Bonnie paused at the entrance to Club Banana, glancing around for the clearance rack. Normally it was off to the left, but the store had obviously been reorganized for Valentine's day. Racy lingerie, front and center.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" The question was delivered with the slightly nasal tones of a New Yorker. Bonnie turned. The salesperson was unfamiliar; a slender, thirty-ish woman, diet-thin rather than exercise-lean, with chestnut hair.
"I was looking for the clearance rack." The one time Queen of Middleton High School admitted, suppressing a grin as she imagined her sixteen year old self's reaction to the confession.
"I moved it to the back wall so we'd have room for the Valentine's Day sale." The woman gestured to the racks of lacey finery.
"You did?" Bonnie raised her eyebrows. "Did Anna sell the store?" She would miss the plump, effervescent owner if that was the case.
The older woman shook her head. "Her husband booked a cruise for them; a surprise for their wedding anniversary." She smiled. "I guess you're a regular here, if you know Anna by name?"
"I come in quite often." The former cheerleader acknowledged. Though I don't often buy. "I'm Bonnie." She held out a hand.
"Lesley." The woman accepted the handshake, her cool fingers gripping Bonnie's for just a fraction longer than seemed normal. "Anna's husband arranged for Head Office to send me out here and run things for a couple of weeks. That's what I do, basically; fill in as manager at stores all over the country."
"You must run up a lot of air miles."
"I do." Lesley nodded. "So, what is it you're looking for, today?"
"I need a new suit. Not for everyday wear -" Her old 'good suit' would now cycle into her daily wardrobe. "- something I can use for conferences and other special occasions."
"Pants or skirt?"
Bonnie shrugged. "Either would be okay, though I'd prefer pants."
"I'm sure we can find something you'll like." Lesley ran her gaze up and down Bonnie's body with what felt like more than a simple salesperson's interest. I'm probably just imagining things. "In fact I think we something in just your size." She led the younger woman over to the clearance rack and flicked quickly through the outfits, then drew out a black suit jacket and pants. "Yes, here. It's last year's cut –"
"That's really not a problem."
"I didn't think it would be." Lesley smiled. "And I think it will suit you better than this year's, to be honest." She lowered her voice. "They made some adjustments so that the new range would be a bit more ... forgiving ... of a few extra pounds. Something you certainly don't need!" The last comment might have been nothing more than canny sales-work, but the appreciative look she gave Bonnie's figure suggested otherwise.
Ten minutes later, Bonnie gave a nod of satisfaction as she examined herself in a full-length mirror. Monique always did know her stuff. The tailored jacket drew attention to her narrow waist, while the pants hugged her hips and butt in all the most flattering places.
"You look tremendous!" The warmth in Lesley's tone made it clear that this was no mere sales flattery.
"I expect it will look even better with a proper shirt." Bonnie touched the faded pink tee she was wearing beneath the jacket. "This isn't really a suitable accompaniment."
"A white shirt would work wonderfully for a classical look." Lesley suggested. "Or ... I'm trying to work out what color would bring out your eyes the most, but they're hard to pin down. Sometimes blue, sometimes green."
Bonnie nodded. "I can wear either. Yellow also looks good on me."
The older woman chuckled. "With your figure, you could wear a sack and still look good." She cocked her head to one side. "You'll be taking it, then?"
"Yes." Bonnie had checked the price tag before trying the outfit. It was a little more than she'd wanted to pay – But when was the last time something from Club Banana wasn't a little more than I wanted to pay? – but she really did need a new 'dress-up' outfit, and this one certainly looked good on her.
"Sure I couldn't interest you in anything from our Valentine's Day range?" Lesley nodded toward the gaudy display of lacy finery. "Something to please the special person in your life?" Her tone was that of someone merely looking for an extra sale, but the flicker in her eyes as she spoke the word 'person' caused a ping on Bonnie's gaydar. And I guess something about me pinged on hers, as well. Either that, or she's an inveterate optimist.
"There isn't anyone special in my life the moment." Bonnie kept her tone bland, but the answer provoked another flicker in Lesley's eyes. Oh yeah, definitely gay.
"So she gave ya her number?" Joss asked, as she chopped smoke sausage into half-inch slices. Both Bonnie and the Montanan were both squeezed into Bonnie's tiny kitchen, preparing gumbo. A small stack of Joss's DVDs was waiting for them once everything was bubbling away.
Bonnie nodded. "Wrote it on a piece of paper and gave it to me with the receipt."
"Are ya gonna call her?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Really?" Joss paused, the last sausage as yet unsliced. "Y'said she was pretty, and it sounds like she's into ya."
"Keep chopping. Gumbo doesn't make itself." The former cheerleader mock-growled. Then, once the younger woman was back to work, Bonnie explained. "Lesley's only going to be in town for a couple of weeks. I've just tried the 'short term, no strings' thing, and it doesn't work for me." She completed her own work on the celery and moved onto the okra. "I'm not saying the next relationship I have will last for the rest of my life, but I want 'forever' at least be possible, with anyone I start dating."
"Yeah, I get it." Joss nodded as she pushed the now-sliced sausage to one side. "Things didn't work out with Reba in the end, but ... well, we had lots of good times, too." She sighed. "Makes me realize how dumb I've been the last two years."
"How so?" Bonnie scooped up the ingredients and added them to the pot.
"... after things went so bad with Clare, I came up with the genius idea that I should jus' stick t' casual sex. I figured that way I'd ... satisfy my needs ... and I wouldn't get hurt." Joss sighed. "I didn't think about what I was givin' up, by makin' that choice."
"But now you do."
Joss nodded. "Yeah, it's ... it's like this meal." She gestured at the kitchen, which was in rather a bedraggled state. "To make it we had to get all the proper ingredients, spend time and effort to prepare and mix them correctly, then give it even more time to properly cook. That's lots of work, when you think about it. And if we but in too much of the spices, or burn the pan, then we might end up with something we don't actually want to eat."
Bonnie chuckled. "It all comes back to food with you, doesn't it?"
"Pretty much." Joss grinned. "My point is, a real relationship is like making a meal from scratch. You have to pay attention, and work, and you might still mess it up, or realize that at the end of the day it's just not a meal you like that much. Casual sex ... is like ordering pizza. It's pretty easy, and it's pretty good, but it's not the same thing."
"And when you met Reba, you decided it was time to try home cooking again?" The older woman teased.
"I didn't really decide anythin'." The Montanan laughed. "It just happened. I think maybe my subconscious got fed up with waitin' for me to get a clue and just decided t' override the rest o' my brain."
"But now the rest of your brain has caught up."
"Hey, I'm a Possible. I can't stay clueless forever."
Author's Note: Hey, an update! Sorry it has been so long since the last one, and thank you to those of you who messaged me to check if I was still around.
And yeah, the last sentence of the chapter is a promise from the author to the readers :)