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CHAPTER TWENTY. "Yes." A pause, then, "How's it going?"






"KARA?"

"Yes." A pause, then, "How's it going?"

Ginny felt her heart constrict at the sound of Kara's soft voice and she clutched the phone to her, as if she could touch Kara.

"Okay," she lied. "I guess."

"Oh."

"We're going to Drury Falls this afternoon. Nana wants a campfire and hotdogs," she explained.

"Sounds like fun."

"Come with us?" she asked hesitantly.

"I don't think so," Kara said.

"Please? Nana wanted me to call you. She expects you to be there." Ginny lowered her voice, glancing into the living room where Phil and Nana sat. "I want you to come," she added softly.

"Ginny, it would be uncomfortable for you... for me, too."

"I know, Kara. Don't you think I know? But I need to see you," Ginny pleaded. "Please, Kara. I may very well go crazy if I don't see you."

"Hotdogs?"

"We've got some vegetarian ones at the store. I'll get some for you," she promised.

She heard Kara's deep sigh and she knew that her jaw was clinched and she wished she were there to soothe it. To hold her.

"Okay. I'll come," she said finally. "If you think we'll be okay."

"Thank you, Kara," Ginny said softly. "I... I miss you."

"Ginny, don't. This is hard enough."

"I know. And I lied before. It's not okay. I'm so miserable."

She heard Kara's low chuckle.

"Sweetheart, I'm the one who's miserable."

She hung up, staring at the phone, wondering what she was going to do. Kara was right. It would be uncomfortable for them, both of them, but she had to see her. She needed to look into her eyes. She closed her own, remembering Kara's soft touch upon her body, the soft lips that had brought her such pleasure. It wasn't Phil. It never had been. She had been a fool to allow him to come here and a bigger fool yet to allow him into her bed. It was Kara she wanted. In her life and in her bed. Not Phil. Not any man.

 

They hiked up to the falls and sat on the rock, just out of the reach of the cool spray. Ginny had hoped that Kara would come early, but by the time that Nana was ready to hike, there had been no sign of her. Ginny was afraid that she had changed her mind and that she wouldn't come, after all. And she needed her to come. She needed to see her. She needed to talk to her, to tell her how she felt and she couldn't wait another day. As she sat there, she had already decided that if Kara didn't show, she would drive to the cabin herself. She didn't give a damn what Phil or Nana thought.



"This is beautiful," Phil said. "Good idea, Nana."

She beamed at him and Ginny had a crazy notion that Nana loved him much more than Ginny ever had. She watched him. He was a handsome man. She had always thought so, anyway. But she knew now that he wasn't what she wanted and he never could be. She knew without a doubt that she would never be with a man again. She knew that with certainty after last night.

She had cried and Phil hadn't understood. He had held her and tried to soothe her but she had pulled out of his arms. She didn't want his touch. She didn't ever want his touch again. She had taken her pillow and slept on the couch, only going back to her room when she heard Nana stirring.

Phil hadn't commented on it today, but he had watched her, she knew. And tonight, she would tell him. She would tell him that she didn't love him and that she was not going to marry him and she would send him away. It would break Nana's heart, of course, but Ginny couldn't worry about that now. She could not survive the week if things remained as they were.

It was nearly six when they got back to their picnic table, but still no sign of Kara. Ginny tried not to let her disappointment show, helping to unload their firewood for their later fire and showing the proper amount of enthusiasm for the hotdog dinner that Nana had planned.

"I wonder where Kara is?" Nana asked for the third time and she stared off down the dirt road, looking for her truck.

"Probably working and lost track of time," Ginny offered. And perhaps it was true.

 

Kara turned the Land Cruiser onto the bumpy road, cigarette clamped between her teeth, her eighth of the day. She would rather being going anywhere at this moment other than to meet Phil. Even the damn dentist, she thought But Ginny had pleaded and Kara admitted that she couldn't stay away from her another day, even if she had to share her with a man. A man who hoped to marry her.

Had they slept together? Of course. He had come up here for that very reason, after all, she thought bitterly. Jealousy consumed her and ate at her stomach and she hated herself for what she was feeling. See what happens when you fall for a straight woman, she thought. Straight? Ginny was many things, but straight was not one of them. Not after the way she made love to Kara. She couldn't be. The way she touched her with such intensity, such passion. No. No one could make love to another woman like that and be straight.



Nana saw her and waved and Kara forced a smiled and waved back. She had never been one for praying, but she sent a silent plea to anyone who might be listening. Please, just get me thought this evening.

"We were wondering if you'd forgotten," Nana said.

"Working," she lied. She hadn't picked up a brush in two days.

Ginny walked up to her and met her eyes, uncaring that Nana was watching them. All she wanted to do was to wrap her arms around her and hold her. "Kara," she said softly. "I'm so glad you're here," she whispered, hoping Nana couldn't hear.

"Hi." Kara's eyes greedily traveled over Ginny, remembering how responsive she had been in her arms and she felt her pulse quicken. She shouldn't have come, she thought.

"Come meet Phil," Nana said and pulled Kara after her. Ginny saw the anguish in Kara's eyes as they left her and she followed close behind.

"Phil, this is Kara Morgan, the artist," Nana presented importantly.

"Hello," he said and took Kara's outstretched hand. "I've seen your work. Very nice."

Kara smiled and released his hand quickly. He was attractive, she thought with dismay. If you liked that sort of thing, anyway.

"Which is more than we have," Nana added.

"I don't really have anything finished, Louise."

"My boss bought Tomorrow and Today," Phil said.

"Oh." Kara smiled, hating the fact that this man had access to her painting. "That's one of my favorites. Top ten."

"You mean, you rank your paintings?" Phil asked. "What? One to ten?"

Kara laughed. "Some I just like more than others," she said. "But everyone has different tastes. Some I like so much, they become too personal to part with," she said.

"Oh, so you don't sell everything?"

She smiled briefly and Ginny saw that it didn't reach her eyes. "Sometimes I paint just for me," she said. "Others, I give as gifts." She shrugged, not wanting to have this conversation with him.

"Wow. Some gift. Well, it's very nice to meet you. Nana's told me quite a bit about you," he said.

Kara glanced at Louise who smiled sheepishly. "A beer?" Louise asked.

"Yeah, please."

"I'll get it," Phil offered.

Kara turned and found Ginny watching her and her eyes moved over her quickly. Ginny brought her hands out, as if to touch her, then dropped them to her sides.

"Kara," she whispered softly, her eyes searching. She didn't care that Nana was watching.

"Here you go," Phil said and Kara turned to him, muttering a thank you and took the offered beer.

They sat in lawn chairs and Kara observed this man that had shared Ginny's life. And still did. An attractive man, but still a man, she noted. And possessive. He sat close to Ginny, touching her knee with his hand as he spoke and Kara couldn't take her eyes off of them. She felt jealously smoldering inside of her and hated it. What she and Ginny had shared was most likely temporary. And most likely over. Phil had come here to stake his claim.

"Are you from Seattle?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Well, once Ginny moves back, we'll have to get together," he said easily.

She met his eyes for a moment. "Sure," she said lightly. She ventured a glance at Ginny who met her eyes and Kara did not miss the quick apology that flashed her way.

"Did you bring your sketch pad, Kara?" Nana asked. "It's almost sunset."

"No, Louise. I've sketched the falls before. They're much better at sunrise," she said.

"They're beautiful at any time," Phil stated.

Kara smiled, hating this man. "Yes, they are. I was speaking of sketching, though."

Ginny rubbed her temples, feeling a headache approaching. This had been a mistake, she thought wearily. Phil was actually competing with Kara, as if he knew she was a threat.

"Ginny?"

"Hmmm?" She looked up at Nana.

"Why don't you take Kara to the Big Tree?"

Ginny glanced at Kara. "Have you seen it?" she asked. It would give them a chance to talk. She hoped Kara had not been there before.

"No. What big tree?"

Ginny laughed. "Big Tree. It's a cedar. Three hundred feet tall and as wide as a house," she said.

"You go ahead. Phil and I will start the fire," Nana said.

They walked away in silence, Kara with her hands shoved in her pockets, Ginny's folded securely under her arms. When they reached the trailhead, the sun was already past the trees and shadows covered the path as they entered the forest. They were both silent as they walked.

"Are you upset with me?" Ginny finally asked.

"No."

"Then why won't you talk to me?" Ginny asked.

"What should I say? That Phil's a nice guy?" Kara thought she hated him.

"No. That's not what I mean. You're being difficult," Ginny accused.

"I'm being difficult? I didn't even what to come here this evening," she said. "I didn't want to see you with him. To see him touch you like that."

"Yes, it was a mistake," Ginny said. "You were right."

They walked on, slowly, along the path, both struggling with their thoughts.

"Have you enjoyed his company?" Kara finally asked.

Ginny ignored her question, instead, she pointed to the massive tree up ahead. "The Big Tree," she said.

"Jesus," Kara murmured and she bent her head back, trying to find the top as it disappeared into the sky. "That's one big tree."

Ginny smiled, but it faded when she met Kara's blue eyes. "Have you enjoyed his company?" Kara asked again.

"Don't, Kara," Ginny said softly. She walked on, up to the base of the giant and leaned against it.

"You've slept with him?" Kara asked.

Ginny closed her eyes, not wanting to discuss Phil. Not now.

"Haven't you?" Kara asked again.

"He's sharing my room, yes," Ginny said.

"He's made love to you?"

Ginny looked away, her hands reaching out to touch the rough bark. Made love? No. She wouldn't call it that. Kara gripped her forearms hard and turned her around to face her.

"I'm just so... lost," Ginny whispered. "I don't have a say in anything. He acted like we hadn't been apart at all."

Kara stared at her, blue eyes peering into green. "Did he make love to you like I did?" Kara asked, her eyes holding Ginny prisoner.

"Kara..."

"Did you ask him to? Did you want him to?"

Ginny trembled under Kara's angry gaze, but she couldn't look away.

Kara pushed Ginny roughly against the tree, holding her there. "Did you want him the way you wanted me?" she whispered, pressing her body against Ginny. "Did you beg him to put his mouth on you?"

Ginny shook her head, her breath coming quickly through her parted lips.

"Did he make you feel the way that I did?" Kara demanded and she moved her face to Ginny's, foreheads touching as their breath whispered against each other.

Ginny closed her eyes and waited for Kara's bruising, angry kiss. But the lips that touched hers were soft and gentle, not angry and Ginny's mouth opened to her, her hands moving to Kara's face.

"Ginny... I can't stand this," Kara whispered. She covered Ginny's breasts with urgent hands, cupping them softly, feeling the nipples strain against her palms. "The thought of him touching you... like this," she whispered, her voice trailing away as she kissed Ginny. "Ginny, did you feel this with him? Were your breasts ready for his touch, like they are mine?" she demanded.

"No, Kara... never like you," Ginny whispered into her mouth. "Never like you."

Kara held her close, her hands cupping Ginny's hips, pressing them to her, trying to make Ginny see how it was with them, how it could never be with anyone else. But Ginny's hands wouldn't still. They took Kara's face and brought her mouth close and she moaned softly when their tongues touched.

"I want you so much," Ginny whispered urgently. "Kara, please." Ginny's chest heaved as if she'd been running and she clutched Kara to her. "I need you," she whispered. "I need you to make love to me."

"Ginny... don't," Kara warned.

"I mean it," she said and she took Kara's hand and shoved it between her legs. "Touch me."

Kara could feel her wetness through her shorts and she was lost. She pressed Ginny against the tree and unbuttoned her shorts in one quick motion, her hand pushing past the waistband with ease. Ginny's legs parted and Kara's fingers moved through her wetness, touching her so gently that Ginny nearly cried.

"Oh, God."

"Ginny..." Kara breathed against her mouth.

Ginny's legs failed to support her and she clung to Kara, her back arched against the rough bark of the giant tree. She had never wanted like this, never needed like this and she held Kara's hand to her, harder.

"Yes."

Kara's tongue in Ginny's mouth matched the rhythm of her fingers and she held Ginny as she rocked against her, bringing her closer to orgasm.

"Ginny? Kara?" a voice called to them from the forest trail.

Kara froze at the sound of Phil's voice as it carried through the trees. He was looking for them.

Ginny grabbed Kara's neck and pulled her back to her. "Please, don't stop," she begged. "Don't stop."

"Ginny," Kara whispered. "Phil is coming."

"I don't care about him. I need you." Ginny's hands guided Kara's mouth back to hers. "Don't stop, Kara. Not now."

Kara moved on her again, her fingers frantic now and Ginny arched against her hand, her body convulsing, throbbing and Kara swallowed her scream, sliding down the base of the tree with Ginny as her legs gave way.

"Kara," Ginny sighed and she let her tears fall. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"Ginny? Kara?" Phil called again.

"We're coming," Kara yelled to him and she saw the beam of his flashlight through the trees and she just now realized how dark it had become.

"Kara, I'm sorry I made you do that," Ginny whispered against her mouth. "I just... needed you. I needed your touch."

Kara took her face in gentle hands. "You don't ever have to be sorry for wanting me that way," Kara said and she wiped the tears from Ginny's eyes with her thumbs. "Come on. We've got to get back."

Ginny let herself be pulled to her feet and she stood by numbly as Kara's hands came to her and tucked her shirt back into her shorts. Oh, God, she thought. I'm in love with her.

"Ginny, honey, come on," Kara urged. "He's coming."

Oh, Lord. A simple endearment can melt my heart. I love her, Ginny thought again. And on the heels of that: What have I done?

Kara took her hand and pulled her along the trail just as Phil's light came into view. Their hands dropped immediately and they took a step apart.

"There you are," he said. "We were getting worried a bear had eaten you or something."

Ginny couldn't find her voice and Kara spoke for them. "We got to talking and just lost track of time," she said.

"Well, come on. Nana's starving." He draped a possessive arm around Ginny's shoulders and walked ahead of Kara. Kara watched them, watched as Ginny's legs attempted to keep up with Phil's. She hated him.

"I was getting worried," Nana said. "It gets dark quickly in the forest."

"You know how girls can talk," Phil said.

"Open the wine, Phil," Nana said. "I'm going to celebrate." She smiled and clasped Ginny's hands. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.

"Tell you what?" Ginny asked weakly.

"That you're getting married! Phil told me you talked about it yesterday. I'm so excited I can hardly stand it," she said.

"Married?" Ginny repeated in a hushed whisper. Her eyes flew to Phil, then, more importantly, to Kara.

"Isn't it exciting, Kara? I suppose Ginny told you all about it in the woods," Nana said excitedly.

Kara couldn't breathe and her eyes moved slowly to Ginny. "Yes," she managed. "Wonderful."

Phil walked up, practically beaming and Kara felt as humiliated as she ever had in her life. She forced a smile to her face and offered her hand to him. "I suppose congratulations are in order, then." She wondered if he could still feel Ginny's wetness on her fingers.

"Thank you," he said sincerely. "I'm so thrilled she accepted."

Kara glanced at Ginny, keeping the pain in her eyes shielded. "I hope you'll be very happy," she said to Ginny.

Ginny was certain that she was going to pass out right here. With any luck, she would fall into the fire and it would all be over quickly. She shot Phil a look that would kill most men and he had the good sense to look away from her. She looked again at Kara, wanting to take her away from here and explain, but Kara refused to meet her eyes.

Kara forced down her hot dog, nearly choking on every bite. She refused to look at Ginny. She refused to look at Phil. Tension settled around the campfire and even Nana seemed to notice.

"Have you set a date?" Nana asked, disrupting the silence.

"No," Phil said. "But I hope soon. The sooner the better, you know."

Ginny said nothing and she tossed her plate into the fire, and everyone watched as her uneaten hot dog sizzled in the flames. She would kill him, she decided. She had just cause. He had just ruined her life. And Kara. Kara wouldn't even look at her. And who could blame her. One minute, Ginny is begging her to make love to her, the next, she finds out Ginny's to be married. She groaned softly. God, what had just happened here?

"And babies?" Nana asked.

"Nana! Please," Ginny said quietly.

"Well, you're not getting any younger," she continued

"Nana... stop," Ginny said sharply and she shot Phil another look.

Kara waited what she thought was a respectable time, then stood. "I've got some work to finish," she lied. "Thank you for inviting me," she said to Louise. "But I need to get going."

"Are you leaving already? We've got marshmallows, too," Nana offered.

Kara ran her hands through her hair and she wanted to scream. "I'll have to pass," she said. "Nice to meet you, Phil. It was... enlightening."

"Maybe I'll see you around this week," he said.

"Probably not. I've got a lot of work to do." She turned, and with only a nod to Ginny, walked purposefully to her truck.

"Kara, wait," Ginny called and ran after her. She had to talk to her. She didn't care that Phil and Nana were staring after her.

Kara kept walking, not trusting herself to speak.

"Wait," Ginny demanded in a soft voice.

Kara stopped, her hand on the door. "I've nothing to say to you."

"I didn't know anything about that."

"Really?"

"How can you think I can want you like that if I'm planning on marrying Phil?" Ginny asked.

Kara's eyes bored into hers. "One last time? Cheap thrill?"

"Don't be like that. It's not you," Ginny said softly. "You know how I feel about you," Ginny insisted.

"Ginny, go back where you belong," she said, motioning with her head.

"I don't belong with him," Ginny said.

"Well, you certainly don't belong with me."

Ginny felt as if she'd been slapped and she stood by silently as Kara slammed the door and sped off.

She walked slowly back to the fire, accepting the burning marshmallow without a word.

"Kara sure was quiet tonight," Nana said after an eternity of silence.

"She's different," Phil commented.

Certainly different from you, Ginny thought. And I'm in love with her and she doesn't want me anymore.

They packed their things and drove back, Ginny thankful there was no more talk about a wedding. When Phil would have followed Nana into the house, Ginny stopped him.

"I'd like to talk to you. In private," she said, glancing at Nana. When Nana closed the door, Ginny turned on him, eyes flashing. "How dare you?" she hissed.

"Ginny..."

"How dare you tell Nana that? You know how much she wants us to get married."

He had the audacity to smile at her. "I needed all the help I could get."

"You bastard," she spat, wanting to slap the smile from his face.

"Ginny! You act like this is a surprise. We've talked about it."

"I'm not going to marry you. You knew that last night." Her voice softened. "Phil, I'm not in love with you."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't love you. I'm not going to marry you."

"Ginny, we've spent four... nearly five years together. We're good together."

"Good?" She shook her head. "You call what you did to me last night good? No."

"Ginny, let's talk about this. I was trying to make love to you."

"Make love? You forced yourself on me, after I asked you to stop."

"Ginny, we're a couple. Couples make love."

"I want you to leave," she said. "In the morning."

"I'm here a couple of days, you get pissed off and you're sending me away?" He laughed. "Ginny, be reasonable."

"I am being reasonable. And you're right," she said. "I am pissed off. I'm pissed as hell that you told Nana we were getting married and I'm pissed as hell that you're even here in the first place." She was pacing then, her voice rising with each word. "You come up here and act like nothing has changed. You act like I didn't leave nearly a year ago because I didn't want to get married. How... dare... you?"

Phil stared at her and for the first time, she saw uncertainty in his eyes.

"You were just scared. Marriage is a big step, Ginny. But I love you."

"You don't even know me anymore, Phil. I'm not the same person that left."

Phil stared at her again, silently. Finally, he brushed at his moustache with one finger.

"What's with you and the artist?" he asked.

Ginny wasn't afraid to meet his eyes. "My relationship with her is none of your business."

"If I didn't know you better, I'd say..."

"Don't, Phil," she said quietly. "You have no idea."

"I watched you. You were so quiet before she came and then when she got there, you couldn't take your eyes off her." His voice was angry and he grabbed her arms. "Did that dyke come on to you or what? Is that what this is about?"

"Dyke?" Ginny laughed softly in his face. "Is that what she is?"

He shoved her away, his eyes searching hers for answers. "Did she?"

"My relationship with her is none of your business," she said again.

"Isn't it? My God, Ginny, what's happened to you?" He shoved his hands nervously through his hair and peered at her. "We were going to get married."

"No. We were not. And that has nothing to do with Kara," she said.

"Please tell me you're not involved with her," he whispered. "Please?"

Ginny stared at him, refusing to look away. "We're... more than friends, yes," she admitted. "And that has nothing to do with you."

"Jesus," he muttered. "I can't believe this." He turned his back on her and Ginny was tempted to go to him, to comfort him, but he shrugged her hand away. "Was I that bad in bed? Jesus, you had to replace me with a fucking woman?" he yelled.

"Phil, this has nothing to do with you. It just... happened."

"But you're not a... a goddamned lesbian," he whispered.

"If what I feel for her makes me a lesbian, then yes, I guess I am." She took his arm and this time he didn't pull away. "I don't expect you to understand, Phil. I don't understand it myself."

"That's why you cried last night?"

She nodded and shoved her hands in her pockets. "I wasn't ready to accept this, I guess. I didn't know for sure that I could be in a... a lesbian relationship like this. But she's what I want."

"So, it's over? Just like that?" he asked, his tone hurt again. "Because some dyke came on to you?"

"Stop calling her that," she said sharply. Then her voice softened. "Don't you see? This has nothing to do with you. I tried, Phil. That's why I let you come up here. But it's me. Something was missing with us. That's why I ran. I just didn't know what it was."

"And you can't know now," he insisted.

"Phil, she's not the first woman I've been... attracted to. It was before I met you and nothing happened. I couldn't allow anything to happen. But... with Kara..." She clutched at her heart and closed her eyes. "This is who I am. I'm so sorry."

"You're sorry? That's all you can say? What the hell is Nana going to say?"

"She doesn't know. And I'm not ready to tell her."

"Well, maybe I should. Maybe she could talk some sense into you."

"Phil, please don't be this way. It's not you. It's me."

"I think you're sick," he said bitterly. "This whole thing is sick."

"I'm sorry you feel that way then." She faced him squarely and didn't flinch from the anger in his eyes. "I'll tell Nana you're leaving in the morning."

She walked inside, slamming the door behind her. Why did she tell him? Did she honestly expect him to understand?

She got her pillow and tossed it on the sofa, unmindful of Nana watching.

"Ginny?"

"What?" she asked.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Everything."

"Ginny?"

"Nana, I don't want to talk now."

"Where's Phil?"

"Outside, I suppose," she said curtly.

"You've had a fight? Ginny, you just got engaged," Nana said innocently.

"Nana, I'm not engaged. I'm not getting married."

"But, Phil..."

"Phil is leaving tomorrow," Ginny said between clinched teeth.

"Leaving? I don't understand," she said. Nana sat on the sofa beside Ginny and took her hand. "What is it, child?"

"Nana, I'm not... I just... I don't want to marry Phil. Let's just leave it at that."

"But he loves you."

Ginny smiled gently and kissed Nana's hand.

"But I don't love him."



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