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The lunch rush wouldn't start for another hour and a half. Lynda had noticed Melanie's Jeep in the back lot and decided to pop into the bookstore and say hi.
She found her friend slumped into one of the overstuffed chairs, her legs thrown over one arm, the copy of Curious Wine on the floor, her blue eyes gazing off into space.
"Hey," Lynda called cheerfully. "You got a damn name for this joint yet?"
"Sorry, what?" Melanie looked as though she'd been jarred awake.
"A name. Have you found a name for this place?"
"Name? For the shop?" Lynda studied her closely. She looked confused, a little scared, and just generally disheveled. "What is going on with you? Are you okay? Did something happen? Paperwork fall through? Sam go through the roof? What is it?"
Without meeting the caf� owner's eyes, Melanie asked, "Lynda, when did you know? I mean, when did the realization that you were gay actually hit you?"
Here we go, Lynda thought. She took a seat in the other chair and scrutinized Melanie carefully. "Well, let's see. I was twenty-two and a senior in college. Looking back now, I know I always had 'crushes' on women, but I was raised out in the country by conservative, old-fashioned parents. I didn't even know what a lesbian was. Anyway, during the summer of my senior year, I joined a recreational softball team. A high school friend of mine played, and they were looking for a second baseman. I found out later that the entire team was gay and I had no idea. How 'bout that?" She chuckled at Melanie, who smiled in return. "Anyway, there was a woman named Sarah on the team. Short stop. She was a couple years older than me, but we hit it off. We were inseparable for the whole season.
"During the end of the season party, Sarah and I bailed out of the house and went for a walk. We got to talking about things�parents, school, and life in general. She told me she was gay, along with the rest of the teamboy was I embarrassedand�" She stopped, still amused by a story she'd told hundreds of times. "I still don't know exactly how she did it, but she managed to get me to realize and admit that I was, in fact, a lesbian. She talked about her past, about growing up, about girls and teachers she'd had crushes on and it was like she was talking about me. I couldn't believe it. I'd finally found somebody who understood me. All this time I had thought there was something weird about me, but come to find out, I was just gay."
"Were you surprised to find out?" Melanie asked softly.
"Stunned. It seemed so simple. Why none of my relationships with men had ever worked. Why all my friends in high school were worried if they didn't have a boyfriend and not only did I not have one, I didn't want one." Her eyes fell to the book on the floor and she gestured to it. "You read it?"
Melanie followed her glance. "Yup."
"It was beautiful. I loved it." She looked like she wanted to say something more, so Lynda waited her out. "I found it interesting that the two main characters fell for each other so quickly," she finally said.
Lynda chuckled. "Occupational hazard of being a lesbian."
"What does a lesbian bring on her second date?"
Melanie furrowed her brow at the riddle, then shrugged. "I give. What?"
Lynda was relieved to see Melanie's face split into a genuine smile. She even laughed out loud. After a couple of minutes, Lynda leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands. "What's going on, Mel?"
The smile slid slowly off the redhead's face and Lynda was surprised to see her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I kissed Taylor," she whispered.
Lynda's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Really. Wow. Okay. And?"
"And, you wish you hadn't? And, you're glad you did? And, she punched you in the face?"
"And, it was the best kiss I've ever experienced." Her voice was barely audible.
"And, this is a new thing for you, isn't it?" she said, the comprehension lighting up her face. Now, we're at the heart of the matter.
"Yes." The tears were flowed silently. She looked up at her friend, and Lynda thought she seemed much younger than she was. "I'm gay, aren't I?" she asked in a small voice.
Lynda smiled gently. "The signs are kind of pointing in that general direction, yeah. But that's something only you can decide."
"I'm not sure what happens now." She hated being this lost, this unstructured.
"Have you talked to Taylor about it?"
She hesitated. "No. I�I don't know if I can. I'm not sure what I'd say."
Lynda chose her next words carefully. "You just kissed, right?"
"What? Oh." Melanie blushed an attractive shade of pink. "Yeah. Just kissed."
"You really should talk to her, you know."
"I know. I will. Just�later." She sat up and wiped her eyes. "Okay. I can't deal with this any more right now." She snatched up the newspaper and handed it to Lynda. "I walked by most of the circled ones this morning. I was up early," she added at Lynda's surprised look. "What do you think?"
I think you have some heavy-duty feelings for Taylor, she wanted to say. And she's got 'em for you. Lynda had seen the way Taylor had looked at Melanie, how they had interacted with one another during Taylor's visit to the bookstore recently. Anybody could have picked up on it. You'd better get things sorted out and talk to the poor girl before you break her heart. Aloud, she said, "Ooo. Dartmouth is a nice street."
Much to Melanie's surpriseand against her better judgementshe put a deposit down on the first apartment she looked at. It was on Dartmouth Street, only a few blocks from the bookstore and easily within walking distance, at least during nice weather. It was perfect�beautiful hardwood floors, connected living room and kitchen, one generous bedroom, an average-size bathroom, there was plenty of closet space and she liked the quiet, tree-lined street. She'd pulled out her checkbook on the spot. She'd never done anything quite so spontaneous before, and she wondered why Rochester was having such an effect on her personality.
"I buy a business, I rent the first apartment I see, I make out with a girl," she mumbled out loud as she sat down in the office to eat her lunch of a Quarter Pounder with cheese and fries. "Rochester's certainly done wonderful things for me."
The bell over the door jingled and Melanie scowled at herself for again not remembering to lock it behind her. She still had work to do and was not yet ready to deal with customers. "Lynda?" she called as she left the office. Rather than her next door neighbor, she was faced with a giant bouquet of flowers.
"Melanie Larson?" came a voice from the delivery person, whose face she couldn't see.
"Sign here, please." A clipboard held in a hand, attached to an arm appeared from out of nowhere.
Lynda chose that very instant to pop in, carrying a small bowl and spoon. "Mel. I'm trying a new soup and I want you to taste�wow. Now that's what I call a bouquet." She winked as the delivery person, who turned out to be a gentleman old enough to be Melanie's grandfather, headed for the door. "Think they're from the Kissing Bandit?"
Melanie shot her a warning look.
Lynda shrugged. "Hey. Small joke. Sorry."
Melanie pulled the card out and opened the envelope.
Looking forward to many more dinners�Ben
"****," she said softly, closing her eyes. "Can this possibly get any worse?"
"I think it's sweet that she sent you flowers," Lynda offered.
"They're not from her. They're from him."
Lynda looked confused. "Him? Him who?"
"Who the hell is Ben?"