Part II

Chapter 4

 

"Our second day started out with me driving, and Mac being unusually quiet. True, we had fought the entire day before and ended up in jail, and now I was almost completely broke, but when we went to sleep in the Bates Motel things seemed friendly enough."

Randi rolled her eyes. "Now I know why men are always bitching. I never realized that women were so hard to figure out!"

The male squirrel grunted in agreement and received a vicious glare from his mate in response. He snuggled against his long-time partner and began tenderly grooming her in apology, all the while thinking that maybe this human wasnít as stupid as she first appeared. He wished he could explain to the woman that the way to a femaleís heart was to carefully remove all her fleas! People always missed the obvious.

"I think Iíll call this part "Day Two: Thelma and Louise Got Off Easy". Randi looked expectantly at the squirrels who smiled... well, as much as squirrels can actually smile. The human was getting better at this title thing.

***

"Whatís wrong?"

"Nothing."

Randi frowned. "Fine... be that way then." If thatís how her stalker wanted to play it, Randi could deal with it. What did she care if Mac was acting all broody and quiet? Let her stew. It would be nice to have a little peace and quiet on this trip.

Randi gripped the steering wheel tighter. "Are you sure nothing is the matter?"

"Yes." Mac was facing away from Randi, watching the autumn landscape fly by. She didnít need to bare her soul to Randi. The woman didnít even like her! Why should it matter that she did like Randi? Macís brow creased. At least most of the time she liked her. But Mac knew she was just using Randi to get even with Sandra and her brother. God, Iím a Ďuserí just like Sandra! And wasnít Randi using her to get even with Sandra, and get that stupid medal?

They would each play their parts and then never see each other again. Mac didnít need Randi as a friend. But for some unknown reason she was starting to want her as one... badly. It was the kind of ache you feel when your heart irrationally wants something, but your head tells you that itís just not gonna happen. Like snow in July or Sandra mysteriously contracting the Ebola virus.

"Tell me about Sandra." Randi was getting desperate. This was the loudest silence sheíd ever endured! After only one day together she needed to hear her stalkerís voice, instead of the endless nothingness that filled the tiny Volkswagen. Randi mentally groaned. Did her health benefits include psychological therapy? How much was her medical deductible again?

"I donít want to talk about that two-timing, traitorous, lying, vindictive bitch!"

Wow! Mac really knew how to break a silence! "Same old Sandra," Randi sneered, relieved that Mac was saying something. "So what did she end up doing with her life?" Blue eyes danced with devilment. "Is she a gym teacher?"

Mac turned to face Randi, her own eyes flashing indignantly. "That is such a ridiculous clichť! Not all gay women are gym teachers! For Christís sake, the woman has a degree in mathematics from one of the finest universities in the country. After college she went to work for some private companyís think tank... umm... thinking, I guess."

"Making tons of money, no doubt." God, how Randi hated Sandra!

"No doubt." God, how Mac hated Sandra! "Anyway, she did that for a few years, until it no longer held her interest."

Randi didnít even want to ask. Sandra was probably working for some big computer or chemical company as an engineer. She probably had some fancy office with three secretaries at her beck and call. Bitch! But she had to know. "So what did she end up doing?"

A little smile edged its way onto Macís lips. "Sheís a gym teacher."

***

"And then she laughed." Randi smiled just remembering. "I had seen her angry, and Iíd seen her cry, but I had never really heard her laugh. It was a belly laugh that brought tears to her eyes and practically forced me to join in. Then it hit me. I liked her! I really..."

Oh no! Not the Sally Field imitation! The finest seeds on Earth werenít worth that! The squirrels breathed a huge sigh of relief when Randi bravely overcame the almost irresistible impulse.

"Oops. Sorry." The woman realized she had stopped tossing down seeds some time ago. With an apologetic smile, she threw out several seeds for each of her audience members.

The sky was beginning to darken, and the lights that lined the pathway in the park began to softly glow. Randi looked at Macís apartment building, wondering which balcony was hers. Why didnít she just get up and walk over there? Randi fiddled with the bag of seeds. Later. Later was better. Coward!! Chickenshit!!

"Where was I?" Randi nodded. "Oh, right. After we laughed, the intensity level in the car seemed to drop a bit. Even though Mac was still being a little quiet, it was a more comfortable silence. The only problem was, it gave me time to think. When a person makes a monumentally bad decision, even if they arenít aware of how bad it is when they make it, the last thing they need is time to dwell on it. How was I going to pretend Mac was my girlfriend? Donít get me wrong. I was still willing to do anything it took to make Sandra suffer and earn that medal. But I was starting to get really nervous and, well, maybe just a little edgy." Randi held up her index finger and thumb, indicating an infinitesimal amount.

***

"How should I act?"

"Huh?" Mac put down her sack of corn nuts. "Act where?"

"While Iím at your parents house. Where else?!" Randi said exasperatedly. The tall woman stuffed her straw further into her soda and took another long sip.

"God, Randi, are you still freaked out about that?" Mac tossed another corn nut into her mouth and shrugged. "Just act like Iím your girlfriend. Donít think of me as a woman if itíll help."

Why was this so hard for Randi? It wasnít like she was going to ask her to screw her senseless right in front of Sandra. It was only a few harmless kisses for appearanceís sake. She wasnít even going to use her tongue! Well, not unless she had to. And Mac certainly wasnít going to drag her hands across that firm stomach and up to those luscious, round, absolutely perfect... Macís mouth and other, more southerly parts, began to water. She closed her eyes tightly. STOP IT!

"Hey? Are you still with me?"

"What? Oh... um... I was just thinking." A light blush crept its way across Macís cheeks. The blonde shook her head and brought herself back to reality. "Look, Randi, youíre used to going out with men. Just employ some acting skills. Think of this as a variation of Ďfaking ití."

Randiís jaw dropped. "I have never faked it."

Mac slowly licked the salt off her fingers, all the while shooting Randi a sexy, knowing smile.

Randi felt her temper begin to rise. Brat! How long has she been spying on me?! And why is she looking at me that way? "Once," she blurted out in shame. "I only did it once!" Was there no end to her humiliation?! Randi knew sheíd regret dating that cyclist. Everyone warned her about what that hard, pointy seat would do to his...

"Donít worry about it, Randi." Mac smiled sweetly. "You can just follow my lead."

"Iíll bet," Randi snorted. Macís face went from wanton and wily to Ďthe girl next doorí in the blink of an eye, and the transformation sent Randi reeling.

"Randi, you donít trust me, do you?"

"Of course not!"

"Iíve never..."

"Donít get all high and mighty with me, ĎMiss I Mailed the Medal to Las Vegasí."

Mac winced. Sandra had said that Randi would do anything for the medal... that the woman was mentally unbalanced! Mac just didnít want to end up in a ditch somewhere between Buttscratch, Arkansas and Las Vegas. It was clearly nothing personal.

"Just remember our deal. No unnecessary contact."

The younger woman scowled. "Iíll remember," she grumbled around a mouth full of nuts.

Randi watched with a mixture of fascination and embarrassment as Macís tongue snaked out and tasted the salt on her fingertips. When Mac caught her staring, blue eyes quickly refocused on the road.

Pale brows lifted skyward. Well... Well... Well... Maybe Randi wasnít made of wood after all. "Do you want some, Randi?" she asked innocently. The nurse loved subtext! Who didnít? It was fun and usually safe. Besides, she had only sworn off people named Bubba. Címon, Randi. The ballís in your court.

 

"You know, watching you eat those nuts is truly disgusting."

"And listening to you suck on that enormous Big Gulp for the last 100 miles hasnít been?" Mac shot back disappointed.

Randi swerved the car wildly, pulling into a gas station. "I need a bathroom break."

"What a shock."

"Shut up... Stalker!"

***

"She had finally pushed me too far. I was beyond furious. She was intentionally needling me with that Ďfaking ití comment. And then she started with the subtext. I hate subtext! Itís a pathetic tease by people who canít make up their minds. Well, my mind was made up, dammit!"


Randi began to pace back and forth in front of the bench. The female squirrel shifted nervously. Was the human going to lose it? The dark woman was showing all the signs. Sheíd seen it happen before, when the stresses of their drone-like existence became too much to bear.

"She pushed, so I pushed back. Okay, maybe I pushed a little harder than she did." Randi was going to lift her fingers to indicate a small amount again, but she figured it wasnít worth it. Squirrels didnít even have fingers. What would the gesture mean to them?

***

Mac emerged from the 7-11 with a bottle of iced tea. She cringed when she thought about how many sit ups it would take to erase all the corn nuts sheíd consumed. But she was powerless to resist their salty lure. They were road-trip food, and she was only human after all. Maybe she could get a jog in tonight after they stopped.

Sea-green eyes narrowed when Randi approached the car with a Super Big Gulp in hand, the side of the cup proudly proclaiming 64 ounces. The nurse schooled herself in patience. They would be in Las Vegas tomorrow and this would all be worth it. At least it had better be.

Randi offered to drive again and, not wanting her companionís car sickness to return, Mac agreed. The constant hum of the motor and the warm sun magnified by the carís windows soon had Mac dozing.

Eyes closed, the younger woman reached blindly into the back seat for her pillow. Then she smelled it. Burning rubber? Smoke? Maybe they had passed by a campsite or some homes with wood burning stoves. Then the smell got stronger and Mac reluctantly opened her eyes.

"What in the hell do you think youíre doing?" Mac was shocked.

"Whatís it look like?"

"You donít smoke!" The younger woman searched her mind. No! She had stalk... er... trailed Randi enough times to know that she didnít smoke. The woman even insisted on eating in the ĎNo Smokingí sections of restaurants.

"I do now."

"Itís a filthy habit!"

"I know."

"It will kill you!"

"But not today."

UGGGHHHH! "When did you start smoking?"

"About two minutes ago."

Mac tried to take a calming breath, but the tiny cab was completely filled with smoke, and she began to cough. Why hadnít Randi cracked a window? "Are you crazy?" she finally sputtered.

"I think the answer to that is obvious."

"Thatís it! You donít smoke, and you are certainly not smoking in my car. Stop now!"

Randi turned to face Mac. She took a painfully long drag on the cigarette and then slowly exhaled right in Macís face. "No thanks," Randi coughed. "Iím starting...t... to warm up to thÖ this." In truth, Randi was near vomiting. But what the hell, it was for a good cause. This would teach Mac to tease her.

Mac waved her hand in front of her face, then made a wild grab for the cigarette. Randi jerked her head to the side causing Mac to miss her completely. "God dammit! Is this cigarette worth dying for?" Randi yelled, as she tried to keep the car on the road.

"You tell me," Mac screamed back, still trying to grab the burning butt. "Give it to me!"

"Never!" Randi roared.

In a lightning fast move, Mac was able to dislodge the cigarette sending it right into Randiís lap. Randi howled as it began to burn through her jeans.

"Get it off! Get it off!" the driving instructor screeched, as she tried in vain to keep the car out of the ditch.

"Hold still! Stop wiggling and drive!" Mac began digging between Randiís legs for the cigarette as she felt the car swerve out of control.

***

The male squirrel looked at his wife with frightened, black eyes, wondering if the humans made it. His heart began to pound. Cars were such vicious things! They were cruel, horrendous steel creatures whose only purpose was to mangle and...

Slap!

A tiny paw sent the male squirrel sprawling. "Snap out of it!" the larger female cried. When her mateís breathing returned to normal, she rolled her equally dark, beady eyes and let out a frustrated breath. Post-traumatic car syndrome was such a bitch! She lovingly wrapped her tail around her trembling mate.

"Do you guys need to get a room or something?" Randi asked, hoping she wasnít going to witness a private squirrel moment. "Should I keep going?" Hearing no objection she continued.

"The last thing I remembered was the car starting to roll, my Super Big Gulp putting out the cigarette, and Mac screaming something like Ďbut I didnít even get to kiss her yet!í."

***

Randi woke up to the feeling of gentle fingers running through her hair. Mac was pillowing her head in her lap, and she was lying in an empty cornfield about 25 feet from what was left of Macís Volkswagen.

"Randi?"

"I think so," the older woman moaned.

"Thank God youíre alright!" Mac hugged Randi fiercely. Tears were streaming down Macís cheeks, and she had a nasty gash above her right eye.

Randi groaned as she tried to sit up. "Donít try to move, Randi. Youíve been unconscious for the past 15 minutes Ė letís just wait for an ambulance. I called 911 with my cell phone a few minutes ago."

The shorter womanís hands were shaking, and Randi grasped them with her own. "How... how did we get out of the car?"

"Donít you remember?"

Randi closed her eyes. She had a pounding headache. "The last thing I remember is being in the car." And a cigarette that was about to start a forest fire in a place Iíd rather not mention... she added silently.

Mac nodded and removed one of her hands from Randiís so she could continue to stroke the head in her lap. The darker woman had an angry looking bump above her ear, and Mac was almost certain she had a concussion.

"You helped me get out of the car; I was pinned in. And you insisted on carrying me." Mac pointed to another cut just below her knee. "You were worried the car might explode. You collapsed a few feet from where we are now."

"Oh." Randi swallowed. "You make me sound like a hero or something," she said softly, a little embarrassed but glad both she and Mac appeared to be alive.

Randi wasnít about to take anything for granted. She could be dead and in hell at this very moment. And this could be nothing more than a satanic trick! Mac might whip out a big handful of corn nuts and start munching away at any second. Then Sandra would appear, and she and Mac would kiss, and then they would both begin eating corn nuts and smoking cigarettes.

OH GOD! Why didnít she go to church more when she had the chance? She didnít mean to have sex with that young priest in the confessional during the Christmas Eve service in 1993! If God didnít want her to have him, then why did He make the priest look exactly like Tom Selleck? He was practically gift-wrapped! Who could resist that? And the fact that they had both chosen not to wear underwear that day had to be a sign!

"Randi?" Mac prompted softly.

Confused eyes focused on Mac. "Hmm?"

"You faded out on me for a minute."

"I was just thinking." Randi stared at Mac for a long moment. "Do you have any more corn nuts with you?"

Mac shook her head. "No." The woman definitely had a concussion. "Are you hungry?"

"Nope. I was just checking."

Mac smiled. "Thank you for getting me out of the car. Iím a little claustrophobic, and I was already starting to freak out. " Soft green eyes captured Randiís. "Just donít go getting too full of yourself, hero."

The brunette grinned. Sheíd never been a hero before. "Are you okay? That looks like a nasty cut." Randi reached up and gently traced the skin above Macís eye.

"Iím okay. I donít think itís too bad. Head wounds just bleed a lot. But itíll probably need a few stitches."

Randi made a face. The thought of any medical procedure at all made her nauseous. She hoped that when the ambulance came they would knock her out with some good drugs. Or, at the very least, wait to stitch up Mac so that she wouldnít have to see it. The thought of the needle going in and out of her skin... Randi shivered.

Mac frowned a little. "I hope my forehead doesnít scar too badly."

"Does it matter?"

"Damn right it matters!"

"Why?"

"Well... well, itís obvious!"

"Not to me."

"But Iíll look..."

"Just as pretty as you do now," Randi said, hoping Mac wouldnít consider the fact that now she had a gaping, bleeding head wound.

Hey! The driving instructor could be sweet when she wanted to be! Why does she keep a lid on the kinder, gentler side of her personality? "Thanks, Randi," Mac said sincerely. "Are you sure it wonít look too bad?" she asked skeptically.

"Iím sure," Randi assured quietly. Their eyes met and held for several long seconds before Randi grew too uncomfortable to hold the gaze and turned away.

Holy shit! The Volkswagen was nearly flat! They were lucky to be alive.

Mac followed Randiís eyes. Damn. I hope I remembered to pay my car insurance last month. "Weíre going to have to find another way to make it from here to Las Vegas."

Randi couldnít believe the younger woman still wanted to go through with their plan. She was obsessed and relentless! Nothing... not jail... not even a Ďnear death experienceí could stop her! Sandra was clearly an idiot to give her up. Randi mentally added Ďloser in loveí to her enormous list of Sandraís unredeemable faults.

"Weíve still got to survive one more day together before we make it to Las Vegas, hero."

Macís voice was teasing, but it somehow sounded different to Randi. The taller woman chuckled softly, enjoying the comforting motion of Macís hand in her hair. "I think weíre tempting fate, donít you?"

Mac shrugged and continued her tender stroking. "Unless this is our fate."

 

Chapter 5

"Are you ready to hear about Day Three?" Randi fished a piece of bubble gum out of her pocket and popped it into her mouth. Her throat was beginning to get a little sore, and the bitter wind had caused the tips of her ears to turn numb. She wished she had one of those disgusting cherry cough drops to sooth her throat... but gum would do.

The only people left in the park, other than the obligatory serial killer or two, were the diehard joggers. One or two of them would pass by occasionally, but Randi didnít even pause in her storytelling. She received several curious glances and outright stares. But she decided she didnít give a flying fuck if they did see her talking to the squirrels. She didnít care what anyone thought... well, with one exception.

"Iíve run out of peppy names, so Iíll just call this "Day Three: Riding the Dog.""

The squirrels looked at each other. The human was right. That name really sucked.

***

Mac opened her eyes to find Randi asleep in a small hospital bed, bathed in morning sunlight. She had fallen asleep in the lounge chair in Randiís room, and every square inch of her body ached from the accident the day before.

For a few moments she silently watched the other womanís slumber, suddenly not at all anxious to figure out a way to travel the remaining 250 miles to Vegas. The fire in her belly Ė thatís how she liked to describe her unquenchable need for revenge against Sandra... it had a more literary quality Ė had been steadily cooling since the day before. But Mac swore it was like an 80ís perm: No matter what you did to it, it was still there! If it killed them both, and that was looking like a strong possibility, they would finish this trip together.

Randi had been diagnosed with a mild concussion, and the doctors had insisted she spend the night in the hospital for observation. The older woman had pitched a fit, but Mac was tired and irritable and simply not in the mood for a six-foot tall brat, who appeared to still be going through the Ďterrible twosí. She put her foot down. They were staying.

Macís forehead was now the unhappy home of seven stitches, but she had, thankfully, escaped a concussion. Randi had promised to keep her Frankenstein comments to a minimum. Mac, however, soon discovered that Randiís definition of Ďminimumí differed dramatically from hers.

RING... RING...

Mac moved to answer the phone next to Randiís bed, hoping to allow her companion a little more time to sleep in, but an unsteady hand beat her to it.

"Hello." Randi held the phone slightly away from her ear and covered her eyes with her hand. After a few seconds she began quietly mouthing a colorful string of invective so inventive it completely astounded Mac. Even though the phrases were totally deplorable, Mac couldnít help but admire Randiís creativity. The younger woman finally believed what her mother told her as a child. Everyone had a special gift... you just had to find it. Granted, Randiís was a liiitle unusual...

"But I... Yes."

Mac swallowed nervously. Who could be calling Randi here? No one even knew where they were.

"My insurance was..."

"I know, but... FINE! You can just take your job and shove it right up your pruney, tight..." Randi suddenly stared at the phone in disbelief. "The jerk hung up on me! I canít believe it!"

"Who?"

"My former boss, the impotent little bastard."

Uh Oh. "Did you say Ďformerí?"

Randi nodded her head. She didnít know whether to be pissed or relieved. She hated that job anyway. Maybe this was just the jump-start her life needed? Maybe she could make lemonade from these lemons? Ha! What a crock of shit! She was jobless. And broke. And in the hospital with an insane, although at times surprisingly companionable, stalker. Now, if she would just start her period, her day would be perfect. Was it really only 8 a.m.?

"He fired you because youíre in the hospital? He canít do that! How did he even know you were here?"

"My insurance card had expired. So that good looking..." Randi sneered the words, "...nurse you seemed to immediately bond with called my boss to get my policy numbers, and just happened to mention that I was on my way to Las Vegas, with a cute blonde, when I was in a car accident."

"She said I was cute? How sweet!"

Randi just glared.

Green eyes twinkled. "You arenít jealous, are you, hero?" You are! Donít deny it.

"You wish... Stalker," Randi snorted. I am not in denial!

Mac ground her teeth together. This Ďstalkerí business was getting sooo old. "Call me Mac."

As usual, Randi ignored her request. "I had to say I was sick to get this time off from work. I got fired for Ďgoing on vacationí while I was supposed to be home, sucking down Pepto-Bismol."

Mac ran a nervous hand through her hair. "Oh God, Iím so sorry, Randi." She looked truly upset. "Maybe I can call your boss and explain? Maybe I can..."

A dark eyebrow rose. "And just what are you going to explain? Huh? I can hear it now... ĎPlease donít fire Randi, Mr. Anson.í" Randi imitated Macís grin and mannerism to a tee as the younger woman scowled. "ĎRandi couldnít come to work this week, because she was just too busy whoring herself out to me so that she could wear a 15-year-old, cheap-ass medal that never belonged to her anyway. Oh, and did I mention that her primary motivation for her absence is getting revenge on her high school nemesis, who betrayed their friendship for a scholarship, a pimply-faced, pubescent prick, and the chance to fuck on orange shag carpet?! Donít worry, Iíll write her a note.í"

Mac winced. It sounded so pathetic coming from the former driving instructor. "I wouldnít exactly say Ďwhoringí," the blonde mumbled sheepishly, her eyes trained on her feet. "I really am sorry." Watery orbs lifted to meet Randiís.

Jesus! She was going to cry again! "Itís okay." Randi heard herself say. NO! she mentally whined. Thatís not what I was going to say! Iím supposed to be mad at her for leading me down the primrose path to self-destruction.

Then Randiís brain just seized up as she was struck right between the eyes with an epiphany. Why was she angry with the nurse again? It wasnít as if Mac forced her to go along with her plot. She went willingly... very willingly. It wasnít like she had the right to be jealous just because Mac made a friend overnight, literally. So why did it seem like every moment with Mac was a trial? The answer was staring her in the face like a zit on prom night. Because she made it that way! It was a blinding moment of self-realization that left Randi in a slack-jawed, wide-eyed state.

She liked Mac. She more than liked Mac, and from now on she was going to follow that feeling wherever it took her, instead of her petty mean streak that always got her into trouble anyway. It was time to focus on Sandra and work with Mac! She had been foolishly splitting her mental resources!

So Randi decided to do something she almost never did. She decided to give up. Give up fighting the urge to be near her stalker. Give up resisting the impulse to laugh and play with the younger woman. She refused to put a lid on the part of her that wanted to find Macís quirks more endearing than annoying... Randi was going to have her cake and eat it too... or kill Mac trying. Let the shit hit the fan and the games begin!

Resolved, refocused eyes pinned Mac. "Donít worry about my job. I hated it anyway. You couldnít have known that nurse you spoke with would talk to my boss. Just let me get dressed so we can get out of here, okay?"

It was Macís turn to stare. Wasnít Randi going to rant and blame her for getting fired? Why the hell not? After all, it was her plan and loose lips that were systematically destroying the older womanís life. "Who are you, and what have you done with Randi?"

Randi smiled. "Oh, itís me alright. I just decided to go with the flow. After all, weíre partners in this, right?"

"Youíre just now figuring that out?"

BY ALL THAT IS HOLY!!! Couldnít Mac let Randi revel in her epiphany for even two damn minutes?! I think I can. I think I can. "Donít push it, Stalker," Randi snarled as she reached for her jeans. She stopped and stared at a unique looking hole. How does one cover a cigarette burn to the crotch?

Mac went to get Randiís nurse, feeling decidedly better. That nice, understanding Randi was really starting to give her the creeps.

***

"Ha! You didnít see that coming, did ya? You thought that I was going to be a hard-ass with Mac throughout this entire story, continually fighting against the friendship I was so obviously seeking. Ha! You didnít think I would even try to rise above our petty differences, did ya?"

Randi gloated as she blew an enormous bubble. A gust of wind suddenly blew the bubble back into her bangs. "Shit!" She began picking the gum out of her tangled locks.

The male squirrel looked disgusted. Why would the human be so foolish as to tamper with the teasing banter that was the cornerstone of the budding relationship? It added to the romantic tension and was just plain fun, and now it was gone! He didnít want to hear a story of self-discovery and acceptance. He wanted more flaming crotches, prison scenes and fights!

His mate blew out an annoyed breath. Males were such simpletons. If it werenít for the great sex she would... Well, never mind. Just because Randi accepted that she had feelings of friendship for Mac and decided to stop fighting them, didnít mean all the romantic tension had to disappear. It was clearly time for things to change and evolve! How could Randi ever grow emotionally if she wasnít brave enough to take that first step towards acceptance of a bone-deep bond? Actual success at civility didnít matter nearly as much as the sentiment behind the attempt!

Randi picked the last of her gum out of her hair and spat out the small bit that was left in her mouth. After slipping her gloves back on she turned up her collar against the cold evening air.

"We took a taxi from the hospital to the local Greyhound bus station and actually had a normal, pleasant conversation on the way there. I almost didnít know what to do with myself...."

***

Randi went directly to the cash machine in the bus station and cleaned out what was left of her checking account. Mac strolled over to meet her with their tickets in hand.

"Here you go." She passed Randi her ticket. The former driving instructor smiled her thanks and began counting out enough money to pay Mac. Pale brows knitted together. "Donít worry about it, Randi. The ticket is on me."

"I canít do that. I have enough money." The darker woman scowled a little and resumed her counting. She was no deadbeat. She could pay her own way.

"My dad sent me money for a plane ticket weeks ago," Mac lied, closing Randiís hand around the bills. "Iíll still come out ahead in the end. Put your money away, okay?"

"But..."

"No buts." Mac glanced around the terminal for a distraction. "Look!" The blonde pointed at their bus. "Weíd better go line up, or we wonít get to sit together." Mac grabbed Randiís arm and began tugging her towards the line of people that were already forming by the bus door. She took a limping step to her bag and, with a grunt, settled the strap on her shoulder, only to have her hand covered by one of Randiís.

"Iíve got it." The older woman smiled and took the bag. "Iím sure your leg must still be hurting."

"Okay." Mac smiled back. "Thanks." This being friends thing was cool! Randiís smile was beautiful. The only problem was, now that Randi wasnít acting like an ass all the time, Macís attraction to the older woman was beginning to take on a life of its own.

Mac had been physically attracted to Randi since she first saw her in driving school. The nurse didnít know if she would survive being emotionally attracted to her as well. But what sweet torture! After a lifetime of being attracted to the wrong people, it felt wonderfully liberating to be attracted to someone that felt right.

It would be easy to fall in love with Randi. She could just tell. But the other woman didnít even know if she could fake being in love with her. It was all so frustrating! What could a man offer Randi that she couldnít? Okay, besides the ability to successfully pee off the side of a boat. And could that really be classified as a vital skill?

 

Mac had never seriously considered trying to seduce a straight woman before. What would be the point? But, oh, how she was tempted to try with Randi. She was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the pros outweighed the cons. Hell, Mac just wanted to be rapidly coming... And she wanted Randi there at the time. And naked. And covered with peanut butter... the creamy, not chunky. Mac laughed to herself, picturing the ultimate "Got Milk?" commercial.

"Thirsty?" Randi suddenly offered the nurse a sip of her pop.

Mac snapped out of her lust-induced trance and took the can from Randiís outstretched hand, carefully eyeing Randiís oblivious expression. Had Randi finally come to appreciate the delicate intricacies of subtext? Green eyes narrowed. Nah. Mac took a long swallow, then handed the can back to Randi. Shit! It was Dr. Pepper! The younger woman grimaced. Randi had horrible taste in wine and pop.

The two women settled into their seats, and Randi tried not to think about the hair that had touched the back of the seat before hers. Was it clean? Did they condition regularly? Did they have dandruff or worse... Lice! Was it the cause of that funky smell? No. Randi looked around as she not so discreetly sniffed. She was pretty sure the stench was coming from the seat in front of hers.

The tall woman shifted, trying to get more comfortable. When she tried to move her foot, she found it was stuck to the floor. Eeewww! Please let it only be gum, please let it only be gum, she mentally chanted.

Traveling by bus was just like she remembered it. Disgusting. Come to think of it... so far everyplace sheíd been with Mac was smelly and gross. I wonder why that is?

The man in the seat in front of Mac and Randi suddenly turned around and stared at the women... and stared... and stared, all the while his mouth shaped in a big, dumb-ass grin.

"Nice tooth," Mac cheerily complimented.

Randi snorted her soda through her nose as she began choking.

The manís smile broadened before he turned his disturbing gaze on some other hapless passenger.

When the bus finally rumbled to life, two sets of tired eyes gazed out at the barren, arid terrain. It was much warmer here, and jackets and sweaters had given way to short-sleeved cotton shirts and t-shirts. Randi noticed a lonely cactus and briefly wondered what it would be like to be a desert snake. Sheíd ask Sandra tomorrow. Leaning against the window, she began to focus on Macís homecoming.

"Itís been forever since Iíve done this," Randi said, hoping to kill a little time with some easy conversation. She looked at her watch. It would be nearly bedtime before they reached Macís parentsí home. "My last bus trip was right after I finished high school. It was horrible. I never thought Iíd be Ďridiní the dogí again."

And didnít that cyclist who picked you up from driving class count? Hmm? Ruff! For Godís sake, he had one eyebrow! I rank lower than a unibrow? Mac closed her eyes and decided to sneak in a nap and try to think of ways to get Randi to go comparison shopping.

"Are you asleep?" Randi whispered after a few silent moments.

"Not yet," Mac answered, trying not to sound annoyed that Randi always seemed to want to talk when she wanted to sleep.

"What should I tell Sandra I do for a living?"

"Hmm?" Mac opened heavy eyelids and tried to focus on what Randi was saying. She hadnít thought about that. It would be better if Randi had some enviable job she could flaunt in front of the evil redhead. It would be better if Randi had any job. For a moment Mac considered just telling Randi to lie. But for some reason, something told her to tread lightly with this issue. "What do you want to tell her?"

Randi scratched her jaw. "Well, my current unemployment makes me even less desirable than I was as a driving instructor..."

"Thatís not true!"

"Are you saying Iím more desirable now that Iím not a driving instructor?" Randiís voice was increasing in volume.

"No!" Why was this conversation spiraling out of control? The afternoon had been going so well!

Randi suddenly looked a little embarrassed. "Youíre a nurse, and sheís a teacher." Blue eyes rolled. "Okay, a gym teacher... but still.... I never even went to college." Mac was shocked to see pale, vulnerable eyes meeting hers. "Wonít you be embarrassed to tell your folks that youíre dating an unemployed..."

Mac held her palm up. "Just stop." She took Randiís hand, and this time the darker woman didnít even bat an eye. "I would never be embarrassed to take you home to my parents, no matter what you did... or didnít do for a living. I promise."

***

"I swear my heart actually skipped a beat." Randi swallowed. "Mac was offering me total acceptance, and she didnít even know me." Full lips curled into a lop-sided grin. "Then again, that probably had something to do with it. What she said should have made me feel great. But my emotions were so turned upside down, that I didnít know what I was feeling. The line between what was real and what wasnít was already beginning to blur, and we werenít even there yet. I did, however, decide one thing right there on that stinky Greyhound bus. It wasnít going to be nearly as hard to pretend to be in love with Mac as I had originally predicted."

 

Chapter 6

 

The bus broke down about 100 miles outside of Las Vegas, causing the women to arrive almost three hours late. Randi nearly cried when Mac decided it was too late to call her father for a ride from the bus terminal.

Of course, Randi hadnít spoken to her own dad in over 15 years, so she was hardly one to comment on Macís relationship with her Ďparental unitsí. She had, however, always considered men who were orphans highly desirable... less problems that way. She wondered how she would feel about her new Ďgirlfriendísí parents.

Another short bus and taxi ride later, and they were at Macís parentsí large lakefront home. The former driving instructor wasnít surprised to learn that Macís parents didnít actually live in Vegas, but Boulder City, a sleepy little town on Lake Mead about an hour away from the big city. When it came to details, Mac had Randi on a need-to-know-basis. And, apparently, Randi didnít need to know shit.

***

"Ha, isnít that always the way with females?!" the male squirrel exclaimed. Oops. Was that out loud?

"Do you know what I was feeling as I approached the house?" Randi offered, slightly embarrassed. But hey, a storyteller has to go all the way if she wants her audience to really know what happened. "Other than nervous, I mean. I was actually excited." She looked at the squirrels expectantly, but they remained unmoved.

"I mean excited." Randi wiggled her eyebrows for emphasis as her voice took on a sensual edge.

If squirrels had eyebrows, two pairs would have shot straight up. "Ahh," they hummed in understanding. The male squirrel nodded his approval. The human didnít even have to use the "F" word to convey her thoughts. Her storytelling technique was improving. Now they understood. The human was one sick puppy. They had strongly suspected it before but...

"I know it sounds freaky. But I swear I was on fire! I was getting so close to something I had wanted for so long, that my body couldnít help but react. I could taste my revenge! And, no... it didnít taste anything like chicken."

***

The shorter woman directed them to a side door that seemed to lead to an addition to the house. Had Randi not been dead on her feet, sheíd have wished theyíd arrived in the daylight, so she could look around. Were Macís brother and Sandra here? Sheíd ask Mac tomorrow, when her head stopped pounding. Concussions sucked.

The women made their way through the dark, silent house as quietly as possible. It was, after all, 2:30 in the morning.

"FUCK!! OUCH!!" Randi cursed in a muffled voice as she hopped around in a circle, clutching the toe sheíd just stubbed on a small table.

"Shhh..." Mac lifted a finger to her mouth. "Youíre going to wake up the entire house," she whispered. The blonde couldnít help but smile. She felt like she was a teenager sneaking home after a late date. Not that sheíd ever done that. But if she had... it would have been just like this. The nurse pointed to the last room at the end of a very long, very dark hallway. "Itís this way."

"This was your room?" Randi asked skeptically as she walked through the doorway. The room was small for what appeared, on the outside, to be such a big home. Randi looked around. It reminded her of a hotel.

There was a bed, lamp, and small dresser. That was it. Above the bed hung the obligatory landscape print whose colors matched the bedspread with an almost eerie precision. It was a nice room, the older woman decided... just not Mac. She pictured Mac as a knick-knack, stuffed animal, family portrait, borderline ĎPrecious Momentsí kind of person. Randi made a face, sincerely hoping she was wrong about that last part.

Mac flopped back on the bed exhausted. "No," she laughed. "Does this look like a room I would live in? Itís just a spare guestroom. Thereís actually a much nicer one, but my guess is my asshole brother and his hussy got dibs on it."

Randi shook her head, secretly pleased that she was beginning to know her stalkerís tastes... and they didnít run along the lines of clean but sterile. The brunette tilted her head toward the hall, not wanting to open the door to a conversation about Sandra. At the moment, she was simply too tired to put forth as much effort as a really good, soul-consuming hatred required. "Which one was yours then?"

"None of them. Iíve never lived in this house. My folks sold their business and moved down here about six years ago. I grew up back home."

That made sense. Randi wondered why Mac and her brother had both ended up in the same city, so far from Nevada.

The smaller woman curled up into the fetal position and grimaced, her face contorted in distress. Randi sat down next to her on the bed and cupped her chin, turning Macís face towards hers. "I hurt inside! Donít you?" Mac suddenly blurted out.

A dark eyebrow shot upward. "It was that hot dog, wasnít it? Like I really would have eaten one of those," she snorted.

The blonde could only nod. Randi had warned her. But she couldnít resist!

"What kind of idiot buys a hot dog from one of those spinny thingies at a gas station? Ick! It had probably been rolling around in its own grease for weeks before you bought it. My guess is that youíll die."

"But I was starving!"

Randi simply shrugged. "So youíll be a full corpse."

Uh Oh... That reminds me. "Thanks so much for the words of comfort." Mac moaned a little and turned pitiful eyes towards Randiís suitcase, knowing the older woman had some Tums hidden away in her bag.

"Fine, you big baby. I think I have something in my suitcase that will settle your stomach."

"Thanks, lover," Mac purred.

"Ha ha." Randi passed over two different colored tablets. "Chew."

Mac frowned and almost asked for matching flavors but was stopped by a Ďdonít push ití look. "Okay... Okay," she grumbled around the horribly chalky tablets.

Randi rolled her eyes. "Do you want me to get you some water to wash them down?"

"Nah... Iíll be fine," Mac said as Randi flopped down onto the bed next to her with a groan.

Oh God! It was so comfortable. The brunette resolved to never leave this spot.

Mac rolled over to face Randi and propped herself up on one elbow. "Thanks for the medicine."

"Sure."

Here goes. "Randi?"

"Hmm?"

"We didnít ever discuss what my parents do for a living, did we?"

"Not that I remember. I figured they were probably in the medical field, like you and your brother. Let me guess. Your father is Dr. Kevorkian, and your mother is discovering a cure for Jock itch as we speak, right?"

"Umm... Not exactly." Mac hesitated long enough for Randi to turn her head and face her. Mac swallowed. "Well, you see..."

Randi noticed a flash of uncertainty in Macís eyes. "They must do something pretty important. This house is really big." It had taken the women five minutes just to walk up the driveway. Mac looked down at the bedspread and began to pick at the floral pattern beneath her fingertips. Randiís curiosity was piqued. Were they criminals or lucky gamblers? Was the witness protection program this well-funded?

"Mom is a minister."

Randi looked confused, so Mac repeated herself. "You know, a preacher... religion... that sort of thing."

"Oh." Randi scowled. She had no use for organized religion and considered its leaders little more than charlatans. But Mac didnít seem the repressed ultra-religious type or the classic, whorish preacherís daughter. But then again, she was a stalker. Randi smiled, more than happy to blame that little character flaw on a religious upbringing.

"Does that bother you?" Mac said a little defensively. The nerve! Itís not like sheíd told Randi her mother was a lawyer!

"She doesnít lead one of those cults where all the members have shaved heads and look like Mr. Clean, does she? Heh. Oh, no! Please tell me sheís not a televangelist. Those vultures should be shot."

"You are truly obnoxious." But Mac found herself fighting back a smile. "Do you ever actually listen to yourself?"

"I wasnít talking to myself." Randiís lips curved into a devilish grin. "I was talking to you."

"No, sheís not a televangelist. And she has nothing to do with my dadís lack of hair." Mac paused. At least I donít think so. "She ministers to a small congregation here in Boulder City."

Randy yawned. "Thatís not so bad. You had me thinkiní there was something to really worry about for a minute. Is your dad a preacher too? Or does he just hand out those little brochures proclaiming the end of the world?"

"No." Mac began to fidget and Randi narrowed her eyes.

"It canít be that bad." Oh, yes it could. And the darker woman knew it too. But, hell, she was trying to be sensitive. Randi had always found that sensitivity required an inordinate amount of lying.

"Heís a mortician, and the front of the house is a funeral parlor," Mac said in a rush as she sat back and waited for the impending explosion.

She wasnít disappointed.

***

The male and female squirrel looked at each other with horror in their eyes and simultaneously exclaimed, "Ewwww!"

Randy snorted, correctly interpreting the gesture. "Tell me about it." The woman tossed out a few more seeds.

"Even a lawyer would have been better than this! Well... except for Johnny Cochran." Randi shivered at the thought. "And she didnít have to call me a big scaredy cat."

The male squirrelís eyes went glassy, and he began to tremble.

"Not again," the female muttered as she clutched her shaking mate. First cars, now cats. Was the human trying to send her mate over the edge? Didnít she realize how fragile the male mind was? Did she know how many acorns it took to get a good therapist?!

***

Randi flew off the bed like her butt was on fire. "Holy shit! Are you telling me there are dead people in the house with us?!" Blue eyes darted around wildly. Escape, escape! her mind screamed.

Mac felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. "Well, there might not be," she offered hopefully. "It all depends on..." She stopped when she could see that Randi wasnít really listening. She sighed. No one ever took the news well. She had always grown up living alongside or even above a mortuary Ė and always suffered because of it. Her slumber parties were not the parties of choice.

"Why didnít you tell me about this before?" Randi demanded. God, Mac was going to be the death of her yet!

"Would you have agreed to stay here?"

"No! And Iím not staying here now!"

"Oh, yes you are, you big scaredy cat!" Mac jumped to her feet and punctuated each word with a sharp poke in the chest.

"Owww!" Randi clutched her breast with a shocked look on her face. Who knew her stalker was so physical?

"Oops, sorry." Mac smiled sheepishly. "I could rub it for you and make it feel all better?" A sweet, hopeful lilt colored her voice.

Randi opened her mouth and then shut it as Mac began blushing furiously. Sheís pretty when she does that. Then Randiís own thought had her blushing as well. Oh Christ! "Is that the treatment you offer all your patients, nurse?" No, Mac was definitely not repressed.

"Only the ones with fabulous..." A firm hand over the blondeís mouth muffled her words.

An elegant eyebrow arched in a way that Mac was starting to consider more sexy than menacing. "Thanks." The eyebrow dropped. "But donít think Iíve forgotten about this place being a funeral parlor." Randi was trying to maintain her Ďangry faceí. But by Macís suddenly contented look, she knew she was blowing it big time. Or maybe the Tums were finally kicking in. Randi couldnít be sure.

Mac scrunched up her face and sat back on the bed. "I know. I know. Itís kind of creepy, huh?" But it really wasnít creepy at all to Mac. She had lived this way for the first 18 years of her life, then happily escaped to college. Now, over 10 years later, she worked in a place where death was a common occurrence. Death was just a natural part of life... granted, the very last part...

Randi nodded. She didnít want to look like a wuss. But damn, these werenít spiders they were talking about. They were corpses! Oh God! Wasnít a mortuary where they drained peopleís blood? Randiís face turned ghostly white.

"Here, sit down before you pass out." Mac guided Randi back onto the bed, and the older woman closed her eyes.

The former driving instructorís headache was making her feel sick, and she was so tired, and she was in bed with a woman who wanted to rub her boobs, and there were dead bodies, probably in the next room and...

"Stop thinking so much, Randi," the blonde ordered softly. "Just relax." Why did Randi have to work herself into a tizzy? Itís not like they would actually see any corpses... at least until tomorrow. Mac made a mental note to remind her dad that not everyone appreciated his Ďshop talkí, and that Randi wouldnít want a tour of the embalming room or crematorium.

"Iím tired," Randi slurred, soaking in the soft feeling of the bed, already nearly asleep.

"I know. Just rest, hero. Your head will feel better in the morning. Iím going to get some blankets and bed down on the floor." Mac turned toward the dresser.

"No."

Mac turned back. "What?"

"I mean... You donít have to... Umm... You can stay up here." Randi opened one eye and rolled it towards Mac. "Just no funny stuff, okay?" she got out before her eye closed again, and she burrowed a little deeper into the soft, comfortable bed.

Mac smiled warmly. And it wasnít just from the Tums. "Okay. Thanks, Randi. In the morning we can talk about..." The nurse stopped when she was interrupted by her companionís light snores. "Never mind."

Mac thought about waking Randi and getting her to put on some pajamas, but the older woman looked so comfortable, she didnít have the heart to disturb her. She changed into shorts and a thin T-shirt before covering Randi with a spare blanket.

With a quiet click the room went black, and Mac slipped into bed alongside Randi, inordinately pleased that her mother hadnít exchanged the full-sized beds for King-sized, as sheíd been threatening to do for years.

Randi turned in her sleep, causing her arm to flop across Macís mid-section. "Uuff! Thanks a lot, Randi," the younger woman muttered. She didnít want Randi to wake up and freak out because they were touching, so Mac carefully moved the limp arm until it was nestled between them. Regretfully, she began to let go when a hand grabbed hers and held it firmly. Macís broad smile went unseen in the darkness as she closed her eyes.

***

"Yeah. I know. Iím busted. I woke up when she put the blanket on me. But she was so sweet the way she tucked me in. My own parents never did that. Not even once!"

Randi suddenly felt self-conscious over what she believed was an admission that was irrelevant to her story. She jumped to her feet and began stomping in the muddy puddles around the bench, sending muddy, icy water splattering in all directions.

"Why is she doing that? Iíve seen miniature humans do the same thing," the male squirrel hissed to his mate.

"Sheís an idiot?"

"Uh huh."

Randi walked around behind the bench and rested her elbows on its back, staring intently at her audience, who appeared to be snuggled up together and willing to stay with her for the duration of her tale. No matter how she decided to burn off a little tension. She wondered briefly if they were a Ďcoupleí. They looked so content, just sitting there... together... waiting for her to continue.

Jesus! Now she was envying rodents and their interpersonal relationships? I am one sick puppy! But the simple thought of what they might have that she didnít made Randiís heart hurt. Suddenly, she hurt for all the things she wanted, whether she understood why she wanted them or not.

"I am a wuss and a scaredy cat!" she exclaimed loudly, sending a puff of fog billowing upward.

The squirrels shrugged. "True."

"When I finish here, Iím going to march right into that apartment complex and pound on every door until I find Mac!" Randi asserted boldly.

The male squirrel whispered to his mate, "Think sheíll realize she could just look on the mailboxes and find out which apartment is Macís?"

His mate chuckled. "Iíd have to say Ďnoí at this point. She is only human after all. Deductive reasoning is usually beyond their grasp."

A layer of thin ice had started to form on the puddles that Randi had neglected to stomp through. Even the joggers had all gone inside for the evening. Randi looked around. The park seemed to be hers alone.

An icy rain began falling again as the temperature hovered around freezing. Randi sat back down on the bench. "Iíd better get right to the part where I first saw Sandra, so I donít freeze to death. Itís really starting to get cold." Randi pulled a tissue from her coat pocket and wiped her slightly runny, frozen nose.

"Finally!" the male squirrel stated. "I was really beginning to wonder how much longer she was going to try and drag this out."

 

Continued...Part 3

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