These Dreams by Verda Foster

Note from author: Back in 1998 and 1999 I wrote two short stories called THESE DREAMS, and THE ENEMY WITHIN. This new story is a completely rewritten, novel length, version of those two stories.

These Dreams
By V.H. Foster

————————–

 

Chapter One: Broken Dreams.

 

Panic filled the young woman as she ran blindly, the sound of her pounding feet echoing in her ears. She had no idea what pursued her, but the thought of it catching her struck terror in her very soul. Looking over her shoulder to see if her pursuer still followed, she could see nothing, but she was certain it was still there. Suddenly she was looking down at the body of a beautiful woman. Her short dark hair disheveled, and her head resting in a pool of blood. Sinking to her knees, she sobbed over and over “I killed her…I killed her…

*****

The sound of the phone ringing woke Samantha with a start, and she sat a moment staring at it, trying to push the dream out of her mind. Her heart was pounding; this dream had really shaken her. Taking a deep breath, she reached for the receiver. “Hello?” she said, as her other hand rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Samantha, dear,” came her mother’s voice over the phone. “I’m going to be in your area this afternoon, and I thought I would stop by and see your new home.”

“Ah, Mother I don’t think that…”

“I really have to run, dear. See you around three?”

“Mother…” Samantha heard a click, and the line was dead. I really wanted to get this place a little better organized before she sees it, Samantha thought wearily. Running her fingers through her hair, she wondered how long she had been asleep at her drafting table. She looked down at the drawing she had been working on and noticed that she had drooled on it as she slept. Shaking her head, she crumpled the paper and tossed it into the trashcan on the floor beside her table.

Yawning, the little blond raised her eyes from her work to glance at the clock. Damn, she thought, I’m gonna miss my deadline. Samantha was an artist, an illustrator of children’s books. She needed one more illustration for the book she was working on, and there was just no time left. The FedEx driver would be here any time to pick up the CD. Riffling through the rejection pile, she found one that would have to do and quickly scanned the images, burning them onto a CD. Slipping the CD into a FedEx envelope, she sighed. What a relief, she thought as she leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.

That was too close. She hated sending something she was not totally pleased with, but they had had too many delays on this book as it was and the deadline was firm. She had pushed herself to near exhaustion these last weeks, and Samantha knew that was one of the reasons she was not happy with her work. She was so tired that she would nod off at the drop of a hat. It seemed in this business that when it rained, it poured. Several books would be given to her at once, and then there would be dry spells when they would send her nothing. This had been the last book for this storm, and she was looking forward to relaxing a little before the next squall blew in.

****

The afternoon sun streamed through the window, warming her, relaxing her. She caught herself drifting off and jerked herself awake. Get your lazy butt out of that chair, she told herself. Remember, Mom is coming this afternoon and this place is a mess. And besides, she wasn’t ready to have another dream like the one that she had wakened from a little while ago. Why would I dream of killing someone? She thought, and especially her? Perhaps working on organizing this place was just the thing she needed to take her mind off the dream.

She glanced around the room wondering where to start. There was just not enough room for everything; the little bachelor apartment was filled to the brim, leaving just a winding path that connected her bathroom, her bed, the drafting table, and the kitchenette. That was all the empty space to be found in the small room. One entire wall was filled with shelves packed with her art supplies, and the wall space between the bathroom and her bed was stacked with canvases. Boxes were everywhere, filled with books mostly. She had a passion for reading, and when she was not into her artwork, her nose was in a book. Standing, Samantha stretched her five-foot two-inch frame, heaving a sigh of relief as she heard the familiar pops as her spine re-aligned itself. Looking around the small room, she shook her head at the impossibility of actually finding a place to put everything.

Samantha found it impossible to concentrate on putting her apartment in order. The dream kept creeping back into her consciousness, and she found it hard to shake the image she saw of herself sobbing over the body of the woman she had killed in her dream.

Samantha heard the sound of rapid footsteps coming up her stairs, then the familiar rhythmic pattern tapped on the door. Dusty must have broken up with another boyfriend, she thought, as the door burst open and the petite brunette breezed into the room. Dusty had been her next-door neighbor and best friend since she was ten years old, but she rarely saw her these days unless she was between boyfriends. Somehow, when you are single, and your friend is paired up, you feel like a third wheel when they try to include you in their activities, and Samantha usually politely declined.

“You’re not going to believe who I saw today,” Dusty said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Come on,” she continued, as she leaned over the drafting table. “Try to guess.”

Curiosity got the best of the young artist, and she took the bait. Looking eagerly at Dusty she asked. “Who?”

The pretty brunette frowned. “You’re supposed to guess.”

“Elvis?”

“Come on now Sam, I’m serious. Take a real guess.”

Samantha thought a moment as she absently picked up her pencil and chewed on the end. “Is it someone we knew from school?” she asked.

Dusty’s grin widened. “No.”

“At least give me a hint,” Samantha pleaded. She was into the game now, and eager to figure out the puzzle. “Is it male or female?”

“Female.”

Samantha nodded. “Have I known her long?”

“All your life.”

Oh, Samantha thought, this is too easy. The only female she had known all her life was… “My mother,” she said, a satisfied smirk on her face. She still couldn’t figure out what was so exciting about seeing her mother, though.

Dusty shook her head. “I told you you’d never guess.”

“Come on, Dusty, my mother is the only woman I have known all my life.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. You don’t technically know this woman.”

Samantha shook her head again. “This is silly, just tell me who it is.”

“Your dream girl.”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Samantha said as she pretended to work.

“No, I’m serious.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Just because I’m still a virgin doesn’t mean I’m a dyke.” Samantha had considered the possibility that she might be a lesbian, but rejected it. She had never fantasized about having sex with other women, and after all, isn’t that what lesbians do?

“Hey, I never said that,” Dusty replied holding her hands up in supplication. ” Methinks thou doth protest too much. What I meant is exactly what I said.” Dusty continued, as she walked to the canvases stacked against the wall and began looking through them.

” Ah, here she is,” she crowed, holding up a painting of a beautiful woman with striking blue eyes. ” I saw her today… Blue Eyes,” Dusty said as she carried the painting back to Samantha.

“You’re kidding me, right?” The young artist replied, suddenly very interested. Could it really be her? She thought, as she unconsciously snapped her pencil in half.

“No, I’m not kidding. It was uncanny, Sam, she looked just like her.” Dusty laughed as she sat on the arm of Samantha’s chair, gazing at the painting. “She must have thought I was crazy when I kept staring at her, but I couldn’t help it. It was just so… weird.”

“Did you find out her name?”

“No, I just stared at her like an idiot.”

“Did you follow her and find out where she lives?”

“Are you crazy? I ain’t no freakin’ PI for Christ’s sake.”

Samantha realized immediately how silly that sounded, expecting her friend to follow this stranger home. “Where’s your sense of humor, Dusty?” She grinned. ” I was just kidding.” Her face took on a more serious look. ” I would like to see her though, you know, see if she really looks like the woman in my dreams.”

“Believe me, she does.”

“How would you know, you aren’t privy to my dreams.”

“How could I not know?” The look she flashed Samantha was incredulous. “You’ve been telling me about her for years. And lets face it, you’re a wonderful artist. I’ve never seen you paint anyone that wasn’t a good likeness.”

” How tall do you think she was?”

“At least six feet, maybe a little taller.”

Nodding Samantha asked, “What was she doing?”

“She was talking to some creepy looking guy; a real loser. She noticed that I was watching her and I looked away. When I looked back she was smiling at me, so I just did an about- face and got out of there. I know she was laughing at me, thinking, what’s that idiot staring at.”

“She probably thought you were coming on to her.” Samantha replied, trying to keep a serious look on her face. Turnabout is fair play, she thought.

“God, do you really think so?” The look of embarrassment on Dusty’s face was priceless, and Samantha couldn’t help but laugh. Realizing that Samantha was joking, Dusty joined in and their laughter filled the room.

Wiping the tears from her eyes Samantha’s gaze turned serious again. “Where exactly did you see her?”

“She was coming out of the ‘Right Way Health Club’, and the loser guy I told you about came up to her and started talking to her. She was dressed in sweats, so I guess she must have been working out.”

Great! Samantha thought, at least I have a place to start. “What time was it that she came out?”

“About 1 PM.” A frown crossed Dusty’s face. “Samantha, you’re not gonna stalk her, are you?”

“Don’t be silly. I just want to see her in the flesh instead of in my dreams.” Shaking her head she added, “Don’t you see Dusty, she’s real and I didn’t even get to see her. I have to find her. I have to see her for myself.”

The frown on Dusty’s face deepened. “I never should have told you about her. Now you’re gonna be more obsessed than ever.”

“I am not obsessed with her.”

“Call it what you want, but I call it obsession. How many drawings of her have you done, a hundred? How many paintings? Your little imaginary friend is going to take over your life if you don’t watch out”

“But you have to admit that this is strange. I’ve been dreaming about her for as long as I can remember, and now to have proof she’s real…”

“Wait a minute, this woman looks like the women in your dreams but she’s not her. That’s impossible.”

Samantha reached over and let her fingertips gently brush across the canvas, as if stroking the face of a live person. “How else would you explain it?”

Dusty watched her friend and frowned. “Coincidence?”

“Get real, Dusty. I could accept coincidence perhaps if it was just the face, but you said she was six feet tall. What do you think the odds are that there would be someone with her face and height? Astronomical.”

Dusty walked to the door shaking her head. “If you get yourself arrested as a stalker, I’m gonna give you a big fat ‘I told you so’.”

With that she left the room, but Samantha didn’t even notice. “She’s real,” she whispered, pulling the canvas close. “And I’m gonna find her.”

***

Samantha arrived at the fitness club and parked her car. She didn’t know why she had to come here this evening; she just couldn’t stay away. Her logical mind told her that Dusty had seen Blue Eyes here at lunch time today, therefore a fare assumption would be that Blue Eyes worked out during lunch and would not be back today. But, here she was sitting in her car like a fool, watching for someone that would most likely not show up.

Perhaps she just wanted to get away from the apartment for a while. Whether it was foolish or not, she was an adult and it was her choice to sit here and make a fool of herself if she wanted to. The more she thought about it the more she realized that she was just too excited to wait until tomorrow morning to come check the place out. Somehow sitting here in a place she knew that Blue Eyes had been made her feel closer to her. For the first time in her life she had an actual physical place to start looking. Getting out of the car, she walked to the entrance of the club and stood a moment. She took a deep breath. Just think, Blue Eyes has actually stood in this very spot; breathed in this very air. A smile crept to her face at that realization.

Samantha walked back to her car and sat a while longer, looking at the place wistfully. Soon, she thought. I’m gonna find you and clear up this mystery once and for all. Then another thought popped into her head. What will Mom and Dad say when they find out I found her? “No,” she said out loud, “they wouldn’t understand. Why should they when I don’t even understand myself?” She thought again about the visit this afternoon with her mother. It had been dreadful. Her mom had ridiculed everything about Samantha’s new abode and made her feel like she was a little girl again. “You left home for this,” she had said, looking around with great disdain. Her parents were not happy when she had decided to move out, and to leave home for this was unacceptable to them. “It’s all I can afford right now, and besides, I like it,” she had countered. The rest of the afternoon had been much the same and Samantha breathed a sigh of relief when her mother finally left.

Samantha’s mind drifted back to the mystery woman, and she contemplated why it was so important to find her. She thought about the dreams. Why have I been dreaming about you? Why? Her mind tried to sort through the conflicting emotions she felt when she thought about Blue Eyes. And she thought about her a lot. Dusty had long ago gotten tired of hearing about her dreams, and she avoided the subject all together with her parents. They had even sent her to a shrink when she was a teenager to find out why she was so obsessed with a woman – granted an imaginary woman – but a woman just the same. When the age of first love, boys, and crushes came and went without their precious even dating at all, it was just too much. But Blue Eyes was not imaginary, not someone she created. Samantha had always believed that she was real. Now she planned to come face to face with the flesh and blood reality.

***

Samantha had been watching the Health club between 11:AM and 1:30PM for almost three weeks now; still there was no sign of Blue Eyes. Perhaps she was not a regular customer. There was also the chance that lunch was not her regular time to work out, and the day Dusty had seen her had been an exception. After waiting with no success, she decided she needed to come up with a better plan. She needed to find out if Blue Eyes was, indeed, a member of this club. Perhaps she had never been in the place before, and Dusty just happened to see her the one time she had been there. There was only one way to find out; she had to go in and ask. Samantha knew the odds were against her and that she was grasping at straws. Most clubs would protect the privacy of their members – but it was worth a try.

Samantha went home to get one of her paintings of Blue Eyes that she hoped someone at the club would recognize. She’d had a lot of time to think while she sat and watched the health club. She thought about the dreams, and the one that repeated most often. Samantha was sleeping, and in the midst of a terrible nightmare. She would be wakened by an incredibly tall woman with the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen, who would take her in her arms and say, “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” She would immediately relax and let herself be held in those strong, comforting arms.

She had discovered that if she was upset about something in her waking hours, she could just close her eyes and picture those blue eyes, and the stress of the day would leave. However, now that she knew Blue Eyes was real, things had changed; the dream had changed. No longer did it end with just those soothing words and an embrace. Blue Eyes would nuzzle her hair and whisper “I love you” while nibbling on her ear, and then they would make incredible love.

In the dream she could feel her body responding, and it baffled her. She had never been in love, never really been interested in sex like the other girls. She had felt like an outsider in high school, and in college, when all the girls would talk about their latest crush. Some had questioned her about why she had no interest in men, and teased her about being a lesbian, but in truth she had never been interested in the girls either.

She just figured she was one of those rare people who have no sex drive, and left it at that. Now things had changed. She had felt her body respond in the dream, felt the unbelievable fire and joy of their lovemaking. It felt so real… so right. She awoke to find herself in a state of arousal she would never have believed possible. Her whole world had changed and her body rejoiced in this newfound wonderment.

***

Samantha paused in front of the door to the health club and glanced down at the painting in her hands. “Please let them know you,” she said out loud, as she pushed the door open and went inside. Glancing around the room, she saw a man wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed in large letters ‘Do it the right way at RIGHT WAY.’

Mike Harper was tall and built like a Greek god. He looked good, and he knew it. He saw the beautiful little blonde walk in the door and he immediately stood up straighter, striking a pose to show off his fine physique to the green-eyed beauty. “Can I help you?” he said, extending his hand, and striding toward her.

“I hope so,” Samantha replied, allowing the man to take her hand and squeeze it firmly. “I’m trying to get some information about a woman who I believe is a member of your club.” Pulling her hand from his grasp, she turned the painting around, and held it up for him to see. The look of recognition that briefly crossed his chiseled features was unmistakable.

“Is this your work?” Mike asked, admiring the skillfully crafted likeness of Tess Richmond. He had known her for years, and had given up trying to get the beautiful woman into his bed. She had made it clear long ago, and in no uncertain terms, that she was a lesbian.

“Yes, it is,” Samantha said, hoping against hope that her search was finally over. “Do you know her?”

“I wish I did,” Mike said, glancing down at the portrait again. “She’s a real beauty.” The look of disappointment was clear in the young woman’s eyes, and Mike briefly considered giving her the information she wanted, just to see if it would help him seduce her. He quickly rethought that decision. Tess was a good customer, and he would not jeopardize that for a quick roll in the hay. Besides, if the woman was looking for Tess, she probably batted for the other team as well. Hell, she’s probably one of Tess’ ex-lovers, and I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of that. “I don’t know where you got the idea that she’s a member of this club, I think someone steered you in the wrong direction. I’m sorry.”

Samantha nodded her head, unable to speak for fear of releasing the tears she was holding back. She quickly turned and hurried to her car where she let the tears flow unhindered. “Damn, damn, damn!” she shouted, pounding her fists into the steering wheel.

***

Tess Richmond sat staring off into space, mentally reviewing the meeting she’d had this morning with Tucker. She had bested him again; taken another contract he thought he had sewn up. She ran her fingers through her short dark hair and smiled at how he had been forced to control his temper with so many business associates present. If they had not been there, he would have called her every name in the book.

“All’s fair in love and war,” she had told him.

“This isn’t war,” he reminded her.

“Well it certainly isn’t love,” she shot back. The competition between them had escalated as Tess’ company had grown. The more power she had to wield, the more she went after him, and she was a very shrewd businesswoman. She was brought out of her reverie by the slamming of her office door. She looked up to see John, one of the two business associates she was lunching with today.

“Hey, Tess, how’d it go with Tucker this morning? I heard from Russ that he’s sending some investigator to try to get something on you.”

“He can have them investigate ’til the cows come home. I’ve got nothing to hide.” A loud rumbling in her stomach caused Tess to look at her watch and frown. “I didn’t eat breakfast today and I’m starving. Where the hell is Stewart anyway? This was supposed to be a late lunch, but at this rate it will be dinner.” At that moment the door opened and Stewart ambled in with a big grin on his face.

“You been breaking little girls hearts again Tess?” The balding man said with a smirk on his round face.

Tess glanced up in time to catch said smirk. ” Have to, you know. It’s part of my job description.”

“Mike Harper from the health club just called. I guess one of your little castoffs was in the club asking about you. He said she was a cute little blonde number. Said your taste has definitely improved. ”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I have impeccable taste. And I don’t go for little blondes; you know I like my women long, lean and dark.”

“Patterning them after ourselves are we?”

“Not that long.” Tess laughed and stood, stretching her six-foot frame.

“Well anyway, they sent her packing. Said they didn’t know you”

“You don’t suppose she’s the one Tucker sent? I wouldn’t put it past him to send some cute little innocent looking thing around that I wouldn’t suspect. He must be having them investigate my personal life too if they’re checking the place where I work out, for Christ’s sake.”

“When are you going to get over this vendetta with him anyway?” Stewart asked, walking to the door. “Are we gonna eat or what? I’m starving,” he added, not waiting for a reply.

Tess grabbed her leather shoulder pouch and followed them out the door. “I’ll get over it when I put him outta business. When I own it all and he is groveling at my feet.”

***

Samantha sat in her car across from the health club, she didn’t know what else to do. It was her only tie with Blue Eyes. She had decided to spend the entire day there instead of just lunch hours. She was sure the man at the health club recognized the picture of her mystery woman, even though he had said otherwise, so the only thing to do was wait. A rumbling in her stomach reminded her that it was well past dinnertime; she was contemplating getting something to eat when a gold Lexus pulled up in front of the club. When Blue Eyes got out of the vehicle, Samantha thought her heart would stop. She just stared at the woman with her mouth open.

She was not dressed in sweats, or any type of exercise attire for that matter. She wore form fitting Levi’s with boots. The blue silk shirt she wore was sure to bring out the color in those gorgeous blue eyes, and Samantha wished she was close enough to see her face and feast on the beautiful image. She watched the tall woman walk into the club and contemplated following her. She thought better of that idea though; someone might tell her that Samantha had been asking about her, and it would get them off to a bad start. She decided the thing to do was to follow her home. Once she knew where she lived, she could figure out some way to casually meet.

***

Tess had spent the rest of the day wondering about the blonde investigating her, deciding to drop by the health club on her way to the nightclub she owned called ‘Girls Night Out’. She wanted to talk to Mike about the blonde and find out exactly what she had been asking. To her dismay, Mike had gone home early and no one else knew anything about a blonde woman asking questions.
The fact that Tucker sent a woman suggested that he was going to try to seduce her into giving up company secrets. What other reason could there be? We’ll just see who seduces whom, Tess thought as she got back in her car. It only took a couple of blocks for her to realize she was being followed. Hmmm, cute little blond, she thought, this must be her. She decided to go on with her plans for a night at ‘Girls Night Out’. She was not in the closet, and if the woman had done her homework she would know that Tess was a lesbian. Taking care not to lose her tail, she drove to the nightspot and parked in the back. Getting out of her car, she walked to the edge of the building to see if the blonde was going to follow her. The parking lot was well lit, but there was a shadowy area just around the corner between the lights in front and in the back where she hid herself from sight and settled in to wait.

***

Samantha couldn’t believe her luck. Blue Eyes was going into some type of nightclub, and it would make a casual meeting easier for her to arrange. She was having a hard time controlling her excitement, adrenaline rapidly pumping through her body. This was really it; she was going to meet Blue Eyes. She had to try to come up with a way to bump into her and not seem too obvious. So deep in thought was she, Samantha did not see the figure waiting around the corner until she almost ran into her. Samantha froze as the blue eyes fell on her.

She hadn’t thought it was possible, but those eyes were even more striking than she expected. She couldn’t help staring. This woman was breathtaking and oozed sex appeal. She let her artist’s eye study the beautiful face before her, those prominent cheekbones, the perfect lips. This was Blue Eyes; there was no doubt in her mind. Her throat seemed to close up and her palms were sweating. She was in the presence of a Goddess and had been struck mute.

“You’ve been following me,” Tess purred as she stepped out of the shadows. Teasingly she arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

Samantha tried to speak but no words came out. She couldn’t believe Blue Eyes was actually here and talking to her. She tried to decide whether to tell the truth or lie. The truth doesn’t come back and kick you in the butt later, she thought. The decision was made; she would tell the truth, just not quite all of it, yet. Taking a deep breath and willing herself to calm down, Samantha was finally able to get her frozen body to respond. “Have you ever seen someone and instantly known that there was some kind of connection, and you have to know more about them?” What a stupid line, Samantha thought. I can’t believe I said that.

The little vixen is trying to be coy. I guess I’ll just see how far she’s willing to go. “Yes, as a matter of fact I have.” Tess let her gaze wander down the blonde’s body and back up to her eyes; such beautiful clear green eyes, so open and innocent. Damn she’s good, Tess thought, I can almost believe she’s the innocent she appears to be. She raised her hand to Samantha’s face and let her index finger trace along the line of her jaw, stopping on her lips. She felt the involuntary tremble and thought, this is going to be easy. “Why don’t you come inside with me for a drink and we’ll get to know each other.”

Samantha couldn’t believe it. She had finally talked to Blue Eyes and the woman had felt the connection too. “Yes…I…um…would like that,” she stammered.

“Good. Shall we start by introducing ourselves? I’m Tess,” the tall woman said, reaching out and grasping Samantha’s hand.

“Samantha.” She wanted to say more, but her vocabulary had been swept away by the piercing gaze of the blue eyes that had haunted her dreams.

“Samantha,” Tess said, tasting the syllables on her lips and liking the taste. ” What a pretty name.” She squeezed her hand gently. “Shall we go?”

Tess led the way into the nightclub. There was a woman just inside the door collecting a fee to enter and checking ID’s. Samantha started to get in line but Tess just nodded to the woman as she walked by. ” She’s with me.” The woman nodded back as they breezed on by.

Samantha was disappointed at how incredibly loud it was inside the club. She had hoped they would be able to sit and talk, but it looked like they would be lucky to hear themselves think. When her eyes became accustomed to the dim light, Samantha realized that there were no men in the place at all. Women sat together at tables and danced together on the dance floor. She had never been to a bar of any kind, and thought it strangely appropriate, considering the circumstances, that the first time was a lesbian bar.

The place was packed with small tables surrounding the busy dance floor. Tess did not turn toward the few remaining empty tables, but continued across the room toward the bar. Just to the right of the bar, she turned down a hall that led first to the bathrooms and then opened up into another room with four pool tables. At the far end of the room was a door marked PRIVATE. Tess produced a key to this door and escorted Samantha into an office with a large wooden desk, two chairs and a large comfy looking couch. Tess deposited her small leather pouch and keys on the desk. “Make yourself comfortable,” she said picking up the phone. “What would you like to drink?”

“Just water please.”

“Don’t tell me you’re a teetotaler.”

“Hey, I don’t mind if you do. I just don’t like the taste of it.”

Smart girl, Tess thought. She doesn’t drink while she’s working. “Water it is,” she said while dialing the phone. “Jan this is Tess; I need a bourbon and water and a glass of water brought back here to the office.” Looking again to Samantha she asked. “Would you like a lemon slice in your water?”

“Yes, please.”

“And Jan, put a slice of lemon in the water. Thanks.” Tess crossed to the couch and sat beside Samantha. “I hope you don’t mind being back here in the office, but I thought it would be easier to talk. It’s so loud out there.”

That brought a grin to Samantha’s face. “It was awful out there, wasn’t it?” There was a quick knock on the door, which opened to admit a stocky looking woman dressed in black leather. She set two glasses on coasters on Tess’ desk. As she turned to leave, Tess touched her sleeve.

“Thanks, Jan. We’re not to be disturbed,” Tess said winking at her.

“Gotcha, boss lady.” And with that Jan was gone.

“Now, where were we?” Tess said, handing Samantha her water.

“I think we were getting to know each other?”

“Ah yes. And I plan to get to know you very well.” Tess took a couple of sips of her bourbon then set it down and let her hand drift to Samantha’s thigh. Leaning forward she let her lips gently brush against Samantha’s and then pulled away. Samantha could feel the blush rising up her neck and cheeks, and her heart was beating so fast she thought she would pass out. This was happening too fast, and she wasn’t sure how to slow it down. How could she tell Tess that when she said she wanted to know her, she didn’t mean it in the biblical sense? Well actually, she realized, she did, but not like this. Now that she had met Blue Eyes, she knew she wanted her, but Samantha was looking for forever and not a one-night stand. She just had to explain to the woman and hope she understood.

“Tess, we need to talk.”

“Oh no, my dear, talking is not what I had in mind,” Tess purred seductively as she leaned in to capture Samantha’s lips. The young woman, half-heartedly, tried to push her back a little but Tess just pulled her closer and covered her mouth with her own. The kiss was more urgent this time, and she ran her tongue over Samantha’s lips, demanding entry. Samantha’s dream had become a reality and she couldn’t think clearly any more. The dream had felt so…right, but this was no dream, and all rational thought left her as she parted her lips to allow Tess entry. The kiss deepened and Samantha could feel Tess’ hands sliding under her shirt and kneading her aching breasts through her bra. Samantha’s body was on fire. She arched her back to push her breasts harder against Tess’ wonderful hands.

“Do you really want me to stop?” Tess growled as she pushed the shirt higher.

“No… please… don’t stop.” All thoughts of taking it slow were gone. Blue Eyes was real and wanted her, nothing else mattered.

A few quick tugs and Tess removed Samantha’s clothes and was gazing hungrily at her breasts. She brushed gently across the puckered flesh of Samantha’s nipples causing the young woman to gasp. “You’re so beautiful,” Tess said as she ducked her head sucking a sensitized nipple into her mouth. With each pull on her nipple Samantha could feel convulsions in her center.

“God you taste good.” Tess moaned as she pushed Samantha back on the couch and covered her body with her own. Capturing her lips again she began thrusting her hips into Samantha’s, causing the young woman to be nearly frantic with desire. All Samantha could think about was that exquisite pressure, never wanting it to end.

When Tess rolled off Samantha, the feel of loss was almost unbearable.

“Don’t stop, please don’t stop!”

“Oh no” Tess purred, “I have no intention of stopping.” Tess captured a nipple in her mouth and alternated between nipping with her teeth and suckling as her hand found the moist opening to Samantha’s need and pushed two fingers inside. Samantha gasped and began thrusting her hips to force the fingers in deeper.

Tess released the nipple and slid down Samantha’s body. Her tongue left a moist trail down Samantha’s belly as she made her way to her goal, hidden beneath the golden curls at the apex of the young woman’s legs. She parted the hair with her tongue, finding Samantha’s aching clitoris and sucking it into her mouth, matching the rhythm set by her fingers. Samantha was moaning constantly as her body stiffened and her inner muscles released and grabbed Tess’ fingers. The orgasm roared through her body, then released it in a quivering heap.

Tess gazed at the beautiful woman beneath her and as their eyes met, for a brief moment, a feeling of connection and contentment flowed through her. Drawn into those beautiful eyes, she wanted to take the young woman in her arms and never let her go. Where did that come from? She thought, quickly pushing the emotion back down, remembering Tucker and why Samantha was here in the first place.

As Samantha’s heart rate and breathing returned to normal, she thought about how much she wanted to bring Tess the same ecstasy she had just experienced. Tess was still fully clothed and Samantha reached to unbutton her shirt. “Ah, ah, ah,” Tess said as she pulled Samantha’s hands away and quickly stood up. Picking up her bourbon she downed it. “It’s been fun,” she said, striding to the desk to retrieve her things. “Don’t follow me any more, Samantha, or next time I won’t be so… nice,” and with that she was gone.

***

Stunned, Samantha stared at the door in disbelief. A few moments ago she had felt the connection to Blue Eyes, felt special, desired. Now she just felt dirty and violated. She wondered what had happened to her resolve to take it slow and not let it turn into a one-night stand? More like a one-hour stand she thought, and the phrase Wham, bam, thank you ma’am, came to mind. She had to get out of there before she made an even bigger fool out of herself and broke down. She couldn’t let that happen; at least not here.

Quickly she dressed and tried to compose herself before she had to walk through the throng of people out there. Would they know what had happened and laugh at her? Was this the normal routine for the women Tess brought to her private room? How could she have been so stupid and naive to let something like this happen? She could still feel Tess’ hands on her body, and it disgusted her. The first time was supposed to be beautiful, yet she felt so sick and dirty; her only thought was to get home and wash Tess’ touch from her body. Samantha felt the bile rise in her throat and knew she was going to be sick. She thought she might make it to the bathroom, but she remembered that the line had been enormous and she could not let it happen out there.
She took a deep breath and swallowed, hoping to calm her churning stomach. If I can just hold on long enough to get outside it won’t matter if I lose the contents of my stomach. No such luck, it was going to be now. Franticly she looked around the room and spotted the trashcan by the desk. She managed to get there in time, and sat on the floor with her face over the can. Samantha’s first thought was to clean up after herself. She stood up and started to the door with the trashcan in her hand. What am I doing? She put the can back down and started again toward the door. I hope it smells really ripe in here when she gets back. And if she doesn’t like it, she can go to hell!

***

Tess closed the door and walked back into the main room. Her little excursion with Samantha had been very stimulating, to say the least. She smiled when she thought about how the young woman felt in her arms, how she tasted. A slight shiver ran through her body. Wow, she thought, that woman really got to me. Damn, I wish I’d met her under different circumstances. Tess was not into relationships, but it might have been fun playing with this one a little more than she did her usual bed partners. There was just something about Samantha that appealed to Tess. She shook her head. Don’t go there, Tess, she reminded herself. Just think of Tucker, and put her out of your mind. She walked to the bar and ordered another drink; then glanced around the room to see if she could find a pleasant diversion to take her mind off the blonde in her office.

“Here you go, ” Jan said, placing a bourbon and water in front of Tess.

“Thanks.” Tess picked up her drink as she continued to let her eyes sweep the room. Her gaze fell on a lovely tall redhead who was clearly giving her the eye. She smiled. Bingo. Tess was still aroused from her encounter with Samantha and the sooner she found a receptive partner, the better.

“Jan,” Tess said. “Let me know when the blonde in my office leaves.” Placing her drink on the bar, she walked toward the redhead, her gaze appreciatively sweeping the woman’s body. “Dance with me,” Tess said, taking the woman’s hand and leading her to the dance floor.

They reached the dance floor and the redhead wrapped her arms around Tess’ neck. “I’m Libby,” she said, by way of introduction.

Tess wrapped her arms around Libby and pulled her close. “I’m Tess.”

“The bartender called you boss lady. Do you own this place?” Libby asked. Tess nodded. “I saw you come in with that beautiful blonde, so I must admit I was surprised that you asked little ol me to dance.”

“Why would you be surprised? You’re a very beautiful woman, Libby,” Tess said as she leaned down close to her ear. ”

By the second dance Libby was putty in Tess’ arms. The tall woman’s hands wandered lower cupping Libby’s butt, pulling her hips hard against her. She leaned to nibble on the woman’s neck and was rewarded with a moan, as the redhead’s arms tightened around her. “I want you,” Tess purred into Libby’s ear. “Want to go someplace quiet?” Tess asked, as her hands continued to caress the redhead’s backside. “We could have a real good time, No strings attached. What do you say? Hmmm?”

Libby nodded, and Tess led her back to the bar. “Is my office still occupied?” she asked Jan.

“Afraid so, Boss lady.”

“I guess we’ll have to go someplace else,” Tess said, picking up her drink and downing the rest of it.

“I’m sure my apartment would be a lot cozier than your office anyway,” Libby said, draping herself around the tall woman. “Want to come to my place?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Tess said, but her thoughts momentarily drifted to the blonde in her office, and she hoped she wasn’t trashing the place. She couldn’t think of any other reason Samantha would still be in there.

As if on cue, the door to Tess’ office opened and Samantha started toward the main room. She entered the larger room and headed for the exit.

“Geeez Tess, what did you do to that one? She looks like someone just ripped out her little heart and stomped on it.”

Even in the dim light Tess could see the sadness and hurt in Samantha’s eyes, and how pale she had become. An overwhelming feeling of guilt came over her, and she tried to shake it off. Why should she feel guilty? The woman had been sent by Tucker in one more of his attempts to take her down; she owed her no apology.

***

Samantha managed to get to her car before the tears started. “She’s not Blue Eyes, she’s not,” she sobbed. “She just looks like her.” Samantha didn’t want to believe that Blue Eyes could be so cruel, but deep inside she could feel the truth. Tess was the woman of her dreams; and that realization broke her heart.

Samantha hardly remembered driving back home and getting out of the car. A splitting headache had settled in by the time she walked into her apartment and saw the portrait of Blue Eyes in front of the stack of canvases. For a moment she stared at it as a raw sense of anguish engulfed her, too soon replaced by an anger she couldn’t have controlled if she had tried. Picking up a letter opener she plunged it again and again through the painting, tossing it aside only to start looking through the canvases stacked against the wall in a desperate effort to destroy all the likenesses of Blue Eyes.

As she looked for the next one, she realized she could not just destroy her work. Pulling all of the portraits out, Samantha bundled them up so she did not have to look at the face that had haunted her dreams for so long. She decided to take them to the little gift shop that sometimes sold her work for her. She couldn’t bear to destroy them, but she didn’t want to have to look at them either.

Getting in the shower, Samantha scrubbed herself until she was raw, and still she could not feel clean. She wondered if she would ever feel clean again, as she slid down the wall of the shower to sit on the floor, letting the water hit her. The feeling of emptiness was overwhelming. Starting to shiver, she realized that the hot water was gone and she left the shower, still in a daze. Emotionally devastated and exhausted, she collapsed on her bed and cried herself to sleep.

***

Tess splashed water on her face then patted it dry. Seducing Libby had had the expected result. The sexual tension she had built in her game with Samantha had been released; it was time to go home. Opening the bathroom door, she strode across the room to the chair she had tossed her clothes on an hour before.

“You’re leaving already?” Libby said, as she watched the tall woman pull her clothes on. “I was just getting my second wind.”

“I can’t stay and play any longer. I’ve got an early day tomorrow,” Tess said, sitting down to pull on her shoes.

Libby slipped out of bed and walked over to Tess as she stood to leave. Draping her nude form around her she said. “Tonight was really special to me Tess. I’d like to get to know you better. Can’t you stay just a little longer?”

Tess felt trapped when the redhead wrapped her arms around her neck; the smell of sex still clinging to her nude body. Reaching up, she removed Libby’s hands from her neck and stepped away. “Sorry, but I really need to go.”

“Not even a good-bye kiss?” Libby said, as she stepped up to Tess and started to wrap her arms around her again.

Tess caught her hands and held them. “Good-bye hugs and kisses are for someone you have a relationship with. This was just sex Libby. A one night stand. I’m not interested in kissing or cuddling, or anything else that suggests a relationship. I told you no strings attached up front.”

“I know you said that, but I thought…”

“You thought wrong,” Tess interrupted. “I needed to release some tension tonight. You helped do that. End of story.” Tess turned and abruptly left. A bewildered Libby watched her go.

***

Tess lay on her side; her head propped in her hand. Her gaze fell on the nude form of the small blonde woman, scant inches away. She watched as her breasts gently rose with each breath. She smiled at how content and happy she felt just looking at Samantha, and she ached to reach out and touch her.

Suddenly Samantha’s eyes opened, and her serene expression changed, confusion and hurt clearly etched into her beautiful features. A tear started down her cheek. “I love you,” she said, her image slowly fading.

“No!” Tess called as she reached out to hold on to her. “Don’t leave me…”

Tess awoke with a start, her heart pounding in her ears. The dreadful feeling of loss the dream engendered in her so strong it was almost painful. This was the forth night that her dreams had been filled with images of Samantha, and each night the emotions seemed to grow stronger until she wasn’t sure how much longer she was going to be able to stand it. The young woman’s beautiful face indelibly etched into her memory. Green eyes looking up at her, so warm and full of innocence, then her face peaceful in repose. She could still feel the heart-wrenching loss when Samantha vanished, and guilt joined the other emotions warring for dominance. Again she wondered why she should feel guilt at getting the best of the young woman; after all she was just a pawn used by Tucker in the game of cat and mouse they played. Wasn’t she?

How can you be so sure? A voice screamed from deep inside her and she questioned what she had done. Why hadn’t she seen it before? Perhaps Samantha truly was an innocent. She could feel it in her gut. Suddenly she knew she had to find Samantha, to know for sure, and if this feeling proved to be correct, to apologize. She did not expect to be – or even believe she should be -forgiven, but whatever it was worth, she had to try.

***

Tess sat at her desk thinking about the dreams she had been having about Samantha since that night at ‘Girls Night Out’. The disturbing dreams were starting to ware on her, along with the lack of sleep. She seldom managed to get back to sleep after one of them wakened her. Tess was so tired, she felt like she was sleepwalking. Yawning, she picked up her coffee cup and walked out to the coffeepot. Perhaps a good jolt of caffeine would help keep her awake.

“You look like hell, Tess,” Stewart said, as he approached with his own cup. “Are you okay?” he asked, noticing the dark circles under her eyes.

“Just tired, Stew. Haven’t been sleeping well lately.”

He studied her for a moment. “Worried about Tucker and that investigation?”

“I’d only have to worry if I was hiding something, Stewart. Believe me, I’m not worried about that.”

“Why don’t you take some time off and get some rest, Tess. I’ll cover for you.”

“Thanks, perhaps I’ll take you up on that one of these days.” She filled her cup. “There is something you could do for me though. Find out what you can about that investigator. ”

“Sure, Tess.”

“Thanks,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee, then heading back to her office.
Chapter Two: A Needle in a Haystack.
When Tess got to the office the next day, Stewart was waiting for her. “I got the scoop on that investigator Tess. Her name is Norma McNeil, forty-three years old and, by all accounts, a real barracuda. She’s been visiting all our accounts and asking questions just as bold as you please. Tucker’s not trying to sneak behind your back and get some dirt. He’s trying to make everyone think you’re into something shady by making it obvious that you’re being investigated. Very clever actually. He doesn’t have to produce any dirt and he still shakes their confidence in you.”

Tess felt as though she had been hit in the gut. She had her proof now that Samantha was just some sweet innocent kid that had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Again the trusting green eyes came to her mind, and the waves of guilt she felt were almost too much to bear. Slowly she sank to her chair unable to get those trusting eyes out of her mind.

“Are you all right, Tess?” Stewart said as he watched her face grow pale. “You look like you’re gonna pass out.”

“Yeah, I’m fine, Stew. Just leave me alone for a while, okay?”

“Sure, Tess, if you’re sure everything’s okay.”

“I’m sure.” The color was starting to come back to her face and she gave him a smile.

Once alone the guilt came back with a vengeance. I know what I did to that girl was wrong, but damn, I don’t even know her. Why does this hurt so much? None of this made any sense. Why had Samantha been trying to find her, and why couldn’t she get her out of her mind? Most importantly, How was she going to find her? She didn’t even know her last name? Damn, why didn’t I notice the license number on her car? She knew that in a city this size, it would be almost impossible to find Samantha without her complete name. That left the health club. Perhaps Samantha had said something to Mike that would help, and Tess determined to stop by the club and talk to him.

Tess walked back and forth in her office, watching the clock that refused to move quickly enough. She had called, and Mike would not get to the club until two PM, today; the wait seemed an eternity. She still could not figure out why finding the blonde and apologizing to her had become so important, but it had. She kept seeing that sweet face over and over again. So innocent and trusting when they first met, and so sad and pale when last she saw her. She remembered the connection she had felt to Samantha, and subsequently pushed away. If only I had listened to my gut. It was trying to tell me something, but I wouldn’t listen. “Damn you Tucker,” she shouted. “Why’d you have to pick yesterday to hire an investigator? Why?”

***

Tess walked through the doors to the ‘Right Way Health Club’ with a purpose. She intended to find Samantha, and this was the only lead she had. There were several people milling around the small lobby, but she hardly noticed them as she breezed by. She veered to the right and headed to the door to the weight room. That seemed the likeliest place to find Mike.

Mike looked up as Tess walked through the door. She was not dressed for a workout, and he guessed she must be here to find out about the blonde woman from yesterday. “Hey gorgeous,” he called out. “Where’s your work out gear?”

“Didn’t come to work out, came to talk. I hear there was someone here yesterday asking questions about me. Care to elaborate on that?”

“Sure, what do you want to know?”

“For starters, did you get her name?”

Mike looked puzzled. Tess had to know the woman’s name. She had allowed the woman to paint her portrait hadn’t she? Perhaps Stew had not relayed that part of the message to Tess and she did not know about that yet. “No, she didn’t give me her name, just showed me a painting she did of you. It was darn good too.”

Tess couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Samantha had painted a portrait of her? Why? This mystery just kept getting more puzzling. The tall woman felt that sense of connection settle over her again, and remembered what Samantha had asked her when they first met. She had asked if Tess had ever felt a connection so strong that you just had to pursue it. She hadn’t understood at the time, but now, it was all too clear. To find out that Samantha had even painted her portrait, somehow made the ache to find the young woman even stronger. “Did you notice if she signed the painting?”

“Are you trying to tell me that this blonde painted you and you don’t even know who she is?” Mike shook his head. “That takes the cake.”

Tess was getting angry; this was not getting her anywhere. “I don’t need your sarcasm Mike. Just tell me, did you see a name on the painting?”

The large man could see the anger flashing in Tess’ eyes. “Hey, don’t get mad at me, I’m trying to help here. There was only a first name, I think it started with an S.”

“Samantha?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Samantha.”

“Thanks Mike.” Tess abruptly turned and walked out the door.

The only thing of any use Mike had told her was that the woman was an artist. With so little to go on, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Well at least I know she’s an artist, and a pretty good one according to Mike. Tess decided to start by checking with all the local art galleries to see if any of them displayed her work.

Two days later, Tess was still calling galleries. She had checked with all the local ones and had come up empty; now she was widening her search. She had worked her way to about a 100-mile radius when she finally hit pay dirt at the Harrington Gallery. They were having a showing of Samantha Peterson’s work this weekend, and the artist would be there to discuss it. Tess couldn’t believe her luck; not only did they know her, but also she was going to be there this weekend. Now she had to figure out what to say to her. She wondered if she could even get Samantha to listen to her at all.

***

The drive to the Harrington Gallery seemed to take forever. Tess’ stomach was doing flip-flops and her palms were sweaty. She had never lost her cool like this over a woman before, and was at a loss to explain it. She felt like a silly schoolgirl with her first crush. Pulling into the parking lot, Tess took a few deep breaths and tried to pull herself together. Another new emotion swept over her… fear. What if she won’t let me explain? Taking another breath Tess got out of the car. The closer she came to the door the more her stomach did flips. Once inside she looked around. There were several small alcoves connected to the main room.
Over the entrance to one of them was a banner reading: THE WORKS OF SAMANTHA PETERSON. Tess headed for the door and was surprised to see the beautiful, but surreal, images that greeted her. Somehow she had not pictured Samantha’s work this way. There were several groups of people wandering around, but no sign of Samantha. She could see a woman talking to one of the groups, and everyone seemed to be hanging on her every word. Tess surmised that she must work here; perhaps she could tell her where to find Samantha. Striding over, she waited for the woman to finish speaking. As Tess listened, it soon became apparent that this woman was Samantha Peterson. The disappointment she felt was overwhelming. While Tess had felt much fear and apprehension at the thought of this meeting, the disappointment was so much worse.

On the long drive back to work Tess finally allowed herself to accept the possibility that she might not find Samantha; never tell her how sorry she was. How strange it was that finding the young artist had become so important. Why do I care so much? She had already admitted to herself that she had felt some sort of connection that first night, but her hatred for Tucker overshadowed everything else. She had pushed the feeling back, not willing to let it emerge. Then the dreams started, and now all she could think about was finding Samantha. Tears started to trickle down her cheeks, and she angrily brushed them away. This is stupid. I have never had an emotional response to any sexual encounter; they are just physical releases, nothing more. Now here I am reacting like I just lost my best friend. I don’t even know her, for God’s sake.

Chapter Three: A Place to Start.

As the weeks passed, Tess’ life slowly returned to normal. She had accepted the fact that she could not find Samantha. The sense of loss had eased somewhat, but she knew it would not leave as long as the dreams continued, and continue they did. Sitting in the steam room at the club lost in thought, Tess suddenly realized that the woman next to her was speaking. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said I bought a painting the other day, and I would bet money the woman in it is you. It’s an amazing likeness, do you model?” The woman said, her hungry gaze devouring Tess’ body. She smiled seductively and let her towel slip to show full cleavage.

Tess couldn’t believe that a piece of the puzzle to finding Samantha had just fallen into her lap. Trying to keep her composure and not sound too anxious, Tess responded. “No, I don’t model.” She had noticed the woman’s not too subtle attempt at seduction. She was really quite attractive, and at one time Tess would have responded to the obvious invitation, but her thoughts were on finding Samantha. “I’d love to know the story behind the painting. Where did you say you got it?”

“At ‘Unique Gifts’ on Meyer Rd, just off 7th,” she smiled enticingly. “I would love to show it to you, it really is quite lovely. Perhaps you would like to come over and see it.”

Standing, Tess bundled her towel more securely around herself and started for the door. “I’d love to see it, but I’m really pressed for time today. Perhaps I could have a rain check?” Tess glanced quickly at the woman as she walked away, receiving a resigned nod of acceptance. She didn’t even take time for a shower, and was walking in the door of the gift shop in only twenty minutes. It was not a very large shop. The few paintings she saw in the tiny art section, were reproductions and not original art. She was disappointed to see that they had nothing else on display by Samantha.

“Is there something I can help you with?”

Turning, Tess found a small balding man smiling up at her. “Yes, thank you. A friend of mine bought a painting here by an artist named Samantha, and I was wondering if you have anything else by her?”

“Oh Samantha, yes. I have a few of her pieces in the back. She leaves them here on consignment, and when I have room I put one up and sell it for her. Wait here and I’ll go get them.”

Tess watched him disappear into a back room and then return with several paintings in his hands, a puzzled look in his eyes. He looked at the face on the canvas again and then looked back to Tess. “This is you,” he said as he looked again at the image in his hands.

“No, actually, it’s not, but I was told that it does look like me.” Reaching for the paintings she asked, “May I see?” Receiving a nod, Tess took the paintings. Holding her breath, she let her eyes fall to the canvas; a gasp slipped out before she could hold it back. It was her, but it wasn’t. The eyes, they looked out at her from the painting with such love and caring, and Tess knew, without a doubt, that she had never looked at anyone that way. Is this the way she saw me? Tess shook her head sadly. Well she certainly doesn’t see me like this anymore. It was almost more than she could bear to realize that Samantha would probably never see her like this again. Handing the little man her credit card she said, “I’ll take them all.”

The proprietor’s face lit up as dollar signs filled his head. “Just let me wrap these up for you and I’ll be right back.” Then he ducked into the back room again.

Tess tried to will her heart to slow down; she felt like she wanted to scream. She had looked at herself through Samantha’s eyes, and the reality of what she had done to her sunk in again. Taking several deep breaths, she pulled her emotions back under control as the little man emerged again with her purchases safely bundled up. “I would love to get in touch with the artist and let her know how much I love her work. Do you have an address, or phone number I can have?” Tess said, as she watched him zip her credit card through his machine.

“I’m afraid I can’t give out any personal information without Samantha’s consent.” He looked at her again with a puzzled look. It was obvious to him that she was the woman Samantha painted, so she should already have this information, and if she didn’t then it was probably because Samantha did not want her to have it.

Tess tried to think of something she could say that might change his mind. She decided to hit him in his wallet. “Could you get more paintings of hers for me? I don’t care what they cost.”

“Yes, I’m always more than happy to special order something for a good customer.”

Handing him her business card, Tess said. “When do you think you can have them for me?”

“If she has any on hand, I can probably have them in a day or two.”

“Good,” Tess paused, then reached and took her card back, scribbling her cell-phone number on the back. “Call me at that number when you talk to her and let me know when you’ll get them in.” Tess turned and left him standing there with dollar signs floating around in his head. She knew he would get in touch with Samantha as quickly as possible. The sooner he got more paintings from Samantha, the sooner he got his money. When Samantha delivered the goods, Tess would be waiting for her.

***

Samantha sat staring at the blank piece of paper before her, but nothing came. Concentrating on her work the last few weeks had been so difficult. She felt as if a part of her had died; the grief was overwhelming. The dreams kept reminding her of something precious that was lost forever. Interestingly enough, her dreams had changed, well, not really changed. The content of the dreams remained the same, but the woman she saw no longer looked like Blue Eyes. Even with the physical difference, there was no doubt in her mind that it was still her. Her own physical appearance had also changed in the dream, yet she knew in her heart, that even though they both looked different, it was still her and Blue Eyes. She could feel it.

Samantha looked again at the book she had just finished reading. She had been in a used bookstore, looking through the titles to see if something would catch her eye. She wanted something to read. Something that would take her mind off Tess and everything that had happened. Her eyes fell on a title that made her gasp. The book was called: ‘The Search for the Girl with the Blue Eyes’, by Jess Stern. Thumbing through it she found it was a book about past life regression through hypnotism, and reincarnation. It had been a fascinating book and had, in her mind, explained what had happened to her. She thought for a moment that she might seek out a past life regression therapist, but decided against it. Blue Eyes was dead to her now, and she determined she did not want to go back and find out just how much she had really lost.

She was certain now that she had known Tess before, in another time and place. The changed dreams were now showing her the way they had been in that life. The dreams were still a mystery though. How had she been able to dream of them the way they are now when she was just a child? If it was some sort of a past memory, why not see them the way they had been in that past? None of this made any sense, but her curiosity was not going to be satisfied. She wanted nothing to do with Blue Eyes ever again.

The sound of the phone ringing brought her out of her thoughts. Answering it she found it was Mr. Davis, the owner of the shop she had taken her paintings to.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Davis?” She asked, hoping that he had good news. One of her paintings had finally sold a few days ago, and she wondered if she would be lucky enough to have another sell this soon.

“I sold all your paintings and…uh…was wondering if I could get some more as soon as possible?”

“All of them?” Samantha replied, truly shocked. “I can’t believe after all this time they all suddenly sold at once.”

“Yes, that was quite unusual, but you see an art collector saw the painting that sold a few days ago and came in looking for more of your work. He was really quite taken with them and wanted me to get more pieces by you as soon as I could.”

Flattered that there was someone out there eager to collect her work, Samantha said, “I don’t have any more like the portraits you just sold, but I do have more pieces. I can bring some to you tomorrow. Perhaps he will like these as well. Will 2pm work for you?”

“Sure, anytime tomorrow is fine. I’ll be there all day. See you then….”

Samantha couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but Davis had seemed so nervous. She finally decided that he was just anxious because it was a possible sale and he wanted to make sure he could keep his customer happy. The important thing was that the paintings were gone. She hoped that this would help close that part of her life, and she could finally get over this obsession with Blue Eyes.

***

Tess had propped the paintings up along the wall and just stood back staring at them. They were mostly of her face and some of them were like the first one she had seen, looking out with a look of complete devotion. There were two though that were different and the look in the eyes was haunted and forlorn. It was clear that the young woman had been watching her for quite some time. How else could she have had the time to paint all these portraits. The question was why? She was sure she had never met Samantha before that night, and yet she seemed so familiar. She just had to get Samantha to talk to her and perhaps, in time, solve this mystery.

Just as she was wondering when she would receive a phone call about the paintings, the phone rang. The caller identified himself as Richard Davis, the proprietor of the gift shop. He advised her that she could pick up more of Samantha’s paintings anytime during store hours on Thursday. Thanking him she hung up the phone. Well, if I can pick them up any time on Thursday, Samantha must be delivering them tomorrow. She decided to spend however long it took on Wednesday waiting for Samantha. She could then follow her home. Once she knew where she lived she would just keep trying to talk to Samantha until she gave in. It was not much of a plan, but it was all she could come up with. She did not want to confront her at the shop because if Samantha wouldn’t have anything to do with her and she got away, Tess would not be able to find her again. This little trick would only work once.

***

Tess had been sitting in the little coffee shop across the street from ‘Unique Gifts’ for hours, and had seen no sign of the Jeep Cherokee that Samantha drove. There was nothing to obstruct her view of the entrance to the gift shop, and she could see the little bald man puttering around and dusting shelves, through the large plate-glass windows. He looked up suddenly and went into the back room and came out a short while later with what appeared to be paintings. Could Samantha have been there and she had missed her? She crossed the street and went inside. When he saw Tess, Richard worriedly glanced at the door to the back room, then came over to talk to her. “I thought you were going to come by tomorrow.” He said, as he sat the paintings down on the counter.

“Did Samantha just drop those off?” Tess asked as she walked toward the back room.

Running after Tess, the little man grabbed her arm. “Hey, you can’t go back there.” The look on Tess’ face made him quickly let go. “She’s already gone,” he said as Tess pushed past him and through the door. Quickly she crossed the small room and exited out into a small parking lot off an alley. She could see Samantha’s Cherokee as it turned the corner and disappeared. “GOD DAMN IT!” she shouted, as she slammed her fist into the side of the building. Turning, she leaned against the building and slowly slid to the ground. Then she noticed the pain in her hand and looked to see that her knuckles were bleeding and starting to swell. She crossed her arms over her knees, and lowered her head to her arms in defeat. “Damn…Damn…Damn.”

“That must hurt,” Richard said, looking at her hand.

Tess hadn’t noticed the proprietor standing there until he spoke. “Yeah, it does.” She flexed her hand. “It’s not broken though, pretty stupid thing to do.”

“I have a first aid kit. Come on in and we’ll clean that up.” He turned and went back inside the shop.

Tess followed him into his shop. He was her only connection to Samantha, and she knew she had to convince him to help her. She stood quietly while he cleaned and wrapped her hand.

“You still gonna buy those paintings?” He asked hopefully.

“Sure, if you’ll give me Samantha’s address and phone number.”

“You know I can’t do that, it’s… unethical.” He looked at her curiously. “Why are you trying to find her?”

“We had a…” Tess paused, “a misunderstanding, and I need to apologize.” Tess looked at him sadly. “Will you help me?”

He looked for deception in her eyes, and all he saw was genuine sorrow. He believed she meant Samantha no harm and only wanted to apologize. “All right, I’ll do it, but don’t tell her I gave you the information, okay?”

“You have my word,” she said, extending her good hand.

Chapter Four: Face to Face, at Last.

All the way to Samantha’s apartment, Tess pondered how she should approach the young woman. She decided she didn’t want to just show up on her doorstep. She would try the phone first to see if she could get Samantha to meet her to talk. She knew the odds were against it, but thought it best to try that approach first.

Stopping in front of the apartment building, Tess sat in her car staring at the cell-phone in her hand, afraid to dial the number. What will I say to her? She thought. Getting out of the car, she walked around the building until she could see the stairs leading up to Samantha’s apartment. Glancing behind her, she could see the Jeep parked in a space not far away. At least I know she’s home. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Finally she mustered enough courage and dialed the number. When the phone started ringing, she almost hung up. What’s wrong with me? Why does the thought of talking to her terrify me so much?

“Hello.”

Pause

“Hello?”

“Samantha, this is Tess, Please don’t hang up.” She heard the click as the phone was disconnected. What did you expect? She hates you. Tess began to pace back and forth, running a trembling hand through her hair. Just hearing the young woman’s voice had caused her stomach to do more flips, and her limbs were threatening to give out on her. Walking to the stairs leading up to Samantha’s apartment, she sat on the bottom step and attempted to pull herself together. These feelings were so foreign to her, so… overpowering. I have to talk to her, make her understand. Standing, she swallowed the lump in her throat and started up the stairs. Hell, what have I got to lose, she thought. From somewhere deep inside a voice screamed.

Everything.

***

The sound of Tess’ voice had sent a wave of emotions through Samantha, and the humiliation she had felt that night at ‘Girls Night Out’ flooded over her again. She was still sitting in stunned silence when she heard a knock at her door. Hesitantly, she walked to the door and peeked through the tiny peephole and felt her heart leap into her throat when she saw Tess standing there. Why is she doing this? She asked herself as she backed away from the door. The knocking came again, louder this time. Samantha sat on the bed and stared at the door unable to move.

“Samantha.” Tess called through the door. “Samantha, please, I need to talk to you.” No sound came from within the apartment. Closing her eyes, she leaned her forehead against the door and sighed. She couldn’t blame Samantha for not wanting to talk to her. Turning away from the door, Tess walked dejectedly down the stairs. She had no idea how she could ever get Samantha to give her a chance to apologize. There had to be something she could do to make her listen, but what?

Samantha heard the sound of footsteps walking down the stairway. How did she find me? She thought, as she quickly packed clothes into an overnight bag. “I’ll go stay with Mom and Dad for a while, she won’t find me there.” She felt like a coward, running away like this, but the emotions that Tess engendered in her were overwhelming. She checked out the window for any sign of the tall woman, and finding none, she quickly made her way to the Cherokee.

Samantha backed out of her parking space only to find that Tess had appeared from nowhere, and stepped in front of the Jeep blocking her retreat. Total and complete shock soon dissolved into panic. I can’t face her again, I just can’t. “Get out of my way,” she yelled as she rolled her window down.

“I’m sorry Samantha, please let me talk to you.”

Samantha’s shock and panic was quickly replaced with anger. This woman had one hell of a nerve; first she seduces her then dumps her like a piece of trash, and now she was trying to do it again. “GO TO HELL!” she screamed, beginning to inch the Jeep forward.

Tess had started around the Jeep toward the door when she saw that it was moving again. She quickly returned to her position blocking the young woman’s exit. “Please Samantha, just hear me out, then if you want to leave I won’t try to stop you.”

Samantha realized she had allowed Tess to take control in their previous encounter and she would not allow that to happen again. “Get out of my way, Tess, or I swear I’ll run over you”

“I guess that’s what you’ll have to do then, because I’m not moving,” and Tess stood her ground.

Samantha was sure Tess would not be fool enough to keep standing there if she stepped on the gas. There was only about three feet between Tess and the hood of her car, but she figured Tess would have time to get out of the way. Let’s see how good she is at playing chicken, she thought, and stepped on the gas.

Samantha couldn’t believe it when Tess didn’t move. She closed her eyes as she felt the Cherokee hit the woman and slammed on the brakes. ” OH GOD, OH GOD!” she screamed as she bolted out the door, eyes searching for the body of the tall woman. To her amazement, she could not find her until it dawned on her to get down and look under the Jeep. Tess was lying on her back under the car; blood seeping from a gash on the back of her head. Samantha was sure she was dead. It was just like in her dream; Tess was lying there in a puddle of blood. She got back in the Cherokee and slowly backed up. The tears had started again as she approached Tess, and she sank to the ground with her face in her hands. “I wait my whole life to find the other half of my soul, and when I do, I kill her,” she sobbed.

“I’m not dead.”

The words were low, but Samantha was sure she heard them. Uncovering her face she found those blue eyes gazing at her in a rather unfocused manner. Relief washed over her when she realized that the dream had not come true. Or perhaps it had. She believed that she had killed Tess in her dream, just as she had believed it now. “I thought you would move,” she whispered. “I really wasn’t trying to kill you.”

” I wasn’t trying to get myself killed either, I thought you would stop.” Tess replied as she started to sit up.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to move until the paramedics check you over.” Samantha said as she started to rise. “I’ll go call 911 and get you some help.”

“That’s not necessary.” Tess replied as she continued her attempt to get up. She was dazed, and the wind had definitely been knocked out of her. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she may have been unconscious for a brief time. She had some scrapes on her back and arms but nothing seemed broken. The back of her head had taken quite a bump and was throbbing. Blood still dripped from the wound on her head. As she got to her feet the world started spinning and she thought she was going to go back down. Samantha realized what was happening and was there in an instant, hoping to steady her or at least break her fall should she indeed pass out. Tess held on to Samantha until the dizziness went away, then slowly straightened up. “I guess I stood up too fast,” she grinned.

“I think you have a concussion and I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“No, really, I’ll be fine. I just need a minute to get my sea legs back.”

“Now you listen to me, Tess, I’m taking you to the hospital and that’s that. What if I just left you here because you said you were all right, and you died? I would be a murderer.”

“It was an accident. You thought I would move.”

“Okay, I did think you would move, but I’m still taking you to the hospital. I have to make sure you’re all right. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you.” Samantha took the scarf from around her neck and reached up to put pressure on the still bleeding gash on the back of Tess’ head. “You’re losing a lot of blood, Tess. If nothing else, this cut needs to be stitched.”

Tess really did not feel like arguing, and the truth was her head hurt like hell. “Okay, let’s get this over with then.” Reaching up, she took the scarf from Samantha. “I’ve got it.”

Samantha nodded and took a step back, but quickly stepped forward again, wrapping her arm around the tall woman when she saw her waver. She walked Tess around to the passenger side of the car. She was taking no chance of another dizzy spell toppling the tall woman before she could get her into the Jeep.

***

“Where are they taking her?” Samantha asked the nurse, as she saw an orderly pushing Tess down the hall in a wheel chair.

“That was quite a knock she took on the head,” the nurse responded. “They’re taking her for a C-spine series, and a CT scan. We need to check for concussion, and rule out possible spine injury.” She looked at Samantha. “I still can’t believe she managed to run over herself.” The nurse said grinning; she walked away, still shaking her head.

***

She told them she ran over herself? How could she come up with a story like that? Samantha thought. Walking back over to her chair she sat down again to wait. Thinking about what the nurse said about a possible spine injury, Samantha shuddered. God I hope she’s not seriously hurt. I’d never be able to forgive myself. The time seemed to drag by and Samantha started to pace around the waiting area. Visions of Tess on the ground under her car kept playing in her head, and her panic began to grow.

Samantha shook her head, “No,” she said aloud, to no one in particular. “She was able to walk into the hospital under her own steam, she’ll be okay.” Another thought suddenly occurred to her. What am I going to do with her when I get her out of here?

Samantha toyed with the idea of just dropping her off at her car and being done with the woman, but she kept thinking, what if she tries to drive home and gets dizzy and kills herself or some innocent person in an auto accident? No, I’ll make sure she gets home safely, then I’m done with her.

The young woman had plenty of time on her hands as she waited for them to finish with Tess. Flashes of an unpleasant dream flashed in her mind. She was kneeling next to Tess, thinking she had killed her. Somehow she had seen into the future, but how? She leaned forward and placed her elbows on her knees, her face in her hands. Tears started down her face again; this was all too much for her to take in at once.

Chapter Five: An Uneasy Truce.

“Why did you tell them you ran over your self? Samantha asked as she opened the door for the tall woman, and reached to help her into the Jeep. “And how is it possible for someone to run over themselves anyway? I can’t believe anyone would bye a story like that.”

“Purposefully running someone down is a felony Samantha, and even if we said it was an accident, it would have gone against your record. Do you know what that would do to the cost of your insurance? Besides, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have stood in front of your car. It was a stupid thing to do.” Tess got in the Jeep and watched Samantha walk around and get in on the driver’s side. “I didn’t tell them I ran over myself. What I said was I left the car in neutral and it started rolling and knocked me down and rolled over me.” She looked over at Samantha. “I just didn’t want you to have any problems with your insurance. It seemed easier this way.”

Samantha nodded her head. She supposed the story Tess came up with did make things easier for her. She hadn’t been looking forward to reporting this to her insurance company.

The trip to Tess’ house was traveled in silence that was broken only when the young woman needed directions. As they pulled up in front of her house, Tess realized she was running out of time. She had to think of a way to get the young woman to come in and talk. Samantha walked Tess to her door and said goodnight. She had done what she had planned to do; she had gotten her home safely. She turned to leave when she felt a hand on her arm.

“Please don’t go,” Tess pleaded. “I need to talk to you, try to explain.”

Samantha pulled her arm away and turned to face the tall woman. Fear showed in her eyes. “Why do you think I would believe anything you say?” The truth was that even after everything that had happened, she didn’t want to leave. She was torn, not wanting to leave, yet afraid to stay. She pushed the fear back, knowing that the need to talk it out and bring closure to their past encounter was needed; perhaps after that she would be able to go on with her life.

Feeling utterly defeated; Tess closed her eyes and let herself fall back against the door. Samantha’s right, she thought, why would she believe me?

When Samantha saw Tess sway into the door, she assumed that the tall woman was having another attack of dizziness. Quickly she grabbed her arm and leaned into Tess to make sure she didn’t fall. “Give me your keys and I’ll help you inside.”

Tess realized instantly that Samantha had misinterpreted her action. Deciding to let the misconception stand, she handed the young artist her keys. At least it would keep her here a little while longer. Samantha unlocked the door, then wrapped an arm around the tall woman’s waist. Tess clung to her, adding to the illusion that she was in need of help.

They walked through the entry and into a spacious living room. Samantha looked around the room for a close place to deposit the large woman who was leaning heavily on her small frame. A leather couch to her left looked like the perfect spot, and she headed toward it.

Tess was feeling guilty at again deceiving Samantha, and stood up releasing her grip on the young woman.

” Is the dizziness gone?” Samantha asked as she felt Tess’ weight lift away from her.

“Yes, thanks for helping me…again.” Tess found she could not look Samantha in the eye.

“You said you had something to tell me and asked me to hear you out. I wasn’t ready to listen then, but I am now if you still want to tell me.”

“Yes, I’d like that.” Relief flooded through the tall woman at the realization that Samantha was at least willing to listen to what she had to say.

Tess led the way to the kitchen and nodded toward a chair. “Please, sit down. I thought I’d make some coffee.” She looked at Samantha. “Would you like some?” Tess felt so awkward talking to this woman and she realized that it was because she cared what Samantha thought about her, and right now she knew the young artist didn’t think much of her at all.

“I’d love a cup, but why don’t you sit down and let me make the coffee? You’re supposed to be taking it easy right now.”

Tess shook her head. “Thanks, but I think I can manage to get a pot of coffee going without doing too much damage,” she laughed.

“I know, I just thought…”

“I know, but I’m okay, really.” Turning back to the coffee maker she set it to brew.

Samantha took in her surroundings as Tess set up the coffee maker. It was a lovely large kitchen with pale cream walls and burgundy appliances. She had never seen appliances in that color before and found it attractive. The counter tiles were a very pale gray, almost white really, with a soft dusty rose pattern running through them. The floor was also done in those same tiles, just larger. “You have a lovely house,” she said as Tess joined her at the table.

“Thanks,” Tess said, smiling at the young woman’s approval.

“So, what is it you wanted so desperately to tell me that you were willing to let me run you down?”

Unable to look the young woman in the eyes, Tess picked at a nonexistent piece of lint on the tablecloth in front of her. “I told you, I thought you would stop.” She tried to think of how to explain her actions of that night at ‘Girls Night Out’, how to make Samantha understand that it was nothing personal. What an understatement, she thought, nothing personal. In her whole life, sex had never been anything personal. She always made it clear to any woman she was interested in having sex with that she was not interested in a relationship of any kind, just sex.

If they would go for that, fine, otherwise there were plenty out there who would. But in Samantha’s case she made nothing clear. Tess had purposefully given her the impression that she was interested in getting to know her better, was interested in a relationship, and then twisted the knife in her gut when she left the office. She had allowed her hatred for Tucker to color her perception of the young woman, and that had not been fair.

“I found out that afternoon that my father had sent an investigator to get something on me,” Tess began, averting her gaze from the young woman. “When they told me that a cute little blonde was asking questions about me, I assumed that she was the investigator. You fit the description, so I just…” She hesitated trying to find the right words, feeling the guilt wash over her again. “I made a terrible mistake…” Tess paused a moment, then she looked up into Samantha’s sweet face. ” I’m so sorry, Samantha.”

Samantha had seen the hatred flash in her eyes when Tess mentioned her father. How could a father deserve this much hatred from his own child, she thought.

“What did he do to you that made you hate him so much?”

“He pretended I didn’t exist.” Tess answered bitterly, ” I’d rather not talk about him…” She broke eye contact again, unable to continue looking into those searching eyes. “I have no excuse Samantha. There is no excuse for the way I treated you.”

“Are you asking me to forgive you?” Not waiting for an answer, Samantha continued. “I’m not ready to do that, not yet.”

“I understand. I didn’t expect you to forgive me, I just wanted you to know that I am truly sorry.” Tess thought about how upset Samantha had been when she thought she had killed her. Anyone would have been upset under those circumstances, but that wasn’t it. She remembered the words uttered in despair by the beautiful little blonde. . ‘I wait my whole life to find the other half of my soul, and when I do, I kill her.’

“Why did you call me the other half of your soul?”

Samantha thought frantically, trying to remember telling Tess this, and drew a blank. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“When you thought I was dead you said something like you waited your whole life for the other half of your soul just to kill her.”

It came back to Samantha in a rush. She remembered sobbing over what she thought was a dead body, and the words just tumbling out. She had been so relieved that Tess was alive that she had forgotten she said it out loud. Again faced with the option of telling the truth or a lie, she chose the truth.

“You’ll probably laugh at me and think I’m crazy if I tell you.” Samantha gazed into Tess’ eyes and saw genuine concern and curiosity.

“I won’t laugh. Please, I need to know.” Tess covered Samantha’s hand with her own and squeezed gently.

Uncomfortable with the physical contact, yet at the same time craving it, Samantha pulled her hand away. Silence fell between them again, and Samantha thought about the feeling that just this small touch brought to her. Too much had already happened because of half-truths and misunderstandings. This is it; I can’t hold anything back.

” This is gonna sound strange, but I swear it’s true.” Taking a deep breath Samantha began her tale of a lifetime of dreams and confusion, and her final realization that she believed that they had known each other before in another life, had been soulmates in that life, and had been irresistibly drawn back to each other in this one.

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been having dreams about a woman I called Blue Eyes. In the dreams, she was very loving and caring. She made me feel special, and when I was upset, she comforted me. I always felt safe in her arms. When I told my parents about my friend Blue Eyes, they just assumed that I had created an imaginary friend to deal with my loneliness. Until I was ten, I was an army brat. We moved around a lot, so it was impossible to keep friends. I guess it’s not that uncommon an occurrence. They didn’t discourage me from talking about her, and at first they even thought it was cute. It was a bit confusing to me that I was an adult in the dream. I knew it was me though, and after awhile I just accepted that in your dreams you’re grown up. Kids don’t seem to ponder inconsistencies like that.” Looking up to Tess, she gave a little smile. “I didn’t anyway.”

“When I was a little older and we stopped moving around, my parents started to get concerned. It wasn’t cute anymore when it came from an older child. We had settled down in a stable environment, and I had made friends. They scolded me and told me she wasn’t real and to stop talking about her. That hurt a lot because she was so real to me. I think I developed my interest in art just so I could put her on paper and be able to gaze on her with waking eyes.” Samantha took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair. “Eventually I became careful not to talk to the folks about her anymore because it just upset them.”

Samantha got up and began to pace back and forth as memories long pushed back found their way to the light of day. “When I was sixteen, my mother found my hidden drawings of Blue Eyes and the shit hit the fan. The other girls had crushes on boys and her little girl was obsessed with an imaginary woman. She and my dad argued about putting me into therapy. She won, and I was sent to a shrink.” Samantha closed her eyes as the memories continued to wash over her. She had not intended to go into quite so much detail, but once she started, it just came pouring out. She opened her eyes and looked back at Tess. The look on the tall woman’s face was hard to read, and Samantha wondered if she was going to believe her.

The coffee finished dripping and Tess stood on shaky legs. Samantha’s story was affecting her more deeply than she had anticipated. She went to the cupboard and retrieved two mugs. “How do you take your coffee?” She asked walking to the pot.

“Black, with a little sugar.”

Tess gave a relieved sigh. She drank hers black also, and had no milk or cream in the house, and hadn’t even remembered that little fact until time to serve the coffee. Pouring two mugs and grabbing a spoon, she returned to the table. She handed Samantha the sugar and sat back down so the young woman could finish her story.

Sitting at the table again, Tess watched Samantha stir a half spoon of sugar into her coffee before she continued.

“When my friend Dusty told me she had seen Blue Eyes come out of the health club, I finally had a place to start looking for you. I always believed you were real, but I didn’t know how to find you. I thought my heart would stop when you got out of your car at the club that night. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited in my life.” She looked at Tess with eyes that showed the emptiness in her soul. Her lip trembled and she took a shaky breath as she continued. ” When we finally met, it felt like…like I had known you all my life, it felt so right.” Samantha turned away as a tear started down her cheek. “I was wrong, I didn’t know you at all.”

The bittersweet realization of what Samantha’s hopes had been that night, and how she had destroyed them, engulfed Tess. She wanted to just crawl in a hole and die. She lifted her hand to Samantha’s tear stained face and wiped the tears from her cheek stroking gently. When Samantha pulled away from her touch, Tess’ heart sank. She didn’t blame Samantha for not trusting her any more, and she was filled with self loathing for the fear that she could see in those beautiful eyes, knowing she put it there. It was not a fear of physical injury, but fear of a much deeper hurt. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, dropping her gaze to her hands once more; unable to bear the pain reflected in Samantha’s eyes.

Samantha watched Tess, and the anguish she was going through was plain to see. She saw a tear make its way down Tess’ face and she wished she could take her in her arms, make it all right, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to respond to the need to hold this woman, to feel complete again. Awkwardly she handed Tess a napkin.

Taking the napkin, Tess dabbed at her eyes. “Samantha, if you believe nothing else, believe me when I tell you that I will never hurt you like that again.”

“I want to believe …to trust…but… It’s gonna take time.”

“I know.” Tess responded, letting their eyes meet again. “It’s just…so hard knowing that I can’t take it back. I look at you and see the sadness in your eyes, knowing that I’m the one that put it there breaks my heart.”

Not knowing what else to do, Samantha decided to finish telling Tess about her belief that the dreams represented a past life that they had shared together as lovers. “Tess, I’ve been reading about reincarnation. I think the dreams were triggered by a memory of a time when you and I were lovers. I think that’s why I felt I knew you, why your touch felt so right.”

Tess had never believed in anything but the here and now. We are born, we live, we die, that’s all there is. She had always referred to the crazies who believed in such nonsense as reincarnation, or any type of spiritual mumbo jumbo, as Hugga Buggas. Now she sat listening to Samantha and she didn’t know what to believe anymore. She had no doubt that Samantha believed in this reincarnation theory of hers, and Tess found herself desperately wanting to believe it too. How else could she explain the strange events that brought them together?

The protective walls Tess had built when her mother died had remained intact throughout her life. Her world was filled with people, some of which she considered friends; yet she never let anyone inside that wall, never let anyone get close. She never noticed the empty loneliness of her life because she kept it filled with hatred for Tucker and she let that emotion fill her so that she had no room for anything else. Somehow, Samantha had broken through that wall, and it felt good to feel something other than hate.

Samantha’s stomach picked just that moment to rumble and she rolled her eyes.

“Are you hungry?” Tess asked as she got up and went to the refrigerator and peeked inside, glad for the chance to change the subject and lighten the mood in the room. “About all I have is lunch meat,” she said, looking over her shoulder at the young woman. “We could make some sandwiches.”

“That would be great, I’m starving.” Samantha said, as she joined Tess in peeking into the near empty refrigerator. “Wow, you must not cook much, there’s nothing in there,” she said looking up at the tall woman.

“I don’t cook at all. I make sandwiches, or I go out.” Tess gave her a lop-sided grin. “We could go out if you’d like.”

“No, a sandwich is fine.” Samantha said quickly, not wanting to let the outside world intrude.

Plucking the lunchmeat out of the refrigerator, Tess said, “Good, I really didn’t want to go, but I wanted to give you an out if you were too uncomfortable staying here.” She smiled at Samantha, relieved that the young woman wanted to stay. When Samantha flashed that beautiful smile at her, it took her breath away. How does she do that? She thought, Just a smile from her and I can’t breathe. Reaching for the bread, Tess carried the lunch items to the table. Turning back to the refrigerator she asked, “Would you like mayonnaise, mustard, or both?”

“I like everything.” Samantha picked up a tomato that Tess had deposited on the table. “I love tomatoes, would you like me to slice one up?”

“Sure, there’s a knife in the end drawer under the counter over there.”

***

They sat at the table eating their sandwiches in awkward silence, neither knowing quite what to say. Smiling, Tess spoke breaking the quiet. “So, who were we in this past life you think we had together?”

The levity in Tess’ voice, coupled with the use of the word ‘think’ crashed down on Samantha. “You’re making fun of me. I didn’t think you would believe me, but I didn’t expect such sarcasm.” Sadness flashed across Samantha’s face and she started to rise.

Grabbing the young woman’s hand, Tess said. “Please don’t go, I’m sorry if I seem to not be taking this seriously. I was just trying to keep the mood light. I’ve never believed in these types of things and always thought the people who did were a little wacko; now I find I’m one of those wacko people.” Tess took a deep breath, as she tried to find the right words that would convey to Samantha how she really felt. She realized her attempt at levity had been taken the wrong way. It was imperative to her that she make her true feelings known. “I wasn’t making fun of you, Samantha. Too many strange things have happened to both of us. I have a hard time believing this, but I can’t come up with any other logical explanation. I didn’t tell you before, but I’ve had dreams too. Not all my life like you have, they started that first night after… I…” Tess looked away, guilt evident on her face. “I am so sorry…so sorry.” Tess whispered, as she tried to blink back the tears that insisted on falling.

Samantha squeezed her hand and said gently, “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay!” Tess said, pulling her hand away and striding across the room. “How can you be so kind after what I did to you?”

“Tess…” Samantha said, collecting her thoughts. “I’m not saying that what you did didn’t hurt me, because it did. But I want to put the hurt behind us and start over. I understand a little better why it happened now, and that helps a little. I still feel a connection to you, Tess, and I’d like it if we could try to be friends. I…” Samantha’s eyes dropped to her hands, unable to look into Tess’ eyes as she continued. “I don’t know if anything else will ever be possible.

“Friends, I like the sound of that.” Tess said, relief evident in her voice. She had not been sure any kind of a relationship with Samantha would be possible, and was willing to take anything she could get.
Chapter Six: Starting Over.
Tess walked into ‘Girls Night Out’ for the first time since that awful night with Samantha. She had put this off too long. What’s the big deal? she thought, I can do this. But it was a big deal; her whole life had changed the night she met Samantha.

The club had always been a haven for her, a place she could get away from the world. She could have her pick of women, and she had. But now, things had changed. Coming back here brought it all back, how much she had hurt Samantha. It was a relief to know that this would be the last time she would ever have to come into this place again. She knew that if she ever hoped to have a relationship with Samantha, ‘Girls Night Out’, and all it entailed, would have to go. And the truth was, the thought of letting the club go didn’t really bother her that much. It had served its purpose in her life, but now it was just a painful reminder of how much she had hurt Samantha. She could never forget the look on Samantha’s face when she left that night.

***

Angela looked up from the bar and saw the tall woman walk through the door. “Hey Boss Lady, it’s about time you got here. Been having second thoughts?”

“No, no second thoughts. I just…” She smiled at Angela and handed her the paperwork for her to sign. “Just need your signature and we’re all set.”

“With pleasure,” Angela said as she signed the sales contract. “Why don’t you stay for a while and help me celebrate.”

“I’ll have to take a rain-check Angela. I gotta run,” Tess said quickly, eager to be away from a place of such bad memories.

“Thanks again, Tess. I don’t know why you changed your mind and decided to let me have ‘Girls’, I guess all my badgering finally paid off.”

“I guess it did.” Tess smiled at her, “and you’re welcome.” Tess walked away, leaving her worst nightmare behind her.

***

The next few weeks flew by as the new friends spoke often, but kept the relationship as just friends. It was a time to get to know each other and learn to be content to just be together with no other pressures.

“You want to know something funny?” Samantha asked, as she and Tess sat at lunch one day.

“Sure,” her tall companion answered. “I’m always up for a good laugh.

“Not that kind of funny. I meant strange.” She smiled at Tess. “You know I’ve been dreaming about you all my life. It’s been the one constant I could always count on. We moved so often when I was little that it was hard to keep friends, but you were always there, and I was comforted by that.”

“That is strange.” Tess laughed.

“That’s not the strange part,” Samantha said. “Well, it is strange, but you already knew about that. I mean a new, strange.” She laughed at the perplexed look on Tess’ face. “It’s about the dreams. They’ve stopped. I haven’t had one in weeks.” Her eyes took on a far away look as she contemplated this particular development in her life. Looking back at Tess, she asked, ” Why do you think they stopped?”

Tess thought about it a moment and realized that her dreams had also stopped. “Hmmm, that is strange. I hadn’t told you, but I haven’t had any more dreams either.” Her face suddenly brightened. “You know what I think? I think it’s because we don’t need them any more. Strange as it seems, they came to us for a purpose, and when that purpose was completed, they stopped.”

“Yeah,” Samantha smiled. “That makes sense.”

And, in its own strange way, it did make sense. They didn’t know who, or what, had conspired to get them together; whether it was an outside force, or something deep inside themselves that cried out to reunite them. Somehow, it really didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that it had worked.

***

Breathing hard, Samantha trudged up the rocky path. “Tess, slow down, I can’t keep up.” She said with labored breath.

Tess looked over her shoulder to see a very flushed Samantha, breathing hard and trying to catch up.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think. We’ll take a break here, okay?”

Samantha nodded her head. Why does she want to have a picnic in a spot we have to hike up a mountain to get to, Samantha thought as she sank to the ground, thankful for the much-needed breather. Unhooking her canteen from her belt, she took a long drink, then sighed. “Are we there yet?” She said, rubbing her cramping legs.

“Almost,” Tess said, kneeling beside her. “Hey, I know. How about a piggy back ride? It’s really not too much farther; I can carry you.”

“God, Tess, don’t you ever get tired?”

“Sure I do. But, Samantha, we’ve only been walking for an hour.”

“Up hill, Tess, an hour up hill.”

Tess stood up and took off her backpack. “You’re going to have to carry this,” she said, slipping it on Samantha’s back. “Okay now, up you go.” She pulled the young woman to her feet and knelt down in front of her. “Climb on.”

Hesitantly, Samantha climbed on Tess’ back. “You sure you can do this?”

“Oh yeah, no problem.” Tess grunted as she got to her feet. Slowly she moved up the path. It didn’t take long before she was breathing hard and had worked up a good sweat. Carrying an extra hundred and fifteen pounds up hill was quite a strain, but she wouldn’t admit that to Samantha. Besides, it was an excuse to touch her, and the feel of the young woman pressed against her back was sheer heaven. She only hoped that her overworked muscles held out until they reached their destination. Just a little bit farther, she thought to herself, as she fought to keep her trembling legs moving. This task she had taken on was proving to be much harder than she had anticipated.

Finally they were at the top, and looking across a lovely green valley. Just off to the left glistening in the sunlight was a small clear lake. Tess put Samantha down and watched her face light up at the sight.

“Oh, Tess, it’s gorgeous.”

Tess smiled, and stretched out her aching muscles. The look on Samantha’s face made the climb worthwhile. “I knew you’d love it here. Want to take a swim before we eat?” Tess did not wait for an answer. She was well and truly overheated from the last of their trek up the hill, and was ready to cool off in the inviting lake.

Samantha couldn’t believe how fast the tall woman stripped down to her bathing suit and was in the water. “Hey, you never wait for me,” she said as she started to strip as well.

“Come on slow poke.” Tess shouted as she climbed out of the water, and started up a tall rock overhang. The rock ledge hung about twenty feet above the lake. Striding to the edge, Tess dove gracefully into the lake. When she broke the surface, she found Samantha paddling toward her.

“Wow, how’d you learn to dive like that?”

Tess smiled smugly. “I just started diving and it was easy. I don’t remember learning; I just did it. It’s just one of my many skills,” she said, winking at her friend.

“You really are quite full of yourself,” Samantha said. Grinning, she splashed Tess, and then dove under the water kicking as hard as she could.

Tess was after her in a moment, catching her easily with her powerful strokes. Coming up under Samantha she propelled them both up and out of the water, then crashing back down with a big splash. They came back up sputtering and laughing. Exhausted after an hour of playing in the water, they climbed up on the smooth rock ledge and lay down to soak up sun, and dry out.

“You ready to eat?” Samantha asked as her stomach started rumbling. She climbed off the ledge and walked to the pack that carried their lunch.

“Mmmm, I’m starving.”

Samantha tossed a blanket to Tess. “Spread this out and I’ll get the food.”

Tess unfolded the blanket as requested, and sat down as the pretty blonde carried the lunch basket over. Sitting on the blanket facing each other, they ate as if it was the last meal either of them would ever have.

“I guess all this fresh air and exercise affected my appetite. I don’t remember when I’ve ever been so hungry.” Samantha said as she stretched out on her back and patted her full stomach. “I’m so glad you brought me here.”

“This place is special to me. I’ve never wanted to bring anyone else up here ‘til I met you.” Tess smiled shyly, and dropped her gaze. Why do I feel like a tongue-tied schoolgirl with her?

“Thank you for sharing your special place with me, Tess. How did you find it?”

“When I was little, my mother used to bring me up here. Well not here exactly, we went to the other side of the lake. You can drive in that way but there are lots of people. It’s a touristy sort of place, but I like it over here. It’s harder to get to, but it’s worth it. It’s wild and free, when I’m here, I feel like there’s no one else in the world.”

“You never mention your mother, are you still close?”

Tess’ face became very serious, and her eyes took on a far away look. “I lost my mother when I was ten years old.” She paused a moment, then signed. ” I miss her.” Her expression changed, and Tess smiled at the young woman, “You would have liked her, Samantha. She was warm, funny, and a genuine good person.” Her face became troubled again, and she looked down at her hands clasped in her lap. “She deserved better than Tucker. I loved her a lot. I lost that for a while, because of him.”

“What happened Tess?” Samantha reached over and covered a large hand with her own. “Is that why you hate him, he tried to turn you against your mother?”

Tess closed her eyes and swallowed. She had never shared her memories and private thoughts with anyone before, but it was different with Samantha. She wanted her to know her, and maybe understand a little better. “No, he never tried to turn me against her, but he succeeded in doing just that, for a while.”

“I don’t understand.” Samantha could see the pain in those beautiful blue eyes, and squeezed Tess’ hand in comfort.

Tess gazed down at their clasped hands and squeezed back. “When I was growing up my mother painted a glowing picture of him. I guess she didn’t want to spoil my image of my father. She gave me a photo of him, and I thought he was the handsomest man in the world. I would ask her why he didn’t come to see me and she would tell me he was very busy. She bought birthday and Christmas gifts for me and signed them Daddy. She was trying to protect me from the reality of the situation, but all it did was make me think there must be something really bad about me because this wonderful man didn’t want to see me.” Tess took a deep breath and let it out. Bringing these memories back to the surface was harder than she thought it would be. “It was one of those things, like Santa.”

Samantha looked puzzled. “Like, Santa?”

Tess nodded. “You know, something you tell a kid to make them happy, that you know is not true. You figure when they’re old enough to understand, you’ll explain.” She looked at Samantha. “She never got the chance to explain.”

Samantha squeezed the tall woman’s hand. “When your mother died, did you go live with your father?”

“No, when she died, my mother’s sister Stella became my guardian. I wanted to go live with my father, but Aunt Stella said Mom wouldn’t have wanted that. I couldn’t understand why, and we argued about it. When she left the room, I called my father. I told him my mother had died and asked if I could come live with him. It was the first time I had even heard his voice…” Tess brought her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. She could still feel the devastation of his words, even after all these years. Taking a moment to compose herself she continued. ” He told me that my mother had been a gold digger, just out to get money from him. He said that he was not my father and not to bother him again.” Tess brought her gaze up to meet Samantha’s.

Her mask was down and the hurt was plain to see. ” What kind of man would say something like that to a child? My mother had just died for God’s sake! I couldn’t believe the father I had believed in all those years didn’t exist. Aunt Stella walked in and I broke down and told her what had happened. She was livid. I asked her why my mother had told me he was my father. She said, because he is your father. She told me how he dumped my mother when he found out she was pregnant, and when she tried to get him to help support me he lied and said he wasn’t my father. The court ordered a blood test and it came back that he could be my father, so he brought in several other men with the same blood type who swore that they had all slept with my mother. They said that she was a slut and slept with anything in pants. If it had been today they would have done a DNA test and had conclusive proof, but back then they could only prove he was a possible candidate.”

Samantha couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She ached for the tall woman who was obviously in so much pain. She watched as a tear made its way down Tess’ cheek and reached to wipe it away. “You said that he turned you against your mother. How did he do that?”

“I realize now that my mother was only trying to protect me, but then I hated her for lying to me about him. And I hated him even more for making me feel that way about her. I decided some day he was going to pay, and believe me, he has.”

“Well, it sounds like you are your fathers daughter.”

“I’M NOT LIKE HIM! I HATE HIM!” Tess stood up and walked a few paces away.

“Could you just look at yourself honestly for a minute? What has your life been up to now? Hatred? Planning revenge? Who does that really sound like, the mother who loved and protected you, or the father who abandoned you? Don’t you see? Like it or not, you have patterned yourself after him. He won.”

Tess didn’t like looking at herself through Samantha’s eyes; it hurt too much. “What do you expect me to do, go to him and say I forgive you daddy? I can’t do that.”

“You don’t have to like him. You don’t even need to forgive him, but you do need to put him behind you, let go of the hatred and get on with your life. Don’t give him the rest of your life, he’s taken enough of it already.”

Listening to Samantha, Tess could almost believe it was possible to release the hate and change her life. The woman seemed to be a walking example of what she was preaching. After all, didn’t Samantha have every reason to hate her for the way she had treated her? “I don’t know if I can do that, Samantha. When I’m around him, or even think of him, I lose it.”

“I have faith in you.” Samantha said sincerely.

Tess looked into Samantha’s eyes, and believed her. “You really do, don’t you?” She shook her head incredulously. “Why?”

“I’m your friend. I care about you.”

“Would it be all right if I…if I gave my friend a hug?” Tess said hesitantly, not sure how Samantha would react to such physical contact.

Now Samantha’s tears started to flow as she got up and walked to Tess. She no longer dreaded the tall woman’s touch for fear it would bring back those awful memories. “I think I need a hug about now too,” she said as her arms slipped around the tall woman.

Tess gently wrapped her arms around Samantha; afraid to hold her too close or too tight for fear Samantha would misconstrue the meaning behind it. She realized her fear was unfounded when she felt Samantha’s arms squeeze tightly around her. She laid her cheek on Samantha’s head and just held on. If felt so good to just hold her and be held in return, nothing else was needed. She wished that they could just stay like this forever. The words ‘the other half of my soul’ played again in her mind and she knew without a doubt that it was true.

Chapter Seven: Daddy Dearest

Tess had decided to take Samantha’s advice and try to find some type of closure with Tucker. She was going to meet with him and talk truce, and today was the day. He had been hesitant when she called and asked to see him, but things had been fairly quiet between them lately and he decided it might be a good chance to try and figure out where the next attack would come from. He was sure Tess was planning something, and figured that the peaceful lull he had been experiencing was probably just the calm before the storm. He didn’t trust the bitch, but it wouldn’t hurt to see if he could figure out what she was up to.

Tess parked her car in the lot behind Tuckers building, and just sat there. Now that the time was here, she wasn’t sure she could go through with it. What would she say to him? Could she really be in the same room with him and not let her anger take her control away? She thought of Samantha’s words, “I believe in you.” And they had an immediate calming effect on her. “She believes in me, I guess I can believe in me too.”

Tess got out of her car and strode toward her meeting with a purpose. She would tell him the war was over, and get on with her life. It wouldn’t take long and then she would never have to see him again. She felt a calm settle over her that she hadn’t expected, and she smiled. She was taking her life back, and it felt damn good.

***

When Tess arrived in Tucker’s outer office and announced herself to his secretary, she was surprised at how calm she still felt. She had been working hard these last weeks not to let herself fall back into the cycle of hate and vengeance that had been her life for so long. This was different though; she was going to see him face to face, and these encounters always tended to make her blood boil.

***

Tucker opened his door and ushered her into his office. “What brings you to my neck of the woods, Tess? What tricks have you got up your sleeve?”

“I just needed to get something off my chest, Tucker, and then I hope to be out of your life for good.”

“Why do I have a hard time believing that, Tess?” Tucker said sarcastically. “We both know you hate my guts, and I don’t mind telling you that the feeling is definitely mutual.”

Tess ignored his comments. She came here for a reason, and she didn’t intend to let the man get to her again. Just tell him what you came to say, and get out of here, she told herself. “I’ve spent most of my life hating you for what you did to my mother and me.”

“I’m not your father,” he interrupted.

“You’re damned right you’re not!” Tess shouted, feeling her face flush. “The closest thing I’ve ever had to a father was, Bryan Reynolds. You were a sperm donor, nothing more. I don’t really give a damn if you believe me or not.” Don’t let him bait you Tess, she told herself. This is not what you came here for. Taking a calming breath, Tess was able to stop the anger from taking over.

“He was your daddy all right. Your sugar daddy.”

“Don’t you dare say anything about him!” Tess was so angry she was trembling. “He was a good man, and he cared about me, took me under his wing…” She let her words trail off. She owed this man no explanation of her relationship with her mentor, the man she considered her surrogate father. Reynolds had treated her with nothing but respect, taught her the business, and left her his company when he died. She had grown to love the man in her own way, and if she’d had a choice, he would have been her father.

Tess stood and gripped the back of her chair. Taking another deep breath, she mentally chastised herself for letting him momentarily get to her again. That was close, she thought to herself, and it amazed her that she had been able to quickly stop from erupting into a venomous rage. She began speaking again in a quiet controlled manner. “A friend of mine reminded me that I’ve already wasted too much of my life hating you. I don’t intend to do it any more. I came here today to call a truce. I want to put all the bad blood behind us so we can go on with our lives. I’m not saying that I forgive you, just saying I don’t want to hate anymore.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, Tess, but it won’t work.”

“Like I said Tucker, I don’t give a damn if you believe me. I just needed to close out this part of my life so that I can move on. You can sit and wallow in it if you want. It’s your choice.” Turning, she walked out of the office leaving a stunned Tucker watching her go.

***

Tess felt light-headed as she walked to her car. The confrontation with Tucker had not been as bad as she thought it might be, but it still left her legs feeling shaky. Sliding into the driver’s seat, she clutched the steering wheel and just sat a moment. “It’s over,” she said. “It’s finally over.” It was not going to be easy, but just that first step had felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. “You were right, Samantha, it did make me feel better. How can one so young be so wise?” Just the thought of Samantha brought a smile to her face, and Tess could not wait to tell Samantha about the meeting. She drove the ten miles to the young woman’s apartment with a smile on her face. She had actually been able to talk to him and not slip into that vindictive hate mode; she was glad that Samantha’s faith in her had been justified. None of this would have happened if Samantha had not come into her life. The young woman made her happy. Tess realized that she had not been able to say she was truly happy in her entire adult life.
Chapter Eight: A New Beginning
Samantha stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel to wrap around her dripping body. She thought of Tess, and wondered how it had gone with Tucker. She was so proud of her friend for trying to bring closure to a very painful part of her life. They had only known each other for a few months, but now Samantha could not imagine her life without her. She rubbed the towel briskly over her body, then slipped into her robe. Picking up her hair dryer, she let the warm air caress her, as her thoughts returned once again to her tall friend.

Samantha had just finished blow-drying her hair when she looked out the window and saw Tess pull up outside. Smiling, she put the dryer down, and went to wait at the door for her. The tall woman took the stairs two at a time. “I did it,” she beamed as she wrapped Samantha in her arms and spun her around. Tess lowered Samantha so her feet could touch the floor, but kept her arms around the young woman.

“I wasn’t sure I could come face to face with him and not let the hate and anger take over again, but you were right. I actually talked to him and felt nothing.” Tess paused a moment, her eyes never leaving the upturned gaze of the woman in her arms. “Well, I almost lost it once,” she corrected herself. “But I didn’t. I held it back.”

“I knew you could do it. I had enough faith for both of us.” Samantha said as she grinned from ear to ear. “And when you have faith, anything’s possible.”

“And I have faith in us,” Tess responded, “And like you said, when you have faith, anything’s possible.”

Tess was feeling bold; Samantha was in her arms and not protesting. She wanted more than anything to lean down and kiss her, and almost followed through with that thought. “Samantha, I think it’s time for us to talk about our relationship.”

“Yes, I guess it is,” Samantha replied.

Tess took the young woman’s hand and led her to the bed and sat her down. She then pulled the chair from the drafting table over and sat down facing her. Summoning her courage she brought one of Samantha’s hands to her lips and gently kissed it. Her heart pounded when the young woman did not pull her hand away, but instead, caressed her cheek. “Samantha, I’m not sure if you can ever feel the same way I feel about you, after what happened, but I need to tell you that the past few months with you have been the happiest of my life. I love you and want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life trying to make you as happy as you make me.”

Samantha could not stop the tears as she flung her arms around Tess’ neck. “Oh, Tess, I do love you, I do.” She clung to her as if to let go would mean her very life. Pulling away far enough so that she could look into Tess’ eyes she said. ” I want to start over, but this time can we take it slow?”

“We’ll take all the time you need. I promise. I’ll never rush you, or push you into something you’re not ready for. I just want to love you, and take care of you.” Tess leaned down and gently brushed Samantha’s lips with her own. “Now get dressed. I’m taking you out to celebrate,” she said, rising and walking to the door. “I’ll wait outside to give you some privacy while you change.”

“You mean you don’t want to be seen out with me in this?” She looked down at her well-worn robe, and smiled.

Tess flashed the most radiant smile Samantha had ever seen and her heart melted. “I will always be proud to have you on my arm, no matter how you’re dressed.”

Samantha returned the smile. “It would help to know where we’re going so I’ll know how to dress.”

“You tell me your favorite restaurant, and I’ll take you there.” Tess flashed that beautiful smile of hers at Samantha again. “Then we’ll go dancing. Would you like that?”

“Mmmm, very much,” Samantha said. “I’ve never been courted before, I think I’m gonna like this.” She crossed to Tess and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I won’t be long,” she said, as she turned for the closet to find something to wear. Suddenly she froze in her tracks, realizing that there probably weren’t too many places where women could go out dancing with each other. Samantha could not bear the thought of going to ‘Girls Night Out’.

Tess saw the stricken look on the young woman’s face when she turned around. “Samantha, what’s wrong?”

“Where are we going dancing, Tess? I can’t go back to ‘Girls Night Out’.”

Tess walked to Samantha and took both of her hands in her own. “Hon, I would never take you back there. I never want to do anything that would bring back those memories for you. I sold the place to Angela, the woman who managed the club for me. She had wanted to buy the place for a long time; she’s welcome to it. I wanted us to be able to start over, without that hanging over our heads”. Cupping the young woman’s face in her hands, Tess said, “I love you, Samantha. Please believe me. When I told you I would never hurt you like that again, I meant it.”

“I do believe you, I’m sorry…” A tear trickled down Samantha’s cheek.

“Hey, it’s okay, I understand.” Tess leaned down and kissed her forehead, then drew Samantha to her in a gentle embrace. “Its okay, I’ve got you.” She whispered into her ear.

With those familiar words spoken into her ear so lovingly, the tender emotions they had always brought her in her dreams engulfed Samantha again. “I feel so safe and protected when I’m in your arms like this,” Samantha said, snuggling into the warm embrace. “I love you, Tess. I’m sorry if I hurt you when I asked where we were going. I do trust you. I really do. If I had just taken a moment to think before I spoke, I would have realized you were not thinking of taking me there.”

“Do you still want to go out tonight?” Tess said, drawing back so she could look into the young woman’s eyes. “We can go another time if you prefer.”

Samantha gave her a little squeeze then turned to her closet. “No way. You’re not getting out of taking me out that easy.” Rummaging through her clothes she pulled out a lavender dress, nodding her approval. “I’m dressing up, and you’re taking me out.

***

Dinner had been wonderful, but Samantha was a little hesitant about dancing. She had never really dated, and had never learned to dance. Not wanting to look like a nerd, she was hoping that Tess would skip anything fast. Slow dancing she was sure she could do, and not make a complete fool of herself. Besides, it was an excuse to be able to hold onto Tess, to be held by Tess.

They walked into the bar, and Samantha was relieved to see that it was smaller than ‘Girls Night Out’, and much less crowded. Tess took the young woman to a table and seated her, then walked to the bar to order drinks. Even though this was not her normal haunt, Tess could see many familiar faces around the room. One in particular caught her eye. Judy was a tall slinky brunette, with beautiful soft brown doe-eyes, and sexy full lips. In the past she would have been glad to see her, but sex, just for sex, had lost its appeal. The need for constant sexual gratification, she realized, was her way of filling the void in her life. But no matter how often she sought out a partner for the night, the emptiness remained; the void never filled. Now, with Samantha in her life, she felt whole.

Judy saw Tess looking at her and smiled seductively. She always enjoyed her romps with the tall gorgeous woman, and was hoping to be her choice for a bed partner tonight. As much as she had always wanted more from her, she was willing to play along with Tess’ rule of sex with no personal involvement, and it had paid off with many a passionate night of sex until dawn. Then they would go out to breakfast and Tess would say her good-byes.

Samantha watched from across the room as the beautiful woman walked up to Tess and draped herself on the tall woman. She could not hear what was said, but it was obvious the woman was attempting to seduce her companion. She could feel the hairs raise up at the nape of her neck as her anger at the strange woman began to flare. Chill, Samantha, she told herself. You don’t own her. To her relief, she saw Tess remove the woman’s hands from her body as she spoke to her. Then Tess pointed to Samantha, and the young artist could see the woman’s gaze track to her own, a frown on her face. Tess turned back to the bar to place her drink order.

Judy stood for a moment studying the little blonde at the table. She was definitely not Tess’ usual type. She looked so young, so… innocent. As Tess joined the young woman at the table, Judy could see the look of adoration in the young blonde’s eyes as she gazed at the tall woman. That poor little thing is in for a real heartbreak, she thought.

As Tess approached the table she could hear the strains of the Melissa Etheridge song, ‘Keep it Precious’. She placed the drinks on the table and took Samantha’s hand. “May I have this dance?”

“With pleasure.” Samantha grinned as she stood and allowed the woman of her dreams to lead her to the dance floor.

Tess put her arms around the young woman and pulled her close. She briefly leaned down and let her forehead rest against Samantha’s. Then she tightened her embrace, kissing the top of the young woman’s head and resting her cheek against the silky hair. They closed their eyes as they swayed with the music, content to be in each other’s arms.

Well, I’ll be damned. Judy couldn’t believe her eyes; she had never seen Tess behave so tenderly. I guess a leopard can change its spots.

***

“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” Samantha said as her friend Dusty opened her door. “I never hear from you any more.”

Dusty crossed to Samantha’s bed and sat down. “The phone works both ways, you know.”

Samantha smiled. ” Touché.” She loved Dusty, but of late she had been too preoccupied with Tess to wonder what was going on with her old friend. “I’m glad you’re here, I need to catch you up with what’s been happening with Blue Eyes.”

Dusty reached out and pulled Samantha’s chair closer to the bed, grabbing her hands. “Oh, Sammy, you’re not going to believe it. I found Mr. Right.”

Samantha pulled her friend into her arms, hugging her tightly. “Congratulations,” she said, releasing her hold, and leaning back so she could see her friend’s face. Dusty was absolutely glowing, and Samantha realized that she had never seen her friend this happy. “Do I know him?” she asked.

“You might have seen him around, he works for your Dad.”

Samantha shook her head. “Not likely. The only person I know who works with Dad is his partner, Doug, and he’s old enough to be your father.

Dusty laughed, “No, it’s not, Doug. His name is Roy, and he’s a network engineer. I couldn’t believe it when I found out he worked for your dad. Talk about a small world.”

“It sure is,” Samantha said, thinking about how she had found Tess through her friend, Dusty. “So, tell me how you met him. Don’t leave anything out, I want to know everything.”

“It was fate,” Dusty said, her eyes sparkling as she began her story. “Just an amazing accident.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Do you believe in fate, Samantha?”

“I do,” Samantha nodded, “I really do.” She got to her feet, and walked toward the kitchenette. “I’ve got some iced tea,” she said, glancing at her friend. “Would you like some?”

Dusty nodded. “Sounds great.”

Samantha opened the refrigerator. “Go on, I’m listening.”

“Well,” Dusty began again. “I had gone to the bank, and was just backing out of my parking space. Roy was backing out of his space just across from me. We saw each other just in the knick of time, and barely touched bumpers.” Dusty smiled again, and sighed. “He got out of his car to check for damage, and I got my insurance info and got out too. We looked at each other and smiled. I knew right then and there. I just knew…” Dusty laughed. “He must have known too, because he asked me out, right there on the spot. And the rest, is history.”

“I gotta admit, I’ve never seen you this sure about a relationship,” Samantha said, handing Dusty the glass of iced tea. “I’m so happy for you, my friend.” She sat down next to Dusty, and took a sip of her tea.

“I’ve never felt like this before, Sammy. It just feels so, right.”

Samantha reached over and squeezed her friend’s hand.

Suddenly it dawned on Dusty what Samantha had said about Blue Eyes. Her eyes grew round. “You found her? You found Blue Eyes?

Samantha nodded. “Her name is, Tess. I went to the health club and saw her when she went in. I followed her, which she noticed,” Samantha paused, wondering just how much she should share with her friend about how they met. Deciding that it was not something she felt comfortable sharing right now, she kept the story to the bare minimum. “And now we’re good friends.”

“Did she think you were crazy when you told her about the dreams?” Dusty asked, wondering if her friend had even told the woman about them.

“A little bit at first, but she got over it.” Samantha shrugged her shoulders, and started laughing. She thought about telling Dusty that her friendship with Tess was quickly advancing beyond ‘just friends’. The love that had grown between them was wonderful, but it was so new. She wanted to keep it all to herself for a little while longer, to savor the sweetness of it before she shared it with anyone.

***
Chapter Nine: A Big Surprise
Samantha looked at her watch again, then walked to the window. Tess was due here any time now to pick her up. Seeing the gold car pull into the parking lot, she smiled. Slipping out the door, she was on her way to the car before the tall woman had even opened her door. Samantha had never been taken to so many nice restaurants before. The funny thing was that she didn’t particularly care if they drove through a fast food restaurant, as long as she was with Tess. She climbed into the car and Tess reached over and squeezed her hand.

“I missed you,” the tall woman said, and lifted Samantha’s hand to her lips.

A shudder went through the Samantha’s body at the touch of those lips. “I missed you too,’ she said, her face flushing red.

Tess started the car and pulled out onto the street. “I’m afraid were going to have to stop by my place on the way.” She looked down at her pants. “Stewart knocked a cup of coffee all over me this afternoon. Lucky thing it was cold,” she laughed.

***

Tess didn’t bother to put the car in the garage when they would be staying for such a short time. “This won’t take long,” Tess said, pulling her mail out of the box, and reaching to unlock the front door.

“Hey, it’s early, I’m in no danger of starving any time soon. Don’t kill yourself rushing,” Samantha said, following Tess through the door. She narrowly avoided colliding with Tess’ backside, when the tall woman suddenly stopped dead in her tracks.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, sidestepping around her roadblock. Seeing an exasperated Tess standing before her, she frowned. “Bad news?” Samantha asked.

“I don’t believe it!” Tess stared in disbelief at the letter in her hands. “After everything that’s gone on between us, he has the nerve to ask for my help!” She wadded the letter into a ball and tossed it and the envelope into the wastebasket.

Samantha turned questioning green eyes to Tess. “Who, Tucker?”

“Yeah, Daddy Dearest himself. He’s got balls, I’ll give him that.” She frowned.

“What did he want?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t read that far, and I don’t really care.” She glanced through the rest of her mail with an unconcerned look on her face, pretending she had no interest at all in the contents of the wad of paper in the trash basket.

“Come on, Tess, aren’t you even a little curious? I mean what could be so important that he would come to you for help?” Samantha walked over and pulled the crumpled paper out of the basket.

The tall woman lifted an eyebrow at her blonde friend. “Who’s curious?” she said with a grin.

“Okay, so I’m curious. Do you mind if I read it?”

Tess shrugged. “No, go ahead, it might be good for a laugh.”

Samantha opened the wadded up paper and smoothed it out. Tess watched the expression on her friend’s face change from curiosity to sadness as she read the wrinkled page.

“This isn’t from Tucker, it’s from his wife, Amanda. Did you know you have a sister?” Samantha said, as she handed the letter to the tall woman.

“No, I didn’t,” Tess replied. Accepting the letter, she began to read in stunned silence.

Tess

I am writing to you because I need your help and I don’t know where else to turn. I have recently learned of your relationship to my husband, Marion Tucker. I am writing to you because I know he will not, and I would do anything to insure my little girl a chance to grow up. She has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It starts in the bone marrow where the blood forms and for some reason, the marrow stops creating healthy blood cells. The cancer lives and grows in the blood, and at this time, they have been unable to stop it. The doctors told me she would only live a few months at the best without treatment. They tried to stop it with chemotherapy, which means they inject poisons into the bloodstream to kill the cancerous cells.

She has not responded though, and I have to tell you that I am scared to death for her. There is one other way to fight this enemy within and have a better chance for recovery. The doctor wants to do a bone marrow transplant, which offers the greatest hope for a permanent cure. There are no guarantees, but this is the best chance she has. The chances for finding a compatible donor that is not related to her are astronomical. All family members are a remote possibility, but the best chance is a sibling. A full sibling would be the best chance scenario, but Megan is my only child, and you, to my knowledge, are her only sibling. Every one we could possibly think of has been tested, to no avail. You are our last hope.

Tess, I know you and my husband have never had a good relationship, but I am hoping that you will not hold that against my little girl. She is such a precious gift to me, and the thought of losing her without a fight is unimaginable. I have enclosed a picture of her, and hope that this will make her seem a real person to you, and not just words on a paper. I have also enclosed the business card for her doctor in hopes that you will call and make an appointment to be tested as a possible donor. Tucker does not think asking for your help will do any good, but I would sell my soul to the devil himself, if it meant I could save my daughter.

Thank you for your time.

Amanda Tucker

Shock was evident on Tess’ face. She had no idea she had a sister. “I guess she considers me the devil,” she said, as she put the letter down and reached into the wastebasket to find the envelope she had tossed in there earlier. In it she found a picture of a smiling little red head that looked to be about nine or ten years old. In her arms was a fuzzy black puppy with a bright red bow around its neck. The little girl had her cheek pressed up against the dog’s face and she was grinning from ear to ear.

It felt bizarre looking in the face of a stranger and knowing it was her sister. Turning the photo over, she saw, ‘Megan and Buster, printed neatly.

Samantha watched the play of emotions on Tess’ face as she looked at the picture. “What are you gonna do?” she asked, taking the tall woman’s hand in her own and squeezing gently.

“The only thing I can do and live with myself,” she said, as she pulled the card out of the envelope and walked to the phone. As she listened to the ringing phone, she glanced at the photo again, “My sister,” she repeated softly as a voice came over the line.

“Doctor Davies office.”

“Hello, my name is Tess Richmond, and I’m calling about Megan Tucker.”

“Are you the sister her mother told us about?”

“Yes. I’d like to schedule an appointment to be tested as a possible donor.”

“Wonderful! If you can get here before six, it will go to the lab tonight.”

“Sure, I’ll be right there.”

Tess put down the phone and turned to Samantha. “I have to leave now if I’m going make it in time.”

“Want some company?”

“I’d love some company,” Tess answered. “Give me a minute to change these pants,” Tess said, starting to jog toward the stairs. “When I’m done we can get that dinner I promised you.”

***

Tess had been at off-site meetings all morning and was looking forward to the date for lunch she had made with Samantha. As she got into her car, her cell phone rang.

“Tess Richmond,” she answered, smiling as she anticipated Samantha’s voice.

“Tess, this is Joan, from Doctor Davies office. He would really like to see you, but his schedule is a little tight today. He wanted to know if you could meet him for lunch.” If you can make it, he’ll be at Seafood Delight at 1PM.

“Sure,” Tess answered. “Tell him I’ll see him there.”

Tess wondered what he wanted to talk to her about. She hoped that the meeting meant that the tests had come back to say she was a match. Dialing the phone, Tess hoped she could catch Samantha. She would hate to leave the little blonde waiting for her, and wondering what happened.

“Hello?”

Tess smiled in relief. “Hi cutie,’ she said. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel our lunch date. The doctors office called, and he wants to meet me for lunch to talk.”

“Did the test results come back?” Samantha said, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. “I thought they said you wouldn’t hear until tomorrow.”

“I know, but I can’t think of any other reason he would want to meet with me. I guess I better go see what the verdict is. I’ll call you after and let you know what happened.”

“Okay, talk to you later.”

Tess hung up the phone and glanced at her watch. It was 12:40PM; she should make it just about on time.

***

Tess spotted the distinguished looking man with gray sideburns immediately, and walked over to join him at his table. “Doctor Davies,” she said, as she sat across from him.

“Tess, I’m glad you could make it.” He reached over and patted her hand with a big smile. “I got your results back and it was a nearly perfect match.”

Tess smiled back at the man. “That’s wonderful news.”

“It really is amazing,” he continued. “I never expected you to match, but we have to try for any possibility, however remote. I had explained this to Amanda, didn’t want to get her hopes up too high. I wanted to meet with you and explain the BMT procedure and answer any questions you might have.”

“BMT? That’s short for Bone Marrow Transplant, I assume.”

Doctor Davies smiled. “You assume correctly.”

Tess nodded. “When will you do the transplant?”

“Well, I’ve admitted Megan into the hospital to begin a ‘preparative regimen’ of radiation and high dose chemotherapy to destroy the remaining bone marrow and any leukemic cells that may have migrated to other organs. The BMT will take place in ten days.

“Do I need to do anything to prepare myself?”

“No, just try to stay away from anyone who has a cold or the flu, basically, just try to stay healthy.”

“How long will I have to stay in the hospital?”

“Just a day, perhaps two. The procedure used to collect bone marrow from a donor is called a bone marrow harvest. The harvest will be performed under general anesthesia.”

“How exactly is this harvest done?” Tess asked. She was happy she was a match, but nervous about the procedure at the same time.

Doctor Davies could see that Tess was a little worried. “Don’t worry, Tess. It sounds worse than it is. We use a needle and syringe to extract the marrow from the rear hipbone. Several skin punctures and multiple bone punctures are required to collect enough marrow for the transplant. There are no surgical incisions or stitches involved. ”

Tess gave a sigh of relief. She had assumed they were going to have to cut her open. “Whew,” she said, wiping a hand across her forehead. “I thought there would be some cutting involved, Doc. And believe me I’d sure as hell rather be a pincushion.”

The Doctor laughed. “The body is a wondrous thing. It starts working overtime to replace the lost marrow, and you’ll be back with a full tank within four weeks. After the harvest, you may experience nausea from the anesthesia and pain at the harvest site. These problems can usually be controlled with medication. You can resume normal activities in three to four days and expect complete recover from the harvest within two weeks. You may have trouble sitting up for more than an hour or two at a time for the first couple of days. The amount of pain varies quite a bit from patient to patient.”

“What about Megan? Do you inject the marrow into her hipbone at the same site you removed it from mine? Or does she have to have these injections all over her body?

“The marrow isn’t put back into her bones at all; it is simply injected into one spot, a vein. From there it migrates through the bloodstream, automatically finding its way into the empty bone chambers. Once the injection is over, there’s nothing to do but wait. And hope!

***
Chapter Ten: A New Sister
Tess walked to the nurses’ station. She wanted to meet the little sister she never knew she had.

“Can I help you?” The nurse asked as Tess reached the counter.

“Yes, I’m looking for Megan Tucker’s room.”

“Oh, Megan, she’s in 221, that’s right around the corner on the right. The nurse got up and walked to a cabinet, taking out a gown and mask and handing them to Tess. Put these on. You’ll need to stop at the sink outside her room before you enter and wash your hands. Megan is very susceptible to infection.”

Tess nodded her understanding, slipping into the gown, and continuing down the hallway. The tall woman understood the need for caution. Megan’s doctor explained to her that the child was undergoing a ‘preparative regimen,’ and that this regimen would completely destroy her immune system.

Tess was nervous. What if she doesn’t like me, she thought.

***

Megan lay in bed, a small frail figure with a scarf tied around her head to hide the baldness. Tears were trickling down puffy little cheeks. She always tried to be strong for her mother – she knew how it hurt her when she saw her cry – but the little girl was alone now, and she let the tears come. Her mother had just left, and she felt so alone here in this little plastic world she was forced to live in, a world full of pain and weakness. She hated being alone here, but she was glad for the relief of tears that now she did not have to fight to hold back.

A sterile environment of see-through plastic curtains surrounded her bed. The plastic drapery was unique in that it had built-in arm-length gloves that make it possible for people to touch you. Megan was not allowed to eat anything she liked for fear of bacterial contamination of the food. It would be many months before she would be allowed any type of fresh fruits or vegetables. But the truth of the matter was that she did not really feel like eating at all. The doctors gave her medication to help control the nausea and diarrhea. They only helped; they did not eliminate it. The thought of eating was not very appealing, and to insure she took in enough protein and calories they were feeding her extra nutrients intravenously. Looking up, Megan saw a tall woman standing in the doorway looking at her. The woman smiled. “Hi, I’m Tess. Is it okay if I visit with you for a while?

Megan wiped the tears from her cheek, and gave a little nod. She recognized the name. Her mom had told her that the woman they found that was a match, was named Tess. “I’m Megan.” She watched the woman fasten a mask over her mouth and nose, and walk to the edge of her plastic barricade.

“I hate hospitals,” Tess said. “I had to stay in the hospital once when I had my appendix removed. But at least I only had to stay a few days. It must be awful to have to stay in that tent they have you in.”

“The medicine they give me kills off my immune system. That means that every little germ floating around that would not even make you sick can kill me, so I have to stay in here where they can control everything I come in contact with.”

Such understanding coming from one so young surprised Tess, although she admitted to herself that she hadn’t had a lot of experience with children. But Megan seemed older than her ten years.

“I think you’re very brave. I would be scared in your place.”

“I just don’t have any choice.” Megan’s hazel eyes seemed to bore right through her. “I’m probably gonna die before too long,” she said matter-of-factly. “I have to be brave for my mom. I don’t want her to worry about me.” Another tear started down her face and she wiped it away. “I hate it that I make her so sad.”

“Hey, the doctor told me he thinks you have a very good chance. You need to believe that, it’s important.”

Tess pulled a chair close and sat down. She wished she could reach out and touch the child, comfort her. She wanted to say something to lighten the mood but was unsure what that might be. She found herself liking this sad little girl very much, and wishing she had been able to be a part of her life.

“What kind of things do you like to do for fun?” she asked, hoping to take the child’s mind off her problems, if only for a few minutes.

“I like to swim, and I love to read,” the little girl said with a wistful look on her face.

“What kind of books do you like to read?” Tess asked, sensing a subject that just might do the trick.

“The last book I read was ‘The Secret Garden.’ I really liked that one. Mostly I read stories about kids and animals. I’ve been reading the ‘Black Stallion’ books; those are some of my favorites because I really, really love horses.”

Well, Tess thought, something we have in common. “I was really into horses when I was a kid and I read all of Walter Farley’s books, they were great. Have you read his ‘Island Stallion’ series?” She noticed the hazel eyes perk up a bit.

“Not yet. I guess I need to put those on my list of books to read.”

“Yeah, those are a must read for someone who loves horses as much as I do.”

“Oh I do. Someday I want to have my own horse. Wouldn’t that be great?”

That’s my girl, Tess thought. Think about the future; you need more of those positive thoughts.

“I think that’s a wonderful goal. You concentrate on getting better and getting out of here so you can make it come true.” She smiled at the child.

“I don’t think it will really come true; my mom’s afraid of horses.”

“Hey, never say never. When I was a kid I had to walk past a stable near our house on the way to, and from, school every day. There was a really old horse there named Dandy, and no one ever paid any attention to him so I would pet him, talk to him, and bring him treats. We became friends. Because of him, I wanted to learn to ride more than anything, and I set that as my goal. Next I had to figure out how to make it happen. I knew I couldn’t afford lessons, so I just convinced the owner that I would work for free if he would let me ride. I did everything around there – mucking stalls, grooming, feeding, but I achieved my goal.”

Megan gave her a big smile and she returned it. It was so wonderful to see a sparkle in her eyes and a smile on that previously somber face. I am going to make sure that dream comes true if it’s the last thing I do, Tess thought. She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see an attractive woman in her mid thirties, with short auburn hair and hazel-green eyes, walking toward them.

“Mom, this is my friend, Tess. She loves horses too.”

Amanda watched the tall woman as she got to her feet and offered her hand. Tucker had told her a lot about Tess, and she was frankly surprised to see her here. He had told her not to get her hopes up because the bitch was good at giving you a false sense of security, then pulling the rug out from under you. He also told her not to feel secure until the procedure was done and they didn’t need her any more; he was sure she was just using this situation to attack him once again.

Amanda couldn’t believe anyone could use a child that way, and now, after listening to the woman talk to Megan, she was sure she was right. She was certainly going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Megan’s life was at stake. Smiling, she reached out and took the offered hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, Tess. I see you found a subject Megan never gets tired of talking about.”

“It’s nice to meet you too.” The beautiful woman flashed a warm smile at the little girl. ” I guess I’ll have to come back again so we can talk some more….” Tess looked at Amanda. “…That is if it’s okay with your mother.”

Megan beamed at Tess. “Oh yes, please come back.”

***

Tess looked at Amanda, silently asking permission to visit again.

“You’re always welcome, Tess, as long as Megan wants to see you, and feels up to it.” There was no way she was going to take the chance of alienating this woman; she needed her too desperately. Besides, Tess seemed nice, and the smile on Megan’s face was worth whatever it took to keep it there. It was the first time she had seen her child smile like that in a long time.

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Tess said, as she winked at Megan. “Bye.”

“I’ll walk out with you,” Amanda said. “Be right back sweetie.” She followed Tess out into the hallway just as Tucker rounded the corner. “I wanted to thank you for everything you’re doing for Megan…”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Tucker interrupted as he stormed over to the two women.

“Tucker please, calm down,” Amanda pleaded, trying to placate her raging husband.

“What’s she doing here? I don’t want that bitch anywhere near my daughter.” He brushed Amanda aside. “You stay away from her, you hear me?”

Tess could feel the fury building inside and she fought to push it down. She would have liked nothing more than to kick the bastard in the balls and watch him writhing on the floor in pain, but this was not the time or the place to get into a battle. “Loud and clear,” she replied as she turned to walk away.

“It better be clear,” he shouted as he grabbed her arm and spun her around.

She reacted so quickly that he was shoved against the wall with his arm twisted behind his back before he knew what happened. “Don’t you ever touch me again, you son of a bitch.” She pushed harder on his arm, then repeated his question. “You hear me?”

Dumbfounded with surprise, and by the strength of his older daughter, he could only nod in answer.

“Good,” she replied. Releasing him, she turned and walked away.

As she rounded the corner, Tess felt the hate welling up inside her again. She closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, trying to slow the pounding of her heart and calm herself down. “I’m trying, Samantha, I really am,” she said out-loud to no one in particular. “At least I didn’t beat the shit out of him.” And there was no doubt in her mind that if this had happened a few months ago, she would have. And it would have been so easy. The man did not keep himself in shape, Tess, did. That alone would have given her an edge over him, but she had also spent years in martial arts training. Tears welled up in her eyes. Not from sadness, but from the rage she was trying so hard to control. She felt a hand on her arm and opened her eyes to see Amanda’s tear streaked face looking up at her.

“Please don’t abandon Megan, it’s not her fault…please…” The weeping woman broke-down and buried her face in her hands.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Tess said as she wrapped her arms awkwardly around the distraught woman. “Megan is a sweet innocent child. I would never hold her father’s actions against her, any more than I would want anyone to hold them against me.” She stepped back and lifted Amanda’s face, wiping the tears away with her thumbs. “Having a sister is a new experience for me. I wanted to get to know her, try to have a relationship. I guess Tucker’s not going to let that happen. But I promise I will not abandon Megan.”

Amanda searched the blue eyes of her daughter’s savior, and she saw only truth and compassion in them. This woman was not the monster Tucker painted her to be. Reaching over, she took the tall woman’s hand and squeezed. “Thank you.” She had seen how Megan had responded to Tess, and she knew how much the little girl was anticipating her visit tomorrow. Megan had been through so much, and the road to recovery was going to be a hard one. She was not going to take any little joy the child felt in this woman’s company away. “You come by and see her tomorrow like you planned. I’ll talk to Tucker.”

Tess held the woman’s hand for another moment. “Thank you,” she said, then turned and walked away.

***
Chapter Eleven: The Good Fight
The drive to Samantha’s gave Tess a chance to calm down. She did not want let Samantha see how upset Tucker had made her, and she tried to put her father’s words out of her mind; but they hurt. She had stopped thinking of Tucker as her father a long time ago, but today, for some reason, she felt like that little ten year old girl she had been so long ago who had been so devastated by her father’s rejection. Perhaps it was the fact that he had a little girl that he did care about, that brought back those old feelings that there was something wrong with her to make him not want her.

I don’t need him anymore, she thought, but Megan does. I need to try to get along with him for her sake. She parked the car and just sat there a moment taking deep calming breaths. I wonder if they’ll tell her that I’m her sister? Tess thought as she got out of the car and started for Samantha’s apartment. Probably not, if Tucker has anything to say about it. She walked up the stairs, deep in thought. She still couldn’t get over the fact that she had a sister that Tucker hadn’t even bothered to tell her about. No sound came through the open window of Samantha’s apartment, which probably meant Samantha was working. She did not even like the distraction of music when she worked.

***

Tess Looked through the window and found that Samantha was indeed at her drawing table. “Hey,” She called, and watched her soulmate turn from her work, with a welcoming grin.

“Hey,” Samantha replied. She beckoned to the tall woman. “I need your opinion.” She turned back to her drawing table, studying the sketches again. “Which one of these do you like better?” the artist asked as she felt Tess’ long arms encircle her waist, and a warm body press against her back.

Tess rested her chin on Samantha’s shoulder as she studied the two pictures on the table. “Well, for pure aesthetic value, I like this one.” She pointed to a picture of a tiny bare bottomed girl standing on tip-toes, trying to feed a handful of grass to a horse that was standing on the other side of a fence. The other picture was of the same toddler, but the little behind was no longer bare. “Of course, not having read the story, I don’t know which one fits it better, but this one is just too cute.” Tess was silent for a moment then continued. “I went to the hospital today to see my sister.”

“What’s she like?” Samantha said, turning in the tall woman’s arms.

“Megan’s a sad little girl, she’s been through so much.” Tess leaned down and rested her forehead against Samantha’s, closing her eyes. “What if she doesn’t make it? It’s not fair, she’s only a little girl.” Tess brushed at a tear as it made its way down her cheek. “I didn’t expect to care so much, but I do.”

Standing, Samantha pulled the tall woman closer in a comforting embrace. “She’s gonna be alright, you have to believe that. Positive thoughts really can make a difference, and you don’t want her picking up your negative vibes.”

“You’re right, I have to believe she’s going to be fine, and I have to convince her too. She as much as told me today that she thinks she’ll die.” Tess took a step back so she could look into Samantha’s eyes. “Will you come with me to meet her?”

“Of course I will. I’d love to meet her.”

“She’s so bright, Samantha, you should have heard her today explaining to me about her illness. I couldn’t believe I was listening to a ten-year old child. She understands so much…” Tess sighed and pulled Samantha in close again. “Perhaps too much.”

***

Amanda gazed at the sleeping face of her daughter, glad that the little girl had fallen asleep. She needed to talk to Tucker about Tess, and this was as good a time as any. No sense putting it off, she thought, as she walked to her husband who stood looking out the window at nothing. He was still angry that Tess had dared to come here without even asking permission. Of course he would have said no, but she should have asked.

“Tucker, let’s go get a cup of coffee. We need to talk about Tess.”

He glanced at the sleeping child and nodded his head in agreement. Yes, they needed to talk about her all right. He intended to lay down the law, talk to the nurses and let them know that bitch was not to be permitted to see Megan. He wondered how a she-devil like that could have come from his loins. She was smart; he’d give her that. But in Tuckers eyes, she was no better than a common whore. Everyone believed that she slept her way to the top. The young woman started working for old man Reynolds right out of college as his personal assistant, and moved up in the company far too fast for there to be any other explanation.

No one was surprised when the old man died and left all his business holdings to her. She’d had him wrapped around her little finger the four years she had worked there. He had no family; there was no one to contest it; she just took over. The change in power had been good for Reynolds Industries though; she was shrewd, and business skyrocketed over the next few years. That’s when she started to go after Tucker with a vengeance. The business and revenge had become her whole life. Now here she was trying to get at him through his little girl, and he was not going to allow it. He didn’t believe that bullshit she had given him about not wanting to hate anymore. It was just a trick to get him to let his guard down, but it wasn’t going to work.

Tucker knew that his wife was afraid if he stood up to Tess that she would change her mind about the transplant. If only she understood Tess the way he did. Then she would know that you just could not let that woman get the upper hand.

***

They walked to the coffee machine in silence, each wondering how to make the other one understand. As they sat down in the waiting room Amanda finally broke the silence.

“I told Tess that she can see Megan whenever she wants.”

“You had no right to do that. You don’t know her like I do,” he shouted, making no effort to keep his voice down.

“I have every right to do what I think is best for my daughter,” she countered. “Megan has been to hell and back and I’d gotten used to dealing with a very pessimistic little girl, but today she brightened up when Tess visited. You should have seen them together.”

“That bitch is pulling the wool over your eyes; don’t you see that?

Amanda got up and started to pace around the small room. This was not going to be easy. She walked back and sat down and covered one of his hands with her own. “What I see is that you and Tess hate each other, but that has nothing to do with Megan.”

“Yes it does…” he interrupted, but his wife cut him off.

“Let me have my say, Tucker,” she said firmly. “Then you can have yours.” She squeezed his hand again. “Please, hear me out.” She watched as her husband nodded his head and returned the squeeze. Tears started to flow as she began to speak again. “We don’t know how much longer Megan is going to be with us. God willing, the transplant will be successful and she’ll live a long and happy life.” Her voice was starting to tremble and she stopped talking to take a moment to compose herself.

“All we have for sure is right now, and we have to do whatever it takes to make her happy, now. I saw how she reacted to Tess today; she was happy. She wants to see her again, and I don’t care what you, or anyone else says, if she wants to see her, she will see her. I don’t care if you hate Tess, I don’t care if she’s the antichrist; she was kind and caring with Megan today, and that is all that matters. For Megan’s sake, we have to give her sister the benefit of the doubt. You could be right about her motives where Megan in concerned, but what if you’re wrong? Can’t you just stop for a moment and think of Megan instead of yourself?”

Tucker dropped his gaze to his hands. He couldn’t look his wife in the eye right now. She was right; he had to put Megan first, no matter what his feelings were for Tess. “Okay, we’ll let her see her for now, see how it goes.”

“Thank you.” Amanda stood still holding his hand. “Let’s go see if our daughter is awake.”

***

Samantha could hear the sound of Tess’ voice drifting melodically out of Megan’s room as she approached. She stopped in the doorway a moment and looked in. The little girl was laying on the bed, looking adoringly at Tess as she read to her. An attractive woman that Samantha did not recognize was sitting on the other side of Megan’s bed. She assumed it must be Amanda. Her eyes drifted back to the little girl. It was clear she was lost in the tale her big sister was weaving.

Tess stopped reading as the young artist walked quietly into the room. “Megan, Amanda, I want you to meet my friend, Samantha,” she said, beckoning the young woman to come closer.

Amanda stood and walked around the bed, shaking the young woman’s hand.

“Hi,” the little girl said, shifting her gaze from her sister to Tess’ friend.

“It’s nice to meet you, Megan,” Samantha responded as she sat down next to Tess.

The little girl turned anxious eyes back to the tall woman. “Please keep reading, I have to find out how he gets out of that cave.”

Tess laughed. “Got you hooked huh?” She looked at Samantha, “Sorry, my public awaits.”

Samantha sat and watched as her friend began to read again. Every once in a while Tess would glance up and make eye contact with the little girl, but she never stopped reading to the enchanted child. It was clear to the little blonde that there was a bond forming between the two, even if the child did not know the tall woman was her sister.”

***

“It says here that laughter is a powerful weapon in fighting cancer,” Tess said, looking up from the stack of books she had picked up to research the subject. “I think I’m going to take a VCR down there and bring lots of comedy videos to watch with her.” Blue eyes found green, “it says that laughter and attitude are half the battle.”

“Well if that’s all it takes, then the battle is almost won. I saw how into that story she was this afternoon. She didn’t have time to dwell on being sick. She was too interested in you and that story to even consider it.” Samantha replied as she walked over and began to massage the tight muscles in her friend’s shoulders.

The tall woman smiled. “Yeah, she did enjoy that, didn’t she? I want to spend at least an hour a day with her, but I want to leave a bunch of videos there so the nurses can play them when ever she wants.” Tess relaxed into the young woman’s touch, “Ahhh, that feels so good.” She let her head drop forward, and felt the tension drain from her body.

***
Chapter Twelve: Samantha to the Rescue
The procedure to harvest her bone marrow was finally over and Tess was back in her room. She really felt rotten. Her stomach felt queasy, and she was still a little groggy, but her mouth was dry and she reached for her water glass on the bedside table. She wished they would just let her go home. Her face brightened up when she saw Samantha walk through the door.

“Let me get that for ya,” Samantha said, picking up the glass and holding it close so she could take a drink.

One little sip was all it took for Tess to franticly grab for the spittle dish on the table. What little water she swallowed came back up, followed by dry heaves so intense it made her chest ache. Samantha took the dish and held it for her until the heaving subsided and the tall woman was able to lie back again. The young woman took a tissue and dampened it to wipe around her mouth.

“Damn,” was all Tess said. Suddenly she was exhausted and she fought to keep her eyes open.

Samantha leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Don’t fight it, love. The doctor told me you’ll feel a little better after you sleep off the effects of the anesthesia.” She sat next to the bed and took a large hand in her own, kissing it gently. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“Okay, I am kinda tired,” the tall woman said, as her eyes fluttered closed, then opened again. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” Samantha said, squeezing the large hand again. She watched as the blue eyes shut for the last time, and Tess finally allowed herself to sleep. The young artist sat back and just watched the sleeping woman. She hated to see her so weak and in pain, but now, in sleep, she finally looked at peace. At least this part of the ordeal was over.

***

Samantha stood, looking out the window. Tess had been asleep for close to eight hours, and the young woman was glad her sleep had been undisturbed. She heard the bed creaking behind her, and turned to see blue eyes flutter open.

“How ya feeling?” Samantha asked, as she crossed to the bed and leaned over to kiss her forehead.

“Mmmm, much better.” Tess reached up to stroke the soft skin of the young artist’s face.

Samantha cupped the beautiful face of the woman she loved and gazed into devastatingly blue eyes. “I’m so proud of you. I know this hasn’t been easy.”

“Would you take me over to see Megan, they won’t let me walk.”

“I would be honored to be your chauffeur.” Samantha looked around and spotted the wheel chair. Pushing it over to the bed, she said, “your carriage awaits m’lady.”

Tess sat up, wincing momentarily at the pain in her lower back and hip. Carefully she transferred herself from the bed to the wheel chair.

***

While Megan was sleeping, Amanda and Tucker walked to the vending machine for coffee and a cup of hot chocolate. Samantha and Tess could hear Tucker’s voice as they neared the couple.

“…at least now that this is over, I don’t have to be nice to that she-devil any longer.”

Anger blazed through Samantha at the sound of the venomous words.

“If you call your treatment of Tess ‘nice,’ I would hate to see what your idea of bad is,” Samantha said, glaring at the man.

“I let her see Megan, didn’t I?” He looked over at his older daughter sitting in the wheel chair. “I didn’t have to do that you know.” He turned back to the angry woman in his face and continued. “After all of her attacks on me over the last few years, she’s damn lucky I let her see Megan at all.”

“What about your attacks on her? I don’t think either of you are exactly blameless, but at least she had a reason.”

Tess watched in stunned silence as her champion battled on her behalf.

Tucker bristled at the spunky woman. “She attacked me first, right out of the blue. She didn’t even say why.”

The young woman was so angry now she could feel her ears burning. “Why?” Samantha looked at him dumbfounded. “You have the nerve to wonder why.” Could the man really be that clueless? “Do you remember a call from a grieving ten-year old girl who had just buried her mother?”

A memory long forgotten surfaced, “I…I had forgotten about that…” he turned to his wife as if to explain. “…It was so long ago.”

Samantha couldn’t believe it was such a trivial incident to the man that he had actually forgotten it.

“You forgot? It was so unimportant to you that you forgot? Your little girl called and pleaded for you to let her come live with you and you told her you didn’t want her. Told her to never bother you again.” Tears started down the young blonde’s face. “You devastated her, and it was so trivial that you forgot? What do you think something like that would do to a child? You pulled her world out from under her, and you forgot? Tess was all alone, needed her father, but he didn’t want her. She must have thought she was really bad if her own father didn’t want her.” Tears stung Samantha’s eyes as she turned to Amanda. “He forgot.”

Samantha could feel the flush of anger burning up her face, as and she tried to control her emotions. She just wanted to get Tess away from this pompous ass; he had already hurt her enough. She turned the chair around and started back to Tess’ room.

Amanda looked at her husband with a new understanding of his relationship with his older daughter. Now she finally understood why Tess was motivated to strike out at her father, and she couldn’t blame her. She thought of her own ten-year old, shuddering at what an experience like that would do to her.

“I can’t believe you did that to your own child.”

“You have to understand, I was young. I couldn’t even be sure she was mine. Was I supposed to just take her mother’s word that the child was mine?”

“You took my word that Megan was yours.”

“That was different, you were my wife.”

“Did you have any reason to believe it wasn’t your baby?”

“I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a child. It was easier to let myself believe I wasn’t her father.”

Amanda started to walk away. “I need to get away from here for a while. I’ll be back later.”

Tucker watched her walk away, wondering if things would ever be the same again. He had a lot to think about too.

***

Tess climbed out of the chair and sat on the edge of the bed. She was used to attacks, but this was the first time anyone had ever come to her defense. She reached for Samantha and pulled her close. Tears started to flow as she buried her face in the silken tresses. “Thank you,” she whispered, as she held on tightly. They stayed like that for long moments until the pain of sitting upright forced Tess to release Samantha and lie back down. Reaching for a slender hand, she pulled the young woman down to sit on the edge of the bed, then raised the hand to her lips. “I love you,” she said, kissing the knuckles, then closed her eyes as the hand opened and caressed her cheek. Turning into the caress, she pressed her lips into the soft palm. “More than words can express.”

Samantha wiped away the tears running down Tess’ face; tears that were caused from a mix of emotions. Anger and hurt from the stinging words of her father, and joy from the love and support of her friend, her soulmate. “I love you too,” she said as she leaned down for a kiss.

Samantha’s stomach picked that moment to growl loudly.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“This morning.”

“You have to be starved. Why didn’t you eat?”

“I promised you I’d be here when you woke up and I was afraid if I left to get something you’d wake up and I wouldn’t be here. You were feeling so awful this morning after the harvest I didn’t want you to be alone.”

“Well, I’m feeling better now, and I want you to go get something to eat, then go home and get some rest.”

Samantha did not want to leave Tess right now. She knew how emotionally vulnerable the tall woman was at the moment. What if that scum-sucking father of hers decided to pay her a visit? “You don’t have to worry about me starving, and I have no intention of going home to that empty apartment before I have to. I like it better here with you.”

Tess smiled. “I like it better with you here too, but I want you to go get something to eat.”

Samantha started to protest, but the tall woman put her finger to her lips to silence her.

“Please, Hon, go get something. I’m fine.” She smiled again, “Just don’t bring it back here to eat. My stomach can’t take the smell of food right now.”

Realizing she was not going to win this battle, Samantha reluctantly agreed to go get something to eat. “Okay you win, I’ll go eat, but I’m coming back.” She leaned in for another quick kiss then turned and left the room.

***

Tucker sat alone watching his little girl sleep. He thought about this precious child. What if it had been Amanda back then and he had shut Megan out of his life. When he looked at it like that, the full impact of what he had done to his older daughter hit home. “My God, If someone had done to Megan what I did to Tess, I’d kill ‘em.” Finally…he understood.

Megan stirred and he watched as the hazel eyes fluttered, then opened. “Hi Sweetie.” He reached into the plastic arm-length gloves and stroked her face. He missed being able to feel her smooth skin, but for now this was the best he could do. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He paused a moment to gather his thoughts. “When I was young, I had another little girl. She grew up without a father because I was irresponsible and refused to take care of her. I’m telling you this now because you have a right to know your sister.” He looked away for a moment when he felt her little hand squeeze his through the plastic glove.

“It’s Tess isn’t it?” She looked at him with questioning eyes.

Nodding he asked, “How did you know?”

“Doctor Davies told me that brothers and sisters have the best chance for a match. She matched.” She studied him a moment then added, “I’m glad she’s my sister, I like her a lot.”

***

Tess lay in bed waiting for Samantha to get back from the cafeteria. A smile crossed her face as she heard approaching footsteps, but it quickly faded as she turned to see Tucker. Turning away to study the ceiling, she did not even acknowledge his presence.

A lot had happened between the two of them over the years, and Tucker knew the wounds were deep on both sides. He knew now that Tess had been right when she came to him and said she didn’t want to waste her life with hate anymore. He just couldn’t see it at the time.

“Don’t worry, I won’t stay long. I just wanted to let you know that I told Megan that you’re her sister. I won’t stand in the way if you want to have a relationship with her.”

Tess turned puzzled blue eyes toward her father as he spoke. “Why?” She asked suspiciously.

“Because for the first time today I realized just how much I hurt you. Those wounds are old and deep, and have been allowed to fester for far too long.”

“What made you realize that now?”

“When your friend talked about you as a ten-year old child, Megan’s age, I realized I’d want to kill anyone who would hurt her that deeply.” He walked to the foot of the bed and stood a moment, watching the floor. Then he turned to look out the window, keeping his gaze anywhere but on his eldest daughter.

“When you called me, it was just an annoyance. I didn’t know you, or care about you. You may not believe this, but it never occurred to me at that time that you would be hurt so deeply. In my eyes, I was as much a stranger to you, as you were to me.” He turned back to face her, his eyes sad. “Until today, I had forgotten the incident even happened. Having Megan has made me more aware of how deeply children can be hurt. I’m sorry for the hurt I caused you, and if you’re still willing I’d like to join you in that truce.”

“I’m willing,” she said, and held out her hand. “I’ve grown to love my sister, and want very much to have a relationship with her. You’re her father and I don’t want to put her in the middle of a war between us.”

Tucker reached out and grasped her hand firmly. “Agreed.”

***

Samantha couldn’t believe her eyes when she walked through the door and saw Tucker standing by Tess’ bed. Quickly she crossed the room and positioned herself between the man and his daughter.

“It’s okay, Samantha, we’ve called a truce,” Tess said, as she reached out and patted her arm. “Tucker was just leaving.”

“Yes, I do need to get back to Megan.” He turned and left the room.

Samantha turned a puzzled gaze to the reclining woman to make sure she was all right. “What did he want?”

“Well it seems, my love, that you got through to him. Not only did he call a truce, he told Megan that I’m her sister.” She patted the bed inviting the little blonde to sit. “You know, I was thinking about us while you were gone. Things were just starting to come together for us when this situation with Megan came up.” She reached out and took a small hand in her own and squeezed gently. “I know I’ve been preoccupied with her, and I want to thank you for being so patient.”

Samantha returned the squeeze. “Hey, I signed up for the duration. I love you, and I understand your sister needs you.”

“Just the same, thank you.” She smiled at the young woman. “Know what I want?”

“What?”

“You, me, a cabin in the mountains. I want to spend an entire weekend alone with you. What do you say?” Tess wiggled her eyebrows.

“Oh, Tess, I would love to get away, just the two of us.”

Tess pulled her closer for a kiss. She ran her tongue over soft lips, then nibbled her way along the young woman’s jaw.

Samantha reluctantly pulled away. “Ah, Ah, Ah, now be good.” She slapped Tess’ hand away playfully.

Tess turned over to grab the little blonde again and was reminded by shooting pain just where she was. “Okay, I’ll be good, for now. But I really did mean it when I said I want to take you away for a weekend. Give me a couple of weeks and were going to take that trip to the mountains, that’s a promise.” She winked at Samantha.

“That’s a promise I intend to collect.”

“I’m counting on that,” the tall woman said, as a yawn overtook her.

“You’re exhausted, Tess. You get some sleep and I’ll be back first thing in the morning.” She leaned over for one last kiss.

Chapter Thirteen: It’s Hard to be Good

Tess pushed the hospital tray away and sighed. She had been able to eat a little Jello, and the water went down with no problem. Thank goodness that awful nausea seemed to be gone. She got out of bed and grabbed the rolling rack that held her IV fluids and padded to the bathroom. The pain was not too bad she decided, and she thought about skipping the next pain medication to see what would happen.

Nurse Sinclair, a friendly round faced woman, greeted her as she exited the bathroom. “How would you like me to get rid of this for you?” she said, tapping the IV bag hanging on the rack.

“That would be great. I hate having to drag it with me everywhere.” The tall woman padded back to the bed and held out her arm obligingly.

***

Samantha arrived to find Tess getting dressed. The IV hookup had been removed, and the tall woman was moving around unencumbered. “How are you feeling this morning?” she asked as the beautiful woman turned and flashed a radiant smile.

“A little sore, but otherwise, pretty darn good,” the smile broadened. “I been sprung!” Tess wrapped her arms around Samantha. “I missed you,” she said, dipping her head for a welcoming kiss. “Thank goodness I’m getting out of here.”

Tess had spent her adult life alone, and it had never bothered her before, but now the nights seemed endless. When the time was right, she planned to ask this precious woman to move in with her. She draped her arm across Samantha’s shoulders. “Shall we?” she said, indicating the door with her other hand.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the round faced nurse said, as she pushed a wheel chair into the room.

Tess looked at the chair. “I can walk out under my own steam.”

“Hospital policy states that we have to take you out in a chair,” the nurse said, with her hands on her hips. “Now get in.”

“You’re a regular Nurse Ratchet,” Tess grumbled, but she sat in the chair.

“Good girl. I didn’t want to have to rough you up,” Nurse Sinclair said smiling broadly. She started pushing the chair while Samantha followed them out the door.

“Could we make a slight detour?” Tess asked as they approached Megan’s room. “I’d like to check on my sister before I go.”

Nurse Sinclair smiled. “I figured you might. You stay as long as you want, just buzz me when you’re ready.”

“I think I’ll go get a cup of coffee and let you visit with Megan for a little while,” Samantha said. “She just found out she has a sister. You two need some time alone.”

***

Megan smiled as she saw her sister being pushed into her room. This woman had become so special to her over the last couple of weeks. She truly seemed to care about her and never missed a day to visit. Your parents are different – they have to come – but Tess didn’t, and she came anyway. She had made the little girl feel special, and it was wonderful to have someone to talk to that loved horses as much as she did. It had been a shock to find out Tess was her sister, but it was a very welcome surprise.

“Hi big sister,” Megan said as Nurse Sinclair parked the chair next to the bed and left them alone.

“Hi little sister,” Tess replied. “Kind of a shock, huh?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were my sister?” the little girl asked looking up into clear blue eyes.

“Your father didn’t want you to know.”

“Our father”

“No, it takes more than fathering a child to be a father. He’s not my father, but he is yours and you love him, I respect that.” The tall woman smiled. “You, on the other hand, can’t get out of it. You’re my sister, and you’re stuck with me.” Tess reached into the plastic glove and took the child’s hand. “I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I’ve grown to care very much about you, and I wanted to tell you I’m really happy you’re my sister.”

“Me too,” the little girl blinked teary eyes and smiled. “I love you, Tess.”

“I love you too little Sis,” Tess said, as she squeezed a small hand.

***

The next morning found Tess feeling a lot better. The major pain was gone, leaving just a dull ache unless she tried to sit for too long. Walking did not seem to bother her at all, but she did seem to get tired a bit easier. Pretty good for only two days, she thought. “I think I’m going to go to work today,” she said to the little blonde sitting across the breakfast table.” Samantha had insisted on staying with her to take care of her, but she had stayed in the guestroom. Tess was not sure if she was just not quite ready for the next step in their intimacy, or if she was just worried about hurting her. To tell the truth, she was afraid to find out just yet.

“Can’t you take it easy just one more day?” Samantha replied. “Doctor Davies said to wait three to four days.”

“But I feel pretty good, and I get stir crazy just laying around all day.”

“What if I lay around with you?” Samantha asked.

“Oh, I like the sound of that.” Tess wiggled her eyebrows. “Come to think of it, I have been sitting up too long. Perhaps we should go lie down and you can…distract me.” Tess held out her hand to the little blonde.

“That’s not what I meant by laying around, Tess, now you be good.”

Tess smiled. “I’m trying to be good.” She sighed. Perhaps Samantha was not ready. She had promised not to push her, and she wouldn’t, but she didn’t see any harm in a little flirting. When the young woman was ready for the next step in their relationship, Tess was sure she would let her know.

Samantha blushed. She really did think she was ready to take their relationship to a more intimate level, but she wanted their first real time together to be right. She didn’t want to have to worry about hurting Tess. She leaned over and kissed the tall woman. “You be good just a little bit longer love. I promise it will be worth the wait. Now let’s go find a movie to watch, and do the type of laying around that I’m sure won’t hurt you.”

“Yes ma’am,” Tess said, following along like a little puppy dog.
Chapter Fourteen: A Night to Remember
Samantha sat at her drafting table letting the last few weeks replay in her mind. Tess had been so attentive and sweet. And romantic, she reminded herself. When Tess just spoke her name she would tremble, and at night when Tess would go home the emptiness engulfed her. Nothing had happened beyond cuddling and kissing and Samantha had gotten comfortable with the physical closeness again. She wanted to be with this woman always and not just a few evenings a week. Tess had respected her wishes to take it slow, but now the young woman was ready to take the next step. Picking up the phone, she dialed the familiar number.

“Tess Richmond speaking.”

The rich resonate tones were music to her ear and Samantha could feel her heart rate speeding up. “Hi, how’s your day going?” She said, trying to pull her thoughts together.

“Much better now,” Tess said, a smile coming to her face at the sound of her beloved’s voice. “It always brightens up my day to hear your voice.”

“These last few weeks you’ve been taking me out and wining and dining me. It’s been great, but I want to cook you a nice romantic dinner tonight.” Samantha paused, “just the two of us. My cramped little apartment doesn’t really lend itself to a romantic evening, so how about I do it at your place? I promised that if you were good, I would make it worth the wait. Well, you’ve been good…” Samantha paused. “I want tonight to be special.” Samantha was blushing, and she was glad Tess could not see her.

There was a long pause on the line as Tess tried to fathom the implications of Samantha’s words and tone of voice. “That sounds wonderful Hon,” Tess purred. “I can’t wait.”

“Can I drop by and pick up your key so I can get in early and have everything done by the time you get home?”

“Sure, I’ll run down the street and have an extra key made for you. Perhaps if you have your own key, you’ll feel more at home there.” Perhaps you’ll even consider moving in, she thought, relishing the idea of the beautiful woman sleeping in her arms every night.

“Okay, I guess I’d better finish up here so I can get my shopping done and get over to pick up the key. I love you.”

“I love you too. I just wish I had the words to tell you how much.”

“I know how much, I can feel it when you look at me. I can’t explain how, but I do. See you in a little while.”

“Until then…”

Samantha hung up the phone. Just the thought of tonight made her tingle all over with anticipation. It felt good to feel this way again.

***

Tess spent the afternoon pacing around her office. She couldn’t keep her mind on business, no matter how much she tried. All she could think about was tonight, and Samantha. It was pure torture to have to wait. Patience had never been one of her strong suits, and this waiting was driving her crazy. She paced to the window again, sighing as she gazed out at nothing. A small voice behind her brought her out of her thoughts, and she turned to find Samantha standing in her doorway.

“Your secretary said you wanted me to come right in.” Samantha said, closing the door behind her.

“We’re still on for tonight?”

“Of course, silly, I’ve got my car packed with groceries. All I need is my key.” My key, I like the sound of that.

Smiling, Tess reached into her pocket and retrieved the key. “Is this what you need, hmmmm?” She took Samantha’s hand and placed the key in her palm closing her fingers around it. “My place, is your place, and I hope that soon we can make it a permanent arrangement.” Lifting the clasped hand to her lips she brushed them across the young woman’s knuckles. “I love you, Samantha.” She leaned her forehead against the young woman’s. “Forever and ever.”

“Forever and ever,” Samantha repeated as she circled her arms around the tall woman with a sigh.

***

Samantha didn’t have a lot of experience in cooking. She hadn’t lived on her own that long, and at home she never had to cook. She did enjoy cooking though, it was just not much fun only cooking for one. There was a recipe for a chicken and rice dish that she liked very much. She had only fixed it once before and found it was quick and easy to prepare, which was a big plus. Some steamed broccoli and a green salad and she would have a nice, well-balanced meal. She had discovered that Tess seemed to be happy to try new things, so she had no fear that she would not enjoy whatever was served. After all, it wasn’t what she served, but how it was presented that was important. Samantha had bought a lovely lace tablecloth with a delicate pale mauve pattern.

To go with it were two soft gray candles, and a beautiful flower arrangement. The table was perfect, the lights were dimmed, dinner was ready, all that was lacking was Tess. Samantha had timed the trip from Tess’ office to her house. It had taken her fifteen minutes, but that had not been driven in the evening rush. She allowed extra time for that and thought it should take about twenty-five minutes, give or take a minute or two. She glanced at her watch again, and found that it had been thirty minutes since Tess called to say she was on her way home. Not anxious at all are you Samantha, she thought to herself.

***

Tess hung up the phone and smiled. She liked the idea of going home to Samantha. It just felt… right.

A quick stop to pick up a dozen long stemmed red roses, then home, to Samantha. The florist shop was right on the way home, so the stop would not cause much of a delay. She walked in the shop and saw a huge container filled with roses. She caught the eye of the woman behind the counter and pointed to the red ones.

“Beautiful choice.” The sales woman said. “How many did you need?”

Tess started to answer, when a small crystal bud vase caught her eye. In it was a single lavender rose. In her mind she saw the vision of Samantha in that beautiful lavender dress she wore that first time she took her out dancing; it was perfect. “I’ve changed my mind, I want the lavender rose in the crystal vase.

***

Samantha heard the hum of the garage door opening. Tess was home. She dimmed the lights in the dining room and lit the candles, then went to the door in the kitchen that led into the garage. When Tess opened the door she saw Samantha’s beautiful face beaming at her. She returned the smile and brought a rose from behind her back. “For you.”

“Oh it’s beautiful,” Samantha said as she pressed her nose to the petals taking in the delicate fragrance. “Thank you.” She raised up on her tiptoes and kissed Tess on the cheek. Turning she took Tess’ hand, pulling her toward the dining room. “Come on, I want you to eat while it’s still hot.”

“Something sure smells good,” Tess said, following Samantha into the dining room. Soft music played in the background setting a sweet romantic mood. “My table has never looked this good, it needed your touch.” Tess drew the young woman into her arms. “Almost as much as I do.” She leaned down for a quick kiss, but couldn’t bring herself to let it end.

“I’m glad you like it,” Samantha said coming up for air.

“Very much.” Tess reluctantly escorted Samantha to the table and seated her, then took a seat herself. For the first time her house really felt like a home. She scooped up some of the chicken and rice and passed the dish to Samantha. “This looks wonderful.”

“I hope you like it,” Samantha replied, passing the steamed broccoli.

Taking a bite Tess nodded her head. “Just as wonderful as it looks.”

“I think you’re a little biased, but thank you.” Samantha said tasting a bite herself.

“Oh I’m definitely more than a little biased, I admit it.” Tess flashed a radiant smile at her lovely dinner companion. “But it really is good.” She took another bite, and chewed thoughtfully. “Remember that weekend in the mountains I promised you?”

“Mmmm,” Samantha answered, around a mouthful of food.

“How about this weekend,” she said, watching Samantha’s eyes sparkle with excitement.

“That would be perfect,” Samantha said, “I’d love it.

***

Swallowing her last bite, Tess leaned her elbows on the table and placed her chin on her hands. She watched Samantha as she finished her meal, and wiped her face with her napkin. Such an ordinary thing, yet she was mesmerized.

“What are you staring at?” Samantha said as she licked her fingers.

“You. I love to watch you.”

“I’m sure it must be a beautiful sight, watching me wipe my face, and lick my fingers.” Samantha rolled her eyes and laughed at the thought. “I’m sure you’ve entertained women here that were a lot more beautiful to look at than I am.”

The tall woman’s face became very serious for a moment. She knew what the young woman meant by ‘entertained.’ “I have never brought a woman here for sex. That’s what you’re talking about aren’t you?” She watched as the little blonde silently nodded her head. “You know that I’ve had sex with a lot of women, that’s no secret, but I never loved any of them, never wanted to bring any of them to my home. “I love you, Samantha, everything about you, everything.”

The young woman smiled from ear to ear. “I’m glad you let me into your heart and home.

“I really loved coming home tonight, knowing you’d be here waiting for me.” Tess said as she reached out to cover her companion’s hand. “It was the perfect way to end the day, coming home to you.” She lifted the small hand to her lips, kissing the tip of each finger.

“You cooked, so I’ll clean up,” Tess said as she stood with her empty plate, and reached for Samantha’s. She smiled over her shoulder as she carried the dirty dishes to the kitchen.

Samantha followed the tall woman into the kitchen, and found her rinsing the dishes to put into the dishwasher. She walked up behind Tess, wrapping her arms around her and nuzzling into her back. “Can’t these wait ‘til later?” The young woman said, squeezing tightly.

“Yes,” the tall woman said as she turned in the young artist’s embrace. Taking the beloved face into her hands, Tess softly said, “How did I get so lucky?” She leaned down to nibble on Samantha’s ear and brought a hand down to caress a soft round breast. “I love you.”

When Samantha gently pushed her away, the tall woman froze. Had she misinterpreted the young woman’s intentions for this evening? Fear gripped her heart; she would rather be flogged then push her young love into something she was not ready for.

“Samantha, I’m sorr…”

Small fingers touched her lips, silencing her. ” Shhh, I want you Tess, but I’m in charge this time.” Reaching down she laced their fingers together, bringing the long slim fingers to her mouth and kissing them gently. With their hands still clasped, she turned and led her tall lover out of the kitchen and toward the stairs.

Tess followed along like a lovesick puppy, happily relinquishing her normal role as the aggressor. She realized this was not a sexual conquest – it was making love – a totally new experience for her.

Samantha stopped in front of the bed, and turned to face her lover. Reaching up she cupped Tess’ cheek, and felt an involuntary tremor run through the tall woman’s body. Her heart started racing as her lover closed her eyes and pressed her lips into the young woman’s palm. She wound her fingers in the short black tresses, pulling Tess down and capturing her lips. She felt strong arms encircle her body, then slip down to her rounded behind, pulling her tight against the tall woman’s body and squeezing gently. Now it was her turn to shiver. Untangling her trembling fingers from her lover’s hair, Samantha began to unbutton Tess’ blouse, kissing the exposed skin as it appeared.

Tess had never experienced anything close to the excitement building in her body. When she felt the exquisite lips press against the exposed skin of her breasts she heard a moan, and realized it was her own voice.

Samantha pushed the offending cloth off the beautiful broad shoulders of the woman she loved, and reached around behind her to unhook the last obstacle to her lovers breasts. As the bra fell to the floor, she gasped at the sight of the wonderful full breasts that in their aroused state seemed to be reaching out to her. She looked up into incredibly blue eyes, clouded with passion. “You’re so beautiful.”

Strong hands gripped Samantha’s head and guided her to a breast, aching with need. “Yesss, Samantha, yes,” Tess said, as she felt the warm, wet mouth close over an erect nipple. Her knees began to give way. “I can’t stand up any longer,” she said clutching the young woman’s shoulders for support.

Samantha reluctantly released the breast she was making love to, and knelt before the aroused woman. She began to remove the rest of the concealing garments that were keeping her away from her lover’s need. Once the task was complete, she stood up and stepped a few paces away to take in the breathtaking sight of Tess in all her glory. Smiling seductively, she began to remove her own garments, enjoying the smoldering look of desire in her lover’s eyes.

Tess watched Samantha disrobe with barely controlled passion. It was all she could do to keep from tossing her on the bed and ravishing her. She had never wanted anyone in her life as much as she wanted this woman. When the young beauty held out her hand, Tess nearly flew into her arms, drawing the delicious nude body to her and nuzzling into the sweetly scented blonde hair. There were no words that could express the depth of love she felt for this precious woman, yet she felt the need to try to tell her. “I love you, I love you…” she whispered over and over, as her hands roamed down the lovely bare back, settling on Samantha’s firm round behind. “Mmmm, you have a great butt, you know that? So soft and squeezable.” She accentuated the last word with a gentle squeeze.

“You could turn a girl’s head with that kind of flattery,” Samantha said as she pushed the tall woman onto the bed, landing on top of her.

The feel of the beautiful nude body on top of her was sheer heaven. Wrapping her arms around Samantha, Tess flipped them over, so that she was on top. With a hand on each side of the lovely face beneath her, she leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, then her nose, and finally her lips. “I said before that coming home to you was the perfect way to end the day, but I was wrong. Nothing could be more perfect then making love with the other half of my soul. I love you, Samantha, I hope I never disappoint you.”

Samantha saw the tremble of her lover’s chin as she spoke those final words, and she tightened her embrace around the tall woman. “Just never stop loving me, Tess…”

“Never.” The tall woman dipped her head to nibble and suck on an inviting neck. She could feel the rapid heart beat as her lips brushed the pulse point, feel the erratic breathing. Tess had to will herself to slow down, to be gentle and tender. Her only goal, to please the only person in her life she had ever loved. She slid off the little blonde to lay on her side. Propping herself up on an elbow, she drank in the beauty before her. “You’re so perfect,” she said, running her hand lightly over the flat belly, then up to cup an inviting breast. “I’ve never wanted anything in my life more then to make love with you, to pleasure you.” She bent down and kissed the breast she was holding then gazed into the intense green eyes watching her. “I love you. No matter how many times I say it, it’s not enough.”

Samantha rolled over to face her lover, and leaned in to capture those enticing lips. She pushed Tess onto her back again, reclaiming her position on top, as their tongues danced together. She slid down the writhing body, slowly making her way to her lover’s breasts. “So beautiful,” she whispered, as she lowered her mouth, licking and nipping around the edge of the aching nipple, before sucking it into her mouth with a moan.

Tess arched her back, pushing her breast harder into her lover’s mouth, as her fingers entwined in the long golden hair. The soft moans coming from Samantha as she made love to her breasts were intoxicating, and Tess lost herself in them. She shut her eyes tightly and let the sounds and sensations engulf her, carrying her with them, soaring to heights she had never dreamed possible.

Samantha moved until she had better access to her lovers beautiful body, without releasing the breast she was caressing. She ran her fingers through dark curls, and long legs parted in invitation. She brushed a finger along the wet folds, and was rewarded with a gasp, as Tess clutched her firmly to her breasts in a death grip. Over and over she let her fingers brush against her lovers most private place, and felt strong hips thrust up to meet them. Then she pushed inside the slick, inviting warmth of Tess’ inner depths, her fingers matching the rhythm of her lover, thrust for thrust.

“Oh God, Samantha, yesss.” Tess gasped, as she tossed her head back and forth frantically. “Mmmmm,” she groaned softly through gritted teeth as she felt the orgasm pulse to life, her inner muscles gripping and releasing her lover’s fingers. Her body stiffened, and she felt wave after wave wash over her. When it ended, she collapsed back down on the bed. Pulling Samantha in for a fierce hug, she was overcome with emotion, and found herself sobbing into the younger woman’s neck, “I love you, forever and ever.”

Raising up on her elbows, Samantha kissed the tears from Tess’ cheek. “Forever and ever,” she echoed with a sigh. She laid her head down on her lover’s chest, trying to calm the rush of emotions that flooded her as she had watched her lover surrender to her touch. God how I love this woman, she thought, closing her eyes, and breathing in the heady sent of her beautiful lover.

For the first time in her life, Tess felt truly whole, and complete. “You’re amazing,” she said as she ran her fingers through golden tresses.

Samantha pushed herself up to where she was straddling the tall woman. “You’re pretty amazing yourself.” She said, as her hands began a slow survey of her lover’s breasts.

“Oh no, any more and I will melt into a puddle.” Tess said as she stilled the small hands. Gripping Samantha by the waist, she lifted the small woman, tossing her to the side, then rolling over to capture a soft pink nipple in her mouth. The smell of her lover’s arousal was intoxicating, and she nibbled her way down the beautiful body seeking to savor the taste as well.

Samantha realized she could not hold back her release as soon as she felt her lovers tongue enter her. She tried to slow down the building orgasm to no avail. Gripping Tess’ shoulders, she just let go and lost herself to her lover’s touch.

Climbing back up next to the beautiful blonde, Tess pulled her into her arms and held her. Samantha snuggled closer and Tess could feel her breathing slow to the quiet rhythm of sleep. She knew she wanted to end each day for the rest of her life with this precious woman in her arms. “Forever and ever.” She whispered, and kissed the golden head as she closed her eyes, and let sleep claim her as well.
Part II
Chapter Fifteen: A Weekend From Hell
The phone rang and Samantha picked it up. “Hello?”

“Hi-ya, Sam, how’s tricks?”

“Hi, Dusty, I’m great. It’s good to hear from you. One of these days soon, we have to get together so I can tell you everything that’s been happening.”

“How about this weekend? Your mother asked if Roy and I would like to spend the weekend at the cabin with her and your dad. Roy couldn’t turn down an offer like that from the Boss’ wife. Anyway, your mom asked me to call and invite you to come too.” She paused. “I think she thought that I would have a better chance of getting you to say yes.”

“Thanks for the warning, Dusty. I owe you one.”

“Does that mean you’re not coming? It sure would be a lot more fun if you come. We’re Driving up Friday night, so we won’t waste part of Saturday. Come on, Sam, it should be fun, and you’ll get a chance to meet Roy. Whatdaya say?”

“I Would love to meet Roy, Dusty, but I already have plans this weekend.”

“Maybe you should change your plans kiddo. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but she’s planing a surprise birthday party for you.”

“Oh God, Dusty, she knows I hate surprise parties.” Samantha shook her head. “That’s why she hasn’t given me one in the last five years. I finally convinced her that I really didn’t want her to invite everyone, and their dog, to my party. I didn’t even know half the people she would invite. Why would she do that? Never mind, I know why she did it. She just loved to have parties, and she invited all her friends, whether they knew me or not. Made me hate to even think about my birthday.”

“Well, yes, but this one is small, not like the one’s she used to give when you were a kid.”

“My plans are pretty firm, Dusty, but I’ll think about it. Even if I don’t see you this weekend, we’ll get together real soon. I really do have something important I want to tell you.”

“Can’t you tell me now?”

“No, I want to tell you in person.” Samantha said. “But don’t worry, it’s nothing bad. In fact, it’s very good.”

“Okay, Sam, but make it real soon. I’m dying to get all the details. And if you change your mind and decide to go, give me a call and you can ride up with Roy and me. No sense taking so may cars.”

“Soon, I promise. Talk to you later.” Samantha hung up the phone and just sat there. How am I going to tell Mom no, she thought.

***

It had only been an hour since she had talked to Dusty when a knock came at Samantha’s door. She peeked through the peep-hole and saw her mother waiting to be admitted. She didn’t waste any time, Samantha thought. I bet she started over here as soon as Dusty told her I had plans. Samantha opened the door and greeted her mother with a smile, which hid the nervousness she felt. “Mom, what a surprise.” She opened the door wide to invite her mother in.

Sarah McBride gave her daughter a quick peck on the cheek and breezed past her into the small room. Looking around the cluttered little apartment with disdain, she remembered the only extra seat in the place was the bed. “I don’t understand why you prefer this hovel to your place at home.”

“Let’s not get into that again, Mother. I like being on my own, and this is what I can afford.”

Samantha closed the door and crossed to her chair, pulling it over for her mother to sit on. “Please, Mom, sit down.” Walking towards the kitchen she asked. “Would you like something cold to drink?”

“I’d love some iced tea if you have some.” Sitting down, she watched Samantha. “You know, if you would take that job your father offered you, you could afford something nice.”

“We’ve been over this before, Mom. I love what I do, and I won’t give it up to make more money. I make enough to get by”

“Suit yourself, dear, it’s your life.”

“Yes it is and it really bothers me when you belittle my choice of a profession, and the home I am able to provide for myself. It may not be what you’re accustomed to, but it’s mine. I’m a big girl now and I wanted you to be proud of the fact that I am taking care of myself. Instead all you have done is tell me what a failure I am and how dreadful my apartment is.”

“I am proud of you Samantha,” Sarah said sincerely. “Really I am. I guess I was just hoping that you’d come back home if I could convince you this place was unacceptable. It’ hard for a mother when her baby leaves the nest, but I promise I won’t say another disparaging remark about your home.”

She hadn’t expected her mother to apologize and Samantha smiled. “Apology accepted,” she said, reaching into the refrigerator and pulling out a pitcher of iced tea she had made for the occasion. She had been fairly sure that her mother would come after she talked to Dusty, but she had not expected her this soon. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?” she asked, filling two cups with the sweet raspberry tea her mother liked so much. “I know you don’t like slumming it.” Walking back to her mother, she handed her the tea, then sat on the bed across from her.

“I just wanted to see you, dear.” Sarah smiled and sipped daintily on her tea. “You know you haven’t come to see us in a while. We miss you.”

“I’m sorry, Mother, I’ve been kinda busy lately.”

“Your father and I were talking just last night about you, and saying that we just don’t get to see enough of you any more. We thought it might be nice if we all got away for the weekend and spent some time together.”

“I’d love to, Mom, just let me know enough in advance so I can make sure I don’t make other plans.”

“Well, we were hoping you would change your mind about this weekend. It’s the first weekend you father has had off in God knows how long, and we thought a family weekend would be nice.”

“I’m sure Dusty already told you that I already have plans for this weekend. I’ll have to make it next time Dad has some spare time.”

“But we need you to come this weekend. You know that I already invited Dusty and her boyfriend Roy, and they accepted. Couldn’t you change your plans?”

“No, I’m afraid not. This weekend is kind of special.” Samantha thought for a moment, trying to come up with the best way to explain to her mother.

“Samantha, you’re going to be twenty-five years old on Sunday, and we were trying to have a small, intimate, surprise party for you up at the cabin. Twenty-five years is a major milestone in one’s life. I hope you’ll consider changing your plans and letting us share it with you.” Sarah stood and resettled herself next to Samantha on the bed, taking her hand and squeezing it. “Please come, baby. I know it’s short notice, but your birthday sort of snuck up on us this year, and it really took your dad some doing to rearrange his schedule, and take time off.

Samantha didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings, and she knew how hard it was for her workaholic father to take time off, but she wanted to be with Tess. “I’ll see if I can change my plans mom,” she said, hoping Tess would understand.

Sarah wrapped her arms around her daughter and pulled her in for a hug. “It’ll be worth it, Hon, you’ll have a great time. I know it.”

“Sure, Mom,” Samantha answered. I’ll see you at the cabin.”

Sarah took another sip of her tea, then handed the glass to Samantha. “I really need to run, dear. I have a lot of preparations to make. Grabbing up her purse, she disappeared out the door without another word.

***

Samantha picked up the phone and dialed Tess at work. They had been looking forward to this weekend alone in the mountains. She wasn’t sure how the tall woman would take the news that she needed to change their plans. Tess had seemed so happy at lunch today, talking about how wonderful it was going to be to get away, just the two of them.

“Tess Richmond.”

“Hello, Love.” Samantha paused. “My mom just paid me a visit, and she and my dad want me to join them at their cabin this weekend. She gave me this sad story about how hard it is for my dad to get off, and they really want to spend some time with me. Their timing really sucks.”

“I don’t want to cause a problem with your family, Hon, we can put off our weekend if you need to.”

“Mom put so much pressure on me, I just couldn’t say no. I hope you understand that I’d rather spend the weekend with you,” Samantha said.

“It’s okay love, I understand. I want you to go. What’s one weekend out of the rest of our lives?

***

Tess looked at the phone again. This is silly, she thought. You had lunch with Samantha this afternoon, you can make it the through the weekend without talking to her again. But the thought of not seen Samantha for an entire weekend was not going over well with the tall woman. Picking up the phone, she dialed the familiar number.

“Hello?”

The voice at the other end of the line did not sound quite right. “Samantha?”

“Sam’s in the shower, this is Dusty.” Came the reply. “Would you like to leave a message?”

“Just tell her Tess called and said, have a good weekend.”

“Oh, I’m sure she will. What could be more fun than a romantic weekend with David. He is such a hunk.”

“David?”

“Her date for the weekend.” Dusty replied. “Believe me, if I wasn’t so happily paired up, I would be after this one myself.” She laughed. “Do you want Samantha to call you back?”

Tess was speechless, but she managed to get the word ‘no’ out, then hung up the phone.

Samantha had told her she was spending the weekend with her parents. Had she lied? She had canceled their weekend, to spend it with someone else? Tess was devastated. She felt as if her world had just been snatched from her. This couldn’t be happening. Samantha loved her, didn’t she?

The young woman had been her champion in the hospital, defending her against Tucker’s tirade. She had told Tess she loved her, wanted to explore a relationship with her. For the first time in her adult life, Tess felt truly loved. Had Samantha changed her mind? Was she exploring a relationship with this, David, as well? She felt betrayed that Samantha could tell her she loved her, then go away for a romantic weekend with someone else. Was Samantha beginning to question her sexuality? If she had just told her she had doubts, needed more time, it would have been different. She would not be overjoyed at the thought, but she could live with it. She did not want the young woman to enter into a partnership with her if she was not sure. A vision of Samantha in a man’s arms invaded her mind, and she shuddered at the thought of it.

Tess stood up; she had to get out of here, but her legs would not hold her up. She crumpled to the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest she held them there. “No,” she sobbed, as the tears started. She lay her forehead on her knees and rocked back and forth as she cried. She didn’t know how long she sat there like that, her body wracked with sobs. Finally she was able to pull herself together and stand up. Looking at her watch, she was grateful for the late hour. Most people would have already left work, so there was a good chance she could leave without anyone seeing her eyes, swollen and puffy from crying. Walking into the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and tried to make herself look presentable, just in case.

***

Their cabin on the lake had been a favorite place of Samantha’s when she was growing up. It was so relaxing to take her small boat out onto the lake to fish; nothing beat swimming in its cool depths on a hot summer day. Although she had hated postponing her weekend in the mountains with Tess, she was still looking forward to this weekend. It would be nice to spend some time with her parents, but she was really glad that Dusty was along, she had so much she wanted to tell her. Of course with Roy there too, she wasn’t sure how much time she would really get to spend, one on one, with her friend. Samantha listened to the two of them banter as they drove to the cabin, and had to admit they made a cute couple. Dusty fairly glowed when she looked at him.

“It’s the next turn off on your right,” Samantha said, and Roy nodded in reply. They turned onto the small gravel road and as the cabin came into view, she noted that there was an unfamiliar car parked out front. She wrinkled her brow. “I thought you said this was going to be just us, Dusty?”

“Hmmm?” Dusty looked to see what Samantha was looking at. ” That’s David’s car. Didn’t I tell you? Your parents invited him up for the weekend too. He works for your dad.

Samantha’s face flushed red. She couldn’t believe her mom was trying to set her up again. It had been three years since the last fiasco, and after the fuss she had made she thought her parents understood that she did not like them interfering in her love life.

They parked the car and Roy popped the trunk. “You two go on in,” he said. “I’ll get the bags.”

“Thanks,” Samantha answered, starting for the door. She was anxious to talk to her mother about inviting David. Perhaps it was time to tell her parents about Tess and stop this kind of foolishness once and for all. “I wish you’d told me about this,” Samantha said to Dusty, as they stepped up on the porch.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come, and I did so want you to come, Sam.”

Samantha turned to face her friend. “No, I wouldn’t have come. Would you like to know why?” The little blonde did not wait for an answer. “I’m in love with Tess, Dusty, and she’s in love with me. Remember when I told you I had something important to tell you?” Samantha asked. “I wanted to tell you about Tess and me.”

“I’m sorry, Sam, I didn’t know…”

Roy stepped up on the porch, his arms full of bags. “Could someone open the door, please.”

“Sure, Hon,” Dusty said, happy for the distraction.

Samantha followed them in and looked around. No one was in sight. She walked to the downstairs bedroom and peeked in. It was empty. She checked upstairs, and found no one up there either. They must be down by the lake, she thought, starting back down the stairs.

Samantha exited through the back door, and followed the winding path to the lake. She had probably walked this path a hundred times before; this time was different, there was no joyful bounce to her step. She marched with a purpose. As the lake came into sight, she could see her mother and a man standing out on the dock. They turned toward her as she emerged from the tree-lined path, into the open.

Sarah smiled up at David. “Here’s, Samantha, now.” She took a few steps in her daughter’s direction. “Samantha, this is, David. He works for your father.”

David extended his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Your Mom’s been telling me all about you.”

He was a nice looking young man, with blonde hair, and eyes almost as blue as Tess’. Samantha reached out and accepted the proffered hand. “It’s nice to meet you too, David.”

“I’ll just leave you two young people alone to get acquainted,” Sarah said, quickly walking away.

“Mother,” Samantha called, but Sarah just kept walking. She looked back to David, who was nervously shifting from foot to foot.

“It sure is pretty here.” He looked out over the lake. “Any fish in this lake?”

Samantha laughed. “Of course there are. I used to spend half my time when we were up here, out in my boat fishing.”

“A fisherwoman, I’m impressed.” David picked up a stone and tossed it into the water. “How about taking me out in your boat tomorrow morning. I’d love to do some fishing.”

“Sure,” Samantha said. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. He was nice and it might be fun. They were just going fishing, no harm done. But she was definitely going to have a talk with her folks. She was not a child anymore; they had no business interfering in her life like this.

***

Tess tossed her keys on the table and slumped down in a chair. She kept imagining Samantha with some man’s hands caressing her. She would try to push the image from her mind, but it kept returning, over and over. Something had to make this stop; she couldn’t stand it any more. Be reasonable, Tess, she told herself. Just because she went away for a weekend with him, doesn’t mean she’s going to let him make love to her. She wouldn’t do that to you. She loves you.

Tess got up and walked to her liquor cabinet. Pulling out a full bottle of bourbon, she poured herself a glass and sat back at the table. Not bothering to add the usual water to her drink, she winced as the strong liquor burned its way down her throat. The image of Samantha returned, and she squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would stop the unwanted vision. Why would she lie about going away with the man, unless she was planing to sleep with him? Dusty had certainly made it sound as if it was a hot date. She took a few more swallows of her drink, and it no longer burned. Now if she could only drink enough to make the image of Samantha go away.

Her thoughts drifted back to Samantha. Why had she allowed herself to fall in love with the woman? She wouldn’t make that mistake again. It hurt too much. Standing, she grabbed her leather bag and keys, “Two can play this game,” she said, and started for the door.

***

Tess walked into ‘Girls Night Out’ and looked around. It was the first time she had set foot in the place since she sold it to Angela, and she was greeted enthusiastically. “What do I have to do to get a drink around here,” she said, walking to the bar.

Jan had seen the commotion when her ex-boss arrived and had her bourbon and water waiting for her when she reached the bar. “On the house,” she said, handing the drink to Tess.

“Thanks, Jan,” Tess said, taking the drink and sipping it. Turning around, she leaned against the bar, letting her eyes sweep the room. It was a predatory gaze. She didn’t know who, yet, but she planned to sample the delights of at least one of these lovely ladies tonight. She downed the rest of her drink, and turned back to Jan. “Another, please,” she said, setting the glass down on the bar.

“Where’s your little blonde friend?” a voice said from over her shoulder. Tess turned around to find Judy standing before her. She ignored the question and smiled at the lanky brunette. Judy was wearing a tiny tube top that exposed her belly, and a very mini skirt. She let her gaze sweep the body before her. Looking back into Judy’s eyes, she said. “Want to have a little fun tonight?” Not even waiting for an answer, she grabbed Judy’s hand and led her to the dance floor.

As if on command, the song ‘Love to Love you Baby’ by Donna Summer, started playing, and Tess pulled the beautiful brunette close. “They’re playing our song,” she said, grinding her body into Judy’s.

When it came to the art of seduction, Tess was in her element. She leaned down and nibbled at Judy’s neck, as her hands found a well-rounded butt. She squeezed the soft mounds, and pulled the woman closer, as she continued to grind her body into her. “Want to get out of here?” she whispered into a lovely ear and pulled the lobe into her mouth, sucking gently.

“Oh, yes,” Judy panted, her head dropping back, as Tess bit her neck, then placed her mark on it.

Clasping Judy’s hand, Tess pulled her back to the bar. She picked up her drink and downed it. Winking at Jan, she started for the door with the pretty brunette in tow. When they reached her Lexus, Tess pushed her conquest against the car. Leaning down, she kissed her hard. There was nothing sweet, or gentle or loving about it. It was demanding, and cold.

Judy was on fire, and the thought of waiting until they got to her place was torture. “I can’t wait, Tess,” she said, knowing that the mini skirt she wore was no obstacle. Pulling Tess’ hand down to where she needed it, she captured Tess’ mouth, groaning when she felt a large hand spread her legs farther. She pushed her tongue into the tall woman’s mouth. Suddenly Tess stopped responding and pushed her away. Judy’s fingers clung tightly onto Tess’ shirt, trying to pull her back. “Don’t stop now, Lover.”

“I can’t do this,” Tess said, removing the woman’s hands from her shirt.

“Come on, lover, you can’t leave me like this,” Judy said, leaning into the tall woman suggestively. “You know what you do to me.”

“No,” Tess said, pushing her away again.

Judy’s anger flared. “What’s wrong, Tess?” she spat. “I’m not good enough for you anymore?”

“This isn’t about you,” Tess responded. “Please, just go back inside and forget this ever happened.”

“It’s that little blonde number, isn’t it?” Judy said. She saw the look on Tess’ face when she mentioned her, and knew she was right. “I never thought I’d see the day that anyone could clip your wings. But she’s grounded you, hasn’t she, lover?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tess growled. She pushed Judy out of the way and reached to open her car door.

Judy reached out and grabbed the tall woman’s arm, spinning her around. “Why’d you come on to me in the bar? Why’d you bring me out here just to dump me like this? You’re one first class bitch, Tess. You know that?”

“I know,” Tess answered honestly. “I’m sorry.”

Judy slapped the tall woman across the face, then turned to walk away. Stopping, she turned back to face Tess. “I always played by your rules, Tess, because that was the only way I could have you.” She shook her head. “But you don’t play fair.”

Tess had always seen Judy as a –let’s have fun, no strings attached– kinda gal, just like she had once been. Now she was seeing her in a different light. She had not set out to hurt the woman, but she had. She just needed to feel wanted tonight. “I never meant to hurt you, it’s just…” Tess’ words trailed off as tears started down her face. She turned away from Judy, covering her face with her hands.

“Hey,” Judy said, placing her hand on Tess’ shoulder. “You’ve really got it bad for her, haven’t you?”

Tess turned to face Judy, nodding her head. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

“Then what are you doing here? You should be home with her.”

“I’m not sure she want’s me anymore,” Tess said, her voice trembling. “She’s gone away for the weekend with someone else.” She covered her face with her hands as the sobs started in earnest.

Judy couldn’t believe this was happening. Tess, so much in love that she was reduced to tears by a mere slip of a woman. She wrapped her arms around the tall woman and just let her cry on her shoulder. She didn’t know what else to do.

***

It was almost lunchtime when Samantha and David tied off the boat and stepped on shore. They had been fishing since early this morning and it had been a good day for fishing. Samantha was looking forward to a nice fish dinner. It seemed fish always tasted better when you caught them yourself. She smiled at David. “Mom and Dad have never been big on fishing. I’ve always fished alone. It was nice to have the company of someone who enjoys it as much as I do.”

“My pleasure, My Lady,” he bowed deeply, then kissed her hand.

Samantha laughed, but when he didn’t release her hand, she grew silent.

“I had a great time Samantha. Perhaps your parents would let us borrow the cabin sometime and we could come up here and spend a weekend really getting to know each other,” he paused for emphasis. “Without chaperones.” He squeezed her hand.

Samantha gently pulled her hand away. She had hoped that this wouldn’t happen. “I’m really sorry about this, David, but I’m involved with someone.” She shook her head. ” I hope you understand it has nothing to do with you.”

David nodded his head. “I understand,” he smiled. “This is kind of awkward.”

“I know, I’m sorry. If I’d known in advance that my parents were trying to fix us up, I’d have warned you before you wasted your time driving up here.” Wait until this weekend is over, Samantha thought. I’m really gonna give Mom a piece of my mind. She had decided to wait until the weekend was over, not wanting to make a scene in front of their guests.

“Forget it. I know how parents can be.” He picked up the fish and started back to the cabin, leaving Samantha alone on the dock.

***

Sarah looked up and saw David walk in. “Looks like the fishing was good,” she said, eyeing the fish he was carrying.

David was annoyed with the woman for setting him up, but she was the boss’ wife and he smiled. “Yep, we’ll have a fish fry tonight.”

“So, how did you and Samantha get along?”

“Just fine, Mrs. McBride. She’s a very nice girl.”

“I’m glad you think so.” She winked at the young man. ” I knew if you spent some time alone together, you’d hit it off. I just had a feeling you two would be good together. And please, call me Sarah.”

“Mrs. Mc…Sarah, ” David paused, he wished she weren’t the boss’ wife. “Look, nothing is going to happen between Samantha and me.”

“But I thought you said you liked her?” Sarah saw her hopes at finding a nice young man for Samantha crumble around her once again.

“I do like her, very much. In fact, if she weren’t involved with someone else, I would be following her around like a little puppy dog.”

Sarah looked stunned. “Samantha’s involved with someone?”

“That’s what she told me,” David said. “I just think it would be a little awkward if I stuck around.” He deposited the fish in the sink and turned toward the door. “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m going to go collect my things.”

Sarah frowned. Samantha had not mentioned anything to her about being involved with anyone, even though she had asked her several times lately if she had a nice young man in her life yet. Her daughter could be so difficult sometimes. They were only trying to help her find someone to love. Someone to make her happy. She hadn’t even given David a chance, just gave him that silly story about being involved with someone.

David emerged from the bedroom, and Sarah walked him to the door. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” she said. The young man just nodded his head and walked out the door.

Sarah turned and started for the back door, determined to find Samantha and give her a piece of her mind. She heard laughter and looked to see Dusty and Roy coming down the stairs in their swimming suits.

“Don’t fix lunch for us,” Dusty said, as she reached the bottom of the steps. “I made some sandwiches, and we’re gonna picnic at the lake.”

“If you see Samantha, out there, ask her to come seem me. I want to have a talk with her before her father gets back from the market.”

“Will do,” Dusty said, as she grabbed Roy’s hand, pulling him to the door.

A few moments later Samantha arrived. “Did David show you all the fish we caught?” she asked, crossing to the table and siting down. “I finally found someone who likes to fish as much as I do,” she said with a smile.

“Yes, and then you drove him away.” Sarah crossed her arms over her chest.

“David’s gone?”

“Don’t act so surprised young lady. David told me what happened.” Sarah walked to where her daughter sat, shaking her finger in her face.

“Samantha, you’re going to be twenty-five years old tomorrow. Don’t you think it’s about time you at least tired to meet someone? Here I invited a very nice young man for you to meet, and…”

“So, you finally decided to tell me the real reason you wanted me to come this weekend.” Samantha got up and paced back and forth. “You’re trying to set me up again, Mother. You know how much I hate that.”

“Samantha Rose, be reasonable. How are you ever going to find a nice young man and settle down if you won’t even try.”

“I’ve met someone, Mom.” Samantha sat back down and grasped her mother’s hands. “Someone I love very much.”

Sarah’s face brightened. “Well why didn’t you say so before; we would have invited him instead. Your father and I would love to meet him.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Because it isn’t a he mother, it’s a she. I want you and dad to get used to the idea before you meet her.”

Sarah sat staring at her daughter in stunned silence. Hadn’t she spent a small fortune on therapy to try to prevent something like this from happening? Finally she said, “I was afraid something like this would happen when you refused to give up your obsession with that imaginary woman.”

“She wasn’t imaginary, Mom. She was real, and I found her.”

“This is worse than I thought; you’ve convinced yourself she’s real. What do they call people with those delusions, schizophrenic?”

“I’m not schizophrenic, Mother, and I’m not going to argue with you about this.”

“Well, I guess there’s nothing more to say.” Sarah pulled her hands away and started into the kitchen.

“I guess not,” Samantha said. That went well, she thought, as she got up and followed her mother.

Sarah turned to face her daughter again. “Have you ever been with a man, Samantha?”

The little blonde stopped short. “Why would you ask such a question, Mother?”

“Just answer the question. Have you?”

“It’s really none of your business, but I’ll tell you. No, Mom, I’ve never slept with a man, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“What about this woman? Have you slept with her?”

“Yes.”

“How can you know if you like men, if you’ve never tried one?”

“This is not about sex, Mom, it’s about love. I love her. Making a life with the person you love is a wonderful thing. Don’t cheapen it by equating it only with sex. Making love with Tess is a wonderful part of our relationship; but it’s only one aspect of the relationship.” Samantha crossed her arms over her chest, defiantly. “Let me ask you a question, Mom. Have you ever been with a woman?”

Sarah flushed. “What kind of question is that? Of course I’ve never been with a woman.”

Samantha smiled. “How can you know you wouldn’t like women better if you never tried one?” The little blonde saw the faintest look of understanding come over her mothers features, as she pondered her daughter’s words.

“I don’t understand this,” Sarah said. “And I’m certainly not happy about it, Samantha, but I love you, that’s not going to change.” She walked over and embraced her daughter. “I’ll try, but I don’t know how I’m going to tell your father.” Shaking her head she walked back to the kitchen, and began to prepare lunch.

“Tell me what?” Sam asked, putting his sacks down on the table.

Samantha started. She and her mother had been so absorbed in their conversation that they hadn’t even heard him come in.

“That I’m a lesbian, Dad.”

Sam looked from his daughter, to his wife, then back again. “Well,” he paused thoughtfully. “I can’t say that I’m shocked.”

Samantha reached over and took his hand. “I found someone I love very much, Dad.”

“Are you happy?”

“Yes.”

He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. “That’s all any parent can ask for, that their child is happy. I love you, Samantha.

***

Samantha waved as Dusty and Roy drove away. A lot of things had been accomplished this weekend, but she was glad to be home. Shouldering her bag, she marched up the stairs to her tiny apartment. I can’t wait to tell Tess how well the folks took the news. She smiled. It felt so good to have her relationship out in the open with them. Dumping her bag, she went to the phone and dialed Tess’ number. When the machine picked up, she looked at her watch. Hmmm, she thought. I wonder where she is? She heard the beep and began to speak. “Hey, Love, I missed you. Call me when you get in.”

She hung up the phone and picked up her bag. As she unpacked her clothes, she went over the conversation with her parents again. They had understandably not been thrilled, but had made it clear that they loved her, that her sexuality would not change that. She felt bad about poor David, but all in all, it had been a good weekend.

***

Samantha looked at the clock. It was eight PM, and she wondered why Tess had not returned her call. Where could she be? She dialed Tess’ home number again. Perhaps she forgot to check her messages, she thought. When no one answered again, Samantha started to panic. She had a bad feeling that something was wrong. Tess knew that she was coming home on Sunday afternoon, what could have happened to her? “Megan!” she said aloud. “Something must have happened to Megan.” She grabbed her purse and hurried out the door.

***

Samantha walked into Megan’s room and was relieved to see that the child looked well. “Hi, Sweetie,” she said, and the little girl flashed her a big smile.

“Hi, Samantha,” she said, looking around to see if her big sister was with her. “Did, Tess, come with you?”

“No, I just got home from a weekend out of town. I haven’t seen her yet,” Samantha said, not wanting to worry the child about the missing Tess. ” I just wanted to check in with you on my way home. You been doing okay?”

The little girl nodded. “I was just wondering about Tess. She didn’t come to see me this weekend.”

“I’m sure she was just busy. Speaking of busy, I’ve got a lot to do. I’ll see you later, sweetie.” She gave a wave, and turned to leave. Now she was really scared. When she reached the parking lot, she broke into a run. Something was very wrong.

***

Samantha pulled up in front of Tess’ house and parked her car. Rushing to the front door, she knocked several times before fumbling through her purse for the key Tess had given her. Her hand was shaking so much it took her several tries before she could get the door unlocked, and go inside.

She rushed through the kitchen and opened the door to the garage. Tess’ car was parked just as it should be. “Tess!” she screamed, running through the house and up the staircase.

She opened the door to Tess’ bedroom, and the stench almost bowled her over. Tess’ quilt looked like someone had recently vomited on it, and the sour smell permeated the air. There was also the unmistakable odor of stale booze.

Samantha could see that the bathroom door was open, and she rushed to see if Tess was in there. She found the tall woman draped over the bowl, her eyes closed. She appeared to be sleeping. “Oh, Tess,” she said. “What happened to you?” She had seen Tess drink before, but she had never seen her drunk. “Tess,” she called softly, as she knelt next to her tall lover. “Baby, what’s wrong?” She shook her gently, and got no response. “Tess, wake up honey.” She shook the woman a little more briskly, and Tess groaned. Samantha reached up to the towel rack and grabbed a rag, wetting it. Gently she cleaned her lover’s face.

Tess could feel the wet rag on her face, but all she could think of was the pain in her head and stomach. God, she had never had a hangover this bad before. She lifted her head and groaned again, as the room started to spin. Then her stomach clenched, and she started in on more dry heaves. Opening her eyes was painful, but closed didn’t seem much better. She seemed to be able to see the veins in them throbbing in time with pain in her head. Her stomach muscles ached from all the vomiting, and she wondered if she should just stick her head a little further into the toilet and drown herself. At least it would make it all go away. The dry heaves stopped, and she felt the cool rag on her face again. Opening her eyes, she saw Samantha and pushed her hand away, struggling to get up. The room started to spin, and she staggered against the wall.

“Let me help you,” Samantha said, reaching out and grabbing her lover.

Tess pushed her away again. “I don’t need your help.” She made her way to the bed and collapsed on it. That movement was enough to start the dry heaves once more, and she lay on the bed, helpless to stop them.

Samantha didn’t know what to do. She had no experience in getting drunk, or having a hangover. She watched as the dry heaves finally stopped and Tess curled herself up into a fetal position. She wondered what could possibly have happened to cause Tess to do this to herself. Could she be more upset about the cancellation of their weekend than she had let on? She supposed that what Tess needed was time, and she walked to the door, letting herself out.

Samantha walked downstairs and picked up the phone. She remembered that Dusty had talked about getting wasted a few times. Hopefully she could give her some advice on what to do for Tess.

Dusty picked up the phone and was surprised to hear Samantha’s voice. “What’s wrong, Sam? Forget something?”

“I need help with Tess.”

“Tess? What’s wrong with Tess?”

“Oh, Dusty, she’s so sick. She’s been drinking and she’s got a terrible hangover.”

“Not much you can do for her, Sam.”

“There has to be something. I can’t stand to see her like this.”

“Are you sure about this relationship, Sammy? You go away for a couple days, and she goes out partying?”

“Just tell me what to do, Dusty. I’ll deal with why she did this later.”

“Well, when she gets to the point where she can keep something down, give her some water. As much as you can get her to drink. Nothing is going to cure it, but the water will help her body go through it quicker. Aspirin is good for the pain, but she might not be able to keep that down. Try the water first. When she can keep that down, try a little dry bread, then some aspirin. After that, she just needs time to sleep it off. Keep giving her water as often as she’ll take it. Wish I could give you a magic cure that would fix her right up, but if there is one, I’ve never heard of it.”

“Thanks, Dusty, I owe you one.”

“Anytime, my friend. Talk to you later.”

***

When Tess awoke the next morning, she still felt like hell. “I must be getting old, she thought. I know it’s been years, but I don’t remember ever having a hangover this bad before. Or was it that she had never drunk this much before?

She opened her eyes and sat up. Her head throbbed, but the room was no longer spinning every time she tried to move. Her stomach was no longer threatening to revolt. As she scooted her legs over the side of the bed so she could stand up she noticed, for the first time, that Samantha was sitting in the overstuffed chair by the window. If there was one thing she was not ready to face right now, it was Samantha. Leaning over she placed her elbows on her knees and lowered her head to her hands, groaning softly.

At the sound of her lover groaning, Samantha started awake. She saw Tess sitting on the side of the bed with her head in her hands. “Are you feeling any better?” she asked, walking over and kneeling in front of the tall woman.

“What are you doing here?” Tess asked, looking up.

“I got worried when I couldn’t find you, so I used my key.” She reached over and brushed the hair out of Tess’ face.

“I’ve been busy,” Tess replied curtly. “Did you have a nice weekend with your parents?” She asked sarcastically.

“My parents can be annoying at times, but yes, I had a good time.”

Tess cringed at the thought of Samantha having a good time with this David person.

Samantha smiled. “I’m really glad I decided to go. We had a good talk and cleared the air about some things.” She reached out to cup Tess’ cheek. “What happened to you, Tess? Is it about our missed weekend?”

“Have I given you the impression something was wrong?” Tess said, as she stood up and walked toward the bathroom. “I went to ‘Girls Night Out’, and had a wonderful time. I got along just fine without you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t feel like company. You can see yourself out.” She paused, “And, Samantha, don’t show up at my home again unless you’ve been invited.” She went into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.

Samantha was stunned. What had just happened? This was twice now that Tess had led her to believe that she cared for her, then just as suddenly dismissed her from her life. She walked to the bathroom door and knocked. “We need to talk,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “And I’m not leaving here until I find out what the hell’s going on with you.”

Tess opened the door and walked back to the bed holding a glass of water with a couple of fizzy tablets bubbling away in it. “I thought I asked you to leave?” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed and sipping her Alka-Seltzer. Her stomach still felt a bit queasy, but she thought she was going to keep this down. Taking a few more drinks, she placed the glass on the bedside table and looked up at Samantha. “Well?”

“I told you I wasn’t leaving until you tell me what’s going on.”

Tess was visibly trembling now; the pent up stress and emotions of the last few days not willing to be held back any longer. “You lied to me, Samantha. You said you were spending the weekend with your parents, but Dusty told me you were spending a romantic weekend with some guy named David.” Tears started down Tess’ face and her voice cracked as she continued. “Did you let him touch you? Did he spend the weekend fucking your brains out?” The tall woman was emotionally exhausted and she slumped back down onto the bed. The anger had dissipated; now she just felt numb. She covered her face with her hands and wept.

Samantha couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How dare you judge me without even talking to me!” She walked closer to the tall woman; reaching out, she turned Tess’ face up so she could look into her eyes. “I didn’t lie to you, Tess. I didn’t know my Mom was trying to fix me up with someone until I got there. Dusty may have shared that information with you, but not with me.” Samantha’s heart broke to see Tess this way, but that did not lessen the anger she felt at the lack of trust her lover had in her. “I told him I was in love with someone, and he didn’t even stay the weekend.” Tears were streaming down her face, and Samantha wiped them away as she continued. “I can’t do this, Tess. I love you, but I can’t be in a relationship where there’s no trust.” She wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. “You love me, but you don’t trust me. How could you believe that I would tell you I love you, then sleep with someone behind your back?”

Tess watched Samantha as she spoke. She was right; Tess hadn’t trusted her. She had just believed the worst. She didn’t deserve someone like Samantha who was open and honest.

“Good-bye, Tess,” Samantha said, turning toward the door.

“Please don’t go,” Tess said, reaching out and grabbing Samantha’s arm. She pulled herself up and wrapped her arms around Samantha’s waist, her body wracked with sobs. She rested her face against the young woman’s belly, her tears wetting Samantha’s blouse. “I know I don’t deserve you, but please don’t leave me…”

Samantha wrapped her arms around Tess, stroking her head. “I don’t know what to do, Tess.” She leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “But this hurts too much. I can’t live my life afraid to be friendly to anyone for fear you will take it the wrong way. Either you trust me, or you don’t.” She knelt down in front of Tess. “I love you, but I can’t live like that.”

“I’m so sorry, Samantha. If it had been anyone but Dusty, I would have laughed it off as ridiculous. But I know she’s been your best friend since you were a kid, and I couldn’t think of any reason why your friend would make up something like that about you.” She placed a hand on each of Samantha’s cheeks.” I should have known better. I’m sorry.” She pulled the young woman into her arms. “Please, don’t leave me. If this weekend is any indication, I don’t think I’d survive if you do.”

The thought that her love had been hurting like this for days, broke Samantha’s heart. It was so unnecessary. It all could have been avoided if Tess had just told her what Dusty had said, and asked her about it. “Shhh, love, it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” She stepped back and wiped the tears from Tess’ cheeks. “We have to promise each other that we’ll never jump to conclusions. If something is bothering us, we’ll talk it out. And above all, we need to trust each other.”

“I promise. ” Tess whispered, wrapping the young woman tightly in her arms again. “I promise.”

***

Tess sat on the couch, munching a piece of dry toast. She had finally taken a shower, and it felt good to feel clean again. Her mouth still tasted like a backed up sewer, but her stomach was not protesting at the moment, and it looked like she was going to keep the toast down.

“You didn’t drink all your water,” Samantha said, as she walked over to her lover with a water bottle and a couple of aspirins.

Tess saw the water. “Baby, I’m about to float away already.” She patted the seat next to her. “Come sit next to me. I’ve told you before that you’re all the medicine I’ll ever need.

Samantha held out her hand and deposited two aspirin tablets into Tess’ hand. “Take these and I won’t make you drink any more water for a while.” She smiled and sat next to the tall woman. She watched Tess swallow the pills then patted her lap. “Lay down and relax, Love, let the pills take effect.”

Tess lay down, closing her eyes and reveling in the joy of feeling secure in Samantha’s love again. How could she have ever doubted her? She felt Samantha’s fingers began to stroke her brow, and she sighed. She never wanted to do anything to jeopardize this relationship again. You’re a first class ass, Tess, she thought to herself. You almost screwed up the best thing that ever happened to you.

Samantha leaned down and kissed her. “I told my parents about us this weekend.”

Tess’ eyes popped open. “How did they take it?” She knew that Samantha had been worried about what their reaction would be.

“Mom wasn’t happy, but she took it pretty well. She said she loves me and she’ll try. I can’t ask any more than that, can I?”

“No, I guess you can’t.”

“But my dad was great. He just asked if I was happy, and told me he loved me.”

Tess was relieved to see that Samantha seemed in good spirits, and that the encounter with her parents had not been as horrible as she had feared it might be.

Tess sat up and took Samantha’s hands in her own. “I…I need to tell you something…” she stammered, looking down at their clasped hands.

“What’s wrong, Tess?”

“I did something this weekend that I’m not proud of, but I need to tell you.” She brought Samantha’s hands to her lips and kissed them. “I want to always be honest with you. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“I hope you still feel that way when I finish.” Tess looked into her eyes. “I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Samantha cupped her lover’s cheek, letting her thumb gently rub across her lips. “Nothing you could say could make me stop loving you, Tess. Don’t you know that by now?”

“I went to ‘Girls Night Out’ with the express purpose of seducing the first woman that appealed to me, and taking her to bed.”

“And did you?” Samantha asked. “Did you take someone to bed?”

“Judy was there,” Tess said, looking up at Samantha. “Do you remember her? She was the tall brunette that was there that first night I took you out dancing.”

“I remember her,” Samantha shuddered. “She was so beautiful, and she couldn’t keep her hands off of you. I couldn’t help being jealous.”

“I danced with her, Samantha. I…I did more than dance, I practically made her come right there on the dance floor. I asked her to leave with me, and when I got her to the car, I kissed her. She was ready, she wanted it right there, but I couldn’t go through with it. I realized that I had changed. That sex without love was not something I wanted any more. I didn’t love her. I didn’t want her. I wanted you, and I thought I was losing you, so I went home and drank the rest of the night, and into the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever been that drunk.” Tess searched her young love’s eyes. They were sad, but not condemning. “Can you forgive me for making such an ass of myself?”

Samantha pulled her tall lover into her arms. “I can.”
Chapter Sixteen: A Mountain Retreat
Much to Samantha’s delight, Tess made arrangements to take her for that mini vacation in the mountains, and they had been counting the days until the trip. The tall woman was feeling good, the BMT was behind her, and she was building a strong relationship with her sister. Her life had settled into a routine where work and revenge were no longer her main motivation. Her family, which consisted of Samantha and Megan, had taken over that role and she couldn’t be happier about it. She was grateful that Samantha had been so understanding about her need to have her sister in her life, and the two of them became the family she never thought she would have.

“I’m glad I listened to the guy in the video store. That was one of the funniest ones so far,” Tess said to her little sister, as she turned off the TV. They had just finished watching ‘The Gods must be Crazy’. “He said if we like this one, they made a sequel.”

“Oh you have to get that one for sure,” the little girl said yawning.

“You got it, Little Sis,” Tess said as she stood and stretched. “Well I’ve got to go pick Samantha up for our trip to the mountains. I want to get up there before dark.” She reached into the plastic glove and patted Megan’s cheek. “You look pretty beat. Why don’t you get a little nap before dinner, and I’ll see you next week?”

***

The two-hour drive had been worth it, Samantha thought as she carried her bag into the cabin. It was so peaceful here, no people hurrying around everywhere. The little blonde put down the bag she was carrying and went back outside to take in the beautiful scenery. She leaned against the porch rail and took a deep breath of fresh mountain air. Off to her left was the start of a thick forest of fir-trees, lush, green and elegant. To her right, about a hundred yards away, was what appeared to be the landing of a ski lift, with lines going up and out of sight as it went up the mountain.

“I love having you up here all to myself,” Tess said, stepping up behind Samantha, and wrapping her arms around the young woman.

“Mmmm, a weekend with nothing to distract you but me. I think I like that,” Samantha replied, turning in the tall woman’s embrace. “It’s so beautiful here, I’m surprised there aren’t more people around.”

“Not many people come up here this time of year, but wait ‘til ski season, then the place will be packed.” Tess bent down and kissed Samantha. “Come on, let’s go up to the lodge and get something to eat. Then we can come back and I can have my way with you all night long.” She wiggled her eyebrows. ” I always keep my promises.” Tess took the young woman’s hand, and led her down the steps. “This winter I’ll bring you back for some skiing. Would you like that?” she asked, as they turned toward the lodge.

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a skier, more like a snow plow,” the young artist said, smiling up at the tall woman at her side.

“You just haven’t had the right teacher,” Tess said, putting her arm around Samantha’s shoulders and pulling her close as they walked up the hill.

The lodge was large and rustic looking. There was a warm inviting feeling about the place. A rather effeminate man in his late forties welcomed them and greeted Tess like a long lost friend.

“Tess, I don’t remember seeing you up here this time of year before.”

“I’ve been here a few times in the off season, but it was years ago.” Tess turned to her companion, “Samantha, this is Michael, the proprietor of this place.”

“Nice to meet you, Michael,” the little blonde responded. “Beautiful place you have here.”

“Thank you,” he said, lifting her hand and kissing it, then turning to his tall friend he said, “didn’t know you were into robbing the cradle, Tess.”

Samantha turned to Tess, a puzzled look on her face. “Is he implying I’m under age?”

“If the shoe fits, sweetie,” Michael said, winking at Tess.

“Just show us to a table and cut the wise cracks, Michael,” Tess bristled.

***

Walking back to the cabin after dinner, Tess realized that she had no idea how old Samantha was. She in love with the woman, and she didn’t even know her age. “You know it’s funny,” she said, turning to Samantha. “I don’t even know how old you are. I never even thought to ask. It didn’t seem important, but now, I’m curious.”

Samantha smiled. “How old do you think I am?”

“Twenty?”

“Nope, just turned twenty-five a couple of weeks ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you just had a birthday?”

“I’ve never liked making a big deal out of my birthday.”

Tess put her hands on her hips. “What am I going to do with you?” She smiled. “I wish I had been with you on your birthday, I would have done something to make it special.”

Samantha returned the smile, and wrapped her arms around Tess’ neck. “You make me feel special every day.” She pulled the tall woman down for a kiss. “Now, turnabout is fair play. How old are you?”

“I’ll be thirty-four on the twenty-first of this month.”

“Wow, that’s only a couple of weeks away. I’m gonna have to hurry if I want to plan a party.”

“No way. No party, just us.”

“But Tess, I want to make your birthday special,” Samantha said, pouting. Her mind started to turn. She had to think of something Tess would like for her birthday, and she only had two weeks to do it.

***

It was well and truly dark by the time they got back to the cabin, and Samantha started to shiver from the chilled mountain air. “You’re cold,” Tess said, reaching for her jacket to wrap around the shivering woman. “As soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops pretty quickly. Let me get a fire started.”

The tall woman opened the flue, then lit the logs that were already stacked in the fireplace. Turning back to Samantha, she reached over and grasped her hand, pulling her over to the couch. “I finally have you all to myself,” Tess said, as she sat down and patted the seat beside her. “Sit here and put your head in my lap.”

Samantha smiled. “Hold that thought, I’ll be right back.” Turning, she walked to the door and flipped the light switch, blanketing the room in darkness, save for the flickering glow of firelight.

“Much better,” she said, striding back to her beautiful lover waiting on the couch. Warmth radiated from the fireplace and Samantha removed her jacket. Smiling, she climbed into her lover’s arms, scooting down until her head was resting in Tess’ lap. “Mmmm, this is cozy.”

“Have I told you lately that I love you?” Tess asked, running her hands through Samantha’s golden tresses.

Samantha wrinkled her brow, and pretended to be deep in thought. “Hmmm, not in the last hour.”

“Well, then I’m definitely overdue.” Tess’ gaze fell on enticing lips, and she leaned down, grazing her lips softly across them. “I love you,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around Samantha and lifting her so the young woman was cradled at her breast. “With all my heart.” Samantha nuzzled into her neck and she sighed. Life was perfect.

Chapter Seventeen: A Surprise for Megan

The trip had been wonderful, but Tess was glad to be home, anxious to see how her sister was doing. The flashing red light on the answering machine across the room caught her eye. Walking over, she pushed the button. The first message was from Amanda.

“Tess, we received the most devastating news this afternoon after you left,” the voice on the machine began.

The tall woman heard Amanda’s voice break as she tried to speak, and her heart stopped.

“The new bone marrow has stopped regenerating blood cells. They’ve given her a drug called GMCSF, which is an agent that activates the bone marrow and gives it a “push” toward reproducing healthy blood cells. The doctor said if this doesn’t work, there’s nothing else they can do for her. I can only pray that I will have good news to tell you when you return from your trip. Call me when you get home.” The message ended.

All the joy seemed to go out of Tess. She was trying to hold everything in, afraid if spoken, her fears would gain power and substance.

Samantha took her hand and pulled her down on the couch, wrapping her arms around the tall woman. “Let it out Tess,” she whispered as she stroked her lover’s back.

Tess felt herself losing control and she tried to push the little blonde away. “I’m okay Samantha, you don’t need to baby me.”

The young woman took her lover’s face in her hands. “I’m not trying to baby you, Tess. I love you. I just want to help.” She wrapped her arms around her again. “Please don’t push me away, you don’t have to be strong for me. Let me be strong for you for a change.”

That was all it took to release the floodgates. Tess lay in her lover’s embrace, tears spilling onto her shoulder. She had grown to love her sister more than she ever imagined she would, and the thought of losing her, just as she was getting to know her, was tearing the tall woman apart.

When she was able to compose herself, Tess pulled away from the comforting embrace. Angrily she wiped the tears from her face. She was angry at the world for letting this happen to Megan, and angry with herself for breaking down like that. This mushy vulnerable side of herself had started to surface when she met Samantha, and continued to grow until now she didn’t even know herself anymore.

“I need to call Amanda.”

Tess waited as the phone rang; silently praying that Amanda would answer the phone. She was definitely not in the mood to talk to Tucker.

“Hello,” the masculine voice came over the wire.

“Tucker, this is Tess. Any news about Megan’s condition?” She would have much preferred to talk to Amanda, but all that mattered at the moment was finding out what was going on with her sister.

“I’m glad you called,” Tucker answered, his voice joyful. “Megan has responded well to the medication, and her marrow has started functioning again.”

“That’s wonderful news. Tell Amanda I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

Tess hung up the phone as the tears started down her face again. She did not wipe at them angrily this time though. She was too overjoyed at the ecstatic news. Rushing across the room, she wrapped her arms around Samantha. “She’s going to be okay,” she said, pulling the young woman tight against her.

“Thank God,” Samantha responded, tears starting down her own face as well.

***

“Hey, Little Sis, I hear you’ve not been doing too well,” Tess said, as she walked into the hospital room.

Hazel eyes tracked to blue and the little girl smiled sadly. “Look’s like you went to a lot of trouble for nothing,” she replied.

“I don’t want to hear that kind of talk,” the tall woman said as she put her arm into the plastic glove and squeezed her sister’s hand. “It’s never trouble to help out someone you love, and it wasn’t for nothing. I spoke with Doctor Davies this morning, and he tells me you’re doing great.”

The little girl turned over slowly, that small movement seeming to tire her out. She wanted to lie on her side so she could watch Tess without having to turn her head. “Could you read to me a while?” she asked softly. Even speaking seemed to take too much effort.

“Sure.” The tall woman reached for the stack of books she had brought, and picked up ‘The Island Stallion Races’. She started to read, but soon noticed that Megan had drifted off to sleep. She closed the book and just sat awhile watching the sad little girl sleep.

***

Tess started across the hospital parking lot; it had been a difficult visit. Although the medication had worked and her new bone marrow was busily regenerating blood cells, the setback had sent Megan into a depression and she was having a hard time believing in a recovery. The little girls eleventh birthday was only a little over two months away and Tess decided she wanted to give her a horse. She was hoping it would boost her spirits and get her back on a positive track. So it was a couple of months early – she really didn’t care. Megan needed it now. The only problem she could see was her parents. She avoided Tucker most of the time, but her relationship with Amanda was pretty good. She would ask Amanda.

When Tess had bought her house five years ago, one of the selling points had been that it was horse property. She had it in the back of her mind that someday perhaps she would have the time to indulge in that pastime again. As she drove home, her mind was working out all the things she needed to do to get the place ready. She needed to fence in an area in the back, and have a shed built for feed and tack. Her mind was still ticking things to do off her list as she arrived home.

***

Samantha was finishing up dinner as Tess walked in the door. “Hey, good timing.” She wiped her hands and grabbed a couple of TV trays. “I thought we could eat in the living room. ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ starts in a few minutes and I’d like to see it again.” She smiled at the tall woman. “It’s a good one to cuddle up and watch with someone you love.”

Tess wrapped her arms around Samantha. “Mmm, sounds good. I love to cuddle.” She bent down to nibble on an ear, “and you never know what cuddling can lead to.” She took the trays from her lover’s hands and started into the other room with them.

***

“Mmm, good,” Tess said around a mouthful of food. “This is what I keep you around for.” She flashed a big smile at her beautiful lover.

“Gee thanks,” Samantha said sarcastically. “How was Megan doing tonight?” She asked popping a bite of steak into her mouth.

“She’s really depressed, told me I went through the BMT for nothing.” Tess took another bite and thought a moment. “You know I was thinking about buying her a horse and keeping it here for her.”

“Oh, Tess, that’s a wonderful idea. She’s so horse crazy, that would have to cheer her up.” She smiled at the tall woman. “And I’m sure there’s no ulterior motive on your part, like making sure she spends a lot of time over here when she gets out of the hospital.”

Tess raised an eyebrow. “You know me too well.” She took her last bite and chewed it thoughtfully. “But I really do think it will be good for her.”

“How do you go about finding a horse for a little girl?”

“I’ll call my old friend Tom,” she sat back and pulled the little blonde closer. “He owned the stable I used to frequent in my horse days.”

“I didn’t know you had a horse when you were young,” Samantha said, snuggling a little closer.

“I never owned one, but I rode a lot. We had a stable pretty close to us, and I used to hang out there a lot. I convinced the owner to let me muck stalls for rides. Then when I got to be about thirteen, I convinced a couple of the weekend cowboys to let me exercise their horses for them.”

“What’s a weekend cowboy?”

“That’s someone who loves to get out there on the weekend and ride the hell out of their horses, but can’t take the time through the week to keep them in shape for it. So they need someone like me to feed, groom and exercise them. I kept at it ‘til my hormones really started to kick in at about sixteen or seventeen; then it was good-bye horses, hello women.” She pulled her young lover into her lap and leaned down for a kiss. “Worthwhile trade I might add,” she said, capturing Samantha’s lips and sliding her hand under her shirt to explore.

***

Tess sat across the table from Amanda wondering how to broach the subject of buying a horse for Megan. She was new to this sister business, but it didn’t seem too out of line to want to do this for the little girl. Now if only Amanda would agree.

“Megan mentioned to me that someday she would like to have a horse of her own, and I’ve been checking around to see if I could find a gentle horse for a first time rider.” Tess took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair. “I’ve found one that seems to fit the bill and the vet said she checked out sound. All that’s needed now is for me to go make sure she’s as gentle as they say she is and write the check. I think it would be good for her and I hope you’ll give your permission.”

Amanda frowned. “We don’t have a place to keep a horse.”

“That’s okay, she can stay at my place. I’ll take care of everything, feed, tack.”

Amanda studied the tall woman. Why would she want to buy her daughter a horse? That was not only an expensive item to buy, there was also the upkeep. She had seen Tess with Megan enough to believe that she did indeed care for the child, but this was a commitment that would go on for years to come. Could she trust the woman to keep that commitment and not disappoint Megan?

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure. I spent a good deal of my childhood having a love affair with horses. This is not a hardship for me, Amanda, please let me do this for her.”

Amanda shook her head and smiled. “Okay, but you have to be in charge of the horse. Tucker doesn’t know anything about them, and they scare the hell out of me.” She extended her hand.

“Deal,” Tess shook the proffered hand, an enormous grin taking over her face. “I’m going to see the mare tomorrow. If everything works out, I’ll be by with pictures of her tomorrow evening to show Megan. I’ll call you one way or the other.”

***

“I need you to ride her for me. I want to see how she moves.”

Samantha looked worriedly at the small mare. “Can’t someone else do it? I don’t know how to ride.”

“That’s why I want you to do it. I want to see how she reacts to an inexperienced rider.” Tess rubbed the soft muzzle of the little mare. She would not have even considered asking if she seemed spooky or ill tempered. “Please.”

Samantha looked at the horse. She was tiny compared to Night Wind, the seventeen hand American Saddlebred gelding Tess had been admiring. They had come to find a horse for Megan, but Tess had fallen in love with the big chestnut gelding and decided to buy him too. After all, she reasoned, Megan would not want to ride alone.

“Okay, I’ll do it, but if I fall off I’m holding you responsible.”

“Deal,” the tall woman said as she led the little Appaloosa mare to the small arena. She laced her fingers together to give her partner a leg up.

Samantha nervously held on to the saddle-horn and kicked the little mare. She responded immediately by moving into a quick walk. Tess had to smile as she watched her lover hang on for dear life when the little horse started to trot.

The mare performed well, responding to each command Tess instructed Samantha to give. A couple of times she was a little confused at the mixed signals the little blonde gave, but she never showed any signs of nervousness or bad temper, trying her best to do as requested. Tess couldn’t wait to get her film developed so she could show Megan her new horse.

***

When Samantha and Tess arrived, Megan was waiting. She seemed a bit livelier today. Her mother had told her Tess was on her way over with a surprise, and she couldn’t wait to see what her big sister would bring her. She grinned as Tess approached and called out, “What’s the surprise?” She looked anxiously from her sister to Samantha. It didn’t appear that they were carrying anything.

“Can’t wait, huh? Close your eyes,” Tess said to the excited little girl.

Megan quickly closed her eyes, grinning from ear to ear.

Tess retrieved the picture from her pocket and held the photo of the little Appaloosa mare up in front of the child.

“Okay, you can open them now.”

Megan opened her eyes and gasped.

“She’s yours,” Tess said, as she watched the hazel eyes grow large and round.

“Re…really mine?” the little girl stammered.

“Really yours,” Tess replied. “She’ll stay at my house, but you can come over whenever you want.”

“She’s beautiful,” the little girl said as tears ran down her face. “What’s her name?”

“Well, her registered name is Cotton’s Candy, but they called her Candy. You can call her anything you like though.”

Megan looked at Tess, tears still sparkling in her eyes. “Thank you. It’s the best surprise I’ve ever had in my life.”

Chapter Eighteen: A New Home

Samantha sat at her drafting table, her mind going over the recent turn of events in her life. On Tuesday she spent the day trying to explain to her mother why she wasn’t quite ready to bring Tess over to meet them. On Wednesday she finally got together with Dusty, filling her in on what had been going on. She and Dusty had never really had any alone time at the cabin, and it had been good to be able to share with her old friend. Samantha was anxious for Dusty to meet Tess. She had been her best friend for more than half her life and her fondest wish was that Dusty and Tess would like each other.

She had made arrangements for them all to meet tonight for dinner, and was a little nervous about the meeting. A knock at the door brought the young artist back to the present. Walking to the door she wondered who would be knocking at this hour of the morning. Dusty and Tess would both be at work, and her mother never got up this early. She peeked through the peephole and was surprised to see Tess standing there. A big grin took over her face as she opened the door to welcome the tall woman in.

“What a wonderful surprise. I thought you’d be at work.”

“I missed you,” Tess said, encircling Samantha in her arms and pulling her in for a tight squeeze. “I love you.” She leaned down for a lingering kiss. “I get up every morning to an empty house, and I don’t like it. So, I decided to do something about it.” She led the beautiful little blonde over to the bed and sat down, pulling her down into her lap. “Samantha, I know it hasn’t been very long, well, not in this life anyway, but I want us to live together.” Lifting a small hand and kissing it tenderly, the tall woman continued. “I want to wake up every morning to the sight of you in our bed.” She looked around the little apartment and smiled. “Do you think you could give up all this and come live with me?”

“I don’t know.” Samantha said following Tess’ gaze around the room. “This is an awful lot to give up,” she laughed, before throwing her arms around her lover. “Oh Yesss! I can’t think of anything I want more.”

She was surprised when Tess abruptly stood and walked over and picked up one of the many boxes still stacked around the room.

“Good. Lets get started then. I’ll start taking these boxes out while you pack the things that need packing.” She opened the door and gestured at a stack of boxes out on the landing, with her head. “I brought some boxes,” she said over her shoulder as she started down the stairs.

Samantha walked to the door and watched the tall woman walk to a large U-Haul truck parked in the parking lot.

“Pretty sure of yourself weren’t you? Samantha said, hands on hips.

Tess put the box in the truck then turned to flash a most radiant smile at the beautiful woman standing on the landing. “Yep,” she said as she started back up the stairs. “Now get to work woman, we have a lot do.”

***

They spent the day packing and moving Samantha’s belongings from the tiny bachelor apartment to Tess’ spacious home. Home, Samantha thought to herself as she carried a box into the house. It really does feel like home. Of course any place would feel like home as long as Tess shared it with me. She gave a sigh of relief. Almost done. She was looking forward to soaking her tired muscles is a very hot bath, and relaxing for a while before they had to leave to meet Dusty for dinner. I wonder if there’s time for that? She mused as she stepped into the entry hall. Probably not, she answered herself as she glanced at her watch. It would have to be a quick shower if they were going to be on time.

Tess walked to the beautiful little blonde and encircled her in her arms, lifting her off her feet. She nuzzled into the silky blonde tresses and captured an ear in her teeth. “Mmmm, I love you.”

“I love you too, but if you keep that up, we’re not gonna go anywhere. Did you forget we’re meeting Dusty for dinner tonight? I’m afraid your lustful plans will have to wait ‘til later later.” She smiled seductively, “but when we get back…”

Reluctantly, Tess put the small woman down. “When you’re right, you’re right,” she smiled, “but when we get back….” She leaned down and brushed her lips against Samantha’s.

***

Dusty glanced around the busy dining room looking for Samantha’s familiar face. She was a little apprehensive to finally be meeting the enigmatic Tess. No matter how strange the situation was she was sure of one indisputable fact – that Samantha was head over heels in love with this woman. For that reason alone she wanted to try to like her. She had been appalled at first when her friend had relayed the story to her of how they finally met. Samantha had not gone into all the gory details, but Dusty had gotten the gist of the misunderstanding and turmoil that followed.

She was not sure she could like a person that was capable of purposefully inflicting that much pain on someone, not once, but twice. Especially someone she cared so much about. But Sam loved her, so she had to try. She would not risk losing Samantha’s friendship, and she was sure that if forced to choose between them, Samantha would choose Tess. Her first impression of Tess when she had seen her outside the health club had been that the woman was beautiful but arrogant. She spotted them across the room and started toward them. “Well, here goes nothing,” she muttered to herself as she caught Samantha’s eye and waved.

***

Tess looked up and smiled at the tiny woman as she waved at her partner. She was an attractive little brunette with soft brown eyes. Tiny was the operative word. She doubted the woman was five feet tall, even with her shoes on. She understood that Dusty had not known about her relationship with Samantha, and the conversation they had had, no matter how much it had hurt, had been just girl talk. She had put it behind her. If not for Dusty, she would never have met the love of her life. For that alone, she was determined to try to like this woman. She watched as Samantha stood and hugged her, then ushered her over for the introductions.

“Dusty, this is Tess.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Tess,” Dusty said, extending her hand to the beautiful woman seated in front of her.

Tess took her hand and squeezed it firmly, a radiant smile lighting up her face. “I’ve been wanting to meet you so I could thank you.”

“Thank me?” Dusty interrupted with a puzzled look on her face.

“You were the catalyst that brought Samantha and me together, and I will be eternally grateful.”

Tess’ blue eyes sparkled with warmth and her smile was genuinely friendly. Dusty found she could not help but like her. “You’re welcome. But to tell you the truth, when I first told her about you, I thought she was gonna turn into a stalker and get herself arrested.” She grinned at her friend. “And sure enough…”

“Hey, I didn’t get arrested,” Samantha said as she playfully slapped her friend. “Although I could have been when I ran her down with my car.” She sat next to the tall woman and indicated the seat across from them for Dusty.

“You two really are a pair to draw to.”

“You can say that again,” Tess said as she covered a small hand with her own and gave a quick squeeze.

Samantha pulled a slip of paper out of her purse and handed it to Dusty. “Oh, by the way, This is my new address and phone number. I moved into Tess’ place today.”

“Our place,” Tess corrected.

“Our place,” Samantha repeated, flashing a beautiful smile at her partner.

“Wow, that happened fast. You didn’t even mention that you two had talked about moving in together last night, and today, you’re already living together.”

“I didn’t know last night,” Samantha said, flashing a smile at Tess. “She just showed up on my doorstep this morning and said she wanted us to live together. She was pretty confident too. She brought boxes with her, and the truck was parked downstairs waiting.”

Dusty laughed. “I like a woman who knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to go after it.”

They spent the next hour-and-a- half talking and laughing over a wonderful meal, and at the end of the evening, Samantha was relieved to see that Dusty and Tess seemed to hit if off just fine.

***

Tess parked the car in the driveway and sighed. It was good to be home. It had been quite an eventful day. They had moved Samantha into the house, and she had finally met Dusty; the person responsible for the best thing in her life. She walked around the car to Samantha and took her hand. The two lovers walked up to the door hand in hand. Opening the door and facing her partner, Tess scooped the small woman up in her arms.

“What are you doing?” Samantha asked, grinning broadly. “Can’t wait ’til we get inside?”

“I’m carrying you across the threshold.” Tess said as she bent down and placed a gentle kiss on the wonderfully enticing lips of her partner. “It’s customary to carry your lady love across the threshold of your first home together.” Her expression grew serious. “I have lived here for over five years, but until you came, it never really felt like a home.” Tess’ eyes sparkled with unshed tears. She leaned down again, this time to kiss Samantha’s forehead “From this day forward everything I have is yours,” she whispered, “and I promise to love you…” another soft kiss on upturned lips, “…and take care of you…” a nuzzle into fragrant blonde tresses, “…for as long as I live.”

Samantha wrapped her arms around Tess’ neck. She was speechless. Tears were making their way down her cheeks as the tall woman carried her inside.

The first evening the couple spent together in their home was nothing that would be thought of as exceptional to the casual observer. They cuddled on the couch in front of the television, but really did not pay attention to the screen. They talked, laughed and never lost physical contact with each other. The day ended with the new partners making love for the first time in their own home.

A very sated Samantha fell asleep in Tess’ loving embrace. Time passed, but sleep would not come to the tall woman. She lay on her side watching the gentle rise and fall of Samantha’s breasts as she slept, and a tear came to her eye. Her emotions seemed to come to the surface more and more often since Samantha came into her life. “I love you,” she whispered to the sleeping woman as she softly brushed her fingertips across those oh so beautiful lips. Samantha stirred momentarily, then settled back down. It was still amazing to Tess that this precious woman was able to not only forgive her, but to love her. She lifted Samantha’s hand and pressed it to her lips.

***

Tess awoke to the sound of soft breathing in her ear, and the feel of a warm body pressed up against her back. She smiled; this was perfection. Looking at the clock, she sighed. Almost time to get up. She had taken the day off yesterday to pack Samantha up and move her in, but she would have to go in today. Turning over, Tess stretched her long frame and yawned. She looked at the sleeping form at her side and realized that she could survive anything life could throw at her as long as Samantha was there.

There was a hint of gray showing through the window; it would be light soon. Regretfully she eased herself away from the beautiful sleeping woman at her side. Much as she would have loved to stay where she was, her bladder was sending an urgent message that could not be ignored.

***

Samantha awoke to the sound of loud cursing coming from the bathroom. She bolted out of bed and ran to see what had so angered her partner. She found Tess pushing a towel around the base of the toilet with her foot. “What happened?” she asked, as she turned on the light so she could get a better look.

Tess was embarrassed and also annoyed at her lover. “Damn it Samantha, why do you always have to put the damn cover down on the toilet?

Samantha realized what had happened and burst out laughing. She couldn’t stop herself. It was just too funny.

“Go ahead and laugh. You’re not the one who just sat on a closed toilet and peed all over herself,” Tess said, walking to the shower and turning it on.

Samantha watched as her lover stepped into the shower and closed the door. She could tell that the tall woman was embarrassed, and she felt bad that she had been the cause. The laughing hadn’t helped the situation, but she just couldn’t help it.

***

Tess smiled as Samantha slipped into the shower and wrapped her arms around her, pulling her close. She was already over her mad, and was sorry for snapping at Samantha like that.

“I’ll try to remember not to do that any more. I’m sorry,” Samantha said, as she kissed the muscular back of her partner. “My mother was a real stickler for keeping the cover down. I guess it’s just a habit.”

“I know,” Tess said, turning in her lover’s embrace. “I just really needed to go, and it was dark so I couldn’t see the cover. I guess more than anything else I was embarrassed. I’m sorry for yelling like that.” She started laughing. “I guess it was pretty funny. Do you realize we just survived our first fight?” She took a step back and looked a little sheepish. “I mean the first since we made the commitment to live together.”

“Well, if all the fights we have are resolved this quickly, we won’t have any problems,” Samantha said, patting her stomach. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Tess said, wrapping her arms around the little blonde. “You know, I’m going to be black and blue by the end of the week.”

Samantha looked puzzled. “Black and blue?”

Tess laughed. “I keep pinching myself to make sure this is real and not a dream.” Pulling the small woman close against her body she leaned down for a kiss, and lost herself in the feel of the soft wet body in her arms. “Mmmm, I wish I could spend the morning ravishing you. I hate the thought of leaving. But at least you’ll still be here when I get home and we can pick up where we left off.” Reluctantly she released Samantha and reached for the soap.

Samantha took the soap from her and worked it into a rich lather. Slowly she began to run her soapy hands over her partners beautiful body. “Are you sure you can’t stay a while?” she said, standing on tiptoes and nibbling on a tempting ear.

“I can’t. I have a meeting this morning with an important out of town client, and I just can’t get out of it.” Tess heard the words come out of her mouth, but her resolve was already starting to weaken. Samantha had her wrapped around her little finger, and she knew it.

Samantha pulled Tess under the running water to rinse the soap off, but continued to let her hands roam over her lean nude body. She ducked her head and captured a soft brown nipple with her teeth, then sucked it into her mouth. Instantly she felt it harden.

“Oh God, Samantha,” Tess moaned. “You’re not making it easy, hmmm,” She moaned again as she felt her lover’s hand wander to the coarse curly hair at the apex of her legs, and her knees began to get weak. “You know I can’t stand up when you do this to me.” She opened the shower door and grabbed their towels, tossing them to the floor. Stepping out of the shower, she pulled Samantha with her to the floor. “You win,” she husked, rolling on her side and facing her seductress.

“You know, you’re the only woman who has ever made my legs give out on me.” Leaning over, Tess captured willing lips while her hand slid down Samantha’s warm wet body, fingers seeking her lover’s silky depths. Breaking the kiss, the tall woman nipped her way down a slender neck, then lower still to the young woman’s breasts, licking off the beads of water before sucking an inviting nipple into her mouth. She intensified her sucking when she heard her lover groan, and felt Samantha clutch her tightly, thrusting her hips to push her fingers deeper inside. When Samantha climaxed, Tess rolled over onto her back, pulling the young artist with her, and holding her as her breathing returned to normal. “This was worth being a little late for,” she said, as she kissed the top of Samantha’s head.

“Mmmmm,” was all the young woman could reply.

Tess patted a well-rounded butt. “I have something I want to show you before I leave. I guess I was a little too…ah… distracted last night to remember.” She laughed and continued, “I almost forgot again this morning, you definitely are distracting, my love. Come on, let’s get dressed.”

***

“Make sure you keep your eyes closed,” Tess said as she guided Samantha down the hallway. Opening the door at the end of the hall, she led the little blonde inside. “Now open them,” she said as she stepped back so Samantha could get the full impact of the room.

Samantha couldn’t believe it. The large guest suite had been transformed into a studio. The walls were covered with shelves of varying sizes. She saw that Tess had also installed new lighting to make sure the working area was well lit.

“Do you like it?” Tess asked, as she watched Samantha turn in a circle to see the whole room.

“Oh Tess, I love it, but you didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to. You needed a pleasant place to work, and plenty of shelves so you don’t have to keep everything in boxes.”

“It’s perfect, you even thought of the lighting,” the little blonde said as she wrapped her arms around her lover’s neck and pulled her down for a kiss. “I love you.”

Samantha spent the day unpacking boxes. It was wonderful to finally have a place to put everything away. Not only was her new studio almost as big as her little apartment had been, with no kitchen and bed space needed here, it was all usable space. There were also several wooden cabinets, for more storage, and a huge walk in closet. She decided that for now she would put all of her toiletries in the guest bath. She had noticed that Tess did not keep a lot of clutter. The woman had nothing on her bathroom counters at all except a hand-soap dispenser. She, on the other hand, had lots of clutter, but they were all necessary items.

There was her flowered tissue dispenser, her shell dishes filled with flower shaped scented soaps, body lotion and Bath salts. It was going to be interesting to learn to live with someone who seemed so set in her ways as Tess did. They would both have to make a few compromises, but she was sure the little day to day adjustments the two of them would have to make would be well worth the effort.
Chapter Nineteen: The In-laws
Samantha grabbed her purse and headed for the front door. She was supposed to meet Tess at the hospital in a few minutes, and if she left now she would just barely make it. She opened the door and found her mother walking up the front porch steps. Damn, she thought, I don’t have time for this.

“Mother, what a surprise, I was just on my way out.” Samantha stepped out on the porch, blocking her mother’s advancement. “I’m on my way to visit Tess’ sister in the hospital.”

Sarah breezed right past her and into the house. “Surely you can spare a few minutes to show you mother around your new home.”

The young woman turned around and walked back into the house. “Okay, Mom, but it’s got to be a quick tour. I really need to go.”

The older woman let her gaze sweep the large spacious living room. The beautiful hardwood floor was partially covered with a lovely Oriental rug. There was a large leather couch along one wall, and a love seat and matching recliner on another. An entertainment center stood across from the couch, with a large screen TV, two VCR’s, a DVD player and an elaborate stereo system. The off-white walls were covered in Samantha’s paintings to finish up the décor. “Now this is more like it, at least this Tess person has good taste.” She continued walking through the dining room and into the kitchen. “Very nice, Samantha, very nice. I love the gray and pink color scheme. I’ve always loved that combination.”

Samantha glanced at her watch again. “Mother, please, couldn’t we finish the tour another time? I really need to go.”

“All right, but next time I want the full tour.” She turned to Samantha and put her hand on her shoulder. “When are we going to get to meet Tess? Every time I invite you two over, you come up with an excuse.” She smiled and lifted her hand to the young woman’s cheek, “Your father and I won’t bite her, if that’s what you’re afraid of. We just want to meet her.”

“I’m sorry. I have been avoiding you. It’s just that this is all so new to me.” She drew the stocky woman in for a warm hug. “I really want you to like her. I was just scared I guess.”

“You never need to be afraid of us, Samantha.” Sarah cupped her daughter’s face in her hands. “I know I can be a snob sometimes, but I really want to like her, so don’t worry, okay? We’ll be on our best behavior. I promise. How about bringing her to dinner tomorrow night?”

Samantha shook her head and smiled. “Okay, Mom, I’ll run it by Tess, and if she doesn’t have plans, we’ll be there.”

***

Samantha took a deep breath. I guess I better get it over with, she thought, as she walked down the hall toward Tess’ office. She opened the door and peeked in. “Dinner’s ready,” she said. Crossing to Tess, she began to massage the tense muscles in her shoulders.

“That feels so good,” Tess groaned, leaning her head forward.

“I live to serve,” Samantha said, leaning and wrapping her arms around the tall woman. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you that my mom came by today to check out my new abode. That’s why I was late meeting you at the hospital.”

“Did she approve?”

“Oh yes, very much so. She asked me again to bring you over so they can meet you. I couldn’t put her off any longer.” Samantha walked around and knelt in front of the tall woman. “Would you mind if we go over there tomorrow night? I told her I would check with you and see if you had other plans.”

Tess reached out and pulled the young woman onto her lap. “Of course I don’t mind. You’re my partner, they’re my in-laws, it’s about time we met.”

***

“What if they don’t like me?” the tall woman asked as she and her companion walked to the door and rang the bell. Then remembering that her dad said that the bell was not working, Samantha knocked on the door.

“What’s not to like?” Samantha answered reassuringly, giving her hand a little squeeze. “Besides, no matter what my parents think, I love you. That’s not gonna change. Don’t be so nervous.”

“Well I’ve never been taken home to meet the folks before, it’s a little scary.

Samantha began to rummage through her purse for a key when no one came to the door. “They’re probably in the back and can’t hear the knock. The bell shorted out a while back, and my dad hasn’t gotten around to fixing it.” Samantha said as she unlocked the door and ushered Tess inside. “Have a seat and I’ll go find them,” she said pointing to a comfy looking recliner.

Tess sat as requested and watched her partner disappear through a doorway.

Unaware that anyone was sitting in her living room, Sarah McBride walked into the room from the opposite direction her daughter had just exited. She had been thinking about Blue Eyes and wondering how much like this giant woman from Samantha’s imagination Tess really was. “Hurry up Sam,” she called over her shoulder, “they should be here any moment.”

Tess cleared her throat to announce her presence. Oh, they must be here already, Sarah thought as she glanced in the direction the sound had come from and saw the spitting image of Samantha’s paintings stand and extend her hand. The woman towered almost a foot over her small five foot one inch frame. Stunned, she stopped dead in her tracks.

“Hi, I’m Tess.”

Sam had not expected his wife to stop so suddenly and ran right into her, sending her sprawling across the floor on her ample bosom.

Samantha returned to the sight of mortification on her partner’s face, as her father pulled his wife up from the floor. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you to stop like that. Are you okay.”

“I’m fine, Sam, I just mashed my tits,” Sarah said, and burst out laughing. She flushed red, when she realized what she had just said in front of company, and began brushing non-existent dirt from her dress.

“So much for best behavior,” Samantha said, and joined in the laughter. Looking at Tess, she added, “Well, I guess you’ve met the folks.” She tried very hard to stop laughing but gave up the battle as her father joined in too.

What a way to meet the in-laws, Tess thought as she too finally joined in the laughter. The tension had been broken, and after she got over the initial shock of seeing the small stout woman slide across the floor, she had to admit it was funny.

Finally, Sam was able to take his eyes off his embarrassed wife and really look at the tall woman standing in his living room. Now he understood why his wife had stopped so suddenly. It was true. Somehow Samantha had found Blue Eyes. “I’m Sam,” he said as he extended his hand in greeting. “I’m glad you could come.”

“Thank you for inviting me.”

“I’d like to talk to Tess for a moment,” Sam said, turning to his wife and daughter. “We won’t be long.”

Samantha turned to her partner, silently asking with her eyes if she was okay with this. Tess nodded and gave her an awkward smile. “Okay, I’ll go help mom in the kitchen,” she said, smiling back at the tall woman.

Sam watched as they left the room, then turned to the beautiful blue eyed woman. “Please, sit down.”

Tess sat. She couldn’t help wondering what this was about. He had seemed friendly, and Samantha had said he was okay about them, but she was suddenly worried that he was going to attack her relationship with his daughter.

“As a father,” he began, sitting down in a chair facing the tall woman, “I feel justified in asking you a few questions about your feelings for my daughter. I know she loves you very much.” He cleared his throat. “I love Samantha, and I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

“I don’t either, Sir. I love your daughter more than my own life.” Tess stated quite firmly. “When I found Samantha, for the first time in my life, I felt complete. I understand that you may have a problem with the fact that Samantha fell in love with a woman, but I can assure you that this is not a phase she’s going through. We plan to spend the rest of our lives together. I hope you and her mother can come to terms with that for her sake.”

Sam smiled. “Sarah and I have talked a lot over the last few weeks about the fact that our daughter is a lesbian. We had feared this was a possibility since she was a teenager, but at that time we believed it was a choice, and if we got her help, she could change. I have had a few years to worry and wonder what would happen when she finally brought someone home. This talk is not about whether Samantha should, or should not be a lesbian. She is. That’s a fact.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I think it’s just swell that Samantha is gay. No parent would be happy about something that had the potential to cause their child pain, but we’ve been doing some reading and understand now that this is not a choice she made. If it had been a young man she brought home, I would still want to make sure he had the right intentions as far as my little girl is concerned. All any parent can wish for their child is that they find someone to love them with the kind of devotion you just expressed for Samantha.” He extended his hand once again to his daughters beautiful partner. “Welcome to my family.”
Chapter Twenty: A Birthday to Remember
Tess awoke, and the bed next to her was empty. She got up and padded into the kitchen and found Samantha putting the finishing touches on a breakfast tray. “Morning, Hon, why the tray?”

“I wanted to bring you breakfast in bed for your birthday. Happy birthday, love, now go back to bed,” she said, kissing the tall woman.

Tess pulled the young women close and deepened the kiss. “Mmmm, I think I’m going to like this birthday,” she said, as the kiss ended.

Samantha turned her around and patted her butt. “Now back to bed with ya.”

Tess arranged the pillows so she could sit up in bed, then waited while the little blonde settled the tray with scrambled eggs, bacon and toast across her lap.

“You eat your breakfast, and I’ll go work on dessert.”

“Dessert for breakfast?”

“Special birthday dessert.” Samantha smiled. “Now make sure and leave room.”

“Can’t you stay and share this with me?” Tess looked up pleadingly. “You can’t make me eat alone on my birthday.”

“But I made that for you.”

“There’s plenty here, and besides, you said to save room for dessert.” Tess patted the bed beside her.

Grinning, Samantha climbed up next to Tess and scooped up a bite of eggs to feed her. They took turns feeding each other, and stealing longing kisses between bites.

***

When they had finished the meal, Samantha scooted off the bed and picked up the tray. Tess started to follow her, but the little blonde pushed her back down. “No, you’re not done yet. Did you forget about your special dessert?”

“Can’t we eat dessert at the table?” Tess asked, continuing to walk toward her lover.

“No,” Samantha said. “Special birthday dessert has to be served in bed. She hurried out of the room, leaving Tess to wonder what this special dessert could be.

As the minutes ticked by and Samantha did not come back, Tess thought about sneaking up on the little blonde and surprising her. Thinking better of that plan, she decided to wait as instructed, rather than incur the wrath of the young artist.

“Close your eyes,” Samantha called from outside the room.

Tess closed her eyes as instructed. She could hear footsteps approaching and soon felt Samantha climb up on the bed. Then there was the sound of a match striking, the smell of smoke and melting wax. Oh, she brought a cake, she thought, and wondered why she needed to close her eyes for cake.

“Open your eyes.”

Tess opened her eyes and found a naked Samantha lying beside her with a generous dollop of whipped cream on her belly, and a lighted candle in the center.

“Make a wish,” the beautiful blonde said seductively.

“I wish that on every birthday you give me this special dessert,” the beautiful woman said as she bent down to blow out the candle. She lifted the candle out of the thick whipped cream, licking it off and tossing it to the bedside table. Then she pulled off her nightshirt and tossed it to the floor. “I think you didn’t quite get all the cake iced my love,” Tess said, as she ran a finger through the cream and painted a soft pink nipple. Slowly she licked, then sucked until there was not a trace of cream. “Mmmm, best cake I’ve ever had.”

“Aren’t you going to share?” Samantha said, pushing the birthday girl onto her back. She scooped up the rest of the whipped cream and coated her lover’s breasts, then proceeded to lick them clean. She could feel Tess’ heart speed up and hear her labored breathing. Moving up, the little blonde captured warm sensuous lips as her hands continued to tease her lover’s breasts, carefully avoiding her aching nipples.

Tess was groaning loudly now, and arching her back to push her breasts harder into those wonderful hands. “Yesss,” she cried, when she felt her lovers warm mouth engulf her right nipple, sucking and biting until she thought she would scream from the pleasure of it. Her body was shuddering all over, and she could feel the wet warmth spreading between her legs.

Samantha released her lover’s breast and moved down her body, moaning when Tess instinctively spread her legs to give her access to her hidden treasures. She settled herself between those beautiful long legs, licking sweet nectar from the inside of her thighs. The smell of her lover’s arousal was intoxicating.

Tess was frantic with desire as Samantha nipped and licked the inside of her thighs. Long fingers grasped golden hair as she guided her lover to the center of her need. She felt the warm tongue stroking, then thrust inside. “Ohhh, Samantha, mmm, ohh,” she groaned as the orgasm roared through her body. Collapsing back on the bed, she pulled her young love up and clutched her to her breasts. “I love you,” she whispered.

Samantha pushed herself up, “I love you this much,” she said spreading her arms out as far as they would go, then looking at her arms she added, “they aren’t long enough.”

Tess pulled her back down. “They’re perfect,” she said, capturing Samantha’s lips, and letting her hand wander over the little blonde’s body.

Samantha grabbed her hand, stilling it. “Not now love, I have something I want to give you.”

Tess nuzzled her ear and whispered, “Can’t it wait ‘til later?”

“No, I can’t wait. I want you to see it now.” She scooted off the bed and held out her hand to her beautiful partner.

Tess smiled as Samantha led her down the hall to the studio. The little blonde released her hand and walked over to the closet. Opening the door, she reached inside and brought out a canvas. “I couldn’t wrap it because it’s still a little wet.” She turned it around and was pleased to see Tess’ eyes grow round with surprise when she saw the portrait of her sister and the little Appaloosa mare.

Tess gasped in surprise. The painting was breathtaking. Megan and Candy looked like they could just step right out; it was so life-like.

“Oh, Samantha I love it, it’s gorgeous.”

The young artist had painted Megan like she had seen her in the photo, looking robust and healthy, sitting astride the beautiful little Appaloosa.

“Samantha, would you mind if we give this to Megan? I want her to see herself like this and use it to visualize her goal.” She looked at the smiling child in the painting again. “I’ve been trying so hard to get her to visualize herself like this, but I think it will really help if she can see it.”

Suddenly it dawned on her what she had just asked, and Tess looked at her young love, hoping she would not find disappointment in those clear green eyes. The idea had come to her so quickly that she hadn’t even thought before asking if she could give her birthday gift away.

Samantha was brimming over with joy that Tess was so taken with her gift. She thought it was a wonderful idea to share it with Megan. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said as she stroked her lovers arm. “The way you try to help keep her spirits up is one of the things I love so much about you.”

Tess put the painting down and took Samantha in her arms. “How did I get so lucky?” She bent down and brushed her lips against Samantha’s. “I ask myself that question all the time, and I still can’t figure it out.”

Samantha smiled. “Luck had nothing to do with it. We’re just meant to be together, simple as that.”

***
Chapter Twenty-one: Tess to the Rescue
Tess had been tied up in meetings again, and had gotten away from work late. Samantha was bringing the painting with her to the hospital so they could show it to Megan. It was going to be a few months before the little girl could experience the real thing, and this was the next best thing. She could look at herself astride her own horse, and believe it was really going to happen. As she turned the corner, she saw Samantha waiting for her outside Megan’s door.

“Sorry I’m late, Hon,” she said giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “Been waiting long?”

“Not too long.”

“Good,” the tall woman said, picking up the painting. “I can’t wait ‘til she sees it.” She gazed at the painting lovingly. “It’s so beautiful I hate to part with it, but I know she’ll love it, and that makes it okay.”

“Tucker is in there with her, he got here just before you did.”

Tess was not happy with that news, even though they really had been getting along. She was still uncomfortable around the man, and preferred to see her sister when he was not there.

“We’ll just stay long enough to give her the painting. I’m really not in the mood to be around him right now.” She turned and walked through the door with the little blonde at her side. Megan’s face lit up when she saw them, and Tess smiled in spite of the fact that Tucker was there. “Hey little Sis.”

“Hey big Sis,” the little girl responded. “Whatcha got there?”

“Samantha painted a picture of you and Candy. We thought it should be down here so you could see it and imagine yourself riding her for real. Now I want you to promise me something. I want you to stop believing in the sick little girl you see in the mirror. Don’t even look in the mirror – look at yourself in this painting, and believe this is the way you are now. When you believe something, I mean really, really believe it, you can make it happen. This is the way I see you, and I want you to see it too.” Tess turned the painting around, and held it up for her sister to see.

“Wow Samantha, it’s beautiful. Thank you.” She studied the picture for a moment, then looked at her sister. “You really see me this way?” Megan said as she looked at herself in the painting. The Megan she saw was full of life, with her long red hair blowing in the wind.

Tess smiled. “I really do.”

“Then I do too,” the little girl replied positively. “You know, I used to feel sorry for myself and wonder, why me? But if I never got sick, I never would have known I had such a wonderful person as you for my sister. Sometimes it takes something bad to make something good happen.”

“That’s true,” Samantha said, as she smiled at her lover.

Tess put her arm through the plastic glove, and squeezed her sister’s hand. “Nothing but positive thoughts from now on. Okay?”

The little girl squeezed back. “Okay, I promise.”

“Well sweetie, we have to run. I promise I’ll stay longer tomorrow.” She looked at Megan’s father and acknowledged him with a nod. “Tucker.”

He nodded back. “Good-bye, Tess.”

Samantha stuck her hand in the glove and patted the child. “Bye, Megan, see you soon.”

***

As they walked down the hall, Tess found herself getting more and more annoyed at Tucker. He and Amanda knew the time of day she visited, and usually stayed away to give her time alone with her sister. Why did he have to come today? “He really pisses me off sometimes. He knew I would be there. He should have stayed away.”

“Maybe he wanted to see you. Maybe he wants a chance to get to know his oldest daughter.”

“He blew that chance a long time ago.” She turned to Samantha, “You know, I can honestly say I don’t hate him any more. But I don’t think I could ever learn to love him. Too much has happened.”

“I know, I don’t blame you. I don’t think he does either any more.” She pushed the button for the elevator. “He realizes he started this whole thing, and now he’s sorry and thinks if he hangs around, perhaps you’ll come around.”

“Well, for Megan’s sake, I hope he doesn’t hold his breath, cause it ain’t gonna happen.” She followed Samantha into the elevator. “Where did you park?”

“In the north lot. You…?”

“I’m on the other side.”

With a quick parting kiss, they separated at the door. “I’ll see you at home,” Samantha said as she started off across the lot. She wished she had been able to find a closer spot, but what the heck, she needed the exercise. About half way across the large lot, she heard footsteps behind her. Turning she saw three young men, who looked to be in their early to mid twenties. She picked up her pace and continued on, but kept listening to see if they were following her.

“Hey, blondie,” one of the men called out. “Was that your woman back there we seen you kissin?”

Samantha knew she was in trouble. She was too far away from her car to reach it in time, but she started to run anyway. She could hear them laughing behind her as they started to run too. Franticly she looked around for help, but there was no one in sight. She felt a hand grab her blouse and try to stop her, but she kept going and let it rip. Soon however, the hand caught her hair, and she felt herself being pulled backward and hit the ground hard. She lay on the ground, gasping for breath, looking up at her attackers. Two of them stood over her laughing, while the third stood back looking scared.

“C’mon guys, you scared her, now lets go.”

The tallest of the three, an extremely nice looking fair-haired man, grabbed him and pushed him up against a car. “If you don’t want to take a turn, that’s fine, but shut the fuck up.”

The third one, a rather overweight pimply-faced man knelt by Samantha, holding her down. The tall man turned and stood over the young woman, looking down with a cocky smile.

“You know, blondie,” he said, “me and Frank here have a theory about how to cure dykes like you. All you need is a good fuck by a real man, an it’ll fix you right up.” He grinned as he began to unbuckle his belt.

“Well I don’t see any real men around here,” Samantha spat.

Pimply-face backhanded her across the face for that remark, and she could feel her lip start to swell. He reached and ripped the torn blouse the rest of the way off, when suddenly Tess was there, out of nowhere. She kicked him in the jaw, and the sound of breaking bone shattered the silence. His unconscious body landed in a heap, blood dripping from his nose and mouth. She turned on the pretty boy then and he took a defensive stance.

“You’re gonna pay for that bitch. You broke his jaw.”

“Ask me if I care,” Tess said advancing on him. She could feel the adrenaline pumping through her body. Her muscles readying themselves to fight.

“You may have caught Frank there by surprise, but no woman’s gonna take me down,” he said, as he ran at her swinging a wild punch, which she dodged, then kicked him hard in the groin. He collapsed to the ground, writhing in pain.

Tess looked at the third man cowering on the ground. “What about you?” she said, stalking toward him.

“He didn’t do anything, Tess,” Samantha called to the rampaging woman. “He tried to stop them.”

“I guess this is your lucky day,” Tess said, standing over him. Turning she walked back to Samantha, her expression softening as her eyes fell on the young woman. She picked up the torn blouse and wrapped it around her shoulders, and pulled her in close. “Are you alright?” she asked, kissing her gently on the forehead.

“I’m okay.” The young artist turned her head and the lamplight caught her swollen lip.

“Oh baby, I’m so sorry.” Tess lifted Samantha’s arm to find dirt and gravel ground into an angry red wound. “Lets get you inside and have them check you out.”

“No, I’m okay, I just want to go home. Please take me home.”

“We need to call the police and have this scum arrested first.”

“Please don’t call the police,” Samantha begged, a look of panic in her eyes. She had seen too many news stories of people being arrested, or sued and losing everything, when the criminals were injured, and it looked to her like Tess hurt them pretty bad. She couldn’t take a chance on anything like that happening to Tess.

Tess saw the fear in her eyes and pulled her close. “Hey, it’s okay. I won’t call them if you don’t want me to.” She walked back to the would-be rapists and started going through their pockets, finding their wallets. She pulled out their drivers licenses, then tossed the wallets back. “I know who you are, and where you live,” she said, holding up the licenses to pretty boy, who was still curled up on the ground holding himself. “If I hear of something like this happening to another woman, I won’t hesitate to take these to the police. Next time you won’t get off so easy.” The tall woman slipped the licenses into her pocket and walked back to a shaken Samantha.

***

Samantha was overwhelmed at the speed and ease with which Tess took out her would-be attackers. She knew her partner kept herself in good shape, but was still shocked to witness the change that came over the tall woman when she was defending her. The look in her eyes had been frightening and, somewhere in the back of her mind, a memory surfaced. A memory from a life they had shared together in another time. And even though she looked different, it was a memory of this woman, the woman she loved, covered in blood, and dying in her arms. Willingly giving up her life to protect her.

As Tess approached her, the young woman realized that the adrenaline rush that had been flooding through her was beginning to subside, and her legs were so shaky she felt like they were not going to hold her up any longer. She wanted to cry, but could not allow this weakness to show itself in front of her attackers. She could not bear to show them how much they really scared her. Tess seemed to understand and wrapped her arm around her for support, guiding her away from this frightening scene.

When they reached Samantha’s car, the young woman couldn’t hold it back any longer. Tears welled up in her eyes and poured down her cheeks. Her legs threatened to give out, and she grasped the tall woman tightly to prevent herself from falling. Tess wrapped her arms around Samantha and gently pulled her in for a comforting hug, but instead of soothing her, it only seemed to make her sob harder. The horror of what could have happened to Samantha hit Tess like a fist, and reflexively, she clutched her tightly. Tears ran down her face and fell on the blonde head resting on her breast. “Oh God, Samantha, when I think what could have happened…”

Samantha pulled away and saw the tear stains, and the pain reflected in her lover’s eyes. She pulled herself together, seeing that she was not the only one needing comfort. “But it didn’t, I’m okay. All I got were a few scrapes and bruises. You got there in time.” A questioning look crossed her face. “What made you come, Tess? How did you know?

“I can’t explain it. I just knew. I was walking to my car when I was overwhelmed with a sense of panic, and I knew I had to find you.”

Samantha pulled the tall woman over again for a hug. “You’re my guardian angel.”

“I’m not quite sure you could apply the term angel to me,” Tess said, kissing the top of her head. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

***

Tess knelt beside Samantha as she soaked in a hot bath allowing sore, tense muscles to relax. The fall the young woman had taken not only bruised her hip and shoulder, it had also scraped up the back of her left arm, and Tess was hoping the soak would help get the dirt and grit out so she would not have to scrub the wound. The young woman held a cloth covered bag of frozen peas to her swollen lip, and the sight of the injured young woman broke Tess’ heart. Unconsciously, she kept stroking Samantha’s right arm, which lay on the edge of the tub

Samantha stood up and reached for a towel, wincing at the pull to her sore shoulder. Tess took the towel from her. “Let me do that,” she said, gripping the young woman’s arm and helping her out of the bath. Gently she patted her lover dry, careful not to hurt her. Checking the back of Samantha’s arm, she saw that the soaking did indeed do the trick, and all that was needed was a little disinfectant and a clean dressing. Tess rose and walked to the medicine cabinet and took out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and some gauze. As she finished dressing the wound, she gently kissed the gauze covering. “All better.” Standing, the tall woman replaced the supplies in the cabinet. “You go lie down and rest, and I’ll rustle up something for you to eat.”

“You…cook?” The little blonde laughed.

“I didn’t say I was going to cook, I said I would get you something to eat.” She smiled, “There is a difference you know.”

“Oh, well in that case, I want peppers and mushrooms.”

“Peppers and mushrooms?”

“You were going to order pizza weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then I want peppers and mushrooms on mine.”

“You got it,” Tess said as she leaned down to kiss the edge of Samantha’s mouth.

Chapter Twenty-two: Homecoming

Megan had been in the hospital for four months, and had been counting the days until she got to go home. Now that the day had arrived, she was ecstatic. The chronic fatigue she had been suffering from had eased up some, and her hair was starting to grow back. Tucker had installed an air filtration system in their house to reduce the number of air-borne bacteria and dust. Tess had followed suit. Although it was not a necessity, it was certainly beneficial. The doctor had instructed that she be kept out of crowds, and avoid small children, especially if they had recently been vaccinated, and most importantly to keep her away from anyone they knew to be sick. Amanda had decided to school her at home for the time being to be on the safe side.

Buster had been relegated to the back yard, and was no longer allowed in the house. The doctor had explained that it could take up to a year from the transplant for her immune system to be fully functional, and it was better to be safe than sorry. Megan was not happy with this, but understood the necessity. The most important thing was that she was going to be able to leave this sterile environment and see something other than the inside of the same hospital room, day in and day out.

***

Tess had spent the morning washing and brushing the little Appaloosa mare until she fairly gleamed, while Samantha took on the housecleaning chore. They wanted to make the house and horse as germ free as possible. Megan had been out of the hospital for almost a week, but this was her first visit to her sister’s home and they were taking all the precautions the doctor suggested. The girl would not be allowed to visit the stable area. She could come out in the back yard in the hospital scrubs and mask that Tess had bought, and Candy would be brought up there so the child could briefly meet her and feed her some carrots. Then she would have to strip out of the scrubs and wash her hands before she could go to the window and watch Tess put Candy on a lunge line and put her through her paces.

Tess couldn’t help being nervous. “What if she doesn’t like her?” she said to Samantha, as the young woman joined her and the little mare.

“Stop being such a worrywart, she’s gonna love her,” Sam said as she swatted the tall woman on the butt.

“You’re right,” Tess said rubbing Candy between the eyes. “What’s not to love.” She heard the car pull up in the drive and smiled. “This is it, girl.” She told Candy. “She’s finally here.”

She led the little mare up to the yard and waited while Samantha went to get her little sister ready and bring her out. Candy seemed to sense her excitement and her ears pricked up in anticipation too. The tall woman watched as the sliding glass door opened and the little redhead stepped out into the yard. Even though her mouth and nose were covered with a mask, Tess could tell she was grinning from ear to ear.

Megan held the bag of carrots Samantha had given her as she walked to meet her horse for the first time. Reaching out she rubbed the soft muzzle. “Wow, her nose is so soft.” She reached up higher and patted her neck. “I can’t believe she’s really mine.” She giggled as the little mare nuzzled the bag in her hand, smelling one of her favorite treats. “You want some carrots, huh girl?” Reaching into the bag, she pulled out a carrot and held it up, but when the mare tried to take a bite she dropped it, afraid when she saw those big teeth.

“Don’t worry, she won’t bite you. Just break it into pieces and put it in the palm of your hand. She’ll use her lips to pick it up.”

Megan did as she was instructed, laughing as the soft lips tickled her palm as the little horse retrieved her treats.

Tess’ heart swelled as she watched her sister happily feeding her horse, and she couldn’t wait for the day when she could start teaching her to ride.
Chapter Twenty-three: Forever and Ever
Eight months later.
Megan was so excited she could hardly contain herself. The horses were in the trailer, and she was waiting impatiently in the truck for Tess. They were going for a weekend camp-out and trail ride, just the two of them and their horses. She loved the thought of having Tess all to herself. The little girl idealized her big sister, and their shared love of horses made it even better. She wondered what was keeping Tess, and decided to go and hurry her along.

***

“I wish you were coming with us,” Tess said as she pulled Samantha in for a good-bye hug. “I miss you already.” She leaned down and claimed soft lips in a lingering kiss.

The kiss ended, and Samantha laid her head on the taller woman’s chest. “Do you realize this will be the first night we’ve spent apart since we started living together?”

“Tess pulled her love to her breast for one more embrace before she had to leave. She laid her cheek on the beautiful blonde head and sighed. She did not like the way that sounded. Living together…They did not just live together, they completed each other. Samantha was the other half of her soul. She took a step back so she could look into the young woman’s eyes. “Samantha…” she lifted a small hand to her lips and kissed it gently. “We don’t just live together, you’re my life.” She brought a hand to each side of the little blonde’s face and said sincerely, “I love you. Will you marry me?”

The question came out of the blue, but Samantha did not even hesitate to answer. Publicly committing herself to Tess was a dream come true. “Yes, I’ve dreamed of declaring my love for you in front of God, and everyone.”

Leaning down to rest her forehead against Samantha’s, the tall woman closed her eyes and sighed. “In front of God, and everyone.”

***

Megan backed quietly away from the open sliding glass door. She had not meant to eavesdrop on her sister and Samantha; she just wanted to find out what was keeping Tess so long. The tender scene she had just witnessed played over and over in her mind. She had known that Tess cared very much for Samantha. She did too, but she had thought they were just best friends. Now suddenly, subtle little smiles and pats she had seen pass between them in the past few months took on a whole new meaning.

***

Tess thought she heard something, and looked up just in time to see Megan disappear around the corner of the house. “Uh oh. I think we had an audience,” she said, giving Samantha a quick squeeze, then reaching down and grabbing her backpack. “Not quite the way I wanted her to find out about us. I guess it’s time I had a little talk with my sister.”

“Good luck,” Samantha said, patting the tall woman’s behind as she walked to the door.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Tess called over her shoulder, as she flashed Samantha a smile. Walking to the truck, she wondered what would be the best way to handle the situation. Should she tell Megan she knows she overheard them and ask if she had any questions? The girl might be embarrassed to be caught listening to them like that. Then again, Tess was not sure just how much she heard. Perhaps the best thing would be to act like nothing happened, and then take the little girl into her confidence and tell her about the wedding plans. Either way, she would get to talk to Megan about her relationship with Samantha, but the latter would not cause the child extra embarrassment.

***

Megan smiled as she watched the tall woman walk to the truck. She had to admit that her sister and Samantha seemed perfect for each other, and she wondered why she had never thought of them as a couple before. She remembered watching the ‘Ellen’ show, and wondered if Tess was just afraid to tell her. Grown-ups are so silly, she thought to herself.

“You ready?” Tess said as she climbed in the truck and started the engine.

“Oh yeah,” the little girl answered, grinning broadly at her big sister.

Well, she doesn’t seem upset, that’s a good sign, Tess thought, looking at the smiling child beside her.

“Megan…I…” the tall woman paused a moment to gather her thoughts. “I want to talk to you about Samantha and me. We care very much for each other…” Darn, this is harder than I thought it would be. I’ve never been in the closet; never given a damn if anyone knew, but she’s just a kid, how do I explain so she’ll understand. “I…”

Megan could see how flustered her big sister was, and although it was kind of funny, she decided to put her out of her misery. “You’re gay, and you want to marry Samantha.” She smiled up at her flustered sister. “I understand you know, I used to watch ‘Ellen’,” the child continued. “I think it’s cool, I really like Samantha. Guess now I’ll have two big sisters.”

Tess pulled the child to her for a hug. Thank you, Ellen, she silently said.

***

Megan felt honored that Tess and Samantha wanted her to be the hostess at their commitment celebration.

Her sister had picked her up so she could be there early to greet the guests and get them settled before the ceremony. Tess had also left her in charge of the caterers, and she was so pleased her sister trusted her with these responsibilities. It was not a big affair, and only their immediate families, and Dusty and Roy had been invited. Tess had even invited Tucker, and Megan knew that she had done it for her.

The caterers arrived and Megan showed them where they were to set up, then went upstairs to find Tess. The guests should be arriving soon, and she wanted to see if her sister needed any other help before they got here. Tess was sitting at her dressing table in her robe, blow-drying her hair.

“The caterers got here a few minutes ago and they’re downstairs setting things up,” the little redhead said, as she watched her sister dry her hair. “Anything else you want me to do before people get here?”

Putting down the blow dryer, Tess turned to the child. “Can’t think of anything else I need right now except a hug.” She pulled Megan in for a quick squeeze. “I love you Little Sis. Thanks for all your help.” She kissed the little girl on the forehead. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Megan beamed from the compliment and wrapped her arms around her sister’s neck. “I love you too,” she said as the sound of the doorbell rang through the house. “Uh-oh, they’re starting to arrive. I’d better get down there,” she said, dashing for the door.

***

Megan opened the door to find her mother and father, and another couple she didn’t know walking up the steps behind them. They must be Samantha’s parents, she thought as she opened the door and stepped back to welcome everyone in. Everyone was standing in awkward silence, when Megan remembered she was supposed to be the hostess. Extending her hand to Sarah she introduced herself.

“Hi, I’m Tess’ sister Megan, and these are my parents, Amanda and Marion Tucker.”

Sarah smiled and took the girl’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Megan. I’ve heard so much about you that I practically feel I know you. I’m Sarah, and this is my husband, Sam. We’re Samantha’s parents.”

They all exchanged their hellos when the doorbell rang again. “Oh, that must be Dusty and Roy,” the child said as she started for the door. “Be right back.” Megan retrieved the new arrivals from the doorstep and led them all into the large living room. “Everyone sit down and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be back in a minute.” She left them chatting while she went to check on the caterers and found them finishing up. The large table in the dining room was covered in a pale mauve lace tablecloth, and was filled with a multitude of sumptuous foods.

When Megan rejoined the guests in the living room, everyone seemed to be having a good time, so she decided to go upstairs to ask if it was time to take them all out into the garden. As she started up the stairs, she met Samantha and Tess coming down. They looked radiantly happy, Tess in a charcoal-gray pantsuit with a pale blue silk blouse, and Samantha in a long dress of the softest lavender.

“Are they all here?” Tess asked, as she reached the bottom step.

“Yep, they’re all in the living room talking.”

Tess reached out and grasped Samantha’s hand. “Shall we?”

They walked in to greet their guests hand in hand.

“Thank you so much for coming to help us celebrate our commitment to each other. It means a lot to us,” Samantha said.

“We wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Sarah answered, as she crossed the room and pulled her daughter in for a fierce hug. “I’m so happy for you, both of you,” she continued as she surprised Tess with a hug as well.

This seemed to be a signal for everyone to come and hug the happy couple. Tucker approached them, but hung back a bit. Tess had saved his precious Megan’s life, and over the last year he had grown to care for his oldest daughter. He sincerely wished he had not rejected her all those years ago, but that was water under the bridge and could not be changed. When the others were finished he offered his hand, sure that Tess would not be receptive to a hug.

“Congratulations,” he said, shaking first Samantha’s hand, and then Tess’.

“Thank you. It means a lot to Megan that you came,” Tess said, giving him a subtle reminder that it was because of her sister that he had been included in the invitation. “If you could all follow us, we’ll get started,” she said, taking Samantha’s hand and starting for the door.

Tess and Samantha wanted the ceremony to be out in the open air. For some reason, it just felt right. They led the small procession into the back garden. The side fence was covered in sweet peas, and the roses were in glorious bloom, their fragrance filling the air.

They turned to face each other as their guests gathered around them in a semi-circle. Samantha realized that all her dreams really had come true.

“Tess, you’ve been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. You lived in my dreams, and gave me comfort as a child, but the dreams pale in comparison to the reality of our life together. I need your love as much as I need air to breathe, for to be without either is to be without life. I can’t imagine my life without you, and I pledge all my love and devotion to you for as long as we both shall live.” Both their hands were trembling as she slipped the ring on the tall woman’s finger.

Tess was standing facing Samantha, the young woman’s hands held firmly in her own. There were other people in the garden, but all she could see was the face of the woman she loved. Listening to the beautiful sentiments, she was overcome with emotion. How is it possible to love someone this much, she thought to herself? If someone had told her a year and a half ago, that she would be standing here about to publicly commit herself forever, body and soul, to one woman, she would have thought they were crazy. Yet here she stood, gazing into Samantha’s eyes, falling into their beautiful depths, and never wanting to leave. Her heart was pounding as she tried to push back the emotions overpowering her trembling body; afraid she would not be able to speak the words in her heart to her beloved.

“I never believed that stories of true love filling your heart and soul could be real. In my reality, that kind of love didn’t exist, seemed impossible. Then I met you and my whole world changed. Suddenly my life was filled with love, joy and endless possibilities. I will never know why I deserve your love and devotion, but I gratefully accept it. My heart is so full of love for you I sometimes think it will burst, and there is no longer room in it for the hate I carried with me for so many years. I believe that I have known you forever, over many, many lifetimes. The love we share is timeless, and so for us there is no time, only love, and love is eternal. Knowing this continues to fill my heart with a joy that knows no bounds. To you Samantha, I give my heart, and my promise that even in death, I will never leave you.”

Tess slipped the ring on Samantha’s finger, then raised it to her lips and kissed it as a sweet tear of joy made its way down her face. Leaning down, she gently kissed those perfect lips and whispered, “Forever and ever.”

 

The End

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s