Arbor Vitae

By SX Meagher

Chapter Seven

The first day of work with the full crew went better than Clancy had expected. She'd been worried that her attention would be too fragmented for her to keep an eye on Hayley and make sure she wasn't asking the girl to do too much, and she was pleased when that wasn't the case. She ate lunch outside under a tree with her crew, while Hayley went inside to make herself something. The young woman had been gone for a few minutes when Ramon, the crew chief, walked over and sat down next to Clancy. "The girl why's she here?"

Ramon always cut to the chase, and Clancy knew it would be a waste of time to lie to him. "I like this family. We've been having dinner together and hanging around. Hayley wanted to help, and she's an extra pair of hands."

"She's worth $7, no more. She can't dig, she can't climb, she has no muscles."

Clancy nodded. "You're probably right, but she can still help out. Let's treat her like we treat Armando's son when he helps."

"Armando's son is thirteen years old," Ramon said. "All he does is carry branches and rocks away. And you pay him $7."

"I know that," Clancy said. "And that's probably what Hayley will be doing. So feel free to give her orders. Just don't ask her to do anything too hard. I don't want her to hurt herself."

While they were talking, Hayley emerged from the house. She looked around and found Clancy, and a beautiful smile bloomed. She was carrying two Popsicles - one obviously for Clancy.

Ramon stood and made a clucking sound with his tongue. "Ah, I think I see why the girl is here. Why do you try to hide things from me, jefa?"

"I'm not hiding anything, Ramon," Clancy said through gritted teeth. "She's seventeen years old!"

"My mother had two children by that age," Ramon said, laughing to himself as he took up a place near the rest of the men.

Hayley approached and held out a cherry Popsicle. "Thought you might like something cold," she said.

"Thanks, Hayley." Clancy accepted the confection and smiled when she put it into her mouth. "It's been a long time since I've had one of these. It's just the thing on a warm afternoon."

Hayley nodded, working to keep the melting treat from running onto her hand. She had a decidedly sensual way of licking the Popsicle, and Clancy wondered if it was unintentional. Hayley hadn't given her any vibes, and had spoken exclusively of guys when they'd chatted, but something seemed a little different today, and Clancy was fairly certain that she wasn't imagining it.

As soon as she was finished with her ice, Clancy stood up, the stick still in her mouth. She brushed off her pants and walked along the hill, making sure that everything was being done perfectly. Although she was working closely with the crew, she was no longer acting as a laborer. Now she was really doing her job-directing, supervising, and troubleshooting. It was still tiring, but it wasn't as physically exhausting as her two weeks of pick and shovel work had been. The weather had also cooled off a bit-temperatures were now in the eighties-a welcome change from the heat.

Abby came home around 4:00-having been in and out since Clancy and the crew arrived. She had joined her usual foursome for a round of golf, mostly to keep herself busy and out of the way. She knew it would be hard to avoid watching Hayley to make sure she wasn't overtaxing herself, and she was absolutely not going to act like an over-protective mother, no matter how great the temptation.

She stood at the sliding glass door and allowed herself the guilty pleasure of observing clandestinely for a few minutes. Seeing Clancy, she smiled warmly at the younger woman, who looked completely adorable in what Abby thought of as her uniform. Today's sock selection was a wild one-bright purple with a red and gold print, and her baseball cap echoed the purple color. She is so damned cute, Abby thought, seeing just a few locks of white-blonde hair sticking out of the back of the cap.

Clancy was standing on the side of the hill, her clipboard thrust against her hip-checking off items while she conversed with Ramon. She pointed with her pen, gesturing all around the yard while he nodded at her. A substantial-sounding engine was rumbling, and Abby couldn't put a damper on her curiosity any longer. She walked out onto the patio and discovered one of the men using a rather large contraption along the lot line. Clancy was speaking loudly to be heard over the noise, and when it shut off abruptly, Abby could hear Clancy speaking in a very natural-sounding Spanish.

Ramon barked out a few orders, also in Spanish, then Clancy nodded, said, "Bueno," and headed down the hill. Abby smiled at the graceful, unconcerned way the architect navigated the steep slope-looking as though she'd been doing so her whole life. The landscaper was about halfway down when she spotted Abby, and the older woman felt her heart skip a beat at the decadent pleasure of having someone's face light up just because of her. Her smile echoed her happiness.

"You speak Spanish so well," Abby said when the younger woman drew near. "I hope you're not saying anything that Hayley needs to hear, though. It's all she can do to order dinner in a Mexican restaurant."

"No, both Ramon and I speak English," Clancy said, smiling. "We've got Hayley busier than a one-armed paperhanger." She pointed to the far end of the hill, where Hayley was putting rocks into a wheelbarrow. "We're trenching to get ready to put in the posts for the wall. The trencher kicks out the big rocks, and we've got Hayley picking them up. Doesn't make sense to leave them on the hill."

"Is she capable of doing that?" The hill looked higher from this vantage point, and Abby could easily envision her daughter falling down it.

"Oh, yeah. I told her to only fill it half-full, then take it down to the dumpster. I can guarantee one thing," Clancy said. "She'll never work harder for twelve bucks an hour."

"I think it's good for her," Abby said. "I'm worried that she'll hurt herself, but I guess she'll recover from a few scrapes and blisters."

"I've been doing this since I was a kid, and I can count my scars on the fingers of one hand."

"There's something we can do in Merced," Abby said, giggling. "We can sit in the hot-tub and show each other our war wounds."

Clancy managed a smile, deciding to redouble her efforts to find a motel that had a hot-tub-or build one herself.

O

By the middle of the week, the posts for the wall were in, and the men had set the first course of concrete block. Now Hayley was mixing mortar and carting it up the hill, having learned the art of a proper mix from Clancy.

The architect had been impressed with how intent Hayley was on doing the job right. She listened to the instructions like Moses before the burning bush, and she was so serious about it that Clancy tried to joke to relax her. "Nobody's gonna die if you do this wrong once or twice, Hayley. If it's too runny, just add some more Quikset. If it's too stiff, add more water. No biggie."

"But I want to do it right," she said earnestly. "I don't want to disappoint you. I know you're counting on me."

"Yeah, I am, but you've been great so far. Don't sweat it."

"I see how much it means to you to do a good job," Hayley said. "So it means that much to me, too."

Clancy gave her a slightly puzzled look, patted her on the back and said, "A good work ethic will serve you well." As she walked away, she wasn't sure, but she had a feeling that Hayley was staring at her. Her suspicions were confirmed when she met Ramon at the top of the hill. "Either your shorts are on fire, or the girl likes to watch you walk away, jefa."

The architect yanked off her baseball cap and wiped her forehead dry. "My mother's in Sierra Madre, Ramon. She's the only one I need."

O

On Friday afternoon, Hayley hung around while the crew was cleaning off their tools. "Have any plans tonight?" she asked Clancy, her tone having a forced casualness to it.

"No. I'm beat by Friday. I usually go home, get into the tub, and read a book until I fall asleep. I'm almost always in bed by 10:00."

"Clancy! You're wasting your life! Let's go do something tonight. I'm full of energy!"

"I can tell," Clancy said, watching the younger woman's body twitch. "But I'm full of lethargy. Why don't you go out with your friends?"

"Well, I can, but they're not as much fun as you are."

"They must be a pretty tame group," Clancy laughed. "Do you hang out with a bunch of senior citizens?"

"No, silly." Hayley playfully pushed Clancy, allowing her hand to stay on the landscaper's shoulder. "Boy, you're so strong. You could probably pick me up with one hand."

Oh, no, I couldn't, Clancy thought. My hands are going nowhere near your body! "I'm not much into picking people up," Clancy said. "Besides, by Friday night, I'm too tired. Go have fun with your friends," she said. "I'm going home to my bath."

"You're missing out," Hayley said, trying to lure the architect into changing her mind.

"I'm sure I am, but this old body likes to relax on Fridays."

"Okay."

Hayley turned and walked into the house, making Clancy sigh with relief. From over her shoulder she heard a soft voice ask, "Why do you not go with the girl? She'll make you feel young again."

All Ramon earned for his remarks was a glare.

O

Abby got home as Ramon was driving away with the crew. She waved at the men and pulled up next to Clancy, who was getting into her truck. "Ready to go?"

"Yep. I love Friday nights," Clancy said, giving her friend a wan smile.

"Big plans?"

A Mercedes SUV pulled up next to Abby, and an attractive, young blonde woman lowered the window. "Hi, Mrs. Graham," the girl said. "Is Hayley ready?"

"I didn't know you were going out together, Kerry. Go ahead and honk."

The young woman did, and seconds later, Hayley ran out of the house. She looked like she'd had a relaxing day at the beach, and Clancy realized how long it had been since she was seventeen. Hayley winked at Clancy, saying quietly, "Last chance."

Clancy shook her head and waved. "Have a good time."

"Be home by 1:00 or call me," Abby said.

"We'll be home early, Mrs. Graham," Kerry said.

"Have fun," Abby called out as Hayley got in the car.

They pulled away, and Abby said, "Do you ever wish you were in college again?"

"Nope."

"Me either," Abby said, laughing. "Once was enough. Oh! You were telling me about your big plans."

"I plan on going through the drive-through window at Taco Bell, taking a long bath, and being in bed by 10:00."

"You're a wild one," Abby said.

"What about you?"

"Oh, I'll make myself dinner. I thought Hayley would be home, so I've got far too much." She cocked her head and asked, "Would you like her swordfish? I have some mango/papaya salsa for it, and I was going to oil roast some little potatoes and squash."

"Gosh, Abby. I don't know if I can give up my Burrito Supreme."

She was giving her friend a charming grin, and Abby said, "Let's go put our suits on and sit in the Jacuzzi while the barbeque grill warms up."

"There isn't a word that's come out of your mouth that isn't absolutely fantastic," Clancy said, smiling at the mere thought of the evening to come.

O

After relaxing in the Jacuzzi, Clancy swam a few laps to cool off while Abby cooked dinner. They ate outdoors, the warm night perfect for dining in wet swimming suits. After they'd finished, they both took showers to rinse off the chlorine, and by 8:30, they were in the family room, relaxing on the huge sectional that covered two walls.

Abby had on a pair of well-worn, pink flannel boxers and a roomy, lightweight, sky blue sweatshirt. Since Clancy's clothes were filthy, Abby had loaned the landscaper an outfit-a pair of green and gold silk paisley boxers, courtesy of Hayley. A gold T-shirt strained across her shoulders, Hayley being the same height but significantly narrower through the shoulders than the muscular landscaper.

They had raided the refrigerator for dessert, but the only thing that appealed to either of them was a quart of fresh strawberries that had caught Clancy's attention as soon as they entered the kitchen. Abby saw her eyeing the fruit and suggested, "Wanna experience one of my favorite munchie-slaying snacks?"

"Why, Mrs. Graham, I believe you're referring to being baked. Do you still partake of the evil weed?"

"No," Abby said, laughing lightly. "I stopped after college. It's so tiring having kids, that the last thing you want is to intentionally make yourself more tired."

"That makes sense," Clancy said. "It doesn't make me tired, but it makes me want to get horizontal. Since there's nothing worse than being massively horny and all alone, I don't do it very often, either."

"This is more fun, anyway," Abby decided. "We can have the munchies without the sexual side effect."

I've already got that one, Clancy moaned to herself. In those snug little boxers, you look good enough to eat.

They sat next to one another with a tray filled with plump red strawberries, chunks of sliced banana, a saucer full of brown sugar and another filled with sour cream. Abby showed her friend a few of her favorite variations, and Clancy quickly decided that she was a fan of the taste treat. They had eaten over half of the berries when Clancy said, "The only thing we need is a dish of melted chocolate. Then I'd be in heaven."

"Get ready to meet St. Peter," Abby informed her. As the older woman got up to walk into the kitchen, Clancy followed the slow twitch of her hips, unconsciously licking her lips at the sight of Abby's firm, round ass. She had seen her friend in shorts, slacks, a swimsuit, and even tight jeans, but nothing else she wore had ever shown off her shapely ass as much as the slightly snug boxers.

I've gotta get a grip here, Clancy said, trying to slow her rapidly beating heart.

Abby reappeared a few moments later and handed Clancy a bottle of champagne. "Will you open this for me? Nothing goes better with chocolate than champagne."

"What are we celebrating?" Clancy asked, accepting the bottle.

Thinking for a moment, Abby said, "We're celebrating the fact that it's Friday, and we have a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator." She turned on her heel, and Clancy laughed along with her, managing another long look at her departing form.

Abby came back with two champagne flutes and said, "I'm out of the chocolate I like best. I called the market, and they're going to bring some over."

"You ordered chocolate? Just chocolate?"

"No," Abby said, smiling. "I also ordered some more of these strawberries and another bottle of champagne." She shrugged and said, "We might not need it, but I like to be prepared."

"I had no idea the market delivered," Clancy said as she began to pour.

"Well, they have a minimum order. The wine helped meet it."

"I'm not even gonna ask," the blonde said. "I never spend more than twenty bucks at a time there."

"It was a little more than that," Abby said, smiling enigmatically. She sat next to Clancy and held out her glass. "It's a nice champagne that I was saving for a special occasion. I think this counts." She clinked her glass against Clancy's and said, "To Fridays."

"To Fridays. Mmm I know nothing about wine, but this is very, very nice."

"That's all you have to know," Abby said. "Stick with what appeals to you, and you'll always make the right choice."

Clancy scooted back to lean against the arm of the sectional, sticking her legs out. She gave the older woman a thoughtful look, took another sip of her wine, and asked, "What appeals to you, Abby? I know you haven't been able to find the person you're looking for, but I don't really know what's on your list."

Giving her a sly smile, Abby closed an eye and titled her glass in Clancy's direction. "I'll give you my list, if you'll give me yours."

"Done. Let's start with the most obvious element. What type appeals to you?"

"Type? Physical type?" Clancy nodded, and Abby furrowed her brow. "I don't have an answer for that. I loved the way Will looked-he was big and kinda bulky. He had broad shoulders and powerful arms-like a bigger version of Trevor. It was so nice to lie in his arms and feel him engulf me with his body." She sipped her wine and said, "But I've dated guys who couldn't snap a pencil in half. So I'd say that the physical package isn't that big a deal. How about you?"

"Mmm well," Clancy said, shifting nervously, "I guess I'm pretty flexible, too."

"I detect a little prevarication," Abby said, narrowing her eyes. "Have a little more truth serum and give that question another try."

Smirking, Clancy drained her glass and held it out for more. "Okay," she said, taking a breath. "I've dated a wide range of physical types, but all of my relationships have been with dark-haired women. I like tall, lanky types, too." She cleared her throat and added, "I've never had any success in landing the type of woman I'm most attracted to, though."

"Really? That surprises me," Abby said. "I'd think you could have your choice of women."

Clancy focused on everything but her friend's eyes. "No, that hasn't been true. I think part of the reason I strike out is because I look so young."

"What does that have to do with it?" Abby asked.

"Uhm physically, I'm most attracted to older women. I really like the contrast of graying hair with a tanned face. There's something I don't even know what it is, but I've always liked that look. But most older women think I'm a kid, and they won't give me the time of day."

"Huh," Abby said, not commenting further. She felt her heart rate pick up and tried to stop her hand from shaking when she poured herself more wine. Steadying her voice, she said, "Okay, you have a preference for type, and I'm pretty flexible. What's next?"

"Well," Clancy said, grateful that Abby had not followed up on her comment, "what kind of personality appeals to you?"

Relieved to be back on familiar ground, Abby said, "Oh, that's easy. I'd love to find someone like Will. He was serious about his work - very professional and competent. But he was a kid at heart. He saw the humor in everything, and he could make me laugh without even trying. I have to have someone who can make me laugh. I won't settle for less."

"Mmm that's important to me, too," Clancy said. "Life's too short to be serious all the time."

"Good answer." Smiling warmly at her friend, Abby said, "You know, I have to thank you for something that's very important to me. You've helped me learn how to laugh again, Clancy. I'd started to forget how."

"You haven't had much to laugh about for quite a few years," Clancy said, "but if I've helped in any way, I'm very glad of that."

"You've definitely helped," Abby said, grabbing Clancy's bare foot and giving it a tug. "Some of my friends have been very, very supportive over the past few years, but they treat me so gingerly-like they're afraid to laugh or tease me. You treat me like I'm my old self."

"I didn't know you when you were in your deepest grief," Clancy said. "It's probably easier for me."

"Perhaps," Abby agreed. Unconsciously, she reached out with her hand and started to trace idle patterns on the sole of Clancy's foot. "You look a little squished there." Taking hold of Clancy's big toe, she pulled the leg onto her lap, then pulled the other foot over as well. "Better?" She looked down at her lap, wondering how Clancy's feet had gotten there. It felt so natural to touch her friend that she wasn't sure if she or Clancy had put them there. She was only sure of one thing. She didn't want her to move them.

Clancy shifted a little, knowing she hadn't answered Abby's question, but assuming it was rhetorical.

Abby took a generous drink of her wine to calm her nerves and looked at her friend through the crystal. "What else do you want to know, buddy?"

Uhm why are you playing with my feet? Not that I want you to stop, of course. Collecting her thoughts, Clancy managed to ask, "Are you looking for a professional? Someone like Will?"

"No, not necessarily. The problem is that most of the people I meet are professionals-doctors and lawyers and the like, but that's not important to me. I'm looking for a quality person-not a person who makes a lot of money. I want someone who wants to take it slow and enjoy me and enjoy life. I'm not interested in some high-powered guy who spends all of his time advancing his career. I need someone who gets pleasure from sitting on my front porch and watching the flowers grow."

She heard the words come from her mouth and blinked rapidly, trying to decide if she should, or could, qualify them. Unable to look up, she filled her glass again and took three deep gulps, letting the wine warm her as it slid down her throat.

Clancy's soft voice said, "Finding someone who shares my interests and hobbies is important to me, too. I think there are people like that out there for both of us. Heck, maybe I should try my hand at fixing you up. Maybe one of the nurserymen I know would be right for you."

Giving her a grateful look, Abby said, "We'll get right on that as soon as things settle down around here."

"Good idea." Clancy sipped at her wine, occasionally gazing at her friend. "Maybe you can introduce me to some of your single women friends," she said, chuckling softly.

"I don't have many single friends, but I know a few married women who might want to explore a little," Abby said with a wry smirk.

"No, that's not my style," Clancy said. "I take marriage vows very seriously-even if the person who made them doesn't."

"That's an admirable quality," Abby said. "I guess that's another thing for my list. I would only seriously date someone who shared my moral code-or at least came close. Some people think the Ten Commandments might not be relevant any longer-but if you follow them, I guarantee you'll have a peaceful life."

"I can't disagree. If you don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, and don't take advantage of other people, you might lose out to someone who doesn't have scruples, but you'll sleep well at night. That's gotta be more important than money."

Abby took another sip of her champagne and looked across the room, staring at nothing in particular. Her hand started to travel a little bit, tickling all the way up to Clancy's knee. "Is it just me, or do our lists match incredibly well?"

"No," Clancy said, clearing her throat, "it's not just you, but that isn't surprising-I think we're a lot alike."

"I don't know if that's true." Abby fixed Clancy with an intent gaze and said, "Honestly, you remind me of Will. More than anyone I've ever known."

Clancy gave her a sheepish look and shrugged her shoulders. "Huh. Go figure." That was smooth. Something is happening here, you dolt! Don't act like you're oblivious to it! Maybe she needs a little encouragement!

The doorbell rang, and when Abby went to answer, the younger woman tried to get her breathing under control. What in the hell is going on here? Is she flirting with me? It seems like it, but I'm sure as hell not gonna make a move if she's not! Fuck, fuck, fuck! This is why it's so hard to lust after a straight woman!

"Be back in a minute," Abby said, poking her head into the room.

Shortly after the microwave dinged, she returned with a ramekin filled with rich, dark, melted bittersweet chocolate, the scent wafting up to Clancy's sensitive nose. "Good God, that smells fabulous."

Snaring a berry by its dark green stem, Abby dipped it into the luscious chocolate and leaned down to hold it to Clancy's lips. Nonplussed, Clancy opened her mouth mechanically and bit down when instructed. "Do you like it?" Abby asked softly, her eyes never leaving Clancy's.

Unable to concentrate with Abby's eyes boring into her, the younger woman had to close her eyes to be able to answer. "Heavenly," she said, her voice sounding high to her own ears.

Abby dipped the large berry once again and pressed it to Clancy's lips. "Open wide," she said, her voice dropping almost to a whisper.

This time Clancy's eyes remained open, and she felt the warmth that radiated between them. The older woman held her position for just a moment longer, then looked away as if afraid of what she saw when their eyes met.

She resumed her seat, and over the next several minutes, they quietly devoured the entire supply of berries. There was not a word spoken between them, but Clancy could feel a pull towards Abby that felt like being drawn in by a powerful magnet. Their connection felt like a living, pulsing reality, and she could feel it grow as the moments passed. When the berries were gone, they moved onto the bananas-their taste improved dramatically by the addition of melted chocolate. Still silent, they alternated dipping the sliced bananas into the ramekin, growing a little more playful as each tried to grab the final piece.

"Last bite," Clancy declared. She held up the chunk and positioned it a foot higher than her mouth, letting a few fat drops of chocolate drip lazily onto her tongue.

"Dibs!" Abby said impishly, and graced Clancy with a sweet smile when the younger woman looked in her direction.

Clancy's body shifted, and her arm came up to settle onto the back of the sofa. "You want this?" she asked tauntingly, holding the morsel over Abby's open mouth.

"Yes. I do."

Clancy stared at the glint of excitement in her friend's eyes. Abby's mouth was curled up into a sexy pout, and suddenly, her hand was on Clancy's bare thigh. Cool, soft fingers started to climb slowly, and when the fingers reached the edge of the boxers, Abby slipped one elegant finger just far enough inside to let Clancy know that she was inviting her to make a move.

Dropping her voice down to its most sensual timbre, Clancy asked, "Are you sure you want it?" Her eyes roamed over her friend, searching for any sign of hesitation.

Abby didn't respond immediately. Her head was tilted back against the sofa, and she rolled it just enough to be able to look directly into Clancy's eyes. "I want it," she whispered, her hand tenderly stroking the warm skin. "I'm surprised, I'm scared, I'm amazed-but I'm sure."

Clancy dropped the tidbit back onto the tray and closed the scant distance that separated their bodies. She was poised just above her friend and hesitated for a moment, knowing that there was no turning back once she leapt the chasm.

Abby closed her eyes and gently touched Clancy's shoulder, exerting a slight pressure as she pulled her closer. When they were inches apart, Clancy paused again, just long enough for Abby's blue eyes to flutter open. A small, gentle smile settled onto her lips, and she slipped her hand behind Clancy's neck. She licked her lips and pulled the younger woman closer until their mouths were nearly touching.

Clancy could feel Abby's breath on her face and the heat that radiated from her. She desperately needed to kiss her, but the moment seemed so perfect that she had to savor it-if only for a few seconds. She finally closed the gap, brushing her lips tenderly across Abby's. She could feel a slight tremor and heard a soft sigh leave the older woman's parted lips. Then that determined hand was cradling the back of her head again, holding her in place.

"Kiss me again," Abby whispered.

Her voice was so thrillingly seductive that Clancy pressed herself close and let her mouth eagerly explore the wealth of sensations that Abby's body presented. The sweet smell of her skin, the warmth of her body, the incredible softness of her lips, the way her mouth opened to welcome Clancy's searching tongue-all combined to make the younger woman nearly swoon. Her heart was racing, the blood pounding in her veins as she pressed forward, feeling Abby's body begin to yield to her. Slowly, the older woman reclined onto the seat of the sofa, and she looked up at Clancy with a mixture of wanton desire and stark fear in the depths of her beautiful eyes.

Clancy was shaking noticeably, her entire body coiled with tension. Abby straightened out her legs and pulled the younger woman tightly against her body, letting her eyes close languidly when she felt the firm breasts press against her own. Her hand reached out tentatively when she felt something hard and unyielding, and she slipped her fingers between their bodies to find the substantial ring piercing Clancy's right nipple.

The move took the younger woman by surprise, and her head lifted as a startled gasp left her lips. "Oh, yes," she hissed, the sensual sound sending shivers down Abby's spine.

Both elegantly shaped hands went to Clancy's head, pulling her down forcefully. Abby's mouth opened slightly and Clancy's lips immediately joined hers, crushing their mouths together in a frantic, passion-filled kiss.

Their kisses continued with reckless abandon, the fire between them rapidly growing out of either woman's control. Clancy fought with herself-reminding her conscience that it was wrong to push Abby if her friend had the slightest doubt. With every bit of discipline she possessed, she lifted her head and paused just above Abby's red, slightly swollen lips. "Yes?" she asked, holding her breath to await the answer.

Abby gazed at her for a full minute, letting her eyes wander from the damp skin of Clancy's forehead to the desire-dilated pupils to the flushed cheeks and slightly parted lips, and she heard her own voice, confident and sure, whisper, "Yes. Definitely yes."

In a heartbeat, Clancy's mouth claimed hers once again, and the architect's muscular body began to gently rub against Abby, arousing both women even more. A warm, soft hand crept under the leg of her boxers, and the moment Abby's fingers grazed Clancy's curls, the younger woman began to shake. Clancy pushed herself up onto her hands and hovered there for a moment, then maneuvered a foot to the ground and extricated herself from Abby's body. Abby looked up at her with a mixture of shock and puzzlement, but Clancy soothed the lines from her forehead with her fingertips and said, "We have to talk."

Abby looked stunned, confused, and more than a little disappointed. "Talk? We have to talk now?"

"Yeah. I really, really wish we didn't have to, but we do."

Abby reached out and took Clancy's hand, brushed her lips across it and sat up. She pushed the hair from her eyes, but continued to look down. "It's okay, Clancy. You don't owe me any explanations. Sometimes the reality isn't as good as the fantasy." She finally looked up, and her expression made Clancy's heart break. "Please don't let this ruin our friendship."

Clancy dropped to her knees and took Abby into her arms. She hugged her tight, and placed delicate kisses on her neck, then moved to her cheek, and finally to her mouth. She tried to show her feelings with the kiss, revealing her desire, her need, her regret at having to stop.

When she pulled away, Abby looked more confused than ever. "What is it?"

"It's Hayley," Clancy said.

Immediately, Abby straightened. "Hayley?"

"Yeah." Clancy sat down, putting her hand on Abby's bare leg to maintain their connection. "I've been getting some vibes from her. I think she has a crush on me."

Abby's head jerked back as if she'd been shocked. "What? Hayley has a crush on you?"

Smiling, Clancy said, "It's not that hard to believe, is it?"

"No, no, of course not. I mean, I have one." She absently stroked Clancy's thigh. "I never imagined "

"To be honest, I think this is pretty new for Hayley. I was only certain of it when she asked me to go out with her tonight."

"Go out with her?" Abby shook her head, trying to make this all make sense. "Maybe she thinks of you as a friend. She certainly wouldn't think of it as a date if Kerry was going along."

"No, Abby. Kerry wasn't going to go along. She wanted to go out with me alone. Right before she got into Kerry's car, she whispered that I could still change my mind. She wanted to go on a date. I'm sure of it."

"Oh, God, why didn't you tell me this?" She held her face in her hands, mumbling something to herself.

"I didn't feel right ratting her out," Clancy said. "Besides, like I told you, I wasn't sure until tonight."

Abby lifted her head and looked at her friend. "If you'd told me tonight, I wouldn't have kissed you. This is hard enough for me without thinking I'm poaching on my daughter's territory."

"I'm not Hayley's territory," Clancy said, wounded. "I'm nobody's territory."

"Oh, Clancy, I didn't mean it that way." Abby touched her friend's leg, gently trailing her fingers back and forth on the soft skin.

"S'okay. I'm just I'm just pissed that this happened. Damn it, Abby, I've had a crush on you since the day we met. I can't believe that I finally got to kiss you. And then Hayley has to gum up the works with this silly fantasy."

"Silly? Why is it silly?"

"Because I'd never be attracted to a teenager," Clancy said. "I haven't given her any indication that I'm into her. This is all in her mind like having a crush on a singer or an actress. It's what kids do."

"What do adults do?" Abby asked, giving Clancy a look she couldn't decipher.

"Do you mean us?"

"Yeah. What happened with us?"

"I think we've been giving each other signals for a while now. Don't you?"

Abby nodded, looking a little embarrassed. "I wasn't sure if you could tell. In a way, I didn't want you to." She looked Clancy in the eye and said, "But in another way, I desperately wanted you to notice. I'm I'm very, very attracted to you. It scares the hell out of me, but I want to make love to you."

Clancy slid onto the floor and crawled over to slip between Abby's legs. She looked into her eyes while placing her hands on her waist. "There is nothing nothing in the whole world I'd rather do. I've been nuts about you since the first, Abby, and the more I know you, the more I want you."

Leaning forward just a little bit, Abby draped her arms around Clancy's neck and kissed her. She took her time, kissing her just the way she'd fantasized. She nibbled on her lips, then sucked each one into her mouth, teasing the soft skin with her teeth. Then she pulled her tightly against herself and began to probe her mouth with her tongue, keeping up her sensual investigation until Clancy felt limp and powerless in her arms. When she finally let her go, the younger woman sat back onto her feet, looking like she'd been hit on the head.

"I I " Clancy gave up trying to talk. She let out a breath and moved so she could sit on the floor. She brought her hands up to scrub at her face, shaking her head in amazement. "I've never been kissed like that before." She looked into Abby's eyes and said, "Please do it again."

Abby scrambled off the couch, kneeling beside the younger woman. She put her arms around her and pulled her head down to rest on her breast. "I want to," she said, "but I'm so confused." Clancy could feel the heavy sigh that filled her friend's lungs. "I don't know what to do. I want you. I want you so badly. But this is hard for me. Can you understand that?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course I understand that. That's why I told you about Hayley. She just has a crush, but I thought it might -"

Abby shook her head, cutting her off. "No, it's hard for me even without bringing Hayley into this. I'm a straight woman. Or at least that's what I've been for my whole life. That's how I think of myself. But straight women don't lust after other women. Straight women don't lie in bed and touch themselves while thinking of what it would be like to taste another woman." She pulled back and looked at Clancy. "Do they?"

"I don't know, Abby. I guess some straight women have lesbian fantasies -"

"But this is a fantasy that I want to make happen. This is a fantasy that is happening. And every part of me except the rational part wants to take you upstairs and make love to you."

"I don't have a rational part," Clancy said, smiling gently. "So all of me wants to take you up on that offer."

Abby kissed her on the head and got up, stretching her body out. "One of the detriments of motherhood. There's always a rational part." She held her hand out and helped Clancy to her feet. "You're a handful," she said, smiling.

"Yeah. I probably outweigh you, and you're a couple of inches taller than I am."

Abby let out a massive breath, then trailed her fingers down both of Clancy's shoulders and arms, stopping to trace the triceps. "I'd love to see exactly what makes you so sturdy. I love muscles."

Clancy couldn't help herself. She stuck her right arm out and turned it to make the tricep pop. "Never been in a gym in my life," she said. "These are from moving mounds of dirt from one place to another."

"I " Abby's smile faded. "I have so much I want to say to you. So many things I want to do with you." She brushed her fingers across Clancy's lips. "But I don't know what to do. Do you understand?"

"I don't think I do, Abby. I I want to, but I don't know what it's like to be a mother, and I don't know what it's like to have feelings for a woman after spending my whole life thinking I was straight."

Giving her a sad smile, Abby said, "Don't forget the part where mother and daughter both have a crush on the same woman."

Clancy took in a breath and prepared herself to tell Abby that she cared about her enough to get beyond any obstacle. But something stopped her. She was sure of her feelings, but she wasn't sure enough of Abby's to tell her what was in her heart. Instead, she put her arms around Abby's waist and held her, neither of them speaking. After a long time, she said, "I should go. Hayley might be home soon, and I don't think either of us is in the mood to talk to her right now."

"No, I'm certainly not looking forward to it. I think I'll go to bed."

Clancy desperately wanted to go with her, but she knew that wasn't possible. She smiled a little, and put her hand on Abby's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "It's been a tough night for both of us. Maybe we both need a good night's sleep."

Abby nodded, unable to read a thing from Clancy's wan smile. "I guess I'll see you "

Clancy took her hand and started to move away. As she did, their arms extended, then dropped to their sides. "I'll bring Hayley's clothes back on Monday." Then she turned and left the room, missing the tears that immediately formed in Abby's eyes.

The dogs went with Clancy, looking confused when they all reached the back door. "Your momma will take you girls out later," the landscaper said. "I've gotta go." She went outside to the accompanying whines of the dogs, scooped up her dirty clothes and boots, then padded down the driveway to claim her truck. She got in and sat there for a minute, feeling more confused and torn than she ever had in her life. "How did such a great evening turn into such a suckfest?" She slammed her hand down on the steering wheel, shaking it and cursing when the pain registered. "Fuck me," she grumbled, then started the truck and drove home.

O

After letting the dogs out, Abby went upstairs, relieved when she heard Hayley enter a short time later. She still couldn't sleep, but at least there was one less thing to worry about. The dogs left her bed, heading downstairs to keep Hayley company.

Abby lay there for a very long time, the jumble of thoughts in her head impossible to sort out. She was incredibly attracted to Clancy, and her sexual desire wasn't even the biggest part of her attraction. She was frightened to admit it, thought there was very little chance of the relationship ever getting off the ground, but she knew she was falling in love. With a woman fifteen years younger than she who was solidly situated in a blue-collar lifestyle ... and who her daughter had a crush on. Well, at least we both speak the same language, she thought before thunking her pillow with a fist and trying once more to get comfortable.

O

Clancy was having just as difficult a time at her apartment. She'd had a beer and then another, but she was anxious and wide awake. So she turned on the TV, lay down on the sofa, and watched old movies until she eventually fell asleep.

At dawn the sun hit her right in the eyes, and she stumbled to her feet, finding her way to her bedroom. She flopped down on her futon, fully clothed, hoping to sleep until Abby was ready to be her lover.

O

At 8:30, Abby knocked gently on the door to Clancy's apartment. Michael answered immediately; he was dressed and looked like he was on his way to work. Abby was relieved-not only that he was up, but that he would probably be leaving-giving her some time alone with Clancy.

"Hi, Abby," he said. "Are you and Clance going rock hunting again?"

"No, we don't have plans," she said. "I was in the neighborhood, and I thought she might like to go to the garden center with me. I thought she was usually up early."

"She is," he said. "It's not like her to sleep late. I'll go check on her."

"Oh! No, don't do that. I don't have to see her."

"Hey, don't be silly. She might be in bed reading or something. Sometimes she hangs out in her room."

Before she could stop him, he walked into the hallway that separated the bedrooms and knocked softly. When he didn't hear a response, he poked his head in. "Clance?"

She turned her head a little, her face still partially covered by the pillow. "What?"

"Abby's here. Do you want to see her?"

She was on her feet in a snap. "Abby's here?" She was a little unsteady, and Michael reached out for her.

"Hey, are you okay? You hung over?"

"I'm fine. Just tired. Thanks for waking me."

She walked into the living room with Michael, who said his goodbyes and left for work. Clancy was still trying to appear awake, but her sleep-creased face didn't help matters. "Hi," she said, her voice cracking. "Sorry I'm such a mess."

"Oh, Clancy, I didn't want to wake you up. I mean, I did, but I didn't."

The landscaper shook her head, trying to make the circuits start firing, but she knew that only caffeine and a shower would do that. "I see Michael made some coffee," she said, indicating the pot. "Why don't you pour us both a cup while I take a quick shower."

"If you're sure "

Clancy put her hands up and lowered them slowly, asking for quiet. "You wouldn't have come over here at this time of the morning if you didn't need to see me. Now just chill for a minute and let me get my brain working." With that, she walked into the bathroom, closing the door quietly.

Abby didn't know what to do. She'd expected a much warmer welcome, and she debated leaving. But she knew that would only make matters worse. She sat down at the kitchen table, and her eyes drifted to a note that Michael had obviously left.

Julie called - again!

She obviously wants what you've got, girl.

Put her out of her misery, but

make sure I'm home to join you when you do it.

Michael

Abby felt her stomach begin to churn. What kind of person have I gotten myself mixed up with? I thought I knew her!

She was still sitting at the table when Clancy came out of her room, dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue and white print shirt. The architect smiled at her guest and said, "I'll bet you didn't know I had long pants."

"Oh. Right." Abby gave her a wan smile. "I'm sorry I didn't pour coffee. I didn't feel like having any."

Clancy could sense the distance that Abby was keeping, and it puzzled her. "Are you all right? You look kinda pissed."

"It's nothing," the older woman said. "I was just a little put off by how grouchy you were when I first got here."

"Grouchy? I I didn't realize but I'm sorry if I was. I had about two hours of sleep, and my head hurts. I had too much champagne, and then I made it worse by having a couple of beers to get to sleep. I really do apologize if I upset you."

"I said it's all right," Abby said tersely. "I'm sorry I came over this early. Maybe we should let things rest for a while and see what happens." Abby stood and said, "Why don't you go back to bed? As a matter of fact, I should do the same. I think I'll go back to bed and start the day over."

"Hey, hey, hey," Clancy said. She walked over and stood close to Abby, trying to decide if she should touch her or not. Looking at her carefully, she saw that the older woman had an emotional shield up that Clancy doubted she could penetrate. "Are you sure you want to leave? You must have had a reason for coming over."

"I don't know why I came. I was supposed to play tennis this morning, but I wasn't up to it. I think I should have stayed in bed instead of coming over." She turned and walked to the door, saying over her shoulder, "I'll talk to you later."

Clancy went to the door and watched Abby walk down the path. She wanted to go after her, but she didn't have any idea what to say. I don't know what the fuck I did, but she looked entirely pissed. I thought I knew her pretty well, but maybe I don't. Damn, if she gets angry just because I was a little cranky

She dropped her clothes right where she stood, then went back into her room and fell onto the futon, bruising her shoulder when she hit the wooden frame. I shoulda stayed in bed.

O

Clancy slept until 11:00, then lay in bed for a while, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. She was completely at a loss, feeling that she'd done as well as she could, given the circumstances. Hell, I didn't have any obligation to tell her about Hayley. I stepped up and told her something that I knew would screw my chances with her. Shouldn't I get a little credit for that?

She got up and took another shower, a longer one this time. By the time she went into the kitchen and made a new pot of coffee, she was feeling a little more like herself. She was still naked, but Michael wasn't due home until at least 6:00. When the coffee was ready, she sat down at the kitchen table to read the paper. But a note written on one of her artist's pads caught her eye. She was halfway through the message when she spat her coffee all over the paper. "Holy fuck! What in the hell is wrong with you, Michael?"

Dashing across the room, she grabbed her clothes and started to get into them, trying to put her shirt on while she shimmied into her pants. Her buttons were askew, her shoes were untied, and she wasn't wearing a bra, but she grabbed her wallet and her keys and ran out of the house.

Pulling up in front of Abby's house a few minutes later, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her friend working on one of her flower borders. Making her feel even better was the fact that the garage door was open and the car was missing - meaning Hayley was in it and gone. Clancy walked up to the gate and called out, "Abby! Will you let me in?"

The dogs reacted first, running to the gate in a blur. Abby's head swung around, and she caught sight of Clancy. For the first time since they'd met, the taller woman didn't smile. In fact, Clancy could see her shoulders rise and fall in a gesture that looked suspiciously like indifference. She got up and walked to the gate, her face bearing an utterly blank expression. "What's up?" she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"Can I come in?" Clancy asked. "I think I know why you're upset, and I can explain what happened."

Abby leaned against the wrought iron fence, shaking her head. "Maybe it's best for everyone if we stop this right now. This is all too, too complicated for me." The dogs were looking at their owner then at Clancy, whining softly when the landscaper didn't enter.

Clancy stood at her full height and stuck out her chin. "No," she said, her eyes boring into Abby. "No way. Either let me in, or I'll stand out here and explain myself. But everybody who walks by is gonna hear me."

"I can't be involved in this kind of thing," Abby said, sounding tired and defeated. "I don't need or want drama in my life."

"You think I do?" Clancy asked, her voice louder than it had to be, "You wanted me to kiss you last night. You wanted it. But today you don't wanna be involved in 'this kind of thing.' What the fuck does that mean? You don't want a woman? You don't want a gardener? Where don't I measure up?"

"Please be quiet!" Abby whispered harshly. "I have neighbors!"

"Your neighbors can kiss my ass! Now let me in, or they'll all know what happened!"

Muttering, Abby snapped. "I obviously had the wrong impression about you."

"God damn it! Listen to me!" Clancy was nearly at full voice, and she grasped the metal bars of the gate so firmly that Abby was afraid she'd bend them. "You know me! Don't let some stupid note from Michael change how you feel!"

"You're scaring me," Abby said quietly. "I don't like to be yelled at."

All of the fire went out of her, and Clancy leaned heavily against the gate. Her voice was filled with tears when she said, "God damn it, Abby. Don't treat me this way. I don't deserve it."

Seeing the younger woman cry immediately thawed Abby's cold disregard. Clancy looked so disconsolate that Abby's instinct was to wrap her arms around her and hold her. She went to the gate and flung it open. "Let's go into the back yard and talk."

The dogs darted out of the open gate and jumped all over Clancy, looking like they'd gotten their long lost friend back. She petted both of the girls, enormously glad that at least two of the members of the family were happy to see her.

As soon as they sat down, Clancy explained the note. "Julie is my ex. Every once in a while, she calls me. I never encourage her, and I rarely speak to her. When I see her, I'm polite, nothing more."

"The note sounded like this woman is more than an ex," Abby said, looking at the ground.

"She's an ex," Clancy said. "I'll admit that she's not over me, but I'm over her. I was over her a couple of years ago, but she still thinks I'll give her another chance. I won't."

"But the note -"

"Is a product of Michael's perverse sense of humor. He thinks it's funny that she's still hung up on me. He's always teasing me about how irresistible I am. It's a joke. A stupid joke."

The older woman was still staring at the ground, and when she spoke, her voice was soft and tentative. "He said something about his being home when "

Clancy ran her hand through her hair, cursing under her breath. "He's been teasing me about that since we were in high school, always joking about wanting to watch. But it's only funny because it's never gonna happen. Michael has never seen me kiss a woman, much less have sex with one. I'm very, very private about things like that, and he knows it."

"Really?" Abby's lower lip was trembling, and Clancy could see the wall coming down.

"Really. I'm very serious about love." Clancy got up and stood beside her friend, then started to run her fingers through her hair. "I don't fall in love easily, and when I do, I do everything I can to make it work."

Abby started to cry, her face scrunching up like a small child's. "That's what I thought," she sobbed. "I was so hurt when I felt like I didn't know you. I was so scared," she said, crying harder.

Clancy knelt in front of her and wrapped her arms around the shaking shoulders. "Shh shh it's okay. Everything's all right. You do know me. You know me very, very well. I am who you think I am. I swear."

"I was so hurt," she said again, her voice still shaking.

"I know, I know," Clancy said. She tilted her head and started to kiss every spot her lips could reach. Finally, she slid her hands through Abby's hair and pushed her head back to look into her eyes. The older woman looked hurt and vulnerable, but there was a spark of desire in her eyes. Suddenly, surprisingly strong arms enveloped Clancy, and the women began to kiss. Tenderly, tentatively at first, but quickly growing into heated, passionate kisses.

Abby was quivering with desire, her body shaking with pent-up need. She knew they were crazy to be doing this right on the back patio, but she couldn't stop herself. Clancy's body was pressed against hers, and Abby could feel her hard nipples through her thin cotton shirt. She desperately wanted to rip that shirt from her body and bury her face between her firm breasts, a desire she'd never felt until the night before. It was all so surprising - but something about it felt so right, so natural, that she was slowly growing comfortable with it.

Regretfully, Clancy started to pull away, peppering Abby's lips with soft kisses as she did. "I can't " she gasped, nearly breathless. "I'm not gonna be able to stop." Her eyes were glassy and wide, and her cheeks flushed even through her tan. She was shaking, and Abby drew her into an embrace, holding on tight.

Clancy could feel Abby's heart racing, her chest rising and falling in a quick cadence. Her shirt was damp with perspiration, and a drop fell from Abby's cheek and landed on Clancy's. The architect pulled away and wiped her friend's forehead with her thumbs. "What are we gonna do?" Clancy asked. "I can't let you go, but I don't wanna hurt Hayley." She blew out a breath and added, "I don't want anyone to get hurt."

Abby didn't answer for a long time. She had one hand resting on Clancy's shoulder while the other played with her hair, her fingers running through the white-blonde mane, captivated by the short, stiff locks that jumped back up when her hand passed over them. Finally, she answered. "I think it's too late for that. Someone will get hurt."

O

Clancy left a short time later. They hadn't settled much, but Hayley was due home, and neither woman could think of a good reason for Clancy's visit. They lingered at the front door, their bodies pressed tightly against one another, both feeling like they could stand in place and kiss for the entire afternoon. Worry got the best of Abby. "You'd better go," she whispered. "I'm getting too nervous."

"Will you try to get away tomorrow and come see me?"

Abby shook her head. "I don't think we'd better. I need a day to think this through. I'm still so confused."

"Don't give up on us, okay?"

The look in Clancy's eyes made Abby's heart melt, and she would have promised her anything in her power. "I won't." She kissed her one last time, then put her hand on her back, trailing her fingers down to hold on as long as possible, having her stomach knot when she reluctantly closed the door.

O

Chapter Eight

The last place Clancy wanted to be on Monday morning was on a hill with Hayley, but that's where she found herself. The younger woman had fallen behind on rock detail, and Ramon suggested that Clancy could take a full wheelbarrow down the hill much easier than Hayley could. So they worked together, with Hayley on her knees, picking up rocks as quickly as she could, handing the bigger ones to Clancy, and tossing the small ones right into the wheelbarrow. When the barrow was full, Clancy would muscle it down the hill, take it out to the dumpster, walk it up the ramp they'd built, and turn it onto its side, flinching when the harsh clatter hit her ears. By the time she got back, Hayley had a mound ready for her, and she bent over and tossed them all in.

It wasn't particularly hard work, especially for Hayley. She was able to carry on a mostly one-sided conversation while she collected the omnipresent rocks. "Did you have a good weekend?" she asked.

"Uh-huh."

"Do anything exciting?"

A dozen shocking responses went through Clancy's head, but she decided to stick with, "No."

"Me either. I was doing some thinking about stuff we've talked about, though. Like being in relationships."

"Hmm?"

"You know. You told me that you liked being in relationships. I was thinking about that, and I decided you might be right."

Clancy didn't say a word. She just looked at the girl, trying to figure out where she was going.

"I was talking to Kerry, she's my friend you saw on Friday night. She's in love with a guy at Cal, and when we talked about it it started to make sense you know like how it just happens even when you weren't planning on it."

"Uh-huh," Clancy said, not liking where she could sense they were headed.

"If you meet someone who you're really, really attracted to, why wouldn't you want to stick with them? I mean, it's seems kinda stupid to meet someone you like and then leave them. Doesn't it?"

Clancy was more than a little dismayed to note Hayley's intentional omission of the pronouns he or him. She'd heard enough young women try to get through a story by only using they or them to have it catch her attention. "Yeah. That does seem kinda stupid. Of course, the hard part is finding someone you like, and having them like you as much. That can take quite a few tries. I'm still looking."

"Well, maybe you've been looking in the wrong places." Hayley looked up and gave her a dazzling smile, so much like Abby's that the landscaper nearly fell to her knees and kissed her. But the Graham woman she wanted was in the house, and Clancy was condemned to the hell of being polite to a rough copy of the original masterpiece.

O

That night, Abby called Clancy not long after the landscaper returned home for the night. "Hi," she said. "Was today as hard for you as it was for me?"

"I don't know," Clancy said. "But it was hard. I wanted to grab you and go someplace quiet. Where we could talk this through and decide what to do next."

"God, I'd love that," Abby said. "The clock barely seemed to move today."

"So what's going through your mind?"

"I think no, I know, that I need some time. I have to think about all of the ramifications of letting myself fall for you. And I need to be with you to think some of this through."

"How about this weekend? We can still go look at rocks and talk while we're there."

Abby wasn't feeling very light-hearted, but she let out a laugh. "Being with you alone in a motel would seal the deal. I can hardly stop myself from going up on the hill and kissing you until you're crosseyed."

"That's a good instinct," Clancy said. "Instincts are good."

There was a pause, then Abby said, "I want to give in, but I can't. At least not yet. I can't act like this doesn't affect my family, Clancy. It does."

"I know that," the younger woman said. "And I'll try not to pressure you. Just just remember that you deserve to be happy, too."

"I'll try," Abby said. "I'm used to putting my needs last, but I can't do that forever. My kids are almost grown now."

"They're grown," Clancy said. "As soon as Hayley's eighteen she could get married or join the navy."

"According to her, she'd probably prefer the navy," Abby said, chuckling. "She swears she's not interested in a lasting relationship."

Clancy knew there'd been a change in that view, but she didn't mention it. She wasn't going to serve as the go-between for mother and daughter - especially when her messages might serve to ruin her chances with Abby.

X

The women agreed not to see each other during the week, both sure that they were sending enough vibes out to alert the neighbors as to how attracted they were to one another. On Wednesday, Hayley went into the house for lunch and asked her mother if she could invite Clancy for dinner. Abby's stomach clenched, but she felt like she had to agree. Later, Hayley went up to her boss and proposed the idea. "Mom's making steak enchiladas for dinner tonight. Wanna stay?"

Luckily, Clancy didn't have to invent an excuse. "Oh, thanks, but I can't. I'm going bowling with some friends."

"Bowling?"

"Yeah. We go to a place in Chatsworth."

Hayley made a face that she immediately tried to hide. "That sounds like fun. Maybe I'll tell my friends about it. We like to do different kinds of things."

"Oh, that won't work," Clancy said, relieved. "It's all leagues. You have to be on a team to get a lane."

Not one to give up easily, Hayley said, "Well, maybe we'll come and watch you. We could have a few drinks. It'd be fun."

"You're not old enough to drink!"

Hayley laughed. "Do you honestly think there's a person in the San Gabriel Valley who doesn't have a good fake I.D.?"

"Oh. Right." Clancy thought for a minute, then said, "There's a very big fine for a bar owner letting under-aged people in. The owner's a friend of mine, Hayley. I'd have to tell him if I saw you there."

She looked absolutely indignant. "You'd tell?"

"Yeah, I would. It's just a fun night out for you guys, but he could lose his business. You have to think about how the things you do affect other people, you know. That's part of being mature."

"Yeah, right," the girl said. "You're my boss at work, but not in my personal life." She turned and walked over to Ramon, ready for her next task.

O

Hayley was cool to Clancy the rest of the day, and she hadn't thawed out by Thursday morning. The landscaper hoped that the incipient crush had gone the way of most fleeting attractions, but Hayley was friendly again by Thursday afternoon.

That night, Abby called Clancy, and the pair talked for a long time - just as they had every night that week. "The thought of being alone with you this weekend is driving me crazy," Abby said. "Hayley's gonna wonder why we can't go up and back in a day, but we've got to stay over."

Clancy thought for a minute, then said, "You're the one who suggested we stay overnight. And that was before we even kissed."

"Shouldn't take a lot of thought to figure that one out," Abby said, laughing. "I wanted to be with you for a longer time."

"Why, Mrs. Graham! You are always a surprise!"

"The first day you showed up at my door, I remember walking behind you and thinking what a nice ass you had. I think I had a crush on you the first time I looked into those grey eyes."

"Come on, Saturday," Clancy said, trying not to sound like she was begging. "We need to be alone. And to kiss."

"I I don't think I can do much more than that," Abby said. "I hope you can -"

"Kissing you is enough to satisfy any woman," Clancy interrupted. "Honestly, just being with you is enough."

Abby closed her eyes and let her conscience have a voice. Every difficult lesson she'd ever learned flashed through her head. She knew without a doubt that she should put a stop to this right now. But she couldn't. She needed this so much that she couldn't turn back, even though she knew this would be hard for her kids and her parents and her friends. She knew that Hayley would be particularly hurt - given her crush on Clancy. But for once in her adult life she thought of herself first. Taking in a cleansing breath, she said, "I'll be at your house on Saturday morning at around 8:00."

"I can't wait," Clancy said.

Laughing a little, Abby said, "Don't for get to bring your lips."

O

The work week was finished, and Clancy was paying Hayley on Friday night when the younger woman asked, "Have any plans for tonight?"

"Yeah. To get a good night's sleep before we drive up to Merced tomorrow."

"Can I go with you? I want to make sure the rocks are right, too, you know."

"Ahh no, you can't. We're taking your mom's car. Only two seats."

An annoyed expression settled on Hayley's face. "Why couldn't she buy an SUV like everybody else?"

"Most girls would be happy to drive a Lexus coupe. Count your blessings. When I was your age, I had to drive my mother's floral delivery van."

"Yeah, but you could make out in the back, couldn't you?"

Hayley had her on that one, and Clancy spent a moment thinking about her first lover and how they'd roll around in the back of the van, then have to brush the dirt and flower petals off each other before they went home. "I never kiss and tell," Clancy said.

"Good. I like that about you. You know I was thinking that we could go get something to eat. Even you have to eat dinner."

"No, I'm good. I've got something at home."

Hayley looked at her for a minute, then finally locked eyes with her and said, "This isn't about food. I'm asking you out."

Clancy's eyes widened. Damn, why weren't girls this forward when I was seventeen! But she wasn't interested in this particular girl, and she had to think of a way to tell her without upsetting her. "Uhm that's not a good idea, Hayley. I'm working for your mom, and I'm sure she wouldn't like it if she thought I was hitting on you."

"I'd tell her the truth." She gave Clancy that sexy smile and added, "I'm hitting on you."

"Ahh yeah, I guess you are. But she still wouldn't like it."

"My mom's cool about things like this. She has lesbian friends. She won't flip."

"Hayley, I can't go out with a client's daughter. It's not right."

The younger woman was starting to get perturbed and Clancy could see her blue eyes darken. "Is that really the reason?"

"Yeah. It is."

"Fine. I'll ask my mom if she'd mind." She was clearly calling Clancy's bluff, and the blonde cursed herself for having told such a flimsy lie.

"I uhm I don't date women who have to ask their moms if they can go out," she finally said. "You're a great girl, Hayley, and if I'd known you when I was your age I would have been in heaven. But I'm almost thirty years old. We're at different places in our lives."

"I'm not asking to marry you, Clancy," she said, obviously angry and embarrassed. "I'm asking you to go out to dinner."

Clancy wouldn't yield. "No, I can't. It doesn't make sense to have a date if I don't see this going anywhere. And I don't." The girl closed her eyes for a moment, and Clancy knew she was on the verge of tears. "Look, Hayley, I think it's great that you had the nerve to ask me. I really do. But you'd be happier with someone your own age. I swear you would."

"I don't like people my own age," she said, her voice husky. "I like older people. That's why I've never gone out with anyone for long. They're too immature."

"Hayley, there have to be older people at Santa Cruz. Look for a grad student, or a teaching assistant or something."

"I don't need dating advice," she said coldly. "I asked you out. You turned me down. End of story." She turned and walked towards the house, and by the time she got there, Clancy could see her shoulders shaking.

O

Abby showed up at 8:00 on the dot the next morning, and it was clear that she didn't know what had happened between her daughter and the landscaper the day before.

When they reached the carport, Clancy asked, "Want me to drive?"

"No offense, but your truck is a little harsh for this long a ride. I appreciate the offer, though."

"Hey, not a problem. I'd much rather ride in yours."

"Would you mind driving my car?"

"No, not at all. I'd love to. My truck might be jealous, though. She hates to see me with other women."

"I'm parked on the street," Abby said, smiling at her friend. "She'll never know."

They took off after stopping for coffee and muffins. About fifty miles outside of L.A., Clancy bit the bullet. "I take it that you haven't talked to Hayley."

"When? Today?"

"Or last night?"

"No, I didn't. She went out, called me at midnight and said that she was staying at her friend Gretchen's house. For all I know she might have made that up, but I can't police her too carefully now that she's in college." She looked at Clancy quizzically and asked, "Why?"

"Because she and I had a fight."

"A fight?"

"Well, not really a fight," Clancy said. "She asked me out last night, and was pretty upset when I turned her down."

"Oh, shit." Abby leaned her head back and stared up at the roof. "I can't believe she did that!"

"I couldn't either. I thought I'd driven her crazy - always treating her like she was a kid. But she didn't let that stop her."

Abby sighed heavily. "Well, you are unbelievably attractive. I can't blame her."

"Thanks," Clancy said, smirking. "But I'd rather only you were attracted to me."

"I I need a little while to process this," Abby said. "Do you mind?"

"No. Why don't you recline your seat and take it easy. I know where I'm going, so feel free to relax." Abby nodded slightly, then tilted her seat back a little and stared out the window, lost in her thoughts.

O

When they reached the quaint little motor court, they went in together, and Clancy had to clear her throat to find her voice - since it hadn't been used for over three hours.

When they approached the desk, the proprietor looked up and asked, "Help you?"

"Yeah. I made reservations earlier in the week. O'Connor."

"Oh, yes. Here we are. Two rooms, right?"

Sparing a quick glance at Abby, who was staring straight ahead, Clancy shrugged and said, "Uhm right." After the tense, silent trip she had no idea if Abby wanted to share a room with her or not, so she decided not to press the issue. You should have cleared this up before you got inside, you dope! She extracted her wallet from her jeans and pushed her credit card towards the woman, not stopping when Abby tried to interrupt. "You provided the car. I'll get the rooms," she said. Looking at the desk clerk, she asked, "Where's the best place in town to have dinner?"

"How fancy do you want to get?" the woman asked.

"Very," Clancy said.

"That'd be the Hitching Post," she said. "Take the main road north about three miles. You can't miss it."

"Thanks," Clancy said when the woman handed over the keys.

When they walked back into the bright sun, Abby said, "I didn't bring much to wear to a fancy restaurant."

Clancy was relieved just to hear her voice again. "Up here, fancy means the bar is in a separate room from the restaurant. You look fantastic just the way you are."

Abby looked away, Clancy's intense gaze making her feel a little uncomfortable, then nodded her head. "Thanks." She gave the younger woman a smile - her first of the day - and said, "You look nice today. I'm sorry I didn't comment earlier."

The architect was wearing a very bright, print camp shirt in shades of orange and yellow. Faded, form fitting jeans and black Birkenstock sandals finished off her outfit, and Abby found that the style suited her friend perfectly.

"Well, now you've seen almost my entire wardrobe," she said. "I keep telling myself that I've got to buy a few nice things - but I never get around to it."

"I like your little uniform," Abby smiled, then remembered the teasing that Hayley always gave her about her uniform fetish and her smile faded. "Let me freshen up and then we can go have dinner, okay?"

Clancy nodded and handed her a key to one of the bungalows. Each room was a stand-alone unit with a bath and a bedroom, and Clancy was pleased to find that they were neat, clean, and relatively updated. There was a big television in the room, and a queen-sized bed, and she looked at it briefly, hoping against hope that Abby would share the bed with her.

O

During dinner they steered clear of any upsetting topics and focused on the landscaping plans. Clancy had been tweaking them with every spare moment she had, and she excitedly regaled Abby with every new bit of minutia she could recall.

Abby picked up the check after a brief argument, then they headed back to the motel. The night was cool and dry, and a soft breeze whistled through the massive pine trees that the cabins were nestled into. "Wanna stay outside and enjoy the evening?" Clancy asked.

Abby nodded, and sat in the rough-hewn swing that graced the porch of her cabin. It was the only seating available, so Clancy squeezed in next to her, their thighs touching all along their length. Thankfully, Abby didn't move her leg, and Clancy was slightly heartened.

"Wanna talk about it?" Clancy finally screwed up the courage to ask.

Abby shook her head gently and said, "Not really. I'm not the kind of woman who can process my feelings quickly. I need to let things percolate for a while." She looked at Clancy and added, "Give me time, okay?"

"Of course." She wanted to touch her so badly she could taste it, but Clancy kept her hands firmly atop her own knees. "I don't want to rush you, Abby. I know this has been a very, very emotional time for you. I'll do my best to back off."

Looking at her curiously, Abby asked, "Would you like to talk? Just because I need some time to reflect doesn't mean that you do, too."

"Uhm I don't have a lot to say," she said. Summoning all of the affection she could muster into her gaze she said, "All I want is to make sure that you know how much I care for you. My feelings for you run very, very deep, Abby, and I very much want a chance to work this out."

A long, delicate hand reached out and landed on Clancy's thigh. Abby's voice was soft, and held a heavy note of curiosity. "Is that true?"

"Is what true? That I have feelings for you, or that I want the opportunity to build a relationship?"

"Uhm either, I guess," she said. "We've kissed a lot, but I'm not sure I know where you think this is going."

"What? I thought I'd made it clear that I want to have a relationship with you."

"Well, you have, but I get mixed signals. When you opened the door this morning, you didn't even hug me. And when we got here, I thought you'd at least ask me if I wanted to share a room. It made me feel like you didn't want to be too close."

Clancy slid off the swing and got to her knees, grasping for Abby's hands. "I was upset about what had happened with Hayley," she admitted. "I guess I felt guilty hugging you or kissing you before I told you the truth. I thought I thought that Hayley's asking me out might make you change your mind."

"It should," she said, looking over Clancy's head to stare into the pines. "My children have always always come first." She looked down and met Clancy's eyes. "I know that this is going to have serious - maybe even disastrous repercussions for my family." The smallest of smiles touched her lips, and she reached out and stroked Clancy's cheek. "But I want you so badly." She closed and eyes and shivered, her head shaking slowly. "I've never been this torn about anything in my life."

"We can work it out," Clancy insisted. "We'll be very, very discrete."

With a sad, resigned expression, Abby said, "We can't be discrete for long. I can't juggle lies to my kids, my parents, my friends, my neighbors. This will come out, and it will probably come out soon. That's why I have to know that you're serious about this." She put her hands on Clancy's shoulders and said, "I'm begging you. Level with me. I have to know how you feel about me."

Closing her eyes, Clancy planted soft kisses all over Abby's hands. "I know it's early, but I think you're the one. The one," she reiterated. "I'm falling in love with you, Abby."

"You want to be in a committed, exclusive relationship with me?"

Giving her a very puzzled look, Clancy said, "Yes, of course!"

"I don't mean to doubt you," Abby said. "But the note from Michael really threw me."

"Abby, I am totally, thoroughly, single. I have no interest in any woman in the world - except you. I'm very traditional in the way I approach a relationship - even though I'm fairly adventurous when I'm in one. I'd love to show you exactly how adventurous I can be," she added, leaning forward just enough to be able to detect a hint of Abby's perfume.

Abby closed the distance between them and placed a delicate kiss on Clancy's warm lips. "Will you sleep with me tonight?" She waited for a second and added, "I'm not ready for sex, but I'd love to hold you. Is that okay?"

"Of course. You can hold me tonight, tomorrow as many nights as you'll have me," Clancy replied, her voice catching a little.

Abby got up and extended a hand, and Clancy gladly took it. "Let's take this one day at a time, okay?"

"That works too." Clancy smiled broadly at her and took her hand to lead her into the cabin.

O

Clancy stood just inside the door of the small room, looking around awkwardly while she tried to decide what to do. Abby looked more than a little nervous, too, and she gave Clancy a tentative smile and inclined her head towards the bath. "I'll just brush my teeth "

"Oh! Uhm maybe I'll go do the same. Be right back." This is too weird, she thought, leaning against the door of her room. We act like we're total strangers. She brushed, and flossed, and brushed again, mumbling to herself the whole time. Deciding that she was feeling a little grungy from the drive, Clancy took a quick shower, giving herself a good talking to while she scrubbed herself. The only way to make Abby feel comfortable is to tell her how you're feeling - and encourage her to do the same when she's able. Just be honest with her.

Freshly scrubbed and feeling a little better, Clancy put on some never-worn flannel pajamas that she'd found at the bottom of her dresser.

She'd been gone longer than she'd planned, and Abby was already in bed when she entered. The older woman gave her a relieved glance and said, "I thought you might have changed your mind."

Clancy quickly crossed the room and perched on the edge of the bed. Reaching out, she ran her hand down Abby's face, lingering over her features with her thumb. "What's up? You act as though you're expecting me to be a real asshole, and you know me better than that."

The older woman leaned into her touch and said, "I don't know. This whole thing has me so mixed up. I don't feel like I can trust my instincts right now. I honestly feel like I'm in a fog."

Her thumb kept stroking, and Clancy lowered her voice and softened it. "Anything I can do to help? Wanna talk about it?"

Abby shook her head, once again avoiding Clancy's gaze. "Too much. I just need to sleep."

When she stood, Abby's eyes followed her. Clancy walked around to the other side of the bed and tossed the covers back. As she slid in, she smiled and said, "I know how to distract you, and relax you, and make you sleep like a baby."

Abby's eyes widened in surprise, and she struggled with the feelings that washed over her. She was frankly amazed that Clancy would make a sexual overture at this point, but she didn't know how to turn her down politely. But Clancy surprised her completely when she sat up against the headboard and pulled Abby's head onto her lap. "Don't think about a thing," she murmured. "Just feel my touch."

Abby's body felt a little stiff and unyielding and Clancy gently soothed, "Come on now, relax for me. Concentrate on your breathing that's it that's the way." She smiled down at the taller woman as she felt her muscles start to relax and her body mold itself along her length. Abby's arm draped across the younger woman's thighs, and her hand tangled in the generous folds of her pajamas.

Clancy gazed down when she heard Abby's soft voice murmur, "Perfect. Just perfect. This was exactly what I needed."

Giving her hair an affectionate ruffle, Clancy said, "I'll do my best to always give you what you need, Abby. I promise that."

The last conscious thought to float through the older woman's mind was, I believe her. I really believe her.

O

On the way back to Los Angeles, Clancy commented, "I'm not sure if this was the best day to look at boulders. Every one was beautiful perfect and smooth. Just like your skin."

Abby's hand playfully covered her mouth as she chided her, "You're going to have to behave when we get back home, you know. You may as well get into practice right now."

Clancy nodded, her eyes still dancing. "I'll be good. I'm just so completely happy, Abby. Everything seems perfect today."

Abby was driving, but she diverted her attention long enough to grasp Clancy's hand and give it a gentle kiss. "It seems perfect to me, too. My whole body feels renewed." She sighed deeply and said, "Taking a young lover seems to be the key to the fountain of youth."

"It's not about age," Clancy maintained. "It's about chemistry and connection. And I feel very connected to you, Abby. I'm very, very happy."

"Me, too." Abby smiled. She placed Clancy's hand on her thigh and the pair lapsed into a comfortable silence, both of them ruminating about the events of the weekend.

While she was mostly jubilant about their connection, Abby's stomach began to tighten the closer they got to L.A. Clancy noticed the change in her affect and finally mentioned it. "You seem pretty tense. Worried about going home?"

"Yes. Very."

Clancy was quickly learning that Abby became almost monosyllabic when she was worried about something, but she wasn't willing to let this issue slide. "We should talk about it. We need to make a decision about how we're going to play this."

"We can't let Hayley know no matter what," she said, her face a mask of worry.

"Okay we can do that," Clancy soothed. "I hope you mean that we can't tell her right now "

"Yes. Oh, yes! Of course that's what I mean. She'll get over her hurt feelings soon. And she'll be going to Maine in a month - then right to school from there."

Clancy felt a little sick to her stomach at the thought of waiting for a month, but she nodded. "I don't need to tell another soul. We'll keep this between us until you're ready to go public."

"No, no that's not necessary," Abby insisted. "I know you're close to your parents, Clancy; they'll pick up on this. So will Michael. I don't want you to lie to them."

"If it comes up, I'll be honest," she agreed. "But I'm not going to go out of my way to tell people until you're ready."

Abby gave her a relieved glance and blew her a kiss. "I should have known you'd be understanding about this. I don't know why I was worried about talking to you about it."

" 'Cause it's all new to you. You're not used to having to hide a part of your life." She gripped her thigh with gentle pressure and said, "We'll work this out, Abby. I promise."

"I trust you," she whispered.

O

As they drew near L.A., Abby said, "I wonder how surprised people will be about this? I can't help thinking that someone hasn't picked up on the connection that's been building between us."

Running her hand up and down Abby's thigh, Clancy asked gently, "Do you honestly think you've had a crush on me for a while?"

"I don't remember the last time I sat around in my pajamas playing 'eat the strawberries from my fingers' with any of my other contractors," she said thoughtfully, adding a wry glance at Clancy.

"You know I meant before last Friday night," Clancy said, giving her a pinch.

"I didn't recognize it at first, but in retrospect I've been sexually attracted to you for a while - I just forced the conscious thoughts down."

"Tell me how you've been feeling," Clancy said. "Don't be afraid."

"I'm not afraid exactly," Abby said, smiling again. "But this isn't what I do best." She took in a breath and squared her shoulders, then spent a moment composing her thoughts. "I've been feeling very close to you for weeks now. But I didn't read it right. It wasn't something that I expected, so I didn't know how to classify my feelings."

"What have they been?" Clancy persisted.

"Mmm at first, I thought I was feeling maternal towards you," Abby said. "But that didn't last very long. You didn't give off any 'daughter' feelings towards me, so my maternal feelings died pretty quickly. I guess I just thought we were becoming friends," she said.

"Uh-huh," Clancy said, her hand stroking lightly across Abby's thigh. "Then what?"

Frowning slightly, the older woman asked, "You're not going to let me get away with avoiding the question, are you?"

"You don't have to answer," Clancy said, "but no, I'm not going to let you sidestep it."

"You're as bad as Will," Abby said, her mouth creasing into a grin. "I could never hide my feelings from him - much as I tried." Clancy just smiled at her, waiting her out. "Okay, I've had a few uhm fantasies about you. I uhm had a particularly satisfying one the night we went dancing. But I assumed that I was just reacting to what I could feel - from you," she said, coloring pink.

"Arghh!" Clancy dropped her head into her hands, finally peeking out from between two fingers. "You knew?"

"Ahh yeah. I've known for a while. I think I've known since the first time we went swimming together."

"You saw me checking you out, didn't you?" Clancy asked, her head dropping back against the seat.

"Uhm yeah. But it was fine with me, Clancy, really," she said earnestly. "I was complimented."

"Complimented?" the younger woman asked. "Not freaked out?"

"Why would it freak me out to have such an attractive, engaging person find me attractive?" Abby asked, her expression one of puzzlement. "No one had given me that kind of attention in a long while. It was great for my ego."

Looking at Abby for a few moments, Clancy finally said, "Damn, but you're evolved. Most women would have thrown me out and locked the door."

"Well, now, wouldn't that have been stupid?" Abby asked, chuckling softly. "We've had some wickedly wonderful kisses the last few days, and I never would have known that pleasure if I'd been offended."

"You don't think you would have been receptive to another woman?" Clancy asked, still baffled by Abby's easygoing attitude about sexual orientation.

"I haven't been up until now," Abby said, shrugging her shoulders. "I think you're just incredibly special." She placed her hand on Clancy's leg and said, "I mean that sincerely."

"I feel the same," Clancy said. "I'm eternally grateful that you gave me a clear signal that you were interested. I never would have made the first move."

"Never?"

"No, never. I wouldn't put someone I cared for in that position," she explained. "I wanted your friendship more than that."

"It would be wonderful if we could keep the friendship and the other, wouldn't it?"

"That's my goal, Abby. And I'm a very persistent woman when I have a goal."

O

They were blocks from Abby's street when she took a turn and headed for the Rose Bowl. Clancy looked at her quizzically, but the older woman just stared straight ahead until she reached the parking lots. She guided the car to the farthest section, turned off the engine, and turned to Clancy. "I need to kiss you again."

Clancy smiled warmly and melted into her arms. They savored each other for a long while, kissing and touching gently until the sun set. "That wasn't nearly enough," Abby breathed into Clancy's ear, sending shivers up her spine. "I'd love to have my hands all over you right now. The thought of your body makes my mouth water."

"I need to either go home, or get out and make love to you on the asphalt," Clancy moaned. "I'm so turned on I could scream."

"Do you want me to ?" Abby asked hesitantly, running a fingernail up the seam of Clancy's jeans.

Shaking roughly, astounded by Abby's boldness, the younger woman declined. "No. I mean, yes, I want you to - desperately - but no, I don't want to do it here. I want it to be special, Abby. I can wait I've waited thirty years for you." She grinned at her shyly, and Abby felt her heart clench with emotion for the beautiful young architect.

"Every time will be special," Abby vowed. "How could it not be with a special woman like you?"

"Do you have plans for tonight?"

"Yes. I have dinner plans. Uhm I don't quite know where to go from here. I I'm really not good at this."

"No problem," the landscaper said, smiling warmly. "Just drop me off at home, and I'll see you tomorrow morning. We've got a big day planned."

"Thanks for being so understanding," the older woman said.

"Hey, I'm a woman who makes long-term plans. I can be very, very patient."

O

Michael came home at around 8:00 and Clancy struggled out of bed to greet him. "Hey, buddy," she said wanly.

He took a long look at her and said, "You look wiped. You feeling okay?"

"Yeah." She yawned noisily and said, "I was already in bed, but I thought I'd better get up and share a little something with you." She looked uncharacteristically ungainly as she stood there in her tank top and baggy pajama bottoms, and he walked over to her and offered a hug.

"Are you sure you're all right? You look funny."

"I'm fine," she insisted, patting him on the waist. "I'm actually totally great, but worried sick."

"Odd combo," he said slowly. "Wanna explain?" Since they were close to her room, they walked inside and soon both were sprawled across the futon.

"I uhm Abby and I we "

"You didn't!" he cried, slapping her on the rump.

"Oh, I did." She sighed and rolled fully onto her back. "It was blissful."

"So she figured out the lesbian sex part, huh?" His eyes were dancing with interest.

"We didn't have sex, Mikey. We kissed for hours." She looked like she was about to swoon from the memory, but Michael fractured her reverie.

"I do not, and I never will understand women!"

"We like to kiss," Clancy said. "If you guys would just play along and act like you liked it too, you'd get a lot further."

"Well, given that you've told me you're a kiss-a-holic, that explains the totally great part," he decided. "Now where does the worried sick part come in?"

"There are a few problems," she said. "Her daughter has a crush on me, and I've been trying to convince her I'm not interested."

"Well, well, well. Aren't we the hot commodity? Any other girls in the family you can hook?"

"Not funny, Michael. I really care about Abby, and I want this to work."

"Sounds like a strange family," Michael said. "Actually it sounds like a great porn movie. A lesbian mom and daughter combo would be a big seller!"

"Do you want to be serious about this, or make fun of me?"

"I'm sorry, Clance." He put his hand on the small of her back and rubbed it gently. "This is just pretty wild stuff for you. You're not very often in the middle of a lesbian soap-opera."

"And I don't wanna be now! I really care for Abby, but I'm afraid Hayley will screw things up!"

"I assume Abby knows her daughter's gay, right?"

"No." Clancy shook her head slowly. "Neither of them has ever been with a woman."

Michael sat and stared at his friend for a moment. "You convinced two straight women to turn? That's not fair! There aren't gonna be any straight women left in Pasadena!"

"I didn't turn anyone into anything! I don't know if Hayley's serious or not. She might just be trying to be adventurous. You know how kids are."

"I never tried to be gay - just for the fun of it," Michael said. "Doesn't seem like much fun to me at all."

"It's different for girls," Clancy said, giving him a scowl. "They're more flexible about sex."

"Now that's good news," he said, giving her a winning grin.

"None of this is good news," she said glumly. "Except the fact that Abby kissed me."

"That is good news, babe. Do you really think she'll be too upset about the kid to do anything else?"

"I have no idea! We didn't resolve anything, Mikey! Hell, we barely talked at all! We spent most of the weekend kissing, but I'm not sure whether she thinks we have even a remote chance of having a lasting relationship. I'd marry her tomorrow, but she might not be able to continue with this. I'm totally freaked!"

"Oh, poor baby," he sighed. He scooted closer and started to massage her head and shoulders, making her purr as some of the tension started to leave her body. "I've known you for sixteen years now, and I've never heard you come close to saying that you wanted to marry someone. Are you sure about this about her, Clancy?"

"Yes," she sighed. "She's the one, Michael. She's the first woman I've ever felt like this about - and if I can't have her I don't know what I'll do."

"Shh " he soothed. "Don't worry about all of the bad things that could happen, Clance. Think about the good things. Even if it doesn't work out, why not have a little time where you believe that it will?"

"You're right," she nodded. "I'll lie here and remember how it felt to hold her. That might calm me down enough to let me sleep."

"This can work out," he promised, kissing her head. "If she's the woman you believe she is, I'm sure she's not jerking you around."

"She'd never do that," Clancy said. "She's concerned about Hayley. Well, I guess that's the main thing she's concerned about. She's one of those people who doesn't like to talk about what's on her mind."

"Danger! Danger!" Michael cried, laughing. "This will never work out! You can't stop talking about what's on your mind!"

"I know, I know. But maybe it's best not to have both of us be chatterboxes. Having two people who talk about their feelings constantly could be totally obnoxious."

"Well, you certainly yak enough for any two women, so I guess it can all equalize," he teased. "Now get some sleep, and take a night off from worrying, okay?"

"Okay. I love you, Michael."

"I love you too, Clance. Sleep tight and dream about a happy future."

O

Clancy was lying in bed, dreaming of the pleasure of being in Abby's arms, when the phone rang. She reached for it, and sighed softly when she heard her voice. "I miss you," Abby whispered.

"Oh, I miss you, too," Clancy drawled sexily. "Wanna come over and warm my bed?"

"I'd give anything," Abby said wistfully. "But since I can't do that, I wanted to call and say good night."

"G'night," Clancy said. "I wish I could kiss you good night, but that'll have to wait. But in my dreams, I'm holding you in my arms and kissing you so tenderly. It makes me feel warm all over to even think about."

"If it's real, it'll feel just as good - or better, if we wait."

"It's real," Clancy said softly. "It's definitely real."

O

To be continued in Part 5

Return to the Academy