This is an original story about two women with characters that are, completely, mine. There is no sex -sorry J - and a few swear words. Please do not reproduce, copy, or otherwise distribute this story without my permission. As always, I would like to hear your comments, so please write me at email@example.com
Copyrighted November 2004
The century-plus old wooden planked fishing pier sticks out from the shore like a finger pointing to the horizon. Occupying the head of the pier, and squeezed between the ocean waves and the passing highway, sits a restaurant crowded with people. At the rear of the restaurant, a door opens and a woman slips outside. Closing the door behind her, she pauses to take a deep breath. The cool sea air and relative quiet a welcome reprieve after being inside the stuffy, noisy restaurant for the past hours. Grateful to find herself alone, except for the occasional seagull hunting for scrapes of bait dropped by the day's fishermen, she slowly walks to the end of the deserted pier. Reaching the railing that prevents her from going any further, she stands gazing out over the vast expanse of ocean that extends westward. Bending slightly forward, she leans down to rest her elbows on the worn and splintered railing.
Sandy felt lonely. The deep down, sickening knot in your stomach, want to die kind of lonely that comes after you loose someone you thought you would always have. It was the only thing Debbie had left her with. Well, that and a broken heart that ached so much she thought she'd never be happy again. Closing her eyes, Sandy tilted her head back to allow the salty breeze wash over her in a fruitless attempt to ease her pain, her mind again replaying the events that had brought her to this spot.
They were walking a forest path covered with several inches of newly fallen snow, their snowshoes making little sound as they plowed through the fresh powder. It was late morning and the sun was shining brightly in the sky giving the impression of a much warmer day. Sandy looked up to enjoy the snow-dusted ponderosa pines that lined the path and surrounded them. She smiled thinking it was a perfect morning for snow shoeing- fresh snow, a brilliant sunny yet crisp day and, best of all, sharing it with the woman she loved.
When the path rounded a bend and began to parallel a small creek, Debbie stopped for a breather, shoving her ski poles into a snowdrift and removing her gloves.
"Beautiful morning, isn't it?" Sandy asked stepping up alongside Debbie, being careful not to place her wide snowshoes atop her lover's.
"Yeah," Debbie answered, removing her pseudo-fur-lined hat and shaking out the shoulder length blond hair hidden under it to release some of the heat built up during their walk.
"I just love being out after a snow storm," Sandy sighed reaching for Debbie, wanting to increase her enjoyment of the experience by embracing her partner. Just before she could wrap her arms around Debbie, her lover stepped away, making it impossible for Sandy to reach her. Sandy frowned. The movement didn't surprise her. Not much, anyway. It was a reaction that had become much too prevalent of late.
"Is everything okay, Deb?" Sandy asked even though she was sure what the answer would be.
"Yeah, fine" Debbie said replacing her hat and pulling on her gloves. "Let's get going. I can't wait to get back home to a cup of hot chocolate."
Debbie had tried to sound cheery but Sandy could hear the tension under the words. She pulled off her own warm hat and tucked it under an arm so she could scrub her hands through her hair. For weeks, she had sensed a distance growing between herself and Debbie, her partner of almost two years. But every time she tried to get Debbie to talk about it she refused, always assuring Sandy that nothing was wrong. Yet, Sandy knew the chasm between them was growing with each passing minute.
Her enjoyment of the beautiful winter day spoiled, Sandy trudged behind Debbie as they followed the path out of the trees and across an open field to the house they shared on a few acres of forested land. Debbie had already removed her snowshoes and had disappeared inside the house by the time Sandy arrived at the back porch. She released the bindings and stepped out of the snowshoes, stomping her winter boots to remove as much snow as she could before sitting on the steps to remove them.
Sandy sat dejectedly on the cold concrete steps. From the depths of her thoughts a forbidden one fought its way through the others- Deb was growing tired of their relationship.
'No,' Sandy shook her head at the thought and argued against it, 'it can't be that. We're only at the beginning of our life together. Deb's just having a bad few days and I'm being insecure. I'm sure everything is fine between us. She loves me as much as I love her. After all, isn't that what she said this morning at breakfast.'
The cold of the concrete was seeping through her insulated winter pants and Sandy stood to seek the warmth inside the house. She smiled as she reached for the doorknob, thinking to herself that Debbie would be inside waiting for her and she would see how silly her earlier thoughts truly were. She hurried inside to find Debbie sitting on the couch enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.
"That smells good," Sandy said as the delicious aroma of the warm cocoa reached her. "Is my cup in the kitchen?"
"Oh," Debbie looked up from the magazine she was flipping through. "I didn't know you wanted one," she said, casually, before returning her attention to the pages of the magazine.
"That's okay," Sandy muttered as she padded to the kitchen, "I'll make it myself."
Sandy held the pot under the faucet to fill with water, not only had Debbie not made her anything to drink but she hadn't even left any water warming on the stove for her. This was another new behavior of Debbie's that was becoming more and more common. 'When did she start to disregard me?' Sandy wondered as she watched the pot fill. Suddenly, hot chocolate didn't sound as good as it had moments before. She turned off the faucet and set the partially filled pot on a burner but turned away without turning it on.
Instead of returning to the living room, Sandy stood at the patio door and, with unseeing eyes, peered outside while she thought. She again pushed away the small voice in the back of her head telling her that the woman she loved had grown tired of her. The thought was enough to make her sick. But that wasn't possible, was it? Debbie was everything she had always hoped for in a companion and lover. She was happy with Debbie and she wished for nothing more then to spend the next fifty years with the woman. A wish Debbie had repeatedly echoed.
'But,' the small voice popped back up.
Sandy had to agree. Something was wrong and, try as she might, she couldn't get Debbie to talk to her. Instead, Debbie would tell her that everything was okay and that she was happy with their relationship. Was Debbie lying to her? Why would she? No, it had to be something else. Debbie must be worried about her work. Or, something else. Anything else. It couldn't be her. Could it?
"Aren't you coming back out here, Sandy?" Debbie called from the living room.
Sandy turned at the sound of her lover's voice. Debbie hadn't sounded upset just then. Maybe it was all in her imagination she thought. "Yes, I'm coming."
"We need to talk," Debbie said from her position on the couch as soon as Sandy reappeared from the kitchen.
"Okay," Sandy timidly moved to sit on the couch next to Debbie.
"No," Debbie held up her hand, "sit over there." She pointed to the lazy boy chair on the opposite side of the front room.
Sandy quietly complied.
"There's really no point in putting this off any longer," Debbie began. "I've been doing some thinking," Debbie continued, her voice flat and emotionless, "and this isn't the right relationship for me. I've decided we need to break up."
Hearing the words, Sandy felt her heart being ripped from her chest and she had to fight the urge to run to the bathroom and throw up.
"What are you talking about?" Sandy asked, her heart braking into a million pieces. She couldn't believe that her worst fear was coming to light.
"It's over, Sandy," Debbie told her, the determined look on her face offering no prospect of any other options.
"Why, Deb? Why?" Sandy asked the woman she adored. 'I love you, I thought we were good together."
"We were," Deb shrugged her shoulders. "But, it's not right. It's just not what I'm looking for."
"You said you loved me."
"I do love you. But, it's not enough, Sandy."
"How can you say that? This has been the happiest time of my life. You said you were just as happy."
"I know," Debbie finished off the hot chocolate in her cup. "But, I don't think it'll work," she said, offhandedly, as she put the cup on the coffee table. "I think it's better to just end it now."
"You think? What about what I think? Don't I get a say in this, Deb?" Sandy felt the tears building in her eyes, "we've been together two years and you just decide it's over. Why? What happened? What changed? What did I do?" she cried as the tears began to fall.
"Look, Sandy," Debbie leaned over, stretching to reach the box of tissues on the end table. She flipped the box to Sandy, "I've been thinking about this for months, it's not going to work."
"How can you say that? It's been wonderful between us. You're everything I always wanted in a partner," Sandy unsuccessfully tried to stop the flow of tears. "And, you said the same about me."
"I know," Debbie leaned back on the couch, "but I was wrong. Please, don't make this harder than it has to be."
"Did you meet somebody?" Sandy asked through the tears. Debbie traveled quite a bit for her job and Sandy knew it was a possibility.
"No. It's not that."
"Then, what. What's changed? Hell, Deb, just yesterday we were talking about places we'd like to travel to. You said you were happy. That you were looking forward to spending the rest of your life with me. So, what's changed in the last few hours?"
Sandy couldn't believe that the woman she loved so deeply could be telling her it was over. And, doing it so unemotionally.
"Things change, Sandy. It's not you. You haven't done anything. In fact, you're a really nice person. And, that's a good thing but I'm just not use to someone treating me so well. And," she paused to take a short breath.
"DON'T," Sandy's jaw clenched as the words slapped her in the face. "Don't you dare say that to me. Since we met, you've told me how you couldn't believe someone would want to treat you so nicely and how much you appreciated me wanting to take care of you. Now, you're telling me you want out because of that. I don't get it, Deb," Sandy glared at the aloof woman on the couch. "Do you want me to treat you like crap like your previous lovers? To demean and humiliate you? To call you names, criticize everything about you? What do you want? WHAT?" she cried, hurling the box of tissues across the room to crash against the fireplace. Sandy slumped back into the chair. In a voice so full of pain it was barely audible, she continued, "I love you, Debbie. I love you so much it hurts sometimes and I still can't believe how lucky I was to meet you. I treat you nice because I love you," she raised her eyes to look into Debbie's, "I can't treat you any other way."
"I know," Debbie smiled stoically, "and I'll always love you for that but I can't be with you. It's too much for me. I can't breathe when you're around. I can't deal with you wanting to spend so much time with me, to always want to include me. To be honest, Sandy, you're smothering me."
Sandy stood up to retrieve the box of tissues. "I thought that's what being in a relationship was, Debbie. To be together, to do things together, to want to include the other person."
"I don't know how else to explain it." Debbie squirmed on the couch. "Dammit, Sandy, you can't even go into the kitchen for a glass of water without asking if I want one too. Don't you see?"
"Then, I guess you'll just have to accept that I have my reasons, even if you can't understand them."
"So, that's it? I don't get a vote on this?" Sandy asked as she picked up the box of tissues, removing a few as she returned to the lazy boy. "We're not even going to discuss it?"
"There's nothing to discuss. I have to do what's best for me and," Debbie shrugged, "I've made up my mind."
Sandy blew her nose. "I can't believe you're saying this. I thought we had the perfect life together."
"It was good, Sandy. You are a wonderful woman and I really thought I'd finally found the perfect partner. You have made me happy, you really have. It's just·,"
Shaking her head in disbelief, Sandy finished the sentence Debbie had started, "not good enough to make a life with me? God, Deb, I just don't get this. What more could I do? There has to be something you're not telling me."
"I don't want to get into that, Sandy," Debbie dropped her eyes to her hands that began nervously chaffing them against one another. "We had two good years together, let's leave it at that."
"No," Sandy took a deep breath as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. "You aren't telling me the truth," she again wondered if Deb had ever told her the truth. "What's going on?"
"Sandy, you're a nice person," she continued, ignoring Sandy's groan, "and you're fun to be with, to do things with. But, I need my own space. I want time to do what I want," she hesitated, "without you."
"That's bull, Deb. You have all the time you need to do things you want. I've never demanded that we spend every moment of the day together. Even if that's what I would want."
"Sandy, I don't want to get into to this."
"Well, I do. Tell me."
"Can't you just accept that this isn't right for me. I don't know how else to say it, I just feel smothered when you're around. I need time alone."
"Hell, you're out of town at least a week a month. Isn't that enough time for you to be alone? Please, Debbie, I need to understand. How do I smother you? Give me an example."
"You expect me to tell you where I'm going and when I'll get back. Like the other day when I went into town for my meeting, you wanted me to call and tell you I'd made it there."
"Jeez, Debbie," Sandy laughed at the absurdity of the situation, "it was freezing, the wind was blowing and it was snowing and you know haw nasty that roads get under those conditions. I was concerned about you so I asked you to call so I wouldn't worry. People who care about each other do that, Deb. Usually without being asked to," she added.
"I shouldn't have to report to you every minute, Sandy. I'm not a child."
"I never thought you were," Sandy let out a long breath.
"It's not just that," Deb continued. "I need more out of a relationship, Sandy. I don't just want someone who's fun to be around. I want, I need more· more intimacy."
Dumbfounded, Sandy stared at Debbie. This was coming from the woman who had spent the last months pushing her away, avoiding all intimate contact whenever she could. Coming up with excuses not to hug, kiss, or simply touch. Not to mention they hadn't made love in so long Sandy couldn't remember the last time. 'Thank god Debbie travels,' she thought, 'otherwise, I would have exploded by now.'
"Deb, it's hard to be intimate with someone who won't even touch you," Sandy said quietly.
Debbie said nothing, her eyes remaining locked on her own hands.
"So, now what?" Sandy shook her head in disbelief. "You've decided it's over, where does that leave me?"
"I have that business trip this week," Debbie finally looked up to meet Sandy's eyes. "I think that should give you enough time to find a place and be gone by the time I get back."
"Shit," Sandy grunted. "One week to clear out, huh? Not much notice after sharing my life with you for two years."
"Yeah," Sandy rose from the chair, "me, too." With a final look at the woman who had yet to shed a single tear or show any sign of regret, she walked out of the house.
Sandy drove to a nearby park where she found a secluded parking spot shielded by trees from the many cross-country skiers and others out enjoying the nice day. Turning off the ignition, she laid her seat as far back as it would tilt. Then, she let loose the hold she had maintained on her emotions and wept.
It was late afternoon when Sandy returned to the house she had come to think of as 'ours'. She wasn't surprised to find the garage empty, Debbie probably left not too long after she had. Deciding there was no reason to delay the inevitable, especially since Debbie hadn't left any room for trying to talk her out of her decision, Sandy quickly washed her tear-streaked face before making her way to the storage shed behind the house where they kept some boxes. She took as many as she could carry and walked back to the house. Beginning in the room they used as an office, she began to pack as fresh tears flowed from her eyes.
Sandy heard Debbie when she came back to the house several hours later. She wanted to go to her and make sure she was okay but didn't. She was still bothered by Debbie's complete lack of emotion during their conversation and the way she had made the decision to break up their relationship on her own. 'Besides, I don't want to smother her.' she thought sarcastically, then instantly regretted her feelings. She hoped Debbie would seek her out but she didn't.
Tired from the emotional drain and hours of packing, Sandy turned off the light in the office and walked down the hall to their bedroom. Debbie met her at the door with a pillow and blanket in hand.
"I thought you could sleep on the couch," Debbie handed the items to a shocked Sandy. "Under the circumstances, it would be uncomfortable to have you sleep in here with me," she said as she pulled the bedroom door closed.
Sandy was too astonished to say or do anything, she listened to the quiet click as the door lock slid into place. After staring at the closed door for several minutes, she turned away. Carrying the pillow and blanket, she moved back down the hallway to the front room and the couch, her new bed. She got no sleep that night, her mind refusing to allow any. Instead she spent the next several hours wondering if she had ever really known the woman she so desperately loved.
The next few days had been a whirlwind of activity for Sandy as she struggled to finish packing and find an apartment while she continued to go to work and pretend nothing was wrong. She lucked into a small, furnished two-bedroom not far from her office and, with the help of a friend, moved in while Debbie was out of town. All that was left of her life with her lover was to turn over the house keys.
Waiting for Debbie's plane to land, Sandy questioned her sanity for agreeing to pick her soon-to-be ex-lover up. But, she had committed to do so before Debbie's shocking announcement and she had felt obligated to follow through. She laughed to herself when she recalled her friend telling her she was crazy to do so.
"Boy, you are too nice," Julie had said as they carried boxes into her new apartment. "I'd let her take a cab."
"It would cost her an arm and a leg to take a cab that far," Sandy said, stacking her box atop several others.
"Yeah, like money's a problem for her," Julie grunted as she dropped her box. "Don't do it," she reached over, grabbing Sandy's arm.
"I have to," Sandy patted Julie's hand. "I know it's crazy but I just do."
"Yeah, I know," Julie pulled Sandy into an embrace, hugging her tightly. "She's nuts to let you go. You know that, right?"
"Doesn't help," Sandy sniffled as her eyes filled with tears for the thousandth time. She was amazed she still had any left to shed.
"Not now," Julie tightened her hold. "But, it will."
Sandy's thoughts turned back to the present when she heard Debbie's flight announced as pulling up to the terminal gate.
It was a quiet ride back to the house they had shared, with Sandy unable to say much even though her ex-partner tried to keep the conversation light. Her emotions were on edge and the lump in her throat was so large she couldn't have said much even if she wanted. She so wanted to reach over and take Debbie's hand into her own but didn't knowing the gesture wouldn't be appreciated.
Sandy breathed a sigh of relief when they finally pulled into the driveway. After parking, she helped carry Debbie's bags inside. "Well," she said, standing just inside the front room. "I guess this is it."
"You've moved out?" Debbie asked.
"All my stuff is at my apartment. I left the address on your desk so you can forward any of my mail that comes here. I've already let the post office know but you never can tell how long it'll take for everything to get straightened out." She kept her voice calm even though she was hurting so bad inside she thought she'd crumble into a million pieces at any moment.
"Okay," Debbie was walking around the front room, looking at the items still remaining on the shelves. "You didn't take anything of mine, right?"
It was more of an accusation than a question and Sandy wasn't happy to hear it either way.
"I would never do that, Deb. I took what was mine before we met and some personal stuff I bought since then." There was a lot she had purchased for the house that she was leaving, not having much need for it in her small apartment. And, items she had purchased for their shared life. She had left those too, not wanting the memories that would come with them.
"I have to ask," Debbie looked at Sandy, "you know that I lost some valuable things in previous breakups."
"God, Debbie," Sandy shook her head in disbelief, "when will you learn that I'm not one of your previous girlfriends? If you don't trust me, why don't you look around before I leave."
"Alright," Debbie said as she headed for the kitchen.
Debbie had moved into the house shortly before they met. It was bigger than the house Sandy had been renting so when they decided to take their growing relationship to the next level, they agreed Sandy would move in here. Into what was to be their home. Waiting for Debbie to inspect each room, Sandy realized that Debbie never believed the house to be their home. In her mind, it had always been hers.
"Shit," Sandy sadly admitted she had never truly known the woman she loved. Pulling the house keys off her key ring to give them to Debbie when she reappeared, she muttered, "I can't get out of here fast enough."
"Okay," Debbie smiled when she returned to the front room. "Everything looks good."
"Thanks for the trust," Sandy sighed.
"It's not that I don't' trust you," Debbie began.
"I know," Sandy cut her short. "You just can't believe I won't rip you off like you're used to your girlfriends doing."
"Yeah." Debbie at least had the good grace to look sheepish.
"Here are the house keys," Sandy handed over the keys. "And, don't worry, I didn't make any copies," try as she might, she couldn't hide the frustration in her voice.
"Sandy, don't be like that," Debbie frowned. "Look I'm sorry it didn't work out. I really am. You'll find someone, Sandy. You're just too nice a person not too."
"I thought I had," Sandy mumbled. "I've got to go."
"Hug?" Debbie opened her arms wide.
"I don't think so," Sandy sidestepped around Debbie to reach the door. She knew that if she hugged Debbie she would never be able to let go.
"Come on, Sandy," Debbie turned to follow.
"I can't, Debbie. It hurts too much." Sandy saw the look of pain on Debbie's face but ignored it, placing the emphasis on her own feelings for the first time in a long time.
"You know that's just the way I am, Sandy," Debbie pouted. "I'm a touchy, feelly kind of gal," she grinned, trying to lighten the mood.
'Not for the past several months,' Sandy thought to herself as she opened the door. "Good bye, Deb."
"Will I see you around?"
"I don't know. I need time."
"It really doesn't bother you that you broke my heart, does it?" annoyed with her attitude, Sandy confronted her now ex-lover.
"That's your problem," Debbie told her. "Get over it."
A few weeks later, Sandy stood at her mailbox. Buried in the stack of bills and junk mail was a reminder that her 30th high school reunion was about to take place. Thinking it was the perfect opportunity to take her mind off Debbie and the life she had lost, Sandy hurried back inside her apartment and booked a flight. The next day she told her boss that she needed to take some personal time and would have to be gone for a few days.
And that's how she came to find herself standing at the end of a century old fishing pier staring out at an empty ocean, alone and with a broken heart that still yearned for her lost love.
Sandy opened her eyes. Coming here had been a mistake. Even in a restaurant full of people she hadn't seen in thirty years, she could only think of Debbie and the future she thought they would be sharing. Her ears picked up the sound of laughter and she turned towards the beach. She spotted a pair of lovers walking in the sand at the edge of the water. The scene too painful to watch, she quickly turned back to the ocean.
The sun had begun to set and the sky was changing from a brilliant blue to multiple shades of reds, oranges and pinks. It was beautiful and Sandy took in a deep breath of salty air, surprisingly feeling content for the first time since the break up. "Beautiful," she murmured.
Sandy's head whipped around at the sound of the other voice. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't heard anyone approach.
"I'm sorry," a dark-haired woman smiled at Sandy, "did I startle you?"
"I thought I was alone," Sandy said, sounding more bothered than she truly felt.
"I can leave," the woman turned to walk back to the restaurant.
"No," Sandy shook her head. She smiled when the other woman hesitated, "I mean, I don't own the pier. Please stay."
"Okay," the woman relaxed. Placing her elbows on the railing, she assumed an identical pose to Sandy's moments before. "Beautiful evening."
"I'm sorry I disturbed you but I needed some fresh air. The restaurant was getting a bit stuffy. Especially with that crowd from the high school reunion."
"I felt the same way."
"You part of them?"
"Yes. What about you?" Sandy asked, not remembering seeing the woman inside the restaurant.
"No, I had a business dinner. You're from around here?" the dark-haired woman turned to study Sandy. "I don't recall seeing you before."
"I grew up here but I left right after I graduated. I haven't been back since." Sandy looked at the woman. She was a little taller than herself and Sandy imagined her having a healthy, athletic body under the comfortable suit of slacks and blazer she wore. She appeared to be about the same age but it was hard to judge due to her deeply tanned skin, glowing in the fading light
"So why come back now?"
"Long, sad story," Sandy turned back to the ocean. "It was a mistake," she sighed.
"Want to talk about it?"
"I'm afraid I'd bore you."
"I might surprise you."
Sandy contemplated the offer. She did want to talk, her friends back home had been sympathetic about her breakup with Debbie. But, as the weeks past, they wanted to hear about it less and less. Sandy still had a need to put a voice to her feelings but was a complete stranger the one to do it with?
"Sandy," a woman called from the back door of the restaurant that occupied the head of the pier, "are you out here?"
"I'm here," Sandy called back.
"Well, come on. We're getting ready to go back to the hotel. So, if you don't want to walk, get it in gear."
"Sorry," Sandy smiled at the dark-haired woman. "I rode here with some people. I have to go."
"I have to go, I don't have any way to get back to the hotel."
"I'll take you."
"I don't even know you."
"Marcie Toffee," the dark-haired woman reached out her hand. "Pleased to meet you. I have my own wheels, I'm not an ax murderer, and I'd be happy to give you a ride back to your hotel when you're ready. Somehow," she smiled, "I don't think you're ready to leave quite yet."
"Do murderers still use axes to kill people?" Sandy laughed, intrigued by the stranger.
"Sandy, are you coming?" the voice called out from the restaurant.
Sandy hesitated. She should go back. But, then·.
"Go on without me," Sandy shouted back. "I'll grab a cab."
"Gave up kinda easy, didn't she?" Marcie asked.
"I supposed that's to be expected. They haven't seen me in thirty years and they're too busy having fun to want a wet blanket around."
"You don't look like a wet blanket to me," Marcie grinned, although it was almost too dark to see it. The few light standards along the pier were some distance apart and gave off just enough faint light to avoid walking into something but not much more. "There's a bench over there. Do you want to sit? Or, we can go back inside."
"No, I'd like to sit. It's too nice out here to go back in, just yet."
"Alright." Marcie studied Sandy as she followed her to the bench. Sandy was about her same height but with, what she liked to refer to as, a little extra padding, but not overly so. And she guessed her to be slightly older based on her attendance at the reunion and a touch of gray in Sandy's short chestnut hair. But, it was Sandy's face that attracted her attention. Deep blue eyes sparkled when she talked and she had the cutest dimples when she smiled.
"I didn't realize how much I've missed the ocean," Sandy said after drawing in another lungful of sea air.
"Where do you live now?"
"Guess that is a way's from any ocean," Marcie laughed.
"Nowadays, anyway. In prehistoric times, Montana, at least part of it, was under a huge inland sea," Sandy explained.
"I see you're a A&E and Discovery fan."
"And, you probably lean towards ESPN."
"Oh," Marcie looked at Sandy quizzically. "And, how do you figure that?"
"Didn't think you got these muscles from being a coach potato," Sandy squeezed Marcie's arm. Expecting to feel muscle, she was surprised at how much was actually there. "Damn, you must work out."
"Used to. Now, I just play lots of basketball and swim."
"I guess so," Sandy patted the arm she had been squeezing. "It shows."
"Don't tell anyone but I've spent an hour or two watching Discovery. I like the shows on early history."
"Your secret is safe with me," Sandy chuckled.
"So, what do you do in Montana? Besides watch educational programs, that is."
"Mostly, anything I can do outdoors. Camping, fishing, exploring ghost towns, enjoying a nice campfire. And I like to hike, especially in the snow."
"Sounds like fun," Marcie said, her voice betraying her true feelings to the opposite.
"Oh, but it is," Sandy scooted around on the bench to face Marcie. "When I'm in the woods, it's wonderful. The stress of every day life just disappears. When I'm there, I'm at peace. It really puts life back into perspective for me. I can walk for hours hearing nothing but the sounds of birds singing, water tumbling, the wind whispering through the treetops. And, the colors are so amazing. In the spring and summer, there's every shade of green you can imagine. And, everywhere you look, wild flowers are blooming, showering the hillsides with their colorful flowers. In the fall, the leaves begin to change and you can walk the trails kicking through the fallen leaves and listening to them crunch under your boots. But, winter is my favorite time of year. I just love to walk in the woods after a fresh snowfall when the trees are dripping in white. But, the absolutely most wonderful time is when the snow is still falling and it's so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat. I just love it."
"Wow," Marcie smiled. "You make it sound almost like a spiritual thing."
Scooting back around on the bench to sit properly, Sandy whispered, "to me it is."
"Yes. I guess you could say that the outdoors is my church and Mother Nature is my spiritual guide."
The women sat silently for several minutes.
"Have I offended you?" Sandy asked, afraid that Marcie's silence meant she had.
"No," Marcie slowly shook her head. "I've just never heard anyone talk that way before. I mean, church and religion have never really meant much to me. Basically, because I could never get into what they were preaching. But, listening to you talk with such feeling. That's different. I can tell it really means a lot to you."
"Yes, it does." With the disappearance of the sun, the breeze coming off the ocean had begun to cool and Sandy shivered with the chill.
"Hey, why don't we go back inside. It'll be warmer."
"I think it's a little late for that," Sandy looked at the dark building at the front of the pier, "it appears they've closed for the night."
"Damn," Marcie grunted. "And, we were just getting started."
"Well, we could," Sandy started, then stopped.
"Well, I was going to say that we could go back to my hotel room."
"But, you're afraid I'll try to take advantage of you," Marcie playfully teased.
"I doubt if I'm your type," Sandy murmured.
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure. Besides, I've told you who I am. But, hey, you never told me your name. Well, I know its Sandy. At least, that's what that woman called you."
"Sorry," Sandy stretched out her hand, "Sandy Craft."
"Pleased to meet you, Sandy Craft," Marcie gently wrapped her hands around the one offered. "Now that we've been properly introduced, there's a couple of all night restaurants near the freeway if you want. I'd really like to keep talking," she added shyly.
"Well, if you promise not to attack me with an ax," Sandy withdrew her hand, feeling a little uncomfortable with how natural it felt in the other woman's grasp. "We can go back to my hotel room."
"Deal," Marcie agreed instantly. "I hope you don't mind riding in a pickup truck," Marcie pushed up from the bench and began to walk towards the dark restaurant and adjoining parking lot.
"Well, if I did," Sandy said as she caught up with Marcie, "I would have a heck of time getting around back home. I drive a Ranger. What do you have?"
"Dodge 2500 diesel, four wheel drive, four door, full size cab and full size bed," Marcie said proudly.
"Oooh, one of the big toys," Sandy laughed. "Wouldn't think you'd need that around the city."
"I don't," Marcie smirked, "I just like to drive it."
"A girl after my own heart," Sandy said before she could stop herself. She froze. For the second time that night she was afraid she had said something to scare Marcie off and then wondered why it was so important not to.
"It's okay," Marcie walked back to Sandy when she saw the look of panic on her face. Pretending to look around, even going so far as to lean over the pier railing in search of prying ears, she whispered, "we have lesbians here, too. If you can show me the secret handshake, I'll take you to our secret clubhouse."
Sandy couldn't stop herself from laughing, "you're a goof."
"Hey," Marcie smiled. "It's okay. I'm one. You're one," she paused, "you are, aren't you?"
"Okay, I'm one. You're one. Now that that's out of the way, tell me more about Montana," she said as she began walking again. "Besides magical forests, what else is there?"
"Well, we have lots of wild animals."
"We have deer, lots of them. Elk, mountain sheep and mountain goats, all kinds of ducks, geese and bald eagles, hawks and osprey. Oh, and moose, mountain lions and bears. Grizzly and black."
"Lions and tigers and bear, oh my," Marcie skipped along the pier.
"Stop that," Sandy giggled. "I never said we had tigers."
"Lions and moose and bear, oh my," Marcie adjusted her teasing. "Sounds like a pretty dangerous place."
"It's not. It's beautiful."
"Hard to believe any place can be that wonderful."
"Well, you'll just have to come see for yourself." 'Damn,' Sandy thought, 'did I just invite her to come visit me?'
"Maybe I will." Marcie pulled a key from her pocket as they left the wooden planking of the pier and began to cross the asphalt parking lot. "That's my baby," she pointed to a shiny, black truck parked directly underneath one of the few security lights in the lot.
"Beautiful," Sandy admired the obviously well cared for vehicle as she closed the distance to the truck. "You got a step ladder to get up into it?" she laughed when she noticed how high off the ground the passenger compartment was.
"That's what the running boards are for," Marcie clicked the button on her key, unlocking the doors as she escorted Sandy around to the passenger door. She helped Sandy up into the cab and closed the door before hurrying around to the driver's door. "It is a little high," Marcie said as she pulled herself up onto the running board and swung her body into the plush seat, "even for me."
"It really is beautiful," Sandy repeated as she looked around the cab. "I wish I could afford something like this." She knew the truck cost over forty thousand dollars and that was almost two years salary for her. She wondered what Marcie did to be able to afford such a luxury.
"Glad you like it," Marcie started up the powerful engine and let it idle. "So, what hotel are you staying at?"
"Oh, at the Toffee International by the airport."
"Nice choice," Marcie frowned adjusting her shoulder belt.
As she said the words Sandy suddenly realized how Marcie could afford the truck "Oh my god."
"What's wrong?" Marcie looked around the parking lot thinking Sandy was witnessing a crime taking place.
"Toffee, that's your name. It just dawned on me who you are."
"Great," Marcie muttered. "And, the evening had been going so well."
"You own most of this city," Sandy exclaimed.
"No," Marcie looked sadly out the windshield, "my grandfather owns most of this city. Most of the county, actually. I just happen to share his name. I'll take you back to the hotel," she said gloomily as she released the parking brake.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Marcie," Sandy reached over and placed her hand on the upset woman's arm. "That was really inconsiderate of me. It's just I've never known any rich people before. Especially, not as rich as you. And, I got carried away. Forgive me," she squeezed the arm she held, "please."
Marcie took a deep breath and held it several seconds before slowly releasing it. "Alright," she turned to Sandy, "if you promise to forget my family has more money than brains."
"I promise," Sandy smiled. "But, I really doubt that's true of you."
"Ha," Marcie pulled the truck into a gap in the traffic on the highway and easily accelerated to match the speed of the other vehicles. "We'll see if you still say that after you get to know me."
"Guess you don't need directions to the hotel," Sandy teased, hoping to regain their easy banter.
"I've got a pretty good idea where it's located," Marcie laughed and the tension in the cab disappeared.
"I can't believe how much has changed since I lived here," Sandy commented on the numerous houses and commercial buildings they drove past. "This used to be all open fields and hills, and sand dunes. Now, look at it."
"People want to live on the beach. Unfortunately, there isn't enough sand to go around. So, the state let them start building on the hillsides. Stupid if you ask me. "
"Don't they still slide off in the rainy season."
"Yes, but money talks around here, more than safety. I've lost count of how many times they've had to close this highway because some house has slid onto it."
"Why do so many people want to live in the same place? It's one reason I couldn't wait to get out of here."
"You don't have big cities in Montana?"
"We do. But, between the cities is a whole lot of nothing. And there, you don't cross the street and pass through four or five different towns like here."
"Hey, that keeps the tourists guessing," Marcie laughed.
"How do you stand this, Marcie?"
"All these people? All this concrete? All these cars?"
"Now, I know you have cars in Montana," Marcie rebutted.
"We do. Even indoor plumbing and electricity," Sandy joked. "But, nothing like this. I think I've seen more cars tonight than we have in the entire state."
"It does get a little overwhelming at times. But," Marcie shrugged, "it's the only place I've ever lived. So, I guess I'm used to it."
"Makes my skin crawl," Sandy shivered as she looked out the truck's windows. "Can't wait to get back home."
"How long do you plan to be in town?" Marcie asked. She was a little surprised at how sad she felt doing so.
"Just until tomorrow night."
"Good," Marcie smiled. "That gives us time to get to know each other. Unless, you have other things you'd rather do," she quickly added. "Old friends to visit?"
"No, I lost touch with everyone years ago. There are some events planned for the reunion but I already saw enough of those people tonight. Jeez, some of them haven't changed at all since high school. Still look the same, talk the same. Even live in the same houses they grew up in."
"That's not necessary a bad thing," Marcie thought of the house she had grown up in and had continued to share with her parents until a couple of years ago. Why had she continued to live there for so long? She had more than enough money to find a place of her own but hadn't until it became a problem to bring her numerous flings to her parent's home. It had been comfortable. Maybe a little too comfortable, she now thought.
"I guess," Sandy said unaware of the other woman's thoughts. "Just think they'd want to get on with their lives."
The truck's tires humming on the pavement was the only sound heard in the cab for several minutes.
"Are you hungry?" Marcie asked when her stomach grumbled.
"Starving," Sandy nodded. "The food in that restaurant was·"
"Awful," Marcie provided. "I know, I hate the place."
"Then, why were you eating there?"
"We hold all our business dinners there. My brother is a good friend with the owner. He gives us a discount."
Sandy couldn't help but stare at the woman whose family could buy and sell most of the millionaires in the country.
"I know, I know," Marcie grimaced. "Look, there's a really nice place not too far from here. And, I've eaten at the International more times than I care to remember. Interested?"
"Isn't it a little late?"
"No, not for this place."
"Okay, let's go."
Marcie pulled off the multi-lane highway at the next intersection and turned up a two-lane road leading into one of the canyons that angled away from the shoreline. In less than a mile, the scenery changed from sandy shores to sagebrush covered arroyos.
"A little out of the way for a restaurant, isn't it?" Sandy asked as Marcie turned onto a dirt road at the mouth of a narrow ravine bordered by high hills, the truck's lights illuminating a pair of newly painted no trespassing signs.
"Never said it was a restaurant. Just that it was a nice place," Marcie switched on her high beams as she carefully navigated the windy road as it climbed up the hillside.
Sandy thought she should be concerned. She had no idea where Marcie was taking her. She really had no idea who Marcie even was. But, she wasn't concerned. She felt safe and she was sure Marcie would never do anything to harm her.
"So, where are you taking me?"
The road leveled out as it approached a house perched on the hill's crest. Marcie reached up and pushed a button on a panel above her head. Instantly, a door began to lift exposing a large garage.
"That's nifty," Sandy leaned over to examine the panel.
"Built in garage door openers," Marcie explained as she pulled into the building, reaching up to tap the button a second time. "Prevents me from losing the damn things."
"Whoa, this garage is bigger than my apartment. But, then, so is this truck," Sandy teased as she pushed open the truck's door. "I can't wait to see the rest of the house."
"Well, then let's not keep you," Marcie slipped out of the cab, dropping to the garage floor. She led Sandy to a door, pausing to punch a code into the security pad before opening it.
Sandy followed as Marcie led her down a dark hallway. "Forget to pay the electric bill?" she asked when Marcie made no attempt to turn on any lights.
"Ruins the effect."
"This," Marcie said as they reached the end of the hall. She stepped aside and Sandy found herself standing in front of a wall of glass.
"Wow," Sandy gasped as she crossed to the glass wall to look at the millions of twinkling lights scattered below them.
"Yeah. Place is a bitch to get to but the view makes up for it."
"I'll say. Bet you can see the ocean from here," Sandy peered into the darkness.
"Yeah. See where the lights end over to your right."
"Wow." Sandy walked along the window that made up one entire wall of the house. It was curved to provide the widest view possible of the ocean to the west, the mountains to the east and the city spread out between them. A large open room ran the length of the wall serving as living room, dining room and kitchen.
"So, does a salad and sandwich sound alright or would you like something else," Marcie asked from the open kitchen at one end of the room.
"That's good," Sandy turned away from the million dollar view. She smiled when her eyes fell on something worth much more. "Let me help," she offered.
"Alright," Marcie smiled back. "Why don't you make the salad and I'll whip up the sandwiches. You'll find everything you need in there," she pointed to a large refrigerator at the side of the kitchen.
"Okay," Sandy walked to the appliance. "Anything I need to know about your likes and dislikes?"
"Not really. I'll eat just about anything you put in front of me. Except liver. Can't stand the stuff," Marcie shivered in disgust.
"Something else we share," Sandy chuckled. "But, I rarely put liver into a salad. So, I think you're safe."
"Bless you," Marcie laughed. "What about you? Any preference, ham, roast beef, turkey, tuna?"
"Nope, all good with me. Take your pick."
"So, why live so far out?" Sandy asked as she pulled salad ingredients out of the cooler.
"My grandfather bought this land years ago. He used to bring my brothers and me here on camping trips when we were kids. My brothers hated the place but I love it. So, when I needed a place to bring my girlfriends," she chuckled, "my folks kinda got tired of the revolving door on my bedroom. Anyway, I talked to Gramps and he let me build here."
"So, you live here with your girlfriend?" Sandy asked nervously.
"No. I live here alone. None of them stayed around very long."
"You don't seem that hard to get along with," Sandy said, relieved that the woman was alone and puzzled that she cared.
"I'm not," Marcie frowned. She remained quiet as she pulled a pair of plates from a cupboard.
"Marcie?" Sandy asked softly when she saw the hurt look on the woman's face.
Marcie smiled but Sandy saw the pain in her eyes. "I thought they liked me. Turned out, they liked my money a whole lot more."
"Fact of life when your family can buy the moon. Seems I have a hard time learning that lesson."
"Doesn't mean they have to treat you like that."
"Yeah. Come on," Marcie opened a drawer and pulled out a knife, "let's get this stuff made. I'm hungry enough to eat it straight out of the packages."
In no time the women had finished preparing their late meal and were ready to eat.
"I've got soft drinks, wine, beer, juice, bottled water. Name your poison."
"Well, let's see," Sandy said as she carried the bowl of salad to the dining table next to the windows to enjoy the view. "I don't drink wine and it's way too late for a beer. So, I'll take a diet whatever."
"Good choice," Marcie carried a large plastic bottle and two glasses to the table. Twisting off the lid, she filled the glasses. "To new friendships," she lifted one glass while handing Sandy the other.
"To new friendships," Sandy clinked the glasses together. "Thank you."
"For what?" Marcie asked when she sat. "This looks delicious," she pulled the salad bowl next to her plate.
"You must be hungry," Sandy laughed. "It's just lettuce and tomatoes and a few other vegetables tossed together."
"Don't care. It looks great." She popped a chunk of tomato into her mouth, "tastes great, too. So, what are you thanking me for," she asked after swallowing.
"For tonight," Sandy bit into the ham sandwich Marcie had made. "I really needed this. It's the first time in weeks I haven't thought about," she stopped, unwilling to say her name.
"You're long, sad story?" Marcie asked gently.
"Want to talk about it?" Marcie reached over and squeezed Sandy's hand. "I'm willing to listen."
Sandy smiled, shaking her head, "maybe later. First, I'd like to hear about you."
"Ooo, a subject I like to talk about," Marcie beamed. "But, alas, there's not much to tell," she took a drink from her glass.
"Somehow, I doubt that," Sandy disagreed as she opened a bottle of ranch dressing to pour on her salad.
"So, what do you want to know?"
"Everything. You can start on why I've never met you before. I mean, we seem to be about the same age so why didn't I know you in school."
"Oh, that's easy," Marcie bit into her sandwich. "My folks insisted I go to private schools. It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I finally convinced them to let me go to public school. So, if that shindig tonight was your high school reunion, that means you graduated the year before I transferred."
"Well, that answers another question," Sandy grinned.
Marcie glared, playfully, "why Sandy Craft, have you been trying to guess my age?"
"Yes," Sandy giggled at the other woman's false indignation.
"So," Marcie smirked, "do you like younger women?"
Surprised by the question, Sandy choked on the sandwich she had just bit into.
"Hey, are you alright?" Marcie quickly scooted out of her chair. She gently patted Sandy on the back until she regained her breath.
"Yes, I'm fine," Sandy gasped. "You just caught me off guard."
"Sorry," Marcie's hand remained on Sandy's back.
"I'm okay, really," Sandy looked up at Marcie. "You can go back to your salad."
"Oh," Marcie gave Sandy's back a little rub before returning to her seat.
Instantly, Sandy regretted telling Marcie to move.
"So," Marcie grinned mischievously, "do you like younger women?"
"Brat," Sandy crunched up a napkin and tossed it at the smirking woman. "Continue your story," she commanded, refusing to answer the question.
"If you insist," Marcie took a drink before continuing. "After high school, I went to the university. Bounced between majors so often the counselors finally gave up on trying to get me to declare one."
"Easily bored," Marcie stated.
"I see," Sandy laughed with her. "Did you graduate?"
"Yep," Marcie nodded. "I has me a dee-gree in general studies. I is proud ta say that I is a bon-e-fide edge-u-cat-ed woman."
"Well," Sandy lifted her glass, "here's to a bon-e-fide edge-u-cat-ed woman."
"T'anks ya," Marcie lifted her own glass to share in the toast.
"Then what did you do?"
"Same thing everyone in my family does. I went to work for the family business, developing real estate."
"You don't sound like you like it."
"Hate it. Like I say, I'm easily bored."
"But, there's more to it?"
"Yeah," Marcie nodded. "I don't like the business. At least, not the way my father and brothers conduct it."
"What do you mean?"
"Gramps bought most of this land back when it didn't cost more than a few dollars an acre. He really never thought about developing it, just needed something to do with the money he was making off a couple of oil rigs he lucked into buying. If he had his way, he would have left most of it natural. But my father and brothers, they want the money developing it brings."
"Why does your grandfather allow it?"
"Doesn't have much choice. We all sit on the board of directors but Gramps and I always get out-voted. I think that's why he's planning on resigning soon and turning the whole thing over to my father. Says he has all the money he's ever going to need and he won't have to feel guilty every time he sees a new building going up with the Toffee name on it."
"What will you do?" Sandy asked, concerned that her new friend was obviously as upset as her grandfather over the company's future.
"Well," Marcie took a bite of salad before answering. "I haven't told my father or my brothers this but I'm thinking of resigning when Gramps does and leave the family business behind. I've been taking classes at the U and in another couple of months I'll graduate with a degree in land conservation."
"That's great," Sandy said excitedly. "But, can you make a living doing that?"
"Yes, once you get established. There's lot of opportunities with both conservation organizations and with private landowners that want to preserve their property for the future. And, with the trust fund Gramps set up for me as a baby, I really don't have to worry about making much money."
"It really sounds like you've found something that makes you happy."
"I have. Gramps and I have already put the land around this house into a conservation trust. My brothers won't be too happy when they find out, they've got plans for a subdivision going in here."
"Aren't you concerned about their reaction when they find out?" Sandy asked as she finished the last of her sandwich.
"Not really. Besides, I think protecting the land is well worth the loss of the income. I mean, it's not like they'll starve if they can't carve another subdivision into these hills." Seeing Sandy's empty plate, she suggested, "Speaking of starving, I can make more if you're still hungry."
"No," Sandy patted her belly, "I'm stuffed. I couldn't eat another bite."
"Me, too. Why don't we go over there?" Marcie nodded to the living area of the large room. "It's a lot more comfortable."
"Okay, let me help you clean up first."
"It's okay," Marcie grabbed the bottle of soda when she stood. "We'll get it later. Bring your glass," she said as she moved away from the table.
"This place is gorgeous," Sandy said, joining Marcie. "The views are fantastic. I can't wait to see it during the day."
"Actually, it's better at night. During the day, you get a great view of the smog covering the city. It's only when the wind blows that you see much of anything else."
"Bummer," Sandy said as she dropped onto an inviting couch. "Oooh," she ran her hands over the soft leather, "I'm in love."
Plopping onto the matching settee, Marcie watched her guest, amused at her antics. "Make yourself at home. Take off your shoes if you want and put your feet up."
"Really?" Sandy was afraid she would damage the expensive piece of furniture.
"Sure, I do it all the time."
"Okay," Sandy kicked off her shoes and squirmed around until she was quite comfortable. "Much better," she purred.
"Good. Now, where were we?"
"You hate your job. But, you really don't have to work. So, you're getting yourself a real degree and you're going out to save the world."
"Do I really sound that snooty?" Marcie tensed as she asked.
"Just a little," Sandy teased, holding up her thumb and index finger, a millimeter apart. As Marcie relaxed, she slowly widened the gap.
"Funny," Marcie laughed. "So, what do you do, smartie?"
"Ugh, don't ask," Sandy dropped her hand.
"Alright. I guess that's only fair."
"I'm an accountant. But, I hate it."
"Yeah. Well, unfortunately, I have to work. So, I push and pull numbers all day."
"Is that why you spend so much time in the woods?"
"One of the reasons. Some days, I just have to get away after work. I get so frustrated."
"Ethics. Morals. Right and wrong."
"I thought accounting was pretty cut and dried," Marcie quizzed. "I mean with Gramps, you take the numbers as they come and react to what they're telling you."
"That's the way it should be. But, nowadays, there's a lot of people who think you have to make the numbers show what you what them to show."
"Big time," Sandy sighed. "And, when I have to do it, I really have a hard time living with myself."
"Why would you have to do something like that?"
"Because, my bosses tell me to. Some days can be really hard."
Sandy thought for a moment. She was sworn not to talk about the financial situation of her employer. But could talking to Marcie be worse than what she saw being done almost every day to distort financial statements presented to investors and others. She seldom talked about her job but she knew keeping the secrets locked up inside her was beginning to take its toll. So, what could it hurt? Besides, she had been thinking of looking for a new job anyway.
"Well, the CFO, my immediate boss, thinks a budget is a constantly changing project. He adjusts it at least twice a month."
"He thinks it makes him look better to the company president if the financial reports show his budgeted forecasts matching the actual numbers at the end of the month."
"Doesn't that mean he's misrepresenting the true financial performance of the company?"
"Doesn't anyone question the constantly changing budget numbers?"
"If they do, I never hear about it. Ever notice how many CFO's are going to prison lately because no one questioned what they were doing. As long as they're making money, no one seems to care about the way it's being done."
"Damn. Gramps would never stand for that."
"I wish your grandfather was running the company I work for."
"Why don't you quit?"
Sandy smiled, "money. I need the paycheck."
"Then, find another company that needs an accountant."
"Unfortunately, there are a lot run the same way. Ethics and accounting don't seem to be used in the same sentence too much any more. Everybody is too busy trying to make themselves look good to want to do it right. The stupid thing is, it usually ends up costing them money in the long run."
"Poo," Marcie grumbled. "So, if you didn't need the money, what would you do?"
"I'd quit and do what I've always wanted to do."
"Write. I've always dreamed of being a writer and publishing a book."
"Yes. Every since I was a little girl I've wanted to write. Used to write a lot of poetry in my teens. But, now I'd like to try and write a novel."
"Then, you should do it."
"Well," Sandy grinned shyly, "I'll tell you a secret if you promise never to repeat it."
"I promise," Marcie crossed her heart.
"I've started a book. I only have a few hours a week to write so who knows how long it'll take me to finish. But, at least, it's a start."
"That's wonderful," Marcie clapped her hands together. "I'm proud of you, Sandy."
Sandy beamed at the other woman's praise. In the two years she'd been with Debbie, her ex-lover had never shown any interest in her writing. And, had absolutely never told Sandy she was proud of her for trying. She frowned as she thought of Debbie for the first time in several hours.
Marcie saw the dark cloud return to Sandy's features. "Uh, oh. It seems your sad story has reared its ugly head again."
"I'm sorry," embarrassed Sandy stood quickly and walked to the wall of glass. Leaning against it, she felt the cool glass against her flushed skin.
"Hey," Marcie stood beside Sandy, wrapping an arm around the upset woman. "Why don't you tell me about her? It'll make you feel better."
"How do you know it's a her? Sandy asked quietly.
"I can tell a broken heart when I see it," Marcie hugged Sandy close. "God knows, I've had my share of them."
Unaware of her actions, Sandy leaned against Marcie. "I loved her so much," she cried. "I can't believe she just ended it without even asking me."
"Come on," Marcie maintained her hold on Sandy as she maneuvered her back to the couch. "Let it out, Sandy. It's eating you alive."
Crying, Sandy told Marcie of her relationship with Debbie and of its abrupt end at her ex-lover's insistence. Her face was streaked with tears and her body shook with the after shocks of her sobs as she finished.
"What a bitch," Marcie muttered as she returned from the bathroom with a wet washcloth for Sandy to wipe her face. "Telling her she was too nice. What the hell is wrong with that? I sure wish some of my ex'es had that problem."
"Did you say something?" Sandy asked when she heard Marcie's mutterings.
"No," Marcie handed her the washcloth, again sitting beside her on the couch.
"You were muttering," Sandy used the wet cloth to cleanse her face, the cold material feeling good on her heated skin.
"I know," Marcie smirked. "But, I doubt you want to hear what I was saying about·"
"Yes. I don't think what she did to you was very nice but I don't want to bad-mouth her to you. I know how much you love her."
"Loved," Sandy corrected. "I've at least had enough time to reach that point. Yes, I loved her. A lot. But, I know that part of what we had is over. I mean, I'll always love her for what we had. Or, at least, what I had with her. But, I would never go back to her. Not that she's ever going to want that."
"You might be surprised. Especially, when she wakes up one day and realizes how much she's lost."
"Not, Debbie. Full speed ahead and never look back, that's Deb."
"I'm not so sure. She spent an awful lot of time bringing up her past relationships with you. Seems to me, she has trouble letting go."
"Well, she doesn't have a choice with me. She ended it and it's over. Since it happened, I've begun to look at things a lot differently. I guess you could say I was blinded by love but not anymore. She had her chance and she threw me out. She won't get another."
"You sound pretty determined."
"I am. I really thought she was the one. But looking back, I realize now that she wasn't. I don't believe you can love someone and get upset because they care about you. I think I served some purpose for her. What, I haven't got a clue. But she needed something and I gave it to her. Now, she'll go on to the next sucker that comes her way," Sandy was sorry to hear the bitterness creeping into her voice. As much as she hurt over the breakup with Deb, she didn't want to fall into the negativity she had watched many of her friends develop for their ex-lovers.
"I wouldn't be so hard on yourself," Marcie patted Sandy's leg. "I think you were more to her than that. But, for whatever reason, she seems to have a hard time dealing with lovers. From the sounds of it, you were the latest in a long string of them. Maybe, she just doesn't know how to accept love. But, she was right about one thing."
"And that would be," Sandy snarled, playfully.
"You are nice."
"Ugh," Sandy slumped against the couch. "Please."
"But, she was wrong in using that as the excuse to break up. She should have been honest and just told you she wanted out. That was a pretty shitty way to break it to you. And she strung you along for a good long time before she told you. There's no excuse for that."
"I loved her so much," Sandy sighed as the pain from that day came back. "It was a wonderful two years."
"Then that's what you focus on. The pain will never completely go away but it'll be a lot easier to deal with if you remember the good and forget the bad. I wish I had that with my relationships."
"None of them were good?"
"Like I said earlier, it always came down to money. They thought because I had it, they should get to spend it. They all got pretty ugly when I figured it out and told them to take a hike."
"Don't be. The looks on their faces when they realized the gravy train passed them by was worth it."
"I don't believe you," Sandy started to reach up to caress Marcie's face but stopped herself.
"It's easier if I tell myself that," Marcie acknowledged. She had not missed Marcie's action and was disappointed when the other woman hadn't touched her. "It's late. I should take you back to the hotel."
"No, I can't expect you to drive me this late. Just call me a cab."
"Okay," Marcie snickered, "you're a cab."
"Damn, you're a goof," Sandy was thankful for the chance to laugh and heartily joined Marcie.
"I have a better idea," Marcie said when their laughter died down. "You can stay in the guest bedroom."
"I couldn't," Sandy protested.
"You can and you will. That's that. I insist. No arguments. Now, come on," Marcie stood and pulled Sandy to her feet. "Let me show you to your room."
"But, I don't have any of my things. A change of clothes. A toothbrush."
"Not to worry," Marcie said as she dragged Sandy back down the hallway they had entered the house by, pushing open the first door they came to. "Your room is fully equipped. Spare clothes in the dresser and I'm sure there's a new toothbrush in the bathroom."
"Why does your spare bedroom have clothes in it?" Sandy asked as she was drug into the room in question and deposited onto the bed.
"Because, I have more clothes than brains and I store the overflow in here. We're about the same size so help yourself."
"Not even close," Sandy giggled as she compared Marcie's lean frame with her own.
"Close enough," Marcie pulled a pair of sweat pants and an oversize T-shirt from a drawer and tossed them onto the bed. "I like my stuff roomy so don't give me any guff. Now, let me check on that toothbrush," she disappeared into the bathroom. "Plenty of towels in here," she called out as she searched the linen closet, "ah, here it is. Besides, you always have the option of doing what I do," she said as she reappeared.
"Which is?" Sandy asked as she took the toothbrush from Marcie.
"Sleep in the nude," Marcie skipped out of the room, leaving an open-mouthed, red-faced Sandy sitting on the bed.
"Now, that's something I'd like to see," Sandy muttered several minutes later as she picked up the clothes Marcie had provided and headed into the bathroom to prepare for bed.
The smell of fresh brewed coffee wafted into the bedroom, tickling Sandy's nose and encouraging her to wake up. One eyelid drifted open as her brain slowly regained some awareness of her surroundings. Her eye rolled to look at the clock on the night stand and she was startled to see that even though she felt like she had just crawled into bed she had actually slept for almost nine hours. Even in the bedroom the outside wall was made up of mostly glass and as her other eye opened, it was greeted by sunbeams streaming through the uncovered windows.
Sandy threw back the bed covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She remained sitting for a few minutes to allow her body to catch up with her now somewhat alert brain. Stretching, she decided to take Marcie up on her offer to make herself at home. A nice, hot shower would feel pretty good so she stood and walked into the bathroom. Opening the linen closet to retrieve a towel, she was surprised to see it also well stocked with shampoo and other toiletry items, most still in their original packaging. Many of the brands represented were well out of her price range but she knew a woman of Marcie's means could easily afford them. Choosing a bottle of shampoo, she carried it to the shower. Slipping out of her clothes, Sandy stepped into the shower and turned on the water. Jets of warm water washed over her body from multiple directions causing Sandy to yelp in surprise.
"Ooooooo," Sandy moaned, "this feels sooooo gooooood."
Sandy twisted and turned, allowing the pulsating jets to massage the kinks from her muscles. She reached for the bottle of shampoo and squeezed a generous amount into the palm of her hand. Starting with her hair, she scrubbed herself clean. Feeling wonderfully refreshed, Sandy stood in the center of the shower and let the water wash the soapy suds from her skin. Though she could have stayed in the shower all day, Sandy turned off the water and stepped back out onto the carpeted bathroom floor. She quickly dried the water from her body and, wrapping the towel around her head, she padded back into the bedroom.
"What's this?" Sandy smiled when her eyes fell on a steaming cup of coffee waiting for her on the dresser. She looked around but saw no sign of her hostess, it was only then that she remembered she had left the bedroom door open all night. Lifting the cup to her mouth, she wondered why that didn't seem to bother her.
'Obviously,' Sandy thought as she sipped the hot liquid, 'I didn't feel it was necessary. And, that's pretty weird since I don't generally feel so comfortable around people I've just met. But, with Marcie," she considered, 'it just seems so natural.'
Sandy glanced into the mirror hanging on the wall above the dresser, turning beet red she realized she was standing there stark naked except for the towel wrapped around her head. She needed to get dressed. She considered putting on the clothes she had worn the day before but quickly rejected the idea. Pulling open a couple of the dresser drawers she found one with several unopened packages of panties and another with neatly folded pairs of sports pants, the comfortable kind with the strips running down the sides of the legs.
"Well, I guess I can pay her for these," Sandy mumbled as she removed a package of panties and ripped it open. Quickly pulling the panties on, she then removed a pair of pants and stepped into them. "These aren't too bad," she murmured as she checked the fit of the pants. "Now, for a shirt," she padded to the closet and, pulling open the double doors, was confronted by an array of clothing most people would die for. She picked a polo shirt that looked like it would fit and pulled it over her head. The fleece-like material was soft against her bare skin and she decided it wouldn't be too uncomfortable to go bra-less until she could get Marcie to take her back to the hotel and her own clothes.
Now dressed and much less self-conscious, Sandy returned to the cup of coffee on the dresser. "Guess that just leaves a pair of socks," she commented as she sipped from the cup.
"Bottom right drawer," Marcie said entering the bedroom.
"Thanks," Sandy smiled at Marcie in the mirror. "Thanks for the coffee too. But, you didn't have to bring it in here."
"My pleasure," Marcie sat on the edge of the bed. "How'd you sleep?"
"Like a baby," Sandy said as she removed a package of socks from the drawer. "I'll pay you for these," she told Marcie as she opened the package. "And, for the panties and shampoo I used."
"No you won't. I see you helped yourself to my closet," Marcie smiled. "You look good."
"Thank you. But, I insist on paying you for the stuff I'm using. Especially the packages I opened."
"Nonsense," Marcie shook her head. "As you've seen, I got more than enough. Fact is, I keep thinking I should box some of this stuff up and give it to one of the shelters in town."
"Why do you have so much?" Sandy asked as she sat on the bed next to Marcie to put on her shoes.
"My ex-girlfriends," Marcie groaned and flopped back on the bed. "I hate to shop and as soon as they find that out, they all seemed to think that the way to impress me is to go out and buy me stuff."
"Doesn't work, uh?"
"No. One thing I have learned is that once they start to do that it's time to say adios."
"Yes. That's when I know they're putting money ahead of me in their thinking. So it's so long, been nice, see ya around, don't let the door kick you in the ass on your way out."
"Ouch," Sandy giggled.
"Okay, enough of that," Marcie sat back up. "I've got omelet fixings ready for the frying pan in the kitchen and I'm starved."
"Oh, that sounds good."
"But, I've got to warn you," Marcie added, "I'm not very good at cooking omelets. They usually come out in pieces."
"No problem, I'm a whiz at omelets. So, what say I take care of them and you can take care of the toast. You can toast bread, can't you?" Sandy looked over at Marcie, smirking.
"Yes, I can toast bread," Marcie snarled as she reached for Sandy. Seconds later the women were entangled on the bed in a full fledged tickling fight.
"Enough, I give," Sandy screamed in laughter. She found herself underneath Marcie's, their lips barely an inch apart.
Sandy waited breathlessly as Marcie narrowed the distance only to pull back at the last moment.
"Come on," Marcie pushed up from the bed, "I don't want the eggs to spoil."
With her heart racing, Sandy watched Marcie leave the room disappointed that they hadn't kissed. She reached up and traced her own lips with her finger as she wondered what Marcie's lips would taste like.
"You coming?" Marcie called from the kitchen.
"Yes," Sandy called back. "Just as soon as my heart slows down enough for me to move," she whispered to the otherwise empty room.
Marcie was setting some loaves of bread next to the toaster when Sandy walked into the kitchen.
"Gee, I was beginning to think you forgot how to get here," Marcie teased.
"No, I was just finishing putting on my shoes and I had to brush my teeth," Sandy said, too embarrassed to give the real reason for the delay in her coming out of the bedroom.
"Oh," Marcie had actually been thankful for Sandy's delayed appearance as it had taken her a few minutes to calm her own racing heart. She had almost kissed Sandy. Not that that was necessary a bad thing but she did wonder why she was having such feelings for a woman she had only met hours before.
"So, omelets," Sandy said, a slight tremor in her voice.
"Yep," Marcie pointed to a frying pan on the stove, "it's waiting for you."
Soon both women, busy with preparing their morning meal, easily slid back into the comfortable banter they had shared prior to the almost kiss.
"White, wheat, or sourdough?" Marcie asked.
"Good choice," Marcie removed four slices of the requested bread and dropped them into the toaster. She placed the other loaves back into the bread drawer. "I thought we'd eat outside this morning. There isn't too much of a wind and the smog hasn't started to form quite yet."
"I'd love to," Sandy kept close watch on the cooking eggs. "These are almost done."
"Plates are right beside you. I'll take the coffee and juice outside. You want to add the toast?"
"Will do," Sandy picked up the frying pan to carry it to the waiting plates. "Be out in a sec."
Moments later, Sandy carried the plates outside to join Marcie.
"So, besides going to the hotel to get your things," Marcie asked around a mouthful of eggs, "what would you like to do today?"
"Goodness," Sandy considered the question. "I don't really know. I had no real plans when I came here. I guess I figured the reunion would keep me occupied."
"Well, you can still go to it," Marcie said, but in her heart she hoped Sandy would choose not to.
'No," Sandy shook her head as she reached for the glass of juice next to her plate. "I had enough of that yesterday. Too many years have passed for me to have much in common with them."
"Okay," Marcie sighed in relief, "so what would you like to do?"
"Well," Sandy turned to look out at the ocean in the distance. "I really have missed the ocean. I guess it would be nice to spend some time on the shoreline."
"How about a drive up the coast then?" Marcie offered. "I know a nice secluded beach that we can explore.""
"Perfect," Sandy smiled.
"Okay, we'll swing by the hotel," Marcie began to gather the dirty dishes and silverware, "then we'll head north."
"Alright," Sandy gathered up the items Marcie couldn't carry. "I guess I should get a bra to wear if nothing else."
"I don't know," Marcie said as she walked back into the house, "I think you look great without one. But, you might want to grab a bathing suit, if you brought one."
Sandy smiled, soaking in the compliment. It had been a long time since she had heard one, something else Debbie had stopped doing at the end of their relationship.
"Want to drive?" Marcie asked as the women entered the garage.
"Yes," Sandy smiled at the offer, "but I'd be scared to death to drive in all the traffic you have here."
"Okay," Marcie punched in the security code as Sandy waited patiently. "Another time, then."
The women walked to the truck and, again, Marcie helped Sandy up into the cab before walking around to the driver's side. As she started the engine, Sandy's cell phone rang.
"Dang I meant to turn that thing off," Sandy muttered as she pulled the phone from her pants pocket. Not thinking, she pushed the button to take the call.
"Hello. Oh, hi Deb," Sandy said, wishing she had checked the caller ID before answering the call.
Marcie turned to look at her companion as soon as she heard the change of tone in Sandy's voice.
Sandy looked at Marcie and mouthed the words 'I'm sorry'.
"Don't be," Marcie said as she put the truck in gear and backed out of the garage. Not wanting to invade Sandy's privacy, she concentrated on driving but she couldn't help but keep her ears tuned to what Sandy was saying.
"I'm with a friend, Debbie," Sandy sighed. She paused to listen to her ex, "it doesn't matter what friend. Is there something you wanted?····No, I can't, Deb···..No. I'm not in town··..·Not that it matters, but I'm at my high school reunion···Yes, I came by myself···.Deb, I have to go. I'm sorry···..No," Sandy's voice conveyed the same sad expression that showed on her face, "I can't, Deb. I can't be around you, okay···.Jeez, Deb, how can you act like it meant so little to you?··.. I am getting over it, Deb. In fact, you're making that easier than I would have thought···Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Goodbye."
'What a bitch,' Marcie thought as she stopped the truck in the middle of the dirt road. She lifted the center console and reached over to unlatch Sandy's seat belt. Sandy didn't need any more of an invitation. The tears started to fall as she scooted over, allowing Marcie to wrap her arms around her.
"You okay?" Marcie asked as Sandy's sobs began to lessen.
"Yes," Sandy swiped at her eyes. "I'm sorry," she started to pull out of the embrace.
Marcie tightened her hold, "you haven't done anything to be sorry for. I've got a box of tissues in her someplace," she twisted her head to look into the back seat.
"Boy, could I use those," Sandy sniffled.
"Might be in the glove box," Marcie offered when she couldn't spot them in the rear of the cab.
Sandy leaned forward to open the glove box. "Damn," she exclaimed, "your glove box is bigger than my apartment."
"Want to move in?" Marcie felt the beginning of a mood change for Sandy and she quickly tried to encourage it. "Rents cheap and I understand the landlord isn't too difficult to deal with. Course, you might get a little bounced around on some of the roads around here."
Sandy pulled the box of tissues out of the glove box and removed several to wipe her tears dry. "You are such a goof," she laughed at Marcie's attempt to take her mind off of Debbie's phone call. An attempt that was working, she happily thought. "I'm sorry but I'll have to turn down you offer."
"Darn," Marcie pouted.
"It's a little too far to commute," Sandy explained.
"That can be fixed," Marcie smiled, "I can always move to Montana."
"That would be nice," Sandy whispered as she re-buckled her seat belt.
"Hmmm," Marcie released the brake and the truck continued its journey.
"I can't believed she called me," Sandy said as they reached the end of the long driveway.
"What did she want?" Marcie checked for traffic before pulling onto the road.
"She thought I'd like to join her at the house and hang out," Sandy laughed, but she hadn't found the request funny. "Can you believe that? She tells me she's ending our relationship because she doesn't want to be around me. Now, she wants me to hang out with her. God, can she really be that clueless?"
"Sounds to me like she's lonely," Marcie said quietly.
"Good," Sandy grunted.
"You don't really mean that."
"No. I don't," Sandy turned to stare out the truck's window. "But, if she is, I'm not going to help her with that."
"You shouldn't be expected to," Marcie considered stopping the truck again when she heard the pain in Sandy's voice. But, she didn't. It had felt so good to hold the upset woman in her arms but it would be wrong to take advantage of Sandy's current emotional state. "You can stay at the hotel if you want. I don't expect you to continue with our plans after this."
"No," Sandy twisted around to face Marcie. "I want to go with you. And, I refuse to let Debbie ruin a perfectly wonderful day."
"Good," Marcie smiled. "We should be at the hotel in a few minutes."
"Good," Sandy smiled back. "Do I need anything besides a bathing suit?"
"Well, if you want to save some time later today," Marcie thought out loud, "you could go ahead and pack your stuff. We could head straight for the airport instead of having to come back here. Unless you want to take a shower before you go."
Sandy considered her options. She knew that she probably would like to shower and clean up after a day at the beach. On the other hand, if she packed her stuff now she would be able to spend a little more time with Marcie. "That's a great idea. I only have a small bag and I can wait until I get home to shower. The other passengers might not like it but what the hell."
"What the hell, indeed."
The black pickup pulled up to the curb in front of the Toffee International Hotel. As Marcie switched off the engine, a doorman dressed in an impressive uniform hurried to the truck.
"Good morning, Miss Toffee," the man smiled, opening the passenger door and helping Sandy exit the tall vehicle.
"Morning, Brian," Marcie greeted the man as she walked around the front of the truck. "How'd the birthday party go?" she asked, knowing the man's son had celebrated his sixth birthday the day before.
"Great," Brian beamed. "And, that fire truck you got him was the hit of the party. He liked it so much, he slept with it last night."
"Ouch," Marcie laughed at the vision. "I'm glad he liked it."
"He did. And, thank you, Miss Toffee. It's all he's talked about for months. I really appreciate you getting it for him. I just couldn't afford it, especially after paying Nancy's doctor bills." His wife had fallen the month before and broken her arm.
"Not a problem, Brian. Besides, what's the point of having it if you can't spread some of it around," she said as she led Sandy up the steps to the hotel's lobby.
"You better not let your brothers hear you say that," Brian grinned.
"Cripes," Marcie shook her head, "you'd think they made it themselves instead of Gramps. And, the way they horde it, you'd think the U.S. mint was going to stop printing the stuff."
"Ain't that the truth," Brian laughed, pulling open the door so the women could enter the building.
"Why don't you go on up to your room," Marcie told Sandy once they were inside the lobby. "I have something I want to take care of. I'll meet you back at the truck when you're ready."
"Okay," Marcie nodded. "Where do they park it?" she asked, thinking the valets would move the huge vehicle from the front of the hotel while they were inside.
"Nobody drives my baby but me," Marcie smirked as she held up the vehicle's key. "It'll be right where I left it or heads will roll."
"Okay, I won't be long." Sandy laughed.
"Take all the time you need," Marcie headed in the opposite direction. "I'll be waiting."
As she walked towards the elevators at the far side of the lobby, Sandy was thought of Marcie's earlier invitation for her to drive the truck. "How interesting," she whispered wondering how many others, if any, might have received the same invitation.
It didn't take long for Sandy to pack up her single piece of luggage. Planning to be in town for only three days, she hadn't brought much with her. After a quick check of the room to ensure she wasn't leaving anything behind, she headed back down to the lobby.
"I'd like to check out," Sandy told the desk clerk as she placed her room card on the counter.
"Yes, Miss Craft," the young woman behind the counter smiled at Sandy. "Your bill has been taken care of. I hope you enjoyed your stay at the Toffee International."
"What do you mean?" Sandy placed her credit card on the counter. "I haven't paid yet."
"Consider it a token of the management's appreciation of your stay," Marcie stepped up beside Sandy. She picked up the credit card and handed it back.
"I can't let you do that," Sandy began to protest.
"Yes, you can," Marcie picked up the small suitcase on the floor next to Sandy feet and grabbed her elbow. "Now, let's get to the beach. We're wasting daylight."
"But, Marcie," Sandy continued to protest as she was guided across the lobby.
"It's done," Marcie said.
"No," Sandy dug in her heels bringing both women to an abrupt stop.
"Sandy," Marcie spoke quietly. She saw the determination in Sandy's eyes and didn't want to say anything to embarrass her new friend. "I know you can pay your own bill. And, I know that you don't want me to do this because I think you can't afford to. And, I'm not. I'm doing it because I want to thank you for being my friend. A real friend. Not just someone who acts like my friend because they think they can worm their way into my bank account. So, please, I'm asking you as a friend to let me do this for you. Please."
Sandy looked at Marcie and was reassured to see her eyes reflecting the truth of her words. "Thank you," she smiled. "But," she snatched the bag out of Marcie's grasp, "I'll carry my own suitcase."
"Deal," Marcie beamed. "Can we go now?"
"Yep," Sandy headed for the lobby's entry, "we're burning daylight."
Marcie laughed as she ran after Sandy.
"Man, look at all these houses," Sandy stared out the truck's windows. "I can't believe this."
Marcie was driving north on the coastal highway, passing what once had been fields of cultivated crops. Now, they were covered with subdivision after subdivision.
"What happened to all the farmers?" Sandy asked.
"Land this close to the coast got too valuable. Taxes were raised until they were forced to sell out. Only way for anyone to afford to buy the land is to build on it."
"Your family included?" Sandy asked. Even as a child, she had been aware of the Toffee name. Marcie's grandfather was one of the largest landowners in the area and the company he founded was one of the largest land developers. There was a pretty good chance that the subdivisions they were driving past carried the Toffee name.
"Yes," Marcie sighed. "Don't think I didn't argue against them because I did. I'm all for building places for people to work and live but I don't see any reason to cover the entire county in concrete. I tried to get some of this as open space, maybe even create a nice park or two. But my father and brothers wouldn't hear of it. Damn, sometimes, I'm sorry I'm related to them. I mean, how much money do they need, anyway? I just wish," Marcie let out a long breath, "that they would leave some of the land the way they found it. I can remember coming up here with Gramps years ago and the hills were covered with wild poppies. Hell, I haven't seen a poppy around here in years. It used to be so pretty," she glanced around at the terrain they were passing.
"I know," Sandy recalled several drives she had taken with her parents to view the poppies and other spring wildflowers. That seemed so long ago now. Her parents had loved the springtime and the wildflowers. Sadly, she thought how upset they would be if they saw their cherished hills now. For that reason, she was glad they had passed away before all this development had happened.
Marcie pulled the truck off the highway and stopped in front of a locked gate blocking what appeared to be a private driveway. "Be right back," she said as she hopped to the ground. She opened the lock and swung the wide gate open before returning to the cab to drive the truck forward. Hopping back out of the truck, she swung the gate shut, hooked the padlock in place and secured it. "Alright," she said as she again climbed back into the driver's seat, "let's go to the beach."
"I take it this is another Toffee acquisition?" Sandy asked.
"Nope. Well, yes. But, no."
"Well, it is a Toffee acquisition, as you put it, but only because I own it not my family. I bought it a few years back when the property came on the market. My brothers were hot to buy it and turn it into a beach resort. With Gramps help, I made a blind offer and stole it out from under their noses. To this day," she laughed, "they still don't know who out bid them. Every so often, my lawyer gets an offer from them but I always turn it down."
"Don't they know who your lawyer is?"
"No. Gramps gave me some advice years ago to go out and get a lawyer I could trust. And, to never let the family know who it was. I guess he figured early on that I was different from the rest of them."
"So, if you always turn them down, why do they keep trying?"
"Because this is a prime piece of real estate." Marcie giggled as she continued, "and because my lawyer always tells them I was insulted by their offer. So, they think if they offer more, I'll sell. It's become a game to see how high they'll go."
"That's wicked," Sandy giggled.
"Yes, but this is worth it," Marcie said as the truck came to the end of the drive. An unobstructed view of the ocean spread out before them and between where they sat and the shoreline were several hundreds of yards of untouched sandy beach.
"Oh, my god," Sandy exclaimed. "This is beautiful."
"Yes, and it's all mine."
"No wonder your brothers want it."
"They'll never get their hands on it. I've already put it into a trust that will pass to a conservancy group if anything happens to me. It'll remain like this forever."
"Can we walk out there?" Sandy asked, excitedly.
"That's why we're here," Marcie turned off the engine. "Hope you brought a bathing suit."
"Damn," Sandy groaned, "I didn't bring one with me. I meant to see if the boutique at the hotel had one my size."
"Don't worry," Marcie opened the cab's rear door and began to rummage around in a box on the floor. "I keep a couple in here, just in case."
"Just in case of what?"
"Just in case, I'm at the beach and want to go swimming," Marcie held up two suits, a one piece and a bikini.
"Good plan." Sandy was peering over the back of her seat and spotted a picnic basket on the floor between the cabs seats. "What's that?" she asked.
"Lunch," Marcie smiled. "Get back here and help me carry this stuff."
Sandy scrambled out of her seat to reappear when she opened the other rear door, she smiled across the back compartment at Marcie. "What do you want me to take?"
"Well, the picnic basket for starters. Let's see we need towels, sunscreen, bathing suits. Hat?" she asked holding up a couple of baseball caps and larger straw hat.
"Thanks," Sandy reached for one of the baseball caps, immediately placing it on her head.
"Okay," Marcie put on the other cap, "towels, sunscreen, bathing suits, hats," she grinned, "picnic baskets. Anything else you can think of?"
"Any surfboards back here?" Sandy teased.
"Sorry," Marcie smirked, "I keep those in my other truck."
"Well, then I guess I'll have to do without," Sandy mock-pouted.
"I'm sure you'll live. Let's get our shoes off and get out on the beach," Marcie sat on the running board.
"Right behind you," Sandy quickly removed her shoes and socks. Placing them on the floor of the cab before shutting the door. With picnic basket in hand, she headed down the sand dune, her feet sinking into the warm sand.
"Hey, wait for me," Marcie called as she slammed the door shut and ran after Sandy.
"Hurry up, slow poke," Sandy quickened her steps. "I haven't had my toes in the ocean in thirty years and now I can't wait to do it," she said as she hurried to the waiting shore.
"Sure you still know how after all that time?" Marcie laughed as she ran past Sandy. Used to being on the beach, she was having a much easier time moving through the slippery sand.
"No fair," Sandy cried as Marcie ran past, "I'm not used to this stuff."
"Too bad," Marcie stopped at a spot near the breaking waves but far enough back so as not to get wet. She spread out a large beach blanket and set the other items on top of it, pushing sand onto it's edges to weight it down so it wouldn't blow in the light breeze. "'Bout time you made it," she teased as Sandy dropped the picnic basket onto the blanket.
"Brat,' Sandy muttered as she moved closer to the water.
"Don't you want to change?"
"I just want to feel it on my feet," Sandy told her. "I'll change in a minute."
Lifting her pant legs to prevent them from getting wet, she gingerly stepped to the water's edge. "Mmmmm," she moaned as the cool, salty water washed over her feet.
Marcie sat on the blanket watching Sandy. She smiled at the expression on the other woman's face, it was easy to see how much Sandy was enjoying her experience. Suddenly, Sandy turned back towards her.
"Let's go swimming."
"Now, you're talking," Marcie jumped to her feet, she began to pull off her shirt.
"Wait," Sandy screamed.
"What's wrong?" Marcie was so startled by Sandy's cry that she froze with her shirt half on and half off.
"I, um," Sandy stammered, her cheeks turning pink with embarrassment. "We can't change here," she shyly explained.
"Sure we can," Marcie relaxed when she realized what had upset her companion. "I own ten miles that way," she pointed north, "and twenty five miles that way," she swung her arm southward. "There isn't a house anywhere along my beach and the highway is on the other side of those sand dunes. No one can see us."
"It's not that," Sandy timidly said, "it's. Well, it's just that I, um·"
"Oh," Marcie smiled when she caught the drift of Sandy's nervousness. "I tell you what. You look towards the ocean while I change. And, I'll return the favor for you. Or, we can go back to the truck and you can change inside the cab."
"No," Sandy sounded relieved, "here will be fine." She turned her back to Marcie, "go ahead."
"All done," Marcie said after a few moments.
Sandy turned around and gasped. She had imagined what Marcie must look like without clothes. But, the reality was so much more. Before her stood a beautiful woman clad only in the briefest of bikinis. "You are so gorgeous," Sandy gushed.
"No, I'm not," Marcie scratched her head, embarrassed by Sandy's obvious appreciation of her body.
"Yes, you are," Sandy head nodded vigorously. "And, I can assure you of one thing."
"There is no way in hell that I'm putting on a bathing suit with you around."
"Why not?" Marcie was confused by Sandy's declaration.
"Because, next to you, I'm going to look like a beached whale."
"No, you won't."
"Yes, I will. Some of this skin hasn't seen sunlight since I left here thirty years ago. Not to mention, I'm a little overweight."
"Sandy, there's nobody around to see," Marcie frowned, hurt that Sandy might think that would bother her.
"You are,' Sandy blushed. She knew she should have held herself to her New Year's resolution to drop a few pounds. Unfortunately, after the breakup with Debbie, food had become a salve for her shattered heart. "I'm fat," Sandy said nervously.
"You're not fat," Marcie smiled, "you're adorable."
"Oh, god," Sandy groaned. "That's as bad as being called nice."
"Well, for your information," Marcie picked the other bathing suit up from the blanket and tossed it to Sandy, "I think you're nice AND adorable. Not put that on so we can go swimming," she demanded as she turned her back to Sandy.
"If I say no," Sandy asked, only half-kidding.
"I'll pick you up and dump you in the ocean with your, my, clothes on," Marcie threatened.
"I bet you would, wouldn't you?" Sandy moved to the blanket and began to remove the borrowed clothes she wore.
"So, why land conservation?" Sandy asked as she changed.
"What do you mean?"
"Of all the things you could have chosen to make a career at, why that?"
"Well, if you can believe it, because I was watching a show on Discovery one night. It told of the process several ranchers in the southwest went through to protect land that had been in their families for generations but were being threatened by high taxes and development closing in around them. It got me to thinking about all the land of Gramps and I guess it kinda grew from there. I figured if my brothers were so intent on covering everything in concrete, I could at least try to save some of it."
"Well, I must say this is a good start."
"Thanks. Hey, are you about ready, I can really use a swim." The day had begun to warm substantially and just the effort of changing their clothes had left both women in sheen of sweat.
"Last one in is a rotten egg," Sandy shouted as she ran past Marcie.
What started out as a lazy half float, half swim in the cool waters of the ocean quickly dissolved into a energetic splash fight that went on until both women were too exhausted to continue without the possibility of one or both drowning. They drug themselves back to the blanket where they ravishingly attacked the picnic basket as soon as they had the strength to do so.
"This is good," Sandy took another bite of the chicken salad she had discovered. "I thought you said the food at the hotel wasn't very good."
"I said I had eaten there so many times, I'd lost count," Marcie enjoyed the pieces of melon packed in basket.
"God, I could sleep the rest of the day," Sandy announced as she fell back on the blanket. "I'm pooped. And, stuffed."
'You're beautiful,' Marcie thought to herself as she gazed down at the body stretched out beside her. She twisted around to place a hand on either side of Sandy's prone body and leaned down. Slowly, she dropped her head to Sandy's.
Sandy saw the desire in Marcie's eyes, a desire she was feeling herself. But just before their lips met, Marcie again pulled away.
"That's twice," Sandy said softly as Marcie turned to stare at the ocean.
"That's the second time you've almost kissed me," Sandy's voice was full of hurt as she sat up. "Don't you want to."
Marcie looked at the woman sitting beside her. "I won't lie to you, Sandy. I am attracted to you but I won't push you into something you're not ready for. And," she took Sandy's hands into her own and held them gently, "I don't want us to just be a weekend fling. You mean, could mean," she corrected, "so much more to me."
Sandy knew her attraction to Marcie was real but maybe it was too soon. Or, was it? She felt a tingle in her hands wherever her skin touched Marcie's. Had she ever felt this with Debbie? She honestly couldn't remember. "I'm not so sure I'm not ready now," Sandy murmured.
"No, let's not ruin what might be, by going too fast, Sandy. You've just gone through a pretty awful breakup and it had to be emotionally draining."
"It was, Marcie. But," Sandy started.
"Hush," Marcie placed a finger against Sandy's lips. 'So soft,' she thought. "We have the rest of the day before your plane leaves. Let's just let it happen. Who knows, by the time you leave, you may be sick of me and happy to leave me behind," she almost sobbed as she spoke the words meant to lighten the mood.
"I doubt it," Sandy whispered, leaning into Marcie's touch.
Marcie lay back onto the blanket pulling Sandy with her. With Sandy's head nestled on Marcie's shoulder and their arms wrapped around each other, the women fell asleep.
A loud, annoying buzzing woke Marcie from her dream of making love to Sandy. "Damn," she grumbled as the images faded from her memory.
"What were you dreaming?" Sandy asked, sitting on the blanket beside Marcie. She had awakened several minutes before and had already changed back into the clothes she had borrowed that morning.
"Nothing," Marcie rolled on her side trying to hide her blush from Sandy.
"Must have been a pretty good dream by the way you were moaning," Sandy giggled.
"Oh, god," Marcie buried her face in her hands. "Please tell me I wasn't."
"Okay, you weren't," Sandy said, nonchalantly.
"I wasn't?" Marcie asked, hopefully.
"Yeah, you were," Sandy laughed.
"Come on," Sandy lightly smacked Marcie's bikini covered bottom. Then, realizing what she had done, she turned a shade of red to match Marcie's.
"Damn, we look like a pair of lobsters," Marcie giggled as she pushed herself up from the blanket. "I'm guessing that buzzer was a warning that we need to head for the airport."
"Actually, we still have a few hours," Sandy closed her eyes so Marcie could change her clothes. "I thought maybe I could take you out to dinner before then."
"I'd love to."
"Great," Sandy grinned. "But you have to promise to let me pay."
"I promise," Marcie finished dressing. "You can open your eyes."
"You pick the restaurant. I haven't a clue what's around here, let alone what's good."
"I know the perfect spot. And, as an added bonus, the house is on the way. So, why don't we make a quick stop for showers and a change of clothes."
"Perfect," Sandy said as she started to gather their things.
"Hey," Marcie cried out when she actually looked at Sandy for the first time since waking. "You got a little sun. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I've already rubbed some of that aloe lotion on it. So, I should be okay."
"If you're sure," Marcie was still concerned over the light sunburn Sandy had suffered.
"I'll be fine," Sandy assured her. "I've gotten worse than this after a day of floating down the Blackfoot. Let's go."
"Boy," Marcie picked up the picnic basket to walk with Sandy to the truck. "I guess I'm just going to have to go up and see this Montana for myself. People up there float with black feet?" she teased.
"You goof," Sandy slapped at Marcie's arm, "that's the name of a river near where I live. In the summer, it's a lot of fun to float down it on a large inner-tube. But, you really want to slop on the sunscreen before you do."
"I'll keep that in mind. So, tell me more about floating down a river. What do you do?"
"Just that. You let the river do all the work and you just float along. Some people tie several inner-tubes together, some take canoes or small rafts. I've even seen a guy floating down on a large, green blow-up turtle. Folks put food and drinks in float-able coolers and trail them behind or they use a smaller tube to carry them. Last summer, a guy was floating down river cooking hot dogs on a hibachi. Pretty much, anything goes."
"Sounds interesting," Marcie looked at Sandy like she'd grown a second head.
"Oh, it's so much fun. If you get hot, you just roll off your tube and take a little swim. Or, you take your fishing pole and do a little fishing while you float. You just do whatever feels good."
"So, if I were to float the Blackfoot with you," Marcie asked. "What would you want to do?"
"Well, first, I'd tie our tubes together so we could talk as we floated. And, I'd tie my cooler to us so we'd have snacks and stuff to drink. No beer though. It's best to keep a clear head while you're on the river."
"Somehow, I doubt if most people pay that much heed."
"Most don't. But, there's no reason to chance a stupid injury by being careless," Sandy said as they reached the truck.
"So, floating the river can be dangerous?" Marcie unlocked the truck. "Is it a fast river?"
"Depending on how high the water level is, it can be fast," Sandy put the items she carried in the back of the cab before climbing into her seat. "But, the danger is from the rocks and boulders under the river's surface. There are several small rapids you go over and if you were to be knocked off your tube at the wrong place you could get hurt. Being drunk wouldn't be the smartest thing if that were to happen."
"Guess it's not the smartest thing most of the time," Marcie said as she climbed into the driver's seat.
"Ain't that the truth."
"Well, it does sound like fun," Marcie agreed as she started the truck and carefully backed it in an arc, giving her enough room to turn the large vehicle back onto the private road. "If I ever get to Montana, I'll have to give it a try."
"I hope you'll come visit me," Sandy said, sincerely.
Without answering, Marcie smiled at her.
"Do you have any family?" Marcie asked as Sandy climbed back into the truck after closing and locking the gate at the end of the private road.
Sandy buckled her seat belt before she answered. "My mom and dad died in a car accident just before I graduated from high school."
"I'm sorry," Marcie reached over and squeezed Sandy's hand.
"Thank you," Sandy squeezed back. This time the women left their fingers entwined. "I have a brother but he's refused to speak to me since I came out. Said he'd never have a queer as a sister."
"When was that?"
"When I was fourteen."
"Sheesh," Marcie whistled. "Does he live around here?"
"Don't know. When the folks died, he was named my guardian. Somehow, he got all their assets transferred into his name. I haven't seen or heard from him since."
"How'd he do that? Wasn't there a lawyer or trustee or something?"
"How much did he get?"
"Don't know," Sandy hadn't thought about it in so long that it seemed like an event from someone else's life. "I don't imagine there was much. Mom was a stay at home mother and Dad worked on an assembly line. They did own the house and the car Dad drove to work. But, other than that, I don't think they had much. What they may have had in bank accounts, I haven't a clue. But, whatever was there, he took it and left me behind to fend for myself. Even sold the house the week I graduated."
"Damn. No wonder you left."
"Wasn't a whole lot to keep me here, that's for sure."
"And, your folks. Are they buried here?"
"Do you want to see them?" Marcie asked. She knew if it were her parents, she would want to visit their graveside.
"First thing I did when I arrived," Sandy told her. "But, thank you. That was sweet."
"You're welcome," Marcie smirked. "And I'm not sweet."
"Yes, you are."
"Ahhh," Marcie groaned, good-naturally. "So, any other family?'
"No. My grandparents died when I was still a baby. And, both my parents were only children."
"So, it's just you?" Marcie couldn't imagine life without a family. Besides her beloved grandfather, she had her parents, three brothers, six aunts, nine uncles and more cousins than she could count. Holidays were a real free-for-all in her family. "That's rough."
Sandy shrugged, "it's all I've ever really known."
"It's still rough," Marcie said as she turned the truck onto the private road leading to her house.
"I'm glad we're almost there," Sandy squirmed in the truck's plush seat. "Something else I forgot about the ocean."
"Having sand in places it just don't belong," Sandy declared.
"Ain't that the truth," Marcie joined in the laughter at their shared discomfort.
The women made quick work of their showers and re-dressing. It was less than an hour later when they were traveling back down the private road away from the house.
"So, where are we going for dinner?" Sandy asked as she settled back into the seat that was feeling quite natural to her. Reluctantly, after her shower, she had replaced the clothes borrowed from Marcie with a pair of her own dress slacks and blouse. She had added a light sweater even though it was a little more than she needed in the warmer weather by the beach but she knew she would welcome having it when she returned to Montana later that night.
"A little out-of-the-way spot. I hope you like steak."
"Mmmm," Sandy moaned. "My favorite."
"Mine, too," Marcie, unthinking, reached over and reclaimed the hand she had been holding on the drive from the beach to the house. "It's not much to look at but the food is excellent. And, best of all, it doesn't get real crowded so you can actually have a conversation while you eat."
"What a concept," Sandy chuckled, wryly. One of her pet peeves was restaurants too loud for conversations. She never saw the point of going where you had to listen to a loud band or a bunch of loud diners.
"Don't like loud restaurants, I take it?"
"No. If I go to dinner with someone, I want to be able to hear what they're saying. I'm not much good at lip reading."
"Oh," Marcie smirked, "I bet there's some lip-reading you'd be real good at."
"Bad," Sandy squeezed the fingers wrapped around hers. "Very, very bad."
"Want to spank me?" Marcie's smirk grew as she wiggled her eyebrows.
"Yes," Sandy purred.
"Oops," Marcie knew she had set a trap she hadn't been prepared to fall into. "Back up. Rewind. Hold your horses," she begged.
"You started it."
"Yes. And, I am truly sorry that I did."
"I'm not suggesting that we take it any further. Just that I'm glad you feel comfortable enough to, well, to, you know."
"Yeah, I know," Marcie sighed. She knew she was falling for Sandy. And, she knew it was too soon for Sandy to be considering a new relationship. She just didn't know if she had the strength to do the right thing.
"Truce," Sandy offered.
"Truce," Marcie breathed a sigh of relief, grateful Sandy was willing to slow things down.
"So, how far to this restaurant. I'm starving," Sandy asked.
"So, when do you graduate?" Sandy asked.
"Trying to changed the topic of conversation?" Marcie teased.
"Alright, six weeks, two days, and, approximately, sixteen hours."
"You're not counting are you?"
"No, just a quick guess."
"Why do you ask?"
Sandy remained silent.
"Sandy Craft, you tell me what's going on in that beautiful head of yours," Marcie insisted.
"Alright," Sandy's sunburned cheeks darkened slightly, "I was just thinking how soon you could come visit me in Montana."
"Who said I was?" Marcie teased.
"You are, aren't you."
"Oh," Sandy sounded disappointed.
"Yes, definitely," Marcie said quickly not wanting Sandy to think she didn't want to come.
"Oooohhh," Marcie glared. "You is a bad woman."
"And, you love me for it."
Her words stunned both women into silence. Moments later, Marcie pulled into the restaurant's parking lot and found a spot big enough for her truck and a safe distance from any other vehicles. She shut off the engine but remained in her seat.
"I'm sorry," Sandy sighed.
"Don't be," Marcie turned towards Sandy. "I think I might be falling in love with you."
"But, it's too soon," Sandy stated what Marcie was having trouble saying.
"I don't want this to end tonight, Marcie."
After another deep sigh, Sandy said, "then let's go inside and have a pleasant evening. Like you said before, we should just let this go where it will. No pressure. No expectations."
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Okay," she smiled. "Let's go eat."
As they waited for Sandy's flight to be announced, the women sat quietly in the corner of the waiting area, each lost in her own thoughts.
Sandy was coming to the realization that she had shared more with Marcie in the past day and half than she and Debbie had shared in two years. Her ex-lover always kept most of her thoughts to herself, behind an almost obsessive protective shield. Sandy laughed to herself, 'why is it so much easier to see these things now?' But, she knew why. She reached over, wrapping her hand around Marcie's.
"For what?" Marcie looked down at their joined hands. Her skin tingled and she was saddened to think she might not experience the sensation after this day.
"For, everything. For, talking to me on the pier. For, sharing your self with me. For, giving me back my self-confidence. For being my friend," she smiled.
"You're welcome," Marcie smiled back. She saw in Sandy's eyes what she knew was in her own heart. "You'll call when you get home?" The women had exchanged addresses and phone numbers, promising to stay in touch. Marcie wanted Sandy to have the time to get over Debbie on her own terms. And they both needed time to decide if their feelings for each other were genuine.
"Yes, I promise," Sandy chuckled, remembering Debbie's objections to the very same request. "And, every night after that, too."
"Oh, that's my flight," Sandy said as the announcement boomed out of the large speaker hanging from the ceiling above them.
Marcie stood with Sandy. "Take care of yourself," she whispered.
"You, too." Sandy had planned to leave it at that but her body had other ideas. She leaned forward, pressing her lips to Marcie's.
Marcie knew she should push herself away but couldn't. It felt too good. She encircled Sandy with her arms and pulled their bodies close, the kiss deepening.
"You better go," Marcie whispered, her voice husky with longing.
"No," Marcie tenderly stopped the words from being said. "Not now."
"I do, Marcie," Sandy whispered. "And, I know you do too. I saw it in your eyes today on the beach. And, again just now."
"Go on," Marcie gently pushed Sandy towards the boarding gate. As she watched Sandy disappear into the tunnel between the terminal and the plane, she whispered, "I love you, Sandy." Then she walked away, never looking back.
Sandy ran back to the tunnel's opening only to see Marcie walking out of the terminal. "I love you, Marcie," she sighed.
"Did you say something, miss?" a passing flight attendant asked.
"No," Sandy shook her head. Slowly, she walked to the plane wondering if she would ever see Marcie again.
Six months later·..
In the weeks following her return home, Sandy and Marcie had spent endless hours talking on the phone and reading letters sent by the other. They had shared everything about themselves, becoming the best of friends in the process. But as the weeks passed, Marcie's calls became less frequent and her letters arrived less often.
Sandy sat on the couch in her apartment nursing a beer. The TV was on but if someone had offered her a million dollars on the spot to name the program, she would have had to pass. She sighed again. It had been days since Marcie had called and she had to accept that, what they had, was probably over. Tears began to roll down her cheeks.
The doorbell rang and Sandy considered not answering it. Instead, she rose off the couch and walked to the apartment's window overlooking the building's parking lot. She couldn't believe her eyes. Neatly parked next to her Ranger was a shiny black Dodge 2500 diesel, full size cab, full size bed, pickup truck. She flew to the door, almost pulling it off its hinges when she yanked it open to reveal Marcie grinning on the other side.
"Is it really you?" Sandy breathed.
"In the flesh," Marcie beamed. "Ooh, a beer," she snatched the bottle from Sandy's hand, "I've been thinking of one of these for the last hour." Tipping her head back, she drained the bottle. "Thanks," she grinned as she handed the empty bottle back to Sandy.
"You goof," Sandy laughed. "Get your ass in here. You are here to stay, right?" she asked, hopefully.
"Well that depends," Marcie maintained her position on the porch.
"On whether or not you agree to my conditions."
"First, you have to agree to show me around this here Montana you seem so taken with."
"Can we take your truck?"
"Oh, I definitely agree," Sandy laughed. "Now, will you come inside?"
"You haven't heard my second condition."
"Okay, what is it?"
Marcie took on a more serious tone as she said, "you have to quit your job and give your writing a real shot."
"But," Sandy began to protest.
"If you don't agree, I'm leaving," Marcie shook her head.
"But I have bills to pay, Marcie. I can't just quit."
"I'll take care of the bills. You take care of the writing."
"I can't ask you to do that."
"You didn't ask," Marcie smiled, "I'm offering, sweetheart. Please say yes."
"I don't know what to say," Sandy saw the hope in Marcie's eyes and she felt the love she held in her heart for this woman. 'She called me sweetheart,' she smiled at the thought.
"Great," Marcie took a step forward.
"But," Sandy placed a hand on Marcie's chest preventing her from entering the apartment, "only for a trial period. If it turns I'm no good as a writer, I go back to work."
"Good. Now, get your ass in here so I can kiss you silly."
"Now, that's the best offer I've had in a long time," Marcie said as she picked Sandy up and carried her inside. Cradling Sandy in her arms, Marcie looked at her quizzically, "you've lost weight."
"Yes," Sandy snickered. "Seems whenever I thought of you, I lost my appetite." Which was another difference between Marcie and her ex. After breaking up with Debbie, food became a way to ease the pain but whenever she thought she might never see Marcie again, she had lost her appetite.
"Oh, that's funny," Marcie groaned. "So," she looked around the small apartment, "where's the bedroom?"
"Let's try door number one," Sandy pointed across the room.
"Sweetheart," Marcie said as she carried Sandy to the bedroom, covering the distance in four long strides.
"We are looking for some bigger living quarters tomorrow."
"Oh," Sandy pouted, "I kinda had other plans for tomorrow."
Marcie used the heel of her brand new hiking boots to flick the bedroom door shut.
"Day after tomorrow, then."
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