See disclaimers in Part 1.

Author's Note: Yeah, I know… My muse took a vacation and forgot to bring her cellphone… She's back now.

Chapter 9

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. It quickly dissipated though and was replaced by an inexplicable lightness to her soul. She couldn't place the source of it, but she knew she felt it.

She quickly 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 burdens 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 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 a little after lunch. Would that be okay?" She said 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. Sarah picked up on her disquiet and just offered a casual yet heart-felt, "That's too bad."

Too far behind to not look like she was eavesdropping, Jill 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.

"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 3 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 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 never 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 roller-skates, a sparkler and a smile."

"No shit?" Jill said incredulously.

"No shit." Lan answered. "I have a hard time turning down a dare, even sober. Throw in alcohol…"

It took a second longer than Lan anticipated, and when it happened she just stood next to her hysterically laughing friend, arms folded tightly across her chest, her eyes skyward.

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 acerbically, 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.

"What's that?"

"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 4 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. She 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.

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 grew more comfortable with 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 apartment, the only regret she had about the weekend was that the ride home hadn't been longer.

part 10

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