The day had come. Lan thought she would be prepared, as she knew it was coming for a couple of months. But seeing John and Katy happily labeling their bedroom boxes made her heart clinch. She cleared her throat, more to have something to do than out of necessity. She didn’t want to get emotional on such a special, happy day for these kids.
“Hey, Lan, you want this?” Tina called from in the living room. Lan made her way and saw the object Tina was holding up.
“Sure.” She said, taking the floor lamp. She wondered if Tina remembered Lan commenting on it before, saying how she wished she could find one like it. “Thanks!” She beamed, placing it on the porch, away from the boxes ready to go into the truck.
“Lan thank you so much for helping out. And bringing friends.” Tina proclaimed as Lan came back into the house.
Lan just smiled. “Of course. We’re glad to do it.” She said as she looked into a box, taping and labeling it ‘kitchen’.
“We don’t have a lot of stuff, you know. I just couldn’t justify hiring a moving company.” Tina reasoned as she stood with her hands on her hips, seeing what she needed to do next.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Lan grunted as she lifted the ‘kitchen’ box and placed it on the porch. “One more marked ‘kitchen’!” Lan shouted to Ross and Bart who were helping to move the family as well.
“What else is left?” Lan asked as she too surveyed the boxes with hands on hips.
“I guess to just break down the beds and move the rest of the bedroom furniture.” Tina reasoned.
“I’ll come help.” Lan said, stepping over the packing bubbles. “We’ll make the guys do the real heavy stuff.” Lan grinned as they headed down the hall.
As they got busy taking apart Tina’s bed, Lan figured this was her chance to ask for a little advice. As she searched for some kind of opening to bring up the subject of Pete, Tina asked casually, “So, who was the guy from the other night?”
“Huh, how did you know?” Lan stumbled. Tina gave her a ‘duh’ look and Lan slapped her forehead comically. “Oh, right, I forgot, nosey neighbor…” Lan pronounced with a smirk.
“I met him at the bar.” Lan started. “And before you roll your eyes or groan, he’s a police officer.”
“Oh.” Tina said, impressed. “Is it serious?” She asked as she motioned for the screwdriver that Lan had in her hand.
“Oh, no. We’ve only just had one date. I do bowl in his bowling league though.” Lan added shyly, handing over the tool.
“Really? Sounds serious to me.” Tina teased. She noted Lan’s absent chuckle and sat back on her haunches, studying Lan for a moment. “What’s up?” She asked, knowing Lan enough to see she had something on her mind.
“I need some advice, about Pete.” She cautioned. Tina barked out a laugh.
“You are asking me for advice on men? Oh, Lan, perhaps you should ask someone else. My recent track record sucks.” She said as she went back to work on the bed frame.
“Well, how about a sounding board then?” Lan asked hopefully.
“That I can do.” Beamed Tina. “What’s on your mind?”
“As you know, I haven’t had many dates…”
“Try any…” Tina murmured under her breath. She and Lan had talked about this topic only a few times, but it had always stuck in Tina’s mind as unusual that this kind, lovely woman had not found someone to share her life with, much less date.
“Any, then, smart ass.” Lan rejoined.
There was a long pause as Tina looked at her expectantly. She’d had a thousand thoughts and questions, but now that she had brought the subject up, she couldn’t think of a single one that wouldn’t make her sound like a complete idiot. She sighed.
Sensing Lan’s apprehension, Tina simply asked, “Why don’t you tell me about him?”
Finding something to do with her hands, Lan described him as she began taking the pieces of the bed and leaning them against the bedroom wall.
“Well, he’s funny. He’s cute. He’s a good listener. He’s a gentleman.” Lan smiled at the memory of Pete trying to beat her to doors to open them for her.
“Do you like him?” Tina probed, stopping what she was doing to give her full attention to Lan.
Lan paused, thinking about the question. “Sure, what’s not to like?” She said. “He’s a great guy.” She paused for a moment, trying to find the right words to her question that wouldn’t make her sound like a kid.
“How do you know when you really like someone?” Lan asked. Her hopeful eyes almost made Tina chuckle, but she saw that Lan was asking the question seriously.
“You mean like attracted to?” Tina asked, wanting clarification.
“Yeah. I guess that is what I mean.” Lan said, self-consciously. She was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, but she really wanted an answer. She was in such foreign territory here.
In a subdued voice, Tina began. “When I met the kids’ father, my first husband James, I knew instantly. I always wanted to be around him. I couldn’t wait to be alone with him. I was so young, but I knew how I felt about him. He felt the same way too. The connection we had was… amazing.” Tina looked at Lan, who seemed to be taking what she said in.
“I know I’ve made some bad decisions, but with James, well, outside of having our kids, being with him was the best decision I ever made.” She paused, thinking about what she wanted to say.
“That chemistry, connection or attraction or whatever you want to call it, is one of the most important things in a relationship, as far as I’m concerned. If it is mutual, tested and found to be true, you have a good start on what it takes to build something special.” Tina said quietly.
She looked wistful and sad and Lan immediately felt guilty for bringing up what had to be painful memories of her first husband’s death and what could have been if things had worked out differently.
“That being said, everyone is different. They put different values on the whole connection thing.” Tina said, with a rueful smile. “But, physical attraction is pretty absolute. At least for me it was. I didn’t always make the right decisions when I felt it, but I know what I like.” Tina said, with a half-smile.
Lan pondered that for a moment. “So, I guess if I was attracted to him physically, I’d know that.” She said almost more to herself than to Tina.
“Well, yeah.” Tina looked at her, curious. “You don’t know if you are attracted to him?”
“That’s why I asked.” Lan said, hoping her exasperating tone covered her embarrassment.
“Oh, Lan. You are adorable.” Tina chuckled, putting her hand warmly to her neighbor’s cheek. She looked at her solemnly. “When you feel it, you’ll know. It could be with Pete, it might be someone else. Just keep at it, Lan. You are too good of a person to go through this world alone.”
Overcome by the simple yet powerful statement, Lan simply dropped her head in a half-nod. Tina wouldn’t let her retreat though. She tipped Lan’s chin up so they were looking into each other’s eyes. “I mean it, Lan.”
“Okay.” Came the small voice.
A crash, followed by a loud, shrill curse exploded the stillness of the moment as both women went wide-eyed in alarm and then raced out the door to find out what had happened.
They stopped abruptly as they saw the kids, Ross and Bart quickly trying to clean up what used to be a set of coffee mugs.
“Is everyone okay?” Tina asked the foursome. They all responded affirmatively, with weak smiles of apology. “Good. Now, John, care to explain where you learned that word?”
After John had reluctantly admitted that he had indeed heard the word from his mother, everyone wisely got down to the business of finishing packing and moving the Sheldon Family. Ross and Bart even made a trip to the new house to unload the furniture. The rest of the day passed quickly and by the time the sky began to evolve into hues of dusk, the duplex was empty.
Tina looked back at it, burying the memory of bad times only deep enough to not erase the lessons she’d learned from them. There were plenty of good memories too, especially in the last few months. She’d call on those when things got rough again, which inevitably they will because that was how life was.
“Well, I guess this is it. You sure you don’t want me to follow you and help unload?” Lan asked, trying to hide her hope. Tina just smiled graciously. She couldn’t ask this woman for any more help than she’d already given. She felt she would never be able to repay her for her kindness as it was.
“All we have left are loads of boxes since the guys unloaded the furniture. We’ll be fine.” Tina said. She stepped into Lan’s space and surprised herself as much as Lan by wrapping her up in a huge hug. “I don’t know what I would have done without you, Lan. Thank you for everything.” She whispered into the bar manager’s ear. Slipping out of the embrace, she beamed at Lan, her eyes awash in unshed tears.
Beyond an equally quiet “You’re welcome,” Lan didn’t know what else to say. She was caught so off-guard by such an unadulterated display of emotion.
Suddenly, the kids came banging out of Lan’s front door, their goodbyes to the dogs finished. They stopped, sensing something was going on between Lan and their mom. They waited a few feet away before Tina ushered them closer. “Come on guys. It’s getting late. Let’s let Lan get ready for work.”
The kids took turns squeezing the life out of Lan, mumbling reminders that Lan had promised to come visit. Lan returned the favor by making the kids promise to take care of their mom. And just like that, they were off, heading to their new home and new life.
As Lan watched the van disappear around the corner, the words that Lan should have said to Tina surfaced. She wanted to tell Tina that knowing her and her children kept her own loneliness at bay. And that just witnessing the joy and happiness as they planned for their future urged her to have hope in her future.
Jill eyed her opponent warily. Each was covered in sweat liberally and the shadow of fatigue was beginning to creep over both of them. But she knew she wouldn’t relent until he did. The driving force that kept her doing what she did wouldn’t allow her to. Besides, she had a bit of frustration to work off.
So, once again, they circled each other, watching and waiting patiently for an opening. Pete found his first as Jill stepped back on her left heel. She anticipated his move and lowered her center of gravity, but not quickly enough as he rushed at her upper thighs, using his considerable weight advantage to force her to the mat.
An arrogant chuckle escaped from between heavy breaths as he grabbed behind her right knee and held it firmly to his side. With his right arm, he performed a textbook lock around the back of her neck. He knew her strength was in her legs and figured he’d avoid the effective wrap around she had executed on him twice already.
Thinking them at a stalemate, Pete leaned his chin heavy on her sternum and pressing up against her chin, took a moment to collect himself before finishing her off. “Had enough?” He taunted with a rough rasp, breathing as heavily, if not more, than her.
She just grunted, chest heaving as she waited for him to make his mistake. He did, removing his left arm from her knee to initiate a front cross chokehold. As soon as she felt his weight shift slightly, she simultaneously hooked her left foot behind his right ankle and brought her right knee in and up to his chest.
As soon as he opened up, she slid to her side, moving fluidly to a cross mount position, pinning his neck down with her shoulder, and then finishing with a sloppy yet effective triangle chokehold.
She barely heard his tap on the mat, signaling his defeat. Finally she released her hold on him and he slid out quickly. “Geez, Jill, you’re bad for my ego!” He wheezed, grabbing his neck.
“Perhaps you should take me on more often. You could learn a thing or two about patience.” She retorted, throwing him a towel that was on the bench next to his stuff. She chuckled at him as he bypassed the towel and went straight for the cold water bottle, which he put to his reddening neck.
“If you would have held me there just a few seconds longer, I don’t think I would have had the strength to get my knee under you.” She said matter-of-factly, wiping her face off before opening her own bottle of water and downing half of it in one breathless gulp.
“Yeah. As usual, I figured might was right. And as usual, you show me that it isn’t always the case.” He responded with a respectable amount of humility.
“Damn right.” She stated emphatically. She began stuffing her gear into her gym bag, pausing when she felt Pete looking at her. “Yeah?” She asked, irritation coloring her voice.
“Nothing. You doing okay?” He asked, concerned for his friend. He knew she was working what amounted to double shifts. Her pride and work ethic wouldn’t let something like budget cuts hurt the department’s CRT and he figured she was still keeping up with the training and making sure equipment that was ordered was still coming in, all the while performing her duty as a sergeant in the Patrol Unit.
“I’m fine. Tired, but fine.” And she was really. After the first week of her new schedule, she’d hammered out a routine that, while taxing, at least allowed her a bit of downtime. These workouts on her off days were part of her routine now that she’d be spending more time in patrol. As she’d come to discover after a few days too, it was something she had been missing. They allowed her to sleep soundly at night too, even if it were for only a few hours.
To keep up her duties on the Crisis Response Team that were not being done, she would come in a few hours on her off days and then she would meet Pete for sparring or just working out.
Ironically, she was seeing more of Pete now than she had when they worked on CRT together. It was a real exercise in self-control to not ask about Lan when they were working out, yet when Pete offered up information, she acknowledged it, but rarely asked for elaboration or showed interest. If Pete noticed it, he didn’t say.
“Good.” He said, barely sounding convinced. “Lan said the bar is ready for you guys tomorrow night. She has the corner booth reserved and will stay open as long as you ladies want.” He said with a wink and a silly grin.
“Great.” She said with all the enthusiasm she could muster. She’d initially fought against the idea of having the bachelorette party at Lan’s bar, but Lan had offered a while ago while the group was bowling and Rachel loved the idea.
For some reason, her being seen by Lan with her friends, hanging out, being silly, drinking, made her uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because Lan didn’t drink and would be most likely serving them that night. But that’s what she does for a living. Her mind argued. Face it, Cooper, you care what she thinks of you.
“Listen, I got some paperwork to finish up so I can get out of here tomorrow at a decent time. Tell Lan that if she has any questions, she can call me… or Rachel.” Jill said, all business now as she collected her bag to leave.
“Oh, okay.” As she turned, she heard him call to her. “By the way, thanks for the ass-whooping.” He said with teasing sarcasm.
“Anytime, SWAT boy.” She replied with a casual salute.
“Would you tell Bridezilla to get her ass out here? I’m getting’ old!” Jill bellowed towards the house, stopping Rachel’s sister Liz dead in her tracks as she was making her third trip to the house to check on Rachel.
Jill slumped back into the deep leather bench seat, sticking her tongue out at a chuckling Sarah, who was not only Pete’s sister, but one of Rachel’s co-workers and closest friends. They had been sitting in the limo the better part of fifteen minutes, waiting for the sisters.
“I don’t understand what is taking her so long. It’s not like she has to dress to impress.” Jill harrumphed as she twisted open another ginger ale.
Sarah spotted the two coming out of the house and just shook her head slowly from side to side. “I don’t think dressing to impress is the issue. Perhaps just getting dressed was.” She commented evenly as she pointed to the tipsy-looking bride-to-be.
“Oh Christ.” Jill mumbled as she watched the two sisters giggling and swaying, their heads together in some sort of drunken conspiracy. As they approached the limo, Liz nearly went down, slipping on the wet grass.
“I can’t believe you two. You’ve already started, haven’t you?” Jill accused. She knew she would be the one to end up babysitting. She just didn’t think it would be so soon.
“Oh, be quiet Mom!” Rachel belted out as she carefully negotiated herself and her tight skirt into the low limo seat.
The bar was crowded, as was expected for a Friday night. Jill entered after the entourage, hanging back and observing her friends as they became more animated and loud as they made their way to the back corner table that Lan had reserved for them.
Sure enough, to the right of the hallway that led to the phones and restrooms was a booth with the word reserved written in neat capitals. Jill wondered if it was Lan’s writing. She envisioned Lan having that kind of writing, no extra flourish, just straight and to the point.
The object of her musing began making her way through the assorted bodies on the small dance floor. Jill unconsciously sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, making sure it was still in place. She rarely wore it down and suddenly became self-conscious of it. She vaguely heard Rachel ask her a question as she tried to watch Lan cross the crowded dance floor without looking like she was watching her.
“Huh?” Jill asked finally as Lan stopped at one of the high tables near them to take an order.
“What the hell are you looking at?” Rachel asked loudly over the pulsing bass of the current dance song. Jill knitted her brows in confusion to buy time. Guess I was not as stealth as I thought.
“Oh, I thought I recognized someone.” Jill answered lamely. She sure wished she had a beer to distract her right about now. Luckily, the answer seemed to satisfy the bride-to-be.
“Hey, Lan!” Rachel bellowed as she waved to the bar manager. Lan’s face transformed into a brilliant smile as she made her way to the booth and Jill couldn’t help but echo the expression.
As Rachel introduced Sarah (whom she’d met already but wasn’t going to explain that to an apparently drunk already Rachel) and Liz with amiable drunk person loudness, Lan’s eyes traveled to Jill for an instant, then went back and lingered on her for a moment after she greeted everyone. Jill’s right arm was casually draped over the back of the booth and she picked at the edge of a cardboard drink coaster as she smiled at something Rachel had just said.
She seemed to be there enjoying the moment and somewhere else at the same time. Suddenly, Lan wanted very much to know what was going on in the auburn haired woman’s mind. Huh.
“What can I get you ladies?” Lan asked importantly as she took out her pad and pen.
“Well, we’ll start off with a pitcher of margaritas.” Liz stated, nodding to the others to confirm. They all nodded back with large glassy-eyed smiles, with the exception of Jill who just rolled her eyes. Lan caught it and they shared a private smile.
“I’ll actually start off with a beer, light, whatever is on tap.” Jill chimed in. Lan nodded without looking up as she wrote down the orders.
“Oh, right, Jill doesn’t drink tequila. How could I forget!” Liz blurted loudly.
“Yeah, me and tequila don’t do well together.” Jill explained, glancing up at a rapt and amused Lan. She smiled painfully, knowing what was coming next.
“Oh, Lan, you would appreciate this story! Gosh, it was about, what three years ago? Anyway…” Rachel began, gleefully ready to replay a night Jill would rather forget.
“Anyway, Lan’s working and I’m sure she’s not interested in a story about drunken stupidity.” Jill interrupted before her friend could get any further.
Lan noted the complete discomfort Jill seemed to be in, but was dying to hear the story. Suddenly she remembered their first conversation. “Yeah, I better get back to work. But you aren’t getting out of it that easy, Jill. Remember we promised to swap stories.” She ventured, smiling cleverly.
“We promised to swap work stories.” Jill corrected with a matching smirk now. She watched Lan closely, seeing how hard she was going to push to hear what amounted to Jill’s most embarrassing night ever.
Lan pursed her lips and then said, “Tell you what, I have break in an hour. If you share your tequila story, I’ll tell you why I don’t drink at all. I have a feeling they are similar.”
Jill just looked at her with mild disbelief. I doubt it. “Quid pro quo, huh?” Jill retorted aloud as she leaned back in her seat, cardboard drink coaster tapping rhythmically on the scarred, heavily lacquered table.
“That’s right.” Lan said succinctly, triumphantly. The three other women sat wordlessly watching the exchange like a lazy tennis match.
“Alright.” Jill replied with a raised eyebrow. Wow, I could really fall for this girl, Jill thought to herself. Too bad she’s pretty much taken… by one of my best friends.
After a beat of silence, Lan finally made her way back to the bar with a promise to bring their drinks right away.
The whole exchange left Jill’s head spinning but she’d be damned if she was going to show it. She ignored Rachel’s pointed look and announced to the group that she was going to make her way to the restroom.
Thankfully, no one followed her and she took the time to collect her thoughts, one of which was to brush off any notion that Lan Murphy, the pretty - and straight - bar manager was flirting with her.
Lan had kept an eye on the women early to make sure their pitchers and glasses were always filled. As she worked the bar, she found herself laughing out loud at their exaggerated moves and silly antics on the dance floor. She was tempted to join them when she saw Jill start a conga line during a popular disco song. Other bar patrons had caught their infectious celebratory spirit and soon the women had drinks lined up on the table as people began buying them for the bachlorette and her friends.
When it was time for her break, Lan had hesitated going over to the corner booth, for she didn’t want to impose, but then saw that Jill had slipped into the booth alone and decided to join her.
“So, you go first.” Lan said as a greeting, leaning close into Jill so she could be heard. Jill took in their surroundings and realized they’d have to nearly yell to be heard.
Jill leaned in close to Lan’s ear; trying not to notice the sweet, clean smell of soap and light perspiration. It made her swallow hard. “Would you rather go outside for a bit? Get some air? That way we don’t have to shout.”
“Sure. Follow me out back. There’s a small table there.” Lan said and rose, waiting a few paces from the table for Jill to slide out and join her.
“When it gets too hot or crowded, I like to take my breaks out here.” Lan said as they sat down at the cracked plastic table that had seen better days. “You guys seem like you’re having a great time.” Lan continued as she brought her hands onto the table and out in front of her.
“Yeah. I’m so glad Rachel wanted something small and casual. I’m not sure I could have really planned a big, crazy party.” Jill replied.
“Yeah, I’d have no idea how to even go about that.” Lan said, mainly to have something to say. An awkward silence descended on the women until they both realized why they’d sought quiet in the first place.
“So, Miss Police Sergeant, tell me about your tequila story.” Lan said around a mischievous smile.
Jill had never had a problem coming out to people. She was someone who was very comfortable in her own skin. So if the subject came up in conversation, she’d mention it. It was an important part of her life for sure, but it wasn’t all she was.
But now, looking across the table at someone she barely knew but had some kind of connection with, she was hesitant. Come on, Cooper, she’s going to be told or figure it out anyway. Besides, you are dying to see how she reacts.
“Well, it was about two years ago, on my birthday. I was out with Pete, Rachel, Scott and a couple of other friends and we ended up at the airport bar.” Seeing Lan about to ask, she held up a hand. “I don’t know how or why.” Lan chuckled at that.
“Anyway, apparently one of us made arrangements for us to stay at the hotel nearby, walking distance. So, there we are at this bar filled with old men, phobic flyers and a for real cheesy piano bar.” Jill punctuated this by running her hands across the top of the table like she was playing a piano.
“Now, mind you, I’m having drinks bought for me everywhere we go. For whatever reason, I begin, yes begin, to order shots of tequila like its going out of style. Much of the rest of that night is completely lost to me, but I do remember taking over at the piano and belting out ‘Georgia on My Mind.”
Jill waited a sufficient amount of time to let Lan form a mental picture. When it seemed she did, Jill continued. “See, I had recently broken up with this girl, aptly named Georgia. I broke up with her because I thought she partied and drank too much.”
Again Jill paused, letting what she said sink in. She didn’t have to wait long for Lan leaned in and slapped the table; a huge delighted smile split her face.
“She walked into the bar didn’t she?” Lan said, pleased with her self.
“Yep. I vaguely remember stepping away from the piano bench mid-song and walking off the stage, thinking I’d tell her what a huge mistake I’d made...”
“And?” Lan prompted.
“This is so embarrassing.” Jill mumbled, looking off into the alley as she slid her hands down her jean-clad thighs repeatedly.
“Come on. I won’t hold it against you. I’ll bring it out from time to time to tease you, but I won’t judge you.” Lan said with mirth-filled eyes.
“You are really enjoying my discomfort, aren’t you?” Jill rejoined.
“Hey, it isn’t every day you get to hear one of our city’s finest talk about pining away for an ex while completely smashed on tequila.” Lan responded reasonably.
“Hmph. Well, she was with someone else, a very large someone else. I mean she was huge and I’m not talking fat. The woman looked like an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears.” Jill took a moment to run her hand reflexively over a small scar on her chin. “I started mouthing off, being a real ass and things got out of hand. It got physical and I ended up getting cracked in the jaw but good. I tell you, I was drunk to the point of black out, but I remember that impact. I guess I just fell like a rock, out cold and snoring like a baby.”
“Oh my God!” Lan exclaimed. “Did you press charges?” She asked, eyes wide.
“Oh no, if anything I should have been the one in trouble. I was lucky. They just figured getting my jaw dislocated was enough punishment. Let me tell you, puking my guts out for two days with a dislocated jaw is as close to hell as I ever want to be. So, now I stay away from the tequila.”
“Really.” Lan replied sarcastically, cracking an amused smile. After a small pause, she asked, “Did you ever square things away with Georgia and the other woman?”
“Kind of. After I could actually talk, I went to see Georgia. She accepted my apology readily. She even apologized for punching me, which I would’ve…”
“It was Georgia who punched you?” Lan interrupted.
“Oh, yeah. Apparently that enormous specimen was a Pacifist. She stopped seeing Georgia that night, saying she couldn’t deal with the violence.”
It started out as a half stifled chuckle and grew into an outright belly laugh. Jill just sat there and watched as Lan doubled up, trying to catch her breath.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just such a funny story.”
“Oh yeah. Real funny.” Jill deadpanned. She sat there and watched Lan try and compose herself. It wasn’t going well. Oh, hell, I guess it is pretty funny.
Jill’s self-depreciating chuckle joined Lan’s mirthful one until the sound of both women’s laughter filled the empty alleyway.
Finally recovering, Lan looked at her watch noting that she should be getting back. “Crap, I gotta get back in there.” She said as she began rising from her seat.
“Oh! That’s how it is!” Jill cried as she rose too. “I tell you my humiliating story and you say see ya?” She said with incredulity. She put her hands on her hips for effect.
“Don’t pout, Jill.” Lan smiled as she lightly poked her in the stomach. “You’ll get my story.” She began heading towards the door, leaving the redhead abstinent and irritated.
“Come on. I bet your friends miss you.” Lan said as she grabbed the sleeve of Jill’s light jacket.
“Will you tell me over coffee sometime this week?” Jill asked almost timidly. She bit her lip, hoping it didn’t come out the way she had really meant it. Now that the truth of Jill’s sexuality was known, she wondered if it would have any bearing on their fledgling friendship. She also had to tread lightly as she knew Lan was still dating Pete.
Oh hell, it’s just coffee with a friend, Jill justified to herself. And that’s all it will ever be, she mused sadly, almost missing what Lan had said. The response made her smile as the two women went back into the bar.
Unfortunately, the coffee date never came to fruition. Jill became engulfed in wedding preparations and when she wasn’t working, she was helping out with last minute details and keeping Rachel from killing her future mother-in-law. That alone took up a lot of her time.
She had struck up semi-regular phone conversations with Lan during that week though, finding the tiniest reasons to call her. Lan always seemed happy to hear from her as they exchanged news on their now mutual friends and Lan kept Jill updated on the happenings of the bowling league.
When they ran out of news to report, their banter came easy and often, each seeming to find a quick familiarity with each other that, at least for Lan, was rare. It was also very welcomed.
She was finding a real friend in Jill and despite her quiet surprise that she was a lesbian, she looked forward to any encounters that she would have with her. The sergeant made her laugh a lot and her spirited personality and candor were beginning to become infectious.
“So, I guess you are going to see me in a dress, which only happens, well, at weddings.” Jill said in a quirky, matter-of-fact way, causing Lan to giggle into the phone.
“Yeah, and tell me the color again?” Lan said just to goad her. She heard a heavy sigh over the phone.
“Chartreuse.” More giggling over the phone from Lan.
Jill decided to change the subject. “How are Tina and the kids settling in? Jill asked, remembering Lan telling her about her neighbors.
Lan smiled at the mention of them. “They are doing great! Pete and I are going over there for a BBQ next week to see how far they’ve come on the house.” She said animatedly.
“That’s cool.” Jill said trying not to sound as unenthused as she felt. She really had to get over this if Lan and Pete became serious.
“Hey, Lan, I gotta get going to the station. I have to pick up a few things before I take off.” Jill said, a bit bummed to end the conversation.
“Right. Well, I guess I’ll see you up at the lodge Saturday?” Lan asked, cheerfully.
“Oh yeah, you can’t miss me. I’ll be the redhead that looks like Kermit the Frog threw up on me.” Jill deadpanned.
“That’s quite a visual.” Lan said as her laughter died down.
“That will be exactly what you think when you see what I have to wear.” And with that she clicked off, chuckling a bit as well.
Lan sat up in her seat, mesmerized by the towering redwoods and wispy pines that stuck out in sharp contrast to the rapidly melting snow. Her carsickness was all but forgotten as they neared the tunnel that would take them to Yosemite Valley.
“How are you doing?” Asked Pete as he deftly maneuvered the car around the winding mountain road.
“Better. The view has taken my mind off of anything except how beautiful it is up here.”
“I still can’t believe you haven’t ever been up here. Just wait until we stop and get a view of the valley.” Pete said with a pleased smile.
Lan couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness as she watched the frost-laden tree branches go by in a slow blur. She’d heard people talk about the beauty of Yosemite and yet, here she was, 32 and only an hour and a half away and she’d never been.
Lan’s contemplative state was shattered as Pete sounded the horn in the tunnel. He gave a sheepish grin when he saw Lan nearly jump out of her seat.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist.” He said with a boyish shrug.
A retort was on her lips as they pulled into the parking lot and Pete stopped the car. The retort died as soon as she saw the view in front of them. Without a word she pushed open the car door, grabbing her jacket from the back absently. She then stepped out of the car slowly not wanting to take the whole scene in just yet.
Pete went around the back of the car and came up behind her. “What do you think?” He said in a loud whisper.
“I now understand the term ‘breathtaking.” She said solemnly as she slipped on her jacket and moved closer to the low stone wall. She stood, quiet and still, listening to the ghostly echo of wind as it caressed the high walls of the magnificent valley, bringing with it a blanket of cold, crisp air. She noted the famous rock faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, looking as though they’d been sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Beyond her first sentence spoken aloud, she could think of no other words to describe the beauty before her. She noted the goosebumps that had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with what she took in visually. There had been few things in her life that have affected her viscerally. This definitely made the short list.
She’d forgotten about Pete being by her side as he wordlessly held her camera out to her. She smiled absently at him as she took it reverently and began snapping off almost half the roll before letting the camera rest against her chest.
“Hard to believe frozen water did this, huh?” Pete rumbled into Lan’s ear. She nodded mutely, still a little too overcome to speak. After a few more moments of soaking in the view, Lan turned and squeezed Pete’s bicep through his jacket.
“Thanks for bringing me up here. For inviting me to the wedding.” Lan said with a heartfelt smile.
“You’re welcome, but I gotta admit, my intentions were a little selfish.” Upon Lan’s slightly puzzled look, Pete chuckled and continued. “I really enjoy your company Lan. I wanted you here with me.” He said a bit more seriously.
“Oh.” Was all she managed around a small shy smile. “You ready to get going?” She asked, eager to see the valley floor.
“Sure.” Pete said as he made his way to Lan’s door and opened it for her to get in.
“Thanks.” She said politely as she slipped in, putting her camera away.
“So, the lodge is actually on the other side of the valley, but we’ll take a little tour through some of the visitor spots. We still have a couple of hours before the wedding starts.” Pete informed her as he started the car and began to back out of the spot.
They made their way around the campgrounds, Pete pointing out trailheads and recalling memories of his visits until they reached the Yosemite Village Center. They took some time and toured around the area, browsing the gift shops and general store, Lan scouting the souvenirs.
They arrived at the lodge a little before three o’clock and were met by Scot who was standing outside, talking with an older gentleman in a rustic plaid shirt and canvas vest.
“Hey, guys! I’m so glad you could both make it!” He said with genuine happiness. He shook Pete’s hand vigorously, finally pulling him into a manly half hug. He looked to Lan and held out his arms. She laughed and went to hug him, being crushed against his chest momentarily.
“This is Pastor Keith Chesmore, the he will be performing the service.” Explained Scott.
“It’s nice to meet you, Pastor.” Pete said politely. Lan merely nodded and shook his hand, a warm smile on her face.
“Well, Scotty, I think everything is in order. I will be seeing you in a bit!” The older man smiled widely and then took his leave after bidding everyone goodbye.
“This place is beautiful.” Gushed Lan when the three of them were alone. “You couldn’t have picked a more perfect place for a wedding.” She said as she took in the sight of a large waterfall on the other side of the valley.
“Yeah, when we first got engaged, we went round and round on locations. Then it just hit us one day- Yosemite. It’s one of our favorite places to visit. Let me tell you, we’ve made plenty of good memories right here in this lodge, too.” He added cheekily.
“I’ll bet.” Lan responded with a knowing grin.
“Let’s get you guys to your rooms.” Scott said as he went to pick up Lan’s bag. She began to protest and then thought better of it, remembering how Pete felt about chivalry being a dying practice. Instead she thanked him and followed the two men inside the beautiful redwood and glass structure that was the lodge lobby.
“I got you guys adjoining rooms, hope that is okay.” Scott said as he led them through the main lobby and outside onto a stone path that had been recently cleared of snow.
“That’s fine.” Lan said, seeing that Pete had left it up to her to approve. When Pete had asked her to be his date for the wedding, he’d promptly told her the wedding would take place over a weekend at Yosemite. Her first reaction was pure excitement, as she’d never been to Yosemite and had always wanted to visit.
But upon realizing that meant an overnight stay, she began to hesitate in her answer until Pete said that they would get separate rooms. Technically, this would be their third date and she was nowhere near ready for the type of intimacy of sharing a room, whether something happened or not between them physically. And that was a whole other issue she’d rather not face this weekend. Still she was appreciative of Pete’s never-ending respect and consideration of her.
They walked carefully through the slush, talking about their respective trips up and details about the ceremony and reception that night. As they reached a rustic but well-built building, Scott produced a keycard, letting them in. They continued to follow him until he came to the end of the hallway.
“Here are your rooms. Pete, you are in 211 and Lan, you are in 213. Across the hall are Liz and Jill. They are around here somewhere. Probably getting into some trouble.” Scott added with a grin.
“I’m sure Rachel has them running ragged.” Pete laughed as he took the keycards that Scott held out.
Scott chuckled as well. “I bet you are right! I’ll leave you two to get settled. Gotta go find my bride-to-be and save those poor women from her wrath.” Scott said as he waved to them and headed down the hallway to find Rachel.
“You guys wanna meet at the chapel, say, about 5 o’clock? Heard there might be a weddin’!” Scott called over his shoulder gregariously, making Lan and Pete laugh.
Lan opened the door to her modest but clean room, noting immediately that she had a lovely view of the waterfall she’d seen earlier. She assumed from the map and pictures that it was Yosemite Falls. Man, the dogs would love it here! She thought as she set her small suitcase down on the bed and went to open the sliding glass door that lead to a small patio.
The weather was noticeably warmer here than at the entrance to the valley where they had stopped. She also noted that there was still a bit of snow on the ground where the sunlight didn’t get a chance to penetrate. After one last look at the falls, Lan headed back into her room to unpack, shower, then change for the evening wedding.
Wow. Jill was right. Lan thought as she stifled a giggle as Jill came up the small aisle. Like a beacon getting picked up by radar, Jill’s eyes slid to Lan’s immediately and out popped her tongue so quickly, Lan thought she had imagined it. She certainly caught the wink though and her face instantly bowed into a silly smile.
As the rest of the small wedding party passed by, Lan felt Pete lean into her shoulder and whisper. “The sergeant cleans up pretty nice.” Before she could nod her agreement, he added, “Even in that god-awful color.” It was her undoing and her small, controlled, yet audible outburst had the two pews in front of her swinging their heads around with a mixture of curiosity and admonishment.
“Sorry”, she mouthed to those whose steely glare lingered. Then the first notes of the wedding march were heard and her embarrassment was lost in the ruffling of clothes and shuffling of shoes as the guests stood to witness the bride’s entrance.
Lan smiled reflexively at the beautiful and obviously overjoyed bride. Her off-white floor length dress was absolutely stunning and her hair took on an ethereal beauty as it was swept up in a loose bun with ringlets framing her heart-shaped face.
She made her way down the aisle holding Scott’s eyes the entire way. The look the two shared made Lan pause. To be on either end of that look must be the most incredible feeling in the world, she thought to herself.
Hearing the rhythmic clinking of glasses signaling the toasts were about to begin, Jill fiddled with the strap of her low high heels, trying to slip them back on after taking them off during dinner. She was fortunate to be at the head table where an off-white drape hid her legs and feet from view. It was heaven to have her feet free, if only for a few minutes.
She smiled and looked on as Rachel’s father cleared his throat slowly and rose his glass. “To my little girl. Well, you are not little anymore, but you’ll always be mine, right here.” He said in a quavering voice as he laid his hand over his heart. It was strange yet endearing to see the big hulk of a man a bit overcome and Jill felt the corners of her eyes moistening along with most of the small reception.
Jill scanned the room, eyes falling where Lan and Pete sat and was momentarily caught up in watching them interact. They sat closely together, shoulders touching, watching Scott’s mother conclude her toast. She idly wondered how much they had progressed. Best not to give it much thought, Cooper.
Jill felt expectant eyes on her and realized the microphone was being passed her way. It was decided on earlier that each person in the bride and groom’s party would say a little something about the couple.
She stood slowly in order to compose her self and there was a momentary panic about what she was going to say. That panic died away however, when she held the mic to her and looked at the beaming couple. The three held eyes for a moment and the funny quip that came to Jill’s mind died away as she was struck by the rareness of what was in front of her. As much as she teased the couple, the truth was, she was jealous of what they shared.
But she also saw hope for herself. True happiness did exist and it seemed attainable whenever she was around them.
“Scott and Rachel, you two have something I think everyone looks for but few find. At least that’s what it seems like around Valentine’s Day.”
Jill couldn’t resist the last remark, as it was her nature to make light of pretty much any situation. She waited patiently for the chuckles to die down before continuing. “I know there are many in here that are more qualified to give you marriage advice, so I’ll just give you advice from a single’s perspective. Never forget how lucky you two are and never pass up an opportunity to tell each other.”
With a quirky grin to the bride and groom, the microphone was passed on amid cheers and clinking glasses and Jill sat down, glad to be out of the center of attention. Her eyes automatically found Lan’s and she was pleased to note the glisten in her eyes and Jill smiled at her enthusiastic yet subtle ‘thumbs-up’.
As they had done often throughout the night, Jill’s eyes fell to the table where Lan was sitting. She had only had a chance to exchange a few words with the bar manager before the reception started and had hoped to get a chance to talk with her more. A hastily made statement on how blue was a great color on her had been about all she’d had the time to say before being whisked to the head table before the bride and groom arrived.
At the moment, Jill’s gaze, which had grown more intense with each glass of champagne, started wandering from the bottom of the table to where she knew Lan was sitting slightly pushed out from the table facing her. She followed a slender buff-colored hosed foot to a slender ankle, pausing at the bottom of the deep blue dress that came down to mid-calf. An unfamiliar heat invaded Jill’s senses, causing her to skip her lazy perusal and looked straight up into Lan’s face. Crap, caught.
She couldn’t really read Lan’s expression, but she didn’t look offended. So she just gave her an unapologetic half-grin and slightly raised eyebrow. You know you caught me checking you out, Jill’s alcohol-sensed brain audaciously supplied.
Lan held Jill’s gaze and gave back a half-grin of her own until the sergeant gamely looked away. Hmmm.
The little exchange left Lan wondering what that was all about. She’d felt an awareness of the other woman throughout the night and she could have sworn she’d sensed Jill’s eyes on her before she’d even turn in her direction at times. And the half-smile Jill gave her. She wasn’t sure what to make of it. Too much alcohol, probably, thought Lan with a smile, remembering Jill’s story.
Her introspection was interrupted when she heard the announcement of the couple’s first dance. She settled back into her seat and watched as the first dance began with the bride and groom happily ensconced with a popular love song playing softly.
She watched the couple interact with each other. It was obvious they noticed nothing else but each other as the song played. They traded sweet kisses and whispers, words only meant for the other. It made Lan feel a bit like a voyeur, but she couldn’t look away. It was simply beautiful to watch and she found herself wiping away a bit of moisture from the corner of her eye as raucous applause and whistles signaled the end of the slow song and the rest of the wedding party joined them on the floor.
She took the opportunity to watch Jill as she grabbed one of the quieter groomsmen and began showing him some simple dance steps, all the while whispering things to make him laugh and feel more at ease. She has such charisma. I wonder why she is still single? Lan wondered.
“Wanna dance?” Pete asked.
“Hmmm?” She responded, still caught in her own thoughts.
“Dance?” He asked again, gesturing to the dance floor.
“Oh, um, sure.” She managed to get out before being swept away onto the dance floor. They turned to face each other and then Pete pulled Lan close, taking her hand in his and putting his other on the small of her back. They began to move in small but well synchronized steps to the beat and Lan began to really enjoy herself.
The height difference wasn’t very much with heels on, but up this close, Lan had to tilt her head back slightly. “You are a very good dancer.” Lan said lightly as she was ushered into a small spin.
“You ain’t too shabby yourself, doll.” Pete said in a bad Bogart impersonation, making Lan giggle. He is so much fun to be around.
They danced a while in silence, enjoying John Hiatt’s version of “Have a Little Faith in Me” as they moved around the floor effortlessly. When the chorus came up, Pete began to lip-sync, this time doing a spot-on impression of the singer’s facial expressions. It had Lan laughing outright.
“I’m so glad I met you, Pete. You are like the brother I never had.” She said while catching her breath.
She was pulled to a standstill as Pete had stopped dead in his tracks. He looked at her for what seemed like forever with a slightly cocked head and then they began dancing again more slowly. “When you say brother, you mean it in the Arkansas way, right?” He said half-jokingly. She caught the trepidation in his voice and it made her realize what she had just said.
“Because if you are thinking of me like that…” He continued, leaving the sentence unfinished with a nervous laugh.
Geez, Lan, why the hell did you go and open your stupid mouth. “Oh, no Pete. I just meant…” What did I mean?
By this time the song had ended and they had moved slowly to their seats, relinquishing the dance floor to the disco music revelers as the sounds of K.C. and the Sunshine band began to permeate the room.
Pete sat, turning his attention to Lan expectantly, with a warm but cautious smile on his face.
She really didn’t want to have this conversation here, at the wedding reception of his friends. Thinking quickly and wanting to be on somewhat ‘neutral territory’, she suggested that they go for a walk. He agreed and went to tell a few people they’d be back in a while.
After a few minutes, they were outside walking along in a strange silence until they both realized it was way too cold for a walk. They both laughed quietly as they heard each other’s teeth chatter.
“Let’s head back to the lodge.” Lan suggested. Pete readily agreed and they made quick work of the walk back. With unspoken agreement, Lan let them into her room and each of them sat wordlessly, thighs barely touching at the foot of her bed.
Lan felt the stillness settle in Pete’s posture. She was sure he had an idea of what was coming. Lan decided not to prolong it.
“Pete.” She started. “First, I want to tell you that I really enjoy being with you. We have a lot of fun. You listen to me, I feel safe with you.” She said in a rush, grabbing his hand and squeezing, turning slightly to look into his eyes.
“Like you would with a brother?” He probed, fear evident in his voice. They looked at each other for a long moment. Lan knew what she needed to say to rectify this, to take it back and allay his fear.
But his fear was justified wasn’t it? She knew what he wanted. He wanted more. But they’d been dating for the better part of a month and she felt nothing beyond friendship for him. Saying anything else would be a lie and it would not be fair - to either of them.
She wanted to believe she was confused in her feelings for Pete and that perhaps she just needed more time. But the fact was, she did know. She liked Pete. Just not in an ‘I want more’ way.
That’s how Tina had described what it was like with her first husband when they had begun dating. Since their first date, Lan had been asking herself if she indeed wanted more with Pete. Each time the answer was tellingly non-committal.
He set his jaw and pulled his hand away from Lan’s, gently, slowly. It made him ache in a way he hadn’t in a long time. Her hand instantly felt cold, more from guilt than the loss of warmth. She looked plaintively at Pete wishing she could say something, anything to erase the hurt look on his face. But she knew there was nothing she really could say.
“Look, Lan, I like you. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for more.” Her eyes flickered with guilt and again, her expression was all he needed for an answer. “Are you sure? I mean, couldn’t we give it some more time?” He asked reasonably.
Lan closed her eyes for a few seconds, thinking about how to verbalize what she’d been thinking the last few weeks. “I thought about that, have been thinking about that all weekend, even before this weekend. I just… It’s like…” Lan really didn’t know how to continue without bruising the man’s ego. I’m not physically attracted to you? Whatever it is you are supposed to be doing for me, you ain’t ‘doing it’ for me? I can’t imagine anything more than a friendship with you?
Pete watched her struggle to explain. Not wanting to put her on the spot any longer, he grabbed her hand again and gave her a small, sweet smile. “It is alright Lan. You feel what you feel. You don’t owe me an explanation. It isn’t like we are 5 years into a marriage with six kids or anything.” She raised her eyebrow at the six kid thing but then quickly returned his smile with a relieved one of her own.
“I’m sorry, Pete. You are a great guy. You deserve someone who can give you all that you want and need. I just don’t think it is me.” She said softly.
With that he nodded, lips in a grim smile. “Well, I know this is usually the women’s line, especially in this instance, but I’m going to be the one to ask. Can we still be friends?”
Lan let out a relieved chuckle. “Absolutely. I was hoping that wouldn’t change.” Lan said warmly.
“It won’t.” Pete said with confidence.
Lan woke slowly, taking in her surroundings. The events of the night before came into clear focus and she felt a sharp pang of guilt. Even though she had a hard time seeing what Pete saw in her, she knew he did see something and he was hurt by what she had to say last night. It was hard to say what she had too. But, it was the truth and she couldn’t lie to him. She did hope that he meant it about being friends. She liked him very much and she hoped that he could forgive her.
She slowly rose from her bed and headed to the bathroom. She was halfway there when there was a loud knock. She took a step towards the front door and then realized it wasn’t coming from there. She froze in fear when she realized it was coming from the sliding glass door that led to the outside.
Bears don’t knock, her logical mind helpfully supplied. She pulled the curtain back slowly, squinting out into the crisp, bright February sun. A silly grin filled her face as she moved to unlock the door.
“Hey, thought you’d like some coffee.” Jill announced as she slipped into the room with two cups of coffee, trying not to get tangled in the long burgundy curtains as Lan stepped aside to let her in.
“Uh, sure.” Lan replied with curious surprise, watching as Jill made her way to the small table setting down the cups. With hands still gloved, she awkwardly emptied her pockets of sugar, little cream containers and many more stirrers than were necessary for two cups of coffee.
After her burden had been put down, Jill turned to face Lan fully. She smiled crookedly, her lightly freckled cheeks flushed from the cold. Her braided auburn hair was barely visible under her gray knit cap and her white turtleneck was unfolded and came all the way up to her chin. Her ski jacket was zipped as far as it would go as well.
Realizing she hadn’t really decided on what she’d say to Lan after infiltrating her room with coffee, she just stood there with a wide smile, looking like a blissfully ignorant child.
“So, is this our coffee date we never got to have?” Lan asked around a warm smile as she made her way to the coffee, motioning for Jill to join her. They doctored their coffee to their liking; Jill with three sugars and two creams, Lan with 2 sugars and one cream, and sat at the small table.
She remembered that? Jill mused delightedly.
“Exactly.” She said, as if that was her idea the whole time. Truth was, she had gotten up that morning feeling just so good and happy that she had to share it with someone. Before she knew it, she had two cups of coffee, a pocket full of condiments and an unconscious destination that felt as right as rain.
Lan just smiled, more to herself than Jill. After a few seconds of comfortable silence, Lan spoke. “The wedding was absolutely perfect.” She said as she cautiously blew on her coffee to cool it.
“It was, wasn’t it? Went off without a hitch, really.” Jill said, growing exponentially happier that her feet led her to Lan’s door this morning. She took surreptitious glances at the disheveled dark brown hair and the slightly sleep-swollen hazel eyes as they continued to blow intermittently on their still too-hot-to drink coffee.
“Nice speech, by the way.” Lan smiled as she took an experimental sip. It took a second for Jill to realize what speech Lan was referring to.
“Oh, thanks. I was just trying not to sound like a fool.” Jill explained with a self-depreciating grin as she mimicked Lan’s actions of testing her coffee’s heat.
“So, is Pete up yet?” Jill fished, hoping not to sound too concerned with the answer. The fact that Lan and Pete had separate rooms was a curious comfort to Jill. It wasn’t a surprise though, for she knew Lan was taking things really slow, as Pete had told her numerous times. So, even after seeing them leave the reception together early last night, she knew they went to their own rooms.
“I don’t know. I haven’t called him yet. You caught me right as I was getting up.” Lan said with a smirk as she gestured to her flannel pajamas. As if just now realizing she did indeed just roll out of bed, she ran her hand through her hair to settle any grossly out of place bed hair.
Suddenly, Jill felt really self-conscious. “I’m sorry I just kind of showed up. Am I keeping you from something?” Jill asked, a bit panicky. She hadn’t even thought that perhaps Lan had breakfast plans with Pete or something.
“Oh no. It was wonderful to have room service this morning. I’m glad you came, Jill.” Lan said warmly to belay Jill’s insecurity. “I had no morning plans at all.”
Emboldened, Jill got an idea. “A few of us are going on a hike to Mirror Lake. The ranger said the snow has melted away on the trail and the lake is as still as he’s ever seen it. It’s about 4 miles round trip, but the view is beautiful. Would you and Pete like to join us?”
Lan’s eyes lit up at the prospect of seeing a bit more of Yosemite. “I’ll ask Pete if he’s up to it. We haven’t discussed when we were taking off today, but I know I’d love to go if possible.”
“Great!” Said Jill, beaming. “I’ll leave you to your morning. Just call or come over to my room if you guys can join us. I think we are taking off about ten o’clock.”
“Sure. I’ll stop by either way.” Lan said as she began to rise from her seat. Taking her cue, Jill stood and slipped her gloves back on. As she headed for the door, Lan grabbed her coat sleeve. “You can leave through the front door, if you’d like.” Lan said around a teasing smile.
“Oh, right. I’ll see you in a bit.” Jill said quickly as she shifted directions and headed for the front door, hearing Lan giggle softly as she gave one last wave and slipped out, heading to her room with a hopeful smile.
Jill was just digging for her sunglasses in her backpack when she heard a knock at her door. It was five minutes until ten o’clock and she held a stupid big grin in check as she moved across the room to open the door. Standing in the doorway was an appropriately bundled up Lan, who had no such inclination to hold back her stupid big grin.
“You guys coming, then?” Jill asked lightly, looking for Pete.
“Well, I am able to. Actually, that depends on you.” Lan said cryptically and with a bit of shyness.
Jill looked quizzically at Lan, prompting her to explain. “Pete has to get back, but I don’t have to yet. He suggested I get a ride back down with you… that is, if it is okay.” She finished, looking more confident as Jill’s face split into that big stupid grin she’d been holding in check.
“Yeah, that would be great. I was figuring on getting on the road after the hike and a late lunch. Would that be okay?” She asked as she motioned Lan into the room so she could finish gathering her stuff. She wondered at why Lan would choose to stay instead of head home with Pete, but decided not to ask about it.
“That’s fine. I don’t have to work until tomorrow night, anyway.” Lan relayed as she sat at the edge of Jill’s bed.
“You know that this is my first time to Yosemite?” Lan stated as the foursome turned off the paved trail and into a more densely wooded area.
“Really?” Jill replied, not hiding her considerable surprise. She knew Lan had lived in Fresno all of her life.
“Yeah, I just never made it up here. I’m so glad I came, though. It is just so beautiful here.” She said with kid-like wonder.
“Rachel and I used to come up here with our parents quite a bit. If you can avoid the crowds, the hiking and views are second to none.” Liz said as she negotiated around some slush.
The trail was soggy, but not dangerously so if one watched their step. The areas of the trail that the sun broke through the trees were considerably drier, but still slippery and the women were lulled into a silent concentration as they picked their way up the increasingly steep and rocky trail.
“So Pete had to leave early, huh?” Chimed in Sarah as they made it to more level ground. They were walking in twos now, Sarah and Lan side-by-side in the lead and Liz and Jill bringing up the rear.
“Yeah. I was planning on leaving with him, but he said I should stay and see a bit of Yosemite.” She said.
“He is such a great guy.” Sarah said as they all made a turn in the path.
“He really is. I’m happy to have him as a friend.” Lan said. The ‘friend’ statement caught Jill’s attention and she began to pay closer attention to the conversation going on in front of her.
“How long have you two been dating?” asked Sarah.
“Well, we were dating for a few weeks. We’ve decided just to be friends.” Lan said slowly. She didn’t feel quite comfortable in discussing her personal life with someone she hadn’t got to really know yet, but she didn’t want to just tell a half-truth. Sarah picked up on her disquiet and just offered a casual yet heart-felt, “That’s too bad.”
Jill, being not far behind and hearing what was said, was surprised but showed none of it. She just processed the information quietly, vowing to talk to Lan about it privately and make sure her friend was okay.
“Here we are!” Announced Liz as they came around a large rock. Large pine and colorful maple trees bordered the small valley with the spring grasses just peeking out through the sparse snow. In the middle of the valley was a lake, as smooth as glass. It reflected the magnificent granite walls of the valley with perfect precision.
“If we walk to the other side, you can see Half Dome reflected!” Jill said excitedly to Lan as she squeezed her side briefly, urging her to follow her around the lake.
Lan smiled at her enthusiasm and they made their way around the north side of the lake, followed by Liz and Sarah.
The four gathered in the pristine sight silently. After a few moments, Liz got out her camera and began snapping a few pictures.
“Alright, you three stand over here.” Liz said, trying to line the group up for the optimum photo opportunity. “Okay, Jill, you are the tallest. You stand in the middle.” With minimal grumbling the women switched places until they were to Liz’s liking. “Jill, smile with your teeth. You have such nice ones.” Liz announced as she popped her head out from behind the viewfinder.
“Who are you, my mom?” Jill called back as she did as she was told and gave the cheesiest smile since her school picture in the third grade.
“Cute, Cooper. Let me take another one.” Liz huffed as she snapped off a couple more.
“Let me take one of the three of you.” Lan offered. Liz agreed and handed over the camera with brief instructions on composition and not getting her finger in front of the lens. Lan just chuckled and nodded.
“You know she’s a photographer, Liz. I bet she knows her way around a camera.” Jill shouted as she rubbed her hands to get them warm. The sun had been making its way across the sky affecting larger and larger shady spots, dropping the temperature a bit. Jill’s head popped up in surprise at Lan’s statement. How did she know? Then she realized. Pete. She was going to correct Jill and say she’d only taken a class, but the pride in Jill’s voice stilled Lan’s. She smiled inwardly.
“Oh! Why didn’t you say something?” Liz asked as she playfully rapt Lan on the shoulder. Lan just shrugged and when Liz joined the other two, directed them to a spot that held the best light.
“Let’s see those teeth, Jill!” She said playfully to which she not only got a dazzling smile, but a little hand gesture to go along with it that had her laughing so hard she could barely take the picture.
“You know, you never told me your embarrassing drunk story.” Jill prompted Lan as they were making their way back to the lodge. Even though it was barely 2 p.m. the sun was disappearing over the mountains and the trail was mostly engulfed by shadows now. Where small puddles had been before, frost and ice were beginning to form. Both women walked shoulder to shoulder, hands deep in their jacket pockets as they concentrated on their footing.
Lan looked up to see that the other two women were far enough in front so they could not overhear. “Well, I guess I do owe you.” Lan said slowly. Both women unconsciously slowed their pace.
“Well, let’s see… I was eighteen, I think. No, I was nineteen… Or was it…”
“You are stalling, Lan.” Jill accused as she pressed into Lan playfully with her shoulder.
“I’m not!” Lan squeaked, dispelling a puff of breath into the air. “It was a long time ago.” She explained with mild indignation.
“Okay, sorry. I’ll be quiet now.” Jill said, making a show of zipping her mouth shut.
“See that you do.” Lan said around a smile. “Hmmm, where was I… right… I was nineteen and living in a not-so-safe area downtown. I was sharing a one-bedroom with this girl I’d met from work.
Anyway, she decided to throw a 4th of July party. When I got home after my shift, there was about a dozen or so people in the small apartment, every one of them pissing drunk. I thought about just turning around and leaving, but realized I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
I had a beer shoved in my hand almost immediately. I knew the negative consequences of drinking, what it can do to someone, but these people seemed to be having fun, so I thought what the hell, you know?”
Jill wanted to ask her more about her last statement, but didn’t want to interrupt. She decided to leave it for now and ask about it later. Instead she nodded, urging her to continue.
“Apparently I could hold my alcohol pretty well…well, up until the shots, anyway. Things got real fuzzy after that. But not fuzzy enough for me to ever forget what happens when Lan gets drunk.” Lan shivered, reliving the memory. “And to never repeat it again.”
She knew she had Jill completely titillated and she was enjoying the burning curiosity in her friend’s eyes.
“Let’s just say through the series of events that night, I found that, like many others, I completely lose any and all inhibitions.”
Jill’s eyes widened to saucers and Lan had to laugh out loud. “You better give me more details than that, because I’m filling in all kinds of them.” Jill said in semi-serious tone.
Lan took a deep breath and let it out dramatically. In a rush, she said. “I ended up on the roof of our building singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ with nothing but a pair of rollerskates, a sparkler and a smile.”
“No shit?” Jill said incredulously.
“No shit.” Lan answered. “I never have a hard time turning down a dare, I’m just not like that, but then, throw in alcohol…”
It took a second longer than Lan anticipated, and when it happened she just stood next to her hysterically laughing friend, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her eyes skyward, waiting for the guffaws to die down.
As Jill tried to compose herself, Lan saw that the two other women were so far ahead they were out of sight.
“You done laughing at me now?” Lan tried to say acerbicly, but her smile gave her away. She knew it was pretty damn funny- now.
Hearing her tone but not seeing the smile, Jill straightened, wiping her eyes and leaky nose with her gloved hand. “I’m sorry, Lan. It’s just that I can’t imagine you…” She let the sentence hang, lest she start laughing again.
“See, now you know why I don’t drink anymore.” She said primly.
Jill nodded and swallowed. “I just have one question though.” Jill said, fully enjoying Lan’s disclosure.
“Were there any pictures taken?”
A long pause made Jill turn and look fully at her friend.
“Fuck you, Jill Cooper.” Lan said and started walking away, leaving her once again hysterically laughing friend behind.
“You ready to go?” Lan heard Jill ask at the open door to Liz and Sarah’s room. They were staying an extra night so Jill and Lan had stowed their bags in their room before the hike.
They had arrived back at the lodge close to 3 p.m. cold but content. The hike was both exhilarating and beautiful and Lan was so glad she stayed on. Even after telling Jill her ‘drunk story’.
“Yep, ready to go.” She said. They’d said their goodbyes to the remaining wedding party and Lan could see that Jill was ready to hit the road.
“I just need to check out.” Lan said as she handed Jill the handle to her rolling suitcase.
“Thanks.” She said, grabbing the handle and heading out to the hallway, pausing when Lan turned to shut the room door. “No need to check out though, looks like Pete took care of your room.”
“That sneak. I’ll have to pay him back.” Lan said to herself more than to Jill.
“I doubt he’ll accept your money.” Jill said as they made their way down the hall and out towards the lodge lobby.
“Well, I feel a little uncomfortable about that.” Lan said slowly. When Jill looked at her quizzically, she continued. “We aren’t dating anymore, and I…”
Jill stopped walking, causing Lan to stop to and look her. Jill looked at Lan pointedly. “Well, that is the kind of guy Pete is. You were his guest. He’s a gentleman, Lan. Just thank him when you see him again.” She finished, a little more tersely than intended.
Lan nodded slowly, looking duly chastised. “Of course, you’re right.” She said in a small voice.
Oh, hell, Cooper, make her feel like an idiot, why don’t you. She gently grabbed Lan’s coat as she turned to resume down the walkway.
“I’m sorry, Lan. I didn’t say that to make you feel bad.” Jill said apologetically.
“No, you are right. I’m just not used to that… type of treatment. I mean, geez, I pretty much broke up with the poor guy less than 24 hours ago. At a wedding, no less.” Lan said, truly chagrined.
“Listen, Lan, whatever happened, Pete really is a gentleman. It is rare in this day and age. Trust me when I say he expects absolutely nothing from you, whatever the circumstances are.” Jill said seriously.
“Yeah, I should have known that. He certainly is a gentleman, in every sense of the word.” Lan finally said, a sad smile crossing her lips. They continued out and around the lobby to where Jill’s car sat idling.
“So, are you and Pete, like, still friends, then?” Jill asked awkwardly after about 30 minutes into their drive. She’d been dying to ask since overhearing the news. While in the car, she’d been racking her brains trying to come up with a question that would open up the topic without making her sound like the nosy-ass she was.
“He said he still wanted that.” Lan said easily. Jill bit her bottom lip when the silence stretched out past a few seconds. She really didn’t want to ask another question, but knew she probably couldn’t help herself, the need for details too great.
She’d been vacillating between elation and sadness that Lan chose to break it off with Pete. One side of her wanted Pete to be happy but the other side of her wanted Lan to be happy- with her. Sometimes, she really hated being a lesbian.
She was formulating her next question when she heard Lan sigh heavily. “I do hope he meant it. He really is a great guy. I… it just wasn’t fair to him that we continue dating.”
Jill hazarded a look at her. Lan sat with her hands in her lap, looking out the window at the rapidly setting sun through the filter of quickly passed trees.
“I know it’s none of my business, but can I ask why?” Jill asked gently.
A short silence hung in the air as Jill negotiated a hairpin turn. “I know you two are close friends. This isn’t awkward for me to talk about is it, for you?
“No. He is a close friend, but I consider you a friend too.” Jill reasoned. She meant it too. She sensed that Lan wanted to talk. As a bit of an afterthought, she added, “You don’t have to worry about this getting back to Pete at all, either.” As soon as it came out of her mouth, she felt a bit foolish.
Lan chuckled. “I wasn’t worried, Jill. I just don’t want to put you in an awkward position.”
“You aren’t.” Jill said, keeping her eyes on the road for another hairpin turn. “I’m a good listener.” Jill said, looking sideways at Lan with a wry smile.
Jill heard a soft chuckle and then a deep breath. “When we were on the dance floor at the reception I mentioned to him that he was like the brother I never had.”
“Oh.” Was all Jill could manage.
“More like, ‘Oh, shit’.” Lan lamented. “Anyway, from the time we left the dance floor to the time he walked me to my room, I realized that I had no romantic feelings for him. I did indeed think of him as a brother.”
“Hmm.” Jill murmured, pensive.
“I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to relationships and the like, I am a complete novice. A beginner you might say. But a few people have told me that I’ll feel it when it happens.”
“Feel what?” Jill asked, a little confused at what Lan was getting at.
Suddenly, Lan felt a little silly. Was she even explaining this right? Did she even know what she was trying to explain?
“Um, that feeling you get when you like someone, you know for more than a friend.” Lan finished lamely.
“You mean, attraction?” Jill asked, trying to get a handle of what Lan was trying to say.
“Yes, exactly!” Lan said triumphantly.
Jill looked at Lan for as long as she dared on the winding road, trying to gauge whether Lan was pulling her leg. The innocent smile back at her was all the answer she needed. Oh, Lan.
“You’ve never been attracted to another person?” Jill asked carefully.
“Jill, for so many years, I had one concern, surviving. I left home at an early age and did what I had to do to make a living for myself. It is only fairly recently that I’ve started to even think about dating.” Lan said with quiet matter-of-factness.
Before Jill could respond to the statement, Lan asked, “When did you know you were a lesbian?”
If Jill had had anything in her mouth, it would have ended up on the windshield. Still, it took her a few moments to compose an answer to the question.
“When I was nine years old, I remember noticing my friend’s older sister’s breasts and not just in the ‘what are those’ curious kid way.”
“Are you serious?” Lan asked in disbelief.
“Yep. When she was 15, she started seeing this guy. I hated him. Challenged him to a fight for her. By that time I was 11 and knew I was completely in love with her.” Jill said.
“Really? In love with her?” Lan asked with wonder.
“Well, to an 11 year old, it sure felt like it.” Jill reasoned.
There was a beat of silence and then Lan leaned toward Jill and asked conspiratorially, “Did you ever get anywhere with her?”
Jill snorted in laughter, looking over at Lan in disbelief. She finally shook her finger at her friend.
“Beginner or not, you’ve got a naughty mind, Miss Murphy.” Jill laughed and looked over at her now blushing friend.
A few moments of companionable silence followed and then Lan asked, “Have you ever been in love, I mean, as an adult?”
Jill hazarded as long of a look at Lan as the winding road would allow. Lan looked back at her, gauging if she should have asked such a personal question. She couldn’t read Jill’s expression. They both turned their eyes back to the road. She was about to apologize when she heard Jill sigh in thought.
“Well, I’m pretty sure I was with Georgia. She was my longest relationship.” She was going to add ‘by far’, but decided against it. Lan was about to ask another question when Jill continued. “But again, I don’t know if it was love. I mean we got along great, especially physically (she winked at Lan), but would I have fallen on a sword for her? Eh, probably not.” She finished with an exaggerated air of indifference. She felt Lan’s eyes on her and shrugged her shoulders in a ‘whaddya want me to say?’ manner.
“You are incorrigible.” Lan chuckled as she began to fiddle with Jill’s radio.
“Yeah, but you love it.” Jill retorted with a silly grin.
As they made their way down the mountain, the conversation topics ranged from favorite shoes to the most frightened they’d ever been.
And it seemed with each passing mile, the women learned more and more about each other. They explored shared interests, stumbled upon and delicately discussed sore subjects; argued politics and religion (though they were mostly of the same mind on both subjects) and compared favorite movie lines.
Most of all, they just enjoyed each other’s company and when Jill dropped Lan off at her home, the only regret she had about the weekend was that the ride home hadn’t been longer.
Getting back into the swing of things was a little hard for Jill after such a great weekend. The wedding was picture perfect and the time spent with Lan was an unexpected yet wonderful surprise. Just a few hours ago work had seemed a million miles away as she chatted away with her while making their way down the mountain.
Now, after a quick nap at home, she was sitting at her desk, staring at purchase orders, PTO requests and assignment sheets. I’d rather be out on patrol, she thought as she began shuffling through the small mountain of paper, figuring out what she’d tackle first.
By two a.m. she had put a large dent in her pending paperwork and decided to take a break. She took her time grabbing a soda from the vending machine and made her way outside, slipping through the glass double doors quietly.
The air outside was heavy with dew and carried on it the scent of earth and renewal. Officially, Spring was still almost a month away, but the mild climate of California seemed to beg to differ. Jill knew she could get away with wearing her short-sleeved uniform shirt any day now.
As she sipped at her soda and idly scanned her surroundings, she wondered what Lan was up to. She pondered the chances of her working right now. She figured she’d be just trying to close the bar if she was. She hadn’t thought to ask if Lan was going into work when she dropped her off yesterday evening, which was only about 8 hours ago. Perhaps she was at home asleep. Jill smiled at the vision of that.
Finishing her soda, she tossed it in the nearby recycle bin and headed back into the building, ready to finish the last four hours of her shift.
The week after Yosemite passed by fairly quickly for Lan. On her time off she had been looking into some more photography classes and exploring the possibility of traveling back up to Yosemite in the near future to capture some of the scenes of Spring.
She had remembered Jill telling her how Yosemite looked like a different place altogether during the seasons and Lan was anxious to experience all of them. Now that she realized what she’d been missing all these years, she couldn’t wait to go back. Perhaps Jill might be able to join her too.
She’d only talked to the sergeant once since they’d been back and it was purely by accident when she’d called the station to track down Pete to nail down the details about the barbeque over at Tina’s the next day. The operator had connected her to Jill’s line and they’d ended up talking for about ten minutes, Lan only remembering she’d originally called for Pete after Jill had asked her about her plans this weekend. Lan had even thought about asking Jill to come along but decided it wouldn’t be appropriate seeing as though she was not the host.
Lan did make plans to see Jill the following week, though, before Jill transferred her to Pete. Lan was happy to note that her fear of not seeing Jill as much now that her and Pete had split up was unfounded. She’d forged her own friendship with the sergeant and truth be told, she hoped it would last for a very long time.
Lan pulled up to Tina’s house, a few minutes earlier than the agreed upon time. After turning off the engine of the old Land Cruiser, she turned to Pete who still sat stock still with a large bowl of potato salad in his lap, holding it tightly so the Saran Wrap wouldn’t come off. She couldn’t stop the grin spreading on her face at how seriously he’d taken his job of ‘securing’ the dish while they made the drive over.
“You can let go now, we’re here.” She offered as he slowly took his hands off the bowl. He gave her a sheepish look.
“Was my driving that bad?” She asked as she unbuckled her seatbelt. He did the same and looked over at her again.
“No, it’s just that, well, I guess I’m used to being the one doing the driving. I don’t even let my new partner drive when we are out on patrol.” He admitted as an afterthought.
“Oh yeah? Is it because she’s a woman or because you just hate to give up control?” She’d asked a bit more pointedly than she’d planned.
He was unfazed, however, expecting the retort. “Well, part of it is a control thing I guess. That and she really is a lousy driver. I’m not sure how she passed the defensive driving course.” He said truthfully. Lan would have laughed if she hadn’t seen the earnestness in his face.
“You are quite the man’s man aren’t you Pete?” She said in a teasing tone. She knew he was too sincere to be chauvinistic and his frankness, no matter how it sounded, was just one of the things Lan loved about him. Pete picked up on her tone and responded with a self-depreciating smile.
“I suppose I am, Lan. I suppose I am.”
Just as they began making their move out of the car, two brunettes, one girl and one boy came running out to greet them.
They both hugged Lan tightly and began talking excitedly at the same time.
Even though it had been less than a month since Lan had seen them, she noted they had managed to grow even in that time. Katy came up to her chin now and took much pleasure in pointing it out. John did the same, as he’d measured in at just above Katy’s shoulder now.
“Hey guys, hold on. There’s someone I want you to meet.” Lan said laughingly. “This is my friend Pete. Pete these two chattering squirrels are Katy and John.”
Pete’s eyes twinkled as he shook each one’s hands, gripping John’s as he would a young man’s. John responded with a strong grip of his own. It was obvious the boy was instantly taken with Pete. “So, you’re the police officer, right?” John inquired with more than a hint of awe. Pete nodded affirmatively and smiled.
“Cool. Did you bring your gun?” John asked hopefully, earning amused chuckles from both Lan and Pete.
“No, son, not this time.” Pete answered. “You wanna see my badge, though?” Pete said excitedly.
“Boys.” Katy deadpanned which got the adults laughing all over again.
“Come on, let’s go see what your mom’s up to.” Lan said as she tucked the potato salad bowl under her arm and gestured for the kids to lead the way.
“Hey stranger!” Tina called from the kitchen. Lan walked in giving her a big hug.
“It’s good to see you! The house looks wonderful!” Lan said enthusiastically as she quickly took in the kitchen that had been covered in boxes last time she’d seen it.
“You must be Pete.” Tina said cordially as she extended her hand to the handsome man.
“Geez, where are my manners. Pete, Tina, Tina this is Pete.” Lan finished, a little embarrassed at her lack of manners… which didn’t seem to matter in the least to the two people shaking hands in front of her.
“Pleasure to meet you, Tina.” Pete said warmly, his smile reaching his eyes and beyond. The handshake went on a little longer than propriety dictated and during those few but telling seconds, Lan saw the chemistry between the two. Hmm. Interesting.
“Let me take you guys on a little tour.” Tina said as she pulled the kitchen towel off of her shoulder and ran her hand through her hair, ordering it just so. It was a simple gesture that escaped Pete’s attention, but not Lan’s. Interesting, indeed, Lan mused.
“Amazing what a little paint and curtains will do, huh?” Tina said as they finished their tour, ending up in the small but functional dining room. They all stepped through the sliding glass door and entered the spacious backyard where Katy and John were finishing off cleaning the patio table.
“The house looks great Tina.” Lan said. Pete nodded and smiled in agreement.
“I like the two-tone colors in the living room. Gives it a lot of warmth.” Pete piped up. Both women looked at him a bit quizzically. “A man can still have aptitude in home decorating and be straight, you know”, was his rational response to the mild affront.
“Right. Well, I’m glad you approve.” Tina said, eyes bright with amusement.
“Well, now that we all agree that the house is beautifully appointed, Pete, why don’t you entertain the kids while Tina and I continue in the kitchen.” Lan said in a way that brooked no argument from either. John and Katy overhead the plan and rushed to Pete, simultaneously peppering him with questions at rapid fire pace as only kids can do.
“Wow, Lan, I can’t believe you let that one go.” Tina remarked over cubing chicken for kabobs. Lan had noticed her frequent glances out the window to the backyard where Pete was holding each of her children in rapt attention.
Lan smiled to herself as she continued her task of cutting up the peppers. “He is a wonderful guy. I just feel like we work better as friends.” She supplied simply. “I was a little apprehensive about seeing him again, you know, after Yosemite, but we just picked up where we left off before… as friends, nothing more, nothing less.”
“Did you really tell him he felt like a brother to you?” Tina asked after a brief, yet telling, silence.
“I did. I know it wasn’t the best way to go about it, but it is the truth. He should be with someone who will love him in all the ways he deserves, you know?” Like I bet you could, Tina, Lan finished in her mind, wondering where that bold thought came from. Still, a little plan began to form in her mind.
The rest of the barbeque turned out to be a very enjoyable affair. Pete continued to play with the kids and tell them stories as the women prepared dinner. The meal was consumed with many laughs, Pete regaling all with funny anecdotes from when he was a rookie police officer.
Lan was pleased with the way he and Tina interacted as well, both asking each other questions about their work with genuine interest in the answers. They stayed away from real personal questions, but Lan surmised that there would be plenty more opportunity for them to get to know each other if she had anything to do with.
As the meal wound down, it was Tina who suggested that Lan entertain the kids while her and Pete cleaned up. The kids, happy to get out of clean up duty, whisked Lan away to the living room to begin a game of Clue.
“So, has Pete ever shot anyone?” John asked casually after dealing out the Clue cards. Lan looked at the boy for a moment before thinking how to answer. She had no idea if Pete had and frankly didn’t think it was a very appropriate question to ask.
“I don’t know, John. But you realize it is nothing like you see on T.V. The act of deliberately harming someone, even if it is to get them to stop harming others is, from what I imagine, a difficult decision for a police officer.” Lan tried to explain. She wanted to delicately tell John he really shouldn’t ask a question like that, but had trouble finding the words.
“Luckily, I haven’t had to make that decision so far.” Came a steady voice from the kitchen doorway. All three heads swung around and looked at Pete. “And Lan is right. I’ve never had to pull the trigger, but I’ve seen the effects of what a gun can do to a human body. It is nothing like on T.V.” He finished gently as he came to join them in the game.
John nodded his head solemnly, smartly picking up that the subject was closed. As usual, it was Katy who deftly deflated the bit of tension. As she collected the cards and reshuffled them, she made a remark about John being arrested if he tried to cheat, causing everyone to laugh, especially at the frightened look on John’s face.
Before leaving that night, Lan had made sure to invite Tina and the kids over for a movie night sometime in the next couple of weekends, noting the little spark in Tina’s eyes when I asked if Pete could join and he said he would, if his schedule permitted. I had every intention of scheduling it when Pete was available.
“So, what did you think of Tina?” Lan casually threw out as she drove Pete back to his place. She smiled at the way his hands fidgeted in his lap as he took his time with his answer.
“She seems like a really nice lady. She loves her kids very much.” He replied with a small smile.
“What’s not to love with those two,” Lan responded around a chuckle.
“No kidding. They are great kids.” He said enthusiastically. He shifted in his seat and he was looking more towards the passenger window now. “With a job like mine, you usually see the worst in kids. It’s nice to see there are still great ones out there… with a loving and caring parent to raise them right.”
Lan turned to Pete, noting his thoughtful statement. She was tempted to give a little bit of Tina’s history, just to give him insight into her struggles and her strength to overcome them, but knew it wasn’t her place.
Once Lan and Pete had said their goodbyes, she headed off home. After letting the dogs out to do their business, she noticed she had a message on her answering machine. She smiled at the now familiar voice confirming their plans for the following Thursday evening.
“Now, is this because you feel guilty about dumping the guy, or do you really sense a ‘love connection’,” Joyce asked as she waited for Lan to fill her two drink orders. Lan chuckled as she caught Joyce’s fingers making air quotes around the end of her sentence. She turned to grab a martini glass before responding.
“I didn’t plan on setting him up with Tina.” Lan retorted, a little miffed at Joyce’s statement.
“No?” Joyce questioned around a coy smile that irked Lan even more. Lan gave her a pointed look. Joyce capitulated. “Okay, maybe not consciously, but I bet back in that little mind of yours, you were thinking…” She trailed off, expecting the bar manager to tell her she was wrong. Instead, she saw Lan pause in shaking the ordered martini and give a long sigh. Quickly, she finished the drink and set it on Joyce’s tray with a look of mild revelation.
“You know, Pete graciously backed out of the barbeque at first, but I pretty much insisted he join us. I mean, I was kind of adamant…” Lan finished, more quietly as if she was speaking more to herself than to Joyce.
Lan took a deep breath. “Geez, maybe you are right. But is it wrong? They are both such great people. I would love to see both of them happy.”
I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.” Joyce reasoned, arranging the drink on her tray to her liking. “Just be careful not to push the issue, you know? If there is something there, they’ll figure it out.”
At that, Lan felt a big smile cover her face. She placed the last drink on Joyce’s tray. “Well, of that, I am almost positive. He also really gets along with the kids. In fact, he’s great with them. They seem to like him as well.”
Joyce gave her a grin too. “I guess you did real good then. Just make sure and keep me posted!” She said as she made her way through the tables, tray balanced expertly on her fingertips.
“I hope.” Lan said to herself.
Jill wandered around her small apartment for the umpteenth time wondering why she hadn’t taken the time to get grown up furniture. “Lan will think I’m some poor taste-less slob.” She mumbled to herself pitifully. She’d been so excited to invite her over for a hike in the foothills behind her place, she’d forgotten that Lan would actually be seeing her Spartan digs.
She kept her apartment tidy and always took the time to put things in their right places, but she just hadn’t turned the corner into the, ‘I’m a professional who has money to buy real furniture’, phase of her life.
She could easily blame her almost hippie-like upbringing where her parents took great pride in rescuing furniture from various places to furnish their home. ‘Why pay when you can get stuff for free,’ was one of her dad’s favorite phrases.
She loved her parents dearly and couldn’t have asked to be raised by two more loving people, but man did they avoid spending money when they could.
She looked at her futon that screamed ‘college days left-over’ (which indeed it was) that served as her couch and brother’s sometimes crash pad. She noted the cinderblock and plywood shelving on the adjacent wall that served as her CD, DVD, books and training manuals holding area.
She’d had the good sense to take down her ‘beers of the world’ collection off the top shelf a couple of months ago after her brother had mentioned having one just like it when he lived in his frat house.
The T.V. was really the only thing she’d spent a lot of time (and money) on choosing. Like any real lesbian, she had to have something big to watch the big games on!
Well, there was one other thing she could really take pride in. It was her mint condition chrome and Formica dining table. It had a fun retro look to it that she thought one day she’d build upon for the rest of the apartment. All she’d needed to do with it was polish the chrome and clean and seal the Formica top. It was small enough to fit in the small dining space and looked really cool. Lost in the memory of first finding it on Ebay, she almost didn’t hear the quiet knock on the front door.
“Coming!” She bellowed as she crossed the small area and opened the door. A very large, goofy smile found its way across her face involuntarily as she greeted Lan and then bent down to greet her two dogs. She could tell they were busting at the seams to jump and bark, but were held firm by their master’s commands.
“So which one is Bait?” Jill asked as she pet both, making a show of scrutinizing each of their faces. Lan giggled at Jill’s antics and squatted down behind her dogs.
“The smaller one is my little girl, Bait and this one here is her big brother, Hook.” With a quick verbal command, both held out a paw to be shaken.
“Oh, too cute!” Exclaimed Jill as she shook both of their paws cordially. Alright, Lan, you might make me a dog person yet.
When Jill had mentioned the hike, Lan had hesitantly inquired if she could bring her two dogs, as they loved to hike as well.
Not being a pet person at all, Jill almost said no, but then she remembered the fondness Lan had talked about them with. And as far as she knew, they didn’t throw up uncontrollably or chew things. In fact, they were quite well behaved, not to mention beyond cute.
“What kind of…” Jill fished not knowing how to ask exactly what kind they were. Lan laughed gently and rose from her squatting position, following Jill into the apartment.
“Well, not any one breed, that’s for sure”, she chuckled. “From what the vet and I can tell, they are part dachshund, terrier, maybe a little pug…” Lan finished as she took in Jill’s apartment.
“You sure you live here?” Lan joked as she took in the sparsely furnished apartment. Jill blushed furiously, again kicking herself for not going furniture shopping the second after she made plans to have Lan over.
“Uh, I…” Jill started dumbly until she heard a decidedly pleased sound come out of Lan. She turned to see the object of her attention. Her table. Now, that I can boast about. Jill thought as she sauntered over to it and caressed one of the seat backs.
“It is beautiful. Where did you get it?” Lan asked a bit reverently, coming over to run her fingers over the mostly pristine tabletop. It was primarily a light yellow with gray and green flecks in it.
“Thanks. I found it on Ebay.” Jill said, taken aback a bit on the effect it seemed to be having on her friend. She saw an almost tear in the corner of Lan’s left eye and looked at her with concern.
“When I was growing up, we had an orange one. Same pattern…” Lan said with a far away wistfulness, still mesmerized by the table, mind thumbing through some happier memories when it was just her and her mom.
“You okay?” Jill asked gently, sensing she was affected by more than just a near immaculate antique table.
“Yeah,” she sniffed. “Just thinking back on some happy times when I was a kid.” Lan finished. In a few seconds she was completely composed, but she left Jill with a lingering desire to hear all about what made this woman happy, sad and everything in between.
“You ready to head out?” Jill asked gently.
“Yep. Just let me grab my pack with doggie bags and water out of my car.” She said as she gestured towards the door. Jill almost made a comment about a doggie diaper bag, but didn’t think it was quite the right time. Instead she smiled, grabbed her house keys and led Lan out the door, her own water bottle in tow.
Exhausted, Lan flopped down on Jill’s futon. It was surprisingly comfortable for looking older than the Land Cruiser. Jill busied herself with getting some cold sodas from the fridge and a bowl with water for the dogs.
Lan had been impressed by the way Jill had taken to her dogs. She’d known by Jill’s stories of her brother’s cat that ‘chewed up and threw up everything’ that Jill was not a big animal lover. She secretly had hoped that her meeting Bait and Hook would begin to change that.
“Did you guys have a good walk? Hmmm?” Jill asked in what could be suspiciously heard as ‘doggie talk’. Lan giggled from her seat as she watched her pat their backs as they lapped up the water, tails wagging furiously.
“So you run those foothills?” Lan asked as Jill made her way into the living room with their sodas.
“Yep. When I have time in the morning, I love to go. Way safer than jogging on the sidewalk.” Jill finished, taking a sip of her soda.
Lan nodded her head. “I used to run, but it’s too hard with these guys. I have no foothills near my house and it’s too dangerous on the street with two dogs.”
“Well, whenever you want to come over and hike, or go for a run, let me know. I could take one dog, you could take the other.” Jill offered, the last sentence delivered so shyly, it made Lan smile.
“I just might take you up on that offer.” Lan said her face continuing to crease into a big smile.
They sat in silence for a bit, only to be goaded into rough housing with the still rambunctious dogs. Where they got the added energy was a mystery to Lan. It seemed Bait enjoyed the rougher play with Jill and continued to seek her out as the two dogs ran around the futon, play fighting with each other as well the humans.
Amidst the playful growls and barks by both dog and human, came the ringing of Jill’s cell phone. She got up to answer it as Lan quickly quieted the dogs.
“Cooper.” Jill half barked into the phone. A pause and apologetic smile to Lan let her know it was probably work calling. Lan just smiled and nodded.
Jill grimaced a little at whatever was being said on the other side and Lan was inexplicably bummed out that this probably meant an end to their time together. Lan listened to the one-sided conversation as she began gathering her keys and bag.
“Yeah, that will work. We’ll just swap shifts then. No problem. I’ll be in by…” she paused to look at her watch, “4:00p.m.” Another pause and then an eye roll as she listened to the person on the other end of the phone. “Oh, joy,” Jill said sarcastically and chuckled. After saying her goodbyes, she hung up and blew out a big breath.
“Sorry about that. One of the other patrol unit sergeants is really sick so I need to go in and cover for him in an hour.” Jill said with regret.
“No problem. I’ve got to go to work in a few hours too. I guess I can finish my Thursday laundry ritual after all.” Lan replied with a too happy smile, making Jill laugh. She finished gathering up her things and leashed the dogs. The women met at the front door.
After a bit of an awkward pause, Lan spoke up. “I had a great time. Thanks for letting me bring along the mutts. They are officially wiped out.” She said, smiling at them as they sighed and laid down in the entryway.
“Yeah. I guess dogs aren’t so bad.” Jill teased as she kept her hand around the doorknob, not opening it yet.
“Hey, listen, if you aren’t working Saturday afternoon, there’s a softball game. Um, when I swapped shifts with Eric, the other sergeant, I agreed to take his place on the team by default, I guess.” Jill said, sounding really lame to her own ears. What a dork! She sing-songed in her head. “It’s patrol vs. vice. It is always a good game.” She finished, sounding more like the cocky redhead she knew herself to be when it came to athletic prowess. Well, except for bowling of course. Was that a sport?
Lan smiled at Jill’s demeanor. She really enjoyed being in this woman’s presence. Intentionally or not, she always had Lan smiling or laughing.
“I believe I am free. Give me a call with the details.” Lan stated in a way she would later realize was flirting.
“I’ll do that.” Jill responded in a slow deliberate tone as she slowly pulled the door open. She knew she was flirting. Especially when she added the little wink to which Lan just giggled and moved herself and her two mutts deftly out the door.
Return to the Academy