By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers: These two ladies may seem familiar, especially if you read the Invitational's here at the Academy. The previous story, Just Like Old Times, came from Delaney's point of view. Here's a chance to get to know Gib a little better, and show you how they got together.
The names, persons, places and events depicted in this story are completely fictional. I worked at a State Park back in 1980, but in no way am I an expert on the Texas State Park system. So, for any inaccuracies, forgive me.
I'd love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Also, check out my website for stories, info, and just the heck of it - www.CarrieLCarr.com . Thanks to the Academy munchkins who do so much for us all. You are the best!
Dedication: This story is for the one woman who means everything to me - my wife, Jan. Forever and always, my love.
As she stood on the bank of the lake, the warm sunrise striped Gibson Proctor's features. With her eyes closed, she took a deep breath and let the peace of the moment seep into her bones. Her head bare, the light wind ruffled her short, blonde hair. She loved this time of day and was thankful the cabin she leased allowed her to be so close to her work. As a Park Police Officer with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, she felt lucky to be doing something she enjoyed. It had been four months since she'd transferred back to the area she had grown up in, and she had easily slipped into a daily routine.
The three-room cabin was on the less populated side of Lake Kichai. It was accessible by either a long, winding dirt track or the narrow road that crossed the dam. There weren't many cabins on the lake, and those that were there were mostly owned and leased by the state, to use for camping. The lake was surrounded by several small farming towns, a place where Gib had rushed to move away from when she graduated from high school. Over twenty years later, she returned, her reasons known only to her.
The solitude was interrupted by Gib's cell phone ringing. She grimaced and took the phone off her belt. "Proctor."
"Gibson, honey, do you have to answer your phone like that?" an older woman's voice chastised.
Gib sighed and closed her eyes. "What can I do for you, Mom?"
"Well, I don't want to be a bother. Maybe I should call you later." Ida Proctor was well-versed in playing the martyr in order to get her way. She had nursed her daughter's guilt the moment Gib returned, and seemed determined to keep her under her thumb. She and the rest of Gib's family lived in Benton, a twenty minute drive north of the lake, with a population of almost seventy thousand. Which was the biggest reason Gib leased a cabin at the lake. She loved her mother, but could only take so much of Ida and her histrionics at a time.
"Mom, I have to go into work soon. Just tell me what you need, please." Gib gave one final, wistful look at the sunrise before she turned to go back into her cabin.
Ida took a deep breath. "I wanted to see if you're coming over for dinner this Sunday. Your father is planning on smoking a brisket, and you know he always buys too much for the two of us." She continued to bemoan the shortcomings of her husband, Eric, who could never do anything right, at least in her opinion. The refrain was one Gib had heard all her life. Her father was an easy-going sort and allowed Ida to nag him incessantly.
Gib buckled her duty belt and took a quick glance around the cabin to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. Dark green slacks and a khaki shirt completed her uniform, which slimmed her stocky frame. She took her keys off the kitchen counter, detached her Bluetooth earpiece from the charger and stepped onto the covered porch. As her mother continued to complain, Gib switched to the Bluetooth and returned her phone to its holster. Once the door was locked, she got into her navy blue Ford F-150 and started the engine. She removed the baseball cap with its Texas Parks & Wildlife emblem from its resting place on the dash and set it on her head.
"Have you heard anything that I've said?"
"Yes, Mom, I'm listening." Not wanting to take the long way around, Gib took the road across the dam, frowning at how rough it had become. She noticed a few places along the edge where the road had eroded away completely, and decided to remind her boss about its deterioration.
The park's office was across the two-lane highway from the lake. Gib parked in her usual space next to the new, silver Ford truck her boss drove. Her older truck paled in comparison, but Gib didn't mind. She often teased him for polishing his vehicle on a daily basis, something her truck hadn't seen in years. "Mom, it's only Monday. I'll call you back later, all right?"
"I suppose. It's not like I have much choice, do I?"
"Love you, Mom." Gib disconnected the call and stepped into the one-story building that housed their offices, as well as tourist information. Kind at heart, Gib knew she had to be sharp with her mother, or Ida would keep her on the phone all morning. The heavy responsibility of being the oldest child settled over her like a cloud, and her naturally sunny disposition was sorely tested by her mother's whining. Her once-peaceful mood was gone, replaced by a nagging headache that Ida tended to give her. She hung her cap on the coat tree in her office, before going to the adjoining office.
Park Manager Clint Wright looked up when Gib tapped on his open door. "Come on in, Gib. You're in early today." His round face and bald head were both already shiny with perspiration, even though it was only seven forty-five in the morning.
"Only by fifteen minutes," Gib answered, looking at her watch. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to sneak in any overtime."
He laughed and leaned back in his chair. "I know. You never sign for over forty hours, even when you're out and about from dawn 'til dusk. Have a seat."
Gib settled into the guest chair and adjusted her duty belt. "The road across the dam is getting worse. I noticed a few places where the erosion is starting to compromise the integrity of the road."
"Yeah, I noticed it last week. Luckily, it won't be a problem for long." Clint leaned forward, propped his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers together. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. There's a construction company arriving sometime this morning, and they'll be working on the road across the dam for the summer."
"The entire summer? Why are we just now hearing about this?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Yes. I know it's not the best timing, but we're going to have to make due. And you know how the system works. Everything's on a need to know basis, and I guess we didn't need to know until right before they showed up. Hell, I only found out about it last night. I'd like you to be the liaison between them and our office."
Gib didn't like where this was heading. "Liaison?"
"That's right. I need someone out there I can trust, who will keep them in line and not allow them to ruin the summer for our guests. I know it's not really part of your duties, but since they'll be working with the dam, someone will need to keep an eye on the effect it has on the nearby wildlife. And the fire roads."
"Clint, with all due respect, is that really necessary?"
He sat up straight. "Yes, it is. Gib, I don't want them destroying anything they don't have to." He tapped on the desk. "Especially the fence across the road from the dam."
She nodded. "The buffalo and longhorns," Gib added. "One of the buffalo cows is due to give birth in the next few weeks."
"Another good reason to have you nearby. I know you think this amounts to a babysitting duty, but I think you're the best person for the job. I don't want any visitors getting in their way, either." They had two full-time rangers, as well as two part-time. But all were much younger, and not near as familiar with the lake and surrounding area as Gib. Her lifetime of growing up in the area gave her the most experience. "You don't have to spend every minute of every day with the crew. Just keep a close eye on them."
Gib gritted her teeth and stood. "Yes, sir. Is there anything else?"
"Be sure and give your phone number to the construction foreman, so they'll be able to reach you in case of emergency." He stood as well. "Look at the bright side. While you're handling this for me, I'll make George do all your paperwork."
For the first time, Gib smiled. "All right. Tell him if he messes up the desk, I'll toss him into the lake." She tapped her forehead with her finger in a half salute. "Guess I'd better get out there before they do."
"Good luck, Gib," Clint called after her.
Gib checked her watch before she turned onto the dirt road that came before the lake entrance. The road ran along the east side of the lake, and bisected the lake property and the pastures where the small herd of longhorn cattle and bison grazed. Gib wanted to check the fire road and make certain the fence around the cattle was intact before the construction crew showed up.
The road curved around to the right, with an aged barbed wire fence on either side. Gib kept a close eye on the right-hand fence. She hoped to catch a glimpse of the pregnant buffalo cow, if only to ease her mind. Once she passed the empty holding pens, she slowed her truck. The fence appeared fine, which was one less thing to worry about. They never knew when one of the buffalo or longhorn would stubbornly break through, especially during the spring months. She was about to turn around when she saw a paper bag near the fence and stopped to investigate.
The bag appeared to be full, so Gib cautiously nudged it with her toe. It tipped over and several empty beer cans tumbled out. "Stupid kids," she grumbled. When she bent to pick up the bag, sunlight reflected off of something about twenty yards inside the fence. "Great." The nearest gate was back at the holding pens. Time was short, so after getting a heavy garbage bag from her truck, she carefully slipped her body between two strands of wire, taking care to keep from snagging her uniform.
As she got closer to the area where she had spotted the reflection, Gib saw a pile of beer cans around a hastily dug fire pit. "Looks like we're going to have to patrol this road at night, now." The warmer weather always brought out high school students looking for a place to congregate where they could drink and not get caught. Gib often spent the late hours in the summer writing tickets and calling parents. She picked up the cans and the scattered remains of cigarette butts. With the toe of her boot, she scuffed through the charred mess left behind.
The sound of heavy traffic on the road caused Gib to turn and look back toward the main road. A heavy plume of dust announced the arrival of what she suspected was the construction company. She made one last sweep of the area to make certain she didn't miss anything and headed for her truck.
Ten minutes later, she was in the midst of several tractor trailers, parked on either side of the road. Four white pickup trucks mingled among the big rigs, and a handful of men climbed out and started milling around. The amount of construction vehicles caused Gib to curse under her breath.
Three flatbed trucks were offloading oversized equipment, while a pair of men began to cut down the fence that kept people away from the dam.
"Damn it!" Gib parked a few feet from the men and jumped out of her truck before the dust settled. "Hey! What do you think you're doing?" she yelled.
One of the men raised his head, decided she wasn't a threat and went back to work.
Gib looked around and noticed a man wearing a white straw western hat. He had a roll of papers opened up on the hood of the truck, and was talking to two other men, both wearing hardhats. Gib walked over to them. "Excuse me, who's in charge here?"
The man in the western hat looked up into the officer's angry brown eyes. He was a couple of inches shorter than Gib's five feet, nine inches. "I am. At least right now. What can I do for you?"
"Why are you tearing down the fence?"
His green eyes twinkled. "Because it's impossible to work on the project with it in the way." He held out his hand. "Dylan Kavanagh. I'm the foreman for Kavanagh Construction."
Gib took his hand. "Gibson Proctor. I'm going to be your liaison this summer."
Dylan laughed. "Who did you piss off?"
"No one. It's my job to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. And to protect the wildlife and the people who will be coming to the lake for their summer fun." She pointed to the fence across the road. "Be careful around that fence. We have several head of longhorns and buffalo, and they're not pets."
"Gotcha. Say, is this road used for anything?"
Gib cocked her head. "What do you mean? It's a road. We drive up and down it."
"We need someplace to park our rigs. Is it used much?"
She shook her head. "No. Only by us. And the occasional kids, trying to find a place to make out. But we try to keep them out." She finally smiled. "While we try to patrol as often as possible, I'd suggest you don't leave anything out or unlocked." She handed him a card. "Keep this handy in case you need me."
"Thanks." Dylan took his wallet out of his back pocket and handed Gib one of his business cards. "My cell number is on there, in case you need me." He winked at her.
Gib laughed at his expression. "Sorry, buddy. You're not my type." But she took his card and tucked it into her shirt pocket. "Could you try to keep the fence destruction down to a minimum? I don't want people having access to the back of the dam."
"Sure, we'll do our best. We may have to shut down the road on the dam for a month or so, though."
"Damn. All right." She tugged her cap straight. "I'm going to do a quick check of the roads around here. Call me if you need anything."
He saluted her. "Ten-four, officer."
Gib couldn't help but laugh at his attitude. "Watch out for snakes. The copperheads love that thick brush by the dam." The look on his face was priceless, and Gib returned the salute before heading back to her vehicle. She was pulling up to the highway when a black, Lexus SUV turned onto the road, skidding on the loose dirt.
The driver was able to control the skid and gunned the engine. The SUV sprayed dirt and rocks onto Gib's truck as it took off toward the construction site.
"What the hell?" Gib made a U-turn, intent on finding out what kind of person would drive so recklessly.
Dylan looked up as a petite redhead climbed out of the black SUV and stepped over to him. He grinned at the dark sunglasses that covered her face. "Rough night?"
"Bite me," the redhead grumbled.
"No thanks," he laughed and made a point to peruse her outfit. Tight, black jeans and a royal blue, long-sleeved silk shirt looked about comfortable as her three inch heels. "You're not planning on working today dressed like that, are you, Del?"
She lowered the sunglasses and squinted against the bright sunlight. "I haven't been home yet, smartass." She had been out drinking until the bar closed, and then somehow fell asleep in her SUV. She swore to herself not to get that tanked again, especially on a work day. "And as soon as I make sure your crew is doing what I need them to, I'm going to get a shower and take a nap. And quit calling me Del. You know I hate it." The glasses were returned to their previous position as Delaney turned to see a dark blue pickup with the state park's logo on the door. "What did you do?"
"I don't think it's me that's getting that look," Dylan waited until Gib was upon them. "Hi, officer. Miss me all ready?"
Gib nodded toward Dylan in acknowledgment. "Ma'am, you need to watch your speed on these roads," she addressed the redhead.
"Excuse me?" Delaney put her hands on her hips. "What?"
After taking a deep breath, Gib's voice was low and even. "I said, you need to use more caution while driving on these roads. It doesn't take much to lose control, ma'am."
"Ma'am?" Delaney parroted. "Did you just call me ma'am?"
"Uh, yes, ma'am. I did." Gib glanced at Dylan, who appeared to be on the verge of losing his composure. "Is there a problem?"
Several inches shorter than the officer, Delaney stepped into Gib's space and looked up at her. "I'll have you know I'm not old enough to be called ma'am." She pointed a finger in Gib's face. "And I'm more than capable without some uptight park ranger telling me how to drive."
"Ma'am, I mean, um." Gib took a step back. "I'm sorry if I offended you, Miss. But, you were driving much too fast for the road, and I'd hate to see you ruin that nice SUV. And I'm not a ranger. I'm a commissioned park peace officer."
"My name's Delaney Kavanagh," Delaney ground out between gritted teeth. "and I'm not some bubble-headed little floozy that needs to be condescended to. I'm the architect for this project." She glared into Gib's eyes. "Officer." At the snort from Dylan, she spun to glare at him. "Not one word out of you, Dyl." With a disgusted huff, Delaney headed across the road to speak to the men removing the fence.
Gib waited until the furious woman was out of earshot. "What's her problem?"
Dylan laughed and clapped her on the shoulder. "My sister just turned forty," he whispered. "And she's very touchy about it."
"Yeah." He fought off another burst of laughter as Delaney stumbled on the way to her Lexus. "I'd apologize for her temper, but she's pretty much always that way."
Gib shook her head. "Sorry to hear that." She spared once last look at the redhead. "I'll check in with you later, Dylan." With a final tug on her cap, she headed for her truck.
"Sure thing. Take care." He noticed how Gib stared after his sister. "Looks like another one is immune to the witch's nasty moods."
In the low light of the sports bar, Gib blinked her eyes in an attempt to relieve the irritation from the smoke. She took another sip of her beer and placed the mug on the table. When a slender Hispanic woman set a fresh pitcher down, Gib looked up. "Took you long enough."
The woman poured herself a fresh mug before she sat. "Quit your complaining, Gibsy. Or I won't allow you to pay for the snacks."
"Maddy, you're too kind." Gib filled her mug and glanced around the smoky bar. There were a handful of men scattered around, watching the different sporting events being played on several different televisions in the room. Gib and her friend were the only two women in the bar. "Why do we come here?"
Madina Ramirez's dark eyes squinted in the gloom in an attempt to see what her friend saw. "'Cause as far as I know, Benton doesn't have a woman's bar, and this one is the closest to my apartment." She studied her friend in an effort to see what was bothering her. They had graduated together from high school in Bison Ridge, a small town located fifteen minutes to the southeast of Benton. Madina had been surprised when Gib returned to Benton, but had no problem picking up their friendship where they had left off so many years previously. As the manager of her family's Mexican restaurant, Maddy had moved into the city of Benton right after graduation, and envied her friend's chance to leave the area for greener pastures. She still hadn't got the entire story as to why Gib had returned. "What's up? You seem out of sorts tonight."
"I don't know," Gib sighed. She stared into her beer mug, as if it were a crystal ball. "Have you ever heard of Kavanagh Construction?"
Maddy touched her friend's arm. "No, wait. What are you talking about?"
Gib shrugged. "I think I'm losing my mind." She took a healthy swig of the beer. "Nothing."
"Oh, no. You're not getting away with that one, my friend. Did you say Kavanagh Construction?"
"I don't really know them, but I've seen their trucks around town. Why the interest?"
Gib drained her mug. "They're the ones working on the dam."
"I was just curious, that's all." In an attempt to ignore her friend, Gib refilled her mug. "Want more?"
Maddy shook her head. "I'm okay, for now." She stared at Gib, until her friend cleared her throat and looked away. "Come on, hon. Out with it."
"I'm such a chickenshit," Gib whispered.
"What? What are you talking about, Gibsy?" Madina had to lean closer to hear Gib.
"You wanna know why I transferred back here? 'Cause I'm too much of a damned coward to stay and see her every day." Gib raised her face and looked into Maddy's eyes. "Does that surprise you?"
Maddy's smile was gentle. "What? That you're gay? Come on, Gibsy. I've known you forever. I mean, we never talked about it, but I knew." She put her hand over Gib's. "It's not something you've just figured out, is it?"
Gib couldn't help but laugh. "Hell, no. I've always known." Her face sobered. "It doesn't bother you?"
"Why should it? This just means that we won't be fighting over the same guys. Not that there's that many to pick from around here." Maddy gestured around the room. "I mean, really. Not one of these guys is under sixty."
"I don't know why I was worried," Gib muttered.
Maddy patted Gib's hand before she picked up her mug. "So, a woman ran you off? What was she, stupid?"
Choking on her drink, Gib sputtered and wiped her mouth before she could speak. "Damn. I should know better than to drink around you. No, she wasn't stupid, and she didn't run me off. Not exactly." With a heavy sigh, she resigned herself to finishing the story. "She was one of the park rangers where I worked. Tall, blonde, and had the most gorgeous green eyes," she murmured.
"What was her name?"
"Gloria." Just saying the name brought a tightness to Gib's chest. "We were together for six years."
Maddy's eyes widened. "That long?"
"Yeah." Gib was silent for so long, it seemed as if she wasn't going to elaborate. But, after a few minutes, she exhaled heavily. "We had a place in Austin, and commuted together to the park. But she was always worried about how we looked to everyone else, you know?"
"How you looked? Oh, I see." Maddy lowered her voice to keep from being overheard. "She was in the closet?"
Gib shook her head. "No. She always liked to go to the bars and dance, and never seemed to mind telling anyone she was a lesbian." Her face flushed. "I finally had the guts to ask her. She had a problem with me."
"What do you mean?"
"She said I was too," Gib's voice trailed off, making her final words unintelligible.
Maddy leaned even closer. "What?"
"Manly," Gib ground out. "You know, too butch." She was unable to look at Maddy, instead concentrating on the water rings left by her beer mug.
"Oh, for god's sake, Gibsy. You've got to be shitting me." When Gib didn't answer her, Maddy tapped one bright red nail on the table top. "Hey." Once Gib's eyes were looking into hers, Maddy smiled. "So, I'm guessing when you first met this idiot, you were wearing a dress?"
Maddy continued, as if Gib hadn't said a word. "I bet you were wearing something nice and frilly, with hair down to your waist." She put her index finger on her chin. "And once you snared her, you cut your hair and started to dress like you usually do, right?"
"Have you lost your mind? My hair's always been this short." Gib glared at her. "And I haven't worn a dress since I was six, remember?" When Gib kept destroying the nice dresses her mother made her wear, even Ida had given up on having a dainty daughter. She allowed Gib to wear jeans, if only to save on clothes.
"Exactly my point." Maddy laughed at the look she received. "This woman knew who you were when you two hooked up. So it took her six years to decide she wanted a princess? Give me a damned break. She was just screwing with your head, my friend."
The thought had never crossed Gib's mind. She allowed Maddy's words to soak in. "I can't believe I let her get away with that. You know, all those years I let her dictate where we'd go, what we'd do. I always thought it was kind of fun, when she'd play hard to get when we went out. She'd act all shy and demure, not wanting to show any affection in public. I'm such a fool."
"No, you're not. You're a kind-hearted person, who tends to see the best in people. There's nothing wrong with that."
Gib snorted. "Yeah, right. More like a naïve idiot." She hit herself in the head. "Geez."
Maddy grabbed Gib's hand before she could hit herself again. "Stop it. Don't let that bitch win, Gib. If you feel that way about yourself, it validates her opinion."
"Yeah, I guess." Instead of refilling her mug, Gib pushed it away. "I'd better stop now, or I won't be able to make it home." Her head was already spinning, and she realized belatedly that she had drank all that beer on an empty stomach.
"Come home with me," Maddy offered.
Gib raised her head. "You propositioning me, Ms. Ramirez?"
Maddy laughed. "I don't think you could handle me, honey. You know very well that my couch folds out into a bed, and you're more than welcome to enjoy my hospitality, again. I'll even cook breakfast."
"I can't pass up an offer like that." Gib stood and tossed a handful of bills onto the table. She had to place her hand on the back of her chair as she swayed. "Good thing you're driving."
"Come on, Gibsy. Let's get you tucked in, so you can keep me awake all night with your snoring." Maddy tucked her arm into Gib's and led her out of the bar.
"I don't snore," Gib argued.
Maddy waved off the offer of help from one of the other patrons as she guided Gib through the front door. "Uh huh. Tell that to my cat, who always hides when you 'don't snore'. Poor Rudy's going to be scarred for life."
"That cat doesn't like me," Gib muttered. She leaned against Maddy's red Beetle. "When are you going to get a grownup's car?" She almost bumped her head when Maddy pushed her into the passenger's seat.
"Shut up, or I'll tie you to the top, like roadkill." Maddy walked around and got into the car. "You're just jealous because my car is at least a decade newer than that old truck you drive."
Gib leaned back and closed her eyes. "My truck's got character," she argued, right before she began to snore.
On the other side of town, Delaney Kavanagh pushed herself away from her desk and ran her hands through her hair. Her stomach confirmed that the clock on the wall was correct, and that she had once again worked through dinner. She spared a guilty glance at the blinking answering machine before she stood. "Later," she promised.
The drafting table was covered with papers, all in different stages of completion. After being read the riot act from her father, whom she worked for, Delaney was glad she had started working at home. He wouldn't know how late she worked, and couldn't harass her about it. There were less interruptions, except for the phone, which she turned off and allowed the machine to get. She stood and stretched, deciding to raid the refrigerator before checking her messages.
There were no lights on in the rest of the apartment, which Delaney navigated by memory. Once in the kitchen, she flipped on the overhead light and opened the refrigerator door. Nothing appealed to her, so she closed the door and leaned against the counter, looking out the window over the sink. The view from her 2nd floor apartment wasn't anything special, but at least the park beyond her complex was better than staring at a parking lot. She grabbed the bag of cheese puffs and walked to the sliding glass door. The small patio beyond was empty, and once again Delaney wished she had remembered to buy something so she could sit out and enjoy the night air.
She stopped by the refrigerator once more and took a can of diet ginger ale from inside, before heading toward her bedroom. Delaney closed and locked her bedroom door, then changed into an oversized nightshirt. She waited until she was comfortably ensconced under the covers before she turned on the television and started her dinner of cheese puffs and diet soda. The blinking light on her cell phone let her know that she had a message there as well, and with a resigned sigh she checked the log. There were seven calls from the same person, who had also left seven voice messages. Delaney deleted all the messages without bothering to listen to them. She had just placed the phone on her nightstand when it began to vibrate, startling her. "Damn it!" With a growl, she flipped it open and waited.
"Laney? Is that you?"
"Yes, it's me. Who else would be answering my phone?" Delaney snapped, right before she stuffed a cheese puff into her mouth.
"You don't have to be so damned nasty. I was worried about you."
Delaney closed her eyes and silently counted to five. "Chris, I'm sorry if you were worried, but you know I've got several projects going on right now, including the one we started today."
"Well, yeah. But we've haven't seen each other in almost a week." The whiny voice coming from such a butch woman should have been out of character, but Christie Fannin tried her best to make her girlfriend feel guilty. "I miss you," she added, softly.
It took everything Delaney had not to sigh out loud. "It hasn't been a week. We had dinner on Thursday."
"Which you left early, because you got a call from your father," Chris grumbled.
"I told you, it was business. We were about to start work on the dam at Lake Kichai, and he had some questions about the blueprints. Which I explained to you then, and the last twelve times you've brought it up."
"Damn it, Laney. You act like everything else is more important than us. We've been seeing each other for over a year. When are you going to let me move in?" She stopped griping long enough to light a cigarette, which could be heard over the line.
"I thought you quit smoking?" Delaney asked.
After exhaling, Chris coughed. "Why bother? We're not living together yet. I can still do what I want."
"You know I don't like the smell of cigarette smoke on you. And you promised to quit months ago. At least that's what you said."
"I don't smoke while we're together, do I? And I don't tell you what to do." Chris inhaled deeply. "As long as you're there and I'm here, I'm gonna smoke. I've got nothing better to do."
Delaney leaned back against the antique-gold finished wrought iron headboard. "You still haven't found a job?"
"You know I haven't. It's not my fault that no one's hiring right now." The whining tone was back in Chris' voice. "I don't know how much longer I'll be able to live here."
Not rising to the bait, Delaney took a drink of her soda. "Didn't you say your parents still had room for you?"
"Yeah, right. I'm almost thirty years old. Would I really resort to living off my parents?"
"Yet you want to live off me?" Delaney asked without thinking.
A hurt silence came over the line.
Shit. "Chris, I didn't mean it like that." When there wasn't an answer, Delaney was half-tempted to hang up. Instead, she softened her voice. "Chris, honey, how about I cook you dinner on Friday?"
Hating herself for giving in, Delaney bit her bottom lip. "Uh-huh."
"Can I stay over?"
Damn. Damn. Damn. Why do I fall for this every time? "Let's see how it goes, okay?" Something told her that if she let Chris stay for one night, she might not ever get her to leave. Time for a compromise. "How about I come over to your place tomorrow night? We can rent a movie and order one of those pizzas you like so much."
"You'll spend the night?" Chris asked, hopefully.
"Sure. How about it?" Although the thought of spending an evening in Chris' smoke-logged apartment was about as appealing as a root canal, Delaney decided it was in the best interest of their relationship.
"All right. Guess I'll wash the sheets early this month. I'll see you tomorrow night, Laney. Love you."
"Me too," Delaney answered, already trying to figure out a way of getting out of tomorrow night. "Good night."
Loud, annoying Tejano music woke Gib. She took her pillow and held it over her head in an effort to mute the sound. Unfortunately, that only made the music louder, as Maddy turned up the volume on the stereo.
"Rise and shine, Gibsy," Maddy sang. "You're going to be late for work." She never listened to Tejano, but knew it would be the best way to pester her houseguest.
"Only if you turn off that noise," Gib moaned. She sat up as the music disappeared. "Why are you torturing me this morning?"
Maddy sat on the edge of the sofa bed. "Because I can," she teased.
At the draft on her skin, Gib belatedly realized she was in her bra and underwear. She pulled the sheet up to cover herself. "Where are my clothes?"
"Hanging up in my laundry room." Maddy handed Gib a cup of coffee. "Do you remember last night?"
Gib tucked the sheet under her arms and held the mug as if it held a magic elixir. She leaned over it and inhaled, hoping to gather the caffeine by the steaming vapors. "I remember you driving, but after that, it gets a little hazy."
"So, you don't remember getting sick?"
"No." Gib looked frightened. "Oh, my god. Did I throw up in your car?"
Maddy laughed. "No, thank god. Otherwise, I would have awakened you earlier, so you could clean." At her friend's confused look, she gently brushed Gib's hair away from her eyes. "You threw up on my neighbor's car."
Gib groaned and closed her eyes. "Which car?"
"The black Volvo."
"Shit." Gib blinked and tried to clear her vision. "And my clothes?"
"You pretty much soaked them while you tried to wash the car off with the hose. I had to strip you so you wouldn't get sick."
Gib blushed and stared into her coffee mug. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not." Maddy grinned. "You know, if I wasn't so fond of men, I might switch teams for you, my friend. You've got a nice body, for an old woman."
The blush on Gib's face darkened. She finally worked up the nerve to look up at Maddy. "Who are you calling old? You're four months older than me."
"Yeah, well, I lie about my age. So that makes you older." Maddy nudged Gib with her shoulder. "Now run get dressed, so you can get home and change into a clean uniform. I've still got to take you back to the bar for your truck."
"Oh, yeah." Gib sipped her coffee and placed it on the table beside the sofa. She looked around and then looked at her friend. "I guess I'll get up now."
Maddy leaned back and crossed her arms. "I'm not stopping you."
Gib glared at her. "I'm not getting up and parading around naked in front of you."
"For god's sake, Gibsy, you're not naked. And I saw you last night."
"That was different." Gib pulled the sheet up around herself tighter. "I thought you were going to make me breakfast."
Maddy rolled her eyes. "You're a weird lesbian."
"Come on, Gibsy. Most lesbians would love to parade around half naked in a hot woman's apartment." Maddy stood and took Gib's coffee mug. "At least I think I'm hot. Do you?"
Maddy laughed again at Gib's expression. "You are so easy to tease, girl. Now run get dressed. Your uniform is wrinkled, but it's dry. Hurry up, and I'll buy you a breakfast sandwich on the way to the bar."
"I thought you were going to cook," Gib grumbled, as she climbed out of the sofa bed. She was almost to the utility room when she heard Maddy's answer.
"You'll have to do more than sleep on my couch to get me to cook for you, chica," Maddy yelled after her.
"Damned tease," Gib yelled back, remembering too late about her hangover. "Ow."
By mid-afternoon, Gib's hangover had retreated to only a slight headache. The nausea that had plagued her throughout the morning had dissipated, leaving her grumpy and tired. She sipped on the canned coke she had gotten from the office and decided it was time to check in with the construction company.
Gib was pleased to see that the tractor trailers were gone, leaving only the heavy equipment and four white pickup trucks parked along the edge of the fire road. She parked in front of the first truck and got out, looking around for the foreman.
The high grasses that had been at the foot of the dam were gone, crushed flat by the heavy treads of the trucks. Gib could tell that they had taken great care in adding a temporary fence on either side of the construction area. She heard a loud voice and looked in the direction of the dam.
"Officer!" On the road across the dam, Dylan Kavanagh waved to Gib and turned to say something to the person next to him. He cautiously started down the path they had made on the slope.
Gib walked across the road and met Dylan as he hit the bottom of the grade. "Hey there. It already looks different."
"Yeah, we got a good start yesterday. How's everything going for you, officer?"
"Just call me Gib," she offered. "We had a guy patrol a couple of times last night. He said everything looked quiet out here."
Dylan nodded. "Thanks. I couldn't see that anything was bothered. I appreciate y'all keeping an eye out on our stuff."
"We'll do our best, but I can't promise anything. The closer to summer it gets, the busier it'll be. It's hard to keep the kids out of trouble all night, every night. There's too many little roads, and too many places for them to hide. But if you see anything out of the ordinary, just give me a call."
"All right. Do you think I'll need to post a guard?"
Gib shrugged. "It's hard to say. This is my first summer here in years, and all I have to go by is what other folks have said. But I have a place nearby, so I'm never too far away."
He grinned. "Either they pay you real well, Gib, or you're a workaholic, like my sister."
"Yeah, well." Gib appeared embarrassed. "I do what I have to do, to keep the park safe." She glanced around, but didn't see the Lexus. "I take it your sister isn't here?"
"No, not right now. She was here bright and early, but after making sure we weren't going to screw up her plans, went on to another site. Did you need her for something?"
Gib quickly shook her head. "No, not really." She gave him another card. "But pass this along, in case she needs anything from our office. I'll answer the cell twenty-four, seven."
"You will, huh?" Dylan's grin caused her to blush again.
"Uh, yeah. I've got to be going. Call if you need anything." Gib tugged the bill of her cap down and turned for her truck.
Delaney stood in front of her mirror and stared critically at her reflection. She was wearing jeans and a bra, but couldn't decide on a top. She didn't own many casual clothes, only buying the jeans at Chris' request to see her in something besides expensive suits and slacks. "I really don't want to do this," she muttered, sorting through her blouses for something less dressy.
She had grown tired of the constant battles between her and Chris. They argued over every little thing, and Delaney wasn't sure if her heart was in it anymore. She found a navy blue, button-down, silk blouse and put it on. The thought of spending the night with Chris wasn't completely repulsive, and she struggled with her conscience. She had promised a sleepover, although she knew with Chris' appetite, very little sleep would be involved. "When did it become a chore?" Delaney asked herself. The image in front of her didn't answer, and she turned away to pack an overnight bag.
Half an hour later, Delaney had put off leaving as long as she could. She had folded all her laundry, and knew that if she wasn't at Chris' by six, her phone would start to ring nonstop until she arrived. She picked up her overnight bag and slung the strap over one shoulder, straightening her back as she stepped out of the apartment.
Once she was downstairs, the redhead placed her bag in the back of her Lexus, noticing the slight coating of red dust all over the black finish. "I really should take it though the car wash. It won't take that long."
Another twenty minutes later, Delaney was on her way once again. She looked at the clock on the dash, hoping the time was wrong. When her cell phone rang, she grimaced. She was already twenty minutes late. She decided to ignore the call, not in the mood to start their evening off with a fight.
Delaney parked next to Chris' beat up Celica and looked around the parking lot. The apartment complex was run-down, and she hoped that her car would still be there the next morning. With a resigned air, she gathered her things and started up the two flights of stairs that led to Chris' apartment.
Chris' door opened before Delaney made it up the last steps. Her lover stood in the doorway, a frown on her features. "Where have you been?" Chris was a couple of inches taller than Delaney, and slender, with short, dark hair and dark eyes. Her jeans were faded, and the gray button down shirt she wore held a pack of cigarettes in the front pocket.
"Nice to see you too," Delaney quipped, as she stood in front of the slender woman. An acrid smell permeated the air. "Just finish a cigarette, darling?"
"Don't start," Chris growled, opening the door wider and allowing the redhead to enter. "I was afraid you weren't going to come."
The living room smelled of stale beer and old cigarettes. A ratty, brown couch sat along one wall, and a broken-down entertainment center held a flat-screen television and DVD player. Delaney took her bag off her shoulder and placed it beside the cheap coffee table. "Give me a break. I'm not that late."
"I tried to call, where were you?" Chris slammed the door.
"I'm sorry, I ran my car through the car wash, and I guess I didn't hear it ring." Delaney noticed the open pizza box on the sofa, with half the contents missing. There were also several empty beer cans scattered on the coffee table. "You've already eaten?"
Chris sat on the sofa and propped her socked feet on the coffee table. "I was starving. And you wouldn't answer the phone, so I assumed you had changed your mind."
"Pu-leez. You just wanted an excuse to eat without me." Delaney nudged the box and stared at the congealed leftovers. "You know I don't like sausage on my pizza."
"Well, you weren't here to ask, were you?" Chris yelled. She knocked the box onto the floor and stood. "I need a cigarette."
Delaney got up at the same time and gathered her things. "No, what you need is a lesson in manners, Christie Lou."
Chris angrily pointed at her. "Don't call me that."
"Why? It's your name, isn't it?" Afraid she'd do or say something she'd regret, Delaney headed for the door. "That's it. I'm out of here."
"Oh, sure. You're too good to spend the night here, anyway," Chris yelled. She followed the redhead to the door. "If you leave, don't bother coming back."
Delaney paused and turned around slowly. "Are you threatening to break up with me?" She pulled the door open and gasped in surprise when Chris slammed it shut with one hand. "Don't you dare."
Chris leaned against the door and took the pack of cigarettes out of her pocket. "What's the matter, Laney? Afraid you'll catch something in my place?" She put a cigarette in her mouth and lit it, slowly blowing the smoke toward her girlfriend.
"You are so rude," Delaney yelled, waving her hand in front of her face. "Now let me out of here."
The look on Chris' face was one Delaney had never seen before. The dark-haired woman turned the deadbolt lock on the door and stepped closer to Delaney. "You know, we haven't been together in quite a while, Laney."
"I've been busy." Delaney refused to back away, instead holding her ground. She swallowed hard as Chris' hand touched her cheek. The cigarette smell was starting to make her sick to her stomach, and Delaney hoped she wouldn't embarrass herself by throwing up. "I'm going home."
"No, I don't think so." With the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, Chris lowered her hand and undid the top button on Delaney's shirt. "You promised you'd spend the night."
Delaney finally took a step back. "That was before you started acting like a complete asshole." The smell of stale beer on Chris' breath hit her and she frowned. "You're drunk."
"It's your fault, for being late," Chris popped open another button, which showed off Delaney's pale blue, lace bra. "Nice."
Her anger finally getting the better of her, Delaney slapped Chris' hand away. "Stop it! I will not stand here and be pawed by a drunken animal!"
Chris held the hand that had been slapped. "You used to like when I undressed you." She stood still as her angry girlfriend stepped around her. "Don't go!"
"I didn't even want to come over tonight," Delaney admitted, as she unlocked the door. "But I came anyway, because I said I would." She rebuttoned her shirt. "Don't call me for a while, Chris. I need some space."
"Space? What the fuck do you think you've had for the last month or so?" Chris yelled, as Delaney started out the door. Her lit cigarette hit the floor, smoldering on the cracked linoleum. "Get back here, you frigid bitch!" She blinked as the door slammed.
Delaney ran down the stairs as quickly as she could, afraid that Chris would follow. Once she was in her car with the doors locked, she finally stopped to breathe. "Holy shit. What was that all about?"
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