Pulling out of the driveway, she adjusted the mirror and caught the last wave from the palm tree as a silent salute to her journey ahead. Coming to a stop at the end of the road, she turned the car towards the north and pulled out into traffic. She would need to put some miles underneath her before tonight’s sunset, although, to be certain, she had no idea where she was headed. The road opened up in front of her and she pushed the pedal down another notch.
The trunk of the old Chevy was filled with boxes of clothing, photographs, and mementos, in essence, her life, reduced to miniature square piles of cardboard. Behind her, in the back seat, her laptop and medical books smiled back at her, buckled into the seat and covered with a quilt. In the front floorboard, Rusty had settled down after circling several times and had curled up on top of another quilt to sleep. The front seat held an atlas, Rusty’s leash, and a bottle of water for her and Rusty to share. Sighing, wondering if this was indeed the right step, her foot answered the question by pushing the pedal down one more notch.
Sundown found her a few states away and she pulled off the highway into a little town with a quaint name, somewhere in the middle of North Carolina. A billboard a few miles back had boasted of “the best damn cup of coffee in the state!” and that sounded really good right now. Following directions from the pointing finger of an old man at a service station, she pulled the Chevy up in front of a small cafe and shut the motor off. Leaning her head back for several minutes, both her and the car breathed an audible sigh of relief. Rusty’s tail thumped the floorboard and this brought her eyes open immediately. A tall thin woman with dark hair was standing at the passenger window, waving at Rusty. She looked friendly enough and Rusty seemed to like her.
Opening the driver’s door, she stepped out onto the asphalt and looked over the top of the car, directly into the most beautiful set of eyes she had ever seen. They were actually gold in color and, for a second, she was speechless.
“Hi!”, the woman said. “Can I help you with anything?” She found her tongue and murmured something about a cup of coffee. “Oh. I’m sorry but I’m closed for the evening. I just happened to be restocking and saw headlights out front. I thought it was the pizza delivery guy, but I guess not!” She laughed and her dulcet tones wafted across the space between them.
“Just my luck”, she muttered under her breath. “Well, hi anyway, and is it possible that Rusty could use your bathroom? He’s a friendly guy, and my name’s Gina, by the way“, she said smiling her most disarming and charming smile.
“Well, Gina, I’m Coll, this is my cafe and certainly Rusty can go around back where there are a few trees that a young man might like. He is a beauty!”
Gina was leashing Rusty and said, “Thank you.” Shutting the car door, she said, “I admit I was really looking forward to what the sign said a few miles back.“
“What do you mean?”, Coll asked.
“The best damn cup of coffee in the state exclamation point, I believe it said”, Gina replied, laughing.
“Oh. The City Council guys like me. Don’t believe everything you read!”, Coll laughed. “Although I suppose I could offer you a cup of leftover, if you don’t mind it nuked. Free, of course.” Her golden eyes sparkled and her smile was relaxed and friendly.
Gina was definitely thirsty and definitely intrigued. “Thanks. Well, will you lead the way for Rusty? He seems to be crossing his legs right now!”
Coll laughed again and said, “Follow me, kind stranger, for I can but offer humble hospitality, warmed over coffee, and a tree to those in need.” Gina followed her around the side of the little cafe. She couldn’t help but notice the attractiveness of the woman and her swaying hips, and, for a moment, she blushed; she hadn’t felt an instant connection to another woman in years and she was definitely feeling one now.
Rusty found his tree right away and marked it for his very own. Coll had a small enclosed area that had obviously seen a few dogs and she offered for Rusty to stay in there loose or he could come inside if she preferred keeping him close to her. Gina opted to let him stretch his legs for a bit and he seemed quite at home inside the little fenced in yard. Setting out a bowl of water for him, Coll led the way and Gina followed her in through the back door of the Cafe. Headlights were shining almost blindingly against the front windows and a teenage boy was knocking on the front door, peering in through the glass into the somewhat darkened interior, face plastered against the panes of the door. “Oh sure, now he comes! Hey, pizza boy, I just cleaned those windows!”, Coll said, and went to deal with him. Gina looked around, spotted the ladies room, and headed for it. She suddenly realized Rusty wasn’t the only one with crossed legs.
Refreshing herself with some splashes of cool water to her face and running her fingers through her graying hair, Gina took stock of her appearance. Jean shorts, sneakers, and a comfortable soft gray tee-shirt. She sighed inwardly and thought, ‘this will just have to be good enough, so here goes nothing’. Pushing the bathroom door open, she reentered the dining room to find Coll had set a table close to the kitchen door, with two paper plates, some napkins, two cups of steaming coffee, and the box of pizza from Mama Leoni’s. “Hey, I figured that’s where you disappeared to. Will you join me for some dins? If you say yes, I won’t have to eat leftover pizza for two days, the one big drawback to living alone.” Coll’s face was cheerful and inviting, and Gina found herself heading in that direction.
“Thank you very much, if you’re sure I wouldn’t be intruding, although I really need to feed Rusty, too. Can I go out through the front door, to my car? Rusty’s food is in the trunk.”
“Oh, of course. Let me get the lock for you.” Coll strode to the door and unlocked it, holding it open with a flourish.
Brushing past Coll, Gina said, “Thank you very much. You really are too kind.” Gina actually got a little tingle from their contact and she wondered at the other woman’s obvious kindness. Was it possible that she felt a connection too or was she simply this kind to all strangers who showed up at sundown? Gina hoped she would learn more as the evening progressed.
Bending over to feed Rusty, Gina felt eyes upon her back and straightening up with a turn, found Coll holding the back door open for her. “I thought I better keep an eye on you. You never know who’s around at night“, Coll said to her. Gina nodded, thinking to herself that she was indeed well protected around this woman. This thought made her feel safe and warm. As they headed back inside, Gina reached the dining area first and saw that everything was just as she had left it, with the exception of their coffee cups. As if on cue, the microwave dinged and Coll walked up beside her. “Sounds like the coffee’s hot again. Let’s eat, Gina. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving!“
Dinner was filled with small talk and Coll’s stories of local characters. Gina found herself being charmed more and more by Coll and her funny anecdotes on life in the small town as compared to life in Boston where she had moved from a few years before. Gina had settled into her chair as Coll talked, relaxing and enjoying Coll’s soothing voice. Her eyes began to wander around the cafe. Catching her eye were several small uniquely shaped glass bowls, which seemed to be filled with water and goldfish. These were scattered throughout the place in a variety of locations.
Following her gaze, Coll asked, “Would you like to see my babies?” Gina nodded, curiosity filling her. Walking over to one of the shelves, Coll took down what Gina assumed was a glass-blown bowl, containing a single fish. He was bright red and looked up at them expectantly.
“This is Theodore Roosevelt, or Teddy. Teddy, meet Gina.” Teddy’s mouth moved, like he was speaking. Gina couldn’t help but laugh.
Coll said, “I used to own a pet store, but I got tired of it and decided to try a coffee shop instead, so I took most of the stock home with me and a few“, she swung her arm to encompass the room, “came here, but only the betas because they don’t need air tanks or anything. I brought them in to entertain the children mostly, as children don’t always do well in a coffee shop but, when they come here, visiting the presidents is a treat, so they are usually as good as gold. I figure if nothing else, they can learn a little about the history of our nation.“
As Coll sat Teddy back on his shelf, Gina noticed an index card next to him, with his name on it and a brief biography of President Roosevelt. Coll continued to walk as she talked, and gestured toward a bright blue beta on a shelf, “That’s Bill Clinton.” Gina laughed out loud. She couldn’t help it. The idea was sheer genius.
“There’s Abraham Lincoln over there, or Honest Abe, as I call him. Further along you will find, John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, and finally, Grover Cleveland.”
Gina found herself beaming from ear to ear.
“What?“, Coll asked.
“Nothing. Well, you are amazing, actually. All of this is simply amazing. The fish, your cafe, your hospitality, you in general, I guess. I think you are just amazing. Maybe you should write a book.”
Coll laughed, “You aren’t the first one to say so. Come on, I have some chocolate chip cookies that are still warm in the back. Let’s have a couple to top off that pizza.” Gina followed her to the kitchen, and again her gaze couldn’t help but notice Coll’s swaying derriere in front of her.
As Coll reached across the counter to pull the still-warm cookie sheet toward them, Gina stepped quickly behind her, put her hands on Coll’s hips, and spun her body around toward her.
“Hey! What the….” Coll’s voice trailed off as they stood now face to face.
Gina said quietly, “I want to kiss you. I have almost from the first moment we met.” Coll looked her directly in the eyes for a moment and then, placing her hands on Gina’s face, leaned in and kissed her. The kiss was soft and passionate at the same time. As they pulled back from each other, Coll suddenly scooped Gina up and sat her quickly, in one smooth move, right onto the empty kitchen counter.
“Well, what a coincidence. Because I have wanted to make love to you from almost the moment I met you.” Having said that, she began to pull Gina’s shorts from her body.
Gina stopped her. “Not here. Not the first time.”
Coll looked at her and nodded. “Okay. I like that you’re already planning a second time. Let’s go back to my house. I don’t live too far and Rusty can come with us.” Gina nodded and Coll began to straighten the kitchen back up, putting away the cookies, throwing away the pizza box, and rinsing out the coffee cups. Gina followed her out back to get Rusty, while Coll locked the cafe up and turned off the lights.
“We should take my car, though. I don’t want to leave it here; it contains my whole life at this point.”
The ride to Coll’s house was quick and simple. Rusty was left in a fenced in pen again, much to his delight after being cooped up in the car for a day. Gina followed Coll inside. As Gina closed the door behind her, Coll turned suddenly and pinned Gina up against the door, grabbing both of her arms and putting them above Gina’s head rather quickly. Gina’s eyes showed her momentary surprise but, when Coll began kissing and biting her neck, Gina did not protest. She loved the sudden feeling of constraint and she loved Coll being in control. Coll’s teeth found her shoulders next and then, pulling her shirt up, found her breasts. Still holding her arms above her head with her right hand, Coll’s left hand had freed Gina’s breasts.
Pausing to look Gina in the eyes for a moment, Coll’s head went back to Gina’s nipples and her teeth began gently nipping first one and then the other, tugging on them, sucking on them, nibbling and rolling them under her tongue. Gina’s pleasure was evident in the sounds coming from her mouth. Her eyes were closed and she had, in essence, melted against the door. Coll’s hand on her arms kept her upright and, for a moment, she struggled to free her arms but Coll’s grip grew even tighter, delighting Gina in a way she didn’t understand but definitely enjoyed.
Suddenly Coll lifted her mouth from Gina’s nipples and, reaching into the drawer of a small table to the right of the door, Coll pulled out a set of handcuffs. Taking the key from them, she showed it to Gina and then put it into her pocket. Gina never said a word, only watched with widened eyes as Coll then handcuffed her hands together, hanging the cuffs across a nail near the top of the door. This left Gina’s arms in virtually the same position but with a little bit of wiggle room and it left both of Coll’s hands free. She smiled at Gina and then, placing her hands on her cheeks, kissed her, softly at first, mouth closed and then gently biting her lips, sucking Gina’s bottom lip into her mouth, and then sucking on her tongue.
Gina loved how Coll kissed. The other woman’s passion was unmatched with anything Gina had ever experienced before and she loved this feeling of Coll being in control of her body. Never had a woman excited her so quickly before. Gina couldn’t believe how wet she knew she was getting and she couldn’t wait to see what was to follow.