"Local teacher ,Victoria Waters, returns to convert landmark family residence into bed-and-breakfast."
For the fifth time that morning, Lynn Kindling read the article in the business section of the local newspaper, wondering why on earth her friend had not mentioned that news in the last email she had sent her. The one that had told her she was coming home.
"I don’t get it," Lynn mumbled to herself. She was staring at the words on the page, lost in thought and barely registered the sound of the door that announced the arrival of a potential customer. A quick glance at the clock showed her it was almost ten o’clock, time for her sister to arrive. But the footsteps on the hardwood floor were not her sibling’s and as they approached the counter, Lynn looked up with a welcoming smile.
"Good mo....," she started, pausing when her eyes met a pair of familiar blue ones. "Vickie," she breathed, slowly getting up from her chair.
"Hello, Lynn," a slightly taller woman with dark blond hair answered, smiling insecurely.
"I...you’re the last person I expected to see today," Lynn continued, fighting to regain her composure. "I didn’t think that ... "
Lynn was interrupted by a group of young people noisily entering her bookstore and she sent the woman across from her an apologetic smile.
"It’s alright," Victoria nodded. "I...you’re at work and I guess I shouldn’t have dropped in like this. Maybe..., Could you come by the house tomorrow? I...it’s been a long time and..."
"I’d love to," Lynn smiled, grateful there was a counter between them. All she wanted was to throw herself into her friend’s arms and hug her tightly. But she had no idea how Victoria would respond to such a greeting. They had not seen each other for almost two years and, deep down inside, Lynn was terrified they had grown apart too much for them to rekindle the friendship that had meant so much to her.
"Whenever you manage to get away," Victoria answered. "Will you be able to? We could..."
"I will," Lynn interrupted quickly, afraid that if she did not take up her friend on the invitation, it might take another long time for them to meet again. It was an unrealistic fear, she knew, since Victoria would be staying in town, but still, Lynn could not suppress the fear of completely losing her friend.
Victoria’s eyes had noticed the newspaper article and a look of regret crossed her face.
"I’m sorry you had to find out this way," she said. "I thought the article would be in next week’s edition. I would have liked to tell you in person."
"That’s okay," Lynn smiled, happy to feel that her heart rate was slowing down again. "You can tell me all about it tomorrow."
"I will," Victoria smiled and for the first time she looked a little more relaxed.
Unexpectedly, she reached out a hand and covered Lynn’s that was resting on the counter, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"I’ll see you tomorrow," she said softly. "I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot I want to tell you and show you."
"I’ll be at your place around noon," Lynn promised, knowing her sister would be happy to take care of the store by herself.
"I’ll see you then," Victoria nodded, giving Lynn’s hand another squeeze, before letting go. She sent her friend another smile and turned around, heading for the exit, leaving Lynn staring at the empty space in front of the counter, feeling completely blown away by the brief visit.
"I wonder if she realizes that tomorrow is Valentine’s," Lynn mumbled, before sinking back in her chair and staring at her hand that, all of a sudden, felt very cold.
The narrow road was steep where it made a sharp turn to the left, turning into a track that required a 4-wheel drive during the Winter and the early months of Spring. It was rocky and anybody who was willing to drive down it had to be determined in order to endure the violent shaking of their car. Lynn gritted her teeth and muttered under her breath, every time the tires of her vehicle hit a particularly large frost heave, that had emerged during the late winter freeze and thaw cycle.
"What was she thinking?" she mumbled, clenching her hands around the steering wheel. "I don’t remember this road being so bad."
All of a sudden, the surface changed and, letting out a sigh of relief, Lynn noticed and appreciated the new gravel that crunched underneath the tires.
"So much better," Lynn sighed, allowing her body to relax. She would never admit it, but the drive down the track had briefly made her worried that one or more of the car’s tires would blow out, but turning around on the narrow track had not been an option. For a moment, she had contemplated abandoning her car and walking the rest of the way, but pride had stopped her.
"Not in a million years," she had told herself with determination.
Even though the drive down the road was not like she remembered, the view that greeted her as soon as she turned the last corner was exactly how it was etched in her memories. The house was large and looked like a two-story cabin, built with wooden logs and rocks, making it nearly blend in with its surroundings. A porch wrapped around the main building and in the back was a small shed and a slightly bigger barn, with barely enough room for two cars.
New windows had been put in, she noticed, larger than the old ones and, hopefully, more energy-efficient. The view of the ocean was breathtaking, but the winters in Maine were cold and one needed to keep out the frigid northeasterly wind.
The smell of burning wood tickled Lynn’s nose and she smiled, remembering the old fashioned stove Victoria’s grandparents had used and how fond she had been of it. That, and the smell of freshly baked bread and brownies.
As she parked her car on the side of the house, the front door was opened and the familiar figure of Victoria Waters appeared. Her dark blond hair was a little longer than it used to be and it seemed she had gained a few pounds, but, in Lynn’s eyes, she still looked as good as she always had. The chilly breeze whipped her hair into her face and, with an impatient gesture, it was pushed away from her forehead, while smiling at the woman who was exiting her car.
"You made it!" she called out, her blue eyes taking in her friend who was walking up to the porch, slowly climbing the four wide steps.
"Barely," was the answer. "I don’t remember that road being so bad, Vick."
"I know. I’m sorry about that. It hasn’t been maintained for years and the frost and run off water has turned it into a deathtrap. I’m fixing it and by the time mud season is over it should be as it was before."
Victoria Waters looked at the woman in front of her and, when she noticed the shy hesitance on Lynn’s face, she smiled sadly.
"It’s been a long time," she spoke softly.
"It has," was the answer. "Too long."
Victoria’s blue eyes met Lynn’s brown ones and within moments the budding awkwardness between them had disappeared.
"Too long," Victoria nodded. "But it’s so good to see you now," she added with a smile that made her eyes sparkle.
"It is," Lynn replied with a smile of her own.
"Come here," Victoria sighed, opening her arms and without hesitance, the brunette stepped forward, letting herself be enveloped by a pair of strong arms. Lynn closed her eyes and let the feelings of joy and sadness wash over her, as she had done so many times in the past. A hug from Victoria had always been a bittersweet experience. Both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time but still, Lynn could never resist, simply because it felt too good to pass up on, even if the moment of bliss lasted only a few seconds.
Letting out a small sigh, Lynn could feel the pressure of the arms around her increase and, suppressing a soft moan, she pressed her face against Victoria’s shoulder, wishing the moment could last for hours.
"I’ve missed you," Victoria’s voice sounded close to her ear. "I’m sorry I haven’t been back for two years."
"You’re here now," Lynn sighed, without lifting her head. She knew that one look in those familiar blue eyes would be her undoing and she was not ready to make a fool of herself. Not yet. "Besides, you did write and email me."
"It’s not the same, though," was the soft answer and Lynn nodded. Victoria was right, it wasn’t the same. But at least it had been better than nothing at all.
"But you’re not going anywhere soon, are you?" Lynn asked, daring a glance into Victoria’s eyes.
"No," her friend smiled, giving the woman in her arms a squeeze. "I came home to stay."
"Yes, a bed and breakfast?"
"That’s right," Victoria nodded, chuckling when she noticed the bright smile on Lynn’s face. "It’s a perfect location, Lynn. It’s right on the ocean, private, and yet only five minutes from town."
"Does that mean you’re giving up teaching English in exotic places?" Lynn asked, trying to sound casual, but there was a hint of hope and nervousness in her voice.
"Yes, that’s what it means," Victoria replied. "Those last few years I’ve missed...home, so much. I love it here. I love the people. I love this house Gramma left me, even though it needs a ton of work and I love waking up to the sound of the waves." Victoria paused and looked down on the mop of dark hair against her shoulder. Her blue eyes were soft as she smiled and pulled Lynn a little closer.
"And I’ll love living closer to you," she added after a brief silence. "Like I said, I’ve missed you."
"I’ve missed you, too," Lynn answered, slowly letting go of the warm body that was so close. "The winters have been long without you. Here I was, suffering in the snow, wind and ice, while you were lounging around in some tropical paradise," Lynn teased, giving Victoria’s side a friendly pat, before stepping back a little. No matter how wonderful and intoxicating her friend’s close presence was, she had to be careful not to be carried away by it. Her heart had hurt enough without adding to it.
"I admit it was nice and warm, "Victoria chuckled. "But still, I did miss the seasons. There’s something about reading a book in front of the fire while the wind howls around the house."
"Hummm.......there’s something about the nice warm sun, a pool or a beach and a drink with one of those cute little umbrella’s as well," Lynn countered, with a twinkle in her eyes.
"For a little while, yes," Victoria smiled. "If you want, I’ll take you to a tropical island one day, so you can soak up all the sun and sip all the umbrella drinks you’d like." She took Lynn’s arm and pulled her toward the door. "For now, I’d like to be inside near the fire. I usually converse better when my lips aren’t frozen by the wind."
"Makes sense," Lynn answered with a grin, letting her friend lead her into the warmth of the house. As soon as she stepped inside, she looked around in awe.
"Wow, Vick. You’ve worked hard. You’ve made a lot of changes and upgrades already."
"Do you like it?" Victoria asked, watching her friend take in the mud room with big eyes.
"I love it! I remember this room as a dark, damp room, with a bench and a coat hanger. Now there’s so much light and I love the little cubby holes for shoes," she pointed at the row of openings underneath a sturdy, padded bench. "Wow, there’s a ton of storage space now," Lynn admired. "If this is a preview of what the rest of the house looks like, you’ve done a marvelous job. I really like it."
Victoria smiled broadly and motioned Lynn to follow her into the hallway that lead to a large livingroom and kitchen. The first thing Lynn noticed, when she stepped into the livingroom, were the big French doors, that led to a newly built deck, overlooking the Atlantic in all its wintery glory.
"Vicky, this is...this is amazing," Lynn whispered. "This is exactly as..."
"As we talked about when we were in highschool, yes," Victoria finished her friend’s sentence. "My cousin, Terry, built the deck for me last summer. He also put in all the new windows and doors. When I had to come up with a plan, I remembered what we used to say:’If this were my house, I would...’", Victoria smiled, remembering. "I always liked the idea of the French doors."
"That’s obvious," Lynn grinned. "It’s breath taking. Just imagine, Vick, sitting outside on the deck when it’s summer. Sipping a cup of coffee, watching the sunrise..."
"Oh, yeah," Victoria answered. "That’s exactly what I want my guests to do."
Lynn, who was taking in the view, completely missed the expression of longing on Victoria’s face and stepped closer to the window, soaking up the view that was so familiar, yet entirely new.
A pair of blue eyes followed her every move with such intensity, Lynn would have been completely bewildered had she seen the look in her friend’s eyes. But the brunette was struggling with her own feelings, when her brown eyes stared out over the vastness of the ocean, briefly not able to see the rhythmic rolling of the waves through the memories that were filling her mind. The only thing she saw were two young girls, scouring the rocks on bare feet, hunting the tide pools for small fish, crabs and tiny starfish, chattering about the future and how they would never be separated.
"Lynn?" a soft voice brought her back to reality and, slightly startled, Lynn turned around to face her friend. "Are you alright?"
"I’m fine," the brunette answered, a little too fast, but Victoria decided not to pursue the shadow of regret she had seen in Lynn’s eyes. "This place is...priceless, Vick. I’m glad you’re back to stay, because you know I will come and visit a lot, just to sit on that deck, of course" she added with an attempt to lighten the mood.
"You’re always welcome," Victoria promised and her voice was serious. "Do you want to sit in front of the fire and have some tea? Or coffee?" she asked, gesturing toward two very comfortable looking chairs near the wood stove.
"I’d love some tea and I’m so happy you kept the stove," Lynn smiled, sinking down in an overstuffed chair, eying the flames that were happily dancing behind the thick glass door. "I’ve always loved this thing."
"I know," Victoria nodded, walking into the kitchen to retrieve two mugs. "I tried to leave a lot of authentic things, the way my grandfather built it, but some of it was too old or worn out to be saved. And," Victoria paused and glanced at Lynn who looked at her expectantly. "I just had to have a decent bathroom with a nice tub and a shower."
"Oh, yes," Lynn laughed. "I figured you’d get rid of the old, rusty tub."
"It was a health hazard," Victoria grinned. "Besides, it leaked."
"How was the floor underneath it?" Lynn asked, smiling up at Victoria who handed her a steaming mug of tea.
"It was rotted and had to be replaced," Victoria answered. "After you drink your tea, I’ll show you around. I’m curious to hear your opinion."
"Does that mean that, if there’s something I don’t like, you’ll change it?" Lynn teased.
Victoria laughed and shook her head, sending her friend an appreciative glance.
"I doubt you’ll find anything you won’t like."
"Oh, you’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?"
"Yes, I am," Victoria smiled. "I know your taste."
"It could have changed," Lynn said softly, sipping her tea.
There was a brief moment of silence in which both women suddenly felt the gap of the years they had spent far away from each other.
"I guess it could have," Victoria agreed and there was a hint of regret in her voice. She took another sip of her tea to buy herself a few moments and to observe the woman who was sitting in the chair across from her. "I know we’ve both...spent the last few years in a different way than we planned when we were thirteen."
In spite of the serious tone in Victoria’s voice, Lynn had to chuckle.
"Vick, we were thirteen," she reminded her friend. "I don’t think we’d have gone far with the plans we had back then. What was it we wanted to do, have our own lobster boat?" she added with an affectionate smile.
"Alright, I’ll have to give you that," Victoria grinned. "But, we...I never really planned to leave for such a long time either. And when I look back, I don’t think I should have, but, that’s hindsight," she concluded with a sigh.
"And we both know that gives us the most beautiful, unobstructed view of life...the way it could have been," Lynn spoke gently. Suddenly, a question that had been bothered her for years surfaced and she wanted an answer so badly, it made her heart pound. Still, she had to ask.
"Vickie, I...the reason you...stayed away...was there... someone... in your life?"
Lynn heard the words that had lived in secret inside of her for such a long time. They sounded loud in the silence, bouncing off the walls in shock and then hanging in the air, hovering in the middle of the silence, breathlessly waiting for an answer.
If the question had taken Victoria by surprise, she did not show it. Her blue eyes held a pensive expression when they looked at Lynn. For the longest time they did not speak, until Victoria got up from her comfortable seat.
"I’ll be right back," she spoke softly, leaving the room.
Lynn swallowed hard, feeling the tears sting the back of her eyes. She knew her question had upset Victoria. Of course there had been someone in her friend’s life! How could there not have been? Victoria was an attractive woman, with a very endearing personality. The ‘someone’ Lynn had asked her about, had probably broken her heart and now those feelings of hurt had, all of a sudden come back.
Lynn softly groaned and mentally slapped herself. What had she been thinking? How insensitive of her. As soon as Victoria had pulled herself together again, she would have to apologize.
Lynn took a deep breath and tried to ignore the pain in her chest. There would be time for crying later, when she was back home, by herself. Right now she needed to let her friend know she would be there for her.
"Vickie, listen," she started, as soon as her friend re-entered the room. "I shouldn’t have asked you a question like that. That was very..."
"It’s okay, Lynn," Victoria interrupted the brunette with a smile. "You’ve been my friend for such a long time and I do feel like I’ve...avoided you, these last few years. If we....," Victoria took a deep breath before continuing. "If we want to...remain friends...or...well...you have a right to know."
"I’m not sure, Vick," Lynn sighed. "Your....love life is your own. You don’t owe me any explanations. I just want you to know I am here for you, whenever you need me."
"You might not think very highly about me after today," Victoria answered, doing her best to avoid the soulful brown eyes that were looking up at her from the overstuffed chair.
"Why?" Lynn wanted to know, feeling a trickle of apprehension in the pit of her stomach.
"It’s a little hard for me to explain, so, here, have a look at those," Victoria answered, holding out a small pile of envelopes.
With increasing nervousness, Lynn took the items from her friend’s hand, noticing by the shape and the weight she was holding cards. All of them were still sealed in an envelope.
"I can’t open your...oh," Lynn breathed, when she turned the one on top around and stared at her own name and address, neatly written in a very familiar hand.
Confused, she looked up at Victoria who was too restless to sit in a chair. Instead she was standing in front of the French doors, staring out onto the ocean, nervously rocking back and forth on her heels.
"Vickie, this is....I don’t understand," Lynn said totally confused.
"They’re addressed to you," Vickie answered in a hoarse voice. "But never sent. They’re yours."
"Just read them, Lynn, please," Victoria answered with a barely audible quiver in her voice.
Lynn looked at the envelopes in her hand, estimating there were at least twelve cards. It seemed logical to open the one on top and, after taking a deep breath, Lynn opened the envelope and pulled out a card.
Her heart was slamming against her chest when she noticed it was a Valentine’s card and with slightly trembling fingers she pulled the colorful paper out of its confinement. She opened the card and her eyes flew over the printed section and the written lines underneath it.
If Lynn had been confused before, now she was completely mystified by the writing on the card. She had to read it again...and again, until, finally, her brain started to make sense of the words that had taken her by surprise. With tears in her eyes, she looked up, only to find that Victoria had disappeared from her spot in front of the window and had left the room.
"Vick’?" Lynn called out with a hoarse voice, but there was no answer.
Lynn stood up from her chair to go look for her friend, but she did not have to go far. As soon as she entered the kitchen, she noticed Victoria, who was leaning against the kitchen counter. The look in her eyes was one of resignation and embarrassment and she sent Lynn a half-hearted smile.
"Now the secret’s out," she sighed. "I guess I should have told you a long time ago, but every time I wanted to, I chickened out." Victoria took a deep breath and straightened her back, as if she was readying herself for a flood of accusations and rejection. "I really do hope you still want to be my friend."
"Is that why you never sent these?" Lynn asked. "You were afraid to lose my friendship? Is that why you left? Is that why you haven’t been back those last few years?" Lynn stepped a little closer to her friend and looked up, noticing the mixture of uncertainty and loneliness in Victoria’s blue eyes.
"Yes, that’s all part of it," Victoria answered in a whisper. "I’m sorry, Lynn. I know I am a coward and I should have said something, but, after...I...I just knew you’d never be interested and, well...I..."
"Victoria, you’re rambling," Lynn interrupted her friend. "What the heck are you talking about?"
"I saw you," Victoria whispered, not able to meet Lynn’s eyes.
"You saw me where? When? Doing what?" Lynn asked, a little impatient.
"I saw you with Robert," Victoria answered, after having cleared her voice. "And I...I just knew you..."
"Robert? Robert who?"
Lynn stared at her friend with wide eyes and for a long moment she was speechless. She did not know whether to be angry with Victoria, whether to cry or to laugh. After a long silence she choose the latter. Throwing back her head she laughed heartily, putting out her hand and stopping Victoria from leaving the kitchen when her friend tried to walk away.
"No, no, stop, Vickie," Lynn hiccuped. "I need you to stay right here. We need to talk, honey. Really."
Grabbing Victoria by the hand, Lynn walked to a small love seat in front of the window and pulled her friend down next to her.
"Robert Jarvis," she started, biting back a grin. "Victoria, sweetheart, that is almost ten years ago. I have no earthly idea what you saw. Why don’t you tell me and I’ll try to explain things."
"All I saw was you two kissing," Victoria answered reluctantly.
"Well, you might have, but I bet you didn’t stay around long enough to see that I practically threw him off me and told him to keep his....hands...to himself. He was kissing ME, I was NOT kissing HIM!"
"You did? You weren’t" Victoria asked, looking at Lynn with surprise.
"Yes, I did," Lynn nodded. "I was not interested in Robert, or any other guy on campus. Not then, and certainly not now."
"No, I wasn’t. There was only one person I was interested in, but she did not show any interest in me and, since I didn’t want to lose our friendship, I never told her about it." Lynn smiled and covered Victoria’s fidgeting fingers with her hand. "And if I’d known we’d be exchanging cards today, I would have brought my own collection of never sent Valentine’s, birthday and Christmas cards."
Lynn smiled when she saw Victoria’s eyes go wide and, not able to control herself any longer, she leaned in and briefly pressed her lips against the other woman’s. Victoria was still too shocked to respond.
"I’m an idiot," she finally sighed. "I am such an idiot."
"Yes, you are," Lynn nodded. "But so am I. I could have said something as well, but I didn’t." Lynn glanced at the card she was still holding and when she looked up at her friend, she was smiling broadly.
"Thank you for the card," she whispered, happy to see a smile had returned to Victoria’s face. "I guess I should have brought yours as well. But then, who knew?"
"I didn’t," Victoria answered, shifting in her seat, so she could wrap her arms around her friend. "I guess I should have done this years ago."
And without waiting for a response, Victoria bent her head and captured Lynn’s lips in a long, heartfelt kiss, pausing long enough to whisper ‘I’m an idiot’ a few more times, before kissing Lynn again and again.
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