Chapter 12

"You’re not going to use paper plates, are you?"

"It’s a cookout. We’re SUPPOSED to use paper plates!" Lisa was losing patience with her younger sister.

"But we’re having company. We should provide real dishes and utensils for our guest."

Lisa put her arm around Sam’s shoulders. "Let’s sit down for a minute and you can tell me what’s wrong."

They sat at the kitchen table.

"I… I’m so nervous about this." The blonde spoke softly. "I want Tina to like us… to like me."

"How could anybody NOT like you? I promise we’ll be on our best behavior. Let’s see…" Lisa started counting off on her fingers. "You said no talking about her brother, the accident, her past, anything concerning sexual orientation, nothing about your old girlfriends - especially tattooed drummers… geez, I don’t know what we WILL talk about!"

That got a laugh from Sam. "Have I been THAT bad?"

"Yes! You’ve been telling us what to say and not say all week! I know this is important to you, but you should just be yourself. I’m sure Tina will have a great time. How can she not, with all the Whitwell charm around here?"

"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drive you and Mike crazy."

"We’ll be fine. It’s YOU who needs to chill out. Okay?"

"Okay… but Lisa?"


"We can use the real plates, right?"

"Yes." Lisa rolled her eyes. "Far be it from me to ruin the entire evening by using paper plates!"


Everything was going according to schedule and Sam was pleased. The table was set and the chicken was ready to put on the grill. The boys were playing in the yard while Lisa, Mike and Sam were sitting on the patio waiting for Tina to arrive.

"AUNTIE SAM!" Aaron yelled. "Your friend is here!" Both children ran toward the driveway.

"AARON… JOSH…WAIT!" Sam opened the screen door and hurried after them.

Mike looked at his wife. "This is going to be interesting."

"That’s the understatement of the year." Lisa chortled.

The brothers stopped short when they saw the vehicle that had pulled into the driveway. "What a COOL car!" Aaron exclaimed.

"Yes, it is," Sam agreed as she caught up to them. They all stared at the BMW 323 sedan, painted a metallic silver-gray that shimmered in the sunlight.

The door opened and Tina stepped out of the car. She was wearing a white Florida State tee shirt and jean shorts. Her hair hung loosely on her shoulders. "Hi." She smiled at Sam.

"Hi." The blonde returned the smile. "These are my nephews, Aaron and Josh."

The boys shook hands with Tina. "Nice to meet you, Ma’am," Aaron said.

Here we go again with the Ma’am. "It’s nice to meet you, too."

Aaron and Joshua ran back into the yard.

"Umm… I didn’t know what to bring," Tina said as she reached into the car, got a plastic grocery bag, and handed it to the musician. "I figured I couldn’t go wrong with these." 

Sam looked in the bag. "Ring Dings? No. You can’t go wrong with these." This is going to be all right. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome." Tina shut the BMW’s door and set the alarm.

"That’s quite a car. The travel business must be doing well."

"Oh, it belongs to the company." Tina shrugged. "You have to have a certain image when you’re in a business. Vivian, my boss, wanted me to drive a decent car. So, she told me to go out and find one I liked." She glanced at the vehicle with affection. "I liked this one."

It fits you… sleek… classy.  "I like it, too. Maybe we can go for a ride later?"


Sam led the way to the patio. "Lisa, Mike, you remember Tina."

"Yes, of course we do," Lisa replied as handshakes were traded.

Tina looked at Mike’s University of Florida tee shirt. "A Gator fan?"

"I graduated from there." Mike pointed at Tina’s shirt. "You went to FSU?"

"Now, now," Lisa interrupted. "Before you two argue about which school is better, let’s get that chicken on the grill."

Mike started the barbecuing chores while Sam and Lisa began putting out the cold foods. They wouldn’t let Tina help, so she sat on the patio watching the boys kick a soccer ball back and forth in the yard. The older child, Aaron, had the more outgoing personality. He resembled his mom, with light hair, lanky body and hazel eyes. The younger, quieter boy favored his father, with dark brown hair, stockier build and brown eyes.

"Aaron! Come here, please." Lisa called to her son.

Aaron ran through the patio to the kitchen. "Yeah?"

"Didn’t I ask you to put Beethoven in Sam’s yard?"

"Sorry, Mom. I forgot. He’s still in my room."

"We can’t leave him cooped up in there all night. Take him out the front door and make sure you latch the gate."

"Okay." Aaron ran up the stairs.

Lisa closed her eyes as she heard the thundering footfalls on the steps. "Can’t that child ever WALK?"

Sam laughed. "I don’t think so."

Seeing that Josh had no one to play with, Tina went into the yard and kicked the ball with him. Hmm… this is what I THOUGHT I’d be doing when I reached this age. A house, a husband, a family, some kids. Isn’t that what most women imagine is in their future? Somehow, it hasn’t turned out that way for me. I tried that route. The high-powered job… fiancée… everything going as it should… except… I felt like a stranger in my own life. I just didn’t fit in that mold. Then, the accident… and my life really fell apart. Now, I find myself plunked right in the middle of the all-American family. The only thing we need here is a dog and we could be in a Norman Rockwell print.


Tina’s head whipped around as she looked for the source of the scream. Whoever that is… needs help. She ran in the direction of the driveway just as a large golden retriever came charging around the corner of the house. "Omphf. " The air was knocked out of the woman as she hit the ground. Well… there’s the dog. She shielded her face with her hands as the animal licked her ears and neck. E-gads that tickles!

Aaron tried to get hold of the dog’s collar. "HELP!"

Sam came running from the house and almost crashed into Mike, who was moving across the yard toward the commotion. The blonde saw her friend on the ground with Beethoven standing above her. "Tina! Oh my goodness!" She rushed over and pulled the pet away. "Are you all right?"

Tina was laughing as she sat up. "I’m fine. I’d been wondering if y’all had a dog. I see that indeed you do."

Mike got control of the large animal. "Come on, Aaron. Let’s get him in the yard."

"Okay, Dad."

Sam reached out her hand to Tina. "I seem to be making a habit of this. May I help you up?"

The woman who never liked to admit she needed or wanted help from anyone, looked into sparkling green eyes and found it very easy to say, "Yes."


Shortly thereafter, dinner was ready and everyone took a seat at the large patio table.

"Just dig in and take some of whatever you’d like," Lisa told Tina as bowls of various items were passed around and everyone filled their plates.

"Samantha was right," Tina said after tasting her food. "You make fabulous barbecued chicken, Lisa."

"Thanks. It’s an old family recipe."

The dinner conversation stayed within Sam’s previously set boundaries and Lisa happily noticed that her sister seemed to be relaxing as the meal progressed.

Mike and Tina talked about college football and Sam was amazed at how animated the dark-haired woman got during the discussion. She CAN talk a lot when it’s something she’s interested in.

"Well, FSU is ranked number one in the nation right now. It’s just not your year, Mike." Tina ribbed him.

"The season’s just started. We’ll see."

"Aaron, stop it!" Josh yelled, causing all attention at the table to focus on the two boys. The children had been pushing at each other and they stopped suddenly when they realized everyone was watching them.

"Brothers can be SUCH a pain." Aaron said contemptibly.

Uh oh… Sam looked at Lisa, hoping she would intervene quickly.

Tina shocked the adults present by speaking next. "I know it may be hard to believe right now, but someday you’ll be very thankful you have a little brother."

A long moment of silence followed during which Aaron looked skeptical and Josh beamed.

Sam cleared her throat. "Perhaps a change of subject is in order?"

"Good idea," Lisa concurred.

"Tina?" Josh asked.


"Do you have a tattoo?"

A loud CLANK was heard as Sam dropped her fork on her plate. That startled Tina and she knocked over her water. Mike choked on the sip of beer he had just taken and Lisa began slapping him on the back.

Dinner was over.


Chapter 13

"Here you go." Tina rinsed the last dish and gave it to Sam.

Sam placed the plate in the dishwasher, added the detergent and switched on the machine. "All done." She grinned at Tina. "Would you like some coffee?"

"If you have decaf, sure."

"I think we do." The blonde went to the patio doorway. "Sis, do we have decaf for the coffee maker?"

"Yeah, I’ll make some." Lisa came into the kitchen.

"AUNTIE SAM?" Aaron hollered from upstairs.

Sam walked to the bottom of the stairway so she didn’t have to shout. "Yes?"

"Will you show me that new chord on the guitar again? I forgot how to do it."

Sam looked down the hallway at her sister and Tina. "Would you excuse me? It’ll only take a minute."

"Sure," Tina answered.

"Go ahead," Lisa added. "I’ll get the coffee started."

Sam went upstairs.

Lisa filled the pot with water and poured it into the coffeemaker. "I’m sorry about your brother. I know you were very close."

Tina was taken by surprise at the mention of Steven. "Oh… yes, we were. Thanks." What’s this all about?

"Then you must know how I feel about Sam." Lisa faced the dark-haired woman, moved a step nearer, and stared into her eyes.

Uh oh… protective sister.  Well, that’s something I understand completely. "Yes, I do."

"Sam likes you. I’m not sure what it is, but she thinks you two are meant to be friends."

Resisting the inclination to break the eye contact and close proximity, Tina stood her ground and waited for Lisa to continue.

"I don’t want to see her get hurt."

"I see," Tina said impassively. "And you think I’ll hurt her."

"Maybe not intentionally, but Sam wears her heart on her sleeve. I’m just asking you to be careful." Lisa’s voice trembled with emotion. "I love my sister very much." She turned back to the counter to finish preparing the coffee.

Tina took a deep breath while trying to figure out what to say. Honesty is usually the best policy, T. "Samantha is fortunate to have family that cares about her so deeply. Why she wants to be friends with me is beyond my comprehension. I can only promise to try my best to be the kind of person that deserves her friendship."

"I guess I can’t ask for more that that, can I?" Lisa was impressed with the truthful nature of the response. "Why don’t you go relax in the family room? I’ll bring the coffee when it’s ready."

Relieved to escape any further conversation, Tina wandered into the room that Lisa had pointed out. There was a pair of chairs next to a brick fireplace, a large couch, a television set, and against the far wall, an old upright piano. She walked over and sat on the bench. With one finger she struck the keys.

"plink, plink, plink… plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink… plink, plink, plink"

As Sam came down the stairs, she heard someone playing the piano. Heart and Soul? She peeked into the room and saw Tina sitting at the keyboard. "It takes two to play that song. May I join you?"

Tina slid over on the bench.

Sam sat next to her. "I’ll play the chords. Okay?"


The musician played the chord sequence once before Tina jumped in with the melody. After they went through the tune several times, Sam sped up the tempo and her guest concentrated on keeping up. Faster and faster they played until they broke into laughter and collapsed against each other.

Happy that the evening seemed to be going so well, the blonde spontaneously asked, "May I play something for you?"

"If you want to, yes." Tina started to get up.

"No. Please. Stay right here. I’m not much of a singer, so bear with me." Hesitantly, Sam began.

"When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right

Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running… to see you again

Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You’ve got a friend"

Mike entered the empty the kitchen and wondered where everyone had gone. "Lisa?"

"Come here," his wife whispered, making a shushing motion at him from the hallway.

"Now you’re whispering, too?" Mike teased. "What IS it about Tina that…"

"Shhh." Lisa took him by the hand and pulled him down the hall, stopping near the doorway of the family room. "Listen."

Mike heard his sister-in-law singing softly.

"Hey, ain’t it good to know
That you’ve got a friend
People can be so cold
They’ll hurt you… and desert you
They’ll take your soul if you let them
But don’t you let them

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running… to see you again

Don’t you know that
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You’ve got a friend

You’ve got a friend
Ain’t it good to know
You’ve got a friend
Ain’t it good to know
You’ve got a friend

You’ve got a friend"

Sam played the final notes and continued to look down at the keyboard.

Tina was unable to speak.

Lisa strode in with a tray and set on the table in front of the couch. "How about some coffee?"

"That sounds great!" Sam moved over to the sofa. "Thanks for making it." She took a cup and sipped her drink.

"No problem." Lisa sat down. She glanced at Tina and then gave her sister a questioning look.

Sam shook her head to indicate they shouldn’t say anything to their guest. "Where’s Mike?"

"He took Beethoven for a walk. He should be back in a little while."

Silence settled over the group. Finally, Tina swung her legs around the end of the bench so she was facing the women.

"Hey…" Sam said gently, "would you like a cup of coffee?"

"Thanks." Tina took a cup from the tray and sat in one of the chairs.

Suddenly, an uproar was heard from upstairs. The boys were arguing about something. A loud crash prompted Lisa to get up. "Excuse me. I’d better go check on what they’re doing." She hastily left the room.

"Tina?" Sam’s voice was tentative.

The dark-haired woman stared down at the coffee cup she was holding on her lap. "Yeah?"

"Are you okay?" Sam was worried that perhaps she had gone too far by singing the song. I have to slow down… she wasn’t ready for that. "I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have sung to you. Sometimes my emotions get the better of me."

"You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that… no one has ever done that… for me."

"Lots of times a song can say something better than plain old words. I just wanted you to know how wonderful I think you are… and how much I want to be your friend."

Tina slowly raised her head to look at Sam. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why me?" 

Sam went over and knelt next to Tina’s chair. "Because in my heart, I know you’re a good person. Maybe, if we’re friends, I can get you to believe it, too."

"Samantha… I… I… don’t…"

"Shhh…" The blonde had to use every ounce of her self-control not to reach out and touch Tina’s face. "For now, let’s just leave it at that. Okay?"

Tina nodded in agreement.

The musician stood, removed Tina’s cup from her hand, and placed it on the tray. "C’mon. I want to show you my apartment. And then, SOMEONE promised me a ride in a snazzy car." She took hold of Tina’s hands, preparing to help her from the chair. Smiling, she said, "Some habits are nice, aren’t they?"

Tina looked at her hands resting in Sam’s. "Yes." Very nice.


Chapter 14

The women went up the stairs to the apartment. Sam unlocked the door and flipped the light switch on. Ambient lighting cast a soft glow around a large room that comprised most of the living area. It was painted a pale green and several framed prints decorated the walls. There was an overstuffed, very comfortable looking couch and matching chair. Light oak furniture was tastefully arranged throughout the room. Beige carpeting and colorful throw rugs covered the floor. It was a warm, homey kind of place.

Sam spoke with pride in her voice. "I fixed it up myself. I did all the painting and picked out the furnishings. I had to do it a little at a time because there was so much that had to be done. It was a mess when I first got here."

"You did a good job." Tina could envision the blonde spending hours and hours getting the place just right. And she has. 

"Let me show you the rest." Sam brought Tina to the small kitchen. It was a bright, cheery room with a table and chairs tucked in one corner. Decorations carried the pale green theme from the living room into the kitchen. "Um… I cleaned because you were coming. It normally doesn’t look this good," she confessed. "I’m not the best housekeeper that ever lived."

"Well, it looks great."

"Thanks." Sam walked across the hall and turned on the light to her room. "This is my bedroom."

Tina stood in the doorway and looked in. Two small lamps on either side of the bed provided the only lighting in the room. The wall behind the headboard was painted a pale pink, which highlighted the same color in the design on the comforter and drapes. There was plenty of space for the typical bedroom furniture, plus an old-fashioned rocking chair, and a desk.

"The bathroom is there." Sam said, pointing to a doorway next to the desk. "But my favorite thing about this whole place is my balcony." She pulled the drapes to reveal a set of French doors and opened them. "Come and see it."

Tina crossed the room and joined Sam on the small screened-in balcony. A couple of lounge chairs with thick cushions almost filled the space.

"I sit out here and watch the sunset a lot." Sam gestured in front of them. "You can see the roofs of the houses for a long way, but after that there are groves of trees and the sun sets right behind them. You can’t tell now because it’s too dark."

"Maybe another time, then."

"I’d really like that." How about every night for the rest of our lives? "So, am I going to get a ride in that car of yours?" Sam asked as they returned to the bedroom. She locked the French doors and pulled the drapes closed. "Are you going to keep your promise?"

"Of course. Where would you like to go?"

"I think it’s time for some ice cream. Don’t you?"

"Ice cream?" Tina asked. I can’t remember the last time I had ice cream.

"Yes. We can go to St. Armand’s Circle. They have an awesome ice cream shop there."

"All right. Ice cream it is."

"Let me use the bathroom. I’ll be ready in a minute. Okay?"

"Sure." Tina strolled into the living room to wait. She went to the large oak bookcase that took up most of one wall. The three lower shelves were full of books, but the upper shelves and top were occupied with photographs. There were baby pictures, family pictures, pictures of what must be friends, pictures of Beethoven in all stages of development, and pictures of a gray striped cat. Wonder where the cat is? Next to the bookcase hung a small poster of an acoustic guitar. There was some writing describing the instrument and Tina tried to focus on the small print to see what it said.

Sam came up behind Tina. "Do you like it?"

"What is it?"

"It’s my dream guitar. Someday, I hope to have the real thing. Right now, I can only afford the poster." The musician grabbed her keys from the table by the door. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah. Let’s go."

As the woman descended the stairs, they saw Mike in the driveway with Beethoven.

"Mike!" Sam smiled at her brother-in-law. "How was your walk?"

"Pretty good. He’s been doing much better staying by my side lately."

As if in agreement, Beethoven barked and wagged his tail. Tina bent down and petted the dog.

Lisa, having heard the barking, came outside.

"Guess what?" Sam said enthusiastically. "We’re going for ice cream!"

"Really?" Lisa smirked at her sister. "What a surprise… ice cream."

Sam smirked back and everyone laughed.

Tina thanked the couple for dinner and good-byes were exchanged.

"Ready?" Sam hurried around to the passenger side of the vehicle.

"Yeah." Tina deactivated the alarm and they got in the car.

"Wow. This is awesome," the blonde said as she sank into the leather seat.

"Glad you like it." Tina started the engine and pulled out of the driveway. "You have a nice family."

"Yes. I’m very lucky." Sam half-turned in her seat so she could see Tina’s profile. "I’m sorry the boys got a little rowdy. They go through times when they get along great and other times when they’re at each other’s throats."

"Sounds like typical siblings. What was that about a tattoo anyway? Why would they think I have one?"

"Oh. Umm…" Sam was glad Tina had to keep her eyes on the road so she couldn’t see her blushing. "I once dated a woman who had a rather prominent tattoo… and I don’t think I’ll EVER hear the end of it."

Tina laughed. A tattoo?  She glanced at Sam and noticed her flushed cheeks. "I’m sorry. It’s just kind of hard to imagine you… I mean… not that there’s anything wrong with tattoos..."

"It was a long time ago." Let’s get OFF this topic. "So, when did you get this car?"

That must be a sore subject. "I guess I’ve had it for about a year now."

"And you could pick any kind you wanted?"


"That must be a cool boss you have."

"Yes, she is." Tina turned into a parking spot. "Here we are."

They got out of the BMW and mixed with the crowd of people walking along the sidewalks of St. Armand’s shopping area.

"This is the place." Sam opened the door to the ice cream shop and they went in.

"I’m going to get a chocolate fudge brownie cone." Sam announced. "What do you want?"

"Hmm…" Tina studied the large sign that listed the many flavors available. "I think a cup of vanilla no fat yogurt."

"You must be kidding!"

"What do you mean?"

"You come to a fantastic ice cream store like this and get no fat yogurt?"

"Well, they sell it here, don’t they? I’m sure it’s very good." Tina smiled at the clerk who was listening to their conversation while impatiently waiting to take their order.

"You get what you want and I’ll get what I want. Then, we’ll BOTH be happy," Tina reasoned. "Go ahead and order."

The women got their selections and went outside to sit at a table. They enjoyed their dessert in companionable silence while watching the people walk by.

Sam finished her cone. "Thanks. You really didn’t have to pay for mine."

"No problem. After all, you invited me to dinner." Tina got up and threw her cup and napkin away in the trashcan.

And I’m very glad you accepted. Sam added her napkin to the trash.

They went back to the car and Tina started driving toward Sam’s house. The radio was on and the musician began softly singing along with the song that was playing.

"You really do have a good voice."

"Oh?" Sam hadn’t even realized she’d been singing. "No… not really."

"Well, I think you do."

"Thanks." She LIKES my singing!  "I have to sing a couple of songs in the band, but it’s not my favorite thing to do."

"Why not?"

"I love being in Lisa’s band… but as part of the ensemble… creating the overall sound. I don’t particularly like being the lead singer… the center of attention."

Tina nodded in understanding.  A bit of shyness… I can see that.

"Even after all these years, I still get nervous when I have to sing."

"But you sang for me. And you didn’t HAVE to."

"Sometimes, there are reasons to do things that are more important than your own fears. I wanted… needed… to sing that for you." Sam’s voice took on a tone of uncertainty. "I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well."

"It’s okay. I understand what you’re saying." Your singing that song means even more to me now. What am I going to do with you? Tina pulled into the driveway. "Well, here you are. Home safe and sound."

Sam unfastened her seatbelt. "Thanks for the ride. This is an exquisite car."

Tina cleared her throat. "Um… what are you doing next weekend?" She looked out the windshield. "Would you like to go to the Bucs game?"

"I’d love to go, but it’s sold out. In fact, the whole season is sold out… we wouldn’t be able to get tickets."

"I already have tickets. So, if you want to go…"

"YES. I want to go!"

"All right, I’ll e-mail you the directions to my place and we’ll go to the game from there. Okay?"

"Okay." Sam was grinning from ear to ear. She wants me to come to Tampa. This is real progress! When she opened the car door, the interior light came on and she looked at Tina one last time before leaving. "Good night."

"Good night, Samantha."

The blonde closed the door and watched as Tina backed out onto the street. She walked to the end of the driveway and waved as the car drove away, just in case Tina was looking in the rearview mirror.

She was.


Chapter 15

Samantha held the directions against the steering wheel as she slowly made her way down Bayshore Boulevard. On her right were several condominium complexes in a row. Let’s see… I passed Howard Avenue, now I go for a few blocks and I should see a high rise. There it is. Next should be Tina’s building. Sam saw a small sign at a driveway indicating parking for Bayshore Palms. She turned and drove to the gate at the entrance of the underground parking garage. There was a metal box with a numbered keypad to her left and she lowered her window to press in the code Tina had given her.

She could hear a phone ringing and Tina answered. "Hello?"

"Hi. It’s Sam."

"Come on up."

The gate raised and Sam pulled into the garage. She saw Tina’s car and parked in the empty space next to the BMW. She walked to the elevator and pressed the button for the fourth floor. I’m feeling very nervous about this. I wonder if Tina felt the same way when she came to the cookout? She had no more time to think about it, as the elevator stopped and the doors opened.

"Hi there!" Tina was standing there to greet her. "Nice shirt."

"You, too."

Both women were wearing white Buccaneer football jerseys. Sam’s shirt had a large number 40 emblazoned on it and Tina’s had the number 28.

Sam followed Tina down the hallway to the condo. Stepping through a small foyer that led to a large room, the blonde looked around at the combined living/dining area. The floor was a deep gray ceramic tile with area rugs in both the dining and living rooms. She could see the kitchen beyond a half-counter that separated it from the rest of the space. There was a minimal amount of furniture, though what was there appeared to be expensive. A few landscape pictures hung on the walls, one of which was positioned over a gas fireplace. Huge sliding glass doors provided a view of Tampa Bay. The place was open and airy and beautiful. WOW. "Are you rich?"  Sam wondered aloud.

 Tina laughed. "No." Not in the same ways that you are.

"Don’t tell me," Sam joked. "Your boss told you to find a place… any place you want… and you picked this."

"Umm…" Tina shrugged her shoulders, "actually… yes."

Sam stared at Tina in disbelief. I have GOT to meet this boss.

"Would you like to see the rest of it?"

"Of course I would." She tagged along behind Tina as she moved into the kitchen.

"This is the kitchen. It has a little laundry room and half bath over there." Tina pointed to the doors at one end of the room. "And…" Turning and heading back toward the living room, she continued, "… the dining room and living room. You already saw these."

Sam was trying to keep up with Tina’s long strides. She’d never make it as a real estate agent… that’s for sure. This is the fastest tour in the history of the world.

"There are a couple of bedrooms." Tina went down the hall and into a room to her right. "This one is mine."

Sam walked into the room. The furniture was teak with black accents. There were floor lamps situated in two of the corners and a fan hung from the center of the ceiling. Plush gray carpet covered the floor. There was a door Sam assumed led to the bathroom and another set of sliding glass doors that overlooked Tampa Bay. I love it. "The view is fantastic." Sam said looking out at the water. "And you have a balcony, too."

"Yes. But, sorry to say, no sunsets." Tina came and stood next to the blonde. "We get the sunrise view here."

"Really? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunrise. You know… musicians. We aren’t early risers." Sam turned and saw a remote control on the bedside table. She picked it up. "You have a television in here?" She glanced around the room again.

"No. That’s for the bed." Tina took the remote from Sam’s hand and pressed a button. The head of the bed inclined.

"That’s so cool! Just like the commercials on TV!"

"It’s for my back. It’s really helped."

"Oh." Sam’s voice became somber. "Then I’m very glad you have it."

Tina put the remote down and led the way across the hall. "I use this bedroom for a study."

The women entered the room. The entire wall directly in front of Sam was a series of built-in shelves that were full of books. She couldn’t begin to guess how many there were. "You really like to read, huh?"

"Yes, but nothing terribly intellectual, I’m afraid. Mostly mysteries… Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham… things like that."

"I like to read, too. I don’t think I’ve read THIS many books though." Sam turned and looked at the large computer desk that took up most of another wall. On the desk there was all sorts of computer equipment, a phone, a framed photograph, and a pair of glasses. Glasses? The blonde directed her attention to the only photo she had seen in the condo. It was Tina and Steven. The two siblings had their arms around each other and they were smiling broadly for the camera. Sam suddenly found herself speechless as the enormity of Tina’s loss hit her. I‘ll never really be able to understand what she’s been through.

"He was a good looking kid, wasn’t he?" Tina asked softly.

Sam nodded. Just like his sister. She impulsively reached out and hugged Tina.

Unprepared for the contact, Tina stiffened as Sam threw her arms around her. Then, welcoming the genuine compassion, she relaxed into the softness of the younger woman and hugged her back.

"I’m so sorry he died." Sam sniffled into Tina’s shirt.

"Me, too."

They remained like that for a moment, until Tina broke the embrace and looked down at Sam. "So, you ready to go root for the home team?"


"All right. I’ll drive. Okay?"



The women had a blast at the football game. Sam had not been to the new stadium, so Tina showed her around and brought her for a close-up look at the gigantic pirate ship that rested at one end of the field. During the game, number 28, a graduate of Florida State, made several long runs and Tina cheered wildly. Number 40, a big running back and Sam’s favorite player, ran for a touchdown. Bedlam ensued, as cannon shots were fired from the pirate ship and train whistles blew to indicate the ‘A Train’ had scored. The Bucs won and it was a happy crowd that filed out the exits after the game.

"That was fun. Thanks so much for inviting me." Sam smiled up at Tina as they walked toward the car.

"You’re welcome. Thanks for going with me. I had fun, too."

"And MY guy scored a touchdown!" Sam bragged.

"Only cause MY guy ran the ball close enough to the goal line in the first place!"

"Uh huh." Sam strutted ahead of Tina. "And MY guy is CUTE!"

"Is that so?" Not as cute as you.

"Well… for a guy, anyway," Sam chuckled.

"I’ll agree with you there." Tina switched off the alarm and the women got in the car. She turned the AC on high as she backed out of the space and became part of the traffic jam trying to leave the parking lot.

"That air conditioning sure feels good." Sam commented. It had been a warm day and both of them had rosy cheeks from their time in the sun.

"Yes. It does. Do you want to grab something to eat on the way back to my place? We can go to a drive-thru or we can stop somewhere."

"How about just a drive-thru? What do you feel like having?"

A prolonged conversation took place, in which they tried to think of somewhere that Tina could get a decent salad and Sam could get a burger and fries. Eventually, they decided to stop at two different places where each of them could get what they wanted. They were almost to Tina’s place when a Rascals song came on the radio.

"Do you mind if I turn the radio up?" Tina asked.

"Go ahead. I love this song. As a matter of fact, I sing it with the band."

I was feeling… so bad
I asked my family doctor just what I had
I said doctor… Mister M.D.
Now can you tell me… what’s ailing me?
He said, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Yes, indeed.
All I… I really need
Good love…. now give me that good, good love
Good love-all I need is love
Good love-good, good lovin’ baby
Good love

Now, honey, please… squeeze me tight
Don’t you want your baby to be all right
I said baby… it’s for sure
I got the fever, yeah… and you got the cure
Everybody, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Yes, indeed
All I really need
Good love…

By the end of the song both women were belting out the lyrics loudly.

Tina lowered the radio’s volume. "We sound pretty good together."

"I think so, too." Anything having to do with us together sounds good to me.

"The Rascals are my favorite 60’s group. This station plays their songs all the time. They must have a disc jockey who likes them a lot."

"Really? The Rascals are my favorite, too." Sam smiled. We sure don’t agree on food selection but at least we like the same music!  "What Rascals song do you like the best?"

"Hmm… I like most of them. I guess the one we just heard, Good Lovin’, might be my favorite. What about you?"

"Mine is one you don’t hear very often. Mickey’s Monkey."

Tina turned into the driveway of her condominium complex. "I think I have that on one of my albums." She pressed a remote that was clipped to the car’s visor and the gate of the parking garage opened.

"You have ALBUMS?"

"Well… yeah." Why do I suddenly feel like I’m from the Stone Age? Tina pulled the BMW into her space.

Sam caught the change in the older woman’s demeanor. Got to watch that age thing. She’s sensitive about that. "Cool! Will you show them to me?"

"Sure, if you want to."

"Yes, I’d love to see them."

They gathered the food bags and headed up to Tina’s condo. They ate at the dining room table, rehashed the game, and razzed each other about whose player was best again.

"Let me see if I have that record," Tina said after they had finished their dinner. She went to the entertainment center and sat on the floor. Opening a set of double doors at the bottom, she searched for the album.

Sam came over and sat next to her. "You have lots of records."

"Well, these are mine… and Steven’s." Tina selected one of the albums. "This is it, I think."

The cover showed four longhaired young men in matching blue shirts with large rounded collars and little ties. Sam burst out laughing. "It’s hard to believe we thought that was cool, isn’t it?"

"Yeah." Tina looked at the back of the cover to see if the song was listed. Thank goodness the titles were in dark print and she could read them by adjusting her arm slightly. "There it is. Mickey’s Monkey. Want to hear it?"

Sam caught herself before she voiced her surprise that Tina had a record player. She has records… makes sense to have a turntable, too. "Yes. I haven’t heard it in a long time."

Tina opened a glass door in the entertainment center and pulled out a shelf that held a turntable. She put the record on and adjusted the controls. She returned to her spot next to Sam. "I haven’t heard it in a long time either."

The song started and both women sat with heads bobbing and their hands tapping their knees. The song had an infectious beat and it was impossible to sit still. It didn’t take long for Sam to get up and start dancing around the room.

Cat named Eddie came from out of town, yeah
Lumde, lumde, li hi, yeah
Spreading new dances all around
Lumde, lumde, li, hi…
In just a matter of a few days, yeah
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah
The dance became a new teenage craze
Lumde, lumde, li, hi,

Tina stood to increase the volume on the stereo. As the pulsating sound filled the room, she leaned against the wall and watched her friend. She was thoroughly amused by the blonde’s uninhibited joy in the music. I could never dance around the room like that… and in front of somebody else? NEVER!

Sam began to sing along…

"When the people see him dancing, they began to see
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah
They see this cat doing that Monkey thing
Lumde, lumde, li, hi
It’s really something to see, baby
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah
See a cat named Eddie doing that Monkey
Lumde, Lumde, li, hi
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah, now
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, oh, oh, oh
Lumde, lumde, li, hi…i…. i"
Lumde, lumde, li, hi"

The musician came over and grabbed Tina’s hands. "C’mon! Dance with me."

Tina shook her head. "Me? Absolutely not…  no… no…"

Sam dragged her to the center of the room and Tina grudgingly swayed a little to the music.

"C’mon!" Let yourself go a little bit. Sam smiled at the woman to encourage her. You can do it.

The vocals started again and Sam sang.

"Lumde, lumde, li hi, yeah, now
Lumde, Lumdi, li hi, yeah
Lumde, lumde, li, hi
Lumde, lumde, li, hi"

In spite of herself, Tina sang, too.

"Monkey see and monkey do
Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah
C’mon with me baby do the monkey, too
Lumde, lumde, li, hi

Monkey… do the Monkey
Mickey’s Monkey… Mickey’s Monkey
Do the Monkey… Mickey’s Monkey"

Sam did the Monkey, the Twist, the Mashed Potato, and the Swim.

Tina couldn’t restrain herself any longer. She did the Monkey.

The women laughed and danced during the instrumental interlude. Then, the music changed abruptly as the other instruments dropped out and only the drums and bass guitar were heard for several measures. The pair stopped dancing as they became aware of someone pounding on the door. Tina turned off the stereo and hurried over to answer it. "What!" She practically shouted as she pulled open the door. "Oh… Mrs. Burns." Tina lowered her voice as she recognized her neighbor. "What is it?"

Mrs. Burns looked at Tina’s flushed face. She peered inside the condo and saw a guest, who seemed to be somewhat short of breath, standing in the middle of the living room. "Nothing, dear. I was just making sure everything is all right. I heard a lot of noise over here."

"Everything is fine, Mrs. Burns. Thank you for your concern." Tina shut the door and leaned her back against it.

Both women burst out laughing.

"I’m sorry." Sam tried to compose herself. "I didn’t mean for you to get in trouble."

"No problem." Tina waved off the apology. This ought to be the source of some interesting discussion at the next condo board meeting.

"Well, I guess I should be going." Sam walked toward the door. She stopped and looked up at Tina, who was still standing against it. But… I don’t want to go.

"Do you need directions?"

"It’s all right. I remember how to get back to I-75. After that, it’s easy."

"Be careful, okay?"

"I will."

"I’ll walk you to your car." Tina opened the door and strolled down the hallway with Sam. "Can’t have anything happening to you, now can we?"

"I appreciate your concern." I do feel protected when I’m with you. No doubt about that. "I had a really great time today."

"I did, too." Tina pressed the call button and the elevator arrived quickly.

As they rode to the garage level, the musician said with sincerity, "I truly apologize for causing any trouble with your neighbor."

"Mrs. Burns?" Tina looked at Sam and they both burst out laughing again. "She’ll be fine. It’s about time we had a little liveliness around this place."

Sam smiled. I hope that means I’ll get invited back.

The elevator doors opened and the women walked to Sam’s car.

"Good night, Samantha."

"Good night." Reluctantly, Sam got in her SUV and drove out of the garage.

Tina watched the vehicle leave before heading back to the elevator. She was singing softly to herself.  "Lumde, lumde, li, hi, yeah…"


Chapter 16

I can’t wear this! Sam put her hands on her hips and glared at her reflection in the full-length mirror affixed to the back of her bedroom door. Why did I ever suggest going to the beach? She turned sideways and looked in the mirror again. My goodness… that’s even worse.

The blonde sighed. Actually, for almost being forty, I still look pretty good- except for the 10… okay, so it’s more like 15… pounds that have crept on since I turned thirty. Sam placed her hands on her stomach, which was hanging over the waistband of her favorite two-piece bathing suit. Well, it’s not going to disappear in the next half hour, so I’d better go to plan B. She rummaged through her dresser drawer for a few moments before pulling out a garment.

It was a colorful one-piece suit that still had the tags attached to it. Sam read aloud from one of them. "Tummy control. Slims and contours the waist." Taking the scissors from the desk drawer, she cut off the tags and tossed them in the trash. I’ll bet that’s just a psychological ploy to con women into buying the damn thing.

Sam put on the suit and had to admit that it was an improvement over the two-piece she’d had on at first. It’ll have to do. She finished getting dressed and quickly did some last- minute straightening up of the apartment. Just in case Tina needs to come in for anything. She picked up her beach blanket and went outside to sit on the steps and wait.

It was only a few minutes before the BMW turned into the driveway. Tina lowered the power window. "Hi! Ready to go?"

"Yeah!" Sam jogged down the steps and got in the car. She looked at her friend. Tina was wearing a black tank top and light blue nylon running shorts. She had her hair pulled back into a ponytail, which accentuated the bone structure of her face. The musician couldn’t help but stare. You take my breath away.

"Are you all right?"

"Oh." Sam cleared her throat and looked out the windshield. "Yes. I’m fine. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?"

"It certainly is." Tina started driving. "This was a great idea. I haven’t been to Lido Beach in years."

"I love the beach. Sorry we’re getting such a late start."

"No problem. How were the soccer games?"

"Aaron’s team won, so they will move into the next round of the playoffs. Josh’s team played well and the score was tied at the end of the game. They had to have a shoot-out to decide the winner. The other team scored more goals in the shoot-out, so Josh’s team lost."

"That’s too bad." Tina thought about the young boy she had met at the barbecue. "Is he upset?"

"Josh?  Nah, he handled it very well. Aaron is the competitive one. Lisa says he must have inherited her competitive streak."

"I see." Goes right along with that protective streak she has. Tina drove through St. Armand’s shopping district and onto the street that permitted parking for the beach. "Here we are." She smoothly guided the BMW into an empty space.

The women got out of the car. Tina opened the rear door on the driver’s side and leaned in to get her backpack and sweatshirt.

"Hey, Tina!"

Tina stood and looked across the roof of the car at Sam. "Yes?"

"Last one to the water has to buy the ice cream!" She slammed her door and took off.

Tina reached back into the car, got her things, and closed the door. She set the alarm and hurried to the beach access.  Jogging to the crest of the wooden footbridge that connected the sidewalk to the beach area, she spotted Sam, running for all she was worth, about halfway to the shore. Hmm… not bad form for a musician. Tina started running, her long legs covering the distance quickly.

Sam stopped, dropped her blanket, pulled off her sneakers and stripped off her tee shirt and shorts. She looked up to see Tina running toward her and she bolted across the last few yards of sand to the water. One more step and I’ll be…

The blonde’s forward momentum came to an unexpected halt as a long arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her backwards. "Oh-no-you-don’t." Tina held Sam tightly against her body. She bent her head down and spoke into the shorter woman’s ear. "You don’t REALLY think you can run from me, do you?"

Sam’s heart was beating wildly and the exertion of the sprint wasn’t the only reason. "I’ll never run so far that you can’t catch me… if you want to." She tried to turn, and Tina loosened her grip enough to allow her to do so. Sam gazed up into playful blue eyes.

Several seconds passed.

If this were a movie… this is when she’d kiss me. Sam broke the eye contact and glanced to her right. "OH MY GOD!" 

Tina relaxed her hold as she turned to see what was wrong.

Sam pushed with all her strength and escaped from the woman’s grasp. "AH-HA!"  She ran into the water. "You have to buy the ice cream," she said in a singsong voice.

Tina walked to where she had dropped her backpack and sweatshirt. She looked at Sam with narrowed eyes. She took off her sneakers. She took off her socks. She took off her tank top. But she never took her eyes off Sam.

Uh oh… Sam was watching from her place in knee-deep water. This water is kind of cold.  "Tina? I was only kidding. Really, you don’t have to buy the ice cream."

Tina started moving toward her target with purposeful strides.

"The water is cold!" Sam pleaded. "AND I DON’T WANNA GET MY HAIR WET!" She walked backwards as Tina advanced. The musician noticed that her friend was wearing a sports bra with the nylon shorts rather than a bathing suit. Those have got to be longest legs I’ve ever seen. And… can it be? She observed a thickness around the woman’s mid-section. Nothing on the order of mine… but I feel a LITTLE better. Sam was in waist deep water now.

Tina reached out and grabbed her. "You said something about wanting to get in the water first?"

"Not IN… I said TO the water… not IN."


Sam was unceremoniously dumped underwater. She came up sputtering with a furious expression on her face.

Tina looked very pleased with herself. "Oh? I’m sorry. Did I misunderstand?"


You are way too cute for your own good, Samantha Whitwell. "Would you like to go sit on the blanket and warm up?" She saw that Sam was shivering. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that… she really is cold… and mad.

"Yes. Promise you won’t dunk me again?"

"I promise."

The women waded out of the water, spread the blanket and sat down.

"I’m sorry," Tina apologized. "Sometimes I get carried away…"

"No." Sam interrupted. "I asked for it. There’s no need for you to apologize."  And I like when you get carried away… even if it means getting dunked. You drop your guard and I get to see the real you.

The women enjoyed the sunny afternoon. They lay in the sun, walked along the shore, collected shells, and talked.

Sam learned that Tina had wanted to major in history in college, but her mother insisted she choose business. Tina’s father left when she was young and Steven was only a baby. Her mother had struggled to hold down two jobs and provide for her children. She was rarely home and money was tight. She was determined that her daughter would never find herself in the same situation and stressed the importance of an occupation that would offer financial security.

"So, you took care of Steven?" You had to grow up fast, I bet.

"Yes, he was my responsibility… always."

And you think you failed him… I understand.

Tina learned that Sam graduated from the University of Central Florida. She had majored in music and worked at several Orlando area theme parks during college. She told funny stories about things that happened in school and at the parks. Tina’s favorite was when Sam was called into service to be Mickey Mouse for a parade. The employee who normally wore the costume called in sick at the last minute and Sam was the only one around who was the right size. That must have been a sight to see. Tina pictured her friend, dressed as Mickey Mouse, standing on a float and waving to the spectators.


It was getting late and there were only a few people left on the beach. Feeling chilled, Sam was wearing Tina’s sweatshirt and sitting with her legs pulled up in front of her. There she is. The blonde saw a small figure in the distance. I feel like I’m in high school again… watching her run.

Tina had been gradually increasing her speed and she blazed by Sam before slowing down and jogging again. She turned and walked back to the blanket. Removing a bottle of water from her backpack, she took a long swallow. "Would you like some?" She passed the plastic container to Sam.

"Thanks." Sam took a sip and handed it back.

The runner did a few stretching exercises before sitting cross-legged on the blanket.

The musician was watching the sun setting on the horizon. "Beautiful, isn’t it?"


"One of the most beautiful sights in the world… and it’s free. All we have to do is take the time to stop and look at it."

"People don’t do that enough, though… take the time."

"I’m glad WE are." Sam continued to observe the colorful sky. "Some things are definitely worth it."

Tina’s attention shifted from the sunset to the woman next to her. The blonde’s hair had dried and was well tousled by the wind. Even though she was wearing the large Florida State sweatshirt, she appeared to be shivering. "Are you cold?"

"A little, but I’d really like to finish watching the sunset. Can we stay for a few more minutes?"

"Sure." Tina straightened her legs and patted the blanket in the space between them. "Sit here."

Sam gave the woman a questioning look. There?

"I mean, if you want to." Tina suddenly sounded uncertain.

Sam quickly scrambled over one outstretched leg. If I want to… are you kidding?

She settled in front of Tina, again pulling her knees up and hugging them. Tina pressed her legs in against Sam and put her arms around her, covering Sam’s smaller hands with her own.

Sam leaned back slightly against the taller woman’s body. This feels nice.

Tina rested her chin on Sam’s shoulder. This feels nice. "Is that better?" she asked softly.

"Yes, MUCH better."


They sat there, enjoying the closeness of each other and the beauty of the sunset.

Neither one spoke. They didn’t need to.

Oh… and yes… Tina bought the ice cream.

Continued in Part 4

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