Chapter VIII

 

Leigh let her foot off the brake and turned right at the stoplight. She was driving her Jeep, having dropped off her rig at a body shop on the outskirts of Seattle. From there a taxi took them to the storage unit where she kept her beloved first automobile and a few odds and ends that sheíd saved from her and her dadís house before he died.

Theyíd spent all yesterday on the road from Jackson and stayed the night just a few miles outside the city. Leigh was having a wonderful time and by the nearly permanent smile affixed on RJís face, she was fairly certain her undeniably sweet companion felt the same way.

She parked the Jeep as close to the mall entrance as she could. As usual, it was just far enough away to be annoying, but just close enough so that she really couldnít bitch. At least not too much.

RJ considered her pants, which had been torn at the calf. "Two pair of trousers. Itís hard to believe that I ruined two pairs in less than a day."

Leigh bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. It really wasnít funny, and she did feel somewhat responsible for RJ ripping her second pair. If they hadnít been roughhousing in the motel room before they left this morning, RJ wouldnít have gotten them caught on the metal bed frame. "Youíre just lucky, I guess."

RJ lifted a brow and shook her finger in Leighís direction. "Itís all your fault, you evil little minx. If you hadnít been teasing me so, this never would have happened."

Leigh raised her own eyebrow in response. "Youíre lucky I let you get dressed at all," she said flatly, eyes twinkling. "This morning Ö and the morning before ..." She sighed, letting the words trail off. RJ didnít need to be reminded of the special time that theyíd spent holed up in their motel rooms simply indulging in each other.

"Were incredible," RJ murmured as she looked out at the huge building, her bright green eyes widening just a bit. She leaned forward in her seat, trying not to think about the belt strapping her in. "Whatís this, then?"

Leigh looked at RJ as though she was an alien. "What do you think it is? Itís a mall, of course." She shut off the ignition.

RJ realized she was letting her lack of knowledge about the outside world show entirely too much. She was just so comfortable with Leigh that it was easy to forget she was supposed to know these things and that she had to pretend. "Right." She thought frantically. "We just donít have anything this," she waved her hands aimlessly, "large in Glory." RJ cleared her throat, her gaze sliding sideways as she watched Leigh from the corner of her eye.

Leigh fumbled with the handle of the Jeep door, needing to give it a firm push before it would open. RJ exited her side, stretching her legs as they both stepped out into the cool spring air.

RJ breathed a sigh of relief as the fresh breeze blew gently across her skin, waking up her nerve endings. While her time with Leigh had so far exceeded her fondest hopes, she wasnít one to be cooped up for long periods of time, and she was looking forward to putting stakes here in Seattle for a few days.

Leigh eyed the building speculatively, considering RJís earlier comment. It wasnít a very large mall. Then again, Glory wasnít much of a town from what she could gather. Poor RJ. Everything they did seemed to be a new experience for her. Well, not everything, she reminded herself with a mental chuckle. Thank goodness.

"Iím sure weíll find something for you here, Irish. Whatís your pleasure?" Leigh dragged her appreciative gaze down RJís body. The long tear in RJís pants had come mid-calf and Leigh, with the help of a sharp pair of scissors, had turned the pants into a pair of shorts. Very short shorts. Her smile shifted into a slight leer. "Or ... you could always stay in those for the week. Iím certainly not complaining."

"Umm Ö somehow I think that if I donít get me some new trousers, I wonít be seeing much of the outside of our hotel room. Not that Iím complaining." RJ chuckled softly. "As a matter of fact, you look like youíre ready to baste me in something and start nibbling right now."

Leigh burst into surprised laughter. How can someone I barely know understand me so well? "Okay." She nodded, a self-deprecating look stealing across her face. "Youíre right. Some new pants are in order." Though I reserve the right to baste you in something and nibble it off later. "I think we can manage that in a reasonable amount of time, too."

Leigh stepped aside as an exhausted man who was carrying an armload of packages shuffled past her. "Ooo Ö I know you butch types donít appreciate shopping." She herself didnít much care for it, unless, that is, she was buying for someone else. With that thought, her face broke into a broad, mischievous smile. "Let me buy you an outfit or two, RJ." It wasnít really a question. "I just got paid and I know you couldnít have brought much with you in that tiny duffel bag." Iím taking you out tonight, gorgeous. I can tell being in that truck was starting to make you a little twitchy.

"Oh, no." RJ tried not to sound insulted. "Iím in fine shape for money and this week I want you to relax and enjoy yourself," she insisted. "Let me take care of myself and you as well. I want to treat you this week, Leigh."

RJ reached over and took the truckerís hand in her own, not caring that they were in public. People were bound to be more accepting nowadays than they had been in her time. "I want you to remember our time together as being very special." She tilted her head toward the mall, causing dark, wavy bangs to fall down across her forehead and scatter into her eyes. "You can help me pick out the clothes. Iíve never been any good at that at all. Left to my own devices, I always look like a ragamuffin."

Leigh leaned forward and affectionately smoothed the hair away from RJís face, letting her hand linger on RJís cheek. "You look beautiful." RJís face turned a lovely shade of rose, and Leigh felt a sudden rush of fondness for the lanky woman. It came on so quick and fierce that was actually unsettling. Pulling her hand away slowly, she pushed those thoughts aside for later consideration. Much later.

The blonde woman pursed her lips. "Okay. How Ďbout this? Iíll let you buy me something, but only if I can buy you something in return." She squeezed RJís hand. No woman had ever taken her hand in public before and much to her surprise, she thoroughly loved it. She felt comforted and secure with RJís strong fingers wrapped around hers. She sighed. The rest of the world could just drop dead. "Deal?"

"Sounds fair." RJ paused and considered the Ďmallí they were approaching, which she assumed housed the worldís most enormous store. "So what do you think Iíd look good in?" She stopped just long enough to make sure she could get the outer door open for Leigh, holding it with one foot as she reached for the second inner door. "Iím sure things have changed a bit since the last time I did any real shopping." Now thatís an understatement. Whatís it been? Fifty, nearly sixty years? And look at these funny clothes! Itís more than a shame that women arenít wearing dresses anymore. Iíve seen nary a one since Glory!

"RJ, you look fabulous in absolutely nothing." Leigh bumped her hips with brunette. "So Iím sure clothes wonít be a problem." She glanced over at her friend, suddenly realizing that she was serious. Does she think Iíd dress her in a skintight mini-skirt? Oooo Ö a miniskirt Ö

"Leigh?"

Nothing.

"Lass?" A little louder.

"Yeah?" Leigh jerked her head sideways. "Sorry." She shook her head a little as she stopped in front of a large rectangular sign that listed the different stores and showed their locations on a basically useless map. "Letís go with something similar to what got wrecked. I want you to be happy. And you looked good enough to eat." Still do. She groaned inwardly. God, what is up with me?

"As I seem to recall, you did just that. More than once!" RJ held her tongue for a split second before bursting into laughter at the sight of Leighís gaping mouth. Oops. Werenít expecting that, I see. But to her credit, she had at least tried not to laugh outright at her friend. "So yeah. Letís go with something similar."

This time it was Leighís turn to blush. "And here I thought I was incorrigible."

RJ leaned toward the smaller woman to whisper in her ear, "You know damn good and well that Iím not one for holding back when it comes to what Iím thinking." Her voice went very serious. "Lifeís far too short for that, Leigh." She kissed a spot alongside Leighís ear and made a conscious effort to lighten her tone. "And youíre just so damned cute when you blush like that."

Leigh pulled away and stuck out her tongue at RJ, but didnít let go of her hand. "Just for that, we get to pick out your clothes first." She pointed to a store that the map showed was in the middle of the mall and on the second floor. "This is where I want to start. They have a lot of great unisex clothes in colors I can actually stand." She appraised RJ with mock-seriousness. "You really donít look like a lime green, chartreuse, or tangerine sort of girl to me."

"Thatís good," RJ allowed hesitantly. I think.

"I just canít stand that horrible 70s retro-shit." Leigh gave an involuntary shiver as they made their way toward the escalators.

RJís eyebrows drew tightly together as Leigh expertly guided them around the people, plants and strollers. "Have you been here before?"

"Nope."

"How can that be? You walk around like you know exactly where youíre going. And I know that pitiful excuse for a map isnít the reason."

Leigh shrugged. "Isnít one mall pretty much like the other? Food court on the lower level, escalators and elevators in the middle, bathrooms at the ends?"

"If you say so." There is more than one of these places?

They passed store after store until RJ exclaimed in disbelief, "All these stores are in this one building!"

"I should hope so," Leigh said, fully believing RJ was teasing her. "Iím not moving the Jeep unless I have to."

RJ looked a little dazed. Who could have imagined that? Wait until I tell Mavis. Sheíll collapse on the spot! "Iíd lose my mother in this place, never to see her again!"

Leigh laughed. "She wouldnít be the first person to succumb to mall madness, lemme tell you."

RJ followed her companion to the steps but hesitated when she saw that they were moving. She paused for just a second, having only ridden on one once when she was a child. A few seconds later, when she looked up, she found herself watching Leigh growing smaller and smaller.

Leigh turned her head to open her mouth and say something to RJ when she noticed she was gone. She looked down past several people and spied RJ at the bottom of the steps, looking up at her in confusion. Leigh lifted her hands in question and silently mouthed, "What happened?"

"Right." RJ mumbled, waving at Leigh. Get a grip, woman. Or Leighís gonna think youíve gone Ďround the bend. She took the steps two at a time, politely making her way past the people between her and Leigh. She caught up with the trucker just as Leigh reached the second floor. "You know how sometimes you just get a little dizzy from looking at stairs?" RJ said offhandedly, shrugging and smiling, hoping Leigh wouldnít ask for more of an explanation.

"Not really," Leigh said slowly. Her eyes filled with concern and she carefully examined RJís face. "Youíre not going to be sick again, are you?"

"No!" Sweet Jesus, Iím a pilot and now she thinks Iím going to puke on the escalators? Okay, I was the one who brought up being dizzy. But still! she whined. "Well, I umm Ö never mind." She glanced around her, her eyes drawn to the bright lights and all the stores and kiosks. RJ realized she had far more important things to worry about than looking bad on a moving stairway. "So where are you taking me? Someplace that fits with your naughty disposition, Iím betting."

Leigh let out a relieved breath. RJ seemed fine. As weird as she usually seemed Ö but at least not about to barf. "Actually, Iím not." She stopped dead in her tracks and wrinkled her nose as she sniffed the air. "Yes!" Leigh suddenly veered to the left, pulling RJ right along with her as she trotted over to a pretzel stand and pulled a ten dollar bill from her jeans pocket. "Can I tempt you with one of these?" A batch of fresh pretzels had just been pulled from the oven and the heavenly smell had Leighís eyes rolling back in their sockets.

"You can tempt me with all kinds of things and you know it." RJ looked at the girl behind the counter, who was openly staring at them. "What, havenít you ever seen two people shopping for clothes before?"

The young girl looked utterly bored as she pulled her chewing gum out of her mouth and then pushed it back in before resuming chewing. "Whatever, Granny. What kind do you and your girlfriend want?"

RJ laughed out loud, looking at Leigh. "Well, what do you know? Youíre my girlfriend! Did you know you had signed on for the long haul?"

"Thatís news to me. Pretzel girl here must be psychic."

The girl rolled her eyes. Dykes were such bitches. "Do you want a pretzel or not? Iím totally busy." Now she snapped her gum, glancing down her fake black fingernails.

Leigh looked around her. They were the girlís only customers and another pimply-faced boy was making a fresh batch. She shook her head slowly. "I can see that youíre swamped."

The girl narrowed her eyes and Leigh got on with it. "Iíd like a cinnamon and sugar pretzel, please." Leighís gaze slid sideways. "And for you, honey buns?"

RJ shook her head. Leigh was nothing but trouble. But luckily, the pilot really enjoyed being in trouble. "When in Rome Ö" she shrugged, looking around a little more seriously now. "Whatever you choose is fine or I could just eat yours."

Leigh blushed again, causing RJ to clamp her hand over her mouth and the teenaged cashier to snigger. The trucker giggled despite herself and quickly handed over the ten dollar bill, getting back only a few ones for change. "You like doing that, donít you?" she accused RJ.

"I will admit to getting a certain," she paused and locked eyes with Leigh. Bringing the hand that held the pretzel to her mouth, she took a long slow bite, humming with pleasure before she even started to chew. "Ö Amount of pleasure from it. Yes."

The girl at the counter said, "You two really need to get a room. And if youíre into movies, like, I know this guy, Freddy, who wants to be a director someday and heíd love to tape you two going at Ė "

"God." Leigh made a face and quickly began pushing RJ away from the counter.

RJ skidded her feet and turned so she was walking backward facing Leigh. "Wanna make a movie? That young lady seems to know someone who would Ė"

"Someone who would require us to get extra shots of antibiotics just to be around him." She leaned close to RJ and stood on her tiptoes so she could whisper in her ear. I canít believe Iím about to say this. "If you really want to make a movie, Iíd prefer we do it alone."

RJ nodded before turning around and re-taking Leighís hand. "Alone would be good too. I like being alone with you. You get all feisty and sweaty."

Leigh smiled a little bewildered, suddenly wondering if she and RJ were talking about the same thing at all.

RJ began looking around. The sweet-tasting pretzel and Leighís hand firmly placed in hers had given her spirits another boost upward, making her feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Full of excitement, her natural instinct to explore began to kick in. Then something caught her eye. She stopped and stared at the scantily clad mannequins in the store window. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"

Leigh turned to see what had RJ standing in the middle of the mall with her jaw on the floor. She followed her line of sight and began to cluck her approval. "Victoriaís Secret." She bit her lip and let out a low groan. "If their catalog doesnít turn you on to women, check for a pulse." She giggled at RJís continued open-mouthed stare and used her fingertip to close the now panting orifice. "Iíd love to get you in, and then immediately out of, something from that store. But since I donít think that will happen, you can shop for me there instead."

RJ gripped Leighís hand tighter and began pulling her in the direction of their goal. "Letís go then! Iíll be happy to buy you anything you like from this place."

"No, no, no, no." Leigh shook her head. "You first. I have a feeling weíll be all day if we start in there. I guess they donít have one of those in Glory either." Around a bit of pretzel she said, "Are you sure that youíre not really a prisoner whoís been recently released on parole after a hundred-year sentence? You seem like a kid in a candy store," she teased.

RJ reluctantly tore her eyes from the storefront and followed Leigh past another shop, not bothering to respond to Leighís comments. They hit a little too close for comfort and with startling clarity RJ realized how lonely Glory had become for her. She stuffed the rest of the pretzel in her mouth and tossed the napkin in a trash bin.

The tall woman winced a bit at the level of music that was playing. But once she adjusted to it, she actually started to enjoy the beat a bit. Glenn Miller it isnít. But itís not bad. But she couldnít get her mind off the store with all the pretty, girly nighties. "We could have had so much fun in the other place, Leigh. I noticed this little black number you would look just wonderful in Ö then out of." She leered just a little, hoping to earn another blush. She really did enjoy doing that, guessing that not too many people could get that sort of reaction out of Leigh.

Leigh smacked RJ in the belly as they walked. "Not this time, Stretch." She rolled her eyes playfully. "Iím long past blushing about scantily clad women." After passing another few stores Leigh announced that they were Ďhereí and dragged RJ inside. They hadnít gotten three paces into the store when a prissy sales clerk scampered over to them, appraising each of their outfits with what appeared to be genuine interest.

The tall, rail-thin man was wearing a pair of crisply pressed chinos, an obnoxious lavender-colored cotton shirt, and what RJ was sure were womenís shoes. His head was covered with a sparse patch of white blonde hair . "Hello, ladies," he exclaimed excitedly in a featherlight voice. When he got a good look at RJ he slapped his cheeks with both hands. "Look at those long legs. Arenít you simply divine!"

"Watch it," RJ warned playfully. She hadnít seen a man so light in the loafers in years. He was section eight material if ever there was some. "My," she glanced at Leigh and grinned, "girlfriend, here, will kick your butt for talk such as that. Iíll be needing a couple pairs of trousers."

"Ohhh," he squealed, happily playing along with RJ. "Whip me, beat me, teach me how to love. I am so all over that, girlfriend. Whatever it takes to make the little one happy." He winked at down at Leigh, his admiration clear.

RJ crossed her arms across her chest. "You keep that up and Iíll be the one kicking your butt. Just help me find a couple pair of trousers. I have better things to be doing with my time than buying my own clothes. Thereís a shop back there," she jerked her thumb over her shoulder, "I need to get her into."

The clerk held up his hand to forestall any further comment. "Victoriaís Secret." He crossed himself and reverently said, "Say no more. I shop there."

"For yourself," Leigh mumbled playfully.

"Iím Alan." The man shifted into professional mode. "I understand you would like some Ďtrousersí?"

"Thatís what she said, Alan," Leigh supplied. "But weíll be needing just a few more things besides the pants. Weíre going out on the town tonight."

RJ looked a little surprised. Leigh hadnít mentioned this before. She had just assumed theyíd go back to the motel, have tons of obnoxiously satisfying sex and then go to bed.

Leigh gave the man a satisfied smirk. "And I want the entire city to wish they were me. Not that they wonít be anyway."

They both turned and stared at RJ, who was standing there looking like a deer caught in headlights.

"Not a problem," Alan declared.

"And I want her to be completely comfortable in what sheís wearing."

Alan scowled. "I sense a problem."

***

 

Pete ran a shaking hand through his thick white hair. "I know, Katherine! Iím not disagreeing with you."

"How could you do it?" Her gaze raked across the table of men and women and not a single one of them would lift their eyes to meet hers. "Sheís falling in love with that girl, whether she knows it yet or not. And there is no way they can be together! Youíre going to let her get her heart broken." The middle-aged woman was nearly in tears.

"Katherine," Pete rumbled in a low voice. "We canít change whatís destined to happen." He squared his shoulders, firming his resolve against the formidable woman. "Youíve been in Glory long enough to know that."

"Peter," she narrowed her eyes, "are you saying that me daughter is destined to have her heart torn from her chest and stomped on!"

"Iím not a fortune teller." Pete winced. "So I donít know."

"If you donít know, then why are you saying itís destined to happen?"

"Katherine." Peteís voice softened. "That theyíre right for each other is obvious. Any fool can see that." Before she could respond he beat her to the punch by saying, "Yes, even a fool like me. RJ might get her heart broken." He looked directly into her eyes, an unusual helplessness overtaking his strong features. "Thereís nothing Ė"

"I refuse to accept that! Her life was short enough as it was. Now sheís being shortchanged in her afterlife too?" Katherine slammed her fist against the table. Her husband, Frank, who was sitting quietly at the other end of the table nodded approvingly. A man who was married to a woman like Katherine didnít need to say much. Thank the Lord. And he could see she was on a roll. "I, for one, wonít stand here idly while that happens. Ruth Jean deserves better."

Pete hung his head. "Youíre right, Katherine." When he looked up he pinned every member of the Glory City Counsel with a withering gaze. "RJ has given us sixty years of dedicated service." He sat down in his chair, jumping back up when Flea hissed in outrage. "Sorry, Flea," Pete offered contritely, as he picked up the fat cat and set her on the table in front of him. "I think maybe we need to consider breaking the rules and letting RJ leave Glory permanently."

Katherine, along with everyone else in the room, gasped, a pang in her chest making it hard to breathe. Would they really let RJ leave? Lord above, it would take a miracle. But she nodded. Her daughter deserved her chance at happiness and she would take her petition to the very top if she had to.

***

RJ didnít know where to start when they got back to the lingerie store. There were just so many options. She began counting on her fingers, her brows drawing together.

"What are you doing?" Leigh asked as she took notice of a nice little purple number that was a distinct possibility.

"Counting how many nights we have."

"Nuh uh, RJ." Leigh shook her head. "I only got to buy you one outfit. And you insisted on buying yourself those jeans." Her smiled at RJís new Levis. "That means you can only pick one thing for me." She smiled mischievously. "Fair is fair."

RJ growled deep and loud at her stubborn companion. She usually enjoyed the fire and the fight that Leigh so easily displayed. But couldnít she see reason just this once? There were so many Ö interesting outfits to be had here. All of which the blonde would look completely delightful in. "Fine," she muttered, only somewhat dejected. She was still buying one, by God. "Which one do you like, lass?"

"Doesnít matter." Leigh smiled coyly. "If Iím not mistaken," batting her eyelashes, she drew her fingertip from RJís belly button all the way to collarbone where she let it rest, "this is really for you, right?" Her smile broadened when she heard RJ swallow. Hard. God, I love flirting with her.

RJ captured Leighís hand and kissed the tip of her wandering, but much appreciated finger. "Well, thatís true, but I want you to feel good in whatever it is you wear. If you feel good youíll enjoy it more. And if you enjoy it more, Iíll enjoy it more." She gently bit the tip of Leighís finger. "And if I enjoy it more, youíll enjoy it more." She gave the blonde a wicked little sneer as one eyebrow arched up and said, "Donít you agree?"

This particular conversation was making Leigh dizzy, though the Ďfeel goodí theme was registering loud and clear. "How about this?" She walked over to a rack of short silk robes and watched as RJís eyes lit up. Hmm Önice reaction, her ego purred happily. But how about Ö As an experiment, she walked over to another rack, this one containing lacy bras, and received an equally enthusiastic reaction. "Oh, boy." She laughed. "I think weíre going to be here for a while."

Leigh crooked her finger at RJ and the tall woman immediately complied by stepping over to her. "You know they have dressing rooms here, right?" she said with the innocence of an angel.

"You know, lass," she shifted just slightly. Suddenly her clothes were becoming very restricting and warm, very warm. "If youíre suggesting what I think youíre suggesting ..." RJ whimpered at the thought.

Leighís smile grew even larger. "Yes?"

"Well, then that might be Ė" RJ was forced to stop and clear her throat. "That might be a mistake. Now mind you, Iím not certain, but Iím thinking even in the great State of Washington you can get arrested for what would happen if we went into that dressing room together."

Leigh pouted just a little and RJ tweaked her lower lip.

"It might be best if you find an outfit or three that you like and then we take them to the hotel and try Ďem out." RJ was quite certain there was nothing in this store that Leigh wouldnít make look even better.

"Tch," Leigh scoffed. "Such a dirty mind." What RJ had said was, however, right on target. The thoughts that were floating around in Leighís brain and sending lovely signals to the rest of her anatomy would most certainly get them into deep trouble if they got caught. "I was just suggesting that you pick out a few of your favorites for me to try on." The trucker tried her best to look innocent, which even in the best of times was a bit of a stretch.

"Right." RJ eyed her companion, knowing better than to fall for that sweet, innocent look. Leigh Matthews was many things. But sweet and innocent were not among them. "All right, tell you what. Why donít you pick one you like and Iíll pick one I like and weíll go with those? We can surprise each other."

"Okay," Leigh agreed immediately. She spent a few moments perusing the racks, intentionally staying on the opposite side of the store from her lover. She began to gnaw on a fingernail as she scanned the garments.

She felt decidedly girly as she rolled the fabric of a silky pair of panties in her hand. It was nice to feel feminine. She spent most of her time in a manís world or completely alone. And while she clearly had a preference for strong women, she couldnít stand being dominated. RJ is the perfect combination of feminine/masculine, she mused. Strong and self-assured, but still caring and funny. She doesnít dictate my every move. She just lets me be myself. Even her body is just right. Long and muscular, but still soft and inviting.

Leigh quickly began fanning her flushed cheeks, turning her back to the part of the store she knew RJ was looking in. "Oh, boy," she laughed at the state sheíd worked herself into. "Okay, time to focus." Pale brows creased. What would she like that she might not pick out herself? RJ was by no means shy, then again, some of the lingerie, especially the stuff in the very back of the store, was a little on the racy side. Tasteful. Hot as hell. But undeniably racy.

Something in the palest of greens caught her eye. She picked it up and held it in front of her body. Taking a chance, she nodded and folded it under her arm.

RJ tucked her thumbs in her pockets and wandered around the store. She tried to keep an eye on Leigh, but her attention couldnít help but drift to the clothing all around. She pictured the blonde in almost everything she laid eyes on. If I keep this up we wonít make it back to the hotel. I canít take the stress of being with her. Why does she have to be so damn sexy and so willing to play with me? Wish Iíd met her when we could have had a lifetime together.

The thought shocked her, and she reached up to wipe away the moisture that had collected in the bottom of her eyes. She sucked in a deep breath and picked up a particularly attractive black number that came with a pair of sheer black hose and garters to match. "Oh, yeah. Always had a thing for those."

A low voice burred directly into RJís ear, "No man could resist them. Those are very nice."

The pilot swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes. Yes they are." RJ turned around to see a distinguished-looking woman in her mid-fifties. She wore enormous glasses with red frames, and her nose resembled a beak, accentuating her already owlish features.

"What size are you?" the decidedly cheerful woman inquired.

RJ finally tore her eyes from the outfit and took in the clerk who was offering her assistance. "Oh, no. Itís Ö umm Ö not for me."

"Oh." The clerk stiffened, her attitude immediately cooling as she followed RJís line of sight to Leigh, who was talking to another clerk at the register. She stroked her perfectly pressed sleeve. "For a friendís bachelorette party or wedding shower?"

RJ stood up to her full height and stared at the clerk, lifting a single, defiant brow. "No. For a friend. But not for a party. At least not one thatís going to have more than two participants."

"I see." The clerkís nose wrinkled ever so slightly. "You donít look as though you need any help. Iíll leave you to your shopping." She turned to leave when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

"No, actually," RJ made the clerk turn around to face her, "I think Iíd really like you to help my friend. Sheís right over there." RJ pointed to the blonde. "Isnít she beautiful?"

The clerkís eyes widened. "She Ö I mean Ö of course Ė"

So much for people being more accepting in these times. Dear Lord, what have people been doing for the last sixty years! "And donít you think she deserves the most beautiful piece outfit that you have in your stock?"

"Well, I mean," the woman began to sputter. "Sheís quite attractive. And Iím sure Ė"

"Oh, but nothing." She took the woman by the arm and moved her across the store toward the blonde at a nearly frightening speed. "Leigh, sweetheart, this lady was just saying how much sheíd love to help you find something for us to enjoy this week while weíre together." RJ hoped her grin would convey to her friend what was going on. If not, she were pretty sure the trucker would figure it out as soon as the clerk opened her mouth. She had to admit Leigh was damn quick on the uptake.

One look at the prudish clerk and Leigh sighed. Has Miss Straight and Narrow been giving you a hard time, RJ? Now thatís just not nice. "Thank you, honey." She marched right up to RJ and placed a light, but decidedly not chaste kiss on her lips. "Youíre so thoughtful."

"Oh, thatís me all right ó thoughtful. Iím looking forward to being all kinds of Ďthoughtfulí with you later. So pick something very nice." RJ winked and took a step backwards, perfectly happy to watch the master go to work.

The saleswoman looked like she was ready to bolt and was already wearing a light coat of perspiration.

"You know ..." Leigh tapped her chin. "This is what I think Iíd like you to do." She paused. "It is your job to help two love birds like us find satisfaction with our lingerie choices," Leigh smiled sweetly, "isnít it?"

"I ... I ..."

"Of course it is." Leigh moved right up alongside the woman, invading her personal space and intentionally making her even more uncomfortable. "My lover, the beautiful brunette youíve already met, would like to buy me something. Iíve already selected something for myself, which is waiting for me at the register. But I think I might need to be measured for what sheíd like to buy me." She turned to RJ, the mischief fairly dancing in her sky blue eyes. "Isnít that right, baby?"

"Oh, absolutely. Have to make sure it fits properly, donít we, darliní? Wouldnít want you getting pinched in a Ďsensitiveí spot. Unless of course Iím doing the pinching." RJ leaned over to the saleswoman. "She really likes it when I bite her on theĖ"

RJ couldnít finish her sentence before Leighís lips crushed against hers in a passionate kiss.

The salesclerk gasped, then paled as the kiss continued and several large women in the front of the store began hooting and clapping.

"Mmmm ..." Leigh pulled away from RJ, her eyes still closed. She opened them slowly and shrugged one shoulder, a small smile playing at her lips. "I was missing you," she said softly. Truly meaning it.

RJ wasnít sure if her friend was playing or serious, but she placed her hand on the blondeís cheek and replied sincerely. "I was missing you as well, Leigh Matthews." She stood up straight before the moment got too intense and turned back to the clerk who looked as if she were going to pass out at any moment. "See how sweet she is? Now Iím sure you can find it in your heart to help her out."

The woman stood dumbfounded, simply staring at Leigh, who was staring at RJ, utterly charmed by RJís response to her kiss. She started to slip away when Leighís hand shot out and grabbed a tape measure that was barely sticking out of the saleswomanís pocket. "I believe the dressing rooms are this way. And I just know Iím going to need some help." This woman is acting like my cooties will kill her. I love it! Leigh turned on her heel and began marching toward her destination. When she was almost there she stopped and looked over her shoulder.

The saleswoman was torn. She couldnít stand waiting on this kind. But she couldnít afford to lose this job either. The woman reluctantly scurried after Leigh, taking the tape measure from her outstretched hand and walking past her into the dressing rooms.

Leighís eyes were riveted on RJ. "Wait for me?"

A nod. "For eternity if I must," she said quietly.

***

"Where is she? Whatís she doing?" the female squirrel whispered loudly. Her mate was standing on her shoulders peering inside Fitzís diner at the Glory Town Council meeting.

"She was ranting about broken hearts and her daughter. But now theyíre all just sitting around a table drinking iced tea."

The female rolled her eyes. "Not the humans, dipshit! The cat. Flea. Whatís she doing?"

The male stuck his face up to the glass, pressing his tiny, wet squirrel nose against its dusty surface and fogging it up with his moist breath. "Sheís lying on the table while Elvis scratches her belly."

"Elvis! Really?"

"No," he said dejectedly. "But that would be cool, wouldnít it?"

The female jerked to the side, sending her mate tumbling to the ground at her feet. "This is not a joke. That cat is after us! Sheís toying with us, torturing us, watching us writhe and sweat just for sport."

"Females," the male snorted. "Youíre all alike."

"True."

"So what can we do?"

"We can fight back. Iím not going to spend the rest of eternity running from that nasty feline. Just look at this." She pointed to the scratches on her back. Apparently, being dead didnít make you immune from injury.

"The cat didnít give you those." He wriggled the skin above his eyes that would have been squirrel eyebrows had God not been preoccupied by Republicans that day ó and other manner of hideous assaults upon nature. "I did."

The female tackled her mate. She pressed into him, exciting him with her shapely squirrel form and her low, sexy rodent voice. "Is that a grain of rice in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

The male squirrel purred happily and slid his hand between their bodies. "Itís rice!" He whipped out a single long grain and shoved it right in front of his mateís face, forcing her to cross her eyes to look at it. "Iím hoarding for the apocalypse."

"But weíre already dead!"

"Oh, yeah." The male immediately popped the grain of rice into his mouth.

Chapter 9

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