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These characters are purely figments of my imagination, which is subject to outside influence from time to time. I hope they seem familiar to you.

This is a story about two women who meet and learn to love each other. Thatís not so far fetched to me, but if it gives you a problem please read someone elseís story. This is mine. Your feedback is welcome but letís do play nice together. If youíre not gonna, youíre not gonna, so go ahead.

My thanks again to gj for her encouragement and editing skills.

You can contact me: jdragoness@mindspring.com


Part   1   2   3   4

All Manner of Madness by Anne Reagin

Part 4

The directions to Jamieís house were perfect. Sally had researched its location on the Internet for her. She pulled into a long winding drive one hour later, exactly as predicted. It was fully dark, but the moon was bright and she could clearly make out the canopies of large pecan trees in the yard.

A two-story house of impressive height rose out of the ground. It sat some two hundred yards off the road. The moon reflected off of a metal roof as lights shone through the lower band of windows across the front. She could just make out the twinkle of Christmas lights behind gauzy curtains.

She leaped out and in her excitement found herself sprinting up the stone steps to the front porch. A doorbell rang deep within the house as she studied the beautiful old door. A porch light came on and the door was snatched open. In a flash, there were arms around her.

"My God, what are you doing here?" They were both laughing now and hugging. When they reluctantly released each other, Jamie took her hand and pulled her through the door into the house.

"Gotcha, didnít I?í Joan asked, smiling. She was proud of herself for having kept the surprise a secret.

Jamie held her at arms length, just looking at her for a long moment. They moved toward each other and eyes closed as they kissed. It was the warmest greeting Jamie had ever experienced. She was suddenly too bashful to meet Joanís eyes. When she finally did, she smiled and was rewarded with the bright promise in the one returned. There was an inaudible message for her. ĎIím not scared, donít you be either.í

The shorter woman looked up into brown eyes still sparkling with mischief. "I canít believe my eyes. Iím in shock. Come in, come in and sit down," she said.

There really wasnít much to report in the way of news, but they found plenty to talk about. Jamie kept making and pouring coffee. As the hours melted away, she stifled a yawn and looked at the clock on the stove. "I think Iím going to have to turn in on you. Sorry, but itís three a.m. here. Youíre still on west coast time. By the way, I promised mama Iíd come for lunch tomorrow and help her wrap a few presents."

"Can I go? Iíd love to meet your mom."

This was a pleasant surprise and Jamie readily agreed. "Listen, I want you to sleep in there." She pointed to a doorway. " You better go get your bags. Do you need my help?"

Joan made a trip to the car and came back with one suitcase and a travel bag. She took them into the room Jamie had indicated and stopped in her tracks. "Hey. Where are you?" Jamieís head popped into the doorframe. "This is your room. I recognize it from what you told me. I canít put you out of your own bed, Iíd feel terrible."

"I was heading upstairs. Thereís a daybed in my office. I nap on it all the time." Joan started to renew her protest, but sensed that she couldnít win. "The bathroom is through that door. I put some towels in there for you. If you need anything, just yell." She smiled and left her friend alone.

The room was just exactly as Jamie had described it on one of their late night calls. She could see the balcony through a glass french door. The ceiling was vaulted above the high back bed with its intricate carving high up on the headboard. The dresser and washstand matched the rich golden oak structure of the bed. An heirloom quilt in an interlocking pattern of circles was brightly sewn from swatches of pale yellow and blue fabric. Joan knew that Jamie had conducted several of their late night phone conversations from beneath that very quilt.

Smiling to herself, she came out of the bathroom carrying her toothbrush. She climbed into bed a few minutes later. It had been a full day and she was feeling it. Her mind was trying to make the transition from living in a rented loft in Los Angeles that morning to being very near her mountain home tonight. Further, the soft coolness of the sheets caressing her smelled of Jamie.

The mixture of soap and ĎPalomaí, her perfume was unmistakable. Joan had asked her to name it early on, as it was distinctive and she really liked it. She put her face into the pillow and drank in huge breaths of it. If catastrophe had claimed her life right then, right there, she would have died a very happy woman.

 

ĎI donít think I can lug my tired bones up those stairs. Maybe Iíll just crash here on the sofa.í Jamie pulled the fleece throw she kept folded at the foot of it up over her and laid back expecting sleep to claim her immediately. The thoughts running through her head would not allow it, even though she was exhausted. Joan was only a few feet away from her, sleeping in her bed. She kept getting a mental picture of dark hair against the creamy background of her pale sheets.

 

Jamie opened her eyes and was startled by a person sitting on the fireplace hearth. She was bringing the person into focus just about the time she remembered Joanís surprise arrival last night. She closed her eyes and stretched, realizing sheíd been embracing her pillow. When she looked again, Joan was gone. "Huh?"

At that precise moment, a hand held a coffee cup in front of her. "Here is a hair of the dog that bit you. How much coffee did we drink last night?" She made an unpleasant face.

"Too much and Iím not used to it either. What time is it?"

"Time for you to get moving."

Jamie showered first, giving Joan the time to stroll around the house. She appreciated the comfortable and charming décor. It included a mix of antique furniture, oriental pieces and even a gothic touch or two. Somehow, it all worked and gave her an overwhelming feeling of welcome.

"Your turn. Iíll get dressed in the guest bathroom."

Joan stepped through the shower door into a room finished almost entirely in smooth textured white stucco. The back half of it held a garden tub and the front portion was a six by six foot shower. On one of the two unbroken walls was a stylized fish, embossed onto the wall. She was impressed by the overall effect and made a note to find out how it had been accomplished. She marveled at the ingenuity of the roomís design.

Realizing that she was dawdling, she shifted into high gear and was ready to leave in fifteen minutes.

The lawns were beautiful, Joan noted as they left the drive, even in the middle of winter. The trees out front were very old, giving the landscape a graceful appearance.

"You cut all of this grass? No wonder you stay in such great shape." She could see the house three separate times when curves in the drive placed them parallel to it. "Who designed this place, Jamie, itís great."

"I did," she stated matter-of-factly. "Actually I started with a sketch for a great room with a loft above the kitchen. The rest of it grew out of that. I bought all the windows at a salvage place in Atlanta and built the house around them. It was kind of funny the way it all happened, really. One minute, it seemed like an insurmountable undertaking and the next, things just starting falling into place."

"One morning on my way to Barnesville," she continued, "I saw a truck on the shoulder of the road and a man was putting up a FOR SALE sign. I made an offer and bought the land the next day. Then I couldnít figure out where to find a builder and an old friend of mine walked in announcing that he was considering coming out of retirement. I canít really explain it to you. The whole project just sort of had a mind of itís own."

"Kind of like you." Brown eyes smiled brightly.

 

She was relaxed at the steering wheel of her fifteen-year-old BMW. It was in perfect condition and suited her, Joan decided. The short trip took almost no time. Joan was amazed at how little traffic there was. "Living in the country certainly has it advantages," Jamie informed her.

 

Joan was someone who tended to be standoffish as a rule, but Hazel Fielding enchanted her from the moment they met. She was a real ĎSouthern Ladyí in the truest sense, wearing her cotton duster with her hair freshly fixed at the beauty parlor. She chastised Jamie for not letting her know that Joan was with her, saying that she would have Ďfixed up,í whatever that meant. At any rate, when Jake came in with a brown paper sack full of pecans he took over the Ďentertainingí of the girls. This afforded Mrs. Fielding the opportunity to change clothes.

"Jamie hasnít told us much about you, except that you live in Clarkesville." That was the lead- in question. It heralded a gentle probing lasting the entire afternoon. Jamie wrapped presents at the kitchen table while Joan helped Jake crack and shell pecans. It was a wonderful family experience, something the photographer knew little about anymore. She tried not to analyze too much. She just sat back and enjoyed it.

After lunch, Jake had begun a small plumbing project. Mrs. Fielding had casually mentioned that she would like to have a laundry tub in the huge old pantry off her kitchen. He had taken note of the Ďwishí and hired a plumber to come out and stub in the pipes. Now he was getting ready to install the sink and faucet. "I know my limitations," he had admitted to Joan. He was surprised and delighted when she rolled up her sleeves and proceeded to ably assist him. In no time, they had the water running and were washing dirty hands in the new sink.

When they pulled out of the driveway at dusk Jamie informed her that she had made a huge hit. "That was Mamaís best china on the lunch table. That only comes out of the vault for special people. You should feel honored. Heck, I only see those dishes every three or four years myself!" She laughed, pleased as she could be that everyone had enjoyed the time together. "Jake seemed to be lapping it up. What a nice man. I am so glad she found him."

"He is and heís crazy about her, thatís obvious." They rode in silence to Jamieís house, each lost in their own thoughts about todayís happenings. They were building some good memories together.

Upon their arrival, Jamie set about opening a bottle of wine she had been saving for a special occasion. They decided a fire would be nice so Joan laid and lit it.

They talked and laughed for hours. Jamie called and had pizza delivered so that they didnít have to cook or go out. "I really am nothing of a cook, I hope you donít mind eating out a lot while youíre here."

"I donít, but I can cook and you should let me." They planned to try this arrangement tomorrow night. Joan promised to astound Jamie with her expertise. She insisted that she didnít need a shopping list any more than she needed a measuring cup. They kidded back and forth about her daring.

"Somehow, I didnít feature you as a domestic goddess, but then I suspect there is a great deal more to you than meets the eye."

The fire was blazing now and Joan laid back into the pillows of the sofa and propped her feet up to enjoy it. Jamie opted for a spot on the floor right in front of her friend.

"Has it been that long a day? Iím worn out," Joan said.

"Maybe the time change is finally catching up with you. Then, too, keeping up with Hazel in a conversation can be pretty tiring." She grinned.

The mood changed radically when Joan observed, "your eyes are beautiful in the fire light." Jamie ducked her head, embarrassed by the observation. "Donít tell me you arenít used to being complimented by now. You have just toured twenty-something cities with a successful book."

"Itís different. Thatís my job for one thing. Besides, when itís coming from youÖI canít explain it. I donít understand it myself."

"Well, you seem to be less confused than you were when you left LA. I hope that means that youíre getting used to the idea of me."

"I was always used to the idea of you I think, I just wasnít used to the way I was feeling. To be completely honest, there was no way I could be. Iíd never felt that way before about a friend." She was seeking an answering sentiment, but it was hard for either of them to feel what they were feeling, much less declare it openly.

Joan struggled with herself, knowing she could help her friend or help herself. She had to choose and in the end, she disappointed them both.

"I think we have a Christmas tree that needs some attention."

 

"Go to church with me?" Jamie was leaning over a mass of tangled sheets and pillows that supposedly contained a tall dark friend of hers.

Joan fought her way out and was greeted by a smiling face and a hot cup of coffee. "Me? I havenít been in church in thirty years."

"Iíd say youíve been missed by now. Come on, itís in Midtown and I think youíll like it."

"I donít think so. Itís not my thing."

"Iím not asking you to be baptized, Iím only asking you to sit in the pew beside me for an hour and not snore.

She groused, but she agreed to accompany the younger woman. "What do people wear to church these days?" Joan was drying her hair in the mirror and had seen a blonde head go by behind her.

"Just about anything, really." She put a hanger over her head and let the dress on it hang down her front. She studied her image in the mirror and shook her head. It took several tries before she was met in the mirror by a reflection that she liked. " I take that back, no flip flops."

Joan appeared in the kitchen minutes later dressed in dark green slacks and a pale blue shirt. "I donít feel very dressed up, you sure theyíll let me in?"

"Different kind of church." And it was.

The Methodist Church in the heart of Atlanta had been the one Jamie and Jeff often attended together. She had not been back since his death. The building had survived a hundred and fifty years of change in town and still maintained its dignity. The congregation was mostly comprised of Atlanta city residents. Many of them had opted to stay in town when others moved to the suburbs.

Joan was impressed with and seriously studying the stained glass windows that lined the walls. They had been restored and were breathtakingly beautiful. The service was not terribly long. The music was stirring, and overall, the whole thing was not a bad experience. She was trying to subtly look around her when two men stopped at their aisle seats and spoke to Jamie. She introduced everybody and they spoke briefly. A half dozen people in all stopped her on the front steps as they exited. She introduced Joan to all of them. It was becoming clear that Jamie was not quite the lonely hermit she perceived herself to be.

"That was great. Thanks for coming with me. I hadnít seen so many of those people in a long time. I had forgotten how nice they all are. They seemed to like you." She got the questioning raised brow. "I predict I will get at least three calls before next Sunday asking for the story on you."

"And what, pray tell, will you tell them." Her eyebrow went up in what was becoming Jamieís favorite expression.

"I think Iíll tell them that you are someone Iím interviewing for a part in my life."

Joan dazzled her with a smile. "I like that. I like that very much."

They headed into Decatur to a little place Jamie knew about for some lunch.

 

 

They spent the afternoon walking in the woods behind the house. Jamie had selected a spot for her Ďcreek houseí and she wanted her friendís opinion. Joan loved the concept of a small hideout on the bank of Samson creek, which cut across the back corner of Jamieís acreage. The simple structure would have no lights or water and be fairly crude. If it turned out the way it was planned, it would be a magical place nestled in the greenery of deep woods. Joan offered to help in its construction. Jamie, surprised by the offer, didnít know what to say.

"You donít understand. I know nothing about that sort of thing. Iím long on the dreaming up part and short on execution," the author apologized.

"Well, Iím no expert, but I know which end of the hammer goes into your hand. I think we should tackle it. Besides, wouldnít it be fun to try, just me and you?" She could tell by Jamieís expression that she was making it sound less tempting instead of more. "You donít have to decide now. Just think about it. We could work on it some weekends and probably finish it before the weather gets too hot." They were walking along the pathway that meandered back up a short hill to the house.

"See that trail, where everything is sort of mashed down?" The younger woman could not at first, but Joan patiently stooped to the ground and pulled her down beside her. "There, see?" This time Jamie nodded. "Thatís where the deer walk through here."

"Why, and how come itís so narrow?"

"Theyíre on their way to feed or on their way back and itís narrow because they have narrow bodies and very small hooves. See there." She was pointing to first one, then several prints in the soft earth along the trail. "You should consider feeding them on top of the hill. You could probably watch them eat from the house once they got used to it." Joan explained the simple construction of a feeder, but in the end decided to just build it as a surprise.

By the time the women came in, they had been out walking in the cold for hours. "How about a fire?"

"Great. The wood is under that tarp on the patio." Jamie shucked her coat and woolen scarf and put the teakettle on to boil. When Joan returned with the first load of wood, Jamie let her in and unloaded it from her arms into the metal bin beside the hearth. Before long, they found themselves warmed in front of the fire.

Wonderful as it felt, hunger prompted action. "Want to keep me company while I get things going in the kitchen?"

Joan stood at the cutting board expertly chopping ingredients while Jamie sat on the counter top next to her. She occasionally tilted her glass up so that Joan could drink from it. She was studying the presents under her tree and thinking about Martha.

"So, why donít you tell me the story of your life? Iíve got fifteen or sixteen hours before I have anything else scheduled." She joked in hopes that it might soften the blatant request a little.

"More like fifteen or sixteen minutes." She continued with her chopping. Just when Jamie decided that she hadnít been taken seriously, Joan started to speak again.

"I lost my parents. You know that. I was eight. Martha was my motherís best friend. They had moved around a lot with dadís job, so they didnít have many friends. Anyway, when it happened she came and got me from the nanny and took me to her house. I stayed there with her and her family until I went away to college."

"She looks like a washer woman. She complains about being fat all the time, but I just tell her sheís substantial. She always wears dresses, which tickled me when I was a kid. Sheíd be out in the yard with a catcherís mitt letting me practice my throwing and she would be wearing a dress. There have been times in my life when I felt so alone I could hardly draw breath. She could always tell. Sheíd just wipe her hands on her apron, gather me up in her arms, and hold onto me like I was something precious. She made me believe it sometimes. "

"Thatís because you are." Blue eyes shone up at her.

"If you tell me that often enough, I might believe it." The next moment lasted for days. She turned back to her task. "Anyway, she treated me just like I was her child. When her husband Harry left her, I was twenty and starting my last year of school. He just took off and abandoned her with a fifteen and thirteen year old to raise. It was like in the movies. He went out for cigarettes and she never heard from him again. I wanted to quit school and help her support us all, but she wouldnít hear of it. She got a second job instead."

"My parents had named her my legal guardian, just in case. She was told about my trust, but I couldnít touch it until I was twenty-one. Do you have any idea how hard she worked just to feed and clothe us all, not to mention pay for my books when I started college?" Tears were pooling in Joanís eyes. Jamie had never witnessed this depth of emotion from her. It was disturbing.

"I will never forget it." She shook her head, dispelling the unpleasant memory of her foster motherís struggle. "Ugh. Letís talk about something more pleasant. What do you say?"

They took their time and enjoyed the results of Joanís efforts. Jamie complimented her on her cooking so often she was finally banned from mentioning it again. The two friends ate too much, lingering as they did over the pleasure of having a dining companion. Neither was accustomed to the luxury.

Eventually they went back in to the fire and lay down on opposite ends of the sofa. Joan was lost in thought. Her face revealed little. Jamie was not thinking at all, but reveling in the pleasure of Joanís quiet company. Neither had ever felt so safe.

Joan was absorbing the peaceful content of just being there until she had to ask a question twice and realized her partner had dozed off. She shook Jamieís shoulder gently to wake her. She didnít stir, but Joan was insistent. "Weíll both wake up with stiff necks in the morning if we sleep here. Come on, cooperate." Finally, she was able to get Jamie moving. She stood up and started straightening u, as was her custom before retiring for the evening.

"Shopping tomorrow. I hope youíre in tip top physical condition." Jamie teased. Joan stood and put her hands around the shorter womanís waist. When she picked her up as high as she could reach and held her there to demonstrate. Jamie was so startled she was immediately wide-awake. Joan slowly released her captive, letting her slide down the front of her body. They needed something to break the silence, but words would not come. Finally, Jamie mustered all the courage she possessed.

She took Joanís hand and when she spoke, her voice was a whisper. "Come to bed."

"What?" Disbelief spawned the question.

"It was hard enough to say the first time, please donít ask me to repeat myself."

A warm hand squeezed a smaller version of itself. The two walked the short distance of this journey resolutely. Realizing the need for lightening up the situation, Joan made a typically wry observation. "Weíre not facing a firing squad, so how come weíre acting like we are?" Jamie laughed nervously. "Would you like a blindfold, by the way?" Jamie really laughed this time and Joan swept her up, carrying her the remaining distance.

Just as Jamie was beginning to appreciate the romantic nature of this gesture, she was tossed into the air above the bed. When she came down, bounced back up once, she was tackled, and the tickling began. Escalating into a full-blown pillow fight, the tussle finally ended when Joan faked an injury. It was a convincing performance and Jamie immediately turned serious and started apologizing. That was all the opportunity the taller woman needed to scramble on top of her flushed and disheveled adversary. Neither realized it at first but by then the playing was definitely over. They fell together with no thought of letting up this time. In truth, there was no thought at all.

 


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