The sun had not yet peeked over the mountains, but Kara hurried anyway. With her sketchpad tucked securely under her arm, she picked her way along the trail to the lake. Her flashlight shining, she agilely avoided the exposed roots of the massive trees lining the path and she paused, leaning against the trunk of one of those giants to catch her breath. She had come down this same trail the evening before and had sketched the lake at sunset, but she knew the colors of early morning would be more to her liking.
She slowed as she saw the water through the trees. Something caught her eye along the edge and through the mist, she saw the shadows of two deer as they walked slowly along the fringe of the lake. As if sensing her presence, their heads turned her way, and she froze and watched as their ears twitched, listening for her next step. They stared at her as she stared back and for several seconds she barely took in a breath, not wanting to disturb the scene. Finally, with a disinterested toss of their tails, they walked off into the trees and disappeared.
She hurried now as the morning light crept over the hills, and she walked nearly to the edge of the lake, sat again on the same rock as before and waited for the colors of sunrise to strike her. She shivered in the cool of the morning and she rubbed her hands across her bare legs, waiting.
When the first pinks appeared over the water, her fingers moved quickly, nimbly sketching the lake in the dim light of dawn and when the pinks erupted to orange, she added more color as the sound of her chalk on paper echoed through the silent forest. When the full sun peeked through, changing the brilliant orange to dull yellow, she put her pad down and stretched her neck, raising her arms over her head. She looked at her work, then picked up another color and quickly added the shadows of the deer along the rim. She rarely painted animals of any kind, but she wanted to remember the deer, in case she decided to add them when she took this to canvas. As an afterthought, she sketched her trademark in the top corner, a full moon hanging over the lake, and closed her pad. Only then did she hear the footsteps behind her.
"Good morning. "
Startled, she turned. She hadn't expected hikers this early and was clearly surprised by the older woman standing there watching her. Kara stared at her in silence before finding her voice.
"Hello," she murmured.
"I didn't want to disturb you earlier. You were so engrossed. I've never seen anyone out here this early before. "
The woman was clearly nervous and Kara took a moment to compose herself. She replaced the glare on her face with a forced smile and gathered up her sketchpad and chalks, trying to ignore the woman as politely as possible. She had never been good with strangers.
"I'm Louise Harrison, by the way," the woman said, extending her hand.
Kara looked up and, after a brief pause, touched hands with the woman. "Kara. Kara Morgan. "
"I don't believe I've seen you before. Tourist? "
"Not exactly. "
Kara moved to walk past her, but the woman put her hands on her hips, clearly expecting an explanation.
"I'm renting the Dobson cabin," Kara finally explained.
"The Dobson place? I thought they were only going away for a week or two. "
"I wouldn't know about that," Kara said. "I've rented it through October. "
"Well, I'll be. I wonder what happened? " Louise asked, expecting Kara to answer.
Kara shrugged. She had lived in the city her whole life, she wasnt used to keeping tabs on her neighbors.
"You're going to be here through October, you say? "
"Yes. "Kara again tried to pass, but the woman continued.
"Well, come by the store then. Ginny will be glad to meet you. There's very few people her own age out here in the mountains. "
"Who? " Kara asked.
"My granddaughter. We have the general store over at the end of town," the woman explained, motioning with her hand.
"Oh. "Kara smiled politely, finally walking past the woman. "Actually, I haven't been into town yet. "
Louise surveyed her sketchpad under her arm. "You're an artist? "
"It started out that way, yes. "
"Well, you must be good if you can make a living at it. "
"Sometimes. "Kara squared her shoulders, raising to her full height. Shed had enough of idle conversation for one day. "Listen, it was nice to meet you, but I've got to get back. Louise, was it? "
"Yes. Come by the store," she said again. "We've got coffee," she called to Karas retreating back.
Kara smiled slightly and made her escape, hurrying back along the path to her truck, anxious to return to her solitude.
Ginny looked up as the bell over the door jingled and she smiled warmly at her grandmother.
"Good morning, Nana. How was your walk? "
"Oh, it's a beautiful day out, Ginny. "Louise walked around the counter and tossed her purse on the bottom shelf, nudging Ginny out of the way. "I told you I would put these out this morning. "
Ginny had been pricing the freeze-dried meals that they kept in stock for the backpackers that swarmed the mountains in summer. She let Nana take over and went to get herself a latte from the espresso machine. She proudly touched the side, rubbing off a smudge with her thumb. It was the first thing she added when she had purchased the general store last fall. Coffee was one of the few things she missed about Seattle.
"Want one? " she asked.
"No, thanks. I just had some juice. Oh, Ginny, I met the most interesting woman this morning," Nana said.
"When? " Ginny asked absently as she pushed the button for steamed milk.
"Out on the trail, by the lake," Nana explained. "An artist. I watched her work, although I'm sure she didn't know I was spying on her. "
"Spying? Why? "
"Well, I didnt want to disturb her. She had this large pad and a handful of colored chalk things and her hands just flew over the paper. "Louise sighed heavily. "I wanted to ask to see it, but once she stood up, I lost my nerve. "
"What do you mean? "Ginny took a sip of her coffee and smiled contentedly. Nothing like good coffee.
"Well, she was . . . imposing. Taller than most women. And her eyes. Oh, Ginny, the most odd color of blue Ive ever seen. Seemed to look right through you. "
"What's her name? "
Nana looked up and frowned. "Kara Morgan. Ever heard of her? "
"Kara Morgan? I'm not sure. Wasn't there an article earlier this year about her in Northwest Magazine? "
"I don't remember. You know I never actually read those articles," she said and smiled sheepishly. "I just enjoy the pictures. "
Ginny smiled, too. "You and me both. So, she's here painting? "
"I suppose. She's renting the Dobson place until October. I was certain the Dobson's were only going to be gone a week or so. At least, that's what I heard. I wonder if they are having problems? " she mused. Then she looked back at Ginny. "But anyway, I told her to come by. She's a little older than you, but I told her you didn't have any friends here your own age. "
"Well, you don't. You keep saying you have nothing in common with the people around here. "
"I'm sure I would have nothing in common with an artist, either. "
"You designed ads. That's art," Nana said emphatically.
"I hardly think what I did for the marketing firm could be called art, Nana. "
"Well, she wasn't overly friendly anyway. She may not even stop by. "
Ginny shook her head and sipped from her coffee. It was true. She had made few friends since she had moved here. Most of the locals were older and those that were close to her own age were married with small children and she certainly didn't have anything in common with them. So far, she had been content having Nana as her only friend.
The bell jingled again and Mr. Arnold came in carrying his poodle under his arm.
"Good morning, ladies," he said, bowing slightly at his waist.
"Why, Mr. Arnold, how are you today? " Nana greeted him and Ginny was again amazed at how Nana had taken to running the store. But then, Nana had lived most of her adult life here. These people were her people. It had taken several months for them to warm up to Ginny, despite the many summers she had spent here as a child. But now, after nearly a year, she felt almost like a local.
She gave a humorless smile to her reflection in the glass behind the counter. So far removed from Seattle, but hardly a local here. Sometimes, she did miss her fast-paced job in the city. And sometimes, she missed the people there.
Like Phil, she thought, but she didn't want to think about him right now. He had been calling again, hinting that he was coming for a visit and she had been putting it off. He would want to talk marriage and after being away from him the last eight months, she was fairly certain that she would not marry him. Only she didn't have the heart to tell him. Or Nana. She had hoped her absence would end things with Phil, but still, he called.
"What? " she asked, pushing her thoughts aside for the moment.
"Would you slice Mr. Arnold some ham? Just a half-pound. "
"Of course. "
The day took on its familiar routine. The morning filled with locals and a handful of strangers. The afternoon would be spent catering to the tourists and vacationers who had slept in and were late getting out to enjoy the warm day. Jessica, the high school student who helped during the summer months, came in at noon and Ginny escaped for a quick lunch, taking her sandwich out to the park like she did everyday.
With elbows leaning on the table, she tossed a corner of her bread to the chipmunks that came to beg. She wondered if they waited for her every day or if they just happened to be out and about when she was eating. She sighed. Was she lonely? Not really, although she did miss her friends in Seattle. Their phone calls, like their letters, were getting less frequent as time went by. But it was her own choice to move out here. She had been closer to Nana than to her own mother and when her grandfather had passed away, only a few months after her mother, she had used her family inheritance and bought the store, feeling her grandmother would need someone to look after her. She knew now that Nana was just fine, but it was as good an excuse as any to get away from Phil. She should have just told him she wasn't ready to get married, but after four years, it was time to do something. They couldn't just continue dating and Phil wanted children and she dreaded telling him she had no desire to be a mother. She secretly feared she would end up like her own mother; loving one child so much, her first and scarcely noticing that she had another, waiting for her attention as well.
But she pushed those thoughts aside. She didnt want to think about her sister. And with their mother gone, she seriously doubted she would ever see her again.
Kara applied background colors to the canvas, adding gray to soften the dark sky. She had decided on the morning scene, with deer and all and she worked right through lunch, finally stopping when her stomach demanded attention.
She took out the tofu she had brought with her from Seattle and sautéed it with vegetables and put the pasta on to boil. She opened a bottle of wine and went out on the porch while her dinner cooked. The crumbled pack of cigarettes beckoned and she lit one, inhaling deeply and letting the smoke out slowly. She needed to savor every one. She had vowed she would quit and she was down to five a day. At the rate she was going, a few more months and she would quit altogether.
"Right," she murmured. She had been stuck on five for the last month or so.
She stretched her long legs out, the wineglass hanging loosely in her hand and she gazed out at the forest. It was quiet here. No close neighbors to disturb her work.
She had come to Chiwaukum one weekend in May with a friend and had seen endless opportunities for her work. The surrounding Wenatchee National Forest was littered with small lakes and offered a wonderful view of Glacier Peak, hovering over them at more than ten thousand feet. On impulse, she had inquired about renting a place for the summer. The local real estate agent had called her barely two weeks ago about the Dobson cabin and she had snatched it up. She usually traveled during the summers, camping or staying at local resorts while she sketched, then spent the winter putting her ideas on canvas. But she had tired of that and the thought of working in solitude and the quiet of her own cabin all summer had been too tempting to pass up. She had not really closed up her cottage on Bainbridge Island, though. She was only a few hours from Seattle. She could always go back.
She finished her cigarette and brought her dinner out to the porch. The evening was cool, but clear and she ate while she watched the colors of sunset settle on the forest, her favorite time of day.
It wasn't until the following afternoon, after Kara had worked through lunch again, that she decided to drive into town. She had brought most of the food she would need with her. Being a vegetarian, she couldn't always count on small town grocery stores having what she needed, but cream for her coffee was a necessity and she thought she would check out Louise's store. Maybe they would carry enough and she wouldn't have to make a trip into Seattle just to shop for food.
She passed through the town, which was a stretch by anyone's imagination. A few stores, catering strictly to tourists, an old lodge that looked quite charming, and one gas station. At the edge of town, where the forest nearly swallowed it up, stood the general store. A log cabin, with porch and all, it looked as if it came right out of the last century. She parked her Land Cruiser next to a four-wheel drive Ford truck, looking like it had seen better days. She ran her hand affectionately across the hood of her Toyota, her pride and joy. It had been the first major purchase shed made with her own money.
She glanced above her head, admiring the freshly painted sign. Ginnys General Store. A paper flyer taped to the window of the door offered fresh coffee and espresso. Another notified locals of the monthly bingo game at the community center. She grinned. Life moved a lot slower out here than in Seattle.
Kara looked up as the bell above her head signaled her arrival and she walked into the store, glancing up to meet the friendly green eyes of the woman standing behind the counter. Kara held her gaze, the corner of her mouth lifting in a quick smile before looking away and she walked slowly down one of the rows of shelves lined with canned goods towards the cooler. She grabbed a carton of cream then turned and looked around. She spotted the espresso machine in the corner and made her way to that. A real cup of coffee with steamed milk nearly made her mouth water.
"Why, Ms. Morgan, you found us," Nana called as she saw Kara.
"Louise. Nice to see you again. I remembered you said you had coffee," Kara replied as she sipped from her cup.
"Ginny's idea. She missed Seattles coffee, although I prefer just plain old roast," she said as she walked over to Kara and casually took her hand. "Come meet Ginny. "
Kara looked again into sea-green eyes. "Hello. Kara Morgan. "She extended a hand in greeting.
Ginny paused for only a moment, the slightly husky voice still vibrating in her ears. She reached out and touched her hand quickly.
"Ginny Harrison. "
"I'm so glad you decided to come by," Louise said. "I told Ginny about you. "
"You did? "Kara glanced quickly at Ginny Harrison, watching as she nervously tucked strands of blonde hair behind her ears, then brushed at the bangs hanging in her eyes.
"Yes, she did," Ginny said. "Welcome to Chiwaukum. She said you were staying at the Dobson place. "
"For the summer, at least. "
Their eyes met again and Kara was surprised at the gentle tug of attraction she felt for this woman. Her warm, green eyes seemed almost to beckon and Kara laughed to herself. The young woman was most likely straight. Her blonde hair was neatly styled, just barely brushing the tops of her shoulders in the back but shorter around her face and Kara was very conscious of her own hair, cut short over her ears and barely reaching her neck. With two fingers, she brushed it away from her forehead, finally pulling her eyes away and turning to Louise.
"Your offer of coffee drew me," she said, sipping from her cup again. "I've missed Seattle's coffee, too. "
"You and Ginny. That's all she complained about. Not a decent cup of coffee for miles, she kept saying. "
Kara looked again at Ginny. "The espresso machine was a good idea. "
Ginny grinned. "Absolutely. During the summer months, most of our customers are from Seattle. They need some place to go to get a cup of real coffee. "
"Well, thank you," Kara said, raising her cup in salute. "What do I owe you? "She pulled a couple of bills from her front jeans pocket and handed them to Ginny.
"Why don't you come for dinner tonight? " Louise asked unexpectedly.
Kara looked down, embarrassed. "I'm afraid I'd be more trouble than it's worth," she said. "I'm a vegetarian. Most people find it difficult to invite me to dinner. "
"Nonsense. I've got a wonderful vegetable soup that I could whip up. You wouldn't mind, would you, Ginny? "
Ginny stared at Nana for only a second, then shook her head. "No, of course not. Please join us. "
Kara looked from Ginny to Louise and back again. "Okay then, I guess. "
"Great," Louise said and gave Kara directions to their house.
Kara left, slowly shaking her head. Why? She wasnt good with people, strangers. Why had she agreed to dinner? Then she grinned. Because youre a sucker for blondes, she told herself.
"Well, what do you think? " Louise asked Ginny after Kara had left.
"About what? "
"About the artist, of course," Louise said.
"She seemed nice enough, although I don't know why you insisted on inviting her to dinner," Ginny said. Something about the womans eyes made her uncomfortable. Ice blue. For a second, she wondered if they were real. With her jet-black hair, she would have expected dark eyes, not the vibrant blue that stared back at her. But it was not the dead, lifeless eyes that colored contacts produced. No, these eyes were very much alive.
"I thought you might like her company. "
"I'm sure I will. She was just . . . " Ginny shrugged. "A little intimidating. "
"Yes. At first, I thought it was her height," Nana said. "But I think its her eyes. They seem to just look right into you. "
Ginny nodded, her mind drifting back to the dark-haired stranger who had just left.
"Well, anyway, she seems near your age. Maybe you can make a new friend. "
"Thank you, Nana, for looking out for me," she said dryly.
"Oh, Ginny. I just wish you had some friends here, is all," she said.
Ginny let her shoulders sag and she forced a smile. "I know, but I'm fine, really. "
"Are you? I know Phil has been calling, but you never tell me about it. When are you going to see him again? " she asked.
"Actually, he wants to come visit. "Ginny knew it was a mistake the minute the words were out of her mouth. Nanas eyes lit up and Ginny turned away from them.
"That's wonderful, dear. Maybe you two can work out your differences after all," she said. "Do you think hell come soon? "
Ginny ignored the question. "So what kind of vegetable soup do you have that you can just whip up? " she asked, changing the subject. It was always Phil with Nana.
"Well, there's that soup I make with chicken. I can just leave out the chicken," she said with raised eyebrows. "Don't you think that would be okay? "
Louise left the store early to start dinner and by the time that Ginny had arrived, the soup was simmering and Nana was tidying the kitchen.
"I'm going to take a quick shower," she called.
"Fine, dear," Louise called back.
Ginny undressed in her room and slipped a robe over her naked body, grabbing underclothes on her way out. She was running late and their guest was expected in fifteen minutes. She hurried down the hall to the spare bathroom, hearing Nana singing in the kitchen and she smiled. It seemed Nana was looking forward to their dinner guest much more than Ginny was. It wasn't that she had taken an instant dislike to Kara Morgan or anything. In fact, she seemed quite charming. She just hated the idea of Nana finding friends for her.
She was dismayed to find that the tall woman was already seated on the sofa when she walked out of the shower. She gave an embarrassed smile and hurried past the door in her robe. Apparently Kara Morgan was timely, something Ginny had never been accused of!
Kara watched her run past, her eyes locked on the tan legs exposed beneath her robe. She smiled and turned back to Nana, catching the end of her monologue.
When Ginny finally joined them, Nana was serving wine like an expert hostess and Ginny nearly laughed out loud, knowing Nana had never served wine a day in her life!
"Hello. Sorry I'm running late," she said to Kara.
"No problem. "
Ginny was again conscious of blue eyes following her across the room and she felt an involuntary shiver run down her spine.
"Kara's from Seattle, too," Louise said to Ginny as she accepted the glass of wine from her as if she had done it numerous times before.
"Really? I'm afraid I don't know anything about your work," Ginny admitted.
"There's not much to know. I'm just an artist, not quite as struggling as I used to be," she admitted.
Ginny sipped her wine, thankful Nana had chosen one of their better bottles for the occasion. "Are you familiar with our area? " she asked.
"No, not at all," Kara said. "I came here for the first time in May and fell in love. "Kara let her eyes rest on Ginnys for a second. "How long have you been here?
"Since last October, although I've spent summers here since I was a child. "Ginny glanced at Nana and knew that they were both remembering happier times from long ago.
Kara nodded and an uncomfortable silence filled the room as she wondered why she had accepted this dinner invitation. She normally liked being alone while she worked, hardly ever making friends along the way. She glanced at Ginny as she sipped from her wine and she wondered what this young woman was doing out here, alone and so far from Seattle.
"Ginny surprised me when she said she intended to buy the store and come live with me," Louise said, as if reading her thoughts. "Here I thought she was all ready to get married. "
Ginny glanced at Kara and rolled her eyes. "I found out Nana didn't really need taking care of," she said.
"No, but I would love great-grandchildren someday," she said.
Ginny hoped Nana wouldn't start with that, but it was too late. The seed had been planted.
"Phil is a wonderful man, Kara. Why she left him behind in Seattle, I'll never know," she said.
"Nana!" Ginny exclaimed.
"Are you married? " Nana asked Kara, dismissing Ginny with a wave of her hand.
"No. Never," Kara said.
"Never? What are you? Early thirties? "
"Thirty-four," Kara said. It had been a long time since she had to explain about her lack of a husband to anyone.
"Well, I hope Ginny doesn't wait that long. She's already twenty-eight. Her clock is ticking, if you know what I mean," she said.
"Nana, please," Ginny said quietly.
"He's a fine man, Ginny. You can't wait around for ever. "She turned expectantly to Kara. "Isn't that right? "
"I wouldn't know about that. I'm not exactly looking for a husband," she said lightly, feeling the strain of this conversation with these strangers.
"No? Are you one of those independent feminists who thinks she doesn't need a man in her life? " Nana asked, softening her words with a smile.
A brief smile touched Karas lips and drained her wineglass. "I'm just happy being alone," she said quietly, feeling no need to explain herself. "I don't really need a man to take care of me. "
Ginny met her eyes, trying to apologize silently and Kara accepted with a slight nod before looking away.
"In my time," Nana continued, "you were married by twenty or you were considered an old maid. I know women wait longer these days, but really, twenty-eight is long enough," she said.
"Oh, all right. I just want you to be happy. Is that so hard for you to accept? "
"I am happy," Ginny insisted.
"Bull!You've been moping around here for the last eight months!"
Ginny let out an exaggerated sigh and raised her hands in defeat. "Shouldn't you be checking on dinner? "
"Very well. I can take a hint. "Nana excused herself with only a slight huff.
"I'm sorry," Ginny said. "At her age, Nana just speaks what's on her mind. "
"It's okay. She's not the first to inquire about my marital status," Kara said lightly. "So, who's Phil? " she asked, turning the conversation away from herself.
"That's another story, I'm afraid. "
"Running away? " Kara guessed.
"You might say that. Only don't tell Nana. Shes convinced Phil and I will be married by Christmas. "
"Your secret's safe with me. "
"I think I read an article about you in Northwest Magazine," Ginny said, again changing the subject. "Well, I skimmed the article," she admitted.
Kara met her eyes, wondering if Ginny remembered everything about that article. It had made no secret that she was a lesbian.
"I remember something about a mural you painted," Ginny said.
"In Yakima," Kara supplied.
"Yes. So, are you famous or what? " Ginny asked lightly.
"Not really, no. I have a decent following here in Washington and down the coast, but I'd hardly call me a household name. I'm surprised that you've actually heard of me," she said.
"I'm not really into the art scene," Ginny apologized.
"Not very many people are," Kara said.
"Dinner, you two," Nana called and Kara stood, thankful that the evening was nearly over.
"This looks good," Kara said as she filled her bowl. "I hope you didn't go to any trouble. "
"What trouble? " Nana shrugged. "I just left out the chicken. "
Ginny met the amused eyes of Kara Morgan across the table and smiled. Nana really was a handful, she admitted. Especially when she wanted to be!
The conversation during dinner was polite, but sparse. Ginny tried her best to draw the dark-haired woman out, but most of her questions were responded to with one syllables words. She suspected Kara was not much of a talker, but she wondered if Nanas earlier comments had offended her.
Kara made her escape as soon as she had helped clear the table. "I enjoyed dinner," she lied. "But I've got an early day tomorrow. "
"Oh? Where to this time, Kara? " Nana asked.
"Lake Wenatchee," she said.
"It's beautiful out there. Will you paint it? "
"I'll sketch it first, see how it feels," she said. "It was nice of you to invite me out here. Thanks again for dinner. "
Ginny walked her to the door, feeling a need to apologize. "I hope Nana didn't make you uncomfortable," Ginny said quietly. "Or offend you. She didnt mean any harm. "
"It was fine. I appreciate a meal out now and again," she said, forcing a smile. "Maybe I'll see you around. "
Ginny met her eyes, again astounded by their blueness as they peered into hers. "Maybe so. Come by for coffee anytime. "
"Thanks. I will," Kara said and walked away quickly. She let out a deep sigh when she reached the safety of her own truck. She had never been good at social events, never been good with strangers. She knew she had only accepted the dinner invitation because Ginny Harrison had intrigued her. She laughed at herself now. Ginny had a very real boyfriend waiting in Seattle, a boyfriend Louise hoped would one day be Ginny's husband. She drove away to the Dobson cabin, now hers for the next several months and put the younger woman from her mind.
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