The House on Sandstone Part 6
By KG MacGregor
Justine stretched high on the step-stool to hook the blinking light strand around a nail in the corner of the large day room. Minute by minute, she was growing increasingly annoyed at the conspicuous absence of her son, who had promised to be there over an hour ago. Calls to his cell phone went unanswered, and she was having difficulty concentrating while plotting his demise.
"You shouldnt be up there, Justine. We can do without the Christmas lights. Its not worth you breaking your neck." Wendell was struggling himself, trying to guide a load of folding chairs through the door on a cart with an errant front wheel.
"We cant have a Christmas party without Christmas lights, Wendell. If I could just get this to ." The instant she got the strand looped around the nail, the nail itself pulled from the wall, sending the lighted string to the floor and shattering several bulbs. "Dang!"
"Come down from there. Well have to do something else."
Justine wasnt ready to give up on her decorating plan, but they were desperately in need of reinforcements. She called the Sharpe home and Treys cell phone, but again her efforts were fruitless. Next, she called the most dependable person she knew.
"Carly? Its Justine." Just hearing the other womans voice had a calming effect. "Im at the nursing home, and we need some help. My soon-to-be-grounded-forever son didnt show up, and weve got to get Thats right Carly, youre a lifesaver. See you in a few."
Fifteen minutes later, Carly arrived with her cousin Perry, and an adolescent boy Justine didnt recognize. Right away, they pitched in to help with the chairs, lights, and decorations, and in no time, the day room was transformed into a party room.
"Just what we neededmuscles!" The redhead squeezed the bicep of the grinning lad as he carried an armload of folding chairs. "Can you set those up in a semi-circle around the piano?" She showed him what to do and he set to work.
"Kevin, when youre finished, how about giving me a hand with these speakers?" Perry was trying to mount the speakers from his portable stereo to the wall so they would be out of the way.
Carly was again in awe of how well her cousin was bonding with his soon-to-be fiancées son. If Kevin was a troublemaker, he was hiding it pretty well. "Hey, Justine?" She held up the strand of twinkling lights. "I got all these fixed. Where do you want them?"
"Good for you! I need to hook them up there in the corner, but first, Ive got to put in a bigger nail."
"I can do that."
The taller woman winced. "I dont think youll be able to reach it."
"A dagger!" Carly clutched her chest in mock pain.
"You can hold the ladder for me, though. Thats a good short person job."
"Thats right twist it, why dont you?" Nonetheless, Carly took her position at the ladder and immediately began to give thanks for whatever part of her genetic pool had enabled her to enjoy this glorious view of Justine Halls rear end. She could vaguely remember getting a peek at its naked state when the phone rang that night theyd passed out on the floor and they got up to stumble into the bedroom. It was fine mighty fine.
"Oh, Miss Griffin?" When the redhead saw what had her friend so occupied, she almost wished their situations had been reversed, but Justine was infinitely pleased to know that Carly was enjoying the view.
"Im sorry What was it you wanted?"
"I said, the nails ready. Will you hand me the lights?"
"Sure." Carly tried to pretend that shed been watching Perry and Kevin, but she knew shed been caught.
"Its looking mighty fine, Justine!" Wendell stood in the center of the room with his hands on his hips.
For a moment, Carly feared that the nursing home director had also caught her staring at Justines butt until she realized he was talking about the room.
"Were almost done, Wendell. Thank goodness Carly and Perry and ."
" and Kevin got here to help. Emmy said shed be here at six to warm up. What time are the residents coming in?"
"Theyre serving dinner at five, so itll take about an hour or so after that to get everyone cleaned up. The families usually get here about six. Will you and your friends be able to stay for the party?"
Justine climbed down from the ladder and dusted her hands on her slacks. "I will, and I think Perry was going to come back to be with his grandmother." She turned to Carly. "Thats Mrs. Coppins, isnt it?"
"Yeah." Arlene Coppins was her great-aunt.
Wendell continued, "Could I ask one of you to sit with Mrs. Adams tonight? Her daughter called from Cincinnati and they arent going to be able to make it on account of the snow."
Carly looked at Justine, only to find a hopeful look on her friends face. "I guess I could. I should get home so I can change."
"I have to do that too." Justine looked at her watch and shook her head. She wasnt going to have time to get in her workout. "If you want to, you can leave your car and ride with me. Ill bring you back."
"I rode with Perry, so thatll work out. Let me tell him."
A few minutes later, the two women walked through new fallen snow to the blue Acura. The roads were mostly clear, but with the temperature falling, they would likely turn slick soon after dark.
"You and your cousin really saved the day, Carly. I dont know what wed have done without you."
"Youd have figured out something, I bet. The Justine Hall I remember never gave up until she got what she wanted."
"I dont know about that these days," she said seriously. "Ever since my breakdown, I try not to push people anymore. I hope you didnt feel like I pushed you into coming over today to help out."
"I didnt feel pushed at all." I wanted to be with you all day so I could stare at your gorgeous butt. "This will be fun; its a good feeling to do something nice for other people. I probably wouldnt have thought of it on my own, so I should thank you for including me."
"Carly, you always think about other people. Youve been that way as long as Ive known you." She turned the car down Stony Ridge Road. "Heck, you learned those lessons a long time before the rest of us."
"You know what, Justine?" I probably shouldnt tell her this. "The reason I used to do things for other people was to get them to like me. When I figured out that some people werent going to like me no matter what I did, I quit." The Acura pulled up in front of the small Griffin home. "But then I realized that I didnt like that either, because I didnt like myself. My friend, Daniel I think hes on to something. You know, he said you just have to be the kind of person that you would like, and if other people cant deal with it, thats their problem."
The redhead looked at her solemnly, feeling those old pangs of guilt about how she and her friends had treated Carly back in school. "I think Daniels on to something too," she said quietly.
Carly sighed, irritated that shed taken what had started as a compliment and turned it into a condemnation of Justine and her friends. "Anyway, thats a long way of saying that I liked saving your day, and Im going to have fun at the party tonight because I like doing nice things and because youre going to be there." Carly raised her voice with excitement as she moved to get out of the car. "So pick me up at a quarter to six, and lets give my mother a little more to gossip about with my dad."
Justine laughed and shook her head as her silly friend disappeared inside the white frame house. Carly Griffin was exactly as she had once described herselfirresistible.
Justine rolled out of bed, dreading what she needed to do today. JT had called her first thing to say that Trey got in last night after midnight. He told his father that hed intended to go to the nursing home, but that Melissa had insisted at the last minute that he attend a party at the Chandlers home in honor of her aunts birthday. He seemed sullen, and was clearly surprised that his father had waited up.
Things were about to get pretty ugly for JT Sharpe, the Third.
Justine slipped on her heavyweight fleece and laced up her running shoes. The logging trail would be treacherous today from yesterdays snow, but the track at the high school would be clear. She wasnt even going to count laps today; shed just run until her legs gave out. Thats the kind of outlet shed need after having it out with her son.
Twenty minutes later, she stood at the foot of Treys bed, while JT waited out in the hall.
"Are you going running with me this morning?"
"Mom?" The teenager rolled over, very disoriented at hearing his mothers voice in his bedroom. "What are you ?"
"I asked if you were going running with me this morning. In other words, are we going to have this conversation here with your father or out on the track with just you and me?"
"If this is about that party, I already told Dad"
"This is about everything, Trey." JT stepped into the room and took a position beside his ex-wife. "Its about how you still dont do your fair share of work around here. Its about getting a D and two Cs."
"I told you they were singling us out because were all athletes. They think were just a bunch of dumb jocks."
Justine was starting to understand the pattern. "Its about how you acted at the movies last weekend, and how you got detention for smarting off in Miss Berkleys class."
"Emmy has a big mouth."
"And its about you blaming everybody else when youre the one thats messing up."
"Why is everything my fault? I cant believe youd take everybody elses word for it but you wont take mine."
"Where were you last night, Trey?" she demanded angrily.
"Everything I do isnt your business!"
In a flash, JT was on his son, yanking him out of bed in his underwear to stand before both of them. "Which one of your friends are you going to blame that smart mouth on?"
Justine turned away while Trey pulled on his jeans. All three of them were shaking with anger.
"Trey, I was counting on you last night. You promised to be there, and when you didnt show up, I had to call on other people at the last minute to come and do what you were supposed to do. If they hadnt dropped what they were doing and come to help, the folks out at the nursing home wouldnt have had much of a Christmas party."
"But you got it all done, so whats the big deal?"
Justine knew her son wasnt dense; he was just being antagonistic. What she didnt understand was why. "The big deal is that I expected you to come. I went out of my way to arrange for Mr. Kruenke to give you school credit because you asked me to, and then you didnt even bother to call. I was embarrassed."
"Thats what you said at the movies too, Mom that I embarrassed you in front of your friend. At least now you know what I felt like when they teased me at school."
His words struck his mother like a slap in the face. Why is he throwing that in my face again after all this time? He had to know how much that would hurt me. Justine whirled and walked out before she said something she could never undo.
JT watched her leave and turned toward his son, his brown eyes pinning the boy in place. "Thats one of the meanest things youve ever done, Trey. And Ive never been more ashamed of you than I am right now."
Carly entered the coffee house through the back door, stopping to hang her coat and scarf in the employee closet. Shed been back here years ago to deliver the beautiful teak desk that still stood in the corner, but it hadnt been a coffee house then. Before it was Daniels, this space had belonged to Rich Cortners father, who operated a small office supply store. When a series of strokes left Mr. Cortner disabled, Rich came back to town and sold off the inventory to make room for his partners business venture.
Saturday morning was the busiest time of the week. Though she usually only stayed until ten, she thought she would stick around longer today, maybe just to help get through the lunch crowd. When she walked out behind the counter, Daniel was already "in the weeds", his term for being swamped.
"I can help the next person," she announced, tying the long green apron over her jeans and Oxford shirt. For the next two hours, they worked methodically, her taking orders and cash, him making the drinks. They had barely had a chance to say hello, and Carly was startled when she finally noticed Daniels bedraggled look.
"Hey, is everything all right?"
"Oh, we had a hard night. Richs dad was having trouble breathing and we had to call the paramedics. They hooked him up to oxygen, and it looks like hes going to need that from now on."
"Im sorry to hear that."
"Thanks. Rich is taking it pretty hard you know, seeing his dad take another step down. The mans only seventy, and up until just a couple of years ago, was still going to work every day."
"It just reminds us how quickly things can happen. I sure am glad my mom and dad have decided to retire, so they can have some time to relax. Its long overdue."
"So whats going to happen to the store? You going into the furniture business?"
"Not me. Theyre going to turn it over to my cousin, Perry. Hes been planning on it and saving for a long time."
"Thats good youll keep it in the family."
"Yeah, which means Daddy will probably keep going to work every day because its all he knows how to do."
Daniel chuckled. "What about your mom?"
"I think she was looking forward to being retired until it sank in that it was going to be permanent, and not just a vacation. Shes starting to think she wont even have a reason to get out of bed."
"Shell be surprised how many things she finds to do. Look how many things you found."
No kidding! Between Justine and the delivery truck and the coffee house, this time at home had flown by. It was only three more weeks before she was due to leave for Madrid. That was a depressing thought, but she didnt have time to dwell on it, as the next wave of coffee drinkers swarmed into the shop.
The lone figure rounded the turn at the far end of the track, determined to push herself to the point of exhaustion, to a place where she could collapse and forget the pain in her legs and in her heart. Leaning over the chain link fence near where shed parked her car was JT. Shed seen him pull up and park seven laps ago, but she wasnt yet ready to stop, not while she could still feel.
Justine picked up her pace, still waiting for a sign that her body was ready to surrender. Shed lost count long ago of how many times shed circled the quarter-mile track, but an hour and a half at this pace meant she was close to the twelve-mile mark.
She could see her ex-husband huddled in his coat with his collar pulled up. He was freezing, but he obviously planned to wait until she finished or died.
Thats enough. She slowed to a walk, stretching her arms behind her to begin her cool down. "Walk with me," she shouted as she reached the place where he stood.
JT opened the gate and jogged onto the track. "I dont know how you do this, Justine. Its amazing."
"Nah, its just conditioning and craziness."
"Its not crazy."
"Thank you, Valerie." Shed told him about her therapists admonitions.
"I talked with Trey after you left. He didnt mean what he said."
"Sure he did. What I want to know is why he said it more specifically, why he said it now."
"I dont know, Justine. He wanted to hurt you because you were hurting him."
"I was hurting him?"
"Thats what he said. He says that he knows hes screwing up, that things really are his fault, but he doesnt know how to stop it. He says that sometimes he feels like things are just out of control. I think all the changes with graduation, and Melissa going off to Georgetown that stuffs just getting to him. Anyway, the more we piled on this morning, the more frustrated he got, and he just blurted that out to get you to back off. He didnt mean anything by it."
"JT, Im seeing somebody a woman." She turned back to face him when she realized that hed stopped in the middle of the track. "But Trey couldnt possibly know about it for sure, because I havent even told her yet."
JT looked at her in confusion.
"That sounded kind of silly, didnt it?"
The man cocked his head in amusement. "Not for you, Justine."
She answered his smart remark with a punch in the arm. "Its Carly Griffin. Her family owns the furniture store. We went to high school together, and Ive had a crush on her about as long as I can remember, even when I was married to you." She added that last part just to tweak him for all the running around hed done while they were together. "But I told her everything that happened, and that we couldnt see each other, because I didnt want to risk having something come between me and my kids again."
"So are you seeing each other or arent you?"
"Sort of, but its complicated. Shes playing it cool because she doesnt want to cause me any problems, and Im playing it cool because well, because Im a chicken."
"What are you afraid of?"
"What am I afraid of? JT, where have you been for the last three years?"
"Justine, I think the kids might be past all that. If youve met somebody you like, you shouldnt have to hold back on account of them."
"Thats easy for you to say, JT. You ran around on me for ten years, and the kids never once held that against you." As soon as she said it, she felt terrible. There never had really been any hard feelings between them, and the last thing she wanted was to hurt him. "Im sorry. I shouldnt have said that. None of this is your fault."
"Its okay." He looked away, trying to act as though her remark hadnt bothered him. It was true that hed never been taken to task by the children for his part in their divorce.
"I guess I just did to you what Trey did to me."
"Justine it wasnt fair the way everything happened. You were a great mother, and you still are."
She nudged his arm with her shoulder, right where shed punched him earlier. "Youre a great dad, JT. And youve been a good friend to me, too. I dont know what Id have done without you."
After all the things theyd been through togetherlosing their first baby, raising two wonderful children, their infidelities, and Justines breakdownJT felt like he owed her his friendship. She probably knew him better than anybody, and shed always accepted him and forgiven him his lapses. Nothing would make him happiernor alleviate his guilt morethan to see her fall in love with someone who would love her back. "So where do you think things are going with this woman Carly?"
She started walking again to loosen her stiffening calves. "I dont know. She works overseas, and she wont be here much longer. But if we could find a way to have something Id like that."
"Do you want me to talk to the kids? I think theyd handle it okay. Both of them are a lot more mature than they were back then."
"I dont know, JT. Like I said, Carlys leaving soon. It might be better just not to say anything." No sense rocking the boat. "Heck, it might not even amount to anything. Why put everybody through something thats not going anywhere?"
"Well, let me know if I can help. But dont give up on the idea just because youre worried about how theyll react."
As they finished the cool down lap, she hooked her arm in her ex-husbands and walked him to his car. "Thanks for coming to find me."
"I was worried about you. I imagine Trey will come around in a couple of days."
"Yeah, well he hurt my feelings."
"I know." He laid his free hand on hers. "Make him grovel."
"You know I wont do that. But he needs to start paying more attention to how he makes people feel. Folks remember that kind of thing about somebody."
"Sometimes I think that Emmy got the sensitivity for both of them."
"I know what you mean. By the way, did she say anything to you about staying with me this week?"
"No, she didnt mention it. But Im not surprised that she didnt say anything, I mean. We havent exactly been the Brady Bunch at the dinner table this week."
"Yeah, she told me things were kind of tense at home."
"Did she say anything else?"
"She said you and J2 were fighting about something, but she didnt know what it was." Justine could see that the man was anxious to hear what she knew. "JT, you know I dont pry into your business with your wife. But it was bothering Emmy, and I wanted to make sure it didnt have anything to do with her or Trey."
"Fine." And you better not be poking another paralegal.
JT stared out over the track to avoid making eye contact with his ex. "Its really personal, Justine."
"I said it was fine."
"Justine wants me to have a vasectomy so she can quit taking the pill."
The redhead couldnt get her hands to her ears fast enough to keep from hearing that. "La la la la this isnt my business, JT."
"I know shes right, but its"
"Please dont tell me this. This is between you and your wife."
"But who else am I going to talk to? You already know how shallow I am and you can imagine how I feel about having somebody get that close to me with scissors." He winced as the image filled his head.
Justine shook her head and sighed. JT wasnt going to like what she had to say about it. "Do you two want to have any more children?"
"No. The doctors think the autism is genetic, and we dont want to risk that."
And youre nearly fifty years old, Stud. "Then stop being such a baby. Do it for Justine and show her how much you love her."
"Youre supposed to be on my side!"
"Sorry, but Im with J2 on this one. And you know shes right."
JTs shoulders slumped in defeat. "Damn."
"And we never had this conversation. Understand?"
"Oh, definitely." A vasectomy was nothing compared to what J2 would do to him if she learned that his former wife had been the one to sway him on this. He got into his Mercedes and closed the door, rolling down the window to say goodbye. "Oh, by the way Justine said it was okay for Alex to come over sometime with Emmy, if youre still sure you want to do that."
"Great. Well do it after the holidays, okay?"
"Sure. And good luck with your friend. I hope that works out the way you want it to."
"Thanks." Justine smiled as she watched him pull away. JT Sharpe was a pretty good guy for a snake.
"Okay, then you open the air valve by turning this knob." Daniel buried the steamer into a stainless steel pitcher of cold milk. "When it starts to froth, you know its hot enough. Leave it in another few seconds and youll get more foam."
Carly was bored with the cash register. She wanted to learn how to make the coffees, since Daniel seemed to be having more fun. "Dont they make thermometers that you can stick in the pitcher?"
"Yeah, but that would be cheating. Do you want to be a coffee artist or a robot?"
"Well, since you put it that way ."
Daniel finished the coffee order and handed it to the waiting customer. The wave of customers theyd just served was probably their last rush for the day. "Here you go. Why dont you make one of the coffees you like? Start with the espresso."
Carly walked through the process slowly, measuring and packing the coffee, and positioning the cup beneath the spout. As the water streamed through the press, she filled the pitcher with milk. "Okay, I just open the air valve ." The milk made a whirring sound until it began to froth, at which point the whir changed to a whoosh.
"Dont forget to"
Oops! Too late. She removed the pitcher before closing the valve and sprayed milk all over herself and everything within five feet. Lucky for Daniel that he was out of range.
"Thats okay. Everybody does that the first time. But nobody does it after they have to clean up the mess."
"Gotcha!" She finished making her coffee and began to wipe down the machine and the counters. "Did anybody call about the ad in the paper?"
"Yeah, but so far, its just school kids, and they want to work in the afternoon and on weekends. The hours arent convenient for most people. Ive had a couple of moms call, but they dont want to work on Saturdays. I might have to hire two people just to cover all six days."
"At the rate your business is growing, you might have to hire two people anyway."
"From your lips to my financial planners ears."
"Youre gonna get rich, I tell you."
"Well, somebody is ."
There he goes again. Why does he keep?
"Hey, Carly!" Perry burst through the door, his smile as wide as his face.
"How are you doing, Per?"
"Got something to show you." He fished a small box out of his pocket. "Tell me what you think."
Carly opened the box to find a small diamond solitaire, set in gold. "Wow! For me?"
Perry shook his head and sighed. "You drive me crazy! Its for Debbie."
"Well, I think shes gonna love it."
"You dont think its too little, do you?"
"Naw, its perfect. You can get her a nice wide band to go with it. Itll look great!" It was obvious to Carly that her opinion mattered a lot. "So when are you going to ask her?"
"I was thinking Id do it on Christmas Eve you know, after Kevin goes to bed."
"Thatll be sweet. Can I be there too? Ill hide behind the couch."
"I dont care if everybodys there. All that matters to me is whether or not she says yes."
"Perry, Perry, Perry. Have a little faith, man. What woman wouldnt want you? Take a shower; shave that scraggly beard off ."
"My beards not scraggly!"
"Shes going to say yes. She practically swoons whenever she looks at you." Carly turned to her friend. "Hey, Daniel, think you can manage?"
"Yeah, thanks for staying so long today. Im going to figure out how to pay you, even if I cant get you to take any money." All he had budgeted was minimum wage, and that was insulting to a person like Carly. Shed already told him she was just doing it as a favor.
Carly turned back to her cousin. "So Im done here. You got any more deliveries today?"
"Are you kidding? You should see the business theyre doing down at the store. Ive probably got two runs this afternoon, and full days on Monday and Tuesday."
"Well, lets go." She dropped her apron in the bin and grabbed her coat, stopping at she reached the front door. "Hold on a sec, Per." Turning back, she took just a moment to give Daniel her best wishes for Richs father. "You guys hang in there this weekend, and call me if you need anything."
On her way out, Carly added Daniel to the growing list of things that had made this trip home different from her earlier visits better. To a lot of people, going in to work six days a week at a coffee house without even getting paid might seem like a pretty stupid thing for somebody to do during a vacation, but Carly was having fun. In just the few days shed been helping out, shed run into dozens of people she had known from school, or from the years of delivering furniture all over Leland County. And they had all been nice, genuinely nice.
For the first time since shed left this town twenty-five years ago, Carly reconsidered her long-held belief that there was nothing for her here in Leland. Shed been content to see her family when they traveled the world to be with her on vacation; but on her brief visits home, she rarely left the house or the store. This time, though, her old beliefs and her new feelings seemed out of whack.
And it wasnt at all unpleasant.
"Mom?" Emmy knocked again on the bathroom door. She could hear the jets running in the hot tub.
Justine sank deep into the pulsating water, the pile of bubbles growing higher from the powerful jets. Her legs, hips and back were screaming for relief from her punishing run. What were you thinking, Justine?
"What? Come on in."
Emmy tentatively opened the door a crack. Seeing her mother submerged beneath the bubbles, she entered the steamy bathroom. "Are you going to fix dinner?"
Justine was so exhausted from her day that she hadnt even thought about eating. And of course shed have to fix dinnerEmmys friend Kelly was here for the day and it wouldnt do to ask the girls to fend for themselves.
"Yes, honey Ill fix something." Whats in the freezer? Frozen stuff. "Why dont you have a look in the freezer and see if theres something you want? Ill go to the store if I need to."
"Okay. Will you call Carly and see if shell come over too?"
"You want Carly to come to dinner?"
"Yeah. See, you know that report I had to do on China?"
"Kelly has to do one on Peru, and Carly said the other night that she lived there too."
"Ah." Thank you, Kelly. "Why dont you call her? Her numbers in the book under her daddys name Lloyd Griffin, on Stony Ridge Road." Or you could just dial *6 on the memory dial.
Justine sat mesmerized in front of the fire as Carly told the girls yet another funny story about her misadventures of living abroad. Kelly had gotten all the material she needed for her report on Peru, but Carly went on to add tales of how shed butchered the language and made a fool of herself over the local customs.
"By the time I got to Johannesburg, I was afraid to leave my apartment."
"But at least you spoke the same language."
"Thats a matter of opinion. If you ask them, the English we speak in Kentucky is another language entirely. And theres nothing worse than hearing your accent mocked by a foreigner."
Justine studied her friend, noticing again the lines around her eyes that crinkled when she laughed. She had those wrinkles too, but shed always thought them unsightly. They sure werent unsightly on Carly. Nothing was.
"Are you going to get an apartment in Madrid?"
Emmy hadnt meant to throw a wet blanket on their conversation, but her mention of Madrid deflated Carlys good mood. The labor coordinator was due to leave again soon, and she wasnt ready. Now that shed gotten a taste of it, Carly envied the daily routines that most people in Leland seemed to take for granted. All she had to look forward to for the next two years was change and solitude. And the latter was what she dreaded most.
"I dont know what Ill do in Madrid. We usually all start out living in a hotel, but if the city seems friendly and comfortable after a couple of months, Ill probably find an apartment or something."
"Maybe well come visit you," Emmy offered. "Wouldnt that be fun, Mom?"
"Huh?" Justine hadnt heard her daughters question. Shed been lost in thought about how lonely shed be after Carly left and how empty her heart would feel.
"I said we should go to Madrid to visit Carly."
"An excellent idea," the blonde woman added.
"Hmmm I dont know about that. The way you two pick on me, I dont know if I want to subject myself to being stranded in a foreign country just so youll both have something to laugh at."
"Would we do that?" Emmy and Carly struck their usual innocent pose, causing both Justine and Kelly to laugh in agreement.
Carly looked at her watch and pulled herself up from the floor. "I guess I should go. I have to sleep late tomorrow, and I want to get an early start."
Emmy and Kelly stood too. "Mom, is it okay if I stay at Kellys house tonight? Ill be in church tomorrow." They had Kellys mothers car.
"My parents are home."
That was exactly the question on Justines lips. "You can both stay here if you want."
"Yeah, but if we do that, we wont get to drive by Dale Farlowes house." Kelly gave away her friends most carefully guarded secret.
"Kelly!" Emmy was mortified.
"Dale Farlowe, eh? Thats Daryls brother, isnt?" Justine placed him as one of the boys on the football team.
"Yes, and hes Emmys chemistry partner."
Justine and Carly traded a look of understanding. They knew all about falling for ones chemistry partner.
"And this driving by Dale Farlowes house you want to tell me about that part?"
"Its nothing, Mom." Emmy turned back to her friend with an exasperated look. "I cant believe you told my mother about that. Im going to tell your dad about you and Dickie Underwood after the basketball game."
"Never mind, Mrs. Hall. I made all that up about Dale Farlowe."
Justine didnt believe that for a second, but she helped her daughter gather up her things. "You may stay the night with Kelly. And you may drive by Dales house but you may not stop. You may drive very slowly, though."
The daughter rolled her eyes in embarrassment, knowing that her mom would want to know all about this crush on her lab partner. She would have told her eventually, though.
"Thanks for all your help, Carly. You want us to drop you off?"
"Nah, Ill drag these old bones over the hill. If I dont make it, Im sure theyll find my body in the spring thaw."
"I bet we smell you a long time before spring," Emmy quipped.
"Not with all that perfume youll be wearing for Dale!"
Emmy groaned again and hurried out the front door to join Kelly on the porch, slamming the door behind her. As they pulled out, the lime green Volkswagen belonging to Trey took their spot in the driveway.
Inside, Justine and Carly were finally enjoying a private moment, standing in the darkened foyer. Carly no longer wanted to leave, and it was almost as though she could feel an invitation from Justine. She just didnt know what the invitation was for.
"I dont like to think about you having to go to Madrid."
"Me neither." Carly took a step closer to the redhead and held out her arms, her eyes never leaving Justines. Not hesitating, the redhead walked into the embrace, wrapping her own long arms around Carlys waist and pulling her closer. The intensity of the moment left little doubt as to what was going to happen next.
Or what might have happened next.
"Mom?" Trey stood in the open doorway, his face a mask of anger. "What are you doing?"
Carly and Justine separated as though the other were aflame.
"Trey, it isnt"
Carly made a quick exit to the kitchen, not sure if she should wait or leave through the back door. There was no telling how ugly the scene in the foyer was going to get, but she didnt want to listen to Justines denial. It isnt . It isnt what? The sick feeling in her stomach answered her question, and out she went into the night.
But that wasnt the conversation taking place between mother and son.
"I cant deal with this," the youngster groused, unable to meet his mothers eye. "Why are you doing this?"
"Honey, Im not doing anything." Immediately, she regretted her dishonesty. Justine put her hand on her sons arm, willing him to look at her. "At least Im not doing anything wrong."
"How can you say that? You know what people are going to say." The embarrassment of what had happened in school three years ago was not forgotten; and it would be even worse now.
"Trey I know what theyll say. But I just cant live my life for all of those narrow-minded people. I know its not what you want"
"You cant do this to me, Mom."
"Please try to understand this, son. Im not doing this to hurt you."
"But it does more than you know."
Justine could see that the anguish on her sons face was real. But it was time to ask him to rise above what he wanted for himself. All he needed was a little push, a word of encouragement.
The pressure was more than the teenager could stand; his mother was asking for too much. Without another word, he walked back out the front door.
Justine slumped against the wall, her feet giving way as she slid to the floor. What have I done?
The redhead squirmed uncomfortably in the pew, feeling the eyes of the congregation on the back of her head. Everyone in the place had to be wondering why her son chose to sit by himself on the opposite side of the aisle instead of in his usual seat at his mothers side.
"Whats with Trey?" Emmy whispered. She knew that her brother had gone to the house last night, but presumed it was to apologize for missing the party on Friday night.
"Hes angry with me."
Justine reached for the hymnal and opened to the proper page, her silence a signal that her daughters question would go unanswered. Throughout the service, the mother stole glances in her sons direction, catching his eye only once before he hurriedly looked away.
As they sang their closing hymn, Justine prepared to catch Trey on his way out so she could ask him to come to the house and talk. He hadnt actually seen anything, and with Carly leaving in just a few weeks, there really wasnt any sense in pushing this right now. Trey would have to deal with it eventually, but why not put it off for as long as she could?
So if Trey would hear her out, she could explain it all away. Emmy would back up her claim that Carly was only a friend. Crisis over.
"Mom, can we go for a walk today?"
In the split second that she turned to hear her daughters request, Trey slipped out along the outside aisle. Justine sighed, knowing he would be long gone before she got through the crowd waiting to shake the ministers hand.
The blonde woman ducked beneath a pine branch and gave it a good shake. The sun never hit this spot, so the snow and ice that had accumulated over the last week still clung to her favorite perch. Instead of climbing the branches, she had to settle for leaning against the sticky trunk. If someone knew to look for her, she was out in the open. But she couldnt resist the urge to watch the house below. She needed a vivid reminderproof positivethat there wasnt anything down there for her. All of her ideas about having something with Justine Hall were silly, stupid pipe dreams. Justine had spelled it out for her in plain Englishshe just hadnt listened.
Carly fingered the Dunhills in her pocket, wanting one right now more than anytime since shed set them aside a couple of weeks ago. If not for the fact that shed disappoint her mother terribly, shed chuck the whole idea of quitting and light up right here in Stony Ridge Park. There was no point in not smoking to please Justine.
Theyd been so close to sharing a kiss last night, and it wasnt just some lust-filled moment. No, for those scant few seconds, Carly thought she had seen inside Justines heart, and that what was there mirrored what was inside her own.
And just like that, it was gone. Justine wasnt going to give herself permission to share her heart with someone at least not someone like Carly. And if Carly couldnt give her heart to Justine well, then she might as well smoke.
She pulled a cigarette from the pack, passing it underneath her nose to inhale the inviting tobacco scent. When she wrapped her lips around the filter, the temptation grew too great and she pulled out her lighter. Flick...flick . It sparked but wouldnt catch.
The dark blue Acura suddenly appeared on Sandstone and pulled into the carport below. Carly watched as Justine and Emmy climbed out of the car, both wearing dresses and long, heavy coats. Obviously, they had been to church this morning. She watched as they walked up the steps to the kitchen door, the same door that Carly had used last night to make her escape.
Justine held the door as her daughter went inside. Then she turned instinctively and met the eyes that watched her from so far away.
Carly shivered as the woman lifted her hand slightly in a wave that only the two of them could see. She pocketed her lighter and pulled the cigarette from her lips, snapping it in two.
What is that woman doing to me? Carly smiled to herself, knowing that Justine had her permission to do anything she wanted.
With Emmy behind the wheel, mother and daughter parked at the trailhead where Justine and Trey usually ran on Saturdays.
"Its pretty out here," the teenager noted. Running wasnt her thing at all, but Emmy would admit to being just a little bit jealous that her brother got to spend this special time with their mom and she didnt.
"It is nice. Youve never been out here before?"
"Ive been to the lake, but I didnt know about this trail until Trey told me about it." The teenager buttoned her jacket all the way to the top and turned up her collar. "Its cold."
"Not when youre running," her mother joked. "I know, you hate to run." She was glad to have this time with Emmy, even more so because it had been her daughters idea. Justine couldnt shake the feeling that Emmy wanted to talk about something, Dale Farlowe perhaps. "You got something on your mind, honey?"
"Yeah I wanted to ask you about Carly."
Justines stomach dropped as though shed topped a Ferris wheel. Not you too. "What about Carly?"
"Well, about you and Carly."
Her worst fears now realized, Justine drew a ragged breath. "I thought you might want to talk about Dale Farlowe."
Emmy wouldnt be derailed. "Is Carly just a regular friend? Or do you like her more than that?"
"Honey, did Trey say something about Carly and me? Because hes got the wrong idea"
"Whats Trey got to do with anything?"
Justine dug her hands into her pockets and stared at the ground as they walked deeper into the woods. "Emmy, I dont think this is the kind of conversation I should be having with you."
"Why not? Are there things I shouldnt talk about with you? Things like boyfriends or dating or sex?"
"Of course not. You know you can talk to me about anything. Ill always listen, and Ill try to help you work through stuff however I can. And I wont give you any advice unless you ask for it."
"Well this ought to work both ways then. You should be able to talk to me about stuff too. Otherwise, Im going to feel like I cant bring things to you that are personal."
Justine stopped in her tracks and stared incredulously at her too-smart daughter. Starting up again, she shook her head in resignation. "Emmy, youre pushing me into a corner here, and I dont like it at all."
"Why cant you just answer my question? Are you a lesbian?"
"Honey!" Justine felt the walls closing in, like her whole life was starting to unravel again. Sometime between the near-kiss last night and this morning in church, shed come to the conclusion that JT was wrong about the kids being ready to accept something like that. "Look, no matter what I feel about Carlyor anybodyIm not going to do something thats going to come between all of us like it did last time. I dont want to go through that again, and Im not going to put you and Trey through it."
The teenager groaned in exasperation. "Put us through what? I dont see what the big deal is. Just tell me how you feel about Carly."
Justine could feel her façadethe one in which she portrayed Carly Griffin as just a friendcrumbling with each pointed question from her daughter. "Okay, I like Carly. I think shes interesting and shes very kind. We were friends a long time ago, and its been really nice seeing her again, and spending time with her." All of that was true.
"But do you like her as more than a friend?"
"I told you, Emmy. Im not going to pursue something with Carly that would cause problems for you or your brother."
The girl sighed deeply, frustrated at the way her mom kept dancing around the question. "Look, Mom I cant speak for Trey except to say that he can be the most selfish, stuck-up jerk in the world. But if youre happy with somebody, it isnt going to cause a problem for me no matter who it is."
Justine was bowled over by her daughters words. Did she just say what I think she said? "Even if its another woman who makes me happy?"
"If its somebody as nice as Carly, then its okay with me."
The discomfort shed been feeling with the vein of the conservation dissipated, and Justine found herself simply in awe of how a 16-year-old could be so mature. She and JT had always known that this child was special, but up until right now, she had no idea of the compassion and insight her daughter was capable of. "Honey, come here." She stopped in the path and held out her arms.
"Now were going to be all mushy, arent we?" She stepped into her mothers arms and returned the hug.
"Yes. Were going to be mushy." Justine hugged her daughter tightly, her eyes rapidly filling with tears. "Have I ever told you what a wonderful person I think you are?"
When they finally broke, they hooked arms and continued down the trail. The enormity of this breakthrough wasnt lost on Justine, but winning Emmys support didnt solve the problem of Trey.
Carly ground the gears on the old truck, this time just to watch her cousin flinch. With her head out the window in the rain, she watched the corner of the building as she backed the truck into its spot behind the store.
Perry did the first run by himself while Carly helped at the coffee house, but shed come on board to help finish up, knowing that her mom would have their Christmas Eve lunch on the table by one oclock. It was a big day for Griffin Home Furnishings, and the big lug beside her still had no idea of their plan to turn over the store.
"Looks like Lloyds already locked up," Perry observed.
"Have you told them about your big plans for tonight?"
"No, I havent told anybody but you. What if she says no?"
"Shes not going to say no." Carly had told him that no fewer than a dozen times in the last week. She climbed into Perrys pickup and waited while he double-checked the lock on the back door. A bag of wrapped presents sat in the floorboard.
Last night when they closed the store, Lloyd and Nadine went to the offices of Cobb, Finkle & Sharpe to sign all the papers theyd need to sell the store to Perry. All that waited was Perrys signature and the banks official okay on his loan.
Perry pulled into the sparse traffic on Main Street, catching the stoplight the only stoplight in downtown Leland. A blue AcuraJustine Halls carturned the corner in front of them just as the light changed, and Perry drew up behind her as they both followed the main road out of downtown.
Carly hadnt seen Justine since Saturday night, but theyd talked on the phone a couple of times. Emmy was staying over there this week, so there really wasnt any comfortable way they could talk about what happened with Trey. But Justine seemed to be okay, and if she was worried about anything, she didnt show it. But that didnt mean they were going to just pick up where they left off. Having Trey walk in like that was probably a wake-up call for Justine that they were slipping into risky territory. If shed managed to convince her son that nothing was going on then shed probably convinced herself of the same thing.
"Thats Justine Hall, isnt it?" Perry observed.
"Yeah guess shes going home early too."
"Thats one pretty lady. Did you ever see her when she got really fat?"
"I saw her when she was heavier. I thought she was pretty then too."
"Youre right, even then she was good-looking. Some people have it, dont you think?"
"Justine Hall has it Shes always had it."
Perry got the strangest inkling at he recalled the delivery to Marian Halls home. He hadnt known about Carlys preference for women at the time, but now that he did, it made him look at it all in a different light. There was just something about the way his cousin responded to Justine that he hadnt seen in her dealings with other people. And if the rumors about Justine were true . He was about to probe when he spotted the blue Chevy Lumina in the Griffins driveway. "Is that Debbies car?"
"Yeah, Mama invited her. Kevin should be here too."
"Why didnt somebody tell me?"
"Duh maybe they wanted it to be a surprise."
"Why would anybody want to surprise me? Its not my birthday or anything."
"Why dont you quit asking so many questions and get on in the house?"
The wonderful aroma of freshly baked ham filled the house, and Carly rushed in to announce their arrival. The Griffins had gathered in the living room with their guests, all of the paperwork for the transfer stacked on the coffee table.
Perry greeted his girlfriend and her son excitedly before he realized that all eyes were on him. "Whats going on?"
"Have a seat, son," Lloyd said, picking up the folder off the table. "Ever since Carly was fourteen years old and took to riding in the delivery truck with you, Ive been thinking about what I was going to say when this day finally got here. I wanted to look her in the eye and tell her how glad I was to pass on thirty-five years of hard work down at the store, and that I hoped she was going to enjoy it as much as me and her mama did."
Perry looked over at Carly, suddenly getting a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Now you cant push Carly into somethingshes just too hardheaded. So Ive been nudging her for about the last five or six years, and shes finally given me her answer."
The young man looked up and eyed his cousin, who was already smiling in anticipation of the announcement that would mean the end of his dreams.
"And she said no thanks. I couldnt twist her arm to save my life, and she says she aint ever gonna change her mind. So, Perry ." He held out the packet of papers. "If youre still interested in taking on this headache, its yours all the stuff we talked about."
Perry sat stunned, reeling from the emotional swing of the last thirty seconds, when he thought he was losing everything to learning that he was finally being given what hed waited for ever since he went to work for his uncle. When he turned to see how excited his girlfriend was for him, his emotions went on overload. Without even answering the offer, he dropped to a knee before Debbie and fished the ring box from his pocket. "Marry me?"
The woman was clearly shocked at this turn of events, so much that her mouth dropped open to answer, but nothing came out. After what seemed an eternity to the man on his knee, she nodded vigorously and wrapped her arms around his neck. Perry responded with a passionate kiss that caused everyone in the room to blush.
"This is so embarrassing!" Kevin covered his face, but he couldnt hide his smile.
Perry stood up and pulled the boy into a hug. "I hope this is okay with you, buddy. I cant wait for us to be a family."
Thirteen-year-old boys didnt do the hugging thing very well, but his face said everything that needed to be said. "Are we gonna live in your house?" He hoped so, because Perry had a lot more room than they had in the apartment.
"If thats what your mama wants, then thats where well live. Debbie, right now, Im the happiest man in the whole world." He turned back to his uncle and aunt. "And I cant say thanks enough for all you two have done for me. Im gonna take good care of that store. I hope to make you proud."
Carly jumped into the celebration. "Dont worry about that. I think Daddys planning on showing up for work every day. Just dont make him haul that furniture anymore, or Ill have to come back here and kick your butt."
"I wont let him do that. Ol Kevin heres gonna be fourteen this summer. Ill put him to work."
"Hey, Kevin. Lets go in the kitchen and Ill tell you all about what its like to ride on the truck," Carly offered.
Lloyd and Nadine took their daughters cue and slipped into the other room as well, giving the newly-engaged couple a moment of privacy.
"Itll be fun moving furniture. I can pick up our couch all by myself," Kevin boasted.
Carly chuckled, remembering the boys excited recounting of his video game exploits. He could talk a blue streak, but from what she saw, he wasnt a bad kid at all. She was glad that he was going to have a guy like Perry in his life; and she was even happier that her cousin was getting what he wanted too.
During lunch, they told stories about their experiences at the furniture store over the years, including a couple of tales about some of their more difficult customers like Marian Hall.
Perry added a story of Carlys high school days. "I remember one time when we were taking this big dresser up the steps at Mrs. Cornings house. She was the librarian at the high school, so she knew both of us. Anyway, shes talking to Carly and asking her all these questions about school and Carlys grunting and heaving and trying to answer. Then this little yappy dog starts down the steps and hes nipping at her feet ."
"I was scared to death I was going to drop that dresser and flatten the little pest."
"But Mrs. Corning cant see her dog from the bottom of the steps and shes still jabbering on and asking all these questions and Carly finally yells out, Will you leave me alone, you stupid ol fleabag! I tell you, I thought that woman was going to throw a clot!"
"See what you have to look forward to, Kevin," Carly teased.
Lloyd chimed in with the story of the time when Carly was fifteen and they delivered a mattress to the Hobson residence. Old Mr. Hobson didnt realize that his wife had shown them in, and he walked out of the master bathroom without a stitch of clothes.
"It was not a pretty sight," Carly recalled dismally. "Gave me nightmares for weeks."
Todays gathering was probably the biggest celebration theyd ever had.
Perry and Debbie were still riding high from their engagement, and Perry was on cloud nine over the news about the store. Kevin was equally excited, but it was hard to tell if that was from getting a new step-dad or the looming possibility of getting to work on the delivery truck.
Lloyd and Nadine found themselves surprisingly relieved to be out of the furniture business, at least as owners. Lloyd especially was glad to see his wife so happy about giving it up, finally realizing what a burden it must have been for her. He would be forever grateful to his daughter for the push.
Carly was happy for everyone except perhaps herself. Despite the joy around heror maybe because of itshe was feeling glum. She was leaving soon and life in Leland was going to go on without her. It was unlikely she would make it back for what Perry and Debbie were saying would be a March wedding. And she wouldnt be around to see how her mom and dad adapted to life outside the furniture store.
The last time she was home for any length of timealmost four years agoshed been ready to go when her vacation was up. At times, it felt like the whole town was smothering her and she just had to break free. Now she realized that it probably wasnt the town at all, but her own refusal to be a part of it. This time, shed let go of that grudge shed been carrying, that chip on her shoulder; and people like Justine, Perry, Rich and Daniel, and even some of her old classmates showed her what Leland was capable of.
But what was any of it worth with Justine holding her at arms length? Carly knew that was the real source of her melancholy. It was almost like she could taste what being happy was like, but it was just out of reach. She didnt want to leave Leland if there was a chance she could be with Justine and she didnt want to stay if there wasnt.
Justine pulled into the carport, still fighting the tears that had threatened to fall all night. Christmas dinner at her mothers had been the usual elaborate affaira fat turkey, the good china, extravagant gifts for everyone, and songs around the piano. It was like every other year, except for the empty place at the table. Trey hadnt called at all, not even to arrange to pick up his gifts. JT said the boy had hardly been at home all week; he was spending his days and evenings with Melissa. He came home after midnight, and left before anyone got up. Even when he was there, hed been in a quiet mood somber and distracted.
There had to be a way to reach him, a way to reassure him. Treys life was good; he just needed to see that. His future was secure at the university, and if he went on to law school as he planned, there would be a job waiting at his fathers firm. Unlike a lot of kids his age, he didnt have to worry about money or having the right things. And he had a girlfriend who was crazy about him. Surely, the idea that his mom might be having a quiet relationship with another woman wasnt enough to bring down his whole world!
Lugging the gifts from her family, she unlocked the back door and pushed into the kitchen, dreading how quiet the house would be without Emmy there. In the short time her daughter had been staying with her, shed grown used to having her around. It was fun to cook together, and to talk into the night in front of the fire. After their revealing conversation on Sunday afternoon, there was a new intimacy between them. She still hadnt shared much about her feelings for Carly, but it was now a given between them that the feelings were there. And Justine had even heard a little about Dale Farlowe.
But tonight, Emmy was back at her dads, getting ready to head out tomorrow with her church group to the ski slopes in West Virginia. The big house on Sandstone was lonely again, and the New Year would bring more of the same.
And if all that werent enough, Carly Griffin would soon be gone.
Carly stepped out onto the porch and drew in a deep breath of cold air. Christmas Day at the Griffin house was a quiet affair. Theyd opened gifts together last night and slept in, enjoying a big breakfast together about ten.
All day, Carly had pored over her feelings for Justine Hall, unable to shake the belief that her old friend was the key to what happened next in Carlys life. One thing was increasingly clear: Carly didnt want to spend the next two years in Madrid, no matter what. She had a dinner appointment with her boss in Louisville tomorrow to talk about a permanent transfer to corporate. Heck, if she lived in Louisville, she and Justine could see each other on the weekends. Maybe that could lead to something down the road; the kids werent going to be around forever. And if she lived in Louisville, she could come back to town often enough to keep up with everybody.
Normally, this was the time of night when Carly would creep up the ridge to peek down at Justines house. But shed been up there twice already today and the blue car was gone.
"Carly?" That was her mom at the front door. "Your cell phones ringing."
She jumped up and stumbled down the hall, but was too late to catch it. The missed number that showed up made her heart skip a beat, and she quickly redialed.
"Hey, its Carly I was out on the porch." She sat down on her bed and started to unbutton her leather jacket.
"Sneaking a cigarette?" Justine teased.
"No, I was not smoking! Ill have you know that Ive been smoke-free for twelve days, two hours and forty minutes. Not that Im counting or anything." She flopped back onto the bed, happy just to hear her friends voice.
"Thats great. Im really proud of you."
"Yeah, yeah. So are Mama and Daddy. Except if I stay here much longer, Im going to eat them out of house and home."
"Well, when the cupboards are bare over there, you just come on down and Ill feed you."
"Right, Ill just waddle over the ridge."
They kept the conversation light, both content with knowing that their friendship was still on solid ground. Carly had almost expected Justine to push her away again, but that hadnt really happened. They hadnt seen each other since Saturday night, but that was understandable, since Emmy was staying over there.
"So did you get things worked out with Trey?"
Justine sighed heavily. "No. I havent seen him since Saturday. He didnt even show up at my mothers house today to open presents. He must really be mad at me right now."
"Im really sorry. I know how much that hurts you...." Carly remembered that Justines greatest fear wasnt losing Trey and Emmy, but losing control of herself again. "But itll be okay this time, Justine. Youre a lot stronger now and you can always tell him that he got the wrong idea. All he saw was two friends sharing a hug." Three seconds later would have been a different story altogether.
"I know. Thats what Ive been telling myself. Im sure hell come around eventually to talk probably with a list of things I can do and cant do. He just isnt capable of dealing with that kind of stuff, and if I try to push it on him, hell just get that much more stubborn." Her voice was full of frustration.
"You cant really blame him, Justine. Those are the rules for living in a place like this." The optimism Carly had begun to feel for Leland had slipped some since Saturday night. In twenty-five years, the attitudes here hadnt really changed at all. Kids like Trey might grow up over time and learn to behave themselves in public, but the changes were barely skin-deep. "Kids arent ever going to learn to accept people who are different because their parents dont. And its not just gays Its the people who dont have money, or the ones who just dont know how to dress or who arent jocks."
"But I dont want my own son to be like that! He wasnt raised by his friends and their parents. He was raised by me!" Justine was surprised by the anger in her voice, anger not at Trey for how he felt, but anger at herself as she realized that shed let him get away with it. "I can teach him not to lie or steal, and not to mouth off to his teachers. But I cant teach him the most fundamental things he needs to know to be a good person that you have to respect everybody." She was up and pacing the den now, the picture getting clearer on what she had to do. "Youre absolutely right, Carly. This isnt Treys fault at all. Its mine."
"Yours?" Carly hadnt meant to send that message. Justine didnt need to add guilt to what she was already feeling.
"Yes, mine! Who elses would it be? I should have beat it into his head when he was little, but JT and I both thought that we were teaching him more by letting him pick his own friends. I didnt know my son was going to turn into such a little snob."
Justine was so adamant and forceful that Carly grew nervous about where she was going with all this. If she went on a tirade like the night they didnt come to her birthday dinner, she might do more harm than good. "Listen calm down okay? You need to think all this through. You dont want to say or do something that youre going to regret later."
"I know I know." Justine realized that she sounded like she was about to go off half-cocked. "But I really do have to talk to him about all this. Ive been so worried about how the other kids would act that I didnt stop to think about what I was saying about myself. I need to quit acting like Im doing something so awful."
Carly was relieved to hear the voice of reason return, but she was still worried that Justine wasnt seeing it all the way through. "And what about Emmy, Justine? You were just telling me that you feel really close to her again. You dont want to risk that."
"Emmys okay with everything. We talked about it on Sunday." Justine hedged on saying exactly what her daughter had asked. "She asked me point blank if I was a lesbian. I couldnt lie to her. And you know what she told me? She said it was okay, that she wanted me to be happy."
"Its amazing sometimes to think that those two grew up in the same house, huh?"
Carly relaxed. "So what are you going to do?"
"I need to find a way to talk to my son, so I can tell him what I expect of him. JT will back me on this. But Trey needs to understand that hes not going to act like this without consequences."
"Wow," Carly said again. In light of all Justine had gone through over the past few years, this was a huge step. "Im really proud of you for this, Justine."
Her voice went soft. "Well, I want to raise my kids to be good people. Its time I stepped up and did my job."
"You really are a great mother, you know."
"Thank you that means a lot." It was time to lighten this conversation. "So, are you going to the reunion Saturday night?"
"You know, I think I will. But dont let me get drunk and start talking to Sara McCurry. Im afraid of what I might say."
"You and me both. I just hope her husband doesnt ask me to dance. I dont want to smell like him all night."
The two women eased into their friendly banter, talking about all of their old classmates, and trying to guess what everyone was doing now. After more than an hour, Carlys phone beeped its warning.
"My batterys dying. I guess I should go."
"Okay merry Christmas, Carly."
"It is, Justine. Talking to you tonight really made my day. Ive really missed you this week." Thinking back to how shed felt when she was sitting on the porch, Carly realized the truth of her words.
"Ive missed you too. You want to come for dinner tomorrow?"
"I cant. I have to go to Louisville tomorrow. Im having dinner with my boss."
"Then I guess Ill see you Saturday night?"
"Ill be there." Carly smiled into the phone. "Merry Christmas, Justine."
Yes, I too am thinking that it is time for these women to have sex again. Part 7 (conclusion)
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