These characters originated in the deep dark recesses of Advocates (Blayne Cooper) and T. Novans minds, and thus belong to no one but us. Copyright ã 2001 by Blayne Cooper and T. Novan. All Rights Reserved.
Sexual Content: Oh, yeah. Its in there. This is for all the folks who moaned about the lack of graphic sex in Madam President. Feel free to send cash. If youre under 18, please move along. But everyone else is welcome to pull up a chair and enjoy. This story is intended for an adult audience only.
Violence: Not too much.
Language: Yes, there is some profanity. But dont tell our moms, okay? Last time my mom bought that soap mechanics use with bits of stuff in it. I can still feel that grit between my teeth. And yes, I did brush.
Special Notice: There once was a tale by Advocate called The Story of Me. In it, a woman named Randi poured her heart out about her stalker, Mac, to a pair of avidly listening squirrels in a city park. Is this a sequel? Nope. Do you have to read The Story of Me to enjoy and understand this one? Absolutely not. But you might get a little more out of this one if you go there first. Trust us, its mostly painless.
Acknowledgements: To our beta readers, Midgit, R.S. Corliss, and Medora MacD your assistance was invaluable. To the friends who read parts of this story and offered sage advice and compliments we love you. We stick our tongues out in the general direction of the rest of you. And, of course, TN and I had a blast working together. After a break we will be starting the sequel to Madam President. But this was screaming at us first.
Comments/Feedback to: Tnovan@aol.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ROAD TO GLORY
Advocate (Blayne Cooper) and T. Novan
The stars twinkled overhead as Leigh Matthews barreled down I-90 at a constant speed of seventy miles per hour. Despite the fact that it was nearly summer, the cool evening air had forced her to flip on her heater at the last mile marker. It had been a long day of driving and worst of all, it would start all over again she glanced at her dashboard board clock in less than six hours.
"What the ?" Leigh mumbled as an unexpected Day-Glo detour sign directed her off the interstate and onto a lonely county road. It was paved and well-marked but wasnt as straight as the highway had been. Leigh reduced her speed to fifty-five. What little traffic there had been moments before thinned out to nothing, leaving the young woman alone with only the night and her radio for company.
As her trucks cab grew warmer and warmer Leighs eyelids grew heavier and her breathing slower and deeper. She pushed shaggy blonde bangs off her forehead and leaned forward to fiddle with the radio.
"Let Jeeeeeesus into your heart!" the speakers blared.
"Aw, Christ. Is it really necessary to take all the fun out of being a sinner?" Leigh rolled her eyes, carefully steered around an enormous unidentified hunk of roadkill, and changed the radio station somehow managing to do all three things at the same time. She hated A.M. radio, especially in the middle of the night and most especially in the middle of nowhere. Leigh had listened to all her books on tape, and her much-loved CDs held no allure at this late hour. She stifled a yawn and made a slow turn onto another road as another detour sign directed.
Why hadnt anyone mentioned this detour? Leigh blearily glanced down at her silent CB radio. Disgusted, shed flipped it off earlier when she couldnt stomach another second of hearing how Big Bubby Bumboski had conned his portly, and clearly stupid, wife into believing he had an emergency run that would take him the better part of a week. Half the state knew he was going to meet his girl friend and their two sons. Bubby had gone on and on about how proud of the oldest boy he was. It seems Little Big Bubby had made parole just in time for the visit.
This second turn had sent her into an area even more desolate than the first, and Leigh began to wonder fuzzily if shed somehow gotten lost. Her breaths began to lengthen again, and her head began to droop. Her eyes fluttered closed just for a second.
Leighs head snapped up. Her eyes popped open at the sound of gravel under her wheels. Instinctively, she slammed on her brakes, kicking up a cloud of dust as the massive truck skidded to a halt along the side of the road. Good thing Im riding bobtail. It would have taken three times the distance to stop with a full rig. Shakily, she clicked off the ignition and was surrounded by stony silence.
Leigh blinked dazedly, her heart pounding a mile a minute, adrenaline coursing through her veins. "Damn." I fell asleep on the road? I havent done that since I started driving! She gazed out the large window at her surroundings. It was pitch black almost. Leigh squinted bloodshot, baby blues as she peered down the road. Off in the distance she could see the faint glow of lights on a sign. "Thank you, God! A motel. Im going to get a shower after all," she said to no one. Sure, talking to yourself was a clear sign of insanity. But then again, Leigh was pretty certain a truly insane person wouldnt give a shit. So why should she?
Leigh had grown up on the road with her dad and knew that no matter how desolate an area seemed you usually werent too far from one of the thousands of mom-and-pop motels that lined Americas highways. They catered to truckers like herself and other weary, or just plain lost, travelers.
The young woman started up the engine again, and her cherry-red big rig rumbled to life, its high beams cutting through the darkness. Slowly, she pulled back onto the road, hearing the familiar sound of crunching gravel die away as her wheels found the pavement. By the time Leigh shifted from third to fourth gear it was already time to slow down again. She snorted at the flickering sign that read ritzs. "Looks like I found the Ritz in the middle of the boonies. Who knew?"
Leigh pulled alongside the small building and pushed open the cab door. She was immediately greeted by a loud chorus of chirping crickets and the smell of slightly damp prairie grass. The wind tossed her hair as she jumped down onto the dirt parking lot. With every footstep she could feel her dreams of a hot shower and a big bed going up in smoke.
She wanted to stamp her foot in disappointment but somehow resisted the urge. A fit where no one could see it, after all, didnt serve much purpose. Instead, she hung her head and scrubbed her face tiredly as she approached the building. This was no hotel. It was a diner. And from the darkened windows and the dim outline of chairs propped up on the tables a very closed diner.
With a slight growl, Leigh stalked back to the truck and climbed inside. She locked her door and then the passengers side door. Behind the two front seats was the thin curtain that separated Leighs workplace from her home. She kicked off her shoes, not caring where they ended up, and tugged off her lightweight denim shirt and bra.
A small but comfortable bed folded down from the back wall of the truck, and the tired woman flopped down gracelessly, not bothering to remove her blue jeans.
She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
Leighs eyes fluttered open and she moaned softly. "Noooo, it cant be morning yet. Go away," she petulantly ordered the sun. But for some reason, the sunshine streaming through the windows rudely refused to obey her command. She slid on a clean shirt and grabbed the backpack that contained her toiletries.
Yawning, she rifled her fingers through her short, fair hair in a half-hearted attempt to make herself semi-presentable. But to be honest, right now she was more interested in finding a bathroom than looking pretty. Blonde or no, it wasnt like she was going to be confused with that insane Martha Stewart anyway. Nature was calling. Loudly. Using her hand to block the sun from her eyes, Leigh stared up at the large sign on top of the diner. The place was called Fitzs not ritzs; the top half of the F being burnt out.
When Leighs gaze dropped from the slightly dilapidated sign, it landed squarely on a figure leaning back in a wooden chair, sitting in shadows outside the diner door. Her eyes widened slightly. The body was long and lean, dressed in beige cargo pants and a blue cotton shirt, its two booted feet propped up on a barrel. Holy hot damn. She tried not to stare but gave up on that idea immediately since she really did want a good look at whoever this was.
Please be a woman, please be a woman, Leigh chanted inwardly. Another two strides and even through the light cloud of smoke that swirled around the body, a head of thick, short auburn hair came clearly into view. Leighs eyes dropped to the pale blue shirt, which was, she could see now, unbuttoned, with a crisp, white t-shirt underneath. Then cha-ching! Bells that sounded remarkably like a cash register opening went off in her mind as she took in the vision of two well-shaped breasts and a slender neck. A tiny growl escaped her throat, and she strained to more clearly make out the features of the womans face.
Leigh stopped abruptly when a harried-looking father, holding the hands of two small boys, scurried past her and into the diner. "Potty emergency" was all the man said by way of an apology.
The woman in the chair took another long drag off her cigarette before tossing the stub into a butt can that sat alongside her. Then she brought a frosty, glass Coke bottle to her mouth and took a healthy swig. "Ahhh " she hummed, smacking her lips with almost sensual pleasure. Nothin like a little carbonation to burn away the mornin fuzzies. Her green eyes tracked Leigh with idle curiosity as the short woman approached. She snorted and dropped one foot from the barrel, using the toe of her boot to scratch the belly of the cat that sat at the porch below her feet. Lordy, it seems theyre letting runts truck nowadays.
Flea, a coal-black cat, groaned, causing the woman to chuckle. "Thirsty? Youve had a hard morning of doing absolutely nothing. Im sure youve worked up a powerful thirst."
From her position sprawled out on her back, Flea merely opened her mouth. The green-eyed woman finally tore her eyes from the blonde and casually leaned over to pour her Coke directly into Fleas waiting mouth.
As Leigh stepped onto the diners porch, her jaw sagged at the spectacle. She was so engrossed at the sight of the beautiful woman, not to mention the feline lapping up a continuous stream of Coca Cola, that she didnt even see the door in front of her swing open. Until it hit her right in the face.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" The woman in the chair jumped to her feet just as Leigh was knocked backwards, landing on her bottom with a resounding thud. A cloud of fine dust kicked up around her, and she coughed weakly as her world spun.
A short, heavyset man, who looked to be pushing sixty, came barreling out of the diner and immediately dropped to Leighs side. He swallowed nervously, patting her back gently as she coughed again and tried to fan away the dust with erratic hand movements. "Are you okay, miss?"
Leigh had one hand cupped over the eye that was throbbing with her every heartbeat. She could already feel it swelling shut. "I um I think so." She looked intently at the man, her brow furrowing. "And do I need to tell it to your twin, too?"
He glanced at the empty space next to him where Leigh was pointing. "Oh, boy. Im so sorry." The man offered her his hand, helping her stand. "Im Pete."
"Hi, Pete. Im " she momentarily faltered as the diner, not ten feet in front of her, began to blur. Im going to pass out?
"Whoa there, miss." Pete, who was dressed in white pants, a blindingly white t-shirt and a green apron with Fitzs emblazoned across the chest, wrapped a supportive arm around Leigh. "Wed better go inside and get some ice on that eye. Breakfast is on the house." His gaze flickered over to the tall woman. "Fitz, were you just going to leave her here in the dirt?" he asked grumpily.
"And I thought you were going to fix that burned out sign." Joe shook his head. "I should fire your "
"Im fine," Leigh cut in, trying to get a better look at this Fitz woman, but now her good eye was tearing so much she couldnt see much of anything. "Really. I was just really to take " She paused and her mind worked silently as she tried to rephrase what she was going to say. "Umm "
Pete grunted knowingly and offered, "Theres a washroom inside. Cmon." He pulled open the door, and Leigh was immediately assaulted by the delicious smell of sizzling bacon and coffee.
"Oh, damn, that smells good. But first things first." She made a beeline for the bathroom, automatically heading for the rear of the diner where she knew it would be, saying a small prayer of thanks that the door wasnt locked.
Just before leaving, she scrubbed her face with icy water and brushed her teeth with the toothbrush she kept in her backpack. Leigh glanced in the mirror and sighed ruefully. "Not great." Once again she ran her fingers through her hair. This was as good as she was going to look without a shower and a full nights sleep and while sporting what was already promising to become a black eye Muhammad Ali would be proud of.
Oh, man, the guys at Rosies are never gonna let me live this down. Id better come up with a hell of a story to go with it. Getting banged in the face by the door while checking out the local eye candy and some bizarro cat is definitely one theyd believe. Its just not one Im going to give them the satisfaction of laughing at. She cringed at the sliver of bloodshot blue barely visible between her puffy eyelids. And to think I thought that saying about things only being fun until someone loses an eye was a crock of shit. Wrong!
Leigh rinsed her toothbrush again, put it back in its case, and tossed it in her backpack. "Breakfast and coffee. Thats the ticket."
Her stomach rumbled as she bellied up to the counter and perched on a padded stool that swiveled as she turned.
Pete chuckled. "Coffee. Over hard, side of hash browns, bagel, and two meats?"
Leigh could only nod and groan the man was a mind reader. She was afraid if she spoke that the drool that had been pooling in her mouth at the aroma of a hot breakfast would spill out onto the floor. She swallowed and looked around, taking in the retro 1930s or 1940s décor she wasnt sure which. "Where is this place?" It was charming in a weird sort of way.
"Heaven, of course," a waitress from behind the counter answered sassily. "Couldnt you tell by the parking lot? We fixed all the pot holes."
Pete made a face. "Very funny, Mavis." With a stubby finger, he pointed to a booth that had just gone empty. "Dont you have dishes to bus?"
"Yeah, yeah," Mavis waved him off and poured a man at the counter another cup of coffee.
Pete turned to Leigh. "Welcome to Fitzs. The woman out front was RJ Fitzgerald, but despite the places name, its my diner."
"He lost a bet and she made him change the name," Mavis piped up helpfully.
Pete narrowed his hazel eyes, his gaze burning a hole through the waitress. "Thank you so much, Mavis," he said through clenched teeth. "By the way, I have a feeling the grease trap is going to need cleaning today. And tomorrow."
Mavis blanched and scooted her skinny body toward the dirty booth. At least there shed only be able to get into a little trouble.
Leigh watched Pete and Mavis with mild amusement. "I saw the sign with the name on it out front. I meant where exactly is the diner? I hit an unexpected detour last night."
"Ah." Pete nodded. "Weve been getting you folks all morning." He poured Leigh a cup of coffee and set down a small pitcher of fresh cream and a bowl of sugar. "The nearest town is about twenty miles due north."
Leigh didnt comment. Shed check the map in her truck later. She poured cream into her coffee until it was a pale beige, not bothering to stir the cloudy mixture.
She waited while Pete waved goodbye at the man whod run in moments before with the two little boys in tow. When the screen door slammed, he glanced down, seeing Leighs expectant eyes. "Oh, sorry." Pete grinned. "You are sitting exactly twenty miles from Glory, South Dakota. Population "
"Who cares!" a group of old men playing dominos at a center table sang out.
"The lady asked, you grumpy old goats!" Pete reprimanded, shaking his dishtowel at the crusty men.
Leigh chuckled behind the rim of her coffee cup. Too many years of being on the road with her father had brought her into a million of these places. Now that she was inside, it only took a second for her seasoned gaze to assure her that this was more than a just a place for travelers to eat. This was, to a precious few, a second home. Regulars were family, if not by blood then by friendship and caring.
Pete winced at the bright purple shiner that Leigh was now sprouting. "Let me get you something cold for that eye. Be right back," he mumbled as he headed into the kitchen.
Leigh turned around slightly when the creaking of the screen door announced someones arrival.
RJ Fitzgerald strolled into the diner, the empty Coke bottle held loosely by her fingertips, the bottle swaying back and forth in time with her long stride. She slid behind the opposite end of the counter Leigh was sitting at and put the bottle away in a crate of others just like it. The sound of glass hitting glass was barely audible over the constant clatter of clinking silverware. She picked up a thick, white ceramic coffee cup. Unconsciously twirling it on her index finger, she crossed to a hotplate holding several silver pots of fresh-brewed java. RJ glanced over her shoulder at Leigh and flashed her a sympathetic grin. That eyes gonna be swelled shut tighter than a Scotsmans wallet in no time. Poor lass.
RJ shifted to face the trucker fully and after pouring the coffee, braced her elbows on the white, slightly coffee-stained Formica countertop. She sipped her coffee and when she was completely sure she had Leighs undivided attention, which, in truth, shed had from the moment she walked in the door, she pointed to her own eye and mouthed, You okay?
Leighs fingertips grazed the bruised flesh on the side of her face, but she smiled back and nodded her head. It was tender but not excruciating. Id be more okay if you were sitting in my lap naked. God, I love butch.
RJ winked and then turned so she could yell through the serving window to Pete, who was still fiddling with an ice pack.
"Just so youll know, at this rate her eye will be healed and her grandchildren will be grown before you get that back out here," she tormented, stealing a piece of bacon off one of the plates a hefty black woman had slid forward through the service window for Mavis.
Leigh sucked in an appreciative breath. Now that her head wasnt spinning from the impact of the door, she could for the first time truly hear and appreciate the sweet Irish lilt that laced RJs words.
"Fitz!" Mavis barked, automatically adding more bacon to the plate in her hands. If RJ had been anywhere near it, the waitress knew it would come up short. "Take yourself outside and find something useful to do. Dont be in here causing more trouble." Mavis warning was said in such an aggrieved, mothering tone that it caused the young couple in the booth near the door to cover their mouths to hide their sniggers at RJs scolding.
"Id like to know what I did the first time." RJ crossed her arms over her chest, obviously waiting for an answer. "Its not like it was my fault that she got hit in the face with the door."
"Fitz, out!" This time the order came from the group of men playing dominoes.
RJ shot the rusty codgers a dirty look. "Im going. Im going. I know when Im not wanted." She pulled a soft cotton cap from her back pocket and tugged it onto her head, her wavy, collar-length locks sticking out in wild directions in the back. "Ill just go out back and play with a very sharp ax."
She grabbed a pair of well-worn leather gloves from her other back pocket and slipped one on. When she walked passed Leigh, she grinned and flashed the fairer woman a heart-stopping smile. "Hope that eye feels better, miss. Im sorry I cant stay and chat, but as you can see, Im being kicked outta here on my arse."
Leigh couldnt help but laugh along with the other diner patrons. She had never actually heard someone with such a charming accent. .. . She smiled at RJ and the tall woman disappeared out the door.
Pete returned from the kitchen with an ice pack and a delicious-smelling plate of food, which he slid in front of Leigh. "There you go, young lady." He sheepishly gestured at Leighs face. "I really am sorry about that."
"Its okay." Leigh shrugged, her mind more on RJ than her conversion with Pete. "These things happen."
RJ peeled off her shirt and tossed it onto a picnic table, leaving her clad in a white mens sleeveless undershirt. Her pale, slightly freckled skin instantly warmed in the strong morning sun and she sighed contentedly, rolling the shoulders that were now free from any constriction. Then she moved to the old stump where a long-handled ax was buried and yanked it free. Next she picked up a one-foot maple round that needed to be split so it could be used to fire up the open-pit barbecue later in the week.
Forest-green eyes flicked up and stared at the diner. She could see inside through the open, back screen door and had a perfect view of Leighs left leg. To RJ, it seemed that the vibrant woman was having a good time, drinking her coffee and devouring her breakfast. And so what if I can only just a little bit her leg and foot? Its a very expressive foot!
Without looking, RJ drove the blade of the ax directly into the center of the round, chopping it neatly in half. Years of chopping wood had made it second nature, and she proceeded by rote, her mind wandering as she picked up one of the half-rounds and placed it back on the stump to be split again. Right now, her thoughts were wandering all over a certain petite, blue-eyed blonde trucker. Just like her hands were itching to do. RJ moaned. Loudly.
Flea shuffled around the side of the building and flopped down in the shade of a large tree. She yawned and began licking her paws as her piercing yellow eyes watched RJ chop wood. Flea was glad she wasnt human. Too much work. Losers.
RJ finally looked down at her four-legged companion and cocked her head to the side. "All right. I admit it. Shes a nice looking dame. Too bad shes not "
Before the woman could continue her conversation with the cat, Leigh came around the side of the building with her backpack slung over her shoulder. She marched right up to RJ, allowing her eyes to sweep the length of the taller womans lanky frame.
Leighs admiration of RJs body was so frank and unabashed that RJ actually felt her cheeks heat as she lifted her ax for another swing. Lord! I dont feel this exposed in my own birthday suit!
The blonde woman smiled, pleased at the sweet flush covering RJs face. "Excuse me, but umm, Pete said there was an actual shower I could use around here somewhere?" Her tone was doubtful, though she had no real reason to mistrust Pete. He had given her a free breakfast, and in the great pecking order of life that put him just below her dead father and above everyone else.
RJ completely missed the half-round and, instead, buried the blade into the stump the maple block was sitting on. She groaned inwardly, thinking she was lucky she hadnt cut off her foot. She pushed back her supreme embarrassment, outwardly projecting an air of total confidence and serenity. RJ jerked a thumb toward the ax and said casually, "I meant to do that."
Leigh glanced down at the ax that was imbedded at an odd angle, nearly shaving off the outside edge of the stump. "Im sure you did," she said seriously, all the while wrestling the smile from her face.
RJ pulled a white handkerchief out of what Leigh was beginning to suspect were bottomless back pockets and wiped her forehead.
"Shower?" Leigh reminded.
"Oh, yeah, right in there." RJ tilted her head toward the building next to the diner. "Its the old garage. You wont find anyone lurking about in there unless itd be George working on that clunker automobile of his. And I dont think hes here today. But theres a full shower in the back and a rack of clean towels besides. Help yourself."
Leigh smiled and adjusted the pack on her shoulder. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask RJ on a date or to join her in the shower. One or the other. Hell, shed never been shy around women and her gaydar was pinging so loudly when it came to RJ she was surprised she could still see straight. So to speak. "Thanks. Will um " Leigh paused when she spied an old rusted-out 1942 Ford pickup parked alongside the garage. She snorted as she took in the ill-kept machine, saying the first thing that popped into her mind. "What self-respecting soul could drive such a piece of shit?"
RJ looked at the black truck, her brow creasing. Piece of shit? She scratched her jaw. "I guess that person would be me. Seeing as how thats my truck."
Leighs eyes widened. Oh, my God. "Ahh " She winced and tried to think of something nice to say about the dilapidated machine.
Leigh had no qualms about bullshitting the ladies. Hell, shed learned at her daddys knee. And his nickname wasnt Tom Cat for nothing. When he died two years ago and shed gone from doing the family bookkeeping to driving the big rig herself, the trucking community had taken to calling her Tom Cat too, though usually not to her face.
But she never, ever, stretched the truth when it came to trucks. Even itty bitty ones. A woman had to have some principles. "Im sorry."
RJ put one hand on her hip, easily sensing Leighs quandary. "Are you sorry that its my truck, or for insulting it so?"
Leigh bit her lower lip. "Yes."
RJs eyebrows jumped. Shes a sassy enough thing, thats for certain. But still, theres no denying shes got a great backside. RJ pulled the ax free and straightened the half-round shes missed on her last swing. She didnt bother to look at Leigh when she said, "Showers in the garage. Doors unlocked."
The tall womans demeanor had definitely cooled, and Leigh tried not to visibly frown. Great. Shes the sensitive type. Secretly, Leigh believed that if you werent so sensitive that youd actually be caught riding in or worse driving a piece of shit, you shouldnt get upset when people commented about it. True, the truck was unfit to share the roads with decent, well-loved vehicles, but it had been Leighs experience that nobody really liked to hear that. She gave a short nod and quickly began making her way to the garage, muttering another apology under her breath as she passed RJ.
And though it wasnt easy, at the same time Leigh categorized RJ Fitzgerald in that ever-so-tiny compartment of her brain shed dedicated to those that got away. Now she was heading for a hot shower and later the peace and loneliness of the open road.
RJ stepped into Sams barbershop. Flea had wrapped herself around RJs shoulders and was using the tall woman as a cat taxi. When RJ shut the door behind her, she gave a little shrug and Flea jumped down, immediately finding the soft pillow in the corner of the shop that was reserved solely for her.
RJ removed her cap, stuffing it in her back pocket. She huffed to herself, noting that every pair of eyes in the shop had trained themselves on her. With a quick movement she stuffed her aviator sunglasses into the front pocket of her shirt.
The brunette stared back at the small crowd of men. "What? Did I grow another head? If I did, Im sure itll be needing its hair cut too." She settled down in the chair, kicking out long legs in front of her and giving an almost dirty look to Sammy, the barber.
"You know," Sammy started, even as he snapped the cape around her neck, then ran a comb through RJs thick hair. "You are a woman. It would be okay if you wanted to let this grow out."
RJs hand immediately went to her head. Her hair was barely trimmed up off her ears and worn combed straight back. It was longer on top, her uneven, reddish-brown waves just grazing the bottom edge of her shirt collar in back. "I know Im a woman, you silly bastard. I also know I like my hair just fine the way it is. Its easy to take care of this way. So just cut it and keep the commentary to yourself."
"Yes, maam," Sammy snorted, taking his scissors in hand. Much to RJs mothers chagrin hed been cutting RJs hair ever since Mildred, the owner of the local beauty salon, refused to give RJ her preferred short cut when RJ was still in high school. They had the same argument every time she came in. He always waited until she called him a silly bastard before he started cutting her hair. It was his own half-hearted protest. He knew that some young women liked it short nowadays, though why was still a mystery to him.
A man whose face was still shiny and stinging from the aftershave that had been slapped on it sat alongside RJ. He turned the page of his magazine. "That little trucker at the diner had pretty blonde hair," Luke said, his eyes never leaving the magazine. "Still, my tastes have always run to longer style. Remember Rita Hayworth? Now that was some lovely hair."
"Remember?" Johnny replied incredulously. "Do I look senile to you?" He leaned against the table that held the shops cash register. "But the trucker was a looker." Johnny gave RJ a shit-eating grin. "Im thinking her hair was damn near the exact color of sweet corn in the summertime." He shrugged. "Short and shaggy-looking, but still feminine." The slim man strolled over to Luke who was now chuckling and holding his magazine unnaturally high so as to cover his face. "She was a real looker, wasnt she, Fitz?"
"I didnt notice her hair." RJ shifted uncomfortably in her chair. I should have known coming here today would be a mistake!
A third man with a rotund belly and a half-smoked cigar hanging out of his mouth croaked from his spot at the checkerboard in the corner, "Of course not, you were too busy looking at her boobs."
"I was not!" RJ defended, almost coming out of the chair.
"Damn it, RJ, settle down before I scalp you bald!" Sammy ordered, pushing the woman back into the chair and resettling the cape around her shoulders.
"Youre all nasty old goats. The lot of you." RJs cheeks were flaming hot, and by the intensified laughter among the men, she knew they looked as flushed as they felt. "I dont know why I put up with you."
"Because this is the only barbershop in town and if you didnt come in here youd be forced to cut it yourself. Then youd be in a real mess." Johnny grinned as he crossed over to the checkerboard and jumped several of his opponents pieces. "King me, Charlie."
Charlies eyes turned to slits, and he yanked his cigar from his mouth. "Id like to king you, you cheatin rat bas"
Johnny tossed the magazine into the pile, then leaned over to the old-fashioned cooler where Sammy kept a stash of frosty root beers. "So, if you didnt notice her hair and you werent looking at her marangas, what did you notice? Her butt?"
"It was shaped just right," Luke cooed dreamily, just to torment RJ further.
"Bunch of perverts. I cant count the years between you and you were staring at her backside? Hey," RJ pointed at Johnny, "dont even think of opening that root beer unless youre prepared to share with Flea. She has feelings too."
RJs words proved prophetic, and the cat silently wandered over and flopped down in front of Johnny. She scratched her face with one slender paw before rolling onto her back and opening her mouth, waiting.
"You spoil her." Johnny pried the top off the bottle with the opener attached to the machine, careful not to let the bottle cap drop into Fleas gaping mouth.
"Thats what shes here for, among other things to keep me company and so I can spoil her. Youre just jealous."
"Bet she gets steak or liver two times a week, doesnt she?" Johnny drizzled a little of fizzing liquid into the black cats gulping mouth, then he took a long drink himself before wiping his lips on the back of his sleeve. He looked at his sleeve and smiled at the small stain. He was damn near positive hed gotten it all out of his mustache in one try. His horoscope had been so right. Today was going to be a great day!
RJ tilted her head down and Sammy snipped no more than a quarter of an inch off the back of her auburn locks. He gathered a little of RJs hair in his hand, thinking she could wear it in a tiny ponytail if she had a mind to.
"Flea gets liver twice a week, steak twice a week, and chicken twice a week. On Fridays we all have fish." RJs tone turned irritated. "Were Catholic, you know."
Luke sniggered. "You might be Catholic. Im not sure Flea is."
"Doesnt matter. I eat fish. Flea eats fish. Were a team."
Sammy jabbed RJ in the shoulder with his finger. "So tell us about the little blonde with the big red truck."
RJ tried to shrug, but Sammy held her shoulder firm, silently scolding her for the anticipated movement. "Whats to tell? She came into the diner, got knocked senseless by the door. Pete fixed her breakfast, she took a shower in the garage. And then she left." Her smile was brighter than the morning sunshine. And if shed asked me for a tongue bath instead of a shower, Id have been more than happy to oblige. But did she have to insult my truck so? "Not too damn much, if you ask me."
Sammy cleared his throat and grinned at his friends in the shop. "What color were her eyes?"
"Blue," RJ responded automatically, sending the entire room into a fit of laughter.
Charlie nearly choked on his cigar.
"All right! Thats it!" RJ bolted from the chair, ripping the cape from her neck. She tossed it into her empty chair, then pulled her cap from her pocket and jammed it onto her head. Digging in her pocket, she pulled out some money, which she pushed into Sammys outstretched hand. "Youre all just just Aww, hell! Come on, Flea!"
The snorts and knee-slapping laughter could be heard out onto the street as RJ and Flea made a hasty exit. The cat let RJ get a few steps in front of her, and then, with a running start, she bounded up RJs back and settled on her shoulder, sneezing when she inhaled a small cut hair that had worked its way under the barbers cape. RJ didnt even slow her stride.
"Silly sons-a-bit " she stopped suddenly when she realized her grouching and her cussing were about to be overheard by Mrs. Amos. RJ smiled and tried to look properly contrite as she moved to the door of the grocers and extended her arms. "Can I give you a hand with those, Mrs. Amos?" She inquired, pointing at the two large paper sacks at the older womans feet. The elderly tended to use the old grocer downtown, while everybody else frequented the newer, bigger building on the edge of Glory.
Mrs. Amos, a contemporary of RJs grandmother, pulled on her white gloves, buttoning the small pearl at the wrist, and adjusted her handbag on her arm. "Thatd be very nice, Ruth Jean, thank you." She held out her arms and Flea happily jumped into them, purring when Mrs. Amos gave her belly a good scratching.
RJ winced at the use of her much-hated full name and muttered, "My pleasure, maam." The young woman knelt and scooped both bags into her arms, then prepared for what would no doubt be an excruciatingly slow walk back to Mrs. Amos house.
"Hows your mother, Ruth Jean?"
"Shes fine, maam. Busy as always, puttering around the house. Its this week I think shes planning on painting the dining room. She wants it done before Easter, you know."
"Of course. Your mothers Easter brunches are legendary. Mr. Amos and I are looking forward to it, as always."
"Hmm, yes, maam, that they are."
"So," Mrs. Amos primly adjusted her handbag again, her gait so short and slow that RJ began to wonder if they were moving at all. "Mavis mentioned that the diner was busy yesterday."
Flea laughed. Sort of. Hell, even she felt bad for RJ. Sort of.
Does everyone have to know my business? What a town of busy bodies! Youd think wed gone out back and necked under that old tree. Not that that was a particularly bad idea, but it hadnt happened and wasnt likely to now that the young woman had moved on. RJ rolled her eyes, hoping Mrs. Amos wouldnt catch the gesture and rat her out to her mother. "Yes, maam, we had our share of folks that were just plain lost due to that detour."
"Mavis mentioned one young woman in particular."
Of course she did. Mavis is a gossipy fishwife if there ever was one! "She did, did she?" Oh, yeah. The whole town was talking about the blonde. Leigh, wasnt that what she told Pete? She hadnt caught a last name.
"Oh, my, yes." Mrs. Amos nodded. "Mavis told me she was a pretty thing about your age, driving a big red truck, if you can imagine that."
"That she was."
"Pretty or driving a big red truck?"
"Both," RJ allowed begrudgingly.
"Did you speak with her?"
"Not all that much." RJ shifted the bags in her arms. What did she buy? Bricks? "There were logs to be split. I was busy."
"I see," she snipped. "Youre always too busy taking care of other things before yourself, arent you, RJ? Looking out for other folks first, thats what you do. You know, you might want to look around you and see that its okay to take care of yourself once in a while."
RJ sighed quietly. "Yes, maam." God, my mothers been visiting with her too often! "But you know that my parents raised me right."
"That they did, dear." Mrs. Amos patted RJs hand as the women slowed even further so two little girls on bicycles could zoom across the sidewalk in front of them. "Youve always been a delight, except for those wicked puberty years, of course."
RJ smiled insincerely.
"Occasionally you just have to take time for yourself. Im sure this lady wouldnt mind," she stroked Flea lovingly, and RJ swore she saw the cat stick her tongue out at her.
"Ill remember, Ill remember. But sometimes Its easier said than done, Mrs. Amos." Its not like Glory is chock full of eligible women who cant resist my significant charms, now is it? "But if the chance should arise again, Ill certainly think on it." Hell, even if the chance doesnt present itself again anytime soon, Ill be thinking about the blonde.
"You do that, Ruth Jean."
After delivering Mrs. Amos and her shopping safely home, RJ headed over to the hardware store to pick up the paint that would be required to spruce up the dining room in her parents house.
She looked down at her furry little companion. "This place is going to be just like the last, you know?"
Flea licked her lips. More root beer?
"Well," RJ huffed, placing her fists on her hips. "Glad to know youre on my side in all of this, pal. You could stand to be just a little more encouraging."
This time Flea ignored RJ completely. If there was one thing she couldnt stand it was a whiny human. Wasnt it nap time again?
At Fleas obvious snub, RJ said, "Thanks so much." Shaking her head, she entered the store.
"Good morning, RJ," the woman behind the counter offered as RJ came through the door. She turned down the blaring radio.
"Mornin, Mrs. Morgan. Ive come to fetch the paint for my mother."
"Its all boxed up and ready for you. I put it on your tab." Alice Morgan gestured with her chin. "Right there by the door. A gallon of robins egg blue and a quart of trim paint. I imagine youll be busy for a few days."
RJ smiled and nodded as she looked into the crate. She was grateful that it seemed that at least one person wasnt interested in what had happened at the diner yesterday.
Alice leaned forward and whispered loudly to RJ, "I also slipped that new red shirt I made for you into the box. You might want to wear it down to the diner next time you go. Im betting the trucker would like you in a red shirt."
RJs shoulders slumped. So much for that theory.
One end of Leighs route started in South Dakota. It ran from Sioux Falls to Rapid City, to Buffalo, Wyoming, and then into Montana. From Billings she went to Helena and Missoula and ended in Seattle, Washington, before she turned around and drove back. Three ten-hour days of driving from end to end if Leigh didnt count traffic, construction, detours, poor weather or the occasional need to pee. Then a half day in Seattle and Sioux Falls to load, unload and load her cargo again, and she was back on the road. It was a grueling, endless loop that Leigh ran for three weeks straight then took a full week off.
It wasnt the type of run most people could handle on a continuous basis, but Leighs clients paid premium rates for her reliable service, and she continued to push herself hard. In just under two years, shed earned enough to fully pay off her fathers truck, give a lump sum to both of his ex-wives, each of whom had a couple of children by her father, and put a tidy sum in a jar under the truck seat, besides. Hell, the kids were all sweet, even if her dads ex-wives werent, and Leigh figured they shouldnt have to suffer just because her father died with only enough life insurance to bury him. Nearly twenty years separated her from the oldest half-brother, and a part of her was sad that none of them would really know her or her father. Their moms had both remarried, and there wasnt any place in their lives for a sister they never knew anyway.
A few more years of trucking and Leigh planned to sell her rig while it still held most of its value. She was bound and determined to get a normal life and do whatever it is non-trucking people did. She hoped it included more sex and that hemorrhoids wouldnt be an occupational hazard.
Shed pulled away from the diner right after her shower, telling herself not to give into temptation and take one long last look at the beauty chopping wood. Shed been completely unable to resist the impulse, of course. Leigh didnt have the willpower of a gnat. Since then shed made good time and was already enjoying the quiet beauty of Montana.
"Breaker 1-9, this is Red Rooster looking for Tom errr Leigh." Rooster knew better than to call Leigh Tom Cat over the airwaves at least while he figured there was a chance shed hear him. After all, he still hoped to have children someday. "You out there, Leigh?" He hated breaking protocol by using her real name. But she left him little choice.
She pushed the button on her radio that allowed for hands-free communication as she passed a slow-moving station wagon loaded with kids. "Hiya, Rooster. Lets take it to down to Monday." That was the code her daddy used when he wanted to switch from the main channel to just have a little more privacy. Monday was the second day of the week, so Leigh adjusted her radio frequency two channels down.
"Will do, Leigh. See you there."
Another few seconds and Roosters voice filled her cab again. "Well, now, bout time you started listening to the radio again. Ive been trying to get you since yesterday."
Leigh snorted. "If I sat around and listened to you boys all day, Id be as full of shit as you are."
Rooster laughed. "Cant argue with that. Everything okay, though?" Hed been a longtime friend of her daddys and tried to check in on Leigh every once in a while. The man had given Leigh her first beer. Okay, she was nine years old at the time, but he only let her drink half. In his mind, he was practically her godfather.
"Everythings fine, Rooster." Leighs eyes filled with unexpected tears, and she wiped them away angrily. "You dont have to worry about me."
"I didnt say I was worried," the man lied. "I just asked how you were. I havent seen hide nor hair of you in nearly two months."
"Ive been busy."
"Driving? Leigh, were all busy driving. That still doesnt explain why I havent seen you."
"Rooster," Leigh drew out his name menacing. "Ive been busy." She enunciated each word so precisely that Rooster knew the subject was now officially closed.
But he couldnt help but adding, "Im going to stop at Rosies tonight." Rooster didnt phrase it as a question, but he knew by the long silence on the other end of the radio that Leigh was thinking about it.
Leigh glanced at her odometer, then her watch. "Ill be there," she finally said, clicking off her radio before Rooster had a chance to reply.
It was nearly 8:00 p.m. when Leigh pulled into Rosies Truck Stop. She could already see Roosters royal blue rig parked alongside another dozen trucks, several of which she recognized. Leigh eased the truck into the long spaces designed for her type of vehicle and killed the ignition. She hadnt been avoiding this place, just not going out of her way to stop.
Leigh unconsciously gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. What the hell is wrong with me? Last night her dreams had been filled with piercing green eyes. In fact, Leigh felt as though shed been set on a low burn ever since she stopped at Fitzs Diner. Her knuckles turned white against the large steering wheel. Time to do something about that, she thought determinedly.
The short woman jumped out of the truck and marched through the door at Rosies. In the back, waiting on a table was a waitress in a tight pink outfit. She was a little older than Leigh, with long, light brown hair and healthy curves in all the right places. The waitress leaned over to reach for a glass, and Leighs eyes opened a little wider. Oh, yeah. Come to mama. She took a step toward the woman only to be held back by Rooster.
"Whoa there!" Roosters gaze drifted toward the waitress, and he shook his head. "Time for that later." Leigh heard several sniggers from a table behind her and a mumbled Tom Cat or two. "Come join us."
Leigh wanted to shrug Roosters large hand off her shoulder. But she didnt. Instead, she drew in a deep calming breath and turned to face the enormous man. Rooster was six and a half feet of pure, unadulterated blubber. Even his chins had chins. He was as carrot-topped as Lucille Ball, hence his unimaginative nickname. "Hi, Rooster," Leigh said softly, suddenly feeling terribly guilty for not seeing the old family friend in the last couple of months.
"Wow!" He gently touched Leighs swollen cheek. "I hope she was worth it."
"Very funny." And Im sure she would have been.
"Hello, Leigh. Or is it Slugger now?" Rooster smiled gently and wrapped his arm around her shoulders to guide her back to his table where several other truckers who Leigh knew almost as well as she knew Rooster were sitting. "I see you havent grown any," the big man teased. "I was holding out hope."
Leigh chuckled to herself. "Do you have any idea how old I am, Rooster?"
The mans brow creased deeply as he thought. Hed known her daddy forever. But Leigh was just a tiny thing compact and strong, but short as hell. He thought harder. She had to be at least eighteen to drive Tom Cats truck. Hmm Shed been at it for a while now. "Nineteen?" he hazarded, hoping he was within a few years either way.
"Jesus, Rooster," Leigh snorted. "Im going to be twenty-eight years old next month. Im not going to grow any more!"
"Twenty-eight?" Rooster blinked. Damn. He began to wonder if the things his wife said about beer were true. Were all his brain cells were really dissolving like Jell-O on a hotplate? "Okay, Ethel." he mumbled, crossing his heart. "Light beer for a week. So help me, God."
"Tom Cat!" A man at Roosters table stupidly called out when Leigh pulled out a chair.
Without hesitation, Leigh smacked him in the back of the head, sending his baseball cap into his chili. "God dammit, To "
Leighs evil stare stopped him mid word.
"Leigh," he finished awkwardly, aware that Rooster was now laughing at him. "That was my Braves hat, after all!"
"And now youre down to a million minus one. Live with it. And dont even ask about my eye. Im not telling and thats final."
A round of whining moans met Leighs pronouncement.
Leigh raised her hand, indicating she needed a waitress. A shiver chased down her spine when the bony woman with dishrag-limp gray hair and a space between her front teeth you could drive a truck through even Leighs enormous truck waved tiredly back.
"Did you have to call over the butt-ugly new waitress?" Rooster complained. He tossed his napkin on his plate, which held nothing but crumbs. "Now youve made me go and lose my appetite."
"What?" Leigh spread her hands open. "Im hungry. Besides, nothing has ever made you lose your appetite. And shes not that ug " Leigh stopped when the woman sidled up to the table.
"Im Stephanie." The haggard, middle-aged woman pointed to her nametag for those too stupid to understand what she was saying. "Your waitress."
Leigh nodded slowly. "Youre new here, right, Stephanie?"
"Hell, yes." She stuck her hand up her blouse and began adjusting her bra.
Leigh wondered why she bothered wearing one at all. Two strategically placed Band-Aids would have done the trick nicely.
Stephanie popped her gum. "Who would work in this place, serving these slobs, for any longer than they had to? The tips suck."
"Gee, I wonder why," Leigh deadpanned.
"Cause these guys are cheap-asses," Stephanie answered, oblivious to Leighs sarcasm. Seeming to suddenly tire of the most stimulating conversation shed had all day, Stephanie droned, "Whatll you have?" She pulled a pencil out from behind her ear and turned bored eyes to Leigh.
"Hamburger with the works, onion rings, and iced tea."
Stephanie nodded and popped her gum again before turning around.
When the waitress was out of earshot Leigh leaned forward and looked at Black Jack, who was, unsurprisingly, a black man named Jack. "I guess theres finally a waitress at Rosies you wont try to bed."
Black Jack suddenly began to sink lower in his chair.
"Oh, my God," Leigh whispered loudly, her face twisting into the same expression she usually reserved for when she had to scrape roadkill from between the grates of her trucks grill. "You slept with her? Thats just so so " she gestured wildly.
"Disgusting," Rooster offered helpfully.
Black Jack didnt have to ask Leigh to keep his little indiscretion from his wife. There was a code among truckers. What happened on the road stayed on the road. Where it belonged. "I shouldnt have done it."
"No shit. And your wife is a good woman, Black Jack," she reminded pointedly. Sure, he chased the waitresses at the diner. But it wasnt like hed actually caught any before. Shed thought of it as harmless fun. Until now.
Black Jack looked properly chastised.
"God, you guys are so gross." The blonde woman snorted. "And you wonder why I like women. Single women."
Rooster scratched his neck. "No, we dont, Leigh."
All the men nodded their agreement, causing Leighs eyebrows to crawl up her forehead.
"We understand completely." Black Jack sat up a little straighter. "We like them, too. In fact "
Leigh leaned over and clamped her hand over Black Jacks mouth. "Please dont tell me. Im already having trouble sleeping. Nightmares wont help." The waitress who had caught Leighs eye earlier strolled past Leighs table, untying her apron, her hips swaying gently with every step. The blonde smiled broadly.
"Well, boys, its been real." She leaned over and kissed Rooster on the cheek. "Im not hungry." At least not for burgers. "You can have my dinner." Leigh tossed a ten-dollar bill on the table. "The change is for Stephanie," she warned the men before following the waitress out the front door.
Rooster pushed his plate out of the way in preparation for Leighs. Good food should never go to waste.
"You still worried about Tom Cat?" Black Jack asked at the same time the diner door closed.
He hadnt talked to Leigh about her life or what was going on with her. But she seemed pretty much the same as always. Maybe a little tired looking. But trucking was a hard life. Nobody knew that better than Leigh. "Nope." Rooster unbuttoned the top button of his jeans. A man had to be comfortable. "I think Tom Cat is doing just fine."
"You ignored me."
"I did not."
"You did. And I should make you beg because of it."
A soft laugh. "You did make me beg."
"No, that was me."
Leigh yawned and snuggled back into damp sheets that felt cool against her overheated skin. Her chest was still heaving, and she consciously made an effort to slow her pounding heart. "Oh, yeah."
The naked woman half-sprawled across Leigh drew the very tip of her finger up from Leighs belly button to the baby-soft valley between her breasts.
Leigh arched into the sensual touch despite herself. "Judith," she said softly. "You trying to kill me?" She reached up and grabbed Judiths hand, kissing each fingertip before laying it back on her belly. But no sooner had she let go of the hand before it began to wander again.
Leigh closed her eyes. "I cant. You know that."
"Cant or wont?"
Leigh sighed heavily.
"Dont say it, dont say it. Youve got a schedule to keep." Judiths fingernail grazed Leighs nipple, earning her a soft growl as Leighs desire began to flare again. "Why do I always let you do this?"
"The same reason I always let you do this," Leigh whispered as she began to softly kiss Judiths neck. "It feels great."
The waitress gasped and shifted herself until she was fully on top of Leigh and straddling one thigh. "There is that," she groaned when Leighs hands found their way to her hips and she began to slide against the sweat-slicked skin. "Are " she swallowed hard as her hips picked up a steady rhythm. "Are God Are you ever going to stay?"
Leighs hands froze, and she looked up at Judith seriously. She was slightly panting. "Probably not."
Judith leaned down and kissed Leigh hard, her own body moving once again. "Thats what I thought."
The next morning Judith woke up in an empty bed that smelled like Leigh and sex. On Leighs pillow was a note. She smiled a bittersweet smile and unfolded the small slip of paper. Leigh always left a note.
No matter what anybody says, the most delicious thing at Rosies is
not the hamburgers. Take care, Judith. I had a wonderful time. Thank you.
Judith chuckled and tucked the note into the drawer of her nightstand. If she tried, she could almost hear the hum of Leighs truck in the distance.
"Im not. Im not!" Leigh tapped the steering wheel in an uneven, listless pattern. "Im not getting sleepy." She shook her head from side to side and tried to focus on the road. Shed been driving through thunderstorms for hundreds of miles, and the rain had finally given way to one of the densest night fogs the trucker had ever seen. Shed encountered numerous wrecks along the way and knew better than to park her truck along the roadside even with her fog lights on. Besides, she had miles to make up. Thirty miles per hour is no way to drive cross country, she thought glumly. It was the middle of the night, and Leigh was miserable.
She blinked rapidly, but the motion still didnt clear her vision completely. God, even I have my limit. "Need a place to stop." Sleepy blue eyes scanned the roadside. She was halfway between nowhere and the boonies. And yet
"I think yeah." Leigh nodded a little. "It cant be too far away." It wouldnt be on her map, she knew. Shed checked after driving away a few weeks ago. Apparently, Glory, South Dakota, was too small to warrant even a tiny dot. Leigh passed through this area every week on her route and had considered pulling off the Interstate and finding Fitzs diner just about every time she drove by. But the road construction was over, and the detour was gone. And she realized that even if she wanted to find it, she really didnt know exactly where Fitzs was. Other than it was twenty miles from Glory. Wherever that was.
Leigh sighed. There was more to it than that, and she knew it. Her last, albeit brief conversation with RJ had made her hesitant to return. They hadnt exactly argued, but still, it was awkward. Why, oh why, did she have to drive such a piece of shit? Leigh didnt even know what kind of car Judith drove. Had never even thought of it. Ignorance, she decided, truly was bliss.
Taking a chance Leigh pulled off on the very next county road and headed north. She had to slow to no more than ten miles per hour when even her trucks powerful low beams werent cutting through the dense curtain of hazy moisture. Another hour passed, and when she was certain she was good and lost Leigh pulled onto a wide dirt road and drove only about fifty feet. She eased her truck to the side, killing her engine and lights. Leigh half-expected to see the blinking ritzs sign in the distance. But she didnt.
Unbuckling the seat belt, she popped open her door and dropped down onto the wet ground. The air felt heavy against her skin and fine mist instantly enveloped her, dampening her hair and clothes. She pulled in a deep breath of fresh, moist air. "Im totally lost," she moaned, her eyes scanning her surroundings. She saw nothing but mud, prairie grass and fog. Leigh rubbed her temples and debated relieving herself outside. It wasnt like anyone was going to see her in this weather and at this time of night. But then she remembered the ticks that had attached themselves to her ass while she was squatting a few years ago. Scowling, Leigh unconsciously rubbed her butt. Their removal was even more humiliating than their discovery. No, morning would be soon enough.
It was so dark she didnt bother to close the curtains in the small living space of her cab. Instead, she stripped down to her panties and crawled into bed, pulling up the soft sheet. Her eyes fluttered shut and she exhaled slowly. Her body relaxed immediately, and she tumbled into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The male squirrel wearily sat up and cracked open his beady black eyes. "Where am I?" He looked around the back of what appeared to be a moving truck. Moving? "Ive been kidnapped!" he wailed piteously. "Stolen from Potter Park. Torn from the breast of my community in the prime of my life!" The rodent tried to bury his head in his arms as he sobbed. But sadly, his stubby appendages were too short. Damn God and her sick sense of humor!
"You have not been kidnapped, fool," his long-time mate hissed. "You went on an all-night bender and passed out drunk!" The larger squirrel kicked at the half-crushed beer can that the male was leaning against.
He only groaned, looking at the can. It was white with black letters that proclaimed, Beer. Generic beer? When he pushed off the can it rolled over and the back was revealed. Suitable for human consumption. Oh, the misery! How low had he stooped?
The sound of a honking horn caused the female to reach up to cover her ears but, like her mate, she couldnt reach them without ducking her head awkwardly. She repeated her husbands virulent curse, not knowing the chain of events their simple words would set in motion.
RJ blew on the embers, igniting the tinder so the flames would grow and consume the larger sticks. Once she was satisfied the fire was doing all right without her, she stood and picked up her beer from the table. Taking a drink from the long neck bottle, she watched the fire grow. Im a firebug. Its a good thing those stories my mother told me about playing with matches werent true.
Flea stood up from her spot in the very center of the picnic table and gave a good cat stretch, her arms outstretched in front of her, purring all the while. Then she proceeded to dig her nails into the table; it was the perfect scratching post.
"Ruth Jean Fitzgerald! What is it you that you think youre doin?"
"Mother?" RJ whirled around, quickly putting the bottle behind her back and spilling most of it down her legs when she did. "Damn," she muttered as she tried to surreptitiously toss the bottle away. Now I look as though Ive pissed myself. I am twenty-seven years old. Its not fair!
Flea smiled and plopped back, content to watch the show. She hated beer anyway, unless, of course, it was root beer.
Katherine Fitzgerald crossed to the picnic table, placing two large milkglass bowls down. RJ tried to look into the bowls, sure that they would be holding potato salad and coleslaw, both of which her mother made the very best of.
"Playin with matches?" The stout woman waggled her finger at RJ. "You know that causes people to wet the bed."
"Mo " RJ swallowed hard at the look on her mothers face. "Excuse me for interrupting, maam."
Katherine nodded and cleared her throat. "As I was saying was that a beer you were drinkin at this hour of the mornin?" She leaned over and discreetly sniffed the air, making a face at the odor now wafting from her oldest daughter.
RJ sighed and nodded; there was no use in denying it. Besides she really did smell like a brewery now that she was wearing most of her drink. "Yes, Mother, it was."
Katie gave RJ her famous exasperated look. "I dont know what Im going to do with you." She threw her hands in the air. "Your short hair, your drinkin and smokin, and dont think I havent heard you cussin."
"Theres not a respectable person whod have a thing to do with a heathen such as yourself."
RJ sighed again. Normally she only got the lecture on Sundays, but with the town social being today, apparently Mother Fitzgerald felt the need to get it out of her system.
Flea sniffed and licked her lips, hoping Mrs. Fitzgerald remembered the olives in the potato salad. That was just the way she liked. But either way, Katie was a good mother. She should have been a cat.
One by one just about everyone in town began to arrive at Fitzs. It was going to be a lovely day. The grass was still a little damp, but the light spring breeze and warm sun had mostly taken care of that. The enormous outdoor grill was going strong and would cook enough food to last the entire day. Picnic tables covered with bright red and white checked cloths dotted the grassy area behind the diner.
"Hey, you!" a strong male voice boomed from behind RJ. She slowly turned to face a young man about her own age and height. He had a head of bright red hair and his blue eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, but his smile was familiar. Liam Fitzgerald held up two long necks. "Ill trade you a beer for a smoke."
"Yeah, and if Mother is lurking about Ill get the short end of her temper again, Big Brother. No thanks."
"Mother is in the diner with Mrs. Amos and some of them old hens. Youre in the clear." He bumped shoulders with RJ. "Has your big brother ever led you astray before?"
"Do you really want me to answer that, you silly bastard?"
"Nah," he laughed. "No need." He jiggled sweating bottles, clinking them together. "So how about it?"
RJ snorted softly at her own lack of willpower and fished her Luckys out of her pants pocket. She tapped one from the pack and exchanged it for a beer. Taking a tiny box of matches from her pocket, she flicked her nail against a match tip, causing it to flare to life.
Liam bent and lit the cigarette, taking a deep drag as soon as he was able. He spit an errant piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took a seat on the picnic table, smoke swirling around his head. His bright blue eyes tilted skyward. "Its a beautiful day. Going to be good for the picnic." He waited a moment before saying, "I hope that Mary comes down today. Itd be a shame to miss her."
RJs arched an eyebrow at her brother. "You be careful there, Liam. If Mother and Father find out youre trying to get your hooks into one of those ORielly girls therell be hell to pay." And I would know. She smirked inwardly, thinking of Marys older sister. RJ stopped smirking, however, when she remembered the pretty brunette had taken up with the postmaster and they now had six kids.
"Are you gonna be telling on me, Little Miss I wonder where the cute blonde trucker went to?"
RJ choked on her beer and tried to hide the grin. But Liam was right. She hadnt been able to think about anything since. And even her stash of special reading material didnt touch the ache that had appeared along with Leigh. "No, of course not. Im just saying be careful, thats all. I think Mary is a pretty girl." RJ shrugged. "She likes you well enough, Im thinking."
"You know this to be fact, do you?" Liam perked up and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was around and listening. "How would you have this information, Ruth Jean? Dont be holding out on me now." He suddenly sat up a little straighter as if the light bulb in his brain just blinked on. "And just how well do you know Mary ORielly? Hmmm?"
Leigh opened her eyes slowly, blinking at the bright sunshine. She swung her feet over the side of the bed and her bladder immediately protested the movement. "Oh, man. Bathroom now."
The trucker yawned and slid into the front seat with a little more urgency than usual. She automatically reached for her sunglasses and then seatbelt, wiggling a little as the cool strap covered her breast. She looked down and blinked stupidly, realizing shed strapped herself into her front seat wearing only her panties. Leigh laughed, wondering just how many free truck washes she could score if she rode around like this. She unbuckled her seatbelt and glanced up to find
"Ill be God damned! I drove right by it last night in that fog."
Not five hundred feet down the road shed turned off last night sat Fitzs diner. The F on the sign had been repaired. But the lights either werent working or not in use during the daylight.
Fitzs equals bathroom. Fitzs equals shower. Fitzs equals good, hot food. Fitzs equals buff, butch, beautiful woman chopping wood in skimpy undershirt with no bra on! Leighs mind screamed. The young woman scrambled behind the curtain in her cab and tugged on a pair of faded blue jeans and a mint-green polo shirt. She tucked the shirt in and skipped the belt, wiggling her feet into a pair of comfortable, well-worn high top sneakers. Leigh ran her fingers through her hair and grabbed the bag that contained her toiletries, a fresh pair of panties and a bra.
She was sliding across the front seat to get out when she suddenly stopped and began digging through her bag. When she found the antiperspirant she made quick use of it before tucking it back into the sack. Shed already insulted RJs truck; the last thing she needed to do was come walking back into the diner smelling rank.
Instead of driving to the diner, Leigh jogged the five hundred feet. It was beautiful out and by the high position of the sun she could tell it was early afternoon. Shed slept for nearly ten hours, but felt worlds better for it.
The small parking lot was full of mostly old beaters, though she spotted a shiny new Taurus and a 1980s model Chevy Caprice near the diner door. As she got closer she could see throngs of people milling in and about the diner. The air smelled like BBQ, and Leighs stomach growled appreciatively. Its a party. I wonder if shell be there.
When Leigh pushed open the diner door, the conversion in the small building ground to a halt. Even the song on the jukebox seemed to end at that very moment. Nearly every set of eyes in the place turned to Leigh and stared.
Leigh could feel her face growing hot. She looked over to Mavis helplessly. "Am uh Am I interrupting something? I mean, are you guys closed? I didnt"
"Oh, dont be silly. Cmon in. This is a little town party, but were still open, see?" Mavis gestured toward a harried-looking family of travelers that brushed by Leigh on their way out the door. With Mavis warm smile, Leigh began to relax.
Then the chubby woman turned around and announced in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. "Its just Leigh."
A collective ahh rang out and then, as if by magic, the noise in the diner rose back to its usual level as silverware clanked and people laughed and talked as they ate their lunches or drank their coffee. The diners patrons all went back to what they were doing before Leigh walked in. All except Katherine Fitzgerald.
"I dont mean to be rude, Mavis. But "
"You know where it is?"
Leigh nodded quickly and wove her way through the tables to the bathroom in the back of the diner.
Katherine sidled up to Mavis, and both women stared at the door Leigh had just passed through. After a few moments Katherine needlessly asked, "So thats the little thing thats got the town so abuzz?"
"Shes the one caught RJs eye," Mavis corrected.
Katherine crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "I dont like her."
"Well, I dont!"
"Youve never even spoken to her. She seems like a nice enough girl."
Katherine chose to ignore Mavis affirmation. "Does Ruth Jean know shes back?"
Mavis snorted a little. "If she did, dont you think shed be sniffing around in here instead of playing with the grill out back?"
Before Katherine had a chance to answer, RJ strode in from outside. She headed straight for the bathroom to get cleaned up, but before her hand hit the knob, the door opened and Leigh stepped out. She was carrying her backpack slung over her shoulder, and her hair was wet.
RJs eyes widened. "Well " She swallowed. "Hello."
Leigh felt a smile tugging at her lips at the sight of the tall woman. She was suddenly very glad shed had time to brush her teeth and wash her hair in the small sink. "Hi." Her gaze drifted from deep green eyes down to RJs leg and she winced. "Looks like you didnt get here soon enough." Her face scrunched up into a smile; she could smell that it was beer but wasnt above having a little fun.
RJs shoulders slumped. She just couldnt seem to catch a break when it came to this woman. "You see, I spilled a beer and I was just going to try to get it off my pants." She grinned. "Its not what it looks like, really."
"It never is." Leigh peered down at RJs leg again, shaking her head. When she looked back up, she couldnt help but notice Katherine Fitzgerald was staring at her with a look that could only be described as intense dislike or severe constipation. Leigh was betting on the latter since they were standing in the ladies room doorway. "Who in the hell does that woman think she is?" Leigh mumbled, tilting her head toward Katherine. "Shes giving me the creeps."
RJ bit down hard on her cheek to keep from laughing. She leaned over and whispered, "Why that would be my own sainted mother, thank you very much. If youd like to just get it over with and call me younger sister a whore you will have insulted all the women in me life."
Leigh closed her eyes. "Oh, my God." First RJs truck, now her mother. With her luck, shed have slept with her sister too, and shed be one of the several women who had taken a scissors to her already limited wardrobe over the years. God, she hated when they did that. "I am so sorry," she said genuinely. "I always seem to be apologizing around you."
"Its all right. Really it is. There are days when she gives me the creeps too." RJ gestured toward the back door. "Lets make a quick exit out the back."
Leigh nodded silently. She was more than willing to follow RJ out of the diner and away from the intense gray eyes that belonged to Katherine Fitzgerald.
Once they stepped out back, RJ clasped her hands together rather nervously. "Can I get you something to drink?"
Leigh looked at RJs pants again and laughed. "No thanks. I think Ill help myself." She strode past RJ over to where there was a table covered with a washtub full of iced drinks.
RJ decided to give up beer for the rest of the day. She wanted to keep her wits about her now that Leigh was here. She reached for a pitcher of lemonade and began pouring it into a paper cup. "So what brings you back this way?"
Leigh dug a Pepsi out of the ice. She looked at the glass bottle for a second. Where the hell did they get these? "Well, I needed to stop last night and I figured I was close to Fitzs." She shrugged one shoulder, grunting a little as she tried in vain to twist off the soda top. "Frankly, I cant believe I found the place. But here I am."
RJ watched her for a moment, then extended her hand for the bottle.
Leigh wordlessly passed it over and watched carefully as RJ lined the cap up against the edge of the table and gave it a hearty smack, taking the cap off in one swift motion.
RJ passed the bottle back, careful to hold it away from both their bodies as a little brownish foam erupted out the top. She took a seat next to Leigh on the bench. From behind her glass of lemonade, she offered quietly, "Im glad you found your way back."
Leigh regarded her carefully for a moment. "Me too. By the way, I dont think weve ever really been introduced." Leigh wiped the hand that was damp from her frosty Pepsi bottle on her jeans before holding it out. "Im Leigh Matthews."
The brunette gently took Leighs hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "RJ Fitzgerald, at your service, maam." Boy, would I like to service you.
Leigh smiled broadly and spent several long seconds imagining the many ways shed be happy to let RJ service her. RJ still hadnt let go of her hand.
Flea snorted and jumped up from the table. There was only so much she could take before gagging out loud.
Leigh set down her Pepsi. "The pleasure is all mine, RJ." She paused for just a second before her curiosity got the best of her. "Is it okay if I ask why your mother was glaring at me? Usually it takes somebodys parents at least a day to start to hate me."
She shrugged, clearly embarrassed. "Its a mother thing, you know. And um " she cleared her throat softly. "I may have mentioned you a time or two. My mothers just a tad protective."
Leigh leaned forward, suddenly all ears. "Mentioned me?" And you hardly look like the type who needs protecting.
"Well, yeah. Its, ah," she cleared her throat gently. "Not often that we get attractive blonde truckers through here." RJ glanced up at Leigh and held her gaze. "I may have mentioned that a time or two."
She thinks Im attractive? A slow smile spread across Leighs face. Looks like theyd both been thinking about the other. She could see that RJ was blushing and she quickly said, "Dont worry about it. Id say your mothers instincts are dead on. Im basically trouble," she admitted freely. "Your mom just saved me the chore of having to do something incredibly stupid for her to dislike me. But um well, if we get to know each other I guess youll figure that out for yourself."
RJs brows drew together, but she didnt press for more information. What does that mean? From where Im sitting she doesnt seem like a stupid person.
Blue eyes flickered around the crowd. "So what sort of party am I crashing?" And why am I still here? Ive got to get back on the road if Im going to make it to Sioux Falls on time.
"Theres nothing Id like better than to get to know you, Leigh Matthews. And youre not really crashing a party. Its just a town cookout. We use them just as an excuse to cook and eat good food. They usually last all day and well into the evening. Can you stay for a bit? Or do you need to get back on the road?" RJ glanced in the direction of the road.
"Oh, no. I can stay," Leigh said a little too quickly. Mentally, she kicked herself. Lord, Im so pitiful.
"Good." RJ sat up a little straighter, proud of herself for having the courage to ask her to stay. "It may not be the most exciting thin youve done in a while, but theres always good food. So where are you headed next? Someone waiting on you at home?"
"No." Leigh shook her head, and her normally bright smile was suddenly edged with sadness. "Nobodys waiting," she said quietly.
"Then it seems like Im a very lucky person today." RJ raised a single eyebrow. "Would you like to take a walk with me?" She whirled around and shot a dirty look at every pair of eyes that were fixed on her and Leigh. "So folks will quit staring at us like were doing something we shouldnt be doing," she said this just loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Sure." Leigh jumped up from the table. She wasnt anxious to explain to RJ, at least at this very moment, that shed sold her and her dads small house nearly two years ago, that she only maintained a post office box in Seattle, and that she lived in her truck. Even if it was a really nice truck.
As they moved away from most of the crowd, the blonde found herself with the urge to take RJs hand as they walked. Instead, she stuffed her hands in her front pockets, keeping her eyes trained on the ground in front of her.
RJ walked slowly, turning around and walking backwards so she would always have Leigh in sight. "Im sorry about that back there. They tend to be a bit nosey. Well have more privacy back here. That way you wont feel like theyre all talking about us and they can feel free to do so. Theyre the biggest bunch of busybodies youve ever met, but they mean well." She grinned. "I swear to you theyre harmless enough."
"Theyre okay with thinking " Leigh gestured awkwardly between them. "That there could be something between us. Sort of. Potentially?" If I have anything to say about it. She was used to stolen moments of privacy in bathrooms or cars or cheap motels with women who wouldnt want their affairs known mainly because Leigh was a woman. It was a little disconcerting to think that the people at the picnic were watching them with curious eyes that still held no malice.
Leigh looked up at RJ, who was smiling as she walked. She didnt seem worried. Of course it didnt escape Leigh that they were moving in the opposite direction of RJs mother. The bright white smile intrigued Leigh, and she found herself wanting to know more about this woman. "So what do you do for a living, RJ?"
"Oh, me?" RJ spread her arms wide open. "Im a Jack of all trades, master of none type. I do a little of everything. Im what you might call a handyman." She grinned and wiggled her brows. "I like to work with my hands."
The shameless flirting wasnt lost on Leigh. In fact, the only thing unusual about the words was that she wasnt the one saying them.
"I also do a little bit a work for the town of Glory. City Council has made me a guide or Welcome Wagon of sorts."
RJ tilted her head down as she spoke. "Sure. When we get a new resident, I show them around, help them find a place to live, a job, that sort of thing."
"Sounds interesting." You sound interesting. And you look good enough to eat. Pun intended.
"I suppose." The light spring breeze tossed RJs auburn locks, sending a tussle of hair normally combed back over her forehead nearly into her eyes. "Its not so much, really. Glory is a small town, and we dont get that many new folks. But I do me best."
Leigh opened her mouth to warn RJ that she was only two paces from walking right into a shed. But RJ spun around, threw open the door and growled loudly, "All right, you little monsters. Take your cigarette-smoking backsides outta here! I know every single one of your mothers and fathers besides." A small group of kids ranging from ten to twelve years old stared at RJ with round, guilty eyes. Too stunned to even move.
RJ put her hands on her hip and glared at down at the little delinquents. "Move!"
Leigh laughed as a gaggle of boys and one tomboyish- girl scattered like roaches caught by the kitchen light, both she and RJ knowing instantly that the lone girl was leading the pack of troublemaking boys. "I can see that youre going to be a bad influence. Youre taking me someplace where naughty things happen, arent you, RJ?" she teased mischievously.
"Well, if youre twelve and youve just snitched a smoke from your father, and youve come out here to have it, I guess so." RJ licked her lips and leered at Leigh. "But if youre an adult and youre both of the same mind, could anything you decided to do really be considered naughty?"
"Absolutely not," Leigh said softly. She was definitely liking the direction of this conversation and took a step closer to RJ. "And I never said there was anything wrong with naughty." She quirked a playful brow. "Naughty and I are intimately acquainted."
RJ laughed. Ill just bet you are, lass. "Well then, lets get comfortable, shall we?" RJ reached through the window of the shed just above the bench and pulled out a blanket. "Sometimes at night I come out here and look at the stars. Ive found its better if you dont get dirt in your shorts."
Leigh coughed a little on the stale smoke that still filled the shed.
RJs face creased into a frown. "Not to worry, were not staying in the delinquent hideout. Cmon." She grabbed Leighs hand. "Would be nice to cloud watch, wouldnt it?" Without waiting for Leigh to answer, RJ snatched up the blanket and exited the shed, tugging Leigh behind her. She carefully spread out the blanket on a patch of grass beneath a large tree that stood alongside the small structure. The tree was on a slight hill and the grass on top was almost completely dry, despite the storms of the day before. While they could still just barely hear the music from the party in the background, they were tucked well out of sight.
RJ let go of Leighs hand and flopped down on the blanket, lacing her fingers behind her head and crossing her long legs at the ankle. She gazed up into the bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. After several seconds had passed and Leigh still hadnt joined her, RJ said, "Sit down, lass. Dont be pretending to be shy." The tall woman smothered a grin. "I have a feeling youre just about as shy as I am."
Leigh snorted to herself and joined RJ on the blanket, suddenly feeling like shed just met her match. "Wont we get wet?" She could see the puddles all around them.
"Nah. Were on a high spot. Lay back and close your eyes."
Leigh looked at RJ hesitantly.
"Cmon. I havent bitten anyone all morning. Youre perfectly safe here." For the time being.
"Said the spider to the fly," Leigh mumbled.
"I heard that."
"Heard what?" Leighs eyes went round and innocent.
RJ laughed, despite her attempt to keep a stern face. "Arent you afraid of getting struck between the eyes with a bolt of lightning for telling such lies?"
Leigh scooted closer to RJ and lay down. "Oh, Im sure Ill get a bolt in the kisser one of these days. But it wont be for telling lies."
"Youre right." RJ rolled over and pinned Leigh to the ground by the arms. "It will probably be for the delinquents catching us doing ," she bent down and lightly kissed Leighs neck, hearing a tiny gasp, " this. And " Another kiss. "This."
"Cant live forever," Leigh muttered happily.
"Tell me something interesting about yourself, Leigh Matthews."
Leighs eyes fluttered closed, and she threaded her fingers into silky reddish-brown hair, tugging RJs body closer. "Now?" she breathed. RJs kisses felt as good as shed imagined they would. Soon shed be nothing more than a puddle.
"Im " Leigh licked her lips and groaned. "Ooooo, thats nice. Im not sure I know anything interesting." She tilted her jaw upward to give RJ better access to her tender throat.
"Ill be the judge of that."
"Why are you here?" the male squirrel groaned. Hed vowed never to be seen with her again.
"You dont remember?" The female squirrel put her hands on her hips and glared at the smaller squirrel.
"Never mind." She sat down next to the male on the crushed beer can. "Itll be quicker if I just tell you. We were doing the chicken dance"
"On the fraternity hayride that was going in the park. Right. Go on."
"I was there with that really cute gopher from behind the north bench."
"Im not sterile!"
"Youre right. Im pregnant."
The squirrel fell backwards off the can. "Noooo!"
Just then the truck came to a stop and the driver got out, a thermos in hand.
"This is our chance," the male declared. "Come on!"
The squirrels jumped out of the truckbed, their tiny paws slightly sinking into the damp ground in front of Fitzs diner.
"Where are we?" the female wondered aloud.
"I dont know. Looks like a godforsaken wasteland to me, but Im not going to discuss it in the parking lot." He was sure that chunk of squirrel hed seen on the road a while back was his old high school sweetheart. Either that or his boss. He couldnt be sure. Despite what they liked to say, they really did look all alike.
"Look." The male pointed. "A tree."
They both scampered around the diner, around the milling people and over to a tall tree alongside a small shed. "Continue with your story," the male said.
"Theres not much more to tell. Libations were flowing, and you fell off the wagon. Literally. Loser."
The males eyes widened as the night came rushing back to him. The hay wagon had stopped alongside a pickup truck and hed seen his mate with that nasty gopher. In his rage he began to shake, then fall; the last thing he remembered was yelling, "Die bitch, die! Im taking you with me!" as he pulled her over the edge with him. They had been on the very top of a tall stack of hay bales and the pickup truck had been Japanese. He couldnt believe theyd survived.
The squirrels darted up the side of the tree, climbing high into its branches where they felt safe.
Panting, the male squirrel glanced down and saw a blanket with two female humans on it. The bigger human was suckling the smaller one. He cocked his head to the side. Wasnt she a little old for that? Wait. "Those humans look familiar."
The female followed her mates line of vision. "The humans we spy on back home!"
"The hair ..."
She squinted. "The eyes ..."
"Just a little different. But not much. Same builds. Same wonderful screen presence no matter the location or genre." She rolled her eyes. "We all know what theyre going to look like."
"Genetic mutations because of the inherent weakness of their race?"
"Or lazy writers."
The women below talked and kissed and talked a little more, until the talking turned into broken whispers and the kissing grew more and more fevered.
The female squirrel watched as her mate walked out to the edge of a rickety branch. She could see there were many dead and dry branches mixed in among the new buds, and as her mate began to jump up and down, the twigs fell on the women below.
"What the "
Leighs hand shot to her forehead when a good-sized piece of wood landed right on her head.
RJ was pelted in the back, causing her to interrupt her kissing.
Both women stood up and stared into the tree.
"What are you doing?" the female hissed. "Are you insane?"
"Bwahahahahahahaahahahah!" the male laughed hysterically, jumping even harder. "Come on, join in! Theyre only humans!"
Just then the branch beneath the male gave way and he began to plummet to earth.
The female did at least have the decency to wave goodbye.
The male pawed the air and flapped his arms but sadly, he was not a flying squirrel. So he dropped like a stone. His landing, however, was buffered by RJ Fitzgeralds head.
"Jesus!" Leigh screamed and took a large step backwards when the rodent fell from the sky and landed squarely atop RJ, who, of course, began to yell, curse and spin in circles, trying to pull the squirrel out of her hair.
Before RJ could dislodge the squirrel, Flea appeared from out of nowhere and sprang into action. She bounded up from the ground and attached herself to RJs head in an attempt to dislodge the frightened, flailing squirrel.
The female squirrels eyes widened.
Leigh stepped forward to try to help, but there was nothing to be done. RJ lost her balance as soon as Flea pounced. The tall woman ended up tumbling down the hill, skidding to a stop in a large puddle of sun-warmed mud.
Leigh took off down the hill, sliding as she tried to make it to RJ in time. Shed seen the movie The Birds when she was a kid. Who knew what a squirrel could do?
Flea used lightning-fast paws to fling the squirrel away from one of her favorite humans. She wanted to pursue the furry beast, but decided to allow his escape in order to stay with her traumatized woman. Her high-maintenance kind had had to seek therapy over much less. Fleas golden eyes narrowed. She and the little squirrel would meet again. Oh, yes her mind purred. Well meet again.
"God, are you okay?" Leigh knelt down, heedless of the grime and pushed mud-soaked bangs out of RJs eyes. She peered down at her with concerned eyes.
RJ panted and flicked mud from her hands, realizing now she must be a right mess. A muddy mess that smelled like warm, wet, stale beer. "Im fine. My ego is in shreds, and Im really sorry to expose you to all this, but Im fine." She sighed and looked at herself. "I should probably go get cleaned up. Im so sorry, Leigh."
Leigh looked at RJ regretfully. "I suppose so." The voices from the party had grown louder and she suspected their respite from the crowd was just about over anyway. Leigh leaned in and lightly kissed RJ on the lips. "Its been an adventure, RJ. But, yes, you do need to get cleaned up. And I need to go anyway." She was a little surprised at how tempted she was to say shed wait for RJ to shower and hang around for the rest of the party. But the trucker tucked that thought away for future examination. Bracing her hands against her knees, she stood and reached out for RJ and said the only thing that she could think of at the very moment. "Ill be back."
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