Disclaimers- While the characters in this story may resemble some we know and love from a certain TV show, they are my own.
Violence - Not this time.
Subtext - You bet, but nothing graphic...
Sounds kind of boring so far, doesn't it?
About the story: You've probably never heard of it before, but Tupelo Oklahoma is a real place: http://www.pe.net/~rksnow/okcountytupelo.htm. Shamrock Texas is, too, and they boast a lively annual St. Patrick's Day celebration and Texas's tallest water tower. They also have a piece of the famous Blarney Stone located in Elmore Park. There is a truck stop located four miles east of Shamrock on I-40, but it's called the Longhorn, I'm afraid. Are you getting excited yet? Yeah, well, so much for the geography lesson. As far as I know, there is no East Bay Symphony. Thanks go out to Jill (not a doctor, but way cool anyway) and Ellen (the best editor I could have) for all their help as betas. I also appreciate the assistance from the wonderful members of the Bardic Circle and the Bard's Village.
This one is for Kate.
I welcome any and all feedback. My email address is: email@example.com
Shamrock Snow, part 2
by Leslie Ann Miller
Gussie Kerns tossed another log onto the fire and began to pace the living room. The room itself was spacious despite the presence of the Christmas tree in one corner, but she still felt trapped. She’d always felt trapped here, she decided. While she loved her family dearly, she’d never felt like she belonged in small town Texas. The blizzard only made the feeling worse; she had a concert New Year’s Eve, and she was sickened by the thought that she might be trapped here after Christmas day, unable to get back home in time. While George, her assistant conductor, was perfectly competent, it wouldn’t please the donors to have him conducting the biggest benefit concert of the year. The sponsors would not be happy, and neither would she.
What rotten luck, she thought. This would happen the one year she decided to drive back for an extended Christmas.
She snorted to herself, thinking she should have gotten her Mom a CD player for Christmas instead of the foot massager. At least that way she could listen to something other than the awful crap that was played on the Amarillo radio stations. She gave a mock shudder and plopped down on the sofa, heartily wishing herself back to sunny California and her flat in the Oakland Hills overlooking the Bay where most people had the good taste not to decorate their fireplaces with antlers. Unlike Mom.
She was searching the sofa cushions for the TV remote when the front door blew open, filling the front entry hall with blowing snow.
"Shut the goddamn door!" she yelled as the cold blast hit her clear across the living room.
"Relax, Maestro," Lance retorted, and she realized that he was holding the door open to let another person in. At first she hoped it might be her older brother, Tony, who was also expected home for Christmas, but she realized quickly that the stranger was far too short to be Tony. And was wearing a backpack. And was covered in blood and snow.
Which meant, no doubt, more trouble and inconvenience than a primadonna opera star having PMS.
She quirked an eyebrow and stood up, crossing her arms over her chest, not bothering to hide her annoyance.
"Gus," Lance said, unwinding the scarf from around his neck, "This here is Dale. She ran off the road in the storm and hit her head on the windshield," he said.
"Steering wheel," the girl corrected automatically. "I was wearing my seatbelt!"
She was wearing her seatbelt and still managed to get hurt? Great. "Pleased to meet you," Gussie said, making sure that the girl could tell she was anything but by the tone of her voice.
Lance glared at her as he continued the introduction. "And Dale, this is my sister, Augusta." He saw Dale’s hurt expression and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "She dyes her hair… she’s really as mousy blonde as me!"
Gussie had no trouble understanding what her brother said because of her extraordinary hearing, but kept her face impassive as the girl snorted with laughter, quickly covering her mouth with a gloved hand in embarrassment. Gussie didn’t appreciate being made fun of; she would find some way to get even with Lance for revealing that particular little secret. Paybacks were hell.
"Why don’t you take off your hat and coat and make yourself at home?" Lance said. He helped Dale remove her heavy backpack while he relayed instructions to Gussie. "Mom thinks Dale may have a concussion, so she wants you to wake her up every two to three hours to make sure she’s okay. Do you remember the routine we went through with Tony? What’s your name… do you know where you are…that sort of thing." When Gussie nodded, he continued. "Mom said there’s some stain remover in the laundry room for the blood on her coat, and do you know where the spare cots are? I’m supposed to take them back to the Stop."
"You’re the one who still lives here, lil’ bro," Gussie purred, knowing he wouldn’t appreciate her saying so in front of their guest. "They used to be out in the shed, but who knows now?"
"Yup, I bet that’s where they are." He ignored her jibe and carefully leaned Dale’s backpack against the wall in the entry hall. He took her hat and coat from her and set them down on top. "Well, Dale, it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve got to run back to the Stop. I’ll probably see you tomorrow morning, though. Take care of that nose!"
"Thank you so much," Dale said earnestly. "I really appreciate all your help."
"No prob." Giving her another smile, Lance opened the front door and headed back out into the blizzard.
When the door closed again, Dale shivered in the entryway, looking down at the snow melting off her boots. "Um," she stammered, "Uh, is it okay if I leave my boots in here? I’d hate to track snow through your house…"
"Suit yourself," Gussie said, turning her back on the girl, swearing softly to herself. The last thing she wanted to do was baby-sit some complete stranger all night. Why couldn't her mother have just kept her at the Stop?
She grabbed a poker and angrily stirred the logs in the fireplace while the girl fussed with her footwear. She watched her unwelcome guest out of the corner of her eye, noting messy, short blonde hair, a petite frame, flannel shirt and jeans, and, of course, her bloody face. She was shivering and almost fell over trying to get her left boot off. Gussie pretended not to notice as the girl’s eyes sought her out, wondering if she’d witnessed her clumsiness.
Gussie replaced the screen in front of the fireplace and sat down on the sofa, ignoring her.
Dale hesitated in the entryway when she finished taking off her boots. "Um... is it okay if I... uh... stand in front of the fireplace to get warmed up?"
Gussie glanced up at her as she turned on the TV. At least she’s polite. "I won’t stop you." She shrugged, and Dale moved timidly into the living room.
Dale held her hands out towards the fire, and Gussie noticed dispassionately that they were extremely flushed and shaking. She turned her attention back to the TV, channel surfing until she found a rerun of Frasier. She didn’t normally watch much TV, but she wasn’t in the mood to read tonight.
"Why did Lance call you Maestro?" Dale asked, interrupting her thoughts.
"I’m an orchestra conductor," Gussie said without looking up, hoping the girl didn’t want to chat. She hated chatting with strangers. She was very skilled at it when she needed to be, but she damned sure didn’t enjoy it. And she definitely wasn’t in the mood for it tonight.
"Wow," Dale said in awe. "What orchestra?"
"The East Bay Symphony."
It was obvious from her expression that Dale had never heard of it, and Gussie watched, vaguely amused, as the girl searched frantically for something else to say. "Do you like it?" she finally blurted.
It was asked with such innocence, naiveté and genuine curiosity that Gussie chuckled despite herself. The music, the power, the creative control…she lived for it. "Yeah, I like it," she smiled, and was rewarded when the girl smiled back. "Still cold?" she asked when she noticed that Dale was still shivering.
"I can't seem to get warm," Dale answered, rubbing her shoulders.
Something about the girl’s obvious discomfort finally pierced Gussie’s carefully constructed wall of indifference, and she sighed, at last resigning herself to help. "Well, you probably want to get cleaned up, anyway. Think a warm bath would help?"
"That sounds blissful," Dale grinned.
"Grab your pack, and I'll get you settled in the guest room. It used to be my brother Anthony's bedroom, actually, and we were expecting him home for Christmas, but if I-40's closed, it's not likely he's going to be showing up tonight."
Dale stared at her face in the bathroom mirror, appalled by what she saw. She looked like something out of a horror movie, with a swollen nose and twin rivulets of dried blood running down either side from a cut between her puffy eyes. Her upper lip was crusted with dried blood, and more was smeared on her chin. Even her hair was a mess. She felt her eyes start to water and turned away from the mirror in despair. No wonder they all feel so sorry for me.
Everyone except Maestro Augusta, of course. She sounded about as pleased to meet me as she would to find a dog tick attached to her butt.
Dale groaned, remembering their brief conversation. To say that Augusta was striking was an understatement. She was tall… really tall… with long, dark hair and sultry blue eyes. But it was more than just her looks. Even dressed in a casual blouse and blue jeans, she looked as out of place in the homey living room as an exotic cat would look in a neighborhood pet store. Dale felt like a complete country bumpkin in comparison. She must think I’m a total idiot.
Suddenly Lance’s comments made perfect sense; he'd obviously been expecting his sister’s hostile reception.
Dale sighed and searched the medicine bottles stored on the shelf above the toilet until she found a bottle of Tylenol. She took four tablets with a handful of water and swallowed them with a gulp. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, she turned the water on with shaking hands. What an awful, awful day. Her whole body trembled uncontrollably, and finally she gave in to the tears once again. She hoped the sound of the running water would cover her sobbing; she certainly didn’t want Augusta to hear her.
She pulled herself together again when the tub was full and turned the water off, slipping gratefully into the hot water. She cleaned her face tenderly with a washcloth and basked as the warmth spread through her chilled body. Eventually she relaxed enough to lean back for a moment and close her tired eyes.
Gussie glanced at her watch during a commercial break and realized that Dale had been in the bathroom for almost forty minutes. Come to think of it, she hadn’t heard any movement in that part of the house for quite some time. A little concerned, she decided she should probably go check on her guest.
She hesitated a moment before knocking. She’d heard the girl crying earlier – the natural result of a traumatic experience, she supposed – but she’d decided to let her have her privacy. Certainly, were their roles reversed, she would not have wanted somebody barging in on her. So, she listened at the door for any sound of movement within.
Hearing nothing, she knocked softly on the bathroom door. "Dale? Are you all right?" She knocked louder when Dale didn't respond. "Dale?" Still getting no response, she tried the handle and found it unlocked. She pushed the door open a crack slowly. "Dale? Hey, are you okay?"
She opened the door all the way when she still didn't get any reply and stepped into the bathroom, now extremely concerned.
Dale was lounging in the bathtub, one limp arm on the side of the tub, her head leaning back against the tiled wall, her short, mussy blonde hair plastered to her forehead. Her mouth was hanging open - probably because her nose was too swollen to breathe through - and she appeared to be sound asleep.
"Dale?" Gussie asked, taking another step forward. She caught herself looking at Dale's body revealed tantalizingly beneath the surface of the water and was surprised by what she saw. Whoa, down girl. Who would have guessed she was that buff under all that bulky clothing? "Hey Dale, wake up!"
Dale woke with a start, her mind hazily trying to remember where she was and why her face hurt.
"Dale?" a voice asked next to her, making her jump.
She looked up into Gussie's concerned blue eyes, and her memory - and awareness of her state of undress - came back with a rush. "What?!" she gasped, covering herself with her hands so quickly that she actually splashed water out of the tub.
Gussie moved away from the tub politely. "Sorry for the intrusion, but you've been in here for a long time. I was concerned. You didn't answer when I knocked on the door."
Dale looked around dazedly. "I... I guess I fell asleep."
"Can you tell me your name?" Gussie asked awkwardly.
Dale realized what she was doing. She sighed. "Dale."
"Your full name."
Dale rolled her eyes. "Daisy Dale Philpot."
Dale saw Augusta bite back a smile even though she said nothing. "Daisies are my mom's favorite flower, okay?" she said defensively. "Really, I'm fine... just really tired, that's all."
"What's your address?"
"I... I'm between addresses..." Dale squirmed in the tub, extremely uncomfortable by the questions as well as the woman's close proximity. She rather wished the tub would just swallow her up like a black hole and whisk her away to another part of the universe, far away from Maestro Augusta’s vaguely amused piercing blue eyes.
"Okay..." Gussie said slowly. "Do you know where you are?"
Dale told her, and Gussie nodded. "Sorry for the third degree, but I have to make sure you're all right."
"It's okay, I understand." She glanced at the door. "But....do you mind?"
"You bet," Gussie said and let herself out. "If you need anything, just holler."
The bath water was lukewarm at best, now, and Dale started shivering again as soon as she stepped out of the tub onto the bath mat. At least her headache wasn’t quite as bad as it had been. She quickly dried off and pulled on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. She didn’t have any pajamas in her backpack, so these would have to do.
She examined her face in the mirror again as she combed her hair. The blood was gone, but she was definitely getting two black eyes, and the cut on the bridge of her nose was a vivid shade of angry red. Great, now I look like Rudolph, the red nosed raccoon. She stuck her tongue out at her reflection and hung her damp towel over an empty hanger. With a sigh, she gathered her clothes together and pattered down the hall to the guest room, closing the door quietly behind her.
She checked the laptop in her backpack to make sure it hadn’t gotten wet, then folded her clothes neatly on the dresser next to the bed. She knew she should probably ice her nose, but she was too tired and depressed to want to mess with it. She wondered if she should tell Augusta that she was going to bed but decided the woman could probably figure that out for herself. Besides, Dale didn’t want to bother her any more than she absolutely needed.
She pulled back the blankets on the bed and gratefully collapsed into it. She was asleep minutes after she turned the light out.
An air-raid siren of an alarm woke Gussie from a sound sleep at 2am. The only thing that stopped her from heaving it across the room in a burst of primal rage was the fact that she couldn’t immediately find it, as she’d purposefully set it out of arm’s reach two hours before. Time to go wake our little flower garden, she grumbled to herself as she crawled out from underneath her warm blankets and silenced the horrible noise. She wrapped herself in a robe and stuck her feet in a pair of slippers.
Still half asleep, she flipped on the hall light and staggered down to Anthony’s old room. She knocked quietly, then pushed open the door, hating that she actually had to wake Dale up. It just felt so damned awkward. She sat down on the side of the bed with a sigh and gently shook the sleeping woman’s shoulder. "Daisy Dale! Hey, Dale, wake up!"
Dale groaned - not the complaining sound of someone suddenly shaken awake from a welcome sleep, but rather the sound of someone suddenly made conscious of some very real physical pain – and Gussie regretted her mission all the more. "Dale, I’m sorry, but you have to wake up long enough to answer my questions."
Gussie watched sadly as Dale tried to open her swollen eyes to look at her. Finally they seemed to focus on her, and Gussie smiled crookedly. "Hey, how are you doing?"
Dale automatically tried to return the smile, then grimaced. "Sleepy…"
"Do you remember my name?"
"You know, you can call me Gus or Gussie if you like. Everyone else around here does. Do you remember where you are?"
"Shamrock, Texas," Dale told her. "Do I pass?" she asked, then covered her mouth with her hand as she yawned. "Ugh… sorry!"
Gussie nodded, grinning. "Yeah, you pass. Does your head ache?"
"Uh-huh. I took some of your Tylenol before I took the bath – I…I hope that’s okay? - and that seemed to help for a while. But it really hurts right now."
Gussie squeezed her shoulder through the blankets. "Sit tight, I’ll bring you some water and some more Tylenol."
"Thanks, but, really, I can get it myself…"
Gussie surprised herself by saying, "I know, but I don’t mind. Besides, I’m already up wandering around."
When she returned a minute later with a glass of water and a bottle of Tylenol, she found Dale snoring softly. She smiled and set the glass and bottle on the dresser beside the bed where Dale could find them if she woke up again. "Sweet dreams," she whispered, and quietly let herself out again.
She was about to close the door to her own bedroom when she heard the door to the garage open and her mother and brother moving around in the laundry room.
She met them in the kitchen.
Her mother hugged her. "Gussie, dear, it’s been a long day, so please don’t complain at me for sending Dale here. Just tell me how she is... She didn't look at all well at the Stop."
Gussie swallowed the complaint that was, indeed, on her lips. How does she do that? "I just got through waking her up. She seems to be doing all right. I put her in Anthony's room. I didn't think he would be getting here tonight, given the weather."
Lance snorted. "I almost got the truck stuck on the way here. If it keeps snowing like this all night, we'll be walking back to the Stop in the morning."
"Thank you," Charlene told her daughter. "I'll take care of her until morning; so you don't need to worry about it."
Gussie shook her head. "No, mom, you need your sleep. I'll do it. I don't mind."
Her mom looked surprised. "Are you sure?"
Gussie shrugged. "She seems like a nice kid." She yawned and stretched. "Well, goodnight!"
"Miracles will never cease," she heard Lance whisper to her Mom as she headed back to her room.
What was that supposed to mean? Gussie decided that she ought to be annoyed by the comment, but her bed looked too inviting to worry about it. She set her alarm for four, and crawled into bed.
She woke five minutes before four and managed to turn the alarm off before it started screaming. Again she wrapped herself in her robe and hunted sleepily for her slippers, finding only one. It’s like the damn things have legs! Deciding her feet wouldn’t freeze from a short trip down the hall, she went barefoot.
Dale had turned on her side and was snuggled so far under the blankets that Gussie could only see the top of her tousled head. She fought the sudden urge to run her fingers through the silky blonde strands and shook her head. Now is not the time to start developing parental urges, Gus. She noticed that the glass of water on the dresser was half empty and the bottle of Tylenol had shifted positions. She sat down on the edge of the bed again and shook Dale’s shoulder. "Hey Dale," she said quietly. "Wake up. Dale! Wake up!" She was a little concerned by how difficult it was to wake her up. "Dale!"
Finally the girl roused with another groan, and she stirred beneath the blankets. Her face poked out, and she looked at Gussie fuzzily. "My savior…" she muttered.
Gussie chuckled. "Happy Christmas Eve. You know the drill. What’s your name?"
"Daisy Dale Philpot."
"Do you remember where you are?"
"Shamrock Texas, in Anthony’s room." Dale told her with a half grin.
"What’s your date of birth?"
"Hey, no fair, that’s a new one!"
Gussie grinned. "Sorry, I’ll have to sic Mom on you if you don’t tell…"
"And something tells me I wouldn’t want that?"
Gussie shook her head.
"Oh, all right. February 13th, 1978."
"Almost a Valentine’s baby, huh?" Gussie asked in surprise. The girl was older than she’d thought.
"Yeah, well, at least it gives me something to celebrate that time of year..." Dale said, her voice clearly chagrined.
Gussie raised an eyebrow.
Dale shifted under the blankets and yawned.
"How’s your head?" Gussie asked when it became clear that Dale was not going to elaborate.
"Well, the pounding has quieted to a dull thud…"
"That’s good. Maybe it will be gone by morning."
"Mmmmmm," Dale agreed sleepily, closing her eyes.
Gussie smiled as Dale pulled the covers up to her chin. "G’night," the girl muttered.
"Sweet dreams," Gussie whispered.
Dale was snoring before she left the room.
Despite a night of interrupted sleep, Gussie was up before six. She turned on the coffee pot and looked out the kitchen window gloomily, quietly humming a snippet of her favorite Rachmaninov piano concerto. It was still snowing. Guess I won’t be jogging this morning. At least her mother no longer had any horses that would need to be fed. When she was younger, Gussie had enjoyed doing that, but as she’d grown older, her interests had gone more and more to music, and less and less to horses.
"Penny for your thoughts," Lance said, wandering into the kitchen. He was wearing a pair of flannel pajama bottoms, and his hair was sticking out in several different directions. He pulled open the refrigerator.
"I don’t think they’re worth that much," Gussie said slowly.
Lance grabbed the orange juice and rummaged for a glass in a cabinet. "Looked pretty serious to me."
Gussie snorted, and turned around to eye him seriously. "Are you happy here, Lance?" she asked. "Living here with Mom, I mean."
"Whoa!" Lance said, setting the glass down on the counter with an audible clank. "That’s gotta be worth at least a dollar, sis."
Gussie grinned. "Seriously, though. I mean… I can understand not wanting to go to college, but it has to make dating an absolute nightmare…!"
Lance chuckled and hopped up on the counter, letting his bare feet swing as he sipped his juice. "Hell, Gus, there’s nobody around here I’m interested in dating." He paused for a moment and lowered his voice. "Except maybe Dale back there. She seemed awfully sweet last night. Not to mention good-looking."
Gussie raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Her face is a wreck!"
"Oh come on, surely you have more imagination than that! Even with a broken nose she’s cute."
"She could be an ax murderer for all you know," Gussie teased him. "She told me she’s between addresses last night… sounds pretty suspicious to me!"
Lance looked at her thoughtfully, all trace of humor gone. "Apparently John Kissling brought her in to the Stop. He tracked me down last night and told me that the cab of her truck was full of stuff. He wanted to make sure I got her pulled out before somebody had a chance to come by and steal it. Did she tell you where she was going?"
Gussie shook her head. "I didn’t ask."
"It’s Christmas Eve, and she’s between addresses. Did she ask to call anybody last night?"
"Doesn’t sound like a very happy holiday for her, does it?"
Gussie had to admit that he was right. "Do you think you’ll be able to get her truck today?"
"I doubt it, but I don’t think we need to worry about anyone else getting to it, either. I-40s completely shut down."
Gussie scratched her nose thoughtfully. "All those people stuck here for Christmas. That sucks, doesn’t it? But you still haven’t answered my original question. Are you happy here, Lance?"
He seemed to think about it for a while. "Yeah. Sure. You know I love working at the Stop. I can be a mechanic here working for Charles, or be a mechanic someplace else working for a stranger. And when Charles retires, I’ll be the boss. As for the dating thing… Mom’s tried to kick me out a couple of times already – you know how badly she wants grandkids – but I’ll let you in on something, Maestro."
"You know that land out by Grady’s corner with the pond where we used to go fishing?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"I’m saving up to buy it. I’m gunna move a trailer out by the pond and build my own house. I’ve already got the money for the land, and I should have enough to buy the trailer outright in about eight months."
"How many acres?"
"Does Mom know?"
"Oh yeah, she’s the one who convinced old man Ray to sell to me."
Gussie chuckled. "That figures. When were you going to tell me this?"
"When you asked."
"And if I never asked?"
"I guess you’d probably figure it out when you came home for Christmas next time, and I wasn’t living here," he shrugged.
Gussie pursed her lips and looked out the window, noticing the first light of a gloomy dawn beginning to show. "I’m not very good about staying in touch, am I?" she asked quietly.
"No. No you’re not. Doesn’t seem like we have much in common anymore, does it?"
Gussie shook her head absently.
Lance sighed. "Soooo… let me turn the tables on you. Are you happy where you are, Gus?"
She considered her answer carefully. "I love my job. It’s everything I dreamed it would be… and better."
"What makes you think there’s a ‘but?’"
"Oh come on, it’s obvious you’re unhappy about something."
Gussie was used to being able to read other people like an open book, but she was unused to other people being able to do the same to her. Must be genetic. She snorted. "I guess it’s just that my job is all that there is…"
"You know, that was all right for a while. I was trying to earn my reputation, and I didn’t have much time for anything else, but now… I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing something."
"Like a sex life?"
She smiled. "Maybe. I don’t know. I was dating a woman back in July - her name was Jill - she was a doctor. Sophisticated, witty, successful… everything I thought I wanted in a partner."
Gussie chuckled. "She bored me silly. Our whole relationship was just so…predictable."
Lance laughed and hopped off the counter. "God forbid! Maybe you need to go find yourself a gal down at the docks!"
Lance looked at her seriously. "Gus, you just need to lighten up a little. Hang out with your friends more often. Learn to relax! You’re the most intense person I’ve ever met. I’m sure that’s what makes you so good at what you do, that and those dog ears of yours, but I bet you’re not going to find someone to spend your life with until you learn to loosen up a bit."
Gussie looked out the window again, considering his words. Hang out with your friends more often. Learn to relax! It occurred to her that she didn’t have any friends of the kind she would "hang out" with… She had dinner parties when she needed to entertain guests, formal affairs that weren’t relaxing and were always related to work.
She grabbed a mug from a cabinet and poured herself a cup of coffee. Wasn’t she too young to be having a mid-life crisis? Was that what this was?
Lance opened the fridge again. "Bacon and eggs sound good for breakfast?"
"Since when did you volunteer to cook anyone breakfast?"
He grinned broadly. "Since short and cute arrived last night. Think she’ll be able to smell it with her nose all swollen like that?"
Gussie rolled her eyes. "Promise me you won’t make her uncomfortable with your flirting, bro!"
"And why would you care? Don’t tell me you’re jealous!"
"Hardly! Ugh. I’m not sure I can bear to watch this."
Lance laughed. "Isn’t it time for you to wake her up? Two o’clock, four o’clock, six o’clock?"
"Why don’t you get breakfast on its way, and then I’ll think about it." She sipped her coffee, enjoying the feeling of warmth as it traced its way down her throat. "I don’t think she slept very well last night. She could probably use the extra rest."
"She’s gonna be okay, though, right?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Lance nodded happily and rattled around in the cabinet looking for a skillet.
continued in part 3