Chapter 6

"What kind of sandwich did Tina say she wanted?" Lisa inquired as the sisters pushed their carts up the aisle of the supermarket.

"She said she'd have whatever I'm having."

"Evidently she isn't aware that your basic food groups are drive-thru, Ring Dings and diet soda."

"C'mon, help me out here." Sam peered into the deli case. "How about turkey? Everybody likes turkey, don't they?"

"Why don't you make a couple of different kinds?" Lisa looked at the variety of breads on the counter. "You could put some on wheat, too. Then you cover all the bases."

"Good idea!"

They made their selections and continued through the store, filling their carts with groceries.



"If everything goes well tonight, I was thinking of asking Tina to visit again next weekend."

"Moving a little fast, aren't you?"

Sam shrugged. "I want to spend time with her... get to know her better."

"You have a tendency to rush into things," Lisa cautioned. "PLEASE be careful. Keep in mind there's a LOT you don't know about her. For instance, did you find out where she's been?"


"So, she could be living in California, Alaska... anywhere."

"But she came to the reunion. I thought maybe I could give her another reason to come back."

"What are you planning to do if she says yes?"

"I was hoping you'd make your renowned barbecue chicken. We could have a cookout."

"You're kidding, right?"

Sam smiled at her sister optimistically.

Lisa sighed. She's not kidding. "You would owe me big time..."

"Is that a yes?"


"THANKS!" The blonde gave Lisa a lengthy hug.

"Umm... Sam?"


"People are staring. Would you let go of me now?"

Tina slept for several hours that afternoon. It seems that's all I can do anymore... get a few hours here and there. When was the last time I got a full night's sleep? She looked in her suitcase for something to wear to the concert and fireworks display. It had become quite hot during the day and it would still be very warm in the evening. After dressing in a pair of khaki walking shorts and a sleeveless denim shirt, she ran a brush through her hair. Grabbing her backpack, she went down to the lobby and glanced at her wrist to check the time. Damn! No longer able to see the details on the small dial, she had stopped wearing her watch months ago. Now, whenever she looked at her bare wrist, it was a reminder that her eyesight wasn't what it used to be.

Squinting when she stepped from the hotel into the bright sunlight, Tina decided to get her sunglasses from the car. Taking the keys from her backpack, she deactivated the alarm with the remote as she neared the vehicle. She got the glasses and reset the alarm before retreating to the shade of a palm tree to wait. I don't know how I get myself into these things... what am I doing hanging around with Samantha Whitwell? And what's she doing hanging around with me? I'm nothing but trouble. Maybe she LIKES trouble... hmm... don't go there, T. A few minutes with her and anybody could see that Samantha is kind and open and... everything I'm not. Well, I'll try not to be a bad influence. I ought to be able to handle that for one night.

When the Toyota entered the parking lot, Tina waved to get Sam's attention and the musician pulled up. The dark-haired woman got in the car and fastened her seatbelt. "Hi."

"Hi." Sam maneuvered the SUV smoothly onto Tamiami Trail.

"Where's the concert going to be?"

"Phillippi Estate Park."

"That's a nice place." Tina looked out the passenger window and added softly, "I haven't been there in years."

Sam didn't know how, or if, she should respond, so the radio playing was the only sound for a while. She was glad when Tina spoke again.

"Is being in the orchestra your profession?"

"Yeah. Lisa's band is an extra part-time job." Sam turned into the park entrance. "What do you do?"

"I work for a travel agency."

"You're a travel agent?"

"Not exactly."

Not exactly? Sam found a parking space and turned off the car. "Would you help me carry the stuff?"


The women went around to the back of the SUV and Sam opened the hatch.

Seeing the compartment full of paraphernalia, Tina exclaimed incredulously, "We need all that?"

"Well, it's best to be prepared. I didn't know if you'd want to sit in chairs or use a blanket. And we need the cooler. And those are my clothes to change into after the concert. And..."

Tina put up her hand to cut off the protracted explanation. "Let's just use the blanket."

Sam reached for the red plaid cloth and a small instrument case.

"What's that?" Tina nodded at the case as she grasped the handles of the cooler.

"It's my clarinet. That's what I play in the orchestra."

"ARGH!" Tina pulled the ice chest out of the car and practically dropped it on the ground. "What in the WORLD do you have in there?"

"Umm... sandwiches and soda and..."

"Never mind... just put the other things on top and we'll both carry it."

Sam locked the Toyota's hatch and laid the items on the cooler.

They each gripped a handle and walked onto the grassy spectator area. Tina was having difficulty carrying the heavy container with the shorter woman. She was bending her knees, trying to keep the surface level so the objects on top wouldn't slide off. Then, because of her awkward position, her backpack kept falling from her shoulder. Why was it that I agreed to this? She looked over at the blonde, who gave her a dazzling smile. Oh, yeah. I remember.

"Where would you like to sit?" Sam asked.

"Let's put this down." Tina was already lowering her side of the cooler. "How about we stay right here. That way, when the concert is over, we'll be close to the car and you can get your clothes easily." And we won't have to lug this damn ice chest all over creation.

"Sounds good to me." Sam unfolded the blanket.

Tina took the opposite end and assisted in spreading it on the ground.

"I'm sorry to leave you so soon, but I need to get to work." The musician picked up her clarinet case. "Help yourself to the food and drinks. I'll be back after the concert."

"Okay." Tina sat and removed her sunglasses. Blue eyes tracked every step of Sam's progress to the stage area.

The park filled up rapidly and by 7:30 there were hundreds of people camped out on the grass. The orchestra tuned up and the conductor announced the beginning of the concert. As the music floated in the air over the crowd, the people quieted down. The melodies were soothing and Tina lay back, closing her eyes and relaxing. This isn't so bad... in fact, it's kind of nice. She remained like that, long body stretched across the blanket, for half an hour. Anyone observing her would have thought she was asleep.

A rumbling in her stomach motivated Tina to sit up and investigate the contents of the cooler. Good... bottles of water... and sandwiches... she LABELED them? Let's see... turkey plain, turkey L/T/Mayo... ham and cheese... There must be six different sandwiches in here. Soda... chips... and what's this? She zeroed in on a small object wrapped in tin foil. It can't be. Tina unwrapped it and smiled. A Ring Ding? When is the last time I had one of these? Back before I had to worry about things like calories and fat grams... that's when. Well, this IS a special occasion and I already unwrapped it... She enjoyed her water and Ring Ding while the orchestra began a series of patriotic tunes. A rousing version of Stars and Stripes Forever ended the concert and the audience showed its appreciation with extensive applause. The orchestra members stood and bowed but Tina couldn't see Sam among them.  She's too small... the woman looked at the crumpled foil wrapper in her hand... but good things can come in small packages.


Chapter 7

Tina decided to stand and stretch her back. Rolling her shoulders and then twisting at the waist, she felt her muscles loosen slightly. Tall enough to see over the crowd, she spotted Sam making her way toward the blanket.

"It's a good thing you stood up or I might not have found you." Sam smiled. Not that I would've EVER quit looking. "It's warm tonight!" She opened the cooler and got a diet soda. "Did you eat yet?"

"Just a snack. I thought I'd wait for you."

"Let me change my clothes and then we can have dinner."

"I'll walk with you. Do you think it's safe to leave the stuff here?"

"Nobody will bother it... and we won't be gone long." The musician took a swallow of her drink and started walking to the car. "Did you like the concert?"

"Yes, I did. The orchestra is excellent. It must be a neat job playing music for a living."

"Lord knows I'll never be rich, but I love it."

Tina sidestepped a child who was chasing after a ball. "How many instruments do you play?"

"The clarinet is my main instrument. I started playing the saxophone in high school because I wanted to be in the jazz band. Those two are similar so it's not much of a feat to play both. In college I was a music major, so I had basic instruction in most of the instruments but I wouldn't say I can actually play them."

"And the guitar?"

"I wanted to be in Lisa's rock band in the worst way. I bought a beat up old Stratocaster when I was in college and talked a friend into teaching me the chords. Lisa let me sit in with the band when I was on vacations from school and after I graduated, she let me join as a permanent member. I've been in it ever since. I still play using that same Strat, too. I love the sound of old instruments."

The women arrived at the car. "If you'll hold this for me," Sam handed Tina the soda, "I'll just be a minute." She unlocked the tailgate of the SUV and crawled into the storage area. "One of the benefits of being small." She chuckled as she shut the door.

Tina shook her head in amusement and waited. Sure enough, in a short amount of time, Sam reappeared dressed in jean shorts, a tee shirt with Lilithfair emblazoned across the front, and sneakers. "Let's go." She locked the car. "I'm starved!"

Tina gave Sam the can of soda she'd been holding and they headed to the blanket.

"Thanks." Sam took a sip of the drink. "So... you said you work for a travel agency?"


"And where is this travel agency?"


Sam stopped abruptly and gawked at Tina. "Tampa?"


"TAMPA? You've been in TAMPA for the last ten years?"

"Umm... yes. Is there something wrong with that?"

"No. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that you disappear for ten years and you've been living an HOUR away?"

"Do we have to discuss this right here?" Tina asked quietly.

They returned to the blanket and sat cross-legged, facing each other.

"I'm sorry," the blonde said in a much calmer voice. "I had no right to yell... but everyone has been worried about you."

"I didn't know anyone was worried about me." Or that anyone cared where I was.

"I mean..." What DO I mean? "Umm... well, I'm just glad you're here!" Sam opened the cooler. "What would you like?"

Tina chose a plain turkey sandwich and a bottle of water. "Thanks for the dinner."

"You're welcome."

The dark-haired woman ate slowly, watching in astonishment as her companion consumed another soda, a sandwich, a bag of chips and two Ring Dings.

Sam offered a chocolaty dessert to Tina. "Would you like a Ring Ding?"

"No thanks, I had one earlier."

"Only one? How can you only have one?"

"It wasn't easy." Tina grinned. "But I managed."

"The fireworks are about to start." Sam put all the trash in a small plastic bag. "Let's lay down. It's the best way to see them."

They lay next to each other, peacefully gazing at the stars until a high arching bolt of light shot through the air, ending with a loud BANG. The crowd cheered. The fireworks display had begun.


Chapter 8

The women watched the spectacular show, enjoying it immensely.

"That was fantastic!" Sam remarked as the final barrage of fireworks finished exploding above them.

"Yes, it was." Tina grimaced as she tried to sit up. "Argh!" Her body refused to cooperate and she had to lie back again.

"What's the matter?" Sam teased. "Too old to get up anymore?"

Tina looked away quickly, but not before the blonde saw the hurt expression flash across her features. The tall woman rolled over on her stomach and carefully pushed herself into a kneeling position. She stared down at her hands resting on her thighs.


Sam knelt in front of Tina. "I didn't intend to hurt your feelings. Honest."

More silence.

"Please... talk to me."

Tina raised pain-filled eyes to meet Sam's. "I injured my back badly... years ago... in a car accident."

"Oh my God! Why didn't you tell me? I mean... the cooler... and I could have brought you a chair from the car... and..."

"It's all right. It's just something I've had to learn to live with."

The musician fought the impulse to throw her arms around the woman. It didn't look like Tina would be receptive to physical contact at the moment. And it wouldn't be good for her back, either. Standing, Sam held out her hand. "May I at least help you up?"

"Thanks." Tina took the small hand and slowly rose to her feet. She did a few tentative stretches and the spasms subsided.

Sam observed the movements closely. What else have you had to live with since that accident?  I can't even imagine... but I want to help you... I've never wanted anything so much in my life. "Does it feel better?"

"Yes. How about we take a walk while the traffic clears? That'll get the kinks worked out."

"Okay. Let's put our stuff in the car first." Sam started to pick up the blanket. "And don't even THINK about touching that cooler." She folded the material and tossed it to Tina. "You can carry this."

"Geez," Tina caught the cloth and smiled wryly. "Should I be trusted with such an important responsibility in my incapacitated condition?"

Sam laughed. "I think you'll do fine." MORE than fine. She drained the melted ice water from the cooler. It would be much lighter now without the ice and full drinks inside. She placed the backpack on top and lifted it. "C'mon."

Tina trailed behind her, embarrassed that the small woman had to lug the bulky container. They put their possessions in the SUV and took a leisurely stroll around the park.

"It's a beautiful night," Sam commented.

"Yes, it is."

"I hope you had a good time. Well... except for your back. I'd hate to think I dragged you out here and you were bored silly."

"No, I wasn't bored," Tina said sincerely. "I enjoyed it very much."

Sam was happy to hear that. "So, you're going home tomorrow? To Tampa?"


"Would you like to come to a cookout next Saturday? Lisa makes fabulous barbecue chicken. You DO like chicken, don't you?"

Tina considered the request. I don't think I've met anybody as nice as her in years. And as unbelievable as it seems, she likes me... and wants to be my friend. "I appreciate the invitation... but... I... I'm not a very... pleasant person. I'm moody... and... I'm not good at..."

Sam moved into Tina's path, forcing her to stop walking. "Please don't talk about yourself like that. I think you're wonderful."

That's the problem, isn't it? You'll find out soon enough that's not true. "I haven't had much practice at being a friend. I may not be a suitable choice."

"You could humor me and give it a chance."

Tina looked at the determined woman and sighed. I can already see how hard it is to say no to you. This is trouble, trouble, trouble.  "I love chicken."

"YES!" Sam jumped up and down.

Tina grinned at the blonde's enthusiasm. "Okay. Let's get going."

"OKAY!" Sam ran ahead a few steps, turned, and walked backwards. "I'll have to give you directions... and I need to ask Lisa what time the cookout is... and what else do you want to eat besides chicken?"

"Anything at all. Don't have her make something special on my account."

Sam had to keep from laughing. If you only knew Lisa is making the whole MEAL on your account.

They got in the Toyota and Sam began driving to the hotel.

"You and your sister are close?"

"We're best friends. When she and Mike went house hunting, they looked for a place with a garage apartment so we could live next door to each other. It's been great. I fixed it up and they charge me next to nothing to stay there. And when Lisa had the kids, I helped a lot. I still baby-sit for her often."

"You don't have children of your own?"

"Umm... no. My mom was thrilled when Lisa had her two boys. Then, she started pressuring me to produce a granddaughter."

"You were married?"

"No. But my mother WANTED me to be married... and to get pregnant. I finally had to reveal to her that I was gay. I'd been putting it off because I knew she wouldn't take it well. As expected, she made it perfectly clear how disappointed in me she was. She tried to convince me it was just a phase... and I'd get over it." Sam paused. "It wasn't a phase."

"You could still have a child, even though you're gay."

"That would be WORSE according to my mother!"

They were both quiet for a few minutes.

"I'm sorry," Sam apologized. "I should have told you. I'll understand if you don't want to come to the cookout."

"Why?" Tina was confused. "Is your mother going to be there?"

"No. Our relationship is strained and we only see each other on the major holidays. I'm saying if it bothers you that I'm gay, I won't hold you to your promise to come to the barbecue. It's hard sometimes to be friends with a gay person. It's guilt by association... you know what I mean?"

"I know what you mean and I could care less what people think, including your mother."

I can believe that. Putting those two together would generate fireworks that would rival what we saw tonight. Sam pulled into a parking space at the hotel. "Would you mind if I walk with you to the lobby? I need to use the restroom."

"Okay." Tina winced as she turned toward the storage compartment. "My backpack..."

"OH! Let me get it for you." Sam reached between the bucket seats and grabbed the bag.

The women went into the hotel and the blonde swiftly located the facilities.

Tina leaned against the lobby wall to wait. That mother has some nerve... Samantha is terrific... and she's DISAPPOINTED in her? She should thank her lucky stars her kid turned out so well...

Sam emerged from the restroom. "I'm sorry I got in such a funk. Discussing my mother does that to me."

"I know how it is. Someday, I'll tell you about MY mother." Tina was glad to see that got her a grin from Sam. Hey... I said something right. "I think I owe you a drink... from last night. Will you allow me to repay the favor?"

"That would be nice."

Tina placed a hand lightly on Sam's back and steered her into the bar.

The bartender smiled when he saw the women. "Well! It's my lady friends again!"

"Hello," Tina said. "Can we have two Lite beers please?" She paid, took the drinks and followed Sam to a rather secluded booth in the corner. "Here." She put the musician's drink in front of her. "Are you positive you're all right?"


"Listen, I really want to thank you for asking me to go to the concert and fireworks with you. I haven't been to something like that in ages. It was... fun."

Sam perked up a bit. "Really?"

"Yes, really." I'm on a roll... she's smiling again. "You were going to give me directions?"

"Oh. Umm... I don't have any paper here. Do you have an e-mail address?"

"Yes." Tina searched in her backpack and took out a business card and pen. "I'll put my home e-mail address on this." She wrote on the card and gave it to Sam.

The dark gray card had lighter gray streaks, giving it a marble effect. The writing was slightly raised and purple in color.

Tina Mellekas

Exclusive Travel
Old Hyde Park, Tampa, Florida

The business' phone number and e-mail address were included at the bottom. Sam turned the card over and saw the script on the back. She has beautiful handwriting. She looked at Tina.  She has beautiful everything.

They finished their drinks, talking amicably about the concert and fireworks show. Afterward, Tina escorted Sam to her car. "So, I'll see you next weekend."

"I'll be looking forward to it."

"Me, too."

"Thanks for going with me tonight."

"It was my pleasure, Samantha."

Sam backed out of the parking space and headed for the exit. What IS it about the way she says my name?  She looked in the rearview mirror to see if Tina was still standing there, like last time.

She was.


Chapter 9

Tina watched the Toyota until it disappeared from sight. Then, returning to the lobby, she approached the registration desk. "I'll be checking out tonight," she told the young man behind the counter. "Tina Mellekas - Room 510."

"Yes, Ma'am." The employee typed the information into the computer.

Ma'am? Will I ever get used to hearing that? She touched the gray above her temple and pushed her hair behind her ear.

"Oh, you're with Exclusive Travel. It's all been taken care of. Let me get your receipt."

She signed the bill and took her copy. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Hope you enjoyed your stay in Sarasota."

Tina went to her room and packed her belongings. My back will appreciate it when I sleep in my own bed tonight. She left the hotel, put her things in the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. At the stoplight a short distance up the road, she pondered which way to go. As a rule, Tina avoided Fruitville Road, even though it was the fastest way to the interstate. Her typical route went along Tamiami Trail to Longboat Key before turning east to get to the freeway. Well, it's been a weekend of doing things I don't generally do... She drove toward Fruitville Road.


Sam parked her SUV under the carport next to the garage. Taking the leftovers from the cooler, she bounded up the stairs to her apartment. Tina's coming to the cookout. And I told her I'm gay and it doesn't matter. She's wonderful... I know I'm right about that.

She put the food in the refrigerator and got a beer. Sitting on the couch, she picked up the remote and clicked the television on. Most stations were carrying the news and there was a blurb about the concert and fireworks on one of them. Sam watched the segment and then shut off the TV. Taking a final sip of her beer, she rinsed out the can and put it in the recycle bin. After a quick shower, she was ready for bed. Drawing the covers up under her chin, her last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were of a dark-haired woman with beautiful blue eyes.


Tina had set the cruise control for her trip north on I 75. It's been quite a weekend. She contemplated the events of the past two days as she handled the car with ease in the light traffic.

I went to the reunion...

And the track...

Drove on Fruitville Rd...

Made a new friend...

Quite a weekend, indeed.

The oldies station playing in the background caught her attention as she heard the opening strains of a Rascals song. She cranked the stereo up and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel along with the beat. They just don't make music like this anymore.

Tina exited the interstate, drove through the mostly deserted roads of South Tampa, and turned onto Bayshore Boulevard. Old-fashioned streetlamps illuminated the bay to the left and clusters of homes and condominiums to the right. She pulled into the underground garage of her building and parked in her assigned space. Taking the elevator to the fourth floor, she strode down the hall to her condo, unlocked the door, and went inside. She wasted no time preparing for bed and within ten minutes was sitting on the edge of her mattress, adjusting the settings on the control panel. A little heat and massage should be ideal. She carefully laid back and took deep breaths, concentrating on relaxing her body. The warmth and gentle massage had the desired effect. Her last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were of a fair-haired woman with beautiful green eyes.


Chapter 10

The next morning, Lisa and Mike were sitting at their kitchen table when Sam came in the door. "Happy Labor Day!"

"Good morning," the couple replied together.

Sam went directly to the pot of coffee. She poured herself a cup and carried it over to join her sister and brother-in-law at the table. "What's up for today?"

"We were waiting for you because we thought we might have to make preparations for a cookout on Saturday," Lisa answered with a grin.

Sam's face brightened. "Yes, we're having a cookout."

"The Whitwell charm rules again!" Lisa slapped a high five with Sam.

Mike laid down the newspaper section he was reading. "Who's this new person you're interested in? Lisa said it's someone from the reunion?"

"Yes. The woman who was on the track team."

"The one you keep whispering about?"

Sam gave her sister a look. "Do you tell him EVERYTHING?"

"He THINKS I do." Lisa winked and took her mug to the coffeepot for a refill.

"Hey!" Mike folded his arms across his chest, acting disgruntled.

"Honey, you know I tell you all the important things." Lisa kissed her husband's cheek before retaking her seat.

"Uh huh." Mike turned his attention back to Sam. "You were saying?"

"Her name is Tina. We went out last night and got along great. So, I asked her to come to a cookout next weekend and she said yes."

"You really like her?"

"Yes, I do."

Mike smiled at the assertive tone of the reply. "Does she feel the same way?" 

"She doesn't know how I feel yet. I think she could use a friend right now, more than anything else."

"Why do you say that?" Lisa asked, curious about her former teammate.

"She seems so... lost," Sam said sadly. "I think it's all connected to that car accident and her brother. Maybe I can help her with that."

"Sam to the rescue!" Mike joked, attempting to lighten the mood.

"Sometimes that's all it takes. One person reaching out to another at the right time..." The blonde stopped talking as she became overwhelmed with emotion.

Mike and Lisa looked at each other with concern. Lisa put her hand over her sister's. "Sam? Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"Yes. It's very hard to explain, but I know I'm doing the right thing."

"If you say so, that's all I need to hear." Mike went to the sink and deposited his empty cup. "I'd better go get the yard in shipshape condition. I'll get the propane tank for the grill filled, too." He squeezed Sam's shoulder as he walked by. "I hope Tina realizes what a special woman you are."

"Thanks, Mike."

"No problem, Sis." The man grabbed his baseball cap from the hook near the door and went outside.

Lisa watched her sister get up for more coffee. This time is different. I've never seen her so certain of what she wants. But of all people... Tina Mellekas? "Tell me what happened last night."

Sam sat down again, blowing on the hot liquid in her cup before taking a drink. "It went pretty well. I found out that she hurt her back in the accident. She lives in Tampa..."

"TAMPA? That's only an hour away!"

"That's what I said. She works for a travel agency. She gave me her business card so I can e-mail her the details about the barbecue."

"So, you did learn a little about her then."

"Yes. I also told her I was gay. She seemed okay with it."

"Really? What did she say? Is she gay, too?"

"She didn't say much... just that it didn't matter to her. She didn't mention what her preference was."

"That's kind of an important thing to know, isn't it?"

"I guess so." Sam pulled the business card from her shorts pocket. "But for now, I think she needs a friend. There'll be time for all that other stuff later." I hope. "Isn't her card classy?" She handed it over.

"Wow. This must be some fancy outfit she works for. What does she do there?" Lisa looked at both sides of the card before giving it back.

"I'm not sure. We didn't get into that."

"Well, you already know more about her than anybody else. I'm sure you'll find out!"

"I'm working on it. Can I use your computer to e-mail her? Are the kids using it?"

"Haven't you noticed how quiet it is?  Marie's daughter came over early this morning and invited them to go swimming in their pool. So, the computer is all yours."

"Thanks. What time shall we say for the cookout?"

"How about around 4:00?"

"Okay." Sam smiled at her sister as they both got up from the table. "Lisa?"


"We talked about you last night. How close you and I are. Maybe I don't say it enough... but... I love you." Sam set her cup down and hugged Lisa tightly. "You're the best sister anyone could ever have."

"I love you, too."

Sam took her coffee and walked down the hallway to the study.

Lisa wiped the tears from her eyes. Tina Mellekas, if you hurt her, I'll find you and give you a piece of my mind the likes of which you have never heard. 


Chapter 11

Tina jogged along Bayshore Boulevard, grateful for the breeze blowing in from Tampa Bay. There wasn't much traffic today because of the holiday, but the sidewalk was crowded with walkers, joggers, roller bladers and bicyclists. Tina nodded at the people she knew and she received smiles, waves and nods in return. Most of them exercised here often and it didn't take long to be recognized and acknowledged by the regulars.

Walking the last half-mile or so to cool down her muscles, she thought about her day ahead. I can finish my book while I do the laundry and then maybe stop by work and the grocery store. She went into her condo and did her usual stretching exercises. After getting a bottle of water from the refrigerator, she turned on her computer and sat waiting for it to load. She picked up the picture of Steven and herself that was next to the monitor. We look so happy. It seems like a lifetime ago. The computer beeped, signaling it was ready and Tina replaced the picture on the desk. Putting on the spare pair of glasses she kept next to the keyboard, she connected to the Internet and pulled up her e-mail.

What's this? Oh, it must be Samantha. Tina clicked on the mail from SamIAm and smiled as she read the text.

Hi Tina!

I talked to Lisa and Mike this morning. The cookout is going
to be at 4:00. I'm really glad you're going to come. There will
be tons of food, so you'd better be hungry when you get here!

See you Saturday,

P.S. Here are the directions...

Tina knew the area of Sarasota described in the directions. She printed out the e-mail so she could refer to the left and right hand turns once she got in the neighborhood. She quickly looked through the rest of her mail and shut down the computer. Filling the washer with laundry, she started the machine and settled on the couch with a book. Only a couple of chapters to go... Damn it! She got up from the couch and snatched her glasses from next to the computer. Next, I'll have to wear one of those little chains around my neck with my glasses dangling at the end of it. Tina frowned as she pictured that. NEVER... I'd rather live with forgetting them than wear them around my neck like that. Getting comfortable on the couch again, she opened the book. Now, where was I?

The sound of the phone ringing woke Tina. The book lay on her stomach and her glasses were in her left hand. She sat up and reached for the phone on the end table. "Hello?"

"Tina, it's Vivian. How was your trip?"


"I was going to stop by the office in a little while. Would you like to meet me at the Cactus Club for lunch?"

Tina rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and looked at the clock. "Sure. What time?"

"Let's say 1:00. Is that good for you?"

"Yes. I'll see you then."

"All right. Can't wait to hear about the reunion."

"I'll bet you can't. See you at 1:00. Bye."


Tina hung up the phone and stretched. Hmmm... my back feels much improved today. She transferred her clothes from the washer to the dryer and went into the bathroom to get ready for her lunch appointment.


Vivian Karanicholas walked into the Cactus Club. Immediately catching sight of her tall, dark-haired employee in a booth, she joined her. "Hi. How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks."

"I booked your hotel reservations through today. You came home early? Did you even go to the reunion?"

Tina looked at the older woman fondly. She worries about me like I'm her own daughter. "I returned last night. I needed to sleep in my own bed."

"Oh? Your back was bothering you?"

"It's okay now. It was just spasms. I must've spent too much time on the ground."

"On the ground? You'd better tell me all about this." Something good happened. I can see it in her eyes. "Come on, start talking."

Tina recounted the events of the weekend while they ate their meal. The reticent employee tended to give only the bare facts when telling a story and even more so if it was about herself, but Vivian had learned over the years how to coax more information from her. She was proud that Tina had gone to the track and the reunion. She knew how difficult it must have been. And when Tina spoke of this new friend... Samantha... her voice took on a different tone. She likes this woman... no doubt about it. "So, you're going to Sarasota again this weekend?"

"Yes, on Saturday."

"Well, this MUST be important if you're going to miss the Florida State game."

"I can see the first half before I have to leave."

Vivian smiled knowingly. She hasn't missed seeing one second of those football games since I don't know when. "I'm happy you're going. You need to spend more time with friends."

"Yeah, well... we'll see."

"Sometimes, it's best not to question things so much. Samantha wouldn't have invited you if she didn't want to be friends. Maybe it's finally time for you to start living again, eh?"

Tina listened attentively to Vivian's advice. They had worked together for nearly ten years and her boss knew her better than anyone. "Hmm... maybe."

"Good!" Vivian grabbed the check. "And don't you dare come to the office today. I don't expect to see you until tomorrow. Got it?"

Tina tried to get the bill, but knew it was useless. It had been established long ago that when Mrs. Karanicholas made a decision, nobody could talk her out of it. "All right. No work today." 

The waiter collected the payment and the women left, walking to the parking garage together. Their cars were side by side and both vehicles chirped as the alarms were deactivated.



"I'm glad you made a new friend. You deserve some happiness in your life."

"Thanks, Viv." Tina watched the boss get in her car and drive off. Happiness? I don't know if that's possible.


Vivian pulled into a parking space in front of Exclusive Travel. So much has changed since I hired Tina... and all for the better, too. She entered the building and locked the door behind her. Turning on the lights, she went to her office, sank into her chair and looked at the stack of files she'd planned to tackle. However, her lunch conversation with Tina caused her thoughts to drift back to the first time they'd met.

It had been a Sunday morning in the fall of 1989. Vivian was catching up on some work at the agency when she heard a knock at the door. A young lady was standing there pointing at the Help Wanted sign posted in the window. She gave Vivian a questioning look through the glass and the boss opened the door and let her in. "You're interested in the position?"

"Yes." The woman moved slowly, appearing to be injured.

"Are you all right?" Vivian sat down and indicated that the applicant should sit across from her.

"Yes. I'm fine. I hurt my back in a car accident." Tina sat gingerly in the chair. "It's healing steadily, though."

"Have you had any experience in the travel business?"


"Tell me a little about yourself."

"My name is Tina Mellekas. I graduated from Florida State University with a degree in business. I've been working at a large accounting firm in Sarasota for about 8 years. I resigned after the car accident. I need a change."

"The opening I have is for an office manager."


Vivian smiled, finding the woman and her brief responses refreshing. The only people who had applied so far were under-qualified and talked non-stop trying to convince her that they could do the job. This one was very different. "I think you're over-qualified for the position. I couldn't possibly pay you what a person with your degree and experience would warrant." Vivian waved her arm at the office's cramped quarters. "This is a small business."

"If you want me, I'll take the job. Pay me whatever salary you've put aside for it. I have two conditions, though."


"I want to travel... a lot. And... no power suits. I want to wear casual clothes."

"That's it?"


Vivian was skilled at reading people and she had a good feeling about Tina Mellekas. She decided to follow her intuition. "All right. When can you start?"

"How about tomorrow? I'll bring my resume so you can make the necessary calls to verify my information."

"Sounds good." Vivian stood and extended her hand. "I'm very happy to have you here at Exclusive Travel."

Tina slowly got up from the chair and shook her new boss's hand. "You won't regret it. I promise."

And I never have. Vivian took the top file off the stack and got to work.

Continued in Part 3.

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