Melissa straightened the collar of her suit coat and steeled herself for the inevitable inappropriate comments as she climbed onto the bus. The swampy Southern air was awfully hot for a coat, and she had been sorely tempted to leave it in her car. But there was no way she was joining Mr.
Morahan’s brood of investors — rich, entitled older men one and all, and most of them soused as well by this time of the afternoon — in only the sheer white blouse she had on underneath.
Left to her own devices, of course, she would have worn a darker top for the occasion. And pants rather than a skirt, to be sure, and most of all flat heels! But Mr. Morahan had his rules. And that Melissa swallow her feminist sensibilities and doll herself up for the guys was one of them. His money is green, she reminded herself as she stepped up into the bus and the onslaught of hoots and claps began. We only have to live with it until we can afford to move away. And after all, she had done the same sort of thing on purpose back in her high school days. But that seemed a lifetime ago now, rather than the five or six years it really had been. So much had changed for Melissa in that time, but her hometown had not changed at all.
Setting down her binder on the front seat, Melissa forced a smile as the usual suspects shouted out their lusty approval of her hair, clothes and curves. Mr. Morahan had outdone himself on the booze this time, as the aisle was already littered with miniature bottles of scotch and vodka and heaven knew what else. “Good afternoon, everybody!” she called out over the inebriated din. “I trust Mr. Morahan has told you about the land we’ll be seeing today.”
“He told us we’d be seeing you too!” called out old Mr. Bucks, whom Melissa knew from numerous previous trips. He, at least, could be counted on to open his wallet.
“But aren’t you awfully hot in that coat, Melissa?” teased Mr. Jameson, one of the younger investors, and also one of the stingier ones, although Mr. Morahan had suggested to her that if she would only join him in his Jacuzzi for just one afternoon…
“I’m hot without it too, Mr. Jameson,” she replied. “But that’s all you’re ever going to know of it.” She was rewarded with an uproarious laugh from most of the men, and Mr. Jameson slunk down so low in his seat that she couldn’t see him. “Now, as I was saying, gentlemen, Morahan’s Woods is our newest concept for new luxury homes, scheduled to break ground just as soon as we complete our investment campaign. The development will be built on a plot of beautiful land just beyond the river’s flood basin, which we were recently able to purchase. Mr. Morahan has had his eye on the area for years, and at last we’ve got access to it. I think you’re going to like what you see.”
From one of the closer rows came a raised hand. Mr. Sheridan, one of the few passengers for whom Melissa would allow the term “gentleman” actually fit. “Yes, Mr. Sheridan?” she asked, relieved that he was the only one with an immediate question.
“If Donny has wanted this land for so long, why’d he only get his hands on it now, Melissa? I’ve known Donny Morahan since before you were born and the man does not wait around when he sees an opportunity.”
“That’s right!” called out a chorus of several others, followed quickly by one of them demanding, “How long will it take for our investment to come back if he took so long to get the land?!” That also earned a round of hearty agreement.
“Gentlemen, relax!” Melissa reassured them with her best cheerleader’s grin. “There’s a perfectly simple answer to Mr. Sheridan’s concerns. The land for Morahan’s Woods was off limits until recently because of burdensome federal regulations. But now that we have a friend of business in the White House…” She paused knowingly, and sure enough the bus full of Republicans responded with a resounding cheer. “Now you are free to buy the land and wait for your robust returns!” she called out. Her days in the College Republicans weren’t all that far behind her, though it did feel a bit funny to be appealing to such things when she was no longer sure she believed in them. The investors did not need to know –any more than her parents needed to know — that she had voted the other way last year in her first election. It wasn’t for environmental reasons anyway, but no one needed to know that either. If any man on that bus had known her real reasons…but Melissa put that thought from her mind. No one ever need know once she had made her escape.
“Now then,” Melissa concluded, as she darted her eyes briefly out the bus window to see Mr. Morahan pulling up in his Ferrari, “If there are no more questions, the man of the hour is here and we’ll be on our way. Have some more drinks, and enjoy the ride!” Welcoming another round of applause with a wave at the old men, she stood aside and watched as her chubby boss waddled up to the bus and climbed on. He looked ready to keel over from heatstroke in his brown suit and his face was flushed as he clambered up the stairs, but he had his winning smile ready for gladhanding the investors as soon as he appeared at Melissa’s side.
“Good afternoon, everyone!” he called out. “Thank you, Melissa, and I hope everyone is ready to see Morahan’s Woods. It’ll make you all even richer than you already are in no time. I guarantee it!” Turning to the bus driver, he nodded. The bus driver swung the door shut and the trip was underway.
Melissa gratefully sat down in the front seat and turned to admire the scenery her boss would soon be defiling. But Mr. Morahan wasn’t done with her just yet. As usual, she could smell the stink of tobacco on his breath before he actually said anything, an unwelcome warning of an always-unwelcome order, and today was no exception. “Lose the coat, Melissa,” he hissed.
“What?” she whispered, turning to see him bending over inches from her face.
“The guys don’t need to see your tits, but they need to know you have them. Lose the coat!”
“And if I don’t?” she demanded.
“Then I think you’ll find your paycheck a little lighter this month.” He straightened up to field a question from one of the men, so he didn’t see the look of disgust on Melissa’s face as she took in his threat. But she did remove her coat. Careful to avoid drawing any further attention to herself for the moment, she sat back and tried not to listen to the questions, but of course she heard them.
“Donny, just why was this land protected? Is that going to affect the ability to build there? I’m not going to invest in you putting McMansions in a swamp.”
“Oh, you! C’mon, Jim, you know me!”
“We sure do, Donny. Answer his question.”
“Geez, y’all are a tough audience! Well, guys, look, it was silly liberal overprotective bullshit, is what it was. Something about a waterfowl habitat. Nothing a few million dollars in the right pocket couldn’t fix. It could and it has, for good.”
“And why can’t you just finance it with the proceeds from our last little venture, Donny?”
“‘Cause that money’s coming back to you, any day now! You know that?”
“Do we really? Hey, Melissa, do you have the latest numbers on the Bridgetree Development? I ain’t heard them lately.”
Melissa knew the numbers, all right, but Mr. Morahan clapped a clammy hand on her shoulder before she could even consider standing up to answer. “Well, now, come on, guys, let’s not hassle the little lady about math, now shall we?” That brought on the longed-for response, a few drunken chuckles building into a nice loud laugh that Mr. Morahan himself gratefully joined in on, and then he skillfully turned the conversation back to his plans for Morahan’s Woods.
He was good, Melissa had to admit to herself. Always had been, from the first time she could recall meeting him, at her parents’ country club where she had worked as a lifeguard for several summers. Though she had spent most of her too-abundant free time eyeing the other women around the pool even as she tried unsuccessfully to interest herself in the men, it had been impossible to avoid taking notice of Mr. Morahan and his big-as-his-body attitude. Loud and brash, but always ready with a joke to take the edge off an uncomfortable moment, and even back then Melissa had seen it get him out of trouble time and again. That was how he’d grown so rich building gaudy apartment buildings and houses all over the countryside Melissa had so loved as a little girl. It was just as well she was planning to take off for New York or California as soon as she could save up the money, for soon there wouldn’t be much left of her hometown as she recalled it anyway. Melissa wondered sometimes how she could sleep at night when she thought of her own role in defiling the land…but then she always remembered what life had been like in their little backwater for anyone who even thought she might be different.
Of course, it was a closed-minded, hateful little town — that much she had come to know so intimately once she’d been away to college and tasted freedom to be herself for the first time. The things she had shared with her girlfriends there…well, all that didn’t even bear thinking about as long as she was stuck back home for the time being, and she still wasn’t quite sure if it was real or just experimenting anyway. But Melissa thought she liked it, at least. And she looked forward to the day when she could explore a bit further and make up her own mind. It would never happen here.
Morahan’s Woods, or at least the land where it was set to be, was most of the way to the river, off a little-used freeway exit that Melissa herself couldn’t recall using before. She was relieved when the bus pulled off the exit, for with Mr. Morahan having successfully tamped down the investors’ skepticism or at least drawn attention away from it, they were rowdier than ever behind her. At least the trip would be lucrative provided she could sell enough of them on the land.
The bus rolled off the exit ramp and onto a narrow two-lane road, heading straight into the heavy woods found on both sides of the river. As the freeway receded into the background, Melissa felt a bit like she was being driven back in time. Back into the days when the countryside reached a lot closer in to town, when the locals still talked about places where the forest grew “so thick they have to pump the sunshine in,” where she hadn’t been allowed to ride her bicycle in the summertime — and the tales of wild animals and wilder locals in the woods had scared her into obeying. Absurd as it felt to be heading into those woods now while dressed for a day at the office, the rustic, shady view was a lovely reminder of those scenes she could barely remember.
Inevitably, it came to mind that she was now about to try to sell those very woods to Mr. Morahan’s buddies. A few of them made sure of that by reminding her in no uncertain terms. “Can’t hardly wait to get the equipment in here, Donny!” “I can hear the chainsaw already…rrrrrrraaaawwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnggggg!” “Just wait until we clear out the view!” “Think of the golf course you could have here.”
Before Melissa could get too uptight about it all, Mr. Morahan gave her a gruff pat on the shoulder and announced, “You’re up, babe. Knock ’em dead.”
“Yes sir,” Melissa said icily, recalling his comment about her paycheck, and with a deep breath she forced a smile and stood up. “Okay, everybody!” she said with a cheerful bounce she didn’t feel at all. “We’re nearly there! Mr. Morahan and his team have already created a clearing just up the road, and our first stop will be there. It’ll give you a feel for the nice rural nature of the land, and let you imagine what each plot of land might look like with a luxury home. There’s even a nice little pond just off the clearing.”
“Join me for a swim, Melissa?” called out one of the oldest and drunkest of the bunch from the far end of the bus.
Melissa swallowed her pride and put on a saucy grin. “Well now, if you sign up to join Mr. Morahan…”
The entire bus burst into hoots of salacious laughter, and Mr. Morahan was looking at Melissa like he just might give her a bonus, so she gripped the microphone and kept her fake smile and waited for the moment to pass. She was still waiting when she felt the jolt, a split-second before all the men since she was the only one on the bus who was standing. “Oooh!” Melissa heard herself say it before she realized she had squealed out loud, and she grabbed at the nearest seat before she was fully aware she had turned her ankle and broken her right shoe-heel as the bus was sliding off the road. Always so careful not to sound like a little girl while on duty, she caught herself and stood up as straight as she could without the heel, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes.
Now that she had regained control, Melissa was suddenly aware that the bus was sliding diagonally off the road and into a muddy ditch. The driver was flailing at the steering wheel, struggling in vain to pull back onto the road. “Rusty, what in the name of God are you doing?!” Mr. Morahan boomed, jumping out of his seat just as Melissa finally had the presence of mind to return to hers.
“Both front tires went out at once, Mr. Morahan!” the driver protested, still struggling with the wheel. “I don’t know what we hit, but the front wheels are useless!”
“Well, you’d better make some use of ’em –” Mr. Morahan broke off in mid-sentence as the bus splashed into the stream at the bottom of the ditch. Melissa held on for dear life to the handrest as the bus jerked to a stop. It was tilted heavily to the left and Melissa slid down and plopped against the wall of the bus. After the sting of the initial impact wore off, she was relieved to realize she was not hurt. Then the relief quickly turned to fear as she remembered that she was stranded in the woods in high heels — one of them already broken — on a bus full of drunken old men.
At least she wasn’t hurt. Always the professional, she managed to get to her feet, disposing for the moment with both shoes, and clawed her way up to the aisle. “Gentlemen, there’s been a setback, but I assure you Mr. Morahan and I will be on top of things in just a few minutes. Is everybody okay?”
“No! I spilled bourbon all over my tie! Donny gonna pay for my dry-cleaning bill?” The first complaint was followed by a few laughs and a much louder echo of irritation. Melissa turned around nervously to see if Mr. Morahan was ready to put in a word. He wasn’t: he was sprawled against the driver’s seat, the gearshift poking him in the hip in a way that couldn’t have been any too pleasant, pinning the driver against the half-open window which was taking in water from the stream. Rusty, the driver, was soaked and stuck, but he knew better than to complain.
Mr. Morahan was grunting and flailing as he tried to stand up. “Melissa, goddammit, help me!”
“Of course, sir.” She made her way to the front as quickly as she could, struggling to keep her balance. He was still wheezing and grabbing at everything and nothing by the time Melissa reached him. “Okay, take my hand,” she said, musing this was absolutely the only circumstance under which she would ever say that. Wrapping her other arm around the bar at the top of the steps, she held out her hand and he grabbed at it with both of his. He pulled so hard Melissa was worried he would dislocate her shoulder, but he still couldn’t get to his feet. “Try rolling over,” Melissa suggested. “At least get off Rusty before he suffocates.”
“Gonna take that out of your paycheck,” Mr. Morahan grumbled, ignoring the meek “Thank you Melissa” that came from Rusty under him; but he did take her advice and managed to roll out of the seat. He then promptly slid down to the wall beneath what had been Melissa’s seat, where several inches of dirty water were now collecting. “Aw, Christ, wet!” he whined.
“I’m — I’m sorry, Mr. Morahan,” Melissa uttered meekly, barely hiding her amusement at her bombastic boss in his pathetic current state.
“You should be! Why didn’t you tell me that road was so dangerous?”
“Yeah, Donny, and what else didn’t she tell us?” came a voice from the back of the bus, where most of the passengers had managed to perch on the crooked seats and avoid Mr. Morahan’s fate.
Melissa didn’t miss a beat, as usual. “Gentlemen, I had no idea –”
“Of course you didn’t!” snapped Mr. Jameson. “Donny, what does a woman ever know about the dangers of a place like this?”
“More than you do, I dare say,” came a woman’s voice Melissa had never heard before.
Startled, Melissa whipped around toward the bus door, where the voice had come from. While Mr. Morahan had been mouthing off at her, she had sensed a warm breeze behind her, but there had been no time to investigate that. Now she saw where it had come from. The bus door had somehow been wrenched open, evidently at the hands of the woman who had just spoken. She now stood proud and defiant just inside the bus, and Melissa found herself face to face with her. Tall and thickly built, similar to Melissa’s own view of herself as “big but not fat” although she was rather bigger in every way, she had dirty blonde hair pulled into a careless ponytail that draped down behind her army-green t-shirt. She also wore worn but clean cargo pants, and work boots caked with mud that was now dripping precariously close to Mr. Morahan’s wingtips. Melissa scarcely noticed that, though, as she was looking into the other woman’s fierce green eyes and trying to decide what to make of her — and tamping down the all-too-familiar feeling so many of the girls at school had inspired back in the days when Melissa understood she could go to hell for acting upon such thoughts. She was sweaty and dirty, but beautiful.
And she was trespassing on Mr. Morahan’s bus, but Melissa appreciated her rejoinder to Mr. Jameson too much to accost her for that. “Um…hello!” she finally managed to say through her confused and titillated fog. “May I help you?”
“I think maybe it’s the other way around, girl — I can help you. If you don’t mind my sayin’ so, it looks like you could use the help.”
“Well, yes,” Melissa said, “The bus skidded off the road, and –”
“I didn’t mean that, girl. I meant help with all your wealthy donors here. Looks to me like they need an attitude adjustment about the love of the land, don’t you think? Unless you’re one of their own, but I sure hope you aren’t.”
“‘Course she is, you bitch!” called out Mr. Bucks. “Ain’t that right, Melissa?”
Melissa looked into the other woman’s hopeful eyes, and turned back to face Mr. Bucks. “Mr. Bucks, I’ll thank you very much not to use that word in polite company. Would you say that to your wife?”
“Only if she catches him with his girlfriend,” cracked one of the other investors.
Even Melissa laughed. But the other woman didn’t. “All right, now look here!” she called out. “I’m going to have a heart to heart chat with your friend Melissa here, and that will determine what happens to y’all next. I suggest you show her some respect for a change, ’cause your immediate future is in her hands. Do I make myself clear?”
A few nondescript whispers of “bitch” and “cunt” and an unapologetic “get the hell off my bus” from Mr. Morahan notwithstanding, no one argued. Melissa looked down at Mr. Morahan and quickly concluded that he was in no condition to back up his order. She turned and nodded warily at the other woman, who was by then standing in the bus doorway waiting for her. Just as she was about to step off, Melissa remembered her broken heel. “Oh, wait a minute…”
“Just take your shoes off,” the blonde said.
Melissa was shocked, but secretly thrilled at the same time. “How did you know…?”
“Because I know how it is to be pushed into wearing heels when you’d rather be in sneakers. You have that type written all over your Suzy Secretary self, girl. Now please, a word.”
Melissa’s heart was pounding, and she wasn’t sure if it was nerves or fright or something much more positive than all that. But as strange as their visitor seemed, Melissa felt safe with her. Safer than she felt with Mr. Morahan and his drunk, angry friends, for that matter. So she kicked off her pumps and pulled her way up to the door. The muddy ground outside would destroy her stockings, she knew, but she wasn’t about to give the guys a show taking them off on the bus.
“You don’t really want to wear tights in this heat anyway, do you?” the blonde asked knowingly as Melissa reluctantly stepped out onto the wet gravel.
“No, I sure don’t,” Melissa admitted, no longer surprised that she could read her so easily. “Or in any weather. I’m afraid you got my number on that one. But Mr. Morahan has his rules.”
“I figured that explained everything about you, girl. Or at least I hoped it did. You looked too gorgeous to be in a league with those guys, but that could have been wishful thinking on my part. I sure hope it wasn’t.” With Melissa safely off the bus, the older woman slammed the door shut and wedged a branch in the latch so it couldn’t be opened from inside. With that done, she turned back to Melissa, who was enjoying the refreshing breeze even as she was aware of the mud seeping into her stockings. “Well, I guess I should start by introducing myself. My name is Patricia, and I don’t like to be called Patty or Pat. It’s Patricia.”
“I’m Melissa,” and they shook hands. Melissa wondered should she add “pleased to meet you” or some other cliché, but she sensed that Patricia wouldn’t appreciate it. She desperately wanted to respond to the “too gorgeous” comment, but she had no clue how to do so. With the ice broken, though, Melissa had to admit the feeling was mutual: Patricia looked weatherbeaten but resilient, wonderfully alive, and beautiful in the earthiest of ways. Those old familiar guilty urges bubbled up harder than ever, but for once Melissa felt no inclination to tamp them down. Something about the bus ride had triggered a last-straw reaction in her, and Patricia seemed like icing on that cake just now.
“Now then,” Patricia said, stepping away from the bus, with Melissa following her lead. “Tell me just how it is that you ended up on that bus.”
Though alive with attraction and titillation, Melissa kept her head. “Look, Patricia, Mr. Morahan is a selfish, gross, chauvinist pig, but I don’t want anybody getting hurt on my account.”
“Even though they were fixin’ to destroy my home, and the birds’ habitat here?” Patricia asked.
“I don’t like what he does,” Melissa reassured her.
“Good answer! But then what were you doing on the bus?”
Melissa bit her lip. “Making money the only way I could so I could save up to get the hell out of here. No offense, if this is your home, but growing up here was murder. I was…different — and I tried so hard not to be. Cheerleading, church youth group, dating boys I didn’t even like because they were popular…I did what I had to do, but it was always just to avoid getting bullied until I could get out. College was a sweet taste of freedom, but that’s been over for a year or so now and I’m desperate to move someplace where I can be myself. New York, San Francisco, but even a smaller city would do as long as it’s not so goddamn conservative. And Mr. Morahan, well, like I said, he’s a pig, but he pays me well. But I’ll tell you what. After that bus ride — I mean, those guys were in rare form, sexist comments left and right, and this is such a beautiful place — I’m done, Patricia. I assure you, if you let me go, I’ll never bother with your land or anybody else’s again. I’m done.”
“If I let you go?” Patricia asked. “Girl, I didn’t kidnap you. You’re the only one I let off the bus, after all. And I want to believe you about being done with your boss, but I’m sure you can appreciate I’m skeptical. I mean, your answer just sounded too much like what I’d want to hear from you, I’m sure you can see that.”
“But it’s true.” Melissa’s voice was shaky, and she was frightened of Patricia for the first time.
Patricia turned and put her hands on Melissa’s shoulders, sending a delightful shock through Melissa even as she was still frightened. “Listen. If you’re bein’ honest with me, Melissa, then I’ll make you a deal. I’m gonna give you a fair chance to prove you’ve learned your lesson, and help me teach your boss and his friends the same one. They won’t get hurt unless they bring it on themselves, and either way it might save the habitat here. Sound fair?”
“What if I don’t want to help?” Melissa couldn’t help asking, though she did want to help with all her heart.
“Like I said, I didn’t kidnap you. But it’s a long walk back to town in your bare feet, and you won’t be around to be sure I don’t do anything drastic with your friends on the bus.”
“They are not my friends!” Melissa snapped. Then, turning more conciliatory, she added, “Fine, I do want to prove I really meant it, and I’d love to help save your land.” By now they had made their way most of the way across the clearing to the edge of the pond Melissa had mentioned on the bus. The water, though muddy, looked cool and inviting in the hazy afternoon sunshine, and the bus was just barely in sight. Maybe she could persuade Patricia to join her for a dip…
“You want to go for a swim?” Patricia asked with a gentle smile.
“How do you keep doing that?!” Melissa demanded. “How can you read me so easily?”
“Because I used to be you,” Patricia said. “Or someone a lot like you, at least. I grew up not far from here, too, in a nice ritzy suburb, maybe even the same one you’re from — don’t tell me which, I don’t need to know. What I do know is what you said about how growing up here was hell, and I also saw how you looked at me on the bus. Tell me, Melissa, are you out?”
“Out?” Melissa asked.
“I guess that answers that question,” Patricia mused. “Not even out to yourself, I gather, at least not completely. It’s okay, I probably wouldn’t be either if I were in your shoes.”
“Well now, wait a minute!” Melissa protested. “I’m not even sure about all that. I mean, yes, I played around with a couple of other girls when I was in college, but who doesn’t do that? It doesn’t mean I’m…”
“Not necessarily, that’s true,” Patricia admitted. She sat down on the bank of the pond and patted the spot next to her. “But tell me, and remember you’re completely safe with me here…tell me, hasn’t that doubt always been with you?”
“That you might just be one of those people the schoolyard bullies loved to accuse everyone of being, one of the ones your preacher said were going straight to hell, the ones your parents were afraid of exposing you to. If you grew up here, you’ve been hearing it all your life, I know that. What I’m wondering is if you haven’t always had a sense that you just might be one of them, like I did for as long as I can remember. Do you recall admiring the girls in their dresses on the playground, even if you hated wearing dresses yourself? What about the locker room in high school, did you ever find yourself stealing glances at the other girls and imagining them in so much more detail later on when you were alone? And no doubt you had your share of dates with boys, but never felt a spark of anything with them. Any of that ring a bell, Melissa?”
Melissa swallowed hard and felt tears welling up. “God, Patricia, yes. And I told myself again and again I didn’t, I wasn’t, it wasn’t natural and I’d go to hell and that wasn’t me.”
Patricia touched Melissa gently on her back, their most intimate contact yet. “It is and you won’t and it is you, girl. Believe me, I know what you’ve been through. It’s one reason why I ended up living out here alone. High school was rough, college wasn’t much better in those days, at least here it wasn’t. Luckily, I met my Valerie. From New Orleans, she was, so she was at least a bit worldlier than I was back then. Didn’t stop our parents from disowning us both when we came out to them, though, and so that’s why we moved out here. Came for the fishing, at first, then we realized a couple of resourceful gals like us could live off the land, or close at least. It was a truly peaceful life back then, Melissa, working the river and the garden all day and making love all night if we wanted to, only coming out into the world to deal with their abuse when we felt like it, and back then that wasn’t often.”
Melissa sensed a sad ending to the story. “I’m sorry, Patricia…I gather Valerie isn’t around anymore?”
“Your boss isn’t the first man who tried to rape the land out here, Melissa. Even back when we first got here, there were greedy developers with their eye on the riverfront property. Everybody knew about the birds here and how it would put them at risk for extinction, and they also knew a few nature-loving souls like us lived out here to begin with. But they didn’t care. Valerie, though, she wouldn’t give up without a fight. She joined a group of activists here and they fought back, hard, my Valerie most of all. Got arrested a couple of times, she did, but she wouldn’t let anything stop her from saving the marsh and our home. But then…well, Melissa, you’d have been about ten years old, I’m guessing. Do you remember the explosion at the refinery across the river?”
“Oh my God, Patricia, yes!” Melissa wanted to cry now, but out of respect for her new friend she held the tears back. “I was eleven. Something about a gas leak, wasn’t it?”
“That’s what they said in the papers. What really happened was that company was after our land, and we were holding a vigil outside their building in protest. I was there too, but I was far enough back in the crowd that my hair only got singed. Valerie was up on the stage as usual, rousing the crowd to hang in there with us, when the bomb went off.”
“It was a bomb?”
“Never proven,” Patricia admitted, “But the damage to the refinery was minor enough that they had it up and running again within a week, and the explosion happened when no one was inside except the security guard. He wasn’t hurt. Eight of us outside were killed, including my Valerie, and dozens more injured.” Melissa stopped and took a deep breath. “But they did back off on trying to take our land. I guess the issue got too hot for them after the explosion.”
Melissa said nothing, but slipped her arms around Patricia and hugged her tightly.
“Thank you, Melissa. In any event, after that, I declared war on everybody who wanted to come anywhere near our land. For Valerie, for the birds, for nature, that’s been my motto ever since then. It’s one reason why no one got near it before now, even after the restrictions were removed. Others have tried before your boss, but they got the same rude awakening when they got too close to my abode.”
Melissa pulled back. “You mean you booby trapped the road? Those flat tires on the bus weren’t an accident, were they?”
“No, dear, they weren’t,” Patricia said proudly. “I saw you and Mr. Morahan out here in his SUV a few weeks ago, and the next time I went into town I stopped by an Internet café and did a little digging. It didn’t take long to find out who that guy was and that he had bought the land, and even then I sensed you were an unwilling participant. Don’t ask how I knew, I just knew. Or maybe I just hoped.” On that note she took Melissa’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “So I was able to call around to a few contacts in that group Valerie was with, and I learned when y’all would be back here. And I was ready.”
“Not that I feel sorry for them or anything,” Melissa said. “But just what do you have planned?”
“I’m going to let them stew there in their bus and get a taste of nature. Don’t worry, it won’t be all bad. They’ll get to see a beautiful sunset and a true night in the country, and then the sunrise will seal the deal if any of them hasn’t already sold his soul. If I believe they’ve learned their lesson, I’ll see to it that they all get back to town safely.”
“And if not?” Melissa asked.
“As I told you, it’s a long walk home. They probably won’t be smelling very good after a night in the bus either, and they might even take to beating up on one another if past experience is any guide.”
“How do you know they won’t call the cops on you?” Melissa demanded. “In fact, they probably already have!”
“No reception out here, dear,” Patricia reassured her. “No need, after all, since people only come out here to get away from the crap your boss is trying to bring in here in the first place.”
Melissa looked relieved. Then she stood up. “Oh, Patricia, I…the investors and Mr. Morahan, they deserve it, but –”
“The bus driver,” Patricia said.
“Yes. Rusty’s an honest guy, just doing his job, and he never had any intention of messing with your land.”
Patricia stood up and brushed the dirt off her pants. “You’re right, we’ve got to free him. Let’s go do that, and then you’re mine for a dip in the pond, girl.”
“I’d better be,” Melissa said with a grin, feeling genuinely free for the first time in her life and enjoying the wonderful tickle that seemed to radiate out from between her legs to her entire body.
On the bus, morale had turned from bad to worse as the men craned their necks to spy on the two women.
“What in the hell are they up to out there?”
“I can barely see ’em, you think I can hear ’em?”
“Doesn’t anybody have a mobile? Call the damn cops!”
“No signal way out here! Besides, where do we tell them we are?! Do you even know the name of this place?”
“Jesus Christ, are you tryin’ to be funny at a time like this?”
Mr. Sheridan, nearly alone among the crowd in that he was sober and uninjured, was banging away at the bus door. But Patricia’s wedge held, and he was getting nowhere. He finally gave up when one of the men who had been watching Patricia and Melissa called out that they were returning. “Thank heavens,” he said, and sank back in the nearest empty seat.
Patricia expertly removed the branch, and opened the door. Mr. Sheridan scrambled to his feet, but Melissa was easily able to throw him off his balance with a slight push, and he went sprawling back where he had come from. “Gentlemen, I have an announcement,” she said. “My new friend Patricia would like to treat you to a night on her land, so you can experience the beautiful countryside you are planning to destroy.” Two or three of the other men had managed to get to their feet and were running toward her, but Patricia stepped up behind her and they all backed off, sensing they would have to choose between hitting a girl and getting beaten up by one in front of their buddies. “We just came back to help Rusty. The rest of you get comfortable and enjoy the natural show.”
“What are we supposed to eat? Or drink?” demanded Mr. Bucks.
“You know as well as I those snacks and drinks survived the crash,” Melissa told him.
“I gotta take a piss!” called out one of the others, quickly followed by a chorus of agreement.
“You’re all men, you can just use bottles. There are bottles all over the bus.” Melissa could scarcely believe her own brazenness as she said it, but Patricia laughed heartily in agreement as she was helping Rusty out of his seat. That, plus getting Rusty off the bus, was all that mattered to Melissa.
As soon as Patricia had Rusty safely outside, Melissa followed closely behind her and slammed the door shut again. Patricia quickly put the branch back in place, just in time to block Mr. Sheridan, who had dived for the lever as soon as the coast was clear. Ignoring the shouts of outrage from the bus, the two women turned their attention to Rusty. “Can you walk okay?” Melissa asked him.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can,” Rusty said, stepping gingerly in circles as he assessed his leg. “Old Mr. Morahan cut off the circulation for quite a while, but I don’t think there’s any real damage.”
“Okay, now listen,” Patricia told him. “If you go back out to the main road where you came from but turn left instead of right this time, a couple of friends of mine are waiting in a van. They’ll drive you home, as long as you can agree to keep your mouth shut about what happened here.”
“No problem,” Rusty said. “Disgusting the way all those guys talked to Melissa anyway. I’ll never tell ’em anything.”
“Good call,” Patricia said. “Now go ahead, they’re waiting for you.”
Rusty did not need to be told twice. As soon as they had seen him off up the road, Melissa and Patricia turned to one another and embraced in full view of the bus. “Let’s give ’em a bit of a tease, shall we?” Patricia asked.
“Love it,” Melissa replied.
Aboard the bus, the sight was greeted with a string of obscenities amidst the outrage and disbelief. “Fuckin’ dyke, I always knew she was!” “Wait’ll I tell Melissa’s father at the golf club,” and worse. Of course Melissa and Patricia heard none of it, as they were enjoying one another’s touch and aware of nothing else. Patricia’s delightfully feminine form against her own felt right in a way Melissa had never experienced with a man, and now she knew she never would.
“Now then,” Patricia said. “The pond?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Melissa quipped. And the two meandered hand in hand across the clearing.
Melissa was aware of one last howl from the bus, unmistakably Mr. Morahan: “Melissa, you let us off this bus or you’re goin’ to jail, little lady!” She ignored it, although she was now aware that the pond was only just in sight of the bus.
“You know the men will be able to see this,” she warned Patricia.
“Exactly, girl. You’ll be free and loved and enjoying nature, and they’ll be trapped in that sweltering bus knowing there are two beautiful nude women just out of their reach. What could be finer?”
They were both still laughing when they reached their earlier perch just above the waterline. With no fanfare, Patricia matter-of-factly pulled her shirt over her head, revealing larger breasts than Melissa had expected them to be with her baggy clothing. She had already gathered that Patricia wasn’t wearing a bra. “Haven’t worn one in years,” Patricia said, once again anticipating Melissa’s thoughts. “I ain’t no horse, I don’t need to be in a harness all the time.” Admiring both Patricia’s breasts and her brazenness, Melissa set about unbuttoning her blouse. Despite the wear and tear from the accident and the time outdoors since then, she didn’t feel right about tearing the delicate garment off; and besides that she was still feeling a bit shy. Acutely aware that she was being spied on from the bus, but giddy with the knowledge that none of the men would ever get close enough for a good look, Melissa finally pulled the blouse away. Standing before Patricia in her bra, she burst into a nervous laugh.
“Shy, are you?” asked Patricia, who was down to her panties by then.
“I shouldn’t be, I know,” Melissa said, and she reached back to undo her bra. The heat and humidity were very much making themselves known to Melissa’s heavy work clothes, hairspray and makeup, and she was feeling like a sweaty ball of flammability just then. The gentle breeze on her bare upper body was wonderfully refreshing, and it also made her eager for more. So she found her modesty was nearly gone, as was her bra.
“You look beautiful in that,” Patricia allowed. “I never wear one anymore myself, but I do like the look on other women.”
“Thanks,” Melissa said, relaxing a bit as she pulled away the garment and let her breasts fall free. Smaller than Patricia’s but with bigger nipples, they stood out a bit more as well. Melissa drank in the hungry look Patricia was now giving them, and unzipped her skirt. It fell gracefully around her hips and legs, which were still clad in what was left of her stockings. “Gee, I’d forgotten I was even still wearing these.” The feet were mostly gone, but the tight fabric still clung itchily to her sweaty legs.
“Good thing you’ll never need them again, huh?” Patricia teased as she watched Melissa push the shredded stockings off. “Shall we finish off together, girl?” They were both down to their panties.
“I can take it if you can,” Melissa said, and a moment later they were both stark naked in the late afternoon sun.
Melissa was sure she heard more hoots than ever from the bus, but she didn’t give them the satisfaction of turning around. Instead she enjoyed the lovely sight of Patricia’s naked body, quickly realizing with a start that it was the first time she had ever been able to admire a woman’s body in person without feeling guilty or conflicted. Patricia was even more beautiful out of her clothes as she had been in them, with her pleasantly lazy breasts and fiery yellow bush, wild and untouched by the whims of any razor, and those long, long legs most of all…but Melissa was even more delighted with the overwhelming sense of liberation she now felt. It scarcely occurred to her that Patricia was admiring her own younger and firmer body as well; her usual concerns about her nipples being too big or her hips too wide or her bush too ungroomed were nowhere to be found in that moment, as she drank in the older woman’s admiration.
“How are you feeling, girl?” Patricia asked, reaching out for another embrace.
“Free,” Melissa said. “For the first time in my life, free!” With that, she returned Patricia’s hug, and kissed her deeply on the lips. She longed to caress every inch of Patricia’s body, but there was all night for that and she was still feeling sweaty and dirty from the bus ride. “Let’s get in the water!” she whispered.
The water was cool, refreshing even if teeming with algae and mud that their feet kicked up, and Melissa’s bare skin was alive with the naughty joy of being nude outside. Though not something she had ever considered in the past, Melissa now found she enjoyed it immensely. The needling awareness that the men on the bus could see everything faded slowly but surely as she watched Patricia splash around and beckon her to join. For the moment, that was all that mattered.
“What in the hell is that girl up to?” wheezed Mr. Morahan, who had not budged from his ass-deep puddle in the front of the bus.
“Well,” Mr. Sheridan said ponderously, as he and a few others craned their necks to get a look out the corner of the windshield, “Looks like they’re going for a swim. In the pond.”
Anger having given way to despair and then resignation among most of the investors, Mr. Sheridan’s news piqued the interest of the few who had any energy in the sweltering vehicle. Several of them clambered out of their makeshift perches and hustled up the aisle to have a gander at Melissa and Patricia. Mr. Sheridan himself stepped aside, having already watched the women undress and now feeling a bit guilty about it. “Look guys, none of my business, but maybe we should give them some privacy,” he said as he made his way back to what was left of his seat.
“What kinda bleedin’ heart are you?” demanded one of the others. “Those bitches get naked in broad daylight, I’m gonna get a look! Besides, they’re the reason we’re stuck here!”
Mr. Sheridan could not deny that. But the ladies’ stern words with them were still ringing in his ears, and he had taken to thinking about just what they had intended in locking everyone in the bus. That matter had been running through his mind constantly as he had watched the couple undress together and wade into the pond, amidst the beautiful backdrop of mostly-unspoiled land laid out before him. It did seem a shame to throw money into destroying the lovely scene when there were already plenty of nice houses to go around, and so few people who could afford a new one nowadays anyhow…
Patricia had finished splashing around, and now she stood waist-deep in the water with her arms open. “Come here, Melissa.”
Melissa, having dunked herself to wash off the lingering sense of mugginess that had prevailed before she undressed, waded eagerly to Patricia. They enjoyed a long, comfortable embrace in the hazy sunshine. Melissa thrilled to the sensation of their arms around one another, their breasts pressing together, the unbroken sensation of skin-on-skin everywhere…but what she wanted most was to admire Patricia’s body some more. As Patricia slowly pulled back after a few quiet minutes, Melissa broke into a shy grin as she looked down at the beautiful view.
Patricia broke the silence with a laugh. “Enjoying the geography, are you?”
Melissa snapped back to attention. “Sorry!” she exclaimed, feeling her face redden.
“Girl, it’s perfectly fine,” Patricia reassured her. “Like I told you, I used to be you. I remember all too well what it was like to be dying for a look and never getting a chance because what if anyone else knew?” She made her way to the edge of the pond, which was bounded on one side with a makeshift stone wall, and slid one of the stones aside. “I keep some soap in here,” she explained, withdrawing a large blue bar. “I have running water in there, but weather permitting I usually bathe here. Feels so much closer to nature. And after all, so many people here think we’re unnatural, I figure this’ll show ’em.”
“It all feels pretty natural to me right now,” Melissa said with an almost dreamy lilt as she watched Patricia work up a lather.
“Oh Jesus H. Christ, those two are washing each other like a mother and a baby!” Mr. Bucks snapped from his perch in the tipped driver’s seat. “Disgusting.”
“And yet you’re staring at them,” needled Mr. Sheridan, who was respectfully directing his eyes the other way, towards the lush green woods to their right.
“Well, it may be unnatural, but Melissa’s still a beautiful young lady,” Mr. Bucks replied.
“Amen to that,” said the two younger investors who were waiting their turn in the driver’s seat.
From the back of the bus came the sound of a cooler opening. “Hey, most of the bottles ain’t broken!” called out Mr. Jameson.
“You fools drinking at a time like this?!” demanded Mr. Morahan.
“What the hell else are we gonna do until that bitch comes back, Donny?”
“Good point,” Mr. Morahan sighed. Giving in to the sweltering heat, he loosened his tie and unbuttoned two buttons on his shirt. “One of you fools bring me some, would you? And bring an empty bottle, too.”
“An empty bottle?” Mr. Jameson asked.
“You see a bathroom anywhere?” Mr. Morahan snapped.
Mr. Jameson held his tongue and dug out an empty plastic soda bottle from the nearest pile of trash. Several of the others had already holed up in corners here and there to try to sleep out the sentence, and a growing stench in the air suggested not all of them had bothered with empty bottles.
Patricia had scrubbed every inch of Melissa’s body with her firm but gentle hands, and despite the muddy water, Melissa was feeling as clean as she had ever been. “Such a relief,” she said as she returned the favor on Patricia.
“I remember hairspray and stockings,” Patricia said, enjoying Melissa’s inexperienced but eager touch. “And makeup. But just barely.”
“Heavens, it must be great to never have to think of any of that stuff again,” Melissa said.
“Well, dear, you don’t have to think of it again either, no matter where you go,” Patricia told her. “Don’t forget that once you leave.”
“Once I leave?” Melissa hadn’t given that any thought in some time.
“This life isn’t for most of us, Melissa. Trust me on that. You’re a city girl, I can tell. But that doesn’t mean you ever have to dress up for any man again like you did for that asshole on the bus.”
Melissa burst into nervous laughter. “I may hold you to that.”
“Just so you hold me!” teased Patricia.
Once Melissa had finished scrubbing and rinsing Patricia, they frolicked all over the pond for a while with no thought of the time. Melissa was only aware of the time passing at all when the sun went behind a cloud and they looked up to see a darkening sky. “I think we’d better go inside,” Patricia said. “Looks like it’s gonna rain, and besides, I’m bursting to have some fun with you.”
“I was afraid you’d never ask!” Melissa said, eagerly wading to the shore. She was careful to keep her back to the bus — those jerks may have already seen all of her, but they didn’t need to see it again. Standing on the wet grass with a look over her shoulder to watch Patricia following, she asked, “Say, what about the bus? Should we check on them again?”
“Nah, the rain’ll do them some good,” Patricia said. “And trust me, by now, you’re not going to want to smell the air in there.”
“Ewwwwww,” Melissa said. Then, recalling the prevailing attitude on the drive out, she concluded it was nothing the guys didn’t deserve. With that thought still in mind, she put on her businesswoman’s smile and turned around to wave at the bus. Maybe a nice long look-but-can’t-touch was fully appropriate after all.
“That goddam bitch sure has a nice body on her,” Mr. Jameson said from his hard-won perch in the driver’s seat. “If I could get my hands on her right now, can’t say for sure I wouldn’t forgive her for all this.”
“I can!” grumbled two or three voices from the back, and Mr. Jameson was forced to reconsider. He had grown nearly immune to the sweltering heat and humidity — taking off his coat and tie and unbuttoning his shirt most of the way had helped — but the stench was unavoidable now. Concentrating on Melissa’s beautiful body had been a welcome reprieve, but with her now disappearing indoors with her new friend, it was gone as quickly as it had come. At least it would be a fine memory, if only he were going to have any privacy in the near future…
Two seats behind him, Mr. Sheridan had been rehearsing his mea culpa for when the women next returned to the bus. Just as well that it wouldn’t be for a while yet, he mused through his misery, as the more pathetic he looked and felt, the better his chances of convincing them of his sincerity. And as the clouds took over the sky and cast a mellow pall over the woods, his sincerity was real. Why destroy this for a few more houses anyway? As the chance of rain grew to a near-certainty, Mr. Sheridan got an idea. He slid down and across to the vacant seat just before Mr. Morahan’s unwilling spot. Gathering up his strength, he stood up, balancing on the edge of the fetid waterline, and began bashing at the window with his keychain.
“Goin’ to escape, Sheridan?”Mr. Bucks called out skeptically. “You really think they’ll allow that?”
“No, I ain’t gonna escape,” Mr. Sheridan replied. “I don’t want to walk back to town in the rain, for one thing. But we could sure use some fresh air.”
“Yeah, good luck with that!” called out one of the older men, now huddled up for the night somewhere in back.
The rain started not long after he began chipping away at the window, and it came hard and fast. And refreshing, no doubt, if only he could create even the smallest breathing hole…the tease of the fresh, clean rain strengthened his resolve, and he pounded relentlessly. Eventually he was rewarded with a tiny crack, followed soon by a bigger one, and a smaller crosswise one. At long last, after ten minutes or more of pounding — and heckling from the other men — Mr. Sheridan managed to dislodge a piece of glass a bit larger than a quarter. Pushing it out triumphantly, he leaned in close to the hole and gratefully drank in a hearty sniff of fresh, wet, clean air.
He was aware of the response from the few others who were up and about at all — “Hey, he did it!” “Let me at that hole!” — within seconds, and possessively he turned and blocked the hole with his back. There stood Mr. Jameson and two other investors whom he didn’t know by name, looking poised to jump him.
“Oh no you don’t,” he told them all with fresh resolve from the fresh air. “Y’all said I could never do it, and you didn’t help me one bit, and oh, look, I did it! I did it, I get the fresh air. You want some, you take care of your own problems.”
“What if we tell the ladies tomorrow that you broke the window?” Mr. Jameson demanded. “Think they’ll be happy about that?”
“I think you’re gonna tell them I did it no matter what I let you do now,” Mr. Sheridan replied. “So I might as well enjoy it while I can. Speakin’ of enjoy, why don’t you guys enjoy the view? It’s beautiful once you stop and look at it. Funny how none of us gave that any thought before, huh?”
“Oh, so you’re over to their side now, are ya?” asked one of the other guys. “Fat lot that’s gonna do you, isn’t it?”
“Maybe I am,” Mr. Sheridan said defiantly. “But I mean, as long as we are stuck here, haven’t you even bothered lookin’ out the window?”
The other man looked ready to give Mr. Sheridan an earful, but Mr. Morahan piped up before he could. “Would y’all shut up already? If I’m stuck in this goddam bus I’m at least gonna get some sleep, y’all got that?”
“You’re not exactly up to stoppin’ us, Donny, are you?” Mr. Jameson shot back. “You gonna get up and make me shut up?”
“I don’t need to get up to do that,” Mr. Morahan grumbled, and with that he flung a bottle at Mr. Jameson.
Mr. Sheridan did not need to ask what was in the bottle; the smell and Mr. Jameson’s disgusted reaction explained everything. “You fuckin’ pig!” he screamed at Mr. Morahan. “I’m gonna kill you before Melissa gets her chance at it!”
Mr. Sheridan got to sit back and enjoy the show while the two other investors held him off. “Ain’t gonna change nothin’ makin’ everything worse, Jameson,” one of them said. “We’re stuck here, no sense in beatin’ the hell out of each other.” With tacit agreement, Mr. Sheridan turned back to his beloved air hole and his newfound appreciation for the land. A warm glow from the cabin beyond the meadow gave him comfort, and he did his best to imagine himself safe at home with his wife. Soon enough that would be reality, he told himself, along with a new and improved attitude about such things!
Patricia had the electric lights on just long enough to let Melissa get oriented with the little house. “Bedroom’s that way,” she said, pointing to the rear of the house while she locked the door, just as the rain began to pour. “Oh, gosh, Melissa! Sorry, all your clothes are still out there!”
Melissa, still nude like Patricia, grinned at her. “Let ’em rot out there, Patricia. I’m never getting dolled up like that again anyway, at least not for a bunch of jerks like those guys.”
“I like the way you think,” Melissa allowed. “I just hope I have some clothes to lend you that will fit.”
“Do we need to worry about clothes at all right now?” Melissa cooed from the bedroom, where she had flopped back onto Patricia’s bed with its colorful handmade bedspread and was now admiring the rustic furniture and decorations.
“Indeed we don’t,” Patricia agreed. She made to shut off the porch light, but decided to let it entice the guys on the bus for a while yet. Sauntering into the bedroom without shutting the door, she lit three candles on her dresser and the room was awash in dim natural light.
“So beautiful,” Melissa murmured, admiring both the candlelight and Patricia’s body. “But should we close the curtains?” The window looked out onto the river, so anyone sailing by would be able to see inside.
“Anyone on the river right now isn’t going to be paying attention to what’s in here,” Patricia reassured her. “Unless they’ve got a death wish, they’ll be all about getting to shore. Besides, you seemed to enjoy being nude outside just now!”
“I did.” Melissa was still rather surprised at all that. With no further worry for their privacy, she sat up on the bed and held her hands out for Patricia, who climbed on and settled herself facing her. “God, Patricia, I want so much to make love, but…”
“You don’t know what to do with a woman,” Patricia finished. “It’s okay, that’s what I’m here for. Good news, though,” she added as she reached around Melissa to embrace her.
“What’s that?” Melissa asked.
“You know what a woman likes! You are one, after all.”
Melissa burst into nervous laughter, which segued gracefully into a contented sigh as Patricia wrapped her arms around her and lay her gently on her back. Drawing her hands around Melissa’s torso and onto her breasts, she kissed the younger woman gently at first on her neck and cheeks. Melissa felt the last vestiges of her moral opposition give way at long last as the touch of Patricia’s lips filled her with a contentment no man had ever inspired. Almost instinctively, she reached up and returned the favor on Patricia’s hanging breasts. After all the many times she had failed to tamp down the fantasy of rubbing another woman’s supple flesh just so, the reality was all she had hoped for and more.
The one and only thing that could happen to make it better did happen: Patricia moaned her approval. “See, dear, you’re a natural at this. You have the perfect touch!” With that, she kissed Melissa on her lips and their tongues reached out to jostle one another lovingly. Melissa returned the favor and exhaled loudly with the wonderful sensation Patricia was creating for her. She longed to reach her hands further down and explore Patricia’s vagina, but that seemed a bridge too far just then and she was contented with the breast play — for the moment — in any case. Her hands just felt too good on Patricia’s breasts to tear them away just yet anyhow.
Patricia was not to be deterred, though. After a few wonderful minutes, Melissa was aware of Patricia’s fingers sliding down off the ride of her breasts and across her belly. Melissa knew what was coming, but she could only guess what it might feel like. And then she knew. It was as beautiful as it was forbidden, two fingers pushing gently in and bringing about that same wave of pleasure she had so often known with the showerhead back home, only ever so much gentler and more intimate. She had no frame of reference for men this time, as none of the guys she had been with had ever bothered to caress her there. Their loss, she now saw, as in no time she was grinding her head back against the pillow and grunting with the intense pleasure Patricia’s touch wrought.
“Want another finger, dear? I like three, myself.”
Melissa managed to nod, and was rewarded with a third finger. Her hands had abandoned Patricia’s breasts as she was now focused only on her own lovely sensations, those she had denied herself for far too long, and she could concentrate on nothing else as Patricia stroked her into orgasm. “Ohmigod! Patricia!” Her breathing slowed as the sensations receded. “Thank you.”
Patricia kissed Melissa’s vulva, sending the naughtiest shockwave yet through her body, and sat astride her on the bed. “Want to finger me now, girl? You don’t have to, you know.”
“Yes!” Melissa was still not entirely sure she knew just what to do, but she knew she had to try to return the favor.
Patricia lay back alongside Melissa, who eagerly sat up and knelt between Patricia’s spread legs. “I’m yours,” Patricia whispered.
Awestruck Melissa set her right hand gently in Patricia’s thick pubic hair, and felt a shiver up her arm and throughout her body at the touch she had longed for in private for so long. She curled her fingers and felt along the cleft of her labia, drawing a shake and a giggle from Patricia. “That tickles!”
“Sorry!” Melissa drew her hand back.
“Girl, it’s okay!” Patricia said. “I liked it. Your shyness is endearing, too. You take all the time you need to explore. Have you ever looked at your own? With a mirror?”
“Never,” Melissa confessed. “Sometimes wanted to, but…”
“I know,” Patricia said. “Remember I grew up near here too. Now take your time, but please don’t stop!”
Melissa followed the order and once again teased Patricia’s sensitive vulva with her fingers, drawing beautifully intense laughs and gasps from the older woman. “Yesssss, that’s the stuff, Melissa!” she cooed between gasps for breath. Meanwhile, Melissa ran her thumb through her pubes, pressing down rather harder than she was doing with her fingers. When Patricia’s response grew so intense she didn’t think the tickling was welcome anymore, Melissa slid first one, then two fingers inside and thrilled to the warm wetness she felt within.
“All four, please!” Patricia grunted. “I want all four fingers!”
Melissa wasn’t sure about fitting them all in, but one at a time she tried. It was a tight fit, but Patricia seemed to love it. And so did Melissa, her curiosity about it all finally satisfied — so this was how another woman felt! She had only rarely tried fingering herself and the angle had been awkward at best — nothing like the wonderful sensations she was clearly giving Patricia now. Her grunting was quickly growing into outright yells, and Melissa wished those jerks on the bus could hear as much.
It seemed a good thing to say out loud, and so she did. “God, if Mr. Morahan and those losers could hear this!” she said.
“Make the poor bastards eat their hearts out!” Patricia agreed between moans. “And make me come! Now!”
Melissa sped up her gentle thrusting with her hand. “Like this?”
“YES! Exactly like that!”
By the time the storm passed, the sun was down. Mr. Sheridan was grateful for as much; at least the humidity wouldn’t be back. He gave some thought to climbing back up to his old seat to sleep, but one step up toward the median reminded him that the stench was worse than ever. Nothing for him but to stay by his hard-won air hole, then, and try to straddle the puddle as much as he could. Most of the others appeared to have admitted defeat and were trying to sleep off the sentence, but from the sound of it few were succeeding. Shuffling and tossing abounded, and then came a noise that surprised Mr. Sheridan only because it had been so long in coming: someone towards the back of the bus throwing up.
No contest, he would stay by the air hole. The barely-perceptible outline of the trees was lovely anyway. Trying to focus on his planned appeal in the morning — “I believe now, I see the beautiful forest and I’ve felt what it can do to you, and I’ll never have a hand in destroying it again!” — he managed to feel drowsy against all odds. At last, he slept.
Melissa had worked Patricia up to two orgasms, but now her hand was getting quite sore. “Sorry, I need a break,” she said.
“You’ve certainly earned it,” Patricia agreed. “Besides, I wasn’t quite done with you.”
“But I came,” Melissa said apologetically, though now that this day had finally arrived she did not care for it to ever end.
“Only once,” Patricia reminded her, as Melissa lay back in her place. Patricia pulled Melissa’s legs apart. “Now you just relax and enjoy your dessert.”
“Well, okay, I’m the only one who’ll be eating. But I think you’ll like it.”
“What — ” Melissa had no time to get another word out before she felt Patricia’s tongue wet and welcoming against her clit. “Ohhhhhhh!” Yet another wonderful experience none of her boyfriends had ever been willing to provide, but Melissa did not suppose their stubbly faces would feel as wonderful as Patricia’s smooth cheeks against her inner thighs. She was barely aware of that, though, as Patricia went to town with her tongue and effortlessly worked Melissa back up to another peak.
Just as Melissa was about to come again, Patricia stopped and came up for air. “Hey!” Melissa whined, snapping back to reality.
“Don’t worry, I’m not done,” Patricia reassured her, and to prove it she began teasing Melissa’s clit with her thumb. “I was just thinking before, what you said about the guys on the bus. What would you like to tell them right now?”
“Fuck ’em all,” Melissa groaned.
“Mr. Morahan and his love for nothing but money?”
“And the way he makes you dress for the guys?”
“And the folks you grew up with who kept you in the closet? Dyke? Queer? Bitch? What do you want to say to them?!”
“I want to say…” before she could deliver the latest epithet, Patricia dove back between Melissa’s thighs and reached her tongue as far inside as she could, while still stroking Melissa with her thumb. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” She gave up trying to articulate her scream, and was lost entirely in the pleasure. Once the wave had passed, Patricia crawled back up alongside her and put her arms around Melissa, who felt tears of joy welling in her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Thank you,” Patricia replied, and soon they fell into joyously peaceful sleep in their embrace.
The dream would be of the outdoors, wouldn’t it? But Mr. Sheridan was scarcely aware of his imaginary day out in the rough when a real roughness brushed against his head. In an instant he was awake and sliding hopelessly down into the filthy water, and jerking around to see Mr. Bucks coming at him with a broken bottle.
“You let me have your space by that hole and nobody gets hurt,” he whispered.
“Screw you, buddy,” Mr. Sheridan said, loud enough to disturb the extremely delicate sleep of at least half a dozen of the other investors, who awoke with shouts of anger at him. So fucking be it, he thought to himself.
“Sheridan, what the hell?!” “Hey, what’s Bucks got there?” “Oh, Christ, we don’t need to be killin’ each other too, Bucks!”
“My thoughts exactly,” Mr. Sheridan grumbled as Mr. Bucks took his eyes away for a moment to answer his critics. Mr. Sheridan took advantage of the distraction and kicked Mr. Bucks in the balls; the older man dropped the weapon and it shattered harmlessly on the floor. Mr. Bucks was not so harmless; he roared back with a punch in Mr. Sheridan’s right eye, but Mr. Sheridan grabbed at his fist just afterward with both hands and twisted it as hard as he could.
Before either man could do any further harm, two of Mr. Bucks’ cohorts came and pulled him back. “Won’t do any good to fight him,” one of them said. “Besides, what if you get hurt? We can’t even call an ambulance in here.”
“Gonna get you soon enough, Sheridan,” Mr. Bucks growled. “Just wait until we get out of here.”
“If you do get out of here,” Mr. Sheridan shot back. He rather suspected Mr. Bucks had just given him his ticket to freedom. With that comforting thought now doing battle with his newly dampened pants, Mr. Sheridan did his best to get back to sleep.
He never quite succeeded, and he was awake at dawn when Melissa and Patricia emerged from the house for their morning bath. He watched just long enough to determine that both women were naked, and respectfully turned his gaze back to the bus’ ceiling, giving no indication of what he had seen.
Word got out around the bus soon enough without his help, but by then most of the men were too far gone to be titillated. A croaky “those two bitches better get here soon” was the most verbose response Mr. Sheridan heard.
Patricia had gone down on Melissa again as soon as they were both awake that morning, and so Melissa was positively giddy with energy as they splashed around in the pond. The beautiful sunrise over the trees behind the bus only added to her contentment. “Heavens, Patricia, this is so beautiful!” she said as they soaped one another up. “I could never get tired of living out here!”
“Oh, but you would,” Patricia reassured her. “The woods are not for everyone. Besides, girl, you’ve got your whole life to live now. You’re free at last.”
Melissa felt a touch of melancholy for the first time since she’d woken up in Patricia’s arms. “What makes you think I want to be free?”
“Melissa, listen to me,” Patricia said, pausing with the washing to put her hands on Melissa’s shoulders. “You’re a lovely young woman, but you just don’t belong here like I do, and like Valerie did. And I’ll tell you very frankly, you can never take the place of my Valerie. No one ever can, girl. I’m sorry.” Melissa was visibly close to bittersweet tears, so Patricia gave her a soapy hug. “You owe it to yourself to live your own life, girl, not mine. Okay?”
Melissa nodded. “Okay.”
“And there are so many lovely ladies out there for you, too, wherever you decide to go! But you’ve got to go find your own special place.”
“That makes sense,” Melissa admitted. “And the special place is far from here, isn’t it?”
“You got that right,” Patricia said. Then, pointing toward the bus, she added, “We do have some unfinished business, don’t we? But first I’m going to make you some breakfast and give you a change of clothes.”
They both looked toward the bank, where Melissa’s business suit and underwear lay wrought with rainwater. “How appropriate,” Melissa said.
“Now you’ve got it right!” Patricia reassured her.
“Christ, they’re even dressing alike now!” Mr. Jameson grumbled half an hour later, after Patricia and Melissa had enjoyed a quiet breakfast and Patricia had found a change of clothes in her size. They were indeed both attired in green t-shirts and blue jeans, but it was perfectly coincidental. “I’m sure you’ve guessed by now I’ve had my share of other women in and out of here,” Patricia had explained. “So I have clothes of every size, but not very many of them.”
“I…see,” Melissa had said, as only at that moment did it hit her that she was not Patricia’s first guest with benefits since she had lost Valerie.
Patricia had already settled on her favorite green shirt for the big confrontation, and a similar one proved to be all she had in Melissa’s size. “And I’m afraid you’re going to have to go without a bra,” she had said.
“All too fitting for this, don’t you think?” Melissa had replied. And as she strode braless across the meadow, hand in hand with Patricia, she still felt every inch that way. Self-consciousness was a bad memory now, nothing more.
Melissa had expected a rush for the door as soon as Patricia lifted the bar off the bus door. Instead, most of the men were too sick and weak to bother with such things, as Melissa could tell by the stink alone as they stepped into the bus.
“Oooh! This place smells horrible!” she proclaimed, secretly pleased that it did although it made her feel almost nauseated.
“No shit, little lady,” rasped Mr. Morahan, who still had not moved from his spot. “Now, you’re fired, but I’m sure you had that figured out. You want to get arrested too, or are you gonna let us out?”
“We’re gonna let y’all out, all right,” Patricia said. “But what happens after that remains to be seen. Anyone got anything to say for himself?”
“I do,” said Mr. Sheridan, who had managed to get to his feet.
“Sheridan,” Melissa told her.
“Sheridan,” Patricia repeated. “What happened to your eye, first of all?”
“He kicks like a girl, that’s what!” called out Mr. Bucks from his own lair near the rear wheelwells.
“Yeah, I kicked him when he came after me for my air hole,” Mr. Sheridan admitted, pointing up at his beloved hole. “So he hit me. But I kept my hole, dammit.”
“Your hole,” Patricia said, noting the window. “Why’d you do that, Mr. Sheridan?”
“For the fresh air,” he told her. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Probably,” Patricia admitted. “So what were you going to tell me?”
“That I loved the rainstorm last night.”
“I’ll bet you did,” Melissa said with a wicked grin, but Patricia gave her a firm look, silencing her.
“Of course I did,” Mr. Sheridan continued. “Quite a force of nature it was, and watching it so close up was breathtaking. I can’t remember the last time I took the time to notice a thing like that. The way it wet the trees, and how they swayed in the wind. Beautiful. Made me think of when I was a boy, watching a thunderstorm from safe and sound in my room with the window shut but the curtains open. I remember now how I loved that.”
“Would you deprive anyone else of that beauty, Mr. Sheridan?” Patricia asked.
“Never again.” Mr. Sheridan said nothing more; he guessed — correctly — that he had done all he could.
“Well said, Mr. Sheridan,” Patricia said. “Anyone else want to share?”
“There’s a lot I’d like to share with you bitches!” Mr. Morahan roared. “And just you wait until I do! I’m a-gonna –”
“Donny, shut up!” came a voice from back by Mr. Bucks. Mr. Sheridan looked to see it was one of the guys who had held Bucks back from him last night. “Ladies, I’m sorry Donny’s been such a pig here. I can’t say I like what you did to us, but I can see what you were tryin’ to do, anyhow, and for him to keep mouthin’ off at you now, it ain’t right. I see that now. I’m sorry.”
“You goddam…” Mr. Morahan began, but before he could continue, Mr. Sheridan produced a wad of paper napkins from his coat pocket and dove in at Mr. Morahan, who tried to fight him off but was too weak to do so. Mr. Sheridan stuffed the napkins in Mr. Morahan’s mouth, and sat atop him with his hands clamped over his wriggling but weak arms. A weak but encouraging round of applause followed.
“Thank you, Mr. Sheridan,” Patricia said, managing to keep a straight face. She gestured at the man who had apologized, and then at Mr. Sheridan. “Okay, the two of you, come with me.” She turned and guided them both off the bus, Mr. Morahan resuming his barely coherent epithets as soon as Mr. Sheridan was off him; and Melissa stood guard over the others before anyone could make any move to escape.
Melissa stood proudly, ignoring her former boss’ furious blather and pleasantly aware that all the other men were doing the same, and watched out of the corner of her eye as Patricia directed her two chosen ones up the dirt road towards her friends with the waiting ride, as she had done with Rusty yesterday. As soon as Patricia had seen them off and returned to the bus, Melissa asked her, “How do you know they weren’t faking?”
“I don’t,” Patricia admitted. “But they spoke up and nobody else did, so at least there’s a chance they weren’t. With a bus full of losers like this, I’ll take a slim chance over no chance.”
“Good thinking,” Melissa agreed, now aware that the entire bus — even Mr. Morahan — was silent and waiting for the women’s next move. Melissa was wondering too.
“Now then,” Patricia declared. “I am going to give Melissa here a ride back into town on my bike. I don’t suspect she will be in town much longer, but while she is there I expect y’all to leave her be. Don’t think I won’t know if you don’t; I do have friends in town. After all, how’d you think I knew who y’all were? Anyhow, the bus door is open and y’all are free to walk back. I believe you know the way.
“Walk?” chimed in Mr. Jameson. “All the way back there lookin’ and smellin’ like this?”
“Enjoy the fresh air,” Melissa encouraged him. “And think about how you would have spoiled it with your new development out here if you could’ve.”
“Well said,” Patricia agreed, and she ducked down into the driver’s seat to clear the way off the bus. “Y’all are free to go, I told you! Get out of this hellhole while you can, that’s what I’d do if I were you!”
One by one, all the investors heeded her advice. Slowly at first, with just one of the younger guys making for the door warily, as if it might disappear; then when he fell into the clean air, others followed his lead. Melissa was pleased to note that none of them even gave her a stray look as they made their way past her and Patricia — after all, who knew what Patricia might do to them if they acted out of line now?! Tired and sick but happy to be free, the men walked off without a single look back at the bus or at their captors.
Soon they were all filing off as quickly as they could, and staggering off towards the highway. All except Mr. Morahan, who still couldn’t get unstuck from his wedge between the seats. Try as he might, he couldn’t move an inch. “You bitches gonna help me out or what?” he demanded.
“Or what,” Melissa said fearlessly, as Patricia followed the last of the other men off the bus and bade her follow. “You’re free to go as soon as you can.”
“That’s right,” Patricia added. “Come on, Melissa, the bike’s in the barn.”
“Are you really sayin’ you’re leavin’ me here to stew in this filth by myself?!” Mr. Morahan shrieked at the women.
“Yes sir, we are,” Patricia declared, shutting the bus door behind her.