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.
There was one lonely person in the surgical waiting room. After hearing Delaney's stomach growl for the third time, her mother had left to find food. Tired of the waiting, Delaney rested her elbows on her knees and cradled her head in her hands.
She didn't bother to look up when the doors opened and footsteps came near. It was too soon for Gib to be out of surgery, so she assumed it was her mother.
“Delaney?” Maddy cried, swiftly crossing the room. “Thanks for calling me.” She hugged the redhead who had jumped to her feet. “Sorry about the voicemail thing. That damned phone only rings when it wants to. How's Gib? Have you heard anything? Did you call her family?”
“Calm down and I'll tell you everything.” Delaney sat and patted the plastic chair beside her. She brushed her hands through her hair, losing the battle with looking more presentable. “They took her into surgery about an hour ago. And yes, I called her mother.” The sour look on her face expressed more than words ever could.
Maddy patted her on the knee. “Ida was less than helpful, huh?”
“She acted like she didn't care. She was more interested in baking for some Scout troop than her daughter's health. How is that possible?”
“Gibsy's family is an acquired taste,” Maddy admitted. “When we were in school, I think she spent more time at my house than at her own.”
Delaney shook her head. “I can't even imagine growing up like that. How did she turn out the way she did?”
“Pure stubbornness. The crazy thing is, I know her parents love her. But I don't think they were very good at showing it. And they never talk about things. It's the strangest family dynamic I've ever seen.”
“I'd go insane living like that,” Delaney admitted.
Maddy sighed. “Me, too. It took me years to get her to talk about them, though. She's never been big on sharing.”
“Are we talking about the same person? Because the Gib I know not only shares everything, but has taught me a lot about it, too.”
Both of them looked up as the door opened. A handsome, dark haired man stepped into the waiting room. Maddy held out her hand and he sat next to her.
“How's your friend?” he asked Maddy.
Maddy squeezed his hand. “She's still in surgery.” She turned to Delaney. “This is Gib's girlfriend, Delaney.”
He stood and offered his reclaimed hand to the redhead. “Hi, Delaney. I'm Rob.”
“Hello, Rob. Thanks for coming. Are you a friend of Gib's?” Delaney asked as she returned to her chair.
Rob sat beside Maddy and put his arm across the back of her chair. “Not yet. But I'm hoping to get to know her a lot better. And you too, if you don't mind.”
“I can always use new friends.” Delaney smiled for the first time all morning. She couldn't help but notice how Maddy glowed with happiness. “You make a good-looking couple,” she whispered to the dark-haired woman.
Maddy blushed. “Thanks. Um, could you tell me a little more about Gib's injury? It was hard to hear on the voice message you left.”
“Sorry. I was in the phone area downstairs, and it was a madhouse. According to Gloria, Gib stepped into an old-fashioned bear trap, with the big metal teeth. The ER doctor said that because of the way she stepped, the majority of the damage was put on the front of her leg, just above her ankle.” Delaney paused and took a deep breath. “She has some nasty gashes on the back of her leg, too. But they were able to stitch those up.”
“Good god. Do they think she'll be able to make a full recovery?” Maddy asked softly.
Delaney shrugged her shoulders. “The surgeon wasn't too sure until he saw the damage first hand. I'm still trying to figure out how she was able to walk back to the road on that leg.”
“Well, Gibsy's always been hard-headed. And knowing her, she didn't want to appear weak in front of the bad guys.”
“Stubborn, mule-headed,” Delaney growled. “I don't know what I'm going to do with her.”
Maddy laughed and patted her leg. “Just keep loving her. I've never seen Gib so happy.”
Finally allowing her tears to flow, Delaney sobbed, “She scared me about half to death.”
Dressed in her Park Ranger's uniform, Gloria walked into the police station with a manila folder tucked beneath one arm and stopped at the front desk where an older woman was sorting through some papers. “I'm Ranger Hoover. I'm supposed to meet with a detective about the poachers we caught earlier this morning?”
The police admin nodded. “Detective Watkins is expecting you. Go through that door,” she pointed to the other side of the room. “His desk is the third on the left.”
“Thank you.” Gloria stood at the door and waited to be buzzed through. Once inside the large office, she stopped and glanced around the room. People in street clothes and uniforms wandered from place to place, while a steady din of noise permeated the air. Gloria straightened her posture and headed for the desk of Detective Watkins.
Cluttered with paperwork and empty Styrofoam cups, the detective's desk looked much like the others. Behind it sat a middle-aged, heavyset man. His gray hair was thin on top, and the dark framed glasses he wore gave him a bug-like appearance. He glanced up when Gloria stopped at his desk. “You Hoover?”
She nodded. “That's right. Are you Watkins?” she asked just as brusquely.
His laughter was hoarse and phlegmy. “Have a seat, Ranger. Would you like some coffee?”
“No, thank you.” She looked at the ancient folding chair he pointed out. “Is this thing safe?”
“Safer than my desk chair.”
Gloria cautiously perched on the visitor's seat. “Have you had a chance to interrogate the men we captured?”
“Yup. The big guy had no qualms about ratting out his cousin. I understand you know the guy.”
“Yeah. I haven't been with this park for very long, but I've worked with Dan Conroy.”
The detective eyeballed her through his thick glasses. “What's your take on him?”
She considered the question seriously. “Spoiled whiner. And he hated women with authority. Especially Officer Proctor. I'm not sure why, though.”
“I got an earful from him, that's for sure. Once he started talking, I thought he'd never shut up.”
Gloria frowned. “Isn't that a good thing, during an interrogation?”
“It would be, if it was pertinent to the investigation. But all he wanted to do was bitch and moan about Proctor, and how he's superior to everyone else.” Watkins sighed. “Got to be a broken record. So I sat in on the interrogation with Martin for a while.”
She nodded. “The big guy. He seemed all right to me. Even helped get Proctor out.”
“Right. I think he was just going along for the fun of it. His cousin had promised he could bow hunt, which I understand is a favorite pastime of his. But when they weren't getting enough meat, Dan decided to use some old traps he'd come across at another park.”
“I was wondering where he'd gotten them. The one Proctor stepped on looked almost antique.” Gloria tapped her fingers on the folder she had on her knee. “Did you find out why Dan had it in for Proctor?”
Watkins took a toothpick from his desk drawer and stuck it in his mouth. He wriggled it with his tongue. “Excuse me. I quit smoking recently, and this is the only thing that keeps me sane. According to Martin Conroy,” he checked his notes, “Dan's father left the family when Dan was a little boy. For another man. And his mother still harps about it. She evidently is a religious nut that rode him hard his whole life. Which gives him a pretty good reason to hate women, I suppose.”
“Wonderful.” To herself, she thought, and a boatload of homophobia, to boot. Satisfied that the chair was indeed safe, Gloria leaned back. “Why was he poaching? Didn't he realize that sooner or later he'd get caught?”
“Nah. He figured that being with the park made it easy for him to keep it a secret and throw the investigation off course. And he wanted to, and I quote, ‘make those f-ing bitches look stupid'. His ultimate plan was to be the one to find the clearing where the poachers dressed their kills. He thought it would get him a promotion. But your Park Officer ruined that for him.”
Gloria let out a derisive snort. “Didn't do her a lot of good, either. Did they tell you how many more traps are out there?”
“Did better than that. Martin said they had a marked map in their truck.” He took a piece of paper from the folder and handed it across the desk. “Here's a copy, since we have the truck in our impound lot.”
“Thank you.” Gloria looked at the crude rendering. It had about ten x's scrawled on it. “Good grief. It's going to take days to find all of these damned things.”
He grinned. “Better you than me. Do you want to talk to either of them?”
“Not really.” She took several sheets of paper out of her folder and handed them to him. “Here's my statement. I typed it up as soon as I got home.”
Watkins glanced at the neatly typed paper and nodded. “Nice work. You ever think about joining the department?”
“No offense, but no. I enjoy the fresh air too much. Not to mention I don't care for guns.”
“Our loss.” He placed her statement in his folder and closed it. “Now all I need is Officer Proctor's statement. I'll give you a call if we need anything else. Thanks for stopping by so soon.”
She got to her feet. “It might be a few days before Proctor's up to a statement. My boss told me she went into surgery this morning to repair the damage on her leg. Let me know if I can be of any assistance down the road.” Gloria shook the detective's hand before she walked away from the desk. Although she was expected back at work, she had somewhere else she wanted to be.
By Friday evening, Gib was resting comfortably in a private room. She had trouble staying awake, but Delaney didn't mind. She sat in a chair beside the bed, unwilling to be far from her lover. The soft tap on the closed door caused her to stand and hurry to see who was there.
The door opened and revealed a curious Gloria. “How is she?” she asked quietly.
“Sleeping off and on. Come on in.” Delaney held the door and gestured to the chair. “Would you like to sit down?”
“No, that's okay. I just stopped by on my way home from work.” Gloria moved closer to the bed and looked at Gib's splinted leg. It was swollen and discolored all the way up to her knee. “Good god. What did they do?”
Delaney joined her. “According to the surgeon, it looks a lot worse than it actually is. During the surgery they found out that the break wasn't as severe as the ER doctor had thought. He was able to realign the bone and now all he's worried about is infection from the wounds.” Her hand drifted to Gib's head and began to lightly brush through her hair.
Gib's eyes slowly opened and she blinked several times. “ Dee ?”
“Hi, honey.” Delaney smiled and caressed her lover's face. “How are you feeling?”
“Woozy.” Gib noticed the blonde standing behind Delaney. “Hey, Glor.”
Gloria touched Gib's uninjured leg. “You'll probably be getting a visit from a Detective Watkins in the next day or so. He wants to get your statement.”
“Yeah. I typed mine up and turned it in earlier today. Dan's cousin rolled on him, so I don't think anything we say really matters.”
Gib broke into a yawn. “Sorry.”
“Nah, don't worry about it. I only wanted to give you a heads up.” Gloria patted her leg and backed away from the bed. “Don't give the nurses too much grief, Gibson. I'll drop by again tomorrow to see you.”
“'kay.” Gib closed her eyes and her breathing evened out immediately.
Delaney continued to play with her lover's hair. “She's been doing this since she got out of recovery.” Reluctantly, she stopped what she was doing and followed Gloria to the door. “Thanks for coming to see her.”
“It was on my way home.” The statuesque blonde leaned against the wall beside the door. “How are you doing, Red? This had to be pretty rough on you, too.”
“I'm all right. My mother was here with me until about an hour ago, and Gib's friend Maddy is supposed to be back soon.” Delaney crossed her arms beneath her breasts. “Can I ask you something?”
Gloria nodded. “I won't guarantee I'll answer, but sure.”
With a look over her shoulder to see if Gib was still asleep, Delaney softened her voice. “Do you still love her?”
“I thought I did,” Gloria admitted just as quietly. “But she's still the same person I couldn't see myself with in Austin . Nothing's changed.” She shrugged. “I'll always care for her, but no. I don't love her. Don't tell Gibson, but I'm not sure I ever did.”
“How could,” Delaney's voice broke. “How could you not love her?” She turned so that her full attention was on the woman lying in bed.
Gloria put a hand on the redhead's shoulder. “She's got a good heart, I know. But we were just too different. She likes to fish and I'd rather be at a concert or the theater.” One final squeeze and she dropped her hand. “To tell you the truth, you're more my type than Gibson.”
Delaney spun around. “What?”
“Come on, Red. You're smart and beautiful. Just the way I like ‘em.” Gloria grinned. “But don't worry. I'm not going to try and take you away from her. Just stating a fact.”
“Good lord, you're full of yourself.” But Delaney laughed. “You know, you'd better be careful. Someone might think you're nice.”
Gloria shook her head. “Not going to happen, Red.” She winked and turned for the door. “If you need someone else to sit with her, give me a call. My place isn't far from here.” She strutted out of the room.
Delaney returned to her chair. “How on earth did you two ever hook up?” she asked her sleeping lover. “I mean, she's gorgeous, but still. A person could only handle so much of her arrogance before losing it.” She put her hand on Gib's and held it loosely. “Although, you did fall in love with me. You must be a glutton for punishment.”
“Nah,” Gib muttered. “One look at you and I fell hopelessly in love.” She opened her eyes and turned her head toward Delaney. For the first time all day, her eyes were clear and alert. “When I met her I was lonely. But the moment you came along, I was lost.”
“Listen to you,” Delaney said, with tears in her eyes. “Lying in a hospital bed and sweet talking me.”
Gib gave her a lopsided grin. “I can't help it. You bring it out in me.” She tugged on their joined hands. “Come here and give me a kiss.”
Doing as she was told, Delaney leaned over the bed and gave her a long, gentle kiss. “How's that?”
“Nice.” Gib raised her other hand and touched Delaney's cheek. “Why don't you go home and get some rest?”
“Is that a polite way to say I look like hell?”
“I'll never tell.” Gib yawned. “Sorry. It's not the company, I promise.” Her hand dropped to the bed. “I can't believe I'm so damned tired.”
Delaney kissed her on the forehead. “Your body's been through a lot. And I'm sure you're still fighting the effects of the anesthesia. Rest.”
“I will, if you promise to go home and do the same.” Gib blinked and struggled to keep her eyes open. “Please?”
“You fight dirty, officer.” The redhead played with Gib's hair. “But okay. I promise. Maddy's supposed to be back later, anyway.”
One of Gib's eyes opened. “Yeah?”
“Uh-huh. Don't worry, honey. We won't leave you alone in here.”
“Not worried,” Gib mumbled. “Love you.”
Delaney fondly smiled as her lover dozed off. “I love you, tough stuff.” She looked up as the door opened and Maddy stepped inside. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Carrying a paper bag in her arms, Maddy crossed the room. “How's she doing?” She set the bag on a nearby table.
“Pretty good. She was actually coherent for a few minutes. What's in the bag?”
“A few essentials for her. Toothbrush, toothpaste, that sort of thing.” Maddy gave her a one-armed hug. “How are you holding up?”
Delaney leaned her head on Maddy's shoulder and ruefully chuckled. “Do I look that bad? You're the second person to ask me that.”
“I wouldn't say bad.” Maddy guided her into the chair. “More like worn out. Have you had any kind of break?”
“Then I think you need to go home. I can handle things here for the night.”
The redhead stood and put her hands on her hips. Although she had planned on leaving, she didn't like being told to by someone else. “Now, look. I'm perfectly capable—”
“Of doing as you're told,” Maddy finished for her. She gentled her tone. “How are you handling it, really?”
A huge breath of air escaped through Delaney's lips as she dropped into the chair. “Like hell.” She looked at the still form on the bed. “Is this what being a police officer's wife is like? Because I don't know if I can go through this again.”
Maddy knelt beside her and placed her hand on Delaney's thigh. “I can't really answer that. But being a Park Officer is a lot different from being a regular cop. Would you feel better if Gib gave up her job? Is that what you want?”
“No, of course not.” Delaney covered Maddy's hand with hers. “Part of what I love about her is how she carries herself at work. It's who she is. I'm just being silly.”
“It's not silly, hon. But if you have worries, don't shut Gibs out. Talk to her.”
“Don't worry, Maddy. I'm just feeling a little overwhelmed.” She gazed at the peacefully sleeping Gib. “I'm not going anywhere.”
With a sigh of relief, Maddy stood and tugged Delaney to her feet. “Good.” She took a paperback out of the bag. “Now, go home. I've got a chance to catch up on some reading.”
Delaney gave her a hug. “Yes, ma'am.” She leaned over and kissed Gib on the cheek. “Be good. I love you.” When she straightened up, there were tears in her eyes. “Call me if anything happens?”
“Of course I will.” Maddy made a shooing motion with her hands. “Go on, now. I've got your number on speed dial.”
“Are you always this bossy?” Delaney teased as she headed for the door.
Maddy wriggled her eyebrows. “Of course. How do you think my restaurant runs so smoothly? Now git.”
With a backwards glance toward the bed, Delaney slipped out the room.
The digital readout on her dash read nine-thirty. As Delaney parked in her parent's driveway she considered the wisdom of her decision. The house, a two-story colonial, had been the only home Delaney had known. She remembered when she was fifteen years old how they celebrated paying it off. The original white paint was gone, updated in the past few years with siding. But the red brick exterior hadn't changed much from when she was born. When the front porch light flickered on, she rolled her eyes and turned off the engine.
Dressed in a long, midnight blue housecoat, Maureen stepped out on the front porch and crossed her arms over her chest. She remained silent until Delaney was within a few feet of her. “I wasn't expecting you tonight, honey. How's Gib?”
“She's resting. Maddy ran me off.” She gave her mother a hug. “I didn't feel like going home. Do you mind if I crash here?”
“Of course not. I think I can find something for you to sleep in.” Maureen led her inside and closed the door behind them. While they walked through the foyer, she took a moment to look at her daughter. “Are you hungry? Maybe a nice warm bath.”
Delaney chuckled at her mother's fussing. “Mom, I'm fine. I think a bath sounds good, though.” She couldn't help but groan as they moved up the staircase. “I'm so glad this day is over.”
“I can just imagine,” Maureen commiserated. “Why don't you go start your bath water and I'll bring you something to sleep in?”
“Thanks, Mom.” After another quick hug, they went their separate ways. The guest bathroom was actually one Delaney had shared with her brothers while growing up. It had been remodeled in recent years, the regular tub replaced with a deep jet tub. She sat on the edge and turned on the water, adding a small amount of bath salts.
Maureen tapped on the open door. “I know they'll be a little big, but how about a pair of your father's pajamas? You used to love wearing them when you were a kid. And I've turned down the bed in the room across the hall.”
“Sounds perfect. Thanks.” When her mother turned to leave, she asked, “Mom? Can I ask you something?”
“Of course.” Maureen joined her on the edge of the tub and put her arm around her shoulders. “What is it?”
With her head on her mother's shoulder, Delaney felt her reserves weaken and she began to cry. The comforting embrace she was pulled into only made her tears come harder.
Maureen held her close and brushed her hand over Delaney's hair, much like she did when her daughter was younger. She whispered nonsensical words of comfort, until Delaney quieted and sat up. “Feel better?”
“Yes,” the redhead sniffled, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. “Thanks.”
“We all need a good cry every now and then.” Maureen picked up a clean washcloth and handed it to her. “What did you want to ask me?”
Delaney dipped the washcloth into the tub and cleaned her face. “Do you think I rushed into things with Gib? I mean, I really didn't have any idea what her job entailed until this happened.”
“Are you having second thoughts?”
“No, I don't think so. I'm just trying to work some things out in my head.” With the tub filled, Delaney turned off the water. She took off her shoes and socks. “What do you think of her?”
Cocking her head to one side, Maureen frowned. “Why? What does it matter what I think?”
“Because I value your opinion,” Delaney stated as she unbuttoned her shirt.
Maureen laughed. “Since when?”
“Oh, come on. Quite being so damned serious.” She splashed her daughter with a handful of water.
“Hey!” Delaney splashed back.
Water flew back and forth, and soon both women were drenched. Their giggles turned to laughter until there was a knock on the door.
“What's going on in there?” Colin asked. “Is everything all right?”
Delaney covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes wide.
“We're fine, dear,” Maureen answered. “Just some girl talk.”
He grumbled something. “Well, try to talk a little quieter. I could barely hear the game.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Delaney called.
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered as he walked away.
The two women looked at each other and broke into giggles again.
Maureen gathered Delaney's clothes while her daughter climbed into the tub. “For the record, I think your Gib is a wonderful person, honey. And I'm sure her job isn't usually so dangerous. One of your father's friends has been on the police force for over twenty years, and he's never had to draw his weapon. So don't let her job ruin what you two have.”
“It won't. I love her too much for that.”
“Good to hear.” Maureen stood at the door. “After you're finished, go downstairs. There's some leftover chicken in the refrigerator.”
Delaney fought the urge to roll her eyes. The last time she did it in her mother's presence, she got a slap along the head. “Yes, ma'am.”
“And don't even think about rolling those eyes at me, young lady.”
Biting her lip to keep from giggling, Delaney nodded.
“Good.” Maureen blew her a kiss. “Get some rest, and I'll see you in the morning.” She closed the door behind her, yelling, “No eye rolling!”
Losing the battle, the redhead dissolved into giggles and sank beneath the water.
Still partially asleep, Delaney was on her way to the hospital when her cell phone rang. She fumbled around in her purse in a panic. “Hello?”
“Delaney? This is Maddy.”
“I'm on my way to the hospital. Is something wrong?”
Maddy's chuckle echoed through the line. “Not really. Unless you consider Gibsy acting like a complete ass this morning as wrong, everything's just peachy.”
“Good lord, don't scare me like that.” Delaney took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I'm sorry I'm running late, but my mother didn't bother to wake me this morning.” She was still fuming over it. Maureen had taken it upon herself to sneak into her bedroom and take her phone. Delaney hadn't realized it was missing until she woke a few minutes after nine.
“It's not a problem.” Maddy lowered her voice. “As a matter of fact, if you get here soon, you'll get the pleasure of seeing both of Gibsy's parents.”
Delaney snorted. “They actually showed up? What's the matter? No grandchildren to spoil today?”
“Oooh. Mee-oow,” Maddy teased. “Would you like a saucer of milk with that?” The growl she received caused her to laugh. “Sorry, Dee . I thought you could use a little levity.”
The hospital parking lot wasn't very full and Delaney was able to find a slot near the entrance. “No, I'm sorry. I'm still not awake, I guess.”
“That's all right. No harm done.”
“What exactly is Gib doing? I can't see her being rude.” Delaney got out of the Lexus and locked it with the remote as she walked toward the hospital. The sound of loud voices in the background caused her to quicken her steps. “Maddy?”
“Please tell me you're almost here.”
Delaney grinned as she crossed the threshold. “I'm almost here.”
“Ugh. You're just as big a smartass as Gibsy, aren't you?”
Maddy groaned. “God help me,” she muttered. “No, Mr. Proctor. I'm speaking to Delaney.”
The elevator moved slowly and the noise made it nearly impossible to hear what else Maddy said. “I'm hanging up,” Delaney told her as the doors opened. She nodded politely to the nurse at the station as she passed.
Loud voices were coming from Gib's room, and two nurses stood at the door with disapproving looks on their faces. They turned when Delaney approached.
“Hi. Is there a problem?” Delaney asked them.
One of the women, older and heavier than the other, wrinkled her nose. “They're going to have to leave if they keep upsetting our patient,” she scolded.
Delaney gave her a reassuring smile. “I'll take care of it.” She edged past them and moved into the room.
Gib was seated in a wheelchair with her injured leg propped straight out. Maddy stood behind her, facing off against the other two people in the room. One was Ida, dressed in a powder-blue, glittery sweatsuit. The other was a tall, grizzled and slightly overweight man wearing a security uniform.
Squeezing past the older pair, Delaney crossed the room and gave her lover a kiss on the cheek. “Hi, honey. I'm sorry I'm so late this morning.”
“You're fine.” Gib held onto Delaney's hand as if her life depended on it.
The man couldn't quite hide his discomfort at their familiarity. He cleared his throat. “Gibson?”
Gib squeezed Delaney's hand. “Honey, this is my father, Eric Proctor. Dad, this is my, um—” Nothing she could think of could describe how important the redhead was to her.
“Partner,” Delaney supplied helpfully. “Delaney Kavanagh, Mr. Proctor. It's a pleasure to meet you.” She held out her free hand.
He stood still for a moment before moving forward and taking her hand. “Delaney.” After a perfunctory shake he returned to his place beside Ida.
Delaney kept her smile as friendly as possible. “Ida, it's nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you, too.” Ida crossed her arms and glared at Gib.
“What am I missing here?” Delaney asked.
Gib blew out a frustrated breath. “The doctor said if everything looks okay, I can go home in a couple of days.”
“That's good news, isn't it?” the redhead asked.
Maddy finally piped up. “It would be, but there's no way to get the wheelchair into the cabin. Ms. Stubborn refuses to go home with me.”
“Your place isn't big enough for you, much less both of us,” Gib reminded her. “And as much as I like Rob, I really don't want to see—” her mouth was covered by Maddy's hand.
“Sssh.” Maddy grinned bashfully at Gib's parents.
Ida frowned. “I've already said that Gibson would stay with us. There's a perfectly good futon in my sewing room. I'll be watching Morgan's cat, Mr. Spunky, while they go to Six Flags for spring break and could use her help. He has to have his medicine three times a day, and it's hard for one person to hold him and give him the pills.”
Gib moved Maddy's hand away from her mouth. “Mom, I—”
Maddy squeezed her shoulders. “Isn't Gib allergic to cats?”
“So she says,” Eric butted in. “I don't see how she ever figured that out since we've never had a cat. But it won't kill her to help out. We're not running a boarding house.”
“That's not necessary.” Delaney knelt beside the wheelchair. “Since I work from home most of the time, why don't you stay with me, honey? I'd love to have the company.”
Looking into the sincere blue eyes of her love, Gib could only nod.
Eric jingled the change in his pocket. “Delaney, can I speak to you outside?”
“Dad, don't,” Gib pleaded.
Delaney stood. “It's okay, honey. I'll be right back.” She kissed Gib lightly on the lips and followed Eric out of the room.
Once they were in the hall, Eric gestured to the elevators. “Let's go outside. I need a smoke.”
They were silent until they reached the smoking area outside. Eric fished in his uniform breast pocket for a smashed pack of cigarettes. He lit one and inhaled deeply. “That's better.” His eyes, the same shade of brown as Gib's, stared intently at the redhead. “So, Ida tells me you're in construction. Or something like that?”
“Something like that, yes.” Delaney stared right back at him. “I make pretty good money, if that's what you're worried about.”
He shook his head. “Nah, not really. But I did want to warn you. Gibson's a pretty decent girl, but she can be lazy. After all, look at what she does for a living. She could have been a lawyer but she gave up. Less than a year left in law school and she turns around and becomes some kind of park ranger.”
“She's a Park Police Officer,” Delaney automatically corrected. “And you must mean someone else, because the Gib I know is the least lazy person I've ever met.” She moved a step closer to him. “I don't care if you're her father, I won't have you speak about Gib that way. She's a kind, hard-working woman who cares more about the people around her than herself.”
“Now, listen here—”
“No, you listen.” Delaney pointed a finger at him. “I know you don't approve of our relationship. I can see it in your eyes. But don't you dare say another derogatory word about the woman I love. I won't stand for it.”
He frowned around the cigarette in his mouth. “I think I know my daughter better than you do. How long have you known each other? A week? A month?”
“It doesn't matter how long we've been together, Mr. Proctor. The fact is, I learned more about her in a few days than you probably have in years.”
“And how did you do that?”
Delaney lowered her voice. “By listening to her. Have you ever just sat down with Gib and talked? Or do you do most of the talking?”
“How we are isn't any of your business.” He rubbed the stubble on his cheek. “Our relationship is what it is. Don't try to make more or less out of it.” He took another drag from the cigarette before crushing it beneath his shiny black shoe. He picked up the butt and carried it to the trashcan by the door.
Frozen like a deer in the headlights, Delaney could only watch him leave. “What the hell just happened here?”
When she returned to the room, Delaney noticed that Maddy was sitting alone on the bed. “Where did everyone go?”
“Gib was taken for some tests, and her father had to get to work. Ida, of course, followed like a good little Stepford wife.”
Delaney sat beside her. “I take it you don't get along well with her parents?”
“Caught that, did you?” Maddy wriggled her feet like a child. “I do okay with Ida. Did you notice that Gib's father never offered his first name?”
“I heard you call him Mr. Proctor. How long have you known him?”
Maddy snorted. “Almost my entire life. He still sees me and Gib as children. After we got into high school, Ida told me to call her by her first name. But her dad? Nope.”
“Wow. That's unbelievable.”
“Yeah. Although I think a lot of it is because I'm a Mexican. He's a good old-fashioned redneck. Gib doesn't know this, but when we were around twelve, I overheard him griping to Ida about her spending so much time with ‘those wetbacks'.”
Delaney was shocked. “That's horrible. But you were just children!”
“Hon, a lot of people feel that way. The funny part is, my family was in Texas before it was a state. So I'm a hell of a lot more native than ol' Eric will ever be.” Maddy bumped shoulders with Delaney as they shared a laugh.
Gib was wheeled in by a hospital volunteer. “What's so funny, you two?”
“The usual,” Maddy deferred.
The volunteer, an older man, patted Gib on the arm. “Do you need any help getting back into bed?”
“No, sir. I'm sure my friends will help.” Gib shook his hand. “Thanks for being the driver. I would have probably gotten lost.”
He chuckled. “That's what we're here for, young lady.” He waved to the women on the bed on his way out of the room.
Delaney hopped down. “Are you ready to get back in bed?”
“Not yet.” Gib carefully wheeled herself over to the window and looked outside. “Damn.”
After sharing a look with Delaney, Maddy slid off the bed. “I think I'll head home and get some sleep.” She crossed the room to give Gib a kiss on the cheek. “No chasing the nurses, Gibsy. If you behave, I'll bring you some fajitas for dinner tonight.”
“You don't have to do that. I'm sure they have decent food here.”
Maddy shook her head. “You haven't spent much time in a hospital, have you?” She tugged on Gib's ear. “Do as I say, woman.”
“Yes'm.” Gib saluted and pinched her on the rear when Maddy turned to leave.
“Ow!” Maddy spun and swatted Gib on the arm. “Just for that, I won't bring you any jammies.”
Delaney put her hands on Gib's shoulders. “That's okay. She won't need them at my place.”
“ Dee !” Gib flushed a bright red.
“And on that note, I'm out of here.” Maddy blew them a kiss and strolled out, humming softly to herself.
Once they were alone, Gib turned away from the window. “Were you serious?” she asked in a vulnerable voice.
“About not needing pajamas? You betcha.” Delaney perched on the wheelchair's arm.
Gib hooked her arm around the redhead to help her balance. “No, about me staying with you. I'm sure I can manage all right at the cabin, once someone helps me get inside.”
“I'm sure you can, too.” Delaney lowered her head so she could look Gib directly in the eyes. “I know we haven't been together that long, but there's something you should know about me.”
“If I ask you a question, I honestly want to hear your answer. And, if I tell you something, I really mean it.” She touched the tip of Gib's nose with her index finger. “So, when I ask you if you'd like to stay with me until you get back on your feet, then I truly want you there. Got it?”
Grinning bashfully, Gib leaned forward and kissed her. “Got it.”
“Good.” Something had been weighing on her mind since she met Gib's father. “Honey?”
“Earlier today, when you introducing me to your dad—”
Gib squeezed her. “You caught that, did you?”
“I wasn't sure what to call you,” Gib admitted. “I mean, ‘friend' certainly doesn't cut it. ‘Girlfriend' is a little too high school. I liked what you came up with, though.”
“Thanks.” Delaney played with the blonde's hair. “Are you ashamed of us?”
“Not at all.” Gib caught her hand and kissed the palm. “I wanted my father to know that you're the most important person in my life, and I won't stand for him cutting you down with his smartass remarks. He's real good at that.”
Delaney leaned her head against Gib's and closed her eyes. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The redhead sat up. “I think I can handle your dad, honey. Remember, I grew up in a house full of boys. His little digs won't hurt me.”
“I figured that. It's just that he'll disguise them as jokes. My brother is the same way. They hide their bigotry and nastiness in snarky comments. I've learned to let them slide off, but it can get to you after a while.”
Hearing the hurt in her lover's voice, Delaney put both arms around Gib's neck. “I won't let them hurt you anymore, honey. I swear it.”
Gib threaded her free hand into Delaney's hair and brought her close. “And I won't let anyone hurt you, either,” she promised, right before their lips met.
With her visitors gone for the evening, Gib stared at the ceiling in disgust. She hated being confined indoors. The pain in her leg had gotten worse, yet she refused to push the button that would place the drops of liquid relief in her IV bag. As the shadows deepened in the room she cursed herself for insisting that Delaney go home for the night. Bored and wide awake she turned her head toward the open door in time to see a woman dressed in a park ranger's uniform.
“Hi, Gib.” Kennie, holding a small vase with flowers, looked around before stepping into the room. She set it on a table by the window. “Sorry it took me so long to come by.”
“Don't apologize. It's great to see you.” Gib shifted and grimaced as she accidentally moved her leg. “Damn.”
Kennie hurried toward the bed. “Do you need me to call a nurse?”
“No,” Gib exhaled slowly. “I've got to remember not to do that,” she grumbled.
“Aren't they giving you anything for the pain?”
Gib nodded. “I hate taking it, though. Makes me sleepy.”
Kennie sat on the chair beside the bed. “That's the whole point, goofy. Rest is the best thing for healing.”
“Why are you in uniform?” Gib asked in an attempt to change the subject.
“I was cleared to work. Well, part time, anyway. Besides, the park was running shorthanded. I still can't believe Dan would do something like that.”
Gib's eyes narrowed as she struggled against the pain. “Yeah. He was a jerk, but I never thought someone who worked in the Parks system would stoop to poaching.”
“I swear, you're impossible.” Kennie pushed the button and looked extremely proud of herself. “There. Now maybe you won't be so miserable.”
“I would have done it after you left.”
Kennie grinned. “Now you won't have to. I heard that Dan's family won't have anything to do with him, and he can't raise bail money. Isn't that sad?”
“No. What's sad is the amount of animals that bastard killed. I hope he rots in jail.” Gib blinked a few times as she felt herself become more lethargic. “That's some powerful stuff.”
“You need it.” Kennie stood and squeezed Gib's hand. “Behave yourself and take your meds.”
Gib tried to glare at her, but the effects of the pain medication turned it into a bleary stare. “Don't overdo it at work.”
“Like anyone will let me. I'm either goofing off in the office or riding with Gloria.”
“Gloria? You watch out for her, she's,” Gib's eyes closed. She reopened one of them and tried to point a finger at her visitor but her hand wouldn't quite cooperate. Instead, she made an awkward peace sign. “Bad news.”
Kennie took Gib's hand and gently placed it on the bed. “I'm a big girl, Proctor. Don't get all protective on me. Now close your eyes and get some rest.”
“She's trouble,” Gib slurred as her eye closed.
“I know, mama bear. See you later.” Kennie kissed the top of Gib's head before she left.
The music in Little Sisters was loud, but not annoyingly so. Gloria sipped her drink, the caramel-colored liquid bringing a warm burn to her empty stomach. She sat with her back to the bar, her eyes scanning the raucous crowd. She didn't bother to turn when she sensed someone sit beside her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the woman asked.
Gloria turned to see Jessica Middleton giving her a shy smile. “Only if you'll let me get the next round.” She waved the bartender over.
“Another rum and Coke?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah. My friend here is buying.”
Lisa looked from one woman to the other. While the blonde seemed in her element, the little brunette appeared about halfway frightened. “Is that right?” she asked Jessica.
“Uh, yeah.” Jessica took a leather wallet from her back pocket and dug out a twenty dollar bill. “Could I have a beer?”
“I'll need to see your ID.”
Jessica blushed but handed over her license.
After verifying that Jessica was over twenty-one, if only by a year, Lisa handed the plastic card back to her. “Any particular beer?”
“Um, what do you have?”
Gloria could tell the question irked the bartender. “Just bring her whatever you have on draft.”
Lisa nodded and went to fetch their order.
“So, what brings you here?” Gloria asked. “I don't think you're a regular.”
Jessica shrugged. “I heard about this place from a friend and thought I'd check it out. I was surprised to see you here.”
The blonde laughed. “You mean I don't look like a dyke?”
“No. I mean, I had no idea that you were, um,” Jessica continued to stammer for a moment before closing her mouth.
Gloria lightly caressed the younger woman's thigh. “I was only kidding.” When Lisa placed their drinks in front of them, she picked up hers. “Why don't we go find a table where we can chat?”
“Okay.” Jessica took her beer mug and left a five dollar bill on the counter. “Thanks.”
Lisa grinned and shook her head as the pair headed for a quiet corner. “Good luck, kid,” she muttered after the pair.
Once they were seated, Jessica felt her heartbeat pick up when Gloria scooted her chair close enough that their thighs touched. “So, do you come here often?” Jessica asked, then cringed when she realized how it sounded.
“God, you're too cute,” Gloria chuckled. “And no, I don't. But I didn't feel like going back to my motel room.”
“You're still in a motel? Why?”
Gloria raised her glass and took a drink. “I haven't been told how long I'll be here. Although, since we busted Dumbass Dan, I may be asked to stay permanently.”
“That would be okay, wouldn't it?” With a shaky hand, Jessica picked up her glass of beer and had two or three swallows before she returned it to the table.
“I've been in worse places,” Gloria admitted. “Although I don't know if I can stand seeing Gibson every day.”
Jessica's head jerked up. “Gibson? Oh, you mean Proctor? She's not so bad, once you get to know her.”
“No, really?” Gloria was openly grinning. “She's cute, isn't she?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jessica sighed. Her eyes widened. “I mean, um, oh, damn.” She covered her face with her hands. “I'm such a dork.” Mortally embarrassed, she pushed her chair away from the table. Only the blonde's hand on her shoulder kept her from fleeing.
“Chill out, hon. There are worse people to be attracted to. Hell, I should know.” Gloria put her arm around Jessica's shoulder and leaned closer to speak into her ear. “Have you ever been with a woman?”
The silky voice brought chills down her spine. Jessica struggled to speak, but her mouth had gone dry. “I, uh—”
“We all have a first time, you know.” Gloria kissed the edge of Jessica's ear. “Would you like to dance?”
Her brain still short circuited, Jessica could only nod.
“Come on. Let's have some fun.” Gloria helped her up and led her across the room.
The song ended when they made it to the dance floor, but a slower tempo soon began. Jessica wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and stood uncertain. She held out her hands and was surprised when Gloria grabbed her hips and tugged her close. The feel of the older woman's hands on her butt caused Jessica to stiffen.
“Relax,” Gloria said into her ear. “Just enjoy the music.” She shuffled them slowly around the floor to the music.
Jessica closed her eyes and put her head on Gloria's shoulder. One of the hands on her butt slid upward and caressed her back. The blonde's musky perfume warmed her senses and her body relaxed into Gloria's embrace.
They stayed on the floor for three more songs. When a fast beat started, Gloria led them back to their table. “Are you having a good time?” she asked, as she sipped on her watery drink.
“Yeah.” Jessica drained her glass.
Gloria waved to a waitress. “Want to try some shots?”
“I've never done shots. Are they terribly strong?” Jessica asked, having to lean closer to hear Gloria's answer.
“Nah. Piece of cake.” Gloria winked at the waitress. “Bring us a couple of Jagermeister shots, please. Oh, and refill my friend's beer.”
The waitress looked from one to the other and shrugged. “All righty. Be back in a jif.”
After the drinks were placed on the table, Jessica picked up her shot glass and sniffed. “Oh, wow. That's strong.”
“But really good,” Gloria assured her. “Go on, try it. Just toss it back.”
Jessica watched as Gloria did just that, swallowing the liquid and slamming the glass on the table. “Okay.” She raised it to her lips and mimicked the blonde's actions. Coughing and sputtering, she shakily placed the empty shot glass in front of her. “Ugh.” She shivered as the alcohol hit her stomach.
“How ‘bout another one?”
Jessica shook her head.
“Come on. Don't be a baby. The second one's a lot easier and it'll make you feel good,” Gloria promised as she signaled to the waitress.
“I don't know.” Jessica sipped on the beer to get the taste of the shot out of her mouth. “How can you drink that stuff?”
Gloria gave her a dismissive look. “Maybe you're too young to appreciate it.”
“No I'm not.” Jessica turned and waved to the waitress, who was already on her way with two more shots.
“Another round, ladies?” the waitress asked.
Jessica took her wallet out. “I'm paying for this round.” She gave the woman some bills. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks. Enjoy your drinks.”
Once the woman had left, Jessica raised her shot. “Cheers.”
Gloria laughed and raised hers as well. “Cheers.”
The burn wasn't as bad this time around, although Jessica could swear the chair she was on seemed to be rocking. She blinked and grinned stupidly at Gloria. “See? I'm not a kid.”
“No, you're all grown up.” Gloria leaned forward and pressed her lips against Jessica's.
Surprised, Jessica opened her mouth to say something, but was stopped when Gloria's tongue darted inside. The burning in her stomach flared to a fire and she hooked her arms around the blonde's neck and moaned as the soft tongue explored her mouth.
Gloria pulled back to breathe. “Come back to my motel with me,” she asked breathlessly, lowering her mouth to the younger woman's throat.
“Mmm.” Jessica squirmed under the attention. Her head was spinning, not only from the alcohol but the attentions. When Gloria caressed her breasts, she thought she was going to melt. “Yes.”
To be continued in Part Eleven
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