Rerouted

Rerouted

Journey To The Center Of Big Sky Country

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 6:16 a.m. U.S. Central Time / 7:16 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Ticking the items in her mental checklist for the dozenth time, Maureen slid behind the wheel and turned the engine. The cold rendered the ignition hesitant, but it soon cooperated. Her cache of supplies comfily occupied the passenger seat. The car was tuned, the oil was fresh, and the tank was full. It was go time.

She had a long, long drive before her. Tomorrow was the birthday of her kid sister. Then she had some time off to relax, before and after the equally unwieldy trip home. The truth was, however, she didn’t look extremely forward to the occasion. Nonetheless, it was a family function, and she was expected to put in a cheery appearance. Which meant she’d have to draw on some acting skills, she thought with a sigh. She shimmied in the seat until comfy, adjusting her coat and scarf with mitten-clad mitts. As the car began circulating warmer air, Maureen took off one mitten to slip in her Bluetooth and retrieve her cell. The sky was two-thirds cloudy, but through streamed the glow of sunrise. Call button punched, she dropped the phone in the passenger seat and shifted into drive. A few rings piped through the car’s stereo, followed by a click, a soft female voice, and a greeting Maureen didn’t expect.

“Hello?”

Maureen paused as she pulled out to the street, furrowing her brow. She echoed the generic greeting.

“…Hello?”

“Hi?” said the voice.

“Is…this OnStar?” asked Maureen.

“No.”

“…Really?…Oh, uh…I’m sorry. I could’ve sworn I dialed the right number. I didn’t think I needed a 1 before the 888.”

“Mmm, no, but, I think I see what happened. I think you accidentally misdialed. My area code’s 878.”

Maureen slowed down, picked up the phone and looked. Sure enough, there it was: 878. She rolled her eyes.

“Aw, cryin’ out loud. Damn touch-screen. That’d almost be funny if I wasn’t in such a crappy mood.”

“Oh. I’m…sorry?”

“No, I’m sorry,” lamented Maureen, making her first right turn. “I called a total stranger at a quarter after six in the morning, and probably screwed up her nice deep sleep.”

“Oh, no, no, not at all. I’m in my living room with a fresh cup of coffee right now. And it’s a quarter after seven here.”

“Really? Where are you?”

“Pittsburgh, P.A. Where’re you?”

“Juniper, Minnesota. Although, I’m in my car on the way outta town at the moment,” said Maureen, smoothing a palm down her yawning face. “Heading towards Minneapolis right now…then to Montana. ’Course, that’s assuming I don’t get lost. I mean, I think I know my way pretty well, I just thought I’d double-check with OnStar. Well, guess I better let you go. Sorry to bother you.”

“You’re not bothering me,” the mystery voice quickly asserted.

“Oh, please.” Maureen decelerated for the neighborhood speed humps. “You can tell me the truth. I bother everyone sooner or later.”

“No, really, not in the least,” her misintended callee insisted. “You didn’t wake me up, and you’re honestly not bothering me. Seriously, Miss, you may not know me, but I’m single, I live on my own, and…I go out pretty often, but I don’t get to meet a lot of people. It’s not that there’s something wrong with me. I’m a perfectly sweet, attractive, lovely 37-year-old woman. Sometimes I just find myself craving a bit of human interaction’s all.”

Stop sign number one. “Hm. Same age as me.”

“No kidding. What’s your birthday?”

“August 16th. What’s your name?”

“Heh! Good point. I’m Dawn.”

Dawn, huh? thought Maureen, watching the sun just begin to peek over the horizon. How coincidental.

“I’m Maureen.”

“Nice to meet you. And my birthday’s May 3rd.”

“Ye—and it’s Maureen, by the way. Not Mo. I know you didn’t call me that. I just happen to hate that nickname. With or without the silent ‘e.’ I am not a Three Stooge, nor am I a Pep Boy.”

“Ha! Picture gotten; Maureen it is.”

“Thank you, Dawn. That actually means more to me than you might think.” Stop sign two, and a left onto Jefferson Drive.

“…Hm. Y’know, I was just gonna hang up before, but…well, I mean, now we’ve introduced ourselves, and…I, uh…I dunno, Dawn, I…I actually kinda like talking to you so far, and, uh…yeah. Is this weird?”

“Well, it’s certainly unusual; this sorta thing doesn’t happen every day. But I’m finding it pretty interesting. I mean, I’m just sitting here in my jammies with my Folgers. And you’re…I guess, driving in your car, like a thousand miles away. And normally, right now on a day like this, I’d probably have the tube flipped on, reading the paper, blah blah. But I can do that anytime.”

Maureen’s facial muscles turned upwards for the first time, into a hint of a smile. She genuinely liked this lady’s voice. It was smooth, kind, and even rather sensual. And it was frankly nice to speak to someone with no semblance of a goofy—to Maureen’s ear—Midwestern accent. She couldn’t help but wish her voice sounded more like this. She threw a sigh. Dawn paused.

“Hey, it’s…none of my business, of course, Maureen, but, um…everything okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m just…tired…” Maureen yawned. “Could’a used a little more sleep, but screw me.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Hope you got a pick-me-up handy.”

“Ah, yeah, I’ll be fine,” she assured, taking her next right on Dominion Parkway. “I’ve got water, Red Bull, energy bars, a couple sandwiches…and there’s places to grab a cup of coffee, som’n’ else to eat. Just wish I was more excited about where I’m going.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah…” Maureen pawed her face, removed her mitten, breathed on her palm and rubbed her nose warm. “Tomorrow’s my little sister’s birthday party. Now, I know, I know, birthday parties are SUPER-‘fun,’ whether the birthday girl’s three or thirty-three. Eh, in my sister’s case it’s thirty-three. The…thing is, I…don’t really enjoy my family gatherings that much.”

“Aw, that’s a shame.”

Maureen encountered her first red light. Businesses popped into view: a shopping center, a day care, a gym, a warehouse, though none had yet opened their doors for the day.

“Well, here’s the thing. Or, things, rather. For lack of a better word, my sister is…well…goddamn friggin’ perfect.”

“Oh my.”

“She’s…gorgeous, she’s nice, she’s smart, she’s got a cool job, a beautiful house, tons of friends, a handsome doll of a husband who’s just an angel, a lovely baby daughter, a son on the way…you get the idea?”

“I believe I do…”

“Con, verse, ly…” Maureen went on, overenunciating each syllable. “Big sis, Maureen Coale, is…average-looking at best, kinda on the anti-social side, less than erudite, works at a mall kiosk, can barely keep her head above water in a studio apartment, is basically unlikable, invisible, isolated, unhappy…see where I’m going with this now?”

“Awww…I’m so sorry, hon.”

“Here’s the best part: I moved here some years ago,” Maureen proceeded, turning onto Juniper Street. “We’re originally from Helena. They still live there, my sister and our folks. That’s where I’m heading for her party tomorrow. So after they had me, my parents wanted another kid, and they had trouble for a while. My Mom almost miscarried her, then when she went into labor, she breached her. But eventually they were able to deliver her okay. She turned out just fine. And Mom and Dad were sooooo happy…they called her their little ‘miracle.’ And they named her—drumroll, please—Helena.”

“I see. Well, that’s quite lovely, though I can see how that’d make you feel their love skews in Helena’s favor.”

“Well, thank you! Someone actually gets it for a change!”

“Well, I’ve always been one to try and validate each different point of view.”

“So it’s always been good ol’ Maureen who’s gotten all the mental issues and personal problems handed down to her, instead of positive characteristics, thank ya so much. Mincing squat…I’m a pathetic mess.”

“I know that’s untrue.”

“I know you’re wrong.”

“Forgive me.”

“No, no, that’s okay; actually, that was wrong of me to say.” Sigh… “I’m always wrong.”

“Aw, Maureen…”

“No, no…it’s okay, Dawn. It’s not self-deprecation if it’s true.” She maneuvered a roundabout 180°, continuing the same direction. “And to illustrate but one of my issues—well, actually two—like I told ya, Helena’s got a hundred friends. Which means there’s gonna be a bazillion people at her house tomorrow. Lotsa fun for Maureen, who has social anxiety and gets overwhelmed by crowds. Yay!”

“Oh, dear…sucky situation.”

“So anyways, this trip’d ideally take a little under 24 hours. And while driving is one of the very few things I’m good at, stupid traffic’s gonna push it upwards of thirty. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: why not just not go.”

“Actually, I w—”

“I’ll tell you why not. Because if I didn’t, I’d never hear the goddamn end of it from Mom and Dad. Which compels me to really consider which is worse: a year’s worth of parental disappointment, or half a paycheck’s worth of gas to torture myself at a wall-to-wall-packed birthday party. So tell me, my friend, which do you think is worse?”

“Eh, well, quite frankl—”

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not fair to throw that in your face. Y’know what, Dawn, I don’t wanna make you uncomfy or put a damper on your day. So if I bum you out too much, or you get tired of me, you can hang up. Hypothetically. I’m not saying I want you to, but it won’t hurt my feelings. Believe me, I’ve been disappointing people my whole life. I’m used to it.”

“…

“My gosh, Maureen, I think you’re gonna make me cry.”

Red light. “See? I’m a raincloud. My name should be Debbie Downer.”

“No, no, I meant that…well…this is just something about me. I get to caring about folks real easy after just talking to them a little while. I love meeting all the different people I can. Like I said, it doesn’t happen that often.”

Green. “Oh…well, that’s really nice,” Maureen told her, slipping on her sunglasses. “I wish I was you. And not just ’cause you’re snug and cozy indoors in your jammies. There’re lotsa times I wish I was just…anything besides me.”

“Awwww…Maureen, hon, you’re gonna break my heart. And I’m not saying that to be the least derisive or sarcastic. I mean it.”

“Well…thank you. And, I’ll be honest, Dawn: it is actually kinda nice to talk to someone who’s also just hanging by herself. One on one. I don’t mind being in groups of, oh…up to six or eight? But you go upwards of that, I kinda gotta get outta there.”

“It can be a bit much.”

“Right?? And if I’m around just two other people—so there’re three of us total—guess which two, without fail, will always end up talking to each other, and which one’ll end up left out?”

“That stinks.”

“Well, it’s not like the other two deliberately omit me; it’s just the way it—parenthesis, always, close parenthesis—happens.”

“Aw, Maureen, I’m sure you’re a cool, interesting person. I’m sure there’re lotsa folks who’d like to talk to you, or hang out with you.”

“Mm. Well, this is the point where the bitter, cynical part of me’d say, oh, like you’d want to. But we kinda actually are, so…”

“Unfalse. Please pardon me for saying so, but I think you’re being overly hard on yourself.”

“Maybe. But it’s tough to explain my rationale without making my life sound like one big sob story. Y’know, maybe that’s enough about me for now. Why don’t, uh…why don’tcha tell me about you?”

“Oh. Golly. Well, eh…gee, where do I start. I was…born and raised here—in Pennsylvania—had a pretty run-of-the-mill childhood…”

Maureen slowed toward a red light in a turn lane, and flipped on her blinker, listening attentively.

“…I work in a therapy office, though there was a whole lotta stuff I wanted to be at various points in my life: a ballerina, a teacher…one of Josie’s Pussycats, Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel…then either Cagney or Lacey. Oh yeah, that’s another thing about me: I watch a lotta TV.”

Maureen smirked and nodded, starting to feel a bit warmer.

“Let’s see…besides TV, I also really like being outside, riding my bike, web surfing, trying every restaurant I can, listening to CDs—music and stand-up comedians—reading, organizing stuff…and…if those last two made me sound like a nerd, it’s ’cause I kinda am.”

“Hm! Well, you’ll get no judgment passed by me, Maureen Coale, Miss Dork Queen 1980. Asterisk: not a real title, by the way.”

“You don’t say. Hee hee…okay, well, then…I wasn’t sure about mentioning this part, but…believe it or not, part of me does still enjoy the occasional video game, comic book, Ren fair, and…even a sci-fi convention or two. Yes, I’m a geek, and deep down, proud of it.”

Maur giggled. “Really?” she asked. “Well, maybe there was a Dork Queen of Minnesota and Pennsylvania at the same time.”

“Oh, I think there’s a complete fifty of us representing the country, my friend.”

A pause settled. Neither said anything for a moment. Maureen drove, passing and being passed by all makes and models of vehicle both in production and still drivable. Interspersed were a gang of bikers, pickup trucks, and commercial 18-wheelers. Her compass indicated she was heading northwest, and the thermostat read 23°F. Now that the sun was up, she looked to the sky. Still cloudy.

“Hey, uh, Dawn?…I know it was probably just a casual thing, and I don’t wanna make you think I’m weird for asking this, but…would…you really say I’m your friend?”

“Uh, hm. Well, numero uno: sí. Numero dos: no hablo español, so switching back to ingles now. Number three: who says ‘weird’’s a bad thing? I’m super weird, and super proud of it! I’m just a big ol’ cute, goofy weirdo!”

“I suppose. Dunno if I’m weird, normal, creepy or what…but whatever I am, I’ve never exactly been real proud of it.”

“Aw, Maur, cut yourself a break. As we’ve been talking so far…I like you the way you are. Uh, pardon my accidental poetry.”

Maureen smiled. Her body, heart and soul warmed more.

“…You really like me?”

“Sure. To be fair, it doesn’t take all the world’s work to get me to like someone. Vice versa’s a bit of a different story.”

“Well, thus far, Dawn, I like you too.”

“Why, how fantastic! I think you just made my day.”

“…Huh. Well, Dawn, I’ll tell you, the first thing that came to mind when you said that was, ‘Wow, also doesn’t take much to make your day, does it.’ Y’know, I used to try to be sarcastic to be funny, ’cause I foolishly thought that’d get people to like me. But eventually I figured out I was just coming off as nasty and hostile.”

“Meh. At least it’s good to learn those things, so you get to grow and be a better person. Not saying ‘you’ to mean specifically you, Maureen; anyone. We’ve all got our flaws, trust me. Wanna hear about mine?”

“Uh, very much so, yeah. It’d make me feel better about myself if people shared their own issues and faults with me. Since most don’t feel inclined to, and I generally see things going okay for them, it’s easy for me to think their lives’re perfect. Even though I know deep down they can’t be. But I still can’t see anything wrong with ’em. And since I’m so self-absorbed, and all too aware of everything wrong with me…I can’t help but compare myself.”

“Awww…you poor thing. Again, no meanness or sarcasm on my part. Please don’t think I’m giving you a hard time saying that.”

“I know, Dawn. Thanks. So, uh…your flaws?”

“Heh! Okay, well, um…oh! Here’s one. I’m clingy. And needy. Like I told you, I don’t meet people that often, so when a chance for a new friendship comes along, I leap. Sometimes I feel like I scare people away. Also, I can’t cook worth a lick. That’s why I eat at restaurants so much. I don’t have any real creative or artistic talents. I’m always amazed and frankly jealous of people who’re so good at those things. There’s stuff I’m good at, that I guess kinda ‘matters,’ but it’s…I dunno, pretty dull. I’m better at sports than drawing or painting or playing an instrument. I’ve never been great at love or relationships either. Seems like every woman I date dumps me, and sometimes I can’t even figure out why. I am pretty good at saying it’s their loss, though, and getting back on the horse.”

Maureen perked up. “You’re a lesbian?”

“Yyyyeah…does that pose a problem?”

“No! No! Just…just the opposite!” Maureen insisted. “I’m a lesbian too!”

“Whoa!” chuckled Dawn. “That is so cool! What’re the odds?!”

“Not just cool,” said Maureen, shaking her head. “That’s…awesome. Dawn, if I can confess something to ya…just between you and me: outside of Helena and our parents, my relatives and co-workers don’t even know I’m gay. And even Helena, Mom and Dad tend to forget, it feels like. I dunno if they don’t…want it to be true, per se, or just don’t think it’s that big a deal. But I don’t even wanna consider coming out to my workmates. It feels like they think I’m unapproachable enough already.”

“Oh, I know. People who’ve never had to deal with it don’t understand how tough it can be. I’d like to think they can at least imagine and try to appreciate it, though. Like, I’ve never smoked. But I’ve heard smokers talk about how incredibly hard it is to quit. So I take their word for it, and empathize with anyone who’s got a proverbial monkey on their back. I’ve also never given birth. And after hearing women talk about how excruciating it is, I’m not in a hurry to do that any time soon either.”

“Ho-ho! Tell me about it. So you don’t have any kids?”

“Nope! Just a goldfish and a parakeet.”

“Aw. I thought about getting a pet. But it wouldn’t be real responsible of me, barely being able to support myself.”

“Yeah…I have a pretty nice apartment. But I don’t take home much more than I need for it and my little companions. I’ve got some nice pictures and knickknacks here and there. But not a helluva lot more than that.”

“Mm. Betcha still make more than me.”

“Well, I won’t argue. But I’ll bet you have a lot more going for ya than your job, Maur.”

“Oh, c’mon.”

“No, I mean it. Hey—in fact, you wanna do something with me? It’s kind of a little game.”

“What’s ’at?”

“Well, it’s a sorta social experiment. It’s not really based on any hard science, it’s mostly just meant to be fun. And to entertain your friends. What you do is, you put your name and your birthdate into this web site, and it runs a program, and it spits out some cool little characteristics and things about ya. Wanna try it?”

A bit thankful Dawn couldn’t see her face, Maureen furrowed her brows. She didn’t want to say what she really thought of this weird little idea. It sounded a bit like a horoscope, which Maureen felt were rather silly and absurd. But Dawn was trying to do something nice for her, it seemed, and Maureen didn’t want to squelch it or hurt her feelings. So she agreed.

“Well…I guess. I mean, I suppose it can’t hurt. And you said it’s just basically for fun, right?”

“Right! Okay, so lemme bring up the site…here we go. Now I’ll start with your first name…M-A-U-R-E-E-N?”

Maureen headed towards the exit for Interstate 94. “Yup.”

“A’righty…can I ask what your middle name is?”

“Karen. K-A-R-E-N.”

“’Key-dokey…and your last name?”

“Coale. C-O-A-L-E.”

“Tee-rific. And, what was your d.o.b. again?”

“Eight-sixteen-sixty-five.”

“Fantastic…and the last thing I need’s three words you’d use to describe yourself.”

“Oh.” This part seemed to lend the experiment credibility, even if it deflated the “magic” slightly. She was unsure if the “result” was influenced by positive or negative words, but thought she’d go with positive. She was making an effort to be more optimistic lately.

“Okay, um…well, let’s say…‘responsible,’ ‘generous,’ and…‘soft-hearted.’”

“Aw. All right, here we go…now it’s just gonna take some time to come up with its little report.”

Maureen gave a small nod, making her way onto 94.

“Okay! Here it is. Now, y’know, while this may seem kinda generic, it can also be more specific than you might expect.”

Maureen thought this was an opportune moment to chomp into one of her energy bars. So she’d do so, and let Dawn go ahead.

“I think this is an opportune moment to chomp into one of my energy bars. So I’ll do so, and let you go ahead.”

“’Righty…” Dawn cleared her throat, and read at a semi-gradual, meaningful pace.

“‘Maureen: a gentle soul of hope, of wonder, of kind intentions. Wistful and vulnerable, she is filled with profound emotion which she feels free and open to express. She is a lover of nature and charity. Her heart tells her to do what it honestly feels is right and moral. She is shy and introverted, and secretly longs for the encounter and connection with that special person who may just be her one true love and best friend. The person who could ease and encourage her from her shell. Her feelings ache for the misfortune of others, and she desires to help whenever possible. She takes good things as they come, but does not expect or demand them. It is this array of qualities that makes Maureen a child of warmth and virtue.’”

She took a deep breath and exhaled a “whew!” indicating she was done.

“So, what’dya think?”

Maureen drove, almost idly, energy bar-filled mouth hanging ajar a few seconds.

“…Maureen?…Ya there? Oh gosh, I didn’t lose you, did I? I hope not.”

“D—uh, no, no, I’m…still here. I’m just, uh…wow.”

“‘Wow,’ y’say?” asked Dawn, sounding pleased. “Was it accurate?”

Maureen shook her head, even though she knew Dawn couldn’t see her.

“Dawn…I…that was…dead-on accurate. Like, right on the nose! I…I can’t even believe you could pull that off. My mind is blown.”

Wo-ow!” Dawn chuckled, echoing Maureen’s sentiment. “Well, clearly that little experiment was a success then!”

I’ll say,” concurred Maureen, still shaking her head. “Dawn, that…was amazing. You just summed up my…just about my entire personality in thirty seconds!”

“Oh, well, I didn’t actually do it,” Dawn modestly admitted. “The web site program here did. But I’m so happy it worked!”

“I-I just can’t get over it. It’s…it’s like you’re psychic! Or, your program is. Y’know what, Dawn, I’ll admit it: I was skeptical at first. I really don’t buy into psychics and horoscopes and all that stuff. But that was…well, I’ll say it again: mind-blowing.”

“Well, it is an advanced program. One of the psychiatrists in my office knows someone who helped develop it. So they recommend it for us to use. I think it’s really cool. Even if you put in something horrible for your adjectives, it’ll still try to give you a ‘nice’ result.”

“What does it say about you?”

“Oh! Well, I’ve tried it several times, with a lotta words that could describe me. You can manipulate it a little by tweaking your descriptives, and you’ll notice a small difference. I’ll put in the words I used the first time and read it to ya.”

So Maureen eagerly waited, hearing the faint sound of clicking and ticking as Dawn’s fingers pranced over the keys.

“…Okay, here I am. ‘Dawn: this child is playful and whimsical, having well maintained her childlike sense of idealism. Her soul is vibrant, colorful and vivacious. She is very skilled at cheering up others when called for. She is fond of and kind to animals and tots. Her eyes are completely truthful, even if her lips at times are not. Her heart is a bit fragile and ticklish, but sculpted of pure gold. She is a very sensual creature, enjoying the visual as well as the tangible. Her passions are many and varied. She is more on the extroverted side, and good at showing her affection. While a trifle flighty, she knows when to keep her feet on the ground, a sensible and practical mind. She balances a charming mixture of impish humor, and pragmatic ebullience. Dawn can often be found frolicking barefoot in the fields and plucking daisies, herself a bright lily amongst them.’

“…And that’s me in a nutshell! Pretty cool, huh?”

“Indeed. I can’t vouch for how much of that’s true, but it sounds positively glowing next to mine.”

“Well, I can vouch that it’s true, but I’ll hasten to add that it makes me no greater a person than yourself. Maureen, my friend, I feel you could simply use a nice sip from the nourishing goblet of self-confidence.”

“Mm, maybe. But like your thing about me said, I think what I want most is that special friend. And to know just where she or he’s been my whole life. …Dawn?”

“Yes?”

Maureen made a sad face, ignoring a conjured sniffle.

“I just get so lonely, so much.”

“Awww, sweetie…well, obviously, you have my phone number now…” Dawn chortled. “…Completely by accident. We may be in completely different time zones, but if you ever just need to, y’know, chat, or anything—and you don’t think it’s weird…”

“Thank you, Dawn. You’re really sweet.”

“Hey Maur, hang on a sec, ’kay? My arm’s getting a little tired. I’m gonna put you on speaker.”

“Oh, a’right. Well, you’re not driving, but that’s good that both of your hands can be free, to…do other stuff.”

*****

94: From Northern Stars To Peace Gardens

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 11:48 a.m. Central / 12:48 p.m. Eastern

“Well, like I said, I grew up here in P.A., in a little town called Indiana. Bet you didn’t know there’s an Indiana in Pennsylvania.”

“Ha! That I didn’t. So, have you always known you’re into other women?”

“Since about sixteen. I was at a party, we were playing spin the bottle, and…I was forced to kiss this other comely young lass.”

“Oh, poor you.”

“I know, right? So, it got the desired effect: a little embarrassment, but everyone including the two of us got a kick out of it. Actually, I got a little more than a kick.”

“A-ha.”

“Yeah, I…kept it to myself, but after a while I couldn’t deny it. Like it or not, there’s hot chicks everywhere I look. Lucky me, I like it.”

“Eh…I like that too. But unlucky for us, most of ’em’re straight. At least just about all the ones I met in Montana. Juniper’s got a higher lesbi concentration, which’s one of the reasons I moved here. But I still haven’t had such great relationships. Last woman I dated saw fit to treat me like slime whenever she was ‘pumicing.’”

“W—…whenever she was…using a pumice stone?”

“No. Well, I said ‘pumicing,’ but I really meant when her monthly pal dropped in. Or, out.”

“P—…oh, I see. Like ‘pumice’ without the vowels. Well, that sucks, though some of us do put those delightful few days to use acting like bitches. And taking it out on whomsoever’s in the line of fire. I’ve never so much had it in me to lash out, though; I usually just cry it through. I think it’s healthier.”

“Mm, I guess I wasn’t exactly an angel to her when my friend—without the ‘r’—was in town either.”

“Friend without th—oh, I get it. That’s clever.”

“Yeah…wanna hear something that’s not clever? Random weird story about me. I was so dumb when I was a kid—or naïve, depending on how you wanna see it—I was reading the back of a toothpaste tube one time. And I remember it said something to the effect: ‘for best results, squeeze the bottom of the tube…and flatten it…as you go up.’

“…Okay? So when I read that, I thought, flatten it…as you go up? You go up? This…what, does this stuff make you fly? Does it actually somehow lift you off the floor and make you physically float, in mid-air, just while you’re holding it? As you GO UP??

“HAAAA! Oh my god, Maureen, that is too hilarious.”

“Right?? That’s…of-of course I know what it means now, but that is honestly how dim I was when I was little. Never the sharpest tool in the drawer. Now Helena, there’s a different blinkity-blankin’ story. Always super-smart, Mommy and Daddy’s little genius, perfect straight As, whole way through school. Swear to god.”

“Oh, I hated that! I tried my ass off in school, but past a certain point I could never do better than average! Sometimes I just outright flunked. Guess I wasn’t ‘gifted.’”

“Hm. Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but it is really nice to talk to someone else who was, y’know, just average.”

“Oh, I get it. Trust me, I came to grips with that nonsense a long time ago. So somehow I made it to college…well, it was community college, of course; that’s how. And I took my first psychology course. And I fell in love with it. I decided, I’ve actually found what I wanna do with my life. I just wanna be somewhere in this field. So I studied a few more years, then finally came to the decision, I’m not gonna make it through the academic part of this. I’m just not. Y’know, they tell us when we’re young that we can do anything, be whatever we want, our dreams’re real, sky’s the limit, blah blah. Then you grow up and find out for yourself the hard way. So I figured, well, if I can’t be a doctor or a therapist, then lemme at least work in one’s office, right? So that took a little while, but here I am. It’s pretty nice. ’S got its trying moments, like any job. But it puts food in the fridge and the health coverage is good.”

“Sweet. Yeah, I’m kinda just stuck in the middle of the mall, pushing whatever they’ve got for us this time: knickknacks, t-shirts, beauty products, books, toys, anything seasonal, appropriate to the time of year. And we’re kinda supposed to approach shoppers to peddle it, but, well, I’m sure you know this: all that usually does is annoy them. I mean, I’m a mall shopper too, I like the mall, but I just wanna shop, y’know, and for what I actually want. Imagine that. Right? I figure, kioskist, if I’m interested in what you’ve got, I’ll come to you. Know what I mean? So I usually play solitaire on the PalmPilot or something, and let people do just that: come to me. And now and then, someone’ll come up and ask about the product. Sometimes they’ll buy, sometimes they won’t, and, that’s just the nature of retail. Occasionally they’ll chat me up in more depth, which I kinda like. ’Cause it breaks up the monotony of my day. What really gets my goat, though, is when they—inevitably, it seems—pop this question: ‘So what does your husband do?’”

“Oh, gosh, yes, that is annoying.”

“Yeah—or ‘boyfriend.’ But usually ‘husband.’ And it’s like…first of all, what makes you assu—…d’you see a ring on there? What makes you assume I’m married, and what makes you assume I’m straight? Am I putting off some kind of weird het-vibe, or do you just have really lousy ‘gay-dar’? Not that I want people to shun me, or feel too scared off to talk to me. To reiterate: I actually enjoy that. It just bugs the crap outta me when they get presumptuous and jump to conclusions. I just don’t wanna have to wear a shirt that says ‘GAY CHICK’ in giant letters, or give myself a Flock Of Seagulls hairdo to get the point across. I really don’t.”

“Ha! Funny ’cause it’s true.”

“And that’s not ev—…” Sigh. “I’m-I’m sorry if I’m venting too much, but that doesn’t even irritate me as much as the collective reaction when I say I’m gay. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The sudden jump of the eyebrows…”

“Ah, yeah…the mouth slips open that little bit…”

“The pause, followed by the hopefully harmless, ‘…Oh.’ Translation: ‘I really dunno what to say to that.’ Sometimes there’s even a little half a step backwards, out of what I have to guess is intimidation. Sheezus. So now, I usually just say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ and steer ’em back to whatever I’m selling.”

“Well…you could have a little fun with it. I mean, I know you’re at work, so this isn’t the best idea there. But if you’re in a non-work setting and that happens, you could try this: smile nice and big, yell ‘Yup, I’m gay!’ and then touch them on the head and run!

“HA! Classic.”

“It’s even more fun if they have kids! Touch the kids and be like, ‘Have a nice gay day!’”

“That’s awesome, I’ll have to try that. Hey, ’dyou see the last season of Ellen?”

“Oh, naturally.”

“How much of it do you remember?”

“Ummm…other than the one episode everyone’ll remember and be talking about for years…not sure. There’s been so much other stuff I’ve watched since. I told you before, I’m a big boob-tuber.”

“Heh, right. Okay, well, one of the episodes had this fantasy sequence thing, where the whole gay/straight ratio was inside-out, so the homos were in the majority, and the hets in the minority… Sometimes I get to wishing that was actually true. But most of the time, I just wish it was a nice half-and-half.”

“That does sound a little familiar. I should see if someone online has tapes of it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m hoping it comes out on DVD soon. In the meantime…oh, it’s high noon, straight up. Over here.”

“…I’ll be danged, you’re right. Gosh, have we really been talking for six hours?

“…I feel like I could talk to you for a million and six more, Dawn.”

“Awww…Maureen, that’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Well, I mean it. And screw the phone bill, by the way. A conversation like this doesn’t come along every year, and I don’t talk or text that much anyhow. ’S kind of…amazing. Isn’t it?”

“It is. Almost feels like I’m talking to an old friend.”

“Mmm…well, thank god I treat my friends better now than I used to. Lemme tell you another story. One day in school—probably junior high or early high—some kids were giving me a hard time. As per relatively usual. Then something weird happened, that made this day a little different. This boy, whose name I can’t remember, called over to the kids making fun of me, and he said, ‘Hey, leave her alone. She’s my friend.’ So…I don’t recall if they did leave me alone. But a little bit later, I went over to him, and…well, I meant to thank him for sticking up for me. But it didn’t exactly happen that way. I didn’t even know he thought of me as a friend. And I was a dumb kid. I guess we were all dumb kids, but…I didn’t know quite what to say. So I ended up asking him, ‘…Why’d you say that?’”

“Okay…”

“And…so, I don’t even remember what he said to me. If anything. But I asked him that ’cause, I guess if he actually thought of me as his friend, I wanted him to confirm it for me. I definitely didn’t know it before. But now I wish I’d just said thank you. I feel like asking him why he’d try to defend me seems like I was ungrateful. Or almost like I wanted those jerks to keep giving me crap.”

“Mm, I get that. If it makes you feel any better, none of us knew how to behave when we’re that age. I got picked on too, and to be brutally honest with you, I even dished it out a little here and there. And I feel terrible about it now. If I could remember anyone in school I had a problem with, I’d try to reach out and make up with ’em. But I can’t…so what I tell myself is, I doubt they remember me either, and we’ve all moved on. I’d love to think that no one’s traumatized, or holds any big grudges.”

“’S a good way to think about it. Unfortunately for me, my social skills never really improved. It also doesn’t help that I don’t have the friendliest-looking face or -sounding voice. My natural resting expression looks like I’m tired and pissed off.”

“Well, I can’t offer any input on your face, but I like your voice, Maur. It sounds friendly enough to me.”

“Thank you, Dawn, that’s super-sweet. I’m really enjoying your voice too. It’s smooth, silky, sensual, it’s like…sexy butter.”

“Ha! Why, thank you! I’ve never heard it described quite that way before.”

“And I’m sorry to sound like a shattered record, but I bet you look like an angel when you’re asleep. I look like I’m in pain.”

“Hee hee…a, uh, naked angel with messy hair everywhere and drool coming out of her wide-open mouth, maybe.”

“Oooh…naked, huh?”

“Indeed; I toss and turn a helluva lot. I’d bend up my wings and scratch the crap outta my halo. Wearing clothes’d require the extra step of plucking them out from under me. Also, I get hot easy. I keep my apartment at 70° even; no higher, no lower. And if I sleep under covers with jammies on, I sweat. If I have the jammies but no blanket, my feetsies get cold.”

“Heh…your ‘feetsies’?”

“Oh, yeah. Perhaps I should’ve mentioned this before: I’m a five-year-old trapped in an adult lady’s body.”

“I see. Well, pardon me for sticking my nose in your bed, but, um, why don’t you just wear socks then?”

“…

“Because, apparently, I don’t exercise common sense. Ha! God, how did I never think of that?”

“Well, such concepts tend to elude five-year-olds.”

“Seriously, though, hon, there may be things to get down on ourselves about, but your looks shouldn’t be one of ’em. To my mind, something like plastic surgery’s never worth it, and furthermore, I think it’s dishonest. But that’s just my humble opinion. And if I may just say so, Maureen, I know you find this hard to believe, but I guarantee you that at some point in your life, someone’s had at least a little crush on you. You may not’ve known it, and it may not’ve been who you wanted it to be, but I guarantee it.”

“Hm…have you ever found out someone had a crush on you?”

“Once. This young fellow named Jack. I thought I liked him back at the time. ’Course, we were eleven.”

“Ah yes, one of the key cootie years. Hey Dawn, I was wondering…could you describe yourself for me? What you look like?”

“Oh, sure. I’m 5’6”, medium-built, brunette, turquoise eyes…I’ve been told I look a little like Kelly from Saved By The Bell. But I’m not nearly that beautiful.”

“Mm. Well, again, I think your voice is.”

“Well, aren’t you a dove! May I ask what you look like?”

“You may. I’m about the same height, just a bit on the plumpy side, brunette too—lighter color—hazel peepers, and…I’ve…never really been told I look like anyone in particular. Famous or otherwise.”

“Oh. Well, whom do you think you resemble?”

“On my bad days, a fat, frumpy version of myself. On the good ones…I have no idea.”

“Fair enough. Anyway, Maur…by the way, is it okay that I called you Maur? I know you said you hated the other nickname. That’s just a thing about me, I tend to play with the syllables in people’s names. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. But if it bothers you at all, please, halt me right in my tracks.”

“No, no, Maur’s okay. Hey, look: I’m at the state line. Uh, in your case, of course, I mean ‘look’ metaphorically. But yeah, there’s the sign. ‘WELCOME TO NORTH DAKOTA…LEGENDARY.’”

“Oh, congrats.”

“Yup. So…this is Fargo, North ‘Middle of Nowhere’ Dakota. Y’know, when I moved to Juniper, I took a train, ’cause I hadn’t gotten my car yet. I never drove this before. And maybe it’s crazy to take this kind of trip in the car. Maybe I’m insane. Or a self-masochist.”

“Orrrrr, maybe fate compelled you to drive, so you could accidentally misdial OnStar and reach me instead! Wink wink?”

“That is a tough argument to refute. And I was thinking, for trips like this, if I could afford it, I should get one of those fancy-ass iPod thingies. But then, I’d either have to find 24 hours’ worth of music to put on it, or listen to the same stuff over and over. ’Course, I wouldn’t mind that if it’s Melissa Etheridge. I, friggin’, love her. She’s my favorite singer of all time.”

“Ooh, yeah, I like her too.”

“What the hell’s not to like?? She’s talented, charismatic, smoking hot, ’s got a voice to bring down the house…she totally, rocks.”

“Y’know, I believe she got a new girlfriend last year. Which means they’re probably gonna move in together…sometime last year.”

“Huh! Yup; U-Haul lesbians. Shack up fast, get over each other reeeeeeeeal slow.”

“That should be our slogan. Oh, god! Guess what the hell happened to me last month. My friend set me up on a blind date. Whoever could it be?…OH, how ’bout none other than my ex from ’98?!”

“HA! Been there.”

“Tip: always ask for a name and description first. Blind lesbian dating: dangerous. Shortsighted dating? Possibly okay.”

“Very wise.”

“That’s me: exes-wise! Queen of bad puns!”

“…

“That’s worse than bad; that’s pun-ishable. You go sit in the corner for five minutes and think about what you just said.”

*****

94: Zoning Out, Zoning In

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 4:52 p.m. Central / 5:52 p.m. Eastern

“…which, as it turns out, was one of the most amazing and memorable things that happened in my whole childhood!”

“No doubt. I can’t believe you’ve stayed on the phone with me this long, Dawn.”

“I’m having so much fun, Maur! And I can’t believe how much I’ve gotten done today just carrying the phone around my apartment. Without the distraction of my computer and TV, I’ve put my loose groceries away, cleaned my kitchen counters and stove top, fed the bird and fish, dusted, Windexed my mirrors, taken out the trash, and done three loads of laundry. Washed, dried, folded, put away.”

Wow…phone chores. Who the hell knew. Oh hey, I’m about to enter Mountain Time.”

“Oh, fascinating. I’ve never driven across a time zone before.”

“Yeah…’s probably not necessary to change my clock, I’ll just have to remember—”

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 3:53 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time / 5:53 p.m. Eastern

“—what time it is now.”

“Oh, hey!” Dawn repetitively observed. “So that means you just picked up an hour. ’S like a bonus Daylight Savings Time.”

Maureen gasped. “Oh my gosh, Dawn, I wish you could see this. I’m heading straight due west, the sun’s setting, and even through all the clouds…the entire sky looks like a giant rainbow! It’s amazing!”

“Ohhh…I’m such a sucker for pretty things,” said Dawn. “Flowers, stars, sunsets, Christmas lights, hot girls…I love jewelry too. Sometimes I like to hold the stones in my bracelets right up to my eyes close as possible, and just admire the sparkliness.”

“Yeah…I’m actually partial specifically to blue Christmas lights. Maybe not the most customary color for the yuletide season, and yet…there’s just something about it. Blue’s probably my favorite color in general.”

“My favorite color’s burgundy,” offered Dawn. “It’s like maroon, just a little…sexier.”

“’Cause it’s close to the color of the human body component our hearts circulate to our naughty organs when we get excited?”

Dawn giggled. “That’s an intriguing way to think of it. In addition, let’s see…my favorite movie is Field Of Dreams, my…favorite song is every song there is entitled ‘Forever Young’…my favorite beverages’re fruit punch and root beer—soft—and white wine—hard. For the drink, I prefer white to burgundy. Oh yes, and my favorite canned soup cuisine is ‘PasghettiOs.’”

It was Maureen’s turn to chortle. “‘PasghettiOs’?”

“Told you—I’m a grown-up five-year-old.”

Maureen beamed and glowed, driving into the rainbow. She could hardly believe it, but her face was starting to ache from smiling so much. That one misdialed digit on her touch-screen phone had brought almost an entire day’s worth of delight and camaraderie, the whole way on this otherwise humdrum drive. It astonished her. Yesterday, she didn’t know this lady existed. Now, they’d shared a thousand facets of their lives. She remained too fascinated by the coincidence of meeting someone called Dawn first thing in the morning. Was it possible this whole encounter—this whole day—had been some surreal fantasy?

“…Hey Dawn?”

“Yeah?”

“Please do me a favor and take this the right way: you…are…real, right? This…whole day has really been happening, hasn’t it?”

Dawn laughed. “Rest assured, my dear Maureen, Dawn Lori Kerringer is an entity of bona fide flesh and bone, blood and marrow. Who occasionally refers to herself in the third person.”

“Hee hee…this is just…so damn cool. If only you lived in Minnesota. Or Montana. Or either Dakota.”

“Well, I do take week-long vacations twice a year. Or a single one for two weeks. Travel’s often involved.”

“Suh-weet,” Maureen assessed, shifting lanes. “We oughta get together sometime in the summer or fall.”

“You, my good woman, have a deal.”

Maureen kept smiling, a twinkle in one eye, a sparkle occupying the other. She’d for several hours had the thermostat adjusted perfectly—not too warm, not too cold—and she was feeling a bit of a sniffle coming on. Which could only mean one thing.

“This…this is incredible, Dawn. Y’know, ten hours ago, I thought today was gonna be the second-worst day of my year. Next to tomorrow. But…all of a sudden, I…” She shook her head. “…I can’t believe how happy I feel. If I may be so bold as to say so, I think you may have quite the most wonderful effect on me.”

Dawn stopped in her tracks just a moment, retrieving a TV dinner from the freezer.

“Awww!…And you just melted my heart.”

A charmed Maureen shrugged, shifting a bit in her seat.

“Know what, Dawn, if you’d said that to yesterday’s Maureen, she’d have doubtlessly rolled her eyes and said something like, ‘Well, I’m so touched, I could just barf.’”

“Heh!”

“But, regaled with the cellular companionship of mine truly, today’s Maur just says, ‘…Serendipity.’”

Dawn popped her defrostable supper in the microwave and went to reline the parakeet Jibjab’s cage.

“Could hardly have put it better myself.”

The newly euphoric Maur trolleyed on toward the horizon under falling dusk, new scenery greeting her all the way. Trees in spring bloom flew by. Soundwalls ascended and descended the roadside. Horses and cows grazed in pastureland. In due course she’d made her way through Valley City, Jamestown, Steele, BISMARCK, New Salem, and now inched on to Dickinson. She also bypassed traffic cones surrounding road work, cop cars behind pulled-over motorists, boats and idle vehicles in tow, and interstate exit after exit after exit. And she and Dawn Kerringer shared more memories, anecdotes, favorite things and random facts of their lives than either could remember doing before. By nightfall, they began to feel like best friends who’d known one another for eons, rather than mere hours. Suddenly, the questions Maureen wanted to ask just built and built, till they began falling over themselves. One question, however, shoved its way to the fore (even though, technically, she already knew the answer. She just wanted to ask it).

“Dawn?”

“Yes, Maur?”

“…Where’ve you been all my life?”

*****

94: State Line Warmup

Saturday, March 8th, 2003, 10:20 p.m. Mountain / Sunday, March 9th, 2003, 12:20 a.m. Eastern

The sun was long since down. Maureen’s rainbow had vanished beneath the horizon, waiting to regreet her the following day. She’d been slowed up by a substantial traffic jam. An accident congested the interstate, but fortunately no one was hurt. By the time 10:00 arrived, it’d begun to thin back out. But Maureen had sensibly afforded a surplus of time, for situations just like this. And the function at Helena and her husband Joseph’s house didn’t start until noon. And even were she tardy, no one would be cross with her. It was a birthday party, not a dentist appointment. Her family gatherings only tended to feel as painful as a trip to the tooth tinkerers. And for the stretch of this trip, she had Dawn’s pleasant and soothing, yet provocative and sexy voice to keep her company.

“So how’re you doing on the trip?”

“A’right,” Maureen nodded. “Butt’s feeling a little numb, but I’m still throwing back the Bull in moderation. No fatigue just yet.”

“Me neither,” said Dawn. “Just put on another pot o’ Folgers. I’ve got a feeling I’m not gonna want our conversation to end. I know it’ll have to eventually, but it’ll make me sad. I feel really attached to you…even though I haven’t seen your face once.”

“I understand. What time’ve you got now?”

“Uh, lemme see…oh gosh, 12:21.”

“Whoa! It’s after midnight there?? I’ve…oh, that’s right! I’ve got 11:22, which means here it’s really 10:22, ’cause I didn’t change my clock. That’s…wow. So that means it’s two different days for us right now! It’s Saturday for me and Sunday for you!”

“Oh, just wait. I’m sure once technology goes far enough, the Internet’ll let us talk to anyone in the world. Y’know, they started talking on the news about this thing called…social media, I think. Like…web sites that’ll let you connect with new buddies.”

“Huh. When’re they due with that?”

“They’re thinking maybe as soon as later this year. But you and I’ve managed to connect amazingly close on the phone in one day.”

“Nonstop,” Maureen added.

There was a pause. Maur did not know it, but Dawn was screwing up her moxie to ask her a very specific question.

“…Say, Maur?”

“Hee…” Maureen giggled under her breath. “Did…you just start that with the word ‘Say’?”

“Um…yeah, I guess I did,” Dawn giggled back. “Apparently I’m living in U.S. Eastern time in the year 1940.”

A chuckle. “Swell. Well, golly gee, hot mama, I’m your dame; lay it on me.”

“HA! Gosh, uh…this’s gonna sound bizarre right after that, but…a’right. Maur, may I please ask you a personal question?”

“Yeah, ask me whatever you feel like.”

“It’s…pretty personal.”

“Oooh…like, juicy?”

“…Very much so.”

She could hear the blush come through in Dawn’s voice. Maureen suddenly felt intrigued.

“Go ahead. I promise I won’t get put off.”

“’Kay…how often do you…erm…shall we say…

“…Make…love, to yourself?”

Maureen almost choked in the middle of her current Red Bull sip.

Oh, my. Mmmkay. Well, I promised you could ask, and I’m sincerely not offended. So, my honest answer is…semi-frequently.”

“Hee hee…uh, too soon to ask?”

“Well, not necessarily. It would depend on the person. For the most prudish of the prudes, forever’d be too soon to ask. But to the crudest of the crude, there’d be no such concept as too soon.”

“I see…and where do you fall on that spectrum?”

“To be bracingly frank…a little more on the crude side. But I prefer to call it ‘sexually adventurous.’”

“Well, good for you! Every good woman should feel as free as she wants to be in, eh…touch with her sexuality. I give myself a nice frigging at least once every day,” Dawn giggled, turning red. “Unless the day’s particularly busy.”

“…A nice frigging what?”

“Oh, no, no, sweetheart. An actual frigging. As in to frig yourself. It’s a word for female masturbation.”

Seat warmer on, Maureen’s pussy awoke and began listening.

“Really?…And I thought ‘friggin’’ was just adjectival cousins with ‘frickin’’ and ‘freakin’.’”

“Au freakin’ contraire. I, love, masturbation. Of course, what’s not to love? It costs nothing, it’s good for you, it feels inCREDible, it makes me see stars, puts me in an awesome mood, calms me down and clears my mind. The only part I could do without is that aggressively nagging urge to go to sleep afterwards. Sometimes I’m still in the mood to do stuff post-frig, even if…‘Little Dawn’ isn’t.”

“Well, hopefully ‘Big Dawn’ makes the final call. ‘Little Maur’ bosses me around too. Sometimes I can’t decide whether or not I wanna listen to what she wants to do. Or should I say, eh…who she wants to do…”

“HA! Priceless,” Dawn guffawed. “So may I then inquire as to your, um…methods?”

Maureen blushed, snickering under her breath.

“I, uh…just use my fingers. Why, what do you use?”

“Any number of things!” Dawn abruptly exclaimed, suddenly feeling much freer to discuss. “My digies, a strap-on without the strap, a vibrator with or without the vibe, this beautiful little dazzler called a clickler…”

“S—…sorry, did you just say ‘click-ler’?”

“It looks and works like one of those little fan blades. It tickles your clit. Clit-tickler: ‘clickler.’ Friggin’ unbelievable. Pun intended.”

Maureen’s clit woke up with the rest of “Little Maur,” and twitched under its hood.

“…Sounds like fun,” she commented, feeling a skosh warmer than before. Unbeknownst to her, this portion of the conversation was turning her Pennsylvanian galpal on as well. Dawn perched on her sofa and began to caress her thighs. She responded.

“Sometimes I use those on my titties and nips too. And then from time to time, I get a little…let’s say…creative.”

Amusing… “Oh? Do tell?”

“It’s…a-a little embarrassing.”

Definitely tell.”

“All right, well…some time ago, I decided to take an old, but still functional electric toothbrush…”

Maureen thanked goodness she didn’t happen to be drinking anything at the moment, for her nose’s sake.

“You can laugh if you want, but it became one of my favorite ways to get off.”

Maur placed the blade of her right hand between her legs. “How, um…”

The pitch of her voice jumped. She cleared her throat.

“H-how else do you get creative?”

“Hmm…okay, here’s another one. Once or twice I turned my, uh…”

Maureen heard a snort, indicating Dawn was trying not to laugh.

“I turned my phone on vibrate…”

“AAAH! You didn’t!

Dawn stifled her giggles. “…Slipped it in a condom, and let the battery take care of the rest.”

“What’s your, um…all-time favorite?”

“Oooooh…hm. That’d have to be the Sybian.”

“Hoo-hoo-hoo…you’re making me wish I had some of these things.”

“No kiddin’, right? I’m actually, uh…hee hee! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m getting a little…happy, just talking about it.”

Maureen bit the fingers of her mitten, pulled it off, exhaled on her fingers, and eased them beneath the fly of her trousers.

“Let’s talk about it more.”

“Oh?” Dawn grinned. “Enjoying it yourself, are ya?”

“Little further, and we can make ‘enjoy’ a cute euphemism. Details, please.”

Dawn obtained the same idea. Her hands both slid under her jammies, which she’d kept on all day.

“Well, it, uh…”

Three paws began to rove.

“…It all starts with the idea and urge in your mind, prompting the initial stimulation of your pleasure cells.”

“Oooh yeah, talk dirty to me.”

Chortle. “You think about it a little more…the girls start to wake up…”

“Yeeeeeesss…?”

“You devise the scenario in your mind: setting, mood, ambience…how many participants, should you be involved as one of them, or’re you just a voyeur, enjoying the show…”

“…Wow,” breathed Maureen, “You’re good at this.”

“Damn right. Next step: come up with a brief storyline for the fantasy, and choose your players. Now, for purposes of demonstration and imagination, I’ll share one of mine with you.”

Yes.

Dawn reached for her bra hooks, and unclasped it. Her other hand’s fingers rode the edge of her panties. Maureen looked ahead of her, and in the rear-view mirror. No one around. She discreetly slowed, sidled to the shoulder of the interstate, and settled to a halt. She narrated for Dawn what she was about to do next.

“I’m stopping the car.”

Oh. I see.”

“And so as not to draw attention, I’m turning everything off. Well. Not everything…”

“Hee hee…I like you. You’re naughty.”

“That’s me, one bad girl. Now lay that tasty fantasy on me, dirty birdie.”

“Very well…this scene takes place in the office where I work.”

“I like that already.”

“I know, right? Little kinky right off the bat. Now. Alone inside is a co-receptionist who I have a crush on. Even though I doubt she’s gay. Her name’s April. She’s a strawberry blonde with dark blue eyes. Medium-built, rich-textured voice, nice rack.”

Maur dampened. “I love this, Dawn.”

“Get ready to love it more. Next thing you need to know is, there doesn’t have to be a reason she’s there alone. ’S the great thing about fantasies: no logic necessary. Next thing she knows, who—in my fantasy—should pop in the door but…drumroll, please…

“…Jennifer, Joanna, Aniston.”

Maureen wolf-whistled. “Y’don’t say…Rachel Green herself, huh?”

“Yep; Mrs. Brad Pitt. Now obviously, she’s a hundred percent straight. But again: your fantasy, your rules. So if it makes it realer for you, you can blindfold her, you can have her be drunk, whatever you need. Personally, such measures aren’t necessary for me. So now Maur. Lemme ask you, dear, which celeb do you have the biggest crush on?”

“Ohhh…gotta go with Penélope Cruz.”

Oooh, nice choice. I like her too. Okay, we’ll use her. So picture then, if you will, an ordinary psychiatrist office waiting room. Behind the desk is a late-20s strawberry blonde. With dark blue eyes. And a sweet rack.”

Dawn squeezed her right tit with her left hand. Her pussy leaked a tiny bit.

“No patients, no doctors, no one else in the office. Just her.”

Maureen was liking where this was headed. She breathed on her other hand and eased it under her own shirt.
“The door opens, and in struts one Penélope Cruz.”

Maur smiled, bringing the Spanish beauty to her mind’s eye.

“April looks up to address her, but, uh-oh…”

Maureen arched her brows.

“…Where did she put her glasses?”

“Well, why wouldn’t she be wearing her gl—”

“Ah, ah ah, remember what I said about logic. Don’t question it. Just enjoy it.”

The way she purred these lovely words beckoned Maureen’s pussy to further activity. She went moist, and stroked herself.

“So April feels around for her glasses, but she can’t find them. So she looks up to the blurry impatient Miss Cruz.

“Penélo—…let’s call her Penny, if that’s cool. It’s easier to say and it’ll save a little time.”

“Sure, g’ahead.”

“Great.” Dawn alternatingly squeezed her “melons” from underneath, granting her nipples the needed time to stiffen.

“Penny taps her foot, hand on her hip. April can’t see it, but Penny’s shooting an accusatory dagger at her. April looks blindly at her and says, ‘…I’m sorry, do you have an appointment?’

“Penny tilts her face upwards, still gazing right at her, and says…”

Dawn paused, affected her best attempt at a Spanish accent, and tried to imitate the tone of Penélope’s voice.

“…‘I do not.’”

OOOooh, thought Maureen. The impersonation was less than dead-on accurate, but the effort carried a great deal of charm.

“April says, ‘Then may I help you?’

“Penny doesn’t answer her this time. Instead, she saunters around the corner of the desk, finds the recep entrance, and slips inside.”

Oooh.

Dawn began feeling the passion sizzle through her. Her pussy generated a thin layer of arousal. Her narrating voice became more throaty and breathy. She paused again, this time to inhale.

“So, April starts looking for her glasses again, a little more panicked. In the meantime, she says—

“‘I’m very sorry, Miss, but I’m afraid you can’t be back here.’”

They began jilling off in relative sync. Dawn went on goosing and pinching her boobs one by one, as Maureen crooked her arm around its nearer breast, drew both tits close, and smoothed her paw over them.

“Penny smirks, with a defiant chuckle, and says—

“‘I can be where I please, muchas gracias.’”

Maureen let her head slide back in the seat. “My god, Dawn, you should be a writer.”

“Aw, thanks. I’ve dabbled, but it’s just a hobby. Back to the story. Now April’s getting intimidated. She still can’t find her glasses, so she spins her chair around, and stands up. Penny, aggressively but only semi-roughly, grabs her by her hair.”

Whoa. Maureen’s nipples hardened, feeling the twinge in her clit indicating it wasn’t far behind.

“April gasps, but before she can say anything, Penny swoops in, and lays a monster kiss on her.”

Maur breathed in through the nose, closing her eyes. “Damn.

“April squeaks, and tries to fight her away at first. But Penny takes her by the collar of her shirt with the other hand. April demands to know what the hell she’s doing. But she’s being kissed, so it only comes out as a muffle.”

Dawn was gaining on her in the stimulation race. She stretched back and out on her couch, making sure her voice continued to carry through the speakerphone. Her cunt oozed sticky, silky autolube, which she smeared over her drier spots.

“So…” The narratress started breathing heavily. “So, try as April does to resist, Penny forces her tongue inside her mouth, and also forces her to let herself succumb. And April starts going weak in the legs.”

What a coincidence,” Maur mouthed, feeling blood abandon her own gams. Her feet(sies) warmed, toes curling inside her shoes. Dawn raised her legs and feet in the air, and flexed them thoroughly. Both pussies were exquisitely fingered.

“So…be-before April can buckle to the floor, Penny pulls her outta the recep area, still burning her lips. She drags and wrestles her down the hall, and April powerlessly lets her. Now th—…that they’re in motion, Penny has to pause between kisses just to breathe.”

Speaking of which… thought Dawn. Her cunt unclenched to allow her digits. She pushed two in, and the lust intensified. Maur ran her fingertips down her slit to the perineum, enjoyed the tainted tingle, and caressed back up. Warmth infused her likewise.

“So, eventually, Penny finds a door, and throws it open. The knob bangs the wall. April’s so dizzy she’s about to faint as Penny lets go of her, but then she grabs her again—by the boobies—pulls her inside, and slams the door. Even though there’s no one else there.”

This is getting pretty friggin’ good, thought Maur, unhooding her clit.

“And…and inside this office there’s a big…generous-size couch,” Dawn dynamically intoned. “With pillows on either end. So—well, first, though, Penny seizes April, by the hem of her shirt, and yanks it straight up and over her head, and flings it. But, to her surprise—” Gasp. “That naughty April didn’t wear underwear today!”

Maureen grinned, eyes wide shut. Dawn paused for another surging burst of pleasure.

“April cries out, and throws her arms over her sweet, curvy naked boobs. Penny counters by grabbing her skirt and whipping it down. No panties either. Her womanhood’s exposed! April, too embarrassed to speak, turns red, and tries to cover herself.”

Maureen’s brain redirected hot rushing blood to her nethers, flooding her pussy and clit. The latter began to swell erect.

“Penny looks her up and down, and gives her an evil smirk. Her next words are…”

She stopped for another desperate breath.

“…‘Easy, access.’”

The charmed Maur could almost swear she came a little.

“April’s guard down, Penny takes her by the arms, and flings her on the couch.”

Get ’er, girl.”

“’At’s right.” Pant. “Whew! So before April even has time to regain herself or react, Penny hops in the couch on top of her.”

Yesssssss…” Maur felt her fingers collect moisture from her now very wet pussy.

“S—…” Dawn was having a harder and harder time getting the story out the more blazed up she got.

“…See, this is why I usually keep this story in my head!”

Maureen chuckled. “It’s…oh, god…it’s cool, Dawn. I’ve literally got all night.”

“Well, uh…hee hee hee…tell ya what. I cum first, I’ll finish the story for you. You cum first, I’ll shut up awhile and finish myself off.”

Eyes still closed, Maur grinned.

“Or I could talk dirty to you.”

“MMMMmmm…Mama like.”

“’Kay then; next time, I’ll tell you a smutty story. ’Course, I may have to read it right out of a book.”

Dawn didn’t know how far along Maureen was, but her cunt was absolutely drenched. She jilled off like a madwoman. Unbeknownst, Maur was close behind. This fantasy story of Dawn’s was working quite the spell on her as well. Which reminded Dawn: she guessed she’d better get back on with it. Or try. She waited for her libido’s tach to slam to zero and start revving again, and took a breath.

“So April’s so overwhelmed, she doesn’t know what to do. She tries to push Penny off her, but Penny pins her arms. She smothers the whimpering, intimidated, perfect-breasted naked young girl with hot, breathy kisses of fire. And talk about being helpless; April’s blind without her glasses. She can’t even see what’s happening to her. Penny knows this, and exploits it. Next thing she does is push April’s wrists together, curl her fingers around ’em both and holds her down with one hand, so she can use the other to touch April in more spots, and April can’t do anything about it.”

“Holy hell,” Maureen assessed, her coochie now also drenched wet. “You sure you’re not just reading this??”

Dawn laughed. “You can be forgiven for thinking that.

“So, Penny…heh. I’ll throw this in just for you, Maur. Penny says something wicked to her in Spanish.”

“In a seductive and smoking hot tone of voice, of course.”

“Of course.” Dawn felt frankly proud of herself for being able to balance her libidinous lust and her faculties to tell this story. She had a feeling, however, that wouldn’t be lasting too much longer. Both women jammed digits into their pussies, at slightly varying speeds, as sweat materialized through their pores. For logical reasons, Dawn’s ran more rampantly than Maureen’s, but it didn’t mean Maur was not also ragingly horny. The devastating Madrid beauty Penny Cruz was centered in her mind’s eye, ruthlessly forcing herself on the (usually bespectacled) April. While Dawn had provided her with a description, Maureen didn’t know exactly what April looked like…or Dawn, for that matter. She did, on the other hand, possess a keen imagination, and knew what she liked. It was a bracing 25° outside the shelter of her 1994 Chevy Lumina, Maur had already removed her jacket and mittens, and she was nonetheless continuing to burn up. She began dropping ‘f’-, ‘s’- and less explosive profanity bombs.

“Speakin’ my language, sister,” Dawn panted, wiping her forehead. “Sweet god, this feels incredible…”

Maur stated that though it felt odd to be so vigorously scratching off to a stranger over the phone, they weren’t exactly strangers anymore. They’d been on the line together for going on seventeen hours. She then pleaded with Dawn to keep telling the story.

“So…so, the sight-impaired, totally nude April can’t see a thing, but it doesn’t matter anymore, what with her eyeballs rolling back in her head. Penny Frenches the hell out of her, reaches back with her free hand, and grabs April’s pussy.”

Maureen’s head flew straight back, whapping the headrest. Her own pussy rumbled and quaked. She couldn’t take much more.

“April lets out a huge squeal…”

Maur heard a raspily murmured expletive.

“…And…a-and in between kisses, April begs her…but she doesn’t know anymore if she wants Penny to leave her alone or keep going. So she just says, ‘Please…pleasePLEASE!’”

Dawn didn’t know how much she could withstand herself. She found herself wanting the story to be finished so she could gnaw and suck her tits. Not unlike April, she was decently endowed in the booby department. While unsure of Maur’s mammary preferences, Dawn enjoyed all shapes and sizes of breasts. Whereas pussies were tastier, and could do a few more intriguing things. They couldn’t produce milk, though they could be exquisitely milked for all the love one woman could hold. Dawn simply couldn’t help wishing that the g-spot was a bit more easily accessible. She dug in deeper, curling her digits upwards, straining to get at it.

“And…and, Penny starts rubbing her harder and harder, faster and faster…rougher and rougher…till April turns ripe…red…and gets wet…all the hell over Penny’s fingers.”

Maureen was on fire. Her legs shook and kicked uncontrollably. Her head whipped to and fro, banging repeatedly on the rest. She couldn’t help wondering if she was noticeable. Cars continued to whiz by, at decreasing frequency. Maur knew—and was terrified—she could be spotted or approached by anyone passing by right now. But at the same time, the excitement of this danger only lit her up. She was being a bad, bad girl. And she liked it. Dawn may not have been behaving as naughty, but she was about to lose it too.

“And, thi—…GOD ALMIGHTY…this-this is usually where I just let it keep going like that till April and I both cum!” she intoned.

“Dul—…OHHHHH, holy hell…duly noted.”

They began exchanging moans.

“Dawn?”

“Yeeeeessss…say my name while you finger yourself, Maur. I love it.”

Maur grinned through her impending throes.

“I was just gonna tell you to keep jilling off for me…and tell me when you’re gonna cum.”

Dawn threw her head straight back. “FFFFFFUUU—…I…I think you just brought me to the edge!”

“Oh god…me too…me too! I feel it! I’m about to cum my pants and I don’t even care!

“Cum for me, Maur! Cum for Penny, cum for April! Cum for Juniper! Cum for Pittsburgh! Cum for me, I’ll cum for you!”

Dawn had officially exceeded the amount of times Maureen could hear the word “cum” until forced to do just so. The Pennsylvania girl had just pressed the metaphorical ejector seat button in her car. She blasted off, howling to the moon, careening through the orgasmic dimension, at the speed of climactic light. She barely even heard Dawn anymore. But had she been paying attention, she’d have heard an ascending series of “Yes! Yes! YES! YES!!” followed by a few more swear bombs, and an accompanying scream of torrid, blazing ecstasy. And had she been there in Dawn’s apartment with her, she’d have seen her phone playmate dig in, hit her g-spot, burst like a broken pipe…and squirt like a loose geyser. She sprayed cum all over the edge of her sofa and floor.

Maureen, meanwhile, indeed orgasmed herself. Like never before. They had achieved a mutual phone sex cumfest, almost pulling it off—pun intended—at the same time. As predicted, she spewed clean through the crotch of her trousers. And didn’t give a hoot.

Some minutes later, the smoke cleared. Breathing returned to normal. And Maur was feeling quite relieved she’d packed extra pants.

“…Whew!” a giddy Maureen giggled. “Well, uh…that was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, ‘fun’ doesn’t aspire to describing it. I’ll tell you, Maur…normally, after a mother-effer like that, I’d be ready to drop dead asleep. But I drank so much damn coffee today, I don’t think I could lose consciousness if someone clonked me on the head with a hammer.”

“I know…” Maur giggled again. “I pumped myself full of Red Bull. I’m not snoozing anytime soon either.”

“You sound giggly.”

“I know!” Maureen reiterated. “I feel like a new girl! I feel like…like I’m half my age again! My gosh, Dawn…I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, I…I feel so…happy! I feel like, like…you turned my whole day around!”

“Awww, Maur…you dunno how good it feels to hear that. I hope you won’t find it too hard to believe when I tell you that you have absolutely made my day too.”

“I can see how you’d think that, the way I was whining and moaning when I first called you. Geez, what a crybaby I was being. And I love the way you talk, Dawn. It really does sound like someone’s reading me a book.”

“I take that as a compliment it is…I’ve always fancied myself a pretty, witty chicky. That’s pretty, comma, witty, that is.”

“Well, uh…gee. Y’know, they’re not expecting me tomorrow till about noonish. I gave myself some extra time, ’cause I wasn’t sure if I’d feel the need to nap in the car. But even without the Bull, I’d feel too excited to sleep just ’cause I’m talking to you. And ’cause we just pleasured ourselves to each other over the phone! I’ve never done that before!”

“First time for almost everything.”

“Hee hee hee…hey Dawn?”

“Yeah?”

Maur stifled a guffaw.

“My windows’re steamy. And I’ll never be able to watch Vanilla Sky the same way again.”

“Ha! Classic.”

Gasp. “…Whoa!”

“What? What?”

“Dawn…something amazing just happened!”

“WHAT?? Tell me!”

“…I looked up, and, the…the sky just turned white! Bright white! It’s snowing! It just became an actual vanilla sky!”

“Wow! You’re in a Midwestern winter wonderland!”

“…I can’t believe it! It got just light outside! Almost like the sun came out! I can see stuff! Th—Dawn, this is crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s like…like…the opposite of pitch-black! Oh, Dawn, I wish you could see this! It’s…stunning.”

“I don’t doubt it, Maur. Wish I was there too. But with clothes on.”

Maureen felt a bittersweet tug at her heartstrings.

“…I wish you were here too. I wish I could hold your hand and we could watch this together.”

“You heart-melter, you.”

“…I, uh…have a feeling I’m still not gonna need my car’s heater for a bit. I’ll get going again after a while and fix the climate control then. And now I can look forward to what happens in three and a half more weeks.”

“And that’ll be?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Three and a half weeks from now…April’ll be here. Wink wink.”

*****

94: From Liberty And Union To Gold And Silver

Sunday, March 9th, 2003, 6:49 a.m. Mountain / 8:49 a.m. Eastern

“I won the spelling bee in seventh grade.”

“No kidding! Congrats, Maur! What was the winning word?”

“Oocyte. Female cell that turns into one of our ova. If the double-‘o’ at the beginning doesn’t trip you up, the ‘c-y’ probably will.”

“As a spelling bee know-it-none, I will take your word for it.”

“Then I entered it in eighth grade, and got myself knocked out on a way simpler one I really should’ve known. I won’t say what that word was, but afterwards the ‘a’-hole kids were like, ‘Ha ha, you didn’t win!’ Made me so mad at the time I wanted to pop ’em. But y’know, that only would’ve landed me in bigger trouble. And that’s just want jerk-off bullies want: the satisfaction of knowing they’ve gotten your goat and a rise outta you. Not that they got punished for giving me crap, of course.”

“Aw, forget ’em; they’re not worth your time. Always bigger fish to fry, m’friend. Always bigger.”

“Yeah. And…wow. The sun’s coming up. It’s dawn, Dawn. And still flurrying.”

“And we have been chatting on the phone for twenty-, four, hours.”

“That’s incredible. Literally. I can’t bring my mind to give credence or credit to it.”

“Well, believe it; it’s happening. …Hey Maur?”

“Hm?”

“If I tell you my fondest wish, will you tell me yours?”

“…

“…Okay.”

Hmm…little hesitation there, but all right. “Cool. Very well then, here’s mine. It’s an oldie but goodie, and about as unoriginal as you can possibly get, but here goes. This is legit. I wish, for a lifetime, with all my heart…that I could fly.”

“Ahhh, yes; that is pretty much the ‘oldiest’ but ‘goodiest.’ I’ll see if I can find that old toothpaste tube for ya.”

“Ha! Honest to goodness, Maur. Ever since I grasped the concept as a little girl, that’s been my greatest desire. Well, actually, lemme qualify that: it’s my greatest unattainable desire. My family all watched the magic special when David Copperfield did it, and I’ve never been more jealous of another human being in my life. Even though they used wires. And claimed they didn’t. But it really always was my dream. I daydreamt it, night-dreamt it, took my share of airplane trips…I even thought about going into astronomy for a while. But zero gravity’d kill me. My tummy’s too sensitive. Any time I throw up even a little bit, I cry like an infant. T.m.i.?”

“No, no…that’s not t.m.i. It’s j.e.i. Everyone hates that. It’s horrible.”

“It is. A’right, you’re up. G’ahead.”

Gasp. “Ooh, look at that! I think that’s the Montana state line sign coming up!”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. …Well, c’mon now, Maur, what’s your fondest wish?”

“Say, Dawn, did I ever tell you that literally every time I’ve gone to the IHOP since I was little I’ve ordered something different?”

“…Maureen?…”

“Yes?”

“I get the feeling you’re trying to change the subject. Come on now. You said you’d tell me your fondest wish if I told you mine. And I told you mine. You have to tell me yours now. You know how curious I am, and you know I’m not gonna let up. Now c’mon, give.”

Sigh. “All right…believe it or not, what I’ve always wanted more than anything in the world is…to be unconditionally loved.”

“…Okay…but, um…you mean that doesn’t come from your family?”

“Honestly…not quite to such a degree as you might think. Sibling rivalry’s real, Dawn. At least in Montana’s Coale household. I won’t lie to you and say Helena and I didn’t fight for Mom and Dad’s attention and affection. We did. And guess who won, virtually every time…” Sigh. “It hurt, Dawn. It hurt so bad…one day, I started to just not feel loved anymore. I know realistically, deep down, that we were equal, the two of us, but…you have no idea how painfully easy it is to compute that Helena’s their favorite. By a lightyear.”

“…Oh my gosh, Maureen, you’re crying.”

“I am. I…I knew this’d be heartbreaking for me to talk about, but I thought I should be honest. Even if it cost me a thousand tears.”

“…Aw, hell, now I’m crying too!”

“But, I really actually feel like I can trust you now, Dawn. I feel like I’ve taken a piece of you into my heart. And my libido.”

“HA! Comic relief! Thanks, Maur, I needed that.”

“Seriously, though, family aside, I told you about my relationship woes…God knows they didn’t love me. Tend to blame myself.”

“Don’t you dare blame yourself. I won’t let you do that. Takes both the two to make the relationship or break it. And just between us, Maureen, I say this as a tried and true lesbian who’s been badly hurt before…women can be real meanies.”

“Mm…true. But mean’s a human emotion. Everyone has the capacity to be mean.

“…Oh! There’s the sign. ‘Welcome to Montana.’ I’m home.”

“Oh, that’s great, hon. Won’t be long now.”

“Aaaaaaand, I just remembered, I don’t know exactly how to get to Helena’s house once I get off 94. Guess I still have to call OnStar.”

“Oh, sweetie, I can help you! I can look up the directions and guide you to the house with Mapquest.”

“…Seriously, you can do that?”

“Of course I can! Quick hop, skip and a jump to the web site, and voilà! All I need’s her address.”

“5204 Collins Avenue.”

“’Kay…one moment, please…”

“For the record, Dawn…”

“…Yyyyeah?”

“However I physically get to the house, whatever roads take me there and whenever I finally arrive…I just want you to know that you’ve singlehandedly rerouted my entire mindset on this trip since yesterday. And, I…kinda love you for it.”

*****

Queen Of The Rockies

Sunday, March 9th, 2003, 11:38 a.m. Mountain / 1:38 p.m. Eastern

“Well…here I am. 5204. Got my present for Helena, got the card to go with it…I’m all set.”

“’Atta girl, you made it.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Dawn. And I mean that on a couple levels.”

“Maureen Karen Coale, you are an angel. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you different.”

“And I…am so sorry, I can’t remember your middle or last name, Dawn.”

“Middle’s Lori, last’s Kerringer. No worries. I’ve been preparing myself for a while since I started guiding you to your sister’s house. I knew we’d eventually be hanging up, and…it’s gonna feel kinda…surreal, I know. I’ll actually have to get used to not talking to ya. But we have each other’s numbers now, and…we could talk on your way back home to Minnesota too.”

“I think I’d really like that.”

“Okay then, sunshine. Give out some hugs and sing Helena ‘Happy Birthday’ for me.”

“‘Sunshine?

“Pardon?”

“Did…you just call me sunshine?”

“I…guess I did, yeah. I remember you saying at some point how you always wished you could put a little sunshine in someone’s day.”

Sniffle. “…Thanks.”

“Well…you’ve got twenty more minutes till noon. I’ll stay on the phone with ya as long as you want.”

“Nah, it’s…cool. I guess I’ll head inside while it’s not crowded yet. Better late than never, and better early than late.”

“Roger. You’ve got this, Maur; go get ’em.”

“Okay…whew. This is harder than I thought. Goodbye, Dawn…this has been an amazing conversation. Take care.”

“You take care too, Maur. And remember: you and your feelings always matter. Don’t let anything make you feel like they don’t.”

“I’ll do my best. I promise. And you, keep those feetsies warm and that tummy settled. So…bye-bye.”

“…Bye-bye.”

“…Bye.”

“…Bye.”

Okay, here goes…

Click.

*****

Party Trooper

Sunday, March 9th, 2003, 7:22 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time

The birthday party had unofficially ended. The last of the guests excepting Maureen had been bidden farewell. The supper, snacks and ice cream cake were over three-quarters consumed. The TV played on, broadcasting more programming the birthday girl’s big sister couldn’t concentrate on. The very pregnant lady of the hour, Helena Lebbitt and her husband Joseph put their baby daughter Caroline to bed, and returned to relax with Maur and the parents.

“D’you enjoy yourself, Maureen?” their mother Rosie asked.

Maureen sighed with a smile.

“Y’know, Ma, I…actually did,” she sincerely nodded. “I honestly wasn’t sure I would, what with my social anxiety and all, but…yeah. I really did. I had fun. And, hey, Hel. Happy Birthday again.”

“Thank you, babe!” the kid sis beamed. She hugged Maureen, the baby belly reaching a few seconds before the rest of her did. The girls’ father Paul had the next question for Maur.

“’Nother beer, pumpkin?”

“Oh, no thanks, Dad,” she declined. “I’m right at that semi-buzzed state where I think I oughta be staying. Uh, speaking of staying, Hel? Joe? You did say I could have the guest room, right?”

“Of course, Maureen! All yours.”

Oh, thanks. Somehow, I don’t think I’m gonna have much trouble gettin’ to sleep tonight.”

They settled in to enjoy a few minutes of quiet TV. Maureen figured she must’ve had a pensive look cross her face, because Rosie eventually asked if there was something on her mind.

“…Mom? Dad?”

“Yeah, sweetheart?”

“Have…you ever been to Pennsylvania?”

Paul and Rosie looked to one another, thinking a moment.

“I believe so…” their Dad said. “Your mother and I did a lot of traveling in the ’60s before you lovely gals came along. I’m sure that general area was somewhere on our list.”

“What’s, eh…what’s it like in the summertime?” was Maureen’s next question.

“Oh, I’d say pretty warm…rather pleasant,” Rosie mused.

“What makes you ask, darlin’?” inquired Paul.

“…Ohhh…”

Maur slumped back against the love seat where she was resting. She let her eyes flutter shut, feeling a dreamy smile paint her lips.

“…No reason.”

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