Summary: Hunter Roberge returns to her hometown after sixteen years to find out why her recently deceased, estranged mother bequeathed her a house and a legacy she doesn't want. Reconnecting with her past becomes a double-edged sword as she encounters a surprise romance and a family she thought she knew.
Disclaimer: Just in case there is a need to say this because the main characters might slightly resemble two gorgeous women we know and love, no infringement is intended to the powers that be at MCA/Universal. Other than that, the story and the characters are mine. Also, there is no such town as Otter Falls, Vermont, so I don't have to change any names to protect the guilty.
Warnings: There is mention of heterosexual sex. If that upsets you, rest assured it's not very good sex. If it is illegal where you live, let me know so that I can move there.
There is violence and there is a recollection of sex between a minor and someone in a fiduciary position. There is recollection of consensual het sex between two teenagers. There is also sex between two women. I hope I have covered all the bases here. Did I mention there is sex between two women? Hot sex?
This is for Rave and Ren, who make me really think about what I am writing. It is also for Roselle, BJ, (Bad)Tyler and Jordyn. They know why.
Archive: Only with permission from the author
My mother was gone.
It almost became a mantra, repeating over and over in my mind as I tolerated the flight from Los Angeles to Chicago to Albany, New York. I mechanically went through the motions as I changed planes in O'Hare, not even cursing that the gate the Delta Boeing 737-800 taxied up to was at the other end of Terminal 3 from where my connecting flight was nestled and I had less than thirty minutes to get there. We had been late taking off from LAX, which delayed our landing which shortened my time to make it from Point A to Point B. Usually, by this time, I would be swearing up a storm and running like a wide receiver going for the touchdown to get there. Today, I just didn't care. If I made it, I made it. If I didn't, I didn't. My mother was gone. There was no hurry for me to get 'home.'
Home. I had lived away from Otter Falls, Vermont for sixteen years, returning only once for my Uncle David's funeral and yet I still called it 'home.' I had lost track of all my old friends, declined the invitation to attend my tenth high school reunion, corresponded only fleetingly with my brothers and other relatives and hadn't spoken to my mother in any of those sixteen years. I would not have even come back now if she hadn't, for some unexplainable reason, left me her house.
My mother and I were not friends. And for all intents and purposes, I thought she had disowned me. We'd had a stormy relationship ever since I was a little girl, butting heads on everything from what I wore to how I styled my hair to, well, my entire existence, it seemed. She wanted a dainty, frilly, petite little girl that she could raise to be the perfect lady, the perfect wife, the perfect mother. What she got was a headstrong, rough-and-tumble tomboy who defied her at every turn. It wasn't that I didn't love her or respect her growing up, it was just that she was always trying to make me become something I wasn't.
I was the only daughter in a family of three children and maybe that contributed to our contrary relationship. My two brothers, one older and one younger, couldn't do anything wrong while I, on the other hand, couldn't seem to do anything right. I became resentful and rebellious and although I never got into any real trouble, I was the epitome of the word 'handful.'
I think the reason she was on my case all the time was that I was just like my father, a man she simultaneously loved and hated. While both my brothers took after her side of the family with shorter stature, fair skin and curly, light brown hair, I favored the paternal side. I had his silky dark locks, his bronzed skin, his dashing grin and his light blue eyes through which I apparently expressed everything. I had his height and his natural athletic grace. I also had inherited his penchant for beautiful women, which was ultimately my downfall with my mother.
Despite my rigid upbringing, and her being very morally conscientious, religious to a fault, and strict, she tolerated a lot from me. She reluctantly forgave me for refusing to continue to go to worship services on Sunday when I turned thirteen. I didn't have much use for a god who, according to the perpetual sermon, condemned me for being born a lesbian, something I knew I was at eleven-years-old. When all my girl friends started speaking excitedly about all the cute boys in class and I felt the same way they did only it was for an eighth-grader who just happened to be female, I knew I was different and I knew it wasn't a phase. So, I'd be damned if I would go to a church and praise what appeared to me to be a vindictive, almighty lord even though I never told her why I didn't want to go anymore.
My brothers dutifully went and stayed on her good side, both marrying girls they had met from church rather than high school or through work. She forgave me for dating boys who had no ambition, other than to work on their cars and drink, leaving me hating myself for feeling the need to date boys at all but keeping up the charade kept the peace in the house. She forgave me for participating in senior skip day, an incident which got me and ninety-six other twelfth graders a week of detention and she forgave me for nearly getting expelled from school for getting rip-roaring drunk from eating about a dozen vodka-injected oranges at lunch. By fifth period Health class, my best friend, Lesley, and I were passed out at our desks. By seventh period, I was heaving up what felt like the bottom of my feet in the girl's room, wondering if I was ever going to live through the experience and then knowing if I did, I might not survive what I was in for when I got home. That little incident got Lesley and me suspended for three days and detention for two weeks. It also got me grounded for a month and the silent treatment for almost as long. Not to mention the references to being just like my father...again, a comment that was never said with any pride, let me tell you.
She had even started forgiving me for not being anything like her or never doing anything up to her standard but when she caught me in bed with wife of the minister of the First Congregational Church when I was eighteen, that was unforgivable in her eyes. I was told to leave her house that night and never come back. It was probably the first time in my life when I didn't argue with her. I had never seen that particular look in her eyes or that tone in her voice before and I knew there would be no debating this.
So I went to stay with my father's brother, David, and his family until I saved enough money to leave town, panic-stricken it would get around that I was gay. I wasn't exactly ashamed of who I was but I felt being a lesbian in a homogeneous place like Otter Falls would not exactly be conducive to my living a life where I wasn't under a microscope and constantly apologizing for who and what I was. When I did leave, two months later, with twelve hundred dollars in my pocket, it was by Greyhound Bus, taking me across country in four days. Looking back on it now, I'm still amazed I made it through that experience unscathed. I was fortunate enough to find a room to rent right away and a job, bartending. Although I wasn't legally old enough to drink, I looked and acted twenty-one and the owner decided to take the chance and overlook my age. He told me later that he felt my looks would bring in the men and customers and profit was what it was all about. I worked there, ironically, until I was twenty-one and then moved on to something in which I felt I could make a career.
I thought maybe my mother would cool down after a year or so had passed but my attempts to contact her were ignored. One year became three, then five and before I knew it nine years had passed. When my Uncle David died, I returned to Vermont to pay my respects. I tried to see her then but she pretended not to be home. Any attempts at contacting her by phone also proved fruitless. She had made her decision. I had shown her the ultimate defiance, an unparalleled betrayal and I was as good as dead to her. After that visit, I stopped trying.
And now she was gone. I got the call two days ago from my older brother, Sam, who, even after nearly a decade and a half, never knew what our rift was about. Neither my mother nor I spoke of it to the family which left friends, neighbors and nosy strangers frustratingly ignorant of the reason for the unconquerable abyss between us. When he said those words, "Hunter, Mom died this morning," I didn't cry. I didn't even react. My tears over her were shed long ago and I had none left.
My mother was gone. And so, it seemed, was any chance of ever making things right between us.
I hated flying. Hated it. And it had nothing to do with September 11th or the threat of possible terrorism, although that was always a concern, I hated flying long before any of that. The very idea of being several miles above ground with nothing holding me up or underneath me never set well. You can explain aerodynamics to me until you're blue in the face and I still will never understand how that monstrous hunk of tin can stay so high in the air for so long. The thought that, at any second, the plane could fall out of the sky for any number of technical reasons and slam into the earth like a lawn dart never quite convinced me that flying was the safest form of transportation. When I would express anxiety over an upcoming flight, I always used to hear, "When your time's up, it's up." Understood. But what if the pilot's time is up? Why should I have to suffer the consequences of his or her bad luck?
Actually, once I was up in the air, I was generally okay. I knew, at that point, there wasn't a damned thing I could do if anything did happen so I would try to relax and 'enjoy' the flight. And if I concentrated on something other than I was crammed in a cigar-shaped tube with about one hundred and seventy other people, forty thousand feet in the air, shooting through the sky at five hundred miles per hour, flying was actually bearable.
Unless I was seated next to someone who, regardless of how many polite signals I sent out that I'd rather be left alone, wouldn't shut up. I brought a word puzzle book to keep me occupied and was halfway through a cryptogram when the young man seated to my left, who had introduced himself as Robert - not Rob, not Bob, not Bert - Robert, asked me if he could buy me a drink. I looked up to see a particularly attractive woman moving our way pushing the refreshment cart. I was torn between telling him that he was definitely barking up the wrong tree and I'd arm wrestle him for the flight attendant or if he was going to annoy me the entire flight, he could buy out her cache of Budweiser because I would need it.
Just then the plane started to rumble and shake and the seat belt sign lit up. To a seasoned traveler, it was just a minor bump in the air current but to me, any turbulence was too much. Since I never take my seat belt off while flying anyway, that wasn't a problem but the color draining from my face caught the attention of the older, grandfatherly gentleman seated to my right.
"Don't like flying much, do you?" he asked, his tone and demeanor very paternal and calm.
"What gave me away?" I breathed out, managing a stiff smile for him as we hit another air pocket.
"Your trying to make permanent handle grips out of the arm rests," he nodded toward my knuckles which were, indeed, white.
"You know, I should enjoy it," I said to him, closing my eyes as the plane literally felt like it bucked. "My mother always told me that being on an airplane was the closest to heaven I was ever going to get." We lurched again then dropped a few hundred feet leaving my stomach somewhere near the luggage rack.
He patted my wrist and said, "Nothing to worry about."
I was just about to ease up on my death grasp when we shuddered through one more large disturbance. The captain's voice could be heard advising us that he had turned on the seat belt sign as they'd hit a little 'rough air.' Rough air, my ass...each little vibration sent my life flashing before my eyes.
The flight attendant stopped at our row with the drink cart. Screw the beer, I asked her for a whiskey and water. But what I really wanted was for her to crawl into my lap and comfort me. Had I not been slightly terrified, I would have paid more attention and reacted much differently to the subtle touch and rather flirty, little wink when she handed me my drink. Of course, she could just be feeling sorry for me as I am sure I looked pathetically vulnerable and unusually small for my six foot frame folded into that little seat.
Either the flight had returned to being smooth or after my second whiskey, bypassing the water this time, I downed the little bottle of Jack like a shot, I just didn't care. Seeing me a little more relaxed, Robert suddenly regained the use of his voice. Unfortunately.
"You know what Delta stands for, don't you?" Before I had a chance to answer, he said, "Don't Even Leave The Airport." I smiled politely as he repeated it, laughing, emphasizing the acronym by poking his finger in the air after each word. I was about to tell him I had heard that one before but it didn't matter. Honestly, any Delta flight I had taken in the past had always been without incident but I wasn't about to tell him that, either. "So what's in Albany for you?"
"A funeral." I knew he was fishing and I wasn't about to tell him that Albany wasn't my final destination. For some reason, men just didn't want to believe that I had no interest in being with them. First, I would get the 'what - you think you're too good for me?' attitude and then, if I was blunt about my orientation, I would get the cliché, 'Obviously you haven't been with the right man yet.' Somehow I knew Robert would not disappoint me if I told him thanks but no thanks and why. The fact that I would never see this man again after we landed in Albany prompted me to not reveal any more about myself than necessary.
"Oh. I'm sorry." He obviously felt very awkward, not knowing what else to say and I took that opportunity to bury my nose back into my puzzle book. Robert was silent the rest of the flight.
On our descent into Albany, the plane once again rattled and shook as we cut through clouds. Looking out the window to my right, I grimaced. Flying in clouds always made me nervous, too, because there was no visibility. We were getting ready to land, getting closer to the ground with every second, I wanted the pilots to be able to see the airport, see the runway, see if there were any other planes in our vicinity.
"So, Ms Legs-That-Start-At-Her-Shoulders, how tall are you, anyway?" came the question from the man to my right with the kind eyes. He was trying to distract me from concentrating on what the plane was doing.
"Five feet twelve," I answered. It was my standard reply as it somehow made people feel less intimidated than my saying six feet. I was, in reality, just a hair under the six foot mark but not enough to really claim five eleven. By the time I was sixteen, I was two inches shorter than I am now. Thankfully I was good in basketball because I was the team's center whether I wanted to be or not.
"That must keep some men at bay."
"You have no idea." The plane shook hard as we slipped below the cloud cover and then smoothed out as land, trees, houses and roads came into view. I heard and felt the wheels come down and I could not wait to get on solid ground.
Still thinking I needed a diversion, the man said, "Know how to tell who lands the plane?"
I looked at him, quizzically. "I certainly hope the pilot lands the plane."
"Not always. Sometimes the co-pilot does."
This perked me up. "Okay...how can you tell?"
"When we land, if you feel the right wheel touch the ground first, the co-pilot is at the controls, if the left wheel touches first, the pilot's landing the plane."
I found that utterly fascinating as I never really paid attention and thought both wheels hit the ground at the same time. When I knew that we were about to connect with Mother Earth again, I focused intently and felt the right wheel touch the ground a half second before the left one did. I looked up at my seat companion, feeling like a little kid in school about to raise her hand with the correct answer. "The co-pilot, right?"
He nodded, laughing at my enthusiasm. Of course, I had no idea if it was true but the concept enthralled me. I wouldn't have minded talking to him during the flight instead of Robert, as he did not appear to be after anything other than pleasant conversation. As we taxied up to the terminal, I felt as though I had somehow lost out on something important by not getting acquainted with this distinguished-looking gentleman.
Disembarking the plane, my drink-serving stewardess said goodbye to me with another smile and wink that would have caused me to wait around inside for her under different circumstances and get her phone number but it was a little after five o'clock PM and I still had a two hour drive ahead of me, fifty miles of it on a two lane country highway. I really wanted to pick up my rental car and be on my way.
I wasn't exactly sure what awaited me when I got to Otter Falls but I did know that my life there would never be the same again.
The sun was setting when I drove through the outskirts of Otter Falls, population now a little over seventeen thousand. The small city had grown more than I ever expected it to since the town always seemed so resistant to change. I guess the need to boost the economy overcame the desire to stay quaint as I passed a Super Wal-Mart, three chain drug stores almost in a row, a Home Depot and several fast food restaurants on the main drag leading into downtown.
Before I found myself in a situation of snarled congestion, if downtown was anything like I remembered it at dinner time on a week night, I pulled over and called Sam to get directions to his new house. Otter Falls had not changed so much where I couldn't have remembered how to get to his old address but he was now living in a newly built housing section on the north side of town and I was too tired to try and find it on my own.
I really could have stopped somewhere for a beer or two and relaxed a little before facing the family and it was a temptation as there appeared to be some kind of bar or eating establishment that also served alcohol on every corner. Seems some things never changed. Regardless of the businesses that had cropped up over the last decade, it did not deter the town's favorite past time of drinking. There was really nothing much else to do here unless you skied, which a majority of the townspeople didn't. They couldn't stand the attitude and crush of flatlanders, who swept into the resorts at the first sign of snow, taking over the mountain that loomed over the area. So, the locals preferred to stay away from the ski lodges and bars that littered the access road and keep the city taverns in business by patronizing them instead. Frequently. Otter Falls once made the record books for having more bars per capita than any city in the USA and there was a reason for that.
Deciding to wait until I got to Sam's to have a beer, I smiled because, despite his grief over losing mom, he sounded excited that I was finally here. After speaking with him, I felt a familiar warmth that I always used to get around Sam when we were together, growing up. My older brother was a good guy, recognizing all those years ago that my being forced to live in his shadow and the unfair comparisons were neither of our faults. It wasn't because he was so perfect and I was so imperfect, it was that he followed all the rules and did everything that was expected of him and I did not. Sam knew that regardless of how hard I tried to please my mother, it was never good enough and I finally just gave up trying. Every time mom and I would have a fight and I would get sent to my room, Sam would always try to console me or cheer me up. Even if he never actually spoke up and said anything to her about her blatant bias. I understood the position he was in and even though I am sure his punishment wouldn't have amounted to much, our mother had a volcanic temper and it was not wise as, I was sure, he learned through me, to invoke her wrath.
My younger brother, Dane, was a different story altogether. He was three years behind me and spoiled rotten. Well, as spoiled as my mother would allow. Dane was sneaky and conniving and calculated his moves wisely. He was smart enough to never go after Sam because he knew Sam was the golden boy but he had no problem taking advantage of our mother's dislike for me and set me up every chance he got. He was always successful at making himself look good by making me look bad. He contributed to my life being a living hell at home, something in which he seemed to take great joy and pride. The only time I ever got even with him was when I tied him up, gagged him and shaved all those curly locks off his head before his freshman dance with his dream girl. As vain as he was about his appearance, especially about his hair, it made the necessary statement to him, even if he did whine to my mother afterwards. By that time I was seventeen and had a part-time job after school and on the weekends, so grounding me didn't have the impact it had in the past. And it was worth it.
From what I understood, Dane hadn't changed much. He was still behaving like a spoiled child, only now he was doing it in adult situations. I didn't talk to my younger brother much through phone calls or emails because we were not close and any communication between us usually ended on a sour note. I really think the only reason he contacted me at all was to see if he could weasel out of me why mom and I weren't speaking. Sam had advised me that Dane was less than thrilled that mom's house had not been left to him and to expect trouble from him. I didn't say anything to Sam but the house had no sentimental value to me, held a lot of bad memories and although I could have used the money from the sale, I didn't really want the hassle. I lived too far away to deal with the legalities and time it would take to get rid of it, so if Dane really wanted it at this point, I wasn't above signing it over to him.
The three of us grew up being called by our middle names. Sam was born Gregory Samuel Roberge, Jr., named, of course, after my father. Two Gregs around the house was confusing, so he became Sam, which was the first name of my grandfather. I was named Sarah Hunter, Sarah also being my mother's name, so to avoid confusion again, I was called Hunter, which was my mother's maiden name. Three years after me, Jonathan Dane came along. Jonathan after my maternal grandfather and Dane because my mom loved "The Thornbirds."
My father was a roguish man, loaded with charm and he knew how to use it. When he met my mother, an absolutely stunning woman who was pursued by many of his friends, he knew he had to be the one to get her. He swept her off her feet and seduced her with lies and promises he never intended to keep. My mother was one of the rare few women who actually saved herself for her wedding night and I think if she had not, there never would have been a marriage. However, the only way my father could get her into bed was to marry her. So he did.
In his defense, he tried to behave and according to my Uncle David, my father remained faithful until after I was born. I guess three years was the longest he'd ever been with one person only and he could stand it no longer and started cheating on her shortly after I had been brought home from the hospital. My mother became aware of it when one of his many conquests called the house in a fit of rage that he had dumped her for the next pretty face. Angry, hurt and mortified, she threatened my father with divorce and it surprised me that he never jumped at the chance, as it would have meant his freedom. Yet he apologized profusely, swore he would never do it again and pretended to be upholding his marriage vows while he still continued to sleep around. After Dane was born, my mother found detailed love letters hidden in a box in the garage, written from three separate women. My father came home to all of his belongings scattered on the front lawn.
She never spoke to him again. He agreed to all the conditions of the divorce and on the rare occasion he would come pick us up for the weekend, we would meet him out by his car. When I was thirteen, he just stopped showing up. Uncle David told us later that dad had met a young woman, moved to Florida with her and had two more children. My brothers and I got a Christmas card from him once. I was fifteen. It was the last time I heard from him.
When Uncle David died suddenly of a heart attack seven years ago, we all expected my father to show up at the funeral but he didn't. He acknowledged his brother's death with an impersonal, generic sympathy card. I was actually disappointed as I was torn between not wanting to see him and wanting to see him so I could tear into him for being the selfish prick he turned out to be. I firmly believed that if he had been the faithful husband and father my mother believed him to be when she married him, my life may have been a little easier. Every time she looked at me, she saw him and I reminded her of what she might have had and what she never did.
I pulled into the driveway of an impressive ranch house with a huge, well manicured lawn. Even though the sun had set and it was dark, the track lighting strategically placed at the walkway and other dominant areas illuminated the landscaping admirably. There were four other cars parked in front of me, and I wondered who they belonged to, thinking Sam was lucky to have such a long, wide driveway to be able to fit them all without having the butt end of any sticking out in the road.
Walking to the screened door, I knocked twice and entered. I followed the sound of the voices which led me up a small flight of five stairs and then found myself in an archway that left me standing in a living room full of people. I recognized the back of Sam's head and reached between two people to poke him. Turning, his eyes immediately welled up and he pulled me into an embrace.
As I hugged him fiercely, I heard a few mild gasps and all conversation stopped. When my brother released me and we both looked in the direction of the living room, all eyes were on us both.
"Oh my god, Hunter..." Sam's wife, Trina, took two steps toward me and enfolded me into her long arms. She had put on a few pounds since the last time I had seen her and it looked wonderful on her. She was way too skinny before. "How dare you get more gorgeous than the last time we saw you."
I believe I was actually blushing. Before I had a chance to respond to that, I heard the unmistakable sniveling voice of my younger brother.
"Well, if it isn't the prodigal daughter, returning home to collect her...due..."
Letting go of my sister-in-law, I smiled, patiently, giving Dane a blatant once-over. He had a glass in his hand, containing what I could only guess to be some kind of alcohol. His expression was disdainful, his tone of voice was downright snotty, and he was slightly slurring his words. "Well, well, well, if it isn't my baby brother. You haven't changed. Except..." I deliberately focused on the top of his head. "...hair's looking a little sparse there. Guess that doesn't want to stay around you any longer than anything else..."
And she scores! His expression was one of surprise and frustration that I had landed a direct hit with my first sentence. The ground rules had to be established immediately and I needed Dane to know that I was neither impressed by his status in the community nor intimidated by his loyal place at our mother's side. A few snickers could be heard around the room and Dane's eyebrows slanted downward, forming a V, his expression wounded but still indignant. "Well...it's obvious you haven't changed, either." He brought the glass to his lips and took a big swallow. "You don't belong here, Hunter."
"I'm not here by choice, Dane."
"Of course you are. You could have easily chosen to stay in California and done any of your business through your attorney."
"I don't have an attorney on retainer, Dane. I don't need one." A smirk curled my lips, knowing I'd managed another direct hit and one he most definitely would not dispute in front of an audience. According to Sam, Dane had been pulled over for DUI at least three different times in the past year and it was only through a well-connected lawyer that he had managed to keep it hushed up and out of the local paper. I had further discovered through a few other sources that my baby brother was a homophobic elitist who had won a local alderman seat through his very dirty campaign against an openly gay opponent. He preyed on the fears of the town that civil unions and same-sex marriage would be the downfall of western civilization as we know it and the man he was running against would only further the 'homosexual agenda' in the community. But the real clincher was he drudged up a supposedly expunged record that his opponent had been arrested for drunk driving at the age of twenty-two, telling the public, "How can we trust his judgment making town council decisions when he can't even judge when it's too dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car?"
Yes, my little brother was a hypocritical bastard. But then, in my experience, most homophobes are. The fact that he was a politician on top of it only added to his 'charm.'
"Okay, that's enough," Trina spoke up, good-naturedly. "Time to retreat to your corners." She hooked her arm through mine and addressed the other people gathered in the living room. "For those of you who don't know, this is Sam and Dane's sister, Hunter." I was then introduced or re-introduced to the twelve other people in the room. Eleven of them I had never met before and that included Dane's disagreeable-looking third wife, Emma. She didn't seem to appreciate it when we shook hands and I gave her my sincerest condolences for being married to my brother.
The one person I did know, however, was someone I would have rather not seen. At least not until I had been in town longer than five minutes. Phil Khaury had taken me to my senior prom. I had not wanted to go but got talked into it by my friends. Lesley wanted us to share the prom experience together and she convinced me that it would be fun. And it was. Until I got so trashed that I almost let Phil fuck me in the back seat of his car that night. Fortunately, I came to my senses and I was strong back then because if I hadn't put on the brakes, I would have had an evening for which I never would have forgiven myself. Phil had been difficult to cool down at first and got a little aggressive but nothing a knee to the groin didn't fix. We didn't exactly part friends that night and I ended up walking two miles home wearing a floor-length, off the shoulder, satin gown in low heels, swearing and cursing every step of the way. It was one of the rare times I actually got into a dress and, truth be told, I was enjoying it. It was the first time I realized that I could have a feminine side without betraying my sexuality.
When Phil looked at me, there were several conversations going on behind his eyes and each seemed to be broadcasting in neon across his forehead like the ticker in Times Square. The first was the most obvious as, hound that he still clearly was, his eyes leered hungrily over my body and when he finally pulled them out of my cleavage, he focused on my annoyed face. The next expression he wore revealed that he then remembered the last time we had seen each other, I had ripped him a new asshole for spreading around town that he had, indeed, nailed me on prom night. That rumor got back to my mother and regardless of how much I denied it, I still got grounded and had to listen to a tirade on moral character every night for two weeks. No amount of grief I gave Phil could ever make up for that unbearable fourteen days. If he had anything going for him at all, it was that at least he told everyone that I was a phenomenal lay.
"Hello, Phil," I crossed my arms.
"God...Hunter, you look...great." He waited, expecting me to return the compliment. I gleefully disappointed him. I couldn't deny that he was a handsome man and that he wore his thirties well, looking more rugged and mature than he had a right to. But my grown up assumption of him went right out the window when he gave me that boyish grin, stuck his hands in his pockets and said, "So...are you here with anyone?"
I shook my head in disbelief, although I should not have been surprised. "I'm here in my brother's house, at a gathering that is paying respects to my dead mother...and you're trying to pick me up?"
He looked immediately embarrassed. Taking a step backward, he put his hands up in front of him in surrender. "No, no, I wasn't, I...you took that wrong..."
Why is it when some people get caught saying or doing something inappropriate, instead of admitting it, apologizing and moving on, they always try to put the blame on their target by either saying 'you took it wrong' or 'I was only joking. Can't you take a joke?' knowing full well that if the situation had been received positively, they would have taken the ball and run with it? "Then what were you asking me, so that I can take it right?"
"Uh...is your husband with you?"
"I'm not married."
"Really?" His eyebrows shot up and he didn't even try to hide his delight at that answer. "How long are you going to be in town?"
I rolled my eyes and walked away from him, shaking my head.
"What? What'd I say?" He actually sounded bewildered.
I joined my brother in the kitchen. "Sam, do you have any beer?" He opened up the refrigerator and handed me a Longtrail Blackberry Wheat. I handed it back. "A real beer?"
He gave me a half-grin and looked in the back on the bottom shelf. "The only other kind I have is a Foster's Lager."
"I'll take it." Removing the cap and tossing it in the basket, I think I drank half the bottle before putting it down on the counter. "I'd love to catch up and get all the details of what I'm in for the next few days but I think that will have to wait until everyone's gone home and I'm not sure I can hang out that long."
"It's been a long day."
"Are you going to stay at the house?" he asked, referring to mom's.
"I figured I would, I hadn't made any other arrangements. That's if Dane doesn't have it booby-trapped." I took another pull from the bottle.
Sam smiled and leaned in close, lowering his voice. "Nothing that little fucker would do would surprise me."
I nearly spit beer out my nose. Sam took the Foster's from me and started pounding me on the back. I waved him away before he broke a rib.
"I'm sorry, did I offend you?" my dear brother asked, sincerely concerned.
"Yes. Watch your fucking mouth next time," I rasped.
Wide-eyed, Sam then roared with laughter, relieved and pulled me into a hug. "God, I've missed you."
"I've missed you, too." And, up until that point, I had no idea just how much.
He reached in a drawer and pulled out a set of keys, separating them and holding up one in particular. "This is the key to mom's front door." He then indicated the next four keys. "This is the back door key, the key to the door that leads to the garage, the garage door key and this is the key to the Wrangler in the garage." He had a distinct twinkle in his eye.
"Wrangler? Are you telling me mom drove a Jeep or is there a cowboy in the garage?"
"Mom had a Camry which needs a new transmission so it's out of commission. The Jeep is Eric's. We're keeping it there while he's at school." Eric was his step-son who was away at college. Trina was five years older than Sam and had been widowed when they met. They had not had any children together and my brother raised Eric as his own.
"Where is Eric? Is he coming home for the funeral?"
"No, he can't get away. I told him not to sweat it. Mom knew he loved her, his coming back here when it's a hassle isn't necessary."
"He won't mind that I drive his car while I'm here?"
"Hey - We bought him that car and I'm paying the insurance. And what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Just don't wreck it." He handed me the set of keys. "Oh by the way, you've also inherited Orion."
Oh, no. That cat hated me. I couldn't believe that tough old feline with the attitude of a pit bull on crack was still alive. Must have been the pure nastiness flowing through her veins that kept her going. She was a year old when I was kicked out and I still have scars from that little bitch attacking me. I also woke up to many unwanted crawling and slithering 'gifts' she had brought inside and dropped in my bed. I swear if she wasn't trying to kill me with a blood infection, she was trying to give me a heart attack. I was sure she had only become more cunning and ornery in her older years. That's probably why my mother left me the house...so Orion could finish me off.
After that, I changed my mind and decided to go to a bar when I left.
Regardless of how progressive Otter Falls was becoming, there were still no gay bars in town. I only knew this because I had checked online before I left Los Angeles. I was disappointed for two reasons, the first being that it would have been nice to be able to have a beer or two in an establishment where I could relax and be myself and the second being that I would loved to have seen who frequented the bar and if I knew or recognized them. There were a few people in high school I had no doubt, I would have run into there. All male, of course, but it would have been interesting to see if I had guessed correctly.
Instead, I drove downtown, passed a few watering holes I had sneaked into when I was a senior. They weren't the classiest of joints but I recalled the drafts had been cheap and because they still looked like dives and even more run down than I remembered, I decided to bypass them and look for something a little more palatable. There used to be a running joke that went, 'What do you say to compliment someone from Otter Falls?' and the response was, 'Hey, nice tooth.' That never seemed truer than what I witnessed hanging outside the Main Street Saloon, a bar that used to have an...interesting...atmosphere sixteen years ago. 'Interesting' seemed to have turned to 'menacing' if the size of the doorman was any indication. No doubt I would have recognized a few people in that place, too.
I then passed the First Congregational Church and felt an involuntary smile creep onto my face. Although it was the downfall of my already fragile relationship with my mother, I still recall the day the minister's wife seduced me.
Apparently my mother had met with the new pastor regarding my rebellious behavior and sacrilegious attitude toward the church. And, as I seemed to 'bond' more closely with women, she requested that maybe his wife should arrange to speak with me. Reverend Charles Visson, an attractive man in his early thirties was very persuasive and, at first, tried to talk my mother into me meeting with him instead. My mother was unyielding, knowing I would have blown him off immediately, regardless of how charming he may have been. She soon learned he was nowhere near as charismatic and persuasive as his gorgeous wife.
I had always wondered why my brothers had nicknamed his wife Mrs. Vixen until she walked into the pizza place where I worked, looking for me. My three male co-workers, all under the age of eighteen, fell over each other trying to wait on her. It was like a scene right out of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' with lust-filled bulging eyes and tongues down to the floor. I almost expected to hear horns, bells and whistles. However, everything went limp (and I'm pretty sure I do mean everything) when she asked specifically for me.
Not knowing who she was but definitely intrigued by this sexy vision seated at Table Six, wondering what she could possibly want with me, I wiped my hands on my ingredient-stained waist apron and approached her, my overloaded teenage hormones also working overtime. I stood at the table's edge as her incredible light brown eyes started at my boots and slowly traversed the length of my body, appreciatively, until our eyes finally met. I swallowed hard, a little flustered by such a bold, open appraisal, my brain quickly turning to oatmeal and I finally was able to get out, "You wanted to see me?" I knew it had to be wishful thinking that this woman was a lesbian and was going to proposition me with something hopefully indecent.
"My, you are a tall one." Her voice was like silk, smooth and refined, and she smiled at me, an expression I found quite captivating at the time, and maybe I still would today. It was that smile that told me something was indeed going to happen between whoever this woman was and me. I don't know how I knew, not having experience beyond some kissing and fumbling (with a girl from a rival basketball team), but it was something I just instinctively felt. "Please sit." She gestured across the table with a well-manicured, short-nailed (thank goodness) hand.
"I don't get off for another forty-five minutes." I had no clue how true that statement was to become. "Can you tell me what this is about?" I studied her quite intently. Well, as intently as one could when one's lower regions were unexpectedly detonating, making it extremely difficult to focus on anything other than, well, one's own lower regions.
She had streaked blonde hair, worn in a shoulder-length style that was very becoming to her, framing her face in a way which accented her slender nose, cheekbones and full, sensuous lips. Although I had dreamed of being with a woman, I was still a virgin at that point of my life and could only imagine what that mouth would feel like on my body. If I hadn't known any better, I would have believed she had channeled my x-rated thoughts as she licked her bottom lip slowly. My eyes then unceremoniously fell to her ample cleavage, unabashedly revealed in a purple tank top covered by a lavender blouse, with four buttons undone from the top. When my brain engaged again and I realized I was ogling her breasts, I snapped my attention back to her face which had absorbed my gawking with a knowing smirk. She extended her hand to me. "I'm Jennifer Visson. I was sent here to chat with you."
"Visson?" Then it hit me. "The preacher's wife?" She nodded. Well. Any and all fantasies should have gone right down the drain yet that insistent feeling that we were destined to be intimate kept jabbing me in the libido. "Why do you want to chat with me? Who sent you?" I know I must have looked confused because I was confused.
"I was asked to come here by your mother who wants me to talk you into coming back to church."
I blinked at her, torn between being pissed at my mother's unrealistic persistence and thinking if I got to see Mrs. Visson at least once a week, what I actually might return to church to worship would have been caused by a lure other than Reverend Visson's sermons. I excused myself to speak to my boss about ending my shift early. Since customers had been few and far between and he knew the woman I was talking to should have meant religious business, he told me to go punch out. I did, quickly checking my rather flour-dusted reflection in the locker room mirror and returned to the table, sitting opposite her. "I don't want to be disrespectful, Mrs. Vix - Visson..." Fuck. I couldn't believe I almost called her that. I refused to look at her, in case she was aware of the nickname and it embarrassed her. Embarrassed her? I was mortified. I then felt her fingers curl around my wrist, prompting me to glance up at her.
Smiling warmly, she said, "Please call me Jennifer." She didn't let go of my wrist.
I really thought I was going to be a puddle in the chair, I was so turned on. "Jennifer," I repeated, hoarsely. "I don't know what your husband preaches but Reverend Riffey just preached hate and intolerance. And he and his family were very hypocritical. That's why I stopped going. The congregation talked horribly about him through the week, then kissed his ass on Sunday, agreeing with every destructive and hateful thing that man said, ready to do his dirty work and further his agenda, whether they agreed with him or not. That's why I stopped going. I wasn't interested in being one of the little rats that pied piper led around." She was lightly rubbing her thumb over the inside of my wrist. It was driving me crazy.
"That certainly makes sense and is more than a valid reason," she nodded. "My husband has entirely different values." Her thumb stopped breezing over my wrist while she slightly increased her pressure on her grasp and I got lost in the beckoning in her eyes. "As do I. Why don't we go somewhere and talk about bringing you back into the...fold."
In what seemed like a blur, we got to my house. It was in her car where she told me she had been watching me for a few days, finding out all she could about me as, originally, she would have used that information to personalize whatever she would say to try and talk me into rejoining the congregation. But the more she observed me and what my mother told her about my interest, hobbies and extra curricular activities at school, the more she realized that I was most likely gay. When I didn't dispute her conclusion, she confessed that she was bisexual and she had a passion for busting female virgins and wanted me very much. I was eighteen and didn't realize how crude or rapacious that was at the time and frankly, I didn't care. I just wanted her to touch me in places I had only touched myself as I was ready to spontaneously climax.
Expressing concern about being discovered by my family members, Jennifer assured me that my mother would be helping out at the church for the next couple of hours, as she did one night every week. She further reminded me that Sam was scheduled to be at work until nine that night and Dane should have been in his favorite class, political science, and then bullying his classmates in debate club until seven. She really had done her homework.
We had barely made it through the door when she starting kissing me. I had about four inches on her so regardless of her being the aggressor, I felt I was in the dominant position. I had no idea what to do with my hands and they did some spastic dance at my sides and then behind her head before she finally grabbed one and placed it on her waist. My other hand finally found a resting place in her hair. Then my faculties decided to return and the art of making out started feeling somewhat inherent again. When she broke the kiss, I thought I was going to need oxygen because the sensation had been so sexual and because I forgot to breathe. I came back at her like an uncivilized Pepe LePew and she halted me with her hands and requested that I take a quick shower. She had a point. I smelled like a pepperoni pizza. Well, it could have been worse; I could have smelled like anchovies.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I hit that stall faster than I'd ever done anything before and just scrubbed the most important parts. When I returned to my room to comb my hair, Jennifer was in my bed, naked.
Within five minutes, it was over for me. All she did was put her mouth on my nipple and, with one flick of her tongue, an orgasm washed over my body like a small wave. I now know how a man feels about premature ejaculation. Not deterred, she then, with extreme patience, did things to my body that I had only read about in my father's hidden Penthouse Forum stash, left in a box in the garage. All that did was cement my orientation. If I had any question before, it was gone. My sexual catechism was thorough and she left me quivering and greedy for more.
Then she deftly guided me in what to do to make love to her and I discovered that I liked pleasing her and the reaction she had to my touch almost as much as I liked being pleased. Almost. By the time she left, I was addicted to her. Remembering her earlier declaration made me wonder, later on, who else in town she may have 'busted' before me and when she would get tired of me, as I was no longer a virgin. Obviously I had something that kept her coming back for more (and I was hoping it wasn't that I fucked like an amateur because I think I conquered that awkward, clumsy stage by her third visit).
We managed to arrange to meet at least four days a week for the next month, until the fateful afternoon when my mother came home early and with us being so heavily into our fucking, we never heard the downstairs door close and her call our names. However, we did hear the sharp intake of breath and the 'dear sweet Jesus' when she opened my door and saw her precious minister's wife's face buried in my crotch.
Looking back on it, I was grateful to Jennifer for being my physical introduction to all things carnal. She awakened my lesbianism to eternal consciousness...but I wished she, being the sex-savvy adult and the one in control, had directed us somewhere other than the convenience of my mother's empty house. We were just begging to get caught. If I had been anything but a horny teenager, craving this new love like a hummingbird seeks out nectar, I would have suggested another location in-between getting laid. We had played with fire and ended up dancing with the devil in the depths of hell.
The Vissons left town by the end of the month, Jennifer probably imploring her husband to leave, no doubt influenced by the same fear I had - being found out for who she really was. I know the only reason my mother didn't publicly crucify her was that then everyone would have known about her daughter.
But my mother privately crucified me by banishing me from her life.
I decided on a new place called The Night Shift. I found out later that it had been there for eight years so it was only new to me. It was spacious with a dark interior and a well set up bar, mostly illuminated by white Christmas lights that bordered the walls where they met the ceiling. As it was just barely past nine o'clock, I was sure the house lights had been dimmed to create a more romantic atmosphere. If it wasn't for the two huge plasma televisions on opposite ends of the room, both showing different news networks with the audio muted and the blaring jukebox music and the knocking together of pool balls, it might have succeeded. Not that it mattered to me; I was only there for the booze.
The bartender had just served me my second Guinness when I heard someone call out, "Hunter? Hunter Roberge, is that you?" I was under the impression I had changed in looks over the past sixteen years but obviously not as much as I thought. I turned toward the female voice and was greeted by the stunned eyes of my high school best friend, Lesley Riordan. What were the odds?
I grinned rather jauntily and said, "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine." I stood up to accept her inevitable embrace.
"God, Hunter, I'm so sorry about your mom," she said, while hugging me fiercely.
"Thanks." There was an uncomfortable moment of silence and then she removed her arms from around my shoulders, stepping back, assessing me.
"I was wondering if you were going to come back for her services. Last time I saw Dane and asked about you, he said you and your mom still weren't speaking."
She looked good. She had grown a little taller, which still left her five inches shorter than I was and had maintained a trim figure except somewhere along the way she had acquired an enormous rack. Whether they were natural or silicone, I had no idea, but they were out of proportion with the rest of her body and made her clearly top heavy. Mine weren't small but they were nowhere near as big as hers and my back hurt from lugging these around, I couldn't imaging how her back was managing. If she still jogged, she must have had to wear the sports bra from hell. Other than that, she still looked like my best friend, only sixteen years older, with highlighted auburn hair and overly made up green eyes. Her once pleasant face now had a hardness to it that surprised me, though. I wondered if never leaving this town and dealing with its 'good ol' boy' suppression had done that to her. "We weren't but, for some reason, she left me the house, so I'm back here to deal with that."
"That's the only reason? God, Hunter, that's kind of cold."
I shrugged, not offended by her assumption. It was true. "You know, as well as anyone, that my mother and I never got along, never had a traditional relationship. To pretend it was anything else just because she's dead now would be dishonest and something I won't do."
She seemed to consider this, looking at the floor. "True." She then focused back on me, grinning. "Well, the years have certainly been good to you."
"The years? Jesus, Les, you make me sound ancient. I'm only thirty-four, as are you," I unnecessarily reminded her.
"Well, you look great. Have you seen your brothers yet?"
I sat back down on my stool and she stood next to me. "I just came from Sam's. I had to deal with Dane. That's why I'm here." I held up my beer for emphasis.
"Dane's not such a bad guy. For a politician."
I gestured the empty stool next to me. "Join me?"
"Oh, no, I can't. I'm waiting on a party," she turned and pointed to two long tables pushed together in a corner with four champagne bottles sticking out of ice buckets, two on each table. "I got here early to set up. Hey...why don't you join us?"
The last thing I actually wanted was to be sociable to a group of strangers. Or a group of old acquaintances. "Who are 'us'?" I felt it was only polite to find out before I refused.
"It's Lisa's thirtieth birthday, so it will be her and my parents and -"
"Wait. Your kid sister is thirty? Scrawny, bratty, tag along Lisa?"
She laughed. "Well, yeah. She is four years younger than us, hello."
Okay. Now I did feel ancient. Little Lisa. Thirty.
"Hey, here they are now."
A group of about ten people walked in and I recognized her parents immediately. A little chunkier, a little more gray but Mr. and Mrs. Riordan, nonetheless. As Lesley waved to them and pointed to their tables, she grabbed my sleeve and pulled. "Come on, Hunter, I know they'd love to see you. It'll be like old times."
"Yeah, old times. Your mom blamed me every old time we got into trouble even though you," I poked my finger into her stomach, "were the mastermind. What happens if you get drunk tonight? She going to forbid you to see me for two weeks?"
Laughing, she grabbed my finger. "Yeah, she thought you were pretty, um...adventurous..."
"When I left here, she thought I was fast and loose, thanks to Phil Khaury's big mouth even though I..." I looked at her pointedly, "...was probably the only senior who didn't get laid on prom night."
Eyes twinkling, Lesley said, "Your loss." She let go of my finger. "Listen, no worries. I 'fessed up to her ten years ago that it wasn't you, it was me who stole daddy's bottle of vodka that time. You just supplied the oranges. She figured out the rest on her own. She's forgiven you. And she still asks occasionally if I ever hear from you. But," she added with some sadness, "I told her I guess when you gave up on your mom, you gave up on the rest of us, too."
I took a long drink of beer. "It wasn't like that, Les. It had nothing to do with any of you and had everything to do with me."
"What does that mean?" She questioned, thoughtfully.
Hmmm. Was this the time? The place? Was I finally going to come out to my childhood best friend, someone I'd been away from as many years as I'd known her? Sure. Why not? I'd kept the secret from this shit hole town long enough. I didn't live here, I no longer had to be concerned with my or my mother's reputation and my brothers could fend for themselves. Sam would cope just fine and I could only hope it would ruin Dane's political aspirations. And, who knows? Maybe no one would even care. Maybe they had already guessed. Maybe no one would be surprised.
Okay. Deep breath. "Well, what it means is that I'm -"
"Lesley, come on! We want to make the toast!" A young man interrupted us, holding a flute of champagne.
"Okay, I'll be right there," she told him then turned back to me. "Come on, Hunter, please...at least come over and say hi even if you don't stay," she whined and pouted and bounced on her heels like a little kid, breasts jiggling threateningly at me.
I moved back slightly, not wanting to risk being beaned by my former best friend's boobs. I rolled my eyes. "Oh, all right." I picked up my beer mug and stood up again. "But if your mother starts counting how many beers I've had, I'm coming back over here."
"She won't." Grabbing my sleeve again, she pulled me through the crowd over to the table where mostly everyone was seated, each holding a full glass of champagne. "Hey, everybody, look who I found over at the bar..."
As I looked around the group, of course the people I had never met were puzzled but the few I recognized, including Lesley's parents, also looked confused. I did a quick scan, trying to figure out which one was Lisa. I had pretty much decided it was the mousy little redhead at the end of the first table, looking a tad irritable that the big celebration was being interrupted.
"Oh, come on, isn't it obvious?" Lesley laughed, gesturing my height, "it's -"
"Hunter Roberge," a voice beside me breathed.
I turned to see who had recognized me. Now...usually in the movies, when a moment like this happened, the film would go all slow motion to underscore the magic of the occasion. And that's exactly how this felt like it happened. I looked down into one of the most naturally beautiful faces I could ever remember seeing, which said a lot, considering, in Los Angeles, pretty faces were a dime a dozen. She had thick, light blonde hair that fell to just below her shoulders, a captivating white smile revealed behind understated red lips, a perfect nose and mesmerizing, sparkling green eyes that were holding me hostage as they attempted to convey a message I was too dazzled to read. There was something about her eyes that did look vaguely familiar but I couldn't place her. Who was this? And how did she know me?
As I was about to ask, Mr. and Mrs. Riordan were on their feet, offering me their hugs and condolences. When the formalities of that were behind us, before I found out who the engaging little temptress was who also expressed her sympathy, I figured I'd better say happy birthday to the woman whose party I was probably ruining by unintentionally becoming the focus. I grabbed Lesley's arm before she could move away from me. "Is that Lisa over there?" I subtly pointed to the timid albeit obviously perturbed, bespectacled redhead.
"Oh, heavens, no, that's Dina, Lisa's secretary."
"Lisa has a secretary? What does she do?"
"Jesus, Hunter, you can ask her directly, she's standing right behind you," Lesley folded her arms, amused.
No. It couldn't be. I spun quickly to see that gorgeous enchantress smirking at me, her arms also folded. "Lisa?!"
"Hunter," she acknowledged. Just the way she said my name sent a shiver down my spine. I am sure I looked dumbfounded. She laughed. "What? You still thought I'd look the same at thirty as I did at fourteen?"
I guess I did. Thankfully, I had guessed wrong. Well, at least now I knew why she looked vaguely familiar. She stepped toward me and pulled me into an embrace I enjoyed entirely too much. It was a full body hug, usually the kind only lesbians knew how to give but Lisa had always been an affectionate girl so I was probably reading something into nothing through wishful thinking. "Happy Birthday," I told her, as I reluctantly released her.
"Thank you," she responded, in a tone that sounded almost intimate. She stepped back. "Please join my party, Hunter. I would love to have you celebrate my thirtieth birthday with us."
She didn't have to ask twice. Even if she wasn't gay, she certainly wouldn't be too hard on the eyes for the next couple of hours and preferable to going to my mother's house and facing those memories. I grabbed a chair from a nearby empty table, wedging it between Lisa's harassed-looking secretary and Lesley, who poured me a flute of champagne.
"Can we get this toast over with, so I can have my martini?" Dina finally called out. Well, at least now I knew why she had looked so impatiently peeved.
I had been introduced around the table and in-between trying to be courteous to any conversation thrown my way, I couldn't stop staring at Lisa. She had become a stunning woman, very poised and polished and every time she engaged me with those intense green eyes, she, quite frankly, left me breathless. Her transformation from immature little girl to sophisticated adult, from gawky adolescent to absolute knockout had been amazing. The thing I remembered about her most was that she was always following Lesley and me around, wanting to be included in whatever we did. I wouldn't object to her following me around anywhere now.
I had alerted on the fact that there was no husband or boyfriend mentioned and she was not wearing an engagement or wedding ring. I was encouraged, even though I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment. But I couldn't help it. I was incredibly drawn to the former little girl who once, in an adorable cowboy costume, told me she would rope the moon for me if I wanted it. She was eight. I suddenly wished she still had that hero worship.
So far, I had learned that Lisa was an environmental lawyer, which I found most impressive. If she had to be a lawyer at all, at least she was working for a noble cause. It was an obvious profession for her as she always loved to argue. Well, at least with Lesley. I had learned that she graduated at the top of her class from the Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center, where she would occasionally give lectures, that she owned her own house, was the proud 'mommy' of two rescued greyhounds, enjoyed gardening...but still no mention of a significant other.
I also learned that Lesley was on her second husband who was home with her twin boys from her first marriage. She said she was glad she'd had boys because she would never have wanted two girls the same age who were as exasperating as we had been. That was a terrifying thought. Lesley worked temporary jobs eight months out of the year and then really raked in the bucks waiting tables at one of the major lodge's bar and restaurant during ski season. If I remembered correctly, the hotels didn't pay shit but the tips were exceptional. One of my older cousins put herself through business school on the money she made from waitressing on the mountain.
The conversation came back to my mother again. Mrs. Riordan, who then made a remark about my having had four beers already, not including the ones I'd had before they got there, and she guessed I'd never kicked that little habit, asked me outright if my mother and I had spoken to each other before she'd passed away and just what exactly was the problem, anyway. I turned to Lesley with a raised eyebrow. She's forgiven me, eh? It was then I heard Lisa say in a mildly reprimanding voice, "Mother. That's between Hunter and Mrs. Roberge. It's none of our business."
She put a patronizing hand on Lisa's arm and then said in a condescending tone, "I just thought Hunter might like to tell us, dear. I mean Sarah is gone now, what difference could it possibly make?"
Ah, yes. It was all coming back to me now. Mary Lynne Riordan. Town Crier. If someone farted on the opposite side of Otter Falls from her, Mrs. Riordan was on the phone to her sister about it before all the air had been expelled. I should have thanked them for inviting me to join the party, excused myself and returned to the bar but I glanced back at Lisa, who was looking at me with an expression of patient understanding and against my better judgment, despite the fact that I was melting under her gaze, I chose to stay.
"Mrs. Riordan," I began, forcing restraint, "I was not the one who stopped speaking. That was my mother's decision. And, because, it was something that would invade her privacy for me to discuss...even now...I am going to respect her memory and leave it where it belongs." Then I added, sweetly, "I am sure you would expect nothing less from your daughters." Well. That got a warranted redness to rise in the cheeks of Mrs. Riordan, an embarrassed clearing of the throat from Mr. Riordan and a smile that made it all okay from Lisa.
"So, Hunter," Lesley began, breaking the spell, "what is it that you do out there in California?"
"I am a chief ranger in the Angeles National Forest." There was a round of the expected 'ooohs' and I glanced quickly at Lisa to see a look of quiet approval in her eyes as she rested her chin on her folded hands. I was hoping she was still as fascinated with me as I now was with her.
"Wow. You're the chief ranger -" Lesley started.
"No," I corrected, "I am a chief ranger, not the chief ranger. A chief ranger is a supervisor position."
"What is it you do as a chief ranger?" It was Lesley again.
"You know, this is Lisa's party." I leaned over to Lesley, "we can get together and talk about me any time while I'm here. You only turn thirty once." I returned my attention to the guest of honor, who seemed to be studying me with something akin to amusement. "So, back to you."
And, as if Mrs. Riordan had not even heard me, she said, "Are you married, Hunter?"
Did I detect a hint of concentrated interest in that question from the direction of the party girl? "No, Mrs. Riordan, I'm not." I responded.
"Not now or not ever?"
"What? A beautiful girl like you?" Mr. Riordan piped up. "What's wrong with all them men out there in the land of fruits and nuts? They all gay?"
"Dad!" That exclamation came from both Riordan daughters and made me laugh. My best friend's parents had not changed.
"What?" He shrugged, throwing his hands in the air, looking sincerely perplexed.
"No, Mr. Riordan. I guess I'm just not the marrying type." I wasn't about to get into my sexuality now. I could only imagine the reaction and I would be damned if I was going to ruin Lisa's special night. But since we were on the subject and it would bring the focus back to Lisa... "What about you, Lisa? Married? Engaged? Divorced? Separated? Boyfriend?" Girlfriend?
Among sudden dead silence in the room, Lisa leaned forward on her elbows and said, "Actually, I'm single."
I looked around the table and everyone seemed to find interest elsewhere until Lesley, in her best troublemaker tone said, "Are you going to tell her why you're still single?"
Lisa opened her mouth to say something and Mrs. Riordan cut her off, with a distinct chill in her voice. "Why don't we just leave it at Lisa isn't the marrying type, either."
The expression on Lisa's face was a mixture of annoyance, frustration and amusement, as she shook her head. Glancing back at me, she then cut Lesley a nasty look. "Actually, I'm -"
"Let's change the subject, shall we?" Mary Lynne Riordan's smile was fake and strained.
"You brought the subject up, Mom." Lisa reminded her.
Well, this was interesting. What big Riordan mystery had I stumbled upon? Had Lisa been with someone influential and the relationship was now over, which was somehow embarrassing to her mother? Had she been involved with someone her parents hadn't approved of? Surely, Lisa and I couldn't be sharing the same 'secret.' Could we? That was too much to hope for.
As a smidgen of tension wafted through the air, I took in my surroundings and decided to be the one to change the subject. "This is really a nice place. You all seem comfortable here, is this a regular family stop?" I looked around the table at each Riordan family member.
"Not a regular stop," Mrs. Riordan breathed out, sounding scandalized that I would think she hung out in a bar. "We have been here for occasions."
"Yeah," Lisa smirked, "the last occasion was the celebration of Lesley's boob job. In her honor, for dinner we had a five and a half pound breast..."
"Lisa!" Mrs. Riordan admonished, nearly snorting out her daiquiri. I almost expelled some beer through my nose, as well. Lesley's jaw dropped slightly but she recovered quickly, grinning like a proud fool. She then stood up pointed to her new additions like Vanna displaying consonants. The table broke into applause and Mrs. Riordan cringed as Lesley sat back down.
"Oh, Mom, please," Lisa laughed, rubbing her mother's shoulder, "If Vermont allowed billboards, Chesty here would have put her girls out there for the world to see. She's proud of those puppies."
"Well, she wasn't naturally blessed like you were, dear," Mrs. Riordan, mumbled, turning to her husband, her expression pleading for rescue.
Doug Riordan did not fulfill her wishes. "Well, hell, Mary Lynne, let her show off the damned things, Wally sure as hell paid enough for 'em. I certainly hope he's gettin' as much enjoyment out of 'em as she is."
"Douglas!!" Mrs. Riordan closed her eyes and hid behind her hand.
"Dad!!" Both his daughters chorused.
"What?!" he said, shrugging, throwing his hands in the air again.
Lisa excused herself to use the bathroom and I wanted to follow her, to ravish her up against the wall of one of the stalls. However, I remained seated and listened to Mr. Riordan drone on about some local sports competition and Mrs. Riordan looking grateful for any diversion.
When her parents were well occupied and lost in conversation with others at the table, Lesley leaned over and said in a hushed voice, "Still know how to stir up trouble, I see."
I kept my attention on my nearly empty beer mug. "I do? How's that?"
"Asking if Lisa's married. That's a sore subject with us all and we all try to avoid it. Even though she has no problem telling anybody, which only makes it worse."
"And why is that?" Oh please, oh please...
Lesley's vocal inflection had moved from being disdainful to downright contemptible. "My dear, sweet, baby sister isn't married because the little perv is a dyke."
As my inner giddy schoolgirl did a happy dance and screamed, YES!! and then fell to her knees, pumping her fist in the air, I couldn't ignore the disgusted way my once best friend had presented the situation to me. Her use of the words 'perv' and 'dyke' were emphasized with a particular revulsion that set my teeth on edge. "Is that so?" I said, coolly.
As Lisa walked back to the table, Lesley moved even closer and whispered what she thought was a warning. "Be careful...she's always had a crush on you."
I turned and looked at Lesley, my intention being to match her repugnance for opposite reasons but not wanting to cause a scene. "I'll keep that in mind."
However, I think it backfired when she sat back and said, "Yeah, I have no doubt you can kick her ass if she gets out of line."
I finished my beer and stood up. I wanted to get as far away from Lesley as possible. "Well," I announced, "it's been a long day and the next few days will, no doubt, be even longer. I should get going."
Lesley patted my leg and said, "Call me. Or why don't I just stop by?"
Before I could tell her, 'thanks but no thanks,' Lisa was by my side. "Thanks for joining us, Hunter. Seeing you again was a very nice birthday present." She hugged me again and I embraced her back, giving her an extra squeeze. If I were living here and would have been around to help take the flack it would have caused, I may have just bent her back in my arms and planted a juicy one on her, just to get a reaction. Okay, not just to get a reaction but that would have been a worthwhile residual.
Before I released her, I whispered in her ear, "Looks like you have your hands full with this bunch."
I felt her relax and then I heard her say in a voice only I could hear, "Right now I'm just concentrating on having my arms full." I know she must have felt my breath catch and my heart start beating faster.
When she stepped back, she winked at me and suddenly it felt like there was no one else in the room except the two of us. I don't know if anyone else noticed or felt the sparks flying between us and I really didn't care. I can't remember ever feeling such desire for anyone in my life. But before I really did take her in my arms and nail her with searing kiss that would have burned holes in her self-righteous family's eyes, I automatically nodded to everyone and began to back away, thanking the air for allowing me to join the festivities.
As angry as I was at Lesley's blatant bias against her sister's orientation, I was able to put her out of my mind and concentrate on the fetching surprise that was once the little pest I couldn't wait to get away from. Now, all I could think about was how to find a way to be around her. I suppose I should have been more mindful of her being so young the last time I saw her, the huge gap between our ages back then and all the years that had passed in the meantime. It was difficult to reconcile the awkward, androgynous teenager who I barely considered a 'cute kid,' much less a blip on my gaydar screen with this 'woman-of-my-dreams' status she now was. It was as though I was dealing with two entirely different people and the fourteen-year-old I remembered was a lifetime away from the thirty-year-old who had just incarcerated any common sense I had left. Something that would have been wrong on so many levels sixteen years ago felt instantly and indisputably right and I knew I would have very little, if any, control over my libido if either Ms. Lisa Riordan or I tried to look each other up while I was here.
As I was driving to my mother's, I thanked whatever entity guided me to that bar. At least this journey 'home' wouldn't be a total waste of my time.
I hesitated before I unlocked the front door. I knew walking inside this house was going to be overwhelming on many levels. I expected the first emotion to hit me to be anger. Anger at what could have been, should have been a loving environment and wasn't and anger at what was lost all those years ago that could never be regained. I felt anger at my mother for always making me feel so inadequate and anger at my mother and my father for making me so angry.
But what I felt as I stepped over the threshold was sadness. Sadness for what could have been, should have been a loving environment and wasn't and sadness for what was lost all those years ago that could never be regained. I felt sadness for my mother for always making me feel so inadequate and sadness for my mother and my father for making me so angry. I not only had some physical housecleaning facing me, I had some psychological housecleaning to do as well.
I immediately detected the faint scent of the cinnamon apple potpourri she always had littered throughout the house and I unexpectedly choked up. Where had that emotion come from? Swallowing the rather large lump in my throat, I turned on the light and, as my eyes swept the living room and hallway, I was taken back to being the destroyed eighteen-year-old who had walked out that very same door for the last time sixteen years ago.
Walking through the house, things were beginning to feel more familiar again. Other than updating the curtains and a new carpet, she hadn't changed the place since I left. I climbed the stairs and headed for my old room, thinking she had probably turned it into a storage area.
Opening the door, I was shocked to see that everything was exactly as I had left it...except she had made my bed (and washed the sheets, I'm sure). In fact, when I turned up the dimmed light, it almost looked as if it had been turned into a shrine. As my self-esteem was pretty shattered when I left, I didn't remember having so many photographs of myself spread out all over the room. There were laminated newspaper articles of my basketball achievements in my junior and senior years, which I know I had never attached to the mirror and my varsity and junior varsity trophies were all on display on my bureau. I could only think that Sam must have placed all those mementos there...although I couldn't, for the life of me, understand why my mother would leave them there.
I went down the hall and checked out my brother's old bedrooms. Sam's had been turned into a guest room and Dane's was now a sewing room, which wasn't surprising, she had always love to make clothes and used to sew costumes for two different local dance schools at recital time. I then walked across the hall to my mother's room.
It smelled like her. Or the flower-scented perfume I always remembered her wearing. Island gardenia, I believe it was. It was always a sure-fire, no fail present. She usually ended up with at least three bottles of it every Christmas morning; that and something to do with her sewing. I sat down on her bed, which was still as hard as a rock. She always liked a 'firm' mattress, which translated into meaning a completely unyielding slab of concrete. I never understood how that could have been beneficial to anyone's back. On her nightstand was a framed photograph of her, my brothers and me, taken by Phil Khaury on the night of my senior prom. God, I was so young. And we all looked so deceptively happy. And I'd forgotten how beautiful she used to be.
Next to the picture lay her reading glasses, open, ready for her to slip them on. I ran my thumb over the frame and once again choked up. I shook my head. It didn't have to be like this. I took a deep breath and stood up, my eyes surveying the walls and floors, noticing that, except for a new rug, this room had not changed, either.
After retrieving my suitcases and returning upstairs to put them in the guest room (because it had the queen-sized bed as opposed to my room, which had a twin), I went back down to put a twelve-pack of Guinness in the refrigerator, keeping one out to drink. My thoughts kept returning to earlier in the evening, to the surprise that had been the mesmerizing Lisa Riordan. It was still hard for me to connect the pig-tailed, scrawny, smart-alecky, Pippi Longstocking-looking girl to the incredibly hot lesbian who knocked my socks off tonight. And she knew it, the little brat. She had been quick to recognize that I was a lesbian, too, which impressed me as I was not considered 'stereotypical' and usually it took a blatant act on my part to get that message across, even to other gay women. I snickered when I then remembered that I had been practically leering at her, salivating, how much more obvious could I have gotten?
As I strolled through the living room toward the den, I began to smell something foul. The closer I got, the more overpowering it became. And then I remembered about Orion. Where was she? I didn't particularly like the kamikaze cat but I didn't want to find her dead, either. When I reached the laundry room, off the den, I discovered the source of the powerful odor. The litter box was piled full of shit, like it hadn't been changed in a very long time. I then looked across the room at Orion's food and water dish. Both appeared to be bone dry. I shook my head. Evidently no one had been designated to take care of the cat. Of course, there could be a story behind it, too. Knowing Orion, someone could have tried to feed her and pulled back a bloody stump.
I emptied and cleaned the litter box and then went to search for Orion, calling her name, to no avail. If she wasn't dead from asphyxiation or starvation, I would try filling her bowls with fresh water and tuna I had found in the pantry. The smell of fish must have brought her out of hiding as I heard a soft meow emanate from behind me. Turning, I spotted the gorgeous rust-tinged, unusually ill-tempered Abyssinian, looking up at me, mournfully with black eyes surrounded by green rims. Her attack mode eyes.
"Don't you mew at me like a weakling, you little terrorist, I know what you're capable of." I set her food bowl on the floor next to the water and she trotted over to it, practically inhaling it in one bite. The poor cat was famished.
I picked up the phone in the living room and dialed Sam's number. I knew it was getting late but I had no doubt he was up, probably still entertaining guests. He picked up the phone on the third ring. "Sam. Hunter. Listen, was anyone supposed to be tending to Orion?"
"Yeah. Dane. Why?"
That figured. "Well, he hasn't been doing it. I thought I was going to have to call a haz-mat team and the kitty morgue." I explained what I had found and heard Sam's disgusted sigh.
"He never liked that cat."
"Nobody likes this cat but that doesn't give him the right to neglect her."
"Sorry, Hunter. I'll speak to him about it."
"No, never mind. I'm sure it won't do any good anyway." I studied Orion, as she took a few laps of water. "Are you sure Mom wanted me to have her?"
"Yeah, she was very specific."
"Great. Testing me right to the end, I see..."
"Come on, Hunter, it's over, okay? Mom's gone."
He was right and I needed to start reining in my bitterness. "So what's up for tomorrow?"
"The wake at four."
"Hunter! You have to -"
"Sam, I don't have to do anything, okay? Number one, unless Mom changed drastically, she was very private and she would have hated an open casket and, two, I choose not to remember our mother the way she looks lying dead in a box. And I will not accept people's condolences to me when obviously everyone in this town knows we hadn't spoken in nearly half my life and they know saying 'I'm sorry' to me are just empty words." It had come out sounding a little more defensive than I had intended.
"Okay," he backed down. "Got it."
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. "Um...listen...it's been a long day and I'm a little testy. Maybe after a good night's sleep..."
"Yeah. I understand, Hunter, really. Get some sleep. You want to come over for coffee in the morning?"
"Let me call you. My body clock is still on a different time zone, I might sleep past coffee time."
"Okay. Call me when you get up?"
"Sure. Sounds like a plan."
"Also, just so you know, Dane's really on the warpath about this house thing, so be prepared for anything. He's pretty tanked up right now. Just don't be surprised if he shows up for a show down."
"Tonight? He shows up tonight, he might just be looking down the barrel of my Smith & Wesson."
"You brought your gun here?"
"No," I snickered, "but Dane doesn't have to know that."
Laughing with me, Sam said, "You're still incorrigible, aren't you?"
"Yep. Goodnight, Sam."
"Goodnight, Hunter. See you tomorrow."
We hung up and I finished my beer. I had not realized it but when I sat down on the couch, Orion had jumped up and lay down next to me, washing. She was actually purring. I took the chance and cautiously scratched her head, then under her chin. She stood up and rubbed up against me. "Don't think you're fooling me for a second. I know you, remember? You'll wait until I think you're asleep from my petting you and then you'll channel the face hugger from 'Alien.' Well, I'm not falling for it." She began to head butt my arm, purring louder. I was tempted but I didn't allow her to entrap me.
Taking my empty bottle to the kitchen, I headed upstairs for a shower before I turned in for the night.
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