Stretching out on the bed, working out the kinks, she moved onto Jen’s still-warm side of the bed. Maybe Jenny leaving was what had woken her up.here was no hiding from the sun in this tin can. The thin white curtains stopped exactly zero light from coming through. The disgustingly cheery birds sounded like they were inside the trailer. That was it. They were closing the damn windows tonight. Dani didn’t care if they suffocated. She groaned and flipped over onto her stomach, burying her face in the pillow. The bed was empty and she hoped Jen and her freakish early bird ways had jogged somewhere for coffee. They had to do some shopping today and deal with a dead body. At least it wasn’t two dead bodies. Apparently Accountant Girl from Grand Junction was in her own trailer yesterday afternoon. Lucky for her.
Dani cataloged the sounds and smells of the world waking up around her. Several different kinds of livestock occupied the grounds; cattle and horses from the school, sheep from the University research farm behind them. The acrid scent of burnt metal and plastic still lingered in the crisp morning air. She could hear Jen’s voice, so she hasn’t gone far yet.
Dani struggled to a sitting position, fighting the bed’s gravity. She didn’t have to move much to reach the window, the bed filled almost the entire space. A quick glance showed Jen was talking to someone. Her body blocked most of the other person and the fly screen made it hard to see clearly, but Dani got a flash of pink plaid and emo-black hair and used her finely-honed powers of deduction to figure out it must be Mikey. And that was pretty much all of her pre-coffee brainpower used up.
She rapped on the wall of the trailer and called out the window. “Jenny. Coffee.”
Without bothering to turn around, Jen stretched her arm back and held up a finger in the universal sign for one minute.
“Coffee, Jen,” Dani repeated, louder.
Jen held up a different, yet equally eloquent, finger and Dani laughed.
Mikey’s arm shot out from behind Jen, a white bag of something greasy clenched in his hand. Their conversation was too quiet for Dani to make out what they were saying but it’s didn’t matter. That bag was saying all she wanted to hear right now.
“Stop talking,” she whined out the window. “My breakfast is getting cold. Where were you going, anyway, Jen?” She pressed her forehead against the thin cloth screen, trying to smell the coffee.
Jen turned and walked the two steps to the window. She flicked her fingers against Dani’s head. “I was going to get you coffee, but Mikey beat me to it.”
“S’why I like him better,” Dani rocked her head against Jen’s hand where it pressed against the screen.
Jen’s laugh was low and light, the one only Dani ever seemed able to pull from her. She scratched at Dani’s head as best she could through the screen. “You’re like a big cat.”
Dani pulled away, sitting up on the bed, scratching idly at her stomach. “Then where’s my catnip? But, seriously, where were you off to?” Jen looked around like she wasn’t quite sure what the plan was now that her breakfast mission had been aborted.
“Karl’s up,” Mikey offered. “His trailer is that big one over there.” Mikey pointed to a huge fifth-wheel hooked up to an equally impressive Suburban.
“Nice,” Jen commented.
“It’s even nicer inside.” Mikey leered at them.
“You get some while you can.” Jen leaned back into the screen window. “Okay, Juliet, off your balcony and get dressed. I’ll go talk to Karl. Meet us after you become human?”
“Why am I always Juliet?” Dani mock complained, rolling across the bed to the side with actual floor space.
“’Cause you’re the pretty one,” Jen answered. “Fifteen minutes.”
Dani stepped into the jeans she’d left crumpled on the floor.
“I’m coming in,” Mikey called through the door. “You’d better not be naked.”
The light aluminum door slammed against the wall. “Sorry!” Mikey apologized, but he was carrying coffee, so Dani will forgive him his trailer abuse.
They sat at the little banquette and Mikey slid the bag over to her. Inside was the biggest cinnamon bun she’d ever seen. “Ooh, is this from the Silver Grill?”
“It is. I made a trip just for you.”
“Did you steal my car?” Dani patted her pocket, making sure the car keys were still in there.
“God forbid. No, I used Karl’s.”
“I really do like you more than I like Jen.” She bit into the gooey mess and moaned at the deliciousness.
Mikey sighed deeply. He rested his chin on his fist, frowning like someone with bad news. A look Dani knew too well. She lowered the bun to the table. “What?”
Mikey switched hands and sighed again.
Mikey would have mentioned if someone else was dead. If there was news about the case he would be bouncing with excitement. So it the bad news was personal. Awesome.
She sipped of coffee then motioned to him with the cup. “Look, are you going to talk or keep sighing at me. Because let me tell you, I’ve been sighed at by the master. Your girly sighs got nothing on Jen’s.”
“Funny you should mention Jen.” He rested his chin on both fists.
Dani leaned over the table, no trace of humor on her face. Mikey’s eyes widened and he leaned away from Dani, holding up his hands, “No. I mean. Jen’s fine. She’s not in danger or anything. It’s not…” He trailed off.
“Mikey.” He knew better than to mess with her about Jen. “What?”
Mikey inhaled deeply and let out a stream of words with his breath. “You need to stop flirting with Jen. It’s not fair.”
Well, that wasn’t remotely what she had been expecting. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but she was got nothing. She closed her mouth, frowned, and settled for asking “What? Why?”
Mikey stared at her like he was reading her face, searching for an answer. Some awareness flickered deep inside, showing in her eyes. Mikey sighed again. “Short, tough-love answer, or longer, more emotionally sensitive answer?”
“Short and brutal. Just like you.”
He smiled at the compliment and then his expression got serious again. “Because…because I don’t want you to scare her off. Again.” He stared at the table, eyebrows lowered, determined to talk about this.
Suddenly the coffee and cinnamon bun sat heavily in Dani’s stomach. She blinked rapidly, then faux-relaxed back against the bench seat. “Again – what?”
Mikey leaned back, toying with his cinnamon roll. “I finally got us back. All of us, together again. I don’t her to run away again and not see her for seven years. I don’t know what happened with you guys all those years ago, but” –
“Nothing. Nothing happened.”
Mikey’s expression warned her not to try to con a con man. “So you didn’t kiss her at graduation and then we didn’t not see her for six months?”
Christ. How messed up could things get over one kiss, ten years ago? “Mikey, that, we talked about that. Jen and I. Years and years ago. She came back, I apologized. Her disappearing again, that was not about us. Not about her and I.”
“What was it?”
“Wish I knew. She won’t really talk and I don’t want to push.”
Someone knocked at the door. “Hello?”
“Come in,” Dani said.
One of the girls Jen had talked to last night climbed up the rickety step. “Hey. It’s Sunshine. From last night, remember?”
Dani admired how Sunshine filled out her faded blue jeans and white tank top. Her long blond hair fell loose around her face. Dani definitely remembered her. “Yeah, of course. Is everything okay?
Sunshine waved at Mikey. “Hi.”
Mikey waved back, swinging his legs up on the bench seat. He watched them over the lip of his coffee cup.
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Sunshine said. “That was crazy last night, right?” She ran her fingers through her hair, flipping it over her shoulders.
“Totally crazy. Propane tanks can be dangerous.”
“Yeah.” She slipped her hands into her back pockets and leaned against the counter. “So, I haven’t seen you around before. Are you here for the rodeo school?”
Mikey snorted into his coffee. Dani smacked him on the leg. “Feet off the seat. We’re friends of Karl’s. Just stopping in to say hi.”
“Good, good. So you’ll be around?”
Dani’s gaze was drawn to Sunshine’s mouth as she bit her lower lip, then released it. “Yeah. Yes. Sure. You?”
She smiled, eyes tracking up and down Dani’s body. “I’m around. You know where to find me, right?”
“Good. See you later? Bye, Mikey.” She sauntered out of the trailer.
Mikey burst out laughing. “Smooth.”
“Shut up. She’s a cute cowgirl. I might need some riding lessons.” Dani looked out the window, gaze following Sunshine’s path across the field.
“Yeah, right. You’re never going to get laid here, not as long as Jen is around.”
“What’s Jen got to do with my getting laid? There’s nothing between me and Jen. I tried that in high school. It was a disaster. End of story. Her friendship, our friendship, was worth more to me than getting laid. I don’t even flirt with her.”
“She flirts with you.”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“In Karl’s office yesterday you were flirting. And now with the coffee. She flirts with you. Like all the time.” He waved his hands in the air. “And you,” he pointed a finger accusingly at her. “You flirt back.”
Dani tried to keep all expression off her face while she thought of an answer.
“You do.” Mikey sagged back against the bench seat. “You two were ridiculous, always have been, and I’m the one who ends up paying for it.”
“By having to choose sides between my best friends and from having to watch them keep hurting each other, that’s fucking how. Look, I don’t want her to leave again. And believe it or not, I also don’t want to see you hurt. I don’t need to watch you throw yourself at some straight girl who doesn’t know what the hell she wants and then get your heart broken when she decides men were easier.” He snorted. “As if. Just, no dyke drama, please.”
Dani held herself still with an effort. “You don’t have to worry about. Jen wasn’t flirting. That’s how Jen is. She’s a touchy, smiley person.”
Mikey’s expression was somewhere north of skeptical, one eyebrow disappearing beneath his bangs. “Is that what you tell yourself?”
“Jen doesn’t flirt with me!” Dani’s hands were tight on the edge of the table, and she looked out the window, away from Mikey’s accusing glance.
“Dani, she flirts all the time.” He reached across the table as if he was going to pat Dani on the arm, but stopped short, hand dropping on the table near Dani’s hand. “Every time you guys are together. And you? You can’t be in the same room without being within arm’s reach. I know, Dani. I see.”
“Now maybe out in the real world with all the straights, nobody noticed. People don’t see what they don’t want to see. But here?” And he waved his arm to encompass the entirety of the school, the arena, and the whole International Gay Rodeo Association. “Here, we notice. When the difference between getting head and getting your head bashed in depends on how well you could read the signs, you get pretty damned good at picking up the subtle signs. Trust me. And you guys…” He let that hang there, shaking his head slowly, smile gone.
“Damn it!” Dani rubbed her hand across her mouth and chin. “Damn.” She wanted to be able to deny what he’s saying. That cinnamon bun was starting to crawl back up her esophagus. “Son of a bitch.”
Mikey continued, relentless. “So if you ever want to hook up with someone else again, you have talk to her.”
Dani didn’t think she could have answered him even if she could organize her swirling thoughts. There was a tornado in her brain sweeping up everything in her path. She’d known this would happen, if she thought about Jen. Jen and her touches and her smiles and that body. “Damn it,” she said again from behind her hand.
“Are you okay?” Mikey reached up as if to check her forehead for fever.
She swatted his hand away. “No, I’m not okay. Would you be?”
“If Jen was flirting with me?”
“Stop saying that.”
“Dani, come on. I recognize flirting when I see it. And unless you’re more even emotionally stunted than I know, so do you.”
Dani gave him a bitch-face that would have done Jen proud. “Yeah, maybe. But, so what? Say I do know, not that I’m saying that, and say even you know and every cowgirl on the lot knew. It still didn’t matter, because I don’t think…”
Mikey covered his mouth, eyes wide over the top of his hand. “You don’t think Jen knew. Jen doesn’t realize she is flirting.”
Dani’s laughed bitterly. She looked away from Mikey. When she looked back, his eyes were even wider.
“But,” he said slowly. “You do.”
“Maybe. Maybe. Okay, fine. So sue me. I love having her back. I missed her so much. She could flirt all she wants. Took me a while to believe she was flirting. I thought she hated me. Even after I pried her contact information from her mother, she wouldn’t talk to me, remember? I had to beg and call in every favor she owed me since third grade.”
“Yeah, I was there, remember? I’m always there. So what changed? When?” He pulled the paper bag closer towards him and picked off a piece of cinnamon bun.
“I wish I knew.” Jen’s almost rejection had sucked beyond the telling. Dani had walked on eggshells for months, afraid of scaring Jen away again. She would have promised never to do whatever she had done in the first place, if Jen would have simply told her why she left. She never did. And now they were in a good place, so good Dani was terrified of shifting the balance.
“Jen left her husband after you tracked her down.”
“They’re separated,” Dani replied automatically. “It happens. I had nothing to do with it.”
Mikey shot the balled up paper bag into the sink. “I’m so sure.”
“Hey, I never even met the guy. He was on some kind of business trip, some sales convention, I think.” Dani stood up. She’d had enough of this conversation. “Look, don’t worry about it. I’m a big girl. I can handle a little flirting.”
Mikey stood up, too. The top of his head only reached her nose but that didn’t stop him from poking a surprisingly strong finger into her chest. “And what were you gonna do, Dani? Let me guess. Stop flirting back? Get all cold and distant with Jen? Don’t stand so close to her, don’t look at her so much. Maybe try to find some cowgirl to flirt with?” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked a challenge at her.
Damn it. He was 99% dead right about Dani’s semi-coherent thought process. That’s one of the problems with long-term friends, they knew you too well.
Mikey pressed on. “And how do you think Jen’s going to react to that? She might not be aware that she was flirting with you, but she knows how you respond to her. You flirt back, Dani. You do.”
She opened her mouth to protest, shut it. Why bother? Mikey obviously had her number. She could rationalize why she flirts with Jen, justifying it six ways to heaven, repress and deny until the cows came home, but she couldn’t lie to herself. So yeah, she flirted back. So sue her.
“You don’t want to talk about this with me, but would you rather talk to Jen?” Mikey was relentless.
“Jesus, Mikey.” She would prefer to go to her grave without that conversation, thank you very much. A little (a lot) sexual frustration wouldn’t kill her. Probably not. “You can’t tell her.”
“I would never, Dani. Come on.” He looked offended, and she remembered that Mikey was not without secrets of his own.
She rubbed her hands through her hair, sticking it up into a faux-hawk. “So what am I supposed to do?”
He scrunched up his face, mouth twisted off to the side, like he was thinking hard and Dani couldn’t help but love him. He was always there for her. Always calling her on her crap, making her face uncomfortable truths. She reached out, turning his palm up and held on tight. “So tell me, what should I do?”
“You have to talk to her. Either she realizes what she is doing or she doesn’t. Maybe she’s confused. But until you talk to her nothing is going to change.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’d like to wait until this case was over, though. What do I do until then?”
“Act…natural?” He raised both eyebrows and gave a strained smile. “Seriously. Keep doing what you’re doing, but be aware. And don’t get drunk. That would be a terrible idea. Jen’s kind of a two beer queer.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“Thank god for that.” They high fived.
“In the meantime. We have a mystery to solve, Scooby. Before anyone else gets hurt.” Dani held the screen door for Mikey. “After you, ma’am.”
He flicked her on the forehead as he passed by. “You need a hat.”
Dani ran back into the bedroom. She came out wearing a bright red cowboy hat with a jaunty feathered band. “Yeah?”
Mikey rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Now let’s go meet Karl and Jen and make a plan.”