The Starry Sky by Bibbit

The Starry Sky
by Bibbit

Chapter 1

Emerging from the inky blackness of unconsciousness, all Julie Jordan could comprehend was the throbbing in her head and the slow trickle of tears down her cheeks. The next sensation she felt was gravel cutting into her palms, which was soon superseded by a quick rising rage. Without a doubt, she knew this was the last straw.

Once her cool blue eyes managed to focus on her tormentor, she struggled to her feet to face him. The normally strong, stringy muscles on her six foot frame, were now weak from the short nap they’d been treated to. The fog in her head made the action far more difficult than it should have been. The sensation fanned the rage building inside the woman until she could maintain her calm no more.

“You son of a bitch,” she spat as she advanced on her adversary, long raven hair flowing behind her. “If you ever touch me again I’ll kill you.” The angry woman stopped within a foot of the confident, scowling man, fists clenching and unclenching, held to her sides by sheer force of will.

To Julie’s astonishment, his lips merely turned up into an all too familiar grin. She knew it well. The look was usually accompanied by some lame statement that boiled down to ‘you’re my wife, you love me, and tomorrow it’ll be like this never happened.’ But it’s been twelve years and it’s never gotten better. And I’m too tired of this shit to give him his precious one last try, her mind fiercely provided.

Holding his hands up, smooth palms out, he spoke in his diplomatic principal’s voice. “Now listen, Julie. We can work this out. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed you.” He reached out as if to take her trembling hands, but she stepped quickly out of his reach, slipping slightly on the gravel driveway. “I love you, darlin’. Now lets go back in the house,” he gestured toward the gray brick house with one hand and extended the other to his seething wife.

Even as she felt it she knew she’d never be able to describe it, but the sudden sense of control that over came her brought a smile to Julie’s full lips. From somewhere far off a strength was welling up in her that had been missing since her reckless childhood. There was no going back now. As if that wasn’t the last thing she wanted. “I’m leaving John,” she stated with a long forgotten twinkle coming into her eyes. “This is the last time we’re going to play out this little scene. I hope you enjoyed it.” A full, brilliant smile came to her lips for the first time in years as she turned and walked away.

The car pulled out of the driveway in calm deliberateness, its driver giggling behind the wheel. John was left standing on the front porch step, his hands dropped to his sides in defeat, a look of total shock on his face. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done this before really. She had. But the same internal tickle that was telling her it was a lock this time must have been calling to him as well. She had a feeling that her life was about to take a definite turn for the better.

After two hours of driving aimlessly, Julie pulled the car off the paved road onto a barely discernible grass one. It was really no more than two very shallow ruts in a field, but it lead to a place she knew extremely well. Or at least I used to, she thought dejectedly. The elation of making the concrete decision to leave John was beginning to fade as she became aware that she had no idea of what to do next.

When she finally sat on the once familiar rock, knees pulled up to her chest, the woman allowed herself a moment to take in her surroundings. The lake was up, evidenced by the waves gently lapping below her tucked feet. The water was clear, though, or at least clear by Grove Lake standards. Its rusty winter hue had given way to a shiny green in the spring rains, providing for a view to the bottom sand close to the shore. Oak and pecan trees were again asserting their brilliant greens around the secluded glade where Julie sat.

How many fish did we catch here, I wonder, she asked herself, more tears filling her eyes. Probably more than most could count, truth be told. She and Kimba had spent practically every summer day camped a few feet from the spot where she was perched, fishing, talking, and doing whatever they could get away with. The only way their parents allowed them to spend so much time at the lake was by demanding sufficient evidence that they were actually fishing and not just meeting boys or doing something else foolish. And somehow the age difference helped. Neither set of brooding parents could believe that a fifteen year old and a ten year old could get into any kind of serious trouble together.

I really can’t believe that we stayed out here alone so much, though, she considered in amazement. We were crazy and so were they. It’s a wonder we didn’t wind up dead. But back then they didn’t even think about the danger. No one was bothering them, so it didn’t matter. Their spot at Grove Lake was the place they could come where no one would say Kimba was a stupid kid, or Julie was a square, and if no one ever found it, that was okay with them. It had been great. Until John, that is, Julie’s mind groaned.

That last summer before she’d met John had been the best. Kimba was finally blossoming into a beautiful young woman, in all of her thirteen years, and she was totally devoted to her best friend. It would have been easy for Julie to have abused the power she had over the younger girl, but she was equally devoted to the friendship…

The rock was cool against their backs, contrasting nicely with the stuffy, hot summer air. The sun would rise in a couple of hours and bring back the stiflingly thick air, but in the night stillness, the whole lake seemed at peace.

“Look,” Kimba extended a small hand into the sky, one pudgy finger indicating a direction. “UFO.”

With a smirk already forming, Julie cast her gaze to the stars they were facing, searching the millions before her for the one that was an extra-terrestrial. It was a game. Kimba would find something in the myriad of lights that moved or shimmered, and then Julie would tell her how wrong she was. And other conversation would weave throughout the star search for most of the night. “That’s probably just an airplane or something. It’s moving too fast. That means it’s closer than it looks,” she replied, knowing there was probably not one bit of proof to back up her statement.

Soft green eyes turned to her and Kimba rested a cheek on the rock. “Do you know what it is for sure,” she asked in a playfully low growl.

One dark eyebrow lifted as the older girl turned her head toward her friend. She didn’t recognize the tone in Kimba’s voice. There was something compelling about it. “No,” she answered simply.

“Then it’s unidentified, right,” Kimba said with a bright smile forming on her lips. “So it is an unidentified flying object. A UFO.”

Julie chuckled softly. That was a new tactic. Well, she’s got me there, she thought. Leave it to Kimba. “But it’s not an alien ship or something,” she traditionally continued the friendly argument. It wouldn’t do to give in to logic.

Returning her gaze to the shimmering lights of the night sky, Kimba took in a deep breath of triumph. “I never said it was.” She waited for the cool flowing wind to blow over them and rustle through the trees. “But it is a UFO. Admit it,” she prodded.

Broadening shoulders shrugged. “Okay, it’s a UFO,” Julie said in a quiet voice. Surely it couldn’t hurt to let the girl win an argument every once in a while, she told herself. If there was one thing she’d learned about her friend since they’d met, it was that she was one smart girl. Even on the first day they’d played together she could tell that the little, determined five year old was something different. Her sweet, dreamy personality had allowed Julie to ignore the other neighborhood kids who refused to play with one so small and silly. But Kimba was much more than they would ever be and her friend knew it.

“You know what it’s going to be like ten years from now, Julie,” Kimba interrupted the older girl’s thoughts with a question. No answer was expected to this question though, so she continued. “By then, you’re going to be a famous model, making tons of money and being on T.V. everyday.” She cast a glance to her friend, who gave a small nod as if to say ‘that’s the plan.’ “And I’m going to be the youngest lawyer ever to win a major civil rights case at the Supreme Court,” she declared with a conviction that Julie knew would help her strive for that strangely promising goal.

The taller girl rolled over onto her side, the cold of the rock replaced by her warmth, and propped her head on one hand. “That’s what you want, huh?” But she didn’t need to ask. She’d heard it a hundred times before. For a girl so young, Kimba had a very definite idea of what she wanted her future to be.

“Yeah, that’s what I want,” she spoke softly. She took a long breath, then extended the dream to where it had never been taken before. To a place that warmed Julie’s heart, thinking of how precious her little friend was. “And I want for us to have a house together in California, or wherever you have to be to model. So that we never have to be apart.”

Julie couldn’t help but think how nice that would be, no matter how improbable. She knew that she was never happier than she was when she and Kimba were together. Such a close friend was a wonderful thing to have. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the way life worked. “But what happens when you want to get married,” she asked.

Kimba let out a little laugh that surprised her friend. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll get married. But if I do, he’ll just have to learn to live with you in the house.” She rolled her compact body over to mimic her friend’s position, reaching out and taking Julie’s free hand. “No guy would ever be worth giving you up,” she replied with a wistful tone in her voice.

The sudden intake of breath and the flutter in her heart was not something the older girl expected, but she was feeling too good to worry about it. Knowing that someone really loved her that much, even this ever present, sometimes annoying, thirteen year old girl, was a wonder to Julie. And even then, in the summer before she blew it all, she knew that she had a friend for life. One that would always be around when she really needed her. Nothing had ever warmed her heart more.

A wave lapped at her feet as more tears left lonely tracks on her face. With a heavy sigh, Julie pulled herself up and moved back to her car, which waited silently in the thigh high brown grass. There was only one thing she could do, or wanted to do, and suddenly she saw it with perfect clarity. More than anything in her world before, at this moment, when her life was in a shambles of her own making, she wanted to see Kimba.

Although they hadn’t spoken for more than two years now, Julie knew exactly where her friend’s house was. She’d moved a year and a half before into a beautiful red brick house nestled among other equally nice houses in an affluent country area. Kimba finally got her dream job at the most prestigious law firm in their less than metropolitan town. On some of her more lonely and dejected nights, Julie had driven by without stopping, wishing she had the guts to go ring the bell. But she didn’t then.

But this is now and nothing is going to stop me this time, her mind cried as she traversed over smooth roads to her destination. Her black Dodge Shadow pulled into the drive less than ten minutes later, the driver sitting for more than a few minutes trying to dry her eyes enough not to look like a blithering idiot.

She might as well have not even bothered. When Kimba opened her front door on the second ring, long golden hair billowing in the soft afternoon breeze, tears immediately reasserted themselves on their well-known path down Julie’s cheeks. I’ve really got to pull it together, but…everything is so screwed up. She tried to smile at her friend, her best friend.

Kimba was visibly taken aback by the woman standing at her door. The short redhead looked as though she were trying to dredge up the anger that no doubt filled her over what had happened between them, her brow furrowing momentarily, but the attempt was useless. The heart broken look Julie displayed left room only for action.

With a tentative smile and a wide opening of her arms, Kimba spoke for the first time. “Come here.”

A hiccuped sob escaped from the raven-haired woman, but she quickly complied with the command. Although she couldn’t admit it to herself before, this was exactly what she needed. No one else had ever given her the unconditional love Kimba had. And right now, that was what she needed.

“I’m sorry, Kimba,” she gasped between sobs as the smaller woman pulled her in the house. “I’m sorry for it all. I’ve been such an ass.” Julie continued to sob as her friend moved them onto a soft sofa, arms still firmly wrapped around each other.

A small hand stroked her hair and back soothingly, which brought more tears, but Julie didn’t care. The tears now flowing, replacing the empty sadness she felt for John, were ones that needed to be released. Ones that had wanted to be released for years. They represented all the sorrow and guilt she’d been carrying around over how she’d treated someone so sweet and innocent. And with gentle caresses and soft words, Kimba was taking it all from her, without demanding answers or apologies. Just like I knew she would, Julie’s mind responded.

“Shh, Julie, shh,” she cooed. “Calm down, okay. I need to know what’s wrong,” she spoke in her flawlessly smooth voice, trying to bring her friend to a sensible, understandable state.

After a few more minutes of unabashed crying, Julie finally calmed down enough to want to fix her running nose and puffy eyes. Tears finally running dry and nose well blown, she spoke. “I’ve left John,” she wanted more than anything to look into Kimba’s gentle green eyes, but only found herself able to take in the rusty brown shag carpet beneath her feet. “We fight all the time and I just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s never been easy, from the start, but I’m tired of it.”

Taking a larger, darker hand in her own, Kimba waited until blue eyes ascended wearily to meet hers. “I’m glad you came,” was all she said.

It was more than enough.
Chapter 2
When Kimba Curtis opened her front door to the sight of her long lost best friend, obviously distressed, her heart leapt to her throat with surprising swiftness. Long ago she had vowed that she was finished pining away over the beautiful, dark woman’s friendship. But when Julie’s chilling blue eyes released the first tear to course down her high, noble cheek bones, Kimba knew she was undone. Despite the years and hurt feelings, she still loved the woman who, as a brash young girl, had been her most cherished friend.

It took Julie a little while to gain her normal stoic composure, but once she did, Kimba was overwhelmed at the information she received. John was finally going to be done making her friend’s life a misery. He was the one who had caused the rift between them, of course. Time after time Kimba had tried to convince Julie to leave the man, but each attempt had been met with seemingly more hostility. It was that damned stubborn streak of hers. She never could admit she was wrong, Kimba thought with a sad smile.

That streak had caused a lot of pain for both of them. So much in fact, that at one point Kimba could take no more. The horror that she’d experienced at losing the best parts of her friend in the first place was eventually surpassed by the disgust she felt at watching someone she loved being tortured. She couldn’t stand for it anymore and told Julie so. The older woman brushed her off and, once again, chose the man she claimed to love. Even with Julie in her care, Kimba still felt the pain of that choice as much as the first day she realized it had been made…

They’d been at the lake all weekend, as usual, but this trip was anything but normal. For one thing, Kimba was about to start school for the first time without her friend doing the same. Julie had graduated the previous May and was supposed to be starting classes at a local college, although she never did.

By the time Sunday morning came around, the sun beginning to peak above the eastern horizon as they gazed at its orange light from their spot on the rock, Kimba knew that this was more of a farewell to her than it was to the summer. Julie had been acting awfully nostalgic.

“Do you know what it’s going to be like ten years from now,” Kimba had asked gently, wanting to hear the dream one more time before it shattered.

Julie couldn’t bare to allow it. With a grimace on her face, making her look much more than her eighteen years, she held up a hand. “Kimba, I’m getting married…to John,” she blurted, her pale blue gaze still focused on the rising sun.

Green eyes widened in surprise at the statement. She’d known that Julie had been dating the boy, that she liked him, but it wasn’t the love that she always claimed she would only settle for. Julie had said as much. John was cute and smart and he would do well enough for now, had been her attitude. Marrying him didn’t fit in. “Why,” was all she could say.

“I love him, he asked me, and I’m…I love him,” she replied with gritted teeth. As her eyes finally tracked to her friend’s penetrating stare, Julie couldn’t miss the hurt that she’d already put there.

Kimba’s fiery eyebrows rose in question. When she spoke her voice quivered with the tears that longed to fall. “But what about school? What about modeling? That agent wants to see you in a week,” she pleaded for an answer. One that would make her understand why Julie had made this decision that was more than inconceivable only a moment before.

The truth came out very convincing, although no less heartbreaking in its finality. “I’m pregnant, Kimba,” she stated without emotion.

After the marriage, nothing had been the same for them. Julie did her best to prove that she was exactly where she wanted to be. And when the baby came, it seemed true. He was the light in her eyes and the dark woman devoted every moment she had to the child. Kimba knew she couldn’t compete with that and soon drifted away, her friend doing nothing to try and stop her.

But now, all that’s changed. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my friend back. For good, a hopeful voice in her mind whispered. A small smile came involuntarily to her lips as Julie emerged from the arched hallway, her face finally moving away from the effects of crying into the beautiful countenance that normally rested there. The tall woman settled down on the fluffy sofa cushion beside her with a graceful flop, as only she could.

Kimba chuckled at the playful, simple act, reminded once again of the friend that she’d had so long ago. Hope sprang again that maybe she was really back. “Where’s Jesse,” she asked casually.

“He’s at Mom and Dad’s. He was there for spring break, thankfully,” she paused as a sad look crossed her face. “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him about this.” Julie ran both hands through her dark mane, eyes closed tight in frustration.

Knowing that her friend was on a roller coaster of emotion did little to help Kimba know what to do. She was quite inexperienced at dealing with people and their problems. The number of relationships she’d ever had she could count on one hand. It was unknown territory alright, but nothing was going to stop her from exploring it. “What are you going to do,” was all she could think of to say.

A small laugh escaped from Julie’s mouth, although no smile accompanied it. “I was just wondering that myself. Great minds think alike,” she remarked quietly. For the first time since coming back from cleaning herself up, Julie brought her impossibly blue eyes up of her own accord and gazed on her friend fully. “I just had to see you Kimba. I know I messed things up before…but you’re the only one who knows me.”

The younger woman had no idea what to say. Wasn’t this exactly what she’d been dreaming of. An apology. A reconciliation. So many nights she had laid in bed thinking of what she would say to Julie when it actually happened, as she knew it would. But I didn’t know it would feel like this and I’d want nothing more than to throw my arms around her and say all is forgiven. Because it is, no matter how much it hurt then. As long as she’s here now…

Obviously weary of the silence, Julie continued in her low pitched voice. “I always thought that I could make it work with me and John. But it’s been so long now and he never admits that he’s done anything wrong.” Kimba gave an accepting nod as she leaned back on the blue flowered surface of the cushy sofa, her long reddish blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. “It took me five years just to realize how bad I’d treated you. By then it was too late,” she confessed as tears again made her eyes shine.

“Julie, you don’t have to do this,” Kimba tried to stop the threat of anymore sorrow for the night. The violent shake of her friend’s head, however, told her that she had something she had to say.

“It’s been too long for us to sit here and chat like nothing happened. Before we can really be friends again, there are some things I’ve got to tell you,” she confirmed, her voice a shaky timbre.

All Kimba could do was give a nod and a grim smile. “Okay,” the older woman sighed. “At first, I guess, I thought it was right. Giving you up for a man, I mean. You were so young and I thought that I was supposed to cast you away.”

As Julie paused, her gaze on the carpet again, Kimba could see the strain that she was under. Apparently their friendship, or lack of one, had weighed as greatly on her friend as it had her.

“Only thing was, I thought it wouldn’t hurt so much. So at first, I just concentrated on Jesse and I could make it through,” she stated, her voice moving slowly back to its normal cadence. “But the worse it got with John and the older and more independent Jesse got, it finally hit me how lonely I was,” Julie looked into green eyes again, a slow tear slipping from her own eye. “That’s when I knew that I could have had you all along.”

Julie stood abruptly, crossing the small room quickly to the back sliding glass door. She physically tried to calm her rapid breaths as she peered out at the small forest behind the house. The rustling branches and scurrying animals that were surely there provided no assistance. When she finally turned around to face her friend, Kimba was sitting with small hands clasped in her lap, waiting. “I’m so sorry that I hurt you, Kimba. You deserved better than that. I don’t expect you to forgive me,” she gasped out, failing to control all the tears that wanted to fall.

In the short time it took Kimba to cross the room, she was able to recall all those things that she’d dreamed of saying before, on lonely nights when Julie was the only thing on her mind. Now it was her turn. “Julie, you don’t have to ask for forgiveness. It’s already done,” she said in her softest voice.

Blue eyes shot up in disbelief to the small woman now within reaching distance, so the redhead gave a reassuring nod before continuing. This is the hard part, she thought ruefully. The part that has to hurt her more, before we can go on. “Don’t get me wrong, Julie, you hurt me.” Probably more than you could ever imagine. “You were my whole world, you know. My hero,” she noted wistfully, remembering her childish worship of her friend. Julie had been everything she wasn’t, and looking at the woman now, even in her current broken state, Kimba knew she still was.

Taking in the stricken look on her friend’s face, the attorney resolved silently to make this speech as fast as possible. “You were my best friend. My only friend for a long time. And I would have done anything for you.” She reached out tentatively and took two bronzed hands. “When you married John and basically left me behind…I…I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong,” a squeeze on the hands she held forestalled the protest coming to Julie’s lips. Kimba gave a quirky grin and raised eyebrow and continued. “Then I realized that life just went like that sometimes. Friends drift apart for no reason,” she waved a hand in the air in a dismissive gestured, then returned it to the comforting grasp. “And I supposed you getting married and having a baby was a decent reason.”

Now she smiled a full, genuine smile, revealing her perfect teeth. “But that acceptance never stopped me from wanting you back. Everyday I wished I had you to tell all my secrets to,” she commented with a dry laugh. They both knew she was terrible at keeping secrets.

“For a long time I was mad at you, or wanted to be, maybe until you knocked on my door today,” she admitted. “But with you here, none of that matters anymore. You’re still my best friend.” With that said, tears sliding lopingly down her own cheeks, she pulled the older woman into a tight hug, hoping she could convince her of her forgiveness by the strength of the embrace.
Chapter 3
Kimba glanced impatiently around the dimly lit room where they were seated, deep in a corner concealed from most of the restaurant. By the time she was convinced the waiter had forgotten them completely, the thin man in khakis and apron sauntered up to the table and distributed the food expertly. It had taken some time to persuade Julie to come out of the house at all, but her friend was sure it would do her good.

As a concession, the redhead had agreed to take them to a low key diner on the edge of town, making it highly unlikely that anyone would see them there. Lord knows that’s right, she pondered with a silent chuckle. None of the lawyers at my office would be caught dead in this dump and I doubt many of her fellow teachers would either. But the food is good and that’s all that matters to me.

During the time they waited for the food, the taller woman was extremely preoccupied with the replica antique signs covering the dusty, wood panel walls around her. Kimba knew she wasn’t saying the right things to get the woman to open up, but for the moment she was at a loss. She waited respectfully until all the food on both their plates was gone, then began with a little small talk. “So, how’s it going with your job? Do you enjoy teaching history to teenagers with raging hormones,” she asked with a small smile. That was one of the things she’d loved so much about their relationship, the gentle kidding that they constantly participated in. She’d never known a greater joy than making her friend release her low, genuine laugh.

The dark haired woman rolled her eyes and shook her head ruefully, but there was a slight smile on her lips as well. “You have no idea. Most of the time, teaching these kids is like trying to push a watermelon through a keyhole. They have no motivation,” she replied with a lilt in her voice. “You know, they always ask ‘why do we need to know history?’ And what do I say to convince them…,” she paused for an answer.

Realizing that something was expected of her, Kimba straightened in her chair and began racking her brain. Then it came to her in a calming flash. “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it?”

Julie donned her crooked little smirk, indicating that she had known her friend would come through. “That’s what I used to tell them. It’s philosophical and seems so right, doesn’t it.” She leaned forward, weight on her elbows, dark hair falling over her broad shoulders within an inch of her empty plate. “But since I wised up to the game, I just tell them that if they don’t make a good effort, I’ll bring The Grapes of Wrath and make them watch it everyday.” She quirked an eyebrow. “I’m not sure why, but I don’t have too much trouble,” she added as she leaned against the scruffed wooden back of the chair.

Two golden eyebrows furrowed as Kimba chuckled at her friend. “Hey, I liked that movie. The book was good too,” she retorted with mock offense.

“Yeah, you would,” came the slow reply. “Seriously, though, it’s hit and miss. I just try to get to the kids I can. Every once in a while, a kid comes along that you can really touch. That makes all the tough cases worth it,” blue eyes twinkled wistfully.

Kimba delighted at the look. It was the first time she’d seen it since Julie had showed up on her door earlier in the day. That look was the one that meant she believed she could change the world. And Kimba believed it too. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Occasionally I get to work on a case that really means something too. On the others I just try to do my best, even when my heart isn’t completely in it.”

“So you like it,” Julie asked in a hesitant voice. Kimba could see the conflict in her face. After all, she had followed her dream to its fullest while the dark haired woman across from her had given up any hope she’d had to do what she wanted. Teaching was great, the attorney was sure, but Julie would always wonder what would have happened if she’d been able to meet that agent so long ago.

Even knowing that her answer might make her friend sadder about her own choices, Kimba couldn’t lie. “I love it, Julie. It’s everything I thought it was gonna be and more. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work.”

The waiter coming back to the table drew her attention. He filled both of their glasses with water while the women waited in silence. When he was sufficiently out of hearing range, Kimba spoke again. “How is it going to affect you with John being principal at your school and all? He can’t fire you, can he,” her voice was cautiously low.

Drawing in a deep, hesitant breath, Julie seemed to consider the problem for the first time. Both elbows fell onto the table again, two fingers of one slender hand tapping her lips. After a moment, she sighed and arched her dark eyebrows. “Well, no, he can’t fire me. I have tenure. But I can only imagine that things are going to be…difficult.” She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders, making the plastic-like fabric of the jump suit she was wearing make a sliding sound. “Once he figures out I’m serious, he’s not going to be a happy man.”

Kimba couldn’t help but smile. She’d already dismissed the possibility that this was all a mirage. Julie was away from that man, and all appearances made it seem that she wouldn’t go back. Not this time. “He’ll get over it,” she interjected with a bright smirk, which her friend returned. The younger woman then resumed her seriousness. “But what about Jesse?”

“I think he’ll be okay with it. He loves his dad, but he’s said more than once that he doesn’t like the way John treats me.” Her eyes took on a far away glare for a moment, then returned in sparkling blue. “He’ll want to be with me, where ever I end up.”

After only an instant of indecision, Kimba latched firmly onto the idea forming in her mind, and voiced it aloud. “Julie, I’d love it if you’d move in with me,” she said with a slight tremor in her voice. It had been so long since she’d had a real best friend, at least one that made her feel as complete as the dark haired woman across from her, and she didn’t want to ruin it. Taking in the surprised expression on Julie’s face, she continued. “I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t want, but I figured you wouldn’t have enough money to get a place by yourself for a while. And I know you would hate to have to ask your parents. So…” She let the sentence trail off and waited expectantly for an answer, praying that her presumption had been right.

The older woman’s brow was furrowed in concentration, the thoughts in her mind almost visibly racing behind her eyes. “Kimba, I couldn’t ask that of you. Not after what I did and how long it’s been.” She looked away in shame once again, making the redhead take a deep breath to drive the frustration away.

She’s so stubborn. Nice to see things haven’t changed, her mind sighed. Kimba reached across the table and took a long hand in her own, demanding that eye contact be made. When it was, she spoke in a gentle voice. “I’ve told you that all that is in the past. I want us to move past it. And as for the years in between, well, for the few hours that we’ve been together tonight I’ve felt like I was thirteen again.” A brilliant smile graced her lips, pulling one equally grand from her sullen friend.

Cool blue eyes told that she still wasn’t ready to accept the offer of friendship or housing so soon. “How do you know I haven’t changed? And then there’s Jesse to think about. He can be a handful,” she said argumentatively.

“I’m sure you’ve changed, Julie. I know I have.” She paused. “That doesn’t mean that we’ve out grown each other. I particularly remember swearing that we’d never do that, no matter what anyone else said.” Julie nodded with a reflective smile. “I didn’t think that promise was empty. Did you?”

The dark woman squeezed the hand holding hers and gave a defeated chuckle. They both knew it was a token argument anyway. “No, I don’t think you’ve out grown me. Or at least I hope not. And I guess we’re going to find out.”
Chapter 4
Bright rays of sunshine roused Julie reluctantly from a deep, contented sleep. Jeez, I can’t remember the last time I slept that well. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes and attempting to regain focus, she surveyed the extra bedroom that she’d been assigned to. It was like the rest of the house, really. Well kept and decorated in a crafty manner. The wallpaper was different, but had the same deliberate feel as the other rooms. It was obvious that Kimba had spent a great deal of time giving each room her own flavor. This one had a rose motif, even the carpet fit right in with its rich green shag. The walls were covered with rose petal designs, each corner hand painted with delicate full bushes. This had to have taken forever. She must have had a lot of time on her hands, the older woman thought sadly.

The conversation at dinner and after the night before had begun unfolding the story of the younger woman’s life after their split. It almost sounded as if Kimba had chosen to stay alone most of the time, but Julie refused to believe it. Although the young Kimba took a lot of jeering from the older kids they hung around, she was bright and very friendly. There was no way a person wouldn’t like her after thirty seconds of meeting the bubbly young woman.

A sound from deeper in the house pulled Julie from her musings. She couldn’t imagine that Kimba was awake before her, as the girl had always been inordinately stubborn about rising before ten. But strolling into the kitchen, she caught sight of her friend over the stove, reddish blonde hair pulled back in a tight braid, fiddling with three different steaming dishes. Julie observed silently as the young woman moved around the kitchen gracefully from one point to another.

Green eyes finally landed on her and were accompanied by a toothy grin. Julie couldn’t help but ask herself the last time she’d been greeted so enthusiastically, knowing that it was before she’d met John. “Good morning,” she relayed happily.

“Good morning yourself. I was wondering if you were ever going to get up.” Kimba turned back to the sizzling of the stove, but the older woman detected a slight giggle in the air and a minute shaking of her muscular, broad shoulders.

The small kitchen table was set up with plates and utensils for the two of them, so Julie took the seat facing her friend. “Ha ha. Have your fun, but know that this is a first and probably a last. I haven’t forgotten that your nickname was sleepyhead,” she answered in a stern tone.

“Oh, well I’ve changed since the last time you called me that.” She began bringing over pans filled with food and transferring it onto the plates in equal portions. Bright yellow eggs, sandy hash browns, and fluffy shortcakes scented up to her nose deliciously. From the looks of things, Kimba had learned to cook, breakfast at least.

At the comment, Julie turned serious despite the elation she was feeling. “Yes, I can see that you have,” she remarked. She hadn’t missed the subtle signs that her friend had grown immeasurably in the years they hadn’t talked. “You look great, by the way. I like your hair long.” Julie gave off a smirk as green eyes tracked to blue. “I told you so.”

Kimba blushed brightly at the compliment and continued her serving. “You did. I like it too. I did it for you, of course.” Her face turned a deeper shade of red. “Or because of you, I mean,” she corrected.

“It brings out your eyes more. I knew it would.” Julie watched her friend carefully as she finished serving and took a seat. After a few mouthfuls of food, she turned on an immediate and less pleasant subject. “Would you come with me to get some things,” she asked, stammering in nervousness at the thought. “I mean, you don’t have to. But John might be a little more civil if you were around.” She finished hurriedly and couldn’t keep the hope out of her eyes.

Kimba smiled reassuringly and bright. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I know he likes me,” she finished sarcastically. During the few years that Kimba tried to keep her friendship after the marriage, John had cursed at her multiple times for being an annoying little tagalong. The older woman could see the mischievous twinkle in her friend’s eyes, knowing she would enjoy her husband’s anger.

After the filling breakfast, the pair shoved down the lingering apprehension and set off for Julie’s house.

And angry John was. By the time Julie threw her worn suitcase on the bed, his normally pale cheeks were bright red with blood, his eyes dark with fury. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this Julie. We’ve had fights before,” his voice barely below a scream.

The room seemed small with the three of them in it and John puffing up his chest for maximum effect. Its decoration matched the rest of the house, or rather unmatched it. The whole place had no pattern to it, full of the little trinkets and furniture the family had collected over the years. Each room was spotlessly kept, but the decor told the story that was her life, simple and unremarked. Julie had obviously spent time on it, yet it had no firm distinction that showed her to be its owner. Not like Kimba’s, which spoke of tender care and exuded her effervescent personality.

Blowing dark hair off her forehead, Julie kept her eyes on packing the clothes, not sparing him the satisfaction of a glance. Besides, she didn’t want to fall into any traps his expression might have for her, be they love or fear. “I told you John, I’m tired of the way you treat me. For too many years I’ve been the next thing to a slave. Apparently, you’re never going to change, so I’m leaving,” she smiled inwardly at the calm sound her voice had. Inside she was quivering with nervous energy.

“Dammit, you cannot leave me,” he bellowed, taking a menacing step toward her. She reflexively took a step deeper into the room, bumping into Kimba, who was standing stoically behind her. The collision seemed to pull the angry man’s gaze to the redhead for the first time, pulling her into the tirade. “You’re not going to leave me for this little bitch. It took long enough to get rid of her in the first place,” his tone was deadly.

Nothing she’d imagined about coming back to her house compared to how the scene was actually playing out. John was getting violent. He’d pushed her around before, physically and mentally, and she hated him for it all, but he’d never hit her. As he stared at them, only one corner of the rumpled queen sized bed separating the three, his fists were tightly clenched at his sides. Julie had never seen the pure rage that currently swirled in his eyes.

With the first step he took on their side of the bed, she knew that she had to say or do something before the morning turned extremely ugly. “Listen John, I’m not leaving you for anyone,” she intoned softly, intentionally using her surging emotions to put a tremor in her voice. Whatever really caused it, which was probably fear, she hoped he took it as indecision. “I just need to sort things out. This doesn’t have to be permanent. But I have to get away.” She took another step toward him, noting her baggy t-shirt tail stayed behind momentarily in Kimba’s grasp. “Let me think this out for a while and then we can talk.” Fully within striking distance, she stopped and prayed that the years they’d spent together meant something to the man. If not, the next trip for the day would be to the hospital.

His round chest rose with a statement that refused to come, then fell. After a moment, his body seemed to relax, although his gaze remained hostile. “Okay Julie. I’ll give you a few days to figure out what the hell your problem is. You’ve got until Monday, then I want you back into this house,” he pointed an angry finger to the ground in emphasis. John turned around, not before giving Kimba a disgusted look, and walked to the doorway. He stopped there rigidly and spoke without turning. “Then I’ll try and act like this little episode never happened,” he growled. When the sound of his shoes slashing through the carpeted house finally faded, the two women let out held breaths.

Julie slapped the palm of her hand to her forehead with a thump. “I hope we can do that again sometime,” she sighed in exasperation. What she’d told him was a complete lie. Going back to John was about as likely as a revival of her modeling career, but she’d had to say something. He’d get the real message when the divorce papers were served and she was miles away. Things would be much safer that way.

Eyes remaining tightly shut and fingers massaging her suddenly aching temples, Julie let out a contented sigh upon feeling a comforting hand on her back. If Kimba hadn’t accepted her back into her life, the older woman didn’t know what she’d do. All she knew was that it wouldn’t be good. “Let’s get the hell outta here,” the younger woman said in a low rumble. Julie hadn’t heard a better idea in a long time.
Chapter 5
The truck rambled down the highway in silence for half an hour after the duo left John fuming back at his house. Julie had decided it best to go to her parents and retrieve Jesse, although she was clueless as to how she was going to break the news to him. Still, he needed to know and she felt a great urge to be sure of where he was at all times. In John’s current state of rage, he couldn’t be trusted.

Kimba’s gentle voice finally pulled her friend from the tumultuous thoughts that were racing through her mind. It must have shown on her face. “Julie, are you okay?”

The dark haired woman let out a short laugh, then sniffled. “I’ve been better, Kimba,” she said with as much lightness as her mood would allow. The acknowledging smile on Kimba’s face showed that her comment was taken as the joke it was meant. “I’ll be alright. This is harder than I thought it was going to be, though.”

“I’ve always found that the things that are best for us are the hardest to do,” she replied while giving a friendly wave to a passing car.

Julie couldn’t help but chuckle at her friend. Not too many people still gave the friendly passing waves that had once been common place in the country. An act like that could get a person killed. But the closer they got to her parents’ house, the more Kimba was becoming the giddy farm kid she had once been.

With an accepting sigh, Julie turned serious once again. “Yeah, I’ve heard that. But I also know that things not so good for you can hurt too.” And with a start, thinking about her separation from Kimba all those years ago, the older woman realized that event had already ripped her heart completely out. This new struggle over her apathetic husband didn’t even compare. Still, it didn’t feel good. She felt enlightened by the new perspective, although terribly sad.

Kimba gripped the steering wheel tightly, knuckles white with strain. “The most painful day of my life was when I realized that I’d never be your best friend again,” she said quietly, almost a whisper. The redhead cleared her throat before she could continue. “And even that was good for me.”

Julie could feel her eyebrows raising in question at the statement. It certainly hadn’t been good for her, except for Jesse, of course. And he was something that could be ignored for the moment. “How was that good,” she asked tentatively. There was a big chance the answer could hurt her further.

Kimba removed a hand from the wheel and took one of her friend’s, making Julie wistfully recall how physically needy her friend had always been. The girl loved to hug people, and by her, they loved to be hugged. “It was good because you got Jesse, and I know you love him. For me, I was able to devote all my time to one of my dreams and achieve it,” she informed with more confidence. “Sometimes…I begged for my life to be different…for you to be in it, but in the end, some good did come out of it,” she paused uncertainly again. “I think I was able to find a piece of myself I would never have seen if we’d have stayed together.”

“I guess you’re right,” Julie agreed. Once again, she could tell that her naive little friend had done some growing since they’d last met. More than she’d suspected. Most of it at the expense of a very generous heart, unfortunately. But it was probably something that she’d be thankful for at one time or another. At least now they both knew what it was like to live without each other’s love. Neither seemed to want to return to that state.

As the black Ford Ranger pulled down the long concrete drive to the George household, Julie felt the darkness of the day’s events returning. The next step was to face her mother, who had been none too happy when her daughter had called and told her the situation. Her parents may not have liked John in the beginning, but they certainly didn’t like the idea of divorce any better. They’ll just have to get used to the idea, then. Because nothing in this world is going to stop it from happening, she thought with a conviction she wasn’t completely convinced she held.

“Well, this is certainly a surprise,” the gray haired woman drawled as she admitted the two women into the house. Julie took a deep breath and tried to ignore the contempt in her mother’s voice. Emerald George had never really liked Kimba, saying it wasn’t natural the way the girl hung around so much. This was definitely not going to help her mother’s ideas about that any. She’d probably try and put the blame on the younger woman somehow.

Her mother’s home was always so tidy, as if she always expected company over, never letting a cushion stay turned or a coat lay over a chair. Julie paused in the entryway to the living room, taking it in through eyes that recalled all the turmoil that began there. The moment she’d told her parents she was pregnant they’d insisted she marry John, even as they called him several of their most vile curses. Now the faded whiteness of the walls and time-worn picture frames reminded her of each day she’d wasted on a man she never should have given a second look at. Should never have traded her future for, baby or no baby.

Kimba gave her friend a weary look before finally breaking the uncomfortable silence. Her eyes told Julie she should have done so, which she would have, had she any coherent thought at that moment. “It’s nice to see you again Mrs. George. It’s been too long since I’ve been back out here.”

“I’ve heard you’ve done well for yourself, Kim. Sorry about your parents though,” she sighed as though the Curtises had passed on the day before. Julie could see little emotion in her friend’s eyes as she calculated the time her family had been gone. Eight years. Kimba had been all alone for eight years.

The sound of a young voice from the hall brought the dark haired woman around and a nervous smile to her lips. She wasn’t going to tell Jesse about the break up here, in her mother’s precise house, but she could already feel the heavy burden of guilt settling on her. “Mom, I think we’re just going to gather Jesse and his things and go,” she informed her.

A little grunt of condescension from her dumpy, gray mother suddenly made Julie’s teeth grind in anger, but the sight of her son and Kimba’s warm presence kept her from exploding. “Go ahead, but call me later. I think you two need to talk,” she jibed, turning her back on her seething daughter and exiting into the hall.

Jesse walked past her with a fading grin from his normally happy expression. His loose dark hair bobbed up and down with his chopping steps, reminding his mother that she wanted to take him to the barber tomorrow. “What do we need to talk about,” he asked curiously, a smile tentatively returning to his angled features. Julie had always loved that he was her spitting image and retained none of his father’s blocky characteristics.

A strong arm circled his shoulders and he allowed his mother a short hug, visibly weary of more in front of the stranger giving his mother an unnervingly indulgent look. The older woman smiled, flattered that he was feeling a bit protective of her and chagrined that he had surpassed the stage where she could give him unguarded affection. “Some important things, but nothing that won’t wait until later.” She brought up a hand and pinched the end of his nose playfully, removing her hand before his fast reflexes caught up with her. “This is Kimba, Jesse. She met you when you were a baby, but I doubt you remember. We’re probably going to be staying with her for a bit,” she supplied with a wave of her hand toward the woman at her side.

“Hi,” he replied shyly before looking away. Julie thought she could see a faint blush creeping up his cheeks and won in an attempt to keep from giggling. She knew all too well how adorable her friend was.

After a mundane ride crunched in the cab of the Ranger, the three settled comfortably in Kimba’s living room. Julie and Jesse sat a reasonable distance apart on the medium sized couch that lined the far wall of the room, while the redhead took residence in one of the recliners.

Within a moment of sitting, however, Kimba’s eyes began shifting with recognition of the conversation that was about to take place. “I think I’ll go watch some television in my room. Call me if you need anything.”

Nodding understandingly, Julie turned her attention to her son, who was patiently waiting for something, although he clearly had no idea what. A deep sigh helped the struggling woman gain some confidence to go on and she was able to start. “Jesse, your father and I had a pretty big fight while you were gone,” she said dejectedly. If there was one thing she hated to do it was to tell her son about any kind of problem she and John had.

But he surprised her again. “What’s new? You guys fight all the time.”

Both dark eyebrows rose up to her hairline in astonishment. I had no idea he knew we fought that much. You can’t get anything past a kid, I guess. But it was the break she needed that would make the whole conversation that much easier. “You’re right. We do. And this time I’ve finally decided I’m done with it,” she confessed with another heart felt sigh. “I’m leaving your father.”

Deep brown eyes widened briefly at the revelation, then returned to their normal state. “Really? Is he mad,” he asked in wonder.

“Well, he doesn’t know, exactly. Yet. He thinks I’m just away thinking. But when he figures it out, he will be very mad.” A lopsided grin passed over her lips that Jesse knew well.

Despite the news, the boy smiled. “I guess it won’t matter how much of a fit he has though, since we won’t be there to hear it.”

The laugh that followed from Julie was one of pure joy at the acceptance she heard in her son’s voice. She hadn’t had any idea of how he would react, but she hadn’t expected the gift he’d given.

A gentle smile still graced her lips as she searched out her friend after sending Jesse to bed in the rose filled extra bedroom. Kimba was leaning lazily against her headboard in the master bedroom, distinct in its spaciousness. Its decorations were similar to the rest of the house, except instead of flowers or trees, the walls and ceilings were painted carefully with stars and moons. Julie felt a small gasp escape her lips as she took it in, each constellation shimmering as if alive in the glow of light coming from the television.

Patting the cover beside her with a small, pale hand, Kimba motioned the older woman over. “Well, how’d it go?”

A happy little jump onto the bed was part of her answer and elicited a giggle from the already settled occupant. “Great. He wasn’t very upset. I know he loves his father, but he also knows what goes on between us,” she relayed with a sigh. “More so than I thought. He’s a smart kid.”

“How could he not be? Look who his mother is,” Kimba answered with a little chuck to her friend’s arm. It was a familiar action to Julie. She clearly remembered threatening the girl with a tickle torture death if she hit her one more time, on more than one occasion. Physical contact was simply her way of communication, and most of the time, it was oddly comforting.

Julie leaned back and tried to stifle a yawn that would not be stopped. Her fist covered her mouth until the action passed, then she turned tiring blue eyes to gentle green ones. “If you’ll get me a blanket, I think I’ll hit the couch.”

“What’s wrong with the bed?” Kimba asked.

“Nothing, except it has a twelve year old boy in it who’s too old to sleep with his mother. I’m getting really old, Kimba,” she announced with an exaggerated sigh. Truly, it was a little disquieting that Jesse was growing up so fast, it seemed, but exciting too. He was becoming a fine young man. A better one than his father would ever be, and for that she was very thankful.

Kimba shook her red hair and raised a golden eyebrow at Julie, who mirrored the look with one of confusion. “Not that bed, this one.”

Long fingers raised back up to her lips as she tried to absorb the statement. In so little time, could Kimba be so comfortable with her again to share the same bed. They’d done it often enough before, for sure, but a lot had happened since then. It would surely take a considerable amount of time before things were back to a level of companionship they were both happy with.

Although, since the first time they’d met, there hadn’t really been any discord between them, excluding the years after the marriage. And it really all started that first night Kimba had knocked on her bedroom window, looking for her best friend…

Something had happened at her house, which was never a happy place. The next day they’d figured out it was some sort of drug bust, but when Kimba rapped on the window, Julie instinctively knew it was that strange little girl from across the field. And still, something had made her open the window to look down on her short cropped red head. “What do you want,” she’d asked with more than a little terseness in her normally light, ten year old voice.

After a couple of sniffles, watery green eyes turned up to the window and a barely audible voice spoke. “I want to sleep with you, Jay.”

Heart breaking at the fright in the little voice, Julie shut the window immediately and rushed to the back door. Still too young to realize what kind of life it was that Kimba lived, she did know that the girl didn’t have everything she did. And right now she could see that something really bad must have happened. There was no way she could turn her away.

She almost walked past the small form huddled a few feet away from her window. Julie tapped her on the arm and watched her slowly rise, little arms and legs shaking visibly. “Come on. You can stay with me,” she said softly. Although she had no doubt her parents would have a major fit upon finding Kimba in the house the next morning, she didn’t care. This girl, who she knew worshiped her, needed her help. Had come to her for it above anyone else, and she wasn’t going to let her down.

Since she was practically covered from head to foot in dust, it took a while to actually get to bed. Julie may have been a bit of a tomboy, but she didn’t take kindly to sleeping in dirt. Kimba crept through the house silently, on tiptoes no less, like she’d done it a thousand times before. And finally, they reached Julie’s tiny bedroom in the back of the home and crawled into bed.

“If we wake up early, we can sneak you out before my parents get up, okay,” Julie asked before the girl slipped off into the inevitable sleep she saw coming in her intent eyes.

Snuggling up on the older girl’s shoulder for comfort, Kimba nodded minutely. “Okay. They’ll be gone by then. You’ll keep me safe, right?”

Feeling a swell in her innocent heart at the faith placed in her abilities, of which she had no idea if she possessed, the dark haired girl stroked the little head at her side gently. “Yeah, I’ll always keep you safe. Always,” she affirmed with a strength that she didn’t understand and never fully would.

Kimba was waiting patiently with her arms crossed, looking like she hadn’t even noticed the momentary pause before her friend answered. Or like she expected it. “Oh, staying in here is fine with me if you don’t mind…and if you don’t snore…now,” Julie joked, receiving the expected punch to the arm.

“I never snored. The only problem we had sleeping in the same bed was you taking all the covers and trying to justify it by the fact that you’re taller.” Kimba pulled the covers that Julie was climbing into away with force and sneered territorially. “This is my house and that excuse is no longer accepted. Try it and suffer the consequences,” she insisted.

Throwing her hands up in defeat, the larger woman cast a lopsided smile at her friend. “I bend to your wishes, oh great master.”

“It’s about time,” Kimba replied, turning on her side and switching off the light.

The dark of the room was accentuated by the still twinkling stars all around her, keeping Julie company as she slowly drifted off to sleep, to dream dreams that hadn’t been allowed to come before this night.
Chapter 6
Waking up was a relative thing, Kimba knew from long years of fighting the event. She was naturally a late riser, always had been. It was a point Julie loved to tease her about. And even on a day as happy as this one, knowing that things were finally right in her world, the little redhead found herself loathing to open her eyes. Bright light was already peaking in through the dark curtains of the room’s lone window, giving off a dull red glow through her closed lids. If she wanted to, she knew she could sleep in and make this another lazy Sunday, like so many before. But something was different, in the air or her bones, she didn’t know, but it was making her pulse quicken in response.

That something was about eight inches taller than her, stretched out on her side under the thick covers, breathing in slow, but alert breaths. She’s watching me, Kimba’s mind sang in wonder. I can’t believe she’s watching me sleep. This is amazing. She knew a smile was forming on her lips, and so abandoned the effort to maintain the mirage of sleep.

A deep breath, followed by a hearty yawn and stretch, alerted Julie of her wakefulness shortly before sleepy green eyes opened. And still, Kimba felt her breath catch at the gentle adoring look in the blue eyes so close to hers, before the expression was covered by more controlled emotions. “Morning Julie. I see you kept your promise from yesterday,” her voice still somewhat thick from sleep.

“I don’t think I’ll have much trouble keeping that promise if I know you, O’queen of late waking.” Both women straightened up to lean against the carved wooden headboard. Kimba stifled another yawn before wiping her eyes in an attempt to gain focus.

When she did, blue eyes were still gracing her, taking in her pajama top with a wry twinkle. The younger woman could see a quip about the bears and rabbits forming on her friend’s lips, but decided to let it form unabated. It was nice to have someone to play around with. “So, how do you feel about a day at the mall,” she asked.

The taller woman let out a derisive snort and rolled her eyes, which brought the same reaction from her friend. “Kimba, you know I hate to shop,” she replied flatly.

Throwing up her hands in a defensive gesture, Kimba began her case. She knew that Julie had never been one to hang around a mall, but this was different. If she was going to be staying, they needed to buy some things. “What about if I’m paying?”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t like putting up with all that mess. People walking around aimlessly, bumping into you, snatching stuff from your hands. It frustrates me. If we go, I won’t be responsible for my actions.” She ran a hand through her unbrushed hair absently, bestowing a gentle smile on Kimba.

Who knew it was all just a front. Julie wanted to do something. It was written all over her face. After the last couple of hectic days, it would do her a world of good to get lost in something trivial. “I’ll accept complete liability then. And if you do happen to get in trouble, I know a couple of lawyers that might be able to help you out,” she said while delivering a quick blow to the t-shirt covered arm next to her. Before Julie had a chance to retaliate, Kimba was up and off to the dresser, anxious to get the day started.

* * * * * *

Once at the mall, which was small even in comparison to the town’s meager population, Julie was off and running. Kimba couldn’t believe her enthusiasm. It was like the woman wanted to buy everything new, from her socks to sunglasses. While her friend was preoccupied in a woman’s clothing store, the redhead whisked Jesse away to K-Mart for something more their pace. Dresses and shoes definitely held no interest for them.

The store held surprisingly few people as compared to the rest of the little complex. But then again, the Wal-Mart next door was always bustling with customers, so there was a good reason. Still, they could do some shopping in this place.

“So, what do you think we should get to keep you occupied while you’re at my house,” she asked brightly. The slow walk they were engaged in was drawing suspiciously toward the electronics section. Kimba had thought this type of thing might interest him, and since money was of no object, she wanted to grant any wish the boy had.

Jesse looked around with an embarrassed air. Just like his mother, he was resistant to taking gifts for nothing. “Well, I might like to play some sort of video game, if it wouldn’t be too much.”

Stroking his dark hair gently, Kimba waited until his bashful gaze pulled up to hers. “That will be great, Jesse. I’ve been thinking about buying some sort of system, I just have never had the time before.” The sudden twinkle in the boy’s eyes transformed his face into a moon of joy. Kimba could see the wheels turning in his brain, surely trying to decide what to do with this free rein to buy anything he wanted. She envied him this type of childhood.

But as they reached a video game display case, tucked away in a separated, secured area of the store, Jesse looked over with a new seriousness in his countenance. “If you and my mom are such good friends, why haven’t I ever met you,” he asked with a quiet firmness.

Good question, kid. Out of the blue, but good question. And she didn’t know how much of the answer should be told at such an early stage in this new experiment. It was a good thing she had a talent for winging it. “I went away to college when you were very young. I did know you, but I guess you’ve forgotten,” she answered casually, patting him on a firm shoulder. “I changed more of your diapers than I care to remember.”

The boy’s face screwed up at the mention of his infancy. Julie was the type to dwell on cuteness, so he had surely been subjected to hour after hour of naked picture gazing and cooing. The statement seemed to be enough to make his insecurities vanish, or it could have been the game system that he knew he was going to take home. Either way, he smiled fully before launching into a dissertation about which type of set up to buy.

By the time they purchased the new fangled, technologically enhanced, entirely too expensive game console, Julie had rejoined the group, arms empty of any buys. Kimba finished paying a depressed looking K-Mart clerk before moving toward the exit into the mall where mother and son were waiting. “Couldn’t find anything to buy,” she asked with a skeptical look. Julie had tried on half the clothes in the last store before she’d been abandoned.

“There were a couple of things, but I needed a second opinion. The mannequins refused to comment.” Her voice echoed from shop to shop. The mall was sparsely populated at the moment, which wasn’t too hard to believe. Store spaces throughout the building were vacant and the stores that were filled didn’t have a thriving appearance. In a medium sized town, it seemed like a good idea. But mall walkers were much more numerous than actual shoppers.

Kimba pulled up in front of a jewelry store window, waiting only a moment for Julie to back track and see what was up. The taller woman waited in silence as her friend peered at a display of earrings. “I think those would look great on you,” she whispered low enough so only Julie would hear, although she had no idea why she felt a need for discretion.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I may let you buy me a new outfit for work, but you’re not going to buy me something that frivolous,” the older woman replied quickly. She must have picked up on the disappointment that Kimba attempted to hide, because she tempered to her statement. “Although they are lovely.”

Taking one last look at the intricately carved loops, the short woman turned back down the passageway and continued toward the store Julie had spent so much time in earlier. She knew that it was going to be a hard thing for them to return to the point their friendship had left off, if they could at all, but she was willing to try. It was too soon to lavish gifts on Julie, and she may never actually like it. Perhaps it was more than friendly, more than the woman could handle, but still, Kimba couldn’t help but want to do it. Buying her friend back wasn’t the point. She just wanted to make her happy.

Anything to make her happy.
Chapter 7
The office wasn’t much, its walls barely ten feet apart on all sides, but it was hers. She’d only been at the firm for two years, after all. Plus, the lived in look was more her style than a fancy office would be. So the diploma on the wall up next to the flowered print made the room her own and the raise she’d received last month was more than enough to tell Kimba the rest of the firm appreciated her hard work.

As did the compassion Rawlings, the managing partner, had shown her when she’d strode into his office and told him of her friend’s situation. They’d decided it would be best for Roger to handle the divorce, since she was too close, and the rush had been put on the case’s commencement. By three o’clock the stocky little man was at her door, papers in hand along with a huge smile.

“It’s all set, honey,” he refrained happily, as he always did. He really was a sweet man and Kimba was glad to have him as a friend.

She accepted the forms with a matching grin and motioned to the meagerly padded chair across from her desk. The firm hadn’t provided her with much in the way of comforts, since she rarely met with clients. And if the need ever did arise to see someone, she did it either in a conference room or someone else’s office. “Thanks so much Roger, this means a lot to me.”

“I can see that. Johnson should be serving the guy at any minute. Is there really gonna be a problem with him,” he asked with an arch of his russet eyebrow.

“I hope not, but I’m afraid it could come to that. He’s been violent in the past. And he’s not happy about this at all.” Kimba threw up her hands and shrugged broad shoulders. “I told Julie to come here as soon as school let out.”

Agreeing that the precaution was a good idea, Roger nodded his head, light brown hair slightly shifting with the movement. He wasn’t the best looking man she’d ever seen, but he was on the cute side. And the fact that he loved her had taken the decision to like him out of Kimba’s hands long ago. When he declared his feelings for her, the idea that he accepted the fact that she could never be in love with him was enough to allow the man into the empty spot that existed in her soul. Much to his horror, he’d never been able to fill the void completely, but it was enough for both of them that he could make the ache a little less.

Leaning forward in the chair, he rested rounded forearms on the faded wood surface of the desk. He arched his eyebrows into a playful look that his companion knew well. “So this is THE Julie, huh? I can’t believe I’m finally going to meet her.”

Kimba leaned forward to match his stance, bringing them only a foot apart. The bright sparkle remained in her eyes, but she pulled a serious look onto her face. “Not a word about us to her, got it? I’ll tell her, but nothing like that has come up yet, so I’m going to leave it that way for now,” she said in a low voice.

“Can’t have her getting jealous over poor little Roger, now can we,” he replied with a hint of disappointment in his voice.

Kimba knew that he always secretly thought she’d fall for him, even though he swore he understood. But then she’d catch that look in his deep green eyes and her heart would ache for him. She knew what it was like to love someone you could never have. Still, he came when she called, fully acknowledging that it might be the last time. He was really an amazing man. Or maybe just a glutton for punishment.

Placing a small hand on his arm, Kimba smiled sadly at him with a tilt of her head. “It’s not like that, Roger. I plan to tell her about you, everything about you, but I don’t know when it will come up.”

He moved a pudgy hand over hers and shook his head ruefully. “You’re not going to let her hurt you again, are you?”

It was a simple question really, but the answer was so hard. Roger was the only person who knew what had happened between Julie and herself. She’d had to tell someone, and he was the only person Kimba had ever met that seemed to want nothing from her. Except love of course, but he didn’t push that. And so she’d said what needed to be said, what she had to get out. The slip that led to the conversation had been totally unintended, during the second time they’d made love. A name, not his. So afterward it had all come pouring out, even things she’d never had the courage to admit to herself before.

“Roger, you know I appreciate the way you look out for me, but I can handle this. Whatever happens, I accept the consequences,” answered quietly, almost as a pact to herself that she’d live up to her word. But it had hurt so much last time…

That last day she’d seen Julie had been a hot one, over one hundred degrees. Kimba was a little surprised her friend hadn’t invited her into the cooled house, but she hadn’t, so they’d stood on the porch and talked. The tall woman wore simple shorts and a t- shirt, still looking every bit the model five years after giving up that dream.

Small talk lasted a while, being as they didn’t see each other very often. Once a month, maybe, so there was plenty of catching up to do. Kimba was eager to hear of Jesse’s latest exploits and Julie’s progress into her last semester at the local college. It was still hard to believe she was going to be a teacher.

Then finally, it came time to get the point, so Kimba did. “Jay, I’m leaving for school tomorrow. I…I’m not sure when I’ll make it back this way,” no matter how much she’d rehearsed it or how hard she tried, the tremor crept into her voice.

Blue eyes slowly left hers, moving to the grassy ground lately a much easier place for them to rest. The younger woman was always nervous when her friend wouldn’t look her in the eye. “You’re going to have a lot of fun at Brown, Kimba,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m really proud of you.” She finally looked up to give a smile that was surely meant as encouraging, but to the woman across from her, it looked desperate.

“Do you think you could come visit me sometime? It could be just the two of again, for a little while.” A long sigh escaped the older woman as Julie looked away again. Kimba couldn’t quite pinpoint when things had gotten so hard between them. She only knew that they had.

It had all began, of course, when Julie married John. He thought of Kimba as an annoying little third wheel and made no bones about letting her know it. Julie had constantly defended her friend to her husband, but over the years, the times they’d spent together had become fewer and more tension filled.

The dark haired woman walked to the white rail that circled the house’s porch and heavily leaned on it. Her eyes slowly took in the crowded little neighborhood before she spoke. “You know I’d love to, but we probably can’t afford something like that for me. Maybe when I get a job, but that’s a ways off.”

Kimba settled beside her friend, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, drawing glazed eyes to her own. At that look of utter fright, of what she knew not, the younger woman drew in a calming breath. It wouldn’t do any good to get upset. “It would be a nice break for you,” she stated softly.

An imperceptible nod was her answer, the one she knew came from the heart, but her friend’s words brought the answer she’d expected, considering the gulf between them.

“John probably wouldn’t like the idea.”

“John has been running your life for over five years, Jay. Why don’t you do something you want for once,” she growled fiercely.

Julie cast a glance back to the door before bestowing a scowl on her friend. “Let’s not get into this, okay.”

But it was too late. The realization was slowly seeping into Kimba’s mind that this could be the last time she would see the person who meant the most to her in the world, despite the recent hurdles in their relationship. Nothing was going to stop her from saying what was raging through her mind. “I can’t even remember the last time I saw you smile, Jay. Do you know how much I miss that? You can’t let him…”

“You don’t understand,” she pleaded in a low voice. Twisting back around, body facing the front yard, her slender fingers turned white against the railing they held. “Jesse and I are in a good position, here. I couldn’t support him by myself. John provides for us.” Misty eyes turned onto Kimba again, then lowered in defeat. “He’s a good man and I love him.” But they both knew it was a lie.

Gently caressing her friend’s strong cheek, Kimba turned the crystal blue eyes to hers. Both of them were losing a few stray tears. “Come with me, Jay. We’ll find a way to take care of Jesse and you can be happy again. You don’t deserve the way he treats you,” she implored in a raspy tone.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it explosively, Julie lips upturned slightly. “It wouldn’t work, but it is a tempting offer.” She reached up to Kimba’s face and caressed it lovingly. “I would give almost anything for things to be back the way they were, but it can’t happen, Kimba. This is my life now. I’ve got to live it,” she spoke quietly while gently brushing tears off her friend’s face. “Things will be okay. John loves me and…”

Something in Kimba snapped at that. A sudden motion had both of Julie’s hands in her own and their faces only inches apart. “He’ll never love you like I do,” she interjected.

This was it. The moment when she either won it all or lost it. All the years and wonderful times they’d had were in the balance. And Kimba realized what she was asking, that it was a lot, that it was everything to Julie. But it was everything to her as well.

The taller woman caught her breath at the words and tears began flowing freely. Her energy immediately went into an attempt not to completely break down. In between sobs, she managed to gasp the words that broke Kimba’s heart. “I can’t…I can’t go with you, no matter how much I want to. I’m sorry.”

Pulling away from the contact between them, Kimba took in as much air as her lungs would hold while raising her hands as if to ward off some danger. A million things to say ran through her mind, but some inner voice was declaring that it was too late for anything. Julie wouldn’t leave the man now, or probably ever. And it was over between them. “I’m gonna miss you…so much.”

Backing off the porch, the young woman made a purposeful attempt to study her friend completely. No matter how painful this moment was, there were so many good things to remember about her best friend. She didn’t want to forget a one.

Roger shook his head and gave a slight smile. “Okay, if you say so. But Kim, you know I’m always here for you.” His hand squeezed hers tighter and she responded in kind. He was a great friend.

“Thanks Roger. It’ll be fine. You just need to take care of this divorce for her. It could get messy,” she reported sadly.

“What could get messy,” came a familiar voice from the door. They both looked up to see Julie standing there, elegantly wearing a navy blue pant suit, long black hair rolled in a precise bun. Kimba smiled appreciatively at the teacher look.

The redhead stood and gapped the space between her friend and Roger, who was now also standing. “Oh, this little business of getting you unconnected to that man.” A dark eyebrow rose quickly, countered by a smirk from Kimba. There was no use trying to hide her feelings. If Julie didn’t know by now how she felt about John, she must have been living in another dimension. “Julie, this is Roger Barnes. He’s going to be handling your affairs,” she introduced them, motioning to each with a wave of the arm.

Leaving the two of them alone to iron out the business details and further discuss the situation, Kimba decided to visit the little firm’s kitchen. Like the tightly clustered offices, the entire place wasn’t very big. The mini-refrigerator and sink took up one wall and a simple wooden dining table took up the rest. It wasn’t that the firm didn’t have money, because it did okay in the revenue department. The partners had simply made a conscious decision to keep a tight budget so that all excess funds could go either back into the practice or in the pockets of the lawyers that produced them. Everyone thought it was a good plan, so few complaints were heard of the tiny, unremarkable offices or the occasional lack of luxuries heard tell of from other firms.

Kimba didn’t mind much at all. In fact, it was a comfort to her to know that the managing partner wasn’t down the hall in a lush office laughing at her brown paper bag accommodations. By the time law school graduation had approached, the stocky woman had been unsure of what life in the real world of law would bring her, but the fears proved to be unfounded. Her career had turned out to be all she thought it would be. Through a couple of very long years it had helped her turn away from the rest of her existence, which hadn’t turned out so great.

Green eyes turned to the open doorway as Mary, the all-purpose, all important, super secretary appeared. The young lawyer had relied on her fully for the first year of her career, which helped foster a very close working relationship between the two. “Hey, Mary. Are you about ready to go home,” she asked lightly.

“I’m getting there, honey.” The slight woman, shorter in stature than Kimba and thinner to a great degree, plopped a stack of papers on the table. The gust of wind it created blew red-gold hair into a whirl and Kimba cast her a mock stern glare. “That’s everything I could find on the drainage situation. Anything else is beyond my expertise, so you’re on your own.”

Picking up the stack of cases, the younger woman nodded her head in understanding. The project was something trivial that would require a lot of fruitless research. Generally, she would love something like it, but at the moment, and for the last few days, she seemed to have something else completely on her mind. “I’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s gonna take a while…but I’m about to leave myself, so it can wait,” she replied with a sigh.

A gleam took over Mary’s dark brown eyes and her smile widened. “So, is everything alright with your friend?”

“I think so. She’s talking to Roger right now about the divorce action. Once we get that out of the way, things’ll be great.” Even feeling her muscles twitching and the uncontrollable urge to smile didn’t stop Kimba from trying to stop the grin. She couldn’t seem to help it lately.

Mary stepped closer and lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “I’m glad it’s working out, honey. She’s very pretty,” she confided with what Kimba thought was a wink.

My God! Can everyone see it that clearly, Kimba’s mind furiously asked. Surely the secretary didn’t suspect her feelings. The grinding of her teeth tempered the silly smile, but the blush that crept up her fair cheeks could not be hidden in the least. A little nod of her head seemed to satisfy Mary as an answer, as the older woman patted her on the shoulder before exiting the room.

Roger and Julie talked for thirty minutes about all the details that needed to be ironed out. At least for the moment, they hoped everything would be easy. In the divorce petition, she was only asking for a modest amount of child support and joint custody. Jesse and his father got along fine, so that wasn’t a worry. Now the only missing factor in the equation was whether John was going to throw a big fit over the whole thing or not. Julie seemed to think he could adjust to the idea, but Kimba had some serious doubts. The man was too possessive to let his wife go without a fight.

Picking up Jesse from baseball practice had been a nervous event. John had probably already been served with the court papers and both women feared that he would be sitting in the parking lot waiting for them. Kimba had no doubt there was going to be at least one more volatile scene, though hopefully it wouldn’t happen in front of a lot of people. Especially people at school. They both had reputations to maintain, after all.

But he hadn’t been there, so the drive home was filled with at least a small degree of hope that things would be all right. Then Julie informed them that John had probably been at a principals meeting he was required to go to by the school district. With his deeply ingrained sense of duty, he wouldn’t miss something like that. They decided that either way, it was a good thing, in the least giving him a chance to cool off and think rationally.

In front of the television, network comedies playing on unnoticed by the occupants of the fluffy sofa, they finally started talking about it. Kimba hadn’t really asked much about why Julie had finally decided to leave the jerk, preferring to let her friend tell in her own time. Apparently, it was time.

“I’m not sure what he’s going to think about this. He probably didn’t even realize I was unhappy. I’ve been that way for so long,” she sighed with a sad smile.

Kimba nodded in understanding. She knew what it was like to be unhappy. Had been that way for years. If it hadn’t been for her insatiable quest for the career she’d dreamed of, she didn’t know how she would have made it. She suspected Jesse had done much the same for the dark haired beauty sitting casually beside her. “Well, I’m sure he’ll realize that if this is what you want, you should have it. He must care about you that much.”

Julie inhaled deeply and raised both eyebrows in a questioning glance. “He…he’s a very dominant man, Kimba. I’m not so sure he’ll give me up so easily.” Turning her eyes away, shame evident on her sharp features, she continued. “I mean, I know that I’ve practically been his slave for twelve years. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I did anything he didn’t approve of. This is a pretty big way to start,” she snorted softly. “Maybe I should have tried buying a new dress first or something.”

“You always did go for the big stuff, Julie. It wouldn’t be you if it didn’t cause some sort of disaster.” Laughing softly, Kimba placed a hand on her friend’s knee.

The picture she was getting of the woman Julie had become was somewhat disconcerting. The girl she’d known in her childhood had been so different. Nobody messed with them for fear of suffering her intimidating wrath, possibly a punch in the nose or a degrading verbal assault. Early in their friendship, Julie had made it well known that no one was to question her choice of friends, and after a couple of apt demonstrations, no one tried. Now, the thought of her demurring to that pompous man made the lawyer’s stomach do circus flips.

Running a hand through dark hair, the woman laughed self-depreciatingly, but the smile was soon over run by a sadness that struck a sour chord in the little redhead. A melancholy silence hung in the air. Kimba couldn’t reconcile the two pictures in her mind. She refused to. Julie didn’t want to be the dutiful wife to anyone, no matter about Jesse or not. And she didn’t have to. When they were young she was a spitfire, and a happy one at that. There was no reason she couldn’t be one again once they managed to get John and his depressive power out of her life for good.

An insistent bang on the front door drew both women’s attention to the room’s foreground, startled glares taking in the shaking white metal and mahogany frame. No doubt about it, that couldn’t be good.

“Don’t answer it,” Julie whispered, the fright trembling her voice.

Shaking her head and steeling her nerves against what was about to happen, Kimba arose and went to the door. The man was going to be around whether they liked it or not and this confrontation was inevitable. She reasoned it was better to get it over with now. Despite the anguish in Julie’s eyes, nothing worse than a few angry words was going to happen anyway. This was a person that her friend had loved and married, so he couldn’t be that bad.

After a deep breath, Kimba pulled the door open as more hard raps violently shook it. Her eyes widened at the red, angry face of John Jordan, only inches from her own. His dark eyes were wild and a snarl turned his lips into a thin angry slit. Breathing ragged, his voice dripped with rage as he got the fight started. “Where the hell is my wife, bitch?”

Kimba swallowed involuntarily and took a half step back. She didn’t want to back down, but her body was trying to betray her. The way he said bitch made her heart stop beating for a long moment. She’d had fights with him before and he’d never sounded like this. It could have been his thick voice, or the fact that she wasn’t quite sure which one of them he was referring to, or just all of his menacing rage. The only definite idea she had was that she’d underestimated the severity of the situation when she’d oh so casually opened the door.

Drawing from all the strength she had, at least the part of it that wasn’t going into keeping her knees from buckling, Kimba straightened up to her full, meager height and replied. “She’s here, John, but I think you need to cool down a little before you two talk.”

He snorted heavily, brought his arm to her shoulder and easily shoved her further into the house. “Get out of my way,” he growled.

Catching her balance at the last minute, the small woman righted herself and followed the seething man into the living room, where he stopped a couple of feet from the couch and stared down at the frightened woman still sitting there. Julie was paralyzed with shock, her blue eyes wide, already watering in anticipation.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t leave me,” he shouted loud enough for anyone in the house to hear.

Kimba looked back to the hall leading to the bedrooms, hoping that Jesse would have the sense to stay in his room during all this. Her eyes pulled back to the scene in front of her as Julie quietly spoke.

“John, it’s over between us and you know it. I’m tired of serving you.” She swallowed hard but kept eye contact with the fidgeting man. “You can find someone else to take care of your needs. It’s just not going to be me.”

He took in a deep breath and held it for a moment. Kimba was convinced he was going to explode until he finally let it out with an animal like growl, frustration evident on his face. “Where the hell did this come from?” His hands flexed out at his sides exasperatedly.

Kimba knew it was involuntary, but blue eyes tracked over his broad shoulder and found her own for an instant. She knew the look would probably go over as well as a train full of people sailing into the Grand Canyon. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in love, John. I’m tired of hurting,” she replied in trembling distress.

Again, an intense intake of breath from the tall, dark man, accompanied by flexing fists. “This is about her, isn’t it,” he asked, glancing briefly back to the woman behind him. “I hoped that once I finally got rid of her we wouldn’t have to worry about your little obsession anymore. And now you’re leaving me for the little bitch. This is rich.”

Watching Julie stand up abruptly, Kimba was more than a little shocked about the animation her friend’s face suddenly took on. It seemed to go from pale to blazing red in a single moment. This was more like the Julie she knew. “This isn’t about her, you bastard. This is about the fact that you’ve never asked me what I want about anything.” She actually took a step toward the imposing man, seemingly oblivious to his physical advantage. “I’ve finally decided what it is that I want,” she rasped, an evil little grin twitching her lips. “And you don’t even come close.”

Kimba lurched forward as she realized what was happening, but she couldn’t stop it. His fist glanced off Julie’s cheek in a blur of motion, sending the stout woman flying as if hit by a truck. She crashed back into the soft sofa, long fingers immediately drawn to her face. Already in motion, Kimba grabbed John’s arm as he moved in for more.

If she hadn’t already been so mad, the little woman would have been scared witless. As it was, the man looming over her, teeth clenched into a hideous snarl, only served to heighten her instincts to protect her friend. Before he could fully draw back the hand that was certainly meant to connect with some portion of her body, she launched a powerful leg into his crotch, knee connecting solidly with the soft appendages resting there. He quickly dropped to his knees with a gasp of pain. Without even thinking, Kimba smashed his face with a right uppercut that would have made any professional boxer envious. She watched dispassionately as the large man slumped to the floor unconscious, a trickle of blood covering his lips.

Sprinting to the couch, small hands touched Julie’s olive face tenderly, green eyes peering deeply into the ones before her. “Are you alright?”

“I…I…Kimba, how did you do that,” she asked, confusion coloring her voice.

The redhead laughed a little and glanced back at the slowly stirring man. She had no idea how she’d done it, she just had. Even though she’d taken plenty of self-defense classes and other such physically enhancing work, none of it had prepared her for that. It was all instinct. “Don’t worry about it. Do you want me to call the cops?” She knew it would be the best thing to do, but she also knew that it would infinitely complicate the situation. If they could manage to get past this part, the rest might go off without incident and no one would be subjected to public scrutiny. Julie wanted to do everything possible to prevent her correction of past mistakes from becoming a spectacle.

“No,” she replied quickly, as her friend suspected she would.

Smiling gently, Kimba stroked the face still in her hands, then straightened up. “Okay, go into my closet and get my bat. I hope he’ll leave, but he’s waking up and I have a feeling he’s gonna be a little pissed.”

As Julie rushed down the hall, Kimba positioned herself over the prone man’s head. Grabbing his enormous hands firmly and ignoring the groan the waking man sounded, she began pulling him toward the door. Once she got there, he attempted to get his hands away as his eyes groggily popped open.

“Let go of me, bitch,” he slurred, slowly pulling his body up.

Mind racing in an attempt to figure out how they were going to get out of this without someone being seriously hurt, Kimba backed to the edge of the room. She looked down the hall to see if the bat was forthcoming. It wasn’t, but something much worse was.

John shook himself off, cobwebs visibly clearing from his eyes. He stopped advancing toward Kimba after the first step, his eyes catching his son’s wiry frame entering the room. Anger seemed to struggle with some other emotion as he stood frozen in place.

Jesse’s voice was small and trembling, matching the slow tears tracking his cheeks. “Dad, please leave. Mama wants this, so let her have it.”

Face twisting into a confused scowl, the man took another step toward the pair, but he seemed less threatening somehow. “Come with me Jesse. We’ll get your mama back and be a family,” he said, his voice still harsh, but slightly tempered.

“No. I want her to be happy. You don’t need her.” Kimba heard resentment then and truly felt for the boy. She knew what it was like to deal with parents that were less than loving. Nothing hurt more and this boy showed it, in his tense stance and his quavering voice. His words were evidence that he’d learned a lot for his twelve years. “I’m staying here, and so is she.”

Kimba detected a shifting in the air as John took a step back and Julie reentered the room, red aluminum bat in hand. Thank goodness they weren’t going to need it. No more words were spoken as the man turned, a perceptible sadness in his eyes, and exited the house. Three loud sighs of relief filled the room.

They all silently contributed to cleaning up the mess in the living room, which mostly consisted of dumped furniture and luckily no blood on the deep brown carpet. Jesse gave his mom a supportive hug and kiss before going back to his room. Julie tried to talk to him about the incident, but he seemed to understand it all and had no intention of discussing it. At least not at the moment.

And when the two women crawled under the dark blue comforter, Julie seemed to have the same attitude. She didn’t want to talk. So they laid there on their backs for a long stretch of time, both quietly staring at the star filled sky above them. At that moment, Kimba realized how great an idea the design for the room had been. It was almost exactly like being at the lake, staring at the sky as they’d done together so many times before, needing to say nothing in their silent communication. Of course she knew that’s why she’d done it, but now it really seemed like more than an act by a love struck, lonely woman.

Soft sobs alerted her to Julie’s internal torment, bringing tears to her own eyes as well. The last week had been something else for both of them. On her part, it had been mostly joy at having her best friend back. This was definite evidence that it hadn’t been quite as rosy on Julie’s side of the coin.

Without a word, Kimba scooted closer to the tall woman beside her, slipping an arm behind her shuddering back. Julie responded by rolling on her side and burying her dark head in a strong shoulder, staying that way until sleep claimed them both.
Chapter 8
The day had been less than stellar, Julie mused as she lay sprawled across the bed in Kimba’s room. Every person she’d come in contact with had asked what the hell happened to her face. Last night’s excitement left an angry red and purple bruise covering her cheek obtrusively. It was a waste of time to even try to conceal it, so she hadn’t. The best story she could think of was something lame about Jesse and a baseball. No one questioned her openly about it, but she knew some didn’t believe her, and she didn’t really care.

By some amazing act of God, she managed to avoid John the whole day at school. Although she had to admit, if he wanted to see her, all he had to do was come get her out of class. It was almost enough temptation to go find him just to see what he looked like the day after. She still couldn’t believe how her little friend had waylaid the man.

She’d suggested Jesse go to a friend’s house for the night. It would be safer for him in case there was a repeat performance of the previous night’s incident. Not to mention that it would give her some time alone to think about what in the world was going on in her life and how she’d gotten into the crazy situation in the first place. Her husband was probably due to kill her at any moment, and if by some act of the Fates nothing that drastic happened, at least get her fired from her job.

Of course, she wouldn’t really be alone with Jesse gone. Kimba would be there, which was a thought more comforting than she could have imagined it would be. And she’d thought about it a lot, all those dreary years she’d spent being John’s wife and nothing more. With the help of her fiery friend, Julie was actually beginning to believe she could be happy again.

The snapping sound of the heavy metal front door awoke her with a start. She immediately began rubbing her eyes and running a hand through her errant hair. It was past six and Kimba was finally home. And as if for good measure, while waking alertness filled her mind, so too did the faint throbbing of an uncomfortable nap induced headache.

The stocky redhead came into the room, stopped with a raised eyebrow, and took in her friend’s disarray. “Did you have a good nap, Princess,” she asked with a wink.

“Funny. Where have you been?” Julie stretched her long legs parallel with the floor, flexing her toes and wiggling them.

Sharp green eyes coursed down the appendages and stared at the waving toes, a crooked grin on her expressive face. Once the movement finally stopped, Kimba looked back up and began unbuttoning her blue silk blouse. “Some of us work. Now change into some sweats or jeans or something and get ready to go,” she finished authoritatively.

A protest came to her lips, but Julie quickly pushed it away with a hard shove. Whatever Kimba wanted to do to distract her was fine in her book. Anything would be better than sitting around contemplating what disaster was going to happen next.

At no time did the thought come to her mind, however, that they would end up where they did. But it was perfect and sweet and nothing less than she’d expect from her very perceptive, caring friend. So as they lay back on the rock and watched the Grove Lake water lapped the surface, all Julie could do was smile.

The weather was perfect, somehow, and the sky was full of stars, even the moon seeming to demur to the greater good and allow only the shimmering brightness of its far off neighbors to fill the night. The light jackets they wore were just enough to temper the slight, early spring breeze. The cackling branches in the woods around them accompanied the calm slapping of the waves against the sandy bank.

“It’s beautiful Kimba. Just like I’ve always remembered it,” Julie said quietly. She turned her head away from the mesmerizing sky to look upon the silent woman at her side. They’d been talking for hours already, only settling for a comfortable lull in the last couple of minutes. Their little spot seemed so much more full with her friend there.

Taking in a deep breath of the soothing night air, the small woman responded in a dreamy tone. “Yeah, this has always been a great spot. Our spot.” She turned her compact body onto its side, signaling a change of pace in the conversation. Julie didn’t know what was coming, but it had to be heavy to warrant face to face communication. She likewise turned to face her friend. Kimba’s expression was dour. “You’re through with him, right?”

Not what she expected at all. The question was full of raw emotion, fear and hope mixing clearly in its recesses. No time like the present to lay it all on the line, is there? She deserves to know the truth, her mind spoke calmly, but her voice gave away fear of its own. “Yes. I…I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. Before, I married John for all the wrong reasons. There’s no way I’m staying with him for one more minute.” She paused and thought of all the amazing things she’d learned in the last week, even with all the turmoil tearing through her life. When she spoke, eye contact was impossible, blue eyes darted away to some indistinguishable point on the dark horizon, her voice a bare whisper. “Not since I know now what I’ve been missing.”

Twelve years before, sitting on the same flat rock, she’d had no idea. Well, maybe she’d had an idea, but a loud voice in her mind constantly screamed it was a life she couldn’t have…

The summer air rushed over her on a stuffy breeze. If she was smart, she’d have been down in the water with Kimba, who was sitting in the shallows, six feet from her lounging friend, letting the water lap across her chest.

It was just another night, one of many they’d spent at the lake. They both knew it was their last summer together like this, kindred friends, but neither knew exactly how it was going to end. Julie had an idea about it that had something to do with being two weeks late for her period. Soon enough she’d have to grow the guts to find out if something horrible was going on.

As it was, they were having their typical fun. Fun like none of her other supposedly more mature friends could provide her. Kimba brought out everything that Julie longed to be. When they were together, no walls or false faces were needed. It was perfect. None of the guys she’d been associating with in the last couple of years came even close to making her feel like her friend did, completely at ease with life. And that was the problem.

Julie opened her eyes as a few drops of water scattered over her reclined body, landing mostly on her well toned and fully exposed stomach. Kimba was still submerged, trying to look innocent, which she did an amazing job of.

“Maybe we should go, it’s raining,” she seriously conveyed, despite the cloudless sky that floated above them.

“Nah, that was just the water fairies blessing you.” The girl rose out of the water in all of her five foot glory and Julie caught herself mesmerized again.

She’d noticed of late, what a great body her young friend was developing, knowing that it was only going to improve in the years of growing she still had to do. Kimba was going to be a little powerhouse. She had the stocky build that would be perfect for the sports she always played, except basketball, of course. Her thick legs were finely toned already, giving her a speed that surpassed Julie’s own, even though she would never admit it. They simply never raced anymore. And the girl’s arms…the muscles there were already developed and she had never picked up a weight. And then, of course, there was that cute little button nose and the silly smile that often graced her lips. Soft green eyes that made her older, serious friend slip into daydreams where her heart was captured by the vision before her.

The daydream in question settled back on the rock, water from her bikini flowing down the surface in tiny rivulets. Julie knew that she’d been staring, but with her mind in all the uproar that it was, she really didn’t care. “Blessing me, huh?”

Again, as she had those years before, Kimba’s small, pale hand took the darker one at her side, making Julie smile at how much her friend hadn’t changed and never would. She was amazing. “I’ll never make that mistake again, Kimba,” she relayed with conviction.

“I know,” she replied, nodding solemnly. Then there was that dreamy look, one that hadn’t crossed her features for more years that she could remember. It gave them both a pleasantly familiar ache. “It’s gonna be great. After we get this mess with John sorted out and the divorce taken care of, we’re gonna do everything we’ve missed for the last twelve years.”

A shudder ran down Julie’s spine at the hopeful tone in Kimba’s voice, the promise of things to come it held. Who knew what she thought they’d missed, but it was definitely going to be worth the wait to find out.
Chapter 9
One of the things they’d missed over the years had been playing softball together, which Kimba often talked her older friend into doing when they’d been young. Some convincing was needed to get Julie to do it again, but she’d managed, so they were standing in deep centerfield, waiting for a ball to be hit their way.

The teacher had protested vigorously at first, citing the fact that she hadn’t picked up a ball in ten years, not to mention that she was never that good anyway. But Kimba didn’t buy a word of it. Julie was too good actually, a natural, she just didn’t like to put much effort into it. Hence, the woman could walk out onto the field after the long hiatus from the sport and be better than most of the well practiced players there. She normally hated that kind of person on general principles, but since it was Julie, Kimba decided she could handle it.

The grass expanse where they stood crunched under their feet, still brown and yellow from a harsh winter barrage of subfreezing temperatures and gusty windstorms. The dawning of spring would soon bring the field around to a measure of greenness, although the meager amount of grounds keeping done on the city owned fields would never bring them into lushness. The best the grass could hope for was a minimum amount of water and as few truck tracks as possible. Most of the budget for the summer had already been spent rebuilding a barrier around the complex that had been more holes than fence. Decent outfields would have to wait until next year.

As far as Kimba was concerned, the condition of the field didn’t matter. She liked being out there with her game and her friends. Serious athletes shunned the sport as more of a party event, but there weren’t too many places a woman could get competition after leaving the high school and college levels. If slow pitch softball was it, she didn’t mind. Hanging out and playing was fun and in the last few years, a night at the ballpark was often the only source of that she’d had.

The golden redhead took a couple of steps closer to her friend, who was intently watching the batter spray hits among the other women scattered about the outfield. “What do you think so far,” she asked casually.

“It’s alright,” Julie answered, still staring at home plate. Playing so far out in the field, it was unlikely that a ball would be hit their way that wouldn’t roll to them, but Kimba didn’t want to make her friend self-conscious by informing her of that. “I guess I hit okay considered how long it’s been.”

And of course she had. Lines drives that would have been easy hits in a game, drawing a giggling Kimba to taunt her with ‘I told you so’ one too many times. But the little punch had been worth the depreciating shrug and crooked smile she’d received.

“Yeah, I knew you could do it. This is gonna be fun, don’t worry.” Kimba felt her eyebrows involuntarily raise as Rana, the batter, exited the box, stopped in the batting circle and gave Halle, her lover, a peck on the lips. She’d seen it before, many times since they were a very open and affectionate couple. What brought a queasy feeling to her stomach was wondering how Julie would react to the display.

Before the whole John fiasco, Kimba had thought she’d seen the tendency in Julie to appreciate a woman. Well, not a woman, but a girl, since the person in question had been herself. Little comments and thoughtful looks had made her think her friend wished she was just a few years older so that she could act on what she felt. For a while there at the end, when she was beginning to realize that she thought of Julie as more than just a friend, Kimba had herself convinced that the older girl felt the same way. Gone had been the days when she believed that she would one day have to share her friend with a husband. Since she had everything she needed in her best friend, why bother with a man. At least that’s what she thought then.

Now she wasn’t so sure, though. Not that she expected Julie to make a pass at her or something after all that had happened to keep them apart, but the woman had given no indication whatsoever of that sort of interest. She’d always been the quiet sort, Kimba was the talker and she knew it, but this once she wished that her friend would come out and say something like ‘you know, back then I was in love with you.’ It would make things so much easier. As it was, they slept in the same bed every night, the younger woman dreaming the same dreams that she had been dreaming for practically her whole life, with absolutely no idea if there was any possibility that they could ever come true. Nothing on the face of the earth could provoke the saucy redhead to do anything that would jeopardize the life giving friendship she had with Julie. Living the rest of her life with the unrequited love she’d dealt with in the past wasn’t a heartening prospect, but having no friendship at all was a worse scenario. It was a very frustrating predicament to be in.

Rana and Halle kissing in the batter’s box might give some insight into the problem, she realized, but it was a scary thing. The thought of hearing a disapproving comment about the women’s choice of partners made Kimba’s heart begin pounding in her ears.

“Did they just kiss or was that my imagination,” Julie asked, her voice low despite the fact that no one was within hearing distance.

Kimba glanced over to gauge her friend’s expression, which showed nothing, as usual. Julie had a knack for revealing nothing if she didn’t want to. So far so good, though. Might as well dive right in. “It wasn’t your imagination. They’ve been together as long as I’ve known them, at least five years. They make a cute couple, don’t you think,” she asked, surprising herself at her boldness.

Shooting her friend a quick look, Julie again concentrated on the batter, who was conveniently pulling every ball down the left field line. “They’re lesbians?”

That didn’t sound so good, Kimba thought at the questioning tone of Julie’s voice. Not that she could blame her. It had been an adjustment for her at first, to be around a gay couple that was so open about their mutual love. A person didn’t encounter two women kissing or holding hands everyday. But it hadn’t taken her long to get used to the idea, not to mention that it helped her focus the confusing feelings that she’d had about her estranged friend.

“Yeah, they are. You don’t have a problem with that, do you,” her voice was now lowered as well, but not so much out of fear of anyone overhearing as with simple genuine fear.

“No, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just that I’ve never…well, I’ve never actually seen women kiss before. I guess you have, seen them, I mean.” Julie stumbled a little nervously over the last words, which did not go unnoticed by the skittish woman beside her.

It was a good thing Julie’s eyes were still glued to home plate, because if she would have been looking to her side, she would have seen Kimba’s green eyes go wide and wild. Yeah, I’ve seen two women kiss a time or two. Rather up close actually, her mind laughed. But no need to go into that at the moment. I don’t have the foggiest of when it will be a good time, but there will definitely be a better time for that heart to heart later. “I’ve been around them for a while, so it doesn’t phase me. They’re just like anybody else. Besides the lesbian thing, anyway.” Kimba chuckled at the smirk quickly fired her way. “And just so you’ll know, Marty has the same inclinations.”

Taking her eyes completely off the batter for the first time since they entered the field, the tall woman walked to her friend’s side and settled there. They hadn’t gotten a ball in fifteen minutes, which made it a little harder to concentrate on the boring act of batting practice. “Who’s that,” she asked, her voice tinged with curiosity.

Swallowing hard and taking the first breath in what seemed like minutes, Kimba could feel her tension easing. Her friend’s reaction was very similar to what her own had been, more curious than apprehensive. Definitely a good sign. Now if she could just maneuver smoothly around the Marty situation, everything would be great. “She’s the pitcher.”

Blue eyes focused intently on the chunky blonde on the mound. Chunky may not have been the perfect description, though. She wasn’t really fat, but she also was in no danger of anorexia. In fact, she’d gained at least fifteen pounds in the last two months. Her short curly hair barely reached her shoulders and did nothing to make her look thinner.

“We’re pretty good friends,” Kimba informed her still silent friend. Julie was studying the pitcher closely, as if waiting for her to do something to prove the supposition of what they were discussing. “Sometimes we do stuff together. She’s real cool. Crazy, but cool.” That was definitely true, Kimba mused. If she thought about it, she still couldn’t believe some of the outlandish things the woman had gotten her to do. Anything from hiking up impossibly steep mountains to the bungee jumping they’d done. At the time, it felt exhilarating. She knew Marty had been doing anything to cheer her up, and that made the activities feel even better. But nothing they’d done together had filled the void in her heart and they’d both known that as well.

After chasing down a slow roller that came in their general direction, Julie trotted back to their spot, displaying an approving grin. She put an olive hand on Kimba’s shoulder and squeezed slightly. “Well, if she’s a friend of yours, I can’t wait to meet her. That fact alone proves she’s crazy,” she joked, dodging Kimba’s cuff at the last second, as she had an uncanny knack of doing.

Not fifteen minutes later, Kimba had the joy of tensing up as Marty jogged out to their position in deep center, her intent to make the redhead squirm clear in her twinkling blue eyes. Steeling herself for the blonde’s strange sense of humor, she silently prayed that the woman would keep her head, and her promise.

“Hey Kim, you haven’t introduced me to your friend.” Stopping and turning around to face the now active batter’s box, Marty bumped the redhead shoulder to shoulder. “Very rude,” she accused.

“You’ve been a little busy pitching, Marty.” Kimba stepped back from between the two women and motioned to both of them. “Marty, this is Julie. Julie, Marty.” She watched a little uneasily as both women exchanged greetings, gently shaking hands, then stepped back to her place in the middle. She didn’t know what she was going to do if they hit it off. Or if they didn’t get along for that matter. If Marty didn’t like Julie, some very bad realities could come about.

Thankfully, only one batter was left after Marty made her appearance in the outfield, so the introduction was about as far as the relationship could go for the night. Thirty minutes later, the two women were settled comfortably on Kimba’s cushy couch, talking in the same casual fashion they had for all their lives. The attorney couldn’t help but inwardly sigh in happiness at the bullet she’d obviously avoided. In the least, Julie was not repulsed by the idea of two women having a relationship. By no means was it a green light to do something foolish, but it also wasn’t a crushing blow to her fantasies.

Jesse was neatly tucked into his bed, much to his embarrassment, when Kimba finally walked to the front door to turn out the living room light for the night. Passing by the window, the inside of the house dark, she noticed a familiar green Ford truck sitting by the curb. The truck appeared lifeless, no lights making it stand out on the darkened street. The only reason she could see its driver sitting idly behind the wheel was the dull glow of moonlight illuminating the cab. The stern profile was all too familiar, sending a strong shiver down her spine.

“Julie, come here,” she called to the back room. Kimba considered that it might be best not to tell her, since Julie was gonna freak out. Then again, stalking was a step higher than a simply estranged husband. If this thing was going to get serious, they were going to take action to try and prevent it. There was no way she was going to sit a prisoner in her own home, fearful of some nut that had no right to make her miserable.

The tall woman settled beside her, expression matching the stern one she found on her friend’s face. “What is…,” her voice trailed off as she followed Kimba’s gaze out the window. “Oh shit.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, her flat tone identical to Julie’s. “How long do you think he’s been out there?”

Running a hand through her hair, she shook her dark head, startled eyes wide. “I have no idea.” Julie paused, taking a deep breath, holding it for too long, then released it explosively. Both of them knew how bad a development this was. They should have known it wasn’t going to be easy. “Never thought he’d do something like this. It’s not like he really loves me anymore…if he ever really did,” she continued quietly.

“You never know what’s running through his head though. I know I’d go crazy if I lost you again.” The words were out before she realized it, but she didn’t really want to take them back anyway. Julie’s cautious smile made it okay, though. There was no use in trying to fix the statement, the woman had already processed a meaning for it and it had brought a smile to her face, so it couldn’t be that bad. Now if she could figure out a way to make the jackass stalking her best friend disappear, the world would be a really nice place.
Chapter 10
Another quiet night in front of Kimba’s house, the wind breezing lightly through the open truck windows, John watched and waited. His heart called out to him fiercely, ordering him to rush in the taunting front door and take what was his.

She loves me, no matter what she says, his mind screamed in anguish. They’d been together for so long, he couldn’t quite grasp what was happening or why. I give her everything. A son, a home, a stable life. How can she do this to me? All I’ve ever done is love her.

A shadowed figure walked past the living room window, too fast for him to tell if it was Julie or Jesse. Jesse. My son. I can’t let either of those women take him from me. A boy needs his father. Sitting in front of the house almost every night since being served the divorce papers, John constantly searched his mind for a solution to the problem. He’d tried talking to her, asking her nicely to come back. Nothing worked. Julie insisted that she didn’t love him. Resignation to that claim would never come for the man, he knew.

Julie had been everything to him. The first day he’d seen her, sitting in the back row of homeroom English, he had to have her. Then and now, she was the most beautiful woman around. Men wanted her and women were jealous. Julie was the best of her stock and he insisted on taking her as his wife.

And now, he watched the street in disgust as a car passed him slowly. Now he was sitting around waiting for her to come back to him. Waiting for her to leave her little friend. Bitch, he wailed silently. Kim Curtis had always been a wedge between them. The first half of their marriage had been spent trying to get rid of her. John had been very surprised that he actually succeeded on that count in the first place, but it appeared his success was shorter lived that he thought it would be.

A solution to his problem was within his grasp if he could only grab hold of it. Leaning back to stretch in the cramped truck seat, the tall man smiled wickedly. One way or another, he was sure, he would reclaim his family.
Chapter 11
Standing as close to the chain link fence as possible, her toes extended for full height, Julie had an unobstructed view of her golden haired friend at bat, waiting for the pitcher’s next offering. She chose to sit out the last game in favor of someone a little more fresh or, honestly, someone in a little better shape. The game may have just been slow pitch softball, but a whole day of it could cause someone such as Julie, who hadn’t exercised much in the recent past, to get a little fatigued. In fact, in the middle of last game she’d decided her legs had turned to lead for no apparent biological reason. All in all, it was a little depressing.

Kimba, of course, was still going strong, her determined personality and constant physical activity allowing the day to be one of fun and frolic. The bubbly and joking nature she displayed during the activity was proof to the older woman that Kimba truly loved to play. Not a bad thing to have to watch.

But this game, the championship, depreciated beyond hope after only two innings. The other team was outstanding, as evidenced by the diving grab the shortstop made on Kimba’s screaming liner up the middle of the field. A hit just like it had been a single all day, but in this game, it was one more out closer to the inevitable.

As she watched her friend stride purposefully to her side, Julie could feel the familiar smile forming on her lips. The same look had been there for almost three weeks now, with only a few anomalous moments of unhappiness mixed in. Mainly thoughts and interactions with John brought about those aberrations. He was the only dark spot in her current existence, continuously sitting outside the house as if waiting for her to pack up and ask to be taken home. Only once had he called her out of class during school to try and plead his case. Actually, the man was being very polite for the most part, which was as unnerving as the threats he’d made when the whole mess began. At least with the intimidation she’d been sure of his true intentions. Now he seemed to be trying to wait her out, which he had no chance of doing, considering she’d never felt happier in her life. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to get that fact through his thick skull.

The source of that happiness leaned heavily against the fence beside her, watching the field with a grim expression. “Well, I guess that about does it,” she said as the opposition produced the second out.

About to respond, Julie went rigid upon feeling large arms circle her waist, a body press against her back, and warm breath fill her ear. For a moment she tried to tell herself it was just someone on the team playing around, they had all gotten more familiar over the last couple of weeks, but her inner senses told her that this was a person she knew all too well. And that response triggered a headlong crash into a fear that she’d never known could be so intense.

His lips barely touching the sensitive skin of her ear, he spoke quietly enough so that Kimba still did not detect his presence, concentrated as she was on the last out being made on the field. “How’s it going darlin’?”

Flesh crawling all over her body, Julie lunged forward as far as possible, which wasn’t very far considering she’d been standing within a foot of the fence to begin with. The clanking of her body into the fence brought the short woman’s attention to her, green eyes immediately filling with fire.

“Let me go, John,” Julie growled to the man behind her.

Immediately he pulled his arms away and took a step back, his captive sighing in relief. Maybe he really is beginning to take this better, she thought. But then she caught the look in his eyes and remembered his truck looming outside the house night after night. Something wasn’t right with the situation and she suddenly had a feeling it was going to get a lot worse.

“No problem, Julie. I don’t want any trouble. I just wanted to see you,” he said, his voice emotionless. Julie couldn’t remember ever hearing him so calm, his voice usually raised or lowered with excitement as he spoke.

She took a deep breath to respond, then another. Stick with the plan. That was what they’d decided to do, keep telling him that their marriage was over and that she didn’t have any hard feelings about anything. Things simply didn’t work out. Surely if she said it enough he would come to understand that, it happened to a lot of people. They grew apart and then made it final. No hard feelings.

“John, that’s really nice of you, but I think we should stay apart as much as possible until both of us get used to this. It’s going to take some time, but it really is for the best,” she informed him softly. She thought it probably would have been a nice touch to place a hand on his arm, but her body rebelled at the idea of touching the man again. The words would have to do.

Yet it didn’t seem to be enough for the dark man, as animation reentered his features in a fury, brown eyes blazing, fists clenching tightly at his sides. “I’m never going to get used to this. You’re my wife,” he spat out the last part as if it explained everything.

The first few members of the team were returning to the dugout after having shaken hands with the other team. Everyone’s attention was diverted to the scene of Kimba and Julie standing side by side, facing a man who was raising his voice to them. Most stopped and concentrated on picking up their equipment, only Marty deciding to intervene in the situation, or at least watch and see what happened. As Julie saw her stepping closer, she realized how convenient it was to have police officers on the team.

“We’ve talked about this John,” she hissed under her voice, trying not to alert the whole team as to what exactly was going on. “Let’s not do this here.”

That seemed to be the breaking point, for some reason, as John threw back his head in a maniacal laugh, the sound throwing a bitter shiver down Julie’s spine. She’d definitely never heard something like that from her husband. “Where would you prefer we do this then? Huh? At your little dyke’s house?” He cast a disgusted look at Kimba and took a step back toward them both, effectively pinning them to the fence.

Not knowing what to say, since she certainly didn’t want to have the conversation anywhere, Julie was relieved to see Marty beginning a purposeful walk toward the scene. Although she wanted to get back at him for the insult he’d given her friend, she really didn’t want to do anything to make him angrier.

“Is there a problem here,” the officer asked, the playful tone present in her voice all day vanished. The stocky little blonde was all business.

Turning his intent glare from his two victims, John looked at the woman approaching him with equal hatred. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m a police officer and I think you had better leave these two ladies alone before you wind up in jail.” She stopped beside him, hands on hips, chin up, allowing an unfettered look into her intent eyes. Despite the almost foot difference in height, she did not appear to be intimidated at all, which, Julie realized with a little surprise, she wasn’t.

John pursed his lips to say something several times, then grunted in frustration. He whirled around to go, but not before giving his wife one final evil glare. The three women were silent as they watched him walk swiftly to the parking lot, long legs stepping in sporadic anger.

Marty broke the silence first, the lightness present in her tone once again. “Let’s say we go out for a night on the town, ladies?”

Not knowing exactly what that meant, even though after the tenseness of the last couple of minutes, any distraction sounded really good, Julie turned to Kimba for an answer. The redhead stared at Marty for a moment, raised one eyebrow, then shrugged.

“What the hell? A night out with you can’t be any worse than watching that bastard sit outside my house,” she said with a smirk at the blonde. After a pause she said, “At least I don’t think it could be worse.” And with that, they were heading to the parking lot themselves, trying to put the angry man’s image, shadowy eyes and snarling smile, out of their heads.

In her quiet, rather boring life, Julie had not been in an overabundance of bars, but the one Marty brought them to seemed very nice. Circular tables surrounded a small dancing area, a long bar ran along one wall, and curtained windows covered the other. The air lacked the smoke filled sludge she’d experienced in bars before and a soft chatter was the only sound filling the room. No television blared in the background. Another crucial element was missing from the place as well. Men. The room was filled with women, head to foot, and the lack of drunken men significantly bolstered the extremely civil atmosphere. Not that women wouldn’t get tipsy and obnoxious, but it was early yet, so at the moment quiet conversations were the only activities afoot.

Upon realizing that she was sitting in a lesbian bar, the teacher’s first thought had been a fear of what anyone who saw her might think. That was until she saw a fellow teacher she’d known for ten years, without a clue as to her sexuality, sitting at an intimate table in the corner, holding hands with a petite blonde, and realized that anyone who saw her would not be spreading rumors that would implicate themselves. Pushing away those thoughts left her free to relax a little and enjoy the homey environment of the bar.

“So, are you guys going to tell me what that was all about earlier,” Marty finally asked directly after a bit of small talk. She was nothing if not direct.

Kimba sought and received a nod of approval before launching into an explanation. “I’ve told you that Julie was getting a divorce. That was her husband John. Obviously, he’s not happy with the situation.” The small woman shrugged and made a dismissive gesture with both hands.

Nodding and pursing her lips, the police officer slid into her professional mode for a moment. “Has he done anything else like this?”

“He’s been pretty good lately, but,” Kimba paused, unsure. They’d talked about consulting the police after the first incident in the living room and agreed it would be the best course. And still they’d decided not to do it. “We had a fight after he got the papers and he’s been sitting outside my house everyday for about three weeks.” The attorney finished in a rush.

Marty reflected on the information a moment before speaking. “A fight,” she asked skeptically.

Julie decided to help her friend in the ever-plummeting conversation, feeling a stern tongue lashing was imminent. “Kimba beat the crap out of him. You should have seen it.”

Blonde hair bobbing again as if in agreement, the officer continued to analyze the situation. Julie wasn’t sure if the explanation was going well or not. She didn’t know Marty well enough to gauge what her reaction was going to be. Anger at their stupidity for letting things go so far was not out of the realm of possibility, especially since Julie herself was quickly coming to terms with the errors they’d committed.

“Hmmm…and he’s been stalking the house too.” The blonde turned her attention solely to Kimba, who was staring at the dance floor where a few women began to gather. “What the hell are you doing Kim? You should have had a protective order after the first incident and alerted the police. This doesn’t sound like something you should be screwing around with,” she informed sternly, concern quickly filling her raspy voice.

Returning her attention to the officer, Kimba shrugged apologetically. “I know Marty, but we wanted to try to handle it ourselves. He hasn’t threatened us until tonight. We were hoping to avoid making this a national issue. They both have jobs and there’s Jesse to consider.” She paused for another shrug. Those were the main reason’s they’d discussed in deciding not to go to the police, but not the real ones. Julie had convinced her that John wouldn’t do anything rash, that he wasn’t even capable of such a thing. After his recent tirade, she wasn’t so sure that was a correct assumption. “Besides, you know how the cops treat a situation like this. Nothing gets done until somebody gets hurt anyway,” she continued.

The chunky blonde straightened up in her chair, ready for a fight. “You know that’s not true. Going to the police would be a good move to make sure things don’t escalate. We can’t predict when something’s gonna happen, but we can work prevention to some degree. Have faith for God’s sake,” she pleaded with her friend.

“Alright Marty, we’ll take care of it Monday, but it’s not gonna help. If he wants to do something, no protective order is gonna stop him. And that’s something you can’t prevent,” Kimba spoke regretfully.

Marty seemed to accept it as heart felt opinion and reluctantly agreed. It was a good compromise and it made Julie feel a little better after the incident at the ballpark. John was definitely going over the edge.

“I’m gonna go dance,” Kimba announced suddenly before leaving the table.

Julie stared at her friend in shock for a moment, then looked to Marty, who was still planted firmly in the chair beside her with an equally amazed expression. “I can’t believe Kimba is dancing,” she said softly.

The dancing wasn’t all that surprised her though, she knew her friend could move. What was a shock was that Kimba was dancing with a woman, an action which Julie hadn’t allowed herself to consider that the younger woman might do. Long ago she’d written off the possibility that her fiery little friend had kept the feelings she made so plain when they’d been young. But apparently, as she was learning more and more everyday, Kimba hadn’t changed that much at all.

One thing was for sure. Kimba could dance. Gone was the awkward, budding teenage body Julie remembered. The woman on the floor, facing a slightly chubby brunette, moved perfectly in time to the drums pounding behind the medium paced, guitar driven song. There was nothing awkward in the way her muscled body shifted with the beat, the way small hands delicately waved at her sides.

Julie was so enrapt at the scene, she almost missed Marty’s response to her statement, but it slowly crept into her consciousness and made her minutely start at its implications.

“She never would dance with me,” the officer said with a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Tearing her eyes from the scene, the dark woman took in her tablemate’s wistful expression as she too was captured by the redhead on the dance floor. “Were you two…,” her voice trailed of as she realized she had no idea how to ask the question. Julie had never even considered that Kimba might prefer to date women. Not once since they’d reacquainted had her friend mentioned any romantic partners, man or woman. She’d assumed that what relationships had taken place had been with men.

Marty understood the question and took pity on Julie’s inexperience in the matter. “We were together for a short while. Last summer. It…it just didn’t work out.” She finished quietly, finally turning to face Julie.

“What happened,” the teacher asked with interest. The words coming from her own lips surprised her, not for the nosy side she was showing, but for the ever increasing vivid curiosity that filled her soul at this revelation about her friend. The desire to hear about the relationship was a palpable sensation.

The blonde took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. She shrugged her shoulders, reminding Julie of the same action she’d noticed Kimba do often. “It didn’t end bad, as you can see, we’re still good friends. But…it started out as kind of a fluke thing. She kissed me out of the blue one day and we got to talking. Kim said she wanted to know what it was like.” Sad blue eyes turned longingly out to the mass of dancing women again before she continued. “So I showed her. Then after we’d been together a couple of months, she told me she had to break it off before she hurt me anymore. She said she was in love with someone else,” she finished quietly, releasing another deep sigh.

Realizing with a bit of a start that Marty was quite possibly still in love with Kimba, from the lost look that filled her eyes, Julie felt a pang of anguish for the woman as a profound silence surrounded them. With that kind of feeling left in the open, it was amazing she could still be friendly with the object of her desire. I couldn’t do the same, though, could I. I just pushed her away until the whole situation was so painful she left me, her mind supplied in anger. That had been part of the whole problem back then. After a while, she’d found it too difficult to deal with Kimba as only a friend when she wanted more and knew she could never have it.

Marty’s last statement stuck in her mind with relentless tickling as they both sat and watched Kimba take a different partner during the next song and continue her sensuous movements. Her need to know more eventually forced her to break the silence. “Do you know who she was in love with?”

After several more moments, the officer pulled her gaze from the dancing and captured Julie’s pale blue eyes with a serious intensity. “At the time, I thought it was Roger, from her law firm. We all knew they’d had a thing going since college and I thought maybe she was still hung up on him.” A small grin came to her lips, to which she brought her glass of beer and took a quick sip before returning it to the cloth covered table. “After seeing her with you, I’ve changed my mind,” she finished with a triumphant lilt to her voice.

About to respond to the implication by asking Marty flatly, hopefully, desperately, if she really thought it was true, Julie abruptly halted any movement of her body, including breathing. The arms that slid smoothly around her waist brought a moment of alarm, but only a short one as she identified them as belonging to Kimba. The frightened feeling was replaced by an even scarier exhilaration at the thought of her friend’s arms around her.

Even though she didn’t believe it was possible, her heart beat double time to its fast pace when the redhead spoke, the woman’s mouth was so close breath tickled her ear. “C’mon Jay, dance with me,” Kimba asked in a sultry, low voice.

If Julie didn’t know better, she would have sworn her friend had been drinking. Boldness shined from her eyes and filtered across her muscled form. But they’d both only had coke since arriving, Kimba because she swore long ago to never touch alcohol and had apparently kept that promise, and Julie in deference to the other woman’s choice. And that name!!! How long have I waited to hear that again? Feels like forever. There really wasn’t much she could do except rise from the comfortable little chair and follow the stocky woman to the floor, butterflies filling her stomach at an exorbitant rate.

“It’s been a long time,” she muttered when they reached a clear space and faced each other. When her eyes met green ones, the rounded face was serious, and it was obvious that Kimba knew she wasn’t referring to the act of dancing, which she couldn’t remember the last time she’d tried, but everything that was happening. The giddy little flutter in her chest was so foreign, Julie could never remember feeling it at all. She only knew that the way it was making her head swim had to be good.

The first few moments felt like trying to work stiffness out of an abused muscle, but the beat of the music brought back the ease of movement that she’d always been capable of. John hadn’t been much of a dancer, so the dark headed woman was quite out of practice, but her partner didn’t seem to notice, by the smile on her face as her eyes moved from point to point on Julie’s body. The teacher didn’t quite know what was bringing out this side of Kimba, but she was glad that it had surfaced. The not knowing and wondering had been too hard.

With a little relief on Julie’s part, the fast paced song finally ended with one last hard riff, her breath beginning to calm immediately. Dancing was harder work than she remembered, not to mention that she’d been in a lot better shape the last time she’d done it. But the next song brought a new kind of ragged edge to her breathing as a soft piano floated across the air in an easy waltz. Couples all around them immediately melded together into a congregation of four legged creatures moving as one. Green eyes met blue in question, seeing only a sea of confusion from the flustered teacher.

But upon seeing a defeated, disappointed little sigh escape Kimba’s lips, Julie reached out a hand and took an arm to stop her friend’s exit. A grin quirked both sets of lips. “I know you can slow dance. Or have you already forgotten what I taught you,” she asked jokingly as Kimba stepped back toward her.

“I’ve never forgotten one thing you taught me, Jay,” the redhead whispered when her mouth was close to an ear again. Julie tried to halt the intake of breath, but her fluttering lungs wouldn’t allow it and she knew her friend felt and heard the slip. Her senses were heightened to a fever pitch at the moment, soaring on a wave that she couldn’t understand the source of.

Swallowing hard, Julie concentrated on keeping her breathing even, which wasn’t easy considering the warmth she was getting from the body so close to hers. They weren’t actually touching, except for Kimba’s strong arms around her waist and Julie’s around her neck, but the feelings the older woman was getting as a result of the closeness was a startling surprise. For a long time she knew that she craved her friend’s bright soul, but actually figuring out that a physical need still accompanied that was a little shocking. So she tried to think about something else.

“I thought the taller person got to lead,” she asked into Kimba’s nearby ear, praying her voice didn’t betray her raging emotions.

The redhead was caught a little off guard, casting a skeptical glance Julie’s way. Then, settling into the banter they were so good at, that also acted as a good shield from anything more uncomfortable, she smirked up at nervous blue eyes. “That’s just because the taller person is usually a man. As you’ve probably already guessed, we’re not going by those rules tonight.”

“I’ve noticed,” she answered with a chuckle. Maybe that explained Kimba’s bold actions. In this place, nothing of the outside world seemed to matter, only the dim lights hanging over each table and the soft hum of music filling the air. The rest of the world didn’t exist amongst the paired off women, drinks in hand and smiles on faces. There was an air of fantasy to the whole situation.

“So, do you always get to lead,” the words came out before she picked up possible hidden meanings, wondering if it was an intentional slip of her devious mind or not.

Kimba considered the question for a moment, then moved her arms up around Julie’s neck, forcing her to move her hands down to the small woman’s waist. “No, I choose to think of it as an equal partnership, so we both lead.” Small hands grasped the back of Julie’s neck and began kneading the muscles there, which were more tense than she realized, but she had a suspicion as to why that was so. And the rubbing wasn’t helping the situation much.

The song wound down slowly and another, more lively tune took its place, leaving the two women standing there holding each other. Neither wanted to break apart, and when they did, the spell between them was broken. But it wasn’t a painful break, merely a pause in a tense set of emotions that would need more exploration later. Enthusiastically, they rejoined Marty at the table and picked up the light playfulness of the night, which was almost as satisfying as finding out at least partial answers to some desperate questions.
Chapter 12
Jesse bounded through the front door to meet them the next morning when they arrived to pick him up. If Kimba didn’t know better, she would have sworn he couldn’t wait to leave, but then again she couldn’t either and she’d just arrived. Something about Julie’s mom had always sent a shiver of fear down her spine, whether it was the condescending tone the woman always used or the hateful glances, she didn’t know. For some reason, Mrs. George had never approved of her. The young woman realized that her parents hadn’t been the best people around the area, but she’d never personally done anything to warrant the treatment.

But the boy’s behavior seemed a little too sporadic to be an itching to get away from his overbearing grandmother, who he no doubt loved despite her hard hand. Not to mention that he would be as unable as Kimba not to love Joe, Julie’s sweet, demure father. It was still a mystery as to how he had managed to live so long with his wife.

Jesse was positively bouncing around the house, picking up his things from one room and another, stopping occasionally to ask his mother a question.

Kimba and Julie stood quietly in the front room with the matriarch, waiting for the first chance to leave. No one said anything until Jesse reentered the pristine room with his duffel bag bulging and a happy grin on his face. “Did you guys win,” he asked excitedly.

“No, but we did make it to the final game. Maybe next time.” Kimba shrugged her shoulders and looked to her stoic friend. She wasn’t sure, but she thought Julie was as anxious to leave as she and Jesse were. But it was impossible to get out that easy.

Looming over them, Mrs. George finally spoke, in that same condescending, degrading tone that Kimba hated so much. “I don’t think you should be taking Jesse around to those games of yours. I’ve heard rumors about the people who play in them.”

Wow, how did she come up with that? She must have used her evil little brain to choose a subject with the potential of screwing everything up, Kimba’s mind seethed. She glanced to her side to find two blue eyes studying her intently, a small smile, almost imperceptible, playing on Julie’s lips.

“The only kind of people who play in those tournaments, Mother, are softball players. And there is nothing wrong with them. If it’s okay with you, let me worry about who I expose my son to. I’ll try to skip the ax murderers.” She flashed her mother a bigger, fake grin and stepped to the side, motioning for Jesse to head out the door. Kimba followed him, not without flashing a winning smirk at her friend, secretly relieved that Julie hadn’t let the barb affect her.

Joe George met them at Julie’s black Dodge, apparently escaping the dreary atmosphere of the house by spending time at the nearby catfish pond, as was often his manner. He rested his lanky frame against the passenger door, a soft smile on his lips. “You headed home, Tiger,” he asked Jesse, who was rushing up to his grandfather.

“Yeah, we’re going home, Pa. Sure you don’t want to come,” he asked slyly. No one around Mrs. George didn’t know how oppressive she could be.

The older man laughed deeply and scooped the boy, already within a couple of inches of his mother in height, into his arms. “I think I’ll try and stick it out, son. But if I need rescuing, you’ll be the first I’ll call.” He gave one last squeeze and let the boy loose. His gaze turned serious then, as he bent to Jesse’s ear and whispered something for only him to hear.

Both women got hugs, kisses, and a gentle goodbye from the man after he gave the boy one last pat on the head. Short but eager steps took him to the house and he disappeared inside.

Once on the road for a while, Kimba noted her friend’s pensiveness, her sharp features set in a tight grimace, the muscles in her jaw clinching intermittently. It was a relief when Julie finally spoke.

“What did Pa say to you before we left, Jesse?” She kept her eyes on the lonely country highway, the midmorning sun reflecting faintly off the glazed asphalt.

Kimba turned in the passenger seat to watch the dark boy, who was looking distractedly out the window. Whatever he was thinking, it was troubling him deeply, small fingers clutched the seatbelt around his chest tightly. “He reminded me to tell you that Dad called me, but I was going to anyway,” his voice was trembling slightly.

Sighing audibly, the redhead reached back and lightly patted Jesse’s knee, which brought his deep brown eyes to hers. Both summoned a pained smile. Though she’d expected nothing less from a child of Julie’s, he was a sweet kid. “What did he say,” she asked to break the silence and fulfill her curiosity.

“Not much really. He wanted me to come stay with him for a weekend or something. I told him I didn’t know.” His larger hand took Kimba’s, which was still resting on his knee, and squeezed it lightly, almost as if he didn’t know he was doing it. The boy’s eyes were trained on his mother, waiting nervously for her response, confusion evident in his young, perfect features.

Julie cleared her throat nervously and continued her silent concentration of the road, but her jaw worked ceaselessly, tongue occasionally poking out between her white teeth. If the situation wasn’t so serious, and she knew her friend wasn’t working so diligently to answer a hard question, Kimba would have thought the look very cute. As it was, she felt for them all. “Jesse…you can go stay with him if you’d like. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to keep you from your father.”

A protest rushed to Kimba’s lips, but a bite of her tongue kept it from spilling out. There was no way she would allow Jesse to be alone with that man. He was a complete asshole at best and a lunatic at worst, the jury still out on the question. But she could see the method to Julie’s offer. Like any good mother, she didn’t want him to resent her for taking his father away, and deep down, despite all he’d done, she didn’t think John was really that far gone. Kimba, however, was becoming less convinced of that fact with each passing day. Feeling watched twenty-four hours a day wasn’t one of her favorite pastimes.

“I don’t want to,” Jesse answered after a moment. He turned to the window again, examining the stores and occasional houses that were becoming more frequent on the road as they moved closer to town. “I know he’s been waiting outside Kimba’s house at night. I heard you guys talking about it…He’s scaring me, Mom,” he confessed timidly.

He turned to Kimba when she squeezed his hand, tears filling his eyes, eager to fall, save the teenage pride that was holding them on the edge of escape. A tremendous urge to hold the boy filled her, along with an almost equal desire to go beat the daylights out of his father. The whole situation was spiraling into a monstrous mess, the conclusion of which she had no clue. The best thing that could come out of it was a really nasty divorce; the worst, well, she didn’t even want to think about that.

“Me too. I don’t think he’ll do anything crazy, Jesse, but he is pretty upset about this. You don’t have to go stay with him if you don’t want to, but it might be good for him if you talk to him at school. It’ll make him feel better.” But Kimba could tell by the single tear streaming down the dark woman’s face that she wasn’t even sure of that. She placed her other hand on Julie’s shoulder, which drew her another gentle smile, showing that even through the pain, not everything in the world was skewed.

They spent the rest of the day in lazy Sunday mode, little activities keeping them happily busy, each only checking the front drive every couple of hours. Kimba and Jesse played catch for a good while in the front yard, the boy laughing delightedly at his new friend’s skill and teaching ability. The redhead was equally delighted with the interests she shared with her friend’s son.

Julie spent most of the day doing little chores around the house, after convincing Kimba if she was indeed going to live there, she was sure as hell going to help keep the place up. To which the redhead had smirked happily and could not help but observe how cute the woman looked when she was mad. And she didn’t look very bad tired, either, once they finally settled down on the couch to watch television, having exhausted the daylight and watched a beautiful sun leave the sky.

A short trip to the kitchen brought the stocky woman back with three glasses of tea, which she passed out to Jesse and his mother. She sat her own on the glass coffee table in front of her comfortable couch, moving over to the window for a look. As she stood there, peering out at the green truck and its occupant, Kimba could feel her anger rising. The day had been so good, as if the whole trouble with John didn’t exist. After the talk on the way home, no one had even mentioned his name all day. She hadn’t felt the need to look over her shoulder to see if he was there, ready to take the drama to the next level. For the first time since they’d realized he was stalking them, Kimba hadn’t felt a fear that at any time he could turn up and do Julie harm. And it had felt amazingly fulfilling to let go of that fear for a day.

Now he was sitting out there, as if he had every right to make them nervous and frightened. As if he owned them and their ability to be happy. And Kimba realized, her anger growing to a visible level, her face set in a deep scowl, that he did own them. He would as long as he kept them afraid to do anything, to live.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she growled. Julie, so fast Kimba couldn’t imagine how she’d gotten there, blocked her exit out the heavy front door. Her anger showing, the attorney put her hands on her hips and waited.

Julie put her hands up, her face a question mark. “Wait a minute. What are you doing?”

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Kimba did her best not to take any of her pent up emotions out on her friend. She had enough of those feelings on her own. But the short woman had made up her mind as to what she was about to do, since not much could make the situation worse. “I refuse to be a captive in my own house, Julie. I’m going to talk to him.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Julie pleaded. She put both hands on broad shoulders and pushed her friend back a step.

Kimba put both hands on the tan forearms holding her and carefully removed them. “It’ll be fine. I just want to talk to him.” She flashed a quick smile before stepping around the woman in her path.

As the door closed, she thought she heard Julie call to be careful, but she wasn’t sure. It could have been her own mind saying that, because every fiber in her being was suddenly coming to life, aware that she was probably doing something quite dangerous. The truth was, she didn’t just want to talk. She wanted to walk out to that puke green truck and bash the man’s skull in for interrupting her day, her life then, her life now, and for trying to screw up the best thing that had happened to her in a long time.

By the time she reached the passenger door, she was seething with anger again, her face flush with an accompanying snarl on her lips. The newly green grass was soft, so she made no sound as she approached the open window to the truck, but he seemed to be waiting for her nonetheless. He, no doubt, stared at the house the whole time he kept the truck parked there.

“Nice night, huh Kim,” he asked conversationally, as if he was unaware that his new companion had murder in her heart.

She took a deep breath, knowing that she needed to keep the confrontation as civil as possible. Not that she wanted to be kind, she just didn’t want it to turn into a physical confrontation. The likelihood of her winning another one of those was unlikely, self-defense classes or not. She took him by surprise last time and she knew it. “What are you doing out here?”

The smirk and little chuckle let her know that he thought they both knew the answer to the question, but he replied anyway. “I’m making sure my wife and son are safe. I have responsibilities.”

“You know they’re fine, John. The only thing this is accomplishing is scaring the hell out of us all. Go home and call your lawyer. That’s the only way you should be dealing with Julie right now,” she said, her voice shaky with anger and fear. He was too calm about the whole situation, like he didn’t care. His dark eyes, barely visible in the moonless sky, seemed vacant of any emotion, crazy or otherwise.

“She’s my wife, Kim. I’m taking care of her like I always have,” he reiterated, his voice the same eerie level of calm.

Leaning a little further into the cab of the truck, Kimba put her hands on the inside of the window to support her body. The seat was littered with fast food containers and beer cans, a slight smell of hamburger filled the breeze softly flowing through the compartment. “I know you’re upset, but sooner or later you need to try to accept that she’s not coming back.”

For the first time, his body came to life, his eyes snapping up to hers in a flash of rage, his gigantic hands gripping the steering wheel, knuckles turning a glowing white. “She left me for you,” he snarled.

Kimba could feel her eyes go wide at the hatred she heard in his voice. That one sentence seemed to double the amount of fear she’d had before, the feral quality of it bringing the threat she’d thought she recognized into a dangerous fact. Yet she’d been waiting to respond to that statement since Julie had shown up at her door, and no amount of hostility was going to stop her. “She didn’t leave you for anyone, John. She just left you. Deal with it.”

His hand moved down to the darkened seat, moving some of the empty containers into the floorboard, then raised holding a long, black metallic object. Green eyes went wide again as Kimba realized it was a gun. A big one.

“Does she call your name when you touch her, Kimba,” his voice drawled on the last word, making a mockery of Julie’s nickname for her.

Having no idea what to say, the redhead stared in shock at the gun, its dark brilliance mesmerizing her with the realization that she could be dead at any time if he so chose. The fear gripping her was exponentially more intense than any she’d felt before, manifesting as an empty feeling in her chest. The air seemed thicker than it had been only a moment before. “John…you need to get some help before something happens we’ll all regret,” she managed to get out, although she wasn’t sure if he could hear her. Such as me ending up six feet under, for instance. God, I can’t believe this is happening, her mind wearily supplied.

“The only thing I need is for my wife and son to come home with me. And that is going to happen. One way or another.” The gun stayed aimed in the direction of the frightened woman, although she couldn’t tell where the bullet would hit if he fired. And she had no particular interest in finding out.

Deciding there was nothing else to be said, reasoning with the man was not going well, after all, Kimba tried to imagine what to do. The only thing she came up with was calmly turning around and walking into her house. So she did. And was amazed that she actually made it into the door, shutting it softly behind her. Pressing her back against the cool surface, she slid down to the floor silently, head in hands, trying to regulate her raging heart so that it would not beat completely out of her aching chest.

Warm hands were immediately covering her own, a warm husky voice, thick with emotion, reaching her ears. “Kimba, baby, are you all right?”

It took a couple of tense moments before she could speak, but the insistent hands on her body forced the fear to subside enough to comfort Julie before she got frantic. “I’m fine…that may not have been such a good idea,” she informed with a wry chuckle. Laughing felt good, even though she didn’t really feel it was an appropriate response. Her mind kept screaming at her for almost getting herself killed.

“What did he say,” Julie asked, her voice still filled with concern. The attorney tried to imagine how she must look, but couldn’t quite come up with an image that matched the erratic emotions coursing through her body.

Again she laughed, for lack of any other way to deal with what had happened. “It wasn’t so much what he said…,” she trailed off, unsure how to continue. The best course was probably to come out with the truth and let Julie deal with it. She deserved to know how much actual peril they were in. “He pulled a gun on me and said he would do anything to get you back. I’m thinking we should get that restraining order as soon as possible. Then the next time he parks out there, we can have the police arrest him.” She sounded as businesslike as possible, although she was sure it was a complete failure by the astounded look on her friend’s face. Kimba could see the last grain of hope for a peaceful resolution to the marriage evaporate in a silent poof in those ice blue eyes.

“Should we call the police right now,” she asked, standing up to peek out the window. When she returned to the door, Julie slid her long body down beside Kimba’s and leaned into her wearily. “He’s gone.”

“Good. It won’t do much good to call the police now. It would be just my word against his at the moment unless he was stupid enough to keep the gun around. Tomorrow we’ll get the order and take it from there. I’m sure he was just trying to scare me,” she said, hoping she sounded more convincing than she felt. The amount of faith she was putting in the restraining order would have a lot of room to play on the head of a pin. The only real chance they had for no one ending up hurt from the crazy man stalking them was if he came to his senses. And that didn’t seem very likely at the moment, the image of a gun pointing at her body still fresh in her mind.

They spent the rest of the night talking to Jesse and trying to calm him down after informing him of his father’s actions. As Kimba was, he was starting to get very mad and frustrated about what was going on. And in the end, what the boy felt was an extremely real and justified sense of betrayal. He thought his father wasn’t supposed to do something like this to him and he was completely right.

Kimba waited up for Julie to return from tucking Jesse in, which she didn’t do often, but he apparently welcomed the old ritual on such a horrible night. By the time the tall woman crawled under the thick comforter, she looked like she could use a little tucking in as well, but her friend decided that would have to wait for another time. Talking wouldn’t hurt, though, so she gave it a try. “That was one hell of an end to a pretty good day, huh?”

She let off a half chuckle, her eyes concentrating on the starred ceiling, which twinkled faintly in the dim light coming in from outside. “Yeah, you could say that. And it was a good day,” she finished in a quiet voice.

“I…I hope you’re not considering going back to him, Jay. I really think he’s flipped his canoe.” Kimba hadn’t planned it, but her heart had forced out a fear almost as big as the one of the gun she’d experienced earlier. Not only would it kill her to see Julie leave her life, it would definitely not be a good move for the woman.

Turning onto her side to face her friend, Julie gazed at her seriously, searching for words. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again. A couple of moments later, she found what she wanted to say and spoke softly. “Kimba, I’ll never go back to him. Do you want to know why,” she asked rhetorically, not waiting long for an answer. “I’ve never been happier in my life than in the time I’ve spent with you. All the rest of the time, it was like I was just waiting for you to come along again and make me complete. I’m tired of waiting.”

For the second time that the day, Kimba had no idea what to say, which was pretty unusual for her since she usually didn’t shut up for more than five minutes at a stretch. But that statement was a surprise, a big one. Although she’d known that Julie had been happy since leaving John, the attorney had thought that was most of the reason. There was no doubt that she was responsible for some of the levity that her friend displayed, she could see it in her eyes. She had no idea, though, that Julie felt so strongly about her role in the older woman’s life. Kimba was floored.

“And I meant to tell you that I had a wonderful time last night, in case I forgot.” Which she had, but Kimba had a pretty good idea that she’d had a fun night out with Marty. She’d smiled that beautiful smile the whole night, not unnoticed by a throng of jealous women who kept giving the redhead envious looks. It had been quite a night.

With a less amazing topic to comment on, although some of the revelations from the bar had been enormous in themselves, Kimba found that she could speak again. “I’m glad you had fun. So did I.”

Fun wasn’t really the word to describe it. She’d had the best night of her life, pulling the woman of her dreams onto the dance floor, feeling her move unashamed to the music. It was a fantasy that Kimba didn’t really think would ever be realized. And although she wasn’t one hundred percent sure, she thought there had been some serious sparks flying between them. Imagination, hopeful as it was, could have been responsible for that, but she thought she knew a way to find out. “I hope you didn’t get embarrassed about dancing or anything. It seemed like a good tension breaker, which we can both use large doses of,” she said lightly.

Unexpectedly, Julie reached out a bronzed hand and moved golden hair out of her friend’s eyes, her movements more tender than Kimba had ever seen. Her breath caught when the older woman spoke, her voice a soft whisper. “I loved everything about it. I…I can’t wait to do it again.”

Kimba didn’t know exactly how to take the statement, but she thought by the twinkle in the blue eyes close to hers, that Julie was referring to more than a night on the town with Marty. At least she hoped it meant more. “I can’t either.”

“We’d better get some sleep. Work tomorrow.” The moment was broken gently, both women easing down on their backs in an attempt to drift off to sleep.

Kimba knew that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, the combination of coming within inches of death and the love of her life coming closer to reality was making her head swim with excitement. After at least half an hour of them both lying there awake, Kimba decided to do something she’d been dreaming of for a while. She scooted toward the middle of the bed, turned over on her side, slung an arm over Julie’s middle and laid her head on the woman’s strong shoulder. The only reaction was the older woman pulling her arm away from her side and maneuvering it under Kimba’s head. Then they both sighed happily and slowly moved together into sleep.
Chapter 13
School was a rather somber affair, Julie reflected, like any other typical Monday. She’d always thought that the day should simply be stricken off the calendar and everyone could stay in the house all day and enjoy it as a peaceful holiday. That wouldn’t be a good answer, though, she knew, because then Tuesday would be just as bad and the week had to start somewhere. That knowledge, however, hadn’t kept her mind on the right track, from which it had wandered all day long.

Most excursions centered around a certain stocky little redhead with whom she had awoken, not uncomfortably so, wrapped around her body like a sea squid. As a matter of fact, it had been one of the most pleasurable moments in her life. And that simple realization had been one of the most surprising.

She had no doubt that she loved Kimba; that was never a question. The woman knew her soul, somehow, better than she knew it herself. And the reverse was true as well. If ever the world had produced more kindred spirits, Julie had never met them. But the slow realization that she never wanted to share her life with another, with a man, was a little farther outside of the realm of possibilities than she’d ever considered seriously before. She’d fantasized, maybe, but she’d never truly considered it could be. Yet now, sitting in front of a class full of thirty half-aware high school students, it was all she could think of. The warm tickle constantly present in her gut wouldn’t let the image of her friend stray too far out of mind.

A small murmur passing through the room brought the teacher’s attention back to the present, and with it came a bright blush. “Alright, thank you Robbie. That’s where we’ll start tomorrow. You guys can talk quietly until the bell rings.”

Julie looked down at the textbook before her and acted as though she was concentrating on the pages she turned. In truth, she was mentally laughing at herself. The way she was acting was getting pretty ridiculous, but she really didn’t mind.

She surveyed the small room in anticipation of when she could leave it and head to Kimba’s house, her house. The school was relatively new, the walls still a crisp cream, a bright red line dividing floor from ceiling. The chairs were clustered tightly together, necessary due to the fact that too many students had to be taught there. Julie hated the chairs, their orange seats drew in her eyes involuntarily. The desktops were weak ply board imitations of sturdy wood, that she’d witnessed shatter on more than one occasion. Today, though, luckily enough, hadn’t been one of those days, despite its Mondayness.

As a final demonstration of the dismal way the week normally began, a shy young man poked his head in the door, seeking permission to enter. Only a couple of students noted his entrance after Julie waved him in, the rest deep in teenage conversation. The teacher sighed upon spotting what the wiry messenger was carrying. A large bouquet of deep crimson roses.

John. Great. That’s just what I need. Flowers after the fact. She thanked the bearer of the roses and watched him hurry out of the classroom. Normally, such deliveries would remain in the office, not worthy of interrupting class, but Julie realized that every member of the faculty was aware of her situation with her husband. Some had given her quiet assurances of support, as long as she understood they didn’t want to get on John’s bad side. After all, he was the principal. She sympathized, but also knew that just as many were snickering about her behind her back, ready to pounce on whatever carnage might result from the rift. No doubt that was how a delivery of roses made it to her classroom, some office worker noting that they must be from Principal Jordan, so surely a direct conveyance would be acceptable. Julie didn’t really care, being as it hadn’t disturbed the lesson.

Picking up the card, she could imagine what kind of lame message he would write in a feeble attempt to show his romantic side. I love you or I’m sorry or please come back. He can be so uninspiring, her mind wearily supplied. Julie had to admit though, he was moving in the right direction, assuming he had even the slightest of chances with her, which he didn’t. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten flowers, but she loved them.

Her fingers spread the folded cardboard, blue eyes immediately widening, seeing the firm words written in a precise, familiar hand. Not John’s, but Kimba’s. A smile creased the dark woman’s face as she could feel heat rush her skin again. The surprise was only half of it, the other portion of delight came from the simple sentences written in bright blue ink.
I told you dreams could come true. Who knew I was
underestimating how wonderful it would be.

Kimba.

A reference to all the dreams the young girl had constantly orated about as they sunned or star gazed on that smooth, water surrounded rock. She had dreamed grandly, enough for both of them, until even Julie had believed they could come true. Until John, of course, but none of that mattered now. Kimba had reclaimed what she’d wanted all along. What Julie knew she’d always actually had, even at a distance: her heart.

The teacher jolted almost out of her seat as the bell rang and a hand clamped down on her shoulder simultaneously. Quickly folding the note to conceal its contents, she focused on the young office aide who was peering at her with a quirky smile. “What? I’m sorry…” she trailed off, knowing she’d missed what the woman had said. I’ve really got to get a hold of this giddy, falling head over heels thing.

“Principal Jordan would like you to see you in his office,” the little blonde annunciated clearly.

Glorious, her mind groaned. “Okay, thanks.” The aide scurried out with the pack of students, leaving Julie to contemplate her fate. School had been going quietly as far as John was concerned. He seemed to be trying to give her space at school, an attempt to concede her need for distance from him. She questioned his motives, however. And now this. Whatever he wanted, she had a grim feeling it wasn’t going to be pretty.

John’s office was the same creamy color of her class, but no red line horizontally separated the floor from ceiling. Several degree and honor plaques spotted the area, although not one picture of her or Jesse hung on the walls, not one happy memory he wanted to be reminded of. Typical. No matter what he was about to say, Julie knew it had been years, if ever, since he really loved her.

He kept her waiting a few minutes before he walked through the open door to his office and shut it firmly behind him. Fear didn’t come at that, though she thought that it would. Some inner knowledge affirmed that he wouldn’t do anything at school. At least here she was safe. One thing certain about John was that he was a professional, if nothing else. And he had yet to go over that edge.

The big man proceeded silently to the high backed leather chair behind his desk, settling in it comfortably. Leaning back a little, he ran dark eyes over Julie’s seated form, making little, irritating nods with his head as if he approved. “You look great, Julie. I’ve missed you,” his voice was almost soft, concerned.

But she was ready for this ploy and refused to be fooled by a gentle side that she hadn’t seen from her husband in as long as she could remember. The fact that there was no way in hell he could win her again didn’t hurt her composure either. “Thanks John. I feel pretty good too.” Her smile was sincere, the statement true. There was no need to be hostile with him if she could help it. Maybe there was still a way to make the divorce a clean affair. “Why did you want to see me?”

“Because I love you and I want you and my boy home.” His voice was a register lower than before and there was a faint sparkle of tears in his eyes.

It took Julie off guard, to say the least. He couldn’t be faking that, no matter what he’d done in the past. A sudden realization struck her hard. The actions he was taking now, the stalking and pulling the gun on Kimba, were not done out of some mean streak to get back at her for leaving him. He really wanted her back, as his wife, forever. John thought what they had together was a good thing, and in his gruff way, he loved her. That couldn’t be good.

“Look, John…I…I’m really sorry about the way this all turned out. I didn’t ever want to see you hurt, but I think you know that things haven’t been right between us for a while,” she spoke in a gentle, sincere tone. She couldn’t hardly bear the knowledge that she was really hurting him. Although their marriage had been filled with more than its share of fights and painful arguments, there were good times too, like all marriages. She realized she’d lost sight of that, and in doing so, underestimated her husband’s motivations.

Large hands clenched together on top of the mahogany desk and John averted his eyes to the wall. Julie could swear she saw regret and guilt in them. “I’ll make up for it if you give me a chance. Things will be better.”

No way. She couldn’t forget how miserable she’d been over the years, made paramount in her mind by the memories of the last few weeks of utter joy she’d experienced. Or dismiss his erratic threats and actions within that same time. And then there was simply Kimba. No way. “I’m sorry John, but it just wouldn’t work. We haven’t been in love in a long time and I’ve discovered that’s something I can’t live without,” she pleaded.

“But I do love you,” his voiced stressed the ‘I’ and was beginning to raise in volume.

Julie swallowed hard as the first wave of fear passed over her. The messy part was coming. “John, come on. When was the last time we even had sex? Can you remember? You just think you want me now because you can’t have me. Let’s make this easy and just let it go.”

He couldn’t though, and she could see it in his eyes, blazing there like white fire, hot and out of control. “It’s not like that,” he said in a high, almost panicked pitch. “Won’t you let me change?”

“No,” she answered, more harsh than she’d intended, but there was no hiding from the truth. “No. The time has passed for that. I’ve changed enough for both of us. I’m sorry, John, but nothing you do will change my mind. Please accept that and we can move beyond all this.”

The chair slammed against the wall when he stood up, his fists pounding on the wood top of the desk as he leaned heavily on them, looming over his wife. “I refuse to accept that. You’ve always been my wife, loved me, and that’s not going to change now.” His face was red with rage, his voice surely loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear. “And no restraining order is going to keep me from you.”

So that was what prompted this little talk. First he gave me time to see the error of my ways. Then he tried the sweet, ‘but I love you’ angle. Now we’re moving onto the brute force part. The messy part. Julie stood slowly and took a step to the door, intent on not letting any fear, which she was feeling considerably in light of his dominant nature, show in her posture. “I’ll have you put in jail if you keep bothering us. Threatening us. You need to get a hold of yourself John. You’re scaring me, not to mention your son,” she declared.

“Don’t mention my son. You have no right to have him. What are you exposing him to over in your girlfriend’s house…it turns my stomach to think of you sleeping with her,” his voice was dripping with disgust.

A sudden burst of rage attempted to overtake Julie, her head swimming in the sensation. She wanted to cross the room and deck the bastard, but she managed to hold back. The fact that she would probably get beaten to death was a good cap to her anger. But the conversation, and the last chance to resolve their marriage peacefully, was over. That much she could see. “Goodbye John. Please leave us alone.” She knew the plea fell on deaf ears, but want overrode good sense so she asked anyway. The next step would be to wait and see if he came to his senses, or see him in jail. The choices weren’t very satisfying, but they would have to do.

The door slammed behind her as she stalked from the office.

When she met Jesse in her classroom he was ready to go home early, lucky for him, because he didn’t actually have a choice. She’d never been more ready to leave school than she was after the confrontation with John. Some degree of calmness returned to her body by the time they got to Kimba’s well kept red brick house. She could tell that Jesse was wondering what was wrong, her jerky, angry movements unavoidable, but he hadn’t asked.

Settling on the couch in a defeated slump, Julie looked over at her handsome son as he reclined next to her. “I talked to your father today,” she informed him somberly. Although Julie thought that Jesse had a pretty good understanding of what was going on, she couldn’t be sure. There was no doubt that he loved his father and she didn’t know exactly how to handle that.

“Must have went well. You’re in a really crappy mood.” He flashed her a small grin and placed his hand on her arm.

The dark woman laughed lightly and shook her head. Despite having a mother that had been miserable for most of his life and an asshole for a father, the boy was turning out amazingly well. “I’m sorry it shows that much, but yes, it didn’t go well. He refuses to accept this, Jesse. And he’s going to have to, because I’m not going back.” And again she affirmed to herself that the decision was right. The only one she could make.

His dark head nodded solemnly. “I know and I…I don’t think you should. Dad never has treated you good enough.” The surprise must have shown on her face, because he smiled again and looked away. She’d forgotten how perceptive kids could be, forgotten how perceptive she and Kimba had been when they were Jesse’s age. Kids noticed everything. “We should stay with Kimba. She makes you happy,” he added.

Julie felt her breathing catch at the statement, not knowing exactly how he meant it or how ready she was to discuss the matter with her son. She hadn’t even discussed it with herself. “I am happy,” was all she could get out. Thoughts swirled through her mind, asking if she was ready to admit what she was feeling to anyone and if Jesse was old enough to understand what those feelings might mean.

“It’s okay with me, Mom. I think she’s really cute too.” He squeezed her arm lightly, pretending not to notice the blush that was brightening her olive skin.

Desperately, she wanted to ask him exactly what he was talking about, how much he knew. But she couldn’t call the question out of her lips. Not yet. Even so, his stamp of approval meant more to her than she’d imagined it would. The teacher hadn’t ever really thought she’d get his blessing, she thought he would be appalled by the idea, like everyone else would be. Jesse wasn’t though, and that knowledge gave his mother one more ounce of courage to face the inevitable.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with a light banter between them, more like friends than mother and son. It was refreshing to Julie, who hadn’t spent as much time with Jesse as she should have over the years. The longer she was away from John’s oppressive presence, the more she realized what she’d been missing. Right under her nose had been a caring, funny, intelligent young man, and she hadn’t had the slightest clue.

Kimba came home from work through the heavy front door with a sense of urgency, no doubt alarmed by the squeals and screams coming from the living room floor. She stopped and scowled at the two of them, Jesse sprawled on his back in the thick brown carpet, his mother pinning him effectively to the ground. Both of them were completely still, taking in the appearance of the stocky redhead with a look of childish guilt. But it passed as soon as her leather briefcase hit the ground and Julie reasserted her dominance by tickling the boy’s exposed sides as he writhed wildly in an attempt to escape.

“What the hell are you guys doing,” Kimba asked as she inquiringly moved closer to the pair. As soon as a muscular leg was within reach, Julie stretched a long arm out and pulled the woman closer. “Hey,” she yelled in surprise.

Within moments it was a three way fight, Julie switching between torturing Kimba and Jesse, both of them trying to get the older woman. Somehow, Julie was dominating them easily, her long fingers tickling sensitive flesh mercilessly.

“Okay…Mom…cut…it…out,” Jesse begged in between gasps of breath. Kimba had collapsed on her side momentarily, out of Julie’s reach, allowing the wiry boy to take the brunt of his mother’s assault. The torture was fun, but she could only take so much tickling before passing out from lack of breath. Luckily, through years of experience, Julie knew that.

As for Jesse, he did not have such a weakness, and his mother knew that as well. They were having more fun than they’d had in a while. It felt good. “Never, boy,” she taunted him, his shoulders pinned effectively to the carpet by her knees. The long fingers ceased their movements momentarily as she shifted her hands to hold his body down. He needed to catch his breath, so another torture device was called for. Promptly, Julie began placing sloppy kisses all over his face, brow to chin.

“Aww, come on, Mom. You’re embarrassing me,” he pleaded with the crazed woman.

Kimba watched the pair with interest, having finally caught her breath. She couldn’t keep back the need to laugh at her friends, which was her undoing.

Turning to the giggling woman at her side, Julie arched an eyebrow and released her son. He scrambled away to the couch safely. “Run for it, Jesse. Next thing you know,” the redhead stopped speaking in a giggling fit as the dark woman advanced on her, “she’ll bust out your naked baby pictures and make us look at them again.” Kimba dissolved into a fit of laughter as Julie straddled her body, as she’d done Jesse, pinning her shoulders with strong hands.

“You think that’s funny, do you,” she asked evilly. Kimba’s eyes widened in surprise as Julie lowered her head and began the kissing treatment. Unlike she’d done with Jesse, she ended with a quick, gentle kiss on her lips, lighter and less sloppy than the others. It wasn’t a lover’s kiss, but something was different about it. Neither of them were laughing as Julie pulled away and rolled off her body.

Jesse finally broke the eerie silence that encompassed them all as he walked by their sprawled forms on his way to the window. “Both of you guys need to take a pill.”

Ambiguous again, Julie thought. She was beginning to wonder if she was getting too old to decipher what her son was talking about. “Thanks kid,” she sassed to him as he passed. She slapped him on the ankle, then turned to Kimba, who was looking at her with dreamy emerald eyes. “We’ve got to talk about this, Kimba.”

The redhead nodded minutely, needing no explanation of what ‘this’ she was referring too. They’d been tiptoeing around it for, well, forever. The talk was long overdue. “Later,” Kimba said with a motion to the boy at the window.

Alone was definitely a good idea, because it might take a while. Julie had some issues with what was going on, and what might go on. She knew talking to her best friend about her misgivings was the best thing she could do. “Okay…Thanks for the flowers, by the way.”

“I’m glad you liked them.” Kimba immediately flushed bright red.

“I did,” Julie answered, taking the small hand closest to her into her own.

Both women looked over to the window as a sound from Jesse drew their attention. It sounded suspiciously like a growl. “What is it,” Julie asked, rising up and pulling her friend with her.

“He’s back,” was all he said before turning and leaving the room.

Julie went immediately to the phone while Kimba stood there, looking out at the green Ford and cursing. The police got to the house surprisingly fast, but John was already gone when the squad car arrived. The lunatic must have got a scanner, the women surmised.

After a brief, but visibly heated talk with the officer, Kimba returned to the house, face red with rage. “They won’t do a damned thing. Said if he didn’t get out of the car, he didn’t violate the order. Sons of a bitches.”

Putting a hand on the fuming woman’s shoulder, Julie guided her to the frumpy couch. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the older woman couldn’t help but note how sexy Kimba looked when she was furious. “Calm down, okay.” She waited until green eyes looked at her with a degree of control before continuing. “Nothing happened…”

Kimba cut her off, hands flying out in animation. “This time. What about next time? That protective order isn’t going to do much good when he’s already in the house with a fucking gun,” her voice was raised louder than Julie had ever heard it. Kimba was scared and so was she.

“I know, Kimba, but there’s nothing we can do about it yet. Maybe when he goes before the judge he’ll get some sense knocked into him. There’s no use driving yourself crazy with it like this. He’s gone,” Julie used her most soothing voice, which seemed to have an effect on her friend. The attorney looked away, but her shoulders relaxed a little and she leaned back into the cushions.

A few minutes later, they were curled up side by side in the bedroom, watching television and forgetting the world existed, save for their voices and the laughter that danced between them.
Chapter 14
Friday had not meant much to Kimba since she’d graduated from high school. Back then it had been a sanctuary from the week of school and a chance to laze around with her best friend. The feeling had been lost for a long time, but of late, the bubbling happiness that the quiet weekends brought was back in full force. So taking off a couple of hours early from work was becoming a habit. One that she had no intention of trying to get rid of.

She located Jesse immediately upon entering the front lobby, sitting on a long cushioned bench, leaning back against the glass walls that separated it from the office. His shoes squeaked as he rushed across the polished tile floors, a bright grin on his young face. “Hey Kimba.”

The boy’s use of her nickname brought a warm glow over her. Only he and Julie had the right to call her that. To her it was a marking, a signal to the world that these were her people. That they owned her as no others ever would. And owned her heart they did. Completely. “Hey Jesse. Are you ready,” she asked, following him down a long corridor.

The plan was to drop him off at his grandparents’ house for the weekend, which he’d agreed to happily. Kimba was afraid that he wouldn’t want to spend any more time at the country residence, since he’d stayed there several weekends since the split. But he insisted that it was fine with him, because he loved spending time with both his grandparents. Especially Pa. So Kimba was satisfied that he wouldn’t feel left out by the little trip she and Julie were taking. Jesse would probably be bored at a softball tournament anyway.

Jesse went into the quiet classroom first, putting up a hand to hold the redhead back, and a finger over his mouth. He was indeed mischievous. “I brought you a surprise,” she heard him tell his mother.

Figuring that was her cue, Kimba stuck her golden head around the doorframe and looked to the front of the room, where her friend was sitting at a desk stacked with papers and notebooks. “Surprise,” she exclaimed over-dramatically.

“I hate surprises,” she said with a mock scowl, but arose and moved away from the cluttered desk and toward the door. The shorter woman moved in all the way and met her friend, who unexpectedly touched her arm gently and smiled. “How was your day?”

The attorney felt her breathing catch and began wondering what exactly was going on in Julie’s head. The look on her face was indescribably tender. “It was fine,” she answered softly. “I’m glad it’s over though. I can’t wait for this weekend.” And that was an understatement. The chance to get away from the unstable quandary that was their life, to be alone with her best friend was something she’d been dreaming of for a while.

“Neither can I. Let’s get it started.” The hand still on her arm moved down to Kimba’s smaller one and squeezed it momentarily in a promise she wasn’t quite sure she understood. Clearing her throat, Julie looked to Jesse, who was watching the whole scene with a half smile and a raised eyebrow, and motioned him to the door.

Joe met them at the sturdy wooden entrance to the red brick house and ushered them in. “Hello girls. Jesse,” he greeted enthusiastically. Evidently, he got as much joy out of the visits as the boy did. “Are you going to stay for dinner?”

Kimba looked to Julie, who simple shrugged in apathy. They weren’t leaving until the morning anyway, the first game being at ten and the drive only an hour or so long. The younger woman had been thinking about a little excursion in the area, so she decided for them. “Sure, Joe. I think we might take a walk beforehand, though. It’s been too long since we saw these parts,” she added with a wink.

“Good idea, but you should watch out.” He waited for Jesse to walk down the hall to the extra bedroom where he slept, his mother’s childhood room, then turned back to the women. Kimba saw a smirk and twinkle in his eyes and began to get a nervous tickle in her stomach. “Looks like it might rain…Although that might be pretty romantic if that was the mood you were looking for.” This time he winked and waggled his salt and pepper eyebrows suggestively.

Both women looked at him with wide eyes, unsure of how to react to the statement, out of the blue as it was. Kimba knew they hadn’t done anything outward to alert him that something was going on. Actually, they hadn’t done anything, anywhere, to alert anyone, but somehow he could see it. “Um…well…I wasn’t much thinking about mood. Just a walk,” the younger woman stammered in an attempt to come up with any kind of intelligible comment.

“It’s okay with me ladies. Even way back when, I knew there was something between you two that went beyond definition. Then, I would have never said it was a good idea, but now I know better. Don’t be scared to consider all possibilities. Second chances are too rare,” he finished with a gentle smile. A step forward brought him close to his daughter, pulling her into a tight hug. Kimba could hear a whisper that she couldn’t understand before he stepped back and walked into the kitchen where his wife was beginning dinner.

Misty blue eyes turned to her after the man disappeared from the room. Julie looked on the verge of tears, happy ones. “What about that walk,” she voiced quietly, a slight crack in the words.

“You bet.” Kimba followed her tall friend from the perfectly kept house, into a dimming sky and cool breeze. Spring was finally asserting itself fully, the nights mostly tolerable without a jacket, thunderstorms more common than the calm winter rain. Swirling gray clouds loomed overhead, lacking the dreary blackness that marked a violent storm. If they did get caught out in something, being wet was all they had to worry about.

They walked side by side in comfortable silence away from the house, down the loping hills of grass that dominated the land where it sat. Fifty acres of it belonged to the Georges, which had made for lots of fun room for two adventurous girls to play. Kimba loved it there, remembering the running and rampaging they’d done all over the plot of land. Out of sight of the house and watchful adult eyes had been Egypt and England, Rome and New York, and anywhere else their fertile minds guided them.

Once they were completely alone, visible to no one who might be watching, Kimba tentatively took Julie’s hand in her own, lacing their fingers together delicately. She checked the face above her for approval and received it in a lopsided grin, accentuated by a slight blush of olive cheeks. That brought a smile to her lips that she couldn’t help and didn’t want to, it felt so right.

I never thought it would be like this, falling in love. I thought I was in love before, but I was too young to really understand it all then. There was no way I could know about the pain that came with it. About how much the knowledge of the depths a person could sink to could put the rest in perspective. She sighed thoughtfully as they walked, only aware of the warm feelings filling her soul and the cause of them so close at her side. Now, I know how all that feels, how horrible it was to know that she could hurt me. And yet, when she looks at me, I also realize that we can make it through anything, and that she wants me at her side. Only me. It feels like being in a warm pool of water, surrounded by a safety I’ve never known was possible.

“Kimba look,” Julie’s voice floated through her thoughts. Green eyes focused on the horizon, the little hut standing there, where she was guiding them. How many hours had they spent there? She had no idea, but it was a lot. Originally it was built to be a cattle feeding stall until the girls took it over as a club house and Joe had allowed it. The simple plank building hadn’t cost that much to replace one field away, so they’d dressed this one up in their childish style and often called it home…

And home it had been for a while for Kimba. Literally. She couldn’t quite recall the exact circumstance, since her parents had run off or ended up in jail more times than she cared to remember during her childhood, but shortly after they’d claimed the little house, far out in the fields, she’d found herself alone. Never wanting to return to the house her parents called home, it being not much more luxurious than the hut and considerably more dangerous, she’d moved in.

Julie found her there early one morning after bursting through the door in a panic. “There you are. I’ve been looking all over, Kimba. I went to get you at your house and Karl said he hadn’t seen you in two days,” her voice was urgent, but concerned.

The eight-year old sat up in the cot and sleepily rubbed her eyes. “I’m not going back there Jay. Mom and Dad are gone and I don’t have any reason to be there. Promise not to tell anyone.”

The older girl fidgeted in the doorway before walking closer with a frown. She sat down on the bed and put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You can’t stay out here. Someone will look for you eventually and then our hideout will be shot,” she replied reasonably. “You can stay at my house again.” She added with a smile.

Kimba sighed deeply. She hated having to rely on Julie’s family for sanctuary when her parents were flaking out. Mrs. George always seemed to at least tolerate the inconvenience and Joe was an angel, but she hated being a charity case. Normal people didn’t have to find other places to live while their parents got out of whatever trouble they’d gotten into. More than anything, she wanted to be a normal kid, like Julie.

“Okay. But this is the last time.” It was more a wish than a promise. Over the next five years she spent as much time at the George household as she did her own. Probably more. Still, on some of those nights when she and Julie were hiding from the world or imagining they were secret agents, they snuck out into the night, to their safe little hut in the middle of the waving brown fields.

The wood panels were worn from weather, faded from years of harsh sunlight, and looked like they would produce multiple splinters upon one touch, but the walls were straight and sturdy and looked as if they would survive many storms to come. Julie went in first, stopping just inside the door with a small gasp. Kimba followed and they both paused for a while, taking in a living piece of their relatively happy childhood.

Along one wall sat a small cot, the fabric torn in several places, leaving more holes than covering over the wooden frame. The canvas chair Julie always loved to sit in was in much the same condition on the opposite wall, its brown fabric caked with dust and age old mold. The damp dark that had filled the room for too many inactive years had taken its toll.

Leaving the door open to let in at least the dim glow permeating the air despite the thick cloud cover, Kimba guided them to the only bare wall and slid down to the dirt silently. Julie followed quickly, still taking in the remnants of their past.

“It’s been a while, huh,” the older woman asked softly. Kimba couldn’t tell exactly what her friend was thinking, but there was a sadness in her crystal eyes that touched her. Regret at what should have been, maybe.

Wondering if anyone had been in the little house since they’d cleaned out their personal items that last time, the attorney surveyed the room fully. The childhood spent there had not always been good, she supposed, but even with total clods as parents, it had been better than most. Through some intervention from God, she had been loved, and that had made all the difference in the world.

“Yeah, it’s been too long. Remember when you taught me how to dance in here,” she asked contentedly. It felt good to sit here again, shoulder to shoulder, talking freely like they’d always been able to do.

Julie laughed a little, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “I see my lessons stuck. You’re quite the dancer.”

“Well, I had a lot of chances to practice during college. I was no stranger to frat parties during my career,” she answered with a wry chuckle. She realized now that back in college she’d been looking for something, anything, to fill the emptiness that was such a huge part of her life then. Never found it, of course, which she knew since that special something she’d been missing was sitting beside her.

Pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, Julie waited a few moments before responding. “But you wouldn’t dance with Marty?”

Chalk up one dead policeman, please, Kimba’s nervous mind began racing. There was any number of things that Marty could have told her friend that might be sensitive, but none more so than their short relationship. That was something that needed to come from her lips to Julie’s ear directly. “I’m not sure what you mean,” she stalled.

The tall woman chuckled slightly, turning her eyes on her friend. “It’s okay, Kimba. She told me about the two of you. And about Roger. I don’t mind.”

“How unfortunate for her,” Kimba said apprehensively. She had intended for them to talk on this little outing, but she hadn’t planned for them to have ‘THE TALK’ quite yet. She hadn’t been able to map out everything she wanted to say. Now she was going to have to improvise, which she was good at, but still didn’t like to do unless forced. “It was a mistake, I guess. She’s great but I was using her. Marty deserves better. How…um…how do you feel about it,” she had to know, but wasn’t sure how to ask.

A dark eyebrow raised with a matching grin. “I don’t think Marty could do much better than you, unless I came along, of course.”

“Ha, ha.” Okay, I see you’re going to make this hard. Great. Kimba smirked at her friend before continuing. “I meant, what do you think about me and a woman,” she asked seriously.

Julie sighed deeply and pulled a little tighter into the ball she was in. Blue eyes met green in a concentrated glare. “I don’t like you and another woman,” she said evasively.

Kimba got a spark of hope as she picked up the ‘another woman’ portion of the statement. She was forced to break her gaze away from the eyes so close to hers to continue. The emotions she saw there were too distracting. “You know, I think your dad is a very smart man. Second chances don’t come along too often.”

“I agree,” Julie said simply.

Turning sideways to face the dark woman, Kimba folded one leg in front and stretched the other across Julie’s feet, still tucked against her legs. She put a small hand on the one’s clutching her friend’s legs tightly. “I’m not wasting mine, Jay. So what I’m about to do is just about the scariest thing I can think of facing. Worse than that gun barrel the other night or anything else I’ve ever done. Because once I start, I know there’s no going back.”

Meeting her gaze, Julie nodded slightly and swallowed. She seemed to sense what was coming, taking one hand from her knees and grasping Kimba’s lightly. “Go on,” she whispered with a nervous smile.

“Well, you said we needed to talk, so this is it. We’ve been floundering around this since you showed up at my door and I guess it’s time to face it. And I want you to know that no matter how it turns out, you’ll always be my best friend.”

She knew she was stalling already. The fear froze the words on her tongue and she knew the longer she stayed away from saying the inevitable, the longer she could still look Julie in the eye. Her imagination had shown her the ghastly scene a million times, featuring her best friend turning away from her with disgust. There wasn’t much she dreaded more.

Julie’s dark head nodded again, but she said nothing. Gathering her courage, Kimba took in a deep breath to calm herself. “Since I left here for college, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that you were just a friend to me and that I’d eventually find someone to replace you. I didn’t really want to, but without you around to be my friend…well, I needed someone.”

She looked out the door in silence for a while, watching the gray light begin to fade even more as the sun set somewhere behind them, unseen through the thick layers of clouds.

When a slight squeeze of her hand brought her back to the task at hand, Kimba was able to continue. “I can’t tell you how often I dreamed of the day you and I would be together again. That stupid image I was always talking about of us living in some house somewhere wouldn’t get out of my head no matter what I did.” She laughed ruefully and shook her golden head. “It took seeing you at my doorstep to realize I’d never be able to replace what you meant to me. I didn’t know until right then how much I needed you.”

“I always thought you’d find someone. That helped me get through it, the thought that you’d fall in love and be happy,” Julie added softly. They both knew this was Kimba’s story to tell, though.

“That’s just the thing though, Jay. I was already in love. Or at least I imagined I was. And over the years we were apart, that belief wouldn’t go away, no matter how unjustified it was…I…I know I was too young then to really know what love was. That was just a silly kid dreaming.” Their eyes met again and they sat transfixed, eyes locked at close range, a patter of raindrops beginning to tink on the aluminum roof. “But I’m not a kid anymore,” she whispered huskily.

Julie swallowed hard again and straightened up a little against the plank wall. A lopsided grin creased her lips. “I’ve noticed.”

“When you came back to me, I tried to put that possibility out of my mind. Kept telling myself you might still be my best friend, but that was all you were ever going to be.” Kimba lazily raised her free hand and brushed stray dark hair off Julie’s forehead. “I’m sorry, I really tried, but my heart wouldn’t listen to my head. I went ahead and fell in love with you anyway.” She immediately felt lighter and a small joy crept into her heart. The response could kill her, but at least she’d finally had the courage to speak something that had needed saying for years.

Closing her eyes and taking another deep breath, Julie sat silently for a moment longer, composing an answer. She licked her lips nervously several times before she looked at Kimba and spoke. “I can’t tell you I’m one hundred percent comfortable with this Kimba,” she answered, voice shaky. “But I think I want to give it a try.” She smiled at the look of relief on her friend’s face. “No one has ever made me feel the way you do.”

Bringing a hand to an olive cheek, Kimba stroked it lightly, letting out another relieved sigh. The warm feeling radiating within her body was something she never expected to feel. It was glorious. This was the moment she’d been dreaming of…forever.

“You won’t regret it, Jay. And if you ever want to put a halt on things…just say so. Okay,” she asked softly. The thought of being with a woman had been extremely hard for her at first, made possible only by her undeniable love for Julie. Neither one of them had been brought up in very open environments.

The teacher simply nodded her answer and leaned into Kimba’s gentle caress. The redhead didn’t even realize her hand was still on Julie’s cheek until she felt the pressure. When the dark woman closed her eyes, taking in the pleasure of the moment, Kimba allowed herself to indulge in feeling the sensations she’d kept such a tight lid on. A welcome warmth swept through her body as she moved her other hand to cradle Julie’s face.

Julie opened her eyes, which were filled with a giddy joy that Kimba knew were reflected in her own. The older woman raised up on her knees slowly, then pulled her friend into a fierce hug. Which was really more than a hug, because although Kimba was a bit stunned and rather still, Julie’s hands were moving in slow circles on her back. A very welcomed feeling indeed. So they sat there like that for a while. Embracing as the friends they still were, always would be, and as what more they were to become.

Finally, Julie pulled back, keeping her arms around the slim waist she held, a few trails of tears marking her cheeks. Kimba smiled indulgently, not saying anything. One thing for sure about her friend was that she didn’t show her emotions that well or that often. And if she did, the best thing to do was accept it and move on without bringing too much attention to the fact. To know that Julie was as happy and relieved at the developments of the night as she was made Kimba feel better than any amount of discussion ever would.

She raised her hands slowly, brushed the tears away carefully, then peered again into the most beautiful eyes she’d ever seen. What she wanted to do was kiss her, they were so close and she’d dreamed of it for so long, but there was still that fear there, holding her back, the boldness of her confession inconveniently gone.

Until she felt Julie’s strong arms pull her just a little closer and a tentative smile grace her perfect lips. She still had to make sure, though. This was too important to screw up. “Can…can I kiss you,” she asked shyly, blood rushing to her fair face. So new to both of them. Not the kissing or physical acts, but the deep emotions that were so intense they were almost dizzying.

“Please,” was the throaty response.

They were already so close, a simple raise of her chin brought her up to Julie’s bowed head. Their lips met tenderly, softness exquisitely met by softness. More so than the attorney had imagined, the dark woman was gentle and responsive to the kiss. Kimba couldn’t tell how long it lasted, but when they pulled away and opened their eyes, both women were slightly out of breath, and smiling.

Julie pushed golden hair back from her friend’s head with a negligent hand and straightened up a little without releasing her from the grasp. “We should get back. It’s dark.”

“Yeah.” They stood still for a few moments more, absorbing the sweetness of the moment, gazing into each other’s eyes. Then they could both feel the internal chuckle emerging only moments before the two women dissolved into a fit of wayward laughter.

The dinner Mrs. George served them was delicious, as usual. Neither of them commented, though, not wanting to draw the attention of the woman. Upon finishing the meal, they kissed Jesse goodbye and proceeded to drive home, both in a very happy mood. Kimba could feel the joy practically oozing out of her pores, she was so happy. If love truly felt like this, she was more than sorry that it had been denied for so long.

Julie’s nervous chatter and constant touches displayed that she too was feeling the effects of the happy revelation. Although it really wasn’t a revelation, so to speak. It was more of a confirmation, an assurance that their lives were proceeding on a pre-approved course that would keep them content. And the younger woman knew that she’d never felt more content in her life.

Standing at her front door, eager to unlock it and get inside, Kimba dropped the keys in surprise as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist. She knew it was Julie, but she wasn’t expecting the tentative woman to be making so bold a move. She enjoyed it nonetheless.

The door finally closed behind them, Julie pulled the redhead into her arms without a word of warning or explanation. More soft kisses followed, which delighted both women immensely, evidenced by the warmth between them. The dark of the house went unnoticed as the embrace continued and slowly intensified.

Kimba was shocked and a little overwhelmed at the display of passion from her friend. She expected them to consummate their relationship later, rather than sooner. And the way Julie was kissing her…Well, things were getting a little out of hand. Not that it was a bad thing.

They slowly began moving away from the entrance and toward the living room couch, only a few feet away and very, very comfortable. Kimba was walking backwards, her hands twined in silky black hair, a pair of strong hands grasping her waist. When she stepped on some type of cylinder in the floor, both women were so shocked by its placement that Kimba fell on her rear unhindered by her partner’s strong arms.

“That must be a sign,” Kimba joked.

Julie was in deep shadows of the dark night, only her teeth showing through her wide smile. But the answering grin from the younger woman disappeared quickly as she realized something was wrong. The pain in her hand from the fall was not lessening and something that could only be blood was dripping down her wrist. “Turn on the light.”

Light filled the room almost instantly, causing Kimba to blink several times before she was able to adjust to the change. Once her eyes were focused, her stomach cringed fully at the clutter of the room. Every piece of furniture was at least turned over, if not shattered into multiple pieces. Whoever had been in the room had been quite mad and Kimba knew exactly who was responsible.

Green eyes darted back to Julie, who was still standing by the door, her hand on the light switch, her expression horrified. “Go back outside, Jay,” Kimba ordered as calmly as possible. She didn’t hear anything from further in the house, but there was a possibility that John could still be there. From the evidence sitting in rubble around her, it wouldn’t be wise to encounter the man in the near future.

“Are you coming,” Julie asked urgently.

Kimba got up quickly and walked to the far corner of the normally impeccable room, where the phone had been sitting on a nicely polished table. The location of that piece of furniture was a mystery to her at the moment, but the phone was partially sticking out from beneath a print that had been on the wall. “I’ll call the police and come out. Now go.”

She dialed the number and waited patiently for the operator to pick up. If John had been around, she wouldn’t still be using the telephone. He wasn’t in the house, or anywhere in the vicinity, most likely. The trick now was going to be convincing the police that he had broken in and maybe, just maybe the whole terrible mess could finally come to an end.
Chapter 15
Dim orange light filtered into the room through tattered yellow shades, despite all the trouble Kimba had put into trying to get them shut. The light teased her closed eyes, keeping sleep away from her, as if she could sleep anyway. In the first place, she always had trouble falling into slumber in hotel rooms. Second, anger still thrummed through her veins from the night’s developments.

The police didn’t do a damned thing, even in the face of a disheveled house and tons of motive. They’d pick him up for questioning, they’d said. Yeah, right. And when he says ‘of course I didn’t break into that house’, he’ll go scott free. Bastards, her mind growled angrily. It wasn’t fair at all. Every one of the men knew John had been the one to do it, she could see it in their faces. But also present in their eyes was a condescension that sickened her. The look said ‘he’s the husband and the high school principal and he’s not getting arrested for anything short of murder.’ Kimba had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, but she’d been around abusive situations enough to know that it probably would. Without bruises or worse, a husband could get away with a lot.

After she’d fought with the on sight officers for an hour, Kimba had stormed to Julie’s car, driven out to pick up Jesse, and took them one hundred and fifty miles away to Brighton. Getting away felt like a really good idea for all of them, tournament or no. Most of the nice hotels had been filled, so the one vacant room they’d finally found was anything but elegant, but the bed was soft and the sheets clean. Five minutes after arrival, Julie and Jesse were snoring softly in sleep.

Kimba was still raging internally, slowly trying to let the anger go, which she knew was the proper thing to do, yet still very difficult. It helped that her head was resting on a very comfortable shoulder, rising and falling with each breath Julie took. They’d been sleeping in the same manner for a few weeks, but after the kiss in the country, the sensation was that much more intense. It felt like home.

A soft rustle of linen alerted the redhead to Jesse’s alertness. She opened her eyes to see him sitting silently on the other bed, his legs hanging off the side, mouth slightly agape. He was staring at her with a strange expression and she suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to know what the boy was thinking. To know how he felt about her, about them. The thought struck her profoundly that because there was a possibility of a future with his mother, Jesse’s approval was something she wanted very badly.

“Are you alright Jesse,” she asked quietly. Julie would probably wake up if they talked anyway, but she wanted to let the woman sleep as long as possible.

Jesse whispered as well, his deepening voice rasping each word. “I’m okay. I just…I…is something going on between you guys?” His question sounded a little desperate.

“Would it bother you if there was something between your mother and I?” Nothing had really happened yet, at least not anything that couldn’t be taken back, so talking hypothetically seemed relatively safe. For the moment anyway.

Sharp shoulders shrugged beneath his striped pajamas and he looked at the streaming light coming through the shades. After a couple of deep breaths, he spoke again.

“I’ve never really had to think about stuff like that. I certainly never had to consider my mom being in love with another woman. And two months ago, I probably would have been shocked. But you know something, Kimba,” he asked, his dark eyes meeting hers again.

“What,” she asked breathlessly.

The boy was struggling with the conversation as much as she was. The thought occurred to her that he might be as eager to know what she was thinking as she was to hear his thoughts. They’d already been through a lot together and Kimba believed they were getting close.

“I’ve never seen my mom happier than she’s been since we moved in with you. It’s like for all these years, I had a good mother, who always took care of me and Dad. She did everything he told her to and all the things moms are supposed to do.” He scooted forward a little and rested his elbows on his knees, leaning on them for support. A slight grin etched onto his face, seen as a displacement of shadows in the dim orange light. “After we came to you, she’s still the same great mom, taking care of everything, but she’s a different person. She’s fun and cool and if she wasn’t my mom, I know I’d like her. For all my life I only had a mother, but now I have this great friend that I can talk to and play with.”

Taking in a shaky breath, Kimba could feel a new, soft warmth spreading through her. For a while now she thought she’d made a difference, but to hear him say it so plainly was more satisfying than she could imagine.

“I’m glad she’s happy,” she whispered.

“She is happy and that’s all because of you…And if that means the two of you are going to have some kind of a thing going, well, I guess I’ll get used to it.” He shrugged, studying his mother’s still peaceful face. “I mean, I don’t really have a problem with that kind of thing. It’s…it’s just different.”

Julie stirred a little under her, and Kimba thought she might be awake. Then she licked her lips twice absently and released a deep sigh. No, she wasn’t awake, which was good and bad. It would have been nice for her to hear her son’s comments.

Tomorrow would be soon enough for the recap. The dark woman was peacefully sleeping, deeper than she had in a while, so the redhead allowed her to stay that way. “I know. It’s different for us too, Jesse. Neither of us planned what happened. It was fate, I think.”

Jesse laughed and leaned back on the bed with a whoosh. “Fate must have a bad sense of humor to pull all this on me then. I’m just a kid for God’s sake. More has happened to me in the last month than it has in my whole life.”

“Yeah,” Kimba agreed thoughtfully. Her eyes were drifting shut sleepily and she could feel her awareness slipping away. “Fate can be a bitch, but life would be boring without her.” Within moments of the thought, she was snoring softly against Julie’s chest.

Light spraying across her closed eyes brought Kimba around a few hours later, her body still pinning the larger one beneath her. It felt great, so she stayed there for a while, until she realized Julie was awake. “Hey.”

A hand lovingly caressed her hair. “Morning. Did you sleep well,” Julie asked quietly.

“Great, how ‘bout you?” The younger woman leaned over onto her elbow, taking most of her weight back to her own body, but not relinquishing the contact with her partner.

“The sleep was fine, and I can’t think of a better way to wake up. Or a better person to do it with.” Her voice filled with an awe Kimba had never heard before, clear blue eyes mirroring the emotion. Julie had obviously been thinking.

As she was beginning to, thinking back to the conversation she’d had the night before with Jesse. His mother deserved to know the gist of it. Kimba glanced to the other bed, observing that it was empty. “I had a little talk with Jesse last night.”

“Yeah, about what,” Julie asked without concern.

Kimba idly played with the cotton fabric draped across her friend’s stomach, considering the perfect way to relay what the boy had said. “About us,” she finally declared.

The older woman took in a suddenly shaky breath. “What…what did he say?”

Patting the skin beneath her hand reassuringly, Kimba allowed a full smile to come to her lips. It wasn’t that hard really, because knowing that Jesse wasn’t going to be any trouble for her new relationship with Julie was a great weight lifted from her shoulders. “He said that anyone that made his mother happy was okay with him. He could learn to deal with stuff,” she relayed softly.

“Oh…that’s great. I suspected he felt that way, but I’ve been too scared to bring it up,” she said with a relieved sigh. “It’s not everyday that I have to tell my son I have a girlfriend.” Julie chuckled soundlessly and rubbed her hand over Kimba’s back.

The redhead straightened up a little, gaining a better line of sight to her friend’s face. “If you can’t tell your own son, Julie, how are you going to deal with the rest of the world. Are you sure you’re up to this,” she asked firmly.

Kimba still didn’t know exactly how ready she was to announce this new facet of her life to the world, much less how Julie was taking it. Although nothing completely solid had happened between them as of yet, they both wanted it, and she thought it was a permanent commitment. At least that’s how she wanted it.

“I…I’ve been avoiding thinking about it, to tell you the truth. I don’t think I can announce it to the world Kimba. Is that a problem,” she asked, her voice tinged with hope.

Their eyes searched each other’s intently at short range, seeing love, longing, and a bit of uncertainty. Kimba realized that they were heading deeper into uncharted waters everyday they continued on their course, but she also knew that she wouldn’t change it for all the world.

“No, that’s not a problem,” she admitted quietly. “I…I feel the same way, I guess. Part of me wants to go stand on a mountaintop and scream to the world that I love you.” She paused to feel the warm hand cupping her cheek and take in the loving gaze from those beautiful eyes. “But another part doesn’t want to deal with anyone else and all the grief I know they would cause. I don’t want anything to take away how good this feels.”

“Exactly,” Julie concurred simply.

She welcomed an agreement on that complicated subject, more so since it was easier than she’d imagined. She knew it wouldn’t be simple, that measures would have to be taken, but it was a start. They had nothing to hide, but people didn’t have a right to interfere with this love that they had. Kimba knew that she’d waited a long time for it to happen and she had no intention of letting the narrow minded people of the world screw it up. A big enough chance of that happening existed without them.

Giving Julie a quick kiss on the forehead, Kimba scrambled out of the bed to search in their bags, strewn across the far wall hastily the night before. She returned moments later, holding a small velvet box behind her back.

“I got this from the house before we left. I wanted to wait for a better time to give it to you, but now feels as good as any,” she said hurriedly, thrusting her hands forward, displaying the container to her friend.

“Kimba,” Julie drawled in a ‘you shouldn’t have’ tone. But she opened the little box without hesitation and peered misty eyed at its contents. A pair of gold loop earrings stood out against black velvet, simple really, except for the etched design that pulled the light from the air in delicate reflection.

“They’re beautiful,” she whispered.

Scooting a little closer, her thigh touching Julie’s crossed legs, Kimba leaned over to look at the jewelry again. “I thought they’d look sexy on you.”

Without her permission, blood rushed up to her cheeks in an outstanding blush. Ridiculous, her mind screamed at the sensation. We’re both adults and this isn’t the dark ages, yet I still get embarrassed when I let myself think about being with her. I feel like a kid when I look into her eyes. Like I’ve never been touched by another person. Jeez. Kimba looked away to the slatted window, only to have her face gently pulled back to Julie’s waiting glare.

A soft smile awaited on the other woman’s lips and Kimba could feel her pulse speed up in reaction. “Thank you.”

The kiss was sweet and as gentle as the first, both women not needing to speed up the acquaintance process one bit. A silent agreement seemed to exist that they had all the time in the world and intended to use it. After all, they built up to that first kiss for their entire lives. A little longer for the rest wasn’t going to hurt a thing.
Chapter 16
Waves of heat crashed over Julie as she leaned casually back in her seat, watching her only son scoot out to his position at second base. Spring was finally giving way to summer, with no less than a vengeance. A few puffy clouds floated across the mid-day sky, offering little relief from the harsh sunlight beaming down into the stadium. Not that it mattered, though. Sitting next to the love of her life, watching her son have fun, and not worrying about anything, it was a great day.

John was sitting with a group of other teachers about twenty feet away, occasionally shooting her glances, some nasty, some pleasant, and none that she cared to acknowledge. He hadn’t tried anything since the break in, but his last stunt was the breaking point for his wife. She wanted nothing to do with him.

The police seemed to have the same attitude. No direct evidence linked him to the clutter in Kimba’s home, and he said he didn’t have anything to do with it, there was that restraining order in effect, after all. So the police decided it was simply another random break in and put it in that file, which they all knew would not be looked at again.

But it wasn’t a total loss, Julie decided. Even if the police refused to consider him a suspect, John realized he was coming awfully close to getting caught. Three weeks had passed without a single sighting of him if the school building didn’t count. No matter how far gone he was over the divorce, he didn’t want to lose his job or face jail. That left Julie and Kimba with a slight peace of mind, not to mention a little room to breath. If they were lucky, it was actually over.

A slow roller made its way to second base, Jesse scooping it up efficiently and making a smooth throw to first. Julie clapped enthusiastically and yelled words of support to him, with Kimba sitting beside her in silence. The older woman smiled fully to her friend and continued watching the game with apparent absorption.

She was not oblivious, however, to the soft green eyes constantly following her, rarely focusing on anything else for more than a moment or two. In a way, it was a little unnerving to be the object of such devotion, but in a bigger way it was the most touching thing she’d ever experienced. Kimba, in the public eye as they were now, was the perfect friend. In private, she was a sweet suitor, often surprising Julie with small gifts, flowers, and romantic candlelight dinners. More than once she’d told the young woman that she didn’t have to do anything to win her over, but the touching tokens kept rolling in. And if she told the truth, which Kimba knew without a verbal acknowledgement, Julie loved every moment of it.

Jesse often gave them funny looks when he caught small glimpses of the budding closeness between them, but he constantly reassured them that he thought it was fine. Not that he saw much of anything, since not much more than holding hands had taken place. Much to Julie’s frustration, they hadn’t so much as kissed for more than a minute. She wanted to do more, but there was still something stopping them from going farther into a physical relationship. She realized that not only was she holding back, but Kimba was as well. Julie supposed it was hard for both of them to throw away a lifetime of indoctrination. The whole thing would have gone much smoother if they were parading lesbians instead of two friends who had somehow fallen in love.

A collision at second base brought her back to reality and to her feet as Jesse crashed to the ground under a much larger player from the other team. Kimba stood beside her as well, placing a gentle hand on the other woman’s arm to comfort her. But being a young stud as her son was, Jesse stood only a minute later, dusted himself off, ready to continue the game. The women returned to their seats and the chatter from the fans around them returned to their ears.

Leaning over so that only Julie could hear, Kimba whispered in her ear. “You know something? You’re really sexy when you mother hen.”

The blood rushed immediately to Julie’s face, as it always did when Kimba got bold. All the older woman could do was cast a menacing glare to her friend, which, judging from the widening smile she received, was not very effective.

“And you’re cute when you blush,” the golden haired woman whispered again.

Julie slapped the firm shoulder next to her and returned her attention to the game. Well, at least part of her attention. The remainder was flying in the sparse, fluffy clouds that dotted the sky, dreaming of dreams yet to come true. Sure that they would, she waited impatiently for the day, as she’d waited impatiently before and been rewarded with Kimba. Once again she Thanked the powers above that the opportunity to imagine new possibilities had presented itself.
Chapter 17
Marty called a few days later and invited them to go out again. Kimba thought about not accepting, feeling even less comfortable than the first time they’d went to the bar since this time, they would no longer pass for a couple of straight girls in a lesbian hang out. Somehow it seemed more dangerous, more real. But to her surprise, Julie was eager to go again and to see Marty.

Sitting at a table directly off the dance floor, the low lights sparkling in Julie’s eyes, Kimba completely understood the allure of the place. She’d been comfortable before, felt the unpretentiousness of the place and knew that no one was judging her. Then it was a nice feeling, once she’d realized it was there. Now, with the possible consequences of having a relationship with Julie always tugging at her mind, albeit minutely, the idea that she could throw her concerns out the window was liberating. And since John had been out of the picture for so long now, Kimba felt as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

That left a perfect night to concentrate on her friend and the woman she loved. Marty was a most gracious host, though she hadn’t revealed her motivations for bringing them to the bar again. The stocky blonde said she just wanted to see her friends, but Kimba recognized that little gleam in her eyes and knew that she was up to something. Whatever it was, though, felt too good to worry about, so she didn’t give the matter a second thought.

People swirled about them, entering and exiting the dance floor in pairs, as the threesome drank coke and caught up on all the events they hadn’t talked about at the last softball game. Some serious convincing finally got Kimba out amongst the dancers with Marty.

“So, what’s this all about Marty,” she asked without hostility. They both knew she couldn’t fake that if she tried.

“Nothing, Kim. I’m offended. I told you I just wanted to see you guys.” The song was a slow one, so they were close, the redhead actually being the taller of the pair and grabbing the lead. She was surprised she didn’t feel any awkwardness between them, after so long and a new relationship. Then again, Marty was a great person and wanted nothing from her, so there was no reason to be apprehensive, even in her arms.

And occasionally catching a pair of blue eyes watching her in quiet devotion didn’t leave much room to consider that she was dancing with another person. “Okay, I guess I believe you. And thanks, by the way. It’s nice to be out.”

“I thought it might be. Maybe that stuff with Jordan is finally over,” she said uncertainly. “I’m really sorry about the way the department handled that. Old boys club and all that, I guess.” They shrugged in unison, then looked at each other and laughed.

“I hope it is over. It was getting really old.” She cast a glance over Marty’s shoulder and took in a deep breath. Julie was talking to a tall, strikingly beautiful blonde, who was sitting next to the dark woman. A moment later, Julie smiled and shook her head, prompting the suitor to leave with a smile of her own. The sight was beautiful.

Marty looked over her shoulder and took in the scene with a thoughtful look. Turning back to Kimba, she leaned a little closer and whispered in her ear. “So things are working out for you guys?”

Nodding her head minutely, Kimba was surprised to feel a sudden anxiousness to answer. She hadn’t been able to tell anyone and the freedom to do so was exhilarating. “Yeah, they are. I’ve never been so happy in my whole life.” She smiled apologetically at her friend and former lover, who accepted it graciously with a small nod.

“I’m happy for you. You guys make a great couple. She’s beautiful,” Marty hugged Kimba a little in the embrace they were already in and pulled back to a more feasible distance.

“Yes, she is that,” the attorney answered, accepting credit as if she had anything to do with it. “I never thought it would happen, but I’m in love with a beautiful woman and I wouldn’t change a thing in my life if I could. It’s amazing.” And it was all true, which was almost unbelievable in itself. But then her eyes fell upon the subject of the conversation, her heart skipped a beat, and it made perfect sense.

Patting her friend on the back and pulling out of her arms, Marty began guiding them back to the table. “Well, let’s get you and this woman on the floor then.”

Moments later, Kimba and Julie were dancing among the other women to an upbeat number, hips swaying sensuously to the music. The fluorescent lights overhead shown down softly on the inhabitants below, casting dark shadows over the myriad of skin colors. Julie’s black, form fitting body sock dress was unaffected by the tones, but her skin turned caramel under the glow, her hair the same jet black as usual. Kimba’s white silk shirt was a milky tan, her red-gold hair a sparkling mahogany.

The music turned again to a slow, rolling rhythm, pairing women in tight embraces. Kimba and Julie did the same, the taller woman in the lead, again, which earned her a smirk from her partner, as well as a gentle massage of her neck. The longer the song played, soulful tones floating across the room in a deep, female voice, the closer the two women pulled to each other. Despite the crowded status of the small, creme tiled dancing surface, they seemed the only people in the room.

Her lips close to the shorter woman’s ear, Julie finally broke the silence in low, husky tones. “You and Marty looked pretty comfortable out here.”

“Are you jealous,” Kimba asked lightly. The bright banter that was a major part of their relationship never failed to thrill her. Its translation into this new forum had been smooth, helped immensely by the enjoyment they found in each other.

The redhead shivered at the unexpected feeling of teeth on her ear, along with a heated gust of air. “Maybe,” was all Julie said.

A pulse began to run through Kimba’s body more fiercely than she could remember feeling. The sultriness of Julie’s voice and the teasing way she was caressing all parts of the body she touched felt like heaven. Definitely the most forward her friend had been about the budding sexual nature of the union, signally that things were probably about to progress in a very major and long awaited direction.

Gathering her scattered thoughts, Kimba tried to keep the conversation moving. “No need to be jealous, Marty doesn’t have a chance with me. She’s a great gal, but how could I think of anyone else when I know that six feet of gorgeous woman is waiting for me?”

“How long do you think I’ll wait,” she replied with a slight chuckle.

Kimba pulled far enough away to meet the mischievously twinkling blue eyes, only inches from her own. “I don’t know what you’ve been waiting for all this time. I’ve practically thrown myself at you.”

Julie laughed harder at that. “Love is blind, remember…but I’m beginning to believe things are coming into focus.”

An undercurrent of seriousness washed over Kimba at that, it being the one thing she’d wanted her whole life. Not sex, although that wouldn’t hurt, but the realization of finally having that one special person to share her life with. Every time she had the clear vision of it in her mind was like the first time she’d fell upon it, joy filling her heart like a raging river. It left her breathless.

“I’ve waited so long for this, Jay,” she said, her voice cracking.

Compassion and love filled Julie’s eyes, a lopsided grin gracing her lips. “So have I,” she answered softly.

In the crowd of moving bodies shifting all around them, Kimba barely seemed to notice the public forum as her tall partner bent down and kissed her tenderly. The sensation of delicate lips on her own, along with the emotion that filled the action almost had her reeling with happiness.

Neither of them noticed the hulking figure moving stealthily toward them from the entrance until he was on them. With a primal growl, John grasped Julie’s shoulder, pulling her out of the embrace and sending her sprawling backwards. Kimba opened her eyes, dumbfounded, totally unprepared for the blow that landed on her jaw. Before her mind could even comprehend what was happening, she was on her back, cold tile over concrete not the least bit comforting, dozens of pairs of eyes staring at her in disbelief.

“Don’t touch her, bitch,” John spat, taking a step toward the prone woman.

Trying to imagine where he had come from, Kimba stood shakily, noticing the swirling of her mind in reaction to the punch. He must have been watching in the damned window or something. I just don’t quite know how he got to us unnoticed through a sea of women in a lesbian bar. Someone must have thought it odd a man was hanging out front. Balancing herself precariously, she waited to see what his next move was going to be, hoping that there was at least one smart person in the bar who would call the police.

“You’ve ruined everything and I’m going to make sure you can’t do it anymore.” A backhanded punch caught her off guard again, even though she knew he was going to do it. His eyes flashed angry black in the low light, his mouth turned down in rage.

The blow didn’t knock her down, her head actually beginning to clear from the first punch. The second had bloodied her nose, but left her with her faculties. Instinctively, the short woman stepped forward with surprising speed and lashed out with a fist. Shock flashed across his dark features as the punch connected, sending him back a step. Kimba didn’t think she really had a chance against him, surprising him could only go so far, but she intended to put up a good fight until help arrived.

And Marty did arrive a moment later, as John advanced on the small redhead again, his hands curled, ready for action. The officer pulled a gun from beneath her blazer and assumed the classic ready position, arms outstretched, both hands grasping the black iron. “Stop where you are Jordan, you’re under arrest,” she barked in an official tone.

Blinking his eyes rapidly at the development, the raging man looked as if he didn’t comprehend the situation. He stepped forward, stopping only when Marty placed her body, and the gun, between him and Kimba. “I said stop. Let’s not let this turn ugly.”

Though he continued to stare angrily at his victim, John complied, stepping back slowly, hands falling peacefully to his sides. His eyes squinted dangerously as Julie rushed past him in a wide arch, stopping only when she had a hand on Kimba’s arm. He remained passive, not reacting as the high pitched wail of sirens intensified upon arriving in front of the normally subdued bar.

An hour later, Kimba was sitting on her bed drying her hair from a quick shower, the sound of rushing water filling the room. They’d both felt like a shower after their little escapade. I was stupid to think it was over. Look where it’s gotten me. I’m not going to let myself imagine this is the end, even though it should be, she thought with a sigh. She still couldn’t believe that he’d gotten to them and actually became violent. The anger glowing in his eyes had been frightening to the extreme, shivers still trailed down her spine.

Very efficiently, the police had secured John, interviewed the two of them, and many other women who had seen the incident, and went on their way. After all, it was pretty open and shut, as Marty had observed. A man attacked Kimba in an establishment whose clientele were all women, in front of at least twenty customers. More people had been present, but Marty had discretely let some escape. With the amount of witnesses they had to the altercation, allowing a few of the women who had more to lose slip out didn’t hurt anything.

She and Julie were supposed to go to the station the next day to take care of all the particulars, which was fine with both of them. The shock of the whole incident still had blood pumping at extraordinary rates through Kimba’s veins. Walking to the window, the soft white light of the half moon falling on the sill, she tried to calm herself.

The sound of Julie emerging from the bathroom brought her attention to the opposite end of the room, green eyes flashing momentarily wide. More olive skin was exposed than she could remember seeing, a fluffy white towel wrapped around a long torso. Kimba regained her composure quicker than she thought possible, considering the increase in speed of her already raging emotions.

Julie’s perfect red lips were curled in a sensuous smile as she crossed to the bed. In an ungraceful flop, she settled on her back, all over the normally plentiful queen sized bed. “Yet another great night to mark down in the history books. I don’t know how we do it,” she stated sarcastically.

“Well, it must be your fault. Nothing like this happened before you came along.” The younger woman settled on the edge of the bed, one leg hanging off, the other tucked under.

“My life was pretty calm before you too. It must be the combination. Crossed stars or something,” she replied with a small chuckle.

Thinking about the truth of that, Kimba pulled Julie’s closest hand to her, brought it to her lips and kissed it softly. Blue eyes quickly tracked to watch, a shimmering twinkle of moonlight reflected in them. “Maybe we should take it as a sign that we shouldn’t be together.”

Pulling up onto her elbows, Julie shook her head slowly. “Um…I don’t think so. It…it all makes me want you more,” she said in a whisper.

“Why,” Kimba asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Because…you’re taking me at my worst. When everything is going wrong in my life and the only thing I have to give is my heart.” Blue eyes looked away shyly, unaccustomed to this bearing of feelings. “And if we make it through this, we can make it through anything.”

Two fingers under her strong chin brought Julie’s eyes up to meet a pair of mist green ones. “We’ve already made it Jay. It’s just a matter of hammering out the details.”

The attorney’s smile widened at the relieved look on her partner’s face. Kimba was hard pressed to accept that she was probably the stronger person between them. The opposite had been true during their first run as friends. Now, in the midst of major life changes for both of them, she was the one who offered the shoulder to cry on, and oddly, it felt good to return the favor.

As the prone woman sat up and pulled Kimba into a fierce embrace, the redhead soon realized that some things felt even better than good. Not the least of which was a pair of tender, hungry lips on her own. Passion swept through her body at a pace she knew could not be easily stopped if Julie wished to do so, as she had before.

When long fingers began unbuttoning the hard plastic buttons holding her cotton pajama shirt together, Kimba excitedly figured out that tonight, Julie had no intention of stopping. She said a silent thanks for that, even as her hands began a graceful exploration of the body below her own and her lips continued their soft assault.

Nothing was awkward about it, as she’d feared, nothing uncomfortable. Even Julie seemed uninhibited as she surrendered her heart without hesitation. It was as if they’d shared of each other forever, in exquisite ecstasy.

Drifting off to sleep quite some time later, her love held securely to her chest, Kimba thought about the last few months and the night they’d just shared. The event wasn’t so much of a pinnacle or summit, as her mind had built it in her fantasies. More accurately, she thought, it was a confirmation of achievement, telling her that what they’d been building up to since meeting, since forever, was solid enough to tear down all barriers that might exist between them. Screaming that there was nothing so bad that it couldn’t be faced together. Nothing that they didn’t share, freely and with zeal.
Chapter 18
The stack of papers on Julie’s desk was not getting any smaller, as she sat staring blankly at a page filled with sloppy blue writing that she was supposed to be grading. Her mind was not remotely attuned to a day of school, and it would not focus, no matter how many times she chastised herself for her foolishness. Being in love…it just felt so good.

The charges against John had been formally made and their statements officially taken at the police station earlier in the morning. Marty had taken them through the process and assured that he was going to jail this time. Assault, battery, and breaking the protective order would be enough to get him locked up for a while. She told Kimba and Julie it would probably be thirty days and no more, but the incarceration would be enough to set him straight or at least make him realize that he couldn’t get away with harassing them.

So she had just been sitting at her desk, unconcerned with her crazy husband, soon to be ex, thankfully, thinking about the wonderful night she’d just spent with her partner. Her lover. My God. I can’t hardly believe that, her mind couldn’t stop repeating. Julie had been more than pleasantly surprised about the night of passion she and Kimba had experienced.

Even though she had known for some time that they were heading in that direction, knew she wanted to share every part of herself with the amazing woman she called best friend, a nagging little voice constantly waged war with her heart. It told her that loving a woman was wrong, and sadly, part of her believed it. She’d imagined that when she finally succumbed to her passion for Kimba, it would be ugly somehow. That it would feel wrong and dirty. That it wouldn’t excite her.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Touching and being touched by the love of her life was nothing less than miraculous. Julie’s other lovers had always seemed to be after pleasure only, which was all she got and all she gave. But with Kimba, the act of love had been a coming home, a sharing of souls that she had never experienced before. And it made all the doubts that she had about the new ground they were treading recede out of her mind’s eye. In perfect clarity, she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life, body and soul, with this amazing woman.

“Mr. Thompson would like to see you in his office, Mrs. Jordan,” a timid voice floated from the doorway.

Looking up dazedly, Julie nodded to the office aide, already retreating from the room. She had been wondering what the reaction to John’s arrest was going to be in the gossip filled school. Apparently, at least part of the answer was soon to be forthcoming. Walking down the halls toward the glass walled office, the teacher purposefully ignored the stares and strange looks she received from almost every person she passed. She had expected as much. It wasn’t every day that the school principal gets arrested for assaulting his wife.

Once inside the glass encased office, Julie went directly to the north side and into the lead principal’s office. Mr. Thompson was John’s boss as well as hers. Consistent with his character, her husband had been in charge of school discipline, which he was fairly good at.

Thompson sat at his large oak desk, pushing a pen stealthy across a piece of creme school stationary. The short cropped white hair and beard fairly reflected off his coal skin, his round face and belly making him a perfect candidate for a cheery black Santa Claus. A role he loved playing, as he had at numerous past Christmas parties. It was all a part of his jovial and giving nature.

He looked up from the paper when Julie quietly shut the door, a soft click as she entered the little office. A strong hand motioned to the chair across from him, which she took, trying to contemplate what he might say to her.

“I heard about what happened last night,” he came to the point immediately, his emotions unreadable.

“Yeah. I can’t believe John did that. But I want you to know that I’m going to handle this professionally.” Julie shifted a little in the thick leather chair, eliciting a high pitched squeak from within its structure.

“He told me that he was adjusting. I’m beginning to think he was hiding a few things from me.” The dark woman was surprised at his levity, but accepted it as consistent with his normal nature.

Chuckling a little, Julie relaxed considerably, the stringy tension in her muscles dissolving at the man’s words. The fear that their divorce was going to cost her the job she loved faded into nothingness. “Now we know, I guess.”

“Yes. And I have no doubt that you will be a professional about all this.” The principal leaned forward, his suited elbows supporting his weight. All the laughter left his features, giving his appearance an additional ten years. “John is temporarily suspended due to his arrest upon my order and that will most likely become permanent at the next board meeting. But we have another problem with this situation.”

“Oh,” was her surprised response. By the older man’s expression, whatever this problem was, it was to be taken seriously. Racking her brain in furious abandon, Julie had no idea what it might be.

Mr. Thompson’s dark eyes shifted uncomfortably to the papers before him, idle hands moving them minutely on the desk. “You haven’t seen the paper this morning, have you,” he asked while handing her the newspaper he pulled from a drawer.

Julie scanned the front page, her eyes quickly finding a small article at the bottom, bold headline reading, “Local Principal Arrested at Gay Bar”. Suddenly, a whole new problem possibility sprang to her mind and she had no idea why she hadn’t though of it before. The whole thing had happened at the Pink Elephant, the only lesbian bar in town. The little article didn’t say it, but everyone who read it would think that she was a lesbian, and that couldn’t be good for her school life. She didn’t really think it would, but she supposed it could get her fired.

Yet again, the turmoil her life had become wasn’t over. Now it had merely taken another form, one possibly more damaging than the previous. Julie knew she was about to find out. “Oh God,” she gasped softly.

“Now I hope you know that I really like you Julie and I don’t really care what this paper says. I know you’re a good person. The problem is, the people of this town may not like it. I…I’m just saying this to prepare you for what might happen. You should be aware that you could be suspended too.” He finished with a sad look, once again playing with the papers under his large, dark hands.

Tears sprang to her eyes assertively, but Julie pulled up the will from deep down to not let them fall. “That’s not fair.”

The man’s hand waved in the air animatedly. “I know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna fight for you if it comes to that. You just need to know that it might.”

“Okay…thanks for telling me. I guess I should have…” she was cut off by a bright smile from the principal.

“You don’t have to explain to me, Julie. I only ask that you be careful of what you say and not let anything bother you. I’d hate to lose a great teacher over this,” he stood from the desk and walked toward the door, signaling that their discussion was coming to an end. In five minutes the first bell was due to ring.

Standing on legs steadier than Julie thought they would be, she turned to the door, stopping next to the round little principal. She tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder, which he covered under his own with no hesitation. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. And besides, she’s a lawyer, so I figure I’ve got a little bargaining power,” she added with a wry grin.

Mr. Thompson rolled his eyes, laughing openly as he guided her out of his small office, into the curious stares in the outer area.
Chapter 19
Sun shown brightly into the small window of the office, illuminating the newspaper Kimba stared at on her desk. Roger had brought it in a moment before, throwing it onto her desk without comment. She looked at him coolly, not liking the anger she saw lurking behind his gaze. “I’ve seen it. What’s your point,” she asked passively.

The simple wooden chair in front of the desk creaked loudly as he settled into, leaning forward, his posture aggressive. “I thought you weren’t going to let her hurt you.”

Frowning, Kimba turned questioning green eyes to her friend. She knew that he cared for her, that he was probably still in love with her, but she didn’t like the direction the conversation was going. “She hasn’t.”

“Yes she has. You don’t think this has hurt you,” he asked incredulously. “Everyone knows.” His voice cracking, he stood abruptly and walked to the window, hands clasped tightly behind his back.

Kimba could see that Roger was in pain. He thought he was best for her and no one else would do. She could see that as well, even though she knew it couldn’t be farther from the truth. In another situation, she might have accepted his love willingly and wouldn’t have been sorry for it. But the way things were, she wanted no one but Julie. And in no fashion would she accept hassle over the decision.

“It’s just as well that everyone knows Roger. I love Julie and not all the busybody gossips in the world are going to change that. They’re going to have to accept it and so are you.” A small grin twitched her lips, the ability to make the statement filling her heart. Now if it were actually that easy, things would be great.

“Have you even considered that you could lose your job? What do you suppose Mitchell thinks of this little revelation,” he sniped, still staring out the third floor window.

A gravelly voice boomed from the doorway. “Mitchell thinks that Kim Curtis is one hell of an attorney.”

The handsome man stepped in front of the office-filling desk, hands in the pockets of his pin striped suit coat. The sun reflected off his silver hair and gleaming white smile. “I can’t say that this isn’t somewhat of a shock, but I tend to judge my employees on their work product, not their personal trysts. If I cared about people leading moral and conventional sex lives, I’d lose somebody at least once a year.”

Gravely, Roger turned from the window to face the room’s other chuckling occupants. He was deflated and defeated, but also looked the slightest bit relieved. “I’m glad you guys are having fun with this, but I know nothing good will come of it.”

Mitchell Redhorn put an aged hand on the shorter man’s shoulder and squeezed affectionately. “Love always has its share of heartache, Roger. That’s what makes the happy moments so precious,” he said, patting Roger’s shoulder. The aging attorney was clearly speaking to both his younger colleagues.

“I guess,” was Roger’s quiet reply.

Turning his attention to the redhead still perched behind her desk, Mitchell waxed serious again. “And have no doubt, Kim, that there will be heartache over this. Love never lets you off easy, and you’ve picked someone especially complex to love.”

“I know,” Kimba responded, sadly to the first part and happily to the second. She knew that they were going to catch negative reaction because of the newspaper article, especially Julie. Historically, parents did not generally favor the idea of their children being taught by anyone unconventional. As if teachers weren’t normal people who had the same faults as everyone else. Still, educators were held to their own standard. One that Julie would have substantial trouble meeting at this point.

“If it comes down to litigation, I’ll be on your side, Kim,” the older attorney affirmed.

Kimba stood swiftly and circled the desk. Giving her boss a hug, she spoke softly to him. “That means a lot to me, Mitchell. I’m grateful to have you as a friend.” Roger’s eyes were popping out of his head at the embracing pair.

Closeness had never been something she had with her boss, but at that moment, Kimba relished the man and all he offered. It was a great gift. A confirmation that she meant something to him. She knew that it was mostly because of her work under him and not her winning personality and great character, but that was gratifying in itself. All that she had worked for in her career was a reality. The firm valued her work and wished to keep her, even at the expense of bad press. Kimba was touched that her boss would stick up for her in the face of all that. Not many would.

With the two men out of her office, the young attorney continued to stare at her desk, attempting to refocus on the case she’d been trying to research all day. Her mind, however, was still a whirl of emotions. If not thinking about the complications the newspaper mention was sure to produce, she pondered all the delicious revelations her night with Julie had disclosed.

As if on cue, the phone beside her came to noisy life, the secretary’s voice radiating from it in a mechanical jingle. “Julie Jordan on line three,” the disembodied voice said tonelessly.

The woman’s heart immediately skipped a beat as she tentatively picked up the receiver. Silly, she knew, but real none the less. “Hey,” her voice was soft.

“Hi baby,” Julie said in a hushed voice.

Again Kimba felt a thrill run up her spine, the endearment filling her heart. She’d never really liked being called nicknames by her lovers, thought them somewhat demeaning. But the way Julie said it, the most demeaning moniker of them all, the term sounded like a caress.

“Have you seen the paper?” There was no doubt what the call was about. Kimba couldn’t even remember the last time she’d called during the day to the law firm.

A heavy sigh floated over the wire, then a long moment of silence. “Yeah, I got called into the principal’s office because of it. How ‘bout you?”

“Yeah, I talked to Mitchell. He was really nice about it. There won’t be any problem on my end. What about you,” she asked in confidence. Julie probably needed her support very much at the moment.

“Well, he was nice, but he does think that I might have a problem. He said he’ll go to bat for me, though,” she said dejectedly.

Wanting to run out of the office and rush to her friend, Kimba calmed herself with effort, searching for the right thing to say to make Julie feel better. “We’ll get through this Julie, don’t worry,” she replied.

The sound of a laughing group of people came through the receiver, leaving Julie silent for several moments. When she finally spoke again, her voice was still distant, but tinged with hope. “Do you really think so?”

Kimba had to fight the desire to run again, Julie sounded so much like a lost child, wanting desperately to believe, but knowing from experience that wanting was not always enough. “Yes, I know so. Look at what we went through to get to this point.”

The attorney paused for a moment to let that thought sink in. They had been through a lot and always made it. This would be no different. Not now that she had what she’d longed for. “I’ll be damned if I let a bunch of pigheaded homophobes ruin this,” she resonated.

A small chuckle came over the phone, easing her tension a little. “Okay,” was all Julie said. At least it was a start. With renewed hope, Kimba knew anything was possible.
Chapter 20
The fluffy couch was more than a piece of furniture. It was home. And that meant a great deal to Julie after the day she’d had at school. She settled comfortably in the cushions, sinking in the fabric peacefully, waiting for Kimba to finish changing so they could talk. After all the disapproving stares and whispering voices, a friendly, loving face was a nice idea.

Kimba plopped beside her, eliciting a soft whoosh from the couch. Her smile dazzled her older partner, already making the day seem more like a diminishing nightmare. “So, how did the tar and feathering go,” she asked lightly.

Julie scooted a few inches closer and laid a hand on Kimba’s bare thigh. She’d been longing for the warm contact all day. “I’m glad it’s over. Do you think they’ll suspend me?”

“No way. You didn’t do anything wrong, Jay. If you recall, we were the ones attacked. If the school board tries anything…well, I won’t let them,” the redhead declared. Julie recognized the set and determined expression on her lover’s face. When she really wanted something, Kimba usually got it. She’d gotten her, after all.

“I…I missed you today. I wanted you there to take up for me,” Julie stated softly. And it was a stark truth.

Kimba reached a hand out and caressed an olive cheek gently, her eyes filled with compassion. “I’ll always be here for you, Jay.”

Warm green eyes seemed to reach down into her soul, pulling it to the light it had been shadowed from for most of the day. Julie consciously felt all the doubts that had been filling her mind flee in all directions, like dandelions in the wind. All she wanted, needed was the feel of Kimba’s lips on hers and the love that poured forth from her kind heart. No uncertainty could stand up to her partner’s unbending love.

One kiss turned into a dozen. A dozen into even more. Facing each other, knees touching, they gratefully shared the gentle exchange. Kimba’s touch made her feel more exposed than she’d ever been, but Julie was happy for it. The devotion in each caress also made her feel a love never imagined. She welcomed the hand moving up her thigh, slowly burrowing its way under her skirt. In her love’s passion, she could forget about the world, which didn’t really matter compared to what she was feeling.

The sound of a key hitting the front door brought Julie out of the sensuous haze in a rush of fear. Jerking away from the embrace suddenly, the teacher put several feet between her lover and herself. As Jesse came through the door, she tried to ignore the hurt expression on Kimba’s face.

“Hey, Jesse,” she greeted him, sounding more cheerful than she felt, her shortness of breath only faintly detectable. The dazed look in Kimba’s eyes hadn’t lessened any, bringing on a wave of guilt in Julie’s gut.

The boy sat down in the chair against the wall opposite them in a defeated slump, his backpack falling to the floor unheeded. “Hi ya’ll.”

“It’s been a rough day, huh?” Julie turned back to Kimba as the attorney rose, leaving the room without a word. The older woman already knew her actions were going to take a good deal of explaining, accompanied by a large dose of groveling. Kimba didn’t deserve to be hurt and she’d done just that.

Turning her attention back to her bedraggled son, Julie noticed a guarded sadness in his eyes. She could only imagine what he’d been through during the day. Kids could be so cruel. Jesse, however, was a popular boy, star athlete, excellent student, and having parents in the school system hadn’t hurt his reputation a bit. But there was always someone who attacked weakness, no matter what its form or reason.

Jesse sighed loudly, leaning forward on his elbows, staring at the russet carpet. “Yeah. Rough,” he answered dejectedly. He seemed to be searching his brain for the right words, his brow contracted in thought. After a moment, he raised his dark eyes to his mother’s clear blue ones. “I really like Kimba, Mom. And…and I don’t care what anyone says about you guys.”

Pain was written across his face in etched lines too ancient for his tender years. For a moment, Julie got a glimpse of what her son would look like at fifty, which churned her gut even more. It wasn’t fair that they were all having to suffer this, after everything else.

“Jesse, that means a lot to me. I’m sorry the kids are bugging you.” She paused with a sigh, unsure of what to say to him. Telling him about sex in the first place had been hard enough. Back then, she’d never guessed a conversation about her loving another woman would be necessary. “I…I imagine they said some pretty mean things,” she grimaced internally. The appropriate words refused to come.

“It’s…it’s not that big a deal. I’d just never imagined a dyke could look like you,” he stated seriously.

Julie stared at him, unsure of his state of mind. When a slow grin finally began stretching across his face, she felt a chuckle building that erupted into loud laughter, Jesse joining in. What a kid I’ve raised, she thought as she began calming. “That’s what they say about me, huh? I…I’m glad you like Kimba. This…this situation is permanent.”

“I know. That’s why I don’t mind,” he agreed. Picking up the discarded backpack from the floor, he stood up and moved toward her. Jesse placed a gentle kiss on her forehead on his way down the hall, to the solitude of his bedroom.

Sighing, Julie followed suit and headed to the room she shared with Kimba. The discussion with Jesse went well, so she hoped she’d be able to patch things up with her friend equally well. She found the stocky redhead with both hands on the bottom of the window sill, leaning heavily on muscular arms, staring out into the fading light of the afternoon sky.

Tentative footsteps brought her to her partner’s back. She placed a hand on Kimba’s shoulder, where it was quickly covered by a smaller one. “I’m sorry about that Kimba. I guess I’m still not used to all this yet,” she rationalized.

“Are you sure that’s it,” Kimba responded in a strained voice. “Are you sure you’re not ashamed of me, of us?”

The words tore through her like a sword. Not because of Kimba’s doubt in her, the woman had every right, but because there was a grain of truth in them she could not deny. It was like Kimba had said before, if either of them were a man, Julie would be on top of a mountain declaring her love to the world. But to a degree, she was an old fashioned woman, and there was something tearing away at her because of it. Most people thought their relationship was wrong, and there was still a little part of Julie that wanted to conform with the world she’d tried to fit into her whole life.

The taller woman sucked in a breath to respond, but stopped as Kimba turned, her eyes glimmering with tears and emotion. “Don’t bother, Jay. I already know the answer. I just can’t quite make myself accept it.”

“Kimba, I…I’m not ashamed of you. I’m just not ready,” she pleaded. Julie knew at that moment she would give anything to take the crushed look out of her love’s soft green eyes. More than her actions from a moment before were behind the emotions suddenly pouring forth. The no-win situation they were in dearly hurt them both.

Shaking her head in disgust or despair, the teacher wasn’t sure which, Kimba walked past Julie and settled on the bed, peering again through the window. The older woman turned to face her, but the stricken expression never changed, her eyes looking beyond, into the fading sky.

“It’s a little too late for you not to be ready. For one thing, the whole world knows by now that we’re a little more than friends. They can figure that out from the paper, unless we can convince them otherwise,” she informed her lover dejectedly. Her golden head tilted down as she gathered the bed covers at her sides in both knotted fists. “And for another, you let me believe you were ready. You let me make love to you,” she finished softly.

Julie could hear the tears in her voice, wanting to rush to Kimba and hold her. She also heard a tinge of anger, though, that had never been spoken toward her before. Torn between what her heart wanted to do, to take the younger woman in her arms and apologize until her voice went raw, and what her mind demanded, distance, she stood stolidly at the window, unnaturally silent.

With a sniffle, Kimba met her gaze earnestly, a scowl emerging on her face. “I was fooling myself when I thought you’d never hurt me again. To you, I’ve always just been someone to have around when I was convenient.”

Gasping in shock, Julie felt the sting of anger arise in her. “That’s not true and you know it. I care for you,” she retorted.

Kimba issued a sarcastic little laugh, eerily similar to the hiss of a cobra. “You can’t even lie and say you love me, can you?” She shook her fair head in disbelief. “Well, this time I don’t think it’s going to be quite so easy to get rid of me. I’ll go, but you have a mess that is gonna take a while to clean up,” she spat out.

“I don’t want you to leave,” Julie shouted, suddenly frantic. She knew she was losing control, but the anger and desperation were over whelming her. Something she didn’t know she needed until she had it was slipping from her boneless grip. None of it was Kimba’s fault, but she was the only target at the moment, no matter how wrong that was.

“I thought you weren’t ready,” Kimba asked heatedly.

Grasping for words, Julie stepped toward the bed aggressively. Kimba rose to meet her, staring intently into vivid blue eyes. “I’m ready to show you how I feel. I’ve wanted to for most of my life. I’m just not ready for the whole world to know my business.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Jay. At this point, you accept me and the whole world knows,” she paused, her eyes brimming with angry tears again. “Or we act like none of this ever happened.” Her voice was filled with pain.

“Is that the way you want it? To act like this never happened?” She knew the answer already, but she waited anyway, wanting Kimba to say something to stop what was happening. The situation was completely out of control, but she had no idea how to stop the downward spiral. Her friend was the one who didn’t care what anyone thought and Julie knew the problem was hers. Desperately, she wished she knew how to solve it.

“Fine by me,” she said shrilly after she got no reply to her question.

As new tears began streaming down Kimba’s pale cheeks, Julie realized that she was totally going over the edge. The only solution she could think of was to leave, hopefully before she did too much damage.

Driving down the highway in a daze, Julie recognized what a strange position she put herself in. She was running, yet again, from the person she’d pledged to share her life with. The words hadn’t been spoken on her part yet, but she knew her actions had said as much. From John, her running had always come because she was the prey. The one he hunted with his cruel words and intimidation. Now she was running from Kimba because she was afraid that she was doing the same to the love of her life, hurting her beyond reason.

Then again, in a way she could hardly fathom, Julie was once again prey. This time, however, instead of running from a tyrant’s power, she was running from a surrender she didn’t know how to supplicate to. From a love she didn’t know how to feel. And from a fear that she couldn’t overcome. Hunter and hunted, all in one.

When her mother opened the front door of the quaint brick house, a sturdy scowl already in place, Julie began wondering just what she’d been thinking to go there. “Hello, Julie,” the silver haired woman greeted flatly.

“Hello Mother,” she responded as her mother ushered into the immaculate living room. The tension flowed from the other woman almost visibly, so Julie decided to wait for the explosion she knew was inevitable. For the punishment she knew she deserved.

Mrs. George remained in the walkway, not following Julie into the customary meeting place of the living room. She stood on the reflective tiled floor, glaring at her daughter. “Julie, I don’t even know what to say to you.”

Julie felt a laugh bubble up, and although she didn’t know what exactly was coming, she couldn’t contain it. The look on her mother’s face almost prompted her to roll on the floor giggling. “You’ve never been at a loss for words, Mother. Why don’t you just tell me how you feel,” she answered in a sarcastic tone.

The rage Julie knew was ever present in her mother quickly appeared on the woman’s features. “Alright. I’ll tell you EXACTLY how I feel. I think it’s a disgrace to this family. That’s what I think. Your father and I didn’t raise you to be one of those people.”

“And just what kind of a person do you think I’ve become. Have I suddenly changed? Yesterday I was an upstanding citizen and today I’m a menace to society.” Feeling the fury reviving, she took an intimidating step towards her mother. But it didn’t work, of course, her mother had been intimidating Julie all her life. The aging vixen was a master.

“All because I’m in love with a woman,” she added for a reaction, which she finally got.

Looking as though she was about to gag, Mrs. George closed the distance between herself and her daughter, their breaths intermingling. “I always knew that trashy little girl was going to ruin you. I’d expect this from someone raised as she was,” her voice was venom. “But not you, Julie. I’ve always expected better of you.”

A lump suddenly rose in her throat, full of the tears that suddenly demanded to be released. Her mother was saying exactly what she wanted to hear. That she was bad and unnatural and wrong. That what she had couldn’t possible be right. But there was also the warm spot that refused to be pushed from her heart, where Kimba lived, and held on to her with determined tenacity.

The sight of Joe George appearing in the hallway was enough to bring the walls crashing down. Before the older man realized what was going on, his normally stoic daughter was in his arms, crying like a newborn.

When he spoke, his voice was harsher than Julie had ever heard it before. “What the hell is going on here, Wanda?”

“I was just trying to talk some sense into your daughter,” the matron retorted defensively. Not waiting to be told, the older woman left the room abruptly, brushing her husband’s shoulder purposefully, letting the kitchen door slam loudly as she closed it behind her.

Holding his daughter gently, Joe guided Julie to the beautifully crafted, but eternally uncomfortable, stiff blue cotton sofa. He rubbed her back comfortingly for several minutes, giving her time to collect herself.

With a final sniff, Julie straightened up, immediately recognizing why she had come here in the first place. Her mother didn’t matter. She’d reacted exactly how her daughter knew she would. What Julie needed was to hear her daddy tell her everything was going to work out, like he’d done so many times before.

“I’ve really messed things up this time, Daddy,” she declared in a tear-choked voice.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad, honey,” he assured her gently.

Pulling out of his embrace, she looked up into his soft blue eyes, so much like her own. “But it is. I…I think I’ve lost her.”

Joe cleared his throat, seeming to search for the words he wanted to say. Julie hadn’t talked to him about her relationship with Kimba, though she believed he knew its true nature. He was reaching high numbers in age, but Joe George was one of the fairest men she’d ever known. She knew that talking about her love with him wouldn’t be the easiest thing in the world, but he would do it to make her feel better.

“Do you love her,” he asked simply.

Her eyes widened at his directness. She had expected to have to lead the conversation, but it seemed her faithful father already knew where it was headed. “Yes.”

“Are you…lovers,” his voice dropped to a bare whisper on the final word, reminding Julie of how worldly her father really wasn’t.

“Yes,” she whispered just as softly. The wait for his reaction seemed more like an hour than a short moment, her stomach flip flopping in fear of an anticipated rebuke. His curt nod and twitching lips, almost a smile, brought a sigh of relief from Julie’s lips.

“What happened,” he asked after assimilating the information.

She told him the whole sordid tale, leaving none of her indiscretions out, none of which were really substantial individually. Little things, really, that culminated in one moment of revulsion, when she’d pulled away from Kimba on the couch. She realized her partner had overreacted to some degree, but she also knew the transgression was a final straw. All she’d done was lack the ability to give her soul to a woman who would do anything for her. All she’d done was doubt, despite the longing her heart felt to surrender to the sweetest love of her life.

“I haven’t even told her I love her,” she finished, almost in tears again. “I do, desperately, I just can’t say it.”

The older man soothed his daughter into calmness before speaking again. “Why do you think it’s wrong…to be in love with a woman?”

“Everyone says it’s wrong,” was her immediate response. She had no better one.

Her father’s silver head nodded thoughtfully. Pulling back from their embrace, he peered intently into her eyes. “I’ve been married to your mother for forty years. She’s the same person now as she was the day I made her my bride. Cranky, temperamental, silent and brooding.” He chuckled at the shocked look on Julie’s face. She’d certainly never heard her father say such a thing before. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why on earth I married her.”

Julie looked away shyly. A few years ago, she’d asked him that exact question. She’d had a monstrous fight with her mother over something relating to Jesse, driving Julie to the point of almost striking the older woman. She never would have, but after Joe had played his peacemaker role, his gentleness soothing her mad soul, she couldn’t imagine how he could put up with the overpowering woman. At the time, he’d merely shook his head, a lopsided grin on his lips and said, “She’s my wife.” Julie didn’t understand.

Her father continued, a slight grin again tugging his lips. “Some people, Julie, are like coconuts. On the outside, they’re rough, splintery, dark and stony. The shell is so hard and ugly, you can’t believe that anything precious can be on the inside,” he began wistfully. Julie’s eyes ran over the man, wondering why she’d never heard this romantic side of him before.

“But there always comes some special person who, for reasons no one else can understand, is willing and determined enough to break the shell. When they do, and that rough exterior is torn away, what pours out is sweet and silky and softer than anyone ever dreamed.”

The older man leaned back on the couch, stretching out his long legs. He captured her gaze completely, his eyes filled with tender emotion. “For me, your mother is that coconut. To everyone else in the world, even you, her own daughter, she’s so gruff no one could even suspect she has a gentle, loving side, but she does. And I guess I’m the only one whose ever cracked it,” he finished with a twitching grin, as if he had trouble believing the statement himself.

“I never knew,” Julie stated in awe. She’d never thought of her mother as having a gentle bone in her body. The adoration in her father’s eyes, though, told her it was the truth.

He cleared his throat nervously, sensing an audience that he’d almost forgotten about. “Anyway, my point is that love is not too particular. It takes us where it wants us to go. And that place isn’t always where everyone thinks we belong, or even where we want to go ourselves. If you’d have asked me forty years ago if I would marry Wanda, I would have laughed in your face,” he laughed minutely, then continued. “When you find that person and discover all the trouble it takes to crack that shell, to let that special person inside completely out, if only to you, it’s too special to let go. Not if the only reason is because somebody is telling you it’s wrong. If I’d let my friends make the decision for me back then, you wouldn’t be here.”

Julie thought about that for a few minutes, gazing into his patient eyes, trying to understand it all. “You love Mom,” she asked, needing proof of his statement.

“She’s my life, Julie. And for all the grief she’s caused me, and given me, I’ve never regretted a single moment of it.” He took her hand in his and squeezed it.

“But it’s not the same,” she protested.

He silenced her with an affirmation so firm that she couldn’t believe he said it. “Love is love, Julie.” Her father was suddenly a shock to her brain, the quiet little man she’d loved all her life, but never suspected the depth of character he possessed.

And that brought the sobs on again in full force, because he was right and she’d been so blinded by fear that she’d forgotten. The giddy little feeling in her chest had been overcome by a more blinding sensation that seemed to usurp everything in its reach. By the time Julie fell asleep in her father’s arms, she knew that within her lay the strength to push the near blinding fear aside, in favor of the love that had given her the ability to see the world a new. To see there was so much living left to do.
Chapter 21
Kimba sat at the same burnished desk as she had the day before, the same little office, still unable to concentrate. Unfortunately, the reasons were completely opposite from the previous morning, when she had been childishly giddy. Today, she was wondering if the love of her life had walked out her front door, never to return. The attorney’s stomach had been churning with upset since the night before, and showed no signs of stopping.

Jesse has been his normal sweet self as she drove him to school, offering her encouragement, assuring her that Julie would come back on her hands and knees. He’d even surprised her by declaring that he thought they belonged together, despite the uncomfortable situation. And when he kissed the back of her hand like a knight of the court, for that moment, Kimba had believed every word that came out of his innocent mouth.

That feeling had slowly faded the closer she came to work, and the reality of the rest of the world. So when Roger walked in the room unexpectedly, Kimba hastily wiped a stray tear from her eye.

“Hi Roger,” she said with forced casualness.

He eyed her speculatively from the doorway, but made no mention of her disheveled condition. “Everybody’s out, so I’m answering the phone. Julie’s calling for you. She sounds upset.” A stocky hand pointed to the flashing light on her intercom phone. “Is everything alright,” he asked, genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, things are still a little tough. It’s gonna work out, though.” Roger nodded and discretely left down the hall. She shook her head at the man, unable to figure him out. One minute he was trying to convince her to marry him, the next he was foregoing it all to please her. The sad thing was, she loved him for it all.

With a deep sigh, she turned her attention to the flashing light. Before her mind could talk her out of it, Kimba reached out a shaking hand and brought the phone to her ear. “Hello.”

“Kimba,” Julie’s deep voice asked tentatively.

Her throat closing up with emotion, Kimba instantly wished Julie was in the room, so she could give her a strong hug to squeeze away the fright she heard in her tone. “Yes, it’s me. Are you okay?”

“I…I’m okay. It’s just…the school board called an emergency meeting for this afternoon. I think I’m about to get fired,” she informed hurriedly.

This is really gonna help things, Kimba’s mind added to the whirl of emotions. A dull ache began in her head that no amount of temple massaging seemed to help, but her fingers continued steadily working anyway. “I’ll be at the meeting,” she responded, then paused uncertainly. “I mean…if you want me to.”

She heard an exasperated chuckle on the line. “Of course I want you there. I…I’m sorry about last night Kimba. I was way outta line.”

Soft green eyes closed tightly as Kimba tried to come up with what to say. The only responses that came forward would only serve to exacerbate the problem. Julie saying that she was sorry didn’t change the fact that unresolved issues still existed between them. Those feelings were deeper than an apology could erase. At the moment, though, none of that seemed to matter. “We’ll talk about it later, okay. I’ll see you at the meeting.”

“Okay. I can’t wait to see you Kimba. I…I miss you,” Julie stammered.

The younger woman could tell her friend was trying to soothe the hurt, even in her own, graceless manner, which filled the hollow part of Kimba’s heart with a warm light. With goodbye said, she hung up the phone. She only had a few hours to come up with some way to fix the mess their lives had become. No matter what, she decided, she would find the answer.

A lot of people mistakenly had the idea that a lawyer knew every legal contingency in every situation. Right now was a perfect example of how wrong that thought was. Not only did Kimba not know how to solve this problem, in the back of her mind always lingered how they would combat the same issue should it come up in a custody fight. Though they hadn’t talked about it much, she feared for what decision she might have to make.

Even as she strode confidently into the classroom, seeing the Board lined up at tables in the front of the crowded room, Kimba loathed the answer she’d come up with. It would work, she had no doubt, but that didn’t make it any less detestable.

John was first to step up to the podium, wearing a shaded gray suit, his hair combed precisely, a far cry from the crazed man who had attacked Kimba two days before. His short jail stay hadn’t been too harsh on him. Conceding to the Board that he needed time off, at the advice of his lawyer, no doubt, the principal dispensed with the usual principles of due process to throw himself at the mercy of his judges.

Julie was next asked to give her side of events, as if she was only there to impact her husband’s fate. They all knew it was a ruse, however, sitting behind the desk with their airy attitudes and the power to turn a person’s life inside out. After Julie recited a narrative of the night and answered a few simple questions, she sat back down in the front row of folding chairs.

Striding up to the podium purposefully, Kimba made a final decision on the tact she was taking. Her possibilities were few. Threatening litigation was a possibility, but it might not do much good since the Supreme Court consistently refused to consider sexual orientation a protected class, like race and age. As the law was, not much could stop a person from discriminating against lesbians and gays. So saying that the School Board would lose in court was not a good idea, since the chance was one in a million, or less. That left only one other possibility to save Julie’s job.

She told her view of the night in the Pink Elephant, not encouraged by the disapproving scowls from the members before her. At the mention of anything lesbian, a few of the people actually turned white. Not a good sign.

An older man in a bright red bow tie asked the first and only question. “Have you ever been to this establishment before, Miss Curtis?”

Kimba saw her opening and jumped for it. “Yes, I occasionally go there with friends of mine. However, this was only Julie’s second visit. Both times she was with me and a companion at our invitation.” She smiled her brightest and raised her hands in a friendly shrug. “Julie’s really needed to let her hair down some, what with her divorcing John and all. I took her to the bar to have a good time and I feel like it’s really messed things up.”

The roiling feeling in her stomach was becoming increasingly worse with each word. Although she didn’t really care what people thought about her, lying about her relationship with Julie, for better or not, made her feel sick.

Yet she continued with a lilt in her voice. “She’s staying with me until she can get on her feet again. I don’t want anyone to think we’re anything more than friends. I realize this makes it look that way and I’m horrified by it. If Julie gets fired from her job because I took her to a place I hang out, I don’t know what I’ll do,” she gave them her best wishful look. “Please don’t make assumptions about Ms. Jordan over this. She’s a fine credit to your school as a teacher and I’d hate to see the kids lose her.”

The stodgy board members looked at one another inquisitively, then called a break to the meeting for consideration. As they filed out of the sparsely populated classroom, Kimba began her exit down the aisles of folding chairs toward the exit. She had no desire to hang around and hear the decision. Nothing could be changed about it now. She’d done her best and it had left her drained.

A strong grip on her arm halted her progress. Kimba didn’t need to look up to know Julie was peering down at her with misty blue eyes. “Kimba, you…you didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes I did. I’m not going to let you lose your job. Not over this,” she whispered fiercely. Neither one of them should have to be going through the situation at all. Any of it.

“Thank you,” Julie answered in a low voice, her hand now caressing the arm it held.

Glancing around at the few remaining people in the room, Kimba pulled her arm away and took a step away from her lover. “I…I’ve got to go.” And she did. The dirty feeling was clinging to her skin like tape. She desperately wanted to get out of the room, not even caring about the destination.

“Are you going home,” Julie asked hopefully.

Green eyes met blue again, but Kimba couldn’t maintain the contact. It was all still too raw. “No, not right now. I’ve got to go…I’ll see you later.”

The pain flashing across Julie’s face brought more to her own, but Kimba couldn’t deny the need for solitude. At least for a little while. She needed to be somewhere to try to pick up the pieces of her shattered existence. There would be time to peer into those beautiful eyes again. Time to start working on the love she knew would blossom once more between them.
Chapter 22
“Still not home, huh,” Jesse asked as he entered Kimba’s bedroom for the tenth time.

Julie looked up from her position on the bed, sprawled lazily over the bedspread. She’d been laying there waiting, looking up at the starry ceiling, desperately wishing that Kimba was there to point out the constellations. It was getting late, which scared her more than made her worry. If anything, her partner was tough. Maybe a little too tough.

Settling down on the bed beside her, Jesse patted his mother’s thigh lightly. The dark woman sighed heartily and pulled herself up to lean against the headboard. “I don’t know what to do, Jesse.” Inwardly she laughed at herself for wanting advice from her teenage son, but she knew that at this point, she was low on options. Not to mention that he had seemed to know her heart better than she did from the start.

“I think you should go find her and tell her you’re sorry,” he said unapologetically.

They’d already had the conversation where he told her she shouldn’t worry about what anyone else said about her. In his simple, innocent logic, he’d figured out something she was only just coming to grips with. It was a little embarrassing.

Embarrassing to think that she’d risk the only person in the world that had ever made her happy because of what some stuffy administrators might think of her. The gravity of what she’d done fell on Julie especially hard after the council returned to the classroom with a suspension for John and a verbal caution for her. The message had been something about teachers needing a good reputation in the community and for her not to let her social life get out of hand. Not flatly homophobic, but she figured that message was meant to be in there as well. The council had no doubt made the decision to be on the safe side of public ridicule, since there was really a lack of credible evidence about her love life. She hadn’t heard the last part of the declaration at all. The only thing she could think about was that she’d just been told her job was safe, but it didn’t even matter. What mattered had walked away from her minutes before, holding back hurt, angry tears in deep green eyes.

So Julie had been waiting ever since, hoping with all her might that she hadn’t messed the whole thing up for good. “It’s not that easy,” she answered sadly.

“Who said it’s supposed to be easy,” her son responded with a gleam in his eye. “I think I’ve heard that a time or two.”

Rolling her eyes at the amazing child that surprised her everyday, Julie realized he was right. Nobody said falling in love was easy. Although the falling part was usually painless, the rest of the process could be hell…and heaven. “You’re right. I’m going to go look for her,” her voice was full of a conviction she wasn’t sure was real.

Jesse’s smile broadened as he watched his mother rise from the bed with purpose. “Do you know where she is?”

“No. That’s why I have to look.” She flashed him a crooked grin, proceeding to pull her shoes on and comb her hair.

Once ready, Julie gave Jesse a pat on the head, then grabbed a small black box from the dresser before heading out to the car. She didn’t know where Kimba was, but the clear, warm night gave her an idea that seemed logical enough. Knowing the sentimental side of her partner, Julie hoped the recent events hadn’t made Kimba want to disassociate with their past.

Kimba’s car was waiting silently in the tall grass, the dark blue paint blending in perfectly with the long shadows cast by the trees and bright shine of a full moon. A sigh of relief issued from Julie’s lungs as she patted the hood, which was well cooled by the night breeze. Kimba had probably been there all night.

The grass thrashed against her bare legs as Julie made her way to the shore. She could hear the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore and a few night insects singing their timeless songs. Silvery light cascaded over the water sharply, casting the moon’s reflection in a wavy painting. On their trusty old rock, still a perfect platform for star gazing, golden hair absorbed that same light.

Kimba was stretched out on the slick black surface of the stone, her crossed feet submerged in the deep blue water. Her head turned slightly as Julie left the grass, but not enough for the older woman to see her face. Her emotions were well hidden as long as her eyes remained on the lake’s distant shores.

Approaching cautiously, Julie stopped at the edge of the rock and waited, not sure of what she should say. One step would place her on a seat she’d used a thousand times before, but the rigidity of her friend’s body kept her at bay. Desperately, she wished the woman would tell her what she was thinking, screaming or whispering, it didn’t matter.

“You can sit down,” Kimba greeted in a quiet voice.

Closing her eyes momentarily, Julie felt a wave of tension flow from her. At least she wasn’t sent away immediately, as she’d feared was a possibility. “Thanks. Have you been here long?”

Julie cringed at herself as she settled on the rock. Small talk was the farthest thing from her mind, but it seemed the easiest way to start the conversation.

Kimba’s eyes remained on the waves beyond as she leaned back heavily on her elbows, firm shoulder muscles flexing under her skin. “Yeah. I…I needed somewhere to think.”

“Um…I guess this is the part where I beg you to forgive me,” Julie dove in.

She was prepared to do anything to convince Kimba she was committed to their relationship. In the time she’d had to think since talking to her father the night before, the teacher had come to some conclusions. For the last few months, she’d always been running from something. At first and for a long time, it had been John and his abusive attitude and oppressive control. Then she’d been running from herself and her newly emerging feelings. The latest thing she’d been running from was her fear. No more running, she decided. At least no more running away. For once in her life it was time to run toward something, blindly and wholly.

“You don’t have to beg me for anything, Jay,” Kimba said, her voice warm.

Shifting slightly and pulling Kimba’s hand into hers, Julie gently corrected her partner. “You’re wrong. I should be on my knees right now begging you for my life…because you own it,” she declared. Slightly surprised green eyes finally met her blue, a tired smile pulling at Kimba’s lips. “I never meant to hurt you, Kimba. I hope you believe that.”

Raising into a sitting position, the young woman never let the larger hand slip from her grasp. “I know you didn’t. It’s alright. I understand.”

“No. No you don’t,” Julie tone was more forceful than she’d intended, but she refused to let her actions be passed off as insignificant. All of the healing wouldn’t come from her confession on this beach, on this night, but it could get a good start. “I got caught up thinking about myself and never thought about how my actions might make you feel. You’ve never done that. Ever since we started this thing, since I showed up at your door with a hand print on my face, you’ve bent to my every need.” Julie raised a pale hand to her lips and kissed it softly.

Kimba swallowed nervously, remaining silent, waiting for the declaration she could see in Julie’s eyes, longing to burst forth.

“I’ll admit, this has thrown me for a loop. All that time I was figuring out I wanted you…to be my partner…in life, it seemed so simple. We could live together, take care of Jesse, be in love and no one would give a crap.” A dark eyebrow rose and Kimba chuckled softly. “That was stupid I guess, but I didn’t quite comprehend that it would be different than when John and I married.”

“You need to get out more,” Kimba stated with a smirk.

Squeezing her hand in mock reprimand, Julie searched for her next words. Although she wasn’t a complete brute in affairs of the heart, the older woman realized she wasn’t as eloquent as her lover at expressing her feelings. “The thing is, I’m so crazy in love with you I didn’t think about much of anything. The emotions just came and I hoped things would turn out alright.”

The smile on Kimba’s face was a sight to behold, love shining bright in her eyes, warring with the glaring moon. Julie snapped a mental picture for later appreciation, but also made a note that if she had anything to do with it, that expression would become even more joyful.

“As you well know, that strategy didn’t work very well. So I’ve decided on a new one,” she said confidently. Julie knew she was asking a lot of herself, as she tended to doubt too often and believe too little, but if it made Kimba smile like she was now, nothing could stop her from trying. “I’m not going to say that I’ll get used to everyone talking, but I’m going to at least do my best not to care. The whole world can know the way I feel about you as far as I’m concerned. The only opinion that matters is yours.”

Reaching up with a shaky hand, Kimba pulled Julie’s head down for a delicate kiss, imparting her faith with a simple gesture. “Thank you. As long as you’re willing to try…and you’re not ashamed…that’s enough.”

“I’m not ashamed to show how I feel for you. I’m just going to need a little time to get used to being in the spotlight,” the teacher whispered in a close ear. Kimba turned for another kiss, moving to stand when their lips parted. “I’m not done yet.” Julie placed a restraining hand on her friend’s arm.

“My, my. This has got to be some kind of a record,” the redhead joked.

Julie narrowed her eyes dangerously and gave the strong arm she was holding a playful slap. Reaching into the pocket of her baggy shorts, Julie took out the fuzzy black box, concealing it in her closed hand. She was thankful she’d went to the jewelry store earlier and bought it. The time was right.

“I love you, Kimba,” she said softly.

Her companion’s face lost its playful glint as she sucked in a shaky breath. The emotions evoked from finally hearing the words were plain in her misty eyes and wondering smile.

“In all my life, I’ve never felt more complete than I do right now. I’m not really sure how this is done…but here goes.” Julie knelt down on a weak knee.

Kimba’s brow knitted in confusion until her eyes tracked Julie’s hand opening the ring box. “Jay…,” she whispered in question.

“I want you to take this as a token of my pledge to you.” The dark woman moved the hand she’d been holding between them, slipping the breaded gold band onto its ring finger in a smooth motion. She brought it to her lips for a tender kiss, forever sealing the union. “I promise to love you for the rest of my life. And as long as I live, I’ll do my best to make you happy, and keep you safe, and never, ever hurt you,” she finished, her voice uneven.

Seeing tears slowly stream down Kimba’s face, Julie could feel matching ones of her own. The smiles they both held assured her the tears were happy.

Her voice shaky with emotion, Kimba spoke softly. “I’m not sure what to say, except I love you and I accept your promise and make the same to you. As long as I live, you’ll be my life.”

With gentle waves crashing against her legs, Julie drew her partner into a tender kiss. Her strong arms held their bodies close as the wind touched their skin and the crickets serenaded the night. In that one perfect moment, she knew beyond reason that the world didn’t have a chance at making her break that promise.

 

The End

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