Diamond In The Rough
DISCLAIMER: This is an original work of fiction. All characters are the property of the author and cannot be used without permission
THANKS: To my beta, Heather, for giving me… errr, the story… the once over. I tried building the Tower of Babel with sand. Now it’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
FEEDBACK: I’m always open to comments, preferably nice ones, so let me know what you think at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© February 2009
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It was a sunny Saturday and the field was filled with the voices of excited children. Bobbi Turner sat in the bleachers to watch her daughter, Missy, play softball. New to the neighborhood, she was content to sit back while the parents around her called and waved to their offspring on the field.
Today was another day in a long line of days where Bobbi would have to introduce herself to her neighbors. It had been three years, and three moves over three states, since her divorce and it had seen both of them living out of boxes for most of that time. Would this home be any different?
She had tried to make her marriage to Josh work, she really did, but it was all a lie and had been from the beginning. So their five-year marriage ended in a messy divorce and Josh getting Missy. It was a low blow that he called her an unfit mother because she was gay. She had done just fine when he didn’t know but he seemed quite happy to play that card just to get Missy away from her. They both knew he didn’t want the child, but did it because she did.
Bobbi could feel herself getting agitated, as she always did when she thought about that man. He was such as bastard, running off with his new girlfriend and leaving Missy with a neighbor. The Police finally tracked her down and she immediately applied for custody. Considering what Josh had done the court case didn’t drag out too long. Now if only she’d see a child support check from him, not that it would ever occur because he yelled in her face, “It’ll be a cold day in hell before that happens!”
Actually, she hoped that she never heard from him again. If he paid for Missy’s upkeep then she would feel he owned a part of her daughter. As far as she was concerned he lost that right the day he put the needs of himself above those of a five year old.
Wild cheering brought her mind back to the game. The parents around her were standing so all she saw was a man’s extensive butt in front of her. Someone had either scored or had gotten out. Bobbi waited patiently while the supporters seated themselves and she could see the field again. When she could see the play it was then that she realized that she was sitting in the middle of the other team’s fans.
“Hey, honey! We just scored! Aren’t you happy?” The gentleman with the big butt asked her.
Should she reveal who she barracked for and earn possible isolation, or just say ‘yes’. There had been enough lies in her life to last her two lifetimes so she opted for the truth. “Sorry, I don’t support, errr…” She had no idea of the name of Missy’s team, let alone who they were playing.
“The Scorpions, lady!” His eyes narrowed and then widened in surprise. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
“Them?” Had she been discovered already? Did she have a tattoo on her forehead saying ‘lesbian’?
“The other team, sweetheart. The Falcons.”
“Are you sure you’re in the right place? The Falcons… the other team.”
“Oh, errr…” She couldn’t remember the original question. “Yes... err no… err I don’t know. My daughter plays on that team.” She pointed to the fielding side.
“You’re a brave woman. You should be on that side.” His chubby finger pointed to the bleachers near third base.
“Does it really matter?”
“Of course it matters!”
Sighing deeply, Bobbi rose and moved much to the derision of those around her. Maybe softball wasn’t such a good idea. She watched the play as she walked behind the fence and behind the umpire towards her designated area. The pitch came in and the batter swung. The hit was clean and swift as the sound of ball on bat cracked over the field. The ball soared into the air and headed directly for Missy.
“Watch out!” she yelled as her daughter lifted her mitt and closed her eyes.
It was like it was all in slow motion as the softball approached Missy’s head. She was not going to catch the ball as her mitt was out of position and it was going to end painfully. The ball struck Missy on the forehead then bounced on the ground and dribbled away. The child went down in a heap on the ground, her still body telling the whole story.
Bobbi ran to the gate in the fence and was already on the playing field before the umpire responded. She didn’t hear “Time!” called or someone yelling “Call an ambulance!” Her focus was on her child on the ground in left outfield.
She dropped painfully to her knees and her hands hovered over the unconscious child. Her eyesight was a blur, the image of Missy floating in a sea of unshed tears. “Missy? Oh God, honey!” She was about to lift Missy into her arms when a deep voice stopped her.
“Don’t move her!” The voice was firm and low. Another figure dropped to the ground beside her and it wasn’t until the face mask was removed that she saw the umpire was a woman.
“Why?” A spike of fear swept through her tiny frame. “Oh… Oh God… is she…?”
“No, ma’am, it’s just a precaution.”
Bobbi looked at the woman who had taken charge and her gaze was met by a frank perusal. The woman’s eyes were dark and held some concern. She touched Bobbi’s arm momentarily and murmured, “Everything will be alright. It’s just safe not to move her until the paramedics come.”
Bobbi’s eyes dropped to the hand holding her then returned to the eyes that revealed so much about the woman helping her. She watched as the umpire did a cursory examination of Missy, her hands sliding over the child’s head knowledgably.
There was a siren in the distance, steadily growing in loudness as the minutes ticked by. The ambulance finally arrived and the paramedics were directed to the field by one of the parents. Bobbi’s heart was in her mouth as they fussed around Missy, her mind conjuring up a number of possibly fatal scenarios for her beautiful daughter.
“Huh?” Bobbi looked up in a daze.
“They know what they’re doing. And see? She’s awake now but they’ll probably take her to the hospital to get her checked out.”
“Thank you for your help, errr…”
“Jeb. Jeb Faulkner.”
“Thanks Jeb. I’m Bobbi Turner.”
“Hello, Bobbi Turner. I don’t think I’ve seen you around the neighborhood before.”
Bobbi’s eyes were focused on her daughter as they spoke, answering the questions by rote. “No, we just moved in.”
“Well, don’t let this little accident stop your daughter from playing.”
“Missy. Her name is Missy,” Bobbi whispered as she watched the paramedics prepare to transport her daughter. One of them signaled her and they began to move the stretcher over the uneven ground to the waiting ambulance. Bobbi followed close behind, allowing the procession to move slowly across the field.
“Bobbi?” Jeb called, waiting for her to turn. “I’ll drop by after the game, alright?”
“Okay!” Bobbi called back absently but her mind was with Missy. Her whole being was with Missy and until her daughter was back with her then nothing else existed.
The trip seemed interminable even though in reality it took only a few minutes. There was no energetic rush at any time in Missy’s transport but more a firm efficiency to see a job done. Bobbi took comfort from this fact, knowing that if there had been hustle and bustle then the paramedics would have thought that Missy was seriously injured. Now if she could only stop the violent surges of adrenaline pumping through her.
Jeb finally found the room housing Miss and her mother and knocked gently.
Jeb pushed on the door and found the little girl sitting up in bed with Bobbi perched on the edge of the mattress. “So, how’s the patient?” She walked into the room and allowed the door to close by itself.
“The doctor says a lump on the head and concussion. They did some sort of scan and it was fine. They want to keep her overnight for observation.” Bobbi knew that she was babbling but her adrenaline was still flowing through her. She had never been so scared in her life, and that included the first custody hearing for Missy when her whole life was laid bare to the world.
“See? I told you there was nothing to worry about.” Jeb stepped up to the bed and gave Missy the tiny stuffed toy she carried in her hand. “Sorry you got hurt, sweetie.” Jeb raised her hand and gently ruffled Missy’s hair.
“So who won?” Missy asked.
Jeb laughed and answered, “Trust you to want to know the score!” But the look on Bobbi’s face said she couldn’t care less about the game.
While she had no children of her own, Jeb could well understand Bobbi’s panic because when her cat Marbles went missing she couldn’t think straight. She assumed that Bobbi rated Missy above a missing cat so the anxiety would be ten fold.
“Your team won, Missy. Ten to eight.”
“I hope you weren’t biased.” Bobbi hated to think that Missy’s accident would influence Jeb’s umpiring.
“It would take more than a knock to the head to get me to throw a game.” Jeb had said it jokingly but Bobbi looked horrified. “I’m joking, Bobbi. Lighten up.”
“Sorry, it… it’s…”
“…been quite a morning. Yeah, I know. I was there.” Jeb looked at Missy and then at Bobbi. She was ready to suggest kicking the child out of bed and putting the mother in. Missy was blissfully unaware of all the anxiety and concern she had caused with the knock to the head, while Bobbi seemed to be a bundle of nerves. “Would you like a coffee?”
“No, I can’t leave–”
“No problem. I saw a vending machine down the hall.”
Maybe some caffeine would calm her nerves. “Yeah, sure. That’d be great. Cream and two sugars.” Bobbi smiled at her child’s savior, thanking her with a look. It was nice to have someone to fall back on to, even if it was only for a moment or two.
“She’s nice, Mommy.”
“Yes, she is,” Bobbi said absently as she watched Jeb leave. She turned her attention back to Missy. “So what did she give you?”
Missy held up the toy triumphantly. “It’s a bear!”
It was hard to believe that she had been knocked unconscious only a couple of hours ago. Missy’s enthusiasm for the new toy allayed Bobbi’s fears that she would suffer any permanent impairment. Bobbi, on the other hand, would be jittery for a while to come. Sometimes motherhood sucked.
“You’re a very lucky girl. You better thank her when she gets back.”
Missy just smiled at her mother, melting the woman’s heart with the undisguised love shining in her eyes.
While Missy was busy with her bear Bobbi strolled over to the window and looked out over the hospital’s garden. Her thoughts went over the morning’s events. She was of two mindsets about letting Missy continue softball. Naturally as a mother one accident was one accident too many but, on the other hand, Missy did seem to enjoy both the friends and the sport. The squeak of the door stopped her internal debate and she decided to leave the decision until later when she was better equipped to make a rational decision.
“Cream and two sugars,” Jeb said as she slowly walked to the table to put down the two cups.
“I hope we’re not keeping you from–”
“Nah. No places to go or people to see.”
“What about the game?”
“That’s it. I’m done for the day, so stop worrying will you?”
“Maybe I like the company.”
“See, Mommy? You’ve got your first friend here. Miss here will look after you.”
“I will?” Jed watched the child with amusement.
“Sure. You wanna help my mommy?”
“Well, that depends on your mommy now, doesn’t it?” Jeb looked up expectantly.
“What sort of help, honey?” Bobbi felt like some important piece of the conversation had been left out because she had no idea what was going on.
“So you won’t be alone any more.”
“Ahhh… errr….” Bobbi’s eyes widened in surprise. “But I’m not alone, Missy. I have you.”
“And now you have a grown up friend as well.”
“I don’t think Miss Faulkner is interested in the job, honey. Besides, we’re here for you not for me.”
“Missy, please. We’ll talk about this when you get home.”
“Don’t I have any say in this?” Jeb intervened. She looked from mother to daughter and back again, lingering on Bobbi for an extra moment or two.
“You do, but I don’t want you to be bullied into something you don’t want to do by an eight year-old.”
“Who said anything about me not wanting the job?” Jeb replied then smiled at Bobbi’s dropped jaw.
“But… but… We’ve only just met.” Bobbi scrambled for verbal high ground. “Besides, I might be married. Did you think about that?”
“Missy just said you were alone, so you are either divorced or single.”
“I think you’re getting the wrong idea here.”
“Oh no,” Jeb looked deeply into Bobbi’s eyes. “I have a feeling you have been alone for too long, Bobbi Turner. Even your daughter says so. I think you could use a friend.”
“A friend? What would people say?”
“That we’re friends?” Jeb asked Missy, “What do you think? Can your mother and I be friends?”
“Yeah, Mommy, you’ve got a friend!” she said gleefully.
“The child has spoken!” Jeb announced and she looked at Bobbi waiting for her to object, “And as your friend I suggest that we go on a picnic tomorrow and get to know one another better, assuming that Missy is released from hospital in the morning.”
“If Missy is out of the hospital then she will be going straight to bed!”
“Then I’ll bring the picnic to your house.” Jeb smiled wickedly.
“Oooh, yes! Yes! A picnic!” Missy bounced up and down in her bed.
“Settle down, young lady. You’ve got a nasty bump on the head.” Jeb said soothingly, her hand stroking the girl’s soft dark wavy hair. “If you behave for your mother I’ll bring a picnic, but only if you behave.”
“I will,” Missy said seriously, the bear in her arm buckling under the pressure of a fierce hug. “And thank you for the bear.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Now if your mother will give me her address I will let you get some rest.” Jeb took a step away, giving a visual signal that she was leaving. She handed over a notepad and pencil she kept in her pocket and waited patiently while Bobbi scribbled down her address. “And the phone number,” Jeb added. Bobbi stared at her for a moment before writing again.
“You play dirty,” Bobbi mumbled.
“Any way I can…” Jeb whispered back. She winked once at Missy before leaving the ward, not once looking back at Bobbi.
“The lady didn’t have her drink.”
Bobbi turned to look at Missy. Trust a child to notice such things. “Maybe she wasn’t thirsty, honey.” She reached for a coffee and hesitated, not knowing which one was hers. Bobbi lifted one cup, smelled and tasted it, then did the same with the second cup. They were identical. It seemed that Jeb had no intention of having a coffee.
“Is she coming back tomorrow?”
“Sure… and she’s bringing lunch.”
Bobbi was nervous. Missy had been discharged and was now safely sleeping in her own bed. But it was Jeb she was worried about. What did the woman want? Did she want to be just friends or something more? Or was she reading the signals all wrong? It had been so long since anyone had shown any interest that she had lost touch with the subtle signals that would tell her what she wanted to know.
The doorbell rang and Bobbi rose from the chair next to Missy’s bed to answer the door. She had stayed there until her daughter had fallen asleep and hadn’t bothered to move afterwards.
“Whew! I was wondering if you had given me a false address.” Jeb said as the door opened quietly. She looked up and down the street as she entered.
“What was that for?”
“Looking around. Scared to be seen?”
“You can never be too careful.”
“You were probably spotted as soon as your car pulled up out front.”
“But we’re just friends, remember?”
But something in Jeb’s eye told Bobbi so much more. “So you keep saying. Come in.” Bobbi stepped into the living room and Jeb followed close behind. “Now what’s this about a false address?”
“Well if you wanted to get rid of me you could have given me the wrong address.”
“Damn, I didn’t think of that!”
“Ahhh,” Jeb uttered.
“What does that mean?”
“I just learned something new about you. Despite your best intentions you can’t lie. That’s a good sign.”
“A good sign for what?”
“For me. At least I’ll know that whatever you say I have a ninety percent chance of it being the truth.”
“And the other ten percent?”
“Let’s put that down to impulse.” Jeb looked around the neat, but small, living room. It was sparsely furnished with what looked like hand-me-downs or bought second-hand furniture, but what there was had been looked after. “So where’s Missy?”
“In bed asleep. The doctor wanted her to remain quiet for a while so he gave her something to calm her.”
“Seeing how excited she got yesterday I can see why. She’s a bundle of energy.”
“Yeah, she’s always been like that.” Bobbi remembered only too well how active Missy could be. She could barely keep up with her as a single parent and she didn’t trust anyone else to look after her. Maybe that was why she felt ten years older than her meager twenty-seven years.
“Well, I brought lunch, hand picked by me. I’m a lousy cook so it’s all bought I’m afraid.” Jeb handed over the large paper sack in her arm, waiting for Bobbi to get a firm hold on it.
“Did you buy the entire store?” The sack was heavy and she moved quickly to the kitchen to put it down.
“Not quite. I didn’t know what you liked so I bought a little of everything.” Jeb called as she followed a few steps behind. The kitchen was much the same as the living room with little furnished but obviously cared for by loving hands.
“Would you like a cup of coffee while we wait for Missy to wake up?”
“Sure, cream one sugar, but if the doc gave her something to sleep she’s not waking up anytime soon.”
“So what do you suggest?” Why was Bobbi even asking? By posing the question she was moving into dangerous territory. Did she want to go there?
“Wellll…,” Jeb made a show of thinking, “… we could lay out a rug on the living room floor and have our picnic.”
“Our? You mean you, me and Missy.”
“No, you and me, and if Missy joins us later then good.” Jeb said carefully, making sure that Bobbi understood.
Bobbi stopped making the coffee and turned around. “What do you want?”
“Well, that cup of coffee is a good start.”
“No, why are you here? What is it you want of me?” Bobbi leaned back against the kitchen counter in support. Her heart was pounding nearly as energetically as it did yesterday at the park.
“Well, I know what I want but what do you want?” Jeb threw back at her.
“Please! No word games. I’m confused.”
“Alright. You want the bottom line? I’m interested in you and I think you feel the same about me. Am I right or am I mistaken?”
“Are you asking if I’m gay?” Had she been out of circulation that long? Not that she had ever been in circulation. The question of her sexuality never really reared its head until her marriage to Josh. It had felt all wrong right from the beginning but by then it was too late and Missy was well on her way.
“I suppose I am.” This was not a conversation that Jeb wanted to have. “I’ve never had to ask before. Look Bobbi,” Jeb approached her but she put up a hand, “well, that seems to answer my question.”
“What?” Now Bobbi was confused. “What did I say?”
“That you’re straight, Bobbi. I’m sorry if I offended you. I’d still like to be your friend but maybe the damage has been done.” Jeb looked abashed. “Do you want me to leave?”
“I don’t understand. Why are you leaving?”
“You seem uncomfortable about this conversation. To tell you the truth, so am I. I can usually tell when someone is interested and yesterday I thought you were. Maybe it was all the excitement of the moment.”
“But I didn’t even answer your question.”
“You did when you held up your hand to stop me approaching.” Jeb looked at the sack. “Could we at least have the food I brought? I promise I’ll behave.”
“But I didn’t answer your question.”
“Come on. You go find a blanket and I’ll unpack the food.”
“Will you listen to me–”
“I hope you like pâté. I wasn’t sure but it was on special and I haven’t had it for ages.”
“Then there’s olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Hey! We could have antipasto! I’ve got some prosciutto as well–”
Bobbi took the step or two to get to Jeb and grabbed the woman’s head in her two hands. She planted her lips on Jeb’s before she could think or Jeb could respond.
Jeb backed away a step and looked at the woman who had surprised her. “Why did you do that?”
“I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise.” At that point Bobbi was frustrated that Jeb was ignoring her. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Yeah, I was trying to cover up my embarrassment.”
“Don’t be, but does that answer your question?”
“I suppose it does.” Jeb took a deep breath. “So where do we go from here?”
“The picnic is a good start.” Bobbi felt relief at Jeb’s nervousness, pleased that at least the butterflies in her stomach were also in Jeb’s. She fiddled around with the sack and looked inside. “Is there anything in here for Missy?”
“Sure,” Jeb replied as she reached into the bag, “a packet of crisps.” She drew out the bag and tossed it on the bench.
“She could probably use something a little more substantial than that.”
“Errr… coleslaw?” Jeb held up the container. “Sorry, I don’t have kids so I’m not parent savvy.”
Bobbi went to the cupboard and took out a jar and placed it on the counter. “Peanut butter and jelly. You can’t go wrong with that.”
“So this is ‘Parenting 101’ is it?” Jeb unwrapped and opened her supplies as they talked. “Do you have a plate?”
Bobbi opened a cupboard and pulled out half a dozen plates for Jeb to choose from, moving to another cupboard to do the same with glasses. “Okay?” She continued the conversation as she went to the fridge and opened it. “I do have an open bottle of Chardonnay if you would like a drink.”
“Excellent! Between your wine and my antipasto we have a picnic!” Jeb announced as she arranged the meats, cheeses and exotic vegetables on the large white plate.
“I do hope there’s more than that!” Bobbi nodded her head towards the plate of finger food.
“Sure there is. This is just for starters.” Jeb announced proudly.
“Are you planning on staying here long?” Bobbi said as she moved away to find two wine glasses.
“Forever,” Jeb muttered before clearing her throat and speaking louder. “You can’t rush a picnic, Bobbi. It’s as much about savoring the moment as it is about eating until you puke.” Jeb held up the plate to show off her handiwork. “Now, doesn’t that look scrumptious?”
“Scrumptious?” While the food was presentable it was far from perfect. She gave Jeb the ‘eye’. “If you say so.” Bobbi put down the glasses and went in search of a blanket, leaving Jeb to find the wine. What on Earth possessed Bobbi to agree to this lunatic idea? More importantly, was she ready to be involved in a close friendship let alone a relationship? Probably not but she was sick and tired of being lonely, not that she was alone with Missy and all, but there was only so much one could discuss with an eight year-old child. She needed a shoulder to cry on when things got tough, someone to hug her when she needed it and someone who could talk to her on an adult level.
Jeb carried the glasses of wine into the living room and placed them on the table, returning to the kitchen for the antipasto and plates. When she emerged Bobbi was spreading out the blanket and giving her a very enticing view.
“Are you coming?” Bobbi called out, unaware of Jeb leaning against the door jamb.
Jeb bit her tongue from saying the obvious, instead simply muttering, “Yeah.” She placed the plates on the floor and rescued the glasses from the table. “There you go.” She handed the drink to the woman on the floor. “Cheers.” Jeb extended her glass and waited for Bobbi to do the same, touching glass on glass for a moment before drinking.
“Yeah, cheers.” As Bobbi took a sip she gave silent thanks for Missy’s recovery. She listened intently but there was no sound from the bedroom. Maybe Jeb was right; Missy would sleep right through the picnic and miss out on everything.
Bobbi watched as Jeb lowered herself to the blanket, lying on her side and supporting her head with her hand.
“What?” Jeb could feel the intense gaze on her.
“I was wondering what will happen next.”
“Well, you and I will munch on the antipasto and drink our wine and just enjoy the picnic.”
“Is it that simple?”
“Of course it is. The beginning of a relationship is all about getting to know one another.”
“A relationship? When did that happen?” Had Bobbi been dozing?
“Are you having second thoughts?”
“Would it matter?”
“Of course it matters!” Jeb shifted to a seated position. “I’m not going to push you into anything you don’t want. Just tell me now.”
“Look, I know I’m confusing you,” Bobbi explained, “but I’m not sure what I want.”
Jebb took a sip of her wine then put the glass on the floor. She entwined her fingers in her lap as she sat cross-legged. “Does your husband have something to do with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it sounds like you didn’t get much of a chance to make your own decisions.”
“I’ve been single for three years now. I think I know how to make decisions!” Bobbi said defensively.
“True, but that’s day-to-day living decisions. You’ve never had to make any emotional decisions.”
“And you know me so well!” Sarcasm was not her best suit but Bobbi took offence that someone she barely knew was telling her how to live her life, irrespective of whether it was true or not. Bobbi drew in a deep breath and allowed it to expel slowly, letting the anger to flow out with the air. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“But maybe you were right. Maybe it is time to get on with my life.” Bobbi didn’t think it would be that simple.
“And I’ll be here to help you.”
Had Jeb read her mind? “You will? You barely know me.”
“But I like what I see, Bobbi. I’m very attracted to you and I would like to stick around to see if something more can develop. Is that alright?”
Bobbi stood and walked to Missy’s bedroom, observing the sleeping child in the bed from the doorway. Was it alright? She had felt something when Jeb’s facemask came off at the game. Should she give herself the chance of possible happiness? Jeb was prepared to guide her through all her emotional baggage and meet her at the other end.
Bobbi walked back to the blanket and looked down into the hooded eyes of the seated woman. So there was only one answer to the question.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This short story will be expanded into a full story at a later date.