In The Light Of Day by Cheyne

In The Light Of Day

by Cheyne

Summary: When Riley Vaughn wakes up in a strange bed, it leads to awakenings of a different kind.

When Riley Vaughn awoke, she instantly knew she was not in her own bed. The mattress was too soft.

She blinked and tried to maintain consciousness. She tried to keep the one eye open that was not buried into the pillow and struggled to get a bearing on just exactly whose bed she might be in. And tried to remember just exactly how she might have gotten there.

Nothing immediately came to mind regarding the night before – other than blurry recollections of her cousin’s, bachelorette party. Danielle was getting married the following week and she had promised quite a raucous bash for the attendees. Danielle had kept her word.

Riley moved slightly to readjust her position which brought forth new revelations; her muscles ached, she was not alone and she was naked.

Her aching muscles were the least of her concern as that could have been explained by the yielding consistency of the mattress. Usually, if she didn’t sleep on something akin to a slab of concrete, her back killed her. She had to admit, though, as her body sunk into the mattress, it was more comfortable than most soft mattresses and the body parts that ached were not the usual areas related to a bad night’s sleep.

Her lack of clothes could have resulted from any number of things, including the disconcerting thought of them being covered with vomit. Although she didn’t have the aftertaste of throwing up, she knew she must have consumed quite a bit of alcohol to have not made it home and not to remember why she couldn’t make it home. And, if she had puked or spilled something on her clothes and they had been hung somewhere to dry, she reasoned she would still be in her camisole and panties.

Added to that was the mystery of whose back was pressed up against hers. The warmth of skin on skin contact felt nice. It had been so long since Riley had been intimate with anyone and she wondered if the night before had been worth ending her self-imposed celibacy. She closed her eyes and softly chuckled. Nearly twenty months of sexually starving myself, wanting it to actually mean something the next time I had sex and not only can I not remember the act itself, I don’t even know who it was with…

She didn’t remember meeting anyone outside the confines of the attending party members but the problem was that she didn’t remember anything after a certain point in the evening. She was positive that Gina, the only non-drinker in the group and the designated driver, would not have let her leave with anyone she didn’t know. Although she could not really think of anyone in her current circle of exes or interests who could seduce her out of her resolve. Even drunk. I’m just so tired of the way men –

“Good morning. How do you feel?”

Riley’s eyes popped open and she stopped breathing. It wasn’t so much that the body touching hers now had a voice or that it belonged to a person she would now have to awkwardly deal with, it was that the rich, dulcet tone belonged to a woman.

What the f… Okay, okay, don’t panic, Rye. Just because you are lying in bed, naked as the day you were born, with a possibly naked woman beside you doesn’t mean that you…you…actually did anything. Breathe. That’s it. In. Out. Good. Think, damn it! We probably both just got hopelessly drunk and crashed. Maybe if I can see her face it will trigger something. Riley lifted the covers just enough to allow herself to turn, which caused the overpowering scent of sex to breeze upward. Her head fell back on the pillow and she closed her eyes tightly. Oh, God. What the fuck happened last night? I know I didn’t sleep with a woman. What would cause me to sleep with a woman? I’ve never been attrac-

“You okay?”

The voice was closer now. In fact, Riley could feel breath on her face. What have I done? OhGodohGodohGod. “Fine,” she squeaked, politely, “thanks for asking.”

“Why are your eyes still closed? Are they crusted shut or something?”

“No, I…um…”

“If I drank as much as you did last night, you’d probably need a seam ripper to get my eyes open. Although I must say, you handled it better than most.”

“Handled what?” She held her breath again. Don’t say it, I know we had sex, I can smell it and feel it. Damn…what exactly did we do? My, um, parts are sore. OhGodohGod, just don’t think about it.

“Your alcohol consumption.”

“Oh.” I’m going to have to look at her sometime. She’s got a very nice voice, very smooth. With my luck, she’s got a face made for radio, probably looks like Gollum. Oh, God. What was I thinking? Well, that’s just it, I wasn’t thinking. Riley slowly opened one eye, then the other. She found herself staring into a vivid pair of mesmerizing, electric blue eyes. “Uh…hi.”

“Hi.” The woman smiled at her, a gesture that revealed perfect, even, white teeth. She had long, jet-black hair, which framed her chiseled features and complemented her tanned complexion. “Thought you might stay in there all day.”

“Stay in where?” Riley asked. Oh, my. She’s…she’s beautiful. But that still doesn’t explain why we are in bed together. She doesn’t look familiar. That’s not good.

The woman tapped Riley’s temple. “In there.”

“Oh.”

She studied Riley and smirked. “You look bemused.”

“You look amused.” Riley gripped the sheet up to her neck with such a tight fist, her knuckles were white.

“You have no idea who I am, do you?” The woman leaned back and rested against the headboard.

“Uh…I really…no, I don’t,” Riley admitted, hoping she didn’t look as humiliated as she felt. Her eyeballs rotated over to accept the disappointment in her hostess’ stunning and expressive eyes and her gaze automatically fell upon two bare breasts. Riley immediately covered her face with the sheet. “Oh, I’m sorry…” Can this get any more embarrassing? Okay, don’t ask.

“Why? You didn’t seem sorry last night.” Her tone was a cross between befuddled and teasing, which made Riley try to burrow deeper into the bed. “You don’t remember last night, either, do you?”

“No,” came Riley’s muffled reply.

“Pity. It was most definitely worth remembering.”

“Um…thank you?” Riley’s voice was still smothered by the sheet and both her hands. The woman chuckled and it was a sound Riley found oddly delightful.

“Come on out of there and we’ll talk,” she coaxed as she tugged at the sheet. “I promise I’ll cover up. It’s obviously making you uncomfortable.”

“Thank you.” Riley felt the woman’s weight ease off the bed.

“Okay, you can look. I’m decent.”

Slowly, Riley pulled the sheet from her eyes and focused on her hostess, who belted a royal blue satin robe closed. The color of the garment only enhanced the woman’s loveliness. The woman approached the bed and extended her hand.

“I’m Kya Liberis.”

“Riley Vaughn.” She accepted the handshake and released it quickly.

“Yes, I remember who you are.” Kya sat in a rocking chair opposite the bed.

“Right. Yeah. Can I ask –?” Where should I start? Does it really matter? “What did I drink?”

“Tequila.”

Riley squinted at her in confusion. “I don’t drink tequila.”

“You did last night.”

“No, it’s not possible. Tequila makes me really sick and gives me the hangover from Hell.”

“Is there such a thing as the hangover from Heaven? You don’t remember Julie giving you shots of dill pickle juice before each shot of tequila? Swore it wouldn’t give you a hangover?”

“No. I shot Tequila?” Riley still wasn’t convinced.

“I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Who’s Julie?”

“Danielle’s matron of honor.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t remember her either?”

“She’s kind of fuzzy.”

“She’s Mediterranean.” Kya said.

Riley didn’t get it at first, then she cocked her head. “Cute.”

Kya shrugged and smiled. A simple act that made Riley audibly catch her breath. Confused by her own reaction to Kya, Riley covered the action with a cough.

Why don’t I remember her? She’s fucking gorgeous. Wait, what? Focus, Rye, focus! She shook her head as though that would knock the cobwebs loose. “I shot dill pickle juice?”

“Surprisingly, yes.”

“That actually works?”

“Are you sick?”

“No.”

“Do you have a hangover?”

“No.”

“Then I guess it works.”

“Listen, Kya, I…I don’t know what…I don’t, um, sleep with women…”

“You did last night.”

“No, seriously –“

“You don’t drink tequila, either.” Kya arched an eyebrow at her guest.

“Kya, this is very awkward for me – for many reasons – and I need to know what happened last night. I need to know how I ended up in your bed…with you.”

The blue eyes pinned her in scrutiny. “You really don’t remember a thing?”

“No, not much after…” Riley closed her eyes, apparently trying to recall. “…the male stripper.”

Kya nodded. “What’s the last thing you remember about him?”

Riley glanced above Kya’s head, toward the ceiling as though that would help her remember. “He…uh…gave Danielle a lap dance. Then…he…hmmm…he gave lessons?” She looked at Kya for confirmation. When Kya nodded again, Riley said, “And after that, I…wow, it really starts going blank after that.”

“Maybe it’s selective amnesia,” Kya suggested.

“Why would I have that?”

“Because you gave me a lap dance.”

Riley turned progressive shades of red. “I did?”

“I have proof.” Kya reached around to her dresser and picked up her cell phone. She pressed a few buttons and handed the phone to Riley. “Just click the circle on the side to go to the next picture.”

Riley took the phone from Kya and made sure the sheet didn’t fall away from her neck. She looked at the first picture and her eyes widened. Numbly, Riley studied the selection of seven images of her as she, indisputably, ground into Kya’s lap. “Those are pretty clear.”

“There’s video of it, too,” Kya said.

“I’m sure there is.” As she handed the phone back to Kya, Riley’s chin touched her chest. “I don’t remember that.”

“You weren’t the only one who did a lap dance. There were at least twenty other women who, after their lesson, tried their new skill on someone from the group.”

“And I chose you? I don’t – didn’t – know you.”

“Actually, I was volunteered. I had just walked in the door when a guy in a navy blue thong with an embroidered badge was pumping his pelvis wildly to ‘Say It Right’ and a group of drunken women were mimicking him. Julie handed me a huge glass of sangria. I had taken maybe two sips when Gina grabbed my wrist, pulled me over to where the lessons had just concluded, told me to sit and then dragged you over and said you needed someone to practice on.”

“Okay, well, if twenty of the others did it too, it sounds innocent enough.”

“You gave a very seductive lap dance to the only lesbian in the room.”

“I didn’t know you were a lesbian.”

“Actually…you did. Gina announced it when she introduced us. She loves to do that. She said, ‘Riley, meet Kya. She’s a lesbian. You can practice on her. She’ll love it’.”

“Oh, God. And then what happened?” I am going to kill Gina.

“She was right. I loved it. And, apparently, so did you. When you were done, you asked for everyone’s attention and told them that you just gave a lap dance to a woman who could really appreciate it.”

I’m going to kill myself. “I did that? That is so not me. It had to be the tequila. You must have wanted to slap me silly. Did we say anything to each other?”

“First, you were already silly and second, the sexiest woman there dry humped me to one of my favorite songs. Trust me, I could barely speak.”

“Thank you,” Riley smiled, shyly.

“For?”

“Saying I was sexy.”

“Don’t you own a mirror?” Kya grinned widely at the reaction she got from the adorable, smaller blonde woman. Riley may have been inhibited at the moment but the recollection of that luscious mouth on her, of how that hot little body rocked in ecstasy above her, or how she repeatedly screamed release mere hours before, contradicted that. The memory of Riley fucking her with abandon, of Riley causing her to writhe in pleasure, even though she protested she had no clue as to what she was doing, challenged that sober reserve.

The sensual intensity of Kya’s expression left Riley with no doubt what the other woman was thinking. Hopefully there wasn’t a tape or cell phone photos of that. “So – after the, um, successful lap dance, then what?”

“You drank more and got more even friendlier.”

“With you?”

“With everybody but I seemed to be your favorite. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a natural flirt.”

“I get that way after a few drinks.”

“Obviously.”

“Okay, after a little harmless flirting –“

“There was nothing harmless about your flirting. You blatantly came on to me.”

Riley looked dubious. “I wouldn’t do that.”

That denial was greeted by a raised eyebrow and an undisguised once-over of the bed.

“But I don’t sleep with women. I’ve never…well, the attraction and desire has never been there.”

“It was there last night.”

“I was drunk.”

Kya smirked. “Liquid courage? It’s been my experience that people do and say things when they are drunk that they don’t have the guts to do and say when they are sober.”

“You think I harbor a secret desire for women?” Riley sounded unintentionally defensive.

“I don’t think anything of the kind, Riley, I just stated what I know to be true.”

“But – still – I’m not…I’m not a lesbian.”

“One experience does not a lesbian make.” Kya ran a hand through her hair. “Look, I can see you are very uncomfortable. There’s really no need to be. We met, we had a good time, that’s all it has to be. It was what it was.”

“Do you think anyone knows that I, uh, came home with you?”

Kya sighed. “Just Gina. Are you ashamed?”

Thankfully, Gina doesn’t have a big mouth. If Danielle knew, it would be currently scrolling on CNN every fifteen minutes. Riley recognized that she had stepped into eggshell territory. “Only of my own behavior, not of you. I would have been ashamed if I had ended up in the bed of a man I didn’t know, either, especially in this day and age.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t make you feel any better by telling you we were cautious because we weren’t.”

“But…I don’t even know what to do with a woman…”

“So you said last night. I can assure you that you have a creative imagination and you take instruction very well.” Kya grinned at Riley’s nonplussed expression. “Bet you wish you could remember it now, huh?”

Riley blushed furiously again. How does she do that? My God, though – if I had to pick a woman to enjoy a night of debauchery with, I could have done a hell of a lot worse. She is striking. “So does that mean I did okay?” Oh, fuck! I can’t believe I just asked that!

Kya could not stop herself and burst out laughing, which caused Riley to smile back at her. “You were great,” she winked at her. Kya stood up. “How about some coffee?”

“Do you mind if I shower first?” Do I really want to stay and have coffee with this woman? Yeah. I think I do.

Kya gestured toward the bathroom. “Be my guest. Towels are in the cupboard next to the tub. Good luck finding all your clothes.”

Her focus had either been on Kya or her own lap, so Riley had not had a chance to look around the room. She was sure her clothes were on the floor by the bed. Riley surveyed the bedroom and saw her blouse on the bedpost, her jeans draped over the television, her camisole was dangling from the ceiling fan and her panties were M.I.A. “Oh. Oh, my.”

“Yeah. It got a little wild in here last night. I don’t even know where my clothes are. You were a little impatient.”

Riley shook her head. “I still can’t believe I was the aggressor. And with a woman.”

Kya chuckled again and as she left the room, she said, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

***********

Ow. Owowowowowow. Jesus, what did we do last night? It shouldn’t sting this much to pee. Riley gingerly wiped herself, flushed and started the shower. She found a temperature she liked, adjusted the showerhead, stepped under the spray of hot water and let it pulsate on her upper body.

Okay. Okay. Come on, Rye, it’s really not as bad as you first thought. Aside from being stunning and hot, she seems like a nice person – wait, did I just call her hot? Oh, get over yourself, Rye, she is very hot. It’s almost too bad I’m not into women. Wait, what am I saying? Focus, Rye! She lathered up her hair. Everything will be fine. Kya seems up front and discreet. She makes sense; it doesn’t have to be anymore than what it is. Or what it was. Now that I have the experience under my belt, though, I wish I could remember it.

That is definitely the last time I do tequila.

*********

“How do you take your coffee?” Kya handed Riley an empty mug. She had the coffee carafe in the other hand, ready to pour. “Regular, like your men? Or dark and strong, like your women?”

Riley nearly choked on her own saliva. She squinted at Kya. “You’re just getting the biggest kick out of this, aren’t you?”

“Actually? Yes.” She gestured with the coffee container again.

“I usually like it without anything but that depends on how potent you make it.”

“Well, you don’t have to cut it with a knife and fork but you can’t read a book through it, either.”

“Then I’ll take it black. It smells really good. I love the smell of freshly brewed coffee.”

“Me, too.” Kya placed the carafe on the table, gestured for Riley to sit and then pulled out her chair for her. After they were both seated at the kitchen table, Kya said, “Are you feeling better?”

“I feel, um, fresher. Although I still can’t find my panties,” she blushed again. “Going commando is an experience all in itself.”

“Ah. The secret of the missing panties – not something we should call Nancy Drew for, eh?” Kya sipped her coffee and watched Riley over the rim of her cup.

“No, although somehow I really don’t think George would mind too much.” Riley chuckled.

“So the little straight girl does have some gaydar,” Kya mused.

Is she making fun of me? Am I being too defensive? How do I know? It’s not like I have anything to compare this to. Move on, Rye, she’s probably just teasing. “So how do you know Danielle?”

“We went to college together, actually roomed together one semester. We try to get together and catch up once every six months, more if we can.”

“Really? Did you and Danielle…ever…?”

“Sleep together? No. I had a girlfriend. Danielle knew all about it. She was fine with everything. Besides, Danielle is as straight as anyone I have ever met. And, even if she had been gay or bi, I was not attracted to her.”

“You don’t think Danielle is attractive?”

“No, I think Danielle is extremely attractive. I’ve just never been attracted to her. Big difference there.”

Huh. That’s a concept I hadn’t though of. Interesting. Riley nodded.

“In most cases, just like straight women, lesbians have to be attracted to the person. We’re not willing to sleep with every female on the planet just because they are female, you know? Well, a majority of us, anyway. There are a few who defy that…unfortunately. They give the rest of us a bad name.”

“How do you do that?” Riley wondered out loud.

“Do what?”

“Read my mind like that? That’s the second or third time you’ve done that.”

Kya smirked. “Don’t ever play poker for money, Riley. Everything you think shows on that beautiful face of yours.”

Riley smiled, demurely. “You certainly are a charmer, aren’t you?”

“Depends on who you ask, I guess.” Kya added more coffee to her cup and offered more to Riley, who declined. “How do you know Danielle?”

“She’s my cousin. Her mom and my mom are sisters.”

“Oh. That’s right, Danielle does have a lot of cousins. Weren’t there quite a few at the party last night?”

“Other than me, there were only six and that was six too many. They were some of the older women who arrived early and left soon after the stripper showed up.” Riley rolled her eyes. “I’m sure I will hear about the fact that I stayed to see the stripper when I go see my mom tomorrow. In fact, I won’t be surprised if there isn’t already a message on my phone.”

“Really? She’ll have a problem with that?”

“Only because her oldest sister, the Wicked Witch of the Westons – my mom’s maiden name – will preach fire and brimstone about the continuous, sinful downfall of my generation of ‘Westons’. I keep hoping someone will drop a house on her but it hasn’t happened yet. My mom gets it the worst because I am the youngest of all the first cousins.”

“Oh, so you’re the salvation of the family reputation?”

“Something like that.”

Kya’s laughter bubbled up again. “I guess last night kind of blew that, didn’t it?”

Riley couldn’t help but join her in the laughter. “Yeah, well, thankfully what Aunt Virginia doesn’t know won’t kill my mother. And I blew the ‘great family hope’ thing long before last night.” Riley began to loosen up a little. She was still detached from the events of the night before and, surprisingly, started to feel regret that she had blacked out having sex with the enchanting woman seated opposite her. Riley became more intrigued by the minute. “I think I’d like more coffee if that’s okay.” Riley reached for the carafe but Kya got to it first and refilled Riley’s cup. First my chair, now my coffee. Well, well, well…chivalry is not dead after all. “Thank you.”

“I remember Danielle used to joke about her mother’s side of the family. I never thought too much about it. I mean, we all have interesting family dynamics.”

“We’re one of those families who have yearly reunions, even though most of us live here in town and can see each other any time we want. And everybody who can shows up – me included – because we’re an irritatingly competitive lot. We have to brag to each other about our lives and accomplishments. It really is an unhealthy cycle of one-upmanship.”

“And you participate in that?”

“Not so much anymore. But I used to think it was a requirement to remain in the family.”

“Yet you still go.” Kya rested her chin on her palm.

“I know. It’s destructive and obnoxious behavior.” Riley smiled. “Most of us can’t stand each other but we’re family, you know?”

“Really? You can’t stand each other yet you all clamor to get together once a year?”

“Odd, I know, but the precedent was set early on by Aunt Virginia and Uncle Ted.”

“No gay or lesbian relatives?” Kya asked.

“None who would dare to come out.” Riley grinned.

“Ah, but you suspect there may be?” Kya flashed a grin back at her.

“There were always rumors about my cousin, Warren. He’s in his fifties, never married, always brings the same two people to the reunions; his best friend, Sean, who’s so flaming I’m sure you could light the Fourth of July fireworks off him, and Anna. She’s supposed to be Warren’s girlfriend but nobody buys it. They’ve allegedly dated for the last twenty years. Supposedly he’s madly in love with Anna and it’s Anna who doesn’t want to get married. Who knows? It may be true; it may not. I honestly don’t care. He seems like a cool enough guy but because of our age difference and the fact that he successfully escaped to another state, I don’t really know him well.”

“At his age, you would think he wouldn’t be so afraid to come out. Seriously, what real impact could nasty old Aunt Virginia have on his life?”

“Well, since she’s his mother and there’s a large inheritance to consider…”

“Ah. That makes it clearer.” Kya warmed her coffee again.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” This is kind of silly. Last night we shared the most personal act that two people can share – several times, from what she has indicated – I hardly think I should have to ask permission to ask a personal question.

“Sure but isn’t that a little redundant?” Kya smirked.

“How come you don’t have a girlfriend?”

“What makes you think I don’t?”

“Because you…we…um…” Riley gestured toward the bedroom. “I just assumed…” She let her voice trail off. Of course, why wouldn’t she have a girlfriend?

Kya snickered and put up her hand. “I apologize. That was wrong of me. No, I don’t have a girlfriend. I’m not ready for a relationship right now. What about you? Boyfriend? Husband?”

“No. No boyfriend and I’m not married. I wouldn’t cheat on my husband. Especially not with a wo…” Oh, fuck, Riley! Why the hell do you suddenly sound like such a homophobe?

“With a woman?” Kya finished for her. “One never knows what one will do in times of desperation.”

“I don’t consider myself desperate. It’s my choice that I haven’t slept with anyone in a while.” I wish she would stop making me feel so defensive.

“Yes, I know. You told me,” Kya soothed. “I didn’t mean you, personally.”

“Oh. Okay. Good because I hardly think anyone would have to be desperate to sleep with you. I would think you could have your pick of just about anyone.”

Kya looked into Riley’s eyes, no mistaking her intent. “I do.”

It was difficult for Riley to find her voice immediately. Finally she was able to break eye contact and she cleared her throat. “Oh.” Wow. That was intense. “Um…so why not anyone permanent?” So I guess she finds you attractive and is attracted to you? How does that make you feel, Rye? Flattered? Yeah, flattered works. I wonder how I would feel if she wasn’t so damned beautiful.

“Are you offering?” Kya’s grin was playful and indulgent.

Riley smiled in response to Kya’s teasing. She blushed and bowed her head. “Uh…no. I think last night was a one-time thing.” She looked up, back at Kya. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with being gay, even experimenting – obviously – but I like men too much.” Even if the experimentation was subconscious.

“Why?” Kya’s question sounded genuine.

“Why?” Is ‘because I do’ too trite an answer?

“Yes. Why? What is it about men that you like so much?”

Riley shrugged. She had never really thought much about it. “Good question. I like that male energy. I like a certain amount of machismo as long as it doesn’t cross the line to abusive. I’m independent but I like to be taken care of at times. I like a man’s strength. I like penises.”

“Really? I find them fascinating but very unattractive,” Kya admitted.

“Well, they aren’t very pretty but I like what they can do.” Riley cocked her head. “You find them fascinating?”

“Oh, absolutely. I am fascinated by how a man can center his entire existence around that dangly thing between his legs. I am fascinated by how those little guys seem to have a mind all their own. In fact, if I am going to watch porn, I’d much rather watch hetero or guy on guy porn than lesbians.”

Riley was totally absorbed in this conversation. “Really? Why? I would think –“

“That because I’m a lesbian, I would only want to watch girl on girl porn? Have you ever seen a lesbian porn video?”

“No. I’ve never had the opportunity or the desire, really.”

“Oh, they’re not even good enough to be classified as horrible,” Kya said, and made a dismissive motion with her hand. “At least the videos I’ve seen. They’re all Barbie dolls with perfect bodies, fake boobs and no acting talent. If I’m going to watch women have sex, I really want to believe they are exciting each other. So far I’ve yet to see one lesbian porn movie where they have convinced me that’s happening. But when guys are in a porn movie, there’s no doubt they are excited. The focus is on the penis and, in porn at least, penises don’t disappoint.”

This is truly an enjoyably bizarre conversation. “Yeah, it can be a little different in real life. Huh, interesting. Have you ever, you know, been with a guy?”

“I experimented a couple times. Just to see what it was like. It was okay. If I could have had the penis without the man attached, it would have been much better. Fortunately, I have substitutes which work as well, if not better,” Kya winked. “So, tell me, if you like men so much, how come you’re not with one?”

Another good question. “I have great experiences with casual dating but I don’t do so well with relationships. I must attract the wrong kind of guy. I dated who I thought was a wonderful man for seven months. He was handsome and educated and well-mannered…my family just adored him. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. When he proposed, I accepted. The minute he put that ring on my finger, everything changed. He instantly treated me like property, told me what I could wear, what I could do, who I could see…”

“Why did you stay with him?”

“I didn’t. But it was hard because by the time I realized that he was being abusive, I was already deeply in love with him. I now understand how women get into abusive relationships. By the time they realize it’s abusive, they are so far in it, it’s hard to comprehend and acknowledge that they are actually there.”

“Did he ever hit you?” The question was asked through clenched teeth.

“No. But I could tell it was headed in that direction.”

“How did you end up leaving him?”

“It was Thanksgiving, two years ago. I wanted to spend it with my family but he insisted we spend it with his. Dinner went fine but he drank all through the meal. After, when everyone was relaxed and played games, like croquet and bocce, he openly accused me of coming on to his sister’s boyfriend. For some reason, that was the last straw. I left his parents’ house and never spoke to him again. I Fed-Exed the ring back and decided I really needed to look at who I was getting involved with. It didn’t make me hate men, it just made me more cautious.”

“That’s certainly understandable.”

“What about you?”

“I don’t hate men. I just don’t want to be with one.”

“No, why do you like women so much?”

“Because I do,” Kya smirked again.

Oh, no. If I can’t give that answer, she can’t give that answer. “No, seriously, what is it a woman can do for you that a man can’t?”

“Best case scenario? Know her body and use that knowledge on me. Not let her ego or misogynist upbringing control her every move. Not treat me like a trophy.”

“And how many women have you actually met who can fulfill that?”

“I’ve been lucky.”

“Yet no steady girlfriend,” Riley stated.

“As clichéd as it sounds, it’s not them, it’s me. Let’s just say it’s complicated and leave it at that.”

Riley finished her coffee and glanced at her watch. “I should get going. Where am I, by the way?”

“Scotland Court. Where do you live?”

“Mountain Street, off Eastern Avenue, over by the mall.”

“Okay, I know where that is. Give me a second, I’ll throw something on and take you home.”

“Are you sure? I can call a cab.”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind at all. Unless you’d rather we not be seen together.”

“I think it’s a little late for that,” Riley said, amiably. “Yes, I would like a ride home, thank you. And if you find my underwear –“

“I’ll bring them to you at the wedding,” Kya kidded.

“Unless you want to be the cause of several heart attacks, including my own, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t.” Riley visualized that scene. That would be the undoing of her parents, especially in front of her Aunt Virginia.

Kya finished her coffee and stood up. “I’ll just slip into some sweats and run you home.”

*********

The ride to Riley’s was quiet but pleasant. When they pulled up to Riley’s apartment, Riley hesitated before getting out. “It was nice to meet you, Kya,” Riley said and extended her hand.

“It was my pleasure,” Kya responded and accepted the handshake. “So I guess I’ll see you next weekend at the wedding.”

“I will be there.”

“Do you have a date?”

“Nope. Do you?”

“No. Do you want a date?”

“Uh…”

“I’m just teasing you, Riley. I mean, could you be any more adorable when you blush?”

Riley blushed furiously and let go of Kya’s hand. “You’re a stinker, you know that?”

“I’ve been called worse,” Kya said. “Listen, Riley, I like you. You are difficult not to like. I got the feeling that last night meant more than just a one-night stand for you. That you were reaching out, I don’t know…trying to let the real you out.”

“This is the real me. And I’m not gay.”

“So you keep saying. Which one of us are you trying to convince?” Kya’s all-knowing smirk bordered on condescending.

Well, now. That was below the belt. But…does she have a point? Riley bowed her head. “Like you said, it was just sex.”

“No, I don’t entirely mean that part. From things you said, when we actually had conversation, you sounded like you wanted to change your life, wanted to be more…fearless. I hope you can achieve that fearlessness. I think last night was certainly a step in the right direction. Not because you had sex with a woman but because you were brave enough to step outside your comfort zone and do something so out of the realm of what you thought probable. You told me you were tired of living by everyone else’s standards. So don’t.” Kya nudged Riley with her elbow. “Gutsy is very attractive.”

Riley looked out the window, unsure of how to respond.

“Relax. I’m not coming on to you. I’ve never forced anything on anyone and I’m not going to start now. However, if you ever want to get together again, meet for coffee, whatever, give me a call. I’m in the book. There’s only one K. Liberis.”

Indeed. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Riley opened the door and exited the car. “Thank you, Kya.”

“Again, my pleasure. See you at the wedding.”

*********

Riley checked her voice mail when she got inside her apartment. She listened to several messages that included two from her mother and two from Gina. Gina’s first message consisted of lewd jokes about Riley’s lap dance with Kya and that she hoped Kya had been a ‘gentleman’ and for her to call Gina when she got home. The second message had Gina not quite as jovial, wondering if Riley had made it home okay and she was going to call Kya if Riley didn’t return her call before noon. Riley looked at her watch. It was almost eleven-forty five.

Her mother’s messages were actually quite calm. Her mother had heard through the family grapevine that Riley stayed until the end of the party. Then her mother said, “Your Aunt Virginia will have a lot to say about that, I’m sure. I hope you had a great time and didn’t drink too much.” Then the next one said, “Your cousin, Meredith, spread around that you drank like a fish last night. You know better than that. If you’re really sick for the next couple of days, I won’t have any sympathy for you.” Thanks, Meredith, I owe you one.

Riley called Gina first. There was no answer so she left a message and told Gina she was home and everything was fine. She added that she was going to take a nap so if she called back and got her voicemail again that would be why.

The next call was to her mother. “Did you just get up or just get home?” Gloria Vaughn asked her daughter.

“Yes.”

“Is that one of those ‘it’s none of your business, mom’ answers?”

“Yes.” Riley laughed.

“Aunt Virginia is on the warpath, you know.”

“And that’s news, how?”

“Just don’t become her target. Your father and I can take her venom when it’s directed at us but when it’s at you –“

“Oh, Jesus. What’s got her all wound up now?”

“Danielle’s behavior at the party last night. I hear it got pretty wild with the drinking and the stripper and that lap dance thing he did.”

“Does Aunt Virginia even know what a lap dance is?”

“I don’t think it matters. She knows it’s dirty. She’s appalled because Danielle is getting married next week and she doesn’t feel that this is how a bride-to-be is supposed to behave.”

“Well, in her day, that’s understandable. By today’s standards, Danielle was a nun.”

“Did you get one of those lap dances?”

“Did I get one? No. I wasn’t the guest of honor, Mom, it wasn’t about me.” Thank God Meredith and the others left when they did.

“But you did drink a lot. Meredith made that very clear.”

“Do I sound hung-over or sick to you?” And thank God for pickle juice. I’ll have to remember that. For the next time I DON’T drink tequila.

“Honestly, no. You sound tired and that’s all.”

“I am tired. It was a long night. At forty years old, you would think Meredith would outgrow her tattletale phase at some point.”

“It’s hereditary. Your Aunt Mildred was a tattletale, too.”

Riley yawned. “I’m sure Danielle will threaten to uninvite Meredith if she keeps it up.”

“That might work until next week. Why don’t you go back to bed, sweetie. I’m glad you had a good time last night and don’t forget about tomorrow. Brunch is at eleven.”

“I’ll be there. Love you, Mom.”

“Love you, too, Rye.”

Riley closed her cell phone and smiled. She loved her mother dearly and Gloria was a good woman but Riley hated the way her mother kowtowed to the whims of her eldest aunt, Virginia. The whole family’s afraid of that old bitch. God forbid, anybody do anything to earn Aunt Virginia’s wrath. One of these days, someone’s going to take the wind out of the elitist old biddy’s sails.

She yawned again and headed for her bedroom. Riley stripped out of her clothes, put on a tank top and boxer shorts and crawled into her bed. She thought about the woman she had spent the night with and felt a pleasant tingle in the pit of her stomach. It had been a long time since she had experienced that kind of excitement. Where did that come from? How could she feel that way about an incident that never should have occurred and the details of which she couldn’t even remember? Then Kya’s face appeared in the haze that happened between cognizance and slumber.

Riley fell asleep almost instantly with a smile on her face.

***********

Kya stripped off her clothes and stepped into the shower. As her body got used to the temperature of the water, she thought about what a lovely surprise little Miss Riley Vaughn had been. She knew Riley identified as straight, it had been mentioned a few times during the night but Riley certainly didn’t seem opposed to climbing into her bed when the opportunity presented itself.

She knew ‘morning afters’ could be tricky in situations like this and it had been a while since she had indulged in picking up someone and bringing her home. Since Jillian, her life-partner, had died, Kya had only allowed herself to fill the emptiness by an occasional tryst with curious straight women. So far, there had only been three and the affairs had been short, sweet, safe and uncomplicated. The women were neglected housewives married to rich but inattentive businessmen and Kya felt no guilt as she accommodated their curiosity. She was not interested in getting involved with anyone again and these women neither wanted to jeopardize their standing in their communities nor sacrifice the upper crust lifestyle they were used to by risking a scandal.

It had been a mutually beneficial situation, everyone walked away satisfied and no one got hurt. Although Riley did not fit the criteria, she was bait too inviting to ignore. Gina, their mutual friend, who had provided the introductions and encouraged the coupling, assured Kya that Riley was open to experimentation. Last night, Riley seemed more than willing to back that up.

The recollection of being led to a chair and instructed to sit before she even had a chance to sip her sangria was pleasantly eclipsed by a beautiful, short-haired blonde who suddenly appeared before her with an eager smile on her face.

Gina, who was too sober for her own good, stood behind this sexy woman and sported a shit-eating grin.

After the introductions were made, Gina said, “Riley needs to practice what she just learned. Can she borrow your lap?”

Before Kya could answer, perfect hips swiveled seductively in her face to the sound of Nelly Furtado’s voice. If Gina had not taken the wine glass out of her hand, it would have surely dropped to the tile floor and smashed. When the music stopped, Riley simply sat on Kya’s lap, faced her and made the announcement to the room, thanked her and left. Speechless and glued to the chair, Kya watched the tipsy little seductress move about the room. Kya’s body experienced mini-detonations that she had not felt in years.

Because Riley glanced back at her often, with either a wink or a coy smile, Kya had to know more. She cornered Gina the first chance she got.

“What was that all about?” Kya asked.

“What?” Gina was the picture of innocence.

“You know damned well what, you wench,” Kya smirked.

Gina laughed. “You likey?”

“Of course, I likey. I’d have to be in a coma not to likey. Is she family?”

“No. But I’m quite sure she would be willing to be temporarily adopted.”

“Really? What makes you think so?”

“Just a hunch. First, she can’t keep her eyes off you and second, she’s due.”

“Due?”

“She’s nearly two years dry, Kya. She needs to be fucked six ways from Sunday and I can’t think of a more capable person to do a more thorough job. Since she’s not normally into women and you’re not looking, you two are perfect for each other. I bet if you give her any encouragement at all, you’ll have yourself a really good time later.”

“Define ‘not normally’ for me.”

“Okay, to my knowledge, never. But, damn, Kya, look at her! She keeps looking back at you with those flirty little glances. She knows you’re gay, you heard me tell her that right up front. It didn’t seem to bother her, did it?”

“No but she’s a little intoxicated, Gina,” Kya pointed out, as she watched Riley drink another shot of tequila and chase it down with a shot of something else.

“Maybe…but she is far from out of control,” Gina said as they caught Riley staring at Kya again. “She is so checking you out every chance she gets.”

“I can’t be the first lesbian she has ever met.”

“Oh, hell no.”

“So her curiosity can’t be about that.”

Gina grinned. “Oh, hell no.”

Kya watched Riley a while longer, her interest piqued. “Hmm. Well, let’s see what happens here. I’m due, myself. And she has already got me all hot and bothered. I’ll let her make all the moves. If she doesn’t? No harm, no foul but if she does?”

“You’re ready to play ball?” Gina asked, unnecessarily.

“You bet your ass.” Kya studied Riley from head to toe slowly. “Or, more precisely, her ass.”

***********

It had been forty minutes since the lap dance and all Riley had done was look from a distance. Kya began to feel a building disappointment about how the evening would probably end. She made the decision to use the restroom, make her rounds to say her goodbyes and head home.

As she exited the bathroom, Kya stopped herself mere centimeters from slamming into Riley who had clearly waited for her by the door.

“Gina says you think I’m hot.” Riley’s grin was downright predatory.

Kya regarded this gorgeous and inebriated woman as they stood alone in the hallway. Riley placed a hand on Kya’s arm and lightly ran her fingers up and down her bicep. “Gina seems bound and determined to play matchmaker tonight.”

“Are you interested?” Riley was coquettish.

“Are you interested?” Kya was dubious. “Gina told me you’ve never been with a woman before.”

“Well, yeah, that’s because I’m not gay.”

“Then why would you be interested in being with me tonight?”

Riley leaned in. “I need to be more fearless, you know? I want to learn to step outside myself more, to try new things…”

“Oh, I see. And I would be one of those new things you’d like to try?”

Brazenly, Riley openly appraised Kya. “Oh, yeah.”

“How much have you had to drink?” Kya leaned against the doorway and folded her arms.

“Too much and not enough.”

“Tell you what, I am going to head out of here in about fifteen minutes. You really think it over. If you still think you want to go home with me, meet me out by my car.”

They studied each other briefly and when Kya nodded and walked away, Riley said, “What does your car look like?”

Kya turned around and walked backwards a few steps. “If you’re that interested, ask Gina.”

The smile that graced Riley’s face impetuously propelled Kya into her arms. She pushed the smaller woman back into the bathroom to kiss her right there behind the locked door. Instinct told her that taking Riley home was not a wise move; that Riley was too intoxicated to make this decision prudently but her libido overrode her common sense.

The kiss was eagerly accepted; it instantly became powerfully electrifying, and stirred up emotion in Kya she forgot she possessed. She held Riley impossibly close to her as she trapped Riley between herself and the wall. Lips enclosed around her questing tongue, sucking gently and provoked a flood of wetness that rushed south. She was kissing Riley with a sexually charged abandon that belied her usual indifference. Who was this woman and how could she stir up this kind of emotion in her? A part of her she thought was permanently dormant suddenly awoke and was vigorously rearing its glorious head. The kiss ended when Kya knew if she didn’t break away, she would take Riley right there in Danielle’s bathroom and that was not the memory she wanted with this woman. Someone else, maybe, but for some reason she could not explain, not Riley. Kya pulled away slowly and gazed into smoldering, half-closed green eyes. She touched her lips to Riley’s forehead.

“My car is the black convertible MGB,” Kya said, hoarsely.

“I’ll be in it when you leave,” Riley panted.

***********

The next morning, Riley awoke well rested but still felt tender in her nether regions. She’d had several provocative dreams of living in another time, being made love to by an unrecognizable dark figure. The person was strong, noble and passionate. The gender of this lover was not clear but she could not shake the feeling that it was Kya.

She rehashed what she could recall from the fragmented dreams during her shower. She couldn’t stop the grin every time she visualized Kya’s striking face on the body of her romantic dream lover. If what happened in her dream was anything like what happened in Kya’s bed, she had missed out on something pretty damned special.

Riley suddenly remembered a kiss. A kiss so intense, so fiery, so…arousing, she lost her breath. She rested her hand on her chest and her face flushed as her lower body reacted to the steamy recollection with a moisture that had nothing to do with the shower. Her mind replayed full lips moving against hers with impassioned enthusiasm and she responded with a blinding need she never knew existed within her. An insistent, talented tongue found its way into her mouth and effortlessly mastered the art of fencing with her own. If she had ever been this affected by a kiss before, she was not aware of it. Every nerve ending in her body felt inflamed with a pleasure that was almost painful. When the kiss ended she was looking into captivating blue eyes that seemed to reflect the secrets of Riley’s soul. Riley found herself gasping for breath.

Jesus Christ. What was that? She knew this memory had not come from her dream, it had come from late Friday night. She turned the water to cold and let it run all over her. Riley, you’re an idiot. She laughed at her own unexpected reaction. Good God, it was just a kiss. But it wasn’t. It had become so much more. She stopped smiling and swallowed hard, feeling as though she were on a precipice of…something. Something big. And frightening. The butterflies in her stomach felt like bald eagles at full wingspan.

As she dressed and put on her make-up, the sequence of dreams and the reality of that kiss haunted her in a distracted but pleasant way. As did Kya. It’s as if she’s got me under a spell. I can’t get her out of my head. What did you do to me, Kya?

Oh my God…you’re acting like you’ve got a crush on her. Jesus, Rye. Grow the fuck up. Kya Liberis is a woman. You aren’t into women.

‘You were two nights ago,’ the voice of Kya echoed around her brain. Riley shook her head and splashed cold water on her face. She finished getting ready to go to her mother’s.

**************

“Where’s dad?” Riley wondered, as she poured coffee into the favorite mug she had at her parents’ house. She leaned against the counter while her mother diced potatoes for home fries.

Gloria Vaughn rinsed her knife under water and placed it in the sink. Gloria was a taller, brown-eyed version of her green-eyed daughter. “He went to pick up Aunt Virginia and Aunt Penelope.”

“Ugh. Aunt Virginia’s going to be here? I wish you’d told me.”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t have come.”

“Exactly.” Riley sliced English muffins and set them on a plate next to the toaster. “I thought this was supposed to be a treat for Aunt Penny, something to get her away from the wedding crap for a few hours.”

“It was. But then Uncle Luc said that if she could get away then so could he so he called up your Uncle Ted to go play golf.”

“Which left that old windbag with no one to bitch to,” Riley commented and sipped her coffee.

“Riley, behave. Don’t disrespect Aunt Virginia like that.”

“Oh, mom, it’s true. And she disrespects everyone else, including you and dad. Shouldn’t she have to earn respect and not just demand it?”

“Get the orange juice out of the refrigerator, would you please?” Gloria requested.

Riley did as instructed. “Any champagne we can put in it?”

“Sure, but not today. Not with Virginia here.”

“Well, that’s not fair. Aunt Penny loves mimosas and with everything going on, I’m sure she could use quite a few, probably more with Aunt Virginia here.”

“Riley, I’m not thrilled she invited herself, either, but it’s easier just to go along with her. The hell you pay if you don’t is just not worth it.”

“I’m just not in the mood for her today. In fact, I’m not in the mood for her any day.” Riley filled five glasses with orange juice.

“Could you get that bowl of eggs out of the fridge when you put the juice back, please?” Gloria watched as Riley sighed, then returned to the refrigerator. “Honey, I know your aunt is a pain in the ass and that she can say rude and hurtful things. I know she is a snob with an extremely false sense of self-importance but she is no different today than she was when I was your age –“

“So I’m supposed to give her credit for consistency?” Riley set the bowl on the counter. They both heard the garage door open.

“Now, it is stressful enough for your Aunt Penny without you being in a bad mood and sending Virginia on a tear,” Gloria admonished. “You were brought up to respect your elders until they give you a damned good reason not to. And I mean a damned good reason. To be tempestuous just because you’re in a bad mood and want to take it out on everyone is not the daughter I raised. If you don’t respect your Aunt Virginia, then respect your father and me by not making trouble for us.”

“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll be respectful if she is.”

Gloria faced her daughter squarely, hands on her hips. “What has gotten into you today?”

The kitchen door that led to the garage opened and Riley’s two aunts and her father entered. “Hi, Daddy.” Riley greeted her father with a kiss on the cheek.

“Hi, brat,” Tim Vaughn grinned.

Riley turned and hugged her Aunt Penny, Danielle’s mother. “Going crazy yet?” she kidded.

“Yet? I passed crazy two weeks ago.”

“Hi, Aunt Virginia,” Riley said, in a tone as friendly as she could muster.

“Riley,” Virginia sniffed in acknowledgement. She placed her purse on the counter. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

Riley shrugged. “I don’t see why. I’m here every Sunday.”

“After what Meredith told me, you should be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.”

“Goes to show you, Aunt Virginia, your sources aren’t always reliable.” Riley smiled through gritted teeth. She glared at her mother, who gestured Virginia to the table. Riley then walked to Penny. “How about some champagne for your orange juice?” Riley whispered in her ear.

“Oh, bless you, dear,” Penny said, closing her eyes in relief.

***********

After Riley smuggled their glasses into the garage, she opened a cheap bottle of champagne and mixed it with their orange juice. She then returned to the kitchen where breakfast was being served. She handed Penny her glass and took a sip from her own before sitting down.

“What’s in that?” Virginia inquired, with a raised eyebrow. “Booze? Is that why you had to sneak it to her?”

Riley was going to lie and tell her it was club soda to give it fizz, especially after the daggers she was receiving from her mother, but she decided to be straightforward. “It’s a mimosa, Aunt Virginia. That’s champagne and orange juice. It is a perfectly acceptable brunch beverage, served at the most exclusive restaurants in town. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for our table. Besides, Aunt Penny happens to like them very much and, after all, this brunch is for her.” Ooooo, you really have a death wish, don’t you, Rye?

Everyone at the table was speechless, at first. Riley and Virginia stared each other down. Finally, Virginia spoke. “Why you impudent, little –“

Riley’s father loudly cleared his throat. “Let’s all eat, shall we?”

Gloria placed the last food item on the table, sat down and passed dishes around. “So how goes the wedding prep, Penelope?”

“I can’t wait until next Sunday. When it’s over. All this last minute stuff is about to send me over the edge,” Penny admitted.

“I would think Danielle’s vulgar behavior would have sent you over the edge long before now,” Virginia commented. “Don’t be surprised if her fiancé finds out, he’ll want to call the whole thing off.”

“Just what is it that Danielle has supposedly done, Aunt Virginia?” Riley tried to keep her tone neutral.

“Of course I wouldn’t expect you to see anything wrong with it but let’s start with that…that party Friday night. A male stripper? She allows a man who is not her fiancé to take off all his clothes and…and…act like he’s having explicit sex with her? In front of a roomful of people? I would say that’s rather depraved.”

“Really, Virginia, it was a bachelorette party! It’s a common practice nowadays for the bride to have a stripper,” Penny said. “And I am sure if there was simulated sex, it was just the boy’s act.”

“Not according to Meredith.”

“Meredith left before the man really even started dancing. I don’t know how she could give you details of that event when she wasn’t even there,” Riley said.

“You were there, Riley, why don’t you tell us all what happened?” Virginia asked, smugly.

Don’t think I wouldn’t love to. “Sure. A guy showed up dressed in a police uniform and told us to quiet down, that he got a complaint. When Danielle came to the door and told him it was her party and she would tone it down, he slapped handcuffs on her, told her he would have to take her into custody. He then reached behind him, grabbed a CD player, turned it on and started to dance and strip.”

“Naked?” The question came from Riley’s father.

“No, dad, he wore a g-string. And he never took it off.”

“He might as well have been naked,” Virginia stated. “What about the simulated sex?”

Four sets of eyes were on Riley. “Please,” she said, sighing in disbelief. “He gyrated his hips a few times in her face to the beat of a song.” If that’s your idea of sex, Aunt Virginia, it’s no wonder you’re a nasty, high-strung, anal old prude. “He was a really good dancer. He danced for us again, collected his tips and left. If Meredith and the others had stayed, they would have known what really went on and not had to make things up.”

“Let me assure you, Virginia, that Danielle loves her fiancé to excess. They’ve been together for three years and they have both worked very hard to make sure nothing goes wrong between them. She would never do something as salacious as to screw another man or even pretend to screw another man at her bachelorette party,” Penny said, in a balance between defensive and appeasing. She drained her mimosa and looked pleadingly at Riley.

“Absolutely,” Gloria agreed with Penny. “Danielle is a good girl. Why, she would die before she would be unfaithful to Todd.”

“Are you sure, Gloria? After all, Danielle is half French and you know what notorious philanderers they are,” Virginia sneered then glanced at Penny out of the corner of her eye.

Riley bit her tongue and rose from the table. That was her Aunt Penny’s battle to fight, although it was a low blow. Her Uncle Luc had been unfaithful and Danielle’s parents had separated for several months before they decided to work things out. Riley adored her Aunt Penny, thought she was the prettiest of all the Weston women and the sweetest woman on the planet. She couldn’t understand why her Uncle Luc would want to look elsewhere. As Riley went to retrieve the champagne bottle from the garage refrigerator, she heard her mother’s voice get crisp. ‘Bout time, mom.

“Virginia, that was just mean and uncalled for.”

“And an outdated generalization,” Tim added.

“You mean like Irishmen who drink too much?” Virginia commented as Riley came back into the kitchen with the bottle of champagne in her grasp. She filled Penny’s and her glass and chose not to add orange juice.

“Aunt Virginia, let me ask you something. If we are all so beneath you, why do you insist on lowering yourself to be around us? Is it to make yourself feel better by trying to make us all feel bad?”

“Riley…” There was a warning in Gloria’s tone.

“No, Gloria, it’s fine,” Virginia told her younger sister. She looked at Riley. “I don’t make you or anyone else feel any particular way, my dear. If you feel bad about yourself, don’t blame me.”

Tim finished his coffee. “Rye, why don’t you come outside with me, I want to show you the trellis in the garden. Your mom painted it purple.”

I know the only reason he doesn’t say anything to her is that he’s afraid once he starts, he’ll stroke out before he stops. And it probably wouldn’t even faze her. “No, thanks, Dad. You go. I’ll be out in a bit.”

Tim excused himself and left the kitchen.

“Guess he can’t stand the heat, eh?” Virginia sneered.

Riley shook her head. “You’re something, Aunt Virginia.” Is it really worth getting upset with this ignorant, old battle-axe? If I allow her to get me to the point of losing my temper, who has really won?

Virginia ignored Riley and focused on Penny. “So who are Danielle’s bridesmaids going to be?”

Penny rattled off the names of four women and when she got to the last name, Riley almost spit out her champagne.

“Who is Kya Liberis? What is that? Greek?” Virginia asked.

“Yes. I believe Kya is of Greek heritage. She’s a beautiful girl. She and Danielle roomed together in college. She’s very sweet,” Penny said. “Did you meet her at the party, Riley?”

“Yes, yes, I did. She’s, uh, very nice. And yes, she is very beautiful,” Riley agreed.

“It’s a shame what happened to her a few years ago,” Penny shook her head.

“What happened?” Riley and Virginia chorused.

“Her partner of ten years was killed in a car accident. It was tragic. She became somewhat of a recluse. I’m surprised she agreed to participate in the wedding.”

“Oh God,” Riley breathed. Her heart felt as though it slammed to the pit of her stomach. “She never told me.” Maybe that’s what she meant by ‘it’s complicated.’ Why do I feel like I want to run to her and comfort her? I don’t even know her. Well, not really. Riley suddenly had a pounding desire to know her better. Or is it really so sudden? Admit it, Rye, you’ve wanted to know her better from the second you woke up in her bed.

“She’s very private so I’m not surprised,” Penny said. “I think she’s still grieving, honestly.”

“What do you mean – her partner? I don’t understand. A business partner?” Virginia asked, suspiciously.

“No, Virginia, her girlfriend, her – her lover, the woman with whom she shared her life,” Gloria spoke up. “Her partner was a loan officer from my bank. It was all very sad.”

“Sad, my ass!” Virginia snapped. “Anyone who chooses to live that lifestyle deserves whatever happens to them! I can’t believe you would allow Danielle to have someone like that in her wedding!” Virginia was at her most indignant.

“What?” Penny was stunned. “Are you saying Kya deserved to have that happen to her because she’s gay?”

“You’re not telling me you approve of that lifestyle, do you?”

“I don’t disapprove of it,” Penny said, defensively.

“Of course not. You said they roomed together in college. Maybe they had a little something going on. Is that what’s going on, Penelope? Danielle is secretly a lesbian? That’s why it’s taken her until this age to find a man to marry her? Someone who will help her cover up her shame?”

“Virginia, you’re being ridiculous,” Gloria insisted.

“I will not allow one of them in this family, Penelope, do you hear me?” Virginia bellowed as Penny burst into tears.

“OKAY! That’s it!” So much for not losing your temper. Riley stood up, circled the table and stood next to Virginia’s chair. “I have had it with you! What is your problem – I mean, other than being an insufferable bitch?”

“How dare you!” Virginia began but Riley cut her off.

“How dare I? I dare because somebody needs to say these things to you.”

“Gloria, get control of your child! I will not stay here and –“

“Hey! I’m talking now!”Riley yelled. “You walk around this family like you own us all. Like you are such an intellectual and we are all dirt under your feet. Like, God forbid, we need you to save our souls. You make everybody’s life so Goddamned miserable when they cross you that they’d rather let you get away with your deplorable behavior than to tell you to back off and mind your own damned business! You are a reprehensible woman, Aunt Virginia, and you are not the know-all, do-all, be-all of this city! Nobody honestly gives a shit what you think! About anything! You sit in this huge glass house and expect everyone to do as you say but not as you do! It’s pathetic.”

“Nobody talks to me this way!” Virginia said, offended.

“That’s exactly the problem, Aunt Virginia. Nobody does and they should because you think nothing about talking to all of us that way. You think nothing of saying the most hurtful, damaging things to us and about us but that’s okay because it’s you who is saying it. It’s not okay, Aunt Virginia. How would you like it if I went around this town saying that Warren is a homosexual?”

There was an audible gasp from all three sisters. “You take that back! There is nothing wrong with my Warren,” Virginia said.

“I agree. There’s nothing wrong with Warren. He is who he is – a fifty-two year old man who has never been married, has had the same girlfriend for twenty years and is stuck like glue to another man who couldn’t be more obviously gay if he were Boy George in the 80s. If you use the same theory on Warren that you did on Danielle, then I guess Warren’s hiding something too, huh?”

Virginia was on her feet. “Gloria, would you please ask your husband to bring me home?”

Before Gloria could answer, Riley said, “No, she won’t. She will, however, ask him to contact Uncle Ted at the golf course and ask him to come get you. Why should my father have to cart you home and listen to you run up one side of him and down the other about how disgraceful you think his daughter is? The only disgraceful thing about me, Aunt Virginia, is that I haven’t tried to take you down a peg or two before now.”

“Why you ungrateful, uncivil little tart! You? Take me down a peg or two?” Virginia roared.

Tart? Is she kidding? I’m the least promiscuous of any of my cousins – including Meredith. Riley was about to respond when her mother spoke up.

“Jesus, Virginia, it’s about time someone did,” Gloria said. “I am ashamed that I haven’t done it, that I have let you terrorize me and my family by your venomous nature.”

Everyone was again stunned speechless, including Riley. Go, Mom!

“You’re a bitter, vengeful crone who thinks she can use her huge bank account to get away with the most despicable behavior. Having money doesn’t make you better than everyone else, Virginia. It just makes you richer. But I’ve got news for you. Money cannot buy you a conscience and it cannot buy you class and I don’t care how far you are up the chain of command in your church, it sure as hell won’t buy your way into Heaven.”

“That’s for sure,” Riley said. “In fact, I hope you have plenty of fire insurance. You’re going to need it where you’re going.”

“I certainly don’t have to stay here and take this. You’re all crazy and you will all regret this when I die. None of you will get a cent of my money!”

“None of us want your money,” Riley said. “I have a great idea, Aunt Virginia. Why don’t you wait outside for Uncle Ted to come pick you up?”

“You can’t throw me out of your mother’s house!”

“She can when it’s deserved,” Tim stepped back into the kitchen from the garage. “Ted’s on his way, Virginia. I really do think we’d all be more comfortable if you waited outside.”

Tim and Virginia stared each other down. “You have no idea what you’re doing, Timothy.”

“I do. And, like my daughter said, it is long overdue.” He took a non-threatening step toward his eldest sister-in-law. “Would you like to be escorted out?”

“I can manage on my own.” She turned to Gloria and with a sneer, she said, “And don’t worry, I shall never darken your door again.” She turned to Penny. “Anything you want to add to this ridiculous tirade?”

Draining the rest of her glass of champagne, Penny looked up at her. “Yeah. What they said.” She pointed to Riley, Tim and Gloria.

“Penelope! Well, why should I think you should stand on your own two feet? You’ve always been a weak, dependent, drunk and that’s obviously what you will always be.”

“And you’ve always been an emasculating, egotistical, self-righteous phony. And by the way…your perfect, uptight English husband isn’t playing golf with my philandering French husband.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When Luc told Ted that I was going to be at Gloria’s for a couple hours, Ted asked him to cover for him and your precious husband is off screwing his very buxom and eager secretary.”

“That is a lie!”

“No that’s the truth. What Ted told you is a lie. And he’s probably very upset that you interrupted him.”

The anger contorted Virginia’s face to an unrecognizable expression. Turning on her heel, she left the house slamming the door behind her.

Three sets of eyes engaged Penny. “Ted is having an affair?” Gloria finally asked.

“Of course not. That henpecked coward would be too afraid to ever cheat on Virginia. She’d have his testicles mounted over city hall and he knows it.” She let out a deep breath. “Woo! That felt good. You’re right, Gloria, it was a good idea that I come here this morning.” Penny looked at Riley. “Any more of that champagne left?”

As Tim and Gloria exchanged stunned looks, Riley returned to the kitchen with another bottle of champagne. “Poor Uncle Ted doesn’t know what he’s in for when she gets in the car,” Riley commented, popping the cork.

“Poor Uncle Ted, my butt,” Tim said. He’s just as bad as she is. Maybe it’ll do them both good to have a taste of their own medicine.”

After pouring Penny’s champagne, Riley turned to her mother. “Sorry, Mom. I know I did exactly what you asked me not to do. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I know I caused trouble for you and dad –“

“Riley,” Gloria interrupted, “I’m not going to say there won’t be repercussions because your aunt is a powerful woman in this town. But, sweetie, you don’t owe me an apology; your father and I owe you one. We never should have allowed her to be so abusive to us and especially not to you. You were right. Just because she got away with her horrible behavior when I was your age doesn’t mean you should have to put up with it now. We’ve all fallen into a routine with your aunt and she is the only one who benefits from it. I am sorry it took pushing you to the edge to get me to smarten up.”

“Mom…”

“No, let me finish. I saw a hint of fear in Virginia’s eyes when you were hurling all those truths at her. I have never seen Virginia display any hint of vulnerability. Until today. And, until today, I thought she was invincible. My own daughter’s pure sense of right and wrong put a kink in Virginia’s armor. Who knew it could be so simple?” She put her hand affectionately on Riley’s shoulder. “You are a good and brave woman, Rye. Much braver than I am. You risked defying my wishes and earning your aunt’s wrath to defend people who were not here to defend themselves against what you knew to be outright lies. You weren’t concerned with the consequences for yourself.”

“I guess I had a damned good reason to be disrespectful, then?”

“You did, indeed. And that’s the daughter I raised,” her mother smiled, proudly.

*******

Riley found herself driving by Kya’s house on her way home from her parent’s which, in reality, was way out of the way. She recognized Danielle’s car in the driveway and felt an unreasonable surge of jealousy filter through her. What is that about? She and Danielle are just friends, probably talking about the wedding. And why do I even care? I’m not a lesbian.

‘So you keep saying. Which one of us are you trying to convince?’ Kya’s question echoed around her brain.

Indeed.

She drove home with the intent of spending the afternoon researching ‘ambivalence’ online.

********

Gina tapped Riley on the shoulder as she sat down on the barstool next to her. “I get one message from you on Saturday and then nothing else until this afternoon. Happy hour on a Wednesday? Must be important.”

Riley turned to look at her. “It is.”

Gina studied her. “Wow. You look horrible, like you haven’t slept in a couple days.”

“I think that’s because I haven’t slept in days.” Riley scanned the bar and spotted an empty table as the bartender approached them.

“What are your happy hour specials?” Gina asked.

“Midori margarita, appletini, house zin and domestic drafts,” the bartender said.

“I’ll have a glass of the house zin. And put it on her tab.” Gina pointed to Riley, who nodded at the bartender. When he delivered her wine, the two women moved to the empty table. “What are you drinking?” Gina asked, eyeballing Riley’s glass of clear, fizzy liquid.

“Club soda. I want my head to be clear.”

“Ah. I thought maybe you’d gone on the wagon after this weekend.”

Riley took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah, about that…”

“Yes, do tell.” Gina’s expression was irritatingly self-satisfied.

“I think I might be gay.”

Gina’s smug look disappeared. “You mean – as in ‘festive’?”

Riley glared at her. “Do I look festive to you right now?”

“Well, no, not at this moment but…you don’t mean gay as in lesbian. Do you?”

“Yes.”

Gina sat back in her chair. “Wow. Kya’s good. She deserves a top of the line toaster oven for this.”

“Ha ha.” Riley brushed her fingers through her hair. “I’m serious.”

“You’ve never been with a woman before Kya, have you?”

“You know I haven’t.”

“So you think spending one night with a woman, a night you don’t even remember, makes you gay?”

“Of course not, I – wait a minute,” Riley studied Gina suspiciously. “How do you know I didn’t remember it?”

“Danielle and I were over at Kya’s on Sunday and I was teasing her. It came out then that you were too drunk to remember anything.”

“Danielle knows?” Riley closed her eyes. Mom, keep your eyes glued to

CNN. Aunt Virgina should be calling you any second now. But instead of embarrassment, she felt relief.

“After a little unmerciful kidding, Danielle seemed fine with it. She was a little surprised it was you but she certainly didn’t seem upset or horrified or anything. I mean, who doesn’t experiment?”

“Have you?” Riley’s eyebrow was arched in curiosity.

“I suppose I can’t plead the fifth here, huh?”

“Not if you want to leave this bar alive.”

“I made out once with a girl in college.” Gina’s admission seemed defiant but uncomfortable. “You know, just to see what all the fuss was about.”

“Gina, if all you did was make out with her then you still have no idea what all the fuss is about.”

“I thought you didn’t remember.”

A smile that seemed to hold many secrets pursed Riley’s lips. “Let’s just say most of it has come back to me over the past few days.”

Focusing on Riley’s unabashedly libidinous expression, Gina grinned. “Ooo. Must’ve been pretty damned spectacular.”

Spectacular doesn’t even come close to describing it and if you think you’re getting details, you can go scratch litter, my friend. “We’re getting off track here, Gina. Don’t you think it was a little tactless on your part to out my night with Kya to my cousin, the town-crier-in-training?”

Gina became defensive. “Danielle is one of Kya’s very best friends. I’m pretty sure she would have told her eventually. Although, maybe not. Kya seemed a little annoyed with me that I brought it up at all. But, come on, you didn’t expect me to let a juicy little tidbit like that go unchecked, did you?”

“True. I guess it would have been so out of character for you to be discreet.”

“Are you mad at me, Rye? I mean, I admit I put you in a situation that was odd for you but you ultimately made the choice to go home with her.”

“I’m not mad at you, Gina, and I’m not blaming you for my choices. Even though I was in a vulnerable state, it was still ultimately my decision to behave in the manner in which I did.”

Gina took a sip of her wine. “Before we get to the ‘why you think you’re gay’ thing, why did you go home with her? I’m all for experimentation and I think Kya is great. I know I was instrumental in pushing you two together but I was really surprised to find out you actually left with her.”

“Why were you so set on getting us together?”

Gina shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. There was something in the air. Your eyes were all over her from the minute she walked in the door. That shocked me because that is so out of the ordinary for you. I thought I’d have a little fun with it and then it took on a life of its own. Kya’s a wonderful person, Rye, and if she were a guy, you all would have been fighting over her that night.”

“I have no doubt of that.” She took a sip of her club soda. “How do you know Kya? I mean, how come we’ve never met before?”

“Michael, my ex, used to work with Jillian at the bank. Do you know about Jillian?”

“Was she Kya’s partner? The one who died?”

“Yes.” Gina looked at Riley, curiously. “Did Kya tell you about her?”

“No, my mom and Aunt Penny did. Why?”

“Because Kya doesn’t talk about her. To anyone. Ever.”

I’m sure that wound is too deep to ever heal and probably still too tender to touch. As Gina explained how she came to be friends with Kya, Riley got the bartender’s attention and signaled for another club soda.

“Now…why do you think you’re gay? I mean, it was one night. Maybe it’s just a girl crush.” When the bartender brought Riley’s club soda to the table, Gina ordered another drink.

“I’ve spent the last couple of days and nights mulling over the same question. It’s not about the sex, although, that was quite an eye-opener.” And then some. She paused and took another sip. “She has awakened something in me, something indescribable. I have never felt like this. There’s a connection I can’t explain, like I belong with her. When I have slept, I’ve dreamed of her in some form. She is the first thing on my mind when I open my eyes and the last thing on my mind when I close them. It’s like I have to be with her…but not in an unhealthy, stalker-type way,” Riley added with a sheepish grin.

“Still could be a crush,” Gina said, as the bartender handed her a glass of wine.

Watching the bartender leave, Riley looked back at Gina. “But it’s not. I know the difference. I have feelings for Kya that I’ve never had for anyone. Not even Ryan and I was going to marry him.” She took a deep breath. “For the first time in my life, I feel whole. The best I can tell you is it just feels right.” The resolve in Riley’s voice was undeniable.

“If it feels so right then why do you look like shit? Shouldn’t you be all bouncy and happy?”

“If I had more sleep, I’m sure I would be. This was a big revelation to me, Gina. I’m not ashamed of it but, trust me, it took its toll. This was the last thing I ever expected.” She smiled. “It’s a good thing. I feel like I finally know who I am.”

“And all this happened just since Saturday morning?”

“Yeah. Unbelievable, huh?”

“Do you think you’re really a lesbian? Or is it just Kya?”

That stopped her for a second. Wow. Good question. “At this point, I don’t know. I just know I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing her again and finding out.”

Gina leaned forward. “Then go for it, Rye. I mean it. If she’s willing, you couldn’t do any better than Kya. And, really, you are the first person she has shown any kind of an interest in since Jillian. Just be honest with her and you can’t go wrong.” The intensity in Gina’s voice was startling. She took another sip of wine and relaxed. “And she could do a hell of a lot worse than you.”

“Why, thank you,” Riley said and smiled. She contemplated her beverage and looked toward the bar. “This is…scary.”

“Why? Other than you definitely have better taste in women than you do in men?”

Riley rolled her eyes. “No. What if she was just flirting, just trying to make me feel okay about jumping into bed with her? What if she’s really not interested in me, the way I’m interested in her?” She blanched. “What if she tells me thanks but no thanks? I’m really bad with rejection.”

“I don’t want to sound like a cliché but you’ll never know until you try.” Gina reached over and tapped the tip of Riley’s nose. “And you will hate yourself if you don’t try.”

“When does life stop being so complicated?” Riley asked, rhetorically.

“Never,” Gina said, unnecessarily. “So grab the chances when they are presented. You don’t want to grow old being an ‘I wish I had done this’ type of person. Opportunities like this one are fleeting, so don’t wait too long. If word gets out that she might be back in the relationship market again, you’ll have to beat the women away with a stick.”

********

“Kya! There’s someone here to see you,” the voice belonging to the woman at the front desk called out.

Kya passed a partition, walked to her office door and stopped. She removed her glasses and recognized Riley. Her smile for her visitor was surprised but dazzling, nonetheless. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Riley was caught off guard at her own reaction to seeing Kya again. It felt as though her insides were ready to explode from excitement.

“How did you find out where I worked?” Those hypnotic blue eyes were caressing every inch of Riley.

“I asked Gina. It’s okay that I’m here, isn’t it?” Oh, Jesus. My voice is shaking. How high-schoolish is this?

“Oh, absolutely. Why don’t you come into my office?”

“Actually, I thought we might go out for coffee, if you’re not too busy. Gina said your schedule was mostly your own.”

“It is,” Kya confirmed, an enthusiastic grin still plastered on her face. “And I would love to go for coffee.”

“Great.” You better be sure about this, Rye. The last thing either of you need is to get hurt again.

Kya placed her glasses in her denim shirt pocket, reached around to grab the handle and closed her office door. “I’ll be on my cell if you need me,” she said to the woman who had announced Riley.

“Yep. Got it. Have fun,” she winked at Kya.

“It’s coffee,” Kya shot back.

“Sure it is,” the woman cracked.

They exited the building, and Kya pointed the way to the closest coffee shop. Once seated, after retrieving their individual orders, Kya concentrated on Riley. “It’s not that I’m not happy to see you because I am –“

“But why am I here?” Riley finished for her.

“Yeah.”

Riley nodded, cleared her throat and drew in a deep breath. She then let it out slowly. “I could tell you any number of things, I guess, but the truth is I wanted to see you.”

“You’ll see me in two days at the wedding. Why sooner?” Anticipation flashed in Kya’s eyes.

This is harder than you thought, isn’t it, Rye, spilling your soul like this? “I, uh, can’t stop thinking about you, Kya. You’re haunting my waking and un-waking hours. I know we don’t really know each other and I know this is abrupt and crazy but I was wondering if maybe we could, you know, start spending some time together.”

“As friends?”

“Well…at first…and then see if maybe anything happens from there.”

Kya chuckled and shook her head. “I thought you weren’t a lesbian.”

“I don’t know what I am, Kya. I don’t think of it in those terms. I just know that whatever happened between us Friday night, it…God, how can I put this? It melted something inside me I didn’t even know was frozen. It changed me. I feel alive again. And the oddest thing is you are what’s given me this renewed energy.”

“Me? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either. I really don’t. I don’t want to question it, though. Like you so wisely said Saturday morning. It is what it is. I know I am stepping into the unknown here but I am compelled to do it. It…it feels right.” Riley looked into Kya’s astonished eyes. “Insane, huh?”

“Yes. But that’s okay,” Kya said, quietly. “I’m used to insane.”

“So, what do you think?” Boy, she’s not giving me anything. It’s really hard to read her. I hope this wasn’t a mistake. She seemed interested on Saturday morning.

Kya cocked her head. “What do I think? I think I’m interested in going out on a real live date with you. And I would like to make a better decision after that. But you need to know that I’m not used to dating available women or even women interested in anything personal from me.”

“Is that because of Jillian?” I hope mentioning her isn’t stepping over the line.

Her voice got quiet. “Did Danielle tell you about Jillian?”

“No, my mom did. Jillian was her favorite bank person. She remembered when the accident happened.”

Kya nodded.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Kya stared out the window, then back at Riley. “There is something different about you, Riley. I want to get to know you better; that much I know. If things go the way I hope they do, I would love to pursue something more. I have not had this kind of feeling about someone since Jillian. However, if we go for this and it turns into something, you need to know that I don’t want to hide you and I don’t want to be hidden. I’m not going to live in your closet. If we are going to date then we are going to openly date. Otherwise this won’t work. Do you think you can do that?”

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since this weekend. Kya, I don’t want to be a person who looks back on her life with regret and I think I would really regret it if I didn’t see where you and I could go.”

“I don’t want to be your experiment, either, Riley. If you don’t intend to follow through, if whatever happens with us gets serious, I want to know before my heart is invested.”

“Fair enough.” Gee, sounds like she has thought about this as much as I have.

“I can’t believe I’m talking like this when we’ve only known each other for five days,” Kya smiled.

“Seems like a lot longer,” Riley said.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Kya took a long sip of her cooling coffee and studied Riley’s flawless face. “When do you want to schedule this momentous first date?”

“I don’t know…do you have a date for the wedding?”

Part 2 – Decisions

“Hey Brat,” Tim Vaughn greeted Riley as she ran into the house. He smiled at his beautiful – and drenched – daughter. “Raining out there, huh?”

Riley shook her short, blonde hair at him, sprinkling him with water. “Just a bit. Hi, Daddy,” she said, giving her father a kiss on the cheek.

“You know, I love that you are as old as you are and you still call me daddy. Gets your old man right in the ticker, it does,” Tim said, tapping his chest.

Riley shrugged. “It just comes out. Except when I’m mad. Then it’s dad.”

“Or father.”

“That’s when I’m really mad.”

“Thankfully, I don’t get your Irish up that often.”

“Mom home?”

“No, she’s at bingo with Aunt Mildred.”

“Oh, that’s right. Thursday night at St. Andrew’s.”

“She never misses it. Hey, I was just about to pick up a pizza I ordered. You want to ride along?”

“Sure. But it’s miserable out, why didn’t you have it delivered?”

“It’s from Bianchi’s and they don’t deliver. Come on, ride along with me.”

Riley grinned. “Sure.”

After they discussed daily niceties, the subject turned to the upcoming weekend wedding of Riley’s cousin, Danielle. “Your mother and I are going to leave for the church at eleven. Do you want to ride over with us?”

Riley watched the windshield wipers clear away the rain as they drove through traffic. “Well, that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you and mom about.” She had a hesitancy to her voice that Tim picked up on.

“What? You have a date?”

“Actually, yes.”

“Good for you! I didn’t know you were seeing anybody.”

“I haven’t been. This will be our first date.” Then in a nearly inaudible voice, she added, “Sort of.”

“A wedding is an interesting choice for first date. If he can stand the antics of your relatives, that’s a good sign. Who’s the lucky guy?” His question was met with silence. “Rye?”

“Um…”

“Uh oh. It’s not Ryan, is it? That would break your mother’s heart if you two ever got back together. We will never forgive him and he’s never welcome in our home again.” The conviction in Tim’s voice was absolute.

“Since I was engaged to Ryan, I don’t think Saturday could qualify as a first date.” They pulled up to the curb and Tim put the car in park in front of the flashing red ‘Bianchi’s’ sign.

“Alright, then the worst case scenario is over, so why the hesitation?”

“You want me to run in and get the pizza?”

“No. I want you to tell me who your date is.” His tone was still affable.

Riley wished her mother were there so that she would not have to go through this twice. She took a deep breath. “Dad…my date is a woman.” She didn’t look at him but she could feel his eyes on her.

“You mean you’re bringing one of your friends.”

“No. She’s one of Danielle’s bridesmaids so technically I’m not bringing her.” She found the courage to look at her father. He was clearly confused. “We’re not going as friends, Daddy, we’re going to be on a date.”

“Romantically?” His eyes snapped open wide.

“I’m not sure how romantic it will get. At least not in front of all the relatives.”

“Riley, what are you saying?” He was already shaking his head in denial. “Why would you date a woman? You aren’t a…a…you know, one of them.”

Riley laid her hand on her father’s forearm. “Daddy, I don’t know what I am. I really don’t. But would it really make that much of a difference? I’m still me. I haven’t changed. I’m the same person I was five minutes ago, the only thing that has changed is your knowledge of a side of me you weren’t aware of before.”

“How long have you been aware of it? Obviously not very long if you are bringing this up two days before your big date.”

“I can’t explain it to you. I wish I could. I only know that when I acknowledged my attraction to this woman, I felt totally free. Like my soul opened up. Like I finally knew who I was.”

Tim was still disturbed. “I don’t know what to say… This isn’t exactly what we’d imagined for you. This will kill you mom, you know. She wants grandchildren.”

“And maybe I will give her some. I’m still a woman, Daddy, I can still reproduce.”

“Not naturally.”

“Not traditionally, you mean.”

“What about your wedding? I was so looking forward to walking you down the aisle someday.”

“Daddy, I’m sorry but these are your and Mom’s dreams, not mine. If I hadn’t fallen for a woman, I still might never get married or have kids. But those are my decisions to make.” Her tone was gentle but firm. “I want to be happy with whoever I choose to be with. I’m not like my cousins, I’ve never needed a man to complete me. You want me to be happy, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do. But…must you have your first date with this woman so openly, in front of family?”

“Why not? If I am up front about it, then no one can hold it over my head. Or yours.”

Tim sighed, scratched his head and stared out at the rain. “I’m not going to say this is not a shock, Rye, because it is. And although it will take some adjustment, it won’t make me love you any less. Just don’t expect me to welcome her with open arms right away. But I don’t see this as something we can’t work through.”

Riley threw herself into her father’s arms. “Oh, thank you, Daddy!”

He squeezed her back. “Yeah, well, you’re not off the hook yet. We still have to tell your mother.”

Part 3 – Chance and Choice

Danielle de Frise stood in her wedding dress and scrutinized her image in the mirror. It was two days before her nuptials and the alterations on her gown had just been completed. Danielle didn’t want to lay blame but she found it mighty suspicious that the dressmaker she used was a favorite of her Aunt Virginia’s, who had been uninvited then re-invited to her wedding. Danielle preferred the old bitch stay away but with everything else, the pressure from the family was too much. Her mother and Aunt Gloria were on her side but the other relatives, coerced by the dangling of Virginia’s will, threatened to boycott the event if Danielle didn’t reconsider having Virginia there. She wasn’t going to until her dress was held hostage. It was dirty fighting but she expected nothing less from her nasty aunt.

“Dress looks good there, Deep Freeze.”

Danielle spun, surprised to see her good friend and bridesmaid, Kya Liberis. “God, I haven’t heard that nickname since college.”

“And even then it wasn’t true. You were anything but an ice princess.” Kya winked. “You know, from what I hear.”

“You only wish you knew,” Danielle teased. “So what’s up, Kya Kegger?” In response, she received a playful, arched eyebrow glare. “Hey, if you can call me by my college nickname, I can reciprocate.”

“Fair enough. No more nicknames.” Kya set her shoulder bag down and reached over to feel the dress fabric. “Oooo, nice.”

Danielle turned around. “Unzip me, would you?”

Kya lowered the zipper on the strapless white gown. “I’m not be able to make the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night.”

Danielle whirled. “What about the rehearsal itself?”

“That I can do but I have an emergency dinner meeting with a client that I can’t get out of.”

“Oh.” Danielle was disappointed. “We’ll miss you.”

“Yeah, sorry. I tried to work around it but I couldn’t. So…you getting excited?”

“Right now I just want it to be over and on my honeymoon. I mean, I expected things to be insane but not like this. Everything is so out of control. I want to get through the ceremony with no major issues, do the minimal requirements during the reception and then get drunk off my ass. Hopefully I will maintain enough decorum not to flip off my relatives. Or something worse.”

“Speaking of your relatives…” Kya’s hypnotic blue eyes flashed at Danielle in supplication.

Danielle held her breath as an anticipatory smile curled her lips. “Yes?”

“I’m bringing a date to your wedding. Well, actually, she’s already on your guest list, but I wanted to give you a head’s up that we will be there together.”

“I knew it!” Danielle clasped her hands together and pulled a stunned Kya in for a hug. “Riley, right?” She released Kya, looking for confirmation.

Kya nodded. “You’re okay with that, I take it.”

“I’m better than okay with it, Kye. I think you two are perfect together.”

“But she’s never been in a relationship with a woman before. And I haven’t considered dating anyone since Jillian. This could have disaster written all over it.” Kya helped Danielle out of her dress.

Danielle got her gown back on its hanger and grabbed her clothes. “So you guys are already talking relationship? God, woman, you do work fast.”

“Actually, we are going to see how things work a day at a time. My instinct tells me it could easily head toward a relationship.”

“This is a huge step for you. For both of you, really.” Danielle finished dressing and tucked in her blouse. “Do you know if Riley has mentioned this to Aunt Gloria and Uncle Tim?”

“I don’t know. I assume she’ll say something to them to prepare them. How do you think they’ll react?”

“They’re pretty cool but Riley is their only child. It may not be exactly what they envisioned for her. I know Aunt Gloria really wants grandchildren. They’re not homophobes by any means but you know how things change when suddenly it becomes about your own kid.”

“Yes, I know that well.” The memory of her parents disowning her when she came out still stung. “If her parents don’t accept it, how do you think that will affect her?”

“It’ll hurt because they’re very close but if Riley wants it bad enough, she’ll find a way to make it all work.” Danielle motioned to the attendant, who was busy with another customer “So, tell me, who made the first move?”

Kya smiled. “Riley. She came to my office yesterday and asked me to go for coffee. I did and we talked and we would both like to give it a try. I just hope she’s strong enough to deal with all the opposition.”

“Riley’s not a pushover. She stood up to our Aunt Virginia Sunday and told her off. That took a lot of balls. If she’s strong enough to deal with the crap that comes with that, trust me, she will do just fine deflecting any opposition that comes with being with you. Going up against that witch is like a Catholic going up against the pope.” Danielle drank from a bottle of water, then offered a sip to Kya, who declined.

“I’m terrified, Danielle. I have a gut feeling this is going to turn into something really special…and I can’t go through getting that involved, falling that hard again and, for whatever reason, have it all taken away.”

“Look, you, of all people, know that nothing is a guarantee.”

“That’s what scares me the most.”

“Kya, Relax. It’s a date. That’s all. I’m the one getting married.”

“And your impending marriage started with a date.”

“Life is all about chance and choice, Kya. Choose to listen to your gut and take another chance on your heart.”

Part 4 – From This Day Forward

The doorbell rang amid a flurry of cursing.

“Just a second, be right there!” Kya hopped to the entranceway while she attempted to remove her high heels. She unlocked and opened the door.

“Wow,” Riley said, appreciatively. Normally, Kya Liberis was a beautiful woman but the vision standing before her now was stunning. “Who knew a bridesmaid dress could look so attractive?”

“Thank you. Come in, come in,” Kya said and appraised her date as she stepped into the apartment. “You look quite fetching yourself.”

Riley wore a bold, formfitting, sleeveless, satin teal dress. It was short without being daring and displayed a hint of cleavage without being scandalous. It hugged Riley’s body enough to show off her tantalizing curves and yet did not give too much away. On someone else, the dress might have been considered sordid, especially if they were too thin, too full-figured or disproportionate but on Riley, it was ideal. Kya knew she wouldn’t be the only one salivating around Riley that day. The younger, blonde woman was just breathtaking.

Kya gestured down the hall to her bedroom, holding her high heels in her hand. She held up an object in her other hand. “My right heel broke. I’ll just be a moment. I need to super glue it back on.”

Riley nodded as she took in the vision that was Kya. She wore a sleeveless gown with a sweetheart neckline. The dress matched the design of the bridal gown minus the train, veil and color. While the bride’s gown was white, each bridesmaid wore a different pastel shade. Kya’s was what the bridal shop called Columbia Blue. It matched her eyes and perfectly complimented her Mediterranean skin tone.

Both women grinned at each other, nervously. First dates were always awkward but this one had a particularly complicated twist to it. Riley Vaughn, cousin of Danielle, the bride, was Kya’s escort to the wedding. Kya was an out lesbian, proud and open regarding who she was and how she lived her life. Riley was an avowed heterosexual right up until the week before, when she got drunk at Danielle’s bachelorette party and woke up the next morning in Kya’s bed.

The incident prompted intense introspection in both women, surprising them with the conclusions they individually came to. Kya had cloistered herself from any deep feelings, following the death of her partner of ten years. Her love life was nonexistent and her sex life was detached and calculated, as she was still devastated by Jillian’s physical absence and spiritual presence. She wanted nothing to do with relationships of any kind. There were still too many memories and reminders of what she no longer had or felt capable of having. Jillian had grounded and anchored her and since Jillian’s death, she had felt aimlessly drifting through darkness. She immersed herself in her work and sleepwalked through any expected social life her job required her to have. She slept with unavailable, neglected, curious, straight women to fill her own carnal needs without the risk of any kind of commitment. She thought she was happy with that arrangement…until, without warning, Riley Vaughn suddenly popped into her life.

One drunken, seductive lap dance later, Kya was hooked. Her body was sending her signals she had not felt in years; desires that, if she didn’t act on them, she would surely explode. She obeyed the urges of her out-of-control libido and left the party with hope in her embrace.

Riley had been floored by the revelation that she was attracted to women. More specifically, this particular woman. She had been even more knocked out by the fact that she went home with her and had sex with her the night they met. Except that, thanks to an indeterminate amount of alcohol consumption, Riley had not remembered much about the encounter until later the next day, when she sobered up.

It wasn’t that Riley blamed her behavior on having been intoxicated; she took full responsibility for the fact that she slept with Kya. Her rumination of the situation reflected what Kya had said to her that morning; that people say and do things when they are drunk they don’t have the courage to say and do when they are sober. According to what her friends from the party told her, she was the initiator of the seduction, so it must have been subconscious to begin with. And, in the week after getting to know Kya, Riley was pretty sure the results would have been the same. Kya’s allure was just too strong to fight, even if she’d wanted to.

Clearly, she didn’t want to.

Kya had been completely upfront about wanting to see Riley again but left it up to the perplexed blonde to make the next move. After much soul-searching and not being able to get the drop-dead gorgeous brunette out of her head, Riley chose to see Kya again. They were obviously quite harmonious in bed, if the flashbacks she’d had of that night were any indication. The real test was to see how compatible they were in life.

Today, at the wedding and reception of Danielle and Todd, they would, hopefully, see all they needed to see in order to decide on another date or shake hands and go their separate ways. Both silently acknowledged that it would have to take something pretty unacceptable not to agree to go on another date.

Riley watched as Kya affixed the heel to her shoe. “Do you think that will hold?”

“It better. It only has to hold through the ceremony. By the reception, the shoes will be off.”

“Oh, good. You’re already a foot taller than I am. That’s intimidating enough.”

Kya smirked at Riley. “I intimidate you?”

“Of course you do,” Riley said, honestly. “Although, I’m not sure it really has anything to do with your height.” Her smile bordered between bashful and naughty.

Kya chuckled. “Huh. Intimidating. I’ll have to put that in my Riley notes.”

“You keep notes on me?”

“Only mental ones. The last thing I want to do when I need to recall something about you is to take the time to consult a book.” She winked at Riley who turned crimson.

“Um…that’s a lovely necklace.” Riley tried not to let her eyes wander below the gem that dangled close to the top of Kya’s cleavage.

“It was my bridesmaid gift from Danielle.”

“That’s a topaz…that’s my birthstone.” Riley was slightly surprised that Danielle would buy Kya a gift with her birthstone…that was taking a big, perhaps unrealistic, chance.

“Really? That was Jillian’s birthstone, too. Your birthday isn’t December 10 th , is it?”

“No, December 22 nd .” Ah, Jillian. That explained it. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Kya smiled. “It’s an apocalyptic stone, did you know that?”

“No. What does that mean?”

“It is supposed to protect the bearer against enemies. It is supposed to drive away anger, sadness and nocturnal fears.”

“Do you put a lot of faith in that?”

“Not really. It’s also supposed to protect you from sudden death.” She didn’t need to remind Riley that Jillian, had been killed instantly in a car accident.

“Well, it looks wonderful on you.”

“Thank you.” They stared at each other, mesmerized. Finally, Kya said, “You want to have sex?”

Riley looked at her, startled. “I’m sorry, what?”

Kya burst out laughing. “You seem very nervous. I thought you might need to relax before our debut with your family.”

Suddenly, Riley was at a loss for words. The idea of hitting the sack again with Kya was extremely enticing and terrifying at the same time.

She patted Riley’s arm. “Probably not a good idea. We’d both mess up our dresses.”

“Why? We’d take them off, right?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Kya grinned at Riley, who reddened from her neck to her hairline. “That over-active gullibility gland you have is just too damned cute.”

“How’s that heel holding?” Riley said, purposely changing the subject. She silently agreed that she needed to relax. Kya made her heart pound unlike anyone had ever done before. She still couldn’t believe how much she wanted to be with this woman, how much sexual adrenalin surged through her system so hot yet left her extremities so ice cold that she shivered.

Kya examined her shoe and tried to wiggle the heel. It didn’t budge. She ran her finger along the seam where she had applied the glue and it felt dry. She put the high heel on the floor, stepped into both shoes and walked up and down her hallway a few times. “Feels good. Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Riley drew a deep breath. She turned and bumped into Kya.

Kya cupped Riley’s face and placed a brief, gentle kiss on her lips. “Relax. It’ll be fine,” she whispered.

“I…I know.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Kya again, only this time was more enthusiastic.

Kya finally moved back. “If we continue, we’ll never leave this house. As much as I would like that, I’m not going to be the one to ruin Danielle’s ceremony by choosing to nail her cousin instead of standing up for her at her wedding.” Kya smiled, suggestively. “Not that I wouldn’t prefer to spend the day in bed with you.”

Riley nodded. “I don’t know what comes over me when I’m around you. I’m not ordinarily this brazen. And I haven’t even been drinking. Yet.” She removed a tissue from her purse and wiped remnants of her coral-colored lipstick off Kya’s mouth.

“I don’t mind. I like my women cheeky.”

Riley passed Kya as she walked out the door. “Then you’re going to love my cousins.”

*****

At the church, Riley let Kya off at the side door where the bridesmaids were told to enter. Once Kya was inside, Riley parked in a space that had just opened up near the church and waited for her parents, who were just getting out of their car.

“Where’s your date?” Tim Vaughn, Riley’s father, asked. He was anxious to meet this woman who seemed to have such a sudden, momentous influence over his daughter. Even though his wife assured him she was gorgeous, he knew Gloria had a tendency to be very kind in her assessments. He expected the worst.

“She’s already inside with the other bridesmaids. You look very handsome, Daddy.” Riley grinned at her father, proudly. He was twenty-two years older than she but he still had those boyish good looks and athletic build that attracted her mother all those years ago. He wore black dress slacks with a sage-colored, short-sleeved shirt and matching tie.

“Thank you, brat,” Tim said. “And you look very…grown up.”

“I am grown up,” she reminded him.

“Not to me. You’ll always be my little brat.”

“You look amazing, honey,” Gloria Vaughn, Riley’s mother, said, as she adjusted her light peach-colored summer outfit.

“Thanks, Mom. I love your dress.” She leaned over and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek. “Oops.” She removed the lip smudge she left. “I keep forgetting not to do that.”

“Why? Who else have you left your mark on today?” Her mother asked, with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. She linked arms with Riley as they strolled to the front door of the church. Her question was answered by her daughter’s blush.

It had been two days since Riley had told her parents that she was going to be at the wedding with Kya and, more importantly, was probably going to pursue a relationship with her. Her father initially took it better than her mother but now that Gloria was over the shock, she seemed to be much more accepting of the idea than Tim. At first, Gloria wasn’t keen at the thought of Riley flaunting her recently developing interest at a big family wedding but then she agreed with Riley; they might as well be out in the open about it. Then no one would be able to think they could somehow use it against the new couple.

Gloria did bring up the grandchildren issue but Riley reminded her that it was still a possibility. Gloria then had to admit that if there were to be grandchildren, she’d rather have Riley happy with a female partner, if that’s where her true orientation was, than miserable with a husband like Ryan, the ex-fiancé , just to please them with a society-accepted marriage.

By last night, Gloria appeared to have reconciled her feelings regarding the significance of Riley’s announcement. It was awfully soon and Riley wondered if her mother somehow suspected all along that Riley was going to discover an attraction to women. Riley hadn’t had a clue but her mother may have been able to sense things she couldn’t. Even though they didn’t always see eye to eye on issues, especially, until recently, concerning her wicked Aunt Virginia, they were close. Fortunately, Gloria ‘got’ her daughter a lot better than Riley ‘got’ her mother, something Riley was thankful for, knowing she would really need her mother’s support regarding her liaison with Kya.

Tim, on the other hand, was more concerned about Riley’s safety. The town in which they lived was populated with good ol’ boys and overzealous religious-types. Not that Tim Vaughn had a problem with people who practiced their faith – as long as they kept it in their places of worship. There were more than a few ministers in town who didn’t believe in freedom of religion, they believed in force-feeding their “Christian values” to sinners, who in reality were people who did not practice whatever the individual clerics preached. Homosexuals were always a target and that unnerved Tim, now that his precious daughter, to all intents and purposes, had become one.

A father’s pride aside, Riley was a beautiful girl; all his friends, neighbors and relatives had made mention of it. It wouldn’t take long to get around that Riley was off the market and why. Tim’s fear was that the misguided miscreants would come looking for her to “teach her a lesson” or want to “turn her straight”. These preachers would work their flocks into frenzies about this issue and then set them loose to do their bidding. There was no hate-crime law in place and there had been crimes committed across the state where judges and juries blamed the victim and his/her ‘lifestyle’ instead of the perpetrator. Tim was terrified that his daughter would become a statistic. This mixed with Tim not really understanding homosexuality just ratcheted up his anxiety. There was no doubt that Tim loved his daughter to excess, regardless of what or who she did behind closed doors, and he would protect her no matter what but the idea of it all paralyzed him with fear. Not that he would ever voluntarily show that fear to Riley.

“You okay, Daddy?” Riley asked. Her father appeared to be unusually preoccupied.

“I’m fine, Rye. I just hate getting dressed up, you know that.”

“I know but you clean up so good,” Riley told him, tugging on his shirtsleeve.

“You know your father. By the time the ceremony starts, he’ll have that top button undone and the tie pulled down or completely off,” Gloria said.

“Yeah. Don’t do that with your dress,” Tim said to Riley, mock warning filtering his tone.

“That’s okay, Daddy, I won’t take off mine until Warren takes off his.”

“Riley, really,” Gloria said, “we don’t know that your cousin, Warren, is gay.”

“Well, if I was a betting man…” Tim said and winked at Riley.

“My God, you two,” Gloria said.

They entered the church and waited in the vestibule to be escorted to the bride’s side of the nave. Riley felt a yank on the hem of her dress and looked down to see a young boy, maybe six-years-old, dressed in a tuxedo.

“And who are you?” She asked him, sweetly.

“I’m the ring bear,” he answered.

“I think you mean the ring bearer.”

“Yeah. Ring bear,” he said, almost annoyed at her for not hearing him correctly the first time.

“Ah. Right. You said that. What’s your job? Do you have to growl or something?”

“No. I tried that at the practice but they said not to do it. They don’t know much about bears.”

“No, I guess they don’t. So what’s your name?”

“I’m Brent. Uncle Todd is getting married today.”

“Yes, I know.” She wondered why this adorable little boy found it necessary to have this conversation with her, not that she minded but it seemed odd. “So, Brent, I need to go sit down with my parents. Was there something you wanted?”

“Yup.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her over to a man who looked like an adult version of him, matching tuxedo and all. “My daddy wanted to meet you.”

Riley looked at the man as Brent let go of her hand and ran off to a room where the groomsmen were. He was a nice-looking man, clearly close to Riley’s age and also, apparently, closer to being drunk. His eyes showed it and the minute he opened his mouth, Riley could smell second-hand whiskey.

“Hi there,” he extended his hand. “I’m Alex St. Peter, the groom’s brother.”

Riley cautiously shook his hand. “Hi. Riley Vaughn.”
“I know. You’re the bride’s cousin. I’ve wanted to meet you for a while.”

“Really?” Oh boy. She didn’t ask him why. She instinctively knew and didn’t want to hear him say it out loud. “Your son is very cute.”

“I’m divorced. From his mother. Just in case you were wondering.”

I wasn’t. “So are you the best man?”

“Well, I think so,” he said and gave her an unseemly wink, “but Todd chose our younger brother, Cory.”

“I see.” Okay. One more minute of polite at the most.

“Nope,” Alex shoved his hands in his pockets and continued the conversation as though he never heard her, “Todd picked the faggot. Unreal, isn’t it? Problem with Cory being best man is he’ll never be able to prove it.” He waggled his eyebrows at Riley, hoping she got his innuendo.

Riley stared at him, gaping. “I need to go inside now.” She turned away from him and walked to the usher waiting to bring her to her seat.

“Hey, nice finally meeting you, Riley,” he shouted. His voice echoed through the west side of the church “Save me a dance later.”

She didn’t look back at him but noticed the first five rows on either side of the aisle, were looking at her. As she took the arm of the usher who walked her up the aisle to her parent’s pew, she saw heads meet and heard whispers abound. Danielle must have already mentioned something to someone about Riley’s date.

Riley sat down next to her father and mustered up her friendliest smile. When she looked around the nave and met with anyone’s gaze, she nodded and maintained her amiable expression. In the second row, behind where her Aunt Penny and Uncle Luc would sit was her Aunt Virginia. When their eyes met, Riley’s eldest aunt glared at her with such disdain, Riley wanted to run up to her and slap the meanness right out of her. Next to her was her Uncle Ted, the poor sap, saddled with Aunt Virginia for the last fifty-four years, although he seemed to be able to hold his own. Seated next to Ted was Warren, Ted and Virginia’s only child and his “friend,” Sean, who everyone suspected was really Warren’s boyfriend.

When Virgina turned and whispered something to Ted, Warren turned around and looked at Riley. He returned a sincerely friendly grin and wiggled his fingers at her in a gesture of ‘hello.’ Riley responded in kind.

“Where’s Anna?” Riley asked her mother in a hushed voice. Anna was a woman who usually accompanied Warren and Sean to all family functions. Anna was supposed to be Warren’s girlfriend but nobody believed it except his mother and father.

“According to Virginia, she has the flu and had to stay home.”

“Warren’s pretty brave to come here with just Sean,” Riley said.

“Why?” Tim asked, wiping some perspiration off his brow. He unbuttoned his top button and pulled his tie down to accommodate the open first button. “He thinks everyone buys the best buddy thing.”

“Tim! I expected you to at least wait until Danielle walked down the aisle to remove your tie,” Gloria whispered, surprised.

“It’s already too flippin’ hot in here. Don’t churches believe in air conditioning?” Tim pointed up. “Those ceiling fans are just circulating more hot air. And with most of your side of the family here, dear, we don’t need any more hot air.” To that remark, he received a rather enthusiastic jab to the ribs.

Alex, the tipsy groomsman, escorted a cosmopolitan, middle-aged woman up the aisle to the front row on the groom’s side, followed by a debonair man who sat next to the obviously cultured woman. Riley had only met Todd a few times but he resembled his brother and they both clearly favored their father. She would discover that Cory, the best man, was the spitting image of his mother. Riley hadn’t thought much about the St. Peter family but, for some reason, she was surprised they appeared to be so sophisticated. It wasn’t that Todd wasn’t refined in his own way but she was a little nonplussed that they approved of Danielle.

Her cousin was a woman who thought nothing of burping in syllables and/or sentences in the middle of a restaurant. While she could always get Riley to laugh when she did it, Riley didn’t think it was an accomplishment that would have impressed Todd’s family. Danielle was as earthy as a woman could get and still be allowed in public places but maybe Todd liked the contrast.

Her Aunt Penny was then escorted up the aisle. She beamed and looked elegant in her mother-of-the-bride gown. Her smile faltered when she saw that Virginia had been seated in the second row, directly behind where she was to sit but she regained her joy when Riley reached out and touched her arm as she passed and gave her a thumb’s up.

Moments later, the organ music became louder and indicated that the ceremony was about to begin. The minister, Todd, his best man and groomsmen entered the south side of the chancel and stood. Riley looked back to the vestibule and saw Danielle’s cousin, Marie, from her Uncle Luc’s side of the family. She stood at the doorway until she was gently eased forward by the bridesmaid behind her. Four-year-old Marie then ran down the aisle, flinging her basket of flower petals as she went. Instead of stopping at the chancel rail, she ran right up the steps, passed the minister and the alter, to the organist, who was her grandmother. Her grandmother continued to play, while she leaned down and spoke in the child’s ear.

Marie stubbornly shook her head and stayed glued to the spot. Reverend Mahler held out his hand to Marie as the organist nudged the little girl toward him. She let the minister lead her to where she was supposed to stand. The minute the first bridesmaid started down the aisle, Marie ran back to her grandmother.

All those in the church, including the group who had been assailed by flying flower parts, seemed to think the little girl’s behavior was precious; all except Virginia who tsked and harrumphed so loud, even the minister looked annoyed. Reverend Mahler normally wasn’t so defiant; after all, Virginia’s generous donations kept that house of worship running…as long as everything was run Virginia’s way. The church was in Virginia’s will so Mahler never did anything that could even be remotely misconstrued as insubordinate to the Weston matriarch.

The bridesmaid, a friend of Danielle’s whose name Riley could not remember, shuffled down the aisle, a terrified expression on her face. She looked straight ahead and seemed very relieved once she reached the chancel rail. Gina, Riley and Danielle’s mutual friend, was next. She glided down the aisle and took her place next to the first bridesmaid.

Then came Kya. Most brides didn’t like when someone in their wedding party looked better than they did but there was no way anyone could have competed with Kya. At least not in Riley’s opinion. Kya could have worn a burlap sack and still outshone the bride. Not just Danielle, any bride, as far as Riley was concerned. A few gasps of appreciation were heard when Kya began her walk toward the alter. Her mesmerizing eyes searched for Riley in the crowd and held her captive. When she passed Riley she winked and Riley’s heart fluttered uncontrollably.

“Who was that gorgeous woman who just winked at me?” Tim whispered to Riley, whose eyes were following Kya up to the rail.

“Daddy, she didn’t wink at you, she –“ As Riley turned to address her father, she saw the mischievous gleam in his eye. She then glanced at her mother who covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.

“Told you she was gorgeous,” Riley boasted, playfully.

Tim shook his head. “Wow. Lesbians sure didn’t look like you two when I was growing up.”

“Oh, hush, they did, too, you probably just never realized they were lesbians,” Gloria told him.

Riley chuckled and returned her attention to Kya who had taken her place with the other two bridesmaids. She finally tore her eyes away from her date when the organist began The Wedding March.

Everybody stood, as was tradition, but more in anticipation of seeing the bridal gown. Riley had to admit, even though she wasn’t particularly fascinated by wedding dresses, Danielle’s was magnificent and she looked spectacular in it. As Danielle started her stroll, everyone started laughing. Riley couldn’t imagine what embarrassing thing must be happening to cause such frivolity until she spotted her Uncle Luc, one arm escorting his daughter and the other hand holding a shotgun. Even Reverend Mahler was amused until a glare from Virginia indicated it was an unsuitable gag for her, er, his church.

Reverend Mahler asked everyone to be seated. By special request, he began the ceremony by asking if anyone objected to the joining of these two people, speak now or forever hold their peace. Luc turned to everyone in the nave and moved the shotgun slide forward to cycle a round. Everyone laughed again.

The ceremony then began for real. Mahler welcomed the wedding party and guests, relieved Luc of his fatherly duty as Luc gave Danielle’s hand to Todd. Mahler read a few short passages from the bible and then each bridesmaid and groomsman were asked to read excerpts from literature they believed would signify the moment for the bride and groom. Most selections were short and sweet. When it was Kya’s turn, she melodiously recited a piece from an Apache joining ceremony, “The Journey Begins.”

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years,

May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.”

“That was beautiful,” Riley sighed. She thought she had said it under her breath until she looked up to see Warren nod and give her a thumbs up.

“Good thing red goes with your dress,” Gloria leaned over and said.

Riley pursed her lips and stared at her folded hands in her lap. Warren must have been tipped off about her date, Riley thought. He was being awfully daring, openly showing his support in front of his mother.

When the entire bridal party, minus Brent and Marie, finished reading what they had selected, Danielle spoke her romantic self-written vows to Todd. When it was Todd’s turn, he knelt before his bride and started to deliver words of love that declared his devotion. It would have been much more effective, if someone hadn’t painted “Save” on the sole of one shoe and “Me!” on the sole of the other.

A collective snicker rippled throughout the church and Todd looked perplexed until his brother, Cory, leaned down and explained to him what everyone found so amusing. He smiled and took it in stride. He waited until the chuckling settled down and continued his personal vow to Danielle. He stood up and Mahler sermonized the legal portion of the ceremony, which bound them together in contract. They exchanged wedding bands, Mahler pronounced them husband and wife and, without any prompting, they embraced and their lips met in a long, involved kiss.

At the clearing of Mahler’s throat, the kiss broke to applause, hoots and hollers from the younger members of the guests. All the groomsmen pulled what looked like Olympic score cards out of their tux jackets and held them up. Each card had a number on it, rating the kiss.

Once again, Mahler moved his hands in a motion meant to quiet the crowd. Finally he was able to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Todd St. Peter.”

Another raucous cheer rose. Mahler nodded to his organist who pealed forth the Wedding March Recessional and the bride and groom walked the aisle, holding hands and looking quite blissful. Row by row, they were followed by the wedding party, the new in-laws and the rest of the guests.

Kya found Riley before Danielle corralled her to get back in the church. “Hey, can you hang out? We won’t be that long.”

“Of course. I thought you had a ride to the hall with the other bridesmaids.”

“I did but there’s been a little glitch. Todd’s parents rented limousines to take the entire wedding party and in-laws to the reception. The bride and groom are to ride in the first one.”

“Okay…and…?”

“Someone has to drive the original ‘Just Married’ car to the reception hall.”

Riley looked over at the vehicle that had been affixed with tin cans and other decorations that usually indicated newlyweds were in the car. “You want me to drive that?”

“No. I volunteered to drive it but I thought maybe we could ride in it together.”

Riley studied the ridiculously adorned vehicle. “Yeah. I can see where you’d be embarrassed to be in that thing by yourself.” She looked back at Kya. “Let me catch my folks before they leave. I’ll have my dad drive my car to the reception.”

“Great. Thanks,” Kya said, obviously relieved.

Fifteen minutes later, they were on their way to the grange hall where the reception was being held. It was ten miles away, twenty miles of horns honking and people yelling congratulations out their windows to the ‘newly married’ couple. Riley almost wet herself from laughing so hard at passing drivers expressions when they realized it was two women in the car as opposed to what was clearly expected. Kya only made it worse by smiling and waving to everyone and honking back. Occasionally, she grabbed Riley’s hand and held it up to her lips and kissed it lovingly to the delight or dismay of traffic that drove by them.

“You are truly disturbed,” Riley said, wiping tears from her eyes as they parked the car.

“It helps to make the best of what you have,” Kya said. “Why don’t you go inside and find your seat. I have to wait for the wedding party to get here. I need to enter with the groomsman I was matched up with.”

“Alex.”

“Yeah. I wonder why he’s almost drunk already.”

“I think he may have issues. He asked me to save a dance for him.”

“Hopefully he can still stand by then.” She alerted on Riley’s negative expression. “What?”

“I’m just not impressed. He introduced himself when I was on my way into the church. We hadn’t even been talking a minute before he referred to his brother, Cory, as a faggot.”

“Oh.” Kya nodded. “Hmm. Do you think he might be trouble if he finds out you and I are here together?”

“I don’t know. I hope not. He already has a problem with Todd because he wasn’t picked as best man and he’s already disrespected him by getting drunk before the ceremony, who knows?”

Kya patted Riley’s arm, reassuringly. “We’ll handle it.” She glanced in the rearview mirror. “They’re here.”

“Okay, I’ll see you inside.” Riley opened the car door. She stopped when she felt Kya’s hand take hers.

“Save a dance for me?” Her smile was dazzling.

Riley had to concentrate with everything she had not to become a puddle right there in the seat. “Um…if not inside, maybe later?”

“Count on it,” Kya said.

Riley got out of the car, breathless, and walked toward the grange entrance.

*****

“I wish I could have taken a picture of you two in that wedding car,” Tim kidded his daughter as she sat down next to him.

“Yeah. That would have been one for the wedding album,” Riley said and rolled her eyes.

“There’s an extra chair here for Kya,” Gloria said. “But I assume she will be spending most of her time at the wedding party table.”

“Only for the meal, I think. Have you received any comments yet?”

“Not outright. A lot of looks. Your cousin Meredith seems shell-shocked.”

“I guess she can’t continue to spread around that I sleep with every man I meet so she’ll have to find another target.”

“No, she’ll just say that you’ve had every man in town and now you’re moving on to women,” Tim said.

Riley looked at him. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my parents.”

The DJ hired for the reception activated his microphone and introduced the wedding party, starting with Marie and Brent. When he got to Kya and Alex, he mangled her name like a pro and Kya seemed to be holding Tony up as they walked to their seats. Riley wondered which Kya enjoyed more: holding up the groom’s brother or holding up Danielle’s wedding dress before the ceremony so Danielle could pee. Riley guessed it was neither.

Everyone applauded as Danielle and Todd were introduced and made their way to their honored place at the front table across the small dance floor that faced all the guests. The disc jockey played Guns and Roses’ Welcome To The Jungle as they did their walk from the entrance to their seats.

Virginia was highly offended and displayed her appall by covering her ears. Most of Riley’s older cousins bobbed their heads in time to the beat, reliving their head banging years of yore.

While the bridal table was served, the rest of the guests lined up to get their food at the buffet. Once everyone had overstocked their plates and were reseated, Cory, the best man, got everyone’s attention. He spoke while champagne glasses were being filled.

“Hello everybody. My name is Cory St. Peter and I’m the best man, so it’s my job to give the toast. First, I’d like to say congratulations again to the newest Mr. and Mrs. St. Peter.” There was applause and hoots and hollers. Cory put his hand up and the noise halted once again. “A lot of people think Todd and Danielle met through adult night classes at the college. Not true. The real story is that Todd and Alex were at Clancy’s Pub – for those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s the biggest dive in town – and they saw the only two women in the bar who hadn’t hooked up yet, tossed for them and Todd lost.” This got a raucous laugh out of most of the crowd, including the bride and groom. The elder relatives and guests may have thought Cory was handsome and charming but they weren’t as amused by his attempt at humor.

“Seriously,” Cory continued, “this was a very nice wedding and, so far, a beautiful reception.” Cory looked out over the guests and grinned. “Todd is very lucky to have Danielle. Because of her love, companionship, devotion and support, he has become the man he’d always wanted to be.” He looked down at Todd who grinned up at him and nodded his agreement. “So I have a little advice for you, Bro. Follow your own path because you seem to be doing well so far. Don’t be like Dad.” Cory looked respectfully at his father and a playful expression graced his boyish features. “I love you, Dad, but that ‘She can go from lipstick to broomstick in 60 seconds’ bumper sticker should really come off the car.”

“I didn’t put it there, son, your mother did,” Eric St. Peter said back to him. That got a few more laughs.

“And don’t be like Alex, who thinks wedding rings are the worlds tiniest handcuffs.”

“But that’s so true,” Alex said.

“I guess you just didn’t know how to use handcuffs correctly,” Danielle said to Tony. That remark drew some whistles and more applause.

Virginia could be seen whispering something to Ted. He shook his head and looked just as perplexed as she did. Warren then mumbled something in her ear that prompted a horrified expression to cross her face.

“Alex and Dad both gave me advice to give you, Bro. Alex said to always remember you’re anniversary and dates that are important to Danielle. If you can do that, he thinks it should be smooth sailing. He told me to tell you the best way to remember these dates is to forget them just once.” Everyone looked at Alex, whose head bobbed up and down. “Dad’s advice was to never, ever forget these three magic words: ‘You’re right, dear’. And Mom is just grateful to have a girl in the family.”

“Damn, Cory, I thought she had that wish fulfilled with you,” Alex said, his eyes cast downward. When he looked up, he saw his father glaring at him.

Cory shook his head at his oldest brother. “You never learn.” He then raised his champagne glass and everyone followed suit. “So here’s to the groom, one of the best guys I know. I’d say that even if he weren’t my brother. And here’s to the beautiful bride, who deserves better but if she hadn’t settled for Todd, I would have missed out on the opportunity of knowing and treasuring one of the most caring, giving, warmhearted, understanding people in the world. May you both share a long, loving, prosperous life together.”

Everyone joined Cory in toasting the newlyweds and the reception officially began.

*****

Subsequent to the meal, Danielle and Todd shared their first dance as husband and wife and Kya fulfilled her minimal obligation of pairing with Alex as the wedding party rounded out the next dance. Riley observed that he appeared to behave himself but she presumed that was because Kya clearly intimidated the hell out of him. Kya’s ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression had not escaped him, nor did the fact that she was taller and, no doubt, stronger than he was. When the music ended, Eric St. Peter discreetly collared his son and they walked toward an exit. Kya found Riley’s table and sat next to her in the empty seat.

“That looked relatively painless,” Riley said.

“The dance? You weren’t watching his feet then. I swear someone needs to invent steel-toed high heels.” She removed her shoes and placed them by her chair.

Riley gestured to her parents. “Mom, Daddy, this is Kya Liberis.”

It wasn’t Kya’s beauty or crystal blue eyes or perfect, white smile that disarmed them; it was they way she interacted with their daughter. It was the way she so visibly adored Riley and Riley was so clearly crazy about her. Their unusually strong connection seemed irrepressible and genuinely magnetic.

Kya shook Tim and Gloria’s hands. “Nice to meet you both.” She focused on Gloria. “Riley tells me that you knew Jillian.”

“Yes,” Gloria answered, warmly. “Jillian was always so nice to deal with. She bent over backwards to make sure her bank customers were accommodated with the least amount of stress. She obviously loved working there.”

“She did.”

“I am so sorry for your loss.” Gloria rested her hand on Kya’s wrist.

“Thank you.” Kya looked at Riley. “It’s time I moved on. Your daughter seems to want to help me through that phase.”

“I can’t think of a better person for the job,” Tim Vaughn said, amiably.

“Thanks, Daddy,” Riley said to her father. She then looked at Kya. “I think he was prepared to not like you and give you the third degree.”

“I’m still considering the third degree,” Tim said and smiled.

“Interrogate away, Mr. Vaughn. I have nothing to hide,” Kya said, pleasantly. She couldn’t take her eyes off Riley.

“Tim, let’s take a spin on the dance floor,” Gloria suggested. She suddenly felt like she was trespassing in the Riley-Kya universe.

“Have fun,” Riley told them as they left the table.

“Your dad’s cute,” Kya said. “He looks torn between protecting you and patting you on the back.”

“He’s adjusting to…um…the new me.”

Kya reached over and squeezed Riley’s hand. “You’re still you. He realizes that, right?”

“He’s trying. He’s a little stunned, I think. He told me he was expecting you to look more like the stereotypical butch woman as opposed to Wonder Woman.”

“Wonder woman?” Kya grinned. “I’ll take that as a high compliment. Wonder Woman was pretty hot in your father’s generation.”

*****

Gloria and Tim moved closely together around the dance floor, to the song “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden. They both stared at the table they had just left.

“I remember when you used to look at me like that,” Gloria said, softly.

“I still look at you like that,” Tim said, protesting mildly.

“When?” Gloria asked.

“I guess when you’re not looking,” he answered, sheepishly.

“That’s love if I’ve ever seen it,” Gloria said. She rested her head on her husband’s shoulder and watched Riley and Kya.

“They’ve only known each other a week,” Tim said. He kissed the top of his wife’s head.

“That’s about as long as it took me to realize I was in love with you.” She looked into Tim’s eyes. “We can’t judge them, Tim. We slept together on our first date.”

“Yes, I remember.” Tim smiled fondly at her. “But this is their first date. They slept together last week. Is Riley sure this isn’t a phase?”

Gloria nodded her head in the direction of their daughter. “Look at her. The way she looks at Kya. Does that look like a phase to you? Her engagement to that abusive butthead, Ryan, was a phase. This looks very real to me.”

“Doesn’t any of this bother you?” Tim asked.

“I guess it should. In accordance with my upbringing, it should. But I just want our daughter to be happy. I don’t want her to be with anyone she doesn’t love just because she thinks it’s what we want. You and I, we’ve had our fairy tale. We’ve been very lucky, Tim. I want Riley to have her fairy tale…I want her to be as lucky in love as we have been. Your parents didn’t want you to have anything to do with me, remember? They thought I would make you unhappy. I don’t know what else they thought, other than they didn’t like me with you.”

“That’s because they found out we did the deed before we were married. They thought you were a bad influence on me.”

“Little did they know that I wasn’t the slut, you were,” Gloria teased.

“Yeah but in their generation, boys were boys and girls were always virgins.”

“And in Riley’s generation, boys end up with boys and girls with girls. We need to respect her judgment and her whatever path she chooses to follow. Remember, your parents lost out on two years of your life because they forbid you to marry me. They relented after Riley was born because they wanted a relationship with their only granddaughter. I don’t want to us have that kind of parallel with our child because we may not understand why she’s happier with women than men. I know about Kya Liberis. She works hard and puts a lot back into this town. She is noble and upstanding, she makes a great living and doesn’t lay a straw in anyone’s way. Riley could do a lot worse.”

Tim glanced over at his daughter again. She was laughing. Kya was holding her hand on the table, talking to her and making her laugh. His daughter beamed. She was radiating. Riley was in love and if he wasn’t mistaken, Kya was in love, too. “Are you prepared for the crapstorm from your family?” He said to his wife.

“It’s none of their business. When they are ready to let Riley pick and approve of their partners then I’ll let them have their say. Until then? They can kiss my cottage cheesed ass.”

“I love your ass. Don’t make fun of it. Dimples are cute.”

“On golf balls, not on my butt.”

Tim grinned. “Hey, that’s my wife you’re talking about. I have to warn you, if you keep it up, I’ll have to ask you to step outside.”

“Yeah? And then what, tough guy?”

“I’ll just have to give you ‘what for’.”

“Oh, is that what they’re calling it these days?” Gloria arched an eyebrow.

The song ended and they shared a quick kiss. Hand-in-hand, they strolled off the dance floor, toward the bar. That gave Riley and Kya a few more minutes alone.

*****

“Are you going to dance with me?” Kya asked.

“If a song comes on I like, sure.” Riley’s insides shook at the prospect. Would she really get up and dance with Kya in front of all her relatives? She studied the breathtaking woman seated next to her. Of course she would. Right now, her entire world revolved around Kya Liberis.

“Excuse me, could I steal my cousin for a dance?” The voice belonged to cousin Warren, Virginia and Ted’s only child, the one they viewed as the messiah, the one everyone else always suspected was gay.

“Warren, hi!” Riley stood up to hug him. “This is Kya Liberis, my…date.”

Warren and Kya shook hands. “So I’ve heard,” he said to Riley. “What a brave little priss you are to bring a same-sex date to a family function. You’re my new hero!” He leaned down and gave Kya a kiss on the cheek. “You are just gorgeous,” he gushed. “My goodness, cuz, when you do it, you do it right.” He pulled her toward the dance floor.

“Do you mind?” Riley asked Kya.

“Of course not. Enjoy.”

As Riley started to dance with Warren, Kya went up to speak with the DJ.

*****

“How’ve you been, Warren? Sorry to hear that Anna’s sick,” Riley said, politely, as her oldest cousin whirled her around the dance floor to “At Last” by Etta James.

“Anna’s fine. She’s just tired of being my beard and she despises my mother. She said if I forced her to another one of my family’s events, it was the end of our friendship.”

“Jeez, Warren, that was kind of harsh.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Everybody despises my mother, including me, and I have used Anna for the last twenty years or so. She’s got a partner. She can’t be running off with me every time I ask. Then I heard that you were disgracing the family name by bringing a female date to the wedding and I figured if my youngest cousin had balls enough to be who she is, I guess I should stop hiding behind Anna.”

“Wow. You’re actually coming out?”

“Oh, like anyone will be shocked. Please!”

“Your parents will.”

“Just my mother. Dad isn’t as oblivious as everyone thinks he is. He and Mother go their separate ways a lot. He stays with her for appearances but the less he has to deal with her, the better.”

“I thought your folks were happily married.”

“Well…Mother is.” Warren grinned.

“So…you and Sean have been together a long time,” Riley stated.

“Yes, we have. We love each other very much. It’s not all hearts and flowers, believe me, but no marriage ever is.”

“Are you two legally married?”

“Yes. With my mother’s hate-filled scheming, I wanted to make sure Sean was protected. Almost everything we have, we collected and bought together. I don’t want my mother to be able to come in after I’m gone and take everything away from him. It’s rightfully his, not hers.”

“God…you talk like she’s going to outlive you. Like Sean is, too, and he’s ten years younger than you.”

“I’m HIV-positive, sweetie, it’s a possibility.”

“Warren!” Riley’s hand went to her heart. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Don’t be sorry, Rye. I’ve been HIV-positive for eleven years. I’m doing fine. Really. But it doesn’t hurt to have all my ducks in a row.”

Riley digested his information. He looked healthy and he seemed upbeat and happy. “When are you going to make the big announcement?”

“Probably today. Do you think Danielle will mind?”

“You’ll have to ask her. Your mother will kill you.”

“Maybe. If she still has her wits about her. I collected all the fruit out of the punch bowl, put it on a plate and gave it to her. She has no idea it’s been soaking in ninety proof spiced rum and 7-Up for the last three hours.”

Riley looked over at the table where her Aunt Virginia was seated. She was popping pieces of fruit in her mouth like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. Riley started to laugh. “That’s really devious…I love that in a person.”

Suddenly the beat of the music changed and Riley recognized the introductory drum pattern of “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado. Kya stepped up next to Warren.

“I do believe they’re playing our song.” Kya smirked and arched her eyebrow.

Warren smiled and took a step backward. He bowed. “By all means. You go, girls.”

Riley turned to Kya. “Please don’t say you want a lap dance.”

“If your parents weren’t here, I’d consider it.” She took Riley’s hand, spun her and pulled her close. “Just follow me, okay?”

“Sure,” Riley said, unable to resist the seductive aura of her date.

Kya moved herself and Riley to the rhythm. Their dance was far from indecent but it certainly drew attention to them. Kya held Riley against her, her hand on Riley’s hip as Riley mirrored Kya’s every step and body gesture. It bordered on risqué and the two women performing the dance were not the only people in the room aroused. At one point during the song, there were so many camera clicks, the music was almost muffled.

Kya escorted Riley back to the table when the song ended. “I so want to kiss you right now,” she said just loud enough for Riley to hear.

“I’m not so sure I could stop with just kissing,” Riley responded. She tried not to look at anyone during the short walk back to her seat. She didn’t want anyone’s expression of disapproval to spoil the moment.

“Fine by me.”

“I don’t want to scare either of you,” Tim said as they sat down, “but your mother just went to check on Aunt Virginia. Your mother thinks that dance you just did may have given her a stroke.” A tiny smile curled his lip.

Riley glanced over to Virginia and Ted’s table and observed her overbearing aunt’s head lolling around, her body sprawled, unladylike, on the chair. Warren stood over her with his hand over his mouth, stifling a laugh. “She didn’t have a stroke, Daddy. She’s hammered.”

“What?” He looked back over at the table, where Gloria tried to get Virginia to sip from a glass of water. “You know your Aunt Virginia doesn’t drink. She’s the chairwoman of the church’s temperance league. She’d never survive the scandal.”

“Sucks to be her then,” Riley said. She smiled at her father’s inquisitive expression. “Aunt Virginia’s been eating all the fruit out of the punch bowl.”

“The bowl with the rum-laced punch?” Tim asked.

“Yep.”

“Good Lord. I’d better find Ted and get him to take her home. She is going to have the hangover from Hell tomorrow morning,” Tim said.

“Couldn’t happen to a more deserving person,” Riley said. She didn’t feel at all sorry for her tyrannical aunt.

Tim excused himself and left the table, in search of Virginia’s husband. When Ted approached Virginia, he and Tim attempted to help her stand up. Their first two efforts were unsuccessful because she flailed and fought them. She began to yell the most unladylike sentences, everything from ‘those Goddamn perverts’ to the diminutive size of her husbands ‘equipment’. Before they were able to escort her from the reception, she reached down and grabbed a handful of Tim’s crotch. “Oh my, Timothy. No wonder Gloria smiles all the time…”

Tim turned scarlet and gingerly removed Virginia’s death grip on his private parts while he and Ted left the room with her.

“Oh my God. That’s the last thing I needed to hear about my father,” Riley said. She buried her face in her hands.

The crowd had just settled down when Danielle asked the DJ for his microphone. “Can I have everyone’s attention, please? My cousin, Warren, would like to make an announcement.” She handed the mic to her ebullient oldest cousin.

“Hey everybody! Since this is such a day of joy, I asked Danielle if I could share mine with you, too.” Warren was holding hands with Sean. “I just wanted to tell everyone what they probably already knew anyway.” The normally quiet and subdued Warren was now very loud and animated. “I’m gay and always have been and Sean is my spouse. We’re legally married!” There was some applause but mostly silence. Warren didn’t seem to notice. He grabbed Sean, kissed him and led him to the dance floor. The DJ squinted at the couple, shrugged and then played the requested Whitney Houston version of “I Will Always Love You.”

Riley spotted Danielle, who downed a shot of something dark and was quickly handed another by Todd. “I get the feeling that the reception isn’t going exactly as Danielle planned,” Riley said.

Kya looked over her shoulder at the bride. “Thankfully, we aren’t a part of the surprise. She’s thrilled about us. But let’s go see if there’s anything we can do to help get things back on track.” They both stood and felt an immediate presence behind them.

“Fuckin’ A, man, this place is loaded with fucking queers.” Alex stared at the dance floor where Warren and Sean danced cheek to cheek and Cory moved in tandem with his male date.

“And two of them are standing right in front of you,” Kya said, crisply.

“Huh? What?” Kya’s words registered with him. “You two? No way! No fucking way!” His voice could be heard over the music.

“Yes. Kya and I are together.” Riley faced him squarely. “And would you mind watching your language? There are children here and other people who may be offended by your cursing.”

“What?” He took another swallow of his drink. His demeanor was now nasty. “Do you think children and people here aren’t offended by what you are? Are you honestly lecturing me about improper behavior? With what you do with your mouth? My mouth may spew some offensive words but I can guarantee my mouth has never been where yours has.”

Riley knew she shouldn’t egg him on but she couldn’t resist. She gave Kya a blatant once-over and winked at her. “Your loss,” she said to Alex.

“And another reason why your marriage probably didn’t last,” Kya added.

He focused on Kya. “So what happened to turn a big babe like you? Rape? Daddy get a little too friendly? Couldn’t outrun your brothers?” He looked her up and down. “Can’t imagine that with those legs.”

Kya stepped close to him. Her tone of voice was very calm and she smiled patiently at him. “Alex, Riley and I aren’t the ones with issues here. We’re not the ones angry at people who aren’t exactly like we are, or how we think they should be. You’re the one who so obviously hates your own life that you can’t even be respectful during your brother’s special day. Drunk before the wedding even begins? Being obnoxious and calling people names? You have the problem, Alex. We don’t. So, if you don’t want to feel what these legs are really capable of, I suggest you turn your ignorance and bigotry elsewhere. At least for the rest of this day.”

There was something about Kya’s expression that made Alex pause but he was drunk beyond reason so his unpleasant posturing continued. “So are you going to beat me up? There’s one for the cause.”

Kya crossed her arms. “I don’t have a cause. I am who I am. But if you want to keep on trying to pick a fight and spoil your brother’s and my good friend’s wedding day? I’ll walk you out of here myself while Riley gets your daddy to have another little chat with you. Clearly his first one didn’t do any good.”

Alex slammed his glass on the table, drawing all attention to him. He took a step back and gestured toward himself with both hands. “Bring it on, dyke!”

“You’re pathetic,” Riley said to him and shook her head sadly.

“ I’m pathetic?” Alex shouted. “You two better look in a mirror.” He pointed to the dance floor. “You all are twisted. It’s fucking wrong!”

“Daddy, stop it!” Suddenly Brent was there. He pounded on Alex’s leg. “Why do you always do this? You’re such a dickhead!” The little boy screamed at his father and ran out of the grange hall, crying.

Riley glared at Alex. “Wow,” she said, quietly, “you must be so proud of the example you set for your son.” Before Alex could respond, Riley spun on her heel and walked in the same direction as Brent ran.

Alex’s face was beet-red, a combination of anger and embarrassment. Todd and Eric St. Peter grabbed Alex and dragged him out of the building. Seconds later, Todd returned but Eric and Alex did not.

“I apologize for my brother, Kya. There’s no excuse for his behavior. As you can see, he has serious anger issues and alcohol doesn’t help.” He placed a hand on her arm. “Come sit with us for a minute?”

“I should go find Riley…”

“She was sitting on the steps with Brent, calming him down.”

Kya nodded and accompanied Todd back to the bridal table, where they sat down on opposite sides of Danielle.

“This could be going better,” Danielle said and gestured to the crowd.

“Dani, I apologize if Riley and I were, in any way –“

“No. You don’t owe me any apologies. Alex does. And I don’t blame Warren for finally wanting to tell everyone the truth, although his choosing this day to leap out of the closet was a little disconcerting. As was Aunt Virginia falling off the turnip truck.” She hesitated, then cracked a hint of a smile. “I really hope someone has that on film.”

Todd glanced around the room then back at his new wife. “Actually, the incidents seemed to have only stopped the frivolity momentarily.” He gestured toward the dance floor. “Everybody still seems to be having a good time.”

“I can’t speak for your family but you know mine. None of them would run from a party. Even if they will all viciously gossip about it tomorrow.”

He put his arm around Danielle. “It’s not that bad. There’s still the dollar dance, cake to cut, there’s still the bouquet and garter to toss…tons of fun left.” He leaned over and tenderly kissed her cheek. “Are you having a good time?”

“Maybe after another shot…or six.” She finally smiled under his winsome gaze. “Okay…it could be a lot worse.”

“What’s Alex’s problem?” Kya asked. “No one else in your family seems to have homophobia; what’s up with that?”

“I don’t know,” Todd said and sighed. “Pick an excuse from one to infinity. He’s the oldest, too much responsibility, not enough responsibility, his wife left him to explore her sexuality, he’s an asshole, he…? There is always something.”

“I would say that his wife leaving him to explore her sexuality, especially if it involved exploration with another woman, might be a reason, in his mind, as to why he has a problem with our festive subculture.”

“He had an issue with gays before that happened. Knowing his ex, she probably left him with that excuse because she knew how much it would piss him off,” Todd said.

“My guess is the only woman she left him for was herself,” Danielle said.

“Doesn’t matter. If it wasn’t that, it would be something else. He was an asshole growing up, he’s an asshole as an adult, he was an asshole husband and he’s an asshole father. He’s a raging alcoholic and won’t seek help. For anything. Whatever the problem is, it’s always somebody else’s fault, never his. He promised me, promised, that he would be on his best behavior today. He had a half a bottle of Johnny Walker in him before we even got to the church. I’ve had it with him. We’ve all had it with him. Brent’s right. He is a dickhead.”

Kya stood back up. “I think I’ll go check on Riley and see how she’s doing with the little guy.”

“Probably a good idea. Poor kid continues to see his father in a bad light but usually it’s in private. Today Alex showed what an asshole he is to everybody in the room and he didn’t even think about how it might affect anyone, most importantly, his kid.” Todd looked up at Kya. “If it’s really bad, come and get me, okay?”

“Okay,” Kya said and smiled warmly at him.

*****

Riley had settled on the third step of the grange staircase that led to the second floor offices. She had her arm around Brent who was all cried out and now snuggled into her side. He sniffled, wiped his nose on the back of his hand and rubbed his snotty hand on his tuxedo pants.

“Are you okay, honey?” Riley brushed his hair off his forehead with her fingers. She didn’t see Kya in the doorway taking stock of the situation. Kya remained silent and just observed the exchange.

“I hate my dad,” Brent said and wiped his eyes again.

“No you don’t. You don’t hate your dad, you’re just mad at him.” Riley’s voice was soothing. “Does your dad get like that a lot?”

“All the time. He’s always sore at something or somebody. Nobody wants to come play with me when I’m at daddy’s. I hate going to dad’s every weekend. He’s a dickhead.”

“Where did you learn that word?”

“Billy Conrad at school. He says it all the time.”

“Do you know what it means?”

Brent shook his head. “Nuh uh. But I know it’s not nice because the teacher puts him in time out.”

“You’re right, it’s not nice and,” Riley tapped Brent’s nose a few times, “you probably shouldn’t call people that anymore.”

He looked up at her. “What does it mean?”

Oh, boy. “I, uh, bet if you ask your Uncle Todd some time, he’ll tell you.”

“Why can’t you tell me?”

She looked down into innocently curious brown eyes. “Because…it’s a bad word and I don’t like to say bad words.” Oh, God. Is my nose growing?

Kya placed her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound of her laughter. She lightly shook her head and watched Riley in adoration.

“Okay. Then I won’t say any more bad words. Do you have any kids?”

“Nope. Do you?”

“Nawww…I am a kid! I can’t have kids.” Brent giggled. “Are you married?”

“Nope. Are you?”

“Nope. You wanna get married?” He grinned at her.

“Don’t you think I’m a little old for you?”

“Nope. I think you’re just perfect.” He ended the sentence with a vigorous nod.

“Well, thank you for the compliment, Master St. Peter, but I’m kind of seeing somebody right now so it wouldn’t be fair if I married you, now would it?”

He bowed his head. “No,” he sighed. “I guess not.”

Riley stood up and held her hand out to him. “But I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a dance, do you?”

He stood up and took her hand. “You sure your boyfriend won’t get mad?” They walked back into the grange hall.

“I’m sure.”

He pumped his little fist in the air. “All right!” He was beaming.

*****

Kya returned to the wedding table before Riley and her small companion entered the room. She watched as Riley led Brent to the dance floor, extended their hands out and moved around the floor like the perfect ballroom couple. Riley towered over Brent and he seemed okay with letting her lead. When the song ended, Riley leaned over and whispered something to Brent and he took a step back, then bowed. Riley curtsied and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Brent blushed and ran off to sit with his grandmother but not before whispering in her ear and grinning. Mrs. St. Peter looked over at Riley and smiled. She ruffled Brent’s hair and he ran happily out of the room.

“You just charm everyone, don’t you?” Kya said at Riley’s return.

Riley smiled in acknowledgement and pulled a chair out and sat at the wedding table. “I’ll have you know I just got a marriage proposal.”

“From Brent?” Todd asked. At Riley’s nod, he said, “Don’t get your hopes up, yesterday he proposed to Gina.”

“He did? Why that fickle little monkey…” Riley said and laughed. “I told him I was seeing someone. He took it rather well.”

“Good thing. I’d hate to have to fight him for your honor,” Kya said.

Riley flushed at the thought of meaning that much to Kya. “Too bad his father isn’t as likeable. What is his problem, Todd?” Riley asked.

“I’ll explain it to you later,” Kya told her.

“What’s to explain?” Danielle said. “Other than being a complete jackass, he’s easy to explain.”

“And now the bride and groom will do the obligatory dollar dance,” the DJ announced, taking both Danielle and Todd by surprise.

“Oh. I guess this is where we go make money for the honeymoon,” Todd said as he stood and extended a hand to his new wife.

Danielle rose from her chair. “Oh, boy…just what I was waiting for,” she said, sarcastically. She pointed to the men lined up. “Uncle Wayne said he’d give me a hundred dollar bill if I would dance with him first.”

“A hundred dollars?” Riley scrunched up her face. “That would not be anywhere near enough for me to dance with Uncle Wayne.”

Danielle drank the last of her double shot and rolled her eyes. “Hey…a hundred bucks for a five second grope and feel isn’t that bad.” She put on a mock brave face and walked to the dance floor.

“Still wouldn’t be enough for me,” Riley mumbled. Both Riley and Kya observed a short man with a massive comb-over and a stringy mustache practically leap to Danielle, cup her rear end with one hand and stuff something down the front of her dress with the other. As they moved to the music, he kept the hand on her behind and slowly pulled the other one out of her dress, lingering at her breast when he did. He smiled at her lasciviously until he was interrupted by the next man in line with a dollar for the bride. Reluctantly Wayne relinquished Danielle to Warren’s husband, Sean.

“How did you know he was going to do that?” Kya asked.

“He does it at every family wedding. He’s my cousin Meredith’s father and he’s the family lech.”

“Maybe I should go dance with him,” Kya said and smirked.

Riley laughed at the visual that popped into her head. “Gee, maybe you should.”

Kya reached over and took Riley’s hand. “When would you like to leave?”

The expression on Kya’s face was so wanton, Riley couldn’t answer her until she remembered to breathe again. She wanted to say ‘Right now!’ as she knew the wedding was just a formality and a prelude to another mindblowing lovemaking session that Riley was definitely going to stay sober for. “I think we should stay for the cutting of the cake and the throwing of the bouquet and then we could leave.”

“That long, huh?” Kya arched an eyebrow in amusement. She raised Riley’s hand to her lips and kissed it, lingeringly.

“Or not,” Riley said, hoarsely.

“No, you’re right. That would be a more appropriate time to leave.”

“Yes,” Riley agreed. The look in her eyes told Kya that she wished they had already left.

Following the dollar dance, the newlyweds announced that they wanted to cut their cake. Tim and Gloria had returned to the table with slices for themselves and Riley and Kya.

“We weren’t sure if you two wanted any cake but we brought you some anyway,” Gloria said.

“I’m actually still full from the dinner,” Riley said.

“I might have some, thank you,” Kya said and pulled the plate to her.
“Who made the cake this year, do you know? Was it Meredith?” Gloria asked, between bites. She turned to Kya to explain. “Meredith is the family wedding cake baker. She’s been doing it for ten years now.”

“No, Danielle said Meredith was going to let Ashley do it this year.” Riley looked at Kya. “Ashley is her daughter and studying cake making in school. I understand she’s done quite well…so…far…” Riley stopped and put her hand on Kya’s arm just in time to stop her from taking her first bite of cake. “Mom? Smile at me.”

“What?” Gloria heard Riley but wasn’t sure she understood. As requested, she smiled at her daughter. Her teeth were blue and her lips were a gorgeous shade of purple.

Riley then addressed her father. “Daddy?”

Tim looked up at her and grinned. His teeth were blue and his upper lip was bright red. Just then, little Marie ran by, her face mostly covered with red icing rubbed into blue. She looked as though she had been beaten to a pulp.

“Oh my God,” Gloria exclaimed. “What on earth -?”

Riley scanned the room. Various guests, kids mostly, had deep blues, reds or purple on their teeth, tongue, lips, face and fingers. Anyone walking into the room might have thought they were entering a crime scene. “I think Ashley may have used a very potent food coloring in the roses on the cake.”

Kya followed Riley’s gaze and put her fork down. “It looks like a Sam Raimi movie in here.”

A small ruckus erupted on the other side of the room and Ashley ran out of the grange hall in tears, her chastising mother close behind her. Seconds later, Danielle passed their table with blue frosted lips and three red dots on her cheeks and nose. Thankfully, she was smiling.

“Poor Danielle,” Gloria said and shook her head, sympathetically.

“Danielle seems fine. She didn’t want a big wedding or reception in the first place, she wanted to elope but Aunt Penny and Uncle Luc insisted on a family ceremony, with all the bells and whistles. All she cares about is that she and Todd are finally married,” Riley said.

“This wedding has to go down in your family archives as one of the most interesting,” Tim said to Gloria.

The disc jockey announced it was time for all of the single women to gather on the dance floor as the bride was about to throw her bouquet.

“Are you two going to join all the bachelorettes?” Tim asked Riley and Kya.

“Sure, why not?” Kya nudged a surprised Riley toward the crowd of women in front of them.

“Then let’s stand in the back. I’m too short to catch the bouquet back here and you really don’t want it, do you?” Riley asked, as they rose from their chairs.

Kya just smiled as the countdown to the toss began. When Danielle threw the bouquet behind her, it sailed in a wide arc, just enough for Kya’s long reach to snag it. She tapped it on the tip of her fingers and angled it to her right so that the bouquet nearly hit Riley in the face. Riley stuck her hands up to protect herself and ended up with the bouquet in her grasp. The sea of single women parted to see who the ‘lucky’ recipient was. Most clapped but some of the female relatives were very sore losers.

“Well, that’s certainly a waste,” cousin Jessica said and tsked, sourly.

“Not if her big girlfriend there catches the garter,” Jessica’s sister, Candace said. Both Jessica and Candace were two of Meredith’s three daughters. They left the dance floor, disappointed.

“I’m going to kill you,” Riley mumbled to Kya without moving her lips.

“Cheer up, Riley. Tradition says that you will be the next to get married,” Kya said.

“I don’t want to get married,” Riley protested. She looked up at Kya, whose eyes seemed to be exploring her soul. “Um…not right away, anyway…”

“And now, will all the single men come to the dance floor for the garter toss?” the disc jockey requested.

“So…is my big girlfriend going to go out there and catch the garter?” Riley asked.

Kya winked at her and moved to the floor. “I’ll do my best.” As Todd removed the garter from Danielle’s thigh to the hoots and hollers of everyone in the room, Kya embedded herself in the middle of the group of men. When the men counted backward from three and Todd tossed the garter over his head behind him at zero, Kya reached down and grabbed Brent by the waist. With a great thrust, she lifted him above the crowd and he caught the garter. When she set him down, they high-fived each other. Kya looked over at Riley, who grinned at her approvingly.

*****

“Little Brent seems to have more of his father in him than he thinks,” Kya said. She sat in the passenger seat of Riley’s car as Riley drove them back to Kya’s apartment.

“Ya think? Just because he tried to push the garter up to my waist?” Riley said and smirked. “Despite that, it was very sweet of you to let Brent catch the garter.”

“Ten years from now he’ll be showing that wedding CD to all his buddies, trust me. His posse will take one look at you and his street cred will go through the roof.”

Riley steered the car into Kya’s driveway and put it into park, letting the vehicle idle. “Do you still want me to come in?” Her expression was hopeful.

“Absolutely. Did I do anything in the past few hours to make you think I’d changed my mind?”

“No. I just wanted to be sure. Wanted to give you a chance to back out in case you had.”

Kya observed Riley’s sudden reticence. “I’ve been looking forward to this – to you – all day. Have you changed your mind?”

“No. God, no.”

“Then shut off the car and come inside.” Kya smiled and lightly rubbed her hand over Riley’s thigh.

*****

“I noticed you didn’t drink much all day,” Kya said, as she put her shoes away in the closet.

“Just two glasses of champagne. I wanted to stay sober this time,” Riley said. Her smile was shy. “You know…still hoping there would be a ‘this time’.”

Kya approached her and stood close. She placed the palm of her hand against the soft, fair-skinned, face of her date. “I think we both knew where we’d end up tonight.”

“Well, I wasn’t so sure you’d survive the afternoon and, if you did, you’d still want to be connected to anyone in my family.”

“Your family is a piece of cake compared to mine,” Kya said. She leaned over and kissed Riley’s forehead, then her cheek, then her lips. It was a gentle gesture but the minimal contact electrified them both. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

“Um…no,” Riley said, quietly. She reached up and put her hand on the back of Kya’s neck, coaxing her back. They kissed again, more assertively, more hungry this time.

“I see,” Kya whispered, “you just want to get right to it.”

“I don’t want to waste another minute,” Riley told her, boldly.

“Mmmm…a woman after my own heart.” Kya fastened her lips to Riley’s and maneuvered her backward into the bedroom.

*****

“Good God, Kya,” Riley panted as Kya pinned her naked body to the bed and sensually ravished every inch of it. Every nerve in Riley’s body was on passion overload and her skin was on fire. No one had ever made her feel like this during sex and she was grateful she was able to appreciate every second of it this time. Her nipples felt raw, swollen and were aching for more relief. Riley arched into Kya’s lips that were now devoting time to the vicinity of her navel. She had already climaxed once through Kya’s expert touch and anticipated another powerful orgasm as Kya slowly moved to the area that needed the most urgent attention. Kya did amazing things with her tongue, flicking and suckling Riley into the zenith of pleasure.

After Riley’s release, Kya penetrated her, filling her with such desire, she thought her blood would ignite in her veins. How could something be too much and not enough at the same time?

They moved in tandem to a rhythm that intensified the friction and made the sex more gratifying. When Riley came again, their cadence continued and without stopping to rest, Kya sat up and rested her knees on each side of Riley’s hips. She took Riley’s hand, guided it between her legs and held onto Riley’s wrist while she practically impaled herself on three of Riley’s fingers. Riley had never seen anything so hot in her entire life. She watched, mesmerized, as Kya took her pleasure, riding Riley’s hand with such abandon, Riley nearly climaxed with her when Kya finally released.

Temporarily incapacitated from the orgasm, Kya exhaustedly collapsed on top of Riley. Breathless, both women took a moment to regenerate. They knew the night was just beginning and they wanted to conserve as much energy as possible.

“Kya, Jesus…” Riley gasped. Her body trembled from sexual excitement. “I didn’t think it was possible to be this aroused. Everything about you is just so…beguiling. The way you look, the way you speak, the way you touch me…no one has ever affected me the way you do.”

Kya lifted her head and looked at Riley. They were both bathed in a light sheen of perspiration. Kya smiled, seductively. “You like what we do?”

“I don’t ever want it to stop,” she honestly admitted.

“Me, either.” Kya propped herself up on her elbow, resting her head on her hand. Her free hand wandered between Riley’s breasts and drew circles on her torso. “I want you, Riley. I want you in my life and I want you in my bed as often as possible.”

Riley couldn’t look away from the blue eyes that held her captive. “I want that, too, and that scares me a little.”

“It scares me a lot.” Kya pushed damp bangs off Riley’s forehead.

“I mean, we don’t really know each other.”

“Yet it feels like we do, like we have for a very long time. You’re familiar and I don’t know why. It’s like…instinctively I know what you like, what you want and what you need.”

“True, that. I’ve never been with anyone who fits me so well this soon,” Riley admitted.

“But don’t you feel it, too? Like we know each other? Like we’ve been through this before?”

“I’m not sure…I agree there is a natural intimacy between us, as though we’ve always known our way around each other’s bodies. I find that odd since I’ve never been with a woman before you.”

“And hopefully you never want to be with another woman after me.” Kya grinned again.

Riley matched her smile. “I think you’ve spoiled me.”

“Oh, baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. There is so much else I need to show you.” Kya mounted Riley again.

“Oooooo. Well,” she slapped Kya’s behind, “let’s get to it.”

“Your command is my wish.” Kya placed her thigh at Riley’s center and kissed her passionately, both women heating up immediately. “Now, where were we?”

“Oh, God…” Riley breathed out as they began to concurrently rock, “we were in the middle of getting reacquainted…”

 

 

The End.

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