Copyright: Although they resemble some women we all know and love, and may occasionally fantasize about, the characters are fictional composites.Story Copyright © 2002 by LA Tucker. All Rights Reserved.
is in English, because although I had 4 years of HS French, my Français
still stinks. My grasp of English is imperfect, at best.
And some known, and admired, coarse curse words are thrown in. I blame Sage's influence.
Thanks and Dedications: First off, to CP, for providing me with more inspiration, in writing, and in life, than I could discover on my own in a lifetime. To Steph at Merwolf, you're still Aces. And again, to Advocate and TNovan, separately and together, for providing the wonderful stories that made me want to try this writing gig myself. And for all those people who cheerfully bugged me to try this again, my endless appreciation. And to Patsy Cline, always with me in spirit.
TK: you took a rough cut, and polished it to a luster I would never have been able to achieve alone. Fortune smiled on me, and blessed me with a friend and beta reader whose talents far exceed my own. Thank you.
This is dedicated to ML and JR: my love and infinite thanks to my cherished comrades. This one is for you guys. HB, my crazy JR!
Constructive or not. Friendly or not so. I can handle it. <g> I do insist,
however, you be nice to Ms.Walker.
I couldn't have done this without her. I love getting feedback and do my damnedest to write back. Feel free to write: LA Tucker
The short blonde had just sloshed through several icy slush puddles to get to the small convenience store's door, when from her left, a man approached, grabbed the handle on the door, and pulled it quickly open. He opened it only enough to get himself through, leaving the small blonde in the black leather jacket staring at the closing door in disbelief.
What an asshole! She paused on the cracked and icy sidewalk, taking a moment to calm her nerves. "Asshole." That's so much more satisfying when you say it out loud. She stood before the door, and turned around, not relishing the thought of possibly coming face to face with the jerk inside the confines of the tiny store. She felt the crisp air of the winter evening bite indiscrimately at her cheeks, and she opened her mouth wide, swallowing some of the rough, insistent wind, hoping it would chill the indignation churning inside. She'd never stopped here before, it looked like more of a converted old gas station than the sleekly modern convenience stores she frequented in the neighboring city where she lived.
She'd just finished
her shift moonlighting as a security guard at a rural high school basketball
game. They'd called her at the last minute, but today
was her day off, so she didn't really mind the drive. She'd earned a few much needed extra bucks making sure the parents from both teams didn't get into a punching brawl out in the parking lot of the school gymnasium. Stupid rivalries. But it was so cold out there before and after the game, that the only indignities she'd suffered were a mild case of popsicle toes in her lined, steel toed boots, and a frightfully red and running nose. Everyone's teeth were chattering so much, they couldn't form coherent, insulting sentences even if they'd tried.
She waited a breath
or two more, before deciding to enter the store. She adjusted her jacket, ran
a gloved hand through her bangs, and entered the
small, outdated establishment.
Why do I bother even
reading these labels? It's not like there could could be anything healthy about
"Hostess Ding Dongs". The tall woman
grimaced, and looked up from the 'nutritional content' label on the package when she heard the clang of the bell on the door as it opened. A man in a gray, hooded parka strode in, hesitated at the counter at the front of the store, staffed by a woman of indeterminate age, clearly advanced in years. He ignored her friendly smile, turned and walked past the tall woman, brushing brusquely by her as he went up the aisle to the small coolers at the rear of the store.
How rude. He's not having a good night ... life? From long habit, she instinctively looked to the ring she wore on her right hand. The stone had darkened from its usual warm Caribbean blue color to a much darker and cooler lapis. Mildly disturbed, she rubbed it distractedly with the thumb of her left hand, as if trying to polish the color back into the surface, slightly mashing the package of Ding Dongs in the process. Hmm ... it's hardly ever that color. Could it have read my mood that fast? Doesn't seem right for some reason. She continued staring at the ring, momentarily absorbed, still absently holding the package of Ding Dongs , when she heard the bell clang once again, and looked up to see a young blonde woman enter. The new customer looked cold and wind blown, and very attractive, but somehow, oddly wrong in the leather jacket she was wearing. The blonde nodded a perfunctory hello at the elderly clerk, then turned and saw that she was being observed. The tall woman hastily shoved the dented package back onto its shelf, and blushed slightly at being caught looking. She picked up a new package of pink dyed Hostess SnoBalls, and flipped them over, ostensibly to read the label again. But that quick glance at the blonde was really what was playing like a video loop in her head. She doesn't look right in that black leather jacket ...like a novitiate playing tough girl dress up. The blonde's pale skin and pinked, fresh faced image took on a greater clarity in her mind, and she closed her eyes for a moment, searching for a memory ... or a future. Nothing came to her, but her body felt chilled and heated at the same instant and she took a moment to mull that over, reaching deeper. Still nothing.
She moved down the aisle, past cans of Manwich and jars of pickled pigs feet, towards the coolers. She'd seen the blonde woman head that way down a different aisle, stocked with potato chips, warm two liters of pop, and an automotive section with Patch A Flat and Pennzoil 30W. She knew this store by heart, she'd stopped in here more times than she could recall. She even remembered it when it was an old Marathon station, some twenty years ago,when she was a ten year old stopping by to top off her bicycle tires with the free air pump outside the service bay doors. Those service bay doors were gone now, replaced by solid walls of cinderblocks painted a dull white. The only tiny windows in the equally tiny store were now up high, a good foot or two higher than her nearly six foot frame. The linoleum covering the oil stained concrete was the same flooring laid fresh those twenty years ago, and it looked it. It was pocked and scraped, and slippery from infrequent customers tracking snow in from outside. She sidestepped a 'Caution: Wet Floor' sign propped near a Pepsi display, probably put there to ward off the possibility of any lawsuits from any slipsliding patrons. The coolers at the end of the store had only five doors; two of dairy products, three of pop and a very few juices. Unfortunately all three shoppers seemed to have the same idea.
The man was standing in front of the pop doors, blocking access to them. The blonde was on the far side of him. He seemed to be memorizing the label on a bottle of Pepsi, he was staring at it so hard. She ducked her head to the right, and caught the eyes of the blonde, who was standing there, arms folded, staring at the man's shoulder, impatiently waiting for him to get something, anything. The blonde gave her a frustrated smile and shrugged, nodding at the odd behavior of the man between them.
The tall woman felt
that rush of cold and warm again, and her cheeks reddened at the confusing feeling.
It's weird, but nice ... Note to self: Check into this, ask my guides about
"Listen, buddy, it's
not like they're going to break into song if you keep staring at them like that.
Get something or move." The diminutive blonde
spoke to break the impasse. To the tall woman, her voice sounded light and youthful, but her tone and inflection was as tough as the hide of the jacket she wore.
She looks like Haley Mills trying to join a girl gang. The tall woman almost snorted at the thought. Like 'Pollyanna' ... joining the Green Berets.
The man in the parka
turned towards the blonde, but said nothing. He then turned towards the tall
woman, looked her up and down with some
appreciation in his dark eyes, but remained mute and made no move to retrieve a bottle from the cooler doors. The tall woman's breath caught, and
something flashed in front of her mind, nothing concrete, nothing she could grasp, nothing evil, but something ... not good. He turned even farther,
brushed by her and walked up the aisle towards the checkout at the front of the store.
The women were left, standing side by side, facing toward the cooler doors.
"Weirdo." muttered the blonde, quickly glancing up at the taller woman next to her.
The tall woman looked
down and smiled, her white teeth making quite an inspiring showing to the pissed
off blonde. The blonde blinked, and then
flashed a dazzling grin in return.
The tall woman flipped her stars and moon scarf over her shoulder. "Mercury must have gone into retrograde again."
The small woman blinked
again, this time a little harder. "Yeah, they say there's an explanation for
everything." Not like I've heard that
particular one before.
They returned their
attention back to the cooler doors, unknowingly mimicking the behavior of the
man who had left that area moments before,
empty handed. Both wanted to say something more, but weren't sure what to say. So they looked at each and every bottle on display with studious interest.
They were both saved from attempting awkward small talk by a loud, male voice from the front of the store.
"Why me? WHY ME? Can't
anything go right, JUST ONCE? LOCK THAT SECURITY DOOR, OLD WOMAN, AND THEN GET
BEHIND THAT COUNTER AGAIN."
The women looked at each other, their eyes meeting and getting progressively wider as they realized that something was terribly wrong.
Mercury had definitely gone into retrograde.
The two women trotted up to the front of the store, not sure what was going on, but both feeling the need to witness whatever it was.
The man in the parka was standing in front of the counter, his right hand in his jacket pocket, pointing it at the older woman who was pushing the steel security door into place, and then turning the latch to lock it. She looked a little wary, but was under control. Not like the thirtysomething man pointing his pocket at her.
"What's going on?" demanded the small blonde, as she slid to a stop a few steps away from the trembling man.
He turned swiftly and looked at her with a cold gaze.
She stiffened. "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
"What do you think, lady? This was supposed to be a quick hold up, and I get a store full of women with ATTITUDE problems, and then a friggin' cop pulls up outside right at the SAME GODDAMNED time? How do you LIKE THAT KINDA LUCK, little lady? Huh?"
He poked his pocket at her pointedly, his way of saying he didn't expect an answer to his question.
The elderly woman moved gingerly around him, and continued around the corner of the check out, just as the man had requested she do earlier."That man is our Sheriff Howard, and my nephew. We close at 8, and then he was taking me home, young man." She sized up the man in front of her, and then looked to the two women standing side by side, staring at the pocket that was aimed their way.
"Your nephew is a cop? Good God, if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have none at all ..." He said this derisively, without a trace of humor in his deep voice.
The blonde was staring at him a little too intently for his own comfort. "What are you looking at, blondie? Never seen the man with the world's worst luck before? TAKE A GOOD LOOK!"
The blonde's voice was surprisingly steady and cocksure, considering the circumstances. "Sure. Let's see, about 6'1, 190 to 200 pounds ...it's hard to tell with that ugly parka .. 35-40 years old ... greasy black or brown hair, shoulder length, a little curly ... bad goatee and ... your fly is open."
The man's eyes and free
hand shot down to his pants, and found them secure. "Very funny, blondie." He
squinted at her, trying to figure out how
much of a problem she was going to be to him.
"Made you look." She smiled at him, not a bit friendly.
The phone next to the cash register rang. The elderly woman hesitated, and asked while it continued to ring, "Do you want me to answer that? It's probably my nephew, he'll want an explanation." She rested her hand on the receiver, waiting for his reply.
It was on the sixth ring before the man made up his mind. "You two. Go to the back of the store, and SIT DOWN. Make sure I can see you. Old lady, answer the phone, and hand it to me."
The tall woman was moving towards the back of the store when she noticed the blonde wasn't moving with her. She stepped back, grabbed the sleeve of the leather jacket and tugged her along. She heard the blonde swearing under her breath, but she turned and followed her to the back of the store, where the tall brunette found a dryish place to sit, but the blonde remained standing. Unsure as to what to do, she kept standing, too, in an unspoken show of support.
The agitated man was now talking into the phone, while the elderly woman looked on.
The blonde kept her
voice low, but it was really unnecessary, because the robber kept swearing into
the phone to the Sheriff parked outside. She
couldn't make out was he was saying otherwise, but the curse words were coming through strong and clear. At one point it almost looked like the man was on the phone, crying to his therapist.
"What a loser." She unzipped her jacket; it was getting a little too warm for her in this store. She bounced up and down on her boot heels, pure energy and frustration making her body move nervously. Her eyes were glued to the front of the store.
The tall woman frowned, and asked, not without a little worry showing in her voice, "Do you really think he's dangerous? What happens now? Are we hostages? This town only has one policeman, that's Sheriff Howard. Even if he gets help, it'll be at least a half hour before they get here. Do you really think he's dangerous?"
The blonde turned and saw the concern on the taller woman's face. She wanted to calm her down, so she said the most comforting thing that came to her mind.
She kept her voice very low. "Don't worry ... I'm a cop too." I hate lying, but she looks shook up. I'm almost, I could be, I should be ... a cop. Justa goddamned inch too short is all. Night security guard at a mobile home sales lot is pretty close to the real thing, right? I had lots of the training, I've read all the books, I've got most of the scripts of 'Cagney and Lacey' memorized ... that should count for something, right?
The blue eyes in front of her were covered briefly by a few quick blinks. "Really?" the equally hushed voice of the taller woman replied.
"Really. Listen, I don't want to sugarcoat assholes and feed 'em to ya, but this doesn't look so good." I hate lying.
The brunette checked her blackened ring on her finger again, and felt for her crystals in her coat pocket. They stayed dormant even when she gripped them tightly. She nodded, rubbing her forehead, and then said something the blonde didn't quite understand, not for the first time in their short acquaintance.
"I kinda knew that. My third eye has been killing me ever since I walked in here tonight."
The blonde gulped, and a cold chill shot through her, the same kind that she got when she watched reruns of 'The Twilight Zone'.
"Andrea ... Andi for short." The tall woman wondered if shaking hands would be silly in this kind of situation. She stuck out a hand anyway.
"Bernadette, but my friends call me .." She reached for the hand in front of her.
She didn't have a chance to impart what that name was, because she was interrupted.
"What are you two doing back there?" called the robber, very gruffly. He pulled a dirty bandana out of his pants pocket, and ran it across his profusely sweating face, and pointed his pocket at them menacingly.
do you mind, Mr. Capone?" spat the little blonde, extracting her hand from Andi's,
and placing them both on her hips,
giving him her own version of an unwavering, threatening pose.
Unbelievingly, he found himself looking away, startled that the small woman seemed rather ... intimidating. "Well, just sit down there on the floor there, and leave me alone while I get things", he wiped at his face again, "taken care of." He watched the taller, darker woman with the long hair quickly follow his command. The smaller woman remained standing, making it clear she would sit down when she chose to, and not a moment sooner. He pointed his jacket pocket directly at her.
Bernadette smirked his way, and then felt a tug on her pant leg, and looked to see Andi sitting on the dirty and slick floor. Andi gave her a beseeching smile, Bernadette sighed, and slowly descended to sit on the damp,worn floor, but she gave the irritating man a mere twenty feet away a look that said she was sitting at the behest of the other woman, not because he'd told her to do so.
Satisfied that the two women now sitting at the back of the small store didn't merit any more of his attention, he turned back to the older woman sitting on the stool behind the counter.
"What's your name, old lady?" he said too loudly, in deference to the mistaken idea that every older person was stone deaf.
"Beatrice. Or Bea. Quit
shouting. And in my day, and this day, too, you will call me Ma'am, gun
or no gun. Haven't you ever heard of the
'Gentleman Bandit'?" she replied tartly.
He turned away from
her and looked at the solid metal of the security door, securely latched. "Just
my luck, all I want is a little money, and I end up
with three women who could wrestle for the WWF." he commented, shaking his head.
"I like to think I'm more of ... 'The Rock' type, young man." Bea turned away from him, and started watching the little black and white TV next to the lottery machine. She'd been through worse in her 77 years; this man was a runt compared to some of the wolves she'd come across.
Outside, Sheriff Howard had called the robber's girlfriend. She was at work, just like the man had said, and would be there within the hour.
Bernadette's stomach was growling, she'd relaxed a fraction, and leaned up against the chip shelves behind her while sitting cross legged on the floor. She reached behind her, and her fingers touched a cellophane wrapped bag. Bonus! She pulled the bag onto her lap, and as quietly as she could, began to pull the bag apart in order to open it.
Andi eyed the bag and Bernadette, disapproval showing in the downturn of her mouth.
Bernadette caught the look as she was reaching her hand into the bag to extract some of the contents. "Hey, I'll pay for them later. I'm just hungry now. Want some?" She held the bag out to Andi, who pulled back in disdain.
"No -thank- you." she said firmly. "And I wasn't worried about you paying for them, it's, they're - pork rinds."
"Yeah. They're great. Here, have some."
"No, thank-you." Andi replied, a little irritated that her displeasure with the bag's contents hadn't gotten through to her fellow hostage the first time.
Bernadette crunched and swallowed the latest load. "What's the matter, I could probably get us something to drink, too, they are a little salty." She turned her head to the pop coolers and began surveying their contents. Ah, Mountain Dew. "What kind of pop you want?"
"None, thank you. I don't eat ... pork rinds ... or drink soda pop." Andi stated proudly. "How can you eat at a time like this?"
Bernadette turned her eyes from the inviting contents of the coolers, and to the dark haired woman sitting disconcertingly close to her. "Huh? Why not? Allergic or something?"
Andi turned on the same kind of patience she always did with the unfortunately ignorant masses who questioned her eating habits. "No, well, for one, I abstain from products made with animal flesh, and the soda pop, it's loaded with caffeine and sugar. Or Nutrasweet. I try to stay away from those ingredients, it keeps my system ... cleaner." She waited for the usual reaction, and she wasn't disappointed, but the follow-up question made her smile within.
Bernadette wiped her hand on her jeans leg before she queried, "Pork rinds are animal flesh? And then what are you doing in a convenience store? I mean, this is fast food, nuked 'animal innards' heaven?" She wasn't really paying attention to the brunette's words, or to the food that was going into her mouth. She was forming a plan. Or several plans.
"I get hungry just like
everyone else, I was on my way home from my yoga class, and I was thirsty and
I thought I could get a bottled water and
hopefully find ... something to take the edge off." Andi said, a little defensively.
"Yoga?" Bernadette stretched and cracked her neck. "You do that 'Twister' stuff? On purpose?" She was up to Plan B already, but quickly dismissed it because of her lack of access to an available Humvee.
"It's not 'Twister
Stuff'. Lots of people do it. I find that it centers me, along with the other
beneficial physical aspects of it." Andi was this close to
getting huffy as she watched Bernadette shrug, and toss more of those awful pork rinds into her mouth. "I mean, just look at the way you're sitting, it's awful, your back is going to be out of alignment when you get up, and I bet one of your legs is going to sleep." She enjoyed the look of chagrin that crossed the little blonde's face, as she self consciously straightened up a little, and stretched out her legs in front of her.
Her leg tingling, Bernadette chanced a peek at the robber at the front of the store. He had helped himself to a Snicker's bar, and was eating it in two big bites. She felt her anger simmer into a slow, roiling boil, and decided when this was all over, she'd make sure to pay for whatever items that bum was chowing down on. I mean, right is right. "He seems pretty clueless, but a little too crazy at the same time, you know?" Just like all criminals. Especially like that one in that last Patricia Scoppetone novel I read. No conscience. Always thinking about themselves. She thought a moment about how the criminal in that novel was apprehended, and then decided to disregard that idea. I don't have back-up, I don't have a cattle prod. OK, Plan ...D?
Andi was eyeing him
too, and her stomach churned a little in jealous appreciation of the Snicker's
bar. She could almost taste it. She shook her
head, clearing it of those offending thoughts. "He's just ... I'm not sure ... not quite right. There's something about him. Desperate." She spoke in hushed tones, now that they were talking about the criminal. She didn't want to provoke the man. "He looks unhappy, all the way through. He hasn't been happy, not in this life, anyway, I'm not sure about his former lives."
Bernadette looked at Andi like she had grown a second or third head. "Um, who do you think you are, Shirley MacLaine or something?"
Andi didn't know what to reply, she frowned. Should I tell her? My inner guides tell me 'yes'. "Uh, well, no, it's more the other way around."
"Well, to tell you the truth, Shirley MacLaine thinks she was me in a former life."
Not exactly connecting the dots, Bernadette was plainly confused. "Shirley lived your life now, but previously?"
Now Andi had to stop and think, not only about what Bernadette had asked, but how to rephrase it so they both would understand it. "No, Shirley is taking credit for living a life I lived, previously. One of my former lives. When I lived in Greece." She looked at Bernadette's face expectantly, but her hopes were dashed when she saw the dazed look in the blonde's eyes. "She thinks she lived as me then, but I know she didn't. I was there, I should know." She punctuated that last statement with a determined clench of her jaw, and a shake of her head.
"Wait a minute, how can two people be the same person at the same time?" Short of being Sybil, of course.
"That's what I said when I found out Shirley had said this! It's hard to comprehend." Andi paused a moment, and looked up and down the aisle, making sure there wasn't an unknown fourth hostage hiding behind the Little Debbie's display. "As for us both being the same person,well ... I haven't been 'informed' about that yet. I'm skeptical. I wanted to write to Shirley and tell her to 'butt out' of my past life." She sighed, and grinned. "But I have heard ... that soon, very soon ..."
Bernadette leaned closer to the woman she suddenly found very enigmatic, and very ... idiosyncratic. And one or two pancakes short of a full stack. "Soon what?"
Andi leaned in, too, just so the general criminal and geriatric populace wouldn't be privy to the news. "Soon, Shirley will be ..."
Bernadette's head was almost touching Andi's. Her voice came out low, and held the promise of being able to keep a secret. "Uh huh?"
Andi met Bernadette's gaze. "I've heard Shirley'll either be making another movie, or writing a new book."
Bernadette stopped herself from rolling her eyes, because the beautiful woman next to her seemed so earnest and sincere. "And who, exactly, told you that?" she whispered.
Andi ran a tongue across her teeth. "She was on 'Leno' the other night."
Bernadette stuffed another pork rind in her mouth, crunched it, and nodded.
"I don't think he has a gun at all, I think he's bluffing." Bernadette said decisively, squinting at the burly soon to be 'prison bitch' now standing behind the small checkout counter. He seemed fascinated with the lottery machine and was randomly punching buttons on it. Beatrice, her view of the small television blocked, was giving him every dirty look in the book, but to no avail. He appeared thrilled when a small ticket popped out of the top of the machine. He looked at it, and then stuffed it in his coat pocket. He began hitting buttons again.
"How can you tell? Something you learned at the Academy?" Andi really wanted to believe in the small woman sitting next to her on the filthy linoleum floor.
A pork rind just chewed and swallowed nearly made a reappearance in Bernadette's mouth. God, I feel guilty for misleading her. But I don't want her to lose confidence in me now. She thought a moment, every police show from 'Adam 12' to that awful one with William Shatner and that cute Heather Locklear running in fast forward through her mind. She decided to wing it. Keeping her voice very low, she murmured, "Look,both hands are out of his jacket pockets, and the side where he was pointing his pocket towards the clerk doesn't seem to bulge, have anything in it, it doesn't seem... heavy." She hoped this didn't sound as farfetched to Andi as it sounded to her .
"Are all guns big and heavy?" Andi quite sensibly asked, surveying the jacket pocket in question while trying not to be obvious about it.
Oh, shit. "Well, uh, not all of them, not the ... uh ... German ones, you know, like an ... Uzi." Bernadette was really sorry, already, that she'd even brought the subject up.
"Oh." Those pork rinds are smelling so damned good. Would just one kill me? "Uzi? Is that German? I thought that was Japanese." And I thought they were bigger.
Bernadette didn't have the first clue. She wanted to end this part of the conversation, but quick. "German, just like, uh ..."
Andi unknowingly saved her from further embarrassing herself by popping in with a thought. "You know, I've been thinking. We could have had a solar blast. It can cause people to act really strange."
Uh huh. "What
the hell does a sun fart have to do with this idiot holding up the place?" She
didn't have time to hear what she was sure would be
Andi's quite illuminating explanation. She held up her hand, and whispered, "Later. He's coming around the counter. Don't let on that I'm a cop, I'll get us out of this, OK?"
Andi looked her right in the eye. "I gotcha. I believe in you." She said that with all the pure conviction of a hopeful 5 year old sitting on Santa's lap.
Bernadette looked right back. And smiled.
The robber stopped a few paces away from them, and both Andi and Bernadette unconsciously moved closer together, both surprised to find they were now sitting hip to hip, shoulder to lower shoulder. They glanced at each other before they looked up at the fidgeting man.
"What are you eating
there?" he said, almost conversationally. The bandana made a swipe across his
face, but his other hand was in his 'gun' pocket
again, although it wasn't pointing at them.
Bernadette held up the bag. She figured he could read.
"Pork rinds. I like those. Can I?" he mumbled, verging on being polite.
"Get your own, Jesse
Fuckin' James." Bernadette sat the bag down on the other side of her on the
floor. That's how Chris Cagney would have
answered him. "Click your heels together three times and make a wish, see what happens."
Andi saw the flushed
anger blooming across the man's face. "Bernadette, that's not necessary. We
don't have to resort to his sort of behavior, now do we?" she said gently, trying
to break the hard stare the smaller woman was lasering at the unpredictable
man. She took a chance, and reached
across Bernadette's lap, and lifted the bag slowly back over to her. The hard stare was transferred from the man to Andi instead, and it unnerved her a little. Andi gave her an apologetic smile, lifting just the corner of one side of her mouth. She tilted her head, and watched the hardness in the green eyes soften a bit. That softer gaze mesmerized her, and she totally forgot about the bag of pork rinds in her hands. She continued to look back at the
woman next to her, and she back at her, until the bag was unceremoniously snatched from her hands. For just a blip in time, both had forgotten about the wet floor, the hard edges of the shelves behind their backs, and the fact they were being held against their will in a tiny mom and pop convenience store on a frigid February Friday night.
"Uh, thanks. The sheriff said Helen should be here by 9:00. When I'm nervous, I eat." He opened the bag and stuffed a handful into his mouth. He peered at the cooler down the aisle from them as he chewed. "Uh, you guys want something to drink? My treat." he lamely joked. He tossed the bag back into Bernadette's lap, and recieved a vicious glare for his efforts.
He hesitantly took a wide step over their outstretched legs, and opened a cooler door, grabbing a Diet Coke for himself. "Well?" he turned and asked.
"I'd like some water, please. Two doors down." Andi said politely.
As thirsty as Bernadette was, she wasn't about to accept anything from this heinous, murdering criminal. She shook her head at him. He's probablyrelated to Charlie Manson. Illegitimate son or something. John Wayne Gacy. John Wilkes Booth. John Dillinger. John Hinckley.
"What's your name, anyway?" said Andi, as the man tossed her the requested bottle of water. He settled his back against the cooler door window, and opened his own bottle.
"Ernest. Ernie." He assumed he had nothing to lose at this point by telling them his name.
Andi looked at him carefully, and from the tense body language of her partner sitting next to her, she could tell that Bernadette was not happy that she was conversing with the man. "Like 'Bert and Ernie'?"
"Just like." he answered
distractedly. He must have heard that one a hundred and one million times. He
felt a nagging sense of discomfort, the dark
haired woman was looking at him, almost looking through him, as if inside him. He shook off the invasive feeling and took a long slug of his pop.
"Who's Helen?" Andi asked, her blue eyes boring into him.
"My girlfriend, actually, my ex-wife. She's coming, she has to come from Waterford, she was at work." His eyes traveled to the front of the store, as if he was willing her appearance. "She's not going to be happy." He brushed a few pork rind crumbs from his goatee as he visualized just how unhappy Helen was going to be. Jail seemed like a nice, safe place to be compared to the hell Helen was going to put him through for this lamebrained caper.
"What's your obviously semi-sane girlfriend got to do with all of this?" Bernadette was tired of all of this ... socializing.
Ernie shot her a sneer. And then his face, and voice softened, as he looked away, and began speaking of Helen. "She's everything. Everything. I knew I was going to lose her, I mean, how many chances can she give me? I got laid off, I can't make the car payments on the car I leased for her, and I couldn't tell her ..."
"This is all over a missed car payment?" Bernadette was instantly livid. She began struggling to her feet, but Andi reached out a hand, got a handful of sleeve, so Bernadette ended up on her knees, not knowing who she was more annoyed with, Andi or Ernie.
"I just figured I could make a quick hit, in a nothing little town, and be in and be gone. I guess I just didn't think." The furious glare burning in the blonde woman's eyes was very unsettling, and he could almost feel the sweat forming on his forehead."You've never done something stupid for someone you love?" he asked her, wanting someone, anyone to relate to his overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
"No. I've never loved anyone that .. no, hold on here, I would never get stupid for anyone like that. No way."
"You've never gotten
crazy about someone before? Really?" He wiped the cold bottle across his forehead.
He looked at her, almost in sympathy.
"Well, you've never loved then, have you? To risk everything for your one true love? I may look like it, I know this is crazy, but the woman makes me nuts, I'd do anything to make her happy ..."
wasn't happy with all this talk about love. So what? I just haven't ... I
don't have the time. She slid back down on the
floor again, assuming the same position that before had netted her a fast asleep leg.
"Ernie, in a strange way, I kind of understand." Andi glanced quickly at Bernadette, whose face was twisted into a scowl. She ignored the disapproval she saw there, and gave him a truly sympathetic smile. "You're just a misguided romantic, aren't you? I only wish I could feel like that about someone, or that someone ... short of robbing a convenience store ... felt that way about me. I keep hoping."
"Romantic." Bernadette huffed in disgust. But far away, hidden somewhere very deep inside, she realized she wished for the same thing too. But she'd never admit it. "Any asshole who robs a convenience store for ... a car payment! ... deserves what comes to him. Going around, scaring old ladies ...," and all three of them looked to the front of the store, where a decidedly not scared looking Beatrice was seemingly entranced by this week's episode of 'Providence', "and, well, the least you could do is have a nasty drug habit to support or something, not ... love." She said 'love' like it was a worse affliction than being addicted to crack cocaine. A sly smile crept across her face. "But where you're going, you'll get plenty of 'good lovin', buddy boy. This time around, YOU'LL be the girlfriend."
"Now, Bernie ..." shushed Andi, worried that the man would do something even sillier, like get violent, although she wasn't truly getting that feeling from him, not at all.
"My name is NOT 'Bernie', don't call me that!" Bernadette said crossly.
Andi was just a little taken aback at the sharp retort, and took a deep, calming breath before she continued. "Anyway, Ernie, if you just quit this all now, give it all up before your girlfriend gets here, instead of her being the cause of your ... surrender, I'm sure lots of this will go easier on you, and what Bernadette said here won't come to pass. I don't see that in your future ..." Whoops.
Both Ernie and Bernadette were looking at her quizzically, at that last 'see that in your future' remark. Ernie asked the pertinent question this time. "Who are you, that 1-900 Cleo lady? No wait, you aren't the right color." He was a little amused by her disconcerted but indignant expression.
Bernadette was pissed at Andi for sounding so spacey, and didn't feeling like defending her at this moment in time. "No, she's Shirley MacLaine, or wait, no ... Shirley was her." She saw the hurt come to those blue eyes, and instantly regretted her smart assed remark. She said she believed in me. I should do the same for her. "She's just being overly optimistic, is all." For some reason, her hand reached out and grasped Andi's, and squeezed, and squeezed again, until she felt Andi return the pressure. She kept holding that hand, and pulled it into her lap, just as if she'd held that hand a million times before, in the same, warm, reassuring way. It was almost as if the strength from Andi's hand radiated up the blonde's arm, into her shoulders, and down into her heart, which for some reason, was beating a little erratically. She couldn't bring herself to look at Andi, for that thought seemed to rattle her more than the robber standing so close by to them. "There's no way you'll get out of this. I think everyone should quit dreaming, be more practical. You're going to prison, buster, and I'll be the first in line to testify ..."
"What if he gave himself up? What if we could talk Beatrice into not pressing charges? This all looks like just another day in the life to her -- she even seems to be enjoying it, well, not as much as that TV show." All three again looked up the aisle to Beatrice, who did, in fact seem more concerned about the conclusion of the TV show than in what was going on in the back of her son's convenience store. Just then, she looked up, and a pleasant smile covered her face, and the party of three back by the coolers found themselves all grinning shyly back at her. She waved, a tiny Queen Elizabeth sized wave, but with just as much dignity, and returned her attention back to the small TV.
Ernie was raptly listening to Andi, his mind desperately trying to turn back the clock, but Bernadette shot down any thoughts of hope.
"Not pressing charges? The man has a gun for Christ's sakes!" Bernadette quickly got the conversation back on topic.
"No, I don't."
Both women's heads swiveled
to Ernie, who sighed, and demonstrated his lack of a weapon by pulling both
of his jacket pockets inside out. Three
lottery tickets fell to the floor, as well as a Snicker's wrapper and some lint, which wafted down to the floor like a knot of heavy snowflakes.
Bernadette was on her feet immediately, hands in fists, taking a pugilist's stance in front of the now defeated man in facing her. She jabbed the air sharply a few times, wanting to take a swing at him for ruining her ill conceived Plan E, which involved her getting her paintball gun out of the trunk of her car, and covering the putz head to toe in red paint. She was just cocking her arm for a roundhouse swing when she felt strong, yoga-toned arms around her waist, pulling her back into the body of the woman behind her. "Let me at'im, just one, just one." Her arms waved feebly, no match for the strong arms around her. Incredibly strong, warm and ...
"Now young lady, I'm assuming your mother raised you to behave better than that. Even Ernie there behaved once I reminded him."
Andi pulled the struggling woman in her arms around so they all ended up looking at the gentle countenance of the older woman who had silently crept up beside them. Bernadette's arms stopped thrashing, and she sank back dejectedly into Andi, feeling somewhat ashamed, although she couldn't figure out why. The arms around her relaxed, but didn't let go, they now felt more like ... an embrace.
"Ernie? Did I hear right? You don't have a gun?" Beatrice quietly asked.
Ernie looked at his scuffed boot toes. "No ma'am. I'm sorry."
"I knew that." said
the round faced old woman. She tucked a few loose strands of gray hair back
into its bun. She noticed the stunned faces of the man and women around her.
"You bumped up against me around the counter, and against the counter a few
times. No thud, no hard object bumping up against my arm. All cloth and material.
That's a terrible coat, young man! With your looks, and a good haircut and shave,
and a nice London Fog
overcoat, no one would ever think you capable of holding up any store, for whatever reasons."
Bernadette was just plain flabbergasted. "You knew, and you just sat up there watching TV, without a care in the world? Why didn't you let Andi and I in on the secret? I was about to lob a can of Dinty Moore beef stew at this dickhead's cranium!"
A soft smile appeared on Bea's face, one hinting at a little amusement at Bernadette's words, but then her features changed, and she became stern. "I let my nephew know, out in the car. The Sheriff. I left the line open. I let him know, a little at a time. And he has a key to this place, he could have come in at any time, even after he knew Ernest here didn't have a gun. I wouldn't let him. I have my reasons."
Bernadette couldn't believe what she was hearing. She roughly extracted herself from Andi's arms. "And just what would those be? Here I am sitting on a wet and cold linoleum floor, freezing my already frozen butt off, being held hostage by ... not only this moron here, but by a scheming old lady who won't fill us in on her reasons for wanting to keep us here! This is ... idiotic! I could have been out of here an hour ago, this jerk's butt could be cooling in a jail cell, and YOU TWO are playing games?!" Her voice was very loud now, and her hands were busy pointing at those she was angry with. She then turned her attention to Andi. "Did you know? Is that why YOU are so out of it? Were you in on this too?"
Beatrice stepped in between Bernadette and the deeply frowning Andi, and answered for her. "She knew nothing of the sort. Don't drag her into this, this was my doing. I was hoping it would turn out ... for the best." Her voice was just as quiet as Bernadette's was loud.
Ernie was standing back,
taking this all in, not sure whether to run, or hug the older woman, or berate
the blonde for being such a bitch to the other
Bernadette lost none
of her volume. "Well, tell ya what. Let me out of here, right now. I have some
talking to do to the Sheriff outside, this man is
going to get his ass arrested, and I can get the hell out of this stupid town ..."
"Where do you need to be ... Bernadette, is it?" Beatrice questioned gently.
"Out of here. And going home." declared Bernadette.
Andi tapped Bea's shoulder. "Maybe you ought to let her go do what she wants to do. She's not ready ..."
"Not ready for what?" Bernadette snapped.
Bea turned just enough
to give Andi an understanding smile, before she gave Bernadette a measured and
calm look. "To see that everything ...
everything happens for a reason, dear."
"This was supposed to HAPPEN?" She looked at Andi and Bea incredulously. "You two know each other, don't you? I mean, she lives in this town, and you work here in the store ..."
"I believe I've seen
Andi around town, yes, but I can't recall ever conversing with her. We don't
run in the same circles." Bea said, quite honestly.
"And I don't normally work here, just some Sunday mornings here and there, and I was only going to be here for two hours tonight, so my son could go do something else this evening. Turns out he twisted his ankle this afternoon, and he couldn't be there, or here." Beatrice waited for Bernadette to say something more, it didn't take long.
Bernadette felt flummoxed, not knowing where all of this was leading, what it all meant, what she was expected to do. "Well, if you say so, you don't know each other, fine, great, and you both don't know old Ernie, here, either, right?" She watched as all three people shook their heads. "So what is all this ... stuff ... about 'everything happens for a reason'? Well, I know this, people commit crimes, they get arrested. That HAPPENS to be the REASON they go to jail! And this S.O.B. is going there, tonight, and I'm going home."
Andi was very tense, and she tried to still her shaking hands by rubbing them together. Her hand ran over her ring, and she looked down, and saw that the stone was an ebony color, the darkest she'd ever seen it. She felt helpless, as unsettled as she'd ever remembered feeling, and it was as if nothing was real, no, it was as if everything was too real, that she could see too much, but do nothing to stop it. She buried her hands in her coat pockets, and the crystals there touched her fingertips. She grasped them, and felt them warming, the energy ebbing and flowing. Something was not right, something was whispering in her ear, but she was too fascinated with the scene in front of her to stop and listen, to understand.
"What's waiting for you at home, Bernadette?" Beatrice queried. When Bernadette just shook her head with impatience, and didn't answer her, she asked her another question, the one she needed to ask. "Why don't you ask me where my son was supposed to be tonight?"
Bernadette frowned at Bea, folded her hands across her chest, and gave the older woman her best bored look. "OK, I'll bite. What excitement did your son miss out on that he couldn't be here, or there, tonight?"
Bea pursed her lips, and said the words very slowly. "Working security at the basketball game."
That statement effectively
put the brakes on, and stuffed a cork in whatever smart remark Bernadette had
been waiting to loose on Bea. She thought
about saying 'So what?' but even she realized that retort would just end up making her feel more lost. There was a bigger picture here, and she couldn't bring it into focus. She could see pieces of the puzzle swimming around her, but nothing fit, nothing but square, unyielding pegs were getting forced into her very round holes. There were no rules to this bewildering episode that she knew how to follow, no laws of human nature or of the legal variety, that she could call up and make careful, considered decisions about. It baffled her, flustered her, and the only thing she could think of to do was to turn her gaze to the woman who had shared dirty floorspace with her just minutes ago.
She raised her head to look over Bea's tight bun, and met the blue eyes and impassive face that began to form a hesitant smile. Bernadette squinted her eyes, just for a moment, the way she would when looking at a brightly lit Christmas tree in a dark room. With the way the night was going, she half expected to see sparkle or a glow, at least, forming around the brunette's head. But she saw nothing but a blur of dark, shining hair reflecting fluorescent lights, and felt somewhat disappointed that something miraculous hadn't happened in her vision.
She closed her eyes all the way, and sighed. When she opened them again, three sets of eyes were watching her, waiting.
"Ernest." Bernadette said, not looking at him. "We ought to go talk to the Sheriff, before your girlfriend gets here."
Andi kept pretty silent while Ernest, Bea and Bernadette spoke quietly with the redheaded Sheriff out in the parking lot. She mostly listened and nodded when the Sheriff looked to her for affirmation. Not long afterwards, a sleek white Lexus pulled in, and Ernest turned to the three women and the Sheriff with both embarrassment and apologetic regret apparent in his expression. Mustering up some long forgotten manners, he offered his hand in profuse and genuine thanks to each of them.
He performed a promising and grateful sturdy shake of the doubtful Sheriff's hand, a graceful and shy grin accompanied Andi's turn, and when he let go of Bea's fingers, he found that three lottery tickets were left in his own hand. He gave Bea a questioning look, and she smiled, and laughed a little. He leaned over and gave her a quick dart of a kiss on the cheek.
Bernadette was last, and he could barely meet her eyes when their hands grasped fleetingly. He then surprised them all, including himself, by stepping in, and giving the astonished blonde a quick, strong hug before he turned and strode over to the waiting car. They watched him get in, and then as the car slowly eased out of the small parking lot.
The Sheriff and Beatrice went back into the store, Bea assuring them she would be right back, leaving the two women alone.
"That's too bad." said Bernadette, a little disappointed.
"What?" said Andi, as her eyes followed the tail lights of the leased car as it sped up the road.
"I was sort of interested in seeing the kind of woman he was willing to risk everything for."
Andi paused for a moment, and then quirked an eyebrow at the woman standing there, shivering, in her black leather jacket. "It's better this way, don't you see? You'd have to be able to see her the way he does, to be able to recognize the face of love." She smiled down at the smaller woman, whose expressive features contorted with many emotions. First of mild confusion, to slow dawning comprehension, then she broke into a cheeky smile as she gazed back up at the taller woman.
"I think I'm beginning to understand." She leaned up on tiptoe, and placed a moist and feathersoft kiss on Andi's cheek.
Andi froze, and then blushed as the heat of the kiss lingered on her chilled skin. She couldn't hold back a grin of her own. "You do, huh? Understand?"
Bernadette wrinkled her nose, and smirked. She found the most completely unacceptable explanation she could come up with, yet somehow she knew it was true. "I know it has something to do with Mercury ... going into retrograde. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me."
them, reluctant to interrupt. "I'm sorry ladies, but my nephew and I have to
close up the store now. He's got to do a scheduled
patrol in a few minutes. Now, no, don't say goodbye, don't ask questions, just go now, and get out of the cold. I know I am. And I know, just as you do, that I'll see you again, don't you?"
Both women thought about it only a second, and then nodded. Bernadette shivered again, this time, not from the frigid air.
Bea held out the half eaten bag of pork rinds to Bernadette, who took them with a guilty smile, and began digging into her jeans pocket.
"My treat, Officer." Bea shook her head.
Bernadette swiftly ducked her head. "Uh, about that, I'm not really a cop ..."
She was cut off from further explaining when both women simultaneously replied, "I knew that." Andi and Bea looked at each other, then laughed and they both smiled at the embarrassed but stunned Bernadette.
"I'm sorry ... how did you know? I'm a goddamned inch too short! They wouldn't take me, I've tried!" She just couldn't believe the way this night was turning out. Then she broke into a laugh of her own. "Nevermind. Beatrice, go inside. Go home. Thank your nephew for us, alright?"
Beatrice nodded. Her eyes zeroed in on the green eyes of the blonde woman in front of her. She very pointedly stated, "Not every hero has the opportunity to wear a badge, Bernadette." She smiled as Bernadette pondered that, then bashfully blushed."I'm not much for goodbyes, so I'll see you soon. And Andi, this won't kill you. Lighten up, young lady."
Andi felt a cellophane wrapped rectangular object being pressed into her hand. A Snicker's bar. She knew better than to argue. "Thank you, Bea."
Bea smiled at them both, then took her leave with another small, delicate wave, and disappeared back into the store.
Both women were left alone again, both feeling incredibly cold on the exterior, yet inexplicably warm inside.
Andi spoke first, scanning the heavens. "You still hungry?"
Bernadette was looking
at the sky, too. "Why, are you going to split that Snicker's bar with me, Cleo?"
She didn't even have to turn to look to know
Andi was smiling at her remark.
"There's a diner up the road. You can get some sort of dead animal product on a bun, I can get a salad."
"Sounds like a plan. You can have my pickles. Your car or mine, or should I follow you?"
"You can ride with me, I'll bring you back later." She motioned to her car, and they began walking that way. She unlocked the passenger side door of the old sedan for Bernadette, and then continued over to her side, and unlocked her door, too. She was amused to find that the obviously chilled blonde hadn't gotten in yet, she was standing at her door, still looking upward at the clear, star filled sky. Andi leaned on the roof of her car. "Say, you never did tell me what your friends call you. You yelled at me for calling you 'Bernie'."
Bernadette smiled at Andi, scrunched up her nose, and shook her head as she, too, leaned on the roof of the car. "Sorry about that. I was named after my Uncle Bernie, and I've never been able to stomach the guy. So I don't like to be called that. My family and my friends came up with something close, it's a little odd, but I like it."
"And that would be?" Andi gave her an inquisitive smirk.
Andi's grin got even bigger. "It suits you."
"Thanks." Barney grinned back.
"Nice to meet you, Barney."
"My pleasure, Andi."
Soon, Andi and Barney
were turning onto the highway, breaking across straight lines, following and
bending with the arcs of curves, and converging at an intersection somewhere
in the heart of that small town.
1/31/01 ~Happy New Year~
For more fun, that was discovered after writing the story: Shirley MacLaine.com
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