Title: The Tropic of Hunter

Name: Cheyne

Fandom: Xena Uber/Alt/Original

Rating: 18 or NC-17


I awoke, sensing I was not alone, but too fuzzy to connect the dots right away. Then, as the recollection of last night filtered into my jet-lagged brain, I slowly opened my eyes to see a blonde head on my shoulder and her warm, naked body snuggled against me. I smiled as the vividness of making sweet love to this special woman filled me and I squeezed her shoulder with more affection than I thought I had in me.

"You snore." Her sleep soaked voice vibrated against my breastbone.

"You drool," I countered, seeing a small puddle on my chest by her mouth.

"Well, that's attractive," she mumbled. "Thanks for pointing that out, Ms Buzzsaw."

I chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "Did I keep you awake?"

She lifted her face to look at me, grinning impishly. "Not from snoring."

Kissing her forehead, I said, "Did I ravish you in my sleep?"

"Mmmm, no, you didn't need to. The memory and the effects of what you did before you fell asleep was enough to keep me awake."

"You sound awfully sleepy for someone who got no sleep."

"Exhaustion tagged me about two hours ago. Despite your snoring." She kissed my chin and rested her head back over my right breast.

"Was it that bad?"

"No...it was kind of cute, actually." I could hear the grin in her voice as the hand under my t-shirt lazily brushed back and forth over my nipple. As tired as I still was, she was starting to fire me up. "You never even got undressed."

"I was waiting for you to undress me," I whispered into her hair. She pinched my nipple hard. "Ow! What was that for?" I laughed, my hand covering hers.

"Undress you? Do you realize how out you were? I'm not into necrophilia, I like my lover to be conscious, thank you."

Lover. I liked the sound of that word connected with her. "Sorry I crashed on you."

"It's okay. I could see last night at the bar that you were tired. I was being very selfish, I know." She raised up on her elbow, looking at me again. "But I wanted to give myself the ultimate birthday present. I only got half my wish, though."

"What was the other half?"

"To make you feel as good as you made me feel."

I know I should have got up and brushed my teeth before I kissed her again but I couldn't resist. And she did not seem to mind as she climbed on me, stretching herself out over me, deepening the gesture, which was beginning to liquefy my lower body. She extricated her lips from mine and sat up, straddling my hips, giving me another opportunity to feast my eyes on her magnificent body. Feeling her wetness on my lower belly made me want to flip her over and fuck her senseless. Reaching up, I cupped her breasts and then drew my hands down her sides until they rested on her thighs.

She slowly lifted my t-shirt, revealing a little bit of skin at a time, until she got it over my head and off my arms, tossing it over her shoulder onto the floor. Her eyes and hands roamed over my chest in appreciative investigation and she slowly, softly, touched my breasts and then my nipples, which couldn't have gotten any harder if they had been encased in cement. She had this way of looking at me that took my breath away. "Very nice," she announced after several minutes of exploration. "Very, very nice."

"Glad you approve," I commented, wondering what she was going to do next. I didn't have to wait long. She swung her leg off me and removed my boxer shorts, dropping them on top of my t-shirt and then laid down on her left side, facing me. She once again scanned my nakedness, paying particular attention to the parts she hadn't seen before. Leaning over, she kissed me passionately and then trailed more kisses down the length of my torso until she got to the volcano that was once my center. She was going for the gold her first shot. I loved being stroked and I loved to be entered and driven to orgasm but nothing got me off more fully and completely than a well-placed, skilled tongue.

"Mmmmm...I feel like I should say 'grace'." And then, she nuzzled me before settling in with her torturously sweet assault, tempering her pace. 

I shut my eyes, thoroughly enjoying her catering to my one specific need at the moment, listening to and feeling her ministrations as she continued her 'mmmmms.' I maneuvered a pillow under my ass, giving her better access and she wrapped her arms around my thighs, never missing a beat. I felt the sensation start to leisurely build and I involuntarily began to rock against her mouth. I tried to keep my movement to a minimum because she was exactly where I needed her to be and I didn't want her to lose her place.

She stimulated me right to the verge and then when I crested, she drew the act out, prolonging my climax, causing me to come twice in a row. Then, with her mouth still on me, she pushed deep into me with two fingers, just their presence provoking a third orgasm from me almost instantly. I was stunned. I had never been multi-orgasmic before. Interesting. We had both given each other something new.

"Jesus, you're good at this." It was a thought that had been said out loud.

I felt her smile against me and when her tongue started moving again, I had to stop her as I was now a tad tender. And I was impressed that she had been down there for as long as she had and never seemed to come up for air...not that I was really paying attention until now. "So, can you teach me how to breathe through my ears like that?" I asked, causing her to laugh and rest her head on my thigh.

"Sure. As soon as you teach me this little trick." She wiggled her fingers before she slowly withdrew them and crept up my body, roosting on top of me, tracing my lips with the fingers that had just been inside me. "Don't put those in my mouth," I warned her, good-naturedly.

She immediately took that as a challenge and attempted to force them past my clenched teeth. I grabbed her hand and moved it away but she was a strong little shit and she swung them back to my mouth. "You don't want to taste yourself?"

"Not particularly."

She was coltish and persistent, giggling while we playfully scuffled. I finally rolled her over, trapping her beneath me and I pushed her fingers into her own mouth, where she slowly, deliberately fellated them. "Mmmm. Lisa like."

I found her actions erotic and her friskiness endearing and I could not stop myself from kissing her. She poked her tongue in, making sure it hit ever section of my mouth until I captured it and lightly sucked on it.

Separating her face from mine, she said, "Guess you got to taste yourself anyway."

She was, indeed, a brat. I gave her a few quick pecks as I held her. "Do you have to be at work or anything?"

"No. I wasn't sure how I would be feeling the morning after my birthday, so I arranged to be out of the office."

"So, you don't have to be anywhere at any specific time?"

"My parents wanted me to come over for lunch but I can blow them off."

"Jesus, don't tell your mother you were with me all night. She'll ground you until your AARP kicks in." She gave me a half-hearted swat. "It's true. She finds out you've been with me, she'll probably blame me for your being gay."

"Well, it kind of is your fault," she teased. She brought her lips to mine for another kiss. "If you hadn't been so damned beautiful and sexy and strong and commanding..."

"I'd say flattery will get you everywhere but that's a cliché and I avoid clichés like the plague," I joked, making her chuckle again. I loved the way her nose crinkled when she laughed or smiled really wide. "Tell you what...I really like cuddling with you so why don't we try to get a couple more hours sleep and decide on the rest of our day from there?"

"God, I would love that," she admitted, honestly. We snuggled in, getting comfortable, me on my back and Lisa burrowed into my side with an arm around my waist and a leg hooked over mine. "Hunter?"


"Welcome home."


Two things hit me immediately when I woke up - the phone was ringing and I was alone in bed. The phone could wait.

I sat up, searching the room for Lisa, hoping she had not called a cab and gone home. That thought instantly made me miss her. I couldn't imagine her leaving without waking me, though, and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and tried to get my bearings.

Looking at the clock, I groaned, knowing that half the day was gone already and I still needed to make an appearance at Sam's at some point. Better I go there than he show up here. One brother catching me with my pants practically down before I had a chance to come out to them was bad enough. I wanted to tell Sam myself and not have the news come from the warped perspective of Dane.

Stretching as I got out of bed, I put on the same clothes I'd worn after my shower the night before. It was then I noticed that Lisa's clothes were still on the floor, which easily coaxed a very warm smile out of me. She was somewhere in this house...naked.

My first order of business, though, had to be relief for my bladder.

On my way back from the bathroom, I passed my old room and saw that the door was half open and I knew I had closed it the night before. Peeking in, I spotted Lisa, leaning close to the vanity, reading one of the newspaper clippings from so long ago. And she was wearing my old bathrobe, which was very big on her. It looked adorable.

"Finding anything interesting?" I knew she knew I was up because you could hear that toilet flush three states away.

Not turning to me, she addressed my reflection in the mirror. "I remember these basketball games like they were yesterday. You took us to the sectionals and then the championships." She pivoted and walked over to me. "I went to every one of your games."

I stopped and thought about that. "Oh my god...you did, didn't you?" I took her face in my hands and kissed her tenderly, then wrapped my arms around her. "And I was so rotten to you sometimes. How could you have been so loyal?"

"You weren't really rotten...per se...you were just obviously annoyed. Come on, I was a little pest," she laughed.

"You had your moments," I agreed. "I always thought you shadowed us all the time because you wanted to be like your sister or just didn't want to be left out."

"Me? Want to be like Lesley? Uh...no." She shook her head, emphatically. "I never wanted to be like Lesley."

Taking her hand in mine, I led her downstairs to the kitchen. As she filled the automatic coffee maker with water, I went in search of some coffee. Swinging open one cupboard door, instead of what I was looking for, I found three cans of cat food which reminded me that I needed to feed Orion. Plucking out a can, I held it in my hand while still perusing for coffee.

Feeling the cat food container being removed from my grasp, I then heard, "Mmmmm, liver, bacon and cheese bits...never had this particular brew but as long as it has caffeine..."

"Very funny. It's for Orion."

"That monster is still alive?" Their was a tone of incredulity to her voice.

As if on cue, Orion slinked into the kitchen, meowing, honing in on my bare leg and making a beeline for it. I froze and prepared for the assault of teeth and claws but it never came. Instead, she circled my calf, rubbing up against me and purring loudly. "She hasn't attacked me yet. Either she's changed or she's saving it up." I then remembered that my mother used to keep her coffee in the freezer. And that's where I found it. "Aha!"

Lisa made coffee while I fed the cat and then returned to the kitchen to accept a hot mug and a quick kiss before we sat down at the table, opposite each other. "So, Hunter, do you think Dane is going to cause trouble for you?"

"In general or because of last night?"

"Both I guess." She looked at me, resting her chin on her palm.

I had the urge to grab her and take her right back upstairs but I reluctantly behaved myself. "I think he will give me trouble in general. I think he's waited the last sixteen years for this. And I think he thinks last night will give him a little more ammunition. But I think Sam might be the only one he will tell - and I hope to get to Sam first - because the last thing he is going to want people to know is that he has a lesbian sister; especially when he's upping his political stakes by running for congress."

"Oh, that's right," she agreed, in sudden realization. "Actually...you kind of have him over a barrel, don't you? You could publicly come out to, say, the local paper and really bury him."

"And don't think it isn't tempting. I guess I'll wait and see just how dirty he wants to fight."

"Oh, speaking of Sam, he left a message on the machine, wondering if you were up yet."

"Okay. I was wondering who called."

We sat there and chatted through another cup of coffee and then went back upstairs to shower, something we did together, steaming up the bathroom from more than just hot water. I couldn't get enough of her. I couldn't get enough of touching her, of looking at her and especially not of hearing her voice moaning my name in ecstasy.

When we were done, we dressed and discussed what we were both going to do that afternoon. Lisa had decided that she would meet her parents for a late lunch after all. She would have preferred to spend the day with me, as I would with her, but I needed to get some business taken care of and she wanted to pick up her dogs from 'grandma and grandpa's'. They had been at her parents' house for a week while she had new tile installed in her kitchen.

She drove my car to the rental office and I followed her in my nephew's Jeep, loving the way the rugged vehicle felt. It was a five-speed manual transmission and the stick shift moved easily from gear to gear. I missed driving a stick. At home in L.A., with the constant stop and go of 'rush hour' traffic, it was easier on the car (and my temper) to have an automatic but I preferred this kind of driving any day.

As it was unusually warm for October, I removed the ragtop and let the sun beat down on me the seven miles from my mother's house to the south end of town. After returning the vehicle and getting that squared away, I drove Lisa to her house so that she could change her clothes. She didn't want to show up at her parents' house wearing the same outfit she had on last night. She invited me in but I politely declined. I couldn't trust myself to keep my hands off her and then neither of us would accomplish anything. Well...anything productive, that is.

She leaned over and kissed me, not caring if her neighbors were looking, and I watched her walk to her front door, a fond smile taking over my face. She turned and gave me a little wave before disappearing inside and I drove away, grinning like a fool, feeling like a schoolgirl in love.

Welcome home, indeed.


Arriving at Sam's, I pulled into the driveway behind what I assumed was his car. I knew it wasn't Dane's, or at least the car he had been a passenger in last night. I wondered if he had already outed me to Sam, which was why I decided to just show up as opposed to call. I didn't want to get into the subject of my orientation over the phone. Mom's wake didn't start until four o'clock, so we had a couple hours to get things out in the open.

Knocking on the frame to the left of the screen door, I waited this time instead of just walking in. Last night was different, he had obviously been expecting guests and with the chatter in the living room, he would not have heard me knock. I heard someone descending the steps and then Trina was at the door, pushing it open.

"For heaven's sake, Hunter, you don't have to knock, you're family." She gave me a playful swat on the shoulder as I passed her. "Sleep off your jet lag, did you?" she asked as she followed me upstairs to the kitchen. I thought I caught a hint of sarcasm in her tone.

"Sort of," I responded, noncommittally. "That always takes a few days."

"Especially if you've been up all night?" she asked, with a raised eyebrow and amused expression. She held out a mug. "Coffee?"

Oh boy. They knew. "Sure. Got anything to put in it?"


I seriously thought about it and then I shook my head. "Black is fine. So when did he call you?"

She filled the mug and handed it to me. "About two hours ago. And, oh, the names he was calling you..."

I took a sip, looking at her over the rim of the cup. She didn't appear to be put off in the least. "I'm actually surprised he can speak at all, the condition he was in last night."

"Unfortunately, that's normal for him when he is at any event where there is alcohol of any kind. He's working on his fourth DUI, which is why Emma drives after parties or functions now."

"Lovely. And the town keeps voting him into office? How can he keep that kind of behavior quiet? A politician's life is an open book and there's always somebody who can't be bought to shut up. I don't care what kind of lawyer he has."

"Yep. But, don't worry, the longer he is in office, the more enemies he's making. If he gets voted into congress, I'll be surprised. And...speaking of lawyers..." There was that look of amusement again.

"What exactly did he tell you?"

"He told Sam, who told me, that he caught you having sex with Lisa Riordan in the kitchen."

"We weren't having sex." I took another sip of coffee as she folded her arms and waited patiently for the rest. "We were making out. We had sex later."

She nodded and shook her head, laughing. "Well, I have to tell you, Hunter, you've got excellent taste. Lisa Riordan is very well-respected around here. She's gone after some pretty big businesses for their violations of state eco-laws and won. Not to mention she's classy and quite beautiful."

"That she is." I studied my sister-in-law. "You don't seem surprised or shocked."

"Just because we live in East Bumfuck doesn't mean we automatically have to think and act like rubes, you know. We do have connection to the outside world," she mildly reprimanded. "Sam and I guessed you were probably gay a while ago."

"You did?" Why is it when we make the decision to finally come out to family and loved ones we're stunned that no one is surprised.

"Well, yeah. Come on, Hunter...you were the ultimate jock in high school, you told Sam all those boys you allegedly dated were really just buddies, that you nearly kicked Phil Khaury's ass for telling people that he did something with you he didn't and so that Sam wouldn't go kick his ass -"

"Sam? Kick somebody's ass?" I smirked just at the visual I was getting. Phil would have annihilated Sam and then I would have had to beat the ever-loving shit out of Phil, which would have humiliated my older brother. And Phil. But I didn't care about Phil's reputation.

"He was mad enough to," she said, almost defensively. "Anyway, you're thirty-four years old, you're not married, never have been, never even come close, never talked about a boyfriend, not even dating anybody and...shit, Hunter, you're gorgeous, you're obviously in great shape and you're not too intolerable to be around," she added with a smile. "I agree, it would take a very confident, strong man to be with you but you can't tell me out where you live that you haven't met at least a few. So, we just figured you were a lesbian and you'd tell us when you wanted us to know."

Wow. Why hadn't I thought that they would think of that? "Sam is okay with this?"

"Hunter, Sam loves you. He just wants you to be happy. He doesn't care who you sleep with, your sex life is none of our business. He - no, we - would just like you back in our lives on a regular basis."

I nodded, accepting that. "And you? What do you think about it?"

"Hell, I think it's hot. Not that I want to try it, myself, but you and Lisa Riordan? Very hot." The look on her face was actually making me blush. "You certainly didn't waste any time last night, did you?"

"She came after me." I supplied a little scenario of the evening before, right up until Dane's intrusion. "I called Pucinski's Safety and Security before I left the house. They're coming out to change the locks first thing in the afternoon." I was about to ask where Sam was when I heard a door open and close down the hall. He entered the kitchen, looking like he was freshly out of the shower.

"Well, well, well...if it isn't my sister, the stud," he commented, putting his arm around my shoulder. "The kitchen counter, huh? And with Lisa Riordan, no less."

"Oh, god..." My chin touched my chest. So much for privacy and discretion. My cheeks were burning. "I'm going to kill Dane."

"Stand in line," Sam chuckled. He took a bottle of water out of the fridge and opened it, taking a long swig. "So are you sure you're not going to come to Mom's wake?"

"No. But thanks for asking." I tried to make light of it. I loved how after he made his little comment, it was no big deal and he immediately moved on to something else.

"How'd the house look to you after all this time?"

"Smaller. It was weird. I can still feel her presence there, though." Suddenly I wished that Trina had added some Baileys Irish Cream to my coffee.

"I don't think she ever stopped loving you, Hunter."

"Well, she had a funny way of showing it."

"You know how she was. She got something in her head, her pride would never let her believe anything less, even if she knew she was wrong. Or, at least, admit her mistakes."

"I tried to see her when I was here for Uncle David's funeral. She had nine years to swallow her pride and at least talk to me. That's all I wanted, Sam, is just for her to talk to me. She made her point. I got it. She not only rubbed my nose in it, she stomped my head into the ground. I don't see where you can classify that as love," I said, getting angry all over again.

He nodded, acknowledging my frustration. "I can't explain it, Hunter. I just know she was never the same after you left."

"She kicked me out and shut me out of her life. I think that would change anyone with a conscience, Sam. How do you justify treating your child like they don't exist? Mom was supposed to be such a religious woman. Doesn't the bible teach about forgiveness? Hate the sin not the sinner and all that crap? I mean...did she ever even ask about me?"

"No. She didn't have to. I would always just happen to mention it any time you would send an email or you and I would talk on the phone. She would always pretend she wasn't listening but she never asked me to not tell her or to stop talking about you." He took another swallow of water. "So what was it that caused such a rift, anyway?"

I suppose now that they knew I was a lesbian, holding onto 'the secret' any longer didn't make any sense. I sighed and held my mug out to Trina. "Now you can put some Baileys in there." She took the mug and did as I requested. "You haven't guessed yet?"

"She knew you were gay?" That assumption came from Trina who handed the mug back to me.

I nodded. "Yeah. But not until she came home unexpectedly and caught me in bed with someone."

Sam nearly dropped his water bottle. "Mom caught you in the act?" He exchanged shocked glances with Trina. "Oh my God...she...you...oh my God."

"Yeah. And it was right in the act, too." The memory of the act she caught me in and the look on her face, standing in my doorway, conjured up a plethora of emotions, all of which caused my face to flush again.

"Who did she catch you in bed with? Don't tell me Lisa Riordan."

"Lisa -? For god's sake, Sam, Lisa was only fourteen when I left! Jesus. Give me some credit here."

"Hey, it was just a wild guess!" He said, defensively. "You guys did hook up awfully fast last night. And finding you in bed with a fourteen-year-old girl could certainly be grounds for expulsion from the house."

"No, it wasn't Lisa Riordan. Although, Mom may have preferred it was Lisa."

"Who was it?"

I thought of not revealing the identity of my very first lover. I realized it was sixteen years later but I had held it all inside me for so long, protecting her, that not saying her name was second nature now. However, I knew she was most likely far, far away, the event long forgotten shortly after, when she moved on to her next conquest. Why was I sheltering her, anyway? She never took any responsibility for the incident or even tried to find out if I was okay. I know she had heard about my banishment, the whole town knew about it and yet she did nothing to try and make it right. I took a deep breath. "It was Jennifer Visson." I waited for the reaction which was understandably delayed as the name registered and then the impact hit.

"The minister's wife?!" I heard Trina say, finally.

"That was the only Jennifer Visson I knew," I confirmed.

Sam was just as stunned. "You had sex with Mrs. Vixen? And Mom caught you?" I nodded to both questions. And then, ever the practical one, he said, "What the hell were you doing fucking her in the house? You deserved to get caught."

"Sam! I was eighteen, it was my first affair, I didn't care where we had sex as long as we had it. She kept assuring me we wouldn't get caught and I believed her."

"Is that why they left town so quickly?" Trina questioned. "Nobody bought the excuse that her parents were ill. She could have gone, tended to them and come back. Uprooting the whole family didn't make sense."

"I think she was afraid Mom would expose her and bring scandal to her family and the church. So they left before there was any backlash."

"But she was married...and had kids..." Trina commented.

"That doesn't matter. I know a lot of closeted gay people who are married and have families. I know a lot of married-with-kids gay people who have come out after they've discovered they don't have to live that lie anymore."

"Did Reverend Visson know about her, uh, inclinations?" Sam asked.

"She indicated that he did but never came right out and said it. Honestly? I didn't care. Her husband and her children were her concern, not mine," I shrugged. It was true. I was so hooked on her nothing mattered except when the next time we were going to get together would be.

There was dead silence. Sam and Trina exchanged disbelieving looks again. "The minister's wife. God, she was such a fox. Many a boy's unobtainable fantasy in the congregation, I'll tell you. Jesus, Hunter, when you do things, you do them big."


Sam, Trina and I talked about the rift in more detail and it was honestly a relief to finally get it out. In fact, after the practical discussion that lasted for nearly an hour and made me almost feel like I cleansed my soul, I wished I had not kept it inside for so long. Maybe if I had outed myself sooner to my brother and others in Otter Falls, it would have forced my mother to face some truths and realities and not perpetuated the shadow of shame she created around the whole thing. Perhaps if they had found out the reason for my exile sixteen years ago, they may have reacted differently but their attitude now was only one of acceptance and sadness for the time lost and wasted.

The conversation then came back around to why would a woman, who seemed to hate me so much, leave me her house? It was certainly something I could not figure out with the limited information I had and the experience of knowing how my mother felt about me. Sam was also at a loss for coming up with an explanation that made sense. Yet according to her will, she was very specific about leaving me the house and anything that was in it (including Orion). And although Vermont had no state inheritance tax, her modest estate had provided to pay the federal inheritance tax in addition to a specific amount set aside to pay for an inspector to evaluate what kind of shape the structure was in as well as the electrical and plumbing systems. She even stipulated which real estate company she wished me to use should I decide to sell it as opposed to keep it.

Sam, as the executor of her will, explained to me that she chose that agency because the company had a good track record and they had a reputation for getting a good fair market value for the houses they sold. I laughed and shook my head. She was still trying to control me from the grave. 

I asked Sam when the official reading of the will would be and he smiled and told me that only happened in the movies and on television, that there was no legal requirement to gather the family together to ceremoniously read a will. That made me feel better. The last thing I wanted right now was to be shut into a room with Dane...where there were any witnesses.

He advised me that Mom's attorney's main responsibility was to ensure that the will was filed with the county clerk's office and that he was consulted before anything was done with my mother's equity. The will was probated so the lawyer would supervise any payment of mandatory taxes and bills, any collection of assets and any distribution of wealth. As for the infamous 'reading'? The 'reading' was done when looking over copies of the will which were mailed to all 'heirs.' In fact, Sam told me, I most likely had an official letter waiting for me when I got home.

"I'm taking an educated guess here and thinking that you are probably going to sell the house," my brother said, a sad yet oddly anxious tone coloring his words.

"There's really no reason for me to keep it, Sam. I'm certainly not going to move back into it and renting it is out of the question because I'm not back here to make sure Dane doesn't do something to make the place uninhabitable. Do you want it? I have no problem signing it over to you...or whatever I would have to do to transfer ownership."

"Look, Hunter, Mom was very precise. You can't give it away, you have to either sell it or keep it. I'd love the house but we can't afford to buy you out and Trina doesn't want to sell this place. Even if you could give it to me, I'd be torn...we could use the money from the sale but then we all grew up in that house so it has sentimental value to me."

"Which means you really wish I wouldn't sell it, either," I interpreted. When he didn't answer, I said, "Well, whatever I decide, I will guarantee that it will not go to Dane."

Sam looked at his watch. "We need to get ready for the wake. Hunter, are you sure you -"

"I am positive. Even if Mom and I had been speaking, I wouldn't attend her wake. I think it's morbid. She's dead. That's not her laying in that box, it's a badly made-up shell. Why would I, or anyone else, want that to be my very last memory of her?"

"Reverend Massey insisted on a wake. Dane agreed...he's a deacon, you know."

I rolled my eyes in disgust. "Why am I not surprised? What about what you wanted?"

"I wanted what she wanted and she wanted things done in accordance with the church's bylaws."

I nodded. "The church." My voice was not without its hostility. "Hasn't that church already done enough to divide this family?"


After I left Sam's, I drove to a supermarket and picked up some groceries and necessities for the house. There was plenty of food there but not a lot that was in my normal diet or that appealed to me. Once I got back to Mom's, I would really take a look around and see what needed to be done. I suppose I should have started going through everything and deciding what I would keep and have shipped back to California and what I would sell.

Four bags full and a hundred dollars later, I pulled into Mom's driveway. Mom's. It was my place now. Yet, regardless of legal ownership, I could never think of it as such. It never felt like my home even when I lived here.

After putting everything away, I moved to the living room to see if the cable-tv was still connected. I figured it would be paid for until the end of the month. I know I should have been more productive but I just wanted to relax. I sat on the couch, swilling an energy drink, flipping through basic cable channels and wondering what Lisa was doing at that very moment. So I called her cell phone.

It was on the sixth ring before she picked up. When she said 'Hi,' the smile in her voice matched my own.

"Hi yourself. Just thought I'd see what you were up to." The memory of her writhing in my arms threatened to overload my sexual circuitry.

"I'm at your mother's wake." her voice was hushed. "Well, actually, I stepped outside to answer your call."

"What are you doing there?"

"My parents insisted. I tried to tell them I really hadn't seen your mother since high school, other than running into her occasionally around town and that I had planned on going to the funeral but, well, you know my mother..."

"Yes. I'm sure she had something to say about my not being there with my brothers."

"She had a few comments. The most interesting was, after she viewed the body, she turned to me and said that you're the spitting image of your mother."

"Your mother's saying I look like a sixty-year-old dead woman?"

"Hunter!" She laughed in spite of herself. I loved that sound. I suppose I sounded cold, but at least I was honest.

"How was Dane to you?"

"He gave me a few glares of disgust but nothing I haven't seen a hundred times magnified in a courtroom, so I just gave him my sweetest smile and moved on." There was silence between us and then she said, "Did you call for anything in particular or just to get people to give me dirty looks for not remembering to turn my cell phone off."

"I was just wondering what you might be doing for dinner."

"Oh. Sorry. I have a date."

My heart sank to my feet and all the blood in my body went with it. Well, of course, she could have a date. She had a long-distance girlfriend she rarely saw and she certainly wasn't expecting me to show up in town. It was entirely possible that she had made previous plans. "You do?" It came out a little more weakly than I wanted it to.

"Yeah. She hasn't actually asked me yet but I know she's going to so I'm waiting."

Aha. The little stinker was talking about me. "Well, she should hurry up and ask you then, huh? If she doesn't, somebody better might come along and beat her to the punch."

"Well, there is nobody better so I don't think that will be a problem."

I was taking great pleasure in this. "So where is she taking you?"

"Let's see...I think it should be Atomic Seltzer's for drinks and Lariat's for dinner."

I had never heard of Atomic Seltzer's but Lariat's I knew well. It was a steak house, decorated in western motif and it had been around for years. The food was great, the prices were reasonable and the dress code was casual. "And...after dinner?"

"I think a nightcap will definitely be in order."

"Mmmm. Absolutely. And, uh, when is she picking you up?"

"I think she should be picking me up at six-thirty. At my place."

"She'll see you there. Enjoy the rest of your wake."

"Oh, yeah. I will," she said, dryly, "because, you know, it's such a festive occasion."


By the time I left to pick up Lisa for dinner, I had started sorting through my mother's clothes and had most of the contents of her closet laid out on her bed. Orion decided first to be my helper and then when I kept finding items I had placed on the nightstand on the floor, I put anything 'bat-able' out of her reach, she then switched to supervising. I still felt she was entrapping me by making me think she had mellowed, so I stayed alert around her.

I thought about what to do with Mom's clothes. My mother did have excellent taste and always dressed very stylishly without looking garish. She took care of her wardrobe, expertly repairing what needed it and discarding what couldn't be saved, unlike me, who wore an article of clothing until it was nothing but threads held together by willpower. Just one more thing we butted heads on. Dividing the clothes into categories of dressy, casual and inbetween, I would save my decision until tomorrow but I was leaning toward donating everything to the local battered women's shelter.

I pulled into Lisa's driveway, thinking she might meet me outside once she heard the Jeep so when she didn't, I went up to her door and was about to knock when the door swung open. "Hi," she grinned, clearly happy to see me. She stood against the door frame and pulled me inside.

"Hey." I looked her over, appreciatively. "You look great." She was wearing form-fitting, faded jeans that hung low on her hips and a lightweight, v-neck pullover that revealed a hint of cleavage and didn't quite make it to her belt which showed off a bit of luscious skin.

She stepped up to me and greeted me with a kiss that warmed me to the bone. It wasn't quick but she didn't linger, either. She took a handful of my jersey and led me through a long hallway to her kitchen. "Let me introduce you to the boys and then I'll show you around." Opening a sliding glass door, she whistled and within seconds, two greyhounds were bounding into the room, whimpering and barking, tails and rear ends wagging, looking as though they were trying to turn themselves inside out. "Hey, hey...come on, settle. Settle," she ordered them in a voice that was commanding but not harsh. It took them a couple minutes but they finally calmed down. "Hunter, this is Azizi, which is Egyptian for precious," she touched the head of the brindle-colored one, "and this is Sadiki, which is Egyptian for faithful. But around here, they're just plain Oz and Deke." She scratched behind the ears of the fawn-colored one. "You can pet them. They are very gentle and friendly."

I reached down, the gesture alone prompting both dogs approach me; Deke rubbing up against me like a cat and Oz leaning against my leg. Oz licked my hand, happily and Deke put his mouth around my wrist, gently grasping but not biting. "Why Egyptian names?" I pet the dogs affectionately.

"The Egyptians worshiped greyhounds as gods and from what I understand they are descendants of a breed that goes back to ancient Egyptian times. Besides, I didn't name them. But I did nickname them," she grinned. "So would you me to show you around?"

"Sure. I would like that. But...I'm not so sure I'm going to make it past the bedroom, so maybe we should go out first."

"Horny devil, aren't ya?" She reached up and pinched my cheek. I grabbed her hand and pulled her into my arms and action which made her gasp and the dogs to start to fidget and whimper again, bouncing around us.

"Just being honest," I told her, our lips almost touching.

Never taking her eyes off me, she snapped her fingers at the dogs who stopped bouncing. "Well, it's not like I'm starving or anything..." she commented, with a lift of her eyebrow.

Not kissing her at this point was just not an option. When the kiss broke, I tapped her gently her on the nose. "I want to take you out to dinner. Knowing what is going to happen after dinner is just going to make it that much more...eh...appetizing."

She took my face in her hands and kissed me again. "Then let's skip Atomic Seltzer and just go to Lariat's. We can have drinks there. And then let's come back here so that you can...have the grand tour."


Walking into Lariat's was like stepping into a time warp. It had not changed since the last time I was there for Sam's graduation dinner when I was fifteen. The exterior facade made it look like a saloon from the late eighteen hundreds and the interior tried to give the customer the same feel. Inside was a spacious, wood-finished, old west-style decor, low-lit which helped create a somewhat romantic atmosphere. Sawdust and peanut shells were spread out on the floor which added to the ambiance and the walls were decorated with knotted ropes and lassos and old-fashioned photographs. They were famous for their moderately priced steaks that were cooked on an oak-fired grill and their multi-counter salad bar.

We were shown to a booth with high-backed seats and Lisa ordered us a bottle of wine. I kept sneaking peeks at her over the top of my menu, still not quite believing how beautiful she had become and that we had spent such a remarkable night and morning together. After our orders were taken and our wine was poured, Lisa insisted on a toast. I raised my glass to touch hers and she said, "To dreams coming true." As we drank to that, it was also hard for me to believe that she had held these feelings for me for so long. It was flattering as well as scary. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint her with the real me replacing her fantasy of me.

We were almost finished with our extremely comfortable and enjoyable dinner when a voice we both recognized busted our private little bubble. That was the other thing about Lariat's, it was the premiere meeting place in town, especially on a Friday night.

"Hey! What are you two doing here?" came the surprised question from Lesley. She approached our table, her breasts reaching us five seconds before she did. Her attention snapped back and forth between us like she was watching a tennis match.

"Eating?" Lisa answered, with a 'duh' tone to her voice.

Lesley reacted to that by shooting her sister a very nasty glare. She then focused on me. This was going to be interesting. "I thought you were going to call me."

"Gee, Les, I don't remember saying that," I said, amiably. "I've only been here a day and I've been kind of busy."

"Not too busy for my sister to get her claws in you."

"Well, I do have to eat," I reasoned, hoping she'd go away soon.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Lisa asked her sister.

"We got our babysitter to come over watch the boys so Wally and I could go out and have a nice evening out."

"Well, enjoy," Lisa said, dismissively.

"Yeah, I know why you're trying to get rid of me," Lesley said to Lisa, shaking her head and snorting. She glanced at the bottle of wine, then at Lisa and smirked. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say this looks I interrupted a romantic dinner. What's Sharyn going to say if it gets back to her that you're sniffing after another woman, regardless of how useless your pursuit might be?" Before Lisa could respond to that, Lesley turned her attention to me. "You'd better be careful, Hunter. People are going to think you two are together."

"We are together," I told her, frankly.

"No, I know you're together, here in the restaurant, dining, but they're going to think you're together, you know what I mean?"

I looked her dead in the eye and reached across the table, taking Lisa's hand in mine. "We are together, Lesley," I said, putting the same emphasis on the word as she did. I realized this wasn't the time or the place or how I wanted to get into this with her but I couldn't tolerate her ignorance and her thinking that I would in any way, agree with her assessment of homosexuality being wrong and disgusting. I felt Lisa squeeze my hand. Lesley was shocked.

"Wait. What? You mean...?" She stared at our joined hands, then at her sister and then at me. She got very quiet, her voice hushed. "Oh, I see. So I really did interrupt a romantic dinner."

"No. This is just dinner. The romance will be later," Lisa smiled.

"That's...that's really repulsive." She was glaring daggers at me.

"You weren't invited over here, Les. If you don't like it, then by all means, go back to your own table," I advised her. "And, just for the record? What's really repulsive is your attitude and behavior."

"Is that so?" she said, coolly. "Well, I'm not the carpet muncher here, am I?"

"Lesley, for Christ's sake..." Lisa began, looking down at the table.

I let go of Lisa's hand and studied my former best friend. "Tell me something...when's the last time you gave your husband a blow job?"

Staring at me, appalled, she said, "That's none of your business!"

"You're right. So why do you feel my sex life is any of yours?" I let it sink in. "Now if you'll excuse us, we'd like to finish our wine, pay our check and get out of here."

"No wonder your mother disowned you," she spat out before turning on her heel and walking away.

"Well...that went well," I said to Lisa, who was concentrating on her wine glass. When she looked up at me, she was flushed, trying to restrain her anger and embarrassment. "I'm sorry about that, Hunter."

I once again took her hand in mine. "You have as much reason to apologize for your sister as I do for my brother. Let it go, okay?" Hearing someone politely clear her throat, I looked up to see our server with our check. She saw our entwined fingers and a tiny smile curled the corner of her mouth.

"I'll take that whenever you're ready."

"You can take it now, I think we're ready." I released Lisa's hand and we both reached for a credit card at the same time. I handed mine to the young woman first and she walked away. Before Lisa could protest, I said, "I asked you, remember?"

"Not really."

"Whatever," I grinned at her. "Let's just get out of here. I have some serious plans for you."

I do believe she actually blushed.


I never had sex with two dogs watching before. There was something perverse about it, especially since they seem so focused and interested. I finally asked Lisa if she minded shutting them out of the bedroom...at least until we were ready to go to sleep.

It probably would have been wiser to go back to my mother's as I still didn't trust that Dane wouldn't use his key again and destroy the place. But unless he'd had me followed - which I would never put anything past him - he wouldn't know whether I was home or not without having to enter the property. And I had hopefully intimidated him away from that idea. Tomorrow the locks would be changed and it would no longer be a concern. In the meantime, I wanted to be with Lisa more than anything and she wanted us to 'christen' her house.

Making love to her was like a revelation. Before, with the women in my past, including Jennifer Visson, it had always felt like a physical release and nothing more, regardless of how initially exciting. But with Lisa, sex actually meant something, I felt alive in a way I never had before. She elicited sensations and emotions within me that were new yet familiar and like I was always meant to be with her.

She led the greyhounds into the hallway and returned, closing the door behind her. She ran to the bed and jumped, landing on the empty space next to me and I grabbed her and pulled her to me before she bounced right over me and onto the floor. Laughing, I rolled over on top of her and kissed her with abandon and she manipulated her fingers into me and proceeded to fuck me into oblivion. We traded orgasms into the night before we were both lulled to sleep by the rhythm of rain beating against the roof. The time I was spending with her, in and out of bed, was heady and stirring and inspiring and I never wanted to let her go.


While we had been in bed the night before, her mother had called and left several messages, warning Lisa away from me. I wasn't quite sure what was so bad about me. I thought I had done pretty well with my life so far...especially for someone who grew up being told she would never amount to anything. And it certainly wasn't me that turned her daughter into a lesbian. Well...not really. Before we got up that morning, three more calls came in registered from Mrs. Riordan, one of the messages stating that she just didn't understand why Lisa felt the need to flaunt her personal life in public, that maybe she was okay with that but it was embarrassing to the rest of the family. I mentioned to Lisa that I bet they didn't think twice about Lesley 'flaunting her personal life' in public. That double standard always pissed me off. What was 'flaunting' about having dinner in a restaurant?

"I love her but she drives me crazy," Lisa said, pouring me a cup of coffee. "I keep hoping that someday she'll change."

"And I keep hoping that I'll be reincarnated as Angelina Jolie's thong. Somehow I don't think either has a chance of happening."

Also, just before we had fallen asleep, her cell phone rang. When she listened to that voice mail, her expression was one of surprise, sadness and then annoyed frustration. Lesley had called her 'sort of' girlfriend, Sharyn, and told her that Lisa was sleeping with someone else and that she thought she should know. I guessed correctly that Sharyn was not a fan of Lesley's either, and wanted Lisa to call her so that she could ask her what was going on.

While we were sitting at her table, working on our second pot of coffee and having split a toasted bagel, her cell phone rang and it was Sharyn again. I knew the only reason Lisa did not want to take the call was that she didn't want to hurt her 'sort of' girlfriend but she knew she had to tell her the truth. I didn't want to listen but Lisa stayed at the table when she answered her phone. When I went to stand up to leave the room and give her some privacy, her fingers gently curled around my forearm, indicating she wanted me to stay.

"Hi." Her voice was subdued. "No, I was home last night." She closed her eyes. "No, I wasn't asleep." She listened for a few seconds and then her hand tightened over my arm. "No, Sharyn, Lesley was telling you the truth." Her head dropped. "Yes. I'm sorry." My hand covered hers and patted it, reassuringly. "Hunter Roberge...yes, the Hunter Roberge." She listened some more. "Look, honey, we've known this has been coming for a long time. I'm just sorry it had to be like this...no, I had no idea she was going to be here...yes, of course I would have told you." More listening. I could tell by her face that she was taking heat from a woman who may not have considered herself as 'sort of' as Lisa did. "Yes, she's still here." She closed her eyes. "No, Sharyn, don't come back early, there's no need...well, I would have preferred it had happened differently, too...I'm sorry, I don't know what else to say to you that will make it hurt any less." She flashed her eyes at me, biting her lip. "Well, that won't happen. I -" She closed the phone and set it on the table. "She hung up. Do you know how much I hate my sister right now?"

"I have a pretty good idea."

"I would have told her about you. But I would have done it in person. She didn't deserve finding out this way."

I brought her fingers to my lips and kissed every one of them. "Lisa...maybe you should have taken a little time to think about breaking up with her. You do realize I'm not staying here, right?" Saying that caused my insides to nearly collapse, as it meant leaving her.

"I know. But as far as my relationship with Sharyn goes, that doesn't make a difference. Whether you're here or three thousand miles away, my heart belongs to you, Hunter. It's always belonged to you."

We studied at each other, meaningfully. I then rested my forehead on the back of her hand. "I know this sounds insane but I wish I could take you with me when I go. I know I don't have the right to ask you to give up everything you've worked for here but I know I can't live here and I don't want to be without you."

"No, it doesn't sound insane, Hunter. What probably sounds more insane is that I believe this - you and I - was always meant to be. Nothing has ever felt more right."

I nodded. I knew what she meant because I felt it, too. I realized we had only been together two nights but I had known her since I was eight years old, even though I had never paid much attention to her until now. It was like we were pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together. I stood up and pulled her to a standing position and into a very tight embrace.

"There are forests and parks here, too, you know. You wouldn't have to live right in Otter Falls," she said into my neck.

I kissed the top of her head. "I just can't see myself coming back here to live."

"Looks like we have a dilemma then, huh?"


Relieved that the house was still intact when I got back to my mother's, I fed the cat, changed her litter and went back up to Mom's room to continue with the sorting of her clothes.

Everything was happening so fast and my head was starting to spin. I did not want to move back to Vermont, there were too many bad memories here, too many restrictions that I no longer had to live by, too many closed minds still, too much repression. And yet, I was already visualizing sharing my mother's or Lisa's house with Lisa. I had never thought in terms of living with someone before, of sharing that kind of space or time with anyone but it was almost painful to think of not going to sleep and waking up every morning with her.

And how was that possible with someone I had just become reacquainted with two days ago? Was I crazy? I certainly couldn't blame it on overwrought emotions due to my mother's death because I honestly didn't feel much of anything about that. All I knew was that something hit me like an anvil upon seeing Lisa at her party and it wasn't going away. She seemed to occupy every waking second I had and in a rare moment of possessiveness, the thought of her not being with me and ending up with someone else was unbearable and I literally had to swallow a sense of panic, the intensity of which I had never before experienced.

I sat down on a chair next to my mother's bed, somewhat dazed and feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. What was going on?

Before I could get too introspective, I heard the doorbell ring. It was probably the locksmiths and it was a needed distraction. I went downstairs and opened the door to reveal a nice looking, very well dressed middle aged man, holding a clipboard.

"Can I help you?"

"I hope so," he smiled. "My name is Bill DeMartino and I'm running against Dane Roberge for congress. I'm gathering signatures for a petition to open an investigation into Alderman Roberge's transference of funds between various departments while he's been in off-"

"Where do I sign?" I enthusiastically grabbed the pen attached to the clipboard and scribbled my name on the line where he tapped his finger. It didn't matter to me what they were investigating, just knowing that they found his ethics questionable confirmed my feelings of constant disappointment in his conduct. I'm sure whatever they thought he did, it was worse.

I knew my signature wouldn't mean shit as I was not a registered voter here but I wanted my name in big letters on any petition that might finally make my brother responsible for his actions and take him down at least one peg. I finished writing my name as legibly as I could.

"Thank you..." He looked down at the petition in his hand, "Mrs -"

"Ms.," I corrected.

"Ms...Roberge." He then looked up at me, eyes wide in surprise.

"I'm his sister," I grinned. "And good luck," I told him, sincerely, shaking his hand vigorously. I closed the door. Now that made my day. And probably Mr. Bill DeMartino's day, as well.


Twenty minutes after that, Pucinski's showed up and proceeded to change the the locks on all the doors, the three that led into the house and the one that led into the garage. Once they were done, I was relieved that Dane no longer had legal or physical access to the house.

I was torn as to whether or not to make an appearance at my mother's funeral. At the last minute, I decided not to go. I knew that would make Sam feel badly but my attendance there would be dishonest plus, the stir it would cause would take the focus away from the real reason people were there.

By the middle of the afternoon, I had the room pretty much cleaned out and organized and my mother's clothes in large green garbage bags which were now lined up in the downstairs hallway, ready for me to load them into the Jeep and take them away. I then went into the sewing room to see what was unfinished and what was completed and maybe needed to be distributed to whoever had ordered and paid for the clothes and costumes. I decided I would tackle that tomorrow. I knew there was nothing to clean out of the guest room closet but there was still a full wardrobe of clothes in my old room. I added that to the list of tasks I would attempt tomorrow.

I went downstairs and grabbed a beer out of the fridge and had just taken my first swallow when I head a persistent pounding on the door. It was too early for it to be Lisa, who had agreed to come over after the funeral and little soirée at the church afterward. I swung the door open to see a very pissed off Lesley standing there. Before I could say anything, she pushed past me, reeking of whiskey.

"Why don't you come in?" I said to the air, as I shut the door and turned to face her. She stood there with her hands on her hips.

"I just need to know one thing, Hunter. Were you like this before? In school?"

"Like what?" I wasn't going to make this easy for her.

"You know like what. A dyke, were you a dyke in high school?"


"God damn it, Hunter! Why didn't you tell me?" She was slurring her words and wobbling slightly.

"Why would I tell you? Especially if this was the way you were going to behave." And I couldn't trust that she wouldn't have outed me to the world.

"I was your best friend, best friends are supposed to tell each other everything. How could you have kept something like this from me? You owed it to me to let me know!"

"I didn't owe you a damn thing, Les. My orientation had nothing to do with you."

"People might have thought I was one of you, too."

"Well, they didn't. Hooray for my team." She totally missed my slam.

"You know, I wondered why you kept staring at my tits that first night. Now I know why." After two tries, she finally crossed her arms over her ample chest.

"Well, first, you nearly poked my eyes out with them so it was pretty hard to miss them. Second, the Pope would find it difficult to tear his eyes away from those things! They're like freaking pontoons!"

"My husband likes them just fine!" She spit out at me.

"He must be overcompensating for not being breastfed as a baby." I shot back.

"You're just jealous that it's his mouth that's on them and not yours!"

"Jesus, Lesley, he must have a pie hole like a large mouth bass. No, thank you, your husband can have them. You sister's are just fine for me." I closed my eyes. I didn't want to open that particular can of worms. Too late.

She stopped dead and cocked her head, squinting at me, suspiciously. "Did you turn my sister? Is that why you left town? Is that why she's a dyke, too? Is that why she never stopped crushing on you?"

I was really beginning to resent this implication. "I never touched your sister! She was fucking fourteen-years-old when I left."

"Well, isn't that the best time to recruit them? When they are young and vulnerable like that?"

I was agape. "What planet do you live on? That is such backward thinking and I honestly shouldn't justify that with a reply. Recruit them? Get your ignorant ass online or to the library and educate yourself! Your sister was born a lesbian, as was I. Fortunately, she openly acknowledged her sexuality a lot sooner than I did and caused herself a lot less pain."

"So you were really like this in high school? I mean...I used to get undressed in front of you in the locker rooms. We've spent the night at each other's houses..."

"Oh, Christ. And nothing happened, did it? No advances were ever made toward you, were they? You were never touched in an inappropriate manner, were you?"

"No." And then, after a beat, "Why? What's wrong with me?"

"What?" She was giving me a headache.

"Aren't I attractive? Why wouldn't you come on to me? What's wrong with me?"

I was speechless. Then, "Lesley...what is wrong with you? You were not like this in high school. You were the one who told all the snobby cheerleaders and jocks to shut the fuck up when they picked on Joey Lassiter and called him gayboy and fruitcup and JoeHo and faggot. You had them towing the line. What happened to that girl?"

"She smartened up," she declared, indignantly.

"Really? Are you sure? Because spewing hate isn't smart. And it's really unattractive on you. And it's made you very hard-looking."

Her hand immediately went to her face. "That really wasn't nice, Hunter."

"Oh, and your remarks and comments have been?" I took another swallow of beer. "Come on, Lesley, I don't buy that you really believe all the crap you say now. It sounds to me like you're the mouthpiece for bigoted views you feel compelled to repeat out of some misguided love and loyalty. What happens if you don't agree with your husband or your parents? I guarantee the world won't stop turning."

She took a defiant step toward me. "I do believe what I say!"

"Well, then," I went back over to the door and opened it, "we have nothing more to discuss. You go back to your little Stepford Wife existence. But keep your husband's opinions to yourself when you're around me. Come back and talk to me when you get a mind of your own." I gestured her outside.

"Fuck you, Hunter."

"She'd be the best lay you ever had," Lisa commented, breezing by her sister in the doorway.

"That's disgusting." Lesley glared at her sister. "I thought you were at church."

"I saw you leave. I had a good idea you were going to come here." Lisa's tone was not amused.

"This your new home now? You two going to set up house?"

"What is this really about, Lesley?" Lisa asked, putting her arms around me and kissing me on the cheek while Lesley's mouth dropped open. "Are you really repulsed or are you jealous of me?"

"You're both sick!" She staggered by us and out the door.

We watched her try not to teeter down the front walk. "She's drunk."

"She's always drunk. She's too miserable to be sober."

"That's sad."

"That's an understatement." She took my Guinness from me and took a drink.

Taking a relieved breath, I studied her. "You're nothing like your family. Where did you come from?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Obviously the same cabbage patch you did."

I lifted her chin with my thumb and forefinger. "Well...I don't care where you came from. I'm just glad you're here." I kissed her and hugged her again.

"I'm glad I'm here, too."

I looked back at Lesley, standing on the sidewalk, appearing as though she couldn't decide which way to go. "Did she walk from the church?"

"Well...more like she staggered from the church, actually."

I sighed. "We can't let her walk down the street like that."

"Yeah," she sighed. "Somebody might step on her hands."

I kissed her forehead, snickering. "How about you go round her up and I'll get the Jeep, we'll toss her in the back and get her home."

"Oh, boy, this should be fun," Lisa said, without any enthusiasm.


Protesting wildly, Lesley finally agreed to allow us to take her home. She wanted to go back to the church, where she had been with her parents, but Lisa talked her out of it, reasoning that Lesley's inebriation would only bring on a tirade from their mother. Not that Lesley didn't deserve to have her ass chewed off, Lisa added, after all the problems her big mouth had caused the last twenty-four hours.

Lesley lived in Teabury, which was a town fifteen miles northeast of Otter Falls, most of the houses accessible only by unpaved roads. I had not been up in this area since Lesley and I attended a graduation party when we were both eighteen. It had not changed much, it was still mostly dense woods, dirt streets and log cabins. Five hundred thousand dollar log cabins. She had always dreamed of living in this small, elite community. I wondered if she married her current husband just to get that wish.

It had been another unseasonably warm day, so I had removed the canvas top from the Jeep, not really thinking or concerned about how the breeze was assaulting Lesley in the back seat. She wasn't too pleased but I figured the fresh air would do her good. Unfortunately, the wind didn't shut her up and, in between taking regular hits from a flask in her purse, she accused us of doing everything evil except being on the grassy knoll in 1963. We were twisted, we were going to hell, we were the devil's spawn, we should have to register as sex offenders where ever we lived, we shouldn't be allowed around children, our lifestyle was going to tear a hole in the universe...okay, she didn't actually say that but she might as well have. I was getting fed up very quickly with listening to her channel Fred Phelps.

She didn't respond to Lisa's requests to knock it off and then, like a four-year-old throwing a tantrum, she began kicking the back of my seat with her high-heeled shoes.

"Lesley! Stop it!" Both Lisa and I hollered at the same time.

"Aw, isn't that sweet? You both even yell in perfect harmony. It's a match made in purgatory," she commented loud enough for us to hear, a sour look adorning her already nasty expression. She folded her arms across her chest again.

I was done. Spotting a huge mud puddle ahead in the road, I jammed my foot on the gas and sped through it, a wave of thick, brown water cresting over the windshield, missing Lisa and me and covering Lesley, drenching her with a resounding slap. Seeing her in the rear view mirror nearly caused me to drive off the road. Looking in the back seat, Lisa put her hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh but couldn't stop herself.

Lesley was speechless for the first time in twenty minutes. But it had to have been difficult to try to talk with a mouthful of wet, slimy dirt. She looked like one of those women who had just climbed out of a spa mud bath - except she didn't have cucumber slices over her eyes and she was attired in more than a towel. Gee. I hoped that dress wasn't too expensive.

"Ou bith!" she screamed, spitting mud out.

"Bith?" Lisa repeated, still giggling uncontrollably. "What's a bith?"

"I don't know," I shrugged, "but apparently I am one."

"Thop thith cah ite nah!" She was wiping her eyes and mouth with a filthy sleeve.

So I stopped the car, just assuming that's what she said, putting the Jeep in neutral and setting the emergency brake. I turned to look at her. "Oops. Didn't see that puddle until it was too late."

"Bullshit! Fuck you, Hunter. You're going to pay for cleaning this suit!"

"Okay," I agreed, willingly. It was worth it.

She was inspecting herself, shaking her head, an action that seemed to make her dizzy. She looked up at me. "Great. Now I have to pee."

"How much farther to your house?"

"Maybe ten more minutes," Lisa supplied.

"I can't make it," Lesley announced, pouting, removing her seat belt.

I looked around, "You're going to go here?"

"I could pee in the Jeep." She stared at me, looking as though she might just do that.

Granted, at this point, with the amount of mud and water that decorated the back seat, it might not have made a difference. I was probably going to have to have it thoroughly cleaned anyway, but I did not want to have that memory of my high school best friend, regardless of how damaged our friendship was now, squatting and relieving herself. "No. Go do what you have to do."

"Just watch nature's toilet paper with the three pointy leaves!" Lisa called after her sister, who stumbled over to an area with a low rock wall. She stepped over the wall, fell, swore up a storm, helped herself back up and dropped her drawers right there. "She's a gem, ain't she?" Lisa asked, rhetorically, shaking her head. We both turned around, letting Lesley have a modicum of privacy whether she wanted it or not. Swatting me, Lisa started to laugh again. "I can't believe you did that."

"You loved it," I reached over and patted her thigh.

"Yeah. I did," she grinned.

"She's pretty trashed. She's really like this all the time?"

"Usually not this bad. And never when she's got the boys with her...at least I don't think so. God, I hope not. I think finding out about you may have triggered this little binge."

"I'm just shocked that she's so hateful. How have you put up with this all these years?"

"I ignore her. I'm used to it, so -"

"Hey. Heeeeey..." We turned in the direction of the voice. "Can somebody help me here?"

All we saw were two legs ending in high heels sticking straight up in the air in the shape of a V behind the stone wall.

We both rolled our eyes as I backed up the Jeep, parked it and went to the wall, helping Lesley upright. "What happened?" I asked.

Once she was on her feet, she shook us both off. "I was climbing back over and I sat down to readjust my shoe. And then I was on my back."

Right where she had relieved herself, I noted, silently. I was going to have to boil my hands for an hour when I got back to my mother's. We walked behind her as she started to climb back into the Jeep and then she stopped and started shaking her head.

"Oh, no. No, no, no..." Lesley turned around, wagging her finger at me. She then pointed to the puddle. "I'm not falling for that again. I'll walk around it and you can meet me on the other side."

"Lesley, Jesus," Lisa began, but I put my hand on her arm.

"No, if she feels more comfortable walking around, let her go."

"That's the smartest thing you've said all day," Lesley mumbled as she moved away from us. Her heels were puncturing the soft ground with every step, making her even less steady on her feet. It was actually quite comical.

I nodded my head toward the Jeep and we got in. I released the brake and wiggled the stick shift in neutral and waited. When I saw that Lesley was halfway  around the puddle, I stepped on the gas pedal, barely hitting first gear.

Lisa's eyes got wide. "Oh, no, you're not..."

Oh, yes I was. Sailing through the puddle at a different angle, this time very little mud went into the back seat, instead crowning to my left and soaking Lesley again. Whatever parts of her that weren't wet before were not so lucky this time. Throwing the car in park on the other side of the puddle, I looked back at her. She stood there, frozen in place, eyes still closed, mud dripping off her nose and chin. 

"Hunter, you are so bad," Lisa snorted, in a hushed tone.

"Okay. I'll behave now," I told her. "Hey, Lesley, come on, we haven't got all day, you know." I tried to sound my most annoyed but I couldn't help smirking.

She refused to get back into the Jeep or to speak to either one of us and walked the rest of the way home as we followed behind her, an endeavor that took forty-five minutes instead of ten. By the time she reached her front porch, she had her shoes in her hands, her stockings were all torn on her feet and she was limping and hobbling. Practically crawling up the three steps to the door, she turned to look at us, scornfully. "Heh. I made it. Guess I showed you two."

"Yep, you sure did," Lisa nodded, admirably keeping a straight face. 

After Lesley slammed the door, I put the Jeep in gear and pulled out of the driveway. "Well, that was fun. Want to go back to my place and order some pizza?"


"Do you really think she's jealous of you?" I asked, as we parked in the driveway of my mother's house.

"Yeah. Not in a sexual way, of course. I just think she's jealous that I now have a bigger piece of you than she does and a piece that she can never compete with me to get."

We exited the Jeep and she followed me to the side of the house, where I turned the faucet on and picked up the hose, dragging it to the driveway. I began rinsing the caked-on mud out of interior of the Jeep.

"Think you can get it clean?" Lisa asked. The animated look on her face made me think she was reminiscing about the earlier bath we gave her sister.

"No. But at least I can get it to the point where Sam doesn't have a heart attack when he sees it." I would make sure I would do what I had to do to make it as in good condition as it was when my brother handed me the keys.

Lisa took my set of keys and disappeared into the garage, opening the door and returning a few minutes later with a pail and sponges. Together we washed the Jeep, making it practically shine. The seats would have to dry out before I could assess what else needed to be done to them but again, whatever I would have to pay to fix it was worth what I did to get them that way.

Then, once we were finished, I saturated Lisa with water from the hose as she doused me with the contents of the pail while chasing me around the Jeep. Catching me, we fell against the mounted spare tire and I held her against me, kissing her.

I'm sure my mother's neighbors were scandalized.


Once inside the house, Lisa accompanied me upstairs and we took a hot shower together as the evening temperatures were starting to set in and we were both a little chilled from being water-logged. We spent more time making love than warming up and getting clean. Not that either one of us were complaining.

After she found a t-shirt and a pair of light sweatpants in my old bedroom to wear, she helped me divide the finished from the unfinished projects in the sewing room. We also placed swatches of material and sewing accessories into separate piles. I was going to wait until tomorrow but now I was glad it was done. Lisa had talked me into doing something to get my mind off the frustration Lesley had conjured up in me. I would have thought the sex would have remedied any frustration I had and it did but not enough.

We were in the living room, watching television and snuggling, waiting on a pizza we had ordered when another knock came on the door. Looking at Lisa, I rolled my eyes. If it was either Dane or Lesley (which I doubted. I didn't think Lesley was going to be on her feet too much for the next couple of days), I was really going to lose my temper.

Swinging the door open with vigor, ready to take the head off of whoever was standing there, I calmed down when I saw the soft brown eyes of Sam. "Come on in. Where's Trina?"

"She's home. Hunter, why didn't you show up? I know you said you weren't going to do the wake, but this was the funeral. You really should have been there." He followed me into the living room. "Hey, Lisa."

"Hey, Sam. It was a nice service."

"Thanks. And thanks for being there." He then glared at me. "Why weren't you there with her?"

I shrugged. "It just didn't feel right. I just thought my presence there would have caused too much of a stir and the service should have been about Mom not about speculation and gossip about me."

He stopped and thought about that. "Okay. That is a good point." He slipped his tie off and undid the top button of his shirt. "By the way, the garage door is open, you might want to close it before you settle in for the night. Hey, I saw that you washed the Jeep. That was nice of you but unless you get it, you know, really funky, don't worry about it, okay?"

"Sure," I replied, sneaking a guilty glance at Lisa.

"And you might want to put the top up next time," he suggested. "Good thing it's all-weather upholstery."

"Yeah. Sorry. I got a little carried away."

He nodded, not appearing bothered by the wet interior of the Jeep. "Lisa, I saw that you left right in the middle of Dane's eulogy."

"Yeah. Sorry, Sam, was that too rude?" She blinked up at him.

"Hell, no, I was envious." He looked at the beer in my hand. "Got any more of those?"

"I bet if you looked in the refrigerator, you might find a couple."

Returning to the living room with beer in hand, he pointed to the garbage bags. "What are those? Did you clean out your old room?"

"No, I haven't really been in there yet. They're Mom's clothes. That's not a problem, is it? I figured it would be easier for me to go through them as I had the least attachment."

"Do you really not feel anything about her being gone?"

"Sam, come on, face it. We were dead to each other years ago."

"That's not what I asked you."

I glanced over at Lisa, who looked like she wanted to be in a different room before I returned my attention to my brother. "I spent the last sixteen years conditioning myself not to feel anything. I did it to protect myself. It became easier for me to be the hard-ass and convince myself that I didn't care, instead of having to come to terms with the fact that my mother didn't care. I held onto that hope for nine years that she would see me and all would be okay. After that I closed my heart from getting it broken by her again. So, to answer your question, I really do not feel anything about her being gone."

There was dead silence. He turned to Lisa as he took a long drink, not knowing what to say.

"Hey, how 'bout them Red Sox, huh?" she said, breaking the slight tension in the room.

"Listen," he put his hand up in surrender, "I'm not judging you, Hunter, I'm just trying to get a handle on the way you're thinking, that's all."

I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Just don't presume to think you know everything about me. I'm not the same scared, broken teenager who left here all those years ago."

"Okay. I get it. None of us are the same anymore. I won't bring it up again."

"Thank you."

"You want to stay for some pizza, Sam?" Lisa asked him, flipping through the TV channels.

"Actually, I'd love to but I should get back home to my wife and the dinner she's cooking me. You know what? You two should come to dinner one night while you're still here, Hunter."

I looked over at Lisa, who nodded enthusiastically. "Okay. Set it up with Trina and it's a plan."

"I will. She'll love it." He regarded Lisa, curiously. "Hey, I'm wondering about something...how does Lesley feel about this whole thing going on between you two?"

Lisa and I exchanged smirks and we both sighed at almost the same time. "If I said to you that Lesley and Dane would be a great match, would that answer your question?"

He looked heavenward and took a long pull off his bottle of Guinness. "Oy."

Section 3


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