Chapter Six
The truth is better than fiction

It was real trouble for Miriam to start her day as she still felt a bit queasy and hung over from Saturday night's fish fry and the over-indulgence of beer. Her cheddarburger was now kicking around, too, which didn't seem to help matters any. After a considerable amount of coffee, however, the fog was beginning to lift just a bit, making her coherent enough to dial the phone. She deliberately called Maddy at her home number knowing full well that she'd be at work, and left a message for her to call when she had the chance. Miriam figured it this way: she wouldn't disturb Maddy at the diner, yet she was fulfilling the obligation to return Maddy's calls, but also buying herself some time before she had to participate in a conversation. Miriam began the necessary chore of cleaning house, starting with the bathroom and finishing up by washing the clothes she'd worn on Saturday. She removed the stench with scents of candles, and had robbed her garden of its last remaining blooms in an attempt to brighten her dreary house and lighten her gloomy spirits. She set the stage with mellow earth sounds and some new age selections from her CD collection, and then drew a hot sudsy bath. If anything were going to help her, this would be the ticket.

And soon the soak was working wonders. She'd remodeled the Young's bathroom just two years ago, which shrank the bedroom that she now loosely called her office. But in return she gained enough space to treat herself to a garden sized tub with air jets, and she liked the soothing feeling that the jets provided to her often aching joints and muscles very much. When Miriam thought she might be getting old, the warm massage erased years from her body and spirit. "Ah! Creature comforts," she murmured to Tahloolah when she perched tub side for a scratch under her chin. After a time, Miriam began to drift away peacefully as her body began to heal itself. She thought about all the events of last few days, including Laverne's disclosure of the morbid incident with the Smitheys, and of how solemn and small Laverne had become when recalling the events of that fateful night. Meeting Esther at the fish fry was definitely a highlight, such a welcome surprise to see her smiling face. And she remembered swaying with Maddy on the dance floor, twice. It was something Miriam thought would definitely never happen and she was tickled pink that it had. And she smiled at the prospect that it might actually happen again someday, as Maddy had remarked that Miriam was a good lead. Maddy hadn't danced with anyone else Saturday night either, as best that she could recall, which made her feel quite special. Miriam wished such a haze didn't cloud the latter part of the fish fry. She thought that she was there until closing time, or thereabouts, but after midnight she just couldn't remember much. She simply assumed that since the hangover was so bad, it must've turned into one hell of a party.

Miriam felt more and more relaxed by the minute and eased herself down a bit further in the tub to enjoy the whirlpool effects thoroughly. She drifted with the rhythmic flow of water and inhaled the sweet-smelling air more deeply, while her soul was soothed by the peaceful sounds of a digitally mixed tropical rain forest, filling her mind with an atmosphere of tranquility. But as luck would have it, she was just at Heaven's gate when the doorbell rang. "Who in the Hell can that be, Tahloolah?" Miriam rose just above her tropical leisure to listen for another chime, in hopes that whomever it was would go away. No such luck, the doorbell repeated and was followed by a knock. "Looks like they mean business, Loo. Get out of the way." Miriam crawled from the tub as if she'd been defeated and had reached for her bathrobe when the knock came again. A bit perturbed, she called out "I'm on my way, hold on to your hat!" Then she muttered, "this better be damned good." She practically stomped down the hall and then walked more quietly to the window to peer out for the sake of safety. "Oh, my God! It's Esther. What in the world is she doing here? Well, she only knows, Stupid. You have to open the door to find out. Why am I talking to myself? Go to the door. I look like shit. At least I'm clean." Grooming her hair as best that she could while she spoke, she adjusted and readjusted her robe before opening the door, when the bell rang again. "I'm coming," she called. "I wish I was," she answered herself in a whisper. Finally composed enough to open the door, she swept it back wide and inviting. "Hello."

"Hi!" Esther said cheerfully. Then, noticing Miriam's appearance, she said "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you out of the tub."

"No, that's okay. I was finished." Miriam flatly lied, and noticed the wet footprints that trailed to door told the truth. "Come on in, have a seat." Esther walked past her and sat in the oversized chair near the door.

"I just wanted to bring by a little 'thank you' for seeing me safely home Saturday night, I hope you like it." She handed Miriam what appeared to be a large handmade mug filled with goodies wrapped in pretty cellophane with a golden spoon dipped in white chocolate tucked inside the bow. "Your house looks great."

"Yes, I do like it and thank you," placing it on the coffee table as she sat down and adjusted her robe again. "If you'll pardon me for asking, but did you say that I drove you home from the fish fry?"

Esther giggled at the question and searched Miriam's face as if she might be joking. "Why, yes. You don't remember that you drove me home?"

Miriam raised her eyebrows and shook her head slowly from side to side. "Not a thing about it."

"You graciously offered me a lift when Uncle M and Pauline were leaving the Starfish, remember?" Esther paused without reward. "You said it was on your way. I hope I haven't done something wrong."

"No, you haven't done anything wrong. I'm just sorry that I don't recall. But I'm glad you can attest that you made it home safely, 'cause everything past midnight is a blank for me. Truthfully, you could've been in real danger." Miriam looked down at her hands, feeling somewhat fearful of the reply, before saying "I hope I didn't say anything out of the way or act in any way improper."

"No, don't be silly." Miriam looked at her with utmost relief, as Esther continued "you were on your best behavior as far as I'm concerned. You even came around and helped me out of your pickup, and then walked me to my door."

Miriam gulped, and to escape she reached for the package. "So what's this little treasure?"

Esther scooted to the edge of her seat to explain. "I think I remember you coming into the coffee shop one day just after I started. And if my memory serves me, you had two cups of Chunky Chocolate Capuccino flavoured coffee. Is that right?"

"Yes, that's right." Miriam was surprised. "You have a good memory. And you know, the funny thing is that I never have two cups when I'm in there, but I thought I'd treat myself that day just to celebrate the rain." Miriam returned the package to the table. "This was very thoughtful of you."

"It's nothing really, it's just a small token of thanks for the lift. My car was at Uncle Marion's that night, and it would've been a terribly long drive for me if you hadn't stepped in with your gracious offer." Esther stood from the chair and edged toward the door.

Thinking fast, Miriam asked "I've just put on a fresh pot, would you like to stay and have a cup?"

"Oh, I really appreciate the offer, but I need to be getting back to the shop." Esther glanced at her watch, saying "I have a contractor coming to give me a bid on sanding the floors upstairs. You know I'm going to live upstairs, right?"

"No." Obviously Miriam knew very little these days. Why didn't she know about this already? "Not that it's any of my business, but why would you want to live upstairs from where you work when you could live out here by the lake?"

"Well, it may very well turn out to be a mistake to live where I work, I don't know. Uncle M has given me free reign to stay on out here if I decide to." Esther hadn't seemed to mind the question, and added "but that was kinda the agreement with the bank when I bought the shop. I was able to receive extra money if I decided to make home improvements, rather than get just a business loan." She smiled wide, and added "it's called creative financing, I think."

"Oh! So you bought Some Like It Hot?" Now Miriam thought she must live under a rock. "I didn't know. Congratulations! Do you like it?"

"So far so good." She started to reach for the knob then turned back. "Hey, why don't you drop by sometime and I'll give you the Grande Tour. I don't know anyone here, and perhaps we'd make good friends. Besides, from what I can gather you'd be great company." Esther said this with a smile, and then reached for the doorknob.

"Ah, don't believe all you hear." Miriam acted bashfully, then added "but I will come to see you sometime, I'd like that. I don't have many friends here either."

Esther didn't seem to take her seriously. "You had a whole slew of them Saturday night."

"Uh oh. Don't tell me." Miriam stood, and added "I knew there must be a reason why I don't remember and I'd better not to temp fate by finding out," Miriam warned lightheartedly.

"My lips are sealed then." Esther smiled a sweet smile and opened the front door. "Well, I need to be going. But you will come to see me, won't you?" Esther said as she bounced down the steps.

"Yes. You have my genuine guarantee. Hey, thanks again for the gift."

Esther looked back, "No, Miriam. Thank you for the ride."

As Miriam watched her walk away, she called "and drop by anytime, I'm always home."

Miriam latched her screen and watched Esther open her car door, hoping that she'd glance back to show her interest. Then she turned slightly and waved, as if she knew somehow that Miriam still watched her. Miriam closed the wooden door and collapsed against it. "She said my name. This calls for a drink," she said aloud, and then scrambled to find her Kahlua. She returned to her bath and thought of Esther. She imagined what they might've talked about when Miriam drove her home, and wished she could recall at least that much from the wee hours of Sunday morning. As the liquor took its effect, she imagined a parting kiss at Esther's front door that night, a gentle soft kiss turning passionate in her mind as the bubbles whirled about. Before long, she'd gratified herself with the sensation of a pulsating jet, slowly and without effort. Esther had certainly rocked her world, for she hadn't felt such a need for a very long time.

Maddy called her at six saying that she was "off the clock" and wanted Miriam to come down for some homemade soup and cornbread before she left for the day. Miriam did, but she made Maddy promise to fill in the little details of the fish fry that somehow escaped through the cracks of her mind. With promise in hand, she drove to the Starfish. When she walked through the door, her meal was being placed on the counter. "Wow, Maddy. This will sure hit the spot."

"Have you been feeling puny, Kid?" Maddy could always read the telltale signs when Miriam didn't feel well.

"Yeah, I've been a little on the hung over side since Saturday's jubilee. How'd ya know?" Miriam said as she blew across a spoonful of Maddy's chicken noodle soup.

Maddy eased onto the stool beside her, and put her arm gingerly around Miriam's shoulder. "Well, for one," Maddy said softly "you have dark circles under your eyes."

"And two?" Miriam assumed there was more by the way she'd phrased her last statement.

"And two, Laverne was out for breakfast this morning and said you were'd she put it? Oh, a 'wretched mess' I believe is how she described your condition. So, I figured chicken soup was in order." Maddy's tone remained slow and easy. "I've got a pot ready for you to take home, so don't forget it."

"You sound a bit worn yourself, Madd. How'd things go in court today?" Miriam didn't look away from the soup it was so delicious.

"Got the petition out of the way, now we wait for the judge." Maddy lit her smoke, and continued with a firmer tone. "Gladys actually seemed to be excited that I was gonna take the kids, she told Judge Henry that their bags were packed and ready, and she needed a vacation anyway."

"No way." Miriam responded, yet kept eating.

"Yes way, but I'm skeptical. Gladys only does one thing that easy, and that's fuck men." Noticing Miriam's tea glass was empty, Maddy got up and retrieved a full pitcher and grabbed herself a glass of ice. "Here's a refill, Kid."

"Thanks, Maddy." After Miriam took a long drink of the cool elixir, she complained. "I've been dry since I woke up Sunday morning, nothing's quenched my thirst."

"Laverne said you'd been sick at your stomach, you're probably dehydrated." Maddy chuckled, then added, "plus you drank about a keg of beer. Hell, Kid, you won two chugging contests. Up against Laverne, for gosh sakes. That takes a lot of doing."

"You are kidding me!" Astonished, Miriam stopped eating. "I don't remember a chugging contest with Laverne." Then she added, "but of course, if I won, then she'd never mention it, would she?"

"I wouldn't kid you, Kid, it's the God's honest." Maddy shook her head, and boasted. "The truth is better than fiction."

"Guess who came to see me today?" Miriam wore a shit-eating grin.

"She didn't? What'd she say? Hmm?" Maddy suddenly brightened. "Are you two in love?" Maddy was attempting to shake Miriam's teeth loose.

"Maddy! Naw, c'mon. She just stopped by with a little gift because I gave her a ride home, that's all. It was very sweet and very brief." Miriam could tell she was blushing.

"Gee, that must've been some ride home, Kid. Maybe I should let you give me a lift sometime." She elbowed Miriam playfully, and then pondered "maybe I've been missing out after all."

"I wish it were that easy. I'd like to be able to tell you that the drive home sizzled, but I don't remember one damn thing." Miriam shook her head in dismay. "I didn't even know that I did it until today when she stopped by."

"Kid? You ever have black out spells before?" Maddy asked sincerely.

"Not that I recall." They looked at each other, and then they both burst into giggles. "I visit Dr. Gloom next week so I'll mention it." When Miriam contained herself, she asked "so, what can you tell me about Esther from Saturday night?"

"Well, I can tell you that she's a knockout. I can tell you that you're smitten with her. I can tell you that she's smitten with you. I can tell you that she won a door prize, let's see, which one was it...?"

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Maddy was moving just a bit too fast. "Let's back up. How can you tell she's smitten with me?" Miriam was anxious to hear what Maddy would say.

"Well, she sure seemed smitten to me," Maddy replied with a cock of her head.

"How Maddy? How do you know?" Maddy seemed to be dragging her feet. "C'mon, Maddy, spill it from just after midnight!"

"Well, let's see. Okay, at about, oh, I'd say 12:45 or so, Esther started to leave with Marion and Pauline. They stopped at the booth where we were sitting to offer their good-byes, and then Esther asked you if you'd mind giving her a lift home since she'd left her car at Marion's place. After she worked it out with them, she slid in beside you as smooth as silk."

"Yes. What else?" Miriam's eyes were big and she was foaming at the mouth for more detail. "What else? What else?"

"Okay. Let's see. What's next?" Maddy appeared to be thinking hard. "Well, then Laverne challenged you to the chugging contest..." Maddy trailed off for a moment, then added "Kid. You know what just dawned on me?"

"No, Maddy. Tell me, I can't stand it."

"I think Laverne wanted your, well...I mean, you know what I mean. Because after Esther sat down beside you and stayed beside you even after I got up, Laverne made her way out of her booth and headed toward you two, but I intercepted. She said to me that she wanted to go over to meet your "new squeeze," I think is what she said. But I backed her off and told her not to bother that one, that you had your eyes on her first. I'll be damned, I'm just now thinking about it."

"So, how'd we get into a chugging contest?" Miriam was totally clueless.

"Well, later, Esther had gone to powder her nose - like she needed to, she's so pretty - and she and I stopped to talk for just a second. After she went on into the ladies room, I thought I'd come up and check on you. That's when I found you and Laverne gulping down a pitcher apiece, with some of that Dallas crowd standing around to cheer you on. Before I could stop you, you'd damn near polished it off."

"I've never chugged before, Maddy." Miriam put her head in her hands. "What in the world was I thinking?"

"Well, I don't know, but you chugged again later, too. I got 'em all to go back to their table before Esther returned. And I checked you out and you seemed like you were fine, so I didn't think anymore about it. I left you and Esther talking so nice with one another. Kid, you two look good sitting side-by-side." Maddy just gushed at herself, and once again Miriam could tell that Maddy loved love.

"Aw. We do, Maddy?" Maddy's encouragement made Miriam feel romantic.

"Aw, Kid. You looked so good on the dance floor with her."

"Dance floor! What do you mean dance floor?"

"Well, hang on. I'm getting ahead of myself, wait a second. A little later, I asked Esther to go ahead and claim her door prize, 'cause I wanted it to be safe and the evening was wearing thin. Oh, which reminds me, she won the little CD player and the music collection, which was the top prize from Barney's -el cheapo grande- Furniture Mart, no less. Anyway, I borrowed your keys, and then she and I went out to put her stuff in your truck. And low and behold, when we got back inside, Laverne had you involved in another chug-a-lug. Well, I sent her home that time." Maddy was matter-of-fact. "She didn't mention any of this to you?"

"Not a word, Maddy. She knew I didn't remember anything, I told her that several times. Miriam shook her head in disbelief. "So, I guess she knew it was safe not to bring it up." Miriam paused, "Verne's a scoundrel."

"Yeah, she's something all right." Maddy tapped her long fingernails against her iced tea glass as if she were contemplating the world. "Me and ol'Platinum Puss will have to have a word or two about this one."

"Not on my account, Madd. I'd rather just leave it alone." Miriam moved on quickly. "Tell me about the dance."

"Well, Kid. I was dancin' with ya, and we were having the best time. You're a good dancer. Let's see, what was playing? Oh, it was something kinda fast anyway. Then, when the song was over, we started to leave the dance floor. There stood Esther. She's so pretty. She asked you if you would dance with her, and it was like you just swept her up in your arms and she danced without her feet touching the ground. I watched ya'll, I couldn't help myself. Oh, and when you shook her hair loose from her ponytail, well, it was just a perfect picture. Hell, Kid, everybody took notice. Nobody seemed to care that you were both women slow dancing like you didn't notice anything except each other." Maddy was clasping her hands together with a dreamy smile across her face. "Oh and Kid, when the song was over, you held her hand and lead her back to the booth. She climbed in and scooted over and you sat down beside her."

"Oh, Maddy. It sounds so wonderful. Like a dream. Was it like a dream, Maddy?" Miriam wanted to remember so badly that she ached inside.

"Kid. It was the best. I'm not exaggerating. It just couldn't have been better than if you'd rehearsed it a dozen times. When you didn't call me back yesterday, I figured that you two were still in the throws of passion. Hell, I didn't know anything different until Laverne came in this morning." Maddy grabbed up her cigarette pouch and added, "she's a rat."

"Well, it's sad to say, Madd, but in the Lesbian world, it's every Dyke for herself. I hate it. That's part of the reason I got away." Miriam showed obvious disgust.

"Well, out here in the sticks, it's first come, first served. Laverne better think twice or else she'll have me to deal with. But, you know, from what very little I know about Esther, Laverne's not her type anyway. Esther appears too refined, too dignified to stoop as low as Laverne would like her to." Maddy patted Miriam's hand. "She's dignified just like you, and I told her so. I figure that a girl like you ain't got nothing to worry about in the romance department."

"Well, thanks. Maddy, you are very kind." Miriam gave her a hug, and then just for fun spun her around on her stool. "Woohoo, Madd!"

"Wee, Kid!" Maddy was having fun. "So are you going to see her again? Well, what I mean is, have you two made any plans?"

"Kinda. She bought the Some Like It Hot, you know." Maddy shook her head. "She invited me to come up to have a look around sometime. She's remodeling the upstairs for living quarters and, I guess, just staying at the lake house until things are suitable for her to move in up there."

"And?" Maddy waited for more than she'd been given.

"And that's it." Miriam didn't know what else to say.

"What do you mean that's it? Are you going? What are your plans?" Maddy was rolling her hand and wiggling her fingers toward Miriam, signaling for more information.

"Yeah. Oh, yeah. I'm going. I just haven't thought it out yet. I thought I might drive to Sabine Springs and pick up a nice bottle of wine, maybe. I just don't know yet." Miriam really hadn't given the invitation much thought, but now that she was thinking about it, she decided she'd need to develop a plan.

"From what I know, I'd tell you not to go tomorrow. I heard through my grapevine sister that she'd be conducting interviews for new employees." With that, Maddy rolled her eyes. "Marion said that she's expanded the coffee shop to the back of the building, and now it will be a book store and a gift shop, too."

"Wednesday night then." Miriam had just that moment decided, "I'm going to go see her just around closing time on Wednesday."

"There ya go, Kid. Now, you're cooking. You could take a nice bottle of wine, and maybe a picnic supper with some cheese and fruit and stuff, you know, finger food. Do you have a basket...and say...a soft, comfortable quilt for you two to sit on?" Maddy's face had become very suggestive.

"Yeah, yeah. I get the idea, you sex Goddess." Miriam was blowing her off, but she was getting the idea. With all that Maddy had said about Saturday night, she was beginning to warm up to the idea that there could be some possibilities with Esther. "Madd. Now you promise me that Saturday night went like you said, you're just not romanticizing about the evening, right?"

"Kid, it's like I told you." Maddy smiled wide, and spoke gleefully. "The truth is better than fiction."

Chapter Five
Chapter Seven

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