Disclaimers: This is yet another uber tale of my making. Technically the characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal, but since it's not REALLY X&G here... well anyway, these uber characters belong to me, me memememe....so, copyright 1999 Tragedy88 and all that.
Violence/language: Um, some violence, some bad language... maybe a pg-13 so far?
Subtext: You betcha! Oh, if it's illegal where you live or love between members of the same sex offends you please read elsewhere.
And last but not least: How, you ask, can so many of my characters exist within the same timeline? Easy, I write what I know. In this case I know farms, horses, and the hardships of being alone. In anycase it's a divergence from my usual cops, gangs, lusty/evil uber Callistos' etc., etc. etc... :)
Feedback is very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
"The lives of all the people we meet and know are woven into our destiny, together with the lives of many we shall never know on earth. But certain ones, very few, are our close friends... they are inseparable from our own destiny..." -Thomas Merton
The house was bathed in the weak winter sun and an eerie quiet had settled into the electricless farmhouse as Alex woke. Not even a chickadee chirped outside the kitchen windows as she fixed oatmeal and coffee from a pot of hot water from the fireplace.
I need to forget about last night. I should go to the store and get that part for the tractor. There's only a foot of snow, the truck can handle it. And I could get a decent lunch in town, maybe take in a movie, relax... get away from here.
That decided she changed into a pair of slightly more presentable overalls, boots, gloves, hat and coat.
Let's go see if the truck'll start.
Not surprisingly it took the truck a good ten minutes to turn over and another ten minutes down the road before the heater kicked in.
The interior was just at a comfortable warmth when she arrived at Randy's Hardware Emporium, and she bit back a sigh as she hopped out into the cold.
Alex's boots crunched over frozen pavement, freshly littered with salt as she made her way to the door. Once inside she headed to the tractor parts section.
Up and down the aisle... nope, not the right size for the John Deer... I could improvise... nope, Randy don't got that either... damn, have ta ask him to order it.
Alex walked to the antique counter, hands shoved dejectedly into her pockets. A group of excited voices registered the unwelcome presence of the men she condescendingly referred to as 'The Boys.'
"Hear what happened at the hotel last night?"
"I heard there was a fire..."
They were gathered at the counter, leaning into each other in a conspiritual little circle.
"Nah, heard it was set on purpose, by that bitch new in town."
"You're close," Randy smirked with the privileged information. "The new lady had some new fangled contraption that blew out the wiring in John and Martha's hotel. Everyone was forced to e-vac-u-ate."
Alex went unnoticed as she stood impatiently behind them.
"Snow contained the fire to the inside," Randy continued, "Most of the residents been relocated early this morning. Seems nobody was willing to take in the troublemaker though. They say she really did it on purpose."
Ok, this is getting tiresome. Alex cleared her throat, drawing four pairs of startled eyes in her direction.
"Afternoon Randy, Mark, Bob, George..." Nodding her head in turn at each, watching as their cheeks pinkened at her improper use of their first names.
"Afternoon to you too, Ms. Casings. What may I do for you today?" Randy, the owner of the Emporium, asked.
"Well, you don't seem to have the part I need for the tractor." She handed him a slightly crumpled piece of paper. "Can you order it for me?" Alex had learned it was just easier to write it down then have to spell it out a dozen times.
"Why don'cha just have old Carl go on over to your farm an fix it?"
Sigh, we've been over this a thousand times. "Can you order me the part or not, Randy?"
"Yeah, don't see what ya need it for. Women t'ain't suppose to be fixin' tractors."
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9... "What's this I hear about a fire?" Alex turned to Mark, the youngest in the group, easily in his late forties and fixed him with a fake smile. And even though she'd heard all about it bare minutes prior she listened attentively again. "So, where is this woman suppose to be staying? Is she moving on?" Alex asked when the tale was finished.
"Don't know, don't care," was Randy's instant response.
"Reckon she'll be moving on, she ain't welcome here anyway." George piped in his two bits.
"Why not?" Alex asked curiously.
"What's it to you, Ms. Casings? Planning to rent her a room in that big ol' house of yours?" Randy asked as he filed her order for the new part.
"Power's out up at my place." She answered reasonably, though part of her was entertaining the idea, and had been for some time now. "Anyway, just curious. Thanks Randy, gimme a ring when my part comes in."
"Will do, Ms. Casings. Have a pleasant afternoon."
She exited the Emporium with a yawn. Bunch of bigoted, mindless, fools... Home now? A movie? Lunch? Drive off a cliff?
Alex climbed into the frozen truck. It turned over after two tries and she was on her way. She'd decided to just go home when the truck sputtered and died. It coasted half a block, coming to rest in front of Dixie's diner.
"Dammit." Alex rested her head on the steering wheel in frustration. Damn,damn,damn,damndamndamndamn....
A loud rapping on the window woke her abruptly. Her heart rushed into her throat and she bit back a panicked scream. She looked into the most amazing blue eyes she'd ever seen.
"Hey! Are you alright?" The low voice on the other side of the window demanded.
Alex tore her gaze from depths of blue, and with numb fingers unlocked the door, tumbling out onto the sidewalk.
Strong arms were there to catch her.
"Shit, your freezing. Let's get you inside Dixie's."
Alex's chattering jaw couldn't form words of protest as she was literally dragged inside. She was gently pushed into a booth by the tall, dark stranger with the cold blue eyes.
Instead of waiting for the busy, frazzled waitress the stranger casually retrieved two mugs from behind the counter, poured some coffee, and came back to sit across from Alex. Without so much as an introduction she removed Alex's gloves, placed the mug between frozen fingers, commanding her to slowly sip the hot liquid.
Awkward minutes later Alex had stopped shaking. She glanced dejectedly into the half empty mug, feeling incredibly stupid.
"So, do you often sleep in your truck when it's freezing outside?"
The deep voice startled Alex. With a shrug she studied the woman seated across from her. Tanned skin peeked out from a dark sweatshirt, long, dark hair, pulled into a loose ponytail, gorgeous eyes, broad shoulders, long arms, tapered fingers. Suddenly she realized she was staring. "Name's Alex, and no, I don't usually fall asleep in my truck, but I had a long night." The cracked table top was suddenly very interesting.
"Dusty." The stranger introduced herself with a small smile. "What kept you up all night? A hot date?"
"Excuse me?" Alex glanced up, locking eyes with the woman.
"You said you had a long night?" Dusty prompted.
"Oh," Alex murmured.
"I don't owe you any explanations." Alex's eyes flashed a darker, angry green.
"True," Dusty drawled, "but I did just save your life."
"So?" Alex countered.
"No need to be hostile. I was just asking, and I won't ask again." The dark stranger withdrew her wallet, laid some money down and stood to leave.
Wait! "I... I... my horse had a difficult delivery." Unconsciously Alex rose to block Dusty's hasty retreat. "I'm sorry if I was rude. Please sit back down."
"Did she have a boy or a girl?"
"Filly," Alex answered, "but it died and so did it's mother."
"I'm sorry." Dusty said softly, sincerely.
"I'll get over it, but I'm not sure Jack will."
"Jack? Your husband?" Dusty was suddenly, inanely jealous.
Alex laughed, and sat back down. Dusty glanced at the door, then sat down as well.
"What's so funny?" Dusty asked.
"Jack's a thoroughbred." Alex grinned. It lit up her face like a thousand watt light bulb.
Cute, definitely cute, Dusty decided as she grinned back. There was a sudden awkward silence.
"So, are you the new woman in town I've heard to much about?" Oops. Alex watched as Dusty's grin faded quickly.
"Depends on what you've heard, I guess."
"The men in this town are pigs, Dusty. I don't put any stock in what they say, definitely not in what they think."
One raised eyebrow in response.
"More coffee, ladies?" The waitress interrupted.
"Please." Alex pushed her mug forward as Dusty raised hers. "Thank you."
"Anything else I can get for you today?"
Alex considered a moment. "Apple pie, warm, please. Anything for you, Dusty?"
"Be back in a minute then." The waitress ambled wearily into the kitchen, deposited the order next to Rick's elbow and went outside for a moment of peace and a much needed cigarette.
More silence descended at the women's table. Dusty twirled her spoon absently in her cup and Alex stared at a patch of skin on her right hand.
"The newest rumor is that I burned down John and Martha's place." Dusty glanced up for Alex's reaction.
"'Bout time somebody did." Alex deadpanned.
Dusty let out a deep laugh that was contagious.
"What's so funny, Alex?" A deep groveling voice startled them, rushing into the suddenly comfortable companionship.
Inwardly Alex groaned, outwardly she pasted on a big, fake smile as Howard sat down next to her. "Nothing, Howard, just an inside joke." She winked at Dusty, much to both their surprise. "Oh, I'm being rude. Howard, this is Dusty. Dusty, this is Howard Crane."
"We've met." Howard stated in mild anger, not even glancing at Dusty. His tone softened considerably as he fastened his sites on Alex. "What are you doing in town today?"
Alex met Dusty's hooded glance, trying to apologize for Howard's behavior. The dark woman just shrugged as if to say 'been there, done that, and got the T- shirt.'
"Well, I came in to get that part for the tractor I told you about." Alex sighed, knowing what would be next. Sure enough...
"I told you last week I'd fix that for you."
Let you touch my tractor? I don't think so. "And I told you I'd take care of it." She bit her lip and stomped down her frustration with obvious effort.
Dusty cleared her throat. "Sorry to interrupt, but it looks like that pie isn't gonna come, and it's getting late. I really should be going."
Shit, shit shit... don't leave me with Howard, shit. "Is that offer of a ride still good?" Alex asked casually, heart racing as she telegraphed a panicked look to Dusty. She received a slightly raised eyebrow look in return.
"Oh," Howard butted in, " is something wrong with your truck? I'll take you home." He offered.
"I'm going out that way," Whatever way that happens to be, "so I'll take her home." Dusty's icy eyes bore into Howard's weasly gray ones, and wisely he backed off.
They all rose from the table.
"I'll call you tonight." Howard informed them all, in way of parting. With jaunty steps he exited the diner.
"Damn, he might as well lift his leg and mark his territory... bastard." Alex mumbled under her breath, heading for the door.
"Did you say something?" Dusty held open the door. A blast of cold air surged into the building.
Alex sighed as she looked into pale blue eyes. "I- I'm sorry for putting you on the spot like that. You don't have to take me home."
"Well, I have no where to stay here, so I was headed out of town anyway." Dusty shrugged as she made her way down the sidewalk, tugging up the collar of her coat against the chill wind.
"Ok," Don't wanna trudge some 60 miles back through the snow, now do I? "thanks."
"This one's mine." Dusty waved toward a dark blue sports utility vehicle.
"Nice." Alex looked back at her own rusted out '76 Chevy.
The Jeep purred to life and they headed down the almost empty streets.
"So, how did you meet Howard?" Alex asked, cautiously.
"Long story." The dark woman glanced at her passenger with a lazy grin. "I suppose we have plenty of time, right?"
"Right." Alex agreed cheerfully. "So spit it out."
"Well, apparently women aren't allowed in Night N Day, or so I found out my first night here."
"Night N Day?" Alex asked incredulously. It was the the local farmer's, carpenter's etc., all men's bar and had been for generations. A local taboo for women. A small town's version of the ancient Gentlemen's Clubs.
"Yeah," A small rueful chuckle. "I walked in and ordered a beer. I suppose it should have dawned on me sooner... but I was quickly, and rudely, told to leave."
"Damn, bet heads were spinning." Alex smiled, wishing she'd been there.
"Especially Howard's after I... um... knocked him on his ass for trying to forcibly remove me. He's not your boyfriend or something, is he?"
Alex dissolved into a fit of laughter. "Oh... God... no... he's... not..." The laughter slowly died and she wiped a tear from her eye. "I wish I'd seen that."
"No, you don't." That was a little harsher then Dusty had intended. "I mean, it got kinda ugly in there. I'd been driving for a long time, I was tired, cranky and all I wanted was a damn beer. I ended up giving one of the guys a black eyes and six stitches."
Alex sat still, careful with her words. "That explains why Howard and the rest of them hate you anyway."
"Yeah, I guess it does. So, what happened to your truck?"
"Turn here." Alex pointed to a side road. "Oh nothing. It's just about as old as I am, with a lot more wear and tear... and apparently it just gave up on me."
Dusty fishtailed around the corner, muttering an apology and straightened back out.
Alex wagged her finger in the direction of the next turn.
"Middle of nowhere, huh?" Dusty raised an eyebrow.
"I like it out here," Alex shrugged. "It's quiet. No one bothers me. You should see it in the summer with the trees lining the road, shading it from the sun, and the lilacs, honeysuckle and hyacinths in full bloom."
I'd like that, Dusty realized. They topped a small rise and there was the ranch, splendid in it's new white washed glory.
"Here we are." As the Jeep pulled to a stop beside the railing that led up the walk Alex debated with her demons. "Want a tour? Power's still out... but I could... show you around? If you want, that is?" She finally blurted out.
I should really get going. I'd rather not drive on icy roads in the dark. "Sure." Dusty said instead.
"Well, that's the nickel tour." Alex grinned.
They'd ended up in the barn, Dusty letting Jack nibble a carrot from her hand.
Alex noted that Dusty's cheeks were pink with the cold. She looked healthy and.... beautiful. "How about some hot cocoa to warm up? Or do you have to go already?"
"Hot cocoa would be nice." Dusty absently plucked at a button on her coat as they crunched through the snow back to the farmhouse.
Thankfully the power had returned and in short time they were seated by the living room fireplace, warm cups of cocoa in hand.
"This place is great. Kind of big for one person though."
Was that a question or just an observation, Alex wondered. Nevermind. "I inherited it from my aunt."
"Oh, I'm sorry. About your aunt I mean." Dusty closed her eyes to the fire, eyelids bathing in a red glow, body relaxing, mind drifting sleepily.
"It's ok. She passed away, oh, eight years ago I think?" Lost some years in there, didn't I? Alex cringed.
"You've been here that long?" Dusty couldn't imagine being in anyone place for more then a couple years.
"No, I moved here two years ago." Alex tried to skirt the issue.
"Where did you move from?" Dusty asked curiously as she slowly sipped her cocoa.
There's that... that mood again, Dusty realized. I think I'm treading a thin line here and I'm relaxed enough to push the envelope. "How far?"
"NY." Alex admitted wearily.
"I've never been there, what's it like?" Dusty's question was innocent enough.
"Not much for small talk are you, Alex?"
"Not really." Alex rose smoothly from the couch. "It's too late and icy to travel tonight. Couch is comfy, if you want to stay?"
"It'd be the safe thing to do." Dusty unfolded her long legs and rose beside Alex.
"Blankets are behind that panel." Alex pointed to an empty spot on the wall with a small smile.
"Oh! A secret panel. I'm lovin' this place more and more."
"This place is full of secrets. Goodnight, Dusty." Reluctantly the young woman made her way down the hall and to her room.
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