This book contains alternative material of a lesbian nature (sexual and emotional experiences of women loving women). Please do not continue if you have not reached the age of majority or if it is illegal where you live to view such material. All characters within this work are fictional and original, and are the sole property of Belle Sherry. Please send feedback to

Miriam & Esther


Belle Sherry

Chapter One
Chunky Chocolate Capuccino

And then it began to rain. She'd made her way through the busy streets of the small city to the unique and colourful coffee shop that she cherished so well. It was a chore for her to make it through the crowds of summer tourists drawn there by its namesake, which offered abundant fishing, camping and water sports. But then on rare occasions when she had to venture from her home, the coffee shop was her reward for making her journey safely. The dry heat hadn't helped matters any, forcing her to stay inside rather than tend her beautiful garden, yet she'd put off the visit to Cool Lake for as long as she could, heat or no. She'd waited to go until her sugar and coffee supply were at the bare minimum, and after she'd fed her cat, Tahloolah, table scraps for three days running. Scraps were a treat that Loolah loved, but definitely one that she couldn't afford, as someday her spindly little legs would certainly give way from the pressing weight above them.

Miriam had served herself and was frazzled by the time she took a seat in front of the big bay window of the Some Like It Hot Coffee House on Water Street. She desperately needed the quick fix of caffeine disguised as java, which she was about to consume to settle her nerves. Just then, the aroma from the coffee de jour, Chunky Chocolate Capuccino, made her feel quite at ease and she began to anticipate its flavor. It was when she'd blown across the cup and began her first sip that the rain began to fall. Slowly at first, with just a few drops of water landing and evaporating on the scorched concrete, then, as if the sky burst open, a torrential downpour scattered the people from the streets like mice abandoning a sinking ship. With a clang, the door of the coffee shop blasted open to let in rain soaked passersby, a happenstance crowd of potential customers closest to the shop when the rains came. Much like the game of musical chairs, Miriam mused, for when the music stopped some had dashed inside Watson's Five and Dime, others still into the Gay Paris Dress Shop and Barney's Furniture Emporium. Miriam noticed that a few had sought shelter under the small awning of the Cool Lake Water Supply Co., yet had not entered the building. She felt fortunate not to have been caught in front of the utility company that had taken advantage of its customers with a rate hike and a watering ban just when the drought reached its peak. With this thought in mind, she nestled more deeply into her chair to enjoy the rain.

She began to regain her senses once the crowd started to settle down. She hadn't needed the upset of a roaring horde of wet hens, yet since they were there as a result of a badly needed rain, she could survive the mass for a little while. Her nerves hadn't been the same since the accident. Now, the least bit of noise out of time could send her reeling into her dimly lit, seldom visited house for a week or more. She took refuge often in her garden, where nature's noise kept her thoughts steady. Today, she reasoned, was a necessary trip that must be endured, including all that went with it. She convinced herself that she would have plenty of time later to recuperate from her venture away from home, once she finally returned there. She began now to focus on the tasks that lay ahead of her. When the rain subsided, she would begin at Laverne's Lumber & Hardware, and finish up at Cool Lake's Farmer's Market. Aside from her own back yard, the Farmer's Market held a vast array of goodies fresh from the earth. She'd returned to the basics in life just after the accident, and admired the haggard old men at the Market for staying with the soil through thick and thin, even when there was no promise or profit in it. She relished her conversations with the men there, as they would lend her growing tips for her own garden and share their stories from days gone by. She always saved the Market for last, so that she could linger in the cool shade and gather strength for her journey home.

The rain continued yet had slowed when those gathered in the coffee shop out of necessity left two by two, until it was filled only with those truly intending to be there; a small number of regulars and a couple of tourists, no doubt. She took two deep breaths as the bell that hung above the door quieted at last. Being that her first cup had been filled with clamor, Miriam decided a second cup was in order. A real treat to have a second cup of an exotic flavor such as Chunky Chocolate Capuccino, Miriam thought. And actually it was only the first real cup she justified, because the first was in an atmosphere of such disarray. Now she would have a second cup the way she'd anticipated the first one on her drive into town, in peace and quiet. The conversations around her were filled with talk of the weather; speculation had already begun of how many days and nights the rain would fall. Miriam was annoyed with the talk behind her, irritated that most people couldn't be satisfied with the blessing of rain that they had been given, before speaking of its end. She decided not to dwell on it, however, reminding herself that if she didn't give an annoyance any power, then it wouldn't have any power to aggravate her. She calmed down by thinking peaceful, patient thoughts, and took a few more deep breaths.

One voice in particular was different, Miriam noticed. It eased its way into Miriam's calming process, even though she tried to insulate herself from it. The voice was, at first, busy with business as usual, asking to refill cups and extend samples of tea cakes and cookies, then it would break the routine and offer up a pleasant hum. Miriam moved her cup and saucer to the table's edge in order to signal for a refill as the voice inched closer to her. When the voice stopped again at the table behind her, Miriam turned from the window slightly so that she could better see its source. She was pleased at what she saw, a beautifully kept woman in her late thirties or early forties. Miriam noticed her graceful movements immediately, and noticed that the flower print dress she wore accentuated her lean, firm body beneath it. The woman's face seemed youthful, full of life and energy, despite a touch of gray in her curly blonde hair. With her tanned limbs exposed to complete the perfect picture of health, she poured Miriam's second cup. Startled and somehow embarrassed, Miriam looked away as the waitress poured fresh coffee into her mug, and said, "here you go, Miss." Miriam had been rudely staring at her hostess without being aware, and she was shocked and ashamed at herself. But who was this creature that had held her spellbound? Miriam thought hard, but she came to the conclusion that she'd never seen her around Cool Lake before, she was certain. Surely, she would have remembered someone this interesting, even though her memory still failed her from time to time. She shyly lifted her head just as the woman turned away, in an ineffective attempt to see the name imprinted on the coffee house badge. Miriam steamed with aggravation at her inability to meet and greet new people, not just the waitress, but any new face, and, honestly, some of the familiar ones, too. Some people just seemed to make her want to run and hide. It was just another painful reminder that, although she had made great strides to recover, she just wasn't her old self yet. She wished herself better luck next time as she loaded her cup with sugar and sipped her hot, tasty liquid.

When her cup emptied, Miriam realized that she had a long way to go before she could sleep, and began to think of the stops that she had to make and the items that she must purchase, so she focused on her next stop and what energy it would take to get her there. As usual, she dug around in the pocket of her favorite torn and tattered jeans to locate bills to pay her tab. This was her routine each time she stopped; she left enough money on the table to pay for her treat and to cover the tip. As she took out good luck charms and trinkets, she was reminded of the pretty newcomer who was busy somewhere behind her. Miriam had second thoughts of just paying at the table and slinking away as usual, and she was still pensive over missing the waitress' name badge earlier. So as not to be outdone by her own inability, she spoke sternly to her inner self regarding bravery and decided that this time she must go to the register to pay. In order for her to have a second chance to obtain the name that went with the beautiful face of the stranger, she had to be brave. So, she took a deep breath and rose from her seat. When she rose, she thought surely that the hard part was over, but her knees locked up when she realized that now she must cross to the antique style cash register where the woman waited to ring her sale. So as not to look conspicuous, Miriam began tucking her trinkets back into her pockets while her knees recovered, then she turned to go.

Miriam had to think quickly on the few short steps across, about what she would say when she arrived at her destination. She wanted to say something clever so that the woman might want to engage in a small conversation, but once she arrived, she only came up with a comment on the rain. "Nice weather we're having," left her tongue as flat as a pancake and resembled absolutely nothing else Miriam would have rather said. And on top of that, Miriam immediately noticed that the woman's name was covered up by a long thickness of her hair. Damn! Miriam cursed inside her head as she paid her tab, this was just her luck. She glanced again where the badge should be and noticed, however, that her mystery woman's hair was full and beautiful, and Miriam knew it must certainly be strands of spun wheat and clover honey. Her world began to move in half time as the woman rang the sale and tucked the money away into the till, and then made a flowing movement with her long fingers, which placed her golden hair behind her shoulder. An absent smile ran across Miriam's face. At last, her perfect name was revealed. Esther.

Esther made eye contact with Miriam for the first time, and held her gaze easily. Miriam was captivated by Esther's ice blue eyes and radiant skin, her rosy lips parted to display jewel like teeth behind them. And then she replied to Miriam's comment, softly saying, "I'd rather have the rain on a feverish day like today than on any other." Miriam snapped out of her trance when Esther closed the register drawer with a bang. She was beside herself for a moment; amazed at how gently and sweetly the woman had spoken when responding to her dry comment. Esther hadn't spoken as she did earlier when refilling her cup, Miriam thought, then it was all business. When most people got on Miriam's nerves by just opening their mouths, the softness of this woman's voice had somehow cradled Miriam and carried her away. Before parting, Miriam looked long at Esther again, really seeing her for the first time. And she looked absolutely nothing like her physical role as a waitress in a coffee shop, but instead like a beautiful, peaceful human being. One that Miriam thought she would like to know better, if things were different within herself and her fear of the unknown would step aside for just one moment to allow it. Miriam managed only "thanks, keep the change," and then she departed.

Out in the street, the rain felt cool as it wetted Miriam's yellow cotton T-shirt. She'd worn that particular tee deliberately so that her tan would appear darker than it was. Because of the heat, she'd missed a few days in the sun and her colour had faded, but while she walked down the sidewalk toward her car, Miriam thought of how proud she could be of the way she looked now as opposed to recent times. She'd convinced herself that her looks, in some way, made up for the parts that she was still lacking. She believed that her self-confidence and self-respect were essential, and she longed for them, yet she knew that if she was supposed to have them again, then someday she would. She'd let herself go miserably after her accident - and for quite some time thereafter, as a matter of fact. Struggling viscously to find herself again, Miriam had finally given it up to her Higher Power, and had let her inner self guide her to her perfect body weight. Miriam had been led back simply to the good earth by the powers that be when she was unable to find the answers herself. She worked off the extra pounds with gardening and yard work, which surprisingly helped heal her mind as well as her body. Miriam knew that she was not yet complete, a simple trip to the coffee shop proved that. But, Miriam reminded herself, before the trauma she was not whole either.

Just then, she stopped for a moment to give thanks to Mother Earth for accepting the bountiful rain from the heavens, and gazing up at the darkened sky, she offered thanks and praises. She smiled to wonder what people must think of her, standing in the rain without an umbrella on the square in the dead center of Cool Lake, Texas. She shook her head and smiled again reasoning that, by now, all the people of Cool Lake must know that she was quite different and probably didn't think much of her at all. She thought that she fit right in with the eccentrics living here, and decided what others thought anyway couldn't bother her. Miriam continued walking slowly, splashing her feet like a child at every opportunity and enjoying the rain on the way to her car. Miriam spotted it up ahead. She liked her car very much, even though it was unconventional. It was a 1961 Ford Falcon convertible, and she'd labored with it until it had been restored to its original state. She compared the restoration to her own self, even though she was not quite finished. She was proud of the fact that she'd personally replaced the engine piece by piece, and worked out the kinks of the damaged body, well, as far as she could anyway. She had let Braunveigh's professionally paint it the colour of "pure pearl." Then she'd let a professional named Nolan "tuck and roll" the interior in the deepest shade of red vinyl he could find. When she'd seen what a good job he'd done on the interior, she'd also let him replace the canvas top for a pretty penny, but it was worth it. She loved to let the top down on the cool evenings of summer, and at midday in the fall and spring. It was worth every cent because Miriam had always liked convertibles, but had never afforded herself one until now. She had a new found freedom that allowed her to do the things that she'd always wanted to do, but never did. She took pleasure in things like walking slowly in the rain and having a second cup of an exotic flavored coffee. These harmless freedoms were something that she thought everyone should afford themselves, but, sadly, most never did. As she crawled behind the wheel of her pride and joy, she reflected on how thankful she was that she hadn't put the top down after she pulled it from her garage. Normally, she would've driven it out and dropped the top without hesitation, but something inside told her not to do it. Now, she speculated as to whether that strange intuition was to save her from the rain or save her from looking wind blown when she met the nice woman in Some Like It Hot. Either way, it was a blessing in disguise. Miriam summarized that her day had gone pretty well so far, a twist of fate had protected her car's interior, she had gazed upon a beautiful woman, splurged on a second cup of Joe, and managed not to be overly upset when the crowd entered the shop. With this affirmation behind her, she located the key from her ashtray and started the engine. She was on her way.

Having her stops already mapped out in her mind, Miriam made her way through the narrow streets from downtown to Schooner Street where Laverne's was located. Being the only lumber yard in Cool Lake, Laverne had cornered the market on a vast array of items; it offered plumbing supplies to home decor to seasonal items like Christmas trees in December and bedding plants in Spring. Although there were many temptations, like 'Bedding Plants Arriving Daily' according to the banner that hung between the gateposts of the yard, Miriam reminded herself that she needed to pick up only a rose trellis and some nails. Miriam halfheartedly looked for Laverne while strolling through the store and had come to know from experience that sometimes a visit with Laverne was good, but, at other times, Miriam walked away from Laverne feeling like a cat whose fur had been rubbed the wrong way. Therefore, if she didn't run into Laverne while she was there, it was for a reason set forth by her Higher Power. Miriam had met Laverne shortly after she had moved from the big city. Lesbians were of short supply in Cool Lake and she'd been spotted immediately by Laverne the first time she went in for hardware. Without knowing Laverne's sexual prowess, Miriam was unaware at first what was going on, then she felt as if she was being pursued mercilessly like a deer caught in the headlights. After repeated attempts, Laverne had finally given up on anything romantic happening with Miriam, but it had been after long years of rejection. And Miriam had to be cautious with her words and actions still, for she knew that Laverne carried a torch for her even now.

Laverne had been born and raised in Cool Lake, and someday she would die and be planted there, too. Other than four years at Texas Tech where she studied pre law, Laverne had never left Cool Lake for more than a weekend. Many times Laverne had made the trip to Dallas where, to Miriam's understanding, she was loved by all with the Cedar Springs crowd. Miriam figured that Laverne did what she could with those who would let her, and then came home with mounds of stories to tell. Much to Miriam's surprise, however, Laverne had managed to bring home quite a nice trophy here and there, short lived that they were. She'd been commonly known to some around town as "old money bags," and would often distastefully wave her old money around like a flag for all to see. Yet it never failed that those who despised her one minute would gladly put on a happy face the next, if there was a new project to be funded. It seemed to Miriam that every project in town somehow had a connection to Laverne Lunsford, and there were plenty of plaques around with her name on them to prove it. Miriam had discovered that although she wouldn't admit it, Laverne liked it like that. Laverne wanted the people of Cool Lake to come to her for their funding so that she could run the show. To keep peace and allow the completion of any project that would benefit the community, project managers stayed in close contact with Laverne to keep her happy by following her every wish. If Laverne pulled funding from a project, and she had done so for whatever reason, the citizens of Cool Lake were the ones who suffered. Miriam had weighed what she knew about Laverne and likened her to an infant that constantly craved attention, sometimes to a fault. Unlike Laverne, Miriam cautiously never spoke of money, and she'd heard all that she wanted to about Laverne's fortune. Likewise, Laverne had heard, along with everyone else, that Miriam's money, though plentiful, had been hard earned, so Laverne knew to never speak of money either, unless Miriam brought up the subject herself. And to Laverne's dismay, Miriam never did.

Though you couldn't tell it by looking at her, Laverne had inherited a great deal of wealth from both her father and her uncle's estate. Her uncle, Leland Lunsford, sadly never had any children to carry on his legacy, and had married six times in an attempt to father an heir without success, and because of that, rumour had it that he was a closeted homosexual. The townsfolk easily accepted that rumour, too, because for them it was the only natural explanation for his many failed marriages and obvious lack of offspring. For this reason, Leland was determined not to let Laverne get her hands on the savings he'd hoarded from his many years of outlaw style cattle ranching and profitable overseas investments, but unfortunately for him, he didn't get his wish. Hours before he died, he called Laverne to his side and made her promise not to spend his money on "wicked things and girls of the night." Laverne told this to Miriam with vast amusement, explaining that he'd known about her reputation around town and that he'd believed every bit of it. That, combined with his own frightful rumours, had cemented the fact that he didn't want his money to be connected in any way to homosexuality. Laverne made a solemn promise to her uncle one week, and gayly went to Cedar Springs to celebrate his passing the next.

Laverne's father, Laurel, on the other hand, seemed proud when she'd returned from college and decided to open her lumberyard. "Man's job or no man's job," Laverne quoted the words of her father, it gave Laurel an avenue to quickly sell his goods from the mill. Laverne's grandfather, Lancaster Lunsford, had passed down the mill to Laurel, and at his death he proudly passed it on to Laverne. Mr. Lunsford knew all he needed to know about Laverne, he knew she was an honest businesswoman. He despised anything that was said around Cool Lake about her because Laurel had loved her very much, but he never let anything that he heard about her interfere with their relationship. She was all that mattered to Mr. Lunsford when he finally realized that his wife of fifty-nine years would never bare him any sons. Laurel and his wife, Launita, had each worked at the Lunsford Sawmill until the day they died. He passed with a heatstroke in August almost seven years ago while running the blade, Miriam had heard, and Launita followed him faithfully into another world ten days later. Laverne had spoken easily to Miriam about her father, but what Miriam knew about Laverne's mother was all second hand. She'd heard that the day Laverne's mother passed away, the foreman at the mill had hastily called Laverne at the lumber yard to ask her what she wanted him to do. He explained to her that Mrs. Lunsford had sat down in the shade to eat her lunch and went to sleep. The first thing Laverne said was, "so, go wake her up and tell her that lunch break's over." But after he explained that he'd already tried that approach twice without luck, he thought that Laverne should come to the mill site immediately, Laverne broke down. She called City Ambulance Service and instructed the driver to swing by the yard to pick her up on his way to the mill because she was too upset to drive. At the Market, Miriam overheard Willard, the ambulance driver, say once that Laverne had cried without ceasing all the way there, stopped crying upon arrival, fired the man that had made the phone call, helped load her mother up, and then cried all the way back. No one else had ever seen her shed a tear, not before and not since. Not at her mother's funeral, not at her mother's graveside, not ever again. Period. But Laverne was not the kind of woman to show emotional upset in public, Miriam had decided that fact just after she had met her. Some said that Laverne still prospered quite a hefty sum from the mill, but to Miriam's knowledge, Laverne had never gone back out there. Laverne hired another man to run the mill immediately after Launita Lunsford died, and since then it hadn't shut down for a moment, not even for Mrs. Lunsford's funeral. Like clockwork, the foreman brought the paperwork to Laverne at the yard every Thursday afternoon when the mill shut down, and he'd pick up the paychecks for the workers at the lumber yard before returning to the mill on Friday morning. She'd refused Miriam, saying flatly "not on a bet" when Miriam had expressed interest in Laverne giving her a tour the mill. Miriam never mentioned it again, but took it upon herself to see the mill some time later when she was out for a drive, deciding blankly that it really didn't seem spectacular or frightening in any way.

Other than her, Laverne was the only other openly known lesbian in town, although there were many nestled snugly in chambers among the unsuspecting townsfolk. Miriam didn't want to lose Laverne as a friend, if for no other reason than because news from "the life," as Miriam liked to call it, was often hard to come by. And Laverne knew every recluse who sought refuge in Cool Lake, away from the watchful eye of the nearby college faculty and nosey students alike, but they were not missed from Laverne's watchful eye. No, Laverne had a hawk eye and Miriam liked Laverne's devil-may-care attitude, but often took what Laverne said with a grain of salt. Making her way through the store, Miriam would spot one or two lesbians on occasion, and just when she turned down isle five for nails, there sat the biggest one in town. Commanding almost the entire end of the isle, Laverne was perched like a queen atop a padded stool. When she glanced at Miriam her face lit up like a Christmas tree. She seemed so happy to see her that she eagerly gave up the tedious task of counting screws of various shapes and sizes, throwing one handful toward a random bin and the other haphazardly into a trash can that was stationed beside her stool. Miriam was prepared to hear the latest gossip on all the reclusive lesbians tucked away here and there, especially those who never stayed away from the one and only lumber yard in town, but she was soon to be disappointed.

Laverne began "Honey. Sister. Girl. I cain't begin ta tell you how lonesome it's been without seeing some family. And here you come bigger than Dallas!"

Miriam smiled widely at Laverne's somewhat obscure term for gays and lesbians, and took the bait. "Why has it been so long since you've seen family, ol'Buddy. ol'Friend. ol'Pal?"

"Girl, it just has. I suppose the heat has run 'em all indoors ta lounge in their beds and do you-know-what till the daylight comes." Laverne chuckled, "now here it is rainin'' and that'll keep 'em inside for sure. Gosh, I'll just never get ta see nobody again."

"Forget them. Have you missed me?" Miriam questioned, as she put her hand on her hip and waited for Laverne's next parlay.

"Hells, bells, yes! You'll just never know, Sweet Cheeks. You'll never know how lonesome I am, and what I could do with a girl like you." As she gathered her next breath, Miriam braced herself for the second wave. Laverne continued in a teasing whisper, "why don't ay let me touch it just one time? One time is all it would take ta make you fall madly and passionately in love with ol'Laverne. Honey, you know I've loved you for a million, zillion years!"

"Yes," Miriam answered, "and I know you'll keep loving me for a million more anyway, if I can just keep you out of my pants!" She went on to half jest by saying "but I know you, ol'Love 'em and Leave 'em Laverne, once you had my snatch, you'd drop me like a hot potato and be off for a new cookie!"

In mock surprise Laverne raised her hands and said, "shush now, before some gorgeous little thing hears ya and runs away." She clasped her hands to her chest, and said "oh my stars, Honey! It's not polite ta figure ol'Laverne out so fast! You'll give me a heart attack sure as the world!" Laverne continued the drama by wiping invisible sweat from her forehead. "And don't go spreadin'' that rumour around either! There's just not one ounce a truth behind that lovin 'em and leavin 'em shit." Then as if to confide a secret, she leaned toward Miriam and whispered "besides, I've had my eye on the cutest little thang that's been comin' around here for about a month now. If she were ta ever get wind of the mean ol'vicious truth 'bout Laverne, I'd never get any a her tasty puddin'!"

Laverne roared so powerfully at her own comments that two older ladies from the next isle over peeped ever so slightly around the corner to see what all the commotion was about. This aggravated Laverne just a tad and she winked at Miriam before she looked back at them and asked loudly "hey, ya'll aren't lesbians, are ya'll?" They jumped at first when Laverne said "hey", then quickly shook their pitiful little scarf-covered heads "no." Then Laverne raised her voice a bit more and replied, "if you ain't a wishin' ta be a lesbian anytime soon, my precious little honey pots, you best go on 'bout your business. Ya see ladies, it's like this here, just two minutes or three is all it takes with experienced lesbians like ourselves, and then you're gone be wantin' ta get some snatch of your own ta play around with. It's highly contagious." As she pointed to Miriam, she said "why six weeks ago this purty little thang didn't dream I was gonna put my lesbian hex on her," Laverne wiggled her fingers toward Miriam like a magician.

Miriam scolded Laverne with a gasp. "Quit now, Laverne, you'll scare them to death." She covered her mouth and shook her head in dismay, knowing there was nothing to be done.

Laverne paid no attention, and continued "now she's a full fledge member of the Cool Lake Lesbian Club, of which I am the club president!" Laverne finished by shaking her head "yes" to the women as they crossed the isle behind her, and finished up quickly with a flamboyant salute.

When Laverne looked back at Miriam, she could tell she was in trouble. Miriam scolded her friend's brashness at once. "Don't you have any common decency for your customers, Verde? Aren't you afraid that you might scare them all away?"

"Well, a course I do have common decency, Honey!" Laverne sincerely sounded pitiful, as if she had lost her last hope. Then she exploded. "But ya know, Honey, it's the damn truth." She slapped her knee, and said "my snatch and yore snatch put together could change the world as it spins today! That's what keeps ya coming back ta see me time after time, ain't it? Where would ya be without your ol'VernieGirl? I know ya cain't live without me! But, I'll be in heaven when you know ya cain't live without me! Haw! Haw! Haw!" Laverne continued to laugh, then out of the blue, but certainly in character, she grabbed Miriam just as she was about to say that she had to be going. Laverne pulled her just a little too close for comfort, and began to pat Miriam on her back with her left hand, as she squeezed Miriam's firm ass with her right. Miriam didn't take offense; it had been too long since someone had held her to take offense to anything that the fun loving Laverne dished out. "Honey Pie, you ain't nothin'' no more but a bag a bones that I could tuck away in the crack of my ass. What'd ya say ta one a Laverne's home cooked meals tonight?"

Miriam began to shake her head "no" and tried to get out an obligatory 'thank you,' but Laverne continued with "some of my Mama's meat loaf recipe, and let me see...some mashed taters...and a apple pie...and..."

When Miriam was finally able to break in, she begged off. "Gee, Laverne, it all sounds so good, but with the weather turning and all I'll have to take a rain check." She caught herself and added, "oh, no pun intended."

"No pun taken, Sweet Thang. You just give me a holler in a week or two. We can make a day of it," Laverne said.

"Well, then, that's that." And then she picked up a couple of small sacks to put some nails into. She inched around Laverne to the opposite side of the isle and grabbed a handful of two-penny nails. "Verne, have you been doing all right? I mean, I've noticed that you seem to be at the yard more than around town lately, that's not like you." Miriam spoke the truth, Laverne was usually in and out of the shops around town on a regular basis in order to keep up with everyone and everything. But on the last three or four trips into town, Miriam noticed that Laverne's Cadillac had been planted at the yard.

"Au shucks, Honey. It's awful nice of ya ta thank a me in a kinship sort way, but it's just been too dad burn hot ta do much a any thang." She gave Miriam an honest-to-goodness smile, and said "now don't ya go worryin' 'bout ol'Vernie none, you'll see me with my tail feathers lit on fire any day now. It's a gettin' cooler and I'm savin' up my hell seeds ta spread all over this stuck up, piss ant town. Guarantee ya."

Miriam wrapped it up with Laverne by politely explaining that she had to go because of her busy day. She absentmindedly mentioned to Laverne that she was going to treat herself to a particular brass sundial that she'd admired here on her last visit, and Miriam explained that if it was still there she'd give it to herself as an early birthday present. This prompted Laverne to walk her to the front of the store and place it in Miriam's hands. Miriam continued that she'd place it upon a birdbath pedestal that she'd held onto for years, even after the bowl had broken and had been carted away. Despite Miriam's protest, Laverne gave her a "family" discount and a wink at the register, "because of your birthday and all," Laverne said. But Miriam wished she hadn't mentioned it because she felt indebted to Laverne. "We can make that a birthday cake instead of an apple pie," she added as they embraced affectionately at their parting.

Miriam drove away, and made it half a block down Levee Lane before she realized that she must return to the yard to purchase a bag of concrete in order to set the sundial firmly on the stand. She hadn't seen Laverne on the return trip and supposed that she'd gone back to the chore of counting screws. Miriam grinned to herself wondering if ol'VernieGirl could ever begin to count the number of screws that she'd had in her lifetime. With that complete, she headed for the Diamond Jim Bakery in order to buy freshly baked croissants and a dessert of some kind to quiet her sweet tooth. Once inside, she immediately spied a carrot cake, which was her absolute favorite, and a treat that would last a week in her fridge - if she could keep her urge for sugar under control. She'd learned a lot of lessons along her road to recovery, one was not to become prey to one of her many urges, like sugar, which often lead to heavy consequences. This brought Esther to mind, and she wondered what consequence she'd have to pay for spending time alone with a beauty like her. Miriam began to pluck croissants from a bin and was placing them into a bakery bag when Mrs. Diamond began to speak. Though Miriam could barely understand her, she struck a bargain with the elderly Mrs. Diamond behind the counter. On her last trip to town, she and Miriam had discussed the deal, which was to bring fresh tomatoes on her next visit in exchange for some of Mrs. Diamond's freshly baked potato bread. Miriam was very pleased that Mrs. Diamond remembered the deal, as she liked to see tomatoes grow but hated their flavor. Mrs. Diamond thought this was a good deal also, saying "yah, yah" each time Miriam spoke of the arrangement. "Brenda, Brenda. You must call me Brenda." She told Miriam the same thing, and hardly much more, each time she visited the best bakery in town. Miriam thought that Mrs. Diamond said her name funny, it sounded more like "Burr-handa" than it did Brenda. For this reason and for respect to the aged woman, Miriam stuck with calling her Mrs. Diamond, it seemed ultimately safer. Miriam didn't like misunderstandings of any sort, so she didn't want to say something if she wasn't absolutely sure about it. About the trade, however, she was absolutely sure. It would be a good trade, Miriam would see that Mrs. Diamond got plenty of tomatoes, and a few other goodies here and there, in exchange for a fresh loaf of Mrs. Diamond's delicious bread. For Miriam, it would drastically eliminate vegetable waste and allow her to have fresh what she chose not to bake for herself. Mrs. Diamond would ultimately gain something fresh from the earth, Miriam reasoned, as Mrs. Diamond appeared too old to tend a garden. Miriam told Mrs. Diamond that she'd call her at the bakery the day before she came to town, so that the bread might be baked fresh and ready for her the next day. Mrs. Diamond nodded in agreement, and so the deal was struck.

Miriam shielded her carrot cake from a strong wind that had risen while she visited inside with Mrs. Diamond; carrot cake was a precious commodity, protected only by a flimsy box that would've otherwise done the job nicely. Miriam felt a real storm brewing in her bones, and thought that she needed to wrap up the day quickly in order to miss any destructive weather. She wondered whether her rag top would make it as she edged back toward downtown. At the corner of Marlin and Aquanaut Streets, she encountered a good deal of debris whipping around the almost vacant streets, and rechecked the clasps of her convertible just to make sure. She prayed for safe guidance to the grocery store, where she knew she would be ultimately safer than underneath a canvas roof. As she pulled into the lot of the new Rose Family Super-ette, she couldn't help but smile as she took note of how miserably the newly erected sign failed to hide the faded letters of the old one underneath. She thought that she would like to tell the Rose family that the name 'Piggy Wiggly' was still there, and probably always would be to the folks of Cool Lake, but she thought it best to mind her own business. She noticed also that they hadn't removed the old neon pig sign, which had once greeted folks from the street, instead they just simply didn't turn it on. She shook her head in affirmation as she thought about how the only thing that stays the same is change itself, and parked as close to the building as possible to avoid the nasty weather. Then with list in hand, she tucked her keys away neatly in the ashtray and took the Rose family by storm.

Damn, how she hated to shop, Miriam thought, but she reminded herself to stay focused, she'd be all right. She never for a minute lagged or varied from her list, she was a firm believer that a slacker in a grocery store meant a higher check out total in the end. Miriam made sure to get a double supply of sugar and coffee, after all that was what she'd be out of first the next time without a doubt. As for Tahloolah, she'd do well with some salmon bits and liver with gravy. "M'mm," Miriam spoke toward the shelves loaded with cans, "and some other ducky flavors, too." She caught herself talking aloud while loading her basket and looked around to see if anyone else had taken notice, and then casually returned to her business as if nothing had happened. She reminded herself to beef up the size of the dry food, not just for Tahloolah, but for the stray, too. It had shown up in her garden two or three times in the last couple of weeks. Pretty little thing it was; sinewy with beautiful, long black fur. Animals were Miriam's weakness, plain and simple. She was a firm believer that everyone should have a pet, and that they should take care of it like it was their own child, never leaving its care to the compassion of a stranger. She thought as she picked up what surely must be the heaviest bag on the shelf, that if she ever got to speak to the person that abandoned "Vidalia," her name for the stray, that she would certainly give them a valuable piece of her mind. She wondered how the larger sized bag would fit into her trunk, and then thought about the rain. The Rose family was sure eager to take in money, but they lacked eagerness to carry groceries to the car, most especially in the rain. So, after agonizing to get the heavy bag into her shopping cart, she agonized to get it back onto the shelf and wisely replaced it with two bags half its size. Comparing the costs, she thought she'd have to pay a bit more for the two smaller bags, but with the lifting and toting ahead of her, it would be money well spent. Hell, she wondered to herself, who in the world was she saving the money for anyway? Surely, she could afford to splurge a few cents more on two bags of cat food.

Just as she figured, all the buggy boys had disappeared when it was time to cart her groceries to her car. She told the check out girl just what she thought about it, too. "It never fails to happen to me, young lady, every damn time I'm ready at the checkout, the young men who are supposed to be working in this joint all scurry away to their hiding places somewhere." Before she thought, Miriam had spoken these words to the sweetest, most absent-minded looking girl behind the counter. The girl had twirled her long brown hair and chewed her gum and asked Miriam if she wanted to speak to the manager, to which Miriam replied, "Hell, no. He's their leader, and they've all followed him away." Sometimes the truth came over Miriam and she kept her mouth shut. At other times, it flew out of her like a demon child. When she exploded at someone innocent, like the cashier, she felt extremely sure that she was still in need of recovery. Miriam worked off her hostility as she wrestled with the heavy bags, finally getting her car loaded. Then, as she pulled away using the back exit, the one closest to the Market, she saw them. All the courtesy clerks were huddled around an adult figure, probably the manager, eating chips and smoking cigarettes. She honked to get their attention and had just started to flip them off when they all waved politely in unison. She had second thoughts and waved innocently to the crowd instead. She knew she'd done enough damage inside, and she gave praise to herself and to the Goddess above that she'd managed her way through the old Piggly Wiggly store without a nervous breakdown. Comically, she imagined how the headlines of the Fisherman's Daily would read: "Lesbian Goes Berserk, Throws Entire Rose Family Through Neon Pig Sign Before Courtesy Clerks Stop Her." Miriam laughed out loud.

She reached for her Zippo and a cigarette, which helped her to calm down. She focused on the rain and on her driving technique rather than the grocery store incident. This wasn't the first time in which she'd had to fend for herself, and she knew, too, it wouldn't be the last. Although she'd begun to feel tired and realized that she needed to head home soon, she looked forward to shopping with the farmers while she drove slowly along the bricked street in front of the marketplace. She paid no attention that the farmers had left with their goods before she darted from her vehicle and crossed the plaza with enthusiasm. But she returned shortly to her car, sullen and disappointed that she'd missed the cache of fresh vegetables that had surely been displayed there just a short time ago. Miriam would simply have to wait until her next trip into town for ripe melons, crook-necked squashes and tales from the days of old. She rationalized that she could return to the Market on the first sunny day, if she wanted to, when surely the farmers would embellish their goods. She thought, also, that a trip to town soon might be another opportunity for her to make conversation with Esther at the coffee shop. Maybe she could be brave enough the next time to get more information about her and discover how she'd come to land in Cool Lake. She took the opportunity to meditate to the rhythm of the windshield wipers on her way out of town, and became optimistic for a good evening and a peaceful night's sleep thanks to the cool, rainy weather. She noticed, as she drove past, that a tree had blown down in front of Maddy's Starfish Inn, and saw that a couple of the local boys were dragging it away from Maddy's door with a truck. No doubt Maddy would reward them handsomely with something cold to drink for a job well done. Maddy's was the sort of place that didn't take kindly to kids to after dark. It wasn't that it was a rough place, but on the contrary, it was just the only place in Cool Lake that had a license to sell beer by the glass after six o'clock. After dark, Maddy turned the jukebox up and moved a couple of the tables around so that folks could dance if the mood struck them. It was also the only place in town to get good greasy gossip with your good greasy cheeseburger. Maddy loved to cook home-style meals, too. And she was a firm believer that everyone should be fed, even if that meant that she had to eat an occasional ticket because someone looked like they couldn't afford to pay. Maddy was a character. Folks didn't go there simply because her place was air conditioned and they wanted an ice cold beer or a fruit jar full of freshly brewed iced tea, most folks went in just because they loved Maddy. Everyone that met Maddy had a love affair of one sort or another with her - man, woman, and child alike. She was a natural. She was fun loving, and had beautiful brown eyes and a great, wide smile that captivated everyone's heart from the word 'hello.' Miriam, too, was captivated by Maddy; visions of Maddy danced occasionally in Miriam's head.

After the accident, Maddy had been Johnny-on-the-spot with fresh food and good conversation. She checked on Miriam daily for a time, for fear Miriam might run into misfortune. Miriam realized that she might not have made it were it not for Maddy's good grace, banana pudding, and news from the outside world. Miriam thought as she turned on the road to the lake that she must go to Maddy's soon for some of her good company. She thought, too, that Maddy was in tune with the comings and goings of the folks around Cool Lake, and she just might know something of the new employee at the coffee shop. Miriam thought earlier about mentioning Esther to Laverne, but refrained for fear that Laverne would trap poor Esther before she knew what had hit her. Another sad thought crossed Miriam's mind while talking with Laverne, too. What if "the cutest little thang" that Laverne had spoken of was, in fact, Esther? She said a quick prayer that it wasn't. Either way, the outcome of mentioning Esther to Laverne would've been far more painful than it would be to bring her up casually to Maddy. Maddy would always tell the God's honest truth whether someone wanted to hear it or not, but she did so in a way that didn't hurt. Yes, Miriam thought, she would add Maddy's name to her list of things to do and places to go for a visit very soon.

Miriam hated lists, yet sadly she had managed to surround herself with them. Just before she pulled into her driveway from Lake Circle, she made a mental list of what must be done when she arrived home. First, she would take in and put away the refrigeration items, and second, take out the cat food and feed Tahloolah so that she wouldn't be trampled under foot, and so on. Her memory had once deteriorated to the point that necessitated lists for every moment of the day, and still she had at least one list at all times on her kitchen table. Each morning, as she removed the fog from her head with coffee and cigarettes, she would add to or take from her list. Oftentimes, at first, when things were really overwhelming, she would have a multitude of lists set out before her. She had to consult her lists marked for each day of the week with appointments to keep and things to accomplish. When it was hard to remember what day it was, she would drive down to the paper rack in front of Maddy's to purchase the day of the week for fifty cents. She had a list taped to her bathroom mirror with the words "just the basics" written across the top. Beneath those words was written a list of just that, the basics: wash face and hands, brush hair and teeth. Miriam had come a long, long way since then, yet a revised list still hung from the bathroom mirror. It read: don't smoke, don't cuss, and don't eat so damn many sweets. She tried to keep a good sense of humor about her forgetfulness, but it was tested on a regular occasion.

Finally, her headlamps hit her garage door and she pressed the remote to gain entrance. She gave a thankful prayer that she'd made her journey safely as the door rose obediently, and then she hit the remote button again to seal her within the confines of her home. "Whew! What a day," she cried with a sigh of relief, and began the chore of unloading her car.

Chapter Two
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