Again by Minerva

Again
by Minerva

 

Chapter I

With the sleeves of the gray silk shirt rolled up over her elbows, Reese hit a series of keys on the keyboard and whispered, “Ho.” She clicked and highlighted with the mouse murmuring, “Ho.” With a saucy grin, the tall brunette hit the enter button then laughed as she said out loud, “Fucking ho. Merry Christmas to me.” With a series of keystrokes the investment banker had successfully siphoned a few thousand dollars from each client’s account into her own Swiss bank account.

She leaned back in the black leather chair making it creak with worry and ran elegant hands through her hair before they found purchase at the back of her head. The grin turned into a smirk. You taught me well, Dad. Good thing I’m a little smarter or I would be where you are right now. Reese stretched out long legs and placed them on top of her desk. The cuff of her tailored black slacks rode up.

She had made corporate fat cats, wall streeters, and any Joe Blow who came to her millions, and in the process garnered a nice little egg for herself both legally and illegally. The brunette shrugged broad shoulders. They won’t mind the person that made them a little richer made herself a litter richer too. I think I deserve it for putting up with their whining.

In the investment firm of Dodd & Dodd, Reese Darden had become more than her father’s shadow. She’d become a one named wonder in the investment world like a Cher, Janet or Madonna. Fresh out of Harvard Business School, she worked hard to cover up her father, Peter Darden’s murky shadow. The hard work was successful and she became a light of her own. Her father had taught her really well. Too bad he didn’t use some of those tricks for himself. Too bad he left me.

She allowed her mind to wander down memory lane. It was someplace she didn’t go frequently, but he had called this morning, begging her to come see him.

Reese didn’t grow up among the ranks of the old money. Her father had earned every penny from wheeling and dealing for the rich. They loved him like he was a money god to be worshipped, when he himself worshipped it like it was the God. Forgetting his wife but smattering attention on the one person he could mold, his daughter. Her mother, Sara left them both before she had even turned ten without a word or a whimper, just gone.

Her father had told her not to cry, and she didn’t. She raged instead, until deciding one day while curled up in her bed that Sara didn’t love her anyway. People who loved you didn’t leave. Reese learned to harden that side of her heart—the side that belonged to her mother. In that special place, she built mental bricks sealing the spaces in between with pain and whatever was left belonged to her father.

Having always revered him, she had listened and learned everything she could. While other pre-teens and teenagers were out playing and partying, Reese read about T-bills, interest rates and a myriad of other subjects. She read until she began to understand what every word, phrase and number meant.

Always possessing beauty, it began to blossom, and even without tutoring, she learned to use it. Charming her father’s contacts, who would become her contacts, and flirting shamelessly with their sons even the horrendous looking ones. When she was seventeen there was nothing except for Peter Darden, money, her books, and more money until Reese discovered women with a vengeance. They made the challenge that her life had become complete. She’d known that men didn’t fit somehow, only using them as pawns in a game she was hungry to win.

So now there was her father, money, women, and her books. Upon entering Harvard, she tore a dark swath through the business school as well as the female population. Women, flocked to her, making them a far lesser challenge. Resse wined them, dined them and bedded them as long as they both received pleasure. Before they got too close, before they had a chance to break her, leave her, Reese disappeared like a thin puff of smoke. She refused to feel that pain again.

All the while, she stayed in contact with her father through phone calls that they could both fit into their schedules. As he made more money, elevating his godhood, Peter Darden slowly let arrogance and greed take over and borrowed a little too much. He was found out, and the by the time Reese graduated, Peter Darden was almost penniless and serving time in prison for embezzlement and fraud.

Dodd & Dodd hired her fresh out of school. She didn’t know if it was pity or misplaced loyalty, and she didn’t care. One foot was in the door. Reese had gone to see her father for the first and last time after she was hired. What she saw was a shadow of the man she once knew. One minute he was angry, bitter and the next vulnerable and begging. It was pathetic, and it was a weakness she wanted no part of. That weakness had caused him to leave her both mentally and physically. The pain she thought she’d never feel again was explosive, leaving nothing untouched. Her heart belonged to a money god of her own making now. She was admired, awed, and even hated by some of her peers. There were few who were brave enough to try and befriend her. Only one really made it in.

The leggy brunette swiveled around in her chair and crossed her legs, taking in the view of the Chicago skyline. Pale blue scanned the better part of the city from their offices high atop the Nokitomi building, seeing the melting snow still covering most of the buildings. The bad part, where it looked like a nuclear bomb exploded, was safely tucked away from normal view, giving the impression that it didn’t exist, not to people that high up anyway.

I’ve got all I want right here in front of me: good connections and acquaintances, lots of money, and prestige. All things I can count on. She frowned at the hollowness that throbbed inside, hoping that seeing the increase on her next bank statement would sooth it.

The phone rang bringing her from inside herself back to the her office. Reese picked it up and spoke gruffly, “Yeah, Darden.”

“Reese. Ken here. You’re not going to like what I have to tell you.”

Her voice changed to an impatient purr, “Well then you’d better get on with it. It’ll be better for you.”

She heard him swallow audibly and smiled. “You know that account we were working on together? The, um, Willams’ account?”

“Yeah, I’m waiting,” she added, knowing it was one that she had just pulled up.

“Well, the quotes are a little off. Seems like a couple of thou is missing. My assistant found the discrepancy.”

Not even breaking a sweat, Reese said smoothly, “Oh, I was just in there. Must have got some numbers screwed up. Had a lot of things going on at once. I’ll give it a look in a minute.” The transition to casual was even smoother. “Dinner tonight?” She asked her friend and colleague of several years.

He snorted. “You’re kidding right? It’s Christmas Eve!”

“And?”

“And listen I have to come down that way anyhow to talk to Bryant. Damn fool man is always on the phone. I’ll just stop by your office first, and I’ll tell you about my plans.” He answered excitedly.

The brunette sighed, “Okay, just come right in.” Should give me a few minutes to make sure my tracks are covered completely.

* * * *

Without a knock, the tall black man, with skin the color of the lightest caramel walked into the brunette’s office. His slight mustache twitched as he smiled at the woman behind the desk.

Ken flopped down in a chair and linked his hands behind his curly head. “Reesie, would you laugh at me if I told that I was in love?”

The brunette leaned forward and narrowed her eyes. “Guh! You know I hate that name!”

His grin widened showing off deep dimples in his unlined face. “Uh-huh, I know that’s why I use it. Are you avoiding my question?”

Reese pushed dark bangs off her forehead. “Does this have anything to do with your not having dinner with me?”

“Yep.”

“Then no. I know you better than that. You would tell a woman you loved her just to get a piece of ass.”

He snorted. “So would you.”

She shook her head and smirked. “Nuh-uh, not my style my friend. I play it right to the bone.”

Ken straightened, moved forward in the chair and whispered, “I mean it. Told her last night.”

An ebony eyebrow quirked. “Is this the Gloria you’ve been seeing?”

He nodded and smiled at the mention of her name. “Yeah, she did something to me Reese, and whatever it was, I’m loving every minute of it. She makes me laugh, makes me think. Hell, she makes me feel everything. Scared the shit outta me at first. Didn’t know what the hell was going on, and then it hit me. . .” He smacked his hand against the desk. “Bam! Just like that, I knew.”

Reese chuckled. Men. Some of them can be played so easily. She must really be a nice piece of ass for her to have your nose in the air like that.” How could you get caught? None of it lasts. Nothing does. I should know.

Ken shook his head and frowned. “You know, sometimes you can be so cynical that it’s disgusting. Haven’t you heard a word I said? We haven’t even made love yet.”

Unphased, she propped her chin up on a hand and flicked her hair back with the other one. “Well, there you go then. She’s got you so riled up. . .”

His face reddened. “You may be a friend, but I won’t let you cheapen this with your warped assed logic. I finally met somebody that I want more than a romp with. . .hell I wanna wake up with her; go to sleep with her; I’d do anything for her. And the good thing is, she’d do the same! I see it when she looks at me.” He jumped up and ran his fingers angrily through his hair. Turning to her, he reached out his hands in surrender. “Haven’t you ever felt that sometime in your life, or is there nothing but a glass of ice water where your heart oughta be!”

Reese flinched and went abruptly quiet. Biting back a retort and old emotion, her jaw ticked in reaction. She looked at her friend with steely blue eyes that gave nothing away. “That what they’re saying about me nowadays?” Her voice was low, gravely. It’s better that way for everybody.

Shocked by her lack of reaction, some of the anger drained from him. Ken sat back down softly on the edge of the chair. With gentle brown eyes, he studied the woman in front of him. I know there’s more to you. There’s gotta be. “Yeah, I’m sorry to spit that out like that. It’s just that you turn up your nose at everybody. Hell, even I don’t know you that well. I don’t even know how I got up to friend status.”

“You made me laugh.” No one’s done that in a long time. Not since. . . “That’s how,” she commented quietly. Reese’s eyes softened a few degrees. “Sorry about. . .I didn’t mean to degrade what you have with her. Congratulations.” She shrugged.
“I guess it’s a good thing if you can get it.”

He smiled wanly, knowing that was as much as an apology as he was getting. “You should try it. Make you a changed woman. Maybe lighten you up a little.”

Long elegant fingers caressed the computer monitor on her desk. “Unh uh, I don’t have time for that. It’s fleeting.” She tapped the top of the monitor. “This is the challenge that keeps my blood pumping. It’s always gonna be here.” The brunette waved her hand in a nonchalant gesture. “Everything else is like week old pie.”

Brown eyes widened incredulously. “You mean to tell me that you’ve never felt a thing?”

Reese shrugged. It was a lie, but she was going to tell it anyway. “No, most of the women I meet know the score. Those that don’t-”

“Don’t stay long,” he interrupted. “Man, Reesie, that’s no way to live. I didn’t know what I was missing till now.” I feel for you my friend. I really do. Ken glanced at his watch. “I’d really like to stay and debate this with you, but I got the feeling I wouldn’t win anyway. I need to go see Bryant.” He jumped up, adjusted his silk tie and wiped a hand over white silk shirt before heading toward the door. Ken grabbed then knob then turned around, pointing fingers at the brunette in the shape of a gun. “Give me a rain check on dinner? Maybe after New Year’s, the three of us could go out for drinks, and we’ll see what happens after that.”

She nodded and waved him away.

Long minutes after he left, Reese sat staring at the far wall, pulling on her bottom lip, and thinking of the past for the second time that day. Have I ever felt anything? Yeah, and when I did, I ran like hell to keep from getting hurt.

The brunette pushed herself up out of the chair and walked up to the window. Her hands found a home deep inside her pockets. Standing with her legs shoulder width apart, she rolled the suddenly tight muscles and watched the descending sun color the sky in hues of reds and oranges. She liked this time of day. I wonder if she still does. Reese frowned and prepared herself to take an unsolicited trip down memory lane.

Randi Davenport. For some reason even now, the name made her smile. They met at of all places a Winn Dixie. Reese equipped with a red basket on her arm, walked down the soup isle to garner a couple of cans of cream of mushroom in preparation for a romantic dinner with a redhead she’d met two weeks earlier.

Before she was half way down the isle, the brunette spotted a petite blonde with short hair standing on her tiptoes and reaching for something. The curses caught her ears before she caught glimpse of the blonde’s face.

“Son of a bitch! Why the hell keep it up here all the way at top?!” She let out a tiny growl. “And near the frippin’ back too! What the hell is wrong with these people. All I wanted was some tampons and veggie all! Damn, damn, damn! She stomped her foot in frustration.

As she got closer, Reese took in angelic features, leaving her totally amused by the woman’s language. A smirk lifted the corner of her mouth as she watched the blonde’s well-muscled legs, left bare by shorts, flex in effort. By the time, azure eyes reached the tight derriere, she knew that she had to come to the rescue. The brunette cleared her throat and murmured, “Miss, can I. . .”

Startled, the petite blonde squealed, jumped and turned in surprise. “What?! Why the hell did you scare me like that?!”

Resse’s lips twitched as deep green eyes glared at her. Dark brows rose into her bangs. Without a word she reached up and back for the can of veggie all and handed it to the other woman.

The woman looked at the can, blinked, then glanced back at her. She placed a hand on a hip as their gazes held. Fair brows bunched in contemplation, and finally, she opened her mouth to speak. “You know, I don’t even know you, and already I know that you’re a smart ass.”

Before she had time to even think, Reese threw back and filled the isle with rich laughter. After a long minute she sobered, and glanced back at the woman to see a teasing smirk that crinkled the side of her nose, plastered on her face.

Reese smacked her lips and smiled brightly. “Well, I don’t know you either, but I can tell you that most of the beautiful women I meet don’t have the mouth of a sailor. It’s almost refreshing to see one with her guard down.”

The shorter woman chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, come on now. If that was a pick up line, you’re way outta practice. You must be able to do better than that, or are the surroundings hampering you?” She asked with mirth and a dash of sarcasm.

The brunette smiled despite the dig. “Well, was that your attempt to impress me with your wit? If it was, I think we’re both lacking at the moment.” She stepped in closer, letting the blonde feel the heat of her presence.

The petite woman smirked amusedly at the diminishing distance between them, letting Reese know without words that she knew the game the brunette was attempting to play.

Reese played on.

“Why don’t you go pay for your tampons and veggie all, and then we can go someplace with more. . .ambience where I can show you mine. . .” Pale blue eyes scanned her from head to toe. “And you can show me yours.”

The blonde let out a bark of laughter. “It gets better than this?”

“Everything does,” Reese responded with a grin.

She groaned and stuck out a small hand. “The name’s Randi, in case you wanted to know.”

Reese engulfed the hand with her own and reveled in the sparks that shot up her arm. “I’m Reese, and I definitely want to know.”

Randi continued to chuckle as they ventured out of the isle. “You might want to stop now before you run out of material, and I’m warning you. There’s no bullshit allowed in my apartment.”

The brunette stopped and turned to the woman beside her. “That’s where we’re going?”

“Yeah, I live just down the block. I walked here. You can take me home and let me put this stuff up. Then, we can go somewhere with. . .ambiance,” she smirked. “Now, about that bullshit.”

Reese started walking again. “I don’t do BS. You’ll find that out as you get to know me.”

“Mmm, I believe a student of mine said almost the same thing after I returned his paper. It was full of double talk.”

The taller woman avoided the comment. “You’re a teacher?”

“Sort of. I’m a professor at the IU division in Gary. I teach Sociology.”

“Ah, then we have a lot in common then. I’m an investment banker at Dodd & Dodd.”

Randi looked at her companion strangely then burst out laughing as they passed through the check out line and out the store.

While Reese waited in the living room of the small, charming apartment, riddled with pastels, she searched the pocket of her shirt for the small cell phone. With a flick of the wrist, she called and cancelled her date in favor of another.

That night and the next couple of months were filled with laughter. The brunette neglected to inform the blonde of her no strings rule she usually tried to enforce, and after a while, she noticed that she didn’t want to. Somehow, the blonde had gotten through.

Reese found in a short time that the professor could turn her on her ear with a few words, leaving her flustered. The blonde made her think, and within a few weeks, the brunette had developed an opinion on everything from Monica Lewinsky scandal to the identity of the real Shakespeare, who she argued was Bacon.

In the bedroom, Reese found that Randi could leave her just as flustered and shaken. Every touch and kiss rocked her to the core, and sometimes literally left her begging for more. It wasn’t long before that and her eagerness to be with the blonde began to worry her.

The gentle look in soft green eyes left her treading water, while part of her persisted that drowning wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t until three words were whispered in her ear in the early morning hours that the waters began to really choke her.

The brunette tried being cold, but the blonde’s kiss continued to melt her. She tried ignoring her, but her own compulsion to see the teacher led her back. Desperate to protect herself, it wasn’t until the blonde was getting ready to leave for a weekend to attend a lecture that Reese used the coward’s way out.

The blonde teacher was as animated as usual and chatted away at the stoic brunette who grunted in response. Once at the airport, Resse silently took Randi’s bags from the trunk and followed her inside. Having never been shy about public displays of affection the teacher stood on her tip toes for a kiss and a hug.

Reese brushed her lips softly then crushed her in strong arms before whispering in her ear, “I met somebody else. I-I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” It was a lie one of many she had told but none had been so profound. For the first time it hurt to tell it, but this pain was minute to the one she would experience later, when the blonde left.

Randi jerked away and peered at the executive. The brunette was unable to hold her gaze, seeing the light that had attracted her in the first place dim considerably. The pain she saw there ripped her insides.

The blonde’s lips quivered, and she bit the bottom one. Her eyes glazed and filled with unshed tears, but not a one fell. She shook her head and sucked them in. “You’re not worth crying over. I don’t do that over liars. This was the second one you told me because you just shoveled the biggest load of shit I’ve ever seen.”

Reese reached out a hand but thought better of it. “Look, I. . .”

The teacher laughed derisively. “Don’t even bother. All this shit will catch up to sooner or later. What are you gonna do then, huh? You can’t run forever?”

Instead of saying another word, Reese walked away with the blonde continuing to scream behind her.

“You can’t!”

The brunette walked out of the airport with a hole where her heart used to be. It left her wondering if what she had just done was even worth it after all. Pain was pain.
Reese came back to reality with a dark thud. Where there had been a glimmer of daylight left was only a twinkle of stars now. She swore savagely at the way the little blonde was still able to get under her skin. “Yeah, Ken. I know all about it. I know eventually it ends.” I’ll never allow a woman to make me feel that again.

Somber now, Reese grabbed her, coat, gloves, blazer and briefcase and decided to head home to an empty apartment and left over Chinese. Once on the elevator, she put a lock on her thoughts refusing to think about Randi, her father, her mother, or Ken.
Chapter II
Heels clicked with purpose on the floor of the parking garage, and the brunette fished out her car keys. She pressed a button, and the alarm on her BMW 380i chirped to life. Her brow wrinkled in concentration as she continued to try to block any thought that would cause an emotional reaction. Reese was so intent on her task that she didn’t notice the passenger in her car until she pulled open the driver’s side door.

Startled but trying to play it cool, Reese bent down and flicked long hair over her shoulders in an attempt to get a look at the intruder. Calm it down, Reese. If she wanted you dead, you’d probably be greeting the devil right now. Just be cool.

She leaned down further to peer into eyes that were so blue they were almost violet. Red hair curled wildly over the strange woman’s shoulders, disappearing down her back. Painted lips pursed then spread into a soft smile. She was dressed completely in black, making her pale skin seem almost translucent. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Merry Christmas to me big time. I think I got me an extra present.

Reese smiled sexily at the redhead. “Well, if I’d known you were waiting down here for me, I would have left work at 5 o’clock on the dot.”

The other woman turned slowly to the brunette. “Doesn’t matter. You needed time to think.” Her voice was musical and held an accent she couldn’t place Reese’s eyes narrowed. Ookay, how the hell did she know what I was doing?

Deep blue eyes sparkled and the full mouth quirked as if she possessed some secret knowledge of the brunette’s thoughts. “Get in and all your questions will be answered. Even the ones you don’t know how to ask.”

Growing irritated despite the woman’s beauty, Reese added, “Look, lady. I don’t know who the hell you are, but I don’t appreciate you breaking into my car.” Her glare turned icy.

The redhead shrugged, unaffected. “Does anything look broken? No? Does it look like I would harm you?” She held the pale blue gaze with silent intensity.

Reese swallowed, shaken and startled by the depth in the blue eyes. The eyes were ancient and so was the intelligence and wisdom that shined in them. There was also a sadness that drew the brunette. She wanted to know more. She suddenly wanted to know everything those eyes had seen. Deep blue gentled, and the brunette surmised that there was no intention to harm. “No.”

“Go around and get it, Reese. I’ll take you home.”

The redhead started the car with a soft roar. They exited the well lit parking structure before Reese spoke again. “Who are you?”

She stopped at the traffic light and turned to the brunette. “Clotho. It’s an old name to fit a young face, but my father’s strange that way.” The redhead smirked as she gunned the engine. They took off with fury when the light turned green.

Resse fastened her seatbelt. “So tell me what I want to know.” She glanced at Clotho’s profile, seeing a small grin.

“I can’t. You want to know too much. There are somethings you must never know. It would be too much responsibility.”

The brunette shrugged. “I think I can. I like—”

“The challenge?”

Reese chuckled, “Yes, how did you know?”

The smile on the redhead’s face vanished. “I know more than you could possibly imagine. As for you, my friend, your need to conquer a challenge will put you in serious trouble.”

The brunette laughed outright. “It would be an even greater one to get out of trouble then. Now, wouldn’t it? But, I have to say, there’s nothing like holding all that money in the palm of your hand, shifting it back and forth, dangling a man’s livelihood in your hands. The high and the power is like nothing I’ve ever felt.” It’s the only thing I can count on.

They continued to move along the highway, ignoring the speed limits. “As I said, it will be your downfall.”

Growing agitated by the woman’s vague talk, Reese barked, “Why don’t you cut the bullshit and tell me why you’re here? What do you want from me?” Pale blue narrowed predatorily as she looked Clotho up and down. “If you want a piece of me, there’s only one piece you can have. I don’t do breakfast.”

“Not anymore,” the redhead added as she turned off to an exit.

What the hell is going on here?! This woman is starting to spook the hell outta me. A chill eased up her spine. She knows entirely too much.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of yet. Like I said before, I know more than you could imagine, and I know you.”

Reese’s chill intensified. Pale eyes scanned the cab frantically, looking for a possible way out. She looked out the windshield to see unfamiliar surroundings. Panic set in as her usual cool began to slowly dissolve. “Where the hell are we?! This isn’t where I live!”

Unperturbed, Clotho replied softly, “I’m taking you home.”

They pulled into a neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs and came to an abrupt stop in front of a house that glowed yellow in the moonlight. It was surrounded by symmetrical bushes and well cut grass, sprinkled with melting snow. From what Reese could see, there even seemed to be a little flower garden, covered in snow, right in front of the yellow house. Her eyes widened. “Hold it, lady! This isn’t my fucking house! I’ve never even been in this neighborhood!”

Clotho turned to the brunette, silencing and chilling her with a look that penetrated deep within. “You will listen to me, Reese Darden. In eight days, you will be arrested for embezzlement. There will be no talking or finagling yourself out of it. You’ll be sentenced to three years, and it will be your downfall. You won’t have anything or anybody.” She paused for affect and canted her head to the side observing the look of disbelief on the brunette’s face. “Do you deny what you’ve done?”

Oh God. Anxiety strapped a tight band across her chest, causing each breath to be painful. This can’t be happening. I’m smarter than that. No one can beat me. THIS CAN NOT BE HAPPENING! She peered into violet eyes, seeing the answers she didn’t want to see. Oh God, yes it is! The dark head lowered in shame and fear. “No, I-I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Nothing. I’m here to give you a choice between what could have been and what is. You have until the first strike of New Year’s day to make your choice between money and that.” She pointed at the house. “You have a chance to change a lot of things Reese, learn from them, and use them.” Clotho held out her hand palm up, generating a set of keys out of thin air. “This isn’t magic, and you are not hallucinating. Believe it because there is no time for doubt.” She grabbed the brunette’s hand and placed the keys in it. “Take these and go.”

Reese blinked and huddled her belongings, wrapped in one hand, close to her chest for comfort. Her breathing was rapid as was the beat of her heart. She couldn’t decide what scared her more this situation, the unknown, or losing everything. Her fingers closed over the keys. Her choice was evident. At the moment, she didn’t have one. She turned to look at the house, seeing a low light on inside then glanced back at the redhead.

“Go.” Her voice was firm but gentle at the same time, while her features were unreadable.

Reese let out a shaky breath and did what she was told. She stood on the curb, continuing to stare at the strange house. The brunette turned at the sound of a voice clearing behind her. She bent and looked inside her car. “Let me give you one last piece of advice, Reese. See all this with your heart not your head. Someone favors you among my father’s clan. I would hate to see you make the same choice your father did.”

The brunette’s mouth fell open, but before she could say a thing, the window closed and the car took off at phenomenal speed. A surge of bright light blinded her, making her pull a hand over her eyes. With a soft pop, the car disappeared as if it was never there. The fact that her car had just vanished only caused Reese slight worry. She turned to the house and walked slowly up the walkway. What was in that house caused the bulk of her distress.

Is this really happening? Did she make my father play this sick game? If he did, look where his choice left him. She closed her eyes tightly and with blunt fingernails, she pinched the skin on her wrist. Reese grunted at the slight pain, but when she opened her eyes, everything was still the same. Maybe if I take the money and run now, things will turn out okay. The idea took root in her mind. She wrestled with the briefcase in an attempt to open it. Finally, the lock popped and she searched the black leather organizer for her bank card and Swiss account numbers. Oh shit, shit, shit!

There were no account numbers.

No, no no! She looked down at a bank card, but it wasn’t to her regular bank. She changed everything! I’m stuck in the Twilight Zone version of “It’s a Wonderful Life! I sure as hell don’t want to end up dead or in jail! Reese took a breath then another in attempt to calm herself. Maybe I could go along with this for a day or two. It would give me time to find a way out free and clear. Yeah, its not like anyone else is involved in this. Hope stirred slightly as the brunette made it up to the door.

Reese juggled the keys, using the porch light to find a plain one. It slid into the lock easily and turned without a sound. Once inside, without looking around she let her briefcase drop to the floor with a muffled thump. Yanking the wool coat, gloves, and blazer off, the brunette jumped and turned in surprise at the sound of a soft cough.

Pale blue searched the dimness of the living room, until she came upon a small lamp, covered with a light cloth. It wasn’t that—that caught her attention. Her heart thudded hard then stopped as blue eyes widened at the sight before her.

Randi sat in the light colored chair that matched the rest of the furniture. A big red bow covered her torso, meeting in a neat tie at the front of her breasts. It was the only part of her body that was covered. The pale light made her naked skin glow alabaster and accented blonde hair on her head as well as the darker curls between her legs. The brunette’s breathing was the next to go when short, muscular legs parted slightly, revealing a gift hidden behind blonde down. Reese swallowed, feeling suddenly dizzy.

Some how, long seconds later, azure eyes found their way to the blonde’s face, seeing the tiny smirk that crinkled her nose. Her mouth had dropped open, if the cool air running over her teeth was any indicator. For the moment, Reese Darden was struck dumb. Her only action was a rapid blink.

A throaty chuckle hit the brunette’s ears. “You usually only look like that after we make love. Should I be flattered?”

Reese blinked again.

Well, I’ve struck the ultimate smart ass speechless. Not bad for a nights work that hasn’t even started yet. Randi’s smirk widened to a sexy grin. “Merry Christmas, baby. Would you like to unwrap me now or wait till in the morning?” She asked teasingly.

Sweet Mary Mother of God, if this is some kind of cosmic joke please tell me the punchline now. . . The dizziness became acute.

“Reese?”

The brunette blinked again, and in quick succession, pale blue rolled up toward the back of her head right before she tumbled to the floor in an ungraceful leap.

Frowning, Randi leaped from the chair and kneeled down beside her lover. She touched warm skin and felt sweet breath on her face. A slow smile formed. “Well, that doesn’t usually happen till after either.”
Chapter III

Propped up on an elbow, Randi leaned over the brunette’s prone form. Somehow she had gotten a still incoherent, Reese to get up and crawl into bed. The blonde had been able to wrestle her out of most of her clothes before she gave up to exhaustion and worry.

She looked at me as if I were a ghost. I wasn’t expecting that, and it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe she’s working too hard. I’ll have to talk to Ken and see if anything is going on at her job that she’s not telling me about.

With soft fingertips, Randi traced her lover’s eyebrows, then an aquiline nose. So beautiful, and I still can’t believe she’s with me. Momma would be proud. She always said I’d find a woman larger than life who would take good care of me. Look, momma, we take care of each other. After you died, I didn’t think I could ever let anybody in again only to watch them leave one way or another. Randi pulled away from her lover and laid down on her back, peering up at the ceiling. Her thoughts and silent whispers strayed to those she missed most.

I still don’t know how she did it. You should have heard the cheesy lines, and I swear she thought they were working. The blonde smiled in reminiscence. I guess they did. She makes me laugh momma, so hard that I forget everything. She doesn’t mind my temper or my foul mouth. A breath of fresh air I think she called it.

We’ve been together for a whole year, and I still think I’m the only one besides Ken who is completely honest with her. I love her so much, but I think that scares her sometimes. I can see this cornered look in her eyes. I still know that she cares. She wouldn’t be here otherwise.

I wish you could talk back, momma. I can’t believe it’s been almost three years. I swear you kept me laughing even in the end. Laughter is the best medicine. I believe you now, because I don’t think you suffered that much at all, despite the cancer. I know it’s been a long time since I talked to you. I guess I’m doing it now because it’s Christmas, and for once, I’m not miserable.

Krystal still won’t really talk to me, my own sister. Can you believe that? She still thinks all this is a phase, even after four years and two relationships. You didn’t mind, I don’t understand why she does. Well, I can be stubborn too. It’s a Davenport trait. I miss you, momma. A soft groan disturbed her train of thought, and Randi found herself peering at the brunette once more. “Screw her. I got better things to take care of.” I need to find out what’s going on with this one.

The blonde smirked as Reese began to snore slightly. It was something she only did when exhausted. “Time to get up sleepy head. You got some questions to answer, and you know I’m not the patient sort,” she whispered. Randi reached over and tweaked the brunette’s nose. She snorted and wrinkled her nostrils in response, but the snoring started again after a moment. The teacher rolled her eyes and tried another tactic. She pinched nostrils together and tried to contain the giggles.

Resse gasped and shot up in a sitting position. Her eyes were wide as they scanned the unfamiliar room. “What the fu. .” Pale eyes landed on the blonde, who quirked a tiny smile and waved.

The brunette squealed and tried to jump out of the bed. The sheets wrapped around her prevented it. She ended up on the floor instead, with a loud thud.

“Ow!” Exasperated, she tore at the sheets and stood up ungracefully only to feel a draft over her semi naked form, clad in bra and panties. She squealed again and tried to cover herself with two large hands. She’s real, and she’s looking at me! Of all people to stick me with, Clotho had to choose her?! The one person that. . .that made me. . . She refused to finish the thought. Embarrassed and irritated, she barked at the blonde, “Can’t you see I’m naked? Turn around!”

Randi’s lips twitched in an attempt to hide her mirth. At the last moment, she decided not to hide it at all. A full smile formed on her face, crinkling her nose and the skin around her eyes. She eyed the brunette from head to toe and raised a fair brow. “You know, I’ve seen those before. Naked even.”

Reese’s eyes widened incredulously. Same old Randi. I swear I could never rattle that women, except when I broke. . . I can’t go there. “How the hell did I get like this anyway?”

Randi batted her eyes coquetishly. She is acting too weird, but I’ll play along for now. She removed the sheet from her body and lay back, leaving herself deliciously exposed. “All this. . .” The blonde waved a hand down her body. “Struck you blind, and you fainted,” she said in a sing-song voice. “After, I finally got you up. You begged me to undress you. Something about feeling me against you, if I remember correctly.” Randi pursed her lips then allowed her smile to get bigger.

Dark brows shot up into even darker bangs. The brunette’s mouth suddenly went dry as her groin twitched to life. God! Definitely same old Randi! Always keeping me on my toes.

Reese had to bite her bottom lip to keep from smiling, but she couldn’t keep it out of her voice. “You nut. You’re lying. I remember blacking out, but the rest is total bunk.”

The blonde chuckled. “Uh huh, but it was a pretty one wasn’t it?”

Reese smiled despite herself. “So are you, so I guess it goes hand in hand, huh?”

Green eyes narrowed. “It’s way to early to be giving me cheese, love.”

The brunette threw back her head in laughter. God, I missed you.

There’s the woman I know and love. What happened to you last night. “You okay now? You kinda had me scared last night.”

Reese cleared her throat. “Last night. . last night was kinda strange, and I guess seeing you like that sort of threw me, you know?” This is some kind of cosmic/karma thing. Clotho I don’t want to hurt her a second time, and I don’t want to have to run a second time.

Worry scrunched the blonde’s brow. “Everything okay there?”

I’m starting this whole thing off lying to her. That can’t be good. How is that gonna fix anything? What the hell am I supposed to be fixing anyway? “Um, Ken told me something I thought I’d never hear out of him. He’s in love.”

“Oh, he told her? That’s great! Gloria’s quiet a woman.”

Confused, Reese asked, “We know her?” Is everything different? What else did she change?

Randi frowned again. “Yeah, we do. They’ve been over for dinner I don’t know how many times.”

Oh, sweet Mary. Panic ceased her, and she finally sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. “You live. . here with me?” Reese shook her head suddenly realizing how suspicious she sounded. “Uh, I mean, how long have we lived here together?”

Okay, what the hell is going on with her. She’s hiding something from me. Fear grasped her. Is she trying to tell me something? Getting a little angry, Randi retorted, “ A little over a month and a half. You know all this. What the hell is going on with you? If you weren’t sure about us being together like this, you shoulda said something before we bought the fucking house!”

Her sense of self-preservation kicked in overtime. This is her idea of a second chance?! Sticking me with the only woman that made me feel? And already, I’m saying and doing the wrong thing. She’ll end up walking out just like everybody else before the holiday is even over. I’m no good at this! Forever running, Reese added, “Look, I don’t want to talk about this right now.” She stood up and jerked the sheet, wrapping it around her.

Randi felt the breath rattle in her throat as she watched the brunette leave. “Well Merry fucking Christmas to you too!” She could feel angry blood rushing to her face. The blonde covered her face with her hands and screamed into them. Please let me be overreacting. Don’t do this to me, Reese, not now. You promised me I wasn’t like the rest of them, and I believed you.

She sat up and grabbed a pillow, launching it across the room. I do it every time. So damn gullible. You taught me that people were good, momma. After all these strikes, you’d think my perceptions would have changed, but they haven’t. First, Judy, I believed every lie that came from her mouth even the one where she said I was the only one.

Then, there was Toni. Should have known better than to get involved with a student. Surprised I still have my job. Damn, freshmen experimentation. This was supposed to be different. I love you, Reese. I know you, and I can’t let you run from me. I still wanna believe you. I can’t help myself. Knowing they needed to talk, Randi got up and pulled on shorts and a t-shirt before going to search for her lover.

Pale blue scanned the living room, looking for anything familiar. The cream-colored furniture, pastel carpeting, potted plants, and paintings, none of it was her. The only thing that reeked of her influence was the large entertainment center. She even studied the Christmas tree that she missed last night. The muliti-colored lights still blinked, making the bows and tassels glow. There were even presents. Warmth snuck up on her before she even had a chance to think.

For a brief second, Reese reveled in it. It was the ultimate ‘what if.’ The whole house was smaller than I thought it would be, but knowing Randi, she wanted everything split fifty-fifty, regardless of how much I make. She wanted this then. I could see it in her eyes. Some part of me wanted to give it to her. I just couldn’t, knowing that she would eventually leave. Just the thought of it hurt too much. I had to run before she did.

She made me feel . . .things that I still can’t identify. Being near her, I can feel it happening already like the feelings never left. Her mind flashed back to the airport, remembering the light that died in the blonde’s eyes and the tearing she felt herself. Oh God, I can’t do that either.

Reese turned and went back down the hall, hoping to find an office where she could sit and think. She found what she was looking for. A big, hand carved desk complete with leather chair greeted her, along with a state of the art computer. There were various papers and books scattered about. It was a mess. She smiled, knowing it was indeed her office.

Now seated, the brunette draped the sheet around her, leaned back, and rested her legs on top of the desk. “Now, what the hell am I going to do?” She sighed and closed her eyes. Contrary to what I believed yesterday, I don’t think I can just cut and run. After seeing Randi again, I don’t know if I want to. That alone scares me.

Five minutes alone with her, and I’m falling again. Can I make it last? Is this what I’m here for? To give it another go? Maybe Clotho’s trying to tell me that we were meant to be. I have a chance to make this last, but I don’t know what I’m doing though either way. How can I learn to be the woman she needs in a week? If I do this, will she be the one person that stays?

To start things off, I’ve lied to her and alienated her because of my own stupid fears, but the bottom line is that I’ve missed her. Is she that missing chunk in me? I didn’t have that hollow spot when I was with her, but I did before and after. Reese pulled on her bottom lip and stared into space.

Here is the whole thing in a nutshell. I’m back with the one thing that felt right in my life, and if I don’t try to learn how to keep it that way, I end up with nothing. There’s no other choice. I have to give this a try. I have to learn to listen to my heart. A combined frission of hope and fear lodged in her chest at the thought. She looked up at the ceiling. “I hope someone up there is willing to give me a hand because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Randi stood outside her lover’s office door. She looked down at the present in her hand, hoping to use this one as a peace offering. I wish you would talk to me, Reese. There’s so much I don’t know about you. Some places you won’t let me in. Why do you hide from me? I just don’t want to lose you. I have to try and see if we can fix this. The blonde knocked on the door slightly then let herself in.

Reese glanced up. Her heart lurched in reaction. I don’t know where to start. How do I show you what I didn’t the first time? How do I open up and do that? Will it make you see or make you stay? I wanna know what it feels like to stand still for once. Maybe it will make me a different woman. Anything has to be an improvement from what I was before. She swallowed. Here goes nothing. “Uh, hi.”

Hesitant green eyes met blue. Randi picked at the wrapping paper, needing something to do with nervous hands. “Hi, I, um, wanted to apologize for overreacting. It’s just that sometimes I don’t know. . .” The blond head hung. “Sometimes I don’t know what you’re thinking, and I don’t know which way to go when you don’t share.”

I guess I’ve been the same old Reese even here, keeping her at arms length. I’m gonna have to skip a few steps and leap over this fear. Take the chance, Reese girl, just like you did everyday in that office. The brunette cleared her throat , and pale eyes softened. “You didn’t,” she replied softly.

Confused, Randi added, “Didn’t what?”

“Overreact.” Reese took her feet off the desk and leaned forward in the chair. “I’d say. . .you were right on the money.” She reached up to scratch the top of her head in nervousness. “I imagine there’s a lot of things I should know and don’t.”

The blonde’s heart thudded. Is she apologizing? I haven’t heard her say I’m sorry since forever. What’s going on here? It’s not like she could change overnight. I mean, is she finally seeing that it’s better to hold on to what’s in front of her? “Yeah.” She continued to fiddle with the wrapping paper around the present.

“I-I’m sorry, Randi. I don’t understand how you put up with me.” Because, I didn’t want anybody to. Because I knew they would always leave.

Randi sighed shakily and moved a couple of steps closer. “You still don’t know by now, do you? I love you. It’s as simple as that.” And I’ll keep telling you until it sinks into your thick head!

The brunette’s heart thudded upon hearing words it had been deprived of for so long. It should have always been as simple, but it never has been for me. Reese opened her mouth to respond with feelings that she always knew were there, “I. . .I” Her mouth closed then opened as she tried again.

“It’s okay, Reese. You don’t have to say it. I know you care.” I know I live in there somewhere.

The executive knew when she was being let off easy. “Yeah, I do.” More than I can tell you right now. More than I think you ever knew. To compensate, she got up out of the chair, moving around to where the blonde stood. Reese peered down at the small wrapped box in the smaller woman’s hands. I hope there’s something under the tree for her. “You come bearing gifts I see.”

“Yeah, it is Christmas, and I wanted it to be a peace offering.”

“I just think we need to talk more, you know?” Whoa, did I say that? Maybe I’m learning something after all.

“I think that I’ve been waiting for you to say that for a long time. I mean, we talk about everything except us.” I want to know what’s inside you. Can’t you see that?

The dark head hung. “I know. It’s just hard to do when I’m used to keeping everything to myself. I don’t think anyone was ever interested before.”

“I’m very interested, and I hope this shows it.” Randi grasped a large hand and deposited the present there. “Merry Christmas, baby.” She watched with eyes full of emotion as the brunette began to tear the paper from around the box.

Reese dispensed with the wrapping paper with child-like glee. It showed on her face and in her eyes. “It’s been a long time since I had Christmas or even cared about it.”

Randi smiled softly, “I know.” She paused impatiently. “Now will you hurry up and open it. You’re making me anxious!”

The brunette smiled goofily as she got rid of the last piece of tape to reveal a velvet jewelers box. She swallowed but without hesitation opened the box to reveal a delicate gold watch. “Oooh.”

Nervous despite the reaction, Randi felt the need to explain herself. “I know you’re not much for jewelry, but gold does look so good on you. Read the engraving on the back.”

The executive did as she was told and turned the watch over. Her breath caught, making the words come out shaky, “My heart All the Time.” Pale blue sparkled with warmth. “I’ll never take it off.” She held out her arm and gave the blonde the watch. “Help me.”

With trembling hands, Randi procured the watch around the brunette’s wrist. She looked down at it. “Beautiful.”

An elegant hand lifted to cup the blonde’s cheek. “Yeah, you are.”

The teacher bit her lip and chuckled, “Corny but effective.”

“Eh, I got a million of them, but I’m only gonna use them on you.”

Randi patted the hand then kissed it. “Good to know.”

Reese closed her eyes and concentrated on the shiver at the feel of soft lips. How does she do this to me? The only one. When eyes opened again, they were dark and shining. “Anytime,” the brunette replied hoarsely. Her gaze riveted on full unpainted lips. Do you still taste the same? It’s been six months. I have to find out.

The taller woman took a step closer engulfing the blonde in heat. Randi gasped at the overwhelming feeling that always seemed to take over when the brunette got too close. She let the heat envelope her. Their gazes met and sizzled, almost producing a crackle in the air.

Reese wet her lips reflexively and smiled softly as green eyes followed the action. With a thumb, she began to explore the blonde’s lower lip. The softness was still there, but it wasn’t until the other woman’s tongue snaked out to greet the appendage that the brunette was reminded of the wet heat. She sucked in a breath and pushed inside, meeting the inferno head on. ‘Oh God, just like I remembered.’

Breathing turned ragged from that act alone, and Randi found that she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the face that had become suddenly flushed and animated with need. The blonde wanted to heighten those features and feelings. With the onset of a warm suction and flicking tongue, she did just that, watching the executive’s lips part softly and rasp in breath.

Impatience suddenly became the brunette’s best friend. The need to taste her lover had become a compulsion. “Missed this,” she whispered as her head descended over finger and all. Tongues touched before lips did, making them both moan harshly at the wet, teasing contact. Reese used her finger to open the blonde’s mouth wide, letting her spear deeply inside. She whimpered at the taste. ‘So good. So sweet.’ The air warmed around them then thickened with tension.

Randi wrapped her hands in dark hair and crushed her lover’s mouth on her own. This was no different then the hundreds or thousands of other times they kissed or touch. She began to shake from the inside out, feeling as though the ground was quaking beneath her feet. Her heart stopped its normal sinus and beat in some errant rhythm that made her dizzy and hungry for more.

The need to breathe broke the kiss but not the proximity of the bodies. Their foreheads touched as they took advantage of the moment to breathe normally again. Randi recovered first. She brought fingertips up to trace the brunette’s warm, wet lips then whimpered when she realized that she had to have them again.

Reese felt control slipping, and as a result, she panicked. ‘I can’t do this now. Feels too good and I feel too much.’ She grasped wrist and brought them to her lips, hoping to play her apprehension as sexual arousal. Their eyes met in silence.

Randi was the first to speak. “You’re right. We’re having company real soon. Would do for your mother to come over and catch us like this. I’d die of embarrassment. Ken said that he’d call from Gloria’s parents’ house sometime tonight.”

The brunette’s insides turned to ice. ‘It can’t be. That woman left me. I’ll be damned before I give her a second chance at anything!’ Her jaws slammed shut, causing a muscle to tick on the side. She tried to swallow down the bile and anger, but they came back up quickly. Instead, she untangled herself from the blonde and turned away. “My mother?” Her tone was low, icy.

Noticing the quick transition to anger she was more than familiar with, Randi blanched. ‘What the hell just happened here? It’s like she’s Jekyl and Hyde.’ “Yeah, your mother. Reese? What’s going on with you? You’ve been acting weird all morning, and it’s starting to get to me.”

Reese laughed derisively. “Even if I told you, you still wouldn’t know.” With her back still turned, she put a hand on a hip and stared out the window. ‘I guess everything is screwed up here. Who the hell else is gonna jump out at me?’ “What about my father?”

Throwing her hands up in exasperation, Randi replied, “Your father? I don’t know about your father you never talked about him. You keep things from me just like you’re doing right now.” Is it that hard, Reese, open up to me? Don’t you trust me at all?

Reese flinched in reaction. I never told her? Have I ever told her anything about myself? About my life? How could she put up with that? Stupid! She loves me, and I shut her out. That would make anybody leave. I have to do something. There’s so much going on here. I just need time to figure it all out. She turned around and met sad green. Overwhelmed and irritated, the brunette ran a hand through bed raggled hair.

“Look, I can tell you this much and be sure. I don’t know where my father is. As far as everything else goes, I’m so-so sorry for being an asshole. It’s hard to clean that up when I’ve been one my whole life. I’m gonna rectify that though. I just gotta learn how.”

Randi shook her head in confusion. “I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what’s happened to you? You don’t sound like yourself, and we’ve argued more this morning than we have in a long time. It’s almost like everything is new to you.
I don’t understand. . .”

“Neither do I, but I’m gonna try to make this right. I just need some time. My head just isn’t on straight for some reason.” Are these all the things I have to atone for? Randi I can understand, and I even look forward to. But, my mother, I never did anything to her. She did it to me! She left me! This shit doesn’t make any sense.

Concerned, Randi moved forward. “What do you mean? You feeling okay?”

The brunette held out a hand to stop her advance. “Yeah, I’m fine, and I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I get it straight. Trust me?” ‘I promise I’ll do right by you this time. I’ll try.’

Confused but having confidence in her lover, the blonde nodded. “Unconditionally.” ‘I trust you and I love you. I don’t know how to do anything else where you’re concerned.’

Reese smiled softly and reached out for the blonde’s hand, ignoring the sudden weight on her shoulders. “Okay.” She pulled them toward the office door. “Then let’s get Christmas started. I think there’s some things under the tree with your name on it.” The brunette winked. “We might need to get dressed too. Got people to see and food to eat. Can’t wait to tear into the spread you made,” she added with cheer that she didn’t feel.

Giving her lover a fake pout, the blonde said, “Good cause I didn’t slave all day yesterday for nothing. Now,” Randi paused and smiled. “Lead me to the bedroom.”
Chapter IV

Reese smoothed a sweaty hand down the front of wool slacks. It had been twenty years since she’d seen Sara Darden, and in a few more minutes, the woman was going to come walking through the front door like time hadn’t passed at all. The brunette was angry, apprehensive, and wary, hoping she could keep her contempt in enough so as not to alarm the blonde.

They had decided to forego breakfast since it was late anyway and go right to the Christmas meal. They had even agreed to wait on the brunette’s mother before doing presents. With relief, Reese spotted several gifts from her to her lover, and to her consternation, some for her mother as well. She listened to the clanging in the kitchen, as her thoughts went into a whirl.

How do you greet someone who abandoned you? Hi, I did fine. I didn’t need your ass anyway, or how about: Hi, because of you I turned into a grade A thieving asshole. Does it matter? All I know right now is that I’m scared to death and unsure about everything, even my own sanity. I mean, is this reality and everything else was a dream? I don’t know anymore. I have to admit that a small part of me is eager to see her again. I guess it’s the kid she left, but the woman in me wants to hate her. I guess I’m gonna have to wait and see who wins.

Reese jumped up from the couch at the sound of the doorbell. Her breath caught in her throat, and she swallowed the lump that accompanied it. The brunette willed her hands to stop shaking and her heart to stop thudding, but it seemed that in this world she had command of nothing.

Where the adult wanted to slow down and make the other woman wait, the kid walked briskly toward the door and pulled it open to admit her mother. They both took note of the BMW sitting in the driveway like it had never moved.

The woman that smiled back at the brunette was a head shorter, with curly hair the same color as her own speckled with gray. Her own eyes peered back at her, crinkling at the sides in a smile. Inside, the kid sobbed. Outside, the woman was complacent and emotionless.

Sara Darden patted her daughter’s stomach with her free hand. “You just gonna stand there, Reesie or are you gonna let Santa in. I come bearing gifts and alcohol.” She held up the bag then thrusts it into her daughter’s hands.

As if on automatic pilot, Reese moved aside, letting the older woman enter. The brunette followed and dumped the bag onto the couch. She turned around and found herself engulfed in a hug. “Merry Christmas, Reesie.”

Little Reese felt the warmth all the way to her toes. The older version raged at the woman’s audacity. She didn’t return the hug, but she didn’t break it either. Her arms stayed pasted to her sides and her body remained stiff.

Sara frowned in concern. She stepped back and looked up into her daughter’s face to see a pained expression. She raised her hand to touch but gasped when Reese flinched as if hit. “Reese, honey, what’s wrong? Did you and Randi have a fight? Feel free to talk about it if you want.”

I can’t believe I’m standing here looking at the woman who took half of my heart with her when she left. I felt nothing for her for so long. I heard once that hate is the other side of love. Who ever said it was wrong. It’s indifference. It’s what I’ve felt for all these years, and now it’s like a war is going on inside. Why is she trying to get out now? I cried for her when I was ten. I’m not ten anymore.

This time the child inside her shouted angrily. She wanted to put her arms around her mother. She wanted to smile, to kiss. With each shout of outrage, little Reese got stronger.

Reese clinched her hands into fists and peered down at the older woman. Her voice was low, husky. “No, mother.” She spat out the words as if they were nasty. The child pummeled her from the inside. After twenty years, she wanted out. Don’t do this to me. I can’t forgive her so easily. But another voice whispered, a smaller one. She never left. Why are you mad? She never left. Reese bit her jaw and swallowed the coppery blood before she spoke again. Her voice softened but was just as husky. “I just woke up from a nightmare, mother. You want to hear about it?”

Sara nodded and tapped her daughter on the nose. “Yeah, I do. You used to tell me about all of them when you were little. Nothing should change now. You’re still my little girl.”

Reese felt the little girls relief and happiness, and it made her giddy. Still trying to hide it, with a wave of her hand, she motioned her mother to sit down on the couch.

~*~*~*~*~*~*

Randi got out the China to set the dining room table. She set the plates and gravy boat on the counter and turned to set the timer for the reheating food. The blonde leaned against the counter and sighed. “My first real Christmas in three years. I still can’t believe it.” She smiled at the sound of the doorbell. “And here comes another woman I’ve grown to love.” The blonde chuckled but it lacked humor as her thoughts and voice turned inward.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that it was just me, a couple of Corona’s, a pizza, and freakin’ Jimmy Stewart. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch that movie again. I was tired of the damn snow, tired of my damn school. Hell, I was tired of everything.
I have to admit. I’m surprise I’m still at IU.

Damn fool faculty and their hang-ups. So what if I decided to expand my curriculum a little and add some gay writers. That (gasps) talk about being gay! I swear old men and their tight underwear. I think I was pissed off that mom left, pissed off at Krystal, and generally pissed off at everything and everybody. And then came those wrecks I call relationships. They pissed me off even more.

Hell, I wanted to be pissed off at the bull coming out of Reese’s mouth that day, but somehow, looking at that face and those eyes, I just couldn’t be.

“I have her. I know I do, and I’m happy. It just feels. . .like something’s missing. A year, and she never said ‘I love you.’ Shouldn’t I be angry at that? I mean, I know she cares. I can feel it every time she looks at me. I just want to be inside her, all the way, and I may be stubborn enough to stay until she lets me in,” Randi commented out loud. She paused and scratched her chin.

“And now she says she wants to try and start talking to me, really talking to me, and I question it because she’s acting a little strange. What’s wrong with me? I don’t care if it’s because of the season or whatever. I should be happy that Reese is even attempting to open up. Still, what did she mean by her head isn’t on straight?” The ding of the timer got her attention. It was time to get dinner together.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Sara drew her brows together in worry. “You say I left you when you were ten?”

“Yeah, and at first I thought my life was going pretty good, but it really wasn’t.”

Sara Darden brought her hands together in her lap and looked down at them. “Can I tell you something?” Her voice was hesitant, wary.

“Yes.” The little girl inside her smiled as she soaked in the tone of her mother’s voice.

“I almost did leave once. Around that time too. Your father and me were having a lot of problems. I think he forgot he was married to me. Money and power was all he wanted.”

Reese swallowed. Why couldn’t this have been my real life? “Why didn’t you?” She asked softly. She stared at her mother until blue met blue again.

“Because, I knew I’d never see you again. He wasn’t going to let me have you. To him, you were his legacy. You were going to make his name bigger than it already was. He would have done anything to keep you.”

Wanting so much to know what happened to her father, Reese asked but couldn’t keep the trepidation out of her voice. “Have. . .have you talked to him lately?”

Sara shook her head. “No, haven’t visited his grave since this summer.”

Reese’s stomach dropped and a tight band of emotion cinched around her chest. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. In this world, she had traded one abandonment for another. He chose money rather than a life with his family. I don’t understand how he could do that. She paused remembering the power and adrenaline that gushed through her each time she made even the smallest amount of money. Yes, I can.

The brunette swallowed before speaking again. “He taught me everything I know about this business. I can be grateful for that.”

Her mother smiled sadly. “Yes, I just hope his obsession didn’t pass on to you. You know, there’s one thing I’ll never forget about him. He only told me that he loved me once, and that was before we were married. I never heard it again, even after he was forced to resign because of the money he took. Even after we went broke, I kept telling myself that he did.” She turned away. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this. I don’t want to ruin the image you have of him.”

Reese was shaken to the core, but she had to comment. “H-he never told me at all.” Tears prickled behind her eyes.

Blue met again. While Reese couldn’t cry, her mother did it for her. “Oh, sweetie. I didn’t mean to be so weak. I should have tried harder to get us both out of there.” Sara moved closer and engulfed her only child in another hug. Reese stiffened but after a few seconds, her body relaxed. For the time being, the kid had won.

Sara rocked her daughter back and forth. “You had no childhood, hardly any friends, and I am so sorry. You always seemed so alone. I’m glad you found Randi.”

Reese wrapped an arm around her mother’s and whispered, “Me too.”

Long minutes later, Reese jumped up and ran toward the voice coming from the kitchen.

Still shaken, the brunette was able to smile at the beauty that stood before her. The blonde head turned and green eyes smiled back.

“You yelled?”

“I did not. I simply. . . talked loudly,” Randi quipped.

“Unh-huh. I guess you need help with all that?” She pointed toward the ham, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes all packed neatly on the large counter, in the appropriate dish.

The blonde smirked. “Duh, you think?”

“Smart ass.” Reese swiped the aforementioned body part as she breezed by. She stopped in front of the large plate that held the ham.

Unable to help herself, Randi recalled what happened a few hours earlier. She touched her lover’s arm. “Hey, you doing okay with your mom and everything? You seemed kind of apprehensive.”

Reese turned to the blonde and smiled wanly. “Let’s just say. . .that I feel like a kid again, and a lot of bad years seemed like they never happened.”

Reaching out and knowing she might get burned, Randi did it anyway. “Share with me later?”

Reese reached over and brushed back a wisp of blonde before she traced from forehead to cheek. “I’ll try. Be patient with me?”

Randi nodded and turned to kiss the hand. “With you, always.”

~*~*~*~*~*

Dinner was equal in the awkwardness it generated as well as the happiness. Little Reese was out full force. She turned to her mother time and time again making sure she was still there. She memorized every line, every smile, every laugh, and every once in a while older Reese would do the same. They talked, laughed and devoured the wine as well as the food. After the table was cleaned, the trio ventured back into the living room for presents.

Still stuck knee deep in her childhood, Reese sat on the floor by the tree with her legs crossed. She looked up to see the blonde doing the same. Blue eyes peered up at her mother, and the brunette realized that for once the hollow feeling was gone. She twisted toward the tree and grabbed as many of the gifts as possible. Turning back to the blonde, she smiled. “I think it’s your turn now.”

Reese watched in satisfaction and relief as the blonde and Sara oohed and awed over the diamond earrings, silk blouses, cashmere sweater, and the array of other items the brunette had purchased for her lover. I want to be able to put that look on her face everyday.

She peered at her mother unobtrusively. I think I understand why you’re here mother. I was blind all those years. Is that who my father really was? He loved the life so much that he traded his family in for it. I never saw my mother’s pain. I never even imagined what she went through. Her own pain real or imagined was still there, but the child dampened it with her wonder and glee.

Randi opened each present with wide eyes. Each time her flush of happiness got deeper, coloring her fair features a bright red. She looked up into pale blue and found the brunette watchful and waiting. Unable to contain herself any longer, she surged forward and wrapped her arms around the executive, adding a long kiss for good measure.

They both started at the sound of a chuckle and blinked at the flash that blinded them suddenly. “I think this will look really good in my photo album,” Sara replied to their wide eyed stares.

Feeling too old to sit on the floor, Sara Darden sat on the couch and opened her gifts. Her eyes filled with gratitude and warmth when she uncovered the ticket for an all expense paid trip to the Bahamas as well as money and gift certificates for a new wardrobe for the trip. Flustered, she got up and placed kisses on both their foreheads. “You two. . . I don’t know what to say.
I think being with both of you like this makes this the best Christmas I’ve ever had.”

She touched gentle fingers to Randi’s forehead. “Thank you for making my daughter happy. I know she can be difficult. I think all us Darden’s are, but thank you for loving her and staying by her.”

Randi smiled and looked from the older brunette to her lover. “No, thank you guys. It’s nice to have people I love in my life again.”

Reese was the last to open gifts. By the time, she got through ripping through wrapping paper the floor was covered in it. For the first time in a long while, she was unashamed of the emotion flowing through her, and she showed it freely. The brunette laughed, gasped, and smiled with each new surprise from pc games, DVD’s to sweaters.

After cleaning up, they sat down and finished the other two bottles of wine that were hiding in the refrigerator. Ken called, but the trio chatted on into the day until night caught them.

Sara looked down at her watch in surprise. “Oh, it’s getting late, and I know you have to work in the morning, Reesie.”

“I hate it too. Wish I could have her to myself the three weeks I’m stuck at home for semester break,” Randi added.

Reese pasted a smile on her face as her trepidation grew suddenly. Work. She had forgotten that she had to go. Yesterday, it meant power. It meant everything. Today, it was temptation. A temptation she may not be able to resist. It was a lure to a world she could get lost in, foregoing everything else.

Her father did, and in another world so did she. Look what I have here. It shouldn’t even compare to what I have at the office. All I have to do is think about her and this, and it will keep me from getting tied up in it all. That has to be the answer. Please let it be. Otherwise, I don’t know what to do. “Well, it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow. Somebody has to do it,” she replied with false cheer. The fear of losing it all in the face of a temptation she could never resist began to eat at her. In hopes of changing the subject, Reese asked, “Mother, why don’t you stay here tonight? I would take you home, but we’ve all been drinking. . .”

“Yeah, I can make up one of the spare rooms for you. Take your pick,” the blonde interjected.

“Only if you girls are sure. I don’t want to intrude. If I do, I need to leave early. I heard the weatherman say something about an incoming snow storm that should be right on top of us tomorrow afternoon.”

“You’re not, and you can leave whenever you’re ready.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Trying to remain stoic, Reese whispered a good night to her mother as she closed the door. The ten year old wanted to go bounce on the bed, wanted to talk, wanted to cuddle, but for the woman, old habits died hard. She fought back tooth and nail.

Why am I fighting this? This woman has done nothing to me. She showed me the truth. How can I be angry at her for that? This woman has always been here. I’m just hanging on to old pain, letting it shape me. Because pain and money is all you’ve been able to be sure of. You don’t know anything else. Wait till tomorrow. You’ll see. A voice whispered from deep inside. It chilled her because it was the truth.

The statement stayed on her mind, and it pushed her past her own bedroom in favor of the living room. Reese flopped down on the couch and leaned back. Can I resist it all tomorrow or is it just inevitable? If it is, what’s the point of this? I’ve never been able to resist the money or the power even when I could feel myself falling for Randi the first time, and now that I know who my father really was, it should be a real deterrent. But, I have the feeling that it won’t be. That makes all the stuff I told Randi bullshit. I want to be with her. I want to know my mother, but what if I want what’s in that office more?

Was it right, that voice? Maybe I should be preparing myself for not seeing Randi or mother again. When I go back to my own world, can’t I give the money back and still keep my job and all that goes with it? Clotho never said I couldn’t. Maybe by going back, I’ll be saving them both heartache. I don’t want to choose them and then let them down by getting lost in my job. In my world, Randi and my mother won’t be any the wiser.

Reese closed her eyes and rubbed a hand across her face. “I guess it all depends on how tomorrow goes, but maybe I need to start breaking away now for my own sake.” The brunette refused to see the whole thing for what it was another type of running. Rather than take the chance at love and happiness, she sat there and convinced herself that it may be best to concentrate on the definite.

Long minutes later, Reese opened the door to her own bedroom to find the blonde already in bed. Despite the smile that waited for her, Reese looked away, missing the frown on the blonde’s face.

Oh God, what’s wrong now. Things were going so good today. Stay with me baby. “Reese? You okay?”

The brunette still refused to turn to her lover. She walked toward the dresser and began to get undressed. Her mind was a heap of doubts. “Today was good wasn’t it?” Too good for it to be real. I don’t know what is anymore. Only mon. . .

“Yeah, it was. It looked like you had a good time.”

“I did. Thanks for the gifts by the way,” Reese added emotionlessly.

The blonde’s breath caught. Something’s wrong I can hear it in her voice. What is it baby? Why can’t you just be happy? “Um, you’re welcome. Hurry and come to bed so I can hold you.”

Reese pulled the shirt over her head without a word. I can’t let you do that. I’d miss it too much. The brunette turned around and peered briefly at her lover. Her eyes implored her. She ignored them and pulled the covers back on her side of the bed. She got in and turned her back to the blonde. “Good night.”

Randi stared at the broad back as pain blossomed and took root inside. She wanted to grab the executive and shake her hard, but the teacher knew that she couldn’t change a thing, only Reese could do that. It didn’t make the pain any less. It would keep her warm tonight. Maybe you’ll try harder for me tomorrow, love. Maybe. “Goodnight, baby.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Reese arose early, slipping out of bed and out of the house before anyone else joined the ranks of the living. She denied herself breakfast and coffee to keep the sleeping occupants from being disturbed.

Decked out in the wool coat and accessories, the brunette entered the local McDonald’s, ordering a couple of danish, hash browns, and a large coffee.

She drank it black and strong in an attempt to clear the fuzz from inside her head. Maybe I should have woken her, touched her or something. Instead, I ran. Why? Because that voice was right. I want to be able to love both of them, but this whole thing is just so. . .up in the air. Reese wanted to scream in frustration, but instead, she drank the coffee down letting it sting her tongue. She crushed the empty cup and began to laugh, despite the stares of the morning crowd.

Somber, Reese glanced down at her new watch. It was time to go to work. Things can’t be that different there. Can they?

The elevator slid open and she made her way through the already busy front reception desk. The brunette passed assistants desks. Blue eyes scanned faces and her heart thumped in surprise. Colleagues she passed and assistants who were present were full of shy smiles and nods. Reese looked for the hostility that she had gotten used to, but there was none.

Flabbergasted, she became more so when her own assistant, Sherrie, gave her a full smile as she handed off messages. Finally in her office, the brunette closed the door and leaned heavily against it. Deep down isn’t this what she always wanted respect and admiration from her peers? It flowed from them, making her feel ten feet tall. Before Reese made it to her office door, she could feel the adrenaline pumping fast and furious through her veins. She went around to her desk and threw her briefcase on top. What is this? How the hell am I supposed to balance all of this? It’s too much.

She jumped at the sound of the ringing phone. Reese picked it up gingerly. “Ken on line one,” Sherrie stated. “Yeah, Darden.”

“Hey, was just on my way down there and wanted to make sure you were in,” Ken stated. “On my way.”

The brunette didn’t have a chance to reply before she was met with dial tone. There was a knock on her door a minute later.

Ken let himself in, carrying two gifts under his arms. He smiled and left them on the desk before dropping into a seat. “The blue one is from me and Gloria, and the red one is from a few people in the office. They thought you would take it better coming from me.”

Reese swallowed, hard. Temptation nipped at her heels. “Thanks. I, uh, forgot yours. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

He waved his hand nonchalantly. “Don’t worry about it. Sounded like you were really having a good time yesterday.”

The brunette shrugged. “It was okay.”

Ken squinted his eyes. She’s not all here today. “Okay, what gives. What’s up, Reesie?”

She turned caged eyes to him. “You ever wished for everything, Ken? And not know what to do with it once you have it? Part of you wants to believe it’s real but the other part wants to hold onto what you know is real like this.” She spread her hands to indicate the office. “The money and the power. How do you decide which to hold on to?”

Taken aback, he tried to think of the right thing to say. “Weigh both sides I guess and go from there.” He sighed inwardly. Oh geez, I wish Gloria was here. She’s better at the sensitive chats.

Reese turned away. “Ken, I’ll talk to you later, okay. I’ve got work to do.”

Concerned colored his features, but he said nothing as he left, feeling totally lost.

Alone again, Reese looked down at the headset on her desk. Without a second thought, she placed it over her head, switched it on, and pulled out her roller decks.

As was custom at Dodd & Dodd, she called her list of clients to inquire about their holiday. Each call was brief but consistent. They heaped praise upon her and continued to allow her full control of their funds. Her heart thudded with excitement then tripled in beat when she went to work to increase their monetary value. The Stock Market was about to open.

A cool sweat broke over her forehead and upper lip as she scanned market activity with a quick eye. The brunette smiled as each projection she made started to come true. Power surged through her, and she walked back and forth around her desk shouting orders, request, and sometimes expletives to whoever was on the other end. She soared in her element, forgetting her surroundings and concentrating soley and the money growing and changing hands.

Reese growled at the ringing of her office phone. She punched the intercom button in irritation. “Yes, Sherrie?”

“Randi on line two.”

The brunette paused and looked down at the headset she had taken off. This is the one solid thing in my life. I can give the money back and change everything. No one gets hurt that way. I think I’ll take the hollowness over the pain I’d cause them any day. “Take a message, and from now on take messages for all non-business calls.” She hung up without waiting for a reply.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Randi peered at the cordless phone as if it were evil. “She won’t even talk to me,” the blonde whispered. “She won’t even talk to me!” She screamed and threw the phone across the bedroom. Her breathing came out in harsh, angry gasps. She grasped the soft pillows and launched them where the phone was, letting out a growl and muted scream with each throw.

The blonde was suddenly glad that she was alone. “How could you do this to me?! I don’t understand you!” Pain so intense ravaged her body, tearing sobs from her raw throat. With each sob, a little bit of fight left her despite here promise of patience.
Chapter V

The hours passed and Reese continued to work the boards and the Market. She paced back and forth behind her desk. The brunette even turned to look out the window at the large white flakes of snow that beat against her window with the help of the swirling wind.

The executive turned toward the knock on her office door. “Come in!”

Sherrie let herself in but didn’t enter all the way. “The weather’s getting pretty bad. I was wondering if you would mind if I go ahead home. More than likely I need to pick up my kids.”

Reese waved nonchalantly. “Sure go ahead. Do something for me though. Call Randi and tell her I won’t be home tonight. I’ll just bed down on the couch here or something.”

“Will do.”

Reese blinked as she left. “Well, that went over smoothly. I guess there’s no need to hide my relationship here.” She laughed without humor. “There is no relationship. There’s only this.” She tapped on the wood of her desk. “All I have to do is keep out of everybody’s way for the next few days then go back and take care of things. At least I learned not to be that stupid with money.
I already have enough of it.”

She turned back toward the window as it rattled the pane. You’re better off without me Randi. You’ll meet someone who can open up to you and love you without a second thought. She sighed. “As for you mother, at least I know the truth now. This is better for you too. In my world, you got out. I may not have you, but you don’t need me. I’m more like dad than you know.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*

Randi was tired of crying. It seemed like it had been hours. She had never been one to sit idly by and just let things happen, but right now, she didn’t feel as though she had a choice.

The blonde wiped her eyes and whispered out loud, “I wish you were here tonight, momma. I don’t have anyone else.” After the words left her mouth, epiphany struck, and she dragged herself from the bed to retrieve the phone to punch in familiar numbers.

It rang twice before it was answered.

“Hello?”

“S-sara? It’s Randi. I need to talk to you.”

“Randi? What’s wrong?” The older woman couldn’t hide the alarm in her voice. “Is Reese okay? Are you okay?”

The blonde brought the back of her hand to her mouth in an attempt to suppress the sobs. “No, nothing is okay. It’s Reese. I think she’s lost to me now. She’s been acting strange for the past two days. I-I should have known something was wrong then, but last night when she came to bed. It was like she wasn’t there at all. She wouldn’t take my phone calls, and she won’t come home. I don’t know what to do. I can’t fight for her anymore if she doesn’t want me.”

The older woman sat up in her bed and gripped the bridge of her nose. “No, no listen. Promise me you won’t give up? Wait till you talk to her and see what’s going on.”

Hearing what she needed to hear, Randi said hesitantly, “They’re clearing the roads right now. I could go over there. It’s only a fifteen minute drive right off the highway. I do have a Cherokee so that should help make the drive safer.”

“I don’t know. It’s pretty rough out there.”

“It’ll be okay. I’m used to driving in this weather.”

“Okay, but you have to promise to call me as soon as you get there.”

“I can do that.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Reese pulled the thin blanked over her still clothed form and growled at the ringing phone. She knew sleep wasn’t going to come, but she was at least going to try. The brunette ignored the shrill sound, turning her back to it, but the ringing didn’t stop.

The executive counted twenty rings before she untangled herself from the blanket. She peered at the phone in disgust as it rang the twenty-first then twenty-second time. The brunette jerked the receiver toward her ear in vehemence causing the base to fall on the floor with the unexpected momentum.

“What!” She barked.

“Now isn’t the time for me to tell you how stupid you’re acting. Right now, you need to be here.”

“Where the hell is here, mother.”

“It’s my fault. I should have tried to make her stay home. She was supposed to call when she got there, and when she didn’t, I got worried and called all the local hospitals.”

Impatient but suddenly apprehensive, Reese asked huskily, “What’s going on?”

The older woman paused, and when her voice returned it was full of tears. “Randi was coming to see you. There was an accident. . .involving five cars. She was part of it. You have to come to Cook County General right now. I-it’s not looking good.”

Reese let the phone fall from her grasp. The room began to spin and tip at odd angles. Blood roared in her ears and her chest heaved as all breath left her. She held onto the desk for support. “Oh God, I did this. I hurt her either way.” Panic ceased her as she searched the office for her shoes and coat. She let it come, making her hands shake and her vision more blurry. The brunette moved about the room in animated fashion. Hoping around as she pulled on a shoe and leaned as she grabbed for her keys. With one arm into her coat, she headed out the office door.

Despite it being late night, traffic was at a crawl. Reese wanted to get out and walk, despite the hard blowing snow. She wanted to run, fly or crawl, whichever would get her there faster. Her insides twisted and she swallowed down bile for the umpteenth time. The brunette leaned on the horn, knowing it was futile. “She won’t die, “ she whispered. “She can’t leave me. It’ll just prove that she’s like the others. I won’t let her go! Don’t let her die. I’ll do anything,” Reese cried out imploring anyone to listen.

An eternity later, Reese ran through the automatic doors of the ER, bumping into passer bys as she made a mad dash for the reception desk. Suddenly, the brunette heard her name being called but it sounded like it was coming from a tin drum. Barely anything couldn’t penetrate the roaring and beating in her ears. She heard it again and turned toward it to see her mother moving toward her.

Reveling in her desperation and growing madness she grabbed Sara Darden by the shoulders. Her grip was bruising, but it seemed welcome to them both. “Where is she?! Is she okay?!” Pale blue were frantic and wild with emotion, and she peered into blue that reflected the same.

Sara tried to embrace her daughter but couldn’t break from her grip. “I don’t know. She’s still in surgery.”

Impatience welled in the brunette. She let go of her mother and turned toward the desk. Reese opened her mouth to speak but what happened next angered her beyond belief. The tall, round, balding clerk held up a finger signifying for her to wait as he finished his call. He laughed and continued to do so.

A rumble started deep in her chest and bubbled forth as a roar. With one sweep, almost everything on top of the desk flew to the floor. Reese smacked her hands against the wood, making those around jump at the sound. “You’ll help me now you insensitive ass!”

The older man’s eyes widened, but he replied with confidence he obviously didn’t feel. “Ma’am, I’ll have to call security if you don’t calm down.”

“You’ll do what you have to do.” Her gaze was murderous. “But you will give me the information I need. What is Randi Davenport’s prognosis. She was in the five car pile up!” Reese felt her mother’s hands at her back but refused to be comforted.

The man looked around nervously and began to shuffle through papers and charts that lay at the lower part of the desk. “Uh. . . are you a relative?”

Reese snarled at him. “What do you think?”

“Uhm, right. She’s in trauma two.” He flipped through some papers. “Massive head and chest injuries.” He looked from the tall woman’s stricken face to the shorter woman beside her. “N-now, I’m going to have to ask you ladies to take a seat. A doctor will be out to consult with you as soon as possible.”

Whatever air was left in the executive’s lungs came out in a whoosh, leaving her dizzy. Reese turned blindly toward her mother. This time, she needed an anchor and latched on to the arm the other woman offered as they made their way back to the waiting area.

Reese allowed the cold numbness to take over. It was the only thing that protected her from the pain that rested just on the other side. I’m a selfish bitch. It’s been about my pain, my loss, and my fear. I was too stupid to see anyone else’s. Now it could be too fucking late! Her thoughts screamed. They sat there for what seemed like forever. Reese with a blank look plastered on her face and her mother wearing an expression of concern for her daughter and her lover.

They both stood up when a tall, well built black man called out Randi’s name. His blue scrubs were covered in blood. Sara was the first to speak.

“Yes, we’re here for Randi. Is she okay?”

Brown eyes that seemed blank before, softened. “I’m sorry. There was just too much damage. We couldn’t get back any brain activity. I know this is hard to think about right now, but you might want to look into organ donation.”

Pain that lurked just on the other side took over. A harsh sob escaped Reese’s lips. “No!” She flopped back down in the chair ungracefully, covering her face in her hands. The brunette allowed the slimmer arms of her mother to engulf her. Sara’s own silent tears added to the sad symphony.

The doctor turned to go. Reese refused to accept his words. She jumped up again and grabbed his arm. “Can I see her? I need to see her.”

He nodded knowingly. “I’ll take you back, and you can stay as long as you want.”

Reese turned back to her mother. “It’s okay, Reesie. Go on.” With a nod the brunette followed the doctor.

He left her in the abnormally quiet room. It smelled of chemicals, disinfectant, and blood. Wild, fearful blue eyes peered down at the bloody sheet. With a shaky hand, she peeled it back. Bile mixed with the contents of her stomach rushed up. She swallowed it down with difficulty. “Oh God.”

Randi’s usually blonde hair was a mass of gore. A myriad of deep gashes littered her head. Pale eyes traveled to her torso where a gaping wound, where it looked as though something was wedged, started at a fragile collarbone and ended below her breastbone. Reese felt her knees weaken. “Oh God, please no!” She cried louder.

Blunt nails dug into her hands, and she used tight fists to pummel her thighs in an attempt to bring lurking pain to the surface.

“I have to be able to do something.” Not knowing what else to do, Reese closed her eyes and screamed at the top of her lungs, “Clotho!”

Silence.

“Clotho please! I need this to be over!” Her voice dripped with anguish.

Still nothing.

Suddenly, the room began to grow warm and before the executive’s eyes the area of space in front of her turned itself inside out in a shimmer of sparks. The beautiful redhead appeared among them along with two other women. One held a loom, one had scissors, and the other peered into the loom as if she saw forever.

Clotho’s voice was a whisper, but somehow her voice carried. “It is already over, Reese. My sisters agree.” The scissors closed around a single string.

“No! It can’t be.” She took a step forward toward the trio. “I haven’t made my decision!”

“Didn’t you? We hear your thoughts. I am positive that you chose your job, power, and money above all else.”

“No! I thought that they would be better off without me! I don’t want anyone to die, especially her. Randi doesn’t deserve this.”

The women conferred with a series of whispers. Clotho turned back to the brunette. “She didn’t deserve what you gave her six months ago either.”

“You’re talking in circles! I don’t have time for this. It was different then, and you know it! I was stupid and scared!”

“What is your excuse now?” Is it not the same? You have seemingly learned nothing, and you have squandered the chance we’ve given you.”

The blue gaze found the floor. Exasperated, confused, pained, and scared, Reese did the only other thing she knew how to do. “Please?!”

They were silent.

The brunette sobbed and looked down at the remains of her lover. “But, I love her,” she whispered.

There were more whispers. “Do you? What else have you learned?”

Shaken, Reese pooled together the experiences of the last couple days and let her thoughts flow freely from her mouth. “I made my life the way it was. It wasn’t my mother leaving. I-I allowed myself to become who I was. I used it all as an excuse. I could have beaten it, gotten over it. The world owed me nothing. No one did. I had no right to take what I did—the money and the women. I was a coward, and I’d give anything to make this right again. You have to believe me!”

Clotho nodded. “We know what’s in your heart is true, but you had to know it too. You have learned well, Reese, and you have also chosen well. The temptation you wrestle with will always be there, but you now have the tools to combat it. You have real love.”

For the first time, Reese Darden allowed unchecked happiness to flow through her. It changed her from a beautiful woman to an stunningly beautiful one. Her smile was big, bright. “You mean. . .”

“Yes, leave this hospital and talk to no one. Go back home. Your day will be waiting for you the way it started.”

Reese stared at them hopefully. “Randi? My mother and father?”

“Your father has made his choice. We can not undo it. Go now.”

They disappeared in the same manner in which they appeared. Reese peered at the empty space before giddiness galvanized her into action. She burst through the trauma room doors and ran down the halls toward the entrance with lightening speed. The brunette knocked over the rude clerk without apology and ignored the calls from Sara.

She exited the revolving doors with a whoosh. The cold night met her, but Reese slid into her BMW without a problem. There was no snow, no wind, and no storm. The executive breezed through the light traffic as if she were gliding on the wings of Mercury.

The brunette pulled up to the driveway with a sliding screech, stopping dangerously close to the lowered garage door that housed the blonde’s jeep. She ran briskly toward the house and fumbled with the keys before finding the right one.

Reese stood in the dim living room and wrestled out of her coat just as she did the night before. A husky voice greeted her, “Merry Christmas, baby.” The brunette’s eyes traveled to the chair, knowing it was where her lover sat.

Reese walked over to the blonde wrapped in the red bow. Without saying a word, she removed her shoes and got down on her knees in front of the other woman. Large hands traced the outside of thighs from hips to knees, loving the way muscle twitched in reaction. She bent down further, laying her head on the blonde’s lower thigh. The brunette turned and placed a kiss there before replying, “Merry Christmas. I love you.”

Reese looked up in time to see a hand about to descend into her hair. It stopped upon her confession, but the sob that escaped the blonde’s mouth didn’t. “I-I’ve been waiting to hear. . .”

“I know. I’ve been stupid, but I’m not anymore. If I haven’t shown you before, I’m telling you now. You mean everything to me, and I won’t run from it anymore. I’m tired, and I want to stay with you for as long as you want me.”

Randi chuckled through her tears. “That’ll be a long time.”

“Good.” Because I’m going to spend everyday thanking you for saving me, for loving me, for making me see, and for giving me another chance.

The blonde reached over and pulled the cloth off the lamp, illuminating the room more. Blue met green and for the first time Randi could see the brunette’s soul laid bare. Bristling with happiness, with a single finger she traced from nose to lips before pushing small hands into thick, dark hair. “Can you say it again?”

Reese smiled toothily. “As many times as you want me to. I love you.”

Randi’s eyes closed. She wallowed in the moment. See momma? I can be happy again. I didn’t think I could be not after losing you. Maybe I’ll even call Krystal. Regardless of how she feels, she is part of my family. Feeling another wet kiss on her thigh, the blonde opened her eyes and peered down at her lover. She tugged on the bow. “You ready to open your first present?”

Reese chuckled, “Oh yeah.”

 

The End

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