Cousins meet on vacation, but one of them has changed.
|A Taste of Home|
Incredible! She, Yvette Marceau, was bound for New York City! The trip was her high school graduation present, sparked by a cousin's out-of-the-blue offer to take her in for a whole week while her own parents vacationed in Florida. As the train worked its way to the northeast, the young woman sat as close to the window as she could get, sometimes actually pressing her nose against the glass.
Rural and urban landscapes came and went, until they finally dove under the Hudson and into Penn. Station. She had arrived! Yvette hurried down to the main concourse and—
A hand and arm waved madly above the crowd. “Lauren!” The girls hugged in greeting. Stepping back a pace, Yvette exclaimed, “You look like you could be on a magazine cover!”
“Well,” replied Lauren in a practiced, posh accent, “Daddy is the manager of one of the nicer fabric shops in the Garment District. It just wouldn't do for his daughter to be seen in anything less than the most fashionable styles.”
Yvette giggled, knowing her cousin wasn't really like that.
“Anyway,” Lauren went on in her own voice as she gave Yvette the once-over, “you don't look so bad yourself. That's a great travel outfit, and it'll do you just as well here as it would in Atlanta.”
Seeing the wheeled tote, Lauren asked, “Did you check anything?”
“Nope. I only brought a few changes of clothes,” replied Yvette. “You have a laundry, right?”
“We have a service, actually, so you're covered,” assured Lauren. “Come on, then, let's go. We'll catch the M20, then the M14, jump off at Hudson Street, walk a couple of blocks and—home, sweet home!" As they rode, Yvette continually looked left and right for landmarks. Lauren finally explained that they were headed the wrong way or, in some cases, not far enough, to see most of them. “Don't worry, you'll have a chance to see them all. In fact,” she said, “I can almost promise you one very special sight.” She matched the other girl's big smile with one of her own.
By the time they reached the apartment, it was after three. Although she was somewhat tired, Yvette was determined to see something—anything—before calling it a day. She happily agreed to Lauren's suggestion of a walk along the Hudson River Greenway just a few blocks away. As they strolled along, Lauren casually captured Yvette's left hand with her right. Yvette stiffened and glanced at Lauren; the captivating green eyes immediately calmed her. She looked around and saw other women walking together, many of them also holding hands. It's probably safer, she thought. This is the big city, after all, and you don't know diddly about these things. She continued walking hand in hand, occasionally even squeezing Lauren's hand.
A very good start, Lauren smiled to herself as they headed back.
After dinner, capped by dessert from a canister Yvette had brought—“Pralines! I was hoping for a 'taste of home'!” Lauren had squealed—Yvette declared herself ready for a good night's sleep.
“Great idea. Let's get you unpacked, showered and into bed.” Lauren smiled and pointed at the tote. “That part shouldn't take long; we'll see about the rest. Anyway, Mom and Dad have this 'thing' about anyone sleeping in their bed, so we're sharing mine, okay?” she asked.
“I won't be on the couch?” Yvette asked with a slight look of dismay.
“Heavens, no!” exclaimed Lauren. “It's fine for reading or entertaining, but it's really not comfortable enough for an all night nap. You have to trust me on that.”
There was no choice, really. “Okay, sure,” she said. “I just didn't want to put you out, is all.” We're cousins and we're both girls, for pity's sake! she scolded herself. Don't be a baby!
“Really, sweetie, it's no trouble,” Lauren replied. “Okay, now, off to the shower you go.”
Bathed and in her nightshirt, Yvette climbed into bed next to Lauren, who appeared to be already asleep. She turned off the bedside light and, after a few minutes, finally convinced herself to quit overreacting and just relax. Sleep came quickly after that.
When she awoke, Lauren was curled up behind her. Not just behind her: she was right up against Yvette's nightshirt, her left arm casually draped over Yvette's, her left hand and Yvette's right hand palm to palm. Yvette could feel her softly breathing on the back of her neck.
She tried not to disturb her, but Lauren chose that moment to roll away from her and stretch. Then she seemed to realize how she had been laying.
“Oh, I'm so sorry!” she apologized. “I snuggle with my extra pillow and, of course, it's the one you're using. In my sleep, I guess I thought you were the pillow. I didn't upset you, did I?”
“No, not at all,” Yvette heard herself say. “It was actually kind of nice.” And it had been nice, she admitted to herself.
“You're sure? Nice, not horrible?” pressed Lauren, hoping for the right answer. The other girl nodded in confirmation. Perfect, Lauren thought. Time to move things along.
“Wonderful!” She was silent a moment as she considered something.
“I know what let's do. Let's go up the street to one of my favorite little shops: Everything for a Red Letter Day. Today's your first full day in New York, so it certainly qualifies. What do you say?”
Yvette soon discovered how the shop got its name, and why the auburn-haired Lauren liked it so much. Glassware, cups, linens, stationery, and more: all available in every shade of red, and only in red.
They went back to the apartment and Lauren made a pot of coffee.
When Yvette remarked on the wonderful aroma, Lauren just smiled and said, “A special blend for a special day.”
They sat on the couch, each holding a new red cup filled with the steaming brew.
“Would you mind,” Yvette began, somewhat hesitantly, “if I asked you, why you moved? My folks didn't want to let me come at first. They were pretty vague, but between their hints and a few things I heard around school, I kind of got the idea you almost had to move.” She blushed at her own forwardness.
“Hey—we're family, right?” Lauren replied, and launched into her story. “The rumors were probably reasonably accurate. We moved to New York for a number of reasons, most of which involved me.
"Daddy came home one day, and he was just furious. He stormed right past my mother and me and into his den. Mom gave him a few minutes, then went to see what was going on. I snuck around through the dining room and listened from just around the corner. I overheard him telling Mom that the district manager had called him into his office. They were considering firing him!” Her green eyes blazed at the memory.
“Mr. Winters said one of the Directors had called to tell him that photos of me wearing 'suggestive' clothing at clearly identifiable company events had turned up online on 'questionable' social networking sites. Worse still, I was rumored to 'like girls'. This reflected poorly on the company, and they wanted it dealt with. He told Daddy to stay home for a couple of days.”
“That's ridiculous!” blurted Yvette. “So, what happened? How did you come to move to New York?”
“That Sunday, I hunted him down after church and asked to speak with him privately for a moment. We stepped into an alcove, and I asked why they were trying to fire my father. He kind of relaxed a bit, when he saw that I wasn't going to cause a scene and, after some initial reluctance, he basically said the same things I'd overheard at home. It was all a matter of perception, it wasn't good for business.
"I replied that I didn't really see what my online photos had to do with the company, but maybe it was because I just wasn't very experienced in those matters. We headed outside and, as I stepped onto the little porch, I turned around and made a show of fastening the top two buttons of my blouse. Just as he came through the door, I pointed at his pants and said his zipper might be broken. Naturally, he moved his hands down to check.” Lauren smiled at the recollection, then went on.
As she spoke, Lauren lowered her left hand, which she'd raised to pantomime the fastening of the buttons. It settled gently just above Yvette's knee. Yvette's gaze went immediately to the hand. She could feel its heat right through her thin cotton pants, and she felt her heartbeat quicken. But she said nothing. Lauren noted the girl's reaction and smiled to herself.
“I then told him that maybe I was mistaken, that maybe I did understand after all. Consider this,” I said. “I just buttoned two buttons and you checked your zipper. The actions were totally unrelated, but how might it look to, say, that group of parents over there? Someone might have to explain what really happened, something I'd be more than happy to help with. You were right, Mr. Winters: perceptions can be very important. Have a nice day.”
Lauren paused a moment, then continued. At the same time, she raised her hand, and then her forefinger began tracing little circles where the hand had been. Yvette observed each tiny circuit, almost mesmerized. Her pulse was pounding in her ears, and she was beginning to have difficulty following what Lauren was saying, but she still made no protest. Yes! exulted Lauren, continuing her narrative.
“The next week, the Board called a special meeting and invited my father. The members carefully explained to him how this situation affected the company's image but, as he was a highly valued employee of long standing, they wanted to give him a great opportunity: he was to take over management of the New York office. It was pretty much a win-win for both sides: they would avoid all kinds of legal hassle regarding wrongful termination, and he would get a shot at fixing their troubled New York division. He was still mad at them, but staying would have been very awkward and it was too good a deal to pass up.”
Yvette felt stranger than she ever had in her life. Her thigh missed the heat of Lauren's hand, and the little circles had sent shivers down her spine. Her feelings and emotions were all awhirl; she didn't know that to think.
“So,” she whispered, “the rumors were true, what they said was true. You do like girls. You like—me.”
“Yes, they were right, in a way, and so are you,” Lauren confirmed. “Every boy I've had left a bad taste in my mouth, maybe it's the testosterone, but the right girl is just like the rhyme: sugar and spice, and everything nice. In fact,” she said, leaning toward the young blonde, “I think I'd like some sugar and spice right now.”
Yvette was still absorbing Lauren's last words as her red lips approached her. She tried to shrink away, but found she could scarcely duck her head.
“I do love that special blend,” said Lauren. “Tastes perfectly natural, yet gets the victim's senses going, their blood flowing, and renders them almost immobile. Relax, Yvette,” she soothed. “Look into my eyes.”
The green orbs took on a hypnotic glow, almost distracting Yvette from the white points now protruding from Lauren's slightly parted lips.
“You can't be a...be a—,” Yvette stammered, then stopped, unable to speak the impossible truth.
“Can't be a...what? A vampire?” queried Lauren in reply. “Oh, but I can.”
“But, you were out in the daytime...bright sunshine...” Yvette's speech faltered into silence.
“I really don't know how those legends came about, but I find them very useful. No one ever believes I am what I am, until it's far too late.”