Beneath The Brambles, chapter 33
Dinner turned out better than Harley expected. She was a little leery of what Gabrielle had on her mind after showing up in that touch-me, feel-me, red silk slip, but now, dinner was over and they were sipping coffee and talking like old friends. It felt good.
Shed found the woman more interesting than she expected. It was a little hard to judge exactly how much she might have in common with an underwear model, but so far, theyd had no rough patches in their conversational road and the woman seemed to hold her own in most every subject.
Harley was really beginning to relax and enjoy Gabrielles company when the waiter came by to drop off the check. She halfway anticipated having to argue over whom would pay, but her date just sat there and watched as Harley laid her credit card on the tray.
"Thank you for dinner, Harley, Ive really enjoyed your company."
"It was fun. Im glad you were free, and thank you, by the way for choosing this place. The food was very good." The atmosphere was very nice as well, elegant, quiet and there was very little noisy chatter from tables close by. She smiled at her tablemate as well as the waiter when he came by to process her payment.
"Im glad you enjoyed it." Her chestnut eyes were warm and glowed in the candlelight.
Harley very clearly received the invitation from those eyes for a more intimate evening, but, that just wasnt what she was looking for. It never was, and in addition, she realized that this woman really had shown her a very good time tonight. She wanted to know her better. She had some very vivid memories of Valerie and what had happened when she was persuaded to move into a physical relationship too soon. Reluctantly, she decided to bring the evening to a close.
The waiter returned and thanked them for their patronage. Harley pocketed her card. "I did, very much, but now I think Im going to have to end our evening. I have to leave early in the morning for home and get some work done." She let her face reflect her genuine gratitude and her regret and then, quickly, before she could talk herself out of it, she continued. "Uhm, perhaps I could talk you into coming to see me in my hometown in the near future."
Gabrielle leaned forward and smiled brightly. "Id love to. Brambles sounds like a wonderful place. I so enjoyed your stories about the people and town, and Id like to meet your family." She took the last sip of her water as she started to rise. Harley rose with her and they headed toward the exit. "When would like to arrange it? Ill make sure to clear my schedule for you."
Harley was touched that Gabrielle would go to that kind of trouble for her, but really hadnt bargained on making concrete plans just now. Still, Harley had asked her and didnt want Gabrielle to think she was just putting her off.
As they made their way to the car, Harley decided to just go for it. "Well, my youngest brothers birthday is this weekend. We always have a party for any of the family birthdays. My folks make a point of throwing themed parties. I think its a kind of rebellion for my mother. She was raised in Boston with a very rigid, conservative upbringing and since she left home shes made it a point to cut loose. Anyway, the party is Saturday and this years theme is the Wild West." She grinned and cocked her head. "I know it might sound silly, but we all have a really good time laughing at each others costumes and mom makes some of the best Tex/Mex food in the state." She stopped before getting into Gabrielles car and looked at her over the roof. "I guarantee youll have fun."
Gabrielle laughed. "It sure sounds like it. I wouldnt miss it."
Harley just nodded and got in. As she was buckling her seat belt a vivid image of Emily laughing caught her off guard and it shook her. She remained mostly silent all the way to her fathers apartment, hoping shed done the right thing by inviting Gabrielle to Brambles, but feeling in her heart that she probably hadnt.
Dinner was over at Stephanies house, and though the meal had been good, it wasnt settling in Emilys stomach too well.
When, midway through the meal, Emily had bitten the bullet and asked Stephanie for help in trying to make it up to Harley, she realized that Savvy was completely in the dark. Emily asked Steph to fill Savvy in on all that had been discussed between them before the professor came home. She did, and Emily was surprised when Steph deferred immediately to Savvys judgment of her cousins reaction and how best to proceed. From all Steph said, she and Harley were the best of friends, and it seemed very odd indeed that Stephanie should ask for her lovers advice about the publishers cousin. Though surprised, Emily didnt question it. If Stephanie thought Savvy could help, that was good enough for her.
Hearing the words Savvy had to say wasnt easy, though. The gentle, southern accent was charming, but the truths were hard.
"Emily, Emily, Emily. What were you thinking, girl? Or maybe it wasnt Emily doin the talken, hmn? Maybe it was that well known celebrity author, Ms. Shasta Cutter out there cutting some small town girl down to size, you tink?"
Emily didnt answer. She couldnt. In many ways what Savvy said made a lot of sense. She was just feeling fidgety, ornery and hung over this morning and when it happened, instead of pushing it down and being civil, she threw a tantrum.
"What you need to do, Ms. Emily, is be honest with her. Just be yourself with her. Shell see through anything else and itll hurt her. She doesnt deserve that. She needs to see that youre sincere and youre trying to make amends."
Savvy watched as the blonde digested that and for a brief moment saw clearly what Emilys problem with that advice was.
"Do you know who you are, Emily?" Savvy reached across the table and put her hand over the writers where it clutched her water glass.
Emily once again remained quiet. Stephanie noticed how unusual that was for the writer but didnt say anything to her. "Well, lets clean up here and head to the living room. Emily you just go sit down and Ill make us some coffee."
Emily did as she was told and sat numbly, running over the words Savvy said to her; the same words shed asked herself everyday since coming to Brambles, through her mind. Who are you? What are you? What do you stand for? What makes you feel and react? What makes you cry? What makes you glad? What do you want? Who do you want? Now that one, she was certain she could answer. She really did want Harley and she wanted her for a long time. No quick fling with this one. She knew shed like to have, maybe even love to have, all of her, but she knew too, shed settle for what she could get. The writer knew Harley was that rare a commodity that even having a little of her, was worth a lot.
Now she just had to get up her nerve and apologize and then she had to learn somehow to behave herself. That would be the tough one, she was sure.
Determining that what she had to do was never going to get easier and that in addition, she was missing Harley a lot, she picked up the phone and dialed the Sheriffs office.
"Hi, Cole. Its Emily, may I talk to Harley, please."
She heard the squeak from his chair as he leaned back. "No can do, Emily. Harleys still down in L.A, and wont be back in town till tomorrow. Any thing I can do for you?"
Emily bit her upper lip and felt the misery of not only missing the sheriff, but of missing out on being with her to investigate the case. She remembered the sheriff telling her father at dinner the other night that she felt sure the attack on Polly Pechter was connected to the one on Emily and she felt bad all over again when she realized the woman hadnt included her in her trip south. Especially since she felt if this morning had gone better, she might now been in L.A. with Harley. Spending the night!
Coming out of her thoughts, she said. "Uhm, no thats okay. Nothing that cant wait. Thanks, anyway."
She was about to say her goodnights when Cole interrupted. "Hey, Emily how about you coming over to our house tomorrow night for that dinner I promised you? Sally and I would really like to have you over."
She just shook her head and smiled. There it was again. That damned Bramble charm. "Id love to Cole. What time is good for you? What can I bring?"
"Dont bring a thing but yourself and Ill pick you up around sixish, you just let me know where youre going to be. Call me at the station and let me know and youll get door to door service."
She could tell just by his tone of voice that he was smiling and she had to smile back. "Its a date. Good night Cole."
Shed only just replaced the phone on the charger when Savvy and Stephanie walked into the living room.
As Stephanie set her cup of coffee in front her, Savvy asked. "So, did you two work it out?"
The tall black woman leaned back on the love seat and put her feet up under her as she made room for her lover to lean back into her.
"No, shes not there. Evidently she went down to L.A. and is spending the night. Cole says shes due back tomorrow." She took a sip from her mug. "Maybe thats a good thing. Itll give us both a little time to get past this mornings nastiness and maybe give me time to try to find the words to say."
As she glanced up from her cup, she noticed the small furrow on Stephanies brow and the exchange of questioning looks she shared with her lover.
Steph shook her head. "I dont know really. Its just odd, thats all. I know for a fact that Harley loathes Los Angeles and she avoids it as much as she can. The only time shes ever there is for business, then she makes it a point to get out of town as fast as possible. I just wonder what could have been so important as to make her spend the night." She leaned back against her partner and held her cup in both hands as she took a sip. "Its just not like her. Ive known her to have to attend family business parties down there and leave to drive home at three in the morning."
Emily didnt know enough about the woman to add any comments so she just sat there sipping her coffee and stewing over the abnormality, trying to convince herself that the woman was only there for the sake of the investigation. But her stomach, that had only just stopped feeling pinched from their conversation at dinner, started to seize up again and she was having difficulty believing it.
Later, after Steph gave her a ride back to the Ravensdown home she immediately went in and apologized, as sincerely as she knew how, to Twyla for her behavior last night and her state of being this morning.
Of course, the gracious woman told her it was nothing and not to worry about it, and after a hug good night, dropped her off at her room.
It took until after one that morning before she finally drifted to sleep.
Emily spent the early part of Tuesday with Twyla running errands and the late afternoon writing. Her muse was sitting on her lap, it seemed, and she had a devil of a time finding a place to stop in time to get ready for dinner with Cole and his family.
As soon as he picked her up, he began to regale her with animal stories. By the time they arrived, she was trying hard to keep the names of all the animals she was going to meet straight. Every once in a while shed hear a brief account of his sons or Sally in conjunction with the critters and at least there, she had a face to go with the names.
Cole and Sallys home could have been a cover for a farming magazine, including the wide front porch and the red barn. There was an herb garden growing on the side of the house that extended to what she found out later was the steps to the kitchen door.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, she heard the yips and yowls of several animals, as well as the clattering of lots of paws and claws. As the sounds got closer to the door she began to back up. She didnt have anything against animals, she just wasnt used to having this many of them converge on her en masse.
In seconds a kneeling, smiling, Cole was surrounded by furred things. The mass moving and wriggling too fast for her to see them all, but she guessed it contained six or seven cats of various colors and ages, some with short hair and some long and one she recognized as a pure bred Abyssinian. They mewed and meowed and rubbed up against him competing to see who would be allowed on his lap or they twined endlessly around his legs.
The dogs were easier to see for the most part. She noted at least three mixed breed mutts showing traces of breeds such as Lab, Collie and Shepherd, a Scottie terrier, two Beagles and a tiny, mostly hairless mixed something that might have rat as an ancestor. She smiled at that one. As small as it was, it had a lot of tenacity and managed to scoot in or under the rest of them until it stood on its little back legs with both paws on Coles thigh.
While still smiling at the fur ball trying to drown the deputy in attention, the sound of large paws making their way down the hall got everyones attention. The dogs and cats started to wander off and Cole stood as a dark gray mastiff rounded the corner, stood still and howled.
Then there was silence as if waiting for something. The waiting ended when the prettiest kitten Emily had ever seen walked delicately through the legs of the giant dog and turned just enough to look up at him. The mastiff bent his head and touched noses with her for a moment then she gentiley made her way to the bottom step of the staircase where she ascended, turned and sat. Her head was up, her front paws held her up regally, and her magnificent striped tail was brought around her body in a move so beautiful Busby Berkeley might have choreographed it.
Emily was aware of the big dog now sitting at Coles feet while he patted him on the head and spoke to him, but her attention was on the lovely cat just opposite her.
They stared at each other and for the first time in her life, Emily found herself wanting to be a pet owner. The longer she looked the more she realized this wasnt a kitten. She was just small. Petite would be more appropriate. Her fur was longish and fluffy. It looked incredibly soft and delicate, with stripes in varying shades of gray, beige, white and black. Her face and legs seemed sculpted and fine boned. She had pure white fur from just under her chin in a diamond shape down her chest and her paws were white as well. Her nose was black and her stripes seemed to highlight her vivid green eyes as though a make up artist had done them. Emily was enchanted.
The very ladylike feline cocked her head to one side and opened her mouth. The tiniest sound came out and the mastiff left Cole instantly to go to her. They touched noses once again and then the large dog lay down on the floor just beneath her. She stood and stretched closing her eyes and flexing from nose to fluffy tail, then proceeded to walk across the dogs back, and across the foyer to Emilys feet, placing each foot as though it were glass.
Without even thinking, Emily went to her knees and waited while the elegant little feline stepped up into her lap and rubbed her face against the writers cheek.
It was a salient moment. Emily knew it and didnt understand it, but felt it nonetheless. She began to pet the cat, now curled on her lap and smiled hard at the deep purr she heard. Then she looked up and saw the astonished faces of Cole, his wife Sally and their sons.
"What?" She asked, but in her heart she knew.
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