The House on Sandstone Part 4
By KG MacGregor
Carly buttoned the sleeves of the fitted blue shirt and turned sideways to see it from several angles in the dressing room mirrors. It hugged her torso and flared into a bold collar and cuffs. It was decidedly femininemaybe a little more than she likedbut it went nicely with the tight black pants shed picked out, and she wouldnt have to buy new shoes.
It wasnt a familiar look for Carly, but since her usual attire had drawn that rude remark from Marian Hall, she wasnt going to suffer that humiliation again at least not here in Leland, and not in front of Justine. The only nice outfit shed brought home was the ivory sweater that shed worn twice already. The rest of her belongings were in storage, ready to be shipped to Madrid. Not that she had a lot of dressy outfits among those things. It just wasnt her habit to dress up, even for work.
Carly added the blue top to the "buy" pile and reached for the striped sweater. She was alone in the fitting room, since most of the frenzied shoppers in the department store were buying Christmas gifts for others instead of clothes for themselves. Thank goodness for the holiday and the Lexington Malls extended hours. This way, she would have something new to wear this afternoon to the movies.
"Ew!" The striped sweater made her boobs look enormous. On the other hand, the striped sweater made her boobs look enormous. With a sly grin, she tossed it into the "buy" pile too. No problem with showing off her assets, especially those that she thought might get Justines attention.
The blonde knew she was just playing games in her head when it came to Justine. Her friends fears had been real, and Carly wasnt about to do anything that might cause more anguish than the woman had already been through. But there was something fun about knowing that she could tease a little, and she loved imagining that she could push a button or two in Justine Hall.
"You look nice, sweetheart." Nadine met her daughter in the hallway, surprised at the new look. Carly not only wore brand new clothes, but she also sported just a tad of makeupsome foundation with a hint of eye shadow. With the dark green slacks, striped sweater, and gold hoop earrings, she was much more dressed up than usual. "Is all of this new?"
"Yeah, I wasnt expecting to go out so much, and I didnt have a lot of stuff with me."
Nadine knew that was part of it, but the touch of makeupsomething shed seen only once or twice on her daughter beforewas for Justine Hall. She was thinking her husband had been right about Carly, that she had feelings for their neighbor on the other side of Stony Ridge. Nothing would make her happier than to see Carly fall in love with someone as nice as Justine.
"What are you girls doing?"
"Were supposed to see a couple of movies. Maybe well get a bite to eat later."
Nadine chuckled. "Well I wont bother to wait up this time."
"Mama! Justine and I are just friends." Despite the easy rapport with her mother, Carly blushed. "I told you, we polished off a whole bottle of brandy that night, and Im not sure I could have made it back over that hill, let alone find the right house. What if Id stumbled into the Hankins house?"
"Lord have mercy! Eugene would have gotten after you with his shotgun."
"No kidding! And then he probably would have mounted my head over his fireplace." Both women laughed at the image, remembering their neighbors collection of grotesque hunting trophies.
"So how is Justine?"
"I think shes doing okay, Mama. You were right, though she really has had a hard time." Carly pulled her coat from the closet. "I was meaning to ask you How did you know that?"
Nadine shrugged. "You hear things and I used to see her picture in the paper all the time, smiling at this or that for the hospital. And now its like well, she lost that job on account of people didnt want to give money to the hospital anymore. Seemed silly to me."
Until that moment, it hadnt occurred to Carly at all that Justine had lost her job too, on top of all the other stuff that happened. No wonder it all hit her so hard. It hit her everywhere!
"Seems silly to me too, Mama. But I really think shes doing better now."
"You two have fun tonight. You know, you can ask her over any time. Shell always be welcome."
Carly smiled at her mother and gave her a quick hug, understanding that shed just been given approval for anything she wanted to pursue with Justine. It wasnt something she needed, but it was nice to have it just the same.
Carly had been looking forward to the afternoon, but she was surprised to find herself practically elated at being with Justine again. And the best part was that she got the same impression from Justine. The redhead went on and on about how nice Carly looked, and she was almost sure that she saw Justine admiring her profile in the striped sweater. "Look! Theyre also showing Creepy Sleep. Now wouldnt you rather see that than a mushy romance?"
"No! A horror movies the last thing I want to see. My son and all his friends will go see that a half dozen times, and then theyll talk about all the gory details of how the blood splattered and came out of the womans eyes."
"And that doesnt appeal to you?"
Justine shot her an incredulous look. "Dont tell me you really like that stuff."
Carly shrugged. "I do appreciate a good scary story, but Ill admit that slasher movies arent my thing either."
The two women entered the theater and waited for a moment while their eyes adjusted to the dim light. The horror flick and the James Bond feature were the major draws, so only a few movie-goers speckled the rows.
"You dont really hate romantic movies, do you?"
"No, I dont hate them. But to tell you the truth, I find it kind of hard to relate to them sometimes. They dont really show romance as I know it." The blonde regretted her answer as soon as she said it, knowing that Justine would want an explanation. For Carly, the very definition of romance had Justine Hall in it. Fortunately, she was saved by the previews of coming attractions.
Two hours later, the friends emerged from the theater, the taller of the two sniffling into a tissue.
"Im embarrassing you, arent I?"
"Excuse me. Have we met?"
Justine laughed at that comeback. "Tell you what. If youre still up for that stupid old spy movie, why dont you go on and get the tickets. Ill get us some popcorn and pull myself together."
Carly headed back out to join the line at the box office.
She whirled around to find the source of the unfamiliar voice.
"Carly Griffin, I though that was you." A woman stood beside the line, apparently waiting for someone to buy her ticket. She was slender and sharply dressed, and she wore a generous supply of lipstick and blush.
"Thats right! Sara Rice. I was Sara McCurry back in school."
Sara McCurry Rice. That was too much, and Carly had to fight to keep from laughing out loud. Of course, there probably werent more than a dozen people in Leland who ever ate Thai or Indian food, so she was probably the only one who got the joke.
"Hello, how are you?"
"Im good. You look really good, Carly. I hardly recognized you."
A backhanded compliment if I ever heard one. "This really is a surprise. I dont usually see anyone I know when Im in town." And why are you being so polite to me all of a sudden?
"Where are you living now? Your mother said you were somewhere overseas. Did you join the army or something?"
Sara was joined by a heavyset man with thinning hair. His cologne nearly knocked Carly over from six feet away.
"This is my husband, Bob. Hes the president of the Leland County Bank, in case you ever need a loan or anything. Bob, this is Carly is it still Griffin?"
"Yes, its still Griffin. Pleased to meet you, Bob." Carly hadnt wanted to shake his hand, but she couldnt ignore it when he stuck it out. Now shed probably smell like that cologne.
"Youre coming to the reunion, arent you? Itll be fun. Tommy Hampton was in the army too, so yall are gonna have a lot to talk about with each other. I think he was a sergeant or something."
"Cant wait." There never was any point in trying to have a real conversation with Sara McCurry. She was too busy trying to think of what to say next to process what anyone else said.
Carly got the tickets and went back inside, pointing out Justine to the attendant so that the young man would know they both had paid. She joined her friend just in time to pick up one of the sodas. Justine had gotten a large popcorn to share.
"Where in the world did you go? Good lord, you smell just like Bob Rice."
"Thats because I just had the pleasure of smearing his hand all over mine."
"You saw Sara?" The taller woman visibly stiffened.
"Sure did. But dont worry. Im sure shes forgotten it by now, and I think they went into the movie we just came out of."
"What did she say?"
"Gibberish. She thinks Im in the army."
"Yeah. Think I could rent a uniform to wear to the reunion? I dont want to confuse her by showing up in street clothes."
"Does that mean youre going to go to the reunion?" Justine was clearly excited by the prospect.
"Im thinking about it." The saleslady in Lexington had talked her into trying on a dressy pantsuit that would be nice for a party, and Carly had thought at once of the gathering of her classmates after Christmas. Maybe she would show up after all, if for no other reason than just to be in the same room as Justine.
They shuffled into the growing crowd, finding two seats on the side near the aisle.
"I really hope you do come. Itll be fun."
"Can I bring my Hennessys?"
"As far as Im concerned, you can pour the whole bottle in the punch bowl. The folks here could use some loosening up."
The previews started up again and they settled in to watch the second feature. When another two hours passed, the two friends exited the theater, both glad for the chance to stretch their legs.
"Now wasnt that a lot more exciting than the first one? It had everythingexplosions and car chases and spy gadgets even a few scantily clad nubile bodies." Carly lowered her voice for the last part so that only Justine could hear.
"That part was okay."
"Okay, huh?" She watched the redhead fight back a smile. "Admit it. You liked it."
"I liked it."
"I think the costume designer did an adequate job."
"And the casting director?"
"Satisfactory as well."
Their teasing conversation was interrupted by a loud ruckus near the mens room. A small crowd had gathered around the entrance, where the female manager was demanding that a group of teenage boys present ticket stubs for the next feature or leave the theater at once.
"Whats your problem? We were just taking a piss. Is that against the law or something?"
The red-faced manager stood her ground, asking again to see his ticket.
"I dont have to show you nothing," he growled, "bitch."
"Thats one of Treys friends," Justine whispered as they drew closer. "Oh, my goodness! Thats my son."
Sure enough, Trey emerged from the mens room with three other boys. Leading the way, he threw a box of popcorn to the floor, scattering it all around as he shouldered past the woman.
Justine was immediately angry and embarrassed, and she stepped forward to intercept her son. "Whats going on, Trey?"
The boy was clearly startled by his mothers sudden appearance, and he looked around to see his buddies make a hasty retreat to the exit. "I was we went to see a movie and then we went to the bathroom."
Justine looked at the manager for confirmation.
"These boys went into the mens room after the first movie and then slipped into another show without paying. When I saw them all go in again, I asked them to show me their ticket stub."
The son looked away ashamed as his mother tugged him to the side. "Is that true?" she whispered harshly.
"We just sneaked into a movie. Its not like we hurt anybody."
"Its just like stealing, Trey. You know better than that."
Justine looked back over her shoulder, relieved to see that the crowd had moved on. A boy of about fourteen was sweeping up the spilled popcorn, and the manager had moved to stand near the exit, clearly waiting to making certain the young scofflaws left the theater.
"Trey Sharpe, I want you to go apologize to that boy whos cleaning up your mess. And then I want you to go pay for the movie"
"I dont have any more money."
Irritated beyond measure, Justine ripped open her purse and pulled out her wallet, handing her son a ten dollar bill. "You will pay me back for this out of your allowance." She stood and watched as her son did exactly as hed been told, then followed him out into the rainy December night.
"Great! Now my rides gone," he scowled.
Justine was sorely tempted to make her son walk, but she knew hed just whip out his cell phone when she was gone and have his friends come back for him. Theyd all have a good laugh and tease him about his mother catching him, then plot what to do next time to make sure they werent caught. That wouldnt do.
"Ill take you home." It was then that she remembered Carly, and that theyd come in her car. "Dont move a muscle," she told her son sternly. Briskly, she walked to where Carly waited in the rain by her rental car.
"I wish Id thought of that," the blonde woman said when her friend arrived in a huff. "Who knew we could have saved eighteen dollars by hiding in the ladies room?"
Justine rolled her eyes. "Ive never been so humiliated in my life well not for a long time. Listen, I need to ask a favor. Could I talk you into dropping this hoodlum at home?"
"Are you going to cuff him and sit in the back seat with him?"
"If I had handcuffs, Id clip him to the bumper."
"Im happy to drop him off, Justine. Go on back over there and Ill pull up."
She swung the car through the lot and stopped in front of the teenager and his mom. It was obvious that their argument was continuing. Both opened the car doors and climbed in, the youth in the back behind Carly.
"I cant believe you embarrassed me in front of my friends like that."
"Embarrassed you? How do you think I felt having my friend witness you acting like a jackass? This is Carly, by the way, a friend of mine from high school. Carly, this is my son, Trey. I wish you could have met him under more pleasant circumstances."
No way did Carly want to be in the middle of this. "Hi, Trey. So, uh where do you live?" She knew exactly where he lived, but thought it best that he not know that.
"Lakeside," he muttered.
The threesome drove without a word through downtown, where Carly turned out toward the subdivision. Uncomfortable with the extended silence, she wanted to ask Trey if Creepy Sleep was any good, but figured that would only get a rise out of Justine. So they continued until they reached Lakeside Drive and Trey pointed to the house where his father lived.
"Excuse me one more minute," Justine said as she got out with her son and closed the door. "Trey, I know youre angry with me right now. But I hope that when you think about this, you realize that what you did was wrong."
"Mom, the other guys dont have a lot of money. The reason I didnt have any was because I bought everybody drinks and stuff. I was just sneaking in with them because otherwise, Im the geeky friend."
"Trey, thats wrong and you know it. But I can forgive the sneaking in the movie part a whole lot easier than I can overlook the way you threw that popcorn on the floor. That was just plain mean, and I know you werent raised that way."
The boy looked away. "I Im sorry."
"Thats what I wanted to hear. And I dont ever want to hear about you sneaking in the movies again. If you and your friends dont have enough money, you need to find something else to do. And if they insist, then you need to find new friends. Do you understand what Im saying?"
Trey nodded solemnly.
"Now would you be so kind as to thank my friend Carly for a ride?"
The teenager opened the passenger door and stuck his head inside. "Thanks a lot for the ride. Sorry I was such a pain."
"Its all right. Maybe well meet again another time."
"Sure. So long."
Justine got in and Carly backed out the driveway.
"I thought you handled that pretty well."
"I still cant believe my own son did something like that."
"Its not a big deal. Lots of people sneak in the movies, and I dont even think they realize its the same as stealing."
"I was madder at him for how rude he was to that manager."
"Well, I think you proved your point. And it looked like he was seeing the light by the time you got finished with him. Tough love and all."
"Lord, it took me a year of therapy to get so Id tell them no when they asked for something. I was scared they wouldnt come over at all if I didnt give them everything they wanted."
"That must have been hard."
"It was, but you know, Valeriethats my therapisthelped me understand that I cant ever stop being their mother. No matter what, Im still supposed to teach them right from wrong, and help them make the right decisions. I just cant believe that Treys nearly eighteen and hes pulling stuff like that."
"Well, like I said, I think you handled it right. I believe he learned his lesson."
"I hope so, because we arent going to have much more opportunity with him. Hell be gone and on his own before we know it."
"So you want to get something to eat?"
"What did you have in mind?"
Thud! There was something about the way Justine had uttered that simple little question that sent Carlys thoughts to something very intimate. Shaking her head, she tried to concentrate on the subject at hand. "Um what are our choices?"
"Pizza the steak house fast food the drug store closes at six on Sundays."
"What about that new coffee house? Maybe we can get a muffin or something."
"Nah, theyre not open at all on Sundays." Justine checked her watch. It was already after eight. "Well, I know a house on Sandstone where we could get a grilled cheese sandwich."
"It was fine, Justine." The redhead congratulated herself as she got ready for bed. "Two friends went to the movies and had a little bite to eat." As she took stock of the day, she was almost overwhelmed at everything that had happened. She and Carly had gone out together where people could see them, and she hadnt worried the whole time about what others would say. She did, however, catch herself looking around the darkened theater to see if there was anyone she knew, or if they stood out two women together. That was paranoia, she knew, and she was working on keeping that tamped down.
There had been that one little moment when Carly mentioned running into Sara, but since the local gossip hadnt really seen them together, she wasnt going to have to deal with the rumors. Of course, for a worrier like Justine, a close call like that caused almost as much anxiety as if theyd actually run into the woman face to face. "But it didnt happen," she told herself aloud.
And then there had been the thing with Trey. The irony of that whole scene was that she would have been beside herself with anxiety had she and Carly just run into him under normal circumstances. But the trouble hed made at the theater had so occupied her emotions that she forgot to be concerned with what her son might think at seeing her out with a woman. And if Trey was bothered by it, he sure hadnt let on. Of course, he had been more worried about saving his own tail at the time.
And then she and Carly had come back to the house. They hung out in the kitchen and talked about the day, and then Carly had dropped a kiss on her cheek and was gone, just like that. Justine raised her hand to touch the spot where the blonde womans lips had been. It hadnt been like those air kisses she used to trade with her friends. It was firm, and her lips had rested there for a second or two. It was nice.
Valerie was going to be proud of her for having such a good week. Shed been an emotional mess lately, but now she was starting to feel like she was back in control.
"Morning, Daddy." Carly poured herself a cup of coffee and took a seat opposite her father at the kitchen table. "Who won the game last night?" She was only asking because shed found him sound asleep in front of the TV when shed gotten home just before ten.
"I dont rightly know." He looked up to see the sly grin on his daughters face and realized that he was being tweaked. "You must not have had a very good time last night. Your head isnt in a bucket this morning."
Touché. "As a matter of fact, I had a very good time and I remember every minute of it," she added with a wry grin.
Nadine joined them at the table. "Your daddy and I talked about the store yesterday."
Lloyd smiled at his wife and took her hand. "Weve decided that weve got better things to do with our time than hang around a furniture store."
"Aw, thats great news!" Immediately, she got up and gave each of her parents a big hug. "So have you told Perry?"
"Not yet. We thought wed tell him when we close the store on Christmas Eve. Well all come over here for lunch afterwards like we usually do."
"So whats your timetable?"
"Well hand him the keys just as soon as he gets things taken care of at the bank," Lloyd answered. "I might work with him a little bit to help him out, but itll be his headache instead of mine."
"And hell be signing your paycheck instead of the other way around," Carly added. "Do you have a lawyer that can draw the papers up?"
"I guess I ought to call Aaron Cobb. Shouldnt be much to it."
"Probably not, but this is a pretty big deal, so you want to make sure all the details are taken care of."
"Ill give him a call this morning when you and Perry go out. Youre riding on the truck today, arent you?"
"Sure." Carly still hadnt stopped smiling. "Im really glad you guys are doing this. Youve worked hard for a long time and you deserve it, both of you."
"And youre sure you dont want to run a furniture store?" Lloyd had to ask one more time.
"All right. Well, I ought to get down there and open up. Ill see yall in a little while."
Perry pulled the truck into the alley behind the store, their morning run finished. They had only one delivery in the afternoon, and both of them would spend the rest of the day in the warehouse taking inventory. He slung his arm around his cousins shoulder. "So what do you say we go get a couple of those four dollar coffees?"
"I thought you didnt want to get hooked on that."
"Consider it a Christmas present."
Carly still hadnt made it to Lelands new coffee house. "All right. Let me stick my head in the door and tell Mama."
Ten minutes later, the pair walked into Daniels Coffee Stop and joined the line at the counter. "This is a nice place, Perry. I never expected a place like this in Leland."
In the short time it had been open, Daniels had already become a trendy gathering place for downtown workers. There were small tables along one wall, where a wooden bench ran from the back of the store to the front. On the opposite wall, a fire roared in a large stone fireplace. In the front by the sidewalk, bay windows on either side of the entrance held tall tables and stools. The floor and wainscoting were knotty pine, and the walls were painted a warm blue, with murals that reminded her of a turn of the century mercantile.
"They do a pretty good business. Debbie likes those cappuccinos."
"Ah, I was wondering how long it would take to bring the conversation back around to Debbie," Carly teased.
"She liked you. She thought you were real nice. I should have set her straight, and told her what a cruel woman you can be."
Carly laughed and chucked her cousins arm. "I liked her too. I thought you guys made a really nice couple."
"What did you think of Kevin?"
"Hes an all right kid. He really looks up to you."
"Oh yeah? How can you tell?"
"Well, he ordered the exact same thing you did; he even got his steak cooked the same way. And just about every story he told started with Perry and me this and Perry and me that."
"He was good yesterday. I know he was just trying to get his mom to tell me to bring the Play Station back, but I guess that was the idea all along."
They stepped up to the counter and gave their order to a man about Carlys age. This was Daniel himself, according to his nametag, and it was obvious to Carly that he wasnt from Leland. The first clue was a gold stud earring, not exactly a popular fashion among Kentucky men. The second clue was his Boston accent, which Carly recognized from one of the men she had worked with in Jerusalem. And if she had to bet, shed lay odds that Daniel was gay.
So how does a gay man from Boston end up running a coffee house in Leland, Kentucky?
"You want to sit over by the window?" Perry pointed to one of the tall round tables.
"So you really liked Debbie?"
"I was a little concerned when her eyes turned yellow and those long teeth came out. But other than that, yeah, I thought she was pretty nice."
Perry rolled his eyes. "A person just cant have a serious conversation with you, can they?"
Carly leaned against the back of her stool and folded her arms. "Okay, Ill be serious. I think Debbies a great girl, and I thought the two of you both looked like you belong together. And I dont know what youre waiting for, you big chicken shit."
That brought a fat grin to her cousins face. "So you think I should go ahead and ask her?"
"Yes." Especially since youre going to be a business owner soon. "I think you ought to give the lady a ring for Christmas."
Perry blushed and nodded. "Yeah, I think so too."
Carly lifted her ceramic mug in a toast. "Congratulations, Perry. I really mean that."
"Thanks." He drank the last of his regular coffee. "Being in love is just about the nicest feeling in the world. I wish you could find somebody and settle down, Carly."
Though they were as close as siblings, she had never talked to Perry about her sexual orientation. As much as she liked her cousin, shed kept her private life to herself because he hadnt seemed very open-minded about that sort of thing. It wasnt anything specific; she just had a feeling that he wouldnt be very accepting. The last thing she wanted was a rift in the family. It was enough for her that her parents knew; it just wasnt anyone elses business. "Eh, love will come along if its meant to."
"Yeah, but you can do things to hurry it along. Ive got a friend I go fishing with whos a really nice guy. Hes a little bit younger than you, but"
"Oh, no. Thanks, but no thanks."
"I know, youre probably more interested in a guy whos been to college, or somebody whos traveled a lot like you have."
"Actually, Perry ." What the hell. Just tell him. "Im really not all that interested in guys."
"Yeah, but" All of sudden, he got an inkling of what she meant. "You mean ?"
"I like women, Per. Ive just always been like that."
"Naw! No way, Carly. Youre pulling my leg."
"Really, Perry. Im serious. Mama and Daddy know. I told them about twelve years ago, but Ive just never told anybody else."
"Thats not right I mean, I believe you think you are like that, but I dont think so. Ive known you for thirty years, Carly."
She nodded in agreement. "I know it probably seems weird, but I figured it out a long time ago. And I just never told people because I figured most of them wouldnt like it very much."
The bearded man had grown agitated with the conversation. "Youre not like that, though. You just havent met the right guy a guy that treats you right and knows what to do, and all."
Carly sighed. She was deeply disappointed in her cousins reaction, and more than a little irritated at his response. "Do you have any idea what a ridiculous cliché that is? Every lesbian on earth hears that she hasnt met the right guy yet like he can come along with his little magic wand and make her fall in love with it. Its insulting."
"Well, have you " he lowered his voice, "Have you ever had a man you know?"
"Thats none of your goddamn business." Carly had had enough of this. "You can accept it or not, Perry, but its not going to change. I happen to like who I am."
Perry shook his head adamantly. "I just dont think you are, Carly. I think youre wrong."
"And I think youre a pigheaded bigot."
The two stared coldly at one another for a good thirty seconds before the man finally got down from his high stool.
"Im gonna head on back to the store. I can handle the next run by myself."
"I know, Mrs. Harper. It looks like a four-dollar aspirin on your bill. But theres a whole lot of other stuff behind that. We have to cover the cost of having a nurse on duty all the time to administer medicine. We cant just have people deciding for themselves what pills to take, and a lot of people would forget to take stuff if we didnt have the nurses there to remind them." The Four Dollar Aspirin was Grace Hospitals most common complaint.
"Thats right. So we have to spread out the cost to all the patients who get medicine. If something should go wrong, you always want to have a highly trained nurse right there to deal with the emergency."
Justine smiled her greeting to the man who stepped up to the counter. She held up a finger to let him know that shed be just another minute.
"Im so glad you understand, Mrs. Harper. Were really lucky that so many of the patients like you are intelligent enough to see that they arent just paying for something little like an aspirin, but for the security of having a top-notch hospital right in their own community Youre welcome. Thank you for calling, and merry Christmas."
"Hi, Wendell. What can I do for you?" Wendell Kruenke was the director of the Grace Long Term Care Center, known by everyone in Leland as "the nursing home".
"I was wondering if you might be able to help me out next Friday nightnot this week, but the next. Were having a little Christmas party for the residents and I need somebody to play the piano. I remember once that you did that for us."
"Oh, I dont know, Wendell. I havent played in years."
"That doesnt matter, Justine. Heck, half of the residents dont hear all that well, and the rest of us sing so badly that well drown you out."
"I tell you what. Let me ask my daughter if she can help out. She can play a lot better than I can. But if she cant do it, I will."
"Thatd be just great. This is something everybody looks forward to. All the families come, and we sing carols and have refreshments. The kids from the day care do a little Christmas program."
"That sounds so nice. Do you need any other help? My son needs a community service credit to graduate, and he asked me if there was anything up here at the hospital he might do."
"We could definitely use some help decorating. Is there any chance he could come that afternoon?"
"Ill ask him, and Ill try to be there too, if things arent too busy here."
"And I hope you can all stay for the party. We need a few people to sit with the ones who dont have any family there. Would you be willing to do that?"
"Oh, I know I could. And after Trey helps with the decorating, I bet he can too."
"Boy, I sure am glad I stopped in here. I had a long list of favors to ask, and you just took care of most of them."
"Im glad to help. And its a good thing for the kids to do you know, helping out others that are less fortunate."
"Then Ill see you a week from Friday."
"Okay, see you then."
Justine watched the nursing home director leave, already feeling good about her offer to help. That kind of thing put you in just the right mood for Christmas. Now, she just had to get the reinforcements lined up. She dialed the number at JTs.
Emmy quickly agreed to help out by playing the piano, and promised to practice at home. Trey was more slippery, but Justine reminded him that he needed the credit for school, and they had already talked about him doing a project. This would probably meet that requirement, and Wendell would be more than happy to write a report for Treys guidance counselor. Reluctantly, he promised to be there at three to help her decorate, and to stay through the evening to keep one of the residents company during the party.
"You know youre going to be up until Thursday." Daniel slid into the empty seat where Carly sat drinking a triple shot of espresso. The lunch crowd had cleared out, and the owner was making the rounds to pick up the empties and wipe off the tables.
She smiled gently and nodded. "Youre probably right."
"Thats the problem with the Bible Belt. Theres nowhere to go to get a shot of Jack Daniels in the middle of the day."
Thats only one of the problems with the Bible Belt. "You have a really nice place here, Daniel. Id have never guessed a real coffee house would have caught on so well in a place like Leland."
"Well Id like to think its because were more than just a coffee house."
"Yeah, were a community house. Were a place to gather and talk about the important things that affect our lives. And we also just happen to have the best coffee in Kentucky."
"I have to agree with that." She finished her cup and set it back down. "Im Carly Griffin. My mom and dad run Griffin Home Furnishings down the street."
"Daniel Youngblood. I moved here from Boston last summer. Pleased to meet you."
"What brings you all the way to Leland? Are you settling here, or is this part of your coffee empire?"
"Now thats what I like. Somebody whos not afraid to think big."
"Hey, Kentucky Fried Chicken started about fifty miles from here, and Ive eaten that Original Recipe all over the world." She told him about her job, and explained that she was visiting Leland for a couple of months before her next post in Madrid.
"Can I get you another? How about a decaf?"
"Nah, I know when to quit. Ive probably already burned a hole through my stomach anyway."
"Dont let that get out. It would be bad for business. Id offer you a muffin to soak up the acid, but were sold out."
Carly liked this man. Leland could use an influx of new people and businesses to drag it out of the Dark Ages. "So really, how did you end up here, Daniel?"
"I came down with a friend of mine. His mother died a couple of years ago, and now his fathers going down. He wanted to come back here and be with him, and take care of him for awhile."
Yeah, Daniel was gay. "Quite a change from Boston, isnt it?"
"You know, I thought so at first. But the longer I stay here, the more I think that people are just people, no matter where they are."
"But what about that Bible Belt thing? Theres more to that than just not being able to get a drink in a bar. I mean, people arent as accepting here if youre different. At least thats been my experience."
A subtle look of understanding crossed the mans face. They were now on the same wavelength, Carly was certain.
"Well, youre right about that. But for the most part, I think people feel better about themselves when they like people, and when they treat other folks well. And I try to do things with that in mind."
"So what about your friend? What kind of work does he do?"
"Hes an artist, a painter."
"Oh yeah? What does he work in?"
"What does he work on is a better question. He uses oils, water colors, acrylics everything. But he paints on different surfaces, like newspaper, corkboard, wood. He did the murals, in fact."
"Wow, hes good."
"Well, yeah until you go pull out your favorite jockey shorts and theyve been painted with Never mind, thats far too personal." Daniel laughed and blushed a bit.
"Yeah, usually when a guy starts talking about his jockey shorts, its time to hit the road. So, I guess your friend is from Leland?"
"Yes, he is. Rich Cortner. Do you know him?"
"Richie Cortner? Sure, I know him. We went to high school together. In fact, Richie was in my class."
"Richie? Oh, thats good. Im going to enjoy calling him that."
"Yeah, I remember Richie. He drew all the cartoons for the school newspaper. He was good even back then."
"Rich is very good. Hes had six showings in Boston, and he did a west coast exhibit a couple of years ago. We really liked it out there. That might be where we go when we leave here."
"Its nice out there. And Californians love their coffee." Carly appreciated at once that Daniel had lapsed into casual conversation; he was, clearly comfortable talking with her about his plans for the future with Rich Cortner.
"They sure do. Thats when I first decided I was going to open a coffee house. No more suit and tie for me."
"What did you do before?"
"Would you believe I used to be a corporate lawyer? Acquisitions. It was dog eat dog, and at the end of the day, I felt like a bone. But this this is fun."
"Youve done a really good job here."
"Thanks." He stood up to continue his cleanup. "So now that were best friends, I hope Im going to get to see more of you."
"Yeah, Ill be back. This is going to wear off on Thursday, right?"
"Right. But if you want to try out the homemade muffins, youre going to have to get here before ten."
"Ill try. Say, is RichieI mean Richplanning on coming to the reunion? Its our twenty-fifth, you know, and its two days after Christmas."
"He hasnt mentioned anything about it, but to tell you the truth, I dont think he has a lot of friends from high school."
"Yeah, I can relate to that. But I think its time to go back and shake em all up a little."
"Youre a brave one, girlfriend."
"Well see." Carly pulled on her jacket and headed for the door. "So tell Rich I said hi. I hope I get a chance to see him."
"I hope you do too. Ill tell him about the reunion. Maybe the three of us can get together for dinner or something while youre here."
"That would be fun. So long."
Only an hour ago, Carly was miserable about the way Perry had acted, and shed been quick to blame not just her cousin but the whole mindset of a place like Leland. The town was pretty well insulated from gays and lesbians because most of the ones who had grown up herethe Richie Cortners and the Carly Griffinshad found it easier to live their lives somewhere else. Those who couldntthe Justine Hallssuffered the wrath of the small minds in town.
But meeting Daniel Youngblood had given her something to think about. Was it possible that the folks in town could accept him for who he was? Did people really want to feel good about the way they treated others, or did they need to put others down in order to feel superior? Carly had always thought the latter was true, but what if Daniel was right?
"I could get spoiled by having you at home, you know." Nadine clutched her purse as she readied to exit the car. "Its been nice not having to go in with your daddy every day at the crack of dawn."
"Well just think, Mama. Pretty soon, you wont have to go in at all."
"I bet I wont know to do with myself. So what are you going to do today?"
"I think Ill head over to Daniels for coffee. Ill be in a little later. You want me to bring you anything?"
"Lord, no! Youre not getting me hooked on those things."
"You sound just like Perry." Carly hadnt seen much of her cousin for three days, both of them going out of their way to avoid being in the store at the same time since their argument on Monday. The more she thought about the way hed responded, the more hurt she was. People who loved you werent supposed to just forget that all of a sudden like it didnt matter.
"Is there something going on with you and Perry?" It wasnt hard to notice that the two were steering clear of one another.
Carly sighed and turned off the engine. "He was wanting to fix me up with one of his fishing buddies, so I finally told him that I didnt like guys that way. He thinks its because I just havent met the right one yet."
"Sounds like your daddy and me. Didnt you just tell him it didnt work that way?"
"Yeah but hes pretty sure that hes right and Im wrong and he made me so mad when he kept saying it that I called him a bigot a pigheaded bigot, to be specific. Thats when he said that he didnt need any more help on the truck."
Nadine knew that her daughter was hurting, and like any mother, she wanted to help. "You want me or your daddy to talk to him?"
"Nah, no sense in dragging you guys into the middle of this. Besides, I want him to be able to accept it because its me, not because of you. And if he cant, then hes not the person I always thought he was."
"Honey, you know who Perry is. Hes just never had to deal with this kind of thing before. He loves you, and when he thinks about it, thats going to be a whole lot more important than whatever he thinks about homosexuals." Despite her steadfast acceptance of her daughters sexual orientation, Nadine had never grown completely comfortable with the terminology.
"I hope youre right, Mama. Its one thing to have strangers look down on you. Its different when its people you care about."
"Perry isnt going to look down on you, sweetheart. He just needs to try it on, and turn it over in his head a few times. Your daddy and I had to do that too. You remember how that was."
Carly had been thinking about that these last few days, the way they had both been hopeful that she was just going through a phase. Despite her insistence that it wasnt the case, they werent ready to believe it. It was only after they saw how much their denial upset her that they all sat down to talk about it some more. Carly explained that shed felt that way as long as she could remember, and that it had taken her a long time to quit trying so hard to feel things that just werent there. She didnt choose to be this way; it was just who she was.
"Yeah well, I wish hed hurry up. This is a drag."
"Mmmm men are a little slower on the uptake. Youd know that if youd lived around one as long as I have."
Carly chuckled. "Yet another reason to like women, huh?"
"I can see where it would have some advantages."
Justine struggled to balance the heavy shoebox as she fumbled in her skirt pocket for the key to her office. There was an unwritten rule that said if your right hand was free, the key was in your left pocket, and vice versa.
"Let me give you a hand with that, Justine." Dr. Jim Henderson, the hospitals chief administrator, suddenly appeared out of nowhere to take the box from under her arm. "Goodness gracious! Are these all suggestions? We cant be doing that many things wrong."
"Thats exactly what they are, Jim. But just because somebody makes a suggestion doesnt mean its a complaint. Some of these are compliments." When she took over as director of patient services, Justine placed several suggestion boxes at strategic locations throughout the hospital, thinking that if she could identify small issues early on, they wouldnt escalate into bigger problems. The hospitals lawyersCobb, Finger & Sharpethought it was a great idea.
"What do you do with all of those? I know you bring some of them up at the staff meetings, but I had no idea you got that many."
"I enter them into a database. Sometimes, people will say how nice one of the nurses was, and Ill make a couple of copies and send one to personnel and the other to the nurse."
"And what about when they complain about somebody?"
"Well now those You know how it is, Jim. Some people just like to complain about stuff. Remember when my mother was here?"
"How could I forget?" Marian Hall had driven them all crazy when shed broken her hip.
"If I get a few complaints about the same person, Ill sometimes go let that person know. But if it keeps happening, I figure a supervisor ought to look into it and I send it over to personnel."
Dr. Henderson smiled in appreciation. He considered Justine Hall to be one of his most valuable employees. She was a team player, and she understood people. Shed been a fabulous fundraiser before that unfortunate incident at the country club, and when shed come to him a year later saying she just wasnt having much success anymore, he had refused her resignation, talking her into taking this job instead. He never once regretted his decision. "You know, Justine you really are doing a great job in this position. Thats why I stopped by. I wanted to let you know that I submitted a request for a five percent raise for you next year."
"Five percent! Jim, thats very generous. But I thought three percent was going to be the max."
"It is but I have some discretion, and youve saved the hospital so much money with your ideas and in a couple of cases, you even headed off a lawsuit. I thought it was time we thanked you for that."
"Thank you very much, Jim."
"No, thank you, Justine. Youve made a real difference here."
She knew that. From the very first day shed taken over this post, she had made it her mission to keep problems from reaching the second floor specifically, to keep them from reaching Dr. Jim Henderson. It was hard work, and the rewards werent as public and prestigious as theyd been in her old position, but Justine was grateful for the anchor this job had given her over the last five years.
Dr. Henderson left her office just as the phone rang.
"Grace Hospital, Patient Services Hi, JT." She dumped the contents of the box onto her desk as she booted up her computer. "No, I think thats fine. In fact, I think it would do her good to get out with her friends for a week." Emmy wanted permission to go with the youth group from church on a skiing trip to West Virginia the week after Christmas. "But its not the same thing at all. Trey wanted to go without a chaperone. This is a church thing ." She listened as JT related their sons outburst at what he thought was favoritism, since he hadnt been allowed to go away for a skiing weekend with his friends.
"JT, do you think somethings bothering Trey? Lately, hes been so I dont know what, just unreasonable." She was willing to bet that her son hadnt mentioned the incident at the theater to his father. "Why dont you have a talk with him and No, I think its more than senioritis. I just cant put my finger on it." She tucked the phone under her chin and clicked the icons to bring up her suggestion database. "Okay, let me know what he says, and maybe you and I ought to get together on Saturday and talk about the kids No, you know, theres a coffee shop downtown now Daniels, thats it. Why dont you talk with Trey first and let me know what works for you."
Justine knew that shed have to tell JT about what happened at the movie theater. If the shoe had been on the other foot, shed want to know about it. She also wanted to hear how Emmy was doing really doing. And she had a proposition that JT and J2 might like.
Daniels was packed mid-morning when Carly finally made it into the shop. A quick check of the display case confirmed that the wonderful homemade muffins were nearly gone.
"There arent any clean tables," a woman whined to her friend. "I dont know how theyre going to stay in business if they dont keep the place straightened up."
Carly shuffled to the front of the line and found Daniel working steadily at the cash register, serving the pastries, and filling orders for American coffee. His helper, a pregnant woman of about twenty, was swamped with orders for lattes and cappuccinos.
"Good morning, Daniel." Stretching across the counter, she grabbed a wet towel. "Ill wipe down these tables."
"Youre hired! The pays crappy, though." The customers at the front of the line laughed.
Carly went first to the two women who had complained about the dirty tables, seeing to it that they had a clean place to sit. She continued around the room, collecting discarded newspapers and ceramic cups. When she had a full load, she handed it off to the owner and went back for more. Fifteen minutes later, the chaos was back under control.
"Thanks, girlfriend. You saved our butts. Name your rewardits on the house."
"No way! Id rather see you guys make a profit. That way, I know youre going to be here the next time I get back to Leland."
"Well have to see about that," he answered cryptically.
"Im going to head on out, Daniel," his employee called as she took off her apron. She came in early six days a week and helped through the morning rush. The rest of the time, Daniel ran the shop on his own.
"Thanks, Nolene. Ill see you tomorrow." The owner finished wiping down the counter and turned to his favorite customer, who had dropped by every morning since they first talked on Monday. "You want the usual?"
"Of course." The morning rush had cleaned out the muffin display.
"You have to ask?"
Daniel chuckled and selected the largest cup. "I saved you a cranberry muffin. Its in the back." Carly helped herself while he made her latte. Moments later, he was joining his new friend at the table by the bay window. "I meant to tell you, Rich said to say hello. I wish you could have seen his face when I called him Richie."
"Well, if his memorys any good, he could just call me Carl and wed be even."
"He told me they used to give you a pretty hard time in high school. He was surprised youd even consider going to the reunion."
"I havent made up my mind for sure. I really dont have many good memories of that time, but Id sort of like to show people that I rose above it all, and that I wasnt the loser they thought I was. Maybe a few of them have grown up and turned into nicer people." She took a drink of her latte and looked into her new friends kind brown eyes. "Thats probably asking a lot of people here, I guess."
Daniel shrugged. "But thats usually how you get somethingby asking for it. Sometimes you just have to confront peoples fears and prejudices and force the issue. I dont mean get in their face or anythingespecially in a town like this. But you cant take on all the shame they want you to wear."
"You make it sound a lot easier than it is, though. I know a woman here whos been through hell. She faces these people every day, and shes one of the nicest people I know. But they still judge her."
The store owner nodded grimly. "And sometimes, it doesnt matter what you do. But at the end of the day, the face looking back at you in the mirror is the one you have to answer to. Im just not willing to give those people that kind of power over me."
"Have you and Rich had any trouble since youve been here?"
"Not really. I had a bunch of high school kids come in here one day and unscrew all the caps on the condiments. They sat there laughing at people when they went to use stuff. I figured it was just teenage mischief until I went over and told them to hit the road. They made sure to yell faggot a couple of times on their way out."
Carly couldnt help but wonder if that group of teens had been Trey Sharpe and his friends. The scenario Daniel described was eerily similar to what had happened at the theater.
"But that was all. There were a bunch of people in here when it happened. If it bothered anybody, I never heard about it. It sure hasnt hurt business."
"I can see that."
A new wave of customers walked in and Daniel got up to hurry behind the counter before she could ask him why hed been so noncommittal about the store being here the next time she came back to Leland. Carly finished her coffee and checked her watch. Perry would be out on his run by now. That meant shed have the warehouse to herself to work on the inventory. She took her large mug back to the counter. "See you later, Daniel. Have a good one."
Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Carly drew in a deep breath of winter air. What Daniel had said about having the courage to show your true self to people sure rang true, but it was hard to tell people who had known her for so long that they didnt really know her at all. By hiding for so long, shed made herself a prisoner.
"You arent planning on getting me drunk again, are you?" Justine opened her door to find her shivering friend holding another bottle of what she now referred to as Very Evil Old Pale cognac.
"Ill try to show a little restraint," Carly promised feebly. "Thanks for inviting me over." They had touched base a couple of times since Sunday just to check in, but as the afternoon passed without a resolution to the problem with Perry, Carly was feeling down in the dumps and wanted to talk with somebody.
"I got a set of those brandy glasses at the mall in Lexington. Ill get us a couple. You go on in the den and make yourself at home."
Carly found a warm fire crackling, and the couch had been pulled closer to the hearth. A paperback novel lay on the end table, its back folded open to mark the page. The blonde woman took a seat at the far end of the couch, setting the bottle by the hearth to warm.
"I heated these glasses like you showed me last time." Justine produced two snifters and sat down on the couch midway between where Carly sat and the other end. "So whats going on? You sounded so down on the phone."
Carly poured the cognac and told the story of Perry, and how shed decided today that she would apologize to him first, but he saw her coming and took off.
Justine was stirred by the sadness in Carlys voice, and when she reached out her arms to offer comfort, the blonde woman dissolved into unexpected tears in her embrace. Shed never seen Carly this vulnerable, and she tightened her grip to pull her even closer. "Im so sorry. I know how it must hurt."
"How can somebody whos supposed to love you all of a sudden not want you to be happy?"
"Perry wants you to be happy. He just wants you to be happy with a man, cause thats what hes comfortable with. He doesnt understand."
"But he shouldnt have acted like that. Nothing I said mattered."
"He just didnt want to hear it, Carly. And I guess he thought if he raised those doubts, you might really consider it."
"Of course it is."
Carly disentangled from the long arms and sat up, wiping away the remnants of her tears. "Sorry, I didnt mean to blubber all over you."
"Thats all right. Friends do that for each other." Guiltily, Justine admitted to herself that shed been glad to have Carly in her arms, for whatever reason. It felt nice to hold her close like that; under other circumstances, it might have been more than just a comforting embrace.
Carly reached for the bottle and popped the cork off the top. "I know I said I wouldnt get you drunk, but I think Im going to have one more. You gonna join me?"
Justine sighed. "You know, I promised God Id never drink this stuff again if he let me survive the last time."
"Its not the same bottle."
The redhead chuckled and held out her glass. "If I ask for more of this, you have to tell me no. I have to go to work tomorrow."
"Its a deal." Carly poured their drinks and settled back onto the couch. "What do you think I ought to do about Perry?"
"I think youll feel better if you talk to him."
"I just cant believe he thinks I could be happy if I found the right guy."
"I think my kids are probably the same way about me."
"Did you ever talk to them about it? I know you told them about Petra, but have you ever told them that you might like women?"
"Are you kidding? I didnt even tell myself that until about a year ago. I wanted to believe that it was just Petra that it was because it was taboo, and thats what made it so exciting."
"What happened to change your mind?"
Justine sighed. "Valeries helped me see a lot of stuff in therapy. She asks a lot of hard questions. And then she encouraged me to go out and meet some other women."
"Oh yeah?" For some reason, it hadnt occurred to Carly at all that Justine might have been with other women. The very idea made her irrationally jealous.
"Yeah, she thought I ought to go out to a club or something and see how I felt being around that sort of thing. So I went up to Cincinnati one weekend to a lesbian bar. It was a disaster." Justine wasnt so sure she wanted to tell this story. "But you didnt come over here to hear about all that. We need to figure out how to fix things with your cousin."
"Im going to talk to him again, like you said. I need to apologize for what I said maybe try again to make him see that Ive already worked through all the doubts. I really am happy with who I am."
"Well you should be. I think youre a wonderful person, Carly Griffin. Youre just about the nicest person I know." Nice didnt begin to describe what Justine was feeling right now about the blonde woman. She didnt know if the cognac was again to blame, but being with Carly and talking like this felt great.
"I feel the same way about you, you know." Carly was keenly aware that her emotions were creeping toward the danger zone, the place where her feelings wandered beyond the boundaries of just friendship. Justine was so beautiful But her friend had made it clear that she wasnt interested in that kind of relationship; she wasnt going to risk alienating her kids again. Carly needed to move this back to safer territory before she gave herself away and ruined everything. "So am I going to get to hear about what happened in Cincinnati?"
Justine visibly shuddered. "Ive tried to purge it from my memory, but its no use. I doubt Ill ever set foot in another lesbian bar."
"Now I know I have to hear it."
"I dont think I was ever so nervous in my life. I found this site on the internet that listed the clubs and all in the Cincinnati area. This one was just for women, so I decided Id go see what it was about. When I found the place, I sat in the parking lot for over an hour trying to get up the nerve to go in. It was in a strip mall, and it had the neon beer lights in the window. There were all kinds of women going in there some of them were kind of pretty, but they were a lot younger than I was. I sure wasnt looking for anything like that."
"What were you looking for?"
"Nothing in particular I just wanted to see how it felt to be around a group of women like that. I thought maybe itd be nice to talk with somebody."
"So did you meet anyone?"
"Not exactly. I went in and looked around. They had a little dance floor, but there wasnt anybody dancing. Most of the people were gathered around the pool tables in the back. So I went up and sat at the bar. Before I knew it, this woman was leaning over me, offering to buy me a drink. She was not my type, so"
"Waitwaitwaitwait! What do you mean not your type?"
"She was kind of " Justine searched her vocabulary for the right word. "She came on really strong."
"Yeah, forceful you know, a little too sure of herself. I was put off by it. It was a lot like getting hit on by a man. I guess I expected something a little more graceful from a woman."
"No kidding. So what did you do? Did you tell her to beat it?"
"No, it got worse, if you can believe it. I was looking around trying to figure out how I was gonna get my tail out of therealoneand the next thing I know, this other woman comes over and the two of them get into it about whose new girlfriend I am."
"God, you must have felt like a cavewoman."
"Something like that. Anyway, they decided to settle it by shooting pool, and I excused myself to the ladies room. The bartender had seen the whole thing and she was kind enough to show me the back door. So I slipped into the alley and had to walk all the way around the building to get back to my car."
Carly laughed. She would love to have a night out with Justine. And shed make damn sure that everybody in the joint knew that this lovely lady was hers. "Would you ever go back?"
"Not on a double dare!"
"What if you went with me?"
"Well, now that Are you asking me out?"
"Maybe. Depends on whether youd go or not."
Justine and Carly gazed at one another for a long moment. Carlys eyes were playful, and the redhead was hesitant to answer, not wanting to seem overly eager in case the offer wasnt serious.
"Or we could go somewhere else," the blonde continued. "I know a place in Louisville where they have a DJ. Its a nice crowd or at least it was a couple of years ago when I went."
Carly was indeed serious, and Justine felt her mouth moving well before her brain fully processed the question. "Okay." I cant believe I just said that. She would fret about it later, but going out dancing with Carly was definitely something she wanted to do.
"How about tomorrow night?"
"Okay." Its got to be the cognac.
"Why dont we drive up and have dinner somewhere? We can go to the club about ten or so. Thats when the action picks up."
"Okay." There must be at least a million other words in the English language, Justine. Is that the only one youre going to use?
Carly couldnt believe the turn of events. Shed come over tonight to vent about her cousin, and little by little, her conversation with Justine had grown deeper and more revealing. In her wildest dreams, she wouldnt have guessed that the night would have culminated in a date to go dancing.
Setting her empty glass on the end table, she stood and reached for her coat on the chair. "I guess I should be getting on home. Forty-two years old and my mother still waits up for me."
"Hah! Ill trade you mothers any day."
Justine handed her the Hennessys bottle and walked her to the door. "Im glad you came over, Carly. It makes me feel good that youre comfortable enough with me to talk about things on your mind. I hope we dont ever lose that again."
The sincerity in Justines voice gripped Carlys heart, and she reached out to take the womans hand. "Were not going to lose it, Justine. I promise." The redhead pulled her closer and for the briefest moment as their eyes locked, Carly thought they might kiss. Instead, Justine wrapped her in a strong hug. When she felt the long arms go limp, she stepped away and smiled.
"Ill call you tomorrow to firm things up. Thanks for letting me cry on your shoulder."
"Anytime." Anytime at all.
"Now dont be acting like you dont really want to go. At least your mouth had the guts to speak up, even if your brain flew right up the chimney." As was her practice, Justine deconstructed her evening as she got ready for bed. The relaxing effect of the cognac was keeping her anxiety at bay for the most part, but she needed to work through it in her head so it wouldnt come crashing down on her tomorrow.
She really wanted to go.
The idea of dancing with Carly brought a surprising smile to her face. Justine had tried for days to let her feelings about the blonde woman settle into friendshipa familiar friendship, but friendship nonetheless. But every time she saw Carly, something stirred inside her that took her to another place, a place that made her body hum and her heart race.
"Why are you holding back like this, Justine? Youre not going to have a better chance to be close to somebody you care about and not have to worry that your whole worlds going to fall apart."
Carly was safe. She understood why Justine had to be discreet. And she was leaving Leland in less than a month. They could enjoy one another without any strings attached.
"But thats not fair to Carly. Thats just using her."
But its not using her if you have feelings for her. And Justine definitely had feelings for her.
The redhead finished washing her face and tossed her clothes into the hamper. When she returned to her bedroom, she didnt hesitate, walking straight to the closet to take down the trusty shoebox.
"You like her. So deal with it."
And now Justine Hall will speak on the subject of self-gratification. Lets all give her a BIG HAND! Hehehehehehe Part 5
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