The Long Road Home by Kim Pritekel

The Long Road Home
by Kim Pritekel

 

 

Part 1

 

Sean Waters sat on her back porch with a steaming cup of coffee in her hands to keep them from freezing in the late October chill. The night was quiet. In her neighborhood full of modest sized homes occupied by modest sized families with modest jobs and little league on Saturdays, there was never any noise past ten on a Tuesday. She picked a piece of candy from the small pile that lay on the stoop next to her. Smarties. She opened one end, and ate the sweet-sour, powdery candies one at a time. Tonight was Halloween, and she hadn’t had as many ghouls and goblins this year. The candy had to be eaten by somebody, and Sean knew that Sarah sure wasn’t going to eat any of it. God forbid it might mess with her diet.

Sean rolled her eyes and crushed the plastic wrapper in her palm. She took a sip from her black coffee which tasted absolutely acidic after the sweet candy. She scrunched up her nose and set the cup aside, and looked out over her backyard. The area was small, and that was fine with her. She was at the bookstore so often that planting a yard, let alone maintaining one was not on her list of priorities. During the summer the Seattle rains helped the fence to fence grass to grow and be green, and Todd Hilsabeck, the fourteen year old boy next door helped it to be cut, and manageable. She had hoped to plant some roses over the summer, but never got around to it. With Jeanne leaving so suddenly, and Sean having to cover the lost help, the summer had been hectic at best. Sometimes being the boss isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Sean thought back again to her mother’s letter. Her father had finally died. He’d been suffering from, what was it she had said? Cirrhosis, was it? She’d have to check. Regardless, he was dead, and certainly not to her detriment. Russell Farrow had been a miserable man, and had hidden his evil in the bottle. The last thing he had said to her was when she had been fifteen, and had decided to move in with her grandparents, Roy and Millie Waters. She had her last suitcase in hand, and had opened the old screen door that banged no matter how softly you closed it, that led to the short walk that would lead her to her grandparents old Chevy: freedom.

“Hey, Sean.” he had called out from the top of the stairs. He had just woken up from another long night of hard drinking, and was no better for it. He stood there barefoot, his stained boxers half covered by the three day old shirt he had been wearing, unbuttoned, his stomach peeking through the opening. Sean stopped at the door, handle in hand. She turned to look at him. “You goin’ now?” he said with a belch. He swallowed and coughed.

“Yeah. I’m going.” she had said, angry at herself as she could hear the intimidation in her voice.

Russell Farrow smiled, his unshaven, grizzly face lined before it’s time.

“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, kid.”

Sean didn’t take another look around before she left. She knew that the television was on low, as it had been all night, and anywhere from twenty to thirty empty beer cans would be scattered around the old brown recliner with its vomit stains, and ever present stench of cat urine. Donny’s toy trucks were piled in their usual corner of the couch with its plaid upholstery, the pillows on one end flattened where her mom’s head had lain overnight, her arm over her weary eyes. Sean pushed the door open and walked out. With a loud bang, like a gun firing, she cut ties, and started a new life.

With a shiver that was eighteen years old, Sean stood from the cold cement, and gathered her cup and candy to take into the house with her. She walked back through the sliding glass door that led to the dining area which was separated from the large kitchen by a half wall that was topped with a slab of wood block to make a breakfast bar, or more counter space. Straight out of the dining area was the living room, the hard wood floors covered with large area rugs in subtle shades of dark blue and cream to match the dark woods of the furniture. The room was small, but made cozy by a large fireplace in the corner with a hearth made of mountain rock, the dark wood mantle ornate with carvings of roses and flowing designs. The cream colored couch and recliner was set off by Queen Anne tables with delicately carved legs. Large, overstuffed pillows of the same color of blue as the rugs lay on the floor against the wall for kindred floor dwellers.

Just off to the left of the living room was a door that led to the basement where the television was, as well as a stereo attached to speakers upstairs, and a pool table. Next to that were two closed French doors, stained dark wood to match the rest of the woodwork in the house. Beyond those was Sean’s study. She kept her computer and books concerning the Wood Closet, and her huge library of books. Shelves lined three of the four walls from floor to ceiling filled with volumes of fiction, non-fiction, as well as reference books. Her spare time, what time she had, was dedicated to writing.

One shelf close to her desk was filled with four large three-ringed binders that held finished and unfinished manuscripts, as well as journals. The decor of the room was little to none. This was the one room of the house that Sean had not wanted to decorate. This room, she decided 5 years ago when she bought the place would be her own space. Her room to breath, and think. The big desk that held her computer, as well as housed her files was an antique given to her by her grandfather when she had decided to open the small, but successful women’s book store seven years ago.

To the right of the living room was a long hallway that was interrupted by a small entry way that was the front door, then proceeded to three bedrooms, the two distinctly smaller of the three on either side of the hall, then ending in the main bathroom. To the right of the bathroom was a short flight of three stairs that led to the master bedroom, Sean’s bedroom. The large, four-poster was the center point of the room. The tall dresser was on the wall to the left of that of the bed, the wall where the bathroom was. An antique hope chest given to Sean by her grandmother just before she died, was at the foot of the bed. Night tables were on either side of the bed. A large, mirrored armoire was opposite, the closet to the left of that. The rugs were full of reds and blacks to match the vibrant red and black patterned quilt on the bed, as well as the red lace that was draped across the posts. A simple black wing-backed chair was against the wall opposite the bathroom under the large picture window that over looked the backyard.

Sean went to the kitchen and dumped the remains of her warm coffee in the sink and rinsed the cup. She startled as the doorbell chimed. Ignoring it she plugged the sink, and squirted some Dawn into the hot water rushing from the faucet. She had turned her porch light off an hour ago, so all the little beggars would have to go to the next house in their search for trick or treats. Someone knocked on the door, then she heard the screen door squeak as it was opened. She would have to oil that. Next week, maybe.

“Trick or treat?” Sarah’s voice called out as she closed the front door behind her.

“Hi.” Sean said as she walked to the table in the dining area to gather the dishes from her solo dinner. “In the kitchen.” she dumped the silverware in the hot, soapy water. Sarah entered with her usual flourish. She was garbed in a black, leather skirt that looked painted on, and barely reached mid-thigh. A white poet shirt with a very low neck-line that showed off Sarah’s plentiful cleavage was tucked into it, and a black cape tied at the neck. Her long legs were clothed in black nylons, and ended in stiletto high heels that made her a couple inches taller than Sean.

“Vampire, huh?” Sean said indicating the fake white fangs that filled Sarah’s smile. A thin dribble of blood ran delicately down her chin. Her blonde hair was teased and fanned out in what looked to be eighties punk style.

“Vut ov course.” Sarah said, her voice low and sultry, yet deceptively sweet. She came up behind Sean and pressed her body to her, her hands flattened on Sean’s hips. Sarah teased the flesh on the side of her neck with the points of the fangs. A shock wave raced from Sean’s neck to between her legs. She fought back a moan. She had promised herself.

“Quit.” she laughed as she squirmed away from Sarah, who backed away and took the teeth out.

“These things are so uncomfortable.” she exclaimed as she grabbed a paper towel to wipe her mouth.

“Maybe that’s why Dracula was so ticked off all the time.” Sean said as she began to scrub the fork, knife, and one cooking spoon.

“So what did you do tonight?” Sarah asked. She took off the heels and threw them aside, then hopped up onto the counter-top opposite the sink, her heels thumping against the cabinet below.

“I handed out candy.” Sean said as she rinsed the silverware, then plunged her coffee cup into the water. “I killed the porch light about nine, and sat out back.”

“Do we have to do this again, Sean?” Sarah exclaimed, her arms crossed over her voluptuous chest. “I told you it was not my fault that it was Toni and Mary’s party. I don’t think my ex would like it if I brought my current girlfriend. Do you?”

“I wouldn’t know, Sarah. I’ve never met Toni.” Sean set the cup into the strainer, and started on the plate and salad bowl.

“Well, I don’t know what else I can tell you.”

“I don’t, either. You brought it up.”

“Yeah, I brought it up because I know you’re pissed about it, Sean. That’s why I did it.” Sean put her hands up in surrender and faced Sarah.

“Okay. You win. As I stand here and drip on my kitchen floor, I admit defeat. Okay?” Sean ran her hand up and down her forearms to collect all the suds that had slid down when she raised her hands. She turned back to the sink.

“What does that mean?” Sarah asked, jumping off the counter.

“It means that I don’t particularly want to argue about this, and I want some coffee. Want some?”

“Okay.” Sarah said, satisfied she had gotten her way, again. She walked over to the fridge and looked at all the magnets Sean had stuck on there, and read the little notes and lists Sean made for herself and put there for reminders. She plucked Sean’s grocery list out from under a magnet of Goofy winking. “Pop-tarts? Do you have any idea how fattening Pop-tarts are?” Sarah said, disgust edging the concern.

“I’m not real worried about that, Sarah. Unlike some people I intend to live by my own rules.”

Sarah looked back down at the list either not hearing, or choosing to ignore the nip.

“Wow. You don’t eat very healthy, Sean.” she said putting the list on the counter, and watching as Sean rinsed the last pan, and set it in the strainer against the plates. She pulled the plug, and began to rinse the soap suds out of the sink. Shutting off the cold water, she let the remaining suds disperse as they may. Sean dried her hands and grabbed the glass coffee pitcher and filled it with enough water for four cups. Sarah watched Sean’s every move as she put the coffee on to brew.

“So what are your plans for tonight?” Sarah asked, obvious intent reflected in her brown eyes. Sean turned away from her and headed out to the dining table to wipe it down.

“I am going to pack tonight.” Sean said, surprising herself. She had not yet decided whether or not she was going to go to Russell’s funeral in Ohio or not. Subconscious decision, and Sarah, you were apart of that. She thought ruefully to herself.

“Pack? What for?” Sarah asked, following Sean, and leaning against the wall as she watched her run the wet towel over the smooth surface of the wood, collecting crumbs in her hand.

“I got a letter from my mother today,”

“So. You were never close to that bitch anyway.” Sean looked at Sarah, her crystal blue eyes dark. She collected the rag in her hand and walked back to the kitchen. “Well, you’re not, right?” Sarah asked, following her, hands on her hips.

“No, we’re not. But my father died.”

“Oh.” she was silent for a minute, bit her full lower lip. “Were you close to him? I can’t remember. There are so many people in your family you don’t like.”

“Sarah! Do you have a human bone in your body?” Sean fired. Sarah looked startled and innocent. “No, I did not get along with my father. I’ve hated the man since I was a kid, okay? And yes. There are a lot of undesirables in my family. How’s that?” Sean tossed the rag into the sink and went to the cabinet. She yanked open the door and pulled out two cups. Sarah watched in silence as Sean poured the coffee, slopping the hot liquid onto her hand. “Damn!” she yelled as she put the burned hand to her mouth.

“Hey.” Sarah walked over to her and took the wounded hand over to the sink and put some cold water on it. “Calm down, Sean. I’m sorry I was insensitive.” she said quietly, massaging the red skin. “If you hated him so much, why are you going to go to his funeral? And don’t they live back east somewhere?”

“Yes. In Ohio.” Sean took her hand out of Sarah’s. “Go ahead and make your coffee. You know where everything is.” She said as she walked out of the kitchen, and to the bathroom in her bedroom. She leaned on the black, pedestal sink and closed her eyes, her head down as she tried to get her anger under control. Why was she so mad? It seemed that lately it didn’t take anything and she was annoyed, or irritated, or out and out angry with Sarah. Sean thought back to a conversation she had with Wendy, employee of the Wood Closet and long time trusted friend.

“Girl,” Wendy had said, her dark features almost disappearing in the shade of the early evening as they sat outside of Sip of Reginald, a gay owned sidewalk coffee shop and cafe. “You see what it is, these white women, they real bitchy, and you so whipped you put up wid them. But now, see you are seein’ the light, Lord Hallelujah! So now you are seein’ the error of her white woman ways, and you don’t like it.”

Sean had laughed and looked fondly on her old friend. “You know something, Wendy?”

“What’s that, suga?” she had said as she sipped her espresso.

“I am a white woman.”

“Hell, no you ain’t white! See, what it is,” she sat forward for emphasis. “You a sista in white woman’s skin. You ain’t nothin’ like that Sarah person. What do you see in her, anyway? ‘Cause I know it ain’t brains.”

“Great sex.” Sean had said simply. “That’s all I want from her right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s all she wants, too. I don’t need the hassle of a relationship. It’s not worth it. I mean, Wendy I am thirty-four years old. I’ve got my dream house, a great business. Why deal with all that crap?”

“Honey, you no happier widout all the ‘crap’. You been more lonely in the last six months since you entered this union of sorts. Good god, woman. She wrong for you. You too good for the likes a her. An’ you know she ain’t playin’ it straight wid you! How many times do me or you got to see her wid some other woman, or how many times she got to stand you up? Dump the bitch!”

Sean opened her eyes and looked at her reflection. Her blue eyes were cloudy with an emotion she could net define. She could feel her anger seeping out through her ears, and realized that her anger really was not directed at Sarah, but at herself. This life she was leading was not like her; this indifference. Her work had become her life. Her time with Sarah was fun, usually, but she played no role of real importance. No one did except for maybe Wendy. She had no ties or connections to anyone; not even herself.

Sean ran her hands through her long, dark hair and sighed. Time for a change. Maybe she should drive to Ohio. That would give her some time to think, and be alone. That would mean that she would be gone longer than if she flew, but she knew the store would be just fine in Wendy’s capable hands. Wendy would probably welcome the responsibility, too.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asked from the doorway. Sean’s mind snapped back to the present, and looked at her.

“Yes. I’m fine. So how was the party?” she asked as she walked past Sarah to her closet and pulled her old, beat up Samsonite off the top shelf and plopped it onto the bed.

“It was fine, fun. Andrea showed up. I was kind of surprised considering the little situation she had gotten herself into last year.” Sarah said with a laugh.

“Hmm.” Sean said absently as she unsnapped the hard, gray case and opened it up. The lid bounced slightly as it hit the soft mattress. Sean started to pull out some sweaters and pants as Sarah rattled on about costumes, and who was dating who in her world that Sean had never been invited to enter. The names and events were meaningless to her.

“So how long do you plan to be gone?” Sarah asked, her brow drawn at the growing pile of garments.

“I don’t know.” Sean shrugged.

“Well, have you made arrangements yet?”

“No. I’m going to drive I think.”

“Drive?” Sarah plopped herself down in the wing-back, threw her legs over the arm. “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

“Because I need some time.” Sean said plainly. She re-folded her sweaters so they were smaller and would fit better.

“Some time to do what?”

“To think.” Sean looked up from her task and studied Sarah for a moment. She was lazily swinging one of her legs, and was looking down at the basically non-existent neck-line of her shirt where some fake blood had spotted. She licked one of her fingers, and was vigorously scrubbing at it. Sean shook her head. Why was she bothering to explain? Without a word Sean headed into the bathroom to collect some toiletries that she would need.

“When are you going to leave?” Sarah asked from the bedroom. Sean went to the cabinets next to the bathtub that were built into the wall to store towels, or extra toilet paper. She squatted infront of the lower one and began to dig through the mess.

“I don’t know.” she called out. She found the travel case for her soap clear in the back with a spilled box of tampons on top of it. She stood and closed the cabinet door. “I’m thinking either tomorrow or the next day.” Sean entered the bedroom with her travel soap case with a fresh bar of soap loaded into it, a new toothbrush, and a tiny tube of Crest, threw them into the upper pocket of the suitcase. She’d have to pick up some travel-sized shampoo later.

“So what do you need to think about?” Sarah asked quietly. Sean looked up at her surprised.

“I didn’t think you had even heard me. I’m impressed.” she said turning her attention back to organizing her toiletries.

“I heard you. What’s happening here, Sean?” Sarah flipped her legs back over the arm, and turned her body to sit forward, her legs crossed at the knee. She looked to be in the mood to talk serious.

“What is happening is I need a change. I need to distance myself from my life for a bit, and see what I see.” Sean went to a drawer and started to throw pairs of socks and underwear on the bed.

“You mean distance yourself from me.” Sarah said dryly.

“You are in my life.” Sean said pointedly. Sarah studied her for a minute then stood, her eyes expressionless.

“That’s pretty harsh, Sean.” she turned toward the door. “Coffee’s getting cold.” and she walked out the bedroom door, down the three stairs, and disappeared around the corner.

Sean stared after her, her mind whirling. She thought back to that first night they had met. It had been a perfect night, the kind that books are made of. It had been late April, and a mutual friend had been having a huge party out on her ranch on the outskirts of town. Sean and Wendy had arrived together, and had sought out their hostess.

“Sean! Wendy! I’m so glad you gals made it.”

“Hey, Tina.” Sean smiled, and took the large woman in her arms for a hug.

“Girl, who is that? Mmm, mmm.” Wendy exclaimed, looking off into the crowd.

“Wendy we have been here less then two minutes, and already you’re scoping the place out.” Sean had laughed, and shaken her head in mock disgust.

“Oh, honey, you see them legs over there, and you know why my stomach is growlin’.”

Sean had looked over in the direction that Wendy had indicated, and had stopped dead in her tracks. There stood one of the most beautiful, and sexy women she had ever seen. She wore a mid-thigh length red skirt with a slit up the side, and a red leather vest with nothing underneath that left not too much for the imagination. She was talking with a group of women, but Wendy’s booming voice had caught her attention, and now her eyes were on Sean.

“That’s Sarah Joyce. I used to work with her when I was still in real estate.” Tina explained.

With a polite smile to the other women, Sarah started walking toward her.

“Hi.” she said extending her hand to Sean, full of confidence. “I’m Sarah, and I noticed you looking my way.” Sean took the warm hand and held it for a moment before letting it go.

“Sean Waters.”

“Nice to meet you. How do you know Tina?” she took Sean’s arm, ignoring Wendy and Tina, and led her toward the back door to the deck.

“She’s a regular customer at my store. She’s been coming in for a few years now. Since we opened, anyway.” Sean explained, leaning nonchalantly against the redwood rail.

“What’s your store?”

“The Wood Closet.”

“Ah, yes. The woman’s book store over on fifth.” Sean nodded. “I’ve never been there, personally, but I do know people who have. It’s nice.” she said simply.

“Thank you. I like it. What do you do?”

“I’m an agent at Crossman Realty.”

The rest of the night had been spent on idle chit chat, the sexual tension between both building until finally Sarah had leaned into Sean and had whispered in her ear.

“So what do you say we ditch the people we came with, and go somewhere a little more private.”

“What about Wendy?”

“That black woman you came with? I’m sure she can find her way home without you.”
Without a word Sean had led her back through the party toward the front door. Midway she saw Wendy glanced at her, brows drawn in confusion. Sean had simply smiled in answer to her frown, and led Sarah to her car.

Sean shook her head to shake the memory, and closed the case and snapped it. She grabbed her backpack from the closet and headed into the living room. Sarah was curled up in the big recliner, her feet tucked up under her. She had removed her nylons and the skirt. They, along with her stiletto heels were in a small pile on the floor next to the chair.

Sean set the empty pack on the couch opposite the chair and headed to the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. Sarah had wiped up the coffee she had spilled, and had left out the can of cream and sugar canister for her. With a touch of cream and a lot of sugar Sean walked back in to the living room. Sarah was looking through a couple of books that had been on the coffee table.

Sean went into her den and grabbed her writing notebook and favorite pen. Much of her quiet time was filled with writing her thoughts and dreams in the notebook. She had already filled a half dozen of them in the last couple of years. Sarah looked up as she approached.

“Ah, yes. The intellectual mustn’t be without pen and paper for such a long journey. Is that the only way you can deal with things, Sean? Write them down?” her voice edged with sarcasm.

“Well, Sarah, some people talk, some yell, and some go shopping and spend hundreds of dollars on useless items.” she stopped and looked her in the eyes. “And some write.”

Sarah plopped the two books she had been skimming onto the side table next to her.

“Would you hand me those, please?” Sean asked, indicating the discarded paperbacks.

“Can’t leave home without Noel and Claire, is it?” Sean ignored the jab and slammed the books into the pack.

“God, I hate to read.” Sarah stood, the poet shirt just barely covering her red, silk panties.

“How boring. I’d rather live life, not read about other people’s.

“Well that’s you, then isn’t it? Sarah, I have a lot to do tonight. Why don’t you just go?”

Sarah looked at Sean, surprise in her calculating brown eyes. She must have seen something in Sean’s eyes that she didn’t like.

“Are you asking me to go for tonight, or for good?” Taken off guard by the question Sean just stared at her for a moment.

“For good.” she finally said, finality in her voice.

“Fine. You’ll regret it. Believe me, you will never find a more perfect situation than this.”

Sean smiled to herself.

“Perhaps. I guess I’ve just had a bit too much perfection then.”

Sarah grabbed her skirt off the floor and tugged it on, her nylons and heels in hand. She headed for the door. With her hand on the knob she whirled around to face her.

“You are going to be so easy to replace, Sean. Maybe now I can find someone who is still alive.”

“Maybe so. Infact, I’m willing to bet that young little thing you met at that party is still waiting outside for you.” Sean said, her voice flat and cold.

“Bitch!” Sarah saw the large ceramic bowl of candy on the hall table, and hurled it at her, narrowly missing her shoulder and exploding on the wall behind her. Tiny little Snickers and Milky Ways scattered across the floor with the shards of the ruined bowl. “Happy Halloween.” Sarah yanked open the door, and slammed it behind her.

_________________________________________________________________

The house was quiet, all the lights had been turned out, the mess would still be there in the morning.

Jenny Aberman made her way to the kitchen, careful not step on any broken glass or trip on the tumbled furniture. She switched on the light that was on the underside of the stove hood, and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and poured herself some Sunny Delight. She sat at the small kitchen table that she and Ben had picked up at a garage sale for twenty-five bucks. That had been, what, two years ago? Maybe three? She couldn’t remember.

She leaned her cheek on her hand then winced as her nerve endings reminded her of the bump that was surly forming a bruise by now. She tentatively ran her fingertip over the tender skin. Not bad, but it would hurt for a couple of days. Especially tomorrow. She glanced over at the clock on the microwave, 3:21. I guess it is tomorrow, she thought with a rueful laugh. Probably better put some more ice on it.

Jenny looked down and noticed a missed spot when she had wiped the table down after dinner. A small spot of dried ketchup was on the corner of the green speckled Formica. Using her fingernail she scratched it off. Suddenly the realization that today was Halloween hit her. She smiled as she thought of how excited Mark, Pam’s little boy was about dressing up as a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. His little face had lit up when he’d seen the make-up kit Pam had bought for him on her break down at the grocery. Tonight she was having a party and had invited some of the girls down at the store, including Jenny. Jenny had had to decline saying that she and Ben were taking the nephew she didn’t have trick-or-treating. The truth is Ben does not like Halloween. He didn’t want her spending their good money on some “stupid costume that you’ll wear once and throw out”. Oh well. Maybe one of these years she’d be able to talk him into it.

Jenny spotted the plate of brownies on the counter. She slowly raised herself from the kitchen chair, her aching body protesting loudly. She grabbed one of the small brown squares, and sat again, happily munching on the rich treat. Ben would be mad if he knew she was eating one. He had told her to make those especially for him. Oh well, she reasoned. He’s always mad about something, and she could make more. Then suddenly a pang of anger flashed through her, startling her. She was always having to “make more” for him, always making him happy when Ben would never be happy. It was getting harder and harder to do, and even harder to try and make herself appease all of her faults to please him. If in the last ten years she hadn’t become his perfect wife, she never would.

“Damn him.” she said to herself, her voice bitter. She thought back to when her father had tried to talk her out of making the biggest mistake of her life, marrying Benjamin Lewis Aberman.

“Jenny, you are a beautiful young girl. So many nice boys will come along and sweep you off your feet.” he had said, his blue eyes, so much like her own, twinkling. She had been an impressionable young girl of sixteen. Ben had been new in town, seven years her senior, he had seemed quite sophisticated at twenty-three. He was handsome with intense brown eyes, and long, shiny black hair pulled neatly into a rebellious ponytail. He had ambition, and was going somewhere. He ended up going no further than the steel mill where he worked for a year before being fired for being “under the influence” on the job. Then Jenny’s father, Bill had gotten him a job at his pharmacy with the agreement that he hold the job for at least two years before he would give his consent for his only daughter to marry. Ben had held the job for exactly four months and three days before he “quit” after getting into a fist fight with a customer over a misplaced prescription.

“Boy, you are going to have to learn to control that temper! The world is not your punching bag! And I will not allow you to use my daughter as one, either. She is too good for the likes of you, Ben. Now please leave my house.” Jenny’s father had said in his usual no nonsense, but kind voice.

“What are you talking about? I would never lay a hand on her! And besides, Jenny wants to go with me. Don’t you?” Ben had demanded, his sharp gaze on Jenny who stood in her parents’ living room torn between the two men who meant the most to her. The one thing that stood in Ben’s favor was the fact that she was already carrying his child. Neither he nor her father knew this. No one did. In their tiny Kansas community she would be shunned and seen as a loose girl for not being married. Her father’s reputation as a good, strong town leader would also suffer. She felt she had no choice but to disobey her beloved father, and go with Ben.

“Daddy, everyone makes mistakes. I don’t think you’re being fair to Ben.” she had said, her voice full of forced confidence. Her father’s head snapped in her direction, his blue eyes wide and surprised, beginning to grow angry.

“What?” he said, his voice incredulous. Ben looked at Jenny, satisfaction in his smile. “Girl, think this through. At seventeen you are hardly aware of the consequences of choices. They can ruin your life.”

“I’ll be happy, daddy. Don’t worry.” Jenny smiled, hoping to reassure her father as much as herself.

“We’re getting married. Isn’t that right, baby?” Ben said, putting an arm around Jenny’s shoulders.

“Well, I suppose,”

Marriage? The subject had come up briefly, but never anything definite. She knew in her heart that she had no choice. This baby should have a father, and she didn’t want to hurt Ben. He seemed to love her so much. She had always dreamed of a man who would love her in a way that he would never want anyone else, and he didn’t want her to have anyone else, either. Once Ben had even fought another guy who had made a lewd gesture to her in the K-Mart. She had thought it had been a bit over the top, but chivalrous all the same. At that age she had been lost in the excitement of romance.

Jenny could feel the familiar sadness that had plagued her for months now rise in her throat, and sting behind her closed eyes. She used to be able to have a good self-pitying cry and feel much better, but that didn’t work anymore. Now all she felt after was tired and angry at Ben for making her feel trapped. Angry at herself for lacking the courage to get out.

She laced her fingers and rested her forehead against her joined hands. Her mind raced back to five years ago when her father had literally been on his deathbed. At the time she and Ben had been living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They would not move to Seattle for another two years.

“Come in here, my Jen Blossom.” Jenny’s father had said weakly when he spied her watching him quietly from the doorway of the darkened room.

“You haven’t called me that in years.” she smiled as she sat on the edge of the bed. She took her father’s hands in hers, the skin of his dry and tight. They sounded like sandpaper against the blankets.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his eyes insistent as they looked into Jenny’s. She looked away from him, not daring to look into the kind stare that had gotten her through some of her most difficult times throughout her life. She knew if she let him see the pain that had a permanent place in her eyes she would lose control of her emotions and upset him.

“Nothing, daddy. I’m just glad to be here, is all. I’m so sorry you’re sick.”

“My Jenny can’t lie to me. What is it, child?”

“Daddy, please don’t.” she said, fighting the emotion from her voice. He smiled and patted her hand affectionately, quiet understanding.

“You have always been different, Jenny. Special. There is a light in those crystal blue eyes of yours that betrays your heart. You are a searcher.” he paused as a wave of pain from the cancer coursed through his feeble body. Jenny’s father shut his eyes tightly, and held his breath as he waited for it to pass.

“Daddy? Should I get mom?”

“No, no.” Bill breathed. “I’m okay.” he took a deep breath, and continued. “Now what I am telling you is important, so listen to me. You have been looking for something your whole life. I’m not sure what that something is, and I’m not sure that you know yourself. I think you have tried to find that magic you seek in Ben. Is it there?” Slowly Jenny shook her head. “Are you happy, girl?” concern filled his eyes.

“Yes, daddy. I am happy. You always told me to make do with what I had. I’m doing what you said. I’m happy.” she smiled and kissed his dry fingers.

“I hope so, girl. I hope so. That is all I ever wanted for you, and for your brother. But Paul has found his happiness with Lana. I want the same for you. Be who you are, Jenny. Don’t let anyone step in the way of that. Promise?”

“Yes, daddy. I promise.”

“Good. Leave me, child. I need to get my rest.” he patted her hand

“Should I send mom or Paul in?” she asked standing from the bed.

“No.” he said quietly. “I have already said good night to them.”

“Okay. I love you, daddy.” she kissed his forehead.

“I love you, too my little Jen Blossom. Take care of you, and be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”

Jenny left the room, closing the door behind her.

Jenny, her mother Connie, and her brother Paul buried their beloved husband and father three days later.

Jenny rested her head on her arms on the table, the sobs racking her entire body.

“What am I doing?” she cried, her already sore muscles throbbing from the intense spasms. “I’m sorry, daddy. I’m so sorry.”

* * * * *

The early morning light shone through the flimsy, light blue curtains that Jenny had fashioned out of material shower curtains. They were cheap to make, and even cheaper to replace then regular curtains. The sound of the shower running brought Jenny out of a restless sleep filled with frightening dreams, and awakened to face the harsh realities of her life. She rolled over from her side to her back and stared up at the ceiling with the crack in the corner. Instantly she closed her eyes as the splitting pain raced through her skull.

“Oh, Ben.” she groaned as the last nights events came back to her. He had done a dozy to her this time. She wondered if she didn’t have another concussion. The water cut off, and she could hear Ben drying himself.

“Jenny!” he yelled. “I forgot my pants. Bring them in here. Please.”

Please? Jenny thought for a moment. How odd. She couldn’t remember the last time she had heard a please or a thank you escape his lips. She rolled out of bed and held her breath as her head was jarred to life when her feet hit the floor. Taking small steps she walked to where Ben had thrown his jeans the night before, and picked them up.

“Here, Ben.” she said as she walked to the tiny half-bath that was in their bedroom. “Do you have to work this morning?”

“Yeah.” Ben said. He stood in his underwear infront of the mirror styling his dark hair that had just began to thin on top. He turned to her to grab his pants. He looked at her for only a second before looking down at the floor. “Thanks.” he said turning back to his own image. Puzzled, Jenny went back into the bedroom and looked in the mirror over the dresser. The hot tears threatened to come out. She held them off and swallowed them. The left side of her face was a myriad of lumps and bruises ranging from black to deep purple. A small cut at the corner of her mouth had bled a bit over the night.

“My god.” she breathed. It was worse then last time.

“What are you doing?” Ben asked, taking a half step backward out of the bathroom to look at his wife.

“Nothing. Just making up the bed.” Jenny quickly set out fluffing the pillows, just how Ben liked them, and pulling the sheet and blankets up. The thick quilt that Ben’s mother, Alma had given them at their wedding had been destroyed by Ben’s rottweiler, Buzz. She had nothing to replace it with, and no money to buy a new one, so Jenny had put the newest blanket she had bought over the old, dingy gray one they used to stay warm during the long, cold nights. She had been so glad when that dog had been hit by that truck. She grinned to herself as she imagined Ben being hit along with his beloved beast.

“What’s so funny?”

Jenny was startled from her thoughts by Ben’s voice coming from the doorway.

“Nothing. Just thinking.” she gave him a small smile, and returned her attention back to the bed. Finally the sound of Ben’s electric razor. She looked guiltily toward the bathroom door as she hurried around the bed back to the mirror. Ben hated it when she looked at herself after a fight. She tried to make herself feel better by thinking that maybe, just maybe somewhere deep down he felt guilty for what he had done. That was the only way she could make it through without losing control completely.

She stood infront of the all too revealing truth of the silvered glass and raised her over-sized night shirt. Her breath caught, and she brought her hand to her mouth. A bruise extended from just under her right breast to halfway down her ribs. That must have been where she had struck the end table, she thought. Several smaller, but equally painful bruises lined her back, and crept down to below her panty line. Maybe she should see a doctor. Could a rib be broken? She did not know. Amazingly enough, she had never broken one. She took a deep breath, and realized that besides the pain of the bruises, she could take a breath without too much trouble. No reason to risk seeing a doctor. She shook her head in amazement when she saw the perfect outline of Ben’s fingers on her upper arm.

“Damn, I’m good looking!” Ben bellowed as he shut the razor off, and threw it onto the counter top. Jenny rolled her eyes, and pulled her shirt back into place. “What are you doing today? Do you work?” he asked as he entered the bedroom, and walked to the dresser to grab his watch and

wallet, stuffing lose change into his front pocket.

“No. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Are you still going to Dan’s tonight?” Jenny asked as she picked out her clothes for the day, careful to chose pants that were slightly big on her so they would not rub against her tender skin, and an old, comfortable sweatshirt.

“Maybe. Why?”

“I’m just wondering, Ben. I need to know if I’m making you dinner or not.” she headed toward the bathroom.

“I don’t know. You probably won’t need to.” he called after her. “And, hey, remember what we talked about last night, Jenny. You better do it!”

“See you tonight.” Jenny said, and closed the bathroom door behind her.

The hot water ran over Jenny’s body like a million soothing hands messaging, and appeasing her aching muscles, and wounded pride. She tilted her head back under the powerful stream, the water mixing with her tears. Crossing her arms over her breasts, she leaned against the cool tile wall. Her mind raced as she thought of what she could do. She could call the police and have Ben arrested today down at the garage. What would that do? Nothing but make him spend a night or two in jail only to return home and maybe kill her. She could file for divorce. But where would she go? Johanna’s maybe? Pam’s? No, not Pam, and Ben would think to go to Johanna’s. They hated each other, and he knew that she was Jenny’s best friend.

Suddenly the new and comforting anger that had come to her aide last night took over, and Jenny grabbed the bar of soap and began to vigorously scrub at the cuts and bruises that littered her skin, ignoring the pain. Ben had made his mark on her, almost as though he were trying to mark his territory through blood. Not this time, she thought bitterly. I am no man’s property. Jenny stopped, soap bar ready in hand. The realization dawned on her that she had let Ben claim her as his, tag her as his property like he would his car or a piece of furniture. He had broken her, and now tried to own her. All these years when she had cowed to his every wish, his every command she had thought it had been her trying to keep peace. What it had been was her denying herself the basic right of being human. A woman, proud and strong. She used to wonder what it was that she had done so wrong to deserve this. Now the realization came bitterly that she may not have asked for the beatings, and the cruelty, but she had answered to it. Ben’s ruling fist had become Jenny’s guiding force. She found herself in the very trap that she questioned other women’s loyalty to.

Growing up it had been taking her mother’s selfish whims and biting tongue. Now her own husband. When was Jenny ever to belong to herself? She closed her eyes, then with purpose opened them and finished her shower. She cut off the water and stepped out

Jenny wrapped a towel around her blond, the reddish highlights reflected in the bathroom light, that reached just below her shoulders, and an old, comfortable robe around her body then headed to the kitchen to make some coffee.

A wave of dread seeped through her as she walked down the short hall from their bedroom to the living room. She was afraid to see what the damage looked like during the day. She stopped, hands on her hips and studied the carnage. The end table that she had landed on was laying in a pile on the floor, the legs folding under her slight weight. The lamp that is usually on top of the table on it’s side, unbroken, the lamp shade askew. A hole five inches in diameter was in the wall just under the picture that she had talked Ben into taking last spring at a professional studio. She looked at that hole and realized that had been made when she had ducked Ben’s fist causing it to go through the dry wall instead. The vase of silk flowers she kept on the piano had been knocked off, and lay shattered on the worn, dark brown carpet, the flowers scattered. The paper back she had been reading when Ben started his tirade was half under the couch, it’s torn cover barely visible. Jenny continued into the kitchen and scooped some grounds into the basket, and filled the carafe with water, and pushed ON. Jenny started to walk to the living room to clean up the mess when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hey. Happy Halloween to you.” the familiar voice, made low and velvety from twenty years of smoking, said on the other end of the line. Instantly Jenny smiled.

“Hey there yourself, Johanna. Now you know we don’t celebrate Halloween here.”

“Oh, forgive me. I forgot.” Johanna said dryly. “How about going trick or treating with us tonight? You know Becky would love to have you come along.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Ben would get pretty mad.”

“And your point would be?” Jenny smiled to herself. As the coffee began to brew she started to feel nauseous at the smell.

“Whoa. I wonder if Ben bought a new brand of coffee. This stuff is awful! I’m going to take you into the bathroom with me.” she said switching the cordless into her other hand as she removed the towel from her drying hair.

“Oh. What are we gonna do in there?” Johanna asked, her voice lowered, and edged with a smile.

“None of your business. So what did Becky want to be this year?” Jenny asked as she tried to comb out the mass of thick hair. She avoided looking at her face as much as possible.

“She is an angel.”

“Kind of a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?”

“Funny girl! Very funny girl. I gotta go. The boss from hell is back from, well, from wherever he goes every morning. Pick you up at five.”

“Wait, Johanna I didn’t say I was going.” Jenny said, her voice suddenly filled with panic. “I really want to go, but Ben-”

“Screw Ben, Jenny. The sooner you get that through your head the better off you’ll be. I was married to Becky’s dad for a third of the time that you’ve been married to that lunatic, and did not take half the crap that you do. Honey, you’ve got to get you back. Understand? Don’t let him run your life. Try and hide all you want but I know what’s up. Okay? Okay?” Johanna persisted when Jenny did not respond.

“Okay. I know.” Jenny said, her voice tired and lifeless.

“No you don’t or you would have been gone by now. See you at five.” then the line was dead.

Hanging up the phone was Johanna’s way of telling Jenny that she did not have a choice, and that was the end of discussion. It usually happened on a weekly basis.

Ben and Johanna hated each other. Jenny suspected that mutual jealousy was the cause. She and Johanna had met on the city bus one morning when Jenny’s car had been in the shop and Ben had refused to drive her to work. Johanna never drove to work because she hated the idea of having to walk to the parking lot at night.

“Hey, can I sit here?” a woman’s voice had said, ripping Jenny out of the world that the novel she was reading had sent her. She looked up, annoyed with the woman who looked down at her. She had blond hair that was just long enough to perm, bouncy curls all over her head, a wide mouth, and dark brown eyes. Without a word Jenny had removed her purse from the empty seat and had gone back to her reading.

“What’s that?” the strange woman asked.

“What’s what?” Jenny had asked rudely. She had still been upset from the fight with Ben that morning.

“The dot on your forehead. The book!”

“Oh, it’s called ‘Dreaming In Color’. Charlotte Vale Allen is the author.”

“Never heard of her.” Jenny had nodded acknowledgment to the comment, then had turned once again back to her book. The woman was quiet as the crowded bus came to a stop, the air brakes disturbing the early morning hush. “Any good?” the woman asked.

Jenny looked over at her, irritation clearly evident on her face.

“Yes it is, now would you please let me read?”

“Sure, feel free.”

“Thank you.”

“My name is Johanna Stuart.” Jenny’s head snapped up ready to pounce when she looked into the woman’s dark, mischievous eyes. In those eyes she felt as though she had found a kindred spirit. Her face softened, and she smiled.

“Wow, you need to lighten up. Who peed in your Cheerios this morning? I’m guessing you’re not a morning person?” Johanna Stuart asked.

“I’m sorry. I was being completely rude. My name is Jenny Aberman.”

Jenny had talked with Johanna for the remaining thirty minutes of her bus ride, and had made plans to meet her for lunch. That day she found out that Johanna was thirty-five, and had a four year old daughter named Becky. She had divorced Becky’s father, Steve when Becky had been six months old, and had never re-married, nor ever planned to. She had been born in Prossor, but had moved to Seattle at the age of three, and had been there ever since. Jenny had told Johanna of her marriage to Ben, and everything about her life prior to.

That had been two years ago. Johanna was one of the only people in the world who could reach Jenny as her father had been able to. They talked about everything, laughed together, cried together. Jenny sighed. She wished she could find a guy that she could have a relationship like that with. She ran the brush slowly through her hair disheartened. She knew that it would probably never happen. There were just no men like that. As much as she had loved her father, even he had proven a disappointment to the depth of men, or lack of. When Johanna had told her that she never wanted to marry again Jenny had been surprised by such a bold statement. Don’t children need fathers? Even girls? But now she did not question Johanna’s brave, and proud existence. Now she envied it.

Jenny set out to straighten the living room. She examined the end table, and realized there was no fixing it. Two of the legs had cracked and broken off toward the top. The glass top had split in two. With a feeling of sadness and a sense of apprehension Jenny carried the ruined table to the curb for the trash to pick up. She almost felt that the ruined table was only the beginning of

something major. Something was going to happen, and she did not know what it was, only that it

scared her. She decided she would leave the hole in the wall. Ben would have to fill it when he got home. If he kept it up, their landlord would withhold their deposit for damages.

“Damn him.” she mumbled as she walked back to the house.

The small house on Cherry Lane that Jenny and Ben had rented was a cute little A-frame with two tiny bedrooms, a living room, moderate sized kitchen and two bathrooms. As Jenny walked up the steep driveway from the trash barrel at the curb, she yearned as she had when she had been a kid, for her own house. Something she could call her own, that she had paid for with hard earned money. Now, Ben rarely kept a job, and the only jobs he would allow her to take, if any, were part-time, minimum wage.

Jenny sat on the front stoop, wrapping her robe tight around her body to keep the mid-morning chill out. She looked up at the sky that was covered with gray clouds. She liked these kind of gloomy days. She almost felt as if the low clouds were like a blanket of safety, holding her inside it’s thick embrace. She smiled to herself as she thought of what Johanna had said when she told her of her love for the clouds.

“Thick embrace? What? Are you high?”

she hugged herself a little tighter as a brisk breeze swept through the street. Jenny thought of the sadness that her father used to say was in her eyes, the emptiness. She had fought hard to make that sadness go away, and fill the emptiness. She could feel its return like a vivid dream that you just can’t shake. Maybe, just maybe if she and Ben could sit down and talk about things. Somewhere the message was not getting to him. Maybe she just assumed too much, and thought that what she said he heard. Men and women are not exactly known for their communication skills. Maybe that’s why he hit her; her was too frustrated, and could not find a way to talk to her about it. Jenny was not one to just throw in the towel and say to hell with it. She was a fighter. Maybe this time they could make it work. Hope raced through Jenny’s mind. Just as quick the bubble was destroyed. She had never been happy with Ben. She knew that. Even in the early days before he had laid a hand on her. Jenny constantly found herself lost in a daydream, or a world she had created that was far away from her reality. A world she found herself in now. A place where she could run free, be herself. No games. She craved the feel of the wind in her hair, the wheel in her hands. She could actually see herself in her mind’s eye leaving Ben. Packing up everything she owned, pile it all in her old Subaru, and head out. Get a good job somewhere, get a small place of her own. No one to dictate where the money would go, what money she saw, and she could have real curtains! She would get a cat, too. She had always wanted a cat since she was young. Her mother had been allergic. Jenny closed her eyes and smiled as she pictured her new life being created before her.

“Yes!” she exclaimed to the open street. She jumped up and threw her head back, and arms up toward the heavy, gray clouds and laughed. “I am free!” a wild burst of energy coursed through her body making Jenny feel as if she could do anything.

Suddenly feeling like she was being watched, Jenny looked to the house next door to see Richard, the muscle bound, tattooed motorcycle collector staring at her as he stood next to the dissected motorcycle at his feet, bandanna half way to his head. “Hi.” she said brightly, then giggled all the way into the house.

* * * * *

Jenny and Johanna stood side by side as they watched the six year old girl with the bouncing blonde curls, just like her mothers, walk up the long rock path to the front door of the house.

“She is getting so independent. I can’t believe she didn’t want me to walk up with her.” Johanna said shaking her head, her eyes on the slight figure with a halo made of a bent coat hanger covered in gold Christmas tinsel, and twin white wings bought at Wal-Mart. “I mean, what if those people are great big, ugly monsters who feast on children? You know?” Johanna turned to Jenny for backup, and met a look that told her she was being ridiculous. Johanna turned back to her little Becky as she climbed the first of four cement stairs.

“If you’re so worried then why don’t you follow her up there?”

“Nah. Becky would kill me.” they remained silent as both shivered in the late October cold.

“So are you going to tell me what happened, or are you going to lie again to protect that pond scum?” Jenny looked at Johanna in surprise. She had never asked her about her cuts and bruises before. Johanna looked at Jenny when she did not respond. “Yes, I notice. You may as well tell me about it, Jen. I know what that’s all about, you know.”

“I know you do.” Jenny was quiet for a moment. She had lied about Ben for so long that it was hard for her to even form the words in her own head as to what had happened. She had a hundred lies and excuses all lined up and ready to go. The truth was not so easy. Finally she said simply, “Ben wants me to quit my job.”

“And knowing you as I do, you refuse to do that.” Jenny nodded.

“We need the money.”

“Good god. What does he do for a really serious offense?”

“Oh, that’s easy. He ties my hands to his truck, and my feet to the bumper of my car, and has me drawn and quartered. It’s not pretty. He usually gets the neighbor guy to help him.”

“That’s not funny, Jenny. So because you won’t quit your job at the grocery he beat the hell out of you.”

“Yeah.”

“Mommy, I’m gonna go to the house next door! They gave me a Hershey bar!” Becky yelled as she ran across the front yard of the house to the front yard of the next house over.

“Hey, Becky. Wait for us!” Johanna yelled back. “We better catch up.”

I made a decision today, Johanna.” Jenny said, eyeing her companion for her reaction, as they began to walk again. “I need your help to make me go through with it.” Johanna stopped and took both of Jenny’s gloved hands in hers.

“We’ll have you packed and out of there tonight.” Jenny grabbed Johanna and hugged her to her.

“Thank you, Johanna. I knew I could count on you.” she squeezed her eyes tightly together as she felt the tears coming. “Are you sure about another roommate, though?” I mean I know that you and Lisa didn’t do so well.” Johanna pulled away from Jenny and held her at arms length.

“Don’t you worry about that, Jenny. That was a different situation entirely.” Johanna looked around, then spotted her daughter. “We better go. I think my little angel is about to steal Zorro’s candy.”

They followed Becky from house to house, her big paper grocery sack getting fatter and fatter.

“This is such an awful holiday. Whoever thought it up should be shot. The bigger that thing gets, the more I’m calculating in my head for fillings.”

“Come on, Johanna. She’s only a kid once.”

“Thank god.”

Jenny looked around at the houses in the neighborhood. They were small, but kept up with nice yards, and new paint. A slow smile spread across her face as she watched all the kids in any manner of costume running along in groups, or being led by the hand of a parent or older brother or sister, their bulging sacks of goodies swinging at their sides.

“Penny for your obviously really good thoughts?” Johanna said with a raised brow.

“Give me a dollar and I’ll give you a whole mind full.”

“Done.”

“I was just thinking how lucky these people are. They live in these nice houses, and have a family. Look at them over there.” Jenny pointed to a family walking across the street. Two kids aged three to seven. The youngest child, a boy dressed as a cowboy complete with little boots, a gun belt and two six-shooters at his side. The older boy a ninja with a plastic samurai sword in hand. The cowboy on his father’s shoulders kicking his little legs with excitement. The mother walked along carrying the boys’ orange, plastic pumpkins full of candy. The family looked happy and content

“That is what I want. Someone to love, and to be happy with. I want a family with kids and a cat. I watch people, like Ben who are so close to happiness, and yet they throw it all away. Right out the window until poof” she snapped her fingers for emphasis. One day it’s gone.” Jenny shook her head. “I don’t get it.” she turned to look at Johanna. “You know?”

“Yes I do. People forget to enjoy the simple things in life because they’re so worried about the big things that you can’t do anything about, anyway.”

“I am not looking forward to doing this at all. I wonder how Ben is going to take it.” Jenny said.

“Do you think maybe you should call the police to be there, too?” Johanna asked, concern filling her voice.

“No. If things start to get too bad I’ll just leave. I can go back tomorrow during the day and get my stuff. I think it will be fine, though. Who knows, he may be relived.”

* * * * *

Johanna drove her Ford toward Jenny and Ben’s house with her nerves jumping out of her skin. She kept her fears to herself because she knew Jenny was scared, and did not want to add to her worries. Johanna looked over at her friend. Jenny sat in the passenger seat quiet, looking straight ahead, hands in her lap. In the darkness Johanna could see the tense expression on her face, reminding her of one time when she had been in junior high, and had received an F on her report card. She had held the same expression as the bus drove her too quickly to meet her father’s wrath.

“I think Becky fell asleep.” Jenny said quietly looking into the back seat of the car. Startled from her thoughts, Johanna looked over at her. She looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her daughter slouched in the seat, her head to the side, mouth open. She smiled.

“I think the seat belt is the only thing keeping her upright.”

“It’s ten.” Jenny said, looking at the clock in the dashboard. “I doubt Ben’s home from Dan’s yet. Usually he’s there half the night.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll go in and pack up everything that I can that will fit in my car for tonight. I can get the rest later. When he gets home we’ll have a talk.”

“You’ll come over tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do. When I get home I’ll make up the second bedroom. You’ll have to sleep on the futon, though. When Lisa left she took everything in that room.” Johanna said as she rounded the corner and turned on to Cherry Lane.

“Shit.” Jenny breathed. “He’s home.”

Johanna pulled the car into the driveway behind Jenny’s beat up old Subaru. Ben’s truck was parked on the street infront of the house.

“You need a new car, girl.” Johanna said. “That thing looks like it could die any day.”

“I know. As soon as I get rich I’ll do just that.” Jenny forced a smile, her stomach in her nose.

“Let me come in with you, Jenny. Please. I would feel much better to know you’re okay.”

“No. Ben will take it as an extra blow that you knew before he did. That male ego thing. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. I guess you know best. See you soon.” Johanna smiled. Jenny took her hand and squeezed it, then opened the car door and got out. Johanna watched as Jenny walked quickly up the drive and opened the screen door. She did not look back as she stepped through. Johanna closed her eyes for a moment, then put the car in gear and backed out to head home.

Jenny opened the screen door and walked into the living room. The lamp from the broken table had been put upright on the carpet, and was turned on. The t.v. was on some movie that she didn’t recognize. Ben always insisted they have cable. There may not be any food in the cabinets, but by god they better have cable. She walked on into the kitchen. On the table were two boxes from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The larger one had spots along the sides where the grease had begun to seep through. Ben sat in a kitchen chair looking down at his hands that were clasped around a bottle of beer.

“You got dinner? How nice.” Jenny said brightly as she took off her coat and laid it and her purse down on the table.

“Where were you?” he asked, not looking up.

“I was with Johanna. Didn’t you go to Dan’s?” Jenny walked over to the fridge and opened it, looking inside for something to drink.

“What were you doing?” Ben asked ignoring her question, his voice low and hard.

“We took Becky trick or treating.” Jenny said, looking at him from over the door. She turned back to the fridge and grabbed a can of Pepsi.

“What did I tell you about Halloween, Jenny?”

“Come on, Ben. Becky is six years old, and cannot go by herself. I did not spend a dime on Halloween. Ask Johanna.” she closed the door and walked back to the table. Ben grabbed her wrist as she passed.

“I don’t have to ask that dyke anything. She’s a lying bitch.”

“What? Dyke, lying bitch? What are you talking about, Ben?”

“You know I don’t like her.”

“But I do.” Jenny pulled her hand out of his grip. She sat in a chair opposite his. Ben leaned forward in his chair, meeting her eyes with his.

“I get home early, spent money we don’t have on that shit you like, and you’re not even here.” he growled.

“I asked you this morning what you were doing tonight, Ben. You said you were probably going to Dan’s, and that I should not bother making dinner. If I’m not supposed to make dinner then that usually means that you are not going to be here to eat it.”

“You said you weren’t going anywhere today. That’s the whole reason I got that.” he said shoving the heel of his hand into one of the boxes, sending it to the floor. The container of mashed potatoes flew out, splattering the floor and one of the legs of the table.

“I’m sorry I was not home. That was very nice of you, Ben. Thank you.” Jenny grabbed a paper towel. “Was that necessary, Ben?” she squatted down and began to clean up the mess. “Just like living with a kid sometimes.” Jenny looked up at Ben. He was examining his beer bottle. She could see his jaw muscle at work as if he was trying to get his anger under control. “We need to talk.” she said as she sat in the chair again, putting the paper towel on the table infront of her.

“What about?” he asked, his voice and face unreadable.

“About us. I’ve had enough, Ben. I can’t go on like this.”

Ben stood and walked to the counter, hands on either side of the sink, head down.

“I’m not happy, and haven’t been for a long time.” she swallowed as she gathered her courage. He was hiding his face from her. This frightened her, not knowing what he was thinking she could not judge what he’d do.

“Not happy.” he said quietly, as if he was testing the words on his tongue.

“No. I don’t think you have been, either.”

“You don’t think so, huh? Well I think maybe you shouldn’t think so much, little girl.” he pushed himself from the counter and turned to her. His features were hard like stone. “When you married me, you married for life. You don’t leave me. Not now, not ever.”

“Ben-”

“No!” he put his hand up to silence her. “There is nothing else to say.” he spread his arms to indicate the room. “This is your life, Jenny. You came in. It’s bought and paid for. That’s the way of it.” he put his arms down and walked toward the living room. Jenny jumped up from her chair and followed him.

“Ben, that’s not how it works! I am not a cow you bought at auction. I am your wife, a human being-” Ben turned on her and back handed her across the mouth.

“That’s right. You are my wife!” he screamed. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her against the wall, holding her there with his body. “You are my wife. You can’t leave, I don’t give you permission. Understand?” he held her there, his breath hot on her neck as he put his head on her shoulder. “You can’t go.” he mumbled into the side of her throat, his breathing getting heavy, and faster. Jenny closed her eyes. No more beatings, please god, she begged silently.

“Okay, Ben. I won’t go.” she gently pushed him away from her. “I’m tired.” she headed down the hall to their bedroom. In the bathroom she examined her lip. A thin stream of blood had already began its journey down her chin. She grabbed a piece of toilet paper and wiped it off. As she cleaned it she formed a plan in her head. No more. She would be gone by morning.

* * * * *

The clock in the hall ticked the minutes away as Jenny lay awake. The room was hot and smelled of sweat. She closed her eyes as she thought of Ben taking her with a determination that she knew well. His way of telling her “how much he loved her.” She called it voluntary rape.

She looked over at the digital alarm clock on the dresser: 4:38. She looked over at Ben. He was sound asleep. It was now or never. Jenny pushed back the blankets, careful not to move his side, and inch by inch scooted herself off the bed until she almost fell out. She put her foot on the floor, and pulled herself up, and out of bed. She stood for a moment trying to think. She had a bag in the closet, but those old metal doors squeaked so bad she knew Ben would wake up. She thanked her lucky stars when she remembered that all of her winter clothes were hanging in the closet of the spare bedroom because she had no room in their one, shared closet. She tip-toed into the other room and quietly closed the door before she turned on the switch. Jenny held her breath as she opened the closet. No noise. She let out her breath with a silent prayer of thanks.

Four heavy, wool sweaters and three lighter long-sleeve, cotton shirts hung next to two pairs of jeans. She pulled on one of the jeans and a heavy emerald green sweater. Her winter boots were in there, too. Pulling them on, she did not bother to tie them. Jenny grabbed all the hangers in one hand and shut out the light before leaving the room.

She stood stock still in the hall and listened. She could hear the blood pounding through her body as her heart beat like a race horse. Nothing. Only the steady breathing of a man deeply asleep. Jenny hurried out into the cold early morning. A car was driving down the street slowly, rolled newspapers being thrown out the side back windows. The streets were still wet from the late evening rain. Jenny unlocked the door to the hatch, and threw in all the clothes. Back in the house she located her purse, coat, and sunglasses. She would try and hide her bruised face as best she could to avoid questions. Money.

“God.” she breathed. She looked in her wallet and found only twelve dollars. In the bottom of her purse were four one dollar bills rolled together. Sixteen dollars would not get her out of the state. Then she remembered she had gotten paid the day before, and had not yet cashed the check. She closed her eyes and sighed, almost near tears she was so happy. She found the pay role check; it was for $240.19. She could do it on that. She only had to get to Illinois. If she could make it to Paul’s, she would be fine. Jenny piled her jacket and purse on the recliner near the front door and stole into the main bathroom. She kept an extra brush in there. She didn’t wear much make-up, and wouldn’t bother getting it if she did. She stepped out of the bathroom and froze.

“Jenny?” came Ben’s voice from the bedroom. He sounded groggy from sleep.

“Yes.” she said, her eyes closed as she battled to keep her emotions under control.

“What are you doing?”

“I needed a drink of water.”

“Oh,” he mumbled, and his breathing once again became deep and steady.

“Oh, god.” she breathed, and nearly ran to the front door. She gathered her pile, and closed the door behind her. Jenny dumped all of the rest of her belongings on the front seat next to her, and threw the Subaru in neutral. She pushed the car with her leg down the driveway, not daring to start the engine. Once in the street, she turned the wheel, turned the key, and drove as fast as her shaking hands would let her.

* * * * *

Johanna woke with a start at the shrill ring of the phone. She looked around her living room disoriented. She had dozed off on the couch with the television still on. A re-run of Hard Copy was running mutely. She grabbed the cordless off the coffee table.

“Hello?”

“Hi:. It’s me.”

Johanna bolted upright. “Where the hell are you!”

“I’m at Wal-Mart.”

“What? Wal-Mart? Do you always go to Wal-Mart at,” she glanced at her watch “five in the morning?”

“I do when I’ve just left my husband.” Jenny answered, her voice shaky.

“Are you okay? Want me to come get you?”

“No. I’m going to head out from here. I had to leave with what I could. I’m here buying underwear and socks.”

“What? Why?”

“Long story. Can you talk to Mr. Samms down at the grocery for me? Don’t tell him anything more than he has to know, okay?”

“Yeah, okay. Are you going to your brother’s?”

“I’m not going to say, Johanna. You know me well enough to know what I am going to do, but I am not going to actually tell you so it doesn’t come out later that you knew. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve seen too many cop shows.” Jenny smiled nervously.

“Okay. I am gong to talk to Mitchell and see what can be done.”

“The boss from hell? What can he do?”

“He may be the boss from hell, but he is one of the best divorce attorneys in Seattle.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“What happened? Did you talk?”

“Sort of. He wouldn’t hear anything I said. So I told him I’d stay. I laid awake all night while that bastard fell into blissful sleep. Finally I knew I had to go. I gathered as much as I dared to without waking him, and came here. I am going to hang out here for awhile until my bank opens.” Jenny was silent for a moment. “Johanna, watch yourself. I don’t know what he will do. He might go crazy, and go after you to get to me. I just don’t know.”

“Don’t you worry about me, Jenny. I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m going to get off the phone now. I keep looking around this place thinking I’ll see him. Johanna I am so scared.”

“Don’t be, honey. You did the right thing. Does he know where Pau, well, where you’re going?”

“No. He’s never been there. I think he’ll think I went to your place or maybe to Pam’s.”

“Well, hang in there, sweetie. You did the right thing, and we’ll get this straightened out. You be careful, and please stay in contact.”

“I will. Thank you, Johanna. Give Becky a kiss from her Aunt Jenny.” Johanna smiled sadly.

“I will.”

“Bye.”

“Good bye, Jenny. For now.”

Jenny hung up the receiver and left the pay phone. She walked to the bathroom with the paperback she had bought. She looked at her face in the mirror. The swelling had gone down some, but her lip was split from last night. The deeper bruise around her eye and on her cheek bone was still dark in color, but the other more superficial bruises were turning yellow and beginning to disappear. Jenny memorized where every bruise was, and exactly how it felt to have them. She knew this would be the last time, and wanted to use that knowledge to pave her way to her new life. She grabbed her novel, and went to the far wall of the bathroom and sat on the floor. She sighed, and opened her book.
Part 2

The house was clean, the windows and doors secure. Sean looked around for a final time to make sure she hadn’t forgotten to pack anything. She did not plan to stay in Ohio for very long. She would arrive the day before Russell’s funeral, and would leave the day after. Sean’s mother, Helen had asked her to stay with her while she was there. Why not? Better then paying for a hotel.

“Listen, Sean, I think we have a lot of catching up to do. We have a lot to talk about.” Helen had said, her voice pleading.

“No, Helen. We have nothing to talk about. I am not driving across the country for a social visit. I am going to Russell’s funeral, and heading back home. That’s it.”

Sean thought about this last conversation with her mother. Should she let go of this anger that had been eating at her for nearly twenty years? She quickly pushed this thought out of her mind. She wanted nothing to do with the woman. She just wanted to feel numb, and forget that Helen Farrow was even out there.

Sean slung her backpack over one shoulder and grabbed her travel case full of her favorite CD’s, and headed toward her 1987, red and black Chevy Blazer locking the front door behind her.

With everything piled into the back, Sean sat in the driver’s seat and looked at the map that she had drawn her route on with red marker. She would catch the I-90 East, and head out of Washington. Satisfied she knew where she was going, Sean refolded the map and tucked it in her glove compartment, and started the engine.

“Hmm.” she said, opening her CD case. “What to start out with.” she pulled out the latest Sarah Brightman CD, Eden, and slipped it into the player. As ‘In Paradisum’ started, Sean backed out of the driveway, and headed toward the end of the block.

The early morning air was cool and damp from the rains the night before, the pavement like gleaming black ice. Sean always liked to drive at night after it had rained, the lights from the cars and the traffic lights were dazzling against the mirror hidden by the darkness. The dim light of the early morning was not as good , but it would have to do. It reminded her of the drive to Seattle from Toledo, where she had lived with her grandparents until she had graduated from college with a double major in literature and business. She packed up her Honda, and headed west. She lived in Chicago for about a year with her first steady girlfriend, Rhonda. When that went belly up, Sean moved on again, this time stopping over in Denver for three years where luck was on her side, and she got on with a publishing firm before finally reaching Seattle at twenty-six. She worked at another publishing firm, quickly moving up the ranks, and then after a year she pulled her savings out, got a loan, and opened the Wood Closet.

Sean pulled to a stop at a red traffic light, a man in a BMW wearing a dark colored suit pulled up next to her. Part of the nine o’clock working class, she thought. He looked at her, then turned back to the light. Sean reached for her Mega Mug that was full of hot coffee loaded with caffeine to keep her awake. The plastic, gray travel mug felt awfully light. She removed the lid.

“Damnit.” In her hurry to get on the road she had forgotten to pour the coffee. That meant that her coffee pot full of coffee getting stronger by the minute, was still on. She’d have to call Wendy and ask her to turn it off. Sean remembered a small store attached to a garage a few miles up the road called The Park and Pump. She would stop there. Sean’s mind drifted back to her book store. She had just hired three women for the holiday rush. She hoped Wendy could handle the store, and training them. She ran her hand through her hair. Maybe this trip was a mistake. This certainly would not be the time of year she’s pick to have a vacation. Why couldn’t Russell wait until after the new year to die? Sean shook her head to clear it.

Just up ahead she saw the two small connected brick buildings come into view. She looked down at her gas meter, still on full. Okay, only coffee it is.

As Sean pulled into the small parking lot next to the two pumps, she noticed an old, beat up white Subaru parked infront of the garage. A woman, whom she assume the car belonged to, was talking to the mechanic, her arms waiving in the air infatically. The mechanic, a man in his forties with close cropped graying brown hair, took off his baseball cap and scratched his head as he nodded to the woman’s gestures. Sean could not see the woman’s face, but only her blonde hair that was pulled back into a half-hazard ponytail, and the heavy green sweater and jeans she wore..

“Bummer. That mechanic will probably take that woman for everything she’s got.” Sean said as she cut the engine of the Blazer, and walked into the tiny store. The counter was just off to the left with an elderly man leaning against the aging orange Formica counter top, tapping his finger to some unheard beat. The back wall was lined with coolers filled with soda, juice, beer and dairy products. Infront of the coolers were two neat rows of shelves stocked with snack items, and extra batteries, and flashlights. To the right was the drink station with its soda machines and industrial size coffee machines. Stacks of cups in three sizes lined the wall with a stainless steel rack of three different size lids next to it. A hallway stretched out between the coolers and drink station with three doors, one for the office, and two for the restrooms. A pay phone was mounted on the wall next to the drink station.

“Mornin’.” the old clerk said as Sean entered through the single glass door.

“Hi. I’m in desperate need of coffee.”

“Right on back there to the right.” the man said, pointing a bony finger.

“Thanks.” Sean headed in the direction the old man had said, trusty Mega Mug in hand. She took the lid off and slid the mouth under the spout of the coffee machine when she heard the bells above the door jingle. She looked over her shoulder to see the woman with the Subaru enter. The woman walked to the counter.

“Hi.” she said. The old man stared for a moment. Sean’s hand slipped off the button when she saw the woman’s face. The entire left side was swollen and covered in painful looking bruises and cuts.

“Hey, you should see the other guy.” she smiled. The clerk swallowed, then smiled.

“What can I do for you, miss?”

“Do you have a phone in here?”

“Sure do. Right back there is a pay phone.” he pointed the same bony finger in the same direction he had for Sean. The woman followed his finger until she saw the phone.

“Thank you. ” she said with a sweet smile, and headed toward Sean. Sean turned back to her coffee.

“If only I had an airplane.” the woman smiled at her as she picked up the receiver. Sean smiled and nodded. Sean looked at the woman, and realized that she was actually quite lovely. She had delicate features, and a full mouth, though the upper lip was swollen. She was shorter than Sean by close to six inches, though that wasn’t too uncommon with her standing near the six feet mark. She looked into the woman’s eyes. They were a beautiful clear green, reminding her of the sea. Those eyes were kind, but curious. Like the eyes of a child. In those eyes Sean also saw a deep fear. The woman put her quarters in the slot with an intensity borne of desperation.

Sean finished filling the mug, and put the lid back on. On the counter next to the coffee was a clear plastic case filled with fresh doughnuts. She looked at all the different kinds of cinnamon rolls, and long johns and powdered, and sugared, and frosted. What to pick.

“Ross? Can I talk to my mother, please?” Jenny said. She looked back over her shoulder as she waited. She could feel her heart beating so fast she worried she would have a heart attack. She wished that she could just deal with Ross, her stepfather. She knew he would help her out, if for no other reason than to get her out of their lives again. She looked over at the woman with the mammoth coffee mug to see if she was still there. She was looking in the doughnut case. Just another persons presence near by made Jenny feel safer, though what this woman could do to save her against Ben’s wrath was a joke. Nonetheless, she hoped she wouldn’t leave.

“Hello, Jenny. How are you?” Connie, Jenny’s mother asked politely.

“Hi, mom. I’m fine. I’m sorry to bother you, but-”

“What do you mean bother? You’re not bothering us, honey.”

“Good. Mom, you know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need to-”

“What? What happened?”

“I’m trying to tell you. I need a plane ticket, or even a bus ticket to Paul’s. Please, mom. My car just died, and it will cost me an arm and a leg to fix it. An arm and a leg which I don’t have to give right now.”

“You’re going to visit Paul? That’s great. Give him a big kiss for me. Why don’t you two just use Ben’s truck?”

Jenny swallowed. “Ben isn’t coming. Only me.”

Sean listened to the woman’s conversation. The woman was getting more fidgety by the moment.

“He isn’t because, mom. Just-” she cut off, her brows drawn in frustration. “Yes. I did. And he will find me if I don’t leave. Please!…Yes, a stable home is important, and if I had one I wouldn’t be here now. He is not what you think he is, mom. Believe me. I’ve been married to him for the past ten years!… You know Paul can’t afford it! I-.” the woman slammed the receiver in its cradle. She turned to Sean. “Sorry.” she said shyly.

Jenny leaned against the wall, her mind whirling as she tried to think of what to do. She knew there was no way Paul could send her money or a ticket. She did have the money from her paycheck. She could use that. It would probably take most of it, but-

“Excuse me.” Jenny was ripped from her thoughts by the voice of the tall woman at the coffee machine. “I’m sorry to bother you. I couldn’t help but hear your problem. Listen, if you want I can give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

“That’s very kind of you. But somehow I don’t think you’re going as far as I am. But thank you.”

“Well, I’m heading to Ohio. That’s about as far as you can get east.” Sean smiled. The woman smiled back.

“I’m going to Illinois. Thank you, but I can’t let you do that. It’s my problem.” she smiled again, and took a deep breath, gathering her courage. She began to walk back to the front of the store when she stopped dead in her tracks.

Jenny stopped as she heard the loud engine of a big truck tearing into the small parking lot. She held her breath. The red truck with the huge golden retriever looking over the side of the bed pulled to a stop, and two loud men jumped out. Jenny’s heart raced. She let out the breath, and turned back to the woman who was gathering her coffee and doughnut.

“You know, maybe that would be a good idea. We could split expenses, and have some company, too.”

The woman smiled. She put down her coffee mug and extended her hand.

“Sounds good. I’m Sean Waters.”

“Jenny Aberman. Good to know you, Sean. You’re a life savor.”

“What are you going to do about your car?” Sean asked as they walked to the counter so she could pay for her coffee and cinnamon roll with chocolate icing.

“I don’t know. Maybe just leave it.” Jenny said, her brows drawn in thought.

“Maybe you could sell it to him for fifty bucks for parts.” Sean shrugged. “It might work.”

Jenny took everything from her car and loaded it into Sean’s Blazer as Sean went back into the station to make a quick phone call, handed the keys over to the mechanic, and left the gas station with seventy-five dollars more than when she had come. She felt a bit better with over three hundred dollars in her purse rather than just the money from her job.

As Sean guided the Blazer back onto the road a light drizzle started to come down to dot the windshield and gently tap on the roof and hood.

“I love the rain.” Jenny said, glancing over at Sean, and met the eyes of her rescuer.

“Me too.” Sean smiled. “And I suppose that we live in the right place, then.” Jenny smiled and nodded. She got a better look at her companion. Sean looked to be in her late twenties, or early thirties with clear, honest blue eyes, incredible blue eyes, and dark hair that bordered on black. It was long, well maintained, reaching to about mid-back, one side swept back behind an ear. Sean turned back to the road, and Jenny studied her profile. She had strong features and jaw line. She felt safe with her for some reason.

Jenny turned away and looked out the passenger window as the scenery passed by in a blur, and the drizzle began to turn into a full-fledged rain. Jenny’s heartbeat slowed with every mile. She started when she realized she had not even called Paul. She knew that he would take her in. She just hoped they had not decided to go down to Lana’s parents home in Texas for the holidays. No, she reasoned. He would have told her, or their mother. She would call him later.

Jenny glanced out the window at the side mirror. About two-hundred yards back was a dark colored sedan, and a motor home. No big trucks. She could not stop having horrible thoughts about Ben, like he was following them, and would grab her the first time they stopped. Jenny knew this was ridiculous. Ben had no idea where she was headed, and certainly would not know Sean’s Blazer.

“So what’s in Illinois?” Sean asked, glancing over at her passenger.

“My brother. I’ve decided to go and see him.”

Sean nodded, her eyes on the road. “Sounds good.”

“What about you? What’s in Ohio?”

“My father. Well, his funeral anyway.”

“I’m so sorry, Sean.” Jenny said, her brows drawn in sympathy. “I lost my father five years ago. It’s not an easy thing to go through, is it?”

“You and your dad were close?” Sean asked, ignoring the question, and trying to keep the bite out of her words.

“Very. I miss him dearly.” Jenny looked out the window. “Especially now.”

Sean looked over at Jenny, obviously old, painful memories had been stirred.

“Jenny, I’m sorry I brought it up.” she said quietly.

“No, no. It’s not that. Don’t be sorry.” Jenny turned back to Sean and smiled.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No.” Jenny looked at the side mirror again. Sean noticed she had done that a couple of times in the last fifteen minutes.

“Are you in some kind of trouble, Jenny?” she asked gently.

“No. Well, not legal trouble, anyway. I’ll be fine.” another smile. Sean glanced at her passenger again, trying to read the young woman. From what she had heard over the phone, and all the bruises and cuts, Sean was sure she had a pretty good idea what was going on. She knew those marks well. With a quiet sigh, she looked back to the road.

Jenny closed her eyes for a moment, and breathed a sigh of relief. She wondered if Ben was up yet. Probably. He always seemed to sense when she wasn’t around, or when she wasn’t where he thought she should be, or she wasn’t doing what he thought she should be doing. What was going through his mind? Had he talked to Johanna yet?

She mentally shook herself. She didn’t want to think about that right now. She’d go insane if she thought about all the what ifs.

“So do you like music?” Jenny was pulled from her thoughts at the sound of Sean’s smooth, alto voice. She turned to the other woman.

“What?”

“Do you like music?” Sean glanced at Jenny, then turned her eyes back to the road as the rain began to fall again as dark clouds moved in.

“Oh, yeah. I love music.” Jenny smiled.

“Good. Here.” Sean reached back to the floor behind her seat, and grabbed her CD case. She handed it to Jenny. “Pick something.” she pushed eject on her player, and placed the Sarah Brightman CD back in its case.

“What was that one?” Jenny asked as she opened the hard black case, eyeing the case in Sean’s hand.

“Sarah Brightman. Kind of an acquired taste.” Sean grinned. She handed it to Jenny to put away. Jenny glanced through all the titles as she replaced the case in the empty slot near the front.

“You’ve got some good stuff in here. ” she smiled up at Sean. Sean stared at her for a moment. God, the woman was so beautiful. All the ugly bruises that ran the length of the left side of her face broke Sean’s heart. Realizing that Jenny was still smiling up at her, she smiled back, and nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Let’s see, we’ve got Madonna, Bob Dylan, the BeeGee’s, Moby, Killer Klowns?” Jenny grinned, holding up the brightly colored CD. Sean glanced at it, then a wide grin broke out across her finely sculpted features.

“Yeah. Kind of a joke from a friend a few years ago.” Jenny chuckled and put the CD back in its place.

“Oh, how about some Savage Garden?” Jenny eyed her companion. Eyes still on the road, Sean nodded.

“Sounds good.”

“I saw these guys in concert once.” Jenny smiled as she handed the disc to Sean. She sat back in the seat, a small smile playing over her swollen lips. Johanna had taken her for her birthday last year. Knowing that Ben would never have allowed it, she had told him that her brother was in town, and wanted to go to dinner. Ben and Paul hated each other, and Ben gladly let her go without him.

Jenny watched the scenery again out the side window. She felt a sense of peace that she hadn’t felt since the first days of her marriage to Ben. She felt as if the last ten years of pain, heartache and confusion were finally unraveling, unwrapping possessive fingers from around her throat. She held her breath as she suddenly felt a lump forming. The sob that was long in coming wouldn’t be denied, and suddenly she felt it rip its way through her very soul as tears sprang from her eyes.

Sean glanced at the young woman sitting next to her, her own heart full of pain for Jenny. The rush of emotion was so sudden that it seemed to take Jenny by surprise, and she buried her face in her hands. her small body shaking with the intensity of it. Sean longed to take her companion in her arms and rock her to sleep, tell her that it would all be okay. She would never let anyone lay a hand on her ever again. Sean mentally hit a brick wall. What was she thinking? This girl didn’t need her to protect her. Jenny would go on, she’d be fine. She had a strength deep down that Sean didn’t even think Jenny herself realized. She glanced at the road, then back at the woman that was so full of pain.

“Shh. It’ll be okay, Jenny.” she said quietly, her hand rubbing gentle circles over the girl’s back.

Jenny took several deep breaths, squeezing her green eyes, turned deep green from the tears, shut for a moment, then she turned to Sean.

“How? How do you know?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Sean smiled at her. Jenny looked just like a child.

“Because you’re strong, Jenny. Otherwise you would never have left.” she smiled through the tears that still silently fell. Jenny reached up and placed her hand on Sean’s that had come to rest on Jenny’s shoulder.

“Thank you.” she whispered. Their eyes held for just a moment, then Sean broke the connection, tearing hers back to the road. Whoa. She took a deep breath, trying to cover her shaking hand that she placed back on the wheel.

Jenny sat back in her seat, Sean’s words buzzing through her head. She felt so much better knowing that she would be with Sean for a while. Even if just for the drive to Illinois. She had the feeling that Sean’s quiet reserve would be good for her. Plus she sensed that Sean had a demon or two in her own closet to deal with. She glanced over at the other woman, and smiled.

Up ahead she saw the sign that would signal Jenny was headed into a new life, her old one left behind over the state line. She sighed and wiped the errant tears from her cheeks, her face feeling tight, eyes so tired. She just wanted to close them, fall asleep and wake up when all this was over. She glanced once more into the side mirror, and saw nothing out of place. Just a group of strangers rolling through their own lives, finding their own hopes. Jenny leaned back into the seat, her shorter legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles, and closed her eyes.

Sean glanced over at Jenny as the first strands of “Affirmation” began on her car stereo. With a sigh she glanced back out onto the road. The rain was coming down in sheets now, pummeling the hood of the Blazer. She found it comforting, as if the steady beat were a wall surrounding her, impenetrable for the enemy. The combination of Jenny’s bruises, the rain, and the inevitable end to her journey at her father’s funeral brought Sean back to a memory that she had wanted to forget, and had thought that she had…

The rain had been falling steadily now for three days, the weather man hinting at widespread flooding, and massive damage throughout most of Ohio and much of the east coast.

School had been cancelled for the second day, and Sean’s mother had suggested a nice day with her and Sean’s two year old brother, Donny. So an eight year old Sean had happily agreed. Helen wanted to bake a birthday cake for Donny’s upcoming third birthday.

“What kind are we gonna make, Mamma?” Sean asked, standing at the counter on her tippy toes trying to see what her mother was doing with the big blue bowl and wooden spoon. The smells coming from the bowl were heavenly.

“Well,” Helen had said, lifting her daughter to sit on the edge of the counter next to the stove so she could see better. “We are going to make Donny a lemon cake with vanilla frosting.” Sean gazed with adoring blue eyes up at her mother as she listened to the soothing tones of her voice. “How does that sound, sugar?”

“Yummy! Can I help?”

“Of course, Sean. Here. Take this egg. Remember how I taught you to break it? Tap just until it cracks… good, honey! Okay, now dump the two ends into the bowl. Good. Now put that shell inside the other one, careful, don’t let it drip.”

Sean had watched in awe as her mother had whipped the batter with a whisk, letting Sean dip her finger in every so often to “taste to make sure it tasted right.” Sean and Helen had glanced toward the living room when they had heard Donny begin to cry after a loud thump.

“Stay here, Sean. I’ll be right back.” Helen had wiped her hands on a dish towel, then had tossed it onto the stove top. Sean glanced at the big metal pan that her mother had poured the yellow cake mix into. She nudged the pan, and grinned as the yellow stuff jiggled. With a small sigh she looked around. She was bored. She glanced down at the stove. She wrapped her small fingers around the knob and turned it one way, then the other, liking the clicking sound as it turned. “Sean! Grab a Band-Aid and come here, honey.”

“Okay, Mamma.” Sean hopped down from the counter, and raced upstairs to the bathroom. She found her mother rocking Donny who sat with his blue eyes at half-mast, his thumb in his mouth, and his bleeding knee forgotten.

“Thanks, baby.” Helen took the strip from her daughter, and closed Donny’s wound up. “There you go, sweetie. All better.” Helen smiled at her young son, then the smile fell from her pretty, though tired face as a car pulled into the driveway. “Come on, Sean. Let’s start on dinner. Daddy will be mad because it’s not ready.”

“I hate when Daddy gets mad.” Sean muttered as she followed her mother back to the kitchen. The back door opened, and a very wet Russell Farrow walked through the door.

“Damn weather.” he snarled as he whipped his soggy coat off and threw it on the coat hook next to the door.

“Hi, sweetie. How was your day?” Helen asked as she pecked him on the grizzled cheek.

“It sucked. That asshole. Sack of shit doesn’t know a recliner from his asshole!”
Uh, oh. Sean thought to herself. Daddy is already mad. It’s not gonna be a good night.

Russell plopped himself down in a kitchen chair, the old wood creaking under his ample weight.

“Those damn people at Sears really should watch who they hire. They’re all a bunch of damn idiots!”

“Russ, I’m sure they’re not all idiots. You probably just got the new guy.

“Yeah, right. From now on do your own damn shopping, Helen. Work down at the office was bad enough without doing that female shit.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I just thought it would be good if you picked out your own chair. That’s all.”

Sean stayed near her mother’s legs as she watched the interaction between her parents. Her mother stood at the sink, peeling potatoes. Russell glanced at his daughter.

“Do something useful and get me a beer.” he barked. Sean cringed, then numbly walked to the fridge and grabbed the cold brown bottle from the bottom shelf, and meekly handed it to him. He popped the top on the edge of the table, and took a huge swallow.

“Is the rain letting up any?” Russell opened his mouth to answer when they were all startled by a loud whoosh on top of the stove. “Baby look out!” Helen exclaimed, pushing Sean away from the small fire that had started. Helen grabbed a dishtowel, and began to beat at the flames, smothering the fire until the kitchen was just filled with smoke and the smell of burnt material. The dishtowel she had tossed onto the stove had caught fire.

“What the?” Russell stammered, his thick brow drawn.

“Honey, did you turn on the stove?” Helen asked the young girl, concern edging her voice. Sean stood stock still, tears welling in her vibrant blue eyes.

“Dunno.” she mumbled.

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Either you did or you didn’t!” Russell bellowed. Sean really began to cry as she saw the rage building in her father’s face.

“Russ, it was an accident. She’s just a kid.” Helen said, dread in her voice.

“Mamma?” a tiny voice said from the doorway.

“Come here, Donny. It’s okay.” Helen grabbed her son in her arms, and stood in the doorway, her eyes darting back and forth between her husband and her daughter.

“You want to start fires, little girl?”

“No, Daddy. I’m sorry.”

“You will be sorry.” his voice was a low rumble in his large chest. With two steps Russell was upon his daughter who had begun to cling to the counter near the sink, her knuckles white with fear.

“No, Daddy.”

Russell grabbed her and pried her small fingers from their death grip, and drug her to the stove. With the flick of his wrist the burner turned a deep, foreboding red. He took her small hand in his.

“No, Daddy!”

Sean shook herself from her reverie, and realized that she had been crying. She swiped an impatient hand across her eyes, and stared down at her palm. The scar had mostly disappeared now. But if you knew where to look, it was still visible. The slightest lightening of the skin, two curving lines dead center.

Sean glanced over at Jenny to see that she was still asleep. She glanced at the clock on the dash and realized that it was nearly two in the afternoon, and that she was really hungry. She glanced at the white bag on the console that contained her doughnut, but there was only one, and chances were good that Jenny was hungry, too. As if on cue, Jenny began to stir. She opened her green eyes, still groggy.

“Morning.” Sean smiled. Jenny grinned at her as she stretched her back. Sean had to look away as the emerald colored sweater was stretched taut over full breasts. Jenny yawned.

“Did I sleep long?” she asked as she ran her hands through her thick hair, and pulled the band that held her ponytail together. She shook the long locks out, then gathered the hair again, pulling it into a neater tail.

“About four hours.”

“Wow, really?” Jenny looked surprised. She looked around and noticed that the rain had stopped, and the sky was clear. “What a beautiful day. ” she smiled. Sean couldn’t help but smile in return. Jenny had the most endearing expression on her face as she gazed up at the puffy, white clouds that littered the sky.

“I was thinking about stopping in the next town. I don’t know about you, but I am hungry.”

“Hmm. Am I?” Jenny thought for a moment, then realized that she was. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. But somehow she wasn’t . Her stomach was upset again. Nerves. She hated how they made her feel so nauseous. Being hungry and sick to the stomach at the same time had to be the worst combination. “I suppose I could eat something. How far is the next town?”

“I think only about five miles.” Sean smiled, then turned back to the road. Jenny glanced at Sean, then her attention was drawn to her keychain that swung back and forth on the hoop that attached it to the ring of keys. It was shaped like a flag waving in the wind, and was very colorful, all the colors of the rainbow in horizontal stripes. It had something written in black letters that she couldn’t quite make out. Hmm. Pretty.

“So what do you do, Sean?” she asked.

“I own a bookstore.”

“You’re kidding? How wonderful! I love to read.” Jenny gave Sean a sheepish grin. “I also started to write last year. I’ve completely fallen in love with it. I wish I would have started it years ago.”

Sean grinned. “I write, too.”

“It’s so wonderful.” Jenny smiled again, her whole face lit up like a sunrise. “What’s your store called?”

“The Wood Closet.” Sean said simply. She seriously doubted that Jenny had ever heard of it alone been there.

“Yeah! That is my best friend’s favorite store. She is in there all the time.”

“You’re kidding?” Sean gave her passenger a surprised look, her brow cocked. “Who’s your friend?”

“Johanna Stuart.”

“Yeah, sure I know Johanna. She used to come in with her friend, Lisa all the time.”

“That’s her.”

“How is Lisa? I haven’t seen her in there for awhile.” she glanced at Jenny.

“Well, they had been roommates. It didn’t work out. So I guess Lisa moved out, moved in with some other friend, or something.” Jenny had to make herself close her mouth. Jenny didn’t know that Johanna and Lisa had been lovers? Whoa. So did she know that her best friend was gay? How would she react if she found out? She shook herself out of her thoughts.

“Well, tell Johanna I said hi next time you talk to her.”

“Okay. Actually, when we hit this next town I think I’ll give her a call. She made me promise just this side of my life that I’d keep in touch, and let her know what’s up.”

The sign quickly came into view announcing their arrival to Fairview, Idaho, population 10,000.

Sean drove along what appeared to be the main street, the small, locally owned storefronts passing by the windows of the Blazer.

“There’s a little cafe.” Jenny pointed out, the little hole-in-the-wall place on the next corner.

“Looks good to me.” Sean swung the vehicle into a parking spot along the curb, and cut the engine.

The small cafe called Teddy’s was filled wall to wall with square, chipped wooden tables, the chairs that lined each side worn, the red vinyl cushions ripped in places, some of the hard stuffing protruding. Jenny and Sean stood in the doorway until they noticed the Please Seat Yourself. sign. Sean led the way to a table near the back in the non-smoking area. The hallway that led to the restroom and payphone just beyond their table by the wall.

“I’ll be back.” Sean said, dropping her keys and wallet on the table. “If the waitress comes, tell her I want a glass of water, and a Pepsi.”

“Okay.” Jenny watched as Sean headed toward the ladies room, then grabbed a menu from the salt and pepper rack against the wall. As she pulled the grease-stuck laminated pages apart, she noticed Sean’s keychain again. She laid the menu down, and picked up the key ring, noting the heaviness. She fingered the soft plastic flag with all its colors proudly spread across the body of it. She turned it over, and read the neat black letters:

LOVE OF FREEDOM OUR RIGHT

FREEDOM OF LOVE OUR FIGHT

She thought about this for a moment. Freedom of love our fight. She tasted the phrase on her tongue, then thought of the colorful flag. The colors of the rainbow. Rainbow. Freedom. Freedom colors! She drew her brows together as she studied the keychain, as if it had all the answers. Could this mean that Sean was gay?

Jenny glanced up when she heard the bathroom door squeak open. She quickly set the keys down again, and picked up her menu. Sean sat down and grabbed her own menu.

“Anything look good?” she asked from behind the aged pages.

“I don’t know yet. I can’t decide.” Jenny felt cranky all the sudden, like a fog had settled over her. She felt so tired, and her stomach hurt. Damn. She just didn’t feel good.

“Afternoon, ladies. What can I start ya with?” both women looked up to see an elderly, plump woman with graying hair, and kind eyes staring at them, steno and pencil in hand.

“Water and a Pepsi for me.” Sean answered. She looked to Jenny with a raised brow.

“Umm, water. No, Pepsi. No, make that a Sprite.”

“We only have 7-Up, honey.”

“Well, damn. I don’t want 7-Up.” she mumbled, staring at the beverage section again. “Just water I guess.”

“Comin’ right up.” the waitress walked away, sticking her pencil back in her bun. Sean eyed Jenny with an amused expression on her face.

“What?” Jenny asked.

“Nothing.” Sean said. Just that you’re so damned cute. Sean’s smile faltered as she noticed that Jenny seemed to turn green before her very eyes. “Are you okay, Jenny?” she asked, worry etching her forehead.

“I don’t feel so good.” Jenny mumbled. She could feel her stomach churning, and she wrapped her arms around her middle. “I’ll be right back.” she slowly rose, and made her way to the narrow white door that led to the women’s bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet before anything left in her stomach came rushing back out with a gag. “God.” she breathed, one hand still on her stomach, the other on the back of the toilet. She took a deep breath as she felt her insides lurch again. Jenny felt tears stream down her face as she slid to her knees, her back leaning against the wall of the stall. She closed her eyes, brushing the damp bangs away from her face. “I have got to get these nerves under control.” she murmured to the empty bathroom.

Sean sat at the table, not sure what to do. Should she go in there and see if Jenny was okay? Would Jenny get mad? She knew that she hated to be bothered when she was sick, but that was her. Sean stood just as the bathroom door opened, and a very pale Jenny stepped out. Sean rushed to help her to the table.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I think so. I think all the stress is just coming out now.” Jenny said, glad to feel the chair beneath her exhausted body.

“Just take it easy. I hope you don’t mind, but the waitress came back. I ordered you some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Mild, and should go down easy.”

“Thank you, Sean. That was thoughtful.” Jenny smiled weakly. She had to admit she did feel a little better. Usually, as much as she hated to throw up, it did help to get whatever it was out. “I think I’ll be fine now.”

Their food came, and Jenny dutifully ate, though she really didn’t feel like it anymore. Despite the rundown appearance of the place, the food was actually pretty good. Jenny watched as Sean dug in to her chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. She liked to watch Sean. It seemed like everything she did had a certain grace and fluidity to it. Suddenly Jenny’s peaceful musings were interrupted by an incredibly sickening smell. She scrunched up her nose, looked around. Finally she spotted it. Cigarette smoke. God! She felt like she could throw up all over again. The guy sitting two tables down was happily puffing away on his Marlboro as he read the paper.

“Excuse me.” she said, her voice edged with ice. “Excuse me!” she said a little louder when the guy ignored her. He turned curious eyes to her.

“Yes?” he asked, the smoke dangling precariously from his lips. She fantasized about grabbing the damn thing and jamming it down his ever loving throat.

“You’re smoking.” she said as if he had just knifed a woman infront of her table.

“Yeah.” he said, shrugging his shoulders. Sean looked up from her meal, brows narrowed at her companion. What was the big deal? So the guy was smoking in a non-smoking area. It happens.

“This happens to be a non-smoking area, sir.”

“What?”

“What part of non-smoking don’t you understand!” Jenny stood and walked over to the little brown sign and framed it with her hands. “Non-smoking. That means no cigarettes, no cigars, no smoking stuff!”

“Jenny.” Sean said quietly, trying to get the angry woman’s attention as she noticed other customers staring.

“Listen, sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t feel so good, and the smell of your damn smoke is making me feel like I want to hurl!” the man flinched as if he’d been struck, and took the cigarette from his mouth, and dropped it in the cup of water infront of him, the butt fizzing as it sank to the bottom. “Thank you.” Jenny smiled sweetly, and sat back down. “What?” she asked at Sean’s incredulous look.

“Are you sure your name isn’t Sybil?” she asked. Jenny smiled.

“I know. I guess maybe I did overreact. It’s just that that damn smoke was making me feel sick all over again.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Jenny? Are you coming down with something? Maybe we should get you into a doctor. The road is not a pleasant place to be if you’re sick. Trust me on this.”

“No, I’m sure I’m fine. Just nerves.”

“If you say so. Look, I’m going to go pay the bill, so why don’t you go give Johanna a call?” Sean asked, standing and digging through her wallet.

“No, Sean. I can’t let you do that. Let me get this.” she removed her own wallet from her purse.

“Jenny.” Sean said, placing her hand over Jenny’s to stop her. Sean stared at Jenny for a moment, the touch electrifying to her. She quickly removed her hand, and looked away. “Let me, please. You’ve had a bad day. It’s the least I can do.”

Jenny sighed in a strange kind of disappointment when Sean had removed her hand. In that moment of physical contact, she had felt utterly safe, protected. She shook herself from the thought.

“Fine.” she conceded. “But dinner’s on me.”

“We’ll see. ” Sean grinned, and walked toward the counter. Jenny headed to the payphone, and inserted her thirty-five cents into the slot, and dialed Johanna’s number, only for the operator to inform her that she needed to insert fort more cents.

“Damn phone company.” she mumbled as the phone to Johanna’s office began to ring.

“Good afternoon. Mitchell and associates.”

Jenny felt a wave of emotion rush through her as she heard the familiar low voice of her best friend.

“Johanna.” she choked.

“Jenny? Jenny, honey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m just so glad to hear your voice. It makes me realize that I haven’t lost my mind.” Johanna chuckled into the phone.

“You haven’t lost your mind, Jenny. How are you? Where are you?”

“I’m in some little town in Idaho.”

“Wow! Your car actually made it that far? I’m impressed.” she said sarcastically.

“Ha ha. Yeah, so my car was a piece of shit.”

“Was?” the confusion was evident in her friend’s voice.

“Yeah. It died before I even got out of Washington.” Jenny laughed. It felt so good to laugh at it now. At the time she had thought for sure that she was dead.

“So how-”

“I met an angel at the gas station. She was headed to Ohio, so she’s giving me a lift. Annnd, you’ll never guess who it is.”

“Who?” Johanna asked, her brow drawn in worry. She ran her hand through her curly, blond hair as she waited for Jenny to finish the story.

“The owner of that book store you love so much.”

Johanna’s eyes opened wide as realization crossed her features. Shit! Jenny will find out.

“Sean?” she asked, getting her self under control. If Jenny found out she did. She probably would have sooner or later anyway. She knew her friend wasn’t stupid. Jenny would figure it out.

“Yeah. Small world, huh?”

“I guess. Well, that makes me feel so much better. I know you’re safe with Sean. She is an incredible human being, Jenny.”

“Yeah, I’ve kind of gathered that.” Jenny smiled. “So have you heard anything from Ben?”

“No. Believe it or not. Mitchell sent out the divorce papers this afternoon via messenger. Jenny, he wasn’t there. The place was empty.”

“What! Where could he have gone?”

“I don’t know. We were kind of hoping you would know.”

“I have no clue. He, we, I don’t know, Jo. I just don’t know. Shit.” Jenny glanced toward the front door and noticed Sean standing at the large picture window, arms crossed over her chest as she stared out into the day. “I should probably go. I don’t think we’ll be on the road for too much longer today. I’ll call you when we get stopped for the night, okay?”

“Okay, Jen. Oh, and your boss was great. I talked to him this morning. He said that if you ever needed your job back it was yours.” Jenny was flooded with warmth for Mr. Simms. He had always been good to her.

“Thanks, Jo. I better go. Take care of yourself, and give that little monster of yours a hug.”

“Will do. And tell Sean I said hi and thank her for me.”

Jenny hung up with a heavy heart. She missed Johanna. Why couldn’t she go back to her old life with her same job, same friends, just without Ben? But then she never would have met Sean. They say the Lord never closes one door without opening another.

* * * * *

Night was coming on fast, and Sean could feel her eyes getting heavy. She knew it was getting time to stop when even a healthy dose of caffeine loaded coffee didn’t do any good. She glanced over at Jenny who was still asleep. Jenny had been quiet for the rest of the day, saying that she still wasn’t feeling too great. They had talked off and on about what Johanna had told her about that bastard named Ben. Sean wondered where the chicken shit had run to. He was probably afraid that Jenny had gone to the police, the thought never even occurring to him that maybe, just maybe his wife had left him.

The lights of another town loomed up ahead. A small town called Langton. This would do for the night. It was nearly nine. They had been on the road for just under twelve hours today.

It wasn’t long before Sean spotted a Holiday Inn. She pulled up infront of the manager’s office, and ran in to get them a room. Jenny began to stir as the bright lights from the parking lot shined in through the windshield. She opened her eyes and saw that Sean was gone. She sat up suddenly, her stomach rocking with the motion. She couldn’t help but feel like she was on a ship. Then to her relief she saw Sean walk out of the building directly infront of the Blazer, and head back to her.

“Sleeping Beauty awakes.” she smiled as she settled herself, and started the engine. “Mind if we stop here for the night?” Sean asked before she backed out of the space. Jenny stared at her for a moment. It felt so strange to be included in the decision, and actually asked for a change. She smiled.

“Yeah. Fine by me.” Sean smiled back, and backed up, drove to the end of the lot, and pulled up infront of dark room.

Within ten minutes they had dragged everything from the car that they would need for the night, and Sean had plopped herself down on her bed. The room had two doubles. Jenny went into the bathroom for a shower. She felt so grimy after being on the road for so long, and after being sick. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, refusing to look at the ugly bruises as she pulled her hair loose from the ponytail. Her head felt tingly from the hair being pulled captive for so long. She brushed her fingers through the long strands. She began to undress as she thought of Ben, and the fact that this would be her first night away from him in ten years. For some strange reason this thought scared her. She was completely on her own now. Something she had never had to do before. Did she really want this? Could she really do this? Jenny glanced in the mirror once more, this time making herself look at the left side of her face, the bruising, the swelling. Then her gaze traveled down to her breasts, and the fading bruise that extended under her breast and down her ribs. With a deep, cleansing breath, Jenny smiled at her reflection. She made a silent pack with herself to never, ever allow her thoughts to go back to Ben again, and the need to have his familiar presence beside her. No. From this night on she was her own person, doing her own thing. She stepped into the hot shower. Almost like the water of a baptism.

Jenny opened the door to the bathroom carrying her clothes from that day in her arms. She had picked up an over-sized t-shirt and a pair of sweats to sleep in at Wal-Mart. She laid the clothes down on the floor next to her bed, and glanced over at Sean. She was sound asleep, the t.v. remote still in her hand. Jenny smiled, and gently took it from her lax grasp, and set it on the night stand. Sean was still fully dressed, so Jenny removed her shoes, and pulled the covers over her softly breathing body. She stood and stared down at the beautiful woman for a moment. Sleep had softened her chiseled features making her even more beautiful, if that was possible.

She felt she owed Sean so much. Her life. Her sanity. She smiled ruefully.

“Thank you, Sean.” she whispered, and kissed two of her own fingers, and gently pressed them to Sean’s cheek, and climbed into bed.

Part 3

Sean awoke to the awful sound of Jenny retching in the bathroom. She raised her head and glanced in the direction of the partially closed door. Her brow creased in concern. No matter what, today Jenny was going to go see a doctor before they left town. Something was wrong. She heard Jenny’s weak plea to God, then the toilet flushed followed by running water in the sink. She pulled back the covers to find herself still dressed, and realized that she must have fallen asleep where she lay, about to watch the evening news. She smiled as she thought of how Jenny must have removed her shoes and covered her up. How sweet.

Sean made her way to the bathroom, and quietly tapped on the door.

“Jenny?” she asked. “Are you okay?” Sean stepped back as the door was opened fully, and Jenny, tired, pale, glanced up at her. She smiled weakly.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just can’t seem to get rid of this. Now I’m beginning to think it’s not nerves anymore, but some kind of bug. I’ll be fine.” she started to pass by Sean, but the taller woman stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Jenny, would you do something for me?” she said quietly.

“After all you’ve done, of course. Name it.”

“I want you to see a doctor before we leave. Please?” she added at Jenny’s annoyed look. “I’m worried about you.”

Jenny shook her head, then lowered her eyes to the worn carpet at her feet.

“I can’t afford to go to a doctor.” she said, her voice just barely above a whisper. Sean smiled, and lifted Jenny’s chin with a finger under her jaw.

“Don’t worry about that. Will you go?”

“Okay.”

* * * * *

Sean found an Emergency Center in the phone book, and drove them there. Jenny was quiet as she watched the small town pass by her window. They had stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s, and Jenny had barely been able to get her Egg McMuffin down.

Sean sat in the uncomfortable chairs in the small waiting room. Luckily with these types of clinics you could generally be seen within twenty minutes of coming in. Since it was still so early, Jenny had been taken in right away. Sean knew that this was probably going to set her back at least fifty or sixty dollars, but it was important to her that Jenny be able to start her new life healthy and happy. She had brought in her laptop and the figures of her holiday buying for the store. She wanted to get the budget caught up. She opened her account file, then found herself staring off into space. Thinking.

“Miss Waters?” Sean’s head snapped up to see the receptionist smiling at her.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Dr. Milner just told me that he is going to do a quick set of tests on your friend, and that she should have the results within a half hour.”

“Is she okay?”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s fine. Dr. Milner will be able to tell Mrs. Aberman more.” Sean smiled.

“Okay. Thank you.”

Sean turned her attention back to her laptop. Her finger flew over the keyboard on auto-pilot, her mind anywhere but on what she was doing. Jenny kept resurfacing in her thoughts over and over again. Those clear, green eyes smiling at her, her gratitude ever present. Sean smiled. She would take Jenny anywhere, as long as she could be with her, help her. Then a stabbing pain shot through Sean’s heart. Jenny wasn’t hers, never would be. Jenny was a lost soul trying to rediscover what had been stolen from her ten long years ago…

Sean looked up, sensing someone watching her. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been staring off into space, but her eyes burned from lack of blinking, she realized. Jenny stood just infront of her. Those eyes that Sean had just been thinking about were dark, empty. Sean set her laptop aside, and stood, her brows drawn.

“Jenny? What is it?” she asked, her voice low, careful.

“I’m pregnant.” Jenny said, her voice as hollow as her eyes. Sean stared at her, stunned. She didn’t know what to do, what Jenny needed her to do, so she just stood where she was, trying to compute what she had just been told. “Can we please go.” Jenny whispered, her head down, shoulders slumped in defeat.

“Okay.” Sean walked up to the counter and handed the receptionist one of her business cards. “Please send this bill to the address at the bottom.”

“Okay, Miss. Waters. Have a nice day.” the woman smiled politely, gave a side glance to Jenny, then looked back to her computer monitor.

“Come on.”

The doctor had given Jenny some medicine to try and help with the morning, afternoon, and evening sickness. He had said that it would pass after a short time.

Jenny sat in the front seat of the Blazer like she was comatose. So many things were going through her head. What was she going to do? How on earth was she going to support herself let alone a baby? They say that you’re never given more than you can possibly handle, but she was beginning to wonder if that were true. She felt as though she would break at any time, like she was as frail as glass.

Sean stared out into the expanse of the bright day. It seemed so odd to have the sun beating down on them with birds singing in surrounding trees, happy people playing in their front yards, filling parks, when this dark, foreboding feeling filled her. She was so worried about Jenny. She glanced over at the younger woman often, never seeing any noticeable change in her. She just stared out the side window, her arms crossed over her abdomen that would be growing soon. What was she thinking?

“Jenny?” she said quietly, her soft voice sounding like a gun shot in the silence of the Blazer.

It seemed Jenny heard her name being called from the other side of a dense fog. She turned her head in the direction of the voice, not seeing Sean’s concerned eyes for a moment. Finally she met the brilliant blue.

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to talk?” Sean asked. She didn’t want to pry, but she had the feeling that Jenny was the type of person who did better to get things off her chest. To her slight surprise Jenny shook her head.

“No.” Jenny again turned her gaze to the side window, watching as they flew by an off ramp, then a grassy median with a line of trees, like soldiers waiting in a disciplined line.

“Are you happy, girl?”

“Yes, daddy. I am happy. You always told me to make do with what I had. I’m doing what you said. I’m happy.”

“I hope so, girl. I hope so…”

Jenny thought about those last words with her father. She had been taught from a young age to make the best of it.. He had settled for whatever life had thrown at him, and had instilled that into his children. He had been a good man, but Jenny knew that she could not stay with Ben, settle for that anymore. She had for so long, and she had lost so much of herself because of it. And what would he do to a child? She cringed at the thought.

Jenny looked over at Sean’s profile. She looked deep in thought, her brows drawn. She knew she shouldn’t shut her out after all that Sean had done for her. Jenny had never met anyone quiet like her before. In some ways she reminded her of Johanna, but different. Sean had such an incredible strong presence, like the hardest rock that the sea crashes against, but is drawn to.

“Sean?” she asked, her voice quiet as the sun was beginning to fall, all the colors shining gloriously through the darkening sky.

“Yeah?” Sean answered, just as quiet. She glanced at Jenny.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Why are you dreading your father’s funeral so bad? Didn’t you get along?”

Sean thought about this question for a moment. How to answer it. Finally with a deep sigh she said,

“My father was a very bitter, angry man. He punished his family for every bad thing that had ever happened to him.”

“Oh.” Jenny glanced down at her hands that rested on her thighs, then looked back over to her companion. “Did he have a hard life?”

“Yes. He was born to a prostitute who had been raped. His mother was a heavy drinker, and died of alcohol poisoning.” Sean let out a rueful laugh. “Ironic.” she glanced over at the younger woman. “He died of Cirrhosis of the liver. Guess he didn’t learn his lesson, either, huh?”

“I guess not. What about your mother? Are you close?”

“I haven’t really spoken to my mother in over twenty-five years. I’m surprised she was able to find me at all to tell me Russell had died.” Sean said, her face nearly void of any expression, her eyes unreadable in the dusky dim of the car.

“You hold so much contempt, Sean.” Jenny said quietly, her voice filled with sadness. “Why are you going back?”

“I don’t know.” Sean said simply, and pushed play on the CD player, Moby filling the car, and making it obvious that that particular subject was closed. Jenny looked straight ahead once more, staring at the tail lights of the car infront of them, a little red Centra. The beginning strands of an acoustic guitar filled the Blazer as “Everloving” played. She could feel all the pain that swarmed around Sean like a swarm of bees. She tried to hide behind her stoicism, and nonchalance, but Jenny was not fooled. She really didn’t know this woman, yet she felt that she did. She shook off her thoughts, and decided to pursue a safer subject.

“So what kind of book store is it that you own?”

Sean had always been very open about herself, and her sexuality, but she knew that her answer was gong to give Johanna away. She thought for a minute on how to answer that question.

“Well, it’s a women’s book store.”

“Women’s book store? What, so the shelves are filled with cookbooks, books on PMS and heat flashes?” Sean grinned at her.

“Yeah. Something like that.”

Jenny took a deep breath. Now or never.

“Really now. Does your book store have anything to do with your keychain?” Sean glanced down at the colorful flag as it swung back and forth with the motion of the car. Woman doesn’t miss anything. She smiled over at Jenny.

“Yeah. Infact we sell those there.”

“Hmm.” Jenny thought for a moment. “Interesting.”

“Does it bother you, Jenny? The fact that I’m gay?” Sean glanced at her, then back at the night before them, the sun completely gone now.

“No.” Jenny said with a smile. Sean smiled back, relief flooding through her.

* * * * *
The Red Blazer drove slowly through Butte, Montana, the night air the type of cold that chilled you to the bone, as the clock on the dash clicked to 10:01 pm. They had been on the road for just over thirteen hours, and Sean needed a break. Jenny had offered to drive tomorrow’s stretch, and she was tempted to oblige.

They found a cheap motel which Jenny insisted on paying for, and would not take no for an answer, so Sean agreed to lug in all their things for the night while Jenny paid the bill. When Jenny got to the room she looked around the tiny place. It only had one bed. The place didn’t have any two bed rooms in the whole complex. With a sigh she removed her jacket and threw it down on the bed where Sean had thrown the rest of their stuff. Jenny plopped down in the bed as she heard the shower start. She grinned. Sean was wasting no time. She had asked her earlier when the funeral was to see how they were doing on time. She had four days to get there, and Sean figured that they would have just enough time to get Jenny to Paul’s in Chicago, and then Sean would head off again for the seven hour drive to Toledo.

Jenny studied Sean’s keychain again that she had tossed onto the chipped veneer that covered the one table. Maybe she should ask if she wanted Jenny to go with her to the funeral. It wasn’t like she had a certain time she had to be in Illinois. What could a couple of days hurt? But at the same time she didn’t want Sean to think that she was trying to invade what was obviously a very painful journey for the older woman. Jenny just wanted to lend her support to Sean, give her a shoulder should she decide she needed it.

Suddenly Jenny felt her stomach lurch again. This time, though, she knew that it was from nerves, and not the… baby.

“Oh, god.” she moaned. She buried her face in her hands as she felt the hot, salty tears fall.

Sean closed her eyes, supressing a groan as the hot water coated her road-weary body. This has got to be what heaven is like. She raised her face to the spray, smoothing her long hair back from her face. For just that one moment she was able to forget about everything; the funeral, her store, and her building infatuation for Jenny, and the need to protect the small women who was so vulnerable now. She didn’t want to think about anything. None of it.

Sean stepped from the stall followed by a ball of steam as she opened the shower curtain. She swiped her hand across the mirror, leaving a wet trail through the steam. She gazed at her rippled reflection, her skin tingly from the heat of the water. Tomorrow they would drive through North Dakota, hit Minnesota, on to Wisconsin, catch the 94, then straight down into Illinois. Sean sighed. She probably only had about three more days with Jenny, then she’d drop her off at her brother’s place, and never see her again. Her chest felt so heavy. This whole thing was extremely unusual for her. She was way too practical then to fall for some woman she barely knew, and who was straight. She grinned at herself. Figures.

Sean quickly dressed in a pair of flannel pants, and a tee with the logo from her store adorning the back. She gathered her clothes, and opened the bathroom door, stepping out into the cool room. Immediately she noticed Jenny sitting on the edge of the bed, her face buried in her hands, and her entire body shaking with the sobs that were muffled by her fingers. She placed the pile of clothes on the end of the bed, and made her way around to the younger woman.

“Jenny.” she said gently. Jenny looked up, her face streaked with tears, her eyes red. When she looked into Sean’s concerned eyes, the color of the deepest blue, she flung her body into Sean’s surprised arms. Sean instantly wrapped Jenny tightly in her strong embrace, holding her close, rocking her gently. “Shh. It’ll be okay, Jenny. It will work itself out.”

Jenny clung to Sean, her warm, strong embrace like a salve for her tortured soul.

“What am I going to do with a baby?” she cried, her fingers tightening on Sean’s shoulders.

“You’re going to raise it, and be the best mother you can.”

“God, I don’t think I can do this.” Jenny said, her voice broken as she began to get the tears under control.

“Of course you can. You have to believe in yourself like I believe in you.” Jenny pulled back slightly from her, wiping the sleeve of her sweater across her nose and eyes, feeling like a child herself.

“You do?” she asked, her green eyes pleading.

“Absolutely.” Sean smiled and pushed some strands of hair that had pulled free of the braid Jenny had them in, and tucked them behind an ear. “You are going to be such a wonderful mother, Jenny. You are filled with such compassion, such life. Any child would be very lucky to have you.”

Jenny smiled and fell into the embrace again. Sean closed her eyes as she gently rocked Jenny, stroking her back. They stood like that for a long time next to the bed, each wrapped in the other’s arms, and in their own thoughts.

Jenny sighed quietly, utterly content and warm in the cold Montana night. She could have stayed like that forever, feeling like nothing and no one could get past Sean as she held her, protecting her. Yet even as she felt safe with this woman, she also felt a strength of her own building, like she didn’t necessarily need her strength, but instead wanted it, yearned for it. She could hear Sean’s heart beating underneath her ear, the steady rhythm almost lulling her to sleep.

Sean heard a small sigh escape Jenny’s lips, and she tightened her hold just a bit. Jenny’s body against her own was so warm. It felt like Jenny had always been there, like when they pulled apart there would be something missing from Sean, a part of her somehow. She didn’t want to let go, though she knew she would have to. Gently she pulled away from the younger woman, and smiled down at her.

“We probably should get some sleep. The morning is going to come awfully early.” Jenny smiled in response.

“Yeah. I’m going to grab a quick shower.”

“Okay.” Sean let go of Jenny, and walked around to the other side of the bed, pulled back the blankets and comforter. Jenny closed the bathroom door behind her, and Sean remembered how it had felt to have her so close. She closed her eyes. This was going to be a long night.

Jenny closed the bathroom door, and leaned against it. Her heart was pounding. What was wrong with her? She could still feel Sean’s arms, a phantom touch on her skin. She ran her hands up and down her arms trying to calm herself. She just wasn’t herself. Her whole life had been flipped upside down, and she hadn’t quite bounced back from the shock yet. With a nod to her own thoughts, Jenny began to undress.

* * * * *

Sean awoke to feel heat along her back. She drew her brow and looked over her shoulder. She lay on her left side, and Jenny had curled herself into a ball, her hands tucked under her chin, the top of her head against Sean’s upper back, her knees against her lower back. Sean grinned slightly, then moved quietly out of bed. She didn’t want Jenny to wake up and be embarrassed by her bodies nocturnal need to snuggle, searching for warmth. Besides. they needed to get moving. She had heard on the radio yesterday that a winter storm was moving through the area, and Montana and North Dakota were supposed to get a healthy heaping of the white stuff.

She padded over to the bathroom, did her morning business, and washed her face and brushed her teeth. Looking in the mirror to comb her hair, she realized that she was hungry. She wondered how Jenny’s stomach was doing. She hadn’t gotten sick since the previous morning. Maybe that medicine that doctor had given her was working.

“Sean? Are you decent? I sure hope so, ‘cause I’m coming in!” the bathroom door slammed open, and Jenny ran in, headed straight for the toilet. Sean watched, her brows drawn in sympathy and concern. Guess I spoke too soon, she thought as she gently pulled Jenny’s long hair out of the way.

“We’ll have to get you something to eat so you can take your medicine.” she said quietly, rubbing soothing circles over Jenny’s back as the smaller woman took deep, slow breaths. She glanced at Sean and nodded. “You okay?” Sean asked with a smile.

“Yeah. Thanks, Sean. Again.” the little blonde smiled, her green eyes twinkling. “What would I do without you?”

“Probably get puke in your hair.”

“Eww! Do not tell an extremely nauseous, pregnant woman that sort of thing.”

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I’m going to get us packed up if you want to get cleaned up. I want to try and make good time today before that storm that’s headed this way hits.”

“Okay.”

Sean walked into the main part of the room, and began to close up their bags and take them out to the car. She stood out in the empty parking lot and stared up at the sky. It was going to be a cold one, she could already tell. The sky was gray with that bright quality to it that usually foretold snow, and the air was chilled, a steady wind blowing out of the north.

Back in the room she saw Jenny pulling her arms through the sleeves of her jacket, pulling her hair out from under the collar.

“Ready?” Sean asked from the doorway.

“Yup.” Jenny grabbed her purse from the bed closed the door to the motel behind her.

They found an IHOP for breakfast, and then were back on the road. Jenny glanced out the window, and a slow smile spread across her features, starting in the ocean depths of her sea-green eyes, and made its way down to her full lips. She felt an incredible wave of hope flood through her suddenly, and she felt like she could fly. Somewhere along the way last night she had come to terms with the situation, and with what was to be. She was having a baby. A new life. A new life that was hers to shape, to teach and love, and give all the love that Ben had denied her. She knew she could do it. Something deep inside had awakened, and had filled her with a strength and ambition that had always been lacking. With a deep, contented sigh she smiled over at Sean.

“What?” Sean couldn’t help but get caught up in that smile that lit up the entire Blazer. “What has got you so cheesed? Were those pancakes that good?”

“Nope. Life is good, Sean. Everything will be okay.” she leaned over and kissed Sean quickly on the cheek. “Thank you. You have made all the difference..” the older woman looked at her passenger with surprise shining in those blue eyes. She understood the depth of Jenny’s gratitude, though. She had felt the same toward her grandparents when they had rescued her from her father.

“You’re welcome, Jenny. Any time.”

After a few hours Jenny realized that she was sick of watching the same scenery pass by her window. She had finished the paperback that she had bought at Wal-Mart that first day, and was dying for something to read. Suddenly she remembered seeing three books that had fallen out of one of Sean’s bags the night before at the motel.

“Hey, Sean, can I read one of the books you have?” she glanced over at her friend who had been concentrating on the road. Sean looked over at her, an eyebrow raised.

“Uh, Jenny, I don’t know if you want to read those.”

“Why?”

“Well, uh, well because they came from my store.”

“So?”

Sean took a deep breath, obviously Jenny wasn’t getting the message.

“Jenny, they’re lesbian novels.” Jenny grinned.

“So. That’s not a big deal. I’m a big girl. I’m sure I can handle it.”

“Okay. Go for it. They’re in the backpack behind my seat.

Jenny reached back and grabbed the bag, dragging it to the front seat. She unzipped it, and felt the smoothness of the covers, pulling them out. She held one in each hand, and one on her thigh: Under My Skin, a mystery by Jaye Maiman. Okay, not too much into mystery. She glanced at the second one, Claire of the Moon by Nicole Conn. Looks good. That blonde lady on the cover is pretty, she thought. She finally glanced at the third one, An Emergence of Green by Katherine V. Forrest.

“Which one?” she asked Sean, her eyes still darting between all three.

“I’d recommend An Emergence of Green. They’re all great books, though.”

“Okay. I’ll try it.” Jenny smiled at her, and put the other two novels back in the bag, and plopped it back on the floor behind Sean’s seat. Sean smiled to herself as Jenny flipped open the green and black cover, and began to read. This should be interesting. She just hoped that the scene toward the end when Carrie gets attacked by her husband wouldn’t upset her too much.

* * * * *

The early afternoon brought with it heavy snow flurries. Sean switched on the windshield wipers, and turned up the heat in the Blazer. She glanced over at Jenny whom she hadn’t heard anything from since she had started to read early that morning. The woman was completely engrossed in the story. She grinned, and grabbed her CD case from the back floor, and lugged it onto her lap. She was in the mood for some George Michael, Ladies and Gentleman. She slid the first CD into the player, and smiled as “Jesus to a Child” started to play. Such a beautiful song.

Sean was taken back to a time when she was twelve, and had been babysitting her six year old brother…

Sean whipped the end of the dishtowel so that it made a satisfying SPLAT in the air. Donny’s high-pitched giggle flowed through the kitchen.

“Come’re, little man!” she grinned, taking a step toward the laughing child who was trying to hide from the big, bad monster, behind a kitchen chair.

“No!” he smiled, shaking his head, his dark brown hair falling over his forehead as usual. SPLAT! Donny screamed again, eyeing the doorway to the kitchen that would lead to the living room. Finally making a decision, he made a run for it, a trail of laughter following him out of the room. Sean followed, towel in hand, dishes forgotten.

Donny hid behind their father’s old beat up recliner, his small fingers peaking over the top of the arms. Sean was in hot pursuit until she froze when she heard her father’s car pull into the long drive on the side of the house that led to the small garage in the back. She took a step back into the kitchen, eyeing the back door, and then looked around. God, the mess that they had made. There was water everywhere, and she knew that her father was going to be ticked.

“Crap.” she breathed as she threw the wet towel onto the counter, and grabbed the mop from the corner of the room. Sean’s young heart felt like it would pound clear out of her chest as she heard the car door slam, and her father’s footfalls on the gravel. She swirled the mop around the floor by the door first, so he wouldn’t fall. He’d kill her for sure if he fell. She heard him walking up the three back stairs, she quickly moved the mop around to where the water was the worst, in front of the sink where it had all began. The doorknob turned, Sean could feel the tears burning behind her eyes. Don’t cry, don’t cry. The door squeaked open, and she saw the toe of her father’s shoe as he stepped in. She continued to mop.

“What the hell?” Russell asked as he looked around at the disheveled mess that was his kitchen. “Did a pipe break?” he looked over at Sean who kept mopping. She noticed Donny peeking in the doorway, and she tried to shoo him away with a glance. He stayed put.

“No. I was doing dishes, and-”

“And you started screwing around?” he asked dryly.

“I was going to get it all cleaned up before-”

“Before what?”

“Before you got home.”

“Oh, so now you’re sneaking around behind my back?” his voice was getting lower, deeper, more dangerous.

“No. We were just having fun.” Sean said, her chin raised slightly, her voice holding just a bit of defiance. Over the last year she had started to fight against her father’s cruelty. At first Russell hadn’t been sure what to think, and so stayed away from her for just a bit, but then had come back with a vengeance. The fights that were bad, but periodically spaced, now had become almost daily. Helen watched on in horrified silence as her daughter and her husband battled.

“We? We who?” he took a menacing step forward. “We who, Sean? You got some boy in here? Huh? You little slut. You got some boy in here!” he reached out and snatched the mop out of Sean’s shaking hands.

“No. Just Donny. So if you want to read something sick into that, then go right on ahead.” Russell took another step forward so that he was mere inches away from burning blue eyes.

“What did you say to me, girl?” he hissed. Sean could smell the sour whiskey that rode his breath. Pathetic excuse for a man, she thought. Never. Never would she be with someone like this. Ever.

Sean glanced down and noticed Russell’s grip tighten on the mop, and she knew what was coming. Though Sean was tall for her age, her father, whom she’d gotten her height from, still towered over her. She looked back up into his eyes, red rimmed, and angry, tired eyes. What had gone so wrong? She felt her confidence beginning to leave her, causing her to take a step back. He followed.

“Nothing.” she answered, her voice suddenly weak, and she hated herself for it.

“Really?” he snarled. Sean glanced again at her brother who was still watching.

“Donny, go into the other room. Now!”

Sean shook her head to clear it. She remembered how awful it had been having that damn cast on her arm for six weeks. That was the first time she’d ever had a bone broken. She hadn’t thought of any of this stuff for years; instead she had chosen to block it out, like it never happened. So she was an empty shell, carrying around the hatred without the memories to back it up.

“What an ass!” Sean glanced at Jenny in surprise, her brow raised in question. Jenny looked at the older woman, her eyes filled with disgust. “I can’t believe that ass of a husband did that to Val, got her and her son kicked out of their home just because he was jealous of the friendship she had with his wife. My god!”

Sean grinned at the incredulous look of innocence that shone through Jenny’s green eyes. “Just wait.” she grinned inwardly knowing that the love scene was soon to follow. She wondered how Jenny would handle that one.

Jenny tore through the novel with a hunger that she couldn’t describe. She could relate so much with Carolyn that it was scary. She knew how it felt to live a life of submission, and the go along to get along attitude. Though Carolyn’s husband Paul wasn’t as violent as Ben, it was still the same thing. Everytime she read where Paul would call Carolyn “Princess” she wanted to puke! God, how condescending can you get? And the friendship that was growing between Carolyn and Val Hunter, or “the Hunter woman” as Paul referred to her as. It made so much sense to her, and in some ways reminded her of her own friendship with Johanna, and now Sean.

Jenny stared through the pages before her as the thought of Johanna came to mind. So, if Johanna shopped so frequently in Sean’s book store, and if Sean’s book store sold mainly lesbian books, did that make…. Jenny’s eyes opened wide and she glanced over at Sean’s profile, then back to her book. Suddenly something occurred to her, and she flipped the book over to see who the publisher was: Naiad Press. She had heard Johanna talk about them before in some off hand conversation. Why that had stuck in her memory, she did not know. So then had Lisa been her,… lover? Was that why Johanna generally refused to talk about that situation, and why Lisa had moved out? But even little Rebecca had never said anything to the contrary of ordinary roommates. Yes, she was only six years old, but that is usually the age when kids let the most out of the bag.

Suddenly Jenny felt so stupid. How blind she had been. Johanna had been her best friend for two years, and this had never come up, nor had she ever really suspected, not that she knew what she was looking for. God, so many things just fell into place with an almost audible click. Ben saw it. He knew. He had even called Johanna a dyke in their last fight. In many ways it was almost like a cock fight between Johanna and Ben. They had been fighting over her attention, and Ben had felt threatened. She smiled in wonder.

“Looks serious.” Jenny’s eyes swung to Sean’s grinning face.

“What?”

“Well, just now you had a look on your face like you had discovered the secret of immortality. Looks serious.”

“I feel like an unobservant idiot is all.” Jenny said, shaking her head at her own thoughts.

“What? Why?” Sean’s brows drew in question.

“I just now realized that my best friend is gay.” Sean only listened. She knew full well who Jenny meant, but didn’t feel it was her place to confirm what Jenny already knew. “Hot damn. What do you know? I feel like I should have known!” Jenny looked up with anger flashing through those emerald depths. “Why didn’t she tell me? Did she think I would not accept her? Or that I would be mad?” Jenny raised an exasperated brow.

“Well, everyone is different about this, Jenny. I can’t explain for Johanna. But keep in mind she does have a small child, and I’m sure in her mind Rebecca comes first. Her little girl is still so young, and there are some very cruel people around.”

Jenny thought about this answer for a moment, her anger not abating much.

“I still feel like she didn’t trust me, couldn’t trust me.” Jenny felt like a child as she felt her throat tighten with unshed emotion. This whole pregnancy thing was awful. She felt like she was having PMS, menopause, and a bad day all at once, her hormones completely out of whack. Was she overreacting?

“Maybe you should talk to her about it the next time you call.” Sean said gently.

“I could have helped her through what I’m sure must have been an awful time with Lisa rather then her having to deal with it on her own.”

“I’m sure she knows that, Jenny, knows that you cared and supported her. I’m sure she had her reasons..”

“Yeah.” Jenny said quietly, somewhat nullified, but still feeling foolish. She had always prided herself on being very observant, and being able to read people with no more trouble than she read the novel in her hands. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to see it? Maybe she had felt threatened by it, too close to home… Again Jenny’s eyes flew open in surprise at her own thoughts. No, that last part wasn’t true, wasn’t part of this.

She didn’t want to think about it, so she turned her attention back to the book that she was almost finished with.

* * * * *

The scenery outside the windows was becoming more and more covered with a blanket of white as the snow continued to fall. The sky was a cold looking gray, and Sean had to turn the heat up in the Blazer. The road was straight, the landscape barren of anything real interesting as I-90 stretched on for what seemed forever. Soon they would be in North Dakota, and that’s where Sean figured they could stop for some lunch.

Jenny felt her heart begin to beat just a bit faster as she realized where the story she read was leading. Val Hunter had taken Carolyn to the beach house that belonged to her friends. Things were beginning to get a bit on the hot side. Jenny swallowed. Hard. She shyly glanced up at Sean, then readjusted herself in the seat, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. She could not take her eyes from the words, nor her mind from the picture that those words conjured up in her head. She could almost feel the heat of the fire that blazed before the two characters, feel the blanket they laid on, on their skin. She could feel the tender touches, gentle caresses, sweet kisses. Suddenly she found herself breathless, and had to put the book down to catch her breath, and her thoughts.

Sean noticed out of the corner of her eye that Jenny was squirming a bit in her seat. She raised a brow in surprised interest. She had a feeling she knew exactly what Jenny was reading. She was dying to ask what was going through her head, what she thought of it. She was about to open her mouth to ask, but with a grin, decided against it. She didn’t want to embarrass Jenny.

Jenny glanced out the side window, staring at nothing in particular, but trying to hide her reaction from Sean. Whoa. She took deep breaths, trying to get her pounding heart under control. She had never read anything like that in her life! A slight shiver passed through her as the images passed through her mind again. With a start she realized that she was completely turned on. She squirmed just a tiny bit as she felt the wetness between her legs. God, how uncomfortable.

Sean watched as Jenny placed a small piece of paper in the book to mark her page, then set the novel on the dash, and took a deep breath. She grinned to herself again.

“Hey, I thought we could stop here soon in the next town and get something to eat.”

“Yeah.” Jenny smiled. Sean stifled a chuckle as she saw how flushed Jenny’s cheeks still were. She looked absolutely adorable! She could not deny how surprised she was at Jenny’s reaction. Yeah, so it was sexual stimulation, and human behavior to be affected by it, but it seemed a bit more than that. Maybe she was just making way too much out of it; reading more into it then there actually was. “Sounds good to me.”

The Blazer pulled into town at around one-thirty, and both women were starved. They had picked up some munchies back in Butte, but had quickly gone through them in the last six hours, especially Jenny. She had a good appetite on a good day, alone pregnant.

Sean found a Denny’s, and pulled the car into the busy parking lot. It was just after lunch on a Friday. She was surprised so many people were still out and about.

“Doesn’t anybody work anymore?” she mumbled as she stretched her arms over her head, glad to be standing.

“Apparently not.” Jenny groaned, as she also stretched. Sean had to make her self look away from Jenny’s lithe body as the smaller woman raised her hands to the heavens, her eyes closed, neck arched back. “God, that felt good.” she whispered with one final stretch, then smiled at her companion. Sean quickly looked away, and headed for the building. Jenny drew her brows, and followed.

The place looked like any other Denny’s that belonged to the franchise. The two waited patiently near the podium for the lady to take them to a table.

“It’ll be just a couple of minutes.” she smiled warmly, then headed out into the dining area.

“I have got to pee.” Jenny said through clenched teeth. Sean grinned.

“So go. It’s right there.” she pointed to the hallway just off to their right, and Jenny took off at nearly a run. Sean chuckled, then followed the woman that had come to seat them. She was led through the larger dining room, and then finally into a smaller one off to the side, and seated in a booth with slightly damp tan, vinyl seats that had just been washed down.

“Your waitress will be with you in just a moment.” the hostess said, and placed an open menu in front of Sean, and another on the other side of the table for Jenny.

Sean glanced down at the choices, her stomach grumbling at every dish she read about.

“This place is a maze.” Jenny said as she plopped down across from Sean. “That hostess had to show me where you were.” she grinned. “I’m kind of glad we’re back here, though. Less noise.”

“Yeah. And hopefully we won’t get some old man smoking in the non-smoking area again. And I say this for his benefit.”

“Ha ha. Funny lady.”

Sean snickered as she turned her attention back to her menu.

“Good afternoon, ladies.” a low, smooth voice said. Sean looked up into the most sexy brown eyes she had ever seen. The waitress glanced down at her, recognizing that familiar spark immediately. Her professional smile slowly slid into a grin of interest, and possibility. Sean could not help but smile back.

“’Afternoon.” Sean said.

“What can I do for you?” the waitress said with a small, sexy little smile, then reluctantly her eyes moved to Jenny for just a moment before returning to Sean.

“How about some coffee?” Sean said. She was fully enjoying the attention. It had been awhile since she had bee flirted with.

Jenny’s alert green eyes darted back and forth between the two. The waitress was very pretty with short red hair, her lips lightly covered with lipstick, and her flawless skin the peaches and cream of a true red head. Her eyes turned to Sean to see how she was reacting with the woman’s subtle flirting. A crooked smile adorned Sean’s lips, her eyes bright. She was enjoying it. Suddenly Jenny realized that she was annoyed. Annoyed at the waitress, and even more annoyed with Sean. How could she flirt with this, this… woman in public? By god. What if someone saw, or noticed what was going on? How could she do this in front of me? She almost felt betrayed, but why she did not know. So Jenny buried her nose in the menu, her appetite suddenly not nearly as potent.

“And for you?”

“What?” Jenny said, her voice a bit more harsh than she had intended. The waitress was taken aback for a moment, and then looked from Jenny to Sean, and realization came to her features. “What can I get for you?” she asked again, her voice softer, almost as if she were embarrassed for some reason. Jenny studied her for a moment. Does she? She thinks… no. Inside she grinned as she realized that the waitress thought that she and Sean were together, and was embarrassed because she had been flirting with Sean. Whoa. This is weird.

Sean looked on as Jenny ordered. She had been surprised by Jenny’s reaction. She knew that Jenny had noticed the waitress flirting with her, and her flirting back in kind. Jenny had seemed irritated. Had Sean pushed it too far? Made her feel uncomfortable? Suddenly it dawned on her, and she felt awful. Jenny was not accustomed to seeing two women flirt, for crying out loud! That had been unbelievably thoughtless of her.

The waitress gave them a small smile as she collected the menus, then walked away. Sean turned to Jenny.

“I’m sorry. That was pretty bad of me.” she said quietly.

“What for?” Jenny asked, for some reason not quite able to completely look Sean in the eye. The scene in the book kept coming into her mind.

“Me and that waitress…. I,” Sean felt foolish. “We shouldn’t have done that. In front of you.”

“What?” Jenny decided to play dumb. Suddenly she felt really stupid, and as usual, had made a big deal out of nothing.

“Well, we flirted like that. I’m sorry. I realize you’re not exactly used to seeing two women do that with each other.”

Jenny began to blush profusely as that damn sex scene flashed before her mind’s eye yet again. Finally she was able to glance up at Sean, and saw the worry there. Oh, now she felt bad.

“No, it’s nothing, Sean. You’re an adult, and entitled.” she smiled sweetly as she tried to ease Sean’s fears. She hated to think she was the cause of any pain or discomfort. “Really.” she reached across the table and placed her hand over Sean’s, squeezing just a bit. Sean started at the touch. “I’m sorry.” Jenny immediately removed her hand.

“No, no!” Sean sputtered. God, now she felt really stupid. “I, it’s…, well-”

“Here we go.” the waitress held a tray with an empty mug for coffee, a bronze-colored plastic carafe, and a large glass of orange juice. She set the juice in front of Jenny, and poured a cup of coffee for Sean, then left the carafe. “Cream or sugar?” she asked. Sean nodded. “Okay. I’ll be right back.” she quickly walked away. Sean grabbed the hand that Jenny had placed on her own arm.

“I’m sorry.” she said simply. Jenny looked into Sean’s eyes, and for a moment saw a flutter of how nervous she was. This nervousness mirrored her own feelings just then. She smiled, deciding to take the lead, and end this before either of them got angry, or upset by this mutual misunderstanding that she felt she had caused. She had no right to get angry at Sean.

“No, I’m sorry. Why don’t we forget it, and have a nice dinner? After all,” she swallowed hard, “tomorrow will be our last day traveling together, and then you’ll be rid of me.” she forced a smile over the lump that was suddenly in her throat.

“Okay.” Sean said quietly. She squeezed Jenny’s warm hand, and removed it. Jenny’s words struck her. She had forgotten that their journey was coming to a quick end. She had so enjoyed it while it had lasted. Jenny suddenly felt like she could cry.

“While we’re waiting for our food, I’m going to give Johanna a call.” she quickly stood from the booth and hurried toward the pay phones by the bathroom. Sean watched her get up and leave. Her heart felt so heavy. She felt so calm with Jenny’s bubbly, curious presence. She almost felt doomed, like she was letting something very precious go, yet had no choice.

Jenny leaned against the blue and white cabinet that housed the phone for a moment, her heart beating rapidly in her heaving chest. She closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to get herself under control. With a final sigh, Jenny reached into her purse and dug out her change for the phone, and inserted the coins in the slot. She waited impatiently for Johanna’s familiar voice to pick up on the other end of the line.

“Good afternoon. Mitchell and associates.” Jenny smiled at the warm, low voice.

“Hey there.”

“Jenny!”

“Yup. How are you?”

“Oh, hon, I’ve been so worried about you. How are you?”

“I’ve been better, but I’m okay.” Jenny said, her voice low as a man walked by her, headed to the Men’s room. She looked around, then turned her attention back to her friend. How odd, she thought. She hadn’t felt afraid in days. But suddenly her heart was pounding, and she felt so vulnerable, as if Ben would be able to find her through her fear alone.

“What do you mean, Jenny? What’s happened?” she could hear the worry in Johanna’s voice.

“Well, first have you heard from him?” she asked, not dreading the answer.

“Well, I talked to your friend Pam from the store. He was in there a couple days ago. Didn’t talk to a soul, only made a casual walk around the store, then left.” Jenny rubbed her temples that had suddenly started to throb.

“Okay. Well, I got some interesting news the other day.” she began, trying to urge the courage to the surface to tell Johanna of her pregnancy. She sighed heavily. “Johanna, I’m going to have a baby.”

“No.” Johanna breathed.

“Yes.” Jenny said, running her hand through her long hair.

“Whoa. What do you think about that?”

“Well, at first I was so upset. I couldn’t believe it. But now, well, I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing anymore.”

“Are you sure, honey?” Johanna’s voice was deep, edged with emotion that she was so valiantly trying to keep under wraps.

“Yeah, yeah I am. I think this baby will give me the courage and determination that I need. Otherwise, who knows. I might have just given up.”

“I can’t believe you’re going to be a mother. Oh, Jenny!” Johanna’s voice finally broke. “You’ll be such a wonderful one. I’m so happy for you. I know you’ll get through this, honey. You have such strength in you that I don’t even think you know about.”

Jenny smiled. “Sean says the same thing.” she said. Johanna raised her brows in surprise. Her friend had spoken of the bookstore owner with such reverence in her voice.

“How is she doing?” Johanna asked, trying to keep her voice casual.

“Fine. Tomorrow she’ll drop me off at Paul’s in Chicago.” Jenny felt the feeling and fears that she had been feeling since they had been in the restaurant surface. “Oh, Johanna! I don’t want her to go.” she cried, wiping impatient hands over her eyes that wouldn’t stop weeping. “She has given me such peace, and I feel so safe with her.”

Johanna was stunned into silence by her friend’s outburst. What could she say to this?

“Honey, you can still stay in contact with her. You don’t have to stay in Chicago forever…”

“I know.” Jenny swiped her sleeve across her nose like a child. “I know. I’m just so emotional right now. I cry at the friggin’ drop of a hat.” she laughed at herself.

“Believe I remember.” Jenny could hear Johanna’s smile through her words.

“I should go. I am so hungry. We’re at a Denny’s in North Dakota, and I called while we were waiting for our food.”

“Okay, sweetie. Call when you get to Paul’s.”

“Okay. I will.”

“Take care of yourself, Jenny. Please?”

“I will. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Jenny gently replaced the phone in its cradle, and stroked the green/gray neck of the piece. She could picture Johanna in her mind, her wild blond hair unmanageable as ever, and her deep brown eyes twinkling, tiny lines extending from the corners. She missed her so much.

Sean saw Jenny walking back to their table, her eyes red and puffy. Her brow creased in concern.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as Jenny sat.

“Yeah. I just hate this. My life is so up in the air. I miss my friends, my old job. I miss my life, Sean. If only I could have it back without Ben.”

Sean reached across the table, and grabbed Jenny’s hand again. She smiled her understanding.

“Soon, Jenny. Soon.” she let go, and indicated their dinners that had arrived when Jenny had been on the phone. “But for now, come on, mom. Eat up.”

* * * * *
The hotel in St. Paul, was just like the others- small, cheaply decorated, but somewhat warm in the cold Minnesota night. The room had two double beds, and deep down Jenny was sorry that it wasn’t a single. She had felt so secure and content knowing that Sean had been mere inches from her. She settled between the cool sheets anyway, her body so tired, and her head hurt.

“Goodnight, Jenny.” Sean mumbled from the other bed, three feet away.

“’Night.”

“Where were you?” Ben sat in the chair nearest the television, his eyes never leaving the screen.

“I was at the mall like I told you, Ben. I had to get us some towels and I got us a set of sheets so we can stop using that old, worn out-”

SMACK!

“I don’t give a flying fuck about sheets, Jenny!” Ben had jumped to his feet so fast that Jenny had had no time to dodge his palm. She held her hand to her cheek, the skin underneath on fire. She looked at her new husband with wide, hurt green eyes. “Who were you with?” his voice was not much more than a growl.

“I, I was alone. Been, we just moved here. I don’t know anyone in Colorado.” he took a menacing step toward her, the muscles in his jaw twitching as his anger was nearing the boiling point.

“I saw you.” he snarled, grabbing her by the neckline of her over-sized sweatshirt. She had already began to show slightly, and was waiting for the right time to tell Ben of her pregnancy. He pulled her to him until their faces were a breath apart. “Who is he?”

“Who is who?” she was beginning to get really scared now. She had never seen Ben this way before, and she had no idea what he’d do.

“That asshole I saw you talking to down in the fucking parking lot! Who was he? I’ll tear his fucking balls off!”

“Ben, please, I don’t know who he is. He saw that I was having a hard time getting the car started, so he offered to jump it-”

SMACK!

Jenny hit the wall, sliding down as she tried to get her breath back. Her head and back were already pounding.

“That car is fine, you lying bitch!” Jenny saw as if in slow motion, Ben’s booted foot flew through the air, and connected with her stomach. She clenched her eyes shut, her arms immediately flying up to wrap around herself, and their unborn child. She tried to stand when she felt a sharp pain rip through her middle. “Lying cunt.” Ben mumbled, and grabbed his coat and the keys that Jenny had dropped on the floor, and left the apartment.

Jenny took a shallow breath, each time she breathed the pain in her stomach intensified. She managed to stand, and headed for the bathroom. She began to cry as she felt sticky wetness begin to gather between her legs. Slowly unbuttoning her jeans, then slid them down her legs followed by her underwear, her worse fears were realized. Blood was pouring out of her…

“No! Not my baby!” Jenny’s eyes popped open, and she nearly jumped out of the bed, her heartbeat through the roof. In an instant Sean was awake, and by her side.

“Jenny, are you okay?” she asked, her voice shaky with surprise and fear. Jenny looked at her with wide, wild eyes.

“Not my baby.” she breathed, tears coming to her eyes. Sean, realizing that Jenny must have had a nightmare, sat on the bed next to her friend, and took her in her arms, gently rocking her small body that began to shake violently.

“Shh, baby, it’s okay. Shhh.” Jenny clung to Sean, her heart still beating wildly in her chest. “It was just a dream.”

“It was a memory.” Jenny whispered, the sobs beginning to really come now.

“It’s okay, Jenny. He’ll never hurt you again. I swear to you.” Sean said, her voice breaking as she breathed her oath. “I’ll kill him first.” Jenny closed her eyes, trying to get herself under control. Sean wrapped her arms around her tighter, kissing the top of her head softly.

“Hold me, Sean. Please, hold me.” Jenny pleaded, looking into Sean’s concerned with green eyes so full of fear.

“Okay.” Sean laid down, pulling Jenny with her until Jenny’s head rested on her shoulder, her arm almost painfully tight across Sean’s mid-section. She continued to cry softly. Sean stroked her long hair with one hand, and her arm with the other. “It’s okay, Jenny. Let it all out.” she crooned. Finally Jenny began to settle down a bit, taking deep breaths.

“Sean?” she said quietly.

“Yeah?” Sean answered, kissing the blond hair again.

“Let me go to Ohio with you?” she asked, her voice quiet, still shaky.

“Why? Don’t you want to get to your brothers as soon as possible?” Sean asked, her heart in her throat.

“I want to get to Chicago. But I want to be there for you. Like you’ve been there for me. Please?” Sean swallowed the lump that was threatening to rise in her own throat.

“Okay, Jenny. Okay.” she kissed the blond head once more, her lips lingering, eyes tightly closed as she relished the contact as long as she could. Finally she opened them, squeezing Jenny’s forearm slightly. “Let’s go to sleep now, Jenny. It’s a long drive to Toledo.”
Part 4
Wisconsin was a winter wonderland in the making as the Blazer’s red and black body was a sharp contrast to the gray and white day. Jenny sat behind the wheel, a partial smile on her lips. She was so happy to be going with Sean, though she was surprised that she had agreed to it. She glanced over to see her travel companion glancing out the side window, marveling at the scenery. It was so beautiful, and Jenny knew that Sean was relieved to have a day as the passenger.

Jenny thought back to the night before. She had spent the whole night in Sean’s arms, feeling Sean occasionally stroke her hair or back, even in sleep, as if her protective nature was still on full alert. Sean had been somewhat quiet this morning when they had woken at seven-thirty. They had a long drive ahead of them, but would reach Toledo by that night. The funeral was tomorrow afternoon. She knew Sean was nervous, antsy, even.

“It’ll be okay, Sean.” she said quietly, glancing over at her. Sean met her gaze and smiled.

“It will now. Thank you, Jenny. I’m glad to have you with me.” she said, and was surprised at her own admission. Jenny reached over, and grabbed the hand that rested on Sean’s thigh. She gently squeezed the fingers, and began to pull away when she felt Sean squeeze back, almost to keep her there. Jenny smiled, and left her hand where it rested, inside of Sean’s. Suddenly she felt she owed Sean an explanation.

“Sean, this is not my first pregnancy.” she said. She looked to catch Sean’s reaction, but only saw interest. “When Ben and I were first dating, me as a stupid seventeen year old kid, well, I was stupid. Young. I got pregnant. That’s why I agreed to marry him.”

“What did he say about the baby then?” Sean asked, running her thumb up and down the side of Jenny’s hand.

“He never knew. I knew he’d be mad, so I waited. I was going to tell him, but….” Jenny’s voice trailed off as she tried to shake the image of Ben’s face as he hit her that first time. His unbelievable jealousy getting the best of him. “Well, one night he accused me of cheating on him, he got angry, and he… he hit me. That night I lost the baby.”

“Oh, Jenny.” Sean breathed. She placed her other hand over their joined fingers, and caressed the soft skin with her palm. “I’m so sorry. Was that what woke you up last night?” she asked gently. Jenny nodded.

“I hadn’t thought about it for years. I mean, that was ten years ago. It’s amazing to me how things just seem to work themselves out. If that baby would have lived, what kind of life would it have had? A father who was abusive, and a mother who was too weak to do anything about it.”

“Don’t say that, Jenny. Please don’t say that. You would have done something about it. Believe me, I had a mother who didn’t-” Sean cut herself off, released Jenny’s hand and stared out the window. Jenny looked over at Sean, her brows drawn, deeply concerned. Sean’s body seemed to fold in on itself; her legs crossed at the ankles, arms hugging her chest, shoulders drawn up, stiff.

“Sean.” she said, running her hand down Sean’s arm.

“I’m sorry, Jenny. I just can’t.” was whispered back.

“Okay. It’s okay.”

They drove on in silence, both troubled deeply in their own thoughts. Sean wiped an impatient hand across an eye as she felt the moisture build…..

“Mom, why don’t you tell him to stop? Why does he do this to us? To me?” Sean asked, the cool towel filled with ice cubes pressed to her left eye. Her mother turned from her, back to the stove where she was waiting for the water for the macaroni to boil. “Mom?”

“Sean, you are not a little kid. You’re fourteen years old, and know how the world works.”

“What if I don’t?” Helen Farrow turned on her daughter, her face twisted with rage.

“Don’t you get it, Sean?” she hissed, taking a step closer. “He hits and strikes out because you provoke him! Maybe if you kept your damn mouth shut now and then-”

“What, did I mouth off at age five when I was thrown down the stairs for the first time? Or how about when I was eight, and had the skin burned from my palm on that very stove?” Sean threw the towel onto the table. “Did I ask for this, Mother?” she pointed to the eye that was already turning a nasty purple, the corner of the white of the eye blood red where a small vessel had broke. Helen turned away again, one hand resting on her hip, the other the counter. Sean stood from her chair, and walked over to her mother’s side. “Why won’t you stand up for me, Mom? Why? You let that bastard do whatever he wants to me!”

“Don’t you dare talk about your father that way! Because of him you have food to eat, and a roof over your head!” Helen yelled, her guilt turning into rage.

“He stopped being my father long ago, mother. And if that’s why you stay, you’re pathetic.” Sean said, her voice void of anything but contempt, and walked out of the kitchen. Within six months she’d be gone.

* * * * *
Jenny hit the I-94 when they entered Milwaukee, and they headed toward Illinois. Sean had been quiet all day. Jenny kept her silence, quietly singing along with a soft rock station they had been able to pick up.

“You know, Sean, this whole thing would make a great story.” Jenny grinned over at the older woman, trying to bring her out of the painful memories she had immersed herself into for the last couple of hours.

“What?” Sean asked, startled.

“I said, this whole thing would make a great story.” Sean smiled, and raised a brow.

“Yes, it would. The great American road trip.”

Around one in the afternoon, they stopped for lunch, then headed back out onto the road, Sean driving. Jenny took a deep breath and grabbed the novel that she had not picked up since the sex scene the day before. She opened the book to her marked page, and began to read.

Sean stared out to the long highway ahead, her heart beginning to beat a bit faster with every passing mile. Soon. Soon she would be at the house that she had not been to in many, many years, and never thought she would return to. The house that had never been a home. Donny, her little brother who had been six years younger, popped into mind. She had not thought of him in years; it was just too painful.

“Sean, honey, it’s your mom.” Sean’s grandmother had said quietly. Sean had looked up from her homework.

“I don’t want to talk to her, Grandma.”

“Honey, I think maybe you should this time.” Sean had knitted her brows, confused. Her grandmother had never pushed her, but had let her make her own decisions as far as her parents were concerned.

“Okay.” she took the receiver, and felt her heart skip as she saw her grandmother wipe her eyes as she left the room. “Yes?” she had said impatiently into the mouth piece.

“Sean, something has happened.” Helen had said, her voice full of emotion just under the surface.

“What? What happened? Is Donny okay?” she had asked, her voice rising with her fear. Her little brother was the only one in that house that she even cared about.

“No, honey, he’s not.” Helen’s voice broke then. “There was an accident. Honey, Donny’s gone. He,… he died….”

Helen’s words from so long ago echoed through Sean’s head, bouncing around, bringing the pain that she had fought so hard to push down, and ultimately forget, back up, squeezing at her heart.

She shook it off. She’d think about it later.

* * * * *

Night had fallen, and the old neighborhood looked the same, but maybe a bit more run down. The old houses, most two to three bedrooms, brick, front porches. Each looked the same as the house set only a few feet from it. The Farrow house was situated on the corner, the old drive leading to the garage in back had been redone in cement. The two faded sun chairs still sat on the front porch, the old green outdoor carpet stained, and torn in places. The place needed some work.

Sean cut the engine when she pulled into the drive, stopping next to the house, just in front of the small, brick garage. She stared out the windshield, the stars and moon covered by clouds. It would be cold for the funeral tomorrow. Served the old bastard right.

“Here we are.” she said quietly, not looking at Jenny as she opened the door, and stepped out of the Blazer.

“This is where you grew up?” Jenny asked, yawning and stretching.

“I lived here until I was fifteen.”

Sean opened the back of the Blazer, and began to remove their bags, handing a lighter one to Jenny, and taking the rest.

The night air was cold, a bitter wind blowing through the trees that were nearly bare, their skeletal branches reaching up to the night sky.

Sean led them to the side door near the Blazer that would lead to the kitchen. Lights were still on throughout the house despite the late hour. Sean didn’t see any other cars, so she assumed no other family was staying here. She was grateful.

“What’s your mother’s name?” Jenny asked quietly as Sean opened the squeaky metal screen door, and knocked firmly on the hard wooden back door.

“Helen Farrow.”

The door was opened, and there stood Sean’s mother. Sean stepped back, and stared up at the woman that was nothing but a silhouette in the doorway, the light from the kitchen pouring out around her.

“Hello, Sean.” came the soft voice.

“Helen.” Sean said politely. Jenny glanced at her, surprised that she had used her mother’s first name.

“I’m so glad you came. Who’s your friend? You didn’t mention-”

“This is Jenny. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t know. It’s a long story, and I’m tired.” Helen pulled the ends of her robe tighter around her body as the wind nearly blew Sean and Jenny through the door. They stepped into the large room, and Jenny looked around. All the appliances were pretty aged, and were that awful gold color from the seventies. The linoleum on the floor was worn. A round table sat in the corner, five chairs tucked under, the tops sticking out. One was pulled out, a steaming cup of coffee sitting near it on the chipped, oak surface.

Helen sat in the chair, and offered a seat to the two women. Sean studied her mother in the harsh overhead light. She had aged immensely, and looked much older than her fifty some-odd years. Her hair that had once been a sandy brown was now filled with gray, and her face was heavily lined. Her eyes, once vibrant and brilliant like her own, were washed out, lifeless. God, Helen. Why did you stay all these years?

“You look great, honey.” Helen said, as if her thoughts were following her daughters. All the years when Sean had lived with her parents, they had sent picture of Sean as she grew from an angry teenager, to a beautiful young woman, full of confidence, poise, and ambition. She was so proud of her, and what Sean had done with her life.

“Thank you. You look tired.” Helen smiled, and laughed softly.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true. It’s been very difficult these last few years with your father so sick.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Farrow.” Jenny said gently, standing near Sean by the door.

“Thank you. You’re sweet.” Helen smiled at the beautiful young woman. She knew of her daughters persuasion, and wondered if this young woman was with her. She knew better than to ask.

“I’m Jenny Aberman.” Jenny stepped forward and extended her hand toward Helen, who reached out and took it in her own.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Jenny.” she patted the young woman’s hand, and released it. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Something to eat? I know you’ve had a long trip.”

“No. I’m fine.” Sean said, crossing her arms over her chest, and leaning back against the wall.

“Well, Sean, that’s fine if you don’t want anything to eat. But at least come in. I won’t bite, you know.”

Sean kept her face carefully blank as she sat in the chair opposite her mother, Jenny sitting between them.

“What about you, Jenny? Care for anything?”

“Actually, I’m quite embarrassed to admit that I am absolutely famished.” Helen smiled at the beautiful girl, and patted her hand again.

“I’ll fix you something right up. What would you like?”

Sean finally accepted a cup of coffee, and watched on with a strange sense of pride and a feeling of just being glad that her mother approved of Jenny. She wasn’t sure why this was. She didn’t care anymore what her mother thought, hadn’t for twenty years. But now as she watched Helen searching through the fridge to make Jenny a sandwich, Jenny leaning against the sink talking, she was almost glad she had come. Almost.

Sean downed the last of her coffee, and carried the cup to the sink.

“Well, tomorrow is going to come pretty early, so I’m heading to bed.” she said, turning to her mother and Jenny.

“Your room is all ready for you, honey.” Helen said quietly. “Jenny, you can sleep in Donny’s old room.” she took a deep breath and walked over to her daughter. “I’m so glad you came, Sean..” she took a reluctant Sean into her arms, and hugged her daughter tightly to her, closing her eyes. She had dreamed of seeing and touching the girl again before she died. It’s too bad it had taken the death of Sean’s father for that to happen. “Goodnight, sleep well.” she said as she released her. Sean backed away from her, and abruptly turned and headed upstairs. Helen turned from Jenny, headed back to the table, trying to swallow the sorrow.

“Are you okay, Mrs. Farrow?” Jenny asked quietly, placing a hand on the older woman’s shoulder. Helen sat, and sighed heavily.

“Sean has known so much pain in her life.” Jenny sat next to her, and listened intently. “Most of that pain before the age of fifteen.” she sighed again, and looked into Jenny’s concerned green eyes with her own troubled blue ones. “Russ was a cruel man, Jenny. And Sean was a beautiful, smart young girl. Everything Russ had always felt he wasn’t. He took all his insecurities out on her. He-” Helen was interrupted by the sound of Jenny’s rumbling stomach. Helen smiled. “What have you got in there? A monster?”

“Sorry. That’s what my father used to call it, too.” she smiled.

“Here I am going on and on when you’re so hungry.” Helen began to get up.
“No, no. I’ll bring everything over here. Keep talking. I want to understand Sean.” Jenny said. She really wanted to try and find out what made Sean who she was, the strong, stubborn woman she’d grown to be.

“Oh, well good luck with that one, honey. That girl is as thick as her father was in some ways.”

Jenny grabbed the package of lunch meat, cheese, and jar of Mayo from the counter, as well as a knife from the strainer full of clean dishes, and a plate. She brought it all back to the table, and sat again.

“Continue, Mrs. Farrow.” she said.

“Oh, call me Helen. I’ve never been one for formalities. Anyway, Sean has stayed out of our lives for so many years. I know about Sean’s lifestyle, and you should know it’s okay.” Helen smiled, and placed her hand over Jenny’s. Jenny realized that Helen thought she and Sean were lovers.

“Well, actually, we, thank you.” Jenny couldn’t bring herself to tell Helen how it really was between them. There was no ‘them’.

“I just wish Sean would believe that. Perhaps you can tell her for me. I know Russ didn’t know. He was, well, he was raised in a world of his own making. A world with spics, niggers, queers. He never would let go of those petty prejudices. I never understood it. I was raised in such a different place than he was.”

“Sean told me he had it rough.”

“Oh, yes he did.” Helen took a drink from her cup, and scrunched her nose. “Never was one for cold coffee. Sean likes it, though. Even as a small child.” she smiled and stood. “Care for a refill?”

“Yeah. Actually, on second thought I should cut the coffee.” Jenny said, thinking of her pregnancy. The doctor at the clinic had given her a brochure on do’s and don’ts of pregnancy. Caffeine had been on the list of no-no’s. “Do you happen to have any juice, or water is fine.”

“Apple, okay?” Jenny nodded. Helen poured her some more coffee, and got Jenny her juice as she continued to talk. “So have you known my daughter very long?”

“No. Not really.”

“So where does your brother live.” Helen took her seat again, and sipped her coffee. Jenny took a long drink of her juice to wash down the bite she’d just eaten of her sandwich.

“Just outside of Chicago in a small little town called Calderville.”

“How nice. Visiting is always nice because you can see your family, spend time with them, and always leave.” Helen smiled. Jenny smiled in turn, but said nothing. She was not ready to talk about her problem with Sean’s mother. She decided to change the subject.

“So how long was Sean’s father sick?”

“Oh, gosh. Let me think of when it started.” Helen sat back in her seat, legs crossed at the knee, hands folded in her lap. “I’d say it all started about three or so years ago. He lasted a long time, though he was in a lot of pain. But he’s gone now, and God willing has managed to find some sort of peace.”

“How long were you married?” Jenny asked as she finished her sandwich, and began to make another one. Helen smiled.

“You’ve got one healthy appetite for such a little thing. We were married for thirty-two years. See, when I first met Russ I was a stupid kid. Only fourteen. I got pregnant when I was just barely sixteen. Sixteen by a month.” she smiled bitterly. “In those days if you got pregnant, you got married. Even so my parents wouldn’t let me marry Russ. They saw what I refused to. But two years later, when Sean was nearly two, I turned eighteen, and then my parents couldn’t say or do anything about it. I went on to make the biggest mistake of my life; I married him.”

“Can I ask you a question, Helen?” Jenny asked, staring down at her hands that held her glass of apple juice, turning it around and around.

“Of course.”

“Why did you stay?” Jenny finally met Helen’s frank gaze. Helen sighed at the question.

“You know, honey, that is a question that I have been asking myself for I can’t tell you how many years. I think what it boils down to is I didn’t know what else to do, where else to go. I knew my parents didn’t support what I had done. Sure, they were here for the kids, but my relationship with them was not good after I married Russ. Back then women didn’t have as many options as women today do.”

“I left my husband.” Jenny said quietly, suddenly needing to confide in this woman. All her life Jenny had been searching for that one woman who could be her mother figure, the mother hers was not; she realized that now. She felt like she could trust Helen. She figured that must be where Sean got her strength from, that rock solid aura. She wondered why this woman had not used that strength for her own good, and that of her children long ago.

At Jenny’s words, Helen just stared at her, waiting for her to continue. She sipped her coffee.

“My story isn’t much different than yours, except I was seventeen when I got pregnant. Ben is eight years older, so I figured he was more sophisticated, more mature than most of the guys m age. Was I wrong.” she said bitterly.

“Is that why you left?” Helen asked, gently stroking the side of Jenny’s face where the faded, but still visible, bruises lined her cheek. Jenny smiled and leaned into the motherly caress. She nodded her head, unable to find her voice for a moment. “One day a week ago I decided I’d had enough.”

“Well then I’m confused. You and Sean…”

Jenny smiled, and placed her hand over Helen’s, bringing their joined hands to the table. “We’re not a couple, Helen. I know about Sean’s preference, and in fact my best friend, Johanna is a frequent customer of Sean’s book store.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, Jenny. I shouldn’t have assumed-”

“No, it’s okay. I care about Sean very much. She was there when I needed someone who was so kind, and generous, the most. I am forever indebted to your daughter.” Helen smiled. She could see the love that shone unchecked in Jenny’s green eyes. Oh, if only this girl were the right one for her daughter. They would be so good for each other.

“So have you and Ben been together all this time? Married?”

“Ten years.”

“Oh, honey! You don’t look old enough to have been married that long. ” Helen laughed.

“Twenty nine next summer.” she smiled.

“Honey, I would ask for an I.D. in a liquor store!” Helen said, her voice incredulous.

“You’re not the only one. ” Jenny laughed as she stood. “It’s getting late, Helen, and I am so tired. Where is your bathroom before I explode?”

Jenny stood in the bathroom, changing into her sweats and t-shirt. She was amazed at how often she had to use the restroom now. By god, she felt like she were five again. She remembered when a friend of hers from the grocery had been pregnant. Lois had talked about constantly having to pee, and it only got worse, especially when the baby starts to get big, and pushes even more on the internal organs, namingly the bladder. She took off her sweater, and stared at her abdomen which at that point was still relatively unchanged. She ran her hands over the smooth skin, then up to her breasts which were noticeably larger, and very sore. A small smile crept across her face, and she pulled her t-shirt over her head, and down over her middle.

* * * * *

Sean made her way up the stairs, and into her old bedroom. As she flicked on the overhead light, she was surprised to see that her room had not been changed since the day she had left it. She had only taken her clothes with her to her grandparent’s house, choosing to leave most of her other things where they were. In her childish mind that had been the way to start over. Never in a million years would she have admitted that she had missed Blinkey, the black and white bear that she had been given when she was born. Within a month one of the bear’s plastic eyes had fallen off, so he had been called Blinkey.

He sat on the bed against the pillows, just as he had done when Sean had been a kid. She walked over to the toy, and picked it up, examining him, turning him over, then holding his soft body against her chest. She smiled as she looked around some more. The two sets of shelves that were mounted on either side of the sliding, metal closet doors, still held her collection of Golden Books, and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

She marveled at the blue and purple color scheme, still favorite colors. Sean set Blinkey on the night stand next to the bed, leaning him against the white, purple and blue lamp with the unicorn on the lampshade, and changed for bed. Her mind was so full of confusion, conflicting emotions. This is what she had always wanted; to be in this house without her father. But now it felt strange, wrong. Not that she missed Russell. Far from it. But the picture was not complete somehow. Of course, this was the first time she had been in the house since Donny had died.

Sean climbed into bed, and shut out the light, stared up at the ceiling, hands behind her head. What a week. She wished Jenny were with her. With that last thought, she closed her eyes.

* * * * *

The sun was just beginning to rise, and so was the temperature. The wind from the previous night was gone, and the day was looking to be bright, and mild. Sean was glad. She did not want to stand in the middle of a cemetery freezing her ass off. She stretched as she made her way out into the hall, hearing her mother already at work in the kitchen. Suddenly she felt like she were ten again, and it was Sunday. Every Sunday her mother would put together a huge breakfast that usually only she and Donny would eat. Russell was typically still in bed, passed out, or severely hung over, spending the good part of the day barking orders out at Helen.

“Morning, honey.” Helen said brightly as Sean padded into the kitchen in just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. She mumbled something unintelligible back. She usually didn’t mind mornings, but all that driving over the last week had wiped her out. She needed to stay in one place for a while. Maybe when she dropped Jenny off at her brothers she’d get a hotel for a couple of days in Chicago and rest up for the drive home. Alone. That thought tugged at her chest, making it feel like she couldn’t breath.

“Is Jenny up yet?” she asked, plopping down into a chair at the table, rubbing her burning eyes.

“No. We were up pretty late talking, though.”

“Oh, don’t kid yourself.” Sean grinned. “That woman is hard to wake up on a good day.” Helen smiled as she flipped the sausage patties over with a spatula, and began to crack eggs into a bowl.

“Well, you should probably go wake her so she can eat before we go.”

“Okay. Is there any coffee made?” Sean asked as she stood and walked over to the cabinet to grab a mug.

“Of course. You should know better than that.” Helen smiled, grabbing the carafe and filling Sean’s cup.

“Thanks.” Sean began to leave the room, but was stopped by Helen handing her a glass of apple juice.

“Take this to Jenny.”

Sean, armed with coffee and apple juice, climbed the steep stairs, and headed toward Donny’s old room, and lightly tapped on the door. She heard faint mumbling, and grinned, suddenly feeling mischievous. She tucked the glass of juice in the crook of her coffee arm, and soundlessly opened the door, setting the two cups on the dresser that was directly to the left of the door. Jenny was still sound asleep, laying on her stomach, arms above her head, under the pillow. Sean tiptoed to the bed, then in one leap, jumped up onto it, and began to jump up and down.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up!”

“What the hell!?” Jenny jumped up, spun around, her eyes wide. Sean plopped down on the bed next to her, feeling out of breath.

“God, I’m getting too old for this shit.” she laughed.

“I can’t believe you did that! You scared the shit out of me, Sean.” Jenny laughed.

“Oops, sorry.” Sean leapt up again, and began to jump, Jenny being bounced all over the bed, giggling like a child until finally, exhausted, Sean fell to the bed.

“That can’t be good for the baby.” Jenny laughed, not really worried, but immediately Sean sobered.

“Oh god, Jenny!” she sat up, grabbed Jenny’s hand. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, hey. I was kidding. Now what did you bring me?” she asked, nodding toward the dresser.

“Ah, yes. Apple juice.” Sean walked over, grabbed their drinks, and sat back down as she handed Jenny the chilled glass.

“Thank you. I was dying of thirst. That was thoughtful, Sean.” she smiled.

“Well, actually I have a confession. This is from Helen.”

“Well, that was very thoughtful of your mother.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sean said with the wave of her hand, and a twinkle in her eye. Sean sipped her coffee and laid on her side, supporting herself on her elbow. “She said you guys stayed up pretty late talking.”

“Does that bother you?” Jenny asked, mirroring Sean’s position.

“No.”

“I like your mom, Sean. She’s a good woman. She’s had it tough, too.” Jenny sipped her juice, keeping an eye on Sean the whole time, trying to read her. “When did you start calling her by her name?” Sean shrugged, playing with the cup that she had balanced on the comforter.

“I guess the day I moved out. She stopped being my mother.”

“Do you still love her?” Jenny asked gently. Sean stared out the window, her incredible blue eyes seeming to suck in the morning light, and make her eyes glow.

“Yes. But somewhere along the way those feelings of love turned into feelings of pain and betrayal.” she answered honestly, finally looking at Jenny again. Jenny reached out, and grabbed her hand, squeezing slightly, encouraging her to continue. But Sean said no more about it. “Come on. Helen’s making breakfast.” Sean stood from the bed, and walked toward the door, and disappeared into the hallway.

* * * * *
The church was a beautiful old cathedral with huge spires topped by gold crosses reaching for the heavens, and stained glass at every window depicting scenes of Christ and all his apostles. Sean walked in with her mother on her left, Jenny on her right. The sanctuary was long with row upon row of highly polished pews, though maybe only a third were filled. Sean recognized some of the people as co-workers of her fathers, or friends of her mother. But there was no family from either side. As kids, Sean remembered she and Donny were told that their grandma and grandpa Waters was the only family they had; everyone else having been forsaken years before, or having forsaken Helen because of Russell.

Sean walked to the front pew, and ushered her mother in, her hand resting on Helen’s lower back. Helen looked good in a long black skirt with a white silk blouse and black dress jacket over it. Sean glanced over at Jenny who wore a pair of black slacks borrowed from Helen’s closet. They were a bit large on her, but a belt helped. She also wore one of her own emerald sweaters. Sean thought she looked beautiful. She sat next to her mother, and glanced over at Jenny to see her sitting next to her. She leaned over and whispered to Sean as she began to stand.

“Sean, I’m going to go sit in the back. This section is reserved for family.” Sean grabbed her hand.

“No!” she said, a bit too forceful. Jenny’s emerald eyes widened a bit. She smiled. “Please, stay here.” Jenny gazed into troubled blue eyes, and with a smile, sat next to Sean.

Sean looked back to the front of the church, and studied her father’s coffin. It was dark mahogany, with brass handles on either side. She stared at it, filled with mixed feelings and emotions. Part of her wished that it was an open casket. This way it was not real. She did not believe that it was actually her father in there; the one man who she had so much hate for for her entire life. She watched as the priest walked up to the front, and began to speak. As his voice began the mass, Sean realized just how empty she felt. She realized that she no longer felt the anger in that moment, or the hate, or the confusion. She wondered at this. She wondered what her mother was feeling at that moment, and glanced over at her. Her eyes were dry, but dull. And for just a moment, Sean thought she saw relief.

The sky was gray, clouds moving in as the short line of cars made their way through town to the cemetery. Helen could not afford a limousine for the family, so Sean drove them in her Blazer, following the hearse. The long black and silver car stopped, so Sean braked just behind him.

“Well.” Helen smiled over at Sean. Jenny had insisted that Helen take the front seat after five minutes worth of Helen’s protesting. “This is it.” she said quietly. Sean glanced over at her mother, and could only nod. She turned off the ignition, and opened her door, pulling the driver seat forward so Jenny could get out. Jenny stepped out of the car, and placed her hand over Sean’s that rested on the top of the seat.

“Are you okay?” she whispered. Sean smiled and nodded. Sean led the way to the green tent-type structure that had been set up over Russell Farrow’s grave, two rows of chairs for the mourners to sit. Sean led Helen to a chair in front, then sat next to her, Jenny next to her.

Sean watched as six men carried the casket over, setting it gently down on the bars that would hold it above the hole. She drew her brows, not recognizing any of the men.

“Who are they?” she asked Helen, nodding at them with her head.

“They work for the funeral home.” Helen whispered. Sean stared at her mother for a moment, surprised. She shook her head sadly, and turned back to the casket as once again the priest made his way to finish sending Russell to wherever the good Lord saw fit for him to be.

Sean’s gazed drifted until it settled onto a small gray headstone. It was off to the side a bit, set a small distance away from Russell’s. It was Donny’s. Sean had not been here since the day of his funeral, that landed just three days short of what would have been his twelfth birthday.

Sean arrived with her grandparents supporting her on either side. Her grandmother was devastated by her only grandson’s death, yet she would not allow Sean to keep her own emotions bottled in to protect and support her. She had her husband to keep her standing. Sean had no one, and as usual, would not ask a soul for help.

Sean could see her parents standing in the lobby of the small chapel, friends of her mother’s standing near, talking to her, occasionally hugging her. Helen looked so dazed, her blue eyes glazed over. Sean’s grandmother said that Helen had not yet dealt with the death of her son, that she was still in shock. Russell stood off to the side, leaning against the wall. He wore a dark brown suit, the jacket unbuttoned, the brown and black striped tie crooked. Sean thought he looked like hell, half drunk. Bastard couldn’t even stay sober for his own son’s funeral. Sean suddenly felt sick as she realized that Russell was meeting her gaze. His mean, dark eyes locked onto hers, both daring the other. Sean had not seen her father in nearly three years. But not in all that time had her feelings toward him changed, and it seemed in that moment that he felt the same.

“Honey, you should go see your mom.” Sean’s grandmother had said, placing a hand on her arm. Sean looked down at the older woman who she loved so dearly, and could see the pain reflected in her clear blue eyes, identical to Sean’s and Helen’s. Sean knew that her grandmother wished deep down that she could forgive her mother, but never pushed it.

Sean took a deep breath, and approached Helen, who was in the tight embrace of their neighbor, Karen Reynolds. Helen stepped back from the older woman who used to baby sit Sean and Donny for years.

“Thank you, Karen.” Helen said, her voice weak, shaky.

“You just remember what I said, honey. Anything you need at all, okay?” Karen held Helen at arms length, and looked deeply into Helen’s eyes. Karen looked up, and the kindest smile spread across her lips. “Sean, honey.” she said, her smooth southern draw as soothing as ever. Helen turned, and nearly collapsed into her daughter. Sean caught the shaking form that was Helen, and reluctantly pulled her close. Helen’s heaving sobs wracked both their bodies. Sean tightened her embrace, and laid her cheek on top of her mother’s head. She was almost frightened, never seeing her mother like that before.

“Shhh. It’s okay. It’s okay.” she said, not sure what else to do.

“I miss him so much.” Helen cried, digging her fingers almost painfully into Sean’s back.

“I know. I know.” Sean opened her eyes when she felt someone watching her. Over her mother’s head she could see Russell watching, an unreadable expression in his eyes. A man walked up to him, and Russell shook his hand and said something with a nod, but turned his gaze back to her as the man walked away. This should be your job, you son of a bitch.

“I should have…” Helen choked on a sob. “I should have been there. If only…”

“It’s okay.” Sean said, never taking her eyes off her father. Something was not right. She could feel it in her gut. She had not been given a straight answer about just how Donny had died. Her grandmother had mentioned something about falling down some stairs when he had been trying to roller-skate in the house. She had her strong doubts about that one. When she had been a child, she and Donny had been reamed for doing just that. Donny was not a stupid kid; he would not try that again….

“Sean? Sean, are you okay?”

Sean’s snapped her head around to see Jenny staring at her, her green eyes filled with concern. She nodded numbly, and looked around. Her father’s casket was nearly almost completely underground now. The priest was throwing some flowers from the bouquet that had been on top of his casket down into the hole, on the casket lid, and saying is final words. It was nearly over. I turned my gaze to my mother. She was crying silently, her fingers wrapped around a white lace handkerchief. The priest said some words in Latin, then turned to the small collection of people who watched with more curiosity then loss. Sean almost felt as if she and Helen were part of the spectacle. What would they do next? Get into a fight right there in the cemetery? Maybe the daughter, Sean would jump onto the coffin and open the lid, and pummel Farrow senseless. She nearly chuckled to herself at the thought.

It was now over. Russell’s casket was where it belonged, and would remain for eternity, Amen.

Sean stood, and walked out from under the tent, and walked over to Donny’s grave. She was surprised to see a single red rose placed on the winter-yellowed grass at the base of the stone. She could hear the group dissipating, the engines in cars starting, shattering the still of the cold day that only a cemetery can truly capture.

Jenny watched, feeling helpless as Sean made her way to the small stone. She was not sure exactly who it belonged to, though she had a strong suspicion it was Sean’s little brother, Donny. She looked around, and saw Helen talking to a man, and walked over to them. They turned to her as she approached.

“Hi. I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you think you could possibly give Helen a lift home?” Jenny asked with a smile, not even sure who the man was.

“Of course.” he smiled at her, and she smiled in relief. Helen looked over at her daughter, and sighed deeply.

“Is she alright?” she asked in a small voice.

“I think so. I don’t know.” Jenny said, watching as Sean knelt down on one knee, and wiped some snow off the face of Donny’s stone. She walked away from Helen and the man she was talking to, and headed toward Sean, stopping a few yards behind her.

“You should go home with them, Jenny.” Sean said quietly, still kneeling on the grass.

“I think I should stay with you.” Jenny said, taking a step forward.

“I’m fine.” Sean stood and wrapped her arms around herself.

“I’m not leaving.” Jenny took another step, then another until she was standing next to her. Sean smiled to herself. That woman was so stubborn. Okay, so be it. They stood in silence as the cemetery became quiet once more, any sound of the cars far away. Jenny sighed, her breath carrying slightly on the cold air of the late afternoon. The day was beginning to turn cold like the night before.

“Did you know I had a brother?” Sean asked quietly, never turning her gaze from the small stone.

“Yes. Helen mentioned that last night.” Jenny matched her hushed tone.

“Did she tell you he died?” Sean finally glanced at her. Jenny shook her head.

“No, but I sort of figured that out.” Sean nodded, and looked back to her brother’s grave. “What happened, Sean?” Sean took a deep breath, and buried her hands in her coat pockets.

“Nobody really knows for sure. The story was that Donny was trying to roller-skate in the house, and fell down the stairs.” she chuckled bitterly.

“But…” Jenny said to Sean’s unspoken doubt.

“But I don’t buy it.” Sean looked at her, her brows drawn. “I should have been there.” she whispered, her eyes beginning to fill. “If I had never left, if only I had…. if only,” Jenny could see that Sean was about to finally break. She turned to her, and pulled her into her arms. Sean wrapped desperate arms around Jenny’s waist, and tucked her face into Jenny’s neck, and let go. All the pain and anguish she had been holding in for over twenty years finally washed through her body, and escaped through wracking sobs.

“It’s okay, Sean. Let go, baby. Let go.” Jenny whispered, stroking Sean’s long hair, feeling the wetness spread on her neck, and soak down into the material of her jacket collar. She closed her eyes, and pulled Sean even closer, her own sorrow burning behind her closed lids.

Sean was trying to fight a losing battle with her body, and her emotions. She could not stop the tears that flowed so freely from her for the first time in her life. She felt as if the weight of being strong was just too much. A pillar can only handle so much before it, too breaks. She clung to Jenny feeling that this small woman was the only person in the world who would see her this way, and not think less of her for it. True, it was a foolish way to see it, but that is how she was able to get through this, allow Jenny to hold her, comfort her, even though Jenny was going through her own private hell.

Sean cried for all that her brother could have been, all he could have seen, and the difference he could have made in her life. All she felt like she should have done for him, saved him, taken him with her. It was too late for all that now. Donny was long dead, and had hopefully found the peace long ago that Sean had been searching her whole life for. The peace that Jenny offered; the peace Jenny showed Sean was possible.

* * * * *
The house was quiet when they finally arrived. Jenny had taken Sean to get something to eat. Something to try and get her mind off of the moment. They had talked about frivolous things, and Jenny had told Sean about her brother Paul, and his wife Lana, and their two daughters, Rya, and Kayla. She had told her humorous stories of holidays as a child, and how she and Paul would fight as children. Sean chuckled, and joined in the conversation, but Jenny could still see the unshed pain behind those baby blues.

“Where’s your mother?” Jenny asked as she removed her jacket, the excess snow that had begun to fall, falling to the kitchen floor.

“I don’t know. Maybe in bed.” Sean said simply, her back to Jenny as she also removed her heavy jacket, tossing it on the table. Jenny studied the slumped shoulders for a moment, then walked up to her, placing her hand on Sean’s lower back.

“Maybe we should, too. It’s been a long day.” she said quietly, staring up at Sean’s profile. Sean nodded.

“Yeah.” Sean turned and faced Jenny, looking down into her clear green eyes that held so much; understanding, pain, sympathy, and something else entirely. Sean raised her hand, and gently brushed it through Jenny’s hair, pushing if off her shoulder, tucking it behind an ear. Jenny looked into Sean’s eyes, never breaking contact. Sean smiled, and Jenny smiled back. “Thank you for today.” she whispered.

“You’re welcome.” Jenny whispered back. She raised her hands, and ran them down Sean’s arms until she reached her hands that hung down by her sides. Jenny took Sean’s hands in her own, and squeezed lightly. Sean squeezed back.

“You have got to possess one of the most beautiful souls I have ever seen, Jenny Aberman.” Sean said, her thumbs gently caressing the backs of Jenny’s hands that were still held in her own. Jenny smiled, transfixed by Sean’s words, her voice, and her eyes that she could not have looked away from if she had tried. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” Sean brought one of their joined hands to her own chest, and placed them over her heart. “Here.” she placed Jenny’s palm flat against her, her hand covering it. “You are so filled with love, with life.” she released Jenny’s hand, and brought it up to cup the side of Jenny’s face. “And you’re beautiful here.” she fingered the fading bruises with gentle fingers. She shook her head in wonder. “Ben has no idea what he had, how lucky he was.” Jenny felt her eyes beginning to fill with unshed tears of awe. No one had ever said these things to her, made her feel so utterly beautiful. “I’m so sorry he did this to you.” Jenny took a step closer, placing her free hand on Sean’s shoulder.

“Make me forget, Sean. Please.” she whispered, her eyes pleading for the release that she knew only Sean could give her. “Please.” she said again when she saw the hesitance in Sean’s eyes. She could not believe the want, the need, and the desire that filled her. She had never felt this way in her life. It felt as if her body were suddenly filled with a fire that no amount of water could put out. A fire for Sean that had been building deep within her in a place that she had not yet realized she had. She brought her hand up to Sean’s own cheek, then around to the back of her head, brought her closer. “Please.”

Sean shivered as that simple word was whispered against her lips. She closed her eyes, and leaned down that tiniest bit of distance, and sealed the kiss. Jenny’s mouth was so soft, so ready. She took it slow, deciding that Jenny would lead where this would go.

Jenny buried her hands in Sean’s hair, pressing their mouths together, needing to feel all of Sean. Sean moved her hands around Jenny’s slender body, and pulled her close, wrapping her arms protectively around her, pulling her body into her own. Slowly, almost shyly, Jenny’s mouth opened, and a tentative tongue sought Sean’s lips. Sean opened her lips eagerly, accepting her inside. A small sigh of contentment escaped from Jenny. She felt so at home, like she had done this her whole life. Or better yet, had been waiting to do this her whole life.

Sean reveled in the feel and taste of Jenny as the kiss deepened, their lips and tongues slowly exploring each other, caressing, saying so much without a word being spoken between them.. Suddenly Jenny pulled back, her chest heaving as she took a deep breath. Sean stared down at her, concern in her eyes. Jenny ran her thumb over the worry line between Sean’s eyes, and smiled. Sean smiled in turn. Jenny did not say a word, but took Sean’s hand in hers, and began to head toward the stairs.

“Jenny.” Sean said quietly. Jenny turned to her. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been more sure.” Jenny said, and again turned toward the stairs, Sean following.

They entered the room where Sean had grown into a young teenager. A room where she had found her sanctuary, where she had prayed for salvation, and now here was her savior, finally come to show her what love was really about. To show her that she counted, and to show her that it was okay to just be.

Jenny closed the door behind Sean, and softly turned the lock with a click. She turned back to Sean who stood in the middle of the room, looking like a lost child. Jenny smiled softly, and walked over to her, stopping just in front of her. Green stared into blue, neither sure how to proceed, but yet neither willing to stop. Jenny smiled again, and took one of Sean’s hands, and brought it up to her lips, placing a gentle kiss in the palm, then nuzzling her cheek in the softness when she felt a hand in her hair, grazing the soft skin of her neck, followed by soft lips. She tilted her head a bit, and closed her eyes at the incredible feeling. She placed Sean’s hand on her hip, and placed her own hands in Sean’s hair, pulling her further into her neck. She breathed out a low moan as she felt the wetness of Sean’s tongue trail across her skin, nipping slightly, moving up to her earlobe.

“I want you, Jenny.” Sean breathed into her ear. Jenny shivered, and nodded in response, unable to speak. Her hands began to slide down Sean’s shoulders, and over down her back until they settled on her hips, tugging at her belt loops to bring her body closer. “Can I take this off?” Sean asked, tugging slightly at the sleeve of Jenny’s sweater. Again Jenny nodded, and took a step back from Sean as she pulled the garment over her head, shaking her head to free her hair, and throwing it on the floor. Sean studied her skin, made bronze by the golden light of the bedside lamp, her eyes burning as she took in the smooth skin of Jenny’s stomach, just ever so slightly starting to show the evidence of her pregnancy. Her breasts full under the fabric of the white satin and lace bra she wore, the narrow straps stretching over delicate, yet strong shoulders. Her gaze fell to the bruise that lined Jenny’s left side just under her left breast, and disappearing into the waistline of her pants. “Oh, Jenny.” she breathed sadly, running her fingers over the skin that was now a yellowish, green color.

“It’s okay, Sean.” Jenny said, moving closer to her. “Never again. You’ll protect me.” Jenny’s green eyes looked deeply into Sean’s, conveying her infinite trust.

“With my last breath.” Sean bent down, and placed the softest kiss on Jenny’s lips, sealing her promise. Jenny deepened the kiss, pulling Sean to her. The silk of Sean’s shirt felt wonderful against her heated skin. Not breaking the kiss, Jenny ran her hands down Sean’s sides, her fingers taking in the texture of the fabric, then found the small, disc-like buttons, and somehow she managed to keep her fingers steady as she made her way down the front of the blouse, undoing one button after another. Sean moved her lips to Jenny’s neck once again as her hands slid around to the clasp on Jenny’s bra at her back. She heard the slight snap when the eyelet was freed from the hook, and the smooth material slid down Jenny’s arms. Jenny took her hands away from Sean for just long enough for Sean to slide the bra from her arms, then they were right back, pulling the ends of the blouse open, down over smooth shoulders. The blouse hung at Sean’s waist where it was tucked into her slacks.

“So beautiful.” Jenny breathed as she took in the sight of Sean’s torso with her toned abdomen and strong shoulders from hours of unloading boxes of books, and the way her bra pushed her breasts up just slightly.

Sean ran her hand down Jenny’s shoulder, and gently cupped a breast. Jenny moaned into her mouth as she felt the warmth of Sean’s hand envelope her, teasing the sensitive flesh of a hardened nipple. Jenny arched her neck, her eyes closed as she felt hot lips wrap themselves around the puckered flesh, then the tip of a hot tongue flick, and caress. He hands were buried in Sean’s hair as all thought ceased. She was stunned by the incredible feelings that were coursing through her body, headed straight south. Sean’s touch was like pure fire.

She opened her eyes as she felt the wet heat leaving her breast, and looked into Sean’s blue eyes that were made electric. Without a word Sean gently tugged her toward the bed, sitting down on the edge, and pulling Jenny to stand between her open legs. She reached for the belt and buttons on Jenny’s slacks, and quickly had them undone, and slid the pants down smooth, toned legs. Other smaller bruises were scattered down Jenny’s thighs. Sean caressed them, and placed a soft kiss on Jenny’s sternum, just beneath her breasts. Jenny stepped out of her shoes and pants, and kicked them to the side. She stood before Sean’s adoring gaze wearing only her white satin and lace underwear that matched her bra. Sean could feel and smell the heat that radiated from Jenny’s body, could smell her need, and it drove her crazy.

Jenny stepped back to the circle of Sean’s legs, and bent down to kiss her as her hands began to explore, and unhook Sean’s own bra. Sean struggled out of the garment, and tossed it to the floor by the foot of the bed. Jenny had never gazed upon a half naked woman before, and she felt absolutely exhilarated by the sight. She climbed onto Sean’s lap, her knees on the bed on either side of Sean’s thighs. Their eyes met for just a moment before Sean pulled her close for a searing kiss that left them both breathless. Jenny reached down and undid Sean’s pants, and stood to remove them along with Sean’s boots and socks. Sean lifted her hips as Jenny returned for her underwear, then pulled her own off, and then climbed back on the bad where Sean pulled her on top of her as she laid back. They both moaned as their skin made full contact. Sean ran her hands up and down Jenny’s back, settling on her butt to pull her further into her as their lips met. Sean sighed deeply as she opened her legs slightly, one of Jenny’s thighs moving in to rest against her. She lifted her own leg that was between Jenny’s, and Jenny immediately began to move against it, their bodies sliding together in a very slow, lazy rhythm. Sean could feel the pressure beginning to build, so she gently pushed Jenny over onto the bed, and rested her body on top of hers. She held herself up on her elbows and looked down into Jenny’s green eyes that were nearly the color of a Forrest with her desire. Jenny was breathing hard, her hands dancing through Sean’s long, dark hair that was plastered to her head around her face.

“Let me show you, Jenny.” Sean breathed, gently pushing Jenny’s own damp hair from her eyes. She leaned down and kissed her softly, but within seconds the innocent contact had taken on mammoth proportions. One of her hands began to glide down Jenny’s body, gently stroking the soft skin of a breast before moving on to tease the skin of Jenny’s slightly puffy belly, and then down into damp curls, turned dark gold by her desire. Her fingers slipped between slick lips, and began to lightly stroke the hidden flesh. Jenny sucked in her breath, and took Sean in a tight embrace as her legs spread wider, her hips thrusting up to meet Sean’s wondering hand. Sean found Jenny’s entrance, and played around the edge, teasing her into an even more potent state of need.

“Sean, please.” Jenny breathed, finding Sean’s lips. Sean quickly slid two fingers into the throbbing heat, only to pull out, and return. Jenny thought she would go mad if she didn’t come soon. Her hips thrust upward again, trying to quicken Sean’s thrusts, but Sean stilled them completely. She slowly made her way down Jenny’s body, licking and kissing until she reached the heated scent that made her mouth water. Sean lovingly stroked Jenny’s sex with her tongue, tasting her, breathing her in. Jenny was beginning to squirm, and Sean knew she wouldn’t be able to last long, so she slid her fingers out of her completely, and replaced them with her tongue, lapping up all the warm juices before making her way up Jenny’s crease, sucking both lips between her teeth, until she reached Jenny’s clit. Jenny’s hips were beginning to rotate now, occasionally bucking up to meet Sean’s hot mouth. Sean licked the engorged bundle of nerves once, and then took it into her mouth, sucking on it rhythmically, bringing her fingers back, and stroking her open more before entering her with three fingers, her thrusts matching her sucking. Jenny buried her hands in Sean’s hair, pulling her further into her, her neck and back arched as wave upon wave of pleasure crashed against the rocky shore that was her resolve, which was slipping in the tide, until finally she could not hold back anymore, and her body convulsed around Sean’s mouth and fingers, and a cry ripped from her throat, and filled the room. Sean stayed with her, running her tongue all along her clit, and then laying flat against it as her fingers stilled, Jenny’s inner walls holding them prisoner.

Finally Sean’s fingers were released, and she slowly slid them out, a slight shiver washing through Jenny as the fullness left her. Sean was about ready to explode. She crawled back up Jenny’s body, and straddled Jenny’s thigh, only thrusting twice when she was thrown over the edge, and collapsed on top of Jenny, holding her shaking body to her own, burying her face in Jenny’s hair.

“I love you, Jenny.” she whispered.
Part 5- Conclusion

Jenny opened her eyes and lifted her head from its place on Sean’s shoulder. Her gaze was met by two smiling blue eyes. She smiled in turn. Sean continued to stroke her hair, and Jenny realized that that was what had awoken her, the gentle feel of Sean’s hands, like a mother’s caress.

“How long have I been out?” she asked quietly, noting that the bedside lamp had been turned off, and now the room was filled only with the light from the moon.

“Not long. Hour maybe.”

“I’m sorry I fell asleep on you, Sean.” Jenny said, placing a soft kiss on Sean’s neck. Sean pulled her in closer.

“Well, that is quite the exorcise.” she grinned.

“I guess.” Jenny nuzzled Sean’s neck with her cheek. “That was so incredible, Sean.” she said, running her finger along the soft skin of Sean’s shoulder, and down across her chest. “I had no idea that it could be like that.”

“Did you ever enjoy sex with Ben?” Sean asked, her body so warm and content; she had no idea that she could feel so relaxed. Jenny sighed as she ran her fingers along the underside of one of Sean’s breasts.

“Sometimes. But that was just the thing. With Ben it was always only that,… sex. We never made love. It was always like a race. I always felt like what he got from me, he could have gotten from anyone on the streets.” Jenny lifted her head from Sean’s shoulder, and held her head up in the palm of her hand, looked down into Sean’s beautiful face. “I mean, maybe I am somewhat of a romantic, but when you’re with your wife, shouldn’t it be something special? Have some meaning?” Sean smiled, and reached up to cup Jenny’s cheek.

“Tonight, with you, held more meaning for me than all the times I’ve made love put together.”

Jenny stared into blue depths, and she saw her own heart reflected there. She took Sean’s hand from her face, and kissed the palm, then leaned down to kiss her lips. Sean pulled Jenny down to lie on top of her, and wrapped her arms around the smaller body, craving the contact, needing it like she needed her next breath. With Jenny in her arms she felt like everything that was wrong would be right come morning, that Jenny’s light would shine into the darkest corners of Sean’s mind, and life. If she had Jenny by her side, then she had hope.

* * * * *

The morning came, and Sean found herself wrapped around a warm body, the smooth skin against hers felt like bliss. She cracked open an eye, and saw a head full of long, golden hair bent slightly forward, and felt arms covering over her own that rested over a hip. She smiled when she realized that it was Jenny. The night before came back to her, and she sighed quietly, thinking about Jenny’s soft caresses and even softer sighs as Sean made love to her, exploring all that was Jenny.

She raised her head a bit to glance out the window, and saw that it was already pushing late morning. Damn. She had wanted to get an early start today. They were to start off for Chicago, and Jenny’s brother. Then Sean felt her heart drop. Paul. Would Jenny still want to go? What did last night mean? Was it just as Jenny had said, a way for her to forget Ben, and everything that had happened? She sighed again, and pulled slowly away from Jenny’s body, not wanting to wake her. She stood and stretched her long body, the cool morning air hitting her naked skin. She felt all of her insecurities wash over her like the morning sun. Glancing back down at Jenny, Sean watched her sleep, her breathing steady, unchanged. Sean pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, carrying her boots and socks with her, and headed out of the room.

“Good morning, honey.” Helen said with a smile as Sean entered the kitchen. She looked at her mother with a strange look. The woman seemed almost chipper.

“Morning.” She mumbled, and plopped down into a chair, running her hands through her hair. She could still smell Jenny on her fingers, and her chest suddenly felt heavy. She should never had allowed that to happen. It always happens that way; she tells someone how she feels, and then has to pay for it. When would she learn? Maybe she was jumping to conclusion? Maybe last night had meant something to Jenny, too? Sean shook herself. No matter. Safe money was to assume the worst. She could do that; expect disappointment, then the good is a bonus.

“Earth to Sean?” Sean shook her head to clear it, and focused on her mother, raised her brows in question. “Where did you go?” Helen asked with a smile, handing Sean a cup of coffee.

“Just thinking. Thanks.” she sipped from the mug. “So did you get home okay yesterday?”

“Oh yeah. No problems at all.” Helen turned back to the stove “I’m just glad it’s over.” she opened the lid to the waffle maker, and used a spatchula to move the finished waffle to a plate, then poured more batter into the machine, and closed the lid, standing next to it with one hand on her hip, the other on top of the machine. She turned and looked at her daughter. “What’s wrong, Sean?” she asked. Sean was surprised that even after all this time her mother could still read her fairly well. But this morning she was not in the mood to answer questions, certainly not any questions about Jenny.

“Nothing.” she said, the slightest bit of irritation in her voice. Helen turned back to the waffle maker. “I saw that there were fresh flowers at Donny’s grave.” Helen turned back to her with a sad smile.

“Yes. I was there the other day.”

“Do you go there often?”

“Not as often as I used to.”

“Why not.” Sean could feel the slightest bit of anger stirring in her gut.

“Well, honey, when your father was so sick, I didn’t have as much time as I used to .” Helen removed the next waffle. The sweet aroma of the buttermilk mix swirled through the kitchen.

“Did Russell ever go?” she asked, her voice low, flat.

“No.” Helen said simply. “Don’t look at me that way, Sean. I know what’s going through that head of yours. I am not going to make excuses for your father. Yesterday is the first time your father has been anywhere near Donny’s grave.”

“Why would he? He put him there.” Helen sighed as her daughter voiced that which she could never let herself linger on for her own sanity. “You know I’m right, mother.” Sean stood and walked over to the counter, leaning against the sink with her arms folded across her chest. “Please don’t tell me you bought that bogus story about Donny roller-skating in the house.” Helen didn’t answer. “Helen?”

Jenny awoke with a start, hearing loud voices. She raised her head.

“Sean?” the bed was empty next to her, and had been for some time if the cool sheets were anything to go by. She quickly got out of the bed, and dressed. Opening the door to the hall, she could clearly make out Sean’s voice, loud, demanding, and the quieter, sad voice of Helen. She quickly made her way down the stairs.

“No, I didn’t believe it, either.” Helen said, tears springing to her eyes.

“And yet you stayed!” Sean roared. “What is wrong with you? That is pathetic! I’m ashamed that you’re my mother.” Sean shoved herself away from the counter, and headed toward the front door where her keys laid on an end table. She was startled to see Jenny at the bottom of the stairs. She looked away in disgust, and headed for the door.

“Sean?” Jenny called, running after her. She grabbed Sean’s arm, and swung her around to face her on the front steps. Sean turned eyes on her made of ice. “She’s your mother! How can you say that?” Sean pulled her arm away.

“Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, perhaps you should stay out of it.”

“Sean, don’t treat me like I’m just some passenger you picked up!” Jenny exclaimed, her anger bubbling to the surface.

“That is exactly what you are.” Sean growled, then walked down the steps toward the side of the house, and her Blazer. Jenny stared after her, her mouth hanging open, eyes brimming with tears. She was left utterly speechless, a pain so palpable spearing through her heart. Last night had meant nothing to Sean. Nothing whatsoever. Jenny felt hands rest on her shoulders as the Blazer roared in reverse down the driveway. Sean stopped at the end for a moment, glancing at Jenny. Their eyes locked for just a moment, then she was on the street, and gone.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, honey.” Helen said quietly, squeezing Jenny’s shoulders slightly. Jenny turned incredulous eyes on the older woman. “Just like her father. Speaks her mind before she thinks.” Helen pulled Jenny into her, and hugged her tight. She knew that something had changed between her daughter and this wonderful young woman, but she was not quite sure what. Either way, both were hurting.

Jenny clung to Helen, her tears beginning to seep from her tightly closed lids. She still could not believe what Sean had said, that she meant so little to the older woman. Helen pulled away, and began to steer her toward the house, and into the kitchen where she was led to the table, and forced to sit.

“I’ll get you some of my famous waffles.” Helen smiled.

“I’m not too hungry.” Jenny said quietly, staring at her hands that were laced together on the table top.

“You will be once you taste these.” she placed a plate in front of the young woman, and then a glass of juice. “Syrup? Powdered sugar?’

“Jelly.” Jenny said absently, sipping from her juice. Helen grabbed the jar from the fridge, and sat across from Jenny, her cup of coffee resting between her hands.

“I’m sure you heard most of that conversation?” she asked. Jenny glanced up from her plate, and shook her head.

“No. But I think I know most of the gist of it.” Helen sighed loudly as she watched Jenny scoop out a spoonful of the grape jelly, and smear it over the waffle.

“I had Russ arrested, you know.” Jenny shook her head, knowing that Helen wasn’t looking for feedback, just someone to listen and understand. “That day I had been at work. I got a call from the neighbor next door, Karen Stevens. She said that there was an ambulance in the driveway, and two police cruisers in the street….”

The blue and red lights on the emergency vehicles were bright in the darkening night, and cast strange colorful dancing shadows on the nearby houses and cars. Helen pulled the car to a stop at the curb, and ran into the house, not bothering to even shut her headlights off.

“Ma’am, you can’t be in here.” an officer said at the front door, his hands on her arms to stop her.

“This is my house!” she yelled, looking past the officer she saw Russell standing in the doorway to the kitchen talking to anther officer. Oh, god. “My baby, where’s my baby!” Helen screamed, fighting past the officer at the door, and looking around frantically. Then she saw him. Two paramedics had been kneeling on the carpet next to him, and stood, both shaking their heads, and pulling a white sheet over him. Helen couldn’t breath. “No,” she whispered, walking over to the small form as if in a dream. “No, what have you done to my baby?” she asked the first paramedic she came to.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. We did all we could, but-”

“No, there has got to be something, what happened? What happened?” she knelt down next to her son, and flipped back the sheet. Donny lay on his back, one arm at an unnatural angle, his head leaning to the side. He was pale, dark bruises were scattered around his face, his eyes were closed. He almost looked peaceful. “Oh, Donny.” she whispered, gathering the child’s limp body in her arms, his head falling back, arms hanging down. She buried her face in his hair, the sobs torn from her throat with such force that she was frightened by them. One of the paramedics knelt down beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Ma’am?” he said gently.

“What happened?” she whispered again, still holding her son close.

“He fell down the stairs, ma’am. His neck was broken.” the hand moved in small circles over her back. “He probably didn’t feel a thing, ma’am.” Helen looked up from her son, and met the kind brown eyes of the paramedic. “Let him go.” Helen turned back to her son, and gently laid him back down on the floor, leaned over and kissed his forehead, her insides numb, feeling like she had been gutted. Even her heart felt like it had been removed.

“I love you, Donny.” she whispered against his skin, and stood. Her grief was beginning to turn to rage as she turned to meet the bloodshot eyes of her husband. Russ had been drinking for so long now that to the unobservant eye he seemed tired, but not the least bit drunk. But she knew. “You bastard.” she spat through clenched teeth. “How could you!” she ran to him, and began to beat upon his chest, and shoulders. Two officers rushed over to Helen, and tried to restrain her, but she managed to squirm her way out of their grasp, and flung herself at Russ again. He tried to fight her off, but she got in a few good blows, one landing squarely at the side of his neck. He winced, and slammed into the wall behind him. The officers finally got a hold on Helen, and pulled her away from him, but not before Russ stepped forward, and slapped Helen in the face, once, twice, a third time.

“Don’t ever hit me, woman!” he bellowed, his breath rancid with old whiskey and cigarettes. The officers let go of a stunned Helen, and attacked Russ, slamming him face first into the wall, and holding his arms behind his back.

“Ma’am?” one of them said, looking back at Helen who was just getting her composure back.

“Take the bastard away.” she whispered, the sting of his slaps finally kicking in, breaking through the adrenaline. The officer cuffed Russell Farrow, and hauled him out of the house on charges of domestic abuse.

“What about what that bitch did to me?” Russ yelled as he was led outside.

“You are twice her size, and she was under control. No man should hit his wife.” one of the officers said as they hit the front door.

“My god, so he hit you?” Jenny said, her hands covering her mouth, eyes wide. Helen smiled sadly.

“Yes. They took him away, and I pressed charges. I wanted them to file murder charges for my son, too, but there was nothing that indicated Russ had anything to do with Donny’s death.”

“But you think he did?”

“I do. I don’t think he would have done it sober, but Russ was drunker than a skunk when I got there that night, and I think he started fighting with Donny, and things got out of hand. Nothing could ever be proved.”

“My god, Helen.” Jenny reached across the table and covered the older woman’s hand with her own. “I’m so sorry. Does Sean know any of this?”

“No.” Helen stood and refilled her coffee cup, and sat down again. “Jenny,” she said with a sigh. “She wouldn’t let me get that far. I could have made her listen, I suppose.” she glanced out the kitchen window, as if looking for the answers there. “But I don’t know how much good it would have done. Sean blames herself, as I do. If only we could have been there, if only Donny would have gone to school that day. He had stayed home sick. Too many if onlys. It could drive you crazy if you let it. One thing Sean needs to realized is that, yes, I did stay with Russ after all that. But where she lost a brother, I lost a son, and a daughter.” she smiled warmly at Jenny. “Honey, you will find that Sean walks to the beat of her own drummer; always has. Each of us has a path, but I think Sean has chosen the long road home. The road where she can go it alone, not worry about being hurt because no one else is there with her on that long, lonely path.”

“I want to walk that path with her, Helen.” Jenny said, to her immense surprise. She clamped her mouth shut, and stared down at her half-eaten waffle. Helen chuckled softly.

“I figured as much, honey.” she gently patted Jenny’s hand again, then rose to begin washing breakfast dishes.

“But, I don’t think she wants me to.” Jenny took a deep breath, and thought about it. She should catch a train, go to Paul’s while Sean was gone. It would make it easier on everyone involved. “Helen, do you have a phone book? I need to call the train station.”

* * * * *

Sean drove slowly through the town where she had grown up, noticing how some things never change. Sure, it had grown, but over all, it was the same as the day she had left. She wanted a drink. All her life, Sean had pretty much avoided alcohol, remembering what her father was, and vowing to never be like that. That had instilled a fear in her that had eventually turned into a personal conviction. But today she craved the numbness that alcohol could offer. She was tired of hurting, tired of thinking about the past, and tired of wondering what her future would hold.

Sean glanced at the clock on her dash, it was just after noon. Where was she to go to get a beer? She looked around the street on either side, all the little businesses she passed, and noticed a bar just off to the right, and it looked open. She slowed the Blazer, and pulled into the near empty parking lot.

The place was called Pot of Gold saloon. It was small, the bar that stretched the full length of the place directly to the left, a line of metal bar stools directly in front. Off to the right were small round tables with chairs. Sean turned to the bar, and took a seat toward the middle. She looked at the wall-length mirror and all the bottles that were neatly placed in front.

“Can I get for you?” a man who had suddenly appeared before her asked, a white towel over one shoulder, the end shoved into a mug that he was drying.

“A shot of 10 High.”

“You got it.” the bartender walked down a bit further, and grabbed a bottle from the shelf, filled a shot, and brought it back to Sean. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.” Sean placed a five dollar bill on the bar, and wrapped two fingers around the shot, looking into the gold liquid. The man looked at her for a moment, then went back to his glasses. The woman looked like she needed a good ear, but he never pried. If she felt the need to talk, he’d listen.

Sean ran her hand through her hair, and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. She looked tired, and come to think of it, was. She and Jenny hadn’t had much sleep last night, and she wasn’t sure if she had quite bounced back from the stress of the last week. She glanced down into her shot once again, and realized that she was thirsty. But not this kind of thirsty.

“Hey, mister, can I get a water, too?” she asked. The bar keep walked over to her.

“Want that mixed with your whisky there?” he asked, grabbing a glass from under the bar.

Sean smiled, and shook her head. “Nah.” he grinned, and gave her an ice cold glass of water. “Thanks.” she took a gulp, and closed her eyes in pleasure as the cold liquid drained down her throat to cool her overheated blood.

“Feel better?” the bar keep asked. Sean grinned and nodded. “Well, if you need anything else, just holler.” he said, and walked out from behind the bar, and began to clean off some of the tables.

Sean pushed the shot away, and glanced around the bar. In the back corner stood an old Wurlitzer juke box, the red and yellow tubes lit. She grabbed her water, and walked over to the classic, and inserted her coins, browsing through the selection. She saw Melissa Etheridge’s, “It’s For You”, and pushed the button. The beginning of the song started, and Sean leaned against the machine, listening:

Hey you, watching as this life bleeds all over me.

Shadows rise and fall, listen as I call, is this reality?

I will be with you tonight, and tomorrow be a thousand miles away.

I will be with you tonight, I will be with you as long as you say, stay,

Oh, one little piece of my soul, one little piece of my whole, life.

I give to you, take it now….

Sean opened her eyes as realization dawned on her. She had some say in this with Jenny, too. Why was she trying to follow her lead? She should take some control, ask what Jenny wants before she jumped to any conclusions, well, the conclusions that she had already jumped to. Jenny did not deserve that. Hadn’t she been through enough mind games with Ben? And hadn’t Sean offered enough mind games in place of offering her heart? And what about he mother? Everything that had happened was now ancient history, nothing could be done, changed. Did she really want to continue living with the regrets that had weighed her down her entire life. She had so much baggage, and it was getting awfully heavy….

Sean walked back to the bar, downed the rest of her water, and placed the glass next to her untouched shot. She smiled at the bar keep, and walked out into the cool day, clouds gathering once again. Looked like it could storm again. She did not feel like going back to Helen’s yet, so she drove around, looking for what, she did not know.

Up ahead Sean saw a large red brick building loom up from the winter-dulled landscape. A slow smile spread across her face. Matheson Elementary School. She and Donny both had gone there starting in kindergarten. She pulled up to the curb, and turned off the engine, stepping from the Blazer, and walked up to the fence, her fingers grabbing onto the links.. It must have been recess as kids were running around the playground, skipping, laughing, playing. Sean glanced over to the right, and saw the old swings, still there. She smiled.

“Come on, Donny! You can run faster than that!”

“Nah, ah! Wait, Sean, wait!” the seven year old Donny ran after his big sister, his little legs carrying as fast as they possibly could. Sean reached the swing, and threw herself into the black, rubber seat, and grabbed the thick length of chain in her hands, and pushed off with her feet, making a deep rut in the sand under her feet. Finally the little boy reached the swings, and did exactly as his sister did, pushing his little body high into the sky, his giggles filling the late afternoon of summer.

“I’m a bird, Sean! Look at me!”

“Yeah, well I’m Superman!” Sean yelled back, pushing herself ever higher.

“Yeah, and I’m Batman!” Donny squealed with delight…..

Sean could hear her brother’s laugh echo in her head as she saw the kids swinging, two little girls holding hands so they could swing at the same pace. She and Donny had had so much fun together. She had loved being a big sister.

The drive was relatively short, but Sean felt good about it. The Blazer passed under the arched gate, and drove slowly down the path that she would not have known had she not been there just yesterday. She parked at the curb, and grabbed the clear plastic bag from the passenger seat, and walked across the grass, the cold-brittled blades crunching under her boots. The two stones were just as she remembered, side by side; one just slightly larger than the other, and obviously newer. She stood between them, looking from one to the other, contemplating the meaning of both.

“Hey, guys.” she said quietly. Sean opened the bag, and removed two red roses, placing one in the small vase next to Donny’s stone, and sticking the other in the freshly turned earth of Russell’s. She stood again, and glanced down at her father’s grave. “It should have been so different, Russell.” she whispered, regret and hurt marking her voice. “Goodbye. Dad.” she turned to Donny’s grave. “I love you, little man.”

As Sean walked toward her Blazer she felt as if a weight had been lifted, a weight that had consisted of hate, anger, and her own guilt. Now it was too late for any of those feelings; nothing could be changed, so why try through anger? Now the only one who was hurting because of it was her. She did not want to live with it anymore. She realized at that school that all these years she had been concentrating on the pain, the bad. But there was so much good, too. The good had been in her love for her brother, and though she wouldn’t admit it, her mother. True, she had no remaining feelings for Russell, so let him go. Sean raised her hand and looked at the palm where she had been burned by the burner so many years ago. The scar had mostly disappeared now. But if you knew where to look, it was still visible. The slightest lightening of the skin, curving lines dead center. Sean smiled as she thought of that circle. It was like things had come full circle. Here she was now as a grown woman, back where she vowed she’d never go again, burying a man she had vowed to never see again. All this was accomplished. Now it was time to create her own ring in that circle. Start making her own mark. With a smile, she closed her hands, her fingers pressed to the palm, and got into her Blazer, headed home.

* * * * *

The house was quiet as Sean walked through the kitchen door. She looked around the kitchen to see the dishes from that morning stacked neatly in the strainer, all the chairs around the table pushed in. She drew her brow. Where were they?

“Hello?” she called. “Helen, Jenny?” faintly she could hear a television, and followed the noise upstairs to Helen’s bedroom. Her mother laid on the bed, her sock-clad feet crossed at the ankle. “Helen?” Sean said again, her voice quiet. She had a bad feeling. Helen looked up, her eyes sad.

“Hello, honey.” she said quietly. Sean took a deep breath and walked into the room, sitting on the side of the bed next to her mother.

“I’m sorry. I had no right to say what I did.” Sean could not meet her mother’s gaze, so she glanced over at the window, the early evening light shining through, casting a bluish hue to the room.

“Oh, honey. It’s okay. I know you have been so angry-”

“No, that’s no excuse. Well, actually, that was my excuse.” Sean finally met Helen’s eyes. “I am so sorry. For everything.” Helen’s features crumbled as she grabbed Sean by the shoulders, and pulled her to her in a bone crushing hug. Sean clung to her mother, her eyes clenched shut as she fought the tears of relief, of release.

“I love you, baby. Always have, always, will.”

“I love you to.” Sean whispered.

“I’m sorry, too, honey. I’m sorry I wasn’t stronger.” Sean pulled back from her mother, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “You did the best you could. You did what you thought you had to. I’m just sorry it’s taken me so long to realize that.” Sean swallowed, and looked around. “Where’s Jenny? I owe her an apology, too.”

“She’s gone, honey.” Helen said quietly, Sean jumped from the bed.

“What?!”

“She’s decided to head out to Chicago. She left about an hour ago by taxi.”

“Going where? To Chicago in a taxi?”

“No, to the train station. She’s catching the six-thirty.” Sean glanced at the clock on the bed side. Her train would be there in twenty minutes! It would take nearly twice that to get there.

“Why didn’t you stop her?” Sean exclaimed as she threw her jacket on, and grabbed her keys from her front pocket.

“She’s a grown woman, Sean. She can make her own decisions.”

Sean ran out of the house, and with a screech of tires, was on her way. The traffic was bad, people getting off work. Sean’s heart pounded in her chest. She couldn’t lose her now. Not now….

She nearly ran into the car in front as she slammed the Blazer into a space, and ran into the train station. People were sitting around, various pieces of luggage at their feet, and in their laps as they waited for their train. Sean looked around the huge station in desperation, praying that she would see a familiar head of blond hair. She ran from one end to the other, glanced at the huge wall clock: 6:42. Damnit! Maybe the train is late. Sean found the train platform, and stopped as she was greeted by empty tracks.

“No.” she breathed. She ran her hands through her hair, and fought the lump in her throat. She’d drive to Chicago, she’d leave tonight. God, Jenny must hate her. She would probably not even want to see her, not want anything to do with her. She-

“You look lost.”

Sean spun around at the sound of the voice behind her. Her vision became blurry as she saw the small woman sitting there, a suitcase at her feet, hands in her lap.

“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go, Sean.” Sean ran to the bench, and Jenny threw herself into her arms.

“I’m so sorry, Jenny, so sorry. I didn’t mean it.” Sean sobbed, holding Jenny to her with every ounce of strength she possessed. Jenny held on tight, her arms around Sean’s neck almost painfully tight, but Sean didn’t care.

“I love you, Sean.” Jenny sobbed.

“I love you, too. Oh, Jenny. I love you, too.”

Epilogue

Dear Helen,

We got your letter today. Thank you, and yes, we got home okay. Jenny called her brother and told him about her decision to leave her husband, and he was very supportive. Thank you for asking.

Your Daughter,

Sean

Dear Helen,

Yes, I agree, it is odd that Ben just disappeared the way he did. I don’t know, Jenny thinks maybe he was worried about Jenny going to the police. But Jenny’s friend Johanna and I have talked about the possibilities of him coming back at some point. We are both willing to defend her to the end, no matter what it takes. Take care.

Your Daughter

Sean

Helen,

Thank you so much for your offer to let us stay there if Ben or anything should happen. And as for Jenny’s pregnancy, well, we’re getting there. I have got to admit, I am almost as excited as she is! But don’t you dare tell her I said that. I’ll deny everything. (smile) Johanna is having a huge baby shower for us. Only two months to go. And, yes, Jenny has settled in quite nicely here. She loves the house, and she loves working at the store; all those books. Who wouldn’t love it? She has also started writing a children’s book. It’s called The Long Road Home, or something. She won’t tell me why that title. Anyway, better go.

Love,

Sean

Mom,

I am beside myself right now! We have a daughter! She weighed in at a healthy seven pounds, three ounces, and is nineteen inches long. She has the thickest head of blond hair I have ever seen, and her eyes are the same color as Jenny’s. Oh, I hope they stay that color! Jenny is fine, everything went great, and she is just beaming. So am I. I want you to come and meet your granddaughter. Mom, I love you.

Love, Your Daughter,

Sean

The End

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