Chapter Four
"Yes, Ma'am. I sho does hope thay's fish fries in Heaven."

Miriam hadn't realized the time until the phone rang at half past three. She sat herself down on the driest end of the backyard bench, stripped off her dampened work gloves and picked up cheerfully with "hello from the tropics. To whom am I speaking?"

"Miriam? Is that you?" It was Maddy's puzzled voice on the other end.

"Yeah. It's me, Maddy. I've taken this momentary cease-fire in the rain to wander around in my garden. Do you know, it's so warm that there's actually steam rising from some of the flower beds?" Miriam pointed to the steam for emphasis, even though she knew Maddy couldn't see it.

Maddy came back with a solid warning based on an old wives tale, saying "Kid, that's not steam. I've heard this all of my life and have no need to doubt it, the mist that rises up is, in fact, the earth's soul migrating to God. You know you can see it best in cemeteries just after dark. 'cause that's hallowed ground, you see. It's a natural place for the soul to dwell and depart from. Do you see what I mean? It proves it loud and clear for me."

"Do you actually believe that kinda stuff, Maddy? I mean, it sounds like a bunch of hooey to me."

"Well, hooey or not, I wouldn't take any chances by walking in the mist, Kid. The legend is, if you walk about in its midst it may capture your soul as well, and take it up to be with God, too." Madaline was a very well educated woman and had lived a lot of life, Miriam thought, to be such a strong believer in superstition. Miriam's own convictions prompted her to challenge Maddy's beliefs again, but she figured that it was best to leave well enough alone.

"Hey, Maddy. The forecaster said that the rain was already up as far as the college area and is headed this way before dark." A nice change of topic was in order, Miriam decided. Good idea perhaps, but unfortunately she'd chosen the weather to speak of.

"Oh! You know I hate to hear that. That means we won't have a good turnout for the fish fry tonight. You haven't forgotten about it, have you?" Maddy's voice rendered an almost pleading quality, strongly implying an expectation for Miriam's appearance at the event.

Miriam had completely forgotten, but responded quickly. "No, Maddy, of course not." She crossed her fingers to break the lie and pledged dutifully, "I'll be there with bells on." She thought that now she was the one who was being superstitious, and shook her head in disbelief at her own convictions.

"Oh, Kid. I am so glad to hear that you're coming. You and I had a terrible time with Gladys the other night and I just want to make it up to ya." Maddy sounded tickled pink. Maybe a little too tickled, Miriam thought after the call had ended.

"Maddy, have you been drinking?" Miriam was becoming a little suspicious of Maddy by how the conversation had turned and by the tone in Maddy's voice.

"No, Kid!" Maddy sounded insulted. "You know I don't start drinking until my customers get fed. I'm just excited about tonight. Remember, this will be the first fish fry that we've had this season and I've just about got it all worked out." Miriam felt like something was still going on just by the sound of Maddy's voice, but she didn't say anything else about it. "Brother D's son is due from the storage house any minute now with the deep fryer and then we can start heating the oil."

"Which son?" Miriam felt that she should ask his name for future reference and eliminate confusion.

"It's Daniel, the one that graduated high school this spring, remember?"

"Yeah, right." Miriam didn't have a clue which one of Brother D's nine sons Daniel was, but she assumed she'd put a face with the name at the fish fry. "Is that the same cooker Brother D used last year?" Miriam was doing her best to remember how the fish fry was before, but she wasn't having much luck recalling. Rain was beginning to fall and she abruptly began to store her items in the garage in order to move inside the house before she was soaked. She didn't want to mention the rain to Maddy for fear she'd worry about the fish fry again.

"Yep. It's the same one, double drum cast iron. You know the one I told ya that my daddy built for me before he died." After a momentary pause, Maddy said sweetly "he was so good with stuff like that."

Miriam was quick with agreement and now remembered that last year the cooker was placed in the back of the restaurant near the doors to allow for self-service, rather than in the kitchen where the all-you-can-eat fish and trimmings dinners would need to be served individually. "Right. Is Brother D cooking again this year?"

Maddy responded. "Well, he sure is, Kid. I wouldn't trust anybody else but him with all of these prize Cool Lake catfish. Nobody cooks catfish like Brother D, nobody. And Mr. Edzards came out about an hour ago and brought the watermelons. They're chilling in the freezer as we speak. Don't it all sound so good?"

Miriam recognized Mr. Edzards' name as being one of the old men at Farmer's Market in town. "Yes, ma'am. It sure does. I'm bringing an appetite. Is there anything else you want me to bring?"

"Nothing I can think of. Just one thing though, make sure you look like a million bucks and leave your money at home." There was a momentary silence, then Maddy reminded her of the tradition. "Remember? Nobody pays at the fish fry, the fishermen catch'em to put in my freezer and we cook'em up free of charge for the fishermen to eat. That's the tradition to honor the lake."

"Are you sure that you don't want me to whip something up or fetch something from town? I don't mind." Miriam then wondered what in hell she'd bring if Maddy did in fact tell her to bring something, so she decided to shut up about the matter.

"No, Kid. That's awful sweet, but I think I've got it covered. Hey, listen. You know that tangerine coloured tennis shirt that you sometimes wear?"

"The one that you said makes me look like a preppy when I wear it?" She couldn't imagine why she was being asked, except perhaps Maddy might want to borrow it for the night's event.

"Yeah, yeah, that's the one." Maddy erupted.

"Yeah. So what about it?"

"Wear that if you can, Kid." Then Maddy added, "and those cute little khaki pants that you had on the other night."

Miriam knew now that there was definitely something in the works and felt a confrontation was in order. "Okay Maddy. Give. What's up?"

"Not a thing, Honey." Maddy's tone took on an innocent, childlike quality. "There's nothing up." She paused for a moment, and then said awkwardly "I just thought I might ask you to help me serve tonight. And if you agree, I want you to look sharp, that's all."

"That's all?" Miriam asked her only to see if Maddy would come clean. When a moment passed without a peep from Maddy, Miriam cried "Madaline Gail Hubert! You are lyin' to me. For real, what's up?"

Maddy took the defensive. "Well, now. Listen here, Kid. If you're not willing to help me out when I might be in a bind..."

"No!" Miriam recanted. "No, Maddy, that's not it. You've just never asked me to help you out before and I'm surprised. I'm sorry. I know this is a big night for you and the Starfish, and I apologize." Miriam continued the apology with a promise. "Maddy, I'll help you out anytime, no problem. I'm sorry for doubting you."

Being the pro that she was, Maddy recovered immediately. "Gee, thanks, Kid. I knew I could count on you. Listen, can you be here about seven? If things are going to get hectic, I'll need you by then."

"Yep, no problem, Madd. You can count on me."

"Okay, Kid." Maddy confirmed "see you around seven, seven-thirty." Click. There was nothing left of the conversation but dead air space. Miriam's head was spinning.

When Miriam completed the chore of stowing away her garden tools, she pinched off the few remaining dead heads from one of her rose bushes and went inside for a glass of iced tea. She sat, as usual, at the kitchen table, and after lighting a cigarette, stared blankly at the phone replaying the conversation with Maddy in her head. She couldn't get over the woman's manner or the fact that she'd oddly suggested what Miriam should wear. Miriam just couldn't figure it out. After all, it was certainly unlike Maddy to ask for help, at least, she'd never asked for help before. And at first, Maddy had just wanted to make up for the big scene with Gladys. But then, on the other hand, what she'd asked of Miriam wasn't an unreasonable request. Miriam had often said to let her know if there was ever anything that she could do. Maybe that was it, and she could certainly help Maddy out on this night of nights. In fact, Miriam knew she'd never refuse Maddy anything because of the kindness she'd shown. No problem, Miriam decided. She'd lend a hand tonight if for no other reason than just because Maddy had asked her to.

Miriam noticed that once again the rain was falling steadily. She was definitely through with her gardening for the day and decided, for a change of pace, that she would sit on her front porch so as to admire the lake. She gathered up her smokes and lighter, the phone, iced tea, broom, and a towel, and then headed for the door. Just for a moment, she was reminded of Maddy's savvy waitress moves and thought that this juggling skill might come in handy later on in the evening. For fun, she swung her hips in Gladys fashion, but that was certainly not something she'd need to use to lend a hand. After she unlocked and opened the door with everything in hand, she practically had to throw it all down on a deck table because she was losing her grip. She scolded herself for not making two trips, but that would have been too easy, she thought. To make matters worse, Tahloolah had advanced past her at the door in a mad rush to explore the front yard. In true kitty craze, however, she retreated from the first rain-soaked step and humorously shook her paws as if dancing to a verse from the 'Hokey-Pokey Two Step.' Miriam noticed that she'd then placed herself sullenly at the front door and had begun to lick her paws dry. As with Loo's long, methodical strokes, Miriam swept the debris left behind by the recent storms from her wide wrap around porch. Next, she knocked down cobwebs from the tall sturdy pillars, which she felt gave her mature home its dignity. Then she toweled off the hanging swing and perched herself there comfortably to relax and enjoy her iced tea. In a moment, she tensed. She heard it coming loud and clear. Initially, she thought that it was the deep rumble of thunder rolling lazily across the lake, but when the thunder downshifted, she knew it could only be one thing. The Mustang. Her suspicions were confirmed when a yellow streak flew past with its radio blaring. Miriam deduced that the driver must be a guest at one of the few houses that lined Lake Circle. She supposed, too, that it could possibly be someone out to fish off the peer, or if the sun had been shining she might've guessed the driver to be a sunbather visiting the camp area. But with the current weather conditions, neither of those theories were likely. Who could figure? Miriam just needed to recline and leave her curiosity where it was, she concluded, and went back to surveying her land.

The Lake Circle division had managed to avoid overpopulation unlike some areas around the lake, yielding only seven summer houses on its short path. To drive it, one would turn North from the highway, pass Miriam's place on the East and then veer Southwest at the bottom of the hill. After traveling a good distance lakeside, the road curved South, returning to the highway just West of the Starfish Inn. Miriam owned what some ironically called 'the old Young place' and it was a dream come true. When she'd finally decided it was time to leave the big city, it seemed that she'd been at the right place at the right time to buy her house, which proved to her beyond a doubt that her Higher Power was watching out for her best interest. The night Miriam had decided for sure, she and Sammye had been to the Stockyards for a spaghetti dinner when she'd broken the news of her impending departure. On their way home, she dug a Texas map out of Sammye's glove box and closed her eyes. When Sammye asked what she was doing, Miriam explained that she was finding another place to live. Sammye scolded her and told her to get real, but again Miriam closed her eyes and randomly pointed to a place on the map. The moment she lifted her finger away, she saw that her new home was named Cool Lake. Actually, her finger had landed in the lake, which brought on lots of jeering from Sammye, but Miriam knew in her heart that somewhere in the general vicinity of Cool Lake was the place she was headed. Meanwhile, the Youngs, an elderly couple who'd lived a lifetime in Cool Lake, pointed to a brochure of a retirement center somewhere in Florida and decided that it was there where they were going. That's when Miriam got the call from her realtor.

She'd wisely enlisted the services of a professional just two days prior in an attempt to ease what she assumed would be the heavy burden of finding a quality house in the remoteness of deep East Texas. Miriam was quite sure that it would take forever and had even arranged to go there herself the following month to scout for those houses that would be sold by owner. It was too easy, she thought, when the Youngs called her personally with an invitation to spend the weekend so that she could come and have a look around. With that kind of eagerness, she'd expected the worst, but had liked the place as soon as she turned onto Lake Circle. And she fell in love with the Youngs, sympathizing deeply with their plight. Overnight, Mr. & Mrs. Young confided that they were compelled to leave their familiar ground in order to regularly see their grandchildren; it had become apparent to the couple that they would receive frequent visits from their children only if and when they relocated to Florida. When they explained that due to the recent purchase of a vacation home in the Keys, the Young's children visited only infrequently from Chicago, complaining that Cool Lake had become far too mundane for their tastes. This left the Youngs no other option but to follow their children's wishes and go to Florida, since they wanted to play an active part in their lives. While visiting, Miriam knew definitely that she wanted the place after witnessing the sun rise peacefully above the five-acre field of wildflowers just behind the couple's house. That same morning, Mrs. Young prepared a hearty breakfast while Mr. Young toured Miriam around the property and walked her down to the lake. During her scrumptious meal, Miriam was asked point blank by Mrs. Young whether she liked the place or not. Miriam confessed that she did, but as not to seem too anxious, she expressed her doubts over needing and caring for something of its size. After that, Mr. Young didn't hesitate to quote an extremely reasonable price to Miriam, which included the house and attached land. And then Mrs. Young concluded the bargain soulfully by stating that they wouldn't need the furnishings in the house and could leave them in place, too - if Miriam so desired. Turning to Mr. Young, Miriam asked if the deal also included the old Falcon that she'd noticed parked on blocks in the garage. Mr. Young, seemingly embarrassed, explained it was once a source of entertainment for the couple, yet vowed that he'd have it towed away before he left. But when Miriam declared that she liked the car and declared that it must come with the house or no deal, Mr. Young quickly sealed their bargain with a handshake. She gave the worried Youngs peace of mind in the form of a hefty deposit check as she left for the big city that Sunday morning. And she drove away with a homemade blackberry cobbler and the security of knowing that soon she'd have a new home. Miriam was fit to be tied.

Shortly after Miriam moved to Cool Lake, Mr. Young contacted her regarding the purchase of the ninety-seven acres that he owned across the road from the house, from the highway down to the lake. He stated that a land developer wanted to erect condominiums there so that more people would have access to the lake, and had contacted him about the sale. Mr. Young confessed that he might be wrong to think it, but he'd rather not see such rapid growth happen in Cool Lake, and he wanted his "home place" to stay unchanged as much as possible. Miriam gave him an affirmation immediately when he'd asked her if she wanted to buy it, for she didn't want condos in her front yard by any means. Miriam reassured Mr. Young that she'd moved to Cool Lake because of its lack of condos and promised to keep his old place simple. She spoke with both Mr. and Mrs. Young that day, and although they hadn't wanted to, they each confided that they'd instantly liked Florida and were comfortable there. Mrs. Young went so far to say that she imagined them returning to Cool Lake only once more, for burial. Miriam contacted her banker about the land that very day and he requested something in writing from Mr. Young's representative. She called the Youngs and explained to the mister about the legal paperwork that he'd need to provide, giving her bank's address in the city. Mr. Young innocently sent her banker a detailed handwritten proposal letter offering to sell the property to Miriam and had used two witnesses to verify his signature. The banker called Miriam amused over the deal, but gave her a flat refusal. Miriam swore to him that she'd see to it that an attorney would be used to finalize the deal, and he finally conceded that if Mr. Young's word was good enough for her then his word was good enough. To Miriam's content, a package was sent to Mr. Young overnight containing a check for the selling price. After the Deed of Record and a survey arrived in the mail from Florida, one trip to an attorney was all it took for Miriam. This was when Miriam first learned how simple things were in the small town of Cool Lake, and how very much she needed that simplicity. When compared to the red tape wars fought daily in the big city, taking an act of Congress and more than a month to complete any modest deal, Miriam decided that she'd opt for the simple life anytime.

Miriam promised Mrs. Young that only minimal changes would be made to the land in an effort to keep Cool Lake humble. Yet, Miriam had it fenced almost right away and bought a tractor, to allow one of Brother D's sons, Darten, to bale and sell hay off the land. For the last five years, it proved to be an honest attempt for him to help keep his siblings dressed and offset his costs for tuition. She'd also planted pecan trees on just over half of the land seven years ago, and expected the first decent harvest the coming fall. She'd worked out a fifty-fifty deal with Darten for both the hay and the pecans, and had remarkably come away with a pirate's bounty from their combined effort thus far. She very much liked her life in Cool Lake and she liked her home. She especially liked being undisturbed by neighbors for the most part, the closest one being about one quarter of a mile North of Miriam's place. It was a beautiful house, even though a bit rundown, yet remained empty all year round. She dreamed someday of owning it, too, and thought it had potential to become a great bed and breakfast. Miriam received a favorable response regarding its purchase when she spoke with the owner's son three winters ago, after his parents entered a nursing home. The next house was down the hill and toward the Southwest against her property line, known only as the Watson place. They used it only once or twice a year for family gatherings, and boy did they gather, Miriam thought. The Watsons were a huge clan that Miriam comically called the breeders because it seemed to her that there was one of every shape and size, and always more on the way. Like clockwork, the lake would be filled with Watson family members each August. Then they'd return again at Thanksgiving, keeping Lake Circle busy for about a week. They were a friendly bunch though, and unlike some, never made any trouble, which pleased Miriam very much. The landholder there, Marion Watson, a very personable fellow, owned the dime store in town, and the newspaper reflected his participation in all the local events. Miriam recognized him and his wife when she saw them, but she knew nothing more of them except that they lived in Lake Hills, an upscale neighborhood on the Northwest side of the lake. As far as she knew, all the other Watsons lived away somewhere and made only seasonal appearances to Cool Lake. Miriam thought that Marion and his wife would probably make an appearance at Maddy's tonight, because it seemed to her that they were in attendance last year to offer one of the many door prizes that were available to the diners.

Miriam thought, too, that half the town would be there tonight. No wonder Maddy thought she might need help. With this thought in mind, she let Tahloolah indoors so she wouldn't be under foot. Then she went to gather her belongings to return inside, where she'd shower and take a quick nap before heading out to the fish fry. Miriam thought she was up to the entertainment of tonight's gathering and looked forward to going. Unlike last year, much to her disappointment, when she'd attended the festivities but then became so nervous by the crowd that she couldn't eat a bite. Come to think of it, Miriam thought, she was quite hungry now and decided if there happened to be any carrot cake left she might have just a sliver to tide her over. Waking from her rest was a struggle for Miriam and she felt trapped awkwardly in twilight sleep; unable to regain consciousness or move her arms or legs. Blaming it on the carrot cake, she'd lingered there helplessly for what seemed like a lifetime and frantically followed her inner voices in order to break free from the chains of the seemingly hypnotic trance. As she came closer and closer to cognizance, she felt a heavy weight upon her chest that made it hard for her to breathe. Once she began to recover, she knew her first act must be to remove that horrible stone-like weight from around her neck. Immediately after full recovery from twilight sleep, Miriam inadvertently grasped Tahloolah from her chest and threw her harshly to the floor. Miriam filled her hot lungs with cool air over and over again until she recognized fully what had happened. Then shaking off her torment, she begged for Loolah's forgiveness while tears of freedom ran down her cheeks. Miriam had missed her last counseling session, but decided she'd better not miss the next. Feeling completely dismayed, she headed for the kitchen to have a Coca-Cola and a smoke; she needed to break for a moment so she could focus on the evening ahead.

Coming to life again, she was ready to proceed. Methodically, she positioned her attire for the evening to make sure that each piece coordinated with the next, and then concentrated on her hair, which had to be perfect, of course. She made herself busy with the task of looking "like a million bucks" just as Maddy had instructed. She chose to wear as closely to what Maddy had suggested as possible, but she also wanted to bring out the deepness that shown in her eyes, so her pale blue coloured tennis shirt would have to suffice rather than the tangerine shirt that was suggested. When she finished off her ensemble with Doc Martens and a matching belt, she thought she looked dapper enough to go to the Starfish Inn for dinner and hit Cedar Springs for dessert. With that Queer thought in mind, she felt it necessary to wave her flag by taking her truck to the Fisherman's Ball. Perfumed and ready, she hit the street. She made a drive by Maddy's place and noticed that there weren't many cars parked outside yet, so she decided to drive through downtown just for grins. As she made the square, she noticed the Mustang sat abandoned across the street from the bakery, and reminded herself to inquire about the owner when she saw Mrs. Diamond next. Other than that, absolutely nothing was happening in town, she concluded, and turned back toward the shindig at the Starfish. When she'd made her way dutifully back to the highway, she was passed by Laverne's car with the horn blaring like bugles. Miriam noticed that the Cadillac and the car that followed it were both packed to the hilt and moving at a high rate of speed: destination fish fry. Miriam was relieved to know at least one other 'family member' would be in attendance and picked up her pace just a tad, arriving at the Starfish just behind Laverne's crew. Laverne crawled from behind the wheel and started waving both of her arms in the air when she spotted Miriam. Miriam was spooked just a little by Laverne's obvious overreaction, but shortly realized that she must be getting rid of high anxiety, as each person delivered from the cars was more Queer than the next. Miriam was barely out of her door when Laverne hugged her close. "Queer town's done sprung a leak, Girl. Lookie who all I got here."

"Wow, Verne, I see." Miriam noticed that a couple of the occupants of the second car were drag queens and grinned from ear to ear. "Where'd you find them all?"

Laverne spread her hands as if parting the Red Sea, and stated "a fish fry needs plenty-o-fish, so I went to town and caught me a mess of 'em." Laverne then called out to the masses. "Hey, everbody, this is Miriam. Miriam this is everbody."

"Hi, everybody. Nice to meet you and welcome to Cool Lake." Miriam waved and was tickled that so many had come from the city to engage in Cool Lake's little number.

"Shall we go in?" Laverne piped cheerfully, and the crowd began to move toward the door in unison. Taking hold of Miriam's arm as if to hold her back a bit, Laverne whispered "now, Honey. Pick ya out one that ya think's purty to have for yourself when the party's over, but leave the little red-headed gal for me."

"Oh, Vernie. You know I can't operate that way. I have to meet someone and then get to know them before..."

Laverne interrupted Miriam, saying "hog wash, Yummy. You need to get your clock cleaned out once in awhile and tonight's as good a night as any."

Laughing nervously, Miriam whispered "I'll think on it, Verne." As they breached the doorway, Laverne announced herself by letting out a 'whoop' that would scare the roof off a house, yet the small crowd inside greeted her as if she were a long lost friend. Miriam thought that the night might turn out to be more than okay, it might even turn out to be decent.

Though they were a Queer-looking group, including two men in heels and hose, and three Dykes in leather duds, Maddy greeted them all with perfect grace. Then she escorted them to the gigantic round booth in the front corner, and announced "best table in the house." Miriam loved Maddy for acts just like that one. Naturally, Laverne pushed through from the back of the herd so that she could sit in the booth center stage. She allowed the crowd of gays and lesbians to surround her so that later she could entertain them with her charm and wit. And more assuredly, so that they'd play wait staff if Laverne should want for anything. Laverne was notorious for self-serving moves such as that, but the troupe accompanying her obviously didn't know her tricks and eventually would be too drunk to care about them. Before sitting, she took the redheaded girl by the hand and drug her into the booth beside her, guaranteeing a prize catch for later in the evening. Laverne got situated and shouted back for Miriam to join them, but Miriam waved her off. "I'll come and join you later."

Maddy took her hand, and they whizzed to a booth after seating her guests "Sit down, Kid. I'll be right back." Then she disappeared into the kitchen.

Miriam took advantage of that request, but instead sat down at the counter to have a smoke. A young black gentleman, no doubt one of Brother D's sons, came to her with a draft beer and an ashtray. When he smiled politely, she asked "is Maddy keeping you busy, young man?"

"Yes, Ma'am, but I love it. I get to work with my daddy all night tonight and I don't have to go to church in the mornin' with my momma." His smile was so wide and bright then, it was captivating. Miriam immediately began to smile along.

"So, is your dad Brother D?" Miriam knew the answer as he bore a striking resemblance, but thought it was polite to continue the conversation a bit longer rather than accept his hospitality and nothing more.

The young man proudly stood up straighter. "Yes, Ma'am. He's the reason I am here today and he's the reason I got this job this evening. He put in a good word for me with Miss Madaline and someday I plan to take my father's place here when he retires."

Miriam was scrambling for the name that Maddy had given her earlier and finally came up with it. "So you must be Daniel. What does your mother think of you missing church tomorrow, Daniel?"

"Mother is not well pleased, but she said since it was the fish fry and all, that she would make an exception just this once." Then the gentleman corrected Miriam. "And I'm DeWanne, but that's okay. People are always getting us boys confused."

Miriam felt embarrassed, "I humbly apologize, DeWanne. Please forgive me."

"That's okay, don't worry about it. Daniel is here and Darten should be any minute. I'm sure once you see us all together you'll notice the difference." He turned to go, but before he left he asked if there was anything else she needed just now. Shaking her head, she thanked him kindly. She watched him as he went to a booth behind her to check on their needs, and thought that he was a nice young man. She thought, too, that from all accounts, Brother D and his wife had raised a fine family.

The place smelled good. Brother D was deep-frying fish, hushpuppies, potatoes and who knows what else by the baskets full. Miriam noticed that the booths and a couple of tables along the East side of the L-shaped seating area were completely filled, and some of the tables were filling up around the dance floor. It seemed already like a good turn out, and the night was still young. Miriam thought that if it turned out like last year, it would soon be standing room only, even after the folding tables and chairs were brought in from the outbuilding. Along the South wall past the jukebox, they'd rearranged the tables to accommodate the future dancers, and made room for the portable food bar. Past the restrooms, they'd placed six kegs of beer across from four bar stools to separate traffic, and Brother D's setup was next to that. It was workable, Miriam thought. When she needed to help with things, she wanted to be sure that she knew where everything was.

Miriam noticed that Laverne had already sent out the troops. In playing commander, she had four from the group up for beer. DeWanne had handed out empty pitchers for them to fill and was filling another pitcher for the group himself. Two others were up for fish and trimmings, letting Miriam know that this would be their circumstance for the night. Miriam was distracted by the door, which opened for eight of Brother D's family members and guests, and they'd headed toward Brother D at the cooker, where several tables were pushed together with a 'reserved for Brother D' sign on them. She'd also noticed that the first and second booths by the door wielded 'reserved' signs and several of the counter spots were 'reserved for regulars.' Miriam had no doubts that Maddy was very much in charge of things when she emerged from the back within seconds of the new arrivals. Yet Miriam couldn't help but notice that Gladys hadn't made an appearance, but Jackie and Sis, the A.M. waitresses with beehive hairdos, were slaving away over the food bar. Maddy returned from seating Brother D's guests and requested that Miriam come with her to the back. Miriam took a deep breath thinking that her time had come, and she dutifully followed Maddy through the swinging doors. Miriam had never been backstage at this or any other restaurant. And as they passed through, she was immediately struck by the enormous stainless steel components of a working kitchen. Passing large freezer doors on the right and shelving units full of industrial-sized cans and jars on the left, they dead ended into an office area. "Sit down, Kid. Let's finish our beers and have a smoke."

Miriam took a seat on the sofa and Maddy placed herself behind her massive desk, which was cluttered with a vast array of receipts and orders for groceries and the like. She passed Miriam an ashtray and then raised her glass of beer as if to make a toast. "Cheers."

Miriam responded in kind and they both took long sips of their brew. "Maddy, it looks as if you'll have a good turn out by the likes of the crowd I've seen so far."

"Yep, Kid. It looks better already than last year around this time in the evening." Maddy glanced at her watch, which prompted Miriam to ask the time. "8:35, Kid. Hey, what about Laverne's crowd? I've never seen any of them before."

"Laverne brought them in special for the occasion. A motley looking crew, yes?"

"Yes, definitely. I put them in the big booth so they'd have more room, but I think before the night's over we may have to add some extra chairs considering the fact that Laverne usually has some locals with her, too. Remember last year? You and a couple of teachers and students sat at her table for a while."

"That's right. It won't be a problem though, the chairs, I mean?"

"Naw. For Laverne, anything. As long as she doesn't dance naked on the tables we'll be all right." Miriam and Maddy shared their first laughter of the evening. It broke the ice for Miriam and eased some of the tension she felt about working among a hungry crowd.

Miriam asked "so what is my assignment for the evening, Madd? And don't hurt me."

"For starters, I want you to sit at the bar and look gorgeous, just like you do already. In a little while, I'm gonna slip away and change my clothes and check my make-up. That's when I'll want you to seat the folks as they come in, and it's no big deal so don't be nervous." Maddy was talking with her hands and Miriam's head bobbed lazily up and down and from side to side watching them.

"What's next?" Miriam knew there had to be more involved than simply greeting a few patrons.

"That's it. Did you see how I have everything set up?" Miriam confirmed that she had with a shake of her head, then Maddy continued. "It's all done but the door prizes, I've still got to do that."

"Well, is that something I can help you with?" Miriam asked in honesty.

"Nope. They're all together and I can fix them all up when I get back. I'll only be gone about twenty minutes or so. If any emergency arises during that time go to Brother D, he'll know what to do." She finished off her beer, and asked "got it?"

Miriam got it and so they went to the front where Maddy explained a few more things. "As of right now, we have Daniel working on a clog in the bathroom, Darten is on his way from his house and he'll eventually serve as host, and DeWanne is out checking on the guests."

When Miriam said yes that she'd met him, Maddy continued. "It's all-you-can-eat, serve yourself. The customers pick up their picnic-ware from the food bar or there by Brother D. Glasses are by the kegs. If anyone asks about the drawings, each adult gets a ticket and the first one's at ten or there about. The big jar there by Brother D is for donations and all the money collected goes to restock the lake with catfish in the fall." Miriam's head was spinning, but Maddy concluded "there are a few reservation signs here and there. These two booths here are for us and the counter seats are for the local fisherman who drink coffee here in the mornings. Whew, Kid. Got any questions? I know it's a lot."

Miriam couldn't have vocalized any questions if she'd had any. Maddy had talked non-stop, and so much so that Miriam's head was swirling like a bee's nest. She shook her head 'no,' and asked Maddy when she was leaving. Maddy said "now," and she took her keys from her pocket and was out the door. Miriam glanced at the clock above the counter and it read 8:40. The time went slowly, but Miriam tried to be useful. She seated several folks and lost her position at the counter to a salty seaman named Hank. He pointed to his photo hanging on the wall and gave a fishing tale likened to 'the one that got away' stories she'd heard before. The phone began to ring at 8:55 and she glanced at Brother D, who nodded his head for Miriam to answer. It was Gladys asking for Maddy. Oddly when Miriam asked her what time she'd be there, Gladys hung up. Standing by the register, Miriam noticed a banner hung above the door with masking tape and scribbled in childlike appearance were the words: welcome to the starfish inn's spring fish fry. No doubt the handy work of Maddy's nieces and nephews, and they had done a fair job. This led Miriam to again wonder about Gladys' obvious lack of attendance and she hoped that nothing was wrong by the way she'd hung up so abruptly. Miriam glanced outside to see if anyone was pulling up and then headed for a refill of beer. She went to Laverne's table with chair in hand, and seated herself next to a cute girl with black hair and black eyes. She thought Laverne might be right, and would keep this young woman in mind for later on. Just as she was warming up and began to explain to Verne and her crowd how she was asked to help out tonight, Maddy pulled into the lot and honked the horn. Both Miriam and Brother D went out to help, momentarily leaving the fish fry to tend itself.

Outside, they found Maddy in sad shape, for she was soaked mercilessly to the bone and had obviously been crying. She unlocked her trunk and told Brother D to grab the boxes while she reached in and got a sack. She asked Miriam to get her vanity bag from the front seat and retrieve the clothes that were hanging on the driver's side. With that done, they all scurried back inside, past the kitchen and into the office. She excused both Miriam and Brother D, rolling her eyes when Miriam told her that Gladys had been the only caller. As Miriam left the kitchen, she heard Maddy call out to Brother D, asking him to bring her a beer and some clean linen from the pantry. Miriam was in time to seat two of Cool Lake's finest, Deputy Gray and his partner, both wanted to sit near the food bar and were pigging out by the time she made her way back to Laverne.

"Beer's hot, Honey. Pour you a cold one here." Laverne was holding up a pitcher full of freshly fetched brew. Miriam could see signs that some of the partygoers had a light buzz because they giggled at everything Laverne said. "Ain't ya gonna get ya some a that nice fish?"

"I'm working on it, Vernie-girl. I just need to let Maddy get situated first and then I'll try some of Brother D's nice catfish. It sure smells good." Miriam saw that the cute girl she'd noticed before now had an unattractive port side list. Miriam asked the girl if she was okay and she managed only a hiccup and a giggle.

Laverne then asked the oddest question, Miriam thought. "Did the lawmen ask any questions after they saw me?"

Miriam responded "no, should they have, Verne? Are you running from justice?"

"No, you silly thang. I was just curious, that's all. Don't be stupid."

Miriam glanced again at the girl who was now obviously headed downward, and held her hand down toward the floor should she need to catch herself. "Are you sure you're okay?" Miriam was honestly becoming concerned.

Then Laverne quickly piped up as if to speak on the girl's behalf, and said "yeah, she'll be fine as frog's hair onced the bathroom's clear."

Miriam had no more than questioned "bathroom" when the girl made a mad dash toward the back, covering her mouth with both hands as she ran. "Oh," was all Miriam could muster. The table sat silently for a brief moment then resumed their chatting and laughter as if nothing was wrong. The girl with the black hair and black eyes was cute no longer. Later in the evening, Miriam noticed that the girl hadn't returned to the table and questioned how she was feeling. She discovered that after the table incident the girl had gone to pass out in the car. "Oh," was again all Miriam could manage. In dismay she recalled a few times like this from her own checkered past, and was thankful those days were over. Like a Savior, Maddy caught her attention and motioned for her to join her in one of the booths up front. Miriam excused herself to Laverne by promising to return later on, but Miriam had serious doubts that she'd place herself in that circle again. She swung by and drew a cold pitcher from the keg and made her way cheerfully past Brother D at the cooker. "How's it going, Brother D?"

"Fine. It's goin' fine. Tell Miss Madaline I'll be sendin' ya'lls food to the table right away. If that'd be all right."

Miriam was glad to hear she'd be eating soon, as her stomach had started to growl enticed by the rich aroma that filled the air. "Sounds good to me, Brother D. Are you going to eat soon?"

"Yes, ma'am. I sho do hope thay's fish fries in Heaven. Yes, Lord. 'cause I loves de little catfish and de little hushpuppies." Brother D cast a wide smile toward Miriam that had surely attracted his wife to bear him nine sons.

"I couldn't agree with you more, Brother D. I'll tell Maddy you're on your way." Miriam smiled at Brother D and decided that she genuinely liked him as an individual and admired his way of life and his ease of character.

Arriving at the booth, Miriam could see that Maddy had changed her clothes and applied fresh make-up. "Wow, Sister-girl, you look like a million bucks," Miriam used Maddy's own words deliberately to compliment her appearance. "Let me pour you a cold beer and we'll get ready for Brother D's catfish. He said he'd send it over shortly."

"Good. I'm ready to settle down now and have a bite to eat before the drawings start." Maddy sounded cheerful, but weary from the preparations. "This has been a hell of a day to say the least," she concluded.

"I should have come earlier and helped you, Madd. I never thought. Why didn't you ask me to come?" Miriam was sympathetic to the cause once she'd seen all the handiwork that it had taken to orchestrate the evening.

"Kid, I hated to ask you to do even what you did, but I just found myself in a pinch. I really appreciate you pitching in like you have, you've saved the day."

A little embarrassed by the praise for what little she'd done, Miriam replied in her best John Wayne, "Aw, shucks, Ma'am. Tweren't nothin'." Miriam could see that Brother D and Jackie were fixing the plates, which reminded Miriam of Gladys' absence. Miriam knew that the family attended last fall's event and their lack of semblance tonight was obvious. "Hey, Maddy. Where's Gladys and the kids?"

"I did it, Miriam. I honestly had the nerve to do it. I took a long deep breath and I fired her today." Maddy's voice was defiant. "She thought because of the fish fry that I wouldn't dare fire her, so she started in early with that effin' F. J. Curtis bullshit. But I took all from her that I could take and I sent her packin' around ten o'clock. And I'll tell you another thing, I'm going to petition the court for custody of the kids come Monday morning." Maddy spoke with relief in her voice. "I'm completely through with that heifer as of today." When she said 'as of today' she pounded her fist on the table for emphasis.

Miriam's mouth gaped open; she could hardly believe it. "What on earth happened, Madd? What brought you to this point?"

Then as bright as a star on a moonless night, she calmly spoke. "Oh, look Miriam. Here's Jackie with our food. Ooh. It looks so delicious. Jackie. Thank you. And give Brother D our compliments to the chef." Two seconds later, as Jackie turned away, Maddy was her same defiant self again. "I don't want to get into the particulars right now, but she showed her shiny ass to me in the middle of all this today and enough was enough. I'm through with her shit for sure."

Miriam still stared at Maddy who was now diving into coleslaw and munching on some fresh, hot catfish as if she hadn't eaten all day. Before Miriam began to eat, she asked Maddy "are you all right?"

"Honey, yes. And if I'm not now, I will be when I finish eating this delicious dinner." She steadily continued to put food into her mouth, and motioned with her fork toward Miriam. "Eat, Kid, eat."

"Wow, Maddy. I never guessed when you called me this afternoon that it was something like this. But in all honesty, I suspected that you were up to something when you told me what to wear. I wished you'd have told me then, I could have been more helpful."

Madaline stopped cold. "Oh, that." And went back to her dinner, mumbling "well, that doesn't have anything to do with Gladys, it's just kinda worked out that way. The other part's a surprise, Kid." Grinning just a bit, Maddy added "for me to know and for you to find out."

"Surprise? What kind of surprise?" She hesitated just a second, but nothing came. "What is it, Maddy? Tell me what's up." Miriam was pleading now because she couldn't stand surprises.

Maddy shook her head and shoved an entire hushpuppy in her mouth, and then mumbled some word resembling "nope." She chewed a bit more, and said "later. It's good, don't worry about it. Eat."

Now Miriam didn't think she could eat, but she did as she was told. Once she started, she found the food delicious. Each bite complimented the last, loaded with bursts of spices and flavours. "I just know that there's a fat gal trying to get outta me, and with delicious food like this we just might see her soon," Miriam stated about halfway through her meal. They each giggled but were undaunted in their task, and as they finished their meals, the crowd continued to build with local celebrities and townspeople alike, representing every social and economic background that Cool Lake had to offer. As the sounds from the jukebox mixed with lively conversations, it was evident that everyone was having a good time. Laverne and her bunch had abandoned their empty plates and made it to the dance floor, and had acquired two-thirds of the tiny space allotted by prancing to Madonna's 'Vogue.' Maddy and Miriam talked about the food and Brother D, and laughed hysterically at Laverne's crazy antics loosely disguised as dancing. They noticed, too, that a couple of cowboys tipped their hats to one of the drag queens after the song changed to "Waltz Across Texas" and the lucky winner returned to dance with her periodically for the remainder of the evening. "This is a good time, Maddy. Thanks for reminding me to come." Miriam let the fact that she'd forgotten slip but Maddy didn't comment about it.

"Aw, Kid. I'm so glad you came. This night is turning out to be a great success, thanks to you and all the others." Maddy signaled to Brother D's son, Daniel, to come clean the table. He arrived promptly, clearing away their empty plates and wiping the table down. "Daniel? This is my friend Miriam."

Daniel spoke eloquently; he said he was honored to meet Miriam and that he'd heard a lot about her. Miriam, in turn, stated that she'd heard praises of him by his brother, Darten, who'd stayed busy beyond belief since his arrival. "Do you want me to bring out the prizes now, Miss Madaline?"

"Yes, Daniel. I think you'll have to make several trips, they're in my office. Remember to put them near the dance floor and make sure I've put a number on each one of them." Then turning back to Miriam, she said "that's what we unloaded from the car earlier. I had to stand in the rain and argue with Gladys that they didn't belong to her. And it took a lot to convince the idiot before she handed them over. She thought, you see, that since she was the one who picked them up from the donors that they should belong to her, like it was Christmas or something." Maddy chuckled. "That nut wouldn't know the time of day if Big Ben was shoved up her ass and chimed on the noon hour."

"Well, I'm glad that it'll soon be over for you, Maddy. Just out of curiosity, was this empty booth behind us suppose to be saved for her?" Without turning around Miriam pointed behind her.

"Nope. Part of your surprise, Kid. That booth will be filled in what I would guess to be the next ten minutes or so." Maddy put out her smoke. "I've got to go get the stuff ready for the drawing, Kid. When the Watsons come in put them in that booth" she said, pointing to the one directly behind theirs.

Maddy was up and gone, making her way toward the dance floor where Daniel had placed the give-aways. She went to each table along her path meeting and greeting the masses with enthusiasm. Miriam thought that Watson's Five and Dime must've contributed a large sum in order to rank a reserved booth for the occasion, but what could that have to do with her surprise, Miriam wondered. She figured that she'd soon find out, because Maddy wanted the drawings to start by 10:30 and Watson would certainly want to be there for his share of the recognition. Miriam watched Maddy take the prizes from their boxes, and pulled several objects and some envelopes from the bag. Darten had joined them and was plugging a microphone into the jukebox. When Maddy tapped on it to make sure that it was working, she got a loud ovation from the beer soaked crowd. She said, "Hey!" And the crowd echoed her in unison. "We've just about reached the payload of this night's affair." Again cheering from the crowd. "Settle down, we're not there just yet. I don't see how you could be, but those of ya'll that are still hungry can find more fish frying and plenty of trimmings at the food bar."

Just as the crowd whooped again, Miriam turned toward the door in time to see Marion and his wife coming in from the rain. She extended her hand as she moved to greet them. "Welcome to the fish fry."

Another figure fell in behind them just as Marion said "nice to see you this evening. It looks like Maddy's got a crowd on her hands."

"Yes, Sir. She filled up to capacity just about an hour ago, but there's still a booth with your name on it." Miriam found herself having to yell above the crowd, "it's right over here."

As Marion started past her he turned to his wife, and said politely "Pauline, do you remember Miriam?" Both cordially shook hands, and said "yes, of course" in unison. "And Miriam, I'd like for you to meet my niece." When Pauline moved slightly, the bottom fell out. "This is Esther. Have you two met?"

Miriam extended her hand toward Esther and thought she said, "no, we haven't met. How do you do?" But later she imagined that she might've said "cockle-doodle-do" or practically any damn thing else, for that matter. She lead them to their table and explained the set-up, never once taking her eyes from Esther. "Maddy just announced that there's still plenty to eat and the drawings will start around 10:30 or so." She finished with 'help yourselves,' and went hastily into the kitchen to reclaim her sanity.

Maddy joined her there momentarily, grinning as wide as the Grand Canyon. "What do ya think, Kid? Did I say it was a surprise or not?" A moment passed and then she added "Kid? Are you okay?"

"Wow, Madd. I am just stunned. I don't know what to say."

"You say 'damn, Maddy, this is terrific,' that's what you say." Maddy was laughing an innocent youthful laugh. "C'mon, Kid. Lighten up." Maddy moved close to Miriam and gave her a good ol'Maddy hug. "Miriam! C'mon now. This is a good thing, isn't it?"

"Well, yes. Yes. Of course it is, Maddy, but how'd you know? How did you do it? How'd ya know?" Miriam was totally beside herself and began to pace back and forth. She was wound tight but the blood-flow was returning slowly to her head as she exclaimed "Maddy, what a surprise!" And then she hugged Madaline tighter than ever before.

"I told ya, Honey. I told ya it was good." Maddy was still smiling like the cat that ate the canary.
"I found out who she was the other night before you came in for dinner, but I was afraid to say anything about it when you asked. Plus, I wanted this to be a surprise. That's why I called you today, it had nothing to do with Gladys, that was just a coincidence."

"You sneak!" Miriam wasn't mad but she pretended.

"Yes. I confess. I am a sneak," Maddy appeared proud of her slyness by placing her hands on her hips and pushing out her voluptuous chest, as she spoke. "Now, I've got work to do. Are you gonna stay in here all night or are you gonna go out there and defend your territory from the likes of Laverne and her bunch?"

"Oh, shit! I'm going. But what should I do? What should I say?" Miriam was panicked.

"Honey, you'll just have to let nature take its course from here. But that's not going to happen with you standing in this kitchen, now is it?" Maddy stepped aside and bowed to Miriam so that she could walk on by. "You go get 'em, Kid. I hope this is the beginning of a long and happy romance."

Miriam stopped at the swinging doors for a long, deep breath and Maddy pushed her on through. "Have a good time, Kid."

The Watsons were absent from their table as Maddy escorted Miriam back to her seat. "Here, Kid. Sit on my side so, you know, you can watch the festivities better." Miriam did just as she was told and panned the room to locate Esther. She lit a smoke and decided that she was being immature about the situation given the fact that she'd faced this scenario a hundred times before. The truth was, however, that she'd removed herself from opportunities like this almost nine years ago for a very good reason: she was tired of all the games lesbians often played. Now, with the exception of a few scattered one-night stands, she was destined to play the game once more if she wanted to spend some time with the most attractive woman she'd ever seen. She wasn't sure this woman was a lesbian to begin with, nor did she have a clue on how she would protect herself even if the woman were straight and curious. And she thought that Maddy also didn't have a clue to what she was trying to set in motion. Miriam knew that should she decide to take this mission it could bring her a world of enjoyment. Or it could wreck her emotionally where she stood. "Oiy yoi, yoi!" She quoted Ricky Ricardo aloud, and added "decisions, decisions."

Here they come, Miriam thought, and began to nervously arrange her clothes and hair and fidget with the items on the table to keep up appearances. She asked if they'd found everything all right, and they all claimed they had. Marion and Pauline sat with their backs to Miriam, which left a hindered but attainable view of Esther between them. Maddy returned to the microphone saying niceties to the crowd once again. She introduced her staff for the evening beginning with Jackie and Sis, who gave a quick curtsy and wave for the crowd. Then Maddy called each of Brother D's sons who'd assisted with the affair: Darten, the oldest, next DeWanne, the most handsome, and then Daniel, the most recent graduate of Cool Lake High. Each brother took the other's hand and they bowed in unison just as they did at church, Miriam reckoned, when the nine boys sang as a group before their congregation. She asked Miriam to stand and thanked her for stepping in just in time to get the Starfish through a pinch. Then she asked for a big round of applause for the Master Chef, Brother D. With this, the house trembled with a lengthy applause, some cheering and whistling. Miriam could see from a distance that Brother D and his family were honored for his recognition; Brother D took off his Chef's hat and swept it across his chest with a bow toward the audience.

After that moment was over, Maddy began again. "Folks, we wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for one thing." Someone from the assembly yelled out "yeah, for the beer," which got immediate approval from the others. "C'mon, now," Maddy reminded somberly, "I want you to look around this room and you'll see among you many men and women who fish the waters of Cool Lake." More applause came. "Take off your caps and hats, gentlemen. Ladies, let us see who you are." And the men with caps obliged and the others without caps gave out salutes and waves. "It is because of these folks and because of the bountiful waters of Cool Lake that we sit here tonight with our bellies and our hearts full." Maddy took a little gratitude for herself "and for those of you who don't know me, I'm Maddy, the Starfish Captain." Everyone left their seats to stand in ovation for Maddy. "If I ever fail to show up for one of these shindigs, somebody better come and fetch me!" Roars came from the crowd as Maddy waved for them to be seated. She went on to explain about the money jar and its purpose, and where it was located. She shook her finger as if scolding the crowd, exclaiming that only two of the six kegs of beer were floating, and remarked that no one was leaving there until they were all dry. She reminded the crowd that although no one could be admitted after midnight, the beer could flow until it was gone. This comment got as big a cheer as the one about Brother D. "Now, for the bad news," Maddy started but was met by a crowd full of oh's and no's. "Okay, it's not that bad, hang on. I just want you to know that each time I enjoy this fish fry as much as you do. But for personal reasons, I need to participate with them just a little less." This news was followed by "aww's" from the audience. "There have been a few of the local businessmen kicking around the idea of having a spring fry at the lake rather than here. Anyone interested in working out the details should get in touch with Marion Watson. Marion would you come over here for a moment and explain it to everyone?"

As the crowd encouraged him, Marion wiped his mouth and departed the booth, leaving the view of Esther wide open. She was a doll, a living dream. Her hair was loosely pulled away from her face in a ponytail, and ringlets of light golden brown hair crowned her face. She smiled and exposed her pearl white teeth to Miriam. Miriam returned the smile but it seemed to embarrass Esther slightly and she quickly turned away, tucking a lock of hair nervously behind her ear. Miriam followed Esther's line of sight and noticed Marion making his way through the crowd to join Maddy. When she looked back toward Esther again, she met her stare. There they were again, her remarkable ice-blue eyes; they must assuredly be the most beautifully colored eyes she'd ever seen. As if to toast Miriam, Esther raised her glass of beer and then turned to focus on her uncle. Miriam had lost interest in the festivities all together, however, and registered much of what was being said only as garble. Miriam continued to look long at Esther, right down to the pearl snaps of her sleeveless denim shirt. She liked what she saw. She felt herself being taken in by the woman's beauty, drifting away helplessly - hook, line, and sinker.

Marion returned to the booth, which broke Miriam's attention on Esther, and she resumed Maddy's speech in progress "...for the tickets. They're being distributed now and although there are quite a few great door prizes, each person is allowed only one ticket. We'll start drawing the numbers in a bit, so for now, go back to enjoying the food and fun. Thanks." Miriam wanted to stretch her legs before the numbers were called, so she took this momentary break to go for a cup of beer. On her way past the Watson's table, she politely asked if they needed anything and then proceeded to Laverne's booth to see if they were all okay, but more importantly to see if Laverne had noticed Esther.

"You've been pretty quiet over here, Laverne. Is everyone okay?" As she finished her sentence, the drag queen to her left grabbed Miriam and sat her down in her lap. Miriam spoke in waves due to the giddy-up motion of the drag queen's muscular legs. "Woo, I haven't had this pleasure in a long time! Laverne, where have you been keeping Miss Thang here tucked away? It could have saved me gazillions on battery costs alone."

The folks around the huge booth began to chant "Hazel! Hazel! Hazel!" And then they all burst into laughter, with Laverne's "haws" in a league of their own.

This was not how Miriam wanted to be noticed by Esther. So after a small conversation that amounted to nothing more than a summation of the evening's events so far, Miriam took her leave. With each step, they clamored "Miriam! Miriam! Miriam!"

Despite herself and as Queer as could be, she turned back to the throng. "My little pretties, by the looks of your table you must be having an awfully nice time." They began to howl her name again as she twirled and walked away. Then she began to sashay from them as pretty as you please, like a Southern Belle dancing in a ball gown.

Now she was on a mission. She spied the kegs in the distance and calculated that a pitcher of cold beer would give her a good excuse to stop by Esther's booth to refill their assuredly empty cups. Maddy was moving that way and motioned for her to join her. They met in the middle and both asked each other how things were going. When Miriam shared her plan, Maddy said "I'll come with you. Wait." Maddy scooted back to the dance floor and breathed life into the silent jukebox. "C'mon ya'll, let's dance." She shuffled back to Miriam as 'Unchained Melody' began to play, and said "I thought this maneuver of yours could use a little atmosphere, and, by the way, save a dance for me later on."

As she drew the beer, Miriam thought she was scoring big time tonight. Queers from the big city would surely induce a Sunday gathering at Laverne's, she'd been promised a dance with Maddy, and best of all, she'd been properly introduced to the beautiful woman from the coffee shop. Bells and whistles, Miriam thought, bells and whistles. Maddy and Miriam each held a pitcher of beer drawn from the icy kegs and mingled their way toward their booth. Maddy went on past the Watsons and nodded her head back toward Miriam signaling for her to stop. "I'll bet you folks would like a refresher of ice cold beer." Obviously they all did and reached for their cups. "Here you go," Miriam said to both Pauline and Marion. Then, with Esther, she carefully held her cup so that little head would remain on the beer. Marion asked Miriam while she completed her job "have you noticed that Esther's been out to the lake?"

Miriam was puzzled. "To the lake?" Then it dawned on her. "Oh, you mean out at your summer house?"

"Yes, we opened it up for Essie while she's remodeling her place." Marion toasted the table with his cup held high. "She's making Cool Lake her home, aren't you Essie?"

"Well, welcome to Cool Lake neighbor. From your place, I'm the..."

"You're the one who drives the Falcon, right?" Esther interrupted.

"Right," Miriam replied. "How'd you know?"

"Aunt Pauline pointed your place out to me when she lead me in." Then she finished "I'm the one in the Mustang, if you've noticed." Esther paused briefly, then added "thanks for the beer, we were getting thirsty."

Miriam responded to her gratitude. "It's my pleasure, trust me." Miriam glanced around the table and departed with a special look at Esther. "I'll leave the rest of this for you guys, we have another one over there."

Falling into the booth, Miriam whispered "whoa, Maddy. That's the hardest thing I've had to do in a very long time. What do you think? Isn't she great looking?"

"She's beautiful, Kid, absolutely beautiful. I knew she was the one for you when I laid eyes on her." Maddy's voice was soft and certain. "Where are you going from here?" Meaning, what was next with Esther.

"I don't friggin' know, Maddy. I just don't have a clue. But I hope that it's good. I hope that it's damn good."

Chapter Three
Chapter Five

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