The House on Sandstone Part 7 (conclusion)
By KG MacGregor
Carly shifted on the leather couch, growing more irritated by the minute at Jim Fitzpatrick. Her appointment was for six, and according to his secretary, hed gone out at five for a quick haircut. It was a quarter to seven, but hed called to say he was running late. No shit.
Jim was three years younger than Carly and joined the company on the labor team she put together for Estonia. He accompanied her on the second tour in Bolivia, then on to Peru, but got married and requested a job at corporate.
Carly had put in for a job stateside that year too, but shed been given a hefty raise and shuffled off to Johannesburg instead. She was too important to them in the field, they said, and they didnt want to lose her experience and know-how.
After two years in Shanghai, she asked again, mindful of an opening that popped up when one of the project managers left the company for a competitor. Again, one of the women on her teamwho happened to marry someone at corporatewas hired for the slot, and Carly was given a sizable raise to go to Jerusalem. But that time, she was promised the next opening. Wade Morrow was that opening, due to retire in May when he turned sixty-five. She wanted to be certain that Worldwide Workforce remembered its promise, and that they knew she was still interested.
It galled her that Jim Fitzpatrick was now her boss, and that all of her requests had to go up through him. He had been mediocre at best in the field, and in his current job, he supervised three field projects that he barely understood. The trains ran on time because Carly and her fellow team leaders made it happen.
A handsome man came through the glass door exuberantly, and stretched his hand out to take hers. "Carly! Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Jim. Good to see you again." His breath smelled of alcohol. Running late, my ass.
"So I made us a reservation across the street at Ruths Chris. Lindas going to join us at seven. Shes really looking forward to seeing you again."
Carly fumed inwardly, instantly realizing that shed been kept waiting simply because Jims wife couldnt make it at six. The women hardly knew each other; this was just Jim and Linda taking advantage of an opportunity to eat out on the companys nickel. Now, she understood why he had insisted on dinner instead of meeting with her this afternoon.
"I need to talk about some work issues, Jim personnel matters. I hope that wont be a problem."
"Nah, shouldnt be. Lindas heard it all before."
Fifteen minutes later, they were seated at an elegant table overlooking the Ohio River.
"I just never get tired of this view," Linda sighed. "I love it when Jim has work dinners."
"Im sure you do." Very sure. "So, Jim I wanted to talk with you about Wades job. I know hes retiring in May, and Id like to call in that promise you made before I went to Israel."
Jim paused to order a $90 bottle of wine, without even asking her preference. When the waiter departed, he gave his attention back to Carly. He was ready for this, and had all his arguments lined up. "That would really be a bad time to leave Madrid, Carly. You know the four-month mark is a critical period."
Or the five-month or the eight-month . Carly had heard this before. "Damons ready to step up. By May, well be interviewing and training already. Those modules are already in place."
"Damons not as experienced as you are, though."
"Nobody is! Thats because Ive been in the field longer than anybody in the company. My performance reviews are good. I get the top ratings. Now Im ready to move up." Ive been ready for the last twelve years. "I deserve to move up."
"Its not that simple, Carly. There are nine field teams out there. A lot of people on those teams are going to apply for Wades spot. Its going to come down to a lot of different factors."
Carly was determined not to lose her cool, but she knew when she was being jerked around. "But I have it in writing from you that I will get top consideration."
"Thats right. You will be considered, and all of your experience is going to be taken into account. But thats not the only factor."
The waiter interrupted them again to take their order. Carly hadnt really thought about what she would eat, but when both of her dinner companions ordered the twenty-ounce Porterhouse, she assumed it was probably the most expensive item on the menu, and ordered one for herself. Linda was bored already, and started talking to her husband about a funny noise the mini-van made. After ten minutes of debate, they agreed that she would take it to the shop on Monday. Crisis averted!
"So if experience isnt the only factor, what else is going to be considered?"
"Well, I know that Bob Schiller asked about it too before he went to Pakistan. Its hard to get somebody to head up a project in a place like that."
"In other words, Wades job has been promised to more than one person."
"Nobodys been promised anything, Carly. Im sure you have just as good a shot as anybody else but I think Bob having been in Pakistan is going to weigh pretty heavy."
The waiter returned to place three sizzling steaks in front of them. Carly looked at the size of the monstrous piece of beef with dismay. She couldnt eat that much meat in a week!
"Jim, Bob has been with Worldwide for six years. Hes not even thirty years old!"
"Now you know we cant discriminate by age. Thats against the law."
"Nobodys asking you to. But you cant get twenty years work experience when youre only twenty-nine."
"Look I wasnt going to bring this up, but you got special consideration from the company before. We reallyI really went out on a limb to let you hire Alison. And look what that cost us. We paid moving expenses for somebody who didnt even stay six months. I could have lost my job over that."
"Whos Alison?" Linda asked, her mouth full of steak.
"She was somebody Carly got involved with romantically in South Africa. Carly asked us to hire her on the next job at Shanghai so she could go too."
"You do that a lot, dont you? Hire peoples husbands or wives," she continued.
"We do it a fair bit. But Alison wasnt somebodys wife. I really stuck my neck out on that one, Carly."
"Its not like I had an option, Jim."
"I know, I know. But I had an option. I could have said no. But I didnt. All Im saying is that we cant give everybody special consideration every time."
Carly felt her stomach sinking with disappointment and frustration. Despite their promises, she knew now that she wouldnt be offered a stateside job. After twenty-one years with the company, she was going to have to settle for that single bone theyd tossed her almost five years ago. For a few fleeting seconds, she regretted not taking her father up on his offer of the furniture store.
Her appetite was gone, and she hadnt even had a bite of her steak. Setting her utensils down, she eyed the slab of beef, knowing that it would go home in a doggie bag with the Fitzpatricks if she left it untouched.
"Oh, dear!" Carly put her hand over her forehead and began to sneeze onto her plate. Again and again and again seven times in all. "I dont know what that is. I feel so sick." Struggling to her feet, she reached around for her purse. "I think I better go on home before this gets worse. I have a long drive. Thank you so much for dinner." She laid her linen napkin atop her plate and left.
"All right, Justine. You take A through K and Ill get L through Z." Justine took a seat beside Sara McCurry Rice behind a table with boxes of nametags. "And make sure you get everybodys email address. Thisll be a piece of cake next time if we can just email everybody and not have to send out everything."
A few of their classmates were putting the finishing touches on the decorations at the Kiwanis Club meeting hall, and the band was warming up. The Kiwanis didnt have a license to sell liquor, but theyd gotten a special permit to serve beer and wine. Sara ordered seven cases of wine coolers, insisting that theyd last longer than regular wine.
Theyd last forever at my house, Justine thought.
"Well, looky here. If it aint David Willis!" Sara was excited to see their first classmate. But then Sara was excited to see everyone.
Justine jumped right in to help the next person, and within half an hour, most of the nametags in her box were gone. She fingered a few until she got to the one she really cared about, looking up just in time to see the blonde woman walk in the door with two men.
Carly looked dazzling! She was wearing a tailored gray pantsuit with a wide-collared white top. A vibrant silk scarf was threaded beneath her lapel.
"Hello. Youre Justine Hall right?" The blonde woman flashed a killer smile that nearly melted Justine on the spot. "You probably dont remember me. Im Carly Griffin We used to be lab partners in chemistry class."
Justine was caught off-guard by the greeting, until she saw the mischievous smirk that followed the smile. "Why, yes! We did have chemistry together, now that I think about it. How nice to see you again," she answered back, her voice dripping with syrupy sweetness. Inside, she was reeling at a rush of sensations. She looks like a million dollars!
"Oh, my god! Would you look at who it is? Its Richie Cortner." Sara was on her feet and around the table for a hug from the artist, who was clearly baffled by the attention from someone who hardly acknowledged his existence in high school.
Justine looked at Richie and back at Carly, not quite understanding the connection. Then she noticed Daniel, the man who ran the new coffee shop.
"This gentleman needs a nametag, please. This is Daniel Youngblood." Carly tugged her friend up to the table.
"Okay." Justine began to write it out. "And Daniel is here with ."
"Me," Carly said, looking back at her friend from the coffee house and his partner.
Justine nodded in understanding, trying not to scowl in Daniels direction. Cut it out, numbskull. She just didnt want to come alone, so she brought a friend.
Carly went into the dance hall with her two friends and staked out a table.
"Okay, girlfriend, fess up!" Daniel leaned across their table and waited expectantly.
"Whats with you and the redhead? We had chemistry together."
Carly looked to Rich for help, but got the same questioning look.
"Okay that was Justine Hall, and Ive had the hots for her ever since eleventh grade."
"Thats probably true for half the kids at Leland High," Rich added.
"You can see why." Carly looked up as her beautiful friend entered the dance hall, where she was immediately approached by a man Carly recognized as Mark Matthews, the boy in their class who was votedlike JustineMost Likely to Succeed.
"Well, Id say it was mutual, honey. If looks could kill, youd be picking up my dead body right about now."
"Why do you say that?"
"When you said Hes with me. That woman was not a happy camper."
"Have you got a little history with Justine?" Rich had noticed the interchange between the two women and his curiosity was piqued as well.
"No not really."
"God, what an awful liar you are! I want to play poker with you sometime." Daniel was starting to wonder if this was the woman his friend had told him about, the one who had some problems with the people in Leland.
Carly knew that her face was giving her away, but she didnt feel right about sharing something so private about Justine. "So which one of you guys gets to dance with me first?"
Daniel and Rich understood her cue. The subject of Justine Hall was closed for now.
Justine tried to duck back out to the foyer, but was lured to the dance floor by Mark. There wasnt a gracious way to decline, and it wouldnt kill her to be polite.
Everybody in Leland knew the tale of Mark Matthews. Mark was released from federal prison last year after serving time for investor fraud. Hed managed to convince peoplea lot of peoplethat he had the capital to develop a housing tract in the hills of Tennessee. Unfortunately, the land was owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. But his brand of malfeasance was popular, and he was released early to make room for the next wave of slimy blood-suckers that preyed on the elderly and infirm.
"What are you up to these days, Mark?"
"I hang around the house a lot you know, with the ankle bracelet and all."
Thats right house arrest. She suddenly wondered if the police might swoop in and carrying him off in cuffs.
Matthews read her mind. "But my probation officer signed off on this. Im allowed to have visitors, too, by the way. Maybe you could drop by some time ."
Carly was making her way through the crowd for a beer when she heard her named called.
"Carly! Carly Griffin." It was Sara McCurry. "Look who I found. Its Tommy Hampton. You know I told you about him being in the army, too. You two are going to have so much to talk about." She beamed with excitement as she deposited the man and left.
"Carly, its good to see you again." He held out a hand that was soft to the touch, Carly thought even softer than her own. "Im embarrassed to say this, but Im not in the army. Never was, either. I dont where Sara got that idea."
The blonde woman laughed out loud. "Neither am I. I told Sara that I worked overseas and she just filled in the rest." That got a hearty laugh from her old classmate. "So what are you doing these days, Tommy?"
"Ive been working in Frankfort at the National Archives since I got out of college. But I ran into Sara about ten years ago when I was doing a project over at Fort Knox and I must have mentioned it."
"Well, at least she was right about us having something in common. Shes confused about both of us."
Tommy introduced her to his wife, and after a few more friendly words, they went off to dance and Carly continued on her path to the keg. She was genuinely surprised all along the way by the smiles and friendly greetings. It was as though all of the people here had always been her friends. Maybe they just had her confused with someone else.
The song ended and Justine left the dance floor, automatically scanning the floor for her pretty friend. She spotted Carly near the beer keg, caught up in a conversation with Darlene Johnston. Working at the hospital, she saw a lot of Darlene, but they werent especially close.
"Carly, hi! Daniel says youve been helping him out at the coffee shop. I go by there every day on my way to work."
"Thats right. Its the best way to service my caffeine addiction. Mainlining."
Darlene laughed amiably. "Listen, hows Rich doing? I felt so sorry for him the last time he brought his daddy to the hospital."
Carly remembered that both Daniel and Rich had had nothing but kind words to say about Darlene. "Hes taking it pretty hard. And I think he went on oxygen a few days ago, so its even worse."
"The poor guy. He just lost his mother a couple of years ago. Im so glad hes got somebody like Daniel to support him through this. So many people just arent that lucky."
"Yeah Daniels a really good guy."
"I wish theyd stick around Leland, but Daniel says Rich is pretty set on leaving it all behind when his daddy goes. I guess its hard for him here the memories."
This was the confirmation for Carlys suspicions. Daniel had dropped a lot of hints, but he hadnt come right out and said they were moving on perhaps because he was still hoping to change his partners mind about settling in Leland for good.
"You know, they both told me how good it made them feel when you talked to them in the hospital. It really meant a lot to Rich and he was glad to hear that you were going into Daniels shop every day." That was Carlys subtle way of saying thanks for respecting what these guys had together.
"Hes such a nice guy. Theyre both nice guys, and Im really happy they have each other. Daniel said you were heading out to Spain soon for your job."
"Yeah, I have to leave in a couple of weeks."
"That sounds so exciting."
"Im sure itll be fun." For the first fifteen minutes or so.
"Listen, Ill see you in a bit. I have to get this beer to my husband before he runs off in the car to buy his own six-pack." She looked over in the direction of a bored-looking man, sitting at a table alone. "He hates coming to these things."
Carly was joined in the beer line by Rich, who stopped on his way over to say a couple of words to Darlene. Instinctively, she looked around the room for Justine, who stood by the hors doeuvres table with Sara.
Sara was bending Justines ear. "That Carly Griffin looks like a whole different person. I saw her at the movies the other day and I hardly recognized her. Who in the world would have thought shed turn out to look that good?"
I did but then I always thought she looked good. "She does look good. So does Richie." Justine did that just to torment Sara, whod had a crush on the artist since high school.
"Richie! God, he was the cutest boy in Leland, and now look at him. Hubba hubba! Wonder how come he came in with Carly and that guy from the coffee house? You dont reckon he and Carly are ? No, couldnt be. I mean, she looks good, but he could have whoever he wanted."
Justine bristled, but held her temper in check. She watched as Carly and Rich walked back to their table to deposit their beer before taking to the dance floor. What is this with Carly and Rich Cortner? I didnt even know they knew each other. She didnt have time to dwell on that question. Tony Belichek suddenly appeared to ask her to dance.
Carly smiled as she caught sight of Justine with Tony. She was a full head taller than he was, and it was obvious that he was trying to get close enough to lay his head on her breasts. Despite his diminutive stature, Tony had never been shy about the ladies. Hed been suspended for ten days for pulling out a plumbing pipe in the boys locker room so he could peek through into theirs.
The redhead looked fabulous tonight, Carly thought. She wore a one-piece black pantsuit that zipped up the back. It was sleeveless, and the v-neck showed off Justines sculpted shoulders nicely.
That is one gorgeous body .
"Daniel says business has really been good this week, a lot better than he expected for the holiday." Richs remark snapped her back from the wonderful place where her mind had begun to wander.
"Yeah, we had a really big crowd today. I wish somebody would answer his ad, though. Ive got to leave soon, and hell go nuts if he doesnt have some help."
"Yeah, I wish he could get somebody too. Hes worked hard to build that store up."
"Its a great place. He was saying that he wanted to get a bookshelf in there, and some board games. I think it has a lot of potential to get even bigger."
The music stopped and Carly watched as Justine and Tony separated. Suddenly, the blue eyes met hers and the redhead smiled. Without dropping her gaze, Carly retreated to her table, her own smile growing broader as she realized that Justine was coming over.
"You guys better behave yourselves," Carly warned quietly just before the redhead arrived at their table.
Rich quickly got up and pulled out a chair. "Justine, its nice to see you."
"You too, Richie. I love your murals down in the coffee house."
"Rich has done some wonderful work. I wish you could have seen his last exhibit in Boston." Daniel patted his partners forearm and smiled with obvious pride.
In that instant, Justine grasped the nature of the mens relationship and she couldnt stop her own knowing smile. "You should both be very proud of how well the coffee house is doing."
"We were just talking about that," Carly interjected. "We were saying that you ought to quit your job and go to work helping out."
"Sure you were. What if you were to quit your job instead, and stay there? Stay in Leland?"
"Dont think I havent thought about it." The playfulness in Carlys voice belied the seriousness with which shed been thinking about her job these last few days, and how much she dreaded leaving for Madrid.
"Coffee in the morning furniture delivery in the afternoon. Sounds like a nice life," Justine cajoled teasingly.
Carly could only nod, not trusting what would come out of her mouth if she were to open it. And what would I do in the evening?
The band broke into its rendition of a 1979 disco tune, and virtually everyone in the room took to the dance floor, including the foursome at the table. Dancing side by side with Rich and Daniel, the women couldnt help but remember their steamy night at the club in Louisville. And when the music stopped, Justine couldnt keep from squeezing Carlys arm, a subconscious thanks for the dance.
When they left the dance floor, the redhead was whisked away to attend to a few details at the sign-in desk, and Carly found herself back at the table with her friends, sad and frustrated at was almost in her grasp. She and Justine were right for each other, if theyd just forget about everybody else and go for it.
"Looks to me like youre not the only one hung up, Carly."
She looked into Daniels eyes and allowed herself a soft smile.
"What are you going to do?"
Carly shook her head solemnly. "I dont know, Daniel. The balls in her courtit always has been."
Two hours later, the crowd began to thin. People promised to keep in touch, and everyone had their reading glasses out jotting down email addresses and phone numbers. Sara and Justine basked in the praise from their classmates, accepting that their success would mean they probably would be tapped to do this again in another five years.
Carly stopped by the table on her way out to offer her congratulations. "It was really nice, Justine. Thanks for encouraging me to come. I had a great time."
"Im glad you did. And if I didnt tell you earlier," she lowered her voice so that no one would hear, "you look sensational tonight. I heard a lot of people say so."
The blonde woman gave her a lopsided smile. "Youre the one who turned all the heads in the room, Justine. Just like you always did."
Daniel and Rich waited by the door, and Carly turned to give them the signal that she would be along soon.
"Come home with me," Justine whispered, her eyes smoldering in the dim light. She didnt know where her courage was coming from, but she had no reservations about the invitation. It was time to show Carly how she felt.
Carly froze, her eyes never leaving the blue ones. She answered with a nod, barely perceptible, even to Justine. "Ill meet you outside."
The short ride to the house on Sandstone was quiet, punctuated when Carly took the long slender hand in her own, lacing their fingers. When they entered the darkened home through the kitchen, Justine turned off the porch light, her indication that she had no intentions of either them going back out into the night. She touched the five numbers of her alarm code, knowing that an open door would alert them if Trey should happen to stop by. But Justine didnt expect that to happen tonight.
Carly stood nervously in the kitchen while Justine locked up, waiting and wondering just how this dance would start. A part of her wanted to return to their last scene in front of the fire, so theyd have a chance to undo that clumsy encounter. She wanted to look inside Justines heart to see if it held any promise for their future. Even if it didnt, she wanted this chance to rewrite the memory of that drunken night.
"Will you come to my bedroom?"
The blonde woman nodded and followed Justine through the house, which was lit only by a soft light in the foyer. When they reached the master suite, her host closed the bedroom door and turned the lock. As Carly stood in the dark, she crossed the room and turned on a bedside lamp.
Carly stepped out of her shoes and followed Justine to stand beside the king-sized bed. "Are you sure you want this?"
"And how will you feel about it tomorrow?"
"Ill want it then too." The truth of her words struck Justine like a thunderbolt. She didnt want this just for tonight, but for all the nights to come. Thats what it was like to be in love. One small step closed the distance between them, and Justine dropped her head to touch her lips to Carlys.
Carly slid her mouth against Justines, ever so softly ever so slowly. This was what they had missed the last time, the chance to savor the sensations of touching one another and tasting their closeness. As their kisses grew more intense, she moved into Justines embrace, feeling the quickening pace of both their hearts as their bodies came together.
Working together, they freed themselves of their clothes, finally falling into bed to relish the feel of warm skin from head to toe. "God, you feel so good," Justine murmured, hooking both hands beneath Carlys shoulders as she settled her long body on top. After a slow, deep kiss, she dropped her head beside Carlys to nuzzle her ear.
Carlys hands wandered up and down the muscular contours of the taller womans back, coming to rest at the top of her buttocks. "Justine Did you mean what you said? Will you want this tomorrow too?"
Justine rose up and looked seriously into the questioning green eyes, understanding that her flighty behavior after their earlier encounters was responsible for Carlys doubt. "I will, I promise."
"What is it that you want?" The blue eyes looked back at her in confusion, and she felt Justine shift her body to the side.
"What are you asking me?"
The blonde almost wished she hadnt asked the question, but what she most wanted to hear was that Justine wanted her and not just the intimacy they were about to share. "Im in love with you, Justine."
"Oh, Carly." She lowered her head to drop a kiss on the blonde womans cheek, then on her forehead, and finally on her lips. "Thats what I want tomorrow for you to love me."
With both hands, Carly clutched the back of her head and pulled her back down for a fiery kiss, which Justine returned with equal passion. She could feel her toes curling as she pushed herself against the strong body on top.
Justine emptied her mind of her will, allowing her hands to roam where they would, marveling at the way Carlys body responded beneath her. Instinctively, she discovered the touches and sensations that drove the woman higher, and her own arousal peaked as well. "I love you," she whispered, finally sliding her fingers through Carlys wet center.
"God, Justine ." She opened her eyes to find her partner lost in concentration, savoring her first bold exploration of another womans sex. Justines eyes were closed, but her mouth was open and her breathing was deep and slow. "Thats so nice."
Justine pushed inside, at once captivated by the way her fingers were encircled in the velvety cocoon. Rhythmically, she slid in and out, adding another digit when Carly opened her legs wider.
"Oh, yes thats it ." Carly dug her fingers into the taller womans back as she arched off the bed, the rush of heat erupting from her core. She lowered herself to the bed, stroking the sides of her lovers face. "God feel what you did to me."
Justine was fascinated by the throbbing sensations, knowing that those happened for her only when she came hard. "That was so amazing." Eager to discover more, she lowered her head to take a nipple into her mouth, knowing it was just a stop on the way.
"Justine ." Carly pushed her gently to the side, rolling over on top and draping her leg between Justines. Her body was too sensitive to endure another touch without rest and recovery. With twinkling eyes, she gently teased her lover. "Should I ask where you learned to do that so well?"
"I have no idea," the redhead answered, smiling timidly. "I just did what I wanted to do."
"It was perfect." Carly leaned forward to deliver a kiss. "It was like you knew exactly what I needed," she whispered. "But I have other needs, too." With excruciating slowness, she trailed her tongue across Justines collarbone and chest, stopping for what seemed like ages to taste first one nipple, then the other. When she shifted lower in the bed, she heard her lovers breathing hitch, a clear sign that Justine knew what Carly intended.
Wordlessly, Justine parted her legs and bent a knee to give Carly access to what they both wanted. When she felt the womans tongue stroke the length of her sex for the first time, she shuddered and drew an arm to her forehead in abandon. "Oh, god thats so good so nice." The soft tongue circled her hardened clitoris, then plunged inside her. "Ooh, Carly. I love that I love you."
Carly wrapped one arm around Justines thigh to pull her closer, and with the other hand, slipped two fingers inside. After only a few gentle thrusts, she felt the sudden contraction, and slowed her touches to draw out the orgasm. The moment Justine called out her name was the sweetest, most satisfying experience Carly had ever had.
"Wake up, sleepyhead."
Carly opened one eye to see Justine leaning across the bed, smiling shyly as she tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. She was dressed in a dark blue wool suit with a soft white shell underneath.
"I need to go to church. Theres coffee in the kitchen if you want it."
Carly rolled over, orienting herself to her new surroundings. The bed was soft and warm, and Justine was much more hospitable than she had been the last time they woke up together here. She reached out and brushed her hand against the womans forearm. "You look nice."
"Thank you." She tugged the sheet down to reveal the tops of Carlys naked breasts. "You look nice, too."
The blonde woman smiled. It was almost unfathomable that Justine could be up and about after the long night of lovemaking theyd shared. Over and over, they took turns touching and tasting one another, all the while proclaiming their love.
"Listen, if Trey shows any signs that hes ready to talk, I may ask him to come back here with me."
"Its okay Ill get dressed and go." She gave Justine her most understanding look. This was a condition she knew and accepted.
"Carly, I I meant what I said last night every word. I love you." She squeezed the smaller hand, hoping to reassure her lover of her resolve. "I need to settle this with Trey but I wont let him take this away."
"Really, its okay. You need to fix things with him." I dont want anything between us again. "I need to get over the ridge see if I can slip in the back door without anyone noticing. Like that would ever happen."
Justine kissed her goodbye and walked toward the bedroom door. "You can lock the back door and pull it shut behind you, okay?"
"Okay," Carly answered, her lips still tingling from their morning kiss. "Call me?"
Carly turned off her ignition and stared through the windshield at the lake. The path went all the way around, her mom said a half-mile in all. It was a pretty nice day for the end of December, but she had a little trouble believing that people really enjoyed this kind of thing.
Not to worry, though. Before too long, she would enjoy it too!
From where she was sitting, she could see a handful of others walking or jogging around the path, already started on dropping those holiday pounds.
Nothing to this.
Carly got out and began to jog slowly along the path, reminding herself about why she was out here doing this. Justine liked running; she looked forward to it; and being physically fit was important to her. It was a demarcation of sorts, a line between when she had command of her life and when she did not. Running was a symbol of control. And it gave her a body to die for!
This hurts my foot.
Carly remembered how Justine had smiled at the other runner at the dance club in Louisville. It was obvious that this kind of thing was something she appreciated in other women, too. Justine wanted to run a marathon someday. Wouldnt it be nice if they could do it together?
Now its my whole shin. Maybe I need to slow down a little. Its just the first day.
Justine was going to be proud of her for this, just like she was that Carly had stopped smoking. Shed have to find a place to run in Madrid. There were probably parks around the city, or places near the university. And when Justine came to visit, they could go together.
How is that going to work? Ow, there goes my knee.
Justine probably got two or three weeks vacation every year. She could come to visit in the summer for a week, and she might even want to bring Emmy. And then she could come back next fall. And Carly would try to come home for a couple of weeks next Christmas. If they planned it right, they could see each other every three months or so. And the time in Madrid would be gone before they knew it.
Justine loved her. Of that, Carly had no doubt. Their lovemaking had been so much more than physical. They talked into the night about how these feelings had been pent up for so long, and how it felt so wonderful to finally be able to set them free. When Carly mentioned having to leave soon, Justine assured her that they would find a way to work it all out. Theyd both been searching for this feeling for too long and they werent going to let a few thousand miles get in the way of it.
Man! Why does my side always hurt like that when I run?
Since this was her first day, Carly had vowed not to overdo it. Two times around the lakea milewas the limit shed set for herself, but she could probably double that tomorrow, as long as she wasnt sore. She was now was almost halfway around on her first lap, which meant only a quarter of a mile, and she was rapidly rethinking her plan. Her legs and feet were screaming, and it felt like her guts were going to explode out of her side at any second.
Carly slowed to a walk, panting to catch her breath. This would work If she walked back to her car from here, that would be a good cool-down exercise.
And what might happen after Madrid? There were lots of possibilities, she realized. Trey and Emmy would both be in college by that time adults, practically. That would free up Justine to come along with her, as long as she landed her next job in a country that would allow an extended tourist visa. Justine wouldnt need to work; Carly made plenty of money, and all of her living expenses were paid for by the company.
Maybe she could get on with a project in Australia or Singapore or down in the Yucatan. That would be a pretty nice life. It wouldnt be bad at all to stay in the field if Justine could share all of these places with her.
She got back to her car and plopped down sideways in the drivers seat, pulling off her left shoe and sock in one motion. A blister had already formed on the top of her big toe.
God, it feels good to be in love!
It was a day of mixed emotions for Justine. Trey was a no-show at church, and that bothered her a lot. He was usually pretty dependable when it came to Sunday mornings, but nothing he did of late made much sense. JT said hed been gone most of the weekend, and that his friends hadnt been by at all.
All afternoon, shed hoped to hear from her son, but it was almost dark and there was no word. It was probably going to take another visit to his bedroom at dawn to get him to talk to her.
But there was also reason to celebrate, and Justine let herself do that today too. The smile that graced her face off and on all day was because of Carly, and she wasnt going to give that up, no matter who asked or why. Being in love was too specialtoo rareto be pushed aside for anything else.
Justine laid a split log diagonally across the two others that surrounded the fire starter. She wasnt about to waste the evening waiting for Trey. She and Carly had too few opportunities to be together as it was, what with her leaving in a couple of weeks. They were both determined to make the most of their time together, and tonight, that would mean cuddling and talking in front of the fire.
The phone rang as she finished, and her first thought was of her new lover.
"Hello...Trey." Finally. "Of course you can come over. Its time we talked about some things ." She bristled at her sons words. "It so happens that I am alone But I wont have you dictate to me who comes and goes in my house. Is that clear?"
Her hands were shaking when she returned the phone to its cradle.
"Its crunch time, Justine. Youve got to hold your ground."
Carly hurried to her room to pick up her cell phone, smiling at once when she recognized the number. "Hello?"
"Mmm I think youve got the wrong number. You meant to dial Justine Hall."
"No, I meant to dial you."
Justine explained that her son was on his way over, and that she would call when he left. Carly started back down the hall, on her way to tell her mom that she might be out "late" again.
But the ringing phone called her back one more time. Carly expected it to be Justine again, but it flashed Daniels ID instead. He probably was calling to pump her for details on her evening with Justine.
"Hello oh, no!" The smile left her face at once. "Daniel, Im so sorry. Please tell Rich that Im so sorry."
Justine jumped off the couch in the living room to greet her son, who was coming in the front door. She missed the old days, when you couldnt sneak up on somebody in a Volkswagen Beetle. Their distinct putter could be heard a block away.
"Trey?" When she entered the foyer, she was surprised and disappointed to see that Melissa had come along.
"Mom." His face was drawn and serious, but he didnt seem angry.
"Hi, Mrs. Hall." The name thing was confusing to everybody, even Justine. Mrs. Hall was her mother, but Miss Hall was that debutante that married JT Sharpe. And the folks in Leland had no use for the word Ms.
"Wont you both come in? Would you like a Coke or something?"
Trey shook his head and looked at his girlfriend, who also declined. Together, they went into the living room and sat together on the couch, where they avoided meeting her eye.
Justine really didnt want to have this conversation with Melissa present, but it was clear that Trey did. Obviously, he had shared all the details with her; maybe she was here to back him up.
"Did you want to talk about something, Trey?"
The teenager took his girlfriends hand and looked at her. "Melissas going to have a baby."
Oh, my you didnt just I dont think I Jesus Christ and all the saints! On the outside, Justine sat perfectly still, her face not giving away her emotions. Elsewhere, she was experiencing a full body response. Her stomach dropped; her throat closed; her mouth went dry; her eyes glazed over; and her tongue went numb.
"We found out for sure last week that Friday when I was supposed to be at the nursing home."
"Have you told your father?"
Trey shook his head. "We havent told anybody."
"Not your parents either, Melissa?"
The young girl shook her head, unable to hold back the tears that now poured down her face. "Theyre going to kill me."
Justine got up and hurried to the couch, wrapping both her arms around the crying teenager, resting one hand on her sons shoulder. "No, they wont, honey. Theyll be surprised ," blown away, flabbergasted, aged twenty years, "but they love you. Its going to be okay."
The mothers words of assurance werent enough to stem the tide of tears. "No, they wont. Theyll make me have an abortion."
"Shhh Itll be all right." For Justine, this was all a matter of what Melissa wanted. Everybody could put their two cents in the bucket, but no one but Melissa had the right to decide. "Have you seen a doctor?"
The girl shook her head.
"Are you sure youre pregnant?"
Melissa nodded. "I missed my period and we took one of those tests."
She was probably right, Justine thought; but she still needed to see a doctor soon. "Im going to make an appointment for you to see Dr. Coulter at the hospital tomorrow. Ill go with you if you want me to, or Ill just show you where to go."
"Everybodyll find out!"
"No, they wont. Just come to my office and well go upstairs the back way. And I promise you that no one there will say anything."
Melissa nodded and tried to smile.
"Have you two thought about what you want to do?"
"We want to get married," Trey answered without hesitation.
"Yes, we love each other and thats what we want." She squeezed her boyfriends hand and gave him an almost desperate look.
"And Ill get a job. I can go to college later get a scholarship or something. But well need money for the baby."
"Trey, Id like to call your father and ask him to come over. Is that okay?"
"What do you think Dads going to say?"
"I dont know, honey. But he loves you as much as I do, and thats more than you can imagine."
Justine smiled at her son. "I think theres a hormone or something that makes a mother love her children more right when they need it the most."
Trey looked like he might cry too. He and Melissa had been so stressed out for the past ten days that they had hardly slept or ate. "Thanks, Mom."
Justine phoned her ex-husband from the kitchen. "Treys here. I need you to come over Right now Drop it. You need to come right now."
An hour later, they had it all sorted out subject to Walton and Millie Chandlers input. Both of the kids were going to finish high school, no matter what. In August, Trey would start college at UK as planned, but he would continue to live in Leland and drive the forty minutes each way to class. JT would pay his tuition and fees as planned, and they would live with Justine.
Melissas plans for college were on hold for now; but JT and Justine promised to help with that down the road if necessary.
Next week, JT and Trey would start work on Justines basement, turning what had been the kids rec room into an efficiency apartment. A job after school was a good idea for Trey, they agreed, more befitting a married man and father-to-be than video games with his friends. That might help convince Melissas parents that the kids were serious about this, and deserved all the help they could get.
The last hurdle for now would be getting Walton and Millie to sign off on the marriage of their minor daughter. If they refused, it would only be symbolic, since Melissa would turn eighteen in early March and would then be able to marry on her own. Justine and JT would give their approval right away to Trey, who was three weeks shy of adulthood.
"Are you sure you dont want your mother to come with you tomorrow?" If it were Emmy, Justine knew she would want to be there for her daughter.
Melissa shook her head. She was terrified of her mother. "Will you go with me?"
JT addressed his son. "You need to be with Melissa when she tells her parents. And dont be surprised if they get pretty upset. This isnt what they planned for her, and theyre probably going to say that its all your fault."
"It is all my fault. I should have been more careful."
"Its not just your fault, Trey," Melissa said.
"But I I want to show your mom and dad that I can take care of you, and this isnt a very good start."
Justine had probably never been more proud of her son that she was right that minute. It was going to be a tough row for them to hoe, but she and JT would lend them all the help they could. All four of them walked to the door together, and the kids put on their coats. "Well all get through this. Call me first thing tomorrow at work, and Ill tell you what time to come in."
When the door closed behind the kids, Justine turned and pounded her forehead against her ex-husbands chest. "Oh, my god, JT!"
"Oh, my god, Justine!"
"This row of buttons is for the size. Were pretty simple here we use common words, like small, medium, and large." Nadine Griffin had volunteered to come in and work with her daughter in the coffee house for the next few days while Daniel helped Rich over the loss of his father. Carly was showing her how to operate the cash register.
"Why do I have to punch in what they give me? Im not stupid. I know how to make change."
"All the new cash registers do it, Mama. No one thinks youre stupid."
The back door opened and the vendor entered with fresh pastries and biscottis, which Nadine began to put away.
Carly checked her supplies in the cooler under the counter, running back to the stockroom to get a few extra things. On her third trip, she laid the store key on the counter. "Will you take these and go unlock the door?"
"Theres somebody now."
Darlene Johnston was peering through the glass door, and hurried in out of the cold as soon as it was open. "Good morning." Immediately, she noticed that Daniel wasnt there. "Oh, no. It happened?"
"Thats so sad. So youre going to run the store?"
"Yeah, for a couple of days."
Darlene gave her order to Carly and paid Nadine. "Hey, you know what? People think so much of Daniel. Im going to put a few dollars in this mug Do you have a pen I can use?" Darlene scratched out a note explaining that Daniel had a death in the family, and that this was a flower fund. "Ill pick this up tomorrow and send some flowers from everybody at the coffee house."
"Thats really nice, Darlene." Carly continued to be amazed at the way this town had changed because the people in it had changed.
The first couple of hours were kind of slow, since most of the downtown stores and offices didnt open until nine. Daniel said he did a lot of ordering of supplies in the morning. This was something she couldnt do, but Daniel said he would come by to take care of it when he got a chance.
"So I thought you were going to go out last night," Nadine said, a hint of teasing in her voice.
"Something came up for Justine and one of her kids." Carly was floored by the news when Justine called, but she had to admit selfishly that she was glad their embrace in the hallway hadnt been the big issue after all. "And since I had to get up so early ." I didnt think I should sleep over. God, it was embarrassing talking to your mother about these things!
Fortunately for Carly, the morning rush started, and she didnt have to answer any more pointed questions about her love life though she hadnt exactly confessed to having a love life, per se. Her mama and daddy knew that shed stayed over at Justines a couple of times, and that theyd spent a lot of time together. But other than a few words here and there, she hadnt told them that she was in love. It would be nice to share something like that with her folks. They never met Isabel and they never liked Alison. News that she and Justine were in love would make both of them very happy, especially if it meant shed be coming back to Leland every chance she could.
Justine stood at Melissas shoulder holding her hand while Dr. Brian Coulter performed the pelvic exam. All the tests confirmed her status, and Dr. Coulter set her due date at the end of July.
When they returned to Justines office, Melissa could barely contain her tears.
"Sweetheart, listen." Her future mother-in-law guided her to a chair in the file room and handed her a cold drink of water from the office cooler. "You and Trey want this baby. Right?"
The teenager nodded.
"Then its time to be happy. Its going to start growing soon, and your bodys going to change a lot. And we all want a healthy baby, so youre going to have to take good care of yourself. If you and Trey are staying at my house, Ill make sure you eat right, and you have to get plenty of rest after school. But its a happy time, Melissa."
In the span of twenty-four hours, Justine had gone from wishing her son would break up with this girl to total acceptance of her as part of the family. Melissa Chandler was the girlthe young womanthat her son wanted to marry, and she would be the mother of his child. That put Justine squarely on her side.
"What are you up to, Grandma?"
Justine groaned into the phone. "I am much too young for this or maybe Im too old for this."
"How did it go today?"
Justine told Carly a little about Melissas visit to the hospital, and about the kids plan to tell the Chandlers this evening. "Im sort of expecting a call in a little while."
"Okay Ill let you go. I need to get to bed early anyway." Carly chuckled. "Mamas already asleep."
"Carly, youre a good person to help Daniel out like this."
"Ive actually had a lot of fun down there I mean, not this time, with Richs dad dying. But Ive enjoyed helping out. Everybody who comes in is really nice. Makes me wish I didnt have to leave in a couple of weeks. Im really going to miss that."
"And Im going to miss you!"
Carly sighed. "Ill miss you too, Justine."
"You know, this craziness is going to settle down in a couple of days, and when it does, I have plans for you."
"Oh, yeah? Do any of them involve chocolate sauce?"
Justine laughed heartily. "Im thinking the whole banana split, honey!"
This night, Justine was called to the Sharpe home, where she walked into the kitchen to find J2 holding an icepack to Treys swollen eye. JT was storming around the room, shouting into the phone.
"And if you ever lay another hand on my son, Ill see to it that hes driving that car of yours." JT was a good enough litigator to make that guarantee.
Justine kissed her sons forehead and held out her hand for the phone.
"Walton? Justine Hall. Would you mind putting Millie on the phone for me?" She looked back over at her sons shiner and shook her head. "Hello, Millie. Its Justine Hall. Hows Melissa feeling this evening?" Justine wanted to remind the other mother that she had a job, and that was taking care of her daughter. "Its just that I was a little worried about her earlier today. You remember how overwhelming all this can be even in the best of circumstances No, it isnt the way we would have preferred, either, but its what we got. And its all about them now, not us. They love each other, and I think we ought to do everything we can to help them be happy."
The family watched, impressed with the way Justine was handling Melissas angry mother.
"You really dont have any cards to play here, Millie It doesnt matter. Shell be eighteen in three months and theyll do it then." Justine rolled her eyes as she listened to Millies indignant rant about what might happen if Melissa went against their wishes. "Look, if you want to risk losing your daughter for good, thats up to you. But dont you worry about Melissa. JT and I are going to stand by both of them, and if Melissa needs a mother through any of this, shell have me." That did it.
Trey was on his feet to stand by his mother.
"Im thinking New Years Eve at the Methodist Church seven oclock. Does that work for you and Walton?" Without looking up, she reached out an arm and pulled her son close. "Ill call Reverend Scott here in a minute and let you know."
She hung up the phone and looked around at everyone. "So yall doing anything on Wednesday night?"
Trey walked his mom back out to her car, still smarting from his black eye, but calm inside for the first time in nearly two weeks.
"I really appreciate all of this, Mom. Im sorry Ive been such a well, Im sorry Ive let you and Dad down."
"Honey, you get to start over with a clean slate right now. Its not going to be easy, but you have to be a man now. And its not what your dad and I think that matters anymore."
Justine opened her car door, then closed it without getting in. Shed probably never have more leverage over her son than she had right this second, and she wasnt ashamed to use it. "Trey, we need to talk about something else my friend, Carly."
The teenager looked away uncomfortably. He had sort of hoped all that would just go away.
Justine tipped his chin so that hed look her in the eye. "Were in love with each other, and shes going to be a part of my life."
"Thats one of the things Mr. Chandler was talking about," he said meekly. "He said he didnt want his daughter marrying into something like that."
Something like that That arrogant snob! "Trey I really dont expect you to be able to understand why I am the way I am. To tell you the truth, Ive had a little trouble with it myself, but I know that its whats right for me. I hope you can come through for me on this. Carly Griffin is important to me, and thats something that I need, just like your father needs J2 and you need Melissa."
The boy drew a deep breath of resignation.
"And besides, Id like to think that Melissa could do a lot worse than marrying into the Sharpes and Halls. And in twenty years, when he sees what a happy life his daughters had, Walton Chandlers going to know that too."
Trey enveloped his mother in a tight hug. Considering all the support she was giving for what he wanted, he was going to do his best to return it. Like she said, it was time to stop being a boy, and start being a man.
Justine pinned the boutonniere onto Treys lapel and brushed away a piece of lint that really wasnt there. Her son was very handsome in the three-piece black suit his father had bought him yesterday. The three of them were waiting in an ante room until the minister gave the signal that they were ready to begin.
"Just so you know, Im probably going to cry."
JT reached into his pocket and handed his ex-wife a handkerchief.
Trey laughed. "Nobody will even notice, because Ill probably wet my pants."
That got them all laughing, and the tension dissolved, if just for a moment.
"I meant to tell you earlier You remember that I mentioned my friend Carly?"
The teenager nodded, trying his best to appear casual.
"Well, her mama and daddy used to own the furniture shop, but they sold it to her cousin last week. Turns out he needs some help on the delivery truck. After school and Saturdays would work out pretty well for him, if you want to do that ."
Treys face lit up. "Heck, yeah! And what about in the summer? And after I start at UK? I bet I could work it out with my classes."
"Good, Ill let him know, and you can go by there next week."
"Why wait until then? Ill call him on Friday." Trey was eager to get started on this "being a man" thing.
"I think youre going to be a little busy until Sunday, son." JT pulled a packet of documents from inside his coat and stuffed it inside Treys. "Thats for the Gratz Park Inn in Lexington. Theyre expecting you and Melissa later tonight."
"Awwww," Justine started to cry at JTs sweet gesture.
"Cut it out, Mom. We havent even had the wedding yet."
"And speaking of weddings ." JT opened the door a crack. "I think its show time."
It was just a small gathering. Emmy had gotten back in town earlier in the day, and was predictably shocked at all that had happened in her absence. She sat next to her mom at the end of the pew, and JT, J2 and Alex filled out the row.
On the other side of the aisle sat the Hatfields er, the Chandler family. That consisted of Melissas parents, her older brother and his wife and two children, and an older sister, who was in college.
True to her word, Justine cried, especially when she caught Millie Chandler actually smiling during the brief ceremony. When it was all official, they headed to the fellowship hall for a small cake that Millie had procured on short notice.
Everyone posed for snapshots, and soon, the happy newlyweds were on their way. Thats when Justine noticed the sad look on her daughters face.
"What is it, honey?" They were walking out to the car, where Emmy would head home with her dad, and Justine would meet Carly at home to ring in the New Year.
Emmy shrugged her shoulders and looked away.
"Is it something I can help with?"
Emmy sniffed, a sure sign the floodgates were about to open.
Justine stopped and took both her daughters shoulders in her hands. "What is it?"
Her lip quivering and her eyes looking away, Emmy finally said what was on her mind. "Its just that Trey gets everything even when he screws up."
Justine was confused about what it was that Emmy resented. It wasnt like her daughter to be selfish. Surely, she understood that these were special circumstances. "What is it thats bothering you about this?"
"I wanted to move back to your house, Mom. Ive been trying to do everything right and not cause any trouble or anything. And now, he goes and does this, and hes the one that gets to move back, not me." Her tears were coming full force now, and she was angry and frustrated that she had even brought it up. She knew it made her look like a spoiled brat.
"You wanted to live with me?"
Emmy nodded, still not looking up.
"Honey, why didnt you say so?"
"Cause you told me to leave and go stay with Dad."
Justine couldnt believe she was hearing this. "Sweetheart, I told you that three years ago, when I was crazy as a bed bug! And Ive regretted it ever since. But my doors always been open for you. I thought you knew that I told you it was your home too."
"I know, but I didnt think you wanted me to stay there all the time."
"Honey!" Justine wrapped her daughter up in her arms. "Nothing would make me happier than to have both you and Trey back at home."
"You mean it?"
"I sure do. As far as Im concerned, we can start moving your things tomorrow. But youre going to have to get your drivers license, so you can go over and see Alex and J2. Theyre going to miss you something fierce."
Justine kissed the inside of Carlys thigh and crawled up to lay beside her lover, who was flushed from her climax and gasping for breath.
"Have I told you lately how much I appreciate your tongular dexterity?"
The redhead chuckled and nuzzled her neck. "Theres no such word as tongular."
"I dont think any of those sounds I was making were real words." The women were savoring what might be their last night alone in the house, since Emmy was planning to move back home soon. "I love you Grandma."
That earned her a pinch which led to a tickle fest which spawned a wrestling match which resulted in Justine being pinned to the bed where Carly slipped her tongue in Justines ear which started the whole cycle of lovemaking all over again.
"How did I ever live without this?" Justine panted.
"It wasnt really living."
"You can say that again."
"It wasnt really living."
Justine was tempted to deliver another pinch, but her body couldnt take another round right this minute. "It wasnt living, Carly. My whole life was just getting from one day to the next. Now all of a sudden, I feel like I have everything. I have you. I have my kids. I never used to think I could have both of those things, and I wasnt even sure I could get just one of them."
Carly rolled onto her side and draped her arm across Justines waist. "You always had me, Justine. You just didnt know it."
The redhead smiled and pulled her close.
"I mean it. Ive been in love with you nearly all my life."
"Oh, Carly. My life would have been so different if Id just been honest with myself back in high school. You lit a fire in me back then and it never did go all the way out."
"I know. It was the same way for me." She laid her head on Justines shoulder, thinking about how that little flame would rise up all those times she climbed that hill to look down on this house.
"I cant wait to see the look on Valeries face when I tell her that I dont think Im going to need any more therapy."
Carly chuckled. "Maybe you should wait until you get past being part of the diaper brigade again."
"Boy, this is going to be one crazy house. I bet youre glad youre going to miss that part."
Carly didnt have an answer for that. At least, she didnt have a funny retort. The truth was, she really was going to miss that part. Shed been thinking over the last few days about what her cousin Perry had said about marrying a woman who already had a child. He said it was all a package deal, and that loving Debbie meant loving Kevin too.
She already liked Emmy, and in time, she thought she might even make some headway with Trey. Hooking him up with Perry at the furniture store was a good start.
But what she realized when she started thinking about having a life with Justine was that Justine needed all of it to be happy. And Carly didnt want to be on the outside of things; she wanted to be part of Justines family too.
Carly slipped in the back door of the coffee shop, trading her coat for an apron. Already, the shop was abuzz, and Daniel was swamped.
"Where do you want me to start?"
"I need whole milk and soy from the back."
She went back into the cooler and emerged with the supplies, shifting over to the cash register to start taking orders. In thirty minutes, they had everything under control.
"Mom was kind of bummed about not coming in today. I think she really liked it."
"Tell her again how much I appreciate that. And you too."
"It was no problem. Hows Rich?"
Daniel nodded grimly. "Hes doing all right, considering. He said to tell you thanks for coming to the funeral, by the way. Oh, and the flowers!"
"That was Darlene Johnstons idea. Practically everybody that came in on Monday put money in the jar."
"They were beautiful. And that really meant a lot."
"It just goes to show you. People around here like you. Its not just the coffee house, either. They like you."
"I like them, too. Im going to miss this place."
Carly knew this was coming. "So youve decided for sure."
"Yeah, Rich wants to head on out to the west coast. Hes trying to get the house ready for sale, and Im going to need to find a buyer for the store."
"What kind of time are you looking at?"
"I dont know. But the way Rich is feeling, he wishes he could turn it all over to a real estate agent and leave tomorrow."
An unfamiliar green Corolla pulled into the driveway on Sandstone just as Justine was getting out of her car with two grocery bags.
"Hi, there. So whaddya think?" She took one of the bags and led her lover over to see her new wheels.
"Wheres your rental car?"
"I turned it in. Bought this one just this afternoon. Wanna smell the inside?"
Justine obligingly stuck her head in the new car, which still sported its window sticker from a dealer in Louisville. "You went to Louisville today?"
"Yep. Ive been lots of places. Ive been to the coffee house, the bank, your ex-husbands office, back to the coffee house, Worldwide headquarters, the airport rental office, the Toyota dealership and now here."
"Wow! And here I thought I wore you out last night. I do believe youre holding out on me."
Carly grinned and followed Justine into the kitchen. "I quit my job." She lunged to catch the bag of groceries that dropped automatically from the redheads arms. "And I bought the coffee house from Daniel." For cash.
"Maybe well get there one of these days and see if its as pretty as everybody says. They have one of the best art museums in the world, you know." Carly heaved the grocery bags onto the counter and turned back around, just in time to feel her feet leave the floor as she was swooped up and twirled around the kitchen.
"And youre going to stay in Leland and watch me be a grandmother?"
"Im going to stay in Leland and watch you be a great-grandmother."
Justine hugged her tightly. "Carly Griffin, do you have any idea what youre getting into?"
"Yeah Im getting into being really happy for the first time in my life."
"And Im going to see to it that you stay that way."
And standing there in the kitchen, Justine dipped her head to kiss the woman she loved. A rush of emotions filled her heart and overloaded her senses. And without even thinking, she raised her hand to cover Carlys breast, just as shed done twenty-six years ago in the chemistry closet.
Thanks very much for reading. Id love to hear what you thought of Justine and Carly. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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