There are two types of people that live in this world. Those that live in the light and those that live in shadow. Those that live in the light spend their lives making this world a better place for no other reason than that they believe it should be. Those that live in shadow spend their lives seeking the opposite purpose. For Lee this in an undeniable fate. This tale is the first section in an ongoing novel. This story will bring you love, hate, hope, despair, forgiveness, damnation, and redemption. It is amazing what you can endure if you remember to breathe.
Disclaimer See Part 1
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Chapter 1: And then…
"Will you please stop that,” Riley squashed Anne's drumming fingers against her knee.
"I'm sorry, does this bother you?" she began drumming her fingers again.
"No, no. The first forty-five minutes were a blessing but now I seem to have a bit of a headache,” Riley rubbed her fingers against her temple.
"Really? That's funny. I've had a headache since you asked me to accompany you to the zoning office this morning."
"I've apologized at least ten times already. What else can I do?"
Anne looked around. She was stuck in a twelve by sixteen foot room with six foot ceilings. Riley and she were sharing it with a number of other girls; all of which seemed to be looking at them as though they were fresh meat. Of course she was familiar with type of setting having spent most life defending others within the penal system. She just never thought she would be on this side of the bars.
"I'm sorry," Riley whispered.
"It's alright," Anne whispered back. "What's going on with you anyway?"
"You mean other than our current predicament? I'm peachy."
"Don't give me that. You have been moping around the office over the last week looking like a little kid and someone just stole your favorite toy."
"No I haven't," Riley answered defensively.
Anne's brow furrowed.
"What did she do?"
There was no point denying it had nothing to do with Lee.
Instead she simply said, "Nothing, just me being silly."
Anne continued to stare at her. It was no doubt that Anne was a mother. Her face adorned a, you're going to tell me what the problems is, look on her face. It was almost unnerving how well she wore it.
Rolling her eyes, "I had dinner with Lee last week."
"I take it, it didn't go the way you had hoped."
Frowning, "I don't know."
"Well at least you got her to finally say yes to dinner."
"I didn't actually. It was sort of odd. She came over about eight thirty in the evening out of the blue. You remember she was on that business trip from, well from where ever the hell she goes off to. Honestly, it looked like she had been traveling all day when she showed up at my doorstep. Anyway, I answered the door and she asked if I were hungry. Like I said, I thought it a bit odd but I wasn't about to turn her down. Then she started cooking and asked me if I had any wine. So I got some and we shared dinner. She asked me about what she had missed at work and my Green Living stuff. She asked me about my thoughts on what direction we should head next. It wasn't romantic by any means, but it was pleasant. We must have talked for a couple hours."
"And then she thanked me for my company. I walked her as far as the door and then she turned to me and asked me if I were happy. I nodded."
"And then she left."
"Well that doesn't sound bad. A little odd maybe, but it is Lee we are talking about."
"No, I didn't think so either. I've just had the feeling she has been kind of avoiding me lately. I mean every time I ask her opinion she just asks me what you think."
"I was beginning to wonder why I had all your attention."
"I had pretty much given up on the idea that we would be anything more than friends. I mean I hoped for… Well it doesn't really matter what I hoped for, Lee didn't. But then she shows up and for a moment I thought maybe. Like I said, I think I'm being silly. Lee isn't the shy type. If she wanted more I'm certain she would have made that clear. I just..."
"Don't be. It's me," Riley smiled down into her hands. "I'm sorry you got wrapped up in this," she motioned around the cell.
"It's ok. Besides, by the end of today we'll be even."
Riley looked quizzically at her.
"My phone call was to Lee."
Riley's eyebrows nearly leapt off her forehead.
"Don't look at me like that. My husband is at home with the kids. I couldn't very well have him bring the kids up here to help spring mom from jail."
Riley leaned back against the wall, her hand going to her temples.
"My headache just went from an annoyance to a migraine."
Patting Riley's knee, "We even then?" she smiled.
Riley looked towards Anne out of the corner of her eyes.
"On the bright side, maybe now Lee will pay more attention to you.” A mischievous grin covered her lips. “It can't be good for public relations when two senior members of management get themselves thrown in jail. Just look what happens when we spend too much time together."
As Riley tried to work that one over in her head, a police officer neared the cell.
"Anne Torres. Riley Allen. Step forward please. Your bail has been met."
Walking towards the front of the station Riley and Anne signed for their things. Upon reaching the main entrance they were greeted by the sight of a red haired silhouette staring out the window.
"Gidday Lee," Anne greeted while putting on her sweater.
Turning to the two on comers, Lee smiled patiently.
"It may have been my imagination, but I swear I have received several lectures from you about upholding the reputation of our company."
"Yep, that was me," Anne smiled.
"And it won't happen again; promise. For me anyway, I can't speak for her. She is a cheeky little devil," she said shaking her head and slipping on her watch. "You parked out front then?" she asked walking towards the door, grabbing hold of Riley's hand to pull her in tow.
It was a quiet ride home for the three of them. When Lee pulled up to Anne's home,
"Come on Riley, I'll give you a lift. Just let me tell my husband I'm alright."
Riley made to open the door when Lee spoke up.
"No need, I'll drop her off."
As nonchalantly as she could muster, "I think we have inconvenienced you enough for one day, I'll take her."
"It's no problem, really," Lee smiled back giving no room for Riley's retreat.
Shutting the door again, Riley had just enough time to see the sympathetic look on Anne's face before Lee backed out of the driveway. More now than ever before Riley was glad that she lived so close to Anne. Surely she could withstand a five minute trip.
"So, what happened?"
"It's my fault. I asked Anne to come down to the zoning office with me to turn in a petition against Mr. Cole's construction plans."
"This wouldn't be the same Hayden Cole you so vividly denounced at the meeting a couple weeks back."
"I think I made my feelings about his plans quite plain."
"Yes, I recall; something about being unable to play nice because he pissed in the sandbox."
Squinting at the memory, "Yep that's the one."
Lee nodded her head as Riley looked towards the upcoming street sign. She was nearly home.
"And then he smiled at me smugly as he signed the zoning agreement all the while telling me how money can buy anything. He bribed the official."
Again Lee nodded waiting for Riley to continue.
"So I ripped up the zoning agreement and sat my happy self down in front of his construction site while calling the New Zealand Herald about the corruption taking place in the zoning office." Brightening at her next words, "Just before they threw me in jail, I heard one of the police officers saying that the court would place an injunction on his plans until the office was investigated."
"Huh," Lee mumbled as she pulled in front of Riley's house. "And Anne?"
"Did nothing. She was caught up in it because of my actions."
Lee nodded. "The officer mentioned you happened to spill coffee on Mr. Cole. Accidental, no doubt."
"Uh huh," she did her best to look innocent. "I can be rather clumsy."
"Yes I remember."
Riley sat a moment more, but when Lee did not ask any more questions she jumped at the opportunity to escape further inquisition.
"Thanks for the ride," Riley opened the car door and stepped out. Turning around she smiled back towards Lee. "See ya Monday," said added before making a speedy exit up her front steps.
The tone with which she had said the last was as if Lee had dropped her off after taking a walk through the park. Watching as Riley made it through her front entrance, Lee turned her attention back towards the road. She couldn't help but wonder if it was such a good idea for Anne and Riley to work so closely together.
Chapter 2: To beg forgiveness
Walking into Riley's office, "Gidday," Anne greeted.
"Morning Anne," Riley continued to stare at her work papers.
"What ya reading?"
"Charlie asked me to look over some contracts. Actually I am glad you're here. They look pretty standard to me, but maybe you should have a look," she held the contracts out to Anne.
Scratching her head, the last thing on her mind was contracts.
Anne gave a weak smile.
"I don't suppose you've watched the news this morning?"
Riley shook her head no. Taking Riley by the hand, Anne pulled her into the conference room. The seven a.m. news was over, but she was certain there would be a recap. Turning on the tele, two newscasters were reporting.
"In other news, Anne Torres and Riley Shelton were arrested Saturday afternoon. According to sources, the two co-founders of the non-profit initiative New Horizons were arrested for trespassing on Cole Works, a locally owned and operated business. Hayden Cole, the owner of Cole Works, is asking the police to charge both women with assault, trespassing, and slander. Neither Anne Torres nor Riley Shelton have been made available for comment."
Riley stared at the screen with a look of disbelief on her face. Biting her bottom lip, "Scale of one to ten, how mad do you think Lee will be when she sees the news?"
No sooner had the words left Riley's mouth a door slammed loudly in the background.
Anne smiled, "Well she can't fire us both can she?"
Sheepishly the two made their way towards Lee's office. Knocking, Anne popped her head in first and then cautiously made her way to the seat across form Lee. Riley followed in similar fashion.
"I just got off the phone with the court's liaison. The investigation into the zoning office's practices is being dropped."
"But they," Riley tried to speak.
"Have dropped the investigation. The county auditor swore under oath yesterday that no illegal practices were being performed. He has provided the records to every transaction for the last seven years. Apparently, everything is in order."
"But he told us there in the office that is what he did."
Anne nodded in agreement but she knew they had already lost.
"I didn't say I didn't believe you, but do you have any evidence to support your allegations? Support other than a he said she said argument."
"No." Anne frowned.
"You're a lawyer Anne you should have stopped her from making these allegations at all let alone to the New Zealand Herald."
"It isn't her fault."
"And you should have known better. You put our entire operation in jeopardy. He has every legal right to press charges. Just what exactly happens when the court finds you two at fault? At best we would get away with a fine. At worst I would not only have to ask for both your resignations, but I imagine that slander violates the code of conduct Anne. You could be disbarred."
Riley had no words. She knew Hayden Cole was a liar but she had no evidence. Worse Lee was right; Cole could very easily press charges and win. So this is what it feels like to be up the proverbial creek.
Lee's phone rang.
Picking up the receiver, "Yes Eva."
"I have Hayden Cole as you requested."
Looking back towards her partners both Anne and Riley knew that it was time to leave. The steel gaze Lee bore towards them made no doubt in that.
As the two women made a quiet retreat Lee answered, "Put him through."
Riley followed Anne. Noticing the worried look that was now imposing itself along Riley's features, Anne did her best to reassure her.
"Lee was a bit dramatic there. You called the Herald not me. If they get anyone for slander it will be you. At best they can get me for trespassing, but even that's a stretch. By the time it goes through the courts it will get pleaded down to loitering. They can't disbar me for that. As for you, the assault charge won't stick. Spilled coffee is hardly an actionable offense. It is the slander you need to worry about. I imagine that phone call was from Cole. If she can't get him to budge, I'll call him. He is a businessman, I am sure we can work something out."
Riley's started pacing back and forth across the room. Despite Anne's reassurances, she knew she had screwed up.
Putting her hands on Riley's shoulders, "It's alright Riley, honestly. In fact, while you were calling the Herald, I was looking up the contact for the auditing office. Seems now it wouldn't have done me much good, but I had the same thought you did. We'll see it through."
Hanging up the receiver, Lee headed towards Anne's office. She more than anyone hated losing. She knew what type of man Cole was and she had her own plans to discredit him. Now they would have to beg forgiveness.
Through gritted teeth, "Mr. Cole is willing to drop the lawsuit if you will publically apologize for your comments. Also, he would prefer your speech to compliment him on his efforts to make New Zealand 's cities a better community for everyone."
"Like hell!" Riley reamed in defiance.
Anne squinted at Riley's hasty response. In one instant the fragile calmness that loomed in the room was swept away by a tidal wave of heated opposition.
Biting the inside of her cheek, "It wasn't a request."
Angered by Lee's presumption and impassioned by her beliefs, "I will not apologize to Cole. He is the very image of everything I stand against. Everything I have done in the past ten years was to undo work that people like him have done. I cannot."
Cautiously, "You mean you will not."
"No!" she began pacing the room again.
Irritated, Lee stepped directly into her path. She had been in a thousand situations all warranting far more concern than the one presented to her now and never before had she lost her temper to any of them. Certainly she would put people in their place, make grown men and women shrink down to the floor as though they were the lowliest of creatures when confronted by her presence; but not Riley. No Riley would stand firm till the end of the world if she had to. In fact, she may be the only person in this world with the audacity to stand against Lee in a match of pure will and hold their ground. Most days Lee found comfort in the thought; though the seriousness in Lee's tone as she spoke her next words could not be mistaken. She had no intention to lose the argument.
"Are you really willing to risk everything we have worked for because you aren't willing to apologize?"
Caught, Riley did her best to calm her rapidly beating heart. Turning towards the window she watched the trees sway back and forth. Tuning her own breath to the wind, "You can't possibly understand," she turned back towards Lee's direction. "Everything I am. All the trust garnered to me from these people, these people who look to me for help is because I stand up, because I stand against people like Cole."
"You made unfounded accusations." Lee tried again.
"True accusations!" Riley faltered. Her voice rose in defiance.
"You can't prove it."
"He intended to start tearing down their homes today. What was I suppose to do? Sit back and watch? I did what I had to."
"And what have you done exactly? Besides get arrested."
"For one, his plans have been pushed back. It gives us more time. And more, I stood for a belief."
"That is only pride."
"Don't speak to me about pride!" she spat with fevered temper. Her voice had gone from heated calmness to raised passion. "I care for these people and their well being. I was not about to let them lose everything while I did nothing. Yes I made an accusation. No I cannot prove it. I wish I could because I know the accusation is true. What would you have done?"
"Found another way!" Lee's voice rose in response.
"What way? We are out of time!"
"There is always another way. You are an intelligent and savvy woman Riley, but your weakness is your emotions. You care too much and it gets you into trouble."
"My weakness?! Emotions influence our beliefs. They guide our actions. They make us who we are. And you! Every choice, every move you make is based on cold and calculated decisions with not the slightest hint of emotion to guide you. How could you possibly understand what it was I was trying to do? I would risk all that I am for my beliefs. And I have seen you do impossible things all for the sake of saying that you could. But tell me. When it comes down to it, what is it that you would you risk everything for? What would you stand up for against all the odds? You who would be bound by nothing. If my weakness is that I care too much than I shall live with it. Better than you who cares for nothing and for no one."
She had not meant to say the last. Still she held firmly to her words. As for Lee, she just stood and stared back. A careful observer could see that Lee was turning Riley's words over in her mind again and again. Watching the scene unfold, Anne tried to camouflage herself into the background. Normally she would enjoy being a fly on the wall but in this instance she found the tension decidedly uncomfortable. Then for the first time since the beginning of the conversation Lee's words were stated calmly and evenly.
"Perhaps. But we cannot help anyone if we do not exist. Does your pride extend so far that it would blind you from that? It is quite clear that you would risk your own well being for your beliefs. Would you risk their livelihoods for the same?"
"To beg forgiveness from Cole?"
"Either to him or to all the people whose homes are to be torn down. Your decision."
Lee watched as fire passed through Riley's eyes. Looking over toward Anne, Riley gripped her hands into a fist before storming passed Lee towards the safety of her office.
Most of the rest of the day was spent doing damage control. She had screwed up. She knew so. Worse, she knew better than to do what she did. Now that it was done she couldn't change it. Thinking over Lee's words carefully she began diligently trying to find a solution; none came to her. Whether or not she took back her words, she didn't know how to save their homes. What she did know is that if they were caught up in legal discourse, should an actual opportunity arise, they would be too bogged down to help; and that would be her fault.
Tapping her pen against the legal pad in front of her, Riley stared at the page looking for some sort of inspiration. It was seven in the evening. Now that her work day had ended she began writing her apology speech. Rereading it for the fifth time she doubted very much that the piece she had written was what Mr. Cole was looking for.
I would like to apologize for Mr. Cole being an ass backwards asshole with no thought for his employees, the community, or the home we call Earth. May I support him in all his endeavors, especially if he decides to jump head first off a tall cliff.
Anne knocked on the door.
Looking up from her apology, "Shouldn't you be at home by now? I imagine your husband isn't particularly happy with all the news coverage."
"I was a public defender for thirty years remember. This wouldn't be the first time I received bad press."
"I am so sorry Anne."
"Stop apologizing. I told you, it's alright."
"No, it isn't. Lee's right, I put this company, its reputation, and you all at risk because of a thoughtless decision."
Waving her off, "Is that Mr. Cole's apology?" Anne motioned towards the desk. "Care if I have a look?" she asked scooping up the legal pad.
Reading it over a smile tugged at her lips. Picking up a pen she added her own remarks and passed it back to Riley. The additions she made broke a smile along Riley's lips that had remained absent for the entirety of the day.
May I support him in all his endeavors, especially if he decides to jump head first off a tall cliff with thousands of jagged rocks waiting impatiently to catch his impending fall.
"I think you have a good start," Anne chuckled.
Shaking her head, "How am I supposed to apologize let alone support him? He rolls into a new neighborhood, sets up shop, and lobby's for city ordinance tax increases so that people who have worked hard and lived there all their lives can no longer afford live in the houses they once called homes. And to top it all off, he underpays his workers so he can bribe city officials into allowing him to do so. Not to mention the fact that he is god awful towards the environment. He really is the epitome of everything I am against."
"Support is a bit of a stretch. You just have to compliment."
"A very small difference that in most instances goes unnoticed."
Anne sat on the corner of Riley's desk.
"Do you know why Lee brought you here?"
"Because she wanted someone with realistic idealism," Riley answered grumpily.
"That's part of it. But when she was deciding who to bring on, she studied the controversial decisions people had to make in order to run a company successfully. How many times did one compromise their beliefs to stay ahead."
Riley's stomach sank.
"Everyone she looked at changed their views in accordance to what was easiest; everyone except you."
Just when Riley felt as though she couldn't sink any lower, she thought she felt some of her own jagged rocks.
"You aren't making me feel any better."
"Lee isn't mad because you stood up against Cole. She isn't even mad because you stood up and lost. You can't always win. She's angry because she is worried that he will get away with it. And not just this time, but again and again. Her anger, though seemingly directed at you and me, is really just her anger for him. That isn't to say that you shouldn't watch what you say and to whom you say it to. That could have gone better. Give it a couple of days. You'll see."
"You think so?"
Smiling, "See ya tomorrow?"
Riley nodded, "Tomorrow then."
Chapter 3: Where do we start?
A week had passed since the incident. Decision made, it was time to face the music.
"How are you feeling?"
Anne stood next to Riley beneath the podium. Riley was once again reading her public apology looking for anyway to rewrite its content.
"Well let's see. Saturday I was arrested. Monday I was publically humiliated on the tele. Monday evening I decided to swallow my pride and write a speech going against all of my underlying beliefs. Tuesday when I announced my decision to Green Living, they decided to hold a vote on whether I should remain a board member let alone a member at all. Wednesday and Thursday when news of my decision to apologize and support Cole reached everyone else, all the relationships and trust I had fought for from that part of the community over the last ten years evaporated just as soon as they realized I was supporting someone who had every intention of tearing down their homes. And if it were just me and my own trouble, I would tell him to take this apology and shove it so far up his backside that it would never see the light of day again. However I believe in our company and what we are doing, so I am going to go out there and read this apology. Then I am going to spend every waking minute trying to earn back the trust of the people I just shoved under the bus. And as if that were not enough, on a more personal level, Lee is still quite angry with me."
"What makes you say that?"
"Could be that she is avoiding me as much as possible. When she does speak to me, everything she says is in the fewest words possible. Oh, and I think I caught her glaring at me once."
"I am so glad you find this amusing."
"Forgive me, but I think you are taking this a bit personally. I very much doubt Lee glared at you. I've only seen her glare when she is contemplating seriously about committing an assault on someone. And even then, I think it is more of an assessment to see if she could get away with it."
"Hard to work with someone you've assaulted."
Anne laughed again, "She isn't going to assault you."
"Honestly, sometimes I don't know why I talk to you. You always take her side."
With an injured look, "I'll have you know I am the first to point out her various flaws. I've told her on many occasions I think she is a pain in the ass."
Looking somewhat appeased, Riley went back to staring at the podium.
"I've also told her at least twice that I think she is a damn fool for passing you up."
"You did what?!"
An announcer in the background called, "Ms. Riley Shelton," to the podium.
Forgetting for just a moment Anne's last comment, Riley's mind went back to the task at hand.
Placing her hand to her stomach, "I think I am going to be sick."
"Not yet you're not. Off you go," she nudged Riley in front of the microphone.
The lights flashing from the cameras made her uneasy. This was the first time she ever came before the public not one hundred percent sure of her actions. Clearing her throat, she attempted to regain her composure as she began to read.
"Thank you all for coming. First off, I would like to apologize to the community for my lapse in judgment that has led me to be standing here in front of you. You expect better of me and I let you down." Fumbling with her paper, Riley looked down into her hands. They were shaking. They were shaking in anger for herself, for Cole, and for what she was prepared to do. "And I expect better of myself on behalf of you. Having said that, I would like to extend my apologies to Mr. Hayden Cole and all of the Cole Works Company for my unfounded and detrimental remarks towards himself and his company." Steeling her jaw she continued. "Though Mr. Cole and I share very different ideas on what is best for this community, we both have a vision for a better future. I can only compliment him in his efforts and diligence to bring it about. Thank you for your time."
Stepping down from the podium, she was greeted by Cole himself, his hand extended in gesture to shake her own. Reaching out, she took hold and smiled for the cameras. It was the single most humiliating moment of her life.
Not more than two minutes later, a keen ear would have revealed retching sounds in the bathroom. Anne stood guard at the door. It wouldn't be good for the news reporters to catch hold of Riley's reaction to her public apology. Leaving the stall, Riley went to the sink to wash her mouth out.
There was no mistaking the utter disgust within Riley's eyes as she stared back at Anne through the reflection of the mirror.
"No. And don't think I have forgotten your earlier comment."
Anne smiled, "We have one more stop before we head back to the office."
"How could I forget," she wiped her mouth with a towel. "I now have the privilege to be thrown off the board of Green Living and out of the hearts of the community. And as a consolation prize not only do they now hate me, I get to take your company with me. At least I get all my bad news in one day."
"There is no more your company and ours. We merged remember. We are all on the same team with the same goal. Now, let's get it over with."
"Why are you smiling? What could their possibly be to smile about today?"
"Oh, I have a feeling it will all work out for the best."
Annoyed with Anne's persistent good mood, "Well thank you Ms. Sunshine. I would appreciate it though if you didn't smile while the wolves tear at my flesh in about half an hour."
"Don't be dramatic. You think Lee would let them eat you?"
Riley gave Anne an expression that very closely neared Lee's when deciding whether assault was feasible. Anne did her best not to chuckle.
"I'll let you know in about an hour."
Straightening her suit, she walked as steadily as she could towards the car only to be driven off to her fate.
The meeting took place at the Green Living headquarters in downtown. As her decision to support Cole had come at quite a cost, members from all around the community were outraged on Riley's decision. This meeting was designed not only to decide whether she would continue to remain as a board member for Green Living, but also for the community members to decide on whether to continue their support of New Horizons. Their company was a non-profit agency. If it didn't have the support of the community, it would no longer function. At the very least, it would not be nearly as effective as it use to be.
A woman from the back called out, "How could you support Hayden Cole? He wants to tear down our homes! How can you possibly be on our side when you support his?"
Riley stepped in front of the crowd.
"I don't support his actions, but if I did not apologize for mine then he would have sued our company for slander. The fines that could have been imposed on us may have shut down our company. We cannot help if we don't exist."
"You can't help if we don't trust you either! Why would you make false accusations?" another shouted.
"I have spent my career trying to make New Zealand better. I have opened health clinics, supported school districts, and opened community centers. My only concern is for our betterment."
"How is tearing down our homes betterment?!"
"It isn't," Riley replied weakly.
"Well that is exactly what he is going to do!"
"How do you think I feel," another shouted. "I work for Mr. Cole and I live in the community he wants to tear down. If I don't do as I'm told, not only will I lose my home, but my family's only source of income. What am I suppose to do? We counted on you to help us."
"I'm sorry," Riley's heart sank. These were good people.
The doors opened at the back of the room and Riley watched as Lee walked through the crowd towards the front.
"Hello," she called out over the angry crowd. "Some of you know me, others don't. My name is Lee and I am also a managing member of New Horizons. I want you to know that today's press release was in no way a reflection of our support for you."
"How can you say that? She publically announced support for Cole."
"Did she? Forgive me, but I watched Ms. Allen's apology and nowhere in her speech did I hear her support Mr. Cole's actions. In fact, what I understood was that she and he had very different views for the future and well being of New Zealand 's communities. And although I have never been much for words, I do take into account people's actions. And as far as actions go, Mr. Cole would like to tear down you homes. Ms. Allen has spent the last ten years of her life building them up if I am not mistaken."
"Asked Ms. Torres before the announcement earlier this morning to stop by the courthouse and file a cease and desist order against Mr. Cole's construction plans."
A hush went over the crowd. Anne smiled at the surprised look on Riley's face.
"She knew that the announcement would concern you and rightfully so. She didn't want to get your hopes up with the outcome so uncertain but I disagree. I disagree because we have set up a two pronged approach to ensure that your homes are not touched. But we cannot do it by ourselves. We need everyone's help to ensure our success and that includes Green Living. First, the cease and desist order is based on a species of butterfly that is indigent to your community. It is the only place where this butterfly exists on the island and in this world for that matter. It is enough for the endangered species agencies to stop the building site in order to determine how far the habitat extends. Second, the courts allow the community to set up a petition against incoming businesses should they be menacing towards the community. As he intends to tear down your homes, schools, and community centers, I think that is menacing enough. Now, in order to petition the city council to disallow Cole's entry into the community, we need twenty thousand signatures to put the entry to vote, and we need them quickly. I imagine that the cease and desist order will only hold for a month," she gave a confirming looking to Anne. "That means we have three weeks at best to get the required minimum signatures and one week to petition the board to hold a vote."
The voices in the crowd mumbled in unintelligible whispers.
"One more thing, and let me make this clear. Ms. Allen put her career and her reputation on the line in order for us to stop Mr. Cole's plans. He intended to start the leveling of your homes last Monday and we ran out of time to put our plans in effect. She is the reason that your homes remain intact this day and will continue to do so in the future. She is the very picture of integrity. So when you make your decision today, I suggest you think long and hard on everything Ms. Allen has done to support you. And if you support us in return, I promise you that we will stand with you no matter the outcome. Even if that means we put our hands to the dirt and begin building from the ground up. Good day."
With that Lee, Riley, and Anne headed out into the lobby to await the decision of the community members.
Looking rather dumbfounded, "I don't remember my colossal screw up being part of any plan. And if it was, why is it that I am just hearing about it now?"
Anne laughed, "Admittedly, there was no plan when this whole mess started. Lee just found a way to take advantage of a rather tense situation. Like I said, it will all work out for the best."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Lee answered. "I wasn't sure it would work until today. I asked Anne not to tell you because I didn't want to give you false hope. I filed papers weeks ago about the butterflies and heard nothing until this morning. I was hoping to have it confirmed two weeks ago. When I realized that my plan was too little too late, I started researching on how to stop a business from entering a community at all. Like you just heard, we need twenty-thousand signatures. I knew that Friday that I had failed. There was no way, no matter what I did were we going to get twenty-thousand signatures by Monday."
"And what has changed now?"
"You were right. You gave us the time we needed to organize. And very soon we will have the community backing."
"You seem rather confident."
"Well the way I see it there are only three ways to bring a community together. The first way is to sweet talk them. But that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of groveling. We have all been trying the sweet method for some time now and to no avail. Sweetness was obviously not as valuable as money to the zoning official. The second way is through fear. As we are here to help people, that method seems rather inappropriate."
When she stopped talking, Riley prodded Lee with the question, "And the third way?"
Biting the inside of her cheek, "Well, the third way is to seriously piss people off."
Riley looked dumbfounded.
"You did so fantastically by the way," Anne piped up.
"I could have lost everything!"
"No one here started out to lose anything. And you didn't," Anne reminded.
"Surely I am not so predictable that you knew what was going to happen."
Lee shook her head and smiled.
"No. I can assure you, if I had known you were this feisty when you asked to merge with us, I might have taken more time with the decision to say yes."
"Thanks," Riley replied sarcastically.
"Personally I think it has worked out quite well," Anne shrugged. The smile she wore this day seemed to be never ending. "I've never been able to work a slander charge to my favor."
"Glad I could help," Riley glared. "And what if everyone in that room disagrees with the two of you? What if they decide to accept Cole's offer to buy their properties at undervalued prices for fear that they will get nothing? They may very well decide on that alternative rather than give us another chance."
"I don't think that will happen," Anne assured. "Surely you of all people know that Kiwi's like a good fight."
Riley noticed the growing smile on Lee's face.
"What are you smiling about?"
An innocence crossed Lee's features stopping just shy of her eyes.
"Honestly? Those people looked really angry. I imagine it takes a fair amount of ability to be able to piss off a people whose homes are about to be torn down. I'm just really glad it wasn't me this time."
Anne covered her mouth. Riley was about to respond when a Green Living councilmen came out to deliver the verdict. Squaring his shoulders towards the three women,
"Where do we start?"
Entering the room again, Lee took charge of the crowd.
"First things first, we need to get organized. We have a very short amount of time to pull this off but I know we can do it."
Seeing Eva, Shelby , and a few of Shelby 's theatre guild enter, "Eva! Shelby !" Lee called out. "Eva, Shelby , this is everyone. Everyone, Eva and Shelby," she pointed.
Rather surprised at being called out, they both waved back to the crowd.
"These two have the petition available to sign today. I encourage all of you to do so now. Also, they will be handing out business cards. The card has our address on it. Remember we need twenty thousand signatures. So if you're able, please come tomorrow to our office and tell your family and friends to come as well. We have taken a map and broken it down into different sections. We need all the help we can get in covering the area."
Both Anne and Riley were about to head over to help Eva and Shelby when Lee caught them both at the back.
"Not you two. You both are needed elsewhere right now. Follow me please."
Following Lee out to her car, "Hop in."
"Where are we going," Anne asked. Even she was not sure what was going on now.
Lee reached into the passenger seat to retrieve two sets of papers.
"Last minute addition. The New Zealand Herald asked for an interview with you both. Apparently, tearing down people's homes has become a very controversial issue." Handing one set of papers to Anne, "Since you are the lawyer and good with all the fine print, I thought you might want to look at the legality behind our endangered species claim. And since now we actually have a chance thanks to you," she handed Riley different piece of paper. "I thought you might possibly wish to explain what exactly details the differences between your vision and Cole's."
Looking down at the piece of paper in front of her, Riley recognized the familiar handwriting.
I would like to apologize for Mr. Cole being an ass backwards asshole with no thought for his employees, the community, or the home we call Earth. May I support him in all his endeavors, especially if he decides to jump head first off a tall cliff with thousands of jagged rocks waiting impatiently to catch his impending fall.
Leaning towards Riley, "As this is a personal opinion he can't get you for slander. I might leave out anything on him bribing an official though. Just a thought."
Anne looked over Riley's shoulder only to laugh at the content found there.
"Nice addition," Lee spoke to Anne. "I didn't realize you were so vindictive."
Shrugging her shoulders Anne hopped in the back seat before Riley had the chance. She rather enjoyed watching Riley pretend not to be madly attracted to Lee and Lee do her best to try and pretend she didn't notice. Of course since Lee tended to issue a number of side glances in Riley's direction when Riley was not paying attention, only an outsider would see that Lee was just as hopeless when it came to Riley. Good times.
Chapter 4: You are many things. You have never been a coward.
Opening her eyes, Lee found herself surrounded by an extraordinary vineyard. The colors were so bright and welcoming she could have sworn she felt a smile in the wind brushing along her shoulders.
"Just once child I would like to see you working rather than standing about daydreaming."
Turning around, Lee saw a familiar figure approach. Nadine was walking towards her with a smile rather than her normal crotchety demeanor.
"Seems you caught me on a good day, the harvest isn't ready yet."
"Wasn't this full of tomato vines last I was here?"
"That it was," she said looking across the field. The fact that a tomato garden had turned into a vineyard seemed inconsequential to Nadine. Despite the complete turn about, she stared on as though the imaginations were of little matter. "Come sit on the porch. I have some tea ready if you like."
Not knowing what else to do, she did as asked. Coming upon the house, Lee was welcomed by the sight of a small garden boasting the most beautiful white lilies she had ever seen. Nadine noticed her gaze.
"Lovely aren't they? You favor them if I am not mistaken."
Nadine stooped over to pluck a stem before heading up the porch stairs.
"Beautiful," Lee followed.
Handing Lee a glass of tea, "Thank you."
Both sat on a wooden porch swing together. Gently Nadine began to rock the swing back and forth. Every time the motion went forward, sunshine would fall across their laps.
"So," Nadine started. "How's Riley?"
Taking a sip of tea, "Have you nothing better to do than to spy on me old woman?"
With a mischievous grin, "As I said, the harvest isn't ready."
Smiling towards the distance, "She's well."
"After your run in with Dylan, I thought you would have pursued her." Lee looked down into her glass. "He was right you know; what he said."
"It is more complicated than that. The Order thought he was dead. They weren't chasing him. They will never stop chasing me."
"Really? Seems to me like you have everything under control. You have found Paul. You have made The Order less strong, have less influence. You have a plan to free your two gentlemen; a plan that could very easily include yourself. No, I don't think that's it."
Nadine chuckled, "That she is. You're scared."
"I am not afraid."
"No? Good then. There is nothing to keep you from sweeping her off her feet." Patting her on the knee, Nadine motioned towards the vineyard, "Go ahead then. I have always thought a woman as beautiful as you should not sleep alone. And as for her, passion is her very nature. I've no doubt you both could keep each other in good company," she grinned.
Lee stared at the old woman as though she had lost her mind.
"Don't look at me like that. I may be old and dead, but when I was alive I had eight children. How do you think they came into this world? Passion little one, passion."
"I don't suppose we could speak on something else."
"Sure," Nadine grinned. "Does she enjoy dancing?"
Lee glared towards her companion.
"Dancing is not sex. Don't be such a prude."
"I am not a prude."
"No, you're not" Nadine voiced in a husky manor. "I have seen you dance." Letting a moment pass, Nadine took on a serious note again. "You're scared," she repeated.
"Of what? Losing? I have lost before."
"No, no," Nadine interrupted. "Losing involves only yourself, your life, and your future. No you have never been afraid to lose. Failing is what you're afraid of. Failing involves someone else's life, someone else's dreams and future."
"She deserves someone who can take care of her; someone whose very presence won't make her a target. I can never give her that. I will never be safe. She deserves much more than what I can give. She deserves to fall in love, to have a family, to grow old."
Nadine stopped rocking. Turning to face Lee she brushed a loose strand of hair behind Lee's ear.
"Your family is not your fault, not your responsibility. They never were."
With a weak smile, "By your hand but not your will."
Lee turned to face her. Softly, "Why do you help me?"
"I'm just a guide little one."
"I killed you," she whispered. "Why do you help me?"
"Being here," she motioned around her, "gives a rather unique perspective on things. I have not now, nor have I ever hated you. After it happened, I took to watching you to understand why. And since that time I have seen you do some bad things, but you never did them for yourself. You did them to see that the fewest people were hurt by it. If you had refused, so many more people would have been hurt."
"I could have stopped it."
"And they'd have killed you with the result being the same; more people would have died and continued to die, you among them. Not all decisions are black and white in this universe. It's almost nauseating how many shades of grey there truly are. Then one day I realized that watching you turned into watching over you; if only in your dreams."
"You're kinder than most."
Taking Lee by the hand, "The action would have happened with or without you. You stopped a lot of people being hurt even though the action was wrong. And I have seen you help others even when it has been at great personal cost to yourself. And now that you are free, you continue to do so. You could have walked away. You could have hidden from the world and lived out your life in peace. But you did not choose either of these. You put yourself on the line every time you see someone in need of help."
"I have much to atone for."
"And it is why I watch over you."
"She deserves better."
"Riley would forgive you."
The admission nearly overwhelmed Lee.
"And if I fail her as I did you?"
"You have never failed anyone Lee."
Shaking head to disagree, Nadine stopped her.
"You have never failed little one. There are times when the outcome of a situation did not come out how it should have, but it has never been because you have failed. You have always stood up to fight, always. It is who you are, who you have always been. You're scared. I would think you foolish and selfish and ignorant if you were not. You are a strong woman Lee. Don't run."
"She will be my end. I would break for her."
And then there it was, just under the surface of her eyes. It was as if Nadine knew something she did not. As if she could see ahead to what would come.
"You are far too cynical for one so young. Have you ever thought that perhaps she is what will keep you whole, make you stronger than you ever were before. And if you stop worrying for what might happen, you could see that it is you who could give her all you wish for her; to fall in love, to have a family, to grow old."
"I wouldn't know how."
Nadine smiled. "Walk towards her rather than away. The rest will come. You are many things. You have never been a coward."
"How do you know? You're a dream."
Handing over the white lily she had been holding, "What's interesting little one, is that you seem so certain of that."
Chapter 5: A good day
Squinting as she opened her eyes, Lee lay unmoving as the sun's rays bathed over her skin. The soft fragrance of lilies faded in the background. In her hand was the letter Dylan had left for her. She must have read the letter a hundred times now; the creases in the page growing ever deeper. Looking once more over the words,
Take everything into account. Take your past, your future, your mistakes, your achievements, your fears, your hope, the dreams you have, and the ones you are too frightened to even think of. Take your shame and honor alike. Then ask yourself this. Would you give it all up for a moment with that person? Throw out all your fears and doubts and but live a breath in their love. And it is so simple you see. There is a reason that our methods work so well. What wouldn't you do to save the ones you love? Would you let them save you in return?
The words burned in her memory. Lee held so many memories; too many. Looking for some fresh air, she propped a window open. Her whole team had spent the last two weeks rummaging for signatures. They had done well so far, obtaining nearly seventeen thousand in all. But it was not enough. They still needed another three thousand signatures to save the community. And with just under a week to obtain them, they needed to hurry. It was then that Shelby had come up with the idea purchase a booth at Auckland 's upcoming heritage festival. Patrons would come from all over New Zealand to set up there. They would sell jewelry, art, crafts, clothing, and nearly anything else that wasn't tied down. But it was more than that. There would be games, contests, and thrills to go around. This festival was one that centered on family. There would be many who attended.
Uncoiling herself from the bed, Lee stood to stretch. Though the breeze through the window was refreshing, Lee felt she needed a bit more than the cool wind. Instead, she dressed and headed for the park. Breathing deeply, Lee continued to marvel how the air smelled cleaner here. She had traveled this world over on many occasions, but no matter where she went, there was only ever one other place where the air was as crisp as it was here. Ireland had hills and hills of greenery; water on every side. She knew that is why she loved it here. Everywhere you went was not so far away that you could not smell the ocean.
She must have walked this park a hundred times now. As always, it was bustling with people, especially today. Market day was favored. Every Saturday, vendors would line the streets with fresh produce and flowers, starting their day as early as four in the morning to get the most traveled spots. It was only six now and there were people already carrying bags and bags of groceries. Some with so much Lee knew that they would not be able to eat it all. Still, the people could not pass it by.
And then it was there, so lightly she thought she had imagined it, the smell of lilies on the breeze. Turning in the direction of the wind she spotted an old gentleman selling flowers on the corner. Walking towards the man she came upon wild arrangements.
"They favor you miss."
Raising her eyebrow, "They favor me?"
"Of course they do. Beautiful flowers pick beautiful women more so than the other way around. You weren't even headed my direction when their scent caught you. And here you are gracing my presence because of their lovely fragrance. I don't suppose you would tell me which one led you here so that I might plant more."
Lee smiled and the vendor. He was a good salesman she thought while glancing in the direction of the lilies.
"And which color pleases you most?"
"The red ones with the spots."
"Ah, Stargazers. I should have known women as lovely as you could only possibly have descended from the heavens."
Lee pointed at one, "How much?"
"I don't charge angels, lovely," he handed her a bloom.
Accepting the flower, she brought it to her nose to inhale its gentle scent.
"Thank you miss," he tipped his hat toward her.
Once again, Lee headed down the pathway. She passed by vendors selling homemade trinkets and vendors selling oils and scented soaps. Finally she started heading back to the front again. She preferred the scent of flowers and fruit to the oils as delicate as they were. As her eyes roamed over the people, naturally they should fall upon a most familiar face. In the distance, Riley carried a sack full of fresh fruit. She had gathered mangos and kiwi, strawberries and blueberries, pomegranates and pears; the last of which she was currently sampling. Being in good season, the juice flowed freely down the pear and along Riley's chin. With the large smile that played along her lips the vendor knew he had made another sale.
"Excuse me Ms.," a young woman behind Lee brushed her way passed.
Looking around, Lee found herself hidden behind one of the vendor's carts. She didn't even remember moving there. Yet another remnant of The Order's training; to hide in plain sight.
"Walk towards her rather than away."
Gathering her courage, Lee stepped into view.
Startled, Riley turned abruptly managing to drop her gatherings rather spectacularly.
Immediately stooping to pick them up, "good morning," Riley mumbled a bit embarrassed.
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to startle you," Lee bent over to help.
"It wasn't you; clumsy. I woke up this morning and had a craving for pears. But when I got here I noticed the blueberries and the mangos," she laughed realizing that she had enough fruit to feed six people. Shrugging, "Well, I couldn't decide what I wanted more so I thought to get a bit of it all."
Lee smiled. For the first time in a long time, the smile was genuine. She did not hold back for fear of reprisal. She did not pretend when she had no interest. For the first time in nearly twenty-two years, she smiled as if there was no weight on her; as if she were simply a bee charmer. And if not for the complete impossibility of the thought, Riley would have sworn a thousand butterflies had been set loose within her stomach. They way Lee stared at her now was as if no one else existed. And in that moment she wondered if it were true.
"A fruit salad then?"
"Something like that." Motioning towards Lee's flower, "I see you haven't managed to escape empty handed."
Inhaling the blossom once more, she handed the lily to Riley before picking up the sack of fruit. Not sure what to make of it Riley accepted the bloom, if not a bit awkwardly.
Bemused, Riley wondered if Lee was really going to carry the fruit for her.
"Home. Thought I would fetch breakfast before we meet Anne and Shelby. It's my understanding that Shelby has enlisted her entire entourage of actors to come help gather signatures. You?"
Lee nodded but ignored the question. Looking down towards the fruit, "Do you know the secret to the best fruit salad?"
Riley shook her head. It was not often that Lee displayed a playful demeanor. This morning she seemed in a particularly good mood. There was something different about her. She seemed, lighter, if such things were possible.
Smiling, "Fresh honey."
Once again Riley found herself laughing. When she had risen this morning, she never would have thought her day would have started like this.
"I don't know that they sell honey here. There is a store about half a mile down the road. We could get some if you like. That is if you wanted to join me for breakfast."
"Is it fresh?"
"Uh... Well it comes in packages that look like little bears."
Lee smiled again.
"I'm guessing no," Riley smiled with her.
The twinkle in Lee's eyes made Riley's stomach flutter. Following Lee's line of sight, Riley saw some trees nearby.
"How much?" Lee held up an empty cup towards a vendor. Paying the man, she took Riley by the hand. Stopping about thirty feet away, she handed Riley the bag of fruit.
Noticing the rather large bee hive on the tree in front of them, she grabbed hold of Lee's shoulder.
"Lee what are you doing?"
Knowing full well the answer before she even asked the question, "H've you nev'r seen someone charm bees before?"
Riley hadn't heard Lee's accent since the first day they had met. Not knowing what to make of it, she shook her head no never once letting loose the grip she held on Lee's shoulder.
"They're generous creatures so long as you're not greedy. Secret's not to take all their honey."
Lee brushed her thumb along the palm of Riley's hand before she turned and headed steadfastly towards the trees. Riley's heart beat ever more rapidly as she watched bees swarm around Lee. As for Lee, she didn't seem afraid even as the bees embraced her; a quiet dance playing between the two. Gently Lee reached inside the tree and pulled out a thick gooey piece. A piece of what Riley didn't know but when Lee held it over the empty glass she watched fascinated as honey poured down. Walking back towards Riley, Lee was pleased to see the expression on Riley's face.
"Are you alright?"
"When you said you were a bee charmer, well I didn't actually expect you to be able to charm bees."
"Really?" Lee laughed. "Why not?"
"Uh... Generally people just don't go around charming bees."
"No," Riley's heart was still racing.
Looking over her shoulder back towards the hive, "What exac'ly did you think I'd meant?"
"I don't know. Maybe that you wanted to live a simpler life or something."
A mischievous smile crossed her lips. "Aye. That too."
Not knowing what else to do, Riley simply smiled back. Tilting the jar in Riley's direction, Lee tempted her with the sweetness. Dipping her finger in, Riley tasted a small amount. With the smile that graced her lips Lee knew Riley would never eat anything but fresh honey again.
"Did you drive here?"
"Walked. Wanted the fresh air."
Lee nodded. She had come here for the same.
"My motorcycle is not too far off. May I drive you home?"
Riley grinned. No, this was definitely not how she had expected to spend her morning. Hopping off the back of the bike, Lee followed Riley into her flat. Lee carried the groceries and Riley still held tightly to the lily. Reaching up towards her cupboard, she pulled a glass down and filled it with water. Dropping the stem in, she turned around.
"Lee, do you..."
Lee laid the groceries down beside her. Riley had not expected Lee to be so close, but here she was standing directly behind her; face to face now that Riley had turned around. Losing her train of thought, she fumbled for the words.
"Water. Would you like some water?"
"No thank you," Lee whispered.
Opening the sack, Lee began one by one putting the fruit in the sink to be washed. Riley's breath grew increasingly rapid. Needing a little distance to gain her composure, Riley stepped to the side gathering plates in order to set the table. Opening a drawer, Lee found a peeler and knife. Though Lee was slightly turned away from her, Riley watched mesmerized as Lee began expertly cutting the fruit. She had often wondered since their last meal if cooking came naturally to Lee or if she had taken lessons somewhere. Swallowing, Riley wondered when exactly watching someone prepare food became so erotic for her. Taking a sip of water, she could only hope that Lee wouldn't notice the ever growing flush across her skin. If she hadn't known better, she would have thought Lee was putting on a show. Surely this was all in her head. When Lee had finished her cuts, she drizzled honey over the lot and began mixing it together. Satisfied, she brought the bowl to the table serving Riley first and then herself.
"Did you receive lessons somewhere?"
"On how to cut fruit?" Lee asked innocently.
"On how to cook. Most people I know aren't that handy with a knife."
Lee simply smiled, "You might be surprised what I can do."
If she was not blushing before, she certainly was now.
Laughing, "Are you trying to be mysterious or do you just enjoy being vague?"
"A li'tle of both I imagine."
Riley laughed while shaking her head.
"Well you're good at it."
Picking up her fork, "And arrogant," she eyed Lee playfully.
"Ya may have no'iced, I'm Irish."
"Don't start that again."
Now Lee laughed, "Well, I could tell ya I'm from an island. But as are you, it would be less than precise. I'd never presume to call you arrogant."
"Assertive. Confident. But not arrogant."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
Leaning forward, Lee stated with complete seriousness, "Everyone knows Kiwi's are fi'ters. You make me a bit nervous."
Riley nearly choked of laughter.
"Christ Lee. Say something sensible."
Still laughing, "What?"
"My name, is Sive." (pronounced see-vey)
Riley nearly dropped the glass of water she was holding. Her lips motioned to find words, but none formed on her lips. All she was capable of was an ever increasingly soft gaze towards the woman sitting across from her. And Lee remained bound by Riley's gaze; soft pools of azure that would rival the oceans and the seas themselves. Not wanting the moment to end, Riley tried feverishly to think of the right words to say. Lee spoke first.
“Would you spend the day with me?”
Smiling, “we are spending the day together; gathering signatures, remember?”
The smile that Lee returned nearly stopped Riley's heart.
A knock at the door interrupted their trance. Startled, Riley looked towards the door. When she looked back towards Sive, she found only Lee. The knock must have startled Lee as well because the bee charmer that was sitting across from her only a moment ago was pressed down under Lee's normal visage. Having been let in however, Riley could see her hidden just beneath the surface.
Again the knock sounded.
“That will be Anne. She and I tend to ride together to save gas and all,” Riley motioned towards the door. “Excuse me."
Annoyed, Riley opened the door to find herself staring directly into Anne's back.
"Is that Lee's bike?" she asked pointing.
Entering the foyer, Anne couldn't help but jibe her.
Whispering conspiratorially "Did she come this morning or stay the night?"
"Anne, she is in the next room."
Noticing the deep red coloring Riley's cheeks, "Are you blushing?" she asked.
But before Riley could answer, Anne sped off towards the kitchen. Trying to catch up with Anne, she nearly ran into her when Anne stopped abruptly in the doorframe.
"Damn. I was hoping you hair would be disheveled."
Lee gave her an odd look and returning to her American accent, "Good morning to you as well."
"Oh right. Good morning," she answered grumpily. "You riding with us then?"
Looking between the two, "Sure," Lee smiled.
Today was bound to be an interesting day.
Chapter 6: I'm certain I'll be better for it
It did not take long for the women to arrive at the festival. Not too far from the entrance was a rather large tent with a New Horizons banner flying overhead.
"We're with you Ms. Shelton. Let's get these signatures and save our homes!"
Cat calls and cheers were heard throughout the crowd. Not knowing where the person called from, Riley simply smiled and waved towards the people. Eva and Shelby sat at the front desk handing out signature lists to the volunteers.
"Remember," Eva spoke, "If you have already signed, don't sign again. Duplicates cannot be counted in our number. And only people over the voting age are allowed to sign. Thank you and good luck."
Shelby called over the crowd, "Thank you all for coming. Your support is overwhelming. Remember when you are outside drink lots of water. We don't want anyone getting heat exhaustion. Oh, and we will probably close up shop here around eight-thirty this evening. If you haven't had a chance to bring in your signatures by the end of today, feel free to drop them off at our office any time next week."
Seeing Anne approach, Shelby hopped down.
"Did you bring the water? We're running low here."
"No, my husband should be by in a few minutes," Anne answered. "He thought it best to fit it in the back of the truck."
"Great," Shelby answered.
Looking at the crowd, "Wow, Shelby ," Riley spoke up. "You certainly seem to have things under control here."
"Course I do. I'm good at rallying the troops. Matter of fact," she handed Anne several signatures lists, "Why don't you three go out and get some signatures. People would love to see you out with the rest. I will stay here."
Handing Riley some lists, Lee reached for her own when Anne stopped her.
“None for me?” Lee questioned.
“Nope. We need to get you ready.”
A slight tilt of Lee's head and Anne knew Lee had no idea what she was talking about. Turning towards Riley,
“You haven't told her.”
Pursing her lips together, Riley looked towards Lee and then back to Anne.
“Tell me what?” Lee asked.
Shelby 's interest was also peaked. The entire group looked to Riley for the answer.
“Lee,” Riley cleared her throat. Putting on her best smile, “Well you see. The thing is…” she tried again. “Well, we were very late in requesting a space. And when I spoke to the manager on the phone all he could offer me was a space way out in the middle of nowhere where there would be very little traffic coming by us and therefore less chance of gathering signatures.”
Seeing how Riley was dancing around the issue, Lee just knew this wasn't going to go her way.
“Seems to me like you got a good spot,” Lee prodded.
“We did,” Riley readily agreed. “Thanks to you.”
“Thanks to me?”
“Right. That's just it. It seems the manager remembers you from a while back and he offered me a better spot if I could get you to volunteer for one of the games. Just for an hour. Or two,” she trailed off.
“I see.” A devilish grin now appeared on her lips. This definitely wasn't going to go her way. “I don't imagine you signed me up as a judge for a cooking contest?”
“No, not exactly,” Riley smiled. “You do have your very own seat though.”
It was not long before Lee stood before what looked like a giant fish tank with a seat suspended just over the water below.
“Ah, come on Lee. It is for a good cause. Besides, the manager said you could choose which charity you wanted the donations to go to,” Anne tried.
“Then you sit up there.”
“I'm old. All that splashing around would make me sick.”
“No,” Lee tried again.
“Don't be a baby. It is just for an hour. Or two.”
“Why do you both keep saying that?”
Turning around, Lee saw Riley smiling in her direction while speaking to the manager. Lee recognized him. She had told him to shove off once upon a time when he just wouldn't take no for an answer. When Riley had finished speaking with him, she walked back towards Anne and Lee.
“We all set?”
“No,” Lee spoke firmly.
Biting the inside of her cheek to keep her grin from becoming too large, Riley smiled directly into Lee's eyes. It wasn't long after that when Lee's pants were rolled up to her knees. Sitting herself down gently on the wooden plank she felt as though she were easy pickings.
“So it works like this,” Anne explained. “People are going to line up over there. Each person will pay five dollars for three balls. They throw the balls at the button at the center of the bullseye for the chance to drop you in the water.”
Looking just behind her two colleagues at the target on the wall, “You both realize I have the ability to fire you.”
Anne laughed, “But you won't.”
Lee narrowed her vision. It only caused Anne to laugh harder. Riley just stood with one arm crossed along her midsection while the other covered her mouth; no doubt in an attempt to cover her own smile.
“One hour, right?”
Riley nodded her head.
“Two at most.”
The innocent smile that Riley displayed was slowly turning to a mischievous grin. Looking over her shoulder to the target directly behind her, Riley turned back just long enough to lock her eyes directly on Lee's.
Knowing that smile, “Don't you…”
But before Lee could get the last word out, Riley hit the bullseye dropping Lee precipitously into the waters below. Anne nearly fell over laughing as Riley approached the tank, one hand going to the glass. As Lee stood up she looked Riley squarely in the eyes. There were no hard feelings there. Rather, Lee looked quite impressed that Riley would have such presumption and audacity to drop her.
“See you in a couple hours,” Riley spoke softly through the glass.
When Riley smiled, Lee knew she had lost. Climbing back up to her wooden perch, Lee watched as Anne and Riley made their way back to the tent leaving her to her impending fate. Just before the two made it out of sight, she saw Riley hand some money to the game conductor. Even at this distance, Lee could still see the broad smile etched on her face.
Back at the tent Anne and Riley, along with several other volunteers, passed the time gathering signatures. Before long, a very enraged Mr. Cole made his way towards the tent. Walking rather threateningly, he stopped just short of Riley.
“Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?”
Turning to face him, “Gathering signatures for a petition.”
Squinting his eyes, "Two weeks ago, my construction team informed me that they can no longer carry out my plans. That a cease and desist order has been placed on my company. Cutting through all the bullshit, my lawyers tell me that the order is over the issue of, of butterflies. And today they tell me that you have been gathering signatures to petition the restriction of my company from entering the community. After Friday's public announcement, I thought we had put aside our differences."
“Right,” Riley pretended to be interested. Nodding her head, “I can see how this might be a bit awkward then, for you.”
"You're a comedian now?"
Smiling, "Well I've never put my hand to it before but…”
“This isn't a joke. I am a powerful man. If you think that you can stop me moving forward because of some butterflies you are sadly mistaken. As we speak my lawyers are down at the court house arguing for a reversal."
"Well if I weren't on the opposing side I'd wish you luck."
"Every day my men aren't working is another day I am losing money. Perhaps we should revisit the slander lawsuit."
"I think your lawyers would advise against it."
"And why is that?"
"I apologized. I renounced my actions on the public tele. We shook hands afterward as I remember. It would look very bad for your company, publically that is, to sue us now. Like you said, we've put our differences behind us."
"You were heard on the radio less than an hour later criticizing my company."
"Criticizing? I remember explaining the differences between your vision for New Zealand 's communities and my own."
"Do you honestly believe this will get you anywhere?"
Stepping even nearer, "You should watch who you make enemies of."
Stepping closer to Cole, "I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but you do realize we stopped you because of butterflies."
Biting his lip near the point of bleeding, Cole stormed off in haste.
"Everything alright?" Anne asked.
"Of course. How are we doing on signatures?"
"Well on our way."
Another hour had passed when Eva had tallied up the list of new signatures.
“Fifteen hundred left to go.”
“What do you think Anne? We might make our number today if we're lucky,” Riley hoped.
“Anne?” Riley tried again.
Still Anne ignored her. Looking over to her friend, she saw Anne staring out towards the crowd with a rather large grin spreading along her features. Turning in the direction of her gaze, Riley's eyes fell upon Lee walking towards them sopping wet. Once again Riley's hand went to cover her mouth. Riley started walking backwards towards the tent while Lee moved steadfastly in her direction. It was not long before Riley found herself backed up into a table with Lee stopping just shy of her.
“Remember Lee, it was for charity.”
“Thirty-seven?” she asked questioning the powers that be as to why the table was put here with no more room for her retreat.
“The number of times I was dropped into the water,” she shot her hand out quickly just behind Riley. Unprepared, Riley jumped at the movement. Lee never touched her. Instead Lee reached for the bottle of water behind her. Finishing the bottle, she never once took her eyes off Riley.
“Tell me something Riley. What kind of woman do you take me for?”
Riley began to feel as though she were a mouse caught between a wall and a cat that looked considerably famished.
Though her body language seemed very stiff, Riley could see the playfulness in Lee's eyes.
“Do you think I'm the kind of woman that forgives easily or the kind who gets even?”
“You have always been exceptionally kind to me,” Riley began fumbling for her bag. “And look, I brought you some clothes to change into and a towel to dry off with,” Biting her lower lip, Riley knew that whatever Lee had planned in the two hours she remained hanging above that water, she was in trouble.
Never taking her eyes of Riley, “Thoughtful,” Lee accepted the clothes. Turning, Lee headed for the nearest secluded spot she could find.
“You are in so much trouble,” Shelby chimed in.
Riley smiled and nodded. She knew better than anyone else how deep she was in. Looking down, she noticed that Lee had forgotten the towel.
“Lee wait,” Riley ran after her.
Scrambling after Lee, she had walked a good distance down a hiking path before she found herself standing in front of a small bridge. The water running below it must have been a good four feet deep and as clear as any water she had ever seen.
“Lee?” Riley called out.
“Here,” Lee answered back.
Turning in the direction of Lee's call, Riley found Lee standing very nude behind a tree. Immediately, she turned her back.
“Sorry. I didn't realize you would be undressing, out here, in the middle of the park.”
Lee nearly laughed. Riley had a tendency to ramble when she was nervous. Still, she made no move to cover herself. Instead, Lee stood up to her full height. Another woman walked passed Riley and smiled in appreciation as she looked over Riley's shoulder towards Lee. Realizing that the on comer was staring at Lee, Riley opened the towel to obstruct the view of the voyeur. She maintained the stance until she was satisfied the passerby could no longer view Lee's physique.
“Right. This is for you,” Riley blushed. “If you'll excuse me,” she tried handing Lee her towel.
But instead of grabbing the towel, Lee grasped Riley's hand pulling her back in Lee's direction.
“You have seen me naked before.”
Averting her eyes as best she could, “Right, that was different.”
“Well you were hypothermic. I wasn't about to ogle you when you were sick.”
“But you wouldn't mind doing so now?”
“Yes. I mean no.”
Deep down Riley was rather certain that there wasn't possibly a right answer to that question. Why did Lee have to be naked right now? Lee continued to smile. It was not often that she had the chance to unnerve Riley. She rather enjoyed seeing Riley dance about her questions.
“I mean, well it isn't polite to stare at people anyway is it?”
“No, you're right of course,” Lee agreed.
Riley looked somewhat appeased until Lee took the liberty of running the towel over the length of her body. Suddenly all the blood that had been filling Riley's cheeks for the last few minutes surged to a much lower region of her body.
“Still, it's good to know that if I ever become hypothermic again, you would have no issue keeping me warm despite my nudity.”
“No, no. You can count on me.” Trying to change the subject, “These trees are quite lovely; and tall,” Riley appreciated. “What kind do you think these are?”
“Australian Eucalyptus. I mentioned them to you once before.”
Of course they were. A vivid picture of Lee lying beneath her flashed through her fevered memory. “I remember thanks.”
Rubbing the towel against her hair, “What magazine did you read those survival techniques from again?”
Will she never get dressed? Taking a small chance to look into Lee's eyes she couldn't help but notice the widening smile that played along Lee's lips.
“You're enjoying this aren't you?”
“You can't imagine how much.”
Riley smiled at her predicament, “I'll be going now.”
Lee stepped in her path. Then very seriously,
“I'm not certain that's fair. You've had at least five minutes to stand and ogle me. I think I should receive the same courtesy.”
Riley looked at Lee questioningly.
“Take off your clothes.”
Riley's eyes grew wide with nervousness when Lee burst into laughter.
Realizing she fell for it again, “You're hilarious.”
“Somehow, I don't believe you.”
“You're very wise then,” Lee smiled. Finally covering herself with the towel, “This reminds me of when we first met. Do you remember?”
“Spilling coffee all over you? How could I forget?”
“You should be flattered. You are the only person who can seem to get me to take my clothes off,” Lee laughed.
“Ha ha,” Riley tried to ignore her increasing attraction to the woman in front of her. With Lee's attention now centered on finding her clothes, Riley took a moment to appreciate Lee's beauty. She was beautiful. And more than that, Lee had such a kindness to her. Riley had seen it so many times before. Lee would hide it. She would let others take credit for her actions. But Lee had a generous spirit. She was a good woman; a bee charmer. And Riley was in love with her.
The knowledge coursed through Riley as decidedly as the way that blood would course through her veins. She had tried to deny it for so long she had almost convinced herself that it wasn't true. But watching Lee fiddle about now, the playfulness of her demeanor, the softness of her eyes; Riley loved her. And more, Riley knew that she would never love another as deeply as she loved Lee now.
Noticing Riley's stiffness, “Are you alright?”
“Of course. I'm fine.”
Lee eyed her companion. Riley only ever said she was fine when she wasn't. Looking down at herself, Lee was still only dressed in a towel.
“Am I making you uncomfortable? Honestly, I was joking about. Trying to make you feel less awkward about… seeing me.”
“No you did,” Riley smiled. “I'm fine. Honestly. My mind just ran off with me a moment.”
Reaching out to touch Riley's hand, Riley took a step back. Riley had never pulled away from her before. Blinking, Lee wrapped the towel tighter around her frame before taking a step back herself.
“I'm sorry. Truly.” Shaking her head, “It wasn't my intention to make you uncomfortable. Not in that sense anyway.”
Turning her back, Lee picked up her shirt and quickly pulled it over her head. Her towel was still held tightly around her waist. Riley looked towards the path but stopped herself from fleeing.
Putting her hand on Lee's shoulder, “It's my fault.”
Lee turned around.
“You're beautiful,” Riley blushed. “I l… care for you Lee,” she whispered. “Very much. And I respect you just as much if not more so. You have been very, playful, with me over the last few hours. I am beginning to wonder if this is just another weekend where you have decided to throw caution to the wind; to be a bee charmer instead of a businesswoman.” A sad smile crossed Riley eyes, “It is odd that you differentiate yourself in such a way. You have always only been a bee charmer to me. But come Monday, I'm afraid it will be back to business as usual. And as much as I enjoy seeing you like this, it is very easy for me to forget myself when you do. I can't go back and forth with you, not with you. And I would rather we should only ever be friends if that is all you are able to give. I value our friendship too much. And you have told me no more times than my ego would rather acknowledge.”
Taking a step in Riley's direction, Lee left very little personal space between them.
“There are many reasons I have pushed you away.”
“It's alright. You don't have to…”
“I could list them for you, but it is rather extensive.”
Nodding her head, “I suppose there's really only one true explanation anyway. Anne certainly seems to point it out to me on a regular occasion.”
“And that is?”
Looking directly into Riley's eyes, “Well... I'm a bit of an asshole.”
Riley dropped her head and laughed. Lee touched the softness of Riley's face; lifting Riley's chin to meet her eyes once more.
“I was hoping you might be willing to overlook that.”
Riley's eyes softened at Lee's words.
“Have I left it too late?”
“Too late? No Lee, it's not too late.”
Leaning in to brush her lips against Riley's, Riley put her fingers between them.
“And come Monday…”
“I imagine Monday to be the same as today.”
“For how long?”
Not knowing how to answer, “Are you asking me for forever?”
“No, not forever.”
“No one knows what tomorrow brings. Circumstance, fate, or whatever you want to call it could always take from us what we want most. I am asking you if given your own free choice, your own will, how long can I have you?”
Brushing her own fingers along Riley's lips, “It depends.” Lee pressed her body firmly against Riley.
“On how long it takes you to grow tired of me.”
Riley smiled against Lee's lips.
“That could be a very long time; maybe never.”
Nodding at the implication, “I'm certain I'll be better for it.”
Unable to resist any longer Riley pushed her lips almost roughly along Lee's mouth. Lee held no resistance. Rather, Lee pushed back just as fiercely. Both women valiantly tried to consume the other's passion.
Pulling back just enough to gain her breath, “Lee,” Riley whispered against swollen lips.
“Sive,” Lee whispered back, dropping her towel to the ground.
“Sive,” Riley moaned.
It took very little time for both to divest each other of the rest of their clothing. Lying down on the towel, Sive took position on top of Riley. For the first time since the incitement of their passion, Lee slowed the pace. Resting her forehead against Riley's, Lee ran her hands along the length of Riley's body. She could feel Riley's breath grow warmer against her cheek. She could see Riley's nipples stiffen as her fingers grazed along her beautiful breasts. She could feel Riley's dampness increasing along her thigh. Kissing Riley chastely, she reveled in how firmly Riley embraced her. Each breath served only for Riley to hug her more tightly. Unable to stand anymore, Riley kissed Lee again pushing her tongue only to have it warmly welcomed in Lee's mouth. Raising Riley's thigh, Lee inched her fingers towards Riley's heated entrance. When Lee had reached her mark, she felt Riley's hips rise in anticipation.
Pushing in slowly, Lee twisted her fingers up taking her time to find the softened tissue just at the edge of her finger's reach. Sliding in and out of her lover, Lee set her pace to match the rise and fall of her lover's hips. It didn't take long for Lee's ministrations to distract Riley from her kisses. Instead, Riley could only manage to moan against Lee's lips as she pushed her hips harder against Lee's fingers. Lee pushed harder as well only to feel Riley's inner walls tighten around her. Her inner muscles eagerly accepted Lee's welcome intrusion.
“Sive,” Riley moaned.
Lee pushed harder.
“Sive!” Riley called louder.
Covering Riley's lips with her own, Sive tried to muffle Riley's moans less someone overhear them.
“Cum for me,” Lee whispered against Riley's moistened lips. “Cum for me.”
Grasping almost painfully tight to Lee's shoulders, it took but a few more strokes for Riley to dive over the edge of pure bliss. A thousand supernovas burst behind her lidded eyes as her body surged with convulsions of pleasure. And when her body could stand no more, Riley found the strength to breathe again all the while holding tightly to Lee. Finding her strength again, Riley began kissing along Lee's shoulder and neck. Kissing along Lee's jawline, she made it back to Lee's mouth where she found herself once again eagerly welcomed. Running her hands along the muscles of Lee's back, Riley felt Lee pulling along her thigh. This time, however, Lee positioned her own heat firmly against Riley's passion. Slowly Lee began undulating against Riley. Having fully witnessed Riley's release, Lee was near her own. Bracing herself with her knees, Lee kept one arm under Riley's shoulders, hugging Riley to her as tightly as she could. Her other hand dropped to the right of Riley's hip giving her leverage to push more ardently, more feverishly against Riley's heated pleasure. Riley pulled Lee's hips into her, desperately trying to quell her own rising passion and wait for Lee. But Lee was having none of it. She would not rest until she pushed Riley over the edge again. Steadily she increased her pace, pushing and pulling along Riley's body until Riley was writhing once again in anticipation.
“Oh god, Sive.”
Again, Riley pushed down her own pleasure.
“Tell me what you need Sive. Sive please.”
Pushing her lips against Riley's ear, “You.”
Riley had never heard Lee's voice so laced with desire. Riley couldn't help but moan in pleasure. And the more Riley moaned the more ardent Lee's attentions became until Riley couldn't hold down her passion any longer. Crying out loudly, she had just enough sense to feel Lee's back arch in release as her own pleasure overtook her once more. When each had found their wits again, Lee remained lying heavily against Riley as Riley rubbed circles into Lee's back.
“You're quieter than I expected.”
“So are you,” Lee smiled. Riley laughed and playfully pushed against Lee's stomach. “Does it bother you?”
“No. I just expected an Irish-Italian woman to…” Lee raised a playful eyebrow. “be more expressive. You. I mean I. I just. You are uh…”
Riley blushed. “I'm glad.”
“And you?” Lee smiled.
Now it was Lee's turn to push along Riley's stomach. Riley laughed before brushing her lips firmly against Lee's once more. Again Lee welcomed her warmly.
“They will be wondering where we got off to.”
Lee smiled mischievously. When Riley finally realized the play on words, Riley pushed her again.
“You know what I meant.”
“Mm… You mean you could care less about anyone's opinions on where we were. You want to get back to gathering signatures to help save all those nice people's homes. You are very nobly intentioned.”
“So are you.”
“Not if it is your plan to dunk me in water again.”
“Seemed to turn out pretty well.”
“You think so do you? You realize now that you will have trouble getting rid of me.”
“Well I'm certain I'll be better for it.”
Chapter 7: We did it!
“There you two are. For a moment I thought you had gotten lost. How long does it take to change one's clothes anyway?” Anne flustered.
Lee was about to respond but Anne just continued on.
“You're not going to believe this. We hit our mark! We did it!”
“So quickly?” Riley asked. “Just before I left, Eva said we had fifteen hundred left to go.”
“We did,” Eva spoke up. “But that was before your Green Living council members showed up. Apparently, some of the volunteers had been giving their forms to the vice president of the board rather than directly with us. He just dropped them off. We have a grand total of twenty three thousand six hundred and forty-two signatures and counting. We did it!”
Riley turned to look at Lee; the excitement in her eyes was immeasurable.
“Congratulations,” Lee smiled happily.
Riley threw her arms around Lee's neck and then around Anne's. Anne ushered Riley to stand up on the table.
“Well go on,” Anne smiled. “Give them the good news.”
Looking out over the crowd, a number of people started gathering around her. Smiling down at Lee she began to speak. And in her thoughts, today was certainly a good day.
“Lee,” Anne whispered quietly so as not to disturb Riley's speech, “You have something in your hair,” she pulled a small leaf from its lodging.
To be continued...
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