There was a loud crash outside and Ruth looked up in alarm. Her attention was drawn away from the ledger she was working on and she walked from the office to the parlor to see what was going on.
“Whatever are those men doing up there?” she asked. “Are they fixing the roof or destroying it? I don’t want to have to explain to Rebecca why her B&B got cut down to one story!”
Idgie, coming in the front door, shrugged at her partner. “They have to lift up the old shingles to see how bad things are underneath,” she explained. “And some of them old shingles are going to have to be replaced anyway. They’re throwing ’em off into a big bin on the street, and that’s what’s making so much noise.”
The dark-haired woman snorted. “Typical men. Are you sure these are bonafide roofers? I think Grady just got us to employ some of his drinking buddies!”
Idgie grinned. “Well, he swears they can repair the roof. Said they did his own house awhile back. But they ain’t exactly typical — one of them’s a girl.”
The blonde woman nodded. “Skinny little thing not much taller than you. Must be strong, though — she’s doing everything the men do.”
“I see now why you’ve been so interested in watching them work.”
Idgie flushed. “I’ve always been interested in the building trade,” she mumbled.
“Uh-huh.” Ruth eyed her. “I think I’ll take some lemonade out to them later. Just see what kind of trade you’re interested in building.”
Idgie came over and wrapped her arms around Ruth from behind. “You already know who has my heart,” she whispered, and saw Ruth’s cheek curve in a smile.
“I know you’re a bee-charmer with a silver tongue, that’s what I know,” she whispered back.
Idgie planted a kiss against the back of her neck and stepped away. “What did Becky say when you told her her roof had a leak?”
“She told me to go ahead and start the repairs. She said she trusts me to make the arrangements but that she was coming back to visit anyway. She’ll be here on Wednesday.”
Idgie walked to the kitchen to get a root beer. She popped opened the top and took a long swig of the frosty liquid. “Sam coming with her?”
Ruth shook her head. “She can’t get away from work.”
Idgie noticed her frown. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure,” her partner answered. “Rebecca sounded a bit…worn out, somehow.”
Idgie took another swig of her soda. “That’s what living in the big city will do to you.”
“I don’t think Mariposa is considered a big city,” Ruth pointed out with a smile.
“Anything’s big compared to Whistle Stop.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Ruth agreed. “Anyway, it’ll be nice to see her.”
“Like you haven’t talked to her every week on the phone in the six months she’s been gone,” Idgie teased.
“It’s not the same,” Ruth replied. “Besides, you think I don’t notice you hanging around during those phone calls, trying to overhear some news?”
Idgie grinned. “All right, you got me. I miss her too.”
Becky arrived two days later. There were hugs all around as Idgie and Ruth met her at the train station, but Idgie eyed the other woman critically. Ruth was right – she did look a bit tired.
“How are those Yankees treating you, Becky?”
Becky smiled. “It’s been an adjustment,” she admitted. “It took awhile to find a job, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I finally signed up with a temp agency.” She looked around gratefully. “It’s nice to be back in Whistle Stop.”
Idgie picked up the small blue suitcase next to her. “Is this all you’ve got?”
Becky nodded. “I have enough things at the B&B to stay for awhile.”
Ruth frowned. “You aren’t going to be able to stay there while it’s under construction, are you? Idgie and I figured you’d be staying with us.”
“No, there are a couple of bedrooms on the first floor,” Becky explained. “They may need some dusting, but I can stay there. I’ll be fine,” she assured Ruth, seeing her worried look.
Idgie and Ruth held a party that evening at the café in Becky’s honor. They fired up the barbecue and made gallons of iced tea. Becky ate till her stomach felt ready to burst.
“Mmm,” she sighed, licking her fingers and attempting to wipe the sticky sauce off her chin. “You won’t believe how much I missed this.”
Idgie smiled at her. “Ain’t nothing like Big George’s ribs,” she agreed. “But the secret’s in the sauce.” She winked at Ruth and Becky saw the other woman shake her head in remonstrance.
“That’s not funny, Idgie Threadgoode,” she said sternly.
Something passed between them which Becky didn’t catch, and she smiled at them fondly. They were devoted to each other…any fool could see that. It made her miss Sam terribly all of a sudden, and she fought back tears.
“Rebecca? You okay, honey?” Ruth asked, coming to sit next to her.
“I’m fine, just tired,” Becky said. She glanced over toward the kitchen. “Good Lord, is that Buddy Jr.? He’s grown into a man!”
“He has, hasn’t he?” Ruth gazed at the tall, well-built young man with his shock of sandy brown hair. “He graduated from high school this year.” Her voice was full of pride.
“He looks just like you, Ruth,” Becky said softly.
“Does he? I guess he does. Funny, but he almost seems to look like Idgie, to me.” She laughed and shook her head. “Must come from hanging around her so much.” She took a sip of iced tea. “You and Samantha ever think about having a family?”
Becky’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “We don’t have the time to devote to children,” she said with regret. “Maybe when things settle down more.” She grabbed her plate and stood. “I’m going to be turning in soon, Ruth. That train ride just wore me out.” She gave Ruth a hug. “Thank you for everything. You and Idgie are the best friends.”
Ruth sat and watched Becky say her good-byes to the crowd. There was a thoughtful frown on her face.
“I’m telling you, Idgie, there’s something going on with her,” Ruth said that night as she sat at her vanity table brushing her hair. Idgie sat in their bed. She sighed and put down the book she was reading.
“Did she say that?”
“She didn’t have to,” was Ruth’s reply. “There’s a sadness in her eyes. And she seems to change the subject whenever Samantha’s name comes up.”
“She’s never talked about her love life much,” Idgie pointed out.
“She’s never had a love life to talk about before,” Ruth retorted. “I’ve never seen her happier than when she hooked up with Samantha Kern.”
“Well, you’re the person she’s closest to in Whistle Stop,” Idgie said. “When she’s ready to talk to you about it, she will.”
Ruth stood and walked over to the bed. “I hear what you’re saying. You want me to butt out, don’t you?”
Idgie gazed upon the lovely woman who had shared her life for the past 17 years. The lamplight illuminated Ruth’s body through the sheer material of her nightgown, stirring Idgie’s blood even after all this time. “Come to bed,” she said quietly.
They managed not to talk about Becky for the rest of the evening.
The next day dawned bright and hot. Becky rose early and put on her oldest clothes. Her garden had become rather overgrown, in spite of Idgie and Ruth’s best attempts to look after things. It was understandable. They had their own business to run, after all, and Sara was only employed to look after the housework.
She had a blueberry muffin for breakfast, along with a big pot of coffee. The roofers were already at hard at work, calling out to each other loudly and stirring up dust as they flung the tarpaper and roofing shingles down to the ground. Becky grimaced and reflected that it was a good thing Ruth and Idgie were her closest neighbors. At least they would be understanding about the dirt and noise.
Letting herself out the back way, Becky surveyed her garden with mingled joy and dismay. Most of her flower beds were choked by weeds, and the vegetable beds looked half-devoured. But here was a geranium and there was a watermelon vine, signs of irrepressible life just waiting for a little attention.
Well, if there’s one thing I have, it’s time on my hands, Becky reflected ruefully, rolling up her sleeves and grabbing a spade.
Halfway through the morning she stopped to take another coffee break and prepare a thermos for the roofers. She carried it out to the front yard and was surprised to see a young woman in overalls leaning against the much-dented Ford truck parked in her driveway. Her wavy brown hair was cut short under a dusty yellow hard-hat.
“Hi. I just thought I’d bring out some coffee,” Becky said, feeling a trifle self-conscious in her dirt-smeared jeans.
“Great!” The woman grinned and turned to shout at her companions. “Eddie! Don! Verdell! We got fresh hot coffee!” She turned back to Becky and tugged off her leather work glove. “I’m Amanda Samford, by the way. Folks call me Mandy.”
“I’m Becky.” She shook the hand held out to her, noting the strength of Mandy’s grip. Up close, Becky could see that the young woman’s brown eyes had hazel highlights to them and that there were freckles across her nose. “How do things look up there?” Becky indicated the roof with a lift of her eyebrow.
“You got some rotten boards under the shingles,” came the answer before Mandy could speak. A tall thin man with grizzled gray hair and mustache held out his hand. “Howdy, Ms. Searles. My name’s Eddie Yarbrough. From what I can see you got a bit of water damage over to the north side, but there ain’t much.”
Becky groaned. “Water damage? That’s going to cost me, isn’t it?”
“It’ll be a bit,” Eddie agreed. “But we won’t charge much more than what the materials will cost. Seeing as how you’re a friend of Grady’s and all.” Two younger men walked up to join them, and Eddie introduced them. Don had a baby face that made him look about twelve years old, but he was probably at least in high school. Verdell was muscular, with an acne-scarred face and a friendly smile. They accepted a round of coffee gratefully.
“How long do you think it’ll take before the repairs are done?”
Eddie squinted and scratched a raspy jaw. “We should be able to tell by the end of the day the extent of the damage. Maybe have an estimate for you tomorrow morning?”
“That’ll be fine,” Becky agreed. She left the thermos with them and went back to her gardening. She was in the midst of uprooting a humongous spurge plant, trying not to dislodge any balls of pollen, when she heard her name called. She looked up to see Idgie standing in her back door.
“It’s lunchtime, Becky! C’mon in and eat before you waste away!”
Becky rose with a groan. She was unaccustomed to the exertion and her back was already stiffening up. “No danger of me wasting away. I don’t get much exercise in California. Let me just wash up and I’ll be right over.”
“No need to go anywhere,” Idgie grinned. “Me and Ruth brought the picnic to you.”
Sure enough, Ruth was setting the kitchen table and unloading the picnic basket they had brought with them. Becky washed off quickly in the kitchen sink and gratefully accepted a glass of iced lemonade.
“Well, this is a nice surprise.” Her mouth started to water at the smell of crispy fried chicken, biscuits and gravy. “Is that Ruth’s coleslaw I see?”
“Help yourself,” Ruth said, passing over the bowl. The finely shredded cabbage was flecked with bits of celery seed and creamy with homemade mayonnaise. Idgie swore that its spicy-sweet flavor had caused more than one customer to propose marriage on the spot.
Becky put one forkful into her mouth and groaned in delight. “Ruth, I’d marry you myself if you weren’t already taken!” She laughed and winked at Idgie.
“I think Sam might have something to say about that,” Idgie drawled deliberately.
The dimming of Becky’s smile was nearly imperceptible. “Yes, and I’m sure you would too! So maybe I’d better learn how to make it myself. Would you be willing to give me the recipe, Ruth?”
“Sure honey,” Ruth smiled. But she sent a significant look over Becky’s head at her partner.
The conversation moved onto general topics as the three friends caught up with the last six months. Becky had them in stitches as she described the “California cuisine,” which she said was “very tasty but not enough to feed a gopher.” Her descriptions of the temp jobs she held also had her friends shaking their heads.
“Them Californians are something else, aren’t they?” Idgie marveled. “I hope Sam’s friends aren’t all like that!”
“No, she has some very nice friends,” Becky assured her. “They made me feel very welcome — inviting us to potlucks…hiking…movies and art shows….The women’s community there is very diverse.”
“Women’s community? Is that another way of saying you-know-what?” Ruth asked.
“Sort of,” Becky agreed. “Although there are straight women among them. They–”
The ringing of the telephone interrupted her. Becky answered and gave a surprised “Sam!” when the caller identified herself. From what Ruth and Idgie could gather during the one-sided conversation, Sam was calling on her lunch hour and had plans to visit over the weekend. When Becky hung up the phone, she had a wistful smile on her face. Even if there was trouble in paradise, which was what Ruth was suspecting more and more, there could be no doubt about one thing – Becky was still very much in love.
“So are we going to get to see that ol’ prospector after all?” Idgie asked.
Becky nodded. “Yes, she’s going to come down for the weekend, and then take a couple of days off. It’ll be nice to spend some time together,” she finished with a sigh, more to herself than her guests.
“Y’all don’t get to see each other much during the week?” Ruth asked tactfully. Idgie stood and began clearing the lunch dishes. She plugged the sink and added a little detergent, then began washing dishes to give the women some privacy.
“Well, Sam is pretty busy with her job,” Becky said. “But she comes home for dinner every night. And we spend the weekends together. Until recently, anyway.” The last comment was said in such a sad tone that Ruth didn’t know how to reply.
Suddenly Becky jumped up and went to the sink. “Idgie, cut that out! You brought me such a nice lunch, I’m not going to have you doing my dishes too!” She nudged the taller woman out of the way with her hip and took the sponge from her hand. “Hey, how’s Mrs. Johnston doing? Sam always asks about her…says Tobias got downright spoiled when he was staying at her place!”
Ruth took the hint and followed the change of subject. They talked about Whistle Stop residents and covered the latest local gossip. After washing the dishes Becky declared that she had to get back to her gardening. She promised to drop by the café for lunch the next day, but only if she could return the favor by bringing it.
“Don’t be silly, Rebecca,” Ruth admonished her.
“Why is that silly? What’s the matter, don’t you like my cooking anymore?” Becky was only half-joking and had a stubborn look on her face.
Idgie looked back and forth between the two of them and sighed. “Becky honey? We really missed you these past few months. Would’ja do us a favor and let us spoil you a little?”
Becky’s expression softened. “Oh heck, you don’t play fair! Tell you what, let me prepare lunch, and you can prepare dinner for Sam and me tomorrow night.”
“It’s a deal,” Idgie said. “In fact, why don’t we make a party out of it?”
Becky looked doubtful. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea the first night,” she said. “Sam’ll probably be a little tired. How about Saturday night instead?”
“Saturday night at our place,” Ruth agreed. “We’ll ask Grady and Big George and even Mrs. Johnston.” She and Idgie gathered their things and left, leaving Becky to her gardening.
After another couple hours on her knees, Becky decided to call it a day. She’d made some progress and the vegetable rows looked much neater. She rewarded herself with a long hot soak in the tub, had a light dinner and went to bed. It was the first time in a long time that Sam wasn’t beside her, and Becky expected to have trouble falling asleep. But her mind and body were weary from the day’s exertions, and being back in Whistle Stop was comforting. She drifted off immediately and slept soundly till morning.
Sam arrived on the late afternoon train. Becky borrowed Idgie’s car and met her at the station. Sam’s eyes brightened upon seeing the younger woman. She hugged Becky, lifting her into the air and burying her face in her auburn curls.
“I missed you, Bunny,” she murmured.
“I missed you too,” Becky said. “Did you have trouble getting off from work for a couple of days?”
Sam grimaced as she picked up her bag and followed Becky to the car. “They weren’t thrilled with the idea,” she admitted. “But I’ve been working my butt off recently and they know it. So I don’t have to go back till Wednesday.”
“Good!” Becky said, as she started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. “We can spend some quality time together.”
“Uh…yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that.”
Becky took her eyes off the road long enough to throw Sam a suspicious glance. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s nothing wrong,” Sam said quickly. “I was just wondering…I was kinda hoping to do some prospecting while I was here.” She saw Becky’s frown and continued hastily. “You know I do it to relax. And I haven’t had a chance to go dredging since the last time I was in Alabama.”
“When we met,” Becky said.
“Yeah, over six months ago.” Sam hesitated. “I was thinking maybe you’d like to go with me.”
“Go with you?” Becky echoed. “How long are we talking about?”
“Overnight….a couple of days at the most,” Sam assured her. “I thought it might be fun to camp out for a day or two.” She watched her lover closely, and was relieved to see a smile appear.
“Really?” Sam asked, having anticipated more of a fight.
“Sure, why not? I’m not much into camping, but it couldn’t hurt for one night.”
“That’s great!” She sat back, relaxing at last. “It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”
They arrived at the B&B. Sam unfolded her lanky frame from the car and stretched. She shielded her eyes from the sun as she squinted up at the roof. “So was it leaking bad?”
“It could be worse. There was some water damage in that corner,” Becky pointed. “But I think we caught it before all of the underlying boards had to be replaced.”
“That’s good.” Sam picked up her bag and followed Becky into the house. “So where are we sleeping?”
“In the back bedroom. Here, this way.”
Sam looked around at the large room. It was decorated in a more old-fashioned style than were the guest rooms, with a beautifully polished walnut headboard and matching desk and vanity table. The curtains were cream-colored lace muslin, the king-sized bed was covered with a homemade quilt sporting a “Follow the Leader” design. The walls in the bedroom and adjoining bathroom were painted the palest shade of rose, with darker trim on the door frame and baseboards.
“It’s a little dark, but it’s a nice room,” Sam said.
“Yes, it was my parent’s room.” Becky touched the bedspread fondly. “I haven’t changed the furnishings since they died.”
Sam touched the quilt with its pinwheel pattern in shades of silver-gray, rose and blue. “This is beautiful. Is it homemade?”
Becky nodded. “It’s sort of a ‘charm quilt.’ Meaning that all the pieces of fabric were gathered by my mother from material that held memories for her.”
“Really?” Sam sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the coverlet with interest. “Like what?”
“Well, this piece here,” Becky touched a triangle of light blue satin, “was a piece of my junior prom dress. And this one,” she pointed to a rectangle which held tiny magenta flowers on a cream background, “was from my grandmother’s bedspread.”
Sam smiled. “Pieces of your life sewn together. I like that.”
Becky nodded. “Yeah. It’s nice to be able to wrap it around me.”
Sam pulled Becky down next to her and took her in her arms. “Does it bring back painful memories, staying in this room?” she asked softly.
“No.” Becky shook her head and wiped away a stray tear. “Happy ones.”
“Sometimes those can be painful too,” Sam said, kissing Becky’s temple. With a sigh, Becky buried her face in Sam’s shoulder. She had forgotten how comforting Sam could be.
Just then there was a knock at the front door and someone called out their names.
“It’s Idgie.” Becky pulled away from their embrace and dried her eyes. “She and Ruth probably want to welcome you back.”
“I’ll be right there, I just need to make a phone call first.” Sam’s tone was casual.
“Uh, no.” Sam didn’t elaborate, and Becky’s lips tightened.
“You’ve got to be kidding! You just got here, Sam.”
Sam sighed and held out her hands in entreaty. “Dearest, do we have to argue about this now?”
“I never want to argue about it,” Becky said angrily. “But I thought…oh hell, I don’t know what I thought! I had hoped that maybe you could leave all that behind in Mariposa.”
Sam’s hands dropped to her sides. Her expression closed off like the slamming of a door. “I’ll just be a moment,” she said carefully. “Would you let Idgie and Ruth know I’ll be right out?”
“Take your time,” Becky said coldly. “I’m sure our friends will understand that everyone has their priorities.”
“Damn it, Bunny–” But Sam was left talking to an empty room as Becky swept out the door.
Through ease of practice, Becky and Sam hid their fight from their friends. Their laughing and joking was enough to fool most people, but Ruth and Idgie had known Becky a long time. To them, her laughter was a touch brittle, and her face in repose when she thought no one was looking was anything but happy. With Sam it was harder to tell. The older woman was used to hiding her feelings, and she had cultivated an impenetrable demeanor that discouraged most folks from asking questions.
“Did Rebecca tell you about our party tomorrow night?” Ruth asked.
“No, we hadn’t had a chance to talk about that,” Sam said easily. “What’s the special occasion?”
“You are,” Idgie said. “We thought we’d throw a shindig so that everyone could welcome you back to Whistle Stop.” She glanced fondly at her partner on the couch next to her. “Ruth will do most of the cooking, naturally. But Mrs. Johnston has promised to bring a lemon pie, and Onzell says she’ll make her secret recipe hush puppies.”
“Well, I’m honored!” Sam said with a smile. “Although I’ll probably put on ten pounds over the weekend. I sure missed the kind of food you folks serve down South.”
“Yeah, Becky’s been telling us about that California cuisine y’all are so fond of!” Idgie laughed.
Sam grinned. “I’m sure she had a lot to say! I know all I heard for the first three months was, ‘Nobody knows how to do a proper barbecue over here!’”
“Nobody does one like Big George, that’s for sure,” Idgie said. “But Becky’s a pretty good cook herself.”
“She’s great,” Sam agreed. “I think half the reason I fell in love with her was her roast chicken. And my friends were constantly inviting themselves over for breakfast, just for a taste of her hash browns.” She smiled at Becky. Her partner returned the smile wanly, then caught Ruth’s eagle eye on her.
“Actually, Sam’s a good cook too,” she said, rousing herself. “She’s just usually comes home too late from work to cook much.”
“Rebecca says you put in a lot of hours at work, Sam,” Ruth said.
“Unfortunately, that’s true,” Sam replied regretfully. “My company is in the midst of merging with another smaller company, and that means a lot of extra work for awhile. Once the merger goes through things should slow down a bit.”
“I hope it happens soon,” Ruth said. “Overworking isn’t good for anybody.”
“No, you’re right about that.”
“Not too healthy for relationships either,” Ruth added.
Sam looked up sharply, meeting Ruth’s gaze head on. “I would hope a good relationship would be able to survive a little overtime,” she drawled at last.
There was a short silence, then Idgie cleared her throat. “We’d better be getting back to the café, honey,” she said to Ruth.
“Yes, you’re right. We’ll see you two tomorrow night,” Ruth said to Becky and Sam. “Come by early…around 4:00 or so, so we can have a drink or two before dinner.”
“Thanks, we’ll be there,” Sam said. After they left, she turned to Becky with a frown. “What have you been telling them?”
“I haven’t said anything, except that you’ve been working late,” Becky replied with irritation.
“Then how come Ruth was giving me such an evil look?”
“I didn’t notice anything,” Becky said. “Maybe you have a guilty conscience.”
“I have nothing to be guilty about!” Sam snapped. “You know the overtime is necessary till the merger’s over.”
“I wasn’t talking about work.”
“I know what you were talking about,” Sam said grimly. “And I repeat: I have nothing to be guilty about.”
Becky looked down at her hands and didn’t answer. Seeing her expression, Sam swore under her breath and put her arms around the younger woman.
“Bunny, let’s not spend this precious time we have together fighting,” she pleaded. “When I took this time off, I thought…well, I was kinda hoping we could have a second honeymoon.”
Becky’s eyebrow rose. “How are we going to do that when we’ve never had a first one?” she said dryly.
“Aw, you know what I mean,” Sam began, then noticed the small twinkle in her partner’s hazel eyes. She grinned in relief. “Does that mean we have a truce?”
“We have a truce,” Becky replied slowly. She bit her tongue to prevent herself from asking if that meant that there wouldn’t be anymore calls back home. Sam’s right, I don’t want to spend my time arguing, she thought. I want to recapture the magic that caused us to fall in love in the first place. She put aside her misgivings and returned her partner’s hug.
For the rest of the day they took it easy – watching the roofers work for awhile and then strolling through the town hand in hand. That evening they had a light dinner and went out to sit in the garden, enjoying relief from the sun and watching as the birds gathered at the feeder Becky kept hanging in the tree. The conversation was inconsequential but relaxing, and that night they made love for the first time in weeks. Becky began to hope the time spent in Whistle Stop would repair the rift that had grown between them.
The next day was another scorcher. Becky spent the morning doing chores around the house, and Sam asked Idgie to drive her into Birmingham.
“I’m gonna rent some camping equipment and a dredge,” she explained to Becky.
“And a donkey?” Becky asked with a smile.
Sam shook her head. “No, but I am going to rent a van to carry everything. It would’ve been nice to have Tobias with us, wouldn’t it? Maybe next time we can bring him along. If you find you like prospecting, that is,” she added.
“Mrs. Johnston would definitely be happy about seeing him again.”
“I have a feeling Toby would enjoy it too,” Sam agreed. “I should be back by one or two o’clock, plenty of time before the party.”
She was as good as her word, driving up in a shiny blue Chevy Astro at 1:30 that afternoon. When they arrived at the café at 4:00 the party was already underway. Idgie had hung streamers in rainbow colors from the rafters, and someone had installed a small entertainment center in the corner. A few couples were two-stepping to the sound of Rosanne Cash singing about her Seven Year Ache, and the drinks were flowing freely.
“Hope no one calls the police on us,” Ruth said worriedly.
“Good luck if they do,” Idgie hooted. “When the chief himself is tending bar!” She pointed to the counter where Grady Kilgore was consuming a beer for every three he passed out.
Becky picked up a couple bottles and walked back over to where Sam was talking to Mrs. Johnston. She handed a beer to Sam and was about to reach for some pretzels when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun around and was surprised to see the girl who had been working on their roof, dressed casually in a pair of jeans and short-sleeved cotton shirt.
“Mandy! It’s good to see you again.”
The woman smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, Idgie and Ruth were nice enough to invite us to the party.” She pointed to the corner where her fellow roofers Eddie, Don and Verdell were laughing and talking with Smokey Lonesome.
Becky nodded. “Yes, Ruth and Idgie know how to throw a party all right.”
Mandy gestured with her beer. “Is that your girlfriend?”
Becky smiled. “Yes, that’s my partner Samantha.”
Becky turned to glance at the woman just a few feet away. Sam was laughing at something Mrs. Johnston had said, her smile flashing white in her tanned face. Her hair was slightly longer than it was when Becky had first met her, falling in honey-colored waves past her shoulders. With her blue eyes and slim frame, she did draw a few glances.
“Yes, she’s an attractive woman, isn’t she?” Becky agreed.
“So are you,” Mandy said with a grin. Her grin widened at the sight of Becky’s flush. “Sorry, didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“It’s a nice way to embarrass someone,” Becky replied. “Thank you.” Sam finished her conversation with Mrs. Johnston and sauntered over.
“Hi there,” she greeted Mandy. “I’ve seen you working on the roof, haven’t I?”
“That’s me,” Mandy confirmed. Becky performed the introductions and the two women shook hands. They chatted for a few more minutes, then Idgie began calling everyone to start eating. By now it seemed like most of the town was in attendance and the party was getting pretty loud. No one heard the taxi pull up, or saw the woman who got out and walked over to Becky’s B&B. Upon finding the inn closed and dark, she swung around in puzzlement. Then she noticed the lights and laughter coming from across the street. Hesitantly, she approached the café and knocked on the swinging double doors. It was several minutes before anyone noticed.
“Don’t bother with knocking, just come inside, honey!” Sipsey welcomed the stranger in with a wave.
“No, I don’t want to intrude. I was just looking for someone…” her voice trailed off as her eyes swept the crowd. They lighted upon Sam at the very same moment that Sam looked up and noticed her. Surprise, dismay, and worry swept across Sam’s face in quick succession. The woman’s face crumpled into tears. “Oh Sam,” she whimpered, then crossed the room to collapse crying in her arms. Sam patted her awkwardly on the shoulder, her glance immediately seeking out her partner’s.
Becky’s expression was stormy. “I need to go into the kitchen for more wine,” she announced to no one in particular, then disappeared. There was a dip in the noise level, then people started talking again, trying not to stare at the scene unfolding in the corner.
Idgie watched as Sam escorted the woman back outside. “Who’s that?” she asked Ruth.
Ruth shook her head. “I’d call it…the snake in the garden,” she replied grimly.
It was Eva Bates who saved the day. She followed Becky into the kitchen, removing from her hand the wine bottle which she was about to upend directly into her mouth.
“You don’t want to do that, honey,” Eva said gently.
“Sure I do,” Becky retorted, looking around for another bottle.
“No, you don’t,” said Eva. “You’ll end up miserable and upchucking into the bushes, and your gal will still be comforting that Yankee woman who’s wearing too much make-up.” She took Becky by the shoulders and steered her out the back door of the kitchen. There were picnic tables set up out back from the days when colored customers were forced to eat separately, and Eva pushed her down onto one of the benches.
“Okay, spill it.” Eva said briskly. “Who’s the woman with Sam?”
Becky looked into the wise green eyes of Whistle Stop’s unofficial therapist, and smiled sadly. There were still some ignorant folk who believed that Eva Bates gave out her favors a little too generously, and condemned her for it. But Becky believed they were the ones who knew they could never find their way into Eva’s unusually generous heart, and it was purely a case of sour grapes. Eva reached out and stroked Becky’s chestnut curls, and Becky found her eyes filling with tears.
“That’s Delores….Sam’s ex,” she sniffed.
“Ex as in ex-lover?” Eva wanted to be sure.
“Well, she sure is named appropriate,” Eva muttered. “And what is she doing here?”
“That’s the question of the year!” Becky’s voice rose as a brief surge of anger overtook her sadness. Then it dropped once again as she dissolved into tears. “I thought we could have a vacation from this mess. I thought if I got her away from that woman, we could get back what we had in the beginning. I thought…hell, what difference does it make what I thought? Maybe it’s too late anyway….” Eva had a hard time making out all the words, but enough got through to bring a frown to the redhead’s face.
“Sam’s a good woman,” she murmured comfortingly. “And you know she’s in love with you.”
“She’s a good woman all right,” Becky said bitterly. “Too good. Don’t you think it’s time she got loose from Delores’s apron strings?”
“Well, it seemed to me that maybe Sam was the one wearing the apron,” Eva drawled. Becky looked at her uncomprehendingly. “Looked like her ex is the one with the problem,” Eva explained.
Becky wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Oh, her life’s a mess,” the younger woman agreed. “Her last girlfriend dumped her and her ex-husband is trying to take away her son. But I don’t see why that has to be Sam’s problem!”
Eva nodded. “Well, by rights it shouldn’t. But sometimes it’s hard to turn our backs on people who have meant a lot to us. How long were Sam and Delores together?”
Eva hugged Becky gently. “Don’t worry, honey. Things will work out.” But she made a face that Becky couldn’t see. Dealing with ex’s could sure be messy sometimes.
Standing in front of the café, Sam was thinking the very same thing. “Del, you shouldn’t have come,” she said wearily.
Delores dabbed at eyes with a tissue, trying not to smear her mascara. “I know,” she said apologetically. “I just didn’t know what else to do.”
“So what did Greg say?”
“He backed off from taking Bryan full time. I knew he would once he found out how much work it would be! Now he’s talking about splitting custody.”
“Well, that seems fair, doesn’t it?”
“Are you kidding? He’s going to turn Bryan against me, I just know it!” She burst into fresh tears at the thought.
Sam sighed and patted her back helplessly. She glanced over her shoulder at the café, knowing Becky was probably fuming. And Sam couldn’t really blame her. Delores’s reliance on her had been a source of growing irritation to her partner, but Sam would never have predicted her ex-lover would follow her to Whistle Stop. She looked down at the sobbing woman, torn between pity and frustration. She could hardly believe this was the same woman she had fallen in love with nearly three years ago. The light brown hair was the same, though Delores had taken to highlighting it with blonde streaks like so many other Californians. Her eyes were the same blue-gray shade that had drawn Sam’s attention when they first met. But her strong, vital spirit – that confident air that drew second looks from men and women alike – these were conspicuously absent.
The tears were beginning to subside, and Sam took the opportunity to step back and loosen Delores’s hold on her. “Del, let’s not stand here in the street, okay? The townsfolk are very nice, but I’d rather avoid giving them any extra gossip.”
“I don’t think I’m up to joining the party,” Delores said pathetically.
“No, I wasn’t going to suggest that. I think you should rest, maybe have a soak in the tub, and have some dinner. Have you eaten?”
Delores shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
“You should still eat something,” Sam insisted. “Maybe you should check into a hotel in Birmingham.”
“You’re going to send me all the way to Birmingham?” Her eyes started to fill and her lip quivered alarmingly.
“That’s the closest city, Del,” Sam said patiently. “There’s not a lot of choice in these small towns.”
“What about Becky’s place?” Delores asked. “I thought she owned a bed & breakfast?”
“Well, she does, but it’s under construction right now.”
“Then where are you staying?”
“We’re using what used to be her parents’ room,” Sam explained. “It’s not one that’s usually rented out.”
Delores didn’t speak, but continued to look at her ex-lover sadly. Sam groaned inwardly and rubbed a hand across her eyes. “Let me ask her if there are any more rooms,” she said at last. She wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.
She left Delores waiting on the porch and went into the café. Her partner was nowhere in sight.
“Hey, have any of you seen Becky?” she asked. All she got from Ruth was a frosty look, but Idgie gestured with a nod of her head toward the back. Sam entered the kitchen and was surprised to see Becky and Eva sharing a glass of wine. Becky looked as if she’d been crying, but her demeanor was surprisingly composed.
“Sam, would you like a glass of wine?” she asked politely.
Sam looked at her uncertainly. “Uh, no thanks. Listen, I have something to ask you, my love.”
“I’d better be getting back to the party before Grady drinks up all the booze,” Eva said. She squeezed Becky’s shoulder as she left. “Remember what I said, honey.”
Becky gave her a grateful glance and a smile. The smile faded as she turned back to Sam. “Yes?”
Sam cleared her throat. “I had no idea Delores was coming,” she began.
“I never thought you did.”
“Yes, well, it seems her ex-husband is giving her some problem with Bryan….”
And how does that involve you? Becky wondered resentfully. She managed not to say it aloud, but some of it must’ve shown in her expression, because Sam continued hastily.
“Anyway, she’s going through a tough time right now, and I guess she just needs some moral support.”
“Yes?” Becky’s tone was noncommittal.
“Yes,” Sam said, trudging on with determination. “And the thing is…well, she needs a place to stay.”
“In Whistle Stop.”
Sam nodded. “She doesn’t know anyone in Birmingham,” she said.
“She can lodge down the road with Mrs. Johnston. She keeps goats and has a barn.”
Sam opened her mouth to protest, shocked at Becky’s callousness. Then she recognized the remark. It was the same thing Becky had said to her on the day that they first met, when Sam had asked for a place to stable her donkey. She looked more closely at her partner – was it possible she was joking?
There wasn’t exactly a twinkle in her eye, but Becky’s expression had relaxed a bit, and Sam felt a sudden flare of hope.
“I wouldn’t want to do that to the goats,” she replied, attempting a small joke of her own.
“Good point,” Becky said. “I suppose she’ll have to come stay at the house.”
“Yes. She can sleep in the den. But there will be no late night visits, drunk or otherwise,” Becky added as Sam swept her into a hug.
The taller woman gave an embarrassed chuckle. “You’ll never let me forget the time I visited Toby at Mrs. Johnston’s, will you?” She said, burying her face in her lover’s neck and thanking the goddess for a woman like Becky.
“You got that right. But I wasn’t just talking about you. Delores better not get any ideas either.”
Sam pulled back, surprised. “Are you serious? You know there’s nothing between us, don’t you?”
Becky’s eyebrow lifted. “You may not be lovers any longer. And you may not even be attracted to each other anymore. But don’t tell me there’s nothing between you.”
“Now wait a min–”
“There’s something between you all right. And that something is why she’s in Whistle Stop right now.” Becky finished off the last of her wine and set the glass down sharply on the counter. Sam opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again. There wasn’t much she could say.
“I’m going back home,” Becky said. “I’m a bit tired after all this ‘excitement.’”
“I’ll go with you,” Sam said. “I’d better get Delores to bed.” She could’ve bit her tongue when she realized how that sounded. But Becky made no response as she left the kitchen.
They managed to settle Delores into the den with a minimum of fuss. The brown corduroy sofa doubled as a pullout bed, and the downstairs bathroom was just a few feet away. While Becky put on the bedsheets and linen, Sam set out some towels and toiletries from the bathroom closet. There wasn’t much conversation. All three women were tired, and Sam and Becky had had more than enough to drink.
“Thank you, Becky,” Delores said, sounding subdued. “I really appreciate this.”
“You’re welcome,” Becky answered, not unkindly. “Have a good night’s sleep. Things always look better in the morning.”
“I hope you’re right” was the depressed reply that followed them down the hall.
“I hope I’m right too,” Becky muttered under her breath as they reached their bedroom.
They washed up and undressed in silence. Once in bed, Sam reached over to turn out the lamp, then lay down with a sigh. Tentatively she put her arm around Becky, who was lying with her back to Sam. When Becky made no protest she snuggled up closer, wrapping the quilt over them both.
They were pressed up against each other spoon fashion, but to Sam it felt as if there were miles between them. She hated the situation, but was at a loss. Talking it over never seemed to do any good – they always ended up arguing. Becky just couldn’t understand the sense of obligation Sam felt for Delores’s welfare, and Sam was bothered by that lack of understanding.
We were together for over two years, she has to realize that I’ll always care about what happens to her, Sam thought resentfully. I love Becky, but I’m sure as hell not going to change who I am.
As Becky predicted, sunrise brought life back from the overdrawn drama of the previous evening. It did not, however, become any less awkward. Becky rose early and quietly left the bed. She was relieved to be without a hangover, but the large consumption of alcohol had left her feeling extra sluggish. As she stood in the kitchen preparing breakfast, Delores appeared. Although she had had nothing to drink the night before, it looked as if she was feeling a mite draggy herself.
“Good morning,” Becky said. “I’m making sausages and hotcakes for breakfast. There’s some fresh fruit too.”
Delores shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m on a diet. Do you have any coffee?”
Becky nodded toward the coffeemaker on the counter. “Pot’s right over there.”
Sam appeared soon afterwards, looking considerably more cheerful than either Becky or Delores. Her hair was still damp from the shower, and she was whistling softly to herself. Becky’s eyebrow rose.
“You seem to be in a good mood.”
Sam’s whistling petered out. “Um, no….I always feel better after a shower….” She walked over and gave Becky a cautious kiss. Becky struggled to lose her bad mood.
“I ought to take one then,” she joked. “I think I had too much wine last night.”
Sam grinned. “You’re out of practice, my love. You know Ruth and Idgie’s shindigs always leave one moving a little slower the next morning!”
“Then how come you’re so chipper?”
“Probably gets more practice,” Delores cracked. She shrugged at the dirty look Sam sent her. “Well, you know how your work parties are!” She pushed forward a mug of coffee. “Here, do you still take it with no milk and a teaspoon of sugar?”
Behind her, Sam heard a muted crash as Becky set the frying down on the stove with more force than was strictly necessary.
Sam took the mug with a muttered “thanks” and took a seat at the table. She set herself up a stack of hotcakes with a nice pat of butter, and generously drizzled on the maple syrup. Her muffled “mmm” had real appreciation in it, and in spite of herself Becky had to smile.
“You sure know how to make food look good,” Delores observed, glancing at the golden-brown pancakes which were rapidly disappearing.
“It is good,” Sam replied as she stuck her fork into a couple of crispy link sausages, and then spooned some strawberries, blueberries and peach slices onto her plate. “Becky’s a great cook.”
“Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast, Delores?” Becky said as she poured herself a cup of coffee and joined Sam at the table.
“Well…no, I’d better not,” Delores said wistfully, although she too took a seat. “I swear, I must’ve gained five pounds these past couple of weeks. It’s so easy to gain weight when you’re miserable.” She looked down into her coffee.
“It’s easy to gain weight, period,” Sam said, careful not to pursue that subject. She turned to Becky. ” What’re your plans for today, my love?”
“Oh, more work in the garden, I guess,” the younger woman replied. “And I promised Mrs. Johnston I’d help her pick some peaches off her tree for preserves. What about you?”
“I need to call on a friend. You’ve heard me mention Matt Bishop?”
“The guy who lets you prospect on his land?”
“Yeah, that’s him. I just want to touch base with him, make sure everything’s okay for our trip. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.” She hesitated. “Um….maybe Delores could give you a hand in the garden?”
“Sure, that would be fine,” Becky agreed, while mentally reevaluating the sanity of her partner. For such a sensitive woman, Sam could be amazingly obtuse at times. She probably thinks this is the perfect opportunity for us to become better acquainted, Becky thought in exasperation.
Delores also looked a bit surprised at the suggestion. “Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude,” she said uncertainly.
“You’re not intruding,” Becky assured her. “I can always use another hand in the garden.”
“Okay then,” the other woman said. “It would be a lot nicer than sitting around thinking. I really appreciate all the trouble you two are going to.”
“No problem,” Sam replied. She looked at her partner with real gratitude, and Becky could see that she was aware of the awkwardness of the situation. Thank you…I love you was the message those blue eyes conveyed.
You owe me, Becky’s own eyes sent back. And I’ll expect payment in kind. She added a raised brow for good measure.
Sam’s smile was rueful but she nodded her acknowledgment of the unspoken message. She carried her breakfast dishes over to the sink and began washing up. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be long,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ll meet you two at Mrs. Johnston’s.”
Delores hesitated. “Is it okay if I use your phone to make a long-distance call?” she asked. “I should check in with my lawyer. I’ll pay for the charges, of course.”
“It’s fine,” Becky said. “There’s a phone in the den. When you’re done come join me in the garden.” She eyed the ruffled housecoat Delores had on. “Be sure to wear something you don’t mind getting dirty.”
Cecilia Johnston was born and raised in Whistle Stop, and had no desire to live anywhere else. She met her husband Dan in high school, when he was the stocky center of the football team and she was the captain of the debate squad. They got married right after graduation in a big church wedding that had Reverend Scroggins presiding and most of the town in attendance. Before Dan passed away of a heart attack at 66, they had raised a son and a daughter, both of whom moved on to bigger cities but returned regularly to visit their mother.
Mrs. Johnston was always the type to keep busy, and that didn’t change after losing her husband. Though she could no longer work the small truck farm they owned, her peach, pear and plum trees were the pride of Whistle Stop. She milked her cow and goats everyday, though it was getting harder and harder to crouch down on that little stool. Selling both the fruit preserves and goat’s milk helped to supplement the income she received from Dan’s social security.
Becky Searles was a favorite of Mrs. Johnston’s. She had watched her grow from a shy and skinny little thing into the lovely and kindhearted young woman she was today. When Becky’s parents were killed, Cecilia had unofficially “adopted” the girl, keeping a discreet eye on her and making sure to look in on the B&B from time to time. In return, Becky made it a point to keep in touch with the older woman, assisting whenever she could in the more physical chores required to run her tiny enterprise.
In spite of seeing Sam drunk as a skunk on the second occasion they met, Mrs. Johnston had always liked the woman. For one thing, she made Becky happy, and that was important. But she had second thoughts about the pharmaceuticals rep after meeting her ex-girlfriend. Was a clear lapse in judgment there. That, and the fact that they blew up her favorite peach tree.
Mrs. Johnston could tell things were bad when Becky and the bleached blonde arrived. There was tension in the air, and Becky was smiling the kind of smile that showed teeth, but had her jaw clenched so tight it made Mrs. Johnston ache just to look at her.
“Mrs. Johnston, this is Delores, a friend of Sam’s,” Becky introduced her.
Cecilia Johnston knew exactly who she was, as did just about everyone in town. She had been at the party when Delores wandered in and the gossip had flown fast and furious after Becky, Sam and Delores had left.
“Pleased to meet you,” Mrs. Johnston said politely. “Won’t you come in and sit down?” She led the way into her house and through the rear to a screened-in porch on the back steps. On the table was a big pitcher of lemonade and next to it a plate of her homemade snickerdoodles. “Have a seat, girls. Becky, would you mind pouring?”
“Of course not, but you shouldn’t have gone to that trouble,” Becky scolded fondly. “We’re here to work, not to be entertained.”
“No reason why we can’t do both,” Mrs. Johnston replied serenely. She decided to get right to the heart of the matter. “You visiting long, Miss Delores?”
Delores shook her head. “No, I have to get back home soon,” she said. “My ex-husband is trying to gain custody of my son, and I need to talk to my lawyer.”
“That’s a shame,” Mrs. Johnston said. “Divorce can be very hard on children. I was lucky – Dan and I never considered divorce.”
“Yes, you were lucky,” Delores said.
“Murder occasionally, but never divorce,” Mrs. Johnston continued.
Delores didn’t know what to say to that, but Becky laughed. “Mrs. Johnston, you know you and Dan were the happiest couple in Whistle Stop!”
The old lady smiled. “Nevertheless, every couple feels the urge to strangle their spouse once in awhile. You can’t tell me Sam’s never ticked you off a time or two.”
“Oh, she’s ticked me off all right,” Becky assured her.
“I used to get pissed off at her for staying out so late at work,” Delores put in. “Especially with the way that woman Iris used to chase after her.”
“Iris?” Becky asked politely.
Delores put a hand over her mouth. “She never mentioned Iris?”
“No. She hasn’t.”
“Well, she probably doesn’t see her anymore,” Delores said hastily. She looked honestly regretful at having brought it up.
Becky resisted the urge to demand details. However, at her age, Mrs. Johnston rarely felt the need to restrain herself. “Some woman was chasing after Samantha?” she asked.
Delores looked guiltily at Becky and hesitated. “This was way back when I…before Becky and she became friends,” she said.
“But this woman still works with Sam?”
“I don’t know,” Delores said miserably.
“What does she do?”
“She works in the marketing department of Sam’s company. Uh…maybe you should ask Sam about this?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Cecilia Johnston said, nodding significantly at Becky.
“I’ll mention it,” Becky agreed mildly. But inside she was fuming. How dare Sam put her in this position?
As if conjured by the thought, her partner could be heard hollering faintly through the house. She had arrived but was wondering where everyone was.
“We’re on the back porch, c’mon through,” Mrs. Johnston answered without getting up.
A few moments later they heard the crisp step of Sam’s boots on the hardwood floor. She poked her head out the back door and smiled at the women assembled. “Hello there! I’m glad I got here before the work started.”
“We were just having a nice talk and getting to know one another,” Mrs. Johnston said, not without some humor.
“Well, that’s good….” Sam’s voice trailed off as she noticed the tension in the air. “Uh…did I miss something?”
“You could say that,” was Mrs. Johnston’s comment.
“Why don’t we get started now that Sam’s here?” Becky asked. “Honey, you want to help me with that peach tree over there?” She pointed to one furthest away.
Sam eyed her partner with a touch of apprehension. “Sure.”
Cecilia Johnston would’ve given her eyeteeth to hear the conversation that followed. As it was, she was stuck showing the Yankee girl how to pluck pears off a tree without bruising them. Becky’s arm gestures made clear her anger, even without the occasional words that floated down to them…words like “ex-girlfriend,” “humiliating,” and “limit.” Mrs. Johnston looked at the blonde woman next to her.
“You sure set the cat among the pigeons, didn’t you?”
Delores flushed. “Well, how was I to know Sam didn’t tell her?” She brushed off a fruit and placed it in the basket. “They should be discussing those things anyway.”
“Um-hm, and of course Sam always told you everything when you were together.”
“How’d you know Sam and I–” Delores broke off at the sardonic expression on Mrs. Johnston’s face.
“Whistle Stop is a small town, honey. And you made quite an entrance.”
The younger woman’s color rose again. “I’d like to think Sam told me everything,” she said with a dignified air. Then she sighed. “But Sam’s always had trouble sharing things….she has some trust issues.”
Mrs. Johnston snorted. “Trust issues, eh?” She eyed the couple standing under the tree, noting Sam’s crossed arms and stubborn expression. “If Becky had any sense, she’d grab a switch off that peach tree and work those ‘trust issues’ right out!”
Delores’s eyebrows rose, but she held her tongue. Eventually Becky and Sam finished their “discussion.” Actually, it was more that Becky threw up her hands in disgust and turned her back on Sam, reaching to pick peaches. After hesitating a moment, Sam turned and headed straight for Delores, her expression grim.
“Oh-oh,” Delores murmured.
“Del, could I have a word with you?” she asked politely. “Excuse us,” she said to Mrs. Johnston.
“Oh don’t mind me, I just live here,” the old lady said acerbically, denied her second chance at hearing any good stuff. She wondered if she was going to have any preserves at all this year.
Sam and Delores headed in the opposite direction from where Becky stood, stopping under Mrs. Johnson’s largest peach tree next to the garden shed. Sam took a deep breath.
Delores held up a hand to forestall the lecture. “Sam, I’m sorry. If I’d had any idea you’ve never mentioned Iris to her, I never would’ve said anything–”
“You have no right to say anything whether I mentioned it or not!” Sam said furiously. “It’s none of your business!”
“Okay, okay. But you still should’ve told her, Sam. Just like you should’ve told me,” she added reproachfully.
“Damn it, Delores, we’ve been over that a million times. There was nothing to tell!” Sam ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
Delores reached into her pocket and extracted a cigarette. “You kissed her,” she said in a hurt tone. “I think that deserves a mention, don’t you?”
Sam silently counted to ten as she watched Delores light her cigarette and take a deep drag. “Iris kissed me, I did not kiss her,” she said at last. “She was drunk and planted one on me at a New Year’s Eve gathering. I explained this to you before, and I’m not going to waste time discussing it again!” She had a sudden horrifying thought. “You didn’t mention that incident to Becky, did you?”
“No, I didn’t. But if you’ve any sense, you’ll tell her about it before she notices the way Ms. Marketing Executive of the Year leers at you at the next Christmas party.”
“Iris. Does. Not. Leer. At. Me.” Sam ground out.
Delores waved her hand. “Whatever. As you say, it’s none of my business.”
Sam glared at her. “Too bad you couldn’t have come to that conclusion before opening your big mouth!”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” Delores said, becoming angry herself. “It’s not my fault if you don’t know how to have an honest relationship!”
“Honest relationship! That’s very funny coming from you, Del! Considering the fact that I didn’t know about Cheryl till after you slept with her!”
Delores blew out smoke in a huff. “Oh, you were already long gone from our relationship, Sam,” she said bitterly. “Why do you think I turned to Cheryl in the first place?”
“So now you’re blaming me for the fact that you cheated on me?” Sam’s voice rose, causing both Becky and Mrs. Johnston to glance at them in concern. “You’re unbelievable, Delores! Just fucking unbelievable!”
“Don’t you speak to me like that, Samantha Kern!” Delores shouted back, flinging her cigarette butt behind her. “I’m not your girlfriend anymore and I don’t have to take your abuse!”
“Abuse? ABUSE?! God, I don’t believe–”
Exactly what Sam found difficult to believe would remain a mystery, because there was at that moment a great WHOOMP! that sent both women flying. Neither Sam nor Delores knew what was happening, tossed as they were several yards into a compost heap, which fortunately consisted mostly of soft things like leaves, grass and goat droppings. But standing farther away, Becky and Mrs. Johnston could see the fireball that erupted from the garden shed and consumed the peach tree the two women had been arguing under.
“Sam!” Becky screamed, flinging away the basket of peaches she had been gathering and running over to her. She ran her hands frantically over her lover, checking for broken bones and missing body parts. Sam took her time sitting up, blinking stupidly and muttering that she couldn’t hear a word Becky was saying. Delores was winded and lay gasping like a fish out of water.
Seeing that both women were still alive, Mrs. Johnston headed as fast as she could back to the house. She turned on the irrigation system to help keep the fire from spreading, then phoned for the fire department. When she went back outside, Becky was helping the women back to the porch. Delores was limping and Sam’s arm was bleeding, and both women looked rather pale under the dirt that covered them.
Mrs. Johnston sat down, holding a hand over her racing heart. “The fire department’s on its way,” she said shakily. “I think there’s time for a stiff drink.”
In the end, only the shed and the single tree were lost. The volunteer fire chief said it was probably the result of accumulated cans of paint and thinner stored in the shed. A collection of old rags and bags of fertilizer hadn’t helped either.
“You had the makings of a bomb in there, Ms. Johnston,” he reported, shaking his head. “All it took was that cigarette to trigger things.” They all turned to look at Delores.
“I…I’m sorry,” she said, tears beginning to well. “I had no idea….”
“What’s done is done,” the old lady replied briskly. “At least no one was badly hurt.”
“Well, I’d have Doc Hadley take a look at that arm and that ankle,” the fire chief said, nodding at Sam and Delores. “But they look like pretty minor injuries.”
“We’ll head over there right now,” Becky assured him. “Thanks, Donnie.”
The doctor’s jaw dropped at the sight of them. Then his nose wrinkled at the smell, as Sam and Delores had yet to be cleaned up. When Becky explained what had happened, he laughed long and hard. His nurse Nettie, an older woman with three kids of her own, was not quite so amused.
“You could’ve been killed!” she scolded. “What was Cecilia thinking, storing all those flammable things!”
“Well, it’s not entirely her fault,” Sam admitted. “We sort of sparked the whole thing.”
“Smoking’ll kill you one way or another,” the doctor intoned solemnly.
“Hah, this from the man who lights up a pipe at every opportunity,” Nettie muttered under her breath. She began to clean the wound on Sam’s forearm as Doc Hadley left to get an elastic wrap for Delores’s ankle.
“I don’t think I’ll want another cigarette for awhile,” Delores said. She looked ready to cry again.
“Till the next time,” Sam said scornfully. “You know you’ll never quit those things.”
Delores’s self-pity turned into anger. “Will you stop picking on me? If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have felt stressed enough to light up in the first place!”
“So now the fire is my fault too?” Sam asked incredulously. “That’s typical! Blame everything on–”
“Shut up.” Becky’s voice was low but distinct, and Sam turned to her with a hurt look on her face.
“I don’t care. I don’t want to hear another word.” She turned to Delores. “From either of you. This has been the second worst day of my entire life, and if I have to listen to another word of your bickering, I’m leaving. I’m taking the car and going back home, and you two can hitchhike for all I care.”
Delores sat down with a sullen look on her face, and Sam’s expression hardened. But neither of them was foolish enough to challenge the quiet menace in Becky’s tone.
Becky turned to the nurse with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Nettie.”
“Oh, I don’t hear nothing,” she assured her, not raising her head from her task. But privately she gave a cheer for the young B&B owner. The girl sure looked like she could use a hug.
The ride back home was very quiet. Once there Sam went immediately to take a shower, and so did Delores. Becky retreated to her garden, as she often did in times of stress, and that’s where Idgie found her half an hour later.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite member of ‘Whistle Stop Demolition and Excavation,’” she said with a grin.
Becky threw her a sour look. “I’m glad you think it’s so funny.”
Idgie sat right down in the dirt next to Becky and put a friendly arm around her shoulders. “I’m just teasing ya, honey. It’s not so bad. The main thing is that no one was seriously hurt.” She nodded back at the house. “How are the terrible twosome, anyway?”
“Sam’s okay, just a cut on her arm. Delores twisted her ankle, but Doc Hadley wrapped it up tight and said it should be fine in a week or two.”
“Well, that’s good.”
Becky drove her spade savagely into the soil. “Mrs. Johnston’s shed is a total loss. And her favorite peach tree is gone too.”
“Well, she’s got lots of other trees. And her animals were safe in the barn. She seems to have taken the whole thing pretty good.”
“She’s been an angel,” Becky agreed. “But I still feel terrible. I’m planning to pay her for her shed and tree, and there was a lawnmower in the shed that’ll have to be replaced too.” She sighed. “It’ll take quite a bite out of my savings.”
Idgie scratched her head and pursed her mouth. “Seems to me that you should have some help in paying for things, seeing as how it wasn’t your fault.”
“Oh, Delores doesn’t have any money to spare. And Sam offered to pay for everything…maybe I’ll let her.”
“You should,” Idgie said firmly.
“I guess. It isn’t really about the money, though.”
Becky sighed. “I don’t know what to do, Idgie.”
The café owner hesitated. She wasn’t big on giving advice, that was a sure way to lose friends. But Becky looked so miserable it wrung Idgie’s heart. “When Ruth and I were having problems awhile back,” she began, “my first instinct was to fight.”
Becky looked at her. “Fight with Ruth?”
“Fight for her,” Idgie corrected. “But well, yeah, I guess we fought with each other a bit too. I was frustrated with things and maybe I took it out on her. A little.” She reached back out of habit, then remembered she didn’t carry her pocket flask around like she used to. Too bad, because a slug would’ve been good right about now.
Becky smiled sympathetically. “That happens.”
“My second instinct was to run,” she continued. “But that ain’t right either.”
“It worked out eventually. But we had a lot of talking to do. And everyone putting their nose into it just confused things, you know? I guess what I’m saying is, you two gotta communicate. And you gotta do it without anyone interfering.”
“Sam and I are going camping tomorrow,” Becky said slowly. “Or at least we were before all this happened.”
“You two should still go,” Idgie said.
Becky laughed sadly. “It’s a little different with Delores here. And I don’t feel comfortable leaving her alone in the B&B anyway.”
“You leave her to us,” Idgie said.
“What do you mean?” Becky asked.
“Just that. We’ll take care of Delores.”
It turned out to be far easier than Becky thought. Delores agreed, after some hesitation, to stay with Ruth and Idgie while Becky and Sam went camping. Becky was going to tell the roofers to hold off working while they were gone, but Idgie said she’d be glad to watch over things. Sam and Becky loaded up the van and head out early the next morning. As they waved good-bye to the couple Idgie had a little smile on her face that caught Ruth’s attention immediately.
“All right, out with it.”
“Out with what?”
“Don’t you flash those baby blues at me, Idgie Threadgoode. I know you’re up to something.”
Idgie sputtered. “I haven’t said or done anything!”
“You don’t have to. You have that look on your face…that darn smile that says some poor bee’s about to lose its honey!”
Idgie grinned outright. “You know me too well, my love.” She pulled Ruth closer for a long kiss.
“And don’t you forget it,” her lover said fondly. She returned the kiss and then poked Idgie in the abdomen. “Now spill.”
“Those boys are doing a nice job on Becky’s roof, don’t you think?”
Ruth frowned at the change of subject. “Well…I guess so. Why?”
“It can’t be easy working out there everyday in all kinds of weather. Gets darn hot up there too, I’ll bet.”
“In fact, maybe we oughta take ’em over some lunch one day.”
“Yeah, give ’em a treat. Especially that little gal…what was her name again?”
A light began to dawn in Ruth’s brown eyes. “Mandy, I believe,” she said dryly. “You think they’d enjoy that, huh?”
“Who doesn’t like your cooking?” Idgie asked. “Yes, I think that’s what we’ll do. Get Delores to help us too.”
“We don’t even know if Delores can cook,” Ruth pointed out. She bit back a smile at her partner’s plans.
“Doesn’t matter,” Idgie said airily. “She can help carry things.”
“She’s using a cane because of her sprained ankle,” Ruth said. “Probably can’t carry much.”
“Well then she can just sit there and look pretty!” Idgie said in exasperation. “I swear, woman, if you ain’t one for throwin’ up roadblocks!”
“How long a drive is it going to be?”
“Just a couple of hours. Matt’s spread is only 22 acres, but it’s got some beautiful hills and a gorgeous stream running through it.”
“Well, I guess we can sleep in the van if we have to,” Becky said doubtfully. She was leaning forward to look up at the sky through the front windshield. “It looks like rain pretty soon.”
“Oh, the tent won’t collapse from a little rain,” Sam assured her.
“But what about the stream? Won’t there be a chance of flooding?”
Sam laughed. “You’re really one for worrying about all kinds of possibilities, aren’t you?”
“I don’t usually,” Becky said tartly. “But my luck’s been rather poor lately.”
Sam didn’t answer, but Becky noticed a flush creeping up her neck. She relented. “I’m sure things will be fine, and we’ll have a good time.”
Sam looked over at her. “You mean that?”
Becky smiled and reached over to squeeze her hand. “Yes, I do. I’m actually looking forward to it.” She leaned back, enjoying the sight of flowering dogwood and wisteria flying past them. A thought occurred to her. “Sam, what do you want to buy first if we strike it rich?”
The other woman chuckled. “I hope you don’t have your heart set on striking it rich. Chances are pretty slim we’ll find anything.”
“But that’s what keeps you coming back, isn’t it? The lure of the big payoff.” She rummaged through the cooler at her feet. “Want a pop?”
“No thanks. Actually, it’s not the gold itself that keeps me coming back. It’s the surroundings. I just like the solitude.”
Becky took a long swallow of her Coke. “The solitude? You sure you want me coming along?” she joked.
“Yes,” Sam answered quietly. “I want to share this with you.” She hesitated. “Becky…I know things have been hard lately….”
“But I want you to know that I still love you. More than ever.” She took her eyes off the road briefly to look into Becky’s. “Do you believe me?”
“Of course I do,” Becky said. “And I love you too. More than ever.”
“Good,” Sam said, relaxing a bit. “Well, if we strike it rich, the first thing I’m buying is another donkey.”
“Another? But you’re too busy to maintain one!” Becky protested.
“Exactly. I’ve been neglecting poor Tobias, and I think he’d love a companion, don’t you think?”
“Hmpf,” Becky said, unconvinced.
“What are you going to buy?”
“I want to get a new washer for the B&B.”
“A washer? Is that the best you can do?” Sam started laughing.
Becky smiled reluctantly. “Hey, I’m a practical gal at heart.”
Just then it started to rain. Becky frowned at the big drops that splattered the windshield. “How are we going to set up the tent if it’s raining?”
Sam squinted at the sky. “I think it’ll let up after awhile. If not, like you said we can spend the night in the van.” She pulled over to the right lane and put on her turn signal. “This is our turnoff….won’t be long now.”
Back in Whistle Stop, Idgie’s plan was coming together nicely. Mandy and the other roofers gladly accepted their invitation to lunch at the café. There was almost a wrench thrown in the works when Delores declared she was on a diet and didn’t eat lunch, but Ruth took care of that easily.
“Honey, I’ll excuse your ignorance because you’re a Yankee,” she said sweetly. “But around here when someone issues you an invitation, it’s only polite to accept.”
“Oh! I’m sorry,” Delores said hastily, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to be rude. Of course, I’d love to come.”
“Good,” Ruth said, with nary a twinge of conscience. “Lunch is around noon, don’t be late.”
Idgie and Ruth put out quite a spread. They knew the roofers would be hungry, and nothing was better than food for keeping people occupied. Just to make sure of things, they set out some ice cold beers and Idgie started up with some fishing stories. Soon Don, Verdell and Eddie were swapping tales that were getting taller in the telling, and Idgie’s whoppers were the best by far.
Ruth sat at the other end of the table and watched her partner with a smile. The woman’s imagination was irrepressible. Of course, that sometimes had benefits in other areas….Her face grew warm as she thought about just how Idgie’s imagination could sometimes express itself.
Neither Mandy nor Delores liked to fish, so it was natural that they would turn to each other for conversation.
“You’re sorta picking at your hush puppies there,” Mandy said. “Don’t you like ’em?”
“Oh they’re very tasty,” Delores said hastily, glancing at Ruth. “But…they’re deep fried, aren’t they?”
“Sure. What do you think makes ’em tasty?” Mandy looked amused.
“Well, it’s just that…I’m trying to watch my diet.”
“You’re on a diet?” Mandy was incredulous. “Whatever for? You’re already too skinny!”
“No, I meant, watch my intake of certain–” she broke off. “What do you mean, I’m too skinny?”
“Sorry, that was a bit personal.” Mandy colored. “I just meant…you’re sorta slender is all. No reason to be on a diet.”
“Well, the only way I keep this figure is by constantly watching what I eat. I put on weight so easily…” she sighed. “It’s a constant struggle.”
“Well, I personally like a woman with some meat on her bones,” Mandy said, tucking into her deep fried okra with relish. “Women are supposed to be round, if you ask me.”
“Well, too bad there aren’t more women like you in Mariposa,” Delores said.
Mandy grinned and shrugged. “I’m not so special,” she said. “So…does that mean you don’t have a girlfriend?”
“No,” Delores said sadly. “My girlfriend broke up with me a month ago.”
“That’s tough,” Mandy sympathized.
“Yes. My ex-husband is fighting for custody of my son, and Joanne couldn’t take the stress.”
“You have a kid? How old is he?”
“He’s going to be nine in September,” Delores said. “Greg’s got him for a week, so I decided to take a break myself.”
“Everyone needs a break,” Mandy agreed. “Even moms. I love kids myself. Got any pictures?”
Delores pulled out her wallet, and soon the two of them were comparing stories, as Mandy frequently baby-sat her young nieces and nephews at home. Ruth listened to their conversation with just an occasional comment thrown in. Across the table, Idgie paused in her fish tale long enough to throw her partner a definite wink. Ruth grinned and winked back. She made a mental note to wear her special silk nightgown to bed that evening.
Back on the road, Sam and Becky had pulled off and parked well back from the creek bed, waiting for the rain to subside.
“Well, this is a fine start to the camping trip,” Becky sighed, looking out at the gray sky and rivulets of water cutting through the sandy walls of the creek.
Sam’s eyebrows rose. “It’ll clear up, don’t worry. In the meantime, I’m sure we can keep ourselves occupied.”
“Yes, I suppose….what?” Becky asked, head swiveling as the significant note in Sam’s voice suddenly hit her.
“I said, I’m sure we can find a way to occupy ourselves.” There was a small smile on Sam’s face.
Becky glanced at the large windows of the van in alarm. “No Sam, it’s wide open here! And it’s the middle of the day!”
“So?” The smile had widened considerably. “There’s no one around for miles, Bunny. Where’s your sense of adventure?” Sam climbed out of the driver’s seat with difficulty and moved to the back of the van. Before the trip she had removed the rear seats and loaded their camping gear on the floor. She was now busy pushing supplies out of the way and spreading out one of the sleeping bags.
Becky tried to make her tone more severe. “Making out in a van is for kids, Sam! I have a reputation to maintain, you know.”
“Your reputation was lost when you hooked up with a gun-toting Yankee, darlin,” Sam said, referring to the early days of their courtship, when Becky still had doubts about her character. “It’s too late to worry about it now. Best thing to do is just sit back…and enjoy the ride.”
Becky continued to frown doubtfully at her partner. Sam stretched out on the floor of the van and patted a spot on the sleeping bag next to her.
“C’mon, it’ll be fun.”
Becky glanced out of the windows of the van. There was no one in sight as far as she could see, which wasn’t far with the rain still coming down.
“Sweetheart? Come over here, please.” Sam’s voice had dropped to that register that caused chills along Becky’s spine. Her arm was extended out towards Becky and the expression on her face was one of pure love.
“I’m not taking my clothes off,” Becky said desperately, trying to resist that look.
“That’s fine,” Sam agreed softly. “We’ll pretend we’re in high school again.” Her head tilted to one side. “Please, lover? I need you next to me.”
That did it. When Sam used that term, in just that tone, Becky’s insides melted. It was impossible to resist her. She moved to the back of the van and lay down next to the blonde woman, sighing as Sam gathered her close.
“If we get in trouble, I’ll never forgive you,” she said huskily.
Sam looked down at her, eyes nearly indigo with emotion. “I’ll take that risk,” she agreed solemnly. “I love you so much, Bunny.”
Becky felt tears at the back of her throat. “Shut up and kiss me,” she said.
Sam bent her head to comply, taking her time. She brushed the chestnut curls away from Becky’s face, pausing to look over every beloved feature. “Your brown eyes remind me of sunflowers,” she whispered.
“And I get lost every time I look into the blue ocean of yours,” Becky said. Her gaze dropped to Sam’s full mouth and her breathing quickened as she watched that mouth slowly descend. Then her eyes closed and everything was touch and taste and scent.
Oh, utter, utter softness, she thought dazedly at the feel of Sam’s full lips. They were warm and gentle against her own, pressing tenderly over and over as Becky’s trembled in response. Then the feel of Sam’s tongue tracing the sensitive surface of her lips, causing Becky to groan and open her mouth to welcome her in. Sam’s tongue stroked hers almost shyly, inflaming Becky further. Her whole body was on fire, and they hadn’t done anything besides kiss.
“I want you,” Becky gasped out.
“Oh yes,” Sam replied, equally breathless. She nuzzled Becky’s neck, licking and biting, as her hand crept down to pull Becky’s T-shirt out of her shorts. Her intent was to fondle Becky’s sensitive breasts, but the younger woman surged against her impatiently.
“Please…I need you right now.” Becky’s legs parted in invitation. Sam groaned her own arousal, and reached down to run her fingertips along Becky’s smooth inner thigh. At the feel of Sam’s hand so close to where she wanted her, Becky’s hips lifted off the floor and she grabbed the collar of Sam’s shirt, pressing her body against her insistently.
In answer, Sam leaned down to nibble on Becky’s earlobe. “Are you ready for me?” she whispered. She didn’t wait for the answering moan as her fingers slipped beneath the hem of Becky’s shorts, making their way up slowly past khaki material and underwear. “Oh god, you are,” she breathed, her fingers meeting flesh that was unbelievably heated and drenched with moisture.
“Please,” Becky begged, incredibly excited. “Please….” Then her breath left her in a drawn out sigh as Sam slipped slowly into her.
“Yes,” she murmured, at the friction caused by Sam’s fingers moving back out just as gradually.
Then, “Oh yes” as they moved smoothly back in.
“Yes……yes……yesss….” Spoken over and over, tone rising and falling, now louder, now soft, her voice clearly revealing the effect of Sam’s stroking fingers.
“Yes” huskily, as the tension built…
“yes” growled with urgency, as she neared her climax…
and “yes, oh god yesyesyesyes” in a series of cries that had Sam shuddering in unison.
As the exclamations subsided and their respiration evened out, it became evident from the lack of drumming on the roof that the rain was nearly done. Sam lifted her head and peered up at the windows. “Hey, I think the storm has passed,” she said. “We can get out and mmph–” The rest of the sentence was lost in a muffled groan as Becky rolled on top of her and captured her mouth in a breath-stealing kiss.
It would be another hour before they pitched the tent.
“Wow, this is a pretty neat setup,” Becky said. She looked over the dome-shaped tent with its flexible plastic frame and marveled at how far things had come from the camping days of her youth. “When my family used to go camping, the tent was made out of canvas, and you had to be real careful not to touch the sides or it’d leak.”
Sam smiled reminiscently. “I remember those. The smell inside of them on a hot day wasn’t the most pleasant.”
“Yeah, and they never had windows either.”
“Well, stick with me, babe, and you’ll get only the best,” Sam said in a Humphrey Bogart accent.
“Especially if we strike gold,” Becky noted. She eyed the sodden-looking ground. “Um, were you thinking of making a fire?”
“Eventually. Kind of wet for that now, however.” She pulled out a rectangular box from the back of the van. “For dinner tonight….it’ll be stew on a propane stove. How does that sound?”
Becky’s eyebrows rose. “Sounds fine to me. And who’s gonna be cooking this gourmet meal?”
Sam grinned. “I am. You can sit back and languish in the afterglow.”
The younger woman snorted. “You’re glowing pretty good yourself there, prospector.”
Sam’s eyes grew serious and her grin became a very tender smile. “You tend to have that effect on me, Bunny,” she said.
They turned in early that night, wearied by the long day of driving and their lovemaking afterwards. Before crawling into the tent, Becky took one last long look at the stars overhead. The sky was a blanket of black, a sliver of moonlight turning the trees surrounding them into midnight-blue shadows. Up above, pinpoints of light blinked and twinkled at her. Except for the rush of water over stones, it was utterly silent.
“Beautiful,” Becky whispered, afraid of disturbing the reverence of evening.
Sam poked her head through the tent opening and took a deep breath of night air. “Yes, it’s very peaceful out here,” she said. “But it can get lonely at times too. That’s partly why I usually bring Tobias along with me.”
“I hope the fact that I’m here instead is okay with you,” Becky said, eyebrow raised.
“Well, you can’t carry as much as he can….” Sam began in a practical tone. At Becky’s outraged gasp she started laughing and retreated quickly into the tent.
Becky dove in after her. “Is that right? Well, the next time you feel like making out in a van, I hope Toby’s in the mood!” was the last echo on the night air before the tent flap was zipped shut.
Back at the café, Ruth’s delicious food and several cold beers had done their trick. Mandy and Delores were laughing and joking like old friends, and Delores had agreed to a movie the following night. When lunch was over and the roofers made their way back to the B&B, the blonde woman had a definite smile on her face.
Idgie nodded at Ruth as they watched Delores whistling as she helped clean up the table.
“So, what do you think of that?” Idgie said.
“Of what? Your matchmaking?” Ruth asked, amused. “Well, it’s nice you’re so pleased with yourself.”
Idgie frowned. “You don’t think it’s a good idea? Took her mind off of her problems, didn’t it? And maybe that’ll give Sam a break from dealing with them.”
“Her problems haven’t gone away,” Ruth pointed out. “And Mandy seemed like a nice girl to me.”
“Oh, Delores ain’t gonna hurt anybody,” Idgie said. “And I know her problems haven’t gone away. But it seems to me that maybe she needs a little help in the self-confidence area, and there’s nothing like a little attention to perk a gal up.”
“Hmm,” was all Ruth would say. But she had to admit that Delores wasn’t wearing that hangdog look any longer.
Mandy came by at 4:00 p.m. the next afternoon bearing a single long-stemmed red rose. Delores inhaled the flower’s heady scent and smiled.
“You really are a sweet kid, you know that?”
Mandy grinned. “I’m no kid,” she said.
“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that,” Delores said slowly. “Do we have some time?”
“Movie doesn’t start for another hour,” Mandy said. “Wanna go sit in my truck?”
They got into the shiny dark blue pickup, and Mandy began driving slowly around town. Delores hesitated, not quite sure how to begin.
“Listen, you know I like you a lot,” she began at last.
“I like you too,” Mandy said eagerly.
“But…well, I’ve got a lot of baggage. I mean,” when Mandy looked puzzled, “there are a lot of complicated things in my life. I’ve just broken off a relationship with someone, I’m about to go through a messy custody battle, my financial situation isn’t the greatest…”
“Uh…you don’t have to tell me all this, you know,” Mandy said uncomfortably. “I mean, it’s just a movie….”
Delores laughed. “You’re cute, you know that?” She tousled Mandy’s brown curls playfully. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying, sweetie. I’m just trying to avoid any misunderstandings. I like you a lot, but I’m in no shape to become involved with anyone right now.”
“Sure, I understand,” Mandy agreed. “But we can still have a good time, can’t we?”
“Well, I’d like to. But you see, I go back home tomorrow…” Delores began.
“Okay,” Mandy said, unsure of what came next.
Delores looked into Mandy’s hazel eyes and sighed. “I’ve shaken up this small town enough with my visit, that’s for sure,” she said ruefully. “The last thing I need to do is corrupt one of its citizens.”
“Corrupt me? What are you talking about?”
Delores hesitated, unable to find the words, and slowly comprehension dawned on Mandy’s face. Her puzzled expression became surprisingly knowing. “You think we’re a bunch of hicks, don’t you?”
“No, no, of course not!” Delores was distressed. She put her hand on Mandy’s muscled forearm, where it rested against the gearshift. “Look, I’m sorry. Maybe you better just take me back to Ruth and Idgie’s.”
“I’m not mad,” Mandy assured her. “I just didn’t understand, at first.” She pulled up in front of a fenced yard with a white clapboard house behind it, and turned off the engine. “You’re talking about sex, aren’t you?”
Delores flushed. “Look, I know you must think I’m some kind of slut or something….”
“Naw,” Mandy said, shaking her head. “I told you, I like you.”
“I like you too. A lot,” Delores said. “Which is why I apologize for bringing this up. I don’t know what I was thinking…you’re a nice kid and I–”
“You’re thinking you want something uncomplicated, for once,” Mandy interrupted quietly. “A connection with someone you like and trust, but one that doesn’t have to lead into something you don’t have time to commit to. You just want to have a bit of fun.”
The blonde woman stared at her in silence for a full minute. “And I thought you were a kid,” she said at last.
“Appearances can be deceiving,” Mandy winked at her. She opened the door of the truck and began climbing out.
“Where are you going?” Delores looked alarmed.
“This is my house,” Mandy pointed to the small dwelling. “I just gotta get a few things, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“On our way? To where?”
“Why, to the movie, of course,” she said, eyes widened innocently.
Mandy patted her hand and grinned. ” Leave it to me,” she said. “I know just what you need, honey.”
She was back a few minutes later sporting a mischievous grin and a small leather backpack, from which she pulled a brown paper bag.
“What’s this?” Delores asked, as the bag was handed over to her.
“Some of the finest bourbon this side of Kentucky,” was Mandy’s reply. “Have some.” As the younger woman started the engine and pulled into the street, Delores gingerly took a swig from the silver flask in the brown paper bag. She gasped as the liquid fire scorched a trail down her gullet and detonated in her stomach.
“God, that stuff’s awful!”
“Hey, you’re maligning my daddy’s best!” Mandy grabbed the flask and took a long swallow herself. Five minutes later they had pulled up outside of the Whistle Stop Theatre. Mandy parked the truck down the block and slipped the flask back into her backpack. She opened the door for Delores and held out her hand. “Ready to see the movie?”
Delores followed her to the old-fashioned box office window, where a bored-looking kid with acne and a crewcut was collecting the money. As Mandy proceeded to buy two tickets to “The Hotel New Hampshire,” Delores whispered to her, “Are we really going in there?”
“We’re going into the theater…we might not see the movie,” Mandy whispered back. “You didn’t have your heart set on seeing Jodie Foster, did you?”
“Well, actually, I had a crush on Nastassja Kinski in that movie,” Delores admitted.
“Good taste,” Mandy nodded. “But we can catch it afterwards, if you like.”
The theater was incongruously decorated in pink and gold, with posters of movies from the 1930’s decorating the walls. Delores got dizzy looking down at the paisley-patterned carpet, which was also in pink and gold. She followed Mandy willingly, her hand held tightly the roofer’s slightly callused grip. She could hear the music start up from the theater interior, but Mandy led her past the darkened entrance and to the women’s restroom. She pushed open the door and entered a lounge area, where the paisley carpet gave way to dark pink. Like the theater itself, the lounge was a throwback in time, with an overstuffed sofa along one wall and a vanity with a three-sided mirror sitting next to it. Delores sat at the rounded hassock stool in front of the vanity and ran her hands over its gilt-edged surface.
“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” she marveled.
“For touching up your makeup, I guess,” Mandy commented. She was doing a quick check of the stalls and nodded in satisfaction to find no one else inside.
“What are you doing?” Delores asked, as Mandy went to wedge a chair under the doorknob.
“Hang on a sec,” was Mandy’s reply. She tested the barrier and then turned around to wink at Delores. “Don’t want anyone walking in unexpectedly.”
“Oh? And why is that?” the California woman asked, her voice squeaking a bit with nervousness.
Mandy didn’t answer, but proceeded to take out a small battery-powered radio from the backpack. She fiddled with the tuning till she found a station playing Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On.” Next she pulled out a couple of candles, lit them, and turned off the lights. She walked over to where Delores was standing and took her in her arms.
“Atmosphere is very important, don’t you think?” she said softly. “Even when you’re just having some uncomplicated fun.”
“I…I…uh…” Delores was speechless. “Are we doing what I think we’re doing?” she asked.
“We’re dancing,” Mandy said firmly, taking Delores’s hand and moving to the music. With a sigh Delores followed, gradually relaxing at the feel of younger woman’s body against hers. Soon they were swaying to the sound of Shania’s voice, and with the candles and the moonlight filtering in through the high small windows above, damn if it wasn’t downright romantic.
“I can’t believe I’m dancing in the women’s restroom,” Delores murmured. “And yet it feels…so nice somehow.”
“Oh honey, you ain’t felt nothing yet!” Mandy chuckled, and Delores felt her heart start to pound faster.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well,” Mandy drawled, “I been thinking. You want something exciting, but uncomplicated. All right – what’s more uncomplicated than an…um, ‘encounter’ in the women’s restroom?”
Delores pulled back to look at the younger woman. “Encounter?”
“Now don’t tell me you never had fantasies…”
“Well,” Delores flushed. “Fantasies, sure. But those are just….”
“Fantasies?” Mandy filled in.
She nodded. “No one really expects them to come true.”
“Maybe it’s time they did.” She pulled the other woman’s hips against her suggestively, and Delores’s eyes widened.
“Mandy? Did I just feel–” her voice broke and she swallowed quickly before continuing. “Is that…are you…packing?”
“I’m ready for you, darlin,” was Mandy’s husky-voiced answer. “Are you ready for me?” She held onto Delores’s hips and began slowly massaging the cheeks of her ass.
Delores felt suddenly weak at the knees, and also strongly aroused. She made no protest as Mandy began to kiss her, gently at first but then with increasing urgency, using lips and tongue to coax an answering response from her. When they broke off the kiss both women were breathing hard.
“I need you,” Mandy said as her hands slid down the back of the blonde woman’s thighs and back up beneath her dress. Her fingertips traced lightly over the silky lace panties, hooking her thumbs in them and drawing them smoothly down. As she felt the wispy garment fall to the floor Delores froze instinctively. Mandy’s hands returned demurely to encircle Delores’s waist, outside her dress. She moved gently forward, forcing her partner to step back. “Step out of ’em darlin, you ain’t gonna need ’em for awhile,” she said softly.
Delores felt the heat throughout her body, but especially in her face and neck. The tiny white scrap of underwear left behind seemed to glow against the dark carpet in the dim lighting. Then she was all too aware of the brush of her dress against her thighs, against her hips, against her lower abdomen, as Mandy continued to dance her backwards. There was something so decadent about the feel of being utterly naked beneath her dress, the contrast of covered torso and high-heeled sandals – and absolutely nothing but skin in between.
Delores had assumed Mandy was steering them toward the sofa, but when she felt the leather hassock at the back of her knees, she realized they were standing in front of the vanity. Mandy reached around and lifted the back of her dress.
“Wha–” Delores began.
“Sit down,” Mandy instructed.
Startled, Delores did as she was told. When she felt the cool leather press up against her bare bottom, she gasped and blushed anew. Mandy dropped to her knees, bringing their faces level, and began kissing her again. She placed a hand on each of Delores’s knees, moved them apart, and situated herself between them. With great thoroughness she kissed the other woman, hands caressing up and down her thighs, thumbs sliding closer along the inner thighs till they brushed up against curly brown hair.
Delores was squirming on the leather hassock and moaning into Mandy’s mouth, and the younger woman was getting hotter and hotter. Her kisses traveled across Delores’s cheek, along her jawline and up again to her ear. Her full lips nibbled Delores’s earlobe, and she suckled on it briefly before darting a tongue into the tiny ear. Delores groaned.
“Oh, honey, I think you are ready for me,” Mandy said, a bit out of breath. “Over on your tummy now.” She patted the surface of the low stool Delores was sitting on.
Delores realized suddenly Mandy’s intent – to mount her from behind as she lay over the padded hassock – and her body reacted with a rush of wetness between her legs and a throbbing ache in that same region. She allowed Mandy’s hands to guide her over on her stomach, her body trembling as she felt strong denim-clad thighs urging her knees even wider apart. The hem of her dress was lifted, baring her to the waist, and then the sound of Mandy’s zipper. She squeezed her eyes tight as she waited, feeling incredibly exposed, vulnerable, and excited at the same time.
The next touch, when it finally came, was unexpected: A single fingertip, sliding gently between her lips, opening her with a deliberateness that had her grabbing at the carpet in response. The fingertip dipped into her opening, spreading the slick moisture found there along the entire length of her. She fought the urge to wriggle back against that teasing digit, but couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped.
“Yes, darlin?” Mandy’s voice was a purr.
“I need you….inside…”
“I aim to please,” was the reply, and then Delores felt the tip of the dildo poised against her opening. Mandy entered her, and the sensation of being slowly filled caused Delores to gasp. Mandy withdrew equally slowly, her hands moving to caress her thighs, her hips, her back. As her strokes gradually quickened, she reached one hand beneath to cup Delores’s mons, fingers circling on her clit in rhythm with the steady penetration.
“Oh god…” Delores could feel every smooth bump of Mandy’s strap-on, and with the slipperiness of her own lubrication, the subtle friction was driving her crazy. She felt a climax building unbelievably quickly, and began rocking back slightly to meet each thrust.
“Oh yes, baby,” Mandy growled, taking hold of Delores’s hips and pulling her back with increasing fierceness. Moments later, Delores came with a sobbing wail that caused the younger woman to close her eyes and shudder in response. She bent over the trembling woman, still buried within her but keeping carefully still, wrapping arms around her waist and placing kisses along her spine. “Thank you,” she said softly, “for that incredible gift.”
Ruth rinsed off the last supper dish and set it in the rack to dry. She pulled the plug in the drain and gazed out of the kitchen window with a sigh.
“Something wrong, hon?” Idgie asked her. She was sitting at the kitchen table sharpening cooking knives on a sharpening stone.
“It’s a beautiful evening is all. Sunset lighting up the sky,” Ruth said. “And we’re sitting inside like an old married couple.”
“We are an old married couple,” Idgie snorted. She hefted a cleaver and tested its edge. “So what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, I guess.”
Idgie had been lining up the finished knives on the checkered tablecloth, admiring their newly honed edges, but her head raised immediately at the note in her partner’s voice. It was clearly time for some TLC. She stood up and walked over to Ruth, removed her apron and took her firmly by the hand. “C’mon, let’s go sit out on the porch.”
“But what about the knives? What about the apple pie I was going to make for tomorrow?”
“The knives can wait, and so can the pie. Right now the sunset is calling. Where’s your romance, woman?”
Ruth grinned and followed her lover onto the porch. “I think it’s beginning to stir, my little bee-charmer.”
Idgie had set up a porch swing on the veranda, and they headed over to that. It was very pleasant in the evenings to sit outside and watch the comings and goings of the town, and later, after the stars came out, to listen to the chirpings and hummings of crickets and night bugs.
As they swayed gently in the wooden seat, Idgie took Ruth’s hand and squeezed it. “A penny for ’em,” she said.
“I was remembering the first time I set eyes on you,” Ruth said, her eyes far away.
Idgie blushed. “You mean up in that tree?”
“Yes,” Ruth replied, with a fond smile at her partner. “Such a little wildcat you were.”
“I think I fell right at that moment.”
Ruth frowned. “I don’t remember that. Did you hurt yourself?”
Idgie grinned. “Just bumps and bruises on my heart. I meant that I fell in love right at that moment.”
It was Ruth’s turn to blush. “Really?”
“Yup. All it took was a gaze into those big brown eyes of yours.”
She hesitated. “Any regrets?”
“Just one,” Idgie said. “That I can’t do it all over again, just to spend those years with you a second time.”
“Oh.” Tears came to Ruth’s eyes. “I love you so much, Idgie.”
“And I love you, my darling.” The porch swing came to a gradual halt as the two women shared a long kiss.
They probably would have worked themselves up into even more, but at that moment Mandy’s truck pulled up in the street, and she and Delores got out.
Idgie looked at her watch in surprise. “Well, kids, that was a quick movie.”
Mandy grinned. “Uh, we didn’t exactly see the whole thing.”
“No? Was it that bad?”
Mandy was at a loss for words. Ruth looked from her hesitant expression to the blush on Delores’s face, and elbowed her partner in the ribs. “Honey, I think maybe the picture didn’t interest them much.”
“But then why would they go to see…oh,” she broke off, a sudden smirk appearing on her face. “I get it. More action in the seats, eh?”
“The restroom, actually,” Mandy admitted, her grin growing wider.
“Oh please! Don’t you small-towners have any sense of privacy?” Delores exclaimed, hiding her face in her hands. The rest of them laughed.
“Honey, don’t you mind those two, they’re don’t always act like they were raised in a barn,” Ruth shook her head meaningfully at Idgie, who reluctantly abandoned her teasing.
Just then a vehicle pulled up behind Mandy’s truck. Idgie frowned and sat up.
“Hey, isn’t that the van Becky and Sam rented? Now why the heck are they back so early?”
The four women watched as Becky and Sam exited the van. Sam’s jaw was set in an obstinate manner, and Becky’s face was a storm cloud.
“What happened?” Idgie called out as soon as they came within hearing distance. “You two weren’t supposed to be back for another couple of days!”
“Emergency,” Sam explained shortly, while Becky gave a derisive snort.
“I knew I should’ve hidden the damn cell phone!” she muttered.
Ruth ran a quick eye over both of them. “Somebody in trouble?”
“Oh, nobody’s sick or hurt,” Becky said in disgust. “It’s her stupid job!”
Sam flashed her an angry look. “I have an urgent matter to attend to at work,” she said to the other women. “I’m afraid I have to leave right away.” She walked across the street to the B&B, leaving silence in her wake.
Finally Delores cleared her throat. “Sam always did have weak spot where her career is concerned,” she said.
“The weak spot is in her head,” Becky snapped, to no one in particular. “Idgie, you got any whisky handy?” She stomped into the café, heading for the kitchen.
“Uh, sure,” said Idgie, raising her eyebrows and shrugging at Ruth.
“Go ahead, and keep an eye on her,” the dark-haired woman replied. “I’m going to see to Sam.” She stepped off the porch and headed for Becky’s B&B.
Idgie sighed and nodded. “Now why is it that the path of love is always so damn bumpy?” she asked ruefully. She sent Delores and Mandy a narrow glance before she left. “You kids stay out of trouble, you hear? We’ve got enough excitement around here as it is.”
“Kids?” Delores asked indignantly. “And stay out of trouble? What the hell does she think we’re going to do out here on the porch?!”
Mandy’s grin was devilish. “Well, I’ve always had this fantasy involving a swing…” she said, eyeing the wooden bench hanging from the rafters.
Delores’s breath left her in a gasp. “You can’t be serious!” she said, eyes wide.
Mandy winked. “Maybe not. Well, at least not with this swing,” she said regretfully. “I don’t think it’s quite high enough….”
“I’m not listening to this!” Delores cried, hands over her ears. “No wonder Idgie decided she had to warn you!”
Mandy chuckled irresistibly. “Oh, we kids can find all kinds of trouble when we want to,” she agreed.
Over at the B&B, Sam was busy packing and cursing under her breath. “What does she think, that I like being called in unexpectedly?! What am I supposed to do when they fuckin’ need me – ignore it?! Ow – shit!” This last as she shut a dresser drawer on her fingertip.
Ruth entered the bedroom and surveyed the scene. Sam was scowling and sucking on her finger, glaring at her suitcase open on the bed. Her clothes were piled rather haphazardly inside.
“You know, Becky was really looking forward to that camping trip,” Ruth began mildly.
“Well, so was I!” Sam said angrily. “Being called in to work wasn’t something I planned, you know!”
“So there’s absolutely no one else they could turn to?” Ruth asked. “What if they hadn’t been able to get in touch with you? Wouldn’t they have to muddle through somehow?”
“That’s not the point,” Sam argued, as she began pulling clothes off of hangers in the closet. “The point is, sometimes we have responsibilities we have to attend to, like it or not. And Becky should understand that.”
“What about your responsibility to Becky?”
Sam whirled around. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, hands on her hips.
“Well, it seems to me that your relationship deserves some attention too….”
“You think I don’t know that?!” Sam sounded exasperated. “That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to Becky! None of you seem to have any idea of how much time and energy my career requires! But once I take care of this little crisis, I can turn all of my attention to Becky, instead of being distracted by work. Why can’t she see that?”
Ruth gazed at her in silence. “Come with me,” she said finally.
“I have something to show you.”
“Look, Ruth, I have to catch the next flight out…”
“It won’t take long.”
“I really don’t have the time right–” her voice broke off in a squeak as the older woman stepped forward and grabbed her by the earlobe. “Hey, that hurts, Ruth! Okay, okay, I’m coming! You don’t have to pull….”
But Ruth kept hold of Sam’s ear, knowing from her experience with Buddy Jr. how it insured compliance, no matter how large the subject. She went into Becky’s kitchen and began searching through her cupboards. Finally she spied a Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar, the gallon-sized glass container empty and washed clean. “This’ll do,” she murmured.
She released Sam and motioned her to follow. Sam did so, rubbing her ear resentfully. Ruth led the way to the outskirts of Becky’s garden, where a pile of rocks had been assembled in the process of making beds. She hunkered down next to the pile and waited till Sam joined her. Then she began placing fist-sized stones in the jar. When no more would fit, she looked at Sam meaningfully.
“So what do you think? Is the jar full?”
Sam stared at her. “Huh?”
“Would you say this jar is full?” Ruth repeated patiently.
“Well, yeah, I guess so.”
“Not quite.” Ruth grabbed a trowel and began adding smaller sized stones to the jar. They filled the spaces between the larger rocks snugly. “Okay. Now is the jar full?”
Sam eyed the jar doubtfully. “Uh…not yet?”
Ruth picked up the trowel once again and filled in the remaining spaces with sandy soil. “Now?” she asked, once she was done.
Sam shrugged, unwilling to answer.
Ruth grabbed a garden hose and turned on the spigot, filling the jar to the top with water. “And now?” she asked at last.
Sam stared at the now mud-filled container. She couldn’t imagine how anything more could be added. “It’s full,” she said.
Ruth nodded. “Looks pretty full to me too,” she agreed. “Do you understand what you’re looking at, honey?”
Sam’s brows lowered and she sighed impatiently. “Yeah. You’re trying to show me that no matter how filled I think my life is, there’s always room for more.”
Ruth shook her head with smile. “No, you thickheaded Yankee, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Pay attention now: If you don’t put the big things in first, you’re not gonna get them in at all.”
Sam stared at her in silence for a full minute. “Would you excuse me? I need to talk to Becky.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Ruth agreed.
Sam found her partner in the café, lying flat on her back on the seat of the booth closest to the bar. On the table above her was half a bottle of Idgie’s finest whisky and two empty shot glasses. The proprietor herself was seated on the opposite side of the booth, and the look she gave Sam was sheepish.
“What’s wrong with Becky?” Sam frowned. “Is she sick?”
“Not yet,” Idgie answered doubtfully. “But I think maybe she’s had enough for one night.”
“I’m fine,” came the sulky answer from beneath the table. “I’m just resting my eyes.” She struggled to raise herself to a half-sitting position. “I’m not going with you,” she said, slurring her words slightly.
“You’re not?” Sam said mildly.
“No. I’m came here for a vacation, and I’m going to finish it. It’s only another three days, but I’m damned if I’m going to go back one second earlier than I have to. We’re having fun, aren’t we, Idgie?”
“Loads,” the blonde proprietor replied with a sigh.
“Okay,” Sam said agreeably, sliding into the booth next to Idgie. “Then I’ll join you.”
“I know your damn job always comes first,” Becky continued peevishly. “So I don’t know why I thought it would be any different this time…just because we had that camping trip planned.” She lay back down, her arm covering her eyes.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that.”
“And if it’s not your job, it’s Delores. Even though she seems to be doing just fine, if you ask me.”
“You’re right,” Sam said quietly.
“And yes, I know we’ve been over all this before….what did you say?” She rose up on one elbow, staring at Sam.
“I said ‘you’re right’,” Sam replied.
“I’m right?” Becky repeated. Her eyes narrowed. “Okay, who the hell are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?”
Idgie snickered, then quickly turned it into a cough at the look Sam sent her.
“Don’t you have something you should be attending to?” Sam asked her.
“Nope,” the bee-charmer replied with a grin, pouring herself another shot of whisky. “Got all night, as a matter of fact.”
“Great,” Sam muttered. “In that case, pour me one too.”
Idgie filled the two shot glasses and they each lifted one in silent toast.
“Sam,” Becky’s tone was ominous, “I’m serious about this.”
“Yes, darling, so am I,” was Sam’s reply. She stared at the amber liquid in her glass. “You’re right, I’ve been…neglectful. My career has always been very important to me, and sometimes I lose sight of things that are even more important. I can’t promise to change overnight, but I do promise to try to be better about balancing things, okay?”
Becky continued to stare at her lover. “I don’t understand. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“It’s not exactly sudden,” Sam said uncomfortably. “But…well…Ruth showed me how much my priorities were affecting my life.”
“Jar full of rocks?” Idgie asked wisely.
“Gets ’em every time,” Idgie murmured, swallowing her drink in one gulp.
Becky frowned. “Well, I suppose I should be glad you feel that way….even if took something Ruth said to get through to you after all these months.” She picked morosely at a fingernail.
“Honey, it may have taken Ruth’s rather graphic illustration to get through my thick skull, but it was you who really made a difference, you know,” Sam said gently.
Becky looked up. “You don’t have to say that.”
“It’s true,” Sam insisted. “Nothing Ruth said would’ve made a damn bit of difference if I didn’t have a reason to change. You are the reason I want to change my life. You are the most important change I’ve ever made in my life! Sweetheart, when I met you, I fell head over heels…and nothing’s been the same since.”
She reached across the table and took hold of Becky’s hand. “You make me want to be a better person, my love,” Sam said humbly. “Will you forgive my sometimes idiotic single-mindedness, and give me another chance?”
Becky looked at her for a long time. “You just try and get rid of me,” she replied at last. “I’ve always been in for the long haul.”
Sam smiled. “Me too. Shall we go to bed, my love?”
Becky nodded, then stood up and stretched. “Goodnight, Idgie,” she called as she followed Sam out the door.
“So everything is fine with the two lovebirds?” Ruth asked Idgie later, as they lay side-by-side in their big four-poster bed.
“Seems so,” Idgie yawned. “About time, too.”
“And no more problems with Delores?”
Idgie chuckled. “I think it’s safe to say that she’ll be Mandy’s problem more than Sam’s from now on.” She shook her head. “Ex’s! They’re more trouble than they’re worth.” She scowled, thinking about Ruth’s ex-husband and how close she had come to losing her to that maniac.
Ruth patted her leg reassuringly. “Never mind,” she said. “What counts is how your partner feels about you now, not how she felt about some old flame.”
Idgie snorted. “Easy for you to say,” she pointed out. “What if one of my old girlfriends suddenly showed up and got involved in our lives? Wouldn’t you be ready to toss me out the door?”
“Are you kidding? After all the trouble I went through to land you? And then finally get you trained right?”
Idgie, in the act of leaning over to turn out the lamp on the nightstand, froze and turned back to her lover with an outraged expression. Then she noticed the twinkle in Ruth’s eye. “Hah, very funny! You almost got me with that one,” she said, turning off the lamp and settling down into the comfortable mattress.
“Oh, I got you all right, no almost about it,” came Ruth’s reply in the darkness, and her voice was immensely satisfied.
Idgie didn’t bother counter that one. After all, what could she say? It was accurate. It was undeniable. And she wouldn’t have had it any other way.