Title: The Tropic of Hunter
Fandom: Xena Uber/Alt/Original
Rating: 18 or NC-17
After closing and locking everything up, we went back to Lisa's for the night because of the dogs. She did not spend a lot of time away from them unless it was necessary and when she was going to have to leave them for any length of time, she always made arrangements for them not to be alone. However, she did have a pet door installed and they had a safely enclosed dog run and weight activated food and water dispensers just in case something came up and she could not get home to them. She loved them very much and they just worshipped her. I didn't blame them.
There was never any question that we would spend the night together, regardless of where. It was just a given that it would happen, as if we'd been sharing a bed for years. And each time we made love seemed to bring out a different level of passion that was electrifying and intoxicating and I just wanted to fuse myself to her so that we could be together all the time. I would fall asleep sated, exhausted and yet emotionally energized by sensations I'd never felt before.
I was beginning to have no doubt that I was meant to be with Lisa Riordan, that what was developing between us was genuine and inevitable. I had never been a big believer in fate but being with Lisa was changing that skepticism. She felt that our reuniting in this manner was predestined and every moment I spent with her was proving that prediction to be true.
When we fell asleep, I was spooning her, securing her naked form to me, absorbing her warmth and her spirit, knowing if I held her any closer, she would have been inside me. She had settled back into my embrace, her arm covering mine, our fingers intertwined, our legs tangled and our hearts beating in the same rhythm. My mother was wrong about being in an airplane - this was as close to heaven as I was ever going to get.
We woke up at four in the morning to the sound of one of the dogs getting sick.
Eyes flying open, fully alert, Lisa raced out of bed to locate the poor dog and whatever pile or piles he deposited on the floor. That way she could do a spot analysis of what may have caused the greyhound's upset stomach and clean up the mess before either she or I got up and unexpectedly stepped in it. She returned a few minutes later and climbed back into bed, snuggling up to me.
"Who got sick?" I asked her, yawning.
"Oz. Looks like he ate part of one of my plants again but he seems fine now."
"Good." We resettled into our former positions and very shortly, we were both asleep again. I always wondered why no one invented an alarm clock that, when activated, had the sound of an animal puking. Nothing seemed to wake someone and get them out of bed faster than that particular sound.
Three hours later we were awakened again by a ringing telephone. The sun was shining so that was another hint. Reaching over me, Lisa fumbled with the cordless receiver before finally getting it to her mouth. "Hello?" It was obvious she had been asleep. "Morning, Mother." She resumed her former position of being snuggled up to my back, giving my shoulder blade a few kisses while she listened to her mother drone on. "Well, she's lying." I guessed they must have been discussing Lesley. "We did not make her walk home, she chose to walk those last few miles...I'm sorry she can't walk today but it's not my fault...no, it isn't Hunter's fault, either." Visualizing Lesley covered in mud yesterday made me laugh silently and Lisa responded to my body shaking with a light slap. "She was drunk, that's why we didn't bring her back to the church. Yes, she was, Mom, she was drunk, again, and you can't tell me you didn't notice. We were doing her a favor by bringing her home...Yes, actually she's right here...Yes, Mother, she spent the night." Lisa sighed in annoyance. "Why is it that Lesley being obviously falling-down-drunk in public is more acceptable to you than my spending time with Hunter?" Her voice was getting more clear and angrier as the phone call continued. "Mom. Mom? Mother! I'm not having this conversation with you. I'm tired of it. Keep pushing me on this issue and just maybe you'll push me right out of here and to California with her!"
My eyes snapped open and I know I stopped breathing. Was she saying that just to get a rise out of her mother or did she mean it? I turned in place and looked at her, my eyes searching her face for a clue. I could tell she was pissed off by the tone of her voice but there was a softness in her eyes when they engaged mine. I reached over and cupped the side of her face, my thumb lightly rubbing her cheek.
"Yeah, Mom, I would do that." She smiled at me. "She would be worth giving up everything for." I raised up on my elbow, leaned over and gave her a silent kiss on the cheek I had just been caressing. "Well, it's my life so it's ultimately my decision, isn't it?" Green eyes blinked up at me, lovingly. "I don't consider it throwing my life away. I'm in love with her. I always have been." I laid back down and she sat up. I could hear her mother ranting, even though I couldn't understand what she was saying. "Mom? We're done talking about this...Tonight? Nope, I have plans." I ran my fingers gently up and down her back. "Okay. I'll give Aunt Bethany a call. Bye." She pushed the off button and tossed the phone down to the bottom of the bed. "She drives me fucking nuts sometimes!" Lisa vented. She then went back to cuddling against me
"So...uh...what you were saying to her...about going back to California with me and giving up everything you have here...were you serious?"
She tightened her grip on my waist, her head snuggled on my shoulder. "I'm serious about being with you. Just how we're going to accomplish that is something we're going to have to discuss."
"Did you say that stuff to her just to get her going?"
"Initially. Funny though, the minute it left my mouth, it didn't sound like such a bad idea."
I put both my arms around her and squeezed. "Do you really think you're in love with me?"
"I know I am." She said it with such finality, it literally made my heart lurch in my chest.
I wanted to stay on this subject but it was almost too overwhelming. I kissed the top of her head. "Why doesn't your mother like me?"
The segue didn't seem to bother her. "I don't know. I guess because Lesley always lied about your responsibility in the antics involving you two back in high school."
"Lesley told me the night of your party that she 'fessed up to all that," I protested.
"Lesley lies, Hunter. She lies a lot. She never let our mother believe anything different than you were the troublemaker who got Lesley detention and suspended and drunk and whatever bad thing Les did in high school, you were to blame. And then I would always defend you and that would make her angry, too. I think she recognized way back then that my feelings for you were a little more than what she felt they should have been." She kissed the base of my throat. "Then when you left and it got around that your mother kicked you out and, basically, disowned you, that's all she needed to hear to confirm her suspicions that you really were, in her words, a 'bad seed'."
I shook my head. "This is one of the big reasons I can't stay here, Lisa...because a majority of the people here are not like you and Sam and Trina, they're like Dane and Lesley and your parents and my mother."
"I know it wouldn't be easy. It hasn't been easy, trust me, but -"
I rolled over on her and quieted her with a kiss. "Can we talk about this later?"
"Sure." Her eyes held a vulnerability I had not previously seen before. "As long as we do talk about it."
After cooking us a very nice breakfast, Lisa made a phone call to her Aunt Bethany while I played fetch with Oz and Deke in the backyard. They were very cool dogs, very fast and eager to please. They took to me immediately and I suddenly felt like their Alpha figure...until Lisa walked out into the yard and then I no longer existed.
"It's a beautiful day," she stated, squinting. "Why don't we take the boys over to Evergreen Ridge and go for a hike?"
"You know," I reached for her hand and she took it, standing in front of me, "I would love to go anywhere with you but spending time in a forest is like a busman's holiday for me."
She grinned. "I know. I just thought you might like to look over the 'office' you might be working in."
I touched her nose and tapped it a few times. "Or...when we get to L.A., you can do all the hiking you want with a personal escort."
She put her arms around me. "Okay, what do you want to do this afternoon?"
She perked up. "You like football?"
"I love football."
"Who's your team?"
"Not the Patriots," I laughed, wondering if that would upset her. Most New Englanders were die hard Patriot fans, almost to the point of rabid loyalty.
"Why not the Patriots?" She didn't sound indignant, which indicated they weren't her team, either.
"I had a falling out with a friend once who ate, drank, slept and breathed the Patriots. She was obnoxious about it, especially after the falling out. So now, I don't care who plays, as long as they beat the Patriots."
"Then I would suggest you don't go watch any games at any of the bars from here to Maine."
"Well, that's good because I don't want to watch football at a bar. I want to stay home and watch it with you."
She kissed me between my breasts and looked up at me. "I like that. Calling where ever we are together 'home'." We walked hand-in-hand to her back door. "I need to go over to my aunt's tonight for about an hour or so. Ever since their store got broken into last year, even though they have an alarm system, they don't leave the place unoccupied. Usually my cousin is there but he has something going on and my aunt and uncle also have to go somewhere."
"So you just have to babysit the place for an hour?"
"I told her I would. I know they're paranoid but it gives them peace of mind. Besides, it's only an hour, it won't interrupt our evening. Do you want to go with me?"
"Sure," I shrugged.
I couldn't believe her father's sister and brother-in-law still owned that little general store. It was a corner 'Mom and Pop' shop that served a lower middle-class neighborhood. Lesley and I used to get our beer there. We'd visit her cousin, Tommy, and when the store was closed in the evenings and when her aunt and uncle were busy watching TV or napping in their chairs, we'd sneak downstairs into the store and grab a six-pack or two. And then, with Tommy as the referee, we'd play this silly little game where one of us would sit in the shopping cart and pull items off the shelf and into the cart onto us, as the other would push the cart as fast as possible through the aisles. Then we would put everything back and switch. The object was to see who could get the most in the cart and pile it the highest. I really missed that person who used to be my best friend. Regardless of who she blamed for our escapades.
One of my favorite stories involving that store was of Lisa's Aunt Bethany's mother-in-law, Mrs. Cioffi. She was a colorful (to say the least) woman who emigrated directly from Sicily and settled with her husband and four young children in the unlikely town of Otter Falls. One of those children grew up and married Bethany Riordan and bought a little corner market in a neighborhood that was always a mildly risky place to live. Yet, until last year, there was never any incident of crime surrounding the small family business and they probably had Mrs. Cioffi to thank for that.
She would sometimes run the cash register when no one else was available and they only left her alone in the store when absolutely necessary. This happened because she was a petite and frail-looking woman whose grasp of the English language was sketchy, at best, and someone they assumed to be a crime victim waiting to happen. But there were several witnesses when a neighborhood punk, who obviously was under the same misconception, entered the store, wielding a knife and approached Mrs. Cioffi and said, "This is a stick-up!" To which she responded by grabbing the broom and beating him with it all the way out the door while screaming, "Stick-a this uppa you ass!"
He never came back and there was no retaliation. After that, there were no further incidents of any problems in the store. Until last year when Mrs. Cioffi died and a week later, the store was broken into and burglarized. The perpetrator was still at large but the first person I might have looked at as a suspect would have been the humiliated wannabe robber all those years ago.
It would be interesting to see the store again and the massive three-story apartment that was over it. Tommy Cioffi, their cousin, had some hellacious parties on that third floor, in which the entire space was a huge recreation room. It would be good to see 'Aunt Bethany and Uncle Gino,' too. Hopefully Lisa's mother hadn't already poisoned them against me.
Lisa wanted to take the dogs for a nice, leisurely walk before we left them alone the rest of the day, so we put them both in their different colored nylon harnesses, hooked them up to their retractable leashes and made our way up the street. She was being led by Deke and I had the pleasure of being walked by Oz. They seemed very excited to be out of the confines of their home and yard, sniffing every tree, bush and blade of grass along the sidewalk, peeing indiscriminately on pretty much anything stationery and upright, searching for either the perfect place to poop or the perfect pile of shit to roll in. A trip around the block which should have taken twenty minutes, took at least forty.
It reminded me of a joke I'd heard where a lawyer was cross-examining a witness in a murder case and the lawyer said, "So you were walking your dog on Main Street the night in question when you found the body, correct?" and the witness answered in the affirmative and the prosecutor then asked, "And during your walk, did you stop anywhere?" The witness looked at him incredulously and said, "Have you ever taken a dog for a walk?"
Despite the frequent stops, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour. Lisa's interaction with her 'boys' was just one more thing I found endearing about my new girlfriend. Their mutual devotion to each other was clear and her gentleness with them was not without its firm edge resulting in them minding well. Unless they were severely distracted.
While we were walking, Lisa was updating me on the town square renovations over the past years. I was so enthralled by just listening to the enthusiastic and melodic tone of her voice when she animatedly described the changes, I hadn't noticed that Oz had slowly pulled away from me until I felt a slight tug on the handle, indicating that his leash was extended as far as it could go. Both Lisa and I looked up just in time to see the brindle-colored greyhound shove his narrow nose into the crack of a woman's ass and lift her a couple inches off the ground.
"Oz!" I yanked the leash back while pressing the retractor button, as Lisa hurried to the victim, with Deke tightly heeled.
The young woman was dressed in black leather pants, which looked to be held up by a belt made from pairs of handcuffs linked together. Real handcuffs, not decorative, designer ones that might have been able to be purchased at Hot Topic. She was wearing spiked dog collar and had the image of a BDSM Rights emblem shaved into the back of her closely cropped blonde head, tinted with the black, blue and white stripes and the red and white Triskelion. That should have been red flag number one. When we reached the woman, she had turned around, looking less startled and actually began to smile almost seductively at the puzzled dog who had so vigorously goosed her. That should have been red flag number two.
"I'm so sorry," Lisa apologized profusely, mortified by Oz's action. "He's never done anything like that before, he's normally very well behaved..."
"Oh no," she flicked her wrist, flopping her hand downward, dismissively. "He's fine. He must smell my great dane."
Lisa opened her mouth to reply but closed it when...well, there just didn't seem to be any diplomatic response to that statement. As the woman waved and strolled away from us toward town, Lisa and I looked at each other. "What did she mean?" she asked, though I really don't think she wanted an answer.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I can only hope that means she's sleeping with Brigitte Nielsen or Dolph Lundgren."
"I think he's Swedish," she offered.
We both watched the woman, who was waiting to cross the street. Seeing someone dressed like that, so unabashedly displaying her bondage proclivities would never have raised an eyebrow had I still been in Los Angeles. But here, in Otter Falls, it was quite the sight to behold. "Where do you think she's going dressed like that first thing in the morning?"
I stared at Lisa. "Where? Our Lady of Dungeons?"
"As long as it's not the animal shelter, she can worship wherever she likes."
"My...Otter Falls sure has changed..." I honestly had nothing against anyone who practiced any of the Bs, Ds, Ss or Ms and I would be lying if I said I hadn't dabbled in a few of the domination and restraint plays myself. It was just too mind-boggling, though, to think someone in this little town would be either so courageously or ignorantly blatant about such a misunderstood fetish.
Reaching over, I took Lisa's hand in mine. I thought she might balk, being that we were in public and in her neighborhood. Even though she was fully out, there were still some lines that needed to be stepped over carefully for safety reasons but, without hesitation, she just squeezed my fingers.
I just figured that if someone about half my age had the guts to be who she really was, regardless of what that meant, why should I let outdated protocol stop me from engaging in a simple ritual that even the most basic teenager was allowed to do - hold my girlfriend's hand.
We strolled the rest of the way back to Lisa's joined at the fingers and talked about how we were going to teach the dogs not to poke their noses where they didn't belong.
When we got back to my mom's, we went through the house, making a list of what needed to be done. My initial plan was to contact my mother's chosen real estate agent in the morning and discuss my options. I could tell Lisa was disappointed in that decision but she remained silent. I could not stay back here indefinitely and I needed to move forward with whatever I was going to do with this house and the property.
And yet, I could not reconcile the sense of panic I felt at the thought of us not being together. Lisa had put a spell on me that I never wanted her to break.
The in-depth checklist and surface inventory took us over two hours and when we were done, I was satisfied with the game plan. I think Lisa believed that just because I was more than likely going to sell this place didn't mean I couldn't settle down with her at her house if she didn't end up in California with me.
We then grabbed a beer and some munchies and planted ourselves in front of the television to watch the Minnesota Vikings play the Detroit Lions. I took the Vikings and she took Detroit and we made a friendly little sexual wager, the winner, of course, being rewarded with a night of fantasies fulfilled. Which was really no different than any other night we had spent together so far.
During half-time, Sam called and we set up a dinner date for Tuesday night and decided on an acceptable menu for all. Our contribution would be the wine and dessert. I was fine with buying something but Lisa insisted on baking a pie of some sort. I didn't want to tell her that I rarely ate pie, except maybe a slice of pumpkin at Thanksgiving (but only with whipped cream), or that I almost never ate dessert but then I remembered that it wouldn't be for me, it was actually a gesture of appreciation for being included and so easily accepted.
I also realized that Dane was being abnormally quiet for someone who seemed to thrive on causing trouble. I was sure something was brewing, that he had something up his sleeve and I guessed I would have to wait to find out just what it was. As long as it didn't involve harming Lisa in any way, I knew I could handle it. But if he had any brains at all, he would have already figured out that Lisa would be a weakness of mine. Although one would think he would also have to realize that any manner of attack on her might just send me into a homicidal frenzy. He should also bear in mind, before he attempted anything, what I represented and the privileged information I had that could result in his political downfall. It was definitely his move but he needed to be his most calculating to pull anything off successfully without it backfiring and ruining him instead.
My Aunt Cissy, Uncle David's widow, also called and asked when she and 'the kids' were going to see me. We spoke briefly of Mom and thankfully, she wasn't overly solicitous but then, she knew firsthand the results of my mother's actions and behavior toward me. I told her that I would call her back sometime tomorrow to make definite plans with her. My aunt was a kind woman and I now wished I had been better at keeping in touch with her and my cousins. Maybe I could make amends.
After the game, where Detroit spanked Minnesota (poor me, I lost the bet), we returned to Lisa's and made sure the dogs were fed, watered, exercised and given tons of attention. We then went to dinner at Applebee's, gratefully, not running into anyone I knew personally or we knew together. However, Lisa was greeted by several acquaintances and I was introduced as her friend. which was said with such an intimacy to her tone, only the most dense of individuals would not have interpreted that as meaning something much more. But then I was in Otter Falls...people only heard what they wanted to, what didn't attack their personal comfort zones.
I just couldn't understand how Lisa could be happy here.
Bethany and Gino Cioffi were very happy to see me, gave their condolences about my mother, and we briefly reminisced before they left for their evening out. We were supposed to be there maybe a little over an hour before Tommy came home and relieved us of duty. Tommy was recently divorced and had moved back to his parents' home so that he could get back on his feet. It would be good to see him, too. 'Aunt' Bethany made the statement (with a humorous lilt) that she had always hoped Tommy would find a spirited girl just like me to marry...with one obvious exception, of course. Maybe, if I had been straight, I would have gone after him because he was quite the handsome heartthrob in high school but as I admired the gorgeous blonde by my side, I was glad I was destined to be with innies and not outies. 'Uncle' Gino winked at Lisa and told us that at least somebody in the family ended up with me, a comment that made us both blush and provoked a jab in the side from his wife.
After Lisa's aunt and uncle left and following a tour of the refurbished apartment, Lisa and I ventured down into the closed store, deciding to keep the lights off as the street lights outside provided enough brightness for me to see that nothing had changed with the quaint interior. She deactivated the alarm system and we walked around, sharing memories of separate and collective good times there.
"You know," Lisa began, with a hint of impishness in her tone, "I always wanted to play that game that you and Lesley use to play with the shopping cart."
Laughing, I shook my head. "We were lucky we didn't break anything in the store or injure anything on our bodies. And Lesley always used to accuse Tommy of cheating in my favor because she said he was hot for me."
"He was. It made me insanely jealous thinking you might actually end up with him."
I studied her briefly. "Really? You had no idea about me back then?"
"Only what was wishful thinking. I thought if you were a lesbian, Lesley would know and that would have been the end of your friendship."
"But...she didn't act like that back then. The only reason I didn't say anything was that I didn't think she could keep it to herself."
"She wouldn't have, believe me. And the only reason she seemed to act so differently in high school was that she went through a phase where she knew going against the grain would get her noticed."
"So all her defense that one day of Joey Lassiter where she stood up to everybody was bullshit?"
"Remember all the kids that made fun of Joey? Remember the guy she really liked at the time, Ryan Machain?"
"Yeah?" I wondered what one had to do with the other.
"Remember how he was all into political correctness and was heading a student committee against high school bullies?"
"Ah, so she did it just to get his attention." Why didn't I know that about her?
"Yep but they only went out once. He found out what a liar and a phony she was."
She told me she didn't go out with him again because he was dull. "Jesus, did I really know her at all?"
"Probably as well as anyone. You knew exactly what she wanted you to know."
I was really jarred. Had I been so wrapped up in my own world of secrets and hurt that I never saw Lesley for who she really was? Or was I just as guilty as everyone else of seeing only what I wanted to see? I felt Lisa tugging on my sleeve which nudged me out of my momentary self-scrutiny and I looked at her.
Her eyes were sparkling in the darkness, reflecting the limited light that was sneaking into the store. Once again, she took my breath away. "Kiss me."
She didn't have to say it twice. I pulled her to me, sooner than she expected me to, startling her, and I hungrily covered her mouth with mine. She unleashed the animal inside me and I wanted to devour her right there in front of the huge wall-length, clear glass window that faced the street. We probably stayed lip-locked, on display for anyone who walked by and really wanted to look in and see, longer than we should have. I didn't care, though, I could have stood there, kissing her all night. As it was, she had to gently push me away, breaking the kiss.
"God, Hunter," she gasped. "I can't believe how damned weak in the knees you make me."
"Yeah? Just wait until later," I promised.
"Braggart," she grinned, slowly backing away from me.
"Yep, I am. And you know I can make good on it, too." I walked toward her. "How much more time do we have before Tommy's expected?"
"About a half-hour. Why?" An expectant, sensuous grin played on her lips. "Just what do you have in mind?"
"This." I grabbed her around the waist and lifted her up, dumping her in a shopping cart, butt first, so that just her arms, legs, shoulders and head stuck over the top. She was laughing so hard, after her initial struggling, she couldn't have stopped me if she tried. "Ready?" She nodded and I made a speedy trial run up and down each aisle, getting the feel of pushing the car with the balanced weight. "Okay...we do it for real this time. I'll bring you close to the shelves and you have to put into the cart and on top of you as much as you can with your hands. We'll go through once and then turn around and hit the other side of the aisle on the way back. Then I bring you up to the cash register, which is the finish line. Then it's my turn. Since Tommy's not here to ref, we'll have to judge - honestly - who has the most. Anything knocked on the floor and not in the cart doesn't count."
She was still giggling. "I can't believe you guys used to do this all the time."
"It was fun. Putting everything back on the shelves sucked but it was worth the once a month competition. Ready?" I was standing still, pushing the cart out then pulling it back to me.
She put her hand up and pointed forward. "Let's do it."
And, with that, I raced her around the store as she swept anything and everything within reach into the cart and onto her midsection. By the second time around the store, the cart was getting a lot heavier than I remembered it getting in the past. I needed to start working out my arms and legs more. She had cans and other items piled on her pretty high by the time we reached the cash register.
"God, I can't move! This was so much fun. I didn't realize -"
We both stopped dead when we saw the patrol car spotlight shine in the window, directly on Lisa. "Uh oh," was all I could seem to manage. We watched the officer exit her car, putting her baton in its holder and key the mic clipped to her uniform epaulet, probably calling in her location. Her approach to the front door of the store was not aggressive nor threatening, her hand nowhere near her holster.
"It's Kim Fredette, shit!" Lisa said, her voice hushed and a little panicked.
"You know her?" I scrunched down behind the cart as the officer switched on her maglite.
"Yes. She's always asking me out. You know her, too. She used to play center for St. James."
"Kim Ligouri?" She was the girl I used to make out with after the games in a deserted part of the gym. I did not want to see her, even after all these years. The last time we were together, I had agreed to go 'all the way' with her the next time we were supposed to meet and then I panicked and avoided her until I left the area. Fortunately, she attended a rival school which was thirty miles away from Otter Falls, so she was never in town where I had to worry about running into her at every turn.
Flashing her light through the window in the glass door, she illuminated Lisa, obviously recognizing her and knocked on the metal frame with her flashlight.
"Hunter, let her in," I heard Lisa command, her voice still quiet.
Let her in? I didn't even want her to see me, which is why I stayed hidden behind the cart. I was hoping Kim would acknowledge that one of the town's most prominent lawyers was trapped in a shopping cart, in front of a cash register in a fully stocked, dark store, after hours, with probably a hundred dollars worth of groceries piled high on top of her and then leave.
Kim knocked again. "Lisa? What's going on?"
"I'm okay, Kim," Lisa hollered out to the obviously more than confused woman in uniform. "Hunter, let her in," Lisa said, in an urgent whisper.
I remained frozen in place. No, no, no, no, why me? Why Kim? Fuck, fuck, fuck!
"Hunter!" That was a bark. "Let her in!" That was a hiss.
Kim's knocking had turned to pounding and Lisa reached her hand behind the cart and grabbed a fistful of my hair. "Ow, owowowowow, all right!" I slowly stood up, an action that made Kim take a step back and her hand automatically hovered above the butt of her 9mm.
"It's okay, Kim, Hunter's going to let you in," Lisa announced as I put both my hands up, level with my shoulders and walked to the door. I was hoping that maybe I could let her in, Lisa would have a friendly little chat with her and she'd let us both off the hook without even finding out my name. But Lisa shot that in the ass. There weren't that many women in the world named Hunter and I knew, her hearing that and then seeing my face and height, she would put two and two together and I'd have some 'splainin' to do.
It didn't matter that it was sixteen years ago and we were merely horny teenagers. Lesbians had it all over elephants when it came to never forgetting.
She raised her maglite and shined it in my face as I unlocked the door. Once the green and purple spots disappeared, I saw her smirking. "Well, well, well...if it isn't Hunter Roberge. That still is your last name isn't it?"
"Yep. Hi Kim." I closed the door behind her.
She gave me a shameless once over, then turned to Lisa. "Counselor," she acknowledged.
"Sergeant," Lisa returned the titled courtesy, embarrassed to the point of almost glowing in the dark.
I noticed the three chevrons on her sleeve as she returned her full attention to me. "Sorry to hear about your mother," she said, while practically leering.
"Is that what brought you to town?" She had not changed much. She was still as tall as I was, still thin, still androgynous, still had piercing hazel eyes and a way that she curled her lip on one side that I found quite sexy when I used to get all hot and sweaty with her on and off the basketball court. I wondered if her kisses were still sloppy.
"Yes, it is." I would only share more information under duress and maybe not even then.
"How long are you staying?" Her tone and demeanor reflected that she was still very interested.
Lisa, obviously realizing we had some kind of history, cleared her throat to get our attention. "Uh...does someone want to help me out of this cart?"
Kim turned back to her as I walked over and started removing the items from the cart, placing them on the counter. "Would either of you like to tell me what's going on here?" Kim asked.
"Any way of getting out of it?" I asked, as Lisa clasped my arm and pulled herself to her feet while I held the cart so it wouldn't tip. It took her a few minutes before she could fully straighten up.
"You're good at that, aren't you, Hunter? Getting out of things?" There was a acerbity in her words.
I loaded all of the groceries back into the cart as Lisa approached Kim and smiled. "We're watching my aunt's store until my cousin gets here and we were just having a little fun. We're authorized to be in here, so you don't have to do a report...right?" Her tone was amiable but professional. She was more urging than asking.
"On?" Lisa tilted her head, waiting for the blackmail.
I slowly moved behind Lisa and put my arm over her shoulder, crossing her chest, my hand coming to rest on her bicep, in a gesture that could have been interpreted as territorial. Okay, so it was blatantly territorial and Kim's eyes widened, especially when Lisa's fingers curled around my forearm. She got the message. There was a challenging look in my eyes and Kim raised her hand in concession, smiling.
She shook her head. "Figures." She keyed her mic. "Lincoln eight to base, code four at this location." When she received a 'ten-four' in response, she studied us both, still smirking. "I got a call that someone reported suspicious activity at this location. Must have been whatever the hell you were doing in that cart." When Lisa opened her mouth to explain, Kim put her hand up again. "I don't want to know. I figured whoever was in here belonged because the alarm didn't go off. Then I get here and find the cutest couple in town doing...something...Anyway, as long as I don't get any further complaints from the Cioffis, I only have to log this as a baseless call I responded to."
"Thank you, Kim," Lisa told her, sincerely. When I was silent, she subtly elbowed me.
"Oof. Thanks, Kim," I added.
"If I was a different type of person, I could threaten to report this as a 10-59 and then hold it over your heads until you bartered with me. And, even though you've turned me down several times, Counselor," she said to Lisa, "and you owe me, Hunter, I'm not the kind of person who abuses her authority like that."
"Thank you, Kim," Lisa repeated, sweetly.
I was a little incredulous. "Owe you? Jesus, Kim, that was a lifetime ago and you would actually call this malicious mischief? By what stretch of the imagination? It's certainly mischief but there's nothing malicious about -" Another poke to the ribs. " -Oof. Thank you, Kim."
"I don't forget people who back out on agreements, Hunter. Not when they look like you, anyway. It doesn't matter when it happened, just that it did happen. And how do you know what a 10-59 is? Don't tell me you're a cop, too..."
"I'm a park ranger."
She nodded. "Nice. Okay. I need to get back on patrol. Ladies, it was good seeing you again. Wish I was meeting both of you under different and separate circumstances but thems the breaks, huh? Stay out of trouble." She stepped to the door and opened it and turned back to me. "If...uh...things don't work out with you two, give me a call."
"Thank you, Kim," I recited, a fake smile plastered on my face, locking the door once she was outside. I turned to come face to face with amused, questioning eyes.
"Something you'd like to share with the class?" Her arms were folded across her chest.
"Hey, Lisa! You down there?" Saved by Tommy. "Hey, Hunter, you with her?"
"Yeah, we're both here," I answered.
We heard him come bounding down the stairs. "Where's the girl who launched thousands of my wet dreams?"
"Charming," Lisa commented, laughing, shaking her head. She looked out at Kim, sitting in her patrol car, entering this call on her log. "Seems like you launched quite a few wet dreams back then."
Oh, I was really going to have some 'splainin' to do when we got back to my mother's.
Tommy had changed. He was partially bald and he had a beer gut and love handles that hung over his belt, giving him that 'muffin top' look. He had gone from resembling his mother to being a clone of his father, including the thick, bushy mustache. He still had eyes that smiled and a grin that charmed and a hug that crushed. He was one of the few people who could actually lift me off the ground when he hugged me.
After he gave Lisa's shoulder a quick squeeze and gushed about how good he thought I looked, he noticed the cans in the shopping cart. "Oh, man! You guys played shelf sweep without me? You couldn't have waited?"
"It was kind of spontaneous," Lisa told him.
"Want to play again?" He asked, enthusiastically, bouncing up and down on his heels like a little kid.
"Uh...no," I said, looking out the window as Kim's squad car made a u-turn in front of the store and sped off toward downtown.
He helped us return everything to the shelves and we went back up stairs to catch up on each other's lives. Thanks to Lisa's parents, he was aware of my orientation and other than his 'what a loss' comment, he seemed very okay with it. He also stated that if his beautiful cousin had to be a lesbian, he wished she'd end up with someone like me. I hadn't realized his family genuinely liked me as much as they did. It warmed my heart.
There were some good people in this town. It was unfortunate they had to be so few and far inbetween.
"You used to make out with Kim Fredette!?"
We were on our way back to my mother's. Lisa was driving and I had just explained to her about Kim's cryptic statements earlier. "She was Kim Ligouri back then and yes. She was safe. She was obvious. She didn't live in town." Lisa was silent, absorbing all this. "Would it help if I said she was a lousy kisser?"
"So why did you keep meeting up with her?"
I shrugged. "Practice?"
She laughed, slapping at my arm. "That's terrible."
"It's true. Why is her last name Fredette now? She couldn't have got married..."
"Well, actually, she did."
"To a man?" I stared at Lisa, surprised.
"Yes. To a man. And they had a kid. They were divorced the year after her daughter was born." She glanced at my face, which must have looked totally blank because I was dumbfounded. Kim Ligouri? Had sex with a man? And had a baby? I was expecting the sky to start falling any minute. Lisa returned her attention to the road. "Don't ask me. I'm not that close to her to know all the dirty little details of her life." Then she glanced at me again, smirking. "Obviously."
"Hey, we just kissed and felt around a little bit, that's all."
"But she wasn't your first?"
"No. That's why she's still pissed. I told her I would and then I...didn't."
"Why didn't you?"
I sighed. "I got scared."
"You? I didn't think you were afraid of anybody."
"We're all afraid of somebody." I glanced out the window. "I didn't want her to be my first."
"So...she wasn't your first. Who was? Anyone I know?"
I snickered. She'd never believe it. "Maybe. Who was your first? Anyone I know?"
"I wanted it to be you." She pulled into the drive way and shut off the car. "And, beside, I asked you first."
I unhooked my seat belt and waved her off. "You probably don't remember her. She left Otter Falls not too long before I did. She was older. Thirty."
"And you were eighteen?"
"Yeah. Late bloomer, I know. You?"
"My first was older, too. She was thirty-three. I was seventeen. It happened at a retreat my parents insisted I go to up near Plattsburg. Actually, she used to live in Otter Falls but I didn't know her then. Very alluring, very persuasive. She was married, though, and that always bothered me." There was a melancholy tone to her voice I found puzzling.
"Mine was married, too."
"So, come on, who was it?"
I reached over and rested my hand on her shoulder. "It was the minister's wife. From the First Congregational Church. Jennifer -"
I heard a sharp intake of breath. "Visson?" I didn't like the look in her eyes.
"I don't believe this..." She looked stunned.
"Oh, no...you are kidding me. She was not your first..." I was undergoing a sudden kaleidoscope of emotions, the strongest of which seemed to be anger. Jennifer Visson was a predator. I had realized that after I had gotten older and looked back on the experience. Although, I enjoyed the time I spent with her in bed and was appreciative of her personal instruction, I knew she really wasn't a nice person. And now to find out that she also 'busted' Lisa, a silent storm began raging inside me. It was a surprisingly coincidental link but a sexual connection I wish we didn't share. Knowing how Jennifer was with virgins, I could visualize exactly what they had done that first time and picturing Lisa in her clutches was almost too much for me.
"Yeah, she was," she confirmed, quietly.
"Huh." I nodded. "Why don't we go inside and talk about this."
Lisa and I sat on the couch, her tight against my side, my arm around her, discussing Jennifer Visson and our first times. This was a development about which I could not seem to reconcile my feelings. I had foolishly hoped that Jennifer had learned her lesson with me by getting caught and barely escaping having her family scandalized and her husband's reputation ruined. Obviously not.
After the Vissons left Otter Falls, they moved to just outside Plattsburg, New York. Jennifer began helping out at a Christian retreat near Saranac Lake, a camp that Lisa was ordered to attend by her parents the summer she was seventeen. By that age, Lisa had come out to her mother and father and, apparently, everyone else and Mrs. Riordan thought she, personally, would never survive the 'disgrace' of it all. Insisting that all Lisa needed was to examine her spiritual priorities and deepen her relationship with God, the Riordans sent their youngest daughter to a week long religious camp that focused on reawakening faith to the 'lost.' Lisa said it wasn't a gay rehabilitation center because if there were any other homosexuals there, she didn't come into contact with them. In fact, most of the attendees were housewives sent there by their husbands to try and find their way back to the 'obey' part of their marriage vows.
She said she was very vocal about her orientation which resulted in no one wanting to share a room with her...well, except for this one lecherous maintenance man who was positive he could 'change' her. Within a day, the news reached Jennifer, the aptly titled 'activities director', who volunteered to personally 'guide' her. Lisa then told me that although she was very attracted to Jennifer, her aggressive pursuit unnerved her and she resisted her until her last night there when she went back to her room and found Jennifer, naked, in her bed. Seemed Jennifer had a routine.
I asked Lisa why, if Jennifer was her first experience, she didn't have a vaginal orgasm as that was one of Jennifer's specialties. Lisa explained that although they did 'everything,' when Jennifer entered her, it was with a dildo and not with her fingers, that maybe if that hadn't been so uncomfortable and maybe if she hadn't bled and panicked a little, things would have progressed to that point. But when Lisa expressed hesitation about going forward with any more 'activities,' Jennifer became impatient and annoyed with her and left, making what should have been a rewarding and fond memory, a confusing and disenchanting one.
After sharing my Jennifer Visson story, we went upstairs and crawled into bed. Initially, we just held each other. I was too disturbed to concentrate on anything else. I really wanted to find Jennifer and take her to task, not just for avoiding any responsibility for my situation but for preying on virgins, having to be their very first, an unhealthy obsession that left casualties in its wake. She was a seductive package and she knew it, knew that no curious and willing girl in her right mind would turn down an offer to have an experienced, sexy woman 'show her the ropes.' The problem seemed to be, however, that Jennifer had moved on to not caring if they were willing or not, she would wear her victim down to get what she wanted. And the girls had started getting younger.
When it was just me, I thought it was pretty cool to tell people that I had been seduced by a minister's wife, leaving out, of course, what resulted from getting caught. But finding out that Lisa was nailed by the same woman put an entirely different spin on it and I suddenly realized the bigger picture wasn't so cool. Maybe if my mother had talked or I had said something to someone, the threat of negative publicity for the Vissons and the church may have prompted counseling or sanctions of some sort. Not that I would have wanted anything bad to happen to her at the time because I was too infatuated to think clearly but severe action then may have put the reins on Jennifer's overactive libido. Or, at least, perhaps made her equate humiliatingly harsh consequences with her selfishly lascivious choices. Jennifer would have been forty-six now. I wondered if she was still on the prowl and what lines she may have crossed over the last thirteen years since Lisa.
Lisa's encounters since then had been much more pleasant, not that her night with Jennifer had been horrible because she was quick to say that the sex, itself, was enlightening and definitely fulfilling, with the exception of the upsetting penetration part. Jennifer's behavior following that was a recollection that she did not treasure too much and she admitted that she cried herself to sleep after Jennifer left, feeling very used and, well, sordid.
It didn't matter that it was thirteen years after the fact, my heart broke for her. She deserved a better first time.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Lisa's soft voice broke through my preoccupation as her warm hand made gentle circles on my ribcage. Her head was on my chest and my arm was around her shoulder. When I didn't answer right away, she said, "You know a person's heart rate speeds up when they are thinking angry thoughts. Yours is pounding like a trip-hammer."
"I can't stop thinking about Jennifer and how I wish I had her in front of me right now."
"Right now?" She lifted her head and looked at me, grinning. "I think this would be the last place you'd want her right now." She raised an eyebrow.
That made me smile. "True. If she ever put her hands on you again..."
"Awww, my big, brave girlfriend is going to protect me. My big, brave girlfriend who hid behind the grocery cart from the big, bad police officer." She reached up and pinched my cheek. "How cute is that?"
I took her hand and kissed it. "God, you are such a brat."
She climbed fully on top of me, my arms encircling her, keeping her in place. "You know, though...think about it. It's just one more thing to support my destiny theory. What are the odds that we would both lose our virginity to the same woman?"
"Well, knowing how Jennifer worked, I'd now say the odds were pretty damned good."
She began lightly kissing my face all over until her lips were hovering over mine. "I don't want to talk about her anymore."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"I don't want to talk at all," she said before she rewarded me with a tender yet passionate kiss that eventually led to some very sweet, tempered lovemaking that lasted long into the night.
The next morning something happened that I really didn't like. Lisa had to leave our warm bed to go to her house and get ready for work. No matter what amount of begging I did, she was relentlessly responsible.
How was I going to leave her to go back to California when I couldn't even bear when she left me to go to work? What was she doing to me? I was not like this, this was not me. I'd had prior relationships but none which ever reached this level of commitment and definitely not this fast. It made me wonder if we would burn out as quickly as we caught fire, something that often happened in my past. A woman would ignite my desire and we would start hot and heavy, the flame flickering out soon after and it was obvious there had really been nothing there but sexual attraction to begin with.
My longest relationship lasted just under a year and it was turbulent from the beginning. Yet that tempestuous aura that brought us together was ultimately what tore us apart. The constant head-butting of two strong women who never really had much in common except their gladiatorial nature was doomed to fail, despite how intensely stimulating the sex was. She was someone I still occasionally connected with when neither one of us were specifically dating anyone and we felt the need for some sexual companionship. We discovered we were much better at being fuck buddies than we were at being lovers. She was the last woman I had been with before Lisa.
Something about what was happening between Lisa and I was very different than anything I had ever experienced before with anyone. The completeness that the washed over me in her presence was only matched by the emptiness that held me hostage during her absence. I almost felt a little lost now that she wasn't with me. I didn't want to go as far to say that I was in love with her because the concept of falling in love with someone in four days just wasn't realistic to me. But reality aside, as much as I tried to analyze and downplay my feelings for her, it always circled back to the 'in love' issue. In the past that would have scared the hell out of me but now, with this particular woman, I welcomed it with open arms. I adored everything about Lisa Riordan and I wanted her in my life 24/7 and I knew she felt the same. Now if we could only come to an accommodating agreement on just how we were going to accomplish that.
As I was showering, I was still stewing about the disclosure involving Jennifer Visson. If she lived closer, I would have confronted her. She was four years younger than I was now when she slept with me and only a year younger than I was now when she got Lisa. I could not fathom, at my age, targeting an eighteen-year-old or younger and I could only hope that she was still not luring young Sapphic virgins into her (or someone's) bed at age forty-six.
I had no doubt she was still beautiful, was probably one of these women who just got better looking with age, and I was sure she used that to her advantage when preying on her victims. But all that added to her using her position of assumed authority and standing affiliation with a church to achieve some egotistically carnal goal was beyond appalling, it was reprehensible. Especially when she never stuck around long enough to deal with the consequences of her actions. It was deviant behavior like hers that gave the rest of us a bad name.
I suddenly wondered if I could track her down using the Internet or maybe start an online Jennifer Visson recovery group. Okay. I was becoming obsessed and I had to stop.
After feeding Orion, I poured myself a cup of coffee from a pot Lisa had brewed before she left. I retrieved the morning paper and glanced through all four, thin sections of The Otter Falls Daily News, zeroing in on the listed opened and closed court cases and the obituaries to see if I recognized any names. My mother's services were listed and I scanned for my name, spotting it. "One daughter, S. Hunter Roberge from Glendale, California," I read aloud. "Sam must have given the information to the paper." I then found my horoscope which advised me to look beneath the surface of the obvious, not everything was what it appeared to be. And that differed from any other day of my life how?
Returning to the house from delivering my mother's clothes to a very grateful battered women's shelter, where I promised them there would be another load in a couple days of some very out-of-style teenage clothes, I called my Aunt Cissy to see if I could stop by for a cup of coffee. She couldn't say yes fast enough.
I was looking forward to seeing her, to see how much she had changed. My aunt was a brave woman and one of great strength. I admired her greatly. She loved my Uncle David very much and losing him like she did and when she did was crippling yet she never let it show, other than shedding a few tears behind the closed door of the bedroom they had shared for thirty-six years. They had raised four kids and took me in without hesitation. Even though I only stayed with them for two months, it was an unnecessary disruption but she never once asked me why I was there or made me feel like I did not belong. She opened her arms and her home to me and I felt ashamed that I had not kept in better touch.
Aunt Cissy knew whatever had happened between my mother and I was a very serious but a painfully private issue. Whether she had guessed about me or not, I didn't know. There was never any indication that she had and there were never any questions. My cousins also never implied that they had any inkling regarding my orientation. They were curious about what happened with my mother but when I refused to talk about it, the inquiries stopped. Whether my aunt or uncle instructed them to leave it be or not, I never found out. Maybe my visit with her today would give me more insight.
She was at the front door when I pulled into the driveway. I greeted her with a long, warm hug and she linked my arm with hers, pulling me inside. In the last seven years, either I had grown taller or she had grown shorter. A few more wrinkles, a few more pounds, several more white hairs but she was still my Aunt Cissy with the smiling eyes. Pouring me a large mug of coffee, she gestured to the kitchen table, on which there was a big mixing bowl and all the ingredients for the makings of chocolate chip cookies.
I glanced around. The kitchen looked the same, barring a few more knick-knacks, a different wall clock and a new refrigerator loaded with photo magnets of what I assumed were grandchildren. Before I sat down, I studied the pictures on the freezer door and below. "Wow. This one here looks just like Uncle David," I pointed out. "Is...good lord, is that Justin?"
She took a step closer and grinned, proudly. "Yes. He's sixteen now."
"Wow. That's amazing." We took a seat at the kitchen table, opposite each other. Shauna, my oldest cousin, was the third to get married but the first to have kids. It seemed like once she started, the three other siblings followed suit and my Aunt Cissy now had fourteen grandchildren. Justin was nine the last time I saw him and pretty devastated that his grandpa was gone. I got the lowdown on all my cousins, their spouses and whose children were whose from my aunt on the phone.
"Shauna gets home from work about two but has to be at a school conference by three-thirty and would like you to stop by, if you can."
"Yeah, I'd like that."
"And remember I told you that Courtney works at her accounting business out of her house? She would also like to see you since she can't get to Shauna's before three..."
"...uh huh..." Oh, boy. This was going to turn into an all day venture. My two other cousins, Jeremy and Nicole, wanted to see me, too but they also had things going on and would be home at different times and even though they lived in separate sides of a duplex, they wouldn't be able to see me together. As much as I loved Sam, I wouldn't want him right next door to me but the family was very close, not just in their feelings for each other but also proximity, too, all living within eight blocks of each other. I was going to tell her that I didn't have to stop and see them all in one day but it looked like she had already made the arrangements. Thankfully, I didn't have anything else going on until Lisa got out of work and who knew what the immediate future held so it made sense to visit with everyone today if I could.
We exchanged pleasantries and by my third swallow of coffee, Aunt Cissy got right down to business. "Now, Hunter, you don't need to tell me, you know that, but did your mother kick you out all those years ago because you're a lesbian?"
My eyes snapped open and I put the coffee mug down. "You guessed that about me, huh?"
"Honestly, no, I had no clue. Shauna's daughter, Lara, babysits for Lesley and Wally Melendy. She came home on Friday night very upset because Mrs. Melendy was saying terrible things about you to her. Calling you a pervert and unnatural and saying all kinds of disturbing things."
"Lesley knows who Lara is, then?" I was beginning to struggle internally with who I disliked more - Lesley or Dane.
"Oh, yes. Remember Shauna worked for Doug Riordan for two years before she got married. This is Otter Falls, Hunter, everybody knows everybody and everybody else's business. That has never changed. The only exception to that rule I can ever remember is what happened between you and your mother."
"Yes, Aunt Cissy. My mother threw me out because she found out I was a lesbian."
"That was it?" It was not a question of suspicion, as though I were holding out on her, it was more a statement of incredulity. She really didn't need to know the details because I didn't think that mattered at this point.
"That was it." I bowed my head. Even after all these years, it still stung. She reached over and gently put her hand on my wrist.
"Oh, sweetie. Your mother..." she shook her head. "You know your mom and I got along like oil and water, which is why we only tolerated each other at Christmas and weddings. I never told you the reason for that. But it was the way she treated you."
I looked up at her, startled. "Really?" Well, that was a surprise. I had always assumed it was because Uncle David was my father's brother and she didn't want anything to do with that side of the family.
"Yes. Really. I cannot tell you the fights your mother and I used to get into about you. You don't know how many times she told me to mind my own business. She never wanted to let you be who you were, never wanted you to develop your own personality. She didn't even want you to be the mini version of her. It was impossible to see what she wanted from you but if I couldn't figure it out and I'm an adult, there was no chance for you to figure it out."
"She didn't want me to be anything like my father."
"It would have been so much simpler if that had been it. But she tossed your father out when you were almost four. Her unreasonably harsh discipline of you started from the second you could understand the word 'no.' She always acted angry with you."
"She always was. I could never do anything right in her eyes. She would ask me to do something and I would do it and even though I had never done it before, she would go around right behind me, berating me every step of the way for doing it wrong. She used to say, 'can't you do anything right?' or 'if you aren't going to do it right the first time, why do it at all?' I just got to a point where I agreed with her and told her fine, I wouldn't do it then. But that, of course, got me in trouble, too. You know, just a little praise for trying would have been nice."
"Hunter, I don't know what was wrong with your mother as far as you were concerned but I think blaming your father was just a convenient excuse."
"So...you think she always hated me?" I looked up into her sympathetic gray eyes, hoping she would say no. It seemed okay for me to think it myself but if my aunt confirmed that she did, indeed, think my mother really hated me, that would instill a bitterness and a sadness in me I don't think I could ever get rid of.
"No, sweetie, I think she hated herself. For some reason, you were her outlet."
"Why would she hate herself? My mother was very beautiful, very lovely and seemingly very popular. She was a good mother and very well regarded in the community." Did I just say she was a good mother? Well, despite her treatment of me, my two brothers and I did grow up to be productive adults. I was an exemplary employee, quickly rising to the top of my field, keeping Bambi, Thumper and all their little friends safe. Sam was managing his father-in-law's prospering construction business, keeping it successfully afloat and making a name for himself in the entire state, not just regionally. And Dane...well, Dane, even though he seemed to live by his own set of rules, had made a name for himself in local politics and was a big deal at Mom's church. So, in that respect, she was a good mother, instilling some core work values that stayed with us.
"Hunter, I knew your mother before she married your dad. You know that she lived the typical young girl's dream being her junior and senior prom and homecoming queen, she was Miss Otter Falls and second runner up in the Miss Vermont pageant..."
"Yeah, I never heard the end of that."
"Nobody else did either. And do you know why? Because it's all she had to hang onto. It was the last time in her life when she was her own person, when she was in control of her life. Your father came along, this handsome man just out of the Navy, looking like a good catch and she thinks she's going to live the American dream with him."
"Instead, she lives the American nightmare," I finished for her.
She smiled, patiently, and stood up. "Not quite." She went to the sink and filled up a measuring cup with water and returned to the table. Starting to add brown sugar, then white sugar to the big bowl, she said, "To my knowledge your father never raised a hand to her, did he?"
"If he did, I didn't know about it. And believe me, I'm sure if he had, that would have been thrown up in my face, too."
"Then it wasn't quite the American nightmare." She looked up, watching me watch her prepare the dough. "They'll be done before you leave. I'll make sure you have some."
"Thanks, Aunt Cissy," I grinned, happily, feeling like a little kid again. "Can I maybe have some dough, too, before you use it all?" She looked at me, waiting. Then I remembered. "Please?" Jesus, I was a little kid again.
She laughed. "Courtney is always saying to me, 'Mom, I don't care how old I get, I come back into this house and I feel ten years old again.' I guess we parents always have a way of doing that, huh?" She returned to the subject of my mother. "Some of us tried to tell Sarah that she was making a mistake but she wouldn't listen. She was stuck on the fact that, together, she and your father were the perfect couple. I mean, yes, they looked fabulous together, like right out of a movie magazine, but he played her from the beginning. Your Uncle David talked to your father the night before the wedding, begged him to call it off. But, without going into details, your father wasn't about to give up your mother at that point."
"So you're saying it really was my father's fault my mother was the way she was?"
"Not at all. It was both their faults. Your father should have left her alone. Period. Devastatingly handsome, though he was, he was a scoundrel from the word go and your mother deserved better. So did you kids." She added the chocolate chips to her mix and continued to stir. "On the other hand, your mother should have been less focused on what other people thought or how it looked for her to be with anyone who had less than matinee idol looks. Appearances were everything with her and she tried to maintain that. Especially after your father left."
"And I never fit in with her standards of what was acceptable. I never heard the end of her disappointment because her life wasn't what I wanted, her pointed disbelief that I didn't have a date every weekend or a steady boyfriend or any of that stuff that was of no interest to me. There was never any let up of that tone, you know? The one that always said, what's wrong with you? You're not good enough, you'll never measure up. She ridiculed everything I did. Whatever it was, it was never right." The frustration in my voice was clear.
"Just because you didn't do it her way doesn't mean it wasn't right," Aunt Cissy stated, gently. "You were always a very pretty girl and you've grown into a stunning woman. You seem like a beautiful soul, too, sweetie. Why she never chose to recognize that, I'll never know. Why she chose to take her own personal failings out on you is something I'll never understand. Your brothers could get away with murder but you caught hell for everything." As a consoling gesture, she handed me a soup spoon full of cookie dough loaded with dark chocolate chips. Dropping the first batch on a cookie sheet, she popped them into the oven and brought the coffee pot over to refill our mugs. "Your mother should never have disowned you because you happen to like women better than men. We have no control over that kind of stuff. Why, hell, if it was acceptable to be angry at my kids because of who they fell in love with, I wouldn't be speaking to three of them. If your grandmother followed that philosophy, she should have disowned your mother. I'm sure no woman you brought home to your mother would have been any worse than her bringing your father home to your grandmother."
She wasn't really telling me anything I didn't already know but it was nice to hear that someone else noticed it, too. It just validated my belief that I really wasn't a bad daughter. We spoke frankly about my mother and my father and I learned little tidbits of information that helped put together a clearer picture of why my childhood may have been so miserable.
Then she echoed the words that had us all perplexed. "So when your mother left you that house, that just shocked us all."
"I can honestly tell you that it shocked me the most. I still don't know why she did it, no one else seems to know, either, and I don't know if I will ever find out."
"Do you think she left you the house as, maybe, an apology?"
We both contemplated that idea for a moment and both shook our heads at the same time. "Nah, me either. I guess the only one who knows the answer to that is her."
After four cups of coffee, a half-dozen hot cookies and two hours of 'catch up' conversation, it was time to go. I wanted to head home and take a nap but there was no way I could fit that on my immediate schedule. Aunt Cissy filled a bag with a dozen more cookies and placed them on the table for me. I was just rinsing out my coffee cup in the sink when the doorbell rang.
"Hunter, sweetie, would you get that? I need to get this batch of cookies out of the oven."
"Sure," I told her as I grabbed another fresh, warm cookie off the cooling rack. I walked to the door and opened it to find a middle-aged woman standing there, holding a clipboard and a fistful of leaflets. She was a few inches shorter than I, full-figured, nicely dressed in a red pantsuit, but a little haggared-looking. She had shiny red hair pulled away from her face by a barrette, dark eyes, rosy red lips, rosy cheeks and an odd yellowish-colored nose. She reminded me of a life-sized Tickle Me Elmo. "Yes?"
"Hi, I'm Vicky Stancliff and I'm here to remind you to get out and vote next month and when you do, your vote for Dane Roberge for congress would be appreciated." She was about to hand me something with a photo of my brother's smug face on it when I leaned back away from the doorway.
"Aunt Cissy, are you going to vote for Dane next month?"
"Hell, no. The little turd doesn't deserve it," she called back.
I returned my attention to Vicky, looking a little uncomfortable. "Sorry. Not interested."
Before I could close the door, she said, "Maybe that's because you really don't know him."
I raised an eyebrow and looked at her, pointedly. "And how well do you know him...Vicky?"
"Oh, well, my husband has worked with him for the last two years. We think he's just what this town needs to represent it."
"Well, that woman in there? She's his aunt and she's known him for the last thirty-one years and she thinks if he gets elected, this town will be in deep bat guano. And her opinion is good enough for me."
She looked as though she were about to say something but I told her to have a nice day and closed the door on her. Following a promise to my aunt not be a stranger in her house, I took my bag of cookies and left to reconnect with my cousin, Shauna, then Nicole and Jeremy, then Courtney. Then home.
My cousins, and what I met of their families, were very glad to see me and the only time the issue of my orientation came up was when Shauna and I discussed the incident that prompted Lesley to vent her prejudice on Shauna's daughter. Shauna told me that her daughter, Lara, was no longer allowed to babysit for the Melendy's two boys. She also looked up at me, in all her five foot, three inch glory and promised she would kick my butt if I left again and didn't keep in touch.
When I was leaving Shauna's house, her doorbell rang. As I was on my way out, I told her I would answer it. And there was Tickle Me Vicky with her clipboard and leaflets. She blinked at me and asked if I was the lady of the house. I told her I was not and hollered in and asked Shauna if she were going to vote for Dane.
"That lying little son-of-a-bitch? If he was the only candidate running, I wouldn't vote!" was her response.
Vicky's eyebrows shot up. I smiled at her. "Guess you got your answer."
"That woman in there? Well, she's his older cousin and she's known him his whole life and if she finds him too dishonest to vote for, that's good enough for me."
"That's no reason not to vote for him. All politicians are dishonest..."
"Listen, she wouldn't believe anything Dane Roberge said, including if he said he was lying." It took her a moment to think of a response to that and during her hesitation, I reminded her to have a good day and I shut the door. I decided to wait until she left before I bid my goodbyes again to Shauna and drove on to my next visit.
I stopped at Jeremy's first. He was at home, putting the finishing touches on a deck he had been working on the last couple of weeks. He had changed over the past seven years in that he stopped looking so much like his mother and started resembling his father, which meant he physically favored me more than my own two brothers did. I felt an instant warmth from Jeremy that I never felt from Dane and it made me suddenly wonder when and why things had gone so wrong between my little brother and me. I was introduced to Jeremy's wife when she brought us each a beer and we sat on the soon-to-be-completed deck and caught up.
They were both fascinated with my career as a park ranger and Jeremy's wife invited me back to talk to their nine-year-old daughter sometime as she seemed to be obsessed with the environment and cop shows on TV and that perhaps my job would be a natural path for her. I told them that maybe before I left, we could all spend an afternoon at Evergreen Ridge and I could explain to her exactly what it was that I did for work and see if that interested her. She was, after all, only nine. By ten, she might decide she'd rather be a professional wrestler.
I glanced at my watch, noticing the day was flying by and my cousin, Nicole, came to her back door, advising me she was home, so I hugged Jeremy and his wife, telling them to call me about setting up a date for that walk in the park. Just then, we heard a voice behind me say, "Hi. I knocked and rang the bell out front but you must not have heard me..."
Turning around, I came face to face with Tickle Me Vicky again. She stopped dead when she saw me. I just grinned at her.
"Let me guess...these are your cousins, too."
"As a matter of fact, yes." I looked at Jeremy and his wife. "This is Vicky. She's campaigning for Dane."
"Augh. I think not. Thanks but no thanks. It's bad enough he's in the family," Jeremy grimaced.
Vicky's perky expression fell and she thanked them for their time and turned to walk around the house.
Laughing to myself, I reiterated quick goodbyes and rushed through Nicole's back patio door and got to her front door just as the doorbell rang. "May I?" I asked my cousin, who was clearly wondering what ailed me. When she shrugged and nodded, I opened the door to face...Vicky. "Well, hi there."
"Another cousin?" she asked, her tone more annoyed than defeated this time.
"Uh huh." I stepped aside, allowing her a access to Nicole, who stepped up next to me in the doorway.
Ignoring me, Vicky put on her best smile for Nicole. "Hello. My name is Vicky Stancliff and I'm -"
"Are those leaflets promoting Dane Roberge's campaign?" Nicole interrupted, seeing the contents of Vicky's hand.
"You're wasting your time here, lady," Nicole told her. "If this were 'Survivor.' he would have been the first one voted off the island."
Glaring at me, as though I had caused Dane to be so hated, she thanked Nicole and left.
"Poor thing," I said, as Nicole shut the door. "I wonder if she's met anyone who actually wants to support him."
"My guess would be only the bartenders of the Moose Club."
It was then I gave my youngest cousin a hug and we went back outside and spent another hour with Jeremy and his wife.
Poor Vicky must have thought the fates had it in for her because the timing was perfect that when I was leaving my cousin Courtney's house after a lovely visit, I opened the door to run right into Tickle me Vicky just as she was about to ring the doorbell. She didn't even bother to stay and talk to Courtney, she just growled at me and left.
An hour later, after Lisa had arrived to pick me up to go to her house for dinner and to spend the night, the doorbell rang. As I was feeding Orion, I asked Lisa to get the door and after a second I heard her shout in to me, "Hey, you want to sign up to support Dane in the election?"
I shot up and what could only be described as an evil grin adorned my face. It couldn't be. I practically sprinted to the door, appearing behind Lisa with a shit eating grin on my face.
"Vicky! Long time, no see!"
The woman dropped her clip board and just stared at me. "Who are you?"
"I'm Dane's sister."
"And you don't like him either, do you?"
Tickle Me Vicky just shook her head. "That's it. I quit. I'm going to go work for Bill DeMartino. At least everybody likes him."