Disclaimers: This story is a work of fiction. The title, characters, and locations all belong to me. None of the towns used actually exist, although I did “borrow” pieces of real towns to make my own <g>. If the thought of two women loving each other gets your knickers in a twist, go find something else. Bits and pieces of this one have been kicking around on my hard drive for a couple of years – I’m hoping you’ll like it. Let me know, one way or the other at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m also posting chapters on my chat list. Check out my website at www.CarrieLCarr.com for details. I’d like to dedicate this story to the one person who completes me – Jan, you are my heart and soul. Forever and always, my love.
Thanks to the wonderful folks at the Royal Academy of Bards, for hosting my stories, and for giving us all a great place to sit back and relax. You ladies are the best!
It was close to one o’clock on Saturday afternoon when Betsy gave her final goodbyes and hit the road. Both Sam and Janie stood by the back door of the gym and watched as Betsy drove away. Sam struggled with her emotions. The older woman had been so kind to her in the short amount of time they’d known each other. She felt as if a part of her family was leaving. In order to keep the tears at bay, Sam cleared her throat. “I’m going to go see if there’s enough towels in the locker room.”
“All right.” Janie followed Sam into the gym and watched as she headed toward the dressing area. She thought about how she felt when she woke shortly after dawn. Snuggled against Sam, she’d slept better than she expected. Even though she worried about being discovered, Janie knew without a doubt she cared deeply for Sam and was anxious about where their relationship was headed. She was so intent on watching Sam that she bumped into Pamela. “Oh! Excuse me.”
“No harm done.” Pamela Long set her bag on the floor by her feet. “Is everything okay? You seem a little out of it.”
Janie nodded. “Nothing serious. Betsy left on her trip a few minutes ago.”
“I’m glad she got off okay.” Pamela leaned against the counter. “I meant to say something to her beforehand. I’ve got enough ladies signed up to start another class.”
“What kind of class are you going to do? Will it be another aerobics, or something else?”
Pamela turned to watch several women making the circuit of machines in one corner of the gym. “This one will be the same. But I’ve also thought of another one, something similar to aerobics, but with boxing moves sprinkled in. After what happened to Sam, I want the women to have a better chance to protect themselves.”
“That’s a really good idea,” Janie agreed.
“I thought so, too. I’ve taken boxing, karate, and tae kwon-do. But that was in Austin, before I moved here. There isn’t anyplace close by to study self-defense. Do you think Betsy would mind if I put up a flyer?”
Sam stepped out of the locker area and joined them. “Hi, Pamela. What’s up?”
“Not much, Sam. How are you feeling?”
“Better every day, thanks. You’re early for your three o’clock class,” Sam observed.
Pamela glanced at her watch. “True, but I was going to go over a few things with Betsy, until Janie informed me that she’d already left. Do you think I could talk to you for a moment?”
“Is everything all right?”
“Follow me to the office and you’ll see.” Pamela linked arms with Sam and led her away. She winked at Janie over her shoulder. “I hope you don’t plan on exercising in that dress, Janie. I’m feeling particularly energetic today.”
Janie laughed at the look on Sam’s face. The teasing tone in Pamela’s voice would worry anyone. But she had a point. Janie was wearing the same dress she had worn to work the previous day. “I think I’ll run home and change. See you two in a little while.”
Ten minutes later, Janie climbed the stairs to her apartment. As she unlocked the door, she listened carefully, but all was quiet. Relief flowed through her, even though she had to maneuver around Sandra’s scattered mess in the living room. It looked as if a fraternity had moved in, but Janie didn’t touch anything. She was in too much of a hurry to get back to the gym. The unpleasant odor of unwashed clothes assailed her senses, but she disregarded it and stepped over a pair of jeans and high-heeled boots on her way to her bedroom.
Within moments, Janie changed into the clothes she’d bought to work out in: black sweatpants, gray tank top and new white sneakers. She also decided to pack an overnight bag, so she could spend some quality alone time with Sam. Her closet floor was a mess and she rooted around until she found her overnight bag. The floral-patterned tote had been a gift from her grandmother when she was in high school but had rarely been used. Janie packed it with a blue silk nightgown, her robe, jeans, a casual top and undergarments. She’d return home sometime Sunday afternoon, so there wasn’t any sense in taking work clothes. After hurriedly gathering toiletries from her bathroom, she checked her look in the mirror and closed the bag.
On the way to the gym, Janie realized she hadn’t left a note in case Sandra returned to the apartment. She decided it wasn’t too important, since her friend more than likely had gone home on Friday. As she turned onto the street where the gym was located, she noticed there wasn’t any parking. Not concerned, Janie used Betsy’s space. She parked next to Sam’s “party barge,” as Sam jokingly referred to the Oldsmobile. Although the car was unreasonably large, Janie considered it an upgrade from the rusty old Chevy Sam had driven into town. She shouldered her bag and went through the back door, smiling at what the weekend might bring.
The kitchen was filled with tantalizing scents as Sam prepared dinner. She peeked beneath the lid of the pot on top of the stove and took a deep breath. “Perfect.” The rolls in the oven were a nice compliment to the pot roast that she’d put in the crock pot that morning. She took note of the time, and knew that Janie would probably be a while in the shower.
After they closed the gym for the day, Janie had helped her clean and mop the locker room, so as a reward Sam had given her first shot at the bathroom to clean up. Sam had offered to loan her a tee shirt and shorts, but Janie had surprised her with the overnight bag.
Content the meal was well on its way, Sam hurried to her room and gathered her own clean clothes to change into. She took a small trash bag from the box on her dresser so her cast wouldn’t get wet. Not wanting to wait, she went downstairs and used the gym’s showers.
Janie stepped from the bathroom and tightened the robe around her body. It was almost eight o’clock in the evening so she’d decided to forego dressing in jeans. She could smell the roast, and followed her nose to the kitchen. “Sam, that smells—” her voice trailed off when she realized she was alone. “Now where has she run off to?”
“Right behind you,” Sam answered, laughing when Janie whirled around and gave a short scream. “Scare you?”
“Brat!” Janie swatted her on the shoulder, noticing the shirt was stuck to Sam’s skin and her hair was damp. “You’re wet. How’d you manage that?”
Sam’s smirk caused her to get hit again. “Ow. Why’d you hit me again?”
“For whatever you’re thinking.” The pout on Sam’s face charmed Janie and she kissed her on the cheek. “Is that better?”
“A little.” Sam laughed and dodged the hand that aimed for her rear. “Ha! You’ve got to be quicker than that to catch me.” She pulled a chair away from the table. “Have a seat and I’ll bring you some dinner. It should be ready.”
The timer on the oven buzzed. Janie ignored the offered chair and grabbed an oven mitt from the counter. “Nope. I’ll help.”
They took their time eating, sharing small stories of their past while the food disappeared from their plates. Janie noticed how Sam’s hair had grown out since she’d arrived in town. “Looks like you’re due for a haircut. I’ve been meaning to ask, have you always worn your hair that way?”
“No, this was a first.” Sam wiped her mouth with her napkin. “I usually get it cut fairly short at the beginning of the summer, so I don’t have to worry about it for a while. But I had a cold the last time, and while the lady used the clippers on the back of my neck, I sneezed.” Sam laughed remembering the woman’s look of horror. “She ran it right up the back of my head several extra inches. We both figured it would look better shaved all around the sides, instead of just a stripe. At least I got the haircut for free.”
Janie almost spewed her water across the table. She swallowed hastily. “I bet that was something!” She raised her hand and brushed it against the side of Sam’s head. “I think it’s rather sexy, you know.”
“Really? Just about everyone I’ve met has given me grief over it.”
“It suits you.” Janie leaned closer and kissed Sam lightly on the lips.
Sam scooted her chair closer and took Janie into her arms. What was left of their meal was soon forgotten as they melted into each other. When Janie’s hand snaked beneath her tee shirt, Sam almost tipped backward in her chair.
“Let’s go to bed,” Janie ordered. She stood and helped Sam to her feet.
Unable to form any words, Sam nodded her head and stumbled after her.
In Sam’s room, Janie stopped by the bed and turned to face her. She untied the belt on her robe and slid the garment from her shoulders, allowing it to pool around her feet. A little nervous about her appearance, she watched Sam as she took in the blue satin nightgown. Her fears were erased by the look of love emanating from the younger woman’s eyes. Feeling much braver, Janie took Sam’s left hand and placed it on her breast. Her eyes closed as she was gently squeezed. “Oh, god, that feels good.” She lay back on bed and pulled Sam down on her. “Come here.”
Sam pressed against Janie, but kept the majority of her weight on her arms as she stretched out. She used her fingers to move the hair away from her lover’s eyes. “I love you, Janie. I know you said you weren’t ready to hear it, but—”
“No.” Janie smiled. “I’m ready.” She traced the smile on Sam’s face. “I love you, too.” She almost cried at the startled look of joy her words caused. Her lips were quickly covered by Sam’s and she used her hands to pull the younger woman closer.
Her bladder woke Janie around three in the morning. She rolled off a sleeping Sam and made her way quietly to the bathroom. While she washed her hands, she studied herself in the mirror. She wondered what Sam saw in her. As far as she was concerned, she had boring brown eyes and plain features. She adjusted her wire-framed glasses and considered buying contacts. For the first time in her life, she wanted to look more attractive. While in school, she’d considered her appearance a blessing, because she didn’t want to be bothered by boys. And as she got older, she didn’t care much for men, either. Thinking back to the previous evening, she finally understood why. She dried her hands and returned to bed.
Janie rolled onto her side and watched Sam as she slept. Her fingers itched to touch her. Although she was concerned about how they were going to hide their relationship from those that would do them harm, there was no remorse or guilt after their evening together. She’d never felt more right about anything in her life, and Janie felt a fierce determination to protect Sam, no matter what.
With a sigh, Sam turned and faced Janie. Her eyes opened slowly and a smile graced her features. “Hey.” She tucked her arm beneath her pillow. “Are you okay?”
“Very.” Janie pressed her lips to Sam’s. “I was just thinking.”
Janie smiled. “Among other things.” She used her hand to pull Sam closer. “I love you.”
Sam’s eyes sparkled. “I never thought I’d hear someone tell me that.”
“Yeah.” Sam kissed her slowly and thoroughly. She smiled against Janie’s lips, before moving down her throat. “I love you, Janie.” She licked and nipped her way toward Janie’s chest, enjoying the harsh breathing and moans her actions caused. She wondered for a moment how long she could prolong the fun, but Janie’s insistent hands on her shoulders, pressing her lower, made up her mind. With a grin, she delved happily into her task.
By early Sunday afternoon, Janie knew without a doubt where her heart belonged. She stood next to Sam in the kitchen, helping prepare lunch. The revelation brought her a sense of peace. She watched as Sam, clad only in her boxers, scrambled eggs on the stove. The tantalizing view was more than she could take and Janie slowly ran her finger down Sam’s nude back.
“Stop that,” Sam grumbled good naturedly. She waved the spatula. “You’re gonna make me burn them.”
“You shouldn’t tempt me, running around all National Geographic like that.”
“You’re the one who stole my shirt and wouldn’t let me get another one. So don’t blame me for how I’m dressed.” The grin on Sam’s face showed she wasn’t very upset with the clothing arrangement. She liked how her tee shirt barely reached the top of Janie’s thighs. It was a wonder they ever made it out of the bedroom. “Would you like to get the plates? I think these are about done.”
Janie put the dishes next to the stove before cutting up the cantaloupe she’d found in the refrigerator. She turned in time to see the muscles twitch in Sam’s back as she dished out the eggs. Desire shot through Janie and she closed her eyes momentarily. She’d never felt so…wanton, before. This all-encompassing hunger to be with Sam was beyond anything she’d ever experienced. She swallowed and seriously considered sticking her head in the freezer to cool off. When Sam moved the pan off the burner and turned around, the need grew stronger and her hands began to tremble.
“Janie? Are you all right?”
Before Sam could pick up the plates, Janie shoved her against the counter. “God, you make me so damned hot!” she growled, right before she slid Sam’s shorts to the floor. Their bodies soon followed and lunch was quickly forgotten.
Monday morning arrived too soon and Janie was seriously tempted to call in sick to work. In order to not miss a single moment of their time together, she’d shared a shower with Sam. Now she stood in the bedroom with her packed bag and struggled to keep her tears at bay. “I don’t want to leave,” she admitted sadly.
Sam, also fully dressed, pulled Janie into her arms. “And I don’t want you to go, either. But we both have responsibilities today.”
“I know, but I’m afraid.” Janie snuggled closer and tucked her head against Sam’s chest.
“Of what, baby?” Sam ran her fingers through Janie’s hair.
Janie sniffled. “Of losing this.”
“That’s the last thing you should worry about.” Sam kissed her head. “Nothing or no one can change the way I feel about you.” She used her fingers to gently force Janie to look at her. “We’re both going to work, get through the day, and spend tonight together. That is, if you want.”
“I definitely want.” Janie kissed Sam’s chin before moving toward her mouth. The contact was gentle but affirming. “Can I bring you lunch today?”
The plaintive tone was almost Sam’s undoing. “I’d like that a lot. I’ll leave the front door unlocked for you.”
“Please don’t. I’d worry about you all morning. I’ll knock.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want.” As much as she didn’t want to, Sam released her hold on Janie. “You’d better scoot, if you’re going to stop by your place before work.”
Janie took in her appearance. The tee shirt she’d “borrowed” from Sam was slightly baggy on her smaller frame, and her jeans were wrinkled from being in her overnight bag. She’d definitely need to change into more appropriate work clothes. “I know. But it’s hard.” She took a deep breath, released it and stepped away. “All right. I’ll see you a little after twelve, okay?”
“I’ll be waiting.” Sam tucked her hand into her pocket to keep from grabbing Janie and dragging her back into the room. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.” Janie blew Sam a kiss before she disappeared into the hallway. She hurried down the stairs, afraid to look back. If she stopped, she knew she’d end up back in Sam’s arms, and neither one of them would get to work.
She barely remembered the drive home. So engrossed in her thoughts, Janie unlocked her apartment and was halfway to the bedroom before she realized she wasn’t alone.
Sandra sat up on the couch and rubbed her eyes. She glanced at her watch. “Janie? Are you just now getting home? Where the hell have you been all weekend?”
Angry at the tone in Sandra’s voice, Janie continued to her bedroom. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I stayed with a friend. Why aren’t you at your own apartment?”
“Well, excuse me for caring!” Sandra followed, standing at the bedroom door. “When I didn’t see or hear from you on Saturday, I decided to hang out here in case something was wrong.”
“You could have called my cell, if you were so concerned.” Janie turned her back and started to strip. She didn’t have time to placate her friend. She turned to search her closet for something to wear.
Sandra was about to snap off a caustic retort when she noticed several small bruises on Janie’s lower neck and chest. “My god, what happened to you?” She hurried over to get a closer look. “Did Doug do that to you?”
Janie looked down and blushed. “No, I haven’t seen Doug in a while.” She grabbed the first blouse she saw and rushed to button it closed.
“Wait a minute. Those look like—” Sandra narrowed her eyes. “Hickeys? Just who the hell did you spend the weekend with?” She saw her friend blush and turn away. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone else. Who’s the lucky guy?”
Tears filled Janie’s eyes. She didn’t want to have this conversation so soon with Sandra. “It’s not a guy.”
Comprehension flooded through Sandra and she shook her head. “Oh, hell no. You can’t be serious. Not with her!” She took several steps back. “You can’t be like that! My god, we’ve slept in the same bed!” Her lower lip began to tremble and she held up her hands as if to ward off the thoughts. “We went to bible school together when we were kids.”
“Sandra, wait. It has nothing to do with you and me.” Janie moved slowly toward her friend. “Haven’t you always said you wanted me to be happy?”
“Sam makes me happy. I don’t know how it happened, but I feel things for her I’ve never felt before. I love her.”
Sandra kept shaking her head as she gathered her clothes from around the living room. “No, that’s not possible. She’s tricked you, or something, that’s what it is. You can’t be,” her voice lowered, “queer.” She tossed everything into the satchel that she’d thrown by the sofa.
“Wait, please,” Janie begged, grasping Sandra’s arm. “Let’s talk about this.”
“Get your hands off me!” Sandra screamed, flinging Janie’s hand away. “I can’t be around you, Janie.” She opened the front door before digging her key ring out of her purse. With shaky hands, she removed the key that Janie had given her and threw it at her ex-friend. “You make me sick. I hope you both rot in hell.”
Janie flinched as the door slammed behind Sandra. She looked at the key lying a few feet away and broke into tears. Wrapping her arms around her body, Janie dropped to her knees and sobbed.
The office was quiet when Janie slipped in unnoticed shortly before nine. She placed her purse in her desk drawer and powered up her computer. Before she could log in, Andrea poked her head into the room.
“I see you decided to grace us with your presence today,” the redhead quipped. She tossed a thick stack of folders on Janie’s desk. “I didn’t get around to doing these insurance forms last week. Be a dear and have them done by lunch today, would you?”
Janie opened the top folder and glanced at the date. “These are over a month old, Andrea.”
“I know. And we can’t bill the patient until the insurance has been filed. Dr. Richmond was asking about them earlier, which you’d have known if you’d bothered to come in on time.” Andrea noticed Janie’s red and puffy eyes. “Have you been crying?”
“No, it’s allergies.” Janie wasn’t about to get into a personal discussion with her. She stood and gathered the files then pushed them into Andrea’s chest. “Do your own work. I’m tired of cleaning up after you.”
Andrea’s eyes grew wider as she juggled the folders. “Excuse me? Since when do you talk to me that way?” She dropped them on the desk, causing several to fall to the floor. “Now look what you’ve made me do!” She tried to bend to pick them up, but her tight skirt restricted her movement.
Janie opened the lower desk drawer, removed her purse and stepped around the desk. “I’ve decided to take the day off, Andrea. I’ll tell Dr. Richmond on my way out.”
“What? No, you can’t! This stuff has to get done today!” Andrea started to cry.
Halfway down the hall, Janie saw Ted about to enter his office. “Dr. Richmond, may I talk to you for a moment?”
He turned and held the door open for her. “Of course, Janie. Please come in.” He waited until she was seated before taking his chair behind the desk. “Now, what seems to be the problem?”
“I have some vacation time left, don’t I?” She brushed her hair away from her face and tucked it behind one ear. “I know this is short notice, but something’s come up and I would like to take some time off, if at all possible.”
“Of course, Janie. Take all the time you need. You’ve probably got a month’s worth of vacation since you rarely take any.” Ted could see that she was struggling to keep from crying. “What is it? Has something else happened to your friend?”
She shook her head. “She’s fine. It’s just—” Unable to control herself any longer, Janie covered her eyes as a sob tore from her throat. Sandra’s hurtful words still echoed in her head and she hated to think what would happen if anyone at work found out about her and Sam. “I’m sorry.”
Ted hurried around the desk and sat in the visitor’s chair next to her. “Forgive me for saying so, but you look like you’ve lost your best friend.”
“I have.” She bent at the waist and continued to cry. It took several minutes for her to get her emotions under control. With a wavering breath Janie accepted the tissue that Ted offered and wiped her eyes. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” He gave her a little more time to compose herself. “If you need someone to talk to, I hope you know you can always come to me. If not me, then consider talking to Sharon.” His wife was especially fond of Janie.
“I appreciate your concern, but this is something I’m going to have to handle on my own.” Janie blew her nose and went to the door. “Thank you for your help, though. I should be back tomorrow.”
He sighed. “That’s fine, Janie. Just give us a call if you need anything.” Ted watched as she straightened her shoulders and left the office. He went to his desk and picked up the phone. “Andrea, please get the backlog of insurance filed before you leave today. No, I want you to handle it. Yes, you. I don’t want to hear it, Andrea. Goodbye.”
A soft rock tune on the jukebox kept Sam company as she wiped down all the tables in the bar. She barely heard the knock on the front door over the music. Not wanting to be disturbed so early, she thought about ignoring it, but reconsidered. Sam tossed the damp towel over her shoulder and unlocked the heavy door. Her surprise at seeing Janie so early left her speechless.
Janie stood in front of Sam, unsure of the reception. “Sam? Is this a bad time?”
“Uh, no. Of course not. Come on in.” Sam stepped back to allow Janie to enter. “I thought—” her words cut off when Janie launched herself at her. She automatically wrapped her arms around her lover.
Unable to stop herself, Janie began to cry. She was only slightly aware of being led to the nearest chair and being pulled into Sam’s lap. Her head rested on Sam’s shoulder and her tears stained the navy blue tee shirt. The light caress on her head only fueled her sobs.
“Shh. Baby, it’s okay.” Sam rocked and held her close.
It took Janie quite a while to calm down but she was finally able to raise her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, don’t ever be sorry for coming to me when you’re upset.” Sam kissed Janie’s forehead. Her fingers wiped the damp tracks from Janie’s cheeks. “Did something happen at work?”
“No, not at work. Sandra was at my place when I got home this morning.” The vicious words kept racing through her head. “She knows about us.”
Sam tried to stay calm. “I’m sorry. What happened?” When Janie started to cry again, it took everything Sam had not to hunt down Sandra and tear her apart. “That bitch. Did she hurt you?”
“Not physically. But she said some pretty hurtful things. She thought I’d found a new boyfriend, and I couldn’t lie to her.” Janie wiped her nose by the tissue she’d held since leaving the office. “I can’t really blame her for getting so upset. It had to be a pretty huge shock. We’ve been friends since we were little kids.”
“Some friend,” Sam grumbled.
For some reason, having Sam get so protective made Janie feel better about her ordeal. She kissed her softly on the lips. “Thanks.” One kiss became two, the second deeper and hungry. Janie needed to feel Sam’s skin. She struggled to remove Sam’s shirt from her jeans when she heard a heavy pounding from the back door. Terrified, she slid from Sam’s lap and backed away. “What’s that?”
“A dead man.” Sam stood and tried to straighten her shirt. She glanced at the clock over the bar. “Just a beer delivery. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait.” Janie helped Sam with her shirt. “I’m going to run home and get some housework done, since Dr. Richmond gave me the day off. Sandra nested in the living room and left a huge mess, and I have to run to the landromat, too. I’ve been neglecting my laundry for too long.”
Sam grinned at the flushed look on her lover’s face. It was good to know she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed their make-out session. “All right.” The pounding continued. “Will you be over tonight?”
“I’ll supply dinner,” Janie promised. “No, on second thought, I’ll cook dinner. How about fried chicken?”
“Sounds great. Why don’t you bring over your laundry? Betsy’s got a full-sized washer and dryer.”
“All right.” Janie gave Sam another quick kiss. “Better go answer the door before he knocks it down.” She went out the front door at the same time Sam let the deliveryman inside.
The afternoon crowd was loud, mostly thanks to the group from Doug’s Lawn Care. They had several tables pushed together and were starting to get on Sam’s nerves. She couldn’t be certain, but she thought she’d heard the voice of her attacker within the crowd. But with all of them laughing and carrying on, she couldn’t place the individual voices with faces. She exchanged the full pitcher of beer with an empty and returned to the bar.
Reggie lit another cigarette and glared at the retreating woman. “Stupid bitch didn’t seem to learn her lesson,” he muttered.
“What was that, Pop?” Doug asked while he poured himself another mug of beer.
“Nothin’.” Reggie inhaled deeply of the Camel cigarette he’d recently lit. He exhaled, causing Doug to cough. “Damned wimp.”
Doug wiped his watering eyes. “Not everyone wants to die of lung cancer, old man. What’s gotten into you, anyway?”
Reggie blew more smoke at his son, getting a perverse pleasure over seeing him gag. “You made up with your girlfriend yet?”
“We’re friends, if that’s what you’re asking. But I’m not dating Janie anymore.”
“That’s a shame.” Reggie tried another tact. “Your Ma really liked her.”
Although he liked to make his mother happy, Doug wasn’t about to get back with a woman who didn’t want him. He took several swallows of his beer and belched. “Too bad.”
The more Reggie watched Sam work around the bar, the angrier he got. He tossed back the last of his bourbon and slammed the glass on the table. Because of her, he was out five thousand dollars. He knew he’d never get away with another attack on her, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun. He scribbled a note on a napkin. “Think I’ll run to the john. Have another round brought out, will ya?”
“Sure.” Doug waved to Sam, who acknowledged him with a nod.
Reggie took his time, waiting until Sam brought over the drinks. While she spoke to Doug, Reggie took the opportunity to duck into the office and leave the napkin on the desk, where it couldn’t be missed.
Sam placed several empty pitchers on a tray and carefully carried it to the back. She placed them next to the sink and was on her way back to the main room when she heard the back door open. “Hey, Ray. You’re in early.”
“Yeah, it was either come in to work or listen to my brother complain about his wife. I wish they’d make up so he could go home. He’s cramping my style.” Ray started running water in the sink. “You didn’t have to bring these back. I could have gotten them.”
“Nah, that’s okay. I was afraid we were going to run out.”
He joined her in the doorway and peered into the main room. “Yard guys going strong?”
“Definitely. I don’t understand how they can take off at three or four every day. They sure keep me busy, though.” She watched as several of the men stood and headed for the front door. “Guess I’d better get those tables taken care of.”
Ray touched her arm. “I’ll do it, if you don’t mind taking yesterday’s deposit to the bank. It’s locked up in my bottom desk drawer.”
“All right.” Sam accepted his keys. “You really should think about getting a safe.”
“Are you kidding? It takes me several days to get a deposit together, anyway. The owner would never go for that kind of unnecessary expense.” He gave her a light push. “Go on. Tracy will be in later to take care of the dishes.”
She nodded. “I’ll bring your keys to you on the way out.”
“Don’t bother. Just leave them on the desk.” Ray waved to Doug, who was standing at the bar. “Be right there.”
Grateful she didn’t have to serve any more beer to Doug and his cronies, Sam went into the office and sat at the desk. She unlocked the bottom drawer and removed the deposit bag, double-checking to make sure the deposit slip was inside. More than once she’d taken it to the bank, only to have to backtrack. Ray was a nice guy, but tended to be forgetful.
She started to set the keys down and saw the paper napkin with handwriting on it. Curious, she picked it up and read aloud, “Why are you still here – ready for round two?” Her heart started to pound and Sam dropped the napkin as if it were on fire. Since she always got the register drawer off the desk every morning, she knew the note hadn’t been there earlier.
Sam didn’t know what she should do. She understood now that she should have gone to the police after the attack, but was afraid of what could have happened to Janie. Since the written threat wasn’t explicit enough, she decided to wait and see what happened. She folded the napkin and tucked it in her front pocket then picked up the deposit bag. She’d be extra careful from now on.
Another face full of water was Sam’s penalty for turning the bolt holding the showerhead the wrong direction. She wiped her face and cursed, feeling her tee shirt stick to her skin. She twisted the wrench the opposite direction until the dripping stopped. To make certain it was properly repaired she stepped out of the way and turned on the cold water. It sprayed downward and splashed her bare feet. “Finally.”
Sam came out of the showers and tried to ignore Pamela’s giggles. She knew she looked ridiculous, her work shirt from Danny’s drenched and the athletic shorts she wore dripping as well. She was glad she thought to change out of her jeans before tackling the leaky shower. “Yuck it up, Pamela.”
“You should have taken some soap in there with you,” Pamela teased.
“Thanks for the advice. Next time I’ll let you handle it.” Sam wiped her wet hair out of her eyes.
Pamela wriggled her manicured nails. “No, thank you. That’s what I have a husband for.” When Sam moved closer and shook her head like a dog, Pamela squealed. “Yuck! Go upstairs and change. I’ll stick around until you get back.”
“Nah, that’s okay. It’s only fifteen minutes ‘til close. I’ll dry.” Sam took a towel from beneath the counter and ruffled her hair. “Go on home to your family. I appreciate you staying as long as you have.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.” Pamela hefted her workout bag and looped the strap over her shoulder. “If you hear from Betsy, have her give me a call. I’d really like to get started on those new classes.”
Sam draped the towel around her shoulders. “Sure thing. Have a good night.” She heard the ceiling creak and her smile grew.
Upstairs, Janie placed the grocery bags on the kitchen counter. She put everything away before returning to her car for her laundry.
On her way back in, she left her basket of dirty clothes beside the washer, which was located beneath the stairs. While she sorted the clothes, she came to the realization that she didn’t have enough for full loads. Instead of doing three small batches, she went upstairs to see if Sam had any clothes she could add.
After gathering what few of Sam’s she could find, she went downstairs and started to add them to her piles. When she tossed a pair of jeans into a stack, Janie heard the rattling of change. She checked the front left pocket and came up with a handful of coin as well as a neatly folded paper napkin. Uncertain if she should save it or throw it away, she opened it and read. The handwritten message made her skin crawl. Janie was debating what to do when the door from the gym opened and Sam walked in.
“I thought I heard you upstairs a little while ago.” Sam went to Janie but stopped short. “What’s the matter?”
Janie held out the napkin. “I brought your stuff down to put in with mine, and I found this in your pocket.”
Sam grimaced at the obvious fear in her lover’s face. “I was going to tell you about it tonight.” She took the note from Janie and wadded it up. “Are you okay?”
“Me? What about you?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Sam leaned against the dryer and tried to appear unaffected by the conversation.
“What are you going to do, then?”
Sam shrugged. “Not much I can do, I guess. Other than keep my eyes open.”
Janie clenched her hands into fists and slowly counted silently to five. “That’s it?” She moved closer to Sam and grasped her arms. “Aren’t you scared?”
“Hell yeah, I scared. But I don’t know what you want me to do.” Sam broke Janie’s grip and backed away. “Whoever this bastard is, he obviously won’t be satisfied until I’m gone.”
The words frightened Janie more than any unseen attacker. She asked softly, “Is that what you want to do?”
“Not now, no. I’m not letting some redneck run me out of town. I’ll leave when I’m damned good and ready.”
Janie felt a sharp pain in her chest. “You’re planning on leaving?”
“No!” Sam snapped, then repeated more gently, “No.” Her defensive posture relaxed and she took Janie into her arms. “You can’t get rid of me that easily,” she murmured, kissing the side of Janie’s head. She didn’t know how long she’d be able to stay in one place, but for now, being with Janie was enough. “I love you.”
After dinner, they sat on the living room sofa and folded the clean laundry. Janie held up a scruffy gray tee shirt and laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“I can almost see through this thing, Sam. Don’t you think it’s about time to retire it?”
Sam snatched the item from Janie’s hands and held it close to her body. Originally black, the shirt was now a smoky gray. Whatever lettering had been on the front had peeled away, leaving tiny splotches of darker material. “No way. I’ve had it since high school.”
“And it shows, honey. It has holes under the arms so big you could put your fist through them.”
“So?” Sam reverently folded the top and set it beside her, as far away from Janie as possible. “It’s just well-ventilated.”
Janie gave up. “If you say so.” She started sorting through Sam’s various styles of socks when the phone rang. “Do you want me to get that?”
“Nah.” Sam stood, and with a teasing grin, grabbed the folded tee shirt before going to the kitchen. She picked up the phone on the third ring. “Hello? Haley residence.”
“Sam, I thought I told you to quit answering the phone like that. You sound like the hired help,” Betsy admonished. “It’s your home, too.”
“Hi, Betsy. How’s your vacation?” Sam stretched the phone cord to the kitchen table and sat, placing her shirt close at hand.
“I’m having a wonderful time, and don’t think I didn’t notice you changing the subject. Is everything okay there?”
“Of course. Well, there was that flood in the gym earlier today, but—”
“What?” Betsy yelped. “Flood?”
Sam laughed as she propped her feet on another chair. “Gotcha. Actually, one of the shower heads in the locker room needed a new seal. It was only a slight drip, and didn’t take me any time at all to fix it.”
“Thank god. I swear, you’re just trying to turn my hair completely white, aren’t you? No, forget I asked.” Betsy was silent for a moment. “Seriously though, are you all right? Any more problems?”
The question caused Sam to pause. She didn’t see any reason to tell Betsy about the note she’d just received. “Nope. All nice and quiet.”
“How about my neighbors? Any complaints about the noise?”
“Noise? I don’t think the aerobics classes are that loud. At least I haven’t heard—”
Betsy’s rich laughter echoed through the phone. “I was talking about the upstairs aerobics. You can’t tell me that you two haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t seen that many sparks since the last electrical storm,” Betsy chortled.
“Betsy!” Although she was alone, Sam still covered her eyes in mortification.
Janie came into the kitchen. She had heard Sam’s raised voice and had to come in to see what was going on. She raised Sam’s feet and took the chair, allowing Sam’s feet to rest in her lap. She took the handset away from her embarrassed lover. “Betsy? Is everything all right?”
The older woman continued to laugh. “Never better, hon. I was just tweaking Sam. She’s so easy.”
“Uh-huh.” Not wanting to be Betsy’s next victim, Janie decided to change topics. “How’s Santa Fe?”
“Marvelous. You should really think about taking a vacation out here. It’s the most amazing place.”
Sam left the kitchen, only to return moments later with the cordless phone from Betsy’s room. She winked to Janie before joining the conversation. “I take it you’re enjoying yourself?” she asked Betsy as she returned to her chair and put her feet up again. “Been chasing any good looking men while you’re there?”
It was Betsy’s turn to be embarrassed, but it didn’t take her long to bounce back. “Let’s just say I’m having a good time, and leave it at that. But, that’s also why I called. Since there aren’t any problems, I’d like to stay here longer and visit. I ran into a very dear friend just the other day. His name is Al, and he was my Jack’s best friend for years.”
“That’s wonderful, Betsy.” Janie grabbed Sam’s sock-covered toes and wiggled them. “Sam’s doing a great job taking care of the place.”
Sam rolled her eyes. “Pamela’s really doing most of the work. I just close up. So, Betsy, tell us about this guy? Is he married?”
“Widowed, actually. His wife Norma passed a couple of years ago. The four of us used to have all sorts of fun, before Jack and I moved to Piperton. He has a nice little restaurant here, and it’s somewhat of a hangout for people our age. It’s been nice to catch up with him.”
“I’ll bet.” Sam yelped when Janie pinched her big toe. “What was that for?” she whispered, covering the mouthpiece.
Betsy went on, ignoring Sam. “Anyway, as I was saying, I’d like to stay another month or so, if you can handle the place. Will that be a problem?”
Sam had her foot in her lap, trying to protect it from Janie. “No problem at all, Betsy.”
“Thank you, dear. But don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.” They chatted a few more minutes before hanging up, Betsy promising to keep them updated.
For the next week, things were quiet for Sam. Whoever had left her the threatening note either didn’t come into the bar, or had decided to leave her alone. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Sam was able to enjoy her work at the bar. With Janie spending the evenings with her, she also had the nights to look forward to.
She looked up when Doug knocked on the bar. “Need another round?”
“Yeah.” He sat on a barstool to wait for her to fill a pitcher. “You’re friends with Janie, aren’t you?”
Sam nodded as she concentrated on not spilling the brew. “Yes.”
“And you’ve seen her?” He kept his voice low. “Lately?”
“I have. Why?” Sam placed the beer in front of him.
Doug tossed a few bills on the bar. “I was just wondering. She’s not been too lonely or nothing, has she?”
“Uh, no. She seems pretty happy to me.”
“Good.” He waved off her attempt to make change and took the pitcher to his group.
Sam placed the two dollar tip in the tall jar on the counter. If the conversation hadn’t been so nerve-wracking, she might have laughed. She was glad the burly man seemed to be over Janie. With a quick glance at the clock, Sam silently counted the hours until her relief would arrive.
The Thursday afternoon crowd was quieter than usual. Sam decided to put a dollar in the jukebox to liven things up. Her fingers had almost snagged a bill from the neck of the tip jar when the phone rang. “Randy’s, Sam speaking. How can I—”
“Thank god. I was hoping to catch you.” Pamela sounded out of breath.
“What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“Look, something’s come up, and I won’t be able to handle mornings at the gym for a while. I know you’ve got others things to take care of, but this can’t be helped. I’m really sorry.”
“That’s okay, Pamela. You take care of what you need to, and I’ll handle the gym.”
“Thank you, Sam.”
After thinking it over, Sam called Ray and asked him to come in early for her. She explained her situation, and he promised to be there as soon as possible. She tried to get everything stocked and cleaned, but hadn’t gotten far when he came in the front door.
“Sorry it took so long, Sam.” Ray tied an apron around his waist as he stepped behind the bar. “Things look good.”
“Yeah, it’s been a little slow today. Thanks for coming in early.” She loaded the last of the bottled beer in the fridge beneath the counter. “I may have to change my hours. If Pamela can’t open the gym, I’ll have to spend the day there.”
He shrugged. “Not a problem. Would it bother you if I hired another bartender? I had a guy come in yesterday who looked pretty good.”
“Actually, that would be great. I don’t know how long Betsy will be gone, but two full-time jobs are starting to kick my ass. I can handle some evenings, if you need me to, though.”
“Nah, that’s okay. Take some time off. Maybe come back and play when you get your cast removed?” He dumped the tip jar and handed the money to Sam. “This is yours.”
Sam knew better than to turn it down. She’d tried once before, and found out how stubborn Ray could be. “Thanks.” She pocketed the cash. “If you need a break some evening, give me a call.” She felt the heavy burden on her shoulders lighten as she stepped out of the bar into the sunlight.
The following week moved along without incident. Sam returned to Dr. Richmond’s office for a check up, which turned into something more. They were alone in the examination room and she studied her right hand and wrist. It smelled horrible, looked scaly, but Sam couldn’t have been happier. She slowly clenched her hand into a fist, pleased that she could do so.
“How’s that feel?” the doctor asked.
“Not too bad.” Sam sat patiently while he turned her hand over. She flinched as he touched her fingertips with a pin. At his request, she moved each finger independently.
Dr. Richmond moved away and washed his hands at the sink. “You appear to have fully recovered, Sam. Although I don’t remember making the cast that short.”
“Uh, well,” she stammered, embarrassed at being caught. By the time she came to have it removed, the plaster was only a couple of inches below her wrist. “It got in my way.” Afraid she sounded ungrateful, she added, “It didn’t hurt, though. And I really appreciate you letting me make payments. I don’t know what I would have done, otherwise.”
“That’s quite all right. But, as I’ve told you before, our office has allowances for those who don’t have insurance. You don’t have to pay us anything.”
Sam picked at the dead skin on her hand. “I know. And I am grateful. But I want to pay. I’m not a charity case.”
Ted sighed. “Yes, I know.” He sat on the rolling stool and moved toward her. “Okay, how about this? I could use some help moving the old files that have been entered into the computer to a storage facility. They have to be alphabetically boxed, the boxes labeled, and then transported to the other side of town. It’ll probably take several long days of work. Do you think you can do it?”
“Believe me, it’s more than enough. We’ll figure out how much money per box, and if it runs over what you owe, I’ll pay you the difference in cash.”
“Okay.” Sam slid off the exam table and held out her hand. “But don’t try to overcharge on the boxes.”
He shook his head. “You are the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met.”
“That’s what Janie tells me,” she joked. “Will I be able to work at night, or maybe on Sunday? I’ve got the gym to worry about during the day.”
“Sure. We can meet here Sunday morning. I’ve got a lot of paperwork of my own to catch up.” He opened the door for her. “Does Janie know you’re here?”
“Nope. I figured I’d see her tonight at the gym, when she came for her class. Why?”
Ted tucked his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “No real reason, I suppose. Just curious.” He made a point of looking at his watch. “Hey, it’s almost noon. Why don’t you stop by her office and see if she’ll go to lunch?”
“What are you up to, Doc?”
“Nothing.” He followed Sam down the hall, keeping his voice low. “Your friendship has done wonders for her, Sam. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as happy as she’s been these past months.”
Sam struggled to keep a neutral look on her face. The last thing she wanted was for him to find out their true relationship. As nice as Dr. Richmond was, she was afraid that if he knew, Janie would lose her job. “She’s been a good friend to me, too.”
“I’m glad.” Ted stopped outside Janie’s door. “I’ll see you Sunday morning, around eight?”
“Sure thing.” Sam watched him disappear into his office before she tapped on Janie’s door. She stuck her head into the room. “Hey.”
Janie looked up from her computer, her frown of concentration brightening immediately. “Hi! What are you doing here?”
Sam waved her right hand. “Ta-dah!”
“Oh, Sam, that’s wonderful!” Janie hurried around her desk and wrapped her arms around Sam. Before she realized what she was doing, she kissed the younger woman on the cheek. “I’m so happy for you.”
The clicking of heels on the tile floor in the hall caused them to quickly separate. Sam leaned against a file cabinet and crossed her arms over her chest, just as Andrea came in.
“Joanie, I have more files for you.” She dropped the foot-high pile in the middle of Janie’s desk.
Sam pushed away from the cabinet and got into Andrea’s face. “Her name’s Janie. As I’m sure you know.”
Andrea’s face turned red and she backed away from Sam. “I-I-I, of course. Sorry.” She hurried out of the room as quickly as she arrived.
“That was mean,” Janie fussed, moving closer to Sam. “But I enjoyed it.” She linked her hand with Sam’s. “Take me to lunch, my bodyguard.”
“You got it, pretty lady.” Sam stole a quick kiss before leading Janie from the office.
“This was a great idea,” Sam admitted, as she swiped a fry from Janie’s plate. They were in the gym’s office with the door closed, sitting close on the old sofa with their paper plates in their laps.
Janie swatted at her hand. “Stop that.” She nibbled on a fry herself. “I’m glad you agreed. I wanted some time alone with you.” She took a bite of her hamburger and moaned in appreciation. “You have totally corrupted me. I bet I’ve gained ten pounds since we met.”
“I think you look great.” It was true. To Sam, Janie had never looked lovelier. She was secretly pleased that Janie had started to fill out.
“Thank you. But let’s see what you think when I’m old and fat.” Their age difference was never far from Janie’s thoughts, but she was determined to enjoy their relationship for however long they were together. Although Sam often professed her love, Janie believed it was only a matter of time before she’d get tired of Piperton and leave.
Sam set her burger down and put her arm around her lover. “What’s wrong?”
As Janie laid her head on her shoulder, Sam kissed her hair and pulled her closer. “I don’t believe you. Something’s on your mind.”
Janie sighed. She didn’t want to upset Sam, but she knew she wouldn’t leave her alone until she got the truth. “You know I love you, right?”
“Uh-huh. And I love you.”
“I know. But, I also know that Piperton probably isn’t where you want to spend the rest of your life.” Janie raked her fingernails lightly across Sam’s stomach. “Not that I blame you,” she muttered.
“Well, that’s kind of true, I guess.” The silence between them stretched until Sam finally got up the nerve to ask something she’d been mulling over for quite some time. “Um, have you ever thought about leaving?”
“What?” Janie raided her head so she could look into Sam’s eyes. “Leave Piperton?”
“Yeah. I know you’ve lived her all your life, and your family is here, and—”
Janie stopped Sam’s babbling by placing her hand over her mouth. “I used to think about it a lot. I never really felt as if I fit in here. But I didn’t understand why until I met you.”
Sam smiled and Janie moved her hand. “Really?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Janie nodded and kissed her. “What concerned me most was that I thought I was being too presumptuous, thinking about tagging along with you when and if you left.”
“And here I was worried about finding the right words to ask you to come.”
They both laughed at their mutual insecurities, as their lunch cooled, forgotten.
The antiseptic smell turned Sam’s already nervous stomach as she followed Janie into the nursing home. She fumbled with her shirt, tucking it into her jeans for the third time.
Janie noticed the action and tugged on Sam’s sleeve. “Relax. You look great.” Had she known it was going to make Sam so nervous, she wouldn’t have asked her to come. “You’re not seeing the President. Just my Nana.”
“Yeah, but she’s more important.”
“What do you mean?”
Sam longed to hold Janie’s hand, but didn’t want to draw any undo attention. “Because she means a lot to you. And I want to make a good impression.”
“You’re sweet.” Janie glanced around and noticed they were alone in the hallway. She took Sam’s hand and squeezed. She paused in front of an open door and took a deep breath. “Here we go.” Using her free hand, she knocked on the threshold. “Nana?”
Lucille looked up from the book she had been reading, closing it and placing it on her dresser. “Come in, come in.” She adjusted the afghan across her lap and gave her guests a smile. “I see you brought a friend this time.”
“Nana, this is Sam.” Janie gave Sam’s hand a hearty squeeze before releasing it. “Sam, I’d like you to meet my grandmother, Lucille Clarke.”
Sam eyed the frail woman in the electric wheelchair before she stepped forward and held out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Clarke. Janie’s told me a lot about you.” She was surprised at the firm handshake she received.
“I’ll just be she has, Sam. And please, call me Lucille.” She patted Sam’s hand before letting go. “You two girls have a seat. Would you like something to drink? I think I have a couple of sodas in my fridge.” She gestured toward a small dorm-sized refrigerator beside the dresser.
Janie kissed her grandmother’s cheek and joined Sam on the edge of the bed, their thighs touching. “We’re fine, Nana. Thanks.”
Her granddaughter’s proximity to Sam didn’t go unnoticed by Lucille. She could see a difference in Janie. Gone was the mousy woman who tried to hide behind her glasses and clothes. Janie exuded a confidence that she’d never seen before. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her wearing jeans and a casual top. It made her look years younger. Lucille mentally girded herself for the upcoming conversation. She’d heard a lot from Janie about this woman, but was ready to hear directly from the source. “So, tell me about yourself, Sam.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much to tell, Mrs., I mean, Lucille. I’ve traveled most of my life, and was lucky enough to have my car break down in Piperton.” She shared a smile with Janie, pleased when their fingers twined together.
“I see.” Lucille moved her chair closer. “So you’re just passing through?”
“Well, that was the original plan,” Sam admitted. “But for now, this seems like a pretty good place to be.”
Lucille touched Sam’s knee, forcing the younger woman to look at her. “Those fresh scars tell another story, dear.”
Sam’s free hand went to her face, lightly touching the healed marks. “Yeah, but overall, people have been pretty good. I can’t blame an entire town for the actions of an individual.”
“That’s a good attitude to have.” Lucille wheeled back a few feet. “Although there aren’t many jobs available in a town this size. What is it that you do?”
“Work is pretty easy to come by if you’re not picky. Right now, I’m managing Haley’s Gym.”
“She does more than that, Nana,” Janie added. “She sings, too.”
Lucille tried to keep the smile off her face at Janie’s defense. It was obvious her granddaughter was totally smitten with the younger woman. And if she were honest with herself, she was beginning to like Sam, too. “Is that how you’ve supported yourself, Sam? By singing?”
“Among other things.”
“What made you start to travel?” Lucille asked. “You’re not wanted by the law anywhere, are you?”
Sam laughed and shook her head. “No, ma’am. I was raised in a small town in Oklahoma by my grandmother. When she passed away, there wasn’t anything left for me there. I’ve been on the road ever since.”
It wasn’t hard for Lucille to see the sadness in Sam’s eyes. “I’m sorry, dear.”
“It’s all right.” Sam straightened and tried to smile. “She would have liked you, though.”
Lucille nodded. She had another question for Sam, but wanted to ask it privately. “Janie, would you be a dear and run to the cafeteria? There should be some leftover brownies, and I’m dying for one.”
“Uh, okay. Sure.” Janie stood and looked at Sam. “Would you like one, too?”
Sam shook her head. “I’m fine.” She watched her lover leave the room and turned to face Lucille, wondering what the older woman was up to.
“I know, it wasn’t very subtle, was it?” Lucille moved in front of Sam. “My granddaughter cares for you, I can see that. But what about you?”
Her heart beat a little faster, yet Sam had no trouble voicing her thoughts. “I love her.”
Pursing her lips, Lucille stared at her for a long moment. “And what are your plans?”
“Yes, you know, plans. Intentions, if you will.”
“We haven’t really discussed it.”
Lucille finally smiled. “And would you? Discuss it, I mean? You’re not planning on sneaking out of town in the middle of the night, are you? That would break Janie’s heart.”
“No, ma’am. Like I told Janie, she’s stuck with me until she says otherwise.”
At that moment, Janie returned, bearing a paper plate with several brownies. She gave her grandmother a glare before placing the treats on the nearby dresser. “You could have just asked me to leave, Nana. Not send me on an errand like a child.”
“I know, sweetie, but I really did want a brownie.” Lucille pinched off a corner of the dessert and popped it into her mouth. She picked up the plate and pushed it toward Sam. “Don’t make me be a pig alone.”
Saturday morning stretched into afternoon, both occupants of the bed not bothering to move. Janie woke to find herself snuggled against Sam. She raised her head to peer at the alarm clock on the nightstand. “Sam, are you awake?”
“Yeah,” Sam yawned, tightening her grip on Janie. “What’s up?”
Sam turned her head and noticed the time. “Now that you mention it, I am, too. It’s almost one in the afternoon. Whatcha hungry for?”
“Well,” Janie started walking her fingers along Sam’s bare chest. “It’s not very nutritious, but thanks to you, I can’t seem to get enough.”
“Janie,” Sam warned. They’d never get out of bed at this rate. Not that she minded so much.
Janie’s mouth moved close to Sam’s ear. “I’d love,” she nibbled on an earlobe.
“One of your omelets,” Janie whispered. She squealed when Sam rolled over and started tickling her. “No fair! Stop!” She tried to fight back, but Sam apparently wasn’t ticklish. “I’m going to wet the bed if you don’t stop!” she warned, which finally gained her a reprieve.
Sam laughed as her lover hurried out of bed and raced to the bathroom. “Go ahead and shower and I’ll get lunch started,” she yelled, getting up as well. She slipped on her boxer shorts, and, as an afterthought, grabbed a white ribbed tank top as she headed toward the kitchen. The last time she’d cooked topless, she gotten a few small burns from popping grease. It wasn’t something she wanted to repeat.
A short time later, Sam had a large omelet going in a pan. She stood over the stove, singing softly, when she heard a noise behind her. “I thought you were going to spend all day in the shower,” she teased, turning her head. “Holy shit!” She dropped the spatula on the floor.
Betsy and a man she’d never seen before stood in the doorway. “That’s a new way to say hello, Sam.”
“Sorry.” Sam laughed and met Betsy halfway, embracing the older woman. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me too, kid.” Betsy cleared her throat and pulled away. She took Sam’s hands in hers. “You’re looking better than when I left. I see you got the cast off.”
“Yeah.” Sam peered over Betsy’s shoulder to the man still standing quietly by the door. “Hi.”
Betsy rubbed her on the arm. “Forgive my lapse in manners. Sam, I’d like for you to meet a very dear friend, Al Martin.” She held out her hand, which Al quickly took. “Al, this is Sam.”
Al Martin was of average height, his salt-and-pepper slicked back away from his face. His smile and twinkling blue eyes were genuine as he released Betsy’s hand and shook Sam’s. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Sam. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Same here, sir. Would you care for some lunch? I was just whipping up an omelet.”
“No, we’re fine.”
Betsy pushed Sam toward the door. “Why don’t you get a few more clothes on before you catch cold? I’ll keep an eye on your food.”
“Thanks.” Sam realized how thin her shirt was and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll be right back.” She rushed into the bedroom, almost knocking Janie down. “Betsy’s here,” she warned. “With her friend, Al.”
“Really?” Janie watched as her lover changed clothes. “Good thing I decided to come in here after my shower, then.” She was already dressed in a pair of Sam’s sweatpants and work shirt from Danny’s. “Maybe I should put on something else.”
Sam buttoned the fly on her jeans. “You look great. I doubt they’ll care what we’re wearing.” Finally dressed, she gave Janie a kiss. “Ready for some teasing? I’m sure Betsy will have a field day with us.”
“She’d better behave,” Janie warned, following Sam from the room. “Especially since I’m betting she and Al are closer than she’s let on.”
“Oooh, good point.” Sam yelped as Janie pinched her on the rear. “Watch it, woman. Paybacks are a bitch.”
After Sam and Janie had finished their lunch, the foursome moved to the living room to share a pot of coffee. All pretense gone, Janie sat as close to Sam as possible on the loveseat, leaning into the younger woman and sighing in relief when Sam’s arm snaked around her shoulders. She gave Betsy a defiant look, daring the other woman to say anything.
Not one to back away from a challenge, Betsy grinned at the couple. She and Al were on the sofa, he on the end and she on the next cushion. “I see you two have been busy while I’ve been gone.”
“Yeah, the gym’s holding its own,” Sam answered, purposely obtuse. “Although we have changed the hours a little, since Pamela had to scale back her hours.”
Betsy nodded. “She told me about that when I talked to her the other day on the phone. Such a shame, too. But that’s not exactly what I was talking about.”
“I know.” Sam appeared pleased with herself. “But since you seem to be wearing some new jewelry, I was going to give you a break.”
For the first time in a long time, Betsy blushed. The grip Al had on her hand grounded her, and she glanced down to see the handmade turquoise and silver ring he had bought her from a local Navajo artisan. “That’s a big reason why we’re here.” She found it hard to speak as her emotions got out of control.
Al stepped in. “Betsy has done me the greatest honor and agreed to become my wife,” he shared. “We’ve known each other most of our lives, and have been friends forever.” His eyes softened as he looked at his intended. “And when she came back into my life, the most amazing thing happened – one look and I was lost.”
“Oh, Al,” Betsy sniffled, burying her face in his shirt. She spent a moment in his embrace before sitting up. “How could I refuse? The man’s a poet.” Blowing her nose on the handkerchief Al handed her, Betsy composed herself. “I don’t have much worth moving, just some clothes and pictures. It shouldn’t take long to pack up.”
“You’re leaving again?” Sam asked. “But what about the gym?”
“Probably within a week, if possible. And I was hoping you’d stay on here and look after things.” Betsy sat up and moved to the edge of her seat. “Maybe even buy me out, someday.”
Sam shook her head. “You’re kidding, right?” As much as she loved Janie, Sam couldn’t see herself living in Piperton for good. “I’m sorry, Betsy. I’ll help you as much as I can, but I hadn’t planned on staying here permanently.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew they were a mistake, especially when Janie jumped up and left the room. “Damn.” Sam heard footsteps race down the stairs and the back door slam. “I’ll be right back.” She hurried after her lover.
Janie paced along the alley, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She heard the door open and purposely turned her back, not wanting to see Sam. “Go away.”
“I can’t do that.” Sam stepped behind Janie. “What I said, up there—” She tried to put her hands on Janie’s shoulders, but Janie moved away.
“Baby, please. Let me explain,” Sam begged, her own voice cracking.
Janie turned around. “You told me you weren’t going to leave,” she accused, tears still falling from her eyes. “Was that a lie?”
“No, I meant what I said.”
Sam exhaled and reached for Janie again. “I love you. And I’d do anything in the world for you, including staying here.”
Lowering her hands, Sam looked at the ground. “No buts. I promised I’d be here for as long as you’ll have me. I just don’t want to be stuck running a gym. I didn’t mean those other things I said.” She raised her head as Janie moved toward her.
“I’m sorry, Sam. Forgive me for being so insecure?” Janie’s tears stopped as Sam’s arms went around her body.
“There’s nothing to forgive.” Sam nuzzled Janie’s hair with her cheek. “We’re both pretty new at this stuff.” When Janie’s face raised to hers, Sam kissed her. “Come on. Let’s go back inside and harass Betsy.”
Janie checked her watch. It was shortly past one in the afternoon, and she hoped her grandmother was in her room. Sundays were a big social day at the center, and Lucille tended to be in the thick of things. She knocked on Lucille’s door and peeked inside. “Hi, Nana.”
“Hello, sweetie. This is a nice surprise.” Lucille met her halfway, raising her arms and enjoying the embrace she received. “I figured you’d be with Sam today.”
“She’s doing some work for Dr. Richmond. But I’ll see her later, when we help Betsy finish packing to move to Santa Fe.”
Lucille nodded as Janie sat on the bed. “Betsy’s your friend that owns the gym, isn’t she?”
“How’s Sam taking the news?”
Janie brushed her hands across her denim-clad legs. “What do you mean?”
“If Betsy’s leaving, I’m assuming she’s closing her business, right?”
The thought hadn’t crossed Janie’s mind. “I don’t know.”
“Well, it could be for the best.” Lucille adjusted the afghan on her lap and moved closer to the bed. She placed one hand on Janie’s knee. “I know you’ve told me how fond of her Sam is, so perhaps this would be a good time for her to move on as well.”
“What?” Janie scooted off the bed. “I thought you liked Sam.”
“I do, dear. But even you will have to admit, it’s not very safe for her here.” Lucille held out her hand and pulled Janie to her. “Nor for you, sweetie.”
Lucille shook her head. “I can’t pretend to understand the relationship between you two, but even an old woman like me can see how happy you are.”
“Thanks, Nana. That means a lot to me.” Janie gave the older woman a hug. “I’ve never felt like this for anyone before.”
“I’m glad.” Lucille looked at their joined hands as Janie sat close by. She inhaled deeply, hoping to gather her strength for the ensuing conversation. “What are your plans, Janie?”
“I don’t understand the question. What do you mean?”
Lucille gave her granddaughter’s hand a squeeze. “Well, I’m assuming you’re spending a lot of time with Sam, correct?”
“And you’re both happy with the arrangements you have?”
Janie frowned. “Arrangements?”
“The physical side of your relationship,” Lucille hinted, causing Janie to blush. “I don’t mean to be a busy-body, but I know sex can be an important part of a young couple’s life.” She lowered her voice. “Are your needs being met, dear?”
“Oh, my god. We can’t be having this conversation.” Janie pulled her hand back and covered her face. “Nana, please.”
Lucille snickered. “I’ll take that as a yes. Good.” She patted Janie’s knee. “Have you two discussed the future?”
“Because I worry about you both, you know. I’d hate for anything else to happen to Sam. Or, god forbid, you.”
Janie adjusted her glasses and cleared her throat. “I appreciate that, Nana. We’re being very careful, I promise.”
“I’m glad, dear.” Lucille wheeled across the room and opened her lowest dresser drawer. She searched for a moment before coming up with a small notebook. Pleased with herself, she returned to Janie’s side and handed her the book. “Here.”
Lucille waved her hand. “Open it.”
The black leather was creased with age, but opened easily. Janie blinked when she realized it was an old-style bank book. “But—”
“I’ve had quite a bit squirreled away for when you got married, Janie. But, considering the circumstances, perhaps it would do more good as traveling funds.” She glanced at the pages, using her hand to flip to the back of the book. “As you can see, it’s not a fortune. Although I’m sure you can make good use of it.”
Janie shook her head and blinked the tears away. “There’s close to nine thousand dollars here, Nana. I can’t accept this.”
“Of course you can.” Lucille laughed. “Your father doesn’t know anything about it, either. I started saving when you were born. Your name is on the account as well.” She sobered, raising her hand to touch Janie’s cheek. “Take it and see the world, dearest. Or at least find someplace where you and Sam can be happy.”
A sob tore from Janie as her tears fell in earnest. “But what about you?”
Lucille pulled Janie into her arms and held her. “They have these new-fangled things called phones, you know,” she teased, kissing her granddaughter’s head. “And just because you leave Piperton, doesn’t mean you can’t come back for visits. I’ll be fine.”
Sam pushed the old mower into the shed and locked the door. She waved to the diminutive older woman on the porch, trudging across the freshly mowed yard to join her. She gratefully accepted the sweating glass of lemonade handed to her. “Thanks, Mrs. Parker.”
“I should thank you, Samantha. My yard hasn’t looked this nice in years.”
After drinking half the glass, Sam licked the residue from her upper lip. “I’m glad I could do it for you. Although I think the grass has pretty much died for the winter. I’m sorry I was so late getting over here, but I had another job before this one.”
Estelle Parker patted the younger woman on the arm. “Don’t you fret about it, dear.” She tugged on Sam’s shirt. “Come inside for a moment.”
Sam looked down at her jeans and boots. “I shouldn’t. I’m covered with grass.”
“Nonsense. Come along, now.” Estelle walked slowly into her dining room, where she opened a drawer on the antique buffet. She found what she was looking for and handed a piece of paper to Sam. “Here you go.”
“What’s this?” Sam turned the paper toward the light. “Mrs. Parker, this is the title to your car.”
The older woman nodded. “As agreed. I think you’ve done more than your share to pay for it. Goodness knows I had no use for the thing. I haven’t been behind the wheel in years. Reverend Dinkler was coming over after church every Sunday and driving it around the block for me. I’m sure he’ll be as happy as I am to have it gone.” She looked up at Sam. “Between the yard work, the things you’ve fixed around here, and the money you keep leaving behind, you’ve paid much more than that old heap was worth. So no more arguing with me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sam folded the paper neatly and tucked it into her wallet. “Thank you, Mrs. Parker.” She tugged off her gloves and held out her hand. “If there’s anything else I can ever do, just let me know.”
Not caring that Sam was covered with grass and sweat, the older woman pulled her into her arms. “You’re a good person, Samantha.” She took the glass from Sam and swatted her. “Go on home and get cleaned up. I’m sure a nice young woman like yourself has better things to do than spend time with an old lady like me.”
Sam shook her head. “Nah. Not necessarily better, Mrs. Parker. But I do need to run back to the gym and help Betsy get packed up.”
“That’s fine. You tell her to take care, and give me a call sometime. I’d love to hear about her new fellow.” The elderly woman shooed Sam out of her house.
The living room was cluttered with boxes. Those labeled “donate” were neatly lined against one wall, while several of the “keep” boxes were haphazardly strewn around the room, opened. Betsy brought in an armful of linens and dropped them on the sofa, landing gracelessly with a thud beside them. “I can’t believe I have so much junk,” she lamented to Janie, who brought a tray filled with glasses of ice tea from the kitchen.
“You’ve lived here for years. Of course you’d have a lot of stuff.”
Betsy took a glass. “Thank you.” She drained half of the contents in one gulp. “Damn, that’s good. Have I thanked you for being here? You’ve been a great help.”
“You’re welcome. But I haven’t really done that much.”
“I have to disagree with you,” Al interrupted. He stood in the doorway with another filled box. “Your organizational skills have kept us from going crazy.” He stacked the box neatly with the others before joining his fiancée on the couch. “If you ever decide to leave Piperton, give me a call. I could use a good office manager for my restaurants.”
“You have more than one?” Janie asked, moving a pile of newspapers off the loveseat.
Snuggled up against Al, Betsy patted his lean stomach. “Al has three different restaurants in the Santa Fe area. They keep him on his toes, that’s for sure.”
“What’s it like?”
Al brought Betsy closer with his arm around her shoulders. “Santa Fe?”
“Wonderful,” Betsy replied. “I’d forgotten how beautiful it was, Janie. In fact, I can’t wait to get back. The people are friendlier, the food tastier, and the company can’t be beat,” she finished, closing her eyes blissfully as Al kissed her head.
“You two ought to get a room,” Sam teased, as she came into the room. She stopped by Janie and leaned down to give her a light kiss on the cheek. “Hi.”
Betsy tossed a throw pillow at Sam. “Look who’s talking, Stinky. What on earth have you been up to?”
“Working.” Sam saw the full tea glass by Janie. “Mind if I steal some of that?” At Janie’s nod, she scooped up the glass and finished it off quickly. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to clean up, or just shed grass and dirt all over my perfectly clean living room?” Betsy asked. She shifted out of Al’s grip and stood. “Come on, Al. Let’s go finishing packing my bedroom.”
Janie stood as well, careful to keep her distance from Sam’s filthy body. “Why don’t you grab some clean clothes and meet me downstairs?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Janie ran a finger down Sam’s face, lingering on her lips. “Since the gym’s closed, I’d be more than happy to scrub your back in the showers.”
Sam’s eyes grew larger as she considered her options. She bit down lightly on Janie’s finger, sucking the tip into her mouth. Her lover’s gasp thrilled her. “Race ya.”
Two days later, Betsy, Al and Sam surveyed the now-empty apartment. The older woman put her arm around Sam’s waist. “One last chance, Sam. Are you sure?”
Sam returned the embrace. “I’m very sure, Betsy. Janie’s already said I could stay with her. I think selling to Pamela and her husband is a perfect solution. She’s been in and out of here half a dozen times since yesterday, waving paint and carpet samples.”
“I know. I think she’s happiest about moving out of her mother-in-law’s old house. She told me the woman makes them keep their bedroom door open, so the cats can have the run of the place.”
Footsteps on the stairs caused the trio to turn. Janie smiled as she came into the room. “Thank goodness. I was afraid I’d miss you.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” Sam stepped away from Betsy and gave Janie a brief kiss.
“I was, but Dr. Richmond said I could take an early lunch.” Janie rubbed Sam’s hip before backing away and giving both Al and Betsy hugs. “I know you wanted to get as early a start as possible.”
Betsy blinked away an errant tear. “We did, but we would have gladly waited to see you before we headed out.” She put her arms around Janie and whispered in her ear, “Remember what else we talked about. I’d like to see you and Sam in Santa Fe before the end of the year.” She kissed the younger woman’s cheek, then pulled away. “You girls take care of each other, you hear?”
“We will, I promise.” Janie wiped at her own face, determined not to break down. “Let us walk you two downstairs.” She held out her hand to her lover, who immediately took it.
The foursome was silent as they trekked down the stairwell for the last time. Sam had already moved her meager belongings to Janie’s apartment. The building wouldn’t be empty for long, as Pamela and her husband were set to take over the following week. The last person out, Sam locked the door behind them and pocketed the key. She’d pass it along to the new owners later.
Betsy stopped and stared at the back of the old building. The white paint had long-ago been faded by the sun, and the steel metal door had rust in several places. Some of the best times of her life happened upstairs, as well as her greatest heartache. Jack had collapsed on the kitchen floor, never to wake. She sniffled once and shook her head. “Well, I guess this is it.” Al’s comforting arm around her waist helped her get past her ghosts and she looked up into his knowing eyes. “Ready to go home, handsome?”
“As long as you are, my dear.”
More hugs were shared before the couple climbed into the rental truck. Betsy got behind the wheel, much to Al’s chagrin. “Don’t worry, hon. You know I don’t see well at night, so I thought I’d take the first shift.” Her window was down and she hung her head outside. “Be good, kids,” she yelled, before putting the truck in gear.
The vehicle lumbered down the alley as Sam and Janie watched. They continued to wave until it turned out of sight. Sam brushed her cheek with her hand. “I’m really going to miss them.”
“I know, honey. So will I.” Janie put her arm around Sam and rested her head on her shoulder. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
Sam shrugged. “I guess I’ll pick up a paper and find myself another job. Singing at the bar won’t get me very far.”
“I suppose that’s a good idea.” Janie kissed Sam’s neck below her ear. “I’m not expected back at work for a couple of hours,” she hinted.
“Yeah?” Sam turned her head and met Janie’s lips with her own. Her hands followed the contours of her lover’s ribs until the sound of a car backfiring caused them to jump apart anxiously. “Meet you at home in five?”
Janie nodded. Without another word, she got into her car and sped out of the alley, noticing Sam taking the opposite direction. She knew Sam would park a block or two away from her apartment and walk to rest of the way, which gave her a few extra minutes to prepare. Her smile turned devious when she remembered the can of whipped topping she’d bought after watching a movie on cable. She couldn’t wait to try it out on Sam.
Not far away, Sam found a good parking place behind the old dry cleaners on the square. The shop had been abandoned for quite some time. She locked her car and glanced around before jogging down the alley. It was less than two blocks from Janie’s apartment and she was anxious to get there. She started across the street, jumping back when a black truck honked.
“Watch it, dyke!” the driver yelled, his gravelly voice punctuated by a watery cough. His tinted windows were only partially lowered, keeping him hidden from view. “Stupid bitch!” He honked again and spun away, curse words floating on the wind.
The voice was one she’d never forget. Sam tried to get the license plate number, but the back tag had been dented and scraped too many times by a trailer to be legible. She backed away from the street, waiting to make certain it was gone before heading toward Janie’s.
Inside her apartment, Janie lit another candle in the bedroom. She placed the book of matches on her nightstand before heading into the bathroom to change. After she pulled the shimmering nightgown over her head she looked at herself in the mirror. The waif-like body was gone, replaced by womanly curves and a more confident posture. Janie smiled at her image, sliding her hands across the cool satin and imagining Sam’s expression when she saw the new clothing. She heard the front door open and close, and she quickly dabbed several strategic points on her body with perfume.
Sam stepped into the bedroom and looked around. The fragrant candles flickered around the room and their spiciness tickled her nose. When Janie came out of the bathroom, the heaving breaths Sam had been taking stopped for a moment. “You’re…beautiful,” she gasped.
“Thank you.” Janie noticed how winded and sweaty Sam was, and she didn’t think it was due to her outfit. “Are you all right?”
Sam nodded, her eyes glued to the vision before her.
Janie moved closer. Her hands went to Sam’s belt, while their eyes stayed locked on one another. “How far did you run?”
“Old…cleaners.” Sam felt her belt slip out of the loops and she started to smile as she heard it hit the floor. Her shirt and bra were removed next, then strong fingers popped open each button on her jeans. Once they were pushed around her ankles, she found herself gently shoved onto the bed, as Janie made quick work of relieving her of her boots.
Once Janie had Sam completely stripped, she held up a finger and backed out of the bedroom. “Don’t move,” she ordered. “I need to get something,” she called from the kitchen.
Sam considered telling Janie about the black truck, but when her lover returned to the bedroom holding a can of whipped cream, she decided that later would be just fine. When the cold cream hit her skin, all coherent thought left completely.
Several hours later, Sam woke with a very sticky Janie stretched across her. She glanced at the clock and panicked. She tapped her lover’s shoulder. “Janie?”
Janie moaned but didn’t open her eyes. “Later, Sam. I don’t think I can move.”
“Baby, it’s four o’clock.”
“Ugh.” Janie raised her head and pried open her eyes. “So?”
“What about your work?”
Janie stretched, her body peeling from Sam’s uncomfortably. The whipped cream had been fun, if messy. “I called on my way home and took the rest of the day off.” She moved slowly toward the bathroom. “Come on. I think we could both use a hot shower.”
Not having to be asked twice, Sam quickly followed. She heard Janie’s curse and started to laugh. “Don’t like the hairdo?”
“It’s not funny,” Janie grumbled, staring at herself in the mirror. Between the activity and the sticky treat they played with, her hair was sticking up in every direction. “I look deranged.”
Sam patted her on the rear before she turned on the water in the shower. “Well, you were a bit out of control,” she teased. When the water was the right temperature, she climbed in, but didn’t see Janie’s hand slip in and turn the knob toward the right. She shrieked as the cold water hit her.
“Out of control, huh?” Janie readjusted the water and stepped in beside Sam. She gave her lover a sweet smile. “Problem, hon?”
“Nope.” Sam ran her fingers down Janie’s sides, causing her to squeal. “You?”
Their giggles and laughter lasted longer than the hot water.
After they were snuggled together in the clean sheets, Sam decided it was time to tell Janie about her earlier troubles. She explained how the driver of the black truck acted, and was surprised when Janie stiffened in her arms. “What’s the matter? Nothing happened. I don’t think he was trying to run me down.”
“No, it’s not that. Could you describe the truck again? And could you tell me exactly what the guy said?” Janie listened carefully to Sam’s narrative, becoming more concerned by the moment. “Oh, no.”
“What? Does he sound familiar?”
Janie nodded. “I’m afraid so. Doug’s father, Reggie, has a black truck. And since he’s a chain smoker, he’s had a nasty cough for as long as I’ve known him.”
“But, why? What did I do to him?”
“I think he might have seen me talking to you, back behind the bar one time. He was walking home after a few too many. Doug told me once he and Harvey were determined to see us married. I don’t know why.”
Sam tried to remember if she’d ever seen anyone besides Janie in the alley. “There was an old guy, once. Tall, thin? Not much hair?”
“That’s him. He’s always given me the creeps.” Janie tightened her hold on Sam. “We should go to the police.”
“We don’t have any proof, just some vague memories. There’s nothing we can do.” Sam wrapped her arms more securing around Janie and yawned. “Besides, I doubt if he’ll try anything again. It would be too hard to get away with it a second time, and I’m being a lot more careful now.”
Janie kissed Sam’s chest before closing her eyes. “All right.” She wasn’t as convinced, but had a few ideas of her own on how to handle Reggie.
The following afternoon, Janie used her lunch break to drive to Doug’s shop. Knowing her ex for so long, she knew all about how his place operated. Reggie worked as a mechanic for his son, and the crews were usually gone until late afternoon every day.
The converted service station appeared deserted when she arrived. Janie was about to leave when she heard the clank of tools and loud cursing from one corner of the shop. She gathered her courage around her and walked purposely toward the sound.
Reggie was kneeling beside a riding mower, his arm wedged beneath it and a look of concentration on his face. Something clattered, and he pulled out his arm. “Damned piece of shit,” he yelled, slamming the wrench on the concrete floor.
The soft voice caused him to look up. “Well, lookie here. The queer’s girlfriend.” He glared up at Janie. “What the fuck do you want?”
“I know it was you,” Janie said, as calmly as she could. She took a step back when he got to his feet and stood over her.
“Me? I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about, girl.” Reggie wiped his greasy hands on an equally greasy rag. He gave her a sly grin. “But if’n I was…knowing, that is, what should I care?”
Janie watched as he shook an unfiltered cigarette from the pack he always kept in his shirt pocket. With a flick of his lighter, Reggie inhaled deeply. She attempted to blink the smoke out of her eyes. “Since you’re Doug’s father, I wanted to talk to you about things first. Leave Sam alone, or I’ll go to the police.”
He laughed. “Bullshit. You ain’t got nothin’.” He leaned in closer. “You tell that dyke this. Faggots don’t have much luck around here. Accidents have been known to happen. Sometimes, they can be downright fatal.”
“Is that a threat?” Janie hated how her voice quivered. “Because, if it is—”
“Just statin’ a fact of life, Jane. Now get the hell out of here. I’ve got work to do.”
She watched him carefully as she backed away. Reggie had always seemed a little off to her, but up until now, she’d never thought he was dangerous. But she knew, deep in her heart, he was not only involved in Sam’s attack, but capable of much worse.
Sam shoved the newspaper away and sighed. One of the few jobs she was even remotely qualified for was for Doug as a mower, and she knew better than to even consider it. She didn’t know how she was going to support herself in a town this size. Odd jobs would only get her so far, and if she wanted to stay with Janie, she’d have to find something more suitable and permanent. She looked around the apartment. Small as it was, it hadn’t taken her long to clean it from top to bottom. The furnishings were old, but well-taken care of, and Sam wondered why it didn’t look more lived in.
She left the living room and went to the kitchen. After checking the pantry and freezer, she decided to go shopping for dinner supplies. Janie wouldn’t be home from work for another hour so she had more than enough time. Sam was halfway to the front door when it opened, startling her.
Janie came in and closed the door behind her. “Good, you’re here.” She dropped her purse on the coffee table and went to Sam, who immediately embraced her.
“Yeah, I was just about to run get something for dinner. What’s up?” Sam felt Janie shudder and tightened her hold. “Janie?”
“I quit my job.”
Sam pulled back so she could look at her lover. “Why? What happened?”
“I’m scared, Sam. I can’t live in this town any longer, looking over my shoulder and worrying about something happening to you.” Janie allowed Sam to lead her to the sofa, where they sat close together. “I talked to Reggie at lunch today.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, baby. We don’t have any real proof—”
Janie sighed. “That’s what he said.” She studied Sam’s face. The scars were still red, which made her decision all that much easier. Her hand lightly touched Sam’s cheek and traced over the healed marks. “Let’s get out of here.” At her lover’s questioning look, she continued, “This town ceased being home to me the moment we met.” Janie leaned closer and placed a gentle kiss on Sam’s lips.
“What about your family? Your grandmother?” Sam felt a thrill at the thought of leaving Piperton behind and taking Janie with her. “I don’t have much money saved, and traveling can be expensive.”
Janie took her purse from the coffee table and put it in her lap. “Funny you should say that. My grandmother suggested we leave.” She dug through the purse until she found Lucille’s bank book. “I think we’ll have more than enough funds to get us somewhere.” She handed it to Sam.
Sam opened the small leather notebook. “Is this for real?”
“Yes. Nana told me she’d been saving it for me since I was born.” Janie put her purse aside and took Sam’s hands in her own. “Take me away from here, Sam. I want to go someplace where we can sit in public and have lunch together, without worrying what will happen.”
“All right.” Sam kissed her, excited about their upcoming adventure. “Any idea on where you want to go?”
Janie’s smile lit up her face. “I hear Santa Fe’s nice this time of year.”
Two weeks later, Sam loaded the final box into the rental truck and closed the door. “Well, that’s it.” She turned to her lover, who stood nearby. Janie looked years younger in the faded jeans, sleeveless blouse and sneakers that was now a regular part of her wardrobe. She had donated the majority of her clothes to charity, vowing to never again allow someone to dictate how she dressed. Sam grinned at Janie’s confident stance. “You about ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Janie opened the passenger door to the truck and tossed her purse inside. They’d decided to sell Sam’s Oldsmobile and keep Janie’s newer Escort, which was now on the trailer behind the truck. She climbed up into her seat, grinning at Sam who slipped in behind the wheel. “We’re really doing this, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, we are.” Sam returned her smile. “Any last minute stops you want to make?”
Janie bounced in her seat and laughed. “The only thing I want to see is the city limits sign as we drive past it.”
“All right.” Sam started the truck and put it in gear. “Goodbye, Piperton.”
Janie waited patiently until they were under way. Her fingers twined with Sam’s on the console between them. “Hello, life.”
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