-- These characters are wholly mine. It is true that Sam and Annie look like our ancient gals, but any other resemblance to any other people, real or fictitional, is strictly coincidental.

Sex -- This is a lesbian romance thriller. There are graphic, but loving, scenes of sex between women. If you're under 18 you're just going to have to wait awhile to read, or if this is illegal where you are, I sincerely extend my condolences.

Violence -- This is a story of violent hatred attacking an innocent gay community. The violence is psychopathic and unsettling, but not overly gory.

Language -- Infrequently, some really scummy people show up in this book, and they use really disgusting language. Even our heroines are driven to cuss now and again. But the purpose is to display certain mind types, and in this, the language is only realistic.

General -- I should probably let you know beforehand that this story deals with bigots and hate crimes. If this is going to be hard for you, you may want to go elsewhere. -- There are hospital scenes dealing with diverse injuries. I am not a member of the medical profession. If the things I have my doctors and nurses do for certain injuries were done by real doctors to real people, it could very well kill them.

Feed the bard -- This is my first attempt at fanfic writing, so your comments would be a big help to me. Thanks.




Sue Hickerson


Annie stopped over with a picnic lunch, but the shop was vacant. The doors were open, Buddy's comic book lay open on the front counter, an engine hung from chains in the garage, but it looked like Sam and Buddy had vanished into thin air. Annie was mystified and worried. She started over to Sam's house when Buddy and Sam drove into the shop's drive in her pickup. Annie went back and stood along side the truck as Buddy hopped out from behind the wheel and came to the passenger's door and opened it. Annie became alarmed. Buddy took Sam's arm and carefully helped her from the cab. She stood stooped over, her face taut with pain.

"What happened? Sam, what happened to you?"

Buddy piped up, "She pulled that darned engine..."

"I'll tell her Buddy." Sam said abruptly.

Buddy closed his mouth. Boy, Sam had been peevish this morning.

"I bumped into something and bruised my ribs. It's nothing."

"Sam..." Buddy said shamefully.

Sam rolled her eyes. "Jesus, Buddy! Go do something constructive!"

Buddy shrugged his shoulders and disappeared into the office.

"So what happened?" Annie asked taking Sam's elbow to support her.

"Nothing. It's nothing."

"What about the engine?"

"Well, holy hell!"

"You know, all I have to do is ask Buddy."

Sam yelled, "Buddy! Did your mother ever tell you you had a big mouth?!"

"My mother told me I had very handsome features."

"So...?" Annie waited.

"Okay, okay. I tried pulling the engine on my Bonneville, and Buddy told me not to, and I did it anyway, and it swung and hit me in the ribs!"

"Oh, honey!" Annie cried sympathetically.

"Buddy took me to the doctor, and he said everything was okay, but I bruised my ribs, and he wrapped them, and now I'm here confessing my stupidity to you, and everything is just fine."

"Did you have them wrapped when you were hit?"

Sam looked at the heavens helplessly.

"Sam, something as heavy as a car engine could have broken your ribs all over again!"

"Please, I have just gone through all this with Dr. Bazen."

"Sam, you're just... you're incorrigible!"

Sam looked piteously at the little nurse. "Annie, please, please. Don't yell at me. I can't even stand up straight. I hurt like hell. Don't yell at me, please."

This poor pathetic figure of Sam touched Annie's heart, just as Sam had hoped it would. "I'm sorry, darling. My poor baby. Come with me. I'm going to take you home and coddle you."


"I'm going to coddle you. You need to be coddled, don't you?"

Sam brightened a bit. "Yeah. Coddling. Yes."

"Just a second." Annie went into the office and gave Buddy his portion of the picnic and told him she was going to take Sam home and put her to bed. Then she came back and took Sam's elbow and helped her to the house where Sam painfully worked her way out of her cover alls and made her way to the couch where she gingerly, painfully, lay down. Buddy and Sam had gotten Dr. Bazen's prescription of pain pills filled, and Annie brought water so Sam could take a couple. Then she pulled out the picnic lunch and cooed over Sam, petting her while Sam lay back and Annie fed her her picnic. Sam discovered that she really enjoyed this coddling when Annie did it. It was funny and fun and, most surprising, deeply comforting. Annie gave her little kisses and ran her fingers through her hair which felt sinfully good. My god, what a nurse! Annie suggested that Sam really shouldn't be alone today. She could spend the night with her in case she needed anything. Sam's eyes shown with that adoring look she got. "I'd like that," she murmured. Under the effects of the medication, Sam finally drifted into sleep, and Annie just looked at the beautiful face. What a rich pleasure this was. Freed from the practitioner/patient bond, she had enjoyed doing every whim of her heart with Sam. She could sit here and gaze at the beautiful face for hours. An urge swept her to kiss the very corner of the soft lips, and she revelled in leaning forward and doing it. After a while, she went to the bookcase and found a lesbian novel and curled up in a chair near Sam and started reading.

It was six when Sam finally woke up. She opened her eyes and there was Annie sitting in the chair by her. A wave of peacefulness washed over her. "Hi."

Annie looked up and smiled. "Hi, beautiful. You had a good nap."

"Yeah. Pretty decadent."

"It's the meds."

Sam's muscles shifted subtley. "I have to get up, but I don't think I can move."

"Here..." Annie came over, wrapped an arm under Sam's back and lifted her up. Then, because she could, she kissed the dark hair so close beneath her lips. "I like not being your nurse. I can kiss you when we touch like this. In the hospital I thought I would die wanting to kiss you, to touch you."

"Did you feel like that? I did, too."

"Are you hungry? I'll make you something to eat."

"What time is it, anyway?"

"Little after six."

"Oh, damn."

Sam looked concerned and Annie's expression quickly mirrored hers. "What it it?"

"Well, at seven I have something... um..."

Annie's eyes looked at her questioningly.

"I'm having some people over... and..."

"Is it something you can't tell me about again?"

"I'm sorry, Annie. I'm afraid it wouldn't be safe for you to know."

Annie's features lit with curiosity and alarm.

"I'll only be a couple hours. Maybe you could..."

"Sure, I have to go home and pick up some things for tonight. It's okay. I'm starting to get curious, is all."

"I'm sorry, Annie."

"No, it's fine. It's just like every once in a while you have to be alone to turn into a pumpkin for a while or something."

"Yeah. I'm a shape shifter like Odo; I have to go sleep in my spitoon," Sam laughed.

"Let's just make sure you can get off the couch before I leave."

Sam had to lean over the arm of the couch and roll herself off and up with a brief hiss of pain, but she made it, and took Annie's hand and kissed her lips. "Thank you."

"Nothing to thank me for." Annie leaned up and kissed her. "I'll see you at ten, alright?" They kissed again.

"Ten." And again the sweet lips met. "Parting really is sweet sorrow, isn't it?" Sam smiled.

Annie backed away, the two lovers reaching out their clasped hands and letting their fingers slip apart. A sweet sorrow, indeed. She tore herself away and left.


At ten, Annie pulled up outside Sam's house. A car was pulling away from the drive and two more were still parked at the curb. She thought the driver driving off was Peter Houston. Sam answered the door with Mare and El at her side looking grim and Darnell and Harry behind them. A round of hellos were shared as Mare, El, Darnell and Harry left and Annie came in. Sam smiled and took Annie into her arms. "I'm so glad you're back."

It was hard for Annie to keep her mind from wondering what this gathering of Boffler's gay community had been about. She scrambled for something to say. "How are your ribs?"

"They hurt. I didn't take any pills because of the meeting, but I need some now. Are you tired? I think I'm about ready for bed."

"Yeah, sounds good."

Sam picked up some pills in the kitchen and moved slowly up the stairs with Annie.

"How was your meeting?"

"Pretty good. I think we got some things worked out."

"Good." Annie's mind started churning. Eddie and Peter ran the martial arts center and Sam was their star pupil. And Mare, she knew, was also a regular there. Had she just seen an assembly of Boffler's martial arts specialists?

They made it upstairs and Sam entered her room waiting at the door for Annie. "You can sleep in the guest room if you want, but I would love it if you'd sleep with me. I mean... just sleep. Just snuggle."

Annie smiled. "It felt good being with you last night. I missed waking up with you, though. Will you wake me up with you tomorrow?"

Sam's eyes glowed. "Yes."

"And kiss me good morning?"

Sam almost started to pant. "I'll be sure to."

Annie's eyes twinkled. "Then I'll sleep with you tonight." She slipped up to Sam kissing her lips slowly and sweetly. "We should just snuggle, though." Sam was actually sweating. She nodded her head in sober agreement. Annie started lifting the big T-shirt off Sam. "It actually would be better if I was with you. Guest room's a little too far away if you need something." Annie grinned shyly knowing that Sam knew that even though what she said was true, it was not the reason she wanted to sleep with Sam.

Sam wasn't sure what to think. "Yeah. I feel like being close to you tonight. I don't know... I just feel... nervous. It makes me feel so peaceful when you hold me."

Annie stepped up close to Sam. "I'll hold you, then," she whispered. She took Sam's hand and led her to the bed. She stood on tiptoes to kiss Sam, and as soft lips explored each other, Annie undid the snap of Sam's jeans and lowered the zipper. Sam pulled away just far enough to give Annie a look, eyebrow arched uncertainly. "Hey, I'm here to help you, Sam," Annie smiled and went back to their kiss. Annie felt Sam's hand slowly pulling her shirt out of her shorts, and then Sam's hand wandered under her shirt up along her back, and the sweetness of the touch on her skin melted Annie. She deepened her kiss, expressing the warm pleasure she felt. Sam felt her heart soar. This had to be the greatest pleasure she had ever known, worlds beyond anything she'd ever felt before. She couldn't get enough of Annie's lips and tongue, of her body and hands moving against her. She wrapped her arms around the little blond and pulled her close, drinking her in through her lips. They came up for air without ending their embrace, only clutching each other hungrily, hands exploring, caressing. Finally they just stood and held each other breathing heavily.

"I've never felt so good in my life," Sam sighed huskily.

"I want to kiss you forever, Sam. I want a lifetime just to kiss you."

Sam stepped out of her jeans and briefs, and Annie watched as naked skin appeared. The length of the tall body stood before her and she could not keep her eyes off it. Sam's incisions still showed red, but the skin was smooth and creamy and Sam's beautiful breasts cried out to be cradled and tasted.

Annie pulled her own clothes off and watched Sam's eyes take her figure in worshipping what she saw. She stood on tiptoe and sucked in Sam's lower lip, released and nipped it, then took Sam's hand and pulled her into bed after her. Annie snuggled in to the long body beside her feeling the full expanse of skin on skin for the first time. Desire inflamed her, shot through with love and passion. She tangled her legs with Sam's and both started tasting the sweet flesh they could reach. Annie sucked and nibbled the flesh around Sam's nipples feeling Sam's good hand move on her back, slide down her ribs and move around to find her breasts. Sam's fingers massaged the pink nipples delicately and Annie moaned as the pleasure in her groin exploded. She took Sam's firm nipple in her mouth and rolled it on her tongue, melting at the sound of Sam's moan.

Sam's moan! Annie pulled herself up quickly to Sam's face. "Sam, are you okay?"

Sam's voice was weak and breathy. "Oh, god, I'm so good." She leaned in to Annie's lips hungrily reaching to capture them, and Annie was only too glad to meet those lips passionately. Tongues clashed. Hands kneaded flesh all over each other's bodies until Annie could wait no longer. She caught Sam's hand and drew it in between her legs, moaning deeply when Sam's fingers delicately touched her sensitive, throbbing clit. Sam moved down Annie's body, kissing a trail to the patch of curls and onto the swollen nub where her fingers had been. Her tongue took over and she felt Annie's hips rocking under her mouth. Moans and whimpers tore from Annie, driving Sam mad with need. She worked her tongue over the areas of Annie's building climax until Annie's fingers tangled in her hair, pulling her close, and hips and thighs convulsed and trembled with climax.

Slowly Sam withdrew her mouth and lifted herself back up to her pillow, the throb between her legs urgent, only to have Annie slip down and take her quickly, powerfully, covering her need with urgent lips and tongue. It took only moments and Sam's back was arching in a powerful orgasm of her own, a strangled groan issuing from her throat. She thought the orgasm would never end as Annie worked delicately on her down below, but slowly the quaking settled and Annie crawled back up and sprawled beside her.

They lay exhausted, their heavy breathing slowly evening.

After a long moment, Sam said, "That wasn't supposed to happen."

"Now you know my darkest secret. I have no will power."

"We were a little like rabbits."

Annie rolled over and kissed Sam's lips. "That felt incredible."


"I'm still having an orgasm."

"Really?" Sam rolled on her side to look at Annie.

"Oh, yes."

The thought sent tremors of arousal rolling through her again. She rolled over above Annie and began kissing her. All over again, this time slowly, in journeys of languid, white hot exploration, they took each other and fell back satiated. Before they could recover to speak, they had fallen asleep wrapped sweetly around eack other.


Sam stopped over at officer Dave Hueygen's house. He came to the door in an apron with a dish towel slung over his shoulder and grinned at the the tall mechanic who was grinning at him. "I'm Mom today," he laughed. "Molly has a meeting tonight. I'm just finishing up dinner dishes." An elfin two year old tangled herself up in his legs, and he hoisted her into his arms. "Look who's here, Mitz. You remember Sam."

"Hi, Mitzie. You're getting big, aren't you, sweetheart."

"Come on in, Sam. What brings you over?"

Dave waved Sam into the house and led her to the kitchen where he pulled two beers out of the refrigerator and took Sam out onto the back patio where they settled into lawn chairs.

"Alan Barton got hit last night by crazies. They tore his house up."

"Yeah, I heard about it at the station today."

"Eddie Wing happened to be out on the street at that time, and saw a cop car pull up at the house and a couple cops go in."

"Barton said that two guys dressed like cops did the job. But they weren't on our force. I didn't know a cop car was involved."

"It was a Boffler cruiser. Number 109."

"Yeah, 109. One of our guys, Paul Wagoner, said his car was swiped last night. Paul drives 109. He'd stopped into the Mini Mart to use the bathroom and left the keys in the car. He walked back to the station and got somebody to drive him around. They found it abandoned down by the park. We didn't have any idea it had been used in a crime."

"Davey, isn't it awfully strange that Wagoner left his keys in the cruiser?"

"Sure as hell isn't protocol. He got his ass reamed. Course, he was just going to pee. You concerned about Wagoner being involved with the crazies?"

"Where did they get their uniforms?"


"How did they know they could get hold of a cop car and masquerade as police? Isn't it pretty fucking coincidental that Wagoner left his keys in the car right on the night that all our people were hit, and these two crazies knew just where and when to steal it to do their job?"

Hueygens wrestled with the two year old on his lap while he considered the implications. "Wagoner, huh?"

"Does he hate gays?"

"Wagoner hates everybody."

"Watch him, will you, Davey?"

"Yeah. I sure will. Makes me pretty mad to think that one of us could be part of what's going on."

"Maybe he's not the only one."

Davey nodded his head grimly. "I'll keep my eyes and ears open. If we've got a rat on the force, we'll get him, Sam. Thanks for the information."

They sat talking about the growing trouble in Boffler until Sam drained her beer and bid Davey goodnight, thanking him for sniffing around carefully for dirty cops. "I thank god that you're a good cop, Davey, and a good friend." She stepped away from the house into the darkening night.



The crowd at the softball game was raucous and fun loving. Spectators affectionately heckled the players on the field. Annie and the team were cheering on their third batter. Harry, the lead off, was at second, Mel had popped out, and Nell was up. Sam was on the field, coaching behind third, talking it up as Nell stepped to the plate. They were playing the Prairie Flowers, eternally the last team in every season's standings. The Prairie Flowers looked at softball as a good excuse to get together and party. Sam's team was expected to blow them away. Nell took the first couple balls, then blasted the third pitch down center field past the second baseman. Harry took off from second, Sam waving her on around the base and toward home. Harry crossed the plate standing, Nell made second, and Annie came up to bat. She ran through Sam's teaching like a mantra in her mind. The first pitch was high and outside. She could see that clearly. She could tell the difference between every ball and strike as it sizzled over the plate, she just had trouble hitting anything. Step into it. Hip turn. The next one looked good and she swung into it and felt it impact against the bat. My god, it was slicing through the grass out past the first baseman! She shot down the field and across first as the ball came in to the pitcher who swung to tag her only to catch air as Annie flew by. She was on base! She'd hit the ball! In the dugout, the team was going wild. She looked across at Sam who waved and grinned from ear to ear. Annie whooped in celebration. She could feel it in her bones, give her a few more games and she would have this game down cold. She was a great athlete, her body picking up and mastering sports quickly. She loved riding and rodeoing and even more her other high school sport of ice hockey where she had been a fiesty, jubilating competitor. Now here was another challenge to tackle, and she revelled in it. Rita was up behind her slamming a high fly back against the fence. Annie kept her eyes on Sam who kept waving her on, around second toward third where Sam signaled her to slide. She dove for the base and felt her fingers contact the bag before the Flowers third baseman reached down for the tag. "Safe!" shouted the umpire, and Annie leaped up wiping the dust off the front of her. Sam clapped her on the back. "Nice run, Slugger."

"Look how dirty I am! I didn't know this was such a dirty sport."

"You scared of getting dirty?!"

"Just not used to it."

"Didn't you get dirty falling off horses?"

"I didn't fall off 'em," Annie grinned.

Annie had dust on her nose and cheek. She looked adorable. "I'll be sure and keep a whisk broom in my pocket so I can whisk you off when you run by."

The score was twelve to nothing and the Prairie Flowers were getting tipsy when the picketers came in the third inning. A group of thirty people pulled into the parking lot piling out of various cars and marching directly onto the field stopping play at both diamonds. They carried signs saying, 'Hide Your Abomination', 'Death Is the Wages of Sin', 'Homosexuality is Perversion'. They stood silently on the field holding their signs high for the unsympathetic crowd to see. Boos poured out of the stands. Sam and the Flowers' coach approached the man they recognized as the pastor of The Blood of the Lamb congregation, a storefront church which sported a terribly bloody rendition of the crucifixion as it's out front logo. They tried to convince the pastor to lead his flock off their field, but the old minister silently stood his ground his eyes gleaming fire and brimstone at the two. A couple Flowers came on the field and took elbows and tried to lead the picketers off but fell back quickly when one picketer tore his elbow away and assumed an aggressive stance. The spectators finally decided this was going to end, and piled onto the field, pushing picketers back toward the parking lot. Players piled onto the field trying to restrain the spectators. Someone had thought to call the cops, and sirens sounded just as placards started coming down on unguarded heads and shouts rose up from both sides. Squad cars pulled into the lot and cops waded into the fray, pulling combatants apart and finally convincing the picketers to disperse since they had no permit to assemble and would be charged with disturbing the peace and other charges which the cops made up on the spur of the moment just to try to get the crazies to move along. The field cleared off, the crowd resumed its place with a cheer, and the game continued to its lopsided conclusion. All parties then retired to the Rattler and other bars around town depending on their orientation. Crazies cruised the streets again, shouting the slogans that had been on the picketers' placards. Again a system of rides was set up for people walking. After that night, the college set up a volunteer taxi service for patrons of the bar. A fight broke out two doors down from the bar, and Sam ran from the bar getting into the middle of it as she tried to pull the brawlers apart. Again the cops were called to come haul the offenders off. Sam hurt her ribs and she and Annie decided to go home after the evening of frustration and anger and cloister themselves in the quietude and peace of each other's embraces. It had been a wonderful and a terrible day, but hell faded away and heaven descended upon the tall mechanic and the little nurse as they sat on the couch watching a movie, eating popcorn, their legs entangled, teasing each other and kissing.


Henry Trent sat cleaning his shotgun, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, one eye squinting in the smoke, lecturing his young, dumb buddy on the fine art of stirring people up to kill homos.

"Ya see, Booger, ya got to make 'em mad. Stir 'em up. Give 'em some reasons to hate 'em, then just let 'em go git their guns and start shootin'. You take Mac Hildebrand. Now Mac, he loved a girl who left him 'cause she decided she liked women better." A far away, mean look came into Henry's eyes that scared Booger to see. "That's a real killer, Booger, love a girl and find out she's a pervert queer." The look passed and Henry looked back at his little buddy with a twinkle in his eye. "I been workin' on old Mac. All about how low and sneaky dykes is. Like to make men love 'em and then break men's hearts 'cause they hate 'em so. It's sport to dykes. It's what they laugh about when they git together, all the men whose hearts they broke. An' Mac, one of these days, he's gonna git hisself a big ol' gun and go blow some lezzie's head off."

Booger giggled.

"And all this rabble rousing we're doing right now?"

"Yeah..." The youngster hung on every word.

"Well, it's just preparation, see." Henry chuckled and shouted, "I tell ya, I'm gonna write me a book! This here we're doing now, it's just preparation, cause you got to prepare the soil for the seeds of hate to grow. You gotta make life hell for everybody 'til they're sick of it and keep pointing and shouting in a loud voice that it's them unnatural gays are causin' it. There's a lot of crazy people in the world, Booger. And they're the ones finally git their guns and do the killin'. And that's the beautiful thing about it. 'Cause you never dirty your hands. You just rile up the crazies and point at who they're s'posed to hurt. They'll kill whoever you want 'em to."

The front screen door of Henry's house slammed open and Alvin Dick slithered inside and dropped into a sweatstained easy chair. He took a swig of beer out of his bottle and reached out his foot and kicked Henry's leg lightly.

"Hey, Trent"

"Whazzup, crazy man?" Henry looked at Booger and winked.

"You know your girlfriend?"

"Sam Adams?"


"What about her?"

"She got herself a little pussy."

Henry laid down his shotgun and eyed Alvin with a grin that didn't make it to his eyes. "You're kiddin' me."

"Saw them at the bar last night."

Henry took a final drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out. "Who is she?"

"Don't know. Little blond. Hot."

"Huh... She don't normally take women in Boffler. Keeps 'em out of town."

"Well, she's got her some pussy now."

Henry reached for his beer can on the floor at his feet and finished it off, thinking the matter over. He belched and got to his feet. "Come on, Booger. Let's you an' me go do a little detecting. Sam Adams just give me a present, didn't she?"


It didn't take long. Henry had his contacts. In two days he lay sprawled on his torn couch, looking at the Polaroid of Annie O'Shea walking out of the hospital in her cute little nurse's outfit, and fingering a scrap of paper with her address written on it. He laughed and revelled in his thought. I'm gonna break yer heart, Sam Adams.


The Sunday for Peace was going to be that Sunday, and the usual suspects sat around Linley and Carol's livingroom hammering out the final details. They talked while they worked.

Carol said, "Does anyone feel like this thing is spreading?"

"Yes!" El responded. "Those people at the game."

Mare shook her head. "What would have happened if the cops wouldn't have come?"

"There'd of been a hell of a big fight," Sam offered.

"And we would have started it," Mare sighed.

"Whoa, no... They started it! We didn't come on the field in the middle of their game!" El corrected.

"But we started the pushing and shoving," Mare said.

"They deserved it! They deserved a good kick in the pants!" El argued to her lover.

Linley held up her hands. "El, bite your lip. We can't get violent! We can't! That's just the thing that will turn this whole town against us. It's probably what 'they' want us to do."

El settled back darkly but silently, and Linley went on, "We have to stay peaceful and constructive. We have to keep building the bonds of fellowship that this turmoil is putting at risk. We have to preach and practice love. We have to ignite the plain and simple love in people's hearts or we're not going to get through this. At our big rally next month, we have to have every preacher and teacher and legislator and dignitary we can scrape together here in Boffler telling everybody that violence is intolerable and brother and sisterhood is imperative for the health of this nation. And we can't profess this if our hands are just as dirty as the lunatics."

"Senator Wigston and Congressmen Grange are going to write letters to the paper next week, and I've asked them if they'll come to the big rally," Julia put in. "I've gotten no response from Buckley. I think he will simply not support gays under any conditions. But neither will he come and speak for violent crazies. At least they won't be able to put together the front of politicos we will."

"And another thing," Linley said. "The press is in town. The Montana Star spoke to me about the bigot speakers who've been speaking in the campus soapbox plaza."

"He talked to me, too, about the guys getting me," Sam added.

"Oh, great!" El growled. "Publicity all over the state! That'll bring every crazy in Montana right down on top of us."

"And it will rally a lot of statewide support for us," Linley said. "I think the Star wants to do some investigating around here."

'Hey," Mare piped, "What's going on at the militia encampment? Have you guys seen the posters?"

"Yeah," Sam lit with interest. "Some sort of weekend rally? Does that have something to do with what's going on around here?"

"It's the week right before our rally."

"We should tell the Star to send somebody up there," Annie said.

"Hell, we should go!" Mare shouted.

"They'd never let us in, Mare," Sam said. "They all know we're lesbian feminists, for gods' sake. Just who they want at their rally. They'd kick us out at the door."

Linley piped up over the voices, "I'll tell the Star reporter that the militia rally might shed some light on what's happening. At least we might get some feedback through him."

Julia, in her methodical way, brought the rambling group back to order. "We still need slogans for posters and banners for next week."

El couldn't keep the sneer off her face. "Bigots: Eat Shit And Die."

Mare stretched out on the floor, her hands behind her head. "Love Your Neighbor. The Greatest of These is Love. Love Conquers All."

Annie said, "Love and Let Love. Close Mouth, Open Mind."

"Bigots: Get Bent." El growled. "Sorry, I've been like this all day."

By ten the committee's work was done and everybody staggered out the door.

Annie had her car from work, and Sam had her truck, and the two stood in between the vehicles talking quietly. They decided to spend some time away from each other not seeing each other until the rally picnic that Sunday. "It might be a good idea if we cooled it a little," Sam conceded. "We don't seem to have any brakes when we're together." Annie had leaned in against her and lightly kissed her cheek. "Yeah, let's take some time for romance. There's too much fun in wining and dining a new lover. Let's romance each other for a while." Sam's eyes brightened. "Ooo." In the privacy of the night shadows of Linley and Carol's acreage, they kissed goodbye and parted. Sam was glad they were taking a step back. Maybe it would take the attentions of the crazies off Annie. But she knew her mind would be on Annie every minute of the days, and it was.


The sun was setting and the shadows were long across the lawn of the town square. Linley was pleased with the crowd which assembled for the Sunday of Peace picnic rally in support of Boffler gays and human rights. They estimated a crowd of about five hundred people. Almost two thirds of this were students from Barton college. It was a sweet fact that young college kids felt so strongly about human rights that they came out to help in causes of right and wrong. Sam had always loved the college people, faculty and students. In a way, Linley had saved her when she was young, and the two shared a special friendship. And the college kids adored Sam, all the lesbian coeds having crushes on her as they came to know her through her patronage of college events and lesbian events and, of course, the bar. She made it a point to get to know the young women, often providing counsel that helped them through difficult coming out passages. But as heart warming as it was for the gay and lesbian leaders of the town to look over the crowd and see strong support from campus, it was the support of the townies that was crucial. And it looked to Linley, as she murmured comments to Sam and Julia, that the non-gay element of townies present was not strong, maybe seventy-five people out of a population of four thousand. Well, it was a beginning. And it looked impressive on the face of it. It would make some good pictures for the paper.

Local officials spoke on behalf of calm and tolerance. The state congressman spoke. The governor had conspicuously not come nor sent a representative. Several local church persons had come, and the Unitarian minister from Wallace had given a surprisingly stirring plea for brotherhood, which brought a long, impassioned cheer from the throats of everyone assembled. It was the spark that turned the get together into a true rally for human rights. Linley watched the faces of the assembled crowd and knew that hearts were fired in the fundamental cause of love and fellowship. That was what was needed for the spark lit here tonight to go out and kindle others in community. Bumper stickers and buttons and ribbons were available for people, the buttons and ribbons adorned the chests of most people there.

That morning, the ministers from six local churches had lead their congregations in sermon and prayer to stay the hands of violence and extend the hand of fellowship in these times. The committee who had set up the Sunday of Peace had put on their Sunday best and gone to monitor all the churches, those speaking in support of gays' human rights and those not. Sam and Annie had gone to one of the fundamentalist churches in town and heard a scathing sermon on the evils of homosexuality and the damnableness of those who practice it. "Any Christian who forgives the practice of such unholy evil is himself a sinner in the eyes of Almighty God who tolerates no wavering of faith in our pure and saintly worship of Him and His kingdom. Tolerance of homosexuality is a slap in the face of God and Jesus who made nature and nature's way. Homosexuality is the most obvious evidence of Satan's mischief in God's Creation. Homosexuals are made through Satan's tampering. They are the very sons and daughters of Satan, displaying in their unnatural acts the depravity of their unholy creator! They are a scourge already gripping this liberal nation and God will punish those among us who preach tolerance of such abomination! Let it not be tolerated! Let it be by my hand, O Lord, that judgement is meted out, and by the hands of this congregation!" Sam had nearly gotten up and left the church at this point, except that Annie, who was taping the sermon, was intent on taping everything this fire and brimstone preacher was inciting his flock to do.

Mare and El had gone to one of the more moderate churches whose pastor spoke on behalf of tolerance. "In times of trial and turmoil, whose voice shall lead me? I shall listen to the voice of my Lord, who shall lead me in His paths. Lord, today, when we come together to consider the violence that is rearing its head in our community, what is your teaching for us? "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." That is the teaching of the Lord. Many who came before Christ preached the hatred of homosexuals, but the Lord preached love and unity. Many who came after Christ preached the hatred of homosexuality, but the Lord preached love and brotherhood. Jesus came with a new testament. The brilliant insight that only love can preserve humanity through the trials of life. And many teachings of old testament fell away and died. And since Jesus, many have tried to bring old and new teachings into The Word, but all such teachings fall away and die. Only the Living Word survives time eternal. And The Word teaches nothing about the sin of homosexuality. It teaches us only, to love, forgive, seek unity. O Lord, let us learn your lessons in our hearts, and celebrate your greatness through our love and brotherhood. This is thy will, and thy will be done! Let it be done by my hand, Lord, and by the hands of this congregation!"

Over coffee that evening, when organizers gathered to evaluate the day, Annie played the segment of sermon that had nearly propelled Sam from the church, and Mare and El, amazed, cited their pastor and the eerily similar passage he had preached. Goose bumps arose generally. One voice calling for hands to do hate, the other for hands to do love. The opposition in Boffler appeared to them as a great panorama of a conflict as ancient as human thought itself. It was, simply, the battle of Good and Evil.

The local and state politicos spoke at the afternoon picnic, calling for peace and prudence. Ribbons and buttons and bumper stickers were handed out. And an atmosphere of unbreachable brotherhood lifted the spirits of the people present.

The affair ended and the crowd started breaking up. Annie looked from the group she had rallied with and, to her delight, saw Nettie and Tam and a couple other nurses, walking and talking together. She ran up to them. "Hey, you guys! You came."

"Oh, honey," Tam said excitedly, "You couldn't have kept me away. I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Tam sported three buttons on her front, and a handful more in her hands along with bumper stickers.

"Tam got all your hardware," Nettie said. "She's going to make everyone on her block put on a bumper sticker."

"I am. I'm going door to door! How can people do this to each other?! We have to come out and show we hate this!"

Annie reached over and hugged Tam feeling a wave of affection for her. "You're great, Tam!"

"How's Sam?" Nettie asked.

Annie blinked in surprise. Did Nettie know about her and Sam? She hadn't said a thing at work, understanding the don't ask, don't tell unspoken policy that suffused the hospital environment. "She's doing fine." She answered honestly. "Her ribs are finaly getting better, and her cast is due to come off next week."

"Well, take good care of her, Annie. Otherwise that woman's going to get right back into trouble."

The group laughed and the nurses moved off down the walk.

Tam shot Nettie a sideways glance. "Is there something going on between Annie and Sam?"

"Annie loves her," Nettie said without a blink. "She fell in love with her back in the hospital. I've never seen two people more lovestruck. Sam I can read like a book, and I figured when Annie started glowing whenever she came out of the room, both of them were gone. Don't spread it around, though, you guys. Now isn't the time for everyone to know about Annie."

Nettie's concern for her friend was chilling for the other three who realized the implications for their colleague in this time of violence.


Sam stopped in to Vernon Quigley's electronics shop with a question. "Vernon, if I want to record the voices in a room about, say, fifteen by twenty feet, and I only want to record when there's some noise, and I want to hide my equipment, what do I need?"

The meek fellow scratched his balding head with sudden interest considering who was talking to him and the nature of the request she was making. "You gonna be there or not?"

"No. I won't be there."

"You want to bug somebody."

"Well... yeah. I guess I do."

"That's illegal, you know, Sam."

"Well, hypothetically. I'm just speaking hypothetically."

Vernon's nerves started humming. "Okay. Well... do you want to record there on the site and go in and pick up the tape later, or do you want something that will broadcast everything to someone off site who's listening in?"

"Cost is of some concern."

"Then you have to go in and pick up the tape. I got here a really great little set up no bigger than a popsicle."

He pulled the equipment from a display shelf behind him and handed it to Sam, explaining how it worked. "Now it will record up to two hours of sound. That's all you get. But it's battery will keep it operational for a month or so. So you can pick and choose how often you want to retrieve it. Daily, weekly... You just hide it somewhere in the room. High is better than low. Too low and all you get is feet scuffling around on the floor."

"Hypothetically, can you get normal conversation pretty good on this?"

"Sure can."


"You can get voices that are pretty quiet. Surprisingly, the most distortion comes with loud sounds, loud voices. But I'll bet you can get whatever you'd want with this."

"Okay. Give me two."

Vernon ran a hand over his unruly hair. His pulse started beating faster. Something was up. Intrigue. Spy stuff. His Walter Mitty heart started swelling excitedly. "You want to really buy two of these recorders to only hypothetically bug somebody?"

Sam looked him straight in the eye. "Yes."

Vernon smiled with a sparkle in his eye. "No law against that."

Sam paid him and scooped her new purchases up happily.

Vernon looked after her as she left the shop. Bet this had something to do with the anti-gay violence going on. Leave it to Sam to start prowling around on her own. He hoped the tall mechanic wouldn't go getting herself into any more trouble.


Sam and Darnell crouched in the underbrush surveying the old shack that sat back in a small straggly clearing in the middle of the old forest that covered the hills around Bogg's Holler.

"Doesn't look like anybody's home," Darnell whispered.

"Good. I'll just go sneak this baby inside, and we're ready to roll."

"Sam, if Henry drives up, how'm I supposed to alert you?"

Sam settled back down in the cool, earthy scented foliage, considering this. "Can you sound like a crow?"

Darnell gave it a try.

"Darnell, they don't actually say, Caw. They sort of..." Sam did her impression.

Darnell was impressed. "That's pretty good." He tried again, and realized by the look on Sam's face that he hadn't mastered it yet. "I can sound like an owl."

"Owls aren't out during the day."

"How about a turkey?" Darnell did his turkey gobble, which caused Sam to laugh out loud.

"Stick to the crow. You know, Darnell, all us Protectors should practice up a crow's call. We need a signal for what we're doing. Good idea."

"Let me just practice it one more time," Darnell said. He made something close to a credible sound, and Sam headed into the clearing to place the bugging device in Henry Trent's old shack. Old memories came back to her from days gone by. The shack was as she remembered it, and she knew just where she wanted to place the bug. In five minutes she was dashing back across the clearing and into the underbrush. The two comrades high fived each other and slipped into the shadowed trees and back to the car they secreted in the woods down below.


Next stop was Henry's ramshackle place on the outskirts of town. They drove by once and saw Henry's truck was parked in the drive, so they went to the Rattler and played a game of pool and had a beer. On the second drive by, the place looked vacant, so they parked Darnell's car a few blocks back on the edge of town, and climbed a fence into one of the wheat fields that surrounded Boffler's flat land. They headed all the way through the field to the woods that rose up behind it and hiked along the tree line the mile around to the far side of Henry's place. Trent's pickup was still absent, so Sam ran to the back of the house and let herself in through an old coal chute that led into the musty basement. Without light, it was hard for her to orient herself. She had spent time here, too, long ago, and slowly it came back to her. She found the steps and climbed them to the kitchen and walked into the livingroom. The room stunk of the trash that cluttered it. Chief among the scents was rotting beer from the cans and bottles strewn about the place. She looked around for somewhere to hide the bug. A furnace vent opened up halfway up one wall, and she pulled out a Swiss army knife and set to work on the screws. Being careful not to disturb the matting of cobwebs, hair and dust that encrusted the vent, she lifted the screen away and slipped the recorder into the dusty duct. She had gotten one screw back in when God's weirdest crow started screaming, "Caw! Caw! Caw!" She cussed softly and went to work with intense focus. She heard the truck drive in and the door slam. She left the screw halfway out and ran for the basement, stumbling across the earthen floor and leaping up, pulling herself back out the coal chute. She stopped, flattened against the side of the house. Henry was probably inside now. He would probably come into the kitchen and grab a beer first thing. She edged around the back of the house over to the side where Darnell was hidden fifty feet away in the scrub at the foot of the woods. On this side she knew were a couple of bedrooms. Henry would probably not be there. Probably. She drew a deep breath and ran for it, sprinting across the straggly lawn and throwing herself into the undergrowth at Darnell's feet. They lay motionless for endless moments. No one came out of the house, so they gathered themselves again and crept into the cover of the woods.

On the way back to the car, Darnell asked her how his secret signal had been. Sam snorted. "Well, it was better than just shouting, 'Sam, Henry's walking in the door!' so I'm not going to complain."


They lay together on the couch, Annie sprawled on top of Sam, talking quietly. Annie was drowsy, and the sound of Sam's quiet voice and the resonance she could feel through her chest with the low tones, almost had her drifting off. Sam dreamily ran her fingers through Annie's hair, and listened to the little nurse's voice get drowsier and drowsier until it disappeared in deep, even breathing. Sam smiled. This was heaven on earth. She continued to run her finger's through silky blond hair, tickling the shell pink ear, kissing blond tresses near her lips. Annie jerked and lifted her head quickly. "Did I fall asleep?" Sam chuckled and caused Annie to rocked gently on top of her. "You're funny, you know?"

"Sorry. Must be sleepier than I thought."

"Well, you've been up since four."

"Yeah. Ready to sleep in tomorrow."

"Why don't you lay your head back down and go back to sleep."

Annie snuggled back against the muscular shoulder on which she had been lying. "No, I want to be awake with you. I don't want to miss a moment."

"I love you, sweetheart."

Annie lifted her head again, green eyes looking into blue. "That's the first time you've said that." She smiled.

"That I love you?"


"Isn't the first time I've thought it." Sam smiled back.

Annie slid herself up Sam's body and tasted soft lips. "I love you, too." She kissed her again. "I love loving you."

Sam pulled her down for a kiss full of passion. She rolled the little nurse over onto the couch and lay above her, dipping down for hungry lips and tongue. She lifted a hand to touch the breast of her beautiful lover and heard Annie moan. Sam rose and offered her hand to help Annie up, leading her up the stairs, into the bed room, kissing her while their trembling fingers undressed each other and tickled over naked flesh. So sweet, so tantalizing. Sam lifted her lover up and laid her down on the bed, moving to cover her skin with her own long body. Sam's lips burned down Annie's throat licking and nipping, stopping to feel the gentle beating at the pulse point before nipping gently and moving lower. The side of that perfect breast. She sunk her lips into its softness and kissed deeply. Around now the gentle lower slope, kissing the crease underneath, running the tip of her tongue up to the nipple which contracted at her touch. She took it in her mouth feeling its hardness on her lips. She sucked and rolled the morsel on her tongue, massaging it deeply until Annie groaned, and she moved over to lavish her love on the other breast. The thought of the treasure that lay below stirred Sam on. She trailed hot kisses down Annie's side and into the cup of her hip by the soft curls, tickling the soft skin with her lips. She raked her teeth up the flesh to the little blond's navel which she licked and kissed and nipped. Then down again, into the soft curls kissing the mound deeply. She opened Annie's legs and moved with lips and fingers down the thighs and up to kiss around the soft folds at the peak of Annie's legs, finally settling a kiss on the hard nub of Annie's need which made the little blond gasp a moan. Sam ran her tongue down the folds, parting the velvet lips, finding the drenched opening and kissing it, licking a path up again to take the revealed nub with her hungry tongue. Annie grabbed Sam's dark hair and held her close so she would not slip away again from where she needed her so desperately. Jolts of desire rose higher till Annie begged for Sam to enter her, and the thrusts deep inside brought her explosively over the edge. She trembled with delicate convulsions of pleasure and Sam came up and wrapped her arms around her cradling her closely, bending over her and kissing her gasping lips.

The pleasure was intense, but slowly it ebbed. Annie nuzzled her face over Sam's cheek. Dark hair fell on her face. She drew Sam's head down positioning her ear above her lips and whispered, "You are the sexiest lover in the world." Sam's stomach trembled at the words, and she felt Annie's hand slip between her legs and enter her deeply. She groaned and collapsed on Annie, fighting to lift herself up and roll the two over. Annie's hand worked in her throbbing center, and the little nurse brought her lips down and took Sam's breasts hungrily, raking her teeth over the hardened nipples, nipping and sucking. Sam's hips rocked around Annie's fingers. She was overwhelmed by the intensity of Annie's attack on her arousal. Annie's lips trailed down to Sam's curls, tickling along her ribs and the depressions of her belly on the way until Sam quivered. Then the lips found the swollen clit and took it urgently. Sam couldn't help but groan. Inside her, Annie had found a spot Sam had never experienced before, and the building waves of pleasure became utterly uncontainable. Sam was a quiet lover, and she was stunned to hear herself cry out, "Oh, god! Oh, my god!" before she exploded over the top and out beyond the furthest galaxies. She was literally disoriented, losing track of place and time. What had Annie done to her? Nothing had ever equaled this. After moments of moaning she came to to Annie holding her, kissing her face softly, whispering her love. "Oh god, oh my god, Annie... I can't... I..."

"Shhhh. Don't talk. Just feel. Just drift." The words tickled directly in her ears, and Sam road the waves of aftershocks, barely coherent. Finally she lay spent, slick with sweat, covered by the little nurse's body who kept up a gentle ministration of kisses and whispers.

Sam looked up adoringly into the smiling green eyes and panted, "You're... you're magic."


When Sam woke up the next morning she was surprised to find the little nurse already up and in the kitchen making bacon, eggs and toast. Sam leaned in the door smiling as Annie glanced at her with a happy grin. Annie had on one of Sam's big shirts and nothing else. She could see the sensuous figure move as sunlight streamed through the shirt. "Sex with you..." Sam started.

Annie looked over and grinned. "Yes?"

"Sex with you is like getting blown up with a pleasure bomb!"

Annie laughed. "You liked, huh?"

"I'm still shaky." Sam came over in back of the little nurse and wrapped her arms around her as she bustled about. "I've never felt that before. That was radical, extreme nirvana. Do you know how to do that because you're a nurse? Do nurses make better lovers?"

"No, I know about it because I've done a lot of exploration with some really crazy women."

Sam leaned down and kissed Annie's neck. "Well, my god, write them and thank them for me."

"We had a sex club."

"WHAT?!" Sam's face couldn't have held more amazement. She dropped her arms from around her surprising lover and moved around to look at her face.

"Yeah. When I was in college. There were six of us."

"You had a SEX CLUB?!"


"Well, what exactly did you do?"

Annie's ears started turning pink as she laughed. "Well, we read everything we could get our hands on about sex, Kama Sutra, Masters and Johnson. We got all sorts of gadgets..."

"You've got GADGETS?!"

Annie started laughing harder at Sam's reactions. "Yes, Sam. I've got 'em."

Sam was so excited with her new lover that she started quivering. "My god! I need some coffee!" She poured herself a cup and drank deeply. "So did you guys take your gadgets and... you know..."

"Yeah. 'Cause we wanted to learn how to be good lovers so we could pleasure our lovers in the future."

"My god, I can't believe this!"

"Well, we did!" Annie was laughing so hard tears ran down her cheeks. "I mean, we were in college! We were learning! It was a fast efficient way to gather knowledge. We were six women who believed that if you wanted to enjoy sex, then, by god, you'd better learn how to do it."

Sam shook her head, looked at the ceiling and shook her head again. "You are, perhaps, the wildest person I know."

"I am not! Sam... Did it help?"

Sam bit her lip and hissed in a breath. "Oh! Baby! You are by far the greatest lover I have ever had!"

"Well, then...?"

"I am... I am... speechless."

Annie threw her arms around Sam and squeezed. "I want to make you happy, Sam. I want our lovemaking to be rich and adventurous."

"Oh, Annie. Last night I wasn't sure I was going to live. I have never... never..." Sam was left open mouthed shaking her head.

"I only want to make you happy, sweetheart."

"You do, Annie. I am the luckiest woman on earth. I am the luckiest." She wrapped Annie in her arms and pressed her lips into sweet hair.

"Are you going to work in the shop today?"

"I don't know. Do you want me to spend the day with you?"

"I don't know. Maybe we should split again until the ballgame Saturday."

Sam looked sad. She had it so bad for this woman. "If you think so. No pressure."

"After the game maybe we could go to the bar. Think your ribs will be good enough to dance?"

Sam smiled crookedly as she thought of that. Mmm. Something to look forward to. "They're feeling fine."

Annie dished up breakfast and they sat at the breakfast alcove where the sun from the surrounding windows flooded brightly over them. Sam tasted her fluffy scrambled eggs. My lord in heaven! And she can cook! Sam felt her love for this woman in her stomach and all through her body. Oh, she had it so bad for Annie. She had never felt like this. It felt almost like a sickness, a fever, weakening, overwhelming. She would have to talk to Linny about it. Lovesick. That's what she was.

They talked about the rally and about the article on all the harassment that had appeared in the Montana Star. They did the dishes together. They walked upstairs and dressed each other. They fell against each other and kissed and kissed some more. Finally Annie led Sam back downstairs and stood at the front door with her. Sam didn't want to say goodbye. She knew she would moon around the house and garage and not know what to do all day. "Call me later?" she asked.

"Yeah. I'll call you twice."

Sam made a confession. "Annie, I don't think I can make it till Saturday."

"Sam, Saturday's only tomorrow."

"I don't think I can make it. I think I'm sick, Annie. I think I'm lovesick."

Annie chuckled, "Lovesick?"

"Yes. I want to see you this evening. I don't want you to go right now. I'm all confused. My stomach is doing flip-flops."


"Yes. You're a nurse. What's happening to me?"

Annie wasn't sure. She laid her cool hand on Sam's cheek. "I think maybe you're missing me."

"Yes! That's it! I'm missing you just thinking about you being gone." Sam hid her face in her hands and laughed a little hysterically.

"Okay, Sam." Annie lifted Sam's hands away from the beautiful face. "I have to go home and do my laundry and get a change of clothes..." She thought of all the things she had to do. "But let's get together this evening. One thing I need to do is go give Bita some exercise. Want to go riding?"

Sam felt her stomach unknot and her breathing get back to normal. "Yeah. That's terrific."

"Okay. I'll meet you out at the Circle W at six?"

Sam grinned. "Great. Great."

"I'll bring a picnic supper for us."

Sam brightened considerably. "Yeah. That sounds wonderful."

"Okay. See you at six."

They kissed and parted and Sam heaved a sigh of relief. She had known Annie for a month. She wondered if, in another month, she'd be mellowing out or even worse. If she got worse, she wasn't going to survive loving this woman.


Horses and riders were glad to see each other. Bita and Sam's mare, Lucy, took to each other touching soft noses and frisking together as Sam and Annie road down a drowsy track through long shadows in one of Circle W's many meadows. Sam was taking Annie to a lovely trail that topped a bluff and yielded a beautiful view of the scenery. The two riders dismounted on top of the bluff, ground tied their horses and ate overlooking the valley. Annie asked how Sam had gotten through the day. Sam laughed feeling silly. Once she knew she was going to see Annie, she had had a very good day. She had finally dropped a new engine into the old car at the shop with Buddy's help. She had painted in the afternoon, a big piece she had just started before the attack. Annie remembered it from her tour of the studio. Then she'd performed her martial arts disciplines, bathed and come out to Circle W. Annie had gone running, cleaned, done laundry, written e-mails, soaked in the tub, made their picnic and come out. Sam reflected on her day. Once she'd known she was going to see Annie later in the day, it had actually felt good to be apart to focus and lose herself in her other activities. Centering. She understood now Annie's insistence that they spend time apart here in the intense beginning of their love. She would lose herself utterly without Annie's prudence.

Sam stretched out and lay her head in Annie's lap smothering her face in Annie's sweet smelling shirt and wrapping her arms around her lover's waist.

Annie scratched Sam's back lightly. "I'm anxious to see your painting."

"Will you spend the night with me tomorrow?"

"Oh, yeah."

"You can see it then."

"Have you always been a painter, Sam?"

"No. I took it up in college. Linny got me into it."

"Oh, really."

"Linny probably saved me. I didn't have any path to go on. I was just kicking around getting lost, actually. I'd probably have ended up like my dad without Linny's help."

"You've never told me about your dad."

"Oh, Dad... Dad was... Dad was a wonderful, lost soul. He was kind of like a little boy who couldn't figure out how to be an adult. Life kind of overwhelmed him. Linny's helped me a lot to understand this. Linny's helped me a lot."

Annie felt the depth of Sam's bond with Linley Colridge and was touched by it. Linley had saved her Sam.

"Your mom died when you were young, didn't she?"

"Yeah, Mom died when I was four. I remember her, though. I have a memory of her sitting in the porch swing and pulling me up into her lap and swinging me. And I remember tagging all around the kitchen behind her. And whenever she made a pie, she'd make these little pie dough cookies with cinnamon. I can still smell 'em. And I have some pictures, of course. And I remember just a feeling, I remember I think how I felt about my mom."

"I'm so glat you have those memories, Sam."

"Yeah. I remember I loved her."

"So then it was just your dad and you."

"Yeah. But we were a pretty good team. My dad worshipped me. I could do no wrong. He taught me everything I know except painting. When I was ten, he got the garage, and I was always down there helping him. He taught me pool. He taught me how to cook. Taught me about horses. Got me into martial arts. He never raised his voice to me."

"That's pretty incredible."

"He was... he was a drinker, though." Sam wanted to tell Annie this, but it was hard. She had never spoken about it except to Linny, although the whole town knew Todd Adams had been a drunk, taken care of by his little girl.

Annie was not surprised by the revelation. She had been expecting it. She remembered Sam's comment from the Rattler about learning pool from a father who spent all his time in bars. She had been afraid for Sam's childhood ever since, wondering about child abuse, neglect. It was why she was probing now. She rubbed soft circles on Sam's back. "He drank and never got mad?"

"Dad was a fun drunk. He was hysterical. He had lots of friends. Or maybe he'd be, he'd get sad, and be a sad drunk. He'd miss Mom. Clear to the end he'd cry over Mom if he got too drunk. I think maybe Mom's death broke his spirit. Linny and I kinda think that. But he was generous, and he encouraged everything I wanted to do. That's how I got into martial arts. At school kids would make fun of my dad, and I told him I wanted to learn how to fight, so he took me down to Eddie and Peter. I grew up thinking I had to fight. That that was how you kept your integrity intact in this world where people would try to tear you down. And I still think that's sometimes true."

Annie readjusted her position, stretching out beside Sam and pulling the tall mechanic close to her. "You're pretty remarkable, Sam. You're a wonderful woman. I love you."

"Well, you've got your hands full. I get a little crazy now and again."

"A crazy Sam Adams. Sounds pretty exciting to me."

Sam chuckled.

"How did Linley save you? What was that about?"

"Oh, Linny! Yeah. Well, when I was in high school, I, uh... I started drinking. If it wasn't basketball or softball season, you could find me down in Bogg's Holler with some of the rowdies drinking and playing poker. I think I thought if it was good enough for my dad, it was good enough for me. My grades went down. I was never a bad kid, but I started losing my way. Anyway, Linny always brought her car into the shop, and I knew her, and I had a crush on her. You know how pretty she is, and she was really foxy back then. Of course she's old enough to be my mother, but that didn't stop me. And one day I was at the shop 'cause Dad was, um... 'sleeping'... and I was drinking whiskey and beer and feeling pretty frisky, and Linny brought her car in for new tires and I started flirting with her and asked her out." Sam laughed. "God, I was crazy. And I guess Linny knew about me, from town gossip, and she knew I was drunk, 'cause I was a little tipsy. And she said, yeah! She'd go out with me! She said we could meet for lunch, and I should pick her up at her office on campus the next day. I was on cloud nine. I was going out with a college professor. She showed me all around campus, and over lunch we got to talking about what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to be like my dad and work at the garage. I think Linny saw my whole future there, working in the garage and being a drunk like my dad. She told me I should think about coming to Barton and enjoying the college experience. She told me she'd love to have me as a student. My head was right in the clouds. All I was thinking about was me getting to spend time with Linley Colridge! I went home and told Dad that Linley Colridge thought I should go to college. Well, we'd sure never thought of that before, but Dad just looked at me for a long time, more seious than I've ever seen him look. And finally he said, 'You're the greatest person I know, Sam.'" Sam's voice broke suddenly, and she cleared her throat to be able to go on. "He didn't say anything else. Just gave me a hug and went down to the garage. Linny says he called her that night and they started working out the details of getting me into Barton. From then on my dad..." A tear rolled down her cheek. "...my dad put the brakes on my drinking; don't know how he found out about it, but you know Boffler." She chuckled. "My grades were too low, so they had to pass a special dispensation for me. We didn't have any money, so they created a full ride softball scholarship for me. They got the funds from businesses all over town for the scholarship. I think everybody said, 'Todd Adam's kid is going down the wrong track, and we're going to bring her back.'" Sam's face twisted for a moment, but she pulled herself back under control, cheeks quivering with her emotion. She had never told this story before, and she was losing it. "Linny says the whole town saved me. 'Cause they loved dad so much. My dad gave me everything. My dad gave me my whole life."

Sam rolled over and buried her face in Annie's shoulder and a sob tore from her. Annie pulled her close stroking her back and kissing her hair.

Sam choked, "I love my dad."

"I know you do, sweetheart. You two were quite a team." Sam sobbed in Annie's arms, and Annie whispered softly to her. Sam had something tender and fragile in her, a fault line that would shatter if the emotional pressure got too great. Annie would guard her and protect her when this line was challenged. She would make a good team for Sam, too.

The horses frisked on the way home, glad for the outing they had enjoyed. The riders raced down the last trail toward the stables, then walked their mounts and brushed them down. Bita and Lucy whickered at each other as they were put in their stalls, new friends. The riders walked out of the stables, their arms around each other's shoulders, deeper friends than before they had come. When they got back to their cars, parting was sweet agony for Sam. With every fiber in her being she wanted to ask Annie to come home with her and spend the night again, but she knew Annie wanted time and space right now, and she knew that was a good idea. Instead, she kept Annie at the cars while she teased her and pushed her cowboy hat around amusingly on the blond head and gave her little kisses on her ears and eyes. Finally they parted, with Sam going home to count the hours until the game the next day.


Continued in Part 5

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