Noemí by Katia N. Ruiz

noemi
Artwork by Calli

Noemí
by Katia N. Ruiz

CHAPTER ONE

“I’m pregnant, Tony.” She said calmly, and he stared at her in wide-eyed shock. His mouth dropped open, and he was completely speechless.

Suddenly, he jumped up, glaring at her after his initial shock. “Goddamn it, Terri, you were supposed to have been using protection! You were supposed to have been careful!” He exploded, pacing rapidly around her small apartment and waving his arms; but then he seemed to calm down, and looked at her strangely. “There hasn’t been anybody else, has there?” He asked softly, sitting down and touching her arm.

It was her turn to explode as the mixed feelings she felt for him collided and enraged her. She jumped to her feet, slapping his hand away, and glared at him. “How dare you?” She hissed, her gray-brown eyes flashing dangerously; she pointed a finger straight at his nose. “You know you were my first, Tony, Goddamn you! You know you were my first.” Her voice broke.

He put his most convincing act to date, and stood up, quieting her and holding her close to his large chest and smoothing a large hand over her back. “I’m sorry, baby,” He whispered against her forehead. “You know how I am, I’m sorry. It’s just that I thought you were taking the pill or something like I told you, and I never expected this to happen. I just thought that since we’ve been careful, you know…” He pulled back and looked at her meaningfully, his thick blonde eyebrows arching as he gave her the sweetest look. “You know I love you, Terri, don’t you?” He asked, and pulled out his best boyish pout.

She’d fallen for his boyish charm before, had become his friend even when she didn’t trust easily, and she fell for that charm again.

She hadn’t seen him since he left her place that same night. So for weeks, she struggled with the knowledge that he just might have disappeared from her life forever; she had never thought he would do that. Now she knew she should have seen it coming. She’d always known that he’d always been kind of a wimp. At twenty-three, he still lived under his parents’ roof, still lived off their money. And now that the big R of responsibility was calling him, he disappeared.

So now she was here in front of his sister, in her office. She sat across the one and only Noemí Leone, who was staring at her as if she were crazy.

“I’m pregnant and it’s your brother’s.” She said softly, as calmly as she could, to the woman sitting stiffly behind the desk. The truth was that Terri Bledsoe was just on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. She’d been struggling for weeks trying to decide if she should go to Anthony’s family, or if she should wait until he decided to call her. Three weeks had passed since she had told her friend, Anthony Leone, that she was pregnant; he had not contacted her since those dreadful words came out of her mouth.

“What do you mean you’re pregnant with my brother’s child?” She asked, her husky voice remaining controlled, although a slight twitch began at her brow. She lifted a perfectly sharpened pencil from her desk and began to twist it in her tight grip; her hand shook a little.

Her ice blue eyes paralyzed with their intensity, her short gold-red hair fell attractively over her forehead. She and Anthony looked a lot alike, though her hair was a little straighter than his blonde curly waves. Her eyebrows, slightly thinner than his, had the same shape, though hers were more graceful. Her left eye closed more than the other eye, and a slight scar lay vertically along her left temple; to Terri, it seemed as if Noemí was looking at her very closely, though she was aware that it was only because of the scar that her eye closed a little. Where Anthony’s nose was almost too large, Noemí’s was aquiline and perfectly straight; her reddish lips were full and pouted slightly; her right eyebrow arched slightly more than the other. Her jaw was strong for a woman’s and clenched reflexively, her forehead smoother than his was; if she were a man, she would be even more gorgeous than her brother was. As a woman, she was sensuously magnetic in her self-possessed handsome way.

Her attitude was also very different than her brother’s was, though. Terri could see the tenseness in her body, the way she didn’t even show any emotion at the news, other than that slight twitch of her brow. He was overly cheerful, energetic, and at times, way too happy. Terri suspected that he was into certain drugs.

Noemí wore black slacks and a white business shirt with the top three buttons undone; a black double-breasted vest was open over her shirt, revealing a thin waist. The way her clothes were carelessly worn, though neatly comfortable, betrayed the late time of the day. Terri had caught her just as she was about to leave for the weekend. She was a natural behind her desk. In her striking eyes, Terri could see with her perceptive painter’s eyes the deep pain that was haunting her. She wondered at it, but soon forgot as she answered her question.

“I am.” Terri repeated, and her voice shook a little. She was just about to give up, to just leave this woman’s office and take care of her baby on her own.

If only she could.

She wouldn’t be able to, without the help of Anthony or his family. It wasn’t that she felt she couldn’t be nurturing to her child, but without money and proper living arrangements, her baby wouldn’t be comfortable. She lived in an apartment that was too small, everything was broken, and nothing worked right. She’d been told she painted beautifully, her pieces of work were hanging all over her tiny apartment, and she longed to return home to them. Sometimes she wished she could sell them and make some money off them, but with demands for painters so low, her prodigious talent didn’t make her able to provide comfortably for her child. She sighed inwardly. “I am four months pregnant. I told him as soon as I knew for sure, and he promised he’d be there for me and the baby, I have yet to see him.” She said the last bit a little bitterly; she tried to control her angry emotions.

The thought of Anthony now inspired anger, not the friendly affection that she’d come to know.

Noemí stared at her intensely, her pupils dilated. Her lips twisted a little, and the twitch on her eyebrow grew in intensity as she was reassured she didn’t hear wrong. “You have not been with anyone other than my brother, Ms. Bledsoe?” She inquired in that controlled voice of hers, and she grasped the pencil in her hand a little too tightly, the muscle in her hand working double-time, the thin veins bulging. She was angry, Terri could see.

But Terri couldn’t control her own anger, and she exploded once again, this time upon Noemí. “He’s my first!” She snapped and stood up, pacing around the large office, fighting tears. Her anger at Anthony won out over the friendly feelings she once felt. “He took my virginity, Miss Leone. He gave me beautiful wine, his favorite, Chardonnay, and seduced my pride away from me.” She had wanted to say these words all these weeks, since she realized that Anthony would not come back. “Your brother promised me he’d be here and that he’d help me take care of our baby.” Her eyes grew moist, and she felt foolish because Noemí just stared at her with a stoic expression. She looked down at the floor and crossed her arms over her chest; she blushed wildly.

“And you’ve never been with any other man.” Noemí stated, her voice controlled, though she couldn’t control the slight sound of strain.

Terri glared at her again, shaking her head angrily, and turned to leave. She stalked to the large oak door of the office, and reached out to take the knob in her hand. She felt Noemí’s hand upon her shoulder, and gasped as Noemí spun her around and pinned her to the door. Terri’s ponytail flipped onto her face as a waft of soft cologne invaded her senses. “What do you think you’re doing?” She demanded, indignantly trying to push Noemí away.

“I have to talk to you; I have to make sure that you’re telling me the truth, before I go to my parents.” Noemí said, her eyes looking deeply into Terri’s. She stood too close for Terri’s comfort and Terri squirmed. Noemí’s strong hand was on Terri’s shoulder, holding her pinned against the door, and the other arm was propped against the frame, holding her balance. She was tall like Anthony, though her body was lithe and muscular beneath the suit, where his was large and burly. “Now,” Noemí continued. “Tell me why you decided to come to me.”

Terri broke eye contact, and she concentrated on a spot over Noemí’s broad shoulder, just as she’d done the first night Anthony had had his way with her. “Anthony always talked about you, about how you run a part of your parent’s company, how you basically knew what to do when he got into trouble here and there.” She explained, and realized too late how this would sound. Her eyes snapped up to Noemí’s.

Noemí’s face twisted into a cynical grin. “So you want me to pay you off, basically. How much?” She asked and moved away from Terri towards her desk. She walked around and sat behind the desk, pulling out a checkbook from her desk drawer. She looked up at Terri questioningly.

Consumed by anger at being deliberately misunderstood in that way, Terri couldn’t help the furious shudder that coursed through her body. “No!” She shouted, and her voice trembled in barely controlled rage. Noemí’s eyes snapped up from the checkbook to look at her. “That’s not what I want!” She spun around and opened the door, propelling herself through it. She ignored the still-present secretary, who was staring after her in shock. She felt that large hand grasping her arm again before she stepped five feet out the door, dragging her back into the office. She struggled against the hard, almost painful grip on her arm, and pulled back. “No, let me go! I regret the day I decided to come here to see you. Anthony made you sound like an intelligent person, like you had better sense than he did. I’ll take care of my baby on my own; I don’t need your help. You’re more of an asshole than he is!”

Noemí’s dry chuckle surprised her; she didn’t look like the kind of person who so much as smiled. “Then why did you sleep with him if he’s such an asshole?” She demanded, her voice harsh as she pulled Terri back into the office and slammed the door behind them. Terri twisted her arm away from her hand, and she turned to the door again, not willing to hear any more insults. Once again, Noemí pinned her against the heavy door and grabbed a hold of her with both hands. She shook her hard by the shoulders and forced her to meet her eyes. “Why did you fuck him, if he doesn’t have any sense?”

“Goddamn it!” Terri roared, her voice breaking and her eyes tearing. She pushed Noemí away with surprising strength. “I wanted to, is that what you want to hear?” She hissed through her teeth. “Well, I didn’t want to, even when he told me it was supposed to be good, that passion meant everything, that you could not love anybody if you didn’t give your body to that person. I just lay there and let him do what he wanted, because he wouldn’t take no! After the first time, he would never take no, so I didn’t say no. I needed love-” She choked on her words, knowing she hadn’t needed Anthony’s kind of loving. She knew she was speaking in a rush, and she breathed hard. The baby inside her shifted nervously, and she paused, grasping her slightly paunchy stomach and gasping, her eyes wide and afraid. This was the first time she felt any movement inside her. Suddenly feeling faint, she gasped again, and Noemí held her up, suddenly concerned, her hands on her shoulders.

“Are you okay?” She asked softly, her light eyes darker with worry. She guided Terri to a chair and kneeled in front of her, each hand on each armrest, gazing up at her. “Want some water?” She offered softly. Terri shook her head and looked away towards the windows. Resting a knee on the carpeted floor, Noemí narrowed her eyes as she gazed up at her. “How old are you?” She asked.

“Twenty-two.” Terri answered, and met Noemí’s eyes boldly, challengingly.

Noemí’s eyes widened in surprise, and she couldn’t help herself. After a long silence, she chuckled cruelly and looked at her incredulously. “And you were still a virgin? Give me a break.” She retorted.

Terri felt a rush of hot anger flood to her brain and she stood. Noemí reached up and grabbed her arm, yanking her back down. Terri landed with a flop into the seat again. Noemí stared at her and shook her head slowly, while Terri’s eyes shot gray-brown daggers at her. “Why are you so angry?” She asked softly.

Terri crossed her arms over her chest, and glared. “Can you really blame me? Your brother played with my feelings, my needs.” She answered, and looked away, feeling vulnerable. Then she said in a whisper: “This is truly not what I wanted.”

Noemí looked her over closely for a long moment, and then pursed her lips. She asked, not really knowing why: “Do you want an abortion then?”

Terri’s eyes snapped back to her again, they narrowed and her glare intensified. “Fuck you!” She hissed venomously, and before she could stop herself, she punched Noemí across the face, sending her sprawling backwards.

Mixes of emotions flashed across Noemí’s features. Her face reddened as first surprise, pain, and then intense anger flashed across her features. She jumped to her feet as Terri ran through the door and out of the office, frantically clutching her purse in her arms. “Come back here!” Noemí barked in an angry tone, frightening Terri. The elevator doors opened just as Terri reached them, and she jumped in. She frantically pressed the ‘door close’ button and the doors drew together and closed practically in Noemí’s furious face. She could hear the sound of angry pounding and shouting. Taking a deep, relieved breath, she put a small hand to her chest when the doors didn’t open. She couldn’t believe it, that she crossed that line, that she lost her temper so quickly.

I must be going crazy! She must think I’m trash! She berated herself, breathing deeply, pressing her hand to her chest again. But Damn it, she deserved it, she shouldn’t have suggested that I want to get rid of my baby, she thought indignantly, as if my baby was a piece of trash!

Control had been her strength all her life. She never showed her pain at being mistreated; she never let anyone see how much they hurt her. But she let this woman get to her, anger her to the point of physically striking out. Noemí made her feel victimized and she resented that.

She stepped out of the elevator at the lobby, and made her way quickly across towards the exit. She passed the security desk, expecting the guard to stop her as ordered by Noemí Leone, but nothing happened. She slammed the glass doors open, and rushed through them.

The bright sun outside in New York glared down at the people, warming them more than was welcome, laying a heavy cape of light over their eyes. It was hot, extremely hot, and Terri began to fan herself ten feet away from the door. The street looked busy, cars were moving along slowly, and pedestrians were practically running to their destinations. Terri joined the crowd moving south towards the City Hall train station. I should never have come, she thought reproachfully; this was stupid of me. What was I thinking-? A harsh hand grabbing her by the shoulder interrupted her thoughts. She gasped as Noemí Leone twisted her harshly around.

Her eyes met Noemí’s, which were an ever-lighter blue in the street, as if the light of the sun were bleaching them white. Noemí was glaring down at her with those striking eyes, so much taller and imposing. A harsh red mark could be seen where Terri’s fist met her jaw. If she had been wearing a blazer over her attire, she had forgotten it upstairs in her anger. “Where do you live?” She snapped at Terri.

Terri, recovering from her initial shock, tried to twist her arm away. This time, though, Noemí’s grasp was really tight and painful. “Let me go.” Terri said through clenched teeth, and continued to pull against her strength. “I will scream, Ms. Leone. I swear I will.”

Noemí glared down at her, her lips pulled into a tight line. “The hell you will!” She growled, and pulled her up the street, in the opposite direction of the train station, back towards the building. Trying to anchor her feet against the concrete, Terri pulled stubbornly against her. Terri was slight of build, almost painfully thin. She was small, barely coming up to Noemí’s shoulder, but she had an inner strength that belied her size. But Noemí was much stronger and she yanked her forward, making her feet drag against the concrete. Noemí stopped and glared down at Terri again. “Where… do… you… live?” She asked again, pronouncing each word slowly, shaking her.

“Let me go, damn you!” Terri yelled, and pulled harder, her arm was hurting intensely where Noemí’s hand grasped it, the blood flow cutting off. Her fingers were numb already. She noticed that there were people watching their altercation.

“No!” Noemí yelled back, her voice powerful and thick with anger, her face flushed. It was obvious to Terri that she didn’t care about yelling either. “No, damn it! You came to bother me, came to ruin my perfectly beautiful day, and now you think you can leave just like that?” She laughed harshly. “No, it doesn’t end like this. You and I, missy, have to talk!”

“Don’t call me missy!” Terri growled, and clamped her hand over Noemí’s larger hand, sinking her strong fingernails into her flesh and raking.

In painful surprise, Noemí let go of her arm, and Terri broke into a run down the block again. “I can’t believe this!” Noemí breathed, momentarily looking at her scratched and bleeding hand, then breaking into a run after Terri. “Stop!” She called out to her, her long muscular legs allowed her to quickly catch up with her and she reached out. She grabbed her shoulder and yanked her backwards, Terri screamed in pain and surprise as she crashed against Noemí. Noemí brought her arm around her waist, and she held her close against her, her other hand grasping her flailing hands together. She finally realized people were watching them with surprise and apprehension. She smiled awkwardly at them, embarrassed, and half-carried Terri up the block again.

Terri was stiff against her, breathing hard, trying to remove her hands from the strong grasp. “No, damn it!” Noemí let her go, and grabbed her arm again, pulling her along. “Scratch me again, and I swear I’ll hit you, pregnant or not!” She hissed angrily, her cheeks flaming.

Terri’s eyes widened at the biting words, and she felt herself go limp, her demeanor turning submissive. She allowed Noemí to pull her into the ten-story parking lot, which stood prettily against the building she’d just been in. They stood by the elevator, and when the doors opened, Noemí propelled her through the door, letting the doors close before letting her go. She stood right in front of her, powerful arms crossed, her eyes glaring. Terri wouldn’t look at her any more, the anger gone from her posture, her eyes and face; her arms were crossed again, not in a hostile way, but in a self-protective way.

Noemí realized that she might be afraid of her, and her glare faded. She softened her voice as she asked again: “Where do you live?”

Terri was looking at the floor. “Two Hundredth Street and Jamaica Avenue.” She responded in a quiet voice. “In Queens.”

The doors of the elevator slid open, and Noemí reached for Terri’s arm again, her hold gentle and strangely comforting. She guided her towards the area made for reserved spots. Terri knew the Leone’s were rich, but she never expected Noemí’s gorgeous brand new red Ford Mustang Convertible. She stared in awe as Noemí pulled her towards it, unaware of her admiration. She guided her to the passenger side and without letting go of her hand, slipped the key into the hole. She opened the door, and urged Terri into the car seat. The beautiful upholstery and the scent of Noemí’s cologne invaded Terri’s senses as soon as she sat.

She watched Noemí walk around the front of the car and slip into the driver’s seat. After slipping on her seatbelt, Noemí stopped any movement and gripped the steering wheel, staring straight ahead.

Terri looked at her for a long time, while Noemí sat there and waited. “Well?” She finally asked, confused by Noemí’s stillness.

Noemí brought her eyes to Terri and looked pointedly down at her stomach. Terri found herself blushing. “You need to wear your seat belt,” Noemí said, her voice controlled again. “We don’t want your baby to get hurt.”

Infuriated by the inadequate way Noemí made her feel, Terri looked away from her, her pale cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment. “Sorry, you could have said something before I asked.” She muttered, slipping on her seatbelt.

Noemí continued to stare at her. “I thought you’d know that.” She said, and took a deep expectant breath.

Terri rolled her eyes, her earlier bravado returning. “What do you mean by that?” She asked.

Noemí shook her head and looked away. “I’m testing you, girl!” She said the word girl with an emphasis, as if daring her to respond, and slapped the steering wheel hard, making Terri jump in her seat. She unbuttoned the cuffs of her sleeves, and rolled them up to reveal strong arms. Terri noticed a long scar running the length of her right arm, from her wrist and beyond the shadow line of the shirt. “You fall for the bait very easily. Why?” Noemí asked, and clenches her teeth, visibly working her jaw muscles.

Terri noticed the darkening bruise on her jaw, and realized once again that it was of her making. She didn’t know how to apologize. “Can you take me home, please?” She asked instead, feeling suddenly wary. “I’m really tired.”

Noemí looked at her for a long time, and noticed her suddenly pale cheeks. “You get angry too fast, Terri. You wear yourself out.” She said, reaching out and touching her arm softly, tentatively.

“And you don’t… smile.” Terri retorted with a snort, and she felt Noemí’s hand fall away from her arm. The truth was that holding her anger for so many weeks had left her feeling as if she was a walking explosive, waiting to be ignited. This woman seemed to know how to ignite her fury very easily, with her hard words.

Noemí started her car with jerky movements, and drove off in a lurch; she pressed a button and it brought up the roof of the convertible. “How is it that you haven’t asked about my brother yet?” She asked when the windows were up and the air-conditioner running.

“I’m not interested any more.” Terri answered in a monotone, staring pensively out her window.

“Unbelievable, considering the fact that he may be the father of your child.” Noemí responded quietly. “You know,” She said, feeling Terri needed to know. “He left on a vacation to Aruba, with a girlfriend. Two weeks ago.”

Terri looked at her with emotionless eyes, and then glanced back out the window. “I didn’t expect any less, I sort of knew when
I tried to page him and the damn thing was disconnected.” She said, and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the headrest.

“Why should I believe you?” Noemí asked suddenly, obviously struggling with believing her or believing that her brother was a saint, which she knew he wasn’t. They were driving along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, very close to the Van Wyck Expressway. “I mean, you can be one of his many ‘friends,’ taking advantage of his absence to try to squeeze some money out of us.” She looked at her, keeping the car moving in a straight line and waited for a response.

Terri’s eyes snapped to meet Noemí’s, and Noemí suddenly feared she’d get another punch in the face. But Terri remained staring at her for a long time before answering, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “Your brother has a big birth mark right above his-” She paused in an embarrassed silence. And then she said with a spiteful tone to her voice, deliberately nasty and sarcastic: “Right above his ‘beautiful’ penis. He shaves down there too, makes him feel fresher. He showed me a beautiful tiny scar right between his penis and his balls… What else do you want to know?” She glared at Noemí, leaning towards her.

Noemí blushed wildly, and she clenched her teeth, her hands on the steering wheel tightened until her knuckles turned white.
“I don’t know,” She said sarcastically. “The littlest things on his body are enough to tell me you’ve seen him naked, shit! All I know is about the scar. You are correct about it, he had a hernia when he was a young boy, and my parents had it removed. I don’t know that he shaves, but I will go through this with my mother and father, he might know, they go to the gym often together.” Her skin suddenly flushed a deeper shade of red, her face hard with fury. “Fucking asshole!” She shouted, and slammed her fist against the steering wheel over and over again. The car swerved to the side, car horns blasted behind them, and she righted the wheel quickly, cursing under her breath.

Terri grasped the headboard frantically and then stared at Noemí for a long time. She wondered at this woman’s volatile temper, but just turned her head to stare out the window.

Noemí reached into the waist pocket of her vest, bringing out a little red address book and a small pen. She began to write down Terri’s address in a fresh page, holding the cap of the pen between her teeth. “What’s your phone number?” She asked Terri, her voice muffled by the pen cap, glancing her way. If she had any reaction to the area where Terri lived, there was no clue in her expression.

Terri shook her head and looked away. “I have no phone number.” She replied quietly.

Noemí looked at her with narrowed eyes, for the first time showing her worry. She took the cap from her mouth. “So you’re telling me that if something happens, there is no way for you to communicate with anybody.” She said doubtfully, already protective of the unborn child that may be her niece or nephew.

Terri began to play with the hem of her old skirt. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” She replied evenly.

Noemí placed the cap back on the pen, and studied her closely. Her eyes fell to her small hands and she eyed the pale knuckles; her hands looked so delicate, but she knew they packed a mean punch. “Where did you learn to punch like that?” She asked suddenly, and brought a hand up to rub her aching jaw.

Terri’s eyes lifted up to meet hers. “You try growing up with four abusive brothers and an abusive father. You tell me you wouldn’t learn how to punch like that.” She said sarcastically.

Noemí expression didn’t change. “You live with them now?” She asked, and narrowed her eyes.

“I wouldn’t be alive right now if I did.” Terri said, and hugged herself as she shivered. “Sometimes I wish that were the case, though.” She said before she could stop herself, and felt like she had revealed too much of herself.

Noemí bit her lower lip and straightened in her seat. “I will talk to my parents tonight, and I will come tomorrow, at around noon. We seriously need to talk.” She said, looking pointedly at her stomach. “About that child.”

Terri nodded and looked at her for a long time, obviously fighting for something to say. “Sorry about your jaw.” She finally said softly, and pushed the door open, climbing out of the car.

Before Noemí could even get out of her car, Terri had already rushed through the dilapidated front door. She stood outside her car, and stared up at the half-boarded second floor window, instinctively knowing that that was where Terri lived. She shook her head; she clenched her hands into fists against her hips, and looked down at the ground.

It that baby is my brother’s son or daughter, she thought with a grimace, I definitely do not want her living there.
CHAPTER TWO
The Leone’s home, a large Tudor styled structure in Forest Hills Inn’s private residential area, sat quite away from Queens Boulevard. The area was quiet, relaxing, and Noemí loved it. She lived not far off, her own house stylish and beautiful, large and incredibly lonely. She spent most of her free time with her parents, trying to run away from her solitude. Tonight, she didn’t even go home to change; she went directly over to see them.

She presently sat with her parents at the dinner table, tended upon by their single maid, who occasionally traded friendly comments with her mother. One of the many things that Noemí learned from her parents was to respect the people who work so hard to please them. René had been with them before Noemí was even born, and she had cared for little baby Noemí as she grew up almost too fast for her. She had even suggested her name when she was born and Natalie had loved it.

When René left them alone to go have her own dinner, Noemí decided to take the plunge. “Dad, mom,” She said in her quiet voice. Both her parents looked up at her from their plates. She sighed and studied them as she said: “We need to talk.”

Her father, a giant of a man, all muscle and tender burliness, stared at her with blue eyes that held a liveliness that hers lacked. She inherited those incredible colored eyes from him. Thomas Leone had a thick head of white hair, a white goatee that gave his handsome face additional attractiveness. His eyes were warmer than hers were; and though he never said a thing, he felt sad that her eyes didn’t hold the warmth they used to any longer.

She had gone through so much, and her parents knew it. And for that reason they always tried to make her feel comfortable, and always treated her like their princess that she was. They thought of her that way even though the term princess did not fit her in any way, save for the emotional needs that she had. He smiled tenderly and indulgently at her, all the love in the world in his eyes; she responded with a semblance of a smile.

She looked at her mother, Natalie Leone, who looked so beautiful and delicate, who looked so young despite her age, and whom everyone loved with deep admiration. She was always dreaming about having grandchildren, not caring that she was considered too young to have grandchildren already. Well, mom, Noemí thought with heavy irony, you just might get your wish. Younger than Thomas by almost ten years, she had Noemí at the very young age of eighteen. She had bright green eyes, the eyes that gave Anthony’s the greenish hue to his blue. Her soft features were chiseled into her pretty, oval face; her dark red hair fell gently in waves all around her face. “What is it that you need to talk to us about, sweetie?” She voiced their curiosity as her father sat forward in silent agreement to his wife’s question.

Noemí sighed again, and stared down at her plate, which she hardly touched. She grabbed the napkin from her lap and threw it over her plate. “Can we talk away from the table?” She asked, and her parents stood up, their appetite also gone in their worry.

“What is going on, Noemí?” Natalie asked, her voice growing afraid.

Noemí walked away from them, and with a glance at each other, they followed her down the long hall and into Thomas’ study. She was standing by the window when they walked in, a hand in her slack pockets, the other playing with her keys. She turned to them and met their eyes for a long moment. Finally, she sighed once more and bit her lower lip. “Anthony is not hurt or anything, mom, don’t worry.” She began, and watched as her mother sighed with relief. Her face then hardened as the anger rushed through her once again. “But this has to do with him, and he may be hurt when I get my hands on him.” She continued stiffly, and her parents were surprised by her anger.

“What are you talking about?” Thomas demanded. Sitting behind his desk, he gestured to his daughter to sit, but she shook her head. Natalie sat on a chair next to the desk and waited for their daughter to answer.

Noemí shook her head and flushed as she remembered her encounter with Terri that afternoon. She glanced down at the back of her hand, which had been bandaged by a very curious René, and then she touched her aching jaw. “This afternoon, I received a visit from a friend of Anthony’s. A female friend…” She said pointedly and wasted no time. “She claims she is pregnant with his child.”

“What?” Both Thomas and Natalie yelled at the same time. “Pregnant?” Thomas repeated, standing up. He ran a hand through his mass of wavy hair, and threw his head back, staring at the ceiling. He always knew something like this would happen, if his son continued with his irresponsible dalliances with young women. “Jesus!” He breathed. Then he looked at his daughter for a long time; she stared at the dark fireplace, seemingly detached, but he knew her well enough to know that she was thinking hard on the situation and feeling livid. “She could be lying, Noemí.” He looked at his wife, who was staring at their daughter with wide shocked eyes.

Noemí shrugged, and bounced the keys in her hand. “She could be, but not about being pregnant. We, uh, had a little altercation this afternoon.” She explained in her carefully controlled voice, looking uncomfortable. “I had to restrain her from leaving, and I felt her stomach. She’s pregnant alright.” She cleared her throat, uncomfortable; she never thought she’d be the one giving their parents this news. “And I seriously don’t think she is lying when she says she’s slept with him, dad.”

She veered him off his next question, when she saw his mouth start to move. “She knows about the scar from the hernia, says he showed her.” She glanced at her mother and cleared her throat uncomfortably. “She knows about the birth mark right above his-” She cleared her throat again and gestured downward with her eyes, to let them know where she meant, her mother’s expression confirmed the truth; Natalie’s face had lost a little color at that revelation. “And she knows he shaves down there.” She looks at her father again, who clenched his fist with recognition, and slammed it down on the desk, making everything rattle.

“Damn it, Anthony!” He growled, and his skin flushed in anger. He calmed down after taking several deep breaths and looked at his daughter with a flicker of hope. “There could have been other men, Noe.” He said, using his nickname for her.

“Yes, that could be.” Natalie agreed eagerly, sitting up, her eyes full of tears, and Noemí thought, hope that this wasn’t so. She wants a grandchild so badly, Noemí thought to herself, she really doesn’t care how she gets it. “She could be trying to get to our money, Noemí.”

Noemí nodded in assent of what could be true. She surprised them by chuckling as she remembered her altercation with the stubborn woman. No one had stirred such amusement in her for a long time. “Well, when I suggested that she might have been with other men, she practically ate me alive. She storms out of the office, and I, of course, drag her back in.” For a minute she sounded indignant at practically having a physical altercation in her place of work, but then she brushed the feeling away.

Noemí continued. “I don’t like being left with the word in my mouth, and it seems she’s good at that. She told me I have no sense, that our money is the last thing she wanted, when I offered her an amount. She called me an asshole, pardon me, mother.” Natalie waved away the apology. “She then added to it and said I was a bigger asshole than my brother is. What else?” She stopped and watched her parents laugh despite themselves. She fingered her bruised jaw.

Thomas sobered up and looked at her seriously. “Did she say anything about money?” He asked, and took a deep breath.

Noemí smiled wryly. She replied with an amused expression: “I think she is telling the truth when she says that she doesn’t want our money for her. I think she just wants Anthony to be responsible, and her baby to be comfortable. I offered her, asked her how much money she wanted and she tried to leave again. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what she was expecting.” She blushed and didn’t say anything for a long moment. “I did something very stupid, though. Which I’m sure makes me seem like a very bad person in her eyes.”

“What did you do?” Thomas asked, sitting back down, resting against his large chair.

“I asked her if she wanted an abortion.” Noemí confessed softly.

Natalie gasped, clearly ashamed that her daughter had thought of such a vile thing. Noemí better than anyone knew what it felt to loose an expected baby. “Noemí!” She said in admonishing tone. Thomas shook his head and stared at her.

“I know, I know.” Noemí said, lifting a hand and stopping them from saying anything more. “And trust me, that got me a hard-earned fist on my face.” She rubbed her sore jaw, and grimaced.

Thomas and Natalie were flabbergasted. “She hit you?” Natalie asked, a slender hand at the base of her neck.

Noemí nodded slowly, blushing wildly. “Oh, yes, she hit me.” She said. “A real good one. She should have been a boxer.”

Thomas chuckled softly, despite himself. “Good for her, you shouldn’t have said that to her. I was wondering where you got that bruise. I just thought a nice young woman might have gotten out of hand with you.” He teased.

Noemí couldn’t help herself, a smile almost escaped, but she cut it off with her self-assured control. She knew her father wished she’d move on and find the right woman, but she knew there was no perfect woman for her anymore. “Dad, she’s crude, she’s indecent.” She said indignantly. She shook her head and looked at the floor. “And she lives in the most rotten of places. If that is Anthony’s child, dad, if that is my niece, or my nephew, I don’t want her living where she lives now.”

Thomas nodded and looked his daughter over closely. “I understand, darling.” He said softly, feeling the same way she did. Noemí didn’t have to describe Terri’s place of habitat, he could imagine by the look on her face. He drew a deep breath, and looked at his wife. “I think your mother thinks like me when I say that I want to meet this young woman.” Natalie nodded in agreement. “When can you bring her here?”

Surprised, Noemí cleared her throat once again and stared at them. “I think,” She said slowly. “We need to talk to Anthony first, see how much of this is true. At least we know he slept with her, and we know that there is a possibility that he is the father of the child.”

Thomas sat back on his chair and nodded again, drawing the corner of his lips down in thought. He opened his middle drawer and pulled out a thick brown book. He leafed through it, and stopped at a page almost in the middle. “Ah,” He said, and reached for the phone, pulling it towards himself. His finger lingered by the speaker button, and he looked up at Natalie and Noemí. “He’s at the time share in Aruba.” The dial tone made its sound, and he dialed.

“Hello?” The loud sound of background music almost drowned out the sound of Anthony’s bass voice. “Hello?” He said again, louder. The three could hear the laughter of a woman from somewhere beside him.

“Anthony!” Thomas said loudly, the music died suddenly and they could hear Anthony quieting the woman who accompanied him on his trip.

“Dad?” He said, in a suddenly young voice. “What is it? Is everything okay?”

Thomas laughed humorlessly, and said in a barking voice. “Oh, yes, Anthony, everything is alright! We might have to clean up the mess you left behind, but all is perfect!” His cheeks were flushing in his anger. Into the uncomfortable silence from Anthony’s side of the line, Thomas said: “We need to ask you a few questions, Anthony.”

“Yes, dad?” Anthony said, trying to sound very innocent.

Thomas gestured to Noemí with a hand, directing her towards the phone.

“Anthony.” Noemí said, leaning sideways against the desk.

“Who- Noemí?” Anthony asked loudly. “Noemí, is that you?”

“Yes, Anthony, it is Noemí.” Noemí responded. She decided to cut through the chase. “Who is Terri Bledsoe?” She asked in an even voice.

“Te- uh, Terri?” Anthony stuttered, and then sputtered into silence. “Bledsoe? I don’t know this Terri.”

Noemí shook her head and looked at her father sadly. “Are you sure you don’t know who Terri Bledsoe is?” She asked him, taking a deep breath. Barely restrained fury stormed through her when he didn’t answer and her voice rose. “Terri is that young woman that you have been tinkering with, Anthony. Remember her now?”

The voice of his female companion broke through, and they could hear him telling her to quiet down. “So?” He said into the phone, having gotten his bearings. “What about her?”

Noemí glared at the phone as if wishing she could reach through the lines and grab him by his thick neck. “What about her?” She asked loudly. “What about her? She’s pregnant, Anthony, with what may possibly be your child, of all things!” Her face grew red with anger. “You’re irresponsible. It’s unbelievable, you’re twenty-three years old, you act like a child, you can’t even keep your dick in your-”

Anthony cut her off. “Well look at you,” Anthony spat into the phone, angry himself now. “You’re a hard-ass, you can’t even have fun, it’s like you have a stick up your ass!” He huffed, his breath audible through the speaker. “Anal retentive-”

“Enough, Anthony!” Thomas roared into his barrage of insults. “You come home right this minute, Anthony. We have a lot to talk about.” He said and paused meaningfully. “Like marriage.”

Noemí stared at her father, surprised. She mouthed in bewilderment: “Marriage?”

“Marriage!” Anthony screamed into the mouthpiece. “No, no, no!” He said, panicking, and dropped the phone. They could hear a sound like the phone was being thrown around, and then Anthony screaming at his companion. “Shut up, shut up! Don’t you see this is serious, you stupid bitch?” And then he picked up the phone and spoke. “I am not getting married to her. I’ve never even slept with her, dad; we’re just friends. I swear!”

“Anthony, she knows about that little tiny scar that you’re so proud off.” Noemí said in a growl. “That little scar you like showing off to the world like it’s a trophy, I don’t know why. She knew you even shave your balls, Anthony, damn you! She knows every little detail about your fucking genitals! What did you do, make her admire you before you made her suck you off?” She breathed hard in her anger and waited for him to answer her.

Anthony remained quiet. “Look, for all I know, she’s slept with every man in her goddamn neighborhood.” He tried another tactic. “You should see where she lives, dad!”

“As a matter of fact, Anthony,” Noemí said sarcastically. “I’ve seen where she lives. And you didn’t care about it when you were fucking her. Excuse me, mom.” She said to her mother, who nodded forgivingly. “Was she a virgin, Anthony? Isn’t there a way for you to know?”

“What? How am I supposed to know that, Noemí?” Anthony yelled into the mouthpiece.

Noemí leaned heavily against the desk again and closed her eyes. “Did she bleed, Tony?” She asked tightly, knowing that it did not always mean virginity, but knowing also that most virgins bleed the first time. “Did it hurt her, Tony? She’s very vocal, I’m sure she let you know it hurt. So did she bleed a lot, Anthony? Was she bleeding after you were done?”

Thomas and Natalie remained expectantly quiet, listening to their interaction, not even paying attention to their children’s use of profanity with each other. They waited for his answer. When he took too long to answer, Thomas lost his patience. He roared and slammed the desk angrily. “Well?”

“Uh,” Anthony finally stuttered. “It hurt her, and she bled, dad.” He admitted softly.

“Goddamn it, Anthony!” Noemí yelled.

Anthony rushed on. “But she could have been with other men, Noemí! Don’t be so quick to put me as the father of that kid!”

“You seduced her, she was innocent, Anthony. You made her trust you, and took advantage of her when she was drunk. I’ve seen you at work; I know what you’re like when you want something.” She slapped her father’s desk and met her father’s eyes. “I don’t know about that marriage thing, dad, that girl deserves better. We can help her.”

“I think it is better if Anthony takes responsibility for his actions and marries her, Noemí.” Thomas argued in a low voice.

“Shit!” Anthony muttered, and they could hear the young woman asking him what the hell was going on. “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” He hollered at her, and they hear a scuffling sound, and her yelling back at him. He dropped the phone again and continued to yell at her. “Shut the fuck up, you stupid woman! Can’t you see this is important?”

“Fuck you!” They heard her shriek, and then there was the sound of a door slamming somewhere in the house.

Noemí took a deep breath, and closed her eyes, straightening her back and leaning against the desk with her hands. Anthony came back to the phone and picked it up. “Hello?” He said.

“Yes, Anthony.” Noemí answered. “Now tell me, why did you leave so abruptly like that? If you had nothing to run away from, why did you run, why did you shut your beeper off?”

“Fuck you, Noemí; it’s none of your goddamn business.” He breathed into the phone angrily.

“It is,” Noemí countered. “When she shows up at my office and fucking tells me that my brother got her drunk and fucked her.”

“Fucking bitch!” Anthony yelled. “She got drunk on her own, what is she talking about?”

“And you didn’t stop her, did you?” Thomas demanded. “And you didn’t think of taking her home and tucking her safely into her bed, without taking advantage of the situation.”

“Are you accusing me of raping her, dad?” Anthony sounded hurt.

“Of course not, Anthony!” Noemí snapped. “She so much admitted at being a fool and falling for your bullshit. She trusted you, even after that first time, Anthony. But the question is, did you use protection?”

“Hell yes, we used protection. I made sure she was taking her pills before anything happened.” Anthony replied stupidly.

“But you didn’t use a condom?” Natalie asked, her voice was incredulous.

“No, mom, the pill should be good enough. Besides, condoms are uncomfortable.” Anthony answered as if that made all the sense in the world.

“Do you know about STD’s, Anthony? About AIDS?” Thomas demanded; Anthony didn’t answer. “Do you know how you were conceived, Anthony?” Thomas asked him. “Your mother was taking the pill, Anthony, for three years after Noemí was born. You came out of nowhere, Anthony.”

Anthony was shocked into silence. “You didn’t want me?” He asked, sounding like a dejected ten-year-old.

Thomas sighed. My son is an incompetent idiot, Thomas thought with sadness. “I mean that you were an unexpected arrival, and that is why we loved you so much as you were growing up, because you made your way through that obstacle, and you came along. That is why we spoiled you rotten, and you basically did what you wanted.” Thomas said. “And now you need to come back home so that we can talk about marriage.”

“What?” Anthony yelled into the phone. “Oh no, not me. I’m not marrying her, dad, I mean it.”

Thomas rested his forehead against the heel of his hand; he didn’t see the disagreeing expression on Noemí’s face. “Then you can forget about our monetary support, Anthony.” He said softly. “You get yourself a job and take care of yourself.”

Anthony remained silent for a long time. “Fine,” He said suddenly. “Fine then, you remember that little inheritance Uncle Theodore left for me when he passed away? You know the one that says that once I turn twenty-one, I can claim it? And I never claimed it, dad. I’m twenty-three now, dad.” He said pointedly.

Noemí shook her head at her father, her eyes angry. Thomas met her eyes. “Yes, son, I remember.” He said despite her silent warning. If his son wanted his part from his Uncle’s inheritance, which was safely nestled in a capital growth fund, there was nothing much he could do to stop him. But he’d be damned if he’d give Anthony any more money to be a lazy bastard with.

Anthony sounded very sure of himself, very pompous. “Very well, then, you can put it in my account, dad. All of it, buy from me the stock that you invested in for me with that money too, while you’re at it-”

“You’re making a serious mistake, Anthony.” Noemí said loudly, rolling her eyes and staring up at the ceiling. “Because you can’t take responsibility, because you know she was a virgin before you came along. And because you know you’ve been the only one, right? ”

Anthony remained quiet for a long time, breathing hard into the line. Then he said venomously: “Shut the fuck up, Noemí, this is all because of you.” Noemí stared at her father in exasperation, and she made a nasty finger gesture to the phone.

“You are an asshole, Anthony,” She said to him. “She was right, you are an asshole. And I’m a bigger one, because I always got you out of trouble, and I never told dad or mom.” From the corners of her eyes, she could see the question in her parents’ eyes. “But this is too much, Anthony, you ungrateful bastard, this it too much. This deals with a life, no, two lives. You ruined hers, and you might as well have ruined that unborn child’s.” She stopped and breathed hard in her anger. She went on without thinking:
“I bet you mom and dad didn’t even get an inkling of when you got arrested, Anthony. Did they? And because of whom-”

Anthony sputtered into the phone again, clearly surprised at Noemí’s revelation of that time a few months back. “You bitch-”

Thomas and Natalie were suitably shocked, and they stared at their daughter, silently demanding more information.

“Oh yeah,” Noemí said loudly, so that Anthony could hear everything. “And you know why he got arrested, dad? Coke. He had cocaine in his possession, and was acting the vandal in a very respectable bar. Oh, I had to pay them all off, so they wouldn’t say a word to you.” She laughed humorlessly; she ignored her mother’s gasps. “Can you believe it? He calls me in the middle of the night from Central Booking, because they didn’t give a flying fuck about whose son he was. And you know whom I had to call a three o’clock in the morning, just so that they wouldn’t give him three years in prison for possession of narcotics? You know whom? My very dear best friend, the police commissioner’s daughter, Victoria Terrence.”

“You fucking-”

“Enough!” Thomas roared, and slammed the desk with his large fist; he glared at his daughter for cursing in that way in front of her mother. Noemí looked at the floor and shoved her hands in her pockets, feeling chastised, as if she were a child again. Anthony shut up. “Anthony,” Thomas said in his calm voice again. They would discuss the arrest later. “You don’t want to take responsibility for that child?”

“It’s not mine, dad.” He said, not sounding so sure himself.

“You’re a liar, Anthony.” Noemí said. “You know you were the only one.”

“Listen, you stupid bit-” Anthony began to say, but Thomas was having none of it.

“I said enough!” He yelled again, and then he sat back and closed his eyes, leaning his head on the back of his chair. Natalie stood from her perch and walked around the large desk, moving to her husband’s side. He took her hand and kissed it softly. “You understand that I must do this, Natalie.” She nodded down at him and smiled reassuringly, her eyes watering. He took a deep breath. “Son,” He said towards the phone.

“Yes, dad?” Anthony said, sounding nervous.

“From this exact moment, I am stopping the allowance that I usually have Noemí put into your account. I’m putting your uncle’s inheritance in there, and you will manage your money by yourself. You will not go to Noemí for help, and from the condemnable way you just behaved towards your sister, I doubt that she’ll help you.” Noemí frowned and assured him with her eyes that she wouldn’t. “Just because you slept with her, there is the possibility that the child in her womb is yours. That money that we’re not putting in your account, we’ll be using to help her, at least until the child is born, when we’ll be able to find out if that baby is a true Leone or not. I will contact you when I have the money in your name.” He moved forward to reach the speaker button.

“Dad, listen-” Anthony began to say, but Thomas cut the line, sitting back and closing his eyes.

Noemí looked down at the desk, and then she turned away, shoving her hands into her pockets and moving to the window. “It is for his best interest, Natalie,” Thomas said to his wife, who was now sitting on his lap, her arms around his neck holding him tightly. “He needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions.”

“But honey, we can’t force him to marry her if he doesn’t love her.” Natalie said softly.

“She is right, dad,” Noemí said over her shoulder. “He will make her unhappy if he accepts to marry her just because he knows he’s cut loose out there.”

“I know what I’m doing.” Thomas said, and remained quiet as he stroked his wife’s beautiful hair.

****

Anthony stared at the phone in his hand, listening to the dial tone for a long moment. They hung up on me! He thought in bewilderment, not yet grasping the enormity of his situation. He was more pissed that they were ready to just dump him over some girl they couldn’t be sure was telling the truth. Damn Terri! With a growl, his anger revving up, he threw the phone across the room into a wall. “That bitch!” He yelled.

He stalked towards the bedroom, finding his companion for the time being lying on the bed relaxing. He’d been taken in by her legs and hair, definitely. He had a thing for great legs and nice looking hair; it had been what had attracted him to Terri in the first place. His companion’s personality couldn’t have been what had attracted him to her; she had some nerve, getting stupid with him while he was talking to his family on the phone. He stared at her with his upper lip curled, and she stared back at him with a bored expression. “I hate my family.” He said after a moment.

The woman stared at her long nails and rolled chocolate brown eyes. “Why?” She asked in a bored British accent, sure she didn’t want to know.

Anthony began to pace the room, cracking the knuckles of each hand. “They just disowned me!” He sounded disbelieving.

The woman’s eyes followed him up and down his trail. She had thought he was so cute and charming when she met him, but now she was simply bored with him. If it weren’t for the luxuries he was offering during his stay in Aruba, she would have been out of there that first morning she woke up next to him. Their arrangement meant she was saving her own vacation money, but he was a bloody lousy lay; he did not care at all about her necessities.

Anthony ran a hand through his hair, blowing a deep breath through his mouth. “Some bitch came lying to them telling, them she’s pregnant!” He growled, knowing he was in deep shit. His money would not last forever.

The woman, her name was Murphy, stared at him for a moment, and then spoke a simple question: “Did you?”

Anthony stopped his pacing, thick eyebrows furrowed into a scowl. “Of course I didn’t!” He said, sounding indignant. “She was taking the pill. She’s got to be lying.”

Murphy took a deep breath. “You mean to tell me that you weren’t using any other form of protection?” She asked quietly, thinking: If he is as stupid as he sounds…

“For what? It’s enough with the pill.” He shrugged, and resumed his pacing.

Yep, no doubt about it. “See, now I’m glad that I made you use a condom. If you could be any more stupid, I will have to shoot myself.” She said, sitting up on the bed and shaking her head. She adjusted a very short skirt, pulling it down.

He puffed his chest, indignant again. “It feels lousy.” He informed her. “If I knew where you’d been before me, I would have refused to use the damn things. For all I know you could be a slut.”

“Fuck you.” She said calmly, crawling to the foot of the bed and reaching down for her shoes. “And how were you so sure that she hadn’t been around?”

He watched her begin to slip on her high heels, and smiled smugly. Oh yeah, it was her legs. “Baby, she didn’t know shit about sex.” He crooned, moving closer to the bed and kneeling in front of her. A flirtatious smile lit his face, and his hand was moving up her bare leg. “Plus,” He said, as his hand slid up between her legs. “She was tight as a clamp.”

“You’re an asshole, do you know that?” She said, not stopping his hand from exploring her anatomy. After all, he had done it plenty of times since the first. What was a couple more times?
CHAPTER THREE
That same night, Noemí sat in her dark living room by the window, a bottle of Brandy in one hand, and a full glass in the other. Sipping silently, she stared out the window into the moonless night and listened to soft music playing from a tape in her stereo. The lights from the streets beckoned her hypnotically as she mused and thought of Terri Bledsoe. She grimaced and frowned. Judging by Anthony’s reaction, they now knew that there was a great possibility that the child was his.

He had decided to forsake his family, to get his money and never come back, just because he didn’t want to get married. She knew that her father gave up on him too easily, that he should have given him more grief; she said as much to him as they discussed the situation.

Her father had replied pleasantly: “It is our fault your brother is this way, it is about time he learned responsibility, and if that means leaving him alone out in the world, then that’s what it’s going to be. When he runs out of money, and I’m sure he will, he’ll come back and decide to take over his responsibility. When he does, he’ll have to work in the company and win my trust. In the mean time, we have to take care of that young woman.”

Noemí didn’t think it proper to force Anthony to marry the girl; he’d make her so unhappy, and that was obvious. And that girl seems to have already had enough unhappiness to last her a lifetime, she thought.

Taking another swallow of her Brandy, grimacing only slightly at the burning in her throat, she forced herself to think of something else. A slight painful throbbing in her right thigh, signaling since she’d acquired the scar, that fall was coming. The pain, dulled slightly by the Brandy, reminded her of her nightmares. She dreaded going to bed, because that meant that sleep would undoubtedly come, and the nightmares would begin. Her parents didn’t know about this, but restful sleep had eluded her for more than three years. Nightmares, memories, turned her sleep into frightening reality, taking her back three and a half years.

Taking a larger swallow from the glass, she tried to force herself not to think of it, tried to veer her thoughts from that route. But as usual, she sat helpless, as the images possessed her, like they did every time she sat alone in her house. Flashes of light, incredibly loud metal-tearing sounds, pain, such incredible pain…

She hadn’t always been like this, so tightly reined, so controlled. She once laughed, once smiled, felt something other than just anger. She loved; she was loved in return… She was not the same Noemí of four years ago. She was now an emotional void, her feelings bottled up inside, festering. She could sense them, somewhere inside her, burrowing, hiding from the outside world. Only anger made a rare appearance, and more of it had come out today, with Terri. Back then, when her heart was not a rock weighing her down, she had Amelia. Amelia loved her, took such good care of her, desired her like no one else had. They lived together, bought this house together, and loved in this house together.

She’d met her at a party. Victoria, her best friend, had introduced them at her house, where the party was held. It had been love at first sight for Noemí, who’d only had passing fancies before. The longest relationship she’d had, of four years, had been a high school sweetheart thing and had faded when College had started.

Amelia Lee had short black hair cropped right above her round ears. Her brown eyes were so dark when in the throes of passion. Her lips were pink, and her skin a creamy color. She was tall, like Noemí, but her body was not muscular like hers, it was more feminine and shapely. That first night, they’d made plans to get together again. The very next day, they spent together the whole afternoon; and after that, they were inseparable, first as friends, then as lovers.

Three years of bliss were brought to an abrupt halt when the accident occurred. Driving home from Noemí’s house in Providence Town, they were shoved out of the road by a careless truck driver. The car fell down a fifty foot decline, killing Amelia almost instantly and leaving the pinned Noemí to look at her dead face for more than two hours as the emergency services fought to save her from the wreckage. The images of that dreadful night haunted Noemí since.

She sighed, and polished off her drink. Placing both the bottle and the glass on the coffee table, she sat back down on the couch. She felt looser, the alcohol running through her veins warming her. Raking her fingers through her hair, she looked through the darkness at the reflections of the outside lights on the wall. She was trying to figure out what she should do to deal with the situation with Terri Bledsoe. Shaking her head helplessly, she reached for the phone, deciding to exercise after she finished with her call.

Victoria picked up on the second ring; she sounded out of breath, like she’d been exercising. “What have you been doing, woman?” Noemí asked, knowing very well that Victoria didn’t have an exercising bone in her body.

Victoria shushed someone in the background. “Shut up!” She said when the woman huskily insisted on knowing who was calling at this ‘blasted hour.’ Into the phone, Victoria said without real bite: “This better be good.”

“Oh, I think you’ll like this.” Noemí said, and closed her eyes, leaning her head back onto the couch back. “It looks like Anthony has gotten some girl pregnant.”

“What?” Victoria said in shock, and then she recovered and was exultant. “What did I tell you?” She said in an ‘I told you so’ tone. Noemí could hear the woman speaking again, reminding her of Anthony’s companion in Aruba. She heard Victoria tell the woman in her bed to shut up or leave, and the woman’s voice ceased to interrupt her. “Damn it, I knew you spoiled that kid rotten. Now look what he’s gotten himself into.” Victoria returned to the phone, then stopped and thought. “Isn’t he in Aruba?”

Noemí blew out air through her lips. “Yep, that seems to be the reason for his sudden trip to Aruba.” She answered.

“Damn, I can imagine how your parents are feeling.” Victoria said sympathetically. “Tell me about the girl. Who is she? Is she high society like us?”

“You sound snobbish, Victoria.” Noemí admonished with affection.

“Oh, rubbish! You know what I mean.” She said in an ‘I don’t care voice.’ “Tell me about the girl.”

Noemí sighed. “She’s only twenty-two years old, Vicky. She was a virgin before Anthony.” She said softly.

“What?” Victoria exclaimed and whistled. “A twenty-two year old virgin? Jeez, that is the one true miracle in America!” She breathed, clearly surprised, as Noemí had been when she heard her age. “Are you sure that she is telling the truth.”

“I’m sure.” Noemí said. “She slept with him alright.”

“Your brother is a whore, my dear friend.” Victoria said. “I’m sorry to say that, but you and your parents spoiled the shit out of him, and look how he is paying you guys back.”

“Well, he wasn’t very grateful to me about the arrest a few months back, that’s for sure.” Noemí said. “So I told mom and dad about that little escapade you and I had to go through that night.”

“You didn’t!” Victoria breathed, clearly in shock. “Oh God, your parents must hate me now.”

Noemí couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh no, I think they’re too angry at Anthony to be thinking of you.” She said. “Besides, they’re probably grateful that the press didn’t find out anything. Can you imagine the papers? ‘Heir to Leone Pasta enterprise in jail for possession of Cocaine and disorderly conduct?’ I think he’s out of the will for sure now.”

“Wow,” Victoria breathed. “So tell me more about the girl!”

“Her name is Terri Bledsoe, sounds like she is from a low class family. Told me four brothers and a father, mom unknown.” She said as much as she knew, and waited for Victoria to respond.

“That’s it?” Victoria asked, clearly curious. “Is she pretty, is she ugly? No details?”

Noemí sighed loudly. “Only you would think of pretty and ugly in a situation like this.” She said.

Victoria laughed. “That’s why I don’t look old, my friend.” She said as if that were the answer.

“You’re only twenty seven, woman!” Noemí exclaimed. “You’re worrying about looking old?”

“No, but I don’t worry about the big things so much. I worry about the little things, and that is what keeps me young. So, is she pretty, ugly? What?” She said, all in a rush.

“You should know my brother’s taste by now.” Noemí pleased her by answering. “She is gorgeous, if only she’d dress better. But I guess she can’t, she’s poor. And that is where I come in.”

“Uh?” Victoria sounded confused, and it pleased Noemí to shut her up for once.

“Well, I’m going to propose to her to move into this house with me. I have plenty of space, and she needs a better environment for herself and the child. If she doesn’t want to, then I’ll rent an apartment for her. She’s already four months pregnant; she needs to start getting comfortable.” She stopped, and took a deep expectant breath. When Victoria didn’t immediately answer, she asked: “Well? What do you think?”

“Well,” Victoria prolonged the word noticeably. “We don’t know that this is your brother’s child, Noemí. Got to think about this more.”

“There’s nothing to think about, I want to help her, even if she hadn’t made the stupid mistake of sleeping with my brother and ended up pregnant.” Noemí said, suddenly angry with her friend. “This house is too big for me, and I can’t get rid of it. So what is one more person here again. It would be like old times.”

“She won’t be Amelia, Noe.” Victoria said carefully.

“I only want to give that girl a better place to stay in until that child is born.” Noemí said firmly. “My father agrees with me.”

“Well,” Victoria said, suddenly flippant. “If Thomas says it’s okay, then it is, isn’t it?” She was a firm believer that Thomas’ word was law.

“Yes.” Noemí answered. “I’m going to see her tomorrow. Want to come with me?”

“Are you sure?” Victoria asked doubtfully. “Isn’t this a family thing?”

Noemí shifted uncomfortably. “Well,” She said with a small cough. “She can be a little feisty.”

“You’re afraid of this girl?” Victoria guffawed, seeing right through her.

“No, its just that yesterday I almost lost my temper with her. She can be so damn infuriating. She hit me yesterday, and scratched the shit out of my hand.” Noemí stopped abruptly, and she could hear Victoria giggling. “Well? Do I pick you up at eleven or not?” She grew annoyed.

Victoria stopped giggling with a deep breath. “Er, yes,” She said. “I want to meet Miss Feisty.” She broke into laughter. “Eleven then. Let me get back to this girl.”

“This girl? This girl?” Noemí could hear the voice in the background. “You were not thinking this girl a few minutes ago.” She could hear Victoria trying to shush her again.

Noemí laughed. “Who is she?” She asked.

“Oh, just this-” There was a scuffling sound, and the woman’s voice came over the line.

“My name is Michaela Cavanaugh, of the Cavanaugh horses, nice to meet you.” She said into the phone, and Noemí could hear Victoria demanding her to give her back the phone. “May I ask who you are?”

Amused, Noemí answered: “I’m Noemí Leone, of the Pasta Leone’s, nice to meet you. I am Victoria’s bestest friend in the whole wide world.”

“Don’t believe whatever she tells you, Michaela.” Victoria said loudly.

Michaela pulled the mouthpiece from her mouth, and she said to Victoria: “Don’t believe that she’s your bestest friend in the whole wide world? Then who the hell is she?”

“Uh, I thought she’d say something stupid.” Victoria stuttered. “Can I have the phone back now, please?”

Michaela said into the phone: “We’ll have the pleasure of meeting sometime soon, Noemí, nice talking to you.” She handed the phone back to Victoria.

“You actually said please?” Noemí teased when she spoke into the phone. “She must already have you in check then.”

“Shut up. No, not you, baby. Stay here with me, I’m getting off!” Victoria said into the phone again. “At eleven, woman! You’re lucky she didn’t leave, I’d be at your house bugging the hell out of you.”

“I wouldn’t want your adorable self bothering me. See you tomorrow, then. Eleven on the dot.” Noemí said, and hung up, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. Terri Bledsoe had caused her deep anger, and at a certain time, deep amusement. Amusement came easier now, and she smiled into the dark night.

****

Terri secured her door, shoving a chair under the doorknob. She could hear the couple next door arguing, very loudly, and the banging about that signified he was beating the shit out of her again. The woman sounded as pissed though, and from his sporadic little cries of pain, Terri could tell she was retaliating. Every night finished the same way, a gradual quieting down, and it would then rev up into wall-slamming sounds of sex. Psychos, she thought as she sat down on her bed. She touched her hardening belly; a smile touched her lips, but not her eyes.

In a way, aside from her art, her neighbors were a way to take her mind off her problems. Her money was running out for the month, and she didn’t have anything much in her fridge or cabinets. Food was so expensive these days, and her social worker wasn’t helping much by way of WIC checks and food stamps. She grimaced in disgust with herself. At least at home she’d been eating, though she was practically a slave.

She ran away from home almost a year before, unable to take any more. The youngest of her brothers, born exactly two years before her, had been the one to push her to the limit. When she was thirteen, he’d begun to touch her in ways that were not appropriate of a brother. Kevin had been nice to her up until that point. He always defended her when her dad or her brothers tried to beat on her, which almost always got him beat too.

Obviously, he expected something in return. The first night he’d gotten drunk with his brothers, he had come into her room and tried to force himself on her.

“Terri?” He knocked on her door and opened before she could answer. She scrambled to sit up on her bed as he quietly shut her bedroom door, stumbling towards her bed. He sat down on the bed beside her and stared at her.

“You’re drunk.” She said, feeling like crying. From that moment on, he’d start to become like their father. It had happened with the others too.

He pressed a hand to his forehead and swayed. He pushed messy dark hair away from his face and looked at her again with bleary eyes. “I love you, Terri,” He slurred, and moved towards her, sneering angrily when she pulled away. “What, you don’t love me anymore? Just because I’m becoming a man like my brothers and dad?”

“Drinking doesn’t make you a man.” She said softly, trying not to cry.

He growled at her, and moved to take her arms in his hands. “You must be a man-hater,” He mumbled, staring at her with crossing eyes. “You must be one of those women dad talks about.” His upper lip curled with disgust. “He says we can just cure them with a good f-” He didn’t finish his sentence, staring at her with new eyes.

Terri could practically see what he was thinking; fear made her fight him. “No!” She exclaimed, scrambling off the bed away from him. He came at her again, stumbling around. “I’m your sister!” She said pleadingly, avoiding his grasping hands. “Don’t, please!”

He didn’t seem to hear her, and came at her again. Out of instinct, she swung, and connected with his jaw. He dropped like a rotten apple from a tree, unconscious. Breathing hard through her teeth, adrenaline pumping through her, she stared down at him for a long time. When he didn’t move and began snoring, she scrambled to open the door to her bedroom. She went back to him and grabbed him by the legs, pulling him out of her room.

Thankfully he’d been very drunk, or he would have raped her then. The next morning, he had acted like nothing happened. She never said a word, knowing her father and older brothers would never believe her. Every time he got drunk, he tried again, and every time, she was successful in avoiding him. The last time he tried again, he almost did it, but she smacked him with her small vase of flowers on the side of the head. Lying unconscious with his pants around his ankles was the last vision she had of Kevin, her once favorite brother, before she left that house forever.

Anthony had finished what her brother had started. When she met him on the street, on her way home from a job interview, he’d been sweet to her. She had grown to trust him, and trusted him even after he’d gotten her drunk and did what he did to her. He was still nice to her after the first time it happened, and he still visited her. Even when he wouldn’t take her many “NO’s”, she still allowed him to return.

He made her feel cared for, when he wasn’t trying to screw her, literally. In many ways he was just like her brother; making her trust them to then turn on her. Bitterly, Terri punched her lumpy pillow into submission and laid her head on it. Her eyes moved around in the dark. She felt like crying at the dilapidated state of things; her paintings where the only supply of color and something fresh. She wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.
CHAPTER FOUR
Terri woke up late, her dreams finally disturbing her into wakefulness. Her alarm clock said it was eleven in the morning, and she hustled out of bed. The previous night, before falling asleep, she had decided she would go to Jamaica Center early this morning and maybe sell some of her drawings. She’d made some money every once in a while when she’d needed it. She was always loath to sell any of her works, she loved them so, but times were getting desperate. She had to have some food to feed her baby, if not herself.

She sighed as she entered her bathroom, turning the shower on and stepping under the sorry excuse for a shower. The spray was barely a trickle, and it always took her double the time it usually would to just take a shower. As she soaped herself, she thought about the events of the day before. She’d completely underestimated Noemí Leone. The woman was like a walking time bomb; she was all raw anger, lurking just beneath the surface and ready to explode.

From what Terri got while chatting with Anthony, Noemí was a formidable woman. Anthony seemed to be a little afraid of her, and at the same time he seemed to admire her. That she was a lesbian didn’t seem to bother him too much; except when girls he knew and liked wanted to know more about her instead of him. That was as far as he’d gone when referring to his sister; Terri perceived that there was something going on with her that he didn’t want to talk too much about. She was sure the scars on Noemí’s arm had something to do with it.

****

Victoria climbed into the passenger seat, her dark curly hair looking unruly, her clothes wrinkled. She lived two blocks away from Noemí, at another one of those large houses that ruled the area. Noemí looked her over closely. “Had a good time?” She asked teasingly as she drove away. This was the first time ever that she had seen Victoria looking so rumpled and tired after a long night of lovemaking.

Victoria yawned. “Jesus, if I knew she’d keep me awake the whole night, I would have told you to forget it.” She said, her voice groggy. “What impression am I going to make on this girl, you know?” Victoria was one of those firm believers in the fact that every single straight woman had to switch at some point in her life. So far, she had been mostly proven correct; almost every single straight woman that she had met had ended up in her bed at some point, doing things for her they would have never found themselves doing for any man.

“You are a pompous, conceited individual.” Noemí said laughingly, reaching over and pinching her cheek. “Up until three weeks ago, this woman was sleeping with my brother.”

“So?” Victoria countered, slapping her hand away. Then she looked at her suspiciously. “Who are you and what have you done with my best friend? Are you actually smiling?” She asked, and then hooted and slapped her thigh as Noemí smiled. “I haven’t seen a smile coming from that beautiful face in so long; I forgot what it looked like!” She reached over and kissed Noemí’s cheek noisily and sloppily, despite the fact that the car swerved.

Noemí righted the car as Victoria pulled away from her and slipped on her seatbelt. “You look gorgeous, Vicki.” Noemí said as Victoria twisted the rearview mirror and looked at herself. “And what’s with this Michaela Cavanaugh of the Cavanaugh horses?” She asked, giving her friend a side-glance.

Victoria shrugged, as if it weren’t a big deal; Noemí could see that it was. “I met her a few days ago. I’m her father’s accountant. He owns a horse farm a few miles outside of New York City, very well known, plus he owns an incredible advertising company. She works for him, and he sent her into my office to review the books with me. He’s planning on retiring from the advertising agency soon, and she’s taking over.” Her smile grew, took on a dreamy quality. “So the third day we meet, she sits there with me, and she looks so good, and smells like an angel. Estrogen is working overtime and I invite her to dinner at my place, and she says yes. The next thing I know, there we are for like five hours, non-stop.” She looked accusingly at Noemí, but she couldn’t help the fondness that showed through her eyes. “Until a certain important person in my life calls me.” Her attempt at giving Noemí even a semblance of an angry glance was foiled, and she smiled fully.

Noemí nodded and smiled softly. “She’s a fast mover, looks to me, just like you.” She said. “Looks like you found your match.” She arched an eyebrow at Victoria, who laughed, dismissing her words as a tease.

Victoria fell asleep as Noemí drove to Terri’s house, and jumped in her seat as Noemí shook her awake. “God, I didn’t know I was so tired.” She whined as they got out of the car. She looked around at the area, then at the building, and made a disgusted face. “Yuck, this is ugly!” She looked at Noemí, who was wearing a white T-shirt and thin gray sweats and white Nike sneakers, comfortable in the heat. “At least you match with our surroundings.”

Going to the steps, Noemí didn’t answer as she pushed the door open and walked through, followed by Victoria. She climbed the steps to the second floor and looked at the doors. There was an apartment on either side of the hall, running the length of the house. The hall smelled like old garbage and urine, and Victoria pinched her nose closed with a gag. Noemí slapped her hand from her nose and knocked on the door to their left.

****

Almost a half hour later, Terri emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped around her torso. She shook out her wet hair, going towards her bed, where a pair of worn shorts and a t-shirt lay. After donning them, she sat down on the bed and reached for her comb. A knock on her door stopped her from putting it to use, and she stood to open it.

****

“Who is it?” Noemí recognized Terri’s muffled voice and smiled, looking at Victoria.

“It is Noemí, with a friend. We’ve come to talk about the situation.” Noemí replied with her mouth close to the door. She pulled back and waited.

The door swung open, and Victoria released a low whistle behind Noemí. Terri looked attractive in worn gray shorts and a white T-shirt; her dark hair was wet and her long bangs were matted across her forehead wetly. She was barefoot. Her skin was flushed from her shower and she didn’t meet Noemí’s eyes as she stepped away from the entrance and gestured Noemí and Victoria in.

Victoria walked in and stood beside her, seemingly forgetting their surroundings. She extended her hand and grinned flirtatiously as she introduced herself. “My name is Victoria Terrence, and allow me to tell you that Anthony is a big jerk for doing what he’s done to such a beautiful woman as yourself.” She said all in one breath, and Noemí wondered at how much practice she got.

Terri shook her hand and smiled shyly. “Nice to meet you.” She said in a low voice. “I’m Terri Bledsoe.”

“Well, Terri,” Victoria said with a warm voice. “Let me tell you that it is a great pleasure meeting you-”

“Cut the bullshit, Victoria, this is serious.” Noemí cut the banter off icily. Victoria lifted her hands in a peace gesture and as Terri turned to Noemí, she gave her a once over and shot Noemí a sign of approval. Noemí shook her head and looked around at the apartment. Terri stared at her, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

She looked at Noemí’s bandaged hand and felt embarrassed. She could see the long scar she’d spied in the car, and saw that it ran up her arm from her wrist to the crook of her elbow, and she felt even worse to have added the most minimal scar to her hand. Noemí saw her look and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry about the hand, its fine. Now, can we sit and discuss this like adults? Without the charade of yesterday?”

“Yes.” Terri gestured them to sit on her only chairs, two table chairs in the kitchen. The apartment turned out to be a studio; it was even smaller than Noemí thought. The bed was a twin size and it sat on a corner of the room, the kitchenette was on the other side. There was another door that presumably led to the bathroom. There were only three windows, one by the kitchenette, and the others by the bed. Terri seemed embarrassed with their surroundings and she looked down at the worn wood floor. There were paintings all over the walls and Noemí stared at them. “Mind if I look at these, Ms. Bledsoe?” She asked Terri, and was answered with a brief nod.

Victoria stood beside her and both women studied, with growing admiration, the works of art hanging with scotch tape on the walls. They were on regular white printer paper. Watercolors mixed and used so cleverly and beautifully to depict forests, people, the city.

Touched, Noemí turned to stare at Terri. “You are very clever with colors, Ms. Bledsoe.” She said softly, knowing she guessed correctly by the pleased flush on Terri’s cheeks. “My mother is an avid admirer of art, and she would enjoy looking at these works of yours. Are watercolors the only thing you use?” She was aware of Victoria’s eyes still captured by the pretty drawings.

Terri blushed with pleasure at the compliment, and she shook her head. “It’s all I can afford.” She whispered softly, and continued to stare at the floor.

“Can you look at me, Ms. Bledsoe?” She asked softly, and Terri straightened to look into her eyes. Noemí noticed for the first time that Terri had beautiful eyes. “Good,” She said, and gestured to the chairs. Terri hesitated and looked at Victoria, who was engrossed with every single detail of each painting. “Sit down, she’s a big girl. You need all the comfort.” Noemí reassured her, a hand on her arm. Terri sat and rubbed her hands together, staring down at her feet. “Look at me, Ms. Bledsoe.”

“Terri is fine,” Terri whispered, and met her eyes again; they were the brave gray-brown that Noemí had been remembering the whole night. “Have you spoken to your brother?” She asked suddenly, suddenly gaining valor. “Has he confirmed or has he lied?”

Noemí sat at the edge of the chair, and rested her elbows on her knees, forcing their eyes to remain in contact. “I spoke to my parents, we spoke to Anthony, and we have reason to believe you. My parents would like to meet you; they would like to know you. We know that your baby may be Anthony’s, just because he slept with you without protection,” Noemí said.

“I used the pill-” Terri said.

Noemí cut her off, waving her hand. “I know, Anthony seemed to think that was enough of a reason for you not to be pregnant. But my mother has first hand knowledge on accidental pregnancies.” She said, and felt Victoria’s eyes on them, though she remained politely silent, leaning against the wall. After a brief pause, she said: “Now, they’d like to meet you this afternoon, if that is possible for you.”

Terri sat wide-eyed, staring into Noemí’s eyes. “This afternoon?” She squeaked. “I don’t have the clothes-”

Noemí lifted a hand to stop her, and smiled softly. “You don’t need to worry about clothes with my parents; the smallest things impress them, like intelligence. Just be nice, not the person I met yesterday.” Noemí said teasingly, and sat back on the chair. “What do you say?”

“What about Anthony?” Terri asked softly, ignoring the tease in Noemí’s voice. She was totally unnerved by this Noemí, the one that was pleasant, and who smiled, even if it was only a tiny little bit; the difference from yesterday threw Terri off.

Noemí took a deep breath, and glanced briefly at Victoria. “Anthony has been cut loose, basically, and he will have to fend for himself.” Noemí answered. When Terri looked guilty, she explained truthfully: “He has a good inheritance from an uncle, and he will live off it. He wants nothing to do with you or the child.” She paused, letting the truth sink in. “He refused to even think about marriage, and that, in my father’s eyes, did it.”

Terri sat up. “I don’t want to marry Anthony; he’s irresponsible and a brat. And I don’t feel anything for him.” She blurted, and blushed at Noemí’s surprised expression. “I’m sorry, he’s your brother.”

Noemí chuckled and shook her head. “I understand completely how you feel.” She said truthfully. “I tell you, that if he were here, I’d break his filthy mouth. He denied having anything to do with you, and then eventually admitted it, when I told him what you knew about his… anatomy.”

Terri’s skin flushed a deeper shade of red. “In- in front of your parents?” She asked meekly.

Victoria chuckled. “Trust me, Ms. Bledsoe, Mr. and Mrs. Leone are no saints.” She said.

Terri looked at Victoria and smiled tentatively, and then her eyes returned to Noemí and looked anxious. “Now?” She asked.

“Yes.” Noemí replied.

“Oh, come on,” Victoria said, and kneeled beside Noemí, smiling up at Terri. “Her folks are not that bad, when they’ve managed to deal with me practically my whole life. And trust me; I’m definitely no saint myself.”

Terri smiled uncertainly. “I might as well get it over with, right?” Both Noemí and Victoria smiled and nodded reassuringly. “Okay, can you wait for me downstairs? As you can see,” She made a sweeping motion with her hand. “I have no place to change, but right in front of you.”

Victoria rose and grinned playfully. “Oh, we wouldn’t mi-” She began to say, but Noemí jumped to her feet and pulled her towards the door.

“We’ll be in the car.” She said over her shoulder, and they left Terri alone in the apartment, wondering what Anthony had gotten her into.

****

“Are you crazy?” Noemí demanded, glaring at Victoria through the rearview mirror.

Victoria sat comfortably on the backseat, her head resting against the arms, her legs resting across the seat. She yawned, and smiled lazily. “She doesn’t look pregnant to me.” She said.

“Well, she is. You just can’t see it yet, you can feel it though.” Noemí said to her, gripping the steering wheel.

“And how, my friend, did you feel her stomach?” Victoria asked with arched eyebrows.

“Well,” Noemí was embarrassed. “When we had the fight, I had to drag her up the block to the parking lot.”

“I see.” Victoria laughed softly. “Feisty little thing, isn’t she? Didn’t seem that way to me up there.”

“I guess she got it out of her system.” Noemí said, leaning over and looking out the passenger window. “What’s taking her so long?”

“Well, buddy,” Victoria said flippantly. “Think about this. She is the poorest of the poor, probably has nothing, nothing, at all to wear that she feels is dignified of a super rich family.” She flipped her wrist. “You tell me why she’s taking so long.”

“I wonder what she lives off of.” Noemí wondered aloud.

“Probably welfare.” Victoria said with another yawn.

“That is not nice, Victoria.” Noemí admonished. “I thought you were nicer.”

“I am, baby,” Victoria said smoothly, and leaned forward on her seat, throwing her arms over the front seats. “I’m just being practical.” She paused. “She’s gorgeous, Noemí. God, did you see those eyes? And that body?”

“Mom says pregnancy always makes women beautiful.” Noemí said distractedly, leaning over again and looking out the window.

“No, my love, she is a natural beauty, the pregnancy has enhanced her beauty even more.” Victoria corrected her, then sat back and mused with a smile. “I’ve never made love to a pregnant woman before.”

“Victoria, stop it.” Noemí said in a warning tone.

“So tell me,” Victoria said, restlessly leaning forward again. “What do you know about pregnant women?”

Noemí twisted around to look at Victoria as if she were crazy. “What?” She exclaimed.

Victoria smiled and patted Noemí’s face as if she were loosing her mind. “Pay attention, will you?” She said in a playfully impatient voice. “She is a very pregnant woman with a volatile temper. You want to take her to live in your house, where you will have to deal with her bullshit for God knows how long. We all know that Ms. Noemí Leone is not the most patient individual on this earth, hence her restlessness at this very moment. What do you know about pregnant women?”

Noemí turned and stared out the windshield, and remembered. “Amelia was pregnant.” She said softly, sorrow burning her heart.

Victoria shifted over and wrapped her arms around her friend’s shoulders. “Oh, honey, I know,” She whispered softly against her ear. “I know she was pregnant, but Amelia was always happy, God bless her soul. It was what you both wanted so badly. But Terri will not take the place of Amelia, honey. She is a straight pregnant woman.”

Noemí nodded. “I know, Victoria.” She said softly, holding Victoria’s hands tightly in her own. “I just want to do for her what Anthony is not doing. I want to give that baby all it needs, so that it never needs anything in its life. I’m convincing Terri to take my offer to live in the house; the other bedroom is so beautiful. Besides, it would be as if she is living there on her own, I’m hardly ever there as it is.”

The passenger door opened, stopping Victoria from saying anything more. She sat back and slipped on her seatbelt. “Noe, take me home first. Michaela is waiting for me.” She said with a little smile and a wink.

“Oh, is she?” Noemí asked with a smile. To Terri, she said: “We’re taking a little detour.”

Terri nodded, and Noemí drove off.

****

Thomas and Natalie were sitting outside, relaxing on their comfortable lawn chairs in their patio; each enjoyed a cold glass of lemon iced tea prepared expertly by Natalie. Saturday was René’s day off and she’d gone off as usual to visit some of her family.

They looked up at blue sky, which was partly shielded from the sun by the trees surrounding the house. Holding hands, they sat close together. Thomas, wearing a light blue tank top shirt and red swimming trunks, was feeling comfortable as they waited for Noemí to show up with Terri. Natalie wore white shorts with a white T-shirt, comfortable under the warm sunshine.

“Oh, honey,” Natalie said sadly. “I wish Anthony would change his mind, and at least be there for that child. He thinks having children is like tying yourself down. We never taught him that.”

“I’m sure plenty of his friends tell him that, he is so easily influenced.” Thomas replied, and took a good mouthful from his iced tea. They heard the sound of a car door slamming, and they both sat up expectantly, suddenly nervous. “They’re here.” He whispered, and stood up.

Two minutes later, Noemí was guiding a very reluctant looking young woman up to them. “Oh, Thomas, she’s beautiful.” Natalie breathed close to his ear, and sighed as Noemí guided the young woman to stand in front of them.

Thomas stared down at the young woman with a smile on his handsome face. His eyes crinkled at the corners, a line forming on his cheek. Anthony’s taste is immaculate, if not his morals. He thought. “Well, hello there, Ms. Bledsoe.” He said, and extended his hand.

“Hello mom, dad.” Noemí said as Terri reached to shake her father’s hand. She leaned towards her mother and kissed her cheek. “Hi, mom.”

“Hi, baby,” Natalie said, kissing her back. Then Terri became the center of her attention, and the shy demeanor mixed with strong pride charmed her. “Hello, Terri, I am Natalie, and this is my husband Thomas. Come, sit down with us.” She said and gestured her to sit on one of the chairs around the table.

Terri complied, and sat staring down at the ground in silence as they studied her. Noemí sat beside her mother and remained politely detached, letting them do their thing. “Tell us, Terri,” Natalie said suddenly, and Terri’s eyes snapped up to her. “Are you originally from New York?”

Terri shook her head and took a deep breath. “No, I’m from Pennsylvania.” She responded and met her eyes, then Thomas’. Suddenly, she felt flustered at having to be under their scrutiny, as if she was a lab specimen under observation. She felt intimidated by their beauty. Even Mr. Leone was a striking man, with massive shoulders like Anthony and thick white hair. Terri could see where Noemí got her extreme attractiveness from.

Terri continued in a rush. “Listen, I am sorry that this is happening this way, I never wanted to take advantage of Anthony’s situation. I was taking the pill every day and I didn’t stop. I was as surprised as he was to find that I was pregnant. I just don’t believe in abortion, and if I did, I- don’t think I’d have the courage anyway.” She met Noemí’s eyes, giving her the reason she had almost broken her mouth back at the office.

Noemí acknowledged her reason, and smiled reassuringly, reaching up with her hand and rubbing the bruised spot of her jaw.

Thomas, charmed by the straightforward nature of this young woman, sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees like Noemí had done back at her apartment. Terri could see how alike their mannerisms were. She thought of Anthony, and of how his mannerisms were not at all gentle like his parents’ and even Noemí’s. Thomas’ gentle voice brought her out of her thoughts. “Noemí mentioned you had brothers and a father. If it is not too much, may we ask why you left them?” He asked.

Terri shook her head, meeting his eyes. “I prefer not to talk about the circumstances of my departure from home, sir, if you don’t mind.” She said softly, and was strangely comforted by the look of sympathy in his eyes.

“I Understand, young woman,” Thomas said indulgently, smiling tenderly, already liking her honesty. “Maybe some day we can talk about it?” She nodded, and he smiled at her. “We need to know some other things, also.” She nodded again, and he asked: “What physician has seen you about your pregnancy?”

“I go to the clinic with Jamaica Hospital. It’s called Medisys, and they help you get medical assistance even if you don’t have welfare.” Terri answered truthfully, fidgeting in her seat. “They helped me get into welfare, so now I have Medicaid. But I don’t see a regular physician, sir.”

Thomas lifted a hand and smiled at her. “Thomas is fine, dear.” He assured her.

“It seems like disrespect to you, sir.” Terri said nervously. She was thrown for a loop; she had expected Anthony’s family to be stuck-up and boorish towards her, considering their circumstances.

Thomas laughed softly, and then lifted a finger and wagged it at her. “Let me tell you something, Terri, just because we’re rich, we don’t ask people who are not as fortunate as us to call us by the words Sir or Madam. Makes us feel old.” He said, and Natalie nodded her agreement. “Our maid, whom we’ve had for over twenty-seven years, calls us by first name basis, and we’ve never required her to call us any other way.” He paused and looked her straight in the eyes, with those eyes so similar to Noemí’s. “Now, about the doctor. You will see our family physician from now on.”

“But,” Terri stuttered.

Thomas cut her off gently. “Now, you have nothing to hide,” Terri shook her head, her mouth hanging open. She looked at Noemí with wide eyes. Thomas smiled at his daughter, who was sitting there the whole time, very quiet, smiling at Terri softly, reassuring her. “And,” Thomas continued. “Since there is a great possibility that child is Anthony’s-”

“I don’t want to be disrespectful, sir, er, Thomas,” Terri said apologetically. “But I swear on my life and my baby’s that I have never been with any other man. Please, believe me.” Her eyes grew moist and her voice broke a little.

Thomas reached over and took her small hand in his, squeezing gently before letting go, touched by her sensitivity. “Okay, Terri, you have to understand how we feel. We want to be sure that this child is Anthony’s. When that child is born, we’ll know. In the meantime, just because Anthony committed the irresponsible act of having unsafe sex with you, we feel responsible to you.” He said softly, and Natalie agreed with him. “We are going to provide for you and your unborn baby, as if you were part of our family. The money that was going to Anthony, will be coming to you, and we will pay for your medical expenses.”

Terri stared at him, dumbfounded; her face was pale. “I-”

“Now,” Thomas cut her off once again. “About your living arrangement.” He glanced at Noemí, and she nodded softly. “Noemí has commented about the area you live in. We don’t want you there any more. Noemí has enough room in her own home to provide comfort for you.” He chuckled softly at her shocked stare, and watched as she looked from him to Natalie and then to Noemí.

“No,” She said suddenly, her face tense. “I can’t accept.” She stood, and made a move to walk away. Noemí moved quickly and stood in front of her, taking a hold of her arms. “Please, let me go, Noemí. I’ll take the train home, I can’t accept this.”

Thomas gestured to Noemí and she nodded. “Why don’t we go have a drink somewhere?” She suggested to Terri.

“I can’t drink, my baby-” Terri began to say, but Noemí smiled down at her.

“You can have orange juice, and I’ll have a drink.” She said, and winked at her parents, guiding her away. “We’ll be back in a little while.” She called over her shoulder, but her parents followed them around the house to the driveway, obviously reluctant to see Terri go.

****

Terri got into the car, and slipped on her seatbelt. She waited for Noemí to get into the car also, but Noemí was speaking to her parents, hands shoved into her sweats’ pockets. She rocked slightly on the heels of her sneakers, and Terri could only hear the sound of their voices, their words undecipherable. Thomas said something to Noemí and glanced at Terri, smiling at her reassuringly. Terri nodded at him and smiled back, blushing in embarrassment. She crossed her arms protectively over her chest and stared down at her feet.

She wondered at their willingness to help her, even though they didn’t know her. Obviously, they had been expecting this to happen for a long time. That they were even willing to support her surprised her even more. For all they knew, she could be lying, trying to get good money at their expense. They were so trusting that it was difficult for her not to like them already. She had had preconceived notions, by seeing the way Anthony was, that they were morons. Now she knew she was wrong, even though she still had her doubts.

I should have known better, I guess. She thought to herself. Noemí Leone is nothing like Anthony. She is so intense and serious, and intelligent. I can see that just by the way she talks, walks, and even sits. Obviously, Anthony’s Parents did something right where Noemí Leone is concerned.

Suddenly, Noemí opened the driver’s side door and leaned in. “Let’s take a walk, there is a little place close by we can go to.” She said, meeting her eyes.

Terri nodded and climbed out of the car. She looked at Thomas and Natalie, her expression apologetic. “I’m sorry.” She said softly, and followed Noemí down the long driveway onto the sidewalk.

Thomas and Natalie watched them silently as they went, walking slowly down to Austin Street. “Why should she be sorry?” Natalie whispered at Thomas and he shrugged.

He turned and wrapped his arms around his wife, smiling down at her. “Maybe she doesn’t want the comfort we can provide for her.” He said softly, kissing her lips gently. “She’ll have to take it, whether she wants it or not. For that child she’s carrying.”
CHAPTER FIVE
Friday’s was like any other restaurant, but like few, it had a bar also. Noemí had not been there in a few years, since Amelia passed away. But today, there were important matters to discuss, and this was the place that brought her peace despite its often-noisy crowds and her memories. Noemí, as they waited for the matron to greet them, studied Terri. “Do you want something to eat?” She asked, and thought she saw Terri’s eyes light up at the idea of lunch. “Okay,” Noemí said, smiling softly. “You’ll enjoy the food here.”

The matron, a short red headed woman was heading their way, and she smiled at Noemí in recognition. “Noemí! Long time!” She exclaimed, sounding very happy indeed to see her. Her brown eyes traveled the length of Noemí’s body, and the heated look she gave her was not lost on Terri.

Noemí smiled at the woman, and moved forward to hug her. “Melanie. How are you?” She said warmly, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Then she looked her up and down. “You look great.”

Melanie flushed with pleasure, pulling back and slapping Noemí’s arm gently. “Fine, fine. Got a promotion since the last time you were here, as you can see.” She replied, gesturing for them to follow her and guiding them to the back, where most of the eating area was. She looked Terri over briefly and then shot Noemí a questioning look.

Noemí smiled at her and shook her head in answer. Melanie’s smile grew, and she handed them each a menu. “See you later, then.” She said, and turned to go. It seemed she thought of something else, because she turned back to Noemí. “Does this mean you’re back?” She asked in very suggestive tone.

Noemí smiled, and pulled out her business card from her wallet, handing it over to Melanie. “Give me a call Monday, maybe we can have dinner somewhere.” Was all she said, and this pleased Melanie; she beamed as she left them to do her job.

Terri stared at Noemí curiously and Noemí met her eyes. “Old friend?” She asked.

“Yes,” Noemí replied, and looked down at her menu with a heavy sigh. “Old, old friend.”

Terri slightly pursed her lips and looked down at the menu, looking through the plastic coated pages. “I don’t know what I should have.” She said after a while, and Noemí smiled at her.

She looked at her own menu and then at Terri. “How about some steak?” She suggested, and Terri looked up at her with wide eyes. “With mashed potatoes?” She stopped and looked at the younger woman with concern. “Is something wrong?”

Terri looked away from her. “Uh, nothing.” She stuttered. “I just rarely have any meat, that’s all.”

“Are you a vegetarian?” Noemí asked.

Terri flushed a deep shade of red, and braved a look at Noemí. Noemí was now studying the menu for something without meat.
“I can’t afford it all the time.” She said with difficulty.

Noemí was speechless, and she felt like an insensitive jerk. “Sorry, I didn’t think.” She apologized just as the waiter came to their table with his little notepad and pen in hand. She ordered a steak and mashed potatoes with orange juice for Terri and a chicken salad with a Vodka mix for herself. He smiled at them and took away the menus. “It doesn’t have to be that way, Terri,” She said to her with a low tone of voice. “You can have anything you want, if you’d only put that pride to sleep for a while. Like it or not, you’re stuck with us.”

Leaning forward, her elbows on the table, Noemí pointed a slender finger down at her womb. “That child inside you is my parents’ grandchild and my niece or nephew.” She whispered fiercely. “You can’t only think about yourself now. You have another life inside you now that you have to think about, and we can provide for you and your child what you can’t right now.” She paused and studied Terri’s expression for a reaction.

The more Noemí spoke, the more Terri became afraid. What if they’re trying to take my baby? She whimpered very softly, and half turned away from Noemí, she could feel a light sweat break out all over her body. She trembled and wrapped her arms around herself. “I don’t want you take my baby away from me.” She whispered softly.

Noemí stared at her, at first confused, and then realization dawned on her. Feeling horrified that Terri had assumed that they would want to take her baby away from her, she shook her head. “No,” She whispered softly, bending forward more. “No! That’s not what we want, Terri. We want to be there for this baby. We want it to know it has family, to have our last name. We don’t want it to ever need anything. Don’t you understand? Don’t you feel the same way? Don’t you want a family?” Terri met her eyes again, and nodded very slowly, almost imperceptibly, and Noemí sighed. “Then won’t you at least think about it?” She asked softly.

Terri looked down at the table, and whispered: “I’ll think about it.” She twisted in her seat, and was sitting facing Noemí again, looking at her with guarded eyes.

Noemí sat back and met her eyes. “My mother wants me to go with you to your first visit with our family doctor.” She said.

“It seems you discussed a lot about me without talking to me.” Terri said defensively, narrowing her eyes. Now they’re trying to control my life. She thought, feeling a little angry.

“No, no, you don’t understand.” Noemí said, sounding irritated. “It is only if you want me to go, if you want to get to know me. She likes you already, Terri, she believes you when you say that you are the mother of her grandchild.”

Terri looked directly into her eyes. “You don’t?” She asked.

Noemí sat back. “That will be proven when that child is born.” She answered Terri’s accusation evasively.

Terri shook her head, and laughed softly. “What is it about your bloodline that will let you know who is a Leone and who is not?” She asked sarcastically.

Noemí leaned forward again, and moved a hand to stroke her hair by an area on the right side of the top of her head close to her forehead, which sent her hair slightly to the left side. “You see this little part here?” She asked, fingering it and eyeing Terri closely. Terri nodded; she’d seen the same part on the same area of Anthony’s head. “This is the Leone hair part, not one child in our family is born who doesn’t have this; unless for some reason or another that baby ends up not being a Leone. Call us foolish, but it is true. We haven’t had a case like that in a long time, but you see…”

Relaxing a little, Terri smiled. “But what if it comes out with my part?” She asked teasingly.

“Our bloodline runs deep in every Leone.” Noemí said proudly, sitting back again. “We have beauty marks in certain areas of our bodies,” She cleared her throat. “You would know.”

Terri’s smile faded, and she looked away. Their food arrived, and they proceeded to eat silently. Noemí hardly touched her salad, and nursed her drink carefully. By the time Terri finished with her lunch, stuffed to capacity, Noemí had finished three drinks. Terri noticed the way her eyes were slightly unfocused, and that she now blinked very slowly.

“Have you thought of my offer to stay in my house?” Noemí asked suddenly, her words ran together a little.

“Yes.” Terri answered as the waiter came back around and removed her plate, and Noemí’s barely touched plate.

“Bring the check.” Noemí said and the waiter nodded. She looked at Terri, and closed her eyes for a second. “Yes, you’ve thought about it, or yes, you accept my offer?” She asked very slowly.

“I accept.” Terri said recklessly, and looked down at the tabletop shyly. Noemí smiled.

The check arrived, and Noemí pulled out a few bills from her wallet and threw them on the table, standing up. She almost lurched away from the table, and Terri followed her out to the street. She followed Noemí back the way they came, and walked silently beside her as Noemí walked along, seemingly thinking deeply about something. She was a little drunk, Terri could see. They turned on the street her parents lived in, and Noemí took her elbow and guided her the rest of the way. She pulled out her key chain from her pocket and slipped a key into the hole.

As she walked through the front door, Terri’s eyes widened in awe as she studied the beautiful interior. Everything was made of wood, a dark wood that shone brilliantly and cleanly. She stumbled over her own feet as she looked into the living room, and Noemí held her up. “Be careful.” She whispered good-naturedly.

Terri looked at her with glassy eyes, her mouth parted slightly. “This is wonderful.” She whispered back, and continued to look all around. Noemí chuckled softly, and called out to her father. He called back from somewhere down the hall and she guided Terri into his study. Terri couldn’t hold back the gasp that came forth.

There were books, on shelves that covered all of the walls from floor to ceiling. Soft classical music came from hidden speakers around the room. Natalie sat on a large rocking chair by the large window; her knitting rested on her lap as her small hands did the work. Thomas sat behind his huge desk, leaning back on his chair, a large book sitting across his lap. He pulled off his glasses, and sat forward, smiling a welcome at Terri. “Hello there.” He said softly, standing up and walking around the desk. He smiled down at her reassuringly. “You’re feeling better now, I trust?”

Terri nodded, and was surprised when Natalie came to her and kissed her cheek. She’d never known such gentle mannered people in her life. Anthony doesn’t know how lucky he is, she thought fleetingly, allowing their caring demeanor to take her in. “Sit down, sit down.” Natalie told her and guided her to one of the chairs.

Noemí went to the window and stared out, sitting on the custom made seat right in front of it. “She has accepted the offer to live in my house.” She said quietly, and Thomas seemed very happy, even going so far as to leaning down and hugging Terri with his big bulk.

“Smart girl.” He said, and moved to sit behind his desk again. “Good job, Noemí.”

Noemí smiled softly at him, and turned her face again to stare out the window into the beautiful afternoon.

Natalie sat on the other chair, and gazed at Terri with a gentle smile. Terri blushed, and she looked down at her lap. “What’s the matter?” Natalie asked softly, leaning forward and touching her arm gently.

Terri looked at her, her eyes glassy with suppressed tears. She felt Thomas and Noemí’s eyes on her and was uncomfortable. “I’ve never been offered this type of comfort.” She said uneasily, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

Natalie scoffed tenderly, and leaned back in her seat. “This is only the beginning child. By the time we’re done with you, you will never want us to go away.” She said with a small laugh. “We’re very lovable people, you know.”

Terri believed her with all her heart, and she did her best not to find them irresistibly lovable. “It makes me wonder what happened with Anthony.” She said suddenly, not thinking, and was met with a warm smile from Thomas.

“I often wonder that myself.” He said reassuringly, and he looked at her stomach. “You’re not showing much, yet.” He continued, and she instinctively pressed her hands to her hardening stomach.

Natalie waved him off, and leaned over to touch her arm again. She whispered in a confidential tone, a twinkle in her eye: “He doesn’t know much about pregnant women. I wouldn’t let him near me when I was pregnant with my babies.” Terri couldn’t help but laugh, and covered her mouth. Natalie looked happy at having made her laugh, and said condescendingly to Thomas: “She’s only four months along, Thomas. Wait another two months, and she’ll be a balloon.” Thomas broke out in laughter.

“Balloon?” Terri whispered, wide-eyed.

Noemí laughed softly, and stood behind Terri’s chair. “Mom, you’re scaring her. Stop it.” She said in a mock stern tone, and Natalie laughed; her laugh was identical to Noemí’s, Terri noticed. “You should know, Terri,” She said, placing a now gentle hand on her shoulder, unnerving her. “That it is only natural for a pregnant woman to blow up after some time. But once they give birth, most go back to their original look, with a few more enticing curves.” She smiled down at Terri when she twisted to look up at her curiously. She lifted her eyes from Terri’s and looked at her mother again. “She’s a painter, mom.” She said to Natalie, who smiled brightly upon hearing that. “Really excellent.”

Before Natalie could say a thing, Terri was shaking her head and saying in a self-deprecating manner: “Oh, nothing big, Mrs. Leone, only watercolors.”

“That is bull, mom,” Noemí said with a low husky laugh. “She is good. As soon as you get the chance, mom, since you know all the painters in New York, I want you to get her canvas and whatever else painters use.”

Natalie surprised Terri by saying: “Why of course, as soon as you get her settled into your house.”

Terri stared at her then stood up abruptly. She looked at Noemí for a long time. “I’d like to go home now, please. I’m very tired.” She whispered softly, her eyes watery and reddish. She looked like she was about to cry, but she made it past their already loving good-byes and out of the house. She sat pensively in Noemí’s car, and waited for her to join her in the vehicle.

A few minutes later, Noemí came and got into the car, slipping the key in the ignition hole and starting the car. Her parents had already closed the door behind them, and Noemí sat quietly in the car. Suddenly, she twisted around and looked at her for a long time. She reached over and touched Terri’s shoulder softly. “I know my parents can be overwhelming sometimes-”

“No,” Terri cut her off with a husky voice, trying to hold back the tears that were threatening. “They’re wonderful. I always wished my dad were like yours is, and that my mom hadn’t died and left me with him. I imagine she would have been like your mother.” She laughed softly, and it sounded like a half-suppressed sob. She pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, and a tear slipped out. She wiped at it, and said with an attempt at levity: “But it looks like our brothers were cut of the same paper, eh?”

Noemí joined in her laughter, trying to let her compose herself, and she straightened in her seat, slipping on her seatbelt. She twisted again, this time putting her arm behind the passenger seat. She brought the car in reverse onto the street. With a lurch, they moved forward down the street onto Queens Boulevard. Terri fell asleep as Noemí drove her home.
CHAPTER SIX
Michaela cuddled in Victoria’s arms; they were sitting up in bed, talking. They had barely been apart since the day they met a week ago, only separating when both women had to go to work; they’d been together every single night since then. Every time Victoria returned to the apartment, she always found Michaela curled up on the couch, the television still on, either deeply asleep, or calmly watching television. Victoria always felt as tired as Michaela, but she always woke her or took her attention away from the television to make love again. Today, it had turned dark before they even realized it. They decided to give sex a tiny rest and to talk and get to know each other. “Tell me about Noemí.” Michaela said in her bossy tone.

Victoria pulled back and smiled down at her. “Jesus, can’t you calm down with the bossiness? I’m not one of those people,” She said jokingly. “I don’t take orders.” They both knew that Michaela’s assertive nature aroused Victoria to the point of submission; something she’d never felt before.

Michaela slapped her arm gently. “Shut up.” She said softly. “Now tell me about Noemí. Why is she so important to you?” Victoria studied her for a long time, trying to discern if Michaela was jealous or obsessive or any of those excuses she’d used before to get rid of one woman or another. All that she could come up with as she looked at her was that Michaela was wonderful. Oh my god, those lips! Victoria thought to herself as her gaze turned hot. “Tell me.” Michaela said, smiling teasingly at the look in Victoria’s eyes; she seemed genuinely curious about Noemí in the ‘I want to know your life’ kind of way.

“Well,” Victoria whispered, reaching out and stroking Michaela’s hair gently. “Noemí and I grew up practically together. My father is her father’s best friend, and surprisingly, my mother is her mother’s best friend.” She sighed, and looked up at the reflections of the lights outside on the walls. “Dad is the NYPD commissioner, mom his secretary. Dad and Thomas have known each other for more than thirty years.

“I’m older than Noemí by about a year, but as soon as she was born, according to our parents, I was endeared by those eyes.” She laughed softly. “We grew up right next to each other, next door neighbors. My parents still live in the next house, but they’re on vacation right now. So we grew up together, went to Catholic girls’ school together. We did so many things together to the other kids,” She said with a small laugh. “We were the pranksters, everybody was scared of us. And we’ve never had a single fight with each other.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Michaela said with a tender kiss to the almost invisible cleft of Victoria’s chin. She looked up at her and saw her smile fade. “What is it?”

Victoria’s lips twisted as she thought about the events of years ago. “Well, everything was fine. It’s just that Noemí has changed a lot, she’s not the person she was five years ago.” She paused and took a deep breath. Michaela waited silently, allowing her tell their tale at her own pace. “Almost eight years ago, I introduced her to Amelia, she was a fellow accountant. Beautiful, like a princess, and sweet and tender like a baby’s butt.” Michaela smiled at the comparison. “Noemí fell in love with her right away, and Amelia fell hard for Noemí too. They were so happy.” Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes.

Michaela sat up and touched her cheek gently with a hand. She kissed away her tears and crooned gently in her ear. She felt Victoria’s arms wind tightly around her. Victoria got a hold of herself and she cleared her throat to continue. “Well, they used to go away on the weekends, a lot, and I used to go with them sometimes. That last time I went with them, a group of us friends went together. It was Providence Town; we had the greatest time there. And when we were coming home, they were rammed by some asshole in a truck and they went down a ditch-”

Her voice broke again, and she cried the tears she never cried. Even when Noemí had been in the hospital, in a coma and very close to dying, Victoria’s eyes had remained stoically dry. “Shit,” She whispered after a few minutes, stiffening and pulling away from Michaela. She felt uneasy, never being one to cry in front of women that way, except maybe her mother and Noemí. She didn’t like showing her vulnerability, but Michaela did that to her. She made Victoria feel vulnerable with her gentle care.

“Oh, baby, its okay.” Michaela said, sensing the truth of her discomfort. “You don’t have to hide anything from me.” She lay down in her arms again, and felt Victoria reluctantly yield to her again. “Tell me the rest.”

“Amelia was pregnant,” Victoria sobbed, and couldn’t help the tears that fell from her eyes. She continued with the tears flowing freely, her voice breaking over and over: “Oh, God, they wanted that child practically from the beginning of their relationship, and I wanted it right with them. I wanted it just as badly, if not more. Because Noemí and I always promised each other that we would be each other’s children’s godmothers, and that would have been my godchild. It was our project, that baby.”

“Oh, honey,” Michaela whispered, tears of her own staining her cheeks.

“We were all so devastated,” Victoria whispered back, trembling against her and crying. “Amelia and the baby died right away, and Noemí was stuck in that goddamn car for hours, pressed right against Amelia’s body, almost dying herself. It was such an experience, God.” She trembled even harder. “Three friends of ours were in my car. Noemí’s car was a two-seater, and mine was bigger. All of us saw the accident happen, and I thought I’d lost my best friend! I almost went crazy.”

She cried again, reliving the fear of that accident. “I lost her, kind of. She was almost dead when they could finally get her out of that car; she almost lost her right arm. She has this big scar on her arm from the dash crushing her to Amelia, and a big one on her left thigh from the car crumpling and pressing her from the left. Every time I see them, I remember. She’s blind on her left eye because of the goddamn bastard!”

“Oh, baby.” Michaela whispered, and held her tighter. “How is Noemí dealing with it?” She asked gently.

“She drinks,” Victoria said shortly, shaking her head and pressing her face into Michaela’s soft throat. “Exercises… and works herself to near exhaustion. She doesn’t sleep, has nightmares every single time she closes her eyes.”

“She talks to you about it?” Michaela asked, and sat up, brushing her fingers through Victoria’s hair.

Victoria nodded and closed her eyes to the comforting feeling of Michaela’s fingers in her hair. “Yes, not often, but she does.” She whispered. “I have nightmares myself, from time to time. Of course, not as bad as hers, but I can swear I still see the car falling off into that ditch.” She stayed quiet for a long moment, gazing into space. Then she suddenly pulled Michaela down and they forgot everything, as they once again lost their senses in one another.
CHAPTER SEVEN
The interoffice line rang, and Noemí reached over for the receiver. “Hello,” She said distractedly, kneading the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index fingers.

“Noemí, Melanie is on line one for you.” Her secretary said.

With a soft smile, Noemí said: “Put her through.”

“Hi, Noemí.” Melanie said, sounding glad to hear her voice. “How are you?”

Leaning back on her seat, Noemí twirled her pen between her fingers. “I am fine, and yourself?” She replied.

“Doing well,” Melanie said, and sighed. She said nothing for a long moment, and Noemí could hear her breathing softly on the other end. “So when can we have dinner?” She now sounded a little nervous.

Noemí thought about it. “Tonight after I get out of the office, if you like.” She said, on an impulse.

Melanie laughed delightedly. “Sounds like a great idea to me.” She agreed, and they set a time and place to meet.

Noemí leaned back on her chair, and spun around to stare out the windows at the blue sky, smiling as she thought about her younger days. Those days when everything was fun and uncomplicated, when death couldn’t touch her or hurt her. Her smile faded as her memories returned to Amelia, the only woman that made her heart do a dance in her chest. She closed her eyes softly, and imagined that she could still feel Amelia’s lips brush hers softly, hear her voice full of passion telling her she loved her. Feel her slender hands touching her arms and back reverently, their bodies dancing against one another as they made passionate love.

The phone rang, and she started from her thoughts, spinning her chair to reach for the receiver again, welcoming the distraction.

****

Noemí sat across from Melanie, looking like a commercial for fashion. Her work clothes had no wrinkles, her shirt had the top three buttons undone, and Melanie couldn’t help but gaze at the revealed smooth skin with desire. Noemí had always had that effect on her; she had always made her feel this way, this breathless feeling of want and heat. She gazed at her as she talked about everything that had happened to her all those years since they last saw each other. “Tell me about you, Noemí. How are you?” She said, wanting to hear her voice.

Noemí leaned forward, resting an arm on the table, and her smile faded a little. “I’d rather talk about you.” She said evasively, looking down at the table.

“You’d rather not talk about what’s happened with you?” Melanie said softly, reaching over and touching the back of her hand with soft and slender fingers. “Why?” She knew why, but she wanted to hear Noemí’s version of things.

Noemí narrowed her eyes, and she looked down at Melanie’s fingers touching her hand. “Come on, Melanie,” She said softly, looking up to meet her eyes. “You know why, and I know that you know, things get around in our circle more than we’d like.”

Melanie smiled softly, brushing her hair from her forehead with her other hand. She’d heard about Noemí’s accident from a lot of people, and about how her lover had died. She had shown up at the hospital every day during that first month when Noemí had been in a coma, and Victoria had been her contact. Once it was known that Noemí would recover, she had stopped going, not having the courage to face her, knowing that to Noemí it would make no difference whether she was there or not. “I know, Noemí.” She said. “I just wanted to hear it from you.”

Noemí shrugged, shaking her head. “I’m not good at talking about it, I’m sorry.” She said huskily.

Melanie pulled her hand away, and smiled at her. “You don’t have to then, unless you feel like you should. Remember that I’m always here no matter what.” She reassured her.

Noemí nodded and smiled, and everything felt all right again. Their food arrived and they began to eat. Noemí asked her about her family, and Melanie answered her eagerly, happy to have her close again.

After dropping Melanie off at home, Noemí drove around Queens a little. It was still early and she felt restless. On a whim, she drove towards Jamaica, deciding to go see Terri. She wanted the woman to know that her family was there for her no matter what. She thought back to Saturday, and Terri’s horror at the thought of the Leone family taking her baby away. Obviously she hasn’t been given much in life, more like taken from. Noemí assumed.

She parked a few houses down from Terri’s apartment, and looked around as she got out of the car. There were people hanging out all over the street, some looking at her as if shocked at her appearance. Obviously, she didn’t live around here, as her car and clothes attested to. She wasn’t intimidated by the hostile looks she received, and she made a show of locking her car, not turning the alarm on.

With a quick smile at a group of kids sitting on a stoop, she made her way to Terri’s apartment. Once inside the old house, she went up the stairs to the second floor landing. She was aware of a huge row going on in the apartment beside Terri, sounds of glass breaking and fists landing muffled through the door. Shaking her head, she turned to Terri’s door and knocked.

“Who is it?” Terri’s voice sounded strained through the door, and Noemí felt sorry for the situation she was in.

“It is Noemí.” Noemí replied. She winced as the sound of glass hitting the wall of the apartment next door reverberated throughout the hallway. After a little fumbling, Terri opened the door and pulled Noemí inside by the sleeve, quickly slamming the door closed again. She placed a chair beneath the knob, and turned to look at Noemí, who stared at her with an arched eyebrow. “Happens often?” She inquired.

Terri nodded and gestured her to sit on the only available chair, not meeting her eyes. Noemí shook her head and gestured Terri to sit instead. “What is it?” Terri asked, not accepting the invitation. She’d been trying to paint, but the increasingly violent couple next door was breaking her concentration. Her hands were shaking, and she was fighting a wave of nausea.

Leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing her arms over her chest, Noemí gazed at the younger woman for a long moment. She looked around and noticed the drawing papers lying on the table in disarray. “Why don’t you move in this weekend?” She asked softly. “You don’t need this,” She gestured towards the apartment next door. “It only adds stress to your pregnancy.”

Terri shook her head and grimaced, running a hand through already unkempt hair. “Not yet, I’m not ready.” She said, walking towards her bed and flopping down.

Noemí could see the lines of stress etched across her pretty features, the shaking of her hands as they raked through her hair once again. Noemí finally sat down on the chair, facing Terri, crossing her legs and slouching back. “Have they been doing this for long?” She finally asked.

Terri nodded, staring down at the floor and letting her head drop forward. “Oh yeah,” she replied. “Usually it revs up into World War Three and then they fuck their brains out.”

Noemí chuckled, shaking her head at Terri’s choice words. “Do you sleep at all?” She asked gently.

Terri looked up and met Noemí’s ice-colored eyes, immediately looking back down at her hands, which were stained with the watercolor paints. “I’m used to it.” She said. When she looked up, Terri also noticed Noemí’s seemingly relaxed posture. But she could see past the body language; the tenseness of the older woman’s shoulders, and the way her eyes narrowed every so often.

Glancing at her watch, Noemí took a deep breath. “I have to go.” She said, unwinding from her seemingly relaxed position and stood up. “I just wanted to see that you were doing alright.” She moved towards the door and waited for Terri to join her. When the young woman reached her side, she reached out and squeezed her arm gently. “Call me tomorrow.” She said huskily, and proceeded to let herself out.

Terri nodded and locked the door again, moving towards the table again. She glanced down at the topmost drawing, looking back up towards the dark window. She had been trying to draw Noemí, and Terri felt like she’d summoned her with her thoughts of the complicated woman. She had wanted to see her again, memorize a little more about her features, to be able to work more on her drawing.

****

Noemí slipped onto a stool and gestured the bartender over. “A bottle of Jack Daniels,” She said when he reached her. Ignoring the wide-eyed surprised look in his eyes, she pulled out a roll of cash. Placing a fifty dollar bill on the counter, she looked up at him and waited for him to open the bottle for her. Pouring a short glass for her, he watched as she downed it in one gulp and poured herself another one, sad eyes staring down at the counter. He watched her for a long time, finally shrugging and walking away, leaving her to her woes.
CHAPTER EIGHT
Noemí sat in her office, immersed in paperwork and company statistics, when the private line rang. She picked it up absently, her eyes never leaving the pages in front of her. Terri’s voice brought her out of her thoughts of numbers and words; she sounded distressed. For the past week and a half, they had talked every day, Terri checking in with her, as agreed with Thomas and Natalie. Still reluctant to move into the house, Terri procrastinated on making a decision for which day she would move. Noemí kept arguing with her every day, on the verge of loosing her patience. “What’s up?” She asked, pulling off her thin-frame reading glasses.

There was some background sound, and Noemí could tell she was outside somewhere. She stood and moved around the desk, stretching her back.

“I don’t know if we should do this, Noemí. I mean, I’m the kind of person who takes her time with everything, and you like things done fast. I don’t know if I can deal with you.” Terri found another excuse, another silly one.

Noemí threw her reading glasses down on the desk, and leaned back on the desk with an annoyed sigh, crossing her arms and holding the phone between her ear and shoulder. “Look, Terri, we agreed that you would move in, and every single day of this month, you have been jerking me around about the date that you want to move in.” Noemí said in a quiet monotone, sounding very irritated indeed. “Every time I ask you if you want an apartment by yourself then, you say no, when I ask if you prefer to live in my house then, with my company to help you if any problem arises, you say you don’t know.

“Now, today, when I get out of here,” She looked at her watch. “In an hour and a half, I’m going to pass by your apartment to pick you up for good. If you’re thinking about your child, then you will be ready with your belongings. I am very tired. Do we understand each other, Terri? Also,” She said with great emphasis. “I am taking the day off tomorrow, so that we can go to the doctor, so that he can take a good look at you. You have been avoiding the subject.”

Terri remained silent for a few seconds, and then she said: “Okay, I will be ready.” She paused hesitantly. “Can I bring my drawings?” She asked shyly.

Noemí’s smile was more like a grimace and she pinched the bridge of her nose with her index finger and thumb. This woman is something! “You can bring anything short of bed and chairs.” She said huskily. “You won’t need any of that any more; you will have anything you want from now on. I promise you that.” She had already bought her the most comfortable king-sized canopy bed and installed it herself the same day of the purchase and delivery. Her mother, who had always had the eye for art, had taken charge of the decorations in the room; she decorated it as she saw fit for Terri.

Terri remained quiet again, but then she said in a low voice: “I’ll be ready when you get here. I don’t have that much anyway, and the tables and bed belong to the apartment.”

When they hung up, Noemí leaned back on her chair and relaxed, kneading her eyes tiredly. She sighed and reached for the phone. She dialed and René answered on the second ring. “René, let me talk to mom, please.” She said after pleasantries.

“Sure, honey.” She said. “Tell me something, when am I going to meet that lovely young woman Natalie talks so much about? The mother of little Anthony’s child.”

Noemí chuckled softly. Terri had only been there that first day, and always avoided the subject of returning. Noemí knew she liked her parents, and that she didn’t want to like them too much. “Anthony is hardly a little kid any more.” She said. “And I’m trying to get mom to take her somewhere to buy clothes or something. Maybe mom will take you, if you ask her.”

René sounded pleased with that prospect. She put the phone down and minutes later, Natalie came on the phone; she sounded out of breath. “What is the matter, honey? Is something wrong?” Was the first thing she asked; everything in her mind for the past month had been Terri and the baby. Every time Noemí had called, the first few minutes were spent with Noemí reassuring her that Terri was fine, and that all she wanted was to hear her pleasant motherly voice. Today, she’d be giving her good news.

“Everything is fine.” Noemí said with a laugh. “I have good news for you. You should take the things you bought to my house; Terri is finally moving in about two hours, when I pick her up from her apartment. I’m going to see Travis with her tomorrow;
I talked to her about that too.”

Natalie sighed with happy relief. “Oh, honey, she has been giving you the runaround for the past few weeks. Are you sure you didn’t let your patience run out and rained all over her?” She asked.

Noemí smiled into the phone; her mother knew her too well. She had been tempted to let it rip. “No, mom.” She said in her low voice. “I was perfectly nice, I think. You need to ask her.”

Natalie laughed softly, and they said goodbye. The things would be in the house in half an hour.

After working for another half-hour, hardly able to concentrate, she stood up and went by the window, looking down at the city. She thought that her solitude would be interrupted, and in a way she felt pleased about that. They still got along fairly, but she welcomed the new company. At times, Terri could be the most pleasant and agreeable individual, but at other times she could be irritatingly closed and stubborn. They’d seen each other almost every other night during the past few weeks, Noemí trying to get her to stop the excuses and do what they had agreed she would do. Terri would say okay, and the next day, they would be on zero once again.

Unwilling to work anymore, Noemí stood and walked over to get her jacket from the coat hanger and slipped it on. She stepped outside the office, and stood by her secretary’s desk. She sat on the edge and smiled down at her. Her secretary, a pretty dark-haired Hispanic young woman, looked up from the computer with a welcoming smile. “How would you like to take the rest of the day off, Paula?” Noemí asked.

Paula seemed actually surprised at the offer. She had two children, – a ten year old boy and an eight year old girl- she hardly had time to spend with, working so hard at the office. Her smile to Noemí was bright, and she said in an almost shy tone: “Yes, of course, I’d love to go home and spend time with my kids.”

Noemí stood up straight again, and smiled down at her. “Go ahead, I’m leaving now.” She said, and walked away from the desk. The temperature outside felt more pleasant today; the past few days had been unbearably hot and humid. She walked next door to the parking lot, hands shoved into her trouser pockets, whistling softly.

She drove with her top and the windows down; the much cooler air touched her skin in a sort of caress. Because of the early time in the afternoon, rush hour had not yet set in. There was only a short thirty-minute drive to Terri’s apartment, and she arrived more than forty-five minutes earlier than she had said. She sat in her car for a long time, tapping the wheel to the music playing softly from her speakers. She looked up at the window, and decided to go in, in case Terri needed any help. As she reached out to push the door to building, it swung open and Terri stood there, two large boxes behind her.

Noemí eyed the boxes, and then Terri, a scowl furrowing her brow. “You brought that down by yourself?” She asked in a bewildered tone, pointing at the boxes and looking at Terri as if she had gone crazy.

Terri nodded and looked at Noemí as if nothing in the world was wrong. “Yes, why?” She said with a shrug.

Noemí made an exasperated sound. “You’re pregnant, Terri,” She said almost shrilly. “That is why. I don’t know how much you know, but it is dangerous for a pregnant woman to be lifting heavy things. You can cause yourself an abortion.” She moved past her and reached for a box. It felt only slightly heavy to her, but to Terri’s small frame it must surely have been a lead weight.

“Is that true?” Terri whispered, grasping her shoulder and stopping her. Noemí could see that she scared her. She did not mean to. Terri’s eyes held tears and her face paled. “I don’t want to loose my baby, Noemí. Is that true?”

Noemí propped the box against the doorframe and touched Terri’s face softly with a finger. “Yes,” She said in a low voice. “You just have to take care of yourself, that’s all. You need to relax; you should have waited for me to do it.”

Terri nodded, and said: “But I saw you drive up, and I saw that you didn’t get out of the car, so I thought that meant for me to bring the boxes down to the car myself.” She said in a rush, visibly shaking.

Noemí felt very stupid and she put the box down. She turned to Terri and took her face in her hands, looking into her eyes. “I was early, and I thought I’d give you a little more time before I went charging in.” She said in a gentle voice. Then, to her surprise and Terri’s, she bent and touched the smooth forehead with her lips. A feeling of tenderness shook her, and she pulled back, embarrassed. She turned and reached for the box again, hiding her blush. “Go get in the car, I’ll be right there.” She said.

Terri said nothing and moved past her obediently, getting in the car and watching at her put the boxes in the car. In less than two minutes, Noemí had both boxes in the back seat. She walked around the back of the car and slipped into the driver’s seat. She turned and touched Terri’s shoulder gently, and noticed the thin streak of tears on her pale cheeks. “Oh, Terri,” She whispered tenderly, and touched her cheek with the backs of her fingers, wiping the tears slowly. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you.
I can be very brutal sometimes.”

Terri shook her head and looked down at her lap. “No, you’re right.” She said. “It was stupid of me. It’s just the thought of loosing my baby terrifies me.” She closed her eyes momentarily, and then looked up at Noemí with a shaky smile on her lips. “You know I felt it move again?”

Noemí was so pleased that she stroked her cheek again and squeezed her shoulder. “Great!” She said, and her smile grew. “Maybe you’ll let me feel it move sometime.” She continued, and turned on her seat to drive.

She didn’t see the blush covering Terri’s cheeks as she drove off.

“Oh God,” Terri breathed to herself as her eyes took in all of the living room. “It’s beautiful!” She walked deeper into the room, and looked at the furnishings, at the paintings and family pictures all over the place, at the glass coffee table of intricate design. She stepped down onto the slightly lower floor of the living room. Her fingers touched and stroked the materials as she told herself that this was all real. She turned as Noemí walked in with the second box, her eyes shiny. “I’m going to live here?” She asked in a whisper, not believing it.

Noemí smiled as she put the box down right inside the door. She shrugged and nodded, the material of her shirt stretching across her strong shoulders. “Yes,” She said, blinking. “You like it?”

Terri blinked back. Like it? Like it? This is wonderful, Ms. Leone. Maybe you take it for granted because you’ve always been rich. But me? I’m a bum from the streets, Ms. Leone, I’ve never been around such riches, and Anthony only took me out once in his beautiful BMW! “It’s, um, nice.” She said in a low voice and continued to look around.

“Help yourself to anything, Terri. Look around, this is your home now.” Noemí said gently. When Terri didn’t move, Noemí walked to her and took her arm, gently guiding her out of the living room and down one of the halls leading into other areas of the house. There were two doors to the left, and two to the right, there was another one facing them at the end of the hall. Noemí showed her into the first door. The room was large, larger than Terri was accustomed to.

In that room, facing away from the window, was a large desk cluttered with papers; a black IBM computer and a printer shared the messy space. Full of novels and such, against the wall stood a large bookcase, a copying and faxing machine on a medium sized table to the right. A large window behind the desk gave a beautiful view of the trees that cradled the large house around three sides. “My office, I work here sometimes, as you can see by the mess on my desk.” Noemí explained with a dry chuckle; Terri couldn’t help but be impressed.

Noemí guided her out of the office and into the hallway again. Opening the first door on the right, she showed her into a bedroom. The room was much larger than the office, but it smelled unused and the furnishings were very dusty. Painted an off-white color, the room looked almost cheerful. Unaware of Noemí’s sudden tenseness, Terri noticed that the room seemed hardly lived in, as if Noemí never slept there. The large bed was neatly made, and it looked as if it hasn’t been unmade for a long time. A long mahogany dresser to one side of the bed, would have shone beautifully in the sunlight streaming from a pretty bay window if it weren’t from the dust gathering on top of it. There were pictures in frames on it. Brushes, perfumes and makeup stuff sat neatly above the surface, as if they hadn’t been moved in ages, also gathering dust. The closet, right beside the entrance, could be accessed easily if she turned to her right.

“This is my bedroom,” Noemí said softly, and swallowed hard, guiding Terri out of the room too quickly.

Terri finally noticed the tenseness of Noemí’s stance. “You hardly use your bedroom.” Terri said softly, wondering at the reason. She thought about the makeup stuff on the dresser, and knew they weren’t Noemí’s. I wonder whose they were. She thought.

Noemí’s jaw clenched suddenly and she didn’t answer as she opened the second door on the left side of the hall. Inside, Noemí had set up a gym. The metals of a treadmill, bike, a weightlifting set and other assorted exercise materials shone cleanly, which let Terri know that they were used very often. A window to the back of the room, like in Noemí’s office, lit the room with a beautiful glow, shining off the clean metal of the equipment.

“My gym,” Noemí said, sounding at ease again, and she continued with some levity: “Maybe after the baby is born, you’ll want to do exercise.” Chuckled and shrugging, she guided Terri out of the room. She stopped at the door perpendicular to the gym’s door, and opened it. Inside was the largest bathroom Terri had ever seen, she gasped and walked inside, eyeing everything. Noemí came in after her, and took a hold of her arm. “You can look at this later.” She said gently, and guided her out and to the last of the doors, pausing and looking at Terri. “This is your room; we can buy a crib later on.” She whispered and pushed the door open.

“Oh wow.” Terri breathed softly, taking in everything in the room as she walked in. The bed, nestled below the window, was completely made up with pink quilts and covers. The pillows were plump and brand new, as well as the mattress. The canopy frame, black in color, felt smoothly comforting as she stroked it with shaky fingers, standing on the right side. Looking around the room, thin boxes propped up against the wall on the other side of the bed drew her shocked eyes. A closed tripod leaned beside them also.

A red box shone beside the boxes and Terri suspected she knew what it was. She walked tentatively around the bed and made her way to the box, heart beating fast. There were drawing notepads on top of the box, more than ten, for sure. Kneeling down, she removed the pads and placed them on the bed. She unclasped the top and opened it. Paints of all colors, brushes of all sizes, and a palette were inside the large sized box. She pulled out a brush, and stroked the wood handle slowly, then the beautiful soft brush.

Terri didn’t realize she was crying until a thick tear fell on her wrist, and she jumped as Noemí’s hand touched her shoulder gently. She looked up at her. Noemí gave her a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes but at the same time was reassuring. She looked down at Terri, and with her gold hair falling over her forehead, almost covering her eyes, she looked so endearing. Terri looked down at the box again, and she tried to control her tears. “This-” She began, but her voice broke. “This is wonderful.” She looked at the large but thin boxes, and she instinctively knew that they were canvases. “This is too much.” She shook her head and closed her eyes tightly.

Noemí sat down on the floor, legs crossed, back resting against the bed. “Well, I think you deserve something from us, don’t you?” Noemí said softly, looking down at the oil based colors stacked together inside the box, the brushes lying across the compartment above. She reached over and took one of the brushes and gently stroked the horsehair brush with her long fingers. She smiled at Terri. “You ever paint with oil paint?” She asked.

“In high school,” Terri replied her voice hoarse with suppressed emotion. “They had an art program for painters, and I learned to use them. I only used them in school, since they supplied us with them. When I left home and ended up in New York, I couldn’t afford anything.” She stopped and stayed silent, looking down at the brush in her hand, her hair falling over her cheeks from her ever-present ponytail.

Noemí could imagine what Terri left unsaid. She surmised that Terri’s father never did anything to help the young Terri further her painting abilities. She smiled softly in reassurance, and brushed the hair from the pretty cheeks. “Well, now you have all the time, and all the support in the world to paint what you want.” She said and smiled.

Terri lifted her eyes and looked at her for a long moment. “I want to paint you.” She said with a small smile. She saw Noemí as such a mix of emotions and colors; Noemí intrigued her.

Noemí’s smile faded and she pulled her hand away, clearing her throat. “Why would you want to paint me?” She asked uneasily, looking away.

“Because,” Terri said with a shrug, sitting down and resting her back on the bed like Noemí. “I find you intriguing. I’d like to see what’s inside you, and painting you is the only way.” If she took the time to associate Noemí with a color, it would be gray. Her emotions were gray, far from happy.

Noemí shook her head and made a face, not a face of disgust or anger, but of dismissal. “No, I don’t like being painted.” She said and stood up, walking to the window. She stared out as if looking for something amongst the trees behind the house, shoving her hands into her trouser pockets.

It’s as if she instinctively knows that I can see deep into her soul if I she lets me paint her. Terri thought, surprised. With a frown, she thoroughly studied the woman before her. Noemí’s jaw was not square, but it looked strong. Her nose, in profile, was straight. Her lower lip pouted slightly and her upper lip curled a little as she seemed to be in deep thought. Her upper back widened as it reached the strong shoulders, visibly tapering down to a trim waist…

Suddenly, Noemí turned to Terri, making the smaller woman jump from her musings, and said: “You’re hungry?” Terri nodded and put her brushes away, still surprised at Noemí’s reaction to her desire to paint her. “Good, I’ll order something out. I barely eat here, and I can’t cook.”

“I can cook.” Terri said, and Noemí smiled as she shook her head.

“Not tonight, you make yourself comfortable.” She walked to the door, and lingered there for a few seconds, her hand on the knob as she stared at Terri. “I’ll go order the food, then I’ll take a shower, and then we can eat.” She said in a soft tone, and left Terri to explore her new bedroom.

****

Terri sank her fork into a thick piece of rib tip; her mouth watered as she lifted it to her mouth. Chewing, she closed her eyes and moaned with satisfaction. “This is delicious!” She said softly, and opened her eyes to find Noemí staring at her with a small smile on her face. They sat at the kitchen table, a bag of Italian food to one side of the table. A big glass of apple juice sat in front of Terri’s plate, and she reached for it to wash down the piece of rib.

Noemí had turned on only one light in the kitchen, the one right above the table, which reflected a low yellowish light onto the table. Already dark outside, they sat in the house’s comfortable silence, only the sound of Terri’s eating was heard; the rest of the lights in the house were off. “I have honestly never tasted something this delicious, Noemí.” She whispered, embarrassed and blushing. “I’m sorry; I think I’m extremely impressed.”

Noemí smiled and leaned forward. She enjoyed the way Terri treated everything, the awe and appreciation she showed for every object she saw in the house. It was refreshing to see such enthusiasm. She propped her arms on the table, pushing the barely touched plate of Fettuccini Alfredo aside. As she leaned her chin on a hand, Terri could see the muscles of her arms work through her T-shirt. Fascinating, the younger woman thought, again getting lost on the thought of what colors she would use to paint the other woman.

“It is understandable, if you’ve never experienced anything like this.” Noemí interrupted her thoughts once again, and played with her fork.

Terri looked at the other woman’s plate, and noticed that Noemí hadn’t touched it. “Why didn’t you eat?” She asked.

Noemí sat back and looked uncomfortable. “I ate enough today.” She answered.

For the first time, with the help of the shadows that the light had made Terri noticed the hollows under her eyes, the way her cheeks were slightly sunken in. Tall, no less than five feet eleven inches, with broad shoulders and well-defined muscles, Noemí was what her brother was not; she was elegant, where Anthony could be any of Terri’s brothers. Noemí now sported a T-shirt and sweatpants that did not take away from her attractiveness. Her eyes were a strange pale blue in the dark lighting, yellowish in color. Terri suspected that Noemí didn’t eat like she should, but she didn’t dare point it out to her.

Suddenly aware of the close scrutiny she was under, Noemí stood up from her chair and brought her plate to the sink. “It’s almost September,” She said as she pushed the food into the electric disposal, her back turned to Terri. “Fall is coming soon, and you’ll need some winter clothes. Mom is taking you shopping tomorrow after the doctor; you’ll be going with René.” She paused.

“Will you be coming with us?” Terri asked, strangely wanting her company.

Noemí shook her head and washed her plate. “No, I’ll be seeing Victoria,” She said, and placed the plate next to the sink. “I haven’t seen her in quite a few days.” She turned around to look at Terri, crossing her arms over her chest.

“You love each other very much.” Terri stated more than asked.

A smile crossed Noemí’s handsome features, this time touching her eyes. She stared off into space. “She’s like my sister. She has been my support system all my life. Can’t go without seeing her for a few days.” She said in a low voice.

Terri misunderstood her words, and looked at her in bewilderment. “You’re telling me you didn’t have a happy childhood? But with those parents-”

Noemí shook her head and smiled. “That’s not what I said.” She corrected Terri. “We have always been there for each other. And she’s kept me sane for the past few years.” She bit her lower lip and seemed like she was in deep thought.

“Why the past few years?” Terri asked, picking up from her words. “What has happened in the past few years that you need her so much?”

Noemí seemed to loose her temper, and her smile faded as she stared at Terri. “Can’t someone need her best friend without something having happened?” She snapped at her, and she ran a hand through her hair. “What is it with you?” She stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Terri looking after her as if she were crazy, not knowing what she did wrong. She stood up to pick up the mess.

When she finished in the kitchen, she walked down the hall and found Noemí sitting on the couch, bent forward, her elbows resting on her knees and a drink already in her hand. An open bottle of Jack Daniels sat in front of her on the coffee table and she stared at it fixedly. A scowl pushed down her eyebrows and her hair fell forward onto her forehead in unruly locks. She took a long drink from her glass, grimacing and licking her lips slowly. Terri stood silently, watching her, waiting to see if Noemí would say anything to her.

The older woman remained silent and Terri turned away to walk down the hall. “It’s a long story, you know.” Noemí whispered hoarsely, and Terri stopped in her tracks at the lost sound in Noemí’s voice. “But I’ll never tell you about it.”

Terri looked at the floor, still turned away from her. “I’ve never had a best friend, Noemí.” She said softly, and she knew that in the silent house, Noemí could hear every word she was saying. “I’m sorry if I asked too many questions for your comfort.” She continued, and walked down the hall, leaving Noemí alone in the living room.

****

Late into the night, she could still feel and hear Noemí walking around the house. To Terri, it was as if there was an unspent energy within her that didn’t allow her to sit still, much less sleep. Her light footsteps passed in front of Terri’s door and disappeared into the room directly in front of hers. The door closed softly behind her. The gym, Terri figured, and soon heard the muffled sound of the weights and Noemí’s grunts of effort. She couldn’t understand the restlessness within Noemí, and put it out of her mind as she closed her eyes, shifted on her comfortable new bed, and fell asleep with the ease of pregnant women.

****

Her arms were bulging, the veins showing, as she pushed the weights up away from her chest. The weights were set at 360 pounds, and she lifted them almost too easily. Three years of practice had left her strong. Since she began therapy three months after the accident, two months after waking up from a coma, she had exercised almost every night, when sleep eluded her. With each lift of the weight, she fought the memories threatening to fill her mind, to drive her to insanity.

The light film of sweat all over her body comforted her, let her know that she was working hard, and kept her mind from her memories. The clenching of her toned muscles reminded her that she was alive, that she could feel pain. And with this knowledge, she continued for hours, moving from machine to machine.
CHAPTER NINE
“Wait outside, Noemí, I’m going to check her out and I’ll call you back in when we finish.” Doctor Travis Martin said to Noemí. He gestured her in. “If you may come in, Ms. Bledsoe.” She preceded him into the office, both leaving Noemí alone in the waiting room.

A pleasant man well into his fifties, Travis still looked fit and handsome. He had been the Leone’s doctor for a long time, since before Noemí was born. He was her godfather, and he loved her like he would a daughter. He had been there that long month in which she’d been between life and death, in such a deep coma that doctors thought she was brain dead. He made sure himself that she was being taken care of properly and had cried with her parents when she came to. When they had found out that she would remain blind in her left eye, he fought and fought to find a way to fix it, letting his emotional attachment to the Leone children and parents overlook his professional knowledge.

He’d been the one who convinced her that she could still drive, though with a little more caution. He’d been with her when she’d first gotten behind the wheel of a car more than a year after the accident, grasping her shoulder comfortingly, though he was a little frightened when she finally thought she could drive normally again and swerved awkwardly. It took a lot of work, but she drove now as if nothing was wrong with one of her eyes.

Noemí sat down on one of the waiting chairs and leaned her head back against the wall. Nursing a little hangover, she became aware of her body ache. She’d spent most of the night in her little gym, and had exhausted every muscle in her body. Her arms, shoulders, and thighs felt taut.

Today, she wore khaki slacks, a white T-shirt and brown loafers. She felt comfortable and relished that rare occasion. She waited more than an hour, knowing very well how Travis Martin could be exaggeratedly thorough, especially with a first time patient. She was standing again, studying one of the numerous paintings in the room when Travis came out of his examining room. He closed the door quietly and Noemí didn’t realize he was next to her until he cleared his throat.

She half-turned to look at him and smiled. “So,” She began. “How are she and the baby?”

Travis looked at her for a long moment. “First of all,” He said, wagging a stern finger at her. “Don’t think I don’t notice that you haven’t been eating or sleeping, my dear patient; and that you haven’t come in here for a checkup in a long time. Do you think, by any chance, that I am stupid? Don’t try to act like there is nothing going on.” He sounded very angry with her, and she stared at him for a long time before answering.

Noemí felt body stiffen as she got angry. “Travis,” She said slowly, through clenched teeth. “This appointment is not about me, okay?” She pointed at the door to the examining room. “I brought her in here to talk about her health, not about mine, so let’s not get sidetracked. Okay?”

He moved closer to her and looked into her eyes. “You haven’t been sleeping, why?” He asked in a quiet voice, ignoring the warning in her voice that he knew so well. “What is going on? Why don’t you talk to me?”

Noemí looked away from him and shoved her hands in her pockets. “There is nothing going on with me. What about her?” She said, again through clenched teeth. “That is what I’m here for, remember?”

He knew he was getting to her, so he backpedaled, sighing. “We will talk later.” He warned as he guided her towards the examining room.

Terri sat on the examining table, fully clothed already, though her worn shoes lay on the floor. She looked at Noemí pleadingly.
“I can’t bend down to even put my shoes back on.” She said, wondering how she’d done it this morning.

Noemí eyed her stomach as she bent down to pick up one shoe and slipped it into her swelling foot, and saw hardly any difference in its size. Travis saw her look and explained: “As you know, darling, the fetus doesn’t blow up until about the end of the second trimester. She’s only in the beginning, but its can be already difficult for her to do certain things. Come sit on these chairs.” They did so and he continued: “She’s slightly anemic,” He saw the look of alarm in Noemí’s eyes and soothed her. “There is nothing wrong if we take care of that; prenatal vitamins, regular checkups. That type of thing. I’m recommending her to take a Lamaze class.”

Noemí started. “La-what?” She asked, sitting forward on the seat.

Travis smiled as he pulled his prescription pad and began to write a prescription for the vitamins Terri had to drink for the remaining months of the pregnancy. He caught the confused look Terri sent Noemí’s way. “Lamaze,” He repeated for Terri’s benefit, he knew Noemí knew what Lamaze was. “It is basically a physical and psychological course for the first-time mother to learn the art of being completely connected to the moment of childbirth without drugs.

“Usually, the fathers, or the other half of the couple learn with the mother, so that he or she can be there to help her when the moment gets tough. In the case of single mothers, usually a friend or family member joins that person in the birthing room, and they usually won’t allow them in unless they have Lamaze training, a few exceptions included.” He paused, then to their amazement, said: “I’d prefer if you, Noemí, since you will be sharing most of the time with Terri, take the Lamaze class with her.”

Noemí looked at him, thinking: He is crazy! She shook her head and sat back, glancing at Terri, who looked at her dubiously. “We can hardly get along for more than two hours without fighting, Travis.” She said as a means of explanation. Terri nodded her agreement.

Travis gave the papers from the pad to Terri and laced his fingers patiently in front of his face, his elbows resting on the arm rests of his chair. “I understand that, Terri said a little something of that herself.” He said with a suppressed smile. “But if I’m correct about Lamaze, it will also bring you to understand each other and connect better and communicate.” Travis had an unconventional spiritual belief in the connecting of the minds. “I made the appointment yesterday. For Friday evening, to give you a better time after work, Noemí.” He pointedly ignored the withering look she sent his way, smiling pleasantly at both of them.

Terri stood in the outside room as Noemí remained inside with Travis. “Damn you, Travis,” She hissed in a low voice after closing the door to the outer room. He remained calm, staring at her as she vented her frustration. “You know damn well that I can’t go to one of those classes. It hurts me; Amelia and I had gone-” Her voice broke and she let her head hang, her chin pressed against her chest. She took a deep breath and fought the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

His hand touched her shoulder, and she shrugged it away. He could infuriate her so much sometimes. “I know how you feel, Noemí,” He said in a low voice, knowing Noemí’s pain. “But you have to face the memories and the pain. You have to move on, you’re stalling.” He reached to touch her shoulder again, but she stepped back, her eyes hard.

She hissed at him in anger, anger that he’d gotten very used to. “Fuck you!” And stormed out of the office, barking at Terri to come with her or find her own way back home. Terri followed her with one last glance at Dr. Martin; she liked him, and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why Noemí was so angry with him when she seemed to love him so much. He smiled at her in his pleasant way; a slight nod bid her goodbye.

Outside, as they walked to the spot Noemí had found to park, Terri struggled to catch up to her. She wheezed for breath, and she already felt tired. Noemí’s long legs took her ahead of Terri by a few feet, and she didn’t notice that Terri lagged behind. “Noemí,” Terri panted, her swelling legs aching. “Please, slow down.”

Noemí at first acted as if she didn’t hear the plea, but then her straight tense shoulders hunched and her legs slowed to allow the smaller woman to catch up with her. As she caught up to the much taller woman, Terri looked up at her face. Noemí’s jaw clenched as she walked at a more sedate pace; her eyes narrowed and her lips were pulled in a tight angry line. “I like Doctor Martin, Noemí.” She said, trying to appease her. “He talked to me a lot, more than those doctors at the clinic.”

“Good for you.” Noemí said shortly, as if she hadn’t the care in the world for what Terri had to say. She clenched her fists and could feel her hands shaking. After a long moment, she realized that Terri lagged behind her once again, and she didn’t care to turn to see if she was close to her. They reached the car; she unlocked and opened the door to the passenger side for Terri. But Terri remained a few feet away, staring at her with gray brown fury. “Are you getting in any time soon?” Noemí snapped at her, unable to curb her anger. “I have things to do.”

Terri’s stare didn’t waver. “What did I do?” She asked, and remained standing there in the middle of the sidewalk with her arms crossed.

Noemí’s patience and temper flared, she felt herself loosing control. “Nothing!” She said loudly, her eyes flashing fire, momentarily frightening Terri. “Nothing,” She said again. “You did nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing!” She stalked to the other side of her car and tried to slip the key into the hole, but her hands were trembling violently and she failed. She cursed loudly and kicked at the door viciously. By this time, people were staring, and she glared at them hard, forcing them to look away.

Terri’s worry grew greater than her fear of Noemí, and she watched Noemí abuse the car she seemed to love so much. “Noemí,” She whispered, and moved as if to walk around the car to her.

“Leave me alone, Terri.” Noemí said in a low warning voice, and to Terri it felt as if all the warmth between them had turned to ice.

Terri’s step faltered. “Noemí, I-”

“Get away from me.” Noemí whispered tightly as she leaned against the car, knowing she was being unfair, feeling tired herself from the anger having its course through her body. What I need right now is a drink, not comfort, she thought to herself, feeling suddenly thirsty for a nice glass of warm Brandy. She felt Terri’s hand on her shoulder and pushed it away, anger surfacing anew.

But Terri’s own anger was unleashed, and she glowered at Noemí for a long moment. “I’ll leave you alone.” She said coldly, turning and walking away, her back rigid with her struggle for composure.

Noemí walked after her and grabbed her by the arm, yanking her around and pulling her towards the car. Her voice low and cold, she said close to her ear: “Get in the car.”

Terri fought against her grip, the pain searing through her arm as Noemí’s strong fingers dug into her skin. “Let me go, Noemí,” She said in an equally cold voice, her words clipped. “You are a self absorbed bitch, and I want nothing more to do with you. It was a pleasure having shared your house for one night, but I’d like to go back to my studio.”

“Self absorbed!” Noemí exclaimed, stopping short and flinging Terri’s arm, making her stagger. “Me, self absorbed, who has helped you as best as I could, who has offered you the roof of my house. I’m self absorbed!” Her eyes flashed with fury not directed at her, but landing on her just the same.

Terri spun around and started to walk away. A few feet later, she felt strong hands wrap around each of her arms and jerk her against a tall muscled body. She cried out, suddenly in fear for herself and her baby, forgetting that the only person who would take hold of her that way was Noemí. An image of her large father and brothers, especially Kevin, coming at her flashed behind her eyes and she closed them tightly as her feet were almost lifted off the ground and strong arms held her tight.

“My baby, please don’t hurt my baby!” She moaned softly, feeling and not feeling the gentle pressure of Noemí’s face pressing against the back of her head, the quickness of her breath against her hair. She felt her own arms pressed against her sides by the strong, yet gentle, arms. Tears filled her eyes and her body trembled.

“I’m sorry,” A husky voice murmured against her ear, and she recognized it as Noemí’s through the fearful muddle in her mind. “Oh, God, Terri, I’m so sorry! It’s not you, you did nothing.” She lifted her head and pressed it against the back of Terri’s head again, her body shaking against Terri’s.

“I want to go home.” Terri moaned softly, trying to free her arms from the tight grasp. “Please take me home, I can’t take this.” She became aware of being set back on her feet, and she turned willingly into Noemí’s arms. She didn’t feel the fist tight tenseness of anger in Noemí’s body any more, only tenderness and apology. She felt Noemí’s warm quivering breath against her forehead and she wrapped her arms around her waist. “Why are you like this?” She asked, but Noemí didn’t answer for a long time.

Terri could hear the sob in her voice as Noemí answered: “You- you wouldn’t understand, Terri,” A deep tremble shook her body anew. “You would never understand.”

****

Natalie exchanged a glance with Renée. Terri seemed terribly distracted and listless. She hadn’t been paying attention at all to the things they’d been buying and she sighed from time to time. Finally, Terri’s eyes focused on her companions. “What happened to Noemí?” She asked softly, scowling slightly.

Both women were taken aback at the question. “What?” Renée asked for both of them.

“The scars, on her arm and head. What happened to her? Why is she so…?” Terri was at a loss for words, and she frowned, searching for the right word. “Angry. Sad.” She shrugged, and looked at both women, suddenly aware of their discomfort.

“I’m sorry, honey, but that’s not for us to discuss, honestly.” Natalie said gently, moving closer to the younger woman and reaching for her hand. She squeezed gently, smiling reassuringly. “Did something happen?” Natalie asked worriedly. She was very aware of Noemí’s volatile emotions. She met Renée’s eyes; her confidant and friend seemed as worried as she felt.

Terri frowned fully, shaking her head. “I’m not exactly sure…”

****

Victoria smiled when she opened the front door to find Noemí standing there, but her smile faded when she saw the pallor on her best friend’s skin. She pulled her into the apartment and closed the door after her. “What’s going on?” She asked, pushing her towards the living room. “How is Terri? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

Noemí remained quiet for a long time; she flopped down on the couch with a heavy thud. “Nothing’s wrong with Terri, she’s perfectly fine.” She said in a whisper. “We had a little falling out.”

“Why?” Victoria asked, sitting down beside her.

Noemí sighed and sat rigidly, anger seeming to rake through her again. “Travis, that son of a bitch, he-”

“Your godfather?” Victoria asked in shock.

“Yes, him,” Noemí said with enough venom in her voice to kill a million people. “He suggested I go to Lamaze classes with Terri, as if he forgot that he sent me to Lamaze with Amelia.”

Victoria could see the method he was trying to use on Noemí. “Face your memories,” she could imagine he’d said to Noemí, and Noemí had lashed out on him with her always-repressed anger. “So he did.” She breathed thoughtfully, index and thumb hugging her chin. “Well, Terri needs the help, don’t you think?”

“Fuck what Terri needs.” Noemí burst in a moment of childish rebellion, and she regretted it, because she knew that Terri wouldn’t be in the current situation if it weren’t for her irresponsible brother. “No, forget I said that,” She waved her long fingers. “I don’t know what to say. All I know is I scared the shit out of her, and she probably thought I’d hurt her like her father and brothers did.”

Victoria was thinking quietly. Two volatile tempers in one house, oh boy! “Did you apologize?” She asked in a quiet voice, knowing that wasn’t always the answer. Noemí nodded and closed her eyes. “Where is she now?”

“She’s with mom and René, shopping baby stuff and clothes for her.” Noemí replied with sigh. She leaned back against the couch, and then suddenly stood up. She went to Victoria’s liquor cabinet in the kitchen.

As she reached in to pick out the Brandy, she felt Victoria’s hand on her shoulder pulling her back. “Oh, no,” Victoria said firmly. “You’re not drinking now. We’re going to talk, both of us nice and sober.” Noemí pushed her hand away and moved back to take the bottle. Victoria, as tall as Noemí but not as strong, knew that Noemí could overpower easily. Still, she was willing to wrestle her to the ground if she so much as tried to have that drink. Her hand went back to her shoulder.

“Stop it!” Noemí snapped at her, spinning around and shoving her away. “Don’t touch me.” She said in a softer tone, almost a plead, and she turned around to the cabinet again.

“Noemí,” Victoria said, surprised by Noemí’s sudden reaction. Before she knew it, Noemí pushed her out of the kitchen onto the hallway wall, her hands grasping the front of her shirt and lifting her off her feet. Noemí brought her face close to hers and her eyes were almost unrecognizable, her anger getting the best of her; her breath quickened as she came closer to loosing total control.

“Get the fuck out of here, Noemí!” Victoria hissed, her momentary fear waning in her bewilderment. “Let me go and get the fuck out of here.”

Noemí’s eyes seemed to change as she realized what she had done. Suddenly, she let Victoria go, and before Victoria could say a word, she was through the front door and running down the driveway. She continued on down the street. Shit! Victoria thought to herself as she reached for her house keys, ran after her. Outside, she looked up and down the street frantically; there was no sight of Noemí or her car anywhere. She ran down the block towards Metropolitan Avenue, which was two blocks away. Culkin’s, an Irish bar she and Noemí had frequented since they came of age was quiet in the early afternoon, and she hoped that she would find Noemí there.

Inside, a pleasant coolness and chatter replaced the warmth. Suddenly dark to her eyes, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the dim interior; looking carefully at everybody, she couldn’t find Noemí there. She ran back outside, and jumped at the sound of a blaring horn. She walked down the block to go back to her apartment. She heard the blasting horn again, and turned towards its source. She recognized Michaela’s Audi and watched as she double-parked. She leaned far in the passenger window and kissed Michaela softly, feeling happy that she came. Michaela pulled back and looked into her eyes, sensing her distracted worry. “What’s going on? Why are you running around Metropolitan Avenue?” She asked.

Victoria braced herself against the roof of the car, lifting her legs and bringing them through the open window. Settling herself on the passenger seat, she sighed and brought up the passenger side window. “I’m trying to find Noemí. She’s going through something right now.” She replied as Michaela drove off down the street.

“What’s wrong with her?” Michaela, concerned, threw a side-glance at Victoria.

“Well, she has memories, Michaela.” Victoria said softly and shook her head. “You have to be careful about the way you say certain things to her. She remembers the accident as if it were happening to her at that same moment and she runs away from it, turning to alcohol and anger. Today, when she went with Terri to the doctor, he suggested Noemí go to Lamaze classes with her.” She kneaded the bridge of her nose. “When Amelia was alive, they were going to the Lamaze classes. They never finished them.” She heard Michaela’s soft gasp of sympathy, and reached over to take her hand in hers.

Michaela returned the gentle touch. “So where to?” She asked softly.

Victoria made a sound of frustration. “I don’t know.” She said in a soft tone. “I don’t want to worry her father, but maybe I should call him. He trusts me to call him whenever something like this happens. We’ve been dealing with these moments for years, but we’re still not used to it. We’re afraid that Noemí might kill herself one day, drinking like she does and then driving.” What’s ironic is that she’s doing the same thing the drunk was doing the day Amelia died. Tears stung her eyes, and she tried to fight them, winning out after a long time. She rubbed a hand over her mouth and thought hard. “Okay, she may be at Friday’s; she’s always liked that restaurant. I know she started going again, when she took Terri there to eat. We have a friend who works there, an old fling-”

“Of yours or of Noemí’s?” Michaela couldn’t help but ask.

Victoria looked at her for a long moment, and then said: “An old fling of Noemí’s, before Amelia came along. This woman is still carrying a torch for her; she had been going after her since high school, until Noemí finally gave in. They became good friends after it ended between them, but I know they hadn’t seen each other in a while.”

Michaela nodded, and made a U-turn when it became possible, driving back towards Lefferts Boulevard.
CHAPTER TEN
Noemí, bent over her fourth drink, was already feeling lightheaded. Melanie, sitting across from her on the other side of the table, stared at her with concerned eyes. “Noemí, tell me what’s wrong, please.” She pleaded with her for what seemed like the fiftieth time, trying to keep her own tears from her eyes.

Noemí stared at the glass in her hand, her mouth working, but no sound coming forth. Melanie had been pleading off and on with her for the past hour, fortunate because there hadn’t been that many customers coming into the restaurant. She looked up as her three o’clock relief came in, and she whispered to Noemí: “Come home with me, Noemí.” She sighed as Noemí nodded slowly, her eyes lifting from the glass to Melanie’s.

Melanie smiled at her and stood up, going over to her relief; she talked in whispers with him. “Thanks.” She said louder, and returned to Noemí’s side. Noemí fumbled through her bills and threw money onto the table. “Come on, we can walk to my place from here.” She slipped under Noemí’s arm and brought it over her shoulders.

Noemí staggered as she walked with her, her balance precarious as her eyes almost closed. “I should be helping you, Melanie,” She slurred close to her ear, her warm breath stroking her ear and making her shiver. “Look how small you are, you can’t possibly hold me up should I fall.”

Melanie couldn’t help but laugh, and she poked her gently with an elbow. “Good things come in small packages,” She said, and Noemí laughed against her, tightening her arm and sloppily kissing her temple.

“I hope strength is one of those good things,” Noemí bantered drunkenly, her lips still pressed against her temple and unnerving Melanie more than her closeness did.

Melanie laughed, fighting with feelings of desire and many other things she’d rather not think about. She had known Noemí since freshman year in high school, and had been in love with her since. She had tried and tried and tried over and over again to get her to go out at least once. Finally, Noemí conceded, and in her usual charming way had made it her business to get to know Melanie. What she found out, she liked, and they soon began to go out on a regular basis. They had wandered away from each other after high school and more during college, each meeting new people and new lovers. Melanie had never stopped feeling deeply for Noemí, and she made sure they saw each other often, occasionally sharing a bed.

It all stopped when Noemí met Amelia and fell in love. She had no eyes for anyone else, but Melanie tried to remain her good friend, eventually fading away from the couple. When Amelia died in that horrible accident and Melanie found out that Noemí had survived, she had felt guilty when she thought that she and Noemí could be together again. So she never sought her out, and stayed back, hearing through Victoria and then mutual friends that she was physically recovering, but that emotionally she wasn’t the same any more.

At her apartment, she guided Noemí to the couch.

Born of wealthy parents, and had a nice trust fund that kept her comfortable. She wanted to work outside her parents’ company, but her parents would have none of it. They had indulged her when she wanted to go to college for a business degree, but had balked when she said she wanted to work outside the company, that she didn’t want to follow her father’s footsteps. So they had set up a trust fund, and she was now comfortable on her own. She had been working in the business district of Wall Street for a while, but the work became stressful and she quit. She then decided to work at her favorite hangout place for a while, just to take it easy from the pressures of the world.

Sprawled on the couch, Noemí stared at her through glassy eyes, and Melanie stared back at her, wondering what she was thinking in her drunken stupor. She sat next to her slowly, mesmerized by the white-blue of the other woman’s eyes. She smiled when Noemí reached up and touched her cheek with soft fingers. She turned her face to press her lips against the fingers touching her gently. “God, I’ve missed you, Noemí!” She breathed and leaned forward to kiss her lips softly. She felt Noemí respond to her, her smooth lips pressing against her own and opening to allow her tongue passage.

Melanie’s shaking hand moved to caress the flat taut stomach, moving beneath the shirt to caress the smooth skin there. She felt the muscles tighten against her palm, and a soft quiver shook her from deep within. Shifting her body, she sat astride Noemí, leaning down and meeting her lips again. She breathed in the smell that was uniquely Noemí and moaned softly against her mouth. She ran her fingers through Noemí’s hair, devouring her mouth with her own.

Noemí’s hands had a life of their own, and she caressed thighs and waist, she kneaded hips with her hands as Melanie shifted her hips down against hers. Melanie shuddered, the continuous light touch of Noemí’s pelvis against the seam of her jeans aroused her anew, and she felt her wetness grow. Her hand grasped Noemí’s shoulders and she moved her hips to the rhythm of Noemí’s surging hips.

Noemí stopped, and sat up, pulling off her T-shirt and throwing it somewhere on the floor. She didn’t bother to try to unbutton Melanie’s shirt; she ripped it carelessly and yanked it off her shoulders, aware of the sudden catch in Melanie’s throat. She buried her face between Melanie’s ample breasts, and the familiar smell of the softly scented skin there aroused her more. She felt the alcohol in her system, but it was a secondary feeling compared to the reality of a live body pressed against her. She hadn’t been with anyone since Amelia, only in her memories of Amelia, and she wondered why as she pushed them off the couch onto the floor.

Their sex grew volatile, fast and hard. When Noemí’s face moved between Melanie’s legs, she remembered again what the feel of a woman blossoming against her tongue felt like, and the taste of a woman’s sweet nectar rushing into her mouth as orgasm rocked her. Her arms around Melanie’s waist were a vise-like grip that kept her mouth connected to her, her tongue anchored deep inside her. The feel of Melanie’s thighs tensing violently against her shoulders rocked her body with an almost orgasmic rush; her screams were like a song in her ears.

Before they knew it, hours had passed. They were sweaty by the time they stopped. Spent, not drunk anymore, she allowed Melanie to hold her, pressing her face against the hollow of her neck. Her arms were wrapped around her waist as Melanie’s were around her neck, cradling her head close. Their bodies were pressed together tightly and Noemí found some comfort in that. Melanie kissed the top of her head and she whispered: “Stay the night, please.”

Noemí nodded slowly, and she lifted her head to kiss her. They started all over again, still fast, hard, sensuous.

****

Victoria stood in front of Friday’s, fists against her hips. She had just been inside, and she had asked for Melanie. They told her that she had already left, alone. Victoria had been hoping that Noemí had at least left with her, but she had no way of knowing she did just that. By now, extremely nervous and frustrated, she felt tears burn her eyes. “Shit!” She muttered. She closed her eyes tightly, grateful for the feel of Michaela’s arms sliding around her neck and pulling her close. “Michaela,” She whispered hoarsely. “I’ve never let her get lost like that; I’ve never let her out of my sight when she’s in that state of mind.”

“Its okay, honey, its okay.” Michaela said, pulling back and wiping the tears gently from her cheeks. “You never expected her to go at you, either, my love. You were shocked.”

Victoria gasped as more tears stained her tanned cheeks, her hair in disarray from her fingers rushing through the silky strands over and over. “Oh, man,” She said brokenly, and pulled back, pulling Michaela down the block. “We have to go to her parents’ house, maybe she went there.”

Michaela allowed herself to be pulled and in minutes, they were walking up the driveway to the Leone’s door. Thomas opened the door on the second ring. He seemed to be alone in the house, wearing silk pajama pants and a white BVD shirt. His face pinched with worry at Victoria’s expression, and he invited them in. Michaela introduced herself to him and he did the same, noticing the anxious worry torturing Victoria. “Victoria, dear, what is going on? Are you okay?” He asked of her, touching her shoulder.

She paced back and forth in the living room, and then looked at him. “I don’t know where Noemí is, Tommy. Do you?” She said suddenly.

Surprised, he looked at her for a long moment before realizing what she said with her eyes. His daughter was going through another crisis. He crossed his arms over his chest, and turned away from them; if he released his hands, they would shake. Every time this happened, he worried that it would be the last time. That Noemí would finally succeed in destroying herself. “When was the last time you saw her?” He asked quietly, trying to remain calm, knowing well how volatile his daughter’s crises could be.

“In my place,” Victoria answered him, sitting down on the couch and raking fingers through her hair once again. She brought a fist to her mouth and pounded softly against her lips, regretting having talked to Noemí in that way, no matter how surprised or angry her attack had made her. “She came to see me after dropping Terri off with Natty and Renée, and she was in a state. She wanted to drink, and I didn’t let her. It seems Travis said a little something to her that bothered her.”

Thomas took a deep breath; he knew his daughter’s godfather could be insensitive with his words sometimes. Almost every single time Noemí had gone to see him, she ended up upset, and Thomas knew it was because Martin tried to get her to do things that reminded her of Amelia. A plausible attempt and Thomas knew that it would someday bring his daughter back to the way she was, when she could remember Amelia without a nervous breakdown. Thomas had also known that she had been working too hard, and that she was pushing herself. When he’d tried to get her to take a vacation, she had outright refused.

“She’s so sensitive, Michaela,” Thomas said suddenly, turning to the pretty stranger that accompanied Victoria.

Michaela smiled at him and says gently, in a strangely comforting voice: “I haven’t met her yet, but I hope to soon.”

Thomas smiled at her; he liked her instinctively, and hoped Victoria decided to hang on to this one. He sighed and sat down beside Victoria, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. He knew she felt Noemí’s suffering deep inside. Being there when Amelia died and almost loosing Noemí had left Victoria with a deep fear inside that would never leave her. “Honey, all we can do is actually wait. Natalie should be home soon,” He reassured her, though inside he trembled as hard as she did on the outside. “We should call Noemí’s house, maybe Terri will pick up.” He moved to the cordless phone beside the couch and dialed.

Terri picked up on the third ring; she sounded worried. “Hi, Mr. Leone, how are you?” She greeted him, sounding disappointed; she had been hoping it was Noemí calling. He returned her greeting, and she asked him before he had a chance to ask her: “Have you seen Noemí?”

“No, honey, I was going to ask you the same.” Thomas said, and his voice faltered. “She has not been home then?”

“No,” Terri replied, and she let out a long breath. “When she left me with Mrs. Leone, she wasn’t in the best shape. She had a little altercation with Doctor Martin. Mr. Leone,” She said, sounding embarrassed. “What is going on? Why is she like this? Am I somehow bringing this on?”

“No, no, no,” Thomas said with a laugh. “It hardly has anything to do with you, honey. This is something that has been happening to her for a long time. Maybe some day we can sit and talk about it. Can you call us if you hear anything from her, or if she comes home?”

“Yes, you do the same.” Terri said, and hung up.

Victoria looked at him with red-rimmed eyes, shaking her head. “She has never gotten away from me like that.” She said in a low voice, and stood up. “We’re going to her house, to wait for her there. If you hear anything, please, please, don’t forget to call us, I’m worried sick.”

Thomas nodded and accompanied them to the door. Natalie and René arrived right as Victoria left with Michaela, hurrying towards Queens Boulevard. They looked at Thomas curiously and Natalie asked, bringing bags out of the trunk: “What exactly is going on, Thomas?”

“Come inside, woman, and I’ll explain.” He said and walked back into the house.
CHAPTER ELEVEN
Terri jumped, frightened, when the bell rang. She stood up from her perch on the couch and looked at the door as if it were an enemy. She couldn’t imagine who could be visiting this late. Noemí, of course, would have her own key. “Who is it?” She called out tentatively.

“Victoria,” Came the muffled answer.

She recognized Victoria’s voice and sighed with relief. She opened the door, and allowed her in, followed by another woman. The woman stared at her as she walked in behind Victoria, seemingly assessing her. “Terri, this is Michaela. Michaela, this is Terri.” Victoria introduced distractedly. Terri nodded at her, not knowing if she would even shake her hand, she looked so snobbish. “Terri,” Victoria said, not noticing the long look Michaela gave Terri in her worry. “You haven’t heard anything?”

Terri shook her head, and moved away from Michaela, for some reason feeling uncomfortable around her. “Can you tell me what is going on, Victoria?” She asked quietly, and gestured them to sit down. “Can you tell me why Noemí is so angry? I feel like I’m walking around blindfolded.”

Victoria nodded and looked towards the kitchen. “Why don’t we go into the kitchen, drink something fresh?” She suggested, preparing her mind to tell the story. Terri followed her into the kitchen, and they sat at the table, a glass of cold orange juice in front of each woman. Victoria sighed and began to tell Terri about Noemí and Amelia and the baby, the accident, and lastly the death of Amelia and the baby. “Next week is the anniversary of Amelia’s death…” She trailed off.

By the time she finished, Terri fought tears of sympathy, her lips trembling, and she looked away. She couldn’t imagine what Noemí must feel every time she remembered her pregnant lover, especially since she loved her so much. Now she could place the woman in the picture she’d seen when she first got to the house yesterday. “How far along was she, Victoria?” She choked out, lifting the cup to her lips and forcing down a mouthful of juice.

Victoria looked at the glass clutched in her hand and answered in a choked whisper: “Seven months.”

Michaela reached over and stroked the hand clenched into a fist with gentle nails.

Terri’s eyes filled with tears, and she couldn’t hold them back when they came. The more she knew about Noemí’s pain, the more she cared about her, and the more she worried. “It was almost a reality.” She whispered, and stood up suddenly. She left the kitchen, leaving Michaela and Victoria to stare after her.

They stood and followed her after a couple of minutes, curious and apprehensive. They didn’t find her in the living room and Victoria guided Michaela down the long hallway to Terri’s bedroom. Terri, sitting at the head of her bed, legs crossed, had a pad on her lap, a pencil in her thin fingers. Sketching quickly, her hand moved gracefully over the paper, the lead making a slight scratching sound in the silence. “What-” Michaela began, but Victoria gestured her to be quiet. She watched as Victoria walked away from her and around the bed towards Terri. She looked over her shoulder cautiously, and gasped at what she saw.

Terri stopped, and looked up at her. “It comforts me, to draw and paint.” She said in a whisper. “Knowing what has happened to Noemí makes me very sad. And I always painted when I was sad,” She smiled ruefully and Victoria returned her smile with a squeeze of her shoulder. Terri continued: “Which explains all the paintings in my old place.” She pointed at all the unopened canvases and box of paints. “Noemí had her mother buy me all of this, and I don’t even know where to start. She’s a very good person.”

Victoria smiled. “Noemí’s got the heart of an angel.” She said, and sat beside her on the bed. She gestured to Michaela, and she sat on the other corner of the bed. “When she loves, she loves for real. She won’t say I love you unless she really feels it.” She smiled at Michaela. “Can she see it?” She asked Terri.

Terri blushed, and passed the notepad over to Michaela.

Michaela smiled as she saw what the young woman had drawn in a matter of seconds. Michaela had seen a picture of Noemí in Victoria’s apartment, and recognized her. Terri’s talent went beyond words; her definition of Noemí was perfect. “This is wonderful. How can you remember every single detail of her features?” She asked in wonder, seeing the same deep sadness she’d seen in the photographs.

Terri looked down at the bed. “I’ve studied her,” She answered in a low voice. “She is a very beautiful sight.” Victoria agreed with a sound, and Michaela had to agree with her as she stared at the drawing. “I’ve never painted a person before, and when I told her I wanted to paint her, to see what was inside her, she almost had a heart attack. Now I know why, she doesn’t want me to see the pain deep within her. But I saw it anyway, the first time I met her.”

Victoria rested her chin against the smaller woman’s shoulder, smiling at Michaela, seeing her self-controlled attitude, however briefly, uncontrolled pleased her. Michaela’s eyes were still on the drawing, and when she handed it back to Terri, a grudging respect had replaced the caution in her eyes. “It is wonderful,” She said. “If you decide to make that painting, don’t forget to let me see it.”

Terri nodded, and closed the notepad. “I worry about where she is at this time of night.” She said softly, throwing the pad towards the foot of the bed. She felt comfortable with Victoria’s bulk next to her, and now with Michaela.

“She needs rest; she doesn’t take a break from that dreadful office.” Victoria said. “Ever since she was able to go back to work, she has been in that office all day, and half the night before this whole thing with Anthony and you came along.” She hugged Terri to herself and kissed her cheek. “We’re going now. You need all your rest, my pregnant friend.” She chuckled softly and stood up from the bed. She looked at Terri for a long time, a smile on her face. “Wait until Noemí starts letting you close, you’ll see how good she can be. You won’t even think about her bad moments, only when they happen. You’ll see.”

Terri smiled back and nodded. “I’ve seen her good side already, Victoria, and I know that she doesn’t mean what she says when she’s angry. People just have to know what boundaries to cross with her.” She said and Victoria nodded. “I’m learning them as we go.” She paused and looked down at the bed. “Don’t worry; I’ll call you as soon as she gets home.”

“Thanks.” Victoria said, and Terri guided her and Michaela to the door. Victoria leaned down to hug Terri and Michaela shook her hand with a genuine smile.

Terri went to bed and stayed awake for most of the night, drawing in her pad and thinking.

****

Noemí opened her eyes slowly, lifting her head. She had a huge headache, and her eyes felt gritty. The bed she slept in felt unfamiliar, though she recognized the redheaded nude woman sleeping languidly on her stomach beside her. Noemí looked away, remembering the long hours spent with Melanie, the passion with which they had shared their bodies. Careful not to wake Melanie, Noemí sat up and brought her legs over the side, standing up.

Glancing at Melanie’s bedside clock, she saw that it was close to three in the morning. She padded towards the bathroom, wondering how long she had slept for; she knew she didn’t feel rested or at ease. “I need a drink.” She whispered huskily to her hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror. With her hands grasping the sides of the sink, she leaned forward; closing her eyes, she thought of Melanie.

She and Melanie had been lovers during their years in the same private High School and through their first year of college. They’d parted slowly, seeing each other occasionally, then not at all. Noemí had begun to see other women halfway through that first year, and she knew Melanie had been doing the same, so she didn’t really mind their breakup. They would always be friends, even if they didn’t see each other or do friendly things. She never expected to run into Melanie again, or for this to happen.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Melanie’s gentle voice snapped her out of her thoughts and she opened her eyes. Their eyes met through their reflections in the mirror.

Noemí didn’t reply right away, and Melanie waited, her sad expression showing her knowledge of what Noemí’s next words would be.

“We can’t do this again.” Noemí said, her voice husky and raw.

Melanie looked away, her eyes filled with pain. She leaned heavily against the doorframe. “Why?” She asked, her voice shaking slightly.

Noemí looked down at her hands. “I can’t love you.” She said, her voice full of regret.

Melanie nodded, biting her lower lip and trying not to cry. “I should have never brought you here.” She whispered, her eyes watering.

Noemí took that as her cue to leave, and she turned from the sink and walked past Melanie, gathering her clothes and slipping them on. Done, she turned to look at Melanie, who now watched her. “I’m sorry.” She said, not knowing how to fix things.

Melanie pointed towards the door and whispered: “Just go.” She then began to cry, spun into the bathroom, slamming the door between them.

Noemí held back tears, guilt tearing her inside. She left quietly and made her way out of the building. She remembered she left her car in the parking garage near Friday’s and she walked slowly in the direction of the restaurant. She paused in front of Friday’s, glancing across the street at the corner bar and thinking about how thirsty she felt. She crossed the street and walked into the bar. Still in full swing, the bar’s music pounded through her aching head, but she ignored it. The music played and people were either chatting away at the tables or at the bar, drinking. She saw an empty stool at the bar and moved towards it. Sitting down, she motioned to the bartender. “Whiskey, double.” She said, and he smiled as he served her drink. She thanked him and told him to keep them coming.

She stayed for a couple of hours and drank until the early hours of the morning, when the sunrise already had passed. She stumbled out of the bar across the street to the parking lot and eventually made it to her car.

She wondered how she made it home, really. She knew she shouldn’t have been driving in her state, but she didn’t really care. She swerved into her drive. Stumbling out of her car and slamming the door closed, she staggered towards the front door. She got it open after some fumbling and cursing, and made a beeline for the liquor cabinet.

****

When Terri finally allowed sleep to overtake her, the sun already lit the sky. She didn’t sleep more than two hours before she heard the sound of keys clinking against the front door’s knob, half-asleep. A thudding sound made her jump and the front door slammed shut, and then she heard a low curse. She recognized the voice, and got up from her bed. “Noemí.” She called out, and heard the sound of glass clashing on glass.

“Go back to bed, Terri.” Noemí’s hoarse voice called back, the words slurring together. Terri walked into the living room. Noemí stood in the center of the living room, a glass full of Brandy in her hand; her hair a tousled mess, her clothes wrinkled, swinging back and forth on her feet. Terri could see on her neck dark marks and knew they were hickeys. Her eyes had that haunted look from yesterday as they stared at her, unfocused. “I said go back to bed, Terri.” She whispered softly, and drank from her glass.

“Where have you been?” Terri asked her gently.

Noemí made a face and turned away from her. “None of your concern.” She responded in a harsh quiet voice.

Terri remained calm, knowing Noemí’s state of mind, her drunkenness. She said as calmly as she could: “Your family has been concerned, your best friend too. Everybody has been going crazy wondering where and how you were-”

“Mind your fucking business, Terri.” Noemí said coldly, swaying on her feet.

“Noemí,” Terri said pleadingly, moving closer to her. “You’ve been good to me, and I’ve started to care about you. You have to talk-”

“Shut up, shut up!” Noemí roared and spun around, hurled the glass, sending it flying across the room at Terri. It landed with a shatter on the wall next to her head.

Terri’s clenched her eyes closed; she felt the warm liquid prickle her arm and her neck, heard the shattering sound like a bomb in her ears. Her eyes snapping open, wide with fear, she spun and ran down the hall and into her room, ignoring Noemí’s pleading voice, slamming the door closed. She leaned against the door, eyes wide, and her body shaking. She panted for breath, feeling her legs shake. She cried out feebly when Noemí pounded on her door, hugging herself and trembling. She could hear her say something, but fear didn’t allow her understand.

“Please, Terri, open the door.” Noemí pleaded, pounding on the door. “Are you hurt? Please, Terri!”

Terri felt the baby inside her shift nervously, and she gasped when tears ran down her cheeks. The baby kicked again, and she hugged her stomach, trying to calm down for her baby’s sake. Again, Noemí pounded on the door, and she felt the vibration against her back. “Terri, oh God, are you okay?” Noemí yelled out frantically, tears in her voice, the words becoming clear to Terri’s ears. “Please, answer me! I didn’t mean to hurt you!” She sobbed loudly and Terri could hear her body sliding downwards and heavily against the door. Her voice sounded closer to Terri’s ear in her pleading. “Oh God, help me, please! I didn’t want to hurt her! Oh God!” She banged on the door again.

Terri moved away from the door and reached for the knob. She opened the door, and Noemí fell into the room, looking up at her through glazed, tearful eyes. “Oh, thank God!” She gasped, and her head fell onto the carpet. She pulled her knees up, hugging her legs to her chest, burying her face into her knees. Her body heaved and trembled violently as she cried.

Crawling close to Noemí’s side, Terri tentatively touched her shoulder. Instinctively, Noemí unwound her body and crawled onto her, wrapping her arms around her waist and pressing her face to her stomach. The baby shifted again, and Noemí felt it against her face. “I’m sorry, Terri, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me.” She whispered against her abdomen, sobbing. Somewhere in the house, Terri heard the phone ring. Neither woman moved to answer it and it continued to ring.

Terri looked down at her and the sudden rush of tenderness she felt towards the larger woman surprised her. She smoothed her hair away from her forehead, and smiled softly, the fear suddenly gone. Noemí needed her, and she would try to help her. She knew Noemí would never intentionally hurt her in any way. “I know what’s come over you.” She whispered, and Noemí turned her face to look at her with her one good eye, the other pressed closed against her stomach. “You have to talk about it, you know, or you’ll be like this for the rest of your life.” She said.

Noemí turned her face into her stomach again, and said, sounding suddenly sober: “I didn’t want to hurt you; I don’t know what’s come over me.” Her arms around Terri’s waist tightened and then suddenly loosened. She took a deep breath and she registered Terri’s scent; like sweet strawberries in summer. “Are you hurt?” She asked suddenly, sitting up and touching her cheek. She gazed at the smaller woman’s face and down her arms searchingly, her eyes red-rimmed. “Please, tell me the truth. Are you hurt?” She seemed frantic for reassurance.

Terri shook her head and smiled, taking the large hand in hers and pulling it away from her face. “I’m fine, and I’m telling you the truth.” She whispered, and then paused, considering. “Well, my feelings are a little hurt. But I don’t lie, never have.” She reassured her. “We were all worried about you.”

Noemí sighed, and held Terri’s hand in hers. “I stayed at a friend’s house, I should have called, but I-” She stopped, her cheeks flushing redder.

Terri’s eyes wandered briefly to the marks on her neck. “I know what you were doing; you don’t have to tell me.” She smiled very softly, and Noemí returned her smile. “Just don’t disappear like that, please. Not again.” She whispered, her smile fading.
“If you feel out of control, just talk to me. I know we’ve just met, but you’ve been the one who’s helped me with this, with telling your parents. I feel closer to you. You’ve trusted me by bringing me to your house and giving me more things in two days than what I’ve had my whole life before this. Why can’t you trust me enough to talk to me?”

Noemí blushed, and moved closer to her, pulling her into an embrace and pressing her face against her shoulder. She felt Terri respond to her embrace. “You know why I’m like this?” She asked softly.

Terri nodded, burying her face into her hair, breathing softly, rewarded with the musk scent of Noemí’s skin. She said: “Yes, Victoria was here last night, worried sick about you. She brought her friend Michaela with her.” She pulled back, and saw the shame in Noemí’s eyes. “You’ve been rude to everybody.” She admonished firmly, touching her cheek softly with her hand. Pulling back, she stood and offered her hands to Noemí.

“Now,” She said as Noemí stood up without her help. She pulled her towards the bed, and gestured to a beautiful wooden crib already set up close beside the bed. “Look at what your mother bought me. Isn’t it beautiful?” Her smile showed emotion that she was obviously surprised she was feeling.

Noemí couldn’t help the instant tenderness she felt for Terri. There were bags beside the bed, close to twelve bags full of clothes and other assorted materials. Terri gestured to them and said: “She’s gotten me all these maternity clothing. She also got my baby a lot of clothes, no definitive colors, since we don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy. She says that when I give birth she’ll buy me more clothes.” She looked up at Noemí with question in her eyes. “Don’t you think this is too much?”

Noemí shook her head and sat on the bed. “No,” She said, eyeing the crib and the bags. “Let her indulge herself, she’s always wanted a grandchild, and she’s getting her wish, in however an unconventional way.” She looked at the crib sadly, and her eyes filled with tears; she sat on the bed slowly. “You know,” She croaked after a long moment, fighting against the tears. “Amelia and I didn’t even get to buy a crib for the baby.”

Terri moved to her and wrapped her arms around her, holding her close; Noemí bent down and pressed her face against her swelling stomach again, her hands against her lower back pulling her close. “I’m so sorry, Noemí,” Terri whispered, running her fingers through her hair. Noemí’s shoulders shook as she cried. “I told you that you can talk to me about it, don’t keep it all inside.” She pulled her head back and tilted it upwards, a finger beneath her chin. “You haven’t mourned, have you? You haven’t even cried?”

Noemí shook her head and avoided her eyes. She had been in a coma after the accident; by the time she woke, Amelia had been buried. “By the time I came out of the coma, Amelia and the baby had been buried for a long time.” She whispered.

Terri nodded to herself, never ceasing to look at Noemí. “Someone told me that tears can be good for the soul.” She said softly, moving her hand up to stroke Noemí’s soft hair. Terri found herself staring at her softly sensuous lips, wondering briefly what it would be like to kiss them. What is wrong with me? She thought with a small shudder, feeling Noemí’s magnetism.

Noemí smiled dreamily, her hands grasping Terri’s T-shirt at the sides, her eyes on Terri’s lips. “I didn’t think you were so sweet, Terri.” She whispered, and let her head drop again, her arms wrapping around her waist and pulling her close as she buried her face against her stomach once more, strangely comforted by the warm feeling of life beneath the taut skin.

Terri hugged her tightly to herself, kneading her shoulders and caressing her hair. After a long time, she said: “Want to talk while you watch me draw? I’ve developed a sudden urge to draw.”

Noemí pulled away and half-turned to look at the boxed canvases and paints. “When will you use those?” She asked, gesturing to them.

Terri looked at them. “When I find my muse, since you don’t want me to paint you.” She explained, and smiled when Noemí blushed. She stroked the other woman’s cheek, enjoying the closeness that they had developed in a matter of minutes. She bent down and took the notepad lying at the foot of the bed. She climbed onto the bed and adjusted herself, back against the headboard. She patted the space beside herself. “Come, sit beside me and talk away. Tell me what ails you.” She said lightly, knowing that their conversation would be a long one.

Noemí obeyed, but instead she lay down with her head on the painter’s lap. She sighed softly, comfortable. “I think I’m going to enjoy your stay here, Terri. I’m glad I decided that you move here, and that you finally accepted.” She said, her arm wrapping around her legs. Suddenly, she sat up. “Shit, but I have to go to work!” She exclaimed and began to get off the bed.

Terri grabbed her arm, and yanked her back down, firmly pushing her head back down onto her lap. “They won’t miss you for a day.” She said simply, and Noemí relaxed again, wrapping her arm once again around her legs. “I’m going to have to lean my pad against your head when I begin to draw.” She said, and Noemí nodded her assent.

****

“She what?” Anthony yelled into the phone, instantly breaking into a coughing fit. The smoke from his blunt wheezed out of his mouth.

“The girl moved in with Noemí.” Caesar Leone, Anthony’s cousin, repeated. He and Anthony grew up playing and scheming together, each as bad as the other. While Anthony chose to live off his parents, though, Caesar pursued a career in management. He hoped to some day work a management position at his Uncle Thomas’ lucrative pasta enterprise. He was currently trying to prove his worth working a regular lackey position at the company. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for like three days to let you know.”

“Son of a bitch,” Anthony muttered. Murphy looked up towards him from her perch on the couch in front of the television. “That bitch.”

“Tony, are you sure that’s not your kid?” Caesar asked, already suspecting the truth. He knew his cousin was weak when it came to the object between practically any woman’s legs. Hell, if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was afraid of Noemí, he would have made a play on Amelia! Condoms were a no-no for the moron, which made things worst.

“I’m sure, man!” Anthony yelled into the phone. “Why do you keep asking me that?”

“I know how you feel about condoms.” Caesar reasoned.

“She used the pill.” Anthony said, taking a deep drag from his ‘cigar.’

“Before or after the first time?” Caesar asked slowly.

Anthony frowned. “After,” he continued before his cousin could say a word. “But I made her take the three-day-pill just in case.”

“Is it one hundred percent effective?” Caesar asked, wondering.

“Man, what are you coming at me with this math shit for?” Anthony whined. He took another puff and stared at it. I’ll have to roll another one soon.

“Alright, alright. Go do your thing and I’ll call you tomorrow when you’re in better frame of thought.” Caesar said, sighing when his cousin hung up the phone without saying goodbye.

Anthony walked towards the couch, flopping down next to Murphy, offering some of his ‘cigar.’

“No, thanks,” Murphy said lazily, pushing his hand away. “I am getting high enough smelling it.” She gestured towards the phone, her eyes never leaving the television. “What was that about?”

Anthony scowled. “That little bitch moved into my sister’s house.” He grumbled venomously.

“So you used the three day pill on her?” Murphy asked, ignoring his reply.

“Yeah,” Anthony said, sounding insincere.

“You lying sack of shit!” Murphy exclaimed, finally looking at him. “You would say anything to not have to take responsibility, wouldn’t you?” She crossed dark arms over her chest and glared at him, shaking her head. “If your cousin believed that lie, he is a bigger idiot than you are!” She snarled at him, and he moved slightly away from her, eyes wide. “You know that baby is yours and you will not even admit it! You ruined that poor girl’s life and you do not give a shit!”

Anthony glared at Murphy through the haze of marijuana smoke that surrounded him. “Obviously her life is not ruined; she’s enjoying to the fullest what my family has to offer.” He pouted.

“Which is why I’m surprised you have not gone back to, quote-unquote, take responsibility.” She said sarcastically.

Anthony stared at Murphy in bewilderment. “Huh?”

Murphy’s eyes narrowed. “Do not think that I don’t know your money is running out?” She said. “You have been spending like a maniac since we got to Jamaica; gambling, drinking, smoking!”

“Well, what about you?” It was his turn to snarl. “I spent money on you.”

“I paid for my own way, thank you!” She said indignantly. “I already paid you back for Aruba.”

“How the hell did you do that?” He demanded to know, raking a hand through increasingly long curls.

“By bloody sleeping with you, you sorry excuse for a man!” She exploded, saying what she’d been wanting to say from the first night they spent together. She could see him shrinking under her yells. Jesus, what a bloody wimp! “You do not even know how to please a woman, which makes me wonder how you even got one pregnant!” She calmed down enough to just glare at him, her upper lip curling in disgust. “I’m leaving tomorrow.” She said after a long moment.

“What? Why?” He exclaimed, mentally latching to that announcement. He couldn’t handle the fact that she wasn’t the first woman to let him know he couldn’t please a woman.

Murphy uncrossed her arms and lay back on the couch, changing the channel on the television, and gluing her attention to it again. “Unlike you, I work.” Was all she said; he chose not to argue that point.
CHAPTER TWELVE
Noemí’s eyes closed and her face was peaceful, her long lithe body relaxed. “Amelia and I were perfect together, I thought so, she thought so, and everybody thought so.” She began softly, and Terri looked down at her. “I loved her so much, and she loved me. My parents adored her, and so did Vicki’s. Vicki introduced us, and she loved her too.” She shifted lightly, but her eyes stayed closed. “When- when she died,” Her voice faltered, her arm around Terri’s legs jerked. “When she died, and the baby with her,” Terri could see her throat bobbing, hear her voice growing thick with tears. “Oh, God, the baby, it would have been so beautiful! I loved them both more than my own life, Terri. You don’t understand how much-” She broke into tears.

Terri stroked her hair and her face, tears of her own burning her eyes. “I understand, trust me.” She said softly. “Don’t stop, maybe telling me everything will help you.”

Noemí talked for a long time, about what their life was like, up until before the accident. About the love, the peace and laughter. She remembered most, the moment when Amelia told her she was pregnant, and the passionate celebration that followed. The phone rang numerous times, but Terri didn’t want to ruin the mood and Noemí didn’t seem to hear it in her voyage through her memories.

The taller woman took a deep shuddering breath and her arm tightened appreciatively. “When the accident happened, it seemed
I was stuck in that wreckage forever.” She whispered, turning her face onto Terri’s lap, as if trying to cover her eyes from the horrible image of Amelia staring blankly back at her. “She,” She continued shakily, her voice muffled by Terri’s legs. “She died almost right away, maybe seconds after the car stopped crashing and twisting and turning. She looked at me right afterwards, I mean, the car was crushed and all, but she turned her head to look at me. It probably took the rest of her strength to do that. Her eyes were dying already, her breath cut off by the pressure of the dashboard crushing against my arm- her chest!”

Noemí sobbed loudly into Terri’s lap, and Terri’s hand caressed the back of her head. She couldn’t help it as her own tears ran down her cheeks. “The last thing she said to me-” Noemí choked out, her shoulders heaving. “She said before her eyes went blank: ‘Our baby-‘, and that’s it, her eyes lost that beautiful light, and I could do nothing but watch. My arms were caught on something, and I was trapped, and I couldn’t even touch her, or say anything!” She sobbed for a long time, while Terri touched her hair and comforted her without words. She sobbed until spent, she couldn’t cry any more. Then she asked softly, tiredly: “Do you know that I’m blind from my left eye?”

Terri smiled softly. “Yes,” She said softly. She was aware that the sun had risen higher in the sky. She looked at the alarm clock Natalie had set up for her the evening before, and realized it was almost ten thirty. She looked down at Noemí and realized Noemí had fallen asleep, just like that, her face softened and peaceful.

A tender feeling for Noemí overwhelmed Terri again, and she tried to move her legs, wanting to go get the phone and call everyone to reassure them Noemí made it home okay. Noemí made a sound deep in her throat, and her arm tightened. Little by little, slowly and softly, Terri succeeded in removing the arm from around her legs and replaced her lap with one of her thick pillows. She leaned over Noemí as she stood beside the bed, and kissed her temple softly. She moved quickly, avoiding the broken glass on the floor and retrieved the cordless from the kitchen, walking fast back to the bedroom, where Noemí had curled up on the bed like a child.

She dialed the Leone’s phone number, already knowing it by memory from the previous night’s numerous calls to the house. Thomas picked up on the first ring, and sounded immensely relieved when Terri told him that Noemí slept safely in front of her. “We had a talk, Mr. Leone,” She said in a whisper, stroking Noemí’s hair and gazing at her sleeping face. “A long talk, I think that’s what she needed. She had too much grief bottled up inside. It was a little hairy at first, but I think I got through to her. I made sure that she knew we were all worried too.”

Thomas sighed, very glad to know his daughter was safe, and explained the situation to Natalie. Terri could hear Natalie talking quickly in her relief, and Thomas comforted her with sweet words. He turned his attention back to the Terri. “I am so glad that she has talked to you about it. She never wanted to talk every time I tried.” He said with a soft sigh. “She can loose it when she’s like this, and it is hard to get through to her.”

He could hear Terri’s smile. “I’ve been through a lot of things myself, and I let her understand, in not so many words, that I know where she stands where pain is concerned. I think she took me seriously, I think she trusts me.” She said softly.

Thomas, happy, hoped his daughter might become as close to the old Noemí as possible. He loved Terri all the more for trying to help Noemí. “Thank you, Terri, I really mean it. I think you’re an excellent addition to our family.” He said with genuine sincerity.

Terri blushed and said shyly: “Thank you, Mr. Leone, any time I can help her like she’s helped me I will.”

“Oh, child, call me Thomas!” He exclaimed with a laugh. “Listen to me, call Victoria, she has been calling here like a maniac, trying to find out anything about Noemí.”

“Gladly,” Terri said, and looked through her notepad, where she’d written down Victoria’s phone number. She said goodbye to Thomas, and clicked over the line, dialing Victoria’s number. Victoria picked up on the half ring, Terri said softly: “She’s here, Victoria, and she’s sleeping.”

“Oh, thank God!” Victoria gasped and began to cry quietly. Terri could hear Michaela on the background, and then her soft voice came on the line.

Michaela’s voice came very pleasant and calmer now that they knew Noemí’s whereabouts. “Thank you, Terri, Victoria has been impossible all night and morning. She’s been going crazy, and now she can sleep a little,” She said with gratefulness. “After she rains out those tears, I’m going to make her forget about real life and then I’m putting her to sleep. Why don’t I have her give you a call in a couple of hours?”

Terri laughed softly, glad that Michaela had gotten over her initial distrust of Terri. “Sounds good,” She said.

“Good,” Michaela said, and she paused to listen to something Victoria said. “Is she okay? She didn’t get hurt?” She asked Terri.

Terri looked Noemí over closely. “She had gotten a little drunk during the night, but other than some hickeys from unknown person, she’s perfectly fine.” She said with a little humor.

Michaela relayed the message, and Terri could hear Victoria’s muffled voice, but she couldn’t understand what she said. Michaela returned to talk to Terri again. “Let’s give you a call in a few hours, let her sleep a little, and then we can talk about visiting for dinner. Okay?”

“Okay.” Terri said and they hung up with pleasant good-byes. Terri put the phone down on the bed, and walked around to the other side, climbing into bed as carefully as possible. Noemí made a noise deep in her throat, her eyes never opened as her strong arms reached out to pull Terri to herself, burying her face against the base of her neck, sighing contentedly. Teri could do nothing but wrap her arms around her neck, resting her head against a pillow, strangely comfortable. She closed her eyes and fell asleep with ease.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Noemí’s head ached a little as she opened her eyes slowly, feeling as if the sunshine burned through her eyes into her brain. “Oh, God!” She murmured as she clenched her eyes closed again. She became aware of a small body, warm and supple, lying in her arms. The top of the dark head, pressed up against her chin, rested against her bicep, the soft hair tickled her skin softly. Aware of the swollen stomach pressing against her own, she looked down at the legs entwined with hers, and at her arm thrown carelessly across Terri’s waist. She realized that Terri was lying in her arms, and she remembered the events of that morning.

She opened her eyes again, and noticed the alarm clock on the dresser; it was already four o’clock in the afternoon. They had spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon sleeping in each other’s arms. Noemí’s eyes closed as she thought about that. A smile crossed her lips as she thought about her sleep, a dreamless sleep that had evaded her for years, and Terri made it possible with her gentle insistence. Noemí had to admit to herself that she never thought that Terri could be so gentle, and she blamed Terri’s family for not allowing her to show her warmth instead of her cold side.

The phone rang, startling Noemí out of her surprisingly peaceful musing. The phone was on the bed behind Terri’s head. The young woman jumped, startled from her sleep, and looked up at Noemí. Noemí smiled at her as she reached for the phone. “Hi, Vicki.” She said, regretting when Terri rolled away from her and stood.

Victoria sounded glad to hear her voice. She said: “Why don’t we come over for dinner, and Michaela and Terri can cook while we talk?” Noemí, listening, watched Terri move around the room at the same time.

She felt the sudden urge to hold her in her arms again. “Come over then. I want to apologize.” She said softly, and Victoria laughed her rebuttal of the apology and, all forgotten, they hung up with an agreement to meet at six thirty. Terri had walked out of the room and Noemí could now hear the sounds of clanging bottles and swishing liquids.

Curious, Noemí went out to the living room, looking down as her still booted feet crunched on broken glass. She could hear Terri in the kitchen throwing something into the sink. Her confusion evident in her voice, Noemí asked: “What are you doing?” And realization hit her when she saw the empty bottles of liquor from her liquor cabinet beside the sink, and on the other side, three more left to empty. “What are you doing?” She demanded, moving forward quickly and reaching for the bottle of Gin in Terri’s hand. Terri dodged her reach and emptied the bottle.

She reached for another one. “No!” Noemí said through clenched teeth, her hand grabbing Terri’s wrist. Stubborn, Terri reached for another of bottles with her other hand, slamming it into pieces inside the sink. “Stop, please, I need that!” Noemí begged, grabbing her other hand.

Terri’s eyes were firm though gentle as she spun around to face Noemí. “No, you don’t need that! You need food!” She said firmly, and pulled her hands away from Noemí’s grasp. “I want to feel safe around you, when you’re sober, and not half drunk like you are most of the time.” She saw Noemí’s hurt expression and her voice softened as she reached up to touch her face. “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Noemí, please understand me. If you don’t stop, in a few years, you’ll be fighting some liver disease from all the drinking. You know that.”

Noemí closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against Terri’s, her hands holding her balance against the edges of the counter. She shook softly, her eyes closed tight. Terri felt her sweet warm breath, tainted with the sharp scent of alcohol, brush against her lips. It would be so easy to bend my neck and just kiss her…

“It’s hard; I want to have a drink now.” Noemí whispered and Terri sighed.

“I know you can’t stop cold turkey, so how about we work a little system out?” She felt Noemí’s nod against her head. “Do you want to go to AA?” She asked softly, and Noemí shook her head almost vehemently. Terri laughed softly, saying: “Okay, we’ll do the home remedy. One drink when you get home and before you go to bed.” Noemí groaned softly. “Eventually, we’ll lower the dosage to one drink when you get home and then half a drink, then less and less. Until you don’t want any more. What do you say?”

“I say it sounds like fucking torture.” Noemí said grudgingly. Terri smiled and kissed her nose softly; Noemí felt cared for. “We’ll make it, I’m sticking by you. You can’t cope if you’re drunk all the time.” She pointed out, pressing her index into Noemí’s shoulder. She turned back to empty the remaining bottle and Noemí watched with a look full of pain on her face. Over her shoulder, Terri said: “Now, go take a shower, you really need it.”

****

Michaela and Victoria arrived at exactly six thirty, and Noemí knew that it had to do more with Michaela than with Victoria herself. Victoria had never been punctual. To Noemí, Michaela seemed a great influence on Victoria. She said as much as they got formal introductions and smiled at each other warmly. She had just finished showering and changing into comfortable clothes when they arrived, her hair still dripping wet onto her face. Victoria couldn’t help it; she reached over and ruffled her hair, making more droplets get onto her clothes. Laughing, Noemí returned the attack, grabbing Victoria by the face and pulling her face to her head, wetting her face and the front of her shirt.

Michaela laughed, and looked around at the living room. In the early evening, with the sun still out, the room felt more inviting and refreshing. “Where is Terri?” She asked.

“In the shower,” Noemí answered, wrapping an arm around Victoria’s neck and yanking her close, kissing her cheek loudly. After a long moment of hugging her friend, she seemed to remember her manners, and she invited them to sit down, offering them drinks. “Non-alcoholic, though. They’re prohibited in this house now.”

Victoria’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Really, since when?” She asked in astonishment, and pleasure.

“Since I acted like a fool this morning and almost broke a glass on her head.” Noemí said, obviously ashamed of her behavior.

Victoria jumped to her feet. “You what?” She said loudly. “Are you crazy?” She paced the living room, hands on her hips. Michaela’s eyes were on Noemí with surprise. “She’s a pregnant woman, Noemí!” Victoria said.

Noemí nodded and looked even more ashamed; she stood and ran a hand through her hair. “I know, I know.” She said shortly, gazing down at her feet. “I realized what I did when she ran from me, as if I were going to kill her.”

“By all means you were going to, Noemí.” Victoria said, standing beside her and kissing her cheek. “I hope she keeps you in check and spanks you every time you falter.” She said, and she was the old Victoria, the one that laughed and joked all the time.

Michaela smiled at the two friends with a mix of pleasure. She wanted to meet Noemí, just because she was so important to Victoria and she loved her so much. Now they had met, and she was pleased with what she saw. Adding to the fact that both women were very pleasing to the eye, their camaraderie was of people who had known each other their whole lives. Their problem the day before seemed to be forgotten and Victoria seemed happier to have her friend be alright and not hurt somewhere. Michaela liked Noemí Leone. She looked at Victoria, and felt her heartbeat falter. Victoria made her knees go weak already, but she shoved back the feeling.

A few minutes later, Terri came into the living room, all smiles. She smelled good and her hair dripped from the shower, picked up in a ponytail. She and Michaela went to the kitchen, each wanting to slap up a little something to eat. Noemí smiled at Victoria, and the best friends went outside through the front door. They walked around to the back of the house, where the trees are dense, and green and pretty. Their surroundings were beautiful, the air so fresh to Noemí’s lungs; she felt some peace, after a long time of suffering. They stood in silence for a long time. “She’s talked me into grieving, I guess.” She said suddenly, her voice low and thoughtful, and she looked at Victoria for a long moment before looking back out into the trees.

Victoria smiled at her, and then continued to study the trees. “You didn’t want to grieve. To admit that Amelia is gone,” She said softly after a while.

Noemí crossed her arms over her chest, and stood in thoughtful silence for another while. “I guess I didn’t,” She said finally, biting her lower lips softly. “Because that meant she was really gone, didn’t it? That meant I was admitting I was alone, and all the time I knew I was alone, and that I was dying inside.” She smiled softly, her eyes sad but peaceful. “Maybe this new baby, my niece or nephew, will be my salvation.”

Victoria slapped her on the back, and pulled her close. “I love you, and believe me when I say that I like Terri, and that she seems like a good friend.” She said softly close to her ear.

“I love you too,” Noemí said softly, biting her lower lip thoughtfully. “And I like her too, she is good with me. She tells me like it is, you know?”

Victoria chuckled and nodded. “Yeah, I know.” She whispered, and they listened to the birds sing in the tranquility, and watched as the departing rays of the sun caressed the beautiful trees. Victoria said suddenly: “You remember Natty’s birthday is in two weeks, don’t you?”

Noemí smiled and nodded. “Don’t forget, she is my mom.” She chuckled.

“What are you getting her?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“Want to go shopping for something?” Victoria kicked at a pebble, sending it flying across to a tree bark.

Noemí nodded.

“Do you think you’ll have a dinner?” Victoria sounded hopeful; the Leone’s dinners were always fun. They sometimes invited more people than the house could hold.

Noemí shrugged and smiled; she knew her family loved to get together, even if it was crowded. She looked at Victoria for a long time and Victoria looked right back at her. “I feel some peace for the first time, Vicki.” Noemí whispered. “It was like I needed to shed all those tears, I never did. I cried so much today, I couldn’t believe it.” The memory seemed more like a dream than a memory.

Victoria wrapped an arm around Noemí’s neck and pulled her close. Noemí responded and wrapped her arm around Victoria’s waist. Victoria sighed. “I’m happy that Terri is here now, maybe she’ll get you a little out of yourself.” She said softly.

Noemí chuckled softly, shaking her head no. “She is a great person, and I resent that my brother did what he did to her.” She whispered.

“Well, that’s why you took her in, to pay back for what he did.” Victoria said and remained quiet for a long time. “I think she likes the house.” She then said.

Noemí nodded and smiled. “Yes, she does.” She said. They turned to look at the kitchen window, and watched as Michaela and Terri talked, busy with something. “So, Ms. Rich Girl Michaela Cavanaugh cooks, eh?” Noemí laughed softly.

Victoria’s eyes gazed at Michaela with something Noemí had never seen. “Yes,” She said, and smiled. “And she cooks deliciously.”

Noemí pulled back and looked at her then punched her lightly on the shoulder. “Ha, you’re in love already!”

Victoria feigned pain. “So?” She responded, punching her back. “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s about time I knew what it was like!” She threw herself upon Noemí, feigning brawling with her, and Noemí happily responded to her.

Michaela looked out the kitchen window at them. “I always knew Victoria was crazy, but Noemí?” She said with a laugh.

Terri peeked out too, and laughed when she saw that Noemí and Victoria were rolling on the grassy ground of the backyard. “Yeah,” She said. “I think Noemí has finally lightened up a bit.” She paused and watched them, then she turned away to face Michaela. “I didn’t know her before, but I know that the one I know now is not the one that belongs. At least she’s started to talk about what happened.”

Michaela nodded. “Thanks to your strong hand, though.” She said with a flick of her finger. “It seems, from what Victoria has told me, that she has been drinking progressively for about two years, since her full recovery, and that they were never able to get through to her.”

Terri smiled absently, going back to chopping the lettuce. “Yes,” She said. “When I was with Anthony, from my understanding of what he told me of his parents, they’ve always spoiled their children, even Victoria, who’s not theirs.” Michaela nodded agreement. “And when they saw that their daughter was falling apart, they tried to help her with unconditional love. I’m sure tough love works better when you’re trying to help a child who is closed and not listening. Both Noemí and Anthony, in their own way are a handful.”

Michaela was smiling at her. “And how do you know all of this?” She asked teasingly.

Terri smiled back and patted her growing stomach. “I already feel like a mother, and I’m thinking of what I’d do if my baby were in the situation Noemí is in.” She responded.

Michaela grinned at her, and they stopped their conversation when Noemí and Victoria came into the kitchen to join them. Both women were dusting each other off, shedding leaves and dirt freely. Michaela threw them out of the kitchen to clean themselves up, not wanting dirt on the food.

When Victoria and Noemí returned to the kitchen, cleaner now, they sat down to eat, and talked about Natalie’s birthday, about what presents to get her, and about names for Terri’s baby. Terri said she hadn’t thought of any yet, and reminded Noemí to eat her food.

When Victoria and Michaela left, Noemí sent Terri to bed, deciding to do the dishes herself. Sleepy, Terri trudged down the hall and into her bedroom, not bothering to close the door. As soon as her head touched the pillow, she fell asleep. What seemed like minutes later, she felt a heavy shift on her bed. About to scream, she sat up frantically, to find someone sitting beside her on the bed. “It’s me, Noemí.” A soft whisper and Terri relaxed with a sigh, able to tell apart the shadow of Noemí’s body in the darkness.

“What’s wrong?” She asked softly, feeling the bed tremble. Noemí didn’t answer. “Noemí?”

“I can’t sleep.” It was another soft whisper.

Terri looked at her alarm clock, and saw that it was already three o’clock in the morning. She reached out and touched Noemí’s cheek softly; it felt cold to her warm fingers. “What have you been doing all this time?” She asked gently. She’d been asleep since about ten thirty. “Did you sleep at all?”

“Trying.” Noemí’s voice came low and strained. “I can’t close my eyes.” She trembled, and made a move to get off the bed. “I’m sorry, I’ll let you-”

Terri reached out again and pulled her by the shirt back onto the bed. “Stay here.” She said softly and lay back down, pulling Noemí down too. She felt Noemí shift on the bed with a contended sigh, resting her head on Terri’s welcoming arm, throwing her arm over her waist and pressing herself close. Her body trembled and Terri felt strange, being so small and taking care of such a big and strong woman. “What’s wrong?” She asked softly, running her fingers through Noemí’s hair.

Noemí pressed her face against her shoulder, and she trembled. “I can’t close my eyes,” She said again. “I can’t stop remembering.”

Terri felt a tender pity for Noemí, and touched her face with her other hand. “It’s okay, you can close them now. I’m right here.” She whispered, and turned her face to kiss her forehead gently. She felt Noemí relaxing against her, and soon, heard her soft breathing, indicating she had fallen asleep.

When she woke the next morning, Noemí had already left.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Noemí stood by the window in her office, looking out at the street below and smiling to herself.

She’d had a surprise meeting upon her arrival to the office; her employees, when she was around, tended to hound her and tell her every single small detail of what happened in the company. She was an efficient leader, and her employees felt insecure when she wasn’t around. The meeting lasted no more than ten minutes, with her carefully teasing solution and dismissal of their complaints.

She didn’t turn when someone knocked on her door, but she said over her shoulder: “Come in.”

Camilla Cortez, the director of finances, stepped in shyly. She carried an envelope in her perfectly manicured hands; her brown eyes looked cautiously at Noemí’s back. For the first time in years, she could see that usually rigid back relaxed, and she relaxed too. “Ms. Leone, I need you to sign these.” She said, a pretty Latin lilt to her voice. Noemí turned to her and gestured to one of the chairs. “Thank you,” Camilla said as she sat and handed over the folder. “Those are just some paperwork for the purchases of property in Queens for the new office.” She explained as Noemí read the papers inside. “When would you like to go see it?”

Noemí looked up at her as if it had never occurred to her to see the property, which pleased Camilla because that meant Noemí trusted her decisions. Surprised by the look on Noemí’s face, she smiled tentatively; it had been so long since she’d seen her smile. Her white-blue eyes had a new light inside them that looked pleasing and attractive. Noemí shrugged and looked back down at the papers, reading. “How about now?” She asked thoughtfully.

“Now is perfectly fine.” Camilla said shyly. “And then maybe we can have lunch?” She suggested almost without realizing it.

Noemí smiled softly and nodded thoughtfully. She stood suddenly, and put the folder down. “This can wait,” She said, tapping it with a slender finger, and came around the desk to the door. “Let’s go see the office.”

They decided to take Noemí’s car. The drive to Queens was dotted with short, but pleasant conversation and then pleasant silence. At the office space, Noemí nodded thoughtfully as she eyed everything about the space, taking her time with every detail. “I like it.” She said, and turned around to smile at Camilla. “You have a good eye, Camilla.”

Camilla’s cheeks flushed to a pink color. “Thank you, Ms. Leone.” She said, self-conscious at the compliment.

Noemí pushed her hands into her pockets and looked around one last time. Then she looked at Camilla and smiled again. “How about that lunch now?” She asked in her low voice.

Camilla nodded, suddenly breathless. “Sure.”

They left the office space, talking as they walked to Pizzeria Uno’s close by. Inside, they sat directly across from one another, smiling and talking. They ordered, and continued their conversation. Camilla, in awe of Noemí, realized that Noemí barely glanced at her before and said nothing more than a quick hello.

Noemí was an enigma to many at the office, but many of her family members worked there and some questions were always answered. Many were surprised when Noemí took over the company at such a young age, and that Thomas was willing to let it happen. That she was an intelligent woman was obvious to whomever she worked with. She never missed a day of work; even though she was the head’s daughter, and she never took advantage of her position. This made her transition into the company’s leader a smooth process.

When the accident happened, everyone had sent cards and flowers, and visited the hospital to add silent support to her parents and brother. And when she returned, shortly before her father’s retirement, many could see the difference; the bright light that shone in her eyes had extinguished and in its place was a shadow.

Camilla knew of the death of her lover, and of how much Noemí had loved her. She’d been merely an assistant then, but when Anthony Leone retired, her supervisor did too and Noemí passed the job onto her.

Presently, Noemí was asking her about her family life. “You don’t mind me asking you all these questions, do you?” She asked in a low voice as they waited for their orders.

Camilla laughed softly and relaxed against her seat. “No, no, I don’t.” She said, and in a moment of recklessness met Noemí’s startling eyes. She was left breathless by their beauty. “I have always wondered what Noemí Leone was like outside the office.”

“You mean because I’ve been so rigid with everyone all this time?” Noemí asked with a smile, and Camilla flushed at being found out. She nodded, and Noemí looked down at the table. “Many things have happened to me that have caused me to be this way, but now I’ve decided to move along with my life, and do the best I can.” She laughed softly. “I know it’s sudden, it feels sudden to me, but I think my eyes have been opened.” She paused, and met Camilla’s eyes again. “Are you single, Camilla?” She asked suddenly.

Camilla, caught unaware by the question, was speechless. The arrival of the waiter gave her time to recuperate. By the time he finished placing their meals on the table, she had gathered her wits. She shook her head. “Yes, Ms. Leone, I-”

“Call me Noemí,” Noemí said with a smile.

“Noemí,” Camilla said, and liked the taste of her name in her mouth. “A very beautiful name, how did your parents think of your name?” The Leone family was originally from Italy, that much Camilla knew, and she wondered at the Spanish sounding name.

Noemí’s smile grew. “They didn’t.” She said and laughed softly at the look Camilla gave her. “Actually, my nana René thought it up. She has been with my parents since before I was born. Her mother’s name was Noemí, and she had taken care of my mom before René. My mother absolutely adored the woman, and she loves René too.”

Camilla smiled and they began to eat; she noticed how slowly Noemí ate. They chewed in comfortable silence; at times their eyes met, and Camilla couldn’t stop attraction to Noemí from growing. She felt a response from Noemí also, and she grew bold. “I have something to say to you, Noemí.” She said in a low voice.

Noemí’s eyebrow arched and she looked at Camilla with question in her eyes.

“I have had an attraction to you since I came into the company five years ago.” She said softly, and looked down at her plate, expecting a rebuttal. She looked up at her when she didn’t say anything.

Noemí, sitting back on her chair, stared at her through unreadable eyes. Her smile teased Camilla, but then it was genuine. “Okay.” She said slowly, nodding.

Unsure, Camilla asked softly: “Will this cause a problem?”

Noemí seemed surprised by the question. “Why should it?” She said simply, and Camilla felt that everything was fine. Noemí reached over and stroked the back of her hand with slender fingers, then pulled back.

Camilla felt a shiver run through her body from where Noemí’s fingers touched her. She kept her eyes connected to Noemí’s. “I- I don’t know, because we work together?” She said in an uncertain voice.

Noemí laughed softly, and pushed her plate away. “I don’t think there would be any problem with that.” She said in a low voice. “Occasional dinner and/or movie wouldn’t hurt our working environment. I don’t know about you, but I don’t mix pleasure with business.”

Camilla shook her head and smiled. “Neither do I.” She asserted.

Noemí sat back on her chair, relaxed. She looked Camilla over slowly as she ate and smiled softly when she saw her flush red. Camilla, an attractive woman in her early thirties, had caught her attention. She was tall, though not as tall as Noemí, her body slender and attractive; she had sandy blonde hair picked up into a soft bun. She looked even better in dark blue slacks and a silk beige shirt that fell softly over her thin shoulders and full breasts. The muscles at her graceful throat were working as she chewed on her steak and Noemí wanted to kiss them. Camilla seemed to be in deep thought, and she looked up at Noemí. “Are you single?” She blushed.

Noemí’s smile turned sensuous. “I am single.” She said huskily, her look heavy-lidded. She’d been horny before, but blush that spread across Camilla’s cheeks reminded her of other kinds of blushes, and her body suddenly felt afire.

Camilla’s breath caught in her throat from the look in Noemí’s eyes. She suddenly had nothing to say.

Noemí realized that the ball was in her park. “Do you really want to return to the office?” She asked, and underlying beneath that question, laid an invitation. A dam was broken when she and Melanie had spent the night, and it couldn’t hold back the torrent of desire that now ran free.

Camilla heard the underlying question, and breathless, she replied: “No, I really don’t.”

Noemí’s expression didn’t change. “Do you live on your own, Camilla?” She asked, getting to the point.

“Yes.”

****

Oh, Camilla never expected this; this heat, this desire in this self-controlled woman.

Noemí lay above her, strong and sweaty and her nude body moving along Camilla’s nimbly, fast. Her kisses were hot fire on Camilla’s lips, her soft tongue a kindling for the heat. Her hands were in Camilla’s hair, loosening it, pulling it from the weak bun. Her moans were low, feral, her desire savage.

Camilla’s body couldn’t help but respond to hers; her wetness came forth in great gushes. When Noemí touched between her legs, she was slick and ready for entrance. She spread her legs and cried out when Noemí entered her smoothly. Her perfectly manicured nails scraped down Noemí’s back; her teeth sank into a tense shoulder as her back arched. Her orgasms were quick, hard, stunning in their strength.

Her back straightened as the tension of orgasm left her body; her impassioned cries seemed to echo off the walls in her bedroom. Noemí kissed her breasts, starting all over again, and she forgot once again about everything but Noemí’s lovemaking.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
Terri sat on her bed, and began to draw. She glanced at the clock, seeing that it was almost nine o’clock and the dinner she had prepared was getting cold. She already ate, and now waited for Noemí to get home; she feared that she had gotten drunk again. Her drawing this time, that of a sleeping Noemí, caught the detail of the long lashes resting against cheeks, of tousled hair falling over a smooth forehead, of her lithe body curved like a child’s sleeping on her side. She laid her head against the headrest and wondered why she couldn’t get Noemí out of her mind long enough to draw something else.

She started as she heard the sound of the key in the lock, and she got up from the bed and walked to the living room. Noemí smiled as she closed the door. She walked up to Terri and leaned forward to kiss her forehead tenderly. Terri smiled up at her, but didn’t fail to notice her wrinkled clothes or the smell of another woman’s perfume that clashed with her usual cologne. Her shirt, open three buttons, had a lipstick stain at the collar; Noemí had pulled it out from her trousers, rolled the sleeves up carelessly. Her wet hair smelled of Herbal Essence. “I made dinner for you.” Terri said in a low voice.

Noemí threw her keys on the coffee table and turned to smile at her. “Great, because I’m starving.” She said, to Terri’s surprise, and made her way to the kitchen. She began to serve herself, but Terri urged her to sit and let her do it, since she made less of a mess.

She placed the plate in front of her and sat to talk. Noemí dug into her food immediately, and moaned with satisfaction. Surprised even more, Terri watched as Noemí ate her dinner of mashed potatoes, corn and meatloaf hungrily. “How are you?” She asked Noemí, getting up and pouring her the agreed nightly glass of brandy.

“I feel good,” Noemí said between mouthfuls, and nothing more. She finished her dinner quickly and washed her own dish. She turned to Terri and smiled gratefully. “Thank you, it was delicious, and I’m sorry I came home so late.”

Terri nodded and left the kitchen; ignoring the glass, Noemí went after her and stopped her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. Terri spun around to face her, an unreadable expression on her face. “Are you angry because I missed dinner?” Noemí asked.

Terri shook her head and smiled at her again. “Just call me when you’re going to be late, Noemí, so that I know if I should cook for you or not.” She explained, and Noemí nodded.

“Okay, I’m sorry, I mean it.” Noemí said softly, and smiled that endearing smile of hers again, her eyes crinkling a little at the corners. She looked around at the living room. “I need to get you a television, so that you don’t get bored here by yourself.”

Terri shook her head and laughed. “No, no, I don’t want to be a couch potato.” She responded; she reached up and cupped Noemí’s face gently with her hand, then turned to walk away.

“Terri.” Noemí said softly, and Terri turned around with question in her eyes, hearing something in Noemí’s voice. “Can we talk?”
Terri sighed softly and went to sit on the couch, looking up at her with silent question. Noemí sat beside her and half turned on her seat to look at her. “We’re friends, right?” She asked, and Terri nodded, looking a little confused by the question. “Be honest with me, now.” Again, Terri nodded. “I went to bed today with an employee of mine,” A slight pause as she looked away from her to the window. Her eyes returned to Terri and she continued. “Do you think it is wrong, you know? I still love Amelia so much, and I feel so guilty beneath it all.” She looked at Terri.

Terri smiled, and couldn’t stop herself from reaching out and touching Noemí’s soft face again. She couldn’t seem to stop touching her lately. “I don’t want to sound insensitive, Noemí, but Amelia is dead.” She said softly, and Noemí looked away, swallowing hard. Terri’s eyes moved all over her face, and she took a deep breath, trying to stop the shaking inside her. “Amelia wouldn’t have wanted you to suffer for her in the way that you have been for the past few years, I’m sure of it. From what I hear from every body, especially you, she was a wonderful person, and she wasn’t selfish.” Noemí nodded and looked at her again. “Do what you have to do.” She grinned as she met her eyes. “So who is this woman?” She asked, punching her playfully, very lightly on the arm.

Noemí smiled, reaching for her hand and holding it gently in hers. “Her name is Camilla Cortez, and she is the director of finances. Very smart and attractive.” She answered, and then shrugged. “I don’t know what else to say about her, maybe I should get to know her.”

Terri smiled, and stifled a yawn, pulling her hand from the warmth of Noemí’s. “Well, like I said, do what you have to do,” She said, and stood up. “And have fun doing it.” She stepped over Noemí’s leg and made her way to the bathroom, a hand on her lower back. “God, my back hurts!” She said softly to herself.

Noemí remained sitting on the couch, staring at her reflection on the darkened window. After a few minutes, she could hear Terri come out of the bathroom and go into her bedroom, she didn’t close the door; seconds later, the light in there went off. Scratching at the scar on her thigh, Noemí stood, turned off all the lights, and went to the bathroom also, closing the door behind her. The bathroom, still warm from Terri’s shower, had a lingering scent of strawberries that Terri smelled so beautifully of.

Terri woke late into the night, sleepily puzzling at the repetitive clanging sound she heard. She realized Noemí hadn’t come to bed yet, and sat up on the bed. She’s working out at, she glanced at her alarm clock, two in the morning! She stood up slowly, slipping her feet into slippers, and very carefully made her way towards the door.

The door to the gym was slightly open, and she moved slowly up to it. Looking in, her breath caught at the sight of Noemí lying on the bench press, back arched, eyes closed and arms slowly pushing up on the weights. The sweat ran in rivulets down her arms and face and legs, soaking through her t-shirt and workout shorts. She was unaware of Terri standing by the door, watching with wide eyes.

Terri’s eyes followed her thighs all the way up to the workout shorts. They’re thick like those women soccer players I’ve seen in the magazines. Terri thought, her mouth hanging open. She’s magnificent! Her eyes trailed the faint line of muscles on Noemí’s arms and forearms. She almost jumped when Noemí suddenly put the weights down, sitting up and shaking her arms out. As Noemí stood up from the bench, Terri moved away from the door and slipped into her own room.

She slipped into bed and she could hear Noemí open the gym door and go into the bathroom. She heard the shower start and lay down, eyes wide in the darkness as her mind went over what she’d seen. I’ve never seen a woman so strong. She sighed, mulling it over for a long time.

Shaking again, unable to sleep, Noemí lay on the couch. Blinking rapidly, she trembled as flashes danced behind her eyes. She moaned softly, and turned over on her side; she had thought the workout would help her, but it didn’t. Darkness surrounded her, and she unwillingly remembered the night of the accident as if it were yesterday. It was as if she dreamed with her eyes open, and her surroundings blurred…

They are returning home, the light of Victoria’s car behind them a comfort and companion. They are holding hands, talking away and listening to music. Amelia smiles as she feels the baby kick; she puts Noemí’s free hand on her stomach to feel too. Ecstatic, Noemí can’t wait until that baby comes out so that they can hold it, and snuggle it, and spoil it. They already love it so much; they’re already making plans for its life, for when the baby grows old enough to go to college…

And suddenly the big bright lights come at them, already trying to swerve towards the correct side of the road, and hitting them on the side, sending them flying off the road, into a ditch…

The next images made her moan with fear.

Noemí comes to, finding her right arm crushed between something hard on one side, and something sickeningly warm, soft and wet on the other… Amelia’s groan, her face turning to Noemí with frightening certainty, her voice hoarse and wet with the blood coming from within her body…

“Our baby-” Our baby! Her last words, her eyes remaining fixed on Noemí, dead, dead… Our baby! Noemí screaming loudly, frantically; she can’t move, pinpricks of pain all over her body… Victoria’s voice screaming her name from far away, almost insane with fear and anxiety. Unable to move her face, pain when she tried, having to look at Amelia’s dead face and eyes. Unable to close her eyes either, feeling that death would come if she did… Stench of blood, blood! And then her eyes closing without her wanting them to, and the cold… cold unconsciousness!

Noemí sat up with a jerk, her forehead dripping with sweat. She fought the urge for a drink, knowing there remained only one bottle in the house; the one Terri had hidden somewhere to control her hunger for the alcohol. Wishing she had taken the drink Terri had poured for her before, she stood up and paced the room, groaning and stumbling when her toe crashed against the coffee table. She breathed hard, running her fingers through her hair; she could feel the sweat breaking out from her pores, drenching her shirt, her hair. She moved towards the hall, needing the closeness, the comfort. “Terri,” She whispered softly, unable to move into the hall, not knowing if Terri would welcome her again.

Fear!

She felt along the wall as she finally walked down; feeling past doors, touching the only open one. She stood at the door, staring into the darkness towards where the bed would be, breathing harder, her body shaking more as she came closer to tears. By then, her hair had matted against her forehead, the sweat ran in rivulets down her face, and she didn’t know what to do. She turned to the bathroom door, and opened the door softly. She turned on the light, and staggered to the sink. She turned on the cold water, and cupped her palms beneath it, bringing them to her face. The cold water didn’t do anything to help her anxiety attack, and she shut it off, almost hyperventilating now.

She straightened her back and looked into the mirror; there was someone standing behind her. She cried out, and lost her footing, ending on her buttocks on the floor, back against the wall. Then someone knelt beside her, touching her face, saying something in a soft sweet voice. She couldn’t understand the words, or recognize the voice, and she looked up at the kind face. “Terri.” She wheezed, and reached for her frantically. “Help me! Help me!”

Terri held her tenderly, telling her to hang on, to relax, to breathe in, and breathe out. “Slowly, Noemí.” Breathe in, and breathe out. Soon, Noemí felt her breath relax, her face pressed against Terri’s chest, her arms wrapped around her. “Why didn’t you come to me, Noemí?” Terri asked her softly, smoothing her hair over and over. Noemí shook her head, and pulled back to look at her. She couldn’t answer, and Terri pulled away from her and stood up, helping her stand also. “Come to bed.”

Terri tucked her into bed, covered her from her feet to shoulders with the covers, uncaring of her sweat. Noemí still trembled, and Terri lay down beside her. Noemí reached frantically for her, pulling her close. She brought her legs under the covers and wrapped her arms around Noemí’s neck, holding her tenderly close. “You know you can talk to me. Tell me, what’s the matter?” She whispered softly.

She felt Noemí shake her head, felt her bury her face against her neck. “I can’t.” The trembling woman whispered against her skin, her hand at the lower plane of Terri’s back pulling her growing stomach tightly against the flatness of her own. The baby kicked its complaint against the pressure, but it didn’t move again. Terri’s hand moved lower along Noemí’s long back, and she pulled her shirt up a little to allow the tips of her fingers to trail softly along the smooth skin of her lower back. The caress seemed to comfort Noemí and she laid still, her shaking slowly stopping, and her breathing slowly deepening into that of sleep.

Terri decided she had to talk to Noemí’s parents, to at least let them know what was happening with their daughter, who seemed to be so at peace in the daytime, but at night, her sanity seemed to be shattered by nightmares.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
Beaming, Natalie began to open her presents. They all sat in the living room, family and close friends surrounding Natalie. She lifted the cover from a box and grinned, lifting the two pairs- one red and one blue- of stockings Renée hand knitted for her. She grinned at Renée, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Thank you.” She said, kicking off her shoes and slipping on the red stockings. Everyone knew that Natalie loved walking around the house in stockings during the fall and winter and barefoot during the summer; they chuckled as she slipped them on.

The next present she picked up was one Noemí brought for her. Flashing a smile at her daughter, she opened it quickly. Grinning, she pulled out the bottle of her favorite perfume, Intrusion, by Oscar De La Renta, and threw a kiss at her across the room.

Noemí smiled at her mother from her place at the door. She stood there, arms crossed, leaning against the frame. Her eyes searched for Terri and she found that Terri had been looking at her, for some time. Noemí grinned softly, thinking about how beautiful she was, how her lustrous hair framed her face so becomingly, and how the peach colored maternity gown added to the beauty of her pregnant body.

Terri, noticing the intensity with which Noemí gazed at her, felt herself blush. She looked away, feeling her face grow hot. The truth was that she had been staring at Noemí for some time, and she could not get enough of seeing the aggressive beauty, the self-possessed pose with which she leaned against the doorframe. Her eyes, with their intensity, made her feel trapped when they gazed at her. Glad to see that face smiling, she thought about the past few weeks.

Noemí had slowly stopped drinking, and she had spent more and more time in the house with her after work. Working only seven hours, she drove herself more gently and allowed herself to enjoy the house again. In the evenings, she had taken to listening to music while working out in the gym, something she never did before. After that, she came out and sat with Terri, even playing board games with her and talking about nonsensical things. She never touched the bedroom she had shared with Amelia, though, and just the thought of changing anything in it would scare her. She thought about the day before, when she and Noemí had spent the evening in the living room talking.

“You know,” Noemí says, gazing up at Terri’s stomach from her perch on the floor. Terri is laying on the couch, huge stomach exposed as she scratches it. Noemí sits facing her, legs crossed, hands at each knee and her back slouched slightly. “I remember when Amelia first wanted to get pregnant. She insisted she had to find executives that matched my looks, but she refused to have Anthony be the donor. She thought he was…” She smirks. “She thought he was the biggest asshole on this side of the universe. She couldn’t stand the poor kid. She only tolerated him, and she made sure to let me know, but she never interfered when I had to help him.” She chuckles.

Terri smiles. “It was like she knew what he would do, eh?” Her eyes keep straying to Noemí’s strong thighs. Like a soccer players, she thinks idly; her eyes trace the long scar on Noemí’s right leg. She’s so lucky she didn’t loose her leg in that accident; she looks at the scar on the muscled forearm. Or her arm, for that matter.

Noemí smiles, looking up into the air dreamily. “When dad announced he was retiring and offered me the choice to replace him, she was ecstatic; and the search for the perfect donor doubled.” She says. “I didn’t even know when she went to the clinic and did it. Then one day she made this beautiful really romantic dinner and told me the news. It was the happiest day in my life.” Her voice trails away, and she stares at nothing, her brow furrowing.

Terri reaches out and sifts her fingers through Noemí’s hair sympathetically. She smiles gently, reaching down for Noemí’s hand and bringing it up to her stomach. She watches the smile return to her friend’s eyes and she could feel her heart bloom as Noemí’s smile does too. “Can you feel the baby move?” She asks softly.

Noemí nods, swallowing hard. She looks up at Terri’s face and her heart skips a beat at the beauty she found. She feels the baby kick against the pressure of her hand and she leans forward and kisses the spot of skin.

Terri feels herself blush to the roots of her hair and she could feel the warm imprint of Noemí’s lips on the taut skin. “What was that for?” She asks, giggling nervously. My god, I’m giggling! I don’t giggle.

Noemí shrugs, asking herself the same thing. “Just because you’re beautiful, and that baby is for sure going to be beautiful too.” She explains, finding no real answer to the question.

Terri smiles, covering the hand still on her stomach with her own. “Thank you,” She whispers, unable to meet the other woman’s eyes.

Terri shook herself from the memory, taking a deep breath. She looked at Noemí’s spot, looking around when she didn’t see her. Her eyes found the older woman sitting with her mother, helping her open more of the presents. Terri felt a smile curve her lips. Noemí had changed in the few months since Terri’s arrival. They’d grown closer and easier with each other, Noemí had taken to asking the younger woman for advice, where it came to Camilla. Terri’s smile faded slightly as she thought of the woman.

Sometimes on the weekends, Camilla came over and spent time with Noemí. Terri could tell Camilla didn’t like her; by the way Camilla looked at her when Terri walked around the house. Mostly, to Noemí’s consternation, Terri tried to keep herself in the bedroom, out of Camilla and Noemí’s way, but nevertheless, the looks Camilla gave her when she was around made her cringe. But what bothered her most was when Noemí left with Camilla and would not come back for hours, or until early the next morning. She could not bear to imagine what they were doing all that time.

She snapped back to attention when everyone laughed and clapped at Victoria’s outrageous gift for Natalie: a red silk lingerie nightgown. With the thought of Camilla, and how she made her feel when she visited Noemí, Terri couldn’t help but feeling like she belonged in the Leone family as she joined in the laughter.

****

Days later, Noemí arrived from work, jacket in hand, just as Terri hung up the phone. “What’s up?” She asked as she unbuttoned a light blue shirt until the white tank-top peeked out.

Terri smiled, glad to see her home early; it meant they would spend some time together. “Oh, nothing, I was just talking to Travis.” She replied, picking her feet up and tucking them beneath her.

“You have an appointment with him tonight, don’t you?” Noemí inquired. Sitting down on the couch across from Terri and kicking off her shoes. She slouched down, legs spread and waited for the younger woman to answer.

Terri began playing with her fingernails, avoiding Noemí’s eyes. “I cancelled it.” She said.

Noemí frowned. “Why?”

Terri shrugged. “Your mom and dad had their doctor’s appointments today, and Victoria had to pick up her parents at the airport.” She explained, looking over at Noemí.

Her frown deepening, Noemí asked: “So who was supposed to take you?” She raked a hand through her hair. What was mom thinking? She wondered.

“She asked me to ask you.” Terri said, studying Noemí. “I figured that after what happened the last time, u wouldn’t want to go, so I cancelled the appointment for another day.” Noemí’s jaw had clenched as she spoke, and she looked back down at her lap.

Noemí’s inner turmoil was evident in her eyes. She panted for breath, thinking about the last doctor’s appointment she and Amelia had attended before the accident. Amelia had been ecstatic because Travis had given the couple pictures and videos of the fetus, and Amelia had walked around with the pictures stashed in her purse. When Noemí had woken from the coma, she found that her family had buried the pictures with Amelia and the baby. Through clenched teeth, she said: “Call him and tell him you’re keeping the appointment.”

Shocked at Noemí’s words, Terri reached for the phone and dialed. She knew better than to argue.

“Oh, my God,” Terri whispered in awe, staring at the monitor. She felt tears prickle her eyes as the high definition ultrasound picked up the features of her baby. A tiny hand was pressed against the baby’s mouth, its tiny lips wrapped around the thumb. The strong sound of its heartbeat matched hers.

Grinning, Travis moved the scanner over to the right. The baby looked healthy, and its life signs were excellent. “Want to know the gender?” He asked gently. That baby is a Leone alright. He thought, taking note of the Leone forehead already visible.

“No!” Terri exclaimed. “I want it to be a surprise.” She explained, lifting her head to look at him.

Travis smiled and nodded in understanding. “Alright, my secret it is, then.” He said, his eyes returning to the monitor.

Terri watched her baby move around, its movements matching those she felt in her womb. “So, what do you think?” She finally demanded, anxiously. “Is the baby alright?”

Travis grinned again, removing the scanner and cleaning it. “Its heart-rate is normal.” He said, proceeding to clean the lubricant off her taut stomach. “No deformities that I can see. Do you want printouts and a video of the scans?”

Terri nodded.

“I should have them for you by the next appointment.” He informed her, gently pulling down her shirt. As she sat up, he went open to the door and opened it. “Noemí, you can come in now.”

Shifting nervously, Noemí entered the room, searching for Terri. “How is the baby?” She asked anxiously. She looked ready to bolt, to Terri, and she watched the taller woman stand there, scratching her neck and blinking.

Travis smiled lovingly, his demeanor patient. “The baby is in perfect health, don’t worry.” He assured her. He looked at Terri. “How is Lamaze going?”

Terri smiled. “It’s going great, class is almost over.” She replied.

“Good.” He smiled, leaning back and looking at his goddaughter. “See you on the next one, Terri. See you Noemí.”

Noemí nodded, and walked over to help Terri up from the cot.

Travis smiled to himself as both women left the room, glad Noemí was making progress. Progress indeed.

****

The days turned into weeks. Terri had been introduced as a new addition to their family successfully. Everyone present at Natalie’s birthday party, other Leone’s that knew the circumstances of Terri’s situation, were graceful enough to not talk about it with their friends or anyone present. They liked Terri and they knew that her baby would be a beautiful one, proudly carrying the Leone blood and Terri’s beauty.

Weeks turned to months. Christmas was almost here, and Terri’s stomach kept growing and growing. She had taken the pregnancy beautifully; her stomach looked so big because she was so small, her dark hair had acquired that sheen of health, her skin a healthier color, even her eyes brightened and she was so obviously happy. No one knew, but Noemí had taken to sleeping in her bed with her every night; when she had tried alone, even once trying in the master bedroom, her anxiety didn’t allow her to sleep. Even now, when Terri couldn’t hold her, because she was so largely pregnant, Noemí slept with her. She slept across the foot of bed, sometimes, because Terri moved so much and needed space.

The second Friday before Christmas Noemí made it home early and found Terri sketching in the living room. She wore shorts and a T-shirt that strained against her bulging stomach; her hair wet and picked up in a ponytail. Her bare feet were tucked under her on the couch. Opening her suit jacket, Noemí sat beside her and peered at the drawing. She recognized the trees in her backyard and smiled. The way Terri brought things to life on paper was a little unnerving to her. Especially because Noemí knew Terri hadn’t really had art classes other than the one in High School.

Terri paused and looked up, smiling shyly at Noemí. “Hi,” She said.

Noemí smiled back. “Hello. Have you eaten yet?” She inquired, knowing that when Terri began to draw she forgot about everything.

Shaking her head sheepishly, Terri said: “No.”

Sighing, Noemí stood and removed her jacket, draping it over her shoulder. “You need to stop doing that, Terri.” She admonished, stretching. “It’s not only you that you have to think about anymore.” She grunted.

“I know, I just forgot.” Terri said.

Noemí smiled softly, and touched the smaller woman’s shoulder as she walked past the couch and made her way down the hall. “I’ll order out.” She said, unbuttoning her shirt as she went into the bathroom to shower.

“You don’t have to.” Terri called after her, standing and following her. “I can fix something up.” She stopped at the still open bathroom door.

Removing her shirt, revealing a sports shirt underneath it, Noemí met her eyes and smiled. “Don’t worry about it.” She said gently, and turned away, kicking off her shoes, and beginning to remove her belt.

Terri fought to look away from the well-defined arms and back. She cleared her throat and forced herself to turn away.

As they ate the Fettuccini and veal Noemí ordered, Terri thought about her drawings. She was wondering if Noemí would ever let her really paint her by modeling for her. And if she did, how would she go about bringing Noemí’s coppery hair color onto canvas. She was brought out of her thoughts by Noemí’s voice. “What?” She said, shaking her head.

Noemí smiled. “Tell me about your family.” She said slowly, her eyes looking penetratingly into Terri’s. Terri seemed flustered, and Noemí reached over and patted her hand reassuringly. “You seem to know a little more about us than we do about you.” She explained. She knew there had been some sort of abuse when Terri was younger and she need to understand why Terri allowed Anthony to return even after he did what he did to her that first time.

Terri’s shoulders hunched around her ears protectively, and she stared down at her food.

Noemí was about to tell her to forget it when Terri began to speak.

“My mother’s name was Imogene.” Terri began haltingly, swallowing hard. “I don’t know how she and my dad met; he never wanted to tell me. I only had a picture of her, but it stayed behind.” She stopped, her shoulders falling away from her ears as if with defeat.

“You didn’t know any of her family?” Noemí asked incredulously. She couldn’t imagine not knowing her whole family. It was hard enough realizing she had made hardly any contact with them in three years. “So it was only you, your brothers and your father?”

Terri nodded, looking up at Noemí. “My mother died when I was born. They’d had to do a caesarian on her. That’s really all I know.” She said. “My dad had no other family, so it was just us. My brothers always blamed me for my mother’s death, and they used beat me. Dad didn’t really do anything to help me; he used to hit me a lot too.” She laughed humorlessly. “Sometimes I wonder how I made it.” Her eyes watered, but she held back the tears and clenched her jaw.

“I’m so sorry.” Noemí said softly, reaching for Terri’s hand.

Terri clenched her fist under Noemí’s hand, unable to take the gentleness in Noemí’s hand and eyes. “No, it wasn’t your fault.” She said between clenched teeth.

“My brother did the same to you, didn’t he? Except for the hitting part.” Noemí said gently, and her gentleness sent a shiver through Terri, who still was unused to it.

“I didn’t want him that way.” Terri whispered, meeting Noemí’s eyes.

Noemí knew the truth of that statement through Terri’s eyes. She almost hated her brother for doing this to this young woman, who had to leave her home because of all the abuse she endured as she grew up. That he could take advantage of her situation angered her beyond tears. She knew Terri wasn’t telling her everything, but she would wait for another time; she didn’t want to make her cry.

****

Noemí was almost finished with her Christmas shopping. Most of the time during the long weeks before Christmas, Camilla had accompanied her, doing her own shopping also. “I haven’t enjoyed Christmas in such a long time.” Noemí said.

It was December twenty-third, and Noemí and Camilla had agreed to finish the last of their shopping.

“So how is Terri?” Camilla asked Noemí, knowing that Terri, already seven months pregnant with Anthony’s child, had Noemí’s attention wrapped around her finger.

“She is fine,” Noemí responded as they strolled around the Queens Center Mall, looking around at the stores. She had a smile on her handsome face.

Camilla slipped her hand into Noemí’s, and they walked in companionable silence into JC Penney’s. “When is she due?” She asked, trying to keep up the conversation.

Noemí shrugged and her hand tightened slightly around Camilla’s. “Our doctor says sometime in February, which is unbelievable, because she is so big already. I would think she’d be ready now.” She said, and laughed softly, her eyes falling momentarily on Camilla. “She’s getting cranky already, which is why she didn’t look at you twice when I took you to the house. I guess she’s used to the peace, or something.” She shrugged her wide shoulders again.

Camilla couldn’t take her eyes off Noemí. She looked so good in light brown corduroy trousers, a black turtleneck and black steel-toe boots. Her coat, a waist length, light brown thick Columbia, fit loosely around her torso. She had her hair tucked comfortably into a black winter hat, still glistening with droplets of melted snow. She shifted the numerous bags on her other hand and turned her head to look at Camilla again with a soft smile that brightened her eyes. “I think we’ve done enough shopping, don’t you?”

Camilla smiled and nodded. She trembled when she saw Noemí’s eyes do an once-over on her body, and knew she looked good in the clothing she chose specifically to impress her. Wearing tight blue jeans, black boots, and a red knitted sweater hanging off her generous breasts, she knew Noemí desired her; over it she wore a black Shearling jacket. They passed a jewelry store, and she smiled, as Noemí seemed to be pulled like a magnet inside. “Whom are you buying jewelry for?” She asked.

Noemí’s eyes were on the pearl chains and earrings. “Terri.” She said absently, putting the bags down and moving along the display case counters. The attendant, standing close by, walked over to her with a friendly smile and she asked him to pull out this and that combination. Camilla could see the soft smile on her face. Noemí had already bought Terri more than three presents, and Camilla couldn’t help but feel jealous.

They weren’t in a relationship, but Camilla hoped that Noemí would finally realize that Camilla had fallen in love with her. Everyone at the office already knew of their liaison, and they said nothing, having already been warned by Noemí that if anyone insults Camilla’s integrity, they would be fired. No one had anything to say, really, work continued at the same pace regardless of the relationship between Camilla and Noemí.

Noemí turned to face her, pearl necklace and earrings lifted in her large hands to display for Camilla. “What do you think?” She asked. “It’s a present for her, for the Christmas party tomorrow. They’ll look perfect with that maternity gown mom bought her for the party.” She explained.

Camilla didn’t smile, but Noemí didn’t notice, because she had already turned to talk to the shopkeeper, pulling out her credit card.

“Terri,” Noemí called, walking into the house with bags on hand. She didn’t even notice the much warmer temperature in the house; she couldn’t wait to give Terri the earrings and necklace. She dropped the bags next to the door. “Where are you?” She called when she went to the kitchen and didn’t find her there.

As she returned to the living room, Terri walked in, large stomach bared, tight T-shirt pulled up above it, and shorts pushed down beneath it. Barefoot, she padded her way towards Noemí, a wide-eyed look in her eyes. Noemí could see that she had been sleeping; her hair was a mess over her shoulders. Noemí smiled at her, thinking she looked adorable, and reached into the pocket of her jacket, looking excited. “Look at what I bought you, for tomorrow’s party.” She said, and walked to her.

Terri looked at the palm-sized velvet box uncomprehendingly, still not fully awake. Then she smiled uncertainly at Noemí and took the box. “What is it?” She asked with a hoarse voice.

Noemí grinned, and guided her to the couch with an arm around her shoulders. “Look at it; I think you’ll like it.” She said gently, helping her sit down without dropping on her weight.

Terri did, and gasped, her eyes fixed on the pearls. Speechless, her jaw dropped. Her eyes shifted from Noemí back to the contents of the box. “I-”

Noemí touched a finger to Terri’s lips, realizing just how soft and smooth they were. “Don’t, I know you like them by the look in your eyes.” She said gently, and looked down at the jewelry. “I saw them and I knew they were perfect for you.” She leaned forward and kissed Terri softly on the cheek, taking a deep breath and inhaling that sweet fragrance she associated with Terri.

“It’s beautiful, Noemí,” Terri whispered, and sat quietly as Noemí’s fingers worked nimbly on her tiny studs, removing them and replacing them with the pearls. She watched as Noemí reached into the small box and pulled out the chain of pearls, clasping it around her neck.

“Let’s go see it in the mirror.” Noemí said softly, and helped her stand, holding her hand as they walked to the bathroom. Terri gasped softly as they stood under the white light of the bathroom, admiring the way the chain and earrings made her graceful neck even more beautiful. Noemí stood tall behind Terri, her hands on her shoulders, gazing at her reflection in the mirror with affection. “You’re beautiful, Terri,” She whispered, pressing her lips tenderly against the back of her head, her eyes closed with emotion.

Terri’s lips curved softly into a tentative smile. “Thank you.” She whispered, aware of Noemí’s body pressed behind her, of her hands on her shoulders, then moving up to trail fingers along her neck. “I love it.” She stifled the tremble that began deep inside her, and met Noemí’s incredible eyes in the mirror.

Her heart skipped a beat, and she moved away from her, leaving the bathroom and returning to the living room to retrieve the box. Her hands were shaking as she took off the jewelry, and she didn’t know what to do to stop it. For weeks now, she had been fighting her intense and growing attraction to Noemí, and she could feel herself loosing the battle. She blamed the pregnancy for this; the raging hormones of pregnancy could be her only explanation for this.

For the past few weeks, while Noemí hadn’t been in the house, she had imagined herself kissing her, had wondered what it would feel like to touch her lips with her own, her muscles with her hands. She had talked to no one of this, not even Victoria, who had become a close friend to her, who visited Terri almost every day and sat with her and chatted with her to keep her from getting bored. She went with her every other day to the Lamaze classes because Noemí seemed to shut down and freeze even when just the name was mentioned. Sometimes she had been tempted to talk about it, and she knew Victoria sensed something needed talking about, but Terri clamped her mouth shut and said nothing.

“I made dinner, take your jacket off.” She said shortly, and went towards the kitchen.

“Terri, are you okay?” Noemí asked innocently, following her into the kitchen, removing her jacket.

“Fine.” Terri said shortly, plate in hand, serving her dinner. She gestured her to sit down and placed the plate in front of her.

Noemí stared at her, confused. “Did I do something wrong?” She asked, and felt foolish when Terri laughed at her, saying that no, she did nothing wrong.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
Camilla, already there when Noemí and Terri arrived, talked with Victoria and Michaela. Victoria and Michaela’s eyes lit up at the sight of Terri, who was dressed in a graceful green maternity gown that fit her perfectly. Camilla looked her over, and went to Noemí, who took her hand and kissed it softly. “Hi,” She whispered.

Noemí pulled back and looked her over, making a show of licking her lips just for her. “Beautiful,” She breathed, and took her into her arms, kissing her softly. “Gorgeous.” She whispered against her lips, then pulled back and looked at her again.

Camilla, pleased that her dress had the effect she desired, grinned. It was low cut, a few inches above her knees, and some cleavage showed, flowing freely from there down. She found the highest heels to accentuate her shapely legs. “I’ve met most of your family,” She said with a smile. “They are wonderful.”

“I’m glad you like them.” Noemí said, and realized Terri had left her side. Her eyes found her across the room; talking with her cousin Louis, who introduced her to his teenaged children; he and his family had not been there at Natalie’s party. He gestured to her stomach and said something, to which she grinned, patting it proudly and saying something in return.

Noemí turned to Victoria and Michaela, whistling softly in admiration, and hugged them both. She pulled back and looked them over. Michaela wore a classy and impossibly tight red gown; red lipstick made her sexy lips thicker and sexier. She had her hair picked up in a bun behind her head, with strands dropping out prettily over her cheeks. Victoria sported a two-piece suit, almost like a tuxedo, without the bow. She had just cut her hair into a short curly mass and looked very handsome. “You two look great!” Noemí said with a smile.

“So do you.” Camilla said, fingering the sleeve of her sweater. Noemí’s sweater, a loose beige V-neck, fit her torso perfectly; she wore it over a white round-neck T-shirt, pleated black trousers and black shoes. Her hair fell loosely over her forehead, as usual, and shone healthily. She looked comfortable and handsome at the same time.

Noemí smiled at her and pulled her close to plant a kiss on her forehead. “I have to find my parents.” She said, pulling away. “Be right back.”

Natalie and Thomas stood together in the center of his studio, surrounded by their family and friends, speaking with Natalie’s redheaded older brother, Daniel. “Hi, uncle Dan!” Noemí exclaimed when the burly man took her into his arms in a bear hug, happy to see her smile again. She had always been his favorite niece, because unlike his own daughters and other nieces, she had always liked to do things he liked to do. As she grew up, he used to take her fishing with him, and they used to play football with his sons and other nephews.

With the promise that they would go fishing after the winter was gone, he left her to talk to her parents. Natalie wrapped her arms around her daughter, grabbing her face and pulling her down, kissing her tenderly on the forehead. “Hi, mom,” Noemí said with a big smile and she felt her dad touch her back gently.

“How are you, my love?” Her mother asked, smiling up at her tall daughter and wrapping her arms around her waist to pull her into an embrace. “Where is Terri?”

Noemí nodded and hugged her mother, beaming a smile at her father. “I’m great, merry Christmas.” She answered and kissed them each. “And Terri is somewhere in the living room with Joseph.”

She left them to find Terri and went back to look for Camilla, wanting to dance a little; the softly playing music felt nice. She ran into René, who bustled about bossing around the caterers, and wrapped her arms around her ample waist, pulling her off her feet and spinning her around. René slapped her on the arm when she put her down and kissed her cheek lingeringly, the expression of pure motherly love in her eyes unmistakable. She dragged the younger woman into the kitchen, gave her one of her delicious biscuits and sent her on her way with a tender pat on the behind. Still chewing the ends of her biscuit, Noemí found Camilla, who nursed René’s famous eggnog. She looked like she was enjoying the conversation she had been having with Noemí’s cousin Martha.

Noemí, with a silencing wink at Camilla, came up behind her cousin and wrapped her arms around her, lifting her off her feet and kissing her neck. Her cousin laughed delightedly, knowing the only one who would greet her like that was Noemí. “Noemí, Noemí!” She called out loudly, happily. She was the wild one in the family, with spiked red hair and a large ring on her nose. She was also a lesbian, and she was in the circle of friends that Noemí and Amelia used to hang with before the accident.

Martha knew that the way her cousin had greeted her could only mean that she had come back from that deep depression. When Noemí put her down, she spun around and they hugged tightly. Her eyes resembled Noemí’s, only hers were not as luminous a light blue as Noemí’s. Her father had been Thomas’ late brother, Theodore.

“Hi, Mart!” Noemí said onto her shoulder, hugging her tightly. She pulled back and looked Martha’s attire over, shaking her head and laughing. Martha had always been outrageous. Tonight, she wore a deep red velvet dress and black combat boots over green stockings; her nose ring had a chain that was attached to one of her numerous earrings, and her hair was colored a bright green. “You look wonderful.” She said with a laugh.

Martha posed, her very red lips pursed sexily. Pretty in her outrageous way, Martha attracted enough male and female attention with and without the weird garb. “Why, thank you!” She said, and jumped into Noemí’s arms again, kissing her cheek lingeringly.

Camilla watched with a smile, sipping from her drink. She looked around, thinking. The whole family seemed to be pleasant, they obviously loved each other very much, and she wondered that the whole family didn’t say anything or look at Martha strangely, as if her style of dress was normal. Camilla mused that her family would be whispering behind her back if she dared to dress like that. She caught Terri looking at her with expressionless eyes, and cocked her head to the side, arching her eyebrows challengingly in question. Terri looked away and continued to talk with Victoria and Michaela. Camilla forgot about her when Noemí took her into her arms and began to dance with her.

“She loves Noemí.” Terri said to Victoria, looking away from Camilla and meeting her eyes.

Victoria’s eyebrows arched. Well, well! “There’s nothing wrong with that, Terri.” She said softly, giving Michaela a glance; Michaela seemed to be thinking the same thing. She stood with arms crossed and eyebrows arched.

Terri nodded and then shrugged, sipping from her glass of orange juice slowly. “I know,” She said, looking at the dancing couple again; they seemed oblivious to the fast-paced music. Camilla’s arms were thrown over Noemí’s shoulders, Noemí’s arms around her waist holding her close. They talked in hushed tones, whispering close to each other’s ears and occasionally kissing. Their bodies seemed to be synchronized, their hips moved against each other very slowly. Terri got an image of them making love, and she couldn’t bear it. “I don’t want Noemí to love her.” She blurted, and then looked away from Victoria and Michaela’s surprised eyes, blushing.

“You don’t?” Victoria asked breathlessly, and she reached over to touch Terri’s shoulder gently. “Why?” She said softly. She suspected something like this was what Terri had seemed so preoccupied with these past few weeks.

Terri shook her head, and seemed confused. “I have no idea.” She said softly.

“Do you love her?” Michaela asked gently.

Terri’s gray-brown eyes met hers with thoughtful indecision. “I love her, yes.” She whispered and shook her head. “She’s done so much for me.”

“No,” Michaela said looking into her eyes deeply. “I mean, do you love her?”

“I don’t know.” Terri said, comprehending her question. She looked down at their feet, struggling with her feelings.

Victoria moved closer to her and wrapped an arm around her, looking over at Noemí, whose eyes met hers with question over Camilla’s shoulder. She shook her head and winked.

Noemí came up behind Terri, leaning a little over her shoulder and looking at her face. “Are you enjoying yourself?” She asked Terri, smiling down at her.

Terri returned her smile and avoided her eyes by looking at everyone except her. “Yes.” She responded. “Your family, they’re great people, specially your cousin Martha. She’s fun.”

Noemí wrapped her arm around her shoulders from behind and pulled her close. “I’m glad you like them, they like you too.” She said tenderly, placing a kiss on her temple and squeezing her gently.

Terri laughed to hide her nervousness at her nearness, she reached up and squeezed the arm that embraced her; it was muscled and strong. The body pressed against her back wasn’t doing much to help her heart start beating either. “Yes, I noticed,” She replied, swallowing hard. “Some of them want to cut off Anthony’s weenie; others wish it would fall off already, etc, etc.”

Noemí laughed softly close to her ear, never removing her arm from around her. Terri felt as if her nerves were connected to the warm and strong body pressed against her back. “We all love him dearly,” Noemí said seriously. “But he’s a bastard. What he did to you was really irresponsible, to take advantage of you being alone; most everyone here thinks you are the sweetest thing to touch this planet.”

Terri couldn’t stop the flush that stained her cheeks. “Really? You think so too?” She asked meekly.

Noemí turned her to wrap both arms around her waist, smiling at her and pulling their stomachs together. “Yes, even though I know how bossy you can be.” She said in a low voice and chuckled softly, her eyes traveling the soft planes of Terri’s face as if really noticing her for the first time. Terri’s slender eyebrows were perfect and never in need of shaping, her nose was small and straight, her pinkish lips were slender too, and the lower lip pouted just right.

Noemí wanted to kiss them. She became aware of the way their bodies fit perfectly, and most importantly, of how truly beautiful Terri really ways. The feel of her flat stomach pressing against the protruding hardness of Terri’s made her smile. She looked up above them, smiled mischievously and looked down to meet Terri’s eyes. “Do you believe in mistletoes?” She asked, and Terri looked up above them also and saw the little green leaves twirling there. She hadn’t noticed them the whole night.

“Are you drunk?” She asked breathlessly, her hands tightening on the muscles of Noemí’s arms. Her heart was beating out of control.

Noemí chuckled softly, and shook her head. “Well, do you?” She asked softly, her eyes moving back and forth from Terri’s eyes to her lips.

Terri could see the nervous pulse of Noemí’s throat, could see her jaw working softly. She watched Noemí swallow hard, her neck muscles bobbing. “And Camilla?” She asked, avoiding the subject, because she could see in Noemí’s eyes that if she said yes, she would be kissed like she’d never been kissed before. She wouldn’t know how to deal with that.

Noemí’s arms tightened around her gently, and she laughed softly, and a little nervously. “Yes or no?” She asked, her voice husky, her eyes narrowing as she swallowed hard again.

Terri closed her eyes and swayed. “Yes.” She whispered, before she could stop herself.

She heard Noemí whisper softly, brokenly. “Merry Christmas.”

It was like her heart stopped when she felt Noemí’s warm lips press against her own for a brief moment, her heart threatened to beat out of control. She staggered back when Noemí pulled her lips away, looking down at her as if in wonder for a long moment. A slow smile crossed her lips, and Terri looked around at the people around them. No one seemed to have noticed the kiss. Except for Camilla, who stood on the other side of the room, arms crossed over her chest, an angry look in her eyes. Terri turned away from her and said nothing to Noemí as she walked away, leaving her looking after her with a confused expression.

Terri was in Thomas’ study when Noemí finally found her, the lights off, and only the fireplace sending gentle warmth throughout the room. She sat on his chair, head leaning against her hand as she dozed. Noemí crouched beside the chair, gazed at her for a long time, remembering the feel of their lips touching. Sighing, she then touched Terri’s thigh softly. It was almost three in the morning, and already, people were leaving with their sleepy children.

Terri sat up and yawned, Noemí touched her stomach gently. “Let’s go home.” She said when Terri noticed her.

Terri nodded, and then paused. “What about Camilla?” She asked hoarsely.

“She had to go; her family was having a reunion too.” Noemí answered with a smile, and stood to help her stand up. “Let’s say bye to mom and dad, and then we go. Michaela and Victoria already left to Michaela’s family’s house, but they send their kisses. They’re coming over to the house tomorrow anyway.”

Terri nodded, and allowed her to help her stand. They left the study together.
CHAPTER EIGHTTEEN
Terri stepped through the door; Noemí held it open for her and followed her in. Terri stripped off her jacket and kicked off her shoes, her feet aching, and went to the window to stare at the beautiful white snow capping the trees. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked out at the shiny white night. She sighed, and listened to Noemí move around the living room, removing her jacket, her sweater and her shoes too. Tears stung her eyes; she felt lonely, full of need, and worst all, confused.

Noemí groaned, and rubbed her feet. “My feet are killing me,” she whispered hoarsely, and stood up tentatively. She looked at Terri, who stood very still by the large window, and walked up to her. She touched her shoulder gently, and felt it shaking slightly. “Terri, what’s the matter?” Noemí asked, worry tightening her heart. Terri pulled her shoulder away, and lowered her head.

“I’ve never had such a good Christmas, Noemí, never.” She whispered brokenly, and cried.

Noemí whispered her name and wrapped her arms around her waist, curving her palms over Terri’s stomach, stroking gently. She kissed the back of her head and felt her heart swell at the soft feel of Terri against her. Her silky hair brushed her face and the fresh scent of strawberries penetrated her nostrils. “This is just the beginning, Terri, don’t worry. There’ll be more, you’ll see.” She whispered, inhaling deeply. “My family loves you; they’re your family now too.”

Terri bit her lip, and enjoyed the feel of Noemí’s arms around her, and of her hands caressing her stomach; she turned her head, and pressed her forehead against Noemí’s jaw. She felt Noemí’s head moving, felt her breath against her forehead, her lips against her skin. “Noemí,” She whispered, feeling the strong body pressing against her back, inhaling the sweet musk scent of her skin. “I’m so lonely!” She whispered brokenly.

Before she could say anything more, Noemí’s lips were on her own, pressing gently, questioningly. The fluid motion of Noemí’s lips against hers, the way their mouths fit together sent electric shocks through Terri. She couldn’t stop the long groan that escaped her throat; she couldn’t stop her mouth from opening to Noemí’s soft tongue with longing. She felt Noemí pull her body back; the large hands urged her to turn around with gentle pressure on her shoulders.

Terri spun around, and their lips met again, their stomachs pressed together, and she felt the baby kick against Noemí’s stomach. She suddenly ached between her legs, could feel the muscles clench there. Her head felt light and she gasped softly.

Noemí pulled back and kissed her forehead gently, murmuring her name softly. Her hands cupped her face, and she kissed her again deeply, passionately. “Terri.” Breathless, the way she said her name, the way she touched Terri’s cheeks softly as their eyes met in the semi-darkness. Noemí brought her head down again, her eyes closing softly; meeting silky lips and kissing her once more, her tongue urging Terri’s mouth open again and slipping inside.

She groaned, and their kiss became slower, softer, gentle and full of discovery. She felt Terri’s hands move up her arms to her shoulders and squeeze the muscles there reverently. “Let’s go in the bedroom, Terri.” She whispered, suddenly wanting more than just kisses, and guided her through the dark down the hall and into her bedroom.

Terri’s legs trembled, and she feared they wouldn’t hold her up as the ache between her legs intensified; she had never felt this ache, this rush. She thought her heart would beat out of her chest. Standing next to the bed, Noemí took her into her arms again and kissed her deeply, passionately. She moaned as Terri’s arms slipped slowly around her neck; it was like a welcome.

Noemí reached behind Terri’s neck and unzipped her dress slowly, their lips never ceasing their meeting. She groaned when she felt Terri’s soft hands slip beneath the collar of her t-shirt, touching the smooth skin of her upper back. Slipping the gown off, she bent lower to kiss Terri’s now bare shoulders gently, letting her teeth sink into her flesh tenderly.

She undid the bra from its harness between Terri’s breasts, and slipped it off gently, letting her hands cup her heavy breasts softly. “Oh, God, Terri, do they hurt?” She asked with a groan, touching the erect nipples gently with her thumbs. She felt a rush of heat come between her legs from the tips of her sensitive fingers. The nipples were hard and she felt Terri tremble almost imperceptibly against her palms. She kissed her gently, and pulled her lips only slightly away. “Do they hurt?” She breathed against her lips; her heart was beating fast, and she felt like it would pump out through her skin.

Terri threw her head back; her nipples growing even more erect under Noemí’s gentle thumbs. “No, it’s-” Her voice broke into a long groan as Noemí bent lower to kiss each nipple. Soon she was lying on the bed, wearing nothing but her panties, the fully clad Noemí leaning over her, her taut flat stomach brushing Terri’s; she licked each engorged nipple with a maddeningly soft tongue.

Terri bit her lower lip, her fingers running through Noemí’s hair, urging her not to stop her caress. She never thought this would be so wonderful, the electric-like shock rushing through her body with each tender lick of a nipple, each tender bite and suck. And the thought that it was happening with Noemí made her moan loudly. She felt weak; she couldn’t resist Noemí’s touch.

Noemí groaned softly, moving down to kiss her hard stomach, to caress it reverently with her hands. “So, beautiful, Terri, you’re so beautiful!” She whispered, and kissed all around it. She pressed her hands against the stretched skin of her lower stomach and felt the baby kick again. “Terri… Terri!” She gasped. “Does it hurt you when the baby kicks?” She seemed so innocent to Terri, so endearing with her soft questions, and Terri couldn’t answer her in her realization of how deep her feelings were for her. Noemí moved up to lie down beside her, touching her face softly with her fingers. “Does it hurt?” She asked again and felt Terri shake her head. “What does it feel like then?” She whispered, kissing Terri’s eyes closed, her cheeks, her lips again.

“Like,” Terri said in a very low breathy voice, her fingers moving through Noemí’s hair and massaging the back of her head. She couldn’t think. “Like… I don’t know; it doesn’t hurt though.” She moaned softly when Noemí kissed her softly, her smooth lips caressing hers as she pushed an arm beneath her head to cradle her.

Terri’s hands moved from her face to wrap around Noemí’s torso, her hands reaching beneath her shirt again to touch the skin of her back. Noemí’s kiss became passionately hot as Terri’s fingers worked around her ribs to touch beneath her breasts. Noemí sat up suddenly and yanked off her T-shirt, leaning back down and cradling Terri’s head again as she kissed her once more. She shuddered long and hard when Terri’s fingers brushed her nipples, hardening them and stroking them over and over again.

Terri groaned when Noemí’s nipples hardened against her fingers, when Noemí’s hand moved shakily down her stomach to slip fingers beneath the waistband of her panties. She gently kneaded the swollen flesh right below her abdomen, and moaned softly.

“You’re so swollen, Terri.” She whispered against her ear, licking and biting the lobe gently. Terri bit her lower lip and stiffened as Noemí’s fingers moved lower. “Its okay, its okay, Terri. I promise its okay.” Noemí whispered brokenly, her voice shaky, and moved her fingers lower against her, until they were soaked in wetness and cradled in swollen need.

Terri’s back arched suddenly, her chest heaved with each breath as Noemí’s fingers began stroking her softly; her legs fell wide open. Noemí whispered breathlessly, murmuring against her ear as her fingers stroked and caressed her for a long time. Suddenly, she moved her lips down to Terri’s chest. “Oh, God, Terri,” She groaned against Terri’s nipple softly, stroking the engorged clitoris gently, cradling it between her long fingers and moving them from side to side softly.

Noemí moved down suddenly, pushing Terri’s panties down and sucking her engorged flesh into her mouth. Terri felt lighting shoot into her body where Noemí’s mouth connected between her legs; her silky tongue parted her and tasted hungrily. Hissing, she reached down and grasped Noemí’s hair tightly in her fist, her body buckling; she was so sensitive, she thought she would die if this continued. She pulled Noemí’s head up, and Noemí went willingly, replacing her tongue with her fingers, continuing the caress against her clitoris. They kissed open-mouthed, deeply, Terri tasting herself on Noemí’s lips as Noemí pushed her tongue deep into her mouth.

Terri’s palms pressed shakily against Noemí’s back, the nails digging into her flesh causing arousal instead of pain. She groaned loudly and she arched her back, her breathing short gasps, and she was on fire as orgasm stormed through her, hard, for a long moment that seemed like an eternity.

She never felt anything like this before, this melting of her insides, this rush through her body like fire through her veins. Her palms slapped against the bed and grasped the covers as she shuddered and moaned. She lay panting, paralyzed with shock, her hair falling over the side of her face wet with sweat, her face pressed against Noemí’s bare shoulder. She felt aftershocks wrack her body all of a sudden, starting from the point between her legs.

Noemí shifted, never letting her go, slipping her fingers softly from between her legs and trailing them wetly across the surface of her stomach. She was breathing hard also, and she lifted her lips from sensitive nipples to touch Terri’s lips softly. Their tongues and lips met passionately. Then Terri, not knowing what to say, buried her face into the crook of her neck, aware of Noemí’s breasts pressed against her own and her arms around her body gentle. Noemí’s lips left hers to touch her forehead, to kiss tenderly along eyebrows, eyelids, nose, chin, and then her lips again.

She lay down on her side, and pulled Terri to her, cradling her head against her shoulder, wrapping her arms around her. Terri was tired and feeling warm now; she wrapped her arm around Noemí’s waist. They fell asleep holding each other.

Noemí woke at about ten o’clock in the morning, a hand on Terri’s waist, a trousered leg pressed between the smaller woman’s legs. She lifted her head to look down at her body; her eyes lingered on Terri’s full breasts, her swollen stomach, and her beautiful face. She tried to pull away, in shock, knowing fully well what she’d done. She pulled away slowly, trying not to wake her. When she succeeded, Terri only stirring a little, Noemí got up from the bed and left the room. She brought her hand to brush her hair back and caught the scent of Terri’s sex on her fingers. She brought it to her nose, and swayed on her feet from the delicious odor lingering there. She remembered when she had knelt between Terri’s legs, the sweet taste of her. “Oh, God!” She gasped, and moved unsteadily to the living room.

She flopped down on the couch and reached for the telephone on the table beside the couch. She dialed, and waited with her breath caught in her throat. Victoria picked up, sounding very awake. “Vicki,” Noemí said in a whisper. “Vicki, I need to talk to you.”

Vicki shushed Michaela, who was making a racket with what sounded like kitchenware. “What is it, Noemí?” She asked, sounding concerned.

“Can you come over, please?” She whispered, twisting around to look down the hall, afraid that Terri had woken also and was at the end of the hall looking at her.

Victoria said something to Michaela, who said something sounding like okay. “Well, she was about to start breakfast, but I guess she can do it in your house. Cook for all of us.” Victoria said and Noemí agreed. “Be there in like twenty minutes.” As she hung up the phone, Noemí could hear her say to Michaela: “Leave it like that; we’ll pick it up later.” And the line went dead.

Noemí made her way back to the room, and quietly retrieved her shirt; she then went to the bathroom, and washed her teeth.

True to her word, Victoria and Michaela arrived twenty minutes later. Michaela, knowing that Victoria and Noemí needed to talk, made her way to the kitchen. Victoria wrapped an arm around Noemí’s shoulders and pulled her towards the window. They both stared out the window at the snow for a long time, Noemí not knowing how to start.

“What’s up?” Victoria finally asked, sitting down on the wide sitting berth of the window.

Noemí sat beside her and stared at the floor. “Something happened last night.” She said after a long time.

Oh, boy. Victoria looked at her, waiting for her to continue. “What happened?” She finally asked.

“Terri,” Noemí said, and swallowed hard. “And I, we uh-” She stopped and ran a hand through her hair. And then she let it all out in a rush. “I don’t know what came over me last night, Vicki, I swear. I wanted her so much and I couldn’t…”

When she finished, she saw that Victoria had been staring at her, astonished, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. Then she recovered, blinking rapidly and shaking her head. “Wow,” She breathed, and then she smiled churlishly. “So,” She said mischievously. “How was it?”

Noemí slapped her across the shoulder, almost sending her off the seat. “It’s not fucking funny, Victoria,” She snapped, and stood up, pacing around the living room. “I don’t know what to do, she slept with my brother and she’s pregnant with his child-”

Victoria snorted, standing up and slapping her thigh. “So fucking what?” She said, sounding angry. “Is he here, taking care of her, giving her the comfort that she needs? She’s not his property just because she made the monumental mistake of sleeping with him, Noemí.”

Noemí stared at her, confused by her feelings. She said nothing.

Victoria softened her tone. “How do you feel for her?” She asked gently, moving over to her and squeezing her shoulder.

“I-” Noemí said with a shake of her head, frowning and staring down at the floor. “I don’t know.” She whispered in wonder. “It was like a dream, Vicki; it felt so good to touch her.”

Victoria chuckled softly, but didn’t say more when she saw Terri trudging slowly down the hall from her bedroom. She had changed into shorts and a large T-shirt, which hugged her stomach tightly. Victoria went to her and kissed her cheek gently. “Merry Christmas, Terri.” She said, and smiled, rubbing her huge stomach.

“Merry Christmas to you too.” Terri said to her with a sleepy smile and her eyes left her to find Noemí. She remembered the night perfectly, and turned towards the kitchen, hoping they didn’t see her blush.

Noemí’s knees trembled, and she felt weak with desire. She saw the smile on Victoria’s face, and turned away towards the window again. She felt her coming up behind her, hugging her from behind and kissing the back of her neck. “Vicki,” She whispered, hugging Victoria’s arms to her. “What am I going to do? What about Camilla?”

“Hey, I’m only just learning about this relationship shit, I don’t know what to tell you.” Victoria said with a small laugh, resting her chin against her shoulder. “Are you and Camilla officially in a relationship?” She asked after a while.

Noemí shook her head and sighed. “But she wants to be, I know she does. But I can’t, I still love Amelia so much.” She said.

“You don’t have to stop loving her to be in a relationship with someone else.” Victoria said, and pressed her lips against Noemí’s shoulder. “Amelia is dead, Noemí, when are you going to realize that?” She said, trying not to sound harsh.

Noemí didn’t reply, and stayed quiet for a long moment. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop loving her.” She said, her voice raspy with emotion as tears filled her eyes.

Victoria tightened her arms around Noemí. “How do you feel for Camilla?” She asked softly. “Do you love her?”

Noemí didn’t hesitate and she shook her head. “I like her, and I’m very attracted to her, but I suspect that’s as far as it’ll get.” She whispered.

Victoria nodded, and they stared out at the bright snow in silence. “How do you feel for Terri?” She asked then. “Do you love her?”

Noemí remained quiet for a long time. “I don’t know.” She said finally, thinking that lately, every single time she looked at Terri, her heart skipped a beat, and all she wanted to do was hold her. She thought about the night before; when she kissed Terri under the mistletoe, she had felt that her heart would beat right out of her chest. Camilla never made her feel like that.

And she thought back to when Camilla had argued with her after the kiss, having caught her doing such a reckless thing, and left right after that. But Noemí wanted to kiss Terri so bad, since she realized when her cousin Martha kissed her freshly on the mouth that there were little mistletoe branches hanging all over the house. She wanted to get her in a position where she could do just that, wrap her arms around her body and possess her. She watched her the whole night, waiting until Terri stood on the right spot. And when she got her, and was able to kiss her, she did not want to stop. She couldn’t name her feelings, but they were strong.

They went to the kitchen, and found Terri already eating slowly from a plate full of scrambled eggs and toast. She avoided Noemí’s eyes, and didn’t talk much amidst their conversations. Noemí didn’t miss the look Michaela gave Victoria, and she knew that Terri told her about it too.

Noemí couldn’t stop looking at her, couldn’t stop her eyes from lingering on the sensuous lips that had been pressed against her own last night. It was as if her eyes were calling to Terri, because Terri lifted her eyes from the food and stared at her with wide eyes. Noemí found herself breathing hard, and her hands holding the fork and knife shook.

She stood suddenly, unable to eat, and left the kitchen. In the living room, she sat down on the couch and brought her hands to her head. She closed her eyes and she swore she could feel Terri’s plush body against her hands, her nipples hard against her tongue. “Oh, God,” She breathed and started when a soft hand touched her shoulder. She looked up at Michaela, her face showing her frustration.

Michaela sat in front of her on the coffee table, and smiled at her without saying anything. Noemí met her eyes and then looked away. “Well,” Michaela said softly, and Noemí looked at her again. “Are you alright?”

Noemí nodded slowly, and looked down at the floor. “Yes,” She said softly. “I just feel guilty, I bought this house with Amelia, and I still love her so much. She haunts my dreams, my reality.”

Michaela nodded in understanding, and she reached over and ran gentle fingers through Noemí’s soft drying hair. “Where you thinking of Amelia last night?” She asked.

Looking up, Noemí shook her head, and said in a hoarse whisper: “That is why I feel guilty; she didn’t even cross my mind when I was touching Terri. All I can think about right now is last night with Terri. And Camilla is pissed at me, because I kissed Terri last night. She shouldn’t be, I mean, I guess she should-” She stood and paced around the living room in frustration, Michaela’s eyes following her. “I don’t know anything any more… I need to go somewhere.”

Michaela chuckled softly, and leaned back, her hands holding her up against the table. “It would be kind of rude to leave your guests alone in the house, don’t you think?” She pointed out.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry.” Noemí said with an absent wave of her hand.

Michaela stood and went to her, standing close to her and squeezing her arm comfortingly. “Do you want to be with her?” She asked.

“With Camilla?” Noemí said, instantly knowing that Michaela meant Terri by the look she gave her. “You mean with Terri.” Michaela nodded with a smile. “I- I don’t know. She was with my brother, she slept with him.”

“Well, golly gee,” Michaela said teasingly, placing a hand on the center of Noemí’s chest and pushing gently. “Big fucking deal, you just slept with her too, in case you don’t remember, and left her mighty confused too, to bat. Besides, what happened between your brother and she was not really a ‘she slept with him’ thing. Now you’re acting like you’re the one who doesn’t know what you want.”

“I don’t-”

Michaela cut her off with a harsh question: “You know that last night was the first time she ever felt an orgasm?” Her eyes met Noemí’s shocked eyes, and she smiled slowly.

Noemí frowned, and looked away from her. “It was?” She asked softly, excitement flowing through her veins at the thought that she was the one who brought Terri to orgasm for the first time. She tried to hide it.

Michaela snorted softly, seeing Noemí’s excitement at the fact that she had brought Terri her first pleasure. “By now, we all know your brother didn’t bother with her pleasure, Noemí,” She said. “He cared only about his own, and Terri, for the first time in her life last night, felt something more than just a dick inside her, pardon my language. She never thought it would get better than what happened with Anthony, and she didn’t like that at all in the first place. You just happened to show her that it does get better.” She looked at her for a long time, reading the mixed emotions playing on her face. “So now what are you going to do?”

Noemí shook her head, looking like she was about to lose it. She pushed her fingers through her hair, sweat breaking out of her forehead. “It was her first?” She asked again, and looked at Michaela. “She’s going to be so confused, because of me, Michaela. Have I hurt her?”

Michaela shrugged. “Go and talk to her, I’ll bring Victoria out of the kitchen.” She said and turned away before stopping and looking at her. “Don’t put your foot in it, that’s all I ask you. Terri feels something deep for you, and Camilla knows it; that is why she argued with you last night after you kissed Terri.” She turned away again, and emerged from the kitchen with a confused Victoria in tow.

Terri remained behind, finishing the dishes. Noemí watched her from the door, her eyes moving down along her slender back and lingering at her shapely legs, swollen slightly by the pregnancy. “Terri,” She whispered, and saw the small back stiffen, her hands stopping. She walked to her, and reached to touch her soft loose hair with tentative fingers. “Terri, I don’t know what to do now,” She whispered and moved closer, able to smell her natural strawberry scent and growing aroused again. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Terri spun around and looked up at her with glistening eyes. “Then don’t touch me, please.” She whispered, and gasped when Noemí pulled her into her arms despite her words. “Please, let me go, I can’t take this-” Noemí’s lips on her own cut her words off, her tongue slipping through her lips and bringing forth a moan. Her arms wrapped slowly around Noemí’s shoulders, her wet palms pressed flat against the wide plain of her upper back, leaving the imprint of her wet palms on her shirt. Noemí’s lips caressed her cheeks, her neck, teeth sinking gently into flesh. “Noemí,” Terri gasped, throwing her head back and moaning. “This is crazy, Noemí, please. We have to stop, it can’t happen again. You and Camilla… Ah!” Noemí’s fingers were seeking underneath her shirt, moving up to tease her nipples to life.

Her lips were back on her mouth, her tongue pushing through to touch hers. Their bodies melted together, Terri’s protruding stomach pressing against Noemí’s. “God, you’re so sweet, Terri!” Noemí whispered intensely, her mouth working along her jaw, her hands beneath her shirt cupping her heavy breasts. “So beautiful, oh God.” She gasped when the baby kicked, as if warning them that they were crushing it. She eased the pressure of her body against hers, but her lips never ceased their exploring. “I want to taste you again, Terri, I wanted to for so long.”

Terri felt helpless to her touch; she couldn’t stop herself from responding to Noemí’s hands and lips. She could feel the wetness between her legs growing. The bell rang, startling them away from each other; they stared at one another, as Victoria called out to Noemí in hidden warning. “Noemí, Camilla’s here to see you.”

Terri pushed past Noemí and made her way to the living room. Noemí took a deep settling breath and followed after her. Camilla’s smile grew as her eyes fell on Noemí. She carried a box in her hands and moved up to kiss her lips gently. “Hi, baby,” She whispered, and pushed the box into her hands with a slow grin. “Your Christmas present.”

Noemí tried to smile at her, feeling sublimely guilty, because she could see in her eyes that Camilla loved her. “Thank you.” She whispered and kissed her forehead softly. “Here, hold it; I’ll get your presents so that we can open them together.” She said to the rest of them. Terri was nowhere in sight. She found her in the bedroom, sitting on her bed staring at nothing, notepad in hand. “Come out, I’m giving out the presents.” She said shyly.

Terri shook her head slowly, not meeting her eyes. “Its okay, I don’t feel very well.” She said in a low voice. Concerned, Noemí moved to come into the room, but Terri lifted her hand to stop her. “No, please,” She whispered. “Leave me alone, go with Camilla.” She lay down and pulled the covers over her body. “Leave me alone.” She repeated softly, sounding distant and sleepy.

Noemí stared at the bundle on the bed for a long time, unsure of what to do. But Terri asked her to leave her alone and she would respect the fact that she wanted to be alone. She knew Terri’s confusion was because of her inability to hold back her desire for her. She closed the door softly, and went into her office, where she stashed all the gifts. She came out to the living room, and handed them each her respective gift. She took back her gift from Camilla and they started to open their gifts together.

Victoria smiled as she lifted out the blue original Donna Karan sweater. She blew a grateful kiss to Noemí. She had always been a fan of Donna Karan’s style, so almost every piece of clothing she owned was a DKNY piece. “Beautiful. Your present is in my place, I didn’t think of bringing it over.”

Noemí winked at her and looked at Michaela, who was engrossed in opening her gift-wrap carefully. “I didn’t know what exactly your taste is, so I just got what I felt goes with you.” She explained, and Michaela’s smile grew as she lifted out a pretty Versace silk shirt. “Just because you’ve turned my best friend around.” She said with a laugh. “She was so rude.”

“Hey!” Victoria complained good-humoredly. “I still am, I just have to watch my mouth in front of Miss Sergeant Cavanaugh, that’s all.” Michaela swatted her across the arm playfully.

Camilla held up a pretty gold chain, smiling at Noemí softly. “Thank you, this is wonderful.” She whispered and moved over to touch her lips to Noemí’s, feeling her respond hesitantly. She pulled back, eyeing her closely, but Noemí’s expression didn’t give anything away. “Your turn to open your gift, honey.” She said softly.

Noemí smiled and opened her box. A beautiful black designer shirt lay folded perfectly beneath the protective wrapping. She pulled it out and opened the shirt, then smiled at Camilla. “This is beautiful.” She said and grinned as she showed Michaela and Victoria her present.

Camilla chuckled, and said to Victoria and Michaela: “You wouldn’t mind if I steal her for a few minutes, would you?”

They both smiled and shook their heads, beginning to talk to each other when Camilla pulled Noemí down the hall and into her office. As soon as the door closed, Camilla pulled her into her arms, wrapping her arms around her neck. She yanked her down for a deep sensuous kiss. She felt Noemí respond, but then she felt her grow hesitant and pulled back. She looked up at her with question in her eyes. “What is wrong?” She asked, a tight fist of dread squeezing around her heart.

Noemí avoided her eyes, and looked at something over her shoulder. “I’m sorry.” She whispered softly, and shook her head as she met her eyes. “I did something that I shouldn’t have done…”

Victoria jumped, startled out of her embrace with Michaela by the scream coming from Noemí’s office. She stood up and looked cautiously down the hall. Camilla emerged from the office, yelling hysterically at Noemí, who followed her and tried to restrain her. She moved towards Terri’s bedroom, and Noemí grabbed her by the arm and yanked her back towards the living room. “It has nothing to do with her!” Noemí said loudly. “Don’t bring her into this!”

“It has nothing to do with her?” Camilla repeated loudly, bewildered. Her face was red with anger. “That slut, she’s had it for you, I knew it from the first time I saw her! She couldn’t get your brother, so she wants to get you!” She waved her arms angrily.

Noemí, her anger growing slowly the insults against Terri, held her temper down. She knew that she was at fault for Camilla’s anger. “I thought I should tell you, I didn’t want to lie to you, and I don’t want you to be angry at Terri, it is not her fault. Only my fault-”

“Not her fault!” Camilla yelled at her, fighting against tears. “Did she say no when you touched her, did she? She welcomed it, because she is a whore, I knew it the first time I looked at her that-” She cut off when Noemí charged at her, grasping her arms and shaking her angrily.

Noemí’s eyes flashed. “Don’t talk about her like that!” She said through clenched teeth, scaring Camilla into staying quiet. “You don’t know her to be saying those things!”

“Hey, Noemí,” Victoria said softly, placing a staying hand on Noemí’s shoulder. “Let her go, let her go.”

Trembling, Noemí kept glaring at Camilla for a long time. Then with a deep shuddering breath, she let her go and turned away. She caught sight of Terri standing at the end of the hall, staring at them quietly. “Terri,” She made a move to go down the hall, but Camilla pushed her aside and moved stiffly towards Terri, who only stood there staring at her with expressionless eyes.

“You little bitch-” She said in a low voice, one hand clenching at her sides, the other lifting as if to slap her.

Michaela suddenly appeared before her, between her and Terri. “Not one more step, Camilla.” She said in a low, even voice, a hand on her shoulder. “In case you haven’t noticed, she’s pregnant.”

Camilla looked at Michaela through tearful eyes. “That hasn’t stopped her from ruining my relationship with Noemí, has it?” She said bitterly, glaring at Terri over Michaela’s shoulder. “You’re a slut, Terri, you are; you know you are. You probably slept with her brother on purpose, so that you could claim something that is not yours. Their money-”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Noemí roared at her from the living room, charging towards her. Victoria held her back, speaking softly into her ear. “Tell her to shut up, Victoria, tell her to leave!” Noemí said, her voice lower. “I know it’s my fault, Victoria, but what she’s saying about Terri is not true. She should blame me, not her.”

Camilla turned away from Michaela, and walked towards the living room. She stood close to her and looked up into her eyes. “You’re right, I should blame you.” She whispered. “But you’re both pieces of shit.” She said, and slapped her hard across the face. She walked out.

Noemí’s eyes closed, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Pretty.” She muttered softly, her cheek stinging hard. She opened her eyes, and looked down the hall at Terri, walking slowly towards her. Terri stared at her for a long time, seemingly paralyzed, and before Noemí could reach her, she slammed her bedroom door behind herself. “Terri, open the door!” Noemí called, knocking on the door. Terri didn’t answer her. “Terri, are you okay? Please, let me know if you’re okay.” She tried and tried, and Terri ignored her. Finally, she gave up and rested her forehead and elbows against the door, hands on the back of her head.

She felt a tentative hand on her shoulder. “Do you want us to stay?” Victoria asked softly, knowing how volatile Noemí’s moods could be.

Noemí nodded slowly, and turned to look at Victoria. Their eyes made contact for a long moment. “I need a shower.” Noemí whispered softly, and walked into the bathroom.

Victoria could tell she had been crying when she emerged from the bathroom, hair wet and dripping onto her face and shirt. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and she flopped down on the couch. Michaela had managed to get Terri to open the door for her, and now she sat in the room with her, trying to talk to her, leaving Victoria to talk to Noemí.

Victoria sat beside her friend and wrapped an arm around her back. “What’s up?” She said softly.

“I don’t know.” Noemí answered, leaning forward, elbows against her knees. She stared off at space, her eyes turned downward in that hollow look Victoria had seen for so many years. “I don’t know.” She whispered again, biting her lower lip.

Michaela sat beside Terri, a hand on her lower back soothing her, quietly waiting for her to speak. Terri’s cheeks were wet with tears, her eyes closed softly. “She’s right.” She said suddenly.

Michaela frowned softly. “What?”

“I am a slut.” She whispered, and felt Michaela begin to protest. “I mean, who do I think I am, sleeping with a man, and then while pregnant with his child sleeping with his sister? Who do I think I am?” Her voice broke and she began to cry again for the umpteenth time, her head hanging, and her hands between her legs hanging limply.

“Terri, relax, this won’t do any good to your baby, please.” Michaela said softly, and pressed a hand along her back, trying to calm the tension there. “Talk to Noemí, tell her how you feel for her.”

Terri shook her head and looked at her. “I can’t… I mean it, I can’t.” She whispered and Michaela shook her head to protest. “She still loves the ghost of Amelia; she’s still crazy about her. I can’t be like this!” She gasped, and more tears streamed down her face.

Michaela crooned and held her gently, shaking her head and sighing.
CHAPTER NINETEEN
Camilla stood in front of Noemí the following Monday, looking down at her, an envelope clutched in her trembling hand. She jerked it towards Noemí, not meeting her eyes.

“What is this, Camilla?” Noemí asked softly, picking up the envelope and glancing at it before looking up at her.

“My resignation letter,” Camilla said through clenched teeth, fighting back tears as she finally met Noemí’s eyes. “I can’t continue to work with you, not under these circumstances.”

“But Camilla,” Noemí said sadly, walking around the desk towards her, feeling a deep sadness when Camilla jerked away from her. “Please, reconsider. You’ve been with this company for too long to-”

Camilla spun around and glared at her. “This is about you, don’t you see?” She hissed, and clenched her fists at her sides. Noemí moved back, fearing Camilla might hit her again like she did on Christmas day. “You’ve hurt me, Noemí, you knew how I felt for you, and you still hurt me.”

Noemí shook her head, and ran a hand through her hair. “You know my situation; you know that I have unresolved business when it comes to my feelings for Amelia!” She said in a rush of words.

“She’s dead!” Camilla cried out, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Goddamn you, she’s dead!” She sobbed, letting her head fall.

Noemí felt the words bite into her, and she turned away from her. “You shouldn’t say that to me.” She whispered brokenly.

“But it’s the truth,” Camilla said, wiping at the tears beneath her eyes. “And this is not about her, this about that woman you have living in your house.”

Noemí sighed, knowing where this discussion would end. “Her name is Terri.” She said softly.

“Whatever her name is, she is a predator, and she has been after you the whole time.” She whispered, again sounding jealous. “She’s a slut, she slept with your brother to trap him, and when he wouldn’t budge-”

Noemí spun around and charged at her once again, furious. “You don’t know shit about what happened between her and my brother, okay? That is not your business, Camilla, when will I get it through your thick skull?” She hissed at her, her white-blue eyes flashing anger.

Camilla, though startled by her anger, didn’t show it. She turned away from Noemí. “What bothered me more,” She said in a calmer voice. “Is what you did, the hurt, the pain you have caused me. I love you, damn it!” She slapped Noemí’s desk hard and leaned against it.

“I never asked you to love me, Camilla, honestly.” Noemí said in a soft whisper, feeling pain for hurting her this way. “Please,” She whispered, moving to her, touching her shoulders with her hands. “Please, I never asked you to love me, you knew how it was going to be with us, and you knew my heart belongs to Amelia, Camilla.”

“You’re sick, Noemí, you know that?” Camilla said with a disgusted whisper. “You can’t even face real life, you can’t face that she’s not around any more. Your mistakes are your own, Noemí, no matter how much you say you still love her, that doesn’t excuse what you’ve done to me.” She pulled away from her hands and walked to the door. “My two week notice is in that letter.
I had a job offer in California, and hopefully, it’s still available.” She walked out of the office, leaving Noemí looking after her.

Noemí went to the door and pushed it closed, leaning against it and letting the tears fall down her cheeks.

****

“…Four, Three, Two,” The loud downward count of the group of people standing in front of the large screen television, arms around each other, reached its crescendo as the huge ball on Times Square wound down to its zero mark. “One! Happy New Year!” They yelled and screamed, the sound of horns blaring as some pressed their mouths to one end and blew. There were many tears of joy for having survived another New Year, exuberant loving hugs between friends and families.

Noemí found herself caught between two loving cousins who grew up with her and accompanied in her mischievous acts along with Victoria, Martha and Louis. Noemí searched for Terri with her eyes, and caught sight of her in the arms of both Thomas and Natalie, then in the arms of Victoria’s parents, Charles and Andrea Terrence, and then in the arms of Victoria and Michaela. As she made her way to Terri, Victoria moved forward and took her into her arms, hugging her tightly and giving her an extravagant kiss on the lips. “Happy New Year, best bud!” She said, already skunk drunk.

Noemí laughed softly, and winked at her.

Michaela took her place, and kissed her lips also, hugging her briefly and then pulling away. “Happy New Year, and be there many more.” She intoned, her eyes twinkling with tipsiness. “Nineteen ninety nine, finally.”

Next were the parents, who with their nurturing love took a long time to wish her a happy New Year, welcoming her back from her depression with loving advice. When they finally finished their endearing goodwill, she moved past them, making smiling eye contact with Terri. She pointed behind herself with a thumb. “All it takes to get to you.” She said in a low voice, chuckling softly. She moved closer. “Can I wish you a happy New Year, Terri?” She asked, and moved slightly closer.

Terri stared up at her with those soft gray-brown eyes that haunted her days and nights, her lips parted slightly. The younger woman hesitated, and then nodded. She had been avoiding any contact with Noemí all week, but she couldn’t be rude on this night. She stepped up to her, and couldn’t stop her breath from catching when Noemí’s strong arms slipped gently around her enlarged waist. “Happy New Year, Noemí.” She whispered softly, bracing her arms on her shoulders to pull her into a hug.

Instead, Noemí’s lips touched her own softly, tenderly. She gasped softly, unable to help her response. She moaned softly when she felt Noemí’s lips move against her own, opening to allow her tongue to slip past her lips and touch her tongue gently. Desire claimed her again; like that night that seemed so long ago. She pulled her mouth away and pressed against Noemí’s shoulders when she felt her start to move forward to kiss her once more. “No… Stop… your parents.” She gasped softly.

Noemí’s turned her face to look at her parents and Victoria’s, they were undaunted as they talked quietly, drinks in hands. Everyone had calmed down from the celebratory hugs and kisses, and they were now partying away. Victoria and Michaela were dancing among a group of young people, the music soft and modern. “They’re not even paying attention, Terri.” She said, and leaned to kiss her lips again.

Terri stubbornly pushed against the muscles of her shoulders again, at the same time marveling at their definitive strength.

“Please, Terri, don’t push me away. I so want to kiss you again.” Noemí whispered huskily as she leaned forward again, pushing against Terri’s hands and kissing her once more, her soft moan electrifying Terri. Her lips were passionate, her hands now in Terri’s hair and holding their mouths together, her lips gentle and conveying her desire also. She pulled away only slightly, a soft whisper against Terri’s lips: “Terri, I’ve missed you so much.” She kissed her fully again, and Terri could do nothing but respond to her deeply passionate kiss, her breath catching in her throat.

After a long time of loosing herself in the kiss, she pulled away, jerking backwards when Noemí reached for her again. The pleading look in Noemí’s sexy eyes beckoned her back, but she resisted. “No!” She said, wiping at her lips, attempting to remove the sweet taste and scent of Noemí from her senses. She turned away from her and made her way carefully through the crowd, her small frame disappearing through a throng of tall bodies. Noemí stared after her with a confused feeling rushing through her.

Noemí allowed Terri into the house in front of her, following her in and closing the door, slipping her keys in her pockets. Silent, Terri made her way down the hall to her room, feeling extremely tired, but restless. It was almost daylight outside, six in the morning. Noemí stood by the window, staring out at the snow, hands in her slack pockets. She felt tired too, but couldn’t lie down to sleep, unless she was near Terri. Terri made it obvious that she didn’t want her in her bed today; that she wanted to be alone.

Resigned to remain awake despite her tired body, she sat down and stared out at the whitening sky, thinking for a long time. Unprepared for Terri’s voice, she jumped when Terri called her over to the room. Worried, she made her way there, and sighed with relief at the sight of Terri, standing with a hand pressed against her lower back, eyes staring down at the boxed canvases and oils. She’d already changed her party dress to the familiar shorts and large T-shirt she’d grown accustomed to. She looked at Noemí, her eyes alert despite the obvious tiredness. “Can you please take out a canvas? I suddenly feel like painting.” She said, and smiled at Noemí forgivingly.

Noemí smiled back at her and moved forward to pick up a box. In minutes she had the canvas set up on the tripod, and her paints were set up on top of one of the night tables so that she wouldn’t have to bend down to retrieve them. Terri began to set up her colors on the palette in her hand, bought by Natalie in the shape of a circle; her brushes set up standing inside a cup, another cup beside it filled with water to rinse them. Noemí watched, fascinated, sitting on the bed. “Mind if I watch?” She asked softly.

Terri turned to her and smiled, seemingly at peace for the first time ever. Noemí couldn’t take her eyes away from her face. “No, just be quiet.” She says gently. Seeing Noemí’s tired expression, knowing she had been dancing the whole night with her family and friends because she’d been watching her the whole time from a distance, she said comfortingly: “You can lay down if you want.”

Noemí, feeling comforted by her sweet voice, nodded and lay down on her side, resting her head against a plush pillow. She sighed contentedly, inhaling the sweet scent of Terri on the pillow, burying her face against it. Before Terri had even begun to lay the stained brush to the white canvas, her eyes closed and she fell asleep.

Terri felt a jolting pain in her lower back and abdomen, and pulled her brush away from the canvas, listening with her body to the unfamiliar pain. She turned around and placed the palette on the table, her brush, hair down, into the cup of water. She looked at Noemí, who looked so peaceful in her sleep, and decided not to wake her yet. A cold sheen of sweat broke out on her forehead, and she moved slowly towards the other side of the bed, wanting to sit down and relax. She thought that maybe she strained herself standing there painting for all those hours.

In her deep slumber, Noemí didn’t move as Terri flopped herself down onto the bed, adjusting herself so that her aching back rested against her pillow and the wall. Another jolting pain coursed through her, making her muscles clench tight, her teeth clench in pain. She closed her eyes tightly, feeling like an explosion had broken through her, and the next thing she knew, water, pink with blood, spilled all over the bed from between her legs, soaking through the quilt and mattress and her shorts, dripping to the carpeted floor. Fear, like she’d never felt before, gripped her as another shock of pain paralyzed her and cut off her breath. Noemí didn’t even shift in her deep sleep. “Noemí!” Terri whispered, clutching her protruding lower stomach tightly, as if trying to hold her baby in place. She instinctively knew her baby would be born soon, and with no help, if she couldn’t get her voice to operate.

In her fright, she tried to remember what her Lamaze teacher had taught her and Victoria, but her mind was a blank. “Noemí!” She said, louder this time, as another burst of pain tore through her lower body. “Oh, God, Noemí!” She screamed, gasping for breath.

Noemí jumped from sleep, jerking upright into a sitting position, and spun to stare at Terri. Terri’s face looked flushed, her breathing short gasps, her body trembling and there was pinkish wetness all over the bed. She took it all in, and reached for the pillows, moving around the bed to try to get her more comfortable. She could feel the wetness of the carpet sipping through her socks. As she reached for her, Terri slapped her hands away. “I’m in pain, Noemí, please!” She said in a gasping whisper.

Noemí didn’t know what to do; she started to feel shaky and helpless, and she couldn’t speak. On a whim she moved to Terri and grabbed her arm, placing it over her shoulders around her neck, holding her back, slipping the other arm beneath her legs and lifting her, not caring about the thick wetness sticking to her arm. She made her way out of the room, holding Terri to her carefully. Terri gasped. “Stop, stop!” She whispered, and Noemí stared at her, confused. “Listen to me, Noemí, I know you’re scared right now, but I need you to stop and call Travis.”

Noemí nodded, and placed her down on the couch very gently, reaching for the phone beside the couch. She dialed the first three numbers, and remembered no more. Tears spilled from her eyes and she looked at Terri helplessly. “I can’t remember the numbers!” She sobbed.

Terri groaned loudly as another sliver of pain, stronger this time, like her hipbones being pried apart, shot through her lower body. “Five three four two!” She groaned and gasped, her head falling forward; she grasped her stomach in her hands. “Tell him you think the baby is here! Oh, God!” She groaned, and threw her head back and cried out.

“Travis, Travis, thank God!” Noemí gasped into the phone, crying. “Please, it’s Terri! I think the baby is coming, I think it’s time! But it’s so soon!” She sounded lost and frightened. “What is going on?” She listened, and nodded, then said: “Okay, okay, Saint John’s.” She threw the phone down and reached for the groaning and writhing Terri; lifting her up easily, she held her close as she carried her outside, feet bare despite the cold.
CHAPTER TWENTY
She walked the halls back and forth frantically, unaware of the other people around her, her cushioned feet silent on the floor. The hospital had provided her with foam sandals, upon realizing that she’d left the house with no shoes on. She had forgotten all about shoes and coat when the reality of Terri’s pain hit her dead center in her chest.

Nerves and fear were making her sweat profusely, her hair matted to her wet forehead; her breathing quickened and grew shallow. She had just called Victoria, who promised to call her parents for her.

The walls of the Saint John’s Hospital’s maternity ward waiting area outside the operating rooms were a bright white decorated with pretty pictures of cartoon babies riding cars and planes and other assorted items. Noemí didn’t notice their beauty as she paced all over the waiting area.

When she’d brought Terri into the emergency room, they had checked the by then screaming young woman out and decided to bring her up right away. Everything was happening so fast, and confusion and fear were tearing Noemí apart. Travis had shown up downstairs and he’d brought Noemí up to the waiting room, leaving her there. He had assured her he would be back as soon as he got Terri settled.

Noemí’s palms were sweaty and she couldn’t shake the thought that she could loose Terri. Not like Amelia, please, God, don’t take her away like Amelia! Noemí thought frantically. Images of Amelia’s lifeless eyes staring at her in the near darkness of her car flashed behind her eyes. “Oh, God!” Anxiety took a tightfisted hold of her heart, and squeezed tight; she felt as if a black blanket had suddenly covered her eyes and her legs went out from under her.

Someone touched her arm, and she pulled away, bracing her back against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest protectively. Her eyes were unfocused, and dizziness threatened to take her consciousness away again.

“Noemí,” the voice whispered close to her ear with tender care. She tried to focus her eyes again. “Come on, girl, take a slow breath! Relax, you’re hyperventilating, relax. It’s just an anxiety attack.” She felt gentle hands grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her softly, and she closed her eyes, following the gentle voice’s instruction.

She opened her eyes, able to breathe better now, and she could now see Travis looking down at her with a kind expression. He helped her back up, and she saw that the other people in the room were looking at her with a mix of concern and relief. She grasped his arms, and shook him. “How is she? Tell me!” She demanded, noticing the nurse standing just behind him. “Oh God, Travis, please,” She cried out, her legs weakening again. “Please, tell me she’s not dead! I can’t loose her, Travis, don’t do this to me!” She began to sob, and barely heard him telling her to get a grip on herself, or he wouldn’t tell her anything. “Tell me!”

“It’s going to be a difficult birth; the baby is coming legs first. Breach.” He explained to her softly as he helped her back to her feet. “I will have to perform a Caesarian on her-”

Noemí clutched his arms with frantic hands. “I can’t loose her, Travis. Help her, save her. Please!” She begged him, tears in her eyes.

He wrapped his arms around her. “It is much easier than regular birth, Noemí.” He said soothingly, and gestured to the nurse, who moved forward. “Give her a tranquilizer, Nicole-”

“No!” Noemí protested, and moved away from him. “I want to be aware of when the baby is born.” Her knees wobbled and she found a seat, looking up at him, trying to appear calm. “Please.”

Travis looked down at her for a long time, and nodding, turned away, signaling the nurse to follow him. Noemí sighed with relief, and remained sitting, hands clasped together tightly, waiting for her parents to arrive.

Her mind kept flashing merciless memories of the accident that had taken away so much from her, and she kept trying to dodge them, trying to remain in reality. By the time Victoria arrived with Natalie and Thomas, her breathing had grown shallow again, her eyes wide.

“Noemí,” Natalie whispered, forcing her daughter to meet her eyes. The tears in Noemí’s eyes brought tears to her own, and took her daughter into her arms as the younger woman cried again.

“I can’t loose her, mom, I can’t!” Noemí sobbed, and clutched her mother in an embrace full of fear. “It can’t happen again!”

Thomas sat at her other side, and wrapped his arms around both her and Natalie; Victoria knelt in front of her and kneaded her leg gently. “Try to calm down and tell us what is going on.” She said softly, and Noemí told them what Travis told her, taking longer in her nervousness. “Okay, just relax. Times have changed; women don’t usually die from Caesarians, okay?” Victoria comforted her.

Thomas and Natalie muttered their agreement.

It didn’t appease Noemí. “Her mother died like that when Terri was born, she couldn’t give birth to her the regular way, and she died before they could do anything to save her, she was so small like Terri!” She gasped with tears. “Oh my God, what if she dies, Vicki? What if she dies, what will I do? I love her Vicki, I never told her because I never knew. Now I know I love her!” She sobbed into her mother’s shoulder, clutching her tightly, and Victoria tried to appease her with gentle words; it was all to no avail.

Natalie and Thomas’ eyes watered with sympathy.

Travis emerged almost four hours later, already scrubbed clean. There was a smile on his handsome face, and he went directly to Noemí, who sat rocking silently in a chair between her parents. Victoria leaned against a wall to one side, talking quietly with Michaela. Kneeling in front of Noemí, Travis took her hand, squeezing softly. “Want to see her?” He asked gently when Noemí’s eyes focused on him.

She stood shakily, not saying a word, and allowed him to lead her away from her friends and parents.

Terri looked so small underneath the hospital covers; the IV connected to her left arm dripped slowly, the thin oxygen tubes inserted into her nostrils made her look so sick. Seeing the frightened look in Noemí’s eyes as she stopped dead a few feet away from Terri, he explained gently: “She was in surgery, honey. The IV and the oxygen mean nothing, she’ll be okay.” Travis left her quietly.

Noemí walked cautiously up to the bed, looking at the younger woman, taking in the difference in her stomach, much flatter now, almost non-existent. She took her small hand cautiously, which lay limply over her stomach, and caressed the back gently with her thumb. Terri moaned softly with pain, and her eyes flickered open, her head lolling to one side as she looked around. Then her beautiful eyes focused on Noemí, and a slow smile curved her lips. “Hi.” She whispered sleepily, meeting Noemí’s eyes; Noemí couldn’t help the fear that still gripped her heart.

“Hi.” Her voice was hoarse; it shook, full of fear. She touched her hair, which felt full and looked shiny around her head. Terri’s skin looked a little pale, but she seemed healthier.

“Were you crying, Noemí?” Terri asked gently, and lifted her hand from Noemí’s to touch her noble cheek tenderly. “Don’t cry, I’m fine, I mean it. You don’t need to be afraid.”

Reassured by her words, Noemí knelt beside the bed and buried her face into Terri’s neck, inhaling deeply. “I didn’t want to loose you, Terri. I love you.” She whispered softly.

Terri’s eyes were full of tears when Noemí met her eyes. “That’s a good thing to know,” She whispered, confused by the strong emotion those three words made her feel. “I’m confused, Noemí. You’ve done something to me…” She said softly.

Noemí nodded and touched her lips to Terri’s forehead, then kissed her way softly down to her cheeks. “What about the baby?” She asked against her skin.

“Bigger than life and beautiful.” Terri said softly, touching her hand to Noemí’s face again. “A girl and she has your mother’s eyes, I think; I hope they stay like that. But even better would be if she had your eyes.” She paused and met Noemí’s eyes with a soft smile. “Her name is Noemí Imogene; my mother’s name was Imogene. But I want her to be called Noemí too, like you.”

Noemí’s eyes filled with tears again. Finally, she managed: “Oh, Terri!” She cried into her shoulder, her shoulders shaking with soft sobs. She felt Terri’s gentle hand on the back of her head, holding her close and comforting her. “I was so afraid it would happen again, that somebody I love would die. I’m still so afraid.”

Terri clutched Noemí’s hair softly, and pulled her face back to meet her eyes. “Stop it, Noemí. I’m right here, okay?” She said softly, and pulled her head down again. After a long time, Noemí pressing her face against her shoulder, her arm thrown carefully over her upper stomach, Terri asked gently: “Have you seen her?”

Noemí pulled back to look at her and shook her head. “I had to see you first.” She responded. “You saw her, you said?”

Terri’s eyes twinkled with the love of a new mother. “Yes, only for a few seconds, I wasn’t in the best condition.” She whispered. “But when I saw her she was purplish and crying herself red!” She laughed softly, and broke off into a groan of pain. Noemí held her hand until she relaxed, and kissed her forehead again. “Go see the baby, honey.” Terri said very softly, and Noemí felt comforted by her sweet tone. “Go see her, and come back and tell me.”

Noemí left the room, and went to the nurses’ station. “Excuse me, where can I view the babies?” She asked, and the nurse, with barely a glance at her, directed her down a long hall. Noemí walked down, until she could see to the right side, the windows to the maternity room. There were beautiful babies, many crying healthily and flushing, all together in six rows of cradles and four down from the front. Noemí searched with her eyes, and found little Noemí almost at the front, under Bledsoe-Leone. Surprised by the combination of both names, she soon forgot about it as her sight fell on the most beautiful creation in the universe.

There, all eighteen inches of little pink flesh, staring up at the ceiling with beautiful green-blue eyes and sucking healthily at a pacifier, lay little Noemí, wrapped up in a pink bundle. Her baby cheeks flushed pink, her almost non-existent eyebrows were shaped like almost all members of the Leone family, the slight imperfection of the arched left eyebrow leaving no doubt. Her surprisingly thick hair was an auburn shade, sticking up adorably from the top of her head; a little part on the right side of her head sent most of it sideways.

A tender smile crossed Noemí’s face as she fell in love all over again with Terri’s daughter, little Noemí, her young namesake; she had been in love with the child since she’d first pressed her face against Terri’s stomach. There was no doubt in Noemí’s mind that she was a Leone, though for a long time there hadn’t been any.

She spun around as she heard her name called softly. It was Victoria, standing a few feet away with Michaela and her parents. She beckoned them forward, and as they flanked around her, she pointed little Noemí out. “Her name is Noemí, Terri named her after me.” She said softly, her voice full of emotion and pride. “Isn’t she perfect?”

Thomas and Natalie were crying softly, gazing at the beautiful child and holding each other. Victoria and Michaela were murmuring softly, awe in their voices.

Natalie gasped softly, pointing at her with thin manicured fingers. “Oh, look, Thomas, she has your eyebrows! Her eyes, they’re so much like mine.” She was saying in wonder. “But that can change; Noemí’s eyes were like mine when she was born. And,” Her voice took on a teasing tone. “I don’t know, but your blood takes more precedence in our children than mine. Look how they are so much like you and resemble you so much.”

Thomas chuckled softly, and he held Natalie tighter to him. “We have a granddaughter, Natalie.” He whispered in wonderment, gazing at the child once more. “We’re grandparents, now, and I feel wonderful.”

Noemí’s eyes were glued to that child, and a soft smile touched her face as she gazed at her, palms flat against the glass. “She’s perfect.” She said softly, and tears filled her eyes. She felt Victoria’s arms wrap around her and pulled her close tenderly, and she turned and buried her head against her shoulder. “She’s so beautiful.” She lifted her head and looked at the baby again. “Let’s go see Terri.” She said softly and walked away, an arm around Victoria’s shoulders.

Terri’s eyes were open, and she smiled as they all shuffled quietly into the room. She reached for Noemí’s hand, and was gratified to feel her long fingers slip into her grasp. She smiled at the others, and looked back at Noemí. “Did you see her?” She asked softly.

Noemí nodded, and looked into her eyes. “She is amazingly perfect, and so beautiful.” She whispered, and kissed Terri’s hand gently. “Like her mother.”

Terri smiled at her, and found that she couldn’t look away from Noemí’s eyes. “Tell me about her eyes.” She said.

“They are like mom’s, green, but mom thinks they’ll change and become like mine. Because I was born that way, with my eyes almost like hers, but they changed.” Noemí said softly against the back of her hand, her eyes closing in concentration at the feel of Terri’s hand.

“Her hair,” Terri said softly, wrinkling her nose softly. “I couldn’t tell her hair color, she was so dirty.”

“Her hair has an auburn color and it sticks upwards, and it looks so soft.” Noemí’s eyes twinkled with tenderness. “I love her.”

Terri’s eyes met hers, and she pulled Noemí’s hand to kiss it softly. “I’m glad, because she’ll love you too.”

****

“Caesar!” Martha called out as she let herself into her brother’s apartment. “Caesar, you better answer me!”

Caesar came down the hallway with a towel draped around his waist, hair dripping. “Why are you coming into my place yelling?” He yelled back.

Martha, hands on her hips, glared at her younger brother. “I want Anthony’s phone number.” She said.

“For what?” He inquired, adjusting his towel, and then looked up at her with curiosity.

“The baby was born yesterday.” Martha informed him.

Caesar’s dark blonde eyebrows rose. “Really? And…” He said expectantly.

“She’s a Leone alright.” Martha said. “Unless Noemí can all of a sudden get women pregnant, and I don’t see that happening.”

“That piece of shit.” Caesar muttered. He lied to me. I’m supposed to be like his brother! “Hold on, let me go find my phone book. He’s in Vegas now.” He said dejectedly, going towards his bedroom to put some clothes on.

“Are you alright?” Martha noticed his disappointment.

He didn’t answer until he returned, little address book on hand. He had changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and padded barefoot into the living room. “That bastard lied to me,” he said, sitting down on the couch and patting the space beside him. “He’s just like daddy.”

Martha flopped down next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “I’m sorry.” She said. “What did he tell you?”
“He said he used the three day pill on her.” He muttered. “Now I know it’s a lie, though I suspected it. Is the baby healthy?”

Martha grinned. “Healthy and beautiful,” She gushed. “Looks just like Noemí, I swear.”

Caesar smiled as he began to look for Anthony’s Las Vegas phone number. “I don’t know why Thomas still lets him use the time-shares.” He said.

“Anthony is his kid after all.” Martha said, reaching for the phone when Caesar handed her the address book.

“Hello?” Anthony mumbled when he picked up, half asleep.

“Wake up.” Martha barked into the phone.

“What? Who is this?” He demanded, half-yawning, half-snoring.

“It’s Martha, what were you doing last night, celebrating New Year alone?”

Anthony sneered, fully awake now. He hated Martha with a passion, and she never hid the fact that she hated him too. Adding to the fact that she dressed like a freak, she had once stolen a girl from right under his nose. The girl had been having a chat with him in a bar, and he was getting ready to ask her to spend the night with him, when Martha had waltzed in. The girl’s attention was permanently riveted on his cousin, despite Anthony’s many attempts to change that. His ego had suffered, and he loathed Martha for that. “What the hell do you want?”

Suppressing a laugh, Martha said: “Just wanted to let you know your daughter was born yesterday.”

“I don’t have a daughter.” Anthony said coldly, his mind racing.

“Some day you’ll regret not getting to know her.” Martha predicted.

“Listen-”

“Her name is Noemí Imogene,” Martha interrupted. “After your sister, who has really been there Terri.” She shook her head when she was greeted by the dial tone. She looked at her brother.

“What did he say?” Caesar asked.

“That he has no daughter.” Martha said, shrugging.

“She’s better off anyway.” Caesar said, and his sister nodded agreement.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
Terri sat by the window, resting a little; the stitches on her abdomen already itched her in their healing. She smiled softly at the sight in front her on the couch. Lying on her back with long muscular legs crossed comfortably and eyes closed in sleep, was Noemí, with little Noemí face down over her chest, sleeping also. They were breathing softly and evenly, Terri could see her baby’s body rise and fall softly with every breath Noemí took, her tiny stomach contracted and expanded slightly as she breathed softly. Terri had just breastfed her, with Noemí watching as if to learn from her actions. Their eyes met from time to time, and Terri thought she could feel the heat of the taller woman’s gaze, her body responding with a quivering of its own.

Noemí had taken to the baby, and the baby to her. In the middle of the night, when she woke and cried, when Terri could not get up that easily and even now that she could, Noemí would get up from the bed, tenderly lift the beautiful crying child in her arms, and bring her to Terri. She also helped her get up from the bed, picking her up easily in her arms and transporting her to the living room when she wanted to change scenery, bringing the baby right away before she would start crying. Noemí held the baby as many times as she could, her face softening with tender love every time she looked at her. Occasionally, she would bring up the question of Terri’s feelings for her, but Terri would avoid answering, not knowing the answer yet.

It was true, that she couldn’t be away from Noemí for more than a few minutes without missing her. It was also true that her heart skipped a beat every time she laid eyes on Noemí, and that she wanted to hold Noemí in her arms and never let her go all the time. It was also true that her dreams were of Noemí only, and that when Noemí was not there with her, she felt as if something was missing in her. But she didn’t know the basis of her feelings for Noemí. She knew she loved her, just not how much.

Occasionally, Noemí would allow a crazy moment to pass, and she would possess Terri’s lips with her own, shaking her foundations with the softness of her lips and making her want more. But she would do nothing more, telling her that she didn’t want to pressure her; that she wanted Terri’s feelings for her to be clear and true.

As Terri recovered Natalie and Thomas visited almost every day, mostly stayed with her all day helping her until Noemí would return home from work. On the days that they couldn’t visit, Victoria would come, joined by Michaela later, and they would keep the still healing Terri company. Their adoration of little Noemí was endearing and touching. Only five weeks and the baby had already gained some fans.

Martha had already visited the baby several times, holding gifts in her hands every single time. Noemí bought a small table for all the gifts, and placed it next to the crib, where Terri adjusted Teddy Bears and dolls brought by other members of the family. Almost every day, there was a visitor in the house to see the baby. Today, thank goodness, there wouldn’t be any more.

Terri relaxed against the side of the window and began to sketch, her eyes drifting to Noemí and the baby in her arms.

Before she knew it, Noemí and her young namesake were copied onto paper, without the color. She stopped when she saw Noemí stir, the sleeping baby made a small sound, and Noemí’s eyes flickered open to the tiny head resting right below her chin. A soft smile crossed her face, and she looked at Terri, her smile never fading. “What time is it?” She asked softly, her voice hoarse, trying not to wake the child in her arms.

Terri looked at the miniature grandfather clock on the coffee table that faced her way. “Ten thirty.” She said, and stood gingerly, feeling her scar pull just a little. It was getting better and better every day. Soon she’d be able to walk without the twinge. She moved slowly over to Noemí and reached down cautiously to retrieve the baby.

“Want to go to bed?” Noemí asked as she sat up, blinking sleepily.

Terri nodded and smiled; she stifled a yawn as she accommodated her baby in her arms. The child never opened her eyes or complained as Noemí walked behind Terri towards her bedroom. When both Terri and little Noemí were settled into bed, Noemí returned to the living room, shutting off the lights. She then shuffled back to the warmth of the bedroom. She yawned, and then looked at Terri. “Would you prefer to sleep alone tonight?” She asked, knowing fully well what that would mean for her.

“No,” Terri said softly, patting the area of the bed beside her. “I’m used to you being beside me on this huge bed, and I like it. Come to sleep.”

Terri could see the relief in Noemí’s eyes, and watched as she removed her sweatshirt, then her sweatpants, remaining only in a T-shirt, short boxers and socks. Involuntarily, Terri’s eyes took in the defined muscles of her thighs, the tightness of the shirtsleeves on her strong arms, and she felt suddenly weak and hot with desire. Noemí lay down beside her on the bed, oblivious to Terri’s scrutiny and her state of arousal. She lay down on her back, and then sat up to kiss Terri’s lips softly. “Goodnight.” She whispered softly against her cheek, her fingers trailing softly on her arm.

She lay down on her back again, and covered her eyes with her arms. Terri shifted slowly, and lay down on her side facing away from Noemí, trying to stop the shaking of her body. Noemí’s soft kiss and physical nearness unsettled her. She watched Noemí reach for the bedside light and bring the room to darkness. She remained awake for only a little time, but in that time, she was fully aware of Noemí’s presence right beside her, of her strength and sexy allure.

She woke a little while later to a low voice asking for help.

It was Noemí, trembling and whispering softly, having a nightmare. She shifted and Terri turned on her side, trying to see her through the dark. She reached out and touched her, feeling her cheek. She was feverish and covered in sweat, as she was every time that a memory-nightmare tormented her. Terri grabbed her shoulder and shook her gently, whispering her name. Her sleeve, as the rest of her shirt, was drenched with sweat. Terri shook her again and said her name, louder this time. She knew Noemí’s nightmares didn’t come often anymore, but when they did, they left Noemí senseless with fear and sorrow.

“Help me, please! Get me out of here, I can’t take it!” Noemí said breathlessly, her hand clutching her pillow tightly.

Terri moved closer to her, whispering close to her ear: “I’m here, wake up, and open your eyes.”

With a loud gasp, Noemí jerked upright and began to cry, burying her face in her hands, shaking violently. Terri reached over in the darkness and touched her shoulder with her fingers. Noemí turned and reached for Terri, pulling her into a tight embrace. “Oh God, Terri, I want this to stop!” She sobbed quietly in the circle of her arms for a long time. Slowly, she began to calm down.

Terri let her go when Noemí rolled away from her, staring up at the darkness, her moist arms resting heavily against her forehead. Terri rolled over to her, and rested her hand on her stomach, caressing gently and gazing down at her through the dark. “Noemí,” She said gently, laying her head on her chest. “Why don’t you go to therapy? You know you need to.”

Noemí took a deep breath and remained quiet. She brought her arms down and wrapped them around Terri; she turned her head and pressed her face onto her sweetly scented hair. Her hands stroked Terri’s back and Terri shivered. “I need you, Terri.” She whispered softly.

Terri’s lifted her head to gaze at her; she reached up and touched her cheek gently. “Noemí, I-” Her voice was cut off as smooth lips covered her mouth in a soft kiss. Her breath caught as Noemí’s lips claimed hers. She pulled back and Noemí let her go, remaining silent and letting her take her space. Terri was panting for breath as she sat up on the bed, running her hands through her hair. She couldn’t deny it even if she tried. She wanted Noemí passionately, and she wanted to make love with her. “Aren’t you going to say something?” She demanded softly into the dark.

“It’s up to you.” Noemí whispered hoarsely, remaining on her back.

Just go for it, Terri told herself firmly. How can it hurt? You know you want her, need her. Coming to a decision, she threw herself on top of Noemí, meeting her lips again hungrily. They kissed slowly, mouths open as their tongues danced.

Noemí got over her shock fast, but still couldn’t believe Terri was responding to her with such passion. The younger woman’s hands were in her hair, pulling Noemí’s mouth harder against her own, her thighs opening to allow Noemí’s thigh to nestle between them. She groaned deep in her throat, wondering if Terri was as ready for Noemí as she was for Terri. Terri seemed to be in a heat, the temperature of her body growing hotter every second longer that they kissed. I would die if she decides to stop. Noemí thought to herself, glad that Terri didn’t seem ready to stop.

Terri’s hands alternated between Noemí’s hair and neck, urgently massaging and demanding.

Noemí, arms wrapped around Terri’s waist pulled her hips hard against her own, making the other woman moan. She tore her mouth away, meeting hungry eyes. Breath caught in her throat at the look of raw hunger Terri bestowed upon her. “Are you sure?” She asked hoarsely, giving her one last chance.

“Yes,” Terri whispered, her hands caressing hair and gently pulling. She could have come at the sexy look on Noemí’s face when she pulled. “I want you.” She yanked Noemí’s mouth onto hers again.

This time there would be no stopping. This time Noemí would take what Terri offered; she couldn’t resist if she tried. Noemí’s hands were firm as they played along Terri’s back beneath her T-shirt, as they moved around her torso, pressing against her ribs to move right under her breasts. Stopping and pulling her lips slightly away, she whispered against her lips: “I want to make love with you, Terri. I want to taste you all over…”

Terri moaned softly, feeling her body ignite with a rush of hot desire. She arched her breasts toward Noemí’s hands, her shaking hands grasping Noemí’s strong arms. “Please, please!” She gasped, and her body trembled violently, her breasts aching and hot for Noemí’s knowing touch. She pushed her body frantically against Noemí’s, her legs opening to allow Noemí’s thigh between them.

Noemí rolled them over again and lay on her carefully, pushing her shirt up and kissing the sensitive area between her soft breasts. She groaned softly as she caressed Terri’s breasts carefully with her hands, kissing lingeringly around her erect nipples. Terri’s legs rose as her back arched; deep pleasure sent a rush of wetness between her legs. Noemí’s strong arms wrapped around her arching body as her mouth fed on her luscious sensitive breasts. She kissed her way up slowly, kissed her neck passionately, moaning breathlessly against her skin.

Terri threw her head to the side, moaning again. She reached around Noemí’s body, yanking up her shirt from behind. “Take this off, Noemí, please!” She said, her voice ragged.

Noemí rose up on her knees, and yanked the shirt off, throwing it somewhere beside the bed. She helped Terri remove her own shirt, untied the laces of her shorts, and leaned down to kiss her quivering stomach. Following the line of the shorts with her tongue, she groaned, pulling them down slowly along Terri’s thighs. Her breath caught as she realized that Terri had no panties beneath them, and her lips touched the mostly healed skin above her thighs tenderly.

Terri moaned; her soul was on fire with the body-memory of the brief feel of Noemí’s tongue between her thighs that Christmas morning. Her stomach quivered harder, her hips rising, her legs opening again. Her shaking hands reached down to cup Noemí’s head and to pull her down onto her flesh, but to her frustration, Noemí pulled away and moved up on top of her.

Noemí pressed her hips between Terri’s legs and allowed her arms to soften; she moaned deep in her throat, full of passion and unrestrained desire. Both women became keenly aware of their breasts pressing against each other, softness against softness. Of their nipples brushing together and sending hot fire through their veins.

Terri could feel the soft material of Noemí’s boxers caressing her inner thighs, pressing against the throbbing center of her need. She pressed her lips against Noemí’s shoulders, nibbling softly with her teeth; her eyes closed passionately as emotion and desire collided within her. Her hands traveled the length of Noemí’s slender back, and she felt the muscles shifting as Noemí moved on her; her fingers explored the defined muscles, and they moved lower and slipped beneath the boxers, cupping full muscled buttocks with a barely restrained moan. “Oh God, Noemí!” She cried out before Noemí’s lips covered hers again, wet and smooth as her tongue slipped deeply into her mouth. Terri’s hands moved up and down her sides, her nails grazing the smooth skin making Noemí groan and tremble.

Noemí adjusted her body, straddling Terri’s thigh, as she pressed her own against Terri’s wetness. She began moving her hips in a slow undulation; beginning a pressure and moaning softly; her strong arms holding her body up as her lips claimed Terri’s. Terri moaned softly, her hands on Noemí’s buttocks pulling her down hard against her, her own hips undulating against her muscled thigh.

“Noemí,” She whispered against possessive lips breathlessly, pushing the boxers down more, gasping: “Take them off.” Noemí lifted her hips to allow her to push them down over her hips and thighs, and then she rolled over beside her to push them down. Quickly, she was on her again, placing her center carefully against Terri’s thigh, pressing her own thigh gently against Terri.

Terri groaned passionately, cupping her nude buttocks again and pulling her hard against herself as she raised her thigh to meet her. Noemí groaned in return and began grinding against Terri’s thigh, feeling Terri’s wetness grinding up against her thigh. Noemí’s hands tightened convulsively on the sheets, her muscles trembled from the strain for control. Noemí moaned loudly, her breathing quickening, matching Terri’s.

Loosing total control, she pressed her mouth against Terri’s, moaning softly into her. Mouths opened to allow tongues passage, lips moved together passionately. Terri moaned into Noemí’s mouth, small hands gliding down her back; her short nails sank deeply into the taut straining flesh, her free leg lifted to wrap around her waist and pressed against her buttocks. Terri’s body arched against Noemí’s, the feel of the hard thigh pressing and gliding against her wetness driving her wild with intensity.

She was torturously aware of the ache for release, of the tight shudders in her abdomen; a cry escaped her throat as a sudden spasm shook her body violently. Her hips rose up again and again to meet Noemí’s. She felt Noemí’s strong body above hers, writhing nimbly against her; she was aware of the wetness gliding smoothly against her thigh, leaving a trail of wetness. Their lips made love as their bodies did, Terri’s hands caressed Noemí’s sweating body as it shuddered and pulsed against hers.

A deep husky moan escaped Noemí’s throat; orgasm was so close, so perfectly close… “Oh God, Terri, oh-” She cried out into Terri’s mouth, breathing heavily. “Terri!” She groaned passionately, her insides clenching tighter and tighter. She breathlessly whispered Terri’s name over and over as her hips thrust against Terri’s. Release came quickly, her body buckling not too gently against Terri’s body.

At the same time, Terri’s body reacted powerfully; she arched wildly, and sweating profusely, her stomach heaved. Her body jerked upward and her arms around Noemí tightened as orgasm threatened to break her apart. “Noemí, oh-” She came in wide rising waves, her hips rising onto Noemí’s thigh pressing her passion against it, her head thrown back, exposing her beautiful neck. She felt Noemí’s soft mouth open on her shoulder, her hard breathing, felt Noemí’s hips driving against her over and over again as orgasm weakened Noemí’s arms and she lay spent and limp above her.

Noemí, body cupped against Terri’s back, pressed her face into Terri’s shoulder. She inhaled deeply of Terri’s sweet scent mixed with their sex and sweat, and smiled. She kissed Terri’s smooth next, nuzzling.

Terri sighed contentedly, her hands caressing the strong forearms pressed against her stomach. She couldn’t even think straight, her mind overpowered by the feeling of the strong body pressed against hers. “You feel so good pressed against me like that.” She whispered.

Noemí hummed softly in agreement. “Are you alright?” She asked gently, nuzzling Terri’s shoulder.

“Oh yeah,” Terri whispered in contentment. “I’m perfect.”

Noemí chuckled, feeling the same way.

“There’s something missing though,” Terri whispered, instantly feeling her lover’s body stiffen.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Noemí asked cautiously.

Sorry she made Noemí anxious, Terri turned over to face her, grateful the bedside light was on and Noemí could see her face. “I haven’t touched you.” She whispered, cupping Noemí’s face between her hands. She could feel Noemí’s body relax; see her eyes loose the fear. Pushing the larger woman onto her back, Terri climbed on top of her, straddling her waist. Just sitting astride Noemí like this made Terri feel hot all over and she allowed her eyes the pleasure of studying her lover.

Noemí had to suppress a groan as Terri climbed on top of her and straddled her waist. Her eyes hungrily took in Terri’s breasts, which hung swollen, nipples hard. She wanted to touch them, her hands ached for them, but she would be patient. She threw her head back as Terri’s smooth hands touched each side of her torso.

Unaware of Noemí’s hungry scrutiny, Terri moved her hands slowly along Noemí’s ribcage. Her hands enjoyed the smoothness of the skin, sending messages to Terri’s brain, which in turn were sent to her clitoris. Both women moaned when Terri cupped Noemí’s breasts, and Terri leaned forward to meet her lips.

Noemí cupped each hip and pulled Terri’s heat down against her abdomen. She grunted as heat met her skin, the soft downy hair painting Terri’s wetness on her skin. She could feel Terri’s breasts brush down against hers as the smaller woman panted, undulating her hips against Noemí, almost as if she’d forgotten what she’d set out to do.

But Terri did not forget, and unexpectedly, she moved down to take a nipple into her mouth. Her hands caressed strong shoulders down to strong arms that tensed under her touch. The fingers of her left hand traced the scars on her Noemí’s right forearm gently, as her mouth hungrily fed from the taut nipples. She could feel Noemí’s muscles clench, could hear the soft moans of pleasure and encouragement. Terri could feel Noemí’s chest expand and contract rapidly, in rhythm with her increasingly urgent breaths. Terri moved slightly to kiss the tense biceps, lips slowly moving up to each juncture of shoulders and arms and marveling at the sharp indrawn hiss her actions brought forth.

Noemí had no idea that those spots were sensitive places of her body, but by God if she didn’t feel it all the way down between her legs. She grabbed Terri’s hand and met her lover’s gray-brown eyes, guiding the hand down between them and her thighs. “You’re doing this to me.” She whispered brokenly as Terri’s fingers moved tentatively through her wetness. She watched as Terri’s eyes narrowed and her breath hitched, and brought her hand back up to cup Terri’s face and bring her mouth down to be ravished.

Terri moved her fingers hesitantly, slowly gaining confidence as the minutes went by. She felt Noemí’s need and it matched her own, she realized as Noemí writhed beneath her, moaning against her mouth. Terri didn’t know what drove her crazier: Noemí’s throaty moans or the fact that such a strong and aggressive woman was allowing her to take control. Not realizing it, she brought her heat down against Noemí’s thigh, groaning as her flesh made contact.

Noemí moaned upon feeling the wet heat rubbing rhythmically against her thigh. Groaning deep in her throat as she hung just before the edge, she could feel Terri’s moans vibrating against her lips. Throwing her head back and arching, she grunted as orgasm shook her to the core, the muscles of her abdomen clenching in synch with the muscles between her thighs. Panting, she was dimly aware of Terri’s increasingly urgent thrusts and shaky breaths. The wetness against her thigh had grown, and continued to grow.

Terri heard a shaky moan and realized it was her own. She moaned again as her insides clenched in readiness for what was sure to be an incredible orgasm. Noemí’s hands were at her sides, pulling her down hard against her thigh again. “Ah,” She breathed into Noemí’s ear. “Noemí, oh God-” she felt what must have been a flash of fire rushing through her veins and spreading to her body, taking a hold of her chest and squeezing hard until she couldn’t breathe. She thrust once, twice, and this orgasm was stronger than the first, making her cry out again and again into Noemí’s shoulder.

Spent, she lay on top of Noemí, their sweat mingling as they kissed. “That was amazing,” She breathed into Noemí’s mouth, her hands caressing Noemí’s arms.

Noemí smiled softly, her hands caressing Terri’s smooth back. “Hmm, yes…” She whispered, feeling herself drift off.

****

Noemí woke feeling refreshed, with Terri still on top of her, soft hair pressed against Noemí’s neck. She could tell Terri was awake; her short nails raked softly over her shoulders. “How long was I asleep for?” Noemí asked softly, stretching.

Terri lifted her head to look at Noemí, smiling lazily. “About fifteen minutes,” she said. She looked into Noemí’s beautiful blue eyes, feeling like she could sit on needles and still laugh at that very moment. She felt wonderful, and she could tell Noemí felt the same way.

“You’re amazing, do you know that?” Noemí whispered, touching gentle fingers to Terri’s cheek. “You’re so beautiful, Terri, in the throes of passion.”

Terri blushed. “Noemí, is- is it always so wonderful?” She asked softly.

Noemí lifted her head and kissed her deeply. “Yes, that’s what it’s like.” She whispered against Terri’s mouth, and then said after another deep kiss, her voice teasing: “But there’s always more.” She pushed Terri gently onto her back and climbed onto of her, kissing her softly.

Terri pulled back and pushed Noemí’s hair away from her forehead, caressing her smooth back with her other hand. She remained silent for a few seconds, in awe of the beauty of the strong woman lying on top of her. “More? What could be more wonderful than this?” She asked, remembering Noemí’s silky mouth between her legs, feeling herself blush.

Noemí paused, and then kissed her again. After a while, she pulled away and looked at her closely. “You’ve never…” She trailed off, hoping that Terri would get the clue.

Terri did. “Nothing more than penetration, if that’s what you’re asking. And I never felt the way I do with that, except for when you… you know.” She said, and turned her face away in embarrassment.

Noemí grabbed her chin and turned her face back, lowering her lips to hers again. After a long time of kissing softly, she whispered hoarsely against her cheek: “Well, there is more, and I can show you. There’s plenty of time.”

Terri trembled, as much with desire as with fear of the unknown. She didn’t say anything for a long time and then she kissed Noemí for a long and passionate moment in answer. Her hands cupped Noemí’s face gently, feeling the erotic appeal of her caressing tongue. She was instantly aroused again, and there was new wetness between her legs. Her eyes clenched as a deep shudder shook her body. She pressed up into Noemí, fingers straining against Noemí’s back again, her hips already rising.

Noemí hummed softly and she rose from Terri’s body to kneel above her, kissing her and pushing her tongue into her mouth when Terri whimpered her complaint. She kissed her eyelids, her nose, her cheeks, her lips, her chin, and her neck, over and over, marveling at their silkiness. All the while, one hand was gently touching Terri’s breasts, her fingers touching around the nipples so slowly, lightly, so torturously gentle, erecting them to aching tips. Her mouth took one in softly, and Terri’s groan was long and full of desire. Her tongue flickered around the nipple, teeth biting gently, as her hand moved slowly down her quivering stomach to the soft hair above her thighs.

Noemí’s fingers were greeted by intense, hot wetness, by quivering spreading thighs allowing her passage into the sea of treasures between them. Terri moaned with growing urgency, her hips lifting as her legs spread in invitation.

Without warning, groaning deep in her throat, Noemí sank long fingers inside her. Terri’s body buckled even as her breath stopped, and then arched hard as a long moan came from her trembling lips. Noemí moved her lips from Terri’s nipples and moved upwards along her skin; she kept her fingers inside her without moving them, feeling the wet muscles of her lover’s flesh tighten around her fingers deliciously. She moved to her ear, kissing her way along her neck, and she whispered sensuously: “How does that feel?”

Terri groaned loudly, she couldn’t respond with words. Her skin was flushed red, sweating again; the sweat running in rivulets down between her breasts, and her hips thrust rhythmically against Noemí’s fingers. “Mm, you have to keep quiet, Terri,” Noemí whispered sensuously, moving down to lick the sweat from valley between Terri’s breasts very slowly then lying down beside her. “The baby will wake up then, and I won’t be able to finish what I’ve just started.” She moved her coated fingers gently, and Terri groaned, trying to restrain the cries that were gathering in her throat; her body jerked violently.

Noemí could see the muscles of her neck tensing, the tendons sticking out as she held back a moan. She could feel the wetness flood around her fingers.

Terri’s stomach quivered against Noemí’s arm, her breasts heaved as she struggled for breath, her body trembled hard, her hips rose to meet the thrust of Noemí’s fingers, her hands clutched at the bed covers frantically as Noemí’s fingers began a smooth glide inside her. “Noemí!” She whispered brokenly, her breathing shallow.

Noemí lifted her face to touch her lips to Terri’s, and then she kissed her sweaty face gently, moving along at a slower and gentler pace than her fingers inside Terri. “Tell me how you feel. Tell me if you want more, Terri. I want to hear you tell me how you feel…” She whispered, thrusting harder and faster now, pulling out all the way and gliding smoothly back in. Her mouth moved along her neck again, and she bit passionately into the skin above her breasts, awakening in Terri a wild passion as her lover’s fingers made her ache for release.

Soon, Terri knew what Noemí meant when she said there was more. She suddenly knew that her body and soul could reach different and higher levels of ecstasy, as Noemí’s fingers continued their rhythm. After many, long-lasting orgasms, she couldn’t take any more, and her body buckled as if lightning were running through it, shuddering violently. Noemí slowly stopped moving her fingers, leaving them deeply inside her, and allowing them to feel the quivering clench of wet muscles.

Terri lay in Noemí arms, spent and beautifully sore, her eyes closing as she kissed her shoulder. “That… was so… beautiful, Noemí.” She gasped, shivering, and aware that Noemí’s fingers were brushing her wet hair away from her forehead. “That was amazing; I never thought it would be so good.” She paused, and lifted her head to meet Noemí’s lips, whispering against them:
“I never thought- I-” Her voice trailed off and she lay her head down and fell asleep.

She was sure she heard the baby crying, but thought it was a dream until she felt the bed shift noticeably as Noemí got up. The bedside light flickered on and she covered her head with the quilt, groaning sleepily. The baby’s throaty cries came closer to her ear, and she heard a faint chuckle. She turned over and pulled the quilt from her head, squinting and blinking rapidly as the light tortured her eyes. She gazed up at the little red-faced Noemí, held close to her by Noemí’s tender hands.

She sat up slowly, and rested against the headboard, knowing instinctively that it was time to feed her daughter. “Come here, baby.” She whispered tenderly, taking her from Noemí’s hands and adjusting her into a feeding position on her left breast. The baby found her nipple on her own, eagerly sucking. “Ouch!” She whispered with a little jump as little Noemí’s toothless gums chewed on her nipple, which was already tender from Noemí’s earlier attentions.

Noemí moved to the other side of the bed and climbed under the covers, lying on her side propped up on her elbow. She gazed at the child in Terri’s arms with tender love. Her eyes met Terri’s, and a flash of heat burned Terri’s body anew. “How do you feel?” Noemí asked softly, her smile sensuous and playful.

“Like a brand new woman.” Terri answered in a low voice, and Noemí moved closer to kiss her lips lingeringly. Then Noemí leaned her face against Terri’s shoulder, and both women gazed at the baby together. “Isn’t she beautiful, Noemí?” Terri asked softly, her voice full of love. The child was staring up at them with wide blue-green eyes, her lips wrapped hungrily around Terri’s nipple.

Noemí nodded slowly, a smile curving her lips. She pressed her lips against Terri’s neck, and she felt Terri tremble and moan softly. They continued to gaze at the child feeding off Terri’s breast, and Noemí whispered in her ear after a while, her voice sensuously throaty: “I want to feel your nipples in my mouth again.”

Terri moaned, and threw her head back against the headrest. “Oh, just wait until she’s asleep again.” She said in a low quavering voice. They talked as the child fed off Terri’s full breast, her tiny lips sucking the milk with relentless hungry vigor. Her little hand rested against the side of Terri’s breast, tiny fingers clenching and unclenching. Terri laughed at something Noemí said, looking down when little Noemí’s hungry sucks turned lazy and eventually stopped.

The baby was asleep again, her tiny stomach full and protruding adorably between the line of the diaper and her baby shirt. Terri knew that she had to burp her before laying her down again. She placed her against her chest; a little towel on her shoulder in case something more than a burp came up, and tapped her tiny back very gently, like Natalie had shown her. She gazed at Noemí, who was gazing back at her with uninhibited desire. “I can’t believe I’m a mother.” She said in a low voice full of loving wonder.

Noemí smiled at her and leaned forward to kiss her again. “A beautiful mother at that.” She whispered, trailing her fingers against her inner thigh softly. Terri let out a long breath, her legs opening against her will. As if on cue, little Noemí’s burp was bigger than life and was followed by two small ones.

With a chuckle, Noemí got off the bed and came around to take the sleeping baby in her arms. She kissed her tiny forehead very gently and lowered her carefully into her crib. “She’s so well behaved too; we can make love all we want.” She whispered, and turned to the bed, smiling as Terri spread her arms for her to come into.

Noemí climbed onto the bed, and moved into her arms with a soft sigh. She pushed Terri down onto her back and lay on top of her. They kissed passionately for a long time, tongues twining wetly. They each nuzzled the other’s neck, teeth gently sinking into shoulders, breaths catching, murmuring. Terri reached for the light, but Noemí caught her hand, kissing it and moving her lips slowly up her arm. She whispered as her reason, her mouth thirsty and desiring: “I want you to see this.”

A feeling of anticipation made Terri’s body tense and the inside of her thighs quiver, her wetness growing intensely. Noemí pushed herself up slightly with her arms and hovered above her, kissing her lips again and moving down to her neck and breasts.

Noemí grabbed at a pillow and pulled it beneath Terri’s head, wanting Terri to watch her pleasing her. Terri watched the top of Noemí’s gold-red hair move down, concentrating on feeling the silky lips moving across the plain of her stomach, her tongue trailing a line down along her skin. She moved lower, and pressed Terri’s legs open, lifting her knees and holding her open to gaze at her. She kissed her inner thighs, and Terri groaned, her stomach quivering all over again with renewed anticipation.

Spreading Terri’s legs more, pushing her knees down as far as they could go and opening her wide, Noemí licked her way from each knee and up to her wet outer lips, teasing deliberately slow. Terri’s back arched as she shivered and her eyes closed tightly, her body tensed and her head pressed against the pillow. From below, Noemí whispered: “Look at me.” Her tongue stroked her wetness, the tip tickling softly.

Terri’s body jerked and she released a shuddering moan; her hips lifted, inviting more. “Look at me,” Noemí whispered again, her warm breath tickling Terri as her lips kissed right above her wetness; she made a move to get up. “Or I’ll stop.”

Terri made herself look down, gasping, her face flushed and sweaty.

“Hold your legs, baby.” Noemí instructed softly, kissing her inner thighs again, reaching up and grasping Terri’s shaky hands and pulling them down to her legs to make her grasp right below her knees, holding them open. “Mm, that’s it.” Her tongue stroked her wetness again, firmer now and Terri moaned, feeling Noemí’s strong shoulders pressing against the back of her thighs.

There were no words to describe what she was feeling, only the distant memory of Noemí briefly bending down between her legs months before. Her legs trembled, her hips rose to meet Noemí’s silky tongue. For a long time, the tease drove her wild, to the point where she couldn’t take any more. She threw her head back again and cried out, her body tensing, her hips thrusting. She gasped loudly; she sounded like she was sobbing and her eyes rolled back in her head and she clenched them closed.

“Look down at me.” Noemí said again, and her fingers caressed taut buttocks, kneading softly as her tongue licked the engorged clitoris very, very softly.

Terri flooded into her lover’s mouth. Suddenly, hearing Noemí groan hungrily, Terri felt her tongue sink deeply into the wetness, taking it in, tasting and feeling it thoroughly. Terri was on fire, her body weakened deliciously, and her legs fell over Noemí’s shoulders as her hands moved to grab Noemí’s head. She gazed down at her with narrowed eyes, her mouth hanging open as she panted hotly for breath.

She could feel the sweat break out of her body again, the hot ocean in her body rise, and her wetness throbbing hard. She felt swollen and ready to explode. Her head felt light; the room seemed to spin around her. She pressed the heels of her feet hard against the small of Noemí’s back, lifting her hips to clamp her throbbing wetness against the hot mouth. “Yes, Noemí!” She groaned, biting her lower lip. “Please, please, don’t tease me!”

Noemí’s silky mouth took a more substantial feeling, her tongue sinking into her again and again and then flicking over her engorged clitoris. She moaned thickly as she thoroughly sucked, licked, tasted her delicious sweetness, felt the silk of her wet flesh. Her arms wrapped around her hips, her hands flat over her quivering stomach, and she pulled her down harder onto her mouth, her wrists pressing downwards against her tense thighs.

Terri groaned, turning her face onto her pillow and crying out against it. She sobbed, trembling, turning her face to breathe loudly: “Oh God- Noemí! I’m com- I’m com-” Her voice broke into a prolonged moan, her hands grasping the pillow to the back of her head, her face contorted and red as ecstasy melted through her. Over and over again, her body trembled and her hips twisted, cries leaving her throat like wails. For a long time, Noemí held her as orgasm shot through her body like fire, fingers slipping deep inside Terri again to feel the wet vibrations, her wet face pressed against her heart.

Eventually, Terri lay spent beneath Noemí, unable to move much less talk. She tried, and gave up, seeking Noemí’s embrace. “Oh Noemí!” She said after a long time, drifting to sleep again before she knew it.

****

Head resting on Terri’s soft stomach, Noemí dreamt. This time there were no nightmares, no tears, and no pain, only peacefulness. It was too real…

She is standing on a rocky beach, the water laps generously against the shore, the white foam of the waves lingering before being sucked back into the sea. The sun shines brightly, a yellow-white hot ball of fire on the white sky. It doesn’t burn her, but it warms her, giving her comfort. The water is a yellow-white color also, and the sounds it emits are wonderful to Noemí’s ears. Like music. It’s all so realistic, yet so dream like.

She feels truly peaceful inside for the first time in a long time.

“Does this mean I can say goodbye?” A familiar voice asks behind her.

Noemí spins around, shocked. Amelia stands there, hands on her hips, incredibly beautiful, as she had always been. Short and black curly hair frames her slender face like a halo. Beautiful brown eyes reflect the light of the sun and twinkle as tears fill her ethereal eyes. Her lithe, yet shapely body is covered with a robe-like sheet, shoulders and arms bared.

Noemí chokes up with tears, her eyes taking in everything about Amelia. “Amelia!” She gasps, bringing the back of her trembling hand to her quivering lips. “Oh God, are you real?”

Amelia’s arms open in welcome; a radiant smile opens her full lips to reveal perfect teeth. “I’m very real.” She says in her soft melodic voice.

Noemí walks into her arms, sobbing in happiness and burying her face into the crook of Amelia’s soft neck. “I’ve missed you so much!”

Amelia nods, lips pressed against her temple. “I know,” She says. “I’ve been watching you.” She runs her fingers through Noemí’s soft hair, just like she used to when they hugged or made love.

Noemí pulls her head back and their lips meet hungrily. Memories of their time together flash behind Noemí’s eyes, and her body responds with a familiar hunger and desire. She fumbles with Amelia’s robe, but Amelia grasps her hands. Noemí can see she is breathing hard, just like her. “What?”

Amelia swallows hard. “We don’t have a lot of time, Noe.” She says shakily.

“Why?” Noemí demands, panicking. “Where are you going?”

“Back home.” Amelia says, and sits on a nearby boulder; she gestures Noemí to join her.

“Where is home?” Noemí asks, calmer. She sits down beside her and feels comforted when Amelia takes her hand. “I want to come with you.” She says decisively.

Amelia smiles softly, her eyes shining love as she looks at Noemí. “Oh, but you can’t, my love.” She says with a chuckle. “My home is the place where you go when you die. You haven’t died.”

Noemí shakes her head stubbornly. “I still want to come with you.” She says.

Amelia’s smile grows as she studies her. “What about Noemí Imogene?” She asks melodically. “Beautiful name it is, Noemí Imogene.” She says slowly, looking out at the horizon, tasting the name in her mouth. “Noemí Imogene, she and I think alike.” She looks at Noemí again, her eyes full of love.

Noemí is smiling sweetly, the sound of the baby’s name does that to her. “You’ve seen her?” She asks softly, meeting Amelia’s radiant eyes.

Amelia chuckles, squeezing her hand gently. “Yes, I have.” She responds. “She is beautiful, and so is her mother.”

“Terri.” Noemí whispers, her eyes glazing over at the thought of her.

Amelia chuckles and squeezes her hand gently. “Yes, Terri,” Amelia asserts. “They’re waiting for you, back home.” Noemí looks at her with confused eyes. “This is just a meeting place for loved ones from either side.” She explains, making a sweeping motion with her free hand.

Noemí nods in understanding. “Where is your home?” She asks again.

Amelia grins. “It’s a beautiful place, the sun always shines, and everyone loves each other.” She says. “Everyone knows everyone, we all get along, and it’s heaven. I wish you could see it, and for a while I thought you would, but now you’re not going to cross over as soon as everyone expected.”

Noemí frowns. “What do you mean?” She asks.

“Well,” Amelia says, shrugging. “In a way, I’m very grateful to your irresponsible brother. If he hadn’t seeded that child within Terri, she wouldn’t have come into your life, and neither would have that beautiful child. She’s yours too, now.” She smiles gently. “If Terri hadn’t come into your life and turned you around, within a year, you would have been ill, maybe you would have killed yourself driving drunk, or you would have come up with a deadly liver disease that would have consumed you quickly. You were due to come up in about a year. But now you have a whole life to live, your body is almost completely cleansed from that disgusting drinking, and your heart is healing. I just wanted to see you to say goodbye, and to give you the go on loving again.” She breaks off and looks over her shoulder.

Noemí looks behind them also, and sees to the distance, a white light that is growing. Her hand around Amelia’s tightens. “Don’t go, Amelia.” She pleads tearfully.

Amelia looks at her with the most tender of expressions. She stands up and pulls Noemí to her. She kisses her lips gently. “You and Terri are meant to be.” She whispers against her lips, she pulls back and stares at her with watery eyes. “You’re so beautiful, my love, you always were. Be happy.” She starts to turn towards the light.

Noemí watches her walk away, the tears streaming down her cheeks. Just before Amelia walks into the light, she calls out: “Wait!” Amelia turns to look at her, those gorgeous brown eyes glistening with tears and ethereal health. “Our baby, where is it?” She whispers brokenly, not able to say it loud, hoping Amelia hears her over the sound of the sea.

But Amelia hears her as if she said it in her ear. She smiles gently, and she says: “She is with you, Noemí Imogene.” She lifts a slender hand and waves. “Remember that I love you, always have and always will. Be happy…” She turns and walks into the light, the white light grows, momentarily blinding Noemí, and then disappears. Just then, Noemí feels everything around her fade.

She opened her eyes slowly, and found that it was still dark. She was now lying on her back, an arm dangling from the bed. The faint silhouette of Terri’s body caught her attention, and she moved closer, wrapping her arms around her, sighing peacefully when Terri burrowed deeper into her embrace. Sleep overtook her again.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
The sun was beautiful outside, flowing through the window into the room. Noemí opened her eyes slightly at the sound of a baby gurgle. A smile slowly grew on her face as she sat up and stretched. She looked over at Terri, grinning at the stomach down sprawled position of her smaller body. Noemí could tell she was dead asleep, and that nothing short of an earthquake would wake her. She got up, padding around the bed towards the crib; she leaned over, finding a grinning and kicking Imogene staring up at her.

“Ah, you’re awake, aren’t you?” She whispered, reaching in and taking a tiny socked foot and gently shaking it. “How long have you been awake, eh?” She reached her other hand in and picked the baby up into her arms. She could feel her heart expand as it always did when she held the baby. Walking back around the bed to her side, cradling the baby and cooing at her, she back sat on the bed with her slouched back against pillow, propped up against the headrest, the baby in her arms lying face down over her bare chest.

Little Noemí was fully awake, gazing up at her with wide eyes. Noemí crooned at her, saying little things to her and patting her diapered butt gently. Little Noemí kicked out and laughed soundlessly, her body bundled up warmly; she was cheerful and smiling toothlessly.

Terri drifted awake, but she didn’t move from her stomach-down position, listening to Noemí’s sweet words. She gazed up at her through her hair, which lay in a mat over her face, preventing Noemí from seeing that she was now awake.

“Do you know how much I love you and your mommy?” Noemí was saying softly, her voice sweet and full of love, her eyes full of adoration as she gazed at the child in her arms. Not really knowing much about baby care, Noemí had wrapped the baby in her blanket after changing her wet diaper and now she held her gently in her embrace.

The smile on her face was one that Terri had never seen before. The sun reflected off her gold-red hair as it fell over her forehead. “I love you both so much, I wouldn’t be able to live without either one of you. You’re both part of my life now, and I’m happy about that.” She laughed tenderly when little Noemí’s small head fell to her chest for a rest, and then drifted up again, her eyes wide and looking up at her again. Her little forehead crinkled a little as both of her eyebrows arched in her innocent stare.

“So beautiful, you and your mommy, and I feel so lucky. You know,” She said with an adorable tone of conspiracy, touching the child’s nose with a tender finger. “You remember what I told you the first time I brought your mommy home with you in her arms? That I love you and your mommy so much, that’s what I told you.” A little dribble of saliva dripped down from the baby’s tiny lower lip, and touched Noemí’s chest, leaving a thin band of saliva between her lip and her chest. Adult Noemí gurgled like a baby and smiled when Terri couldn’t stop herself from chuckling at the beautiful sight.

Terri lifted herself up, turning over onto her side, brushing her hair away from her face and leaning to little Noemí, pressing her lips against her little temple very gently. The baby turned her head to gaze at her mother, and Terri sat up and reached for her. “You’re going to spoil her.” She chided gently as Noemí sat up and kissed her lips tenderly.

“Good morning to you. Or is it afternoon?” She said with a small laugh. She looked at the clock on the bedside table, and laughed again. “Okay, afternoon.” She corrected herself, kissing her shoulder tenderly. “I personally am very hungry. Do you want to order out for brunch or something?” She asked softly, inserting her index finger into the baby’s little creamy fist, pulling a little against her hold. “Strong, isn’t she?” She said proudly, leaning down and kissing her little fingers tenderly. She kissed Terri’s shoulder again, and asked: “What do you say? Order out?”

Terri shrugged; she bent her head down to kiss her lips. “Why don’t we take showers first, and then I make something here?” She said instead.

“Mm, I don’t want to make you cook for me, baby.” Noemí said softly, moving closer to her.

Terri pulled her legs together and folded them up, settling the baby comfortably on them. The baby stared up at her with innocent awe; her little legs kicked excitedly against her blanket. Terri smiled as she opened the soft bundle Noemí made with the blanket around the child’s body, saying to Noemí gently: “I think she’s warm enough, don’t you?”

Noemí smiled at her and shrugged. “She was comfortable for a while and then she looked a little cold, so I bundled her up. Oh, and I changed her diaper too.” She said, sounding very proud of herself.

Terri winked and blew a little kiss at her as she lifted the baby up so that Noemí could remove the blanket. As soon as they were freed, the tiny legs began to kick healthily, sticking down straight. Noemí moved closer and nuzzled her chunky thighs, tickling her with wriggling lips. She moved down to nuzzle her tiny feet, chuckling softly. The baby began to kick again, and caught Noemí on the nose; Noemí fell away, rubbing her nose.

Terri laughed and laid the baby along her thighs again, touching her tiny feet with gentle hands. After a while of laughing, little Noemí began to grow cranky, redden, and then she began to cry; she was obviously hungry by the way she began to suckle on her own tiny little fist. Terri had fed her early in the morning, and she had held out long enough. She shifted her gently and cradled her, staring down at her as she twisted her face this way and that, trying to find her erect nipple. Soon, her tiny lips were sucking the milk with gusto, her eyes closed sleepily.

“I’ll order out.” Noemí said, reaching for the phone.

Terri reached out with her free hand and grasped her shoulder, stopping her. “No!” She said in a no nonsense voice, smiling at her. “I really want to cook for you. Now go take a shower.”

Noemí stared at her for a moment, smiling mischievously. She moved to the edge of the bed, and padded naked to the bathroom, Terri’s eyes admiringly following every movement of her strong body.

****

They ate quietly, gazing and grinning at each other across the table. Terri had made a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon with wheat toast. Noemí munched happily on her food, gazing at the baby, who sat on a baby seat beside Terri on the table. She kicked her little fists and laughed that adorable baby cackle. Terri reached over and touched the Imogene’s foot, grinning at her. Then she moved back and looked at Noemí again, her smile fading as desire ran through her, and she saw the same look reflected in Noemí’s eyes. She stood up as Noemí stood, and both women moved around the table towards each other, forgetting about their breakfast.

They came together in a passionate embrace, arms wrapped around each other as their lips met. Noemí’s tongue slipped into her mouth, and she moved them towards the refrigerator, pushing her against it. Terri brought a leg up and wrapped it around Noemí, feeling Noemí press her hips against hers. She moaned softly, feeling Noemí’s hand slip between them, then between her legs under her long shirt.

Noemí groaned as her fingers slipped into ready wetness, and Terri brought her head forward, pressing her forehead against Noemí’s shoulder. Her fingers dug into her shoulder and her head arched back; Noemí’s mouth came to her throat and her teeth gently nipped on her skin. She moved her head back and watched Terri’s expression as she thrust her fingers in and out of her wetness.

Terri threw her head back, eyes closed in ecstasy, her mouth hanging open. She seemed unable to moan, and her breath left her in a hiss. When it seemed they wouldn’t be able to stop, Noemí whispered: “Let’s go back to bed.” She gently pulled her fingers away from Terri and moved back. Terri’s thighs trembled as she stood on her two feet again. They grabbed the baby seat and hurriedly made their way to the bedroom, wanting each other with all the passion in the universe.

Noemí groaned, looking down and letting her eyes take in the pinkish color of Terri’s very erect nipples, the sensuality of her newly flat stomach heaving as a soft moan escaped followed by a long shudder. Noemí was aware of Terri’s arms clasped tightly around her neck, of her fingers brushing through her hair and tightening convulsively as Noemí’s mouth took in a nipple and sucked gently, her teeth biting very tenderly.

Terri’s body arched in welcome, her legs spread wide. She grasped Noemí’s shoulders and pushed her down, a gasping plead in her low whimper. Her fingers sifted through Noemí’s wet hair, pulling it hard as a thick moan made her way through her clamped lips. She couldn’t hold any longer, she longed for the silky feeling of Noemí’s mouth and tongue. She couldn’t be made love to slowly; her trembling body was reaching for release.

Noemí’s lips trailed hot caresses down between her breasts, her stomach, dipping into her navel and teasing gently. This had an effect on Terri, who began to tremble and whimper. Noemí smiled at her discovery and she shifted to lie between Terri’s legs, pressing her breasts against the hot wetness; she began licking and dipping her tongue into Terri’s quivering navel over and over.

Terri’s hips began a thrusting motion and she lifted her legs to wrap them around Noemí’s torso. Noemí could read the urgency in Terri, in her frantic movements, in the way she whispered Noemí’s name like a breathless chant. Noemí reached back with an arm and removed Terri’s legs from around her body. She moved down, lifting them over her shoulders. She could feel their immediate tightening; they urged her mouth towards the dripping wetness that was of her making.

Noemí couldn’t resist, mouth watering even before it opened to the sweet milky taste of her. Terri’s legs tightened convulsively around Noemí, and her hands pulled at her hair and her body buckled. Noemí’s hands moved lovingly along her thighs, up to knead the beautiful hips and up more to caress the beautiful breasts and tease her nipples with gentle fingers.

Terri’s hips thrust fast against her tongue; helpless cries escaped her lips. The now familiar tightening pressure began inside her, her breath caught in her throat and her hips rose in one long pressure against Noemí’s hungry mouth, her legs clamping together around her head. She pressed her lips shut, breathing loudly and deeply, because she knew that if she allowed her mouth to open, the scream that would tear through her would frighten her sleeping child.

“Hmm, oh yes!” She whispered hoarsely over and over again, grunting as she felt herself reaching the edge, hovering, floating there until she couldn’t take any more. She could feel Noemí’s expertly coaxing tongue stroking her so softly now, so tenderly, holding her at the edge of release, licking so slowly until she couldn’t take any more. “Inside! Inside, Noemí!” She sobbed and was instantly gratified by the smooth inward glide of Noemí’s long fingers against the tightness of her wetness.

Noemí pushed Terri’s trembling legs from her shoulders, spread them open wider and held them open with her shoulder as her tongue and fingers taught Terri about a new way of pleasure. Her fingers glided in and out against the clenching muscles, her tongue licked, her lips sucked with more force now, aiming without preamble for Terri’s release. Terri threw her head back and grasped Noemí’s hair, pulling her mouth tighter against her. And then release came in the form of one incredible orgasm followed by more of the same magnitude and stronger. Her legs fell open weakly and her fingers slipped limply from Noemí’s hair.

Noemí licked the nectar from her own lips, her eyes took in the expression of pure rapture on Terri’s beautiful face as ecstasy claimed her like never before, and she moved up to hold her as her body shuddered and tensed. Noemí looked down at her sweaty face with love and leaned down to kiss her sweetly on the lips.

Terri was still gasping, trying to catch her breath and crying from the joy at the same time. “Oh, God, Noemí…” She croaked softly and trembled in Noemí’s embrace. Within minutes, she was deeply asleep, her head on Noemí’s shoulder, her face buried in the crook between shoulder and neck.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
Anthony slammed down the phone, growling. He had been checking his funds at his bank, and they were low. He only had about a hundred thousand dollars left, and the expense of his hotel room and gambling would take care of that in a couple of months’ time. He had been in Vegas for about three weeks already and he had to have the best room in the Caesar’s Palace Hotel; the room had to be big enough for him to be able to have parties.

Many vacationing young women had passed through his room, impressed by the amount of money he waved around and the lavishly expensive room he had in one of the best hotels in Las Vegas. Of course, they wanted him to spend lots of money on them, and he sure did, wanting them to return. Gambling, he’d lost about thirty thousand dollars already, and would keep loosing if he continued.

He thought about how good he’d had it before Terri came along and took it from him. “That bitch,” He snarled. The thought of returning home and begging his father for forgiveness had crossed his mind, but that meant he’d have to marry Terri and that was not an option. He would never tie himself down to a woman for some brat. He should have stayed away from her from the beginning, as her initial attitude had warned him.

Terri had been a challenge, just as ready to sock him across the head than to let him even say hi. He worked hard at getting her to trust him, to consider him her friend. He couldn’t deny to himself that Terri was a fine specimen to behold, if you looked past the frumpy clothes and attitude. Oh yeah, he had wanted her, but only because she rejected his advances. He always knew how far to go with that, and when he took her out for her birthday and got her drunk, he knew it was his chance. She had struggled at first, especially when he entered her, but then seemed to deflate, her eyes closed, her face thrown to the side.

Terri hadn’t let him back for many days after that, only when he groveled and promised repeatedly that he wouldn’t just leave, did she let him back in to her apartment. He made sure he brought birth control with him, and made sure she took it every day. He frowned as he thought of the day she told him she was pregnant. He felt his world collapse around him, and Noemí’s name kept popping up in his head.

Noemí would kill him if she found out, was his first thought, knowing Noemí’s reactions to his problems. When she had bailed him out of jail a few months before, she had smacked him across the face many times, and he didn’t dare retaliate. The fury in her eyes had him almost pissing his pants; Victoria’s hand on Noemí’s arm was the only thing keeping him from getting a good socking. His sister was very strong, and though he could probably beat her up, she would not go down by herself.

He would have to call his father and talk to him about the rest of his inheritance; it had to be ten million at least. He would get it out of him, even if he had to use the brat as leverage.

****

Noemí leaned against her desk, gazing out the window. There was a small smile on her face, and her eyes were distant as she remembered the weekend. She and Terri had basically spent it in bed, engrossed in each other, and when the baby woke, playing with her.

She sighed softly, shoving her hands in to her pockets and missing Terri and Imogene deeply. On Monday morning as Noemí was leaving for work, she’d stood by the door with Terri in her arms for a long time. Their kisses were passionate, and Noemí was definitely not ready to go. She could sense Terri hadn’t wanted to let her go either, and it took a lot of false starts before she was finally able to walk away.

Noemí never imagined she could feel this way again, this expansion of her heart and mind, the warmth. When she’d held Terri in her arms, their mouths locked and their bodies pressed together, she felt like the weight of the earth could rest on her shoulders and she could run up a mountain with it. She closed her eyes at the memory of the sweet taste of Terri’s wetness, the sound of her moans as Noemí feasted on her, the feeling of her thighs pressing against the sides of her head as her body surged upwards towards her mouth.

Shaking her head, Noemí brought herself back from her lustful musings. She shivered slightly, taking a deep breath. She couldn’t wait to get home that night and just have Terri again. Smiling softly, Noemí reached for the phone.

Terri picked up the cordless on the third ring, splashing water onto Imogene’s full tummy. “Hello?” She grinned down at her daughter, whom she had leaned back on the little tub and bathed gently. She had taken off her shirt and stood bare-chested to avoid getting wet.

“Hi,” Noemí said softly, sitting down on her chair and closing her eyes. The sound of Terri’s voice made her miss her all the more, if it was possible.

“Hey, you!” Terri exclaimed, glad to hear her lover’s voice. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning.” She soaped a little rag and began to brush it gently over her baby’s tummy. Imogene kicked her bare feet, splashing her mother.

“I’m glad to hear that, I’ve been doing the same about you.” Noemí whispered into the phone, and could hear the water splashing. “What are you doing?”

“Giving the baby a bath,” She said, tucking the phone between her shoulder and ear. “She puked all over herself.” She chuckled, lifting the baby up and turning her around slightly to wash her back.

Noemí’s nose wrinkled as she laughed softly. “Glad I wasn’t there for that moment,” She said, and then sighed. “I wanted to let you know that I miss you, and that I’m going to visit my parents for a little bit before coming home. I haven’t really seen them much since the baby was born.”

Terri smiled. “I understand,” She said. “I’m going to see if Imogene will fall asleep, then I can paint a little.”

“I can pick her up if you want and take her with me to see them.” Noemí offered, knowing that if she came home, she’d never leave.

Terri thought the same thing, and laughed softly. She lifted the baby up off the little tub and wrapped her in her little hooded towel, walking out of the bathroom into the bedroom. “You know that if you come home you’re never going to see your parents, so I recommend you go see them and then come home. We have all evening after that.” She said seductively, and grinned when she heard Noemí sigh.

“You’re right,” Noemí conceded. “So I’ll see you tonight, alright?”

“Yes,” Terri said. “And I’ll miss you terribly in the meantime.”

Noemí grinned as they hung up, leaning back on her chair and looking up into the air. Paula found her like that and smiled when it took her a couple of tries before getting her boss’ full attention.

****

“Hey, dad,” Noemí said, walking into her father’s study.

Thomas looked up from the large book resting on his desk. With a smile on his face, he stood up and walked around his desk, arms open to hug his daughter. She went to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing. “Hi, honey,” He said. “How is everything?”

“Everything is great, dad,” Noemí replied, pulling back slightly to look at him. “But I have to talk to you about something.”

Thomas looked his daughter over worriedly, trying to find any sign of unhappiness, but found none. He let her go and gestured for her to sit down, doing the same. “What’s going on?” He asked gently, eyeing her intently.

Noemí looked down at her lap, hesitating, glad her father was not pressuring her. “I’ve fallen in love again, dad.” She said softly, looking up at him again.

Thomas wasn’t sure what he should say, but he was sure that the grin spreading across his face said enough. My daughter is in love again! He thought ecstatically, leaning forward. “So,” He said gently, leaning forward and gazing into eyes so much like his. “Who is the lucky woman?”

Noemí swallowed hard, wiping her sweaty palms against her thighs. “Terri.” She said quickly, looking away.

Thomas sat back and took a deep breath, staring at his daughter in stunned silence. He thought back to New Year’s Day, when Terri had given birth, and the state of mind Noemí was in. He had attributed her declaration of love for Terri to be part of her nervousness. She had been so agitated that he hardly paid mind to her words, more worried that his daughter would have a nervous breakdown. After a long moment, he licked dry lips and nodded slowly, gazing at her with wide blue eyes. “This is a surprise, Noemí.” He said gently, and after a long moment, he asked: “Does she feel the same?”

Noemí looked up at her father, surprised that he hadn’t had a fit. Not that Terri had ever given him doubts about herself; she was a good woman, and everyone knew it. “She hasn’t said it.” She said slowly, crossing a leg over her knee and clasping her ankle.

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.” He said softly.

Noemí nodded, smiling at him. “Dad, just the fact that I can love again,” She paused, shaking her head slowly. “I never thought I would feel this way again, I never thought I’d feel alive.”

Thomas nodded, feeling tears fill his eyes. “I know,” He said huskily, so happy to see the light in her daughter’s eyes again.

“If she doesn’t love me back, I don’t know what I would do; but I rather not think about it.” She ran a hand through her hair. “All I know is that she makes me feel,” She closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the backrest. “I can’t explain it.”

“I understand, Noemí,” Her father said, smiling at her. “I suspect I know what it is. The same way I feel about your mother, I’m sure.”

Noemí smiled at her father, nodding. “Speaking of, where is mom?” She asked.

“Gone shopping for the baby’s baptism,” Thomas said, smiling.

Noemí scowled. “Baptism?” She repeated, standing up. “I haven’t heard anything about a baptism. Did she ask Terri about it? Maybe she forgot to tell me.”

Thomas chuckled, shaking his head. “She hasn’t said anything to Terri yet,” He said, humor in his voice. “And you know your mother.”

Noemí’s face cleared, and she laughed softly. “Yes,” She said. “I guess it’s my duty to let Terri know, eh?” Her father nodded. Laughing and shaking her head, she stood up and went towards the door, stopping and turning towards her father. She hesitated, swallowing visibly. “Have you heard anything from Anthony?” She asked slowly.

Her father smiled comfortingly. “That scares you doesn’t it?” He asked gently, and his heart reached out to her as she nodded.
“I haven’t heard anything yet. Last I heard he was in Las Vegas, gambling his money away. I should hear something soon, I think.”

Noemí frowned, her head cocking to the side. “Where are you getting this information from?” She inquired, curious.

“Martha. She thought she should warn me of his impending return.” He chuckled; he knew there was no love lost between his niece and his son.

Noemí nodded. “Caesar must be keeping track of him then.” She said quietly. “I’m going now, dad, tell mom I love her for me.”

“Okay, honey,” He said. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yes,” She said, smiling and walking out of the study.

****

“Why all this poop, eh?” Terri asked gently, her nose wrinkling at the smell of another dirty baby diaper, which she had thrown on the floor next to her bed. Her daughter was a poop machine. She’d even asked Travis about it, and he said it was normal for babies as young as Imogene to poop a lot after each breastfeeding. Terri grinned down at her staring daughter, wiping her clean and putting another diaper on. “You have beautiful eyes, Imogene. They’re going to be just like Noemí’s.” She whispered, seeing the deep resemblance between her daughter and her lover.

Once finished putting Imogene’s clothes back on, Terri gently gathered her daughter into her arms and went towards the living room, where she sat her back down her rocking chair. Sitting down, she picked her pad and pencil up from the coffee table, opening it. With a last smiling glance at her dozing daughter, she began to sketch. Not much later, she heard the sound of keys jiggling on the other side of the front door. She leaned forward and covered a now sleeping Imogene with her little blanket.

Noemí stepped into the apartment, an arm behind her back, and kicked the door closed gently. “Hi,” She whispered, looking over at the sleeping infant, her smile widening even more.

“Hi,” Terri whispered, standing up slowly, a welcoming grin on her face. Her eyes concentrated so much on Noemí’s face and eyes that she never noticed the hidden hand. She held her breath and felt her heart stop as Noemí neared, a soft smile curving her lips. She stared up at her mouth, remembering what those lips had done to her body. I’m branded, She thought fleetingly.

Noemí pressed her lips onto the smaller woman’s, kissing slowly and deeply. She brought the bouquet of roses around and holding them up close to their faces. She felt Terri sniff, and grinned when the younger woman pulled back slightly to stare at the roses.

Terri’s eyes went back and forth from the roses to Noemí’s eyes. She reached for them, her heart blooming, and sniffed them, closing her eyes. Smiling up at Noemí, she said: “I’ll be right back; I’m going to put them on water.”

Nodding, Noemí sat down in front of her sleeping niece. “I love you so much, Imogene, and I love your mommy. I hope she can love me too.” She whispered, gently touching a tiny closed fist with her index finger. When Terri returned to the living room, Noemí stood back up and kicked off her shoes and loosened her belt.

Terri’s eyes never left her lover as she placed the vase with flowers on the coffee table. Straightening back up, she turned to her and started pulling Noemí’s shirt up out of the waistband of her slacks. She smiled up at Noemí. “How are your parents?” She asked, beginning to unbutton Noemí’s shirt.

“They’re fine,” Noemí said quietly. She was thoroughly enjoying Terri’s attentions, and she gazed down at her with a gentle smile. “We have to talk about my mother.”

Terri looked up at Noemí, curious. “Is something the matter?” She asked worriedly.

Noemí chuckled, shaking her head. “No, but I just want to warn you that my mother is making plans without your knowledge.” She said, trying to hold back a smile. She lifted her hands to the smaller woman’s shoulders and gently kneaded.

Closing her eyes and throwing her head back, Terri grunted softly. “What are you talking about?” She asked, distractedly. Noemí’s massage felt too good.

Staring at Terri’s lips, Noemí could feel herself warming up. “My mother is shopping for a baptism for Imogene.” She whispered, leaning forward and pressing her lips against Terri’s, feeling an electric-like surge up and down her spine.

Moaning softly against Noemí’s lips, Terri wrapped her arms around Noemí’s waist under her shirt. “Baptism,” She whispered when Noemí pulled her lips away and began to caress each side of her neck with gentle hands. “I didn’t know your family was religious…” Her voice trailed away when she opened her eyes and met Noemí’s, getting lost in their passion.

Noemí’s lips curled into a teasing smile. “They’re not,” She said softly. “Just tradition.” Her fingers threaded through the back of Terri’s hair and pulled her forward for another kiss.

Climbing into bed, a naked Noemí moved into Terri’s waiting arms. She had just placed a deeply asleep Imogene in her crib, and she hoped she wouldn’t wake again; getting the baby to fall back asleep after her nap had turned out to be a nightmare. Sighing softly at the feel of smooth skin pressing against hers, she smiled as Terri wrapped her arms around her neck and pulled her close. “Can I ask you something?” She asked softly, wrapping her arms around the other woman and pushing her onto her back.

“What?” Terri said lazily, nuzzling Noemí’s neck.

“What was the other reason for you leaving your home?” She asked softly. The question had been on her mind since that conversation months ago, but the novelty of lovemaking with Terri had made her forget it.

Terri stiffened in her arms. “Talk about ruining the mood.” She said, trying to pull away.

Noemí held on to her. “I’m not trying to ruin the mood, but we’re closer now than we’ve ever been.” She explained gently, making Terri pause. “Look at us; you’re lying naked in bed with me. You’ve let me do things to you you’ve never done to yourself. If you don’t trust me by now, will you ever?”

Terri pulled her head back to gaze at Noemí. A smile played at the corners of her lips. Noemí was right. “You’re right,” She said, to Noemí’s surprise. “But you still know how to ruin a mood.”

Noemí chuckled, kissing Terri’s forehead gently. “And I know how to bring it back, trust me.” She joked. “So, will you tell me?” She asked seriously.

Terri nodded, burying her face against Noemí’s shoulder and taking a deep calming breath. After a long moment, Terri, grateful that Noemí was patient, began to talk. “When I was fourteen, Kevin, the youngest of my brothers tried to rape me.” She said softly.

Noemí tensed, anger and outrage making her grind her teeth.

“He’d gotten drunk for the first time,” Terri continued, eyes closed and remembering that time when her brother first broke her trust. “He was nice to me before that, he stood up for me many times against dad and my brothers. We used to talk and play together when we were younger. Until this one day my brothers took him out and got him really drunk.”

Noemí was listening intently, angry beyond words. She ran a hand comfortingly up and down Terri’s back.

“He came home stinking like booze and went into my room, he got mad when he tried to hug me and I pushed him away. Apparently, dad had been talking to him about man-haters, dykes, and how to cure them. So he added two and two and came up with twenty, assuming I was one too. It seems dad thought a good fuck would cure that.” Terri took a deep breath, pausing.

“That bastard!” Noemí growled, tightening her arms around her lover.

“This went on for about seven years, but he was always too drunk and clumsy to get anywhere.” Terri continued in a whisper, her hand caressing Noemí’s side slowly. “That last time he almost did, he tore half of my clothes off and everything. I managed to knock him out with a vase of flowers. I left with some money from my father’s safe and never went back.” She shivered and closed her eyes.

Noemí kissed the top of her head, feeling tears burning her eyes. When Terri lifted her face up, Noemí kissed her lips gently. “I’m so, so sorry.” She whispered hoarsely.

Terri pulled back and looked up at her, confused. “Why?”

“My brother finished it, didn’t he?” Noemí asked, her voice low. “He came along and took what he wanted.”

Terri frowned. “I didn’t really fight back, I didn’t any fight left,” she said softly. “He probably thought I wanted it.”

“You were drunk!” Noemí exclaimed. “Don’t excuse him! He took what wasn’t his and then left you when he could have helped you.”

Terri sat up and touched Noemí’s chest gently. “This probably sounds fucked up,” she whispered. “But if he hadn’t done what he did, I wouldn’t have Imogene… or you.”

Noemí sat up too, covering the hand on her chest with her own. “I know,” she whispered, looking into Terri’s eyes. “But at what expense?”

“None,” Terri said slowly, increasingly mesmerized by Noemí’s passionate icy looking eyes. “I’m strong, I moved past it; for my sake, for Imogene’s sake.”

Noemí smiled tentatively, taking a deep breath. “If I ever see him again, I’m going to bash his face in.” She said slowly. “That’s all I have to say.”

Terri nodded, smiling as she moved towards Noemí, wrapping her arms around her neck and pulling her close again. “Okay,” she breathed as she felt Noemí respond by wrapping her arms around her waist, her breathing increasingly heavy. “But right now I want you to do other things.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
Natalie held the baby in her arms with such love. She kissed her cold chunky cheek and did a tiny raspberry. “Oh my goodness, she’s so beautiful!” She exclaimed, bringing her into the house. Noemí and Terri followed her in, hugging Thomas and René. René reached for their coats, and walked off with them.

When she returned, her eyes never leaving the baby, she said to Natalie in a pleading voice: “Can I undress her, Natalie?”

Natalie grinned at her friend and handed her the child, who was holding herself stiff inside the full body coat. René walked off with the child in her arms, cooing to her.

“It’s my turn next time.” Natalie called after her jokingly, and turned to her daughter and Terri. “Come in, girls, everyone else should be here in about a half-hour.” She said, throwing an arm over Terri’s shoulder and grasping her daughter’s hand. “Let me warn you, every single one of them is in love with little Noemí, and they will fight to carry her.” She laughed softly, guiding them to the living room. She had organized a little family get together for after the baby’s baptism. Imogene had been baptized the previous night, but Natalie was smart in planning the get together for the next day, Saturday.

“Victoria called; she and Michaela should almost be here. Charles and Andrea should be coming along any minute.” Thomas said to Noemí, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. Noemí nodded. “What is going on with her and Michaela?” He inquired of her as Terri and Natalie moved ahead of them into the living room. They stopped and stood facing one another.

Noemí shrugged her shoulders beneath her thick sweater and smiled at him. “Vicki’s in love with her, dad,” She explained, shoving her hands into the pockets of her slacks and meeting his eyes. “She doesn’t know how to tell her, she goes speechless every time she tries to say it. She’s never been in love in her life, so she has never been in the situation of talking from her heart.” She shook her head.

Thomas shook his head too, taking a deep breath. “Have you tried to talk to her?” He asked, pushing his hands into his pockets also. “Her father’s talked to me, he’s very worried. He and Andrea love Michaela, and Michaela has talked with them. She loves Victoria and she’s told her, but Victoria can’t seem to open up, so Michaela’s frustrated and afraid that she doesn’t love her that way. Charles and Andrea can only do so much to appease her.” He looked seriously at his daughter. “Have you tried to talk to Victoria?” He asked again.

Noemí nodded and looked at him with an amused smile. “Yes, I have,” She said, reaching up with a hand to push her growing hair away from her forehead. “She doesn’t’ know what to do. She doesn’t want to loose her. Every time I tell her to tell Michaela how she feels, she just about has an anxiety attack. I can only talk to her about it so much; I don’t want to scare her.”

Thomas smiled fondly at his daughter and then looked at her closely. She seemed so relaxed, even her shoulders had lost their rigid tenseness. Her face had softened in the past couple of months, and her smiles came more readily, reaching her eyes. “How are you?” He asked softly.

Noemí smiled at him. “I’m doing great.” She said in a low voice, looking happy indeed. “I love her more every day, dad. She’s bewitched me.” Her smile was dreamy.

Thomas reached over and pulled her into a gentle embrace. “I’m so happy for you, darling.” He said with deep feeling, then pulled back and gazed at her for a long moment. “Has she told you she loves you, dear?” He asked her, knowing from the way Noemí talked that Terri had probably not dared say it yet. But he could see it in Terri’s eyes that she did; he could see it in the way Terri gazed at Noemí when she thought no one else was looking.

“No, dad, she hasn’t said a thing.” She answered, looking doubtful. “I think she does, I just don’t know how much. I don’t know if she’s in love with me.” She shrugged, and smiled wryly. “I’m hoping she is, though. There’s no doubting that she’s attracted to me.”

Thomas squeezed her shoulder gently. “She loves you, honey, I’m sure. You’ll see, she’ll tell you.” He reassured her and paused. “And when are you telling your mother?”Noemí had been thinking about that for a long time, ever since she told her father. Her father had reacted well, but she wouldn’t know if her mother would take it as well.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Noemí answered: “Tonight, right now.” On silent agreement, father and daughter moved on down the hall to the living room, where Terri sat holding the baby in her arms again, conversing with both René and Natalie. Noemí smiled at her and sat down beside her, slipping her finger into the baby’s hand. “Mom,” She said, taking a deep nervous breath and meeting her eyes. “There is something we have to talk about.” René began to leave the room. “No, René, stay here, you should know too.”

René turned around to look at them curiously, silvery dark curls settling around her face.

Natalie sat back on her chair, taking Thomas’ hand as he joined her, sitting on the arm. “What is it, dear?” She asked, flicking her beautiful hair from her forehead with a graceful toss of her head.

Noemí looked at Terri, who was looking at her with wide eyes. “Well, uh,” She stuttered, and then coughed. “Well, um, Terri and I, we are, uh-” She broke into a coughing fit.

Terri looked at Natalie, who was looking at them with question in her eyes. “We’re lovers.” She finished for Noemí, and watched Natalie’s expression closely. Noemí had grown silent, and was staring at her mother with wide nervous eyes.

Natalie broke into sudden laughter. “That’s what you’re having a problem telling me, Noemí?” She laughed gently, standing and opening her arms to them. “Oh, honey, don’t you know that I was hoping to the powers of this earth that Terri would wake up and see the light, as Victoria delicately puts it? You don’t think I knew that you were feeling something strong for her?”

Noemí shook her head and laugh out loud, standing to hug her. “Oh, mom, thanks, I thought you’d have a fit.” She said gratefully, kissing her cheek heartily.

Natalie swatted her shoulder gently as she pulled away, opening her arms to Terri and the baby. “I’m so glad you opened your eyes, Terri.” She said, and kissed Terri and then the baby lingeringly on their cheeks. She then pulled back and met her eyes. “Is this for real?” She asked in a soft voice, feeling close to peaceful now that her daughter had possibly found a family. Something that she would have had had she not lost Amelia that horrible night.

Terri smiled at her and leaned forward, whispering close to her ear. “Yes, it is for real. I love her more than anything,” She whispered with a grin. “But Noemí doesn’t know it yet.”

Natalie sparkled with laughter and took her grinning granddaughter in her arms just as the bell rang.

Noemí went to answer the door and returned with Charles and Andrea Terrence under each arm. They crooned at little Noemí, and each took her in his and her arms to kiss her gently. Noemí kissed Terri gently on the temple. “I love you.” She whispered close to her ear, and Terri shivered at the feel of her warm breath against the sensitive skin of her neck.

Terri pulled back and touched her cheek softly with her hand, grinning up at her. She broke away when Andrea and Charles greeted them. Andrea, small like Terri, hugged her hello. Victoria got her dark eyes and soft curly hair from her mother; she was also thin like her mother, though much taller. Her height, she got from her father, who was tall like Thomas, and burly. He took Terri into his arms and kissed her cheek gently, pulling back and moving to Thomas. The doorbell rang, and René left the room to go open the door.

Victoria arrived with Michaela, and they moved to hug everyone. Martha arrived not much later, a date in tow. Despite the cold temperature, as always, she was dressed outrageously in a deep red sundress and red velvet army-style boots. Her hair was actually a little better styled this time, pushed forward, but dyed a bright red. Noemí moved to hug her, and eyed Martha’s date with a smile. Completely the opposite of Martha, she wore a black vest over a white turtleneck shirt and black trousers with loafers. Thin-framed glasses were pushed low over the bridge of her nose and her hair was long and pulled back in a loose ponytail. She extended her hand to Noemí with a small smile. “My name is Tanya.” She said in a perfectly polite voice.

Most definitely preppy, Noemí thought to herself as she shook her hand and introduced herself. “Pardon me if I’m rude,” Noemí said with a grin, and looked at Martha. “Completely preppy if you ask me, I just thought you’d go for the punk rock type of woman, cousin. I wasn’t prepared for a preppy woman.”

Tanya laughed softly, and Martha grinned salaciously, saying to Noemí: “Well, you know what they say, Noemí. Opposites attract. Our sex is-”

Noemí interrupted, trying to hold back her laughter. “Might the mighty womanizer Martha have settled down already?” She feigned wide-eyed shock.

Martha swatted at her shoulder playfully. She moved closer to Tanya, who was blushing red, unused to their teasing banter, and took a hold of her arm. “Maybe.” She fluttered outrageously colored eyelids at Tanya, in a dreamy fashion, smiling grandly.

Both Noemí and Tanya laughed, shaking their heads at Martha. “You obviously don’t know what you’re getting into, Tanya.” Noemí said, laughing as she shook her hand once again.

Tanya returned her shake firmly, shaking her head and saying: “Trust me; I do know what I’m getting into.” She looked at Martha and then back at Noemí. “I’m hoping to settle her down a little; it’s about time she grew up a little.” She draped an arm over Martha’s shoulders. “Oh, but trust me, I like her wild this way, but not all the time. At home, she is the saint; she doesn’t even dress this way-”

“Nonsense,” Martha cut Tanya off, wrapping her arms around Tanya’s waist and pulling her close. “You met me this way, and this way I stay.” She winked at Noemí and leaned towards her to kiss her cheek. “Say, why don’t we go out later tonight? You, Terri, Vicky and Michaela. You know mom won’t mind staying with the baby.” She called Noemí’s mother mom, having been very close to her in childhood since her own mother had died when she had been young.

Noemí shrugged, considering. “Sounds like a good idea to me.” She said. “Let me talk to Terri about it.”

Martha nodded, her suspicions confirmed. Noemí and Terri were lovers, as she had suspected when she visited a few days ago. The way their eyes met, and how they talked as a couple, made her suspect. “Great,” She said to Noemí with another salacious wink, making her blush. “Let me know.”

They moved towards the rest. Terri’s back was to them, and Noemí slipped behind her and wrapped her arms around her waist, pulling her back against her. Terri’s arms hugged Noemí’s to her, and turned her face to smile at her. She pulled out of her arms and grasped her hand, excusing them from everybody and pulling her towards Thomas’ study.

Inside, she closed the big oak door behind them and slipped into the heat of Noemí’s arms slowly, wrapping her arms around her neck. They kissed slowly and deeply, loosing themselves in each other for a long time. Terri pulled her lips away slowly, and opened her eyes to gaze up into Noemí’s heavy lidded eyes. “I missed you.” She whispered, and kissed her again, fingering the strands of hair at the back of Noemí’s head.

Noemí’s arms around her tightened, and pulled her tighter against her body. Her lips were softly demanding, her hands on Terri’s slender back caressed firmly. She was aware of Terri’s chest pressing against her own, of her thighs pressed against hers. Their tongues met, and she pulled her lips away to look down into her eyes. “Mm, I want to make love with you, Terri.” She whispered hoarsely, and felt Terri tremble against her, watching her close her eyes softly. “Do you think they’ll miss us if we disappear for an hour or two?” She asked breathlessly, kissing her jaw line softly, moving down to kiss her neck.

Terri threw her head back and took a deep breath, and then she kissed Noemí’s lips very softly. “I think they’ll miss us, yes.” She whispered against her mouth, clasping the back of Noemí’s head, pulling her mouth harder against her own. She felt her teeth against her mouth from the force of their kiss, and shuddered in her arousal.

Noemí’s hands were cupping her breasts, her thumbs caressing her nipples to life over the tight silk shirt. Suddenly, she stopped, and Terri moaned her complaint, pouting sensuously. “I want to show you my old room, when I used to live here.” Noemí whispered, meeting her eyes mischievously.

Terri breathed through her mouth, breathless at the insinuation of lovemaking that Noemí’s interest in showing her old room held. “I want to see it.” She whispered, and Noemí read clearly that she wanted to make love at all costs.

Noemí held her hand as they passed down the hall and moved towards the stairs. Natalie was standing by the entrance to the living room, chatting with Martha. Noemí blushed as they both turned to look at her and Terri with teasing in their eyes. “I’m going to show her my old room, with my trophies and all, since you’ve kept it the same.” She explained nervously, and pulled Terri up the stairs quickly, not missing the look Martha and Natalie exchanged.

“Don’t take too long now, honey.” Natalie called after them with a mischievous tone. They heard Martha giggle.

Closing the door behind them, Terri didn’t have a chance to look around the room; Noemí’s lips were upon her, her hands all over her body, inflaming her, commanding. She pressed her hands on Noemí’s chest and pushed her back with all her will, feeling her own throbbing. Noemí leaned forward to kiss her again, but Terri pulled back, meeting her eyes. “I want to make love to you.” She whispered, and reached towards the bottom of Noemí’s sweater, pulling it up, signaling with her eyes to lift up her arms.

Soon, Noemí was standing with only her pants and shoes on, her sweater and T-shirt discarded onto her old desk’s chair. Noemí moved to take Terri in her arms, but Terri pushed against her bare shoulders. “No, let me look at you.” She whispered, her eyes wandering over Noemí’s erect nipples and perfect breasts, over smooth and strong shoulders, over her perfect arms. “Oh God, Noemí, you’re beautiful!” She gasped, and allowed her hands to touch Noemí’s arms, squeezing wonderingly as her eyes took in the faint lines of her muscles. “You’re so strong, baby.” She whispered hoarsely, and moved forward to kiss her chest with soft lips.

The muscles of Noemí’s arms and shoulders clenched as she threw her head back and groaned passionately. She felt Terri’s tongue flick across the skin of her chest over each nipple, increasing their erectness and sending a stream of electric desire through her body. Silky hair teased her skin as Terri’s tender lips suckled Noemí’s nipples into her mouth. “Terri…” She whispered huskily, her voice trailing off as Terri pushed her down onto her bed.

Terri wanted to straddle her, but her skirt was too tight against her thighs. She lay on her, her lips possessing her nipples all over again, feeling them engorge against her tongue. She moaned softly, feeling Noemí’s hands sift through her hair, her lips pressing against the top of her head, her low groan as Terri gently bit on Noemí’s nipples, the clenching of her muscles as Noemí pushed her hips up against hers. Terri moved lower, kissing along her stomach softly, unbuckling her belt slowly. Noemí’s taut stomach quivered as Terri’s fingers deftly opened her slacks, pulling them and the boxers down quickly. Terri went down to her knees, her hands pulling.

Noemí could feel Terri’s warm labored breath against her thighs, her tongue tracing the thin sensitive scars, her small soft hands reaching up to caress the insides reverently. This was the first time that Terri had gone this low on her body with her mouth, and it was driving her wild. She sat up suddenly.

For a second Terri thought Noemí had changed her mind about letting her touch her, but Noemí was bending down, yanking off her boots and the rest of her clothing. She was panting hotly, she lay back along the bed and pulled Terri on top of her again, kissing her passionately, tongue moving in an explorative fashion inside her mouth, her hands moving all over her body.

Terri groaned, pressing against her, aroused by the fact that she was fully dressed and Noemí wasn’t. Suddenly, she slithered back down along Noemí’s body, her mouth tasting and kissing her breasts, her taut stomach, lower… Noemí arched, her body trembling violently as Terri’s explorative tongue caressed between her thighs firmly. Terri’s long moan of desire sent the breath from her, her silky tongue made Noemí shudder and undulate her hips crazily up and down. She groaned loudly, her back arching, her hands reaching down and grasping Terri’s head, pulling her mouth tightly against her wetness. Orgasm wasn’t long in coming.

Terri tasted and explored hungrily, savoring the taste of her orgasm; aware of Noemí quivering against her tongue. Noemí lay spent across the bed when Terri climbed up from between her legs, her lips trailing kisses along her now sweaty skin. She lay beside her and kissed her neck softly, still tasting Noemí’s essence on her lips. “You taste so good.” She whispered passionately. “Why didn’t you let me do this sooner?” Her hand stroked her still quivering stomach, her head rested against bulging biceps.

After a while, Noemí’s breathing normalized and she turned her head to kiss Terri’s lips softly, tasting herself on her. “I don’t know. I didn’t think you were ready yet, I guess.” She whispered, stroking Terri’s cheek with a tender finger. “I guess I was wrong.”

Terri smiled and propped herself up on an elbow. “You need a shower now.” She said, and kissed her face tenderly.

Noemí sighed contentedly, and kissed her lips briefly. “And you need to wash your face,” She said teasingly, sitting up and looking at her. “And your hands, you smell like me now.”

Terri licked her lips and around them as far as her tongue could go. “I love smelling like you, you taste so good.” She whispered, moving forward to kiss her on the lips softly. She then pulled back and looked around the room, a sudden flush of embarrassment covering her pretty face. “Oh my God, I can’t believe we just made love in your parents’ house.”

Noemí laughed, throwing her head back and slapping her palm against the bed. “Please! Do you know the women I used to bring in here before Amelia came along?” She said with laughter. “It seems I had a brothel going on in this house, with the traffic going in and out of my room.” She shook with laughter, and Terri joined her.

“So you were a player, eh?” Terri asked, reaching over, draping her arm over her waist and stroking the line along her spine. She knew she had nothing to worry about.

Noemí moaned softly, shivering as Terri’s fingers teased the line of her spine. “Oh yes,” She said breathlessly. “And then I calmed down when I met Amelia, but I used to bring her here too, before we moved in together. So that means I just baptized you with my love.” She winked at Terri and grinned.

Terri sat up and pushed her, making her stand up. She followed her off the bed, and wrapped her arms around her neck. “Go take a shower, honey; I can hear your family downstairs already. They’re probably driving the baby crazy by now.” She said with a chuckle. They began to lift Noemí’s discarded clothing and Noemí searched in one of her drawers for a shirt or something she could wear to the bathroom. She found an old bathrobe, and they both left the room to go to the bathroom; Noemí to take a shower, Terri to wash her hands and her face. Not long after, Noemí’s hair conspicuously wet and Terri’s cheeks red with warmth, they went downstairs to be with Noemí’s family.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
Julie’s in the City was full that night, sweaty bodies pressed together and moving to the music. Strangers danced together and enjoyed themselves as the music pumped into their ears and the drinks flooded their bodies. Noemí and Terri made their way through the throng of women towards the dance floor, followed closely by Martha and Tanya, then Victoria and Michaela. They found an area at the perimeter of the dance floor where they could all stand comfortably together; Victoria and Tanya went towards the bar to get some drinks.

It was already two in the morning, Michaela and Terri had insisted that they each be allowed stop at home so that they could change into more comfortable clothes. Noemí looked at Terri and thought her beautiful in the snug beige slacks and wool sweater that she had donned at home, her shoes were feminine black leather boots that Noemí had given her one day as a present. She had let her hair loose, and it flowed loosely over her shoulders and down her back.

Michaela had changed into blue jeans, one of Victoria’s white dress shirts worn open over a tight black tank top and brown shoes. Victoria couldn’t take her eyes away from her, even as she stood with Tanya at the bar waiting for their drinks, and Noemí noticed with a smile.

Martha winked at Noemí and turned to Tanya, taking the drinks from her hands and placing them on the high table that they managed to find. She pulled her towards the dance floor and into the throng of dancing women. Noemí watched as her cousin wrapped her arms around Tanya’s neck and Tanya wrapped her arms around Martha’s waist; they held each other closely and danced slowly despite the fast beat of the music.

Noemí felt a sudden urge to hold Terri and she grabbed her hand. She pulled Terri towards the dance floor, smiling at Martha and winking back. Terri hesitated, and looked around shyly; she’d never danced in public before, or with another woman. As she moved to take her into her arms, Noemí sensed her discomfort and paused, looking deeply into her eyes. “What’s wrong?” She asked close to her ear, her hands on Terri’s shoulders.

“I’ve never danced with another woman or in public, Noemí.” Terri answered truthfully, bringing her mouth close to Noemí’s ear.

Noemí laughed softly, wrapping her arms slowly around Terri’s slender waist and pulling her close. “But you’ve made love with another woman, Terri.” She said, kissing her gently on the temple.

“It’s not the same.” Terri argued, pulling back to meet her eyes, her arms resting on Noemí’s broad shoulders.

The smile in Noemí’s face was sensuous and patient at the same time; it relaxed the smaller woman. Noemí brought her lips close to Terri’s ear again and began to move her hips against hers. “Yes,” She breathed softly; feeling Terri’s arms move slowly from her shoulders to wrap around her neck, she heard Terri exhale shakily as she began to surrender to her. “It actually is.” She kissed below an earlobe very softly, dancing against Terri.

Her arms around Terri’s waist pulled them closer together and she pressed her thigh between Terri’s legs. “Just move your body against mine, be aware only of me, of my movements.” She whispered huskily, closing her eyes tightly when Terri released a soft moaning breath. She brought her hands to Terri’s hips, grasping them gently and firmly, at the same time pressing against her and dancing.

It didn’t take long for Terri’s desire to ignite, or for her body to match Noemí’s sensuous movements. “You’re a great dancer.” She whispered into her lover’s ear, allowing her body to be guided by Noemí and their desire. Her arms tightened around Noemí’s shoulders and she ran her fingers slowly through her hair, feeling Noemí’s hot mouth kissing her throat. “You’re right,” She gasped after a long moment of just feeling, her breath brushing the delicate skin of Noemí’s throat, gasping again when Noemí’s arms tightened convulsively around her. “Dancing is like making love. I want you so much right now!”

Noemí groaned softly against her shoulder, her eyes closed as she guided Terri in their dance, everything else ceasing to exist as their love and desire took over.

Michaela and Victoria watched them from their table, uncomfortable in their silence. Victoria’s hand was on Michaela’s shoulder, caressing gently. Michaela didn’t seem to acknowledge the touch. It had been a few weeks that Michaela had been behaving coldly with Victoria, and Victoria knew it was because she still hadn’t expressed that she loved her with all her soul. But Victoria didn’t know how to, she’d never been the kind of person who talked of her feelings in that way. From time to time, she glanced over at Michaela with a look in her eyes that betrayed her feelings.

I’m losing her, she thought to herself, the pain at the thought killing her inside. If I don’t tell her I love her, she’ll leave me. I can’t loose her, I can’t! “Michaela,” She said close to Michaela’s ear. Michaela half-turned to look at her, question in her pretty eyes. Touched deeply by Michaela’s eyes, Victoria leaned forward again and said shakily, her voice breaking with tears: “I need to speak to you.”

The way Victoria said this made Michaela look at her for a long moment with narrowed questioning eyes, trying to read her expression. The pain she saw there made her instantly stand up and grab Victoria’s hand, pulling her towards the front of the bar. They walked past the bouncer, and stepped out the door. Outside, Michaela pulled her a few feet away from the door of the bar and turned to face her, meeting her eyes. “What is it, Vicky?” She asked softly, moving closer.

Victoria wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. Michaela waited for her to compose herself, arms crossed in front of her as she stared at Victoria. Finally, Victoria said, her voice still broken: “I’m loosing you.”

Their eyes met momentarily and Michaela looked away. She didn’t deny it, which hurt Victoria more. She started to cry, turning away and wiping at the flowing tears on her cheeks with the back of her hand. She began to walk away, but Michaela reached out with a soft feminine hand, grasping her shoulder, pulling her into her arms. Victoria’s arms wrapped around her and she pulled her close. She buried her face into Michaela’s shoulder and cried like she never had, her shoulders shaking. Michaela closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around Victoria, fingers brushing comfortingly through her hair. She couldn’t stay withdrawn from Victoria’s pain, as she’d tried to be for the past few weeks.

Victoria hands were clawing at her back, pulling her impossibly close. Her shoulders shook with her cries. “I love you!” She whispered raggedly, close to her ear. “I love you so much!”

Michaela burst into tears herself, her nails sinking into the back of Victoria’s shirt, her mouth pressed against her neck. She held her for a long time, whispering sweetly into her ear, comforting her.

Victoria pulled back a little, meeting Michaela’s eyes. “You just have to love me too, Michaela, you have to!” She croaked, biting her lower lip and closing her eyes. “I love you. I just didn’t know how to tell you. And then you started to act cold towards me, and I didn’t know what to do!” She pulled her into her arms again and kissed her deeply, feeling Michaela respond eagerly, tasting the salt of their tears.

Feeling intensely happy, Michaela kissed Victoria deeply, her body straining against her. Michaela tore her lips away from her lover’s to whisper in her ear passionately: “I love you too, honey!” They kissed again, hard, wetly, breathing hard in the middle of the sidewalk, not caring. “I love you so much!” She moaned against her lips, eyes closed tightly, body trembling with happiness and desire.

Victoria’s arms tightened almost painfully around her, and she pressed her face into Michaela’s throat, kissing the scented skin passionately. “Marry me!” She whispered with a tiny moan, and Michaela gasped in surprise. “Please marry me!” Victoria begged.

“Yes!” Michaela burst out loudly, happy like never before. She cupped Victoria’s head and pulled her back to kiss her mouth deeply. “I’ll marry you, I’ll marry you!” She mumbled against her lips as they kissed.

Victoria pulled back and yelled, laughing and crying at the same time: “She’ll marry me! She’ll marry me! Ha!” She never knew love could feel this way, when free and known. The happiness coursed through her body and she began to cry out with happiness, burying her face into Michaela’s shoulder and shaking.

They stood outside, holding each other for a long, long time, until their companions emerged looking for them, concerned. Upon finding out the good news, Noemí happily ushered everyone back inside, intent upon treating them all to a drink and celebrating.

Before the door even closed, Noemí had pulled Terri into her arms, taking possession of her lips with a passionate kiss. Desire instantly re-ignited within Terri, the wetness between her legs grew intensely, and she wrapped her arms tightly around Noemí’s neck. Their lips danced together passionately, their bodies strained together as they lost control of their desires. Terri moaned into Noemí’s mouth, her body quivering against hers as they yanked off their coats.

Bending her legs, Noemí wrapped and tightened her arms around Terri’s waist; she then straightened her legs and lifted Terri clear off the floor. Moaning again, Terri lifted her legs and wrapped them around Noemí’s waist, heart fluttering as she heard the larger woman moan deep in her throat. Their breathing grew erratic as Noemí made her way towards the couch, where she sat down on the edge, holding Terri to her tightly. Terri pulled against the back of Noemí’s sweater, yanking it upwards until Noemí took her arms from around her and frantically yanked it over her head, throwing it down somewhere. Terri lifted her arms in submission when Noemí pushed her sweater upwards, baring her beautiful slender torso and round hanging breasts.

With a loud animal-like groan, Noemí took a nipple into her mouth and sucked it passionately but gently. Terri’s head fell back and she moaned, her hips jerking against Noemí’s stomach. Noemí pushed her to her feet, unbuttoning her slacks quickly and yanking them and her underwear down to the floor. Terri stepped out of the pants and trembled when Noemí slid her fingers through the silken wetness between her legs with a low moan. Terri’s legs weakened and she sat astride Noemí again, legs open wide to allow the slender fingers access to her heat.

With a groan, Noemí slipped her fingers inside Terri, who arched and tensed as her breath caught. “Mm, Noemí!” She gasped, riding the fingers deep inside her, hips undulating to meet the deep thrusts. Suddenly, Noemí stopped, taking her fingers away and wrapping her arms around Terri’s waist. She stood, lifting Terri easily with her and felt her wrap her legs around her waist again, the intense wetness pressing against her stomach. She made her way quickly to their bedroom, her arms holding Terri up as Terri hung onto her with all her strength.

Terri lay on her side, breathing hard, her head resting against Noemí’s muscled arm. She could feel Noemí’s strong and smooth body pressed against her back and legs. She could feel her strong hand between her legs, still stroking her, as her silky lips caressed the back of her throat. She brought her arm up and around Noemí’s neck, pulling their mouths together in a passionate kiss.

Noemí loved the way Terri felt against her body, the way her sweet smell mingled with the ripe scent of their sex and the bar, the smoothness between her legs yielding to her fingers. She could feel Terri’s hips writhing, her body trembling, as she slipped a finger deep inside her wetness. She pressed her palm hard against the swollen folds and heard Terri release a long moan. “Terri,” She whispered against the slack mouth, feeling the heat filling her own body from where her skin met Terri’s. “Oh God, Terri. I love you!” She groaned loudly and began to move inside her, pressing her body against her back.

Terri arched, moaning as she felt Noemí’s tongue imitating the movements of her fingers. She felt ready to explode, tightening more and more around the long fingers; she pulled away from Noemí’s mouth to stare into her eyes. The love and passion in Noemí’s eyes excited her more. She closed her eyes and began to tremble as her abdomen muscles fluttered in a prolonged orgasm.

They held each other under the spray of the shower; their lips made love the way their bodies did. “I can’t get enough of you.” Noemí whispered huskily against her throat, her hands caressing her smooth back and hips.

Terri’s arms were around her neck, and she pulled Noemí’s mouth down to her own. “I don’t want you to ever get enough of me.” She breathed, meeting her lips again. They kissed for a long moment.

“Mm, I don’t think you have to worry about that.” Noemí whispered hotly against her mouth, her hands cupping her buttocks and pulling her close. She felt Terri lift her leg against her waist, and she pulled her up, feeling her wrap both legs around her waist.

Terri moaned, burying her fingers in Noemí’s hair, her arms on her shoulders. The heat between her legs was driving her wild and she drove herself forward against Noemí’s hard stomach. “You make me want you so much!” She gasped as Noemí moaned and succumbed to her passion.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
Money!

Anthony knew he needed money. He still had some, but not enough to last him forever.

He spent most of his money in Las Vegas, gambling, and returned to New York with what little he had left only a few days before. He had been staying in nothing less than a Suite at the Plaza Hotel before moving to a smaller scale hotel. Money was running very low, and he would soon be unable to afford to pay his stay at his hotel. He knew his father wouldn’t give him money any more, because of his refusal to be responsible to Terri and her baby.

From Martha’s call, he calculated that the baby had been born three months before, on January the first, and that it was a baby girl. He didn’t much care what it was, really, what he wanted was money and he knew the way to get it was to get Terri to forgive him. He knew he had to feign deep interest in the wellbeing of his daughter, and to try to marry Terri. After that, his father would give him all the money he wanted.

Today, he would go to Noemí’s house and seek Terri, using the excuse that he remembered Terri’s birthday was next week, April twelfth, and that he could not stop thinking about her all the time he was gone. She would fall for it like all the others had, like she fell for his bullshit story that he would be there for her when she told him that she was pregnant.

Caesar told him that the child was a pure Leone, and that there was no doubt that she was his daughter. “So forget about the theory that she slept with somebody else.” He snarled at his cousin, still pissed at Anthony for lying to him.

Caesar did not tell him that Terri was obviously in love with Noemí, a fact of which the whole family became aware and approved of, or that she would definitely not give him a single chance to say he wanted to be with her. Anthony was not aware that Caesar had begun to look at him as a jerk, just as he’d looked at his father as he grew up. Anthony was just like his uncle, Theodore Leone, may he rest in peace.

****

The bell rang, and Terri covered the baby with her ever-present baby quilt, adjusting her little hat to protect her from the cold. Imogene sat quietly in a specially designed baby swing, staring up at her mother with wide and increasingly blue eyes. Sure that her daughter would be protected against a draft, she stood to open the door. She was momentarily surprised, but recovered quickly; she crossed her arms over her chest and glared. “What are you doing here?”

****

Noemí drove home at a sedate pace, wary of the patches of ice on the road. She really wanted to speed home, to be with Terri and the baby. The past few months had been pure bliss, and she was grateful that she had been given a second chance in life. She remembered the dream she’d had that first night she and Terri had fully consummated their attraction; if it was even a dream. It was so real, and she felt so at peace afterwards, that she was pretty sure it was Amelia visiting to give her the go-ahead to live her life. Terri made her happy, and Noemí knew she was making Terri happy too.

If only she would tell me she loves me. Noemí thought, tapping her fingers rhythmically against the steering wheel. Now that would make my day. She grinned. Noemí had no doubt that Terri loved her, and she would wait as long as it took for Terri to be ready to say it. Sighing happily, she turned into her street.

As she drove up the street, she saw a familiar vehicle parked in her driveway, and she frowned. As she got closer and pulled in, she recognized Anthony’s blue BMW and his license plate: GTTA§ ME.

She pulled into the driveway beside his car and climbed out of hers slowly, looking up at the house with wide eyes. A slice of fear made her shiver, a thousand questions rushed through her head: What if Terri wants to be with him now that she has his child? What if he’s back to claim her and the baby? What would I do without them?

Her life would have less meaning than before; her heart would be completely broken. She pressed the button of her car alarm, and the resounding beep signaled it was active. She walked slowly to the door, biting her lower lip, almost expecting to find Terri in Anthony’s arms when she walked in.

But to her immense relief, that was not the sight she found. Terri was standing by the couch, glaring down at Anthony with gray-brown ice, hands shoved into the pockets of her sweats.

Anthony sat on the couch, staring at the child sitting peacefully in front of him on the baby swing, staring at him as he stared at her. There was no expression on his face that Noemí could see, no unexpected love for such a beautiful child that was, whether he liked it or not, part of him. He looked up at Noemí, who had closed the door quietly, and smiled broadly, standing up and spreading his arms to her. Hesitantly, Noemí moved towards him and hugged him. He patted her back hard and kissed her cheek lingeringly. “I’ve missed you, Noemí.” He said softly, with genuine feeling.

She pulled back and said nothing, disconcerted by his presence. “Why are you here?” She asked evenly, and walked around him to look at the sleeping child with obvious love. She was so shocked at his presence that the anger had still not surfaced.

Terri, during the time between his arrival and Noemí’s, had been telling him to leave. She wanted to be alone with Noemí, knowing that they would make love over and over again tonight. Even the fact that he’d been gone for almost a year did nothing to her at that moment. Noemí made her happier than she ever thought she could be. Anthony was taking away from their happy moments. “Leave, Anthony.” She said with greater emphasis, and her eyes met Noemí’s for a quick second. In that quick look, she saw Noemí’s fear and her anger at Anthony doubled.

He stared at her beseechingly. “Can’t I see my daughter?” He asked with an oily voice he mistook for sincere. “I want to be a part of her life.”

Noemí finally came out of her fearful stupor, her anger at him sparking. “Which means that you ran out of money,” She stated and saw a flicker of something in his eyes before he masked it with feigned hurt feelings. Fucking bastard…

“How could you think that?” He said in a “hurt” whisper. Terri rolled her eyes and scoffed, and he turned his attention to her. “Oh Terri, I love you so much!” He continued quickly, taking a step towards her. “I haven’t thought of anyone but you all this time. That’s when I realized that-”

Noemí cut him off. “Cut the crap, Anthony, please.” She said coldly, knowing he was lying.

“Don’t get involved, Noemí, this isn’t any of your concern,” He said harshly, his eyes narrowed at her.

“Yes, it is.” Terri surprised them all by saying.

Anthony frowned and looked at her for a long time. “Really? And why would that be?” He asked sarcastically. His attitude showed, as if both women didn’t already know, that his words were lies.

Emboldened by Terri’s honesty, Noemí answered him truthfully: “We love each other.” Her voice was bold, her eyes challenging.

Anthony’s confused frown turned into a scowl. He glared at them, and then his eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe it.” He said simply, convinced that they were lying, just trying to get him to leave.

Terri moved closer to Noemí and slipped her hand into hers. “That’s your problem then.” She said, and held Noemí’s hands with both of hers, standing on the tips of her feet and kissing the taller woman’s lips gently. They both stared at him as he stared back at them, shocked.

He shook his head and looked at them. “Is this what it was all about?” He asked Noemí suspiciously. “You wanted to get me out of the way so that you could take her into your house and then for yourself?” He said, laughing and nodding, sure of himself. Noemí stared at him, her eyes narrowed. “Oh, okay, well, you should have told me that’s what it was, Noemí! Though I feel sorry for you, you know, she’s not that good of a lay.”

Noemí suddenly let go of Terri’s hand and moved to him, grasping the front of his shirt and shaking him with strength that surprised him. “You have a lot of nerve thinking I’m like you, Anthony.” She growled at him, and pushed him towards the door. Opening the door with one hand, she pushed him through. He stared at her with shocked eyes. She stepped outside after him and closed the door behind her back. “I’m not like you, you should know that.” She said, pointing a finger at him. “I love her, like you never wanted to love her.” She told him.

He glared at her, shoving his hands in his pockets. His thick blonde eyebrows reflected the sunshine as he scowled. “What about Amelia?” He asked sarcastically, knowing very well what her feelings for Amelia were like.

Noemí’s expression didn’t waver. “I’m at peace with Amelia, she loved me, and she would have wanted me to be happy, as I would have wanted her to be happy.” She said. “I’m happy, Anthony, Terri fills me inside, and I love her for it. She fills all the wholes that were empty, and I love her all the more for that.”

Anthony glared at her. “You’re an idiot, Noemí,” He growled. “Can’t you see what she wants? She wants our money. She knows you’re vulnerable, she knows you’d go for anything that got in front of you-”

In a burst of fury, Noemí swung before he could finish his sentence, her fist making firm contact with his face and sending him sprawling against her car. He brought a hand up to his bleeding lip and stared at her with surprised eyes. Without saying another word, she turned and stepped into her house, slamming the door between herself and Anthony.

As the door closed, Terri felt a sob rise in her throat. How Noemí didn’t hate her for bringing this rift between her and her brother was a wonder. She sat on the couch in front of her daughter and stared at her, crying softly. When Noemí walked back into the house, she turned away, beginning to pick up her drawing notebook.

Noemí caught sight of the tears and renewed anger at Anthony washed through her. “Terri,” She said gently, walking up to her from behind. Wrapping her arms around the woman she loved, she said: “I’m in love with you.” And she meant it; she meant it from the first time she said it.

Terri tried to pull away from the warm embrace, crying out softly, but Noemí held on to her. “How could you love me?” She sniffed. “Just the other day you were still in love with Amelia. You could never love me the same way you loved her!” She knew she was being unfair, but Anthony’s sudden intrusion into their bliss unsettled everything for her.

Noemí smiled softly against Terri’s silky dark hair. “You’re right, I can’t,” She said softly, tears springing to her own eyes when Terri began a renewed fight against her arms. “But it doesn’t mean I will love you any less.” Terri froze in her arms, and Noemí gently urged her to turn around. She met the younger woman’s eyes and allowed all her emotions to show in her own. “I love you.” She whispered.

Terri felt like her vocal cords were glued to her throat; she looked up and met Noemí’s eyes. A surge of love so deep in her soul and strong made her throw her arms around the taller woman’s neck. She felt Noemí lift her off her feet and pulled her head back to kiss her thoroughly. “Oh my God, I love you!” She whispered against Noemí’s kissing lips, heart beating erratically.

Noemí felt tears prickle her own eyes at this revelation and she kissed Terri’s mouth harder, her own mouth opening against Terri’s as their tongues lavished attention on each other. She let out a whoop of delight, spinning them around.

Terri pulled her lips away from Noemí’s, meeting her eyes. “I didn’t know he was the one out there, I wouldn’t have opened the door if I’d known. Don’t be afraid, I want to be with you. I love you. I’m in love with you.”

Noemí pulled back and gazed at her for a long time, tears filling her eyes again and spilling down her cheeks. She felt safe in the feeling of completeness and happiness now that Terri had been honest with her. “I love you too, baby. I’m so in love with you.” She whispered tearfully, and drew her head down to kiss her again, passionately and deeply.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
“I need to see my father, René!” Thomas recognized his son’s voice and he stood up, walking around his desk. Anthony barged into the study, looking around almost crazily, his eyes meeting his father’s. He practically slammed the door closed on René’s face. “I need to talk to you, dad.” He said, looking disturbed.

Happy to see that his son seemed healthy, though a bit skinnier than the last time he’d seen him, Thomas gestured to a chair, and Anthony took it, sighing. “What do you need to talk about?” Thomas asked, grateful that Natalie was not here to interfere with their conversation with her unconditional motherly love.

“What is this with Terri and Noemí, dad? How could you allow them have a- a relationship?” He said disgustedly, his eyes following his father’s return to his chair. “And with the baby around them, no less.” He leaned forward on the edge of the chair.

Thomas studied his son closely, taking in more of the small changes. His hair was longer, fuller and still beautiful. His goatee had grown into a full blonde beard, making him seem older, though not taking away from his handsome features. His bulk was smaller, as if he hadn’t been eating much. His stomach was a little paunchy, indicating to Thomas that he had been drinking a lot instead.

Thomas shook his head, his eyes narrowing. “They’re fine, and that child will be better taken care of with Noemí than she would ever be with you.” He said bluntly, meeting his son’s eyes directly. He played with his pen, scribbling on a blank paper. “Noemí loves that child dearly, and so does everyone else, even before she was born she was loved. Do you even know what her name is?” He looked at Anthony closely.

Anthony stared at him and shook his head. “Noemí Imogene.” He snarled, remembering Martha’s phone call. That bitch. What made him angrier was that he knew he would get nothing from his father. He could see it in his face, eyes.

Thomas smiled at the thought of his granddaughter. He decided to go see them today after he dealt with Anthony. “Terri named her Noemí after your sister, because she was there for her.” He said softly, and looked at his son again. “Now, what can I help you with, Anthony?” He asked pleasantly, if not a little coldly.

“I need more money.” Anthony said quickly. He continued beseechingly, reading the angry expression in his father’s eyes:
“I swear I won’t bother you ever again, dad. I’ll invest, you know, with Cousin Mario, he’s good and he can help me make the right decisions about it. That should keep me comfortable, and I won’t bother you again, I swear.”

Thomas stared at him for a long time, a finger over his lips, the others braced below his chin. “You disappoint me, Anthony.” He said, and Anthony could hear the deep sadness in his voice. “Your mother and I spoiled you and your sister rotten, we did everything we could to keep you both happy, and in doing that, we created an irresponsible individual out of you.” He looked at him for a long time, not saying anything. “Your daughter has just been born, and you want nothing to do with her, is that what you’re saying?” He asked.

Anthony stared at his father for a long time, thinking quickly. “I’ll give up my rights as her father if you give me money.” He said suddenly, meeting his eyes.

Thomas’ eyes narrowed and he looked at his son with palpable disgust. “Are you serious?” He asked in a bewildered whisper.

Anthony nodded; there was no expression of regret in his eyes. “I give up my rights as that kid’s father, and you give me money, it’s easy.” He said with a shrug.

Thomas looked at him with a pained expression, not affecting Anthony in the least. “Are you that heartless?” He whispered softly, but his son did not reply. Thomas cleared his throat and shook his head, looking away from him. When his eyes returned to look at his only son, whom he was once proud to say resembled him, they were impersonal. “You weren’t supposed to come back and ask for money after that initial deposit to your account.” He said evenly.

Anthony shrugged, and looked away from Thomas. “Well, as your only son, I also deserve part of your fortune, dad.” He said, looking at him again. “Whether I like it or not, whether you like it or not, I was part of the creation of that kid.” He sat back, looking smug. “And you love her and Terri, and you want me to leave them, – and Noemí of course, so mentally weak that she is- in peace, so you’ll give me what I want.”

Thomas narrowed his eyes, and his fists clenched against the armrests of his chair. For a minute, Anthony thought his father would actually jump up and hit him. But Thomas just glared at him for a long time. “Alright.” The older man said through clenched teeth, taking a deep breath. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a notepad, grabbing his pen and beginning to write.

Anthony edged forward on his seat and tried to see what his father was writing. “What are you writing?” He asked.

Thomas continued to write, not answering. When he finished, he read the note over. “Okay,” he said, his eyes not leaving the pad. “This is a stipulation stating that you, Anthony Leone, after the following transaction of cash, will not make any attempt at all to get money from myself, Natalie, or your sister.” He explained, looking at Anthony. “You will use that money to make a responsible investment, and if you so much as waste that money, or loose it in any irresponsible activity, you will have to work for it. No longer will you attempt to get money from any members of your family. Also, you will no longer seek Terri or the child Noemí for any reason, not to try to get money, not to mentally torment them.” He pushed the notepad at Anthony, who stared at it as if it were a ghost.

“But- but-” Anthony stuttered, this was clearly not what he expected.

“I expect you here tomorrow afternoon,” Thomas continued briskly. “I will have the family lawyer here with a notary public, and you will sign a legal affidavit stating that you release your right as the father of Noemí Leone-Bledsoe to her mother Terri Bledsoe, and the right to any Pasta Leone stock. Then I will give you the money.” He looked at him for a long moment.

Anthony frowned; his father was more pissed than he thought. “Okay, okay. Just give me the money tomorrow; I’ll sign anything you want. What time should I be here?”

Thomas shook his head in disgust and looked away. “Call at about twelve, I will give you a time.” He answered, and said nothing as Anthony left his office without a word. It was hurting him deeply to cut his son loose like that, but he could not let him get away with the damage he’d already caused.

****

“I cut him loose, really this time. Tomorrow he’s going to come to the house and sign some release forms.” Thomas explained about Anthony’s visit that afternoon. “He’s just thinking of the money, and he doesn’t care that he will be giving up his right as a father to this beautiful baby.” He held his granddaughter gently in his arms, her little chin resting on his shoulder.

Noemí crouched behind his seat, making sweet faces at the baby. Little Noemí cackled, kicking against his stomach excitedly, a bright smile on her beautiful face. Noemí laughed softly, making kissing noises and kissing her forehead playfully. She pressed her nose gently against the child’s, nuzzling her chunky cheek tenderly.

“I don’t want him near our baby.” Terri said protectively, watching them.

Noemí stared, eyes wide, at Terri. She had never expected to hear that word, and the fact that Terri used it so naturally made her happy beyond words. She was speechless.

Thomas took note of the ‘our’ in Terri’s words and the sudden silence behind him, and he smiled brightly. “Yes, but this child will grow into an intelligent little girl, and she will eventually ask about her father.” He pointed out, patting the baby’s back softly. He felt young again, like when he first held his daughter in his arms; she was so tiny then and had always been so endearingly beautiful. He loved Terri so much, for giving him this gift of a granddaughter.

Terri shrugged, as in a ‘what can I do?’ “I will tell her the truth, Thomas, what else can I do? I don’t want to ever lie to her.” She said, gazing at both Noemí’s with intense love; love for a lover, and love for a daughter.

When Noemí first told him that she and Terri had become lovers, he was as shocked as the next person was. But when he saw how truly happy Noemí was when with Terri, and how truly happy Noemí made Terri, he decided that he would not object, and that he would love them both no matter what.

Natalie was way ahead of him; she had already been hoping that they would get together. She suggested the day after finding out that they get engaged, so that she could start plan her very first lesbian wedding, since she never got to do it for Noemí before. She also told Noemí to tell Victoria to marry that “nice girl Michaela, who loves her so much!” and that she would plan their wedding too, with her mother of course.

Thomas pulled the baby from his shoulder, grasping her gently right below her arms, swinging her little body like he used to swing Noemí and Anthony when they were babies. She laughed in her endearing way, pulling her tiny fist up into her mouth, suckling wetly. He grinned up at her, throwing little noisy kisses at her as he pulled her fist away from her mouth with his thumb. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Noemí move from behind him and sit beside Terri, kissing her gently on the lips. He could see she was full of joy, and was grateful to God for giving her a second chance. “When are you getting engaged?” He asked suddenly, and they looked away from each other to stare at him.

“I don’t know.” Noemí said hesitantly, sitting back comfortably. “I don’t want to pressure Terri, really. If it were up to me, I would get engaged this minute, but she’s new to this, and I want to give her time.” She glanced at Terri, who was holding her hand, looking at her with wide eyes.

Thomas pulled the child back into his arms, cradling her against his ample chest. He looked down into her staring eyes tenderly, swinging her softly.

When he left, it was late in the afternoon, and already a little dark outside. Terri and Noemí stood by the front window, looking at his car driving away, the baby peacefully asleep in Terri’s arms. Noemí stood behind Terri, her arms around her waist, her face pressed against the back of her head, inhaling her sweet strawberry scent with a sigh; she’d loved that smell from the first. She bent down and kissed her neck below her earlobe, feeling Terri tremble against her. “How long do you think the baby will be asleep this time?” She asked huskily, her hands cupping shapely hips and pulling Terri back against hers.

Terri moaned softly, and turned around to face Noemí. “I don’t know, but can’t we make the best of it?” She whispered suggestively, standing on the tips of her toes and kissing her lover’s lips softly. She brushed past Noemí, walking quickly down the hall, mindful of the baby in her arms.

Noemí followed after her, unbuttoning her shirt and unbuckling her belt, eyes roving the slender body swaying in front of her. “Mm, remind me to fix my old room into a nursery for the baby. I’ll start tomorrow.” She said in a husky whisper, her eyes on Terri’s sensuous buttocks, wanting to kiss them.

Terri laughed softly as they walked into their room, so happy that Noemí was truly moving on with her life. Months ago she wouldn’t have even considered changing the bedroom she had shared with Amelia. “Yeah right,” She called over her shoulder teasingly. “That is if you can keep your hands off my body long enough.” Noemí left the door open, and Terri placed the sleeping infant gently in her crib. Her mind already on matters of the flesh, Terri spun around to face her lover, and their passions exploded as they moved into each other’s arms, a flurry of kisses and desire.

 

FIN

Go to Noemí Vignette

 

Author Commentary: 

I wrote Noemi, but it’s one of my favorites. I got a monumental creative surge when I wrote this particular novel and I couldn’t seem to put my pen down or get off the computer once I started typing it.

I can’t say where the inspiration came from, it was life and it was also imagination. Something was going on in real life that prompted some of the story line. Anthony, was based on a couple of people I know put together.

This story stands out for me because I can’t help but love Noemí, a troubled and depressed character who drives herself in a path of self destruction. In a way, she kind of reminds me of me :).

When I first wrote it, I wrote it in third person form but with a present tense thing going on. It didn’t work as well as I thought it would, but eventually, I persuaded myself to edit it, and place it in the past tense, which turned out to be easier on readers and myself alike.

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