The Road from Kilimanjaro
By KG MacGregor
Part 4 (conclusion)
Safari Day 1 - Lake Manyara & the Ngoronoro Wildlife Lodge
I can't believe it. I actually had sex with a woman. Well, maybe not exactly, since I didn't really do anything to her. Who am I kidding? She took my head off - twice!
Just after dawn, Mary Kate awoke to find herself wrapped in long protective arms, a bent knee firmly wedged between her own. Turning slightly, she was startled to see those brilliant eyes she'd come to seek smiling down at her in welcome.
"Good morning," a throaty voice intoned. "I've been waiting for ages for you to wake up so I could tell you all about the most remarkable evening I had." The blue eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Okay, I'm awake now. But I have to warn you that I blush easily, so you may not want to give me too much information."
Kristin leaned down for a morning kiss. "Would it be enough to tell you that it was the most wonderful time I've had with a woman in about as long as I can remember?"
Mary Kate smiled, crinkling her nose in near embarrassment. "I could say the same, but I'd have to amend it to say ever."
"The most wonderful time ever?" Wow!
"Certainly the most wonderful time with a woman," Mary Kate teased, now thinking hard about whether she needed that qualifier.
"Oh. Then I guess technically it was also the worst time...."
Mary Kate silenced that thought by pulling Kristin down for a long, sensuous kiss. "It was incredible, Kris. You were incredible, and you made me feel incredible. And now, I have this incredible urge...to go to the bathroom right this second!"
Kristin watched appreciatively as the blonde woman sat up and parted the mosquito net to exit the bed, padding unabashedly naked into the washroom. Maybe this would be a good time to get dressed to go back to my room, she thought, scooting out through the slit. By the time her lover returned, she was sitting on the bed dressed in her flannel shorts and t-shirt.
Suddenly self-conscious, Mary Kate reached for a t-shirt of her own.
"Come here, beautiful," Kristin grabbed her before she could add her shorts, opening her arms in invitation. When the smaller woman stepped into the embrace, Kristin buried her face beneath the two covered breasts and ran both hands up softly over the curves of Mary Kate's behind. "I need to go back to my room. But we're going to pick this up again tonight. And when you look over at me today and see the smile on my face, I want you to know that I'm thinking about it."
"Me too, Kris."
"And you should kick me or something if I suddenly forget that we're in a Muslim country where they really frown on this sort of thing." She wasn't joking.
The lovers shared a long kiss, then Kristin slipped out and down the quiet hall.
"Masai," the driver said, pointing at the two red-clad tribesmen amidst the small herd of cattle.
Kristin and Mary Kate were situated in the back seat of a rugged Toyota Land Cruiser, the apparent vehicle of choice for private safaris. Their guide Mohammed spoke very little English, but in order to work for the Summit Trail and Safari Company, he was required to know the words for the things of interest to tourists.
"Did you know that the Masai consider cattle to be sacred?" Mary Kate was trying to remember what Kako had said.
"Yes, I did. Did you hear about what some of the tribesmen did when they heard about what happened at the World Trade Center?"
"I read that they gathered 12 of their best cattle and made a gift to the United States ambassador here in Tanzania."
"They did, and at first, I think the U.S. said 'thank you very much, but you should keep your cattle.' Then the ambassador here explained the magnitude of such a gift and I think they arranged to have them transported to the States."
"That's amazing. What a noble thing to do." Looking at the meager way these tribesmen lived, Mary Kate was very touched by the tale.
Mohammed seemed to know the secret locations of all the invisible speed bumps, managing to miss most of them. Indeed, the speed bumps in Tanzania were plentiful, random, and not officially marked. In some places, the local warning system was a small stack of rocks on the side of the road.
When they turned off the main road, speed bumps were no longer consequential, as the road itself was one pothole after another. Both women vowed as they bounced across the rugged dirt route that their next autos would be Toyotas.
At midday, Mohammed pulled into a courtyard of shops, retrieving the three box lunches that were provided by the Keys Hotel. Indicating a wide porch that held a half dozen plastic tables and chairs, he exited the vehicle and pointed them in the direction of restrooms and a small bar where they could purchase drinks.
Mary Kate bought Cokes for all three of them, then she and Kristin moved to a quiet table in the corner. It was their first opportunity to be alone since the dark-haired woman had left her room early this morning.
"So have you been reading my mind today like I told you?" Kristin teased, smiling sexily as she looked the smaller woman up and down.
"Yes, I have." Mary Kate laughed. "And the irony is that I've come 10,000 miles to see exotic animals living in their natural habitat, and all I can think is that I wish this day would hurry up and be over."
"Let's not wish our time away," Kristin said seriously. "I look forward to spending every minute of the next four days with you, and the fact that I'm going to get to see these marvelous things with you will just make them all that much better."
Mary Kate nodded. "Kris, you know I...," she couldn't make eye contact while she confessed her naïveté. "...I really want to thank you for everything you did last night."
"It was my pleasure." Again, the blue-eyed woman flashed her patented sexy smile.
"I don't mean just the...you know...," she could feel the creeping blush. "I mean the way you talked to me. I'm really sorry that I...."
Kristin interrupted her with a hand on her arm. "It was my pleasure, Mary Kate. All of it," she said sincerely. "Can't you see how much I care for you? I wanted to show you that."
"I'm glad you did. I care for you too." In fact, Mary Kate's had admitted to herself this morning when Kristin left her room that nothing about what they'd done had felt casual.
Before entering the Lake Manyara Game Reserve, Mohammed pulled over and climbed onto the roof of the Land Cruiser. Releasing a catch, he folded back two panels, opening the roof of the vehicle so that his passengers could stand for a safe and unobstructed view of the wildlife in their natural setting.
Within a few hundred yards of passing the park gate, they came upon three other vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. The party in front had encountered an elephant in the roadway, and following park rules, had to hold its position until the animal moved along. Unfortunately, the creature wasn't pleased with this motorized challenge to his territory, and after a stubborn standoff, moved to charge the vehicle in front. All of the well-trained drivers responded in unison, reversing gears to back up quickly. Finally, the mighty beast turned into the woods, trampling the bushes and small trees in his path.
"Did you get pictures?" Mary Kate asked excitedly. She had used the last of her roll of film on a candid shot of her friend.
"Yeah. Listen, why don't we take turns taking pictures? We can get double prints and share them."
"Or you can take pictures of the animals and I can take pictures of you," Mary Kate suggested, raising her newly-loaded camera to snap yet another picture of her beautiful companion, who stuck out her tongue as the shutter clicked. "Well I'm glad I got a picture of that wild animal," she joked.
"Hmmm, I'll give you more than a picture," Kristin murmured, too low for Mohammed to hear...assuming of course that he would have understood in the first place.
"You're on!" This was the most fun Mary Kate had ever had flirting with someone.
When they cleared the elephant's path, they stopped again as a family of baboons crossed the road in front of them...and another...and another. After almost a half an hour, they had seen more than 200 of the adorable creatures, all passing within a few feet of the Land Cruiser. In some instances, the younger baboons rode on the backs of their parents.
Winding through the heavily wooded park, the women got a close-up view of a small herd of impala, then a fleeting glimpse of a dozen or so zebras as they rushed shyly into the bush, and eventually a long-distance look at two adult giraffes by the lake. Several trips through the park yielded no new species, and finally Mohammed left the park for their first game lodge.
As its name suggested, the Ngoronoro Wildlife Lodge overlooked the magnificent Ngoronoro Crater, a natural zoo that spanned 60 square miles. The crater was home to hundreds of species, including zebras, wildebeests, hippos, elephants, lions, and the very rare rhinoceros. Tomorrow, they would descend into the game reserve; but tonight, they would be treated to a buffet dinner and a traditional African dance program at the lodge.
Mary Kate waited with their bags while Kristin checked in and picked up the key to their room.
"Lights out at ten o'clock, back on at 6:30," Kristin reported. "Dinner starts in 30 minutes, and the show starts an hour later."
"So we have a half hour to...freshen up?"
"Or to make out."
"Or to make out," Mary Kate concurred.
Following the elaborate dinner and highly entertaining floor show, Kristin and Mary Kate returned to their room, neither certain as to what the night would bring. The blonde hoped she'd have a little more self-control than she'd shown last night.
The twin beds at this lodge were separated by a nightstand, which held the standard candle for after-hours illumination. Mosquito nets were not needed, given the dry vegetation atop this crater ledge. In fact, the temperature here was headed to freezing overnight.
Forgoing her nightclothes, Kristin slipped into one of the beds naked, waiting to see what her lover would do.
"You got room for me in there?"
"Thought you'd never ask." Kristin raised the covers and made a space.
Seeing from the candlelight that her lover was already naked, Mary Kate slipped off her pajamas and slid into the tight warm space. Instantly, she was engulfed in soft smooth arms and legs, and she turned to find the seeking lips.
All day, Mary Kate had imagined this feeling, the moment they would come together, when Kristin would touch her body and move against her. She hoped that it would lead again to a climax, but that was probably too much to expect; her body didn't usually respond to touching like it had last night. Besides, it hardly worked at all when she tried too hard or when she wanted it too much. Still, the sensations were...sensational, and Kristin seemed to know exactly what she liked. But to avoid repeating last night's disaster, Mary Kate decided that she would concentrate more on keeping control.
Kristin could feel her lover respond - everything she touched or kissed brought a gasp or a tremble - but it was clear that Mary Kate was again holding back, seemingly afraid to let go. "Listen to your body, Mary Kate. It knows what you want. Let go, and I'll keep you safe," she whispered.
Listen to your body, Kristin had said. Her body was telling her that she would soon explode again. And Kristin wanted her to let go. Maybe now it wouldn't be too soon. Gradually, Mary Kate let herself begin to move against the stroking hand inside her, rising up in invitation.
"Oh, yes," Kristin hissed. "I love it when you move with me." The tall woman shifted to press her own wetness against a hardened thigh. Together they rocked until this time, the orgasm ripped first through Mary Kate, then through Kristin as the smaller woman dug her fingertips into the broad back.
As she had been the night before, Mary Kate was simply overwhelmed by the force of her body's reaction, made even more intense when she opened her eyes to witness the wave that crashed over her beautiful lover. No one had ever moved her that way, and Kristin had done it each time she had touched her. And Kristin had reached that peak without even a touch.
"How do you do that?" she asked when they'd caught their breath.
"How do I do what?"
"How do you...climax without...?" She couldn't bring herself to say what she was thinking. Without me touching you there?
"You excite me so much, Mary Kate. Just being with you like this, touching you this way gets me so hot. And when I move against you, that's all that I need."
Mary Kate was fascinated that Kristin could reach her release without more direct stimulation. She wanted to know what would happen if she were to touch Kristin the same way Kristin had touched her. Not that she would have a clue what to do. She had thought all day that she might try to do that tonight, but since they had both already had their release, she should probably wait until the next night.
Kristin softly stroked the blonde hair, marveling at the easy way they moved together. God, this woman's exciting! "What are you thinking about?" she asked, noting the pensive look on her lover's face.
"I...was thinking about...what it would be like to touch you," Mary Kate answered hesitantly.
Thud! "Do you want to touch me, Mary Kate?" Because if you do, you certainly may, and I'll try to remain conscious.
"I was thinking about it...but we've already...."
Kristin covered her lips with her own as her new lover floundered for the words. "You don't have to if it's something you're not comfortable with, sweetheart. Touching you is all I need." Another partner would have reached for her automatically, but Mary Kate's measured response told her that she wasn't completely confident about taking that step. "But if you want to, I'll show you what I like."
Sweetheart? The blonde woman warmed at the endearment and gathered her courage. Tentatively, she rolled onto her side and allowed Kristin to take her hand, which was guided to a breast. Mary Kate took it in her palm, brushing a thumb across its peak. A sharp intake of breath was the response, and the dark-haired woman leaned back against the bed to allow better access.
"Yes, I like that," Kristin encouraged.
Emboldened by the response, Mary Kate stared openly as she trailed her fingers across the naked breasts, marveling at the now-hardened rose-colored nipples. She had to feel one of those in her mouth. Instinctively, she closed her lips over a tip, sucking gently at first, then with more vigor.
Kristin moaned at the new sensation, pushing her hands through the short blonde hair. "God, sweetheart."
There was that word again. Mary Kate liked that word, and she really liked the feel of this rigid nipple under her tongue. What were the other treasures like? Automatically, she rubbed the flattened stomach, wandering over a pronounced hipbone to the top of a strong thigh. Once again, Kristin took her hand.
"I want you to feel what you do to me." Opening her thighs, she laid the small hand on top of her mound. It would be up to Mary Kate to go further.
Unable to resist, the smaller woman pushed her fingers through the slickened folds, enthralled by the warm velvet texture. Again, she heard her lover gasp and turned to see the dark head thrown back, a look of near ecstasy on the beautiful woman's face. Slowly, she slid her fingers through the swollen center, up and down in a rhythm that Kristin soon matched with her hips. Mary Kate was torn between the need to kiss this woman and the desire to watch what her own hand was doing. The latter won out.
"Oh baby, you're teasing me." Kristin took the small wrist and moved it up to the spot that begged for her touch. "There...easy...that's it."
Mary Kate continued; mesmerized by the effect her fingers were having on the woman beneath her. I can't believe I can do this to her! Suddenly, the rolling stopped and Kristin's body went rigid. The inexperienced fingers almost gave up their motion, but it may not have mattered at this point.
"Oh, God! Oh, yes!" The tall woman collapsed back onto the bed, still writhing against the hand at her center, but now pulling the blonde woman on top of her. "Oh, Mary Kate...." Kristin gasped for breath, still shuddering as the pulsing receded, amazed at what her new lover had just done for her. "Oh, baby, that was wonderful!"
It certainly was, Mary Kate realized. She had never felt such power, such control over someone; and she had never felt so glad to have witnessed another's release. I did that!
Safari Day 2 - Serengeti National Park - Seronera Wildlife Lodge
Mary Kate awoke first, her back spooned against her taller partner's chest. As it had yesterday morning, a protective arm snaked around her midsection, triggering an automatic need to clutch it tightly and draw even closer. The amazing woman who held her had touched her yet again last night, and tasted her until she nearly cried. She had no idea that her body was capable of the things Kristin had drawn from her - five climaxes in two days; she and Bobby had managed maybe five in two years, and added together, they didn't equal the strength of any one that she'd shared with this beautiful woman.
Kristin had shown patience with her, coaxing her again to relax and to listen to what her body wanted. And what her body had seemed to want was to be consumed. What they had shared these last two nights was so much more than she had anticipated from their easy flirtations on the trail. Indeed, her sexual horizons had been expanded; but something more was going on here.
It's like I'm falling in love with her.
But Mary Kate wasn't free to choose that, even if Kristin felt the same way. She didn't even want to think about the uproar such a decision would cause, not only between her and her family, but for all of them as they dealt with the fallout from others in their small town. Mary Kate couldn't bear to put them through something like that. What she and Kristin had here would have to end here.
A soft pair of lips on her shoulder announced that her lover was awake. Turning to face the smiling blue eyes, her fingers went right for the bare breast just below her chin. "Good morning."
Kristin answered with a kiss to the top of the blonde head. "I like this," she said simply, "waking up with you."
Mary Kate snuggled closer, remembering their last morning at Mweka Hut, when she'd imagined this very thing. Waking up in Kristin's arms was more comfortable than she'd ever imagined. Being with Bobby never felt like this; in fact, the last time she felt this close to anyone was just before Jessica left college to get married, when they'd held each other for an hour while saying goodbye to their time together.
Now the women lay quietly, softly touching one another in an intimate way that wasn't overtly sexual. Both were seeking the boundaries of their growing feelings toward one another, careful to acknowledge the likelihood that the other might see this as only a physical interlude. Neither had said anything to suggest otherwise.
Mohammed was an adept game spotter. Driving away from the herds of wildebeests, zebras, and Thompson's gazelles, he located a pair of rhinos grazing in the tall grass. Kristin and Mary Kate got their best view standing atop the vehicle, but even a zoom lens didn't do justice to the sight of the rare creatures in their natural habitat.
Stopping for a picnic lunch provided by the lodge, the women were cautioned by their driver not to exit the vehicle. Alas, the latrines beckoned, and besides, others were picnicking in the grass by the lake, so they couldn't resist. As they were leaving the crater, Mohammed explained - in his best broken English - that a guide was attacked and eaten by a lion and the people in the vehicle could do nothing to help him. Eyes darting about nervously, he got out and lowered the top on the vehicle to drive the 40 kilometers to the Serengeti National Park.
"So how are the folks back in Georgia going to react to your big adventure?"
Mary Kate laughed. "It's probably an understatement to say that nobody really understood why I would want to do something like this. Bobby's reaction was at least out in the open. I knew where he was coming from, even if it was patronizing. But Mom and Carol Lee couldn't imagine why I would go off to climb a mountain instead of going on a tour to Europe or on a cruise or something more 'civilized'. And they got really pissed when I said I didn't want Bobby to come with me, like I shouldn't be doing things without him. My grandmother is the only one in my family who really supported me in this."
"She must be a special lady."
"She's the best. I've always thought I was her favorite, but I actually think all my cousins feel the same way." Mary Kate chuckled as she thought of her beloved grandparent. "Grandma made a quilt for each of her grandchildren to give to them as a wedding present. Carol Lee's the youngest - she's 20 - and she's getting married in October. But she gave me my quilt when I was 22 because she said it looked like I wasn't going to get married."
"She gave up on you at 22?" Kristin laughed. "On the other hand, you haven't exactly proven her wrong."
"No, I guess I haven't. And I've enjoyed my quilt for three winters already."
"Mary Kate, would you really consider leaving Mooresville? I mean, I know there are a lot of things about being there that get under your skin, but do you really think you want to give up all that...family? All that security?"
The Southerner sighed wistfully. "Yeah, I think I do. Maybe I'll feel different about it when the time actually comes to decide what's next. I have the whole year to sort of try on the idea in my head. But ever since I started thinking that I wanted to leave, I've felt good about it. Of course, I haven't told anybody yet, so I haven't had to listen to all the reasons I should stay, and all the awful things that will happen to me if I move away."
"You think they'll put pressure on you to stay?"
"Oh, yeah. One of my cousins married a man from Jacksonville, and my uncle bought them the house next door so she wouldn't leave when her husband couldn't get a job. But that kind of stuff is pretty normal for our family."
"So you all take care of each other."
"Yeah...but I think it can be overdone. Sometimes, it's just...manipulative. And that's what I want to get away from."
"So where do you think you'll go?"
"Now that I don't know. Maybe I'll come to Miami," she suggested offhandedly, a smile curling at her lips.
Is she serious? "Would you really consider that?" Kristin asked with guarded enthusiasm.
What the hell am I saying? Suddenly unnerved, Mary Kate realized that she was very close to saying yes. That she wanted to come to Miami. That she wanted to see if they could build on this time together. That she was falling in love.
"I don't know," she answered noncommittally. We can't let this continue. I can't let this continue. "But I think with teaching special ed, I can pretty much find a job anywhere. I'd definitely like to live in a bigger city, like Atlanta or maybe even Charlotte."
So not Miami, Kristin realized that Mary Kate's remark was merely flippant. Or she was afraid.
"Masai," Mohammed interrupted, pointing out a group of black-clad boys with painted white faces.
"Get your camera, Mary Kate."
Mohammed slowed and rolled down his window, talking to the boys in Swahili. "One dollar for picture," he said.
Kristin rummaged in her pocket and found a couple of bills. One of the youths peeked inside the vehicle and resumed negotiations, raising the ante.
"Water," Mohammed added, indicating one of the bottles in the back seat.
For one bottle of water and two dollars, the women got seven remarkable photos of Masai males in their ritual maturation costumes.
The Serengeti terrain was different from what they'd seen at the lake and at the crater, more desert-like with occasional stands of trees and boulders that lent shade to a variety of species. Plants were brown and yellow; even the green leaves held a thick coat of grayish dust.
It was here that the women got their first glimpse of a lion, lazily stretched alongside the roadway, seemingly oblivious to their presence. From the top of the Land Cruiser, they were close enough to count the whiskers on his face. For almost a half hour, they watched quietly as he ignored them.
"I hope we see a cheetah," Mary Kate said, slumping into her seat as they moved on to the next stand of trees. It was tiresome to balance for a long period of time while standing on the seat. Their earlier talk about where she might move when she left Mooresville seemed to have thrown a wet blanket on further personal conversation, so they might as well talk about the animals.
"And a leopard. We've already seen rhinos, and most people don't get to see those." Kristin had taken two rolls of film since breakfast, half of the animals, and half of her excited friend.
Near sunset, they were pulling into the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, where they would stay for the next two nights. This lodge incorporated the indigenous rock into its architecture, and was home to thousands of gerbil-like rodents that huddled along the walkways and window sills. If a person really thought about it, the heebie-jeebies were unavoidable.
Their room was like the one at the crater lodge: twin beds on either side of a nightstand. Not that it mattered. As soon as they entered, both women tossed their things on the bed next to the wall, establishing without words that they would sleep in the other.
The centerpiece of the buffet dinner at the Seronera Lodge was barbecued pork ribs, made even more interesting by the suggestion from a tablemate that the meat was likely from a wild warthog rather than a farm-raised pig. Whatever the source, Kristin and Mary Kate ate their fill and headed back to their room, hoping to shower before the hot water was turned off at 8:30. The desert ride had left them dusty, and the sun had sapped their energy.
"Your nose is sunburned," Kristin observed as her lover stepped from the shower.
"What else is new? I should probably wear a hat tomorrow."
"I have sunscreen if you want it. It would be a shame to cover up that beautiful head."
"Aren't you a sweet talker? What is it you want?" Mary Kate asked suspiciously, wrapping herself in a bath towel as she combed her wet hair straight back.
"What are my choices?" Indeed.
"Infinite," the blonde answered, strangely confident. For the next three nights, you can have anything.
Kristin was surprised by the Southerner's boldness. There was only one way to find out if Mary Kate would consider giving her what she really wanted - a chance to see if what they had here in Africa could grow into something more. Taking the smaller hand, she led her lover to the open bed and sat her down, taking a seat on the opposite bed so that they faced one another.
"I choose to talk."
"Okay," Mary Kate answered nervously. Talking wasn't what she had in mind.
"Look, I know we started out wondering sort of how far we would take things." Kristin looked up and down, unable to maintain eye contact as she searched for the words that would say just what she was feeling without coming on too strong. "Anyway, I'm really happy with where things have gone."
"So am I, Kris." Mary Kate reached across the bed to touch her lover's arm. "It's been pretty amazing."
"Yeah. What I mean is that I'm going to be sad when our time here is over."
When it's over.... The blonde woman felt her stomach clench, then relax just a bit, relieved in a way that Kristin had just taken the decision out of her hands. But she had to admit, the more the idea simmered that they continue what they had someday in Miami, the more tantalizing it had become.
"We should make the most of it, huh?" Mary Kate suggested.
"The next couple of days...that's all we have and we should make the most of it, right?"
I guess that settles that. For Mary Kate, this really was only an Africa thing, something she was willing to do 10,000 miles from home, but not something she wanted to pursue back in the States.
"Yeah, we should make the most of it." Standing quickly, Kristin turned toward the bathroom so Mary Kate wouldn't see her look of disappointment. "I better hurry and get my shower before the hot water goes off."
Well, that was certainly abrupt, Mary Kate thought. Had she read that wrong? Still sitting on the bed, she replayed the conversation in her head. Sad when our time is over. Was it really possible that Kristin was going to suggest that this might go further?
Another scene was playing out in the bathroom, where Kristin admonished herself in the mirror. No regrets. This has been very nice, and I'll have no regrets. Still, she hated to concede that it was all about sex. But obviously it was for Mary Kate, and when she finished her shower, she would go back into the bedroom where the two of them would prove that very thing.
Safari Day 3 - Serengeti National Park - Seronera Wildlife Lodge
Both women vowed that they would sleep for the entire trip home, and for days after, if necessary; but they wouldn't give up their late nights together. Last night had been another incredible night of sharing, touching, soaring, and cresting. Mary Kate it seemed had given up most of her inhibitions, even taking the lead at one point as she turned her lover toward the candle to watch her own hand at work.
Today, they were sated. They were also exhausted, reminiscent of the mornings after their sleepless nights on Kili.
"You're cruel," Mary Kate winced as Kristin played shutter bug. "I look like death warmed over."
"Not true," her friend proclaimed. "You look much better than you did this time last week."
"Okay, let's see. What day is it?"
"Wednesday was Shira 2. That was the day after my 'flying bath' exhibition."
Kristin laughed as she remembered the image.
"You could at least have the decency to cover your mouth again."
"Sorry, I can't help it."
"Cheetah," Mohammed announced excitedly, veering off the road toward a lone bush in the midst of a speckled plain.
Kristin and Mary Kate strained to see what their guide had spotted so easily, but couldn't make it out until they were nearly on top of the beautiful creature. The spotted coat blended perfectly into the landscape, and the lazy cat posed for the curious onlookers.
Kristin got several spectacular pictures, then they waited quietly as several other safari vehicles joined them. Mohammed pulled back, drifting back to the roadway. The park ranger frowned on guides who left the marked trails.
"So what's been your favorite sight so far?" Mary Kate asked her friend.
"You mean my second-favorite sight?" A blue-eyed wink followed the oh-so-smooth reply.
Mary Kate was way beyond blushing. Last night, Kristin had pored over every inch of her body with her fingers and tongue. That's exactly what the Southerner had had in mind when she suggested they make the most of their last three nights. "Okay, your second."
"I think I liked the baby giraffes best. What about you?"
"I liked seeing all the elephant families, and how they crowded around the little ones to protect them when we came by. I just can't believe poachers kill such beautiful animals for profit."
"And then there are the ones who kill for sport. There were some guys on my plane from Amsterdam who had pre-paid as much as $30,000 for a lion or a cheetah."
"I thought the cheetahs were endangered."
"They are, but in some places that just means that there are limits on the number you can kill, so they're higher priced."
"That's just plain sick. I have a hard time swallowing the fact that half the men in Hurston County live for deer season, but at least they eat what they kill."
Mohammed suddenly veered off the road again, coming to rest in a heavily wooded area beneath a broad shade tree. "Leopard."
Kristin scrambled for her camera, focusing just as the beast sauntered lazily into the woods, his long graceful tail disappearing from view. "Great. Remind me when I get those developed that that one is a leopard's butt."
"You should get a picture of that," Mary Kate gestured up into the tree, where a half-eaten Thompson's gazelle was wedged snugly into a forked branch. "Leopard lunch."
"Ewww!" Nevertheless, Kristin got a photo.
As quickly as they had veered off, Mohammed ventured back onto the roadway, stopping to proudly compare notes with another safari driver. His clients had a clean sweep: rhino, cheetah, and leopard. The other animals were plentiful and not nearly as elusive.
The ladies got a break from the standard box meal, returning to the Seronera Lodge for the lunch buffet.
"Where do you eat lunch, Mohammed?" Mary Kate asked.
The driver gestured to a banana and bottle of water on the front seat, then pointed to a parking lot off to the side.
"It isn't fair how these drivers are treated," Mary Kate complained as they walked into the restaurant. "I wonder if Tom Muncie knows that Mohammed slept in his car the other night when the temperature went down to freezing, or that he eats bananas in the car while his customers are leaving food on their plates."
"So let's buy him lunch," Kristin suggested, knowing well that the lodge would forbid their African driver from entering the restaurant. "We'll get it in a box and take it out to him."
The appreciative guide was the envy of his friends, dining on roast beef and fresh bread, enjoying an ice cold Coke. He smiled his thanks, assuming that this was his reward for doing a good job. It was in fact the kind nature of his clients.
"Tell me more about why you like Miami," Mary Kate asked as they sat down to lunch. It was a place she'd always wanted to visit, and now she had an incentive, she told herself.
Kristin's face lit up, first at thoughts of home, and second at the fact that Mary Kate was expressing an interest. "Miami is...home. It's hot and muggy nine months out of the year. The mosquitoes are like small birds, but you don't notice them because of all the flying palmetto bugs. The people are rude, the drivers are horrible, and service is terrible everywhere you go. I just love it."
Mary Kate couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, it sounds like a place people would really love."
"I bet you'd like it. You should come for a visit. I'll show you all the fun parts. There's the boardwalk, Key Biscayne, South Beach, Coco Walk. We could ride out to the Everglades, or all the way down to Key West. Now that's a place you'd love."
Mary Kate smiled as she watched her friend's enthusiasm grow. Was there really an invitation in there, or just a polite segue into the travelogue?
"So what do you say? Will you come?" She was serious.
"Sure," the blonde nodded. "But if I do, then you have to come to Mooresville."
Both observed that they were talking about this as though it might actually happen.
"Okay, count on it," Kristin answered without hesitation. "And what will I see in Mooresville?"
"Oh, just the usual tourist spots. There's the town square, the elementary school where I teach, and the high school where my mother teaches. There's a McDonald's, and Brenda's Drive-In - home of the Brenda Burger. There are four stoplights, three of them on Highway 63. There's Lake Hampton, which is actually more like a pond. You can shop for gifts for all your friends at the Super Wal-Mart." As she told about her hometown, the humor left her voice. Were it not for her family there, Mary Kate wondered if she'd ever go back once she got up the nerve to leave. "I really am from a hick town, Kris. There probably isn't a thing you'd want to see in Mooresville, Georgia."
"That's where you're wrong, Mary Kate," she said, leaning over to swipe a bite of ugali. "There's something in Mooresville I'd very much want to see. Or rather, someone."
The blonde woman smiled. "Would you really come?"
"Absolutely. I tell you what...." Kristin had been looking for a way to press the issue. "When do you start back to school?"
"Okay, and I start back on the 16th, which means I'll be in Miami until around the 10th. What if you came to visit on, say...the first, and stayed for a week?"
"I don't know, Kris. I'd like to, but...." My family will have one big cow if I run off to Miami two weeks after getting back from Africa. And if suspicions were raised again like they had been with her and Deb, they would be hard to overcome.
"It's okay...it was just a thought." That answered that. It really was over when they left Africa. Why am I having such trouble getting that message to sink in?
Mary Kate saw the disappointment on her friend's face, and felt it within herself. She wanted to see Miami through Kristin's excited eyes; but more than that, she wanted to show this woman what her own life was really like. I'm not going to be able to just let this go, she realized.
Mary Kate sat close to her friend on a wide smooth rock that had been incorporated into the furniture of the bar and dance floor, where the costumed African dancers moved gracefully to the drumbeat. She was tempted at times to offer a friendly touch, but Kristin had definitely withdrawn.
When they'd returned to their room this afternoon, Kristin pulled her into a long quiet hug. There was no masking the emotion for either woman as they stood solemnly in this revealing embrace. What was going on between them was more than just sexual; and if they didn't seize it, it would slip away forever when they left Africa.
Mary Kate had first thought herself not brave enough to pursue it. Now, she doubted her own resolve to resist it. No one had ever made her feel this way. She hoped she was right about what Kristin was feeling.
"Yeah?" The blue-eyed woman flashed a casual smile, trying for all the world to put on a cheerful face. She felt so deflated inside.
"Can we go back to the room?"
"Are you okay?" Kristin was immediately worried.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just don't think we've left things between us in a very good place. Let's go talk some more, okay?"
Without speaking, they walked back to their room, lighting the candle in anticipation of lights out.
"So why don't you tell me what's wrong," Mary Kate coaxed. Sitting together on the bed, she took Kristin's hand in both of hers and began to softly stroke the palm. "And don't try to tell me it's nothing."
Kristin sighed. "I'm just having a bit of a hard time with this." She pulled the blonde head close for a gentle kiss.
"What is it?"
"Look, I really don't...want things to end with us here...in Africa. If we'd both work at it a little, I think we might have a chance at making something out of this. I know that's probably not what you had in mind when we started all this."
"No, it wasn't."
Kristin nodded sadly.
"And I don't think it's what you had in mind either, is it?"
This time, the dark-haired woman managed a small smile as she shook her head. "Not really, but I never ruled it out. I just sort of let things happen as they happened, and...here we are."
"You know I feel this too, Kris. It isn't just you."
"I sort of figured that, but I'm glad to hear you say it." Kristin hugged the small blonde. "It seems to me like you hold a lot of yourself back, like you won't let yourself feel things the way they are. I don't mean that as a...."
The blonde woman cut her off with a searing kiss, and Kristin suddenly felt herself being driven backwards onto the bed. To her delighted surprise, Mary Kate's weight settled directly on top of her and two hands were pulling her shirttail from her jeans.
"I do feel it, Kris...and I don't want to hold back anymore," the blonde woman murmured, now tugging at the zipper on her lover's jeans.
Kristin quickly matched her intensity and soon both women were completely nude, the smaller woman again on top. Mary Kate had no idea where this aggressiveness was coming from, but it was heady; feeling and hearing the response of the tall woman underneath her made her crave it even more. Before she knew it, her lips had wandered south to Kristin's navel, and the taller woman was gasping for breath, her legs instinctively spread.
Mary Kate continued lower, brushing her lips through the dark curls. When her tongue finally met Kristin's wet center, she couldn't hold herself back at all. Each caress brought a moan or a movement; everything about this was...wonderful! Mary Kate held off on touching the most sensitive spot, knowing that once she did, it would all end too soon. But when she finally did take the tender bud in her lips, Kristin cried out, clutching wildly at the sheets and thrashing from side to side. For the novice lover, it was the most powerful thing she had ever seen.
The blonde woman scooted up to lie beside her spent partner, both acutely aware of the significance of what had just transpired. It was more than just the act of putting her mouth on Kristin's most private place; it was the hunger she had felt for this beautiful body, and for giving the woman pleasure. Mary Kate had never wanted anyone like that before.
"You've killed me," Kristin moaned.
The blonde chuckled. "I think I've discovered something I really like."
"Oh, me too!" the tall woman concurred. "You can...like that whenever you want."
"Be careful what you ask for," Mary Kate warned. This wasn't going to end in Africa. It wasn't going to end the day after tomorrow.
Safari Day 4 - Tanganiere - Sopa Lodge
Mohammed took a circuitous route from the park, hoping to spot something of interest to his clients on this, their last day of safari. The rest of their time would be anti-climactic, he knew; they had seen each of the rare species, though an additional cheetah, leopard, or rhino would be a bonus.
Sure enough, that bonus came in the form of a mother cheetah, sunning herself on a boulder while her two cubs tumbled nearby. Mohammed parked within 30 yards of the magnificent spectacle, and both women used their zoom lenses to take as many pictures as they could before the family moved from their view.
As they did on the first day, the group stopped for lunch at a roadside stand, where Mohammed led them once again through a courtyard to a small bar and café. The Seronera Lodge had packed a box lunch, and Kristin bought Cokes for the three of them.
"So tell me how we're going to do this, you with the big ideas," Mary Kate started as they sat down at a table in the corner.
"Well, for starters, I think you should try to come to Miami before school starts. Can you do that?"
"My folks will go nuts, but they'll be so nuts about Bobby that they probably won't be speaking to me anyway," Mary Kate sighed dejectedly.
"Will you tell them about me?"
The blonde woman frowned, knowing that would be the hardest part. "I can't imagine it will be the first thing out of my mouth, Kris. And I'd..." Mary Kate couldn't meet her friend's eye, "I'd like to know that things were working out for us before I did that."
"You want some assurance that it's going somewhere," Kristin nodded in understanding.
"Yeah, I guess. It just isn't the sort of thing you can take back once you tell people."
"Well, you're right about that." The dark-haired woman could sense the waves of apprehension. "Look, I'm not really big on closets. If you're lying to people, you're going to feel guilty - about the lies as well as the truth. But I don't see any reason to tell anybody anything before you have a little confidence in yourself...or in us."
"What do you think will come of us, Kris?"
"I think it's in our hands, Mary Kate. If we really want each other, what other people think won't mean a thing. But you need to understand something." Kristin set down her fork and leaned back. "As long as you hold back from telling people, I'll read that as you having doubts. We can only go so far without resolving that."
Mary Kate nodded in understanding. "So I come to Miami for a week. Then what?"
"Then if you want, I'll stop in Mooresville for a couple of days on my way back to Bloomington. We email a lot. We get those phone plans with thousands of minutes. And we start looking at our calendars to see what else we can work out. I'm finished at Christmas, and you're finished next June."
"You really think we can do this? That's a lot of space after being as close as we've been."
Unsure how to read her lover's obvious skepticism, Kristin chose a pointed response. "We can do it if we want to, Mary Kate. But it won't stay alive if either one of us has too many doubts."
"Kris, I can't help these doubts. These aren't the kind of dreams I've had for my entire life."
"You mean you didn't dream about falling in love?" There, it was out.
The Southerner drew in a breath of surprise at hearing the words spoken aloud. But she couldn't dispute it: Falling in love was exactly what they were doing. "Of course I did. I just didn't know it would be with someone who would turn everything else in my life upside down." That was as close as she would come to admitting what she felt.
"Look, I'm not saying we have to make promises or anything like that. But I want us both to stay open to the possibility that it could happen."
Could it? To herself, Mary Kate acknowledged that it could. Outwardly, she spoke her biggest fear. "What I might want could very well mean giving up my family, Kris. And I don't know if I'm strong enough to do that."
Once she gave voice to her doubts, they took on a life of their own. The pendulum had swung: It was now likely that things would end in Africa after all.
The sun crept through the crease in the curtains that covered the sliding glass door, casting a stream of light across the two women who lay entwined in one of two double beds in the oversized room. The Sopa Lodge at Tanganiere was by far the most luxurious of all their accommodations, but as it lay within a lush tropical forest, the familiar mosquito netting had made its return.
Despite the comfort of their surroundings, neither woman had slept well the night before, needing desperately to convey all that they felt for one another on this, their last night together in Africa. Both worried that it was in fact, the last time they would share their bodies, the last time they would ever be this close.
In her mind's eye, Mary Kate played out their parting. If she prepared herself, she might be able to avert the tears she was certain would otherwise come. They had spilled forth unchecked last night when Kristin had made love to her - that's what it was - and implored her to listen to her heart.
"You know that your body needs this, Mary Kate. Your heart needs it too. It's who you are. Don't you feel it?"
Mary Kate reached underneath the mosquito netting, stretching to turn off the alarm clock before it blared. It was almost six a.m.; they would leave at seven for the 90-minute ride to Kilimanjaro Airport, where her flight for Johannesburg left at 10 a.m. Kristin's flight to Amsterdam did not leave until mid-afternoon, and she had an overnight layover at the airport before continuing on to Miami.
"Hey, beautiful." Mary Kate gently pushed the dark hair back and delivered a soft kiss to her lover's cheek.
Instinctively, Kristin reached out to pull the small woman closer.
"I'm going to get in the shower. You wanna sleep some more?"
"Nah, I'll get up too." Instead, she snuggled tighter and buried her face against Mary Kate's bare chest.
"So what's that old saying? You wash my back, I'll wash yours?"
Kristin smiled at her lover's offer. "Okay."
In the hot soapy shower, the women caressed one last time, sharing a deep kiss that threatened to make them late.
Mohammed was waiting in the circle by the lobby. Quickly, he loaded the bags, and the three were underway.
"Was it all you hoped?" Kristin asked. She didn't specify what "it" was.
"It was more, Kris. Much more."
The two women slumped quietly in the departure lounge, the blonde head lying against the taller woman's shoulder.
Mary Kate wanted to say the words; wanted to say that she would see this through; wanted to say that she would listen to her heart. Her heart told her that the woman next to her could move her soul in a way no one else ever had. But what would giving in to this mean for her future? How could she turn her back on everything she'd ever known? How could she bear to disappoint all those people?
"You have my phone number?" Kristin asked for the third time.
"And my email address?"
"Yes. And your street address. And your post office box at IU." Mary Kate sat up and looked into the doubtful blue eyes.
The intercom called her flight for Johannesburg.
"You have to go," Kristin said simply.
Mary Kate nodded and stood, pulling the tall woman to her feet as well. They fell into a long hug, breaking finally when the flight was called again.
Kristin drew in a deep breath in an attempt to stifle the tears she felt. She didn't want to cry anymore. She had felt the subtle shift last night in her lover's demeanor that signaled goodbye. Mary Kate had probably already made her choice; and she would have no regrets about their time together.
"No matter what happens, Mary Kate...I love you. Please don't forget that."
Mary Kate planted a small kiss on Kristin's lips. "I love you too," she whispered.
In contrast to how she'd reacted on her inbound flight, Mary Kate hardly noticed the bumpy ride as the A-300 climbed through the cloud cover. Her thoughts were on Kristin Addison. The last couple of days - especially last night - had left Mary Kate anxious and unsettled. No matter what scenario she tried on in her head, nothing felt right.
The majestic sight of Mt. Kilimanjaro came into view as the jet emerged into the clear blue skies. Towering above the clouds, the vision again drew gasps from the passengers around her. As she had been when she first saw the mountain below their plane, Mary Kate was awed. But this time, she was not intimidated. This time, she owned that peak.
It was ironic, she thought, that she'd given the summit barely a thought since exiting the park at Mweka Gate. Indeed, from that moment on it seemed Kristin had stolen most of her attention. It was certainly peculiar that something which had been so important - so essential - to her sense of self had moved so far from her consciousness. In her two weeks in Africa, she had conquered the summit...and no matter what happened next, it was not what she would remember most about her trip.
Still, the memory of standing on that peak only six days ago was deeply satisfying. Her determination and months of preparation had paid off...even if no one cared but her. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the details of her trip. The breakfast right before they left, when she first met Kristin Addison. The long bus ride to the gate, and the hike through the rainforest. Their first night in camp....
Shortly after the Air Tanzania flight left, Kristin was greeted by familiar faces. As it turned out, all five of her climbing companions - Trevor, Leah, Kendra, Ann, and Tammy - were on the flight to Amsterdam. From there, they would scatter, but for the moment it was nice to have a distraction from the empty feeling of watching Mary Kate leave.
"So did you and Kate have a good time?" Ann plopped down next to Kristin as the others dropped their backpacks and went in search of restrooms.
"Yeah, we did. How about you?"
"Mostly okay. Tammy got food poisoning on the second night, so she missed a day on safari. But we saw a lot."
"Food poisoning," the tall woman laughed. "You know, considering the odds, it's kind of amazing that she was the only one."
"Yeah, but who knows what parasites we're all carrying home? Three weeks from now, we'll probably all be hospitalized."
"Oh, it's Larium day," Kristin remembered aloud, reaching in her backpack to get her pills and a bottle of water.
"So will you and Kate...keep in touch?" Ann seemed to think she knew something.
"I hope so," Kristin answered simply, not giving anything away.
"Trevor and Leah thought you two made a pretty good pair."
"I beg your pardon?" How would Trevor and Leah know anything?
"You and Kate? Am I off base here?"
Kristin momentarily debated deflecting the question, or answering with a flat out lie. Instead, her curiosity got the best of her. "How did you guys know?"
"Are you kidding? The sparks were flying off both of you that first day at breakfast!"
"Oh, yeah! It was cute!"
The dark-haired woman covered her very red face in her hands. "Cripes!"
"Really, you guys seemed suited to one another."
"Does everybody know?"
"Well, Tammy didn't, but after we talked about it at dinner the other night, I'd say she does now."
"So much for privacy," Kristin groaned.
"Look, you can't spend eight days as close as we all were and not notice things like that. So now that it's out in the open...how come you're so depressed?"
Kristin sighed. She was such an open book. "Because I don't think Kate can do this. Her family has other things in mind."
Ann nodded in understanding. "My oldest son had a lot of trouble coming out because he was worried we wouldn't love him anymore."
"Your son's gay?"
"Yep. All through high school I kept waiting for him to get interested in girls. It never happened."
"Are you okay with it?"
"Of course. The day Jason finally sat down and talked to us was the first day he didn't have secrets. That was when the rest of us finally had a chance to get to know who he really was. He wasn't afraid to talk to us anymore; he took an interest in everybody else because all of a sudden, we were interested in him." Ann proudly fished out her pictures to show off her three boys. "Any chance at all Kate will tell her family?"
"I don't know. She says they sort of have her life planned already."
"Parents can't help that. But they'll adapt." One by one, the others joined them in the departure lounge. "I hope things work out, Kristin."
"Thanks. I just wish you could be talking to her instead of to me."
The flight from Johannesburg was much less crowded than the one from Atlanta, and Mary Kate was delighted to find that the seat adjacent to hers was open. She was by the window this time where there were only two seats, which meant not only could she stretch out a bit, but she would also have privacy.
Drifting in and out of sleep, Mary Kate noted with no small amount of irony that her head was filled with thoughts with Bobby Britton, just as it had been on the way over. But things were different now. She was standing at a crossroads in her life and it was time to choose what kind of life she wanted.
Kristin Addison loved her. She loved Kristin.
Bobby Britton loved her too, and had asked her to marry him. She loved Bobby, or so it seemed. But if she had felt as strongly for him as she did for Kristin, she would never be having this debate.
Kristin had awakened her body; Kristin had taught her things about herself that Bobby would never have known. But now that she knew those things, could she not teach her husband to elicit the same response?
A future with Kristin was uncertain. Once they tried to mesh their day-to-day lives, what they had might not even work. They connected emotionally in a way Mary Kate never knew possible; but how much could they realistically build on that without support from her family?
Bobby was already considered a part of her family. He came for Thanksgiving dinner and for Christmas morning. Their day-to-day lives were already entwined. They would have children; their children would play with Carol Lee's children; the women would sit in the kitchen and the men would watch football.
Bobby would be principal one day when Warner Hughes retired. He would be a good family man; a good provider; an excellent father. Her family would be very happy for her; and for themselves, because everything would have worked out perfectly.
I'm going to marry Bobby Britton.
Cyn and Andrea are going to kick my ass....
The whole purpose of going off on this trip was to alleviate some of the stress in her life. When she got back to IU, Kristin would be wound tighter than a drum; and it was doubtful she'd want anything to do with her friends. They would press her to answer questions and to explain things that she herself didn't understand.
It wasn't that she'd gone off and broken the cardinal rule of lesbian-hood by going after a straight woman. Mary Kate wasn't straight, even if she thought she wanted to be. No, Mary Kate felt exactly the same way she did, but she wasn't going to give herself permission to have a life like that.
And Kristin was in no position to pressure the woman. When you love someone, you want for them what they want for themselves.
The tall woman raised her leg rest and leaned back. She felt a little guilty about the fact that she was flying business class while her friends were in the back, crammed into tiny seats. Hopefully, they were eating well.
Mary Kate returned to her seat, having washed her face and brushed her teeth in anticipation of their arrival into Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. They had crossed over land about a half hour ago, starting their descent soon after.
Bobby would be waiting for her.
"I'm going to do this," she said aloud to herself. I'm going to tell him yes, and we're going to plan a December wedding for when we're out of school. When we come back from the holidays, I'll be Mary Kate Britton.
What will it be? A phone call? A card? An email?
Kristin pulled the personal video screen from her seat arm and activated the plane's global positioning system. They were over Iceland; they would land in Miami in seven hours. If Mary Kate's plane was on time, she was touching down right now.
Will I ever even see her again?
Mary Kate wheeled her cart through the exit marked "Nothing to Declare," turning over her form to the Customs agent. She had spent less than $200 for gifts, and she wasn't carrying any of the forbidden foodstuffs, animals, or plants. The hallway snaked as if it were a maze, finally passing two security guards who made certain no one entered through the exit.
Bobby was waiting, grinning broadly as he spotted his girlfriend. He was genuinely excited to have her back.
I'm going to marry him, Mary Kate reiterated. She dismissed her lack of emotion as nerves; once they had a chance to talk about it, she would feel more settled. And happy; she would feel happy.
"Mary Kate!" Bobby enveloped her in a strong hug, which she returned with equal fervor. "I'm so glad you're back. I've missed you."
Mary Kate hadn't anticipated his kiss, and automatically turned her face away at the last moment. For the very first time, it occurred to her that she had been unfaithful.
"I've missed you too, Bobby." When it left her lips, it felt like a lie...because it was.
Bobby picked up both of the duffle bags and turned. "I got here really early and got a parking place right by the elevator so we wouldn't have to walk far." All business now, he proceeded toward the elevator. "Everybody's going to be really glad to see you."
"I'll be glad to see them too," she admitted. She especially wanted to sit with her grandmother and tell her all about the magnificence of the mountain.
Bobby tossed the bags into the trunk while she got into the passenger seat.
"So are you...satisfied with the way everything turned out?" He was careful this time not to make any references to "getting it out of her system." Boy, had she gotten pissed when he said that!
"It was fabulous! It was such an incredible sensation, standing up there on the top of it all. It's just so different when you look at that mountain for seven days, marching closer, wondering and worrying the whole time if you'll have what it takes to reach the peak."
"Well, that's what you went for. Did you see lions and stuff?"
"Boy, did we ever! I bet I saw 20 or 30 of them, just out in the wild. But the most amazing thing was the...."
"We had a little incident with wild animals too," Bobby chuckled as he remembered the tale. "The State Patrol called out to the school and told Warner that his fence was down, and he had three bulls running up and down Highway 63. So he and I jumped in his truck and drove out there. You should of seen us, Mary Kate, out there waving our arms to get those bulls to go back into the pasture. It was a sight, I tell you."
I bet it didn't compare to a mother cheetah with her cubs, Bobby. It was clear that he wasn't all that interested in her trip. Mary Kate looked over at the man beside her. He was what most would call a handsome young man: average height and weight, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and a dimple that the secretaries at school teased him about. The secretaries all mothered him because he didn't have a wife to do that; all of the teachers liked him because he was professional and even-tempered; and the kids adored him because he was fair and knew when to have a good time. He's got a lot to offer.
Bobby drove through the parking garage, winding down several levels until he got into the long line to pay. "I always manage to pick the line that moves the slowest," he groused. They were gridlocked in the middle of the garage.
"So what did Mom and Dad say when you told them I made it to the top?"
Bobby was quiet for a moment, trying to recall that part of their conversation. "You know, I'm not sure I told them that part. All any of us cared about was that you were down off that mountain and okay. That was the important thing. You know," he fumbled in the glove compartment for his cell phone, "you ought to call and tell 'em your plane got in okay."
"You didn't even tell them that I made it to the top?"
"You can tell them, Mary Kate. They'll like hearing that from you."
Bobby just didn't get it. He was a good guy, but he would never get it.
Now overwhelmed with the horror of the thought of marrying Bobby, Mary Kate had the sudden urge to just jump out of the car. She wanted to leave Bobby right here in the garage and run back inside the airport. She wanted to get on the next plane to Miami and be there to meet the woman she loved when she walked out of customs. Daring herself to do something so bold, Mary Kate fidgeted with both her seat belt release and the door handle.
"Finally!" Bobby exclaimed as the bottleneck broke and he eased the car forward.
The moment now past, the blonde woman snapped the seat release and leaned back. "If you don't mind, I'm going to just close my eyes. I didn't sleep much on the plane."
"You go right ahead, Mary Kate. I'll wake you up when we get to Mooresville. Oh, before I forget...I went ahead and got us a room for a week at the Days Inn in Myrtle Beach starting next Saturday. It's not on the ocean, but we can always drive over every day." They were next in line for the attendant.
Sorry, Bobby. Next week, I'll probably still be in Miami.
Before he had a clue what was happening, Mary Kate opened the door, causing the annoying chime to sound in warning. "Pop the trunk. I have to get something."
The young man did as asked, surprised to see his girlfriend hoisting the green duffle over her shoulder.
"Listen, Bobby. Thanks for coming to get me, but I'm not coming home just yet."
"Look, I'll be back in a few days. Go on to Myrtle Beach without me, or take your brother or something. I promise, I'll come talk to you as soon as I get home." She couldn't say anymore. No matter what she did, she wasn't going home right now with Bobby Britton.
Recklessly, Mary Kate picked her way between the cars that were stacked up at the toll booth, crossing a stream of oncoming traffic to reenter the terminal. Hartsfield was dominated by Delta Airlines, and the snaking line to check bags or purchase tickets held hundreds of passengers.
"Excuse me," she approached a lurking skycap, "is Delta the only way to get to Miami?"
"Naw, I think AirTran goes to Miami." The uniformed aide pointed down the concourse. "They're cheaper than Delta. Lots of people go that way."
Mary Kate fished out a couple of dollars for a tip and pushed her way through the throngs of Delta passengers, eager to be out of the crowd. Bobby would surely park again and come looking for her.
The AirTran board showed a flight leaving for Miami in 90 minutes, and another two hours later. If she could get a seat on the earlier one, she'd arrive there by a quarter to one. Kristin got in at 2:30.
Looking over her shoulder constantly for the confused - and probably by this time angry - man she had left in the parking garage, Mary Kate worked her way to the front of the line. For $204, she had a guaranteed seat on the second flight; or she could go standby on the first. Either way, her duffle would go on the earlier flight.
Despite her climbing anxiety about what she was doing, Mary Kate finally relaxed when she cleared security. Bobby could not come this far without a ticket.
What would it take? What would have to happen for you to see that this is what's right?
In her mind, Kristin was having it out with first her lover, then herself.
Am I supposed to just step back and pretend like it's over? Does she really understand that it wasn't just casual for me?
Two hours, six minutes. The global positioning system had them over North Carolina. Out of nowhere, it occurred to Kristin that a rental car equipped with a GPS could get her all the way to Mary Kate's doorstep...where she could make her case one more time.
"Hello, Deb?" Mary Kate had snagged a phone card that would give her a hundred minutes for ten dollars. She'd walked onto the earlier flight, arriving in plenty of time to meet Kristin's flight from Amsterdam. "It's me, Mary Kate. I've lost my mind."
"Are you home?" her friend asked excitedly.
"I'm in Miami. Deb, listen to me. You're the only one on earth I can talk to."
"Are you with Kristin?"
"How...how did you know? I mean no, she's not here yet, but how did you know?"
"You told me about her in your email, that she lived in Miami. I figured that's why you were there."
Of course. "Yes, she's why I'm here. Deb, all hell's going to break loose when Bobby gets back to Mooresville without me. You're probably going to get a call."
"Fine. Do I know anything or not?"
"The better question is do you want to know anything or do you want to be able to plead ignorance?" Mary Kate was finally beginning to relax. Talking with her best friend grounded her.
"Hey, just promise me you're still breaking up with Bobby Britton. That's all I really need to know," her friend joked.
"Oh yeah, I'd say we were definitely breaking up alright. But that's not the big news, Deb." Mary Kate readied herself to spill her secret.
"So I guess the big news is Kristin, eh?"
"How did you know that, Deb? Yes, the big news is Kristin. The big news is that I went all the way to Africa to find out that I'm a...I'm attracted to women. To a woman. But how did you know?"
"Give me some credit, Mary Kate. First of all, you're calling me from Miami. Second, for the last six months, all you could talk about was getting to the top of that mountain. But when you finally did, you sent me a note that was more about some girl you met, right down to her keychain. And third, you've been my best friend since I was seven years old, and half of that time, I've been in love with you. I know you almost as well as you know yourself. But I accepted who you were a long time before you did."
The blonde woman slumped into the booth and sighed. "You know, if you had told me all this, you could have saved me a lot of trouble."
"No, you have to figure these things out for yourself. That's the rule." Deb laughed, glad that her friend had finally acknowledged this so that they could talk openly about it. "So Kristin must be pretty special."
"She is, Deb. She's...beautiful, and she's kind. I think we have a chance, if I don't screw this up."
"Wow, so it's serious."
"It could be. I think we need to spend a lot more time together to be sure, and she's in school in Indiana until December. Besides, I have a contract through next summer, so it isn't like we won't have time to find out."
"I'm really happy for you, Mary Kate."
The women waited to continue their conversation as the general information announcement about keeping baggage under close watch played loudly in the background.
"So what do I do now?" Mary Kate asked.
"What do you want to do?"
"I want to run away from home!"
"Nothing wrong with that," Deb soothed. "But sooner or later, you're going to have to come back to Mooresville and face the music."
"God, Deb...my parents are just going to die!"
"Don't be so sure about that, Mary Kate. Listen, I think you ought to call your mom and tell her where you are."
"Not a chance. Bobby's probably there already, and they're all patting the poor boy on the shoulder, going on about me and my crazy notions."
"I doubt it, Mary Kate. He's probably there, and they're all probably worried, but I don't think they're all ganging up on you like you think."
"You don't know them like I do, Deb. This is going to kill them."
"Look, I promised your mom I wouldn't say anything, but under the circumstances, I don't think she'd mind," Deb started with trepidation. Her friend needed to hear what she had to say. "Actually, I promised her I wouldn't say anything if you went on and married Bobby."
"What are you talking about?"
Deb's answer was drowned out by a page over the airport's loudspeaker.
"Say that again," the blonde woman implored, not quite believing what she'd heard.
"I said your mom called me last Christmas and asked me if you were gay."
Mary Kate felt as if she'd just been punched in the stomach. "My mom...? What did you say, Deb?"
"She wanted to know if that was why you turned down Bobby's ring. I told her I honestly didn't know. But I also told her that I didn't think you were in love with Bobby and that you were afraid of making a mistake."
"What did she say?"
"Basically, she said if you weren't in love with him, she hoped you wouldn't just marry him anyway."
"And what did she say about the gay part?"
"Nothing really. She said she hated to put me on the spot asking that question, but she said she figured if it were true, you wouldn't tell them."
"Well, she was right about that!"
"Mary Kate, listen, I don't think you ought to keep it from them, your mom at least. She sounded...I don't know, sort of disappointed when she said she didn't think you'd ever tell them."
"You really think I should call my mother?"
"Yeah. You at least should let them know where you are. And maybe you should tell her that you met somebody and leave it at that."
"You really think so?"
"I do. I can't imagine having to keep a secret like that from people who love me. Telling my mother and telling you really took a load off my shoulders, Mary Kate. I'm not saying it'll be hunky-dory, but over time, I think they'll all come around."
Another announcement - this one a page in Spanish - silenced the two women for a moment.
"Deb, you are the best friend a person could have."
"No, that would be you."
"No, it would be you."
"Look, I have to go. The board says her plane's on approach. Wish me luck."
"You got it."
"Oh, I almost forgot! Will you come pick me up at the airport whenever I decide to come home?"
"Of course. I love you, Mary Kate."
"I love you too. And Deb?"
"You're the best friend a person could have." And she quickly hung up.
Kristin breezed easily through passport control and customs, her mind racing ahead to what she had planned. The first order of business was to get home and get a shower; dump the two dirty duffle bags; and repack a carryon. She'd make a plane reservation over the phone. If she got out of here by seven tonight, she could be at Mary Kate's door by eleven.
And what if she has company? Or what if she's not there because she's spending the night with Bobby? But they never stay the whole night, she remembered. I'll wait all night if I.... Kristin did a double take, astounded by how much that woman looked like....
"Am I too early?"
Kristin dropped both her bags and opened her arms wide to receive the smiling blonde package. "I can't believe you're here!" Sleep deprivation was a cruel condition, but if this wasn't really happening, someone was going to have to die.
"Is it okay?"
"Are you kidding! It's more than okay." The tall woman hadn't yet relinquished her hold.
"Kris, I almost made a really big mistake," Mary Kate confessed.
"But you didn't. Besides, I'd have talked you out of it," Kristin declared emphatically, planting kisses all over the blonde head.
Mary Kate finally loosened her grip and drew back, thrilled at seeing the smiling blue eyes. "This isn't going to be easy, you know."
"A lot of the easy stuff just isn't worth doing. If we'd wanted easy, I don't think either one of us would have picked climbing a mountain as a summer vacation."
"I guess you're right about that. But you know, when I left Atlanta two weeks ago, I thought I was prepared for anything."
Kristin laughed and pulled her lover close again. "You can only prepare for so much, Mary Kate. The rest of living is all about how you handle surprises."
Asante (thank you) for reading. Your feedback is Karibu (welcome). Tafadhali
(please), drop me a note at email@example.com
Return to the Academy