Macy's Place

"Rusty's," she read aloud, looking up at the weather beaten sign. It squeaked as it moved with the hot, dry desert wind and Devon shook her head, a cynical smile stretching across her face. "This is too much like a damn slasher movie," she muttered to herself.

The door into the garage's office refused to open so Devon walked around to the side of the old clapboard building and under the large garage door. In the murky darkness she could see a dune buggy resting on blocks and an old chevy truck parked over a work-pit cemented into the sandy ground.

"Hello?" Devon called, a mental image of a chainsaw-wielding madman causing her to shake her head at herself. A deep "woof" caught her attention and she looked to her right, seeing an outline of an old coonhound lying on the cool ground.

"Well 'woof' back atcha, fella," Devon grinned, seeing and hearing the dog's tail thump on the dusty floor.

"Jeez, Cujo," a low voice drawled. "Try not to kill everyone you meet."

Devon cast her eye around the garage. "Ya'll be looking for somethin'?" A shadow of movement beneath the chevy caught her eye and she moved closer.

"For some help actually. My truck broke down on the highway."

"And you be lookin' for someone to go runnin' right on out there to fix it," the bored tone punctuated by a loud bang and muffled curse.

"Well, you don't have to run," Devon replied, surprisingly amused by the mechanic's reaction. Except for the fact she was talking to a woman and not a tobacco-chewing old man, it was perfect slasher-ville. After a few minutes, she tried again. "Are you the only mechanic in town?"

"Well, there's Billy. But I doubt he can help ya much with his two broken legs."

"So you are it?" Devon asked the invisible voice.

"I'm it." The conformation was followed a breath later by a dull crack and the sound of running liquid. "Gotcha, ya bastard." Metallic scraping, the thunk of footsteps and a short-haired, athletic brunette wearing filthy overalls and a dirty baseball cap came out from behind the chevy wiping her hands on a rag. "Look Ma'am, I got a million things to do. I ain't got time to go running out to the highway."

"Like I said," Devon smiled sweetly, "you don't have to run."

She met the mechanic's stare with a blinding smile. "Is there a place I can stay in town?"

The other woman sighed, readjusted her cap and buried both hands down deep in her pockets. "Well, yeah. Macy's got her place down the road some. Reckon she'll put ya'll up."

Devon nodded her thanks and half-turned to leave. "I suppose the chances of me finding a ride to get my luggage is slim to…"

"Non-existent."

"Great," Devon laughed cynically. "Well thanks for your help."

"Oh, I weren't none of that," the mechanic answered evenly.

"Yeah," Devon called as she walked out the door. "That was kind of my point."

Devon walked back across the dusty lot to the road and looked blankly in either direction. A tumbleweed, the kind that are taught from germination how to time an entrance, blew across the road to her right.

"Well, I'll be," Devon told herself. "I've found the original town of Bumfuck, Nowhere." Expelling a lungful of air as a single breathe of laughter, Devon began to walk in what she hoped was the most likely direction of Macy's. A dozen steps down the road and a familiar sound caused her to look down at her side. The coonhound walked beside her, his long tongue hanging out as he panted in the heat.

"Well, hello again," Devon smiled, reaching down to ruffle his long ears. "Seems as if someone around here has some manners after all, Mr," she stopped walking and pulled his collar around so that she could read his nametag, not believing for a second that his name was actually Cujo. "Rosco," she read and the hound seemed to lift his eyebrows in response. You will be escorting me to Macy's, I presume?" Rosco twisted his head slightly to the side as he looked at her, then with a movement all too similar to a nod, he began walking again. Greatly amused, Devon started after the dog, feeling as if they had been friends for years.

Macy's place, on first impression, did not look promising. As Rosco led her closer, however, Devon could see the window boxes crowded with bright flowers, the cheerily coloured shutters and the welcome mat with a huge smiley face on it. Despite impressions, someone was obviously trying to make an effort she realised and followed the hound inside. The wooden door opened into a cloakroom area and Rosco immediately went to a low hanging hook and lifted something off with his nose. Bemused, Devon watched as he brought it over and dropped it at her feet.

"Well, is this for me or you, Mr. Rosco?" she asked, picking it up and examining it. "Guide Dog in Training?" she read aloud, her voice heavy with laughter. Rosco sighed heavily in response, blinking his eyes in an expression of patience. "Okay, okay," she surrendered. "You're the boss." Slipping the bright yellow vest over his head, she buckled the waist strap beneath his stomach and stood back to see the result. Rosco, however, was satisfied and immediately pushed open a glass door with his nose and walked in.

A bell tinkled above Devon's head as she followed him into a small, cool and very clean diner. Six white tables dominated the floor while half a dozen bar chairs called her to the counter. Five weather beaten faces stared at her entrance but Devon simply smiled serenely back before ignoring them completely. Within a minute of her settling down into a bar chair, the murmured conversation picked up from where it had left off. Devon looked about for her escort and saw him saying 'hello' to the men. Once he had received greetings from all five, he crossed the room and settled down beneath a window-mounted air conditioner.

"You be wanting coffee like them old fools, or you wanting somethin mo' intelligent?" Devon turned to the voice and immediately concentrated on keeping her expression blank.

"I'd love a cool glass of water and some lemonade, if you have some," she smiled, forcing her eyes to stay on Macy's face. Devon did not know what she had been expecting but the Macy of her mind was definitely not the same Macy that stood before her.

Standing maybe five-eight and weighing close to three hundred pounds, she was a big woman. Perhaps more unsettling, though, was the fact that Macy was wearing clothes designed for a much smaller woman and a lot of deep cocoa skin screamed out in defiance. At least fifty bracelets jangled on her wrist as she reached up to push a strand of her platinum blonde hair out of her face.

"Now, that's what I'm talking about, girl! It hot out there, so in here ya 'spose to drink cold things! Them old coots is just too damn stoopid to know that."

"Hey! Who you calling old, ya crazy woman?" one of the men yelled.

"Wha' dat? Wha' dat?" Macy hollered, cupping the hand around the back of an ear. "I don't understand ol' people language! Ya best just sit on down and drink that coffee ya'll made me cook!"

Devon watched the exchange and could not help but smile. She drank the water gratefully then sipped the lemonade as she studied the menu.

"Oh hell, girl. Ya'll don't need to be worrying about that menu. You just tell Macy whachu want and she'll whip it up for ya. As long as it ain't no health food crap, like that toofo or wheatiegerms. I do not do no health food crap here. It is way too bad for my figure." The woman ran her hands over her hips as she spoke and one of the men laughed.

"Yeah, ya don't wanna be losing none of that fat ass! The weight o'them hooters would pull ya face down to the floor!"

"Now you just watch yo tongue, Henry! There's a paying customer here just now. And don't you be thinking I forgotten how eager you was over this fine black ass last 4 of July!" The man turned beet red as his friends all roared with laughter. Macy nodded her head in satisfaction and turned back to Devon. "Now, whachu be wantin', honey?"

"Cheeseburger and fries always go down well," Devon smiled but caught Macy as she turned to the grill. "The mechanic down the road told me you might have a place for me to stay?"

"Oh sure, I do. Got one upstairs o'mine that I keep the air blowing in most days. How long you planning on staying?"

Devon shrugged. "That depends on how long it takes your mechanic to fix my truck. It died on me about ten miles down the interstate."

"And you ain't got no roadside crap?" Macy asked in disbelief. "Seems everybody got that these days. All them white trucks with the flashing yellow lights dragging cars all over!"

"Oh, I have it," Devon admitted. "I just have some time to kill."

"What?" Macy asked flatly. "You are staying in this town when ya don't need to? You sure is some crazy white girl."

Devon smiled and glanced down at her near-empty glass of lemonade. "Maybe I am," she admitted in a low voice.

"Uh oh," Macy frowned. "You got some sorry tale about how shitty things have been for ya, right? Well, if you be hiding then you done right by staying here. God hisself sometimes forgets where he put us."

Again, Devon smiled and dipped her head to stare in her glass. Macy took the hint with a sympathetic nod and turned to her grill.

"Hey, crazy woman! If you gonna be doing it anyway, how about you burn us up some food, too?"

"The only thing Macy burns, John-bug, is your pride," the woman replied but Devon saw her add several more patties nonetheless.

"So how long have you lived here, Macy?" Devon asked, almost hypnotised by the speed with which the dark woman prepared the food.

"Too long!" one of the men hollered, causing the others to laugh.

"Now don't you be making me spit in yo food, John-bug, cause I'd do that happy and smiling."

"Probably make the food taste better if she did," another man muttered and Devon saw Macy bristle.

"Whachu say, Henry? Wha' did I just hear coming outta that sorry mouth o'yours? Don't you make me come over there and beat you boy, cause I'll do it! Squash you like a bug!"

"Oh now, Macy, he was just fooling," said a different man, this one younger than the rest, his eyes almost too big for his face. "He don't mean anything by it." With an easy grace, he rose from the table and walked to the counter to collect the plates of food. "Besides, we all know you're the best damn cook in this town."

At the compliment, Macy smiled and relaxed. "Well now, Daniel, I always said you were a man that knows how to treat a lady, unlike that uncouth roadkill over there," she added a moment later. Daniel winked and seeing Macy blush, Devon turned her attention to the food before her and reached for a french fry. A heavy sigh stopped her and she looked down to her left. Rosco stood next to her, his head turned deliberately to one side.

"Rosco, don't you be harassing my customers now, you ol' hound," Macy told him sternly. "I got your supper ready, too." Devon watched as Macy put two raw patties in a bowl, added two slices of cheese and topped it all off with a thick slice of tomato. "Crazy dog loves his t'matas," she explained as she washed and dried her hands.

"I didn't realise he was your dog," Devon said between mouthfuls. "I thought he belonged to the mechanic."

"Who? Billy? Hell no, that boy can't look after hisself, let alone a dog! He broke his legs. Both of em. Know how? Ain't no accident in the shop, oh no! That boy thought it would be a good idea to leave an imprint of hisself in the new cement they laying out at Whittaker's place. Only the cement was too hard so he got his buddy to drive over him and push him down. It's a wonder they didn't start with his head!"

Devon could only stare at Macy's face, comments flying through her head too fast for her to catch one. "I meant the other mechanic," she eventually stuttered. "Oh you mean, G? Well, yeah, she and Rosco kinda came as a pair. He spends his mornings down there with her and when it gets hot, he comes on down here."

"And the vest?" Devon prompted, pushing her empty plate away.

Macy laughed a rich musical sound. "Guide dog in training? Well, that'd be my idea and I am mighty proud of it. Damn health inspector told me he wasn't allowed in here. But I couldn't keep Rosco out in the heat, could I? That vest makes it all good an' legal."

"And the ten minutes you spent locked in the storeroom with the inspector?" a voice asked from across the room.

Macy scoffed. "Was more like five minutes, and never you mind about that, Henry." The men snickered but none, Devon noticed, had an expression of distaste.

"So, honey? How was that food?"

"It was delicious," Devon replied instinctively, but realised she had spoken the truth.

"Uh huh," Macy nodded, leaning her elbows on the counter. "Nuff cheese? Onion?"

Devon smiled. "Really, it was great."

"Now, don't you be brushing Macy off. Ain't no two people like their burgers the same. You be telling Macy what she be askin'."

Again, Devon was temporarily lost for words. "Well, more cheese?" she croaked.

"Mhmm, okay, more cheese."

"Um, I like mayo," Devon added meekly.

"Mayo?" Macy repeated. "Okay, mayo is good. Likely no mustard or relish then. Ketchup?"

"Yep, I like ketchup, too, and a little relish."

"Oh, okay! So we want all them juices flowing and mixing up all in there. A'ight, okay, okay. What about bacon? Onions? Raw and crunchy? Pickles?"

"No, no pickles," Devon shook her head, warming up to the conversation. "Bacon is okay but not always. I kind of like my onions cooked and well, sort of caramelized."

"Oh baby! Now we're talking! Get em all nice and sticky! With shrooms?"

"Not always," Devon admitted, happy to see the excitement on Macy's face.

"That's fine, fine. You want another one, honey? Cooked all perfect?"

"No Macy, I couldn't, thank you. I'm full."

"Well that's okay, honey! Don't be sorry for nothing. Maybe tomorrow. Now I suppose you be wanting to see your room. Well you just come along with me. Daniel? May I ask you, being as you are such a fine gentleman to look after my establishment while I show the lady to her room?" She hoped she had imagined it, but Devon was sure she had just seen Macy flutter her stick-on eyelashes.

"I'd be happy to, Miss Macy," Daniel replied and Devon turned away to smile as Macy blushed again.

Out the back door, across a small dirt courtyard that, from the pink lawn chairs and table Devon assumed to be Macy's backyard, and up a narrow flight of stairs. Macy, talking non-stop went through half a large ring of keys before realizing the door was unlocked. "Ain't like there's a thief in town anymore," she shrugged, leading the way into a surprisingly spacious one room apartment. "I heard Doug was a good burglar in his time but his son Dougie never had his daddy's skills. Young fool cut hisself up breaking into Henry's house and called the police in on hisself. Now there's the bedroom, bathroom and living room," Macy pointed out quickly. "All furnished and you got cable, wifi internet and the a/c is new. But enough of that!"

Glancing around with her left hand on her hip, the right rising to rest just at the top of her chest, Macy took a step closer to Devon. "Now you's a girl, all woman-like and dat, so um, I gotta ask ya, honey. That man down there in my establishment? You get the feeling he be wanting to get all up in this?"

Devon was tempted to play dumb and ask if she meant Henry, but Macy was watching and waiting with such intensity that she could not do it. "Daniel? Well, I'm not good at judging that sort of thing, but I think he may be interested, sure."

Macy nodded her head several times in quick succession, the nails of her right hands tracing over her skin gently. "Okay. Cause I been getting that vibe, ya know? But he comes from a, uh, better place than me, if you know what I mean? So how would a woman such as yourself go about encouraging one such as him?"

Devon stifled a groan, but knew Macy wouldn't be letting her off the hook that easily. "Well, you have the restaurant so perhaps you could invite him over one night and ask his advice on a new dish?"

"Damn girl!" Macy hollered in response, making Devon startle. "You just earned yourself a free breakfast at Macy's! That's a damn smart idea! Get my good-lookin' self all fine and sneak some of my granny's recipes up on his ass! That boy ain't gonna have no chance!" The dark woman glanced at her watch. "Well, honey, I gotta get on down and get ready for the evening rush so you just go on and make yourself at home."

Moments later the door slammed and then the screen door. Devon waited until she could no longer hear footsteps on the stairs before letting out a huge sigh of relief. She looked around at the room, smiling at the few attempts that had been made to create a homely feel; lace doilies beneath a vase of fake flowers, a crocheted throw over the back of the love seat and the corner of the bed clothes folded back. With another sigh, this one heavy with resignation, Devon walked to the window and raised the blinds to see beyond. The view was beautiful. Desert, rust-coloured in the evening light, stretched out as far as she could see. She could make out the hazy outline of widely scattered Joshua trees but other than that there was nothing; big, wide open nothing. It appeared mostly flat from the window but Devon had seen from the highway how the scrub covered land was constantly, yet gently lifting and sinking. It was so very different from the world she knew, or more specifically, she mentally corrected herself, had known. Her focus readjusted itself and Devon suddenly found herself looking at her own reflection. She had lost weight; the faded jeans and white shirt almost too big on her trim frame. Unconsciously she raised a hand to sweep a loose strand of dark wavy hair away from her face. Seeing her own face smirking back at her, she turned from the glass.

"Well, Devon," she said gently. "You have to start somewhere."

A knock called her attention and she moved to the door to open it. Standing on the small porch re-adjusting her stained baseball cap stood the mechanic Devon had spoken to earlier. Pushing the screen door open, Devon realised the bags at the other woman's feet were her own.

The mechanic nodded once as a greeting before speaking. "Went out to your vehicle. Can't find anything wrong with it just yet but I hauled it back to the shop. Weren't that many bags in there so I figured I could bring em to ya, seeing as how I wanted to ask you how it died."

Devon listened to the woman's broken speech and heavy drawl and couldn't help but smile. "G, right? Macy said your name was G?"

A casual shrug. "That's what my momma called me."

"Well, G, I'm Devon. Thank you very much. You'll have to let me know how much I owe you," she said, ending the sentence as a question.

G shrugged. "Can't much tell you that til I know what's wrong with it."

Between the two of them, the woman brought the bags in off the porch. "Well, all I can really tell you is I lost power. Everything; radio, a/c, steering, brakes, engine. They all just died. No noise, no smoke, no warning, just dead." As she spoke, Devon reached into her wallet and extracted several bills. "That's $300," she said, handing over the money. "That should at least cover the cost of the tow and I'll have the rest as soon as you know what you'll need."

G took it, stared at the bills in her hand and pushed them into her pocket without counting. "That's it? Ya ain't gonna argue or haggle with me?" she asked, failing to mask her surprise.

Devon laughed gently. "It's not like I can go to your competition now, is it?"

"Well, no," G admitted. "Ain't like you could. If it's an electrical problem with your vehicle then it'll likely take me longer to find it and longer still if I gotta order parts in."

"That's fine," Devon sighed. "I've got nowhere to be."

"All right. Thanks, Miss Devon," G said as she backed out the door. "If you come by the shop tomorrow I'll be sure to have a receipt ready for you," and she was gone, leaving Devon to stare at an empty doorway. Gently she closed and locked the doors and prepared for her first night as Macy's paying guest. As she crawled beneath the cool sheets, she suddenly realised that she still had no idea what the crazy little town was called.

She woke the next morning before dawn and lay beneath the covers watching sunlight slowly fill her room. She felt relaxed and as she showered and dresses, began to feel curious about the town again.

In a small corner of the living room a small table had been placed with a two-cup coffee machine and a small microwave on top. Unfortunately, there was no coffee, whitener or mugs. Smart she acknowledged with a smile; where else would you go but Macy's?

With sandals on her feet, Devon opened her door to the fresh smell of early morning. A cool breeze blew in from the desert carrying a hint of sweet smelling flowers along with it. Pulling the door shut behind her, Devon smiled and took a deep breath. "Mental note," she muttered to herself. "Watch sun come up with cup of coffee in hand before moving on."

Macy's was already open. The smell of eggs, bacon and pancakes surrounding her as she opened the back door. Many of the small white tables had haggard looking men sitting around them and with a glance out the front window, Devon realised they were long-haul trucks drivers, their rigs lined neatly up and down the street.

Macy stood at the grill flipping bacon, scrambling eggs and pouring pancakes. "Good morning, Macy," Devon greeted, sliding into the chair she had occupied the day before.

"Well, g'mornin', hon. Get you some coffee?" she asked even as she poured it, sliding over the creamer and ignoring the sugar. "You get enough sleep or is you just one of them natural early risers?"

"Just force of habit, I guess," Devon replied. "That and no way to make my own coffee in my room. Something I would truly appreciate." Slowly she took a sip of hot coffee and sighed in ecstasy. "My god, Macy! That's the best coffee I've ever tasted!"

"Uh huh, you bet yo ass it is. Was that coffee that gave me enough money to open this fine place."

Devon's eyebrows rose in surprise as she savoured another mouthful of heaven. "Really?"

"Had me a coffee shop back home in Chicago. For every cup o'coffee I sold, I saved a quarter dollar and before ya know it, a rich ol' financial advisor man saw my jar. I told him what it was, he asked me out to dinner and then there weren't no looking back."

Devon studied Macy carefully for any sign of humour but found none. "Well, it sure is a wonderful coffee."

With speed born of a life of practice six plates overflowing with food appeared on the counter. "A'ight, Breaker! Your food is up. Benny? Joe? Come get Mike and Phil's, too. Hector, you get off yo lazy ass and come get your hash."

Hector, a middle-aged Hispanic man muttered something under his breath as he came to the counter and Macy turned on him. "Whachu say? I told you not to be speakin nothing but good English in this place! Now whachu say?"

Hector backed off with his hands held high in surrender. "I only say it a good thing your food is so good, Macy," he exclaimed in heavily accented English.

"Dat it? Dat all you said?"

"Yeah, that's it!" Macy stared hard at the man and he blushed, unable to meet her eyes.

Before the woman could start again, Devon interrupted. "Macy, I think Hector may have said something about how attractive you are as well as complimenting your cooking."

Macy glanced at Devon before turning to Hector and speaking in a much gentler tone. "That true, Hector? You be thinking Macy is a fine woman?"

The man's mouth moved a few times before he found his voice. "Si. Si, a very fine woman."

"Well, that's just fine. Only I got my eye on someone else just now, Hector so you'd just best get on with that food. And don't be so shy, Hector! A woman needs to hear how fine she is, every now and again."

Hurriedly, Hector grabbed his plate of food and backed away. "Gracias por tanto mucho, señora" he said to Devon and she smiled.

"Feliz ayudar a, Hector."

"You speak his language?" Macy asked when he had gone.

"Spanish? Not very much," Devon admitted. "I can get around when I need to." From behind her she heard the door open and a moment later, a cool wet nose poked against her hip. Glancing down, she smiled. "Good morning, Rosco. Good to see you again." A hint of jasmine and vanilla drifted by and Devon lifted her eyes to see G settle into the chair beside her. From her filthy overalls, she produced a large dog treat and gave it to Rosco. When the dog had trotted happily away to his favourite spot, G nodded to Devon.

"Good morning, Miss Devon."

"Good morning to you, too."

A cup of coffee appeared on the counter before the mechanic, together with a knife and fork rolled up in a napkin. "Same as usual, G?"

"That'd be fine," she answered as she watched cream mix in with her coffee.

"What 'bout you, honey? What can I get you?" Macy asked Devon.

"An omelette?" Devon asked.

"Uh huh?" Macy prompted, staring straight at Devon while she waited.

"With ham, cheese, fried onions and mushrooms?"

Macy pushed away from the counter and grinned. "Love a woman who knows what she wants! G, you know this here woman speaks Spanish?"

"Macy."

"I nearly threw Hector out on his skinny ass before she saved his hide."

"Macy, please."

"Please what, honey? Somethin you want?"

"Yes! I want you to hold your damn tongue for more than five seconds! Let me have my coffee before you start on me! Please!"

Macy turned away with a chuckle and Devon looked across in sympathy.

"Scuse me," G muttered.

Devon smiled and shook her head. "I've had a few mornings like that myself."

Swallowing another mouthful of coffee, G sighed. "Didn't expect you to be up and around so early," she admitted.

Devon shrugged and repeated what she had said to Macy. "Old habit, I guess." She thought for a moment. "You worked on my truck last night?" she asked in surprise.

Another shrug answered her question. "I don't get my orders in 'fore Friday morning and you wait an extra week."

Devon paused, suddenly unsure again. "And today is?" she prompted.

"Today is Friday," G confirmed without expression.

"Hells girl! You don't even know what day it is?" Macy exclaimed. "You are just one big ol' bag of secrets, ain't you?"

Devon smiled and glanced up. "Not really. I've just been travelling for a while. You tend to lose track of things that way."

"Yeah, about that," G began. "That vehicle o'yours has itself a computer between the ignition switch and the engine. Guess what happens when you're driving and that there computer fries itself?"

Devon groaned, barely seeing the omelette that was placed in front of her. "Everything suddenly dies?"

"Yep," G answered around a mouthful of toast. "I can likely fix it but the second I touch it you can kiss the warrantee goodbye. And it ain't gonna be cheap."

Devon sighed and slowly finished her breakfast, allowing G to do the same. Finally, when both women had emptied their last cups of coffee, she looked over at the mechanic. "I like my truck," was all she said.

G studied her a moment, slowly nodding as she held Devon's eye. "You have a limit on what you can pay me?" This time Devon simply smiled. With only the slightest lift of an eyebrow, G shrugged. "I got a few things to finish up this morning but I'll get started on it as soon as I can." The woman stood, thanked Macy and left, Rosco following on her heels.

"So Macy? What does a woman with no vehicle do alone in a town like this? Oh, and what is this town actually called?"

"Alone, honey? Oh hell, you ain't gotta do nothing alone! Soon as my helper gets here after the morning rush you and me can go sightseeing!"

"Sightseeing?" Devon repeated. "What exactly is there to see?"

Macy chuckled as she waved to a group of men coming in the door. "There be a prison, one o'them low security type ones, ya know? Only it ain't too far from here. Got me a pair of binoculars and a perfect spot to watch them fine looking men getting all hot and sweaty as they lift them weights! Last week the guards put up another hoop so now I can even watch them playin one on one. Whew! I tell ya, honey! Some of them boys was locked up just to keep us women safe! Plenty fine, they are! Plenty fine!"

"Same as ever, Macy," one of the men called, coming up to the counter for a tray of cups and a carafe of coffee. Macy exchanged words with the man, as flirtatious as usual while she cracked eggs and threw bacon, sausage, tomatoes and hash browns on the grill. Taking the opportunity, Devon carefully slid out of the chair and out the back door before she had to respond to Macy's offer of sightseeing.

Outside the day was already heating up and Devon decided to take a walk before the sun really started burning. Half an hour later she arrived back under the squeaky, swinging sign in front of the garage. Standing with her hands on her hips, she looked back up the street. She had taken her time to check out all of the stores on the main street; Macy's, a small general store that wasn't open yet and Rusty's garage.

"Bumfuck," she declared loudly. "Bumfuck, Nowhere." A short bark caused her to turn and she stared at Rosco's concerned face. "Hello, Mr. Rosco," she called, strolling closer. "Have you any idea what a woman can do for fun around here?"

A warm laugh came from just inside the open bay door and she looked up. "That there dog's idea of fun is chasing rattlesnakes and jackrabbits all day!" A young man, maybe just clear of 25 years of age sat in a wheelchair close to the open door. "Now if you be looking for fun, lady, I know just what you need."

Devon smiled. "Billy, I presume?"

"Well now!" he exclaimed happily. "Seems my reputation has presided over me!"

"That's preceded, dumbass. Less you be a ghost fresh from his grave." At the sound of the voice, Devon smiled. A warm feeling swept through her and she moved to look into the gloomy garage. G was bent forward under the hood of an old white truck, the tools she needed laying on a wheeled cart beside her.

"Well, whatever," Billy grinned. "I still got what this fine lady needs!"

"With two broken legs?" Devon countered. "Unless I look like I need to play cards, I doubt the accuracy of your statement."

Billy blinked a few times and swallowed once or twice. "Huh?"

Beneath the raised hood, G chuckled and Devon fought not to laugh. "I mean perhaps your present predicament has momentarily cramped your style as a Romeo."

"Whatchu say?" Billy asked after another long moment of thought.

"Aw, hell, Billy! She's trying to let ya down gentle! Just say 'yes, ma'am' and leave the woman alone!"

Spinning his chair around, Billy rolled closer to G. "Come on G, she's the finest looking thing to hit this town for months!" His voice was hushed but in the large garage each word echoed and carried.

"Well then, why don't you try and impress her by getting all her paperwork ready in record time?"

As he wheeled happily away, Devon moved closer to G. "Does he hit on every woman that way?" she asked. A shout of pain followed by a string of colourful curses interrupted the response.

Sighing, shaking her head and raising herself to lean on the radiator, G looked at Devon. "He just ran into the door frame again. Not the smartest boy around."

"Yeah, Macy told me what happened to his legs."

Leaning back into the engine cavity, G huffed out a breath. "Billy swears his theory was scientifically sound. Said the truck was just making him heavier."

"Well yes, I can see where he might have been going with it," Devon admitted. "But what gets me is why both legs are broken. Surely they would have stopped after the first one snapped?"

"Same as you'd think he would learn how to wheel through the doorway at least once without crashing into the frame."

Devon chuckled, shaking her head in sympathy. "Did they drive over his head by any chance?"

G laughed. "Nope. He's a smart as he ever was. Oh hey," she suddenly said, lifting her body back out of the truck. "I'm glad ya'll dropped by. I found a laptop in your truck last night after I came back here. S'on the front seat. Didn't want ya thinkin' I stole it."

Devon was surprised by the blunt honesty of the woman. "The thought would never even cross my mind," she admitted. She walked to her truck where it stood over the concrete pit and opened the driver door. There it sat. The laptop she used to carry everywhere; she was never seen without it. And yet she had just nearly spent 24 hours without thinking about it once.

"Y'all right?" G called with a puzzled look on her face. Suddenly Devon realised how long she had been standing staring at the black case.

"Yes," she nodded. "Just funny how things can change so completely, so suddenly."

"You a writer or something?" Billy asked, rolling up beside G. "Only folks I ever knew with laptops and fancy cars was writers."

"Who in the hell do you know that wrote a book, Billy? You can barely read your name!" G's disbelief was evident in her tone despite her head still being hidden from view.

"Was a real nice older woman came through here couple years before you got here. She had a pile of these romance books in the back seat. Said I could take what I wanted as payment for changing her flat tire. Them books sure did have some nasty stuff in there, too. Hey G did you know that two men can…?"

"Don't you ever dare finish that sentence, Billy or I'll show ya what else a tire iron can do!"

"Well, ya don't need to take my head off, G. Was just asking you a question."

Devon laughed gently as she shut the door to her truck, the noise attracting Billy's attention. "To answer your question, Billy, no, I'm not a writer."

That was the moment it happened. Devon had always wanted to be a writer, so why not, she asked herself. Why in the hell not? She accepted the receipt from Billy and excused herself from the garage. By the time she had reached the bottom of the stairs that led up to her rented room, she was giggling in excitement.

Dusk came slowly, slinking heavily across the desert floor, bringing the promise of cool relief with its thick lazy light. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with the laptop on the table before her, Devon was oblivious to it all. Her fingers flew across the keys, words appearing at a steady pace on the screen. Occasionally she muttered something under her breath and would slam her finger down on the backspace button but the tapping never stopped for long.

Macy paused at the top of the stairs, knocking gently as she pushed open the door. "Yoohoo! You in here, honey?" Rhythmic tapping was her only response so she came in further, finally seeing Devon sitting on the floor. "Oh hell, girl! There ya are!" Devon squeaked and spun around. "Oh sorry, hon. Didn't mean to scare ya but we all be worrying about where ya got to. Ya missed the show down at the prison. What's wrong?" she asked, seeing the expression of pain on Devon's face.

"My legs have fallen asleep," Devon groaned. "I can't move them." She pulled herself out from under the table and gasped, suddenly feeling the ache in her back and shoulders.

"Damn girl! You been down there all day? Now you gonna get them pins and needles and get all twitchy! I hate them stabby little bastards running up and down my body parts." As if to illustrate the point, Macy gave a full body shiver.

Gingerly Devon got to her feet and leaned into a long stretch, sighing as the muscles extended before relaxing. With her hand on the couch to steady her, she dropped into a few squats, wincing as the feeling returned to her legs and feet.

Macy moved closer to the coffee table and peered down at the laptop. Devon watched but said nothing. "So that what you do? You a writer-type?"

"No," Devon smiled. "Well, I don't think so."

"Ya don't think so? What the hell kinda answer is that? Either you is or you ain't."

Devon considered that, looking at the computer and slowly smiling. "You know Macy, I think I'm hungry."

Immediately the larger woman reacted. "Hungry? Half-starved more like! If you gonna be here for a while, then I'm gonna make sure you get more meat on your bones. Now you just come on down and Macy'll make ya up a good healthy supper."

"So what you mean when you say you don't know if you a writer or not?"

Devon looked down at the plate of pork chops, brown rice and steamed vegetables and shrugged. "I mean just that, Macy. I don't know. Before today I had barely given the idea more than a passing thought. But then I saw the laptop and Billy asked if that was what I did so I decided to give it a try." She groaned around a mouthful of pork. "That's good!"

"What? You spent the whole day sitting up there banging away on that thing 'cause you felt like it? Girl, you crazy! Damn crazy!"

"Now Macy," a familiar voice interrupted. "Don't be all upset about it. I told ya I'll help teach you how to read."

"Henry, some days I just wanna come over there and get all up in yo face! I can read just fine, thank you very much!"

"You just gotta use small words is all," one of the other men said.

"Have you never just felt like doing something new, Macy? Realised suddenly that you have the time to try all those things you never could before?" Devon paused, reaching for her glass of lemonade. "I wanted to be a writer when I was a child but I knew it wasn't a practical way to make a living. I took all the courses but was always too busy with my other studies to put any of it into practice. Today, I realised I wasn't so busy."

"Uh huh," Macy grunted. "So what you saying is you spent all day up there banging away on that machine cause you felt like it and wasn't busy anyhow?"

Devon smiled, realising how it must all sound to Macy. "Yeah, that's about the truth of it," she finally ceded.

"Like I said, girl. You crazy."

The diner became busy shortly after that and Devon slipped out the door unnoticed. She planned to go back up to her room but when she walked out into the cool night air, Devon chose instead to sit in one of Macy's garden chairs. Above her the stars blinked into view and Devon took a deep, contented breath. She had come so far she suddenly realised but was still unsure of where she was going. It was a rare moment of self-reflection and not one she allowed to continue. Night had fallen, the sky alive with flickering stars when she finally went back to her computer.

The dream struck when the moon was at its highest point, the night full of the quiet, gentle noises that always seem to add to the stillness. First, she became aware of the voices, and she opened her eyes to the dark. She lay on her back beneath a sheet and soft blanket, alone in the room or so she hoped. Devon tried to move her head but nothing happened. She could not move at all; she was paralysed. Her eyes flicked back and forth, her breath coming in short, hard bursts. Voices were coming closer. They sounded angry, mentioning her name over and over, intertwining it with curses. She could not move.

Then they were there, three men in white coats and two uniformed policemen. They looked down at her on the bed, pointing and laughing, faces bright and grotesque in the dark. One of the white coats stopped laughing and became serious. He stood by her head and spoke to her, speaking in a language she didn't understand. He started to shout when she failed to answer. Devon listened as hard as she could, but still the words made no sense. She tried to open her mouth to apologise but her mouth would not move. The man yelled and yelled but Devon could do nothing but listen and watch.

A policeman came closer to the bed, his face deep red, his fists bunched in anger. Slowly he crawled onto the bed with her, straddling her knees and spinning her legs to the mattress. His partner held her arms still, his strong hands holding her wrists painfully by her side. Tears coursed from her eyes as she battled the paralysis. Suddenly the man stopped shouting and just looked down at her, a cruel smile on his face. A soothing voice suddenly droned through her mind and she moved her eyes to see the other white coat walking toward her, the syringe in his hands drawing clear liquid from a small bottle. Devon tried with all of her might but she could not move, could not scream…

"Devon!" a voice called. A hand shook her shoulder. "Wake up! It's a dream, Miss Devon. Nothing but a dream."

Devon's eyes snapped open, the clear moonlight bright enough to make out details of her rented bedroom. G lay beside her beneath the covers, a calloused hand gently touching Devon's cheek as she leaned in closer. "Just a dream…"

With a gasp, Devon opened her eyes, this time to the promise of a slow, lazy dawn. Sweat soaked her body and she shivered in the cool air. Her blankets lay in a scattered mess about the floor, the bottom sheet pulled clear of the mattress at two corners. Breathing a heavy sigh, she stripped off her tanktop and underwear as she turned on the shower. The water was a few degrees too hot, but from experience Devon knew that small discomfort would help clear the fog. The night terror was not a new one; she had lived through that mini-drama many times. The last part, though, the comfort of being woken into another softer dream, that part was new. And as she rinsed shampoo from her hair, she realised she liked it.

The writing did not last. Reviewing the previous day's labour, Devon realised once again why she had chosen a different career path. She saved the file anyway, if only to act as a reminder for the next time. Rinsing out her cup in the bathroom sink, Devon looked down at her hands beneath the running water. "Was only ever good at one thing," she muttered to herself. She turned off the water as a wave of melancholy washed through her and she immediately walked to the bedroom to find her running clothes.

The air was still cool as she stretched down by the patio furniture, feeling her muscles loosen beneath the fitted shorts and tank top. She had discovered the joy of running in high school, her smaller frame near useless in any other sport. Out on the track though, she was in her element, a near unstoppable force. Although not fast enough to win any national championships, locally she won gold after gold for her school. In return, she was offered a scholarship that supported her choice of university. It had started as an escape from the torture of field hockey and basketball, developed into an escape from her hometown and finally had become a sure-fire method of relaxation and contemplation. The first ten minutes were always the worst but once that line was crossed, that boundary shattered, Devon could run for miles.

She headed east first, spending those first painful ten minutes heading into the rising sun. When the sun became almost too much without sunglasses, Devon crossed her boundary line, turned back and decided to run through town. A vague memory of a dirt road leading into the barren surrounds was direction enough and she settled into the smooth rhythm of a well-practised pace. She didn't rush or push herself, just enjoyed the familiar feel of her body working. She found the turn off about half a mile past Rusty's and she turned down the dirt road. The surface was not in bad shape, although with each step Devon caused a puff of dust to rise into the morning air. A few purple flowers struggled for life along the side of the road, battling alongside the stalks of dried looking grass. A gentle wind blew, cooling the growing moisture on her skin, carrying with it a faint perfume. Devon noticed all of these things and allowed her mind and her thoughts to spin to a halt. Suddenly there was nothing but her controlled breathing, a raised but steady pace and the promise of the next stride. Oblivion of the kind unobtainable by any other means settled over her and she was at peace.

Once Devon had quit the track teams of her youth, she had stopped monitoring the length of time or the distance she had run. Instead, she preferred to let her body tell her when it was time to turn for home or, in some cases, rest. The sun was doing a good job of warming the air as thoughts began to trickle back into her conscious mind. They came slowly, her body's need for fluid, the growing weariness of her leg muscles, and then like water from a broken dam, reality returned in a rush.

She stopped jogging and drank some water from the slim-line container strapped to her waist. Gently stretching as she drained the water, Devon was surprised to see a lone coyote sitting twenty feet away, watching her, his fluffy tail wrapped around his feet. "Hi," she greeted, smiling to herself. The coyote's ears twitched at the sound of her voice but it made no other move. "Nice to meet you," she continued. "I'd ask to shake your paw but I would hate for you to be insulted." This time the dog cocked his head sideways, giving Devon a confused expression. "¿Hablas español?" she asked, but before the words were out of her mouth, the coyote was dashing away, his huge tail waving like a flag.

A cloud of dust approached from further down the road, the rumble of a truck chasing away the morning stillness. Devon watched the big fluffy tail of the coyote vanish into the distance and gradually realised how strange her presence down a remote dirt road actually was. She turned and started to jog back toward town, smiling but not stopping as the old pickup geared down behind her.

"Y'all need some help ma'am?" a familiar voice called and Devon turned to see Henry's confused face looking at her.

"No, thank you. Henry, isn't it? I saw you at Macy's. I'm Devon."

"Well mighty pleased to meet ya, Devon. Why don't you hop on in and I'll be happy to give you a ride to town."

"Because if I did that, Henry, I wouldn't be jogging anymore and I like to jog."

"Jog?" the man repeated in surprise. "Jogging ain't for nothing but getting to the men's room on time. You miles outta town here, Devon."

"That's what happens when you jog, Henry. You cover some distance."

The truck kept pace with Devon as the man wrestled with his manners. "Seems wrong for me to just drive off and leave you out here all alone."

Devon smiled her sweetest smile at the man. "Would it help if I was to politely ask you to let me enjoy my solitude again? If I requested that you please drive off and leave me all alone?"

"Well, yeah, I reckon it would. A gentleman always 'spose to respect a lady's wishes." Eventually, Henry pulled away and left Devon alone. Two minutes later, however, another truck stopped and asked the same as Henry. Three more pick-ups stopped after that. Finally, when she was only a few miles from town, Devon had the road all to herself again. She tried to concentrate on the songs of the locusts and the occasional bird, to lose herself in the rhythm of her movements but the peace would not come a second time. Nevertheless, Devon enjoyed herself and if she could not meditate again, she could at least get distracted.

"So just how many well-meaning strangers have wanted to give you a ride this morning?" Although startled by the voice, Devon could not help but laugh at the question. "That many, huh?" G chuckled, her truck slowing to keep pace.

"Guess there isn't a huge jogging population around here," she replied, smiling across at G. Rosco rode shotgun, his tongue hanging from his happy face. Seeing Devon, he woofed once in greeting.

"Not less they in a hurry. Must be a good place for it though," G replied, looking lazily around.

Devon glanced over in surprise, seeing the other woman sitting comfortably on the bench seat, one hand resting on the top of the wheel, her left elbow on the window ledge. G's hair hung damply about her face, not quite touching the collar of her white shirt. Suddenly, Devon was struck by a calm sense of confidence that emanated from the mechanic, something she had previously believed to be arrogance.

"What?" G asked and suddenly Devon realised she was staring.

"Sorry," she smiled. "I was trying to figure out what was different about you today."

"Ahh," G smirked. "I'm clean. Headed into town for some supplies."

"Town?" Devon asked, glancing down to avoid a pothole. Another truck was rattling up behind them and G honked her horn as it drew closer. The driver, another familiar face from Macy's pulled up alongside G's passenger side just long enough to smile and wave before speeding up and leaving the behind.

"Darren," G supplied. "I'm amazed that boy remembers where his steering wheel is."

Devon laughed, coughing on the dry dust that stuck in her throat. "Is there anyone you don't know around here?"

G shrugged and smiled the half smile Devon was beginning to expect. "Well if I didn't know them, then how'd I know?"

Rosco barked suddenly, staring intently at G. "What? Ya want out? I told ya to pee before ya got in." With a sigh, G stopped the truck and leaned over to open his door. Rosco hopped down and immediately ran to Devon's side where he settled into an easy gait. Devon glanced down just as the dog glanced up and the woman laughed.

"Seems he is unsatisfied with the exercise I provide," G commented, shaking her head affectionately at the hound.

In the distance Devon could see the faint outline of Rusty's garage and she increased her pace slightly. "What kind of dog is he?" she asked, noticing how both her companions immediately matched her new speed.

"Vet told me he's a Redbone Coonhound. Said that with such high pedigree I should watch out for some 'rambunctious aggression.' I found him as a pup on the side o' the road a couple years ago. He was so beat no one thought he'd make it. Not that you'd know it to look at him now."

"A pup?" Devon asked, noticing a slight breathlessness in her voice. "But he looks too old."

G laughed. "I call it his 'old man syndrome.' He moves so careful because of some missing claws. Started growing them white hairs on his muzzle couple months after I found him. Y'all should see him in the water. Damn near chases down muskrats." She paused, glancing down at her dashboard. "You know you're speeding up, right?"

"That's the idea," Devon grinned, feeling her body open its reserves and shift up a gear. "Start easy, end hard."

"Geez, G breathed in admiration. "You'd have to scrape me off the road by now. Ya want some water? I always carry some bottles."

Devon gratefully accepted and by the time she had downed the water, they had reached the main road. She kept increasing her pace steadily, Rosco at her side, G beside him until they passed Rusty's.

"How about I meet ya both at your place?" G asked moments before hitting the gas and pulling away. Devon was flat out running now, pushing her body to go faster, asking her muscles for more. Beside her Rosco kept up easily, snapping out an occasional bark simply for the sheer joy of it.

The two runners arrived at Macy's back patio with their brakes on. Rosco immediately aimed for a patch of cool concrete and flopped down, panting hard. Devon forced herself to walk in circles, feeling the ache in her legs to ease slowly and her breath to slowly calm.

"You out there tryin' to kill yo'self? I said you is a crazy fool and crazy you be! Out there running down the road like some crazy ass running fool! All Macy been hearing about this morning is some woman running down Hank's Road like she running from hell itself! What the hell you doin, girl?"

"Geez, Macy! Take a breath before ya pass out! It's called jogging! You should try it sometime!" G cut in. taking a cool bowl of water over to her dog.

"Morning, Macy," Devon smiled. "Thank you," she added, motioning to the jugs of water and lemonade the woman had placed on the table during her tirade.

"I know what it's called, smart ass," Macy snapped back at G, the narrowing of her eyes the only indication that she had even heard Devon speak. "But you explain to Macy why she be out there running like some crazy fool if she ain't crazy!"

"Well, it gives her one hell of a body if nothing else." G's reply was so cool, her timing so perfect that Devon nearly choked on a mouthful of water.

"I always knew you was crazy, G-girl and now I just be proven right. You take this other crazy woman into Bakerston with you and get her to a damn doctor! I'd do it myself but I got paying customers just now. Crazy as damn crazy be," she muttered, stomping back into the diner.

G was chuckling, leaning back against the wall with her hands in her blue jeans pockets.

"Wow," Devon said, watching Macy's exit before looking over at the mechanic. G caught her eye and smiled. "Does that mean she doesn't think I have a hell of a body?"

G laughed and dropped her head, but not before Devon saw her face flush with embarrassment. Suddenly, Devon felt too hot and on impulse she grabbed the jug of cool water and dumped it over her own head. The cold took her breath away and she gasped as it ran down her back. She pushed water up off her face with her hands and ran her fingers through her hair. When she opened her eyes, G was staring at her with such an intensity Devon felt her own face flush with embarrassment.

"Sorry. It was just too tempting," she smiled, fighting the urge to turn and run up the stairs to her apartment.

"Oh hey," G shrugged, looking hard at the ground as she pushed off from the wall. "Anyway, I'd best get going to town. Was good seeing ya again." And she was gone; there one moment, vanished the next. Devon stood looking at empty air for a moment, a little stunned by the sudden departure. "Okay, then," she finally nodded grabbing the lemonade and starting up the stairs.

Her jogging outfit was dropped on top of her dirty clothes pile and as she dug in her drawer for a clean pair of underwear, Devon realised how long it had been since she had done some laundry. Certainly before she had arrived in … damn, she cursed silently. She still did not know the name of the town. She showered quickly, as was her habit after jogging and dressed in a cool pair of linen pants and a close fitting t-shirt. Devon gathered together the dirty, rumpled clothes and stuffed them into a duffel bag, zipping it closed just as someone knocked on her door.

"Seems to me that I was rude to just leave so sudden before. Thought I might ask if you'd maybe like to come to town with me. If you ain't got no plans for the day."

Watching G's obvious discomfort, Devon half expected the woman to start kicking the ground and say 'aw shucks'. "Do you think you could maybe take me to a laundromat?" she asked response and both women smiled.

The drive to Bakerston took little over a half an hour and the women filled the time talking, both comfortable in each other's company. Macy's earlier outburst came up and they both laughed. "So how long has Macy been there anyway?" Devon asked. "One minute it seems like she arrived a week ago and the next you'd think she owned the whole town."

G laughed. "She sure has a way, don't she? I ain't too sure how long she's been running her roost. I been at Rusty's nearly three years and she all but adopted me when I landed. Mighty grateful she did, too," G added after a moment.

"So what's your story, G? And what the hell is G short for anyway?"

"Gina," the mechanic answered with a shy smile. "Was named after my mama and my mama's mama and … you get the point. Been called G since I was a baby."

"Gina," Devon repeated, studying the woman's profile. "Suits you. It's a beautiful name."

G smiled her half smirk and glanced out the window as Devon realised what she had just implied. "May I ask what brought you out here?" Devon quickly asked, hoping to save G from her discomfort.

"Other than my truck? Don't much know. Like I said, I just landed here. I was just driving trying to find a place to be. Clutch started sticking so I pulled off the interstate and asked Billy if I could borrow some tools. Next thing ya know I was teaching him how to replace a head gasket and now, here I am."

"No family to go home to?" Devon asked distractedly petting Rosco's head.

"Oh, I got family back in Georgia," G replied bitterly. "They just don't want me in it no more."

"They're all fools," Devon stated flatly after a moment. "Every last one of them." Then she feigned interest out of the window to allow G a moment to herself.

The two women had an easy day, doing their chores, eating lunch in a quiet restaurant, discovering a mutual love of fantasy novels and finally strolling through the grocery store together. As a thank you to G for her help, Devon bought G a CD of her favourite jazz musician and it played gently in the truck as they cruised back home.

Neither wished to part from each other's company, but neither wanted to admit it either. Finally, Devon offered to buy G dinner at Macy's and they rolled to a stop outside the diner.

"Looks busy tonight," G commented as they walked to the door, but Devon never got the chance to answer.

The place was in an uproar, everybody crowded around a far table, men yelling and women screaming, Macy the loudest of them all.

"He dead? He dead? Oh good Holy Lord he's turning blue! He's turning blue like a smurf! Help! Somebody do somethin!"

Devon and G fought their way through the crowd and finally saw the cause of the commotion. A middle-aged man lay on the floor caught in the middle of a violent seizure.

Something inside Devon switched on. "G, move everyone back. Give him some room. Macy, quit your hollering and go fetch a pillow and a blanket. The rest of you move the tables and chairs out of the way." It had been so very long but practice and training took over Devon's body as she knelt by the man's head. She lifted his eyelids and saw his eyes had rolled back into his head. His mouth was slack and she thought she could see a trace of food inside. Quickly, ensuring not to restrict his movements, she checked his wrists for a medic-alert bracelet. She found one.

"Who can tell me what happened?" Devon asked in a loud but calm voice. "Was he travelling with someone?"

"He came in alone about 20 minutes ago. Had hisself a burger and soda then just went all weird like. Fell off his chair and started shaking."

"He's epileptic," Devon told the voice. "He's just having an episode."

G suddenly appeared on the other side of the man, taking off her over-shirt and bundling it under his head. "His name is Gerald Milford," she told Devon. "His wallet is on the table." She added, noting the man's convulsions were beginning to lessen. "Do epileptic fits make ya turn blue like that?" she asked.

"No," Devon answered curtly, angling her head to get a better look down the man's throat.

"Curt, I got a first aid kit in the back of my truck. And grab the flashlight from under my seat." She cast a worried look at Devon. "I got someone calling for an ambulance but it always takes a half hour to get here."

"He doesn't have half an hour," Devon told her. "He's choking. And I can't do anything until the seizure stops."

Macy crashed through the circle of spectators, a blanket and pillow clutched in her hands. G took them and immediately put the woman on crowd control duty. Curt barely made it through with the first aid kit and flashlight.

"It ain't much," G admitted as she unzipped the kit for Devon, "but maybe it'll help some."

"I need you to hold the light just like that," Devon told her in response, handing over the torch and reaching for a pair of latex gloves. She looked through the open bag and found a plastic pair of tweezers. As the seizure gradually passed and the man's muscles relaxed, Devon tilted back his head and reached into his mouth with the tweezers. Carefully she pulled out pieces of food and threw them on the floor. "There's some lodged too deep," she cursed. "Do you know how to do compressions?" she asked G.

"Yeah, I think so," the mechanic answered, moving to place her hands on the man's chest. "His heart's still beating," she told Devon. "Won't it kill him?"

"Doing compressions may kill him, yes, but not doing them certainly will."

G nodded and immediately began rhythmically compressing the man's ribcage, causing air to be pushed out of his lungs and his heart to contract. Devon stayed at his head, flashlight and tweezers in head hoping the piece of food would be dislodged. It wasn't.

Looking to G, she nodded. "Nothing so far. Have any ribs cracked?"

Busy concentrating the mechanic could only shake her head.

"Push harder," Devon ordered, returning her attention to the man's throat. She heard the faint pops as a few ribs surrendered but still no food appeared. "How far out is the ambulance?" she called out into the crowd.

"Probably only just leaving Bakerston city limits," an old man told her. "Hospital is on the far side of town."

Devon thought quickly before sitting back on her heels. "You can stop," she told G. "The obstruction is too far down." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to need a piece of tubing about four inches long, an eighth of an inch in diameter. And something very sharp."

G nodded immediately. "Curt, in the tool box in the back of my truck there is a new pack of ABS hose. Grab that and the new case of scalpels."

Devon looked up in surprise. "Scalpels?"

"Best thing for cutting hoses," G shrugged, watching Devon unbutton the man's shirt and wipe his throat and neck with several antiseptic wipes.

Curt returned, this time avoiding Macy, and handed the items straight to Devon. "Okay. G, I need you to hold his head still for me. The seizure is over so use as much muscle as you need. If you can, put a knee on his upper arms so he can't move if he wakes up."

With a scalpel and a piece of tubing in hand, Devon traded places with G and forced herself to stop for a second. Deep breath, she told herself. Gingerly she felt down the ridges of the man's trachea. She did it twice to ensure she was right and then carefully pushed the tip of the scalpel through his skin.

"Jesus, Mary and the Holy Donkey!" Macy erupted. "You gonna cut that man? Ooo, damn girl you did! He bleeding now! What are you? Some kind o' doctor or something?"

"Yeah," Devon muttered as she carefully pushed the tube into the slit she had made. A slight resistance and then suddenly Gerald Milford's chest moved and the stillness of the diner filled with the sound of hissing air. "Something like that," Devon finished as she rocked back on her heels. She watched as the man's skin turned from blue to white and finally to pink.

"Can hear the siren outside now," a voice informed them. "Probably only be 10 more minutes."

Devon nodded as she used some surgical tape from G's kit to hold the tube securely in place then quickly gathered up all the mess she had made. Dimly she could hear somebody calling her name but she did not stop, could not stop. She rose to her feet and casually walked out the back door into the cool night air.

Her lunch came back up moments later and she had to steady herself against the wall. Strong hands touched her back, her shoulder, turned her around, pulled her and then there was a body, warm and soft holding her, words soothing her. She realised she was crying but she didn't care, instead allowing herself to let go, if only for a little while.

"I was a doctor," she said quietly into the night.

Close to her G sat still, patiently listening. Gerald Milford was on his way to hospital and the diner had become the centre of attention for dozens of townsfolk. Before the ambulance had left, Devon had begged G to take her away before anyone had asked any questions. Wordlessly, G had led Devon to the truck and had driven home. Devon sat on a chair on the back porch while G fed Rosco and put away her groceries. When she emerged from the house, she had a blanket in one hand and two glasses of brandy in the other.

"Or I am a doctor. No, was. New Mexico Blessed Saints Medical Centre Chief of Surgery. I was good, too. Damn good." Out in the night a coyote howled, the sound both eerie and comforting.

"What happened?" G asked gently.

"A student. Against policy, we became lovers. Another student found out and reported us. I accepted full responsibility and lost my licence to practice medicine."

"But why? Any of your students musta been of legal age. At worst they shoulda yelled some, not fired y'all."

Devon smiled bitterly and downed the last of her brandy. "It was a catholic run hospital."

"So?" G asked after a moment of thought. "What's the pope got against a student falling for a head of surgery?"

"Probably nothing," Devon admitted, staring down at her empty glass. "The problem was that my student was gay. And so am I."

"Ah," G breathed, suddenly understanding. "They fired you for being a lesbian.

"No," Devon sighed. "They fired me for sleeping with a student. They revoked my license for being a lesbian."

"Damn," G muttered. "So you can't be a doctor anymore?"

"Never again within the state of New Mexico. Or at any church-controlled hospital in the country. Oh, fuck. Let's face it. When a doctor loses a license, their career is over."

"Gotta love them homophobes," G breathed, a further string of curses following too quietly for Devon to hear. Fireflies began to dance in the backyard and G re-filled their glasses while they watched. "So you've just been driving around since all this happened? You didn't even get the girl?"

"I hung around for a while but she stopped speaking to me immediately. Last I heard she had married a man called Buck."

G laughed. "Buck? Yeah, her word is gonna crash one day." She paused. "And you?"

Devon shrugged. "I'll let ya know when I do. Medicine was all I was ever really good at; all I ever really wanted to do."

"Well, from what I saw tonight, you don't suck at it. Gonna be the talk of the town for quite a while."

"Good time to leave," Devon replied bitterly.

"Oh, I dunno," G said gently. "This place is made up of drifters and soul-searchers. No one here is going to judge you. 'Specially not after tonight."

Devon didn't reply to that and the two women sat silently together, fireflies dancing endlessly. The coyote howled again and Rosco stood to look earnestly out into the night.

"You leave that coyote alone, Rosco," G told him sternly. "No one wants to be putting you back together. Lay down, boy."

"I should get going," Devon sighed, sitting forward in her chair.

"You can stay here if y'all to tired," G offered.

"Too tired?" Devon repeated, feeling tears prickling in her eyes. "Too fucking tired."

"Yeah, okay," G smiled, sympathetically. "Come on then, Doc. I'll show ya to your room."

Devon stood and caught the other woman's eye in the faint moonlight. "Thank you, Gina. You've no idea how much all this means. Everything you've done tonight."

"Yeah I do, Darlin'. Yeah, I really do."

Later that night, Devon dreamed again. She lay frozen in her bed, unable to move her arms. They had been stretched high above her head and securely fastened. A faint light illuminated the room, flickering like the flame of a candle. Her body was covered by a soft cotton sheet but beneath it, she was naked.

Someone moved off by the side of the bed and she tensed, waiting for the white coats and the policemen to appear. The sheet was yanked off in one smooth motion, and a moment later, warm liquid dripped onto her legs and she gasped. Strong fingers and warm hands touched her, rubbing the liquid into her skin. Her calves were caressed roughly, the fingers digging deep into her hard muscles. The pain was blissful, causing her to groan as the toughest knots gradually released.

The hands moved up to her thighs, fingers working together to twist the stress away. First the outside muscles on her right, then the left, working from her knees to her hip. The hands moved to the inside of her thighs, sliding up, gliding down, sliding higher, close but not close enough. Devon's breath caught in her throat as the gentle strong hands traced their way around her hipbones, down and behind her back, fingers meeting and caressing the top of her bottom. Moving up her spine, twisting around her ribs, meeting beneath her naked breasts. Her body responded, back arching, a soft groan escaping her lips. More oil trickled onto her chest, the hands catching it as it reached her collarbones. Again, they came so close, but the fingers skirted around her tight nipples, finding and manipulating the muscles beneath her breasts. Over her shoulders, down her biceps, forearms across her palms until her fingers were laced with the hot, oily digits.

Devon opened her eyes but saw only a pale, toned shoulder. A breast hung temptingly close to her lips and she flickered out her tongue. The body bucked sharply, the breast moving out of reach.

Lips found the inside of Devon's wrists, teeth grazing her skin. Slowly, painfully, the mouth moved up her arms to her shoulders, collarbones, neck, throat, cheek and warm sweet breath caressed her lips. There was no warning, just a hot mouth enveloping her sensitive nipple, tongue moving and rubbing. Then the other, the first nipple left to cool in the still air. Devon's back arched and she squirmed beneath the sweet torture. The mouth was merciless, moving slowly down her ribs, her stomach, down to her hips.

The hands returned, gently pushing her thighs apart but Devon need no encouragement and she spread her legs shamelessly. The hands returned to the large muscles of her thighs and she groaned, wanting more. Hair tickled the inside of her thighs and she lifted her head, hunger and pleasure feeding her curiosity. G's eyes looked up at her mischievously just as a blaze of pleasure exploded through her body.

Reality returned with a bang, faint light shining in the window showing Devon that morning had arrived. Beneath the covers, her body was in near pain. She slid her hands over her aroused nipples and she stifled a gasp. There was no teasing, no need for further arousal. Her hand slid lower, fingers sinking into her hot wetness, her thumb rubbing against her clitoris.

Almost immediately, tremors and spasms rocked her body and she bit the knuckles of her left hand to stop from crying out. Wave after wave of pleasure coursed through her, the most powerful orgasm she could ever remember having.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the pleasure subsided and Devon was able to turn onto her side and bask in the afterglow. Her final thought as she drifted back to sleep was the realisation that she had dreamed of G … again.

The art of tai chi is one seen all over the globe but when Devon finally emerged to face the day, she knew immediately that G was not performing Grasp Bird's Tail. Spins, twists, flips and other movements that Devon couldn't name. Opening the door onto the back deck, she was surprised not to hear music playing for it could well have been a dance that G was performing. Rosco was out sniffing his way around the yard so Devon sat alone on the steps and watched G in fascination. It was close to half an hour later when G finally stopped moving and noticed Devon watching. The mechanic raised a waved in greeting and leaned forward onto her knees, breathing hard.

"Do you need me to call a doctor?" Devon called.

G laughed and came closer, picking a towel up off the grass as she passed. "No thanks. Already know a good one."

"What was that you were doing?" Devon asked as G flopped down on the step beside her.

"Capoeira," G answered, drinking deeply from a water bottle.

"Ahh," Devon breathed, recognising the name. "I've heard of it but have never seen it in action. It's beautiful."

"It's brutal," G corrected. "It's been a while since I've done it but after seeing you jogging yesterday, I figured I'd see if I could remember any of it. Probably shouldn't have gone so long. Sure am gonna hurt tomorrow."

Without thinking, Devon responded. "Come and find me if you are. The right massage can help."

"That right?" G asked, catching Devon's eye and lifting an eyebrow suggestively. "Well maybe I'll do just that, Doc. Thanks."

"You were good last night," Devon blurted, flushing gently at the memory of her dream. "At Macy's. You thought fast and clearly; didn't panic; performed perfect compressions. Thank you."

"Oh hey, Doc, I was just doing what ya told me but you're sure welcome."

Devon glanced across at the mechanic's modest smile and smirked. "You're going to have to stop it with the 'Doc', G. I'm not practicing anymore."

"Nope," G grinned. "Ain't gonna. But I did have me a thought about that."

Devon groaned. "Well, you can tell me on the way back to Macy's, all right? I may as well face the music sooner or later."

"Hold that thought," G told her, jumping to her feet and striding to the door. "Let me just have a shower."

Devon nodded, happy for the delay in returning to the diner. A sudden bark pulled her attention out into the yard where Rosco was being teased by some birds. One of the feathered pests would swoop low over his head while another flew down and tried to steal whatever it was the hound had just dug up. Rosco would spin around to catch the thief and another bird would fly down to pull on his tail and when the poor boy turned to catch the third bird, it would all begin again.

Devon began to feel bad for the dog and was starting to wonder what she could do to help just as Rosco grew tired of the game. The hound picked up his prize and trotted over to the sprinkler. When he was within six feet, water began to shoot out of the jets but it stopped when he got too close. Rosco lay down, dropped his toy, and put his head on his paws. Whenever the birds came too close, the water would turn on, arch fly safely over Rosco and spray the birds.

"You are one clever dog, Mr. Rosco," Devon told him, smiling and shaking her head in admiration.

"You know, ya don't have to go back yet, if you don't want to," G told her as she came back out onto the deck, wet hair hanging about her face. "I was thinking about taking you to a fishing hole of mine. Let y'all have some good relax time before facing Macy."

Devon looked up from the sleeping dog, a look of scepticism on her face. "Fishing hole? Really?"

G laughed as she slipped her feet into straw flip-flops. "It takes about an hour to reach, but yeah. Desert disappears as you get closer. Fresh water, plenty of trout and muskrats. And best of all is I ain't ever seen another soul up there but me."

Devon was looking into G's eyes, feeling as if the rest of the world was drifting away. "That sounds wonderful."

"So ya wanna go?" G asked, a look of concern slipping up behind the smile in her eyes.

"I don't know." The deep sadness Devon had buried deep inside her bubbled to the surface and a lone tear rolled down her cheek. "G, I followed my heart and lost my soul." She reached up and brushed the tear from her face. "Now living with that knowledge is making me lose my mind. Today, please, just for today, this one moment, tell me what I should do." Devon looked up at G through watery eyes and breathed a broken breath. "Please."

G didn't even pause, Devon noticed, even though she did not think about it until later. She had picked up a couple of bags, two fishing rods and had led Devon down to the truck. She let her sit there while everything else, including Rosco, were loaded into the back of the truck. Nothing was said because no words were needed, but G gently clasping Devon's hand in her own was the kindest, sweetest, most genuine gesture Devon had ever known.

"I almost felt bad for my parents once," G smiled. "To have four sons but it's the only daughter that's out helping her daddy rebuild the engine in his old truck. The sons all play basketball and football but the daughter is suspended for fighting at school. Each boy is an accountant, lawyer or dentist while it's the girl who masters as a mechanic. In order of age, the sons meet, marry and impregnate their wives, but their daughter dates in secret, ain't allowed to get married and, sure as hellfire, don't want no kids. Wanting women is the only thing my brothers and I ever had in common."

"And that's why they kicked you out?" Devon asked. The fishing hole was just as G had described it; quiet, secluded and beautiful. The women had gone swimming, talked, eaten, talked and then they swam some more. Now they were content to lie in the warmth of the day and talk, gazing up at the occasional cloud drifting by in the blue sky above.

"Oh hell, the day I finally told em, they disowned me there and then. My name was removed from all the documents, Christmas cards and memories. My Mama burned my birth certificate and all photographs she had of me. I waited ten years for them to come round and find a way to make the fact they had a dyke as a daughter improve their standing in society, I mean, it were the popular thing to do back then. Finally, on the night of my Mama and Daddy's anniversary, or the family birthday, as they called it, I got so liquored up I thought I were sober and paid their house a visit.

"Was always the same. Mama would flutter about the house giving orders to anything that moved while Daddy smoked cigars and congratulated himself and his sons in the study. Guests would always arrive at noon and they'd party til dawn." G smiled sadly, lost in her memories. "Took em three hours to figure out why no guests were arriving."

Devon waited a few moments before quietly asking why.

"There was a big rainbow painted on the front of the house with the words 'I miss you'. I signed it from the Dead Daughter. Left town that same day and still won't look back."

"I'm sorry, Gina," Devon told her. "But I stand by my first opinion. They are all fools, every last one of them. I truly hope they come to find what they are missing."

"Would be nice," G smiled, sitting up to throw a stone into the calm water. "But it ain't gonna happen. I didn't fit, pure and simple. And I sure ain't gonna change who I am just so I can be accepted by a bunch of over-tightened assholes."

"No, don't," Devon told her. "Don't change. You are perfect just the way you are." G laughed and shot Devon a blinding smile.

"Why, Doctor Devon," she said in an exaggerated southern accent. "Are you flirting with little ol' me?" she fluttered her eyelashes for emphasis and Devon laughed.

"Damn straight I am, woman! Well, not at all actually. But I am flirting! I'd be a complete idiot if I didn't." G laughed with a disbelieving expression on her face, and Devon shook her head in amazement, sitting up to meet G's eye. "You really don't see it, do you? Gina, you are beautiful. You have shown me more kindness and compassion in the last three days than I have known in my lifetime. And I worked in a freaking hospital!" A woman would have to be straight to let you go, she added silently.

Dipping her head in embarrassment, G coughed. "You keep calling me 'Gina'," she pointed out.

"Yes, I do," Devon admitted. "Because you are the best 'Gina' of all the other 'Ginas'. They should shorten their names, not shorten yours."

G laughed bitterly at that and the two women sat silently for a long time, each surrendering themselves to their own thoughts.

"We ain't got a doctor," Gina suddenly blurted. "Bakerston has some but like you saw last night, if we get an emergency it takes a half hour for help to get here."

Devon stood and walked to the edge of the fishing hole. "No," she answered and dove beneath the water. She surfaced ten feet away and floated contentedly on her back.

"You don't even know what I was gonna say," Gina argued, watching from the shore.

"That I should stay here in … whatever this place is called … Bumfuck, Nowhere and be your doctor."

"Bumfuck," G chuckled. "I like that."

A moment passed. "I don't hear you telling me I was wrong," Devon pointed out eventually.

"Nope. Was waiting for you to realise it's the obvious answer."

"How's that exactly?"

"Well, you get to be a genuine resident of Bumfuck," Gina listed, "you get to be Macy's new best friend, you get to be a doctor again, this time where no one cares who ya sleep with, and best of all, you get to see me and Rosco every day!"

Devon laughed. She laughed so hard she cried, so hard Gina had to dive in and pull her ashore, laughed so hard a huge ball of pain inside her evaporated. She laughed so long and hard that Gina was getting concerned. "Macy was right about you, Doc. You is some crazy, white girl."

For the first night in forever, Devon slept straight through and woke up unable to recall a nightmare. She was back in her rented room, once again, Gina having dropped her off while Macy had been too busy to notice, and she stretched luxuriously. Memories of the previous day's orgasm prompted her to try for a repeat performance and ten minutes later, she was glad she had.

The laptop lay on the coffee table where she had left it days before and when she saw it, a faint whisper started in the back of her mind. Smiling, she picked it up and carried it down to the diner with her.

Devon wasn't sure what kind of reception was waiting for her in Macy's but she imagined it would be loud and intrusive. Perfect Macy style, she mused. No doubt, there would be a million questions. Devon took a deep breath to steady herself as she opened the back door.

"Well now, there she is!" Macy cried with a voice as big as her smile. "You come on now and sit yourself down in your seat, Miss Doctor Lady," she winked. "I'm gonna make you the best damn breakfast you ever had. All on the house, too!"

Gina sat at the bar drinking coffee and with a salute with the cup, she shot Devon a huge smile. "Morning Doc. Sleep well?"

"Good morning, Gina. Yes, thank you, I did. Surprisingly well, actually. I didn't expect to see you here so soon."

Gina gestured down at her grubby overalls and shrugged. "Some city doctor wants her car fixed up in a big hurry. Just won't leave me alone. All antsy and harassing."

"G-girl came on in here to tell me all about what them sumza-bitches did to you down in New Mexico. And they call themselves God's people! It ain't right, honey, and I'll even tell God next time I have reason to be calling upon Hisself. But now you tell Macy what the hell you did to that dead man? Cutting his throat like that? How he not still dead?"

Gina was quietly laughing shaking her head. "I wanted to tell her enough to get all the questions out the way," she explained to Devon. "Thinkin' now I shoulda slept in."

"Wha dat? What? A woman can't ask no questions no more? That crazy, running ass woman saved some man's life right there on my floor! I used a whole bottle of bleach on that one spot! Scrubbed til I felt like Cinderella!"

"Do they make glass slippers in your size, Macy?" Gina asked.

"They sure do. Sell em in the store right passed Skinny Ass, and Smart Ass under where it says Fine, Black Ass. Ain't no clear glass slippers, neither. They come in smoked glass for us better folk."

"Yeah," Gina chuckled. "Well I better get my lazy ass to work. You be nice to the Doc, now, Macy. Won't do us no good if y'all be scaring her off too soon."

"Scaring her? Whatchu think I'm gonna do to her, G? Tell her ol' Henry got prostate trouble? Just you go on along to that hole of yours!"

"Thank you for thinking of it, Gina," Devon smiled. "I appreciate it."

"Gina? Who dis Gina? Ooo," Macy suddenly roared. "So she be calling you by your proper name, G? You be called Gina, now?"

"I've always been called Gina, Macy. Nobody else just never thought to ask. Only folk who ask call me Gina."

For a brief moment, Macy almost looked hurt but then it passed and the big woman smiled at Devon. "Well now, here I was about to ask you some advice on my Grandmama's cooking recipes so's that I can snag me that fine piece of man, Daniel, but now I think you and me better be talking about the two of you!"

Devon paused in pouring cream into her coffee and looked blankly at Macy. "Me and Daniel?"

In exasperation, Macy plopped her hands down on her hips. "What? No, honey! You and G-girl. Two of you seem to be spending a lot of time together...if ya get my meaning."

Devon took a sip of coffee and fought the smile. "I'd guess you mean that Gina and I are spending a lot of time together."

Macy pursed her lips and turned to flip the omelette Devon had not even seen her make. "Girl, you gotta be straight up with me on this, so to speak," she winked. "I ain't gonna let some woman come into town, get G all worked up, and then smash her heart when she leaves. Ya hear me? That girl may look all tough and mean but she got a heart bigger than the Grand Canyon. I don't care if you gonna be our doctor or not but you hurt her and I'll introduce you to a world of hurt. Get me?"

All humour had left the room and Devon fought for something to say. "Macy, if I cause Gina any harm, I'll ask you for the beating and deserve every bruise. But it isn't like that. We're friends, that's all. I guess we just understand each other."

Macy held her eye for a long moment, finally breaking as she nodded slowly. "You got it bad for my girl, don't ya? Only you don't know how bad just yet."

The diner filled with the breakfast crowd then and Macy was kept busy at the grill. At one point Devon helped her out by filling coffee cups, taking orders and serving food to the tables. The two women soon found a rhythm and before the rush was over, they had begun to work so smoothly it was if they had been doing it together for years.

Finally, as they rolled into the quiet time after breakfast and before lunch, Devon powered-up her laptop computer and settled back in her chair. Unlike her previous attempt, this time the writing happened slowly and smoothly, the words appearing in her head only as quickly as she could type them out. With a cup of coffee at her side, Devon was soon lost in a world of her own thoughts.

"So here they are. The finalists. My Grandmama won some state contest or some such thing back in her day." Devon looked over the top of her laptop and saw Macy organising some recipes on the counter and re-focused her brain on what the woman was saying.

"I went through some of her best cooking and got some recipes that are gonna turn this place upside down!" Macy paused and looked around at the customers, making sure no one was listening. "Got me some ideas about the…you know," she winked and Devon couldn't help but smile. "Got myself thinking and if he had fancy food before, then steak or fried chicken ain't gonna get me the results I be looking for. So, in your opinion, you being all educated an all, which one of these is gonna make that gorgeous man butter in Macy's hands?"

The first recipe Devon read featured fillet of salmon, dill and lemon sauce. The second was a rack of lamb with new potatoes. "Macy, where are you going to find these ingredients? Surely fresh fish is way out of a hick town's usual league."

"Mmm, well, yeah I did sorta think of that but I'm sure I could substitute most things."

Devon read over the recipes again but still felt unsure. "What does he do?" she asked, deciding to try a different tact.

"That fine man is a Knight of the Road, honey," Macy said with a huge grin. "Drives a dump truck for the city of Bakerston and a tow truck for the wrecking yard." She leaned closer. "I tell ya I wouldn't mind having him rescue me on the side of a dark road! Woowee, no, I wouldn't mind that at all!"

Devon chuckled and reached for her coffee. "No Macy, I bet you wouldn't. Well, my thought is this. If he is a hard-working man, then he probably has a healthy appetite."

"Oh, okay, okay, I see what you saying. Maybe these don't have enough meat to satisfy the man. We be needing something hearty! Okay, well, a'ight. I make a damn good chilli. Course I served that here once so it won't be new and I want this to be a brand-spanking experience."

"Okay, well what about stew? Have any secrets there?"

A low voice chuckled and Devon turned to see Gina settle down beside her. "Tell her about the roadkill special, Macy?"

"Oh, now you just hush that mouth o'yours, G-girl! I was nothing but a victim in all that. Macy got taken for a ride just like the rest of you."

"A ride straight over an opossum," Gina chuckled.

For a second or two Macy looked like she was going to berate Gina further but suddenly she slapped her hand down on the counter and laughed. "That's a good one! Straight over an," she paused when she saw Devon's face.

"No, no, no. I am quite happy letting my imagination write that story, thanks anyway." Macy and Gina exchanged smiles while Devon fought the urge to shudder.

"Well, honey, I make a fine stew but ain't nobody round here gonna touch it for a long time. Can't say I blame them either," she added, giggling. "You remember ol' Lyle's face when he spat out that piece of plastic?" she asked Gina. "When we all realised what it was? Damn, I wish I had me a picture of that!"

"I don't want to know…I don't want to know," Devon kept repeating to herself, making the others laugh louder.

"Wha' dat, honey? Maybe we need to have a 'signal' about when we should shut up?" Macy put such an emphasis on the word that immediately Devon groaned.

"Dammit! I didn't want to know!"

The other two women laughed and gave each other a high five. Devon finished her coffee and as a distraction, picked up the recipes again.

"What about chicken pot pie, Macy? It's always been one of my favourites."

"Well, with all due respect, an' all, I ain't looking to hook you. I ain't got nothing against you vagitarians, you understand but I prefer some meat in my diet, if ya know what I mean," she chuckled.

Devon paused and considered saying something in response but instead chose just to ignore Macy's last comment. "Chicken pot pie isn't something you see every day but it is enough to satisfy a man after a long day at work."

"Oh but honey, I ain't looking to use food to satisfy that fine-looking man. Mm mm, just the thought of that man in my kitchen…damn! But, yeah, okay. Chicken Pot Pie sounds good. Secret to that is in the gravy, and Macy got some skills when it comes to gravy!" Just at that moment, the door opened and Daniel, the focus of the conversation, entered the diner. He sat down at Henry's table and immediately Macy was there, smiling, flirting and fluttering her stick-on eyelashes.

"I think I almost feel sorry for him," Gina said quietly and Devon smiled.

"He doesn't stand a hope in hell, does he?" she asked.

"Nope. Only thing that stops her is a girlfriend or wife and he ain't got either of them."

The women watched the exchange between Daniel and Macy until good manners told them to look away. "Anyway, I came by to tell ya that the part for your truck will be here by the end of the week. And to ask if y'all ever delivered a baby?"

"A baby? Yes, of course. Why?"

"Well Billy's sister Lucy is about to explode with her first but her husband is a long-haul trucker. Billy was gonna be in charge of getting her to the hospital but now he can't. Neither Billy or Lucy is worried about it but I know them both well enough to be concerned."

"When is she due?" Devon asked, mentally telling herself that it didn't matter. Her truck would be fixed in a week and then she would be free again.

"Two weeks Friday," Gina answered. "Not coming but gone."

"She's two weeks past due? She should be in hospital now."

Gina nodded and took a swallow of coffee. "Yep."

"Maternity would give her a bed if only because she is so late with her first baby. They'll be planning on inducing her soon, anyway."

"Did I mention she's Billy's sister?" Gina asked with a smile. "She's the smart one apparently but that sure don't say much. Anyways, that was why I asked. Good to have a back-up plan, ya know?"

Devon ceded the point with a sideways nod but felt her irritation rise a notch. "Gina this whole plan of yours to make me into the town doctor isn't going to work. You know that, right? What happened the other night was just a fluke. I'm not a doctor anymore."

Gina smiled. "But you could be."

Devon took a slow breath, surprised at how quickly her temper was rising. "No, I could not. It's done and I am done, okay? Just drop it."

Immediately Gina sensed she had pushed too far and retreated. "Didn't mean to get ya all riled up, Doc. Just seemed like a good solution all round to me."

Devon laughed coldly. "Good for everyone but me, maybe. Look, Gina, I asked you to fix my truck. Let me fix my life, okay?"

Gina studied Devon's face with a closed expression of her own. "I look upon you as a friend, Miss Devon so I was only trying to help. I'll fix your truck just as soon as I have the part." She swung out of her chair, but stood next to it, obviously wanting to say more. "Y'all remember that one day your truck ain't gonna be fixable. It's just gonna just stop and you'll be stuck in whatever place you be in. Then maybe you'll see that running ain't the same as fixing. Sorry to have disturbed you, Ma'am. Y'all have a good afternoon."

Devon watched Gina leave the diner, the mechanic's words echoing around in her head. A sudden feeling of restlessness came over her and she stood, pushing her way into the sunshine through the back door. She was angry, she realised. Angry with Gina for speaking to her so…what? Frankly? Openly? Honestly? For trying to help her be a doctor again when that was the last thing that Devon wanted. Wasn't it? For being a friend? Devon didn't know and was becoming even more furious with herself. Devon climbed the stairs to her apartment and slammed the door shut behind her.

She sulked for the rest of the day and most of the next, drinking water and eating granola bars and apples she had bought in Bakerston when she became hungry, concentrating on the words that flowed from her mind to stop from thinking about Gina. Macy's words kept coming back to haunt her, but it was silly, wasn't it? She wasn't falling for Gina. The mechanic had just been a good friend to her while she was stuck in this god-forsaken hole of a town. And what the fuck was it called, anyway? Devon pushed away from the table and began to pace the room. She had never been so lost in her life. She had travelled to other countries, a few times she had even volunteered to work in medical clinics in Africa and South America but Devon had never felt so lost as she did at that moment. When night fell she took a sleeping pill and went to bed, hoping but failing to avoid her usual nightmares.

Macy woke her the next morning, the woman appearing on the step before the sun was even threatening to rise. "You and me gotta talk, honey," was all she said as she handed Devon a cup of coffee and pushed her way inside. Still groggy from sleep, Devon settled in the armchair across from the sofa and cradled the coffee in her hands. "Now I ain't no therapist or nothing like that but even I can see that you got some issues, baby. Macy is going to sit here until you tell her what they be. And don't be thinking you can talk your fancy way out of it either. I got me a god given gift that ain't failed me yet. So talk, girl. You talk to Macy."

Devon sipped her coffee gratefully and struggled to throw off the effects of the sleeping pill she had taken the night before. "Macy, it is really early. Could we not do this later?"

"Uh uh, girl. We doing this right now. You should be able to wake up okay, being a doctor an all. Or did you make that little gem up?" she added suspisciously.

"What? No. Wow, no. I am a doctor, Macy. Fully qualified and everything. Or I was."

"Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' 'bout. Baby, you can't do something like that and just walk away from it all. You wanna be something else then a'ight but you can't decide you ain't no doctor no more cause some slut broke your heart."

"She is not a slut," Devon snapped sternly. The outburst stunning them both.

"Uh huh, okay, okay. So you still carrying a torch for that woman?"

Devon sighed and lay her head back against the chair. "It was a long time ago, Macy. I wasn't even in love with her. I just wasn't strong enough to say no."

"Yet you be defending her? Sounds like she pushed you into a relationship that ruined your career and you let that ruin your life."

Devon shook her head and looked at the woman. "Forgive me, Macy, but what business is it of yours?"

"Uh huh, uh huh. See, there be some big old problem in yo brain, girlfriend. You defending that tramp, and getting all defensive when I ask about your doctorshipness." Macy sat on the sofa comfortably, suddenly looking very smug as she opened the box of donuts she had brought with her. "Macy ain't ever wrong, bout folk."

Devon leaned her head back again, closed her eyes and listened to the other woman devouring her donuts and slurping her coffee. Inside there was a problem, and there had been a problem since the church had removed her license but Devon was not sure if she was strong enough to address it head on.

"When G-girl got here she was like you, all screwed up inside. Outside she were fine. Patient, a little shy, kept her word and polite as a button but inside you could just see the tension. Surprised her one day just like I done to you. She got real mad at me before she blew," Macy chuckled at the memory. "Thought Miss G were gonna land one on Macy! Turns out she were just so hurt and angry that she couldn't see straight."

Devon nodded without opening her eyes. "She told me about her family."

"She tell you about the girl who left her after what she did to her parents' house?" Macy smiled at Devon's surprised expression. "Didn't think so. This girl o'hers were happy enough for G to ignore her family but when she showed she cared still, the girl smacked her a few times, yelled and kicked her ass out. That's why G left Georgia."

Devon slowly processed what she had just heard. "That is horrible, Macy. How could anyone do that to her? Gina is as gentle as they get!" Macy did not reply, just nodded and watched Devon. "What? You're waiting for me to see a message or similarity in that?"

"I dunno, honey. Is there one?"

"No," Devon shrugged. "Gina left Georgia because she lost her family and her girlfriend. She had nothing left. I suppose I left New Mexico for the same reason. I had nothing to stay for." Devon looked to see Macy chewing on another donut and making rolling motions with her hands. Devon reached for a chocolate frosted cream and kept thinking. "Nope. That's it."

"Damn girl! You sposed to be smart or something! Maybe you both ran away cause you was scared. G coulda stayed and fought for her girl or her family but she didn't. You coulda fought for the girl and your job but ya didn't. Macy wants to know why when you both such strong confident women and all."

"I'm gay, Macy. I can't fight the church."

"Honey, you be talking to a big, black woman. You wanna talk about equality and power fights with me? Really? See, it don't matter if you ain't gonna win right away, the point is you ain't never gotta be afraid to fight!"

"They took my license. I couldn't practise medicine anymore."

"But you ain't wanting to be a doctor, anyway. Why not stay there and wait tables?"

Devon stood, launching herself out of the chair, but Macy was quicker. "You just sit right back on down there, girl! Macy ain't finished with you yet! Ain't gonna be no pacing and making me dizzy. Sit it down!"

"What do you want from me, Macy?" Devon was becoming angry, her voice louder than it should be.

"I wanna know why you here, honey." Macy said it so calmly, so gently that all anger fled from Devon. "Ya had nowhere to go yet you still left."

"Because I didn't want to be there anymore. I lost everything, Macy. I loved being a surgeon. I loved the hospital, my friends and my life. But I didn't love Cassy. I should have and I tried to but I didn't. I'm not ashamed of being gay. Or I never had been before that day I had to stand before the tribunal and listen to Cassy tell everyone I had seduced her."

"Did you?"

Devon smiled at the question. "She showed up on my doorstep one night. The attraction was mutual. But after we were found out, I accepted the responsibility for the relationship so at least one of us kept our career."

"Okay, okay. So you expected some loyalty from her after? And she didn't bring ya none."

"No, she didn't. No one did. Even my gay friends on the faculty. I didn't run because I was scared, Macy. I left because I was angry. I was so fucking pissed off that no one would stand by me." Devon sat with her elbows on her knees, staring down between her feet. Macy sat patiently and waited. Finally, Devon smiled and looked up. "That's the connection? We were both betrayed?"

"Dat it," Macy confirmed.

"And now I have been set free from my demons?"

"Oh hell, honey I ain't no priest! I don't know the first thing about demons. But I know you still gotta figure out if ya wanna be a doctor. See, if you don't wanna be our doc, ain't no one gonna be upset. But if you only saying that you don't wanna be our doctor cause you still mad or scared then we got us a problem."

The recent relief forgotten, Devon sank back in the chair. "It's not that easy, Macy."

Macy sat forward on the sofa. "Oh baby, course it is. Why you wanna lose that huge part of you cause ig'nant fools gotta get in yo face? Ain't there something in the Hypocritic Oath about not walking away from healin'?"

"Hypocratic Oath, Macy," Devon smiled. "But yes. Only if I don't have a license, I am legally not allowed to practice any kind of medicine."

"So get yo'self a license for our fine state! Honey, you is gay and you are capable of loving someone. Ain't no court in the world gonna hold that against ya forever! The question is, you still a doctor or not?"

Devon sat forward again. "Macy."

"It a yes or no moment, girl."

Devon stopped. She looked at Macy and saw the stubborn expression on the woman's face. There was going to be no getting out of it. But why was it so difficult, she asked herself. Why could she just not let it go? The decision had been taken away from her over a year ago. They had taken it all away from her and yet her she was still thinking about it. And then, it hit her, the ridiculousness of it all. For the first time in her life she was thinking about being a doctor and whether or not she wanted to be one. There was no question and never had been. She had never doubted it. She had never once wondered if that was what she wanted. Now here she sat, fully trained, experienced and proven and she was thinking about it.

"Why you smiling?" Macy asked.

"Because me having to think about this is ridiculous. I have always wanted to be a doctor. I still do. Only, I don't want to be a doctor who is ashamed of her past. I want to be a doctor with nothing to hide. I want to be that person I was before Cassy."

"Oh, so you be out here trying to run from all the bad shit so's that you can get back to the good stuff? That woman o' two years ago? Can't be her no more. She busy screaming for the hills, girl."

Devon smiled at the mental image. "I'm scared of being rejected," she suddenly admitted. "By the Board and Committees. And of having to live in the shadow of what happened."

Macy laughed, a big booming sound. "Oh honey, we all scared o'dat. Way I figure it, we all gonna get hit by karma's toilet while we here and breathing but there gonna be people that respect you for the way you didn't lie. You took the heat, girl! You took all the heat! One day that Cassy even gonna realise just what she cost you and then she gonna be sorry. Dat's the thing about time, honey. Moves people away from what happened until they too far and can't see it all clearly anymore. Then they start to think differently about it. But who gives a Holy Fig Tree what other people think? Look at me, baby! People wanna laugh at me they can kiss my,"

"I know, I know," Devon interrupted. "Yo fine black ass."

Macy swooped Devon into a suffocating hug. "You sure right there, girl! Now Macy gotta go open up 'fore them truckers break down my door. You get yo'self down there and help me out with them plates, a'ight? Oh," she added as she reached the door. "Don't you be thinkin we done talkin either. G-girl be falling for you and I ain't having her hurt. We gonna talk," she promised again finally leaving and closing the door behind her.

Left alone, Devon showered and dressed before settling down in front of her computer. She sent an email to her one time friend who served on New Mexico's Medical Board, informing him of her impending appeal. That single act ignited a small fire inside her and before she realised what she was doing, she had composed and sent an email to Nevada's State Medical Board. "Ain't worth worryin bout it til it happens," she muttered to herself in a bad imitation of Macy. Devon was smiling as she went down to help in the diner.

It took her most of the day to realise that something had changed but Devon simply thought it was her recent decisiveness adding some stability to her life. After feeling so lost for so long, suddenly she had a destination and a reason to find it. She felt like she was back; as if she had been gone from her own reality for a very long time. She and Macy reviewed recipes repeatedly but eventually Macy decided on making a chicken potpie with mashed potatoes and green beans. At first she seemed unconvinced that Daniel would be impressed but Devon pointed out that if Macy were to win the man, she wouldn't want him expecting fancy food every night.

"You still a crazy white girl," Macy admitted, "but you got some smarts in there too."

Devon smiled and turned back to her laptop and the waiting cursor that blinked patiently. The door opened and she turned to see who had entered but when she saw Henry and his gang of friends, she turned back disappointed. She scanned back up through the words she had written, checking, smoothing and editing where necessary, but nothing new came to her mind. She typed a few ideas just to see how they would work, but always she deleted them again. The door chimed again but this time it was a trucker bringing in a smell if stale cigarette smoke.

"You gonna be getting whiplash if you keep spinning your head around like that," Macy told her quietly, feigning interest in a gossip magazine.

"Sorry?" Devon asked, turning back around.

Macy looked up from a picture of the latest famous couple and blinked innocently. "I said you gonna be getting whiplash if you keep looking at the door that quick. She gets angry and we don't see nothing of her for over a week sometimes. Got her a fine temper, that one."

"Who do you mean, Macy?" Devon asked, already knowing the woman was speaking about Gina.

"Oh, you think you can play all dumb with Macy? I already told you I got some skills at reading people, Miss Doctor Woman. You be waiting for my G-girl to come walking on in that door like you didn't dis her down the other day. Well, I'm telling you it ain't gonna happen."

Devon had nothing to say to that but was confused by the rush of shame and disappointment that washed through her mind. "I was rude, wasn't I?" she asked, not needing an answer. "I've just never done well at being organized."

"Ain't me you need to be saying that to, honey. There a woman out there that has feelings for you and she's the one that need to hear it. And don't you be rolling your eyes at Macy, neither! She be hooked on you the moment you came to town, you know it and I know it."

Devon thought back to when Gina had emerged from the work pit all those days ago. "Macy, she wasn't. I was there, okay? Gina didn't fall for anybody."

"Oh no? Then how is it a woman who spends most of her time alone not talking to anybody suddenly comes on out from her shell the exact same time you get here?"

It took Devon a minute to answer, too many responses fighting for supremacy in her mind. "I don't know, Macy," she finally admitted. "I don't know."

Macy leaned forward onto the counter, her magazine all but forgotten. "Now you gonna try tell me you don't be feeling nothing for her?"

"Hey, woman! You running a diner here or what?" Henry suddenly hollered from across the room. "We some paying customers without coffee!"

"Just you be holding on to your pretty little shorts, Henry. Got me some crisis talk going on just now."

"It's okay, Macy," Devon told her. "I'm going to go up to my room now, anyway. I think I can feel a migraine coming on."

"Ooo they nasty little bastards, them migraines! You go on, Honey and get some rest. You be needing anything, just flip that porch light off and I'll come running."

Henry hooted with laughter. "Macy, you couldn't run if your life depended on it!"

"Or if she started, gonna be no stopping her," another voice added.

"Wha' dat? What you say, Needle Neck? You be commenting on Macy's fine self? Well, now look at that. Good thing Daniel just be coming through the door or Macy'd be whupping yo' skinny white ass!" It took Macy only a split second to know that Daniel had some news to share, and then she was on him. "Ooo Daniel, you be looking like you carrying the world on your shoulders just now! Sit your fine self down, and tell Macy what going on."

"Just got back from driving Lucy and Billy into Bakerston," he announced. "Lucy had herself a fine, healthy baby boy this afternoon." A cheer went up from all in the diner and Devon chose the moment to slip quietly out of the diner. Briefly she considered a late night jog but she knew the conflict in her mind would not be solved by avoiding it. Instead, she chose to walk through town, letting the thoughts roll freely, trying to solve each problem as she went. Rusty's was closed up and dark, something that did not surprise Devon, but the feeling of disappointment at finding the garage that way certainly did.

Sleep waited for her when she got back to her room and after some heavy deliberating, Devon chose not to take a sleeping pill, a decision she regretted when the nightmares started. They rolled through her subconscious mind back to back, not letting her wake between them so when she finally fought free of sleep's hold, she was exhausted. Dawn had come and gone and she blinked in the bright sunlight that filtered through the blinds. A shower and clothes, laptop beneath her arm and she was ready to meet the day. She closed her door firmly behind her and started down the wooden stairs, only to freeze on the second step. Her truck was parked down on the gravel beside Macy's patio furniture, the bright yellow paint gleaming in the sunshine. An envelope lay beneath the window wiper and Devon tore it open, expecting to see an invoice for the total repair. Instead, she found a professional looking record of all the work Gina had done, including a detailed cleaning, but alongside each job, where the cost should have been listed, Gina had simply marked a line. At the bottom of the paper where the total amount should have been, Gina had simply written the words 'paid in full'.

"Oh Gina," Devon sighed. She folded the paper and slipped it into her back pocket. The truck was locked so she went into the diner to order two coffees and muffins to go.

Macy greeted her with her normal morning cheer and pointed to a set of familiar looking keys on the counter. "G-girl dropped them off for you little while ago, asked me to keep them for you."

"Thank you, Macy," Devon smiled, helping herself to the muffins and coffee.

Macy just watched from her post at the stove, not saying anything until Devon scooped up the keys and turned to go. "She ain't at the garage, today. Said she had some things to take care of at home. I see you going to see her already or I'd be telling you to get yo' crazy ass out there real fast. I know what she look like happy, and that weren't it."

"Not happy?" Devon repeated. "What's wrong?"

"I look like an oracle to you, honey? Just you get yo' crazy white ass out there like I say and don't you be coming back here til my girl got a smile on her face, ya hear what I'm saying?"

Devon did not stop to answer, choosing to scurry out the door instead. Her truck started on the first try and she could not help but breathe a big sigh of relief as familiar smells and familiar music washed over her. She backed the truck out carefully and grinned as she gunned the powerful engine down the road. For a fleeting moment she wanted to shout 'I'm back' at the top of her lungs but concern for Gina washed the moment away.

It seemed to take no time at all for her to reach Gina's house and she was surprised to see an old style corvette parked beside the old pick-up truck. Devon parked her own vehicle in a way that did not block anyone else and climbed out into the growing sunshine.

Rosco saw her almost immediately and gave a friendly bark that washed away a tremor of trepidation Devon had not even realised was there. "Good morning, Mr. Rosco. How are you doing today?" The dog wagged his tail and led her to the half open screen door. Devon knocked against the door jam and called out. "Hello?"

A moment later, Gina stepped into view, stopping short the second she saw Devon. "Miss Devon. What can I do for y'all this morning?"

"Hi, Gina. I wanted to thank you for my truck. Oh, I brought coffee and muffins but they're in the truck still." She stopped talking as Gina came closer and Devon saw the look on her face. "Have you been crying? Are things okay?"

"You don't need to thank me for nothing , Miss Devon," the mechanic replied, deliberately avoiding the questions. "I just did my job, is all."

"What's wrong, Gina? And don't brush me off with those polite southern manners, either. Macy'll skin me alive if I don't go back with something to tell her."

Gina smiled at that, but only shook her head slowly in response.

"Gina, tell me, please. I want to help. If I can."

Gina lifted her eyes to trap Devon's and for a second it seemed to Devon as if the world shifted. Time froze, space stopped and all in between paused. A feeling of pure contentment washed over her, not erasing or disguising anything else, just sneaking gently between and around it all.

"Come on in, Doc," Gina said, and for the briefest moment of time, Devon believed she could fly into Gina's soul.

Gina led her into the kitchen where she started to pour a cup of coffee for them both but Devon retrieved the coffee and muffins from her truck instead.

"What do you know about Hepatitis C?" was all Gina said and it took all of her strength not to fall apart as the words came out.

Devon saw it and chose her words carefully. "Hepatitis C happens after an infection of the Hepatitis C virus or HCV, and like all Hepatitis viruses, it affects the liver, causing fibrous growths that slow and eventually cease liver function. It is most commonly transmitted through 'dirty' blood or infected needles, but bodily fluids and unprotected sex are also risks. Hepatitis C is generally seen in four stages. You're smiling," Devon suddenly said.

Gina shook her head, the small smirk still on her face. "You sound like a medical journal," she said.

Devon shrugged, ignoring the rush of blood to her face. "Too many students, I guess."

Gina took a sip of coffee and nodded as she looked down at the cup. "You've seen people with it?"

"Hep C? Sure. It's the number one cause of liver failure. Head of Surgery, remember? I can't tell you how many transplants I've done or seen done." Devon wanted to ask more but knew, trusted that Gina would tell her when she was ready.

"At what stage does it become untreatable?"

"Death," Devon replied bluntly. "The liver is damaged from the very first sign of infection but unless the liver decides it's had enough abuse, penicillin usually knocks HCV out. It's serious, don't get me wrong, but when you see people with complete organ failure brought on by advanced stage AIDS or cancer," Devon shrugged.

"So it isn't as serious as cancer?" Gina asked, a look of confusion on her face.

"I'm not saying that," Devon corrected. "If HCV is caught in one of the first two stages, the virus can be destroyed by antibiotics and the damage controlled and monitored. If it is left to progress into the final stage, then liver failure is the main concern, and when more than 20,000 people are waiting for a liver, that's a big problem."

In the back of the house a toilet flushed and a moment later a man entered the kitchen. "Morning," he drawled to both women. Gina simply looked up and nodded but when Devon rose from her seat to introduce herself, southern manners won out.

"Miss Devon, like you to meet my brother, David. And that," she added a moment later when a second man entered the kitchen, "is Luke. His boyfriend."

Once again, her years of training and practice saved her and Devon politely shook David's the Luke's hand. She uttered the usual greetings and the men smiled and muttered the same. A moment of uncomfortable silence followed and Devon fought the urge to fill it but as the stillness stretched, she failed.

"So you are both visiting from Georgia?" she asked, her best doctor's voice sliding into place.

"Yes, ma'am," Luke answered, casting uncomfortable glances between Gina and her brother. "David, uh, he had some news he wanted to share with his sister. They haven't seen each other for a while," he added a moment later, as if to explain the tension.

"Yes," Devon nodded. "So I understand." Her mind was working fast behind her friendly smile and a glance into the man's eyes confirmed that David had come to tell his sister he had been infected with the Hepatitis C virus. The slight yellowing of the whites of his eyes was unmistakeable, as were the spider-like marks on his arms and hands. Drawing on her past experience, Devon made an educated guess that David had entered the third stage of the disease. She debated saying something to that effect but a glance at Gina persuaded her to keep things to herself.

"We were hoping to have some breakfast and then head into that town you mentioned," Luke informed them.

Gina suddenly pushed to her feet and walked out onto her back deck. Devon watched her go then offered the men the muffins she had brought with her. She showed Luke where to find some coffee cups and ensured they knew the way to Bakerston before excusing herself.

Gina was out pacing around her back yard, hands on her hips, breathing deeply, obviously agitated. Suddenly she threw her body into the air, twisting and spinning before she landed softly on the grass. She paced some more then began a sequence of moves Devon found mesmerising. Wearing a tanktop and a pair of loose pants, Gina seemed to flow and glide through the air, muscles moving beneath her skin, her body seeming to stretch and snap effortlessly to a rhythm only she could hear. Devon sat upon the step as she had a few days ago, Rosco laying at her side, content beneath her slow moving hand.

The Luke emerged from the kitchen to say they were leaving and then they were gone, the wheels of their car spitting gravel as it accelerated down the road. Gina continued as if she had not heard, lost in her own world of physical endurance. Finally, after half an hour she faltered, landing heavily on her arm, crying out in pain. Devon was at her side immediately, asking if she was hurt, but Gina waved her off, rolling to her feet and walking away.

"I wanted to apologize for going off on you the other day," Devon said, shifting onto her bum and wrapping her arms around her knees. "I was out of line."

"You were just angry," Gina replied, breathless from her recent exertions. "I didn't take it personal."

Devon nodded, her eyes never leaving Gina. "I've missed you," she said suddenly, surprising them both. A wave of discomfort washed over her but she ignored it. It was true; the gentle tingles that flowed up and down her spine whenever the woman smiled, the warm feeling of compassion that seemed to emanate from Gina. They seemed so familiar and yet she had never noticed them before.

Gina stopped pacing and turned to look at her. "I fixed your truck," she said.

Devon smiled and nodded. "I noticed, thank you. I won't accept the bill, though. I owe you for the work."

Gina wiped sweat off her face with her hand, and walked to the deck where she had a bottle of water waiting. Devon stood and followed, reclaiming her seat on the step.

"You gonna be heading out soon?" Gina made the question sound like a statement as she sat on the other side of Rosco.

"Yeah, probably," Devon admitted grudgingly. "Macy had a talk with me and helped me sort some things out. I've appealed the decision to revoke my license and plan on applying for a license for Nevada."

Gina nodded as if none of it was news to her, but it probably wasn't, Devon suddenly realised. Gina had spoken with Macy this morning when she dropped off the keys to her truck.

"That's good. You're a good doctor, Devon. No one should chase y'all away from it."

"You know that's the first time you have called me by my name? Without adding 'Miss'?" Devon had meant the comment to make Gina smile but instead the mechanic quietly apologized. "David just showed up, huh? After however long?"

Gina nodded down at her hands. "Yep. Couple days ago. Said he'd been looking for me for a while. He and his boyfriend." She said the word without any emotion, which to Devon, spoke volumes.

"Obviously you weren't expecting Luke." A snort of laughter confirmed her guess. "David is in the third stage of Hep C, is my guess. His liver has been damaged and its function altered but it doesn't indicate whether or not things will get worse for him. From a medical perspective, while it is serious, he is a long way from a transplant list."

"You can tell all that just by looking at him?" Gina asked, obviously impressed.

Devon shrugged. "When you've seen as many cases of liver failure as I have, it isn't too hard. Did he say whether or not he has been treated? Or Luke?"

Gina nodded and took another swallow of water. "Luke is fine. They caught it early in him so it…I don't know. Went away?"

"It's a virus," Devon said. "Many people's own immune system kill it without help. But antibiotics can do the same."

"David said he had it a long time before any signs showed up. He's on medication now and says they're working. I don't know what that means," she added a moment later, and instantly Devon understood.

"It means that the damage to his liver has been stemmed. He likely has compensated cirrhosis, a term meaning that while his liver has been damaged, it can still function. Did he say how long he has been suffering from it?"

"He's been closeted-gay since college. They don't know when he contracted it but it has been a while."

The ramifications of what Gina had just said hit Devon like a bus. All the while Gina was being excommunicated from her family, David had chosen to hide his own sexuality instead of supporting his younger sister. The feeling of betrayal must have been almost crippling but for her to know the depth of that cruelty now must be agonizing. Devon fought against wrapping her arms around the other woman and when Gina cleared her throat to ask more, Devon knew she had made the correct choice.

"How long does it take?"

"It varies from person to person. There is no set timeline. Gina, I'm not an expert but from what you've said, I wouldn't encourage you to buy a black outfit just yet."

Gina nodded and murmured her thanks before falling quiet. Devon sat still beside her, content just to wait. Rosco eventually rose from between them and went out to sniff around the yard, roll in the scrub and patchy grass, dig a shallow hole and finally to fall asleep in the shade. Suddenly Gina sniffed and rose to her feet, walking back inside her house. Devon left it a few minutes before quietly following. She found the mechanic leaning against the sink, head hanging low, not moving.

Devon stopped a few feet behind her not sure of what she should do. But when Gina gave a shuddering breath, she stepped close and put her hands on the woman's shoulders.

"He is fucking gay!" she hissed. "He watched me lose them all then went out to suck some guy's fucking dick!"

"I know," Devon murmured gently, moving closer, letting the warmth of her body touch Gina's, adding comfort. "I know."

"Fucking gay, fucking gay, fucking gay," Gina repeated, gradually losing control, the tears coming faster. Finally, Devon turned her around and pulled her into her arms, holding her close and letting her cry. She murmured gentle words, nonsense really, but enough that Gina would know she was there and that she was safe.

The morning moved into afternoon and a wind began to blow. Clouds raced across the blue sky, challenging the sun and combating the heat, gradually gaining ground. Debris, including dramatic tumbleweeds, danced in celebration of the battle and the usually still desert became a place of movement and flight.

The two women spent the time together, talking easily, crying occasionally and laughing often. Gina told Devon the whole truth about her escape from Georgia and praised again Macy's intervention in her life. In the stillness that followed Gina's tale, Devon told her about how Macy had appeared on her doorstep and bullied her into dealing with her issues. She was as honest as Gina had been, talking about Cassy and the betrayal, her fear of rejection and her decision to apply for a license in Nevada. Immediately, Gina began telling her how far away all the major cities were, whether to re-assure Devon that she would not push anymore or because of a natural assumption, Devon was not sure. Truth was, Devon had given no thought about where she was going to go. One step at a time, she had decided. It would take several weeks for her to hear anything from the medical board and only then could she begin looking for available positions.

"Lucy had her baby," Devon suddenly remembered. "Did Macy tell you?"

"No, she didn't. Didn't give her time for anything this morning. Weren't much into conversation."

Devon smiled sympathetically. "Bouncing baby boy. Daniel drove her and Billy to the hospital yesterday."

Gina nodded. "He's a good man, that. Macy'll do good to get him. Lucy all right?"

"Just fine, I presume. Daniel didn't really say." The rumble of a car reached them from down the road and suddenly the easy atmosphere changed. "How long are they staying with you?" Devon asked gently.

Looking in the direction of the sound, Gina shrugged. "Didn't say. Just appeared on my doorstep, said he was sick, said he was sorry and said he was gay. I haven't been in good enough shape to wonder about it. Don't even know why he's here."

"Maybe because he is sick, sorry and wanted you to meet his boyfriend?" Devon suggested.

"Could you stay for supper?" Gina suddenly asked. "I know it's a lot to ask but being alone with em just makes me wanna break something."

Devon reached out and squeezed Gina's hand. "I'll stay as long as you like. I really have missed you."

"Can't much promise to be good company," Gina said as if she had not heard Devon's last comment.

"I doubt that," Devon smiled.

"Y'all gonna make me blush, Miss Devon," Gina drawled with a smirk. She turned her head and looked Devon in the eye, and for a moment that was all there was; Devon's eyes. The temptation to reach out and kiss her was almost painful to deny but Gina did. She knew she was being emotional and the comfort she felt with Devon was too easy. But in a few days, maybe even in the morning, Devon would be climbing into her truck and driving out of her life. Gina was not afraid of being alone but she was terrified of being hurt again. Keep it together for just a little longer, she told herself, tearing her eyes away. Just a little longer.

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Devon was saying. "It's just been a long time since I have been so comfortable with another woman. I miss that companionship, I guess."

Gina smiled. "Y'all know that ain't what Macy is saying, don't ya?" she teased as she rose to go back inside. The wind had picked up even more and the sky darkened to a heavy grey. It was going to be a good storm, she knew, and inside she smiled. She loved storms in the desert. So big, so loud, so wild and free.

"What is that crazy woman saying about me now?" Devon asked, following Gina into the house. "I know what she's saying about you…"

"Me?" Gina asked in surprise. "She can't read me any better than she can read a Spanish map! What does she thinks she knows?"

Devon laughed, as the two men timidly opened the front door. "You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine." Gina laughed in response, placing their coffee cups in the sink.

"Well Miss Devon, you guess you got a magic touch," David said as he entered the kitchen, carrying a bag of groceries. Luke came in behind him with several more and gentle placed them down on the table. "My sister hasn't even smiled at me since I got here."

Devon bit back a harsh retort and fought for something kinder to say. Gina got there first. "Don't call me that, David. I'm not a part of your family anymore."

"I remember changing your diapers, little sister," David reminded her. "You've always been a part of my family."

Gina turned with fury in her eyes and Devon moved to stand between the two. Luke surprised them all. "David, shut up! G owes you nothing, but you owe her one hell of a lot! I told you before we started this stupid trip, whatever she says goes."

"This is a family matter, Luke," David said coldly.

"And I have more reason to call you family than she does," Luke reminded him. "I lived in her shoes, baby, I can only imagine what this is like for her. Shut up and go lie down." Luke waited a breath until David stormed out of the kitchen before turning back to the women. "I'm real sorry about that. The disease makes him irritable sometimes. I bought some groceries in town. Would you like me to cook supper for y'all?"

"Thanks, Luke. That would be a great help," Gina said. "Can we help?"

Luke's face lit up with a huge, grateful smile. "No, but I could always do with some positive company, if you've a mind to stay."

Together the three chopped, grated and diced ingredients before settling down around the table with glasses of red wine. Luke had checked on David and found him fast asleep on the bed. He had left him to sleep and returned to the kitchen with a relieved expression.

"He hasn't always been like this," he explained apologetically. "After his diagnosis, of course it flew through the legal community like wildfire in a cotton field. He had told his doctor that he must have stabbed himself with an infected needle but I guess his wife didn't buy it. He was investigated and we were found together at my house. I came out to my family when I was 21 and I thought that was a nightmare. My mama and papa had me at a gay camp quicker than you could say a fast prayer. I wasn't allowed to leave for over a year. Only when I swore to the Holy God that I felt no illicit attraction to men did they let me go. Dropped me at the nearest bus stop with a one-way ticket to nowhere with nothing but the clothes on my back. Was a test they said; if God forgave me my sins then I would be well looked after. Well I guess he didn't forgive me 'cause I worked the streets after that. Met your broth…sorry, I met David after I got arrested. He gave me a chance to get back on my feet and I took it. We've been together since."

"So you meant it when you said you lived in my shoes," Gina said gently.

"Yep, I sure did. When he told me about what had happened to you, I wanted to smack him. When he told me that he wanted to come find you, I tried to persuade him to phone first but he wouldn't. Guess he thought that you would just hang up on him."

"He's right," Gina acknowledged. "I would have. We were close once, the two o'us. Did everything together. He was the first one I told." She laughed bitterly. "At least now I know why he begged me not to say anything." She took a sip of wine and shook her head. "Does…did he talk about me?"

Luke looked down into his glass. "No. He never mentioned you at all. When he got too sick to work," he paused and looked to Devon, but she interrupted him.

"HCV. Compensated cirrhosis, I know."

"She's a doctor," Gina explained, smiling at his startled expression. "I just had to say Hep C. She figured out the rest."

"Nice," Luke smiled. "Well when it became chronic he couldn't work anymore. His memory, his concentration just wasn't there anymore. I was helping him pack and found a handful of photos of the two of you."

"Couldn't have been," Gina said, shaking her head. "My mama destroyed them all."

Luke shook his head. "No, it was you. A couple newspaper clippings, too. You won a martial arts thing. There were pictures of you at a party, riding a dirt bike, playing baseball. One of you standing with a girl. When I asked him about them, he started to cry and couldn't stop for hours. That's when he told me what had happened to you and what he had done." Luke saw Devon reach for Gina's hand and he finished his wine in a gulp. "I'm not telling you this so you'll forgive him, G. If I were you, I doubt I ever could but I figure it's only fair for you to know."

"I'm not looking for your forgiveness, G," David said from the doorway. "I know I will never get that. I'm your big brother and I fucked up. I should have stood up to them all. I should have had your back. I'll never forgive myself for what I did, or didn't do. This hepatitis crap made me re-think alot of my decisions about life. Bonnie was happy to live her life in supposed ignorance, bagging every pool boy or deliveryman she met. We divorced amicably enough. I wanted Luke and I wanted to be able to be seen with him in public. I didn't want the lie anymore, but most of all I needed to see you again. To look you in the eye and tell you I wasn't as strong as you. But I should have been. I needed to tell you I'm sorry, G. I am ashamed and so very sorry for being such a coward."

"Do they know?" Gina said quietly, distractedly playing with Devon's hand.

"They do. I told them all at Thanksgiving. Remember how we used to laugh about you taking your turn, standing up and giving thanks for your girlfriend? I kind of stole it. Luke was there with me and after I gave my thanks for him, I kissed him. Mama actually fainted."

Despite herself, Gina laughed. "I bet." She sat still for a moment then took a deep breath. She slowly stood and faced her brother. "I don't forgive you, Davey, and I don't know if I ever will. I understand the fear of coming out but you were my big brother, my best friend and you just stood there. You never even told me."

"I thought it was a choice and I believed if I fought long enough it would go away," he said with a shamed expression.

"It's who we are, David. We are gay. And it's okay. There is nothing wrong with us. You need to learn that," she added after a moment. "Give me some time," she shrugged. "Right now I am still real pissed at y'all and real hurt. But give me time, okay? Just some space and some time."

David nodded and swallowed against a wave of tears. "I can do that. Thank you."

Gina nodded and turned away, fighting her own tears. "Shut up and let my dog outside or I'll let him pee in your shoes."

Smiling at his sister's back, David followed her instructions and pushed the screen door open for Rosco.

After dinner, the two women sat out on the deck, sheltered from the storm, watching nature at its most magnificent. David and Luke had washed the dishes together and then had retired to the spare room. The tension in the house had eased significantly and everyone was slowly relaxing. Devon and Gina did not speak for a long time, simply enjoying each other's company and riding the sexual tension that had been developing between them all day.

"I missed you, too," Gina admitted quietly into the night. "I know Macy has been saying I'm falling for you. Thing is, she's right. I never was very good at…I don't know. Timing, I guess. This ain't a good time for either of us. Y'all gonna be back on the road real quick and I gotta deal with David." Gina let the sounds of the storm settle between them for a moment, allowing both of them to think. "It sure is a shame, but we both know it can't work."

Devon watched Gina, a million thoughts and feelings running through her. Gina was right she knew, the timing was not the greatest but it rarely was. What mattered was if both people were willing to make the changes that would make the timing work. Sometimes you made your own timing. "May I say something?" she asked quietly.

Gina looked up into her eyes and for the second time that day, Devon's world froze. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, the rain pelted down but she was oblivious to all of it. All she saw was Gina. All she wanted was Gina. To feel the woman in her arms, her lips against her own, to feel Gina's body aching for her as hers ached for Gina's. She lowered the coffee cup in her hand, preparing to put it down and pull Gina closer but the mechanic blinked and looked away. "No, Devon. Y'all know I'm right and neither of us need to be giving into the temptation right now. And believe me, there is some mighty powerful temptation."

Gina rose from her seat and stepped closer to take the cup from Devon's hand. "You are always welcome here and stay for as long as you like, but I'm gonna go lie down where I can't do anyone any harm."

Smiling knowingly, Devon dropped her head to look at her feet for a second. Gina stepped backwards before turning for the door but stopped as she reached it. "If I don't see y'all before ya get back on the road, it sure was a pleasure knowing ya, Doctor Devon. A real pleasure. And know you'll always have a friend in me." Then she was gone, the door closing softly behind her.

Devon fought with all her might not to chase after her, the sensual images running through her mind a sweet torture. Instead, she turned and stepped off the deck into the rain, amazed to find the drops not turning to steam as they hit her skin. She reached her truck and looked back at the house. God, how she wanted to go back. She had never wanted anything so much in her life. Struggling to breathe she climbed in her truck, started it and backed out onto the road. She drove as fast as she could but the ache did not ease.

As she climbed out of the truck, she breathed deeply, ignoring the cold rain that threatened to soak her in seconds. She walked past Macy's patio furniture and suddenly remembered that tonight had been the night. Macy and Daniel having dinner, the former determined to seduce the latter. A voice reached her ears and she froze. Was that someone in trouble? She listened harder, ears straining through the sounds of the storm. "Oh baby! Oh yeah, baby, dat's right! Uh huh, uh huh, you da man, you da man! Macy gonna love you good, baby! Ooo, yeah she is!"

Devon smiled and slowly began to laugh. Apparently, dinner had gone well. Smiling, her mind stubbornly returning to her body's longing for Gina, she climbed the stairs to her rented room.

She lay in bed and thought about relieving her sexual ache but she knew it would not help. Nothing would help until she had Gina in her arms again. Something that was not going to happen. Finally, she slept, images of Gina filling her mind until dawn's light woke her.

The storm had blown through and left the world fresh and clean, Devon's favourite weather for jogging. She fought the urge and jogged towards Bakerston instead of taking the route she had before, knowing that it was her desire to see Gina that was pushing her that way. After she had showered and dressed, she slowly gathered her things together and packed her bags. She loaded everything into her truck and was surprised by the feeling of melancholy that washed over her. "Who'd have thought I'd want to stay in Bumfuck?" she muttered to herself, smiling gently.

She said goodbye to Macy quickly, not wanting to drag it out and upset anyone more than was necessary. She paid for her stay and all her meals and tacked on some extra as a thank you for all of Macy's compassion. A little before noon, Devon climbed into her truck and backed it out onto the road. She turned up the radio and headed for the interstate, staring hard at Rusty's garage as she passed. There was nothing else she and Gina could say to each other; no way to say goodbye easily. She turned onto the entry for the highway and accelerated, leaving Macy, Gina and Rosco behind.

ʘ ʘ ʘ

Gina worked beneath the local sheriff's car, struggling to remove a rusted bolt from the chassis. She was tired and her shoulders ached from working on the suspension all day but she had promised to have it ready by the next morning. Finally, using both hands and all the strength she could muster, she heard a crack and the bolt began to move. She breathed a sigh of relief and rolled her neck to ease the muscles as the bolt twisted out. The new hardware slipped in and fastened together easily and as she dropped her wrench back onto the tray beside her, she heard a voice call out from the doorway.

"With ya in a second," she called out, grabbing a rag and wiping the grease and oil off her hands. "Y'all be looking for somethin?"

"My truck picked up something on the highway and now I have a flat tire," called a voice. Gina froze and grinned as Rosco gave a woof of greeting. She had fought endlessly for the past six weeks to think of something, anything else.

"And I spose you want me to go running right on out there to fix it?" she answered, climbing out of the work pit slowly, feeling her blood begin to race.

"Well, you don't have to run," Devon replied, with a warm smile. She stood leaning against the door jam, looking cool and relaxed in a soft linen shirt and pants, her dark hair loose and unruly.

Gina just smiled. Emotion welled up inside so fast and hard that she didn't trust her voice for a few minutes. "A flat tire, huh? Well, how 'bout I have a quick look for ya, ma'am."

Devon smiled and dipped her head slightly, thoroughly enjoying herself. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mind."

Gina motioned for Devon to lead the way and smiled widely at the other woman's obvious enjoyment. Her truck sat in the lot, listing heavily to the driver's side. Gina walked around to the other side and looked at the front tire, Devon close behind her.

"Y'all picked this up from the road?" Gina asked, looking down at the pocketknife sticking out of the rubber sidewall.

Devon shrugged, an innocent expression on her face. "Must have. I don't suppose you have a replacement?"

"Well actually," Gina said. "I had a fresh supply come in just the other day."

"Really?" Devon replied, sounding slightly disappointed. "The exact same as that one?"

Gina laughed. "Maybe. It's a popular brand. Could have it done for y'all in a few minutes."

With a quiet curse, Devon leaned down and yanked the knife out of the tire. With a sweet smile on her face, she excused herself past Gina and stabbed the blade into the rear tire. "Oh dear," she sighed, watching the rubber rapidly deflate. "Have you two?"

Gina leaned back against the truck, put her head back and laughed. Devon watched and smiled, feeling more complete than she had in a very long time.

She stepped forward as Gina lowered her face to smile at her. Doubt flashed through her mind; it had been six weeks and things could have changed. As she reached out to touch Gina's cheek, though, the other woman's eyes dropped to watch Devon's lips and the doubt was gone. Devon moved forward until her body rested gently against Gina's and she lifted her hand to push a few stray tendrils of hair out of the mechanic's face. They looked into each other's eyes and smiled. A beautiful moment that could only get better. They kissed gently, lips smoothly caressing, tasting, settling and growing bolder. Devon's senses became flooded with the smell of vanilla and grease and her body reacted, hands pulling, breath catching, mouth opening and tongue searching. Gina responded immediately, her hand sliding up Devon's back beneath her shirt, their tongues meeting and stroking, electric heat causing them both to shiver with aching need. Suddenly, reality returned, the hot sun, the dry breeze and their exposed position. They tapered the kiss reluctantly, Gina groaning gently as Devon pulled far enough away to look in her eyes.

Slowly, she shuffled backwards and rested her hands on Gina's waist. "I got my license back," she told her with a smile. "I can practise again, here and in New Mexico. Only I don't want to go back to a hospital. I want to write and I want to be a simple doctor again. So I asked if there were any jobs open, but the committee didn't seem to know of a place called Bumfuck."

Winding her own hands around Devon's waist, Gina pulled the woman back against her and chuckled. "Well, no. I doubt they'd have heard of that. Seems a shame for them Bumfuck folk, but I happen to know of a small town that would love to have a doctor."

"Really?" Devon asked, lowering her face closer to Gina's. "Then maybe you could tell me?" Her voice hardened. "Please tell me the name of this town."

Gina moved her lips gently against Devon's cheek, slowly working way back to her sweet, warm mouth. "Home, Darlin'. This is Home."

© PureSabe 2011