Carole Mortenson



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Scully's was crowded when they walked in. It was still early in the evening, but it looked like it might reach their capacity seating of two hundred as the night wore on. The DJ, a woman dressed in fancy western garb with sequin decorations on the front of her shirt and sporting a cowboy hat—also sequined—was setting up in the corner.

"The DJ's name is Sandy, but she won't start spinning till nine o'clock. So let's find you a place to sit." Lindsey took her by the hand and led her to an empty chair close to the DJ's corner and the dance floor. Another woman occupied the other chair at the small, heavy, square wooden table.

"Hi, Ms. Emma," Lindsey said to the woman as she pulled out the empty chair. "Can I park Sarah here for a little bit? I need to see if Scotty can use me at the bar tonight."

"Sure, honey, you can leave her here as long as you want. I've been looking for some company, anyway." Ms. Emma was very accommodating, but Sarah guessed she'd already had a lot to drink from the way her speech slurred.

Sarah looked at Ms. Emma and thought how grandmotherly she looked. Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun, with wisps of hair sticking out at the sides. She was rather plump, with a broad smile that crinkled up the corners of her mouth and eyes. "Come on, sweetie, sit down and make yourself comfortable," she said. "I won't bite."

Sarah looked up at Lindsey, who nodded at her. "Give me your coat, and I'll hang it up." Sarah handed her coat over and then sat down and watched Lindsey weave her way in and out of the crowd to the bar.

Ms. Emma spoke loudly to Lindsey as she was leaving. "Bring your girl back something to drink, honey. And bring me a refill, too—the usual." Ms. Emma added, "And I'll give you a big hug." She chuckled to herself and then looked across the table at Sarah.

Sarah, however, had eyes for no one but Lindsey. She watched her take off her heavy coat, hang it on a peg around the corner of the bar at the side and then hang Sarah's coat over it. She saw that Lindsey wore western clothes. It looked like the same clothes she'd worn when they'd had lunch earlier in the day. She suddenly felt out of place and uncomfortable in her neatly pressed black slacks and white turtleneck cashmere pullover. Lindsey stood talking with a woman bartender and then proceeded to roll up the sleeves of her western shirt and tie a white dish-towel-like apron around her waist.

Sarah continued to watch as Lindsey started to work behind the bar. She came over to the table after a few minutes with two drinks in her hand. One glass she sat down in front of Ms. Emma and the other in front of Sarah. "It's only a Diet Coke," Lindsey said, leaning over the table. "I know you don't drink."

How in the world did she know that? Sarah wondered. Then she remembered that she'd ordered coffee for lunch instead of a beer or some other drink. "Thank you," she said. I don't drink now, she thought, remembering her past.

Lindsey placed one hand on the back of Sarah's chair and leaned closer to talk into her ear above the noise of the loud conversations and the background music coming from the jukebox. "I've got to help out Scotty for a little bit, but she assures me it won't be for all night. She said most of the people in the early crowd are truckers. She doesn't expect them to be here very long when they see a bunch of women pouring into the bar and start dancing with each other. The snow has stopped west of Laramie, and she heard that the Interstate is open now from here to Rock Springs. So some of the truckers will probably be on their way soon."

Straightening up, she turned to look at Ms. Emma. "Take care of Sarah, Ms. Emma. You know what I mean." Then she turned and left, but not before she leaned over again and quickly, before Sarah knew what was happening, brought her lips to Sarah's in a light, tender kiss. Sarah watched her walk away, touched her fingers to her lips and then brought them back down to wrap around her glass.

"Well, well," Ms. Emma remarked and took a swallow from her mixed drink. She kept looking at Sarah, who finally met her eyes and smiled at her.

"So...are you new in town, Sarah?" Ms. Emma asked, smiling back.

"Yes," Sarah replied, taking a sip of her soda. "I've been here less than two weeks. I'm staying with my sister's family." She didn't want to divulge much about her life, as this woman was a complete stranger.

"How did you meet Lindsey?" Ms. Emma asked, looking at Sarah's glass of soda. "I haven't seen you in Scully's before."

"Actually, I walked into The Old West Town last Saturday where Lindsey was practicing for a Christmas program with a bunch of other women. She asked me to join the choir."

"Oh," Ms. Emma said, nodding her head. "That was quick," she muttered under her breath, low enough that she knew Sarah couldn't hear her above the noise of the crowd.

"Do you come here often?" Sarah asked, just by way of making conversation.

"Well, I guess you could say that," Emma replied. "I'm kind of a permanent fixture."

"Oh," Sarah said. She looked over at Lindsey again, who appeared to be holding a serious conversation with a couple of truckers at the bar while toweling out some beer mugs. Then Lindsey walked to the end of the bar and motioned for her to come over.

"Excuse me," Sarah told Ms. Emma, and got up from her seat. "Nice to have met you," she said politely. She picked up her Diet Coke and squeezed her way through the crowd.

Sarah went to the end of the bar where Lindsey was standing with a short, red-headed, rotund woman with flashing green eyes.

"Scotty, I'd like you to meet Sarah. Sarah, Scotty," Lindsey said. Scotty reached out and shook Sarah's hand with a firm grip.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Scotty said in her Scottish brogue. She turned to Lindsey. "Well, you'll have your hands full with this one," she said. Turning back to Sarah, she said, "Let me know if she gives you any problems."

Scotty walked away with a wink at them both. Sarah looked at Lindsey, who wrinkled up her brows at her and smiled. She noticed Lindsey's face had turned a slight shade of pink. Could she actually be blushing?

Scotty walked down to the other end of the bar where someone in a big Stetson was calling her. "Hey, Scotty, I need another drink."

"Hold your pants on, Charlie," she said. Sarah soon learned that Scotty called every man Charlie.

The barstool next to where Sarah was standing became vacant, as a rather large man—a trucker, if the logo on his cap and winter jacket meant anything—got up and wandered toward the front door.

"I'd like to stay here at the bar, Lindsey, if that's all right," she said, setting her glass down on the bar.

"What...you don't want to sit with old Ms. Emma?" Lindsey looked at her with a comical grin.

"Well—" Sarah hesitated in saying anything about the older woman, not wanting Lindsey to think she didn't appreciate her friends. She looked pleadingly at Lindsey.

"Sure, you can sit here. Ms. Emma can be a little much at times. When you get to know her, though, she's a jewel—with a heart of gold. Wouldn't hurt a flea." She had seated Sarah with Ms. Emma just so Sarah wouldn't have to ward off any lesbians that tried to hit on her. Everyone knew Ms. Emma wouldn't stand for any nonsense.

Sarah smiled and pulled herself up to the bar on what she thought was a very comfortable barstool. More comfortable than many barstools she had sat on. But that was in another life she left behind a long time ago.

Lindsey moved down the bar to other customers, and Sarah thought how nice it was to just sit and enjoy the music. She took sips of her soda and listened to the conversation around her. She looked up and noticed Lindsey was talking with Scotty and then came back to where she was sitting.

"I talked to Scotty about your wanting an apartment," she said. "She says one where she lives is going to be up for grabs the first of the year. A couple of women friends who rent it now are moving to Southern California. They can't take the cold weather here any longer. Would you be interested?"

"God, Lindsey, of course I'll take it!" Sarah could hardly believe her ears.

"That's still over three weeks off," Lindsey said. "Do you want to wait that long? You said you wanted to move like yesterday. But you don't even know how much the rent will be, or where it's located."

"Are you already talking me out of it?" Sarah opened her eyes wide, questioning.

"No," Lindsey laughed. "But I just want you to be sure that's what you really want. Personally, from the little I've seen of your sister's house—and where you live upstairs—I would think twice about moving away from a cushy place like that. You've got it made, Sarah. I don't suppose you're paying any rent, either, are you?"

"No." Sarah bowed her head, wondering now if she was doing the right thing in moving out. She would be leaving her sister in the lurch, and it would be hard to go back and forth each day from an apartment to Sylvia's house. Unless the apartment was right next door or very close. That was unlikely, as Sylvia lived in an exclusive residential section of town. The houses were on large lots, spaced widely apart, and she hadn't seen any apartment buildings around.

"Maybe I should think more about it, Lindsey," she decided. "I don't have to sign on the dotted line tonight, do I?"

"No," Lindsey replied. "Scotty just found out about it a couple of days ago from this couple. Their names are Karin and Evelyn. They come into Scully's now and then, so I'm acquainted with them, too. The word hasn't gotten out yet. When it does, that apartment will be gone in a finger- snap. Good apartments are hard to find in Laramie."

She wandered off down the bar again toward a man who was banging on the bar with an empty beer mug. Sarah watched as Lindsey had some words with the man, shaking her head at him and pointing her finger in his face. The man dropped his gaze and Lindsey refilled his mug.

Lindsey sure has a way about her, Sarah thought. People usually do what she says.



Sarah heard the jukebox quit in the middle of a song. The DJ, who had apparently pulled the plug on the music, was going to start up her own music. She stepped up to the microphone and began talking in a noticeable West Texas accent.

"Hi, y'all. I'm Sandy, and I'm glad to see such a good crowd here. Maybe we need to have a snowstorm more often." She clapped her hands and the crowd joined in, clapping and whistling.

"I'm here to spin out some music for y'all," she continued. "Dancing is encouraged at Scully's , as most of you know. So don't be bashful. You don't even need a dance partner. So if y'all feel like wigglin' a little, just jump right in. If you have any requests, come see me. I've got the hottest and bestest of anything and everything you'd ever want to dance to up here."

With those few words, Sandy started a CD going with a jumpy western tune. No one got up to dance. Sarah felt sorry for the DJ already. Then she looked at her watch—nine o'clock—and glanced around at the crowd that was in the bar. She noticed it was still mostly men.

A few women began to trickle in from outside. She started to feel the excitement in the air. Or maybe she was just personally excited. She hadn't danced in a long time! She could feel the beat of the music and was keeping time with her hand on her knee. But she didn't want to get on the dance floor all by herself. So she sat at the bar, and Lindsey came and refilled her Diet Coke. Glass in hand, she turned around and watched the crowd. She felt utterly content! A smile came over her face naturally, as she warmed to the atmosphere. She was so glad she hadn't gone to a movie.

What she noticed right away when she first walked into the bar, now became more apparent once the place began to fill up. There was no smoke hanging in the air like most bars she frequented in Denver. She asked Lindsey about it, as it was a refreshing change.

"The owner of the place—Ed—decided he didn't want smoking in his bar, so he put up No Smoking signs all over the place. Anyone who wants to smoke can go outside," Lindsey said. "It hasn't really hurt Scully's , though, because most of the women who come here don't smoke. If they do, they just step outside and come back in. Most lesbians don't smoke, you know, because—" She left the sentence hanging.

She questioningly raised her eyebrows at Sarah, and Sarah nodded back. She knew exactly what Lindsey meant. Who would want a smoker going down on her in bed and having that woman's filthy mouth all over her? Even though one might try to hide it, it was hard to disguise when making love.

It wasn't long before a couple of women started dancing together. The music was contagious, and after the first couple went out on the dance floor, others soon joined them. By the time 9:30 rolled around, the dance floor was almost elbow-to-elbow with women! It looked as if there were plenty of single women dancing, too.

When the men in the bar saw women out on the dance floor—especially couples—most of them got up and left. There were a few diehards, and Sarah contributed it to curiosity more than anything else. Maybe they still didn't know it was a lesbian bar. She chuckled to herself.

She looked over at Lindsey and raised her eyebrows, her body language beckoning, and Lindsey gestured that she should go dance. She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head when Sarah made a similar gesture to her. She couldn't tear herself away from the bar for a while.

Sarah was disappointed, of course, but never hesitated. She placed her Diet Coke on the bar, walked over to the dance floor and started warming up with her arms. Then her hips began to accompany her arms, and soon she was wildly gyrating with her eyes half-closed, in beat with the music—all by herself. She never noticed when someone came up in front of her and was dancing in time with her until she opened her eyes wider. The woman, a thin, butch-type lesbian with multiple earrings, a stud just below her lower lip and another stud on the side of her nostril, smiled at her. Sarah smiled back and kept on dancing. The woman reached out and took her hands, and they danced together—sometimes holding hands, sometimes not. Sarah was swung around more times than she could count, until she was almost giddy.

When the music ended at last, Sarah thanked her dance partner, went back to her seat at the bar and took a huge gulp of her Diet Coke. Lindsey came over to her. "How was it?" she asked.

"I think I just wore myself out," she answered, wiping her brow. "But it was wonderful!"

"Didn't I tell you it was going to be fun? You're really a good dancer." Admiration showed on her face.

"Thanks. I just wish you could dance with me." She looked at Lindsey pleadingly. She wondered why she would want to dance with Lindsey. She was practically a stranger, and she kept telling herself she didn't want to get involved with anyone.

Again, Lindsey shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, "I'm sorry. I wish I could, too. But Scotty needs me here right now, so—" She let her conversation trail off and went to wait on another customer.

The music was starting up again, with another wild western beat. Someone spoke close to her. "Would you like to dance?" It was not the same woman who joined her earlier. Sarah thought this one looked cute with her black curly hair and dark eyes. She was about Sarah's height.

"Sure," she said. She looked over at Lindsey, who was occupied with drawing a beer and never noticed her. She took the woman's extended hand and followed her out to the dance floor.

"My name's Annabelle," the woman said.

"I'm Sarah," Sarah shot back.

They started dancing, and Sarah glanced out of the corner of her eyes and saw Lindsey looking intensely at her. They danced the whole song together, which seemed to go on forever. Then the music switched to a slow dance, and Sarah found herself in the arms of another woman while the black-haired Annabelle faded away into the background.

She didn't like the way this present woman was holding her—a little too tightly—and the woman was stroking her rear-end like she intended on doing something else besides dance! She tried to push her away, realizing it was the same woman that Lindsey told to shove off when they had come to the bar for lunch earlier. The smell of liquor was heavy on her breath.

"Relax, baby," Amy said. "Let's just dance. Let yourself go."

But Sarah wasn't willing to relax in the arms of this strange woman and let herself go. She struggled against the woman's powerful arms. Amy was built like a lumberjack, five or six inches taller than she was, and kept her close to her chest. Sarah looked over at the bar, but Lindsey was nowhere to be seen. She closed her eyes, wondering what she was supposed to do now. How was she going to get out of this predicament?

She felt someone yank the woman away from her and opened her eyes.

"I told you to bug off earlier today, Amy," Lindsey said, glaring at her menacingly. "I meant it. She's mine!"

"Well, you don't have to get all huffy about it, Lindsey. I don't see you dancing with her. Why would you want her when you could have your pick of any woman in this bar?"

"I said get lost!" Lindsey pushed her away forcefully.

"Okay, okay. You don't have to get physical."

As Amy backed away, Lindsey turned back to Sarah, her eyes softened, and she said, "Let's dance." She took Sarah into her arms and held her close. Sarah's head rested on Lindsey's shoulder, and they began to dance the slow waltz, moving fluidly together, so naturally, in rhythm, as if they had been dancing together for years.

"Don't you have to—" Sarah started to say, glancing over at the bar.

"No. I just quit for the night. Scotty said she could handle it."

Lindsey brought her hand to the back of Sarah's head and pulled it back to her shoulder, wrapping her other arm tightly around her. "You are mine," she whispered in her ear, passionately. Even though you don't realize it yet , she thought to herself.

Sarah felt herself relax into Lindsey's arms, and tears started leaking from her eyes. She never wanted to belong to anyone ever again—not after Melanie. She and Melanie belonged to each other . But Sarah's emotions were running wild, and she felt happier than she had in years. She could feel Lindsey's body close and wrapped her arm around Lindsey's neck to pull her even closer. She felt a strong sexual arousal surge through her body. As she moved her hips closer to Lindsey and felt Lindsey's hips move in rhythm with hers, sensuously, she wondered if Lindsey was thinking the same thing. She could feel her breath start to quicken and heard Lindsey's heart beating faster. She was starting to lose control. She listened to the song that Sandy was playing, one of her favorites by Anne Murray, entitled Could I Have This Dance (For the Rest of My Life), and thought how she could keep on dancing with Lindsey forever.

Then the slow dance ended.

"Let's get out of here," Lindsey said, her voice husky with desire. She took Sarah by the hand. Sarah nodded, and Lindsey led her over to the bar where she grabbed up both their coats.

They walked out to the truck, Lindsey's arm around Sarah. More snow had fallen, so Lindsey had to use the snow brush. By the time she finished, Sarah was settled in the truck's interior, and she realized the special feeling in the bar dancing with her had ended. The reality of the winter night and the shivering cold and snow had awakened them both—chilling their desire. Lindsey thought perhaps they should have stayed in the bar and danced some more, rather than making a quick exit. But knowing how Sandy worked, it would have been another frenzied and fast western beat, and she didn't like to dance that way.

"Where should we go now?" Lindsey asked brightly. "It's still early, and if I take you home now, Sylvia will know that we haven't been to the movies." She was smiling as she started up the engine.

"Where would you suggest?" Sarah said. "I don't know this town at all." She felt invigorated from the cold, and even though the passion and warmth of the slow dance had passed, she wanted to spend more time with Lindsey. She could feel stirrings of desire warming her inside.

"Do you like bowling?"

"What? Bowling? You're kidding!"

"I wouldn't do that. There's a bowling alley just up the street that stays open till midnight. Would you like to roll a few balls down the gutter?"

"Lindsey, I haven't bowled in years! They would definitely be in the gutter!"

"Neither have I. But we could have fun." She searched Sarah's eyes playfully.

"I'm game if you are," Sarah conceded. She smiled broadly and thought how comfortable she felt around Lindsey. The feeling lingered as she reached over and touched Lindsey on the arm. "What do you want to bet on who gets the first strike?"

Lindsey knew she had never made a strike, so she said, "What do you want to bet?"

"You buy me breakfast on Sunday morning before church if I get the first strike. If you get the first strike, I buy you breakfast." Sarah and Lindsey both knew that either way, it was a safe bet. They would have breakfast together no matter who made the first strike.



Sarah stepped into the kitchen to go up the stairs to her room. It was after midnight. The nightlight dimly lit up the kitchen.

"You're getting home kind of late, aren't you, kiddo?" Sylvia asked.

Sarah jumped as she reacted. "Sylvia! Good God, you scared me to death!"

She thought her sister would be in bed by now. She saw Sylvia sitting at the table with a coffee cup in her hands. She recovered herself and said, "Why are you still up?"

"I was worried about you," Sylvia said simply.

"Why would you be worried about me?" Sarah asked.

"Because of what I've heard about Lindsey. I told you that, Sarah!" Sylvia was exasperated.

"I can take care of myself, Sylvia. As I told you, Lindsey has never been anything but kind to me. This evening was no exception. What has gotten into you?"

"I'm sorry, Sarah, but I can't help thinking about what I heard about Lindsey having sex with all the lesbians in town. And not only lesbians, but any woman she can coax into bed. So I was worried."

"Sylvia," Sarah said, coming to her sister and putting her arms around her, "you don't need to worry about me. Lindsey has been totally all right with me. She even asked me to come to her Bible Study tomorrow night. But I don't know yet if I'll go."

Sarah released Sylvia and then looked directly at her. "You don't even know her, Sylvia. Her daddy is the pastor of the church you go to. How can you believe those horrible stories? My God, the way you're talking, it just keeps getting worse and worse!"

"Well, I've heard things from someone who knows . How was the movie? And I know the movie was over a long time ago. Where did you go after that?" Sylvia looked at her suspiciously.

"We went bowling and had a great time!" Sarah laughed.

Sylvia, as usual, was running her questions together, so Sarah chose to answer the last one. She could tell the truth about the bowling, but wasn't going to say anything about being at Scully's, because she didn't want to get into another argument. As far as the movie went, one of the movies playing at the Star Theater she'd seen previously in Denver, so if Sylvia persisted, she could remember that , too.

"You know, I haven't been bowling for years , and I think Lindsey just let me win. My highest score was 130. Can you believe that?"

"I didn't know there was a bowling alley that was open," Sylvia said somberly.

"Yeah, till midnight. The one we went to wasn't far away. I think it was called Spring Lanes ."

"Were there a lot of people there? Did you see anybody you knew?"

"Sylvia, I hardly know anybody in this town! I've only been here a few days. Actually, the place was packed. They were having a tournament and weren't going to cancel just because of the snow—which had stopped, anyway. Lindsey and I were lucky to get an alley."

Sylvia thought she'd call the bowling alley tomorrow and ask if Lindsey and Sarah had come in to bowl. At such a late hour, the people who ran the place probably would remember. They could tell her if there had been a tournament going on. She just didn't trust Lindsey.

"I'm going to bed," Sarah said. "I'm tired. My arm is sore from hefting that sixteen-pound bowling ball. I'm kind of tired. I don't need to get up early in the morning. Lindsey is picking me up for the Christmas choir practice at three tomorrow afternoon." She gave Sylvia another hug and started upstairs.

"I'll see you in the morning," Sylvia said, getting up from her chair and trudging off in the direction of her own bedroom.

As she got ready for bed, Sarah's thoughts focused on Sylvia's words of warning. Where was her sister getting this information about Lindsey and Scully's ? She couldn't believe someone in the church would deliberately tell lies about Lindsey!

She climbed into bed with the book she'd previously been reading. She tried to relax as she thought back on the evening.

She'd had a wonderful time bowling with Lindsey, and Lindsey never tried to take advantage of her. Never even put an arm around her at the bowling alley.

Still, she wondered about what happened at Scully's , as Lindsey had been pretty possessive of her there. Maybe that was because Lindsey knew the ropes when it came to Amy and was taking care to see that nothing happened to her. Personally, she rather liked the way Lindsey had stepped in on her behalf, and then as they danced....Wow!

On the way home, Lindsey asked her if she wanted to come to her Bible Study after the Christmas practice tomorrow afternoon. She thought it was a little soon for that and told herself that she didn't like church, so why would she like a Bible Study? The only reason she'd consider going was because Lindsey was the leader of the group. She told Lindsey she'd let her know after the practice.

When Lindsey dropped her off after bowling, once again she sat for a while in the truck, silently waiting to see if Lindsey was going to make a move on her. But Lindsey didn't budge and revved up the motor a couple of times—seemingly anxious to be on her way.

Finally, Sarah got out of the truck and said, "See you tomorrow."

Lindsey answered, without turning her head to look at her. "Yeah. Three o'clock."

Sarah shut off her wandering mind—knowing it would do no good to rehash everything—and made herself comfortable against the soft pillows. She fell asleep after reading only a few pages in her book.

* * * * * *

Lindsey had a hard time dropping off to sleep. She wanted Sarah beside her. She thought by now that she and Sarah would have made love, but she couldn't bring herself to coax her in that direction. She was aware of how women were attracted to her, but Sarah was different. Maybe Sarah didn't really want to go to bed with her. Yet there was no denying the looks Sarah had given her previously.

Sarah had made no move towards her at Scully's , except when they were dancing. And you can't just dance with someone like Sarah danced with her and expect it to end there. There was no mistaking Sarah's intentions then , as their hips melded together sensuously. When Lindsey whispered in her ear, "You are mine," Sarah made no move away from her.

They'd had a fun time bowling, and Lindsey's mind focused on the game as she tried to pick up spares. It diverted her mind away from sex for a while—sex that was never very far away in her thoughts. The bowling alley was noisy and crowded, and with a tournament going on, conversation was difficult. It was not the kind of atmosphere where one would even attempt to get in a romantic mood.

When she dropped Sarah off at her house, the words blared out loudly in her mind: "I'm sorry. It won't happen again," and she couldn't bring herself to make a move towards Sarah. She'd already regretted that she had ever made that promise!

She may have made a mistake in asking Sarah to her Bible Study so soon. She had intended to wait until after the Christmas program. But she just blurted it out and couldn't take back her words now. Sarah will probably say no, she thought. What else can go wrong? That's the way my luck has been running lately. Am I doomed never to get close to her?

She reached out to the large body pillow beside her and brought it in close to herself and wrapped her arms around it. There was no question that it was a poor substitute for Sarah. She turned on her CD player and listened to the Christmas music they were practicing to take her mind off of Sarah. Finally, she fell asleep, the CD player automatically shutting off when it came to the end of the music.


CHAPTER TWENTY – SYLVIA ( Saturday, December 10 )

It was 9 a.m., and Sarah was reluctant to get out of bed. The sun was shining through the window directly into her face. She had neglected to close the curtains when she went to bed last night. She turned over and felt the heat of the sun's rays on her head. She finally gave in and decided she'd better get up. It would be several hours before Lindsey picked her up. Maybe she could help Sylvia out around the house with cleaning or other Saturday chores. She needed to do something to keep from thinking about Lindsey. She could set her own work schedule for the travel agency while she was in Laramie, and decided she would take weekends off. When she was in Denver, she never worked on weekends and wasn't going to start now.

Sylvia was pulling her coat on when Sarah came down the stairs to the kitchen—evidently getting ready to go out.

"Are you leaving?" Sarah asked.

"Yes. I have to go into work for a while. Only till noon or so. I was just going to wake you up," Sylvia answered.

"Can I do something while you're gone?" Sarah inquired.

"There's nothing really to do, except keep an eye on the kids. Roger and Robert are watching cartoons, and the girls are still sleeping, so you shouldn't have a problem."

Sylvia seemed to be in a hurry, and Sarah didn't want to hold her up. "You do remember that Lindsey is picking me up at three?" she asked.

"Yes. But I'll be back long before then." With a wave of her hand, she went out the back door into the garage.

That is really strange , Sarah thought. Last Saturday Sylvia stayed home. She told me she didn't work on Saturdays. Maybe she had to go to work today because she hadn't been able to get there yesterday because of the storm. She dismissed her thoughts and poured herself a cup of coffee, wondering what to eat for breakfast.

The day passed quickly. Sarah hand-washed the dishes that were in the sink, threw a load of clothes in the washing machine, vacuumed her bedroom, and was busy dusting in the family room when she decided she should get dressed for the Christmas choir practice. She was going to wear jeans, like almost everybody else in the choir. The kids had not been a bother all day. They either played together peacefully in their respective bedrooms or watched TV.

After Sarah changed her clothes, she decided to call her sister on her cell. It was 2:45, and Sylvia was not home yet. Now she was worried.

Sylvia answered, her voice sounding distant. "Hello?" Sarah could hear something rattling in the background.

"Sylvia, this is Sarah. Where are you?"

"Oh, I'm still at work—things are in a mess here—I have to stick around for a little while yet, because two of the girls didn't show up—they were both sick—and there's only one person to run the whole store now."

Sarah started to say something else, when Sylvia continued, "Could you stay with the kids a little longer? I'll be home as soon as I can."

"Sylvia, Lindsey is picking me up in fifteen minutes for the Christmas practice. You said you'd be home by noon."

"Well, I'm sorry, Sarah, but things came up which were out of my control!" Sylvia shot back at her. "Tell her you'll be late for practice, and you'll drive the SUV there! Or you can leave the kids alone for a little bit. I've got to go now." She hung up, leaving a stunned Sarah staring at her cell phone.

What in the world is wrong with Sylvia, she thought.

She dialed Sylvia's cell again, and there was no answer. Her voice mail didn't click in, either. She looked up the clothing store's number in the phone book and called there. A sales clerk answered, and when Sarah asked to speak to Sylvia, the girl said she hadn't seen her since Thursday at noon. Sarah remembered Sylvia was late getting home Thursday evening. Had she not been to work all that afternoon?

As she hung up the phone, Sarah wondered what was going on with her sister. Where was she? Why didn't she answer her phone? It was pretty clear she wasn't at the clothing store like she said.

The doorbell rang. It was Lindsey. As Sarah ushered her into the kitchen, she explained to her that she had to stay awhile longer until her sister came home. She couldn't leave the kids alone.

"Let me make a quick phone call," Lindsey said, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket. "Hey, Chrissy, would you like to make a few bucks?" she said to the person on the other end. "Yeah. Right now. I'm picking up someone for the Christmas practice, but she's sitting with her sister's kids and her sister isn't home from work yet. Would you like to babysit for a couple hours? I'll make it worth your while."

There was hurried conversation on the other line as the girl asked her mother. She asked where the job was. Lindsey said, "You know where I live? Well, it's just the next street down; the address is 468 Jasper Drive. Can you come right now?"

Lindsey turned to Sarah after she hung up. "She'll be right over. She doesn't live too far away; her mother is driving her. Chrissy babysits with a lot of kids at the church. A completely trustworthy and responsible teenager."

"I'm so sorry, Lindsey," Sarah said. "I don't know where my sister is or when she'll be home. She went to work at nine this morning and was supposed to be back here by noon. I talked with her on her cell a few minutes ago, but she yelled at me and hung up. When I tried to call her back, there was no answer. So I called the store where she works, and the clerk hadn't seen her since Thursday at noon. I don't think she's been to the store at all. Of course, she was home all day yesterday. She's probably all right. She didn't sound like she was in desperate straits when I talked to her on her cell phone. It sounded more like she was struggling with some boxes or something. I don't know—" She started pacing the floor.

"Sarah, I'm sure everything is okay," Lindsey said. She stopped Sarah in her tracks and put her arm across her shoulders. "What exactly did Sylvia say about the Christmas practice, since she wasn't going to be here so you could go?"

"She said for me to let you know I'd be late for practice and for me to drive the SUV there. Or leave the kids alone till she got home. Then she hung up."

"Well, Chrissy will be here in a few minutes, and we can go. I'm sure Sylvia will show up soon."

Just then, Sarah's cell phone jingled. It was Sylvia.

"I'm sorry, Sarah," she said, "that I yelled at you. I've been having problems at work, and I just wasn't thinking. I'll be home shortly."

"Sylvia, I called the store and the clerk told me she hadn't seen you since noon on Thursday. I know you were home yesterday because of the storm. But what's going on? I even tried your cell and it wouldn't leave a voice mail."

"Oh, I was back in the storeroom and the clerk didn't know I was there. When I closed my phone, I guess I pushed the wrong button and turned it off. That dippy twit of a girl. I don't know why I hired her. She came in to work just a little while ago and didn't bother to check if anyone else was there—so she wouldn't know I was here just by looking around the store. Evidently she doesn't have sense enough to know the store wouldn't be open if there was no one here! Of course, she hadn't seen me since noon on Thursday, because that's when she went home. And none of us worked yesterday, you know."

"Well, Lindsey's here now," Sarah said, suddenly relaxing, "and she called a girl from the church who babysits a lot. She's on her way over. Lindsey assures me she is completely trustworthy. Is it all right if I have her stay with the kids till you get home? I don't want to be late for the practice and have to miss it."

"Who is it that's coming over?" Sylvia asked.

"Her name is Chrissy."

"Oh, I know her. That's Will's daughter," Sylvia responded. "You remember Will, the adult Sunday School teacher? Yes, it's all right for her to babysit. She's sixteen, and a very responsible girl. You go on ahead to practice when she gets there. I shouldn't be too much longer."

Sarah heaved a big sigh of relief, and told Lindsey, "Sylvia said she'll be home shortly, and it's okay for Chrissy to babysit."

Lindsey sat down at the kitchen table for a minute to wait for Chrissy.

"That's the adult Sunday School teacher's daughter," Sarah said.

"Yes, I know," Lindsey responded, smiling up at her.

"Of course you do. I just wasn't thinking," Sarah said. She sat down at the table, too, and put her head in her hands. "God, what is happening with Sylvia? She just isn't the old Sylvia I used to know—if I even knew her then ."

"We all change, Sarah," Lindsey said. "I bet if you looked back on your own life even five years ago, you've changed, too." Just like my life changed when daddy was forced to leave Cheyenne five years ago. I should have stayed in Cheyenne. But then I wouldn't have met Sarah.

The doorbell rang and a bubbly teenage girl walked into the house when Sarah opened the door. Sylvia's kids came running over from the family room and surrounded Chrissy and were pleased they had someone to stay with them other than their "grumpy" Aunt Sarah. Sarah reeled back with surprise, as she had no idea her nieces and nephews thought of her that way. She even played games with them, which was something their mother never did. She had to admit, though, she did yell at them now and then. That's probably why they thought she was grumpy.

Chrissy said she had another babysitting job in the evening, and Lindsey assured her that Sylvia would be home shortly. She paid her in advance more than Chrissy would have charged. Sarah said they would be back from the Christmas practice shortly after six. In the event Sylvia didn't show up, Chrissy would still be able to go to her other job.

* * * * * *

As Lindsey pulled up to park her truck behind the outdoor stage of The Old West Town , she noticed footprints in the snow on the sidewalk where the choir members had come through the Visitor and Information Center and trudged their way through the deep snow to the church.

The snow on the plank sidewalk directly in front of the church, however, had been shoveled away. She was pleased that Herman, the maintenance man, had been on the job at least that much. The snow shovel was leaning up against the building, ready for him to do some more shoveling whenever he got around to it. He probably thought there wouldn't be any tourists coming today. She was thankful for what he had done, but couldn't blame him for not wanting to do any more than was necessary, as the snow was still about eighteen inches deep. Even faithful Deanna came in, just in case there were some foolhardy tourists that braved the snow.

Lindsey knew she should have cancelled the practice this afternoon, but the program was only two weeks from today, and they just weren't ready.

The choir members were in their places when Lindsey and Sarah walked in. Every single one of them had shown up! Much to Lindsey's surprise, even Leslie was there—looking over her music with interest.

Leslie glanced up at Lindsey, then over at Sarah, who went up to the loft to sit down between Marlene and "so-and-so." Her sister must have had a good reason for being late, but deduced that Lindsey probably wouldn't answer if she asked.

Lindsey made her apologies for being late as she went to the conductor's stand, picked up her baton and laid out her music.

They practiced for almost three hours, with only a fifteen-minute break, during which time Sarah was introduced to the rest of the choir. The choir members had to remember only one name—hers—but she had to try to remember all of their names. Of course, that was an impossible task in just fifteen minutes. Everyone was hurriedly downing their hot drinks and cookies so they could get back to practice, so there was not much time for conversation. Sarah's eyes were focused constantly on Lindsey, anyway, who wandered around and talked to the other women, so she didn't remember a single name other than the two she knew from the previous Saturday—Leslie and Marlene.

When practice was over, Lindsey told them they would meet next Wednesday night at the church, promptly at 6:00. They could practice downstairs for an hour before the mid-week service started in the sanctuary at 7:30. All but one of them said they could make it. Lindsey told Marlene, who was in charge of the Christmas music normally, that she could leave the music in the pews for now, but to call her at The Old West Town on Wednesday during the day and remind her to bring the Christmas music with her to the church that evening. Even though the Christmas program should have been foremost in her mind, something else was occupying her mind these days—namely Sarah, and she was likely to forget a lot of things.

As Lindsey drove Sarah home, she asked again if she would like to come to her Bible Study.

"I'm sorry, Lindsey," Sarah said. "But I really can't tonight. Sylvia might not be home yet, and I don't think I should go anywhere else."

"All right," Lindsey said, disappointed. "Maybe next time?"

"Maybe next time," Sarah echoed. "Thank you for picking me up and bringing me back home."

There was nothing more to say. Lindsey knew when to leave things as they were. She dropped Sarah off at her front door and then drove to the Alpine Coffeehouse . Her heart was heavy, because she wanted Sarah to come to the Bible Study. Maybe she was rushing things a bit, but she also couldn't turn off the arousal that was already beginning to throb between her thighs as she thought of tonight's meeting.

To Be Continued...


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