Copyright © 2012 by JS Stephens. Lightly corrected 2013.
All rights reserved.
Comments to: JS Stephens
Disclaimer: All original characters that burst from the corners of my brain. Some sex, nothing terribly explicit. Enjoy!ï¿¼
Pamela Barnes pushed back her long graying brown bangs, revealing light brown eyes. She had to remember to get a haircut this weekend, somehow fitting it in with the rest of her chores. Oh, right, Glenâ€™s request for dinner with them, but that should be Saturday night. Pamela struggled to bring her attention back to the speaker, listening politely.
"Just think," Janice enthused, "what if we made a different decision at a pivotal moment in our lives? What would have happened? That is the premise of the book, and the author explores it in great detail." She started to elaborate, but the door opened.
"Sorry, ladies, we need this conference room for an emergency meeting," Bob said. "I know you scheduled it for your book club, but itâ€™s the only room not being used for business right now."
The co-workers all rose with token protests, filing out of the conference room. "We can finish in the cafeteria," one suggested. The others agreed, and the small crowd drifted down the hallway to the company cafeteria.
Several hours later, Janice dropped by Pamelaâ€™s cubical and asked, "Can you take a break?"
Pamela resisted sighing; she hated interruptions, but Janice was not someone to turn down. "Sure, give me a moment." She saved her spreadsheet, then sent a quick message to her supervisor saying she was on break. "Lead on," she said, rising.
Janice led her to the cafeteria, stopping at the coffee machine. "You like Columbia, black, right?"
"Yes," Pamela answered, irrationally wishing for a pastry to go with the coffee. She had done so well at resisting temptation for years, why suddenly want a pastry now? She cut her line of thought short as the smaller brunette handed her a cup of freshly brewed coffee. "Where shall we sit?"
"By the windows. Iâ€™ll join you in a moment, just need to let this brew," Janice said, eyes sparkling. Pamela drifted to the table, wondering why Janice had asked her to break. At least she seemed happy, so probably no bad news.
The two women settled into their chairs. Pamela took a sip of her coffee, grateful that the firm had decided to switch vendors. It was nice to brew a single cup at a time, and to have a selection of coffees to choose from, but that wasnâ€™t why Janice had asked her to join her. "Whatâ€™s on your mind?" Pamela finally asked.
The assistant controller smiled, blue eyes lighting up. "I want you to join my team for a project. Now, I havenâ€™t talked to your supervisor yet because I wanted to suss you out first. Weâ€™ve been asked by the partnership to run an analysis of the different contracts for services to see what we can consolidate. I was impressed by the data you gathered last year for a similar request."
Pamela looked puzzled. "I didnâ€™t think my name was on that report."
"It wasnâ€™t, but I made it my business to find out who pulled most of it together. The manager of accounts payable told me that you had pulled most of the data, and that he was impressed by your SQL skills." Janice went on to describe the parameters of the project, and Pamela found herself intrigued, and agreed to let her name be put forth.ï¿¼
Barry Barnes yawned and stretched as he entered through the kitchen door. "Hey, smells good," he said, pecking Pamela on the cheek. "Just need to drop off my briefcase and change clothes, okay?"
"Okay," Pamela said, smiling distractedly at her husband. She opened the oven door to pull out the chicken breasts, and to pop in the bread for a few minutes. The rest of the sides were already done, the salad in bowls, and the wine opened. She surveyed her kitchen, wondering if she could ever get Barry to agree to upgrade it. They had bought the house a few years after Glen was born, and had never done more than basic maintenance. Barry had promised upgrades after he made partner, but that somehow never materialized. Just like the rest of her life, always waiting.
"How was your day?" Barry asked as he reached for the wine and glasses. "Anything interesting?"
"I was asked to be on a special project," she started, but was interrupted by the annoying chirp of Barryâ€™s email. He sat at the table, immediately engrossed by the message on his phone. "And I started an affair," she added, knowing he was no longer listening.
"Thatâ€™s nice," Barry mumbled, tapping a reply. He looked up several minutes later, belatedly pouring the wine. "So how was your book club?"
Pamela resisted sighing, already bored. "It was fine. Weâ€™re discussing an alternate history novel, where the main character goes back in time to keep a disaster from happening, only to find that he had made matters worse."
"Hmm. Pass the rolls, please. Good chicken."
"How was your day, Barry?"
"Good, good. Went to lunch with some up and coming associates, teaching them about the fine art of eating with clients. It was a bit of a dry run, as we have a very important lunch with a lucrative potential client next week." Barry ate rapidly, washing down bites with gulps of wine.
"I see." Pamela slowly chewed her chicken, savoring the new seasonings she tried. Pretty good, if she did say so herself. "Are you working tonight?"
"Yes, I have a couple of briefs to read before tomorrow. Iâ€™m going back to the office in the morning, but should be home in time to change before we meet Glen and that young lady. Think heâ€™s going to announce his engagement?"
"Itâ€™s possible," Pamela agreed. Their son had been steadily dating Gina for the past two years, meeting her at a dog park shortly after he had graduated from college. "She seems pretty nice."
"She does, I like her," Barry declared. "So, whatâ€™s for dessert?" He patted his belly, looking up expectantly.
Pamela managed to make it through the day, running errands and doing chores before she expected Barry back. She even made time to get her hair trimmed, this time giving in to the question, "Should we give you highlights?" She had never had her hair highlighted, but was delighted with the subtle changes of gold among the brown. She didnâ€™t have to worry about Barry, she didnâ€™t think he would notice anything. Glen might, though. He was such a good boy, she thought affectionately.
Right on schedule, Barry burst through the kitchen door, pecking her absently on the cheek. "Hi, honey, looks like we have just enough time for me to shower and change." "Yes, you do. Iâ€™ve already laid out your clothes on the bed," Pamela said.
"You spoil me," Barry grinned, kissing her again. He glanced at her hair, looking vaguely puzzled, but obviously couldnâ€™t figure out what had changed. "Did Glen call to say where?"
"He did. Weâ€™re meeting at the club house."
"Good choice, I like their wine list. Must be serious," her husband tossed over his shoulder as he exited the kitchen. Pamela watched him go through the doorway, feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Why did she expect Barry to notice her hair, or that she had also splurged on a new outfit? She sighed, drifting back to the master bedroom to finish putting on her makeup and jewelry.
Glen and Gina were already waiting when Pamela and Barry arrived. Glen and Barry shook hands while Gina and Pamela briefly hugged. "I have our reservations, theyâ€™re just waiting to seat us," Glen said after pecking his mother on the cheek.
"Well, lead on, son," Barry said jovially, clapping his son on the shoulder. Glen motioned to the host, who lead them to the patio. Pamela was glad, the patio was her favorite place to sit. It overlooked a small pond with a beautiful waterfall and a profusion of flowering shrubs around it.
The first few minutes dragged on as seats were taken, drink orders were given, and menu riffling commenced. Pamela looked at her son, smiling to herself. He was the spitting image of his father, dark hair, piercing green eyes, broad shoulders, but with her square chin and deep dimples. She was proud of him for finishing his combined bachelors and masters program in finance in record time. Barry had been a little disappointed that Glen did not want to follow him in law, but was pleased when Glen found a steady corporate job in no time.
"Well," said Glen, taking Ginaâ€™s hand, "as you might suspect, we have an announcement. Gina has accepted my proposal of marriage."
"Congratulations," Barry and Pamela chorused simultaneously. "Do you have a date picked out?" Barry followed up.
Gina spoke up. "We were thinking about mid-October. I know thatâ€™s only a few months away, but weâ€™ve agreed that we donâ€™t need a huge wedding, and can get the club house. My aunt Paige has a membership here too. Oh, speaking of Paige, here she comes."
The group turned as Gina spoke. Pamela felt the color drain from her face as she saw her old college roommate, Paige Templeton. She reached for her water glass, taking a healthy swig as she suddenly connected the dots. Gina had mentioned that her aunt finished raising her after her parents died in a train accident, but Pamela never thought about her being the Paige Templeton.
A chair magically appeared for Paige, who sat down gracefully. "Good evening, I am very pleased to meet you," she said in her lilting voice that Pamela remembered so well. Her eyes widened a little when they landed on Pamela, but she merely smiled. "Itâ€™s a small world," was all she said.
"It is," Pamela managed to say.
The rest of the evening went smoothly. Pamela snuck looks at Paige, marveling at how the woman had become more beautiful than ever. Paige regaled them with tales of having multiple careers; flight attendant, hotel manager, wine marketer, and currently jewelry buyer for an upscale store. Pamela was dying of curiosity about her old roommate, but was silent during most of the meal. She could tell that her husband was charmed by Paige as well, since he actually turned off his phone and proceeded to ignore it the rest of the evening.
Toward the end of the meal, Pamela excused herself to escape to the ladiesâ€™ room. She dawdled as long as socially permissible, finally opening the stall door to go wash her hands.
"Ah, my Pamela," Paige said as she stood leaning against the wall.
"Um, hi," Pamela responded, feeling stupid. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Gina is a lovely woman, Barry and I are very fond of her. We look forward to having her as our daughter-in-law." She spoke hurriedly, washing her hands thoroughly as she rattled off her speech.
Paige smiled, then walked over to Pamela. "We should get together some time." She laid a gentle hand on Pamelaâ€™s shoulder, nearly whispering, "I missed you after you left."
"I missed you too," Pamela unwillingly admitted, "but there wasnâ€™t time to tell you. We decided to get married, and Barry had just been accepted to law school, so I never had the chance to go back to college. Luckily we were able to time Glenâ€™s birth after Barry had started as a law firm associate."
"No regrets?" the tall blonde asked.
Pamela looked down at her shoes, mumbling, "Not many." She looked up into Paigeâ€™s face, seeking golden eyes, beseeching her to understand. "Look, we need to get back to the table, everyone will wonder if we fell in."
Paige gently squeezed Pamelaâ€™s thin shoulder, then dropped her hand. "We should get back," she agreed reluctantly.
Later that night, Pamela fell into bed, exhausted, but unable to drift off. Barry curled around her, sleeping soundly. She finally nudged him slightly, and slipped out of bed as he rolled over. She went into the den, curling up on the sofa, staring at the wall of books in front of her.
Her last weekend of college replayed repeatedly in her head; the abrupt decision to accept Barryâ€™s marriage proposal at the end of her sophomore year, getting married over the summer, and going to work at an accounts payable clerk to help put him through school. She had helped Barry study, edited and typed his papers, coached him in study habits, kept house, and generally played the dutiful wife. His acceptance of the good law firm position at the end of his six week summer associateship had been a godsend, allowing them to plan for their future. They had really intended to wait to get pregnant, but Glen had his own ideas.
But what about Paige?
She thought of her tall, beautiful college roommate, who had taken her under her wing, taught her how to dress, proper table manners, and social graces. Paige had come from an upper crust family, while Pamela had come from a lower middle-class farm family. They made an odd couple, but their friendship had been instant and strong.
The day before Barry proposed, Paige had asked Pamela to come home with her for the summer. Pamela could still remember Paigeâ€™s elegant hand rubbing up and down her bare forearm as she tried to convince her friend to join her, even offering to pay all transportation expenses. Pamela had been torn, wanting to, yet scared of leaving Barry. Barry was gentle with her, respected her mind, had already determined she would make a great partner in life.
What if she had gone with Paige instead of Barry?
Pamela woke up abruptly as her old alarm clock started rattling, getting louder until she slapped it quiet. The silence rang after the loudness of the bells, making her wish she could afford a digital clock like Paige.
Pamela jerked up, tossing aside bedcovers, breathing hard. It was her dorm room, and a young Paige was in the bed opposite, sleeping peacefully. Pamela rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was hallucinating. Certainly she wasnâ€™t really back at college!
Paigeâ€™s clock started beeping, causing one long arm to slither out from the sheets, and one finger to punch the alarm button off. Paige sat up, yawning and stretching, mumbling, "Good morning, Pam."
"Morning, Paige," Pamela replied, still in shock. "Iâ€™ll be out in a minute." She scrambled to the bathroom, taking care of needs quickly, splashing water on her face before coming back out. "Your turn."
Paige smiled as she slid her long body out of bed, ambling to the door. As it shut, Pamela sighed quietly, then finally took a look in the hand mirror on her desk. Yes, she was nineteen again, it appeared. Dark hair, pale skin, dark eyes. She found the small framed picture of her and Barry on her desk, and the slightly larger picture of the church fellowship, taken at a retreat the semester before she met Barry.
She picked up the picture, noticing how Paige had a casual arm draped around her shoulders, a big grin on her face. She herself had a slightly awed expression, turned in toward Paige just a bit. She remembered the minister playing with his new camera, setting the timer so he could rush back and get pictured with the group.
"So, are you going to get dressed for breakfast?"
Pamela whirled, nearly dropping the picture. "Um, yeah, I guess so," she stammered, feeling a blush staining her cheeks. Why did Paige have to come out in her underwear and get dressed in their room? She swallowed hard past a dry throat, noticing how beautiful her friendâ€™s skin was all over. Why did she have this want to touch Paige, see how soft her skin was? "Iâ€™ll be ready in a moment," she said, grabbing clothes and slamming the bathroom door behind her.
A short time later, the roommates were eating breakfast in the dining hall, with Paige talking about finals and upcoming summer vacation. Pamela mostly listened, still in shock over being there. Her mind flashed back to the book club discussion just a few days ago, of the alternate history. Was she dreaming? Or was she getting a chance to make her own alternate history?
"Pam, youâ€™re awfully quiet this morning," Paige said as they sat down with their breakfast trays, "whatâ€™s on your mind? Finals?"
"Um, yeah. Big final today in my finance class," she mumbled.
"But itâ€™s your last one, right?"
Pamela nodded, wondering if she would depart from the past now. Any moment now, Paige should ask her to go home with her for a few weeks. Pamela would say no, her parents couldnâ€™t afford to send her, Paige would offer to pay, and they would leave it in limbo until Pamela got cold feet and decided to accept Barryâ€™s proposal that night. Tonight. What would happen if she said yes to Paige and no to Barry?
"Hey, Pam, Iâ€™m still talking here," Paige gently jibed, "and you havenâ€™t heard a word Iâ€™ve said. What planet are you on?"
"I apologize," Pamela said, "would you repeat the question?"
"Sure. Okay, I know your last final is today, and I should have asked a few weeks ago, but how would you like to go home with me for a couple of weeks? Youâ€™ve carried a huge course load and worked on campus this year, and you deserve a break. Thereâ€™s so much within a one to two hour radius of my parentsâ€™ house, I think weâ€™d find plenty to do. Would you like to take a vacation with me?" Paige repeated.
Pamela ran the possibilities through her head. Like the alternate history novel, this seemed to be the turning point. She stalled, though, saying, "I donâ€™t have the money, and neither do my parents. They expect me back on the farm to work over the summer."
Her roommate smiled, dimples showing. "I canâ€™t do anything about the farm labor, but I can pay for your expenses. No, donâ€™t protest, I get a pretty good allowance, and believe me, I donâ€™t spend even a quarter of it. Plenty banked in savings, so I could afford to pay your expenses for the trip. Iâ€™d really like to spend some non-school time with you. Please?"
She looked into Paigeâ€™s pleading eyes, wondering what her parents would say. She had never told them before that she had an offer to go away. Did she really love Barry? Time seemed to stop for a moment as she analyzed the possibilities, then restart when she found herself saying, "Okay, Iâ€™ll call them after my last final. It sounds like fun."
Paige whooped, then looked a bit embarrassed. She grabbed Pamelaâ€™s hands in hers, saying, "Thank you! Iâ€™ll call my folks after you call yours, but it shouldnâ€™t be a big deal. Iâ€™ve brought home friends before." She suddenly twisted Pamelaâ€™s wrist to see the time, and announced, "I need to boogie if Iâ€™m going to make my marketing final. See you this afternoon!"
Pamela waved, suddenly feeling a wave of dizziness as Pamela strode out of sight Was it happening? Was her life about to take a radically different path?
She was surprised at how easy the finals were, but it just might be the years of practical knowledge helping her. Pamela thought about the novel theyâ€™d read in book club, and how the main character still remembered the past (or future) and how it should happen (or how it happened). She was grateful that it seemed like her academic future would not be changed on the basis of grades.
Pamela walked into her dorm room and slung her backpack on her bed. Now to call her parents. She usually didnâ€™t call, since long distance was so expensive, but this was life changing. Taking a deep breath, she picked up the receiver and slowly punched in the number for the farm. What if they were out? Her parents didnâ€™t have an answering machine, and there wasnâ€™t voice mail yet. She waited, almost giving up as it rang six times before she heard her dadâ€™s voice. "Stewart Farms, this is John."
"Hi, Daddy," she said, nervously twisting the cord around her index finger, "Itâ€™s Pamela."
"Oh, hi, honey, how did finals go?" he boomed.
She relaxed a tiny bit. "Finals went great, I did well and think I really aced the finance final."
"Great, glad to hear it. Your mother and I are so proud of you, taking your education so seriously. You know youâ€™re the first one to go to college from our family?"
"Yes, Daddy, I remember," Pamela said, relaxing more. This was the usual banter, the not-so-subtle reminder to study instead of party. Like she would party. "Listen, I have a question."
"Sure, whatâ€™s up?" he asked cheerfully.
Nerves suddenly jangling again, she twisted the cord more tightly around her fingers as she asked in a rush, "Would you and Mom mind if I went home with Paige Templeton for a little while?"
"Well," her dad said, "we did expect you to come home and help on the farm, but I guess going home with your girlfriends is part of the college experience. Tell you what, this call is expensive, so Iâ€™m going to talk to your mother for a moment and call you back. Love you, honey bee."
"Love you too, Daddy." She heard a click, then carefully replaced the receiver on the hook. She paced around the small dorm room for an eternity as she waited for the phone to ring again. She couldnâ€™t remember any vacation other than the annual trip to the state fair. Would they go for it? How much did she really want to change her future?
Pamela nearly tripped over the rug dashing back to the phone as it rang half an hour later. "Pamela Stewart here," she announced breathlessly.
"Hello, honey, itâ€™s Mom," she heard her mother say, "your father and I have been talking."
"And?" Pamela asked anxiously.
"How will you pay for this? I thought you were using your job money to buy books and supplies?"
She rubbed her forehead, trying to figure out how to say that Paige had offered to pay all expenses. Oh, right, Paige had a car. "Well, Paige is already driving home, so that wonâ€™t cost any extra. She said she usually brings a friend home for the summer, so her parents wonâ€™t mind."
Pamela crossed her fingers, hoping that would be enough to sway them. "Virginia, the girl needs more experiences," she heard her dadâ€™s voice in the background, "and Jack is old enough to take over Pamâ€™s summer chores."
She heard a long-suffering sigh, then, "All right, Pam, weâ€™ll let you go. How long will you be gone?"
"A few weeks or so. Thanks, Mom!"
"Youâ€™re welcome. Send us a letter and let us know where to reach you, and exactly how long youâ€™ll be gone. We love you."
"Love you too! Bye!" Pamela hung up, feeling overwhelmed with joy and possibility. She started dancing around the room, running smack dab into Paige as she entered the room. Giving in to rare impulse, she grabbed her roommate around the waist and hollered, "They said yes! I can go with you!"
Paige whooped excitedly and wrapped her long arms around Pamela, dancing around with her. "Fantastic, this is really great. Iâ€™ll call Mom and Dad in a moment." She twirled Pamela around and around, finally setting her down as she started singing, "Iâ€™m so excited!"
"Pointer Sisters," Pamela said, grinning.
"Correct!" Paige bellowed, "youâ€™ve been learning your pop culture! Iâ€™m so damn proud of you!" She reached for another hug, then abruptly turned to the phone. "I need to call and make arrangements now."
"Cool!" Pamela agreed, dropping on her bed as she watched Paige snatch up the phone. She couldnâ€™t believe it, she was actually going home with Paige.
Without anyone else.
She swallowed hard.
Evening arrived, and Pamela grew increasingly nervous about changing history yet again. Barry would be calling any moment to say he was in the lobby, and ready for their date. Despite the relaxed rules, he refused to show up at her door, saying it wasnâ€™t proper. Paige teased her gently about her stiff beau. He was friendly and well-mannered, but very proper. A perfect match.
As soon as the phone rang, she snatched it up, answering, "Hello?"
"Hello, Pamela, itâ€™s Barry. Iâ€™m in the lobby, are you ready to go?"
"Yes, Iâ€™ll be down shortly." Pamela hung up the phone, nervously smoothing her dark hair, checking her purse for keys and wallet. "Iâ€™ll be back," she announced.
"Have a fun time, Pam," Paige said abstractedly as she continued to pack. "Come back in one piece."
"Okay." Pamela went through the door, checking her purse again, then moving slowly to the stairwell. She hated the idea of taking an elevator for only two stories, although Barry was always watching the elevator banks.
She came down the stairs, pausing at the landing, looking across the lobby to see Barry. Did she love him? How much did she want to change history? Would they still get married and have Glen if she turned him down tonight? Questions swarmed in and out of her head like a hive of loud bees, none staying long. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to walk across the floor.
"Barry, Iâ€™m here," Pamela announced when she reached him.
"Oh, there you are," he replied, taking her elbow and brushing a kiss on her cheek. "Are you ready to go? Do you need to sign out?"
"No, not tonight, unless weâ€™ll be later than 1:00 am."
He smiled briefly. "Donâ€™t worry, we wonâ€™t break curfew. Shall we?"
She nodded, allowing him to escort her to his car. She found herself watching him as he drove precisely, always alert for traffic issues. She had forgotten just how thick and lush his hair had been, it had receded somewhat in recent years, even though it was still fairly thick. And dark! Deep brown hair with a slight wave, piercing green eyes, ordinary build, thin lips, but beautiful chiseled cheekbones.
They arrived at the restaurant a short time later, Barry quickly jumping out to open her door and hand her out. She smiled at him, enjoying the sensation of being pampered. He still remembered to open doors when they were with other people, but rarely when they went out by themselves.
"Reservation for two," Barry told the host quietly, "name of Barry Barnes."
"Yes, Mr. Barnes. If you will follow me?" the host said as he picked up two menus.
Pamela and Barry followed the host to a secluded table, just like she remembered. Barry seemed a touch nervous, but managed to hide it well. She smiled, picking up her menu and browsing it with a practiced eye. She had to remember, though, to keep her order simple, like a college student, and remember his budget as a student. Although his parents were very well off, they did not give him a large allowance like Paige received. "What are you ordering, Barry?" she asked.
He flipped the pages of the menu, scowling as he read the descriptions, then finally shut it with an unintentional bang. He jumped, smiling sheepishly. "Ah, I think I will have the sampler platter. Would you like to share it?"
"Sure, it sounds lovely," she agreed.
They made small talk throughout the meal, discussing finals and current affairs. Finally, the meal was demolished, and they were enjoying after dinner coffees. Barry cleared his throat, a well-remembered cue that he was about to Announce Something Important. Pamela almost giggled, but managed to keep a pleasantly bland face.
"Pamela, do you remember me mentioning law school?" Barry asked, toying with his cup.
"Yes, I do." Here it comes, she thought.
He shifted in his seat, folding his hands together. "I found out this afternoon that Iâ€™ve been accepted to law school. I also managed to land a very good scholarship that will pay tuition, fees, and probably most of the books. My parents are willing to continue paying my living expenses, if I am frugal."
"Why, Barry, that is fantastic!" Pamela murmured.
He smiled nervously, taking a deep breath. Here goes, she thought, feeling as nervous as he looked. "My dear Pamela, I know that you are only halfway through your program, but was wondering if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife? I know this seems rather sudden, but I have been thinking about it for quite some time. I have never dated any woman who was so suited to being my partner in life, so intelligent, so right."
She waited, then remembered that he never did do any declaration of love; that came several years later when their son was born. She watched his expectant face, teetering on the edge. Should she say yes or not? Or maybe?
"Barry," she said, heart beating rapidly, "I want to think about your proposal. Iâ€™m not saying yes or no right away. As you pointed out," she said, forestalling the instant protest, "Iâ€™m only halfway through my degree. Wouldnâ€™t I make a better partner if I had my finance degree? I do love you, but Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™m ready for marriage yet. Besides, I told Paige that I would go home with her for a few weeksâ€™ vacation."
Again, she felt light-headed momentarily, a sense of reality warping and shifting. She watched his face closely, seeing shock give way to sadness. Pamela took his hand in hers, adding, "My parents might not approve of me marrying so young, as they did. It was a really hard row for them to hoe."
He nodded, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. "Well," he said, staring miserably at their hands, "I am disappointed. I had thought that we could face life together, but I will accept your reasons." Barry pulled his hand away. "I will miss you this summer. Will I still be able to write to you at your parentsâ€™ farm?"
"Yes," she said, feeling strangely elated.
"I see." He looked around for the waiter, obviously uneasy. "If you change your mind, you may reach me at my parentsâ€™ house. I should be there next week." The waiter appeared with the check. Barry counted out the bills, then handed it back, telling him to keep the change. "Are you ready, dear?" he asked.
Pamela was quiet during the ride at first, but finally opened up under Paigeâ€™s persistent questioning. "Barry proposed to me, and I put him off," she finally admitted. "I love him, but Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™m ready for marriage at this stage of life. I mean, wonâ€™t turn twenty for another couple of weeks!"
Her roommate spared her a glance as they pulled into a gas station. "He really thought you would sacrifice graduating for three years of getting him through law school? So much for womenâ€™s liberation!" She shut off the engine and reached for her purse. "Iâ€™ll join you in a moment after I fill up the tank. Do you want a snack here, or go a little further and look for lunch?"
"I donâ€™t care. Iâ€™m not that hungry, so I guess a snack will do," Pamela said. "Iâ€™ll see you in a few minutes." She grabbed her purse and went into the station. She hit the facilities, washed her hands, and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Did I do the right thing? she asked herself. Not getting an answer, she picked up her purse and went out to peruse the offerings.
After they got back on the road, Paige continued her questioning. "So Barry just assumed you would quit school to support him while he goes to law school."
"No, heâ€™s won a scholarship, and his parents will continue to pay his rent and utilities. Iâ€™d be working to pay for any expenses the scholarship doesnâ€™t cover," Pamela answered.
Paige snorted. "So heâ€™s not planning to work, he'll have you to support him."
Pamela sighed. "He canâ€™t, law school, as I understand it, is very intensive, and you donâ€™t have time to work. It doesnâ€™t matter, Paige, I turned him down for now."
"Well, sweetheart, I think it was best that you are waiting. Who knows? You could find someone better." Paige reached for a tape, popping it into the deck. "Okay, I promise to quit bugging you, but just answer this. Do you love him? I mean, that all encompassing, passionate, I canâ€™t wait to see him love?"
Pamela started to answer, but paused. She listened as the theme to Top Gun started blaring from the speakers before replying, "If you put it that way, I donâ€™t. Is that wrong?"
Paige spared a quick glance, answering wryly, "Itâ€™s not a matter of right or wrong, but is it right or wrong for you?"
Pamela thought about it for several songs, then asked, "Have you ever been in love that way?"
"I had a crush that way, but it was not reciprocated," her roommate answered evasively. "Pam, I just worry about you. You came from a small farming community, Barry is the first man youâ€™ve ever dated, and you seem to be thinking logically about marriage, not emotionally. This is the 1980â€™s, not the 1880â€™s, or the 1780â€™s. We donâ€™t arrange marriages, we fall for someone and marry them because we canâ€™t live without them." Paige suddenly stopped talking, as if she said too much.
"Oh." Pamela looked at Paige curiously, questions popping into her head, questions she didnâ€™t feel comfortable asking. She turned instead to watch the miles slip by, marveling at how empty this stretch of road was, compared to how it had been. Would be, rather. At least she wasnâ€™t addicted to her phone like her husband, so she didnâ€™t feel the loss of that constant electronic leash.
A few hours later, they pulled into Paigeâ€™s home. Pamela had always known that her roommate came from money, but didnâ€™t realize it meant she lived in a gated community, or that the house was set on an acre of land. She found herself staring at the perfectly maintained gravel parking circle, the perfect landscaping, the stately house. "Wow," was all she could manage. The house she shared with Barry was nothing like this, but heâ€™d nixed the idea of moving into a larger home after he made partner.
"Welcome to my humble home," Paige said drolly, good humor restored. "Leave your luggage for now, letâ€™s go in and see if my folks are in." She tucked Pamelaâ€™s hand in her elbow, escorting her up the steps to cross the wide porch, and in through the imposing front door. "Mom, Dad, weâ€™re home!" she shouted.
Her parents came out of different rooms, all smiles. "Paige!" they called in unison, laughing.
"Mom, Dad, this is my roommate, Pamela Stewart. Pamela, these are my parents, Robert and Nancy Templeton."
"Hi," was all Paige could think to say. Robert Templeton was tall and blonde like his daughter, where Nancy was dark and closer to Paigeâ€™s height. "Um, thanks for letting me stay," she added hastily, wondering where her hard won manners had gone.
"Any friend of Paigeâ€™s is always welcome," Nancy said, offering a hand. Pamelaâ€™s manners kicked back in, shaking hands in turn with both Templetons. "Iâ€™ll bet you girls are tired after that long drive. Paige, did you let your friend drive any, or insist on doing it all yourself?"
"I did it myself, Mom. Quit worrying about me," Paige answered with a smile.
"You girls made good time," Robert added, smiling at his daughter, "no tickets?"
Pamela watched as Paige blushed. "Dad, that was only one ticket, and it was on the way to college my freshman year. So, not to change the subject, but is Bonehead here?"
"Yes, Iâ€™m here," a male voice answered. Pamela and Paige turned around to see a man who was a dark version of Paige come down the hallway. "Miss Piggy!" he exclaimed, grabbing Paige in a bear hug.
"Bonehead!" Paige yelled, squeezing him back. He picked her up, swirling her around, finally letting her down. "Tony, it is great to see you. Oh, this is my roommate, Pamela Stewart. Pam, this is my older brother, Anthony."
Tony reached for Pamelaâ€™s hand, kissing it lightly. "Charmed to meet you," he said, dark eyes twinkling. "Are you staying for the summer? If so, youâ€™ll have to share a room with Miss Piggy here."
"I already share a room with her," Pamela responded, smiling, wondering about the nicknames. She decided to ask Paige later.
"Iâ€™m sorry for you, then," Tony laughed as he dropper her hand and turned to his sister. "Hey, Paige, I got accepted for that MBA program, and Iâ€™m dating a new girl."
"Congratulations, Tony. Hey, help us with our luggage, will you?"
"Oh, I didnâ€™t realize you needed a bell hop," he teased, "will you tip me?"
Paige laughed. "Sure, hereâ€™s a tip. Donâ€™t take any wooden nickels."
A little while later, Nancy Templeton announced that supper would be ready in an hour, and drinks would start in thirty minutes. Paige said, "We'll be ready then," and led Pamela up the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. "Be it ever so humble," she cracked as Pamela took it in.
The room was twice the size of their dorm room and bathroom combined, and was painted a soothing light blue, with white wicker furniture. The style of the furniture, the ceiling fan, and the curtains made her think of a seaside resort, something like youâ€™d see in the movies. Pamela nervously stood, noticing that there was only one bed. It was a queen sized bed, but still, she had never slept with anyone except some of her cousins years ago. She belatedly noticed that her luggage was at one corner, neatly stacked.
"Want to rest a bit?" Paigeâ€™s voice broke her reverie. "We can lay down for a few minutes, or take quick showers before we dress for dinner."
"Dress for dinner?" Pamela echoed uncertainly. "Dress how?"
Paige smiled, coming over to drape an arm around her shoulders, squeezing comfortingly. "Nothing fancy, Pam, just slacks and a shell, or slacks and a polo." She paused, remembering her roommateâ€™s scarce wardrobe. "Iâ€™ll take you shopping tomorrow, and before you protest, itâ€™s your birthday present. For tonight, you can wear those cute khaki shorts you have, and Iâ€™ll lend you one of my polos. Go hop in the shower, Iâ€™ll lay out your clothes." She pushed Pamela gently in the direction of the bathroom, then opened her closet door to peruse the offerings.
Pamela stood uncertainly for a few seconds, but did as Paige suggested. She showered quickly, wondering how she would dry her hair. As she got out, a very naked Paige entered the bathroom. "Should be a blow dryer under the cabinet," she announced as she stepped into the shower. Pamela nodded, finding the dryer, pulling out her brush from her bag, and making quick work of her hair. She managed to mostly avoid looking at her roommate as she reapplied light makeup, then escaped to the bedroom to get dressed.ï¿¼
Dinner was more relaxed than she anticipated. The meal was light, cold pork and sides, with drinks on the back deck afterward. Pamela refused the offer of a wine spritzer, opting for lemonade instead. She noticed that Tony kept smiling at her the whole evening, skillfully drawing her into conversation about her classes and life on the farm. She finally gathered the courage to ask him why he called his sister "Miss Piggy" and she called him "Bonehead".
Paige rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically as Tony laughed. "Our favorite show when she was in junior high and I was in high school was â€˜The Muppet Showâ€™. Paige learned to do a perfect imitation of Miss Piggy, so I started calling her that. I guess her intellect deserted her the first time I called her that, for all she could think of was â€˜Bonehead.â€™ Somehow, the nicknames stuck."
"Yours more than mine, brother dear," Paige jibed. "Besides, he could have been â€˜Thickheadâ€™, since he seems to have one. He didnâ€™t tell you that he took up dirt bike racing for a little while, and managed a bad spill. No harm done, he landed on his head, which was so thick, it didnâ€™t do any damage."
"Thatâ€™s what you think," Tony shot back, suddenly jerking and flailing his arms, rolling his eyes.
"You two, knock it off, we have a guest. Where are your manners?" Nancy scolded gently, but with a twinkle in her eye.
"Yes, Mother," they chorused like angels.
Robert shook his head in amusement, leaning over to stage whisper, "Theyâ€™ve been fighting since Paige came home from the hospital. We thought that Tony would hurt her, since he was the older brother, but in six months, we worried about her hurting him! Theyâ€™ve always fought like cats and dogs."
"Yeah, we can fight, but woe to the idiot who insults my sister!" Tony added. Paige just nodded in agreement as she continued eating.
Pamela relaxed a little, sipping her lemonade. She watched the brother and sister covertly, comparing them. Both were tall and slender, with broad shoulders. Both had thick hair, one light, the other dark and had similar smiles with deep dimples. She realized they were both very attractive, and found herself wondering if Tony was dating anyone. She knew that Paige wasnâ€™t dating anyone right now.
The family kept talking until night had fully fallen, catching up on what had happened during the year. They discussed plans to go to an amusement park, to a few museums, and the botanical gardens while Pamela was there. "Well, I think itâ€™s time to go to bed," Nancy announced, "Shall we see you girls in the morning? Paige, are you going to church with us?"
"Next Sunday, I need my beauty sleep," Paige announced, yawning hugely.
"That you do," Tony agreed innocently. Paige threw a wadded up napkin at him, bouncing it off his forehead. "Ouch, I'm mortally wounded!" he said dramatically.
"May I help you with the dishes?" Pamela asked her hostess.
"Certainly," Nancy agreed. Pamela started stacking dishes and followed Paigeâ€™s mother into the kitchen. "How about you rinse and Iâ€™ll stack them in the dishwasher?" Pamela nodded, moving to the sink. Nancy watched her for a moment, then said, "I noticed that you looked uneasy while we were discussing plans. Did Paige forget to tell you?"
"I guess so. It was all a bit last minute," Pamela admitted.
Nancy nodded as she handed several plates to Pamela. "I see. My girl has a heart of gold, but forgets that not everyone can afford everything. Donâ€™t worry, we always pay for guests. Paige has always brought home friends from college, and sometimes Tony does too. Robert and I enjoy the company, and can certainly afford the tickets and meals, so donâ€™t worry about it."
"Okay." Pamela thought about it for a moment, remembering paying for some of Glenâ€™s friends too. This was odd, thinking like a college student and a mother at the same time. She was suddenly stabbed with uncertainty; had she done the right thing to change teh course of history?ï¿¼
Pamela was surprised that she fell asleep so fast. She had simply rolled over, and seemingly moments later awoke to sunshine streaming through the curtains. She felt a little guilty for not getting up for church, but figured that most people skipped services on vacation. She and Barry had rarely taken a vacation that lasted over a Sunday, so this felt like new territory.
"Good morning," Paige said sleepily as she rolled over, yawning and stretching like an awakening cat. "What should we do today, Pam?"
"Iâ€™m not sure what is open," Pamela answered evasively. She sat down on the edge of the bed, laying her book on the nightstand. "I just sat here reading until you woke up."
"You could have gone downstairs and helped yourself to breakfast and coffee," Paige said as she slowly scooted off the bed. "Hang on, Iâ€™ll be right back." Pamela watched her friend go into the bathroom, then picked her book back up. She had just gotten absorbed again when Paige came bounding out, tackling her and pushing her onto the bed. "Got you!" she crowed, straddling Pamelaâ€™s hips, "what are you going to do about it?"
Pamelaâ€™s brain refused to function for a few seconds. Her nerves short-circuited with the overload of unfamiliar sensations, the feeling of Paigeâ€™s legs clamped around her hips, seeing her leaning over her, the vee of her pajama top allowing a glimpse of breasts. Pamela blinked rapidly, hoping to jumpstart her brain back into coherent thought. Before she could marshal a reaction, Paige leaned over, kissed each cheek, then bounded off the bed. "No stores will be open until after lunch or so since itâ€™s Sunday," Paige tossed over her shoulder, "so we have plenty of time. Letâ€™s go see what Mom left us for breakfast."
Pamela followed the taller girl, grabbing her robe as she left the bedroom, hurrying to catch up with her. She raced down the stairs, hitting a rug at the bottom and skidding dangerously close to a hallway table. Strong arms caught her and a voice rumbled, "Whoa, Nelly!" Paige righted herself and looked up into Tonyâ€™s amused dark eyes. "Chasing after my sister, I see," he teased.
"Um, we were going down to breakfast," Pamela babbled, "and I was trying to catch up with her."
Tony chuckled as he dropped his arms and backed up a step. "She is hard to keep up with, Iâ€™ll agree. Did you know that she ran track in high school? Best cross-country runner weâ€™d had in decades. Her team won state her junior year thanks to her speed and endurance," he recited proudly.
"No, I didnâ€™t know that," Pamela answered, intrigued by this glimpse into her roommate's past.
Tony smiled proudly as he offered his arm. "Yes, she was amazing. Iâ€™m surprised she didnâ€™t accept a track scholarship. Anyway, shall we? Iâ€™m starved."
Pamela shyly took his arm, allowing him to escort her to the breakfast nook, where Paige was already plowing into leftover bacon and biscuits. "Dig in," she called out, "I put on a fresh pot of coffee, it should be ready any moment now. Oh, I see you found my brother," she added.
"He found me, I skidded on the rug at the end of the stairs," Pamela answered.
"Kept her from crashing into Momâ€™s big vase," Tony added as he lightly cuffed his sister on the shoulder before going to the counter to pick up a plate.
"Really?" Paige drawled, staring at Pamela. Pamela felt like squirming, wondering why Paige looked pissed for a moment. Or maybe she imagined it. "Brother of mine, do you mind whipping up some eggs? You know how burned mine always turn out."
"Sure thing. Pam, how many do you want?" Tony asked as he opened the refrigerator door. "I usually scramble three for me, three for Miss Piggy."
"Oh, two would be plenty," Pamela answered, watching Tonyâ€™s sure movements. Barry never offered to cook, she thought. "Is there any juice?"
"Sure," Paige replied, "I think I left enough." She got up, motioning for Pamela to stay seated. She deliberately bumped into her brother as she got the pitcher out of the refrigerator. "Oops," she said unconvincingly. He just shook his head in amusement. "Yup, plenty left," she added, reaching for a glass.
As the trio ate breakfast, they discussed possible plans for the day. "I vote for the arboretum," Tony said, "Mom says that they just finished planting a whole bunch of new flowers and stuff. Sheâ€™s one of the volunteers there," he added for Pamelaâ€™s benefit.
"That does sound nice," Pamela agreed, "Paige, what do you think?"
"Sure, sounds good. Bonehead, I thought you had to go work today," Paige said.
"No, Greg traded shifts with me, so you can have the pleasure of my company all day long," he smirked.
Paige heaved a long-suffering sigh. "If you insist, dear brother. Sure you donâ€™t mind your little sister tagging along?"
"Not at all," Tony grinned, "not if you bring Pam along."
"Oh, hitting on my friend, I see," Paige huffed.
As the siblings bantered back and forth, Pamela ate quietly, listening. She and her brother never bantered like this, but he was much younger, and they had very little in common. She was puzzled, though, by an undertone in Paigeâ€™s voice and manner, almost as if she were jealous. Sure, Tony was being nice to her, so why should that invoke such jealousy?
It turned out to be one of those beautiful early summer days, when there were enough puffy clouds to cast shade from time to time, keeping the temperatures to reasonable heights. Pamela was quiet at first, but found herself opening up under Tonyâ€™s gentle teasing. She found herself drawn to him by his humor, his intelligence, and frankly, his attention. He stayed close, pointing out different species of flowers and plants, commenting on which were native and which were imported. She listened closely, never having thought much about decorative plants, just which crops they were planting.
Paige grew quieter during the day, unlike her usual rambunctious self. Pamela was caught up in Tonyâ€™s attention, finally noticing that Paige hadnâ€™t spoken in over an hour when he suggested that they break for a snack. "Yo, sister, why the silent treatment?" he asked.
She shrugged, answering, "You and Pam are carrying on just fine without my input. Carry on."
Tony sidled up to his sister, whispering something in her ear. Pamela was puzzled, watching their behavior, hoping that she hadnâ€™t made her roommate mad for some reason. Paige shook her head angrily, snorting, "Youâ€™re all wet, brother. Letâ€™s just get something to eat, Iâ€™m hungry and thirsty. They have a cafe here, I believe."
"That sounds fine to me," Pamela said, anxious to get back on good terms with her. Tony slipped between them, taking each woman by the elbow. "Then shall we?" he asked. He guided them down the path toward the main gate, where the cafe was located. He left them for a moment, talking to the host, then came back. "We will sit on the patio in the shade, near the water fountain. Should be cooler and shadier."
"If you ladies and gentleman will follow me," the host said, motioning for the trio to follow him. He recited the specials as they wound their way between tables, ending up at a shaded table. "Your waitress will be with you shortly. While you wait, would you like a beverage?"
"Just get us a round of ice water with lemon to start," Paige said before Tony could open his mouth.
"Three ice waters with lemon, coming right up," he repeated.
Pamela picked up her menu, studying it while sneaking glances at the brother and sister. It was such a beautiful setting, why were they at such odds? "What is everyone else having?" she asked, hoping for guidance.
Paige relaxed a little, opening her menu and glancing over it. "Ice cream sundae," she said decisively, "thatâ€™s my vote. Pam, order what you want. I recommend either a sundae or a sherbet, itâ€™s all good."
"A scoop of orange and a scoop of lime, thatâ€™s my vote," Tony added.
Pamela looked at the menu again, and decided on just a scoop of lime sherbet. Their waitress came over with the waters and took their orders, leaving them to their respective thoughts.
The treats came soon, and they fell to with gusto. Pamela thought the sherbet was perfect, cool, tasty, and not too filling. She did eye Paigeâ€™s vanilla, hot fudge, and caramel sundae. "Want a bite?" Paige asked, seeing Pamela eyeing her treat. She scooped up a bite, holding it in front of Pamelaâ€™s mouth. "Open wide," she crooned.
Pamela took the ice cream without thinking, closing her lips over Paigeâ€™s spoon and slowly sucking off the cold creamy treat. She let it melt in her mouth, enjoying the interplay of flavors, the feeling of the rich creaminess of the vanilla. She shut her eyes, concentrating on the sensations as she slowly swallowed. "Itâ€™s very good," she finally murmured, opening her eyes.
"I thought you might like it," Paige responded, smiling sensually.
"Okay, you two, finish up," Tony said as he glanced at his watch. "Itâ€™s later than I thought, and we need to be home in an hour."
The two women belated processed the message, spoons clattering as they finished their respective plates quickly. He signaled for the bill and paid for it, glancing at his watch again. "Letâ€™s go, girls."ï¿¼
The vacation may have started roughly, but smoothed out by Monday morning. Tony had to work, so Paige and Pamela were on their own. They went down to breakfast just as Paigeâ€™s parents were finishing their breakfasts.
"Good morning, sweetheart," Robert said as he accepted a peck on the cheek from his daughter. "Youâ€™re up early for summer."
"Funny, Dad. Howâ€™s work?" she Paige asked as she snagged a bite of bacon from his plate.
"Doing well. In fact, I should be able to take off Thursday if youâ€™d like to get in a round of golf. Pam, do you play golf?"
Pamela answered, "Just miniature golf, Mr. Templeton."
"Well, Miss Stewart, how would you like some lessons? Paige is pretty good, or we could get you a pro at the club. Are you interested?" he asked.
Pamela was torn, she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her friend, and she loved being outside, but wasnâ€™t sure if she was golf material. She glanced over to see Paige sending her a pleading look, and made her decision. "Iâ€™d like to give it a try," she decided.
"Excellent!" he beamed, "Iâ€™ll ask my secretary to reserve a tee time for us. Paige, what are you girls planning to do today?"
Paige licked crumbs off her fingers before answering, "We hadnâ€™t talked about it much yet. I was thinking maybe a movie or shopping today, and going to the water park tomorrow."
"Anything good playing?" he asked.
"Give me the paper and Iâ€™ll tell you, Daddy dear," Paige answered.
He chuckled, handing over the entertainment section. "That would help," he agreed. Robert glanced at his watch. "Iâ€™d love to stay and chat, but I need to get going. Stay out of trouble."
"You too, Dad." Paige waved as her father got up and snagged his jacket from the back of his chair. "Go make lots of lovely money."
He just laughed, patting her shoulder, then leaning over to kiss Nancy good-bye. "Iâ€™ll be home by six, honey."
"I might be home by then," she teased. After he left, Nancy turned to the roommates. "Iâ€™d say I would take you shopping myself, but I have a couple of board meetings today. Iâ€™m sure you can find ways to entertain yourselves."
"We can," Paige affirmed.
Nancy smiled, standing up to take her dishes to the sink. "Do you mind taking care of the dishes?"
Before Paige could answer, Pamela piped up, "We donâ€™t mind, Mrs. Templeton."
"Thank you. I need to be off myself. Have a good day, girls. Leave a note when you know your plans." She leaned over and kissed Paige on the cheek and squeezed Pamelaâ€™s shoulder. "I'll see you later."
"Thanks, Mom," Paige said. She watched as her mother left the room, then turned to Pamela. "Dishes? Youâ€™re such a suck up."
"No, I was taught to clear my dishes," Pamela replied, puzzled.
Paige sighed. "Canâ€™t even tell when Iâ€™m teasing you. Come on, letâ€™s finish breakfast so we can get on with our day."
They ultimately decided to go the first movie showing, then go shopping. Paige had Pamela try on some golf clothes of hers, but decided that her shorts were just a bit too loose for Paige. "Weâ€™ll get you some proper clothes. You can rent some shoes at the club." "Paige, how will I explain the expenses to my parents?" Pamela asked worriedly.
"Donâ€™t worry, Pam, I"ll pay for everything. I can easily afford to pay for your clothes and entertainment. I promised I would." Paige slung an arm around Pamelaâ€™s shoulders. "Come on, stop worrying so much, relax and enjoy before you go back to the farm."
"If you say so," Pamela replied. She tentatively slipped her arm around Paigeâ€™s waist, rewarded by being pulled closer. She found herself closing her eyes for a moment, enjoying the closeness. Her family wasnâ€™t very affectionate, cordial, yes, but not affectionate. None of her friends had ever had this easy affection, close emotionally, just not physically. Barry had been sparing with touch, having grown up in a cold, reserved, family. She felt Paige run fingers through her hair, tousling it. It felt good.
Pamela wasnâ€™t accustomed to having anyone in a changing room with her, but Paige blithely followed her with an armful of clothes. She decided to just relax and accept it. Why was she so shy with her roommate? "Try these on, Pam. Theyâ€™re shorts, but look like golf skirts, so youâ€™ll be properly attired."
Pamela took a deep breath, undressing and neatly folding her clothes before accepting the others from Paige. She pulled on the shorts, then the polo that Paige handed her. "How do I look?" she asked anxiously.
Paige tapped a finger against her lips for a moment. "Turn around slowly so I can see all sides," she suggested. She watched Pamela twirl, then reached to tug lightly at the hemline. "Looks good, how do they feel?"
"They feel really good, but I canâ€™t afford them, Paige," Pamela said, "and neither can my parents."
"I told you, Iâ€™d take care of you," Paige reminded her, smiling. "Call it a birthday present, I know yours is coming up soon. Besides, you need to look good when we meet Dad for golf later this week. But stay there, I saw something else Iâ€™d like you to try on." Before Pamela could protest, her roommate slipped out of the fitting room. She waited, unsure whether or not to put her own clothes back on or keep the current shorts and top on.
"Here, try this," Paige said, handing her a dress.
"Itâ€™s too much," Pamela protested, even as she reached for it. It was a simple dress, black and white, with big buttons going up the front at a diagonal. The body and short sleeves were black, and the front was white. Very simple, geometric, yet elegant. "I canâ€™t."
Paige leaned forward, whispering, "You can. Humor me."
Pamela swallowed, feeling her space invaded, wondering fleetingly if Paige knew she was almost in kissing range. She banished the thought as she hung the dress on a hook and slowly started undressing. She knew Paige was intently watching, feeling uneasy and thrilled at the same time. As the jumble of thoughts rushed through her head, she tried on the dress, then turned to look in the mirror.
"It looks even better than I thought it would," Paige said in her ear. "Iâ€™m buying it for you. You can wear it to church this Sunday." She laid her hands on Pamelaâ€™s shoulders, squeezing them. "Better yet, no shoulder pads. You donâ€™t need them."
Pamela stared at her reflection, mesmerized. It was more elegant than anything sheâ€™d owned in college, and looked right on her. Simple, straight line, no frills, adult. She could almost see a glimpse of her future self in it. She thought about protesting again, but didnâ€™t. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Youâ€™re welcome," Paige murmured, briefly wrapping her arms around Pamela. Pamela closed her eyes, arms coming up to cover Paigeâ€™s, holding them in place. Paige suddenly pulled back and announced, "Okay, we need another set of golf clothes, some hose and shoes for that dress, and some shoes for your after golf wear. Come on, girlfriend, weâ€™ve got more shopping to do!"
Pamela simply nodded, eyes shining with emotion. She carefully took the dress off and hung it back up, pulling her own clothes back on. It really was too much, but if Paige wanted to spend the money on her, why not? She gathered up the various items sheâ€™d tried on, following Paige out of the dressing room back into the store.
The week went by much too quickly. Paige and Pamela went out every day to do something different. They hiked, went to the zoo, went to the botanical gardens, played golf with Robert Templeton, and saw a few movies. Pamela was starting to relax and enjoy the company of Paigeâ€™s family. She also discovered that she had an affinity for golf, something she had not expected. The only fly in this ointment was Tonyâ€™s worried looks her way.
She finally caught him after dinner Saturday night as she waited for Paige to finish getting dressed. "Tony, whatâ€™s bothering you?" she asked, cornering him in the den. He looked around uneasily, making sure no one could overhear before answering, "You know, I dearly love my sister, but I donâ€™t like what sheâ€™s doing."
"What do you mean?" Pamela asked uneasily.
He cleared his throat and replied, "She acting like sheâ€™s jealous of any attention I pay you. She flirts with you. Sheâ€™s done this before, brought friends home, showered attention on them, gotten really close, then abruptly dropped them. I donâ€™t want you to get hurt."
Pamela sat down on the couch, weighing what he said. Tony sat beside her, taking her hands in his, speaking urgently. "Iâ€™m not sure, but I think my sister is gay, and keeps falling in love with her friends. But when the attraction gets too strong, she pushes them away. I like you, and in fact, would enjoy dating you, had I not already met Elaine."
"Are you sure youâ€™re not jealous?" Pamela blurted out.
"No. Well, maybe a little." He squeezed her hands, speaking urgently.
"You are jealous, brother dear. Did you know that Pam just turned down an engagement?"
They both turned, guiltily dropping hands, looking up at Paige, who had just entered the room. "Yes, itâ€™s true, just before we came home, Pamela had a proposal, but she turned him down. So now youâ€™re hitting on her, even though you have been dating Elaine?"
"Itâ€™s not that way," Tony tried to explain, but Paige interrupted him. "Right, not that way. Youâ€™ve been jealous of all of the time Iâ€™ve spent with Pamela since we got home. Brother mine, Iâ€™m warning you, donâ€™t toy with Pamelaâ€™s heart, sheâ€™s a very dear friend." She held out her hand to Pamela, adding sharply, "Letâ€™s go." Pamela cast a helpless glance at Tony, but took Paigeâ€™s hand, letting her drag her through the house.
Paige didnâ€™t drop Pamelaâ€™s hand until they were outside beside the pool. Pamela stood uneasily as Paige dropped down onto one of the lounge chairs, motioning for her to sit on the one next to it. Pamela sat slowly, watching her friend as Paige dropped her head in her hands. Pamela finally gathered her courage and asked, "What happened back there?"
"Iâ€™ll tell you what happened, Tony was starting to put the moves on you. Heâ€™s always been jealous of any girl I brought home, wanting to compete for my attention. Weâ€™ve always been close, yet very competitive." Paige lifted her head, staring at Pamela. "I thought he was getting serious about Elaine, sheâ€™s very much like me. Smart, athletic, independent, able to hold her own in an argument. At least, thatâ€™s what he tells me, I havenâ€™t had the pleasure of meeting her yet."
"Oh." Pamela wasnâ€™t sure what to say. She cleared her throat, searching for words, then finally decided to just blurt it out. "Tony said that you keep falling in love with your friends. Is that true?"
Paige sighed heavily. "I donâ€™t know. I get close to friends, then sometimes feel like I need to back away. I know that he thinks Iâ€™m gay, but I donâ€™t know myself. I mean, whatâ€™s wrong with enjoying looking at a beautiful body, no matter which gender? I enjoy your company, your intelligence, and wish you were less shy."
Pamela leaned back in the chair, trying to process everything. She had no frame of reference, Barry had been the only man she ever dated. Growing up on the farm left little time for extracurricular activities, and she was too shy to get very close to anyone. She really enjoyed Paigeâ€™s company, her wit, her sharp intellect, her easy affection. Yet she had been uneasy and thrilled at the same time when Paige watched her try on clothes the other day. She felt strangely happy when Paige would sling her arm around her, or hold her hand. Sex with Barry had always been okay, but not spectacular. So what if she were attracted to women? To this woman?
"Youâ€™ve gone quiet again," Paige said softly, patting Pamelaâ€™s knee. "Where did you go this time?"
"Thinking about Barry," she answered. "What happens if I marry him but never did date anyone else?" She looked into Paigeâ€™s eyes, adding softly, "What if I never even kissed a girl to see if I like it?"
Paigeâ€™s pupils dilated with surprise. "Youâ€™re curious about kissing a girl?" she asked unsteadily.
"Yes," came the whispered reply, "I am."
The tall blonde stared at her dark-haired friend, contradictory emotions swirling inside. "Iâ€™ve been curious too," she finally said. She nearly leaned forward, but realized just where they were, and how exposed they were. "But not here," she whispered.
"No, not here," Pamela agreed.
The friends stared at each other, then suddenly erupted into giggles, which turned into belly laughs. Tears streamed down their cheeks as the mirth overwhelmed them. Finally, Pamela stood up, holding out her hands, and Paige allowed her friend to pull her out of the chair. "Come on, letâ€™s go back inside. We can watch TV for a while."
The friends got ready for bed that night after an evening of TV and playing Trivial Pursuit with the rest of the family. "Are you going to church in the morning?" Nancy asked as the girls started up the stairs.
"Yes," Paige answered. "Weâ€™ll be up in time for breakfast, I promise. Pam will set her alarm, just like she does at school."
"All right, see you then." She kissed her daughter goodnight, then briefly hugged Pamela. "Sleep well."
Pamela followed Paige up the stairs and into the bedroom, feeling excited, nervous, and scared. They hadnâ€™t talked any more since their conversation outside, but she knew something would happen tonight. Tony had to work until 1:00 AM, so they didnâ€™t have to worry about him being in the next bedroom.
They took their turns in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. Pamela laughed when she realized that she was wearing her old pajamas, and Paige was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Not exactly sexy lingerie, she thought nervously.
"Do we want to leave a lamp on for now?" Paige asked, breaking Pamelaâ€™s reverie.
"Yes, I guess so," Pamela answered. Paige snapped off the overhead light and turned on a bedside lamp, creating an intimate, soft glow in the room. Pamela looked around, then smiled nervously. She slid under the covers, shaking with excitement and terror. "So here we are," she said nervously.
"We are here," Paige echoed as she slid under the covers and rolled over on her side, propping her head on her hand to look at Pamela. "What now?"
Pamela looked at her friendâ€™s face, her lips, gathering the courage to do something. Do I really want to start down this path? How will the simple act of kissing someone change my life? What if I donâ€™t like it, or what if Paige recoils in disgust? Shoving these thoughts aside, she boldly pushed Paige on her back and hovered over her, trembling with fear and excitement. "We kiss," she said, leaning down.
The first kiss was tentative. Pamela was disappointed for a few seconds, as it wasnâ€™t that exciting, but she persevered, leaning down for a second, longer kiss. The second kiss was much better, causing the butterflies to flutter wildly in her midsection, beating out a new pathway. She pulled back momentarily to see Paigeâ€™s reaction.
Paige reacted by pulling her back down, kissing her harder, pulling Pamela against her. The kiss grew more heated, crackles of desire racing through both women. Paige rolled over, covering Pamelaâ€™s body with her own, starting to kiss down her throat and to her collarbones.
Pamela knew real desire in that moment, feeling her pulse picking up, unfamiliar excitement racing through her. She felt her hips starting to grind against Paigeâ€™s, her skin starting to heat up. She wanted nothing more than to throw off her clothes and see what would happen. She had no idea how women made love, but was willing to try.
But Paige pulled back abruptly, shaking with the effort to stop. "Iâ€™m sorry," she croaked, "maybe we shouldnâ€™t be doing this."
Confused, Pamela asked, "Arenâ€™t you enjoying it?"
Paige swallowed hard, running a hand through her hair. "Yes, too much. I want to continue, but suppose it is a sin? Besides, even though you turned Barry down, youâ€™re still dating him, going steady, I suppose. We canâ€™t be doing this, it would be cheating on him."
Pamela felt tears of frustration welling up. Her emotions were swirling now, heart and head at war. God, I want this woman so bad right now, but I had to recognize the truth. Necking with her friend was just as bad as necking with another man. "Suppose I break up with him?"
"Then weâ€™d have to start from the beginning. I wonâ€™t be a rebound," Paige said quietly.
Pamela reached up to wipe away tears that crept down her face. "But maybe I want you," she said.
Paige pulled Pamela in her arms, kissing the top of her head. "And maybe I want you, but I lost my head. If I wouldnâ€™t do this with a man, I wonâ€™t do it with you. Youâ€™re my dear friend, and I donâ€™t want to lose that. We canâ€™t do this." Pamela shuddered hard, trying to suppress her sobs. "Oh, baby, let it out. Just go ahead, Iâ€™ll hold you."
The friends held on to each other as Pamela cried, finally parting for her to sit up and blow her nose. "Thanks," Pamela whispered.
"Youâ€™re welcome," Paige replied. "Letâ€™s try to get some sleep."
Pamela awoke with a start, disoriented again. She blinked as she reached for her alarm, fumbling and knocking her reading glasses off the bedside table before finding the right button to shush the loud ringing. She sat up, recognizing her bedroom that she shared with Barry. Had it been a dream? Or had she gone back in time, only to continue her path? "Good morning, honey," Barry yawned as he sat up, reaching for his robe and slippers. "Iâ€™ll get the coffee on."
"Thank you," she said automatically, reaching for her robe and slippers. She still felt disoriented, and a little dizzy. She pulled on her robe and slid her feet into her slippers, walking to the bathroom.
As she came out, Barry walked in, saying, "The coffee is brewing and the paper is on the table, honey." He kissed her lightly, then took his turn in the bathroom.
Pamela walked into the kitchen, growing puzzled, it looked different somehow. She stood, trying to put her finger on what was changed, then realized that it was updated. The glass tile backsplash, the updated fixtures, the better oven, new microwave, all what sheâ€™d secretly wanted, yet never asked about. She pulled a mug out of the cabinet, pouring coffee as she thought about breakfast.
"Iâ€™ll get the bowls if youâ€™ll start the oatmeal," Barry said. Pamela startled, not expecting him back in the kitchen yet for some reason. "I think we still have some blueberries left, and I know how you like them in your oatmeal."
"Yes, thank you," Pamela answered, dazed. She took a sip before setting her mug on the countertop and gathering what she needed to cook the oatmeal. "Whatâ€™s on your agenda today?" she asked.
"I thought Iâ€™d go into the office for a few hours. I know you have your hair appointment this morning, so I should be home by the time you get back. Are we still meeting Glen and Gina for dinner tonight?" he asked as he turned on the water to wash the blueberries.
"I believe so," she answered, assuming that was the right answer.
"All right then." Barry finished washing the blueberries and transferred them to a bowl. "Iâ€™ll just set these on the table and go get the paper."
Pamela mechanically started cooking the oatmeal as her husband left the room, thinking about the changes. Had she made changes by going back in time and making two decisions? Had she gone back and decided to marry him that summer after all? The only way to find out was to wait for Barry to leave, and consult her diaries. Good think sheâ€™d always kept them, even if all she did was write a line a day. Yes, that would be her plan.
She had to wait to check until she had gone to run errands and get her hair done. She impishly decided not only to get it streaked, but shorter as well. Instead of her usual shoulder length bob, she and Phillip, her hairdresser, decided to try a new cut. He brought it up over her ears, tapered a little on the sides and in the back, not quite a cap, but definitely more sophisticated than sheâ€™d ever tried. "I love it," he exclaimed as he revealed the new do and color.
"I do too. Phillip, you are a genius," Pamela said, staring at her reflection. The top was now subtly streaked with gold and the bottom still darker brown. "Wow."
"Wow is right, Pamela. Thank you for trusting me," he added, hands resting lightly on her shoulders as he stared in their reflection.
"Iâ€™ve been coming to you for, what, close to twenty years?" she asked as he straightened up and whisked the cape from her neck.
"Something like that." The slender dark man checked his handiwork, smiling. "I declare, it is perfect. You have great ears, small, but not too small. This cut will show off your earrings better. And no more hair getting in the way of the phone," he added mischievously.
Pamela smiled, looking at herself. What would Glen and Gina think? Would Paige still show up? She didnâ€™t realize that she had stopped midway to the reception desk until Phillip gently reminded her that she needed to pay still. "Iâ€™m sorry, I was thinking about tonight," she said, pulling out her wallet from her purse. "Barry and I are meeting Glen and Gina at the club for dinner."
"Ah, has Glen finally popped the question?" he asked, delighted.
"Probably," she answered, handing over her card. She waited for the charges to be rung up, signed, and filed the receipt in her wallet. "Iâ€™ll tell you all about it the next time I come in."
"Which should be in three weeks, with this new cut," Phillip said, glancing at the calendar. "Do you want to book now?"
"Iâ€™ll wait and see how things are going, then call you," she said evasively. A stray thought popped up. Was she still working at the same job? "See you soon."
Phillip waved, then turned to greet his next customer as Pamela left the shop. She started to go to her car, then changed her mind and walked into the jewelry store next door. She hadnâ€™t bought many earrings, and Barry had only bought their wedding rings and one necklace over the years. Time for something new.
Barry rushed through the door right on time, whistling as he came through the bedroom door. "Hi, honey, looks like we have just enough time for me to shower and change."
"Yes, you do. Iâ€™ve already laid out your clothes on the bed," Pamela said.
"You spoil me," Barry grinned, kissing her again. He glanced at her hair and her outfit, looking vaguely puzzled, but obviously couldnâ€™t figure out what had changed. "Did Glen call to say where?"
"He did. Weâ€™re meeting at the club house."
"Good choice, I like their wine list. Must be serious," her husband tossed over his shoulder as he finished stripping and went into the bathroom. Pamela watched him go through the doorway, more amused than put out that he didnâ€™t notice her new haircut, outfit, or jewelry. Glen would notice, she was sure of that.
About ten minutes later, Barry came out of the bathroom, hair still damp. He started dressing, looking at her quizzically. "You bought a new outfit. My God, you changed your hair!"
"I like it," Pamela said, "do you?"
He pursed his lips, considering as he finished getting dressed. Finally, he said, "Iâ€™m not sure, itâ€™s so different, so much shorter than youâ€™ve ever worn it. But I guess after your promotion to assistant controller, you should have a more elegant style." He glanced at the clock, then announced, "We need to be moving if we want to get there on time."
"Iâ€™m ready any time you are," Pamela said as she gathered up her purse and light wrap. She followed Barry out of the house, smiling as she wondered how everyone else would react when they arrived. She hoped her son and future daughter-in-law would approve.
As Barry drove to the club, Pamela kept pondering what other changes had happened. She hadnâ€™t had time to consult her diaries, so she wasnâ€™t sure about Barryâ€™s off-handed remark about her promotion. To be assistant controller, you needed to be an accountant, and she had never finished her degree. Maybe she had in this life.
Maybe a lot more had changed.
Glen and Gina were already waiting when Pamela and Barry arrived. Glen and Barry shook hands while Gina and Pamela briefly hugged. "I have our reservations, theyâ€™re just waiting to seat us," Glen said after pecking his mother on the cheek.
"Well, lead on, son," Barry said jovially, clapping his son on the shoulder. Glen motioned to the host, who lead them to the patio. Pamela was glad, the patio was her favorite place to sit. It overlooked a small pond with a beautiful waterfall and a profusion of flowering shrubs around it.
The first few minutes dragged on as seats were taken, drink orders were given, and menu riffling commenced. Pamela looked at her son, smiling to herself. He was the spitting image of his father, dark hair, piercing green eyes, broad shoulders, but with her square chin and deep dimples. She guessed he had still finished his BBA and MBA in finance in record time.
"Well," said Glen, taking Ginaâ€™s hand, "as you might suspect, we have an announcement. Gina has accepted my proposal of marriage."
"Congratulations," Barry and Pamela chorused simultaneously. "Do you have a date picked out?" Barry followed up.
Gina spoke up. "We were thinking about mid-October. I know thatâ€™s only a few months away, but weâ€™ve agreed that we donâ€™t need a huge wedding, and can get the club house. My aunt Paige has a membership here too. Oh, speaking of Paige, here she comes."
The group turned as Gina spoke. Pamela expected history to repeat itself, but it was still a shock to see the older version of Paige appear after spending several weeks with her recently as a twenty year old. Damn, the woman has aged well, she thought.
A chair magically appeared for Paige, who sat down gracefully. "Good evening, I am very pleased to meet you," she said in her lilting voice that Pamela remembered so well. Her eyes widened a little when they landed on Pamela, but she merely smiled. "Itâ€™s a small world," was all she said.
"It is," Pamela agreed, smiling. Did Paige know that history had changed? Or had her visit to Paigeâ€™s home not really changed their history much?
The rest of the evening went smoothly. Pamela snuck looks at Paige, marveling at her beauty and conversational skills. Paige regaled them with tales of having multiple careers; hotel manager, wine marketer, and currently jewelry buyer for an upscale store. She could tell Barry was charmed by Paige as well, since he silenced his phone and proceeded to actually ignore it the rest of the evening.
Toward the end of the meal, Pamela excused herself to go to the ladiesâ€™ room. She wondered if Paige would follow her in this timeline. She smiled to herself as she heard the door open again just as she had entered the stall. Was it Paige? She resisted the temptation to glance under to see if it was her old roommateâ€™s shoes next to her stall. She heard water in the sink and put herself back together, exiting the stall to wash her own hands.
"Ah, my Pamela," Paige said as she stood leaning against the wall.
"Your Pamela?" Pamela asked, amused. This was going much better than last time. "It has been good to catch up. Gina is a lovely young lady, weâ€™re very pleased that she and Glen are getting married. Had you met my son before tonight?"
"No, I hadnâ€™t the pleasure. It never occurred to me that he was your son, either. He had just mentioned that his father was a lawyer and mother was assistant comptroller for an accounting firm." Paige smiled, stepping closer as Paige dried her hands. "You grew into a beautiful woman," she added softly.
"Thank you, Paige," Pamela said, "and you are quite stunning yourself. You always did know how to dress."
"It looks like you learned," Paige said, smiling.
"We should probably get back to the table before they think we got lost," Pamela suggested. "So, do you live in town or nearby? Maybe we could get together for lunch or dinner one day."
Paige raised an eyebrow, surprised. "You have gained confidence, my friend. Yes, I live on the outskirts of town, but travel quite a bit. I should, however, be in town the next couple of weeks before hitting the road again. Iâ€™d love to meet you for lunch one day."
"Deal," Pamela said. "Letâ€™s exchange contact information before we part ways tonight."
"It sounds like a plan," Paige said. She smiled, holding her hand out. Pamela smiled back, shaking her hand, then dropping it and opening the door. Paige caught the door, and placed her fingers lightly on the small of Pamelaâ€™s back, escorting her from the restroom. Pamela shivered at the contact, finding herself wanting to lean into her, but not daring to.
At the end of the evening, Glen and Gina said their farewells, leaving Barry, Paige, and Pamela waiting at the valet station, waiting for their cars. Barry turned to Paige, saying, "It was a pleasure meeting you, Paige. We are looking forward to having Gina as a daughter-i-law. I hope that having Glen as a son-in-law will be as rewarding."
"Iâ€™m sure it will be, heâ€™s a good man and treats my niece like a queen," Paige said.
Barry paused, furrowing his brow. "Would that make Glen your nephew-in-law, then? I didnâ€™t realize that you did not adopt Gina."
"It doesnâ€™t matter, Barry. Gina has been mine since she was fourteen, and Iâ€™m quite proud of the way she turned out, despite having an old main aunt," Paige said with a straight face. "But, yes, Iâ€™m looking forward to having Glen in my family. I also look forward to coordinating the wedding plans with your lovely wife here."
"Yes, well, hereâ€™s the car." Barry slipped money to the attendant. "Coming, dear?"
"In a minute." Pamela turned to the beautiful woman, handing her a business card. "My card. Donâ€™t hesitate to call."
Paige glanced at it, then tucked it into her small handbag. "Iâ€™ll call you first thing Monday morning. I hope the rest of your weekend is lovely." She leaned over, brushing a kiss on Pamelaâ€™s cheek. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Pamela echoed, smiling. She reluctantly turned to get in the car with her husband. "Letâ€™s go home," she told him. He pulled out of the parking lot as she thought about the evening, and of Paige. What would the future hold?
Pamela kept thinking about Paige the rest of the weekend, pulling out her old diaries Sunday afternoon. Barry had fallen asleep in front of the television, so she felt safe in leaving him for a few hours. She pulled the worn journals out of their hiding place in her home office, searching for twenty some odd years ago.
She found the ones she wanted, and settled down to read what she had written. Pamela found that she had written about the vacation with Paige very cryptically, not surprisingly, and just referred to sharing a new level of closeness, but also being attracted to her brother, Tony. As she leafed through the pages, she found that she had come back, told Barry she would marry him, but would finish her degree first.
So we waited until I finished to marry. Only a two year delay, but Glen was still born on schedule, she mused. Pamela looked for mentions of Paige, but it appeared that Paige had suddenly decided to take an apartment, and Pamela had to stay in the dorms due to finances. There was one mention of Paige taking her to lunch just before graduation, and of hugging me tightly, as if she didnâ€™t want to let go.
Pamela flipped through other journals, deducing that she had used the additional time at college well, and had started as an intern in the accounting department of her firm, and worked her way up. There were many mentions of Glen growing up, and of begging Barry to go with her to his concerts, games, competitions, and so on.
It appeared that her husband only got to a few events a year, always putting work and clients ahead of his family. She got the feeling from later journals that they were just co-existing in the same house. No hints of anger, just disappointment. No hints of either having an affair, just gradual emotional distance that had grown over the years.
She took out her latest journal and wrote in it, summarizing her new haircut, new clothes, and meeting Paige for the first time in decades. She decided to be honest, writing, I was drawn to her, and want to spend more time with her. Iâ€™m sure she wants to spend more time with me, and found me attractive. Iâ€™ve given her my card, and she said she would call in the morning. I have no way of knowing if she will or not, but if she doesnâ€™t, it will be her loss. Pamela closed the journal, returning all volumes to their place in the locked cabinets.
Pamela turned to her laptop, logging in to her work account more out of boredom than anything else, so she was surprised to see an email from Paige. "Hi, Pam," it read, "I couldnâ€™t wait to call, so I thought I would drop a line first. When is a good time for me to call you? Iâ€™d love to have lunch or dinner as soon as feasible. It was good to see you again after so many years. Sincerely, Paige."
She smiled, feeling somewhat smug. So Paige could hardly wait to see her. The smile faded as she pondered, so why do I want to see her so bad? And am I still attracted to her as more than a friend? To distract herself, she replied to the email quickly, stating the best times to call, then started going through other emails that had piled up in the past day. Amazing how many people thought that everyone replied to all emails 24/7.
That dealt with, she continued to read emails, then made herself log out. Might as well do something fun, like look at cats wanting cheeseburgers. Come to think of it, we had never had a pet in all the years we have been married. Iâ€™d love to have a cat, she thought idly, we always had cats and dogs on the farm. Thinking about the farm, she glanced at the clock. Time for her weekly call to her parents.
Pamela pulled her phone out of her pocket, tapping the speed dial icon for her parents.
"Hi!" she heard her mother answer enthusiastically.
"Hi, Mom, itâ€™s Pamela."
"Oh, Pamela, good to hear from you. Your father and I just got back from the movies a few minutes ago. How are you and Barry? Howâ€™s my grandson?"
Pamela started relaxing. "All doing well. Mom, Glen and Gina announced their engagement last night at dinner."
"Really? John, come here and listen in. Hang on, let me put you on speaker."
Pamela waited for her mother to find her father and put the call on speaker. When she heard them both announce they were there, she continued, "Glen and Gina announced their engagement last night. They plan to get married in mid-October, exact date to be decided soon."
"Thatâ€™s great, honey," her father boomed, "Virginia, I told you that the boy was about to pop the question. Which reminds me, your brother called last night. His stepdaughter has been recruited for the Air Force. Sheâ€™s leaving for San Antonio for basic training in a month. Jack and Sophie are very proud of Margot."
"Thatâ€™s great. Margot will do well in the military," Pamela said, a little surprised. Her brother had married relatively late in life to Sophie, a widow heâ€™d met at church.
"So tell us about the engagement dinner," her mother said.
Pamela picked up a pencil and started doodling on a notepad as she talked, a nervous habit from childhood. "We went to the club for dinner. The kids made the arrangements, so we just had to show up. We finally got to meet Ginaâ€™s aunt who finished raising her."
"Oh?" her mother asked.
"Yes, it was Paige Templeton. You remember her? She was one of my college roommates." Paige took a deep breath, wondering what the reaction would be. God, she felt like a teenager again, waiting to see if her parents approved of a new friend.
"Paige Templeton." She heard her motherâ€™s brain cells clicking at hight speed. "John, you remember her? We only met her once. Tall young lady."
"Isnâ€™t she the one you visited one summer?" her father asked.
"Yes." Pamela wondered how her parents viewed Paige.
"I remember now. Jack was mad because you got to skip out on your first few weeks of summer and he had to take over your chores. Iâ€™m not sure he ever got over that," her dad chuckled.
"But Dad, I wasnâ€™t there to do chores during the school year," Pamela retorted, amused.
"Itâ€™s the principle of the thing. Just remember, honey, he was all of fifteen, full of piss and vinegar. Hard to think of him that way now, since heâ€™s been a civil engineer for so long. Anyway, so Paige is her aunt," her dad prompted.
Pamela nodded, then smiled. Like my folks could see me nodding over the phone, she chided herself. "Paige has done well for herself, it seems. Sheâ€™s a buyer for a prestigious jeweler in town. Oh, and she wants to meet me for lunch one of these days."
Her motherâ€™s voice was a little cooler as she said cautiously, "Thatâ€™s nice, dear."
Pamela wondered what her mother knew or didnâ€™t know. Her diaries werenâ€™t very clear on that or how she had been after getting home from the vacation. "Since weâ€™re going to be working together on this wedding, I thought it would be nice to get reacquainted," she said lamely.
"That is true," her mother agreed.
Pamela found herself wanting a distraction, and Barry unintentionally provided one by knocking on the door. "Come in," she called out.
"Oh, your Sunday call," he said when he saw her on the phone.
"Yes, you want to say hello?" she asked.
He reached for her phone, taking it and saying heartily, "Good evening, John, Virginia." Pamela listened for a moment, then tuned out the rest of the conversation as she tore the top sheet off her notepad, dropping into the trash.
It had a sketch of Paigeâ€™s face.
She waited for her husband to finish his conversation, then took the phone back and said her goodbyes. "What would you like to do for dinner?" she asked casually.
"Just a salad. If Iâ€™m going to be in a tux in five months, I need to start watching my figure," Barry answered. "By the way, Iâ€™m going to visit a client later this week, so Iâ€™ll be gone. I havenâ€™t asked my secretary to book anything, but Iâ€™m thinking Iâ€™ll be leaving Wednesday night and coming back Saturday morning."
"Oh, I didnâ€™t know that."
"Just found out a few minutes ago, got an email asking if I could come for a discussion on a new proposal." He paused, then asked, "Does it get old, me having to leave you for days on end?"
She was startled; heâ€™d never asked anything like this before. "Well, I do miss you," she answered cautiously, "but I understand that itâ€™s business, nothing personal. I may have a trip coming up soon, a continuing education conference." She was now glad sheâ€™d looked at her email.
"That would be good for your career." Barry laid a hand on her shoulder, squeezing affectionately. "I suppose it would also be good for your husband to get to the kitchen and see what is salad material if he wants a salad."
"Yes, heâ€™d better," Pamela agreed, wondering when Barry started thinking about such things. Recently? Longer? She really needed to read her journals while he was gone. "Iâ€™ll be there in a minute."
"All right." Barry leaned over, kissing her briefly, then left the room, whistling a tune. Pamela sat for a moment longer, thinking about all of the recent changes in her life. If she changed the course of her life by making a few key decisions? Why did she still remember how it was, not how it had become?
Work wasnâ€™t as different as she thought. Pamela decided that she had really done much of the job without the title for several years anyway. She briefly wondered what happened Janice, the assistant controller in how her life had been. She searched through the firm directory and discovered that Janice was controller. She remembered that the former controller had just retired, so she guessed her decisions had not changed things too much. Still, the butterfly decision of delaying marriage and of kissing Paige did seem to make some big changes.
Pamela pushed her musings aside as she concentrated on work. It was late afternoon before she got the call from Paige, asking when they could meet. Pamela looked at her schedule and tossed out some times, then finally offering, "If you canâ€™t meet for lunch this week, how about dinner on Friday night? Barry is gone for a client meeting, and wonâ€™t be home until some time Saturday."
"Perfect. I donâ€™t have anything lined up then. Do you like Tex-Mex?" Paige asked.
"Yes, love it," Pamela answered, doodling on her notepad.
"Then how about the place near the mall? You know, I canâ€™t think of the name, but the one with the paintings of Chihuahuas everywhere."
Pamela chuckled. "I know exactly the place youâ€™re talking about. It gets crowded early, but they have a great patio. Why donâ€™t we meet at 6:30?"
"Itâ€™s a date," Paige responded. "I look forward to really catching up, Pam." They chatted a few more minutes, then rang off. Pamela added the dinner to her calendar, then made sure it synced to her phone.
Pamela could hardly wait for Friday night. Sometimes she wondered just why she was so eager to see Paige again. Was it because she still vividly remembered their passionate necking? Paige had wound up turning her down, though, reminding her about Barry.
Barry. She pondered her husband as she took advantage of his absence Thursday night and read through her journals more thoroughly. They had a solid marriage, nothing spectacular. She read comments about his work load, her work load, and her usually being the one to go to Glenâ€™s activities when he was in school. She smiled when she read an early entry about their first few months as a wedded couple.
It feels weird, she had written, we work together well, get along well, yet I feel no overwhelming passion. I know I love him, and we are okay in bed, but nothing like that brief experience I had a few summers ago. She couldnâ€™t even mention Paige by name! We have managed to get pregnant, so I should give birth a few months after Barry has started his job at the law firm. Thank God he had that lined up already.
Other entries were similar. No complaints about how she was treated, but over and over there was an underlying thread of companionship, of teamwork, of some loving, but no overwhelming passion. The anxious months during Barryâ€™s cancer treatment.
So why did Barry decide to marry me? She knew why she accepted, it was the expected thing to do. And she did enjoy their son. When Barry managed to concentrate on his family and not work, he was a great conversationalist. She read of how well he could tell stories when he wanted. He does have that knack for drawing a verbal picture, she mused.
So am I just bored, or am I really attracted to Paige?
And will would happen next?ï¿¼
Friday night finally arrived.
Pamela went home early from work so she would have plenty of time to shower and change. At least her wardrobe was more sophisticated now than it had been previously. Suits and slacks and elegant sweaters instead of dowdy dresses and skirts. But it promised to be a warm summer night, so she chose tan capris, brown Topsiders, and a brown sleeveless shell. She added gold earrings and a thin gold pendent to finish the outfit.
Pamela waited in the bar for Paige, sipping her favorite beer and munching on chips. Paige came flowing in, people unconsciously parting for her passage. She was in turquoise slacks, a dark pink tank top, and a brilliantly colored floral linen camp shirt. "Ah, Pamela, it is so good to see you. Traffic was terrible, I kept hitting stop lights. How are you?" she asked, leaning down for a quick hug.
"Iâ€™m doing all right, Paige," Pamela replied, some of her tension melting. "We should have a table in the next 15-20 minutes."
"Good. Youâ€™ve always been so organized." Paige waved at the bartender, placing an order for iced tea.
"No drink?" Pamela asked, surprised.
"No, didnâ€™t you notice the other night?"
"I guess not," Pamela answered, curious.
"Itâ€™s a long story, but I found myself drinking far too much, going to too many bars, so I quit. Thereâ€™s more, but not here." Paige reached for a chip, dragging it through the salsa. "So, how the heck are you doing? Itâ€™s been, what, twenty-five or more years since weâ€™ve seen each other?"
"Twenty-six since you graduated," Pamela said, squeezing the lime in her beer glass. "I think that was the last time we saw each other. I graduated the next year and married Barry the following August. Glen was born October 15 of the next year."
"I didnâ€™t know that Gina was that close in age. She was born October 31 twenty-four years ago. Halloween baby. Then her parents died fourteen years later in a wreck. Vacation up to Oregon, riding a train. I found myself being a full time parent to a girl Iâ€™d only seen a few times a year most of her life." Paige sipped her tea, reaching for another chip. "I donâ€™t regret it, though, Gina has been a marvelous girl. I was a wine marketer when she fell into my lap, and I decided to change careers to stay in place a little more. I fell into the job of buying for a high end jewelry store, and was able to cut my travel to once a month or so from several days a week."
Pamela started to ask something when the pager buzzed and flashed blue. "It appears our table is ready," she said.
"You go on, Iâ€™ll settle the bill," Paige said, making shooing motions. "No argument, you can buy dessert."
Conversation was still a little awkward at first, but the two women started recovering some of their easy rapport from school as the meal progressed. Pamela looked past the elegant, confident woman to find a slightly wistful, somewhat lonely woman. "So did you ever marry or live with anyone?" she asked after theyâ€™d demolished their meals.
Paige smiled wistfully. "Well, briefly. I met a man, Arturo, on a trip to Italy when I was working for the hotel chain. He was first generation American, and was in Italy visiting relatives. I had a layover in Italy, and we just clicked. We enjoyed the same foods, the same wines, the same movies, the same books. Iâ€™d never met any many who made me feel so intelligent, so sexy." She rattled the ice in her glass, lost in memory.
"Arturo and I had a whirlwind courtship, marrying as soon as we got back to the states. I was a virgin, believe it or not, and I assumed he had lots of experience. Turns out he didnâ€™t, so we muddled through together, fueled by many glasses of wine."
Paige paused as the waiter came over with the bill, and waited to finish her story after he picked up their credit cards. "We were married for nearly a year before I realized that we didnâ€™t spend much time together due to my travel schedule. So I went from the hotel to the winery, working in their marketing department. I was suddenly home most of the time, and found that Arturo was a sadistic son-of-a-bitch to be around full time. So, I left him. I figured it was my fault, and filed for divorce and fell into the wine barrel, so to speak."
"Oh, my God," Pamela said, reaching for Paigeâ€™s hand. "Iâ€™m sorry to hear this."
"Thanks," Paige said, curling her fingers around Pamelaâ€™s. "To make a long story short, I met a woman, Kris, who was managing one of the chains we sold to. Oh, Kris, such a wonderful woman."
"Oh?" Pamela said, ears perking up.
Paige smiled sadly. "Despite having repeatedly fallen for my friends, I didnâ€™t recognize the signs until Kris literally took matters into her own hands one night. I was shocked by my response to her advances, and ran away and drank myself into a stupor for days. Kris was pretty patient, and waited for me to sober up before taking me away for a romantic weekend."
"So where is Kris now?" Pamela asked, feeling a tendril of jealousy.
"Gone," Paige answered matter-of-factly. "We had a few good years together, but my drinking shoved a wedge between us. She finally gave up on me and left me a couple of weeks before I found out that Tony and Sheila had died and I would have custody of Gina. Believe me, between Kris leaving me and Gina coming to live with me, I had to sober up in a hurry. I havenâ€™t dated anyone since." She pulled her hand away. "Thatâ€™s my sad tale. You want to continue this conversation at my house?" she offered
"Sure," Pamela said, belatedly reaching for her check. She added the tip, signed the slip, and tucked away the receipt. "Where do you live?"ï¿¼
Pamela followed Paige into her house, nervous and excited at the same time. They bypassed the formal living room for a cozy den, with a comfortable looking couch, a few armchairs, a desk, and a wall of books. "Have a seat, Pamela. Would you like anything to drink? I have water, juice, tea, coffee, or decaf coffee."
"Iâ€™m fine right now," Pamela said, sinking into one of the armchairs. "I like this room."
Quiet descended on the women for several minutes, each lost in her own thoughts. Finally, Pamela asked the question that had been on her mind for the past week. "Why did you move to an apartment your last year of school? I hardly saw you."
Paige slumped on the couch, propping her long legs up on the coffee table. "Well, itâ€™s like this, I was afraid to see you. I guess you do remember that night we were fooling around."
"We swore not to do that again, and I spent the next week trying not to touch you. It was pretty hard since you were still sleeping in my bed. It would have raised too many questions to have you abruptly move to the guest room. Tony was suspicious, and confronted me after you went home. I told him nothing happened, but to his dying day, I donâ€™t think he believed me." Paige ran a hand through her dark blonde hair, sighing. "He was half in love with you, but at least thinking that I had done something got his mind back on Sheila."
"I just remember being confused, and thinking you hated me for kissing you," Pamela admitted, knowing this would be her reaction.
"Yes, and then you went ahead and told Barry yes after you got home. You wrote me a letter to announce your engagement. I was crushed, to be honest." Paige stood up, pacing back and forth as she spoke. "I was surprised that you continued with school, but I knew I couldnâ€™t live in the same room with you again, the temptation would be too much. Honey, I regret not trying to repair our friendship, but Iâ€™m glad you turned out so beautifully. I guess marrying Barry turned out to be a good thing after all."
Pamela pondered the question briefly, then answered, "Yes and no. Weâ€™ve had a decent marriage, a great son, a good partnership. But even though I count Barry as one of my best friends, weâ€™re not really intimate. Oh, we have our little routines, the kisses hello and goodbye, but I canâ€™t remember the last time we ever were passionate." She paused, then added, "We rarely make love. I asked him about it once, and he simply said that all couples go through a dry spell. Our dry spell, as he calls it, has lasted for most of the last twenty years."
"Yeah." She looked at Paigeâ€™s beautiful face, dark blonde hair, slender body. Her hands practically itched to touch her friend. "Iâ€™ll be honest, Barry is the only man I ever dated, only one I ever kissed. No comparisons."
"I remember," Paige said quietly. "Well, Kris was the only woman Iâ€™ve dated, kissed, made love to." She flopped back down on the couch, looking at Pamela. "But Iâ€™ve always remembered our one night, always wondered what it would be like to kiss you again. But, you are married, and I canâ€™t be party to adultery."
It was like a slap, this reminder that her long submerged longing for Paige was wrong. Pamela sat perfectly still, deliberately shutting down her emotions. "You are right," she said flatly. "Thank you for that reminder. I need to be going now." She stood up, grabbing her purse and walking toward the door.
"Wait," Paige said, following her to the door.
"What? Wait for what?," Pamela asked, hand on the door knob.
Paige reached out, touching her cheek. "Iâ€™d like to be friends."
Pamela said brutally, "I would too, but when I look at you, I feel things I should not feel. For the sake of my marriage, I cannot see you." She turned the know, opening the door.
Paige slammed the door shut, growling, "No, you canâ€™t leave me like this!"
"Why not? You left me!" Pamela shouted, wrenching the door open again. She ran to her car, slamming the door shut, tearing off into the night. A surge of anger shot through her, knowing it was wrong, but she really wanted Paige. Wanted her. Desired her. Wanted to break her vows to Barry and just take Paige fast and hard. She rocketed through the night, driving for hours, thoughts chasing each other like hyper squirrels.
Pamela came home late several nights later, exhausted from a three hour meeting that was supposed to last an hour. She slowly opened her car door, careful not to ding Barryâ€™s car.
Barryâ€™s car? Before 8:00 at night?
"Honey, Iâ€™m home," she called out as she walked through the kitchen door, "I must be really late."
"Yes and no," Barry answered, kissing her cheek briefly and taking her briefcase and purse from her. "I decided to take some time off today, get my gym membership reactivated. It didnâ€™t take long, so I took advantage and did some grocery shopping and started cooking dinner. It should be ready soon, so why donâ€™t you change into something more comfortable? Iâ€™ll put your bags in the office."
"All right," she said, wondering where this version of Barry came from. Fixing salad was one thing, but cooking? She could have sworn that he didnâ€™t even know what a microwave was used for. She walked back to their bedroom, shucking clothes as she went, wondering if she had time for a quick shower. She decided to take the time anyway.
A bit later, she followed the smell of dinner into the dining room. "Barry, Iâ€™m surprised," Pamela managed to say.
"You like it? I took a cue from our son, who says he always cooks romantic dinners for Gina. I think his cooking won her over," Barry chuckled as he lit the candles. "Sit, Iâ€™ll bring out the wine."
Pamela looked at the china, napkins, silver, all laid out perfectly. Dinner was simple, but smelled heavenly; pork chops, salad, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, butter. Barry came back and poured the wine, then lifted his glass. "To us," he said.
"To us," she repeated, taking a sip. It was very good, better than the wines she usually picked. Barry smiled, making small talk as they filled their plates. She took a bite of pork, and gasped, "Thatâ€™s excellent, what did you season it with?"
"A coffee rub that Gina told me about, believe it or not," Barry said as he sliced off a bite. "She said she learned quite a bit about seasoning food from her aunt. Speaking of the kids, what do we need to do toward the wedding plans?"
She took another bite of the wonderful chop, taking her time to savor the complex flavors of the seasoning. She finally swallowed and answered playfully, "Other than pay bills?"
Barry vigorously sawed his pork chop as he answered, "Iâ€™m sure we need to do more than that. I was talking to my secretary today, and she said that they planned the rehearsal dinner, bought the flowers, and split the costs of the reception. I guess her sonâ€™s wedding was a little different, though, he was marrying another man. Which reminds me, I need to give her the name of a good family law attorney for her son. No legal same sex marriage in our state, so heâ€™ll need a good lawyer to draw up all sorts of documents for them to protect their interests."
"Oh," she said, startled at this revelation. She thought back, trying to remember if Barry had ever said anything about gays and lesbians. Is he really that open-minded? The thought of Paige crept unbidden into her mind, of their one passionate embrace more than a quarter century ago. "I hadnâ€™t thought about it."
"You know, Pamela, I hadnâ€™t either, until I wound up on the firmâ€™s diversity committee. When I was first asked to serve, I thought it would be just diversity regarding gender and race, but never dreamed it would encompass sexual orientation, physical handicaps, different religions, and recruiting from out of state law schools. Itâ€™s been a real education," he added, steadily plowing through his meal.
"It sound like it. Tell me more," she urged as she spread butter on a roll. Barry beamed as he launched into a long explanation of the history of the committee, what they were trying to accomplish, and the subtle discrimination that went on, even in a firm that was attempting to be inclusive and progressive. She let her mind wander a little, pulling it back abruptly when Barry said, "And there was this near scandal recently when one of our partners left his wife of forty years for another man! In the old days, we would have quietly forced him to retire, and given his wife the same pension as if theyâ€™d been married still, but the younger partners on the committee wanted to treat it like any other divorce within the ranks."
"So did she get anything?" Pamela asked, briefly wondering what would happen if she divorced Barry.
"Just what she would in any other divorce. Times have changed, Pamela, and I guess we no longer cover up when things like this happen. Iâ€™m sure she got a very good settlement, they sold the house and Iâ€™ve heard she moved into a nice little garden home. He retired, even though he could have worked for quite a few more years. Something about wanting to spend time with his lover."
"I see." Pamela nibbled her roll, then blurted out, "Barry, why did you marry me?"
"Huh?" he asked, pausing his eating.
"I am curious, why ask me to marry you? You were the first man I ever dated, I wasnâ€™t popular in high school. So why did you pick me? We never had that kind of passionate, I can hardly keep my hands off you courtship. So why me?" she asked urgently.
Barry drained his wine glass, at a loss for words for several minutes. Pamela waited patiently, having finally asked the question that had been uppermost on her mind for months. He finally answered, "It seemed the right thing to do. I was initially attracted by your shy intelligence at first, then I grew to love you."
"So no overwhelming desire for me, no barely restraining yourself until we married?" she pressed.
Confused, he plowed on. "Desire? Honey, Iâ€™ve always loved you. I knew from the moment I started talking to you in class that you would be the perfect partner for me, someone who was mature and intelligent, not like so many of the girls Iâ€™d met. I didnâ€™t date much either, I was focused on keeping up my GPA so I could qualify for the loans and scholarships that would get me into law school."
"So I was a logical choice," she said sarcastically.
He missed the sarcasm, nodding. "Yes, you were. I had dated a few other girls in high school and college, and they all seemed to be bent on either teasing and then withdrawing, or in securing an engagement ring. You were different, I could actually talk to you, and I knew I could date you without us losing our heads and violating our virginity. My father told me before I went to college that God expected me to remain a virgin until marriage, and that I had to keep a tight grip on my lust."
"I see." Pamela reached for her wine, sipping it. "And now?"
"I rarely do," she muttered. She cleared her throat, and asked, "Barry, aside from companionship and raising a son together, do we have a marriage? When was the last time we came home, found an empty house, and started ripping each otherâ€™s clothes off?"
He slowly reddened, taking deliberate breaths to calm down. "Pamela, are you trying to tell me something?"
She decided to go for broke. "Yes, dear, I am. I watch Glen and Gina, and see how they glow around each other. I see how they adore each other, and Iâ€™m pretty sure theyâ€™ve already been sleeping together, despite what they were taught in church. It has opened my eyes, I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve ever had that level of desire. I know you love me, and I love you, Iâ€™ve rarely met a more intelligent man, or one who was so good at his profession, but am I in love with you? Are you in love with me?"
Barry stared at her, jaw slack with shock. He started to answer several times, but the words died before they got out. Finally, he spluttered, "I never thought we had to go around like dogs in heat. God gave us the ability to rise above our base desires."
She debated silently for a few seconds, then said quietly, "But God also gave us these desires, this way of the most intimate communication. How can we have a real marriage if we do not use this gift of sexual intimacy to bind us together?"
"Are you having an affair?" he blurted out, "I ask because youâ€™ve changed recently. Youâ€™ve always dressed well enough, but now you suddenly are taking extra pains with your clothes. Youâ€™ve bought new clothes, new accessories, changed your hair, gone to the gym more often. Do you love me?"
"No, I am not having an affair. Iâ€™m dressing for my new position in upper management," she evaded, cursing the opening she gave him. After all, he was a lawyer, and made his living with words, she remembered bitterly. "Maybe Iâ€™m just tired of being your friend, and want to be your wife, your lover. Maybe I need love, need passion, need to find that deep sexual connection with my husband."
He abruptly got up, starting to clear the table. She rounded the table, grabbing him and kissing him hard, pouring her pent up passion and frustration into her kisses, grabbing his ass, pulling him tight to her. She felt him stirring, then pull away. "We need to clear the table," he gasped.
"No, I need you, right now," she rasped, "the dishes will wait. You. Me. Bed. NOW." She pulled him by the hand, pulling him to their bedroom, shoving him on their bed, falling on top of him. She didnâ€™t give him a chance to even think about it, shedding her clothes. He followed suit, looking dazed and confused. She grabbed him, feeling him harden in her hand, leaning over him, tempting him with her breasts.
It was almost painful, somewhat awkward, but ultimately mostly satisfying. Pamela collapsed on her side, laying her head on Barryâ€™s shoulder as they both panted in the aftermath. He curled his arm around her, kissing her forehead tenderly, finally whispering, "My God, woman, I had no idea."
She kissed his cheek, laying her hand on his chest, playing with the fine hairs. A stray thought slipped through, wondering what it would be like to lay her hand between two sweaty breasts. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the thought. She had just had exhausting sex with Barry, and it was good.
But not great.
Pamela held the phone tightly in her hand, willing Paige to pick up. She hoped that by calling from her work phone to Paigeâ€™s that she would be less willing to let it go to voice mail. Well, she really didnâ€™t know if Paige would avoid her calls, she hadnâ€™t called since that night that she turned into such an ass. Poor Paige.
"Paige Templeton, how may I help you?" came the lyrical answer.
"Good afternoon, Paige, this is Pamela Barnes. Iâ€™m calling for two reasons: one, to apologize, and two, to see what Barry and I need to do toward the wedding," she blurted out, zooming through her rehearsed apology.
She heard a burst of laughter, followed by, "Pam, you beat all I ever saw, girlfriend! Yes, I accept your apology, and yes, you can help with planning the wedding. The kids are doing quite a bit themselves, but Gina asked me to check my sources for the best locations, caterers, and florists."
"Oh." Pamela thought back to her own wedding, a very simple affair. Barryâ€™s parents offered to rent the club for the event, and Pamelaâ€™s grandmother made her dress. It was excellent quality, and her aunts all pitched in to make the refreshments. "My wedding was much simpler, so Iâ€™m not quite sure what all goes into the planning these days."
"Iâ€™d be glad to help you through that," Paige said soothingly. "Traditionally, the groomâ€™s family pays for the rehearsal dinner, the groomâ€™s tuxedo, and I guess his side. You know, best man and whatever you call them. Men of honor? Groomsmen? Yes, groomsmen. But I wonâ€™t complain if you want to help with other expenses, or even help with scouting out locations and vendors."
"Iâ€™d be happy to, Paige," Pamela said, starting to relax. "Do you have a timetable in mind?"
"As a matter of fact, Iâ€™d set up some appointments this weekend and next week. Hang on, let me shoot you an email." Pamela heard clicking, then saw the notification flash on her computer. "Did you get it?"
"Yes," she said, opening the document. She skimmed the places and times, and said, "I can make the two on Saturday, but I canâ€™t get off Tuesday. Possibly Thursday, since itâ€™s late afternoon. Iâ€™ll just slip out early, unless we have a crisis."
"Then donâ€™t have a crisis," Paige teased, "Iâ€™ll make a note of the ones you can attend. Why donâ€™t I just pick you up Saturday for lunch, then we can go visit? That way weâ€™ll have time for me to tell you what Iâ€™m looking for in the venues. Sound like a plan?"
"Should be all right, Barry usually works Saturday until supper. Lawyers and their billable hours," she said fondly.
"I look forward to it, Pamela. Oh, I guess you should send me your address."
"Sure, hang on a moment." Pamela clicked on reply, then typed in her address and clicked send. "Did you get it?"
"Yes, I did. Oh, I know that neighborhood, a friend of mine lives there," Paige said brightly.
Pamela started to ask who, but her other line started beeping. "Sorry, I have to go. See you Saturday." She reluctantly switched lines. "Pamela Barnes, may I help you?"ï¿¼
"Hey, Mom, I think itâ€™s great that youâ€™re involved in planning my wedding," Glen chirped across the line. "Gina and I are so busy trying to find an apartment that we donâ€™t have much time for planning. I know that she and Paige have looked at dresses, and Iâ€™m hoping to get Dad to go with me to look at tuxes. Do you think heâ€™d have time?"
"If not, he can make time," Pamela answered, picking up her pen. She started doodling on her notepad, writing "Barry - Glen - tuxes?", then drawing the outline of a tuxedo around the phrase. "Youâ€™re our only child, so we need to be involved."
"Mom, did I tell you how I proposed to Gina?" he asked, humor in his voice.
"No, it never came up," she said, flipping to a fresh page.
"This is so cool," Glen said happily, "we went to the minor league baseball park, the one you used to take me too, to watch a game. Well, at the seventh inning stretch, I told her I was going to get a drink, would she like to accompany me? Of course she did. So we went for a coke, then went in to the fan shop. I arranged it with the manager earlier, she was a classmate of mine. Anyway, Stephanie comes out and asks if she could show us anything. Ginaâ€™s looking at t-shirts and I wander over to the display case and call for Gina to come over."
He took a deep breath, priding bursting in his voice. "So she comes over, and Stephanie says, â€˜We have this very special ring for one night only,â€™ and uncovers the ring box, with a little scroll that says in calligraphy, â€˜Gina, would you marry me? Your beloved, Glen.â€™ Mom, she just stood there in shock for a mine, then screamed â€˜Yes!â€™ and hugged me and kissed me. Stephanie took out the ring, and I slid it on her finger. Perfect fit."
"That is romantic, son," Pamela said, smiling.
"How did Dad propose to you? I don't think I've ever heard," Glen prompted.
Pamela leaned back in her chair, thinking of the two proposals. "Actually, we each proposed. He was over dinner at the end of my sophomore year. He very stiffly told me that he was going to law school, and wanted me to accompany him as his wife. I donâ€™t remember the exact words, but it was phrased more like a merger agreement than a proposal. I turned him down, saying I was too young to commit to marriage, and would think about it."
"I never knew that. What about your proposal?" Glen asked.
She laughed. "I came back from a short vacation, and called him up and said, â€˜Iâ€™ve thought about it, Barry. Iâ€™ll marry you once I graduate.â€™ He thought for a moment, then said, â€˜I accept.â€™ Looking back, nothing romantic about that either."
"So you each proposed," Glen said. "Thatâ€™s a little unusual. But itâ€™s worked."
"Yes, it has. We married in August just before he started his third year of law school, then we had you the next October, just a few weeks after he started with the firm."
Glen was silent for a moment, then asked quietly, "Mom, was I planned?"
Pamela stopped doodling, surprised by the question. "Well, yes, at least the timing. We wanted to make sure we had children while we were young enough to enjoy them. Your dadâ€™s parents had him late in life, so I guess that weighed on his mind."
"Did you ever plan to have any other children?"
Pamela shifted uncomfortably in her chair, wondering how much to reveal. After Glenâ€™s birth, any romance faded quickly, then- "Glen, we did plan to have more children, but this is something your dad didnâ€™t want anyone to know. About six months after you arrived, he went for a routine checkup. Itâ€™s a long story, but the outcome was that he had testicular cancer. It was in a very early stage, so he was able to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy, but it left him sterile. I talked about adoption, but your father refused to entertain the idea."
She heard a sharp intake of breath. "I had no idea, Mom. Iâ€™m glad you told me this, I need to tell my doctor."
"I hadnâ€™t thought about that, but yes, we planned to have other children. Iâ€™m glad we had you early, even though it was pretty difficult. In some ways, I wish we had both been a little further in our careers, since we were both so junior that it was difficult to take off even for your routine appointments and shots. Anyway, you and Gina should have it a little easier, society and business is a little more accepting of parents taking time."
Glen was quiet for a moment, then said, "Well, weâ€™re thinking of waiting at least five years to have children, just to make sure we have time to establish our marriage and our careers. Maybe buy a house. Anyway, Iâ€™ll talk to Dad about going with me to look for tuxes. Oh, Gina will call you soon about looking at dresses. I think she wants you and Paige to have similar colors or something. Iâ€™m not sure, Iâ€™m no fashion expert. Anyway, great to talk to you, Mom. I love you."
Pamela found herself smiling. "I love you too, Glen. Give my love to Gina."
"Will do. Bye."
"Goodbye," she echoed. Pamela laid down her phone, thinking about weddings. She barely remembered her own, but it was fairly small. Her parents, her brother, assorted cousins, a few high school friends, Barryâ€™s parents, his siblings, a few law school buddies. Under a hundred in attendance. She was grateful that her grandmother was alive and still such an excellent seamstress; her dress was beautiful. She wished that her grandmother was alive to make her dress for this wedding. She glanced at the computer, realizing it was nearly time for a budget meeting. Time to get back to work.
Barry left right after breakfast Saturday morning, as was his custom. She told him that she and Paige were going to look at venues that day. "Good. You know our finances," was his only comment.
Pamela changed outfits twice before Paige arrived, trying to decide if she should go more dressy or more casual. She finally settled for slacks and a long-sleeved poplin shirt with loafers. Dressy casual. She added silver dangly earrings and a silver pendant to complete the look. The short haircut was turning out to be quite a boon; she had bought several pair of earrings lately. A thin leather belt completed the outfit. Her small clutch should be fine as she only needed a comb, wallet, keys, and sunglasses today. Paige showed up in jeans, a bright polo, a short denim jacket, and ankle boots. It would have looked a little too casual on Pamela, but looked elegant on Paige. "Hey, good morning," Paige chirped as Pamela opened the door.
"Good morning yourself, Paige. Do we want to go now, or do you have time for a cup of coffee first?" Pamela asked, holding the door open wider.
"Sure," Paige said as she crossed the threshold. "I was in such a hurry this morning that I didnâ€™t get any yet." She followed Pamela into the breakfast nook of the kitchen, taking a seat on the window seat. "Nice. Looks updated."
"Yes, we did that a few years ago," Pamela said, glad she had been reading her old diaries. "Barry got a huge bonus when Glen was in college, so we decided to upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms. I think they turned out well." She walked over with mugs of fragrant coffee, saying, "Itâ€™s a chicory blend I brought back from New Orleans. Business trip."
"Ah, so where are the beignets?" Paige teased, reaching for her mug.
"Oh, I think they would be stale by now," Pamela responded deadpan.
"Good one," Paige chuckled, rolling her eyes.
Pamela sipped her brew, looking at her old roommate, trying to figure out how to apologize for her outburst the last time they were together. Just do it, she advised herself. "Paige, I need to clear the air a bit."
She sighed. "I was way out of line the last time we saw each other. I should have never pried into your personal life that way, or left in such a state. I apologize."
Paige reached for her hand. "My dear friend," she said gently, "I didnâ€™t mind you asking about my past. We were close friends at one time, and we will be connected through our children from here on out. We need to get our friendship back on track, so we need to clear the air. I must confess that I was surprised that you still feel some attraction for me. I am not surprised, though, that you and Barry seem less than romantic, for lack of better phrase."
Pamela laced her fingers through Paigeâ€™s, feeling the warmth of the other womanâ€™s fingers in hers. It felt like a perfect bubble in time, this quiet connection. "Itâ€™s true," she said, "and I need to just get over this crush Iâ€™ve had on you, and concentrate at the matters here and now. You said we have several places to go?"
Paige accepted the changed of topic, pulling out her phone. "Yes, I have several appointments lined us for us," she said, tapping the calendar icon. She went through them, explaining the pros and cons of each venue, ending with, "If nothing else, weâ€™ll get free samples from each place. I hope youâ€™ll bring your appetite."
The hours flew by. Pamela managed to relax and enjoy Paigeâ€™s company, listening to her as she talked to the different catering managers and venue managers. They finally stopped in the late afternoon for a cup of coffee to compare notes. "The third place had the best layout," Pamela mused, "and the first caterer seemed to have the best balance of price and options. After all, on our side weâ€™re expecting fewer than fifty people, probably closer to forty. How about your side?"
Paige laughed, saying, "Oh, closer to a hundred on our side. Gina is one of those who just gathers friends everywhere, and we do have extended family to consider. My side wasnâ€™t as big, but Sheilaâ€™s family was big, God rest her soul. Three brothers and two sisters, so add up all of their spouses and children, and you start getting big numbers."
"My goodness," Pamela said, surprised. "I had no idea. So, how many do we think will be in the wedding party altogether?"
Paige, tapped her finger on her chin, counting silently. "Letâ€™s see, the bride and groom, bridesmaid and best man, three other attendants on each side, you and Barry, me, and maybe your parents and my parents. So, thatâ€™s what, seventeen? I think that Gina and Glen are the first of their friends to get married, so maybe no spouses or children for the rehearsal dinner. Oh, add the minister and the organist, so plan for 20-25 for the rehearsal dinner. Iâ€™m wondering if we could have the dinner catered at the venue. Want me to check into that?"
"If you would." Pamela glanced at her watch, frowning. "I should be going, Barry will be home in an hour, and I need to start dinner."
"Take him out to eat instead," Paige suggested, "we still need to look at dresses. No, not at a shop, I have pictures." She pulled out her tablet, opening a photo album. "What do you think of these?"
Pamela looked as Paige slowly swiped through pictures of five different dresses, all different styles, with subtle color differences. She asked, "I thought the mothers of the brides usually wore completely different dresses?"
"Usually, but I know a young designer who is willing to cut us a package deal. She was a friend of Ginaâ€™s from high school, and theyâ€™ve kept in touch. Sheâ€™s doing Ginaâ€™s dress and the bridesmaidsâ€™ dresses, and I promise they will not be hideous."
"If they look anything like these, they will be lovely," Pamela said, staring at the photos. "What are the colors? I forgot to ask Glen the other day."
"Pale gold and russet brown. Ginaâ€™s friend, Clare, took all of our complexions into account when helping her pick the colors. Clare promised that the basic black tuxes would look fine with these, maybe find gold or russet cummerbunds or vests. Or even red with gold embroidery. Sheâ€™s talking to a friend who has a tuxedo shop."
"It pays to have connections," Pamela observed. "How about this dress?"
Paige looked at it, then held the tablet up next to Pamelaâ€™s face. "I think it would be great. You would look terrific in the brown, and I could have the same cut in the gold." "Great idea," Pamela said, getting excited. "How much will this cost us?"
"Iâ€™ll get a quote for the whole package. I think it will be pretty reasonable." Paige closed the cover on her tablet with a snap. "I guess weâ€™d better get going, if youâ€™re determined to eat dinner with Barry. Or, you could call him and we could meet him somewhere."
Pamela considered it for a moment, then shook her head. "Not tonight, Iâ€™ll take a raincheck. Maybe next time?"
"Next time, then," Paige agreed. She slid her tablet and phone into her purse and finished her coffee. "You ready to go?"
They arrived at Pamelaâ€™s house a little while later. "Would you like to come in for a moment?" Pamela asked. Paige nodded, following Pamela into the house. Pamela checked her phone for messages as she turned off the alarm, noting, "Barry texted a few minutes ago, heâ€™ll be home in an hour."
"Then youâ€™ll have plenty of time to fix something," Paige noted. "It was a lovely day, I should be going."
"I guess I should let you," Pamela agreed. But she stood, reluctant to let Paige go. "When do we meet again?"
"How about next Saturday? I should have all the quotes together, and we can start finalizing plans," Paige proposed.
"Sounds good." Pamela turned, laying a hand on Paigeâ€™s arm. "Thank you again for the footwork. I would have probably just gone with the club since we have an account there."
"My pleasure," Paige said, "it was nice to work with you."
They stood, staring at each other, each suddenly very aware of each otherâ€™s physical presence. Paige stepped closer, closing the personal space. Pamela swallowed hard, aware of the heat rolling off of the other womanâ€™s body. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to wrap her arms around Paige, feeling Paige completing the embrace. They stood, holding each other, not pushing any further. Pamela finally stepped back, tilting her head to quickly kiss Paigeâ€™s cheek, wishing she had the courage to kiss her lips.
Paige smiled dreamily, touching her forehead to Pamelaâ€™s. "Itâ€™s nice to be with you again," she said, "I missed you over the years. I was foolish to not keep up with you."
"Maybe we needed the distance of time to be able to just be friends," Pamela suggested.
"Perhaps." Paige kissed her cheek softly, then pulled back. "Iâ€™ll talk to you soon, sweetie."
"I look forward to it," Pamela said as she walked her friend to the door. She watched as the taller woman got in her car, waved, then drove away. "I look forward to spending what time I can with you," she said softly to the departing taillights.
Glen and Gina met Pamela and Paige for lunch the following Thursday to discuss wedding plans. "So hereâ€™s the venue and caterer that we recommend," Paige concluded.
"I agree," Gina said, "Glen, what do you think?"
"As long as I get to stand up and marry you, I donâ€™t care if we stand in someoneâ€™s living room," he declared, eyes shining with joy. "But yes, I agree with the recommendations. Mom, you and Aunt Paige have done well. Iâ€™ve never seen a wedding at a winery, but the pictures of the facilities look wonderful."
"The owners realized early on that they could do a lot of free marketing by turning the old church grounds into a wedding and celebration venue," Paige explained, "the church had been abandoned years ago, and they refurbished it. The pictures just donâ€™t do justice to the wood beams and the new stained glass. And the underground dining hall is an old fallout shelter that the church built during the cold war."
"Itâ€™s great, Aunt Paige," Gina said, beaming. "I can hardly wait. Oh, have you two looked at your dresses? I like the idea of you having similar dresses of contrasting colors."
"We have looked at sketches," Pamela said, "Iâ€™m not an expert on weddings, but I like the idea. Paige will take me to the dressmaker this Saturday for fittings."
"Great. Mom, will you remind Dad that I still need him to go with me to the tuxedo shop? I know he has one, but Gina and I were wanting ones with tails and vests. Maybe he could go with me Saturday while you and Paige go to the dressmaker," Glen suggested.
"Iâ€™ll remind him," Pamela agreed. "Gina, do you want to join us and make it a girlsâ€™ day out?" she asked spontaneously.
"I think it would be great," Gina said enthusiastically. "Aunt Paige, we could meet at your house so you could make French toast."
"You wonâ€™t fit into your dress if I make my famous French toast breakfast," Paige chided gently, "but Iâ€™m willing to do it. Pamela, want to meet at my house, say, around 8:30?"
"It sounds like a plan," Pamela agreed. The waiter came by with the checks, so the foursome busied themselves with settling the bills for the next few minutes.
In the parking lot, hugs and kisses were exchanged, then each went their own direction. Pamela drove back to work on autopilot while thinking. Did I hug her too long? she worried. Will Barry go with Glen to look at tuxedos?
She pulled into her parking space, went in to her building, still thinking. Gina and Glen look so happy, so in love. Iâ€™ve never felt that with Barry. Am I jealous of them? I had a chance to turn him down, and I did, but then I changed my mind again and wound up proposing to him. The difference was that this time, I finished my degree.
"Pamela, we have a meeting in a few minutes," Janice reminded her as the project manager passed her in the hallway. "Do you have the new budget figures?"
"Yes, I do. I just got back from a planning lunch," she said.
Janice followed her into her office, plopping down in one of the chairs, watching as Pamela stowed her purse and unlocked her computer. "Planning lunch? Oh, with your son and his fiancÃ©," she remembered. "How did it go?"
"Good, we accomplished a lot." She opened the files to verify that they were complete, then sent the summary document to the printer. "Iâ€™ll see you there in a few minutes. I need to duck into the ladiesâ€™ room first."
"Message received," Janice said. "Want me to pick up the packets from the printer and bring them in?"
"That would be great," Pamela said, "thank you." She grabbed her folio and laptop, made sure she had her pen, then ducked into the restroom.
The meeting went well. On the way back to her office, Pamela thought about how her trip back in time had subtly changed her life. Instead of being a clerk for years, she had become an accountant, and moved up to assistant controller of the firm. She had a staff, instead of being part of a staff. She discovered that she had even published a few articles in professional newsletters, something she would not have even considered before.
Yes, delaying marriage had been good for her.
It seemed that Barryâ€™s career had been exactly the same. He still made partner at the same time, the best she could tell, and still worked too many hours. He helped with the cooking more, but that was the only difference. She frowned as she thought about their home life. She would get home around 6:30, and he would get home around 7:15. He would often log back onto his computer for another couple of hours after dinner, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he went to the gym for an hour.
Glen? His life had not changed one iota, as far as she could tell. He still graduated with high honors from the MBA program, still had played baseball all the way through school, still met Gina at the dog park. She wondered if Paigeâ€™s life had changed any. Paige seems to be the same. I donâ€™t know if she had married or lived with a woman in the way if was before. What if I had not stopped so long ago? What if she didnâ€™t have such high morals that she gave in to me? I guess Iâ€™ll never know.ï¿¼
"Aunt Paige, you make the best French toast in the world," Gina enthused as she mopped up syrup with her last bite. "What is your secret?"
"Secretâ€™s in the sauce," Paige cackled.
"A line from Fried Green Tomatoes," Paige explained, "I loved the movie. I have the DVD and just about wore it out."
"You loved it too? Barry said it reminded him of his southern relatives," Pamela added as she speared another strawberry. Breakfast was heavenly. In some ways, it was her favorite meal, an excuse to eat both sweet and healthy foods, to really stock up if you anticipated lunch being a long time away.
"I had no idea that you loved it," Paige said, smiling. "Lately Iâ€™ve been mumbling the lines about hormones to myself. I woke up in a sweat the other night. How about you, Pam?"
Pamela finished her orange juice first, then said slowly, "Iâ€™m not sure. When Glen was about two, I started having issues and wound up with a hysterectomy."
"Oh, I almost envy you," Paige replied, "imagine not worrying about Mother Nature visiting each month."
"Could we talk about something else?" Gina asked plaintively.
"Sure, honey," Paige said, reaching over to ruffle her hair. "But just wait until all the matrons start in on the whole â€˜my horrible childbirth experienceâ€™ stories. Lordy!" she laughed as she got up to start clearing plates.
"But you didnâ€™t have to worry about children with Kris." Gina got up and started helping clear the dishes, moving with long practice in the kitchen. "Sheâ€™s the only one I remember you with, anyway. Aunt Paige, why didnâ€™t you ever date again after you got me?"
Paige blinked, confused by the sudden shift in topic. Pamela sat still, listening intently for the answer, wondering how much her friend had revealed to her niece. "Well," Paige started, "I guess I didnâ€™t have time. Remember, I was dealing with a break up, losing my brother and sister-in-law, and suddenly being responsible for a teenager. Thatâ€™s a lot to handle, especially when you are still getting a grip on an alcohol addiction. Plus, I was afraid that if I dated any other women, the courts would take you away and give you to my parents or your other grandparents. Tony and Sheila named me as your guardian in their wills, but any whiff of scandal or any backsliding, and you would have been torn away from me."
Gina listened, eyes welling with sudden tears. "Do you regret having to take me in?"
Paige reached for her niece, hugging her fiercely. "Never," she declared, "Iâ€™d have taken you in all over again. No more what ifs, young lady. I love you as my own daughter, not just my niece. I am so damn proud of you I could burst." She kissed Ginaâ€™s forehead, then added lightly, "Enough of this sappiness. We have dresses to fit! Onward to retail therapy!"
Ginaâ€™s laughter bubbled up. "Oh, I love you too, Aunt Paige. On to dress fittings!" Pamela caught a wistful look flit across Paigeâ€™s face as Gina turned to load the dishwasher. She was puzzled, but when she met Paigeâ€™s eyes, Paige smiled. "And, Gina, I did have friends try to fix me up, but you were more important. I never met anyone that I had that deep connection that you and Glen have, so why bother?"
"Never?" Gina asked, locking the dishwasher door and turning it on.
"Well, there was someone in college," she said, looking away from Pamela, "but she was engaged, and thus off limits."
"Maybe sheâ€™s come to her senses," Gina offered innocently.
"Not likely, I hear sheâ€™s still married," Paige said dismissively.
Pamelaâ€™s heart leapt, then crashed. If she wasnâ€™t married, would she have a chance with Paige? Did Paige want her like she wanted Paige? She hoped that her feelings didnâ€™t show in front of her future daughter-in-law. "Thatâ€™s a shame," she said.
"Who knows, though, she might snore, or be annoying some other way," Paige said, regaining a bit of humor. "Maybe sheâ€™s totally straight and I was wrong. Anyway, Gina my love, this is a day for celebration, not for looking back and what might have been. Get your butt in gear and letâ€™s go look at dress patterns!"
Pamela had no idea that she would have so much fun looking at different patterns and fabrics. She much preferred pants and slacks, rarely wearing skirts or dresses, but the designer made her feel very much at ease. Gina tried on her dress for them, delighting in the simplicity of the cut and the richness of the fabric.
Nicole, the designer, came out with two dresses and said, "I thought you ladies might like to try these on, they would go well with Ginaâ€™s wedding dress. Not the right colors, but Iâ€™d like to see how the cut and fit looks on you."
Paige took hers, glancing over at Pamela. "Shall we?"
"We shall," Pamela answered languidly. Something about being served wine with the fittings loosened her up, she realized. She followed Paige into a large dressing room, then almost backed out when she realized her mistake, but Paige shook her head, locking the door after them.
"No need, we might need help with zippers," Paige said as she started undressing. Pamela found herself unable to tear her eyes away, forgetting for a moment to start undressing herself. "Do you need help with your clothes?" Paige whispered, leaning forward.
"Um, no, thanks," Pamela stammered, getting back with the program. She quickly undressed, feeling self-conscious about Paige seeing her middle-aged body. She was in good enough shape, but still. Paige still looked terrific, lean and tall, maybe a little soft in the middle, but that was the only change she could see. Pamela swallowed hard, reaching for her dress with shaking hands.
Paige slipped on her dress, turning her back to Pamela. "Would you zip me up, please?" she asked as she twisted her golden hair out of the way.
"Sure," Pamela managed to say. She concentrated on trying to zip the dress without touching Paige, mostly succeeding. "There," she said, stepping back.
"Try yours on. Iâ€™ll zip you," Paige offered. Pamela nodded, slipping the dress over her head, turning for her friend to zip her dress. She could sense Paige close to her, barely catching a whiff of a faint floral scent. She closed her eyes, analyzing the scent, forgetting to look until Paige laughed, "Youâ€™d better lay off the wine, girlfriend, youâ€™re falling asleep standing up."
"Oh, no, Iâ€™m not..." She trailed off, not wanting to say, "I was smelling your perfume." She felt a hot blush steal across her chest and neck and up her face. She opened her eyes, hoping that Paige would think she had a hot flash or something.
"You look beautiful," Paige said, stepping back. "Look at you."
Pamela looked in the mirror, taking in the dress. It was a simple cut, flowing, yet dipping in slightly at the waist, showing some cleavage, but not too much. It made her look mature and beautiful, emphasizing her figure, hiding her faults. She shifted her gaze up, seeing Paigeâ€™s smiling face over her shoulder. "It is lovely," she murmured.
"Yes," Paige said, placing her hands on Pamelaâ€™s shoulders, "it is a very good look for you."
Pamela covered Paigeâ€™s hands with her without thinking, stepping back until she felt the other womanâ€™s body against her back. They stood like that for a few seconds, until Pamela abruptly pulled away, mentally chastising herself for her forwardness. She turned to look at Paige and blurted out, "My God, you are so gorgeous in that!"
It was a similar cut, but with a few subtle tucks that brought out a more hourglass look from Paigeâ€™s athletic build. Paige smiled, smoothing the dress over her hips. "I do look good, donâ€™t I?" She twisted to see her back in the mirror, then said, "Come here, what do we look like together?"
Pamela moved over, standing next to Paige and staring at their reflections in the mirror. "We look good together," she said softly. She couldnâ€™t resist, she tentatively wrapped an arm around Paigeâ€™s waist.
Her friend smiled and slung an arm around Pamelaâ€™s shoulders. "We do look damn good together," she affirmed. "Almost like..." She stopped, clearing her throat. "I guess we should show Gina and Nichole, or theyâ€™ll think we died back here," she said dryly.
"We should," Pamela said, slowly removing her arm, already missing the warmth of Paigeâ€™s body against hers. She unlocked the door, leading the way outside.
"Oh, ladies, you look grand," Nicole said, "almost as if I made these for you." The diminutive redhead rushed over, holding up swatches against the women. "Yes, these browns and russets will go quite well with your skin tones. Hey, can I ask a favor?"
"A favor?" Paige asked.
"Yes, a favor. Come back in two weeks for the final fitting and let me take your pictures. I want you in my upcoming catalog, so I can show prospective mothers and mother-in-laws that they can be just as radiant as the brides. Please?" the designer begged prettily.
The older women glanced at each other, then nodded in agreement. "But what about shoes and jewelry?" Paige asked.
Nicole clapped her hands together, grinning from ear to ear. "Go with Robert over there, and heâ€™ll take care of getting the right size shoes and dying them to match. Do you have any jewelry at home that would work, or do I need to borrow some from the shop next door?"
"Weâ€™ll check next door and see what they have," Pamela said, wondering if she should buy some. Well, her box was rather sparse, a few rings, a few sets of earrings, a couple of necklaces, and the chunky set she bought recently. I something elegant to compliment the dress, she thought.
"Itâ€™s settled. Leave me your contact information and Iâ€™ll set up the pictures and everything. Thanks, ladies. Gina, thank you for letting me make your dress."
"Itâ€™s splendid. Glen loves it, Nicole," the younger woman burbled, hugging her friend. "And I agree, Aunt Paige and Pamela look splendid. I can hardly wait to see them in the real dresses. So, when will the bridesmaids dresses be ready?"
Pamela let her mind wander as Gina and Nicole settled scheduling details. She snuck a look at Paige, happy to spend time with her, but fighting temptation at the same time. It really isnâ€™t fair, she thought, Iâ€™m married to a nice man, have a nice home, have a terrific son and soon a daughter, but Iâ€™m so attracted to Paige. I think Iâ€™m in love with her.
As if she heard her thoughts, Paige turned and looked at Pamela quizzically. Pamela was horrified, thinking for a wild moment that her former roommate read her mind. Nonsense, she scolded herself, she just knows that your mind is wandering all over the map today. Paige lifted an eyebrow a la Spock, a slight smile playing around her lips. Oh God, she does know somehow! Paige thought in a panic. "Um, I think Iâ€™ll go next door," she stammered, needing to get away.
"Iâ€™ll go with you," Paige said, "Gina, come on over when youâ€™re done here."
Pamela gulped, heart hammering with anxiety as she left the dress shop. She almost ran into the door of the jewelry shop, forgetting to open it. Paige reached around her, opening the door, holding it. Pamela rushed in, feeling panic crowding in her throat. My God, I havenâ€™t felt this panicky since I nearly lost my brother at the state fair when he was six, she thought, flashing back to the extreme anxiety and wildly beating heart, the hyperventilating.
"Pamela, weâ€™re just looking at jewelry," Paige murmured in her ear, "can you handle it, or do we need to cut the day short?"
"Iâ€™ll be okay," Pamela answered in a strained voice. "Just give me a minute." Paige nodded, lightly guiding her with a comforting hand on her shoulder. Pamela managed to slow her breathing, oddly comforted by the same touch that aroused her earlier. "What would go best?" she asked her friend.
A short time later, they picked out several possibilities just as Gina sailed into the store. "Hey, ladies," she said, "Ooh, good choices." She looked over the possibilities, then said decisively, "The pearls for you, Pamela, and the gold rope for you, Auntie."
"Okay," Paige said, nodding to the jeweler, "weâ€™ll make it happen."
Pamela mentally reviewed her budget, but decided the hell with it. Hopefully Glen would only get married once, and she was determined to look her best and make him proud of her. She pulled out her wallet to pay for the pieces, pleased with their choices. I hope Barry will be okay with this, she thought belatedly.ï¿¼
A short time later, the three women were back at Paigeâ€™s house, going over the planning schedule again. "This looks fantastic," Gina said, "I appreciate everything you are doing for us. I love you both," she said, pulling both women into an awkward group hug. She squeezed hard, then let them go, glancing at her phone. "Oops, Iâ€™m almost late for dinner with Glen. See you soon!"
"Ask Glen if his father made plans to look at tuxes," Pamela said.
"Will do. Bye!" Gina waved at the women as she bounced out of the door.
As soon as Gina left, a strained silence descended on the former roommates. Pamela looked around awkwardly, thinking she should go, but not wanting to go. Barry had sent her a text earlier saying that he was going to the gym and would get something to eat on the way home. "So, now what?" she found herself asking.
Paige shrugged. "You said youâ€™re on your own?"
"Then letâ€™s fire up the grill. I have some pork chops in the fridge and should be able to find some sides. That suit you?" Paige asked.
"Yes," Pamela answered, relieved to not leave yet. "What can I help with?"
"Iâ€™ll let you figure out the salad and sides while I put the rub on the chops." Paige let Pamela into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator. "I have this really good coffee rub that I bought recently, and it goes well on just about every meat."
Pamela nodded, waiting until Paige had removed the meat to start rooting through. She found a half package of mixed lettuce leaves, some goat cheese, an apple, and a small package of pine nuts. That would do for the salad, she decided. She laid the ingredients out and continued to hunt. A microwave bag of mixed wild and brown rice showed up, and a loaf of multigrain bread. Perfect.
A little while later, Paige stuck her head back in the kitchen. "Hey, itâ€™s cooled off, do you want to eat outside? I can light the tiki torches."
"That sounds fun," Pamela agreed, picking up the salad bowl. It took a few trips, but soon she had everything out that they needed, including a pitcher of iced tea. She had gotten used to splitting a bottle of wine with Barry during their Saturday evening dinners, but she could skip that. Wouldnâ€™t want to tempt her, and Iâ€™ll save quite a few calories, she told herself.
The women spent the first few minutes simply digging into their meals. Pamela started to feel more comfortable, sneaking glances at the tall blonde woman. She finally broke the silence, complimenting Paige on the pork chops. "One of my clients told me about this," Paige said as she topped off her tea. "His partner owns a catering company and gets his seasonings and meat rubs from a little store near downtown. This place has every spice and seasoning known to man, I swear." Paige chuckled, reaching for a piece of bread and the butter.
"Do you do a lot of cooking?" Pamela asked.
"Yes and no. When I found myself with a teenager, I stopped going out to eat so often so we could have as many meals at home as possible. Gina didnâ€™t want to settle for just burgers and spaghetti, so I had to get creative. We started turning the prep time into a time to just chat about our days. Sheâ€™s the real cook of the family, so Glen had better watch his waistline." Paige took a bite of pork, closing her eyes in appreciation of the flavors. "Oh, so good," she rumbled.
Pamela shivered at the delight in her friendâ€™s voice, wishing irrationally that Barry would be that appreciative. He ate, enjoyed what he ate, but never looked like it was a sensual experience. "I guess Glen had better watch out," she repeated, "if he takes after his dad, heâ€™ll need to keep a gym membership."
Paige nodded. "Yep, heâ€™d better, but keeping up with my girl will be exercise enough. Iâ€™m grateful that she was happy enough to live at home during college, because it kept me on my feet. Gina got into bicycling big time, and insisted that I needed to go with her. It was all I could do to keep up with her. I really prefer hiking or swimming, but I learned to appreciate a long ride, or a challenging mountain bike trail."
"Mountain bike trail?" Pamela asked, puzzled. "We don't have any mountains around here."
Paige smiled, explaining, "No, we don't have mountains. I'm referring to tiny little paths snaking through wooded areas, going up and down abrupt valleys and dips, a slow ride, but one that demanded constant attention. When we first started doing it, I wiped out several times, and Gina bought me a first aid kit for my birthday. It was a great way to clear the cobwebs, though, and got me through a difficult transition."
Pamela perked up her ears. "What transition?"
Paige pushed her empty plate away, picked up her glass, and leaned back in her chair. "This was about when Gina turned sixteen. I stopped drinking when she came to live with me, but had figured that I could not market wineries and stay sober. I fell off the wagon rather spectacularly one day, and wound up so blitzed that I had to call her to come get me. Now, sheâ€™d only had her license for a few days, and wasnâ€™t comfortable driving by herself yet. I had to let someone else give directions because I just couldnâ€™t think straight."
She drained her glass, placing it back on the table, then continued. "Gina was terrified, and I didnâ€™t help matters. Shortly after we got home, which, by the way, I donâ€™t really remember, I started getting sick. I was extremely dehydrated and drunk on top of it, and probably had alcohol poisoning. Gina didnâ€™t hardly know what to do, so she called 911. I wound up in the hospital, barfing my guts out. Not how you want to see your guardian."
Paige rubbed her cheek as she relived the painful memory. "Gina had to do without for a couple of days. I was worse off than the doctors initially thought, and wound up staying for another few days until they got me stabilized. A very nice chaplain came by to look after me. If it hadnâ€™t been for her, I might not have recognized how close to death I had come. She asked me bluntly if I had my affairs in order so I could meet my maker. I said no, and she told me that Iâ€™d better straighten up my act, or Gina would be an orphan all over again. She also said that if I pulled through, it meant God had other plans for me."
"Good grief, thatâ€™s terrible."
Paige shot her a half grin. "Yeah, well, apparently my friends all found excuses not to visit me, even with Gina begging them to come by. And, one of the night nurses came by when I was in the throes of a nightmare. She said I was screaming a name, and it puzzled everyone."
"Who were you calling for, Paige?"
Paige looked directly into Pamela's eyes. "You."
Pamelaâ€™s jaw dropped in shock. It took a few seconds to process the preceding sentences, and when she did, she blurted out, "Me? Why?"
"I donâ€™t know. I hadnâ€™t really thought about you in years, but of all of the friends Iâ€™ve had over the years, you had been the only one I felt enjoyed my company for myself, not either what I could do for them or the social set I moved in." Paige quirked another half-grin. "Donâ€™t you feel special?"
"I wish I had known, I would have come to see you," Pamela ventured.
"Itâ€™s for the best, Pamela. When I finally came to, the nurse asked me who Pamela was, and I truthfully said an old friend from college, and I had no idea why I would call your name. Iâ€™m not sure she believed me, but she had to take me at my word." Paige rattled the ice in her glass, watching the cubes swirl.
"So why did you call for me?" Pamela asked, irrational hope rising.
Paige sighed, set down her glass, and crossed her arms across her chest. "Why do you think? I donâ€™t see you for years, I was the one who pretty much pushed you out of my life, but when the fat hit the fire, I wanted the only friend who had loved me for myself, not for what I could do for them."
"Oh." Pamela digested this for a few minutes, then asked timidly, "Paige, can we talk about what happened during that vacation?"
"Are you sure you want to open that can of worms?" Paige asked warily.
Paige leaned forward, placing her palms flat on the table, voice tight. "Iâ€™ll say this once, my dear, and only once. Things happened that I should have guarded against. Do I regret spending the time with you? No. Do I regret leading you on? For my whole life. Letâ€™s just agree to leave this particular conversation alone until our kids are married. Are there turbulent and contradictory emotions swirling through me? Hell, yes. So do us both a favor and ignore those unwanted feelings until we have the right time to bring them out and see what happens."
Pamela dropped her head, finding her fingernails quite interesting. "Okay," she agreed in a small voice, "but we will talk?"
"Later, but yes, we will discuss this," Paige affirmed. "Sweetie, I donâ€™t want to hurt you, but if I have to in the short run, I will."
"I understand," Pamela said tiredly. She looked up, seeing a flash of weariness across Paigeâ€™s face as well. "But we have to work together for the next month on this wedding."
"Okay, I promise to hide my feelings behind a wall," Pamela said bitterly, "for the sake of my marriage and our kids. At least we know weâ€™ll look damn good."
Paige suddenly smiled, chuckling. "Weâ€™ll outshine the happy couple!" She picked up her empty glass. "To us!"
"To us!" Pamela echoed. "I guess I should really be going now. Can I help you with the dishes?"
"No, Iâ€™ll get them in a bit." Paige rose from her chair, motioning for Pamela to go ahead. They walked through the house, stopping to pick up Pamelaâ€™s purchases, then to the front door. Pamela suddenly deliberately placed her packages on the entry table and reached to hug her friend. Paige stiffened at first, then relaxed, allowing herself to be wrapped up.
Pamela nestled her face in the crook of Paigeâ€™s neck for a moment, enjoying the softness and warmth of her friendâ€™s skin. The next month would be hard, and choices would have to be made. Would she make the right decisions? What if she made the wrong decision? She pulled away, reaching up to cup Paigeâ€™s face in her hand for a moment, then pulled away without another word.
It was time to go home.
Work was Pamelaâ€™s salvation.
A huge project landed on her desk, requiring much diplomacy, digging into decades of data, and coordinating the work of half of her department plus many people from other departments. It was challenging, to say the least, and tested her new management skills to the max. And it required many early morning and late evening meetings and work sessions.
Pamela barely had time to come home to eat and sleep, much less spend time with her husband. Barry didnâ€™t seem to notice much at first, but gradually realized that dinners were not home cooked, but were varying forms of take out. He finally said something nearly two weeks into the project when Pamela dragged home after eleven oâ€™clock.
"Pamela, where have you been?" he asked as he helped her bring in the food containers.
"Work," she answered abstractedly. "Meeting dragged on for hours. Sorry for the lack of cooking."
He thought for a moment, an idea popping into his head. "You know, there are services that will cook meals and deliver them. Another partner was telling me that itâ€™s what she and her husband do when theyâ€™re swamped. Some fancy name, but I can get the number if youâ€™d like."
"Whatever you think is best," Pamela yawned. "Sorry, I need to get out of these clothes."
Barry followed her into their bedroom, still thinking about solutions for the dinner issue. "Or, I could bring something home, if youâ€™d like."
"You could go to the store and get groceries and cook," she riposted a little more irritably than she intended.
He looked surprised. "I could? I suppose I could. I canâ€™t say that Iâ€™ve stepped foot into a grocery store in years." He sat on the bed, watching her taking off her clothes and dropping them on the floor. "Donâ€™t you usually put your clothes in the hamper?" he asked innocently.
She turned and glared at him. "Yes, Iâ€™m just worn out, Barry. You could offer to put them in there for me. You could offer to share the load. You could offer to do laundry, or to take it to the cleaners like Iâ€™ve been doing for the past quarter century." She stopped her tirade with visible effort, reaching for her favorite t-shirt and sweats. "Iâ€™m sorry, Barry, but this is a very important project for my firm, and Iâ€™m just worn out."
He started to offer advice, but wisely decided that silence was better. "Youâ€™re right, honey," he said, "I need to do better. I forget sometimes that you are now on in upper management, and I should just be better about such things." Barry watched her slide on her sweats, noticing that she looked thinner. Was she losing weight? Did she look haggard because of her recent long hours? "Why donâ€™t I go get out the plates and silverware?" he offered.
"That would be great," she answered. As he left, she sank back on the bed, lost in thought. Thinking about the enormity of the project, thinking about the wedding in two weeks, thinking about Paige. I canâ€™t think about her, she savagely reminded herself. She laid there, falling into a light sleep until she heard Barry call her for dinner.
Pamela sat at the table, barely touching her dinner. Barry kept shooting worried looks at her, at an uncharacteristic loss for words. "More wine?" he asked, hand on the bottle.
"No, thank you," she said.
He stared at her, finally asking, "Pamela, do you want me to take over some of the household chores? Or hire someone to do things? Weâ€™re both making really good money, we have plenty socked away for retirement, the house is paid off, and Glen is making a decent salary, so weâ€™re not having to support him. I know youâ€™ve always done the yard work, housework, cooking, cleaning, and errands, and I apologize for not helping more."
She had to bite down on a sarcastic remark. I never asked him to help, so why should he? His mother always does everything, and his dad never lifts a finger. God knows this new position is kicking my ass. "Barry, youâ€™ve always helped with dinner when you got in early enough, and have been good about loading the dishwasher. Donâ€™t think you donâ€™t do anything. That said, I do need help, so if you want to start looking into some services, I would appreciate it."
"Okay, I will do so." He was relieved, having a plan of action. "How long is this project?"
"What?" she asked.
He tried again. "When do you anticipate this project wrapping up? Iâ€™m thinking we havenâ€™t taken a vacation in a couple of years, and havenâ€™t taken one alone since Glen was in high school. How about I book us a week in Santa Fe? We never were able to finish that vacation."
Pamela turned it over in her exhausted mind, remembering having to cut the vacation short. Glen had been fourteen at the time, and developed altitude sickness, causing them to leave three days early. It was true, she had wanted to see more museums, shop more, explore, and just soak up the ambiance. But could she spend a week away from Paige? She looked at her husband, saw the wistfulness and eagerness in his face and decided to take him up on his offer. "We should be wrapped up a couple of weeks after the wedding." A thought occurred to her. "This might sound crazy, but how about the week of Thanksgiving? I donâ€™t think Glen and Gina would mind not having to make two meals their first holiday together."
Barry looked relieved. "Splendid! Leave it up to me, Iâ€™ll make all of the arrangements." He smiled broadly, lifting his wine glass. "To us."
She tapped her glass against his. "To us," she echoed.ï¿¼
It was the week before the wedding. Pamela met Paige at the dressmakerâ€™s for their final fittings. "Good morning, would you like coffee? I just put on a fresh pot," Nicole burbled excitedly. "If I say so myself, your dresses turned out wonderfully."
"Yes, coffee would be grand," Paige answered for them. As Nicole left to fetch the coffee, she turned to Pamela and asked, "Whatâ€™s going on with you? You look thinner and haggard. I havenâ€™t heard from you this week except your confirmation that you would be here this morning."
"Work is kicking my butt," Pamela explained. "Big multi-department project, but it should wrap up soon after the wedding. Iâ€™ve been working from seven in the morning until usually nine or later at night."
Paige stared at her, concern stealing across her face. "Are you kidding? Thatâ€™s insane!"
"It will be good, though, once weâ€™re done, we should recoup several million a year in lost revenue, and renegotiate some of our contracts for much better terms. It will help our clients, too, and we will be able to streamline our RFP process. It now takes nearly a month to complete, but we should knock that back to a week to ten days."
Pamela rubbed her eyes. "Whereâ€™s that coffee? I can hardly stay awake."
"Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™ll be back soon. Listen, we donâ€™t need to go out to lunch, we can just go back to my house and I can fix a light meal, then let you sleep for a while," Paige offered.
"Thatâ€™s sweet of you. I might take you up on that." Pamela yawned hugely, then added, "Oh, Barry is taking me to Santa Fe the week of Thanksgiving on a vacation."
"Really? Whose idea was that?" Paige asked, tamping down a tiny flame of jealousy. Stop it, she chided herself, she's married, remember?
"His. The other night he noticed that I was late every night, and decided to do something about it. Heâ€™s also hired people to do our yard and our house, and volunteered to start doing the grocery shopping himself. Heâ€™s lucky, thereâ€™s a dry cleanerâ€™s in his building, so he offered to start taking in the cleaning." Pamela thought for a moment, then added in a small voice, "I think heâ€™s worried about me. Or about us."
Paige wanted to ask further questions, but was stalled by Nicoleâ€™s arrival. "Ladies, your coffee, and a thermos with more. Do you take cream or sweeteners?"
"Black," they chorused. "With sugar," Paige added.
"I have raw sugar," Nicole said proudly, pointing to the packets on the tray. "I forgot the cream, but it sounds like thatâ€™s okay." She turned to her helper. "Ann, would you mind bringing out the dresses? Thank you, dear."
Ann came back in a few minutes with the finished dresses. "Oh, those are scrumptious," Paige declared, "weâ€™ll be the best dressed women in the wedding party!"
Nicole laughed. "Of course you will be well dressed, Ms. Templeton. Would you also like to see one of the bridesmaidâ€™s dresses?"
Ann was dispatched again to fetch the dress, and came back a moment later, holding it next to Paigeâ€™s dress. "See, similar, but not the same. Gina wanted something that could be used later as a formal dress, so I followed her general intent. This is why theirs are full length, and yours are tea length. I still dare say that you could get some formal use from these dresses."
"We could," Pamela chimed in. "Paige, shall we try them on now?"
"We should," she agreed.
Both women went back to the dressing rooms and changed into their new dresses, then came out to model. "Beautiful!" Nicole and Ann chorused. "Although, Ms. Barnes, yours seems to be a bit looser than I anticipated," Nicole added with a small frown.
"Iâ€™ve been run ragged at work lately and havenâ€™t had time to eat much," Pamela explained, "but I still think it looks good like this."
Nicole looked at it for a moment, tugging on the dress this way and that before conceding, "Well, it could be okay. Iâ€™d just hate for something with my name on it to look less than perfect."
"Iâ€™ll eat ice cream and cookies," Pamela suggested with a flash of rare humor.
"Iâ€™d love for that to be the problem with all my customers," Nicole smiled. "All right, ladies, you may take your dresses home. Iâ€™ll send the final bills in a few days."
"Thank you," the women chorused. Paige took Pamelaâ€™s elbow and steered her out of the shop and to her car. "You really look exhausted now," she said as she hit the unlock on the remote.
"I am." Pamela slid in the passengerâ€™s side, buckling her seat belt while cracking an ear-splitting yawn. "Sorry, I canâ€™t seem to stop yawning," she mumbled.
"A nap for you, then." Paigeâ€™s voice brooked no dissension. Pamela nodded, drifting off before the car was in drive.
"Wake up, sweetie," Paige said, gently shaking Pamelaâ€™s shoulder.
"Huh? Oh, weâ€™re at your house." Pamela unbuckled and opened the door, stumbling out of the car. "Need help with the dresses?"
"No, I have them, but thanks," Paige answered, scooping up the dresses from the trunk. "But here, take the keys and unlock the door and Iâ€™ll hit the garage remote."
Pamela did as she was asked, unlocking the door and stumbling into the utility room. She hung the keys on the rack next to the door, then managed to make her way to the living room. "Iâ€™ll be okay," she tried to convince herself.
"Bullshit," Paige replied. "Follow me."
Pamela followed her friend down the hallway to a bedroom. "Iâ€™ll check on you in a moment. Meanwhile, take a load off," she advised as she hung the dresses on the back of the bedroom door.
"Yes Mom," Pamela yawned. She sat on the bed and immediately fell over, sound asleep. Paige came back several minutes later and shrugged when she saw her friend. She pulled off Pamelaâ€™s shoes and made sure she was laying comfortably on the bed, then covered her with an afghan.
"Sleep well, my friend" Paige said softly.
Pamela woke up, confused. Where was she? It took her a moment to recognize Paigeâ€™s afghan from college, then that she was in Paigeâ€™s house. Well, she had never been in the guest bedroom before. She glanced at her watch and almost panicked. She had fallen asleep at 11:15 am, and it was now 6:37 pm. Barry was going to wonder where she was.
She tossed the cover aside, slipping her feet into her shoes, heading first for the bathroom. Necessities taken care of, she wandered through the rest of the house, calling Paigeâ€™s name. She finally found her in the den, sitting on a couch watching a college football game. "I overslept," she spluttered, "I need to call Barry."
Paige motioned for her to come over, and Pamela sat gingerly on the couch. "No, you donâ€™t. I called him a few hours ago and said you were sleeping so soundly that I didnâ€™t want to wake you. He was relieved, and said for you to stay as long as you needed."
"Oh." Pamela relaxed fractionally. "I guess I missed lunch and dinner."
"I have pizza on speed dial," Paige offered, "or I can cook. Your choice."
"Pizza. Lots of cheese and pepperoni, please. Thick crust," Pamela requested.
"Will do." Paige reached for the phone next to her, calling the pizza place. She placed their order, then turned to Pamela. "Anything else? Cheese bread? Cinnamon sticks? Soda?"
"Just the pizza, please. I can drink water," Pamela said, mind finally coming out of her sleep-induced fog.
"Thatâ€™s all. Thank you." Paige dropped the phone and said, "About 40-45 minutes. Can you live that long?"
"I think so," Pamela said. She glanced at the TV, then asked, "When did you start watching football?"
"With my girlfriend. Her brother played, so she knew a lot about it. I shouldnâ€™t, but I love watching it, especially college football. Make yourself comfortable." Pamela scooted back fractionally. Paige sighed. "Sweetie, you do not look comfortable, you look like you have s stick up your backside. Now lean back and make yourself at home."
Pamela acquiesced, leaning back against the corner of the couch. "Better?"
"Much. Donâ€™t you feel better?"
"Right." Paige picked up the remote, turning the volume down. "Are you looking forward to the wedding?"
"Yes," Pamela said dully.
"That didnâ€™t sound like you were looking forward to it," Paige chided. she cocked her head, studying her friend. "Itâ€™s not Gina, is it?"
"No, Barry and I adore Gina, sheâ€™s intelligent and beautiful, and Glen thinks she hung the moon. They are so obviously in love, it hurts." Pamela found herself wiping away unexpected tears trickling down her cheek. "Iâ€™ve told you before, I do love Barry, but it feels more and more like weâ€™re just good friends, not really husband and wife. Itâ€™s partly my fault, partly his fault. He wanted a wife who would be more like a business partner, not a lover." She savagely wiped away more tears, struggling to contain her emotions. "I see Glen and Gina, and somehow feel cheated. I donâ€™t regret marrying, but I wonder what would have happened if Iâ€™d chosen someone else."
Paige reached behind her, snagging a box of tissues from the side table, handing them to her wordlessly. Pamela took them, wiped her face, blew her nose, then abruptly announced, "Iâ€™m going to wash my face. My apologies for my outburst."
"You donâ€™t have to apologize," Paige said, following Pamela into the half bath, "itâ€™s been a stressful time."
"Yes, and-" Pamela stopped herself before blurting out, and Iâ€™m dying to have your arms around me, your lips on mine, your body against mine. She ran the water, splashing it on her face, ruthlessly shoving her feelings down. She sensed Paige hovering behind her, and was careful not to bump into her as she straightened up, reaching for the hand towel to dry her face and hands.
"Yes, but what?" Paige asked, turning Pamela to face her.
"No." Pamela folded her arms across her chest, stubbornly shaking her head. "I canâ€™t," she whispered.
Paige sighed, reaching for her, forcing her to relax, wrapping her arms around her former roommate. "I think youâ€™ve been through a lot of self-discovery lately," she said, rubbing her hands soothingly up and down Pamelaâ€™s back, "and it is catching up with you." She kissed the top of Pamelaâ€™s head, then said, "The pizza should be here soon, so letâ€™s go back to the den."
"I am hungry," Pamela mumbled against Paigeâ€™s shoulder. She reluctantly pulled away, letting Paige lead her by the hand back to the den. She crumpled in the corner of the couch, watching Paige as she left to fetch drinks and a roll of paper towels. She had just laid them down when the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of dinner.
Paige came back in the room, bearing a pizza box. "Dinner has arrived," she intoned in formal tones. Pamela had to crack a smile, recognizing Paigeâ€™s fake butler voice she had used in college. "Would Madam like the first slice?"
"Madam would," she replied, affecting a snooty voice. She took a slice, nibbling it. "Good," she mumbled around the bite.
They demolished the pizza quickly, wiping the last traces with paper towels. "That was damn good," Paige announced, balling up her used paper towels. "Thanks for indulging me."
"Youâ€™re welcome, Paige," Pamela said, patting her stomach. "I just hope the dresses will fit after this orgy."
"Thatâ€™s what gym memberships are for," Paige said, grinning.
Pamela started to say something, but her phone interrupted them. She glanced at the display, seeing Barryâ€™s number. "Hello, Barry," she said. She listened for a moment. "I was just leaving, we had pizza for dinner. Have you eaten? Good. See you at home." She disconnected, then turned to Paige. "I guess that is my cue to leave."
"I guess so," Paige said. "No, leave it, Iâ€™ll clean up."
"Okay. So, when will I see you again?"
Paige scratched her chin, thinking. "Next week when we finalize the catering menus. Can you get off Thursday morning?"
"I should be able to. I'll make the time."
"Iâ€™ll call or email you with the details." Paige smiled. "It was good to see you. Weâ€™ll talk more after the wedding."
"Yes," Pamela agreed, seizing on the promise. "We will indeed."
The day of the wedding dawned bright and cool, a perfect fall day. Pamela woke up early, brain teeming with details of the day. Dress, shoes, hose, underwear, jewelry all laid out. Purse packed. Barry had picked up his tux the night before, and modeled it for her. She had to admit that he looked very handsome in it, having hit the gym earnestly and shaved off a couple of inches around his waist.
She drifted into the kitchen, starting the coffee and opening the refrigerator, thinking about breakfast. Omelets? Bagels and cream cheese? Or just cereal? She pondered the choices, absently listening to the coffee drip, the scent waking up her appetite. "Good morning, Pam," Barry said, brushing a kiss on her cheek. "Would you like for me to fix breakfast?"
"Sure," she agreed, relieved to not have to make decisions. She watched as he moved around the kitchen, pulling out yogurt, granola, and blueberries. Pamela poured two cups of coffee and carried them to the breakfast nook, sitting down as Barry fixed two bowls. We may not be much as lovers, but he sure has become handy in the kitchen lately, she mused. An unbidden thought flashed through her mind, picturing Paige as the one making breakfast. She shook her head to get rid of the image, smiling as her husband set down her breakfast.
"Got the paper yet?" he asked, reaching for his coffee.
"No, just got up. Iâ€™ll fetch it," she said, glad for an excuse to get up. She had to stop thinking about Paige. Iâ€™ve been thinking about her nonstop recently. Iâ€™m married. I canâ€™t think of her that way, she severely chastised herself. Our son is getting married to her niece tonight, so I have to play the happy wife and mother.
Barry reached for the front page as Pamela laid the paper down, handing her the sports section. They sat in silence, breaking it with reading bits from interesting articles, as they had for the past twenty-five years. A quarter century. Oh. Silver anniversary. No wonder Barry had planned a trip for them at Thanksgiving, they had been so busy with Glenâ€™s wedding that they had not celebrated their own anniversary.ï¿¼
The rest of the day flew by.
Before she knew it, Pamela and Barry were marching down the aisle with Glen, standing behind him for the start of the ceremony. Pamela felt a rare moment of happiness, watching her son and his beloved, exchanging vows. She felt Barryâ€™s arm slip around her waist as they sat after their part, not daring to look over at Paige.
The service went off without a hitch. The readings were perfect, the music ethereal, the flowers perfect, the candles enchanting. The bride and groom radiated grace and happiness, appearing to almost burst with excitement.
The reception line became a blur of faces and congratulations. Mercifully, Glen and Gina had chosen to have all of the pictures taken before the service so that the guests did not have to wait after the service ended. Pamela stood in line between Barry and Paige, shaking hands, exchanging hugs and kisses, smiling until her face ached. Did they have this many guests? The line seemed endless, and even with low heeled shoes, her feet were starting to whimper.
The last person finally came through, and an announcement was made that the buffet and bar were now open. Barry took her arm, guiding her to the line. "That was wonderful," he said, "I liked that minister better than the one we had. She did a better job, and preached a lot shorter, too."
"Really?" Pamela scoured her memory, coming up with a vague recollection of standing in front of a church with a very nervous Barry next to her. "I donâ€™t remember much."
"You kept looking like you were about to pass out, and Paige didnâ€™t look much better. I think she was hung over, to be honest. Oh, man, Iâ€™m starved." Barry took a plate and silverware, ready to pile it high. "Iâ€™d better get some good chow, as much as weâ€™ve paid for this."
His eyes twinkled with mirth. "Remember our reception? My parents didnâ€™t feel like they should contribute, and your poor parents had a bad crop that year. Our friends pooled their money to make sure we had enough money for deli trays from the supermarket for our reception. And that minister! Lord, I thought the man would never shut up. All I wanted to do was to kiss you and get to the honeymoon."
"But we didnâ€™t have a honeymoon," she said.
"No, but weâ€™ll make up for it soon," he promised.
Pamela followed him, adding small amounts to her plate, appetite gone. Paige was at their wedding? Her memory was blurred, unsure if she remembered how it had been in which past. What if she had run off with Paige instead of marrying Barry?
She managed to eat most of what was on her plate, listening as Barry regaled their table with tales of negotiations with difficult clients. He did have quite a talent for storytelling when he chose, causing her to wonder if he really should have been in litigation, not transactional work. No matter, he was successful and seemed to enjoy his work.
When most of the guests had eaten, the DJ announced the first dance. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight picked out Glen and Gina, gliding around the floor in grand style. Pamela had no idea that her son and daughter-in-law could dance so well. They were beautiful on the floor, eyes glued to each other, dreamy looks on their faces. As the first song ended, Barry held out his hand, asking, "May I have this dance?"
Pamela followed her husband to the dance floor, ready to panic. She didnâ€™t remember the last time they danced together. That dinner after Barry made partner? She was pleasantly surprised, though, at how gracefully and easily he led her through the steps, and she found herself melting into his arms, enjoying the feeling of twirling around.
"Mom, may I have this dance?" Glen asked at the end of the song.
"You may," she said as Barry moved to ask Gina to dance. "You two dance well together," she added as her son started leading her around the dance floor.
"We took lessons," he acknowledged, "it was a blast. Ballroom dancing, waltzes, we may take up square dancing next. Yee haw!"
"Good exercise," Pamela noted. "The wedding was beautiful, Glen, I am so happy for you both."
"Weâ€™re happy, Mom. You and Paige did a great job helping us pull everything together. And by the way, the two of you are more beautiful than any of the bridesmaids, but donâ€™t tell my lovely wife." They continued dancing for a few measures before Glen added, "Youâ€™ve changed a lot recently, Mom. Good changes, for the most part. I was shocked when you cut and highlighted your hair, but it looks terrific on you. Youâ€™ve always dressed professionally, but I love the way youâ€™ve started adding more color on the weekends."
"Thank you, Glen." Pamela smiled up at her son, allowing herself to enjoy the praise. "I decided with my son moving on, I needed a few changes in life."
Glen smiled at his mother happily. "You look splendid. Youâ€™re the best mom a guy could have. I wish Dad could have been more hands on as a dad, but you were always there, even if it meant you had to work long after I went to bed. Iâ€™ll never forget you teaching me how to measure and cut wood for my various projects. Growing up on a farm gave you so many practical skills. Do you remember the summer I was ten? When I went to spend a few weeks with your parents?"
"You came out for a Friday and Saturday. I was in awe as you helped Granddaddy with the hay baling. He still used the old fashioned bales for his cattle, reserving the big round ones for sale. I watched as you easily swung bale after bale on those stacks in the barn, catching them as he tossed them up to you. How many guys can say that their moms are that strong?"
Pamela laughed, memory surfacing. "Yes, and my entire body ached the next day, but it was worth it. I loved spending time with my dad in the fields."
"Yes, and you taught me how to mow, edge, trim shrubs, fix fences, all the things Iâ€™ll need to now when we buy a house some day," Glen said.
"What about your father?" she asked, "what did you learn from him?"
Glen thought for a moment as the song wound down, leading her back to the table. "He taught me how to think logically and to see all sides of a problem. He taught me about research, about how to look for clues in words. But you taught me about the beauty of numbers, and I was hooked. Well, here we are." He kissed her cheek, then went off to find his bride again.
Pamela reached for her wine glass, gulping down the rest of the drink before going to look for the ladiesâ€™ room. Thank God the reception is at this old winery, she thought, if it had been at our church, we wouldnâ€™t have had room for it. Thatâ€™s it, I need to stop for tonight, my thinking is very fuzzy. She wandered into the hallway where she thought she remembered the restrooms, and congratulated herself for finding it so easily.
She came out of the stall, washing her hands and wanting to just lay down and go to sleep. Pamela was bone tired, what with the wedding and the increased work load, and worrying about getting everything else done before her trip with Barry. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, then jumped when the door opened.
"We seem to keep meeting in the bathroom," Paige said, sounding amused. "Donâ€™t go away."
Pamela nodded, turning around and leaning against the sinks. Her head was swirling just a bit, not enough to be concerned over, but enough to make her glad that Barry had driven. She patiently waited for Paige to finish and come out to wash her hands.
"So, the kids are properly married. Iâ€™ll tell you what, Glen is a proper gentleman. After he danced with you, he danced with me."
"He is a gentleman," Pamela agreed. "I meant to ask earlier, but where are your parents? I was hoping to see them here."
Paige took her arm, escorting her out of the room into the hallway. She glanced right and left, then said, "Letâ€™s duck into one of these meeting rooms for a few minutes."
Pamela allowed herself to be led as Paige opened one of the doors and entered. She wondered idly if it had been a church office or classroom in itâ€™s former life. The idea of a winery on old church grounds still amused her. "So the former home of the Holy Spirit is the home of spirits," she giggled.
Paige quirked a blonde eyebrow, pulling out two chairs from the meeting table. "You know, I had forgotten your hidden talent for puns," she said. "And that one was pretty bad."
Pamela shrugged, trying to sit properly. "Your parents?"
"Well, Dad died a couple of years ago, and Mother isnâ€™t doing so well. Terminal cancer. I do wish they had been here to see Gina get married, they would have like Glen." Her voice lowered. "They would have liked seeing you again. After that summer, Dad used to ask me if Iâ€™d seen you or when I was bringing you home again. He thought you had promise as a golfer, and wanted to give you the opportunity to learn."
"Oh." Pamela sat up straighter. "I am so sorry, Paige, I had no idea about your parents. Please accept my condolences."
"Itâ€™s okay. What about your parents? You introduced me to a few relatives on Barryâ€™s side, and to your brother and his family," Paige asked.
Pamela shifted her gaze to the ceiling, gathering the words before softly replying, "Dad has Parkinsonâ€™s and canâ€™t travel for more than an hour or so at a time. Mom doesnâ€™t want to leave him. They put the farm into a trust for my brother and his family. I helped structure the finances, wanting to make sure he would be able to keep it without going into hock."
"Iâ€™m sorry," Paige said. "Itâ€™s like weâ€™re both orphans here."
"You could say so," Pamela said miserably. "I miss having my daddy as himself, strong and deeply tanned. He was always so physical, and now can barely get around for his shaking. I do wish I could have seen your folks, I loved the day we went to the golf course with your dad." She smiled at the memory. "I tried to take it up when Glen was in high school, but never had enough time to play. Barry was never interested, so I never had a partner."
"I wish I had known, I would have played with you." Paige said quietly.
Pamela shifted her gaze to her former roommate. "Considering how much tension we have between us, would playing golf for hours have been wise?"
Paige leaned back, surprised at the question, blinking as she tried to come up with an answer. Finally, she said, "I guess not. But donâ€™t you have a happy marriage with Barry?"
"Yes and no. We work well together and have many similar interests. But I think some of his libido disappeared with his chemotherapy. He had cancer when Glen was a baby, so we were never able to have any other children." She sighed. "Iâ€™m lucky to get it once a month."
"If you were my-" Paige stopped herself, but decided to go ahead. "Well, you better believe weâ€™d be more active if we were together. Even when Kris and I fought, we were very sexually active."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Pamela said with a slight grin. She then glanced at her watch, and announced, "Weâ€™d better go back. People will talk."
"Youâ€™re probably right," Paige said, standing up. She helped Pamela up, then suddenly twirled the other woman into her arms and said silkily, "Dance with me, just once."
Pamela caught a whiff of perfume that tickled her nose pleasantly. You could just hear the music, which had changed to a slow tune. "Dance with you? It would be my pleasure," she found herself purring.
The women melded together as if they danced often, Paige taking the lead with ease. Pamela closed her eyes, trusting her friend to guide her around the room without mishap, feeling Paigeâ€™s warm hands on her back and shoulder. It was a heavenly feeling, and at the end of the song, she lifted her face and softly kissed Paige on the lips.
"Ah, my Pam," Paige whispered sadly, "my beloved Pamela."
"My dearest Paige," Pamela whispered back before gently disentangling herself. They stared at each other for a moment, then by silent agreement, exchanged one more kiss, then left the room.
Back at the reception, Glen and Gina were just getting ready for the traditions of the bouquet and garter toss. The two women parted, with Pamela taking her place next to Barry, who smiled at her briefly. He leaned over, saying, "Remember our wedding? None of my groomsmen would even attempt to catch the garter, although your bridesmaids all ran to catch the bouquet."
"Thatâ€™s usually how it is, Barry," Pamela replied, watching her son slowly sliding het garter off Ginaâ€™s leg. "The men step back, the women step forward."
He just smiled, watching the festivities. Pamela watched with him, a little surprised that several men stepped forward eagerly to try to catch the garter. Glen tossed it back, one hand dramatically covering his eyes, and laughter rang out as one of the men scooped up the garter, yelling, "I got it, I got it!"
"You gonna wear it?" Gina yelled back when she saw who it was.
"Oh, yes, sister!" the man said, slipping it over his arm and striking a pose.
"Whoâ€™s that?" Pamela wondered.
Barry scratched his chin, thinking. "Danny something. Gina introduced him to me while you were in the ladiesâ€™ room. One of her cousins."
Before Pamela could ask any other questions, Gina got ready to toss the bouquet. She glanced over her shoulder, then faced forward and launched the flowers into the air as young women collided with the effort of catching it. But it unerringly went to Paige, who was standing at the edge of the crowd. She reflexively caught it, then threw back her head and laughed. "No, I donâ€™t think so," she hollered at her niece, tossing it back into the crowd of disappointed women.
"Oh, but who knows, your true love could be here," Gina teased.
"A likely story," Paige said, "but I think Lauren is a much better candidate." Lauren, one of the other cousins, grinned as she lofted the bouquet over her head, singing the chorus of "We Are The Champions" and dancing around.
Festivities over, the crowd started milling about as Glen and Gina left to change into traveling clothes. Pamela found Paigeâ€™s eyes and they exchanged a smile. What a crazy mixed up day, she thought, my son gets married and I kiss his new aunt. She felt Barry wrap an arm around her shoulders, and she slipped hers around his waist automatically. She glanced over, seeing Paige smirk at her, so she impulsively stuck her tongue out. Paige laughed as she drifted toward the doorway.
"Here they come!"
The crowd surged to follow the happy couple out of the building, forming two lines along the walkway. Birdseed was tossed as Glen and Gina ran through to her car, which somehow had escaped the traditional decoration. "Good luck!" rang through the air. "Well, we got our son married off," Barry said as they walked back into the building. "You going to be ready to go soon?"
"Yes. Let me just speak to the caterers for a moment to make sure we donâ€™t need to do anything."
"Iâ€™ll make a pit stop then," Barry said. "Which way?"
Paige gave him brief directions, then went to talk to the supervisor on duty. "No, weâ€™ll take care of all of the food, although there isnâ€™t much left. Ms. Templeton arranged to have the winery custodians take care of cleaning up, and weâ€™ll be taking down the extra tables and chairs. You have a good night, Mrs. Barnes."
"Thank you, Simon," she said, reaching into her purse. "Could you divide this among your staff?" She handed him a small stack of bills.
"Yes, Maâ€™am, I will. Thank you." He turned away, giving orders to his crew. Pamela watched for a moment, then walked out of the kitchen back into the reception area.
"It was lovely," Paige said, appearing at her elbow.
"It was. Thank you for your hard work, this was a wonderful idea."
Paige smiled, glancing around, then leaned over and whispered, "I enjoyed our dance."
"I did too," Pamela whispered back. She impulsively hugged her taller friend, then pulled away.
"Ah, the two lovely mothers," Barry said, walking up to them. "Paige, I hope we get to see more of you in the future."
"You can bet on it," Paige said, exchanging brief kisses with Barry. "Goodnight, you two, Iâ€™m exhausted. Pamela, Iâ€™ll call you later."
"I look forward to it," Pamela answered. She boldly kissed her friend on the cheek, aware of the dance between friendly and possessive gestures. "Sleep well."
"Letâ€™s get this show on the road," Barry said, pulling out his valet ticket. "Did you take care of the staff?"
"Yes, dear," Pamela said, following her husband out of the door. She was tired, but it was a good tired. Their son was married to a wonderful woman, and she got to kiss Paige.
And she refused to think of the consequences.
Pamela wasnâ€™t sure whether to be elated or depressed. The wedding had been a great success, and she was very pleased with her new daughter-in-law. Pamela and her interdepartmental team had finished their huge project ten days early, giving her breathing room before her vacation with Barry. She had seen Paige a couple of times, and had felt more relaxed around her, now that the underlying tension of planning a wedding was over.
But the underlying current of attraction was still there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. Paige and Pamela met for dinner right after Pamelaâ€™s big project was over to celebrate the completion. After their order was taken, Pamela continued, "I asked Barry if he wanted to join us, but he said he had a brief to review."
"He always has a brief to review," Paige observed.
"Thatâ€™s life as a big firm partner, he tells me. Then again, I spent many evenings the past two months bringing home work, even getting up to start drafting at obscene times of the morning. I usually donâ€™t let work interfere with my home life, but this was a make it or break it type high level project."
"Well, then, Iâ€™m quite proud of you." Paige sipped her water, then added, "And you have reason to be proud of me."
"Why?" Pamela asked, curious.
"I have been sober for ten years today. It was ten years ago yesterday that Gina had to drive me to the ER when I was completely blitzed out of my mind. The next day I swore off booze and managed to not touch a drop since."
"Did you ever join a group, or get counseling?" Pamela asked, aware of the wine glass next to her silverware.
"No AA for me, but I did study their methods. Even though Kris left me before I got Gina, she listened and was as supportive as she could be without hampering me. Gina and I did go to counseling for a few months after she came to live with me, and we did discuss my drinking. I never hid it from her that I could never drink again. Sheâ€™s a wonderful kid, she never let it phase her," Paige explained.
The waiter arrived with their meals and disappeared. The women spent a few minutes in silence, eating, before Paige asked, "So, when do we talk about The Kiss?"
Pamela pondered her reply while taking another bite, savoring the flavors of her enchilada. She turned the question over in her head, trying to divine an answer, then finally answered, "I donâ€™t know. In public doesnâ€™t seem right, but it feels too tempting to see you alone," she admitted.
Paige nodded agreement. "Well," she said in a quiet voice, "Iâ€™ve thought about you constantly. Iâ€™ve had daydreams that you left Barry, or he left you, and I was able to swoop in and rescue you. But as delectable as these dreams are, Iâ€™m a realist, and know that you wonâ€™t just up and leave him, and he has no reason to leave you. I also know that we canâ€™t do anything about this attraction other than acknowledge it and work around it. I want to be friends, but can we honestly be friends without falling into a trap?"
Pamela took a long drink of her wine, trying to sort out her conflicting thoughts. "All we can do is try," she finally decided. "I want to be friends, but Iâ€™m also scared. What if we cross over the line?"
"We just make damn sure we donâ€™t cross that line, for the sake of your marriage and our morals," Paige agreed. "Sometimes I wonder what if you had said no to Barry?"
Pamela pushed her plate away, leaning her elbows on the table as she regarded the tall blonde. The tall beautiful blonde. "I donâ€™t know. I have always been so conventional, that I donâ€™t think I could conceive of not marrying him. If I hadnâ€™t married him, I would not have Glen, and your Gina would not have him to marry. No, I donâ€™t think I could have given up having my son."
"I see." Paige motioned for the check, pulling out her card. "No, itâ€™s on me tonight," she said. "Will you be okay to drive home?"
"Yes, I didnâ€™t finish my glass," Pamela answered, swirling the leftover wine in her glass. "Iâ€™ll be fine."
"Iâ€™d feel better if I followed you home," Paige offered.
"Weâ€™ll see." Pamela watched her friend take the tray from the waiter and sign the check. Paige put her copy and card in her wallet, then asked if she were ready to go. "I suppose I am," Pamela said, digging out her keys before standing.
They walked out to their respective cars, each wrapped in her own thoughts. What did the future hold now? Could they remain friends, or would they eventually destroy each other? They hugged tightly, neither wanting to let go, but finally releasing each other. "Iâ€™ll be fine," Pamela assured Paige.
"Youâ€™d better be," Paige said, touching Pamela's cheek lightly.
Pamela smiled at her friend. Iâ€™ll call when I get home, Mother Hen," she promised.
"Youâ€™d better." Paige watched Pamela get in her car and drive off before she put her own car in gear. Time to head home.
Pamela woke up abruptly, dizzy and completely disoriented. Where am I? She blinked, willing the room to come into focus. Did I drink too much? She didnâ€™t think so. She glanced at the bedside table for her clock, but it wasnâ€™t there.
While still getting her bearings, she heard an old fashioned phone ringing. She frowned, she thought they had discontinued the land line several years ago. Had Barry changed his ringtone?
"Pamela, Barry is on the phone." Her mother stuck her head around the door, smiling. "Heâ€™s persistent."
"Tell him Iâ€™ll be there in a minute," Pamela said, finally recognizing where she was.
She was home on the farm.
She reached up behind her, finding the floor to ceiling lamp and switching on one of the lights. She squinted as the light stabbed the darkness, revealing what she remembered as her childhood room.
Pamela dashed into the bathroom, then came out, hurriedly slipping on her faded flannel robe. Barry? What year is this? She skidded into the study, picking up her fatherâ€™s extension before yelling, "I got it." She heard a click, knowing her mother had hung up the other phone. Taking a deep breath, she put the receiver to her ear and said, "Hello?"
"Pamela, itâ€™s Barry. How are you doing?"
"I was sleeping," she blurted out. She glanced at her dadâ€™s desk clock, seeing it was just after five am. Late for the farm, but early for everyone else. What date was it? "What are you calling about?"
"I was wondering if you wanted to go to dinner tonight. My classes this semester end at noon on Fridays, and I can be there in just a few hours. After all, it is my birthday."
She scrambled for her dadâ€™s calendar, flipping it open with a trembling hand. It was already 1987, which meant Barry was in his last semester of law school. She was working for the accounting firm - or was she? She shook her head hard. "I guess so," she finally said, thoroughly confused now.
"Iâ€™ll be there at 4:00 this afternoon. Oh, I forgot, you are working. Do you think your parents would mind putting me up for the weekend?"
"I guess not," she said, more baffled than ever.
"Iâ€™ll see you tonight." He clicked off without saying goodbye.
Pamela was still staring at the calendar when her father came in the study. "Good morning, pumpkin," he said, ruffling her dark hair.
"Good morning, Daddy," she said cautiously.
"So, your mother says that was Barry on the phone. Heâ€™s persistent, you turned down his proposal twice," her father said as he leaned against the desk.
"Itâ€™s his birthday," she said, still confused by the time shift and the history change.
John Stewart smiled at his daughter. "Let me guess, he wants to spend the weekend. Fine with me. I know you have doubts, but heâ€™s a fine man," he said. "He can stay in the guest room, I suppose. Iâ€™ll clear it with the boss." He winked at her, then added, "Youâ€™d better get a move on, thatâ€™s a long drive to work for you. My girl, an accountant. Oh, congratulations, I hear that you passed the CPA exam. I suppose the firm will give you a raise for that, even if you are still bottom of the totem pole."
"I think they will," she ventured. Her best recollection - from her diary? - was that she did received a nice bump in salary. "Youâ€™re right, Daddy, I need to get going."
"Make sure you have breakfast first," he admonished half-teasing, half-serious.
"Yes, Daddy," she said, stretching. He tousled her hair again, leaving her to her thoughts.
Pamela was glad that she had a great memory for work related details. Luckily, the drive was better than she remembered, and she remembered how to drive stick. Sheâ€™d forgotten that her first car had standard transmission, it was nearly $1,100 cheaper than automatic. It was still fairly new, her parents helped her buy it shortly after graduation.
People congratulated her on passing the exam all day, and at the end of the day, her boss gave her the good news about her pay bump. "So," he asked paternally, sucking on an empty pipe, "do you think youâ€™ll ever marry that young man of yours?"
"I havenâ€™t decided," she said, uneasy with the topic. If she hadnâ€™t married Barry, had she seen Paige again?ï¿¼
It was a really bizarre, surreal day. Pamela had no trouble with her job, she just had to remember the old mainframe commands to access the reports she was working on. It was almost like a vacation to not be making the decisions, but she also missed her private office. She had forgotten what it was like to work in an open environment, with the constant shrilling of telephones, clacking of typewriters, and tapping of ten key adding machines. On the other hand, there was no constant interruption via email, texts, posts, or other electronic messages.
She also felt strange being in a suit with skirt, hose, and mid-height heels. She had worn suits with pants for so long that she felt almost exposed, and remembered why she hated hose with a passion. Her legs were freezing, and she felt constrained. At least her suits were conservative, and did not have the exaggerated shoulder pads of some of the other women around.
The day dragged on, and it was finally time to go home. Pamela was glad to get back in her little car, relying on muscle memory to shift gears as she took off. She frowned; which lifetimes had she bought it in? It didnâ€™t matter, at least the commute was faster than it would be in another quarter century. She was so glad that she and Barry had bought a house in the city, and not in a suburb.
Oh, but that future didnâ€™t exist.
Or would it?
Is God punishing me by making me relive my life over and over again? she wondered as she zipped down the highway. Or is this my version of Groundhog Day? She changed the radio station yet again, wondering if she could get anything other than bubblegum music or album oriented rock. She settled on one, smiling as she heard the opening notes for "Stray Cat Strut" blasting from the speakers.
Pamela almost missed the turnoff for the farm-to-market road, but managed without slipping into the bar ditch. Her car rattled down the bumpy pavement, demanding her entire attention. It wasnâ€™t until she turned off the road that she could think again. What would she do with Barry tonight?
She parked in the carport, stopping to look at the unfamiliar car in the circle in front of the house. Was that Barryâ€™s car? She searched her memory, but didnâ€™t come up with a match. It was relatively clean, which fit, but was a small Japanese car. She turned and went in through the kitchen door, greeting her mother with a quick hug. "Hi, Mom."
"Hello, Pam, how was your day?" Virginia asked, pausing in her task.
"Good." Pamela watched her mother resume slicing potatoes, asking, "Need help?"
"No, thank you, Iâ€™m almost finished. You go on up and change clothes. Oh, I asked Barry if he wanted to eat with us. I baked him a birthday cake, just in case."
"That was thoughtful, Mom," Pamela said, stealing a slice of raw potato. Her mother lightly smacked her hand, but went on with her task. "What did he say?"
"That he would consider it." Virginia paused in her task, then said, "I donâ€™t mean to speak ill of the young man, but heâ€™s a bit pompous, if you ask me. I liked it better when you brought Paige here a few summers ago. Remember? You spent a couple of weeks with her, then she came here and spent a few weeks. Well-mannered, a bright chatterbox." She smiled in memory, adding, "If your brother wasnâ€™t so much younger, I swear he would have asked her out."
"You know how it goes," Pamela replied vaguely. "Iâ€™m going up to change clothes. See you in a bit. Oh, where is Barry right now?"
"In the study with your dad."
"Iâ€™ll change clothes first, then go see him," she decided.
Pamela raced upstairs to her bedroom, happy to shed her hose for jeans and a sweatshirt. She should make an effort to dress nicer, but if they were going to stay at home, she didnâ€™t care. She washed the makeup from her face, trying to decide whether or not to reapply it. Well, this is the 1980â€™s, she remembered. She applied fresh makeup with a light hand, just enough to smooth her complexion. Next, jeans, college sweatshirt, socks, her favorite Nikes.
She felt more in control as she walked into the study, dressed for comfort. She looked at Barryâ€™s back for a moment, noting his stiff posture, chinos, button down shirt, and argyle sweater. How had she fallen for him? Oh, yeah, he had asked her out, and no one else had given her a chance. Except maybe Paige. Too bad she didnâ€™t have time to look at her diaries before leaving for work.
"Barry, happy birthday!" Pamela said, walking up behind him and giving him a hug from behind.
"Um, thank you," he replied, turning around. She thought he was going to resist, but he gave in to the affection, even kissing her quickly, despite her dad being right there. "I appreciate the invitation."
"Youâ€™re welcome," she said. "Hi, Dad, how was your day?"
"Good. I think weâ€™ll have a really good year this year. Barry and I were just discussing the theory of crop futures and how they pertain to the financial market."
Pamela managed to keep a straight face while laughing inside. If her dad liked someone, heâ€™d discuss movies or popular music, but if he didnâ€™t like someone, heâ€™d pick some esoteric financial topic to expound upon until they died from boredom. Judging from Barryâ€™s glazed eyes, her dad was winning.
"Dad, you really know how to be a scintillating conversationalist," she noted dryly. Her dadâ€™s brown eyes were all innocence. "Me? I thought Barry would be bored if I discussed our favorite James Bond movies."
Oh, this does not bode well for Barryâ€™s chances with Dad. He loves picking the movies apart, even though he will watch them over and over again with me. I love the gadgets and snarky lines, and he gleefully watches to laugh at the villains improbably named women, she thought.
They were all saved by Victoria walking into the room, announcing, "Supper is on the table."
"Great!" Pamela took Barryâ€™s arm, saying under her breath, "itâ€™s spaghetti night, one of my favorites."
"Oh," he answered, obviously at a bit of a loss. She bet his mother never made spaghetti with homemade sauce and home grown beef. Suddenly her mouth was watering, just remembering her momâ€™s simple, delicious cooking.
Dinner went relatively smoothly, with Barry looking uncomfortable, but doing his best to keep up with the conversation. Her brother, Jack, did his best to engage Barry in a discussion of high school basketball and his chances to letter in the sport. Her mother pushed more food on him. Her father continued to discuss financial topics, including the continued bad energy market. Pamela just sat back, letting it all wash over her.
Finally, cake was served and devoured, and the two escaped. It was a cool, but not cold, night, so Pamela proposed to show Barry the back yard. He looked puzzled, but followed her outside, then gasped at the wonderland.
Victoria had been creating art from scrap metal, clay, wood, anything she could get her hands on for years. The back yard now had numerous sculptures of various materials, a huge pond, and enticing plantings. In the winter, it wasnâ€™t as fun, but it had the advantage of a mostly closed in gazebo a little further out. Pamela led Barry by the hand to this gazebo, noting, "It stays a good twenty degrees warmer or cooler than the outside temperature in here."
"It does," Barry said, standing with his hands stuffed into his coat.
"Oh, youâ€™ll warm up in a moment," she purred, sliding up to him. "Iâ€™ll make sure of that." She took his head in her hands, slowly leaning forward for a kiss.
She had the advantage of years of living with the older Barry, to know how to get him to lose his inhibitions, to be sexually overwhelmed. Pamela first just kissed him, but started kneading his neck with one hand, letting the other hand wander up the back of his coat, pulling him closer to her. She turned up the fire on the kiss, feeling him finally responding, feeling him harden against her.
I want to have my baby, the thought flashed through her mind, if he doesnâ€™t make love to me tonight, it wonâ€™t happen. I have to make it happen. Luckily, he was still inexperienced (at this point) in dialing back his responses, so she pressed ahead, finally parting his lips. She felt him respond in kind, completely losing his rational thought processes.
Now came the tricky part - how to get him back in the house with it being obvious what they were about to do. "Barry, why donâ€™t we go back inside?" she asked, voice low and sultry.
"Yes," he moaned, kissing her again, letting his hands wander freely under her shirt. He suddenly pulled back, swallowing hard. "But what about-"
"Iâ€™m on the pill," she said. It appeared to be true, she found an empty container in her purse, but it had run out yesterday.
Luckily, it was time for the news, and her parents always watched it. Pamela let Barry back upstairs, calling out goodnight and hearing them respond in kind. "In my room," she whispered, pushing him in and locking the door behind them.
"Oh." He really couldnâ€™t think of a reply, and followed her lead, shucking clothes at a rapid pace. God, I wish I could seduce Paige this easily was her last truly coherent thought.
Despite the calculated intent, she mostly enjoyed the awkward, but hot, sex. It was going well until she heard him call out, "Jennie!" as he climaxed. As soon as the name left his lips, he pulled out, horrified. "Iâ€™m sorry, honey," he babbled, panicking, "I didnâ€™t mean it."
Thank you, she thought as she pulled away from him. "Who is Jennie?" He looked around uneasily, so she grabbed his arm, shaking him. "Who is she?"
He ran a hand through his dark hair, looking at the floor, finally answering, "Sheâ€™s the managing partnerâ€™s daughter, and weâ€™ve been casually seeing each other. You had turned me down twice, but I still had hope. Jennie and I havenâ€™t done anything, but Iâ€™m falling in love with her."
"But you still came here for your birthday," Pamela said, acting hurt.
Barry sighed, pulling covers over him. "Yes, I was trying to convince myself that if I could get you to quit your job and move, that we could still get married before I finished law school. I met Jennie at a party for the summer clerks at the firm I clerked for, and weâ€™ve been writing since then."
"And what do you think would happen to your career if the partner of this firm youâ€™re supposed to go to work for finds out that youâ€™ve been leading his daughter on, while still dating someone else?" she asked, hoping to lead him to the right conclusion.
His eyes widened. "I hadnâ€™t thought about that."
Pamela flopped back on the bed, covering her face with her arm. "Barry," she said slowly, "did it occur to you that weâ€™ve stayed together because itâ€™s expected, not because weâ€™re truly in love?" She sat back up, turning him to face her. "I mean, I admire your intelligence, your perseverance, your depth of knowledge, but letâ€™s face it, Iâ€™m not in love with you, and you are not in love with me."
He stared at her, thoroughly miserable. "Iâ€™m sorry, Pamela, I really tried. You would be so perfect, youâ€™re thoughtful, intelligent, understanding."
Pamela said sadly, "But although we love each other, weâ€™re not truly in love. Thatâ€™s no fair to either one of us, and if you think you have a chance with Jennie, and if you are in love with her, maybe you should follow your head instead of your heart."
He nodded slowly, leaning toward her. She caught him in her arms, holding him, rocking him. He finally sat back up, saying, "Iâ€™m so sorry, Pamela, I had no intention of falling for anyone else. I wanted to wait for you."
"Sometimes, even the best plans fall through," she said, stroking his face. "Itâ€™s okay, really. Weâ€™ll tell my parents tomorrow that we just couldnâ€™t work things through."
Barry looked relieved, and rolled over to reach for his clothes. "So youâ€™re not mad?"
She allowed a tiny smile. "No, Iâ€™m relieved."
He nodded, continuing to dress. "I donâ€™t want to hurt you," he said.
She pointed out, "Barry, I am hurt that you called out another womanâ€™s name during sex, but Iâ€™m willing to overlook that."
"It was rather bad form," he agreed, suddenly giggling.
Barry? Giggling? Pamela dressed, then kissed him again. "Goodnight, Barry."
"Iâ€™m not surprised," John Stewart said when Barry and Pamela broke the news the next day. "Barry, no offense, but I donâ€™t see you as right for my daughter."
"Thank you for understanding," Barry said, relief washing over his face. "Well, Iâ€™d better head back to the city. Thank you for the lovely dinner, and for letting me stay here."
"Have a safe trip," Victoria added.
Pamela led her ex-fiancÃ© out of the den, saying, "That went fairly well."
"It did," he agreed, stopping to pick up his suitcase.
Pamela followed him out to his car, kissed him goodbye, then watched him drive off before walking back into the house. Now to really face the music. She slowly walked back into the den to face her parents and the questions she was sure they would have.
And she was right.
"Did you two argue?" her mother asked when Pamela sat down in an armchair.
"Not really," she said. "Mom, Dad, I loved Barry, but not the way Iâ€™ve seen you love each other. Heâ€™s a good man, and will make Jennie a good husband, but I just didnâ€™t feel right marrying him."
"Whoâ€™s Jennie?" John asked sharply.
"A girl he met at the law firm, the managing partnerâ€™s daughter," she answered.
"Aha. And how did you find out?" he persisted.
Pamela blushed. "Um, while we were fooling around," she admitted.
"Are you protected?" Victoria asked.
"I started taking the pill recently," Pamela answered slowly.
"The pill can still fail when you first start taking it," Victoria noted.
"I have a doctorâ€™s appointment in a few weeks, Iâ€™ve been having some problems with it. We might need to adjust the dosage or something," Pamela said, wishing she didnâ€™t have to talk to her parents about this.
"Good." John and Victoria glanced at each other, then John continued, "We really did like Barry, but it always felt like you were doing what you were supposed to do, not what you wanted to do. He was making too many decisions for you."
"Yes, he was," she agreed, relief flooding her. "Thanks. I love you guys."
"We love you too," Victoria replied.
The next week, Pamela looked in her address book, finding Paigeâ€™s address and phone number. She was surprised to see it there, and to find that it was the house that Paige had bought. Or would buy? This time shifting sometimes really messes with oneâ€™s head, she thought. She read more of her diaries, and found that she and Paige had lunch regularly, and there was an undercurrent of tension in her writing.
Pamela made plans to eat lunch with Paige the day of her doctorâ€™s appointment. Surely sheâ€™d be out in time from a 9:00 appointment! Paige seemed happy to meet her, so maybe her life was on track.
The morning of the appointment, she felt ill, but wasnâ€™t sure if it was nerves or what. She thought back to her pregnancy - was she sick? If her memory wasnâ€™t playing tricks on her, she thought that she was one of those rare women who had mild nausea, but rarely had morning sickness, and never did after the first two months. A few crackers usually did the trick.
Still, it was a shock when the doctor told her gently, "Youâ€™re pregnant, Pamela. I thought we discussed unprotected sex while your body was getting used to the prescription."
She hung her head as if in shame, but to hide the grin. I'm pregnant with Glen! she thought. Aloud, she said, "You did, Dr. Smith."
"So will he marry you?"
Pamela shook her head. "We broke up. He called out another womanâ€™s name during sex."
Dr. Smith sighed. "What do you want to do?"
She thought for a moment, then said, "Keep the baby. I may have made a mistake, but no reason for the baby to pay for it."
"You could give it up for adoption, or have an abortion," the doctor pointed out.
"No, Iâ€™ll keep it." She lifted her head. "I guess I should stop taking the pill now."
"Yes, you should. I'll have my nurse give you some material to read, keep you healthy. Are you going to tell the father? He has legal rights and obligations."
"Iâ€™ll wait until Iâ€™ve checked at work about my benefits," she decided. She hoped work would not prove to be an issue.
"All right. Keep me informed." Dr. Smith smiled. "And congratulations."
Pamela found the nearest pay phone after she left, and called in sick to work. She drove around aimlessly, killing time until it was time to meet Paige for lunch. She was excited and scared at the same time. It occurred to her that she hadnâ€™t looked at the employee handbook, and that it was possible that she could be fired. Well, sheâ€™d made her decision, and sheâ€™d have to trust that her decision was the correct one.
Several hours later, she met Paige at the golf club. Pamela had told Paige over the phone that she needed a quiet place to talk, and Paige immediately suggested that they take advantage of her parentsâ€™ membership. Now Paige paced nervously in the lobby, waiting for Pamela to arrive.
"Hey, sweetie, whatâ€™s going on?" Paige asked, giving Pamela a big hug.
"Iâ€™ll tell you in a few minutes. Thanks for meeting me here."
"For my best friend? Anything," Paige said, taking her arm and guiding her to the hostess station. "Two in the name of Paige Templeton," she said.
The hostess checked the register and gathered up menus and silverware. "If you ladies will follow me," she said.
A bit later, they were seated and orders placed. Pamela nervously smoothed her napkin in her lap repeatedly, not sure how to start. Paige waited patiently, quietly, for her to start. Finally Pamela said, "Barry and I broke up for good recently. Heâ€™s in love with another woman, and I decided it was best to let him go."
"Okay, that doesnâ€™t surprise me too much. It sounds like thereâ€™s more."
"Yes," Pamela confirmed, bunching her napkin.
Paige cocked her head. "Well?"
Pamela was surprised to find herself tearing up, not calm like sheâ€™d rehearsed. "Iâ€™m pregnant."
Paige stared at her, obviously stunned into momentary silence. Finally, she took a long drink of water, then asked, "Are you sure? And is it Barryâ€™s?" She reached for Pamelaâ€™s hands, taking them in her own.
Pamela nodded, swallowing hard, holding tightly to Paige for comfort and courage. "I am. I went to the doctor this morning. Iâ€™d already made the appointment to get my pills checked because I was having a lot of problems with them. I mentioned that Iâ€™d been a little bloated feeling, a little sick, but nothing too bad, and he ran a pregnancy test. I guess we had unprotected sex too soon."
"Oh, dear God. Does Barry know?" Paige asked anxiously.
"No, he doesnâ€™t, and Iâ€™m not sure I will tell him. Paige, I havenâ€™t even told my parents yet," Pamela said.
Paige chafed her cold hands, thinking hard. "First thing we do it get you a place to live. You canâ€™t do that long commute from the farm with a baby. Iâ€™ll tell you what, I have extra room at my house I just bought, so you can just live with me."
"Youâ€™d do that?" Pamela asked hopefully.
"Yes, I would. With your salary at the firm and mine at the hotel, we can give this baby a nice little home." Paige stopped, withdrawing her hands as the waiter approached with their meals. They both dug in for a few minutes, then Paige continued. "Iâ€™m not seeing anyone right now, so thatâ€™s not an issue."
Pamela ate, starving, wondering if this was the right thing to do. It was falling together so easily - but what about Paigeâ€™s trip to Italy, where she had met her husband? Wasnâ€™t that coming up in the fall? "What about your trip overseas?" she asked.
Paige waved a hand. "I can cancel, or reschedule. Hey, we can go before you get too far along! Iâ€™m sure my parents wouldnâ€™t mind."
"But what will they say about you letting a unwed pregnant woman move in with you?"
"They adore you, so that wonâ€™t be a problem," Paige said confidently. "Leave it to me." She smiled, eyes sparkling with excitement. "Iâ€™m going to be a mother! Hey, when can you move in?"
"This weekend, I guess."
"Good. Iâ€™m not working this weekend, and I can borrow a truck and a couple of guys from the hotel. Just leave it up to me."
Pamela didnâ€™t have much to move, other than her clothes, books, and some souvenirs from various places. Paige already had the guest room furnished, and insisted that Pamela use her furniture. Pamelaâ€™s parents were surprised by the quick decision to move, and offered to let her have her childhood furniture, but Pamela said to keep it for now.
As the last box was loaded, John took his daughter aside, asking, "Whatâ€™s the real reason you are leaving? I know that you and Paige concocted this story about her wanting a roommate and your commute being so long, but I feel there is something more. Are you pregnant? If so, have you told Barry?"
"Dad," Pamela said, wishing she didnâ€™t have to tell him, "I havenâ€™t said anything to him. Heâ€™s already announced his engagement to Jennie, so I donâ€™t want to upset anything."
"So I do get a grandchild."
He sighed. "And when will you tell your mother?"
Pamela offered, "Um, soon?"
"I thought so. Pam, what will I do with you?" John hugged his daughter, then said, "I really thought you had better sense, but I guess sometimes we get overwhelmed in the moment. But you do need to tell him, for no other reason than to get child support."
"Iâ€™ll talk to him soon, Dad," she said uneasily.
He kissed her forehead, then asked, "Does Paige know?"
Pamela answered, "Yes, and sheâ€™s all excited."
"I thought she might be," he mused. "Okay, let us know what happens. I love you no matter what, you know."
"I love you too, Daddy." Pamela hugged her father tightly, then turned to go back to the truck. He watched her, hoping she was making the right decisions.
It is fairly easy to share a house after sharing a small dorm room for four years, Pamela mused after she got settled in. They fell into a routine, taking turns cooking and buying groceries, each cleaning their own side of the house. Pamela felt the undercurrent between them, but Paige seemed perfectly content to remain friends. Did I miscalculate? What if she really isnâ€™t attracted to me the way I am to her? When should I tell them at work that Iâ€™m pregnant? I guess I should tell Barry, but I donâ€™t want to ruin his life.
"Pamela, youâ€™re in lala land again."
Pamela jerked up her head. "I guess I was woolgathering, as my grandmother would say."
Paige grinned, ruffling Pamela's hair affectionately. "Iâ€™ll ask again. I have a chance to go to Hawaii for a training conference, and asked if you wanted to go along. Do you think you can get a week off from work next month?"
"Probably. Iâ€™d love to go with you, Paige." History had changed. I thought she went to Italy this year, and met her husband. "Iâ€™d have to check to see how my savings are first."
"I can cover the airfare, and the room is paid for. Youâ€™d just have to pay for your meals and any trinkets you buy. Think you can do that?" Paige offered.
"I think so." Pamela allowed herself to get a little excited. The romantic tropics. A room with Paige. Moonlight and surf. "Where would we stay?"
Paige sat down next to Pamela, opening a brochure and handing it to her. "Weâ€™d stay on two different islands, near the beach. Iâ€™d be in sessions from about 8:00 to 4:00, then weâ€™d have the rest of the day to ourselves. There might be one night weâ€™d have to go to a dinner, but otherwise, I could spend time with you."
"That sounds terrific," Pamela said, "when do you need to know by?"
"The sooner the better. Can you talk to your boss tomorrow?"
"Great!" Paige slung an arm around Pamelaâ€™s shoulders, squeezing her tight. "Iâ€™m looking forward to it."
"Me too." Last chance for a vacation before the baby.
The next morning, Pamela requested a meeting with her boss. He readily agreed, and she went into his office at precisely 9:30. "Mr. Mitchell, I have a chance to go to Hawaii on vacation next month," she blurted out. "I know I have enough vacation time, will you let me take it?"
"Hawaii, eh? That young man of yours decide to sweep you off your feet?" he asked jovially.
She cleared her throat nervously, dreading the coming conversation. "No, Barry and I broke up recently, and Iâ€™ve moved in with a friend of mine from college."
"What happened?" He looked at her, concern written on his face.
"He fell in love with another woman," she said reluctantly, not wanting to have to explain further.
"Iâ€™m so sorry, Pamela," he said gently.
"Itâ€™s okay, I really was having doubts anyway." She took a deep breath, gathering her courage firmly in hand. "But there is one small complication."
"Iâ€™m pregnant. I should be due in October."
An awkward silence stretched between them for what felt like an eternity until Mr. Mitchell said, "Well, this is unexpected. How has Barry taken the news?"
"He hasnâ€™t. I mean, I havenâ€™t told him yet. And no, I donâ€™t want him back, either, not if heâ€™s really in love with this other woman," she explained.
"Oh, dear." Mr. Mitchell furrowed his brow, thinking. "You know, this is awkward. Youâ€™re not married. I probably shouldnâ€™t ask, but are you planning to keep the baby?"
"Yes," she answered defiantly.
"I see." He drummed his fingers on his desk, then asked, "So will your friend let you stay with a baby?"
I hate talking about my personal life, she thought. "Weâ€™ve talked about it, and sheâ€™s fine with it. She has extra room in her house, and Iâ€™m paying rent and groceries. Mr. Mitchell, this was a complete surprise to me as well, but I want to do right by my baby."
He turned red, but plowed on. "Well, weâ€™d better talk to personnel about your leave this fall, and about the insurance. Iâ€™m surprised that you would let yourself get into this mess, but I applaud you taking responsibility. But you do need to tell Barry, so he can pay child support."
"Okay, I will, just not yet. About the vacation?" Pamela prompted.
He finally smiled. "Yes, you can go. Have fun while you can. My wife and I took a big vacation when she was expecting our first child, and it turned out to be the best one we ever had." He smiled, green eyes shining with memories. "Maybe youâ€™ll find your true love over in the islands."
"Maybe so," Pamela replied. I sure hope so.ï¿¼
The weeks before the vacation flew by. Pamela wasnâ€™t showing yet, but she could feel the changes in her body. She was grateful that she rarely had morning sickness, and had the support of Paige. She wasnâ€™t sure what to say to her immediate co-workers, but at least Mr. Mitchell seemed okay with it. A little awkward, but he was trying, bless his heart.
Her parents, on the other hand, waffled between being excited and embarrassed. Sometimes she would talk to them and they would be planning the future, sometimes they would ask if she really had thought out everything. Paige seemed to assume that she would have a role in the babyâ€™s life, calling herself "Momma Paige".
The hardest part, for some reason, was telling Paigeâ€™s parents. They decided to go visit them a week before the trip, spend the weekend with them. It was a long trip by car, four hours, but as Pamela put it, "Better do it while Iâ€™m not having to stop every thirty minutes."
The roommates chattered nervously on the trip down, spinning different scenarios. How would the Templetons react? How would Tony react? He was married and expecting his first baby now. Paige wondered briefly if she had almost dated him in this timeline too.
"Well, here we are," Paige said as she shut off the engine. "Ready?"
"Iâ€™d better be," Pamela replied. Paige threw her a nervous smile, reaching for her hand. They sat in the car for a moment, just smiling at each other, until Pamela finally said, "Okay, okay, weâ€™d better do this."
Paige nodded. They opened their doors, stepping out into the cold, sunny afternoon, moving slowly to the house. Paige opened the door and called out, "Mom, Dad, weâ€™re home!"
"Oh, good to see you girls," Nancy Templeton said, entering the entry hall. "Come on in. Robert, the girls are here," she called over her shoulder. She hugged each woman in turn, pausing to look deep into Pamelaâ€™s eyes. "Iâ€™m sorry about your breakup with Barry," she said.
"It was for the best," she mumbled.
"My girls!" Robert Templeton called out, hugging each in turn. "I thought you had deserted us for the big city!"
"No, Daddy, we would never desert you," Paige said playfully, tapping his nose. "Who else would play golf with me, and pay for the round?"
"Thatâ€™s all you see me as, a walking wallet," he teased. "Pamela, itâ€™s been a long time since weâ€™ve seen you. Good to have you back."
"Thank you, Mr. Templeton."
"Tony and Sheila were planning to come this weekend, but he had a work party they needed to attend. Paige, give me your keys and Iâ€™ll go get your bags." Robert held out his hand expectantly.
"Thanks, Daddy." She tossed him the keys, then followed her mother and Pamela into the kitchen. "Mom, Iâ€™m hungry, and Iâ€™m sure Pamela is too."
"You know where everything is, so help yourself. Pamela, it really is good to see you again. We missed you last summer," Nancy said as she led the two women to the kitchen.
"Thank you, I missed you too," Pamela responded. Last summer? she wondered. Before she could think about it, Paige started asking her mother about various friends, keeping her busy while Pamela got her bearings. She sat quietly on a stool at the kitchen island, silently blessing her friend as snacks and juice were laid before her. She was already hungry, and it was only a few hours after lunch. Silly baby already being demanding. Paige kept up a steady stream of chatter until both of them had finished eating, then ended with, "Mom, weâ€™re both pretty tired, so mind if we go take a nap until dinner time? I did a late shift at the hotel, and Pamela has worked late all week."
"Please, go ahead. Iâ€™ll call you when dinner is ready," Mrs. Templeton said.
"Thanks, Mom," Paige said, hugging her briefly. "Come on, Pam, letâ€™s get some shut eye."
"I appreciate the hospitality, Mrs. Templeton," Pamela said.
"Itâ€™s our pleasure. And please, you can call us Nancy and Robert now."
"Thank you, Nancy." Pamela shyly hugged Nancy, then followed Paige upstairs to her bedroom.
"You gonna live?" Paige asked after she shut the door behind her.
"Probably," Pamela said, noting the luggage neatly stacked in the corner. "You donâ€™t have to take a nap with me, I can sleep by myself."
Paige smiled, tugging back the covers and shedding her shoes. "I didnâ€™t lie, Iâ€™m pretty tired myself. You were asleep when I got home last night. Get comfortable and slide in the covers." She kept taking off clothes until she was down to her underwear, then pulled out a worn pair of pajamas from the dresser. "You need anything?"
"No," Pamela said, following suit. She felt shaky all of the sudden, watching as her friend changed clothes, wondering if her hormones were surging out of control. She started to reach for her luggage, but Paige tossed her a set of flannel pajamas, so Pamela put those on instead.
Paige cracked a huge yawn, flipping off the overhead light, leaving only light leaking in from the curtains. "Come on, get in," she said sleepily.
Pamela stood nervously, finally obeying. She slid stiffly under the covers, flinching when Paige slipped an arm around her, pulling her close. I wonâ€™t be able to fall asleep, she thought, not snuggled up this way. Hell, Iâ€™m not sure I want to fall asleep.
A few hours later, Pamela woke up with a jolt, confused. Have I slipped in time again? she wondered. She opened her eyes, seeing Paigeâ€™s neck. She blinked rapidly, orienting herself. "How long was I out?" she croaked.
"Nearly two hours," Paige answered, "I just woke up a few minutes ago."
"Oh." Pamela started to pull away, but Paige resisted. "What if someone walks in?"
"What if they do? My folks donâ€™t walk in unannounced, not for years. Besides, I like snuggling with you, itâ€™s nicer than being with a guy."
Pamela wanted to relax, but her bladder was full. "Um, I hate to say this, but I need to use the restroom."
"In that case, Iâ€™ll let you up," Paige said reluctantly.
Pamela made her way to the bathroom, taking care of immediate needs, then stood, washing her hands. She dried them, then looked at herself in the mirror. She stood sideways, hiking up her top, trying to see if there was any change.
"Hey," Paige said softly, "can I come in?"
"Oh, yes," Pamela said, blushing, "let me just get out of your way." She stumbled into the bedroom, embarrassed at being caught looking at her belly. She slid back under the covers, unsure what to do. Get dressed? Wait for Paige? Inertia took hold, and she simply waited for Paige to reappear.
"Much better," Paige announced, re-entering the room. She jumped on the bed, sliding under the covers. "How do you feel?"
"Tired, but good," Pamela said.
Paige smiled, pulling Pamela into her arms and leaning back against the headboard. "Iâ€™m glad you came home with me," she said, "Iâ€™ve missed you."
"Iâ€™ve missed you too," Pamela responded, wondering what was going on. "But weâ€™ve lived together for a few weeks now."
"Oh, I mean after we graduated. You insisted on moving back home, even though my parents helped me buy my house and I told you you were welcome any time. You kept dating Barry, even though it was plain to me that you werenâ€™t really in love with him. Itâ€™s like you felt you needed to find a husband to be complete, even though I knew your parents didnâ€™t put any pressure on you. I am surprised that you were sleeping with him, I didnâ€™t know you were that..." Her voice trailed off, running out of steam.
"I guess I was trying to hang on to him," Pamela said, "or trying to convince myself of something. Confession time, have you slept with any men?"
"Me? No, although Iâ€™ve had my chances. Thereâ€™s no one Iâ€™ve felt close enough to, connected enough to sleep with." Paige laid her cheek against Pamelaâ€™s head. "I guess I really, truly, want to be in love when I do finally give myself to someone."
"I understand," Pamela said. I am so comfortable in your arms, Paige, but what would you do if I turned around and kissed you? Would you freak, like you had before, or would you accept it? Iâ€™d better not try right now. "Some day, the right person will come along."
"Maybe. For now, Iâ€™m happy having you around again. This may sound weird, but Iâ€™m looking forward to seeing your baby," Pamela said, sighing happily.
Paige warned, "It will be difficult."
"I know, and rumors will fly about us too," Paige acknowledged, "but let them." Before Pamela could say anything else, they heard the call for dinner. "All right, honey, letâ€™s go down for dinner."
"All right. But I was so comfortable," Pamela said as she sat up.
"So was I, Pam." Paige stretched, then reached for her clothes. "Weâ€™d better change out of our pajamas. Supper may be informal, but not that informal."ï¿¼
Supper was relaxed. Pamela was quiet at first, but was drawn into talking about her job. "Iâ€™m mostly doing scut work now, but there is a path for advancement," she said in answer to Robertâ€™s questions. "Itâ€™s a good firm."
"Iâ€™m glad to hear that," Robert Templeton replied. "Do you still play golf?"
"I havenâ€™t had much of a chance, but I did take some lessons last summer. I enjoy golf, but donâ€™t have much time for it, although moving in with Paige has cut down on my commute," she answered.
"So, not to be too nosy," Nancy said, "but what happened with Barry?"
Pamela laid down her fork, glancing across at Paige for moral support. Paige smiled gently, nodding slightly. "Well, Barry and I were never officially engaged, although he did ask several times. I turned him down the first time because I wanted to graduate first. We stayed together more from inertia than anything, I suppose. He wanted to marry me because I fit his checklist, and I almost said yes just because I felt he would be a good provider."
"But?" Nancy encouraged.
Pamela sighed. "Sometimes, when you are apart, things happen. He has fallen in love with another woman. I found this out unexpectedly, before I found out something else."
Pamela resisted squirming in her chair. "Well, letâ€™s just say that he called out her name at the wrong time, so I used that as an excuse to break up with him."
"Oh, that is wrong," Robert interrupted. "Sorry, Pam, go on. The cad."
"I know it was wrong to sleep with him before marriage, but we were both trying to hang on, and it felt like the way to do it. A few weeks after we broke up, I found out that I was pregnant." Pamela took a deep breath, waiting for the fallout.
There was a shocked silence for a moment, then Robert asked, "Okay, two questions. One, are you keeping the baby, and two, have you told him? All right, three, didnâ€™t he use protection?"
"Dad!" Paige interjected.
Pamela looked directly at Robert, answering unflinchingly, "It was my fault. I had started taking the pill, and didnâ€™t wait long enough for us to stop using condoms. No, I havenâ€™t told him, I didnâ€™t want him to feel obligated to break up with Jennie to marry me. Yes, I am keeping the baby, which is why I decided Iâ€™d better move closer to work."
"And Iâ€™m going to help her with the baby," Paige added firmly.
"You?" Nancy asked, incredulous. "Iâ€™m sorry, sweetie, but when anyone hands you a baby, you get this stricken look."
"Mother, Iâ€™m going to help her with the baby," Paige repeated, "sheâ€™s paying her half of the household bills."
"So what happens when you meet someone?" her mother riposted.
"I wonâ€™t. Pamela is my best friend, and Iâ€™ll do everything I can to take care of her and the baby," Paige said, eyes flashing.
Robert started to add something, but stopped himself. Pamela was a little worried. We hadnâ€™t talked about anything other than Paige letting me stay for now. It sounds like she feels more than friendship. I know I do, and I think her father knows that. Robert turned and looked at Pamela, a confused look crossing his face. Suddenly, his face cleared, and he asked, "Have you told your parents?"
"Yes. They are disappointed, but understand my reasons for not marrying a man I donâ€™t really love."
"I see." Nancy stood up. "Anyone for dessert?"
The topic was dropped, although it loomed in the background the rest of the evening. Paige and Pamela finally started up the stairs after several hours of playing card games. Robert stopped them, saying, "Paige, I want to talk to you a minute." She glanced at Pamela, then followed her father to the den.
Pamela usually didnâ€™t eavesdrop, but felt compelled to this time. She stationed herself just outside the door, listening intently. "Paige, I didnâ€™t want to ask in front of your mother, but just how do you plan to take care of Pamela?"
"Iâ€™ll provide her a place to live, help her with the baby, help take care of her. Dad, what are you getting at?"
"I havenâ€™t ever said anything, but Iâ€™m wondering, are you in love with Pam? Iâ€™ve noticed that youâ€™ve been so close to her over the years, and never brought home a boyfriend. Tony has brought home several girlfriends, and, by the way, he and Sheila are expecting."
"Great! Our baby will have a cousin!" Paige sounded excited.
"â€˜Ourâ€™ baby? Oh, Paige, have you told Pam that youâ€™re in love with her?" Robert asked.
She heard Paige sigh. "No, Dad. Weâ€™ve had this discussion before, and I know that Mom would be crushed if she knew how I felt. But I havenâ€™t done anything with Pamela, and we have separate rooms at the house."
"But do you love her?"
"Yes, Dad, I do." This was said with firm conviction.
"You know that if you ever tell her, that it will be hard. Society frowns on gays and lesbians. You would have to be careful, you could literally get killed just for loving her."
"I know, and Iâ€™m trying to avoid that, Dad."
"Iâ€™m not sure whether to recommend that you just confess to her, or keep it a secret."
Pamela heard the floor creak as someone started pacing. "I guess just follow your heart. I followed mine when I proposed to your mother, and we hadnâ€™t even dated. We just knew each other from the golf course."
"Dad, Iâ€™m not sure what Iâ€™ll do, but I promise, Iâ€™ll take care of her and the baby."
"Paige, does your job pay well enough in case her company fires her?"
"No, but Iâ€™ve been thinking about that this week. One of my marketing professors called me the other night, said heâ€™d heard about a position with a fairly new winery, one set in an old church property. It would initially pay just a little more, but have lots of potential as they expand. I could get in on the ground floor, set up my own marketing department."
"Thatâ€™s my girl. If you do need any help, let me know."
"I will, Daddy. Love you."
"Love you too, sweetheart. Now go to bed, Pamela will be wondering where you are."
Pamela took that as the cue to scamper up the stairs and into the bedroom before Paige discovered her listening in. Paige does love me, she thought, and wants to take care of me.
The doorbell rang, and Pamela went to answer it, puzzled. Who could it be so late at night? She opened the door to find a shivering Barry, looking completely forlorn. "Can I come in?" he asked.
"Sure," she said, glad that Paige was home as well. She felt uneasy being alone with Barry, having ducked several calls and letters from him recently. She resisted the urge to rub her belly, which still looked relatively flat under her sweatshirt. "Letâ€™s go in the living room."
Barry followed her, shivering. "Would you like some hot chocolate or coffee?" she asked.
"Yes, whatever youâ€™re having," he answered.
"Iâ€™ll be back in a minute. If youâ€™re that cold, take the throw off the back of the couch and wrap it around you." She didnâ€™t wait to see if he did, just took off to the kitchen.
"Hey, who is that?" Paige asked, looking up from her sketches.
"Barry. Heâ€™s in the living room, and chilled to the bone. Iâ€™m making hot chocolate."
Paige furrowed her brow. "Need me in there?"
"No, but donâ€™t go anywhere, please," Pamela said.
Paige nodded, reaching out to touch Pamelaâ€™s arm. "Iâ€™ll stay close," she promised. Pamela waited for the water to heat, wondering what brought Barry to her door. Last she heard, he was busy making plans with Jennie, probably a June wedding. She suddenly giggled as the thought occurred to her: had he made Jennie pregnant too?
Paige looked up, but Pamela waved her off, concentrating on stacking up the mugs, plate of cookies, and napkins on a tray. She carried the tray in to the living room, laying it carefully on the coffee table, handing Barry a mug. He wrapped his hands around it, sipping deeply while avoiding her eyes. Finally, she asked, "Barry, whatâ€™s wrong?"
"Am I doing the right thing?" he blurted out. "We had such a comfortable relationship, meshing so well, and then I blew it. Am I doing the right thing by letting you go?"
"Letâ€™s recast the question," she said calmly, "did we make the right decision to break up? Yes. Barry, we got along fine, but thatâ€™s not the best basis for a life long marriage. We loved each other, but not with the overwhelming passion you need to start a marriage."
"But I made promises to you," Barry countered.
"And I to you, but we both broke them."
He looked at her, sipping his drink, wondering what she meant. "What promises did you break?"
"I promised I could love you as a wife. Barry, after you left for law school and I continued on with my degree, I eventually realized that I didnâ€™t love you enough to marry you," Paige explained. "Instead of breaking it off when I knew this, I let it drag on. It wasnâ€™t right for us, so weâ€™re better off with someone else. Do you love Jennie?"
"I think so. God, itâ€™s hard to concentrate on my classes sometimes, I want her so bad. Itâ€™s getting harder to not make love to her, but at the same time, I can talk to her for hours. Sheâ€™s from a good family, and works in her dadâ€™s office with the office manager. Our parents like each other." He stared miserably at his shoes, refusing to meet her eyes.
Paige sighed. "Then go to her with my blessing, Barry."
He sat, worrying the edge of the blanket with his fingers. He finally looked up and said, "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," she said firmly.
"Then why did I see your mother looking at baby clothes the other day?" He looked up, misery and fear in his eyes.
Pamela felt like she had been socked in the gut. So Barry knew. "Did you talk to her?"
"No, but I just knew something was wrong. And you look different. Not bigger, not yet, but your face is glowing, and you look radiant. You never looked like this around me."
She leaned back, rubbing her face in her hands, marshaling her words. Finally, she gave up trying to be logical and said simply, "Yes. I didnâ€™t know until after weâ€™d broken up, when I went in for a routine doctorâ€™s appointment."
"Then do I need to marry you?" he asked.
"No," she said firmly, "and you donâ€™t even have to acknowledge him or her. Paige is going to let me live with her, so weâ€™ll have a place to live."
He stared at his shoes, sifting through the options, finally asking, "Do you need child support?"
"Barry, if you want to give me child support, you can, but if you donâ€™t want that burden, then donâ€™t. I think Iâ€™ll be okay without it," she assured him.
He heaved a great sigh, then offered, "I can put aside a little at a time, a trust for the child. Iâ€™ll acknowledge him or her. I want to be involved."
"But would that be fair to Jennie?" Pamela asked.
"I hadnâ€™t thought about that."
"Then consider signing some sort of paperwork relinquishing all parental rights. That would possibly put her mind at ease. I am keeping this child, but Iâ€™m not asking you for anything."
Barry still looked unhappy, rubbing his hands together repeatedly. "I want to do right by you, and to face up to my responsibilities."
"I know you do, Barry, and I appreciate it. At least youâ€™re not asking me to abort the baby."
He drew back in horror. "No, never. Iâ€™d take the child myself if you had thought of that!"
"I assure you, itâ€™s not going to come to that. But you need to think of your future with Jennie as well as your career. How would it look for you to join a big law firm with a bastard child? No, the best thing is to let me go."
He looked at her, still unhappy. "I donâ€™t run from my mistakes."
Pamela sighed. "Barry, I never said you did. You are the one of the most responsible men Iâ€™ve ever met, and no one can doubt your sincerity or honor. Iâ€™m sorry weâ€™re in this situation, but trust me, Jennie will make a better wife for your career than I would."
"If you insist." He stood up, stretching. "Thank you for the hot chocolate, Pamela. One last question: will you put my name on the birth certificate?"
She hadnâ€™t thought about it. "I donâ€™t know. Let me know what you want me to do. I could just put down unknown."
He rubbed his chin, thinking. "Well, Iâ€™d rather you be honest, even if it affects me negatively. We both had a choice, we could have abstained. I still care very much about you, Pamela. In some ways, I wish I felt for you what I feel for Jennie."
She touched his arm gently. "I know you do, Barry, but trust me, itâ€™s better this way. >He nodded, then stood up and held out his hand to help her off the couch. She let him pull her up and into a long hug, then kissed his cheek. "Good night, Barry," she said.
"Good night. Iâ€™ll be in touch," he promised.
"Okay." Pamela led him to the door, watching until he drove off before shutting and locking the door.
"So what happened?" Paige asked as she came out of the kitchen.
Pamela unexpectedly burst into tears. "Oh, baby, Iâ€™m sorry," Paige said, scooping Pamela in her arms. "My poor baby," she crooned, carrying Pamela back to the master bedroom, laying her on the bed.
"Barry is too nice," Pamela wailed, burying her face in Paigeâ€™s chest, "he tried to make me change my mind and marry him."
"He is an honorable man," Paige agreed, gathering her up and rocking her. "Just let it out, then weâ€™ll talk, sweetie."
Pamela cried until she was exhausted, laying in Paigeâ€™s arms. She finally stirred, going to wash her face, then coming back to sit on the edge of the bed. "Barry ran into my mother as she was looking at baby clothes, and came up with the correct conclusion. Heâ€™s offered to marry me, or at the least to provide child support. I donâ€™t want him as a husband, but I hadnâ€™t considered that he would want to be involved. What do I do?"
Paige rubbed comforting circles on her back, saying, "What do you want to do? Iâ€™ve told you that you can stay here, that Iâ€™ll help. Do you want Barry to be involved?"
"It would not be fair to Jennie, to have her husband spending time with his ex and their child," Pamela mused. "But, it would also not be fair to the baby to never know its father. Iâ€™m confused, Paige."
"Weâ€™ll work it out, honey," Paige said, laying her cheek on Pamelaâ€™s head, "Iâ€™m not sure how, but weâ€™ll work it all out. But you are right, it is an awkward situation."
Pamela sighed. "Iâ€™m glad weâ€™re going away in a week. I need a vacation from reality." Paige laughed. "Girlfriend, I do too. God, do I ever need a vacation!" She flopped back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "Well, at least thereâ€™s one consolation."
"You rarely have morning sickness. Iâ€™m not sure I could handle that."
Pamela rolled over, looking at her roommate. "Then how are you with diapers?"
Paige rolled her eyes and pinched her nose. "Terrible," she said. "Come on, letâ€™s get some sleep." Pamela started to get up, but Paige pulled her back. "Youâ€™ve had an emotional evening. Just stay here tonight."
"Okay." Pamela didnâ€™t have to be asked twice.
Pamela and Paige decided to take a walk on the beach before dinner, after Paige finished her conference sessions for the day. "The sand is so different than any Iâ€™ve seen," Pamela commented as they walked along the edge of the ocean.
"Yeah, and itâ€™s harder to walk on, but the bigger grains donâ€™t stick to your feet like regular sand," Paige agreed. "So what did you do with yourself while I listened to boring speakers?"
"I slept, ate a decadent brunch, then took a long walk in town," Pamela reported, "I found the cutest shopping center. Itâ€™s hard to believe that you can have so many open air buildings."
"Thatâ€™s the magic of Hawaii," Paige agreed. They continued their slow meandering, enjoying the sound of the water and each otherâ€™s company. "I have one more long day, then I can sneak out early the next few days. What would you like to see?"
"I donâ€™t know. We could just drive around, see what there is to see. Or, I could check with the front desk tomorrow and see what they suggest. I saw a rack with all sorts of brochures."
"Iâ€™ll leave it up to you, then," Paige said.
Somewhere romantic, Pamela thought, but did not say. She was fighting the urge to simply take Paigeâ€™s hand, knowing that even with no one around, it could be dangerous. It wasnâ€™t fair, she could have done that with Barry! Away, scurvy thoughts!
"A penny for your thoughts," Paige said.
Pamela smiled. "Just thinking how much Iâ€™m enjoying being here with you, with the sand and the sea, away from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life."
"Me too," Paige echoed, smiling. "It does feel like a fairy tale. Hey, thatâ€™s it, weâ€™re in a fairy tale, and Iâ€™ve rescued you from a life of drudgery."
"Ha. I still have to cook and clean and run errands," Pamela said.
"Brat. I contribute!" Paige said, acting wounded.
"Yes, you do your share of cleaning, but your cooking is, shall we say, lacking?"
Paige laughed, slinging an arm around Pamelaâ€™s shoulders. "You are right, my friend. I do lack imagination. Say, I wanted to run something by you," she said more seriously.
"Whatâ€™s that?" Pamela asked, a bit uneasy.
"Iâ€™ve had an offer to go to work for a winery on the outskirts of town. Iâ€™d get a tiny raise for now, but the potential to create a marketing department from scratch. Theyâ€™ve bought an old church and the surrounding grounds, and have sold their first run of wine. Iâ€™m intrigued by the opportunity to create a department and an entire campaign from scratch. The catch is that Iâ€™d probably be doing more traveling initially, which might cut into babysitting time."
"Is this something you really want to do, Paige?"
"Yes. I mean, Iâ€™m doing well at the hotel, and am on a path to management, but Iâ€™m bored stiff. Itâ€™s a good chain, but I canâ€™t be creative, and that bugs me. Iâ€™d rather run my own show," Paige explained.
Pamela considered, then commented, "Iâ€™d have to know more, and have a chance to consider the wineryâ€™s financial position. Why are you asking me?"
Paige stopped, turning to face Pamela. "Because our lives are getting intertwined, and we need to consider what decisions we make that could affect our lives, and the life of this child. Sort of like a couple."
"Like a couple?"
The women faced each other, a gossamer moment stretching between them. Eyes dilated, breathing quickened, hyperaware of each other. Pamela finally stretched out a hand, laying it tentatively on Paigeâ€™s cheek, stroking her face with feather light caresses. Paigeâ€™s eyes fluttered shut, a dreamy smile ghosting her lips. Pamela stepped closer, boldly pulling Paige down to meet her, not caring if the world saw them.
Paige finally broke away, gasping, "Letâ€™s go." She grabbed Pamela by the hand, pulling her to the hotel, only dropping her hand when they walked on to the property. "Room," she whispered as they casually strolled in, acting as if they had all the time in the world.
They managed to make it into their room before resuming their incendiary kiss, groping each other with desire and fumbling with clothing. No discussion, no need for stopping, no need for birth control, just sheer raw sexual need. They thrashed around, clothes and bedding flying hither and yon as they melted into each other.
Over and over, they brought each other to heights of sheer pleasure, finally collapsing into sweating, panting heaps. They drifted into satiated sleep, finally waking well after dark had fallen. "What time is it?" Pamela croaked, throat dry.
Paige hoisted herself up, looking around for a clock, finally spotting the one on the table between the beds. "A little after eight. You hungry?"
"Starving," Pamela said languidly.
Paige smiled, reaching to stroke Pamela's face. "Me too. Um, go downstairs or pay through the nose for room service?"
Pamela considered, then said, "Room service. By the time we take showers, it will be here."
"Okay." Paige snaked out the menu from the drawer, flipping through the pages. "We can have all sorts of fancy dishes, or stick with cheeseburger and fries."
"Cheeseburger and fries sound heavenly. Mind if I go first while you order?"
"Go ahead." Paige lifted the receiver and dialed the front desk. "Yes, Room 703, Iâ€™d like to place an order for room service, please."
The rest of the week was a wonderful blend of sightseeing and sex. Paige went to what programs she had to, then skipped out on the rest to get Pamela. They toured the island, then moved to another island when the conference was over. They had booked for an extra couple of days, and were now very glad that they did. They talked deep into the night, wrapped up around each other after a marathon session of loving, deciding how they would handle life as a couple. "And Dad said Iâ€™d never settle down," Paige giggled on the last night.
"So, what will we tell our parents?" Pamela asked, voicing the question uppermost in her mind as they packed to go home.
Paige considered it thoughtfully. "Well, we could just not say anything. For you, it would be yet another black mark. Dad figured it out, even though Iâ€™ve never actually been with a woman. My brother flat out asked me recently, and I told him only with the right woman."
"And when weâ€™re still living together when this child graduates from college?" Pamela asked as she folded clothes.
"Maybe times will have changed by then. I donâ€™t know, Pam, I just know that I love you and Iâ€™m willing to spend my life with you, and with this baby," Paige said firmly.
Pamela suddenly giggled. "I could put your name down as the father on the birth certificate."
Paige laughed. "Oh, I can just see that. Which reminds me, what last name will the baby have?"
"I guess Stewart. Itâ€™s my last name, and Iâ€™m not married." Pamela glanced around, deciding the rest could be packed in the morning. She flopped down on the bed, quickly joined by her sweetheart.
"True enough." Paige said, slowly rubbing circles on Pamelaâ€™s belly, tracing the curves, wondering about the new life in there. She could detect subtle differences, a little softer, breasts a little heavier. God, she loved this woman. "Did you ever decide what to do about Barry?"
Pamela sighed, rolling on her side to face Paige. "I would be just as happy to say â€˜no fatherâ€™ on the birth certificate. I donâ€™t think heâ€™s told Jennie, and I donâ€™t blame him, but also knowing him, he will tell her. Heâ€™s too honest not to tell her. Of course, if I were in her shoes, Iâ€™d be tempted to call off the wedding knowing he had already impregnated another woman."
"Or she could consider it proof that heâ€™s fertile," Paige offered, grinning.
"There is that." Pamela smiled, then let it fade. Will Barry still have testicular cancer in a few years? she wondered. "But back to the original topic. I guess I should put him down as the father, and let the chips fall where they may. His parents may be just as happy not to have me as their daughter-in-law, theyâ€™ve always been polite, but never as welcoming as yours. Jennie is his social equal, and I never was." Although they never really warmed up to me, at least I was a good partner. I hope I can be a good partner to Paige. "The sticky point is this: do I let him have joint custody?"
Paige scratched her chin lazily as she thought about it. "Thatâ€™s a tough one, my love. Iâ€™d almost argue no, just because of my own jealousy. But it would not be right for the child to not know his or her father."
Pamela stretched, rubbing her hand up and down Paigeâ€™s side. "I guess Iâ€™ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meanwhile, make love to me one more time."
"You are insatiable," Paige laughed, intercepting her hand.
"You got that right," Pamela purred as she closed in for a slow kiss.
Soon after their return, Paige jumped ship from the hotel to the winery. Pamela consulted a lawyer, and decided to offer Barry the chance to see his child, but not have joint custody, but limited visitation rights. Barry finally agreed, and decided to set up a trust fund for the child. His parents were furious at first, arguing that "She could be using you. Who knows who really got her pregnant?" But Barry stood up to them and told them in unequivocal terms that he was the father, and he agreed that it was best to not marry her. He also told Jennie, who decided to go ahead and marry him, despite his impending fatherhood.
The hardest thing for Paige and Pamela was to decide whether or not to tell their parents that they were a couple now, not just roommates. After several months of debates, they decided to have both sets of parents come over for a 4th of July barbecue at their house. Paige decided to talk to Tony as a dry run before the big event.
"So, howâ€™s married life treating you?" she asked him as they sat down at his kitchen table one Saturday morning.
Tony grinned from ear to ear. "Great! And, Iâ€™m proud to announce that Sheila and I are expecting a baby. We havenâ€™t told anyone yet, she just had her two month check up Friday. Weâ€™ve already lost a baby last year, and wanted to make sure before we announced this one."
Paige was surprised. "I didnâ€™t know she miscarried. Iâ€™m sorry about that, but congratulations."
"Thanks, Paige. Howâ€™s Pamela doing?" Tony asked as he sipped his coffee.
Paige grinned. "Great. Sheâ€™s really showing now, and just glowing with good health. We go walking every night that we can, eat right, and so on."
Tony cocked his head to one side, a slow smile crossing his face. "â€˜Weâ€™? Let me guess, youâ€™ll be the other mother?"
Paige nodded. "You kinda upset my entire speech Iâ€™d memorized, but, yes, Iâ€™m going to share parenting duties. Hey, that makes you an uncle."
Tony laughed. "An uncle and a dad. Thatâ€™s great. Our babies will get to grow up together." His smile faded, asking seriously, "So are you in love with Pamela? And will you stay with her? Iâ€™ve seen you get close to women, then drop them abruptly, and I donâ€™t want that to happen to her. I think of her as a little sister, and am a bit protective."
"No worries, big brother. I kept pulling away from women because I didnâ€™t want to deal with having fallen in love. But, Iâ€™ll tell you, being in love with Pamela is fantastic. If I could marry her, I would." She smiled happily.
Tony was relieved, but still worried. "Youâ€™re pretty serious about her then. I hate to ask, but have you two considered all the possible grief youâ€™ll get? I mean, Iâ€™ve known for ages that you liked girls, but itâ€™s a little weird having it confirmed."
Paige patted his arm. "Tony, itâ€™s a little weird for me too. I was surprised and stunned the first time she kissed me." She grinned. "But I got over it pretty fast. Question is, what do we tell Mom and Dad?"
Tony scratched his chin thoughtfully, weighing the question. "Iâ€™m not sure. I canâ€™t remember this topic ever coming up at the dinner table, but our folks tend to be on the liberal side. Remember how they threatened to pull their membership from the club until it admitted blacks?"
She nodded. "I remember that. But I think being liberal about race and being liberal about your daughter being a lesbian with a pregnant partner might stretch that a tad."
"It just might. But youâ€™ve also never really had any boyfriends that I can remember, except that guy you went to the prom with," he reminded his sister.
"Brad? Oh, Tony, Brad was as gay as they come. We never talked about it, but we decided to go to have the experience." She frowned, thinking of her friend. "I havenâ€™t talked to him in a while, but the last time I saw him, he was very thin. Somethingâ€™s wrong."
"Oh. You think something like cancer?" Tony asked, concerned.
"I donâ€™t know. I should call him and find out. Anyway, you think I should just tell our parents? Oh, by the way, weâ€™re having a 4th of July party, and you and Sheila are invited."
"I think we can make it. Sheâ€™s having a little trouble with morning sickness, but itâ€™s usually settled down by late morning. How is Pamela in that respect?"
"Just a few times, but nothing in the last month. Good thing, because I suck at taking care of sick people," she said, making a face.
He laughed. "So youâ€™ll be the one shrieking like a little girl the first time you have a baby spit up on you."
She looked uneasy. "Guess Iâ€™d better develop a stronger stomach, then. God, Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™m not the pregnant one."
Tony smiled at his sister. "That makes two of us. So how Mom and Dad will react? I just donâ€™t know."
By the time the families had arrived, Pamela was almost exhausted. She and Paige had cleaned like maniacs all day, and then spent a few hours getting the food ready. But it was worth it, the food was on the grill, the temporary tables and chairs set up, and everyone was enjoying appetizers and drinks.
Pamela had gone back into the house for something when her brother, Jack, stopped her.
"Pam, I have a question."
"Sure, Jack. Want to follow me into the kitchen?"
"Okay." He followed Pamela into the kitchen, where she started to pick up another plate of snacks. "Hey, put that down a minute."
"Why?" Pamela asked, looking at her brother.
Jack ran a hand through his hair, obviously uncomfortable about something. Jack glanced around the sunny kitchen, not really appearing to see anything. Finally, he faced his sister and asked, "What is going on? I mean, I get home from my first year of college and find out my sister is pregnant, but not married. Then I find out that you are planning to keep the baby, and youâ€™ve moved in with a friend. I guess what Iâ€™m saying is I thought we were brought up different from that."
Pamela looked at him steadily, understanding the plea behind the questions. "Jack, Iâ€™m sorry Iâ€™ve let you down, and Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re embarrassed by the whole thing, but this is my life, dear brother, and I am making the best of the situation. I screwed up, but we broke up because Barry was in love with another woman, and I didnâ€™t know I was pregnant when we broke up."
"So would you have married him if youâ€™d known?"
She shook her head slowly. "Jack, Barry and I are friends, but we really werenâ€™t meant to be together. Heâ€™s completely head over heels with Jennie, in a way he never was with me. Iâ€™m more relieved than anything not to marry him."
He stared at her, then asked slowly, "Is there someone else? You just seem happier than I expected, given the circumstances."
Pamela took a calming breath, willing herself to stay cool and centered. "Yes, there is. Weâ€™re going to tell the family after dinner, but Iâ€™ll tell you first. Paige and I are in love with each other, and intend to raise my baby together. We both ignored this attraction for years, but after I was free, there was no reason not to acknowledge our feelings for each other."
His jaw dropped. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, the finally spluttered, "Wow. Just like that. But you dated Barry so long! How could you do that and be one of those queer women? You donâ€™t look like a guy, and neither does Paige!"
She bit her lip briefly to keep from laughing at his confusion. "Jack, Jack, just because we are two women in love does not mean one of us is â€˜the guy.â€™ Iâ€™ve always had crushes on other women, but ignored my feelings. Now I donâ€™t have to. I donâ€™t expect you to understand right away, but I do hope you will respect our decision, our relationship."
"Iâ€™m just not sure," he said. "I mean, youâ€™re my sister, and I love you, so I guess Iâ€™ll try. But isnâ€™t it against the Bible or something?"
"No, but I donâ€™t have time to go into that now. Weâ€™ll talk some time, and Iâ€™ll explain how those verses were misinterpreted," she assured him.
He rubbed his chin, then stepped closer, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Youâ€™ve always been able to explain everything to me. I guess youâ€™ll be able to explain this to me too."
"Iâ€™ll do my best, baby brother."
Jack smiled tentatively, then asked, "You need help with the trays?"
"Yes, that would be appreciated," Pamela said.
Dinner was a success. The brothers were quiet, although both knew what was going to be revealed after dinner. Pamela and Paige waited until all of the dishes and food was put away, then let everyone gather in the living room. Paige stood behind Pamelaâ€™s chair, hands lightly resting on Pamelaâ€™s shoulders as they waited for the chatter to quiet down. Finally, Paige said, "Weâ€™d like your attention, please."
Curious faces turned their direction, waiting for them to speak. Paige squeezed her loverâ€™s shoulders and announced, "Weâ€™ve decided to raise the baby together."
Her father said, "I thought youâ€™d already decided that."
"As a couple."
Silence, followed by a hurried buzz of conversation. Paige lifted a hand, and silence descended again. "We are well aware of the societal issues, but we love each other very much, and are planning to live together in a committed relationship. We hope that we have the support of everyone in this room, since our baby will need grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins behind it."
Pamela spoke. "I know everyone has been concerned about what happens with Barry. Rest assured, Barry and I have talked about this several times, and Iâ€™ve even talked to his fiancee, Jennie. Weâ€™ve all agreed that the best thing is for Barry to acknowledge our child, but to have limited visitation rights. It will be hard on the child, but he or she will have two grandfathers and two uncles who can provide plenty of positive male role models. Barry will start a trust fund, so itâ€™s not like heâ€™s ducking out on financial responsibility."
"And Jennie is okay with this?" Virginia asked.
"Jennie is one of the reasons we broke up, Mom. The other reason, which I was starting to think about more, was that I knew I had feelings for women, specifically, for Paige. I want to stress that we never did anything about our feelings for each other until we went to Hawaii, so she was not involved in the breakup. She did immediately offer a place to live, no strings attached. Even before we confessed our feelings, Paige offered her home, her support, financial and emotional."
Tony spoke up. "Iâ€™ve known about this for a while, and Iâ€™ve got to say that if I had to choose a sister-in-law, it would be Pamela. They are great with each other, and Iâ€™m proud of have her in my family."
The Stewarts and the Templetons looked at each other, each trying to gauge what the other couple thought. Finally, Virginia spoke up. "Weâ€™re all probably shocked, yet not. I know the church doesnâ€™t approve, but I know my daughter has been happier the past few months than sheâ€™s ever been. My Pamela has always been serious, and Paige has brought some much needed fun to her life."
Nancy chimed in, "My daughter has always been flighty, never staying long with anything. Pamela, if she can stay with you for the long haul, I say Iâ€™m all for this. I donâ€™t care that you are two women, I say if you could get married, Iâ€™d be planning a wedding next week.
More conversation swirled around, mostly pros and cons of the situation. Finally, the consensus was that although it wasnâ€™t the best situation, it was the best for the people involved.
When everyone finally left, Paige sighed deeply, sinking on the couch next to her sweetheart. "That was draining."
"It was, my love. Iâ€™m excited, though, that our child will have a cousin."
"True. Maybe they can grow up to be best friends."
"I sure hope so. Hey, what if-"
Pamela touched a finger to Paigeâ€™s lips. "Enough speculation and what if. Take me to be before I get too fat for sex."
Paige grinned. "I hear and obey, my beloved." She stood up, pulling her partner up with her, kissing her deeply. "I do love you," she murmured.
"I love you too; no ifs, ands, or buts."
Pamela woke up to the sound of an old fashioned telephone ring. She slowly opened her eyes, focusing on the bedside table, where her cell phone was merrily ringing. "God, what time is it?" she muttered, reaching for the phone. "Itâ€™s Glen, what does he want?"
"I donâ€™t know, answer it," Paige answered, yawning.
Pamela slid her finger across the face of the phone. "Hello?" she said sleepily.
"Mom! Is Momma Paige there too?" Glen's voice came across the phone.
"Yes," Pamela said, sitting up, blinking sleepily.
"Put me on speaker." Pamela fumbled with the phone, managing to transfer to speaker.
"Youâ€™re on, Glen."
"Guess what? Weâ€™re pregnant! Gina and I are pregnant!" he crowed.
"Congratulations, son!" the mothers said together. "When are you due?" Paige asked.
"In seven months, we wanted to make sure. Hey, let me see if Gina is able to come to the phone." They heard the clunking noise of the phone being dropped on furniture, followed by Glen calling for Gina. Almost a minute later, they heard a breathless, "Hi, did Glen tell you our news?"
Yes, he did, congratulations," the two women chorused.
"Weâ€™re so excited. Oh, boy, I can hardly wait to get over this morning sickness, though," Gina said. "So Momma Pam, were you sick with Glen?"
"No, and thank God, because Paige couldnâ€™t have handled it," Pamela laughed, remembering her partner's reactions.
"Oh, go tell all my secrets," Paige huffed.
Pamela made herself comfortable against her beloved. "The doctors were going to let her come in the delivery room with me, but she fainted before I got wheeled in. Barry and Jennie had come to see us, and Barry wound up in the delivery room. Jennie stayed with Paige until she came to. It was hilarious," Pamela recounted, smiling.
"I bet it was. From what you tell me, Barry was always the center of calm," Glen said.
"Youâ€™re a lot like him, Glen," Pamela said quietly, "he was good to you."
There was a pause in the conversation, then Glen said, "Well, we have a lot of calls to make. Mom, Iâ€™ll call Grandmother and Granddaddy next. Momma Paige, is it too early to call Grandma and Grandpa? Or are they even in the states right now?"
"They should be at home. By the time you call Pamelaâ€™s parents, mine should be up and have coffee going. Which, by the way, this mom desperately needs."
"Okay then. Hey, we love you guys!" Gina called out.
"We love you too," Pamela said. She disconnected the call, dropping the phone on the bed beside her, snuggling against Paigeâ€™s still beautiful body. "Weâ€™re going to be grandmothers, Paige."
"It appears so. Do you think theyâ€™ll call Jennie, or should we?"
Pamela thought for a moment. "Weâ€™ll call her later. She would want to know. God rest Barryâ€™s soul, he should have lived to see his grandchild."
Paige kissed the top of Pamelaâ€™s head. "Yes, but who knew that his cancer would advance so fast? No one thinks of men having cancer in their 20â€™s."
Pamela still felt a little guilty for not having followed up on that. What if I had insisted that he check with his doctor? she wondered from time to time. No matter.
No more what ifs.
Only what is.
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