Diving Into the Turn

By Carrie Carr

Disclaimers: This story has instances of women getting it on, sometimes a bit more graphically than I’m used to writing. Don’t blame me, it’s the characters fault <g>.

Also, this is a rough draft of the story – there are probably some nasty editing mistakes (since I didn’t have an editor while I was writing it), and there are scenes in the published version that aren’t here (they were written *during* the editing phase). This story was previously only found on my yahoo group chat list, carriescrossing@yahoogroups.com , where I also post the latest bits of my stories before being posted to the web. Check my website, www.carrielcarr.com for more details. I want to thank everyone on the list who cheered me on, especially since it took me almost two years to write this one.

I’d love to hear what you think – let me know at cbzeer@yahoo.com .

Chapter 15

            SEVERAL DAYS LATER Shelby, perched on a bale of hay, watched Rebecca feed the horses. “Are you sure I can't help you with that?”

            “I'm used to it. But, if you want to go upstairs and start breakfast, I wouldn't mind.”

            Shelby laughed. “Sure, what do you want? Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes?”

            Rebecca patted Patches, her last horse to feed, and stepped out of the stall. “Don't tell me you can't cook.”

            “You've seen my kitchen. Just how much cooking do you think I'm able to do in there? I have to go outside to use the can opener.”

            “Fair enough. Let me get cleaned up, and I'll show you some basics around the kitchen.”

            Shelby dutifully followed Rebecca back upstairs, and watched carefully as she made them a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and toast. “That's all there is to it? I thought it would be harder than that.”

            “Nope. Well, it can be more difficult if you try harder recipes, but I've got pretty simple tastes.” Rebecca took a forkful of food into her mouth and chewed.

            “You must, since you took me in,” Shelby joked. Seeing the look on Rebecca's face, she tried to backpedal. “I was teasing.”

            Rebecca put her fork down. “That's not funny. You're not simple at all.” She could see that Shelby really didn't mean anything by the joke, so she changed the subject. “What do you plan on doing while I'm at work today?”

            Relieved that she hadn't ruined their breakfast, Shelby swallowed her food before speaking. “I thought I'd study that stuff you printed for me last night.” Now that Rebecca had talked her into going for her diploma, Shelby was determined to make her proud.

            “That's a good idea. Is there anything you'd like for me to bring home for you today?”

            “Just you,” Shelby replied, leaning over and kissing Rebecca. She soon had her hands all over Rebecca's body, and had her shirt pulled free from her pants.

            Rebecca scooted her chair around so that she could reach Shelby better, and ended up practically in the other woman's lap. When she broke away from the kiss, she gasped, “If we keep this up, I'll never make it to work on time.”

            “How much time do you have?”

            “I should have left five minutes ago.” Rebecca stood up on shaky legs and adjusted her clothes. “Remind me to get up earlier to take care of the horses, and we can have a little bit more time together in the mornings.”

            Shelby stood up and cleared away the dishes from the table. “Or, you can let me help and we can be done in half the time.”

            “That’s an even better idea,” Rebecca agreed. She picked up her purse and kissed Shelby lightly on the lips. “I'll be home around six-thirty. If you want, set out some steaks and I'll cook them up when I get home.”

            “Do you have a grill? Because that's one thing I can cook on.”

            Rebecca was glad to see the happy look on her lover's face. “It's in the storage room of the barn. There should still be some charcoal left over from the last time I cooked on it. I'll even bring you some beer to go with it.”

            “You don't have to.”

            “I know, but I want to. Besides, beer is good with steak.” Rebecca kissed Shelby again, this time a little longer. “I've really got to go.” She opened the door and stepped through it, wishing for the first time that she didn't have a job.


            SHELBY WHEELED THE grill out by her trailer and cleaned it up, and looked up when an expensive car drove up and parked nearby. The man who climbed out was in his late fifties, and had a friendly smile on his face. “If you're looking for Rebecca, I'm afraid she's gone to work,” Shelby told him.

            “Actually, I came here to talk to you.”

            “Me? I don't understand.”

            The man put his hands in the front pockets of his pressed khaki slacks. “I'm Walter Lockneer.”

            Oh. Shelby edged around the grill and held out her hand. “It appears I owe you a thank you, Mr. Lockneer. Rebecca told me you brought my trailer out here for me. I appreciate it.”

            “No thanks are necessary, Miss Fisher.” He shook her hand and looked around. “But I may have a proposition for you.”

            I should have known. No one wants to give anything away for free. “Call me Shelby. What is it I can do for you, Mr. Lockneer?”

            He saw the wary look on her face. “Nothing like what you're thinking, I'm sure. My proposition has to do with what's going on here.”

            “Which is?”

            “Well, if you're anything like me, you don't like to just sit around doing nothing. Am I right?”

            Shelby nodded.

            “I'm building another barn just behind this one, and will be buying about a dozen more horses. Are you as good with animals as Rebecca says you are?”

            “I don't know, since I'm not sure what she's said. But, I like them, if that helps.”

            He jingled the change in his pocket. “That helps a lot, Shelby. I thought you might want to work here, for a while. What do you think? The pay won't be that great, but you'll get free use of the electricity, and I'll have another apartment built over the new barn.”

            The prospect of having a steady job almost scared Shelby. Getting up every day and doing the same thing, at the same place? She didn't know if she had it in her. “Can I think about it, Mr. Lockneer?”

            “Certainly.” He pulled a card from his wallet. “Just give me a call and let me know. You can use Rebecca's phone, I'm sure.”

            “Thanks.” Shelby watched him leave, then sat back and thought hard about her future.


Chapter 16

            ON THE FOLLOWING day, since she was feeling better, Shelby decided that she needed to go into town and talk to the sheriff about the fire. Rebecca insisted on driving her, partly because she wanted to make certain Shelby didn't end up in jail for something she didn't do. The ride into town was a quiet one, both women thinking about what the day's revelations could bring.

            Once they were parked in front of the building that housed the sheriff's department, Shelby was stopped from getting out of the car by Rebecca's hand on her arm. “Let me come in with you.”

            “Why? I'm sure it's just routine questions. It's not like I'm guilty of anything.”

            “We both know that, but I don't think they're too sure about it.”

            Shelby shrugged. “Well, okay. But we'll probably get in there and he'll just want me to sign some papers, or something. I just wanted to save you the trouble.”

            Once they were inside, a woman directed them to a couple of chairs at the deputy's desk. He was no where to be seen, but she assured them she'd let him know they were there.

            The deputy arrived a few minutes later, this time in uniform. “Sorry I was late.” He looked at Rebecca, then to Shelby. “Is she your lawyer?”

            “No, just a friend.” Shelby leaned back in her chair. “Do I need a lawyer?”

            “Of course not. I just have a few more questions I need to ask you, before I close this case out.” He looked to Rebecca. “If you want, there's a nice break room just down the hall. I'm sure all of this will bore you.”

            Rebecca smiled sweetly at him. “That's all right. I'm perfectly comfortable here. Besides, I was there that night, and can answer any questions you might have from the outside point of view.”

            He nodded. “Fine.” Shuffling through some papers, the deputy looked up at Shelby. “Ms. Fisher, the fire report says that you were in the barn for several minutes during the fire, is that correct?”

            “Yes. I was trying to get as many animals out as possible. Luckily, the fire was set away from the pens, and I was able to reach a lot of them.”

            “You and the deceased were not on the best of terms, were you?”

            Shelby shrugged her shoulders. “You could say that. Although I never thought he'd stoop to such levels.”

            The deputy scribbled something down, then looked up. “Witnesses say you had more than enough time to disable Mr. Sanger before leaving the barn.”

            Rebecca had heard enough. “Now wait just a damned minute! She released almost every animal in there, at risk to her own life, and you're trying to blame her for that asshole?”

            “Rebecca, please. Calm down,” Shelby whispered, feeling the eyes of the other occupants of the room on them. “It's okay.”

            “No, it's not. I've read the newspapers and seen the news reports. Mr. Deputy, did you notice that the pens were on the opposite side of the barn from where they said the fire had started? How could she have been two places at once? Especially with the heavy smoke?”

            The deputy looked uncomfortable. “We're not trying to place any type of blame on Ms. Fisher, ma'am. I just need to get her account of the incident for my report.” In fact he wanted to add another person to the list of suspects, but now knew that he wasn't going to be able to. At least not this person. “Why don't I just have your statement typed up, and you can leave?”

            Rebecca sat back, pleased. “That sounds great. Right, Shelby?”

            Shelby could only fight back a grin.


            DAYS AFTER LOCKNEER'S proposal, Shelby still hadn't decided whether she was going to accept the job offer or not. She walked around the barn, wondering if she would feel comfortable staying in one place. The thought unsettled her.

            “Penny for your thoughts,” Rebecca's voice called. As much as she tried to give Shelby her space, she found herself hunting the other woman down when she was out of sight.

            Shelby turned and gave her lover a small smile. “Not much to pay for, to tell you the truth. I was just looking around.” She wanted to go out and do something, but wasn't sure how she was supposed to tell Rebecca. “Do you think your boss would mind if I rode one of the horses? I'd kind of like to get out for a bit.”

            “I know of something we can do that doesn't require going anywhere.” Rebecca moved closer and ran her hands up and down Shelby's arms. “Would you like to come upstairs?”

            For the first time in as long as she could remember, Shelby wasn't in the mood. Now she had to come up with a way to break it to Rebecca, who seemed to always be in the mood. “Honestly, darlin', I just need a little time to myself. Is that okay?”

            Hurt, Rebecca couldn't help but snap, “Sure. I'll just be upstairs, waiting for you if you decide you need some playtime. That's all I am to you, aren't I?”

            “Do you really think that? Because if you do, there's something seriously wrong.” Shelby started to walk away when Rebecca grabbed her arm.

            “Don't you walk away when I'm talking to you.”

            Shelby frowned. “What is your problem? I just need a little fresh air.”

            “Dammit, Shelby. I can feel you drifting away from me. What have I done wrong?”

            “I'm not drifting. But I'm beginning to wonder why you're acting this way. Have I said or done anything to make you this clingy? This is a new side of you I don't think I like very well.”

            Rebecca released the grip on Shelby's arm and backed away. “I knew you'd get tired of me, I just didn't think it would be this soon.”

            “Baby, no.” Shelby moved forward and pulled Rebecca into her arms.

            “Then why won't you move into the apartment? I hate that you live in that little trailer.”

            “Because the trailer has been my home for a lot of years. I just want to take this slow, okay? But don't think I'm going to go running off just because I won't move in with you.”

            Accepting the words and the thought behind it, Rebecca cupped Shelby's face in her hands and kissed her. “Take Patches. She could use the exercise.” She kissed her again, then turned and went upstairs to the apartment. Her part in the argument had upset her, and Rebecca wanted nothing more than to go someplace quiet and think.


            AFTER THE ARGUMENT in the barn, each woman tried to be more considerate of the other's feelings. Some nights they'd sleep together in the apartment, others they'd snuggle up together in the trailer. Shelby told Rebecca it wasn't necessary, but her lover was determined to make Shelby comfortable in her own space.

            It was on one such occasion they were awakened by a loud knocking on the trailer. Confused, Shelby wrapped the top blanket around herself and opened the door. “What do you want?”

            A man who appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties stood in front of her. “Do you know Rebecca Starrett?”

            You have no idea how well I know her, buddy. “Why do you want to know?”

            “I'm Terry Starrett, and she's my sister.”

            Now that he mentioned it, Shelby could see the resemblance in their features, although his hair was dark brown instead of red, like Rebecca's. “Uh, well—”

            He turned to look up at the apartment windows. “She was supposed to meet me for breakfast, but didn't show. I tried calling her apartment, but she didn't answer.”

            “Who's at the door, honey?” Rebecca called from the bed.

            Terry climbed the two steps to the trailer and pushed by Shelby. “What are you doing here?” He turned around and noticed the undressed state of the woman still standing at the door. “And with her?”

            Rebecca was mortified. This was not how she wanted to tell her brother about her sexuality. “Terry, wait. You've got to understand.”

            “I don't have to understand shit. I can't believe you're a queer,” he yelled.

            Shelby grabbed his arm and practically tossed him from the trailer. “She'll be out in a minute,” she told him, then closed the door. Turning back to her lover, Shelby moved to sit on the bed. “Are you all right?”

            Still in shock, Rebecca shook her head. This is such a mess. She got out of bed and got dressed quickly, without so much as a glance Shelby's way. I don't know what I'm going to do about this. What if he tells my parents? They don't even know I'm gay. I didn't realize it until a few weeks ago. Oh, damn. She brushed by Shelby and closed the trailer door behind her.

            Outside, Terry leaned against his car, with his arms crossed over his chest. He looked as if he'd been crying. “So how long has all this been going on?”

            Rebecca looked down at the ground. “A few weeks.” Even though she was older, Terry had always been able to push her around.

            “And so you're gay, now?”

            “I think so.”

            Terry walked up to his sister and grabbed her arms. “You think so? Dammit, Becca, you'd better be sure before you tell mom and dad. This is going to kill them.” His voice had continued to rise until he was yelling again.

            “Why do I have to say anything to them for a while? I'm still getting used to the idea.” Rebecca finally looked up into her brother's face and saw the pain and disgust in his eyes. “And quit yelling at me.”

            “I can yell if I want to. At least I'm not some sort of fag. Did she trick you into going to bed with her? Because if she did, I can take care of her.”

            “No, it was nothing like that.” Rebecca looked at the trailer and could see one of the curtains move. “Let's go upstairs to finish this, okay? I'll make you breakfast.”

            He turned to see where she was looking, then acquiesced. “Sure. But this isn't over. Not by a long shot.” Terry followed Rebecca upstairs, wondering just what kind of hold the woman in the trailer had on his sister.

            From her vantage point in the trailer, Shelby watched the two walk up to the apartment. She had heard the entire argument, and wondered herself just where she fit in to Rebecca's plans, since she hadn't even been acknowledged after Terry showed up. Hurt, angry and confused, Shelby lay down on the bed and cried.


            FROM WHERE HE sat at the table, Terry watched his sister putter around her kitchen. He could see that she was on the verge of tears, but he was so upset at the moment he didn't care. “I still don't see how you can be,” he found the words hard to say, “like that.”

            “I think I've always known, deep down inside,” Rebecca tried to explain.

            “But you've dated men. I've met some of them.”

            She stopped what she was doing and joined him at the table. “And I was confused. But I think for the first time in my life, something feels right.”

            Terry shook his head, still not willing to accept what she was saying. “You keep saying you think. Is it that hard to know for sure?”

            Rebecca stood up and paced, trying to get the words in her head to come in the right order. “Like you, I've been programmed all my life to believe that anyone that wasn't the same as everyone else is wrong. So you'll have to forgive me if I'm still trying to get myself in the right frame of mind. I care for Shelby a lot, and she's been very patient with me.”

            “So she did seduce you?” Terry stood up to face his sister. “Get over it, Becca. It's just a phase, right?”

            “No, it's not. And for the record, I chased her.”

            “That's sick.” Terry grabbed Rebecca's arms and shook her. “You can't be a fucking dyke!”

            Rebecca broke free and slapped him. She was surprised when he slapped her back. “Get out, Terry. I think we've said all we can on the subject.”

            “I'm sorry,” he started, reaching out for her, only to see Rebecca pull away. With tears in his eyes, Terry went to the door. “I'm sorry,” he murmured again, before leaving.

            With her hand covering the cheek that had been slapped, Rebecca waited until the door closed before she began to cry in earnest.


            THE SOUND OF Terry's car leaving brought Shelby out of her self-pity. She cleaned up the best she could at her kitchen sink, then got dressed. She waited for Rebecca to return to the trailer, hoping that her lover could offer some explanation for her actions.

            When Rebecca didn't show, Shelby decided to go to the apartment to make sure she was okay. She climbed the stairs slowly, not certain what she would find. Shelby knocked on the door but didn't get an answer, so she opened it slowly.

            Rebecca was curled up on the sofa, her muffled sobs still loud enough to be heard by Shelby. She was wrapped around a pillow, and her face bore a red handprint.

            Shelby saw the handprint and growled. “I'll kill that son of a bitch. I don't care if he is your brother,” she vowed, dropping to her knees beside the couch. “Sssh. Don't cry, baby. I'll take care of you.” Shelby brushed the hair away from Rebecca's face, but was shocked when her lover moved away from her touch.


            “Don't what? I just want to make you feel better.”

            Rebecca sat up and wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. “I need some time alone, Shelby.”

            Fear and hurt warred within Shelby. “How much time? Today? A week? Or would you rather I just leave altogether?”

            “No! I just need to get my thoughts together. Just give me until tonight.”

            “Okay, then. How about I take you out to dinner? We can go into town and find a nice place to just wind down.”

            Rebecca almost answered yes, until she thought about being seen in town with Shelby. The woman wasn't overly butch, but with her short hair, style of dress, and mannerisms, it wouldn't take much imagination to know she was a lesbian. “I have a better idea. Let me cook for you, to make up for all of this.”

            “You don't have to.”

            “I know I don't, but I want to.”

            Shelby stood and put her hands in her back pockets. She wasn't stupid, and had a pretty good idea what was going on in Rebecca's head. “Sure. Then I guess I'll be going. Is it okay if Patches and I go for a ride? I think we've started to bond.”

            “Sure. She's probably enjoying all the extra attention.”

            “All right then.” She went to the door and turned before leaving. “I'll be in my trailer later, if you need me.”

            “Thanks. But I think I just need the quiet time to think.” Rebecca hated being the one to put that look on Shelby's face, but her need for self-preservation was strong. She had to come to terms with what her brother had said and done, and think about what her lifestyle change would do to her family.


            THE EVENING'S DINNER was subdued. Very few words were spoken, although Shelby did her best to cover her hurt at being left out of Rebecca's life. “Patches showed me some interesting trails today. Seems she's been just about everywhere around here.”

            “What can I say? I like to ride.” Rebecca went back to her meal, barely looking at Shelby.

            “I didn't mean it was a bad thing, just—”

            Rebecca cut her off. “I know. I'm sorry.” She looked up into the hurt eyes of her lover. “I really suck at making small talk tonight, don't I?”

            Waiting until she swallowed, Shelby shrugged. “Don't worry about it. You've had a rough day.”

            “It's still no excuse to snap at your every word.” Rebecca felt exhausted from trying to keep a civil tongue. All she wanted to do was lash out at someone, no matter who they were. Terry's actions earlier in the day had upset her terribly.

            “That's okay.” Shelby finished her meal and carried her plate over to the sink. She started to run water in one side of the sink when Rebecca called out to her.

            “Don't worry about the dishes. I'll do them later.”

            I guess that's a nice way of saying, don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out, Shelby. “Okay.” Shelby turned and faced Rebecca. “I take it you want to spend the night alone, too?” Ever since Shelby had been at the stables, they had spent their nights together. Although they hadn't made love every night, Shelby had gotten used to having someone to hold. This would be a first in their budding relationship.

            “If you don't mind. I'm really sorry.”

            “Don't apologize. You have the right to sleep alone if you want to.” Well, you wanted some space, remember? It goes both ways, hypocrite.

            Rebecca got up from the table and crossed to where Shelby stood. “Thanks for understanding.” She held the other woman's hands and kissed her, almost chastely. “I just need to get some things straight in my head.”

            “That's okay.” Shelby understood all too well, since she had heard the same line from countless women over the years. “Just let me know when you need me, and I'll be here.” She kissed Rebecca on the cheek and left the apartment, her heart breaking.

Chapter 17

            THE NEXT MORNING, Rebecca rolled over in her bed, only to find the other side cold and empty. “Shelby?” Not getting an answer, she flipped the covers back and strode nude into the living room, which was also vacant. “Are you here?” She was heading to the bathroom when she noticed a paper next to her coffee maker. Rebecca crossed the room and took the paper in her hand, then shook her head in disbelief. “No. Please, Shelby.” The paper read:


It's been great, but it would have never worked out for us in the long run. You're right not to trust me; I'd probably ruin it sooner or later. In order for me to get to the next rodeo, I had to leave early this morning. You were sleeping too good for me to wake you, and goodbyes are always uncomfortable. I hope that you can find someone that deserves your love.


            Not even feeling her legs collapse, Rebecca dropped to the floor, holding the paper to her bare chest. Tears ran down her face as she looked unseeingly across the room. She didn't know how long she sat there, but was jarred back to the present by the sound of the phone.

            Getting to her feet, Rebecca hurried into the bedroom and picked up the receiver, hoping it was Shelby calling to say she was on her way home. “Hello?” She sat on the bed, exhausted from the emotional output.

            “Becca? Are you all right?” Kathy went directly into concerned mother mode when she heard her daughter's voice. “What's going on?”

            “I'm fine, Mom. Just allergies.”

            “Right. And I'm the Queen Mother,” Kathy quipped. “You can't fool me, you know. But if you don't want to talk about it right now, I can respect that.”

            “Thank you.”

            “That doesn't mean I won't ask about it later, though.”

            Rebecca rolled her eyes. I know. And sooner or later, she'll get it out of me. She always does.

            Kathy cleared her throat. “Anyway, the reason I was calling, was to tell you that your Uncle Roger is in town, and he brought your grandmother with him to the house. I thought you might want to come over and see them before they leave tomorrow.”

            Rebecca thought about it for a moment. Roger was her father's older brother, and he took the responsibility of taking care of their mother very seriously. Although frail, the old woman's mind was still sharp as a tack at eighty five years old. Feeling she had nothing better to do, Rebecca was determined not to sit around the apartment and feel sorry for herself. “Sure. Just let me get cleaned up, and I'll be there.”


            REBECCA WAS HALFWAY into town when the tears welled up in her eyes. Again. “Damn her!” She angrily wiped at her face. “This is ridiculous. I'm not going to let her get away with this.” Rebecca exited the freeway as soon as she could, and took the next end around to cut back the other direction.

            She frowned at her reflection in the rear view mirror. What am I going to tell my parents? Rebecca took a deep breath and nodded to herself. “The truth. That I've fallen head over heels in love with a woman, and I'll do anything it takes to keep her in my life.” She pressed harder on the gas pedal, determined more than ever to catch up with Shelby.

            The sun was shining brightly off the blacktop when Rebecca's cellular phone vibrated on her belt. Not bothering to see who it was, she greeted the caller.


            Damn.  “Hi, Mom.” She had completely forgotten about her prior engagement. “I'm sorry about not making it over to the house, but something came up at work.”

            “That's funny. I thought the store was closed today. What's going on?” Kathy's voice questioning.

            I guess it's time for a little truth. “I have to make an emergency drive to Houston.” Rebecca mentally braced herself for the explosion, which oddly didn't come.

            Kathy's voice was calm. “This has to do with why you've been so out of sorts lately, doesn't it?”

            “Yeah. Sort of.” Rebecca paused for a moment, then swallowed hard. “Tell Uncle Roger and Grandma I said hello, and I promise to get up to visit them, soon. Okay?”

            “Sounds good, honey. Drive carefully, and if you need anything, just call us.”

            Rebecca felt tears filling her eyes, again. “I will. I love you, Mom.”

            “Love you too, Becca.”


            AFTER A LONG, hot shower, Shelby made her way into the twenty-four hour restaurant inside the truck stop. She took the nearest barstool to the cash register and studied the upside down coffee mug in front of her.

            “What can I get for you, hon?”

            Shelby looked up, stirred from her musings. “Hmm?”

            The waitress, whose dark brown hair was definitely not natural, appeared to be in her late fifties or early sixties. She wore an old blue uniform top, which had two deep pockets in the lower front. “What would you like? I imagine you want something to eat or drink, since you're in here, right?”

            Attempting a smile, Shelby nodded. “Black coffee. To go, please.”

            “That's it?” The woman, whose nametag read Emily, leaned forward and studied her customer. “If you don't mind me saying so, hon, you look like you could use a good meal.”

            “I'm not hungry. Just the coffee, please.” Shelby's appetite had disappeared when Rebecca's affections had. She'd felt sick to her stomach ever since her lover had started ignoring her.

            “All right. Whatever you say.” Emily went to get the coffee, shaking her head.


            AS SHE GOT closer to the Houston area, Rebecca started to take every exit, in hope of either finding Shelby or at least coming in contact with someone who had seen her. At the latest exit, the truck stop looked like just the place Shelby would stop, so she parked her car and went into the restaurant.

            “Just take a seat anywhere, hon. The menu is on the table. I'll be right with you,” an older woman called to Rebecca. She held a glass coffee pot in one hand, and a dish towel in the other.

            Rebecca sat near the door, and gazed around the room. People from all walks of life were scattered about the room. There were the truck drivers, most of them intent on the food in front of them, and usually reading a newspaper. Also, she could see a few early morning drivers were seen deeply inhaling their coffee, as they tried to get ready for the day. There were even a couple of families partaking of breakfast, the parents trying their best to control the excitement of their children, as they awakened ready for the day.

            The waitress stopped at Rebecca's table. “Sorry it took me so long. Do you know what you want?”

            Rebecca rubbed her eyes and sighed. I guess I'll take a cup of coffee to go, please.”

            “Is there a sign somewhere along the highway that advertises our coffee?” Emily was confused by the sudden popularity of the swill she had to serve every day.

            “Um, no. Why do you ask?”

            “It's just you're the second person to come in this morning and order the same thing. I kept telling that slip of a thing she needed to put some food in her belly, but all she'd take was the coffee.”

            Rebecca leaned forward. She felt her heartbeat speed up at the possibility that the waitress had come in contact with Shelby. “Did she have short brown hair and deep brown eyes? How long ago was she in here?”

            Emily stepped away from the table and shook her head. I don't know if I should tell you anything. The woman I saw looked pretty upset.”

            “We're very close friends, and had an argument. I'm trying to track her down so that I can apologize, and get her to come home.” Rebecca just hoped that she didn't sound as needy as she felt. If Shelby was on the road ahead of her, this woman was just slowing her down.

            The waitress studied Rebecca's face carefully. “That sure could explain a lot. It's only been about half an hour. She looked like she had lost her best friend.”

            “She almost did, and so did I,” Rebecca mumbled. She stood up quickly, tossing a five dollar bill on the table. “Thank you. Did she mention how much farther she had to go?”

            “Nope. Just took her coffee and ran.” Emily picked up the five and looked at it. “Wait. Don't you want your coffee?”

            Rebecca was almost out the door before she turned around and smiled. “No thanks. Maybe some other time.”

            Emily was left staring at the closing door. “You run into all kinds in this kind of business.” She shook her head and went back to checking on her tables.

Chapter 18

            THE FAMILIAR SOUND of gravel beneath her tires soothed Shelby's frazzled nerves. In her mind's eye, she could still picture the mistrust on Rebecca's face. After she parked, Shelby shook her head to rid it of the memory. “Get over it. I was nothing more than a fling to her, anyway.”

            Shelby got out of the truck and slammed the door. She decided to set her trailer up later, and went in search of the rodeo coordinator. As she stepped into the tin building, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. She was halfway past the stables when a hand grabbed her arm.

            “Shelby, baby. It's been a while. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw you come in. What's it been, two years?” The sultry voice belonged to a beautiful blonde woman, who was busy running her hands all over Shelby's upper body.

            “I, uh,” Shelby blinked her eyes as she stared at the woman. She had no recollection of her face at all. “Two years? I guess it's been somewhere around there.” She tried to control her breathing as the woman took a handful of her breast and squeezed it. “Oh, boy.” Shelby tried to step away from the determined lady, until she found her back against an open stable gate. “Shit.” She was about to push the woman away until her lips were suddenly covered, and she relaxed into the kiss.

            The blonde felt Shelby's nipples harden as the kiss continued. To push her advantage, she maneuvered them into the stall and pulled the gate closed with her foot. She had Shelby's belt unbuckled and was on the verge of opening her pants when her prey stopped her.

            Something didn't feel right. Shelby felt her body respond to the physical stimulation, but her heart was screaming at her to stop. She grabbed the woman's hand and pulled it out of the front of her jeans. “I'm sorry, I can't.”

            “You can't? What the hell's the matter with you? You were always ready for a little romp in the hay.” The blonde stepped closer. “It was hard sometimes to explain to my husband where the extra hay in my clothes came from, as a matter of fact.”


            The woman rolled her eyes. “Don't try to act all innocent with me. We both laughed about how incredibly stupid he was, considering he's the rodeo coordinator.” She fluffed her hair. “You think he would have figured it out, by now.”

            Shelby frowned at how this woman spoke of her husband, and also for her own part in the deception. She couldn't believe how she used to act, not caring for anyone's feelings but her own. “I need to go register. I'm sorry I couldn't,” she wasn't able to finish her sentence as the blonde reared back and slapped her with all her strength. Shelby stumbled against the wall of the stable, automatically reaching for the side of her face. “I guess I deserved that.” She struggled to stop the ringing in her ears, and tried to wait and see if she would be able to move away from the wall without falling down.

            “Fuck you, Shelby. I don't know what's gotten into you, but you used to be a lot of fun.” The blonde left the stable in a huff.

            What's gotten into me? I think a certain little redhead. Damn her control over me! Shelby pushed herself away from the wall and went back outside, not seeing the shadow that followed her.


            REBECCA CONTINUED HER trend of taking every exit and asking if anyone knew about a nearby rodeo. Rejection after rejection began to cause her to lose faith in her plan. She looked down at her gas gauge, and noticed she'd have to make another stop, but this time for fuel. She went inside to pay for her purchase, and did her best to not take out her frustration on the teenage boy behind the counter.

            “Do you want some peanuts and cola? We're having a sale on them this week.”

            “No, thank you.” Rebecca searched through her purse for enough money to cover the gasoline bill.

            “It's a really good deal, and it's not as expensive as the food is at the rodeo.”

            Rebecca dropped her purse to the floor in surprise. “Did you say rodeo? Is there one around here today?” She ignored the milling customers behind her, who were anxious to get their own items paid for.

            “Yeah. Same one they put on every year.” The young clerk studied her carefully. “You're not from this area, are you?”

            “No, I'm not. But I am interested in the rodeo. Could you give me directions?”

            One of the men behind her cleared his throat. “If you'll give me a minute to check out, I'll be glad to show you the way, Miss.” He was dressed in faded denim jeans and a tan work shirt. The baseball cap on his head had been a lot of years, and advertised what had to be the local farm equipment store. His handful of snacks looked like he was on his way to somewhere as the clerk described.

            Finally gathering her wits about her, Rebecca nodded. “That would be great. I'd really appreciate any help I could get at this point.”


            GRATEFUL FOR THE help of strangers, Rebecca parked her car not too far from where she found Shelby's trailer. She knocked on the door, and when it wasn't answered, decided to check out the main building. She was just in time to spy Henry giving Shelby an ice pack, so she ducked back outside so they wouldn't see her. Rebecca wanted to talk to Shelby alone and uninterrupted, so she decided to wait by the trailer.

            When she heard the familiar footsteps on the gravel, Rebecca stepped out from beside the trailer and took in Shelby's appearance. “What happened to your face?”

            Shelby stopped in her tracks, but quickly covered her surprise. “I met up with someone who disagreed with me on something. What are you doing here?”

            “I couldn't let things end between us like that.” Rebecca moved closer, until Shelby held up her hands to ward her off. “Please, come home with me.”

            “And do what? Hide away in the barn somewhere while you play the perfect little girl to your family? I can't do that, Rebecca.”

            Rebecca shook her head. “It won't be like that, I promise. I want to introduce you to my family, and tell them how I feel about you.” The prospect scared her, but she was willing to say, or do, anything to bring Shelby back with her.

            Hope flared in Shelby's heart, but only for a moment. She'd heard that line too many times before, and was tired of getting dumped on by every woman she thought she had feelings for. “I'm sorry, but it's over. Go home, darlin'. You're asking for more than I can give.”

            Rebecca grabbed Shelby's arm before she could turn away. “Don't you dare walk away from me!”

            “Excuse me?” It was the second time Rebecca grabbed her, and Shelby was really getting tired of the woman's theatrics. She looked at the hand that gripped her arm. “Let go of me,” Shelby whispered, barely reining in her anger. “I think you need to grow up, and learn that the world doesn't revolve around you.” As much as it pained her to do so, Shelby climbed into her trailer and closed the door, leaving Rebecca staring after her.

            Before she could knock on the door to get Shelby's attention again, Rebecca heard someone chuckle behind her. She turned to see a beautiful blonde woman, dressed in the usual rodeo garb. “Who are you?”

            “Let's just say I'm a kindred spirit.” Not being able to find her husband, she had gone in search for Shelby again, only to witness the earlier scene. She studied the woman before her. The starched jeans and western shirt gave her away immediately. “My name's Lurlene. My husband is the rodeo director.”

            “Oh, um, hi. I'm Rebecca. Do you know Shelby?” Rebecca asked, slowly following the other woman to the barns where it was cooler.

            Lurlene smiled. “You could say that. She seemed pretty angry with you.”

            “We had a misunderstanding, and I was trying to get her to come home. I don't think it did much good, though.” Rebecca sat on a nearby bale of hay and sighed.


            Rebecca nodded. “She's been staying with me for the past month. I thought we had something really special.”

            Lurlene laughed at the sincere look on Rebecca's face. “You're kidding me, right? Shelby would never hook up permanently, especially with a little rodeo princess like you. You're no better than anyone else she's fucked, kid.”

            “That's not true! We love each other.”

            “Oh yeah? Then why is she here alone instead of with you?” Before Rebecca could answer, Lurlene waved her away. “Don't even try to pretend you love her. I saw Shelby when she arrived. I could tell by looking at her that you haven't treated her any differently than any one else has.” She patted Rebecca on the shoulder. “Just leave her be, kid. She's better off alone.”

            Rebecca watched Lurlene leave, and thought about what she said. Could it be possible that she had just used Shelby? She didn't think so. But Shelby obviously didn't want her here, and she didn't have any reason to stay. Rebecca stood and dusted off her jeans. She wiped the tears from her eyes and walked back out into the sunlight, wishing it could melt the ice she could feel forming around her heart.

Chapter 19

            REBECCA WAS SURPRISED to see Terry waiting in his car when she got back to her apartment. She had cried most of the way home, and wiped hastily at her face to make herself presentable. When her car door opened, she felt herself practically pulled from the vehicle and enveloped in a massive hug. After a moment, she stepped back and looked into Terry's eyes. “Not that I'm complaining, but what brought that on?”

            “I've been worried sick about you, Becca. When you didn't show up at the house, and I couldn't find you here, I thought something bad happened to you. And then there were the cryptic calls to Mom.” Terry made it a point of looking around for Shelby's trailer. “Did your pet leave?”

            “Can we not talk about her right now? I want to go upstairs and get cleaned up.” She turned and headed for the barn.

            Terry was right on her heels. “I know what it was. You got tired of playing 'lesbian' and sent her packing, right?”

            “I wasn't playing lesbian, Terry. It's who I am.” Rebecca tossed her keys on the table. At least the trip back was good for something. I was able to clear a lot of things out of my head. “Are you going to still be here when I get out of the shower?”

            He shrugged. “If you don't mind. I can take you to dinner, if you'd like. Or we could go back home. I'm sure Mom has something left over in the fridge.”

            Rebecca returned from her bedroom, carrying clean clothes over one arm. “Whatever.” She went into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. “I'll be out in a bit.”

            Terry sat in the living area, looking around uncomfortably. He thought about his sister, and just how little he knew her. She wasn't the same Becca that he was able to push around while growing up. This woman was an enigma to him. How could she suddenly be a homosexual? The thought still disturbed him. He looked at the sofa he was sitting on. Oh my god. What if they – no. Not out here. That's just too much to wrap my brain around. The sound of the bathroom door opening caused Terry to jump from his seat. “That didn't take long.”

            “I didn't plan on being in there all night,” Rebecca snapped. She brushed her hands back over her wet hair. “If you don't mind, I think I'll skip dinner. I'm not that hungry.”

            “Sure.” He waited until she got comfortable in the chair opposite him. “So, what really happened to your 'friend'? Did you run her off by changing your mind?”

            Rebecca jumped to her feet. “I haven't changed my mind. I love her, Terry.” She paced around the room. “I followed her, and she wouldn't listen. There's got to be something I can do to make Shelby realize that she can have a home here with me.”

            “A home? Are you listening to yourself? You haven't even come out to our parents, and here you are talking about setting up house with someone you haven't known for very long. Have you completely lost your mind?”

            “Maybe I have. I don't know.” Rebecca dropped gracelessly onto the chair again.

            Years of watching his sister get her way finally came boiling to the top for Terry. He leaned forward so that he had her full attention. “You know I didn't like her. It wasn't only the fact that she was a woman, but I thought you could do better.” He held up a hand to forestall any argument from her. “But I have to admit, I admire the fact that she didn't stick around to kowtow to the Princess.”

            “Princess? What's that supposed to mean?”

            “Think about it, sis. All your life our parents have given you everything you want. They've spoiled you. You wanted a horse, you got it. You wanted to learn to be a barrel racer, Dad hired someone to teach you. When you wanted a car, it was parked in the driveway for your twenty-fifth birthday. You've been handed everything you ever wanted on a silver platter, and the first time someone tells you no, you don't know what to do.”

            Rebecca slowly stood. Her eyes were blazing, but her voice was calm and quiet. “Get out.” She had never been talked to like this before, and was truly pissed about it.

            “I didn't mean to upset you, Becca, but I think it was time you heard the truth.” Terry stood and made his way to the door. With his hand on the knob, he turned and looked over his shoulder. “I know I'm the younger one, but I think it's time for you to grow up.” Without another glance, Terry left and closed the door quietly behind him.


            A FEW HOURS after she had last seen Rebecca, Shelby was scheduled to ride her first bull for the contest. Usually she could feel the adrenaline rush through her, but all she felt was dead inside. She ambled toward the gates, not really caring how she fared on her ride.

            “Shelby, wait!” Lurlene yelled, jogging to catch up. “I saw the first bull you drew. He looks like he'll give you a good score.”

            “I suppose.” Shelby continued to walk, just wanting to be left alone.

            Lurlene moved closer. “How about I give you a nice rubdown after the first event? I think I remember how you like them.”

            “I don't think so. But thanks, anyway.” Shelby brushed Lurlene's hand off her shoulder. “I'm not in the mood.”

            “Now there's something I thought I'd never hear. Shelby Fisher not in the mood. Let me call the local papers. This is a bulletin.”

            Shelby turned to glare at the heavily made-up woman. “Fuck off. I know there are plenty of people to keep you busy around here.” She stomped off, suddenly feeling very tired.

            Once she was in the chute and settled, Shelby began to wonder why she was there. There wasn't a part of her body that didn't ache, and here she was, about to do it all over again. The gate opened. Shelby hung on for dear life, her natural reactions to the twisting motion of the bull keeping her in place. Once the buzzer sounded, Shelby dropped to the churned dirt floor and picked up her hat, which had fallen off during the ride. She was not only surprised that she had stayed on the required time, but worried that she hadn't remembered one instant of the ride. She knew that it only took a momentarily loss of concentration to get her killed. I'm getting too old for this shit.

            The long trek back to her trailer was quiet and lonely, and once again Shelby wondered at her decision to leave Rebecca. I'm sure she's already on to her next game by now. She stepped into her trailer and closed the door, the weariness weighing heavily upon her.


            “HOW DARE HE!” Rebecca had stomped around her apartment for well over an hour, completely upset at everything her brother said. “I am not a princess. I can't help it if my parent's love me, and want to show it.” She went into her bedroom and fell onto the unmade bed. Rebecca reached across and grabbed the pillow that Shelby had rested her head upon. She wrapped her arms around it and buried her face, inhaling deeply. The slight, earthy scent of her lover caused Rebecca's tears to fall once again.

            Rebecca took a shaky breath and sat up, which allowed the pillow to fall beside her. Thinking back to the conversation with Terry, she couldn't help but sigh. “He and Shelby both told me to grow up.” She looked around the room. “I'm twenty-six years old and living on my own, how much more grown up is that?”

            Shelby's turning her down upset Rebecca deeply. But what distressed her the most? Shelby saying no, or the idea that Shelby might not return her love? No, that just isn't possible. If I know anything, I know that Shelby feels something deeply for me. “I need someone to talk to.” Rebecca stood. “I just hope she won't be too freaked out to listen.”


            THE HOUSE WHERE she grew up loomed largely from the street, where Rebecca sat in her car. Most of the lights were on downstairs, so she knew it wasn't too late to call. She got out, locking her purse in the vehicle before walking up the steps. The heavy wooden door opened before she reached it, and she was suddenly face-to-face with her father, whose concerned look was almost her undoing.

            “Hello, sweetheart. How's my girl this evening?” He was surprised at the response he got, when Rebecca wrapped him in a bear hug. Greg could tell that his daughter was distressed. “Let's go inside and sit down, and you can let us know what's bothering you.”

            Rebecca followed her father into the living room, where her mother and brother sat watching television. When they turned to look at her, Rebecca released a shaky breath. “Hey there.”

            Terry stood. “If everyone will excuse me, I have some studying to do.” He figured that whatever brought his sister over after their little talk earlier, she didn't want him to be a part of it. He made a hasty retreat to his room, leaving the others without another word.

            “I'm so glad to see you, Becca.” Kathy patted the spot next to her on the sofa. “Come sit over here.” Once everyone was seated, she put her hand on her daughter's leg. “Now tell us what's the matter. You haven't been acting yourself lately.”

            Greg nodded from where he sat nearby. “Your mother's right.” His face went totally serious, and his voice dropped. “Are you pregnant? Or is it drugs?”

            If the situation hadn't been so grim, Rebecca would have laughed. “No, it's not drugs. You know I'd never do anything like that. And I know for a fact I'm not pregnant.” She looked down at her lap, where her shaky hands were fighting for dominance over one another. “I,” her throat tightened, causing the next words to be barely audible, “I'm gay.”

            “Did you say you were gay?” Greg waited until Rebecca nodded. Feeling a bit sick to his stomach, he fell back against his chair. “At least you're not pregnant.” He exchanged looks with Kathy, who appeared pale.

            “Isn't this somewhat sudden? How do you know you're gay, Becca?” Kathy removed her hand from Rebecca's leg, and instead wrapped her arm around her daughter's stooped shoulders to offer some show of support.

            Rebecca turned to face Kathy. “It's really not that sudden, Mom. I've been this way my entire life, but I've just refused to face it until now.” Since her parents hadn't tossed her out of the house or started ranting, she felt much stronger.

            “But you had a boyfriend in high school. And you don't look like a, uh,” Michael was unable to continue.

            “Lesbian, Dad. And there isn't any particular way we look.”

            Kathy tried to keep her daughter calm. “We know, honey. It's just that this is a bit of a shock to us, that's all. How did you come to realize that you were, ah, gay?”

            “I met someone.” Rebecca raised her head so that she could look each one of her parents in the eye. “Her name is Shelby, and I think I'm in love with her.”

            Greg stood up. “I'm going to leave you girls alone to talk.” His quick departure showed his embarrassment over the subject matter.

            Rebecca watched her father leave. “Do you think he's disappointed in me?”

            “Of course not. He loves you, just as I do. But you know how guys are when you talk about mushy stuff like love.” Kathy hugged her daughter close. “This is going to take us some getting used to,” she admitted. “I hear about it all the time, but you never think about it hitting your own house.”

            Rebecca laughed. “Mom, it's not the plague, or something. I promise it's not contagious.”

            “I suppose you're right. Now, tell me about this Shelby of yours. How did you two meet?”

            “At the rodeo. She's a bull rider.”

            Kathy tried to remember the other women from the rodeo. Hidden beneath hats, very few of them stood out. Except for the ones her daughter competed with. And the more masculine looking ones. Those, she remembered. She stood and held a hand out to Rebecca. “Why don't we go into the kitchen and see what kind of goodies we can find? I always listen better on a full stomach.” It was going to be a long night.

Chapter 20

            THE PARKING LOT lights shone through her windows, painting the inside of the old trailer with a familiar glow. With her body stretched across the bed and her hands interlocked behind her head, Shelby's eyes focused on one point in the wall. She couldn't stop thinking about Rebecca – her touch, her taste, her smell. She remembered their last night of passion, when Rebecca seemed insatiable.

            Thoughts of their lovemaking quickly faded into her memory when Shelby tried to remember other things about her lover. What were her parents' names? Where did she grow up? Did she have any pets? All she knew was Rebecca's brother's name. And that was more by accident than anything else. Things moved so fast between the two of them, they knew next to nothing about each other. It would certainly explain what Shelby was afraid of. Rebecca just used her to see if she liked women. That revelation hurt.

            Something floated just outside Shelby's conscious thought. She couldn't believe that Rebecca would drive all this way if she wasn't serious. Benefit of the doubt and a little bit of trust. That's what I asked of her, but didn't return it when she needed it. Shelby drew to a sitting position and ran her hands through her hair. “I need to talk to her.”


            THE EVENING WENT better than she hoped, with her mother asking good questions, and Rebecca doing her best to answer them honestly. She explained how she met Shelby, and the way she chased the surly woman to befriend her. That certainly raised Kathy's eyebrows. She left out the sexual part of their relationship, deciding that it really wasn't her Mom's business, and it was a little too embarrassing to talk about.

            Rebecca sat on the bed in her old bedroom and looked around. It was late, and her mother had asked her to stay, so she wouldn't worry about her. She had agreed, since she felt she didn't have anything to go home to.

            Everything was how she had left it, old posters on the walls and bookshelves covered with remnants of her youth. Awards from school mixed with small items she had collected over the years, either as gifts or as something she found. Rocks that she once thought of as special took their place along side of music boxes, and a collection of sea shells sat next to an exquisite wooden carving of a rearing horse.

            She tried to take it all in as others would see it. Yes, it was a nice room. But her parents were upper middle-class. Of course it would be nice. She sighed. The few friends she had from school were either married with children, or off to the larger cities with nice careers. Was it so wrong of her to want to work in the western wear store? Not immediately getting any answers, she stood to go downstairs. “Maybe a nice cup of hot chocolate will help me sleep.”


            SHELBY SLAMMED THE receiver down on the payphone. It was past three in the morning, yet she couldn't reach Rebecca. Her fears of something happening to her lover outweighed her anger. “Where is she?”

            “Right here,” a sultry voice called from behind Shelby. Lurlene ran her hands up and down Shelby's back. Having just finished some 'business' in the office, she had seen Shelby come into the barns to use the phone and couldn't resist. “Are you here to take me up on my earlier offer?”

            The manicured fingers tracing patterns over her tee shirt caused Shelby to close her eyes. She fought the strong undercurrent of desire the action brought, and refused to turn around. “No.” Her voice sounded weak, even to her ears. “Leave me alone.”

            Lurlene felt Shelby tremble beneath her touch. “I know you want it, sugar.” She slid her hands around until they were at Shelby's waist. The belt buckle loosened easily, and Lurlene had no problem lowering the zipper then sliding one hand inside the waistband of Shelby's underwear. “We don't have to go anywhere, you know. There's no one else here at this time of night.” She had almost reached her desired target when Shelby spoke out again.

            “Stop. I can't.” Shelby removed Lurlene's hand, then shakily zipped up her jeans. She couldn't, or wouldn't, allow anyone near her until things were cleared up with Rebecca, one way or another. Shelby turned and met Lurlene's gaze. “I'm leaving, and I don't think I'll be back in time for the rest of the competition. Let your husband know.” She pushed by the other woman and headed for her trailer, deciding to take some action of her own.


            THE KITCHEN DOOR swung open and startled Rebecca, who was almost finished with her mug of hot chocolate. She looked up to see her father, who shuffled into the room. “Hi, Dad. What are you doing up so late?”

            “I could ask the same of you.” He walked over to the stove and lifted the hot water kettle, relieved that it still held more than enough for another cup of cocoa. “Are you going to want more of this?”

            “No, I think one's my limit.” Rebecca waited until her father had fixed his drink and joined her at the table. “I assume Mom filled you in?”

            Greg mustered up a smile. “Yes, she did. It sounds like the rodeo was quite an experience for you.” He enjoyed the blush that covered Rebecca's face. “So, when will we get to meet your girlfriend?”

            The word 'girlfriend' caused Rebecca's eyes to fill with tears. “I don't know. I think I screwed it up before we got started.”

            “What do you mean?”

            Rebecca went on to tell how she brought Shelby back to her place while she recuperated. She explained that Shelby stayed in her own trailer, not willing to jump in too quickly to a commitment. “Early this morning, she left. I went after her, but she told me to grow up.” Rebecca looked up into her father's eyes. “It's the same thing Terry said to me yesterday. Why is everyone telling me this? I support myself, and live on my own.” She leaned forward until she was in Greg's embrace. “Why does Terry hate me so? He called me a spoiled princess.”

            “Your brother doesn't hate you. I think he's trying to help you the only way he knows how. Maybe it's my fault.”

            Rebecca leaned back so that she could see her dad's face. “How can this be your fault? You didn't know anything about this until tonight.”

            “I could never tell you no. Whenever you expressed an interest in something, I did my best to give it to you. I should have made you work more for the things that you wanted.” Greg grasped her hands in his. “From what little I've been told about Shelby, she hasn't been given very many breaks in life. Have you ever considered what your relationship meant to her?”

            “I'm sure she cares for me a lot. She wouldn't have stayed as long as she had if she didn't.”

            Greg watched Rebecca's face carefully as he spoke. “You told us tonight that you loved her. Do you really?”

            Rebecca began to cry in earnest. “More than anything.”

            “More than even always getting your way?” He wiped the tears from her face with his fingertips. “No one has really demanded anything from you before, Becca. But love demands a lot. Anyone who has been in love can tell you that.” Greg took a deep breath to calm himself. He knew his daughter's feelings ran deep, but they always did when she focused on something, until she lost interest. “I'm willing to bet that Shelby left because you demanded too much from her, without giving anything in return. What did she ask for?”

            Rebecca had to think about that for a few minutes. It was painful to admit the truth to herself, much less to her father. “My trust. She has a, history, and I guess I kept thinking of that, instead of believing what she would tell me.” Rebecca blew her nose on the paper towel that her father handed her. “What can I do to get her back?”

            His heart broke at the look on Rebecca's face, but Greg was determined to make her handle this one on her own. “I honestly don't know. But if you really do love this woman, then you'd better be willing to compromise on more than a few things to get her back.” He stood and kissed the top of her head. “It's late. Why don't you sleep on it, and maybe things will look better in the morning.”

            Rebecca watched the door swing behind him. “I hope so,” she murmured in the quiet kitchen.


Chapter 21

            IT WAS STILL dark when Shelby pulled up to the familiar sight of the Lockneer barn. She could see that Rebecca's car wasn't there, but she parked her truck and trailer in the place she had vacated just the morning before. Once that was done, she climbed out of the cab of her vehicle and took a quick look in the barn. Nothing seemed out of place, although the horses nickered their greetings.

            “Do you know where she is?” Shelby asked Patches, rubbing the gentle horse's nose. She was butted in the chest, and glanced down to see that the water bucket was near empty. “Looks like she hasn't been here for a bit, has she, girl?”

            Shelby fed and watered each horse. By the time she finished, the sun peeked over the horizon. She washed up in the laundry room sink, and went back to her trailer for a clean shirt. The white tee shirt clung to her damp body, but she didn't feel the chill in the air. So as to not miss Rebecca when she returned home, Shelby decided to sit on the stairs to the apartment. It wasn't long before she leaned back and fell asleep, exhausted from not only the long drive, but the emotional toll the last day had brought upon her.


            REBECCA DECIDED TO go back to her apartment and get a shower and change of clothes before going in to work. Her car made the last bend in the road, and the sight before her almost caused Rebecca to run off the gravel and into the trees.

            There, next to the barn, sat Shelby's truck and trailer, as if it had never left. Rebecca gathered her wits about her and finished the drive, until she was parked in her usual space nearby. She climbed out of the car and headed for the open trailer. “Shelby?” When there was no answer, she stuck her head inside, only to find the trailer empty. Now where could she be? Quietly, Rebecca stepped into the barn. She held one hand across her mouth to smother her gasp of surprise.

            Shelby was stretched across the stairs to Rebecca's apartment, sound asleep. Her head leaned unnaturally against a post that held up the banister, and her legs stretched down the steps. Shelby's arms were crossed over her chest, as if to keep her warm while she waited. Rebecca wondered just how long the poor woman had been in that seemingly uncomfortable condition. She moved closer and kept her voice low, so as to not frighten her lover. “Shelby?”

            “Mmm.” Shelby moaned quietly and twisted, as if to get into a more comfortable position. The move caused her head to slip from its perch against the post. Feeling nothing but air by her head, Shelby woke immediately and tried to correct her balance before she fell through the horizontal slats of the banister. She sat up, which caused her to slam her head against the top rail. “Ow.”

            Rebecca quickly sat next to Shelby. “Are you all right?” She wanted to reach over and check her lover's head for any damage, but pulled back. “I didn't expect to see you here.”

            “I didn't expect to be here, either.” Shelby rubbed the top of her head for a moment, then turned to face Rebecca. “I realized that I didn't give you much of a chance to talk yesterday, and I wanted to apologize for that.” She stood and held out a hand for her lover. “Do you think we could go upstairs and talk about it? I already took care of the horses.”

            “You did? Just how long have you been here, anyway?”

            “A couple of hours, I think. I kept trying to call you, but your cell phone just rang and rang. Where have you been all night?”

            Rebecca didn't like the tone in Shelby's voice. “Why would you care? It seems to me that you dumped me, so I can't see that it's any of your business where I spend my time.”

            “I told you, I was sorry for that.” Shelby dropped her hand back to her side. “I think if we talk about it, we can maybe work something out. That is, if you still want to.” She turned to walk down the stairs. “I know I'm no great prize, but I can tell you this – I've never stopped caring for you, Rebecca.”

            The thought that Shelby would leave again caused Rebecca to jump to her feet. “Wait!” Once Shelby turned around, Rebecca held out her hand. “Let's go upstairs where it's more comfortable.”

            Shelby took the hand and allowed herself to be led up to the apartment. She closed the door behind her and watched as her lover paced around the room.

            Rebecca suddenly felt awkward. “Um, would you like something to eat, or drink? I think I have the makings of a decent omelet, if you'd like.”

            “Sure. An omelet would be great, if it's not too much trouble.” Shelby started to sit at the table, then stopped. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

            “No, I think I've got it. Why don't you sit down and relax?” Rebecca gathered the ingredients she wanted for breakfast, and placed them all on the counter. “I can't believe you drove here in the middle of the night.”

            Now that she was close to Rebecca, Shelby felt all her inhibitions fade away. Her idea to let things go slow suddenly fell by the wayside. She stood, walked over to the counter, and wrapped her arms around her lover. “You're worth it. I'm just sorry I left without talking to you.” She placed soft kisses on Rebecca's neck.

            Rebecca stopped what she was doing and turned around where she could meet Shelby eye to eye. “I'm sorry, too. I should have trusted you, and listened to you when you tried to explain things.” She searched Shelby's face, seeing nothing but sincerity in her dark eyes. “Where do we go from here?”

            Shelby leaned forward and kissed Rebecca tenderly. “How about after breakfast, we get some sleep? I think we could both use it.”

            “Sounds like a great idea.” Rebecca stole another kiss, before pushing Shelby toward the table. “Have a seat. It shouldn't take me long.”

            After breakfast, and while Shelby took a shower, Rebecca decided to call her Mom and let her know of the latest developments in her life. She waited impatiently as she waited for someone to pick up the phone at her parent's house. “Hi.”

            “Hello, Becca? What a nice surprise. Is everything all right?” Kathy sounded more than a little apprehensive, considering the emotional shape her daughter had been in the night before.

            “It's more than all right, Mom. When I got home, Shelby was here waiting for me. Isn't that wonderful?”

            Kathy took a calming breath, so she wouldn't say the first thing that popped into her head. “I'm sure it was. Did you two work out your differences?”

            “We talked all through breakfast. I think we both share the blame as to what happened, and we're going to work hard on not letting the lack of communication split us apart again.” Rebecca was giddy with relief, and was thrilled to have someone to share it with.

            Although it was the last thing she wanted to do, Kathy felt she had to make a token offer. “That's great, dear. We'll have to get together soon and meet this friend of yours.”

            “Thanks, Mom. Give us a few days to get resettled, and let us know, okay? Maybe we can get together for a meal.”

            Kathy agreed. “I'll call and we can make plans. Have a good day, honey.” She disconnected the call quickly.

            Rebecca put the phone away, just as the door to the bathroom opened. She couldn't keep the smile off her face as her lover strode into the bedroom, with a small towel draped over her shoulders, and another one wrapped around her hips. “Come here, baby. You're wearing too much just to be getting into bed.”

            Shelby dropped the towels and grinned. “Now that's the best offer I've had all day.” She pounced on Rebecca, who squealed with delight.


            WHEN SHE AWOKE, Shelby noticed heavy rain beating against the windows. She decided there was no reason to get out of bed, so she was content to run her fingers through Rebecca's hair.

            “This feels good,” Rebecca sighed, her head pillowed on Shelby's stomach. “I love touching your skin, and feeling it on my face.”

            “It feels pretty damned good to me, too,” Shelby admitted. She riffled her fingers through Rebecca's hair, fascinated at the different colors of red. “I don't think I've ever met a redhead that hasn't got freckles somewhere,” she marveled. And she had looked everywhere for them on Rebecca's body.

            Rebecca turned her head so that she could look at Shelby. “I think it's because my hair is so dark red. Most people think it's black unless I get out in the light.”

            “I think it's beautiful,” Shelby whispered, kissing the hair in question.

            “You're biased.”

            Shelby laughed. “But honest.”

            Rebecca took a deep breath, hoping she wasn't about to ruin their afternoon. “I want you to do something for me.”

            “What's that?”

            “Meet my family.” She could hear Shelby's heart speed up, but the look on her face didn't change.

            “Are you sure about that? I've already had a couple of run-ins with your brother, and he's less than fond of me.”

            Rebecca sat up so that she could see Shelby better. “He hasn't gotten to know you, and that's my fault.” She brushed her fingertips across her lover's cheek. “I should have introduced you properly, instead of falling apart like that.”

            Shelby subconsciously leaned into the touch, craving it as she would air. “I do have to admire him, sticking up for you like that.”

            “He was out of line. I'm a grown woman who is more than capable of taking care of herself. Besides, I'm seven years older than him. Who's supposed to be protecting who?”

            “You know how pigheaded guys can be. Just look at how they almost railroaded me at the rodeo.”

            “I know, and I was one of them. I don't think I can ever apologize enough for that, Shelby.”

            “Darlin', you have nothing to apologize for. You didn't even know me then.” Shelby pulled Rebecca closer. “That's all in the past, so let's just forget it and move on, okay?”

            Rebecca sighed. “Okay.” But she knew that her guilt wouldn't go away just because Shelby forgave her. That would take some time.

Chapter 22

            WHEN THEY ARRIVED at the house on Saturday, Shelby and Rebecca were greeted by Terry. “Mom's been a wreck all day,” he warned them, “and Dad's been really quiet.”

            “Thanks for the warning.” Rebecca led Shelby into the old two-story home that her parents lived in since they were married. It belonged to her father's family, and was passed down to him upon their death when he was a sophomore in college.

            They were almost to the living area when Greg met them. “I didn't even hear you come in,” he commented, taking his daughter into his arms for an embrace. When they broke apart, he warily eyed Shelby. She was dressed in her best jeans and a dark blue long-sleeved cotton shirt. He wasn't sure of the etiquette of meeting his daughter's female suitor, but decided to treat her as her would anyone else. So, he held out his hand. “I'm Greg, Rebecca's dad.”

            “Shelby Fisher,” she answered, shaking his hand. “This is a beautiful home you have here, Greg.”

            “Thank you.” He led the way into the living room, where Rebecca's mom stood from where she had been sitting on the sofa. “Rebecca and Shelby are here, honey.”

            Kathy crossed the room and wrapped her arms around Rebecca. “I'm so glad you came,” she whispered in her ear. “She backed away and took in Shelby.”I'm Kathy.”

            Shelby extended her hand, hoping it wasn't moist with nervous perspiration. “Pleased to meet you, I'm Shelby.” Of all the people she wanted to impress, Rebecca's mother was top on her list. She had heard all the stories from her lover about how close the two were, and she didn't want to do anything to destroy that bond.

            For her part, Kathy was impressed at how the other woman looked her in the eye, yet also seemed to never keep her eyes from Rebecca. There was a glow about her that spoke her true feelings for Rebecca, even if the two of them were careful not to touch too much around the house. “Dinner is actually ready, if you'd like to have a seat at the table. Becca, why don't you help me in the kitchen?”

            With an apologetic glance over her shoulder, Rebecca followed her mother through a swinging door, leaving Shelby in the living room with Greg and a hostile Terry.

            “I was surprised you showed up,” Terry hissed, showing Shelby the way to the dining area. He made sure that she was left with the single chair on the opposite side of the table, and he took the space next to where Rebecca would be. “Can't find any rodeos to ride in?”

            “Oh, that's right,” Greg added, just now joining them in the dining room. “I read about you in the paper, saving all those animals from the fire at the barns. What is it you do at the rodeo, Shelby?”

            “She rides bulls,” Rebecca interjected, carrying a large bowl of pasta to the table and setting it down. She waited until her mother brought the salad before she went back for the bread.

            “Bulls?” Greg looked impressed. “That would scare me to death.”

            Shelby looked across the table at Terry. “There just like anything else. You have to give them respect, then they are pretty easy to handle.”

            “Why would anyone want to respect something that is obviously not as smart as they are?” Terry asked. He gave his sister an engaging smile when she noticed the seating arrangement. She just picked up her plate and utensils and moved across to sit next to Shelby.

            Realizing he was talking about more than bulls, Shelby thought for a moment before saying anything. “Sometimes if you think you're smarter than a bull, you can end up in a world of hurt. I've seen it happen too many times.”

            Terry took a mouthful of food and hastily swallowed. “Maybe.” He waited to see if his parents would say anything, and when they didn't, decided to continue his questioning. “Are you planning on going back on the road anytime soon? I'm thinking there are not a lot of jobs around here for out of work bull riders.”

            “I haven't decided yet.” Shelby turned to look at Rebecca, who was watching the whole discourse with slight dismay. “Actually, Mr. Lockneer came over the other day to offer me a job at the stables.”

            “He did? Why didn't you say anything about it sooner?” Rebecca asked.

            Shelby shrugged. “There was some other stuff going on, and I truly forgot about it until just now.”

            Kathy dabbed at her mouth with a napkin before speaking. “Would you be happy in a job like that? Or is there something else you'd like to do?”

            “I'm afraid I don't have enough of an education to do much else,” Shelby admitted. “But I plan to work on that.”

            That seemed to answer everyone's questions about her life, so the table settled down to small talk while they finished their meal. Once everyone had their fill, Greg and Kathy move to take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen, when Shelby volunteered.

            She stood up with her plate. “That was a wonderful meal, Kathy. The least you can do is let me help clean up.”

            “Well, okay. But you don't have to.”

            “I have to find a way to work off part of this great food. I see Rebecca got her talents in the kitchen from you.”

            Kathy blushed, but accepted the compliment. “Thank you, Shelby. And I can see you're just as full of it as my husband can be.” But her voice was teasing, and her eyes sparkled with mirth.

            “I'll help,” Rebecca offered. “The two of us will have it done in no time.” She gathered what was left of the food and took it into the kitchen, following behind Shelby.

            “I don't like her,” Terry sneered, loud enough for his parents to hear. “She's trash.”

            Greg turned around and glared at his son. “She seems nice enough to me. What's your problem with her?” Truth be told, as much as he wanted to find fault with Rebecca's girlfriend, the woman was honest and straightforward, and put up with all their intrusive questions.

            “They're sleeping together!” Terry yelled, pointing into the kitchen. “Doesn't that bother you?”

            Hearing her brother's voice, Rebecca went back out into the dining area, where Terry was yelling at their father.

            “Terence, lower your voice,” Kathy demanded. “We have a guest.”

            “She's a dirty two-bit whore, who's lured my sister into her bed!”

            Rebecca wanted to slap her brother again. “Terry! What is wrong with you? I thought we worked this all out.”

            “Not really. I just figured that once Mom and Dad met her, they'd make you come to your senses and quit sleeping with her.” His agitation was clear on his face. “But everyone seems to think she's Little Miss Perfect.”

            “No, son, we don't. But your sister is old enough to decide who to have in her life. I don't like the fact that she rides in rodeos, but only because I'm afraid she'll tire of the sedentary life and move on, and break your sister's heart.” Greg looked at his daughter. “But we love Becca, and only want her to be happy.”

            “I am happy,” Rebecca admitted. “More so than I ever thought I could be.”

            “But she's a woman!” Terry yelled again.

            “Who loves your sister with everything that she is,” Shelby spoke up, from the kitchen doorway. She blushed when she realized what she said, and where she was when she said it. Not the most romantic place in the world, but it got my point across.

            Everyone quieted and stared at Shelby, who turned beet red. Greg, feeling sorry for her, waved his hand. “Come on, Shelby. Let's go out on the front porch for a little chat.” The two of the left the room and the others behind.

            Greg waited until Shelby was seated on the porch swing, then he leaned up against the railing so that they could be face to face. “So, Shelby. What are your intentions toward my daughter?”

            “Intentions?” Shelby squeaked, feeling fear for the first time. He's not talking about marriage or something like that, is he? We just made it through our first fight. Not to mention we just started sleeping together!

            Inside, Rebecca stared after the closed door in shock. She loves me? But I was going to tell her that, first. She heard her mother say something, and turned to face her. “What?”

            “I was asking if you knew she was going to say that. But, from the look on your face, I'd have to say no.”

            “It's wrong,” Terry reiterated, interrupting them. “I've had enough of this mess.” He stomped upstairs to his room.

            Rebecca watched her brother leave, then turned to her mother. “What about you? How do you feel about all this?”

            “Are you happy?”


            “Then that's all I can ask for,” Kathy assures her. Seeing the tears well up in her daughter's eyes, she pulled Rebecca close.

            On the front porch, Greg felt bad about scaring Shelby. “I'm sorry, Shelby. I was just teasing you.”

            “Thank God,” Shelby admitted. “I thought I'd have to run out and buy a ring tonight.”

            “No, you can wait until Monday.”


            “I got you again,” he joked. “There's something you're going to have to get used to if you stay around us for long, Shelby. We love to tease each other.”

            Shelby returned his smile. “I think I can handle that.” She followed Greg back into the house, but came up short when she saw an upset Rebecca in her mother's arms.

            Greg watched as Shelby moved past him. He motioned to his wife to join him in the next room, as they left the two lovers alone.

            “What's with all the tears? Am I that bad a find?” Shelby asked. She had rushed over to take Rebecca in her embrace as soon as she could.

            “I was,” Rebecca hiccupped, “going to tell you I loved you, first.”

            Touched that Rebecca felt the same way about her, Shelby raised Rebecca's face so that they were eye to eye. “As long as we both feel the same, does it matter?”

            “No, I guess not.”

            “Good.” Shelby kissed Rebecca tenderly.


            SUNDAY AFTERNOON KEPT both women busy. Shelby shoveled out the stalls, while Rebecca rinsed them and then added clean hay. Both were hot and sweaty in no time, but Rebecca decided that Shelby had never looked sexier. The tank top that she wore with her boots and jeans clung to her body. Rebecca tossed a sprinkling of hay at Shelby, who spun around with an unreadable gleam in her eye.

            “What did you do that for?”

            “You looked hot,” Rebecca explained.

            Shelby frowned. “And this helps me, how?”

            “Well, we brush down horses with hay when they get hot.”

            “Now you're comparing me to a horse?” Shelby began to stalk Rebecca, who backed up slowly.

            “No, not exactly.” Rebecca grinned evilly. “Although I could say that you're beginning to smell like one.” She squealed when Shelby tackled her, but quickly gained the upper hand by rolling over. “Ah ha! I have you right where I want you.” Rebecca pulled the tank top out of Shelby's pants, and was working on the buckle of her belt when someone cleared their throat behind them. She turned around and saw the owner of the property, glaring at the two of them. “Mr. Lockneer, what brings you out today?”

            “I was on my way home from church, and I thought I'd see how you were doing.” The disgust on his face told what he thought of the sight before him. “Rebecca, you've been here for over two years, and in all that time, I never knew you were one of those kinds of people. I can't tolerate that.”

            Rebecca got up from the barn floor and helped Shelby to her feet as well. “It's not, I mean, we were just—”

            “What she's trying to say, sir, is that I'm to blame for this. I'll leave immediately.” Shelby started to walk by her lover, but was stopped when Rebecca grabbed her belt from behind.

            “No. She's not to blame for anything,” Rebecca defended.

            “I want you both gone. And Rebecca, you have exactly one week to get you, and your horse, from my stables.” Lockneer turned on his heel and left. He climbed into his silver Cadillac and sped away from the stables.

            Rebecca watched the car leave, but didn't say anything. Her mind raced with what she was going to do, but nothing made any sense.

            “I'm sorry, baby.” Shelby stood beside Rebecca as the car drove off. “I feel horrible about this.”

            “I don't.”

            “Why not? You just lost your home.”

            “Because I have you, and because I didn't want to grow old living above a damned stables, anyway. This will just force me to move my plans ahead some.” Rebecca tugged on Shelby's hand. “Let's go upstairs and get cleaned up, then we can look in the paper for a place to stay.”

            Shelby followed Rebecca upstairs, impressed once again by the strength the woman exuded.

Chapter 23

            “AS YOU CAN see, this apartment has a lot of charm,” the realtor explained to Rebecca. “I know it doesn't seem like much, but for someone who doesn't mind using a little elbow grease for the deposit, I think it's a great find.”

            Rebecca looked around the squalid kitchen, fighting back a shiver when she saw several roaches race each other across the cracked linoleum countertop. “I don't think this is what I had in mind when I gave you my price range.”

            The realtor looked at Rebecca. “Honey, you're not going to get much better, I'm afraid. There's not a lot out there for what you have.” She hefted her purse higher on her shoulder. “But since you're not interested in this lovely,” she looked around, “hovel, let's get out of here before we catch something.”

            The next three apartments were almost as bad, and even the realtor began to lose her positive attitude. “Let's go back to my office to regroup, and see what else I can come up with.”

            Rebecca resigned herself to her fate. “No, I think I've wasted enough of your time, Mrs. Skimmerly. I think, at least for the time being, I'll just make due with what I have.”

            “All right.” The realtor took a card from her purse. “But please give me a call if you change your mind. I'm sure I can come up with something you can live with, and in.”

            “I will, thank you.” Rebecca hoped that Shelby was faring better with her task.


            SHELBY WAS GETTING frustrated. Not having any luck with the newspaper ads, she walked into the feed store. She wanted to see if it had a bulletin board, and if so, if there were any places listed that could house Patches. Feed, horse liniment, and dust all combined into an unfamiliar, but not unpleasant smell that Shelby inhaled as she walked to the back of the building, where several old men sat around.

            “I tell you what, those kids are getting less and less respectful every day,” one man grumbled. “He practically ran me down in the store, and not one word of apology.”

            The other two nodded, and as the speaker spit in a tin can beside his chair, one said, “Tell me about it, Claude. My own grandkids never say anything to me unless it's for money.”

            Shelby could hear the pain in their voices, as each recounted a similar experience. She quietly made her way over and studied the large amount of papers tacked haphazardly to the bulletin board.

            One of the men noticed her and cleared his throat. “You looking for anything in particular, young lady?”

            Turning around, Shelby put her hands in the back pocket of her jeans and gave the group a smile. “Yes sir. As a matter of fact, maybe you gentlemen can help me.” She noticed how her words caused the three to all sit up a bit straighter.

            “We'll certainly try,” Claude assured her. He pointed to an empty seat, which she took. “I'm Claude, and these two old reprobates are Jesse and Ted.”

            Nodding to the other two, Shelby leaned forward in her chair and made direct eye contact with each of them in turn. “The reason I'm here is simple. When I was a kid, my granddad told me that if you ever need any real answers, go to the men that hang around the feed store. They always know what's what, and won't steer you wrong.” Since she hadn't even known her grandfather, she hoped this little white lie wouldn't hurt anyone. Especially since it seemed to make the men around her feel better about themselves.

            “Finally! A youngster that knows the truth,” Ted exclaimed. He was quickly shushed by Jesse, who studied the young woman carefully.

            “And just what real answer are you looking for?”

            “I've got a six-year old paint pony that needs stabling, and I don't have a lot of money to do it with.” She waited patiently, keeping her gazed locked with Jesse's. “Do you have any ideas, or should I just go back to that old board over there? I think there are some ads up there from before I was born.”

            Claude patted her knee. “Don't let Jesse upset you any, young'un. He's a bit more serious than we are, but he means no harm.” He looked at the other two men, and the three came to a silent understanding. “I think we may have just the place for you. An old friend of ours lives just outside of town, and he has a small barn on his place that's not being used.”

            Half an hour later, Shelby ended up at a run-down old farm. The barn, offset from the house, looked as if it would collapse at any moment.

            What few boards it had still in place, were bleached by the sun, and even from the distance, she could see the knot holes and splits in the slats.

            Shelby turned her attention to the house. She could see that someone had once taken great pride in its appearance, but the overgrown garden in front attested to the owner's recent apathy.

            The weathered wood had lost most of its paint, and the steps that led to the front porch were completely broken apart. The porch itself was missing many of its planks, and the window in the front door appeared to have been boarded up for years.

            There was too much dirt accumulated on the windows that were left to see inside, but Shelby wasn't there for the house, anyway. She pulled her truck into the drive and stepped out, causing a wizened old man to appear on the rickety front porch.

            “What do you want?” he yelled, shielding his eyes with one hand. “If you're from the bank, I'll just go back in and get my shotgun.” His clothes hung from his thin frame, and looked to be in the same shape of disrepair as his home.

            Holding her hands out to her sides, Shelby tried to keep the smile from her face. “No sir, I'm not from the bank. Fact is, they probably wouldn't like me much. Are you Mr. Groves?”

            “Yep. Come on up here. Anyone who's not a friend of those snakes is welcome.” He waited until Shelby got to the porch and looked her over. “You're a gal.”

            “So I've noticed,” she retorted. “Some of the guys down at the feed store sent me, figured we might be able to help each other out.”

            Groves motioned for her to precede him inside. “All right.”

            Once inside, Shelby waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. The interior of the living area wasn't in much better shape than the exterior, and there were stacks of newspapers and magazines everywhere.

            “Before you say anything, I like to read.” He walked to one of the doorways. “I'm going to get some coffee. How do you like yours?”

            “Black and strong, if you have it.”

            “No other way,” the old man chortled, leaving Shelby alone in the dark and musty room. She could barely make out a few old picture frames on the walls, and there were several empty cans of pork and beans and chili lying around a torn recliner. Before she could investigate any further, he came back into the room and handed her a mug.

            Peering down into the thick liquid, Shelby wondered how old the coffee was. She took a cautious sip and almost gagged. At least as old as I am. This stuff tastes like dirty socks. She quickly looked at his feet, relieved to see the footwear peeking out from beneath his pants. “My name's Shelby Fisher, and I have a horse that I'm looking to board. I figure I could pay you about fifteen dollars a week cash, plus I'll do any work out here that you need to have done.”

            “That's a pretty generous offer, Miss Fisher. Why are you so desperate?” Sitting down in the recliner, he propped his coffee cup on one arm of the chair. The material was worn down so far that it was shiny, and the stuffing could be seen beneath.

            “Because I can't find any place that'll take less than sixty, and I don't have that kind of money lying around.”

            “Well, at least you're honest.” Groves leaned forward in his chair. “So I'll be the same. The bank's been after me for several months, because I owe on this old dump. I don't have the money to move out, so I stay. And I'm too old to fix it up enough to sell.”

            Shelby discreetly placed her cup on a nearby table. “Then maybe we can help each other out, Mr. Groves.”


            REBECCA SAT AT the kitchen table at her parent's house, drinking ice tea with her mother. “I didn't think it would be this hard to find another apartment. But they're all so nasty, or overpriced.”

            “I was afraid of that, when you told me you would be looking for something else,” Kathy admitted. “And there was no way you could talk Mr. Lockneer into changing his mind? That was such a good deal for you.”

            “I know. But he's a narrow-minded bigot, although I never knew that about him.” Rebecca expelled a heavy breath. “And we were just playing around in the barn – not even doing anything bad.” Not yet, anyway. Another five minutes, and he would have really gotten an eyeful.

            Kathy shook her head. “If it's that much of a problem, why don't you just take your old room here? I can clear out my sewing things, and we can get your bed out of the attic.” When Rebecca called her the other day, she had asked her mother to use her room for all her arts and crafts. Kathy had gladly taken her sewing machine out of her own bedroom, and set it up in the empty space.

            “Are you sure? I wouldn't want to cause any problems.”

            “Honey, it's your home, too. You're welcome back anytime.”

            Rebecca felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders. “We won't take up much room, I promise.”

            We? “I assumed Shelby would find her own place, Becca. I don't know if your father would go for having you both sleeping in your room.” Knowing your daughter's sexuality is one thing, but being faced with it was quite another. “Besides, she and your brother would be at odds the entire time. I don't think it would be good for the family.”

            “Are you saying that Shelby isn't welcome here?”

            “No, not at all. She's welcome to visit any time. Just not to live, I'm afraid.”

            Rebecca stood up from the table so quickly her chair fell over. “Then I guess I'd better keep looking.” Upset, she left the room.

To be concluded in Part 4.

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