Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 15
After putting the huge bouquet of pink roses, pink, lavender and purple, lilacs and sprigs of white babys breath into the back seat, the sheriff and her passenger pulled out of the parking lot of Oz and Ends in a silence thicker than theyd ever shared.
Jesus, if even Connie could tell how I felt about Emily, it wont be long before everyone else can see it too. I expected that Toni would figure it out. She always knows everything going on with me, but Connie has to be hit in the head with stuff. Just how do I handle this? Maybe we should talk about whats happening between us. She let out a sad little sigh. At least that way we could discuss it before one of my loud mouth brothers make assumptions and blurts something out.
She replayed her conversation with Toni in her mind. "Shes more than just a tourist to you, isnt she, Harley? I mean-its obvious with everything your body says when youre next to her. Even Connie noticed it. So, why dont you just tell me whats going on?
The sheriff thought it over. Shed been concentrating so hard on this whole attack at Stephanies house that shed let her usual guard down a bit. She really didnt realize how she had been silently communicating her feelings for the small woman, but now that Toni pointed it out, she saw it. How do I answer that? I really dont know what Im feeling. Its just so intense and concentrated and its all about her.
"I dont know how to tell you whats going on. I have no clue myself. All I know is since the moment I met her, I cant stop thinking about her. I feel special and oh, hell, I dont know how to explain myself. This has never happened to me before. I just met the woman a couple of days ago, for the Gods sakes.-" she finished and let out an exasperated sigh. She leaned against the counter and rubbed her ear lobe.
"Well, lets just take it one step at a time. You obviously have some feelings for her that go beyond simple physical attraction. Ive known you all your life, and Ive seen you attracted to other women. You never share their personal space in public. This one is different. She obviously feels something too. I dont know her like I know you, but Id be willing to wager that her feelings go a bit deeper than simple attraction. You say you only met her a couple of days ago, right?"
"Yeah," she grinned a little at the memory, "I had to give her a speeding ticket."
Toni returned the grin, and then turned serious. "So tell me how far this has gone between you."
"It hasnt. Not really, anyway. Weve come real close to kissing each other a couple of times, and thats part of what has me confused. Thats just not like me. I dont do one-night stands and I dont get involved with people intimately when Ive only just met them. But with her, its like, I dunno, like wildfire. Every time Im near her, I cant seem to get close enough. I can see myself holding her and touching her and I have these little flashes of us being together somewhere down the line, ya know? Its just so weird. Like this morning when she called me about the knife in her pillow
"About the WHAT?"
"Oh, sorry, some new stuff you havent heard about yet. I forgot the store only just opened a few minutes before we walked in, so the grapevine wouldnt have reached you yet."
She related the happenings at Stephanies early that morning and saw the deep concern etched on the older womans brow. Before she could volunteer to take care of Emily, as she knew her friend was about to, she told her that the writer agreed to stay with Twyla for a while.
"Well, thats good then. Now, you mentioned how you were feeling this morning."
"Oh, yeah," she started to blush again and found she couldnt stop it. "When she called and told me and she sounded so frightened about it, I rushed out and while I was driving over there, this thought flashed though my head. I thought, if shed just been home where she belonged, then none of this would have happened. Shed be safe, cause no one could have gotten into our house. And you see, I was thinking of home and our house as my house. It was like in my head, she should have been there where she belonged instead of visiting at Stephanies, ya know." She grinned deprecatingly and shook her head, expecting the woman to look at her as if she was the nut she knew she felt like.
The crafter just smiled gently at her and said, "No. Not weird. However, knowing you as I do, I expect you to think of it that way. Ill tell you a little secret. I felt the same way about Abby. Shortly after we met, she came down with a terrible cold after having given me her jacket when we were out late one cool evening in autumn. I was so angry with her and I couldnt figure out why. Neither could she, until she asked me straight out what made me so mad. I just blurted out if shed just let me take care of her like she ought to, she wouldnt have gotten sick. We both just shut up and looked at each other like wed both been punched in the gut."
She smiled a little at her own sweet memory. "Then, after that it just became easier between us. By the end of the month we knew we were together, even if it did take the better part of a year for us to admit it to each other." She ran her hands over the front of her throw and looked intently at the Sheriff. "Dont dismiss this. You know, in your heart, you feel differently for her than anyone else. Dont just pretend its simple attraction and dont fool yourself into thinking itll go away if she leaves. It wont and you better figure out just what youre gonna do about it." She cocked her head and smiled very sweetly at her younger friend. "And, if you do the right thing, youre going to end up happy. Now, thats not such a bad thing to aspire to, is it?"
Just then, the door opened and they heard Connie and Emily return.
Happy isnt a bad thing. I want to be happy. I want Emily to be happy. Im pretty sure Id like us to be happy, together. Now, all I have to figure out is, just what in the hell is the right thing to do?
Emilys thoughts were running in similar directions. She was remembering what Connie told her when they were picking Twylas bouquet.
The older woman informed her in bursts of conversation, between concentrating on choosing the blooms and making just the right cut, that she and Toni, or Annie, as Connie called her, had been together for over forty-six years. They met after Connie finished college and moved to Tonis hometown. Even though the woman used an economy of words to describe it, with long pauses between sentences, her writers natural talent and that secret romantic she buried down deep were moved deeply by the story. She saw it clearly as the woman related it.
"Annie was standing at the bus stop. Id just left the county offices after being assigned my new job. Went outside to get in my car and get back to my new apartment to unpack. I often wondered if that little bitch was born just for the purpose of drawing my attention to Annie standing there on that day. I heard her and three of her friends giggle and point at this girl at the bus stop. I didnt know what they were saying, but by the nasty looks on their faces; just full of disgust and reproach, and the way they kept pointing at her behind her back, I knew it was nothing good. Anyway, she was standing in front of the bench, holding on to a dress bag and her fingers were so tightly wrapped around it I knew it would be wrinkled. Her posture was stiff and very erect, but I could see her eyes were full and she was going to cry any minute. Before I could think it through and stop myself, I walked up to her and said, "Ive been looking all over for you. Are you ready to go, my cars right there."
She just looked at me and after a very long second, pulled herself together and said, "Sure, lets go."
I was so proud of her and I didnt even know her name. We walked past the girls who had done the damage and I just glared at them for all I was worth. All but the one who giggled, got a real guilty look on their faces and started to walk away.
To make a long story short, I drove us out of the city limits and parked at a roadside drive-thru. We got a couple of sodas and then we started talking. I didnt know till much later that Annie hadnt told anyone the whole story of what she told me that day. The gist of it was, the mayors son raped her after the last day of her first year at college. Her father was the minister of the town and they were very dependant on the mayor and his group of friends for their very existence. He told her he didnt believe her. He said that she must have seduced the boy and not to mention it again. Then, a week before I met her, she found out she was pregnant. Her parents decided she was to marry one of the boys whod been courting her for the last several years. She didnt want to do it. Not to someone she didnt love, and they refused to allow her to tell this boy that she was pregnant.
Right then and there I knew I had to help her out of this. We met again everyday she could make an excuse to get out of the house, and finally the night before the wedding, we admitted that neither one of us was going to let this happen, so with no viable alternative, we decided to just leave town. We ended up here. We figured it was as far away from Tennessee as we could get. Always thought it was kind of funny that we left a town called Briar to end up in a town called Bramble, but the difference in the two towns couldnt have been greater. We settled in and a few months later, Annie gave birth to our Crystal Rose." Her narrative stopped then and she looked heartbroken for a minute. Before Emily could decide what to say to comfort the woman, she had herself back in hand. Clearing her throat a bit, she continued. "Little Billy was less than a year old when his Daddy died. I dont think Crys ever recovered from it. Less than a year later we lost her too, same way, damn drunk driver. Only blessing was that we had Billy up here with us when she was hit."
Suddenly, without any warning, the conversation was thrown in a new direction. "You know, Crys used to sit the Ravensdown kids. Every time she came home she had a new Harley story to tell. Even as a baby, that kid was so smart. It used to be something we all looked forward to. Shed have us laughing so hard telling tales about how that kid got one over on her." She stopped arranging the ferns around the bouquet and just looked at the younger woman. "I guess that hasnt changed, seeing as how she picked you."
The jaw dropped again and Emily was seriously considering seeing a dentist to replace the joint in it, as Connie pushed her mouth closed. She was formulating her sentence carefully. Trying, as she always tried, not to give too much of herself away in it, when she stopped to think about that very thing. Jesus, I DO do that, dont I? Just when did I start to be so careful? When did I begin to think defensively all the time? Why do I worry about letting people see what I really think and feel? Before she could answer any of her own questions, Connie continued.
"I know its none of my business but I cant help but notice how the two of you relate to each other. If you havent done anything about it, its only a matter of time." She stopped and pulled her gloves off and picked up the bouquet with one hand, crooking her head in the direction of the door they came out of. She finished with, "Its so much easier than everyone thinks, letting go and letting love in. Dont over analyze it, Honey; just go with it. If not, I can guarantee youll look back on this and either hate yourself for being a coward, or laugh with her, years down the road, at all the stupid reasons you waited so long to admit it." She laughed a little and said, "Abby and I are lucky enough to get to laugh about it." She patted the younger woman on her shoulder as they entered the shop. "Dont live your whole life regretting the one time in your life you just didnt have the balls to take what you wanted."
That remark made her angry, and had they not been in the company of Toni and Harley, she would have said something rude and caustic to the older woman. What was all this talk about love and cowardice? For heavens sake, she hardly knew the woman. She didnt know what Connie thought Harley and she meant to each other, but they were nothing like in love. She would have told her too. Until, she looked into Harleys eyes and realized that Connie was right. She was scared.
Im a mess. I havent had this much confusion rattling around my head since I was kid. Ive always known what I was doing and where I was going. She realized she didnt have that anymore. Ever since she arrived here shed been running on presumption, assumption and the status quo, as if here was just like any other place, and all the people here were just like all the others shed ever met, and that was patently wrong. Shed been wrong a lot since that first day. Wrong about the people and wrong about herself. The only right thing in my life is the way Harley makes me feel. Now I just have to spend a little time trying to figure out what to do about it.
The deepening silence was broken when Harley asked her if she minded if they had fast food for lunch.
"No, thatd be fine." She was surprised that her voice sounded so loud.
"In the mood for burgers, chicken or Mexican food?" She smiled and hoped that the younger woman would make the choice for her. Food was the last thing on her mind right now, and the only reason she said anything was remembering the writers need to eat so that she could take her pain pill.
Amazingly, Emily found herself without an appetite. She couldnt remember the last time that happened, and so, she was unable to make a decision about where to eat. She threw it back in Harleys court. "No preference here. Whatever you feel like is fine with me." She hoped she was sounding as perky and non committal as she was pretending, but her mind was just so preoccupied with conflicting thoughts, she wasnt sure if she pulled it off.
Damn. All right, when in doubt, let someone else choose. Thats safe. She picked up her radio and called Cole, asking him to decide. The minute she did it she knew she made a mistake. She forgot that Cole always waited for her to decide and then had whatever she was having. Hed been doing it ever since her first year in college. It was a superstition for him. She was the one who introduced him to his wife, her college dorm roommate. After that, he always avowed that her taste in everything was better than his. Shit. This is getting us nowhere. On the verge of losing her temper, Harley made a quick right turn and pulled into the Burger King.
Both women were grateful that Cole was willing to pick up the conversational ball when they got back to the station.
"Hobie called and said Billy will be fine in a couple of days, nothing more than first degree burns. He said that Mom, getting that water on him right away, did the trick. He should be back at work by day after tomorrow."
Both women made quiet thats good and thank goodness and glad to hear it murmurs while pretending to eat. Cole realized something was up and just kept trying to lighten the atmosphere by keeping up his end of the conversation.
"He also said that Paris came in to see him and shes fine." He grinned at his sister and chucked her on the arm. "He said her head is almost as hard as yours, and he sent her home after changing her bandage.
That got the blondes attention. "Paris? Do you mean Paris Long Arrow? From the Village?" When Cole just nodded while he chewed, she turned to Harley. "What happened to her?"
Damn, this day just gets better and better. Now, how do I tell her about this without freaking her out?
Her head hurt from the stress. Her thoughts were in an uproar since she spoke to Toni. She still wasnt quite over that spectacular spurt of arousal she felt when shed almost kissed the blonde this morning, and she hadnt been able to positively decide who was to blame for the knife in Emilys bed or the blow to Pariss head.
Christ Almighty, I wish someone else were sheriff for a day here.
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