by Kim Pritekel
Sequel to Accidental Seduction
Four Years Ago:
His hands were shaking as he buttoned up his pants, ignoring the soft sobbing from the woman who lay curled up on the couch behind him. He couldn’t even look at her as he grabbed his keys and wallet then hurried out the door. He knew he’d have to call his brother to get help to disappear.
She sat in the interrogation room, hands wrapped around a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee.
“And, how long were you dating him?” the detective asked.
“Two weeks,” she whispered, still deeply shaken.
“We’ll do all we can to find him.”
She groaned as she sat back on her haunches, grabbing a wash cloth to wipe her mouth, her stomach still roiling. She reached up and hit the handle to flush the toilet. Big mistake, as she grabbed the edge of the toilet again and lost what was left of her breakfast.
She stared down in shocked horror at the results on the stick of the home pregnancy kit. “Oh god.”
She looked into the mirror, hair slicked back from her face from her recent shower, and studied her growing belly. She placed both hands on the rounded under curve, so many emotions washing through her.
“How am I going to do this?” she whispered to the empty bathroom.
The eraser on the end of the stubby pencil tapped a ruthless staccato on the top of Erin’s most prized possession, her Baldwin baby grand piano, black, which stood prominently in the refurbished living room of her house. She wiped away the eraser dust and flipped the pencil around in her fingers to jot down a few notes and ideas. Tucking the pencil behind her ear, she studied her changes as her fingers ran gracefully across the keys, satisfied with the direction the piece was taking.
She snagged the pencil and made a few more notes before pushing up from the piano bench and making her way into the kitchen. Brand new stainless steel appliances met her as she flicked on the overhead light. She walked over to the oven and bent down, flicking on the light to check on the turkey that had been torturing with its unbelievable fragrance for hours. it was looking gorgeous, and was nearly done.
The doorbell rang, snagging Erin ‘s attention. She turned off the oven light and hurried to the front door, knowing it would be her sister-in-law, Lisa. “Welcome and Happy Thanksgiving, foolish woman who married my brother.”
Lisa giggled, accepting a kiss on the cheek before she hurried inside, arms loaded down with plastic grocery bags, followed by her two and a half year old son, Elijah. “More bags out in the car, Erin ,” she called out over her shoulder, as with a grunt, she unloaded her burden onto the granite counters.
“Got your back.”
Erin hurried out into the bitterly cold day, the driving winds blinding in their snowy fury. She found the rest of the bags in the back of the 4-Runner. Gathering them in one load, she hipped the door closed and hurried back up the drive to her house – the same that she and Shawn had shared for many years – before entering the house with an arctic flourish, the front door closed securely behind her.
“Fuck, it’s cold out there,” she panted, then headed into the kitchen.
“I smell the turkey, and it smells incredible !” Lisa verbally drooled, making Erin chuckle. “I got the stuffing together last night, but it needs to be cooked. Crap load of potatoes need to be peeled then boiled and mashed.”
“Gotcha.” Erin turned to her nephew, grabbing the dark-haired boy and lifting him high overhead. “Hello!” she crowed, making him giggle, a sound which she cherished and strived for each time she saw him. “I got my very own gobble gobble!” She brought him down and made loud eating sounds while she playfully nipped at his neck, making him giggle all the more.
Lisa grinned, always entertained when Erin got hold of her son. She began unloading the bags and was grateful when Erin put Elijah down and began to help. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be doing this myself,” she quipped, tossing a raised brow Erin ‘s direction.
Erin grinned as she brought out a potato peeler and bowl. “Hey, I had to get my lovin’, so there.”
“Well, maybe if you’d stop dating that piranha, Adrienne, you might actually get some lovin’.”
Erin rolled her eyes. “Don’t start, Lisa. Let’s just have a good holiday today and get through it, okay?”
“Alright, alright. I’ll drop it. For now.”
After a quick dinner, as Elijah was getting tired and cranky, and Shawn had an early work day the following morning, he helped his little sister with the dishes so Lisa could take a cranky baby home. As the siblings washed dishes, Shawn glanced over at her.
“I thought she was coming today.”
Erin sighed, knowing this conversation would come up, since everyone had managed to avoid it over dinner. “Yeah, well so did I.”
Shawn said nothing for a long moment, instead concentrating on scrubbing at the pan he was washing. “Good meal, sis.”
“Thank you. I noticed you stayed at the store until we were done.” She sent him a smirk, which he returned.
“I’ve always been a smart man.”
“Uh huh.” She splashed him playfully. “Speaking of the store and smart man, have you made up your mind about bringing somebody else on or not?”
Shawn was quiet for a moment before finally he sighed, then glanced over at his sister. “We had someone come in to ask about Christmas help two days ago, but I haven’t made up my mind about her yet.”
“Why? And why do you sound like mom showed up and asked for a job?”
Shawn grinned and dunked the pan into the soapy water to wash away what he’d scrubbed off. “You might just be as shocked if it were.”
“The suspense is killing me, man. Who was it?” Erin rested a hand on the edge of the counter and leaned on her arm. “Shawn?”
Erin blinked at him for a moment. “Houseman? After stealing from us, he actually wants his job back-”
” She, Erin. Alex the woman.” He studied her face, waiting for the proverbial light bulb to go off. When he saw it, he nearly chuckled, as she swore he heard a ding.
“Oh,” she said simply, turning back to her task. “That’s nice.”
Shawn was initially surprised by Erin ‘s nonchalant reaction, but then he knew her a hell of a lot better than that. He said nothing, as he knew how she worked. Instead, he finished scrubbing the pan then gave it one final wash and rinse. He glanced over at Erin as she took the pan from the warm rinse water and began to dry it.
“So, are you going to hire her?” Erin spared a glance at her brother, though quickly turned away when she saw the smirk on his face. “This isn’t funny, Shawn.”
“No, it’s not. She looked absolutely desperate for work, and the only reason I didn’t hire her on the spot was because I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it.”
“I feel nothing about it, Shawn,” Erin ensured, tossing a quick smile her brother’s way. “If the woman needs a job, give her a job.” With that, she tossed down the dish towel she’d been using and left the room.
Shawn stared after her, shaking his head as he turned his attention back to the dishes.
The bedroom that had been converted into one giant bedroom from two separate bedrooms awaited Erin as she slammed into her bedroom. Once Shawn had moved out after his marriage to Lisa, Erin had been able to remove all of her musical instruments to her studio in the basement, which had been Shawn’s living space. In the space where a couch and chair had once been, a pool table now stood.
Erin finished racking the newest round of her solo pool game when she heard a knock at the door. “Come in,” she called, carefully removing the wooden triangle from the formed triangle of balls. She tucked the triangle into the slot at one end of the table before re-chalking her stick. She spared a glance to the door when it opened, knowing full well it would be Shawn. “Wanna play?”
“Sure.” Shawn grabbed a cue stick. “Rack ’em.”
“Done. You go first.” Erin stood back, hands braced around her cue as she watched her brother break. It was a weak break, but then she figured it was because he had more on his mind than a mere game of pool; he had more on his mind than she cared to examine. “That sucked,” she said dryly, already strategizing her move.
Leaning over the side rail, she stretched her body so she could reach a striped ball that was an easy mark. She concentrated as best she could, desperately trying to ignore the sudden pair of green eyes that flashed before her mind’s eye. She closed one eye, focusing on the white cue ball then drew her arm back: WHACK! THUD.
“Fuck,” she muttered, stepping away from the table, not wanting to see the first scratch of the game.
Shawn raised a brow, surprised at the crappy shit, considering his sister was quite the hustler when it came to pool. “Nice shot,” he muttered, bending over to take his own.
“Fuck off, Shawn.”
“Why so grumpy? It’s Thanksgiving, sis.”
“Fine, then be thankful I’m being nice and not kicking your ass in this game.”
“Right on, Erin . You keep thinking that,” he laughed, sinking the four ball in a corner pocket. “So, what do you want me to do, sis?” He stood, hands resting on his cue stick. There wasn’t any reason for clarification, as they both knew what he was referring to.
“The past is called the past for a reason,” Erin said, taking her shot. She didn’t sink anything, but at least she didn’t scratch again. “That’s where it should stay.”
“Alright. If she comes in again I’ll let her know.”
Alex cringed at the loud squeal of the ’85 Buick she’d traded her Mazda in for, as she pulled up to the curb of the old house she was renting a room from. She unbuckled her seatbelt and grabbed her purse and single bag of groceries she’d bought on the way home from picking Chance up at the babysitters.
Trying to be as quiet as she could, she opened the back driver’s side door of the old car and unbuckled her son from where he slept in his car seat. He whined for a moment as he was lifted out of the chair, but then fell right back asleep. It was late and even colder as she hurried up the icy path to the front door, which needed a desperate paint job, much like the rest of the wooden, three-story.
“Momma?” the boy mumbled against her shoulder.
“We’re almost there, sweetheart,” Alex assured, trying to keep hold of both her son and their dinner as she took hold of the house key in between her thumb and forefinger, sliding it into the lock and turned. “Almost there.”
She managed to make her way inside the old house, grateful when she saw that it was dark, only the light on over the stove in the communal kitchen to show her the way to the first set of stairs she had to climb, which she did, each step creaking so badly under foot, she always worried the old wood would give way, sending her to the closet space under the staircase.
The tiny room that she shared with her 3 year old son was on the uppermost level of the house, an attic converted into a living space. It was cold and rather creepy, but it had been home for the past two weeks, and she was just glad to have it at this point. As she passed by a closed door of one of the second floor rooms, she cringed, hearing the loud Spanish music coming from inside.
“Damn,” she cursed under her breath, knowing full well that the volume would get louder as the occupant got drunker. Eventually, she’d have to make the trip down to bang on the door and ask him to turn it down, as it was waking her son: this had been a near-nightly occurrence since she’d moved in.
Unlocking her “apartment door”, Alex entered the dark space, quickly flicking on the overhead light and kicking the door shut behind her.
“Almost there,” she whispered to her son, hurrying over to their shared bed, laying him down and tucking him in. She placed a kiss on his forehead. “Mommy loves you, Chance.”
He mumbled in his sleep then rolled over to his side, out like a light. Alex stood and ran her hands through her messy ponytail, grimacing when she felt how greasy the blonde strands felt. Standing all day at a deep fryer at a fast food restaurant was murder on her skin, hair and clothing. Her entire closet smelled like a Big Mac.
Grimacing, she headed to the tiny bathroom connected to her room and stripped out of her clothing, tossing it all aside for laundry day the following day, and stepped under the warm spray of the shower. The fierce water pressure and stamina of the hot water was about the only thing her apartment had going for it, other than she could essentially afford it and it gave her and her son shelter.
As she stood under the water spray, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back. This wasn’t about cleansing her body, but rather about cleansing her mind and soul. She let out a long sigh, trying her hardest to dispel the last four years, but finding it impossible. Instead, all that came were tears.
“God dammit,” she whispered, running her hands over her long hair, smoothing it back from her face. “God dammit, god dammit, god dammit!”
She had tried for ten jobs within the past eight days, but had heard from none. She was working as many hours as she could at the McDonald’s where she’d been hired a week and a half ago, but it wasn’t near enough to cover rent, babysitter and food, let alone utilities and gas.
Finally, she let the tears really come, her shoulder leaning against the water-warmed tile of the tiny shower stall, her face buried in her hands. She had no idea how she’d ended up where she was: she’d had a good job at the hospital and was even beginning to possibly find love with Erin . Why had she run?
“Because I always run,” she sobbed. “Damn it!” She cried out in pain as she slammed her fist into the wall.
Though her hand hurt, it did seem to knock her a bit out of her self-pity. She took several deep breaths and finished her shower. She was tired and had the early shift the following morning. Apparently it was time for her to be trained on breakfast.
Alex climbed out of the shower, dried and dressed then padded out to the room. She walked over to the table where she’d set the bag of groceries and peeked inside. She’d learned early that to put food in the communal fridge downstairs in the kitchen was a mistake; half of her and Chance’s food was gone within a day. So, now she bought either food that wouldn’t go bad and didn’t need to be refrigerated or she bought a day’s worth at a time, which was eating into her budget.
Sitting at the table set in the corner, just big enough for two chairs, she pulled out the small bag of baby carrots she’d bought and ripped a small hole in it, tugging out a handful of the little carrots and began to eat her dinner.
“Baby, I know. I’ll be back later, I promise.” Alex tried not to let Chance’s tears and pleas for her not to leave affect her, as she couldn’t afford for them to. “You have to stay here and be good for Nancy , okay?”
“No!” he cried, arms wrapped around her neck in a death grip. “No, no, no! I want you!”
“Chance, I have to go to work, sweetheart. I’m going to be late. Again.”
Nearly fifteen minutes later, Alex raced to work, sweat trailing down her back and between her breasts. It was a new job, and she knew that it was going to start getting old pretty fast if she continued to be late. She didn’t have to wait long to be agreed with.
“Alex, you’ve been here exactly one week and four days. What part of a week and four days says to you that you’ve got the right or seniority to be late?” Manuel Valdez asked, his fat ass squeezed into the chair in the manager’s office at the back of the restaurant. His angry 19 year old face stared up at Alex’s 29 year old sheepish one.
“I know, Manuel. I’m sorry. My son is having abandonment issues-“
“I’m not your goddamn therapist, Alex!” he roared, his oversized belly jiggling with the force of his rage. “One more time you’re late, you’re outta here. Got it?!”
Alex was biting her tongue so hard, she expected to taste blood any moment. She managed a smile and a nod as she put her ridiculous uniform visor in place, arranging her ponytail over the strap at the back of her head. “Yes, Manuel. I got it.”
“Good.” The fat teen turned the squeaky chair back towards the desk, effectively dismissing her.
“Pimple faced ass,” she muttered under breath as she headed up to the front.
Alex chewed on her bottom lip as she stared up at the store. She was surprised – and happy – that it was still there after so many years. It must mean that everything was going well. She’d been there a week before, which had been one of the hardest things she’d ever done. To go to Erin and Shawn for a job: soul shattering. The fact that she’d heard nothing from either of them was even more painful. Out of utter desperation, she sat in the parking lot once again.
With a heavy sigh, Alex pushed open her car door and stepped out of the car. She was still dressed in her MacDonald’s uniform, but hoped that her winter jacket – $2.99 at Goodwill – hid the evidence, and that maybe she wouldn’t smell as much like French fries as she usually did.
“Here we go,” she whispered, shutting the heavy car door, not even bothering to lock it. Hell, if it was stolen, it might actually work better for her where her insurance company was concerned.
With a deep breath and surge of courage, she headed inside.
Erin rested her chin on her hand, staring at the “dump” for her new CD. For every new product – be it music or movie – the distributor sent out a cardboard display to be constructed on site, which was called a dump. Her second CD, Triumph, would be hitting stores the following day, and would be displayed at the front of her and Shawn’s store in the dump.
“I hate these fucking things,” she muttered, looking back and forth between the pile of cardboard at her feet and the sheet of instructions that came with it. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor when she heard a knock on the office door. A grunt invited the intruder inside. “What, Paul?” she growled to their part-time employee, who was a royal pain in the ass, and Erin was considering firing.
“Sorry to bother you, Erin, but someone is here to see you.”
“Who?” Erin picked up a pre-cut piece of the cardboard cutout for the dump. “How the fuck does this go together!?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Paul stammered. “But, it’s some chick looking for a job.”
Exasperated, Erin waved him on. “Fine, whatever.”
The door closed, only to open a moment later. “Hello, Erin .”
Erin ‘s head shot up, shock pushing her mouth open in an amusing display of little girl caught sitting on the floor. “Uh,” she managed, pushing to her feet. She met Alex’s gaze, shocked at who or rather, what stood before her. The Alex she’d known before had been a sexy woman who was filled with an almost contagious self confidence, unlike the thin and pale woman who stood before her now, long hair hanging in golden strands around her shoulders. “Hello, Alex,” she managed. She was utterly disturbed to see that the light in Alex’s brilliant green eyes had all but faded. “Come in.”
Alex entered the office, feeling completely ashamed. She could easily see the shock in Erin ‘s beautiful blue eyes, which she tried to avoid. Those eyes had always been torturous, and had always made her want to ask herself questions that she wasn’t ready to answer.
“I’m sorry for busting in on you,” she said quietly. “Really sorry.”
Erin blinked at her for a moment, shocked to see and hear the defeated woman standing before her. Finally, shaking herself out of it, she walked over to Alex and extended her hand. “No reason to be. Welcome.”
Alex looked down at the offered hand. Fighting back a moment of insult, she took it and gave it as firm a shake as her constitution would allow. “Thank you.” She entered the office, holding the ends of her winter jacket together as she wanted to hide her work identity. “Nice office.”
“You’ve seen it before, Alex,” Erin quipped, though she regretted the words immediately. “Fuck, I’m sorry.” She plopped down in the chair opposite Alex’s. “What can I do for you?” she asked, even as she felt like an asshole, knowing full well why she was there. She was torn: did she tell Alex that she’d been told of her visit to the shop a week before, begging for a job? Did she play dumb and handle the situation anew? Internally she groaned, knowing full well that lying wasn’t something she did well.
Alex winced at the biting words, regretting where she sat more and more by the second. “I suppose so,” she said softly, looking down at her hands, which fidgeted in her lap. Then, suddenly she saw the image of her son, and a rod of steel was rammed up through her spine and purpose. “I don’t want games, Erin ,” she said, meeting the gaze of the woman – no long a girl of four years ago – sitting across from her. “I need a job and I’ll do anything to get one. I came in here a week ago, begging your brother for one, and he never got back to me. I will do anything. Any thing.”
Confused, Erin studied Alex for a long moment. Before her sat a beautiful woman yes, but she was far too thin, and there was absolutely nothing in her eyes. It was just this side of creepy. “God,” she whispered. “What happened to you?”
Alex was surprised by the question, which she felt was more rhetorical than anything else. Even still, she was ashamed. “Please, Erin ,” she whispered, looking anywhere other than the woman sitting across from her. “Please.”
“Why?” Erin asked, jaw muscles clenching as so many old feelings – most of which she didn’t even realized excited – came to the surface. “Why the hell would you come here? Come to me? For help.”
Alex felt the tears trying to push to the surface: something she wasn’t about to allow Erin to see. “I’m sorry I bothered you,” she muttered, pushing to her feet and quickly heading to the door and out of the office. She could hold it until she was outside: she had to.
Left alone in the office, Erin stared at the abandoned chair Alex had been sitting in a moment before. “Fuck,” she muttered, shoving back from the desk so hard that she nearly pushed the chair over backwards. She hurried out into the store proper, catching Alex just before she reached the door. “Wait!” she called out. She watched as Alex stopped, slowly turning back to look at her, green eyes made brilliant by unshed tears. “Wait.”
Erin felt eyes on her: the store had been expanded over the past few years, and it now sold far more CDs and DVDs than musical instruments, and the store was crowded with Christmas shoppers. Giving a couple nearby customers an apologetic smile for the outburst, she turned back to Alex, who stared at her with cautious eyes.
“I’m sorry, Alex,” she said, voice softer. “Please come back to my office with me.” When Alex didn’t move, she took a step closer. “Please?”
Alex chewed on her bottom lip in contemplation before finally nodding and silently following Erin back through the store and to the office. Her heart was racing and she felt foolish. “I shouldn’t have come, Erin, I’m sorry,” she sighed, standing uncomfortably at the center of the office as Erin resumed her seat. “If you want me to go, really, I will-“
“Please just sit down, Alex.” Erin indicated the chair Alex had been sitting in a few moments before. She waited for her to settle, then sat back in her chair, trying to decide what direction to take with this unsettling situation. “Talk to me, Alex. Why do you look like you’re about to cry?”
Alex smiled weakly, trying to dispel her rising emotions, but was pretty much failing miserably. “I need work, Erin . I do have a job now, but…”
“Where are you working?”
Embarrassed, Alex got to her feet and opened her jacket, revealing her MacDonald’s uniform shirt. “I’m sure I smell like a Big Mac. I’ve looked all over this damn town since I got back, but nowhere is hiring. It’s pretty scary when even Barnes & Nobel isn’t hiring for Christmas help.”
“What makes you think we are?” Erin asked casually.
“I have no idea if you are, Erin . I came here out of desperation.” She sighed and buried her face in her hands for a moment before meeting Erin ‘s eyes. “I don’t know where else to go.”
“Why don’t you go back to the hospital? Surely you could find something there again with the X-ray stuff,” Erin suggested.
Alex nodded. “My certificate has run out and I can’t afford to get recertified. I’m just trying to get my life back together.”
Erin brought a hand up and played with her bottom lip as she studied Alex, who seemed to shrink before her eyes. “What is your availability?”
Alex tried not to get too excited, but did sit up straighter in her chair. “Well, my schedule varies at MacDonald’s and my son’s babysitter has pretty finicky hours.”
Erin stared, stunned. “You have a kid?”
A soft smile fell upon Alex’s lips and her eyes lit up, if even just for a moment. “Chance. He’s my life.”
Erin let out a heavy sigh. “How much notice would Mickey D’s need?”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked carefully.
“I’m not around near as much anymore with recording, so we could use a full-time assistant manager during the day-“
The words weren’t even fully out of Erin’s mouth before Alex was on her feet and tugged Erin to hers before taking her in an enthusiastic hug. “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Caught off guard, Erin returned the hug, nearly pulled off her feet by Alex’s excitement. “Okay, okay,” she smiled, pulling away. “Sit down.”
Alex was almost vibrating as she took her seat. “Thank you, Erin . Thank you so much.”
Though there was certainly a part of Erin that was kicking herself, another part knew in her heart she’d done the right thing to help. “And please don’t be mad at Shawn; he told me you’d come in but left it up to me on what to do.” Erin looked away, ashamed.
Alex nodded. “It’s okay. But, I do have to ask: do you really hate me that much?”
Erin ‘s brows drew. “I don’t hate you at all, Alex. It’s the past and it needs to stay there.”
Alex gave her a brave smile. “Okay.”
Manuel Valdez crushed the wrapper for his third double cheeseburger, tossing it into the trashcan beneath the desk in the manager’s office. Sucking a bit of meat from his teeth, he turned back to the schedule that he was working on. He was startled suddenly when a MacDonald’s visor landed in the middle of the page. Looking up, he saw Alex standing in the doorway.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Telling you to go fuck yourself, Manuel,” Alex said, then walked away. “I quit!” she called out over her shoulder.
“Baby boy, we are celebrating tonight!” Alex lifted Chance high above her head, his great big smile making her day that much better. “You wanna get some yummy dinner?” she asked, nuzzling her nose against his.
Chance grinned and nodded. “Big bear?” he asked, eyes twinkling with hope.
“You want the big bear, sweetie?” Alex asked, holding the boy against her hip, knowing her son meant Chuck E Cheese. “Okay. Let’s go see the big bear.”
“Well,” Shawn chuckled, sliding onto the stool next to his sister. “Looks like you got started without me.”
Erin glanced over at him then downed her shot. “Fuck off.”
“No, ma’am. You’re the one who invited me.” Shawn ordered a beer from the bartender then turned back to his sister. “So, what’s this I hear about a slight disruption in the store today?”
Erin downed another shot, slamming the glass on the bar top with a grimace. “Who told you that?”
“Every employee that we had in the shop today.” Shawn accepted his beer. “Lester, you’re a lifesaver; thanks man.”
“All fired,” Erin joked. She took a drink of the glass of ice water she’d ordered to help ease her stomach as she got wasted.
Shawn smiled but then turned to his sister, all seriousness. “What the hell happened today, Erin ?”
Suddenly sobered, Erin sighed. “I hired her to replace Jason, Shawn.”
“Who?” He asked, meeting Erin ‘s gaze as she stared him down. Realization dawned. “ Alex ?”
“And he wins fifty points,” Erin quipped. “Yes, Alex.”
“Why? I thought you didn’t want to go there?”
“She has a kid, Shawn,” Erin said, raising her hand to alert the bartender that she was ready for a new drink. “I couldn’t leave her desperate in the street.”
“A kid?” Shawn took a long draught from his beer. “Wow. A kid. How the hell did that happen? She fucks around with you on Lance, and then what? She fucks around on you with some guy?” A thought dawned on him. “Oh shit. You don’t think the kid is Lance’s, do you? Maybe that’s the real reason she ditched town?”
“Shawn, don’t mess with my head.” She met his angry gaze. “Okay? This is the present, not the past, which is exactly what I told her.”
“Fine.” He downed half his beer then looked over at his sister. “Then why are you half-way loaded at six-thirty at night?”
Erin looked down into the newest shot glass that had arrived. “Why indeed,” she muttered, throwing back the shot.
Alex lay in bed, her sleeping son cuddled up in her arms. They’d shared a bed essentially since the day he was born. She sometimes wondered how he would deal with things once they were separated at night. Having him sleep with her had served two different purposed at two different times in their lives: first was she needed him close. Second, she didn’t have the money to give him his own bedroom, which she knew she needed to do. She’d be able to, real soon: she just knew it!
A smile on her face, Alex turned and embraced her son, ready for a new day and a new beginning. And, one that didn’t smell like a Big Mac.
Alex sat in her Buick in front of the store, fifteen minutes early for her first day of work. There was no way in hell she was going to chance screwing this opportunity up. From what she’d be making at the store, she’d be able to put away enough money to eventually get recertified and get her old job back as an X-Ray Technician, which she missed and which paid well. All that was certainly a wonderful goal, but her first goal was to make enough to get her and Chance out of the shithole they were living in and somewhere safe and clean.
Taking a deep breath, Alex grabbed her purse and keys and stepped out of the car, noticing a man who had walked up to the front door of the shop and was unlocking it.
“Hello,” she said to him, friendly and with a smile.
“Hey there. Sorry, Miss, we don’t open for another hour.”
“No, I’m Alex King.”
“Yes, of course! Welcome, Alex.” He pushed the door open, standing aside so Alex could enter. “I’m Nick, and I manage this place. So, follow me and I’ll show you where to put your stuff and we’ll get started.”
Feeling hopeful for the first time in far too long, Alex happily did as Nick asked, ready to start her day.
Erin sat at her piano, fingers on the keys though nothing came out. She had been staring at those very keys for over an hour, yet she just couldn’t bring herself to delve into her emotions enough to bring them back out in music. The ironic thing was, her emotions were the very thing that was keeping her from delving into her emotions.
“Damn,” she whispered, stroking the key her middle finger rested on. “Damn, damn, damn.”
She’d gotten a report that afternoon from Nick that the newest employee of the store was doing above and beyond what she should: she was patient, friendly, intelligent and willing to learn any and everything. She had surpassed what most people did in a day, according to Nick. He even went so far as to joke that she’d likely have his job within a month.
Erin played a note then another note and another after that. Soon, the blockage was over and her fingers were moving gracefully across the keys of her beloved baby grand. Her eyes closed and soul began to sore as she played from the heart: nothing planned, nothing written down. She was playing all the emotion that she refused to feel within her own chest, instead speaking them through her fingers.
As the emotion rose within her, so did the level and pace of the music she was creating, her body alive and moving with the quick pace and movement of her hands, fingers flying across the keys. Finally, she ended the song with a loud slam of her fingers on the keyboard.
Breathing hard from the exertion, she opened her eyes and stared down at her hands. She clenched and unclenched her fingers to work out the kinks. Finally, she pushed away from the piano and ran her hand along the smooth finish before heading into the kitchen. She’d been recording a good portion of the day and was beginning to feel a bit caged. For a moment she considered calling Adrienne to see if she wanted to go grab some dinner, but then changed her mind.
Leaving the kitchen, Erin headed upstairs to her bedroom where she changed out of her flannel pants and sweatshirt and into jeans and a t-shirt over a long-sleeved tee. Boots on and tied, she grabbed her jacket and headed out.
It was colder than a witch’s tit out as Erin sat behind the wheel of her 4-Runner. She wondered what the hell she was doing as she waited for the SUV to warm up. She rubbed her hands together before blowing on them, her breath coming out in a white puff. Though it was only just after five, the sun had already begun to set, which made it seem all that much colder.
Finally, she felt the car was heated up enough, so she slipped a CD into the player, heavy guitar and drum beat filling the cab as she headed down the street.
The store was busy, and Alex was doing all she could to keep up. She’d been on the cash register for more than a three hours, struggling to keep up with the customer flow. She was relieved to see that she and Katie, an employee of the store, had finally made headway and gotten through the crowd.
“Here you go,” she said with a smile, handing the teenage boy his change and bagged CDs. “Merry Christmas.” He muttered something that sounded like maybe it was a thank you, then left the store.
Suddenly, another blast of cold air washed through the store as the front door was opened as someone walked in. Alex looked up, surprised to see Erin , two large pizza boxes balanced on an upturned palm.
“Dinner’s here!” she announced.
“Sweet,” Katie crowed. “Ohmigod, you’re a lifesaver !” The college student ran out of the bullpen and to Erin , taking the pizza boxes from her. “I haven’t eaten since six this morning.”
With those few words of explanation, she disappeared to the back office, leaving an amused Erin and surprised Alex behind. Erin glanced over at her. “I’ve never seen a woman with the kind of appetite that Katie has.”
“She certainly seemed excited to see pizza walk through the door. Why did you bring us pizza?” Alex asked, also stepping out from inside the bullpen, where she and Katie had been bumping shoulders and butts as they tried to maneuver in the small space and check out customers.
Erin rested her hand on the counter and shrugged one shoulder. “I try and bring dinner in couple times a week during the Christmas rush. I know how tedious it gets dealing with customers all day, especially this time of year.”
“That’s really kind of you, Erin.”
Erin shrugged again, feeling slightly awkward. “So, how old is your son?”
Alex was surprised by the sudden change in topic, but was more than happy to talk about Chance. The light in her eyes spoke as much. “He just turned 3 in September.”
“That’s great. You said his name was Chance, right?” Erin asked, arms crossed over her chest.
“I imagine his father must be pretty proud, huh?” Erin fished. She knew she was being a passive/aggressive schmuck and should just ask, but something inside her wouldn’t let her.
Alex looked away, the blood suddenly running cold in her veins. “I should go get some pizza now,” she said quietly. “This lull in business won’t last, especially since we close in about an hour.” She turned to walk away.
“Wait a minute.” Erin hurried after her, stopping her with a hand to her arm. “What did I say? Did I do something wrong?”
Alex smiled and shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “I’m just hungry.”
Erin watched her leave, running a hand through her hair, utterly baffled and admittedly intrigued. “What the fuck is it about this girl?” she muttered, sighing as she turned to the cash register. A group of teenagers blew through the door, snagging her attention.
Erin watched the teenage girls, making sure they didn’t try and steal anything. She really hated when they tried to do that because then she had to become a bitch. She wasn’t fond of becoming a bitch, but she did what she had to do.
Alex headed to the manager’s office, where Nick often worked and where Katie had delivered the pizzas. In truth, she wasn’t hugely hungry, Erin inadvertently bringing back memories she didn’t want to think about.
“This is so good!” Katie exclaimed, piling her second piece of pizza onto a paper towel.
Alex smiled acknowledgment and grabbed her own slice, picking some pepperoni off the top before taking a bite. “Do you like working here, Katie?” she asked suddenly, surprising even herself by the question.
Katie looked at her for a moment as she chewed, then took a drink from the bottle of water she had with her at all times, then nodded. “Yeah, I really do. Erin and Shawn are good people. You’re really in good company, Alex.”
Alex nodded, again picking at her pizza. “I agree.”
Erin smiled at the last customer at her register, glad that it was pushing time to shut the store down. She saw Katie hurrying up to her. Standing back, arms crossed over her chest, she waited for what she knew was coming.
“So, Erin,” Katie began, straightening a few of the items on display on the bullpen counter. “You willing to stick around and let me leave a few early?”
Erin studied her, giving her silent shit, though she knew she’d give in as she had the year before. “A few early? Why?”
“Well,” Katie stammered, glancing over at Erin . Though straight, she knew that to toss somewhat flirtatious “straight girl” eyes over at Erin won her over every time. “I’ve got a paper to write. It’s the end of the semester. My last semester.”
Erin studied the girl, totally able to see right through her. “You come in an hour early Sunday, when I know you don’t have class – to help with stocking – and you can go an hour early now,” she countered.
Katie sighed, knowing full well she’d been had. “Okay. Sunday. I’ll be here at seven rather than eight.”
“Good girl,” Erin encouraged with a broad smile. “Get the hell outta here.” She watched her employee go, amused. Katie often reminded her of herself at that age: brash and full of crap. Even though, ‘that age’ had been less than three years before.
Erin knew that things would start to die down, as the time for the store to close was nearing in just over an hour, and she knew that after one last burst, business would die. So, she began straightening the store and readying it – as much as was possible during open hours – for closing.
She looked up to see Alex walking towards her. “Hey. Get some dinner?”
“I did, thank you. But, I have to ask: why on earth did you bring so much pizza? Did you honestly think Katie and I could eat two large pizzas?” Alex asked, hand on her hip.
Erin grinned with a shrug. “Nah. I’ll put it in the fridge for the tomorrow’s crew.”
Alex stared at her for a moment, touched. “I see.” She put her store apron back on, taking her time to tie it. “I’m sorry, Erin ,” she said quietly, absently fingering a display of energy drinks which was displayed on the bullpen counter. “I had no right to kind of go off on you like I did earlier.”
Erin was surprised to hear it, but decided to stay and listen. And probe. “So why did you?” she asked, even though “going off” was far too strong of a term. Even so, she felt there was some gold there to be mined.
“Well,” Alex blew out, tucking her hands into the pockets of her apron. “It’s just a very sticky story, and not one I like to talk about. But, you had no idea, and I had no right. I just had no right.”
Erin nodded in understanding and gave her a smile. “Well, no hard feelings here. ‘Kay?”
“Okay. Good, thank you.” She looked around. “Where’s Katie?”
“She had some homework to finish up so I let her go a bit early.” She stopped, glancing over at Alex. “Is that okay? I mean, I don’t want to step on your little management toes.”
Alex tried to hide her smile as she looked down. “Somehow I think you being the owner trumps my little management toes.”
“Yeah,” Erin agreed, crossing her arms over her chest. “I suppose so.” Looking into Alex’s face, she couldn’t believe that it was actually Alex’s face she was looking into. “So, when do I get to meet your little boy?” Again, Erin noticed that Alex’s face lit up the moment her son was mentioned.
“Well, if you want, you can drop by my place later.” The moment the words were out of her mouth, Alex regretted them. She didn’t really want anyone, let alone Erin to see where she was living. Even so, it was out there and she couldn’t very well retract the offer. “Uh,” she stumbled, bringing up a hand to brush her hair behind an ear. “I just will need some time to get him fed and everything.”
Erin was surprised by the invite and felt immediately uncomfortable with it. For some reason, the thought of being in Alex’s living space, her personal space and her personal life, seemed like a really bad idea. “Oh, uh,” she stammered. “Well, you know, I’ve got some recording I gotta do-“
“Hey, don’t sweat it.” Alex smiled, though she was deeply stung. “I’m sure you’ll meet him at some point.”
Alex turned and walked away, beginning closing duties and leaving Erin standing there, feeling like a complete asshole.
“Shit,” she muttered, running a hand through her hair.
She barely got the word out of her mouth when the door opened and the last minute rush began. Erin and Alex worked side by side, helping customers and ringing up their purchases, or running to the back to grab merchandise that had run out on the floor. Finally, an hour and a half later the store was empty, both women looking at each other, shell shocked from the surge. Finally they burst into laughter, releasing their pent up adrenaline and stress level.
“Wow,” Alex said, putting her code into the first register so she could pull out the money drawer.
“Yeah, wow. I love Christmas; it helps make up for the slow months.” She watched as Alex set about closing duties at the register, her guilt from earlier returning. “Hey,” she said, a hand on Alex’s arm. “Why don’t you head out.”
Alex looked over at her, surprised. “Why?”
“Go be with your son, Alex. I’ll finish up here.”
“No Erin , there’s a lot to do and I won’t leave you to do it by yourself,” Alex said, shaking her head.
“No, really. I mean it: I want you to go get your son and spend some extra time with him. It’s going to get worse around here as it gets closer to Christmas and hours will get longer.” Erin nodded her head towards the locked front door to the store. “Go.”
Alex studied Erin for a moment but then handed her the money drawer with a small smile. “Thank you.”
“Sure. Why don’t you take some of that pizza home, too? Dinner for the two of you. Or,” she said with a grin, “in my case, breakfast.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “I do not feed my child pizza, but I do feed me pizza. So, I’ll take you up on that and grab a slice or two.”
“Good deal.” Erin watched Alex head to the back room, wondering not for the first time if she’d made a huge mistake by hiring Alex and bringing her back into her life.
“Chance Michael King! Put down Thomas and come eat your dinner!” Alex glared over at her son, who insisted on continuing to play with his favorite toy train. She held up a finger from where she sat at the kitchen table for two, hair pulled up in a messy bun and face covered with the white goop of her nightly moisturizing mask, which would be cleaned off in another ten minutes. “One. Two…” She was happy, as he dropped the toy and hurried over to the table.
Chance knew better than to go against what his mommy said, so he climbed up on his chair, ready to eat.
Alex presented her son with a warmed slice of pizza for the first time in his life, hating herself for giving him such crap, but knowing it was the best thing she’d be able to give him tonight, as she’d been too tired to hit the store on the way home.
“Enjoy it, little man,” she murmured, sitting at the table across from him, chin resting in an upturned palm. “It’s your introduction to grease, cheese, sugary tomato sauce and manufactured pork called ‘pepperoni’.” To her horror, he began to dig in with relish. “Fuck,” she whispered. “Thanks, Erin .”
Alex gasped in surprise and slight fear as there was a knock at the door. She pushed up from her chair and walked the short space to the door. “Who is it?” she called out, not trusting the neighborhood enough to just open up and say hello.
“ Erin ,” came the muffled reply from the other side.
Suddenly panicked as she knew she looked like hell, reluctantly Alex unlocked and pulled open the door. A smirking Erin stood on the other side. “If you say a word, I’ll have to murder you slowly,” Alex warned.
Erin raised her hands in supplication. “My lips are sealed, other than to say white is certainly your color.”
Alex rolled her eyes before tilting her head slightly as she looked back to Erin . “What are you doing here, and how on earth did you know where I lived?”
“Momma, who is it?” Chance asked, his curiosity overriding his hunger and taste for his new treat. He ran over to his mother and was swiftly picked up in loving arms.
“This is my friend Erin. Erin, this is my son, Chance,” Alex announced proudly, for a moment forgetting the fact that she looked like a ridiculous Casper the friendly ghost.
Erin looked at, what she thought was the most beautiful little boy she’d ever seen. His big, curious green eyes looked up at her, flanked by the longest eyelashes she’d ever seen. Dark brown bangs brushed those eyes, giving him ever the appearance of innocent youth. “Well, it is an absolute pleasure to meet you, Chance,” she said with a smile, extending a hand out to him.
“Shake her hand, honey,” Alex said quietly to her son.
Chance looked at the hand and then up at Erin’s face before he finally extended his own small hand, which was gripped in Erin ‘s much larger one.
Erin smiled, utterly charmed by the boy. She looked up to meet Alex’s gaze. “Can I come in?”
“Oh! God, how rude of me. Yes.” Alex set Chance down and sent him back to his dinner with a playful smack on his behind. “I know it’s not much, but it’s home; for now.”
Erin entered, looking around and trying to keep her thoughts off her face. The room was tiny, and in all honesty, she had no idea how Alex could live in that room, let alone living in that room with a toddler.
Alex hurried to the bathroom and scrubbed the goop off her face, tempted to fix her hair when she realized she was being ridiculous. She did, however wonder what Erin was thinking as she took in their space.
“I know it’s small,” Alex said quietly. “But, it’ll do for now.”
Erin looked at her, concerned. “Is it safe here, Alex? I mean, the shitty neighborhood-“
Alex put a finger to her lips and nodded towards where her son was eating his pizza, his gaze on the two women the whole time. “It’s temporary.”
“Sorry.” Erin gave her a sheepish grin. “I should know better, considering I’m around Elijah all the time.” She glanced over at Chance. “You know, I bet the boys would have a blast playing together. Chance is 3, right?”
“He turned 3 in September.”
“Elijah will be 3 in March, so, perfect.”
“Well,” Alex said, warmth spreading through her entire body. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about anyone or anything in remote personal terms in four years. Her life had become Chance and surviving both her exterior world, as well as her internal one. “Maybe we can make a play date for the boys. Would you like that, sweetie?”
Chance looked at his mother, even as he licked the pizza sauce off the hand-tossed crust.
“Chance!” Alex hurried over to him. “No honey, you have to eat the whole thing.”
Erin stood back, thoroughly amused. “I thought you didn’t feed your child pizza?” she reminded.
Alex glared good-naturedly at Erin over her shoulder before turning back to her son, using a napkin to clean his face off. “You’ve made a complete mess, Chance,” she muttered, irritated as she knew he’d be hungry later. He’d eaten all the toppings off, but had tried very little of the crust.
“I can see you’ve got a bit of a mess on your hands, so I’ll get out of your hair,” Erin chuckled. “The store is having our annual Christmas party this Saturday. You two wanna go?”
Alex glanced over her shoulder at Erin again, contemplating the invite and then smiling with a nod. “Sure. We’ll go. Where is it?”
“I’ll make sure you get the details from Nick. Bring Chance; Shawn and Lisa will be there with Elijah.”
“Okay. We’ll be there.” Alex followed Erin to the door. “ Erin ?”
“Yeah?” Erin turned to look at her.
“Thank you. What you’ve done means the world to me and Chance. I couldn’t have dreamed of getting out of here without the job at the store. Thank you.”
Erin smiled, for some reason, opening her arms and pulling Alex in for a hug. “You’re welcome,” she said into the hug. Just as suddenly as she’d offered the hug, she stepped back from it and stepped back into the hallway outside Alex’s door. “I’ll make sure Nick gets the info to you for the Christmas party.”
“Great. Good. I look forward to it.” Alex smiled. She closed and locked the door after Erin left, resting her forehead against the wood. “Shit,” she whispered. “I can’t do this again.”
Erin hurried away from the door, as though she were being chased by the ghost of Christmas past. In essence, she was. She stopped mid-stair, hand on the time-smoothed railing. She glanced back over her shoulder and looked at the closed door that would lead to Alex’s apartment. For a long moment she contemplated the woman who had come back into her life in such vastly different and unfortunate circumstances. The very same woman who had been so strong and confident four years before. A woman who had taken Erin ‘s breath away with a single glance or a single teasing word.
The woman she knew now – barely knew at best – was quiet, reserved and beaten down. What had happened? What kind of hell had she met when she’d left town? Was Chance part of that hell? Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, Erin knew she couldn’t go back in time, couldn’t bring back what wasn’t meant to be, and perhaps, what should never have been.
She sighed and continued on her way down the stairs. “This sucks,” she muttered. She was stopped by the sudden appearance of a very drunk man wearing a stained wife beater and baggy jeans. “Hola,” she said, gauging his language from the loud Spanish music that blasted out from inside his open apartment door.
The man leered at her, looking her up and down, even as he took a drink from his beer. “ Mira, Ella tiene las tetas firmes,” he slurred, nodding back towards the stairs that Erin had just come down, his hands cupping invisible breasts on his own chest.
Not understanding, Erin glared and hurried past him, a chill rushing up her spine. She heard his laughter follow her down the next set of stairs which took her to the first floor, the sound not dying until she was back out into the cold, snow-filled night.
“Asshole,” she muttered, digging her keys out of her coat pocket and unlocking her car.
“Wait, George let’s take it from the beginning,” Erin pleaded, fingers falling from the keyboard. “I really didn’t like that one.”
George, Erin’s music engineer of two years, stared at her through the glass from the engineer’s booth into the small soundproofed cubical where Erin and her keyboard was. He hit the button which would allow his voice to be heard in Erin ‘s headphones. “ Erin , really? This is like take twelve.”
Erin looked down at her fingers, which rested on the keys. She knew he was right, but wasn’t willing to throw in the towel of admittance quite yet. “Yeah, and?”
“ Yeah, and, it never takes you this long to get a track down,” George retorted, blonde brows raised in question.
“Fuck, you’re right.” Erin sighed, sitting back in the chair she sat in. Before her sat a state-of-the-art keyboard system with everything she could possibly want. She could make any sound, any nuance, any musical instrument she wanted without having to have a twenty piece symphony behind her. She stared down at the keys, knowing full well that her distracted mind would never allow her to play as purely as she normally did. She looked back to George in the booth. “Let’s cut it for today, ‘kay?”
“You got it, woman.” George began to shut everything down, making sure that they got everything that was good from the day’s session.
Erin turned off her keyboard and made her way out of the booth and recording studio that was her basement, minus the bedroom that she left down there. Upstairs, she got herself a glass of water and downed it in seconds. Something inside was wrong and she knew it. Gasping for breath after downing the large amount of liquid, she heard George enter the room.
“Yes George,” she said, setting the glass down on the counter. “I know I’m not at my best today, and I don’t need to hear your shit.”
“I wasn’t going to give you shit, Erin ,” he said softly. “I was just going to ask if there was anything I could do. You were horribly distracted today.”
Erin nodded. “It happens.”
“Alright, well I’m gonna head out. Tomorrow same time?”
“Yeah, George, thanks. See you then.” Erin walked with her friend to the door, closing it and locking it after he left. She let out a heavy sigh, hands running through her hair. She had to get ready for the Christmas party anyway, so perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing the session ended a bit early.
The party was being held at a small banquet hall with a live band, tables filled with food and a cash bar. The fifteen employees of the store and their families had all been invited, as well as a few of Erin ‘s recording friends.
Wearing fitted slacks and a button up shirt that was perhaps unbuttoned one too low, Erin sipped a glass of wine as she stood and talked to Nick, who was filling her in on the day’s activities and sales at the store. As she listened, she surreptitiously looked around, not trying to look for anyone in particular, but not seeing that ‘not anyone’ in particular.
“Did Alex say she was coming?” she asked, interrupting Nick’s diatribe.
“Huh?” he asked, his brain trying to catch up to the sudden change of topic. “Uh, yeah. She said so today.”
Erin checked her phone for the time then was startled as it sang to life in her hand. She hit the touch screen of her iPhone and brought the phone up to her ear. “Hello?”
“ Erin , this is Alex. I’m really sorry to bother you, but my car broke down.”
“Where are you at?”
“I’m at a gas station here on 6 th . I’m using their payphone. It’s really close to the Olive Garden. God, I’m so sorry, Erin . I feel like a complete idiot. Really, I’m sorry to be so much trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be there in a ten minutes.”
Erin said her goodbyes to both Alex and Nick, then slid her phone into her pocket then hurried towards the exit, nearly running into Adrienne on her way out.
“Hey!” Adrienne grinned, taking Erin in a quick, but deep kiss. “Sorry I’m late, baby. I got her as fast as I could.”
“I’ll be right back, babe. I have to go pick up an employee whose car broke down,” Erin said, trying to brush past her girlfriend.
“Oh. I’ll go with you!”
Erin wanted to grit her teeth in irritation, but instead led the way outside into the frigid night – a storm expected – and to her 4-Runner. She and Adrienne buckled up and Erin backed out of the parking space, putting the SUV into 4-wheel drive, as the streets were covered in black ice with a thin layer of snow powdered over it.
“These streets are nasty,” Adrienne said, her voice booming in the quiet cab. Erin hadn’t even bothered to turn on music, as she needed her full concentration. “Why exactly are we risking our lives to go get this person?”
“You didn’t have to come, Adrienne,” Erin reminded, her gaze never leaving the road before her.
Adrienne rolled her eyes and looked out at the evening beyond the windows. “You asked me to,” she muttered.
“No, I didn’t, and I refuse to argue with you right now. I need to keep us alive until we reach her.”
“Her?” Adrienne asked, voice skeptical.
Erin sighed, her irritation growing. “Damn it, Adrienne, do you have to always bring this shit up?”
“Do you always have to open your pants?” Adrienne muttered, deciding to shut up, as she knew the roads were far too dangerous to fight.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Erin muttered, shaking her head, eyes never leaving the road. “You really shouldn’t presume, Adrienne.”
Erin ignored the quip as she spied the gas station and saw the old, ugly Buick parked under the light by the convenience store building. She pulled the black SUV up next to it and smiled at Alex, both sitting behind the wheel of their respective cars.
Erin finally pushed out of hers and hurried over to the driver’s side door of Alex’s piece of shit car. “Are you okay?” she asked as Alex stepped out of the car.
“Yeah,” Alex assured, slamming the driver’s side door closed. “The car started to sputter so I turned into this parking lot and the damn thing just died.” She glanced over to the 4-Runner, noting the woman in the front passenger seat who was glaring at her. “Um, am I making trouble for you, Erin?”
Erin followed Alex’s gaze then sighed, running a hand through her hair as she turned back to Alex, shaking her head. “No. Let’s just get you and Chance loaded into my car and get on our way, okay?”
Alex nodded. “Okay.”
With a quick glance at each other, they got Chance and his car seat transferred from Alex’s Buick to Erin ‘s SUV and Alex buckled in beside him in the backseat. She glanced over to the front passenger seat at the woman who sat there quiet and sullen. She decided that if she was in Erin ‘s car, she obviously meant something to her.
“Hi, I’m Alex,” she said, extending her hand.
Adrienne turned slightly in her seat, just enough to be able to take Alex’s hand in a weak shake. “Adrienne. I’m Erin ‘s fuck buddy.”
“Adrienne!” Erin hissed, nodding back towards Chance. “Watch your fucking mouth.” She sent an apologetic smile to Alex through the rearview mirror.
“You mean like you’re doing?” Adrienne quipped, turning her attention to the night beyond her passenger-side window.
Alex watched the interaction between the two, wondering what exactly the deal was. Feeling like she was intruding upon something extremely personal, she turned her attention to Chance, smiling reassuringly at him and brushing his bangs out of his eyes. “You need a haircut again, sweetie,” she said quietly.
Adrienne glanced back to the woman sitting in the back seat, directly behind Erin . She had to admit she was hot as hell; long blonde hair and piercing green eyes. She couldn’t get a take on what her body looked like, as she was dwarfed beneath her cheap, oversized winter coat. She looked a little thin for Adrienne’s taste, but still she knew she could do plenty with her.
“How long have you worked at the store?” she asked her, voice sweet and friendly.
Erin glared over at Adrienne, knowing that tone all too well. She wanted to tell Adrienne to leave Alex alone, but knew she had no real reason to, except maybe for a bit of… jealousy. She quickly tossed her gaze back to the road, not only did she not trust the weather conditions but she didn’t trust herself, either.
It took Alex a moment to realize the woman sitting in the passenger seat was talking to her. “I’m sorry?”
“I asked how long you’ve worked for Shawn and Erin.”
“Oh. Not long; a few weeks is all.” She gave Adrienne a polite smile. She did not like this woman and thought she was all wrong for Erin . Adrienne was beautiful, with long brown hair and big steely blue eyes. In those eyes, however, was judgment and what looked to be an innate bitchiness. She hoped for Erin ‘s sake that she was good in bed, as she didn’t see a whole lot of other redeeming qualities in her.
“That’s great.” She flashed a pearly white smile at Alex, her gaze scanning over what she could see of her. “You’re son is beautiful; kind of like his mother.”
Alex tried not to smirk at Adrienne’s thinly veiled flirting. She glanced over at Erin , meeting her gaze in the rearview mirror before turning her focus back to Adrienne. “Thank you. He’s my life.”
“I can imagine. I have a daughter, but she lives with her father.”
Alex was about to respond when suddenly the 4Runner lurched, Erin cursing under her breath. The SUV was caught on ice and fishtailed wildly, Erin tapping the brakes and turning the wheel into the slide. The SUV came to a stop, just shy of hitting another car.
Alex’s heart was racing, her hand immediately going to Chance, resting on his legs as though just to reassure herself that he was okay. “Holy crap,” she breathed.
“Everyone okay?” Erin asked, her own heart in her throat and legs like rubber. She met Alex’s gaze in the rearview mirror again and didn’t look away until Alex nodded at her. She glanced over at Adrienne, who had a hand to her chest and eyes closed. “You okay?” she asked quietly.
Adrienne nodded then blew out a breath. “Yes. That car was just coming at us really close as you slid.”
“I know.” Erin looked out into the night, noting how quickly the light snowfall had thickened, becoming more dangerous by the minute. “You know, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to be out in this, guys.”
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Alex admitted, face plastered to the cold window next to her as visibility began to dwindle. “I’m so sorry to get you out in this, Erin .”
“No, don’t you dare apologize. It’s probably a good thing, because we would have had no idea how bad it was getting.” Erin got the SUV going again and headed to the banquet hall, which wasn’t far. “What does everyone want to do?”
“Well, why don’t you get me to my car and I’ll head home,” Adrienne said. “I don’t want to be out in this shit later than I have to be.”
“Alex?” Erin asked, glancing at her through the rearview mirror.
“Whatever is easier for you, Erin. I know my place is a ways from here.”
Erin nodded, carefully pulling into the parking lot of the banquet hall, where people were already beginning to get in their cars. She spotted Shawn, honking her horn to get his attention. Her window buzzed down as he walked up to the driver’s side door. “What’s going on?”
“They’ve closed the hall down; that winter storm has been changed to a blizzard, and it’s pretty much on top of us,” he explained, giving Alex a nod in greeting before he saw Chance. “Is that your little boy, Alex?”
“Yes. Chance, this is Erin ‘s big brother, Shawn,” Alex said to the boy, who just stared at Shawn. “He’s shy,” she explained with a smile.
“Elijah can be the same way. Guess we’ll introduce the boys some other time. For now,” he said, turning back to Erin . “You guys all need to get home while you still can.” He stepped away from the SUV, patting the door to let Erin knew she could roll the window back up, which she did.
“This is where I get off,” Adrienne said, unbuckling her seatbelt and leaning over towards Erin . She grabbed the back of her head and held her for a lingering, deep kiss.
Alex turned away, once again feeling as though she were intruding. Besides, it made her incredibly uncomfortable: Adrienne shouldn’t be doing that in front of a child.
“See you around, Alex,” Adrienne said as she ended the kiss. She climbed out of the car and slammed the door shut, hurrying over to her own car.
Erin was irritated, as she knew Adrienne had done that for Alex’s benefit. “Want to climbed up front?” she asked Alex, who quickly did just that. “What do you want to do?” she asked again.
Alex let out a heavy breath, looking out into the busy parking lot. “I don’t want to ask you to drive us all the way back to my place, Erin ,” she said quietly. “Is there a motel nearby? Chance and I can wait out the storm there.”
“Alex, this storm could last for days,” Erin pointed out. Suddenly, without another word, she put the SUV in gear, throwing it into four wheel drive, and carefully made her way out of the parking lot.
“Where are we going?” Alex asked, trying to get a handle on where they were going, but it was hard as visibility continued to get worse.
“I’m taking you guys to my house. It’s close and there’s plenty of room for all of us,” Erin explained.
“No, Erin. No way are we going to intrude like that-“
“You won’t be intruding, Alex, I promise,” Erin interrupted. In truth, the storm was getting worse and she was scared to death as she crawled her way through it. Her house was only a mile away, and there was no way in hell she was going to drive anywhere else.
“Won’t Shawn and Lisa get mad?”
“They have their own house, now. I took over the old place,” Erin explained absently, trying to focus on the nasty conditions outside.
Alex had more questions but decided to keep them to herself for the moment so they could get home alive.
What normally would have been a two minute drive took nearly thirty-five minutes. Erin pulled the 4Runner into the driveway and pulled the break, both she and Alex letting out a sigh of relief and a shared glance.
“Nicely done,” Alex murmured.
“Thanks.” Erin flexed her fingers, cramped from holding the steering wheel so tightly. They both smiled then took a deep breath before braving the storm.
Erin unlocked the front door as quickly as her frozen fingers would allow, holding the door open so Alex could hurry inside, Chance cradled in her arms. Relieved to be out of the cold and raging winds and snow, she set her son down, though he stayed close to her, an arm wrapped around one of her legs.
“Everyone okay?” Erin asked, closing and locking the front door and flicking on the entryway light.
Alex nodded, her hand absently running through Chance’s hair. “My god, that came out of nowhere. I thought it wasn’t expected for a few hours?”
“Guess they were wrong,” Erin muttered, unzipping her jacket and shaking it off her shoulders and down her arms. “Come on in you two; make yourselves comfortable.”
She flicked on the living room lights, tossing her jacket to the couch and heading to the kitchen, dying for a cup of coffee to thaw her insides. Alex was left to look around the newly-renovated house.
“Wow,” she said, looking over the beautiful leather furniture and flat screen plasma TV that was mounted to the wall above the fireplace. But, what really got her attention was the gorgeous baby grand piano that sat where the small dining room table once had. In fact, she remembered playing poker at that very table. “This is all really gorgeous, Erin ,” she said, walking over to the piano, Chance staying at her side.
“Thanks,” Erin called from the kitchen where she had a pot of coffee brewing. She joined Alex and Chance by the piano. “After I took the house over, I refinanced it and used the money to do a few renovations and update. I also built a recording studio in the basement.”
Alex crossed her arms over her chest. “You’ve mentioned recording a few times now, and I’ve heard people talking about it at the store. What have you done?”
Erin gave her a sheepish grin. “Took my songs to CDs.”
“You’ve made CDs?” Alex asked, pleasantly shocked.
Erin nodded, feeling shy for some reason. She watched as her finger ran a lazy pattern over the smooth surface of the piano. “Yeah. Finally I did it. They’ve sold fairly well, too.”
Alex shook her head, eyes wide in surprise. “You did it,” she breathed. “You finally did it.”
“Yeah,” Erin said softly. “I did it.”
“Can I hear it? Can I buy a signed copy?” Alex asked, excited.
Erin chuckled. “I’ll give you copies, and yes, I’ll sign them,” Erin promised, leading the way into the kitchen. “Can I get you guys anything? Has he eaten, Alex?”
“No, he hasn’t, and copies, as in more than one?”
“Yes. Copies as in three,” Erin bragged, opening her fridge to look inside. “What do you want to give him?”
“Do you happen to have hotdogs? He loves them.”
“Why yes I do.” Erin grinned at Alex over her shoulder. “I do have a nephew who’s almost 3, ya know. He can’t get enough of those foul things.” She squatted down so she was closer to Chance’s eyelevel. “Hey, handsome. You wanna hotdog?”
Finger in his mouth, Chance nodded slowly, eyes wide with fear and confusion.
“Okay, buddy. We’ll get a hotdog for ya, okay?” She gave him her biggest and brightest smile. “I bet I know what you’d like.” She got to her feet and grinned at Alex before heading out of the kitchen. “Get it going, Alex,” she called over her shoulder. “The pans are in the cabinet under the microwave or just use the microwave!”
Left alone, Alex shook her head, amused before she went to the fridge to find the hotdogs, which was easy enough, as they were prominently displayed on the second shelf, the opened package zipped up in a Ziploc baggie.
“Do you want cheese, sweetheart?” she asked her son, who swung back and forth on that particular item. She wasn’t sure if today was a cheese day or not. At the shake of his head, she closed the fridge door and searched around until she found the plates.
“Here we go, Chance.” Erin hopped down the final step of the stairs, a laundry basket filled with Elijah’s toys in hand.
“You know he’s not going to eat now, don’t you?” Alex asked from the kitchen doorway, hand on hip.
Erin grinned, looking like a big kid herself as she lowered herself to the floor, trying to get Chance to trust her and join her. “Look, Chance!” she exclaimed, bringing out a couple large, plastic cars and making engine sounds as she ‘drove’ the cars all over the carpet.
Slowly Chance eased himself away from his mother and over to Erin , his finger never leaving his mouth. His gaze swept from the plethora of toys to Erin and back to the brightly colored toys. Finally, he sat down on the other side of the toy pile from Erin , his curiosity overwriting his uncertainty.
Alex watched, amused and touched as Erin played with her son. In truth, at times she wasn’t sure who was the 3 year old and who was the 23 year old. A smile on her face, she walked back into the kitchen to check on Chance’s hotdog, which was currently sitting in a sauce pan of boiling water.
“I think he’s finally relaxing,” Erin said, suddenly standing a few feet behind Alex. She chuckled when Alex started at her voice. “Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Alex teased. “And, I’m glad.” She glanced out into the living room to see, sure enough, Chance was playing freely, making all of his cute little noises for cars and animals as he did. “He’s such a shy boy.”
“Why?” Erin asked, leaning back against the counter by the coffee pot.
Alex let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. “Well, things haven’t exactly been stable for him, Erin.” She was too ashamed to meet Erin ‘s piercing gaze, so she kept her eyes on the boiling water.
“For you either, then?” Erin asked gently. She grabbed herself a mug from the cabinet near her head. “Want some?”
Alex nodded. “Yeah, thanks. And, no. Long story.” Satisfied that the hotdog was warm enough, she turned off the burner and forked the frank out of the water and placed it on the plate. “Chance, come eat, honey,” she called to her son, again glancing his way. As most 3 year olds do, he ignored her and continued to play. “Chance: one, two…” As usual, Alex never usually had to hit three.
Erin watched in awe as the little boy ran to the kitchen and climbed up on the chair Alex pulled out for him. “How on earth did you do that?” she asked, watching as Alex set a plate of cut up hotdog in front of the boy.
“Do what?” Alex asked absently, grabbing the ketchup from the fridge and squirting some on the plate.
“Elijah never listens to me,” Erin complained, arms crossed over her chest.
Alex laughed. “My guess would be because you’re probably a complete push over.” She glanced over at Erin . “Am I right?”
Erin didn’t bother responding, instead she walked to the fridge and grabbed the creamer for her coffee and sugar from the cabinet. She blanched at Alex’s laughter behind her. “Yeah, yeah,” she muttered. “They’re toys are fun.”
Alex was amused and relatively charmed. “Do you have any milk, Erin ?”
Rather than responding verbally, Erin grabbed the gallon jug of two percent and one of Elijah’s sippie cups and poured Chance a drink.
“Thank you,” Alex said softly, taking the cup from Erin and setting it in front of her son.
“What about you?” Erin asked. “Are you hungry? I’ve got some really awesome left over spaghetti that I made yesterday.”
“ You made it?” Alex asked, brows raised in doubt.
“Hey, I’m not a pumpkin picker forever, woman. I do have some other skills, you know.”
Alex turned immediately red at the mention of the game she and Erin had played four years before. “Well,” she said, loser of the bantering game. “I’m sure you do. And, sure: if it’s not too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all.” Erin gave her a willing smile then set about scooping two bowls of her famous spaghetti out before warming both bowls in the microwave. “I got this recipe from my mother, actually.”
Alex – who sat at the table watching her son’s dinner progress – was confused. “Didn’t your mother disappear or something?”
Erin nodded, glancing over her shoulder at Alex as she stood waiting for the microwave to finish. “I was pretty young. But,” she shrugged, “I guess I showed cooking prowess because she showed me a lot of things. It’s all I got from her, really. Other than DNA, that’s it.”
Alex said nothing, even as her stomach rumbled to the smells that began to fill the kitchen. She pushed up from her chair and walked to the fridge. “Want anything to drink?”
“Water’s fine,” Erin said, pushing the button to release the door as the microwave beeped its finish.
Alex grabbed two bottles of water from the top shelf and set them in front of two places at the table. “I’m not much of a cook,” she admitted. “It’s not that I don’t like to cook, I just don’t have much innate sense for flavors and spices. That kind of thing.”
“Well,” Erin said, cursing under her breath as she grabbed two very hot bowls with her bare hands. She grabbed an oven mitt for each hand before extracting the bowls. “It’s an instinct. Like music or writing.” She set a bowl down in front of Alex. “If you want, I can try and show you. Parmesan?”
“Oh my god, yes!” Alex exclaimed, closing her eyes and inhaling the aroma that filled the kitchen. Even Chance seemed interested in what he was smelling.
Erin grabbed the small canister from the fridge and shook a generous amount on Alex’s dinner then her own. “I actually love to cook and bake; it’s pretty calming for me. The only problem is,” Erin said, sliding into a chair next to Alex’s. “When it’s just you, it’s not as fun. “
“Well, right now I’m lucky that all Chance really wants to eat is hotdogs or macaroni and cheese. That I can handle.” Alex took a bite of her spaghetti, flavors exploding in her mouth as her eyes closed and she savored the food.
Erin watched, amused. But, she also took an unobserved moment to study Alex’s face: it was still so surreal that Alex was sitting in her kitchen, eating her spaghetti after so long. This was especially so since Erin had tried to do a lot of work on herself after Alex left, wanting to forget. It bothered her that she thought Alex was just as beautiful today as she did the first day she’d seen her. She quickly looked away, not wanting to ever feel a pull to Alex again.
“This is fantastic, Erin ,” Alex complimented, twirling her fork in the noodles for another bite.
“I’d give you the bedroom in the basement, but I’m having some plumbing issues with the bathroom down there, so I figure this way, if you or Chance need anything, you can just use the bathroom across the hall, which will be yours.” Erin smiled. “I’ve got my own bathroom in my bedroom.”
Alex looked down to her shoes. “I know,” she said quietly. She looked up to meet Erin ‘s gaze. “Thank you. I really appreciate this.”
Erin shoved her hands in her pockets, not wanting to hold up Alex, who held a sleeping Chance in her arms. “Well, you guys get some good sleep. Tomorrow Shawn and I will take a look at your car and see what the problem is.” She gave her a quick smile before heading off to her own bedroom. She stopped at the opened door, turning to see Alex just about to enter the guest bedroom. “Goodnight, Alex.”
Alex glanced at her. “’Night, Erin.” With that, she was gone.
Erin sighed before banging her head lightly against the wall behind her. “Fuck,” she muttered, then headed to her own bedroom.
Erin stood at the back patio door in the dining room area, her piano behind her. She cradled a cup of coffee in her hands as she stared out into the white day beyond. She was startled when she felt a small tug at her flannel pants. Looking down, she saw Chance looking up at her.
“I gotta go potty,” he said quietly, green eyes looking up at her through his long lashes.
Utterly charmed, Erin smiled. “Of course, sweetie. Come on.”
Erin set her coffee cup down on the piano bench and took Chance by the hand, leading him back up the stairs and into the bathroom. She pulled Elijah’s potty chair out from under the sink and placed it for him.
“Here you go, Chance. Are you okay in here by yourself?”
He looked at the chair then back up at her. “Will you stay?”
Erin ‘s mouth fell open but nothing fell out. Finally, she gave him a smile and nodded. “Okay.” Feeling awkward, she sat down on the closed toilet lid, trying not to watch as he pushed down his pants and sat on the mini-toilet. They sat in silence for a long moment, Chance glancing at her from time to time.
Unsure what to say or do, Erin stared at the tub, reading the labels on the shampoo and conditioner bottles that littered the edges, as well as the partially-used bar of soap. She glanced over at the boy when she heard the sound of urine hitting the empty plastic pot. He met her gaze and she smiled before looking away again.
Alex turned over, a sigh escaping her lips as she made her way into consciousness. She tried to squeeze her eyes shut tighter as the light beyond the closed window shade crept inside. Finally, she gave up, opening her eyes, only to squint against the intense light. She turned to her other side, a hand reaching out automatically for the tiny body that wasn’t there.
“Chance?” she said, looking to see where her child should be. Disoriented, she began to panic when she saw he wasn’t there. “Chance?”
“Drop it in,” Erin encouraged, the broken egg shell in the boy’s hands. She watched as the yellow insides plopped down into the bowl of previously-added ingredients. “Good boy!”
Chance grinned up at her, proud of his achievement. Not sure what to do with the slimy egg shell, he dropped it, too into the bowl.
Erin chuckled, carefully picking the shell out of the pancake batter. “You did real good, sweetie. Real good.” She met the huge grin of the little boy who stood on a chair next to her at the kitchen counter. They were both startled when Alex crashed into the room in a near panic. “Good morning, Alex.”
Erin barely got the words out of her mouth before Alex rushed over to Chance, taking him into her arms and hugging him close. “Oh god,” she breathed. “Oh god, I thought you were gone.”
Erin watched, stunned. “We were just making breakfast,” she explained, only to be met with the glare of a momma bear.
“This is my child,” Alex hissed, holding Chance close to her with a hand on the back of his head. “Not yours.”
“Alex, I’m sorry…” Erin was taken aback, not sure what to say. “Really, we were just making breakfast.”
“I cracked an egg, Momma,” Chance said, proud of his accomplishment.
The soft words of her son pulled Alex out of her panic, her glare on Erin turning into a loving gaze to her son. “You did?” she managed, trying her best to push her emotions down. “That’s wonderful.”
“It was lellow!” the boy added.
“Yellow, honey. It was yellow,” Alex corrected, her voice somewhat thick with unshed emotion.
“Yellow,” he repeated.
“Alex?” Erin said, carefully approaching mother and son. She truly felt like she was approached a bear and her cub. “It’s okay,” she said, waiting until she had a slightly frazzled green gaze on her own. “We were just making breakfast. Chance, here was helping me. Weren’t ya, buddy?” she said, giving the boy a huge grin, which she got in return, as well as a vigorous nod. She was relieved to see that the boy seemed to not realize how frantic his mother was, but instead was keeping his low key, laid back approach to life. Her gaze returned to Alex’s. “Okay?”
Alex, feeling like a complete idiot, nodded. “Breakfast is good.” She released her son, setting him back onto the chair she found him on. “Breakfast is real good.”
Erin waited until Alex met her gaze, trying to read what lay within. “Breakfast,” she repeated. She saw a softening in Alex’s demeanor and an understanding. “Go get ready for breakfast, Alex.”
Alex took several deep breaths, feeling foolish yet deeply grateful. “I’ll get ready for breakfast.” She turned to leave the room only to stop, turning to look at Erin over her shoulder. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Only get rid of your morning breath,” Erin teased. It was only when she saw the answering understanding and smile that she was able to let a relieved breath go.
“He’s finally down,” Alex said, making her way into the living room after putting her son down for a nap in the afternoon. She headed into the open door of the studio where Erin sat at an elaborate keyboard, long, graceful fingers moving over random keys. She stood back, arms crossed over her chest as she watched and listened.
Erin knew Alex was there, but decided to finish the little ditty she’d just created. Finished, she didn’t look at Alex as she asked, “What happened this morning, Alex?”
Alex stared down at her feet for a long moment, arms crossed protectively over her chest. Finally, she sat down on the bench next to Erin, even as Erin continued to stroke various keys. “It always amazed me what you could produce with just a few strokes of your fingers,” Alex said softly, meeting Erin ‘s eyes for a moment before looking away. “The story of Chance is incredibly complicated.”
Erin rested her fingers on the keyboard and glanced over at Alex. “How do you mean?”
“Please don’t stop playing,” Alex whispered. “It’s soothing.” When Erin resumed her playing, Alex continued. “After everything happened with Lance and you and everything, I decided to make a new start somewhere else, so I literally pulled out a map and poked. I ended up in Cleveland , Ohio . I got a job there at a hospital and things seemed to be going pretty well for a month or so.” She let out a heavy breath, forcing herself to continue. “One of the doctors I worked with introduced me to his brother.” She gave Erin a small smile. “I guess he thought just because I was single I was looking, I don’t know. Anyway, I told the guy, Kurt, that I wasn’t interested, but he was relentless.”
Erin listened, doing all she could to push down the rising jealousy. It was so hard to think of Alex with anyone else; certainly with a man. Even so, she sensed she really wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear.
“Finally, I agreed to get a cup of coffee with him. In truth, I think it mostly just to make a new friend; I had no desire to date anyone. I was just trying to figure out who I was, you know?”
Erin met Alex’s very sad gaze and nodded. She so badly wanted to reach out to her, comfort her. “What happened, Alex?” she asked softly.
“About two weeks after we started sort of seeing each other…” Alex turned away, shame and remembered pain gripping her heart.
“Ah jeez,” Erin breathed, not needing to hear anymore. “Alex?” she whispered. When Alex’s tear-filled gaze finally met her own, Erin reached a hand up, brushing some hair behind an ear. “Come here.”
Alex didn’t have to be asked twice. She scooted the scant few inches on the bench until she was wrapped in Erin ‘s arms, her emotion releasing in gentle crying.
Erin held her tight, fighting back her own tears. “I’m so sorry, baby,” she whispered, cradling Alex’s head against her shoulder. “So sorry.”
After a long moment, Alex got herself calmed down and pulled away from Erin so she could look into her face. “I’m so sorry for running,” she said, bringing up a hand and wiping at her tear-streaked face. She studied Erin ‘s face, regret plain in Alex’s eyes.
“I never should have run away from you.”
Erin was surprised by the words and sudden change of topic. “Everything happens for a reason, Alex,” she said, turning away to look at her hands, which rested idle on the keyboard now.
“Do you hate me, Erin?” Alex asked, almost holding her breath as she waited for the answer.
Erin shook her head, but didn’t look at her. “No. I was hurt and deeply disappointed, but I don’t hate you. Never did.”
“You should have.”
Erin looked at her, brows drawn. “Why?”
“Because I’m a coward. A complete and total coward.”
“Don’t,” Erin said softly. “Don’t talk about yourself that way, Alex. It all worked out. Besides, if you’d stayed, you wouldn’t have Chance.”
“Well, maybe I would, but it wouldn’t be because of Kurt, but maybe we-”
“Stop,” Erin said, shaking her head as she pushed up from the bench. “Don’t.” She walked away from the keyboard, hands shoved into the pockets of her flannel pants. “That’s not a fair thing to say, and it’s too late for that, anyway.”
Alex watched her slow pacing. “I guess it is.” She sighed, also pushing to her feet. “I’m going to go check on Chance.”
Left alone, Erin let out a heavy sigh and pushed her hair back away from her face. She was torn and deeply troubled. If she didn’t know better, she’d say Alex was hinting at possibly starting things again, which was something she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to do. The strange thing was, she and Alex had only spent one night together: one amazing, incredible, passionate night together, but it was still just one night. In truth, Erin really had no jurisdiction to be hurt or angry with Alex, but she couldn’t help it.
“I was in love with her,” she whispered, admitting it to herself. “Fuck.”
She looked around the room and then suddenly had an idea. She hurried out of the studio and into the unfinished portion of the basement where storage was.
Alex sat on the side of the bed she and Chance had shared the night before, and from the look of the raging storm outside, would be again that night. Her son was sound asleep, looking so small and vulnerable all wrapped up in the comforter. She wanted to smooth his hair back but was afraid she’d wake him up, so just watched him, instead.
Alex had wanted to find out if there would ever be a chance again for her and Erin, but from what Erin had said downstairs, she feared that ship had sailed and that she had ruined her chance with the one person who she knew she could really love.
“I really fucked up,” she whispered, a sad sigh escaping.
Finally, Alex decided she’d been hiding long enough so went back downstairs. She heard movement in the living room as she headed down the stairs, careful to not trip over the oversized sweats she’d borrowed from Erin . She saw a smattering of plastic tubs that had been placed near the piano, and Erin entered the room carrying another one.
“What’s all this?” Alex asked, walking over to her.
“Well,” Erin said, setting the tub down with a grunt of exertion. “I figured if we’re stuck inside as a blizzard rages outside, why not put up the tree?”
“Yes, I noticed that it’s two days before Christmas and yet you had nothing up,” Alex said, peeking inside one of the tubs.
Erin shrugged. “It’s just me, so…”
Alex felt a little giddy, she had to admit. “I haven’t had a tree in four years, Erin ,” she admitted, unable to hide her smile and childish glee.
“You didn’t get one for Chance last year?”
Alex snorted. “Couldn’t afford it. Besides, he was only 2.”
“Well, this year you’re gonna do Christmas in style. Let’s get this puppy up and decorated so when he wakes up from his nap, he can be surprised.”
Alex was touched, her arms crossed over her chest and a soft smile on her lips. “He’ll love it.”
Erin grinned. “Elijah always does.”
“ Erin , look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all those things.”
Erin studied her for a long moment before she walked over to Alex and surprised them both by taking her in a warm hug. They stayed that way for a long moment before finally Erin stepped away from her. “Let’s make this place look awesome.”
Alex nodded. “Okay. Let’s make this place look awesome.”
Erin drug one of the larger tubs away from the piano and opened it, revealing a fake Christmas tree in all its pieces parts. She glanced over at Alex. “I don’t believe in killing a tree for the sake of my home decoration.”
Alex chuckled. “Gone green on me, have you?”
“No, I’m just a pansy ass who can’t stand to kill things.”
Alex laughed outright, the two working together to get the six foot tree together. They laughed and bickered as they straightened wire-based branches, matching color coded paint splotches with the color coded paint splotched openings on the ‘trunk’ of the tree. After nearly a half an hour, the tree was up in all its packed-away-mangled glory.
Erin stood back, hands on hips as she studied their creation. “You know, I think it needs a bit of fluffing.” With that, she set about making sure each and every branch was fluffed and looked full, an amused Alex standing back and watching. Erin raised a brow. “Are you going to help me or just laugh at me?”
“I’m thinking I’ll just laugh at you,” Alex grinned.
“Uh huh. You’re fired, Elf Alex,” Erin muttered, giving the tree a few finishing touches before stepping back to look at it with a critical eye. “Okay. I think it’s perfect.”
“What’s next? Lights?” Alex offered, holding up a coiled strand she found in another tub.
“Lights it is,” Erin agreed.
They worked together to get four complete strands of lights around the tree, giggling when a branch would get in the way, or when Alex was leaning in so close to the tree to try and get the strand to Erin from behind the tree, the branch in front of her bouncing up to smack her in the face.
“I almost lost an eye!” Alex exclaimed as Erin howled on the other side of the tree from her.
“Workman’s comp,” Erin laughed, earning an eye roll and laugh from her decorating assistant.
Lights finished, Erin plopped down on the floor, tugging a short, squat tub towards her and popping the lid off, tossing it aside, Inside the blue tub were various ornaments, some store bought, others handmade. Alex sat across from her, the tub between them. She watched as Erin dug through the tub, gathering the ornaments that had hooks attached from previous years.
“What’s this?” Alex asked, pulling out what looked to be a baby food jar, though the top had a glued on Santa hat made of felt, as well as two unevenly cut felt blue eyes and an awkward white felt beard. The jar was filled with pinwheel peppermint candies.
Erin looked at the bauble that Alex held in her hand, her gaze immediately falling to the tub before her. “Uh,” she stammered, “something I made when I was 6.”
“You made this when you were 6?” Alex asked, taking a close look at the decoration. She saw the slight blush on Erin ‘s cheeks and was beyond charmed. “Oh my god! You really did, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Erin growled, trying to snatch the jar from Alex’s hands, only for it to be moved out of her reach.
“Well, then it should be displayed.” Alex jumped to her feet and hurried over to the fireplace, placing the Santa jar on the mantel. “There, now it’s perfect.”
Erin rolled her eyes. Though she was embarrassed, another part of her was touched by Alex’s attention to the piece. “Can we finish?” she asked, a brow raised in challenge.
“Well, I don’t know,” Alex challenged back. “Do you have anymore cute stuff in there?”
“I sure as hell hope not or we’ll never get done.”
“Grump.” They worked in silence for a long moment, separating the ornaments and decorations when Alex spoke again. “Do you miss your parents?”
Erin contemplated that question for a long time before she answered. Finally, as she hung a few ornaments, “Sometimes. But, I think what I really miss is the idea of parents. You know? I mean, there were times when I was little that my mom was great, but most the time she was such a mess, I just stayed away from her. Then, she just disappeared, so it pretty much became a moot point.”
“And your father?” Alex asked carefully, remembering full well the little secret Erin had revealed to her during their game of pumpkin pick.
Erin shook her head, meeting Alex’s gaze. “No.”
Alex nodded, hanging a little stuffed Santa bear ornament. “I can understand why.”
“I’m surprised you remember all this about me,” Erin said, re-hooking a red glass ball before hanging it.
“I remember everything about you, Erin,” Alex said quietly.
Erin ‘s lip twitched with a small smile, a quick wave of warmth washing through her stomach at the quick montage of memories that flew through her mind. “I remember everything about you too, Alex.” She hung a couple more ornaments then glanced over at Alex, who was untangling the hooks from three ornaments. “What about your family? Do you have one?”
“Yes, but we’re not close at all. My parents are still married, though honestly I’m not sure why. They’re miserable apart and even more miserable together. I rarely see them.” She scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Far too much negative drama for me.”
“What do they think of Chance?” Erin asked, grabbing a string of silver beads that she would wrap around the tree as tinsel.
“They think it’s a sin he’s even on the earth,” Alex said with a tired sigh. “I see it as their loss, truthfully.”
“Completely. And, I’m sorry to hear that; that’s terrible.”
Alex shrugged, tossing a glance to Erin . “You know as well as I do that some things can’t be helped and just are what they are. In truth, though I do wish Chance could have grandparents who love him and want to be with him, I think he’s probably better off not having to deal with it.” She helped Erin with the beads. “So, tell me about Adrienne. What’s the deal with that?”
Erin groaned, as Adrienne was the last person she wanted to talk about. She was saved for a moment when her cell phone rang. “Hang on a sec,” she said, hurrying to grab it. The display window told her it was her brother. “Hey, Shawn,” she said in greeting.
“Have you looked outside or listened to the news?” he said, his voice strained with worry.
“Why, what’s up?” she asked, walking over to the front window and looking out. All she could see was essentially a wall of white. “Whoa.”
“Turn on the news; we’ve got one helluva storm on the way. If you don’t have supplies for a few days, you better go now, because it’s looking like you won’t be going anywhere for awhile.”
Erin turned to Alex, who was looking at her. “Would you turn on the TV, please? Find the news.”
Alex hurried over to the remote, which lay on the coffee table and flicked on the TV.
“Who are you talking to?” Shawn asked.
“Alex. I brought her and Chance here last night.” There was a moment of silence, which made Erin roll her eyes. “My place was closer, Shawn. There was no way I was driving all the way into Golden.”
“Well, just make sure you’ve got enough food and candles and stuff just in case. They’re predicting up to four feet of snow within the next sixteen hours.”
Erin chuckled. “So much for Christmas, I guess.”
“Yeah, no kidding. I’m just glad Lisa had already bought all the food for it, so we’re set.”
“Okay, well thanks for the heads up. You guys be safe and stay warm.”
“You, too. I love you and be safe if you go out, Erin ,” Shawn warned.
“Will do. Love you guys, too.” She slapped her phone shut and turned to Alex, who’s gaze was glued to the TV screen. “Bad?” she asked, moving to sit next to her on the couch.
“Yeah. Holy cow,” Alex muttered, watching the images as the reporter tried to explain the conditions, wrapped from head to toe to try and fight the cold and raging snow.
“Damn. I’m gonna check my supplies and see if I’ve got enough to get us through.”
“Are you sure about this?” Alex asked, watching as Erin bundled up in layers, including a heavy winter coat and scarf and gloves. “I don’t know, Erin .”
“I have to, Alex. We don’t have enough to last us through this storm,” Erin explained. “I have to go now or never.”
“I’d prefer never,” Alex muttered, truly worried as she glanced out the front window. Finally, she sighed with a nod. “Okay. Please be careful.” Alex leaned up and gave Erin a quick kiss on the lips, which surprised them both. “Be safe,” she said quietly, stepping back.
Erin nodded. “I will. If Chance gets up and is hungry, you’re welcome to anything here. Okay?” She waited for Alex’s nod.
“I want you guys to feel totally comfortable here.”
“Thank you.” She watched as Erin walked out the door, shivering from the blast of cold air that entered as Erin left.
Left alone, Alex turned and looked at the tree, which was nearly finished. It was beautiful already, and she could just imagine what it would be like at night with all the lights off, cuddled on the couch. She turned off the TV and walked over to the tree, intent on finishing it.
As she strung the beads around the tree, she looked around the quiet living room. It felt strange being in Erin ‘s house without her there; almost like she was intruding. But, at the same time, it felt amazing to be surrounded by all that was Erin , from her belongings to her energy.
Stepping back from the tree, she studied it, head slightly cocked to the side in contemplation. Happy with it, she found a Christmas tree skirt in one of the tubs and arranged it around the tree stand. She closed up all the tubs and stacked them near the wall, not sure where they went.
A quick glance out the window showed her that not only did the storm seem to be getting worse but that Erin still wasn’t back. It was a ridiculous thought, she knew, because even under normal conditions, the closest grocery store, which was a Wal-Mart, was ten minutes away.
Headed up the stairs, peeking in on Chance, surprised that he was still sound asleep. If he didn’t wake up on his own soon, she’d have to wake him up or he’d never sleep that night. Plus, she needed to get him to go potty. Potty training him had been a chore, as he just seemed to stubbornly refuse to do it. But, over the past couple of months, he seemed to be getting it and was willing to be a “big boy”. She was hugely grateful because it was saving her tons of money every month on diapers.
Softly closing the bedroom door where Chance slept, she glanced down the hall to the open door of Erin ‘s room. Curious, she headed over there and peeked inside the massive, two-room space. She was amused to see a pool table took up the lion’s share of the room where the couch and chair used to be, as well as all of Erin ‘s musical instruments. She knew the music stuff was likely downstairs, but she wondered where the furniture had gone.
Walking further into the room, she ran her fingers over the smooth wood of one of the rails on the pool table. She wondered how many nights Erin had stayed up here playing. She wondered if Erin would ever ask her to play with her. The idea was fleeting as she glanced over to the side of the room where the couch and chair had been, the large, square coffee table between them. Their game came back to her, as well as did a slight flush and wave of heat through her stomach…..
Erin stood and held her hand out, taking the bottle of alcohol from Alex with the other. Confused, Alex took Erin ‘s hand and was pulled to her feet. “It’ll be easier this way,” Erin assured, backing up to her easy chair and sitting down. She tugged on Alex’s hand, indicating she wanted Alex to straddle her lap.
Not sure what Erin had up her sleeve, but her fuzzy mind and pulsing body was willing to go along with it. She hiked up the short, tight skirt of the costume enough to allow her to spread her legs, then lowered herself to Erin’s lap, their stomach’s pressed together. A small tremble shot uncontrollably through her body at the feeling and look in Erin ‘s eyes.
“Now what?” she asked.
Without a word, Erin brought her hands up and unbuttoned the white “uniform” a couple more buttons from the already-low neckline. She peeled back the parts just enough to reveal Alex’s bra-clad breasts. She looked up at Alex with intent, raising a brow. She knew she was pushing it, and wanted to give Alex the chance to stop this before it began. To her surprise and delight, Alex only let out a slightly shaky breath, but said nothing, nor pulled away.
Erin raised the bottle, twisting off the cap and filling the shot glass she’d grabbed from the table. Re-capping the bottle, she set it on the floor beside her chair, then with one more look at Alex, dumped half the contents down into Alex’s cleavage.
Alex gasped as the cold liquid rushed down between her breasts and into her bra. She saw the intent marked clearly in Erin ‘s eyes, and felt her own sex clench in response. “Lick it up,” she whispered, breathy.
Erin cupped the satin cups of Alex’s bra, holding the breasts up and slightly together before she brought her face down into the soft cleavage, her tongue immediately licking a trail between Alex’s breasts, her tongue registering the taste of the cherry vodka, which left Alex’s skin sticky.
Instinctually, Alex’s hands came up and cupped Erin ‘s head, holding her to her. Her eyes closed and her breathing increased as she felt Erin ‘s hot mouth and tongue on her flesh.
Erin felt the pressure on her head, and was more than willing to give more. She lapped at Alex’s skin, making sure she got every drop of the alcohol, and sent her tongue searching for more. She felt as though she were outside her body, unable to worry about offending Alex or taking things too far as her tongue lapped just inside the cup that held Alex’s right breast. She groaned when she felt the pebbled flesh of Alex’s areola, and just the barest hint of a rigid nipple.
Alex gasped, hugging Erin to her even tighter as a shockwave of sensation rushed through her body and landing squarely between her legs.
Erin was lost in her own lust as she nosed the bra aside as much as possible until her tongue could fully reach Alex’s nipple. She couldn’t get her lips around it, but she flicked it with her tongue, her thumb running over the hard nipple of Alex’s left breast through the material of the bra. She could feel the heat coming from between Alex’s legs, so hot it nearly burned her stomach through the thin t-shirt she wore.
Alex was just as lost, but as soon as she felt her hips begin to rock against Erin, she was brought rudely back to the world, and to what she was doing and allowing Erin to do. Quickly she pulled away, gasping for air as she tried to get her breathing under control.
“Enough,” she panted, holding Erin at bay with her hands on her shoulders. “I think you got it all.” She took a moment to gather herself before she pushed off Erin ‘s lap, heading back to the couch on somewhat shaky legs…..
Alex felt a slight pulsing between her legs at the memory, which surprised her, though shouldn’t have. Erin was the last person she’d ever made love to. What Kurt had done to her hardly counted, and since that night, she’d stayed far away from anyone, never allowing them close enough really to even know her let alone have sex with her. Being around Erin again had ignited the slightest little spark of life inside her, and it scared her.
She turned her focus to the area of the space where Erin ‘s bed was. Not much had changed in that room, except Erin had a different bed, a larger bed. It looked like a king size, whereas the other one had been either a full or queen, she couldn’t recall. But, she did recall some things…..
Erin made a slow trail of kisses and licks down along Alex’s throat, her tongue dipping at the hollow, then moved on to pay homage to her shoulders and collarbones. “You are exquisite,” she murmured against the side of a rounded breast. “I could touch you forever…”
Alex was so caught up in the memory that she didn’t hear her son enter the room. “Momma?”
Startled, she turned to see him standing there looking at her even as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “Hey, sweetie. Do you have to go potty?” With his nod, she walked over to him and gave him a kiss on the forehead before leading him to the bathroom.
“Attention Wal-Mart shoppers: due to the worsening weather conditions outside, the story will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please make your final selections and purchases and have a safe drive home.”
Concerned when Wal-Mart was closing, considering Wal-Mart never closes, Erin pushed her filled buggie to the front of the store, feeling lucky when she managed to get a register that only had three people in line ahead of her. Rung up and everything paid for, she prepared herself for the nasty drive home, her stomach already clenching in fear.
Alex glanced at the stove clock again, worry gnawing at her gut. Erin had been gone for three hours already, and the sun had already set. She’d tried to keep herself as busy as possible and had gotten Chance fed and bathed as well as herself fed. Now, Chance was playing with the basket of toys in the living room and Alex was making herself a cup of coffee.
“Momma?” Chance called from the living room.
“Yeah?” she responded, stirring in some sugar and cream.
“What’s what, sweetie?” she asked, walking into the living room. She sipped her coffee as she saw her son standing next to the tree, a small finger pointing at one of the ornaments. “That’s a Christmas tree ornament, Chance.”
“Kwissmas twee ornament,” he repeated absently, focus still riveted to the gold angel that hung from the branch.
Alex smiled. “Yes, sweetie. It’s a Christmas tree ornament.”
Lights swept through the front window from outside, making Alex’s heart leap in hope. She set her coffee cup down on the coffee table and hurried to the door, unlocking it and pulling it open. She cried out with relief when she saw Erin ‘s 4Runner parked at the curb: well, what there was of the curb. She wanted to run out to her but knew it wouldn’t be a wise idea to leave Chance alone with all the fun parts of the Christmas tree so handy. Instead, she watched as Erin loaded her arms down with bags then made her way as quickly to the house as eighteen inches of snow – and rising – would allow.
“Get in there!’ Erin called out, “You’re gonna get sick.”
Alex ignored her, holding the screen door open for her so she could get inside as quickly as possible. “I was so worried about you,” she said, closing and locking the front door and hurrying over to where Erin was setting bags down in the kitchen. She was visibly shivering. “Let’s get this off you.”
Erin allowed Alex to unwrap the wet scarf from around her head and then unzip her jacket and push it off her shoulders. She was freezing, and damn near moaned when she saw Alex had made a pot of coffee.
“I was so worried,” Alex said again, tossing the snow-covered jacket to a kitchen chair and taking Erin into a tight, warm hug.
“It’s really bad out there,” Erin admitted, hugging Alex back. It felt amazing to be held, as she was half-frozen, and well, it just felt good. After a moment, she pulled out of the hug. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you made coffee.”
Alex smiled, pleased. “I’ll tell you what: you got changed back into your warm flannel pants and I’ll get this stuff put away and a cup ready for you.”
Erin looked at her, surprised. “Thanks. That would be nice. Two teaspoons of sugar, just enough cream to change it from black to dark brown.”
“Done.” Alex gave her a blinding smile then turned to start her task, noting that Erin had grabbed a couple of the bags and had taken them with her.
“Hey, kiddo!” Erin greeted Chance as she headed for the stairs.
Chance looked at her for a moment, still not sure about this new person. Finally he smiled and raised the car he was playing with.
Erin chuckled and hurried up the stairs.
Later that night, Erin and Alex sat on the couch, the lights from the Christmas tree and a popping fire in the fireplace the only light other than the TV, which Chance was transfixed on as he sat between them, his head resting against his mother’s side. Dora the Explorer was teaching him about the sea.
“Why didn’t we have cool stuff like this when we were kids?” Alex wondered, glancing over at Erin, who smiled and shook her head.
“No clue. Elijah loves this stuff.”
“Well, we don’t have cable or a TV for that matter, so Chance doesn’t get to see this stuff very often.” She turned back to the show for a few moments. “You know, you never got a chance to tell me about Adrienne.”
Erin groaned, head resting against the back of the couch as she looked over at Alex. “Are you sure you want to open that particular can of worms?”
Alex smirked. “That good, huh?”
“Nobody in the family likes her. She stood me up on Thanksgiving and I think Shawn and Lisa wanted to cheer.”
“She stood you up on a holiday?” Alex asked, incredulous. She didn’t like the woman before, but now….
Erin shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal and it wasn’t a surprise. In truth, it was probably for the best.”
“In the car she said you two were fun buddies,” Alex said, changing the word for Chance’s benefit.
“Yes she did, yes essentially we are, and she’s pretty much a b-i-t-c-h.” Erin sipped from her glass of egg nog. “God, I love this stuff,” she muttered, licking the excess off her top lip. “Yum.”
“So, why are you with her?” Alex asked, baffled.
“Because it’s easy,” Erin said simply, meeting Alex’s gaze.
“It’s easy or she’s easy?”
Erin smirked. “Both.” She laughed as Alex rolled her eyes. “Hey, you do what you gotta do, you know? I don’t want a relationship with her, and despite how she likes to say she wants one with me, we both know she’s full of it.”
“But, why settle?” Alex asked, feeling suddenly angry, though not sure why. “You’re better than that, Erin . Worth a heck of a lot more.”
“You didn’t seem to think so,” Erin bit out, regretting the words the moment they were out of her mouth.
Alex turned back to the show. “I deserved that,” she said quietly. Finally, she turned back to Erin . “You and your ‘accidental seductions’ and I are actually quite a bit alike, Erin .”
“We both run. You’re just a bit more straight forward about it, and your version of running is by never trying in the first place. You end up with women like Adrienne because there’s no threat, no challenge and not many ways that you can be hurt.”
Erin wanted to refute what Alex had just said, but she knew in her heart that she was right. “And what about you?”
“I have this nasty habit of getting into relationship where the other person falls in love with me, but I hold them at a distance.” She snorted ruefully. “I’ve had four years to think about this. I’ve done it all my life, even sometimes with friends.”
“Do you ever love them back?”
Alex held her gaze for a long moment before she nodded, never breaking eye contact. “I have, yes.”
Erin let out a heavy sigh. “Well, I don’t see this thing with Adrienne lasting much longer, in truth. Far too much drama.”
For some reason Alex was beyond pleased to hear that. She looked down and saw that Chance’s eyes were slowly drooping. “I’m going to get him to bed, it’s late.” She picked him up as she got to her feet. His head immediately rested on her shoulder as he studied Erin through heavy eyes.
Erin stood, reaching a hand out and rubbing his back. “Sleep well, handsome boy.”
“Can you tell Erin good night, Chance?” Alex asked softly. They both smiled when he murmured something unintelligible.
“I think I’ll hit the hay, too.”
“Okay. You both sleep well. And hey, tomorrow is Christmas Eve.”
Alex smiled and once again surprising them both, gave Erin a soft kiss. “You deserve better, Erin ,” she said softly. “I hope you know that. Sleep well.”
Erin watched the two head up the stairs and felt very alone and supremely lonely.
Erin clicked another picture, absolutely amused as Chance sat on the floor, a big wrapped box in front of him and no idea what to do with it.
“Open it, honey,” Alex urged, sitting on the floor with Erin next to the lit Christmas tree, which had somehow magically grown wrapped presents overnight. For some reason she wasn’t hugely inclined to believe Erin ‘s Santa Clause explanation. “I still can’t believe you got us gifts, Erin ,” she said quietly. Erin grinned but said nothing, instead giving Alex a knowing look. “Yeah, yeah, it was Santa.”
Both of their attention was grabbed at the first sound of ripping paper. Once Chance figured out that the paper came off and that he was allowed to tear it off, he got into the game. Erin clicked off tons of pictures as Chance squealed in delight at the fun toys he found within all the wrapped boxes.
“I feel terrible, Erin ,” Alex said. “I don’t have anything for you.”
“I don’t want anything from you, Alex,” Erin said kindly. “I just want you both to have a good Christmas. And,” she continued, “you need to open your gifts, too, woman.”
“ Erin no, I can’t. Gifts for my son are one thing, but I can’t accept-“ She was quieted by two fingers pressed gently to her lips.
“Please? I really want you to open your gifts, Alex. Just humor me, okay?” Erin pleaded, removing her hand.
Alex sighed. “Alright. But Chance opens his first. Okay? This is really his first Christmas, so I want him to enjoy the spotlight.”
Erin nodded, saluting with her camera hand. “Fair enough.”
Alex felt guilty as hell as her first gift was handed to her. She gave a quiet thank you, even as she was terribly curious. She knew Erin had bought the gifts during her dangerous Wal-Mart trip two days before. The box was somewhat larger than a regular shirt box. She tore into the paper and opened the box to reveal a new winter coat.
“Oh, Erin ,” she breathed, pulling the heavy, folded garment out of the box.
“Wal-Mart isn’t usually where I’d get a good quality jacket, but for the time being, it’ll do a helluva lot better than that rag you’ve got now. There’s no way that thing keeps you warm.”
“It doesn’t but when you’ve got a ten dollar clothing budget, you do what you gotta do,” Alex said.
“Try it on; make sure it fits,” Erin urged, excited as she could see the excitement in Alex’s eyes, no matter how hard she was trying to hide it.
Alex got to her knees and tugged the jacket on, moaning at its warmth. “This is going to be wonderful during those nights at the shop.”
“Do you like it?” Erin asked, almost as giddy as Alex was.
“I love it!” Alex exclaimed, throwing herself at Erin for a tight hug of gratitude.
“Good. You got more.”
Alex shrugged out of the jacket, lovingly setting it aside as she accepted the next box from Erin . Inside she found three CDs, Erin ‘s gorgeous face on the cover of each, along with her name and the CD title. The paper of the cover had also been signed by Erin .
“Oh,” Alex breathed, eyes wide as she studied each cover in great detail. She looked up at Erin , tears in her eyes. “Thank you.” Again, she took Erin in a tight hug. “I’m so proud of you.”
Erin squeezed her back then let her go. “I hope you like them. You’d probably best open this one next.” She handed Alex the second to last gift.
Alex took it, wanting to continue looking at the CDs, but she knew Erin was excited. Besides, they had to get some breakfast going soon. Inside the third box she found a new portable CD player replete with ear bud headphones. “Oh, thank you, Erin! Now I can listen to your music. Oh, thank you, thank you!”
Erin laughed as yet again she was engulfed in a hug. Anytime now she expected Alex to just sit in her lap. “Okay, one more and this one I really hope you like and really hope you’ll accept.”
Baffled, Alex took the very small box and unwrapped it. It was a small white box. Lifting the lid, she saw two keys inside. Confused, she looked up at Erin for explanation.
“These are the keys to my house. I really don’t like that rat hole you and Chance are living in, Alex; I don’t trust it and have a bad feeling about some of your neighbors,” she said, remembering the creepy Spanish guy with his lewd comments. “You’d have your own space completely and obviously can come and go as you wish.” The longer Alex remained silent the more nervous she became. She hoped she hadn’t made a mistake. “You know, just so you can save some money and then you can get something that you actually want and not something out of necessity-“
Erin ‘s rambling was interrupted when Alex wrapped her up in a hug, even though she said nothing. Erin was held in the embrace for a long moment before Alex finally pulled away, tears once again in her eyes.
“I can’t intrude on your life like that, Erin ,” Alex whispered, looking down at the keys that she held in her hands. She shook her head. “I just can’t. My son and I aren’t your responsibility. You’ve already been so kind, done so much for us.”
“Alex, I know you’re a big girl and have done a wonderful job with Chance. Your life is very much your own and I totally respect that. I’d just never forgive myself if something happened to either one of you living in that place. If we had space above the store I’d offer you that, but we don’t. You’d never forgive me if I did something so presumptuous as rented an apartment for you – and I can’t afford that – but this I can do. It’s just me in this big ol’ house, and I’d really love it if you’d take me up on this.”
Alex felt her resolve slipping, knowing that Erin was right. Her pride was rearing its ugly little head. “I’ve done the best I can for him, Erin,” she said, her voice small. She’d always doubted herself and was ever guilt-ridden about some of the conditions she’d had to expose her son to. “I’m doing the best I can.”
“I know you are.” Erin used two fingers to gently urge Alex’s face to lift and for her to look at her. “I know you are. Let me help you right now. We all have times in our lives where we desperately need it. Shawn was there for me after I was abandoned by my parents, so let me pay that kindness forward. Okay?”
Alex wiped away the tear that had managed to escape. “Let me think about it, okay? Please? Just give me some time to think about it.”
Erin smiled and nodded. “Okay. Either way, I want you to keep those keys, because I want you to know that you always have a place to go. And, one other thing to help you make your decision,” Erin smirked, “I’d be more than willing to help watch Chance while you’re at work, too. Help cut down on babysitter costs, which I know can be ridiculously expensive.”
“Damn it, Erin ,” Alex laughed as more tears came. “You really shouldn’t be so nice to me.”
Erin smiled. “Yes I should.” She pushed to her feet and pulled Alex to hers. “Come on; let’s make some breakfast.”
Erin groaned as she stretched out on the couch, a good dinner and fun day leaving her feeling rather euphoric. She listened as she heard Alex and Chance upstairs, Alex reading Chance one of the books he’d gotten for Christmas from Santa. She knew Alex would be up there for awhile trying to get him to go to sleep, as he’d had an exciting day and the last thing he’d wanted to do was go to bed.
Erin let out a contented sigh and brought her hands up to tuck underneath her head. She thought back over the day and just how amazing it had been to spend it with Alex and Chance. Yes, she’d missed her family, but somehow, it felt like she had been with her family that day.
After awhile she heard Alex’s footsteps on the stairs and she turned to look at her. “Did he finally go down?”
“Yeah,” Alex chuckled. “He can be one stubborn little boy when he wants to be.”
“Hmm,” Erin mused, “Sounds like someone else I know.”
“Ha ha,” Alex drawled, walking over to the couch. “Can I sit or have I lost my place?” Still lying down, Erin bent her knees, giving Alex roughly one and a half feet of space to sit. “Oh, well thank you for your immense generosity,” Alex quipped, squeezing into the tight space.
“I am generous,” Erin drawled, “So, so generous. I have been so generous as to allow you to be within the same breathing space as myself.” She made a show of looking at her fingernails. “I’m perfection personified.”
Alex threw her head back and laughed. “You are so full of shit your eyes really should be brown.”
Erin grinned. “So what does that mean you’re full of, hmm? Those gorgeous green eyes? A grass eater? Maybe a few emeralds for lunch?” She burst into laughter and her body curled up in defense when suddenly ruthless fingers were attacking her sides.
“Emeralds, huh?” Alex growled as she attacked. “Is that kind of like your shitting diamonds?”
“What?” Erin gasped, baffled by the reference but barely able to breathe as Alex was halfway on top of her and tickling anything she could get to.
“Nothing,” Alex laughed. “Something you said during our night before.”
“Yeah?” Erin asked, relieved at the slight reprieve as Alex let up, both so she could breathe, but also so she could turn the tables. Literally.
Alex gasped, startled as suddenly she found herself falling off the couch and onto the floor, Erin on top of her. The force of their landing nearly knocked the coffee table over. She looked up into startled blue eyes, both bursting into laughter once they realized that they were both okay after the landing.
“My turn,” Erin growled, her own fingers finding all the sensitive places on Alex’s body. Erin relished Alex’s school girl giggles as she weakly tried to fend off Erin ‘s fingers.
Erin laughed, feeling that Alex was actually beginning to get a bit of power back, so she grabbed her hands and forced them above her head, bringing them face to face, both breathing hard from their playful exertions. She grinned down at Alex, realization dawning of the intimate position of their bodies.
“You think you can win, huh?” she asked.
Alex grinned, valiantly trying to free her hands from Erin ‘s strong grasp. “I will prevail,” she assured.
Erin laughed. “Prevail? What, are you a super hero or something?”
Alex joined in the laughter. “Maybe I’m the villain.”
“Ohhhh,” Erin cooed. That sounds like fun.”
“It can be absolutely fun to be bad,” Alex grinned.
Erin tried not to pay attention to the softness of Alex’s breasts against her own, but it was so hard not to. All teasing done, she released Alex’s hands but didn’t move off her. “Today was really amazing,” she said.
“It was,” Alex agreed, her hands finding their way to Erin ‘s back. “It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had, Erin .”
“Really?” Erin asked, smiling like a little girl.
“Yeah, really,” Alex chuckled. “God, you’re cute. No, but it truly was. The presents were amazing and amazingly unexpected, but even all that aside, it was just such a fun day. Chance was so at peace and calm.”
Alex’s voice was so wistful and soft it almost made Erin cry. “You guys haven’t known a whole lot of peace or calm, have you?” she asked, her hand coming up to lightly brush across Alex’s cheek.
Alex closed her eyes at the sensation of being touched so intimately and lovingly. Her hold on Erin tightened a bit, needing so much to feel Erin against her. It gave her the very same peace and calm that she’d just been talking about regarding her son. “You’re so good to him.”
“I think he’s a great kid,” Erin admitted, her heart beginning race.
“He likes you, I think.”
“Yeah?” Erin asked, her gaze falling to Alex’s mouth. “Well, I like him, too.”
“What if I told you that I liked you ?” Alex whispered.
Erin ‘s body was on fire. She readjusted her position so that one of her thighs was between Alex’s, which made Alex gasp softly. “Oh yeah?”
Alex nodded. “Yeah.”
Erin pressed down against Alex, her thigh coming into full contact with the heat between Alex’s legs that Erin could feel through the thin cotton pants she wore. A pulse ran through her at Alex’s soft moan. She knew she’d lost this round, and perhaps the whole game.
Alex accepted the kiss that Erin delivered, which was hard and demanding and nearly bruised her lips. She gripped Erin ‘s hips as they began to move against her, sensations rushing through her that awakened feelings that had lain dormant for nearly half a decade. Her whimper of pleasure and surprise seemed to spur Erin on, as she pressed down harder, beginning a rhythm that they both felt.
Erin plundered Alex’s mouth, her hips moving in sync with Alex’s. The room was filled with the sounds of the popping fire and their combined heavy breathing and occasional whimpers. The fire raged out of control as both women craved release from so much more than just physical need.
Erin broke the kiss, unable to breathe into it as her movements became faster and more demanding. Somewhere inside her head she realized she and Alex were acting as two animals, rutting in the forest, but she couldn’t stop herself.
Alex felt her release coming and coming quick. “Oh god,” she breathed, eyes closed as she dug her nails into Erin ‘s back as she came. “Fuck!”
Erin’s head fell back as she came, which was amazing, as she’d never released in that way in her entire sexual life, the position usually not offering enough stimulation. But tonight with Alex she exploded, her cry loud and high-pitched as her body convulsed.
They both started, Erin immediately pushing away from Alex and looking around for the source of the little voice. “Oh god,” she whispered when she saw Chance standing at the foot of the stairs, looking very confused.
“Chance?” Alex immediately got to her feet, pushing everything she was feeling physically and emotionally down as she hurried over to her son. “Are you okay, baby?”
He looked up at her, eyes wide. “I wanna wrestle, too,” he said simply.
Alex partially wanted to laugh and partially wanted to cry. “We’re finished, baby. Let’s get you back to bed, okay?” She glanced back over her shoulder at Erin before she took her son by the hand and led him back up the stairs.
Erin made her way onto the couch, unsure of what to think. “Fuck me, that was stupid,” she whispered, running her hands through her hair, even as her body continued to pulse after her release.
Erin had never fully been asleep, as the cold crept into her bones. After hours of trying to pull her comforter up more and more until her feet were cold, she awoke, looking around her bedroom. When she realized her teeth were chattering, she knew something was wrong.
Getting up from bed, she walked over to the heater vent and passed a hand over it: nothing. Touching the metal border of the vent, she realized that it was icy cold. “Shit,” she whispered. A glance at her bedside alarm clock showed her that the power was out, too. “Double shit.”
Stepping out of her bedroom, she checked the thermostat in the hall, shocked to see that it was set to seventy-two, but the temperature read forty-three. “What the hell?” She looked up when she saw the guest bedroom door open up and Alex appear. “You okay?” she asked.
“We’re freezing,” Alex admitted. “I was going to ask if you had another blanket.”
“I don’t think that’s the issue.” She tapped the thermostat. “I think the storm has knocked out both power and gas lines. Grab Chance and you two come in here. It’ll take all of our body heat to keep us warm tonight.”
Alex agreed, though she didn’t want to. She hurried back to the bedroom she was sharing with her son and gently gathered him up in her arms. “It’s okay, baby,” she murmured as he whined at being woken up, even as his teeth were chattering. “It’s okay.”
As Alex got Chance settled, Erin hurried into the guest bedroom and tugged the comforter off Alex and Chance’s bed, dragging it into her own bedroom and spreading it over the larger bed. It didn’t fit totally, but it was still added warmth.
“He okay?” she whispered, watching as Alex tucked her son in, Alex lying in the center of the bed.
“Yes,” Alex whispered back. “He’ll be okay.”
Erin climbed into the bed and scooted over to Alex. “Lay on our side, back to me,” she urged. When Alex did that, Erin scooted up behind her, spooning her body against her. They were both shivering. “Things should warm up soon.”
Alex nodded, knowing that despite herself she already was. Pushing that out of her mind, she pulled Chance back against her chest, and soon enough, the body heat of all three spread throughout underneath the multiple layers of covers, and soon it was toasty warm.
When Erin opened her eyes, she realized that somehow during the night positions had gotten changed. She was now in the middle and very much a human pillow. Alex was curled up against her right side, her blonde head resting on Erin’s shoulder and a possessive leg and arm were thrown over Erin ‘s body. On Erin’s left side, Chance was curled up against her, her breast his pillow, one of Erin ‘s arms wrapped around both.
Even though it was fairly uncomfortable, she was loath to move either one of them. Instead, she turned her head so her cheek was resting against the top of Alex’s head, which woke her up. Alex’s arm tightened across Erin ‘s stomach, her body moving a bit closer to her.
For Erin , being cold certainly wasn’t an issue, especially as she felt Alex’s breast against her. She felt like a lecherous pig thinking that way when Alex’s 3 year old son was halfway sleeping on top of her.
“Looks like you’ve become the heater,” Alex whispered, adjusting her head more on Erin ‘s shoulder so her face was nuzzled into her neck, sighing as her frozen nose was warmed.
Erin smiled, her hand moving up to caress Alex’s hair, which earned another contented sigh. “See?” she whispered back, “I told you I was generous.”
Alex snorted, burying her face further into Erin ‘s neck. “I can’t believe we did that.”
“It happened, Alex. Nothing we can do about it now. I just hope Chance isn’t traumatized for life.”
“No,” Alex assured. “He’s so little, he has no idea what we were doing.” She nuzzled in even closer, absolutely loving the feeling of being held. She didn’t realize just how much she missed being touched until she was again. “I really don’t want to get up, but I gotta pee.”
“I do, too,” Erin lamented, absolutely loving having both Alex and Chance cuddled up against her. “Besides, I think half my body is numb as I really wasn’t made to be a human pillow.”
Alex smiled, leaving a kiss on Erin’s neck before moving away, immediately missing the feeling of Erin against her. “Baby boy,” she cooed softly, running her fingers through Chance’s hair to wake him. He murmured something but remained tucked into Erin, who began to rub his back in slow, soothing circles. “He’s not budging,” Alex chuckled.
“Why don’t you go pee and I’ll keep trying to wake him,” Erin offered, meeting Alex’s gaze.
Alex studied Erin ‘s face for a long moment, reaching a hand up and cupping the side of her jaw. “What happened last night scared me, Erin, but I don’t regret it.”
“Neither do I,” Erin said softly, though in truth, she had no idea what it meant and where it was going. “It scared me, too,” she admitted.
“Quite the pair, huh?” Alex smiled, leaning over and giving Erin a soft, lingering kiss before scooting out of the bed, immediately shivering once she left the warmth of the little cocoon they’d created. “Oh my god, it’s so cold!”
Erin watched her hurry out of the room, headed for the bathroom. “Shit,” she whispered.
Erin looked over to see Chance looking at her, his big green eyes blinking sleepily. Erin smiled. “Don’t say that word, Chance,” she chuckled. “It’s a baaaaaaaaad word.”
Chance smiled. “ Baaaaaaaad. ”
“Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad,” Erin growled in her goofiest voice, making the toddler giggle. “Bad, bad, bad, bad!” She pushed him to his back and began to tickle him, his squeals of delight making her laugh. “You gotta go potty, handsome butt?”
Chance nodded, still grinning from ear to ear, his bright white teeth flashing. “Baaaaaad!”
Erin laughed then braved the cold as she got out of the bed. She grabbed his ankles and drug him across the bed, again making him laugh. “Come on, big boy. Let’s get you to the potty.”
“We’ve got good news and bad news,” Alex said, re-entering the bedroom. “Which do you want first?”
“Give me the bad news,” Erin said, tugging on a pair of socks and slippers as Chance ran over to his mother and hugged her legs.
Alex picked him up, placing a loud kiss on his cheek. “Bad news is, still no heat. The good news, however is that the power is back on.”
Erin let out a heavy sigh. “This sucks.”
“It does,” Alex agreed, carrying Chance out of the room and to the bathroom. “Guess we’ll have to share body heat again tonight!” Alex yelled out from the bathroom where she got Chance settled to go potty.
Erin grinned. “Oh darn,” she muttered.
Even though the house was freezing, Erin was glad the power had come back on, because she truly wasn’t sure what they were going to do for food without it. Luckily her stove was electric, as well as the microwave. She got a pot of coffee started then built a fire. Likely, the trio would be spending their day in front of it.
“Smells wonderful,” Alex said, walking into the kitchen, indicating the coffee pot.
“I’m dying for a cup,” Erin said, leaning back against the counter, waiting for the brew to finish. “Maybe it can thaw my insides.”
Alex grinned. “What do you want for breakfast?” She wasn’t sure what was allowed with Erin or what she should even want with Erin. One thing did know she wanted was a hug. She walked the few scant feet between them and wrapped her arms around Erin’s waist, resting her head against her shoulder. Alex’s eyes slid closed when she felt Erin ‘s arms wrap around her shoulders.
“Where’s Chance?” Erin asked into the hug.
“Playing with the new train you got him, I’m sure.” Alex didn’t move; in truth, she never wanted to move again. “Where do we go from here, Erin ?” she asked softly. “Or, was last night just an anomaly?”
Erin sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t know. What was it for you?”
Alex lifted her head, eyes studying Erin ‘s face before focusing on her mouth. “It meant a lot to me. That’s the first time I’ve been touched since we spent the night together, Erin . What Kurt did to me hardly counts.”
“Are you serious?” Erin asked, shocked.
“I’m very serious.”
Erin raised a hand and cupped the side of Alex’s face. She couldn’t help herself as she took her in a soft kiss, which quickly deepened, though it was slow and exploratory. She pulled Alex to her, craving the feel of her body against her own.
Alex knew she was in danger of losing herself, and once again her son walking in on something he shouldn’t. Slowly, she pulled away, even as her body begged her not to. “You are so going to get me into trouble,” she breathed with a nervous laugh. She looked up into Erin’s face, fingertips caressing the side of her neck. “Let’s get breakfast started.”
Erin nodded, pulling Alex into a quick, but tight hug before letting her go.
“This should keep him warm,” Erin whispered, plugging in the electric blanket that she’d dug out of a closet, topped by the two comforters.
“Yeah, I think so, too.” Alex leaned over and kissed her already-sleeping son on the forehead.
Erin followed suit, leaving a kiss on the top of his head. “Kid played hard today,” she whispered, smoothing back some hair from his forehead.
Alex smiled, taking Erin ‘s hand and leading her out of the large bedroom and downstairs. “Yeah, so did you. I’m surprised you’re still awake.”
Erin chuckled. “Eh, I’m a big kid at heart, so it was totally worth it.”
They got back downstairs where Erin walked over to the fireplace and tended to the dying flames while Alex cleaned up the scattered toys all over the room. It had been another fun-filled day for the toddler, and little by little, he was becoming as addicted to Erin as his mother was.
“I wonder when they’re going to get the gas turned back on,” Erin said, using the fire poker to place the newly-added log, wincing when sparks popped her way.
“Well, I’d be surprised if crews could even get out to try in this nasty storm,” Alex said, walking over to the fireplace and squatting next to Erin .
“I wonder when it’s going to let up.” She sat back on her butt, hands stretched out behind her to hold her up.
Alex mirrored Erin ‘s position. “I don’t know,” she said, glancing out the front window, knowing that one of the biggest storms in twenty years was just out in that darkness. “It’s kind of exciting in a way, though, you know? Really seeing how powerful nature really is.”
“I love the snow, personally. Just something about it,” Erin shrugged. “Makes me happy inside.”
Alex met Erin ‘s gaze, the light from the fire sending crazy shadows across her face. She looked into Erin’s eyes and felt such a sense of calm from the calm that was so much part of Erin . She couldn’t get over how much Erin had changed in four years. Before, she was young and brash and totally full of herself. Now, rather than brash, she was confident. Rather than full of herself, and was self-aware. It was such a beautiful transformation.
“What?” Erin asked, wondering why she was being stared at.
Alex smiled and shook her head. “Just thinking.”
“About how much I really want to kiss you right now.”
A wave of desire swept through Erin at the admitted desire. She wanted that, too. She leaned over and kissed Alex, just a lingering touch of her lips. Within a few moments, however, she found herself pushed to her back, the kiss never breaking as Alex moved on top of her, resting her upper body weight on her forearms as she deepened the kiss. Erin buried her hands in Alex’s hair, holding them together as the kiss quickly became passionate.
After more than ten minutes of kissing, Alex’s mouth left Erin ‘s and she began to explore an exposed neck with her tongue and lips. “You are so beautiful,” Alex murmured into the warm flesh. “I’ve wanted you since the moment I walked into your office at the store,” she admitted.
Erin ‘s eyes fell closed, one hand still in Alex’s hair, the other running down Alex’s back to her ass and cupping the flesh there. She turned her head, giving Alex all the room and access she wanted. She ran her hand back up to the hem of Alex’s sweatshirt, easing beneath it and to the warm skin of her back.
Alex moaned at the feeling of Erin ‘s hand on her bare skin. She repaid the favor when she eased her own hand up the front of Erin ‘s own sweatshirt, finding a bra-covered breast, which she covered. She found Erin’s mouth again, the passion within the kiss taking on new meaning as she gently coaxed Erin ‘s nipple to life.
“I want you so bad,” Erin gasped as she broke the kiss, eyes closed as Alex continued to play with her breast. “So bad…”
“I’m here, baby,” Alex whispered. “I’m not going anywhere this time, I promise.”
Erin brought both hands up under Alex’s sweatshirt, her hands running over the smoothness of the contours of her back. She pulled the thick material up until Alex had to push up to her knees to allow the sweatshirt to pass over her head.
She was kneeling between Erin ‘s spread legs and shook her hair free of the sweatshirt. Her gaze held by Erin ‘s, she reached behind herself and unhooked her bra, allowing the garment to slide down her arms and be tossed aside. She felt slightly nervous and self-conscious, as she knew her body was different now than it had been when they were together before. Childbearing was not nice to a woman’s body.
Erin studied Alex’s breasts, her mouth watering at the sight. She pushed up to a sitting position and removed her own sweatshirt and bra then lay back down, pulling Alex back down on top of her. They both moaned at the feel of their naked breasts pressing together as well as the heat of their stomachs.
“I’ve forgotten just how amazing this feels,” Alex murmured against Erin ‘s lips.
“You are by far the most beautiful, sexy woman I’ve ever seen,” Erin said into the kiss, her fingernails lightly tracing patterns all across Alex’s naked back, causing Alex to shiver slightly at the sensation. She wrapped her legs around Alex’s hips, pressing their bodies together as close as possible.
“I’ve been dreaming of having your mouth on me again,” Alex admitted, once again leaving Erin ‘s mouth to find her neck. “No one has ever affected me the way you do.”
Erin moaned at the words and the feel of Alex’s tongue running up the side of her neck. She could easily imagine that tongue somewhere else. She ran her hands down to the waistband of Alex’s cotton sweats which were borrowed from her. She snaked her hands inside and then down the back of Alex’s panties, warm rounded flesh filling her hands.
Alex groaned, flexing her glutes at the sensation. She gasped softly when one of those hands ran down a bit further, a single finger toying with the immense wetness that had gathered there. “Oh shit,” she whispered, forehead resting against Erin ‘s shoulder as that fingers delved a bit further, finding the drenched folds of her sex.
Erin groaned in sympathy, unwrapping her legs and encouraging Alex to move up a bit so she could have better access. Both of their breathing increased as she gently stroked Alex’s very hard clit, Alex moving her hips in sync with the stroking, almost doing all the work for Erin as she rubbed herself against those two fingers. As Alex raised herself to her hands to give herself better leverage, Erin stared up into her face, thinking that look of utter pleasure on her face was one of the sexiest things she’d ever seen in her life.
“Shit,” Alex breathed as her hips began to buck harder against Erin ‘s fingers. “I need …,” she panted.
“What, baby? What do you need?”
“More. I need more,” Alex whimpered, the awkward position making it difficult for her to get the amount of pressure she needed to release.
Erin removed her hand, quickly flipping them over so Alex was now lying beneath her. She moved to her side next to Alex, her hand again snaking back down Alex’s pants and panties, immediately continuing where she’d left off.
“Oh, god!” Alex gasped, trying desperately to stay quiet so they wouldn’t be interrupted by a curious little boy.
“Yes,” Erin whimpered, her body pulsing with need. “Come for me, baby…”
It took only a few more strokes and the press of Erin ‘s fingers on her clit to send Alex off into the heavens, her eyes squeezing shut and mouth falling open. Her thighs clapped shut, trapping Erin ‘s hand between them.
Erin took her in a needy kiss, her body ready to explode. She broke the kiss and quickly tugged off the rest of her and Alex’s clothes, tossing them to the already growing pile. “I need you, baby,” she begged, again taking Alex in a kiss.
“What do you want me to do?” Alex asked, finally getting her wits back.
Erin straddled her hips and grabbed her hand, guiding two of Alex’s fingers inside. She let out a long, throaty groan at the feeling, then began to move her hips as she rode Alex’s body.
Alex watched in wonder as her fingers disappeared and reappeared inside of Erin’s body, her own hips inadvertently moving with Erin ‘s. With her free hand, she reached up and cupped one of Erin ‘s breasts, her thumb running over the hardened nipple. Personally, she thought it was the most amazingly gorgeous and sensual thing she’d ever seen.
“God, you feel so good inside of me,” Erin whimpered, her hips moving faster as she impaled herself on Alex’s fingers.
Alex sat up, her fingers still working inside of Erin . She cupped the back of Erin’s head and forced her down into a passionate kiss, which Erin cried out into as she came, her release warm on Alex’s hand.
They shared another kiss, less frantic but still filled with a deep need. “I want my mouth on you now,” Erin said into it. “God, I want to taste you so bad.”
Alex nodded. “Please.”
Erin gave her a quick kiss before she readjusted her position, laying herself down between Alex’s legs. She explored her throat with her mouth, her fingers trailing over soft skin, palm running slow circles over a rigid nipple, which her mouth found moments later.
Alex’s eyes fell closed, her fingers running absently through Erin ‘s hair as her body was explored, leaving her feeling loved, consumed and deeply turned on. She gasped when that mouth found the source of her greatest need. She looked down the length of her own body to see Erin ‘s head between her thighs. “ Erin ,” she moaned, her legs falling open in invitation.
Erin hummed into her task, savoring the taste, feel, smells and sounds Alex was making as she feasted. As she worked Alex’s clit with her tongue, she brought up a hand and carefully entered her with a finger, remembering it had been four years since Alex had had sex. Just as she suspected, she was tight.
Alex groaned, her hips rising to meet Erin ‘s gentle thrusts. She wasn’t sure if she’d want to be penetrated, but now she didn’t know how she ever thought she could go without it again. Her breasts were heaving with her labored breasts, her release close at hand.
“Yes, baby,” she whimpered. “Don’t stop, yes…”
Erin redoubled her efforts, sensing Alex was close. She used her free hand to do her best to keep Alex’s hips on the floor as she began a relentless attack with her tongue while keeping her thrusts even and deep. Finally, a flood of wetness was released as Alex let out a strangled cry, her hips bucking off the ground and up against Erin ‘s face. Erin pressed her tongue hard to Alex’s clit, milking as much pleasure out as she could, her fingers trapped inside by Alex’s spasming inner muscles.
Erin gave a final kiss to Alex’s sex before she removed her fingers and kissed her way back up her body, giving a nipple a quick swipe of her slippery tongue as she did. She was welcomed into a nearly painful embrace and pulled down on top of Alex and held close.
“How was that?” she asked into the warm skin of Alex’s neck.
Alex let out a sexy little groan of pleasure, her eyes still closed as her body tried to reconnect with her brain. “That was incredible.”
Erin smiled and gave her a lingering kiss. “I agree.”
“So,” Alex said, brushing Erin ‘s hair to the side so it was out of her face. “I’ve decided to take you up on your offer.”
“Which offer would that be?” Erin asked. She moved to move off Alex, but Alex kept her where she was.
“No, don’t go anywhere. I want to feel you against me.”
“Okay.” Erin moved her body down a bit so as much was lying on the floor between Alex’s legs as possible, so she wouldn’t be too heavy for her.
“Your offer of Chance and I staying here for a bit,” Alex clarified.
“Really?” Erin asked, thrilled at the prospect.
Alex nodded. “I want you to know that it has nothing to do with what we just did. I don’t want to rush us, and I think we need to do everything we can to do this the right way. I have Chance to think about now, and want to make sure I do what’s best for him.”
“I understand. But, does it mean we can least do this from time to time?” she teased, pressing down playfully between Alex’s spread legs.
“We sure as hell better! ”
Erin chuckled but then sobered. “I understand, Alex. I want what’s best for all of us, and I think taking it slow is wise. I mean, yeah, we’ve already crossed a whole bunch of boundaries, but,” she shrugged. “No promises that neither of us are ready to make.”
Alex nodded. “Exactly.” She gave Erin a kiss. “We should go to bed, though. Chance will be up early since he went to bed early tonight.”
“Okay,” Erin sighed, fully content. She rested her head down on Alex’s upper chest and wrapped her hands up and around Alex’s shoulders. “In a few minutes.”
Alex smiled, kissing the top of Erin ‘s head and holding her tightly to her. She turned her head and looked into the dying flames of the fireplace, marveling at the crazy turn of events her life had taken in the past month. Though the storm had the city by the throat, part of her was grateful for it. She wondered if perhaps she and Erin either wouldn’t have gotten back together or if it would have taken much longer, without it.
Their peace was interrupted by the sound of Erin’s cell phone ringing to life. Erin groaned in disappointment as she untangled herself from Alex. She placed a quick kiss to her lips before jumping up to grab her phone.
“Why don’t you go on up, baby and I’ll get this. It’s Shawn.”
“Okay.” Alex quickly tugged on her clothes and doused the fire, then headed upstairs.
In Erin ‘s big bed Chance looked so tiny. She smiled down at him, all curled up in the blankets and very much still asleep. She quietly crawled into bed, making sure there was plenty of room for Erin, who joined her within ten minutes.
“Everything okay?” Alex asked, as Erin looked like she’d seen a ghost as she crawled into bed.
“I’m not really sure,” Erin said, lying on her back, hands tucked behind her head.
Alex moved over to her, resting her head in an upturned palm so she could look down into Erin ‘s face. “What happened?”
Erin looked at her, studying her face for a long moment. “My mother is coming into town.”