Twilight part 2 by Kim Pritekel

Part 11

 

Jack Renovich looked at his client, and basically boss, mouth opened, jaw slack and eyes glazed.

“What?” he wasn’t sure if he’d heard him correctly.

Dark eyes turned to glare at the slight man over Armani-padded shoulders. “What part of call Foster don’t you understand?” Robert Knowles turned to face the attorney in the expensive suit, that he basically paid for with the exorbitant fees Renovich charged.

“Bob, this is crazy,” Jack tried to reason with the man, and was having a hard time keeping his eyes off Bob’s new nose. It changed his entire face. He’d heard a very watered down version of the story behind it, but wasn’t entirely clear on the actual circumstances. Clearing his throat, he cleared his mind, a little technique he’d picked up at Harvard law. “You’re risking career suicide-”

“Goddamn it, Jack, just fucking do it!” Knowles thundered, slamming a well manicured hand down on the expansive mahogany desk, the thud echoing in the spacious office. The two men locked gazes, a cock fight of wills.

Finally with a heavy sigh, Renovich nodded, looking down at his hands that were tucked into his roomy front pants pockets. “Alright, Bob. However,” he raised his eyes and a finger of warning. “any backlash is yours, and yours alone.”

“Nonsense,” the manager gave his trademark dimpled smile, filled with charm and confidence. “that’s what I pay you for, Jack. You can handle the heat.” He grabbed his Ray Bans off the desk, sliding them into his Jacket pocket. “We still have an eight o’clock tee time?”

“Uh, yeah, we sure do.” Jack tried to smile and not look at the man standing in front of his desk like he was the bastard he really was. It was getting harder and harder to continue working for Bob Knowles. Even the money he’d made off the successful music manager almost wasn’t enough anymore. Almost.

****

Long, knowing fingers worked their way across the smooth, white keys, intermittently hitting the flat and sharps, bringing an emotional jolt to the music as its creator swayed with it, eyes closed to block out her world, which felt as though it were tumbling around her feet.

The swell of the piece made her chest swell in sympathy, throat tighten and breathing hitch, then all fell in a peaceful, satisfying climax.

Music such as this had always reminded Christine of what making love must be like. The caress of fingers brought the body of the music alive, starting slow and sweet, working toward a more chaotic level of excitement that only the release of the intensity could bring about, sending a lava flow of emotion and sensation through everyone lucky enough to be an auditory participant.

The last few notes died away, and blue eyes slowly opened, staring off into the spacious room, high ceiling, the special sound proofing built into the walls by a previous owner.

Christine Gray sighed, hands falling limp to her lap. Her body felt like Jell-O, though not just from the emotional release from the music, but also that of the interview a scant three days prior; not enough time to get the true reading of the fall-out that would ensue, be it in her favor or not.

Running those same long fingers through waves of tumbling dark hair, Christine stood, making her way over to the bar that ran along the back wall of the music room. This was her third visit in as many hours, and her eyes wandered to the same mirrored back wall, reflecting glass shelves of where various bottles of liquor once stood. Her tongue snaked out, the craving for a tequila sunrise making her jowls water. It would take nothing to send Bradley, her gardener outside, out for a little shopping trip.

For a third time, she shook off the want, instead grabbing a bottle of raspberry Fruit 2 O.

Walking over to the French doors that opened up to the grounds of her estate, the singer twisted off the white cap, taking a long swig of the flavored water, smiling at the flavor, and the pride she felt for once again denying the demons she knew would snap at her heels for life. There was a time, not too long ago, when she would have been proud for having a tequila sunrise instead of straight tequila or vodka.

Baby steps.

She did, however, allow herself one small concession. Pulling out a pack of Camels from the breast pocket of her button up shirt, she shook out a long, white cigarette, tucking the gold tip between her lips. She could feel the slight weight of the silver Zippo in her hip pocket, but left the lighter where it was tucked. Tonguing the smoke, making the cigarette dance, she looked out over the beautifully kept grounds. Bradley did a wonderful job, but someday she’d like to do that work herself, making her very own green thumb masterpiece.

She thought back to the tearful phone conversation she’d had with Adam earlier that day. He and Alice had watched the Barbara Walters’ special, of course, and it had been hard for him. Though Christine had left out most names and any particulars involving him, he knew, and he remembered, breaking his heart all over again. To her great relief, he hadn’t been angry with her, but had instead stood behind her one hundred percent, as she knew he would.

Somehow, someday she’d be able to repay him for everything he’d done for her, all the sacrifices he’d made to ensure her anonymity as she’d begun her career. Not to mention everything he’d gone through when they were children on her behalf, including entering the dark world of the streets so she wouldn’t have to be alone.

“Oh, Adam,” she whispered, removing the Camel from her mouth. She held it between her fingers, turning it this way and that, thinking about the fact that Adam, once a heavy smoker, had given up the habit in order to give himself what precious little life he had left.

She tossed the snapped pieces of the cigarette onto the table top where she sat. Sighing, she brought her booted feet up to the table, snaking her hands behind her head and looking out into the dying sunlight of the day. She’d stick around California for a few more days, make sure she wasn’t needed anywhere, or wouldn’t have to fix anymore messes, then maybe she’d take a trip toward the south east.

She was scheduled to be back in the studio in three weeks to record the last album she was contractually bound to, and for the first time in her career, she dreaded it. She felt stifled in her creativity, her audience and fan base having expected a certain formulaic sound from her, which she had happily provided for nearly two decades, only slight variations of the same theme. Christine had the distinct feeling that her fans weren’t being given enough credit, and would probably happily follow her along in a creative journey. Sure, you’d have the select few who were staunchly opposed to change, but Christine was at a point in her life where that didn’t matter.

As she sipped her water, she realized that she’d stuffed herself in the bottle, and now that genie wanted out. She had stopped performing or creating for herself, but instead was writing and playing for the fans, and what they would want, or what they would buy. Yes, Bob Knowles had a lot to do with that, but now he was no longer in her professional picture, so what did it matter? And what was stopping her from following her own advice?

She sighed in disconcerted confusion. Something had to be done before her muse left her for good. The adoration and money were fantastic, for sure, but now all that was for Christine Gray the image, not Christine the person.

“A change is definitely in order,” she muttered, bottle to her lips.

****

The night seemed to drag on, an emergency involving an eight year old boy, pulled out of his dead father’s truck by the firemen with the help of Jaws of Life, but only after he had sat in that tin can of a truck for more than an hour, staring at his father’s lifeless eyes. To say the boy was going to need some counseling after he healed up was a serious understatement.

Willow sighed, tugging her mint green scrub top off, wadded it up and tossed it into the small wicker basket she’d brought with her to gather up all her dirty scrubs. She’d be doing laundry for days with the amount she had, but that was alright. It wasn’t like she had anything else of importance to do on the eve of her three days off.

Rachel and Connor had hit the slopes to mountain bike down in Colorado for a few days, so it was up to her to try and occupy her time. Willow smiled when she thought of last Wednesday when she’d dropped by Rachel’s place. She’d intended to only stay for a short time, but then just stayed on. Finally Thursday afternoon, the redhead had turned to her.

“Okay, hon, you know I love you, but are you going to leave at some point or should Connor and I go have sex at your place?”

How pathetic. When she’d been a kid, as an only child, she’d had to figure out how to keep herself entertained, and she’d done a fine job of it, loving the solitude and alone time. Heck, even when she’d been in college and she and Kevin had first gotten together, they used to fight because she wanted that alone time still, and he wanted to spend all his time with her.

Willow sighed. When had all that changed? Maybe it was because with Kevin she knew she had the option of having company if she’d wanted it, and had taken that option for granted. Now it was just her, and her alone. You could only talk to an unborn baby so much before the one-sided conversation got boring.

Gathering up her belongings, stuffing it all in the wicker basket, she headed out to her truck.

The ranch was quiet, Star whinnying and snorting quietly in the late summer morning, the sun just beginning to wake over the horizon. Willow pulled the truck up to the garage, parking before the closed door, starkly pale in the weak light.

Willow had been contemplating trying for another shift at work, see if she could get the day shift, or at least the mid. She didn’t think it would be too wonderful coming home at six in the morning cold of winter, big pregnant.

The house seemed even more quiet and dark today, Willow flicking on lights as she went, even ones that weren’t necessary for her to move around in. She flicked on the television in the kitchen then the one upstairs in her bedroom as she gathered the rest of her laundry from her home laundry basket. She had no idea what was on, just that she needed to feel like there was someone else in the house with her, someone else knew she was there, knew she was alive and cared enough to spend time with her.

She tried to clear her head and her emotions. That was one thing she was looking forward to losing after having the baby. She hated feeling like she was PMSing all the time, emotions and feelings every which way, hitting every end of the spectrum and back again. During her periods PMS hadn’t been bad, but if anything at all had been bothering her, or if she were excited about something, watch out world! Being pregnant made that ten times worse.

Angrily shoving everything into the wicker basket, she whimpered in frustration once she realized that she had just buried her badge, keys, and sunglasses, as she’d set them atop her scrubs to get them into the house. Throwing all the new clothing out, she tossed the items onto the comforter, then re-stuffed the wicker basket, and headed downstairs to the washer and dryer. On autopilot, she grabbed the cordless phone, clipping it to her pocket on the way down to the unfinished basement, who’s main purpose was to house the pipes, washer and dryer, and the bugs.

The bare bulb came to life with a tug on the chain, illuminating the cool gray of the cement. Willow hated going down there, the bareness reminding her of a terrifying moment in her childhood. Her parents, when they were still together, had moved into a ranch-style house in Denver, the basement unfinished, but the walls had already been framed, turning the dungeon into a spider web maze of two by fours. A four year old Willow had been instructed to go downstairs and grab a piece of luggage that was kept with its mates in the angular alcove created beneath the bare, wooden stairs.

The smell of naked wood and moldy cement meet my nose, making me wrinkle it all up, screwing my whole face up. My saddle shoes make little hollow sounds on each step, my weight too slight to really make them creak. I follow the wall, mostly smooth until the rough seams scrape my palm, the first one makes me jump in surprise. Gathering my strength with a deep breath, I continue down into the abyss.

I asked my mom for a light or something so I can see going down, as the light switch at the top of the stairs doesn’t work. She said I was fine, and to get on down there, and not to be such a baby. I swallow my tears back, my eyes stinging with fear, but I do as she asks, wanting to be a big girl.

I finally reach the bottom of the stairs, and start to feel around for the naked wall switch mom told me was there. I don’t feel it, my panic beginning to grow as the purest darkness I’ve ever known engulfs me, swallowing me whole

My breathing echoes in my own ears, rising with each blind second, the skin of my palms and fingers being eaten up by more rough seams, and then a splinter from part of the framing. I cry out, which turns into a whimper as I swear I hear a monster in the pitch black, come to gobble me up.

“Mommy!” I cry, frantic now to find that light switch. I can hear her music upstairs, and know she can’t hear my cries, and would never know that monster had killed me. “Mommy!” I cry again, louder, crying out as I back into something, swirling, hands in front of me, hands latching not onto a slimy, scaly hand, but framing. Relieved for a heartbeat, I hear something deeper into the room, making me swirl again, desperately trying to see through the sea of ink.

My heart is about to beat out of my chest, shivers constantly passing through me in waves, my eyes as wide and dilated as possible, almost painfully so.

I begin to plow my way through, my fear driving me forward, trying to find that light, that precious little light that peeks down from the open basement door. I hear constant whimpers and cries, and it’s not until later I realize they’re mine. Right now all they’re doing is propelling me to get out, those sounds catching up to me, getting closer, the monster getting closer.

I trip over something, hitting my chin, which clicks my teeth painfully together. Something wet and gooey is on my face, but I don’t care. I realize I’ve found the stairs again, and scramble up them into the world of light.

“Mommy!” I cry, spotting her in the dining room, wiping smudge marks from the glass front of the china cabinet.

“What?” she says, turning. Her eyes get as big as mine were as I fling myself into her arms, my heart only now able to calm. It’s also then that I feel the pain in my jaw. “What happened? What did you do? Where is the bag I asked you to get?”

Willow brought a finger up, tracing the tiny, almost unperceivable scar at the very roundest part of her chin.

The whole things was laughable now, twenty-four years later, but it had been terrifying at the time, and had scarred more than her chin.

Shaking the memory away, not wanting the oppressive grayness to close in on her now, she began to sort the clothing in the basket, which she’d set on the folding table next to the dryer, creating little piles on the cement floor.

Kevin had promised two years ago to finish the basement for her, but had never gotten around to it. Her grandparents hadn’t done it years before as Willow’s grandmother used it as a root cellar. She smiled at the shelving that lined every wall in the large basement, some still holding large, sealed Mason jars of god only knew what.

Her smile grew even wider, remembering those summers spent out there at the ranch, helping her can all the peaches and plumbs, then tomatoes and pickles. Her grandmother would pull out her massive pressure cooker pan, the stainless steel polished to a shine.

For the first couple years after Willow and Kevin had taken the ranch over, she had canned tomatoes and peaches to make her grandmother’s famous peach jelly, but after awhile, she hadn’t had the time anymore. Maybe it was time to take it up again.

Willow poured in the measured cup of Tide, then tossed the cup in with the whites, the lid slamming shut as she turned the dial to the correct setting, and pulled it out, the machine roaring to life as it filled with warm water.

Glad to be finished, Willow hurried up the stairs, the hair standing on the back of her neck as it always did when she nearly ran up those wooden stairs, a shiver of relief passing through her as she stepped out of the basement door, ending up in the kitchen. She always felt foolish afterward, but it happened nonetheless.

Well, … Willow looked around the well-lit room, even as the sun was beginning to break the horizon, hands on hips, what now? Deciding breakfast might be a good place to start, she headed over to the fridge, checking to see what she had, and out of that list, what actually sounded good.

Eggs, waffles, leftover spaghetti. With a sigh, the nurse grabbed a peach, and slammed the door home with her hip. Rinsing the piece of fruit off in the sink, she glanced out the window, watching as the new day spread its light over the miles and miles of empty space surrounding her. It was such a lonely time to own a ranch.

****

Christine paced, waiting, hands tucked into the pockets of her cords. She looked at the same blocks of soundproofing, same kit of drums, red, banded in chrome.

The dark room was becoming monotonous as the minutes bled into a half an hour, and finally after three of those, the inner doors of the studio opened, preceded by the laughing and hooting of her band mates. The great thing about power was that Christine was able to get her own band mates on the album with her; California wasn’t often fond of this practice, and usually insisted on hired musicians for studio sessions.

“Hey, girl,” Joey gushed, grabbing the singer up in a massive bear hug that left her ribs aching. After similar greetings by all the boys, Christine decided it was time to get down to business.

“Okay, guys, settle down. I need to talk to you.” She leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, watching as her beloved friends got settled.

“What’s up?” Eli asked, lightly tapping his sticks on a denim clad thigh.

“Well,” Christine sighed. “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. This time around I’ll give you the good news first. You’ll notice behind me, gentleman, that there is someone missing from the engineer’s booth,” she hiked a thumb toward the huge glass window behind and to the right of her. On the other side two men sat talking, their mouths’ movement the only indication that they were even chatting, as all microphones were turned off at Christine’s request. She needed some privacy for this. “Only Ronny and Evan,” she grinned, which slowly turned to a smirk as realization dawned on her boys.

“Fucking A, did you get rid of that mother fucker?” Davies asked.

“Robert Knowles was fired, yes.”

“Woohoo!” Joey yelled, pumping his fist in the air. “About time.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Okay, now for the bad news.” Christine made eye contact with each of the men, making sure she had their full and undivided attention. “As you guys know, this album is the last one we need to complete to fulfill our contract,” she paused again, once again scanning her band mates. “After we finish recording this today, then do all the touring shit, I’m retiring.”

Christine wasn’t surprised at the uproar that ensued after that revelation. She stayed quiet, letting the worst of the storm pass. She eyed Joey as he stood from his perch on a stool, walked over to her. He said nothing at first, leaning his shoulder against the wall, looking down at the floor, chewing on his bottom lip in thought. Finally he cleared his throat and looked at her profile.

“Why are you doing this, Chris?” his question was soft, though the hurt was evident. She met his gaze, blonde brows drawn in concern and confusion.

“You know, Joey, there comes a point when your heart just isn’t in it anymore. Yeah, I’ve had a great go, broken attendance records, been on Leno, Letterman, all of that. Won the awards and accolades, but when it all boils down to it, I made music for me, not for them,” she waved her hand to indicate unseen fans. “My heart isn’t in this anymore, Joe.”

He stared at her, reading her, trying to understand. Finally he nodded with a sigh. “I think I’ve seen this coming.” He began to pick at a thumbnail. “Shit, the events of Oklahoma City almost a year ago should have been the first clue, huh?” he smiled, though it was weak.

“Yeah. I think so, too.” She returned his smile, but it faded quickly. “I’m sorry, Jo-Jo. I’d never do anything to hurt you, but ultimately my apathy would have hurt the band, anyway. I don’t want us to turn into a joke or a has-been.”

“Yeah. I know. It’s just hard to hear. An era coming to an end,” he shook his head. “Just real hard to swallow.”

“I know, Joey. I know.” She took the guitarist in a quick, but tight hug.

****

Eli and Davies refused to speak to Christine once the session was complete, the album cut, instruments put away and loaded into Eli’s van.

Christine was saddened by this, but mainly she was overtaken by the myriad of feelings and emotions washing through her as she sat in L.A.’s crazy traffic. She felt a combination of elation and profound sadness. Everything she had worked so hard for, dedicating almost twenty of her thirty-two years on, gone, finished, with the snap of her decisive fingers.

She had no doubt it was the right decision, and had no regrets, but was just astonished that the time had gone so quickly. It seemed just yesterday she’d been a kid on the streets back in Queens, just praying to find a fiver on the street to get some breakfast. Now her only limits were her own boredom and discontentment.

Christine knew that once the press got wind of her retirement, they’d tie it to the recent scandal started by Knowles. So she’d look like she was running. It just didn’t matter anymore. She was tired of living her life in the public eye, doing what worked best for them, and not what she herself needed to do.

“Fuck ‘em,” she muttered.

****

Sighing in frustration, Willow bared her teeth as she growled, tugging on the ends of the shirt, trying to bring them together to button the darn thing.

“You fit two weeks ago,” she hissed, finally giving up as she heard the strain being put on the seams. “Dang it,” she looked down at herself, the burgundy shirt hanging limp, exposing her very exaggerated breasts held up in the white, satin bra, her beginning pooch making her pants slightly uncomfortable. “Have to go to the dang fat store,” she pouted, not liking this at all. Stalking over to the closet, she shed the button up, re-hanging it and grabbing a loose-fitting long-sleeve cotton tee.

Walking back over to the mirror, Willow turned this way and that, studying her profile as well as full on, and her posterior, shocked.

“My god,” she murmured. Her misery was cut short by the ringing of the phone.

“Hey, you coming or not?” Rachel said on the other end, irritation marking her voice.

“Yes, I’m sorry. I can’t find a darn thing to wear!”

“What! In the two closets you have, filled to the brim? You’re only coming over here, Wills. It’s not like you need to dress for a friggn’ cocktail party.”

“No, it’s not that,” Willow plopped down on the end of the bed. “I look like a damn Barbie doll. Everything is extremely out of proportion.”

“Oh, you mean cause your breasts are huge now?” the redhead chuckled at the moan that got. “Come on, Willow. It’s all part of it. You look beautiful.”

“I look like a hooker!” The blonde threw herself backward, hand covering her face, other one holding the cordless to her ear. She grimaced at the laugh on the other end of the line.

“Hey, most women would kill for breasts like yours, even before you were preggars. Enjoy it while it lasts. From what I hear, it’s all down hill from here.” She winced at the loud cry that filled her head. Oops. Getting serious, Rachel softened her voice. “Willow, I’m sorry, honey. I was only teasing. You are a beautiful woman, and having that baby inside you has made you even more so.”

“Really?” Willow said hopefully, uncovering her eyes.

“Yes, really. I wouldn’t lie to you about this. You have nothing to worry about. You’re one of those damn women I hate who look good no matter what they’re wearing, or what they’re going through. You have to believe that.”

“I don’t, Rachel. I feel like the ugliest, dumpiest woman to walk the earth.” Willow sat up, running a hand across her ever seeping eyes.

“I know, and I could kill Kevin for doing this to you. But you know I think you’re gorgeous, and always have. Heck, even Connor has mentioned it.”

“You’re so full of crap.”

“No, really. Honestly. I had to smack him for staring at your breasts.”

“Well, that’s not surprising since they’re the size of basketballs.” Willow stood, tucking the phone into her neck as she fastened her watch and slid on the couple rings she wore. She smiled at the chuckle she got.

“No, you liar. Come on. Connor is going to be putting steaks on in a few minutes.”

“Okay. Why are you guys barbequing in the middle of October?”

“Because my honey is a dork.”

“Ah, okay. See you soon.” Willow ended the call and lightly misted on her perfume before grabbing her keys and heavy Jacket. It had been cold and windy all day, and she knew by time she got home that night, it would be even worse.

The drive was slow, the wind even blowing Willow’s two ton all over the road. She grasped the wheel with both hands, fingers tightly wrapped around the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Easing onto the main road that would get her to Rachel’s, she braked, looking over her shoulder, creeping forward as a big rig rushed by, whipping the truck even more into a rocking frenzy. Following in its wake, she merged.

As another car roared by, a chirping filled the cab of the truck. Glancing at her cell phone, which rested in a drink holder in the console, she tried to see who the caller was. Probably Rachel, yet again, wondering where the heck she was. Shocked to see the California area code, she almost roamed into the car in the other lane as she grabbed for the phone.

“Sorry!” she hollered out as the car blared its horn. Straightening her wheel, she used her chin to open the flip phone. “Hi!” Willow grinned from ear to ear at the chuckle that received.

“Hi, yourself. How are you?”

“I’m doing fine. But you know, there’s this friend I have, she’s kind of been AWOL. Think you can help me find her?”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’ve only had time to write those few emails. Forgive me?”

“Hmm, well,” Willow pretended to think, drawing out the angst, “okay.” She grinned at her own silliness. “How has the touring circuit been? Had anymore bras thrown at you?”

“Oh god,” Willow just knew those amazing eyes were rolling. “Crazy people, I tell you.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure it’s horrible to be so loved and adored. Please, please, what can I do to help.”

Christine laughed at the sarcasm in her friend’s voice. “Yes, I know. It’s a hard life, but alas, I’ve decided to end it.”

“What!” Willow pulled off the side of the road to avoid crashing into the sign post ahead.

“The tour life, Willow. Just the tour life,” Christine’s voice was soft, understanding. Willow put a trembling hand to her head, sighing deeply. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” The singer knew how easy it was to upset the pregnant blonde, and often times felt like she were walking on eggshells. She tried to be as understanding as possible. It wasn’t always easy.

“God, I don’t know, guess I just had a flashback or something.” Taking several shaky breaths, she laughed at herself. “That was pretty silly. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. That was a scary night. I should have worded it differently.”

“Wait a second,” Willow’s mind finally began to catch up to the news. “You’re not going to tour anymore?” She rested her elbow on the window ledge, brows drawn in concern.

“Yeah. We made our final album as Twilight, Willow.” Christine looked out the window of her hotel room, seeing the city lights of Miami below her. “I’ve had it. I’m retiring.”

“Oh, Christine,” Willow reached up, brushing her fingers across the smooth surface of the tiny phone, almost in surrogate to caressing her friend’s hand. “I don’t doubt your wisdom in this, as only you know what’s best. But I do hope it works out how you want it to.”

“Thank you, Willow.” Christine walked over to the bed, laying herself down, curled up on her side, curled around Willow’s voice. “Can you get a few days off around the weekend of November tenth through the twelfth?”

“I imagine so. Why?”

“Well,” Christine groaned as she turned onto her back, stretching out her long legs, free hand playing with the material of her thin, ribbed sweater. “we’re going to be in your neck of the woods, Houston. I’d like you to come.”

“See you in concert?” Willow maneuvered the truck back onto the road, already seeing a mental picture of Rachel glaring at her with tapping toe.

“Well, kind of. I was thinking actually that you could tour around Texas with us. We’ll only be in the Lone star State for the weekend, so,” her voice trailed off, hoping the blonde would say yes.

“Yes.”

“Fantastic!” Grinning from ear to ear, Christine gave Willow a sketchy itinerary, promising more solid details as they became available.

“I’m so excited!” Willow gushed, also grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes she worried her grin would one day become irreversible.

“So how are you doing? How’s little you?” Christine asked, trying to imagine if her friend would be showing yet or not.

“Oh god,” Willow blew out in exasperation. “My boobs are the size of a damn house.”

“Wow. That must make life interesting,” the singer smirked.

“You have no idea. It sucks.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see you.” Christine paused, deciding if she should say the next part. “I miss you, Willow.”

The blonde noted the way the singer’s voice had softened, and it put a warm place in her heart, and broad smile on her face. “I miss you, too, Christine. And I can’t wait to see you, either.”

Christine blew out a relieved breath. “Well, I should go. Gotta get up early tomorrow for sound checks, and a tour of Miami. We’ve not hit this venue before. We usually skitter around Orlando, Daytona, that kind of thing.”

“Well, happy dreams to you, and I hope you enjoy your tour. Pick me up something cool, will you? I’ve never been to Florida at all.”

“You got it. Goodnight, Willow. Keep you and little you safe, okay?”

“Will do. Goodnight.” With a sigh, mixed with content happiness and sadness to say goodbye, Willow replaced the phone into the drink holder, and hummed the rest of the way to Rachel’s house.

****

Christine paced, hands clasped behind her back. She felt ridiculous, but she was anxious. She only wished she’d had time to fly out and pick Willow up herself. Rush, rush, rush. That was life on a tour. Very little time to herself, save for the middle of the night, when she was so keyed up from the show; thoughts rattled around her brain- had she sounded good? Had she looked good? Was she entertaining enough?

It never ended until the day she stepped through her own door in Beverly Hills.

They had played at the Astro Dome the night before, and it had been amazing. Christine had watched countless football games played there. Never did she think she’d be playing there, too.

Keyed up from the show, from lack of sleep and food. But mostly she was keyed up with excitement.

“Yo, I’ve been calling you for five goddamn minutes!” Taylor Hammond yelled out.

“What? I’m sorry. What, Taylor?” Snapped out of her reverie, Christine turned toward her red-faced road manager.

“I asked if you wanted to put that last song in tonight or not.”

“Oh, sorry. Uh, yeah. I do.” She was momentarily angry at herself for her indecisiveness. It had only been in the past year that she’d begun to question Bob’s plans for the tours, and even less time since she’d actually taken the plunge and played what she wanted to. Now, with Bob gone, it was a hard habit to break, deciding for herself, expecting Knowles to come screaming at her from the wings at what a stupid idea she had. She craved the creative freedom, but had as yet to get used to it.

“Good. It was a huge hit at the Dome.” The short, balding man turned, cupping the side of his mouth with his hand. “Cue up the lights for that number, Roger!” he yelled up at the lighting engineer, who was in the very back of the large auditorium. A light flickered briefly to let Taylor know his order had been heard and followed.

Christine soon grew bored with the light show that she’d been part of every night for the past three months. Instead she resumed her pacing.

“I’m wondering how many more steps it’ll take before you fall right through, and onto your head.”

Pacing stopping abruptly, booted toe skidding over the time-slicked wood of the apron of the stage. Christine brought a hand up to try and see into the darkened house, stage lights blinding.

Out of the darkness came a small, smiling blonde, overnight bag held in one hand, the other holding a Mason jar.

Wide-eyed like a little kid, Christine hopped down from the apron, running past the few rows of folding, padded chairs until she reached her friend, grabbing her in a crushing embrace. Willow almost dropped her grandmother’s prized peach jam in the exuberant show of affection, but she didn’t mind.

“You look wonderful!” Christine gushed, finally holding the blonde at arms’ length. “How was your flight? Did little you do okay?” her gaze flickered to the slightest pooch in Willow’s shirt, then she met amused green eyes again. “What?”

“Nothing.” Willow felt warm, not only by the stage lights, but also by the caring and genuine concern from the remarkable woman who still looked at her with suspicious eyes. “The flight was fine. I mean, how bad can it be on a private jet?” she raised a brow accusingly. Christine looked down sheepishly.

“Yeah, well, if you think I’m going to let you fly here coach, you’re out of your tree.”

“I’m already out of my tree. But, nonetheless, little me, as you insist on calling her, is doing just fine. And here,” she raised the hand that held the Mason jar. “my grandmother says hello.”

Christine took the jam, chuckling at the thoughtfulness of a woman she’d never met. “This better be as good as you say,” she warned, replete with waggling finger.

“Oh, you have no idea what you’re in for. I’m going to make you French toast, grandma’s recipe, and then you,” said with a poke to Christine’s chest, “are going to absolutely smother it with this, and then you’ll know what Heaven on earth is.”

“What?” The singer looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “What the hell does peach jam and French toast have in common? A match made in Heaven, this is not.”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, woman.”

Christine knew better than to argue with the little blonde, so she nodded like the good little girl, and hugged her friend with one arm, then led her toward the stage.

“So this is where you’ll perform tonight?” Willow asked, taking in the giant screen being installed behind where the drum kit platform had been constructed. Two men shouted instructions back and forth across it’s impressive breadth, tweaking here and there, making sure the screen was secure and operable.

“Sure is.” Christine also took in her surroundings, seeing it through the new eyes of Willow. It really was quite impressive. She turned to see the blonde grinning up at her. “What?”

“I’m so excited to see the show,” Willow said, her chest about to burst with pride.

“Glad to hear it. So, ready to get settled? I’m going to be stuck here for awhile, so how about you head to the hotel, get comfortable, and I’ll see you later?”

“Sounds great.”

****

Chuck Maggio glanced into his rearview mirror for the third time in as many traffic lights. His passenger, an entire car-length back, was a hottie to be sure. She had the best set of tits he’d seen in awhile, and curves to match. He could imagine gathering a handful of that blonde hair as he took her from behind.

Dark eyes focusing on the road again, not wanting to wreck the limo again. Frank would kick his ass. Besides, he was working for Christine Gray this weekend, and wanted a good tip. Who was this little piece of hair pie to the singer, anyway? Chuck had heard all the rumors, hell, who hadn’t? Maybe this chick was her lover or something.

He glanced at his passenger again. Shaking his head, he focused on the street again. What a waste.

“Miss,” Chuck extended his hand to help the little blonde out of the back of the limo. All professionalism in place, he couldn’t help letting his eyes wander behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses.

“Thank you,” Willow smiled, getting out of the long car.

“May I take that for you, ma’am?” the driver indicated the bag she held.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.” Willow was amazed at how kind and polite the driver was.

“Enjoy your night, ma’am,” tipping his hat, Chuck turned to head back to the driver’s side of the car, watching the blonde’s ass in the side mirror as she headed toward the posh Hilton.

Willow hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, smiling at the doorman who opened the heavy, glass door for her.

“Excuse me,”

Chuck Maggio hesitated, hand on the polished door handle. He looked over his shoulder to see a man hurrying over to him.

“What do you want, buddy? I got a schedule to keep.” Chuck leaned against the car, suited arms crossing over his chest. The man, breathless from the exertion, finally reached the chauffeur.

“Ya’ll the driver for Mizz Christine Gray?” the man asked, southern Texas accent riding Maggio’s nerves.

“Yeah. What of it?”

“Well, my name is David Sumter. Ya see, sir, my employah wants a story on Mizz Gray, in this fine city of ours.”

“And who would your employer be, Mr. Sumter?” Chuck asked, already having an inkling of what he was dealing with.

“Well, let us say my employah is willing to pay for good information for our readers.”

“Oh yeah?” Chuck was listening now.

“Oh, yeah.”

The driver pushed off the side of the car, opening the door at the back of the stretch. “Get in. We’ll talk.”

“Yes, sir!”

****

Willow was stunned, mouth hanging open as she stood in the main room, which the bell boy informed her was the living area, of the hotel suite she’d be sharing with Christine.

The living area was almost as large as the entire first floor of Willow’s house back in Oklahoma. The decorating was beautiful, though not gaudy or ostentatious, though the sheer size handled that one all on its own.

There were three bathrooms on the main floor, as well as a kitchen replete with stocked pantry, and large, beautifully appointed dining room. Upstairs were two bedrooms, both the size of large apartments. It was easy to figure out which one was to be Willow’s.

She sat on the bed, huge bouquet of flowers in her lap. Plucking the card from the clear plastic pitchfork, she tugged it out of its tiny envelope.

Willow-

Welcome, and I hope you like the rooms. Please feel free to use the entire suite, and don’t hesitate to ask for anything.

I’m glad you came.

Me

Touched by the gesture, Willow stood, setting the fragrant gift onto a nearby table, where she’d be able to see and smell it everyday.

Quickly getting settled in, Willow explored the beautiful hotel.

****

The night was filled with the intense beat and rhythm of Twilight, in unbeknownst to the audience, their final concert tour, and third to last performance.

Willow sat in the wings, Christine giving her the option of sitting in the front row with the raving fans, or having her very own personal seat, basically on stage.

Blonde hair flew into her eyes over and over again as she jammed with the other thousands of people filling the auditorium. She had heard the music hundreds of times before, and still, the words and tunes filled her with a joy that no other artist had ever been able to insight in her.

Willow opened her eyes and peeked out into the darkened house. Hundreds of lighters began to flick on as the stage lights went down, and Christine was reduced to smoke backed by purple light.

Twilight.

The music started, slow and sure, getting the listener ready, making them crave the unbelievable voice of their hero, object of lust or simply a new experience. Christine fed that lust, her voice, smooth and sure as silk, filling the microphone.

Willow watched, leaning forward in the most comfortable arm chair she’d ever had the privilege of planting her butt in, taken directly from Christine’s dressing room.

Finally giving in, she sat back, closing her eyes, head leaning back against the cushioned back, allowing that voice to fill her, reaching in and touching her deepest, most vulnerable places. It wasn’t long before she felt the tickling wetness at the corner of her eyes, emotion threatening to escape; all she needed do was blink or open her green eyes.

Amazing. How can one person, one human being, mortal as anyone else, reach inside so many and take control of something so personal as emotion and feeling? But even without seeing it with her own eyes, Willow knew that everyone in that auditorium was experiencing the same things, the music traveling into the same places, causing he same effect. Yes, everyone handled things differently, and more than likely not everyone was sitting there crying as Willow was, but they felt it.

The blonde opened her eyes, her lashes kicking those errant tears down her cheeks, but she didn’t care. She looked at the cause of that precious emotion, seeing Christine at center stage, sitting on a stool, one booted foot on the stage itself, while the heel of the other boot was hooked onto the bottom rung of the stool. She held the microphone, free from its stand, in her left hand, her right resting casually on her leather-clad thigh.

At that moment, those beautiful blue eyes were closed, fingers of her right hand tapping softly to the beat.

Willow studied the singer’s profile, the perfect lines, the way the purple light caught the flyaway hairs that the static from the microphone and electronic equipment caused, giving Christine a halo, the light from above bringing her radiance through.

The response from the audience, and from herself, the knowledge that Christine had touched every person in that room, that they’d go home talking about the amazing concert they’d just attended or that they’d make their friends go out and buy a Christine Gray CD just because of how much their friend had gushed, and now their own curiosity was piqued. The way that, no matter how small, everyone had been changed from this moment, a memory formed of thousands of fans united for a single moment, everyone in the same place, thinking and feeling the same things.

Willow had never felt prouder to know anyone in her entire life. A series of chills spread through her body, bringing a smile to her lips and peace to her heart. She was grateful to have such an amazing person in her life, and would do everything in her power to make sure she stayed that way.

****

“Hey, you. Wakey, wakey,”

Willow blinked, trying to figure out where she was, and who was rubbing her arm. Looking up, she was almost blinded by the stage lights, all up now, and very bright.

Blinking rapidly again, she looked away. “Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty.” Christine smiled, kneeling down to her haunches next to the chair Willow had herself sprawled out in. The blonde would die if she knew just how unlady like she looked in that moment.

“God, I had no idea I’d fallen asleep,” Willow mumbled, pulling herself up into a sitting position. “That was an amazing concert, Christine.”

“Hmm, I must say I’m not entirely convinced you saw it,” the singer teased, standing as her friend tried to stand, only to fall back into the cloud-like cushion of her chair. Green eyes glared up at her. “Come on. We’re done here with taking everything down, and the boys are loading the trucks and buses.” Making sure the blonde was steady, she let her go. “I think there’s a bed with your name on it back at the hotel.”

“Mm, that sounds wonderful.”

The two women headed down the main aisle of the theater, through the double doors, and out into the late Houston night. Cars everywhere, thousands of people trying to get out at the same time, though the majority of the crowd was gone, and it was now safe for Christine and her band to leave.

The limo was waiting, and Willow recognized the man from earlier waiting for them, door open, the darkness of the car inviting. The driver smiled and nodded at them, both smiling in return.

“So, you really liked it?” Christine asked, once they’d gotten settled. Willow glanced at her, surprised, to see a twinge of uncertainty in her blue eyes.

“Yes. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to. Really. Truly amazing. And I loved that new stuff you threw in at the end.”

“Thank you,” the singer smiled with pride as she looked out her window, the city lights passing in record time. She looked at the cars around them, next to them, passing them. As a kid she used to see limos pass through the city all the time, and always wondered who sat behind those dark windows, which celebrity or person of power. Now, from the looks she got, she knew others were thinking the same thing, and it made her smile.

“I’ve been working on that new stuff for awhile, wanting to bring it into the act, but Bob would never let me,” she explained.

“Well, I think he was a fool. It’s wonderful.”

“Thank you, Willow,” Christine said, her voice soft as she looked at her friend, who looked so tired. She reached over, gently brushing a strand of blonde hair away from Willow’s cheek, tucking it behind her ear. “Your hair has really grown.,” she said absently. She was never aware of the pair of eyes watching the gesture from the rearview mirror.

“Yeah,” Willow said, nodding, then laying her head back against the leather headrest. “I can’t keep it under control,” she smiled drowsily. “My doctor warned me of that, which sucks, you see, as my hair grows ridiculously fast, anyway. All those out of control hormones, plus the vitamins I’ve been scarfing down.”

“No doubt. Thanks for coming.”

“You’re most welcome. Thanks for inviting me.”

“You’re most welcome.”

****

Willow started again, turning over with a heavy sigh, then turned back to her other side, attempting to roll on her back, when her eyes flew open. What the hell was that?

Sitting up, she listened. Not hearing anything, she was about to flop back into the mattress, but stopped, a wisp of noise rising to her, like smoke through a crack.

Feet firmly hitting the thick carpet, she shrugged into a sweatshirt and mesh shorts, then padded out to the sitting room of her suite within a suite, pressing her ear to the door. Sure enough- music.

Lights blazed downstairs, along with conversation, laughing and the smell of smoke, and it wasn’t all cigarette.

Eyes wide, Willow took in Christine’s band members in various states of undress, girls everywhere, crushed beer cans scattered across any surface that would stay still, as well as bottles, some empty, some full, most in some level of being drank, in most hands, on the floor, bar, and on the floor.

What got the blonde the most was the glass table at the center of activity, a mirror, maybe two feet by one foot on one corner, and the remnants of lines on its reflective surface, as well as a razor.

Willow felt sick, her stomach revolting at the scene before her. Especially when she saw Joey in the corner, pinching his nose and sniffing several times, a gorgeous, half-naked blonde on her knees before him, happily licking away at the head of his penis.

“Where’s Christine?” Willow asked, to no one in particular. Someone answered, the singer was last seen on the balcony. An absent thank you, and the blonde headed in that direction, numb, feeling as though she were walking through gauze in a dream world.

Seeing that the doors were partially open, she stumbled her way over to them, feeling the cool, early morning breeze coming in.

Christine stood at the railing, brown glass bottle held by the neck between her thumb and forefinger. She was leaning on her elbows, overlooking downtown.

Willow felt her nausea return as she saw that bottle, a small lineup of empty bottles just like it on the railing next to her, like soldiers marching off to war.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she whispered, her shock steeling her voice. The singer slowly turned her head, looking at her guest over her shoulder.

“Doing what? Why are you up?” Whole body turning, Christine leaned her back where her elbows had just been, bottle dangling next to her thigh.

“Because of that!” the blonde hissed, pointing back toward the party. “I can’t believe you,” she shook her head, accusation written all over her features.

“What have I done?” Christine asked, taking a tentative step toward her friend. “I’m sorry the boys woke-”

“Yeah, I bet you’re sorry they woke me,” Willow’s anger built with every word. She snatched the bottle out of the singer’s hand. “How can you go back to this stuff?” She walked over to the large potted tree standing at attention next to the balcony doors. She watched as the liquid fizzed as it was poured into the rich, dark soil, then tossed the bottle off the balcony.

Christine watched with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. “You just poured out my A&W,” she hurried over to the railing, watching as the glass bottle exploded in the courtyard dozens of stories below.

“What?” Thrown by the pronouncement, Willow walked over to the railing, grabbing one of the empty bottles.

“My goddamn root beer,” Christine said, the annoyance starting to gain an edge over the amusement. Turning the bottle in her fingers, Willow saw that it was, in fact, A&W root beer. She looked up into narrowed blue eyes.

“I-” Willow cut herself off, feeling ridiculous, but then remembered what she’d seen in the suite. She couldn’t shake the image of the cocaine spread out on that mirror on the table. Bringing the bottle to her nose, she took a deep whiff.

“I see,” Christine said, her voice dry as she turned toward the balcony doors.

“What am I supposed to think?” Willow asked, relieved to just smell the sweetness of the soda. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Christine?” she hissed, “letting those guys do that, well, that shit in your hotel room!”

The singer whirled on her friend, eyes blazing. “No, I don’t do that shit anymore, Willow. No, I don’t like it, and no, they’re not children. I can’t control what they do, but at least they’re not out there being stupid in a dangerous environment where they could get hurt, arrested, or recognized,” her voice was a low, dangerous purr. “I didn’t bring you along as a chaperone, Willow. You’d be wise to remember that.” And with that, Christine was gone.

Willow stood there, alone on the balcony, frozen to the spot. The anger and hurt had been so painfully obvious in Christine’s voice, her eyes like lasers, burning into the blonde’s soul.

Sighing heavily, Willow made her way back into the suite. Christine was nowhere to be seen, and the blonde decided it was best to not look for her. She’d done enough for one night, so instead headed back up to her rooms.

****

Christine nodded at the doorman, shivering as she came out of the November chill. It may be Texas, but winter hits there, too.

Hitting the button that would take her to her floor, she waited for the elevator doors to slide open, staring at her reflection in the highly polished stainless steel of the outer doors. She had escaped her suite in what she’d had on- jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Her hair was less than perfect, the tennis shoe on her right foot untied.

As she knelt down to tie it, she thought of what had driven her from her own rooms to begin with.

When the knock had come on her suite door, Christine knew who it was, and what they wanted. The boys didn’t have a suite, each only having a room, which were nothing to sneeze at in their own right. But it wasn’t good enough to party in. They’d brought their booze, drugs and women to her door, wanting her to join in the fun, but she’d refused. Joey, figuring this would be the case, raised a six pack of her favorite, and asked to come in.

It had been at that point that Christine had hidden out on the balcony, knowing full well she wouldn’t be able to sleep upstairs, knowing what was going on downstairs. Popping the top of her first A&W, she’d taken a satisfying swig, and then had taken a seat on the wrought iron balcony furniture, putting her feet up on the railing and taken in the sights of the city around her.

She’d let her mind wander, not really thinking of anything in particular. Replaying the performance, things she would have done differently, things that had gone better than she’d hoped or thought. She’d also thought of her friend, and how cute she’d looked, asleep in that big chair, mouth slightly hanging open.

Never had she thought the blonde would awaken to the debauchery that was their hotel suite. Never did she think Willow would even know. She didn’t want her to see it, or know that the boys even did that sort of thing. But alas, wasn’t to be.

Christine knew that Willow was right in her accusations and anger. If their suite were to be raided, they’d all go to jail, and it would be a disaster. But at the same time, Willow’s opinion meant the world to Christine, especially after the way they’d met, and the condition the nurse had seen her in, on the worse night of the singer’s life. To hear what Willow thought, to see the disappointment in her eyes and hear it in her voice … It had been more than Christine could bear. The kicker, though, had been when Willow hadn’t believed the innocence of Christine’s beverage of choice, and had smelled for traces of alcohol.

The elevator dinged, then the doors slid open, revealing an empty car, save for the elevator operator. He smiled at her, then pushed the right buttons for her floor.

Christine had worked so hard to beat her addictions and stay clean in a world where it was everywhere, offered by everyone. In the entertainment business, you were more likely to be offered a nose full of blow than a glass of water. She had declined, she had managed to stay strong and not give in to a habit she’d had most of her life.

The singer sighed heavily, glad when they hit her floor, and she was allowed to escape the presence of the unobtrusive elevator operator. Sometimes she hated that in the nicer hotels. Her short few moments in an elevator were often her only minutes alone.

Making her way down the hall, she pulled out her keycard, glad to hear the silence on the other side of the door to her suite.

All the lights were still on, but the music was off, and the drugs, and any trace of such, were gone. But by the looks of everything else, there would be another interesting story about Christine Gray’s partying habits.

Making her way up the stairs, Christine rubbed her eyes, the rising sun outside making her realize just how long she’d been up, and just how exhausted she really was.

Heading down the hall that would take her to her own rooms, she stopped, seeing the closed door of Willow’s. Glancing down at the polished doorknob, the reflection of her hand distorted as she reached for it.

The room was dark and quiet, the door leading to the actual bedroom open, light just barely making its way in through the sheer curtains.

Willow was laying on her side, back to the room, curled up around the second pillow on the king-sized bed. Her eyes were closed, breathing even and calm. The brunette stared down at her, a soft smile forming without her even realizing it.

Debating for a couple minutes, finally Christine sat on the edge of the bed, trying to take up as little space as possible. She watched her friend for a couple more minutes, then reached out, brushing ever errant strands of hair from Willow’s beautiful face.

“Willow?” she whispered, petting the blonde’s thick hair. “Wake up,”

Being slowly pulled from the land of sleep, Willow’s eyes fluttered open, then closed again with a soft sigh as she reveled in the touch. She turned to her back, looking at her friend, perched on the edge of her bed.

“You okay?” she murmured. Christine nodded.

“Yeah. Well, no.”

Blonde brows narrowed. “What’s wrong?” She was about to sit up, but felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, keeping her down.

“Shh, everything’s okay. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? For what?”

“For going off on you like that. For making you witness all that. I really didn’t want you to see that,” Christine said, feeling like an ass even as she said it.

“No,” Willow shook her head, turning to her other side to face the singer. She caught the hand that had been in her hair, hugging it to her, tucked under her chin. “I’m not your mother, you’re right. I had no right to say any of those things, or treat you that way. You and the guys-”

“It wasn’t me. Hell, I just wanted to go to bed,” she smiled ruefully, looking down at her other hand that rested on her leg. “I shouldn’t have allowed that to go on here. I put us both at risk. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Willow whispered, tugging on the arm that was attached to the hand she cradled. Christine looked at her, brows drawn. “Lay down with me. You look so tired.”

Not needing another invitation, Christine laid herself down, back to the blonde. She smiled as she felt a warm body curl up against hers, the covers being brought up over both their bodies. She closed her eyes.

“Christine?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m proud of you.”

“For what?”

“For drinking root beer.”

With a smile on her lips, Christine fell asleep.
Part 12
Bob Knowles absently raised the tumbler to his lips, only glancing into the glass when the ice clinked against the crystal, but nothing else happened. Forgetting he’d drank the last of the scotch ten minutes before, he set the heavy glass on the top of the desk in his home office in San Francisco.

He looked out over the bay, the fog moving in, muffling the traffic and the horn of a lonely fishing vessel.

Tearing his attention away from the window, he looked down at his desk, the newspaper sitting next to his abandoned glass, headline bold, mocking: MUSIC HEAVY HITTER STRIKES OUT

The phone call he’d had with Jack earlier in the day weighed heavily on his shoulders, too, causing them to slump, wrapped in the crisp, starched button up from Prada, designed with his form and tastes in mind. A shirt even named after him.

So they were all bugging out. Didn’t trust him. Worried he’d do to them what he’d done to Christine Gray. Worried he’d betray them and fillet their closets open to let their skeletons dance around like a live chicken in a frying pan.

Knowles walked around his desk, taking the tumbler with him. He filled it to the rim from the nearly empty bottle, which he set back on the marble bar-top. Downing half the glass in one swig, he nearly choked as another thing Jack had said came back to him. Those pricks at Mercy Hospital won’t say a fucking word. They were protecting that little bleached blonde nurse, who, according to the rags, was fucking the star singer.

“Bitches,” he breathed into the glass, taking the rest of the liquid fire down, ice sliding against his perfect, capped teeth. “Fuck you all.” He slammed the tumbler down on the bar with finality.

****

A green eye cracked open, nearby whispering tugging her from the warm web of peaceful sleep. Willow couldn’t make out what was being whispered, or who was whispering, but the words ‘cute’ and ‘hot’ did catch in her brain.

As the haze of sleep wore off a bit more, she realized that she was still cuddled up with Christine, the blonde’s head resting against a steadily rising and falling chest, her arm tucked up close to her face, fingers spread out over a somewhat pronounced ribcage.

“What the hell are you guys doing?” Christine muttered, her voice rumbling through Willow’s entire body, making both green eyes flutter open. There, at the foot of the bed, stood Eli, Davies and Joey. Eli held a harmonica in his hand.

“Eli,” Joey said, causing the drummer to blow a perfect middle C on the instrument, thus throwing the boys into an a cappella version of Brenda Lee’s ‘I’m Sorry’, which got both women giggling.

“Get out of here!” Christine laughed, throwing one of the shoes she’d taken off sometime during the night, at the retreating musicians. “I swear,” she muttered, re-settling, and wrapping her arm around the blonde.

“Goofy bunch,” Willow murmured, basking in the warmth and comfort of her human pillow.

“I’ll say.”

“That was really sweet of them, though,” Willow raised her head to see a small smile play across Christine’s lips, her eyes closed. She nodded.

“Yeah.”

Willow lowered her head again, snuggling in. Heaven. Pure heaven. All the months she’d been missing human contact, all forgotten. She felt so safe, so cared for. Dare she say, happy?

“So what’s the plan today?” she asked, eyes opening to get a very up close view of Christine’s t-shirt. She looked at the cotton fibers at an almost microscopic level, seeing the tiny fibers criss-crossing, and the occasional piece of lint, which she picked off.

“Mm,” the singer groaned. “The fun starts. We pack up and head out.” She took a deep breath, letting it out slow and steady, raising Willow’s head along with it. “How are you doing this morning?” she asked, bringing her hand up to play with a few fly away strands of the blonde’s hair.

“I’m good.” Willow raised her head, holding it up on her hand, and smiling down at her friend. “You make a great pillow, you know.”

Christine snorted. “I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but pillow isn’t one of them.”

“Well, now you have, so deal. And I’m fine. You?” The smiles were gone, the seriousness of the night before flooding back. Christine looked deeply into Willow’s eyes, trying to read her, see if she truly was fine. Seeing nothing but truth, her smile returned, albeit at half-watt.

“I’m okay.”

“Come on. Feed me.” Willow climbed off Christine, then the bed, running her hand through a very interesting do. “One thing I’ve always hated about short hair,” she grumbled.

“I think it’s adorable.” The singer walked over to her, grabbing some of the strands that were trying to stand on their on, and helped them walk all over the little blonde’s head.

“Stop it!” Willow smacked at Christine’s hands, backed away with a glare. She was further enraged by the laughter from Christine’s handy work, that filled the room. “Pain in the butt. Go to your room,” she pointed out the door.

“Oh, the little mother in you emerges.”

“Out!” Willow’s lips twitched as she tried to keep the glare in place, but as she continued to look at the singer, she was losing the battle. Finally a smile burst into full bloom. “Unless you want to see a fat woman shower, go away.”

“In that case,” Christine headed back toward her friend before giggling as she started to run, a growling Willow chasing her.

“Some people’s kids,” Willow muttered as she turned back toward her bedroom.

“You’re not fat,”

Willow swung around to see Christine leaning against the doorframe. With a yelp, the singer disappeared.

****

Samantha Cox pushed her dark framed glasses a bit further onto her nose, sighing as she re-read her copy for the next days paper. The story was shit, and she knew it. The editor was a chauvinistic ass, and every woman in the building knew that. She should have taken that job as a stringer for the Times.

Finally giving up, deciding the story on the runaway pet potbelly pig was as good as it got, she clicked the mouse, sending the story to the editor’s que, and pushing away from her desk.

“Stacy, you want anything from Starbucks?” she asked as she slid into her light suit jacket.

“Yeah. Get me a mocha breve with extra chocolate and whipped cream. Grande!” the photographer called out to the retreating back of the young reporter.

“How the hell does she get any coffee with all that chocolate?” Samantha muttered as she made her way through the maze that was the small, Bay Area paper she worked for. Climbing into her Honda Accord, Samantha gave it some gas, and sputtered out of the parking lot.

One of the only good things about the job was the view. The Golden Gate Bridge was just off to the left, and it was amazing. Samantha had only moved to the area a few months ago, having grown up further south in San Diego. She certainly loved the area, even if it did cost her an arm and a leg to live there. She lived in a tiny, cracker jack apartment and paid triple what she paid back home.

Singing to herself, as the radio was being stubborn again, she headed down the lane, the big Starbucks sign in view. Glancing again toward the bridge, she noticed a bunch of emergency vehicles there, lights flashing.

Slowing to turn into the coffee house parking lot, she quickly changed her mind, cutting off a Ford Taurus as she gunned the engine, heading toward the bridge. Her reporter instincts were telling her to investigate. As she saw a bundle being pulled out of the water, two hundred and twenty feet below the landmark, she gave her little car even more gas.

“Shit, a jumper,” she murmured, driving like a lunatic to get there as quickly as possible. “Yes!”

****

“You are so full of shit!” Christine accused, throwing the guitar pick she had been using at Eli. The group laughed, including Eli who chased the pick down. “Give me my damn pick back.”

“No way. You threw it at me, so obviously you don’t want it anymore,” he grinned, waggling the little piece of plastic tauntingly at her.

“Jerk,”

Joey jumped up, his cell phone ringing toward the back of the bus. As he hurried down the main aisle, he snagged the pick out of Eli’s hand.

“Hey!” the drummer yelped in surprise. Joey grinned, tossing the pick to Christine, then disappearing into one of the back rooms.

“Brown nose!” Eli yelled after Joey’s retreating back.

Willow sat curled up on one of the numerous comfy sofas that lined the outer walls of the bus. She watched the play between Christine and her band mates, and kept a constant smile on her lips, amused and touched by how close they were. A part of her felt sad for the boys, losing their lead woman, and wondered what they would all end up doing. Including Christine. The blonde couldn’t help but wonder if someday the singer would regret her decision.

“Uh, Chris,” Joey said, his face pale as he took his cell phone away from his ear. “You need to hear this.” He handed her the small, silver flip phone, which she took. Her eyes remained on his face, worry furrowing her forehead.

“Hello?”

“Christine, this is Trista,” the woman on the other end of the line said, her voice low and slightly thick.

“Hey, Trista. What’s up?”

All conversation had stopped, the boys and Willow watching and listening intently, trying to figure out what was going on, and Joey wasn’t saying a word. Instead, he took Christine’s guitar from her, quietly began to strum a mindless tune on it.

“I tried to call your cell, but it wasn’t on,”

“Oh, shit, sorry. I was charging it and forgot to turn it back on.”

“It’s okay. Listen, boss, this morning Bob Knowles’ body was drug out of the bay,”

“What?” Christine stood, shock sending a wave of energy through her body.

“He jumped.” She clarified.

“Ah, Jesus,” Christine sank to the couch next to Willow, free hand going to her forehead. “Is he,” she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“Very much so.” The assistant sighed. “I can’t believe he did that,”

“Yeah,” Christine felt a very uncomfortable numbness begin to envelop her. “Thanks for letting me know.” With that, she slapped the phone shut, tossing it back to Joey, and headed toward her sleeping quarters at the back of the bus.

Willow looked around, confused.

“What happened?” Davies finally asked the question that is on everyone’s brain.

“Knowles committed suicide off the Golden Gate this morning,” Joey said quietly, watching his fingers uselessly adjust the pegs of the perfectly tuned guitar.

“Serves the fucker right,” Eli said, grinning at everyone, but only being met with disapproving glares from his band mates.

“Dude, that’s not cool,” Joey said, voice low.

“What? The guy was an asshole from the word go. Good riddance,” refusing to feel bad, or take back his comment, Eli stood, walking over to the bar. “Hey, where’s the rum?” looking over his shoulder, looking for answers, which he doesn’t get. “You guys take off with the booze?” he tried again.

“Chris threw it all out,” Davies finally answers.

“Fuck. Goddamn puritanical-”

“I’m going to make sure she’s okay,” Willow said softly, cutting off Eli’s muttered remarks. She couldn’t stand hearing him talk badly about the singer who was only trying to live better. She didn’t feel it was her place to lecture Christine’s friend, so she said nothing.

Fighting her nausea as the bus jerked her from side to side, Willow finally made her way down the aisle, to Christine’s closed bedroom door. She walked up to the dark paneling, fingers running lightly over the smooth wood. For a moment she thought about walking away, leaving the singer alone, but then had a change of heart. She needed to be there for her. If Christine sent her away, she sent her away. But she had to try.

Knocking lightly, she called out Christine’s name. Not hearing anything, she decided to take a chance. Turning the knob, she was glad to find it unlocked, and pushed the door open.

“Christine,” she whispered, pushing her way into the small space. The singer sat on the edge of her bed, legs curled under her, hands resting in her lap. She didn’t answer. Walking over to her, Willow stood before her friend, seeing the faraway look in her blue eyes. “Christine,” she whispered again, tentatively touching her shoulder. The blonde yelped in surprise when she was suddenly gathered in needing arms, pulled to the edge of the bed.

Getting her balance, Willow wrapped her arms around Christine, cradling her head against her chest, running her fingers through long, dark hair. She felt Christine’s hands clasp at her lower back.

No words were spoken. None had to be. Willow could feel the sorrow radiating off Christine in waves. She hoped the singer would want to talk about it, knowing she needed to, but wasn’t about to push the issue.

As they stood there, Willow couldn’t keep the image out of her mind of a cold, February night, and the Dittman Bridge. She remembered how blue Christine’s face had been, how lifeless her body. She held her friend a little closer, her protective instincts kicking in like mad. But today this isn’t about Willow, and it’s not about what Christine had attempted to do. It’s about the singer’s obvious pain over what her long-time manager did, no matter what an ass he may have been. They still had a history, for better or for worse.

The blonde rested her cheek atop the wonderful smelling dark hair, the tiny wisps tickling her skin.

They stayed like for so long that Willow’s legs were beginning to ache, her feet tingle. Finally Christine spoke.

“Willow?” she said quietly, her head leaning against the blonde’s chest, listening to the steady heartbeat.

“Yeah?” Willow said softly, finger-combing Christine’s hair.

“Do you think that my firing Bob had anything to do with his, … with what he did?” She pulled away from Willow, looking up at her with the saddest expression on her face. The blonde’s heart broke at the sight. She smiled sweetly, shaking her head.

“No, honey, I don’t. I think he did it to himself,” Willow said, her voice soft, no malice in her words. She contemplated whether she should tell her friend what she’d heard at the hospital, and decided it might be best. Christine deserved to know the whole truth. “Honey, he was trying to ruin you,”

“Perhaps, but I got him back-”

“No,” Willow pulled slightly away, enough to be able to look into confused blue eyes. “He was trying to find someone at Mercy to speak against you, Christine,” she gently caressed the singer’s shoulder, trying to take the sting out of her words.

“What? What do you mean? When?”

“A couple weeks ago. He wanted to expose what happened last winter.”

“God,” Christine looked down at her lap, stunned. “Why hadn’t I heard anything about this?”

“Because no one would talk.” Christine looked up again, meeting Willow’s gaze. The blonde smiled. “We weren’t going to turn on our hometown hero,”

Christine chuckled, then hugged the blonde to her again, quick and tight, then released her.

“I need to make some calls,” she said, pulling away, then standing and running trembling hands through her hair.

“Okay. If you need anything, don’t hesitate, okay?” Willow said, halfway to the door. The singer nodded, then smiled. Willow heard the cell phone come to life as she clicked the door gently closed.

****

They stood at the foot of the stairs that led to the small jet. Christine pushed her hair back, the wind immediately blowing it back into her face.

“Thank you so much for coming,” she said, lightly rubbing Willow’s jacket-covered arm.

“Thank you so much for inviting me. It was,” Willow chewed on her lower lip for a moment, looking out over the tarmac as she tried to think of the words. “a trip of a lifetime,” she finally said, looking up at her friend.

“Well, I don’t know about that,”

“No, really,” she hugged Christine close. “It was truly amazing. Thank you,” pulling away, she smiled.

“I’m going to miss you,” Christine said, holding the blonde’s hand.

“I’ll miss you, too. When will I see you again?”

“I’ll come visit for a bit. How would you like that?” Christine glanced at the plane as the engine roared to life. “You better get going.”

“Yeah,” Willow stepped up onto the first stair, bringing her to Christine’s eye level. “And I’d love that. You better keep your promise,” she poked the singer, who grinned and nodded.

“I promise. I need to take care of some stuff back home, then I’ll be out.”

“Okay.” About to head up to the next stair, Willow quickly threw herself into Christine’s arms, hugging her tight. The singer squeezed her eyes shut as she allowed herself to be enveloped in Willow’s warmth.

“If you need anything,” the blonde whispered into her ear. “I’ve got two good shoulders, and a great set of ears, okay?” Looking deeply into her friend’s eyes to make sure Christine was listening, she smiled, and with a quick peck on Christine’s cheek, she was up the stairs and in the plane.

Christine stepped back from the jet, which was getting ready to taxi out to the runway. She saw her friend getting settled through the small, oval windows. She waved with a smile when the blonde spotted her. She didn’t feel the smile, however. It was purely for Willow’s benefit. She missed her friend on a level she couldn’t believe. Just being around her made Christine feel better, feel grounded.

Even Adam didn’t have that effect on her.

Shaking those lonely thoughts away, she waved one last time, then turned and headed back to the limo to catch her own flight.

Willow watched as her friend walked away, ducking into the back of the limo. The plane began to pull away, and she twisted her head to watch as far as she could until the car was out of sight.

Turning back around in her seat, she sighed and settled in for the short flight back home.

****

Rachel pushed the buggy down the cereal aisle, glancing up from her magazine from time to time to make sure she wasn’t running into anything or anyone. Looking back down at the article she was reading, she turned the page, the buggy coming to a screeching halt against a display of chocolate Lucky Charms. Not even realizing what she’d done, she stared at the magazine in her hands, mouth catching flies.

Breaking her freeze, she grappled with her purse until she found her cell phone.

“Of course you can come over. You know better than that,” Willow rolled her eyes, wiping her hands off on her thighs as she finished brushing Star down. Shutting the phone, she stuffed it back into her pocket, sweet talked her horse for a few more minutes, then headed back inside. It wasn’t long before she heard Rachel’s SUV pull into the yard.

The front door opened, and Rachel was whooshed in with the wind and snow.

“Close the door! It’s freezing out there,” she muttered as she brought a cup of coffee to a frozen Rachel.

“Thank you,” the redhead mumbled, lips half frozen. She took a long, hot drink and began to unthaw. Remembering why she was there, she quickly put the cup down on the kitchen counter, and tugged her huge purse from her shoulder.

“You are not going to believe this,” she said, digging until she found what she was looking for. Tugging the magazine free, she frantically flipped through it until she found the page, then shoved it in front of Willow’s face.

“What is this?” the blonde took the magazine, brows furrowed as she stared down at her own face. “Oh my god,” she breathed when she read the headlines. “They think,” she looked up at her friend, who looked just as concerned. “they think Christine and I are, … lovers?”

“Why would they say such a thing?” Rachel whispered, picking up her coffee again, holding it between her still chilled hands.

“I don’t know,” Willow said absently, reading the story. The pictures were taken in Houston, and a few that Willow thought had been taken in Dallas. “I can’t believe this,” she was horrified to see a picture of Christine and her on the streets of Houston together, the singer’s arms around her, their foreheads together. It was the main picture, certainly the largest. The caption underneath read: Christine Gray and this unidentified woman strolled the streets of Houston together, laughing and cuddling.

Willow looked up at Rachel, eyes wide and distraught. “How could they do this? It’s not true,” she smacked the smooth pages of the rag. “It’s not true.”

****

Christine closed the door after sending Millie home for a bit. There was no reason for the house keeper to stay in an empty house. She’d only be coming twice a week to make sure things were okay, and to watch the dates on food.

Jogging up the stairs, she went into a dead run when she heard the phone ringing. Grabbing the first phone she came to, she answered, out of breath.

“Are you a lesbian?” asked a solemn voice on the other end.

“What?” About to slam the phone down, she stopped.

“Are you? I need to know, Christine,”

“Willow?” the singer lowered herself to a chair, a chill gripping her heart. “Why, where did this come from?”

“Please answer the question. I mean, I’m not stupid, I’ve heard all the rumors, but I, …”

Christine twirled her fingers in the phone cord, hearing the pain in Willow’s thick voice. What was going on?

“Willow I don’t, well, I don’t really stick myself in any categories,” she blew out a breath of exasperation, feeling sweat begin to pool between her breasts. “Willow, where is this coming from?” she asked again, her voice soft.

“Screen Magazine,” Willow said, her voice low and, well, and something Christine couldn’t quite make out.

“Yeah,” the singer said, not following, but dread filling her all the same.

“According to Screen Magazine I, the unidentified woman, and you are lovers. The latest in a long line-”

“That isn’t true, Willow,” Christine said, the anger beginning to replace the dread.

“So what is true? Why would they say something like this?” Willow ran a hand through her hair, feeling the long, should-length strands falling through her fingers. She leaned against the counter.

“I’m so sorry, Willow. God, I’m sorry. I never wanted you to be drug into my mess. They do this because I don’t give them anything to play with. You understand?” Christine gripped the phone tighter, praying that she could say the right things to fix this.

“No. What do you mean?”

“I mean that I don’t give them details of my life. They don’t see me at award shows with god only knows who, and I don’t flaunt it.” She stood, pacing nervously. “I can’t apologize enough, Willow. I never meant for anything like this to happen.”

“I know,” Willow whispered. “I know.”

“Do you still want me to come up next week?” Christine held her breath, praying she hadn’t ruined one of the most important friendships of her life. Willow stared down at the magazine, looking at her friend’s face, smiling, happy.

“Yes.” She finally said, tossing the magazine into the trash under the sink.

Christine smiled and let out a silent breath. “Good.”

Willow smiled. “I’ll see you soon.”

“See you soon.”

****

Walking through the halls of Mercy was an interesting experience to say the least. No one really said anything, but the looks Willow got said enough. She didn’t try and defend herself, figuring that if she were to bring it up, it would make things worse. If someone actually got the balls to ask her, then she’d set them straight. No pun intended. Right now she was just trying to concentrate on getting things ready for Christine’s visit.

She was thrilled as the singer said she planned to stay for a couple weeks. She even thought about looking into hiring security for her ranch, but then decided that was ridiculous. If that sort of thing was needed, Christine would know, and probably knew what to do about it, too.

Willow ran a hand through her hair. Part of her hated Bob Knowles for what he’d done to Christine, in so many ways. He’d brought the hounds of the media down on her, scrapping through every aspect of the illusive singer’s life, even going so far as to make something out of nothing. She shivered, thinking about that article again. She also hated him for being such a coward, and leaving that sort of self-blame and guilt on someone so sensitive as Christine.

“Selfish prick,” she muttered, headed toward the locker room to get changed and go home.

Everything was perfect, clean, linens changed, perfect. Willow went to every room, touching up where there was no need to touch up.

Why was she so nervous? After being on tour with Christine for those few days, seeing how people literally threw themselves at her feet, seeing all the things Christine could afford and bought, and all that the singer was used to, Willow couldn’t help but wonder if maybe her modest house was a shack comparatively. Shoot, even the suite they’d stayed in was bigger than the entire house, just about!

Deep down, Willow didn’t think Christine was that way, but the worry still lingered. The sound of the front door opening broke her from her reverie.

Brows drawn, and a slight panic in her heart, she edged into the upstairs hall, making her way toward the staircase, peeking around the wall. Partly relieved, and partly annoyed, she marched down the stairs, bare feet padding a tune of irritation.

“What the hell are you doing here? And what do you think you’re doing by just letting yourself in? Give me your key, Kevin,”

“Sure,” the blonde man said, blue eyes blazing, “as soon as you explain this shit,” he tossed the magazine at her, which flopped to the floor before her feet. “What is this shit, Willow? Is that why you left me? For that fucking dyke?” There was venom in his voice.

Willow glanced down at the magazine, knowing full well which one it was, though it had landed with an advertisement for Grey Goose showing. Green eyes lazily made their way back up to his, her arms crossed over her now voluptuous breasts, which made him stop for a moment, catching his eye. Quickly his anger returned, however.

“How dare you accuse me of that, Kevin, when you know damn well why this marriage failed.” Willow was stunned at just how calm she felt. She was proud of herself for not blowing up, which was her usual tactic. She had been trying to work on her temper, knowing it wasn’t good for her or the baby.

Kevin stared at her for a moment, at a loss for what to say. He knew she was right, but there was no way he was going to give it to her. “Is it true?” he nodded toward the rag he’d thrown on the floor, arms crossed in his own defensive posture.

“What business is it-”

“Is it true!” his face was red now, all pretense of a civil discussion gone. The vein raged in the center of his forehead, pounding in time with his heart.

“No,” the blonde said simply.

“Then explain those pictures, Willow. The two of you cuddling, heads together,” he was trembling now.

“I’ll answer your questions, Kevin, though the Lord knows why, but I’m going to warn you,” she pointed a finger at him. “If you blow up, if you lose your temper, you’re out of here. Got it? It’s not good for me or my baby to get upset.”

“It took two to create that kid,” he growled.

“Really? Well, I seem to be the only one taking responsibility for her, so she’s mine. Deal. Now get the information you came here to get, Kevin, cause that’s all you’re going to get.”

He took a calming breath, then started to walk past her, toward the kitchen.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said, stunned.

“To get coffee. It’s six-thirty in the damn morning, and I’m tired,” he explained, stopping to look at where her hand rested, none-to-gently, on his arm.

“No. This isn’t a social call, Kevin, and I don’t recall inviting you into my house. Right back to where you were, mister,” she snapped her fingers, pointing back to the spot in front of the door. He looked at her for a moment, incredulous.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?” she asked with a raised brow. Blowing out a breath, he muttered as he followed her orders.

“Feel like a goddamn child,”

“That’s what happens when you act like one. See? Practicing on being a mother already.” Willow smiled sweetly at him. He only glared.

“Are you fucking that bitch or what?” he asked, getting back to the main purpose for his visit. The other part may or may not come later, considering how his wife was acting. Hell, she wasn’t even his ex yet. The divorce wasn’t going to be final until December. He held his cards close to his chest, though he knew he’d better start behaving if he even planned to get to the next part, and not thrown out on his ear. Again.

“No, we’re just friends. She invited me to go on tour with her in Texas, where those shots were taken,” she indicated the magazine between them. “Christine’s former manager has been trying to make trouble for her, and this got the news machine purring back to life. They must have tailed us, taking any sort of shot that looked like it could be anything. That’s it, end of story, now get out.”

“Hold on a minute,” he held up a hand, trying to supplicate her, his eyes softening. For just a moment, only a small moment, Willow saw the man she’d fallen in love with so many years ago. She swallowed that moment down, bringing her current reality back into sharp focus. “Honey,”

“My name is Willow.”

“Willow,” he sighed sadly, “don’t do this to us.” He took a step toward her. She didn’t step back, and he took that as a good sign. “We really loved each other once, you and me,” he smiled, again, the man she’d married shining through. “I still love you. The divorce isn’t final yet, ho-, Willow,” he swallowed. “We can turn back the clock, get back what we lost.” He stood right in front of her now. She looked up at him, her own eyes softening. “What do you say?”

“Turn back the clock,” she murmured, eyes looking up into his, searching them.

“Yes. Turn back the clock,” he leaned in close, inhaling the smell he knew so well. The smell of her hair, which he was glad to see she was letting grow out. She’d had long hair when they’d gotten together, and he loved running his fingers through it. “find what we used to have,” he continued.

“Tell me something, Kevin,” Willow asked, her voice soft, gentle. Her heart was racing.

“Anything,”

“Do you remember that night when we made love in front of the fire, down here in the living room?” her voice got even softer.

“Yeah, I do,” he could almost get hard thinking about that night. He had been the one to suggest the whole fire thing, knowing how much she got into that Harlequin, romantic nonsense.

“Do you remember how hard you came?” softer yet, Kevin almost having to bend closer to hear her.

“Of course. You’re so beautiful, Willow, so sexy, how could I not?” he brought a hand up, running the backs of his fingers down the sides of her breasts, just a ghost of a touch. “You still are. God, you’re sexy,”

“Well, if you want to turn back the clock,” she said, her voice gaining strength. She caught his hand where it brushed against her, her fingers like cold steel, “then I suggest you go back in time and shoot your load in a condom, because that’s the night you got me pregnant.”

He froze, blood like ice as he looked into her eyes, surprised to see the arctic coldness there. She shoved his hand away from her, turning her back on him and heading up the stairs.

“Take that filth with you,” she said over her shoulder, glancing down at the magazine, still on the floor, though with a nice, big boot print on it from Kevin. “And leave your key!” she shouted, out of sight.

Kevin stood there, stunned, for a good five minutes, then finally got his bearings. Grabbing the magazine, he looked down at it, then quietly, sadly, he left the key on the balustrade, and left.

****

Christine knocked softly, waiting for the big door to be opened. Finally, after a few agonizing moments, which she knew were on purpose, the door opened, and Sandra stood in its place. They stared at each other for a moment, then the desinger turned and walked back into her studio, leaving the door open for the singer to follow.

Sandra looked as she always did, calm, cool, impeccably dressed with her hair piled on her head just so. But knowing the woman for a eighteen years, Christine knew it was a farce.

Sandra walked over to her work table, where she had a smattering of drawings, some finished, most in parts, and picked up her pencil. Not looking at her uninvited guest, she spoke:

“What can I do for you, Christine?”

The singer looked around, enjoying the look and feel of the huge space- floor to ceiling windows, the entire room painted white, including the molding that lined the ceiling and floor. The old, hardwood floors. It almost looked more like a dancers studio in New York than a Beverly Hills clothing desinger.

“How are you doing?” Christine finally asked, settling herself on one of the few pieces of furniture. The majority of used space was taken up with material, tables for cutting, and racks upon racks of clothing in various stages of pinning or sewing. A few life-sized mannequins decorated the corners.

“I’m fine. How are you?” the desinger asked, still not bothering to look up from her sketch.

Christine sighed. Sandra was being difficult. “How was it?” This got the blonde’s attention. Her sharp eyes snapped up, grabbing Christine in a brutal gaze.

“You’d know if you’d bothered to go, now wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t have to rely on second-hand descriptions.” Her voice was as cold as her eyes.

“I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to go.”

“No?” Sandra threw her pencil down, coming around her table, long, flowing material fluttering around her thin body. “And why not?” she stopped just before the singer, glaring down at her, thin, graceful hands on hips. “He was your manager for eighteen years, Christine. He made you-”

“Stop!” Christine held up a hand, her own anger beginning to build. “Stop right there, Sandra. You and I had this very conversation not six months ago.” She met the woman’s steely gaze, dagger for dagger. Finally Sandra’s eyes dropped, and she turned to one of the many windows.

“When did he turn into such a cowardice ass?” she said absently, watching the traffic down on Ventura Boulevard.

“He always was, Sandra. He just hit an all time low,” the singer said, just as quietly, standing.

“No pun intended, I’m sure,” Sandra muttered. Christine smiled, but it vanished quickly as she made her way over to the designer, leaning against the cold, painted brick wall.

“You don’t need to lay any sort of guilt trip on me, Sandra. Trust me, I’m doing that enough on my own.”

The designer’s eyes met hers again, studying her, almost to the point of making Christine uncomfortable.

“He loved you, you know,” she glanced over her shoulder, taking in the beautiful woman standing close by. Christine just looked at her, revealing nothing. Sandra turned back to the window. “Don’t feel guilty, Christine. You have absolutely no reason to. Robert did this to himself. He tried to ruin you out of spite, and in so doing, he ruined himself.”

“What happened?” Christine asked, her voice quiet, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“He lost every client he had. Every last one,” she laughed bitterly. “They were all afraid he’d send them off to the same fate he’d created for you.” She sighed heavily. “I guess he figured since he’d already committed career suicide, he might as well finish it off. Just like him,” her voice cracked slightly. “If you’re going to do it, do it right and irreversible, he used to say.”

“I’m so sorry, Sandra,” Christine whispered, laying a gentle hand on the normally untouchable woman’s shoulder. To her surprise, the designer turned and threw herself into the singer’s arms. Christine held her, rubbing her back, staring out at the street below. “I didn’t go,” she quietly explained, “because I knew I’d be expected to say something that I didn’t mean.”

Christine was shaken from her rambling thoughts by the feel of soft lips on her neck. Her heart stopped for a moment, then started back up again, double time, as those lips continued, softly, slowly, up toward her ear.

“Sandra,” she half said, half moaned.

“He used to talk about you,” Sandra said, bringing her tongue into play as she licked a fiery trail down the singer’s throat. “when we were in bed. He used to talk about bringing you in to join us,”

Christine was torn between two worlds. Torn between what she wanted and knew was so very wrong, and what her body was pleading for. She didn’t mean for her eyes to close, or for the long sigh to escape as she felt ringed fingers brush across her breast, her long-neglected nipple instantly flaring to attention.

“You are so beautiful, Christine,” Sandra whispered against her skin, kissing along the chiseled jaw line, then finding Christine’s mouth. She kissed her, lightly, almost chaste, whetting their appetites. “Let me do this, Christine,” Sandra begged, her hand squeezing the breast, getting a feel for the size and shape. “Let me fulfill his wish-”

Christine’s eyes flew open, and she shoved away from the designer, her body screaming at her, but her mind screaming at her for an entirely different reason.

“Don’t,” she said, stopping Sandra in her tracks, looking confused and slightly peeved. “don’t use him like that, and don’t use me as a replacement for Bob.”

Sandra swallowed, trying to push her embarrassment and pride down. “It’s that little blonde from Texas, isn’t it?” she finally managed. Her emotions and body were caught in a whirlwind, and she did not like it at all.

“Don’t do that,” Christine whispered, pained. “Don’t bring that innocent woman into this. You know me better than that.”

“You’re right. I do.” Sandra brought her hands up, touching her hair to make sure it still looked fabulous, then she straightened her dress unnecessarily. She looked as beautiful and statuesque as ever. “I’m sorry, Christine.” She looked away. For the first time in a very long time, she did feel sorry. Christine Gray was one of the few people on the planet who had managed to garner her respect and true admiration. “Perhaps you should go.”

“Yes, I think I should.” Christine walked back over to the couch she’d been sitting in, gathered up her coat. Hand on the knob, she stopped as Sandra’s voice called out to her. She didn’t look at the designer as she spoke.

“She really is lovely, Christine.”

With that, Christine made her exit.
Part 13
Willow was almost giddy as she saw the Jeep Wrangler make its way across the winter wonderland that was her ranch. She ran out onto the porch, breath instantly freezing in the cold evening, but she didn’t care.

Christine waved from behind her canvas and plastic cocoon as she pulled to a stop. She barely had the door open when an excited blonde was in her arms.

“I missed you!” Willow exclaimed, nearly squeezing the breath out of the taller woman, who laughed and squeezed her back.

“I missed you, too.” They pulled apart, and immediately Christine’s gaze scanned down to a sweater-clad tummy. She placed a calloused hand over it, chewing on her lip as she concentrated on what she was feeling. Willow grinned.

“What are you doing, you goof?”

“Well, I figure since you’re starting to show, I want to see if the little imp is doing somersaults yet.”

“Ha ha, very funny. This little imp is going to freeze to death if I don’t get her into the house. You’re welcome to stay out here if you like, …” Willow’s voice trailed off as she turned toward the house.

“Hey! You going to help me carry in my stuff or what?”

Willow gave her a sly look over her shoulder. “Sorry. I’m already carrying a bundle,” cupping her stomach to emphasize her point, she sashayed up the stairs, and into the house. Christine watched after her, mouth hanging open incredulously.

“Is she kidding?” she muttered, words freezing in the cold day.

“Of course I’m kidding, you nut!” Willow ran back down the steps, playfully slapping her friend’s arm. Together they lugged in Christine’s bags, all four of them, two to be wheeled up the stairs. Once settled in her room, the singer was left to unpack as Willow hurried to make some hot chocolate for the poor, frozen woman.

Christine looked around the small room, tastefully decorated in simple, yet very warm colors and themes. The four poster bed, naked oak, with what looked to be a handmade quilt covering the queen-sized surface. Pictures were scattered, looking to Christine to be mainly family. She looked at a few of them closely, recognizing a young Willow at various ages- blowing out candles; sitting atop her horse, Star; arm in arm with a man that looked to be her husband.

Funny that she’d never really paid much attention to the pictures before. Were they there last time she’d stayed in the room?

“Ah. I see you’ve discovered my newest hobby.” Willow said softly from the door, two steaming mugs in her hands. “It’s not good for me to spend too much time alone- I start getting creative.” She smiled, walking into the room and handing Christine one of the mugs. “Marshmallows, just the way you like it.”

“Thanks,” sipping, the singer closed her eyes in pleasure at the taste of the rich chocolate. “I miss this.” She raised the mug, “No need for it in California.” She walked over to one of the pictures. “This is you?”

Willow nodded. “Yep. Me and my best friend from elementary school and junior high, Scarlet.”

“Do you and Scarlet still talk?” Christine asked, taking in all the details of the two young girls, looking to be around eight or nine, dressed in white dresses with funny looking white, paper hats on their blonde heads. They both had their mouths open, and Scarlet was looking at the photographer.

“No. She moved away during our eighth grade year. We were in a play in that picture.” Willow chuckled softly at the memory. “It was one of those ridiculous things where no one really has a role, per se. We were all supposed to be bakers. That’s what those things are supposed to be,” she tapped the glass over the funny white hats. “Baker’s hats.”

“Ah. I was just going to guess that,” Christine grinned, then winked at the rolling green eyes.

“Do you have any pictures of you? When you were younger?” Willow sat on the edge of the bed, hands wrapped around her mug, warming them. Christine snorted, looking at a picture of the blonde with her grandparents, during her high school graduation.

“The first picture taken of me was a mug shot when I was eleven years old,” she said absently.

“Oh.” Willow looked down into her chocolate, watching a marshmallow begin to melt. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Christine smiled, sitting next to her friend. “I’ve had enough pictures taken of me to last a life time.”

“Yeah, guess you have, huh? Well,” the blonde said, grinning from ear to ear. “when this baby is born, she’s going to have a camera in her face all the time. I’ll fill tons of albums with pictures of her.” She stared off into space, imagining it.

“You’re pretty sure it’s a girl, aren’t you?” Christine glanced down at the little protrusion in Willow’s tummy, tempted to reach out and touch it again, but decided against it. Once in a day was enough.

Green eyes met hers, and Willow nodded. “Yeah. It’s funny. It’s like I just know I’ll have a daughter.”

“And if it happens to be a boy?”

“Then I’ll love him just as much. I’ll just have to find a new name for him.” They both laughed. “And don’t ask,” Willow wagged a warning finger at her friend. “I don’t want to jinx it by saying her name out loud.”

“Fair enough. I won’t ask.”

“Come on,” Willow gently slapped Christine’s knee. “let me show you the other stuff I’ve done to the house.”

****

“Mm, that’s good,” Christine sighed, bringing the mug back down to rest in her lap.

“Rub it in,”

“Hey, I told you to make the decaf,” the singer said, glancing across the sofa to her friend, dutifully sipping her mug of decaf hot tea.

“Kevin was here,” she looked at her friend, “about a week ago.”

“What did he want?” She sipped the rich mocha, closing her eyes in pleasure.

Willow chuckled. “To see if I was a lesbian.”

“Ah, the ‘L’ word. Not just a show,” Christine muttered. “I guess he saw that wonderful work of literature?”

Willow nodded, playing with her tea bag, dipping it a few times, before removing it and placing it on the saucer resting on the coffee table.

“He also tried to get me to not divorce him.” The blonde’s voice was bitter, making Christine sad.

“What did you say?” she asked quietly.

“In not so many words, I told him Hell would freeze over first. He made his bed; let him lie in it.” Without even realizing it, she brought her hand down, resting it on her stomach, protective instincts on high alert.

“Are you okay with his visit?” Christine set her mug down, turning a bit so she could face her friend, give her full attention to her. Willow didn’t say anything for a moment, the fire reflecting in her green eyes as she studied the dancing flames. Finally she looked at Christine.

“Yes and no. It hurt, but I guess in some weird way it was good to see he’s okay. You know? God, does that make any sense?” she ran a hand through her hair, turning back to the fire.

“Willow, you loved him, and you guys were together for a long time. It would be crazy for anyone to expect you to just forget about all that. Loving someone becomes almost like a habit.”

“It can be hard to break,” Willow agreed with a nod.

“No doubt.”

“Have you ever been in love?” the blonde asked after a slight pause of thought. Christine shook her head, no thought required. “Never?”

“Never.” Christine sighed, thinking that perhaps this might be the perfect segue into the conversation she knew they needed to have. She’d been there for three days, and it hadn’t come up. It was time that it did. “Willow, I really want to clear the air with something.” Willow said nothing, waiting for the singer to continue. “That article in the magazine,”

Willow nodded, sipping a bit nervously from her cup. “There’s really nothing to clear, Christine. It’s not like you did anything wrong,”

“No, I didn’t. But that still affected you, no doubt, your life, friends, family.”

Willow chuckled quietly, staring down into her cup. “I got a few questioning stares, to say the least.”

“I bet.” Christine sighed, locking her courage into place. “You asked me a question, and I didn’t really answer you. It’s been bothering me.” Their gazes met for a brief moment, a thread of understanding briefly shared.

Setting her tea cup and saucer onto the coffee table, Willow turned into the arm of the sofa, curling her legs under her. She looked at her friend expectantly.

Christine sighed before beginning. “You know, this world loves labels. Humans feel the need to label any and everything, I guess to relate, I’m not sure. Our culture and language is interesting that way, I suppose,” she rambled absently. “Anyway,” shaking her head, she focused on the topic at hand. “Since I came onto the music scene when I was fifteen, the world has wanted to put me somewhere, and I didn’t really fit, you know? I wasn’t exactly a pop princess, or a diva, whatever you want to say. So, when they couldn’t put me in a category of music, they wanted to categorize me personally.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I had the gay community trying to tuck me under their wing as the next Melissa Etheridge, even though we emerged around the same time,” she chuckled lightly. “but you also had the straight community pegging me with Sheryl Crow or Alannah Myles, or whoever else you can think of. Trust me, I’ve heard them all.”

“Why do they do that?” Willow was fascinated, never even giving it a second thought, what she heard about the everyday celebrity. Not like she knew any.

“Because everyone needs to stake their claim. Like Bob, for instance. He made me, he discovered me, never mind it was my talent that got us there.”

“So, everyone wants a piece of you,” Willow said, a statement. Christine nodded.

“Yes. I have never been photographed with a man who couldn’t be identified as belonging with someone else, or gay, or whatever. Okay, so they move on to women. Same problem, but since I have such a large lesbian following, that must be it.”

“Why didn’t you set the record straight, then? If you’re not gay.”

Christine’s lips curled into a delicious smile. “What, and ruin the mystery? This may sound cold, Willow, but mystery sells.”

“I thought sex sells?”

“Oh, it does. And what better story then a singer who’s career has been built on mystery, pure sexuality, but yet remains sexless. Stumps ‘em every time, so then they can’t get enough. Sadly,” she sighed, grabbing her cup again, and sipping. “it backfired. Every strange woman I was seen with automatically became my newest conquest.” The bitterness was unmistakable. “Including you.”

“Christine?” Willow said softly, hand resting on the singer’s ankle. “You still haven’t answered the question.”

Christine thought about what to say, how to word it as she took another sip, then held the mug between her hands, back in her lap. She stared down at the dark liquid, it’s restless surface capturing the orange firelight.

“Both lesbians and straights alike gauge your sexuality by who you’re having sex with, agreed?” she glanced at her friend, who nodded.

“Yeah, for the most part, I guess.”

“Sure, you have your sticklers out there who claim it’s far more than that, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, it’s all about whether you’re enjoying a penis or a vagina.”

“Okay,” dark blonde brows were knit, trying to follow where this was going. Christine looked at her, dead in the eye.

“How can I be labeled if I’m not having sex with either?” They stared at each other for a moment, Christine’s blue eyes unflinching. She saw shock and uncertainty flow through Willow’s.

“Wait, what?” The blonde sat forward, crossing her legs Indian style, elbows resting on her knees. “I don’t understand-”

“Willow, to me, sex is a dirty word. It’s something I peddled on the street, something that’s killing my best friend.” She explained, her voice soft.

“Honey, it doesn’t have to be that way,” Willow said, saddened the her friend, who deserved all that was good in life and love, denied herself because of a past, riddled with imperfections.

“It does for me. I know that what I did isn’t all that sex is. Trust me, I’ve heard this argument before, but I’ve never, ever made love. It’s always been something naughty, up against a wall in some dark, dirty alley, or in some smelly, pay-by-the-hour motel room.”

“Okay, so let me get this,” Willow readjusted her body again, getting more comfortable for what she figured would be a long, in-depth conversation. “you have not had sex with anyone since your days on the streets? You’ve never made love to someone? Never been made love to?” her brows raising on that last question. Christine shook her head, eyes lowered, feeling shame flush her features.

“Since I started all this, I’ve had people throw themselves at me, you know? All wanting a piece of the pie, so to speak.” She sighed heavily, then looked up at her friend with tortured eyes. “Not one of them wanted me for me.” She tapped herself in the chest. “It was all about the image, and what I could do for them.”

“Oh, Christine,” Willow whispered, taking the singer’s hand. “I’m sorry.” Christine shrugged.

“You can’t miss what you never had. It’s just not anything I really waste my time on. I’ve kept up my part of the bargain, once again selling myself to the masses.”

“Do you really feel that way?” Willow asked, her voice hoarse, almost feeling guilty of being part of those masses. Sad blue eyes met hers, and Christine nodded.

“I didn’t used to. It’s only been within the past five or so years. I’m just so tired, you know?”

“I can’t stand in your shoes, but I can see the wear on you, in your eyes,” she squeezed Christine’s hand. “I hope this little trip here will give you a bit of peace. I mean, you’ll certainly find quiet here.” They both laughed. It hadn’t escaped Willow’s attention that Christine hadn’t really answered her question, but she decided to leave it alone. For tonight.

“Well,” Christine said, scooting her legs around so her socked feet hit the floor. She drained her coffee, then wiped the back of her mouth. “I’m exhausted.” She leaned over and gave Willow a goodnight hug.

“Sleep well,” the blonde murmured into it, then smiled up at her friend as they parted, and Christine stood.

“You, too. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Willow watched as her friend grabbed her mug, and Willow’s near-empty cup, padded into the kitchen, then headed up the stairs, taking the steps slowly, hand on the banister, almost like she was tugging herself up.

That night, Willow went to sleep with a smile on her face.

****

“Connor. Stop it.” Rachel gave Christine a clenched teeth smile, then whacked her boyfriend in the leg again.

“Sorry,” he lowered his eyes, looking back at his hand of cards, though it took only moments for his eyes to flick back up to the woman sitting across the table from him.

For her part, the singer basically ignored his stares, but it wasn’t easy. Especially when it was the man’s turn to draw a card, and either Rachel or Willow had to smack him to get him back in the game.

“Uno,” Christine said, wiggling the card left in her hand. The other two women growled, while the man in the bunch grinned like a fool.

“You’re an embarrassment,” Rachel whispered to him. “can’t take you anywhere.”

“Okay, you suck.” Willow said, ignoring the other nurse. Christine stuck her tongue out at the blonde, holding her one card close to her chest, keeping it away from very curious green eyes. “We’ve got to keep her in the game, guys,” she said, looking at her hand. Grinning evilly, tongue caught between her teeth, the blonde laid down their one chance of keeping Christine in the game.

“Hey!” Connor yelled, seeing the Draw Four card that had just been laid down for him.

“Sorry, buddy boy,” Willow laughed. “That’s what you get for sitting there with your tongue hanging out all night.” He glared at her as he stubbornly drew his cards.

“What color, Wills? Chose wisely.” Rachel warned.

“I know,” the blonde chewed on her lip, glancing over at the black, white and red card that Christine had practically made part of her shirt, as though she were trying to see through it. Christine gazed back at her, brow raised in challenge. “Green. No, red. Wait, I think blue-”

“Come on, Willow. Pick one,”

“Green. Yeah. I’ll go with green.”

“Should have gone with yellow,” Rachel hissed. “I had a Draw Two card in yellow.” She tossed down a green two. All eyes turned to the singer, who looked forlorn as she took in two pairs of expectant eyes, and a pair of puppy dog eyes that made her want to roll her eyes. She resisted, for Willow’s sake. Finally she sighed.

“Yep, you should have gone with yellow.” Christine gave each of them another look, then turned to Willow, mouth curving up into a lopsided smirk. Without breaking her gaze, she tossed down her card.

“Willow!” Rachel exclaimed, gawking at the red two that topped the pile of cards.

“I’m out,” Christine said softly. Willow glared at her, emerald daggers. With that, Christine threw her hands up in the air, pumping a victorious fist.

“Beginner’s luck,” the blonde mumbled.

“I still can’t believe you’ve never played Uno before.” Rachel shook her head as she tossed her own hand to the table. “Connor, stop it.”

“That was fun,” Christine said, glasses clinking together as she gathered them up between her fingers, heading toward the kitchen.

“Yeah, it really was,” Willow called back from within. She was busy unloading the last few clean dishes so the dirty ones from the evening could be stowed. “I’m really sorry about Connor. He’s usually not that obnoxious.”

The brunette chuckled. “It’s okay. I’ve met his type before.”

“Well, somehow I don’t think he’s met your type before, though.” Willow took the glasses from Christine, mounting the glassware on the upper wrack of the washer.

“It happens.” She took the dishrag from where it had been left to dry, straddling the two sinks, and headed back out to the dining room, wiping down the table.

“Quite the card shark, aren’t you?” Willow asked, leaning against the archway between the dining room and the hall. Christine grinned.

“Like you said,” she glanced up at the smaller woman. “beginner’s luck.”

“Uh huh.”

“Look, uh, I think I’m going to head back to L.A. this weekend,” Christine twisted the rag around her hand, feeling suddenly nervous. Willow fought to keep the deep disappointment from her face, though she wasn’t sure how successful she was.

“Oh. Uh, okay.” She turned to the china cabinet, opening one of the glass-paneled doors, rearranging a few silver pieces, just to keep her hands occupied.

“Well, I’ve been here almost two weeks now,” Christine explained softly. “I’ve run out of clothes. I only packed enough for the two weeks.” She looked at her friend, saw her looking down at her hands, which was filled with a silver butter dish. Willow was softly clicking the top into the bottom, then removing it again, only to do it all over again.

“Okay. I understand.” Willow glanced at her friend, smiling weakly. She was stunned at how her heart dropped at the sudden news. She felt lost already, and it was only Thursday.

“I figure I could go back, get some more clothes,” Christine’s voice trailed off, seeing the light return to Willow’s eyes. Without a word, the blonde marched up the stairs, bursting into the room Christine was using. She looked around, seeing the black trash bag sitting in a corner, stuffed full of dirty clothes. Grabbing it, she heaved it over her shoulder, Santa Claus, as she headed down the stairs, past a stunned Christine, and down the second flight of stairs, that would take her into the dungeon.

Finally getting her bearings, Christine hurried down the stairs, boots clopping on the wood. Catching up to the crazy little blonde, she asked,

“What are you doing?”

“I’m saving you a plane ticket.” Willow said, tossing her friend’s clothes onto the cement floor of the washroom, separating them into piles of darks, whites, reds and delicates.

“Willow, honey, you don’t have to wash my clothes,” Christine tried to grab the blonde’s hand, but her hand was slapped away.

“Mine.”

Christine knew better than to try and change the stubborn woman’s mind, so she leaned back against the ironing board, watched her work. The washing machine whooshed to life as the blonde set the dial, and then poured in Tide with bleach, and then a Downy ball.

Wiping her hands together, she turned proudly to the stunned woman.

“Okay. I’ll stay.”

Willow grinned, walking past her friend, and taking her hand in passing. “Come on, mega star. You owe me a rematch of Uno.”

****

Leaves gone, winter transformation complete. The days were shorter, quieter, life, and sound muffled by the blankets of snow, while light was amplified to a blinding brilliance. The notorious Oklahoma winds blew the snow in sheets, flowing across the land in layers, almost like a sand storm across the desert.

Christine turned from the window, dashing off in a dead run when she saw Willow carrying a box from upstairs, tell tale garland hanging out the side.

“Willow!” she hollered, scaring the little blonde to death, almost making her drop the heavy box. She was saved when the singer snatched it from her arms.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” she tried to grab the box back, but Christine was already halfway down the stairs.

“Damn it, Willow. You know what your doctor said,” the singer set the box down at the foot of the stairs. She walked back up the few stairs to the pouting blonde. “Honey, don’t do anything that could hurt you or the baby,” she said softly, placing a protective hand on Willow’s substantial basketball.

Willow sighed, sitting on the stair she stood on. “I hate this,” she mumbled, hand automatically going to support her internal bundle.

“I know. But it’s temporary.” Christine sat next to her. “Use me for this kind of stuff,” she pointed to the box. “that’s what I’m here for.” Meeting green eyes. “Okay?” Willow sighed.

“Okay. I know you’re right.”

“Only two months to go. You’re almost there.”

“Mind if I hand the baton off to you, and you can finish the race for me?” Willow asked with a hopeful raised brow. Christine grinned.

“I would if I could. Now,” she stood, pulling the blonde to her feet. “Tell me where you want that stuff, and then you can rifle through it while I get the rest of it.”

“I guess.” It was a thoughtful compromise, Willow knew, but she still hated feeling useless. Truth be told, she was so grateful that Christine had been there over the past month. She’d gotten bigger overnight, her belly seeming to have exploded, and she was beginning to find the simplest of things difficult and trying at best.

True to her word, within twenty minutes, all of the holiday stuff had been pulled from the attic, and both women were sorting through them, seeing what was broken, and what would be put where.

“A little to the left. No, more right. Up. No, down-”

“Woman, make up your mind!” Christine glared down at the blonde, porcelain and lace angel in hand, as she teetered over the fake tree, angel perched on the top branch.

“I’m trying to get it perfect,” Willow explained, tilting her head to the side to try and get a better mental image of what she was looking for.

“Well, while you’re trying to do that, I’m going to fall on the tree and knock the entire thing down, then it won’t matter where it goes.”

“Alright, fine. Put it where you had it a few moments ago.”

Christine rolled her eyes, having absolutely no clue which of the dozens of positions it had been in a few moments ago. “Could you be just a smidge more specific?”

“Right,” Willow reached up, on her tippy toes, nudging the singer’s hand just a centimeter to the left. “there.” Smiling proudly at their creation, she took a step back, looking at it. “Come down here! You’ve got to see this!”

Muttering to herself as she climbed down from the step ladder, Christine stepped back to stand just behind the blonde, looking at the finished product of an afternoon’s work. Irritation immediately forgotten, she smiled.

“Wow.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Willow agreed softly.

“Oh, wait,” Christine hurried over to the tree, dropping to her knees, then to her side, and doing a warped, side Army crawl around the back of the thing, and with a grunt, plugged in the lights. She smiled at the gasp she heard from her friend, then the room went dark, the tiny bulbs encircling the tree the only light.

Scooting herself out from behind the tree as quickly, but carefully as she could, she joined her friend again.

“You want to know something?” Christine said, her voice soft, as she pulled the blonde back against her.

“Hmm?” Willow asked, folding her arms over those that encircled just above her stomach and below her breasts.

“I’ve never really enjoyed Christmas all that much,” the singer said softly. “Usually the guys were off with their families and stuff, and, I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I always felt bad interrupting Adam and Alice.”

“So what did you do?” Willow said, her voice dreamy as she studied the twinkling lights, letting them almost lull her to sleep.

“Typically just stayed home, wrote. Millie is a Jehovah’s Witness, so she and her husband and sons don’t celebrate it. She and I would chat, maybe bake something.” She shrugged again. “That’s about it.”

“But you celebrate Christmas, right?” Willow asked, head lightly leaning back against the taller woman’s shoulder.

“I suppose I do,” Christine said quietly. “We used to when I was a kid, anyway,” she smiled at the memory. “a really young kid. Before they got into anything really bad. Well, that’s not true. They were even before I was born. I guess I should say, before they allowed it to really fuck with, wait, sorry. I’m trying to watch my language,” she cleared her throat as Willow giggled. “Before they allowed it to really mess with the family. You can take the girl out of the gutter, but you can’t take the gutter out of the girl.”

“Sounds like the title of a country song,” Willow laughed, pulled away from the singer and planting herself firmly dead center of the couch. “Come here and keep me warm.”

Not having to be asked twice, Christine sat next to her friend, wrapping her up in warm arms, and tugging the throw from the back of the couch, she tucked it in around Willow’s feet, knowing how swollen and cold they got.

“Can I ask you something?” Willow asked after awhile.

“Of course.”

“Are you bored here?”

It took a moment for the words’ meaning to sink in, then dark brows drew. “Wait, what?”

“Well, it’s not Los Angeles or New York. We don’t have the bright lights and big city to keep you occupied. You know?” she glanced up at the singer, noting how the brilliance of the Christmas tree lights reflected beautifully in her already beautiful eyes.

Christine smiled down at the blonde, shaking her head. “How can you possibly get bored on such a huge piece of land that requires so much work? And your horse!” she rolled her eyes. “My god, and I thought children were demanding.” She winked at Willow’s laugh.

“I’m being serious, you goof.”

All humor gone, Christine hugged her close. “So am I,” she said softly into the blonde hair. “No, I’m not bored. I love it here. It gives me such peace, it’s amazing. Really an amazing place. I can understand why you came here as a child. It must have provided some pretty cool places for an active, precocious child, that you no doubt were, to hide and play.”

“Hmm,” Willow smiled, feeling so safe and content. “My divorce is final tomorrow,” she said so softly that Christine almost didn’t hear it.

“Are you okay with that?” she asked, suddenly feeling a cold hand finger walk its way up her spine.

“Yes. Very.” Willow sighed deeply. “It’ll finally be over, all over, and I can move on.”

“Do you think he’ll try and fight you for custody?” Christine had to smile to herself, as her hand had absently wandered to cover Willow’s extended belly. She felt so protective of what lay beneath. The warmth that met her hand filled her heart.

“I don’t know.”

“Guess we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it, huh?” Christine said softly, feeling Willow’s nod. She stopped cold, realizing what she’d said. Feeling the fool, she squeezed her eyes shut, but said nothing. Fixing it would only bring light to her mistake, as Willow didn’t seem to notice. How dare she add herself to an equation that was a simple one plus one equals two- Willow and Kevin.

“Christine?”

“Yeah?”

“I have to start Lamaze soon.” She pulled away, though it took a bit of effort, her belly not allowing her to move near as smoothly as she once did. After the grunting, she turned and looked up at her friend. “Would you be my coach?”

“I’d love to.” Christine’s suddenly dark world was filled with light again. God, Kevin was a fool.

****

“What? Would you stop? You’re making me self-conscious.” Christine growled, flipping the turn signal to turn on to Brandy, which would lead to the clinic.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t get over how different you look. It’s mind blowing.”

“Yeah, but will it be convincing?” the singer looked over at her companion, wiggling her brows.

“Okay, mommies and coaches, find yourselves a comfortable spot, and lets get to work,” Heather Yaklich called out, clapping her hands. As her class murmured amongst themselves, she turned to the few late arrivals, getting them signed in, and the appropriate brochures and paperwork to take home.

Two lovely blonde women entered, the shorter blonde obviously the reason for them to be here, and her taller blonde partner, with large, lovely brown eyes, the woman’s partner.

“Hi. Willow Bowman and Casey,” Willow smiled at the instructor.

“Nice to meet you both.” Heather shook both their hands, and had Casey sign them in. “Okay, ladies, if you’d like to find yourself a spot, we’ll get started.”

“You’ll do fine,” Willow whispered, sensing Christine’s nervousness.

“I hope so,” the singer whispered back.

“Now, mommies, soon you will be responsible for taking care of your little one, guiding him or her, and nurturing that child to grow into the good, helpful, productive adult you are.” Heather smiled at her class, looking at each couple individually. She didn’t miss the green coloring to Willow Bowman’s face. Must be her first.

****

Blinking several times, Christine looked at her red-rimmed eyes in the mirror, bringing her hands up to rub them with her fingers. Blinking several times again, she grabbed the bottle of Visine, dropping about a dozen cold little droplets in her hair before she finally made it into her eyes.

What she couldn’t figure out was how people wore those evil things day in and day out. On purpose!

Snapping the contact case shut, she turned off the bathroom light, running her fingers over the blonde wig that was mounted on its Styrofoam head, as she passed. Thank god for having connections. She was able to get her disguise FedEx’d overnight. No shrieks of surprise or delight had met them, no murmurs of recognition. Christine figures it must have been a success.

Besides, who’d be expecting to see Christine Gray in Oklahoma, and in a Lamaze class?

About to turn down the hall toward the stairs, she stopped, hand still on the doorframe of her own room. She stopped, listening.

Long legs eating up the distance quickly, Christine found herself pushing past Willow’s partially closed bedroom door, and at the side of her bed.

Willow was laying on her side, curled up as small as was possible, the beach ball under her shirt stopping the full effect. Her face was buried in the pillow, hands tucked under her chin, and she was crying.

In the five weeks Christine had been there, she’d seen the crying fits often, but it was usually like a child’s cry- you could always tell what it was, simple or complex, hormones or something real. This was one of those real times.

“Hey, you,” Christine said, her voice as soft as her touch, as she slipped onto the bed, curling her body around the smaller woman’s. Willow didn’t respond, just cried harder.

Deciding to let the blonde get the brunt of it out, she held her, one arm tucked up under her pillow, hand peeking out beneath Willow’s, and taking one of the blonde’s in her own. Her other hand snaked around to wrap around, pulling Willow back into her, her arm resting between Willow’s breasts and the baby bump.

Willow allowed the body heat behind her to consume her, filling her with peace. The tears began to subside, small sniffles taking their place.

“Why are you crying, Willow?” Christine whispered in the blonde’s ear, once she knew her friend was somewhat under control again.

“It’s stupid,” Willow sniffled.

“I doubt that. Try me.”

“It’s what that woman, Heather, said tonight. About us having to raise these babies, taking all that responsibility on our own heads. God, Christine, how am I going to do this?” her eyes began to leak again, and she angrily swiped at them. “I don’t think I can do it on my own.”

“You’re not on your own, honey,” Christine tried to reason with her. “You’ve got so many people here who love you, and who want to help you. Just last week Rachel told you she was more than willing to kidnap the baby for a few days at a time to give you a break.” She squeezed the blonde playfully. “Her only ransom request was that you make your double chocolate fudge brownies.”

Willow smiled through her tears, but it was short lived. “I guess once I decided I wanted to have kids, I had this picture in my head, a home, parents, dog, all of it. I wanted to be able to give my child everything my parents didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t give to me. I blew it,” she began to cry again.

“Oh, honey. No you didn’t,”

“I’m alone! A pregnant divorced woman!”

“Oh, sweetie,” they rode out a fresh wave of grief and fear, Christine holding her, whispering words of encouragement and comfort into her ear, wishing so bad that she could just climb inside the smaller woman, take her pain.

After awhile, the sobs quieted again, and Christine decided to try a new tactic.

“You know, honey, there are all sorts of families out there. Sometimes when your blood turns their back on you, you have to make a new one. You’ve got that. No one is going to let you do this alone, and Willow, everything is temporary in life. You remember that. It won’t be like this forever, I promise you that. You’re a young, gorgeous woman with so much to offer. I know for fact that someone is going to come down and swipe you up,”

Sniffle, sniffle. “Do you really believe that?”

“With everything in me. And Willow, you’re going to give this baby what your mother couldn’t give you, and that was unconditional love and support. Your mother is a selfish woman who concentrated on herself and her own needs. You won’t do that.”

“How do you know? Maybe I’ll turn out the exact same way,” Willow glanced at Christine over her shoulder, eyes wide with hope. The singer smiled at her, gently running a fingertip down Willow’s cheek.

“Because it’s not in you. You don’t know what it means to be selfish like that. You give everything you’ve got to whatever you do.”

They shared a moment, each searching the other for answers. Finally Willow smiled, laying her head back on the pillow, and scooting her body further back into Christine’s.

“You’re not alone,” Christine whispered again. “You have me, too.”

“Thank you,” Willow whispered back. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

“Come on. Let’s go make some of those double chocolate fudge brownies, huh?”

Sniffle. “Okay.”

Christine kissed the side of the blonde’s head, then pulled herself up off the bed, running her hands through her hair. She was surprised when she heard another sob coming from Willow. Turning back to the bed, she leaned over the blonde.

“Honey, what is it?” panicked, she was about to slid in behind her again.

“I can’t get up,” Willow whined.
Part 14
“Just how much a beached whale do they think I am?” Willow cursed, plastic Hefty bag in hand. “Oh, I need to sit down.” She lowered herself to the couch, feeling like an eighty year old man. “I mean, she used half the darn roll of toilet paper!” she continued her tirade, the three remaining women hiding their smiles.

“Whale or wale?” Rachel muttered.

“I heard that!” Willow yelled to her friend, who was throwing away the paper plates and cups from the party.

“Alright, alright, no picking on the pregnant woman,” Christine said, all the while grinning at the redhead and nodding.

“What am I going to do with all this stuff?” Willow sighed, looking around at the piles of boxes and bundles, all wrapped in pink and blue.

“Thank your lucky stars, my love,” Myra said, sitting next to her granddaughter, patting her thigh. “When I had your father, they didn’t have all this fancy schmancy stuff,” she waved her hand at the room. “You’re going to do just fine, my love.”

“Thanks, grandma. And thanks for coming.” She leaned her head against the older woman’s shoulder, so happy to see her.

“Oh, honey, this is my very first great-grand child,” Myra said softly, running arthritic fingers through the thick, blonde hair that she used to love to comb for a young Willow, so many years ago. Long ago, when the girl had her hair down to her waist, she used to call it spun gold, which it was. It nearly broke her heart when all that gold was cut off in favor of the new, shorter styles of today. What were these young women thinking, making themselves look like boys?

“So, what do you think?” Rachel whispered, pouring soup into the little dish in the dish washer. Slamming the door shut, she turned the dial to the correct setting, and sent the machine whirring to life.

“I think now is a good time,” Christine whispered back, tying the black Hefty back shut, and setting it by the kitchen door to be taken out later. The redhead grinned, matching Christine’s own mischievous look.

“I’m so excited!” the nurse hissed, rubbing her hands together. Giggling like school girls, they headed into the other room.

Clearing her throat, Christine spoke. “Willow, the three of us would like to give you our gifts, now,” she indicated Rachel, Myra and herself. Willow lifted her head from her grandmother’s shoulder, looking confused.

“But you guys already gave me a gift,”

“Purely a smoke screen, my love,” Myra said, continuing the secret smiles and winks of the other two.

“Oh, okay,” she was wary, but stood, with Rachel’s help.

The four of them made a slow trek up the stairs, Rachel helping Willow and Christine holding Myra by the elbow

“I’m so grateful my granddaughter has you to help her,” Myra said softly, tucking her arm into Christine’s.

“Thank you, Mrs. Wahl,” the singer said, a soft smile gracing her features.

“Oh, nonsense! You’re family. You call me grandma, or you don’t expect me to answer, you understand?” Blue eyes bore into Christine’s, and in that moment, the younger woman knew just exactly where Willow had gotten her spunk. She nodded.

“You got it, grandma.”

“Good girl,”

Though on the outside Christine was the picture of calm, but inside she was bouncing with delight, like a child on Christmas morning. She had never uttered the title, let alone bestow it upon someone. The warmth that spread through her made her limbs tingle. That tingle spread to her heart when she saw Willow smile back at her from two steps above. The little blonde had obviously heard, and approved. Christine smiled back.

“You know,” Rachel said, once we’d stopped before the closed third bedroom door upstairs. “thank god you’ve been too exhausted to get nosey,” she smiled at her friend, squeezing her hand as she turned the knob, slowly pushing the door open.

Willow’s retort was cut off as the smell of fresh paint and stained wood met her nose. Turning to the three grinning women around her, she pushed through the door, gasping, hands flying to her mouth.

“I hope you still wanted Care Bears,” Christine said softly, placing a gentle hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Her fingers were quickly grasped in a tight grip, bringing the singer’s arm further down, and finally wrapped around the blonde, her own little nook, between her breasts and the baby bump.

“Oh, Christine,” Willow whispered, “it’s beautiful.” She took in the painted walls, little Care Bears bouncing all over the place, on clouds, sliding down rainbows, and dancing on green grass. Misted green eyes took in the white crib set up in the corner, next to a matching changing table. Nestled in the other corner was a large, padded rocking chair, a spit up towel already hung over the tall back. A tall dresser stood next to the closet, knobs painted a different color of the rainbow, matching the long dresser across the room.

“I figure as the baby gets older, those can be stained or painted to whatever color she wants,” Christine explained.

A small sob escaped Willow’s throat, and she turned into the taller woman, burying her face in her neck. Wrapping her up in her arms, Christine rested her cheek against the top of the blonde head.

Rachel stood near the door, shoulder resting against the Care Bear light switch, and watched to two. Her face showed a mixture of reactions. A small part of her was jealous, as she had been the one Willow was close to, and would hug. But somehow that jealousy was canceled out as she had the gut feeling that their bond went far beyond any Willow had shared with the redhead. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but it was heartwarming to see that Willow had such a strong pillar to lean against.

“How did you do all this?” Willow asked, swiping at her tears, looking around again.

“It wasn’t just me. We all have been working on it for awhile,” Christine explained. “It’s a good thing you don’t like to go down into the basement,” she grinned. The blonde laughed, squeezing the singer’s arm.

Pulling slightly away from Christine, Willow turned to Rachel and her grandmother. “Thank you guys so much. It’s so beautiful,” overcome by fresh tears, the blonde found herself the center of a group hug.

****

“Concentrate on Mickey, honey, breathe with me,” Christine said softly, holding Willow’s hand. Green eyes squeezed tightly shut, then opened, focusing on the figurine that stood on the tray over Willow’s bed.

“Sing,” she panted, “sing to me,”

Christine was surprised at the request, but happily complied, her mind spinning for a moment as she tried to think. Nothing came to mind, so she began to hum, her voice soft and soothing, visibly calming the blonde.

Willow cried out as her insides were twisted once again, another contraction seizing her, leaving her breathless. Christine checked her watch- four minutes apart. She stopped humming, softly encouraging her friend to breathe through the pain, to stay focused.

****

Rachel ran up the stairs, not even bothering with the elevator, heaving in exertion and excitement. Bursting through the stairwell door to the fifth floor, she looked around, seeing Cameron Dawes, a day nurse she used to work with before she moved to maternity.

“Cameron,” she exclaimed, startling the poor woman. She hurried over to her, out of breath. “What’s Willow’s status?”

The darker woman’s eyes immediately lit up, excitement flushing her cheeks. “She’s just been wheeled in. She’s dilated to eight and a half, so she’s just about ready.” Her grin was contagious, Rachel taking the woman’s hands, both giggling like little girls for their co-worker and good friend.

“God, I can’t wait to see the baby,” Rachel exclaimed.

“I know.” She sobered. “How’s security?”

“It’s pretty tight. Nobody’s getting into this ward without us knowing about it,” Cameron said proudly, personally taking it upon herself to make sure everything was in place. Rachel looked around the ward, seeing uniformed officers everywhere, doing their best to keep the press out. “How the hell did that little fireball get a famous singer as her Lamaze coach?”

Rachel chuckled, patting the darker woman’s arm. “It’s a long story.”

“Hmm. Do you see her often? I mean, is she all snobby and high and mighty?”

“No, not at all.” Rachel and Cameron moved around to the nurse’s lounge, grabbing a cup of coffee. “They come over all the time. She’s a really great person, and a wonderful friend to Willow.”

Cameron shook her head, stirring in some creamer. “Crazy, and right here in Oklahoma City.”

“I know. It’s a crazy world,” Rachel grinned, squeezing the woman’s arm again, then heading toward the unit’s waiting room, to wait with Myra and Willow’s mother.

****

Willow’s head slammed back against the gurney, eyes closing, face pale and clammy. She felt light headed after that last push.

“You’re almost there, baby,” Christine whispered, smoothing back the hair that was sweat-soaked, and sticking to the blonde’s face.

“I can’t,” Willow panted, “I can’t,”

“Yes you can.” Christine leaned over, laying a soft kiss on her forehead. “One more, Willow. One more,”

“Come on, Willow, give us one more good push,” the doctor said from between the blonde’s legs. “The head has crested, so just one more good one, and I can do the rest,” she encouraged.

“You can do this, Willow. I have faith in you. Come on, baby,”

The blonde opened her eyes, looking into the blue ones, so close to her own, the blue almost matching the scrubs that Christine wore. Looking into those eyes, focusing on their color and brilliance, focusing on how calm they made her, she was able to block out the pain. She could do it. She’d do it for Christine.

Scrunching her entire face, eyes squeezing shut again, she used every last little bit of energy she had, yelling out as she pushed, teeth bared, mouth slowly opening into a scream as she felt a sudden release, a numbing pain, followed by the screech of a very unhappy baby.

Her scream turned into a laugh of relief, feeling Christine’s tears on her face as her head was cradled close.

“You did it! Oh, baby, oh, Willow, you did it!” was breathed into her ear.

“You have a healthy baby girl!” the doctor proclaimed, holding out a very long, skinny pair of scissors. “Christine, would you like the honors?” she asked, eyes smiling behind her mask.

A wave of pride swept through the singer as she took the tool in trembling hands, having to be guided to the chord by the doctor a couple times.

“It’s okay,” the doctor murmured. “you won’t hurt her,”

A simple snip, and the chord was cut. Christine quickly handed the scissors back to the doc, then turned her attention back to Willow, who was half unconscious, pure exhaustion winning over her need to see her daughter.

“Christine,” the nurse said softly, walking over to the singer, a newly cleaned and swathed baby in her arms.

“Oh,” she breathed, looking down into the tiny, wrinkled face that looked back up at her, as the newborn was placed in her arms. “My god,” she breathed, unable to keep the smile from her face, “she’s so tiny,” looking up to meet the nurse’s understanding brown eyes, she looked back into the baby’s face, squinty blue eyes blinking rapidly, face beginning to contort as short bursts of upset erupted from the tiniest mouth Christine had ever seen.

The nurse smiled, never tiring of seeing a parent fall in love with their child for the first time. This was no different.

“Oh, listen to you,” the brunette cooed, suddenly forgetting anyone else in the entire world existed, save for the itty bitty life she held in her arms. “You are beautiful, just like your mommy, yes,” tiny arms waved uselessly, trapped in the blanket. The little bursts stopped for a moment, as if the baby were uncertain of what she was supposed to do. Eyes opened again, big for just a moment, then squinting again as a full out cry escaped.

Christine moved over to Willow, her heart feeling as though it would burst, love oozing from every pore she possessed.

“Thank you, Willow,” she whispered to the sleeping woman. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

****

“It’s a girl!” Christine exclaimed, exploding into the waiting room, still in her scrubs. A dozen faces turned to her, but only a handful stood, three stood and hurried over to her. She found herself wrapped up in a sea of questions and emotional hugs. She answered the questions as best she could- seven pounds, fourteen ounces, twenty inches; blue; dark; fine, but asleep; no, I didn’t faint.

Christine felt exhausted, as she’d been up with Willow during her entire thirty-seven hour labor, and she was drained. Sitting in a chair next to Willow’s bed, the noise of excitement all around her faded, blissful darkness easing in around the edges of her consciousness, head lulling back against the wall, arms dangling over those of the chair, lids getting heavier and heavier, closing.

Everyone finally cleared out, and Willow, braced against pillows, held her daughter to her breast, listening to the quiet suckling sounds. Head turning, she spied Christine, who’d been out for well over an hour, and a soft smile brushed her lips.

Giving birth had certainly been a trying experience, and there was some of it she couldn’t recall, but she remembered the singer there with her, never leaving her side, even leaving the bathroom door open in Willow’s room, to make sure she could hear if the blonde needed anything while she was in labor.

Her heart, already so filled with love for the bundle she held, but somehow those walls expanded to the breaking point as she felt a strong love for Christine join that for her daughter. She couldn’t help but think of how incomplete the day would have been without her.

She remembered the look in Christine’s eyes as she encouraged her in the delivery room, the way she’d kissed her forehead, and had done her best to keep Willow’s hair and sweat out of her eyes during the difficult delivery.

How was she going to be able to handle it when one day Christine decided to leave, to return to her life? The blonde knew it was a matter of time, seeing Christine standing before the piano more than once, fingers absently hitting a key or two, caressing the ivory, a look so wistful crossing her beautiful face that it broke Willow’s heart.

There was no way she could compete with that.

As she watched, blue eyes slowly blinking open, Christine groaning as she unfolded her long body from the uncomfortable chair. She looked around, getting her bearings. When she saw the two in the hospital bed, an instant smile spread across her lips.

“Hey,” she said, her voice rough from sleep.

“Hi,” Willow said, her own smile in place. She felt so bad as she saw how red Christine’s eyes were, knowing that the woman had to be utterly exhausted.

“Where is everyone?” she stood, stretching with a groan, arms raised over her head before she walked over to the bed.

“They all went home. It’s late.”

Looking down at the two, Christine reached her hand out, gently brushing a few brown strands that were littered across the baby’s tiny head. “I can’t believe how little she is,” she whispered in awe.

“I know,” Willow looked down at her daughter, absently reaching for Christine’s hand. She winced slightly as she scooted her body over, making room for the singer to climb up onto the narrow bed beside her. “Come join us,” she whispered, never taking her eyes off the baby, who had fallen asleep against her mother’s breast.

Carefully climbing onto the bed, Christine stretched her legs out, wrapping an arm around Willow and the baby, watching her sleep.

“I’d like you to meet Emma Christine Bowman,” Willow said softly, meeting her friend’s eyes. Christine felt the sting of emotion behind her eyes, and blinked it away. “Don’t look so surprised,” Willow smiled. “Without you, very little of this would have been possible today,”

“Well,” she said through her amazement, “I think Kevin deserves that credit more than I do,”

Willow chuckled softly, leaning forward and resting her lips softly to Christine’s cheek. Heads together, the women eventually fell asleep.

****

A month quickly bled into two, life filled with the blind leading the blind, trying to raise a newborn baby.

Christine had no idea something so little could be so smelly. Holding her breath as she dumped yet another tiny diaper into the Diaper Genie, she headed back upstairs, Willow still calling for her to bring the new tube of Desitin from the diaper bag.

“Coming,” she called up, taking the stairs two at a time, finally slapping the tube into the waiting mother’s hand.

“How’s my messy girl?” Christine cooed, making a gaggle of crazy faces at Emma, the little one’s eyes, which had steadily started to turn green, shone, and the little dimples appeared that made the brunette’s heart melt. “Willow, it’s official,” Christine said, looking at the blonde seriously.

“What’s that?” Willow asked, handing her a fresh diaper to put on Emma.

“I’ve lost my heart to a female.”

“Oh you have, have you?”

“Yes.” She looked down at the baby, waggling her tongue at her as she crossed her eyes.

“Hmm. Well, it’s about time you made a decision between the sexes.”

“I agree. Guess you can call me a baby dyke,” Christine burst into laughter, Willow looking at her like she was nuts. “I thought it was funny,” she muttered to Emma, who blew raspberries in response.

Willow put all of Emma’s diaper stuff back on the shelf above the changing table, chuckling to herself. She loved to watch Christine with the baby. She tried to imagine how it would be as Emma got older; she’d have two kids on her hands.

The phone rang, and she walked across the hall to her bedroom, grabbing the cordless off its base.

“Christine?”

“Yeah?” the singer asked, tucking Emma into the bend of her arm.

“Phone, hon,” Willow exchanged the baby for the phone. “I’ll give her back when you’re done,” the blonde said to the protesting brunette. Christine growled, but headed out into the hall as she put the phone to her ear, steps creaking under her booted steps.

Willow hummed softly, gently dancing with little Emma. The baby had been fed and changed, and her eyes were getting heavier and heavier. Her voice got softer, lulling her to sleep. When finally Emma let out a final, and adorable, little sigh, the blonde placed her in her crib, making sure she was safe and warm. Kissing her softly on her head, Willow left the room, closing the door to a crack.

She jumped, heart pounding, when she heard a loud bang, then another, another, a crack, then more pounding.

Racing down the stairs, she ran to the kitchen where she saw pieces of something flying, then realized it was the phone, Christine pounding it against the counter in a frenzy, leaving it obliterated.

“Christine!” she called out, trying to get the ferocious woman under control. She stepped toward the singer, reaching a tentative hand out to touch her arm, only to have Christine jump away from her, eyes ablaze.

Dropping what was left of the cordless onto the counter, Christine turned away, hiding her face.

“Sorry about the phone,” she whispered, voice thick. Willow reached out toward her again. “Don’t touch me,” Christine sobbed, hurrying out of the room, the front door slamming behind her.

Willow was left standing there, shaken to her core. Her frayed nerves started again when she realized Emma was crying upstairs.

Taking several deep, shaky breaths, she ran a trembling hand through her hair and hurried back to her daughter’s room, almost glad for the distraction of having to calm Emma.

****

Christine pushed her way out into the late April afternoon, a sob caught in her throat. She tried to swallow it down, but it wasn’t going anywhere. All she could hope for was to get far enough away, away from the house, from Willow and Emma, away.

Hands bunched into fists, her vision was beginning to blur, images and colors bleeding together, causing her to stumble over the new growth that was spreading across the flat land like wildfire. Catching her balance, she hurried on, only to stumble again, but this time she fell to one knee.

Doctor Weitz, calling on behalf of Alice …

She let her other knee fall, hands touching the earth, fingers digging into the soft soil.

… emergency appendectomy … complications …

Droplets fell, making little round spots of mud, more, little spots joining, making bigger ones.

… infection … immune system too weak …

Christine threw herself back to her haunches, eyes squeezed shut, mouth falling open as a scream ripped from her throat.

… so sorry …

“No!”

Willow started, holding Emma close, eyes wide and frightened. “It’s okay, my love,” she whispered into the baby’s ear. “It’s okay,”

****

Willow glanced over her reading glasses, hearing soft footsteps in the hall. She put her novel down, listened. Emma’s door creaked open slightly, more soft footsteps, whispered words, then the door creaked again. The footsteps stopped in front of Willow’s door, the floor creaking under the weight, then the footsteps moved on, down the hall, where a door clicked softly into place.

Pushing the covers aside, Willow got out of bed, putting both the novel and her reading glasses on the bedside table, and hurried to the door. She flicked her light off before opening it, then tip toed out into the hall, listening again.

There was a light under Christine’s door, but as she watched, the crack under the door became dark.

Chewing on her lip, the blonde tried to decide what to do. Remembering the look of absolute anguish that had taken over Christine’s features earlier that day, she decided to check on her.

Standing in front of her door, she paused again, then finally raised her hand, knocking softly. She barely heard the invitation, slowly pushing the door open. The room was dark, Christine stood at the window, her form a silhouette against the moon lit night beyond.

Willow stepped inside, closing the door behind her so as not to wake Emma. She said nothing as she made her away across the room, stepping up beside her friend.

“I’m sorry,” Christine whispered, eyes staring out, unblinking. Willow took in her profile, her finger reaching out to catch the glistening tear that slowly rolled down her cheek.

“Oh, honey,” she said, “what’s going on?” Her heart broke as another tear made a lazy trail after the first, followed by another.

Christine turned, face crumpling as she grabbed Willow, releasing a soft sob into the blonde’s hair. Willow held her tight, eyes squeezed tightly shut as she felt the pain and sorrow radiating off the taller woman.

“Just hold me, Willow. Please, just hold me.”

“Of course. Anything.” Willow’s hand reached up, fingers petting the thick dark hair, pulling Christine even closer, trying to give her every bit of strength and comfort she had.

“Willow?” Christine said, her voice thick, raising her head from the blonde’s shoulder. Willow said nothing, just looked up into that tortured face, bringing a hand up, brushing the continuous stream of tears away with her thumb. “Stay with me tonight? Please, please, be with me tonight?” her whisper almost filled with panic.

“Anything you need,” Willow whispered back, her last word almost cut off by Christine’s lips on her own. Her eyes popped open, stunned, feeling the persistence of the kiss, still feeling the wetness of Christine’s tears against her own skin. She found her eyes fluttering closed, a tentative hand resting on the brunette’s shoulder, Christine’s arms wrapping around her, pulling her closer.

All thought was gone, only bare, naked need, as Christine’s kiss became insistent, her breathing quickening with her heartbeat. Moving on bare instinct, she walked Willow backward until the blonde hit the bed, falling back onto it, the singer falling with her, on top of her.

Willow’s mind was blown wide open, all thoughts flying out. She kissed Christine back, her hands in the thick dark hair, pulling the brunette’s mouth further into hers, hearing Christine’s desperate whimpers as their lips opened, the kiss deepening as Willow brought Christine’s tongue into her mouth, her body relaxing under the comforting weight of Christine’s body.

“Don’t leave me,” Christine begged, finding Willow’s neck, licking and nipping, her hand moving up under Willow’s t-shirt, fingers brushing against a bare breast, Willow gasping at the contact. “Stay with me,”

“Yes, Christine, yes,” Willow whimpered, her hands reaching down Christine’s back, finding the hem of her shirt, tugging at it, feeling her frustration grow until Christine sat up on her knees for a split second, just long enough to whip the shirt off, and throw it into the darkness, falling back to find Willow’s mouth again. Her hands desperately tried to remove Willow’s own shirt, tugging it over the blonde’s head, her hands immediately going to her breasts, filling her hands with them, hearing Willow’s hiss as the blonde’s nipples became rigid, tickling Christine’s palms.

Willow arched her back, mind exploding once again at the incredible sensations racing through her body. Not enough. Reaching down, she tore at Christine’s jeans, the button fly’s giving way, shoving them as far down the brunette’s hips as she could reach. Again, Christine was off her, this time standing, throwing her clothes off, a boot hitting the wall. She grabbed the ends of Willow’s shorts, roughly tugging. Willow barely had a chance to lift her hips as the material almost ripped off her. She shoved her own panties down, kicking them off, then grabbing Christine around the back of her neck, cruelly tugging her back onto the bed, back onto her.

Christine didn’t feel any pain, just need. She ravaged Willow’s mouth, right hand sliding down the blonde’s body until she found the wet warmth between her thighs. She entered her, two fingers sliding right in, Willow gasping and crying out, legs parting.

“I need you,” Christine moaned, her mouth everywhere, kissing, licking, sucking. Willow couldn’t keep up, having no idea where the brunette was going next. She decided just to go with it, her hips bucking in time with Christine’s thrusts, her body on fire, and climax not far away.

Grabbing Christine’s arm with claw-like fingers, Willow bit her lip, trying not to scream, as she so badly wanted to do. Christine realized what was happening, and quickly found the blonde’s mouth, intercepting her cry.

Fingers still inside Willow, they lay there, panting into each others mouth, bodies covered with sweat and desire.

Willow shuddered as Christine slowly, carefully, removed her fingers, bringing her arms up, wrapping the blonde in a cocoon of warmth, holding her close, burying her face in Willow’s hair.

After a few moments, their bodies cooling, a chill settled over both, Christine helping Willow to climb beneath the covers, then pulled her near, not daring to let go.

Willow laid there, shutting her mind off, raising herself when she felt Christine’s body shaking anew with silent tears.

“Let me hold you, baby,” she whispered, pulling the taller woman to her, Christine resting her head on Willow’s chest, wetting the skin with her profound sorrow. Willow still had no idea what had happened, but figured it would come in time.

****

The morning sun was harsh. Willow tried to squint against it, but it awoke her, and there was no going back to sleep.

Slowly opening her eyes, she blinked a few times, looking around, seeing Christine’s room. The night came back to her, and she realized she was alone in the bed, but not in the room.

Christine sat in the chair in the corner, fully dressed, Emma asleep in her arms. Blue eyes were heavy, lids at half mast.

“Hi,” Willow said softly, bringing the sheet up to cover her naked breasts.

“Hey.” Christine’s eyes opened a bit more, her hand absently caressing Emma’s tiny arm.

“How is she?”

“Good. She’s changed and fed. Happy.”

“Guess that breast pump came in handy, huh?” Willow said, feeling self-conscious in the light of day. Her eyes scanned the room, trying discreetly look her clothes. She blushed when she saw they were folded neatly, and placed at the end of the bed. Reaching for them, she put her shirt on, then leaned back against the pillows. She was at a loss for words, not sure what to say to Christine when she had no idea what to say to herself.

“I’m going to have to go to New York for a few days, take care of some things,” Christine said softly, breaking through Willow’s muddled thoughts.

“New York?” Willow’s brow drew.

“Alice is a mess, and she needs me right now.” Christine looked down at the baby, leaning down to lay a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

Willow’s mind somersaulted over the information- New York, Alice, she gasped, hand going to her mouth. “Adam,”

Christine’s eyes closed as she pressed her forehead to her tiny bundle. “Gonna miss you, little one,” she whispered.

“Oh, Christine,” understanding flooded Willow, her eyes filling for her friend’s deep loss. Throwing the blankets off her, she blushed deeply again, realizing she was naked there, too. Tugging her shorts on, her feet hit the floor with a thud, and she hurried over to Christine’s chair. Falling to her knees beside it, she caught the sad blue eyes.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said lamely. Christine smiled, weak and heavy.

“There’s nothing left to say.”

“I’m sorry,”

“Me, too.”

“When are you leaving?”

“I have a flight this afternoon.”

“How long will you be gone?” Willow turned her attention to her daughter. Looking into Christine’s eyes was breaking her heart all over again.

“A few days. Maybe a week.”

Willow took in the information, her voice small when she spoke next. “Do you want me to come with you?” she met the blue eyes she’d grown to adore. It hurt to see them so far away. Christine shook her head.

“No. It would be too difficult to travel with Emma,” again she looked down at the baby, brushing the silky soft hair atop the baby’s head.

“Okay,” she was silent, chewing on her lip, a question bouncing around in her head, refusing to go away. Without looking at the other woman, her voice small, “Are you coming back?” Christine’s silence made her look up, immediately caught in an intense gaze.

“Do you want me to come back?” Christine asked, voice hard.

“Yes,” Willow whispered.

****

“Please be safe,” Willow murmured into Christine’s ear as she hugged her tight, eyes squeezed shut. She wouldn’t allow her mind to think about how that body felt against hers the night before, naked, needing. She had plenty of time to think over the next few days.

Christine held her, laying a kiss on the blonde head. “I will,” she promised. Pulling gently away, she looked into concerned green eyes, giving Willow the most reassuring smile she could, though she didn’t feel it. She didn’t feel anything. Numb. That was the only way she could describe it. “See you soon.”

With that, Christine climbed into her Jeep, and turned the engine. A final wave, she pulled out of the yard in a cloud of dust.

Willow watched, her heart in her throat. Finally, just the echo of the Jeep’s engine in the still day, she closed the front door, leaning against it. She had a feeling of dread pulsing through her, and she hated it.

She walked through the rest of that day in a daze, doing what needed to be done around the house, only really coming alive when she had to attend to Emma, who was cranky. It was almost like she could sense something was amiss. Willow wished so badly that Christine were there to sing the baby into calm.

Later that night, Emma fed and changed, and asleep, Willow sat in the huge, Roman tub in the main bathroom upstairs. Body reclined, eyes barely open, she stared up into the ceiling, the steam making her feel as though she were looking through gauze.

A bit of a dance was happening in her mind- memories from the night before, a look on Christine’s face, the feel of her hand, her mouth, would enter into Willow’s mind, and she’d push it away, only for another memory to take its place.

What had happened? What force had taken them both over? Willow never would have done something like that on her own, and she trusted that Christine wouldn’t, either. Christine had needed her, that much was clear. Why had Willow willingly given all she had to give?

True, she’d do anything for the singer, give her anything she asked for. But not that.

“God, what did I do?” she asked the empty room, burying her face in her hands. Part of her wished she and Christine had talked about it, had cleared the air. How did Christine feel about it?

Willow knew it wasn’t a gay/straight issue, nor did she see it as one. Never did. But why had she let the situation cross the boundaries of friendship, regardless of how close and deep that friendship was. What had possessed Willow to let it happen?

She sighed, closing her eyes. She knew she could turn it every which way in her mind all night. What it boiled down to was it happened, and though she couldn’t say she regretted it, she worried that they wouldn’t be able to move past it. She worried it would become a hang up, something between them.

Though all this surfed through her mind, somewhere inside Willow felt honored. She knew that what happened had been something that Christine wouldn’t have shared with just anyone. She had trusted Willow enough to allow her inside. Even if the singer wouldn’t talk to her, wouldn’t let her inside her head, she’d let her inside her heart, and the blonde cherished that realization.

When Christine came back they would talk about it, perhaps. But no matter what, Willow wouldn’t allow it to effect what they had built. Christine was part of Willow’s family, part of her daily life, and she already felt lost and alone, just nine hours after the singer had driven away.

As Willow allowed herself to relax fully, the bubbles in the water easing sore muscles, she forgot to also remind herself how amazingly wonderful it had felt to have Christine’s hands on her, mouth on her, body on hers. She also forgot to remind herself that though it had been a brief encounter, her body still burned from it, and never, in all her sexually active years, had she been made to feel so much like a woman.

Kevin often said she didn’t like to deal with things.

****

“Yesss,” Willow moaned, feeling fingers glide down between her breasts, over her abdomen, making the muscles there twitch, and finally lower. She gasped, back arching as those fingers slipped between the saturated folds of her sex, the wet heat gathering, overflowing. “Oh yes, baby,” she moaned again, hips moving to find even more purchase to ease the ache.

Suddenly she was filled, head arching back, feeling hot lips on her skin, licking a trail up her throat as the pressure continued between her legs, a dull ache that was beginning explode almost painfully into constant need.

“Kiss me,” she begged, opening her eyes to see intense blue looking down at her.

Willow’s eyes flew open with a gasp, the cool, night air grazing her half naked body, breasts exposed to the room, one covered by her own hand. The other hand was nestled between her own legs.

Groaning, she slammed her eyes closed again, bringing her hands up to cover her face. Groaning again when she smelled herself on her fingers.

“This is insane,” she whispered, her body still making its demand known, sex throbbing with every beat of her heart.

****

The water rained down over her skin, Willow’s eyes closed as she raised her face to the spray, the last of the soap vanishing into the drain at her feet.

Slicking her hair back from her face, she blinked her eyes open, then turned the knobs. Sliding the frosted doors open, she stepped out onto the bathmat, reaching for her towel.

She was looking forward to the day. Rachel would be over soon, and they planned to get out of the house. Willow was in the last couple weeks of her maternity leave, and she hadn’t been out much, enjoying her time with Christine and the baby. Christine was gone, so now it was time to introduce Emma to the outside world.

Wrapping the towel around herself, she padded into the dark bedroom, the heavy curtains only allowing thin slivers of golden light from around the edges. Grabbing the bottom of the shade, she tugged until the shade snapped up, a bright flash startling a gasp out of the blonde.

Looking into the tree not far from the window, she screamed when she saw a man clinging to a branch with one arm, a camera in his other, the lens held up to his eye as he snapped off several more shots.

Getting her bearings, she quickly pulled the shade, running over to the side table to grab the cordless. Seeing an empty base, she remembered the phone had been destroyed, so ran down the stairs, frantically digging through her purse until she found her cell phone.

Closing every shade she came to, she was freaked out of her mind, the surprise of seeing him there, taking her picture, bringing to mind someone breaking into the house. Somewhere inside she knew that was ridiculous, but thinking clearly was not on her agenda at the moment.

Struggling with the cell phone in one hand, the other holding her towel to her body, she managed to speed dial Christine’s phone.

After two rings, she picked up.

“They’re outside the house!” Willow exclaimed, hurrying from room to room, peeking out the window. She gasped when she saw someone running from the house, jumping into a dark blue mini van, which sped away.

“What? Wait, what are you talking about?” instant concern was in Christine’s voice.

“The guy! He was in the tree, I got out of the shower, and he took my picture!”

“Fuck,” the singer growled. “Those son of a bitches.”

“Who was that?” Willow hurried up the stairs, into Emma’s room to make sure the baby was okay. She was sound asleep in her crib.

“They found out I’m there,” Christine said absently.

“What? Who?”

“The press. Listen, lay low, keep the shades drawn, and I’ll handle it, alright? They’re trespassing on private property. Are you okay?”

“God, Christine, I was half naked,” Willow cried, shame filling her, making her feel nauseous.

“I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry,” Christine whispered. “I promise I’ll take care of it right now. Okay?”

“Okay,” she took a deep, calming breath.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. He just really took me by surprise. I’m sorry to bother you-”

“No! Don’t you dare apologize. It’s my fault that bastard was there. Listen, I’ll be home tomorrow, okay?”

“Christine, don’t cut your trip short. I know you have things to do-”

“No. You need me there. I’ll be home as soon as I can, okay?”

“Okay,” Willow said, her voice quiet, relief flowing through her. God, she missed her. “How are you doing?”

Christine sighed heavily. “I’m okay. We went through Adam’s papers last night, and today I’m settling some things for him. Alice isn’t doing well.”

“But how are you?” Willow gripped the phone tighter, wishing she could be there for Christine.

“It hurts. It hurts bad,” the singer said, her voice soft. “I never thought I could hurt so much, and yet not be bleeding somewhere,” her chuckle was humorless.

“You are bleeding, honey,” Willow slid down one of the walls in the nursery, pulling her knees to her chest. “in your heart.”

“Yeah. Guess so. Look, Willow, about the night before I left-”

“No, don’t think about that now, Christine. You have too much else on your plate right now. We’ll deal with that when we deal with it.”

“Are you sure? I,” she sighed. Willow could almost imagine her running a nervous hand through her dark hair. “I feel like such an asshole.”

“Don’t. Please don’t,” Willow’s voice had grown even softer. “I’m just,” she swallowed, “I’m just glad I was able to be there for you.” She waited. “Christine? Are you there?”

“Yeah. I’m here. Are you going to be home for a bit?”

Willow could tell the subject had been effectively changed. “I was planning to go out with Rachel, but now I don’t know,” she shivered, the memory and surprise still fresh.

“Please stay in today. For me? I’d feel so much better knowing you and Emma were safe inside the house. Not that you’re not safe, but I don’t know if those idiots will try and follow you or something. I don’t want to put you through that. We don’t need another Princess Diana situation.”

“Okay. We’ll stay here.”

“Good. How is she? Emma?”

An instant smile lit Willow’s features. “She’s fine. She’s been cranky. I think she misses you.” Her heart softened at the soft chuckle she heard on the other end of the line.

“I miss her, too. I need to get going, so you take care of yourself, and give her a great big hug and kiss for me, okay?”

“Will do.”

“Okay. Talk to you soon.”

“Christine?” Willow gripped the tiny phone with both hands.

“Yeah?”

“I … I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, Willow. Be home soon.”

The phone went dead, silence complete. Slowly flipping the phone shut, Willow rested her head against the wall behind her, a deep sigh leaving her lungs.
Part 15
“So, I’m thinking we’re going to enjoy our day with Aunt Rachel, not talk about anything but you, and just have a good time. What do you think?” Emma blew raspberries as Willow carried her down the stairs, making the young mother laugh. “Well said, little one.”

The blonde carried the baby to the kitchen, fixing her a bottle. She knew she had to wean Emma from her breast, if she was still given breast milk, for when Emma had to go to the, gulp, babysitter.

Emma whined a bit, not sure about this whole bottle thing, but eventually her hunger outweighed the pout, and she began to suckle.

Sitting on the couch, Willow watched her daughter, who looked up at her, eyes the very same color as her own. Her heart warmed as Emma blindly grabbed Willow’s pinky, all five fingers wrapping around it.

The doorbell chimed, and Willow carefully readjusted Emma in her arms so as not to disturb her eating, but would be able to unlock and open the door.

“I won’t bring it up, won’t bring it up. No reason to bring it up,” she mumbled to herself, then pulled the door open. Rachel grinned from ear to ear, giving Willow a quick one-armed hug, then taking Emma from her arms. “Uh,” the blonde said, stunned, “nice to see you, too.”

Closing the door behind them, and locking it, she followed the redhead into the kitchen.

“What’s with the locks? Am I a captive here, or what?” Sitting at the kitchen table, Rachel grinned down at the baby, running a single finger over impossibly soft skin, tiny fingers, little button nose, while holding the bottle with her other hand. Willow watched from the doorway, leaning in the arch, smiling.

“No, I just don’t want some stupid reporter to do something, … well, … stupid,” she explained softly.

“That really spooked you, huh?” Rachel asked, sparing a quick glance to her friend, who was walking over to the table, sat opposite her.

“I know it’s silly, but yeah he did.”

“It’s not silly. Shoot, look at Princess Di. Those idiots have been known to do some crazy things. What is Christine going to do?”

Willow shrugged. “No idea. I’m sure she knows what to do. I mean, she’s dealt with this crap for almost twenty years.”

“I wonder what that’s like,” Rachel said absently, brushing her fingers over the silky soft hair. “Looks like her hair is going to be darker than both her mommy and daddy,”

“Yeah. But then my dad has real dark hair,”

“Hmm,”

“So are you driving Connor nuts yet?”

“What, for a baby?” Rachel smiled. “No. It’s not the right time and I know that. Yeah, I’d love to have one, but for now I’ll just have to steal yours.”

Willow laughed. “I don’t know who you’d have a harder time getting past- me or Christine,”

“Quite the little daddy, is she?” Rachel smirked.

“Nice. Hardly.”

“No?”

Willow thought about it for a moment, and could see where Rachel would get that. Daddy figure. She looked away, feeling a steady flush rise up her neck and cheeks. Ever the eagle-eyed friend, Rachel raised a brow.

“Are you blushing, Willow?”

“No.”

“Liar.” Rachel’s humor died when she sensed just how serious the blonde had become. Remaining silent, she didn’t want to scare Willow away if she needed to talk.

Pretend it’s nothing. It is nothing. You’re fine, Christine’s fine, the whole damn world is fine.

Inner turmoil came to a head when Willow felt a slight sting behind her eyes. Oh, no. She was not going to do that. Swallowing it down, she decided that she’d have to get it out one way or the other, via crying it out or talking it out. If she cried she knew she’d have to explain it anyway, so she prepared to speak.

“That night, the night Adam died, Christine was so devastated,” she began softly, seeing the anguish in those beautiful blue eyes all over again.

“No doubt,” Rachel agreed softly.

“She destroyed the phone, then went outside. She was out there a long time. Eventually I put Emma to bed, and went there myself, reading, trying to get my mind off things, worrying, all that.”

Willow stood, grabbing the bag of coffee from the cabinet, full strength, no more of the puny stuff. Filling the basket and carafe, she stood at the counter, needing some space between she and Rachel as she told her story. She could feel blue eyes on her, and she ignored them.

“It got later, darker. I figured she’d gone somewhere, but her keys were still hanging by the door. I had no idea where she’d gone, but knew I shouldn’t follow. You have no idea how hard that was for me,” she chuckled, stealing a glance at her friend.

“I can imagine,” Rachel laughed, rocking Emma to sleep, the baby having her fill of lunch.

“Anyway, so eventually she did come in. I listened. She checked on Emma, checked on me, then went to her own room. I followed.”

Pushing off the counter, she sat, deciding that she needed to be as honest and open with Rachel as possible, and by keeping her distance, would seem like she had something to hide, or was perhaps ashamed.

“She was so upset,” Willow whispered, seeing Christine standing by the window, looking like such a lost child. “It was hard to see. She’s normally so stoic about things concerning herself. You know, she’ll be so incredibly supportive of me, or I know she would be of Emma, so perceptive to what you need that it’s almost like it’s her own pain,” she looked off into space for a moment, thinking back over the months she’d spent with the singer.

“She’s an incredible lady,” Rachel said softly, eyeing her friend. She had a feeling that something huge was about to be revealed, but had no idea what.

“Yes, she is.” Willow’s eyes met Rachel’s for the first time since she had started the conversation. “She stood there, heartsick, though at that point I still had no idea what had happened.” She stood again, hearing the coffee maker coming to life. She knew it would be a matter of moments before it was done.

Walking to the cabinet, she pulled out two mugs, got out the cream, sugar, anything to slow down time. Anything to stall what she had to say.

Rachel was feeling impatient, but remained silent all the same. She was sitting on pins and needles. It was almost like reading a book as someone wrote it, having to wait for that next chapter to be completed.

“Coffee?”

“Please.”

Sighing heavily, Willow filled two mugs, brought them and all the stuff they needed to the table. Getting settled once again, she continued, her voice quiet, dreamy.

“She needed me that night. She begged me not to leave her,” she watched almost hypnotically as she stirred in French Vanilla cream, the thick liquid swirling around the cup. “Sh,” Willow swallowed, “she needed someone to be there for her, to make her know it was okay, there was still life out there, I guess,” gently laying the spoon aside, she cupped her mug, lazily blowing across the hot surface of the liquid.

Rachel prepared her own cup with one hand, the other holding a sleeping Emma securely in her lap.

“I think she needed to reach out in the only way she could, only way she knew how at that moment of utter devastation to her universe,” she searched Rachel’s eyes, looking for understanding. The concerned blue eyes that looked back showed no judgment, no disgust, just content listening. “I think she needed to speak with her heart that night, unable to talk to me, to tell me where it hurt,”

Confused, Rachel studied her friend. Where was this leading?

“She needed me to show her love. She needed me to love her,” she finally said, her voice just barely above a whisper.

The lights flickered on, but Rachel did her best to not react. Looking her friend dead in the eye, she had to make sure they were on the same page. “You made love?” she asked softly.

Willow blinked at her, making Rachel wonder if she’d read it wrong, when finally the blonde nodded. “I guess you could say that, yes. Then I held her, and let her cry herself to sleep.”

“Wow,” the redhead breathed.

“She left not long after I woke up,” Willow finished, sipping her coffee. Rachel couldn’t take her eyes off her friend, her mind somersaulting over what she’d just been told. She had no idea what her reaction was, her mind a scramble of thoughts and emotions at the news. Later it would shock her that her first instinct hadn’t been that of a teenager, wanting to know how it was. It never even occurred to her in that moment. “Say something,” Willow whispered, terrified of what her friend was thinking.

“I’m not sure what to say,”

Willow swallowed a sob, about to stand. Rachel’s hand flew across the table, holding her friend in place.

“Don’t you go running off. I’m not,” she paused, thinking of what exactly she was trying to say. “Willow, I don’t think this is a gay issue, or anything that base. You and Christine love each other. A blind man could see that. You gave the ultimate sacrifice for that love, and should be commended for it.” She watched as her friend sat back down, eyes wary. “I mean, I’ll be honest, and say I’m not entirely sure how I feel, but that’s not a bad thing. Consider, I’m used to seeing you with Kevin, hugging, kissing, all that jazz. I mean, shit, you have a child by him.”

Willow nodded, sipping her coffee, mainly to keep her hands busy.

“Do you regret it?”

Willow thought about this question for a moment, rolling it around on her mind’s tongue. No, that didn’t taste right. She shook her head. “No.”

“What do you think will happen once she gets back?”

“I have no idea. She once told me she’s never made love, looks at sex as a bad word, basically. So, that said, I have no clue how she feels. Maybe she regrets it. She flew out of here fast enough,” she couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice, even knowing it was selfish.

“Hey,” Rachel lightly scolded. “I don’t think her actions that day are indicative of anything about Christine. Try and put yourself in the place she was. And if she said she feels that way about sex, then imagine what kind of trust that must have taken for her to ask that of you.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely! Considering the last time something like that happened, when she kissed you? You freaked out. Her coming to you was an act of desperation, Willow. No doubt she was trying to stay above water, clinging to you.”

Willow studied her friend, stunned at what had just come out of the redhead’s mouth.

“What?” Rachel asked, cup halfway to her mouth.

“When the hell did you get so insightful?”

Rachel chuckled into her mug. “I was a prophet in my past life,” setting the mug down. “How are you feeling about all this?

Willow shrugged. “Alright, I guess. I haven’t really allowed myself to think about it much,”

“Why not? You’re just as entitled to your thoughts and feelings as Christine is. Yes, you made the ultimate sacrifice, but sacrifices aren’t made without consequences, my friend.”

“I guess I’ve been afraid to think about it, to let myself.”

“Why? You think you’re gay or something?”

Green eyes flickered to her friend, studying her, but said nothing.

“I told you, Willow- this isn’t a gay issue.”

“Then what is it? I mean, who the hell, after a sexual life that spans a decade, with men, suddenly has the most amazingly passionate sexual experience of her life, and it’s with a woman, no less, doesn’t question that?” Willow looked incredulous.

“Willow,” Rachel said very quietly, “I’m not trying to force anything on you, or put you in a certain camp by any means. But I am saying that this isn’t about gay, straight or whatever. This was about love. Plain and simple. I mean, I’m no expert on the doings of lesbians, no more than you. But I know love when I see it, and I see it every single time I look at the two of you.” She paused, waiting for the words to absorb. “You two are raising a child together!” she indicated the very child, asleep in her arms.

Willow could only look at her, having absolutely no idea how to respond to that. She hadn’t given a second thought to what she and Christine were doing. They were just happy; that was all she knew.

“Bottom line,” Rachel said at last, “I care about you, and I want to see you happy. If Christine is that happiness, who the hell cares?”

“It’s not that easy, Rachel,” Willow said, her insides in a tempest, not sure where to go, or where was safe.

“No, it’s not. You’re facing some pretty big decisions, my friend. The past year has been filled with huge changes for you, beginning on a cold night last February.”

Willow grinned, looking up at her friend. “Do you realize Emma was born one year to the day, of the night I pulled the great Christine Gray out of Dittman River?”

Rachel sat back in her chair, mouth hanging open. “You’re kidding?” As her friend shook her blonde head, Rachel shook hers in disbelief. “See? It’s fate.”

Willow rolled her eyes, getting up to refill her cup. Topping off Rachel’s raised mug, she sat again.

“I don’t know. Yes, Christine is a major, important part of my life, and I want her in it. I just don’t honestly know what part I want her to play in it, what I can handle. I don’t know that what happened the other night is a reason to get into that kind of relationship with her.”

“Well, something tells me it won’t be a decisive action,” she stirred in some cream. “I think it’ll just happen, Wills.”

“Hmm,” Willow sipped her brew, staring absently into space. “Maybe. I really don’t know.”

****

Not long after Rachel had left, the doorbell rang again. Wiping her hands on a dishrag, Willow unlocked the door, and carefully pulled it open, peeking around it, not expecting anyone.

“Hello, ma’am. I’m Troy Leonard, head of Leonard Security.”

Willow looked up at the small mountain that stood on her porch, his body almost blocking out any sunlight. A hand the size of a football was stretched out, waiting for her to take it. Her much, much smaller one gently enfolded, he produced a card from his inside pocket.

“Miss Gray has filled me in on the situation miss, so with your permission, my team will set up,” he moved aside to reveal a black van sitting in front of the house, the back doors already open, a man pulling equipment out, laying it in the dirt behind the vehicle.

“Oh, uh, okay,” stepping back and feeling like she was in a dream, Willow admitted the half-back-sized man, dressed in a black suit, hair slicked back to perfection. Two of his team members followed him inside, both the man and the woman nodding politely at the blonde. The three murmured amongst themselves as they traveled through the house, Willow heading back into the kitchen where her macaroni and cheese was about to burn.

****

Three hours, five cameras, and a brand new electric gate, later, Willow was once again left alone in her house. She was assured none of the footage came from inside the house itself, all lenses angled to various locations around the property, the monitors housed in the van. A monitor was also set up in Willow’s bedroom, where she could easily flip through the channels, seeing full color, live images at any time.

She figured this must be costing Christine a small fortune, and felt bad that it had become a must.

She sat on the floor, legs crossed, and watched the monitor image change as she switched through the channels, seeing various parts of the ranch flicker into view. Her brow knit as she looked on, seeing the black van parked at a discrete distance, monitoring what she herself was watching.

Willow pushed the button, once again changing the view. This time she was able to see the electric gate, a NO TRESPASSING: PRIVATE PROPERTY sign attached to its face. A butterfly was instantly battering at her ribs when she noticed a very familiar Jeep pulling up to it. The driver unzipped her window, the plastic falling inside as Troy stepped up to the vehicle.

She watched as Christine and Troy talked, the huge man articulating with his arms various things around the property, pointing at this and that.

Willow used the zoom feature, getting in close to see Christine nodding her head, her lips moving as she spoke. Finally, a bright smile spread across the singer’s face, and her hand reached through the window, taking Troy’s in a hearty handshake. The moving house stepped aside, allowing the Jeep to continue on.

Heart pounding, Willow stood from the floor, taking a deep breath. She was so nervous, and hated that feeling. Quickly running her fingers through her hair, she made her way down the stairs.

Feeling like a stupid teenager, she tried to decide what to do. Look cool, act normal, sit down and start reading a magazine. Maybe turn the TV on, like she’d been sitting there the entire time. What?

Standing in the middle of the entryway, trying to decide where to go, she realized it was too late when she heard the engine cut off just outside the door. Heart seizing, she heard a door slam, footfalls on the wooden steps, then finally the porch.

Stepping back toward the stairs, Willow raised herself to the first step, so at least she didn’t look like she’d been standing there waiting for Christine to arrive. She already felt like an idiot.

Grabbing the balustrade in her sweating hand, she watched as the door slowly swung open, an overnight bag entering first, being set on the floor just inside the door. Christine materialized, hair windblown and wild, eyes tired and red.

Christine closed the door behind her, then turned to see Willow slowly stepping onto the main floor. The singer was about to say hello, but was so overwhelmed with relief when Willow was waiting there for her, walking toward her.

Without a word, she grabbed the small blonde in a hug, eyes closing. She was home.

Willow wrapped her arms around Christine’s waist, resting her head against sagging shoulders. They held each other for a long time, each surprised at how much she’d missed the other woman, though it had only been a couple days.

“You’re home early,” Willow finally said, stepping slightly back so she could look into the brunette’s somnolent features.

“Yeah. I came home tonight cause I’ll be leaving again in a few days.” Christine led the way into the living room where she flopped down on the couch.

“What? Why?” Willow sat next to her, tucking her legs in under her.

“I need to go to L.A., talk to my publicist. I need her to do some damage control now before things start to get out of hand,” she explained quietly. Willow nodded sagely.

“I understand,” though she didn’t like it. “How was it?”

“Long. Tiring. I’ve decided that was the longest two days of my life.”

“I’m so sorry.” Willow wanted so badly to reach out and take Christine’s hand, but something stopped her, something in Christine’s mannerism. Her arms were crossed over her chest, closing herself off. Willow gave the singer her space. As if on cue, short bursts of wining wafted down from upstairs, echoing in the baby monitor, which doubled as a walkie talkie, placed on the table next to Christine. Willow smiled. “She’s calling you,”

Christine grinned, ear to ear, and was out of her seat like a shot. Willow stayed where she was, uncertainty filling her. She’d never felt so unsure around the taller woman; not even when they first met. She sighed deeply, down to her soul.

“Shoot.” She smiled through her sadness, listening as Christine talked quietly to Emma, gibberish, as well as real speak. Emma made her cute little noises, which always melted both their hearts. It wasn’t long before there were creaking footsteps on the stairs, and Christine appeared around the corner, babe in arms. She reclaimed her seat on the couch, tucking Emma in the crook of her arm.

She glanced over at the blonde. “I think she’s grown.”

“No doubt. She’s growing like a weed.” Willow reached out to gently tug down Emma’s sleeve, which had gotten pushed up during the baby’s transport downstairs.

“Yes she is,” she said absently, resting her head against the back of the couch. “Willow,” she said, opening her eyes and glancing at the blonde.

“Hmm?”

“I really am sorry.”

Willow studied her for a moment, chewing on her lip. “You’re sorry it happened, or you’re sorry you initiated it?”

Christine’s head flew off the back of the sofa, eyes wide in shock. Willow almost wanted to laugh at the way her mouth hung open.

“Careful, Christine,” she said softly, “you’ll catch flies.”

Christine looked straight ahead, trying to get her thoughts and emotions under control. Interesting question, indeed.

“Listen,” Willow continued, reaching out this time, despite what the singer’s body language said. “it wasn’t some night on a dark beach, getting caught up in the moment, Christine. You needed me, and I was there for you. I,” she took a deep breath, “I don’t regret it, and neither should you.”

Looking back at her friend, Christine tried to rummage through everything she’d just been told, find some meaning and sense in it.

“Willow, no it wasn’t a dark beach, but you made your feelings quite clear on that dark beach. I shouldn’t have-”

“Honey, what happened the other night wasn’t about sex.” Green eyes searched blue, trying to find some understanding. “It wasn’t about that. I know that. Believe me, I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple days, trying to decide if I should just let it go, never to bring it up again, or what.” She shook her head. “I care too much about you to sweep it under the rug like that. I’d say you do, too since you brought it up.”

Christine nodded. “I do.” Willow grabbed her hand, wrapping both her warm ones around it.

“Please don’t let this come between us. Please. I’m not scared, and I love you just as much now as I did then.” She knew she was jumping the gun on things that hadn’t even happened, an may not have, but she had to get it all out, make Christine aware of just how she felt, and what her fears were.

“Wow,” the brunette said quietly, looking down at Emma. “Okay,”

Willow smiled, scooting closer to Christine and laying her head on the singer’s shoulder, both looking down at her daughter. She heard the small chuckle as she released the sigh that just wouldn’t stay in. She met amused blue eyes.

“What?”

Christine shook her head. “Nothing.” Kissing Emma on her cheek, she stood. “I’m exhausted.” Holding her hand out to the blonde, she took the smaller hand. “Come on. Let’s put her to bed.”

The baby sighed sleepily, eyes never opening as she was put back into her crib, blanket lovingly tucked under her chin. They both stood, looking down at her, watching her sleep.

“You know, part of me looks at her and thinks just how lucky she is, her entire life ahead of her, new things to see and do. All the potential she has, you know?” Christine sighed then continued. “The other part of me feels sorry for her. All the things she’ll have to do, all the things she’ll have to live through- heartbreaks, disappointments.”

“Yeah. I think about that a lot. I can’t help but wonder what she’ll be, who she’ll be. Did I give birth to the first female President? Or did I give birth to the best second grade teacher who ever lived?”

“Either way, she’ll be very loved.” Christine said softly, hands resting on the top rail of the white crib.

“Yes, she will,” Willow looked up at her friend. “by both of us.” Christine smiled, big and bright. “You know, I can totally see you being the one she’ll go to when her first boyfriend dumps her, or she gets her first B on a test.”

Christine laughed. “Why me?”

“Because you give such great hugs.” Willow nudged her in the side, making the taller woman laugh again.

“Well, you two can do all that shopping nonsense. And girl talk.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Oh, and we will,” Willow assured, leading the way out of the nursery, shutting the light off as she went, leaving the room dimly lit by the Care Bear nightlight. She closed the door to a crack.

Standing out in the hall, between Emma and Willow’s doors, Christine gave the blonde a quick hug.

“Good night.”

“Night, Christine. I’m so glad you’re home, even if it is for a couple days.”

Christine smiled. “Me, too.”

With that, they both went their separate ways.

****

“Is it hard being famous?”

“What?”

“Is it hard being famous?” Willow asked again, laying her magazine face down in her lap, readjusting the pillows behind her, and glancing over at her friend who sat with her back against the opposite arm of the couch, their socked feet fighting now and then.

Christine looked over her laptop, raising a brow.

“It’s a simple question. Yes or no.”

“It’s a bizarre question.”

“Perhaps, but I still want to know the answer to this.”

Gently setting her laptop aside, having a feeling that this was not going to be a quick question/answer session.

“What brought this on?” she asked.

“I was just reading about the Brad, Jennifer, Angelina saga, and it made me wonder what they were feeling, having all the world’s attention on their lives,” Willow said, tossing the magazine to the coffee table.

“Ah, I see. Well,” Christine blew out. “It’s not always easy. Your privacy is thrown out the window, that’s for sure. Everyone wants to know every single little itty bitty detail about your life,” she scrunched up her face, bringing her thumb and forefinger together to emphasize her point.

“Have you ever gotten fan mail?”

“Of course. I have a lady who lives in this tiny little town in Oregon who goes through it all, sorting it, reading it, that sort of thing. She picks the letters she thinks I would like to read, and sends them on to me.”

“And the others?”

“She sends them a formatted letter that has my signature on the bottom, and mails it to them,” Christine shrugged, wiggling her toes.

“You’re kidding? All those carnivorous fans out there, so excited that they got a response back from the great Christine Gray, are actually getting nothing but a form letter from some creepy mail lady?”

Christine laughed. “Don’t make it sound so harsh. I don’t have the time to go through all that mail myself. It would be impossible. I used to,” she held up a finger, “I actually used to go through and read each and every one, personally answered most.”

“Why did you stop?”

“Well, that was back in the very early days. Heck, I was so stunned that someone had taken the time to write me that I was overjoyed to respond, you know? But then as I got busier, my schedule crazier, and the fans a bit nuttier and larger in numbers, it just wasn’t possible anymore, and I hired Lindy.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Miss what?”

“Having a bit of a more personal connection to your fans.”

“Sometimes,” Christine shrugged. “The sad part is, no matter how many letters I get, how many I answer or read, I’m still so far removed from them, you know? I feel like I can’t be among them anymore. You see, my fans have put me up on such a ridiculously high pedestal over the years that there’s no way I can live up to their expectations if they knew the real me. I’d fall short.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Willow said, chuckling softly.

“No, I would.” Christine looked sad for a moment. “I read what’s said about me, how I’m viewed. I’m expected to either be somebody’s wet dream, or sexual kitten come to life, or their role model. I’m none of the above. When it boils down to it, I’m just me. Not too interesting in the end. And far too human.”

“Well, that’s all in who you talk to.” Willow raised a challenging brow. Christine rolled her eyes.

“Well, if you live out in the middle of nowhere with a horse named Star to talk to, yeah, I’m sure I’m all that and a bag of gem doughnuts.”

Willow laughed, swatting the singer. “You’re such a shoot.”

“A shoot? What on earth is a shoot?”

“You know what I mean!” Willow growled, swatting Christine again.

“You know, you keep hitting me like that and I’m going to have to file for domestic violence,” Christine raised a brow and Willow blushed.

“Well, can’t say I’m worried. After all, there are some requirements that have to be met in order to be called ‘domestic violence’,” Willow pointed out, proudly shooting down the brunette’s comment. However, it backfired against her, as she blushed even deeper at Christine’s rakish look. But, just as soon as the look hit her face, it was gone, replaced by a look that Willow could only think of as, … empty.

“Well,” Christine said, subject closed. “did I answer all your questions?” When her eyes met Willow’s they were the eyes of a stranger, remote and withdrawn.

“Uh, yeah. I suppose so.” Willow was confused, and slightly hurt. They had been playing, fun banter, and just like that, she had snapped it off at the bone. With a sad sigh, she grabbed up her magazine again, and pretended to read.

****

“Everything alright, ma’am?” Troy asked, his curiosity getting the better of him, watching the cute blonde standing in front of the garage, rubbing her chin for the past twenty three and a half minutes.

“Mm, fine,” she said absently. He nodded and turned to head back to his post. “Troy?”

“Yes, Miss Bowman?” he asked, turning toward her again.

“How much do you think it would cost to convert this into a studio?” She finally glanced at him, still rubbing her chin.

“A studio, ma’am?”

“Yeah. You know, like a music studio, somewhere where Christine could hide.”

“Oh,” surprised, he looked at the two and a half car garage, running costs through his mind. “several thousand dollars, ma’am. I’d say upwards of a couple hundred.”

“Oh,” Willow said, heart sinking.

“But that’s with all the equipment, too, ma’am. I assume you’d want recording equipment?” he said quickly, not wanting to burst her bubble of thought.

“Well, yeah. Okay, so what about without all that? Maybe just sound-proofing, that kind of thing.” She looked at him, really hoping he’d have better news for her. He sighed, looking back at the building.

“Well, saying that nothing structural had to be done, that it was sound, that is,” he shrugged. “Fifteen, twenty thousand maybe.”

****

The drawer was tugged open, two hands instantly inside, rummaging through the gobs of unorganized papers.

Willow murmured the names of each as she unfolded, uncrumpled, reattached.

“Bank receipt, receipt from Target, credit card statement,” on and on, brows knit in panicked concentration. She was a horrible bookkeeper, and it was times just such as that when she realized just how horrible. Tax season was murder.

Throwing out the last bit of paper, Willow sighed heavily, running a hand through her shaggy hair. Looking around the small home office, she searched her mind, trying to remember where she’d put it.

Light dawning on marble head, she raced out of the house on the slim chance that it was still there. Quickly opening the passenger-side door of the truck, she pulled herself up onto the seat, then flung open the glove compartment. Again looking through the contents- maps, insurance papers, napkins from Baskin-Robins, and one last something, folded up in the back.

Hoping against hope, Willow grabbed it, quickly unfolding it in shaking fingers.

“Yes!”

****

Christine hadn’t bothered to call Millie in. She was only planning to be at the Beverly Hills house for a couple, three days. She walked its long, empty halls, seeing all the beautiful, expensive things that filled its walls and rooms, and realized how meaningless it all really was.

She didn’t want to be there. She knew where she longed to be, but it scared her half to death. She couldn’t understand why Willow was taking things so well, considering how much she’d freaked out over a simple kiss so many months ago. It seemed like a lifetime ago since that had happened.

Despite everything the blonde had said, which she wanted to believe, she was having a hard time with it. The thought had occurred to her more than once that perhaps Willow was just brushing it all under the rug out of pity for what a mess Christine had been that night. What if inside Willow really hates her? What if she’s just waiting for the singer to get over Adam’s death, then her true feelings will come out?

Christine laughed at herself, not truly believing a word of her own paranoia.

A thought occurred to her that stopped her cold, however, looking out the floor to ceiling French doors in her music room, hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans.

What if she were pulling away because she didn’t want this closeness? What if she didn’t want to open herself up so much to Willow, and in many ways, to Emma? What if she felt claustrophobic, or smothered?

She sighed, running a hand through her hair. That wasn’t it, either, and she knew she owed Willow more than that. She couldn’t use that as an excuse, or use it to justify her own fear.

Fear of what?

Christine turned from the doors, looking over the room, following the little squares of light, the sun’s rays making a map across the wood floor, leading up to the grand piano. She followed the path, brushing her fingers across the smooth wooden surface, her beloved.

That was something she was having a hard time with. Her music. No, she didn’t miss the crowds and the craziness, even if it had followed her into a quiet life; but she did miss the music. Oh, she missed the music.

She pulled the bench out from underneath the keyboard, the sun kissing the dark wood. Lovingly lifting the lid, revealing the black and whites, she took her place, eyes automatically closing. Vision wasn’t needed for the soul.

Limbering her fingers and hands, she ran her scales, up and down, around, flat, sharp, back again. Flexing her knuckles and listening to them crack, she began to play for real.

Sighing deeply, she knew she was home.

****

“This is the mess you’ve gotten us into.” The Enquirer skidded across the desk, stopping short of falling off the edge and into Christine’s lap. LOVE ON THE RANCH?

“Bastards,” she muttered, seeing a half-naked picture of a very surprised Willow. “And what do you mean I’ve gotten us into?”

“Why not you? You haven’t given the children anything to play with. You know how they are- they get bored!” Roxanne paced behind her desk, hands clasped behind her back. Flipping her long, curly black hair over her shoulder, she stopped, looking down at her long-time client. “You know how to play this game, Christine. Come on, I shouldn’t have to lecture you on this shit,”

“Don’t start, Roxanne,”

“Don’t start what? Don’t start this?” she poked her finger into the rag. “Don’t start with staying single for so fucking long that the world was wondering if you’re a real live human? Is that what I shouldn’t start?”

“I’m not going to lie and say I’m with someone that I’m not.” Christine could feel her anger building. Roxanne Mills stopped, dark laser eyes parked on the singer’s.

“Your whole life is a fucking lie!” she barked, sitting hard in the leather chair across the desk. “Jesus, you know this shit better than I do! You only pay me to keep your ass out of trouble- you have to live this circus. What the hell were you thinking not giving them any dirt? Jesus, you know they’ll just keep digging, and this time by god, they hit fucking pay dirt!”

“How did they find out? I was so careful to keep Willow out of this.”

“Careful? You were careful?” she leaned forward, tapping a clawed finger on the shiny mahogany. “So careful that this woman has been in the news twice, both times linked to you. So careful that you had that fucking hospital locked down like Fort Knox while she gave birth to the kid, you at her side,” she pointed that claw at Christine as she spoke. “Yeah, that’s how goddamn careful you’ve been.” She sat back in her chair, getting her composure back with another flick of her hair. “No doubt some hospital staff or another puppy pusher spilled the beans for a nice chunk of change. Bastards probably paid their kid’s college tuition,” she muttered absently.

“Fine. So I messed up. Now what? Can you fix this?” Christine looked so deeply into those seemingly impenetrable black eyes of her publicist that she made the woman squirm.

“I just don’t know,” Roxanne finally said. She crossed a leg over her knee, carefully tugging at her skirt, the picture of fashion perfection. She was so grateful Christine had introduced her to Sandra all those years ago. “Personally I think you should marry the girl and bring it all out into the open.”

“It’s not like that, Roxanne-”

“So make it like that, Christine!” the publicist almost yelled, sitting forward again. “You can’t go back. Once the ‘they’re fucking’ theory has gone behind a story, there is no way to remove it. You two are playing house down there in Bumbfuck, Oklahoma. Do you really think people are going to believe it’s platonic? The two of you have separate bedrooms, don’t burp or fart around each other? Bullshit. I don’t believe it,” she planted her clawed hand on her chest, “and they sure as hell don’t believe it.”

Christine sighed, knowing full well that Roxanne was right. The publicist’s voice softened.

“The way I see it is this- if you and the cute blonde can’t make nice in domesticity, then you’ll just have to let the hubbub die down. It will eventually, once some new asshole comes up in the spotlight, who will actually talk to them, and do something stupid, like turning into white trash after getting married to some loser with greasy hair and big shoes.” She rolled dark eyes. “Public nightmare.”

“What if I moved back to L.A.?”

“So sorry to hear about your breakup. May we get a statement?” Roxanne said dryly, leaning on her hand.

“Shit.”

“Stay with her, Christine. At least that way you can stop them from hounding her until all this blows over.”

****

Christine felt a sense of dread fall over her as she played that night. Eyes closed, head swaying with her hands as they raced across the keys. She felt so horrible for dragging such innocent people into this- Willow, Emma, hell, even the people of Lamont, the tiny little town by Willow’s ranch. No doubt the bastards were staying there, drilling the unsuspecting people about both she and the blonde.

Images of that little blonde began to float before Christine’s closed eyes. Her eyes, her smile, her body. The way it looked as the moonlight caressed it through the large window that night. The way Willow’s skin had felt, warm and smooth, so responsive. The little noises she made, the rapture in her eyes as she’d discovered ultimate pleasure.

Christine’s fingers moved faster and faster, along with her heartbeat, feeling every sigh, every kiss, every whispered encouragement, all over again.

Was that what it was like with someone you loved? Was that what it was like to feel loved? Is that how it felt to be in love?

Shaking that last thought off as quickly as humanly possible, Christine’s fingers stilled, eyes opening to see the darkness beyond the glass panes of the large doors. No, no. Can’t go there. Can never go there.

****

Willow paced, restless, hands fidgeting nonstop, hand running through her hair. Glancing out the window again, she saw the truck still parked directly in front, the muffled voices of the movers shouting out orders. She stopped, hand on the doorknob, but then saw Howard looking in at her.

Smiling at the member of Troy’s team, assigned to keep her in the house and out of the way, by her own orders, she began to pace again.

It was close, so terribly close. Sneaking a peak at the Grandfather clock in the corner, she hissed in worry.

A knock on the front door sent her running toward it, pulling it open so fast she startled the head mover guy. What did he say his name was?

“It’s all done, ma’am,” he said proudly. “Gotta say, that was one helluva tight space.”

“Is it okay? How does it look?” she asked, trying to see around him, as if that would do any good.

“Well, in my opinion, it looks real good.” He beamed, face ruddy from the exertion.

“Thank you so much.” Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled out the bank envelope, then glanced at him with a raised brow.

“Oh, ah,” looking at his order, he pulled a small calculator out of the breast pocket of his work shirt, and began to punch numbers in with a pudgy finger. He gave her a number, and she happily dug the amount out of the envelope, plus a hefty tip. That was just about the last of it, but she didn’t care. It was all worth it.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he tipped his sweaty hat, handed her the hand-written receipt, and turned away, gathering all his men into the truck, and headed out.

Willow hurried up the stairs, bolting into the bedroom at top speed, shucking clothing as she went. A fastest shower in female history later, she was dressed, and taking care of Emma, getting the baby ready.

Exactly thirteen minutes after the movers had left, the front door opened, and Christine walked in, carry-on in her hand. She was surprised to see Willow waiting for her, beaming like the Cheshire cat.

“Welcome back!” the blonde gushed, hurrying over to the singer. For a moment, Christine’s heart soared, happiness almost overwhelming. But as Willow got closer, she began to freak, thinking back to the vow she’d made to herself in L.A.

“Hey, uh,” she breezed past the blonde. “hands are full. Let me get rid of this stuff,” smiling sheepishly, Christine hurried up the stairs. Willow watched her go, shock and hurt in her eyes.
Part 16
“Wow. Okay. Bad flight, I guess,” Willow mumbled, unsure what to do. Should she follow and ask? Leave her alone? The decision was made for her, as within minutes, Christine was on her way back down the stairs, Emma in tow. The singer was kissing the baby and making crazy faces and voices at her.

“I think she gained another five pounds since I’ve been gone,” she said absently to the blonde as she hit the landing, “haven’t you, you big goober?” Emma squealed and gurgled.

Though touched by the scene before her, it was hard for Willow to get into it, or even respond, the hurt still stinging. When she got o response, Christine looked at her friend, smiling.

“How has your week been?” she passed the blonde, heading into the kitchen.

“Uh,” Willow said, shaking herself out of her shock of absolutely being avoided. “fine. It was fine. Good, I guess.”

“Good.” Christine handed Emma off with a kiss to the baby’s forehead, then began to dig through the fridge, famished from a long day of traveling.

“And how was your trip? Anything productive happen? Anything you can do?” Willow sat on a barstool, baby in hand, as she watched her friend getting ingredients out for a sandwich.

“No,” Christine sighed, spinning the lid off the jar of Miracle Whip. She licked her thumb as some of the tangy spread smeared on it. “looks like I’m stuck. We’ll just have to weather the storm.” She finally looked at the blonde for the first time since she’d arrived, all whirlwind of baby banter and mindless questions. Willow was looking down and away, focused on some tile or other. As she watched, the blonde nodded numbly.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. Me, too.” Turning back to her dinner, she angrily flopped a couple pieces of turkey onto the Miracle Whip, mustard slathered bread. She was angry, all right, but angry at herself. She could tell Willow was hurt. The blonde wasn’t dumb, and Christine had been stupid to think this would work. She’d been home for less than twenty minutes, and already she felt like a schmuck. There was no way and hell she could keep her distance from Willow; it wasn’t possible. The little blonde had a way of finding the tiniest cracks in the strongest of armor, and wheedling her way inside.

Damn it!

Slopping the two pieces of bread together, she shoved the plate aside, beginning to pick up her mess.

“Christine?” was spoken so softly, filled with such uncertainty. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”

Sighing, Christine leaned against the counter for a moment, head hanging. Finally she pushed off, turning to her confused friend. She shook her head.

“No.” Walking over to where Willow sat with Emma, she carefully gathered the two in a warm, all encompassing hug, feeling a relieved sigh escape the blonde. “No,” she repeated, inhaling the smells- Herbal Essence, Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo and powder.

Pulling away, she smiled down at Willow, who looked overwhelmingly happy. Christine couldn’t help but smile in return. Yeah, how could she ever have thought she could push this one out?

****

Willow listened quietly as Christine explained what Roxanne had said, all the while the singer stuffed her face, getting up to make herself a second sandwich, with a second handful of Doritos.

“I’ve screwed myself, basically,” she said, around a bite of sandwich. Swallowing quickly, she continued, “it’s not going to stop, Willow. I’m so sorry, and I hope you understand that I never wanted this to happen.”

“I know that,” Willow said softly, though a wrinkle had formed between her eyes, deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing, really.” The blonde sighed, glancing over at Emma, who lay on a blanket on the floor. “It is hard, Christine. I won’t lie to you. Sometimes, when I open my front door, see the van, or see Troy or Howard out there talking, walking the perimeter of the place, I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own house.”

Christine listened, nodding her understanding. “I know. I’m so sorry,” she wanted to reach across the table and take the blonde’s hand, but she resisted. No, she may not be able to push the little blonde out, but she wasn’t going to torture herself, either. “The only other thing I can do is to leave,” she studied green eyes, looking for any sort of silent answer.

“No.” Willow was stern, one word.

“Or not,” Christine grinned, secretly relieved.

“We’ll face these a-holes together,” Willow continued, her jaw set, body tense.

“Okay. So be it.”

“Well, in the meantime,” Willow stood, walking over to a sleeping Emma, and gathering her into her arms. “Let me put her down, and I have something I want to show you.”

Christine shivered at the mischievous grin that laced the blonde’s words, then mentally slapped herself.

“Uh, Willow, you do realize we’re outside, right?” Christine said, her words dripping with sarcasm.

“Very good.” Willow replied, patting the taller woman’s arm, un-phased. She led them over to the garage, her heart pounding. Bringing the key out to the brand new, extremely sturdy, lock, she carefully slid it into the hole, turning until the tumblers hit home. Knob in hand, she turned to look at a very confused Christine. “I hope you won’t be mad at me,” she said quietly before pushing the door open with her hip.

Wondering what on earth the blonde could have done to make her mad, Christine followed. It smelled different. Gone were the smells of gasoline, cut grass and oil. Now there was the smell of polish and paint.

The lights flicked on, can lights, sunken in the brand new ceiling, shining down on polished wood flooring, reflecting the white walls, covered in soundproofing material, and reflecting the greatest gift of all- a grand piano.

She sucked in a breath, taking it all in, stunned, touched deeply, and wanting to cry.

“You did all this?” she breathed, stepping further into the transformed garage. She ran her hand over a very familiar piano lid, tossing a quizzical glance Willow’s way.

“There was just no way for me to afford a new one, or even a used one, for that matter, so uh,” Willow explained quickly, trying to get the words out before Christine could get mad. “Joey helped me to get yours shipped here.”

“How did you? I was there, I played it until the night I left,…” Christine’s words were cut off by the amazement of it all.

“I know,” Willow rolled her eyes. “It was a nightmare. Joey’s girlfriend was spying on you, letting us know when you came and went,” she grinned, proud that they’d pulled it off. “Please tell me you’re not mad,”

Turning her focus on the blonde, Christine slowly shook her head. “I can’t believe you did all this,” she murmured absently, then remembered there was an unspoken question on the table. “No, no, I’m not mad.”

She grabbed Willow in a hug so tight, so profound, Willow almost couldn’t breath from relief and happiness.

“I can’t believe you did this,” Christine whispered to the top of her head. She gently pulled back, brows drawn. “How did you do this? This isn’t cheap. How did you pay for it? Please tell me you didn’t hurt yourself-”

“Shh,” Willow gently covered Christine’s lips with her fingers. “In all honesty, you kind of paid for it all.”

“Me?” She was totally baffled now.

“Well,” Willow blushed, “let’s just say I got super lucky at the bank, considering that check was more than a year old.”

Throwing her head back, a deep, full-bodied laugh left Christine’s throat as she pulled the blonde in for another hug. Willow chuckled along with her, finally her uncertainty, from the room and earlier, melting away.

“I can’t believe you did this,” Christine said again. Stepping out of the hug, she walked around the large room, trailing her fingers across everything, in awe that Willow had managed to pull all this together in a few days. “I almost feel like I’m in an episode of ‘While You Were Out,’” she joked, tapping a few keys before moving on.

“It basically was that crazy and chaotic, too. The movers with your piano left literally less than fifteen minutes before you got here.” Willow leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, a constant soft smile on her lips, happy that Christine was happy, and also pretty damn proud of herself.

“That would explain why your hair was still sort of wet,” the singer chuckled, making a full circuit around the room, coming to stand next to her friend.

“Play something for me. That is, if you’re not too tired after a long day of traveling.”

“Too tired to play?” Christine asked, brow raised. “Never.” Smug grin in place, she sauntered over to the piano, easing herself down on the newly polished bench, her mind reeling through the huge list of titles she knew, and the ones she, herself, had written.

Willow walked over to her, leaning against the incredibly beautiful instrument. She’d never seen a grand piano in real life before. When the guys had first gotten it off the truck, she had been struck almost breathless from its beauty and grace. Much like its maestro.

The music began slow, a few keys at a time higher up the scale. Soon the momentum built, and Christine’s voice joined, soft and sweet.

Willow slowly made her way toward the bench, lowering herself next to the singer, drawn, almost hypnotized, by the music and soft, soothing voice. In that moment she knew she’d done the right thing. To keep this beautiful, talented creature from her music was a crime.

The song slowly came to an end, Willow sighing along with it. “It’s been settled,” she said, voice dreamy. “you can never leave this room.”

“Oh yeah?” Christine chuckled, playing randomly, her heart filling with joy, knowing that this was hers, that any time she wanted, she could come out here, play, compose, be alone, create. For her, a day without creating was a day not worth living. Somehow Willow had known that. What an amazing gift.

Deciding to give back, her fingers began to find the right keys, the notes filling Willow’s ears, followed again by Christine’s voice. The blonde listened to the words, and suddenly she let out a small gasp.

Her eyes filled as she looked over at Christine, who was already looking at her, singing about a little girl, so filled with life and joy, a joy that made her feel whole. A little girl who had come into her life, giving her a whole new reason to live and love.

“You wrote a song about Emma?” Willow whispered. Christine nodded, continuing the song. Tears freely running down her cheeks, the blonde continued to listen, hearing just exactly what the baby meant to the singer.

Christine was worried at first, unsure whether Willow would think she was nuts for writing the song, or would be angry for some reason. Seeing the expression on her beautiful face and the tears in her green eyes, she felt her heart swell. Again. What she didn’t tell the blonde was that the song was for Emma and Willow.

****

“There she is! Oh, give me some sugar,” Mary Washington took Emma gently away from a grinning Willow, rushing the baby down the hall to show to every single staff member on the floor.

“You know you will never see Emma again, don’t you?” Doctor Benjamin Keele laughed.

“Eh, I know where Mary works,” Willow grinned at the diminutive doc.

“How are you feeling? Ready to come back Monday?” he asked, leaning against the nurse’s station counter.

“Yes, actually. I am. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss my daughter like crazy, but I’ll be glad to get back into the swing of things, you know?” She watched as a group of nurses and orderlies oohed and awwwed further down the hall, Mary in the middle of it all, holding on to the three month old for dear life. “I was glad to get the extended leave, though.”

“My wife would have loved to have a sixteen week leave with Brian, our first. By the second and third, she was ready to go back to work by the next day.” They both laughed, Willow only now understanding the truth behind those words. She absolutely loved staying home with Emma, and Christine for that matter, but she was starting to feel unproductive, like she wasn’t bringing anything into the household, and that bothered her.

“How old are your kids now, Ben?”

“Oh, let’s see,” he stared up at the ceiling, mentally calculating. “Brian will be twenty-two this year, Kathryn fifteen, and Kelsey will be twelve.”

“Twenty-two,” she whispered absently, watching as her baby was passed into another set of arms, more staff gathering. “Wow. I can’t imagine that.”

“It goes fast. Trust me.” Ben looked down at his pager, which was vibrating against his hip. “Got to run. It was great seeing the baby again, Willow. See you Monday.”

“Bye, Ben.”

****

“Did she like it?” Rachel asked, stuffing her mouth with salad drown in Italian dressing.

“She loved it,” Willow grinned, eyes sparkling. “You should have seen her. A kid in a candy store. So adorable. And, oh! I haven’t even told you the best part yet.”

“What’s that?” the redhead popped a crouton into her mouth, crunching it loudly.

“She wrote a song for Emma.”

“No!”

“Yes. It’s so beautiful. It’s called ‘My Angel’. I started to cry. I don’t know,” she put a hand to her chest, trying to find the words. “nothing has ever touched me like that. She really loves my baby, and that makes me so happy, and so relieved, you know? Like if something ever happened to me, I know Christine would take care of Emma.”

“Wow,” Rachel whistled. “That’s a whole ton of trust.

“I know, and from someone who doesn’t trust easily.” Willow sipped her water, smiling at a nurse who passed by their table in the hospital’s cafeteria.

“What about the other stuff?”

“What other stuff?”

“You know, the night-before-she-left-for-New York-other-stuff.”

“Oh,” Willow put her bottle down, swallowing before she answered that loaded question. “We’ve talked about it. I flat told her that I was just being a friend for her, that there was no worries, or reason to be afraid. I didn’t hate her, didn’t judge her. I told her it was beautiful and let’s leave it at that.”

“What did she say?”

Willow shrugged. “Not much.” Leaning her chin on her hand, she watched as Rachel mixed her salad around some more, then stabbed a forkful, putting it all into her mouth. “I sense something’s off, still. I don’t know. I can’t really put my finger on it.” Her face scrunched up as she thought about it.

“Like what?”

“Well, she’s been back from California for a few weeks, and things are great. I mean, we get along as wonderfully as we always did, and she adores Emma, plays with her, offers to feed her, change her, you name it. She plays a lot, out in her little music room. She’s so cute,” her smile returned. Rachel watched her carefully. Something was missing from the blonde, and she couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

“Trouble in paradise, huh?” she put her fork down, wiping her mouth with the cheap paper napkin she’d gotten out of the chrome dispenser.

“I don’t know.” Willow looked down, glancing over to see Mary and another nurse holding Emma, chatting quietly. It had taken a great deal of coercion for her to allow the two other women to keep hold of her daughter.

“Sure you do. Out with it.”

“She’s so distant,” Willow said, almost a rushed whisper, falling out of her mouth before she even had time to think about it.

“What do you mean, ‘distant’?” Rachel pushed the plastic bowl her salad was in away, pulling the wrapped cookie front and center.

“Well, physically. Christine is actually a very affectionate person, very physical. Hugs, playful nudges, a quick squeeze in passing. Things like that, you know?”

“But not so much lately?”

“Not so much, no. It seems that even if I look like I want a hug, or am getting too physically close to her, she either steps away, or magically has something already in her arms. Often times it’s Emma,” she nodded toward the table two doors down.

“Interesting. And this started when she got back from New York?”

“No, more when she got back from Los Angeles. I don’t know. That first night was really bad. I mean, I wanted to cry, but it was almost like something clicked in her head, and she was basically normal. I figured maybe she’d had a bad visit with her publicist, I mean the news wasn’t good,”

“Right,”

“She was so wonderful when I showed her the music room, full of hugs,” she smiled at the memory. “God, that woman can hug.”

“Among other things,” Rachel snickered, earning herself a glare.

“But, after that night, again, like something flickered inside her, flickered off this time, she keeps her distance now. Hugs are far and few in between. She’ll sit on the couch with me, but curled up against the opposite arm.”

“When she does that, do you curl up against her?”

“I did once, and she let me, didn’t move away, dangled her arm over my shoulder. But I don’t do that anymore.”

“Why not?” Rachel offered the blonde a piece of her gooey cookie, which was taken. Green eyes studied the treat, finger poking at a particularly large chocolate chip.

“Because I’m not about to force her. If she needs her space, wants her space, whatever, who am I to take it?”

“Hmm,” Rachel sighed, staring at her own cookie for a moment, thinking. “Wills, I don’t want to hurt you with this question, but I have to ask it.”

“Okay,” Willow felt her heart stop.

“Do you think maybe she doesn’t want to be there? Maybe she wants to leave but doesn’t know how to tell you?”

“No, I don’t. I’ve thought about that, too. A lot. But I watch her, see how she is with the baby, with the ranch, Star. Heck, even with me. I honestly don’t think that’s it. I just don’t know. It’s like it deals with me specifically.”

“Ah hah.”

“Do you think it’s me? Did I do something wrong?”

“Well,” Rachel thought about it for a moment, turning everything around in her mind that she possibly could, going over any and all information she had about Christine, and any and all events that had happened between them.

Willow turned her attention back to her chunk of cookie, unable to look at Rachel, afraid of she might see there.

“I think she wants you.”

“What?!” Willow choked on the bite she’d taken, spitting it out into the palm of her hand. Rachel grimaced.

“Yuck.”

“You’re nuts.”

“No. I really think that’s it. I think she wants you, and it scares her to death.”

“I just don’t know, Rach,”

“What’s to know? Think about it, Wills. I want you to watch her; catch her looking at you. Watch as she watches you walk away, stares at your breasts. Whatever.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Willow insisted. The redhead shrugged.

“Then I’m at a loss for you. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this, cause I know I’m right.” Rachel began to gather all of her trash, tossing it all on the orange, plastic tray. “You done?” she asked, tapping Willow’s water bottle. At the nod she got, she tossed it on top of the heap. “I have to get back to work. Man, getting used to these days is kicking my butt.”

Standing with her friend, Willow nodded absently, only partially hearing what Rachel said. Her mind was focused primarily on Rachel’s words, and Christine’s actions.

“Huh?” she said, realizing she’d missed something.

“I said, how do you feel? What do you want for this happy, albeit strange, little family you’ve got going?”

“I don’t know,” Willow said miserably, walking next to her friend, headed back to the ER. “To be perfectly honest, I’m very confused.” She pulled them to the side, ducking inside a cavernous doorway. “It’s like I think about that night sometimes, Rachel. I know it was under extremely painful and stressful circumstances for her, but I have never felt so loved during sex in all my life. It was like, yes, my body was loved, it felt good, all that stuff. But,” she paused, again trying to find the words that so easily eluded her where Christine was concerned. “it was all of me, like she reached inside my chest, grabbed my heart and squeezed as hard as she could until it almost hurt. Somehow I don’t think my heart has ever been the same.”

Rachel studied Willow for a long time, looking deeply into her eyes, almost as if into her soul, Willow thought.

“Willow, I want you to think about this, and I want you to think about it long and hard. In my personal, professional, medical opinion, your heart hurts because you’re in love with her, and afraid, unwilling or unable to tell her how you feel. I don’t even know if you fully understand it. Also in my personal, professional and medical opinion, I think you two belong together.” She paused, waiting for the blonde’s reaction, mentally trying to remember how many bandages and bottle of aspirin she had at her station were she to need it. When the blonde said nothing, nor did any body parts start to fly, she continued. “I think if anything is to come of this, if anything is to happen, it’s going to have to be because you start it. I don’t know what that it is, that’s for you to figure out and decide. But she’s afraid, and I don’t think she’ll ever fully admit what you mean to her.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Completely.”

Willow sighed, nodding. “I heard you, everything you said. I just don’t know. It’s nothing I can think about or decide right now.”

“I know,” Rachel grabbed her friend, giving her a quick hug in support. “I know whatever you do it’ll be the right thing for you both. Now,” she stepped back into the hallway. “I have to get going. Go find your baby.” With a quick smile, she was gone.

Willow used the few minutes she had alone to think, walking down the halls, hands stuffed into her pockets.

Rachel’s words rattled around her brain, and she tried to catch one now and then, like a Venus fly trap snapping for a morsel of truth. She thought about Christine’s behavior, and trying to be as objective and unemotionally connected as possible, wondered if just maybe Rachel was right.

Christine seemed to walk on egg shells around her, though didn’t treat her any differently in any other way. They still joked, talked endlessly. She still felt that bond and connection with the singer, but also felt Christine very obviously limiting physical contact between them. She honestly didn’t think it was Christine’s fear anymore of having hurt Willow, or overstepped her bounds that night. She felt they had discussed that as open and honestly as possible, and felt good about it.

And how did she feel about Christine? She loved her, of course. That was easy enough. Could she imagine herself and Christine living the way they were now? Basically as best friends who happened to be roommates? And who just happened to be raising a baby together? Somehow Willow couldn’t see Christine moving out at any time soon, if at all. The singer was happy, that much she knew.

Okay, so they got the cohabitation thing down. They got along completely, rarely disagreed, and if they did, they always managed to find some way to get around or through it.

That left physicality.

Willow by nature was an extremely affectionate person. She couldn’t live without it, and knew that much. Okay, so say Christine starts acting her old self the next day, and the blonde got her daily dose of hugs, squeezes and pats. Was that enough to sustain her?

This was a niggling question. No, it wasn’t, but at the same time, she absolutely could not see herself going out and finding some random guy to full around with and get her rocks off. Did that have to do with Kevin? Perhaps she wasn’t totally over him?

Willow grimaced with a small growl.

Okay, moving on. Making love with Christine. Willow smiled, arms crossing her chest, almost as if she were hugging herself. She didn’t feel ashamed at the thought or memory, but curiously excited, curious, anticipatory. Willow’s immediate instinct told her to shake that thought off in revolt or as just plain lunacy, desperation and loneliness.

Somehow that didn’t seem right. In fact, it seemed dead wrong. She cleared her throat, which helped to clear her mind.

Okay. Can you imagine yourself having sex with Christine again?

Willow waited for the answer to come to her.

No. What I can see is my making love to her. Bringing her the peace that I did last time.

She was surprisingly calm at this revelation. She also now realized that it had slowly been coming for some time now. Everything that she had taken for one thing, had been something entirely different in actuality. What she’d taken for her nerves at this famous woman visiting was actually nerves for Christine visiting. When her heart rate increased and her mouth went dry, hands fidgeting, which happened so often, it wasn’t the flu, or a cold, or heat flashes, or any other craziness she’s managed to come up with. It was because Christine was near, was next to her, or was coming. It was all about Christine.

Okay, so the physical was taken care of. What about the rest of it? Was it something she could handle? What people thought of her? She was no dummy, and knew how cruel people were, could be. Yes, she was afraid of what people might think of her. She’d worked long and hard to be a liked, respected member of the community and hospital. Would that change?

Looking around as she walked, passing fellow staff, some she knew, most she didn’t, she couldn’t help but wonder. She had been very pleasantly surprised when after the article had broke about her in Texas with Christine, as well as seeing Willow’s half-naked body on the cover of the newest smut, most who asked did so out of genuine curiosity. She had not been judged or whispered about. Well, not that she knew of, anyway.

Was it worth it?

Willow sighed, her head hurting from so much thought. She gathered up her daughter, and was on her way, escaping into the mid-May afternoon. It was beautiful out, and she wished Christine were with her, and they could take Emma to the park.

She contemplated calling the house, but didn’t want to bring that much attention to them after the recent mess the press had caused. Instead, she went home.

****

Christine rested her hands on her thighs, head hanging in defeat. The music wasn’t coming to her tonight. No, not just that; the music was tormenting her, coming to just within reach of her creative fingers and then laughing evilly as it fell back into the darkness.

She growled, the bench screeching as she shoved it back, getting to her feet.

“Damn it!” she yelled out to the empty room, throwing her pencil, watching it hit a wall and tink to the floor.

Christine ran her hands through her hair, pacing like a wild animal. Glancing out the window, she saw that night had fallen. She’d been at it all day, every day, for the past week. It wasn’t coming to her, and it was really pissing her off.

She was also hiding. She didn’t like to admit that part to herself. She was scared. How could one little blonde, all one hundred and twenty pounds of her, scare her so bad? But she did.

Christine was finding that she was getting short tempered, fidgety, and her mind was less than cooperative when it came to concentrating on her music. It was almost like her muse had gone on vacation, and she was frustrated, damn it!

“Okay,” she breathed, sitting at the keyboard once more. “I can do this.”

****

Willow looked down at her bundled daughter, tucked into the baby seat in the back of Rachel’s car.

“You know, we can do this another time,” the redhead reassured.

“No,” taking a deep breath, the blonde took a step back, the cool night air caressing her face. “I can do this.”

“She’ll be fine,”

“Of course she’ll be fine.” Willow smiled, though she didn’t believe it for a moment. “You have all the bottles? Prepared? Remember, test them on your wrist, don’t make it too hot-”

“Willow!” Rachel took her friend by the shoulders, shaking her lightly. “She’ll be fine, okay? I do have nieces and nephews, you know. I know what I’m doing.”

“Okay.” Willow nervously ran her hands through her hair. “I can do this, and Emma will be fine.” Rachel smiled, taking her friend into a hug. Willow clung to her for a moment, shivering. Rachel wasn’t sure if it was from the chill night air, or other.

“I support you,” she said into the blonde’s ear before giving her a soft kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you.” Willow gave her a genuine smile for the first time. “Now go before I change my mind.”

“You got it.” Rachel closed the back passenger door, then walked around the car to the driver’s side, Willow waving at her sleeping daughter through the window. Slipping behind the wheel, Rachel called quietly out to her friend. Willow looked at her. “I want a full report!” she hissed. Willow rolled her eyes and waved her friend off.

****

Left hand resting on the keys, Christine reached up and made a couple marks on the score, flipping the pencil around to erase a couple mistakes, then flipped it back around to make more marks.

Clenching the number two between her teeth, she brought her right hand down to join its twin, played everything she had written all in one shot. Stopping about mid-way, she brought eraser to paper once more.

As she rubbed out a really bad choice, she heard the baby monitor that rested next to her sheet music, crackle to life.

“Christine?” The singer pushed the button for hands free walkie mode.

“Yeah?” she asked, drawing a quarter note.

“Could you come upstairs for a minute? I’m having a wee bit of trouble in the main bathroom.”

“Kay. Be there in a minute,” she muttered, slightly irritated as the song was starting to come together. Finally with a sigh, she headed out. It was late, and she figured she was probably finished for the night, so she flicked the switch, shrouding the music room into darkness.

The night was surprisingly chilly for May, and Christine felt Goosebumps erupt across her arms. Mounting the stairs, her shoes made hollow thuds, echoing in the quiet night.

“Willow?” she called out, closing and locking the front door behind her.

“I’m up here,” the blonde called down.

“Who was here earlier?”

“Rachel stopped by for a couple minutes.”

Nodding in acknowledgement of the comment, Christine made her way up the creaky stairs. She wondered if there was some way to fix that without rebuilding half the house. But then again, it would come in handy as Emma got older.

“What’s up?” she asked, pushing the bathroom door, which had been half closed, fully open. The question died on her lips when she saw the flicker of candle light. The room was filled with candles, all aflame, the only light in the room. She also realized she smelled roses, which brought her attention to the Roman tub. It was filled with steaming water, rose petals floating across its glossy surface.

The door softly clicked closed behind her. Turning, she saw Willow, who held very fluffy white towels in her arms, and a smile on her face.

“Alright, you,” she said, laying the towels on the toilet lid, and walking over to the stunned singer. “I want you to get in that tub, close your eyes and relax.” She took the pencil out of Christine’s limp hand, gently laying it on the counter next to the sink. “Come on,” she encouraged when Christine didn’t move. She gently nudged the singer to the edge of the tub, pushing on her shoulders. Christine sat, looking up at the blonde like she was nuts.

Willow knelt down, untying both of her shoes, and tossing them to the floor, followed by her socks. Standing, she pulled Christine to her feet.

“I don’t want to see you for at least an hour. You understand me?”

Christine nodded dumbly, watching as Willow made a silent exit from the room, closing the door behind her. Feeling like she’d just been hit over the head, Christine turned back toward the room, seeing all that Willow had done. She smiled when she saw the disc player in the corner, next to the tub, a stack of the singer’s favorite CD’s on top. Next to that was a small stack of magazines, and the novel she was reading.

A long, slow sigh escaped from between Christine’s lips as her body slipped into the water, just this side of too hot. Her entire body in, water reaching to the tops of her breasts, she knotted her hair back, and rested her head against the inflatable pillow Willow had suctioned to the porcelain.

The music of Delirium filled the room. ‘Lamentation’ began it’s more than eight minute run, sinking into her bones. The sensuous tones bringing chills to her flesh, making her ever grateful for the hot water.

The tension between Christine’s shoulders began to slowly untie, her shoulders relaxing, hands floating limply atop the water, toes curling and uncurling as pleasure rippled through her. She smiled as a rose petal tickled her breast as it lazily floated by.

As the music began to build, it’s incredibly sexy beat took Christine with it. She closed her eyes, sighing deeply as she imagined Willow before her closed lids, body moving sensuously in time with it, hands slowly running down her own body, and her eyes locked onto the singer, beckoning her, daring her, wanting her.

Christine’s body was on fire, just the mere thought of the gorgeous blonde nearly wiping her out. The images were so real, so raw, that if she hadn’t known any better, she would have thought Willow was in the room with her, sliding her hands down over Christine’s wet skin, dragging her nails back up.

The singer shivered, whimpering quietly as the frustration she had begun to lose slowly began to build once more, right dead center between her legs. She had been fighting the attraction to Willow for, well, in all reality, for months now, but consciously, for weeks. She’d always felt a connection to Willow, a bond, but she’d always been more than fine with the physical aspects. Yes, Willow was a very beautiful woman, but other than that one indiscretion on the beach, Christine had been fine with it.

Until that night. After that night, everything changed. Everything. Now she couldn’t get Willow out of her mind. She was terrified of the little blonde, and had no idea what to do about any of this. These feelings were new to her, and she was trying to run from them.

But god, the way Willow’s body had felt against her.

Shaking herself out of her lustful daze, she reached down, grabbing her novel, doing her best to distract herself, and ignore her body’s pleading for some release. She was in there to relax, not get more keyed up.

****

One hour and seventeen minutes later, Christine wrapped herself in one of the huge, soft towels Willow had left for her, wet hair slicked down her back. She blew out the candles, the small room filling with smoke, and opened the bathroom door. Feeling something soft and cool under her bare foot, she looked down, seeing more rose petals. After a moment, she realized they were put together in the shape of an arrow, and it was pointing toward the blonde’s bedroom.

Brow raised, she followed it, seeing the door slightly ajar. More flickering inside.

“Come on in,” Willow said, her voice soft on the other side of the door. Swallowing hard, and fighting the very strong urge to run, Christine pushed the door open the rest of the way.

At first Willow was nowhere to be seen, so the brunette concentrated on the scattered candles, the bed, turned down to the fitted sheet, and a tray resting near the pillows, various bottles atop it.

“Come on, don’t be shy,” the blonde said, suddenly appearing from around the door. Christine’s eyes widened, taking in the silky gown she wore, reaching to not quite mid-thigh. The spaghetti straps showed off strong shoulders, candle light licking across their definition. She tried not to stare as blue eyes landed on full breasts, hugged by the satin.

“Uh, what’s going on?” Christine finally asked, meeting Willow’s eyes.

“Come on,” the blonde said, taking Christine’s hand, ignoring her question. She was pulled to the bed where she was instructed to lie down on her stomach. Doing as asked, she felt the soft sheets beneath her overheated skin. Glancing at the tray of bottles not far from her head, she saw that they were all various types of massage oil. “Relax,” was cooed to her, a hand on the back of her head, gently pushing it toward the pillow.

Christine tried to do just that, but it was proving quiet difficult. She felt the mattress give under Willow’s weight as she kneeled next to her.

“Lift just a bit,”

Christine did, panicking for a moment as she felt the towel that was wrapped around her very naked body being pulled out from under her. She was able to relax a wee bit when she remained covered, Willow just bringing the terry cloth down a bit to reveal her back.

Strong hands gently pulled her hair out from around the singer’s neck, making her shiver again. Hair all tucked to the side, she closed her eyes, trying to ‘see’ with her ears. The silky material of Willow’s gown whispering against her naked back as the blonde reached over her to grab one of the bottles. There was a squirting sound, and then the palms of Willow’s hands being rubbed together to warm the oil.

Christine’s mind wanted to scream for her to stop this, to run far, hide and not have to face this, but she couldn’t move. She was paralyzed to do anything but lie there, feeling those warm hands lie on her back, then move over the expanse, smoothing the slick oil into the skin.

“You’ve been so tense lately,” Willow said softly, belying the strength in her hands as they rubbed and pressed, even coaxing a small moan out of the singer.

“Hmm,” Christine said in response, making the blonde smile. “You’re good at this.”

“Well, lucky for you one of my instructors in nursing school was a strong believer in us getting certified in massage therapy. It helps with the patients who are either bed-ridden, or are just too sick to get up and walk around. You see,” she explained, rubbing more oil into Christine’s skin, “by keeping the blood flowing, it helps them keep muscle tone, as well as the use of limbs. Things don’t cramp up.”

“Mmm,” Christine purred as Willow hit a particularly tense spot. “Smart move,” she groaned.

Willow looked down at the gorgeous skin beneath her hands, the muscles that littered Christine’s upper back, her hands wandering over them, feeling them, caressing them. Her eyes and her hands wandered a bit lower, concentrating on the singer’s lower back, nudging the towel to just above her wonderfully beautiful backside.

“God, that feels good,” Christine whispered into the pillow, her fingers relaxing from the fists they’d been clenched in at her sides.

“I’m glad,” Willow whispered, her hands moving back up Christine’s sides, fingertips barely grazing the skin, finding the brunette’s arms, and gently pushing them up and out, Christine’s length almost claiming the width of the bed. Her eyes roamed unabashed down her spine, then they found her own hands, which had moved up to Christine’s shoulders again. “Relax,” she breathed, words blowing across Christine’s skin, making her shiver.

Willow’s hands, which had been kneading the skin of Christine’s shoulders and upper arms, traveled down, over the upper back, nails dragging down the spine, then slowly working their way back up to the shoulders and across. She smiled when she heard another soft moan breathed out, the brunette’s hips adjusting themselves a bit.

Taking this as a good sign, her nails turned to fingers, gliding over the slick skin, daring to dip down, brushing ever so lightly against the rounded curve of the outside of Christine’s breasts, making the singer gasp quietly.

Willow moved down the bed, fingers massaging their way down, gliding over Christine’s covered backside, down to the backs of her thighs, hands finally coming to contact with naked skin again at the backs of the singer’s knees. Rubbing more oil into her hands, Willow brought them to the calves, muscles flexing under the skin as Christine’s body tensed and released, tensed and released.

“Relax. I’m not going to hurt you,” she whispered, smoothing the tension out of the calves with a stroke of her hands. Moving off the bed completely, Willow concentrated her effort to Christine’s feet, lifting one off the bed, watching the singer’s hamstring flex with the movement. She rubbed her thumbs into the balls of Christine’s feet, making her groan louder, foot flinching slightly at the bit of tickle she felt.

Willow looked up the length of Christine’s body, amazed once again at what a truly beautiful woman she really was. A perfect specimen.

“You are such a beautiful woman, Christine,” she said softly, moving to the other foot, her movements slowly, turning into more caressing than massaging.

“Thank you,” the singer whispered, her eyes never opening.

“I remember that first concert of yours I went to, the one that Rachel went with me,” her hands slid up the right calf, fingers pressing here and there, thumb caressing in their wake. “Looking up at you on that stage, seeing how crazy all the women went, wow,” she breathed. “amazing. I understood why they screamed hysterically.” Willow smiled slightly, nails tracing the backs of Christine’s knees. The singer whimpered softly, eyes opening just a it. “So beautiful. So sexy,”

Willow’s hands found the backs of the singer’s thighs, feeling their strength mixed with softness, running further up, brushing under the towel, the rise of a beautiful backside meeting her exploring fingers. Finally they were filled with the flesh, Willow watching the movement under the terry cloth, squeezing, kneading, cupping.

Christine let out a long breath, doing her best to not open her thighs. She suddenly realized that the towel was gone, the cool air in the room hitting the entirety of the naked backside of her body.

Willow climbed back onto the bed, slowly, deliberately, one thigh stretching across Christine’s. She slowly lowered herself until she was sitting astride Christine’s backside.

Christine groaned as she realized the blonde wasn’t wearing panties, her naked wetness grazing her own skin.

“So lovely,” Willow whispered, hands caressing the skin of the singer’s hips, trailing back up her sides, fingernails blazing a trail across the sides of her breasts again. She leaned down, satin covered breasts grazing Christine’s back, nipples hardening at the contact. “Turn over, baby,” she whispered into the singer’s ear before laying a gentle kiss on the back of her neck.

Willow lifted herself slightly as she felt the body beneath hers turn. Lying on her back now, Christine looked up at the goddess that was Willow, straddling her, breasts heaving with every excited breath she took.

Her gaze traveled down that satin-covered body, seeing bare thighs, which she rested warm hands upon.

“You’re the beautiful one,” she whispered, knowing now that she had lost the battle, the war, everything. There was nothing she could refuse Willow, and she was tired of trying.

The blonde smiled at that, her hands resting on Christine’s stomach, feeling the muscles flinch under her touch. Those hands moved up, green eyes following their progress. Willow was once again awed by the beauty of Christine. Her skin soft, supple, beautiful. Breasts, full with rigid nipples, which her fingers found.

Christine hissed, eyes closing as Willow palmed her. Willow was fascinated by the other woman’s reactions to her, responses. She watched as Christine arched up into her hands, then a small whimper escaped as Willow held the nipples between forefinger and thumb, squeezing, twisting, testing.

Strong hands began to slowly glide up Willow’s thighs, under her negligee, up to her hips, which had started a very slow movement, matching that below her. She closed her eyes, feeling her sex come alive as it slowly rocked against Christine.

Those hands didn’t stay on her hips long. Soon they were once again on the move, gliding up her stomach, then up over her own breasts. Willow’s head fell back, her nipples so sensitive. Lips were suddenly on her exposed throat, and Willow wasn’t going to miss a chance.

Bringing her head down, she caught Christine’s mouth, wanting to devour it, but stopping herself. She wanted this to be special, something they’d both remember for as long as they lived, no matter what happened tomorrow.

She held her forehead against Christine’s, their lips a hair’s width apart.

“I love you, Christine,” she said, her hands moving up into the singer’s hair. “I’m in love with you,”

“Oh, Willow,” Christine breathed, hands caressing the skin of the side of Willow’s face. “I’ve tried to fight it, to push you away, but I can’t anymore,”

“Don’t,”

“No. I love you, too.”

Willow smiled against her lips, feeling the gesture returned, then gently brushed her lips across Christine’s, feeling them respond, moving against her own, moving together. Slow open sweeps of their mouths, breasts touching, Christine pulling Willow’s hips further into her own, making the blonde gasp, their hips beginning to rock slightly.

“I’m scared,” Christine whispered, flicking her tongue against Willow’s upper lip.

“Oh,” the blonde sighed, “I am, too. But you’re worth it.” She deepened the kiss, sighing into Christine’s mouth as she felt the brunette’s tongue meet her own. She was lost, heart, body and soul.

The cool night air kissed her skin as her negligee was lifted up and over her arms, naked breasts pressed against Christine’s. She still couldn’t get over how soft the singer was- her breasts, her skin, her lips. Everything a man wasn’t. It was intoxicating.

Christine fell back onto the bed, taking the blonde with her, the kiss never breaking. Rolling them over, she was lying between Willow’s legs, which wrapped around her.

Bringing a hand up, Christine cupped one of the blonde’s breasts, making Willow moan into her mouth. Moving her hips a bit, Willow moaned again. Christine reached down, gently nudging the blonde’s legs far apart, then she reached between their bodies, gently stroking Willow’s sex with her fingers, which were instantly covered. She opened herself up, moving until her own swollen clit moved against Willow’s.

Willow gasped, clutching Christine to her. She had never felt anything like it, the pleasure ripping through her, intense and wet.

Christine brought her hand back up, and painted Willow’s nipple with that that covered her fingers. Hips moving slowly, she bend down, snaking her tongue out, swiping across the pebbled flesh, making Willow cry out. She was careful not to suckle, as Willow was still nursing, but she licked away every drop of the blonde’s desire.

Willow’s back arched, her body on overload from sensation.

Hips moving faster, Christine returned to Willow’s mouth, the kiss deep and passionate, both panting as their pleasure grew, so close to the breaking point.

Eyes opening and pulling back a bit, Christine looked down at Willow, seeing her face flushed, lips glistening, mouth open. Green eyes slowly slid open, and looked so deeply into Christine’s that the singer felt it to her core.

Willow’s breath came in short bursts as she felt her body becoming engulfed in pleasure, then explode. She cried out, clinging to the singer, unable to catch her breath. Christine buried her face in Willow’s neck as she, too, was lost.

Her hips stopped, and Willow wrapped her arms and legs around Christine, raining tiny kisses along the side of her head and face, her body still pulsing.

Finally finding her way back to the land of the living, Christine lifted herself, laying a gentle kiss on Willow’s lips, then she began to kiss a trail down the blonde’s neck, licking the hollow of her throat.

Willow’s eyes closed, losing herself in sensation as she felt Christine’s hands and mouth everywhere. She was amazed she could still go on. Typically one orgasm wiped her out, but she couldn’t stop the singer if she wanted to. She just wanted to lose herself in Christine.

Green eyes popped open as she felt her legs being gently placed over strong shoulders. She looked down the length of her body, saw Christine’s head, and felt soft kisses on the insides of her thighs.

She waited in nervous anticipation as she felt those lips nearing her sex, still overheated from a few moments ago. Gasping loudly, Willow’s head fell back into the pillows as a tongue glided its way through her wetness, ending up at her clit, which was sucked into a hot mouth.

“Oh my god,” she moaned, hands finding their way into the brunette’s hair. She was lost, her body feeling things she’d never known were possible to feel. It was so intense, almost painfully so. She cried out as Christine’s fingers entered her, tongue still working through her wetness.

Christine murmured happily as she lavished Willow with as much pleasure as possible. She was starting to have a tough time keeping the blonde under her control, her hips bucking, body moving. Willow was getting close, so Christine decided to let her have it.

Concentrating completely on the blonde’s clit, she used both hands to hold her down, hold her to her mouth.

“Christine, oh god, baby,” Willow felt as though she were becoming separated from her body, her mind drifting, useless, as her entire being began to pulse, building, building, until she cried out, thrusting her head back as she exploded once again.

Christine held on for dear life, milking Willow’s body for all it was worth, making the blonde convulse a second time, then a third. Only when she was begged to stop did she, climbing up the blonde’s body, and taking her into her arms.

Willow buried her face in the singer’s chest, her breathing still erratic and gaspy. She calmed, hearing the soft words Christine spoke to her, telling her beautiful she was, how amazing and wonderful.

She pulled back slightly, looking into Christine’s face, so beautiful and peaceful. Caressing the singer’s cheek, she smiled.

“Thank you,” she said, laying a soft kiss on the singer’s lips, tasting herself there.

“For what?” Christine asked, laying a kiss of her own on Willow’s forehead.

“For not running away again.” Willow looked deeply into Christine’s eyes, wanting her to know that there was no reason to run, no reason to hide. Christine smiled, shaking her head.

“No more. I’m terrified, and I hope you’ll be patient with me, but I don’t want to run anymore.” She moved to her side, holding her head up on her hand, her other hand tracing lazy patterns on Willow’s stomach.

“What do you want?” Willow asked, teasing a few tendrils of Christine’s dark hair.

“I want to be with you and Emma,” she said simply.

“What about the life you’ve known? The fans, adoration, big city? Won’t you miss your normal life?”

“Sweetie, this, being here with you, has been the most normal life I’ve ever had, and you give me such peace. I’d be a fool to give that up,” she whispered, kissing the blonde, who kissed her back, hand lazily running through Christine’s hair.

Christine was slowly pushed onto her back, the blonde following suit, situating herself atop her. The kiss continued, slow and languorous. The singer sighed into it, pulling Willow closer.

As they kissed, Willow’s hand began to explore. Her fingers ran down until they were once again cupping one of Christine’s breasts.

“You have such beautiful breasts,” she whispered into Christine’s mouth. “So soft,”

Christine’s eyes closed, a soft moan escaping as Willow left her mouth, lips and tongue tasting her throat, tongue leaving a fiery trail down between her breasts.

Willow looked at those breasts, marveling at their texture and feel. She weighed their heft in her hands, then slowly brought her head down, eyes slipping shut as she sampled the nipple with her tongue. She was encouraged by the soft sigh released above her, and tongued the nipple again. She loved Christine’s response to her touch, and took the entire thing into her mouth.

“Oh, Willow,” Christine sighed, hand gently running through the shaggy blonde strands. Pleasure coursed through her body, ending smack dab between her legs. Willow sucked the nipple into her mouth, running her tongue over it. She gasped in surprise as she felt a hand trail it’s way between her legs, fingers brushing the hair they found there.

Willow was in tactile heaven as she felt Christine’s body- the textures, nuances, differences and similarities to her own. She groaned in appreciation when she felt the hot wetness meet her fingers. Running them down the entire length of Christine’s seam, she felt her opening, finger shyly tucking inside.

“Yes, baby. Go inside, please,” the singer breathed, almost holding her breath as she waited to see what the blonde would do next.

Willow moaned again as her finger was almost sucked inside, surrounded by tight warmth, so hot.

Lifting her head from Christine’s breast, she looked down at her hand, mouth open in wonder as she watched her finger slide out, then back in again, slicing through the wetness.

“Incredible,” she whispered, slowly pushing back in, adding a second finger. Christine gasped again, hips bucking as she was filled more, her hand reaching down to caress any part of Willow she could find.

Spurred on, her own heart beginning to race, Willow returned to Christine’s breast, experimenting, seeing how she could pleasure this woman she loved so deeply, wanting to end all her pain.

Christine felt like she was flying, her body no longer attached to her brain, her hips bucking, begging Willow to move faster, back arched offering herself up to the blonde, giving her everything she had to give.

When she couldn’t take anymore, her world collided with that of Willow, and both were blown apart, Christine’s cry heralding the blast. Her mind, body and spirit flew apart, coming back together as a stronger, more whole person.

She lay there, hand across her eyes as she tried to get herself back together. She felt Willow climb up beside her and hold her. Small kisses on her face, lips, neck, back to lips, Christine was in safe warmth.

Willow held her, rocking her slowly, for a moment afraid when she felt wetness against her own neck, where Christine’s face was buried. She worried she’d hurt her somehow, but somewhere inside she knew that wasn’t it. She held her in silent understanding, vowing to never let her go again. Ever.
Part 17
“The sun’s coming up,” Christine said, glancing out the window. She ran her hand absently through Willow’s hair. The blonde lay between her legs, head resting on the singer’s stomach.

“Mm,” Willow responded with a contented sigh. “Are you tired?” She turned her head, chin now resting on the flat stomach. Christine looked down at her, other hand tucked behind her head. She shook her head.

“Interestingly enough, no.”

“Me, either.”

Christine groaned and growled as she stretched, taking the blonde with her as her body arched.

“How do you feel?” Willow asked, getting herself settled again.

“Hmm,” Christine sighed, thinking, hand still playing. “happy, content, satisfied. Sore.” Willow chuckled at that last one, totally able to sympathize.

“Who know?” she whispered, climbing up to lay beside the brunette, blonde head resting on her shoulder. “I feel like I could run out to the streets right now and tell the world how much I love you.” She raised her head, smiling down at the beautiful woman smiling up at her.

“I know what you mean. Not entirely sure how wise that would be, but I do understand. Come ‘ere,” she pulled the blonde even closer, wrapping her arms around her, slowly pulling Willow’s body atop hers, blonde head tucked under her chin. Christine smiled, unable to stop it. She felt like a different person, reborn. She felt like writing all those corny love songs people love to listen to, finally able to understand the lyrics behind them.

“What are you smiling about?”

Christine looked to see Willow looking at her, a smirk curling up one side of her mouth. The singer shook her head, embarrassed.

“No. It’s nothing.”

“Bull honkey. After everything we’ve been doing all night, I see no reason why you’d be suddenly shy.” Just to prove her point, she playfully nipped one of the singer’s nipples, making Christine yelp in surprise.

“Alright. I was just thinking that finally all those stupid songs make sense. And all those Meg Ryan movies I hated to watch. Now I feel like popping ‘When Harry Met Sally’ into the DVD player.”

Willow chuckled, completely charmed. “God, I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“We are saps, aren’t we?”

“’Fraid so.”

“Ah, well,” Willow laid her head back down, sighing in utter happiness. “The world will just have to get used to us.”

They were quiet, both lost in her own head, mainly replaying the incredible turn of events over the past twelve hours.

Willow kept seeing pivotal moments in the night- a sigh, a kiss, or a look of rapture on Christine’s face. Her body was too sore to relive any of it, but it still burned at the thought. Nothing could have prepared her for what it was actually like to make love to the woman beneath her.

Yes, their first night together after Adam’s death, had been amazing. But it paled so vastly to the night and morning they’d shared. She had never experienced anything like it. Not even with Kevin.

“When is Rachel bringing Emma back?” Christine asked, inadvertently breaking Willow’s train of thought. The blonde smiled.

“How did you know she was with Rachel?”

“A simple matter of deduction. You wouldn’t trust her with anyone else, plus you mentioned Rachel had stopped by for a few.” Christine’s chuckle reverberated through the blonde’s body.

“Yes, well, I couldn’t very well say, Rachel came by to pick Emma so we could be alone as I seduced you, now could I?”

“Might have been fun,” Christine pulled the blonde to her, her gentle kiss quickly deepening, so passionate. However, though the spirit was certainly willing, the flesh was sore and chafed.

Pulling away after some minutes, Willow smiled. “What do you want for breakfast?”

****

“What?” Willow finally asked, holding the charts she’d just grabbed to her chest. She eyed the doctor, brows knit suspiciously.

“Well, I’m just trying to figure out who put some Tinkerbell dust in your Wheaties, because honey, you’ve been practically floating for the past week.” Maureen Halston said with a wide smile.

“Oh,” the blonde grinned.

“See? There it is again.” The doctor leaned against the nurse’s station counter, genuinely curious and happy for the sweet nurse with the even sweeter baby girl.

“Well, it’s. It’s just that I’m happy, I guess,” Willow said, beaming.

“That’s obvious. I think you could power all of Oklahoma City with that mega watt smile you’ve got going. Come on, tell me your secret.”

Willow looked around, making sure no one was listening, then turned back to the older woman who had helped her through so many things, both personally and professionally.

“Okay, but you can’t tell anyone, Maureen, okay? It’s still kind of under wraps.”

“Alright,” face becoming serious, the pediatrician waited.

“I’m in love,” the blonde beamed.

“Oh, honey! That’s wonderful!” she gathered the younger woman in a quick hug. “Who? Kevin isn’t back in the picture is he?”

“Oh, no,” Willow waved that idea off. “That ship has sailed. No, it’s with someone who is the most wonderful, kind, generous person I’ve ever met,” she couldn’t keep the smile from her lips. Just the mere thought of Christine made her all warm and fuzzy inside.

“That’s hard to find.”

“Certainly all in one person. Plus, she loves Emma. Heck, I think she almost spends more time with my daughter than I do!”

The smile froze on the older doctor’s face. “She?”

“Yeah,” Willow gushed, “remember Christine Gray, that friend of mine who was here when Emma was born?”

“The singer,”

“Right,”

Maureen nodded her understanding. “Well, uh, Willow, I must say I’m happy for you.” She gave the blonde another quick hug, then hurried away as her beeper vibrated against her leg.

“Thanks,” Willow grinned, almost skipping as she headed to the little seven year old boy’s room, Alex, that she’d been looking after for the past few days. Even seeing the little man, so tiny in a big bed, couldn’t dampen her spirits. Nope, she’d found not the fountain of youth, but the fountain of eternal happiness, and oh didn’t that constant stream taste good.

She giggled silently at her own naughtiness.

****

“I can’t believe you’re doing this, Christine,” Rachel said, holding up a ratty old t-shirt. Scrunching her nose, she tossed it to the trash pile.

“Why? It’s just a bunch of old shirts and pictures,” the singer said, rifling through her file cabinet.

“Well, that may be true to you, but to some fan out there, not so much.”

Christine shrugged, about to reply when Willow chuckled, grabbing Christine and Rachel’s attention.

“Honey, tell me why when I look at this I see Tiffany singing ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ in a mall somewhere?” the blonde asked, holding up the old denim Jacket, a few holes ripping their way through.

Christine laughed, turning back to the folders of pictures- publicity shots or stills, and old music. “That’s probably because you did.”

“What?” Rachel asked, walking over to her friend and taking the Jacket from her hands, examining it. “Tell me you didn’t know Tiffany,” she said dryly.

“When you’re in the business for a long time,” Christine let the sentence die off, a grin on her face. The blonde rolled her eyes.

“Don’t tell me you knew NKOTB, too?”

“Who?” Willow asked with wrinkled brow.

“Nice group of boys, actually,” the singer said, nodding. It was Rachel’s turn to roll her eyes in exasperation.

“Who the heck is NKOTB?” Willow asked, hands on hips as she looked from one woman to the other.

“New Kids,” Christine said absently, lugging a particularly thick stack of pictures onto her lap, sorting through them.

“Oh.”

“I had the biggest crush on Jordan Knight,” Rachel said, her voice wistful as she hugged the Jacket to her chest.

“Who didn’t?” Christine mumbled.

“And you actually will admit that, Rach?” Willow grinned.

“Oh, I wouldn’t talk, blondie. Which one were you more into- Gunner or Matthew?” the redhead asked, fiery brow raised.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Willow said, quickly turning away. Christine snickered.

“So do you plan to sign everything?” Rachel asked, turning the conversation back. She started to toss the Jacket into the donation pile when Willow tugged the Jacket out of her hands, tossing the Jacket to the trash pile.

“Wait! Hold the phone!” Christine snatched it out, holding it protectively against her, glaring. “This is not leaving this house,” she fairly growled.

“Christine,” Willow said, hand back on hip. “the thing is disgusting. It’s worn, halfway ripped to shreds, and you are not wearing it in public.”

Rachel watched, utterly amused, her head bouncing back and forth between the two women.

“Yeah huh. It stays with me. I have a lot of memories in this Jacket.” She caressed it lovingly.

“What, of bubble gum angst? Honey, that thing is ancient.”

“Then so am I,” Christine said, eyes boring into the blonde’s, daring her to try and take it from her again. Willow sighed, throwing her hands up.

“Fine. Keep it. Whatever.”

“Thank you,” and just to tick the little blonde off a bit more, Christine put it on. Green eyes rolled, but turned to the pile of clothing she had been going through.

“It’s funny,” the singer said, moving back to her pile of pictures. “you don’t realize how much shit, I mean crap, you have until you have it all shipped to you.” She chuckled, looking at all the boxes that were scattered around the music room, clothing draped over her piano, boxes stacked against the wall.

“Well, that’s what happens when you’ve got a castle to fill,” Rachel grumbled, breaking down the box she’d just emptied, and tugging her box cutter out of her back pocket to start on another one.

“Castle,” Christine snorted.

“Well, I still think it’s wonderful that you’re willing to donate all this stuff to the hospital’s auction, honey.” Willow walked over to the brunette, moving the pile off her lap, and sitting in their place. Christine wrapped her arms around her.

“Thanks, babe,” she said against the blonde’s lips before taking them in a soft kiss. Rachel rolled her eyes.

“You know, at first it was cute, but now you two just piss me off,” she said, opening the flaps of her new box. Christine and Willow looked over at her.

“Why?” the blonde asked, absently fingering the neckline of Christine’s shirt.

“Because Connor isn’t that way with me! Do you really think he and I make out all the time? Hell, even when we were first together we didn’t do it as often as the two of you do.”

Christine eyed Willow, finding a very curious blush sweeping the blonde’s features. The trio grew quiet when they heard a car pull up just outside the building. Willow jumped from the singer’s lap after a quick kiss, walked over to the window.

“Who is it?” Christine asked, grabbing her pile of pictures for a third time.

“Not sure. I’ll be right back.” The blonde made her way outside, knowing that Troy and his agents wouldn’t have let this guy in the Cadillac through if he were important.

“Good afternoon,” he said, slamming the heavy car door closed, shielding his eyes from the bright, June sun.

“Hi there. What can I do for you?”

“You know these guys, too?” Rachel whined, holding up a snapshot of Christine with the Rolling Stones. The brunette chuckled, shaking her head.

“No, not really. I just happened to bump into them while in London doing a show about ten years ago.”

“Wow,” Rachel breathed, looking at the pic, her mouth watering as she looked at Mick Jagger, smiling hugely next to the beautiful singer. “Can I have this?” Christine chuckled again.

“Sure.”

“Oh, thank you!” About to run over to the singer and give her a big wet one, the redhead stopped in her tracks, the door the music room flinging open, and a very angry little blonde flying in.

“That bastard!” she yelled, voice muffled by the soundproofing. She threw something onto the floor, face red, tears of anger beginning to leak.

“What is it? Sweetie, what’s wrong?” Christine was immediately on her feet, rushing over to the upset blonde, taking her in her arms.

“I hate him,” Willow cried, clutching the taller woman.

“Oh, Wills,” Rachel sighed, brows draw as she read over the papers she’d picked up. “I can’t believe he’s doing this,”

“Who’s doing what?” Christine asked, looking at Rachel over Willow’s head. Blue eyes looked up to meet her own.

“Kevin’s going to try and take Emma.”

“What?!” Christine’s eyes flared, making even Rachel shudder.

“How can he do this?” Willow cried, taking the papers from the redhead’s hands, re-reading them.

“He’s not. We will fight this,” the singer said, making sure the blonde saw her determination.

“I can’t believe this,” Willow whispered, tears brimming in her eyes. “He’s sighting me as an unfit mother on moral grounds,”

“What?” Rachel flew over to her friend, reading over her shoulder. “That’s crazy.”

“I don’t understand,” the blonde said, shaking her head, bringing pleading eyes up to Christine’s very somber ones.

“I have some calls to make,” the singer said, her voice cold, sharp. With that, she walked over to one of the boxes, quickly dug through it, bringing out a small, black book, then was gone.

Willow turned to her friend. “How can he do this to me, Rachel? He didn’t even want this baby,”

“I know, honey. I’m stunned. Truly, I am. I never figured Kevin to sink this low. And moral grounds,” Rachel’s brows drew, confusion filling her eyes. “I don’t get it.”

“I honestly don’t, either.” She set the papers on the piano bench, not wanting to look at them another moment. “Come on,” she said, taking a deep breath. “let’s get all this cleaned up.”

****

Willow felt her palms sweating and wiped them on the thighs of her jeans. She swallowed, glancing at her watch. It was eleven thirteen, and the plane was due in at a quarter after. Soon.

She walked around the area for the flight’s baggage claim, trying not to pace, but failing. Finally, at twenty after, as agreed upon, she raised the sign she’d marked the night before.

Looking nervously through the increasing crowd, people gathering around the claim, voices getting louder with greetings and concerns.

“Hello.” Curt, to the point. Willow’s head jerked around until she saw a beautiful woman standing before her. Her dark hair was long, naturally curly, swept over her shoulders. Her large, brown eyes were capped by finely arched brows, a no nonsense expression upon her face. Her white, open collared button up was partially hidden underneath a light-weight, dark gray blazer, form fitting.

Christine got me Bette Porter for a lawyer.

“Hello. I’m Willow Bowman,” the blonde held her hand out, which was quickly taken in a cool, well manicured one.

“Jennifer Barnes.”

Willow hid her smirk, tossing the sign with the woman’s name on it in a nearby trash can. The brunette looked her up and down, seeming to be sizing her up.

“A perfectly innocent angel. This could work,” she said, her voice hard edged, very confident. With that, she walked over to the carousel, grabbed her rolling suitcase, and breezed past Willow, head held high, her perfume wafting in the air behind her.

“Okay,” Willow breathed, hurrying to catch up.

****

“Here’s the deal, ladies,” Jennifer said, leaning over the table where a myriad of papers were scattered. She stared into the eyes of all three in turn. “Yes, Nicole will be the ‘official’ counsel, as I have no license to practice in this god forsaken state, but it will be me that you all listen to,” large brown eyes pinned Nicole Martinez to the spot. The other lawyer had already been briefed on this, and after some reasoning, she agreed to be the mouthpiece.

“Agreed,” she said, leaning back in her chair, running a hand over her short, black hair.

“Good. Kevin sounds like a real prince, and I think he’s going to take the lesbian angle on this, use that to try and take Emma. But,” she help up a manicured finger, a grin spreading across her features. “he wasn’t counting on me,”

Willow looked at Christine, worried, but received a calming squeeze of the hand in return.

Jennifer turned those doe eyes, belying her hard as nails interior, at the blonde. “I want you to tell me everything about this guy. And I mean everything. I want to know what he was like in the sack. I want to know how many times a day he takes a shit on average. Arguments you had, and their running themes. I want his background, family ties, all of it.”

“Okay,” Willow agreed, blowing out a breath.

“Good. Nicole talked to his attorney this afternoon, and it looks like they’re wanting to hit court by the end of the month. That gives us three weeks to prepare for the fate and future of your daughter, ladies.” Jennifer stood, tossing her hair out of her face. A very slow, sly smile crept across her lips. “One other thing, ladies-” she looked at both Willow and Christine, making sure she had their full attention. “I need to know everything little skeleton you have in your closets. No surprises from this asshole, got me?”

****

“What are you thinking?” Christine asked, after driving for fifteen minutes in complete silence. She glanced across the Jeep at the blonde before returning her eyes to the road.

Willow sighed, looking out the passenger window, watching the hot, June day pass by. She shook her head, chewing on her lower lip.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

“She’s good, I promise you that. Only the best, Willow.”

“I know,” the blonde blew out, glancing at the singer. “Why does it have to be this way? How is it that I now hate someone I used to love so much?” It wasn’t really a question so much as a thought out loud. She felt so sad, her heart so heavy. And angry.

“I don’t know, baby. I really don’t. It’s selfishness on Kevin’s part. Perhaps even a way of getting back at you.” Christine shrugged, reaching over to take the blonde’s hand, cool fingers quickly, and tightly wrapping around her own. “I’m so sorry he’s doing this to you.”

“Me, too. What if he wins? Then what? He knows nothing of babies.” She laughed bitterly. “Emma is now almost four months old, will be on the twenty-second of this month, and he’s never even seen her! His damn mother sent me a congratulations card, but do you think he could? No, that would have been too much goddamn trouble!” her words got louder with each thought that paraded through her troubled mind. “He doesn’t want to be Emma’s father, he wants to control me! Well fuck him!”

It was a moment before Willow even noticed they weren’t moving anymore, and that Christine had pulled off the side of the road.

“Hey, hey,” the singer said, pulling Willow into her arms. As soon as the blonde realized she was in Christine’s embrace, she broke. The tears fell hard and heavy, her entire body shaking almost out of control. She was so devastated and scared. “Shh, baby, I know.” Christine squeezed her eyes shut, her own fears rearing their ugly head. She knew deep down that Kevin wouldn’t stand a chance of taking the baby completely, though … what if?

She couldn’t think of that now. She had to be there for Willow, and stay strong. She caressed the soft blonde hair, waiting for the tears to abate.

“I swear to you, Willow, I will not let him take her from you. I’ll do anything in my power, anything at all.” She pulled back slightly from the blonde, wiping at her tears with her thumbs, ducking a bit so green eyes were looking into blue. “Anything. I don’t care how much it costs, what it takes, you understand? I love her, too,” she whispered, laying a soft, gentle kiss on tear-streaked lips. She could taste Willow’s salty pain. “Anything.”

Willow stared at the singer, her heart swelling with love and gratitude. Finally she nodded. “Okay.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Willow hugged her close, taking all the strength that was offered her, holding it close to her heart. “I can’t lose her, Christine. I can’t.”

“I know. I know.”

****

Jennifer looked from the blonde to the brunette and back again.

“Is there a problem?” she asked, hand on hip, other hand resting on Nicole’s desk.

“I can’t do that,” Willow said, her voice quiet. “Kevin’s father’s drinking hurt him badly. I can’t throw that in his face, Jennifer,” she shook her head. “I can’t.”

Brown eyes studied her for along moments, beginning to make Willow feel like she was a lab rat, waiting for either the cheese or the shock.

“I see,” the attorney said, her eyes never leaving the blonde as she slowly made her way around the desk, noticing she was beginning to fidget nervously. “You don’t feel right about dragging Kevin’s family through the mud, and bringing up painful memories for him, is this correct?”

“Well, yeah,” Willow said, though she felt like she’d given the wrong answer to a test. She really was not fond of Jennifer Barnes.

“Hmm, well, let me tell you something,” the brunette stood before her, inches apart. “While you’re conscience is eating at you for bringing up a bit of dirty laundry about your ex husband’s father, your ex husband is trying to ruin your name, question your character and life style. Yes, Mrs. Bowman, that’s what his case is based on,” she said, seeing the shock in her client’s eyes. “Somehow he’s heard of your relationship with Christine, and he’s pissed. He’s pissed because that’s a crime against his manhood, and now he wants revenge. Did I mention he’s pissed?” she raised a brow. “How pissed?” she leaned in close. “Pissed enough to take your daughter from you.”

Willow gasped, stomach roiling with revulsion, though she wasn’t sure who it was aimed at more- Kevin, or Jennifer Barnes.

“He’s pissed enough to not give a damn about your feelings. He’s not thinking about what this will do to you, Mrs. Bowman. No, he’s thinking with that thing between his legs, and his perceived zing.” She paused, letting her words seep in. She knew Willow didn’t like her, and that was fine. But when it came down to it, she was going to win the case, and keep that baby where she belonged.

“I need some fresh air,” Willow said, her voice thick with nausea. She made her way out of the small office, sucking in lungfulls of fresh air, the sun almost blinding her.

“Honey, what’s wrong? What happened in there?” Christine said, hot on the blonde’s heels. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t like her, Christine,” Willow almost yelled, turning on the singer. “She’s so, so, … mean.” It sounded childish, but it was the only word that came to mind.

“But she’s right, Willow,” Christine said softly, resting her hand on the blonde’s shoulder, which Willow shrugged off.

“No, no, my morals might be called even more into question,” she seethed. Christine was stung, looking as though she’d just been slapped.

“What did I do?” she asked, hurt.

“It’s because of those goddamn magazine articles!” Willow hissed, leaning toward the brunette. “He saw those. He confronted me on the one about Texas, and then no doubt he saw the one of me half naked!”

Christine was stunned, taking a step back from the blonde, unsure what to do or say. “That wasn’t my fault,” she murmured, in a daze.

“Wasn’t it?” Their eyes locked in a battle of wills until finally Christine slowly shook her head, heartsick.

“And you say Jennifer is mean.” With that, she turned and walked away, headed toward the parking lot, digging her keys out as she went. Willow was frozen in a spell of anger, fear and self-loathing. She couldn’t speak the words she badly needed to say, nor could she move to stop Christine from leaving.

So she sat, right there on the stone planter outside Nicole’s office building. She saw the Jeep roar out of the parking lot, still unable to move.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been there when she felt rather than heard, someone sit next to her.

“Lover’s quarrel?” Jennifer asked, voice dry. Willow whirled on the attorney, green eyes ablaze.

“Haven’t you said enough for one day?” she seethed, feeling her blood boil by the unaffected expression on the other woman’s face. Brown eyes lazily met hers.

“We need to talk, Willow,” she said finally, her voice quiet.

“I have nothing to say to you, Miss Barnes. You’re here to do a job, and I know that. Beyond that, I have nothing to say.” She stood, stunned when a hand reached out and tugged her back to the planter.

“Sit down and shut the hell up for a minute.”

She was too stunned to do anything else. Once the attorney saw she had the small blonde’s full attention, she continued.

“Listen, you don’t care for me, I get it. But what you have to understand is that your best interests are my priority, and if that means playing dirty, I will. Kevin isn’t going to hold back, Willow.” She looked into the blonde’s eyes, realizing what a lovely color they were. “He’s going to pull out every trick up his sleeve to win.” She turned slightly on the planter so she was facing the other woman more. “For him it’s about winning; it’s not about Emma. Understand?”

Willow glanced out over the parking lot, sighing. She nodded. “I understand.”

“I’m not trying to make you angry, either, Willow. I just need for you to understand the severity of this.”

Willow met her eyes, nodded her understanding. “Is he going to take her from me, Jennifer?” the question was very soft, filled with fear of the answer. Jennifer smiled, white and brilliant, turning her face from beautiful to stunning.

“No,” she said simply, but with the utmost conviction.

“God, I hope you’re right,” Willow blew out, standing from the planter.

“You and Christine really need to stay strong in this. It’s going to be hard. I’ve seen it tons of times.”

“Yeah, we will.” The blonde looked down at her shoes, scuffing at the sidewalk. Jennifer of course didn’t miss this.

“Ride skip out on you?” she asked, voice back to its usual dry cadence.

“Something like that.” Willow sighed.

“Well, I don’t know her, only met her a time or two at various parties and such. Come on.” Jennifer picked up her briefcase and headed toward the parking lot, not even bothering to see if the blonde was following. Unlocking her rental car, she spotted Willow slowly ambling up to the Taurus. Their gaze met over the top of the car. “Stay strong,” the attorney said, then dipped her head inside.

****

The Jeep led clouds of dust down the side streets of the outskirts of town. She passed field after field, crops whizzing by the open top, her hair flying, whipping her in the face. She plowed over those roads, Jeep shimmying over the large rocks embedded in them, her hands gripping the wheel with fists of iron.

She had shut her mind down, acting on pure instinct, which told her to drive like a mad woman, taking turns at dangerous speeds, two of the Jeep’s wheels trying to leave the ground at one point. That one had gotten the brunette’s attention, and she’d taken the next turn slightly slower, but only slightly.

It wasn’t working. No matter how hard she pushed the memory out, the harder it pushed back in. The look on Willow’s face, her eyes so angry and cruel.

Was it just her fear talking for her? Even so, it had ripped into Christine like nothing else. She had no idea what to think. She was doing everything in her power to be there for the blonde, hire the best attorney possible, and help Willow through this. All for what? To have her entire life thrown back in her face?

Christine bared her teeth, swinging around another curve, the Jeep screeching in protest.

Yes, Willow was angry and frightened, she thought again, but yes, there may been some damage done.

“She didn’t even stop me from leaving,” Christine growled, jerking the wheel again, the Jeep shuddering in the new direction. It hadn’t been an act of manipulation to leave, but if only Willow had done something, anything. Surely she didn’t really blame the singer for this?

It was well after dark when the Jeep pulled up in front of the lit farmhouse. Christine cut the engine, then just sat behind the wheel, thumb tapping a tuneless beat, chewing on her lower lip. She glanced up at the house, wondering if Emma was asleep yet. Probably. Then she wondered what Willow was doing.

Guilt flooded her as she remembered driving away from Nicole Martinez’s office, stranding the blonde. She’d obviously gotten home okay, but still.

With a tired sigh, she hopped down from the Jeep’s open cab, taking a step toward the house, then stopping, glancing over at her music room. Needing more time, she headed in that direction instead. Unlocking the door, she pushed through, clicking on the light as she did, closing the door softly behind her.

Willow leaned her head against the window seat upstairs, pulling her knees closer into her body. She watched as the woman she loved stepped away from the Jeep, then disappeared into her music room.

The blonde wasn’t terribly surprised, but it still hurt, though mainly because she knew she was responsible for it.

No clue what to do, go to her, leave her alone, go to bed. No, that wasn’t an option. Green eyes darted over to the large bed that she knew would be horribly empty that night. Sighing again, she unfolded herself, standing and heading out of the bedroom door. She heard quiet noises coming from Emma’s room, so pushed the bedroom door open further, widening the sliver of on the opposite wall.

“Hey, sweetie,” she cooed, looking down at her very alert daughter, laying on her tummy, holding her head and shoulders off the mattress, trying her best to hold herself up on her arms. “Look at you!” Willow gushed, awed and inspired all over again, for about the billionth time that day. “Momma’s strong girl.”

Chuckling, Willow swiped at the string of drool that ran from Emma’s mouth to the bed. Wiping the baby’s mouth with the sleeve of her shirt, she headed out of the room, toward her own bedroom. She needed Emma close as loneliness closed in around her.

****

The last notes fading into the darkness beyond, Christine gently closed the lid over the keys, running a hand across its polished surface, then standing. The singer’s back creaked as she stretched, making her gasp as a sharp pain settled between her shoulder blades from hours sitting, playing.

She walked over to the door, dousing the light as she opened it, then quickly closed and locked it behind her. It was a beautiful night, stars glittering like diamonds on black velvet. A lover’s night.

Sighing heavily, she opened the front door, closing and locking it as well, then made the slow trek up the stairs.

She had managed to achieve what she’d strived for- play until she was too exhausted to think or see straight. Her body wavered, threatening to fall over on the staircase she climbed, hand on the sturdy banister. The house was quiet, as it was past three in the morning. No doubt Willow had gone to bed hours ago, and now Emma was sleeping through the night.

Thinking of the baby, whom she hadn’t seen all day, she eagerly tip toed over to the bedroom, surprised to see her bedroom door fully open, and her crib empty. Not hard to figure out where the baby was, Christine leaned against the door frame that led to the bedroom she shared with the blonde.

Willow lay on her back, head to the side, chest rising and falling in even, peaceful breaths. Lying upon that chest was Emma, lying on her stomach, mouth open. A single arm was wrapped protectively around the baby, and Christine felt her heart melt. It was so beautiful to see, so endearing, charming, and painful.

Willow looked so sweet, the woman she’d fallen in love with, but her harsh words came back to her all over again.

Shaking her head, Christine took a deep breath, one last look at the two most important people in her life, then she slowly turned, heading toward the guest bedroom.
Part 18
Groggy green eyes opened, squinting at the moonlight that came in full force. Feeling a warm body curled up within her own, Willow looked, seeing Emma sleeping peacefully, cute little baby breaths steady and even.

Looking around, she realized they were the only two in the large bed, and felt panicked for a moment. Then she remembered.

“Oh, Christine,” she whispered, flopping her head back on the pillow and squeezing her eyes shut for a moment.

Creeping down the hall, Willow gently laid the still sleeping baby in her crib, tucking the blanket around Emma, and kissing her lightly on the forehead.

“Sleep well, my little one,” she whispered, caressing the thickening brown hair. Pulling the door closed to an inch, Willow made her way further down the hall, the guest room’s door closed.

A scene was brought back to her of the night she stood in this very spot, wondering, as she was now, if she should go inside. Knowing she had to, she quietly pushed the door open, clicking it shut behind her.

Christine lay on her stomach, facing away from the door, her breathing even, obviously asleep. The blonde wondered how long she’d been there. Padding silently over to the bed, she pushed the covers aside just enough to allow her body to slide under them. She scooted over to the sleeping brunette, the welcome body heat surrounding Willow.

She lay on her side, looking at the mass of dark hair splayed out over the pillow. Within moments, Christine took a deep breath, releasing it noisily as she turned over, facing Willow. As if in instinct, she scooted closer to the blonde, taking her smaller body into warm arms.

Willow closed her eyes, allowing Christine’s nearness to envelope her. She snuggled in, head tucked under the singer’s chin.

“How’s Emma?” Christine asked quietly, startling Willow, who hadn’t realized she was awake.

“She’s fine.” Willow snuggled in closer, her hand caressing Christine’s t-shirt-clad back. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “It’s not an excuse, but I’m so afraid, and I lashed out at you. I hope so badly that you can forgive me for what I said, what I implied.”

Christine was quiet for long moments, making the blonde think she’d fallen asleep again.

“You really hurt me,” she finally said, fingers playing in thick, blonde hair.

“I know. God, I know, and I hate myself for it.” She pulled back, just enough to be able to look into Christine’s face, brows drawn. “I was so worried when you weren’t here after Jennifer dropped me off. I even ran up here to see if your clothes were still here.”

Christine smiled softly, shaking her head. “No. Still here. I thought about going, to be honest,” she brought a hand up to still Willow’s words, seeing tears begin to fill her green eyes, turned gray in the darkness. “not because I want to. I thought that maybe all this would be easier if I weren’t here, and, well,” she sighed. “it is because of me that he’s doing this. Maybe I’m bad for you and Emma.” It broke the singer’s heart to say all that, but deep down she knew it was true.

“Don’t you ever say that again,” Willow said, her voice growing in strength, her heart beginning to beat again, after stopping cold at what she thought Christine was going to say. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and don’t you ever forget that. Okay? Okay?” she said again, louder, when the singer didn’t respond.

“Okay.”

Willow brought a hand up, gently tracing Christine’s features. “You truly are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” She leaned in, placing a soft kiss on those full lips she loved so much. “I love you, and I really am sorry,” she said against them, feeling Christine’s nod.

“Okay. And thank you,” She rolled to her back, pulling the blonde with her. She looked up into the face of the woman who’d saved her life and then her heart. “You know,” she said, seriousness creeping into her tone. “we need to work together on this, Willow. We have to stay strong to get through this.”

Willow snorted ruefully. “Jennifer said the same thing.”

“She’s just trying to help, babe. She’s not the enemy-”

“I know,” Willow cut her off, running a finger lazily down Christine’s jaw. “She and I had a talk today, in the car. We came to an understanding of sorts. No matter what I may think of her, ultimately she and I are after the same goal, so I won’t stand in the way again.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.”

“So was she,” they both grinned, sharing another small kiss. Willow pulled away slowly, only to lean back in for another. Christine met her, bringing a hand up to the back of the blonde’s head, holding her in place as the kiss deepened.

“Willow?” Christine whispered into the blonde’s mouth.

“Hmm?”

“Make me forget this ever happened today. I need to know we’re really okay,”

The pleading in the singer’s voice broke Willow’s heart, knowing that she had put that doubt there. They had only been together for a few short weeks, certainly not long enough to cement the kind of bond that could easily withstand such an argument. Willow’s actions had scared them both to the quick, and the blonde was eager to feel that security again.

Without a word, she moved the hand that had been on Christine’s face, burrowing it into the dark hair, deepening the kiss all the more. Christine whimpered softly into the kiss, her body beginning to ignite.

“We’re very much okay,” Willow whispered, mouth moving down Christine’s jaw, finding her neck. “Very, very okay.”

“I love you,”

“I love you, too.” Willow gently nudged the singer’s shirt collar aside, kissing and licking the skin she found there. “I’m going to show you how much,”

Christine’s eyes fell closed as she felt her shirt being lifted, hands running over the heated skin of her stomach, then her breasts, making her hiss. She helped by lifting her upper body, the shirt flying off into the darkness. Immediately a hot mouth was on her breast, her hands finding Willow’s head, holding it to her, needing to feel the connection between the two of them.

It had been utter torture, feeling so alone and lonely. Most of her life had been spent alone, though she had constantly been surrounded by people.

Christine helped again, lifting her hips as her panties were pushed down her legs, then joined her shirt. She raised her legs, feeling Willow nestle herself there.

Christine’s heart had been so heavy, her mood dark. It was the worst kind of torture to have been given such happiness, then suddenly it had been taken away with a few cruel words.

“Baby,” she breathed as she felt herself being opened up by seeking fingers and tongue. “Yes,”

She knew it would not be easy for Willow to love her. Trust was such a huge issue in relationships, and Christine had very little of that to go around, and she bulked and ran at the slightest tarnishing of that, though somewhere deep inside she knew it would happen again, as it was human nature.

Christine moaned, feeling Willow move inside her, a slow, steady rhythm that made her boil.

Sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she was indeed bad for Willow. How fair was it to expect the blonde to walk on egg shells so often, Christine not trusting her, and waiting to be hurt.

“Did I hurt you?” Willow asked, concern lacing her words as she made her way up the singer’s body. “Baby, what’s wrong?” She petted Christine’s hair, looking into her face, seeing the wet trails that were slowly sliding down into the dark hair, and Christine’s ears, making her shiver.

Christine was shocked, having no idea what was making her emotions rise to the surface, seeping from her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” Willow wasn’t sure what she’d done, but having a bad feeling that Christine’s emotions stemmed from what had happened earlier in the day. She cradled her head, kissing her face, and trying to figure out some way to make it all better.

Christine allowed herself to be held, feeling the dam of her emotions break, and she began to cry, really cry.

Yes, part of it was her hurt showing itself, the hurt she hadn’t dealt with, and hadn’t realized, but part of it was also her own fears she hadn’t let herself entertain. She was offering herself to be a partner and co-parent, and she was terrified! Yes, she loved Willow and Emma more than anything she’d ever loved before, but it was such a huge responsibility. What if she failed? What, and this is what tore her up, if she failed either of them? Let Emma down, or hurt Willow.

The tears continued to come with a vengeance, concerning Willow more and more with each passing minute. She had no idea what to do, or what she had done. She didn’t know what was happening.

Feeling like an idiot, Christine finally got herself under control, sniffing like a child, and smiling shyly, embarrassed to all heck.

“Sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes with the sheet.

“What happened? What’s wrong, baby?” Willow asked, so afraid of the answer.

“I don’t know. Guess I just got overwhelmed with things in my mind.” She tried to pull away a bit, but Willow wouldn’t let her.

“Uh uh. You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.” Willow looked into her eyes, beseeching. “Please talk to me, Christine.”

The singer took several deep breaths, then nodded. Both woman moved to their sides, facing each other. “What if I’m no good at any of this, Willow? I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid that I won’t be good for you and Emma. What if I’m no better than my own mother was, and no better than my father was to his wife?”

Willow could hear the fear in the brunette’s voice, and it made her so sad. How could she take that kind of fear away?

“Oh, baby,” she said, caressing Christine’s cheek. She was relieved when the brunette leaned into the touch. “You’re nothing like them. You’re so loving toward us both, and you’re parents were the way they were because they were selfish and weak. You’re nothing like that. I’ve never seen someone so strong, making it through all that you have with flying colors.” She smiled with wonder. “You amaze me.” She chuckled. “I see the doubt in your eyes, and you can doubt all you want, but when it comes down to it, you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I’ve learned so much from you.”

“From me?”

“Yep. And I think you’ll have some pretty profound lessons for Emma, too. You’ve been there, done that, and you’re so wise for it.” She cupped Christine’s face. “I’m in this for the long haul, baby, but if you’re not sure,” Willow had to swallow several times in order to keep her own emotions down, “you’re not a prisoner here. You can, well, you can go at any time. I won’t stop you.”

“You’d let me go? Just like that?” Christine was amazed, and part of her wanted to pout like a child.

“I’d have to, Christine. If you were going to be happier away from us, then I’d have to say goodbye.”

“Wow,” the singer said quietly, stunned. “I think you have us mixed up, because I gotta tell you, I don’t know if I could be that generous.”

“Well, you know that old, cheesy saying? If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, it was meant to be, or something like that. You’re the rhymie one, not me.”

“I love you,” Christine said, leaning in, “and I’m in this for the long haul, too. I just get scared sometimes.”

“So do I. Just please talk to me, baby. Don’t let it build, please.” Willow felt the singer’s head nod, their foreheads touching.

“Can we try again?” Christine whispered.

“Try what again?”

“This,”

Willow felt her world settle in its axis at the extremely passionate kiss that she found herself caught up in. It didn’t take long for her to find where she’d left off.

****

Willow tapped the steering wheel impatiently as she glanced at the dash clock again.

“Crap,” she murmured, having three minutes to complete a twelve minute drive. For the first time in six years, she was going to be late for work. The smile swept across her features, mischievous as she remembered the cause for it.

How on earth was she supposed to resist Christine’s gorgeous body, laying there on the bed, spread out like an offering. The blonde had gotten out of the shower, towel wrapped around her body, and couldn’t resist. The towel had hit the floor with a flop, and she basically attacked the singer.

Sighing with happiness, Willow flicked her turn signal, passing the slow dump truck, and then speeding past him. She glanced over at the passenger seat of her truck, her cell phone sitting with a stack of CDs. She contemplated calling ahead, but decided against it.

Glad she’d followed Christine’s advice and dressed in her scrubs before she left, she was able to pull into the staff parking, and run toward the building, straight up to her ward.

Willow breezed into the nurse’s lounge, jug of water in her hand.

“Linda! Vicki, morning, ladies,” she gushed, bending over to shove some things aside, making room for the gallon jug. When she heard no response, she glanced over her shoulder, see her fellow nurses looking anywhere but at her. Standing with drawn brows, she looked around the small room. Two of the four round tables for four were being used. Orderlies Richard and Terrance sat in the back corner, both glancing at her, a grin on Richard’s face. Terrance leaned over, saying something, his voice very quiet, Richard’s grin growing. His eyes never left the blonde.

Green eyes scanned over to the two women, noting that Linda was looking at her, but Vicki seemed engrossed in the news program that murmured on the ceiling-anchored television.

Something was wrong here. Glancing back at the boys again, she saw both their heads dropping, quiet laughter filling the small space.

“Okay,” she breathed, a feeling of dread swirling in her gut. She turned back to the counter mounted next to the fridge, grabbing her backpack that she’d set there.

Willow walked down the hall in a daze. She’d been working at Mercy for six years. She’d been awarded for excellence every year but one, and was a highly respected colleague. Never had she had any trouble making friends, or getting along with her co-workers.

The blonde was taken back to her childhood, her parents moving around every six months to a year, tearing her out of one school to the next. It had been difficult, even painful at times, never able to make good friends before they were a thing of the past. Willow had often felt the outcast, always the ‘new girl’. That was a feeling she hated, and was loathe to relive as she had in the break room.

If only she’d realized then that her day was going to get worse, whispered words, left him for a woman … they’re living in sin! … that poor baby …

Willow was hurt more than she could say. She had worked with all those people for so long, and they knew her, and she thought they were all friends.

Wanting to cry, the blonde hid in the bathroom for a few moments before lunch. She looked at her reflection and saw the stress on her face. Her mind raced, trying to figure out where the information had come from, and why were they being so vicious.

“Maureen,” she said to her reflection, disappointment gripping her insides. “No,”

****

“I’m sorry,” Christine murmured, holding the blonde tighter. “God, I’m sorry.” She felt like she was to blame for this. If she hadn’t been there, Willow wouldn’t have to face the ostracism and whispers.

“I thought they were my friends,” Willow cried, feeling like a child as she clung to the singer, being rocked gently in Christine’s lap.

“One thing I’ve learned, baby is that you can’t rely on people. They’re cruel and petty. And,” she continued, kissing the top of Willow’s head, “they’ll do anything for a good story.”

“I feel so stupid.” The blonde pulled away, sniffling as she swiped her hand across her nose. She laughed bitterly. “I was so excited to tell someone about us, about how happy I am, and I really thought I could count on Maureen to be happy for me. So stupid,” she shook her head in utter dismay.

“I know. There are some people in the world who will judge you no matter what, Willow,” Christine gently brushed some hair away from the blonde’s tear-streaked face before caressing her cheek. She knew how sensitive Willow was, and knew it had to be eating the smaller woman alive. All she wanted to do was march down to that hospital and beat the shit out of the children’s ward. Bastards. How could they be so cruel to one of the kindest souls in the world? They weren’t deserving of the nurse.

“It was so awful, Christine. I felt like wherever I went I was being watched, laughed at. I mean, granted not everyone was involved. But enough were.” She felt the tears sting again, laying her head against the singer’s shoulder. “I feel betrayed. I know it’s stupid, but I really do.”

“It’s not stupid, baby. It’s not. But you have to know that this will make you stronger. You can’t let them win. I know you,” she smiled, “you’re stronger than that.” Christine watched as Willow pulled away again, looking into her eyes. “When it comes to stuff like this, it may be crude and pessimistic, but you just gotta say fuck ‘em.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Willow repeated, nodding. “You’re right.” She swiped at her eyes, then took the Kleenex that was offered and blew her nose. Tossing the balled up tissue to the coffee table to join all the others, she nodded again, feeling her resolve strengthen. “Fuck ‘em.”

“It won’t be easy, but in the end, it’s worth it. If you let these kind of people get to you, it’ll drive you insane.”

Willow studied the singer, looking into her eyes and seeing truth there, as well as deep understanding.

“You’re so strong,” she whispered, cupping Christine’s face. The singer smiled ruefully.

“Nah. Just a survivor.”

“Same difference,” Willow kissed her lightly. “I love you for it.”

Christine grinned, holding Willow tighter to her, grateful to have her. The bliss was interrupted by the chirping of her cell phone. One last kiss and Willow pushed off the singer’s lap, heading into the kitchen.

“Hello?” she asked, flipping the phone open.

“So, the domestic diva answers her own phone now, I see,” a deep baritone said dryly.

“Who is this?” she sat up from her place on the couch, brows drawn in alarm.

“Come on, Gray, tell me you haven’t forgotten me already!”

Blue eyes widened in pleasurable surprise. “Larry?”

“How you doing, kid?” he said, smile shining through in his voice.

“I’m great! My god, it’s been forever.” She stood, a flood of memories boosting her energy.

“Try twelve years.”

“Wow. Has it been that long?” She paced around the room, glancing out of a random window before turning and walking the circuit all over again.

“Ain’t seen hide nor hair from you since you worked for me. So what’s all this I hear about you playing daddy with a cute little blonde in hick country?” the producer asked. Christine smiled, almost able to see Larry Tippen lounging back in his oversized leather office chair. His feet would be propped up on the massive desk, silver tips catching the Tiffany lamp light. Thought it was after eight o’clock his time, his dark glasses would be on, and a turtleneck, gray or black, would be tucked into his Levis.

“I’m happy, Larry,” she said simply.

“Glad to hear it, Gray. That’s not so easy to do in this business. Speaking, what’s this bs I hear about you retiring?” Anger laced his words now.

“I had enough, man. I couldn’t do it anymore. I gave all I had to give, did my time, finished.” Christine said, waiting for the tirade that would surely follow her simple explanation.

“Hmm. Well, I have to admit I’m glad to see you get away from that rock and roll shit you used to do. It wasn’t you, never was. Why, after what you composed for me and my short, I never understood why you didn’t go where it was obvious your heart was. Hell, you helped me win at Sundance, for Christ’s sake.”

“I know, Larry. I know.” She smiled at the memory, seeing her friend’s face as he took home the prestigious honor.

“Listen, kid, I’m calling because I want you for a project I’m working on.”

“Oh, Larry, I don’t know,” Christine shook her head, running a hand through her hair.

“Sure you do. You can work from your little love nest there, and actually create something with some meaning.”

“Larry, I’m retire-”

“Bullshit, Christine!”

The singer was taken aback by the vehemence in his voice. She stood there, stunned.

“You are too goddamn talented to let it die. You got tired of what you were doing, who wouldn’t? Now let your real creative genius come out. I wanted you to work for me for years, but that prick Knowles never would allow it. He’s dead, so now I’m asking. Compose for me, Christine. Please. I’ve got a large budget to work with here, and some major players in this project. I want you, and only you, and I won’t take no for an answer,” he paused, allowing his anger, which surprised him as well, subside. Finally Christine spoke.

“Can I think about it?”

“Don’t take too long. I’ve got the green light on this, and I need to move. Call me and we’ll discuss contracts.”

Christine pulled the phone away from her ear, flipping it closed. She’d always hated that Larry never said goodbye. When he was finished talking, the conversation was over.

Tossing the tiny phone to the couch, she sighed, staring out into the night. She had a big decision to make, and already knew what her heart wanted the answer to be. She would think about it, give herself a few days to think. This would be good for her, she knew, but also it meant putting herself out there in a new way. She felt vulnerable just thinking about it.

“Damn, it, Larry,” she whispered. “Do you have any idea what you’re asking?”

****

Willow almost felt sick as she sat at the long, polished table. Nicole sat to her right, acting attorney, and Jennifer to her left, assistant. She could feel her palms sweating, rubbing them against her skirt-clad thighs. The blonde absently brushed a shaggy strand aside, the clasped her hands on the table before her.

“Are you ready?” Jennifer whispered, leaning into her. Willow nodded, swallowing nervously. “Good. Kevin and his attorney is coming in now.”

Willow fought the urge to shoot visual daggers at her ex husband as he made his way down the aisle of the near-empty courtroom. Christine sat in the gallery, one row behind the wooden partition, next to Myra. She glanced at him, finding that she was being stared down by very angry blue eyes. Christine didn’t flinch, giving as well as she gave.

Knowing Willow would be a mess, the singer leaned forward, placing a hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Her hand was covered by a smaller, sweaty one, and squeezed in acknowledgement. Sitting back, Christine crossed one leg over the other and settled in.

Glancing quickly over to the other table, identical to that the blonde sat at, Willow saw Kevin sit, smoothing his tie as he did so. He looked across his own attorney, meeting her gaze. She was surprised by the raw hatred she saw burning in eyes that once looked at her in nothing but love.

She was, however, proud of herself as she held his gaze, Kevin looking away first. Everything in life is a small victory.

“All rise, the honorable Judge Malcolm Howard presiding,” the bailiff said dryly. The seven people in the court room stood as a heavy-set man, robed in black, stepped up behind his desk, motioning for everyone to sit as he, himself did just that.

Willow swallowed again as she sat, wincing as her chair scraped noisily against the polished wood flooring beneath her feet. She felt a hand on her arm. Glancing over, she met brown eyes, silently communicating that everything would be okay. She nodded, wishing she could have Jennifer’s confidence.

“Alright, let’s see what we’ve got here,” the judge said, using one hand to tug half-shelled glasses onto his bulbous nose, while the other flipped open the case file before him. “Kevin Bowman versus Willow Bowman for the custody of Emma Christine Bowman, aged four and a half months.” He glanced up. “Are both parties currently in attendance?”

“Yes, your honor,” Nicole said, rising just long enough o speak.

“We are, your honor,” Kevin’s attorney echoed, smoothing her skirt before she sat, clearing her throat, which sounded like a firecracker in the quiet room.

“Good, good. Lets proceed,” the judge said, removing the glasses. “Mrs. Jamison, why don’t you start,” he said, indicating Kevin’s attorney with a flick of his wrist.

“Yes, your honor.” The older woman with the gray-streaked hair stood, glancing down at the laptop that was open on the table before her. “Your honor, my client is asking for full custody of his daughter, Emma Bowman. He feels he is a much more stable parent, and can provide a nurturing, loving, moral, environment for the child.”

Willow again felt the hand on her arm as she felt her blood begin to boil. How could he?

“Continue,” the judge encouraged. There was a dramatic pause, the only sound the court reporter finishing her last few clicks before hands rested mere millimeters above her keyboard.

“It has come to my client’s attention that his ex-wife, Willow Bowman, has been sharing her residence with a woman who has had a drug habit, lived on the streets, and prostituted her own body when she was barely out of childhood, herself.” Carol Jamison waited for this information to sink in before continuing. “Kevin Bowman feels it is in the best interest of his child to remove her from such an environment.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Jamison. Miss, Martinez?” The judge’s eyes moved to Willow’s table, looking expectantly at her ‘lead counsel’.

“Thank you, your honor.” Nicole stood, looking sophisticated and confident in a charcoal gray pant-suit, with an open collard silk blouse. “Your honor, my client, Willow Bowman, has been a loving mother to little Emma since the day of conception. The baby weighed in at a healthy seven pounds, fourteen ounces, proving that Willow was diligent during her pregnancy, eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle, leading to the uneventful birth of her first child. I might add, your honor, that the pregnancy was a solo event, since Kevin Bowman refused to be present, or even lay claim to, his unborn child.”

Willow felt herself trembling, fear, anger and hurt coursing through her veins, turning her blood cold. She reached up, clutching the gold, heart-shaped locket Christine had given her the night before, Emma’s picture tucked inside.

“Yes, your honor, it is public record for this court that Christine Gray, loving and contributing member of the Bowman household, has had problems in her past. It should also be public knowledge that Miss Gray brought herself from a destructive life on the streets to become a world renowned recording artist, who is not only emotionally capable and willing to help parent baby Emma, but is also financially available, also.”

“It’s wrong!” Kevin exclaimed, trying to stand, but his attorney stopped him with a warning hand on his hand.

“You’ve had your chance to speak, Mr. Bowman,” Judge Howard warned, his voice booming in the large space.

“As I was saying your honor,” Nicole said dryly, sparing a fleeting glance over at Kevin’s attorney. “Even without the emotional or financial support of Miss Gray, Willow is capable and responsible in her duties as Emma’s mother. She holds a career in the medical field, as well as owns her own home.” Nicole paused, looking the judge in the eyes. “She kept this child, despite Mr. Bowman’s encouragement for abortion. She has raised Emma to the best of her ability, and will continue to do so. Willow has always wanted this child, your honor, and chose to walk away from her marriage rather than forfeit the life of her child.”

As Nicole sat down, Willow breathed a small sigh of relief, feeling for perhaps the first time that maybe she had a chance. Heck, Nicole had convinced her.

Judge Malcolm Howard looked to Kevin. “Mr. Bowman, would you like to add anything on your behalf, sir?”

“Yes, your honor, I would.” Kevin buttoned the bottom two buttons of his suit Jacket as he stood, clearing his throat. “I made mistakes in the past, your honor, acting childish when I found out about Willow’s pregnancy. I admit that, and I can never take it back, no matter what I might say. I know that. But your honor,” his voice softened, filled with wistful words. “Since that March morning when my daughter was born,” he took a deep breath, shaking his head. “I’ve thought of nothing since, but holding her in my arms and being the father that I was too stupid to realize I wanted to be.” He looked at the judge with big, puppy-dog eyes. “Please, your honor. I want my daughter raised right, with a father, a mother, as I’m getting married in a couple months, and a good, Christian home. Thank you, sir.”

Willow just about flew out of her seat at the pitiful excuse of a plea from Kevin. It took both Jennifer and Nicole’s hands on her thighs to keep her in her seat.

“Miss Bowman? You may speak, now.”

“Thank you, your honor.” Willow took several deep breaths, trying to keep her calm. “It’s pretty simple what I have to say, sir. I love my daughter more than I can tell you. I’m sure you’re a father, sir, so you know what it’s like, waking up each day to see the miracle.” She smiled, lost in thoughts of Emma, her smile, the cute little noises she made as she tried to stick her toes in her mouth. “I even gave up coffee for my daughter, you honor. Trust me,” she grinned, “that’s quite a sacrifice. All kidding aside, sir, I wanted Emma from the very beginning, and yes, Miss Gray may have had some problems in her past, sir, but she has been there for me every step of the way. She helped me to save my house when I was about to lose everything after the divorce. She has been a constant in both my, and Emma’s lives.”

Willow swallowed, feeling the weight of the situation on her shoulders. It was hard to stand up straight, let alone hold her head high as she pleaded for the court to not take her daughter away from her.

“Your honor,” she continued, voice soft. “I’ve been there since the moment that beautiful little girl was born. I was there for her first cry, her first breath, her first smile. I’ve stayed up with her when she was sick, and changed every single poopy diaper. Please don’t take her from me for no good reason, sir. That would be a crime. Thank you.”

As the blonde sat, Jennifer stood. “Your honor, if I may add, Emma was born on the afternoon of February 22.”

****

It was the longest waiting time of her life, each second that ticked away on the clock was another lost day of her time on earth.

Willow paced, heels clicking on the highly polished linoleum of the outer chamber. The large, double doors opened, and the bailiff appeared.

“Please come back inside,” he said, disappearing back into the courtroom. It was almost a race between Kevin and Willow to get through those doors first. He had stayed near the elevators with his camp, avoiding any eye contact with the blonde at all.

Taking her seat again, hearing the others take theirs, Willow clutched her locket again, heart pounding in time with the throb in her head. Breathlessly, she waited for the judge to take his seat again.

“I have come to a decision involving the care and custody of Emma Christine Bowman,” he said, voice somber as he looked over his glasses at both parties. “You both having given truly moving testimony today, and both have valid claims to this child. However,” he tossed the glasses aside, bushy brows drawing in seriousness. “a decision has to be made, and someone will walk out of this courtroom today happy.”

The court waited, holding its breath, as the judge paused, smacking his lips noisily as he brought the words to mind.

“Mr. Bowman,” he turned his attention to Kevin. Willow felt Christine’s presence behind her as she waited to hear what the judge had to say. “You bring up some valid points here today, however, this court has had an opportunity to look over the records and claims you have presented here. Though I personally may not agree with the lifestyle in which Miss Bowman and Miss Gray have chosen to pursue, it is not in the eyes of this court to judge on that. Therefore, this court finds no moral wrongdoing in the raising of Emma. In fact, upon inspecting records from Emma’s physician, a doctor Brenda McHale, it’s shown that Emma is in remarkable health, and has been very well taken care of. The child is happy and healthy.”

Willow felt her breath stop with her heart, afraid to hope that the judge was saying what she thought he was saying.

“However, you are the legal father of this child, and as such have a legal right to spend time with your daughter.” The judge picked up his gavel, Willow about to break into pieces. “This court awards full custody of Emma Christine Bowman, aged four and a half months, to Willow Bowman, the child’s legal mother and guardian, whilst Kevin Bowman, said child’s father, will have visiting rights every weekend. Willow Bowman is also entitled to child support payments, an amount of which is to be determined at a later date.”

Willow cried out with the sound of the gavel cracking in finality. She was stunned, tears stinging behind her eyes in utter joy and gratitude.

“And just a word of advice, Mr. Bowman,” the judge continued, “for God’s sake, man, learn the birth date of your daughter. Court adjourned.”

Willow was in a daze as she was gathered into a tight embrace, her head coming to rest against the shoulder she knew belonged to Christine.

“You did it, baby,” was whispered into her ear, soft lips brushing against her forehead.

“Oh, god,” Willow breathed, realizing dawning. Her arms wrapped around the singer’s waist, pulling her tight against her. The stress and fear of the past month finally oozing out of Willow, to be replaced by hope and a sharp excitement for the future.

“Nice job, ladies,” Jennifer said, pride evident in her voice. Willow pulled away from Christine, turning to the attorney.

“I can’t thank you enough, Jennifer,” she said, taking Jennifer’s hands in her own. The attorney smirked.

“You don’t have to. Just wait until you get my bill.” She winked, squeezed Willow’s hands, and pulled away, gathering her briefcase. “Back to civilization I go.” She turned to Christine. “Tell Sandra hello for me, won’t you?”

“You got it.” Christine watched her go, then turned back to the blonde, who was hugging and thanking Nicole. For the first time in her life, Christine felt complete. All her fears and worries, and feelings of inadequacy just seemed to have flowed out with the stress and worry of what the judge would say. She felt, at that moment, that no matter what the world had to throw at her and Willow, they’d be able to handle it. She had a family, a real, honest to god family, and there was no way in hell she was going to let it go.

She had something to fight for again.
Epilogue:
“Christine! Over here! Christine, who are you wearing? This way, please!”

Christine squinted slightly, the flashbulbs of so many cameras going off at once almost a welcome sight. At least this time they were supposed to be there, and it was nice to know she was still wanted.

“You okay?” she asked quietly, glancing down at her date.

“Oh, yeah,” Willow breathed, “peachy,”

Christine smiled, again taking in the absolute beauty that was on her arm. The Vera Wang creation, created especially for Willow, hugged the blonde’s incredible body perfectly, classic lines, and just the hint of cleavage to make it sexy. The green velvet brought out her eyes to perfection.

“Well, you said you wanted us to come out with a bang,” Christine smirked.

“Yeah, but at the Oscars?!” Willow hissed in response. The singer chuckled, seeing the reporter from Entertainment Tonight in their path. They were led toward the woman, having to start the rounds of all the major networks and shows covering the event outside the Kodak.

“Christine! You look absolutely gorgeous, tonight!” Melissa Haggerty gushed, holding her microphone up to the singer for comment.

“Thank you, Melissa. You look beautiful, yourself.” Christine said, turning on the charm of her persona.

“Oh, thank you!” Getting down to business, “So this must be a bit surreal for you. From the Grammy’s to being nominated for an Oscar for best score in a film. How do you feel about all this?” the reporter waved her arm toward the screaming fans, and other celebrities making their way down the red carpet.

“Well, you know, just another day in the office,” Christine said with a grin. Melissa chuckled.

“Indeed. Good luck tonight.”

“Thank you.”

Willow watched in awe as Christine handled the press and fans with grace and aplomb. Not to mention, she was breathtaking in her black, halter dress, fitted floor-length. When the singer had stepped into that dress, asking the blonde to zip it for her in their hotel suite, Willow’s mouth had gone dry. She had never been truly speechless before that moment.

Now, walking hand in hand with her, Willow was overcome with pride and love.

****

The inside of the theater was beautiful, and huge! Willow wanted so badly to look around, her mouth hanging open in awe, but decided that may not look so good, especially with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones sitting next to her.

Never in all her life had the phrase ‘out of your league’ hit home as it did that night for the blonde. She felt like a hick from the sticks, while Christine put on the charm, and talked to people, the likes of which Willow had seen on screen her entire life.

Swallowing hard, she sat still, watching Billy Crystal in his hilarious opening.

****

Not since her first win at the Grammy’s, more than a decade ago, had Christine felt nervous at award ceremonies. For the most part, she thought they were pompous and ostentatious. But tonight, well, for some reason she was filled with a nervous energy and nausea. She wasn’t sure why that was. It wasn’t as though she so much wanted to win, as perhaps wanted Willow to be proud of her.

She glanced over at the blonde sitting next to her, looking beautiful, and utterly enthralled in the performance on stage. Christine smiled, feeling silly, but smiling all the same. Willow felt blue eyes on her, and turned to look into the singer’s gaze. She smiled back, squeezing Christine’s hand as the presenters began to read the nominees.

“Here we go,” Willow whispered, feeling nervous enough for both of them. Christine nodded, turning back to the stage. She heard her name called, and a round of applause deafened the house, the cameras on her. She saw her own smiling face on the huge screen off to the side of the stage, her name and the name of the film under.

“And the winner is,” the presenter said, his co-presenter fumbling with the envelope. They both looked at the results, and together read, “Christine Gray, ‘Twilight’!”

The crowd was on its feet, Willow openly crying. Christine looked at the blonde, her world slowing down, noise muffled. She felt herself rising from the chair, those around her smiling and cheering their agreement and congratulations. She was sure she nodded, or smiled, or acknowledged them in some way.

She felt the pressure of Willow’s hand in hers, squeezing, as she passed, headed to the aisle. Faces blurred, her heart pounding in her ears as she made her way up the aisle, a journey which seemed to take forever.

Time didn’t fully return to normal until she felt the weight of the golden statue in her hand, and then all of her senses returned, full blast. The brilliance of colored lights gleaming in the golden surface, the roar of the applause, the softness of a congratulatory kiss on her cheek from the presenters, and then the sound of her own voice.

“Wow,” she breathed quietly, though it erupted from the microphone before her, filling the theater. Polite chuckles followed. “Um, I know that everyone usually gets up here with a list as long as my arm of people to thank,” this got more chuckles. “I don’t have that, I’m afraid. The people I have to thank already know I’m grateful, because they’re still alive during this whole process,” she leaned in close to the microphone, “Larry.”

Larry Tippen laughed loudly, his smile about to split his face wide open.

“It’s been an interesting road, my life, and I’m grateful to have traveled it.” She looked at the statue again, thinking how much she wanted to give it to Emma when the baby was a woman. “The music I made was out of a deep love for my art, and a deep belief in my passion- music. Even so, I dedicate this to Willow.”

Willow watched through a warped picture, her tears impossible to see through. She felt Christine’s eyes on her though, and she brought her fingers to her lips, kissing them, then throwing that kiss to the singer. Christine smiled at the gesture, nodding acceptance of the blonde’s love and support.

“Willow Bowman and our daughter Emma, that’s what life is all about. They’ve given me a reason to love music again.” She lifted the Oscar in victory. “Thank you.”

 

The End.

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