t think I want to imagine that."
RJ opened her eyes. "Me neither." Oddly, she smiled. "Anyway Grandmother’s co-pilot and navigator, a chubby, red-haired crop duster from Iowa, fished her out from under the water when she was already about twenty feet down."
Leigh tried not to think about what it would be like to be buckled into a sinking plane, unable to move your arms to free yourself.
"The co-pilot got them both out and held onto my grandmother until they were rescued about an hour later." RJ shrugged. "I never knew her, of course. I just inherited the truck. My mother has always told me the stories, which were told to her by her grandmother, who looked after her after her mother was killed."
"Sounds like you’ve got something to be proud of, though."
RJ frowned. "Didn’t you hear the story? She didn’t deliver the plane. She was shot down."
Leigh blinked. "I heard the story. She died serving her country."
"I suppose," RJ allowed. "Folks say she was a brave women. Some of the folks in Glory knew her back then." She looked away again. "But I’m not so convinced she was all that brave. She wasn’t much older than I am now. And I think that maybe, just maybe, there was a big part of her that was scared, especially when she knew her plane was going to crash and there was nothing she could do to stop it." RJ’s eyes seemed to glaze. She’d told the story so many times she knew it by heart, could feel what it was really like. "Crashing into the ocean. Knowing you can’t get out. Being trapped, feeling the water dragging you under. Breathing it in and choking. Knowing you failed in your mission and watching the world go black all around you."
RJ stopped and realized she had gotten completely away from Leigh. "I’m sorry." She smiled weakly. "Yeah, I’ve got something to be proud of."
Leigh had paled a little at RJ’s vivid description. "You’re quite a storyteller, RJ Fitzgerald."
RJ snorted a little. "So I’ve been told. Maybe I’m a wasting my time in Glory and ought to head out to Hollywood, eh?"
"Maybe," Leigh whispered, feeling slightly ill.
"So what did you have for dinner? Shrimp?" RJ grinned, trying to lighten the mood. She certainly hadn’t meant to cast such a dour mood over Leigh’s visit.
"Umm ..." Leigh blinked in confusion. Is the story over? I guess so. Leigh vowed she’d never say another word about RJ’s truck again. She couldn’t believe RJ was even talking to her now. "Soup," she said absently, completely missing the darker woman’s barb. "That’s what I had for dinner."
"Hmm, yeah, Mavis makes the soup here. It’s some of the best." RJ clicked on the light above her head, causing Leigh to shield her eyes and squint. Leigh backed away and RJ pushed herself off the tabletop. She reached under the hood and clicked off that light. "How long can you stay?"
Leigh shook her head a little, pushing RJ’s gloomy story far from her mind. "The truck’s parked alongside the garage. I’m here until morning."
"I’m finished here." RJ lowered the hood, letting it slam shut." She scratched her face, then wiped her hands on a rag. "Can I buy you a beer?" RJ gestured to a beat-up old fridge in the corner with her chin. "Then maybe we can take a walk." She wiggled her eyebrows. "I know how much you like to take walks with me and it’s a beautiful night tonight. Stars all twinkling and happy." Like me with you.
"Absolutely." Leigh grinned, then began to laugh softly. "Here." She took the rag out of RJ’s hands and folded it in half. "You have a grease mustache." Without waiting for permission, she gently wiped RJ’s lip and cheek.
RJ patiently allowed the fussing. "If you don’t stop that, Leigh Matthews, you just might get kissed."
"In that case …" Leigh leaned over and wiped the other side of RJ’s mouth, raising her eyebrows she waited.
RJ shook her head. What the hell was she getting into? She lifted her palms to Leigh’s face and drew her close, kissing her soundly. It was gentle, but passionate and went on for several minutes before RJ finally pulled back and whispered through labored breaths, "I warned you."
"Warn me again." Leigh whispered, a warm sensation starting in her belly and radiating outward.
"Count on it." RJ stepped back and unzipped the front of her overalls, exposing her street clothes. "Ready for that walk?"
Leigh nodded. "Sure." She grasped RJ’s hand and dropped her backpack in front of the bathroom as they walked past it.
RJ opened the door, and the sweet evening breeze instantly enveloped her. Gone was the scent of oil and car grease, replaced instead with the scent of the prairie and french fries from Fitz’s. RJ drew in a deep breath. "Heavenly, don’t you think?"
Leigh laughed, and tucked a stray strand of pale hair behind her ear. "Yeah," she breathed quietly, glancing around. "It’s not bad."
Flea trotted up to the woman as they began a slow walk.
Leigh’s grip on RJ’s hand tightened.
RJ’s eyes slid sideways. "What’s wrong?"
"That cat is weird."
RJ burst out laughing. "I couldn’t agree more. Flea is one of a kind."
Flea narrowed her eyes. Humans were a real pain in her ass sometimes. In one jump she was up on RJ’s shoulder, where she gave RJ a playful smack to the head. Well, sort of playful.
Leigh let go of RJ’s hand and backed away further. The thought of a cat on her shoulder named ‘Flea’ made her itch all over.
As if reading her thoughts, Flea hissed at the shorter woman.
"Be nice," RJ scolded mildly. "For all she knows it’s true." She addressed Leigh honestly. "It’s just a name. Flea doesn’t really have fleas. I promise."
A single slender blonde eyebrow inched upward. "You’re sure?"
"Would I hold her if she did?"
"If you would, that’s as close as you’re getting to me." She pointedly gazed at the distance between them.
Flea began nibbling RJ’s hair as though there was something in there.
Leigh’s jaw dropped.
"Thanks a lot, cat!" RJ pushed the feline from her shoulders. "Leigh –"
The trucker held up both her palms and tried her best not to smile. "Stay right where you are."
Ignoring her, RJ stepped closer and lowered her voice. "Leigh."
Leigh’s eyebrows sprang up at the deep timbre of RJ’s voice. Instinctively, she began to move forward toward the voice. Oooo… Wait. Fleas. She stopped. "Sorry, RJ. But that sexy voice won’t work on me." Okay, it will. But you don’t get to know that.
Sexy? RJ smirked inwardly and took another step forward. "Leigh." In the same voice.
Leigh closed her eyes for a second, then shook her head quickly. "Nope." She turned on her heels and bolted across the park area behind the diner, disappearing into the waning light.
"Shit." RJ shot Flea a dirty look before chasing after her.
Flea watched the women in amusement as two voices raised in laughter drifted back to her on the gentle spring wind. They were playing cat and mouse.
And humans wondered why cats acted superior.
They had walked and talked, trading slow kisses in the moonlight for what had to be close to two hours. Leigh was having a wonderful time and not a single fiber of her being wanted it to be over yet.
By the time they made their way back to the garage, the diner parking lot only had a few cars in it and Leigh could see Mavis serving coffee to one or two stragglers who, apparently, weren’t anxious to get back on the road. Been there, done that, she thought sympathetically.
RJ pushed open the garage door but didn’t turn on a light. Their eyes had adjusted to the starlight outside and the shadowy interior of the garage posed no problems. The windows allowed a good dose of moonlight to spill into the large room.
Leigh took the lead, wordlessly tugging RJ’s hand, pulling the woman toward the bathroom that held the shower.
The tall woman smiled and the smoldering burn that had been driving her to distraction all night burst into flame with the realization of where she was being invited.
"Are you taking me someplace where naughty things happen, Leigh Matthews?" RJ asked, her face split into a huge grin.
Leigh stopped walking and turned around to face RJ, allowing their gazes to lock and the look on her face to speak for itself.
RJ’s heart began to beat double time. She had never seen a look of such pure, unashamed lust shining in a woman’s eyes.
Leigh began walking again. "Depends on what you mean by ‘naughty,’ RJ," she whispered softly. "I mean, it’s not like I’ve got enough whipped cream to cover you in it and lick it off or anything."
Sweet Jesus. RJ felt her knees go weak. She vowed at that very moment to check her jacket and make sure she had her keys for the diner, because when Pete and Mavis left she would be visiting the icebox to find the stuff Pete put on the top of the pies. RJ figured there was only one thing sweeter, and it was already leading her to the shower.
Leigh turned around and began walking backwards through the garage so quiet she could hear every breath RJ took. The tip of her tongue appeared, and she wet her lips very slowly.
RJ groaned out loud. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from Leigh’s mouth. "Ohhhh, yeah …" rumbled from her chest. "You and naughty … intimately acquainted, I remember."
The smaller woman simply hooked her pinky around RJ’s and continued to tug her into the small room. "Would you like me to show you just how intimately?" Leigh asked as they came to a halt just inside the bathroom. Her right hand worked its way slowly up the front of RJ’s shirt, while her left hand closed the bathroom door and threw the bolt. As the metal bar slid into place, Leigh’s thumb barely passed over RJ’s painfully hard nipple.
RJ bit her lower lip and whimpered. She leaned toward the touch that disappeared all too quickly. She wanted — needed — this so badly that she felt tears well in her eyes. Her lips were dry from her breathing, now coming in short pants. She quickly wet them.
A warm, firm body pressed up against RJ, pinning her to the cool tile wall. Her chin was nudged upward as soft lips began a gentle exploration of throat. "I want you so bad, I can barely stand it," Leigh whispered roughly, as her tongue and lips continued to caress and brand.
RJ’s eyes fluttered shut when Leigh’s hot tongue found, then slid over her jugular vein, applying pressure in a sensitive spot that earned the trucker a long, languid moan. She could feel the tickle of Leigh’s breath along the hypersensitive damp skin just claimed by the questing tongue. It sent shivers up and down RJ’s spine, and she fought the urge to turn the tables and push Leigh up against the wall. To take her where she stood. But the thought was whisked away by Leigh’s insistent movement.
Small but determined hands unbuttoned RJ’s shirt, and before she knew it they pushing it off broad shoulders, allowing the night air to brush against heated skin. Leigh grazed RJ’s muscular bare back with her nails, driving the auburn-haired woman to distraction. "You’re so damn beautiful," Leigh growled into RJ’s ear, continuing to nip and kiss, unable to stop her hips from moving forward and making solid contact with the body she was enjoying.
Leigh moaned long and low as she felt RJ’s hands slide under her shirt and brush across her belly and ribs.
"You’re not so bad yourself," the tall woman offered, lowering her head to drop a trail of tiny kisses from Leigh’s chin to her ear and down her neck.
The blonde woman drew in a ragged breath, content to let RJ take the lead for the moment. In fact, her body insisted. "We," a deep breath, "are really," a low moan, "bad for each other." Her last words were slightly muffled as her shirt was pulled over her head. How the hell did that happen? Do I care?
"Uh huh," RJ whispered, giving her head a tiny nod. "I barely know you."
"And I barely know you."
"Does that bother you?" RJ cupped Leigh’s breasts, smiling at the gasp that rewarded her.
Intense, sky blue eyes shone like liquid silver in the near darkness. "Do I look bothered?" Leigh growled. Threading the fingers of one hand into RJ’s thick hair, she pulled her into a heart-stopping kiss, the trucker’s tongue plunging deeply into RJ’s mouth. Both women moaned out their approval at the move as they feasted on each other’s mouths.
RJ kicked off her boots, which took her socks with them. Her hands worked the clasp on Leigh’s bra, unhooking it and then sliding it from her shoulders where she let it drop to the floor — forgotten. "We are bad."
"Then –" Leigh backed away and sucked in an appreciative breath at the vision that she was currently unwrapping. Under the handsome exterior, RJ was all woman. Impatiently, she tugged on the button of RJ’s trousers and nuzzled her chest, her mouth watering as it tasted it sweet flesh. "Why does it feel so good?"
Leigh slid her hands around RJ’s waist and into her pants and underwear, not stopping until both hands were full of a firm backside. She squeezed and RJ hissed out her pleasure, the sound causing a flood of warm blood to settle in Leigh’s belly. The heated flesh under her fingers only made her want to feel, see, and kiss more. So she did. RJ didn’t just feel good. She feels incredible, Leigh’s mind whispered. She’s making me feel incredible.
"Dunno, just does. God …" RJ’s words trailed off, but they were fully and completely immersed in exploring each other and neither of them seemed to notice.
RJ caught Leigh in another kiss while taking the time to lower the zipper on the smaller woman’s jeans. Soon they were both nude and hungrily enjoying each other’s mouths, their hands frantically moving over naked skin made damp by the intensity of the moment. Skin met skin and Leigh shuddered under the sensual onslaught as full breasts pressed tightly against. Even standing, their legs were tangled together.
It occurred briefly to Leigh that they weren’t in the shower and despite the fact that they were only a few feet away, they weren’t going to make it. But this thought was quickly washed away when she felt RJ’s mouth land on her nipple, sucking it greedily and taking most of her breast into an impossibly hot mouth. "Oh, God!" She was grateful for the strong arms that held her as her knees buckled and she was leaned way back. Her hands immediately went into RJ’s hair, holding the head firmly in place as she writhed under her lover’s skillful tongue.
RJ’s own nipples swelled and tightened in response to Leigh’s body. She kept one strong arm wrapped around Leigh to keep her from falling, while her other hand snaked between them and worked its way down Leigh’s trim body. RJ sighed with pleasure, enjoying touching this woman so intimately.
It had been too long since she’d done this. Too long since RJ had found a woman who seemed to enjoy it as much as she did. She was enthralled with the overwhelming sensation of it all. Leigh’s skin felt like smooth silk, then liquid velvet as RJ’s fingers slid through soft curly hair to where Leigh was all smoldering heat and passion. "You are so wet." She smiled at the barely audible gasp that came from Leigh, who shamelessly pushed harder into her body.
Goosebumps broke out along Leigh’s arms when she felt RJ’s hand drop to her thigh and slowly caress it. She shifted her leg slightly, opening herself to more of RJ’s coaxing, purposeful caresses. Without being conscious of the movement, she wrapped her leg around RJ’s thigh as her body mindlessly responded to the pleasure. Speech was not possible. Logical thought was long gone. Her world consisted of nothing more than what she was feeling at this very moment as she willingly gave control of her body to RJ.
The trucker’s head dropped forward, her forehead resting on RJ’s shoulder. Her fingers tightly gripped RJ’s forearms as she held on for dear life, whimpering and moaning her enjoyment and encouragement. When the caresses picked up speed and intensity, she helped them along by moving her hips in unison with RJ.
Feeling the pressure build, Leigh began to shake. Her muscles tightened and quivered as a wave of sensation intensified to the breaking point and beyond. Leigh’s body froze as a strong wave of sensation crashed over her, causing her to clamp down on RJ’s arms and shoulders. She cried out, her entire body shaking, just before she lurched forward, propelled directly into a second, even stronger orgasm. She bit down on RJ’s shoulder to keep from screaming.
"It’s all right, Leigh," RJ crooned. The tall woman held her prize with one arm as she eased her hand from between Leigh’s legs. Her own chest was heaving and sweat dripped into her eyes. She felt Leigh tremble and she wrapped her up tight, holding her close as she whispered, "Okay?"
The blonde nodded against RJ’s chest, her eyes shut tightly, her blood still pulsing hotly through her veins. "Mmm hmm." It was the best she could do.
"Make it stop! I can’t take anymore!" the male squirrel moaned. After barely escaping his hair-raising encounter with Flea, he and his mate had build a temporary nest high in the rafters of the garage. But it seemed no matter where they were they were going to be subjected to those two humans. Didn’t humans mate in beds? Or was that sheep? He couldn’t remember.
Suddenly, the noise stopped and a few seconds after that the sound of the water in the garage’s bathroom filled the garage and the old pipes began to moan … just not as loudly as the two human females.
The female pulled two bits of napkin out of her ears. "Is it over yet?"
The male’s eyes went round. "You had earplugs and you didn’t share!"
She put her hand on her hips. "Did you share that french fry you found on the ground the other day?"
"How’s your paw?" The female yanked hard on the bandage covering the male’s injured hand.
"Better I see." She sat back on her husky haunches and frowned. "We need to find a way home."
More moans were heard over the shower. The male covered his eyes. His sex life was ruined. Sure, glancing through those National Geographics in the dumpster was kinky and fun at first. But he really couldn’t take this assault on his ears. Squirrels, while incredibly passionate, were undeniably quiet in their love making.
Then something occurred to him. He studied his mate carefully. "You’re not really pregnant, are you?"
"Of course not."
The squirrel crossed himself, dizzy with relief. "Then why did you say you were?"
"Just to torture you."
"I know." The female shrugged. "Besides, I don’t have to worry about pregnancy ever again."
The male blinked. The only thing his mate loved more than sex was Pringles. Thank God her ass finally got too fat to squirm its way into those cans. That was downright embarrassing. "So what makes you think you won’t get pregnant?"
"Noooooo!" The male fell out of his nest, right into the back of RJ’s pickup. He landed on his head.
His mate could see by the dazed, stupid, nearly stoned look on his face that he was fully conscious and had suffered no appreciable damage. Just her luck.
RJ opened the door to the bathroom, allowing a heavy cloud of steam to escape into the garage. She stopped dead in her tracks, causing Leigh to bump into her back.
Pete was sitting on her workbench, talking quietly to a scared-looking boy who appeared to be in his late teens.
She flipped on the light and everyone squinted and covered their eyes for just a moment.
Pete patted the teen’s thigh comfortingly and ambled over to RJ and Leigh. He quickly looked over both women and smirked at RJ, who blushed. Twinkling brown eyes swung around to Leigh. "I see RJ reminded you where the shower was."
Leigh fluffed her wet hair with the towel around her neck. "She was a gracious host." The short woman leaned forward and winked at Pete. "The shower was spectacular. Thanks, Pete."
This time it was Pete who blushed, causing RJ to laugh loudly. She was definitely getting to like Leigh.
"Well, if you should ever tire of beautiful, tall brunettes …"
"You’ll know the lobotomy was successful."
Pete’s shook his head and chuckled. My, my, Fitz. You’re up to your eyeballs in trouble with this one.
RJ reluctantly put an end to the play when she asked Pete, "Who’s the lad?"
Leigh shot a quick look at the boy. He refused to meet her gaze, instead finding something very interesting about his sneakers. Oh, boy. She winced, hoping he was older than he looked and wondering just how long he and Pete had been waiting outside the bathroom. Leigh sighed, then gave a mental shrug. Nothing to be done about it now. Besides, some things were simply too good to keep quiet.
"I hate to intrude on you girls’ productive evening," Pete’s eyes conveyed true regret, "but I’m afraid I’m in need of Fitz’s professional services."
Leigh looked blankly at RJ for a moment, then remembered what the taller woman had told her. "Welcome Wagon?" At this hour? With this kid?
"Ahh …" Pete nodded approvingly. "She told you then." He patted RJ’s back. "RJ is a great asset to Glory."
It was obvious that Leigh was still confused, so RJ broke in. "Pete is a sort of mentor to troubled kids. He’s got connections everywhere and when he finds one he really believes wants to turn things around for himself or herself, he brings ’em here for a fresh start." RJ shrugged. "They’re sort of my specialty. Like I said before. I help get ’em settled. Find ’em places to live and jobs."
Leigh nodded. There was a little town outside Sioux Falls that had a few state-run halfway houses. They were in the news often, and the town didn’t appreciate their presence. Leigh looked long and hard at the boy. He was wearing torn jeans and a ragged t-shirt. His hair was blonde and greasy, and he looked like he could use a good meal. His gray eyes were round and slightly haunted. Damn. She lowered her voice and asked, "Is it safe?" She looked into RJ’s eyes, clearly worried.
"It’s perfectly safe," RJ said immediately. "They just need a bit of help getting started. And Pete here," she poked Pete’s belly, "is sometimes a little old for these boys to relate to."
"Hey!" Pete straightened indignantly. "I’m not that old."
"’Course you’re not," RJ lied and pushed Pete toward the boy. "I need a minute."
Pete took a step back but didn’t leave them completely alone.
RJ shot him an irritated look but quickly focused on Leigh. "Will you come back soon? This might take a while and no doubt you’d be sleeping long before I’m finished." She ran her fingertips gently over Leigh’s arm. "I’d truly hate to think we wouldn’t see each other again."
A genuine smiled eased its way across Leigh’s face. She’d already calculated the number of days until her route would bring her by again. "You’ll be seeing me again, RJ." Ignoring Pete and the boy, Leigh leaned forward and placed her palms high on RJ’s chest. Rising to her tiptoes, she gently brushed her lips against RJ’s, sighing softly as she pulled away. That felt so nice.
"It’s settled then!" Pete boomed. "Don’t wait too long, Leigh." Pete made his way back to the teenager with RJ following behind him. She glanced over her shoulder several times, watching as Leigh adjusted her backpack and exited the garage. "You could have picked a better time for business, Pete," RJ grumbled.
Pete snorted. "You know I don’t ‘pick’ when they come. It’s not like I can exactly predict these things. I didn’t expect Tony until tomorrow." He shrugged thick shoulders. "But he showed up early."
RJ smiled reassuringly at the thin teen. He looked very lost and alone, and her heart immediately went out to him. She knew just the place for him. RJ had been in his shoes herself. It wasn’t an easy time. "Hello." She extended her hand. "I’m RJ Fitzgerald."
The young man looked at her warily but extended his hand. "I’m …" He swallowed nervously. "I’m Tony."
"Pleasure to meet you, Tony. Has Pete explained that I’ll be driving you into Glory and getting you settled?"
Tony’s eyes flicked to Pete then RJ. Then he nodded slowly.
"Good then. No sense in putting it off." She inclined her head slightly. "Ready?"
"I guess." Tony shrugged one shoulder and grabbed his denim jacket from the workbench.
RJ dug her keys out of the jacket that hung on a hook alongside the bench. She moved to the driver’s seat of her old Ford and waited.
Pete stood in front of Tony, smiling kindly. The boy sucked in a surprised breath when Pete pulled him into a strong hug. "Don’t look so glum, Tony," Pete said gently. "Your prayers were answered." He laughed. "Though it may not seem like it at the moment. You’ll get that second chance you wanted so badly. RJ will see that you’re settled and answer any questions about what you can expect. You’ll be seeing me again soon."
Pete pulled back and gently wiped away a tear that was working its way down Tony’s cheek.
The boy sniffed, embarrassed by his inability to control his emotions. One moment he was in jail with nothing to look forward to. And it seemed like the very next, Pete was offering to help him. All he had to do was ask.
"Go on," Pete winked and pushed Tony toward the pickup. "RJ Fitzgerald is one of the most impatient people I know."
Tony stuck one arm inside his jacket, but decided it was warm enough to go without, so he tucked it under his arm. He slid into the passenger seat as RJ pulled the choke and turned the key and Carol began purring like a kitten.
"Ahhh." A satisfied grin curled RJ’s lips. "Now that’s more like it." She patted the dashboard lovingly.
When Pete pulled up the garage door, the female squirrel, who had been watching the human exchange intently, made her decision. Her mate was huddled in the corner of the pickup truck, which now appeared to be leaving the garage. She couldn’t stand by idly while he was whisked away by the iron death machine. Sure, there were times when they disagreed. But they were squirrel soulmates. And that meant they would stick together through thick and thin. Even if she was occasionally blinded by jealously or fury … they were still mated and she still loved him. At least that was the speech she was going to give a jury of her rodent peers should her mate ever expire under slightly suspicious circumstances. Not that she was planning that or anything. But it never hurt to be prepared.
With a bravery that made Chip and Dale look like the pathetic fairies that they really were — the female dove off the garage rafters, intent on seeing her mate through to the bitter end.
"Uff." She landed on him with a thud.
"I knew you wouldn’t let me go alone!" the male cried against his wife’s breast. "You’re not really gay, are you?"
She stroked his fur tenderly. "Uh … of course not. That beaver supermodel was just a phase I was going through. I didn’t enjoy it at all. After all those screaming orgasms, I got to thinking … once I regained consciousness, that is. I thought … I can’t make a life with her. She’s hardly messy at all. I would miss living with a sloth. And who would tell me my new pelt style doesn’t make me look nearly so fat as the old one?"
"Not a female. They’re not sensitive like we males."
"And she never fell asleep right after sex, ignoring me completely and forgetting about my need for stimulating conversation and intimacy. I can really only count on a male for that."
"Huh?" He glanced around, bored. Then looked up at his mate. "You still talking to me?"
They’d been riding in silence for about fifteen minutes. Most of these boys were quiet, but they usually broke under the curiosity of what their new digs would be like. RJ cleared her throat. Looks like I’m starting this conversation. She focused on the dark road. "Smoke?"
"Sure," Tony answered eagerly.
Realizing she left her cigarettes in her jacket pocket back at the garage, she gestured to the dashboard. "Glove box. And get one for me as well."
Tony obeyed, tapping out two cigarettes and quickly lighting them. He pulled in a deep lungful of smoke and muttered a small prayer of thanks, closing his eyes in pleasure.
RJ chuckled and took her cigarette from his nearly limp hand. "I know how you feel." She cracked a window. The twinkling lights of Glory were fast approaching. "Don’t you have any questions for me? It’s my job to answer them, you know."
Tony shrugged. "Not at the moment."
RJ could only nod. "Suit yourself then." The tall woman turned onto a smooth paved road, then onto Main Street.
The teenager looked around, his eyes wide. He’d never seen a little town like this. "It’s fucking Mayberry!"
Tony rolled his eyes. "Never mind."
RJ pulled up in front of a three-story house right across from the park in downtown Glory. "This is Mrs. Amos’ boarding house. She’s taken in several lads like you and has a way about her that is perfect for the job."
They jumped out of Carol and started walking up the sidewalk. Tony paused under a street lamp, so unsure of himself he was nearly trembling. He wrapped his arms around himself, covering his forearms.
RJ laid a gentle hand on his arm, smiling softly. "What did you do before, Tony?"
"I was a mechanic at Jiffy Lube."
"And was that what you wanted to do?"
"Hardly," he snorted.
"Then what’s your heart’s desire?"
Tony kicked at a pebble. "Who the fuck cares?"
RJ burst out laughing. "Why, I do, of course. What is it then? A musician? A soldier?"
Tony shook his head. "A sculptor," he mumbled.
"What was that?"
"I like to work with clay." He frowned. "I learned in juevy. We had art class once a month and sometimes we got to work with clay."
"An artist it is, then."
Tony’s brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"It’s my job to find you a job and you just told me your heart’s desire." RJ scratched her jaw speculatively. "I don’t think we’ve any other sculptors in Glory. But I’m sure we can find a kiln someplace. Now, let’s get inside. Mrs. Amos will be expecting us."
"My jacket. It –"
RJ gently tugged one of Tony’s arms from around his torso. The street lamp easily illuminated the long line of lurid track marks that scarred his flesh. She laid a warm palm on the scars. "Nobody will be judging you here, Tony." She grinned and with a wipe of her hand the marks on his arm disappeared. "But just to make you feel a little better."
Tony’s eyes widened and he stared at RJ in awe.
The woman laughed. "C’mon now. If I’m late with you, Mrs. Amos will be telling my mother I’m not doing my job and there’ll be hell to pay." RJ made quick work of the sidewalk … with Tony scrambling after her.
The squirrels jumped out of the truck. A town! A park! This was feeling much more like home.
"Where are we?" asked the male.
"I have no idea. Wait." She scampered over to a tree at the edge of the park. A sign written in squirrel, far too small to be noticed by human eyes, was carved into the trunk of a large tree. It said:
Welcome to Glory. Your asses are dead. Bummer.
Have a Nice Day!
Wide eyed and in shock, the squirrels looked at each other and screamed in unison, "Ahhhhhhhh!!"
Back to the Academy