I Know This Bar by Girl Bard

I Know This Bar
By: Girl Bard

Part 1 in the Jaden And Grace Series

 

 

 

Part 1
June 18th, 2000

I know this bar, with a jukebox full of medicine. I stroll in, pump it full of quarters, and head for the bar. Fat, middle-aged men wearing various shades of flannel argue over who will win the pennant this year, the Indians or the Yankees. Morons. Everyone knows that Cleveland has no pitching this year and won’t even make the playoffs. Christmas lights twinkle seemingly in beat to the music. I smile, remembering the snowy December night those lights were hung. It seems like forever ago. I sit next to one of the fat men, who tries to suck in his gut, smiling an almost toothless smile. I ignore him and search for Grace.

Seeing she’s busy with customers I sigh audibly and pick up a wrinkled copy of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. Boring, boring, and more boring. I look around for Grace again, and slam the paper down when I don’t see her.

“Hey tall, dark, and deadly. Where ya been all my life?” Grace’s soft voice buzzes in my ear. I turn around to see my Grace, her glowing blonde hair framing her cherubic face sweetly. I stand up, dwarfing her small stature with my height and she gives me a warm hug. “It’s been too long.” She says and I smile and pull back from her. She knows how scared I get for the strong attraction I have of her. She has it too.
One year prior; May 30, 1999.
“Hey sweetheart, how about another round?” I put on a fake smile and get the good ole’ boys their drinks. Glancing at my watch I see it’s only 11:15pm and I know I won’t be going home soon. I deliver the drinks, resisting the urge to punch the drunken leader when he pinches my butt. “Be nice Grace and you’ll get a nice tip.” I chant over and over in my head. Tips are my only ticket out and I need every penny. Sighing to myself I survey the crowd and notice a tall woman leaning against the rarely used jukebox, filling it with a stack of quarters. I walk over to her to see if she needs anything and sensing my presence, she turns around. Her harsh glare immediately softens. She is perfection, with chiseled features and piercing eyes the color of robin’s eggs. Her hair is like the night sky, black with hints of blue and gold. She raises a raven-colored eyebrow at me and I realize I’m staring.

“Um, do you want anything?” I ask, my voice shaking. She smirks at me and I swallow loudly. She gives me a predatory glare that both scares and arouses me. I gasp softly and she laughs, a low sultry laugh that sounds like warm honey. I blush and duck my head, not really sure of what to say to her.

“Vodka martini, three olives.” She says, a hint of a smile on her face. I nod and race to the bar. I can still hear her chuckling.

I interrupt my portly uncle from his game of blackjack to order her drink. He effortlessly makes the martini, his eyes never once leaving the game. Mr. Personality he isn’t. But he gave me a job when no one else in my family would. A crappy job, but a job nonetheless. I weave my way back through the bar and with trepidation I approach the gorgeous dark-haired stranger.

“Here.” I say softly. “Would you like to start a tab?” I’m hoping she will; I’d like to get to know her better.

“Sure.” She drawls, her gaze lingering on me. I feel awkward, unsure as to what to do next. She holds out her hand. “I’m Jaden.”

I take her warm hand, surprised at its strength. I like the way it fits around mine. “I’m Grace.” I continue to hold her hand while again being drawn to gaze into her incredibly blue eyes.

“Grace?” She asks. I look at her questioningly. “Can I have my hand back?” I blush and drop her hand while grinning at her. Jaden smiles and sips her drink. Still feeling awkward to be standing there staring at a stranger I begin to inch my way back into the crowd. Jaden clears her throat loudly and I turn back around to see her take the toothpick holding the three olives seductively into her mouth; her tongue swirling around the olives. I feel like I’m going to explode, it’s so sensual to watch.

True to the irony that is my life, the rush of the post-bowling league crowd stumble in, already drunk from the bowling fun. I sigh and excuse myself to go wait on them, not missing Jaden’s sympathetic look. Until closing time I’m slammed with customers. I don’t mind because I’m getting great tips, but I really wanted to talk more with Jaden. Or just stare at her some more. I head for her table, and am crushed to find her gone. I clear her table, picking up her cash when I see a note with my name on it.
Grace,

Nice talking to you. I’ll see you around. I’m in the area from time to time.

-Jaden
My shoulders sag with disappointment as I stuff the note in my pocket. At least she left a note. Uncle Rick flicks the lights, signaling last call and I rush to get everyone their final drinks.
July 4th, 1999.
If I hear one more disgusting story of a guy who knew a guy who got his arm, face, leg, or any other limb blown apart by fireworks, I’m going to scream. I hate Ohio. And I hate the fourth of July. Smart celebration; let’s mix alcohol with fireworks and Lake Erie boating. I am serving red, white, and blue margaritas, our 4th of July special and have seen more people do cherry and blueberry jello shots than I’d like to remember. The bar is so packed I can’t see in front of my tray, and suddenly the crowd shifts, bumping me, and I start falling.

“Watch it girlie.” A low voice orders me as it grabs my arm, settling me firmly on my feet. I whip around, preparing to sling an insult. My eyes widen when I realize the voice is Jaden’s. She smiles a slow smile. I can’t think of what to say to her so I deliver my drinks and follow her to her corner table by the jukebox.

“How are you? I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” I say excitedly. She looks so great, her long black hair pulled away from her face in a casual loose bun.

“Hey, I said I’d see you around. I keep my promises.” She smiles again at me. “So Grace, how’s life been treating you?” She sits down, her long legs gracefully straddling the chair. I lean against her table and shrug.

“It’s alright, I guess. I’m a freshman, but my family already is on my case about getting married and having a million babies.” I grin slyly, and continue. “Getting married is the last thing I want to do.”

I think she’s gets my idea and smirks at me. “You’re a freshman? What does that make you, 14?” Jaden smiles, and I know she’s teasing me.

I cross my arms and scold her. “For your information, I am 21, and this coming school year will be my sophomore year. In college.” I stress the last part, smiling to let her know I’m only teasing her back. “I had to take time off after high school to earn money to pay my own tuition because my parents aren’t exactly big on me going to college.” Jaden nods seriously, but I can detect the smirk still on her stunning face. “Listen, can we talk or something after I get off work tonight? I would really like to get to know you better.” I know, I know, I sound pathetic, but there is something about this woman that I can’t describe. I just have this urge to be around her.

Jaden frowns. “Sorry Grace, but I have a plane to catch. I just stopped by to fulfill my promise.” She stands, digs her money out of her pocket for her tab and winks at me. “I’ll see you around.” And before I can say anything, she’s gone.
Journal entry:

August 13, 1999.
Happy birthday to me…happy birthday to me…happy birthday dear Grace, happy birthday to me. I’m officially 22. Wow. I feel so old, I know that sounds silly, but when I was 13 and I thought about my 22nd birthday, I assumed I’d be a famous writer living in Paris by then. Not stuck in a crappy backwoods Ohio town going to a college I hate and being settled and bored like my mother. I need some excitement, and something tells me I’m not going to get it here.
Journal entry:

September 2, 1999.
Another semester begins. Did I mention I hate my college? I really do. My entire life I’ve dreamed of going to an east coast university, where the Atlantic Ocean is my front yard and New England is my home. I really want to transfer out of my college, but I’m here on a combination of scholarships and my own hard-earned money. My parents refuse to pay for college because they just want me to settle down and marry Scott. Ick.

Can I just rant about that for a second? My parents and Mr. & Mrs. Spencer are best friends. So why does that automatically make myself betrothed to their son, Scott Spencer? I don’t get it. I mean, our parents have forced us to date since I was a sophomore in high school and he was an embarrassing and nerdy 8th grader. He’s more like my brother than my boyfriend. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with him, for a few reasons. The first and most important reason? I’m gay. I’ve known for a long time that relations with the opposite sex don’t appeal much to me. But just try to be gay in Ohio when your parents are as Republican as they come. It’s not exactly easy or accepted. I have no doubt that if they ever found out I’d be thrown out of my house and family so fast I wouldn’t even have time to pack. So for now, I’ll be a good girl and go to my crappy college and date Scott and play the good little straight girl. But as soon as I save enough money, I’m out of here.
Journal entry:

October 31, 1999.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. We had a costume party at the bar, and it actually was pretty fun. I’ve been thinking of Jaden all day, and I dressed up in this cool outfit, skirt and peasant blouse and went as a peasant. I took my staff I got at a medieval festival and searched for Jaden all night. I had a dream about her, one of many I’ve had, where she’s dressed in a warrior outfit, and I’m at her side in my peasant garb. I hoped that if I dressed the part for the costume party, she would show up in her warrior outfit. Pretty stupid, I know. But I haven’t seen her since July and I really miss her. I know, I only talked to her for five minutes, but still. There was some intense connection there.
Journal entry:

November 24, 1999.
Happy Turkey Day. I can’t stand the sight of dead animals, but they sure do taste yummy. I’m in my room with a full belly of turkey and cranberry sauce, listening to music and thinking of Jaden. I swear to Goddess if I never see her again I don’t know what I’ll do! I am so curious about her, where she lives, what she does, what kind of ice cream she likes, how her strong body feels moving against mine, among other things. I hope I find out one day.
December 19, 1999.
Semester over. Thank Goddess. I now have a month and a half before starting college again, and I plan on working every night at the bar to earn as much cash as possible. Then, after this spring semester, I only have two years until I graduate and then I’m out of here. I think. That’s if I have the courage to stand up to my family and tell them I’m not marrying Scott.

I’m standing on a bar stool, putting the last of the Christmas lights up around the bar. It’s quiet tonight, most people are out Christmas shopping and don’t stop in for a drink until later. Uncle Rick is even gone, figuring since I’ve worked here for almost a year that I can “hold down the fort” as he says. I don’t expect any customers tonight, by December most men feel guilty about being at the bar so often and spend the holidays surrounded by their families. Once the New Year occurs, they are so tired of being around their families; they flock back to the bar. So I’m looking forward to a nice quiet night, and after I hang these lights I’m going to watch the snow drop gently to the ground and write in my journal.

The jingle of the bell on the door surprises me and I turn around. I grin like a child when I see Jaden step through the door, her long hair damp with snow. Before I can think otherwise I fly off of the bar stool and run to her, throwing my arms around her. She’s shocked, but I don’t care as I hug her and blubber. “I’ve missed you so much! Where in the heck have you been?”

She gently removes me from her and smiles. “I told you I’d see you around, I just didn’t say when.” She takes off her long black coat, scattering cold flakes of snow on the floor. I notice her discrete navy uniform with the small silver plate that reads “Lt. Phillips.” It doesn’t look like a normal police uniform, and as I’m about to ask her, she interrupts me, “Let’s go sit down, ok?”

We sit at the bar and I pour her a drink, a vodka martini. She raises her eyebrow at me and begins, “Three..”

“Olives” I finish for her as I put the olives on the toothpick. She looks surprised that I would remember that as I push her drink over to her. “So,” I begin, “How are you? Where have you been? What’s with the uniform?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want to talk about me, Gracie, tell me about you. I’ve been wanting to know all about you since May.”

Talking is something I never seem to have a problem with. I launch into my life story, editing out the boring parts and fluffing the good parts just a little. “My name is Grace McKenzie, no one’s ever called me Gracie except you just now, but I like it and you can call me that if you want. I’m 22, yep you missed my birthday in August but you can get me a great present next year. I live with my parents and go to college but they want me to not have a career and marry this boring son of their best friends. He’s a nice guy, but I’m not into that, you know?” She nods in agreement and I continue. I told you I could talk forever. “Anyway, thank Goddess Scott’s away at college for a few more years and the wedding can be put off until he graduates, and by then I hope to be far, far away from here!”

I finally shut up and see an amused Jaden looking at me. She shakes her head and tries to contain her laughter. “I’m sorry Gracie, that really sucks.” She sips her drink and we sit in silence. I am desperate to ask her about herself, and I can tell she’s doesn’t want to talk. “Can I have more olives?” Her hopeful voice breaks the stillness. She looks so pathetic I can’t turn her down. Her big blue eyes would rival any puppy dog and her lower lip sticks out in an adorable pout. I open the olive jar, taking out three more and putting them on a toothpick. She takes them and continues to pout until I slide the entire jar over to her. She grins and happily digs into the jar. Remembering her manners she offers one to me, laughing when I vehemently decline. “What, you don’t like olives?”

“No! They are disgusting.” I say, laughing at her when she sticks olives on the end of all her fingers and waves them at me. My laughter turns to shock when I realize she’s gotten off her bar stool and is headed around the bar to me. “Jaden, don’t!” I say, but it’s too late. She is chasing me and I run around the bar, dodging tables and chairs, as fast as I can. We are giggling as she catches me, backing me into a corner and taunting me with her olive hands. I shut my mouth and turn my head to avoid her fingers.

“Grace, I caught you. You have to eat at least one.” I turn my head violently and clamp my mouth shut.

“No! I’ll never give in urmphh” and I suddenly have her finger and salty olive in my mouth. Our eyes widen in shock as I eat the olive gently off her finger and I further surprise the both of us when my tongue gently sucks and nibbles at the end of her finger. She takes her finger out of my mouth and releases me, eating the olives off of her remaining fingers. She is so seductive she even makes olives look sexy. And I must admit, I still hate the taste of olives, but Jaden’s finger was quite yummy.

She follows me as I shyly walk back to the bar, blushing at my lewd thoughts about her. She sits back down and I sit next to her. “I’m glad you came in tonight,” I say honestly, “You really made my night.” I summon all of my courage, determined to tell how I’ve been feeling. “Look Jaden, this might sound really stupid, but I really enjoy talking to you. I know we’ve only talked a few times, but I feel really connected to you, like I’ve kno..”

She raises her hand to silence me. “You don’t have to say anything more. I understand.” She suddenly glances away and her blue eyes look tired as she sips her drink.

“Well, I’ve told you my sob story, let’s hear yours.” Jaden smiles at pats my hand condescendingly. I don’t give up that easily. “Come on Jaden, tell me about you. Where do you live? Do you have a cat? What’s your favorite kind of cookie?” The last one gets her and she laughs, a low, rich, sound. I cross my arms triumphantly; convinced I’ve gotten her to talk.

“I live north of Boston, I don’t have a cat, but I have two fish and a horse. Oatmeal Raisin.” I should have expected that to be all, she seems the queen of the “I’m going to say as little as I possibly can yet still answer the question.” speech.

“You have a horse? What’s his name? I love horses! I used to have one myself!”

“Studley.”

I crack up, I don’t know why, but the picture of Jaden riding a horse named Studley is too much for me. She looks at me, a confused look on her face, until she shrugs and joins in on my laughter.

“Why is his name Studley?” I have to ask, and she sighs, knowing I was going to ask that.

“That’s the name he came with. But he doesn’t exactly have the tools anymore to really be studley, so I guess I don’t know why he’s named that.”

“So, what do you do?” As I ask this, her eyes turn hard and cold. I realize I’ve crossed a line that I can’t cross…yet…so I backtrack. “I mean, how often do you ride? Do you live near the ocean?”

“I ride every day, usually take Sunday off, and yes, my apartment overlooks the bay.” She looks like she is tired of being on the receiving end of the questioning, so I decide to ask one more and then shut up.

“What’s the Atlantic Ocean look like? I’ve always wanted to see the Atlantic.”

“It’s blue.” She says, the edges of her mouth curled in a small smile.

“It looks more than blue, in pictures it looks gray and stormy. It looks dangerous and when I see pictures I think of all the ships lost because of the treacherous waters.” My face lights up and I get engrossed with the picture in my mind, a beautiful pirate ship sinking in the murky gray water.

“You have an overactive imagination, Gracie.” Jaden remarks.

“Why do you call me Gracie? My entire life no one’s ever called me that, even my family, and you have said that twice and I just met you. I’m not complaining, I’m just curious.”

She shrugs and looks away. “Don’t know. It fits you.” I think that’s the best explanation she’s going to give me, so I drop it.

Okay, so I admit, I sound like a two year old questioning her mother about everything. But I can’t help it. I have an inquisitive nature.

Summoning all my courage I grasp her warm hand and she looks up, surprised. I’m delighted when she doesn’t pull away and I take the next step and tentatively embrace her while trying not to fall from my bar stool.

“Thanks for telling me about you. I think you’re amazing.” She returns my embrace for a second, and then checking her watch she suddenly stands. “Let me guess, you have a flight to catch?” I ask, only half kidding.

She looks at me apologetically. “I do. I’m really sorry but I have to go.” She heads for the door, donning her long coat and I follow her into the crisp winter night. Snowflakes mingle with her raven hair, making it glisten in the dark night.

“Bye Jaden.” I say softly. She turns and smiles, a sly, secretive smile. She slightly opens her arms and I rush towards her, wrapping my arms around her again. I stand on my tiptoes and plant a soft kiss on her cheek. “Have a safe flight. Merry Christmas.” I step back from her, shivering in the cold night.

She turns around and walks to her car, a rented Ford Explorer. She gets in the drivers door and I wave. She returns my wave and slowly pulls away. As I turn to walk back into the warm bar, I hear her shout her trademark line; “I’ll see you around.” I turn around, smile at her through the gently falling snow and watch her drive off into the dark white night.
Journal entry:

December 25, 1999.
Merry Christmas! It’s actually merry this year because of my wonderful gift! My mother always gets us wacky presents, and this year mine was an adorable puppy. She’s a Jack Russell Terrier that I named Bean because of a kidney bean-shaped black spot on her back. She’s awesome. She has one black eye like that dog from the Little Rascals. What a great present. Bean is just what I need right now, I’ve been feeling really isolated. My daily life schedule has been: Get up 20 minutes late, rush to class, rush home to baby-sit my younger sister after school, rush to get my homework done, give a cordial phone call to Scott’s dorm room (while hoping he isn’t there), rush to work, and come home and collapse into bed. I’m in a rut, and I think having a dog to walk and play with will help that a bit.
Journal entry:

January 2, 2000.
Happy freaking New Year. How I celebrated the birth of 2000? You guessed it! Working at the bar. Scott is pretty upset that I didn’t spend it with him; he’s ticked that I work so much. He actually thinks I should take the entire time he’s on semester break off so I can spend it with him. Luckily for me, Uncle Rick takes pity on me and schedules me for every night of the week, claiming business is booming because the holidays are over. He’s correct.
Journal entry:

January 12, 2000.
I can’t believe what I’m reading! A letter for Jaden! I came into work tonight, and Uncle Rick immediately took Bean from me. (I take her to work, and he loves her. He says she’s good for business, but I know he just adores her.) He manages to tell me between puppy kisses that I have an envelope under the counter. I’m confused, no one ever mails anything for me to the bar, and I rip it open, squealing with delight when I realize it’s from Jaden. The envelope contains a short letter and some pictures. I read the letter first.
Grace,

I’m not sure when I’ll see you around again, so I just wanted to say “Hi.” I have missed seeing you. I mean I wanted to let you know I was thinking about you. I included some photos I took for you. I guess you’re right. The ocean really does look more gray than blue.

I’ll be seeing you.

-Jaden
I tear though the pictures, surprised at their quality. There is one of the ocean on a beautiful winter day. The gray water is swirling, making the white caps indistinguishable from the heavy snow on the beach. It’s a beautiful photo, and I decide to frame it for above my bed. There is a picture of Jaden’s horse, Studley, who indeed is very handsome. The picture seemed to capture Studley’s personality, making him seem goofy yet refined at the same time. Seeing him makes me miss my horse so much, she was my best friend in the entire world. Blinking back the tears that threaten to form I look at the last picture, one of Jaden herself. She must have taken the picture herself because I honestly don’t think she’d let anyone ever photograph her. It’s just not her style. The picture shows the depth and clarity of her beautiful eyes perfectly, and it’s as if you can see directly into her soul. It’s a gorgeous photograph and I realize just how much I do miss her.

“HEY YOU, another here please!” The obnoxious voice interrupts me and I growl under my breath and shove the envelope under the counter.
Journal entry:

January 13, 2000.
Using the return address from the envelope she sent me I sent Jaden a letter today, thanking her for her beautiful pictures. She seems like the kind of person who wouldn’t have put her return address if she didn’t want me to mail her back, right? Or am I just trying to convince myself that my letter will be welcomed? Well anyway, I am still curious about her and can’t stop thinking about her. I wonder if she’s a professional photographer? That still doesn’t explain the uniform she had on that time though. I also sent her my phone number and my email address, hoping she’d call or write me sometime. I hope she writes back.
January 19, 2000.
“GRACE!” The voice in my dream screams. “GRACE GET YOUR LAZY ASS OUT OF BED!” My mother’s voice insists and I open my eyes and manage to crawl out of bed, noting it’s almost noon on Friday.

“What mom?” I ask, and she looks up from her bible worship channel.

“Phone’s for you. Some girl.” She looks back to her show. Who would call me at this hour? All my friends know it’s too early to call me on a rare school-vacation day. I pick up the phone, and answer, my voice thick with sleep.

“Hello?”

“Hello yourself. It’s Jaden.” I smile immediately upon hearing her voice.

“I know it’s you, silly! How are you? I’m so glad you called!” My mother hears the happy tone of my voice and looks at me. Wanting my privacy I walk to my room and shut the door, flopping down on my bed and pulling Bean up next to me.

“I’m okay. Did I call at a bad time?”

“Nope, I was in bed still, but I needed to get up anyway.” I hear her laugh.

“Grace, it’s almost noon!” Jaden exclaims, and suddenly I realize she’s probably one of those 6 am joggers I always think are insane.

“You’re a 6 am jogger, aren’t you?” I ask.

“Nope.”

“Really? I thought you’d be a big work out freak.”

“Well, I’m a 5 am jogger, does that count?” I hear the smile in her voice.

“Arugh! You drive me nuts! Can’t you just ever answer a question?” She laughs at my frustration. “Wow Jaden, you’re in a great mood this morning.” I’ve never heard her be so funny.

“That’s because it’s my day off and I’m laying in my apartment with the freezing ocean breeze blowing in while talking to you. What more could a girl want?”

I’m shocked, that’s the most she’s ever said to me. “It sounds wonderful. I know this sounds stupid, so forgive me, but I wish I was there.”

“Me too.” Jaden’s voice is soft.

Awkward silence is my worst enemy. I have to break it and I say the first thing that comes to mind. “I got a dog!”

Jaden laughs. “I know, you sent me pictures, remember? She’s pretty cute. How is she doing? Learning where to potty yet?”

I look down at my devoted puppy; my little Bean curled on my lap. “Yeah, she’s great, really smart and she’s potty training really easily!”

“Well, I’ll see her soon.” Jaden answers and I almost choke on my tongue.

“What? When will you be in town?” I ask, hoping it’s soon.

“How about tonight?” Jaden answers, not waiting for me to finish. “I thought I’d take you up on that offer to talk or something after you get off of work.”

I can’t believe my own ears. Jaden is actually asking me out? Is this like a date? Or is it just two people, beginning a friendship, meeting to get to know each other better. I’m so confused and this is way too stressful. I hope it’s a date.

“Gracie?”

“Yeah, I’m here, sorry!” I answer; I can’t believe how flustered I am. “Tonight would be great. I have to work, but Uncle Rick owes me so if you want I could probably get off early.”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you later.” Jaden answers. “Bye.”

She hung up. Out of the blue Jaden calls me, asks me to go out, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I lie back down on my bed in shock. I terrified about tonight. But I can’t wait. What am I going to wear?

Something’s changed between us. I can feel it, and I think Jaden can too. I spring off my bed and start flipping through my closet, Bean looking at me with a confused puppy look on her face. I pick her up and kiss her black nose. “You’re going to meet Jaden tonight!” This is surreal.

I stand in front of my closet, throwing every item of clothing I own out onto the floor of my garbage dump of a bedroom.

“Arugh!” I yell in frustration, sending Bean under the bed. The only things visible are her little white paws and I chuckle at her. “Come here silly girl,” I coo, and she bounds out from under the bed, her stump of a tail wagging. I pick up the squirming puppy and cuddle her, trying to avoid her little pink tongue as she gives me doggie kisses. There’s nothing like puppy breath, especially a puppy that’s been chewing on her new piggy bone today. Ick. I put Bean down; she circles a few times and flops down on my pile of clothes.

After much contemplation I decide to wear my favorite pair of worn jeans and a soft dark green sweater. From what I know of Jaden I can’t imagine us going somewhere fancy, but I throw a pair of dressy khakis in my book bag just in case. I’m ready. I just have to shower before work and primp. Glancing at my watch I see it’s only 1:30. Oh Goddess, I have seven hours before I go to work. These are going to be the seven longest hours of my life.

The bar is surprisingly empty for a Sunday night. Uncle Rick knows I’m leaving as soon as Jaden gets here. He’s a great guy; he didn’t even question who she was or why I needed to leave early. He grunted in his usual form, and simply asked; “That the tall one in here sometimes?” When I told him it was he nodded and raised his eyebrows. My mother, on the other hand, wanted to know where I was going, who this Jaden girl was, how I met her, blah blah blah. You get the picture.

I wanted to tell her, “Oh, we’re going to a gay bar. What? I forgot to tell you I was gay? Oh, sorry. Well mom, I’m gay. This Jaden girl is someone I’m totally attracted too and we met in Uncle Rick’s bar when I saw her and wanted her so badly I couldn’t speak.”

Wouldn’t that have been a riot? But of course I held my tongue and answered with my usual, “She’s a nice girl I met in the bar, and we’re just going out for coffee or something after I get off of work, so I’ll probably be really late.”

Needless to say, my mother gave me “the look” and an entire guilt trip about how I can make time for some girl I just met but not my own fiancée. Don’t you just love mothers?
But that’s over now, and it’s 9:30 and still no Jaden. I am chomping at the bit waiting her arrival, so I take some of my nervous energy out on my few customers, being the best and most efficient server I can be. I glance at my watch countless times, and Uncle Rick looks at me sympathetically.

By midnight she’s not here and I feel like I’ve been stood up. I’m really upset by this point, and now I’m stomping around the bar, thoroughly scaring the few patrons. Uncle Rick is setting up the karaoke machine and I know if I don’t get out of here soon I’m going to kill myself. Finally, Jaden walks in. And I’m so turned on I feel like I’m going to puke.

She is incredible, wearing black pants and a silvery-blue shirt under her black woolen coat. I feel so underdressed and plain as this Goddess approaches. Her seductive smile is only for me and I find myself grinning in return.

“Hey.” I say, still grinning at her like a child. “You’re late.”

She shrugs and grins at me. “How can I be late when I never told you when I’d be here?” I roll my eyes and say nothing; after all, she is right.

“You ready?” She asks and I can only nod. She turns and leaves and all I can do is follow. Remembering Bean I take her from Uncle Rick’s arms and he gives me a knowing smile. I blush, and look away, wondering what he thinks as I follow Jaden out of the bar.

The night is cool, with just a hint of stars. Our breath is visible in the night air as we walk to Jaden’s car. She opens the door of her rented Ford Explorer and takes a happy Bean into her arms so I can get in. Bean is excited to meet a new friend and immediately covers Jaden’s face in kisses. Lucky dog. Jaden waits until I’m settled and hands me back the puppy. “Cute dog.” She says as she shuts my door. She gets in the Explorer, her long legs making it easier for her than my ungraceful entry.

“What’s with the Ford Explorer? That’s what you had last time too.” She looks at me and grins. She is so beautiful.

“It’s more fun to watch you try to crawl into them, that’s all.” She says, a look of mock innocence on her face. I lightly slap her arm.

“Jerk.”

“Am not.” She replies.

“Are too.” I snap back, smiling. She looks at me and I go silent. She’s stunning in this light, the dark night with a half moon accentuating her features beautifully. I look down at my casual dress. “Do you mind stopping at my house for a second? I feel really underdressed.” She looks at me, a confused look on her face. “I mean,” I add, “You look so nice and I’m just in jeans.”

“I think you look beautiful.” She says and turns the car on. I guess that means I won’t be changing. Bean contentedly curls up on my lap and Jaden smiles at her. “I don’t really like dogs, but she is really cute.” I pat my puppy affectionately.

“So where are we going?” I ask. I don’t mean for it to be a deep question, but the tone of Jaden’s voice in her answer makes me think it is a very deep question indeed.

“I don’t know.”

We drive around for a while, tossing ideas back and forth. Because of the late hour there isn’t much to do in my small town, and I know Jaden must be exhausted from traveling.

“Oooohhh!” I squeal in delight. Jaden raises her eyebrow at me as she slows for a red light. “How about we go to the 24-hour Walmart!”

“You want to go to Walmart? To do what exactly?” The look Jaden gives me is hysterical; she really thinks I’ve gone off the deep end.

“We can get some snacks and have a picnic at this cool place.” I answer. “I’m starving.” Jaden nods and I direct her to Walmart. I settle Bean down in the seat and tell Jaden to lock the doors of the Explorer. I don’t want anyone stealing my precious puppy.

To anyone who hasn’t been to a 24-hour Ohio Walmart at 1:00am, the first experience will forever be burned into their memory. Every kind of person imaginable is at an Ohio Walmart at 1:00 am, most people have their 6 or 7 screaming children with them. Jaden looked like a woman in a foreign country, furrowing her eyebrows at the strange people walking the aisles and wincing as we heard the 2000th child scream at the top of his or her lungs for Mama. We saw people who should be on Jerry Springer buying patio furniture, a woman who was on Jerry Springer (one of the “I’m carrying my husband’s brother’s baby” episodes) fighting with her seven-year old about what kind of handgun to get, and a man completely covered with tattoos buying a Speedo bikini.

Jaden was cute, staring at everyone with such an incredulous look on her face, not really believing what she was seeing. I direct her to the candy aisle, because I was too nervous to eat dinner and I’m starving.

We pick out some snacks and I find a $1.99 picnic basket to put them all in. Leaving Walmart we drive to our picnic area. I direct Jaden back towards my town and tell her to turn down a narrow dirt path. In the dim light I can see her eyebrows rise questioningly, and I expect her to start inquiring about where we are going.

“Pull in here.” I tell her, and she complies, steering the big Explorer into a tiny parking space. “We can leave the car here, no one will bother it.” I jump out and wake Bean up, clipping her thin pink leash to her matching collar. She yawns and stretches, confused as to why she isn’t at home sleeping at this hour. Jaden get out and grabs our picnic snack. We walk over to a gate that is locked.

“How are we supposed to get in? The gate is locked.” Jaden observes. I smile at her and put my finger to her lips to hush her.

“Quiet silly. I have my ways.” I smirk at her and walk to the left of the gate, which is hidden by a large tree. Finding the hole I know is there I go through easily. Jaden has to duck a bit to follow me, laughing as she enters the area.

“Where are we?” She asks, looking around.

“Mill Hollow. It used to be an Indian Settlement, and now it’s a park. It was formed when a glacier came through the valley, cutting into the land and forming this cliff.” I point to the large cliff jutting out from the night sky. Jaden looks up, impressed. We walk a short while and decide to sit by the large duck pond. The geese are on land, their long necks tucked under their wings. Bean looks at them curiously, but decides not to give chase.

Jaden spreads out the inexpensive fleece blanket we bought at Walmart and starts doling out our late dinner. We wrap the other blanket we bought around our shoulders, providing somewhat of a shelter against the chill winter night. We bought a variety of things, pop and chips, some fruit and cheese, and candy for desert. Jaden insisted on buying toasted coconut marshmallows. She has the weirdest taste. I stuck with my favorite, malted milk balls, and got some licorice. We eat mostly in silence, enjoying our impromptu snack and each other’s company. Bean loves Jaden, sitting down on her lap as Jaden feeds her bits of cheese and other goodies.

“So, what made you come here?” I ask, breaking the comfortable silence.

“I wanted to see you.” Jaden finishes, and I let the subject go. Instead I tell her all about Mill Hollow, the wading creek, pioneer festivals, walking trails, and the fields of bluebirds. The last seems to interest Jaden. “You have fields of bluebirds? They are extinct where I live.”

“Why?”

“They were killed out years ago, when DDT was still legal. It makes me furious. We are just now having settlements of Bald Eagles returning. Almost all of our wildlife is dwindling, and the disappearance of bluebirds just proves how dangerous we are to our environment.”

Wow. Seems like I have an environmentalist on my hands. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I am as much as an environmentalist as the next girl, but this is something Jaden seems really passionate about. “The bluebirds run rampant in the field here, and sometimes you can see them even in the winter. Do you want to see them?” I ask, knowing the answer.

Jaden nods, her beautiful eyes twinkling in the moonlight. We get up, tidying our picnic area, and throw the rest of our chips to the sleeping geese. “They’re so tame from people feeding them. This place is packed all day, especially in the summer, and at dusk they lock the gate. I always come here by myself at night just because it’s peaceful, but I’m too afraid of being by myself to stay long.” Jaden tilts her head questioningly.

“Why are you afraid of being by yourself?” She asks, moving closer to me as we walk. I smile in the night sky, wondering if she realizes she just did that.

“I don’t really know, I just hate being by myself in the dark. I know it sounds stupid and childish, but it’s true. The dark is scary to me, that’s all.” I say, shrugging. Jaden says nothing and moves closer to me again, tentatively taking my hand in hers. “I’m not scared tonight though.” I say, to let her know that her contact is very welcome and appreciated.

“Good.” Jaden mumbles, and shifts the picnic basket into her free hand. We walk through the large field lightly dusted with snow, the cliff edge to our right. Arriving at the bluebird field we quietly sit on a wooden bench.

“We probably won’t see any,” I warn her, “the bluebirds are always out in the daytime, it’s probably too late and cold for them now.”

“Then we’ll just have to wait for the daytime.” Jaden says, shifting herself on the bench so she can casually drape an arm over my shoulder. I settle back into her, feeling her breathing quicken. Bean is sleeping peacefully in one of the blankets inside of the picnic basket and I chuckle at her, feeling more warm and safe than I can ever remember. Jaden must have a space heater under her clothes; she is amazingly warm despite the cold January night. I snuggle up against her and share her warmth.

“Psst.” I hear in my ear and I swat at the annoying insect flying around my head. I feel my bed rumble and shake and I hear Jaden’s laughter. I clench my eyes shut tighter and try to go back to sleep. “Psst.” I hear again. “Gracie, get up. My arm is asleep.” Huh? I reluctantly open my eyes, confused when I realize I’m in the bluebird field at Mill Hollow on a cold and hard bench with Jaden’s arm around my shoulder.

“Oh my Goddess, I’m so sorry! How long was I sleeping?” I ask, wide-awake and very embarrassed. Jaden smiles as she shakes out her arm.

“Not that long, just enough for my arm to fall asleep.” I groan and put my head in my hands. I’m such a moron sometimes. I wait all day to see her, hell, I wait almost a year to spend time with her and I fall asleep on her. “Gracie, don’t worry about it. It was kind of peaceful.” Jaden consoles me, finally getting her arm to wake up again. “C’mere.” She says and I obey, falling blissfully into her open arms. I feel her soft hand in my hair, smoothing it back from my forehead.

Her wandering hand trails from my hair then to my neck and I stifle a groan as she rubs a tender spot. She reads my mind and brings her other hand up to gently massage my neck and shoulders. “Goddess that feels good.” I say, lowering my head to give her better access. She parts my long hair and works out all the kinks in my neck. Encouraging her to move lower I scoot backwards on the bench to her, presenting my back. Jaden gets the hint and massages my tender back. I let out a low appreciative moan. “Carrying drink-laden trays doesn’t make for a happy back.” I say, in between moans. Jaden chuckles and continues. Her hands caress my back through my coat, and I don’t think it’s my imagination, but she seems to get closer to my breasts every time she runs her hands up and down my sides.

Enjoying the massage, but desperate for more I stand up, turning around on the bench. She looks confused and surprised, but she’s not pulling away. I look at her in the moonlight, her dark hair cascading down her back and golden skin glowing in the light. “You’re beautiful.” I say, noticing the look of shock in her face. “Surely you must know that.” She doesn’t answer, and I see the wall of coldness building in her icy eyes. Before she can push me away I lean into her, pressing my breasts to hears. She bites back a moan and I wrap my arms around her neck, pulling her down to me. She resists me for a minute, and then before I can make the first move, she does it for me.

Jaden tastes perfect. That’s one of the things I can think of when she’s kissing me. Her kisses vary from hard and demanding to sweet and almost chaste. Her mouth ravishes mine, my tongue grinding against hers. She tastes like mild cheese and grapes and I wrap my hands in her silky hair, pulling her closer to me. She complies, lowering her body onto mine as I lay down on the hard wooden bench. I open my legs for her and she settles in between them, our breasts pressed together, and our hips pumping into each other’s. Our kisses become more insistent as our bodies grind together, and I tear my lips away from hers, kissing and nibbling on her neck. She smells good, a mixture of soft perfume and a deeper, muskier scent. I can’t get enough of her and I tell her that in her ear. This seems to turn her on more, and she kisses me again, lowering a hand to cup my breast through my bulky coat.

“Oh yes.” I moan, urging her on. She does not fail me as she struggles to move her hand under my coat, tracing my breast through my sweater. She kisses down my neck, and although it feels incredibly, I miss her full lips on mine. I move my hands up and down her back, conveying my hunger for her. She laughs into my neck, a low, throaty laugh and I laugh back. She slowly sits up, removing her lips from me. I pout. “Why are you stopping?” I ask, sitting up myself. I can feel myself throbbing from my desire for her. She gently cups my cheek in her hand and I see the sudden sadness in her eyes.

“Gracie, you have no idea how much I want to make love to you. But I can’t, at least, not right now.”

“Why?” I push, wanting to know the answer of not only that question, but the countless others I’ve had since I first met her.

“Because Grace, I want to get to know you better, or rather, have you know me better. I don’t want you getting into anything you don’t want to get into.”

“So tell me about you.” I push, knowing I’m walking the line between Jaden’s good spirit and sudden sullenness.

She sighs, and I can tell she’s exasperated. “Grace, it’s not that easy, okay? I will tell you all about me, eventually.” She stops suddenly, looking behind my shoulder. “Grace, whatever you do, don’t make any sudden moves.”

“What is it? Who is there?” I am panicked. This is my worst fear, an attacker at night. “Oh Goddess, Jaden what is it?”

Jaden is staring, her eyes wide and her full mouth shaped in a perfect “O”. “It’s okay Grace, don’t be scared. It’s a bluebird.”

“Oh cool! Where is it?” I’m really surprised to see one; they usually nest all night.

“Behind you, turn around very slowly so you don’t scare it.” I nod and as slowly as possible turn my head to the left. A beautiful bird sits on the end of the bench, cocking his impossibly blue head towards us. His color is almost indescribable in this dim light; he’s in between the color of the bluest summer day and blue-raspberry KoolAid. I feel Jaden’s warm hand take mine, gently squeezing it. I return her squeeze and I feel her smile. We sit for a few minutes, staring at the bluebird, and he finally flies away into the cool night sky.

“Wow.” Jaden says. “That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.” She is smiling, staring off into the trees where the bluebird flew.

“You’ve never seen one before?” I question.

“No. I told you, they are extinct where I live.” She says, still staring.

“But still, I thought you had least seen one when you were a kid. How old are you?” I hope she’ll answer, thinking that was a nice transition into Grace: Inquisitive Mode.

“I’m 27.” Jaden answers, and I’m shocked she answered a question so easily. I decide to continue.

“When’s your birthday?”

“October 31st.”

“Oh cool! A Halloween birthday! That must have been cool when you were little.”

She shrugs, and finally looks at me again. “Yeah, it didn’t matter, I guess.” I’m so thrilled that I now have a bit more knowledge on the elusive subject that is Jaden. I make a mental note that asking her questions while bluebirds or anything else that has her interest distracts her is a good idea. The moment soon passes, and Jaden looks at me, and looks at her watch apologetically.

“You have to go?” I ask, as my heart clenches. I must have a stricken look on my face because Jaden’s expression can only be described as anguished.

“I’m so sorry Gracie.” She whispers, squeezing my hand in hers. “I would stay if I could, I promise you that.”

“I know.” I tell her simply. We walk quietly back to the Explorer, leaving our bluebird paradise.
Journal entry:

January 20, 2000.
I glance at the clock and rub my red eyes. 6:05. Jaden is probably back in Massachusetts by now; I hope she had a safe flight. She said she would call me sometime this evening. At least it’s a Saturday and I can freaking go to sleep. Not that I’ve been able to sleep since Jaden left. I’ve just lain in my bed with Bean and tried to stop thinking about her. About how her lips feel and how good of a kisser she’s been. I received my first ever kiss from a woman tonight.

Much better than Scott’s insistent and expectant kisses. If I ever had any doubt at all that I was a lesbian, Jaden erased it. I don’t think I could ever desire anyone more than I desire Jaden. It would kill me.
Journal entry:

February 14, 2000.
I hate Valentine’s Day. Or at least I used too. This year I’ve been turned into a believer of St. Valentine. Upon returning from class I found a large bouquet of annoying flowers from Scott. My mother was practically gushing with pride as she handed me the card reading: “Grace, I can’t wait for you to be my bride. Love, Scott.”

Um, like, ew! After listening to my mother gloat about what a wonderful life I will have with Scott, I escaped to my room. Before I could collapse into bed there was a soft rap on my door. It slowly opened to reveal my little sister, Lydia. Well, not little sister. She is taller than me by a few inches now and is at the incorrigible age of 13.

“Hey Lyd, how are you?” I ask and she rolls her eyes. She is a riot, and although I don’t get to spend much time with her I love her dearly.

“Mom’s a jerk Grace.” She says and I can only nod in agreement. She offers no further explanation and before I can ask her why she hands me a huge box that was sitting in the hall. “This came for you, I saw it wasn’t from Scott so I grabbed it before she saw it. You know how nosy she is.”

Curiously I peer at the return address. I can’t help the smile that forms across my face when I see Jaden’s telltale handwriting. I hug my sister, eternally grateful for her insight to grab the package.

“Thank you so much Lydia. You’re the best.” She smiles and rolls her eyes again, Lydia’s trademark expression.

“Yeah, well you owe me.” She grins as I promise to take her and a few of her teenage friends to a movie on my next night off. “Cool, you’re so much more fun than mom. My friends think you’re awesome.” She says as she leaves my room.

I squeal with glee as I close the door and pounce on my bed with Jaden’s package. Tearing it open I find a stuffed white unicorn with bright blue eyes. The note attached reads: “To protect you from the scary darkness when I’m not around. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Aww! She’s so sweet! I quickly dub the unicorn “Blue” because its blue eyes are almost the color of hers. I hug him close to me, smelling her scent on his fur.
February 15, 2000.
I am pathetic. I am lying on my bed, holding Blue with a very sleepy Bean next to me. Jaden is on my mind as I redial her number for the 1,000th time. It’s still busy. I want to talk to her before I have to leave for work, but I can’t get through.

I have to thank her for thinking about me yesterday. Her present was such a wonderful surprise, far better than Scott’s obligatory flowers. I wonder if the valentine I sent her made it to her okay. I’m not the most artistic person in the world, but my handmade valentine to Jaden turned out pretty well. I hope she likes it.

I press redial again, groaning when I hear the busy signal. Life sucks.

“Arugh!” I jump with surprise as the phone rings in my hand. Bean doesn’t even look up from her nap, used to my outbursts by now.

“Hello?”

“Grace?” Jaden’s low voice purrs in my ear.

“Hi! I’ve been trying to call you! How are you? Thank you so much for the unicorn, that was the best Valentine’s day present I’ve ever gotten!”

She chuckles as she replies, “Nice to hear that. How are you?”

“Okay, well I’m better now that I’m talking to you.”

She doesn’t answer right away, but I can hear her breathing quicken as her next words come out in a rush. “Gracie, thank you for the valentine. It was really thoughtful, and no one’s ever done that for me before. It means a lot.”

I smile, though she can’t see me. “I’m glad Jaden. You mean a lot to me and I want you to know that.”

“Thanks. Listen, I have bad news.” She says, and my heart practically stops beating as I wait for her to continue. “I wanted to tell you that today I received a pretty immense assignment.”

“What does that mean?” I ask, wondering what in the hell she’s talking about.

“Well, I train horses for police departments. And I’m a mounted officer. Sometimes departments need me to come and work with their mounted divisions, to improve their effectiveness or start a completely new program. This assignment means that I’m going to have to go to Florida. I have to implement a new mounted force there, and it’s a pretty big job. It’s going to take awhile, at least a month.”

Oh. So that explains the uniform I guess. “So you’re a cop?” I ask, feeling stupid because that’s what she just told me. “That’s so cool, I think being a mounted officer would be great, you get to ride all day and help people.” My voice is excited, both because Jaden’s career isn’t a mystery to me anymore, and I think she’d be a perfect mounted policewoman.

“Yeah, well it has both its ups and downs.” She answers, her voice tense. “But anyway Grace, I don’t think I’ll be able to see you for at least a few months.” She says, her voice thick with emotion. “I’ll miss you.” She adds softly.

“Jaden, I’ll miss you so much.” I tell her honestly, surprised at how open she’s being. “Will you be able to write or call or anything?” I ask, wondering when I’ll even be able to talk to her.

“Of course. I’m not planning on letting you out of my life.” She answers honestly, and I have to resist from asking her who she is and what has she done with the real Jaden.

“As soon as I get settled I’ll call you with the address and everything. But I really have to go now, I leave in just a few hours and I have to find someone to take care of my stupid fish.”

I laugh at that, grateful for the comedic interlude. “Where are you going to take them?” I ask, giggling at the absurd mental picture of Jaden sending her fish to day care.

She laughs with me, her voice vibrating in my ear. “My downstairs neighbor is a sweet elderly lady with a thousand cats. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”

“Yeah, well make sure they don’t become kitty dinner.” I add, unable to control my giggles. This makes Jaden laugh even more and we both laugh until my stomach hurts. “Jeez, we’re in a silly mood today.” I tell her, now sobered by the thought of not being able to see her for a month or so.

“Talking to you always puts me in a good mood.” She answers quietly. “I’ll call you as soon as I can, okay?” She says, and I answer her honestly.

“I’ll look forward to it.” The impact of what she just told me suddenly hits me in the face. “Jaden, this really sucks. I’m going to miss you a lot.” I tell her, my voice shaking.

“I know. I’ll miss you too. Take care of yourself, okay?”

“Okay, you too.” I tell her.

“Bye Gracie.” She says, and then she hangs up.

I bury my face in the pillow, the soft material absorbing my tears.
Journal entry:

April 21, 2000.
Two months and six days. That’s how long it’s been since Jaden left for her assignment. She’s called several times but it’s not the same. I can tell she’s stressed and really wants to come home and be done with this assignment. It doesn’t seem to be going to well, and taking her a lot longer than she’s expected. My schedule right now is equally as horrible. Finals are in less than two weeks and I have a billion stupid things to work on. The bar is more popular than ever, and although I’m making really good money, it’s just not enough yet to transfer to an east coast university and pay rent and everything.

I’m getting so depressed about everything. Scott will be home from college for the summer soon, and that’s never good. I was really lucky last summer because he spent the first half of the summer at his parent’s vacation home, and the second half at his college for football practice. I never had to see him. This summer he’s assured me that we’ll see each other much more. Just great.

The high points in my life right now are the letters Jaden diligently writes. I receive one a week, which must be a new record for her. Jaden talks so seldom when you’re around her, and she’s defiantly not a Chatty Cathy on the phone, either. So for her to actually take time and write must be difficult for her. I’ve written her back, my letters look like novels compared to her one-paged notebook papered notes. Still, I loved receiving them and I can’t help but wonder when she will be done with her assignment so I can finally see her again.

My mother is driving me insane. She forced my father and my poor sister into going on a stupid cruise at the end of next month and I’m counting down the days until she leave. Sunday, May 30th will be wonderful, they will be gone and I will have the entire house to myself for 12 days. Yay. I don’t know how I convinced my mother that I couldn’t go, but I did. I’m just hoping Scott won’t be around for that time and then maybe I can convince Jaden to come and visit. That would be perfect.
April 27, 2000.
Still no word from Jaden on her finishing date, this assignment is taking her so much longer than she expected and I can tell from her letters that she’s getting frustrated. I really miss her. I’m so harried, finals are this week and they are a killer. I usually don’t have to study for anything, and still I receive good grades. But this semester wasn’t that easy, and I am wishing I had paid attention in class more lately, instead of writing letters to Jaden.

The doorbell is ringing. I sigh and punch my pillow, closing my economics book so I can get up and answer the door. Why do I need economics when I’m supposed to be an English and Creative Writing major, you ask? Well, because my stupid parents forced me into being a business major, stating that if I have to waste my time going to college I can at least study something useful. They think Scott will support me and all I’ll have to worry about is having babies. Well, they have a surprise coming.

“Grace, Scott is here!” My mother’s shrill voice rings throughout the house.

“I know, I know.” I mumble under my breath. Needless to say, I was less than pleased when he called saying his semester was done and he’d be stopping over this evening. At least I have to leave for the bar soon, so I won’t have to spend time with him too much.

I leave my room and go to greet him. Bean is happily wiggling on her back as he scratches her belly. That dog is a traitor to anyone who will pet her. Scott stops playing with her, smiling as he sees me. He looks good, more muscled than the last time I saw him.

“Hey honey!” He booms, his deep voice almost causing me to wince.

“Hi Scott, you look great.” I tell him, as he crushes me into a tight hug. My mother beams, my sister looks at us and rolls her eyes. I resist the urge to puke while in Scott’s strong embrace. He smells like, well, such a man. I wistfully remember the sweet, almost musky scent that is distinctively Jaden. I sigh.

“You look nice,” Scott says, his brown eyes roaming my body, “Did you lose some weight?” My mother gasps so loudly I think she’s having a heart attack.

“See Grace, I told you shedding a few pounds would make a difference!” She says, taking Scott by his broad shoulders and leading him to the couch. “Now Scott, tell us all about college.” She says and he begins to talk about the football team and the baseball team and his fraternity brothers.

I’m in hell.
Journal entry:

May 5, 2000.
Life sucks hard. I know realize this more than ever. At least college is done for the semester, and finals went okay. But back to life sucking: the love of my life is MIA, no phone calls, no letters since the middle of April. The not-so love of my life Scott is like a puppy dog, trailing me wherever I go. He comes to the bar every night and watches me serve. If any of the drunken men flirt with me (like they always do) he gives me puppy dog eyes and pouts the rest of the night. He’s such a baby. I love him dearly, as a little brother, but like most little brothers he’s a whiny, immature brat.

And his kissing, ugh! Talk about immature. The past few days he’s been begging me for sex and trying to kiss me all the time. I mean, I understand his point; after all we are engaged. But can’t he take a hint? Kissing him is disgusting. The entire time I long for Jaden’s lips, her touch, her. Not some boy.

I sound bitter and I know that. And I know it was myself who got me into this mess. If I had put my foot down to my parents and refused to marry Scott I wouldn’t be in this predicament. I made my very messy bed but I now refuse to lie in it.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, thankful that my mother isn’t here. When she’s here anytime I’m eating she screams at me. It seems that I’m too fat. Interesting. My entire life I’ve been petite, and I hardly think a size 5 is fat. But in her eyes I’m a big cow, so I’m careful to eat only when she’s not here. She seems to be lightening up on me though, now that Scott is here I’m spending every freaking waking minute with him and it’s appeasing her. But it’s driving me insane.

I notice a letter on the table, underneath the other mail. It looks like Jaden’s handwriting. Why didn’t anyone give this to me? It’s postdated from last week, meaning that it’s been here probably since Monday. Goddess my family sucks.

I tear open the letter, relieved to have some word from Jaden.

My Gracie,

I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. Things have finally been going well. I should be finishing up this week, and on my way home this weekend! I can’t wait, northern Florida is beautiful, but I’m tired of this assignment. Little things keep adding up to cause stupid problems.

The horses I’m working with have turned out great and I really like them. I miss my own horse though, and I miss you. The officers here, well they are not always so great. It seems that the majority of the people on the force think that a mounted team is a stupid idea, and a waste of time. I only have a few riders that are really into it. There is one woman, Kimber, who I think you would really like. She reminds me of you in a way.

Well, that is my life right now. My days are filled with acclimating horse and rider to the situations they will have to face, and nights consist of missing you.

Enclosed is a valuable piece of paper. Don’t lose it. I hope the dates work for you. If not, we’ll work something out.

SEE you soon,

Jaden

I miss her so much, and instantly hate this Kimber woman. What kind of stupid name is Kimber, anyway? Actually, it’s kind of a cool name, I ruefully admit to myself. But I’m still jealous. This Kimber woman has gotten to spend the last two and a half months with the girl of my dreams. And I’ve been here with my Jenny Craig-obsessed mother and Scott. Woo hoo.

I unfold the other piece of paper, my eyes widening when I see it’s a copy of a flight itinerary. I scan over it, seeing that it’s a for Jaden’s name on a US Airways flight departing Florida on Sunday, May 6th for Cleveland! Jaden is coming directly here? I can’t believe this! What if I hadn’t seen this letter and never knew that she was coming! I would have had to commit a homicide!

Her flight comes in tomorrow morning and she leaves Cleveland for Boston on Friday. That means she’ll be here an entire 6 days!!! This is amazing; I couldn’t have received better news. I just hope that she doesn’t think my lack of response to her letter means I don’t want her to come here.
May 5, 2000.
I’m pacing in my room. Back and forth, back and forth, until I swear I can see the traffic pattern on the carpet. Bean good-naturedly paced with me for a while before soon growing tired and lying down to chew her bone. I so nervous to see Jaden, but I can’t wait to pick her up from the airport. I just hope I hear from her so she knows I’ll be there!

“Grace?” I hear my mother call me. Sighing I open my bedroom door. She comes down the hall, stopping in to look around my room.

“Grace, this is a pigsty. Clean your goddamned room by the time I get back from the store.” She says, closing the door.

“Yes mom.” I answer, rolling my eyes at her. I re-open the door. “What did you call me for?” I ask. I’m confused as to why she came in here in the first place.

“Jaden is on the phone for you.” She answers, her back still to me.

By the time I pick up the phone, my mother is pulling away in her car. Breathing a sigh of relief to have some privacy, I eagerly blab into the phone.

“Jaden! Hi! I’m so sorry I didn’t respond to your letter, I just got it today. Are you really coming here?”

She chuckles at the breathless excitement of my voice. “I was hoping my letter just got delayed or you didn’t get it. Are you sure you want me to visit?” She asks, her voice joking, but still containing a hint of truth.

“YES!” I shout into the phone, causing Lydia to look up from her TV show. Not wanting to interrupt her I head for my bedroom.

“Okay, okay, I guess I’ll come to visit.” She says, still laughing. It sounds to great to hear her laugh, she’s been so down every time I’ve gotten to talk to her.

“You sound relieved to be done with your assignment.” I tell her honestly as she agrees.

“Listen Gracie,” Jaden beings, “I have to finish up here today so I can finally get the hell out of Florida. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on the plane headed straight for you. When I get in to the airport should I rent a car?” She asks, and I know that she is still in her businesslike policewoman mode.

“I have a car, so you shouldn’t have to rent one.” I tell her.

“That little thing you drive?” She questions, talking about my blue Pontiac Sunfire.

“Yes, what’s wrong with my car?” I ask, my voice haughty. I love my car.

“Nothing, except I’m not 5 feet tall. I’ll rent something.” She says teasingly.

“Fine. Rent some big gas-consuming SUV.” I tell her, equally as teasing. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Nope. Don’t get up that early. I’ll rent a car, get a hotel room and pick you up for lunch around 11:00, okay? The tone of her voice assures me that I won’t be able to change her mind. That’s never stopped me before.

“Come on Jaden, let me pick you up. I haven’t seen you in forever!” “Please?” I add, hoping she’ll let me.

“No, just be ready and I’ll pick you up. I promise it won’t be later than noon.”

I know when to give in. “Okay.” I tell her dejectedly.

“Don’t sound so sad. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yay!” I tell her, my voice childlike and giddy. “I’ll be ready.”

“You do that. I can’t wait to see you.” She says as she ends the call.

I jump up into the air with anticipation and dance around my room. Now I just have to wait until tomorrow.
Part 2

May 6, 2000.
I glance at my watch for the fortieth time in the past five minutes. 11:14am and I’m anxiously awaiting Jaden. I wonder when she’ll get here. My mother sighs audibly from her spot near the television and I scowl behind her back. She’s not happy that Jaden is coming for a visit, so I promised her that she could meet Jaden this morning. I can’t decide if that’s a good idea or a really bad one. My mother doesn’t understand why I would want to spend valuable time with some girl instead of Scott, and I’m not exactly in the place to tell her as of right now.

“Where are you going?” My mother asks, her eyes not leaving the television screen. Lydia is gone with her friends for the day and my father, as usual, is nowhere to be found.

“I’m not sure mom, but Jaden will be here until Friday so I’ll probably be spending a lot of time with her, showing her around. I won’t be home much this week.”

She mutters under her breath, and I know the line of questioning that’s coming next. “Why is she staying so long?” She inquires, finally turning her brown-eyed accusatory glare to me.

I fidget under her stare and make the decision to lie. “She’s here on business, and doesn’t know anybody else so I volunteered to be a tour guide. There’s so much to see here!” I add, feigning excitement. Northern Ohio sucks, to say the least, but there is a lot of touristy things to do. This seems to pacify my mother and I breathe a sigh of relief as I turn back towards the window.

After what seems like ages Jaden’s rental car, which turns out to be a Ford Explorer at no surprise to myself, pulls in the driveway. I bolt outside and hug her tightly before she has a chance to get out of the car. Quickly, before my mother can spy from inside I pull away and look at Jaden.

She looks incredible. Simply beautiful, her golden skin darkened from Florida sun and her raven-colored hair highlighted with streaks of copper and red from the sun. She’s wearing chinos and a short-sleeved red buttoned down shirt open over a white tank top and white keds. She looks so casual and elegant at the same time.

“You look gorgeous.” I say, my voice low and admiring. “I can’t believe you’re here!” I tell her as I pull her towards my house. “Let’s get this over with!”

My mother is waiting inside as Jaden and I enter. I stand uncomfortably between them, noting how my mother is almost as tall as Jaden. I clear my throat, about to introduce them when my mother interrupts.

“Well Grace, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” My mother asks as she smiles her very large, lipstick-encased fake smile.

“Mom, this is Jaden. Jaden, this is my mother, Debbie.” My mother extends her well-manicured hand and Jaden shakes it.

“A pleasure to meet you Mrs. McKenzie. Grace has told me a lot about you.” Jaden smiles, practically oozing charm. My mother smiles tersely, and releases Jaden’s hand.

“Well, she hasn’t told me anything about you.” My mother coldly replies, and I resist the urge to put my head in my hands and scream. My mother is a work of art, to say the least. I expect Jaden to get cold and bitchy, but she surprises me and does the complete opposite. She smiles at my mother, who doesn’t really know what to say next.

“What would you like to know? Shall we sit down?” Jaden asks, and sits down on the couch before my mother can respond. Not to be outdone, my mother sits on the chair opposite from the couch and glares at me. I quickly sit on the couch next to Jaden.

“Where are you from?” My mother starts. Jaden nods and answers her question.

“I’m from northern Massachusetts, but I’ve lived in many different places. I now reside in Beverly, which is about an hour north of Boston and close to where I grew up.” Jaden is poised and well spoken, and I can tell my mother is slowly transcending from being really pissed-off to impressed by Jaden’s commanding presence.

“Well, that sounds lovely. What kind of work do you do?” My mother continues, pausing to add “Where are my manners, would you like a cup of coffee or tea?” My mother smiles, and Jaden politely declines.

“I work in law enforcement. I train horses to be used in police work. I started out in the force working as a mounted policewoman, and now along with that I travel to different states implementing mounted police forces.” Jaden finishes, and my mother ohhs and ahhs, adding how interesting that is. A part of me is proud of Jaden, knowing how difficult it is for her to open to people. Another part of me is just fuming; furious that Jaden would open up to my mother yet is so fickle with what information she shares with me. I mean, for Goddess sake, I’ve made out with her, and carried out correspondence for almost a year now and I still don’t know what her favorite color is.

“Mom, we really should get going, daylight’s wasting. I’ll be home later tonight, okay?” I stand up and head for the door. Jaden follows me as well as my mother. I open the door, scooping Bean up and handing her to my mother. My mother sighs as I hand her the dog, pretending like the last thing on earth she wants to do is puppy sit. I know it’s just an act; she seems to like Bean more than she does me!

“It was a pleasure to meet you Mrs. McKenzie. Thank you for allowing me into your beautiful home.” Jaden smiles a dazzling smile and my mother immediately falls under her spell. I resist the urge to puke all over my new shoes as my mother coos to her.

“Jaden, you are lovely young woman. I am so glad my daughter has such a responsible and mature friend. And please, call me Debbie.” My mother smiles tightly at me while saying; “Grace, don’t forget, you promised to watch your sister tomorrow night so I can go out with my friends.” I nod and say goodbye, walking out the door. Jaden says goodbye and follows me. I say nothing as I walk to the Explorer and get in. Jaden knows something is the matter but says nothing as she starts the car.

“Where are we going Grace?” Jaden asks, her voice small and tight.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?” I answer bitterly, and instantly regret my tone. I don’t need to look over at Jaden to see the hurt look in her eyes. “Just drive Jaden, I need to get away from here.”

She backs out of the driveway and heads towards town. My town isn’t exactly large and it’s pretty easy to find your way around. Knowing Jaden is a cop, and the kind of person she is, I bet she’s already figured her way around here.

I need to talk to her, and tell her how I’m feeling. I just wish I knew how I was feeling. I’m upset that Jaden felt like she could tell things to my mother that she wasn’t comfortable telling me. I guess I should just say that. But of course, the way you want to say things is never quite the way they come out.

“Don’t you trust me?” I ask her softly, now ready to break the silence. “Why would you tell my mother things that you couldn’t tell me for months?”

“Oh Grace, of course I trust you. This has nothing to do with trust.” Her voice is tinged with sadness.

“What is it about then? When am I going to know who you are?” I struggle to keep my tone low and not get more upset. This is so not how I want to spend our first day together.

“Gracie, you do know who I am. I know you don’t think you do, but you know me more than anyone else ever has.” She takes her eyes from the road for a split second and glances at me. Her eyes are the color of a river frozen with ice and I can see tears threatening to spill. I don’t want her to cry, I don’t want to fight anymore.

I place my hand on her thigh, smiling when she drops one of her hands from the wheel to hold mine softly. “I believe you. I’m sorry I got upset, the last thing I want to do is fight with you. I’m so glad you’re here, and I’ve been dreaming of seeing you for months.”

She smiles and squeezes my hand. “Jaden, I don’t think you know how much it means to me that you flew here before going home. I know how long you’ve been away and I know how homesick you are.”

The smile leaves her face and she slowly shakes her head. “I’m not homesick anymore.” She adds softly.

We drive in silence for a few minutes after our impromptu heart to heart. Not wanting to spend our day driving around aimlessly, I decide to bounce some ideas off of Jaden about what to do with her time here.

“What do you like to do?” I ask her, relieved to be talking normally to each other again.

She smiles a seductive smile. “I think you know the answer to that.” I blush and clear my throat.

“Besides that, Miss hornball, I mean what do you want to do this week?”

“What’s a hornball?” She asks, her eyebrow rising in question.

I sigh. “Jaden, if you have to ask…..”

She interrupts me. “I think I can figure it out.” “And to answer your question, I like to do just about everything. I’m sure you have some ideas.” She finishes teasingly.

“We have so much to do!” I tell her, excited just to her response to my ideas. “I thought today we could go to Cedar Point, that’s the largest amusement park in the world! Then on Monday we can go on the Ferry to the Lake Erie Islands, do you like boats?” I ask, and rattle on before she can finish. “Ohhh! And on Tuesday maybe we can go to Sea World and see the dolphin show! And on Wednesday we should just take it easy, maybe go to Mill Hollow for a short hike, like 4 or 5 miles? Thursday we can go into Cleveland and see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and go shopping at Tower City, maybe go to an Indians game? What time do you leave on Friday?”

Jaden shakes her head at me and rolls her eyes. She has no idea what she has just gotten herself into. “That all sounds wonderful. I knew you’d have everything planned out.” She smiles and pats my hand.

“Well, I want to make the most of our time. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.”

“Cedar Point sounds fun, how do we get there?” She asks and I direct her towards Rt. 2 Westbound. After merging onto the highway, I decide to give her some Cedar Point history.

“It’s called Cedar Point because a long time ago it was a peninsula in Lake Erie covered in cedar groves. And then long time ago by some rich guy built it up into an amusement park.”

“Don’t you hate how people name things after what was destroyed in order to build that place? I mean, Cedar Point, named for the beautiful cedar groves that were cut down to provide entertainment for us.” Jaden asks ironically.

“I know.” I answer honestly. “Look at all the housing developments, especially around here. They are named Forest Acres, Meadow Glen, and so on. I hate how fast we are expanding without thought of how much the land can handle.”

Jaden agrees with me. I’ve known that the environment is important to her, especially after our conversation months ago at Mill Hollow. “I didn’t mean to burst your bubble about Cedar Point, Gracie.” She adds apologetically, “I just wanted to share that with you.”

“I’m glad you did.” I smile at her. “Do you want to hear more about Cedar Point?”

“Yes! Please continue.” She says, and I can’t help but hope she’s excited to go. She seems like the kind of person who would love a good roller coaster.

It’s now the largest in the world, or one of the largest, I can’t remember. It has 14 coasters, and this year opened the tallest and fastest in North America, Millennium Force, which I am SO excited to go on! I think you’ll like Cedar Point, the rides are awesome and they have great food. Do you like roller coasters?”

Jaden shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know, I’ve never been on one.”

My mouth drops open. “Seriously? Well, I hope you like it. We don’t have to go if you don’t want too, I would hate to go and have you hate it.”

Jaden pats my hand. “Grace, don’t worry about it. I want to go, and I’m excited to spend the entire day with you. Don’t you have a lot to do though? I don’t want to keep you from anything.”

I laugh. “Goddess, you are just what I need! I’ve been complaining for weeks that I have nothing to do besides work and school and family crap. Now that school is over, I’m trying to enjoy myself. Trust me, you being here is a blessed event.” This seems to appease her, and I continue. “Although, my mother isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea. Now she has to watch my sister after school instead of having me do it. Which means she had to reschedule all of her hair appointments and pedicures.” I snort in disgust. Jaden must catch on to what a sensitive subject my mother is since she doesn’t press the issue.

I direct Jaden to pull off into the right hand turning lane onto an unmarked road. “Where is this?” She asks, looking at the beautiful scenery. The lake is directly to our right hand side, dotted with boats bobbing on the horizon. To our left are beautiful houses that look like the cover of every home magazine they sell in the stores. It is a beautiful road and I’ve always dreamed of having one of these houses.

“This is the Cedar Point causeway, or the back entrance to Cedar Point. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Jaden nods in agreement. We drive a short distance and pull into the parking lot. I hand Jaden my parking pass and the attendant nods and lets us pass. The park is deserted, and we are able to park in the very front row.

“Why is no one here?” Jaden asks as we get out and lock the door. I smile, very excited at the prospect of a deserted Cedar Point.

“It actually doesn’t open until mid-May, but they open at the beginning of May for corporations and people with VIP passes. My father did some business for a bigwig here and we get a few passes to come early each year. It’s pretty cool, on a normal summer day the average wait-in-line time is always over an hour, even for the sucky rides.” Jaden looks impressed at the tall coasters rising above the landscape and I point to one, a nasty looking one with a hill so steep it appears to be a straight line down to the ground. “That’s Millennium Force! It has a first hill drop of 80 degrees!” I tug on her arm. “C’mon, let’s go!” She walks fast to catch up with me as I race towards the entrance.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH” That would be Jaden, on her first roller coaster ever. She is screaming bloody murder, but really seems to be enjoying herself. I decided her first coaster experience should be the Magnum, built a few years ago as the fastest and taller coaster in the world. Taller models have now replaced it, but it still is a great ride. I coaxed Jaden to get in the very front seat and halfway up the hill she whispered in my ear that she was going to kill me. It’s a pretty scary hill, at the top all you see is the lake and from the first car when you look down you can’t see the track below you. It’s that steep. But as soon as we started down the first hill, she threw her arms up in the air and loved it. I think she’s having as much fun as I am.

“Jesus Christ Grace, that was incredible!” Jaden pats my back as we walk out the exit of the Magnum. “What’s next?” She looks like a child, her entire face is glowing and her eyes are dancing with excitement.

“I told you that you would love this!” I mock scold her, and then suddenly grab her hand. “We have to look at our picture!” I lead her over to the booth that displays the pictures taken while we were on the ride. We are easy to spot, and the picture is hysterical. Jaden is smiling so big her face looks like it’s going to burst. I am looking at her with such a sickly-sweet look of adoration on my face it almost makes me sick to my stomach. It’s a great picture.

“Oh we have to get that picture! Where can we buy it?” She asks, and then sees the sign proclaiming “Get your Magnum picture while you wait, only $8.95!” Jaden promptly orders two copies of the picture.

A few minutes later, with the pictures stored safely in my book bag we are headed to the next big coaster. Jaden is unstoppable, wanting to go on every ride a dozen times, which is possible today because there is virtually no line. After riding the Raptor, my favorite ride and the coaster where you hang down from the track with your feet dangling in the sky, for the 5th time we head over to frontier land, where I’ve promised Jaden they have Elephant Ears. We scarf down plenty of Cedar Point junk food, and before I can even begin to digest Jaden is running to the line of the Mean Streak, a surly wooden roller coaster that lives up to it’s name. I think I’ve created a monster here.

“Grace, I’m really sorry.” I hear Jaden saying, through the bathroom stall door. She is pacing outside the door; I can hear her shoes squeak on the clean tile floor, back and forth. My only thought is thank Goddess Cedar Point is unpopulated, and the bathroom is clean and fresh smelling. My other conscious thought is to not throw up.

“Are you okay? I’m so sorry, I didn’t think you would get sick!” Jaden’s voice is insistent now, and I feel bad for putting her through this.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Squeak. Squeak. She is still pacing, and the noise is another unwelcome addition to my oversensitive nervous and digestive system. “Hey Jaden? Can you get me a glass of ice water?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right back.” And I hear her run out of the bathroom. Sheesh. I never thought that I would almost puke in front of her. That would have been so romantic, don’t you think? I have now learned that tons of junk food and a really bumpy roller coaster don’t mix well for me. Well, I think I would have been fine if we hadn’t gone on the Mean Streak 11 times in a row. That 11th time really did it.

Jaden returns with my water and I drink almost the entire glass. That hit the spot and I thank her as I wash my face. She looks guilty, like a child who knows she’s in trouble and I pat her hand to let her know I’m not upset with her in any way.

“Jaden, don’t worry about it! I didn’t get sick, I just really felt like I was going to, that’s all. I’m not upset, okay?” She nods, still looking like a reprimanded child. I gently brush her long hair back from her shoulders and hug her. I feel her wrap her long arms around me and I settle in her warm embrace. I give a little sigh of contentment and she echoes me, sighing also. She kisses the top of my head and I snuggle against her. I’m really enjoying our little touchy-feely session until I hear someone enter the bathroom. I pull away from her quickly, and see a flash of hurt on her unique features.

A woman and her young daughter enter one of the stalls and I move towards Jaden again. I pull her head down and whisper in her delicate ear, “I didn’t mean to pull away from you. I just have to be careful here, I’m not exactly “out” if you know what I mean.” She nods in understanding and I softly kiss her lips. It’s the first kiss we’ve shared since January and we stop before it becomes too passionate too quickly. We pull away and I smooth my hair as we run out of the bathroom giggling like children.

“Alright! If you’re feeling okay I want to go on that Mantis ride again, you know, the roller coaster where you stand up? And after than we can maybe do the bungee jumping thing? And then..”

For the first time in her life, Jaden is actually talking more than I am. All I can do is nod my head in agreement and pray that my queasy stomach settles down.

We collapse in the car, dirty, sticky and thoroughly tired. We leave the Cedar Point parking lot and Jaden heads towards my house. It’s already 9:00 and I thought the workers at the park would have to kick us out. I didn’t think I’d be able to get Jaden off of the roller coasters. The Millennium Force really did live up to its hoopla; I’ve never been on a more thrilling ride. And I “convinced” Jaden to go on one last ride before leaving, the Giant Ferris Wheel. Our wonderful day at Cedar Point ended with watching the park alit with colored lights from the top of the Farris Wheel, holding hands and softly kissing. Yum. That was fun.

“What do you feel like doing?” I ask Jaden. “You must be exhausted from flying in today and than walking around all day!”

“Nah, I had a blast.” She adds shyly, “What are your plans? Do you have to work tonight?”

I grin, eager to tell her my surprise. “Nope. I have the entire time you’re here off. Uncle Rick said I could take some time, I haven’t had time off in forever.”

“That’s great!” She says excitedly. “I didn’t know if I could see you at night because of your schedule at the bar.”

“I’m all yours.” I tell her, and I mean it completely. “Now, the only thing is that my mother thinks I have to work. If she thinks I’m off than she’ll be pissed I’m not going out with Scott.” I shudder at the sound of his name. After much begging, Uncle Rick helped me out by telling Scott he wasn’t allowed to sit in the bar and watch me work anymore because he’s not 21 yet. He’s such a great guy, hard to believe he’s my mother’s brother.

“Okay.” Jaden says agreeably, but her face is set and hard and I can tell that me being engaged bothers her. Of course it would, and I know I have to put an ending to this engagement thing soon.

“So, how about we go back to your hotel for awhile?” I ask, hoping she isn’t upset.

“Sure, I’m staying at the Holiday Inn that’s pretty close to your place. I can drop you off later at your normal time after work.”

“Perfect.” I answer, upset already about the thought of having to go home later. I want nothing more than to spend the night in Jaden’s arms. But I don’t know if she’s ready for that. I know I am because I’ve been taking cold showers for months after our make-out session at Mill Hollow!
May 7, 2000.
I love the smell of the lake. A few years ago it was so disgusting that no one wanted to swim in it, let alone smell it, but after a major clean-up program good old Lake Erie now smells like it should. Jaden and I are on the ferry back from Put-in-Bay, one of the islands in Lake Erie. We had a blast here today; we rented bikes and biked around the island enjoying the warm spring day. Then I trounced Jaden at mini-golf after we rented Jet-skis and chased each other around the Lake Erie shoreline.

I was really upset when I told Jaden I had to head back early so I can baby-sit my sister for my mother tonight, but Jaden was great and offered to keep me company. I love my sister, but she doesn’t need to be baby-sat anymore. She has her own social life now and when I baby-sit her I sit and write in my journal while she talks to her friends on the phone. Having Jaden around will be nice.

I lean back against the cool vinyl seat. Jaden has been quiet since we got on the ferry, and has just started out into the water. The wind makes it’s difficult to talk over the wind, and she seems content to just sit and stare. I’m content to sit and stare at her.

I can’t believe it’s Monday already. Yesterday at Cedar Point was so fun. And last night was great. Jaden and I just sat together in her hotel, not really talking or anything. We kissed a little bit and I know she wants to go further but she just won’t let herself. I wish she could, I’m aching for her. I won’t pressure her though, I know from first hand experience with Scott how awful it is to be pressured into something you’re not comfortable with. I would never want to do to Jaden what Scott does to me.

We sit, discretely holding hands and every once in awhile Jaden’s thumb strokes my palm and she turns to look at me, her blue eyes boring directly into mine. It’s so intense, and I feel as if I want her to look at me that way forever.

The ferry docks and we make our way to Jaden’s Explorer. “What time do we have to be at your house?” She asks and I glance at my watch.

“Well, my mother wants to leave at 7:00 and it’s 4:30 now. So we have a while if you want to go somewhere.” I tell her, wondering what is on her mind.

“Can we go somewhere private?” She asks, her voice unreadable. “I think we need to talk.”

“Sure.” I tell her as I swallow nervously. My stomach clenches and I immediately think the worst. What does she want to talk about? We’ve had a wonderful day together. Did I do something to upset her?

“Hey Grace, I can feel your tension from here. It’s not a big deal, I just want to be alone with you so we can talk, okay?” She asks and I nod. She starts the car and pulls onto the highway.

After a few minutes I recognize the roads leading to Mill Hollow, and I know that is where Jaden is headed. I’m glad of her decision to go there, it’s defiantly a place where we’re both comfortable to sit and feel each other’s presence.

I get out of the car, grabbing my sweatshirt. The wind has picked up and I think it might rain later.

After walking through the open gate we look around and see the place is deserted. “You should see how packed it is here on the weekend. We’re lucky because it’s a weekday and most people are still at work.”

“And it’s going to rain soon.” She adds. “Hopefully we won’t get soaked.” She says, smiling. She seems so calm and collected that I begin to hope that she isn’t going to give me horrible news. Maybe she just wants to be alone before facing my family again.

“Want to head to the bluebird fields?” I ask her, knowing the answer. “We’ll probably see a lot more than last time.” She agrees happily and we head for the fields.

Arriving at “our” bench we sit as the bluebirds chirp in the background. Every few seconds a flash of blue flies by our heads. The color is so intense and over so quickly it’s as if it was imagined. I glance over to Jaden. She is staring into the field, her bright blue eyes studying the landscape before her. Her eyes rival the color of any bluebird. I then realize how similar she is to the elusive birds. They are both so beautiful and always have their guard up. Maybe that is why she has become so drawn to them, she sees herself in the rare birds.

“They are beautiful.” She says quietly. I grasp her hand and scoot closer to her on the bench.

“So are you.” I tell her and she smiles and ducks her head.

“Listen, Grace.” She begins, her voice more nervous than I’ve ever heard. “I don’t really know how to do this, but I have to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” I ask hesitantly. I don’t know if I want to hear this.

“I’m scared.” She finally admits, her voice defeated.

“Scared of what?” I ask her and she doesn’t answer. “Are you sick? Is it your job? Your family?” I ask, desperate to know what is going on.

“No, nothing like that.” She says as she continues to stare at the bluebirds flying around frantically in and out of their man-made homes. “You can tell it’s going to rain. The parents are going crazy trying to feed their families before the rain forces them inside.” She adds.

That’s a suave subject change if I’ve ever heard one. But obviously what she’s trying to tell me is important and I refuse to let her back down now.

“Jaden, please talk to me.” I tell her, taking her chin in my hand and gently turning her face towards mine. “Don’t you have any idea how I feel about you? Do you know that since the first night I saw you I’ve lain awake at night thinking about you? Wondering about you and caring about you?” Jaden lowers her head and purses her lips. “Goddess Jaden, do you have idea how much you mean to me?”

She turns to me with such a look of anguish that my heart cries out to her. “Grace, I don’t know how much you care about me. But I do know how much I care about you. And that is what scares me.”

I grab both of her hands. “Why does that scare you?” She shakes her head and looks away. “Jaden, look at me. Please.”

She does, and I think she might cry. Her shoulders sag and she tries to avert her face. I gently cup her cheek in my hand again and pull her to me. She falls limply into my arms and I hug her. “Please talk to me Jaden. I want to know everything about you. Please let me care for you. Please.”

She removes herself from my embrace, seemingly ashamed of her moment of weakness. “You know how you said the last time we were here, that you were scared of the dark?” I nod and she continues. “Well, that is how it is for me. I know I can’t explain why opening myself up is so terrifying, but it is. I just feel safer being alone.”

“Whether you like it or not, you’re not alone. I am here for you and I always want to be. Jaden, trust me. I know this is hard for you, but I am begging you to let me in. All I want is to love you, be with you, and never leave you. These last two days have been incredible, I can’t imagine not having you in my life.” I am getting so choked up, my eyes well with tears and nothing I try to do to stop them is working. Jaden tilts her head, and looks like she fascinated by the fact that I am crying. I can’t believe I just told her that I loved her and wanted to be with her. That is so not how I expected to say that.

“Why are you crying Gracie?” She asks, sounding like a child.

“I’m crying because I don’t want to lose you. And I feel like I already am.” I explain, hoping she’ll understand. “And I’m crying because I am afraid to ask you something.”

Jaden ducks her head. “You’re not losing me. And you never have to be afraid of asking me anything. I’m sorry for not being able to be more open with you. I’ll try.” She looks up, hoping this will appease me. But it doesn’t.

“I need to ask you something.” I say, regaining my strength. She nods and narrows her eyes questioningly. “You told me we couldn’t go any further sexually until I knew what I was getting into. Now you tell me you can’t open up to me and tell me who you are. Does this mean you don’t want to make love to me? That you just want to be friends? Because I want to be your friend Jaden, but I don’t think that’s enough for me.”

Jaden grabs both of my shoulders and looks directly into my eyes. “Believe what I’m telling you right now Gracie.” She stares at me, pleading with me to believe her. I nod, and will myself not to start crying again. “Believe that the only reason I keep coming back to this pathetic part of the country is to see you. You know the first night we met?” I nod, how could I ever forget it? “That was completely by chance. I was in my hotel in Cleveland and I just had the urge to go out. I got in my car and drove almost an hour to a random bar, and there you were. But every other time after that was not by chance. Did you know that I drove hours and hours from different parts of the Midwest every time I was in this area to see you?” I squint my eyes; this is all news to me. She continues and I’m almost afraid of the intensity burning in her eyes. “That night in December when we were alone in the bar? I drove from Chicago in a snowstorm that night.”

I find my voice. “Jaden, Chicago is 6 hours away!” She smiles at me, but her eyes still are hard and intense.

“Now do you understand? That is how strongly I feel for you. I want to make love with you more than you know. But I’m afraid to let myself fall for you any harder than I already have.” She gentles her voice and her eyes change back to the soft colors I’ve become so fond of. “Gracie, I can’t lose you.”

My voice sounds stronger than I’ve ever heard it. “You won’t.”

Suddenly glancing around Jaden stands up and extends her hand to me. “Can we go somewhere more private?” She tilts her head indicating the few people now walking through the field hoping to get a glance of the bluebirds. I grasp her hand and allow her to pull me up.

“Yep. I told you this place gets busy after people get out of work. It’s almost 5:30, we have about an hour before we should go.” I tell her as we head for a well-worn trail. “There’s a nice place up here where we can sit and not be disturbed.” I can’t explain the peace I feel here, walking next to Jaden. Nature is our only company and her hand is in mine. Regardless of the past few hours, I am so content and I can tell Jaden is also. She’s walking with an easy swing to her long stride, and looking ahead down the path. I wonder if she realizes how much she glances at me, smiling in my direction. I feel hypersensitive to her this now, like my every nerve is acutely connected to hers.

Stepping on several large rocks to cross the shallow stream that runs across the path I veer to my left and Jaden follows. There is a small meadow here, hidden from the path by the trees, and it is soft and private to sit in. I fold my legs underneath me and sit next to the gently running water. Jaden appraises the surroundings and gives me a dazzling smile. She sits as close to me as possible and takes my hand in hers. Ahhh. This is more like it. I wish we could stay here forever.

I desperately want to know more of her, about her life and her past. I want her to talk to me. I am so confused about our discussion of a few minutes ago. As if she’s reading my mind, Jaden begins to softly speak, her low voice barely audible over the trickling of the water.

“I had a brother named Jonah.” I look at her in surprise, not really sure as to how she wants me to respond, so I say the first thing that comes to my mind.

“You both have really interesting names, Jonah and Jaden. Why did your parents choose them?”

“Jonah was named after my grandfather, my mother’s father. And I got my name for a completely different reason.” She doesn’t continue, so I raise my eyebrows at her to let her know I’m interested.

“I was supposed to be named after my grandmother, Katrina. When I was born my grandmother took one look at me and decided she didn’t want me named after her.” She smiles a wry smile.

“Why?” I ask, feeling a sudden surge of anger towards Jaden’s grandmother.

Jaden pats my arm, smiling at my protectiveness of her. “My grandmother said: “She’s only five minutes old and she looks as if she’s been jaded already!” Jaden laughs. “I guess I was a very stoic child, babies usually cuddle with their mother’s but I sat there pouting for the first few months of my life. My grandmother said I was upset that I was disturbed from my mother’s warm womb, and they all described me as jaded. The name just stuck, and I was dubbed Jaden.”

“Well, I think it’s a beautiful name.” I smile, thinking of a very crabby and pouting baby Jaden. “I bet you were adorable.”

She shrugs. “I guess.” She glances around, suddenly uncomfortable with her openness. I squeeze her hand and lean over, giving her a soft kiss. She relaxes under my touch and gently strokes my long hair.

“Tell me of your childhood. Where did you grow up?” I ask and Jaden nods as if she was expecting the question. Her eyes dart around, trying to avoid talking about herself. When she looks to me and sees my expectant face and the “I’m not backing down no matter how much you try to get out of this” look on my face, she sighs.

“I was born in Massachusetts. My mother was from Australia and my father was a photographer in New York City. They met on a shoot.” Jaden’s voice is remote, detached.

“You mother was a model?” Well, I guess I know where Jaden got her refined looks.

“Yep, she moved to the states when she was 18, met my father immediately and married him. She thought that since he was in the business that he could get her jobs. A year later my brother Jonah was born, and my father wasn’t exactly happy.”

“Why?”

“He loved his lifestyle, working with beautiful models by day and going out to clubs at night. An immigrant wife and young baby didn’t exactly fit into that.” I nod, now understanding. Her father’s a creep.

“My grandparents, my mother’s parents, were upset that my mother had married this jerk and had a child already at the age of 19. My father was very controlling and eventually my mother realized she wanted to leave him.”

“Wow, she was a brave woman.” Jaden shrugs and continues.

“So Jonah was 2, she was eight months pregnant with me, and she had no where to go. My grandparents flew in and they decided to stay in the states until after I was born. My mother wanted me to be born a United States citizen.”

“So how were you born in Massachusetts if your mother and father lived in New York City?” I ask, confused at Jaden’s intricate past.

“My father had a small house in a town called Newburyport. It is a port town on the ocean, and he allowed my mother ownership. That was in exchange that he never had to see us or pay child support.”

“Goddess Jaden, no offense, but your father’s an asshole.” Jaden surprises me with the loudness of her laughter and I giggle along with her.

“Yeah. I don’t think anyone has quite put it that way, but he is an asshole.” She finishes laughing, and resumes her story. I decide not to interrupt again, I can’t believe how open she’s being and I don’t want to jinx it.

“When I was about six months old we made the trip to Australia. We lived on my grandfather’s horse farm and my first memories are of being held on horseback by my grandmother while she taught riding lessons.”

“I can just see you on horseback! I bet you were so cute!” The words come out before I can stop myself. I really need to get better at this keeping my mouth shut thing.

For the first time I notice a slight blush creeping onto her face.

“I was a holy terror. My name really fit me; I felt like the world had a personal agenda against me. I used to run away and everyone would be searching the entire farm. They would find me a few hours later, braiding wild flowers into all the horses’ manes.”

“It sounds like you had a lovely childhood.”

She nods, but I notice her eyes softening to a soft, sad blue. “It was, in a way. My grandfather died when I was 8 and Jonah 10 and the farm was sold. I’ll never forget watching all the horses, my only friends, being loaded into different trailers to go to their new homes. It was one of the most difficult times in my life.”

“I understand.” I tell her softly, my own memories resurfacing. I push them away and concentrate on Jaden. I just want to hold her and tell her that I’m sorry she had to go through that pain at such a young age. But she seems so remote right now; I know she just needs to tell her story and feel the emotions raging through her.

We moved back to the states and lived in the house in Newburyport. My mother once again got the modeling bug and moved to LA. The modeling bug soon turned into the acting bug and all her schmoozing with important people she somehow landed a small part on a soap opera. My grandmother took care of Jonah and I, and I don’t think I saw my mother until I was 13. I was such a hellion and Jonah was such a goody-two-shoes. We were so different, he would study and do his homework while I would be ripping my school uniform and shaving my head! And this was when I was 10!”

I burst out laughing, picturing Jaden with a shaved head. This is hysterical. She pouts, trying to look hurt at the fact that I am laughing at her, but she gives it up and laughs herself.

“Anyway, I was a huge troublemaker at school. I had no friends and all I thought about was horses. My grandmother took a part time job to pay for lessons and I started working at a stable just to be around horses.”

A thought suddenly dawns on me. “Why don’t you have an accent if you were raised in Australia?” She smiles, ducking her head.

“You mean like this?” Her Aussie accent is flawless. Smoothly she resumes her normal speech. “The kids made fun of me for my accent, so it was easier to speak like an American. I fit in better, not that I care about fitting in, but people are always on your case if you have an accent. “Where are you from? What an interesting accent! Do you ever see kangaroos? You know, annoying things like that.”

I smile, knowing that anyone trying to ask Jaden a question like that would just get a glare or be ignored totally. I feel privileged to know the real Jaden.

“So, did you ever see kangaroos?” I ask and Jaden groans. I smile at her to let her know I’m just kidding.

“Bye mom.” I say to her retreating back as she leaves. Jaden, Lydia, and I are standing in the front yard with Bean. We all just look at each other, unsure what to do next.

Lydia breaks the silence. “Hey, Grace can I go over to Jana’s?” A loud clap of thunder interrupts her and we hastily retreat into the house before it starts pouring. “I didn’t ask mom because she would have said no, but can I go? She’s having a sleepover!”

Hmmmm, make Lydia stay here and be miserable or have her go and have Jaden all to myself? “Sure! I’ll drive you over right now, go get packed!” Lydia smiles and runs to her room, returning with her sleeping bag and her overnight bag.

“I knew you’d say yes.” She says, and I smile at her.

“Jaden, do you want to stay here or come with us? Jana just lives around the block and I’d make Lydia walk but I wouldn’t want her to melt in the rain.” I tease and Lydia sticks her tongue out at me.

“No, I’ll go.” Jaden says, grinning at Lydia. I’m glad they seem to like each other. I grab my keys and make a run for it in the rain. Opening my car I push the seat up so Lydia can climb in the back. Jaden struggles to fit herself into my small passenger seat and I shut my door and speed out of the driveway.

“Next time Grace, we’re taking the big girl car and I’m driving.” Jaden says as I fly around the corner.

“What do you mean?” I ask, insulted that she doesn’t like my car. I love my little blue Sunfire and I tell her that as I pat her dashboard. Jaden looks at me like I’m insane.

“She means that you drive like a madwoman.” Lydia helpfully pipes up from the backseat.

I glare at her in the rearview mirror. “Shut up you!” I tell her, and she rolls her eyes. We quickly drop her off at Jana’s and I speed home.

Jaden and I head for the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand, trailed by Bean. We snuggle on the couch for a while; listening to the rain caress the windows and I make the difficult decision to bring up the sensitive subject of Jaden’s past again.

“So, you never finished telling me. What happened after your mother moved back from LA?” I ask, and giggle about how we were interrupted before.

Jaden and I had been sitting contentedly at Mill Hollow talking about her childhood, when suddenly another couple obviously intent on making out found our hiding spot. The four of us stood there, staring at each other, until Jaden got up and said, “Here, you can sit here. We’re leaving.” And grabbed my hand, pulling me up to my feet. We giggled the entire way back down the trail, talking about how the girl was way too cute to be with that hairy man-beast she called her boyfriend. By the time we got out of the woods it was time to head back to my house.

Jaden shrugs and I feel her tense. “There isn’t really much to tell, I guess. My mother’s role on the soap ended; by that time she was 35 and couldn’t find anymore work. So she moved back to the house in Massachusetts, and that was about it.”

Something about Jaden’s tone makes me not believe her, and instead of pressing her I decide to let it go. She opened herself up to me so much today, I’m not going to scare her or push her away by being too demanding. Instead I lean in close to her and we share a tender kiss that holds a lot of promise.

I accept her answer and formulate a plan in my head. Heh, this could be fun. I just hope that I’m not rejected, but something tells me by the nature of that kiss that I won’t be. I quickly work the few steps of my plan out in my head. Deciding what I’m going to do I get up and head for my bedroom. Bean jumps down and follows me, and I know Jaden eventually will too.

“Grace? What are you doing?” Jaden asks after a few minutes of silence. I don’t reply as I shove my dirty clothes and other junk under the bed. Hastily, knowing she’ll get suspicious, I throw the covers on my bed and survey the room. I decide to put music on, choosing Sophie. Mood music.

“Grace?” She calls again, sounding worried. I chuckle under my breath and change my clothes.
Five minutes later:
What the heck is she doing? I’ve been calling her and she won’t answer me. Frustrated, I get up; searching the house in the vague direction she went. I hear music, and follow the sound. It sounds like Sophie B. Hawkins; she’s one of my favorites. I wrinkle my nose at an unfamiliar smell. It smells spicy and sweet at the same time, and once I get used to it, I kind of like it.

I get to the end of the hall and stop at the door that reads “Grace’s Room.” The sign is covered with bunnies and ducks and it looks like Grace made it when she was about five. It’s very cute.

I knock at the door. “Grace?” No answer. “Can I come in?” I know she’s in there, but she still doesn’t answer and I huff under my breath. I wait a few seconds more, and my patience finally runs out. “I’m coming in.” I open the door.

Oh.

My.

Good.

God.

Grace smiles a sweet smile. “Took you long enough. Lock the door.” I open my mouth but no sounds come out. I somehow manage to lock the door behind me.

“You like what you see?” She asks. I nod, knowing my mouth is hanging open like a codfish.

Grace is lying on her bed, wearing some kind of black lacy thing. Her golden hair is highlighted to a fiery red by the various candles she has lit throughout the room. Sophie sings from a small CD player in the corner and after I make a quick glance around the room my eyes are drawn back to Grace. She opens her arms to me and I fall into them, feeling for the first time her bare skin. She is warm and soft and everything I thought she would be.

She pouts. “You’re wearing too many clothes.” She gives me a little kick with her dainty foot and I get up from the bed. Her aqua eyes glisten with excitement as I pull my shirt over my head. She moans as I reveal my simple ivory bra. I smirk at her and repeat her question.

“You like what you see?” She looks at me as if I’m stupid, like I didn’t need to ask that at all. I start to unbutton my jeans and she shakes her head no.

“Why no?” I ask, confused.

She blushes. “I want to do it.” I raise my eyebrow, it seems I have a little sex kitten on my hands. Meow. I saunter over to her, noting how her hands tremble as she undoes my button fly jeans. I shake my hips, sending the jeans to the floor and her eyes look as if they will pop out from her head. She lies back and I gently lower myself on top of her. Her silky body feels wonderful against mine and I kiss her.

We kiss forever, or so it seems, grinding against each other and feeling each other’s bodies through our undergarments. I decide it’s time to move on, figuring we’ve had more foreplay than I’ve ever had. Hell, these past few days have been enough foreplay for me.

I sit up and release the front clasp of my bra. Grace’s delighted face when she sees my breasts is hysterical. She quickly gets over her shock and takes a nipple between her teeth. She sucks and nibbles my breast as I run my hands through her thick hair, pulling her face closer to me.

She moves on to my other breast and I moan when she takes my aching nipple into her mouth. I lower the straps on her silky garment and lower it around her hips. Her breasts are perfect, so soft and white, with hard pink nipples. I brush my thumb over them, and hearing her moan of approval, I squeeze them. I am amazed at how intensely I feel for her, I never want to stop touching her. Usually I treat sex as a way to get off, a stress relief, but with Grace I want to make it last forever.

“Stand up.” I tell her, my voice husky. She does and her outfit falls to the floor. She is standing naked in front of my now, every line and curve of her flawless body revealed to me. She looks embarrassed and I tilt her chin so she looks in my eyes.

“Grace, you are gorgeous.” She smiles with tears in her eyes. “Why are you crying?” I ask her, and she shakes her head from side to side. “Don’t cry.” I tell her, running my hands up and down her full body. I am amazed how differently she looks without clothes on. She is fuller, rounder, and womanlier that she appears in clothes. I admire her little belly, her toned calf muscles and soft thighs, the gentle curve of her breasts and graceful neck.

She kisses me eagerly, pulling down my underwear and I kick it from around my feet. We move to the bed and lay next to each other, our lips never parting. I pull away from her, concerned about her teary eyes, and look at her. She furrows her brow, confused as to why I am stopping. I run my hands up and down her arms and shoulders, making sure she really wants to do this.

“Don’t you want to have sex?” She asks, her voice low and full of confusion.

“Of course I do.” I say, smiling at her.

“Then fuck me.”

Needless to say, I am shocked. I haven’t heard Grace curse before, and never has anything turned me on like she just did. A jolt of arousal goes straight to my groin and I pull her on top of me, opening my legs. We moan into each other’s mouths as our lower halves meet for the first time. Thrusting into each other excitedly she attacks my neck with her mouth and I run my nails up and down her back.

“Grace?” I muster, finding it difficult to talk with her mouth attached to my breast.

“Hmm?” She mumbles; her mouth latched onto my nipple.

“What do we need to do as far as safe sex?” She looks up to me as she continues her wonderful assault on my breast. “I haven’t been with anyone since the last time I was tested, and everything was fine.” I tell her, wanting nothing more than to keep her safe. She nods happily, removing her mouth and slowly kissing down my stomach. “Oh God Grace.” She feels amazing.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve always used protection.” She continues kissing my stomach, slowly moving down to my thighs. I moan as she licks my thighs, her mouth out of control. She is nibbling and licking every part of my inner thigh, each time moving closer to the place I want her mouth the most. I wrap my hands in her hair and direct her head gently. She laughs. “A little hasty, aren’t we?” She asks, her blue-green eyes dilated with arousal. I nod as she crawls back up to me, pillowing our breasts together. “Jaden, I want to lick you but I don’t know how.” She admits, a tad bashfully, “I’ve never done this before.”

Ah. A lesbian virgin. Wow. “Don’t worry, it’s easy.” I tell her, flipping her onto her side. I need to touch her, to taste her, before I die. Without warning I stroke between her moist thighs. She moans, taking her bottom lip between her teeth, a habit of hers I find very cute. She opens her legs to allow me better access and traces her hand down my body to touch me. She mimics every action I make, I part her wet folds and gently touch her clit, and she does the same to me. We both cling onto each other as our hips pump wildly in the other’s hand. I am quiet, she softly moaning with every touch. Her ocean-colored eyes bore into mine as I lean to kiss her. She is bringing me so close, so fast, and my hips buck. I rub her harder and faster, desperate to bring her over the edge.

“Oh yes girl, please.” She moans, never once slowing her hand as she touches me. I am getting so close and I want to make her come before I do. I stop touching her and she lets out a scream of frustration.

“Shhh. Patience.” I whisper, removing her hand from between my legs. I lay halfway on top of her, from this position I can kiss her and touch her at the same time. I love feeling her hips buck as her clit demands more attention. I know she’s now close; her eyes clenched shut and mouth parted. I lean to her ear and whisper to her. “Come for me Grace. I want to make you come.” She moans and moves her hips faster and faster.

“Jaden.” She says desperately. “Fuck me, please.” She pulls me completely on top of her, my hand situated between her legs and our breasts pressed together. She pleads with her beautiful eyes as she moves her hips. I slowly follow her rhythm, my hips moving in time with hers and my fingers thrusting in and out of her. Every thrust I rub her clit, sending her over the edge. She trembles and kisses me, releasing my mouth to moan. “Oh Jaden, oh girl….yes..”

She is still. I gently remove my fingers and kiss her softly.

“Hold me.” She simply demands. “Please?” I pull her against me, feeling her breathing slow and heart rate return to normal. “Jaden, that was incredible, thank you.” She closes her eyes and I smile at her look of complete contentment. I kiss the top of her head and snuggle into her, enjoying the feeling of her next to me.

One aqua eye opens. I smile at her and she grins, wrinkling her nose and shutting her eye again. Grace is beautiful, not in any supermodel way, but simply beautiful. She yawns and opens both eyes, stretching like a lazy cat. I cup one breast as she arches her back. She smirks and takes my hand from her breast and puts it in her mouth, licking herself off the hand that just fucked her senseless.

Oh my. That is really hot. She removes my hand from her mouth and sits up. Like she’s stalking me, she crawls on her knees towards my thighs. I narrow my eyes at her and grin slowly, hoping to portray an “I really want you to touch me” look. It seems to work, because without any warning she is parting my thighs and licking my clit. Oh dear God. For never doing this before she certainly is good at it. She slides two fingers inside of me, not once stopping her torturous licking. I feel like I’m going to pass out, she is everywhere and I feel surrounded by her warmth and love. I’m so turned on and she’s so incredible that it doesn’t take me long to come and I’m screaming out her name. I wrap my hands in her hair as I plateau and then pull her onto my chest. I feel like I’m having a heart attack. My chest painfully constricts and my entire lower body is throbbing.

“Was that okay?” She asks in a small voice, concerned that she didn’t do it right.

“Sweetheart, that was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.” I squeak out, still panting from my orgasm. I feel her smile against my breast and we lie in silence, drifting in and out of sleep, and tracing meaningless designs with our fingertips on each other’s bodies.

My last conscious thought is how much I feel for her. I haven’t felt anything for anyone in a long time, and by chance I meet this amazing kid who has changed my life. I smile, remembering how natural it felt to walk with her at Mill Hollow, the soft sound of her breathing lulling me to sleep.

“Jaden.” I feel her nudge me. I raise my hand, waving her off. “JADEN.” Nudge. She shakes my shoulder. “Wake up, I think my mother’s home!”

Crap. It was so nice and comfy to lay here with her as my human blanket. We scurry out of bed and re-dress, blowing out the dwindling candles and turning off the long-stopped CD player. We just make it to the couch as Grace’s father walks in. I sigh, I really hate schmoozing with people, but I know that it’s for the best. I hate feeling like we have to sneak around behind her parent’s backs though. I feel like I’m in high school again.

“Dad!” Grace says with a surprise. “I was expecting mom.” He smiles and looks at me, confusion on his handsome face. “Oh, this is my friend Jaden. She’s here for the week.”

We say our introductions and then he excuses himself to his study. Grace looks at me and sighs and I know she’s just as upset about being interrupted as I am. Then, before we can begin to speak about what just happened, the door opens and Grace’s mother comes in.

“Oh hello girls!” She greets us with a chipper voice. I wonder if Grace knows how fake her mother is. I’m sure she does, my Grace isn’t stupid. “It’s so late girls, Jaden you probably should be getting back to your hotel. Grace does need her sleep, and she never gets to bed early when working at that awful bar. It’s so nice for Rick to give her a night off once and awhile. Did you enjoy your night off Grace? Where’s Lydia? She convinced you to let her go to that Jana’s house, didn’t she? She doesn’t think I know about it, but I keep it in mind to know what’s going on in my daughter’s lives.” Debbie finishes, looking at me.

Jesus Christ, I feel like a fish being circled by a shark. This woman is evil. I take her hint and stand up; agreeing that it’s late and I should be heading back. Grace looks torn between asking me to stay and disobeying her mother and I try to give her a sympathetic smile.

“Thanks for today Grace, I had a great time.” She smiles at me and I can tell she thinks I’m upset with her. I’m upset with her evil mother, but it’s not Grace’s fault. I smile at Debbie, thinking the entire time that two can play at this game and I know I’m a lot scarier than Debbie could ever be. “Nice to see you again Ms. McKenzie.” I head for the door.

“Jaden, why don’t you join us for breakfast tomorrow. I’m sure my husband would love to get to know you before he leaves for work. Be here around 7:00?”

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I say to myself, not wanting Grace to be in this woman’s clutches any more than she already has too. “Sure, I’d love too.” I tell her, smiling. This pacifies her and she heads down the hall.

As soon as her mother is out of earshot Grace speaks. “You don’t have to come, she’s just being herself.” I take her hand in mine.

“Grace, every minute spent with you is worth having to listen to your mother’s grating voice.” I lower my voice, not wanting to get her in trouble. “Today was incredible. I’ll never forget how your lips feel on mine.” I tell her before heading out into the rainy night.

As I drive away I see her in the window, waving. I wave back and head for my lonely hotel room.
Part 3

May 9, 2000.
Breakfast went as I thought it would. Grace’s dad was okay, very dull, but a nice guy. Grace’s mother, however, I am convinced is not just evil, but the devil incarnate. She does nothing but stifle Grace, making nasty comments on everything she eats and says. This turns Grace into this quivering little girl desperate to please her mother, which makes me really pissed.

Grace looks nothing like her entire family. Her mother and sister are both tall with dark brown hair and eyes, and Grace’s father is tall with hair similar to Grace’s in color and dark eyes. So where did really short, blue-green eyed Grace come from? Strange.

Grace’s mother keeps trying to get me to talk about myself. I can tell this is making Grace upset, so I answer as little as I can and play with Grace’s foot under the table. I also sneak playful looks to her whenever I can, just to cheer her up. But she seems to be ignoring me as much as she can, instead focusing on taking small and ladylike bites of her breakfast. I can tell how uncomfortable she is so I eat as fast as I can and after breakfast we excuse ourselves and bolt out of the house.

The rain from last night has carried over to this morning, squelching our plans for Sea World. We get into my car and I start the ignition, waiting for her to talk.

“Want to go to the mall?” Grace asks, and I shrug. I’m not a fan of shopping, but there isn’t much else to do on a rainy spring day.

She directs me to the mall and I find that Grace seems hell bent on buying something, anything. I know she’s in a bad mood and shopping must be how she copes with it. I say nothing and follow her to what must be the tenth clothing shop in less than a half an hour. She hasn’t bought anything yet, but tried on various outfits, to which I ohhhed and ahhed all of them. Of course, I’m not stupid. Tell a woman she looks bad in anything is a one way ticket out the door. Not that Grace could ever look bad in anything.

She finally decides on a bluish dress, and claiming she needs something to wear for the summer she buys it. Leaving the store, she is now visibly more relaxed. “Ohh! Can we?” Grace asks, pointing at the small photo booth. I smile at her and nod, and heading over we discover that for a dollar we get four instant black and white pictures. I put four quarters in and we sit in the booth. The first picture is sweet; we smile at the camera with our arms around each other. The second picture I have fun, licking the side of Grace’s cheek. The third picture is her grossed-out face in response to her wet cheek and me laughing hysterically. The fourth picture is an all out make-out session, resulted in me grabbing her after the third picture was taken and kissing her deeper than I ever have.

We don’t get out of the booth immediately, enjoying our kiss. The pictures begin to print loudly and we get out of the booth to retrieve them. Grace grabs them, and squeals with glee.

“Jaden, look at this one!” She says, pointing to the first picture. It’s a great shot; we both look thrilled to be with each other. The second picture is my favorite; the look of surprise and confusion on Grace’s face as I lick her cheek is great. “I love this one!” She says and points to the third picture. That one is by far the best, Grace’s nose is wrinkled up and you can just picture her saying “What in the hell did you do THAT for?” But the fourth picture, that’s a definite keeper. Grace sees it and is silent. She looks at me, smiling softly, her eyes shining. “We look beautiful.” I nod, agreeing with her. We sure do.

I glance at my watch. It’s 9:30 and the mall is getting more crowded. It seems like people in Ohio love their local mall. “I have an idea.” I tell her, hoping she’ll agree.
An hour later:
We settle in Jaden’s hotel room and laugh as my stomach growls. I blush and tell her apologetically, “I hardly ate this morning.”

“I know.” She answers, frowning. “Grace, your mother has no right to comment on what you eat. You are beautiful regardless if you’re a size 4 or size 24.”

I smile at her, but my eyes are sad. “I know that, but my mother is ruthless. My entire life she’s been on me about being overweight.”

“Well, you’re not overweight and even if you were it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how you feel about yourself.” Jaden takes her small purse and digs into her wallet. “Let’s get rid of all this spare change. You feel like taking a trip to the vending machines?” She smiles, and I answer her smile with one of my own.
“Do you even have to ask?” I say, and beat her to the door.

10 minutes and more calories than I’d like to imagine later, we are sprawled on the bed, a mountain of junk food between us. I call dibs on the Baked Lays potato chips and the Ho Ho’s, and Jaden happily takes the Butterfinger and pretzels. Several cans of pop lay chilling in the ice bucket as we snack and take turns feeding each other tidbits. I flip through the television, and finally settle on a repeat of ER. I love ER.

“Do you ever watch ER?” I ask and Jaden shakes her head.

“I hardly ever watch TV, honestly.” She answers.

“Why?” I ask, wondering why anyone wouldn’t watch TV.

“I always feel like a loser, sitting by myself and watching TV.” She says, smiling as she feeds me a pretzel.

“Well, you’re not a loser.” I tell her. I smile and wiggle my eyebrows. “Besides, Carol Hathaway is hot.”

Jaden laughs. “Who is Carol Hathaway?” I put my hand to my chest and feign surprise.

“You don’t know who Carol Hathaway is?” Jaden shakes her head. “Watch and learn my friend.” I tell her as I turn my attention back to the TV, eager to point her out to Jaden.

I glance over at Jaden, noticing a stray piece of chocolate on her full lower lip. I reach over and remove it with my mouth, and gently kiss her lips. All thoughts of ER, our snacks, and Carol Hathaway are lost as she returns my kiss hungrily and rolls on top of me.

This afternoon was fun. After an amazing morning in Jaden’s hotel room we decided to go to a matinee movie to avoid the rain. We sat in the back of the mostly-empty theater and made out like teenagers. We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to stay for a couple of other movies too, sneaking into them after they had begun. I’m not really sure what we saw because we were otherwise occupied. I don’t think I will ever be able to sit through a movie again without thinking of Jaden’s lips, salty from popcorn.

Emerging from theater I squint as my eyes adjust to the sun. The sun! I look up to find that the rain is gone, the sun is shining, and I can tell it’s going to be a beautiful evening. Jaden knows what I’m thinking and smiles at me as we walk to her Explorer.

“How about some ice cream?” I ask, wanting something sweet after all that popcorn.

“You read my mind.” She answers, and we head for Dairy Queen.

I watch, mesmerized by Jaden’s tongue. She slowly swirls it around her butter pecan ice cream cone. She knows I am staring so of course, she begins putting on a show. Nibbling, licking, and caressing the soft ice cream is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t tear my eyes away from her until I realize my chest is getting cold. I look down and see bright orange and white ice cream spots on my lavender shirt.

“Arugh! Damn it!” I say, furiously dabbing at my shirt with my stack of napkins. Jaden thinks this is funny and almost chokes, she is laughing so hard. “Serves you right for teasing me like that!” I spit out at her, attempting to clean my shirt and hold my dripping cone at the same time. She takes pity on me and takes my cone for me. I get out of the car and run inside to the bathroom.

Returning, with a wet and spotted shirt, I get in the passenger side of the Explorer with only a little difficulty. Jaden hands me my ice cream and immediately looks the other way. It seems to be suspiciously lower than I remember eating, and Jaden looks guilty. I lean over to inspect her mouth.

“Just as I thought orange and vanilla traces on the corners of your mouth. Let me smell your breath.” She obediently opens her mouth. “Uh huh.” I say thoughtfully. “Now, one final test. Hold still.” She raises a dark eyebrow, wondering what I’m up too. I am really glad we are in an empty Dairy Queen parking lot as I ravish her mouth. Oh yeah. She defiantly ate my ice cream, as if there was any doubt. I deepen the kiss, forgetting all about the ice cream.

“Gracie, urmph. Stop!” Jaden barks and I pull away from her, just a little more than pissed off at being interrupted from my seduction.

“What?” I ask tersely. Jaden motions to her ice cream covered hands and I see that it has dripped all down the front of her and onto her pants. “Ohh.” That’s all I can muster. I narrow my eyes at her. “Open the window, throw the cones outside. Now.” She looks surprised at my demanding tone, but complies and does as I say. She barely has time to put the window back up when I make my move.

“What are you doing?” She asks, as I crawl into the Explorer’s huge back seat. I smirk at her and flip the latch to fold the seats down. She catches on quickly and tries to crawl through also, but she is too tall. I can’t help but chuckle at the sight of her surly face when she realizes it isn’t going to work. She finally gives up and gets out the drivers side, letting herself in the back through the back hatch.

“Not making fun of me being short now, are you?” I tease her. I thank the Goddess that the windows are slightly tinted as I push her down. I kneel between her legs and pin her sticky hands above her head. She moans into my mouth as I kiss her hungrily, pressing myself into her. I kiss my way down her neck, worshipping her sweet and salty skin. She groans, urging me on and I shake my head, scolding her for her stained shirt.

“My what a messy girl you’ve been.” I say to her and she stifles a grin. “Well, I guess we’ll have to get you cleaned up.” I bring her fingers to my mouth and swirl my tongue around each sticky finger, much like she was doing with her ice cream. She groans and I smirk at her. Removing her fingers, I chide her. “Do you see how rude it is to tease?” She nods and closes her eyes. She is concentrating fully on everything I am doing, and I like it that way.

I finish one hand and bring the other to my lips. If possible, this tastes even better and I moan at the heady combination of Jaden’s skin, and the different flavors of ice cream hit my taste buds. Jaden’s answering moan floors me from my head to between my legs and I can’t help but grind myself into her as I suck her fingers.

“Jesus Christ Gracie, don’t stop.” She says, thrusting her hips to meet mine. Stop? I couldn’t stop if God himself threw a bucket of cold water on me. I lean to kiss Jaden again and find myself being flipped, with her now on top of me. She raises a triumphant eyebrow and I know I’m in for trouble. Big, big trouble, but the nice kind trouble.

Jaden’s soft breasts are pressed against mine and I have the overpowering urge to touch them. I claw frantically at her soft gray shirt, vaguely aware of her kissing down my neck. I almost jolt upright when I feel her hand stroking between my legs. Jaden chuckles into my neck and I respond by pumping my hips into her hand. Oh Goddess, I can’t believe how good this feels. And with her perfect timing, (note sarcasm here), Jaden stops.

I sigh and close my eyes, wondering what her reason is now, thinking it better be damn good.

“Um, Grace?” She asks, her voice strained.

“What?”

“Isn’t that your mom over there?”

I vaguely remember telling Jaden to drive and drive fast when I remember she can’t crawl back up through the seats. I curse and squeeze through myself, turning on the big Explorer and throwing it into drive. “Goddamned son of a bitch. Fucking bitch. I can’t have a freaking mother fucking moment of peace and fucking quiet without her goddamned snooping.”

I tear out of the parking lot and speed through town, hoping the one or two cops on duty are fishing at the pier like usual. Jaden is bouncing around in the back, and over my cursing I can hear her laughter.

I drive like the crazed madwoman I am until I am a few miles outside of town. I pull over to the side of the road and allow a Jaden nearly hysterical-with-laughter back into the driver’s seat. She looks at me like I’ve gone crazy, and I honestly think I have. I am fuming, my face red and hands clenched. She says nothing and simply cups my cheek in her palm, her eyes expressing a “Don’t worry, everything will be fine look.” It’s amazing what she can convey to me with a simple look and touch and I sigh, releasing my tension.

I feel better as I climb into the car. Jaden looks at me fondly. “Are you alright?” I nod to her, a small smile on my face. I know I’m overreacting. My mother really doesn’t know Jaden’s car, and she wasn’t even headed in our direction. Still, it was almost enough to drive me insane.

“That was your sister with her, right?” She asks and I nod my head yes. “Dumb question, but why would your mother control everything you eat and then take your sister for ice cream?”

“I don’t know.” I answer honestly. “That’s how it’s always been. I love Lydia to death and it’s not her fault but my mother treats her completely different than she treats me. Lydia has always been able to eat whatever she wants, say whatever she wants, and kind of have her own social life. I was always told exactly what to do and what to say and what to eat.” I shrug, I’ve thought about this before and it never makes any sense to me.

“That isn’t right.” Jaden says, her voice angry. I pat her arm, grateful that she cares but knowing she can’t do anything about it. Jaden looks thoughtful and pensive, and I can’t help but wonder what is brewing in her intelligent mind.

“Where too?” Jaden asks, changing the subject.

“My house.” She looks confused, but drives on. I am desperate to finish what I started in the Dairy Queen parking lot and I know my house will be deserted.

We arrive at my house and Jaden excuses herself to the bathroom to clean up while I take Bean outside to potty. Coming back in the house I find a note from my mother on the table.

Grace-

I picked Lydia up after school and we’re going shopping to get new clothes for our trip. If you get this before I get home please try to clean up the house a bit. And tell Jaden hello for me, why don’t you girls have dinner here? I’ll pick something up and we’ll eat around 8:00 so you’ll have time before you go to work. Please be here and bring Jaden.

-Mom

I snort. “Jeez, she’s really turning it on strong for you.” I tell Jaden as she comes up behind me. Jaden cocks her head, reminding me of Bean when she hears something interesting. “My mom hates all of my friends, except Scott of course. For her to invite you for dinner and welcome you to stay means she really likes you!”

Hearing Scott’s name, Jaden purses her lips in disgust. “What trip is your mom talking about?” She asks, noting the letter.

“They are taking a cruise on Sunday, May 30th for 12 days.” I tell her, smiling to let her know that is good news. “I somehow convinced my mother that I couldn’t go.” I get up my nerve and continue. “I was hoping you could come and visit for that time, but that was before I knew you were visiting now and I know you couldn’t take that much time off of work.” I finish, and Jaden looks thoughtful.

“Probably not.” She says, smiling sadly. “But you never know.” She adds, much to my delight.

I look down at ice cream stained shirt. “I should probably get out of this.” I tell her, pointing out the stains. She nods in agreement. “Want to help?” I ask hopefully and she chuckles.

I take her hand and lead her to my bedroom. Shutting and locking the door behind me I glance at the clock and see that it’s almost 5:00 so we should have plenty of time before my mother gets home.

Suddenly nervous I hug Jaden, feeling her comforting warmth. I breathe her in, wanting to never forget her scent or the feel of her against me.

“What’s wrong sweetheart?” She asks, her face tinged with concern.

“Nothing.” I tell her, not wanting to ruin the moment. “I just need you.” I tell her and she lifts me onto my bed.

“And I need you.” She answers before moving her lips down to mine. We kiss and it’s like we’ve been kissing forever. Her mouth fits perfectly against mine as her tongue gently caresses my mouth. She eases her weight onto me and our bodies meld together. I eagerly move my hands beneath her shirt, feeling the strong muscles in her back as she writhes against me.

Surprised at my suaveness I manage to unclasp her bra strap while enjoying her kisses on my neck. Gracefully she removes her shirt, leaving her satin black bra dangling from her shoulders. I remove it, taking in the splendors that are her breasts. I could write books about her breasts, novels about her nipples, chapters about her….I giggle at that thought and she quirks her eyebrows at me.

“Something funny?” She asks, as I collapse into giggles beneath her.

“You don’t want to know.” I tell her, pulling her down to me. She looks as if she’s going to ask again until I take her breast to my mouth and tenderly kiss it. We somehow then manage to discard the rest of my clothing and sigh with happiness as our naked bodies meet again.

She grinds herself into me and I lower my hand and place it between us. Finding her wetness I shudder with desire and gently push my fingers into her. She moans into my mouth and opens her legs wider to accommodate my probing fingers. I push them in and out of her, stopping to rub her swollen clit with each thrust. She is frantically pumping her hips into my hand while sucking my neck. This is so hot, she is on top of me, grinding into me as I touch her and I can’t help but think how different this is from doing anything sexual with Scott. Pushing that nasty thought out of my mind I concentrate on the beautiful woman on top of me. A few more thrusts and rubs and Jaden is coming, her voice gravelly and low in my ear as she groans my name. She spasms a few seconds more before coming to rest, her body draping over mine.
May 11, 2000.
I can’t believe it’s Thursday. I’m upset, to say the least, about Jaden leaving tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had a wonderful time together, but I don’t want her to leave. After making wonderful love on Tuesday we had an uncomfortable dinner with my family. I mean, how difficult is it to sit with your ultra-conservative parents who are grilling the woman you’ve just had in your bed, knowing that if they find out they will kill both you and said woman? Talk about stress. But after dinner was really nice, we ended up going for a long walk around Mill Hollow with Bean. It was a beautiful evening, and perfect for a late-night stroll.

And yesterday was a blast! We did go to Sea World and see all the shows. It was so much fun, the dolphins are so cute, but the killer whales are my favorite. Jaden loves the sea lions, so I think we sat through the sea lion show about four times. She’s so childlike sometimes, and I love when that part of her comes out.

While we were at Sea World, Jaden noted the roller coaster tracks across the lake. I had to tell her that it is Geauga Lake, another amusement park. Before I could tell her that it’s fun, but nothing like Cedar Point she had dragged me over there and we were standing in line. I think I have a coaster junkie on my hands!

I pull into the parking lot of Jaden’s Holiday Inn, bright and early. She answers the door, looking well rested, which I don’t see how because it’s a three hour drive and we didn’t get back from Geauga Lake until 2am.

“Hey” I greet her as she steps back to let me in. She looks nice, in boot cut jeans that hug her curvy hips and flare at the bottom to cover her well-worn Doc Martens. Her light cranberry long-sleeved shirt accentuates her dark hair. She smiles at me and I notice the light traces of makeup she has put on. She looks younger than her 27 years this morning, and I give in to my urge to kiss her, enjoying the taste of her vanilla-flavored lipstick.

After we break from our kiss I review her outfit. “You gonna be comfortable walking around in those all day?” I ask, nodding my head towards her boots. We’ve decided to go into Cleveland today and go to an Indians game.

“Yes mom.” She jokes, shutting the door behind me. “You look really pretty.” She says, noting my comfy khaki cargo pants, white t-shirt and blue pullover sweatshirt. I blush slightly and duck my head.

“Thanks, so do you.” I mumble, extending my hand, offering her the bag I brought. “I come bearing gifts.” Jaden’s eyes light up as she opens the bag. “I hope you like doughnuts, I didn’t know what you wanted for breakfast.” She places her hand on the small of my back, leading me over to the small table in the corner of her room. I can’t explain the electrical charge that overwhelms me when she touches me. It’s more than a sexual thing; it’s like a primeval urge just to be near her. Every touch makes me want to crawl next to her and stay forever.

“Thanks for breakfast, this is great.” She tells me through a mouthful of jelly doughnut. I should have known she would have liked those; we seem to have completely different tastes in food. Myself, you couldn’t get me to eat a jelly doughnut if you paid me. I much prefer chocolate cream sticks, or those yummy ladyfinger things.

Jaden makes coffee with her in-room coffeemaker and offers me some. I wrinkle my nose in disgust and pull out a can of pop from my book bag. She shakes her head at me as she stirs her coffee. “That stuff will kill you. Do you know how bad soda is for you?”

I furrow my brows at her. “Soda? Who calls it soda? It’s called pop.” I say, opening my Coke and taking a healthy swallow. “Besides, I have a pop addiction. I can’t help it and I’ll never change.” I smirk at her, thoroughly enjoying the mixture of the tangy Coke and sweet pastries. I don’t miss Jaden’s eyes roll as she watches me eat and I respond by sticking out my tongue.

“Promise?” She asks, regarding my tongue. I blush and duck my head, pretending to ignore her as she licks the jelly out of her doughnut in a very familiar way.

We head out to the parking lot after breakfast. “Want me to drive?” I ask, indicating my little car parked next to her Explorer.

Jaden walks towards the Explorer. “No thanks Speed Racer, I like to get places in one piece.” She smiles and adds, “What else did I say last time you drove? Oh right, let’s take the big girl car.” She condescendingly pats my head and unlocks the doors. I stifle a groan and climb in, hating her tall car that makes it so difficult for my 5’2″ stature to get in and out.

“You are such a brat. You just do this to drive me crazy.” I tell her, and she ignores me. She’s really good at that. Don’t get me wrong, Jaden isn’t rude by any means, but she can ignore me really well. I know she hears me, but she just doesn’t choose to always respond.

After dealing with traffic, we make it into the city within an hour. I direct Jaden to a parking garage and we leave the Explorer. I grab my book bag, loaded down with everything I might possibly need today, or every day for the rest of my life. Jaden notes my heavy load and offers to carry something. She brought a small bag herself, containing only the essentials.

“No, I’m just a pack mule.” I say as I shrug on the heavy bag. She looks at me funny, waiting for me to explain. “Everyone always teases me because I bring a bag everywhere and it’s always loaded down.” She smirks at me as she feels the weight of my bag. “I just like to be prepared!” I defend myself and she says nothing as she switches bags with me. “Jaden, you don’t have to carry that, I’m used to it.”

“Gracie, this bag easily weighs almost as much as you do. I’m not going to have you collapsing in back pain all around Cleveland, okay?” She finishes, her voice definitive. I sigh, she’s using her policewoman no-nonsense tone and I don’t bother to argue. I thank her and she smiles, knowing she’s won and we walk out into the Cleveland sun.
Later that evening:
“YOU SUCK! YOU COULDN’T MAKE A GOOD CALL IF IT SLAPPED YOU ON THE ASS!” Grace finishes, to a round of cheers. She’s a big hit here at the game, much to her delight.

With the insults she’s hurling at the umpire, I’d be surprise if she doesn’t get us thrown out of the game. She gives a little bow to her crowd of admirers, nearly spilling her soda.

Finally sitting down, she grins at me. She looks so cute, her red-gold hair tousled and wind-blown; and her pert nose sunburned from our days outside. I return her smile and squeeze her hand.

The home of the Cleveland, Indians is a nice stadium. It offers a beautiful view of the Cleveland skyline, which really consists of three tall buildings. Nothing like the skyline Boston boasts. Grace’s father had tickets for the game tonight, and we are sitting in great seats on the first base line.

“Aren’t these kickass seats?” Grace asks, echoing my thoughts.

“Yep.” I answer. “Your father has connections, huh?”

“He knows everyone.” She says, and suddenly shivers. I hand her my jacket that she gratefully accepts. The wind has picked up, making for a more interesting game. The outfielders are having a hell of a time judging where to catch the fly balls. “Did you ever play?” Grace asks, indicating the game below.

“Yeah.” I laugh at the memory. “Jonah and I played all the time as kids, it was great.”

She smiles at me. “I played in high school. Softball, of course. I was a catcher, but I always wanted to play second base.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because we had an all-state second baseman, my best friend Jackie.” She giggles. “Besides, I had fun wearing all the catcher equipment.”

I laugh with her, I can just picture her tiny form enveloped by a ton of catcher gear.

The loud CRACK of a bat hitting a ball snaps our attention back to the field. The ball careens towards us and I instinctively throw my hand in the air, snapping the ball out of the sky. The crowd around us groans, disappointed on missing their chance to catch the foul ball. Grace is screaming, hanging onto me and jumping up and down.

“Jaden, I can’t believe you caught that! You’re like Dottie Hinson from A League of Their Own!” She says excitedly. I have no idea who she is talking about.

“No big deal.” I tell her as I toss her the ball.

“Thanks!” Her eyes are shining, as if I just gave her the best present ever. I take one look into her striking sea-colored eyes and I know I’m done for. This kid has my heart and soul on a platter.

“Jesus Christ, Jaden.” I tell myself. “What am I going to do now?”
Part 4

May 12, 2000.
Empty. Cold. The only way I can describe how I feel. On her way to the airport Jaden dropped me off at my house. I watched her drive away. We really didn’t say goodbye, she gently kissed me and said she’d see me soon. For the first time in my life I couldn’t think of anything to say. I numbly kissed her back and dragged myself out of the Explorer.

Now I’m sitting on my front steps, knowing that once I enter my house my fantasy life of the past few days will disappear and realty will come crashing down. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet, hence me sitting on the cold front stairs.

Crickets softly chirp. It’s four in the morning, the sky clear and quiet. I shiver as a cool breeze blows through my front yard, the morning dew cold against my skin. Wrapping my arms around my legs, I can’t help but notice how my butt is freezing. The cold concrete I am sitting on sends a chill through my entire body.

I take my lower lip between my teeth and bite down, willing myself not to cry. I am so cold. I miss Jaden’s warmth; I can still feel her near me. But it’s not enough; her ghostly presence is no comparison to the real thing. Last night was incredible; after the game we went back to her hotel room. I awoke sometime after we made love to find her long body curled around mine, her hand possessively cupping my breast. Sensing a change, she pulled me even closer to her, and I fell back asleep feeling her warm breath softly blowing in my hair.

I can still hear the gentle low tones of her laughter; this morning she woke me by kissing my eyelids, cheeks, mouth, and neck. Never a morning person, especially at 3am, I awoke rather grumpily regardless of her lovely wake-up call. She laughed at me then, and called me a crab.

A flash of blue in the distance distracts me from my thoughts. I squint my eyes, trying to focus on the color better. It is barely visible in the dark morning, and as quickly as it has appeared, it is gone again. I stand quickly, ignoring the sharp pain from my numb lower body. I scan the horizon, not finding the color anywhere. Memories of bluebirds and Jaden filter through my head as I make a sudden decision.

I’m going to the airport.

I speed faster than I ever have, determined to make record time to Cleveland/Hopkins Airport. There is no traffic at this hour, and once I hit the turnpike I slow, wary of the cops who love to stop the poor traveler late for their plane.

I reach the airport in thirty minutes, and park haphazardly in the short-term parking. I know Jaden’s flying US Airways; I saw the tags on her bag.

Bolting to the terminal I scan the departures screen. There is a 6:00am departing flight to Boston. That has to be it. Gate B4.

The airport is packed, vacationers and crying babies, scared dogs in cargo kennels, and businessmen and women walking quickly to their gates. I stand in the security check line, fidgeting as I check my watch every few minutes.

I make it to Gate B4 at 5:13am and I search the crowd for Jaden. I don’t see her. Oh Goddess, what if I have the wrong flight? I decide to ask the US Airways representative at the counter if Jaden Phillips has checked in.

“I’m sorry dear, I can’t help you. We can’t give out that kind of information.” He looks sympathetic, his lively brown eyes and wrinkled face reminding me of my grandfather.

“Please, she’s a friend of mine and I need to say goodbye to her.” I plead with him, my eyes filling with tears. It must work, because he smiles at me and after making sure no one else is around, he rapidly types on his computer. My fingers drum on the counter in rhythm with his typing.

“Miss, she is on this flight to Boston, and she has already checked in.” He says, his voice low and secretive. I smile and impulsively grab his hand.

“Thank you.” I tell him sincerely, and he nods.

“Good luck to you.” He says as I squeeze his hand. He gently grasps mine and releases it, his dark eyes twinkling.

I still can’t find Jaden. Where in the hell is she? I know she had to return her rental car, but I would expect her here by now. I sigh and find an empty seat at the gate, anxiously searching the busy airport traffic for any sign of her.

I feel her before I can see her. My neck tingles, and for the first time since she left I feel warm inside. I turn my head, and see my Goddess. She looks upset, her normally proud posture slumped, and shoulders sagged. Still, she has an effect on everyone that sees her, men and women alike doing a double take as she passes them by. My girl is quite a looker, and I am surprised how angry yet secretively pleased I am to have others think so.

She doesn’t see me yet, her gaze focused on her newspaper and tall cardboard glass of what is probably coffee. As she gets closer she suddenly looks up, scans the crowd, and locks her brilliant blue eyes onto mine.

I am up and running to her and before I can think rationally I hurl myself into her open arms. Thank Goddess she was smart enough to set her steaming cup down when she saw me vault out of my chair.

We hug like we haven’t seen each other in ages. Breaking apart, I am aware of the curious stares from the milling crowd. Jaden smiles her most beautiful smile, the one where her eyes light up and her entire face is aglow.

“What are you doing here?” She asks, and I beam back at her.

“I had to see you.” I state simply. Shaking her head she escorts me to a pair of semi-private empty seats, her hand on the small of my back.

We sit, and just stare at each other. I know I must look like shit, I am wearing my same clothes from yesterday and I didn’t even shower or wash my face this morning. Jaden, however, looks beautiful, in her black pants and light blue short-sleeved sweater.

“Where do we go from here?” I hear myself ask. I know it’s a loaded question, and I expect Jaden to freeze and become immediately distant. But she surprises me; her face softening as she gently and discreetly takes my hand. Her long fingers are warm from holding her cup, and the contact is what I desperately need.

“I get on a plane and go home. You go home. We write and call each other, and see each other when we can.” She smiles, knowing that this isn’t what I was really asking.

I duck my head. I had hoped she would answer me seriously. “Grace.” She says, and I look back up to her smiling face.

“I don’t know where we go from here.” She says softly. “Where do you want us to go?” I don’t answer. How do you tell someone you’ve only really spent a few days with that you’ve discovered you’re hopelessly in love with her? That you want to spend each possible moment worshipping their body, heart, and very soul?

“Gracie, I think our friendship is very important. I never want to lose you as a friend.” She states, expectantly waiting for me to say something, anything.

“I can’t imagine my life without you.” I whisper, squeezing her hand. “You’ve allowed me to feel and experience so much. I never have to pretend with you, I’m always myself and I love that.”

“So let’s say that we care for each other very much, and we desire each other, but we want to always maintain our friendship.” Jaden purses her lips in thought. “And we have a very special relationship, but we are not committed to being only with each other.” I look at her in surprise. She senses my nervousness and adds, “We’re not committed only to each other, yet.” I nod, agreeing with her.

“That sounds good.” I tell her solemnly.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, US Airways would like to start boarding flight #014 to Boston, Massachusetts at this time. If you’re holding a ticket for rows 28 through 31, please make your wait to the gate at this time. Thank you.”

The flight attendant’s voice jars us out of our intimate conversation. Passengers eager to board the aircraft rush to form a line. Jaden looks at them, rolling her eyes and groaning. I squeeze her hand in sympathy. “I hate flying.” I tell her, and she looks surprised.

“I thought you would like it. There’s so much to see.” She says, and I shake my head in disagreement.

“I hate it. Please explain to me how something so heavy and cumbersome as a huge airplane filled with people and luggage can fly without falling out of the sky.”

Jaden smiles. “Grace, it’s all in the engines, you see, the amount of torque that..”

I cut her off with my hand. “It’s too early to hear about torque and physics. I hated that class in high school.” I smile at her, and she returns my warm smile with a look that can only be described as feral.

“I’m in row 7. I have a few minutes before I board.” She says, running her tongue over her pouting lips. “I need to use the restroom.” She stands up, leaving me there as she walks to the women’s restroom next to the gate. I quickly catch on to what she means and run after her, catching her as she reaches the entrance.

Thank Goddess the ladies’ room is empty, and Jaden smirks as she leads me into a stall. “Jaden! People are going to notice two pairs of legs in one stall!” I whisper as she hungrily kisses my neck.

“Shhh!” She shushes me, a finger to my lips. She suddenly picks me up, my legs instinctively wrapping around her hips. We moan into each other as our lips meet and I urgently pull her closer to me as our mouths dance together.

Kissing frantically, we ignore all of the other boarding calls for Jaden’s flight. Her hips are pumping into my center deliciously, our breasts pressed together. Jaden’s strong arms are around my back, and I am running my hands through her long hair.

We hear the final boarding call and Jaden tears her mouth away, sliding my body down hers gently as she sets me back down. I whimper softly as her body parts from mine. She tenderly kisses my forehead, wiping away the sudden tears springing from my eyes with her thumbs.

“Don’t cry.” I duck my head; fresh tears spilling down my cheeks. “Sweetheart, everything will be fine.” I nod, trying to convince the both of us. I look up at her, and smiling through my tears I fix her mussed hair, and wipe her smudged lipstick from around her lips.

“I have to go.” She says, her voice catching. I nod, knowing if I speak I will start sobbing. She kisses me softly, and opens the stall door. “You can come out, no one is in here.” She tells me, and I slip out of the stall.

“Bye.” I whisper. The look she gives me breaks my heart all over again. She looks so upset, so sad.

“Bye.” She says, hugging me one last time and quickly leaves the restroom. I head for the sink, splashing cold water on my face. I look like shit. Seriously, I can’t remember a time when I looked worse. I dry my face off with a paper towel and exit the restroom in time to see Jaden disappearing through the gate. I run over, grateful to see her tall form still in sight.

“Jaden!” I yell to her, and she pauses at the end of the gate. She turns around, surprised to see me standing there. “I’ll see you around.” I tell her, and she beams.

“Gracie! I love you!” She says, and I stand there frozen, disbelieving what I just heard. She disappears through the gate before I have a chance to respond.

She loves me. Again, I am numb. The flight attendant, sure that no one else is boarding the plane, glares at me until I step back so she can shut and lock the door. I walk over to the seats in front of the window, sitting where I can see her plane. I wait, trying to absorb what she has just told me. Her plane starts to pull away, and I say a silent prayer to whatever Gods and Goddesses exist to keep my love safe. Her plane silently picks up speed and glides gracefully into the sky. It is now that I cry again, knowing that she soon will be far away from me, miles away from me, but close always in my heart.
Five minutes later:
What did I just do? I fold my arms and look out the window of the airplane as it takes off. I can’t believe I told Grace that I loved her. Now what? I ask myself. What do I do now? Love is a foreign thing to me, and I swore that I wouldn’t let the little blonde into my heart.

Who am I kidding? She’s been in my heart from the first moment I laid eyes on her. I’ll never forget that night at the bar, when I walked in I saw one of the men giving her a hard time, flirting with her and making drunken advances. The first thing I noticed was her eyes, the color unrecognizable in the dim light, but I saw how vibrant they were, how expressive. It took every ounce of my control not to bash that guy’s head in, and just as I was about to make my way over to help her she was able to move away. I could tell how angry she was, her strides short and quick, full of energy.

And then, when she approached me and I saw the beauty of her delicate face, I fell. Instantly. And somewhere inside of me, a part knew that she had fallen as well. There was nothing either of us could do to stop it. Never a believer in fate or destiny, I wouldn’t know what else to call it.

But love? Being in love with her? Or with anyone? I didn’t think this would ever happen, and I’m not sure if I want it too now. One thing I know, I need Grace. And I’ve never needed anyone, so this is terrifying. If I need her and she leaves, or doesn’t need me in return…I can’t imagine what would happen to me.

The flight attendant interrupts my thought by offering me a drink. I request a grapefruit juice and she hands me a cellophane-wrapped package that she calls a “Breakfast snack.” She’s pretty. A few months ago, I would have been all over her. But now my thoughts are only of Grace.

I sigh, leaning against my seat as I open my breakfast snack. A muffin and a sad-looking fruit cup. Lovely. I sip my grapefruit juice, knowing if Grace were here I’d be teasing her about drinking Coke at 6am. I can’t kid myself. I miss her. A lot.

“You’re a tamed woman, Jaden.” I tell myself as I stare out the small window, and say a silent goodbye to Ohio.
Journal entry:

May 12, 2000.
I can’t believe Jaden loves me. I never thought that I would hear that from her, especially as she was boarding a plane. Leave it to her to constantly surprise me.

I’ve made a decision. I know it sounds cliché, but I can’t give my heart to Jaden while I’m sleeping with Scott.

I tense involuntarily while remembering that horrible experience. The last time was during his spring break, about a month before Jaden was done with her Florida assignment. I couldn’t even write about it, let alone tell her about it. Although nothing physical had even happened between Jaden and I, I still felt as if I was cheating on her in some way.

Scott pressures me for sex constantly when he’s around. He gets so demanding and forceful when I don’t give in to him. But now, because of how I feel for Jaden and I know she feels for me, I know I can’t allow him to pressure me.

I have to go to work soon. It’s so strange how your life can instantly change and then return to normal. I miss Jaden, but now that I’m back in my normal routine it’s almost as if she was never here.

I didn’t think you could fall in love with someone in just a few days, but I have. And I’m not kidding myself, I’ve been in love with Jaden since I saw her that first night at the bar.

Love at first sight.
Journal entry:

May 24, 2000
I talked to Jaden tonight. She sounds like she misses me, and though we talked for a while neither one of us had the courage to bring up her declaration of love at the airport. It’s so hard talking to her without seeing her. I can still recall the exact color of her eyes and the way her lips curl when she smiles. It feels like I haven’t seen her in ages, when I know it’s only been 12 days.

Scott called and said he’s coming over today. It’s been so difficult to see him, especially after Jaden’s departure. He’s upset that I “shafted” him (using his words) when she was here. I’m running out of excuses as to why I can’t be alone with him.
Later that afternoon
I turn off the TV as Scott’s white truck pulls into the driveway. He’s way early. Glancing at my watch I see that Lydia won’t be home for an hour. Shit. I contemplate not answering the door, but my car’s in the driveway and I know he knows that I’m home.
I open the door. He is standing there with a bouquet of flowers. “Thanks, these are beautiful!” I tell him.

“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady.” He says and I stifle my groan. He is so cheesy. Any girl that is wrapped up in the myth that is prince charming would be lucky to have him, but that’s not me. He leans to kiss me and I discover that he tastes like beef jerky. Gross. I break the kiss, feigning that the flowers need water, and run for the kitchen.

I fill a vase with water and arrange the flowers. “I think I’ll put these in my bedroom.” I tell him, and he smiles. He is a cutie, no doubt about it, but not my type. I enter my room and set the flowers on my dresser. Scott followed me into my room, surveying it curiously.

“You have our prom picture in here!” He excitedly says.

“Yeah, I keep it in here all the time.” I say. I snort softly. It’s only because my mother makes me. It’s a nice picture; we look like the stereotypical All-American apple pie couple, both of us blonde and grinning at the camera.

“You know Grace, everyone at college wants to meet you. Why don’t you come up for a weekend next semester?” He asks. He has asked this every year that I can remember.

“I can’t Scott, you know that I have to work on the weekends.” This is my typical argument. “I have to work to pay for college. My parent’s don’t pay for any of it, you know that.”

He frowns. “I know, but Gracie can’t you come up for just one weekend?” I stiffen, hearing him call me Gracie. He hasn’t ever done that before.

“What did you just call me?” I ask, my tone harsh.

He looks confused. “I don’t know, what’s the big deal?”

“Don’t call me Gracie, okay? Ever.” My tone is stern and he looks surprised to hear me talking to him like that.

“Fine, sorry. GRACE.” He says pointedly. I take a few breaths to calm me down. He looks hurt and I feel bad that I snapped at him. He didn’t know any better.

I touch his arm. “I’m sorry Scott, I just don’t like being called that.” I lie, unable to tell him the truth.

He wraps his huge arms around me. “It’s okay babe, just don’t ever yell at me like that again.” He hugs me and I feel like a mouse with a lion. Don’t ever yell at him like that again? Who is he to tell me what do to? I bite my tongue and let him hug me. His hands start to wander up and down my back, grabbing my ass and squeezing it. I feel so manhandled, literally.

“Scott, stop.” I say, gently pushing against his chest for him to release me. He doesn’t, and holds me tighter.

“C’mon Grace, it’s been so long. A guy can’t go this long; we haven’t done it since I was home for that week over spring break.”

As he presses himself against me I long for Jaden. I feel so guilty, like I am doing something wrong, when I know we haven’t committed to each other. I don’t know what to do. I am frozen as he holds me, his hands running over my body as if he possesses it. His hardness is against my stomach, his soft moaning in my ear. The entire thing makes me feel dirty and disgusting. Being with Jaden never made me feel like this. With Jaden I feel so uninhibited, so in tune with my body, I feel so loved and cherished.

I start thinking about Jaden, her soft breasts pressed against mine, the way her hair tickles my neck and shoulders as we kiss. I imagine it’s her here with me, her gentle hands touching my most private areas, and her soft lips full of promise. I miss her so much, I long for my fingers to be inside her, feeling her wetness. I groan and am snapped back to reality as Scott takes this as encouragement. He backs me up to my bed and lies on top of me. He goes to kiss me, and I push him away.

“Scott, no.”

He doesn’t hear me, or he chooses to ignore me. He thrusts his hips into mine and tries to kiss me again.

“Scott, NO.” I tell him, more forcefully this time. He frowns at me.

“What is your problem Grace?” He says, a touch of anger in his voice.

“I don’t have a problem. You’re the one with the problem. When I tell you no, it means for you to stop.” I glare at him, trying to convey how angry I am at him.

“Fine.” He snaps, and gets off of me. I am now able to breathe with his hulking weight removed. He runs his hands through his hair. “Most guys wouldn’t put up with this shit Grace.” He spits out angrily at me. “But I love you, so I’ll wait.”

“Thank you.” I tell him honestly. He tries to smile, but I can still see the anger in his dark eyes. “I have to get to work soon, you better go.” I tell him. He looks like he’s about to argue, but backs off and complies. I show him out, allowing him to lean over and steal a quick kiss. After he pulls away in his white truck I shut the door, bang my head against it and start to cry.
Journal entry:

May 27, 2000
Tonight was awful. I finally returned Scott’s calls and met with him. I planned on talking to him, trying to let him know how upset it makes me when he pressures me for sex. Instead of the rational discussion I planned out in my head, we got into a huge fight. It seems he can’t understand why I suddenly won’t “put out” for him, and that I should just obey his every command.

He said he was going to his parent’s vacation house with a few of his buddies for a few weeks. He said we need some time apart. My thoughts exactly. But I would rather have a lifetime apart.

I hate fighting; I always feel like I’m horrible for disagreeing and that I should just shut up and comply. And that hate that a part of me feels like that even more.

My parents and Lydia are leaving for their cruise in a few days. I’m eager to have some time to myself, although I wish I could see Jaden. She hasn’t brought it up, so I haven’t either. She seemed really distant when I called her this evening, like she was hiding something.

I hope she isn’t regretting anything between us. I don’t think I could stand it.
Journal entry:

May 29, 2000
I can’t believe this. When I look back at my entry from two days ago, I seem so sad and depressed. Funny how in two days, 48 hours, I can go from the saddest girl in the world to the most ecstatic.

Jaden called me at the bar tonight. Over the din of the crowd I thought I heard her say she had a surprise. It seems like the little schemer is FLYING ME TO BOSTON FOR A WEEK!

Yes, I’m serious. Jaden bought me a ticket; I leave on Monday and return on Sunday. I am freaking out. She broke down and said she had it planned when she found out my parents would be going on a cruise for 12 days. I can’t believe her, she is the most amazing and wonderful and sweet and giving person I’ve ever met. I promised to repay her for the ticket, after crying and blubbering on the phone how wonderful she is and she said: (and I quote) “Don’t think about repaying me, I just want you here.”

She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. And I will find someway to repay her, besides my undying love.
Monday May 31st, 2000.
I’m sitting at Logan Airport in Boston, people watching. People are fascinating here; the different races and colors are a shock to my eyes. Northern Ohio is mostly Caucasian and African American. Massachusetts is a true melting pot, and seeing so many different people is incredible. They are so beautiful, everyone having a different essence about them. I decide I love the East Coast, though I haven’t seen the outside except when the plane touched down. Goddess, I hate to fly. That was my first time flying by myself. Something about the plane, it’s so nauseating, the air pressure is way off and I always feel claustrophobic. Except this time I was so excited, I felt claustrophobic and excited. That’s even worse.

The claustrophobic-ness is over, but not the excitement. I called Jaden before I left, and she sounded as excited as I was. She gave me her number at the station and told me to call her from my stopover. I had to change planes in Philadelphia, and when I spoke to her she was really upset.

“Grace, I have to stay here longer than I thought. I have to cover a sick officer’s shift. I don’t think I’ll be there in time to pick you up, but I won’t be long, okay?”

“It’s okay, do whatever you need to do. I don’t mind waiting. I’ll call you at the station when I get in, okay?”

“Okay sweetheart. If I’m already gone, then wait at the Cheers Bar by your terminal, okay?”

I told her I would. Wow, the real Cheers! I would have to take a picture for Uncle Rick. He was so sweet when I told him where I was going. He offered to watch Bean and said that if my parents called he would tell them I was really busy.

I decided not to tell my parents that I was going to visit Jaden. They were so wrapped up in preparing for their cruise; I think it would have flipped my mother out to have me go somewhere else. She’s already upset enough that I didn’t want to go on the cruise. I said I didn’t think I could be on a boat that long, but I don’t think she bought it. Uncle Rick will cover for me, Bean is in wonderful hands, and Scott will never even miss me. Uncle Rick dropped me off at the airport and gave me some cash.

“Don’t spend it all in one place.” He cautioned, and gruffly kissed my cheek goodbye. He may be a bear, but underneath he is warm and fuzzy. I feel really lucky to have him. It’s surprising that my mother’s brother would be so down to earth and understanding, the exact opposite of my mother herself.

So I called the station when I got in, and Jaden was out on a call. I decided to wander around and people watch some more. I glance at my watch; it’s almost been an hour since I called. I find a pay phone and call the station again.

“Jaden Phillips, please.” I request the switchboard director.

“I’m sorry, she’s left for the day.” The friendly operator tells me.

“Oh. This is her friend she is supposed to pick up at the airport. Do you know when she left?” I ask, hoping she’s not already here.

“Oh, this is Grace the mystery woman?” The operator says, laughing.

“The one and only.” I respond, finding her laughter contagious.

“Well, nice to meet you Grace. I’m Diana, and Jaden’s been talking about you all week.”

“Jaden’s been talking?” I ask incredulously. “That’s unusual for her.” Diana finds this hysterical and pretty soon we are both giggling like schoolgirls over the phone.

“My mistake. She’s said a few sentences that contain your name.” Diana corrects herself. “She left about a half an hour ago. She should be there any minute.” Shit. I hope she’s not waiting for me. “Um, okay, great. Thanks, and nice to meet you!” I tell Diana, and hang up quickly.

Cheers. I have to find Cheers. I look around, realizing I have no idea where I am. “Okay Grace, this won’t be hard. Just find Cheers. You found it before, it was right next to the US Airways terminal.” I look around for signs for US Airways. Not seeing anything helpful I ask the man shining shoes if he knows where Cheers is.

“Closest is right around that corner.” He says, pointing to his left, never looking up from the expensive-looking shoes he’s polishing.

“Thanks.” I say, and head to where he pointed. Sure enough, there is Cheers. I sigh in relief and sit down in an available seat.

I wait, and wait, and when it seems like I’ve been waiting forever, I look at my watch. Hmmm. It’s already noon, and I spoke with Diana at ten past 11:00. Jaden should be here by now. I look around, and head into the bar, in case she’s waiting inside.

“Excuse me,” I ask the bartender. “Have you seen a tall woman, with long dark hair and blue eyes?” He thinks for a second and shakes his head.

“Sorry, dear.” He says in a thick Boston accent. “You meeting her here?” He asks, and I nod my head yes. “You got the right Cheers?”

I am confused. “What do you mean, the right Cheers?” I ask.

He smiles, amused by my naiveté. “There’s a Cheers Bar in every terminal here.”

Oh crap.

Okay. “Think rationally, Grace.” I tell myself, determined to find Jaden before she is sick with worry. She said to wait at the Cheers at my terminal.

“Sir?” I ask the bartender. He smiles condescendingly at me and I ignore my urge to smack him.

“Yeah?” He asks. Jeez, where’s Sam Malone when you need him? I would expect rude treatment from Carla, but Sam Malone always was nice to the ladies.

I bat my eyelashes at him. “Where is the Cheers in the US Airways terminal?”

My pathetic attempt at flirting must have helped a bit, because he kindly gives me easy directions. I thank him and rush out of the bar.

Minutes later I am in the US Airways terminal, in front of Cheers. No Jaden. Shit.

I enter the bar, and ask the bartender (who is hopefully not an asshole) if they’ve seen her.

He smiles at me, “Are you Grace?”

I guess that answers my question, Jaden was here.

“Yep, is she mad?” I ask, knowing she is probably thinking I’ve been hijacked or taken prisoner by some madman.

“She’s worried. She said to tell you to stay right here,” he points to an empty bar stool, “until she gets back. She’s checking the other Cheers.”

I sit. “Thanks.” He smiles kindly. “I guess I got a little lost.”

“Happens to us all, dear. Can I get you something?”

I buy a drink from him, and order Jaden a vodka martini with three olives. I figure the least I can do is give him some business for his trouble.

I sip my whiskey sour and wait for Jaden. Yeah, I know it’s only 12:30, but after this insanity I think both Jaden and I deserve a little drink. It doesn’t take her long to show up, I see her race by the stained-glass window of the bar. I wave to her and can’t decide if she looks relieved to see me or if she wants to kill me. I smile my best “gotta love me!” smile to her, hoping my cuteness will override the trouble I’ve just caused her.

“Fancy meeting you here, gorgeous.” I say as she strides into the bar, once again the picture of calmness. How does she do that? How does she go from running around the airport like a lunatic one-minute and the next minute seem like everything’s under control?

“Hey trouble. Enjoy making me worry like crazy?” She asks, a faint smirk on her face to let me know she’s not really mad.

“Sorry.” I say sheepishly, hanging my head. I move my upper body close to her and she takes the hint, wrapping me in a warm hug. With her standing in front of my bar stool, my sitting position allows my head to rest right in her breasts. Yum.

“It’s okay. I’m just glad you’re safe.” She kisses the top of my head. This is nice. I can tell she feels awkward about the public display of affection, so I pull away from her, motioning for her to sit.

“I bought you a drink.” I say, smiling. She chuckles and picks it up, toasting me.

“Cheers.” We say in unison, and both crack up. The bartender rolls his eyes. I’m sure he’s heard that one a thousand times.

After enjoying our drink we exit the airport. Jaden chivalrously took my bags and my throbbing shoulders appreciate it. We walk through the short-term parking lot.

“Did you bring your police car?” I ask, feeling like a little kid.

“No I didn’t, and if I did you couldn’t play with the siren.” She says, laughing at me. Damn. She knows me well.

“What kind of car do you have?”

“Guess.”

“Um…oh this is difficult.” I pretend to ponder over the different choices. “Lemee guess, an Explorer?”

“You got it. Give that girl a prize.”

“Ohh…what’s my prize?” I ask, cutting in front of her and making her stop in her tracks. I run my eyes up and down her body, using my best “fuck me” eyes. When I finally tear my gaze away from her toned and very desirable body I look into her eyes. They are deep blue now, her pupils widened with arousal. I smirk at her, knowing I have her hooked and approach her, sensually moving my body against hers. I stand on my tiptoes to kiss her and she meets my kiss with an urgency I didn’t expect. I rub against her, moaning into her mouth. I know she’s getting so turned on; her entire body is tensed and ready for whatever I am willing to give her. Which is everything. I pull away from her. “Race you to the car.” I whisper. Before I can finish the thought she is off and running, me chasing behind her.
Later that evening:
I am vaguely aware of Jaden’s lips kissing my stomach and her hand softly stroking my thighs. I don’t stir and her lips move lower, now down to my hipbones. Hmm. Continue sleeping or wake up and make love to the woman I adore? Tough choice.

I open my eyes, surprised at the bright sun that forces me to snap them shut again. Jaden chuckles against my hips, her warm breath causing goose bumps to pepper my skin. I yawn and stretch, lengthening my body. This conveniently brings my already-wet-with-anticipation sex in front of her mouth. I laugh, seeing her surprised reaction. Jaden shrugs her shoulders and smirks at me, gently spreading my legs.

“Ohh..” I moan. No one has ever done this to me before. Scott always begged but the idea honestly grossed me out. But Jaden’s dark hair and beautiful blue eyes between my legs is one of the most arousing things I’ve ever seen. She continues her sweet torture as I lay my head back on the pillow. Her tongue is incredible, licking and sucking my most sensitive of all areas with such love. She varies, licking fast and hard and then so gently. I am moaning and thrashing around on the bed, my hips pumping into her face urgently. She wraps an arm around my hips to steady me, while using her other hand to slide her fingers into me.

“Jaden!” I gasp, and she stops. I moan with frustration.

“Are you okay? Am I hurting you?” She says, her eyes wide with fear. Her mouth is wet and slick, her slightly swollen lips covered with my wetness. It is beautiful.

“No, you weren’t hurting.” I say, smiling at her. “Those were good sounds.” She looks relieved, but still doesn’t return to her previous task. My clit is screaming for her, every nerve of my body begging her to touch me, to lick me again. I pump my hips to her, hoping that will get her attention. She’s just staring at me, a half smile on her face. Is she enjoying my frustration? Is she doing this on purpose? Probably. She’s infuriating like that. That’s one of the things that I love about her, believe it or not, her never-ending capability to completely frustrate me and make me fall madly in love with her at the same time.

“Um, Jaden?” I ask. And she smirks. Yep. She’s defiantly doing this on purpose.

“What do you want Gracie?” She half-whispers. Goddess she’s hot. No other word to describe this woman right now. Her hair is tousled from sleep, her stunning eyes are so dark blue, her pink lips covered with my wetness, and her long fingers still deep inside of me. I feel her soft breasts pillowed against my legs, her nipples are so hard.

“You know what I want.” I tell her. “Please Jaden.”

“Pretty please?” She teases and I want to strangle her and kiss her at the same time.

“Pretty please. With cherries and whipped cream on top.” I answer, moving my hips again, this time making her fingers inside of me brush oh so wonderfully against my clit. “Oh Goddess…” I moan, thrusting my hips again. Her fingers move inside of me, each time my hips pump it sends such a delicious feeling to my tender clit. I move my hips faster and faster, making her fingers move and rub just the right spots. She watches for a while, and finally lets out a ragged moan. She dives her head in between my legs, eagerly licking me again. She pumps her fingers in and out while she nibbles and caresses my clit. It’s so good. I am panting and shaking and moaning and screaming her name before long and I collapse.

I’m tired. Jaden crawls up my body, laying on me. I ravish her mouth, tasting myself on her lips. This turns her on, and she moves her hips into mine. I can’t get enough of my taste on her and I kiss her harder. She is moaning against me and getting me all worked up again. What a wonderful wake-up call.

I firmly push her off of me, laying her back down on the bed. She is so incredibly beautiful. I have her exactly where I want her, and boy, do I want her. I lick my lips in anticipation, causing her to moan with excitement. I cup her silky breasts with my hands, feeling her nipples harden. I straddle her hips and she spreads her legs for me. I lie down on top of her and kiss her deeply.

I feel so uncoordinated as I kiss my way down her long, supple body. Jaden makes everything she does look so suave, but I feel like a horny teenage boy, groping and bumbling. But Jaden seems to love what I’m doing, moaning and writhing underneath me. She arches her back and tangles her strong hands in the sheets.

I love her body. It’s so finely sculpted that Rodin himself couldn’t have done a better job. Her swanlike neck flows into powerful shoulders, which in turn flow into long, muscular arms. I love her arms. They are so toned, yet so feminine. She doesn’t look like a female bodybuilder; she has such graceful womanly curves along with the power and muscle. Her stomach muscles are visible under a layer of softness and her impossibly sexy hips lead into impossibly long toned legs. Her feet are long and delicate, her toes regal looking. I’ve always thought feet were icky, but there is something about Jaden that makes me want to kiss and tickle her gorgeous feet.

I stop gawking at her perfection and kiss her cute bellybutton. She makes a sound somewhere between a moan and a laugh as I swirl my tongue around it. I lower myself between her awaiting thighs. She lays her head back on the pillow and arches her back again, exposing herself to me.

Goddess. She tastes exactly like I remember. I lick and tease her, knowing I’ve hit the right spot when she groans and runs her hands through my hair. She holds my head gently to her most sensitive spot and I suck her clit, swirling my tongue over it at the same time. I love the guttural, almost animalistic sounds she’s making and she gets close to her release. I continue to suck and lick at the same time, and she frantically pumps her hips in rhythm to my tongue.

“Don’t. Stop. Please don’t stop.” She pants, tangling her hands in my hair tighter. As if I could stop now. She’s so close, I can feel her tensing and I know she will come soon. And she does, screaming and grinding into me, and moaning. It seems as if she comes forever, and finally relaxes and sighs. “Thank you.” She says, her eyes closed and a languid expression on her face.

I crawl up to her and settle my head on her chest. She wraps her arms around me and we lie in a damp, sex-induced haze. Ahhh. This feels great. I smile into her breasts and she hugs me tighter, kissing the top of my head. We don’t say anything; there isn’t anything really to say. We just enjoy each other’s company, and the gentle sounds of the ocean through the open window.

After we left the airport we grabbed a quick lunch and raced back to Jaden’s gorgeous apartment. I don’t remember what it looks like, Jaden unlocked the doors, and we threw my bags down inside. Before I got a decent look at the place, Jaden had me pinned to the door and was ravishing me, and then we made a beeline for the bedroom.

We had incredible “Missed-you-so-much-sex” and fell asleep in Jaden’s huge and soft bed. Jaden gave me a wonderful wake-up call, and the rest is history.

I’m hungry. I wonder what time it is. “Jaden?” I ask, my voice vibrating against her chest. That sounds funny. Goddess, I feel like an idiot. A couple of sex sessions with this woman and I’m reduced to a third-grade mentality.

“Yes?” She drawls out.

“I’m hungry.”

“Big surprise.” She answers. I try to muster the strength to raise my arm to smack her but I decide it’s too much work. She loves to tease me about my appetite. I don’t blame her. My mother is such a Nazi about my eating habits and she demands that I stay stick-thin so Scott will love me, but I love to eat. So when I’m not around my mother, I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. And that’s usually a lot. Jaden thinks she a big comedian by making fun of me.

“And I want to see your apartment.” I really do. I’m so curious about Jaden and her likes and dislikes.

“Alright. Let’s get up.” She answers, suddenly standing up and pulling me into her arms. Goddess she’s strong, she is holding me like I’m a doll. She smiles at my surprised reaction and kisses me. Setting me down gently she cups my hand and kisses me again. I have a distinct feeling she’s trying to distract me from seeing the apartment so I pull away from her, grab her hand, and drag her out from the bedroom.

“Alright, alright. Here’s the tour.” She says, walking to the front door. I admire her perfect ass as I follow behind her. Jaden lives in an interesting apartment. The building is an old Victorian house that is separated into three apartments, one on each floor. When we pulled up outside and I sat staring at it with a stunned expression on my face, Jaden explained that apartments in Massachusetts were hard to come by, so many old homes were renovated into apartments. They’re beautiful on the outside and cozy on the inside.

Jaden’s apartment is on the third floor, and we made our way up the beautifully carved wooden stairs. Now, standing inside with her, I’m finding it hard to look around. I’m very distracted by her naked body.

“Um, can you put clothes on?” I ask, feeling my face turn red. She smiles and rolls her eyes at me, heading for the bedroom again. I look around, admiring the beautiful apartment. For the third floor of an old house, it’s very spacious. The front door opens into the small galley kitchen. The kitchen is big enough for two people, all the appliances are new and the tile work on the backsplash and floor is exquisite. There is a small dining area aside from the kitchen, where Jaden has a little table with two chairs. The living room overlooks the ocean, and the view from this high is beautiful. The house has a nice-sized back yard that is fenced in, but it appears there is a gate that leads to a walkway down to the beach. Jaden’s living room is sparsely decorated, with a couch and two chairs filling up the space. A massive stone fireplace takes up one entire wall, and I think how beautiful it would be to sit in front of a fire with her, watching snow fall on the ocean.

“Here.” She says as something hits me in the stomach. I look down to see Jaden has put on a pair of worn boxers and a frayed t-shirt. She looks freaking hot. Yes, I know. I say that all the time, but she really always does look hot. I can’t imagine her looking any other way. The object she has thrown at me is really two objects, another pair of cotton shorts and a t-shirt.

“Thanks.” I say dryly. “How romantic.” She laughs as I dress, finding the shirt way too big but the boxers fitting thanks to the elastic waistband. “Jaden, this is beautiful.” I tell her, and she smiles shyly. I walk over to the living room, admiring the view. The ocean is fairly calm today, and I can’t believe I’m finally seeing the Atlantic Ocean. “Perfect.” I whisper, as Jaden comes up behind me, wrapping me in a hug.

“What color is the water?” She teases, and I honestly can’t answer. It’s a swirling mix of green and gray and blue.

“It’s perfect.” I say, and she nods. She leads me around the rest of the apartment. She has a small bathroom with beautiful blue tile and a small second bedroom. Jaden seems to be using it mostly for storage. “I didn’t know you had two bedrooms.”

She shrugs. “It’s not as big as mine and it doesn’t have a view of the water, but it’s really nice to have as an extra closet.” We head back for the kitchen, and she goes through her cabinets. “I don’t have much here.” She says apologetically. “I thought when you got here we could go shopping and get things for dinner.”

“That’s a great idea.” I tell her, spying her empty cabinets and desolate refrigerator. “Let’s shower and grab dinner and then we can shop or whatever.” I see by the microwave clock that it’s 7:30. How did we manage to sleep and have sex for five hours? Well, in my opinion, it was time very well spent.

Jaden volunteers to shower first. She asked if I’d like to join her, and believe me, I would, but I’m really, really starving. I know if I showered with her we wouldn’t get out of here and have food for another two hours or so. So I politely decline and she heads off for the bathroom pouting.

I sort through my bags, pulling out a pair of jeans and a purple v-neck shirt. I get my shower things ready and explore Jaden’s apartment some more. I’m not snooping, just looking around. Her living room has a few pictures of people. I carefully study them, easily picking out the ones of Jaden’s family. Her mother is beautiful, almost a spitting image of Jaden herself. Jaden has a picture of her mother holding her and her brother, I’m assuming, and the three of them share the same chiseled good looks and dark hair. Jaden has the same stunning eyes as her mother, while Jonah has dark eyes. A picture of Jaden’s grandmother shows that in her younger years, she looked just like Jaden and her mother. What a beautiful family.

On the mantle of the fireplace there are more pictures, one of Studley grazing in a large, green pasture, and one of Jaden and a man I don’t recognize. He has the same coloring as Jonah, but unless Jonah’s features drastically changed as he got older I don’t think it could be him. This man looks dangerous, with his muscular arm around Jaden, the other holding a motorcycle helmet. He has a feral grin for the camera, while Jaden looks bemused. I wonder if she’ll tell me about that guy, whoever he is. The next picture is the one we had taken at Cedar Point. I grin, thinking how sappy Jaden is to have put that up. But it is a great picture.

“Your turn.” Jaden’s voice interrupts me from my thoughts. I turn around to see her wrapped in a very small towel. I gulp. She smirks and heads for her bedroom, shutting the door. What a tease.

Throughout my shower I wonder about the man in the picture. Who is he and why does he have his arm around Jaden? I push down all thoughts of jealously, knowing that Jaden and I aren’t committed to each other. But I still can’t help myself from wondering.

I quickly dress and run my fingers through my hair. Jaden is ready to go, sitting on the couch and leafing through a magazine. She looks casual, she is wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, so I figure my outfit will be fine. I pull on my shoes and plop down next to her. “I’m ready.”

She lays her arm around my shoulders, pulling me in for a quick kiss. “Where do you want to eat?”

I think for a minute. “Somewhere nice, not too ritzy but not Mc Donald’s either. Somewhere where we can get good food, fast.” I add, pointing to my growling stomach. She laughs and stands up, offering me a hand to pull myself up with.

“I know a nice place. Let’s go.” We head down the stairs and out into the beautiful evening. The sun is just beginning to set, red-gold and purple hues promising a colorful sunset. Jaden’s neighborhood is quiet, with stately old houses resting in large yards. I admire the architecture and am surprised to see dates as old as 1749 proudly displayed on the homes. It must have been even more beautiful here in the 1700’s, with horse drawn carriages and people dressed formally all the time. I sigh melodramatically as I get into Jaden’s Explorer. She looks over at me, a confused expression on her face.

“Everything’s so old here.” I explain. “In Ohio we don’t have any houses built before the American Revolution. This area is so full of history and importance.” She smiles at me, shaking her head.

“This is nothing. If you want history, we’ll go into Boston one day.” I dance excitedly in my seat as Jaden pulls out of her parking spot.

“That would be awesome. We should go.” Jaden nods in agreement, and I wonder what else she has planned for this week.

We drive a short distance to a cute little Italian restaurant. Since it’s almost 9:00 and on a Monday, the place is deserted and we have no problem getting a table overlooking the water. “This is exactly what I had in mind!” I tell Jaden as I look over the expansive menu. Hmmmm. “Lasagna?” I ask my starving belly. It gurgles what sounds to be a “Yes!” so I decide that’s what I should order. I look up to see the waiter staring at me like I’m a moron. Jaden is smiling, and I can tell she thinks I’m cute. Heh. I smile and blush and order the Lasagna with a dinner salad and garlic bread.

“Would you like a drink?” The waiter asks me, his hungry eyes locked on Jaden.

“Coke.” I spit out at him. When he still doesn’t look at me I add a nasty-sounding “Please.” His startled eyes dart to me, and as I glare at him I can tell his brain is trying to figure out why this innocent looking little blonde is so pissed at him. He finally figures it out when Jaden reaches over to take my hand, squeezing my fingers gently.

Ahh. Jaden’s simple gesture is enough for him to get the hint. He hurriedly takes Jaden’s order and promptly returns with our drinks. “Asshole.” I mumble under my breath. Jaden looks at me in surprise.

“Gracie, calm down. He wasn’t doing anything.” Jaden squeezes my hand.

“I know, but I hate people flirting with you when I’m around. It makes me feel so self-conscious and jealous.” I try to explain how I feel.

“Sweetheart,” she starts, melting my heart with the term of affection, “You have absolutely nothing to be self-conscious about. You have to know that when I’m around you I think of no one else. I don’t want anyone else.” I glance up at her, and see the truth of her statement reflected in her brilliant eyes.

“Okay.” I muster, not wanting to continue this discussion any further. “So, what are we doing this week? Do you have to work at all?” Before I can let her start I have to add, “Do I get to meet Studley?”

Jaden smiles. “I have ideas for this week, but I wanted to see what you wanted to do first.” I nod, excited to hear her ideas.

“Well, first of all, no I don’t have to work at all.” She says, and I can tell by her face that this is a good thing.

“Why? I mean you just had time off when you came to see me after your Florida assignment. I can’t believe you can get an entire week off!”

“Gracie, I have months of vacation time saved up. I’ve been working with this department for five years and never taken a vacation. Ever. So I have a lot of time saved up, and with the project from hell I just finished, they owed me time off on such a short notice.”

“Oh. Well, I’m glad you don’t have to work. So what are we going to do?” I smile at her and she returns my smile, her eyes flashing in the dim light of the restaurant.

“I thought tomorrow we could just spend the day relaxing, and then on Wednesday we can go into Boston. There’s a lot to do there, and I think you’ll love it. Thursday maybe we can drive up towards New Hampshire, and on Friday I’ve arranged to borrow a horse so we can go trail riding. Saturday and Sunday we can decide on later. We have an entire week.” She finishes, smiling.

“Thank you.” I tell her honestly, suddenly choked up at how much thought she’s put into this vacation for me. “I can’t believe you flew me out here, Jaden, I’ll never be able to repay you.”

“For the last time, I don’t want you to repay me. I love you.” She says, looking down at her plate.

Wow. This is the first time she’s said that to me face to face. This is intense. I grasp her other hand and hold onto them as tight as possible, trying to convey the love I have for her. “I love you too.” I say, surprised at the strength in my voice.

“Here we are.” Interrupts our annoying waiter. “The lasagna and the spaghetti.” He sets down our dinners, salads, and garlic bread and promptly refills my glass. I’m a Cokeaholic. I’ll never claim to be anything but. Our romantic moment interrupted, we roll our eyes in unison and dig into our dinners.

Great food, a beautiful woman who loves me, and an ocean view. Life doesn’t get any better.
June 1, 2000
What a beautiful morning. I woke before the sun, as usual, and was pleasantly surprised to find Grace in my bed. Sometime during the night she managed to tangle herself in the covers and climb on top of me. I gently moved her to my side, untangled her, and wrapped myself around her. I want to get up and go for a quick run, but the soft sounds Grace is making in her sleep and her warm little body make it impossible for me to get up. Hell with running, I can run when she’s not here. Truthfully, the thought of waking up alone makes me surprisingly depressed. I snuggle closer to Grace; pleased with the contented sigh she releases, and try to erase the upsetting thought from my head.

I must have fallen back asleep. I don’t really remember, but it’s now almost 9:00 AM and Grace is still sleeping peacefully. The sun is streaming in through the bright window, casting her face in a warm glow. Her face is relaxed in sleep, and she looks much younger than her 22 years. I lean up on my elbow and brush her hair away from her face. She leans into my touch, a slight smile forming on her pink lips.

Is she awake? I can’t tell. She is so still, wrapped up next to me. She has her small hand curled around my bicep, the other hand resting on her own chest. I pick it up, kissing each knuckle and stifling a laugh that threatens to erupt when Grace frowns and pulls her hand away.

She’s quite a crab in the morning, my Gracie. I can’t decide what she enjoys more, her meals or her sleep. I know she doesn’t get enough of either, so I have taken it on myself to pamper her like crazy this week. She’s mentioned her long hours at home, how she goes from classes to work to late nights with little sleep. Now that she has a summer break I hope she can catch up on her sleep. And I know that her mother is a Grade A bitch who likes to criticize Grace’s every move. She complains that Grace eats too much. What an idiot.

I slide the covers down to Grace’s waist, frowning at the ribs I can see slightly under her skin. Grace’s body is so slight to begin with; she doesn’t need to lose weight. I’m surprised at my mother hen-like attitude I have for her. I’ve never considered myself maternal in any way, but something about Grace makes me want to take care of her and protect her from anything and everything. Grace fusses at having the covers removed. She is like a small child, so sound asleep yet completely aware of her surroundings. As much as I would love to stay here cuddling with her, I am getting restless and have to get up.

Without disturbing her I slide out of bed and pull on my pajamas that were torn off of me last night. We had a great time, after our late dinner I could tell Grace was exhausted from her long day of traveling, so we quickly shopped for a few groceries and then came home to get ready for bed. Grace somehow got her second wind and ended up stripping me of my pajamas and throwing me down on the bed. I can’t believe her sex drive. I always thought mine was out of control. I look like a nun compared to her! I’m defiantly not complaining, just a little surprised.

I pad into the kitchen, and open my fridge. It’s quite strange to actually have food in here; I usually just heat up whatever leftovers I have from my previous night’s take out. Deciding to make something easy I dust off my rarely used pans and concoct egg and cheese omelets, microwave some bacon, toast a few bagels and manage to cut up some fresh fruit. I’m impressed with my impromptu breakfast and everything looks delicious. I fix two plates and grab a can of Coke for Grace. Balancing the plates and her Coke I head for the bedroom.

Grace is dead to the world. I had thought the smell of food would awaken her, but that didn’t work. She is so cute. She is tucked in like I left her, but has stuck one foot out at the end of the bed. I set the plates down on my dresser and creep over to her.

“Gracie….time to rise and shine!” She doesn’t move. I try again, deciding to use physical torture only as a last resort. “Sweetheart.” I nudge her. She responds by taking her pillow and putting it over her head. What a cranky girl. “Gracie…last chance…” I tell her, my voice sing-songy. She still doesn’t respond so I sit on the bed, and pick up her small foot.

She tries in vain to get away as I tickle her foot. I’m far stronger than she and she soon realizes she has no chance of escape. She is giggling in a still-half-asleep way and I release her foot, moving up to straddle her hips. I start the procedure on her ribs, tickling her until she’s gasping for mercy.

“Morning sunshine.” I tell her cheerily and she looks like she’s going to punch me. “Goodness, what a crabby girl you are in the morning.” I get off of her and pick up her steaming breakfast plate. “I made you breakfast.”

She yawns and stretches. “Good morning. You made me breakfast?” She asks, finally catching on. I nod happily and hand her the plate. ” Jaden, this looks incredible! Thank you!” She is wide-awake now, digging into her food. Making little noises of approval she complements my cooking and I beam at her.

“I forgot my drink. I’ll be right back.” I head for the kitchen and pour myself a glass of juice. I remember how salty Grace likes her food so I grab the shaker and head back into the bedroom. Grace smiles at me and pats the bed next to her.

“Come and sit.” She says, and I do. She offers me a piece of strawberry and I take her fingers in my mouth, gently sucking the fruit from in between them. This makes her blush and I smirk at her as I eat my omelet.

Wow. This is really good. I’m proud of myself, I should cook more often. Grace opens her can of coke and puts salt on her food. I don’t know how she does that. That girl eats salt on practically everything. We eat our breakfast, and talk about our plans for the day. I’ve convinced Grace that we’re just going to bum around town. Glancing at the clock I see it’s almost 10:00. We have to get going if we’re going to make it on time.

“Come on, it’s a beautiful day and we should get going.” Grace looks at me like I’ve gotten two heads, but she complies and gets up. Rising on her toes to kiss me softly she whispers in my ear.

“Thanks for breakfast. It was really good.” I smile at her and push her towards the bathroom.

“Go ahead and shower, I’ll take one after you.” I tell her as I hand her a clean towel.

“Don’t you want to shower with me?” She asks, waggling her eyebrows. Oh Grace, if only you knew how much I would love to press you against the shower wall and make you come. I try to be an adult. There just isn’t time, and we can’t be late.

“Not this morning.” I tell her. She says nothing and closes the door. As soon as I hear her start the water I head for the phone, calling to confirm my reservation.
Five minutes later:
“What’s the matter with Jaden?” I say to the pulsating water. I scrub my hair angrily, upset at her sudden coldness. Yesterday she was pouting like crazy because I wouldn’t shower with her, and today she acts like the entire idea disgusts her. She’s so strange, sometimes she’s so warm and fuzzy and then she suddenly turns cold. Breakfast was so nice, it was so great to wake up with her there and I can’t believe she cooked for me. She was so cuddly this morning, and now I’m being shunned. How insulting.

Frustrated, I rinse my hair and begin to shave my legs. I hate shaving. I have such sensitive skin. I itch for days whenever I shave. I should just have them waxed but I think I’d pass out from the pain. Realizing I didn’t bring any shaving cream I use some of Jaden’s. It’s this cool gel that turns to cream and smells really good. It’s called “Glistening Pear.” I make a note to myself to get some.

I finish shaving and look around in the shower at Jaden’s other shower stuff. She has the norm, conditioner and soap, the cool shaving gel and her shampoo. I flip the lid and smell the shampoo. It’s the exact smell of Jaden’s hair, coconut and vanilla. Wow. I notice she has toothpaste and her toothbrush in the shower also. That’s weird. I never knew anyone that brushed her teeth in the shower before.

I turn the water off, remembering I have to save some hot water for Jaden and get out of the shower. Drying myself off I put lotion on and exit the steamy bathroom. Jaden is nowhere to be found. That’s strange. I wonder where she is?

I head for her bedroom to get dressed. I find her clothes laid out on the neatly made bed. I look outside, trying to gauge the weather. The ocean looks pretty smooth, only a few waves disrupting the tranquility of the day. The trees in Jaden’s back yard are slightly blowing, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll have rain today. I feel the cool air through the open window and decide on wearing jeans. I’m always cold, and I think I’ll freeze in shorts. Pulling on my jeans I decide on a simple black short-sleeved shirt and add my light blue and black fleece vest. I wear my comfortable tennis shoes and pull my long hair back into a ponytail.

I’m ready, where the heck is Jaden? She was the one in such a rush. The front door suddenly shuts. I head for the living room, meeting Jaden half way.

“Sorry.” She breathes, slightly out of breath. “I had to run a quick errand.” She looks over what I’m wearing. “You look cute. Do you have a baseball hat or sunglasses or something?”

“I have a hat, why?” I ask her, confused. Where in the hell are we going? I thought we were just hanging around today and taking it easy.

“Good, bring your hat. I’m going to jump in the shower. I’ll be ready in 10 minutes. Make yourself comfortable.” She heads for the shower, turning on the water immediately.

She’s acting SO weird. I grab my well-worn light blue Gap baseball hat. I’ve had it forever. Plopping down on the couch, I flip on the TV. I scan through the channels, and before I can decide on what to watch I hear the shower turn off. Jeez, that was fast. I turn just in time to see Jaden race stark naked into her bedroom. I do my best wolf whistle, and hear her laugh as she closes the door.

Minutes pass as I watch Sesame Street. What a great show. Kermit is my favorite; I agree it’s not easy being green. I giggle as Ernie splashes in the tub with his rubber ducky. Jaden emerges from the bedroom, looking comfortable in jeans and a loose-fitting tshirt, her hair pulled back into a baseball hat similar to mine and wearing worn shoes. She has two windbreakers in her hand, and she hands one to me.

“Just in case it rains.” She says as I take the jacket. I glance out the living room window.

“It looks clear to me, is it supposed to rain today?” She shrugs.

“You never know around here. In Massachusetts the weather changes every five minutes.” She says, her eyes sparkling. “Besides, who knows where we’ll end up today?”

Uh oh. Jaden is up to something. I can tell, because she has this kid-in-a-candy-store look on her face. I don’t question her and grab my book bag, stuffing the jacket she handed me inside. She hopefully hands her jacket to me and I sigh and stuff in my bag also. “Pack mule at your service.” I tell her, smiling to let her know I’m kidding.

“I’ll carry your bag.” She asks helpfully. I gently smack her arm as I head for the door.

“Shall we?”

“We shall.” She answers, grabbing her keys.

It’s 11:00 by the time we get in Jaden’s Explorer. She’s glancing at the clock as she speeds down the highway. It’s a narrow 2-lane highway, divided by a thin median. She’s darting in and out between cars and going well over the posted 50mph speed limit sign. The highway is bumpy and full of jarring turns, so I’m glad I securely belted my seat belt.

“Um Jaden?” I ask, swallowing nervously.

“Yeah?” She asks as she puts her blinker on and almost cuts off another car.

“Why are you driving like you have a death wish?”

She laughs at me. “Gracie, this is how you drive in Massachusetts. There is so much traffic and so many people you have to speed, tailgate, and swerve in order to get anywhere.”

“Sheesh, and you have the nerve to call me Speed Racer. One should talk!”

“Sweetheart, I promise I won’t kill us, okay? But this is Rt. 128, also known as “Anything goes on 128.” There are no places to be pulled over, and besides, I’m kind of exempt for tickets anyway. She smiles at me.

“Ah, one of the perks of being in law enforcement.” I tell her, grinning.

“Exactly.” She resumes her nerve-wracking speed. “Besides, we don’t want to be late.”

“Where are we going?”

“Not telling.” She says, shutting her mouth and miming that she’s locked it and thrown away the key.

“Jaden, I hate surprises. I can’t stand the suspense. Please tell me.”

“No.” She mouths.

Arugh. She’s so infuriating. She always does this to me. Now myself, I can’t tease her. She gives me the puppy dog eyes and the pouty lips and I immediately cave. But when I beg and plead, she just ignores me no matter what I do.

“Please?” I try again, batting my eyelashes even though she’s driving and can’t see them.

Silence. She beams at me and turns on the CD player in the Explorer. “What do you want to listen too? What kind of music do you like?” “Country.” I state, knowing it will aggravate her.

“Ick. I always like to say: “Prevent inbreeding, ban country music.” She teases.

I stick my tongue out at her. “You’re such a jerk. First you won’t tell me where we’re going, and next you make fun of my taste in music.” I feel myself climbing onto my soapbox. “And I’ll have you know, that I enjoy all types of music. In Ohio, country music is king. But I enjoy everything from classical to rock. Jazz is probably my favorite.” I state firmly. She nods condescendingly.

“Alright. Well, you didn’t answer my question. What do you want to listen too, besides country?”

“How can I answer that when I don’t know what you have?” I tease her and she rolls her eyes at me, reaching under her seat and pulling out a large CD case.

“Pick anything in there. If there’s nothing you like there is another case under your seat.” She must love music as much as I do. I probably own over 100 CD’s, but Jaden’s collection puts mine to shame.

“Who’s Suzanne Vega?” I ask, looking at the eight different CD’s she has bearing that name. Jaden looks at me like I’m insane.

“You seriously don’t know?” She asks, and I shake my head. “You’re missing out on one of the most talented people ever. Put in that silver CD of hers.” I do, and the Explorer is suddenly filled with acoustic guitar.

“Pretty. I should love her, especially since I play the guitar.” Jaden looks at me funny.

“I didn’t know you played the guitar.” She says. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, figuring since I still don’t know where you went to college and lots of other stuff about you, I thought that not telling you I play the guitar was insignificant.” She looks hurt so I smile at her and place my hand on her thigh. “Besides, I’m not that good. It’s just a stupid hobby I picked up.” I shrug as she looks over at me.

“I went to college at UMASS, the University of Massachusetts.” She says, an unreadable expression on her face.

“I learned to play guitar my freshman year in college from my friend Greg.” I say, smiling at her.

“Well, then if you like acoustic guitar, you’ll love Suzanne Vega.” Jaden states firmly, turning the volume up on the radio. And she’s right. The singer’s voice is powerful yet almost emotionless, the guitar is strong without being overpowering, and the entire effect of the music is calming.

“It’s beautiful.” I say, recognizing the introduction of one song. “This sounds familiar to me.”

“It’s called “The Queen and the Soldier.” Jaden states, her face wistful. I can’t place where I’ve heard it from, but I do know that I’ve never been able to pick out the lyrics or the melody completely. Suddenly it registers.

“This is the song you always play on the jukebox at Uncle Rick’s Bar, isn’t it?” I ask, nodding my head sharply.

“Yeah, this is the song. I was surprised to find it there, it’s not exactly a popular bar song.” Jaden answers, her face impassive as she merges onto yet another highway filled with crazy drivers. “We’re almost there.”

“Where?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood again.

“To where we are going.” She teases back, grinning.

“And that would be where?” I’m hoping if I annoy her enough she’ll tell me.

“Gracie?” She asks.

“Yes?” “Shut up.”

We finally turn off the highway onto a main road. The sign tells us to turn left to Newburyport, and Jaden does so. “Newburyport, isn’t this where you were raised?”

“Yep, this is the place.” We pass the standard city things, McDonalds, Kmart, and a few grocery stores. Suddenly the main road makes a sharp right and we are in the middle of a beautiful residential section. The houses are so ancient, large cape-style houses with huge front windows and widow’s walks on the top story.

“It’s so pretty! Did you live around here?” I ask, amazed at the quaintness of this small town.

“A few block away. Newburyport isn’t that big, it’s mostly tourists now that come to walk the boardwalk along the port. This place is a madhouse on the weekends.” I can imagine. The streets we are driving along now are filled with tiny old-fashioned stores, toyshops, candy shops, and a few high-end clothing stores. We arrive at a dead-end street, in front of a large building on the water with colorful sea scenes painted on the side. “We’re here!” Jaden announces excitedly, jumping out of the Explorer. I get out, trying to figure out where we are. Jaden is rummaging around in the back, and approaches me with a small cooler and paper bag.

“What do you have, and where are we?” I ask her, wondering if she’s ever going to tell me. Jaden smiles and opens the bag for me to see. It looks like the makings of a lunch. She hands me the cooler and I open it to find more snacks and goodies. I raise my eyebrows in question and she finally spits it out.

“We’re going on a whale watch!”

I practically leap into her arms. “Are you kidding? Seriously? Like a REAL whale watch out on the ocean?” She nods as I hug her.

“Come on, we were supposed to be here at 11:30, and it’s almost quarter till 12:00. Let’s go.” She heads towards the building and I follow her. The building is cute inside, filled with souvenirs and whale information booklets. Jaden marches up to the desk as I browse around. “Hi, I’m Jaden Phillips and I have a reservation for 2 for 12:00. The girl nods and checks over her notepad.”

“Yes, Ms. Phillips, I have you down. How do you wish to pay?” I walk up to Jaden, digging my wallet out of my bag. Jaden looks at me funny and whips out her credit card.

“My Visa is fine, I’m paying for both tickets.” She tells the girl and myself. I start to argue and she silences me. “Shush. This is my treat, okay?” I grumble to myself, this entire vacation has been her treat. Not that I’m complaining, but I feel like such a freeloader and I don’t want her to think that of me. I make a mental note to talk to her later about this. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled that in 15 minutes I’m going to be out on the ocean on a boat with the most gorgeous and amazing woman AND looking for whales! Jaden signs her credit card receipt and I pull her hand.

“Come on!” I tell her, leading her to the boat. She laughs and follows me up the ramp onto the tall vessel. “Where should we sit?” I ask, noting the sparsely populated boat.

“This way.” She states, leading me to the front of the boat. There are few people sitting here, with most of them accumulating on the lower deck to be closer to the water. Jaden takes a seat and pulls me down next to her. From this vantage we have a perfect viewpoint of both sides of the ship.

I bounce around in my seat. “Have you ever been on one of these? Do you really see whales up close?” I am babbling, and I know it, but I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve been this excited.

“I went once when I was really little with my grandmother and Jonah. We saw quite a few whales, and yes, you do get close.” She seems to have caught my excitement, and she actively tells me of her experiences.

“So where were you this morning when I was in the shower? You said you had to run an errand?” Jaden smiles.

“I called for a reservation a few days ago, and I had to confirm it today. They said that since it’s a four-hour tour we should have some snacks and that it might rain. I didn’t have any windbreakers so I ran and got some. I hope yours fits.”

“Jaden, you didn’t have to buy me a jacket! But thank you.” I tell her. I can’t believe how thoughtful she is. “And thanks for packing a lunch too. I know I’ll be starving soon.” I say, smiling at her. “This is a four hour tour? What if we sink like the cast Gilligan’s Isle? They were on a three-hour tour and no one ever found them.” She groans and rolls her eyes at me. She does that a lot. Either she thinks I’m cute or she gets annoyed with me easily. I’m hoping she thinks I’m cute; Jaden doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would keep hanging around someone that annoyed her. At least I hope she isn’t.

“Gracie, we’re not going to sink.” She says, wrapping her arm around me. I snuggle down into her embrace. This is nice.

Suddenly a booming voice announces that the tour will begin. Several deck hands scramble to untie and push off the massive ship, and without further ado we are slowly moving through port. It’s a perfect day to be out on the water, hardly any wind and the sea looks to still be smooth. “Welcome aboard folks, I’m Captain Tom and I want to let you know a few things.” Captain Tom tells us that this past week has been wonderful for sighting whales and dolphins, since this is their primary migrating time almost every tour has had luck in finding the elusive sea mammals. We are also told that we will probably hit some rain when we get further out, and I’m thankful for Jaden’s windbreaker.

After about 20 minutes we leave port and are on the open sea. I can’t believe I’m actually on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s so incredibly beautiful, the water is dark and murky just like I thought it would be. “Is it what you expected?” Jaden asks, her voice husky in my ear.

“Everything and more.” I tell her, a sudden lump in my throat. I turn to her, gently kissing her cheek. “Thank you for everything. I love you.”

She smiles at me, and I detect faint tears in her bright eyes. “I love you too.” Not wanting to have an uncomfortable public display of emotion I smile at her and turn my eyes back out to sea. Jaden was right about wearing a hat; the glare from the sun off the water would kill my eyes if not for the brim of my baseball hat.

“When do we see the whales?” I ask, my eyes still searching around the massive sea.

“Usually we have to go about an hour out. So we have some time yet.” I lean back into her and continue to survey the ocean. It’s so solemn here, each wave conveying an ageless tale. I think about the people that have sailed these very waters, Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, and my very ancestors. It’s an almost creepy sensation, and I shudder into Jaden’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” She asks, a concerned look on her face. I shake my head at her.

“Nothing, just daydreaming about all the people who sailed these waters, how many of them died, how they felt finally seeing land after months at sea, all that stuff.” I feel her smile at me. I know she thinks that I think too much, and maybe I do.

“They say the Pacific has no memory.” Jaden says, the color of her eyes far more brilliant than the ocean beneath us. “But the Atlantic never forgets.” Her words are spoken clearly, and I believe that she must be right.

“Why do they say that?” I ask, never having seen the Pacific. A faint smile crosses her impassive face.

“The Pacific is wild, rough, and beautiful. The water is the color of your eyes, sometimes blue, sometimes green, and usually a mixture of the two. It looks almost untouched, as if no one has ever sailed on it before.”

I nod, trying to picture a vast aqua ocean. Maybe one day we can see it together.

“But the Atlantic has a history. One look at the murky, choppy, water leads you to believe that it holds the soul of every being that has ever crossed it.”

“That’s beautiful.” I tell her, listening to the strong and melodic tones of her voice. She says nothing and we are content to be with each other.

The boat is gently rocking, Captain Tom is telling tales of the sea and the whales, but I am only half listening. Instead I am focused on Jaden, how her silky hair is wispy around her face where it has blown out of her ponytail, and the smell of her skin that is damp with the spray from the sea.

“Alright folks, we have a whale directly to the left of the boat.” I am not expecting this mass stampede of people, but obviously Jaden is. She stands, her tall frame blocking people from crowding around us. “Where in the hell did all these people come from?” I ask, wondering what happened to the mostly-vacant boat we started the tour with. Jaden chuckles in my ear.

“They all get in a tizzy when a whale is spotted. People push and fight each other for a better view. It’s insane.” Jaden answers, and I agree.

Meanwhile, we are standing in a great viewing spot anxiously looking for the whale, and Jaden’s defensive posture and menacing glare have kept all the annoying tourists far away from us. It’s nice having a tall, dangerous girlfriend.

“Where is it?” I ask, for the 1,000th time. I hear Jaden trying not to groan or roll her eyes.

“Gracie, he said it was underwater. It will surface, don’t worry about it.” Her consoling doesn’t soothe me. I want to see the whale now, dammit! After several more painstaking minutes we are rewarded with large bubbles coming from under the water. Captain Tom is blubbering something about that being a sign the whale will surface but I ignore him and stare at the bubbles.

“Ohhh!” The crowd ohhs and ahhs the appearance of the beautiful sea mammal as it’s back appears above the gently rocking ocean. The whale’s blowhole releases a stream of air and water vapor as it takes another breath. Then, it dives back under the water and gives us a view of it’s massive tail fluke. I am holding onto Jaden’s shirt and jumping up and down. The whale was probably 10 feet away from us, and the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen. It was beautiful.

“More!” I cry, as Jaden takes me in her arms and kisses my head. She’s murmuring something to me, but I am focused on the once-again calm sea.

“It will be back, don’t worry.” Jaden says, and she’s right, as suddenly a whale does another breath-and-then-dive again. I think this one is different though, because the tail was marked differently. Captain Tom then announces that we have found a small group of them and they are feeding. I can’t believe it.

Jaden gasps, as the ocean is suddenly alive with the whales. Everywhere we look there is either a whale back or tail. It’s as if we are in the middle of a movie, I can’t believe that this is happening. “My camera!” I suddenly remember, and I am tearing apart my bag looking for it. I know it’s in here somewhere. I finally find it and after turning it on, manage to snap some great close-up shots of the whales.

We view the whales for over an hour. I can’t believe how beautiful they are. One young whale that was curious of the boat treated us by bringing his head above water and allowing us a look at his face. The Humpback Whale is an incredibly noble animal, and to think of the numbers slaughtered by whalers makes me sick. I mention this to Jaden and her face turns angry and cold. She is easily angered over things like this, and I don’t blame her one bit.

The whales being to show themselves less frequently, and Captain Tom announces that we will be heading back to shore. I sigh, disappointed to be going back to shore. I love this ocean, and despite my slight seasickness, (which I didn’t tell Jaden about to prevent her from worrying about me the entire time,) I feel as if I could stay here forever. We do need to be getting back however, we traveled so far out that the shore is nowhere to be found.

Jaden and I sit, and I shiver in the rapidly cooling air. I pull my vest tighter around me and zip it up. “Here.” Jaden states, wrapping me securely in her embrace. She is distracted; I can tell by the way her pale eyes are flicking around from the sky to the sea and back to the sky again.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m not sure.” She states, still surveying the distant horizon. “Do you smell that?” She asks, and I sniff the air. I smell the sea, and the delicious smell that is Jaden.

“Smell what?” I ask, shivering again in the cool air and sudden wind that has picked up. Without a word Jaden takes my windbreaker from my bag and hands it to me. I pull it on and snuggle back into her warmth.

“There’s a storm headed our way.” She finally states, after minutes of silence. “And judging by the horizon, it’s going to be a bad one.” I look in the direction she’s staring and see that she’s right. Within minutes the sky has turned from a sunny blue to an ominous dark gray. The sea itself has seemed to pick up, the waves suddenly choppy. I see whitecaps in the distance.

“How far is it to shore?” I ask nervously. I get seasick only in rare occasions, and I know a full-out ocean gale would defiantly be one of those occasions. I’ve already almost thrown up in front of Jaden once, and I don’t plan on doing it again! And then there’s the whole other issue of being thrown overboard and drowning, or swimming to shore. Not fun at all.

“I don’t know, it took us awhile to get out here. I’d say an hour at the least.” She says, still looking at the rapidly approaching clouds. Damn it.

Captain Tom uses this fine opportunity to inform us that a storm is approaching. Everyone is to put a life jacket on, and be prepared to head down to the main enclosed cabin. This is where I begin to panic. Sure, the thought of the boat sinking is horrible enough, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the last few moments in an enclosed cabin with all of these people. I don’t think I’ll be able to do it; I am so claustrophobic that even plane compartments make me nervous.

I think Jaden senses my panic. She wraps her arms around my shoulders and kisses my temple. “I’ll be right back, I’m just going to get lifejackets.” I watch her leave. “Oh Goddess, this doesn’t look good.” I say out loud, as the heavens suddenly open up and it begins to rain harder than I’ve ever thought imaginable.
A few minutes later:
Shit. This is bad. I squint my irritated eyes to avoid filling them with sea spray and gusting winds. Gracie is curled up in my arms, well, as best as one can be curled up while wearing a thick life preserver. I’m trying to shield her from the downpour, with little success. We are among the few left on deck. Everyone else with any brains went down to the enclosed first level.

Gracie, myself, and a few other brave souls are braving the storm along with Captain Tom and the crew. They are huddled in the small steering area of the ship, and from their nervous faces I can tell we’re in for a long, rough, ride.

We aren’t moving very fast, the massive boat rolling dangerously in the choppy sea. The waves are already crashing over the lower deck, and I’m no weatherwoman, but I can tell it’s going to get worse.

Captain Tom pleaded for everyone to cram in the enclosed first level a few minutes ago. There was a mad rush of scared people, and I could tell from Gracie’s frightened face that she was not looking forward to joining them. She seems a little green around the gills, if you know what I mean. Not that I blame her, the way this ship is rocking is enough even to make the most fearsome sailor want to lose it over the side. I think if we were to be in a tiny, hot, space with other people breathing down our necks her nausea would become severely worse. And I wouldn’t do that to her.

Besides, if we’re going to crash, I want to be clear of everyone else so I can get Grace to safety. That’s my first priority.

So here we are. The storm sure is beautiful, and I know that even though she’s scared, Grace is appreciating it. She wanted to see the ocean, and she’s sure seeing it. The Atlantic is known for it’s trickery, beautiful and calm while a ferocious storm waits to unleash it’s wrath without any warning.

She’s shaking. I wrap my arms tighter on her, cursing the damn life preservers. We are hit by a sudden wave and the boat tips dangerously to the left. I slide out of my rain-made-slippery seat onto the deck.

“Grace!” I shout to her, and look up in time to see her careening towards me. I hold out my arms to her, hopefully to lessen her impact onto me. She crashes into me, knocking my breath from my chest. She struggles to get up and I hold her to my aching chest. “Hold still.” I yell to her, wanting her to be in my arms if anything else should happen. I twist my arms around to unsnap my life preserver strap and interlace it with the strap on her preserver before snapping myself in again. That way, where she goes, I go. And I’ll never let go of her, if I can help it.

“Shit, Jaden we have to get downstairs!” She screams to me as the boat lurches back again. She’s right; we are helpless on the top deck, being whipped from side to side by the relentless waves. She puts on her backpack, securing the straps around her life jacket and murmuring something about not wanting to leave it behind.

“Crawl towards the stairs, don’t stand up!” I tell her, and quickly kiss her cheek. “Go first, I’ll be right behind you.” She begins to crawl, our connected life preservers pulling me with her. I have to hop to keep up with her, but we make it to the stairs fairly easily. It’s difficult to walk down the stairs while connected, but there’s no way I’m letting go of her.

Finding the first level we take seats outside of the packed enclosed seating. The weary passengers in the enclosed section are standing practically on top of each other. They all look hot and sweaty and terrified. I’m relieved to be alone with Gracie, though a part of me is wondering what happened to the other people that were on the top deck with us.

She looks beautiful. I know I shouldn’t be having those thoughts now, but I’ve never seen her look more exquisite. Her faded blue hat has long been stashed safely in her backpack, and tendrils of her long blonde hair have blown out of her ponytail, framing her face in wild, long strands and highlighting the deep color of her eyes. They are almost a gray now, and I realize this is the color they get when she is afraid. I’ve seen her eyes bright blue with happiness and a deep green when she’s aroused. I grin at her, and she cocks her head, wondering why I’m smiling at her like a love struck teenager while in the middle of a severe sea storm.

“What?” She asks, moving herself closer to me. I’ve never seen anyone look so hot while wearing a life preserver. Hell, I can’t help it any longer.

And I kiss her.
Part 5

June 1, 2000.
Well, this is weird. Jaden’s tongue is down my throat and I can hardly stay on my feet. Usually when she kisses me I get weak in the knees with lust for her. But now, I’m afraid, it’s a much more serious issue. The boat is rocking so much that I can’t keep my balance. But, jeez, can she kiss. And if we’re going to die, I guess I can’t think of a better way to do so.

And then I hear something that sounds like a bull elephant in heat. Now, I’ve never actually heard what a bull elephant sounds like while in heat, but I’m assuming it’s like this noise. It’s a sudden, indescribably loud mixture between a trumpet and an earthquake.

People are screaming. I look at Jaden in confusion, wondering what in the hell is going on. The boat seems heavier suddenly, the small impulsion we had from the hard-working engines seems to die, and it feels like we are sitting still in the water. I still can hear the engines working, over the pounding rain and rushing water, so it doesn’t make any sense as to why we aren’t moving. I look to Jaden for an explanation and absolutely do not like the look on her face. She looks scared.

“What happened?” I scream to her, and she doesn’t seem to hear me. My feet feel soaked and I look down. I am dumbfounded to see that the entire first level of the boat is filling with water. “Jaden, what do we do?” I scream, and it finally gets her attention. She looks down at the rapidly rising water. Surveying the scene, she tries to open the door of the enclosed seating. The people inside are panicking, pushing against each other in an attempt to get out. The door is stuck because of the pressure from the rising water.

“We have to open it now or they will drown inside!” She screams to me, and I help her push. The people inside are pushing against the door in their panic to get out, making Jaden’s job even harder. I try to tell them to stop as we put all our weight into opening the goddamned door.

I feel I’m getting in Jaden’s way. She is putting all her strength into pushing on the door, and the task is getting to be more difficult as the rising water keeps it in place. I unclasp her life preserver strap from mine, moving out of her way. This allows her to have more leverage and I watch in amazement as she tenses her muscles and finally pushes the door open.

People are rushing out, not bothering with manners as they push, hit, and trample over anyone in their way. Children are screaming and crying, a few elderly people are standing still, unsure as of what to do, and I can’t find Jaden.

“JADEN!” I scream, knowing it’s useless with the ocean of sounds surrounding me. Members of the crew have finally realized what is happening and are struggling to get people in lifeboats.

Oh Goddess, get us out of here safely and I promise I’ll never make fun of what a horrible movie “Titanic” was ever again. Ever. I am in shock with what I am seeing. Am I really on a boat that is sinking in the middle of the Atlantic? Did I just watch my lover defy rules of physics by opening a door to save fifty people? Oh Goddess, where the hell is Jaden?

I push my way through the crowd clamoring to get into the lifeboats. I run back to the doorway that Jaden so heroically opened. She’s not there. The interior is empty, except for the rushing water now pooling around my knees. Feeling like Rose, I wade my way back over to where the crowd is. Most of the people are in the lifeboats now, only a few men remaining with the crew.

“Lady, get over here!” A tall crewman yells to me. I shake my head and continue my search for Jaden. C’mon tall, dark, and dangerous, where are you? The pouring rain makes it difficult to see anyone, and I try to shield my eyes as I try to find her. She’s got to be here somewhere, or maybe she already got in a boat. Would she leave me behind?

Maybe she went back onto the top deck. I know she was concerned about those other people that were up there with us. And besides, the top deck isn’t underwater. Yet.

I head for there, my thighs burning under the strain of trying to walk through knee-deep water. Reaching the stairs I start up them, climbing easily to the second level. The wind is so strong I have to keep a hold of the railing so I don’t blow overboard. I can’t see anything; even if Jaden and the other people were up here I don’t think I would be able to see them. If it would only stop raining I could see something, anything. I can’t lose her; I’ve gone too long without her. A hand suddenly grabs onto the back of my life jacket.

“Gracie! Come on!” She screams to me. Thank Goddess it’s her voice. I turn around to see the most relieving sight of my life, a perfectly fine Jaden, looking more than a little waterlogged and exhausted. I throw myself into her arms. “We have to get out of here, we don’t have much time.” She yells in my ear and locks her life jacket strap onto mine again. “Why didn’t you stay with me!” She screams, and I push her down the stairs, no time for a lecture now.

Holy fucking mother of hell. The water is up past my waist now, actually, the boat is that far underwater. The few remaining lifeboats are bobbing in the water and I have no idea how we are going to get in them, let alone stay afloat once we are in them. I can’t move, paralyzed by the freezing water and the sudden jolt of fear. Jaden has to swim over to the terrified and weary crew and a broken-looking Captain Tom, pulling me in tow. There are just a few remaining people to get in the lifeboats, and the crew pulls me up into one.

“Is there anybody else?” Captain Tom yells, his deep voice cracking with fear.

“No, we’re the last ones.” Jaden yells, and he looks relieved.

Jaden’s life jacket is connected to mine so as they are lifting me into the lifeboat, Jaden has to haul herself up next to me. Goddess, she’s freakishly strong.

This is not happening. I am not in a tiny lifeboat with Jaden, the crew, and Captain Tom. He unties the last remaining rope connecting us with the boat and I watch in horror as we float away from the sinking vessel. This is insane. I feel as if I’m in a bad, horrible dream and must be waking up soon.

But Jaden is here. She is warm next to me, and how she’s not freezing I don’t understand. It’s eerily silent now, I know that the wind is still blowing and the waves are still fierce from the way the lifeboat is tipping and bobbing, but I can’t seem to hear anything. And I can’t seem to understand why no one is talking. And I really can’t understand how the strong, safe, sturdy, huge boat we were on just sank into the Atlantic, almost killing us all.

I can’t help it. I lean over the edge of the lifeboat and get very, very, sick. I’m aware of the bile in my throat and of Jaden’s strong hands preventing me from going over the edge. I’m aware of the crashing waves splashing freezing salt water on my face and of how the ocean smells heady and musky. Everything else seems like a daze.

Where is everyone else? Did everyone make it? Why isn’t there a rescue boat? How long will we be out here? Would Jaden let anyone dine on my dead body if we’re not rescued for days? Questions fill my head as the contents of my stomach for the past 12 years empty themselves into the raging sea. Take that Poseidon. Stupid sea-God, this is your fault.

I think I’m losing my mind. I really do. I finally finish throwing up and lean heavily against Jaden’s side. I take in deep, calming, breaths and decide that I’m never, ever, going on a boat again. I want to talk to Jaden, to get reassurance from her, but with the wind screaming I know it’s useless.

Lights in the distance. I point them out to Jaden, who nods and smiles at me. It must be our rescue boat. It has to be. Who else would be out in this weather? I look for the other lifeboats, relieved to see a few white hulls bobbing in the distance.

It has finally stopped raining. I’m freezing, my teeth chattering uncontrollably. Jaden has her arms around me as best as she can, but it isn’t helping much. I watch as the boat’s lights get closer, but still seem so far away. The wind seems to be dying down also, I feel the waves to be less rolling and I can actually hear Jaden’s labored breathing.

I survey the scene, able to pick out the shapes of about 7 lifeboats surrounding us. I wonder how many there are. Or were. I shudder at the thought. Surely no one has drowned, right? I look to Jaden, who seems to be studying the sea intently. I think she’s counting the lifeboats around us.

“What were you saying about Gilligan and their three hour tour?” She suddenly says in my ear. I know she’s trying to lighten the mood, and I’m thankful for that.

“What were you saying about us not sinking?” I tease back, and am rewarded by her bright smile. Goddess, even in the middle of the freaking ocean, on a lifeboat, and she still makes me want to ravish her.

“Well, I know now that I can’t take you anywhere.” She says, grinning at me.

I scowl at her. “This is not my fault.”

“Whatever, Mary Anne.” She says, sticking out her tongue at me. I know she is trying to take my mind off our plight, and the playful banter is defiantly helping.

“What, and you’re Ginger?” I snort. She shrugs and I argue, ” and I’m not Mary Anne.”

“Okay then, Mrs. Howell.”
An hour later:
It’s freezing out here. I hold Grace close, tucking her damp head under my chin. She doesn’t move. I touch her clammy skin, concerned at how cold she is.

We’re both soaked. It’s been raining on and off since the ship went down, resulting in us being in a cramped lifeboat. It’s been about an hour now, I think, and while the lights of the Coast Guard ship are slowly advancing towards us, they are still too far away.

I try to wake Grace again, but she’s passed out from fright and fatigue, maybe both. Her full lips have a blue tinge and I try to hold her as close as possible, desperate to give her all of my remaining body warmth.

I’m scared. A feeling I’m not used too. I’ve been scared only a few times in my life, but I can’t remember being more terrified than I am right now. I’m not scared of my own death, but the thought of anything happening to Grace scares me more than anything.

I remember when I was four and I would be scared of the dark, or monsters under my bed, or other childish things. I’d go running into Jonah’s room and he would always protect me. We’d read under the covers with a flashlight or make blanket forts on his bed. He was always such a good big brother.

I miss him.

I look at the sleeping girl in my arms. Planting a kiss to her icy forehead I know that I can’t lose her. I will do anything to protect her, even if it means my own death. I hope it doesn’t come to that, I can’t imagine not ever seeing her sparkling eyes again.

“I love you Gracie. I’ll keep you safe.” I whisper in her ear, knowing that she can’t hear me. I know I shouldn’t let her sleep. She needs to be awake so her circulation doesn’t slow down. But the poor kid was puking because of the waves and the brutal rocking of the boat. She was so embarrassed that when she passed out it was almost a relief. I hate to see her in that much pain and that upset.

Everyone else in the boat is silent. We all must be exhausted, just keeping your balance in the violently shaking lifeboat is a workout in itself. I look around at the boat’s other passengers, noting that most of the crew looks young, Gracie’s age and younger. Poor kids, they probably took this job for the summer, thinking they could work on their tans and whale watch for hours. I bet they never thought they’d be in this situation.

The boat suddenly pitches to the side and everyone, including myself, screams out of surprise and fear. I grab onto Grace tighter, pulling her sliding form forcefully to my side.

I hope the angry storm isn’t getting its second wind. Wave after powerful wave break over the surface of the boat, plastering us with ice-cold saltwater.

“Get down!” I yell to the passengers of the boat, trying to get everyone down onto the boat’s floor. They are all standing up and I’m terrified one of them will fall over. I push Grace’s lifeless form onto the floor, making sure she isn’t face down in the few inches of water the waves have left in the boat. I pull others down also, relieved when they see what I’m trying to say. “Cover your head with your hands, and get face down!”

Just in time, they all hear me over the crashing waves and howling wind. The crew falls to the floor, followed by Captain Tom. Making sure everyone else is safe I fall to the floor, huddling over Grace’s prone form. A gigantic wave crashes over our heads, further drenching us all.

“Please!” I pray to whatever deity truly does exist. “Let us get out of here, please.” The roaring water is deafening, and I close my eyes against the stinging water.

I don’t know how long we stay like this. It feels like forever, yet rationally I know it only must be minutes. Grace is growing increasingly cold and I know that I must rouse her soon, the longer she’s unconscious the worse she’s going to get. I can’t lose her.

As quickly as it came on, the storm suddenly dies. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I do know that the goddamned Coast Guard better get here soon. This is unacceptable; we’ve been on this ocean for hours now with no Coast Guard yet. Assholes.

“It seems to be dying down, it’s probably safe to sit up again.” The other passengers of the lifeboat slowly sit up, anxiously looking around them. “Captain, you’re a man of the sea. What do you think?” I ask, not missing the nervous look on Tom’s face. Something’s not right, call it my policewoman’s intuition, but I know there’s something he knows that he’s not revealing.

Captain Tom clears his throat. “Uh, well the sky is returning to normal color, and the air doesn’t smell as sulfuric. I’d say we’ve probably seen the worst.” He catches my eye, looking away when I glare at him.

“I hope you’re right.” I tell him, my voice firm. The other passengers of the lifeboat, Tom’s crew, look hopeful at his words. I do believe him, the sky is clearing and it’s finally stopped raining. It’s still cold though, and I know we won’t be warm again until we’re in a warm bath.

“Gracie, honey, wake up.” I plead in her ear, supporting her lifeless body in my arms. I plant a desperate kiss to her forehead. I never should have let her pass out, I knew it wasn’t good for her, but I didn’t know what to do. She was so nervous and sick to her stomach. I feel so guilty. I hate this. I can’t be responsible for another death of someone I love. I just can’t.

Suddenly I feel sick. I swear the boat is closing in around me, and I can’t breathe. Gasping for air I clutch my chest, sure that I’m going to die right here in the middle of the ocean. Flashes of Jonah and Gracie dance around my head.

“I’m so sorry!” I say to them. “I didn’t mean to kill you, you’re the only people I’ve ever loved and I’ve killed you.”

“Jaden?” Grace’s voice is distant, and weak. I’m going crazy. This isn’t real. None of this is real. I clutch my face with my hands, trying to escape from my brain and the hallucinations.

“Jaden, please talk to me. You’re scaring me.” Grace’s voice sounds in my ear again. I open my eyes and see her concerned face inches from mine, her small hand on my shoulder.

“Go away.” I whisper to her. “You’re dead. I killed you.”

She hugs me, her frail arms pulling me to her. “Sweetheart, I’m not dead. I feel like I should be, but I’m not. And you didn’t kill me.”

I nod numbly, unsure as to if this is a dream or reality. I don’t know what to believe anymore. The only thing I’m aware of is Grace’s voice in my ear, her wet hair against my cheek.

“You’re safe Jaden, I promise you’re safe.” I have to believe her. It’s all I have to believe.

I lay my head trustingly on her shoulder. The Coast Guard lights beckon in the distance; they are almost upon us now.

I don’t need the fucking Coast Guard now. My beam of light is the fairness of Grace’s hair; my rescue ship is her safe embrace.
Four hours later:
“No comment. Now back off!” Jaden pushes through the swarming reporters, holding onto me tightly. They seem to be everywhere, pushing microphones and video cameras into our faces. All I want to do is get to the freaking hospital so I can pee. Being on a lifeboat in the middle of a rocking ocean makes one’s bladder really take priority.

I feel like hell. I’m cold and I don’t know what hurts more, my aching ribs and throat, tender and raw from throwing up, or my head. It’s hard to walk, I still feel as if I’m on the water, the very ground beneath my feet seems to be rolling.

It’s insanity here. The Coast Guard finally picked us up, and it took hours to get everyone loaded into the boat. I still don’t know if anyone’s missing or if everyone indeed did make it. After being checked out by paramedics on the boat, I fell asleep in Jaden’s lap, covered with warm blankets. She woke me up when we reached shore.

She looks tired. She scared me so much; I woke up while still on the lifeboat to her having a panic attack. She was mumbling about how she killed me and was almost inconsolable. It was so terrifying because I didn’t know how to comfort her. I’m so used to her being the strong one. I finally got her settled down, simply by reassuring her that I was okay and by holding her. I didn’t let her go until the Coast Guard showed up and loaded us onto their boat. She, as usual, then put on her stoic hard-ass face and proceeded to put herself in charge again. I could tell she was in pain, both physical and emotional so I had to plead with her to let the paramedics check her out. Turns out she knew a couple of them, and was embarrassed by the entire situation. I guess being a cop makes you think you should never be in an accident or anything. Their pride gets in the way. But she gave in to my begging and got checked out, and they said she was fine except for a few bruised ribs. How in the hell did she get bruised ribs?

Jaden insisted on having me go to the hospital. I just want to go back to her apartment and curl up next to her and sleep for a few days. Not spend the rest of the night in an emergency room with doctors poking and prodding me to death. I argued with her that if I had to be checked out, than she had to be too. She finally agreed.

So we’re pushing through the insane crowd of reporters and people out gawking at the scene. Police are covering the area, trying their best to keep the victims safe from the media, but there are too many cameras and not enough security. That’s all I need, to have my parents see Jaden and I on TV talking about our experience on the ocean. They would freak out, big time.

So now we are in Jaden’s Explorer driving to the hospital. Her ribs must be hurting; I noticed she took a sharp breath while hoisting herself into the driver’s seat. Thank Goddess we are safe. I guess I didn’t really realize how close we came to being victims of the sea. Slumping against the seat I listen to the soft sounds around me. The rhythmic beat of the windshield wipers, the gentle pitter of the rain as it hits the car, Jaden’s soft, shallow breathing, (another clue that her ribs are hurting,) and my own labored breath. I’m so tired and cold that every breath I take feels like a chore. I just want to sleep.

We pull into the emergency room parking lot. Shit. I just remembered that my insurance is through my parents. If they find out that this happened, they will kill me. I’m not even supposed to be in Massachusetts, let alone on a sinking boat in the middle of the Atlantic. I guess I’ll just have to pay for it without submitting it to my insurance. Crap, it’s going to be so expensive.

“Come on, sweetheart.” Jaden says, carefully getting out of the Explorer. I follow her into the emergency room. It’s empty, except for a few other passengers I recognize from the ship. Nothing like the ER I watch on television, though it would be lovely to have my very own Carol Hathaway checking me out. But much to my disdain, the only nurses I see are quite grumpy looking. I guess they were hoping for a quiet evening. A shipwreck doesn’t quite fit into those plans.

We give the ER attendant our names and she hands us the necessary paperwork. Jaden takes her soggy wallet from her back pocket and starts dutifully transcribing her insurance information. I fill in my name, address, and date of birth and set the forms down on the table. Jaden looks at me curiously, and continues filling out her paperwork.

“Gracie?” She asks.

“What?”

“You don’t have medical insurance?” She says, looking at me skeptically.

“Well, I do, but actually it’s under my parents. And if they get a bill or a statement saying I was in a Massachusetts hospital treated for injuries sustained during a marine accident they will kill me.” I sigh, this long statement taking more energy than it should.

“Oh.” Jaden says, finishing her paperwork and standing up slowly. “I’ll take these up then.”

She returns and we sit in silence, halfway paying attention to the children’s show that is blaring from the television.

“Ms. Phillips?” A nurse calls, and Jaden stands up, wincing. She looks down at me, and extends her hand.

“Come with me, okay? I don’t want us to be separated right now.” I nod and follow her. The nurse gives us a funny glance until Jaden gives her trademark “Don’t fuck with me” look and speaks in a clear and firm voice.

“This is Grace McKenzie and we would like to be in the same examination room.” The nurse looks at me and back to Jaden.

“Ms. Phillips, that isn’t necessary. The doctor will see your friend shortly.”

“It’s Officer Phillips, and it is necessary that we are not separated right now. Do I make myself clear?” Jaden hisses and the nurse caves immediately.

“Yes ma’am. Right this way.” The nurse is meek as she leads us to a small examining room. Removing two hospital gowns from a supply closet she hands them to us. “Please get undressed and put these on. I’ll be in shortly to check your vitals and then the doctor will have a look at you.” She leaves before I can thank her, and Jaden shuts the door.

“I hate hospitals.” She states, removing her damp jeans.

“Jeez, I couldn’t tell.” I tease, smiling at her as I go about taking off my stiff salt-water clothes. If I never wear this outfit again I’ll die happy. It smells like the shipwreck and fear, a scent I never want to experience again. We undress, Jaden’s back to me. I admire her cute backside and reach out to pinch. Finding my target, she turns her head and smirks at me. I shrug at her and smile, I can’t resist touching her sometimes. She finishes changing into her gown and turns around, moving towards me with a playful gleam in her eyes. She softly kisses me, her fingers stroking up and down my back.

The nurse clears her throat as she enters the room and shuts the door. Jaden doesn’t release me immediately; instead she gives me another lingering kiss before moving away. The nurse pretends like she’s seen nothing and approaches me, a thermometer in her hand. Jaden stands next to me possessively as the nurse takes my blood pressure and temperature. She makes the proper notes on my chart and moves towards Jaden. I sense the nurse’s fear as she sticks the thermometer in Jaden’s mouth. I pat Jaden’s hand, hoping she’ll be polite and let the nurse do her job.

The nurse finishes with us and quickly leaves the room. Jaden sighs and sits down next to me on the table. “How are your ribs feeling?” I ask her, noting her shoulders are slumped instead of her usual straight posture.

She rolls her eyes at me. “Fine.” She glances around the room and sighs again. “I hope they don’t keep us here long. I really want to take a shower, get dinner, and curl up in bed with you.”

I look at her with mock shock on my face. “Ms. Phillips, are you propositioning me?” I bat my eyelashes at her and she smiles. Thank Goddess; I haven’t really seen her smile since right before we started sinking.

“It’s Officer Phillips, remember?” She says, a teasing tone to her voice.

“Oh right, how could I forget? I’m surprised, you don’t usually use your police status when dealing with people.”

She shrugs at me, her body language conveying that this is a subject she isn’t fond of. “I only let people know I’m a policewoman when it’s necessary. Sometimes it works to my advantage. But I certainly don’t flaunt it.” Her tone is clipped, and I can tell she’s on the borderline between annoyed and angry.

“Jaden,” I soothe her, “I didn’t mean to accuse you of using your status to get special treatment. I was just surprised to see you tell the nurse you were on the force. I’ve never felt that you try to get your way by flaunting your status.” I rest my hand on her arm, trying to keep her calm.

She ducks her head slightly. “Sorry Gracie, I’m just tired and over-sensitive right now. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” I squeeze her strong bicep.

“I know.” I tell her simply, and we sit in comfortable silence.

It’s only a few minutes before the doctor enters the room. He’s a friendly-looking older gentleman and he smiles briskly at us. “Which one of you is Grace?” He asks, and I raise my hand, feeling like I’m in grade school.

Jaden stiffly stands up from the table and takes a seat in the chair in the corner of the room. “Hi Grace, I’m Dr. Bryant. How are you feeling?” He asks me as he reviews my chart.

“I’m feeling okay, a little sore. I’m still really cold and my lungs hurt when I breathe.” I sense Jaden’s eyes on me, and I know she’s worrying.

“Doctor, she lost consciousness for awhile while we were in the lifeboat. She became really seasick and then passed out for about an hour or so.” Jaden interjects and the Doctor looks at her and nods.

“Okay Grace, according to your vitals your temperature seems to be a little low still. It’s possible you have a slight case of hypothermia. As for your lungs, did you get any saltwater in them? Were you submerged at all?” He takes his stethoscope and after warming it between his hands he places it over my heart. Cocking his head slightly he moves the scope over my left lung. “Take three deep breaths for me please.”

“No, she wasn’t submerged at all.” Jaden answers for me, since I am concentrating on breathing. My chest feels heavy, like a weight is sitting on it. I finish my breaths and Dr. Bryant moves over to my right side and instructs me to breathe deeply again. I do, and it takes all I have to not start coughing.

Dr. Bryant removes the stethoscope and sits back on his stool. “Grace, your lungs seem inflamed, probably due to stress, the cold and exposure. Do you have any history of asthma?” I shake my head at him; I’ve never had asthma problems before. “Okay, I’m going to give you a prescription to help relieve the inflammation. If you still have trouble breathing in 48 hours, I want to see you again, understand?” I nod my head. He makes a note on my chart and looks at me again. “Go home, take a hot shower and stand in the steam for awhile. That will help raise your temperature and the steam will be good for your lungs. If you have any additional problems, please let me know.” He pats my knee kindly and moves over to Jaden.

“Now, Ms. Phillips, how are you feeling?” I wonder why she always gets called Ms. Phillips but everyone always calls me Grace. I must still appear like a kid to them. Jaden, on the other hand, has nothing kid-like about her, until you really get to know her.

She looks uncomfortable under Dr. Bryant’s scrutiny. He listens to her heart and lungs and seems satisfied with her vital signs.

“I’m fine, really. Just tired and a little sore.” Jaden says, quickly glancing at me with a 100% readable look in her eye. She’s asking me not to tell the Doctor about her ribs. I’m torn. I don’t want to betray Jaden’s confidence, but I also love her and I can tell she’s in pain. I make my decision and try to apologize to her with my eyes.

“The paramedics from the Coast Guard said that she has some bruised ribs.” I say quietly, not missing the angry look I get from Jaden. The doctor furrows his brow and asks the question I’ve wanted to ask since I found out about her ribs.

“How did you bruise your ribs?”

“The boat lurched hard to the side and I slipped off the seat. Grace came crashing down onto my chest.” Jaden shrugs her shoulders and doesn’t look at me.

“Mind if I take a look?” Dr. Bryant asks and Jaden starts to pull up her gown.

I feel awful. Not only do I freaking hurt her ribs, I then make her endure an exam because of me. Some friend I am. I hang my head, hoping she’s not upset with me. Hearing her take a sharp intake of air in pain I glance up at her.

Oh Goddess, I can’t believe what I’ve done. Jaden’s entire midsection below her breasts is already a deep purple. Dr. Bryant is gently prodding at her ribs, eliciting painful sounds and curses from Jaden. She is clutching the seat of the chair, and I see that her entire body is tense. She’s never going to forgive me, hell; I’m never going to forgive myself.

“I’d like to take an X-Ray, and depending on the results of that possibly an MRI just to make sure there’s no internal bleeding.” Dr. Bryant states. Jaden nods her head, apparently to tired to argue. “How are you feeling otherwise? Any abdominal cramping or trouble breathing?”

“No, I’m fine.” She states, pulling her gown back down to cover herself.

“Okay, I’m going to give you a prescription for painkillers. I’ll have someone be down to take you to have an X-Ray in a few minutes.” Dr. Bryant smiles at both of us and opens the door to leave the room.

“Doctor, the painkiller prescription isn’t necessary. I don’t take them.” Jaden says.

“You’re going to have considerable pain with this kind of injury, Ms. Phillips. Painkillers will help take the edge off so you can sleep comfortably and move around better.”

Jaden shakes her head adamantly. “I don’t take them, and I won’t accept the prescription.” She squares her shoulders and looks right into Dr. Bryant’s eyes. He looks confused, but nods in agreement and leaves the room.

I don’t know what to say to her. How do you apologize for putting someone you love in horrible pain? I avert my gaze from her and pretend to be fascinated by the blood pressure machine hanging on the wall. She stands up and changes back into her clothes, throwing her hospital gown onto the chair. Walking over to me, she gently takes my chin and forces my eyes to rest on hers.

“What’s the matter?” She says, her voice soft and gentle.

“I’m so sorry.” I tell her, my eyes welling with tears. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I understand if you hate me.” I sniff and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand.

“Shh. Gracie, first of all I could never hate you. I love you so much. And second of all, I would do anything, endure any pain, if it meant I could keep you safe, okay?” She wraps her arms around me, gently settling me against her breasts. I’m careful to hug her gently as to not hurt her ribs any further. “You didn’t do anything on purpose, and I am glad you landed on me rather than the hard ground. Then you’d be in a full-body cast and the rest of your trip here wouldn’t have been fun at all.” I giggle, imagining myself covered by a cast. I’d be a horrible invalid.

The door opens and our favorite nurse is back. I giggle again, wondering if the nurse thinks that all we do is make out. Jaden chuckles and releases me, kissing my cheek gently. “Get dressed and I’ll be back in a minute. This shouldn’t take long.” I nod at her, wiping my remaining tears as they leave. I groan at the thought of pulling on my disgusting clothes, but I do, wincing at the stiff, now-dried salt that scrapes my skin.

True to her word, Jaden is back shortly. She enters the room with two cans of pop and some vending machine snacks. She’s my hero.

“I’m hungry, so I bet that you’re starving.” I roll my eyes at her as we divide up the snacks.

“Thanks.”

“Anytime, Gracie. Anytime.”

A bed never felt so good. Jaden and I went through the Burger King drive in and ate ravenously on the drive home. We then collapsed into bed. I know that she really wanted to shower, and so did I, but we are both so exhausted that we had to get in bed. Dr. Bryant discovered that Jaden’s ribs were only bruised, not cracked, so he stopped hassling her about the painkillers. I wonder why she was so adamant about not taking them. I know some people don’t like to rely on them, but I’m surprised she didn’t have the prescription filled just in case the pain became really unbearable. The hospital filled my prescription there, saving us from having to stop to have it filled.

We are now lying naked in bed, my head resting comfortably on Jaden’s shoulder. She is softly stroking my stomach and I feel myself being lulled closer and closer to sleep. It’s hard to breathe while lying on my back, but I need to be close to Jaden right now. I’m hoping that one good night’s sleep will be what we both need. Jaden’s breathing is still shallow, but she seems not to be as in much pain lying still. My eyes drift close as my brain slowly shuts down. My curiosity overwhelms my desire for sleep and I have to ask her.

“Jaden, why won’t you take painkillers?” She is quiet, and for a minute I think she’s already fallen asleep. My eyes shut again, and I make a mental note to ask her again in the morning when we are both conscious. I pull the covers up tighter against us. I’m still freezing, but the combined warmth of Jaden and the warm blankets are quickly regulating my body temperature.

“Because I used to be a drug addict.” Jaden suddenly answers.

Oh, that’s why she won’t take painkillers. She used to be a drug addict. Well, that makes sense. I nod and snuggle closer to her, appreciating her warmth. Then I actually realize what she said.

“You used to be a drug addict?” I suddenly say, not sure if I was dreaming or she was being serious.

“Yes.” She answers quietly. I swallow, and am at a complete loss of words.

It’s quiet. Jaden has stopped breathing, and so have I. I’m not exactly sure what to say to her, I mean, when the person you’re madly in love with suddenly tells you that she used to be a drug addict, what do you say? “Oh great! I’ve always wanted to date a junkie!” I know that’s incredibly insulting and horrible to say. I don’t think of Jaden that way, but it was a shock to hear.

I clear my throat softly. “Jaden?”

“Yeah?” She answers, her voice soft and unreadable.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, grasping her hand in the darkness and squeezing it gently. I hope she can be open with me about this.

“Not really.” She says, and all my hope is dashed. I squeeze her hand again and continue holding it. I want her to know that nothing she says will scare me away or make me hate her. I could never feel that way about her. I just want her to feel comfortable and trust me enough to tell me of her past. “It was a long time ago Gracie, it’s not like I’m still using or anything.” She says, her voice hard and cold.

“I know that. And if you were, I still would love you and be here for you.” I answer truthfully. She says nothing, but I hear her breathing begin again, shallow and angry sounding. “Jaden?” I ask her, and am answered with muffled sounds that sound like quiet sobbing. “Sweetheart? Jaden, talk to me.” I ask her, and she still doesn’t answer.

I sit up, my lungs screaming their protest at the sudden movement. Jaden’s tear-streaked face is hardly visible in the soft moonlight. She’s clutching the blankets, her knuckles straining white. I brush her inky hair back from her pained face, and wipe her tears away with my lips. I softly kiss every inch of her face, forehead, and finally her full lips. She returns my kiss so softly, and gently that I almost begin to cry myself. I move beside her and cradling her head and shoulders against my naked breasts, I slowly rock her.

“I love you so much. You can tell me anything, and I promise you Jaden, nothing will ever make me hate you or think less of you. I will never leave you.” I whisper fiercely. Hearing my words, she sobs harder. “Shhh…sweetheart, it’s okay.” I tell her, holding and rocking her. I’ll do anything to have her believe how sincere I am.

She laces her fingers in mine and slowly relaxes. She has her other hand over her injured ribs, and I realize that some of her sobbing was in result of the tremendous pain she’s in. I feel so guilty about putting her in physical pain, when she has so much emotional pain as well. All I can do is be supportive of her and love her with everything I have.

Silence again. She’s holding her breath again, either because she’s scared or it hurts her to breathe. I tangle my hand in her hair and stroke her scalp, my other hand secure in hers. Stroking her hair relaxes her, and I feel her muscles ease and her shoulders finally rest comfortably on my lap. I tease and tickle her hair and neck until I think she’s fallen asleep. My heart is aching for the pain she’s in, and as I look at her beautiful face I am filled with such love and longing. I’ve never felt like this with anyone before, and I know I’ll never feel this again. I feel such a pure, undying love for this woman. From the moment I laid eyes on her I knew we were to be together. We’ve been together in past lives, and we will be in future. I’m certain of this.

Holding her, protecting her, it feels so strange. But it’s a job that I will take very seriously. I will never let anyone hurt her, if I can help it. “I love you Jaden.” I whisper to her, determined to not let her go for the rest of this night. Or the rest of my life if I can help it.

“Love you Gracie.” She whispers back, a faint smile on her lush lips. I smile at her, sudden tears making my eyes sting. I lean back against the headboard of her bed and close my eyes. I’m so tired, and blackness is all I see.
June 2, 2000
I groan and stretch as I wake up. Ouch, I’m stiff, and why the hell am I sitting up? I reluctantly open my eyes, groaning when the harsh morning light makes me wince. Adjusting to the change I greet the sun, and am now clearly able to see around the room. Jaden is lying in my lap, her dark hair tangled around my thighs and stomach. Her eyes are still closed, and I can tell from her even breathing that she is still asleep. I stretch my back upwards and am rewarded with a nice popping sound as my back cracks. Ahhh, that feels better. Okay, I’m faced with a very difficult decision. Jaden is sleeping so peacefully and the last thing I want to do is wake her, but I’ve never had to pee more than this minute. Her head resting directly on my bladder doesn’t help at all. I delicately try to get up, only to have Jaden frown and pout as she settles herself more firmly onto my lap.

What are my options? I can’t tickle her because it would hurt her ribs. I don’t really want to wake her, according her to bedside clock it’s already 11:00am. I guess I’ll try to slip out again. I try to send her a mental telegram stating: Urgent! Your girlfriend needs to pee! But her telepathy doesn’t seem to be working today. I struggle for another few seconds until I look down just in time to see a blue eye snap shut. Ah ha, so the little sneak is playing with me. What a brat.

“Um, Jaden honey?” I ask in my most pathetic voice.

“Jaden’s sleeping. Please leave a message.” She says, not able to control the edges of her smile as they quirk into a faint smile.

“Well, wake her up because I have to pee like a racehorse.” I tell her, laughing at the absurdity of this situation.

“How does a racehorse pee?” She asks, now opening both of her stunning eyes in mock innocence.

“You’re going to find out if you don’t let me up now!” I tell her, laughing as she lifts her head and shoulders and allows me to slip out of bed. She stiffly lies down and I know her ribs must be killing her. She smiles, as if to tell me not to worry. Yeah right, that won’t work. “Hey, I’m feeling really grubby so I’m going to take a shower, you wanna join me?” I ask, leering at her uncovered breasts.

“In a minute, let me wake up first.” She says, returning my leer with one of her own. I blush and hurry out of the bedroom. I don’t know how she can constantly make me be turned on, she can give me one look and I freaking melt.

After my poor bladder finally relieves itself, I grab two clean towels and hang them over the towel bar. It’s suddenly hard to breathe and I look around, panicked at the sudden heaviness of my lungs. I open the bathroom door and step out into the hall. That was weird, I felt so claustrophobic all of a sudden. I return to the bathroom and hesitantly shut the door again. Trying to calm myself I take deep, even breaths. I feel better, knowing that I can just open the door and relieve the trapped feeling.

I turn on the shower and step in, looking forward to finally getting clean. After checking the temperature I step into the warm water. Rinsing myself off I feel the salt and sweat from yesterday’s ordeal washing off. This is heavenly; I never knew water could feel so wonderful.

My chest clenches and I can’t breathe again. Flashes from yesterday run through my head. I’m transported to the lifeboat, the narrow shower my coffin and the water falling on me the pelting rain from yesterday. I have to get out of here, but I’m trapped. I can’t move and though I know I’m being irrational and stupid, I’m truly as afraid right now as I was yesterday.

I sink to the floor of the shower, covering my head with my hands as I crouch down as much as I can. Tears fall, out of my control, and I feel as if I’m suffocating. My body wracks and shakes, trying to take in enough oxygen from my paralyzed lungs. “I’m going to die.” I chant over and over in my head. “I’m going to die.”

“Grace!” I hear, and I barely recognize Jaden as she steps into the shower and helps me to my feet. “Sweetheart, what is the matter? Did you fall?” I collapse into her arms and sob heavily against her. She supports my weight and runs her hands over me, checking for injuries. “Grace, what is wrong?” She asks frantically now, shaking my shoulders gently.

“I’m going to die, we’re going to sink, won’t stop raining.” I manage to spit out, hoping she’ll understand. I take in a ragged breath, and choke on the water that has worked its way into my throat. Jaden embraces me, her warm and wet body the comfort I need right now.

“It’s okay, we’re fine.” She says firmly. “Breathe sweetheart. Calm down and take in deep breaths. We are not in the lifeboat; you are in my very safe shower in my very safe apartment. I won’t let anything happen to you.” I believe her, but I am still terrified. I try to pull away from her, I need to get out of this bathroom now, but she won’t let me go. “Gracie, you can’t run from this. Stay with me, please? Nothing will hurt you.” I nod numbly and allow myself to be held by her.

It’s easier to breathe now, the steam from the shower is opening my lungs and Jaden’s presence is reassuring. She gently washes my body and hair, and I trust her when she holds my head under water to rinse the shampoo out. She quickly washes herself and turns the water off after rinsing her hair.

“Come on, let’s get you dried off.” She says, her voice sweet like warm honey. She softly dries me with a large towel, taking extra care to dry my long hair. I feel numb, only slightly aware of her smooth hands on my body. She dries herself off and opens the bathroom door. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She tells me, and I nod. She returns quickly with a warm blue bathrobe in her hands. Helping me into it, she ties the waist sash and kisses my forehead. “This will keep you warm. I never wear it anymore.” I smile at her, the bathrobe smells like her, clean and soft and strong. I never want to take it off. It is huge on me, the sleeves in desperate need of rolling up, and the bottom of the robe almost dragging on the floor. I feel completely surrounded and safe. “Come here.” She demands gently, and I comply by following her back into bed. She puts on a pair of sweats, hissing in pain when she raises her arms to put a faded t-shirt on. I notice her midsection is an angry-looking purple, and from her stiff movements she must be in horrible pain.

“I’m so sorry about your ribs.” My voice is quiet and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell her how guilty I feel. She shushes me and curls herself around me as best as she can with bruised ribs.

“Are you hungry?” She asks, and I nod. “What do you feel like?” I shrug slightly.

“I don’t care, whatever you want.” I tell her, and she thinks for a moment. “What day is it?” I ask, confused by yesterday’s events still.

“It’s Wednesday, June 2nd.” Jaden says, her warm breath on my ear. “And we still have a long time before you have to leave.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I ask, afraid of the answer.

“Grace McKenzie!” She chides me. “Please don’t say things like that, you know how important you are to me. I hate to think of you leaving.”

“Me too.” I say softly, and she plants a soft kiss on my ear. I enjoy the feel of her warm self around me, and the soft cotton of her bathrobe. I never want to leave this bed, or her embrace. “Jaden, can we just stay here today? Lie around all day and do nothing but watch T.V. and hold each other?”

“Of course.” She answers immediately. “We can stay here as long as you would like.”

“How about forever?” I ask her in my head, but I can’t make myself say the words out loud.
June 5, 2000
I can’t believe it’s already Saturday. This week has flown by so fast.

Monday: Picked Grace up from the airport.

Tuesday: Went whale watching and survived a shipwreck.

Wednesday: Spent the entire day in bed eating delivered food and watching movies.

Thursday: Spent the entire day in bed eating delivered food, watching movies, and having sweet and passionate sex.

Friday: Spent the entire day in bed eating delivered food, watching movies, having sweet and passionate sex, and talking about how scary Tuesday was. At least we’re now talking about what happened instead of ignoring it.

And then it’s Saturday. This fun-filled, exciting week I planned for Grace hasn’t gone exactly like I planned. In fact, it’s not even close to what I had in mind.

Grace is still terrified of being alone in small, confined places. I have no idea how she’s going to survive the plane ride home. I can’t stand the thought of her being so afraid, and there is nothing I can do to help her with her fear. She needs me to be in the shower with her, my presence seemingly the only thing that reassures her that she is safe. I wish I could be around her all the time to reassure her, but I know that she needs to be able to reassure herself.

I’m still in agonizing pain. Not that I’d ever let on to Grace, mind you, but I can’t believe how much my ribs hurt. I’ve had bruised ribs before, but never this bad. Combined with my sore back from opening that jammed door on the ship, and my overall stiffness, I’m not exactly a happy camper.

But I’m determined to make these last few days we have together really special. I want to take Grace to meet my grandmother and Studley. But most importantly, I want her to stay.

I can’t kid myself any longer. I’ve opened up to her more than I’ve ever opened up to anyone. She is the most important thing in my life, and I haven’t even really known her for that long. I want her to live here, to go to a college she really loves here, and to have the freedom of finding herself, realizing who she is. I know she’s not the shy girl with the sparkling blue-green eyes that she plays in Ohio. That’s a role she has to play because of her family.

But I’m scared. Scared that I told her about my former drug addiction. Terrified that once she knows the real Jaden Phillips she will run. How do you tell the love of your life about your deep dark past without scaring them senseless?

I’m torn between falling too much in love with her and pushing her away. Every moment I spend with her is a constant struggle within myself. “Don’t get too attached, because once she knows the truth she will hate you.” That’s my motto.

“Jaden?” Grace’s timid voice on the other end of the shower curtain interrupts my thoughts.

“I’m right here sweetheart.”

“Oh. Okay.” She answers quietly. I’m sitting on my bathroom counter while Grace takes a shower. I offered to get in with her like I have every day since Tuesday, but she said she should force herself to shower alone again, because I can’t shower with her when she’s back in Ohio. Well, I guess I could but it sure would get Mrs. McKenzie’s panties in a twist, wouldn’t it?

So I promised to stay here in the bathroom while Grace showered alone. She’s doing really well, only calling out to make sure I’m here a few times. I have to take her somewhere fun, to get her mind off of her fears and troubles. And getting out of the house will be great for me too. The more I walk and keep my body moving, the faster the pain will fade. I’ve had three splendid days of bed rest, and it’s now time to get back out in the real world.

I finish towel drying my hair as I go over some plans for the day. I hear Grace turn the water off and she flings back the shower curtain, sprinkling me with droplets of water. She smiles brightly, her aqua eyes flashing with energy that has been missing since the accident on Tuesday. She steps out of the shower, her clean, white skin glowing in the soft lights of the bathroom.

“I did it!” She says triumphantly as she dries herself off. “I didn’t even have to have you come in the shower with me!” She grins again and I can’t help but smile back at her. “I feel so stupid, getting so excited about being able to shower by myself.”

“You’re not stupid.” I tell her, as I slowly get down from my countertop seat. “I’m really proud of you. We went through a terrifying experience and you have every right to have remaining fears.” I sound like a therapist; my years of therapy after Jonah’s death must be rubbing off on me. I pepper Grace’s face and neck with soft kisses and she giggles. She’s so sweet.

Leaving the bathroom, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed by Grace’s newfound shower independence. I know she needed me to feel safe, and I can’t deny that a part of myself thoroughly enjoyed that. I love protecting her, and I love that she needs and wants me to protect her.

Sometimes she reminds me so much of Jonah. Even though he was my big brother who protected me when we were young, when we were in middle school he was really dependent on me. He loved to read and some called him a nerd because he was so smart. I was the street-tough, scary girl that had everyone afraid of her. Jonah would come home from school, crying because boys at school had picked on him, or stolen his lunch money. That next day Jonah’s little sister would beat the crap out of those boys. I’m sure it didn’t do much for Jonah’s reputation to have his little sister fighting his battles, but he never seemed to mind.

I loved being his protector. I felt that if I was at his side, no one could ever hurt him. And that’s how I feel about Grace. She is so sweet and innocent, like Jonah was. I want to beat up every person that has ever hurt her, and protect her until the day I die. I know it’s co-dependant, but I can’t stop myself from being her protector. And I never want to stop.
Later that evening:
I can’t believe this! I, Grace McKenzie, am at my very first gay club. This is so cool! Jaden surprised me tonight, saying she was tired of lying around the house and wanted to go out. I was up for anything she suggested; I think we both were becoming a little stir-crazy from doing nothing since the accident.

I shudder, thinking of the accident. I can’t believed how totally screwed up everything is because of that. I’m slowly becoming less afraid about being alone, or small places, or the shower, but I still feel a lot of unresolved fear. Today is a better day, I was actually able to shower by myself and that has seemed to boost my confidence in myself.

Back to my excitement: this club is so great! In Ohio, I don’t think there are any gay clubs, at least not where I’m from. And even if there were, I couldn’t go to them because with my luck, someone would “out” me to my family. And then I’d be kicked out with nowhere to go. But here, I feel free to be myself.

There are mostly men here, but I’ve seen quite a few women. Everyone checks Jaden out, even the men. I’m not surprised; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as stunning as Jaden. I link my arm in hers, trying to convey the message that she’s very taken. A few of the women smile at me, congratulating me on my prize. I smile back, very proud of the woman at my side.

It’s hot in here, and the dance floor is filled with gyrating people, further raising the temperature of the club. Bright multicolored lights blink, and a large disco ball suspended from the ceiling casts light on everyone in the club. Jaden leads the way, cutting a path through the crowd that I dutifully follow. Her ribs don’t seem to be bothering her, although I don’t know how, and she finally spies two seats at the bar. Helping me into the tall bar stool she sits next to me, draping her hand on my thigh. We order some drinks, and I’m glad I finished my prescription from Dr. Bryant on Friday so I can have alcohol now. It really helped, the only time my lungs would hurt was when I would get tense and afraid, and the medicine really relieved that.

The bartender is so cute; Francisco is a petite Hispanic man wearing an impossibly tight red shirt. He’s really friendly, asking us questions about ourselves whenever he has a free minute. Jaden, of course, grudgingly reveals small tidbits of information about herself. I, on the other hand, influenced by the stress-free atmosphere and a few drinks in my system, practically tell him my life story. Jaden shakes her head at my openness, and winks at Francisco. He smiles back at her, the both of them obviously aware at my already-buzzed state.

“Let’s dance.” Jaden says to me, helping me out of the barstool. I stumble and she catches me. Giggling, I smile at her, and then stand up to tell the bartender to save our seats.

Following Jaden onto the dance floor, I can’t believe how my head is spinning. The music is fast and I feel dizzy as I try my best to follow Jaden’s fluid body.

She can really dance, like a cat. Not that cats can even dance, but if they could they’d dance like Jaden. “You dance like a cat!” I tell her over the loud music. She looks at me funny and I repeat myself. “You! Dancing like a cat!” I tell her, smiling, and she smiles back at me. I knew she’d understand.

I dance like a cat? What the hell does that mean? Grace is totally wasted. I can only smile at her and continue dancing. She’s not exactly a wonderful dancer, in fact, she reminds me of Elaine from Seinfeld. She is snapping her fingers and kicking her feet completely to the wrong beat of the music. She is adorable. The gay men that surround us look at her with disdain, and the few women scattered around the dance floor grin at me. I can do nothing but stay close to her and make sure she doesn’t fall.

She almost wiped out trying to get off the barstool. I’ve never seen Grace really drink, but after the three drinks she had she is really buzzed already. She is having a wonderful time, and that’s all that matters.

We dance for a few more fast songs, and then the tempo changes to a slow beat. I pull Grace to me, groaning slightly as her breasts bump my ribs painfully. She tries to pull away and I hold her close, hoping she’ll just let me take control. She does, going almost limp in my arms. We sway in beat to the music, her short arms around my neck and her face buried in my shoulder. I hold her close to me and find myself getting turned on by her lithe body pressed against mine. My arms close tighter around her lower back, and I lower my mouth to her ear.

“I can’t wait to get you home and make you come.” I tell her, following my statement with a nibble to her earlobe. She sighs and shudders in my arms. I smile, loving the effect I have on her. She gently pulls away and looks into my eyes. She is so cute, her bright eyes are watery and not as focused as they usually are. Her face is flushed, and her fair hair is mussed.

“Let’s go now.” She says, her words slightly slurred. I smirk and shake my head at her, resulting in a full-blown Grace pout. “Why?” She asks, her voice childlike.

“I have to stay for about another hour, just to make sure I’m okay to drive.” Grace nods, but I know that in her state she probably doesn’t fully understand. I have a high tolerance for alcohol, and I’ve only had two drinks in two hours. I’m not even feeling the effect at all, but I never take any chances.

We finish our dance and return to our seats. Grace orders another drink and I refrain from telling her she should slow down. This is supposed to be a fun night, but I don’t really feel like carrying her up two flights of stairs to get her into the apartment.

I excuse myself for the restroom, kissing Grace lightly and telling her I’ll be back soon. She looks a bit panicked about me leaving, but I assure her I’ll only be a minute.

“Watch her.” I growl to Francisco, and he smiles.

“Yes ma’am.” He answers, dancing his way over to Grace. I shake my head, he’s a cute kid and I know he’ll take care of her.

The line for the restroom isn’t too long and I soon wind my way through the crowd to find Grace. There is an older man sitting at my barstool with his hand on an uncomfortable-looking Grace’s shoulder. Before I can get there, Francisco appears next to the man. I finally make my way over, concerned at what is going on.

“I was just being friendly, she looked lonely!” The man, who’s obviously had one too many, says to our angry-looking bartender.

“And I said to leave her alone!” Francisco replies, his thick-accented voice rising above the loud music.

“What’s going on?” I ask, immediately going to Grace, who’s still sitting at the bar. She looks confused, and doesn’t answer.

“He came over to her and wanted to buy her a drink. She said no, and he became more insistent, telling her she was so pretty and how he’d like to get to know her better. That’s when I came over.” Francisco answers helpfully.

“She’s taken.” I say to the older man, and I poke my finger roughly into his chest. “That means you don’t talk to her, or come near her. In fact, if you even look at her you’ll go home wishing you hadn’t. Do you understand me?” I poke him again, and he stumbles backwards.

“That’s right!” Francisco calls from behind me, and the bar erupts in laughter. The man turns around and disappears into the crowd, who then applauds me. I roll my eyes and turn around. Grace has an expression of shock and admiration on her face.

“My hero!” She calls, throwing herself off the barstool and into my arms. I laugh, even though she’s killing my ribs, and kiss her awaiting mouth. The crowd cheers and Francisco slaps me on the back. I return Grace to her barstool and bow for the applauding and cheering crowd. Jesus Christ, you would think they’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t a big deal. However, I do wonder if I’ll ever be able to take Grace anywhere without her getting in some kind of trouble.

“Only you could get hit on in a gay bar by a man.” I tell her, and she laughs hysterically.

****

“Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten! Look away, look away, Dixieland!”

I sigh and pat Grace’s leg. Ever since we left the bar she’s been singing “Dixieland.” Actually, that’s why we left the bar, because after the creep tried to hit on her, we danced a bit more and she had a few more drinks. That was a huge mistake. After her 6th drink, she started trying to get the bar to sing “Dixieland,” “Swing Lo’, Sweet Chariot,” and other such songs. That’s when we made our abrupt leave. Francisco hugged us both and told me to take care of my chica. I promised him I would. Then we got in my Explorer and ever since she’s been singing “Dixieland.”

I never realized how long of a car ride it was from Boston to my apartment. It’s less than an hour, but when Grace won’t stop singing, it sure seems like longer.

“Sing with me!” She demands, and I sing with her. She giggles like it’s the most fun thing we’ve ever done and I shake my head.

“Oh! Jaden! Let’s rhyme!” She says, giggling.

She wants to rhyme? What in the hell were in those drinks?

Seeing as I’m not going to join her, Grace takes the lead herself.

“Some fish died and sure smelled rotten, but it didn’t matter cause they were smotten, have some hay, cause you’re gay, I love quay, Dixieland!”

Well, I know she can rhyme. I erupt in laughter, and Grace laughs with me. I have no idea what she is singing now; she’s just making up words that rhyme now.

At least she’s entertaining. We pass a road sign stating: Beverly 28 miles. Grace now decides to try to sing “Dixieland” in French.

I sigh and speed up.
Part 6

June 6, 2000.
My head is throbbing, my throat is scratchy, my mouth tastes as if I’ve been eating 3-day old tuna, and I smell like a sewer.

Those are my first conscious thoughts as I open my eyes, snapping them suddenly shut as the sun blinds me.

“Urgh.” Is all I can muster, when I attempted to say, “Kill me please!”

I crawl out of Jaden’s bed and pad out into the kitchen. Wincing from the glow of the refrigerator, I find what I’m looking for.

Even the soft click of the can of Coke opening is too loud for my aching head. I take a sip, worshipping the Coca-Cola Goddess as the bubbly liquid soothes my churning stomach.

This is what happens when you get drunk? If this is what a hangover is, why are there so many alcoholics? It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve never been drunk before last night, and after what I feel like today I know I never want to be drunk again.

The bathroom door opens and a freshly showered Jaden smiles in sympathy.

“How are you feeling Dixie?” She asks, a faint trace of a grin playing on her lips.

Dixie? “Like a walking garbage dump.” I tell her. “Don’t get near me, I stink to high heaven.”

“Phew!” She feigns, holding her nose. “Go hose yourself off!” She cracks up, and all my attempts to be mad or offended fail as I laugh with her. Much to the dismay of my throbbing head, that is.

Psyching myself up I enter the bathroom and shut the door. I have to work through these insane fears of showering alone. I’m going home this afternoon, and regardless of how much that thought saddens me, I can’t depend on Jaden to be there when I shower.

I turn on the water and step in. There, this isn’t so bad. The shower is making me feel better, and slowly I feel my body beginning to relax. I concentrate on my breathing; making sure to take deep cleansing breaths, even and slow.

Now for the tough part. I shampoo my hair and put my head under the water. I’m surprised at how calm I am. I’m not having any flashbacks or triggers of the shipwreck. I guess there’s a time where your mind just allows a stronger part to take over in order to function.

I triumphantly shut off the water and towel myself off. The combination of the Coke and the shower has done wonders for how I’m feeling.

I exit the bathroom to find Jaden lounging on the couch in her bathrobe. She opens her arms to me and I drop my towel and snuggle on top of her. She pulls a blanket over us and kisses my forehead.

I sigh contentedly. I never want to leave this safe haven of her arms. I can’t believe in just a few hours I will be on a plane, headed away from her.

“I want you to live with me this summer.” She breathes into my ear, her voice barely above a whisper.

What?!? I lift my head from the pillow of her breasts. “What?” I manage to sputter.

She looks terrified, her eyes surprised at what she has just uttered. “I want you to live with me this summer.” She repeats. “I want to go to the beach with you and ride horses with you and go to the movies and show you around here and wake up every morning with you in my arms.” She blurts out, never taking a breath. For the first time in my life I can’t think of anything to say. I look at her in shock.

“The thought of you going back to your family and Ohio makes my heart hurt.” She finishes. Her normally vibrant blue eyes lack their familiar spark.

“I don’t want to go back.” I tell her. “I hate it there.”

“I know Grace.” She answers. “That’s why I think it would be good for you to have some time away from Ohio. I want you to stay here for the summer, rent-free. You can find a job, if you want. You can look at area colleges and find one that you like.” She pauses, pursing her lips. “I want the best for you, and I know how much you hate being a business major. You need to do what makes you happy.” She finally finishes. I don’t know how to answer her, and her eyes grow sad.

“I know it’s a stupid idea. I can’t just ask you to give up your life. But the offer is on the table.” She answers, and I nod numbly.

Lying my head back down on her chest I give her a fierce hug. She hisses in pain, despite what she says I know her ribs are still bothering her. I soften my embrace to ease her pain, but refuse to let her go.
Journal entry:

June 6, 2000
Tears roll down my cheeks, but I’m not really sure why I’m crying. I certainly have enough reasons to choose from, but it’s a numb type of crying. You know, the type of crying where you sit and sob about every awful thing that’s ever happened to you?

I don’t want to be on a plane headed for Ohio. But I am. My trip to Massachusetts was amazing, despite the shipwreck, Jaden’s injury, and my ability to be on a boat completely destroyed. I still feel like things are unsettled. Jaden revealed a very important issue of her past; her drug addiction. But we never spoke about it. We didn’t talk about the shipwreck, other than to describe what happened and how frightening it was. We found out that no one was seriously injured or killed. That’s a relief. Jaden asked me to live with her, but I couldn’t answer and we dropped the subject. Despite my jumbled mind, I’ve come away with a few clear thoughts. I love the east coast, and I love Jaden.

I can’t believe she asked me to live wit her. I can’t imagine anything I’d like more. The thought of waking up with her, eating breakfast while discussing our day, going off to college where I’m a creative writing major, coming home to a beautiful ocean-view apartment, and collapsing into bed with Jaden sounds like paradise.

I’m not kidding myself, I know it wouldn’t be perfection, but I know I would be happier living in Massachusetts and being myself than in Ohio pretending to be someone that I hate.

My tears flow freely as I remember my high school graduation. My friends were so envious of me. Most of their families were making them go to college. To them, I had everything. I had a handsome boyfriend who would take care of me for the rest of my life. I would never have to work or lift a finger. I never have understood what was so attractive about that kind of life. That is what my mother did, and she is miserable. She resents the fact that she has always been dependent on a husband who has grown tired of her, and she resents the fact that she has children.

I don’t want that life. I’m not saying that a woman can’t be happy being a stay-at-home mom while her husband works. But that isn’t me. I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom while my girlfriend/wife/partner/lover works either. I don’t want to be a Suzy homemaker or a Suzy lesbian homemaker.

What do I want? And why is it so hard to figure it out?

I know that I want to go to a college where I can major in what I want and achieve my potential, whatever that may be.

I want a career that I love. I want to do so much. I want to write novels, and encourage others to write. Maybe be a college professor?

I want a life where I make my own decisions.

I want to be myself. I want to be accepted for who I am.

I want Jaden. I want her beside me. Not to save me and be my knight in shining armor, but to walk beside me and hold my hand during my journey.

I close my journal. It looks like I’ve made my decision. A person can only go so far when living in a toxic situation, and regardless of how I try to cope, Ohio is toxic for me.

I have to leave. I have to stand up to my parents and Scott. I have to put my foot down and tell them that I am not happy and that I need to live my own life.

Now, the tough part. How am I going to tell them?

And do I have the strength to do it?
Journal entry:

June 10, 2000
My parents got back from the cruise today. As usual, my mother grilled me about what I did while they were gone. I feigned laziness and work, and she sighed and left the room. I don’t know what she wanted to hear. My father said his distant hellos and retreated to his study. Lydia complained about how boring it was. I half listened to all of them.

It’s been hard enough, being away from Jaden these past few days. I’ve spoken to her every night, but I’m not really sure what to say to her. I want to tell her that I’ll do it, I’ll live with her for the summer, but I’m scared. What if she’s having second thoughts, and that is why she hasn’t brought it up. What if she regrets saying anything? Did she offer because she felt pity for me, or is she sincere?

The good news is that Scott is staying another week at his parent’s vacation house. Thank Goddess. He called to say that he’d be back on the 18th and he would stop over in the morning. He said he’s done a lot of thinking and that we need to talk.

Maybe he’s going to break up with me. One can only hope.
June 18, 2000
“Hey Scott.” I greet him tiredly as I enter the living room. He’s seated on the couch, having had to wait for me to get up and dressed. We had a little trouble at the bar last night, one of the regulars passed out and Uncle Rick and I couldn’t wake him until way after last call. We were prepared to call an ambulance when he finally came too. By the time we got him in a cab home it was after 4am.

Needless to say, the last thing I wanted to do was get up at 9:00 to see Scott.

“Hi Grace.” He answers, his face set in a frown. “Can we go to my house to talk?” He asks. “My parents are at work.”

I quickly think. My mother is home this morning, she will be eavesdropping on our conversation so she can bring it up later with me to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Scott’s house sounds like a great idea.

We get in his truck and head for his house. Feeling the obvious tension between us, I ask him about his week.

“It was great. My friends and I got shit-faced every night on the beach.” He answers.

Sounds fun. “Nice.” I reply. “What did you want to talk about?” I ask.

“Let’s wait until we get to my house.” He replies, and I shrug. We drive the rest of the way in uncomfortable silence.

He settles on the couch in his living room, his large hands clasped together between his legs. His knuckles are white from the pressure and I can tell something is terribly wrong. I sit on the floor across from him and wait for him to talk.

“I called you ever day after your parents left for their trip. You were never home. Where were you?” He asks, his blue eyes turned gray with anger.

“I was taking some time for myself.” I tell him. “I had things to do.”

“Things more important than your fiancé?” He replies, his voice harsh.

I sigh. “Scott, what do you want me to say? I’m sorry you couldn’t get in touch with me.” I honestly have no idea what he’s getting at, and he’s so angry that he’s scaring me.

“I’m tired of being lied too Grace. I want answers, and I want them now.” He suddenly gets up and heads for the kitchen. He returns with a beer in his hand.

“It’s barely 10am Scott, why are you drinking?” I ask, and realize that is why he’s acting so strange. He’s been drinking. He shrugs at my question and takes a long swig from his bottle. Wiping his mouth he glares at me.

“Maybe I should go.” I tell him, standing up. “We can continue our discussion when you sober up.” Before I can take a step he sets down his beer and stands.

Grabbing my wrist roughly he spits out at me, “You’re not going anywhere until I get my answers.”

Shit, this is bad. I’ve never seen him like this. I nod and sit back down, hoping I can tell him what he needs to hear so I can get the hell out of here.

“Question one.” He asks. “Why don’t you want to have sex with me anymore?”

Anger bubbles at the inside of my stomach. Who in the hell does he think he is? He has no right to treat me this way. “Scott, my body is my own business. I don’t have to justify anything to anyone.” I say heatedly.

“WRONG ANSWER.” He shouts and I jump with fear. “Don’t you lie to me Grace!” His eyes narrow and I become more and more scared.

“Scott,” I say quietly, “I’m just not interested in having sex with you right now.” I’m hoping this doesn’t enrage him any more, but I’m afraid to lie to him. I don’t know what else to say.

“Why? Is there someone else?” He asks, softening his tone. I can’t tell if he’s being sincere or if this is just some kind of trick.

“No.” I answer, biting the inside of my cheek. I hate lying, but I think I would be in danger if I told him that his fiancée of many years is a lesbian.

“Wrong again.” He says, his voice cracking with emotion. He fishes in the back pocket of his shorts and pulls a white square of paper out. My eyes widen when I realize it is the picture of Jaden and I kissing in the stupid photo booth at the mall. My breathing quickens and I try to think of an explanation.

“Care to explain this Grace?” He asks, his voice low and filled with hatred. “Is this the reason? Is this why you went to Boston?”

“How did you know I went to Boston?” I ask him, my voice angry.

He smirks, proud that he’s one-upped me. “I looked through your purse this morning while I was waiting for you. You tried to hide this picture and your boarding pass pretty well, didn’t you? Didn’t think anyone would look hard enough to find out your little secret? Well, I did.”

I swallow. This is very bad. I try to think rationally, but no thoughts will come. All I can think is how bad of a situation this is and how I have no way to get out of it.

“Cat got your tongue?” He asks and I don’t answer. “This can be fixed easily. You tell me the truth, you do exactly what I tell you to do and we’ll have no problem.” He stands up before me. “Deal?”

“Sure.” I tell him, proud of how strong my voice is. I think he’s satisfied more if I’m fearful, so I try to appear as confident and self-assured as possible. I pretend I have an inner Jaden, someone who can intimidate the hell out of anyone. I glare at him. “What are your terms of the deal?”

He sits back down with a look of uncertainty in his eyes. I know he expected me to fall apart and cry, but I’m not that Grace anymore.

“You tell me the truth about this person, what have you be..”

“Her name is Jaden.” I interrupt him, my voice calm.

“Is that the person you were playing tour guide for when you couldn’t see me for a week?” He asks, his voice filled with surprise.

“Yes.”

“That’s sick.” He spits. “Grace, you’ve been flaunting this all along, haven’t you?” He stands again and begins forcefully pacing. I don’t answer him. “You call her and tell her that you love me and we’re getting married.” He says. “Then you never speak to her again.”

Not to be intimidated, I stand up. “Fine.” I hope it will appease him enough so I can leave. When did he become such a lunatic and why didn’t I notice any of the signs?

“Do it now.” He says, his eyes triumphant as he retrieves his cordless phone. “What’s her number?” He asks, and knowing she will be at the station I give him her home number. He dials it for me and listens to it ring before the machine picks up. “Leave a message.” He growls at me and I take the phone.

Hoping I can explain later I leave his required message. “Jaden, it’s Grace. I’m marrying Scott and never want to speak to you again.” It breaks my heart to say; regardless that it’s not true. “Satisfied?” I ask him, my voice hard and clipped.

“Not exactly.” He answers, grabbing my shoulders. “My friends said I should try a little harder to convince you that you have to put-out when I want you too.”

“Oh really?” I ask him, hating him more now than I ever thought I could hate anyone. “If your idiot friends jumped off a building, would you do that too?”

He hits me so fast I don’t even have time to anticipate the blow. I fall to the floor clutching at my face. I can’t believe he just punched me and I shake my head to regain my bearings. He kneels down in front of me, his face devoid of any regret.

“Don’t ever talk to me like that again.” He growls, pushing me flat to the floor. “You need to be put in your place.” He says as he gets on top of me.

This can’t be happening. He’s not going to rape me, is he? His hands fumble with my clothes and I try to reason with him. “Scott, you can’t do this. Please stop.” He ignores me and I shout. “STOP THIS.” My words fall on deaf ears.

He pins my hands above my head with one strong arm. His other hand pulls down my jeans and frees him from his shorts. I struggle even more when I feel his hardness poised to enter me and I scream.

“NO STOP THIS.” I howl in his ear, making him shout with pain. He brings his hand back to hit me again and I use this opportunity to slam my knee into his crotch and roll him off of me as he groans in pain.

I stand over him as he clutches his groin and screams in agony. I know I should be running away, but I’m frozen with the disbelief of what just happened here. I frantically pull up my jeans as he starts to get up. He pulls himself onto his knees and lurches towards me, his face twisted in anger.

I spring into action, taking his head and slamming his face into my knee. Blood flows from his nose and he falls to the floor, clawing at his mangled face.

Now I run, fumble with the front door, and race out into his yard. My house isn’t far and if I run fast I can make it before he can come after me. Looking down at my legs I can see my jeans, bloodstained from his face. I hate to run, but the steady rhythm of my feet on the road calm me.

What am I going to do? This is the deciding moment. I arrive in my front yard and find Lydia playing fetch with Bean.

“Grace! What happened to your face?” She asks as I try to catch my breath.

“Where’s mom?” I ask her and she points to inside. Regardless of my strained relationship with my mother, she is still my mother and I need her right now.

I find her in the kitchen, talking on the phone. She takes one look at me and tells whomever she’s talking to that she has to go.

“Honey, what happened to you? Why are you covered in blood? What did you do to your face?” She asks, pulling me into a hug. I can’t remember the last time she hugged me. I sink into her embrace, feeling like a two year old. My collected façade breaks and I start sobbing. Through my cries I manage to speak, my voice wavering.

“Scott punched me and tried to rape me.” I tell her.

She pushes me away like she’s been burned. “What?” She says in disbelief. She suddenly grabs my shoulders and shakes me. “What did you do to him to make him do that?” Her eyes glint as she narrows them.

“What?” I say incredulously.

“Scott wouldn’t do that unless you provoked him.” She utters, releasing me from her grip. I stare up at her, not believing that she’s blaming me for what just happened. I sink to the floor, burying my head in my hands.

“It’s not my fault.” I tell her, but when I look up she is gone.

I shut myself up in my room with Bean. I tried to call Jaden at work but she’s on her lunch break. I call her at home, and leave her a message. “Jaden, it’s Grace. Listen, please ignore my last message, ok?” Then I burst into tears and hang up the phone. I’m scared that she will be mad at me because of what happened. If my own mother thinks it was my fault, everyone else must too. I’m so ashamed; all I want to do is curl up in bed and cry.

I glance at the clock, seeing it’s already noon. Only two hours since my life took a turn for the worst. It seems like a lifetime ago.

I’m icing my face. I have a nasty bruise that covers my entire cheek. My eye is becoming less swollen, but my face still hurts and feels stiff.

I hope I broke Scott’s nose.

A soft knock at my door, and Lydia enters with a tray of goodies. “I thought you might be hungry. Mom left, she said she has errands.” Lydia states, her voice unusually nervous. She looks so upset, and I feel bad for putting her through this.

“Thanks sis.” I tell her as my eyes brim with fresh tears. I pat the bed and she sits next to me. “Can I tell you something?”

“Anything.” She says, her voice sounding more mature than her 13 years.

“The reason that Scott did this to me is because he found out something that I’ve been keeping a secret.” I start, nervous as to how she’s going to react.

Her face remains impassive. “What is it?”

“I’m in love with Jaden.” I say, my voice a whisper.

“Oh.” She answers. She pauses for a second before finishing, “She’s really pretty.”

I look up into my baby sister’s intelligent brown eyes and find acceptance. “Thank you.” I tell her, hugging her. I feel like she’s the 22 year old and I’m the teenager.

“What are you going to do?” She asks when I break our hug.

“I don’t know.” I answer sadly. “I have to get out of here. I hate it here Lyd, you know that.” I summon up my courage. “Jaden said I could live with her for the summer, until I can find a new college that I like. I’m thinking of taking her up on it.”

Her eyes grow round with surprise. “I don’t want you to go. But you should. I know how shitty it is here for you.”

“Watch your mouth.” I tease her, and then grow serious again. “Thank you for understanding. I’m scared though. I don’t know what mom is going to do.”

“I know.” She replies thoughtfully. “I’ll help you, okay?”

“Yeah.” I tell her.

“Can I have your stuff? Whatever you’re not taking?” She questions, smiling.

“Of course. Not a person I’d rather give it too.” I tell her, tweaking her nose.

She frowns. “When are you leaving?”

I hug her again. I’m going to miss her. “Soon, Lydia. Very soon.”
June 18, 2000

9:45 am
I sigh as I finish filling out all of the unnecessary forms to complete my Florida assignment. They were due weeks ago, but I’m just now starting to catch up on my mountain of paperwork.

I stretch my arms above my head and am rewarded with the loud cracking of my back. Ahh, that’s exactly what I wanted. I grimace a little as my injured ribs rub against the stiff fabric of my uniform. They are still a little tender, but nothing serious.

Desk duty is the worst. I’m so behind that I’m forced to sit here and finish everything before taking any more calls. I pout; I hate missing out on all the fun stuff.

Goddammit, what is that? I cringe as a bolt of what only can be described as fear runs through my entire body. Strange. I instantly become jittery and nervous and I check around to find nothing out of the ordinary. I’m alone at my desk, and outside in the main office I can hear the normal hustling of other officers and clerks. Shrugging, I try to concentrate on my next form as I chew on the end of my pen.

I glance at my watch. 11:30 and its lunchtime. Grateful to be excused from my forms I get up, angrily pushing away the fear that still gnaws at my guts. It’s actually more of a feeling of despair now, not fear, and I have the urge to call Grace.

I just spoke with her the other night. I can tell she’s undecided about moving here and the last thing I want to do is badger her about it. I surprised myself, asking her to stay here for this summer. I love my apartment, and I used to think I loved being alone.

After I met Grace I knew that I didn’t love being alone, it just felt and still feels safer to be alone. I know I’m starting to trust her more, but her unknowns about my past still frighten me. I couldn’t handle it if she left me because of things that I’ve done.

I head down to the lunchroom. I’ll call her later, I promise myself.

“Jaden, you have a call on 2.” Diana from dispatch interrupts me from filling out yet another form. I look at the clock, seeing it’s almost 7:00pm and I sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever get out of here tonight.

“Thanks Diana.” I answer.

“Phillips.” I greet my caller while rubbing my tired eyes.

“Um, is this Jaden?” The young-sounding voice asks.

“Yes, who is this?” I inquire, furrowing my brows in question.

“This is Grace’s sister, Lydia.” She sounds nervous and I immediately begin to worry.

“Is she okay? What’s the matter?” I demand, my voice forceful.

“No, I mean, she’s okay, and yes, there is something the matter.” Lydia sounds like she’s crying and I curse myself for scaring the poor kid.

“Lydia, tell me what is happening, okay?” I try to soothe her with my voice.

“Grace and my mother, they are screaming at each other.” Lydia starts. “Scott hurt Grace today and now my mom is yelling at Grace because Grace said she won’t marry Scott anymore.”

“What did Scott do to her?” I ask, afraid of the answer. I’ll kill the fucking bastard if he laid a hand on her. I swear it.

“He hit her and Grace said he almost raped her.” Lydia says before bursting into tears again. The words hit me like a bucket of cold water. I drop the phone and slowly pick it up, my hands shaking.

“I’m on my way.” I tell her, and hang up the phone.
June 18, 2000

8:00 pm
I’ve never been so relieved to see the bar. When I come in tonight Uncle Rick looks at me in alarm. Makeup covers the bruise left by Scott, but my face is still swollen. The fact that I’ve been sobbing for the past ten hours hasn’t helped that and my eyes are puffy and red. He says nothing and takes me into his arms.

“Who hurt my girl?” He asks, and suddenly I realize how much more fatherly he is than my real father. When I told my father what happened, he looked upset and asked me, “What did your mother say?”

I tell my uncle the bare facts and he clenches his fists in anger. “I’ll beat that twerp to a pulp if I ever see him.” He says.

“Hey, my friend Jaden is coming in tonight I guess.” I tell him. I was surprised when Lydia told me that she called Jaden.

“You want the night off?” He asks and I smile gratefully at him. “It’s yours. I’ll dog sit.” He tells me, indicating Bean who has already made herself comfortable in her dog bed he bought for her.

“I owe you so much.” I tell him, hugging him once again.

“I love you Grace.” He says, his voice shaky. I smile as he releases me. “Now, let’s get this place opened up.” He says gruffly, all traces of his soft-heartedness gone. I help him wipe all the tables down as we wait for our first customers.

We work in stillness and my mind is racing the entire time. After my mother returned home this evening she came into my room and tried to “talk” to me about what happened. She ended up restating that everything was my fault. Through my tears I managed to tell her that I wasn’t the rapist and that I wasn’t going to marry Scott. She started screaming at me, and was more enraged than I’ve ever seen her. We fought for hours, it seemed, and she still won’t accept that I am not going to do what she wants.

She told me that if I didn’t marry Scott that I wasn’t welcome in her home. I think that’s when Lydia called Jaden. My sister is a smart kid; she got my address book and found Jaden’s work number. I finally stormed out of the house to go to work and my mother said if I don’t make the right decision by the time my shift is over, then I better not come home.

I’m glad that Lydia called Jaden, but I feel guilty for her flying here. It’s not fair to her and I know she’d be better off without me in her life. I’m just trouble to everyone I meet. So that’s why I’ve decided, when Jaden gets here tonight, I’m going to tell her that it’s over.

She deserves better.
Part 7

June 18, 2000.

11:30 pm
“Hang on!” The startled voice yells from the other end of the door. Ignoring the voice’s order, I bang on the door again. “I said hang on!” The voice yells again and I barely control myself from kicking in the door.

It swings open to reveal a tall, broad-shouldered young man whose handsome face is marred by a swollen and painful-looking nose. Asshole. He looks at me in surprise, his bloodshot eyes wincing from his front porch light. He opens his mouth to speak, but I beat him to the punch.

“Scott Spencer?” I ask, pointing to the badge on my chest. I am enjoying every minute of his discomfort as he shakes his head yes.

I begin to make my way through his front door. He acts like he’s going to try to stop me for a minute, and when he sees I won’t back down he timidly steps aside.

“What is this about officer?” he questions, and I can’t believe how stupid he is.

“Are your parents home?” I ask and he shakes his head no. Good for me, bad for him.

“Mr. Spencer, I need you to answer some questions about the assault and attempted rape of Grace McKenzie.” I tell him, my voice more filled with fury than I can ever remember. It hurts me to even say the words and I wonder if anyone would really miss him if he turned up dead. “Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

His eyes widen as he absorbs what I have said and he looks as if he might cry. “But I didn’t do anything!” He protests in vain as I roughly shove him to the ground face forward. He hits the carpet with a painful thud and he howls in pain. Oops, that fall must have really hurt his nose. Poor baby.

Kneeling on top of him I pull his arms behind him, fastening the handcuffs around his thick wrists. He continues to struggle and protest and I can’t help but get a sick enjoyment from all of this.

“Oh, you don’t like it when someone’s on top of you, do you big man?” I growl in his ear. “ANSWER ME!” I scream at him and am not surprised when I see the tears that have been forming in his eyes pouring down his cheeks. “How does it feel to struggle and say no, huh?” I feel myself getting out of control; I am so filled with rage for this scumbag who hurt my Gracie. “Do you like knowing that the harder you struggle, the more you say no, and the harder you try to get away, the more it’s going to hurt?” I am vaguely aware of the fact that I am now screaming in his ear. “HOW DOES IT FEEL?” I screech and he begins to cry and sob so much that I fear he will choke.

I stand up and pull him to his feet. He is horrified, shaking and bawling like I’ve never seen anyone before. I can’t say that I feel a little sorry for him because I don’t. Rapists are the lowest form of human life, and although I’m no saint, I could never do what this young man tried to do to my Grace.

“Sit down.” I order him and he immediately obeys, sitting down on his couch. I slowly pace in front of him, back and forth, observing his nervousness. “I’m going to speak, and you’re going to listen. Do you understand?” I tell him and he instantaneously agrees.

“You ever come near Ms. McKenzie again and I will personally escort you to a jail cell filled with big horny men who would love to have you as their girlfriend. Do you understand me?” My tone is terse.

He answers “Yes” softly.

“Consider yourself warned.” I tell him, my eyes glinting with hatred for him. “You ever do to another woman what you tried to do to Grace and I will guarantee you that more than your nose will get broken.” He gulps in terror as I roughly pull him to his feet.

It kills me to take off his handcuffs. Hopefully Grace will press charges and he can be arrested for real. If I take him in now, I have no doubt that his parents will get him a good lawyer and I will be in big, big trouble. Sometimes I really hate our justice system.

He knows better to protest when I shove him rudely back down to the couch. I lower my face dangerously close to his.

“This isn’t over Mr. Spencer.” I hiss to him. “Enjoy your freedom while you still have it.” I smile a feral smile at him before turning to leave. He gulps and I can smell his fear. I deliberately walk to the front door, my handcuffs dangling from my hand. He continues crying as I shut the door, leaving him alone.

That was the easy part, I tell myself as I get into my rented SUV. Turning on the ignition I head out of Scott’s driveway and make the left hand turn that will take me to the bar.

I had to see Scott before I saw Grace. Once I saw her, and how hurt she was because of him, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself for killing him.

And honestly, I’m afraid to see Grace, plain and simple. It’s easier for me to scare the living daylights out of some pathetic teenage boy than it is to see the woman I love in pain. I don’t handle emotional things very well, and I feel like Grace and I have had too many of them in our brief relationship.

I sigh and will my hands to stop shaking as I pull into the bar’s busy parking lot.

Here goes nothing.
June 18, 2000.

11:59 pm
I feel her enter the bar before I can see her. I’m really busy tonight because this place is so packed. I glance around, looking for Jaden, as I set down my tray and nervously wipe my hands on my apron. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to tell the person I love more than anything goodbye.

I finally spot Jaden, decked out in her severe-looking police uniform. She looks as nervous as I feel, her pale eyes frantically glancing around the bar searching for me but I’m well hidden in the crowded area next to the restrooms.

She searches for a minute more and not finding me, she heads for the jukebox and fills it with change from her pocket.

To everyone else I’m sure she appears relaxed and casual. But to my well-Jaden-trained eyes I can see her tension from across the room. Her usually noble shoulders are slouched and her normally impeccably neat hair is mussed, as if she’s been pulling at it.

I continue to watch her, my nervous heart rate picking up when she heads over to the bar and sits down. I know now that she’s not going to leave, not that I expected her too. But a part of me loves that she will sit and wait for me, and another part is desperately scared because now I have to face her.

I know I can’t hide any longer, and that I have to deal with this. I make myself seen, coming out from my hiding spot. As I busy myself with customers I feel her eyes on my back, watching me. Out of the corner of my eyes I glance at her, seeing her sigh and pick up the newspaper.

I really can’t stand doing this to her, but I don’t know how to stop it. It’s not fair of her to have to rush here, pay for a plane ticket, rent a car, and go through all of this stress on my behalf just for me to ignore her.

She pretends to be interested in the paper and I take that as my opportunity to slip down the dark back hallway to my uncle’s office.

As I expected, he’s on the floor playing tug-of-war with Bean. Before I had Bean, uncle Rick would socialize around the bar, playing cards and talking to customers. Now that Bean comes to work with my every night he keeps her in his office and spends most of the time back here playing with her. He adores my little dog.

He looks up at me, sees the look on my face and says simply; “Go.” I smile at him as I lean down to hug him. I don’t think I’ve realized how wonderful he’s been to me.

“Thank you.” I whisper and he hugs me back tightly. I leave his office, my stomach rolling with nervousness. It’s time, I tell myself as I approach Jaden. Her back is turned towards me, and I’m thankful, not knowing if I’m ready to see her face yet. “Hey tall, dark, and deadly. Where ya been all my life?” I greet her, my mouth pressed to her ear.

She turns on her bar stool, a nervous yet gentle smile on her face. Standing, she envelops me in a soft hug. I feel like it has been years since I saw her last, so much has happened.

“It’s been too long.” I tell her in her ear and she smiles with understanding as she pulls back from me.

Sometimes the strange connection between us is too intense. She looks at me closer, her beautiful cerulean eyes lighting up in surprise and then flashing with anger as she sees my swollen face.

“Let’s get out of here.” I tell her as I head for the door.

It’s easy to pick her rental car out from the battered and rusted others in the lot. We head for the Explorer and Jaden comes over to unlock the passenger door for me. I am so upset, I can’t help but remember the first time we went somewhere together, when Jaden came to unlock my door exactly like she is doing now. Things were so different then, so happy and innocent. So much has changed in just a year.

“Jaden?” I ask, my voice shaking as much as my entire body is.

“What is it sweetheart?” She replies softly, her liquid voice caressing me.

“Can I have another hug?” I am ashamed of my weakness, but I need her safe embrace. She says nothing as she cradles me, kissing the top of my head. This is the last time I will ever hold her, I realize. I can’t stop the sobs from escaping and I swear that I can actually feel my heart break as I struggle to memorize everything about her. The way her strong body wraps itself around mine. The way her head fits perfectly on top of mine. Her expressive hands stroking my back. The way her soft hair tickles my face and neck. The smell of her, sweet and spicy, musky and pure with a hint of coconut. I can’t ever forget how she feels, how we feel together.

I can’t torture either one of us any longer. I need to tell her that it’s over so she can leave and go home.

For good.

“Where do you want to go?” Jaden’s voice breaks me from my pensive silence. I glance around, seeing we are still in the bar’s parking lot.

“Sorry.” I mumble, nearly jumping out of my skin when Jaden’s hand reaches over to take mine. Instinctively, I pull away from her, not missing the hurt look on her face. I clear my throat. “I’m sorry Jaden, you just startled me.”

She nods in understanding and I reach over and take her hand. I squeeze in gently, enjoying its warmth. Sometimes I think she has a space heater hidden under her clothes. She’s always so warm and snuggly.

I know I keep saying that I can’t prolong this any longer, and I keep prolonging it. I don’t know what scares me more, having to tell her that I can’t see her anymore, or her actual reaction. Making up my mind, I tell her that we should go to Mill Hollow.

Might as well end this where it started, right?
June 19, 2000.

12:37 am
I’m an idiot. I love Grace, I know that, and as much as it scares me to admit it, I don’t think I could ever love anyone more. I know I couldn’t. So why am I tongue-tied and unable to say anything to her. I can’t begin to comfort her after what she went through, I don’t even know how to begin. I don’t know what to say to her, and instead of taking a risk, I say nothing. That probably makes her feel like I don’t care about her.

The only emotion I have besides my love for Grace is hatred. I want to kill Scott, and the fact that I only scared him isn’t enough for me right now. My normally vibrant and energetic Grace is sullen and silent. I want to kill him for destroying that innocent and alive part of her. I know that this part of Grace isn’t destroyed forever, but it’s going to take her a long time to learn to trust.

And when she pulled her hand away from me in the car, she acted afraid of me. I want to kill him for making her not trust. And for being afraid to be touched. Because regardless of her feelings of only loving him as a friend, she still trusted him. And he betrayed her. I want to kill him for that.

“Jaden?” Grace asks, her voice dull and lifeless.

“Yes?” I answer, my heart jumping to life. We are sitting on “our” bench in the bluebird fields at Mill Hollow and haven’t said anything to each other yet.

“Can you hold me? I’m freezing.” She says, her teeth chattering.

“Of course.” I tell her softly, tears springing to my eyes. A few weeks ago she wouldn’t have even asked, and just placed herself in my lap. I slowly and gently put my arm around her, treating her as if she was a spooked horse. Maybe that’s how I have to do this.

She settles into my arms and I rub her back to get her circulation going. There is a strong breeze tonight and the trees are bending slightly in the wind.

“No bluebirds tonight.” She remarks. Her voice seems sad and far away.

“Too windy.” I tell her and I feel her nod in agreement against my shoulder.

“I have to tell you something.” She begins and I know that it’s something I don’t want to hear. I can only assume that the horrible sense of fear I’ve felt all day is because of what happened to Grace today. I thought that when I got here and saw that she was physically okay, that I would calm down. But I haven’t. And I know that whatever she’s going to say is going to be bad.

What if Scott actually raped her? What if she has injuries she hasn’t told me about? “What is it?” I ask, my mouth dry.

“I can’t see you anymore.” She states and at this moment I know what it feels like to die.
June 19, 2000.

12:51 am
She hasn’t said anything yet. I can’t stand the mixture of despair and disbelief in her beautiful blue eyes so I look away. Telling her wasn’t as hard as I expected. I just opened up my mouth and told her that I couldn’t see her anymore. A lie, I know. But I don’t feel like there’s another way. It’s not fair for her to have to deal with my problems.

She doesn’t have a perfect life. Sure she has a wonderful apartment, a job that she pretends to hate but I know she secretly loves, she’s beautiful and intelligent, but she has problems. The most important thing is that she still will be okay without me.

“Why?” She finally asks, breaking her silence. Her voice, I can hardly describe it. It sounds like a bird calling from far away, mute in tone and forlorn.

This will be the hard part, because I don’t have a good reason myself. How do you tell someone that the reason you’re breaking it off with them is because: a. you’re terrified of what was done to you today by someone you trusted, b. your family already hates you as it is and they will never speak to you again if you are in love with Jaden, and c. you don’t have enough self esteem to realize that what happened with Scott wasn’t your fault and you truly believe that you are incapable of having anyone love you.

So I decide on a complete and total cop-out. I’m not going to say anything stupid, like tell her I don’t love her. I don’t want to lie to her anymore than I have too. So why not tell her the truth? Because it’s too hard and I don’t want to admit it. A little voice in my head tells me that Jaden deserves the truth. I know that’s the case. I owe her so much. So I open my mouth and begin to speak.

“It’s a lot of things Jaden. After what happened today, well, it made me think about so much. And I don’t think it’s fair for you to have to constantly worry about me.”

She cocks her head as if she doesn’t understand. Tears are falling freely down her golden face and all I can think about is how beautiful she looks and how much I adore her. “So stop this, you asshole.” The voice in my head says, but I can’t stop it. Not now.

“I bring trouble to everyone I love. I’m a nuisance, and you deserve better.” Now, I know a part of me is just saying this so Jaden can say, “No you’re not!” And I can feel better about myself.

On cue, Jaden echoes my thoughts. “Gracie, you are anything but a nuisance.” She turns so she is facing me. Looking into my eyes she enunciates clearly. “I love you. I want you. There is nothing I want more than for you to live with me this summer.”

Whoo boy. I didn’t expect that. My chest constricts, and I suddenly feel like I can’t breathe. Waves of panic wash through me as violent images of the storm and the shipwreck and Scott’s angry face flash through my mind. I take deep breaths and try to calm down, focusing on Jaden’s eyes. Who needs a freaking bluebird to look at? All I need is her eyes. She looks concerned as I continue to breathe deeply and calm myself down. I want to live with her for the summer. I want to pack up all of my things, put Bean in the car and drive out to Massachusetts, all by myself. But I can’t. I’m so scared.

“I can’t.” I tell her, my voice cracking.

“Why?” She asks again, and I don’t have an answer. “Grace, I’m not going to push you into anything. But you’re not safe here, you’re not happy here! Please live with me. You can even bring that silly dog of yours.” She smiles at me, but I don’t smile back.

“Jaden, I appreciate your offer. But I just can’t. I know you don’t understand, and I can’t expect you too. I know I’m not being fair to you and I’m truly sorry for that.” I speak softly and slowly, my eyes never leaving hers. I hope she can understand how much she means to me. I feel my resolve slowly melting as her eyes bore into mine and I know I have to finish this conversation before I give in and she’s stuck with me and I ruin her life.

“I’m sorry.” I tell her sadly. “I need to go home now.” I stand up and walk back to her car, waiting for her to follow. She doesn’t, and I look back to see her still sitting on the bench, her arms folded stubbornly across her chest. I hold my hand out to her, hoping she’ll give in and accept defeat in this battle.

It takes her a few minutes, but she slowly stands and reaches me. Her long form accepts my hand and we walk silently back to her car. I’m crushed, to say the least. But for some reason, at this time, some part of me has taken over and pushed all the sadness and broken-heartedness away in order for me not to go insane right now.

Jaden drives me back to my house. Pulling the Explorer into the driveway she opens the glove compartment and pulls out two plane tickets, one with my name on it. “I’d hoped you come back with me.” She says softly, handing me the ticket. I see that she’s even reserved a space for Bean under my seat. Every fiber of my being screams for me to accept the ticket and run into the house and pack. Instead, I give it back to her.

“I’m sorry.” That seems to be all I can say to her. She nods, and her face makes the transition from open and anguished to stony and emotionless. “I love you Jaden. Please don’t forget that.” I tell her softly, leaning over to kiss her one last time. She doesn’t return my kiss and her lips feel icy on mine. I can’t blame her.

“Grace, don’t forget what I said either. If things get bad for you here, you are welcome with me.” Her tone betrays her words however, and I flinch at the harshness of her voice. She softens her voice and continues. “Take care of yourself Gracie. Don’t get into too much trouble.” She smiles slightly and leans over to plant the sweetest kiss on my cheek.

I leave the car, my palm on my cheek where she kissed me and watch her drive out of my life.
June 19, 2000.

1:47 am
I open my front door, my hands shaking with the keys. Unsurprisingly, I find my mother waiting in the living room for me.

“Hi mom.” I greet her softly, hoping she’s come to her senses.

“Grace.” She answers tersely. I guess she hasn’t come to her senses. “Have you made up your mind young lady?” She asks.

“Yes.” I tell her wearily.

She smiles triumphantly. “Good. I assume because you are in this house that you have made the right decision. We’ll talk in the morning, I can’t believe you made me wait up this long for you.” She heads down the hallway to her bedroom and I raise my middle finger to her retreating back.

I head to my room, finding a very sleepy Bean curled up on my bed. I get under the covers and cradle her, letting my sobs finally emerge.

I can’t believe she’s gone. I can’t believe that I’ll never see Jaden again. What have I done? I gave up the most important thing in my life for this? For Ohio and a mother that will never love me? I gave up the only person in my life who respected me for who I am in exchange for some “good girl” role I’ve been playing my entire life?

I am suddenly full of rage. Getting out of bed I look around my room. Blue ribbons, shiny 1st place trophies, framed awards. A+ report cards and size 4 dresses. This is Grace McKenzie. The honor student, start athlete, first place winner, overachiever, teacher’s pet, and the thin girl who skips lunch at school.

I growl with anger. This is not Grace McKenzie. Grace McKenzie is the intelligent woman who wants to be a writer. Grace McKenzie is the woman who likes sports because they are fun, not because she has to win at everything. Grace McKenzie is the woman who has an eating disorder because her entire life she’s been told that she’s fat and ugly. I am not the Grace McKenzie everyone thinks they love. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect.
I chant this over and over in my head. Who loves me and realizes that I am not perfect? Who loves me for who I am? Jaden. Uncle Rick. And Lydia. And what have I done to all of these people? These few and far between who love ME?

I’ve ignored them. Hurt them. Not told them how much I appreciate them.

Instead, I’ve done what everyone else has expected me to do. Be perfect. So, you’re fiancé tries to rape you, huh Grace? Well, don’t talk about it; make sure you hide it away so no one knows your dirty little secret. What is it that my mother has told me my entire life? Don’t air your dirty laundry?

Well, I have an entire pile of dirty laundry. And I’m going to air it all now. It’s about time.

I lovingly pack Bean’s favorite toys and treats. Looking around my room I find that I haven’t really packed that much. I decided that I was taking anything that truly mattered to me with me. With me where, one might ask? I am not sure. I don’t know where I’m going yet. But I’m going, and that’s the most important thing.

My awards and trophies are staying. The blue ribbons on the wall, staying also. I am taking my personal items, the items that reflect who I am. My guitar, my stuffed unicorn from Jaden, they are all going with me. I frantically but quietly search through my room, removing any little meaningful trinket or possession. Then I neatly make my bed and straighten up. I might as well leave my perfect room in perfect condition the way that perfect Grace would have. It will be the last time that perfect Grace is allowed out to play.

All that’s left to go through is my closet. I promised Lydia my clothes that I didn’t want, so I’ll wake her soon. But there are a few things I need to sort through by myself first.

I pack my journals. I have so many, dating back from the time I could really write, honestly. Those will stay with me. I also pack my jewelry from my grandmother. I wish I could visit her and say goodbye, but I just can’t. Maybe some other time. I take my books, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is my favorite. My CD’s and CD player are in my car, but I take a few of my favorite mix tapes anyway.

I come to the last box in my closet. I know what is in here by heart. But I haven’t gone through it since that day. Wiping away my tears I open the box, and the smell of hay and tack and horses transports me back to the barn. The barn where I went right after high school graduation to see my horse Annie.

Only to find her stall empty, and her gone.

“Sold.” My mother told me, but wouldn’t tell me where or who she had sold Annie too. My mother had decided that I shouldn’t be distracted by a horse when I had a wedding to plan. Even though the groom was still in high school, and we wouldn’t marry until he was out of college.

I hated my mother at that moment more then I ever thought I could hate anyone. I still hate my mother, and my hatred grows as I examine the contents of the box, all that remains of my horse.

Her halter, frayed and stained with mud. For some reason that upsets me the most. I’ve always heard it’s bad luck to sell a horse without its halter, and I’ll never know why it was left hanging on Annie’s stall door.

Her horseshoe, saved from when she stumbled on the trail when we were cantering, threw her shoe and I fell and broke my arm. She was such a good horse that she stopped and came over to me where I landed, and allowed me to pull myself back up on her one-armed. Then we rode home together.

And pictures. I must have taken a hundred rolls of film of my horse. They are all saved at the bottom of the box. They are all I have left of her now. I put the box down, fighting the urge to break down.

I take a deep breath and put my hands on the box, sealing it back up and adding it to my pile of things I’m taking.

Then I go to wake Lydia. We have some clothes sorting to do.

****

I love to pack. I never realized it before, but I do. It’s so methodical, you make two piles. One for you, one for Lydia. From the pile you’re taking, you start with the heavy things. Shoes, jackets, things like that. The heavy things are neatly placed in the bottom of the suitcase. Then the lighter things, long sleeved shirts, underwear, and bras are all placed on top. It’s so satisfying to me at this moment, maybe because it’s assurance that I’m really going.

I’m leaving. I told that to Lydia as I woke her up. She was still half-asleep, but she shook her head in understanding and followed me silently to my room. I know she’s upset, and a part of me wants so badly to take her with me. But I know I have to do this on my own, and Lydia’s life isn’t so bad here.

My mother loves her, honest to goodness loves her. Although Lydia and my mother don’t get along, (not that many teenagers and their parents do), my mother has always placed Lydia on a pedestal that I could never reach, no matter how hard I tried. And Lydia doesn’t hate it here, her and my mother are close regardless of how Lydia tries to pretend otherwise.

That still doesn’t make my mother a good mother, just because she truly loves one of her daughters. But it makes it easier for me to leave Lyd and not feel as guilty.

I’m almost finished. Lydia has asked me several times where I’m going and I just can’t answer her. I don’t know where I’m going.

Go to Jaden, the voice in my head tells me logically. And I know that would be the best thing to do, for myself. Fess up to her, admit that I was wrong and stupid and scared and that’s why I told her the things I did. But I don’t know if she’ll still want me and I don’t know if I could handle it if she doesn’t.

I’m finished packing. Lydia is asleep on my bed with Bean. I look around my room in awe. It’s amazing how much the same it looks. I’m bringing with me seven boxes, my guitar, my dog, and for the first time, myself. But my room looks as if nothing is missing. The only things that will be gone are the only things that truly define myself. It’s sad, really, that I’ve lived the past 22 years of my life as a complete stranger to those around me.

I check my watch. It’s almost 6:00am. I have to hurry. My father will be getting up for work soon and I need to be gone before he awakens. Gently, I wake Lydia and help her back to her room. Tucking my baby sister who is taller than I am into bed I kiss her forehead. She opens her pretty brown eyes and regards me sleepily.

“I have to go. I’m going to miss you so much.” I tell her, my eyes wet with tears.

“I’ll miss you too.” She mumbles, struggling to wake up. “Grace, don’t forget about me, you promise?” She asks, her normally aloof voice filled with emotion.

“Never.” I promise her. “How could anyone forget the best little sister ever?” I ask teasingly, and she smiles. “I’ll call you as soon as I’m settled, okay?” I tell her, my voice breaking.

She nods. “Bye.” She whispers and I hug her tightly.

“It’s not goodbye.” I answer in her ear. “It’s I’ll see you around.” I fiercely whisper in her ear. That simple phrase, said so many times to me by Jaden, I’ll pass on to Lydia. It seems so much more hopeful than “goodbye.” I release her and head for her door, blowing her a kiss on the way out.

“You should go to Jaden.” Lydia tells me as I pass through the door. I turn around to find her curled up in bed, fast asleep. Or pretending to be asleep, I’m not really sure.

I give my baby sister one last loving look and head out of her life. For now.

****

“Uncle Rick.” I greet his gruff sleep-filled voice over the phone.

“Grace?” He mutters. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I answer him. “Better than I’ve ever been.”

“You didn’t get your car last night. I was worried.” He says, and I smile at his admission. He pretends to be such a grump, when he’s such a teddy bear on the inside.

“I need it now. I’m leaving.” I state firmly, in case he tries to stop me.

“Good.” He answers, surprising the hell out of me. “I’ll bring it over now.” He hangs up the phone.

It’s 6:04 am. Uncle Rick lives above the bar and if I know him he’ll literally bring my car over now. He’ll be here in twenty minutes. I have to hurry.

I carry all of my things out into the driveway, careful not to make a sound. It takes me a few trips, but I carry as much as humanly possible. Making sure I have my purse and my bank account information, I then change into the comfortable clothes that I left unpacked. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know I’ll be driving for a while. Slipping on my black jogging pants and a t-shirt I grab my hooded sweatshirt, remembering the slight chill I felt when I was just outside. I head for the bathroom, splashing water on my puffy and sleep-deprived face. What day is it? Monday? Has it really been less than 24 hours since Scott hit me? I guess it has.

I run a brush through my long hair. “You have such beautiful hair!” People have always exclaimed to me. My mother has always told me to keep it long and shiny because that is how men love it. Scott loves my hair.

I hate my hair. I always have. I find it annoying and irritating to have long hair that I have to blow dry and spend time styling. I open the bathroom drawer and find the scissors I know are there. Dare I?

I look in the mirror, a blue-green eyed, black and blue-faced woman staring back at me. A woman, who for 22 years of her life hasn’t been able to have a hairstyle that she has been able to choose.

I raise the scissors to my head and snip a long lock off.

It’s satisfying. Snip, a long tress falls into the sink. Snip snip, more hair falls around me. With every cut I am leaving perfect Grace behind. With every cut I am claiming myself.

Snip, snip, snip. And suddenly I’m finished.

I run my hand through my now very short and shaggy hair. I’ll need to have it professionally done, of course, but for now it suits me perfectly.

I don’t clean up the huge pile of hair I left in the bathroom. Perfect Grace would clean everything up nice and tidy but she is gone, remember?

Grace is in charge now. And I think I’m going to like it that way.

I hear my car pull into the driveway. I run to my room and grab Bean. Scooping her up in my arms I kiss her puppy nose as I glance around my room.

Goodbye, Perfect Grace, I tell a part of myself.

I turn off the lights and shut the door to my room.

Then I walk slowly out of my house and into my new life.

My uncle walks Bean around the front yard letting her potty as I load up my car. Everything fits easily, thanks to my nifty fold-down back seats. I have everything ready to go, and Uncle Rick slowly walks Bean back to the car.

“You sure you’re taking her?” He asks, pointing at my little dog.

“If I were to leave her with anyone, it would be you. I know how much you love her.” I tell him. “But I need her with me.” I say, and he smiles.

“I know.” He answer simply as he gets into the passenger seat of my car. I’ll drop him off back at his apartment above the bar and from there I’ll head out.

“Thank you.” I offer to him on the quiet drive over. “I can’t repay you for everything you’ve done for me.” I squeeze his hand and he gently holds it in his.

He doesn’t answer. He’s not a man of many words, but when he does say them he means them.

We arrive at his apartment. “Come in for a minute.” He demands, and I agree and follow him inside. I can’t say that I don’t get a little nervous, even though I know that my uncle would never hurt me like Scott did, but I’m still so jumpy.

We head up the rickety wood stairs that take us to his apartment. Inside is neat and tidy, like I’ve always remembered it. He motions for me to sit on his couch and I comply.

“Where are you headed?” He asks, sitting in the chair across from me.

“I don’t know.” I answer simply.

“Jaden?”

“Maybe. If she’ll still have me.” I tell him, my voice sad.

“You love her?” He asks, looking at me with intensity.

I decide to tell him the truth, it’s not like he doesn’t know anyway by now. My parents might be easily fooled, but not him.
“I love her so much.” I whisper and he nods.

“Then go to her.” He moves to sit next to me. “Don’t let the love of your life disappear like I did.”

I look at him in question. I don’t remember Uncle Rick ever dating or anything.

“It was a long time ago, Grace.” His deep brown eyes grow sad. “I’ll never forgive myself for being too scared to follow him.”

Him? HIM? My Uncle Rick is gay? “Him?” I manage to croak out. He smiles softly and nods his head.

“I was scared Grace, I was scared and stupid and instead of admitting my feelings I ran away.” He looks around his small apartment. “And what do I have to show for it? I live alone over the bar that I own. I live in the same town that I grew up in and most of the people here don’t even know my name.” Finishing sadly, he looks down at his hands. “All because I was too weak to admit who I was.”

I gently take his hands in mine. “I’m so sorry.” I tell him. “You are such a wonderful person, you deserve to be happy.”
“Grace, happiness isn’t guaranteed. Even if Jaden loves you as much as you love her, that still doesn’t mean you will be happy.” He pauses. “Happiness comes from inside. If you’re never truly happy with yourself, no one will be able to give happiness to you.”

I smile at him because I know he’s right. “I know.” I tell him. “And that’s why I’m leaving. Because I hate myself here, and in order to change myself I need to leave.” He nods in agreement as I continue. “And I’m not running away, but simply removing myself from a toxic environment.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“And you can be proud of you, too. You don’t have to stay here Uncle Rick.” I state firmly, squeezing his hand for emphasis.

“I know.” He answers. “But this is my path and I’ve already followed it for too long.”

“Make a new path.” I tell him, standing. “You have it in you, I know you do.”

He stands, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me into a hug. “You stay safe.” He orders in his best fatherly tone. “And call me when you get wherever it is you’re going.”

“I will.” I tell him, hugging him once more. “You’ve been more of a parent to me than I’ve ever had. Thank you for everything.”

“Aw, get out of here before anyone notices you’re gone.” He answers, his brown eyes moist with tears. He walks me to the door. “I don’t know where I’ll find another waitress half as good as you.” He adds.

I laugh, causing his grim face to break into a smile. “I love you very much.” I state as I walk down the stairs. As I reach the last step I hear his faint reply from inside his apartment.

“Love you too, Grace.”
June 19, 2000.

8:04 am
The phone rings in my ear. I impatiently shake my leg as I wait for her to answer.

“Hello?” Her liquid voice greets me. I breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home.

“Jaden?” I ask tentatively, unsure if she’s going to speak to me or hang up.

“Grace?” She answers, her voice surprised. “Is that really you?”

“Yes it’s me.” I respond, waiting to hear the dial tone as she hangs up.

But she doesn’t. Instead she questions. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I assure her. “I left.”

“What do you mean you left? Where are you?”

“I’m at the Ohio state line.” I tell her. “I just left. I realized what a mistake I was making, and how I’m tired of pretending to be someone that I’m not. And I just left.”

“Where are you going?” She asks, her voice shaking.

“I don’t know.” I answer honestly, wondering how many times I’ve been asked and asked myself that question in the past few hours.

“Come here.” She states firmly. “Please Grace, come here. I don’t care about what happened last night. I want you here.” Her voice breaks with emotion and she begins sobbing on the other end of the phone.

A million memories rush through me, some my own, but many others foreign to me. And all at once I know exactly where I’m going. I’m following the path of Grace McKenzie, and at this time in my life that path is leading to Jaden.

“Okay.” I tell her.

“What?” She squeaks in surprise.

“I’m on my way.” I answer, my face breaking into a smile. “I’ll see you around.” I tell her as I hang up the phone.

I get back in my car. Crossing the border I head east, leaving Ohio in my rearview mirror.
June 19, 2000.

10:17 pm
I crossed the Massachusetts border about an hour ago. I’m minutes away from Jaden’s place, and as I drive slowly through the stately neighborhood, I somehow recognize where I am. I stopped to get gas and to call Jaden a few hours ago when I knew she would be home from work to tell her of my progress. I had just crossed into Connecticut and she gave me directions to her apartment. She sounded really excited to see me. I hope she isn’t regretting this. Hell, I hope she isn’t regretting me.

It’s a hell of a long drive. But pretty, and Bean and I have been taking our time and stopping whenever the need strikes us. This is my first real road trip and my first time having any kind of independence. I really like it.

But I’m anxious to get to Jaden’s apartment, and to see her. To make sure that I didn’t screw anything up with my foolish attempt to forget about her and push her out of my life.

Like that could ever happen. From the minute we laid eyes on each other it was like The Fates themselves led us together. I know it sounds silly, but it’s true.

I just hope Fate is forgiving. Because I have a lot of apologizing to do, and Jaden has a lot of forgiving to do.

Reaching her apartment, I nervously pull into the driveway and park next to her dark blue Explorer like she told me to. I put my car into park and turn off the ignition, lovingly patting it on the dashboard. It got great gas mileage on the way out here, and ran perfectly. Thank Goddess, because I didn’t have a cell phone and really didn’t feel like getting stranded in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

I’m procrastinating, I know that I am. It’s easier to stay here in my car then it is to go inside and face Jaden. But I’ve been driving for about twelve hours now and desperately want to get out of this seated position. Bean looks at me pathetically from her doggie seat belt and I take pity on her by unsnapping her. Opening the car door I hook Bean onto her leash and start up the stairs I know will lead me to Jaden’s apartment.

As I step onto the large front porch the front door swings open to reveal the most gorgeous sight I’ve ever seen. Jaden, dressed only in a skimpy camisole top and soft blue flannel shorts, holds a huge bouquet of lilacs. The porch light makes her skin glow, and highlights her long dark hair.

“Hi.” She says softly, holding the flowers out to me. I don’t know how she knew that lilacs are my favorite, but she must. I take them shyly, inhaling their perfect scent.

“Hi.” I echo her back, unsure what to do next. She takes the initiative and engulfs me in a warm embrace. I carefully hold the flowers out to the side and relax into her arms. This feels so completely right, and if I ever had any doubts about leaving Ohio they’ve just all been erased.

She ruffles my hair affectionately. “It looks beautiful.” She says, and I smile.

“Come on.” She says, gently leading me inside. “Let’s get you settled and then I’ll bring up all of your stuff.” She starts up the inside stairs.

“No.” I answer her, heading back to my car.

“What do you mean?” She asks, hurrying back down the stairs to catch up with me. “You’re staying, aren’t you?” Her face is panicked and I rush to calm her down.

“Of course I am.” I soothe her. “I just don’t want you to have to bring in my stuff later. I’ll just bring my bag of essentials up now.” I grab the bag out of my car, feeling guilty for scaring her.

We head into her apartment. As I remember, it’s incredibly clean and minimally decorated. Bean sniffs excitedly around and Jaden calls her into the kitchen.

“Look what I bought her!” She motions me to join her in the kitchen and I do so. On the tile floor is a food and water bowl, both adorned with a burping Odie that states “MY BOWL.”

“Jaden, you didn’t have to do that but thank you, they are adorable!” Bean sniffs them expectantly and I grab her food from my bag and fill one. Jaden fills the other with cool water and Bean happily enjoys her dinner.

“What about your dinner?” Jaden questions. “Have you eaten?”

I shake my head no. “I stopped a few times for fast food, but I’m starving.” I answer honestly.

“Good, me too. How about pizza?” I grin and nod excitedly. She smiles and grabs the phone. “Go get comfortable and I’ll have it delivered.”

I head for the bathroom, pajamas in hand. Everything still seems so surreal to me and I shudder at the thought of what my parents are thinking right now. I’m sure they notice I’m gone. The blonde hair all over the bathroom made it clear that something happened. Hopefully they called Uncle Rick and he kind of explained things.

But I don’t want to think about it right now. I’m exhausted from driving, I have a headache from not eating and most importantly, I’m here with Jaden.

And she doesn’t seem to be mad at me. Changing quickly, I run my hands through my newly short hair. I love it this length. It was pretty warm out this afternoon and with the windows down in my car I had perfect car hair. No blowing in my face or getting tangled. I can’t wait to go to a real hairdresser and get it evened out, but for now it’s perfect.

I exit the bathroom to find Jaden sitting on the couch with Bean. They both seem to be having no problems adjusting to their new living situation. In fact, I can’t decide which one of them looks more content.
I join Jaden on the couch, noticing she has put the lilacs in a vase on the coffee table. “How did you know that they were my favorite?” I ask, pointing at the lovely flowers.

She smiles. “When I was in Florida and we were exchanging letters, you wrote an entire page to me one time about the 6’ foot tall lilac bush outside of your bedroom and how you couldn’t wait for it to bloom.” She chuckles, her voice low and soothing. “I just figured it out.”

I smile at her, leaning my shoulder against hers. “I can’t believe you remembered that.” I say softly. “That was so long ago.”

“I’ve never forgotten anything about you Gracie.” She answers. “I’ve heard you don’t forget things about the person you love.” She looks down, her eyes nervously darting around the room.

Taking her hands in mine I turn to face her. “I do love you Jaden.” I tell her, my voice threatening to crack with emotion. “I’m sorry about everything. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” She squeezes my hand, her blue eyes emphatic. “I hope you know that.”

“I know.” She answers simply. “We have a lot of things to talk about, but we have time.”

“Yeah.” I answer, smiling. She returns my smile and leans over to inspect the bruise on my face.

She gently touches my cheek. “It’s still bruised.” She frowns. “It looks like it hurts.”

I smile at her, speaking not only of my swollen face. “It does hurt. But the pain will fade.”

 

 

The End

Continued in Houdini’s Box

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