Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Three

Early on a Monday morning, Abby double-knotted the laces on her running shoes, then grabbed the retractable leash and called to the dogs, "Walkies, walkies!" The pair came scampering through the house and slid across the entry floor to come to rest right in front of their mistress. "I'll never know how you manage that," she mused aloud. She usually used two leashes, to allow the dogs to examine separate scent trails, but when she ran, it worked much better to attach both of them to a coupler and a single leash. They were forced to stay together, but neither of them seemed to mind so long as they were with their favorite person.

The previous day's weather report had influenced Abby's decision to get the girls their exercise early in the morning. They didn't like the heat, and she was loath for any of them to exercise in smog. They started off, heading for the Rose Bowl - which the dogs loved since it was a popular place for pooches to gather, giving them many sniffing opportunities.

Abby liked to run, but when she was being serious about it, she wanted to run fast and without interruption. She and Will used to go for a long run after dinner, when the air was cleaner and the cool breeze finally made its way from the ocean into the San Gabriel Valley. An evening jog would still be her preference, but she found that she was more cautious since Will had died - less confident of being out alone after dark. Part of her reason for getting the dogs was to give herself a little protection when she ran, and, in some ways, her plan had worked. The dogs were big enough - about fifty pounds each - to look like they could protect her. Strangers didn't need to know that the pair would run and hide the second they perceived a threat. But her one hundred pounds of canine muscle stopped and sniffed more than they ran, so she got her aerobic exercise in other ways - and made the morning run a time for the dogs to enjoy themselves.

They were about halfway to the Rose Bowl when she heard a familiar voice calling out to her. "Will you three slow down?"

She did, lengthening her stride and slowing her pace. Her friend Ellen Chenoweth finally came up alongside her, and the dogs immediately started to frantically lick the salt and sweat from her bare legs. The woman gazed at the pair fondly and petted each dark head. "It's a little odd," she said, "but there's something nice about having another living creature act like you're the most delicious taste treat in the world."

"You mean Neil doesn't do the same?"

Ellen laughed and fell into place beside Abby as they started off again. "We're about twenty-five years past that 'even your sweat tastes good' period."

Neil and Will had been law partners, and the foursome had been friends since before Will and Abby were married. The Chenoweths lived just three blocks away, and their two sons had been fixtures in the Graham home when Abby's son, Trevor, was in school. "When are the boys coming home?" Abby asked. "Trevor won't be home long, but I know he'd like to see them."

"I'm still not sure what their plans are," Ellen said. "All I know is that they'll delay buying plane tickets until they have to pay full-fare."

Abby shook her head and laughed, knowing that her friend's observation would prove to be accurate. "Kids are always a challenge, aren't they?"

"They are indeed. So, what's up with your two?

"Hayley gets home before Trev, since he's going to spend some time with my parents. She doesn't have any plans - other than staying out late and lying by the pool, of course."

Ellen managed a quick glance at her friend and asked, "Does it bother her that Trevor's found such a wonderful summer project? I mean, going to Venice to work with an international committee of urban planners is a very big deal!"

Abby smiled, "I know it and you know it, but Hayley still thinks of him as a much older person. If he figures out how to make Venice the leading city in Italy, she won't be surprised or jealous."

Ellen laughed, wishing her sons could be happy for the other's success. They ran in silence for a few minutes, all four of them managing to keep a steady pace. But Ellen's thoughts kept returning to Trevor. Finally, she commented, "I was just thinking about how proud Will would have been of Trev."

"I know," Abby agreed. "I think about that every day. I wish he were here to see what a fine young man we've raised."

"Trevor's always been a gem," Ellen reminded her. "Will wouldn't be surprised. But you've done such a great job with both of the kids, Abby. I know it hasn't been easy for you."

"No, it's never easy raising kids, and doing it alone for the past five years has been hard. But it's paying off, Ellen. I'm confident that both of the kids have gotten through the worst part of their grief. I think I'm about ready to sit on the sidelines and let them care for their aged mom."

Ellen gave her friend a wry grin and tossed off a challenge. "Race you to the rose garden!" She took off at a sprint, and smirked to herself when Abby and the dogs went flying by her - the competitive spirit never far beneath the surface of Abby's calm demeanor. "Aged my ass!" she called to the fleet form.

O

Late that afternoon, Clancy was sitting at Abby's kitchen table, the pair going over the plans for the permanent plants that would bracket the new stream. They'd been working for over an hour and were just about to wrap up, when Clancy's cell phone rang. "Do you mind?" she asked Abby before she answered.

"No, please do."

Clancy pressed the talk button. "Hello."

"Hey, Clance, it's Michael. How mad would you be if I canceled for tonight?"

"How mad would I be? Let's see this is my favorite activity of the whole week, and if you don't go, I won't go alone. So I'd say that I wouldn't be mad, but I'd be disappointed. Why? What's up?"

"Oh, it's no big deal. One of the girls at work wants me to go on a double date with her and her boyfriend and a friend of theirs. I'll just tell her I can't make it. No biggie."

"Level with me, Michael. What do you want to do?"

"Well, I like going dancing with you, but this girl is supposed to be really hot, and "

"Go ahead and go," Clancy said, chuckling. "You haven't been out in weeks. You're gonna forget you're straight."

"No chance of that, blondie-blonde. Sure you don't mind? I hate to disappoint you."

"You don't do it very often, Mickey. It's okay."

"Cool. I'll tell you all about it later tonight or, even better, tomorrow if I get lucky."

"Have fun, bud. Talk to you later."

She put her phone back on her belt, smiling to herself.

"Michael?" Abby asked.

"Yeah. We go dancing on Monday nights, but he has a chance to go out on a real date, so I excused him."

"Dancing?" Abby asked wistfully. "I love to dance. And I'm one of the few women who was lucky enough to marry a man who loved to dance, and he had to go and die on me. Where's the justice?"

"Actually, we're only taking lessons. I'm pretty good, but Michael's a rank beginner."

"Really? What kind of dancing are we talking about?"

"Country and western," Clancy said, giving her friend a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Country and western?" Abby asked. "Like square dancing?"

"No, more like line dancing. It's very 80's, but a lot of gay people are still into it." She laughed and said, "Well, a lot of people are into it, gay and straight, but it's pretty dated here in L.A."

"It sounds like fun," Abby said. She paused a moment and said, "Why don't I go with you?"

"You?"

The younger woman's expression was so incredulous that Abby was a little wounded. "It was just a suggestion "

"No, no," Clancy said, seeing the hurt. "I'd love to have you go, but we take the lessons at a gay bar, Abby. Would you be comfortable going to a place like that?"

"Clancy, my best friend in college used to drag me to a leather bar on Sunday afternoons for a beer bust. I've probably been to more gay bars than you have."

Her face beginning to light up, Clancy asked, "Are you sure? I'd love to take you."

"What do I wear, and when will you pick me up?"

O

Clancy returned to Abby's at seven o'clock, rang the bell, and almost fainted dead away at the vision that greeted her.

Abby raised her fingers and snapped them in Clancy's face. "Are you in there?"

"Wha ? Oh! Damn, I zoned out for a minute," Clancy said, trying to think of an excuse for staring at her friend for so long. "I must be more tired than I thought."

"Are you sure you want to go?" Abby asked. "We could do this another night."

"And have you waste this outfit? No way. Besides, I'll get my second wind once we start dancing."

"Do I really look all right? I tried to follow your advice and dress so I'll stay cool, but I haven't worn this since the last time we went riding, and I'm a little uncomfortable."

"You look great!" Clancy exclaimed. "Really great. Do you ride locally?"

"Oh, no. Will and I used to take the kids to a ranch in Colorado for a week or so in the summer. We went for almost eight years," she said. "It was a great way for the family to bond: no TV, no phones, no radio. We loved it."

"Well, you'll certainly fit in tonight," Clancy said.

"You look like a native yourself." Clancy was wearing black jeans, a lavender tank top, and a pair of dark purple cowboy boots. She carried a cream-colored straw hat in her hand, and she settled it onto her head at Abby's comment. "Very nice," the older woman said.

The architect followed Abby into the house, checking her friend out thoroughly from behind. The taller woman was even taller than normal, wearing scuffed, black boots with decorative bits of metal on the toes. The boots poked out from beneath the hems of a very faded pair of boot-cut jeans that fit her like a second skin, making Abby look more like a working cowgirl than a poseur. But the element that caught and held Clancy's attention was the thin, sleeveless, chambray shirt, tucked neatly into the jeans. Abby had a tendency to wear rather loose-fitting clothes, and Clancy had never had the opportunity to see all of her curves when she was fully dressed. She'd seen her in her swimsuit, but something about this look was even sexier than that, and Clancy was very, very pleased with the way the evening was shaping up.

They walked into the kitchen, and Abby grabbed a black, felt cowboy hat, brushed off a spot of dust, and bowed graciously to her friend. "Shall we?" she asked, "I'm ready to kick up my heels, pardner."

O

They arrived at the bar at 7:30, and the crowd was still very light. They each paid the $5 cover, but Clancy insisted on buying the first round. "What'll it be?" she asked, as they made their way to the bar at the back of the large room.

"What are you having?" Abby asked.

"Whiskey, water back," Clancy said. "Makes me feel like a cowboy."

"Make it two," Abby said, settling the black hat onto the back of her head.

They took their drinks and sat on stools at a small, round table. "It's not fancy, but it's pretty comfortable," Clancy said.

"It's very nice," Abby said. "Much nicer than the places I used to go with Steven. This place is friendly, too. I used to get the nastiest looks when I went to some of his favorite spots. In the seventies, most gay men didn't like to socialize with women."

"There are still a few places in West Hollywood that are like that," Clancy said. "But most of the places here in the San Gabriel Valley are just fine."

Abby looked around and noticed some couples already on the dance floor. "Boy, some of these people are good."

"Yeah, there's a group of people who come all the time, and lots of them have been dancing for fifteen or twenty years. I look like I've got two left feet compared to most of them, but I still enjoy it."

"I think this will be fun," Abby decided. She took her shot of whiskey and drained it in one gulp, then took a sip of water. "Smooth," she said, grinning and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand just like a cowpoke. "Another?"

"Uhm sure," Clancy said, draining her own glass. "I dance much better when I lose some of my inhibitions."

"I do, too," Abby agreed. "Although there's a fine line between losing my inhibitions and losing my mind. You'll stop me before I start dancing on the bar, won't you?"

"I'm not sure I'm the one you should rely on," Clancy said, laughing. "That's kinda like asking the fox to watch the hen house. Michael always says I'm absolutely fine and then absolutely drunk - with no warning whatsoever."

"I haven't been drunk in years," Abby said. "I'm not even sure I'd recognize the warning signs."

"I usually know a few people here," Clancy said, giving her friend a grin. "I'll ask an unbiased observer to keep an eye on us."

O

They got through the instruction for the first dance without difficulty - but that was with the music playing at half-speed. As the music picked up, Abby struggled a little, but by watching her more proficient accomplice, they were able to do a fairly decent job. "You're good," Abby said, grinning at her friend.

"Thanks. We've been doing this since Christmas, and it's starting to sink in. I can tell you're a dancer, by the way. You catch on really quick."

"Years of ballet," Abby said, rolling her eyes. The instructor let them use the same step for three consecutive songs, and by the last one, they were both doing quite well, even at full speed. The dance was a fairly energetic one, and by the time it was over, they were both panting. "Damn, I need a breather," Clancy said. "How about another round?"

"Okay, but get me two glasses of water this time," Abby said. "I'm parched."

Clancy knew a few people at the crowded bar, and by the time she'd chatted with them and pushed through the growing throng to buy drinks, a good ten minutes had passed. Moving away from the group, she saw that a woman had claimed her stool and was sitting very close to Abby. Striding over to the pair, Clancy set the drinks down, giving the woman occupying her seat a level stare. "Sorry, but I didn't bring one for you."

"I'm not thirsty," the dark haired, tough-looking woman said, turning her attention back to Abby.

Clancy tapped the woman on the shoulder and said, "You're in my seat, and you're chatting up my date. This is a big bar, and there's a big crowd. Now go find your own seat and your own woman." Narrowing her eyes, she added, "Now would be a good time."

"I told you I wasn't alone," Abby said, shrugging her shoulders at the interloper.

"She was gone forever," the woman said, addressing only Abby. "Anyone who leaves a good-looking woman like you alone for that long can't be too interested."

Clancy settled her hat on her head, then put her hand around the woman's bicep and started to squeeze. After just a few seconds, the intruder hopped off the chair, wincing noticeably. "Thanks for being so cooperative," Clancy said with a fake smile. "Don't come again now, ya hear?"

As the woman skulked away, rubbing her arm, Clancy tipped her hat back, exposing a bit of blonde hair, and said, "Sometimes a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do."

Abby had been quietly laughing, and she placed her hand on Clancy's arm. "That was so much fun!"

Giving her a curious smile, Clancy asked, "Fun? Really? I was afraid that would make you uncomfortable."

"No, not at all!" Abby insisted. "That's the most interest anyone's shown in me in five years! I was just about to leave with her, but I didn't want to be rude. Mama always said to dance with the one that brung ya."

The look on Clancy's face nearly caused Abby to fall on the floor in hysterics. "I'm kidding, Clancy," she gasped. "Kidding!"

"Jesus Christ," Clancy said, dropping her head into her hands. "I was sure you were serious!"

"Nah. I prefer blondes," the older woman teased, taking her drink and throwing her head back to drain it. "Let's dance!"

O

During their next round of instruction, the women got separated when the dancers formed into long rows to execute the moves. Abby was right in the middle of the first row, and Clancy was near the end of the third. The dance was one of the slowest, sexiest ones that Clancy knew, and she was just about to go up and give the instructor a big kiss for choosing this particular night to feature it.

Watching Abby much more than her own feet, Clancy closely observed her friend as she hooked her thumbs into her belt loops and swayed her hips to the beat, doing a slow, sexy, bump and grind. She had her hat pulled down low, and her gray flecked hair showed just a bit under the black felt, providing a very attractive contrast. With the toe of her boot, Abby drew a long, wide line across the floor, then stomped her boot sharply and executed a full turn. Clancy was so mesmerized that she was the very last person to turn - almost allowing Abby to catch her staring. Good God, she's got a sweet ass! What in the hell is wrong with the men in this town? There aren't enough twenty-five-year-old actress-model-whatevers to go around, fellas. Wake up and see the hot women waiting for you, you fools!

O

After another half hour of nonstop dancing, Abby caught Clancy's eye and nodded towards the bar. They met up at the edge of the dance floor, and Abby loosely draped her arm around her friend. "How about a little whiskey and a lot of water?"

"Let's do it," Clancy said. "My turn to buy."

"Are you sure?" Abby asked. "I thought it was my turn."

"I have no idea," Clancy said, chuckling. "But I've got ten bucks in my pocket, and it wants to get spent. Have a seat, pardner."

O

While they were trying to re-hydrate, the instructor thanked everyone for coming and jumped down off the small stage. "Is that it?" Abby asked.

Smiling at the disappointed look on her friend's face, Clancy said, "You've got a hell of a lot of energy stored up there, doncha?"

"This is fun!" Abby said, her excitement obvious. "I really do love to dance, and this is more energetic than most dancing. It's like taking an exercise class as well as a dance class."

"Yeah, you can really work up a sweat," Clancy agreed.

"Are you having fun?" Abby asked, her voice gentling as she gazed into her friend's eyes.

"I'm having a blast," Clancy said. "I think I'm gonna give Michael his walking papers and bring you every week."

"Oh, I don't want to break up a good partnership," Abby said, giving Clancy a quick pat. The next song began, and Abby watched the dancers start to move. "Oh! A two-step. Do you know how?"

"Sure do," Clancy said. "Shall we?"

They made their way to the dance floor, but just as they reached the edge, Abby put her hand on Clancy's arm. "Uhm I've never danced this way with a woman."

Looking up at her with a concerned expression, Clancy asked, "Does it make you uncomfortable?"

Abby blinked at her, then broke out in a laugh. "No, no, I just wondered how we decide who leads?"

Clancy put her hand on the small of the taller woman's back and urged her forward. "That's easy - I lead. I always lead," she added with a rakish wink.

O

Both women were slightly awkward with each other for a moment as they aligned themselves properly. Even though the two-step position was casual, Clancy felt her heart rate pick up when Abby drew close and lightly gripped the landscaper's bicep. "Ready?" Clancy asked, her mouth a little dry as she looked up and met the older woman's eyes.

"Lead me."

They started to glide around the edge of the floor, with Clancy holding her head up high, leading Abby with a sure, confident style. They moved well together, their thighs brushing lightly during their long, graceful strides. After moving around the floor several times, Clancy raised an eyebrow and asked, "Wanna get wild?"

"Wild is my middle name," Abby said, chuckling. "Give me your best shot."

Ooh, would I ever love to, Clancy thought, nearly swooning. "Up for a little change of pace?"

"Yep. What'll it be?"

"How about a quick, quick, quick, quick, slow?" Clancy asked. "Get your heart pumping a little."

"Lead the way, pardner."

Clancy did, and they started to move quickly around the floor, using the far outside of the circle to avoid running into the slower dancers. Ooo, baby, if she can follow my lead this well, I'd love to see her moving under me in bed. I bet she's fan-fucking-tastic!

"Is that all you've got?" Abby asked, taunting her partner.

"Far from it. Know this one?" Clancy moved Abby off the floor to explain the step. The older woman was unfamiliar with it, but she was a good student, and after a few slow run-throughs, they were back at it.

At a slightly slower pace, they moved against each other, lightly trailing their hands over each other's bellies, then Clancy turned to face in the same direction as Abby, both of them stepping backwards while they held hands. Clancy spun her partner once, then they pivoted away from each other with Abby spinning another one-and-a-half times. They both faced forward, then Clancy spun her again, ending up in their starting positions. "Damn, you're good," Abby murmured.

"That's what all the ladies say," Clancy said, showing her most winning grin.

"I don't doubt it," Abby said, laughing heartily. "I don't doubt that for one minute."

O

They danced for so long that both women were completely sober by the time Abby looked at her watch and said, "Good Lord, Clancy, it's almost midnight! You have to work in the morning."

"Yeah, I do," she agreed, "but I'm having so much fun, I don't care."

Draping an arm around her shoulders, Abby said, "Well, I care about you. You work hard, and you need your rest. Let's hit the trail."

"Oh, all right, but only if you promise to come with me again," Clancy said.

"I might be here by myself the next time you come," Abby said. "The dancing's great, the whiskey's good, and the girls are sweet on me!"

O

Chapter Four

The following Tuesday, Clancy gave her friend a call around mid-morning. "Hi there, it's Clancy."

"Oh, I know your voice by now," Abby said. "You're the one who always sounds happy."

"That's me," the younger woman admitted. "You told me once that if I was ever in the neighborhood, I should drop by for lunch. Does the offer hold?"

"Of course it does. Can you come today?"

"Yep. I'm going to a nursery in South Pas, so I could stop at the market and pick something up. Will that work for you?"

"Absolutely. I don't have a thing scheduled until 3:00. Come whenever you can. Oh, and, Clancy? Will you pick out something for the spot where I dug up the spring bulbs? I need some yellows and oranges."

"You've got it," the landscaper said. "I know the spot you mean."

"Wow, my life is in great shape," Abby said. "I know a doctor who makes house calls, and now I have a landscaper who does, too. All I need is a dentist, and I'm set."

O

When Clancy arrived, she saw that the house was in an unusual state of disarray with CDs, books, and articles of clothing strewn around the kitchen. Suddenly, it hit her and she said, "Hayley's home, isn't she?"

"How did you guess?" Abby asked, staring pointedly at the mess. "One day and the house looks like we had an earthquake. But I'm glad to have her, no matter how messy she is."

They took their lunch outdoors and started to eat, both of them gazing out at the plants for a few minutes. "Have you had a chance to talk to Hayley about her, uhm dabblings?"

Abby nodded, waiting to speak until she had swallowed a sweet bit of cantaloupe. "I followed your advice and let her talk. She spouted some dogma about how women have to claim their own sexuality. A woman can't wait for a man to make the first move." Abby rolled her eyes and said, "I bit my tongue, even though I wanted to tell her that I heard that same rhetoric at UCLA when I was her age. It was a load of BS then, and still is."

"So, you weren't carried away on the 'sisterhood is powerful' bandwagon?" Clancy joked.

Abby gave her a considered look and raised one dark eyebrow. "Has someone been reading her history books?"

Clancy nodded and said, "I was a women's studies minor in school. I've done a lot of reading about the women's movement."

"Mmm I wasn't in the forefront of the movement, since I was in grade school when it began, but I was, and still am, very much a feminist. The only part of Hayley's message that I reject is that you can base your sexual response on a political agenda." She fixed Clancy with an intense gaze and said, "I've always thought that was wrong. To me, feminism is about being able to reach your true potential - no matter what it might be." She shook her head roughly in memory. "I can still recall late nights in my dorm room, smoking grass with one particular woman who was a campus leader. She was one of those people whom everyone is drawn to. Do you know the type?"

"I do."

"Anyway," Abby said, "we spent endless nights discussing the issue. Her position was unshakable - you could only really know what true sisterhood was if you experienced what it was like to love another woman physically." She looked at Clancy with a half-smile, some of her thick hair falling onto her forehead.

The younger woman's heart began to beat more quickly. She'd been part of many discussions like this, all ending with the other woman saying, "I'm a lesbian." Clancy felt like Abby was on the verge of changing the dynamic of their relationship, and she couldn't wait to hear her news. It was tough, but she managed to toss off a comment. "Let me guess," she said. "She was willing to be your tour guide?"

"That was part of the plan," Abby said, smirking. "You know, if she hadn't put the hard sell on me, I might have given lesbianism a try. All of my friends slept with other women at least once. But I hated to be told that I had to do anything - so I turned her down."

Clancy's heartbeat slowed and the adrenaline stopped pumping. "Ever regret it?" she asked, hoping against hope.

"No. Not at all," Abby said. "I'm sure there were many, many people I could have slept with who could have pleased me sexually, but I've always been the type who has to be in love to share my body. It's worked well for me."

"Are you disappointed in Hayley for experimenting with sex?"

"No, not really," Abby said thoughtfully. "She's a very different girl than I was. She started well, things have changed since I was young. I don't feel comfortable talking about specifics, but she's done more than I had when I was her age. I tried to talk her out of it, because I knew she wasn't mature enough. Regrettably, she admitted later that she didn't enjoy it much - that the kid wasn't very concerned with her pleasure."

"Wow, I can't imagine talking to my mom about my sexual pleasure," Clancy muttered.

"Our openness has its benefits," Abby agreed, "but it's really hard for me sometimes. I want her to make her own choices in life, but I desperately want to shield her from as much pain as I can. I hope that I can convince her that sex doesn't have to be merely another way to spend an hour - if it even takes that long! I don't want her to believe that crap! Besides, she'll get her heart broken that way."

Clancy reached across the table and patted Abby, letting her fingers trail across the smooth, cool skin on the back of her hand. "Hearts can mend. They get stronger by healing the little breaks."

Gazing at Clancy with eyes that conveyed the warmth she felt for her, Abby asked, "Has your heart been broken?"

Shaking her head, Clancy said, "I've had a few little nicks taken out of it, but it's never been fractured. I'm pretty careful with it."

Abby nodded, having a feeling that her young friend was the sort to guard her heart. "Don't be too careful, Clancy. You've got to risk to love."

"I think I know that," the architect said, "but I won't give my heart away unless I know the woman I choose is deserving of it. It's the only one I have."

Giving her hand a return pat, Abby said, "That's going to be one lucky woman." She looked at the flat of plants Clancy had placed on the corner of the steps. "And I'm a lucky woman for having a friend with such good taste in plants!"

"Not to mention a trade discount," Clancy said, smiling.

O

"Abby? It's Clancy," the architect announced when she reached her that Thursday. "If it's convenient for you, I'd like to bring by some samples of river rock for the wall."

"Sure. I've got most of my day scheduled, but I'll be home after 4:00. How's that?"

"Good. I'll drop by when I'm finished with work. See you then."

O

Clancy briefly wished she had a wheelbarrow in the back of her truck when she tried to wrangle the rocks around to the back yard. Abby came out to help her, and the pair managed to get all of the samples unloaded, even with the always-helpful dogs licking at Clancy's sweaty legs. "I get the definite impression that my popularity would plummet if I started to wear long pants," she said.

"Do you ever wear long pants when you work?"

"Nope. I got used to wearing shorts when I worked with my dad. I can't imagine feeling comfortable any other way."

"It's your signature," Abby decided. "That and your colorful socks, that is."

"Oh, these." Clancy held her foot out, as if she needed to remind herself of her little quirk. "Well, since all of my shorts and my shirts fall along some point of the khaki palette, I decided I needed a little color so I didn't bore myself to death. My casual clothes are really bright," she added. "All khaki was a little hard to get used to."

"I think your style suits you to a T," Abby assured her. "It's very - you."

"I'll take that as a compliment, even though I think it's code for 'You're pretty odd, Clance.'"

Abby gazed at her for a moment and pursed her lips. "Mmm. You are a little quirky, but in my book, that's a very, very positive characteristic. I meet too many people who aren't happy unless they look exactly like all of their friends. They're always afraid to step out of the box."

Clancy laughed. "I'm out of the box I'm out of the closet I'm just plain out."

"You wear it well," Abby said. "Say, Hayley should be home soon. Wanna stay and say hello?"

"You probably want to spend the evening together. You can call me with your -"

"Hey," Abby said. "I'd like for you to meet Hayley - and Trevor, too. She went to pick him up at the airport." She glanced at her watch. "They should be home soon."

"Are you sure?"

"I wouldn't say so if I weren't."

Clancy smiled. "I'd love to meet them."

O

The younger Grahams arrived home just as Clancy and Abby started to discuss the attributes of the river rock samples. Abby's face lit up so brightly when she heard the garage door open that Clancy was unable to stop smiling, just from observing her friend's joy. The dogs caught the rising level of excitement and began to run through the house, barking wildly. Abby gave her young friend a wry look and asked, "See why it's so hard to get used to living alone? This place has been a madhouse since Trevor was a baby."

The laundry room door burst open, and a tall, handsome young man entered, his grin matching his mother's. Right on his heels, a much younger copy of Abby struggled in, carrying two suitcases.

Abby threw her arms around her son and gave him a hug that looked as though it would squeeze all of the air out of his lungs. He hugged her back with equal gusto, closing his eyes against the emotion that flowed between them. "God, I've missed you," she whispered, just loud enough for Clancy to hear.

The young woman dropped the suitcases and gave Clancy a shrug. "I barely get a nod when I come in."

"That is such a lie!" Abby dove for her and wrapped her in a bear hug from behind, cuddling her close to her body. She looked at Clancy from over her daughter's shoulder. "This is my most precious daughter, Hayley. Hayley, this is Clancy O'Connor."

Hayley tried to extend her hand for a shake, but Abby was holding her so tightly she couldn't get free. "Mom," she whined, struggling for release.

As she let her go, Abby slapped her sharply on the butt. "I don't ever want you to feel unloved."

"Stifled, crushed, smothered " the young woman teased.

"Those are fine," Abby agreed. "Just not unloved."

After quietly watching the interplay between his mother and sister, the young man stepped forward and offered his hand to Clancy. "I'm Trevor," he said in a rich baritone.

"Good to meet you, Trevor. Your mom's been telling me about the project you're going to be working on. It sounds fantastic. You don't need any landscape architects, do you?"

He smiled at his mother, who was beaming at him. "Mom seems to think Venice will rise or fall based on my input. It's really a simple project to keep a bunch of unemployed urban planners off the streets over the summer. Kinda like summer camp."

"He's being modest," Abby insisted. "He's brilliant, and I'm confident that Venice will remain vital if the government only follows his suggestions."

Trevor gave her a look that was filled with affection. "Mom thinks I'm brilliant. No matter what, I know I'll always have one fan in my corner."

"I'm in your corner, too," Hayley reminded him. Giving him her best little sister look, she added, "As long as you don't piss me off."

"Hey! Watch your language!" Abby chided, sounding so very much like a mom.

"We're in college, Mom," Hayley said. "We can say piss."

"I'm forty-five, and I manage to get through the day without being vulgar," she reminded them.

"True, but then, you're perfect," Hayley joked, sticking her tongue out at her.

"I've got to set a very high standard for you two to aspire to," Abby said, wrinkling up her nose at her daughter.

Hayley leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek, and Clancy was struck by the warm familiarity that all three of the Grahams exhibited. She stood up and said, "Well, I'll let you all get settled. How long will you be home, Trevor?"

"A week. I've got to be in Venice on Sunday."

Abby looked at her and explained, "Trev graduated two weeks ago, and he's been spending some time with his grandparents."

"Your parents?" Clancy asked Abby.

"Yes. Pasadena is their home, but they spend most of the spring and all of the summer in Maine. Since Trev is close, he's visited them for a couple of weeks every year that he's been at M.I.T. Since he'll have such a short time here, I hated to let him go this year, but it's important that he spend time with his grandparents, too."

"I'm going to Maine at the end of the summer," Hayley volunteered. "Grams and Gramps needed a little break to recover from Trev."

Giving her daughter a playful scowl, Abby commented, "We always thought it was important that each child have some time alone with my mom and dad. I'm surprised it's continued this long, but they both seem to enjoy it."

Clancy headed for the door. "I sure wouldn't mind a couple of weeks in Maine. But duty calls. Give me a buzz when you've made a decision about the rock, Abby."

Hayley gazed at Clancy for a moment, then turned to her mom. "Why don't we have Clancy stay for dinner, Mom? I really want to hear about your project."

Abby gave her a slightly surprised look, but gladly agreed with her suggestion. "Any interest, Clancy? We're having Trevor's favorite dish - steak fajitas, cooked on the grill."

Clancy's eyes lit up, and she offered only a token protest, "I'm all dusty and grimy "

"You're perfectly fine," Abby scoffed. "I think you should stay, but if you have other plans "

"No, no plans. If you don't mind a slightly grungy landscaper at your table, I'd love to stay."

O

The foursome got along quite well, and by the time they were ready to eat, both of the younger Grahams were joking with Clancy like she was an old friend. Trevor was in charge of the grill, Abby handled the rice and refried beans, and Hayley was in charge of making the homemade flour tortillas. Clancy was surprised to not only see people making their own tortillas; she was amazed at how companionably mother and daughter worked together.

"I take it you've done this before?" she asked Hayley as the younger woman worked at the built-in marble baking center.

"Yeah. We've always all cooked together." Her eyes clouded a little as she corrected herself. "Well, Trev didn't do much before, but he's taken over for Dad now."

Clancy nodded and leaned back on her stool, observing the young woman. She wasn't an exact copy of her mother, Clancy realized now that she had time to study her. While her face was strikingly similar, her body was much more slight, almost willowy. Hayley was also shorter than her mom - Clancy guessed she and Hayley were about the same height. Though there were some differences, Clancy found the girl fascinating. It was, in some ways, like looking at a living, breathing version of a very young Abby, and that pleased the architect no end. I love Abby's graying hair, but the jet-black is stunning with that skin color and those eyes. Damn, these people got in line more than once when they were handing out good looks! She let her mind drift to imagining Abby as a young woman, and while she wouldn't have minded having Abby's current personality pasted onto this young copy, she had to honestly admit that she'd rather have the original. The young woman was definitely pretty and more than a little sexy - but Abby had such depth, such seasoning. That couldn't be substituted for in Clancy's considered opinion.

Trevor brought in the skirt steaks he had grilled, looking quite proud of himself. His mother took a peek and gave him a kiss on the cheek for a job well done. He gave Clancy a slightly embarrassed look as Abby added a hug that lasted nearly a minute.

He shared many similarities with Abby, too, although his features were the masculine version. The main differences were that his eyes looked more gray than blue, and his body was almost bulky. He was tall, about six foot two, and he had to weigh over two hundred pounds. He wasn't overweight by any means, but he looked like he could hold his own with a jackhammer, and Clancy briefly wished he was going to be around for the summer. She could always use another pair of hands - especially big, strong ones.

Over dinner, Clancy swore repeatedly that she'd never be able to buy tortillas again - that Hayley had ruined her for the commercial version. The young woman beamed at her, and Abby found herself thinking of how very kind and thoughtful Clancy was. The landscaper was obviously trying to let both Hayley and Trevor know how impressed she was with both of them - and she was doing a masterful job.

"So, Hayley, your mom tells me that your plan is to lie on a raft and not get out of the pool all summer. Any truth to the rumor?" Clancy asked.

The young woman smiled and rolled her eyes briefly at her mother. "I really wanted to get a job, but my school year runs a little longer than everyone else's. Then I'll have to leave to go to Maine for a few weeks." She shrugged her shoulders. "That doesn't leave much time."

"She's omitted the fact that she's never worked a day in her life," Trevor interjected to set the record straight.

Clancy raised an eyebrow, and the younger woman nodded. "That's true, but it doesn't mean I don't want to work. It just hasn't worked out."

"Yeah, employers aren't going door-to-door looking for help much any more," Trevor said, winking at Clancy.

"Why don't you see if Clancy needs another laborer?" Abby asked, ineffectively hiding a teasing smile.

Hayley's vivid blue eyes settled onto Clancy, and she asked, "Do you need any help?"

Clancy sized the girl up and decided to tell the truth. "To be honest, I could use some help - but I think Trevor would be more suited to the help I need." She smiled at him and admitted, "I was licking my chops as soon as you walked in the door. A sturdy guy like you could really come in handy."

"I wish I were going to be here. I love to work outside. Hayley, on the other hand, likes to lie in a lounge chair and ask anyone passing by to bring her a cool drink."

"I'm not like that!" the young woman huffed. "Come on, Clancy, isn't there something I could do? You could help me show these two that I can hold my own."

"Honey, you're putting Clancy on the spot," Abby interrupted. "This is very strenuous work, and besides, we've decided to put the project off until you leave for school. I don't want a bunch of workmen ogling you while you work on your tan." She gave Clancy a light slap on the back and said, "Sorry to impugn your employees, but she looks too darned good in a swimsuit."

"Oh, they love to ogle," Clancy admitted agreeably. "But I can't point the finger at them; I do it myself." She suddenly realized what she had said and blushed three different shades of red. "I mean - I sometimes look at - Well, not - I didn't mean - I certainly wouldn't look at you - uhm "

She was floundering so badly that Abby immediately came to her rescue. "We all look when we see a particularly fine example of whatever sex appeals to us, Clancy. I've been known to drool a little when I see those California Highway Patrol officers."

"Oh, God! Mom and her uniform fetish!" Hayley moaned.

"It's hardly a fetish, honey," Abby said. "And I'm sure I'm not the only woman who loves a man in a uniform."

"I'm certain that's true." Clancy smiled at her, grateful for the rescue.

Abby gazed thoughtfully at her daughter and said, "If you don't mind, I'd love to start the project now, Hayley. I was only holding off because of you."

"What do you think, Clancy? I'm a good worker - I think," she added tentatively.

Clancy gave the girl a long look, seeing the hopeful expression. "I'll tell you what. I've got about two weeks worth of work clearing the hill where the new wall and waterfall will go. It's certainly not easy work, but if you want to do it, it'll free up one of my guys to work on another project. I pay my unskilled laborers $12 an hour. That's not a lot - and I'm sure your mom could get you something that pays as well for a lot less work, but if you want to do it - you're hired."

Hayley extended her cool, smooth hand and shook Clancy's. "We've got a deal."

"After the preliminary work is finished, we'll reassess and see if you want to continue. The next phase of the project is a lot tougher, but if you like it, I'm sure I could find something for you."

"I'm sure I'll like it," Hayley decided with the brash confidence of youth. Giving her brother a haughty look, Hayley said, "You won't ever again be able to say I've never worked, big guy."

O

The younger Grahams decided to go for an after dinner swim, and after Abby bit her tongue to stop herself from warning them to be careful swimming on full stomachs, she and Clancy started to clean the kitchen. "I really enjoyed myself tonight," Clancy said. "Your kids are delightful."

"It's funny," Abby said thoughtfully. "I'd always dreamed of having kids - but I pictured them as kids, you know? Rather than adults, that is."

Clancy nodded agreeably.

"But I've found that I enjoy them even more now that they're becoming their own people. If Will were here, I'm sure this would be the best time of my life."

Clancy placed a hand on the older woman's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I wish he were here for you, too. I can see how much you miss him."

Unexpectedly, Abby turned and buried her face into Clancy's shoulder. "It's so hard sometimes when the kids are here. They remind me of him with every gesture, every look. Hayley inherited so many of his expressions," she sobbed. "And Trevor looks exactly like him from behind. I see him standing outside by the grill, and my heart catches in my throat. I could swear it was Will." She cried so hard that she was gasping for breath. "It breaks my heart."

"I'm so sorry, Abby," Clancy soothed. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

The older woman straightened and tried to compose herself. "I hate to let them see me cry. I know they've largely gotten over it, and I hate that I haven't."

"You had the bigger loss," Clancy insisted. "They lost their father, but you lost your husband, your lover, your friend."

Abby nodded, while wiping her eyes with a tissue. She gazed at her friend for a moment, then said, "You really understand, don't you?"

"A little bit," she said. "My grandfather died a few years ago, and my grandmother and I are very close. She talks to me about her grief. Even though she's much older than you are, I'd imagine the experience is about the same. Grief is grief."

"Would you like to see Will's picture?" Abby asked in a rough voice.

"Yes."

Abby placed her hand on Clancy's shoulder and guided her into the living room. Clancy had never been in the space, and she immediately decided that she could take up residence on the sofa and be very happy.

It was a typical Craftsman living room, and this one was in perfect, nearly original shape. Clancy knew more than a little about the design, since she had wavered between being a residential architect or working with landscape, and she had always been a fan of the style. Large, stained-glass panels bracketed the picture window, and the last rays of the sun were streaming into the room, painting it in pale blues, purples, and grass greens. "Why would you use the rest of the house if you could be in here?" she muttered, almost to herself.

She realized Abby was still beside her when she felt the slight pressure of a hand atop her shoulder. "It is special, isn't it?"

"Stunning. One of the best examples I've seen - except for the Gamble house, of course."

"I'm not sure you know it, but this house was built by a man who'd worked for the Greene and Greene brothers," Abby informed her, naming the pre-eminent designers of the California Craftsman style.

Clancy dropped to her knees, crossing herself ostentatiously. "I'm adding to the design of an almost-Greene and Greene?"

"You sure are," Abby said, smiling down at her, "and I know you're the woman for the job."

Clancy got to her feet, almost feeling a little woozy from the information she'd received. "I hope you're confident enough for both of us," she gulped.

"I thought you were all about confidence."

"I'm confident about you," Clancy clarified. "Big difference."

Abby gave her a squeeze and led her over to the bookcases that flanked the beautiful windows. "I have dozens and dozens of pictures, but I put most of them away. The room had started to remind me of a mausoleum." She picked up a framed portrait of the entire family. "This was our last Christmas together," she said. "We were all so busy that year, we almost skipped it. I'm so glad we didn't."

Clancy studied the picture, able to see the warm affection that flowed among all of the members of the family. Abby and Will were sitting on the sofa in their living room, and the two kids were standing behind them, Trevor behind Abby, and Hayley behind Will. Will and Abby were holding hands, and the pose didn't look staged in the least. Instead, it seemed like that was probably their natural reaction to sitting beside one another. The portrait was very informal - which surprised Clancy. Everyone was laughing - not smiling; laughing - these people were obviously enjoying themselves. Abby leaned toward Will, her head resting on his shoulder, and her eyes were nearly closed as she tried to control herself. Will looked impish - a little like he'd been caught doing something that he shouldn't have been.

Abby looked down and explained, "I don't even remember what he said, but Will cracked us all up right before the shutter clicked. There were a lot of shots from the session that were more posed - more traditional - but this one captured us perfectly."

Blinking back tears, Clancy extended her hand, and Abby's immediately fell into it. "I've never seen a family portrait that captured the real people. This is precious." She squeezed the hand and released it, then looked into her friend's eyes and said, "Thanks for sharing it."

Abby put the photo back on the shelf and walked to the next case. She removed another photo and smiled as she considered it. "I keep this one to remind myself I was once young." Clancy looked at the picture, and immediately noticed that it was taken on the front porch. A very young Abby was sitting on Will's lap, her arms draped around his neck. He was looking at her with undisguised interest, but she was staring right into the camera, a wide smile lighting up her face. Her hair was long and a glossy black color that showed off her eyes to dazzling effect. Perfect, white teeth were revealed between her open lips, and it looked as though she was about to speak. "Will's mother took this not long after we started dating," she said, gazing at the photo fondly. "You can't tell from this angle, but he'd grabbed a handful of my ass and was giving it such a hard squeeze that I was ready to scream. He knew I wouldn't say a thing since his mother was there. He was such a tease!"

Clancy was still trying to get over the captivating good looks of the young woman. "Damn, Abby, you should have been a model!"

"I had a few offers," she admitted. "There were always talent scouts hovering around UCLA in the seventies." She put the picture back in its spot. "I had no interest. My parents are both professionals, and I'd always assumed that I'd make a living with my brain, not my body." She looked thoughtful for a bit and said, "In a way, I didn't fulfill my dreams, but I don't have a regret in the world. I would never have trusted a stranger to raise my babies, and with Will's schedule, I wanted to be home whenever he was. It worked out."

"I can see how happy you are with your decisions," Clancy said, "and I can see what a great mom you are. Your kids are very, very lucky."

The older woman cleared her throat. "I think we've been on the memory lane detour long enough. Let's go grab a cold drink and sit outside with the kids."

"What about the dishes?"

"They'll still be there tomorrow. One thing Will's death did was show me that my time with the kids is precious. I don't want to waste a minute."

O

They sat by the pool until Trevor announced that he was going to bed. Abby walked Clancy out to her truck, and the pair paused by the door for a few minutes. "I had the best time tonight," Clancy said.

"I had fun, too. You really seemed to hit it off with the kids, and I want to thank you for going out of your way to compliment each of them so generously."

"I didn't go out of my way," Clancy maintained. "Your whole family is very complimentable." She wrinkled up her nose and said, "I don't think that's a real word, but you know what I mean."

"I do," Abby said, her laughter making Clancy grin in response. They were quiet for a moment, Abby giving her friend a long look. "I'd love to meet your parents. They did such a good job with you - I'd like a few pointers."

"Well, I don't know about that, but you'll meet my dad soon. He wants to talk to you about your thoughts for the pool deck."

"Great. Let's make plans to meet soon. Maybe both of your parents could come for dinner?"

Clancy laughed, her expression revealing a little disbelief. "You're going to spoil me for normal clients, you know. Not only do you feed me with regularity, now you're feeding my parents."

"Do you still think of me as a client?" Abby asked, furrowing her brow slightly.

"Yes," Clancy said. "I think of you as a client I've been lucky enough to turn into a friend."

"The clients who don't get to be your friend don't know what they're missing," Abby said, smiling.

Not having a response for that, Clancy looked down at the ground, shyly kicking some stones with the toe of her boot. "Hey, I have a question," she said, trying to shift the attention away from herself. "In the picture of you and Will, you were on this porch, but you said you were only dating."

"Oh, didn't I tell you? This is the house that Will grew up in. His parents were ready to retire when we got married. They moved to Palm Springs and gave the house to us as the world's best wedding present."

"Wow! I had no idea!" She looked up at the distinctive roofline, a little awe peeking through. "To get an almost Greene and Greene - without a mortgage!"

"Yes, it was an awfully nice way to start out. Sometimes I wish they hadn't moved away, since they didn't get to spend much time with the kids, but I think they were happy in the desert."

"Past tense?"

Abby nodded. "They both died when the kids were still young. Hayley has a few memories of them, but neither of the kids had much time to really get to know them."

"That's a shame," Clancy said. "Grandparents are awfully important."

"Yeah, they are." She laughed softly. "While Will's parents were alive I always felt like we were living in their house. But once they died we both felt a little more free to do what we wanted with it."

"You made changes?"

"Yeah. Quite a few. The house had six bedrooms originally, but they were all rather small. We took the three rooms at the end of the hall and had them turned into a large master suite with a big, attached bathroom. Then we had the kitchen redone about ten years ago." She made a face and said, "Don't ever let anyone talk you into remodeling a kitchen when you're living in the house."

"Thanks for the advice," Clancy said, smiling. "This is the nicest house I've ever been in, and I'm so grateful that you're letting me make my mark on the landscape. It means more to me than I can say."

"I'm the lucky one," Abby insisted. "Someday, people will say 'That's a Clancy O'Connor landscape, you know.'"

"I doubt that, but it's nice to dream," the younger woman said.

"You're gonna do a marvelous job," Abby assured her. "I'm really lucking out here. I'm gonna get a great design and a great friend in the bargain."

Clancy was so overcome by the generous compliments that she impulsively threw her arms around Abby and gave her a heartfelt hug. "Thanks for having confidence in me."

Abby patted her soothingly and reminded her, "That's what friends do."

O

"Well, this is a surprise." Margaret O'Connor emerged from the back of her floral shop and beamed at her daughter. "A pleasant surprise, I might add." She walked around the counter and gave her only child a generous hug. "What are you doing in my neighborhood?"

"I had to go check out some plants at a nursery in Cucamonga. I hate to be in the 'hood and not say hello to my dear mother."

"What do you need?" the older woman asked suspiciously, kidding gently.

"Not a darned thing," Clancy assured her. "Everything is fine - I'm working hard, I'm getting paid "

"Good for you!" Margaret ran her fingers through her daughter's close-cropped hair. "It took me a while, but I've really gotten used to your being a blonde. You wouldn't even look yourself with brown hair again."

Clancy walked around the counter and stuck her head into the huge, walk-in chiller. "Nice roses," she commented. "I like the coral ones a lot."

"Thanks," her mother said, still a little suspicious of the visit. Clancy was a very loving, devoted daughter, but she wasn't the sort to drive to Sierra Madre for no reason.

"How's Gramma?"

"She's good," Margaret said. "You're coming to the barbeque on Sunday, aren't you?"

"Huh?" The young woman was obviously distracted, but she nodded. "Oh, sure. Of course I'm coming. I might bring Michael."

"He's always welcome," Margaret said.

"Cool." Clancy sat on the stool behind the counter and rocked back and forth, just as she had when she was a child. "Got any orders to fill?"

"Sure. Why?"

"Can I help?"

"Clancy," Margaret put her hands on her hips and stared at her daughter. "You don't come out to Sierra Madre in the middle of a working day to help me fill orders. Now what's up with you?"

"Nothing," she said, a touch of irritation in her voice. "I'm not busy, and I thought it would be fun to spend the afternoon with you. If you don't want me here "

Margaret went to her daughter and grasped her firmly, holding her against her ample breasts. "Of course I want you here. You'd still be living at home if I had my choice." She released her and placed a hand on the small of her back to lead her into the workroom. "I have an order for a big twenty-fifth anniversary party. Wanna do the arrangement for the head table?"

O

"Something is definitely up with Clancy," her mother said after she and her husband had gotten into bed that night.

"I think it's nice that she came up to spend some time with you. Do you have to second guess her all of the time?"

"Second guess! When have I ever second guessed her?" Margaret sat up and glared at her husband, daring him to contradict her.

He merely gave her a fond look and a pat on the side. "Let's see you tried to talk her out of being gay. As I recall, that period lasted for several years then there was the tattoo and the "

"Fine! You laugh all you want, John. Something is bothering her, but she's not able to talk about it."

He gave her a patient smile and said, "When she's ready, she'll talk about it. She always does, Margaret."

She grabbed her pillow and tossed it at him. "You're as bad as she is!"

Chuckling, he pushed the pillow away from his face and said, "I take that as a compliment." His face crinkled up in a grin as he reminded his wife, "So would she."

"Rub it in, go ahead and rub it in." Since Clancy'd been born, the O'Connors had had a running joke concerning which of them the child was closer to. For many years, the clear winner had been John, and he was loath to discontinue their game now that he was winning.

"Hey, she came to you this time," he reminded his wife. "Did you try to draw her out?"

"Yes! I asked her at least five times, and each time she told me there was nothing wrong!"

"Oh, Margaret, have you learned nothing from the master?" He was clearly rubbing it in, but his wife wanted information badly enough to allow him to torture her.

"Go on," she said wearily. "Lecture me again."

He puffed out his chest, pleased to be in this position. "Okay. The key to Clancy is never to ask her a direct question. She only talks if she doesn't realize she's revealing anything. You have to work around the question, Margaret. You can't hit the kid head on."

"You know that's not my style," the chronically blunt woman grumbled, blowing out a frustrated breath.

"I know, sweetheart. You leave the girl to me. I'll get it out of her at the barbeque."

"No! I want her to confide in me for a change!"

"Okay," John said patiently. "Give me your best guess as to what's bothering her."

She thought for a minute. "It's her love life. Or her lack of one." He gave her an encouraging look, and she continued. "There was something there, John. Something's God, I hope she's finally getting serious about someone."

He chuckled at her expression. "This from the woman who tried for years to convince her that she wasn't gay."

"Honey, it's been twelve years since she told us. I'd be happy if she brought a well-mannered goat home to meet us."

Laughing at her exaggeration, he said, "I agree it's high time she found someone, but you can't rush her, sweetie."

"She's going to be thirty this year, John. Having a relationship that lasts longer than a month is not rushing!"

"Well," he admitted, "I would like to at least meet one of her girlfriends. Maybe she's discovered that she's really straight, but she's afraid to admit it since she made such a big deal about being gay."

"I don't think you should hold your breath on that one, honey," Margaret said. "I don't know the first thing about lesbians, and even I would tag her as one. She's got the look."

"Oh, since when did you develop a sense of lesbian style?"

"Well, I don't have one, but she reminds me a little bit of that Ryan girl; you know the one."

"Ryan?"

"Yes, honey, the girl from the lesbian show. And that cute movie where she had the orgasm."

"Orgasm? They made a movie about orgasms?"

"No, no, that was a little part of the movie. She had that funny orgasm in the deli."

John gave her a wide-eyed look, then slowly, recognition dawned. "Meg Ryan? Are you talking about Meg Ryan?"

"Yes! Clancy reminds me of her a little bit. It's too bad her TV show was canceled. Clancy really liked it."

"Honey, I think you're talking about Ellen DeGeneres. Those are two different women."

"Oh, right. Well, since Clancy died her hair she looks like the Ryan girl, and well, I guess she looks like the DeGeneres girl because they're both lesbians."

John O'Connor buried his head under his pillow. His wife barely heard his muffled, "Don't you ever say that to her face."

O

To be continued in Part 3

Return to the Academy