I welcome any and all feedback. Once again, I apologize for the time between updates. Previous parts are posted here:|Part 1|
My email address is: Leslie Ann Miller
Shamrock Snow, part 6
by Leslie Ann Miller
“Let’s get you out of those wet jeans,” Gussie said, thinking distractedly that under different circumstances, that sentence could be highly charged with sexual innuendo.
Dale nodded silently, pulling off her gloves with her teeth. She unzipped her coat and bent over to untie her bootlaces.
After a moment, Gussie realized that Dale’s fingers were too numb to undo the knots, and the poor girl was looking close to tears again.
“Here,” she said softly, kneeling down in front of her. “Let me do that.” She shed her own wet gloves and fumbled with the knots on Dale’s boots, finally managing to loosen them. “Um, do you want me to pull them off for you? I don’t want to hurt your ankle…”
Dale rubbed her forehead as if it pained her, then nodded, holding her leg out straight.
Gussie repositioned herself and opened the boot as far as it would go. Trying to be as gentle as possible, she pulled the boot from Dale’s foot. She looked at Dale as she set the boot down, relieved that her guest hadn’t screamed or cried out.
Dale was biting her knuckle, her face screwed up in pain. When she realized that Gussie was looking at her, she forced a smile. “Thanks,” she finally said. “I can get the other one.”
“All right,” Gussie said, standing up. “I’ll go get you some dry clothes.”
“There’s a pair of sweats and a long sleeve T-shirt on top of my backpack,” Dale said, avoiding Gussie’s eyes, instead leaning over to pull at her other boot. “You should change, too, you know.”
Gussie nodded, and took another close look at Dale. Deciding that the small blonde looked well enough to be okay for a few minutes by herself, she said, “I’ll be right back.” She headed to her room first, making a mental note to bring back some painkillers for Dale in addition to her sweats.
She collapsed on her bed gratefully, surprised at how tired she suddenly felt. Tired and sore. Her ribs felt better in the warm air of the house, but her elbow throbbed painfully. It was a good thing she was left-handed. God, I would do anything for a nap right now. Duty called, however, so she kicked off her boots and stripped out of her wet clothes. She pulled a pair of clean jeans out of her suitcase, then realized that getting them on might be something of an ordeal with only one good arm. Opting instead for sweats as well, she grabbed them, and proceeded to dress in sweat pants, T-shirt, and sweat shirt. She knew she’d have to go back out for wood again, but hopefully she could manage without getting soaked. Christ, what a day.
She gathered Dale’s dry clothes, resisting the urge to go through Dale’s backpack to see if she could learn any more about her. She also stopped for a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom, and a blanket in one of the hall closets. Arms full, she returned to the living room.
Dale had shed her heavy coat and was huddled shivering on the couch, hugging her now bare legs to her chest. She looked up at Gussie as she entered, and Gussie felt her heart stick in her throat. Dale looked perfectly miserable with her black eyes and banged up face, but it was her guest’s pale but shapely legs - and the brief glimpse of Dale’s white panties hidden behind them that momentarily took her breath away. She swallowed hard, forcing her eyes back to Dale’s face, and smiled. “Here you go,” she said, holding out the bundle in her arms, suddenly flustered.
Dale set the pile down on the sofa next to her, grabbing the sweats. “Thanks,” she said, blushing.
Gussie noted the blush, and realized that Dale must be embarrassed by her semi-nudity. She turned away to give Dale some privacy while she changed. “I brought some Tylenol, too,” she said over her shoulder, heading to the kitchen. “Would you like some?”
“God, yes. You wouldn’t believe the headache I’ve got,” Dale said.
Gussie poured a glass of water from the faucet, and glanced towards the living room to see if Dale had finished changing. Instead, she saw Dale pulling off her shirt. She turned back to the sink hastily, the image of muscular shoulders and a white bra burned into her mind. This is so incredibly inappropriate! She smacked herself mentally. What the Hell am I thinking?
She pulled the glass, now overflowing, from the stream of water and turned the faucet off, gritting her teeth against the pain because she’d forgotten not to use her injured arm. Okay… pain, it’s a good thing for shutting the libido down. She set the glass on the counter and massaged her arm for a minute. In her entire life, she couldn’t remember any one who had affected her this way so quickly. Smitten, she thought. She was positively smitten with a kid, fresh out of college, who didn’t know her head from a hole in the ground. Maybe Lance is right. I do need to loosen up and get laid more often. Maybe I made a mistake in breaking it off with Jill.
She closed her eyes for a moment. Why was she feeling like this? Maybe if she understood it, she could make it go away. Was it because Dale was hurt? Gussie, despite her controlled exterior, was a very compassionate person. And Dale’s injuries certainly evoked a certain amount of pity. But that wouldn’t account for the depth of her reaction to the girl. Was it because Dale was good looking? No. Although, there was an undeniable physical attraction there, she had to admit. But Gussie didn’t lack for potential dates who were good looking, even more classically beautiful than Dale. Looks, however, had never mattered as much as brains to her. And while Dale certainly didn’t appear to be stupid, she also didn’t seem to possess that certain ambitious, self possessed, sizzling intellect that most of Gussie’s past dates possessed. Doctors, lawyers… and that Berkeley political science professor… What had been her name? Brenda. God, what a disaster that had been.
“Hey Maestro, what’s a gal got to do to get some service around here?”
Gussie looked up, startled out of her thoughts by Dale snapping her fingers at her.
“Mush! Mush!” Dale grinned. “My head’s killing me here!”
Gussie laughed. She makes me laugh, she thought in wonder. That’s what it is. “You know,” she said calmly, bring Dale the water, “I don’t recall the last time somebody had the audacity to snap their fingers at me…”
Dale blushed, but took the water gratefully. “Sorry,” she said seriously after swallowing several of the painkillers. “Sometimes I resort to levity at inappropriate times.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Gussie assured her slowly. “I think I need to be taken down a few notches every now and then. It’s probably healthy for me.”
“Well, in that case, I’m sure I can arrange a fall into the basement in no time,” Dale grinned, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders.
Gussie smiled and rubbed her sore elbow for emphasis. “Been there done that, don’t need to do it again. How’s your ankle?” She was pleased that Dale was no longer shivering – noticeably, anyway.
“Okay, as long as I don’t flex it.” She held it out, stripped of its sock, for Gussie’s inspection. “It’s swelling nicely, though.”
Gussie nodded, also noting that there was a dark bruise spreading over the side of Dale’s foot. “Do you want to go get it checked out at the hospital in Shamrock?”
Dale shook her head. “No. They’d just tell me to ice it and wrap it, anyway.”
“Okay,” Gussie said reluctantly. “I’ll get you an ice pack. Are you warm enough?”
“It’s pretty toasty right here near the fire,” Dale said after a moment’s consideration. “And thanks for the blanket. I’ll be okay.”
“Would you like some tea or coffee?” Gussie asked. “Something warm inside might help. Or we could have soup for lunch if you’re hungry.”
Dale’s eyes lit up. “Soup sounds great!”
Gussie smiled as she got a ziplock bag out of one of the cabinets for Dale’s icepack. She set the icemaker for crushed ice and filled the bag, also getting out a couple of dishtowels from a drawer. She’d severely sprained her own ankle playing lacrosse in college, so she knew the routine. After giving the bag and towels to Dale, she checked the cabinet to see what kinds of soups her mother might have on hand. “What kind of soup do you like?” she asked. “We’ve got vegetable, chicken noodle, chicken and rice, pea soup, beef noodle, cream of mushroom, and something with the label half torn off – I’ll just call that the mystery soup…”
“Chicken noodle, please,” Dale said.
Gussie nodded. With the girl’s playful nature, she’d half expected her to go for the mystery soup.
“Although,” Dale said, “the mystery soup sounds intriguing. Unfortunately, I live in mortal fear of clam chowder. I’d hate for you to open something I couldn’t eat.”
“Very wise of you,” Gussie agreed. “I don’t care for it much myself, so perhaps it’s best to let the mystery of the mystery soup remain unsolved.”
Dale spooned her soup from the bowl on the TV tray slowly, savoring the heat and flavor. She still felt quite chilled, but the warm liquid in her tummy was helping. Gussie sat beside her on the sofa, eating her own bowl of soup and watching the football game.
While the soup was heating, the conductor had brought in additional logs from outside. She’d had to do so one at a time because of her elbow, and Dale was mortified that the conductor had been injured because of her. She must hate me, she thought glumly. I’ve totally ruined her Christmas Eve. Dale was aware that her exuberant, playful side sometimes rubbed people the wrong way (her mother had stopped making her go to church when she was twelve because she’d been disruptive so often), but she usually didn’t drag other people down with her. Especially not the likes of Maestro Augusta.
Perhaps, she reflected, because she had never associated with people like Maestro Augusta before.
Her own family was very poor… rural… and uneducated. She was the first member of her family on either side to ever consider going to college, much less to graduate from it. Gussie, despite her upbringing in Shamrock Texas, might as well have been from another world. Her entire demeanor oozed of unfailing self-confidence and competence. Her gestures, speech, and bearing bordered on what Dale would be tempted to label “snobbery,” and of a sort that she would typically associate with a lot of money and influence.
Yet she also knew that such a label would not have been entirely correct. She just couldn’t seem to read the woman very well. One moment Gussie was being perfectly straightforward and honest with her, and the next she was making some cryptic comment that Dale couldn’t begin to interpret. One minute she’d let her emotions show quite clearly (certainly, she hadn’t tried to hide her initial displeasure at Dale’s unexpected appearance), and then she’d turn around with a face that was a perfectly pleasant mask, revealing nothing.
If she hadn’t seen Gussie giggling during their brief snowball fight, she’d have written the older woman off as being totally unapproachable. It was, Dale decided, a bit like trying to figure out a jigsaw puzzle based on a picture that one had never seen. Dale loved puzzles and riddles, and although she knew that she should be intimidated by her hostess, she found herself oddly drawn to her instead. She even found herself regretting that she would not be able to get to know Gussie better, that they would never be friends – impossible for a variety of reasons – not the least of which was the grimace on Gussie’s face every time she leaned forward to get closer to her soup.
Dale wondered briefly if she should have agreed to go to the hospital just so Gussie could have gotten checked out, too. She was obviously hurting in more places than just her elbow. “Um, are you sure you’re okay?” Dale asked hesitantly.
Gussie looked at her, her face impassive. “I’m fine,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s just that… you look like you’re hurting whenever you lean forward.”
“I bruised my ribs during the fall,” Gussie said after a moment. She smiled. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.”
Dale was surprised. “Why not? Oh, I get it; you don’t want to be bruise buddies, do you?”
Gussie barked out a laugh. “Bruise buddies? I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with that term… Actually, I was hoping not to add to what I had imagined as your already overwhelming burden of guilt.”
“Awwww…. That’s very sweet,” Dale smiled. “But you know, I’m as good as a pack mule when it comes to guilt. I can carry large loads of it with me anytime, anyplace!” At least, I’d better learn how to do that… nothing like wrecking two families’ Christmases in the same year…!
Gussie looked at her, measuring. “I see,” she said after a moment, and Dale wondered what that meant.
She watched, perplexed, as the conductor turned back to her soup, trying to shake off the unnerving feeling that the enigmatic woman could see right through her. Hmmmm…X-ray vision… another piece of the puzzle. Maybe she’s a superhero in disguise. She’s from the planet Krypton… that would explain the extraordinary good looks, super strength, other-worldliness, and confident mystique. She looks like she could be Wonder Woman. Or Superman’s sister. And my God, those eyes!
“Oh no!” Gussie said abruptly, standing up. “I forgot to put in the ham!”
Okay, so she’s a forgetful superhero, Dale mused, her eyes following the tall woman into the kitchen.
Gussie opened the refrigerator, bent over, then stood back up after a moment, apparently staring at the top shelf for several seconds. Finally she turned back to Dale with a pained expression on her face. “Um, Dale… do you think you could help me get the ham out of the fridge if I helped you in here? It’s going to take two hands, and my elbow…well, I’m not sure I can do it.”
“Yes, of course!” she said, glad to have an opportunity to help. After all, it was her fault Gussie couldn’t lift it by herself. Okay, so she’s not a very effective superhero if she can’t lift a ham by herself, not to mention a clumsy one for falling down the stairs in the first place instead of flying… She smiled at her own thoughts and moved the TV tray back. She used it to pull herself up into a standing position and managed a few valiant hops on her own before Gussie met her.
“Here now,” the conductor chastised her, “let me help you.” She took Dale’s arm and pulled it over her shoulder.
Dale had to admit that it was much easier to move when she could use the other woman as a crutch. Not to mention that Gussie smelled good and felt as cuddly warm as a cat curled up in a polar fleece blanket.
When they reached the refrigerator, Dale pulled it open. Together they stared at the ham on the bottom shelf. Dale had never seen such a huge ham.
“Mom likes leftovers,” Gussie said, as if reading her mind. “She always sends bags home with me and Anthony. The last time I was here, I ended up taking an entire ice chest full of turkey and ham back home with me… She knows I don’t cook much for myself, and I swear she’s trying to make sure I don’t starve for the next year.”
“Cooking is one of my few talents,” Dale said absently, trying to decide how she could possibly lift such a huge ham while standing on only one foot. Pulling it out might not be so hard if Gussie helped her with her balance, but carrying it over to the oven was another matter.
They stared at the ham in silence.
“Any ideas?” Gussie finally asked.