Zero Ward by Kim Pritekel

Zero Ward
by Kim Pritekel

Summary: World War II was a time of fear, confusion and the renewal of a depression-ravaged country. Danielle Felts, daughter of dairy farmers in the heartland, suffered from her own fear and confusion about her own life, and herself. Determined to make something of her life that didn’t require udders, she makes a drastic decision to join the Navy, becoming Daniel Felts.

 

 

 

Kate Adams is an All-American girl living in San Diego affluence with her wealthy parents. All the money in the world couldn’t curb Kate’s desire to learn and become more than her money-hungry mother could ever be. Made to go to a USO dance by her boy-crazy best friend, Carol, Kate has a chance encounter with the most handsome man she’s ever seen. Unable to get him out of her mind, she tracks him down and falls in love with Daniel Felts.

Zero Ward is an epic story which zig zags its way through thirty years of history, love and loss, only to end up in the greatest love story for two generations.
Prologue

San Jose, CA – 1968
The air in the attic was hot and stagnant, the smell of dust and unopened boxes filled the air. Megan Hannigan swung the beam of her flashlight to the left, crying out in surprise when she saw a tiny dark shadow scurry out of the light invasion. Hand to her heart, she grinned over at her mother’s concerned expression.

“Mouse.”

Kate Hannigan rolled her eyes and proceeded further into the space, her beam aimed further up as she sought out the chain that would illuminate the naked bulb. “Bingo,” she whispered, the silver glint catching her light. She tugged and suddenly the space was covered in buttery light.

Megan let out a relieved breath and clicked off her flashlight. “Where did grandma say it would be?” she asked, hurrying over to the long hope chest that had once belonged to her mother’s mother.

“I think she said in there, but I’m not sure. I know a lot of things got moved around when Dad put all the holiday decorations away last year.”

Those words stopped the two blondes in their tracks. The air became heavy with memories and sadness, a soft sob renting the air. Kate moved over to her daughter and hugged her close, amazed that her baby girl was getting married.

“I’m sorry, Megan,” she whispered into the hug, caressing the girl’s back.

“I wish he could be at my wedding,” the girl said, her voice sad and wistful.

“I know. I’m sure he will be.” Kate placed a loving kiss on her daughter’s forehead. “Come on. Let’s find that dress.” Kate watched as her only child nodded with a brave smile and made her way over to the hope chest, falling to her knees as she pushed the heavy lid up to open.

Kate let out a heavy sigh and made her way over to a group of boxes, pulling a small kitchen knife out of the back pocket of her pants to slice the tape open and begin the search. Her daughter’s wedding was in three months, and Megan had her mind set on wearing the dress her grandmother had married in and had given to her a couple years before. It had gotten stored somewhere in the attic until Megan needed it. Now, whether she wanted to admit it or not, her baby girl was becoming a woman.

Megan, completely unaware of her mother’s musings, searched through the trunk, not finding what she was looking for. Frustrated, she glanced over and saw the old steamer trunk that her mother had used after she’d moved out of her parents’ home, after she’d married Megan’s father, George.

She unlatched the heavy latches and pushed the leather straps aside before pushing the lid up, making sure it would stay up before she began to peruse the contents. Old clothing – none of which was the dress she sought – as well as some articles clipped from May of 1945, donating the end of World War II, which her mother had talked very little to her about, though she did have a lot of questions about.

Deciding this wasn’t the time, Megan continued to push object aside that weren’t needed in this egg hunt. She felt something hard towards the bottom of the trunk and, curious, fished the object out. A wooden box came into view, no larger than two feet long and eight inches deep in size. It was a beautiful mahogany box, a mountain landscape carved into the top. She fingered the brass latch as she glanced over her shoulder in her mother’s direction, something inside her telling her this was an important item for her mother. Turning back to the box, Megan chewed on her bottom lip before carefully unlatching the box and opening it.

Inside, Megan found a white t-shirt, carefully and lovingly folded to fit inside the box, as well as a few dried roses. Beneath these, she found a handful of old letters, the postmarked name was Danny Felts. Letter after letter, all but one opened, was from this Danny Felts person.

Beneath the letters she found a black and white photograph, somewhat aged now as it was more than twenty year old and was dated July 1943. The picture was of a man with short dark hair, though his longer bangs hung slightly in light-colored eyes. He was in military uniform, tie tucked into the opening between two buttons on the military-issued shirt as was the style of the day. The man was extremely good-looking. In fact, Megan would almost call him… beautiful. What caught Megan’s eye, however was the woman who smiled up at him with absolute adoration. That woman was her mother as a very young woman.

Megan’s gaze returned to the date, dark blonde brows furrowing. It was only a year before her mother had met her father, and from the looks of it, her mother was quite smitten with this Danny Felts guy.

“Mom?” Megan said.

“Yeah, honey?” Kate responded from across the attic, where she’d finally found the dress.

“Who’s Danny Felts?”

Kate froze, mouth falling open and stomach dropping. “What did you say?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“Danny Felts. You got a lotta letters here from him.”

Kate’s eyes closed as she found herself falling back into history and into a world she hadn’t wanted to think about again.
San Diego, Summer 1943
Kate stood talking with a few of her friends from school. The trio had skipped out on the last Friday of their senior year in high school, opting to head to a dance instead. Kate’s best friend, Carol had heard that a bunch of servicemen had recently been transferred to the base, and she wanted to see them for herself.

Listening to the singer’s version of I’ll Be Seeing You, Kate turned away from her girlfriends, bringing a hand up to make sure her hair was still in place. She and Carol had worked to style their hair all day, wanting to make sure they looked perfect for the handsome young sailors.

“Carol, I’ll be right back,” she said, tugging on her friend’s sleeve before she tucked her clutch under her arm and headed towards the ladies room to reapply her lipstick.

“Okay,” Carol said absently, continuing her conversation with their other friend, Helen.

Kate smiled politely at a couple boys who turned to watch her walk by as she made her way down the hall that led to the restrooms. The two doors were set in a small alcove with a drinking fountain separating them. As she neared the alcove, she saw a uniformed sailor walking towards the ladies’ room, about to grab the door handle. When he heard her approach, he jumped and turned to look at her with startled blue eyes.

Kate met his gaze, immediately taken by the June sky color. “I think you want that one,” she said with a smile, indicating the men’s room door a few feet away.

The sailor glanced over at the other door then swiped his white cap from his head, dark bangs falling into his eyes at the move. He gave her a shy smile then headed to the men’s room door, giving her a quick glance before he ducked inside.

Kate watched him go, her heart fluttering slightly in her chest.

“Mom?” Megan asked, snapping her mother out of her memories.

“Sorry, honey,” Kate smiled. “He was just someone I once knew.”

Megan was about to ask more questions, as her mother seemed to be really affected by the name, but was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.

Kate’s heart jumped at the sudden sound and she pushed to her feet. “I found your dress, honey,” she said, leaving the garment on top of a box. “I’ll go get the door.”

Left alone, Megan stared after her mother, baffled. She turned back to the wooden box, running a finger over the smooth surface. With a final nod of decision, she closed it and tucked it under her arm, taking it with her as she climbed out of the attic.
Chapter 1

Wayne, Nebraska, early Autumn 1942
The sun overhead was hot as Danielle leaned against the front fender of her father’s 1929 Ford truck, one of the most treasured objects owned by the Felts’ family. She drank down the glass of lemonade she’d been handed by Allison Hughes, the 34 year old wife of banker, Harvard Hughes.

“How is that lemonade?” Allison asked, her high heels clicking on the bricks that Danni had so laboriously laid for her the previous summer.

“It’s right fine, thank you, Mrs. Hughes,” Danni said, raising the near-empty glass in grateful salute. Her gaze immediately found the ample cleavage that teased over the neckline of Allison’s dress, then quickly looked away.

Allison rolled her brown eyes and clicked her tongue, not a single red hair out of place. “You’ve been doing work around here for what, five years now? Just when are you going to call me Allison?” she accused, a perfectly-shaped brow raised.

Danni smiled shyly and looked away. “Sorry,” she murmured. “Mamma always taught me to be polite to my elders.”

Allison gasped, not missing the playful smile on full lips. “Elders,” she muttered, giving Danni a playful smack with her kerchief. “Well, this elder has lunch all prepared for you inside.”

Danni watched the attractive woman walk away, noting the gentle sway of her rounded hips. Quickly turning her gaze elsewhere, she looked out over the work she’d been doing in Allison’s yard over the past week. The front yard was planted, flowerbed full and freshly fertilized with manure furnished by her family’s own cows.

She sighed and pushed off the truck. “Guess it’s lunch time,” she sighed, finishing the rest of her lemonade and heading towards the house.

The Hughes’ house was the most beautiful in all of town: an old brick colonial with more rooms than Danni could just about count and even an outdoor swimming pool. She figured they had to be just about the richest people in all of America.

She’d been doing work for Allison Hughes since she’d turned 14, which had been awful helpful. After the Dust Bowl had ripped through Wayne back in ’35, her family had nearly lost the farm and even their house. Allison Hughes had come through to help, offering to pay off the Felts’ mortgage, then they could pay her back rather than the bank, with less interest on the loan and more time to pay it. Also in the deal, the Felts’ only daughter, Danielle had to work at the Hughes’ home doing odd jobs.

Just as she’d been taught, Danni removed her boots before stepping into the lavish home, her worn work boots set on a mat that was set up by the door specifically for her. She padded into the house, wiping her forearm across her forehead as sweat threatened to bead down in her eyes.

As she made her way to the kitchen, she smiled at the couple passing servants, all of whom she knew well as they all were in service to Allison in one way or another and for one reason or another. Through the swinging doors that led into the huge kitchen, Danni could hear Allison’s voice booming as she barked instructions to the cook and young girl who would be serving them. Danni always felt guilty in Allison’s house, as she was working for Allison too, but was treated much better than the house staff.

“Sit down,” Allison ordered when she eyed Danni walking her way. Allison gave the girl a winning smile as she, too sat down, placing the napkin delicately on her lap. “I’m sure you’re hungry as a big ol’ grizzly bear so you eat up.”

“Yes, misses… I mean, Allison.”

Allison beamed at her. “See? Now isn’t that so much better?” Allison grabbed a piece of fresh bread from the basket between them and buttered it, handing it to Danni with a smile. “You’ve worked so hard this past week, Danni.”

Danni smiled her response of gratitude as her mouth was filled with buttered bread. It took all her control to not groan at the amazing tastes. She loved eating with Allison, as the best of foods were always served. Certainly better than the typical potatoes and roast that were served at her own house.

“Now,” Allison began, pausing as she waited for her and her guest to be served. Once the serving girl had left them in peace, she turned another smile on Danni. “What’s got you so down in the mouth, hmm?”

Danni stared at Allison for a moment, brushing long bangs out of her eyes as some strands had escaped from the kerchief that held her long hair out of her face. “What do you mean?” she asked, knowing full well what the older woman meant. She hated how well Allison Hughes could read her.

“Don’t fool with me, Danielle Felts,” Allison warned, preparing her cold cucumber soup for eating. “I know you better than that.”

Danni smiled, caught. She sipped from the fresh glass of lemonade that sat before her, grateful for the cool liquid. “I’ve been thinking about enlisting,” she finally said, simple and matter-of-fact.

Allison’s eyes widened in surprise. “Have you, now? Would this have anything to do with Billy?”

“Some,” Danni admitted, her gaze focusing on her lunch. She felt nervous to talk about it out loud, but it always seemed to be Allison who she confided in. Guess this would be no different. “Since he was killed in the war last year Mamma and Daddy just aren’t the same.” She sighed. “And I’m getting real sick and tired of Mamma trying to pressure me to marry the Connor boy.”

Allison gave her soup a knowing smile. “No, I suppose that wouldn’t do for you now would it?” She met curious blue eyes but ignored the silent question. “I think it would just about kill your Mamma if you left.”

Danni sighed with a nod. “I know. It’s just that,” she sighed again and sat back in her chair, forcing herself to meet Allison’s frank gaze. “There’s nothing here for me, Allison. I feel so darn trapped. ‘Sides,” she added with a shrug, “I figure the Navy could use another soldier to try and kill Hitler.”

“A soldier, huh?” Allison asked, brow raised.

“I don’t wanna be no nurse, Allison. I don’t wanna be no WASP or WAVE or none of those silly things. I’m just as good a shooter as any boy. Just ask Daddy on that one.”

Allison was silent for a moment, her heart pounding in her chest as fear clenched around the organ. “Danni,” she said softly, “I don’t want to see you get yourself killed. Besides, you know full well they’d never accept a woman-“ Allison cut herself off, seeing the determination in those blue, blue eyes. “I see.”

Danni could only meet her gaze, not sure what to say. She knew Allison would get her meaning sooner or later, she just happened to get it sooner.

“You could get yourself in a great deal of trouble, you know.”

“Yeah, well even trouble is better than what I’ve got here. Heck, I’d rather spend the rest of my life in prison than have to marry James Connor.”

Allison smirked. “Honey, marriage can certainly seem like an awfully large prison cell.”

“Exactly! I don’t have any interest whatsoever in marrying and having babies and runnin’ a farm. It’s not me, Allison.”

“No honey, that it is not.” Allison picked up her abandoned spoon. “Eat up, now. You got more work to do out back.”

*****

Danni lay in bed that night with her hands tucked behind her head, staring up at the dark ceiling. She wasn’t seeing the shadows of the night nor hearing the distant sounds of the cows in the dairy. Her mind was focused on all that she’d disclosed to Allison that afternoon, as well as her determination to make something of herself. She had no idea how exactly she was going to pull it off, as she knew she’d have to pass a physical, just as her big brother, Billy had to do

Billy.

Older than his now-19 year old sister by two years, William Jefferson Felts Jr. had left for the Army when America went to war, one of thousands of young men who left their farms and homes to enlist and fight the good fight. Billy was the closest person to Danni and she used to relish his letters, soaking up every word and adventure. Sadly, he’d been killed after a short three months fighting over seas. A couple posthumous letters had trickled in as late as early summer.

Danni could still see Billy’s smile and remember his boisterous laugh. Where she was quiet and shy he had been exuberant and confident. They were exact opposites in personalities but looked a great deal alike. Billy had been tall and strong, his sky blue eyes turning every head who saw him. He wore his good looks well, never in shortage of a date.

Danni, tall and farm-strong like her brother, didn’t know what to do with her looks. She was much taller than most the young women her age, and she didn’t have the same build as the demure women of her generation. Danni had grown up working on the dairy farm, not afraid of hard work; in fact, she relished it. She was well-muscled and absolutely did not fit in anywhere. The boys wanted little to do with her, despite the fact that she was a natural beauty and the other girls didn’t know what to make of her. None of this bothered her, however, as she lived her life close to the vest, her only real friends Billy and Allison Hughes. Now that Billy was gone, she had very little left to stay for.

Turning to her side, Danni stared out the small window placed above the top of her dresser. The moon was high and glazed everything with an eerie silver glow. Knowing that sleep would be far in coming, Danni slid from the bed and lit the lantern next to her bed. She rummaged through the top drawer in her dresser, where she kept all her secret treasures. Inside she moved the small stack of Sears Roebuck catalogs she’d kept – she enjoyed looking at the pretty models inside – and dug until she found the letters Billy had sent her, including the picture of himself in uniform he’d included.

Picture in hand, Danni moved back over to her bed in the attic bedroom. She ducked blindly as she’d hit her head on the slanted ceiling more times than she could count over the years. The room was not built for someone who stood nearly six feet tall. She sat on her bed near the lantern and looked at the picture, rubbing her finger lovingly over the grinning face of her heroic brother. He wore his uniform with pride and Danni could just imagine what it did for his social life.

She smiled at that thought, wondering for just a crazy moment if it would do the same for hers. Closing her eyes, she buried her face in her hand. “You’re an idiot, Danni,” she whispered. “No girl’s gonna want you, uniform or not.” She looked at the picture again, a sense of pride filling her; pride for what her brother had done and what he’d given and she felt pride for what she knew ultimately she would do. She figured it best, however to wait until after the holidays were over with: not only for her mother but also for herself as who knew if she would ever have another holiday again?

Danni pushed up from the bed and replaced the picture, covering her little stash with clothing then shoved the drawer shut and returned to her bed. Dousing the lantern, she lay back down and let out a long breath in the dark, closing her eyes as she tried to find sleep.
Chapter 2
Katherine “Kate” Adams sat in the dark theater, pinned between her best friend, Carol and Jimmy Canton, who was the boy her mother had set her up with. Jimmy was the son of a prominent attorney in town and Beth Adams felt he’d be the perfect match for her only child and that Kate needed to be seen with a different class of friends. All of this Beth had explained to her daughter as she picked out the dress the petit blonde would wear, as well as the jewelry that she felt would compliment the 17 year old’s lovely green eyes. After all, everyone always mentioned Kate’s eyes.

Kate rolled those very eyes as she thought of the tense moments over the past few days leading up to the date. Kate had absolutely no desire to sit in the dark next to a boy she found annoying and unattractive and resented her mother’s pestering and fussing.

“He stinks,” she whispered into her best friend’s ear.

Carol snickered at her friend before leaning forward to check out the poor boy across Kate’s body. “What does he smell like?” she whispered back.

“Onions and gasoline.”

Carol’s bark of laughter earned them glares from movie-goers around them, including Jimmy Canton. Carol smiled apologetically and returned her attention back to Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal.

“I think he smells like a cat box, too,” Kate whispered after a few moments.

Carol met her gaze, eyes twinkling. “You are so mean,” she whispered.

“Will you guys shut up?” John, Carol’s date whispered. “I’m trying to watch the picture show, here.”

Carol gave him an apologetic smile then returned her gaze once more to the film, neither she nor Kate saying another word for the duration.

After the film finished, the four teens headed to the lobby where they stood awkwardly for several minutes. Finally, Jimmy Canton smiled at the girls, hands tucked into the pockets of his pants.

“Well ladies, this was swell.” He turned to Kate. “Maybe we’ll do this again sometime.” He leaned down and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. He didn’t notice that Carol discretely sniffed the air as he did so.

“Thank you, Jimmy. Yes, it was swell. Well,” Kate said, clapping her hands together. “My father should be out there waiting for us, so…”

“Goodnight, boys,” Carol said, shooting a teasing grin at John.

John and Jimmy watched the two young women walk away. “Man, she’s got great stems,” Jimmy confided, his gaze roaming up and down Kate’s legs and her behind, which was outlined nicely in the flowered dress her mother had chosen for her. John’s reply was a whistle of agreement between his teeth.

“God!” Kate groaned as they exited into the cool evening. “That was the most awkward date I’ve ever been on, Carol.”

“Tell me about it,” her friend agreed, eyeing the parking lot. “There he is.”

The girls walked towards Percy Adam’s black 1941 Dodge Luxury Liner Custom, the fedora-wearing man behind the wheel smoking a cigarette. “Evenin’ girls,” he said around the smoke. “Have fun?”

“We did, Daddy, thank you,” Kate said, sliding into the front seat next to her father and Carol next to her.

“Off we go, then.”

It had already been decided that Carol was going to spend the night with Kate, the two girls inseparable since the age of 6. Now, eleven years later, they were still attached at the hip. The giggling duo sat on the floor of Kate’s spacious bedroom, a smattering of records lying across the floor as the music of Tommy Dorsey filled the room. They both sat cross-legged, a smattering of letters – opened and unopened – sat between them, as well as snapshots of uniformed men.

“Okay, listen to this one,” Carol said, her giggles heightened by the sips of stolen whiskey from her father’s liquor cabinet. “’My sweet, sweet girl,’” she looked at Kate, both girls breaking into new giggles. “’When I come back from Germany, I want us to build a howse’ – spelled howse, by the way – ‘together. We can have lots of childrens together.’”

“Childrens?” Kate laughed.

“It gets better.” Carol continued to read. “’Our childrens will be part of both us and will some day rule the world.’”

Both girls dissolved into a fit of laughter, Kate falling backwards to lie on the floor, her hand coming up to wipe away the amused tears. “Oh my god, that soldier needs some schooling.”

“Yeah,” Carol agreed, also falling back to stare up at the ceiling. “I need to meet a really handsome soldier, Kate. Maybe at the dance next week.”

Kate heard her friend but her mind was off and running in its own direction. “Don’t you want someone to really love you, Carol?” she asked at length, her voice soft and dreamy.

Carol stared at her friend as though she’d just grown a second head. “What?”

“Serious.” Kate looked at Carol. “These boys are cute and look so handsome in their uniforms but…” she sighed and returned her gaze to the ceiling. “Don’t you want someone who will treat you well? Maybe actually love you?”

Carol studied her friend for a moment then rested her head back down, shoulders shrugged. “As long as he’s handsome.”

Kate rolled her eyes, not bothering to add her two cents. Even in her buzzed state she knew Carol would never understand. In truth, she didn’t understand. All she did understand was she wanted more than her mother had. Sure, they lived in a nice house in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Diego, but what good was money when there was little to no happiness behind it?

Her entire life, Kate had watched her mother brutalized by a domineering, controlling husband, whom for some reason spared his only child of the violence and insults. Even still, Kate had seen what her mother had become: a frail, judgmental and unhappy woman whose one goal in life was to live vicariously through her daughter. Perhaps in her mind, it was an escape.

A noise brought Kate out of her reverie. A glance to her snoring friend made her smile. “Carol?” she slurred, nudging her friend, who groaned in her inebriated sleep. “Come on. Bed.”

Kate picked herself up off the floor and made her way to her bed, glad to be already dressed in her nightgown. She didn’t care whether Carol made it to be or not as she flopped down, face first.
Chapter 3
Danni sat at the kitchen table, quietly listening to her parents discuss the state of their dairy business and the fact that a calf had recently been born. As their voices droned on in the background, she couldn’t help but let her thoughts wander. She’d gotten the six cents from Allison to send off three different letters to Naval recruiters, all sent to Allison’s postal address. Daniel Felts had been invited to sign up for service, and Danni was more than willing to accept the invite.

The holidays had come and gone, only Danni knowing their significance. She felt a tinge of guilt as her parents had no idea what she was planning that very night. A large duffel bag was hidden under her bed, already packed with some clothing Allison had provided for her: clothing for Daniel.

“Danni!” William, Danni’s father bellowed, irritation in his voice.

The girl’s head shot up, eyes wide in attention. “Yes?”

“I’ve been sayin’ your damn name for a full minute!”

“Sorry, Dad,” she muttered, eyes lowering in deference to the man she admired most after her dead brother.

“It’s gonna be a cold one tonight and we got that calf due any day now. I need you to check the barn every hour tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” she said automatically, mentally kicking herself, as it would cut into her plan.

Danni lay in her bed, hands tucked behind her head as she watched the snow fall outside. It was a cold January night and she did not look forward to heading out in twelve minutes to check the barn for the third time in as many hours. Knowing full well sleep wasn’t coming tonight, she pushed out of bed and tugged on her clothes: loose pants that once belonged to Billy as well as a rough-hewn wool sweater to help fight the Nebraska cold.

Danni fell to her knees, pulling the packed duffel out of its hiding place and plopped it on the bed, the mattress bouncing under the weight. She knew this would be the last time she checked the barn; perhaps the last time ever.

Looking in the small mirror hung on her wall, Danni studied the blue that looked back at her. They were blue eyes that so many had told her were beautiful or unusual – or both – but right now all she saw was blue eyes filled with fear. Her gaze traveled to the long black hair that fell around her shoulders – never one to follow current trends. She knew within a matter of hours that hair would be gone. If her mother knew, she’d be devastated, as she’d always told Danni that no matter how beautiful her eyes were, her thick, shiny hair would always be her best feature. Danni didn’t care as her gaze fell to Billy’s picture, tucked into the frame of her mirror. His hair was cut short, hangs falling in his eyes. Many remarked how much of a Clarke Gable quality he had in appearance and style. A look back at her own reflection told Danni she’d have a similar look by morning.

“Here we go,” she whispered, deciding to check the barn early so she could head out while her courage was still with her.

*****

Allison opened the back door, where Danni had been instructed to go. Finger held up to her lips, she allowed the teenager inside, quickly locking the door and escorting her up the back stairs – used for servants – and into an unused room on the third floor. Once inside, she closed the door, ensuring their privacy and silence.

“Someone’s gotta get my father’s truck back to the farm,” Danni said, teeth chattering from the cold drive to Allison’s house.

“Someone’s already on it. Don’t worry about it.” Allison quickly pushed Danni’s threadbare jacket from her shoulders, tossing it to the chair tucked into the corner of the room then turned back to her temporary ward. “Let’s get you into bed and warmed up.”

Danni nodded, moving towards the inviting bed, which Allison pulled the covers down for her. She allowed herself to be tucked in, Allison sitting on the side of the bed and looking at her.

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me,” the older woman said, a sad smile on her lips.

“It’s only for a little while. President Roosevelt said the war should be over soon.”

“We’ll see about that. They said the same thing about the first damn war and it lasted four years.” She leaned down and placed a soft – almost chaste – kiss on Danni’s lips, shocking the younger woman. “Sleep now. We’ll talk in a few hours.”

Left alone, Danni brought a hand up, fingers brushing her lips as she still felt the tingle of the unexpected kiss. She’d never been kissed before by anyone who wasn’t a member of her family. Even the annoying James Connor hadn’t dare try. She thought surely Allison was just trying to be motherly.

Secure in her thoughts but nervous of the actions of the next few days, Danni turned onto her side and tucked her hands underneath her chin and closed her eyes.
Chapter 4

San Jose, CA 1968
Megan sat at the kitchen table, the lid to the wooden box open as her mother dealt with the Avon lady in the living room. She pulled out the pictures she’d glanced at before and gave them a closer look, her gaze riveted to the face of the man that her mother smiled at. Again she looked at the name and date then set the picture down on the table, her curiosity returning to the box.

She glanced up as she heard her mother walk her guest to the door followed by a distant goodbye. Within moments her mother appeared around the corner, a shoulder leaning against the open archway.

“What are you doing?” Kate asked. Her heart stopped when she saw what her daughter was sorting through, for a moment a feeling of anger shooting through her. Pushing it down, she walked into the room and sat in the chair to Megan’s left.

“You seemed to really love this guy,” Megan remarked, her finger tapping the picture on the table.

Kate sighed, taking the picture in hand and looking at her much-younger self. As her gaze traveled to Danni, she nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“He’s really good looking,” Megan commented, turning her focus back to the box. She removed the folded shirt, careful to keep it in its folded condition. Beneath it she was surprised to find a ring box. A glance at her mother earned her a nod of permission. Inside the red satin box she found a simple gold band. “From Danny?” she asked softly.

Kate nodded, her throat tightening with emotion, so long ago pushed down. “Yes,” she finally whispered.

“What happened? Did he die in the war?”

“No.” Kate gave her daughter a soft smile. “What happened was… It just wasn’t meant to be.”

A 2 year old Megan on her hip, Kate hurried to the front door after George had yelled for her to get it, as he was getting ready for work. Irritated at the interruption, as she’d been getting George’s lunch packed, Kate finally reached the door, tugging it open. Her breath caught, eyes wide as she looked at the ghost who stood on the other side.

“Danni,” she whispered.

Danni stood tall and proud, dressed in full dress uniform, cap cocked slightly on her head and beautiful as ever. A hard blue gaze turned to Megan. “I assume she’s not mine?” Danni asked, a quip in her voice.

Kate’s heart was pounding in her chest, a protective hand automatically coming up to cup the back of the toddler’s head. “I…” her voice trailed off, not sure what to say.

Megan studied her mother’s face, able to see that she’d fallen back to another time. She could see the old pain resurface, and for a moment wondered if perhaps it had been a really bad idea to bring the box down from the attic. She reached a hand out and took her mother’s cool fingers within her own.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” she said softly, giving the fingers a squeeze, getting one in return as Kate returned to the present with a sad smile.

“Things happen for a reason, Megan,” Kate said quietly. She let go of her daughter’s hand and carefully replaced everything in the wooden box. “It was the past and it needs to stay that way.” She pushed back from the table and took the box in slightly-trembling hands. “This needs to be put away.”

Left alone in the kitchen, Megan sighed, feeling awful. “Damn,” she murmured, also pushing back from the table.
Chapter 5

Wayne , NE 1943
The morning sunlight drifted in through the gauze-like curtains covering the windows and right into Danni’s sleeping face. Her brow furrowed as she was pulled into wakefulness. A soft groan rumbled in her throat as she turned from her side to her back, startled awake when she bumped into something.

Eyes opening, she was surprised to see Allison sitting on the side of her bed, an amused smile on her lips. “What are you doing in here?” she asked, voice sleepy.

“I came in to wake you up, but I think the sun did it for me. Robert is here and is ready to cut your hair.”

Butterfly wings of fear beat at Danni’s stomach as realization dawned fully, pulling her completely into the waking world. “Oh,” was all she could manage.

“You can still turn back, you know,” Allison said gently, brushing a few strands of hair from Danni’s face.

Danni stared at the ceiling for a long moment, tumbling her options around in her mind before finally she shook her head and looked at Allison. “No. I want to do this. I gotta do this.”

Robert Joelson was a sight to behold. He was Allison’s personal hairstylist and one of a very few males that weren’t barbers in their careers in hair and style. He was a reed-thin man with close-cropped hair and large, watchful eyes. He eyed Danni with something of amusement in those big eyes.

Danni sat in a chair, Robert standing behind her looking in the mirror that had been placed before them. “What would you like, doll?” he asked, voice soft-spoken and less-than-masculine.

“Um,” Danni said, looking at her long hair, which Robert had just brushed out to a dark shine. “Maybe Clark Gable?”

“Mmm! Good choice.” Robert gathered all of Danni’s hair in one hand, scissors in the other. “You ready, doll?”

Danni took a deep breath and gave him a short nod. “Let’s do it.”

Allison sat back, one shapely leg crossed over the other as she watched the transformation of Danni into Danny. In truth, other than Danni’s unusual height, she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off or not, but as she watched, she saw an incredibly handsome young man emerging from Robert’s skillful hands. She watched as Robert showed Danni what kind of grease to use and how to apply it.

When Robert finished with her, Danni took a deep breath and studied herself in the mirror, both Robert and Allison standing behind her, heads cocked to the side in amusing affect as they assessed the work that had been done.

“I must say,” Allison said at length, “you’re one handsome devil. Robert, you’ve outdone yourself.”

“I must agree,” he said, followed by a wistful sigh. “Well, I must be on my way, doll.” He turned and gave Allison a hug before extending the same to Danni. “Go give those Nazi bastards hell.”

Left alone as Allison walked Robert to the door where they stood and talked for several minutes, Danni studied herself unobserved. Her heart was pounding in her chest and trickles of mixed fear and excitement made her shiver. This was it, no going back now. She’d made her decision and the young man staring back at her in the mirror was proof of that.

“Your father came by this morning,” Allison said softly, startling Danni as she hadn’t heard Allison approach. “He didn’t believe me when I told him I hadn’t seen you so he gave me this to give to you.” She held out her hand, Billy’s gleaming dogtags dangling from a chain.

Danni stared at them for a long moment, almost moved to tears by her father’s understanding gesture.

“He said he hoped Billy would keep you safe.”

“Thank you,” Danni whispered, taking the precious metal chips from the older woman. She held them in a closed fist for a long moment before turning a brave smile to Allison. “I’m sure he will.”

“Well, we’ve got a lot to talk about and get ready for before your train tomorrow morning.” Allison took Danni by the hand and led her through the massive house and to her own bedroom.

On Allison’s large bed was an assortment of various papers, Allison explaining each one: train ticket and schedule: a mock testimonial from a Wayne, Nebraska doctor giving Daniel Felts a clean bill of health and finally a fake birth certificate for Daniel, rather than Danielle.

Danni’s gaze swept over a folded pile of clothing, toiletries and a roll of gauze onto something that she couldn’t wrap her mind around. It was a long, tan object connected to leather straps. “What on earth is that?” she asked, walking over to the object.

Allison grinned, walking over to it and picking it up. “You, my dear and innocent young Mr. Felts, will need something to help solidify your claims as such.” Allison could see Danni was still baffled so she stepped in front of the younger woman. She was amused at Danni’s shocked expression as Allison quickly unbuttoned her trousers, the baggy material falling around Danni’s ankles.

“What are you doing?” Danni whispered, her heart about to pound out of her chest.

“I’m giving you a wonderful gift for all those beautiful young ladies that will be falling all over you.”

Still not understanding – and admittedly excited by Allison’s prophecy – she remained still, even as her undergarments were shoved down to lie with her pants.

Allison met Danni’s wide-eyed gaze with a saucy smile. She grabbed the tethered object from the bed and moved in close to the stunning young woman, taking her time to strap the leather harness around slim hips, the tan object protruding obscenely from Danni’s crotch.

“When Harv and I were in Paris years back, I picked one of these up from a fine leather worker there.” She stroked the soft leather as she spoke. “This is the finest quality phallus you can get your hands on.”

Danni looked down at herself, too stunned to put any logic into the use. “Okay.”

Allison knelt down and pulled up Danni’s undergarment and pants, standing completely within Danni’s personal space as she buttoned her up then moved behind her, taking hold of her hips as she maneuvered her in the direction of the stand-alone mirror in the corner.

“You’ll have to be careful as this little fella wants to always stand at attention,” Allison smiled, still standing behind Danni and looking over her shoulder at the reflection. “See? Even though you’ve got baggy pants on, this little fella helps bring Daniel to life.” She pressed her body against Danni’s back as she reached around her, running her hand over the younger woman’s slightly-defined crotch.

Danni could hardly breathe. She was being inundated with sensations that were completely foreign to her from the feel of what Allison had called a phallus against her privates to Allison’s body pressed against her to Allison’s hand putting slight pressure on the phallus, which in turn put pressure against her flesh.

“You see, darling, when you get to California , you’re going to find all those young, beautiful girls all wanting your attention. You’ll need this,” she took the phallus in a gentle hold, “to give them what they want.”

“And what’s that?” Danni asked, her voice hoarse from fear and slight panic.

Allison smiled, her hands leaving the phallus and running up Danni’s torso to cup her breasts. “This is something else I want to give you before you go,” she said, her voice soft. She turned Danni around until she was facing her. “I want to teach you how to please a woman, Danni. You’re gonna need it.”

“But I’m not-“

Allison silenced Danni’s protests with a finger to her lips. “Yes you are. I understand you, darling.” With that, she pulled Danni down for a long, exploratory kiss.

*****

Danni lay awake, her friend, boss and benefactor asleep in her arms. Though their naked bodies were entwined, Danni’s mind was a million miles away. Her train was scheduled to leave in less than nine hours, taking her off to the destinations un-traveled and un-explored. She’d never been out of Wayne , let alone Nebraska . And, it was likely she’d be leaving the country she’d known since birth, nineteen years before.

She and Allison had spent hours together that afternoon and into the night. Danni had been taught all about not only being a woman, but also how to love a woman. She’d thought she was alone on God’s green earth, alone in her love and attraction for women, but Allison had taught her that wasn’t quite true. She still had no idea what that would mean for her future, but at least she’d had this one experience, this one day and night of peace and self-understanding. Everything from here on out was in God’s hands.

Beyond a potential love life, Danni’s thoughts zoomed to what might be in a war zone. Since the day she’d been told her big brother was dead, she had fantasized about holding a weapon and letting loose all her anger and frustration and grief on a bunch of Nazis. That said, what if it wasn’t that simple? Was she volunteering herself for what essentially amounted to suicide? How would her parents handle losing both she and Billy?

Danni sighed, her brain so filled with disturbing questions and worries. She just hoped the her decisions would back up her desires and that she could find some sort of peace in all of this. Maybe even love. She winced internally: not likely. Who could possibly love a girl from Nebraska who just wanted to be all that her big brother wasn’t allowed to be?
Chapter 5

San Diego , late spring 1943
Kate walked down the long halls of her high school, noting – not for the first time – the lack of young men in her senior class. The only males walking the halls or filling the classrooms were teachers, though some of them had disappeared, too, and the younger students. Most of the men in her hometown had vanished, up and enlisted and now were either in boot camp or already overseas. It was nearly a daily occurrence to see a group of girls crying as news came of yet another young man who was coming back home in a box. The wall outside the principal’s office was papered with either pictures or names of the fallen.

“Hey Kate!” Carol said, meeting Kate in the hall, books hugged to her chest. “Are you ready for the dance tomorrow night?”

Kate faltered, wishing she could just smile and nod, but it wasn’t that easy. “I don’t know how I’m going to get out of class tomorrow.”

Carol looked at her best friend, completely not getting why it was an issue. “Don’t go to class,” she supplied, thinking that was simple as pie.

“Carol, you know it’s not that easy with my parents.”

“Your mom usually shows up when – mid-morning?” Carol stopped them by stepping in front of Kate, blocking her path.

“Typically, yes,” Kate said, moving around her friend to continue on to her class. Carol quickly caught up.

“Okay, well there you go! Let’s hit first and second period then cut out after.” They walked down the hall, Carol tossing flirting eyes to a group of younger boys who passed before turning her attention back to her friend. “Will that work?”

Kate sighed, fear tickling her spine. “I don’t know, Carol,” she hedged, finally reaching the doorway to her next class. She turned to her friend, both stepping out of the way of students who tried to enter the classroom. “I just don’t know.”

Disappointed, but understanding her friend’s dilemma, Carol gave Kate a brave smile. “Think on it, okay? Let me know tomorrow and we can go from there, ‘k?”

Kate gave her a genuine smile, appreciate of the unusual consideration her friend was showing her. “Okay. See you later!”

“See you later!” Carol echoed, hurrying off into the crush of students washing by in the hall.

*****

Kate walked into the house, finding her mother sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper spread out before her. She looked upset, a handkerchief clutched in her hand and cup of tea forgotten.

“What’s the matter, Mamma?” Kate asked as she set her books on the table and plopped down into a chair across from her mother.

Beth Adams sighed, wiping at her eyes. “Doug Riggins was killed last week in Italy .”

“Oh no,” Kate breathed, her hand coming up to her pounding heart. The Riggins’ family had been their neighbors all of Kate’s life. She and Doug weren’t friends, but it was still a shock.

“I’d been hoping that once Doug returned perhaps the two of you could have forged some sort of relationship,” Beth explained, once again dabbing at her eyes.

Knowing that her mother was upset was the only thing that stopped Kate from rolling her eyes or getting angry. “Mamma, we didn’t even really know each other.”

“That doesn’t matter, Katherine. That happens over time.” Beth sighed, taking a dainty sip from her tea. “You young people have this crazy notion that marriage is supposed to be about love.” The bitterness was very apparent in Beth’s tone. “It’s about a good match and guaranteeing yourself and your children a good future.”

Kate was quiet for a long moment, her fingers absently tearing off a corner of the newspaper and playing with the scrap of paper. “What if I don’t want to get married?” she asked at length, sparing a glance up to the disapproving face of her mother. “What if I want to go to college after I graduate next week. I just think there’s more to life than getting married and having children.”

Elizabeth Adams sat back in her chair, eyes fixed on her daughter. “Who has been putting some nonsense thoughts in your head?” she asked, voice cold as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I knew that Hardy girl was bad for you.”

“Trust me, none of this came from Carol; she’s about as boy crazy as you can get. I just think I want more for myself.”

“Well, I think is certainly the operative word here, now isn’t it? You’re a young girl and know nothing of real life, Katherine.” Beth pushed back from the table, effectively ending the conversation. “Dinner will be ready by six.”

Left alone, Kate sighed and stared out the French doors into the yard beyond. Her parents’ house was situated on twenty acres, a veritable wonderland for a child. When she w as a child, she used to run through the fields of flowers her mother had planted, the small blonde girl getting lost in a sea of color and fragrance. It had been a long time since she’d done that, and as she sat at the table, she felt wistful, wishing she could go back to an earlier time, a simpler time. She wished she could go back to a time before the stresses of war put a strain on her father and all the people she knew. She also wished she could go back to an earlier time when her mother didn’t pester her constantly to marry.

Kate sighed again, her chin resting in an upturned palm. She had considered asking her mother if she could go to the dance the following day, but from their conversation and her mother’s unwavering views, she knew it would have ended in her mother essentially tying Kate to her bed to keep her from going. A lowly serviceman would never be good enough for Katherine Adams. Well, not good enough unless he was either the son of a prominent general or from a prominent family. Likely, she would be meeting neither. In fact, she was supposed to be meeting a young serviceman she’d been corresponding with for six months named George Hannigan, finally come back home after a year-long stint all over Europe.

Kate pushed up from the table and headed up to her bedroom. After all, she had to find the perfect dress for tomorrow’s dance. Maybe she’d find her Prince Charming.
Chapter 6
Danni sat in the front seat of her friend, Mike’s car. Her palms were sweating, so she wiped them on the thighs of her uniform pants. Tonight she and Mike were dressed in their crackerjacks: white bellbottomed pants with black leather shoes. A white jumper with tar-flap collar with a black polyester neckerchief was added, as well as she held her “ Dixie cup” cap in her lap.

Mike, a sweet 18 year old from New York glanced over at his friend. “Hey, you okay there, buddy?” he asked. He and Danni had met the first day of boot camp, which seemed like a lifetime ago but was finally over, and had instantly bonded.

Danni glanced over at her friend, giving him a nod though she actually wanted to vomit.

“Man!” Mike laughed. “You’d think you never been ‘wit a girl before.” He glanced again at his friend, able to see the nerves radiating off him in waves. “Alright. I know what you need.”

Mike pulled his 1935 Dodge DU Coupe off into the parking lot of a grocer. He cut the engine then reached around to the small back part of the car and grabbed a stashed bottle of whiskey.

Danni watched, wondering what the heck her friend was doing. She saw him reach for something, bringing back a bottle of brown liquid. She felt her stomach turn as the last time they’d drank together, she’d gotten horribly drunk and horribly sick.

“No way, Mike.”

“Eh, ya got sick last time,” Mike said, his New York accent coming through in every word, despite his time spent in San Diego . “This’ll calm ya nerves.” Mike poured a capful of the fiery liquid and handed it over to Danni. “Drink up, buddy.”

Danni took a deep breath then accepted the alcohol. She drank it down, grimacing to Mike’s amusement at the harsh fire rushing down her throat. She watched as Mike shot his own capful then poured them each one more.

“You’re gonna kill me,” Danni choked, again grimacing at her second capful.

Mike laughed. “Yeah, but at least you won’t scare away the ladies tonight ‘wit your nerves. Man, such an amateur.”

Danni thought back to his time with Allison and blushed, very much able to feel the object pressed between her legs. “Amateur, no. Nervous, yes.”

“Don’t be, man.” Mike replaced the cap onto the bottle and stowed it back behind the seat. He banged on the steering wheel a couple times as the liquid fire pulsed through his veins. “Woooo!” he whooped, shaking his head at the effect of the strong alcohol. “Let’s do this!”

“Let’s do this!” Danni echoed, more for show than because she believed it.

Twenty minutes later, Mike found a parking space for his Dodge then both sailors climbed out of the car. Head swimming, Danni stood in the parking lot, looking at the sea of other cars and people that talked and laughed as they made their way to the entrance of the squat brick building, lights penetrating the daylight. She could only imagine what it would look like once night fell.

“Ready?” Mike asked, stepping up beside Danni.

“Yep. Let’s do it.”

Danni put on a brave face but as they neared the building, she felt her world teetering a bit, the whiskey going straight to her head.

“You alright, Chief?” Mike asked, thoroughly amused.

“I’ll be okay,” Danni assured, a hand up as physical evidence of her words.

Mike looked at her, utterly disbelieving but in no place to dispute. “Alright.”

A brass band backed an attractive singer on one side of the room, the most popular tunes of the day filling the space. Beautiful women wandered around on the arms of uniformed men or in groups while other couples danced. In a corner of the room was a cash bar, offering alcohol as well as punch.

“Look at them lovely ladies,” Mike commented, a veritable feast for the hot-blooded man’s eye.

“I hear that,” Danni agreed, her eyes scanning all the beautiful faces, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. She tried to fight the nervousness that tightened her guts. “I’ll a, I’ll be right back, Mike.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” Danni gave Mike a brave smile then turned and hurried to find the restroom.

She found the small alcove where the two restroom doors were, separated by a drinking fountain. Her mouth feeling like cotton, Danni gulped down several mouthfuls of water then headed towards the bathroom on the left, completely on autopilot, as well as that shot of whiskey had her in a slight daze. She was about to pull the door open when she heard someone enter the alcove.

Realization dawned on Danni of what she was about to do too late as the young woman was already upon her. Danni stood frozen for a moment from being startled and fear but then it was simply because she couldn’t move. The woman who stood before her was stunning, her blonde hair coifed perfectly and her green eyes wide in mutual surprise. The red and white dress she wore hugged her figure to perfection, making Danni’s heart pound faster.

“I think you want that one,” the woman said with a smile, a slight nod indicating the other bathroom door.

Danni glanced over at the other door then swiped the white cap from her head, bangs falling into her eyes. She gave the beautiful young woman a shy smile then backed away and turning to grab the door handle. She needed to see the blonde woman one more time and spared her a glance before she quickly ducked inside the men’s room, feeling as though she could throw up.

She leaned against the wall once inside, eyes closing as she tried to get her breathing under control and calmed down. Danni had dedicated herself to her mission once she was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. After eight weeks of boot camp, Danni and Mike had been sent to San Diego to continue training until they were shipped out in six weeks. In all that time, this dance was only the second outing she’d attended and it scared the hell out of her.

Taking several deep breaths, she pushed away from the wall and decided she needed to be social. After all, they were on a countdown before shipping out and she needed to try and make the best of her time in California.

The music still played, Danni recognized the song as one of her favorites, I’ll Be Seeing You . She placed her “Dixie cup” hat back on her head and made her way through the throng of fellow-revelers, trying to see through the crowd to find Mike. Eventually she spotted him standing with a small group of beautiful women, just as she suspected she would.

“Hey!” Mike said with a welcoming smile. “Ladies, this is my good buddy Danni. Danni, this is Esther, Rachel and her sister Louise.”

Danni smiled and nodded at each of the young ladies as they were introduced. Rachel made it clear she had her eye on the tall handsome man with stunning blue eyes. “Hi, Danni,” she said with a bright smile.

“Ma’am,” Danni said then turned to Mike. “I’m going to get something to drink.” She turned to the women. “Would you ladies like anything?”

Kate entered the ladies’ room and immediately found a stall, her heart hammering in her chest as she latched the lock and leaned against the stall door. Though it had only been a moment in time, she knew she had seen the face of ultimate… beauty? It was a strange thing, but the man she’d just seen in the hall – though incredibly handsome – was far more than that. He had the face of an angel, striking in its every feature. Was it possible for a man to be beautiful? It had to be, because he was.

“George,” she whispered, eyes closed. “I’m here to meet up with George.”

A few moments later, and with a freshly-applied layer of lipstick, Kate left the bathroom and headed back towards where she’d last seen her friends. Though she forced herself to conjure up George Hannigan’s image in her mind, her eyes were searching for someone else. She tried to be casual about it, but at one point she found herself standing at the center of the room and turning in a slow circle, trying to get a glimpse of those blue eyes again.

She spotted her friends and headed in that direction. A moment later, she spotted him. He was at the bar getting drinks. As Kate watched, he pulled a wallet out of his pocket and handed over a few bills then looked down at the five beverages the bartender placed before him. It was evident he was trying to figure out how he was going to carry them all.

Kate hurried over to him, her legs almost working without the express permission of her brain. “Can I help you with those?” she asked, trying not to let the desperation show in her voice.

Those haunting blue eyes met her own, at first filled with slight uncertainty, then filled with the smile that brushed his lips. “Thank you.”

Kate was surprised by his voice: so soft and calming. “Okay. My two hands are yours.”

Danni looked at the woman from the bathroom incident, at first fearing she’d come back to admonish her for her stupidity, but instead offered her help. Danni handed the beautiful blonde two of the glasses and managed the other three on her own.

“I think you got a bit over your head with all these,” Kate commented, simply for something to say.

Danni smiled with a nod. “I think you’re right. It didn’t occur to me I’d run out of hands until he put all these in front of me.”

Kate smiled, feeling so completely disarmed with this quiet, seemingly shy boy. “My name is Kate.”

“Danni.” Dannie stopped, intending to shake her hand, but realized yet again that would require more hands than he had. “Uh, sorry. Guess we can’t be real polite when carrying nearly half-dozen drinks.”

Kate laughed at that, utterly charmed. “I suppose not.”

Danni gave her another smile, though she knew she looked like a goofy dork, it didn’t matter. One final look into those penetrating green eyes and she got them headed back towards Mike and the girls.

“Here you are, ladies,” Danni announced, doling out the drinks as requested, Kate handing her two drinks to those indicated.

Mike was very surprised to see that not only had Danni brought back beverages for them but also a gorgeous young woman. He grinned at Danni. “You dog,” he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Danni to hear.

Danni blushed profusely. “She offered to help,” she said softly, her stomach in knots as Kate exchanged a couple words with two of the girls.

“So,” Mike drawled, “you gonna make her ya girl now or what?”

Again, Danni found herself blushing. “No!” she hissed. “I just met her!”

Kate could hear the whispering behind her but wasn’t entirely sure what was being said. She turned and faced the two sailors. “So, I’m Kate Adams,” she introduced to the man talking with Danni.

“Ah jeez, I’m being rude. Kate Adams, this is Michael Carr, Mike, Kate.”

“Good to meet ya, Kate,” Mike said, turning his charm down as he could tell his friend was completely into the beauty.

“There you are!”

The entire group turned to see Carol rush up to Kate. “George found us and is looking for you.” As if realizing for the first time that Kate had been talking to people, Carol looked up and scanned the five sets of eyes focused on her. “Hi!”

“Carol, these are my new friends.”

As Kate introduced the entire group one by one, Carol’s gaze never left Mike. A goofy smile spread over her painted lips as she felt her heart thump to life. “I’m carol,” she said to him, though she’d just been introduced.

“Mike.” In a gesture of aged chivalry, Mike took Carol’s hand and kissed the knuckles, his gaze never leaving hers.

Kate watched the interaction between her best friend and Danni’s friend, utterly shocked. Carol was as boy crazy as boy crazy got, but one thing she never did was let one boy get in too far before she tossed him aside to move on to the next. Kate even suspected that Carol wasn’t a virgin. This however, was completely out of character. From the surprised look on Danni’s face, he must feel the same way about his friend.

Kate turned her attention back to Danni. “Guess I should go,” she said softly, her heart falling. The last thing she wanted to do was to go meet George Hannigan, unknown soldier. In truth, she’d only continued correspondence with him because Carol was into it and she felt it was the right thing to do.

“Okay,” Danni said, hiding her profound disappointment. “Thanks again for your help.”

“You’re very welcome.” Kate gave her a shining smile then grabbed Carol by the hand and yanked her away from Mike.

Danni watched as the two women left their little group, and all she could think about was how much she wanted to follow. She hadn’t been interested in Rachel from the start, but now as the brunette flirted with her even more, she felt even less of a connection than the non-existent one of a few moments ago. Her heart hurt. It was unexplainable and plainly crazy, but her heart hurt.

Putting on a brave face, Danni turned to the conversation, adding a false smile and a few words of interjected subject matter. All the while, her mind drifted to a blonde-haired, green-eyed beauty who was now across the room with her friend and this George fella.

Kate followed Carol back to their little space on earth, Helen coming into view as well as a couple young me in uniform that Kate didn’t recognize. She walked into the small group with a welcoming smile, though the last place on earth she wanted to be was with this group. She desperately wanted to be back talking to Danni.

“George,” Carol began, walking up to a handsome enough man with short light brown hair and hard hazel eyes. He was dressed in full-dress Navy blues, his medals pinned proudly at his chest. “This is Kate. Kate, George Hannigan. He cam all the way from Italy to meet you.”

Kate looked at the young servicemen, admittedly impressed by the number of medals and insignia he wore. “Nice to finally meet you in person, George.”

George for his part was taken aback by the beauty who stood before him. Never would he have though he would have gotten so lucky! He and Kate Adams had been exchanging letters for quite some time, and her words had made his days far less dreary.

“Kate,” he said, the mere verbal mention of the name sending chills down his spine. Fighting for so many months in Europe had left him and all his men sorely lacking in female companionship and horribly lonely.

“Hello, George,” Kate said. She was of mixed emotions: in one way, it was truly a joy to meet the man that she’d tried to comfort and brighten his day for months, but at the same time, she had no interest in him outside those letters and comfort.

He studied her for a long moment, almost making Kate uncomfortable. “You are certainly far lovelier than your picture, which was very lovely.”

“Thank you, George,” she said quietly, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. “I appreciate your compliment.

Danni stood with Mike and the three women, though her focus was across the room. She sipped her drink, which had been spiked with some of Mike’s whiskey, as had everyone’s drinks. Danni sipped, grimacing at the taste as she studied the man Carol called George. He was handsome enough, she supposed, He was also Navy and was an LTJG, Lieutenant (junior grade).

“Looks like she got herself an officer,” Mike noted, standing next to his friend. He put an arm around Danni’s shoulders. “Lots more fish in this sea, brother. Come on.” He leaned over and whispered in Danni’s ear. “Rachel wants ya, man.”

Danni sighed, knowing full well that Mike was right. She downed the rest of her drink then turned to the grinning brunette. “Want to dance?”

Kate was whisked around the dance floor as the band played a lively tune. She had to admit, George was a pretty decent dancer and she was having fun. He held her hand tightly within his own as his other hand braced on her lower back, fingers pressing to lead her this way or that.

Out of breath, Kate was relieved when the song came to an end and she was led through the crowd to the bar.

“A whiskey for myself and something fruity and fun for the lady,” George told the bartender, who gave him a knowing smile. The officer turned to his dance partner. “I was wondering if we might see each other while I’m in town.” The bartender set their drinks on the bar next to them then collected the money George handed him. George turned back to Kate, handing her a pink-colored drink. “Here you are.”

“Thank you.” Kate took the drink and one sniff told her there was alcohol in it. She knew she had to be careful. She remembered the question George had put on the table. “I don’t see why we couldn’t spend a bit of time together. I’m quite busy right now preparing for graduation and then I start college in the fall.”

“What’s your plan to study?” George asked, taking his own drink and sipping. Instantly he felt the burn down his throat and the warmth that spread from there.

“I’d like to study history,” Kate said, curious to what George’s reaction would be to that. Most women went to college simply to find a husband; not her. She wanted to teach at a college someday herself.

“I see,” George said, disinterested. “Let’s find somewhere to sit.”

“Sir?” a uniformed sailor said, giving Kate an apologetic nod before saluting to George, which George returned. “I’ve been sent to find you. Admiral Cooper wishes to see you, sir.”

George sighed but nodded. “Alright, thank you.” Left alone with Kate, George sighed. “I’m sorry but I have to go.”

“No, I understand.” Kate gave him a polite smile, secretly thrilled.

Danni followed Rachel through the throngs of people, the room beginning to fill more and more as it got later. Soon, she and the pretty brunette were outside, the early evening breeze a welcome change from the heat inside.

Rachel led them around the corner of the building where she fell back against the brick, her cheeks flushed from their dancing as well as the alcohol. “Oh my,” she breathed, hand pressed against an exaggeratedly heaving chest. She glanced at Danni, who stood nearby, her gaze speaking loudly for what she was willing to offer the handsome sailor.

Danni felt her heart flutter and her hormones kick in even as her palms began to sweat. She stayed where she was, one shoulder leaning against the brick building, as Rachel stepped up to her, one hand resting on Danni’s upper chest, the fiery red of her fingernails catching a glint of a light on the outside of the building.

“You certainly do look handsome in your uniform, Danni,” Rachel murmured, her gaze and fingers resting on the black neckerchief, fingers stroking the material with intent. Her eyes met Danni’s. “Real, real handsome.”

“Thank you.” Danni brought a hand up, gliding the backs of work-roughened fingers along Rachel’s jaw. “You’re an awfully pretty girl.”

Rachel beamed at the compliment. “What do you say we duck outta here?”

Danni was about to respond in the affirmative when she noticed that George guy hurry from the building, tugging keys from his pocket as he went. She watched as he got into a car then drove away. Danni’s heart began to pound, but in a very different way than it was a moment before. If George had gone, did that mean Kate was left all alone in there? In her pickled brain, she had dazed thoughts of whether she’d rather leave with Rachel and likely have sex with her or would she rather stick around and see if she could get something from Kate?

She was saved from the drunken decision when Esther and Louise suddenly appeared. “Come on Rachel,” Louise called out. “We gotta book. Dad found out we’re here!”

Rachel rolled her eyes in irritation. “Be there in a minute.” She turned to Danni, leaning up to place a quick kiss on her lips. “Next time, Danni.”

Danni watched the three women hurry to a car and pile in, then roar out of the parking lot. She fell back against the building, letting out a heavy sigh.

“Tough break, huh?” Mike said, stepping up beside her. He lit a cigarette, offering one to Danni, who refused it. “Good thing that other gorgeous dame is still in there, eh?”

Kate’s head was spinning as she finished the pink drink. She had no idea what was in it, but it was strong. Carol laughed as she watched her friend try and dance with one of the soldiers. The dance came to an end and the supremely chivalrous soldier helped Kate back to her friends, holding her up as she staggered a bit.

“Thank you,” she muttered, falling into the chair he held for her.

The soldier smiled then tipped his cap to the three women before heading off to find a more sober dance partner.

Carol flopped into the chair next to Kate’s and studied the flushed profile of her friend. “I’m kinda wondering if that George guy was trying to get you really drunk.”

Kate glared at her. “Whatever gave you that impression?”

“I don’t know,” Carol laughed, “but me thinks maybe we should go home. I think you’ve had enough fun for one night.”

Kate nodded with a disappointed sigh, her last scan of the crowd not finding Danni. “Okay.

“I gotta use the restroom before we go,” Helen said, the three women gathering their purses and heading that way.

Danni stepped into the room, stretching her neck as she tried to see above the crowd, looking for the familiar blonde head. Unfortunately, there were a hundred blonde heads, but not one seemed to be who he was looking for. With a sad sigh, he turned to Mike, who stood behind him.

“Let’s go.”
Chapter 7

San Jose , CA 1967
Kate walked through the front door, tired from a long day of classes. She set her purse and satchel down on the kitchen table and so she could pour herself a glass of iced tea from the pitcher in the fridge. The liquid was cold and satisfying after an unseasonably warm spring day.

Glass half-drained, Kate grabbed her purse and satchel again, glad it was Friday and she could relax for the night. She had grading to do over the weekend, but tonight she just wanted to watch some TV and enjoy some quiet time. Friday’s were George’s night to play cards with his friends, so she’d have the house to herself.

“George?” she called out, heading to the stairs that would take her upstairs and to their bedroom where she could change into comfortable clothes. “Are you home?”

There was no response but she’d seen his car parked outside. Sometimes he and his friend, Jay would ride together to get some dinner before the game started. Even still, something felt odd; it was almost as though the silence in the house was actually the house holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.

When Kate reached the top of the stairs, she noticed right away that their bedroom door was closed, which was highly unusual. George wasn’t a nap taker, so Kate was immediately concerned. Her first thought was that perhaps George had another woman in that room, and the silence was them trying to get her out of the house. Kate stopped that train of that as she neared the door, as she realized she was being ridiculous.

Getting to the door, she stopped and listened, listening for the tell-tale snoring that would indicate George was asleep. If he was, she’d leave him be and make herself some dinner. There was no sound. Her heart began to pound as dread set in.

“George?” Kate grabbed the doorknob but found it locked. “George?” She rattled the knob again, bringing up a fist to pound on the solid wood.

Her gut screaming at her, Kate reached up to the frame around the door only to find the key gone. Looking around the hall for inspiration, she ran back downstairs, grabbing a screwdriver from under the kitchen cabinet then ran back upstairs. She tried the knob again, hoping that maybe it had been magically unlocked in the few moments that she’d been gone. No such luck, she fell to her knees and used the screwdriver to manipulate the lock.

Kate let out a yelp of victory when the lock clicked open, but then dread really began to creep into her stomach as she got to her feet, taking a deep breath before turning the doorknob and pushing the door open. The bedroom had an unnatural still to it, and immediately Kate’s gaze was captured by the figure lying on the bed.

Kate cried out in horror, unable to wrap her mind around what she was seeing. She crept into the room, hands covering her mouth and eyes wide as she took in George’s body lying on his side of the mattress, a deep crimson stain coloring the pillow beneath his head as well as a crimson splattering on the headboard.

“George,” she whispered, a sob ripping from her throat at her very-obviously dead husband of twenty-one years. One of the pistols of his extensive collection lay on the bed at his side, his hand still partially covering it.

Kate fell to her knees as her tears overwhelmed her, unable to take her eyes off her husband, praying that it was some cruel, elaborate joke and that he’d sit up any minute and say, “Just kidding! Ha ha, funny joke, right?”

Kate sat numb on a couch in the living room as the paramedics, Medical Examiner’s Office and police filtered through her house. She’d already given her statement of what happened, as she knew it, and now all she could do was just sit and wait for the nightmare to end. She also had a call to make – to Megan – and dreaded it more than anything. How could she tell her twenty year old daughter that her father had put a bullet in his brain? How could she answer the onslaught of questions and need for understanding? Sorry, honey but I was about to leave your father and he couldn’t handle it.

Kate buried her face in her hands, the tears starting anew. She was startled when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and looked up to see who had just sat next to her. To say she was shocked to see Carol would be an understatement. Regardless of the past events that had kept them out of contact for almost twenty-five years, she threw herself into her old friend’s arms, the tears overtaking any sense at the familiar, friendly face.

*****

Later that night – nearly 10 p.m. – Kate sat on the couch, a sleeping Megan resting her head in her lap. As she ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair – as she’d been doing for more than an hour – Kate looked at Carol, her cheek resting on a closed fist as her elbow rested on the back of the couch cushion.

“I can’t believe your brother-in-law was one of the officers here today,” she said, voice a murmured hush so as not to waken Megan.

“Guess it was meant to be that I came back into your life,” Carol offered, sipping the wine Kate had poured for them both. “I’m glad Steve called me and even more glad I’d spoken to him about you.” They both smiled at that.

Kate studied her old friend, amazed at the fact that, though Carol was now in her early 40s, she could still easily see the girl she’d once been. “I’ve missed you, Carol.”

“I’ve missed you too, sweetie,” Carol said, squeezing Kate’s leg. “We have a lot to talk about, but I don’t want to lose contact again.”
San Jose , CA 1968
Kate sat in her office at the university, her gaze locked into the intricately carved wooden box that Megan had uncovered in the attic three days before. She had fully intended to put it back in the trunk: out of sight, out of mind. Even so, she wasn’t able to do it. Instead, she’d brought it to work with her that morning, intending perhaps to look at the contents once more before hiding it away. It was the end of the spring semester and she had a few things left to tie up before her summer break could begin. So, it seemed a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ sort of moment to finish up her semester and re-visit some old memories before putting it all away and enjoy her time off.

Not to be. Instead, she sat at her desk, cheek resting on a closed fist and her gaze locked onto the carved grooves and lines that formed the picture.

****

“I have a gift for you,” Danni said, the excitement in her eyes evident.

“Do you, now?” Kate asked, reclined on the bed.

“I do.” Danni hurried over to her pack and produced a long, wrapped package. She presented to the blonde, a nervous smile on her face. “I hope you like it. I made it myself.”

“Oh my goodness,” Kate breathed, sitting up, the sheet falling to expose her naked breasts. “It’s absolutely beautiful, Danni.” She gave the brunette a blinding smile, grabbing her for a passionate kiss. “Thank you,” she whispered against full lips.

****

Kate ran her fingertips over the smooth wood and contoured lines of the carved design before lifting off the lid and setting it aside. Just as Megan had found inside, Kate eyed the folded shirt, smiling at the memory of the night when she’d commandeered the undershirt. Her fingertips brushed over the soft cotton before she lifted it out of the box, setting it aside on her desk.

Following the shirt came the stack of letters and pictures and finally the ring box, which Kate held in her hands for a long moment, just studying the red satin, even as the object itself disappeared from her view.

****

“Let’s do it,” Danni whispered, ring box held in her hand, the gold band inside glinting from the lamp light.

Kate smiled, her heart in her throat as she nodded. “Let’s do it.”

****

“Professor Hannigan?”

Kate snapped to attention, nearly throwing the ring box across the small office in her startled state. Wide green eyes landed on Missy, Kate’s assistant, who was actually a grad student and her right-hand woman. “Missy!” Kate said, more out of surprise than acknowledgment.

Missy grinned, amused as she sat in the chair across from Kate’s desk, all brightly colored clothing and long, straight hair. “I’m assuming you know my name, considering you’re the one who appointed me as the All-Mighty Assistant of Professor Hannigan, Historian Extraordinaire.”

Kate rolled her eyes, setting the ring box back in the wooden box. “I still think you should have gone into Theater rather than History, Missy.”

“Yeah, probably,” the grad student said, her gaze landing on all the objects Kate had removed from the box. “What’s all this? A little archaeology?”

“No,” Kate said softly, all teasing gone. She was silent for a moment then glanced up at her student and good friend once more. “Missy, do you think I’d be a real bitch if I got rid of George’s clothing?”

Missy studied her mentor for a long moment, trying to wrap her mind around the very sudden change in topic. Once she got her bearings, she gave the question real thought. Finally she shook her head with a smile. “No, I don’t.” She nodded at the box and its contents. “Is this his stuff?”

“No.” Kate gathered the items, almost insulted of the assumption. “They belong to… someone else.”

“I dig it,” Missy nodded. “Well, I’m outta here,” Missy announced, pushing up from her chair.

“Have a great summer, Missy.”

“You, too, Prof.”

Left alone again, Kate turned her attention back to the box. She picked up the snapshot of her and Danni and had to smile at the look on her face: so adoring and so utterly in love. She hadn’t felt that in such a long time and wondered if she ever would again. After George had died, she’d all but decided to give up on love and focus on Megan and her new life, as well as Kate’s own career.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Kate set the picture down on her desk and sat back in her chair, her gaze finding the bright, sunny day outside her office window.

*****

Kate stood at the bottom of the stairs, her gaze at the top and knowing what lay at the end of that long hallway. Since George’s death, she’d been sleeping in the guest bedroom, no longer wishing to spend time in the room where so many bad moments were spent, culminating in the final moments of her husband’s life and the biggest nightmare of hers.

Sucking in all the courage she could, Kate ascended the staircase, hand gliding along the smooth wood of the handrail and then padded her way down the hallway, green shag carpet beneath her feet. She stopped in front of the closed bedroom door, closed since the day after George’s suicide. For a moment, she was taken back to that day all over again, standing in front of the locked door, unsure of what awaited her on the other side. Now, the hurt of an old ghost awaited her, that much she knew.

The bedroom was exactly as it had been for the seventeen years the Hannigan’s had been in the house, save for the fact that Kate’s clothing or belongings were no longer in the room, and the mattress and headboard had been removed from the room and destroyed, leaving the bare bones bed frame. In truth, Kate thought the entire thing should probably be burned, but it had been left, untouched.

The room smelled stale and unused after a year of neglect, so Kate walked over to the window and opened it, allowing a bit of fresh air to circulate. Turning to face the room, she placed her hands on her hips and tried to decide what to do first. The majority of what was left was George’s clothing, as Megan said her fiancé wouldn’t want her father’s “old man clothes”, though Megan had taken her father’s watch and treasured bottle of Old Spice cologne for a reminder.

Kate walked over to the closet, pulling the mirrored doors open. A pang of regret and sadness washed struck her heart as she eyed all of George’s clothes hanging neatly from wire hangers. With a heavy sigh, she ran her hand down the sleeve of a dress shirt, the material cool and soft to the touch. She took a quick visual inventory of what was there then turned to the long dresser and then George’s nightstand.

She headed downstairs to the garage and grabbed some empty boxes to pack away the clothing. Tomorrow she would make a stop at Goodwill and make a donation.
Chapter 8

San Diego , CA 1943
Danni sat in Puck’s Diner off Wilmont Street . The businesses along the long stretch catered mostly to the military men stationed at the base and had become a hangout for them. The diner was filled to near capacity this afternoon, the noise level loud and boisterous. Men were scheduled to ship out in two days, so the sailors were trying to get in as much “civilian” life as they could.

“Not so sure what I’m gonna feel when it’s our turn,” Mike commented, shoveling more scrambled eggs into his mouth.

“At least you guys are part of the SeaBees. Ain’t got a lot to worry about, there,” their friend, Paul said.

Danni remained quiet as she continued to eat, her stomach doing flips at the conversation. Their time was coming and they all knew it. They were getting into the nitty gritty of their individualized training in San Diego before they were shipped out to their destinations around the world. She and Mike were part of the Construction Battalion, CB for short and nicknamed the SeaBees. They would be taken to various locations to construct buildings, roads and forts, and were expected to help defend it should it come under attack. It wasn’t exactly the front lines, but it was still dangerous as hell.

“Why you so quiet over there, Danny?” Mike asked, sitting back in his chair, finally getting his fill.

“Just thinking,” Danni said, offering him a quick glance.

“Yeah, but I know what about,” Paul said, the Devil in his smile. He’d heard all about Danni’s encounter with the pretty blonde a few nights before.

“Yeah, whatever,” Danni muttered, pulling a few bills out of her pocket and tossing them onto the table. She pushed her chair back and stood, settling her cap on her head. “See you ‘round, boys. I’ve got some things I need to do.”

Danni ignored the cat calls her friends threw after her as she headed out into the warm afternoon. As she walked down the sidewalk, intent on heading to a shop to buy her mother a birthday present, she was pleased as people passed her, nodding their acknowledgment of her military service. Some even went so far as to stop and shake her hand, thanking her for fighting those Nazis.

Feeling good and proud, Danni continued on, stopping to look in a storefront when a display of music boxes caught her eye. Her mother absolutely loved humming birds, and the little humming bird statue on top of a carved wood box immediately made her smile. That smile turned into a startled turn of the head when someone tugged on the sleeve of her shirt.

Danni’s expression melted into a gooey smile when she found herself looking into Kate’s beautiful face. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Kate said softly, her voice shy and cheeks flushed. “I thought that was you.”

Danni could feel her heart pounding in her chest at an almost painful cadence. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Well, what a wonderful coincidence that I would find you here, then.” Kate’s smile was broad and beautiful.

“Indeed. You look lovely,” Danni said, her gaze wandering over the blue and yellow dress Kate wore, once again the cut showing off the beautiful curves of Kate’s body, though not in an inappropriate way.

“Thank you,” Kate blushed, nearly swooning. “And you look handsome as ever in your uniform.” Now it was Danni’s turn to blush, which sent Kate off into delighted giggles. “You’re so adorable!”

Danni cleared her throat and looked away, as she knew her blush would get worse and make her even more flustered than Kate already made her. “What are you doing here?” she asked at length.

“Shopping for a new dress for my graduation party.” Kate chewed on her lip for a moment before suddenly blurting, “Would you like to join me? That is, unless shopping isn’t something you fancy. I know how abhorrent men find shopping, after all.”

Danni gave an easy smile to her playful teasing. “It just so happens that I’m shopping, myself.”

“Are you now?” Kate asked as they began to walk along the sidewalks. “For something special for your girl?”

Danni hoped that Kate was fishing, but didn’t want to assume. Even still, she very much wanted Kate to know there was no girl in her life. “If you’d like to think of my mother as my girl, well, then I guess we should part ways right here.”

Again, Kate burst into adorable giggles. “No, I suppose not. Is it her birthday or something, or are you just being a good son?”

“All the above,” Danni teased, holding the door open to the small shop so Kate could enter first.

As they strolled through the shop, Kate glanced over at Danni from time to time, her heart flipping over in her chest every time. She studied the way he moved, how polite and gentle he was with the saleslady who was trying to help him. He had such a calming influence over her.

“What do you think?” Kate asked, indicating the music box the saleslady had shown him.

Danni picked the piece up to examine closer. It was the piece she’d been admiring in the window when Kate found her. Up close, it just didn’t seem to be as nice as she wanted for her mother. After all, this could be the last birthday she’s ever able to celebrate with a gift. She sighed, disappointed as she set the music box back onto the shelf.

“I don’t think that’s going to work for her.”

“Want to try somewhere else?” Kate offered, already leading the way out of the store.

“Let’s go shopping for your dress. I want to take some time to give a little thought for my mom’s gift.”

“Sure.”

Back out on the sidewalk, the two walked on in comfortable silence, Danni shoving her hands in the pockets of her uniform trousers in order to stop herself from reaching to grab Kate’s hand. She shared a couple quick smiles and finally turned into a small boutique.

“You really don’t have to do this,” Kate said as they walked in. “Honestly. I know how you boys are about clothes shopping.”

Danni stopped Kate’s progress into the store and turned the blonde to face her. “I want to be here with you, okay? I honestly don’t care what we’re doing. I just wanna… be with you.” She looked away, feeling like a fool.

Kate was deeply touched and reached out to take one of Danni’s hands in her own, squeezing the fingers until Danni met her gaze. “I want you to be with me. Just giving you the option.

Danni grinned, shaking her head. “I don’t want the option.”

Kate smiled, her soul soaring. “Okay. I won’t offer an ‘out’ again.”

Danni shared her smile then followed her into the shop, noting Kate never dropped her hand. At that move, Danni was torn between two emotions: elation and near paralyzing fear. She was born Danielle Felts, and in her mind would always be Danielle Felts, a female. To be waltzing through a clothing store holding the hand of another female, she couldn’t help but keep a careful eye on everyone in the store, waiting for shocked looks or disgust or fear. She saw none of that. In fact, everyone who glanced their way had nothing but a soft, knowing smile on their lips.

Calm down, Danni. Nobody knows; not even Kate.

Danni sat in a chair located outside of the dressing room and, dress after dress, she gave her opinion. The dresses were beautiful for sure, but there was always something missing. Finally, the fifth dress Kate tried on, Danni was knocked back into her seat. The emerald green satin hugged Kate’s body like a glove and brought the brilliance in her eyes. Danni was left speechless, which made Kate laugh.

“I’m guessing you like this dress?” she asked, playing with the floor-length skirt. All Danni could do was nod. “Alright, then this is the one.”

Ten minutes later, Danni carried the bag that held Kate’s dress, Kate’s hand tucked into the crook of Danni’s arm. Danni had never felt so happy or proud in her life. She felt like she was walking on water, and had finally found a home, and that home had nothing to do with any structure. Little did she know, Kate felt the same.

They ended up at a small malt shop, Frank Sinatra playing softly in the background. Kate played with the straw in her strawberry malt as she studied her companion. “When do you ship out?” she asked, her heart falling at the fear of the answer.

Danni studied Kate for a moment, surprised by the question and her heart falling at the answer. “Just over five weeks.”

Kate was silent for a long time, the information mulling over and over in her brain. Finally, she set her malt spoon down and studied Danni, an upraised palm cradling her chin. “Are you scared?”

Danni contemplated the question before she finally nodded. “Yes. I’m part of the CB, but yes, I’m scared.”

“You’re a builder, huh?”

Danni shrugged. “I grew up on a dairy farm in Wayne , Nebraska . We had to do it all ourselves: build roads coming into our farm, build outbuildings and stables. I’m also an excellent tractor driver.”

Kate smiled. “I’ve never been on a tractor before. My family owns a lot of land, but we don’t have tractors; it’s all natural as well as my mother’s prized flower fields.”

Well, if you’re ever out the Nebraska way, look me up and I’ll take you out on a tractor.”

Kate smiled, a dreamy look in her eyes. “I’d love that.”

Danni played with the straw that was buried in her thick, chocolate shake, a troubling thought bouncing around in her brain. Finally, she looked up and met Kate’s gaze. “Won’t your fella be upset that we’re spending this time together?” she asked, her voice soft and strangely, hurt.

“Fella?” Kate asked, baffled.

“Yeah, the fella from the dance: George.”

“Oh Danni, he’s not my fella. George is a friend and nothing more.” She sighed heavily. “Regardless of what he may believe.”

“Or what he says,” Danni added quietly.

Kate groaned, rolling her eyes as she flopped back in her chair. “I should have known he’d do that.”

Relieved, Danni leaned forward. “So, if George isn’t your fella, will you go with me to a picture show Friday night?”

“Yes,” Kate said, without thought, without regret: for the moment. “Oh no!” she gasped, hand going to her lips. “I can’t, Danni. Friday night is my graduation party.”

Danni tried her best to hide her disappointment. She favored Kate with an understanding smile. “Another time then.”

“Come to the party,” Kate blurted, immediately regretting her invite. She knew without a doubt that her parents would rip Danni apart.

Danni brightened, nodding. “Alright.”

Despite her worries of her family, Kate was overjoyed. “I’m so glad! And,” she said, a little coy, “you might want to bring your friend, Mike. Carol will love me forever.”

Danni walked Kate to her car, as it was getting late and both needed to get home. “I really enjoyed today,” she said as they strolled. As they neared the car, her stomach began to do nervous and slightly panicked flips. She didn’t want their time together to be finished.

“I did, too.” She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before a sheepish grin spread across her lips. “I have a confession to make, Danni.”

“What’s that?”

“It wasn’t lucky chance that we ran into each other today.”

“No?” Danni asked, brow raised.

“No.” Kate shuffled her feet, her gaze anywhere but on Danni, as she felt like a silly school girl. “I’ve been coming down here every day, hoping I’d see you.” She finally met Danni’s gaze, not sure what she’d see there. She blushed at the look of absolute adoration she saw there and quickly looked away again. “I know you Navy boys hang out here a lot.”

When Kate heard nothing from Danni, she nervously met his gaze again. She was surprised when he reached up and gently cupped her chin, holding her in place as he leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Kate was left breathless by the simple kiss.

“I’m sorry,” Danni whispered, slowly moving away and dropping her hand. “I just kinda… uh,” she rubbed the back of her neck, feeling as though she’d done something wrong and incredibly deceitful.

“Don’t be sorry,” Kate said, taking Danni’s hand in both of hers. “I’ve wanted you to do that since I first saw you.” She smiled shyly. “Terrible, I know.”

Danni felt her heart soar. “No,” she said, shaking her head, “not terrible. I’ve wanted that, too.”

Kate looked up at Danni, her smile growing. She so badly wanted him to kiss her again, but had no idea how to ask. Instead, she let out a heavy sigh. “Well, I suppose I should be getting home before my mother sends out the dogs to hunt me down.”

“Yeah, I have to get back, too.”

They both stood in awkward silence for a moment, both wanting the same thing but not sure if it was the right thing to do. Finally, Danni couldn’t stop herself and once again leaned down. Kate met her halfway, one of her hands resting on the side of Danni’s face. The kiss was soft and lingering, both simply absorbing the feel of the other.

As Kate slowly drew away, her heart was pounding so loudly she was worried Danni would be able to hear it. “Wow,” she sighed, her hand sliding from Danni’s face and resting on his shoulder. “I really should go before I make you do that again and again and again.”

Danni grinned, her own heart beating so fast she nearly felt faint. “Drive safe and I’ll see you Friday.”

Kate nodded, pulling her car keys from her purse and pulling the car door open. She accepted the package Danni had been carrying for her and set it across the large bench seat to the passenger side then turned back to Danni. She opened her purse again and pulled out a piece of paper, having written her phone number on it days ago in case she saw him.

“Call me tomorrow and I’ll tell you where to go for the party.”

Danni accepted the paper, lovingly folding it small enough to put in her pocket. “Alright.”

Kate quickly stole another kiss, giggling as she hurried into her car, shocked at her own forwardness, leaving a surprised and amused Danni to watch her drive away.

“Oh boy,” Danni whispered. “I’m in trouble.”

*****

Three of the five guys Danni shared a room with were already in the room, two playing an enthusiastic game of checkers and the third already in his bunk, reading. They looked up when she entered, sending out a greeting before returning to their respective activities.

“Where’s Mike?” she asked, walking over to her own bunk and tossing her cap onto it.

“With that dame he met at the dance,” Henry responded, never taking his attention from his book.

“Carol?” she asked, tugging the black neckerchief from around her neck. Henry shrugged a shoulder.

Danni headed to the communal bathroom that the entire floor had to share. A long line of shower stalls ran the length of one wall, only flimsy curtains for privacy. Along the other wall was a line of bathroom stalls, half with doors the other half open urinals. Those urinals had scared her to death during boot camp. What had been even worse in boot camp were the open shower stalls. Danni had began a habit of either getting up ten minutes before her class or going days without a shower.

Now, as she entered, Danni thought about her time abroad, once she was shipped out. Would she be able to hide her secret as easily as she’d been able to in training? Would she be found out? If she was, what would happen to her? Would she be brutalized? Would she be killed? Or, would she simply just be court marshaled and sent to prison in Leavenworth , Kansas ? None of those options were particularly appealing. It was, however the choice she’d made and she’d have to stick it out.

She went into one of the stalls and closed the door, doing her business. She got herself back together and walked out of the stall, headed to the bank of sinks to wash her hands. As she did, she passed the shower stalls, where she saw one of them were in use: the water ran and the flimsy curtain was closed. She then noticed something else: there wasn’t just one person in the stall.

She stopped, noting the one pair of feet she could see and the knees of someone else directly in front of them. Her attention was then caught by a soft grunt and a sigh. She knew in her gut these were the sounds of pleasure and was utterly baffled. She actually jumped a bit when a loud grown escaped from behind the shower curtain. The man on his knees pushed to his feet and a few moments later, he stepped out from behind the still-closed curtain, a towel wrapped around his waist.

Danni recognized the man as Herb Rascone. His eyes grew wide as saucers when he spotted her, his Italian features draining of color. Herb quickly ran out of the bathroom, the bathroom door slamming in his wake.

*****

Danni lay in her bunk, hands tucked underneath her head, staring at the top bunk above her own. Even so, what she was seeing had nothing to do with the underside of Mike’s bed: what she was seeing was a replay of what had happened in the bathroom earlier that evening. She kept seeing Herb’s mortified expression and couldn’t suppress all the questions that rattled around in her brain.

Deciding sleep wasn’t going to come, she pushed up from her bed and tugged on a pair of pants over her boxer shorts, then padded out into the hall, headed up one floor. Standing outside Herb Rascone’s door, Danni’s heart was pounding and she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d find on the other side. Gathering her courage, she rapped once, twice and finally a third time with her fist.

The door opened and a very cranky sailor opened the door. “What do you want?” he asked, hair sticking up all over his head.

“I need to talk to Herb,” Danni said, doing her best to keep her confidence up.

The sailor walked away from the door, leaving it ajar. Danni could hear him mumbling to someone, and then a moment later, Herb stepped up to the crack in the door. When he saw Danni staring back at him, he winced.

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to you, Herb,” Danni said, taking a step back from the door and out into the hall, indicating he should follow. “Let’s take a walk, fella.”

Danni and Herb made their way to a stairwell, where they knew they could talk openly and not wake any of the other guys. Danni leaned back against the cool cinderblock wall, eyes focused on the uncomfortable man standing before her. He met her gaze – though reluctantly – and said nothing.

“What happened today,” she began, though realized immediately that it was the wrong thing to say as Herb looked as though he’d book it. “Hang on,” she said, arms crossed over her chest. Over the past months she’d observed her “brothers” in arms, and had figured out their physical patterns and tendencies. It had become natural to her to use them, however tonight she realized that it would do her no good. She knew in her soul she’d found a kindred spirit and wanted Herb to understand that. “I don’t think we’re as far apart as you think, Herb.”

Herb studied her, a dark brow raised. “Really?”

“Yeah, but not what you think.” Danni took a deep breath then blew it out. “I like girls.”

Herb rolled his eyes. “Of course you do. You’re a hot young sailor, why wouldn’t you like girls?”

“Because I am a girl.”

Herb stared, his mouth falling open. If Danni weren’t so terrified of he might do or say, she would have found the expression amusing. He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. Finally, he let out a breath and met Danni’s nervous gaze. “You shocked me, guy. You really did.” He studied her, seeming to try and penetrate her very soul with the intensity of his dark eyes. “You’re not joking with me, now are you?”

Danni shook her head. “No.”

Herb walked up to her, studying her face, her body and back to her face again, a slow grin spreading across his lips. “You sure fooled us all, didn’t you? But, I have to say that now that I know, I can see it.”

After the joyous relief of finally telling someone the truth, Danni felt a twinge of fear. “Herb, I really need you to keep this to yourself-“

“We gotta stick together, Danni,” he said, cutting her off. He held out his hand, which Danni took. Herb held the hand firmly in his and pumped it twice. “Brother to brother.”

Danni smiled, letting out a relieved breath.
Chapter 9

San Diego , CA 1943
Danni eyed her creation, openly admiring the slick varnish she’d applied to the carved box the day before. She’d considered for a long time what she should cave into its top, but finally had decided on a mountain landscape that she’d seen once in a Sears Roebuck catalogue, a scene that had always inspired her in her woodwork. She studied the carved piece from every angle, hoping against hope that Kate would like it.

With a tired sigh – as Danni had snuck in the shop two nights in a row to work on the two boxes – she wrapped them up and smuggled them to her room. She was exhausted, and hoped that she’d be able to snag good sleep for the three hours remaining that she had before she had to get up and start her day. The worst part was, it would be a day filled with more classroom work, and those were always hard to stay awake through, even on normal circumstances.

“Get it done?” Mike whispered, his head hanging over the side of his bunk, which was perched above Danni’s.

Danni nodded with a wide yawn. “Finally.” Without another word, Danni crumpled into her bed and fell asleep, the cloth-wrapped boxes tucked safely under her bed.

*****

Danni and Mike walked to Mike’s car, Danni’s heart pounding in her chest. They were both in their dress uniforms, both wanting to impress their girl. Danni climbed into the passenger seat, the box, wrapped in brown paper sitting on the seat next to her. She watched as the scenery passed by, her palms beginning to sweat the closer they got to Kate’s family home.

“I sure as hell ain’t looking forward to all those rich folks,” Mike commented during the drive.

“Yeah, same here,” Danni agreed. She let out a nervous sigh.

Near-agonizing moments later, Mike drove through open and beautifully decorated wrought iron gates, which led to a winding path that ended at the largest house either of them had ever seen. The brick work was superb, the grounds immaculate. There were a number of cars already parked out from of the massive double door entrance that topped four marble stairs. The two SeaBees shared a nervous glance before climbing out of the car.

“Something tell me we ain’t in Kansas no more, Sailor,” Mike muttered.

Kate studied herself in her bedroom mirror, turning this way and that in the green dress she and Danni had picked out. She thought she looked good; she hoped she looked good. She wanted to look good for Danni: that was all that mattered. Her hair had been pinned up to expose a long, sleep neck and delicate shoulders. The dress showed off her figure, yet wouldn’t offend her parents’ antiquated sensibilities. In short, she looked beautiful.

With her heart in her throat, Kate made her way down the winding staircase to the foyer, where the guests were gathered and given drinks and mingling. She saw men and women dressed in their finest, as well as men dressed in their dress uniforms, part of the heralded United States military.

Kate’s father found her quickly and just as quickly swept her around the room, introducing her to every single man in the room, regardless of his age. She was even presented to a man that she knew had to be more than 80 years old. Keeping her good manners and good breeding, Kate was gracious and kind to each one, but inside she was not only fuming but also looking for one handsome young man in particular. When Kate saw Danni enter, she wanted to yell out in celebration and happiness.

“I’m glad you came,” she said, looking up into the beautiful blue eyes that she was learning to love so much.

Danni smiled. “So am I.” She looked Kate over, her heart about to explode from her chest. “You look so unbelievably beautiful,” she said softly, only for Kate’s ears.

Kate blushed from her toes to her scalp, so happy that she’d accomplished the look that she’d wanted to, all for Danni. “Thank you.”

“Happy graduation,” Danni added. “I’ve got something for you in the car.” She smiled, feeling unsure and out of her element. “Maybe I can give it to you later?”

“Yes!” Kate backed down from her initial excitement, knowing it had no place in her parents’ house. “I’d really like that.” She hooked her hand into the bend of Danni’s arm. “Let me show you around and introduce you to some people.”

Danni felt her chest expand to the point of near explosion with pride as she was led around the room, Kate on her arm. Never in all her life did she think such a wonderful, beautiful woman would want to be near her. Even still, it always ate at the back of her mind that it was all a lie, and a lie that Kate wasn’t aware of. If she were to pull Kate aside right now and tell her the truth, what would Kate say? Would she run and scream, crying out that Danni was a fraud? Likely. The only reason Danni could find to continue the masquerade with Kate was that she would soon be overseas, and likely would never return, just like Billy. Kate could go on, the memory of a wonderful man in her heart, never knowing of a foolhearty woman from Nebraska .

Kate, for her part felt like she was a princess and was showing her prince off to the world. Concerned about what her parents might say about her new found love, she tried her best to keep Danni away from them. Soon, she, Carol, Helen and another friend, Trudy would be moving into a home where the four soon-to-be college girls could live and study. At that point, Kate would have substantially more freedom to do what she wanted and with whom she wanted.

She proudly introduced Danni to her friends and classmates, as well as some of her parents’ friends. She couldn’t help it: she wanted the world to meet Danni and find him as wonderful as she did.

After about an hour, they stopped and each took a glass of champagne, something Danni had never had before. Kate was amused at his reaction. “Not used to champagne?”

Danni shook her head, taking another sip of the bubbly alcohol. “No. It’s pretty different from beer or whiskey.”

“Would you like to see the rest of the house?” Kate asked, nibbling on a finger sandwich.

“Absolutely,” Danni agreed with a smile. She finished off the drink and set the empty glass on a passing waiter’s tray.

Kate took Danni by the hand and led her through the first floor of the mansion, moving them further away from the guests that talked and laughed in the foyer and dining room, where the party had been set up. She was led into a massive ballroom, marble floors and giant marble fireplace, all of which caused Danni to look around in awe.

“It’s so beautiful in here,” she commented, stopping at the center of the room and turning in a small circle to take it all in.

“My parents hold their famous Christmas party in here every year.”

Danni nods. “I can see that.” She turned to Kate. “I’m sure it’s a stunning event.”

“Pretty much, though a little ostentatious for my liking.” Kate took Danni’s hand again. “Come on. I’ll show you more.”

Kate pointed out the richly-appointed game room that her father loved to entertain guests in: a pool table and dart board proudly displayed under special lighting. A wet bar was tucked into the back corner and the entire room smelled of sweet cigar smoke.

“My father brings clients here and schmoozes them to do business with him,” Kate explained, running her fingertips over the green felt of the table. The game room was positioned at the back of the house on the first floor, but the party guests could still be heard in the distance. She looked up into Danni’s face and suddenly wanted so badly to kiss him. She knew it was entirely too risky where they were, so instead took his hand and continued the tour, this time heading up the back staircase to the upper floor.

As Danni followed Kate up that narrow case of stairs, she couldn’t help but feel like it was nighttime in their own home, and Kate was leading Danni to bed. The thought and fantasy made her blush and feel foolish, but she couldn’t help it.

At the top of the stairs, she was led down a carpeted hall, expensive art on the walls, which were dotted by closed doors on either side of the wide space. Finally, Kate stopped at the closed doors – a double set – at the end of the hall to the right and pushed them open. Danni followed her inside the spacious rooms: a sleeping area, private bath and a sitting area. The rooms were decorated in soft pink and ivory colors and decorations. The bed was a large canopy, fit for a princess.

“Is this your bedroom?” Danni asked in awe.

“Yes,” Kate said, feeling slightly nervous, as she and Danni were very much alone in her bedroom. She wasn’t entirely sure why she’d brought him there, but knew she wanted him to see her intimate space in the house. Kate makes her way to the center of the room, looking around with new eyes, trying to see it as Danni must be seeing it.

Danni is quiet as she tours the space, fingering a couple trinkets here and there. “It’s beautiful, Kate,” she finally says, voice quiet. She looks at Kate. “I bet you’ve done lots of dreaming in this room. She matches the sweet smile she gets from the blonde. “I have to say, my bedroom back home is about twenty million times different.”

“Describe it to me,” Kate said, making her way over to where Danni stands, needing to be near him.

Danni looked down at Kate, noting she could see right down into her dress, Kate’s cleavage enticing to say the least. She quickly looked away from it, knowing that if she didn’t, she’d stare. “Well, it’s on the third floor of the old farm house and has these crazy low areas of the ceiling where the roof comes down.” She grinned. “I’ve hit my head more times than I can count.”

“Do you like living on a farm? You said it’s a dairy, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Danni shrugged. “it’s hard work, but I enjoy it. My father, brother and I built everything on that farm, except the main house and the dairy building itself. All the outbuildings and sheds, the garage for the tractor… All of it.”

Kate reached out and took both of Danni’s hands in her own, turning them palms up. “Your hands are so strong,” she murmured, tracing the roughened skin with a soft fingertip, unbeknownst to her, sending a shiver down Danni’s spine. She met Danni’s gaze again. “Do you miss your family?”

“I do,” Danni admitted.

“Do you like being a farmer’s son?”

Danni shrugged a shoulder. “It’s all I know how to do. That’s why they put me in the SeaBees. I can build, man tractors and all kinds of fun stuff.”

Kate smiled. “I’ve never been on a farm before. The closet I’ve ever come is my mom’s endless fields of flowers outside. I’ll have to show you during the day, sometime.”

“I’d love to see it.”

“And I’d love to see your farm back home. Wayne , Nebraska , right?”

Danni nodded. “It’s home. And, I’d absolutely love to show you around there. I can show you where me and Billy used to play and all the crazy things we used to do.”

Kate was charmed by the wistful smile on Danni’s face as well as the wistful tone in his voice. “You miss him, don’t you?”

“Everyday.”

Kate let one of Danni’s hands go, but held the other tightly within her own. She reached her free hand up and cupped a strong jaw. “Can I tell you something and not have you take offense?”

“Of course,” Danni said, though her stomach flipped at the request.

“You are handsome,” Kate said, her gaze sweeping over the features before her. “But more than that, you’re … beautiful.” She smiled, adoration in her eyes. “I’ve never seen anything quite like you before.”

Though Danni’s heart was seizing slightly, worrying that Kate would suddenly figure out what was so different about Danni, but at the same time, she was deeply flattered by the compliment, as even back in Nebraska and her life as Danielle, she rarely got compliments from anyone that truly mattered. “And I think you’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,” she countered, taking Kate’s hand from her face and kissing the knuckles.

Kate’s smile broadened, her heart reaching out to Danni. It was so strange for her: a young woman who’d never had any desire to marry or settle down suddenly wanted so badly to keep Danni in her life forever, and to give to him all that she was and all that she had. “Please kiss me?” she whispered.

Danni leaned in, claiming Kate’s lips with her own. She nearly melted at the small sigh that elicited from Kate. Danni decided she wanted more and knew that Kate did, too. She gently pulled her hand free from Kate’s and brought both up to cup Kate’s face, gently tilting Kate’s head a bit so their mouths fit perfectly as she deepened the kiss. Kate stepped in closer, their bodies pressed together as the kiss continued, Kate’s arms sliding up around Danni’s neck, her fingers burying themselves in short, dark hair.

Kate felt a whole new world opening up to her as she and Danni kissed, a world that she had never wanted to be part of until she’d met Danni. It was as though her body were coming alive for the first time, her need to explore the world of a woman making its presence known with a scream for more.

Danni’s hands left Kate’s face and made their way down to her back, pulling Kate as close as possible. She needed to feel Kate against her, needed to feel every curve meeting her own. As much as she was enjoying the kiss, she had to admit that her biggest dream with Kate would be to feel her against her own body, not that of a faked sailor.

The kiss came to a natural end after several minutes, both trying to get their breathing under control. Kate rested her forehead against Danni’s shoulder, eyes closed as her heart continued to pound in her chest.

“Oh, Danni,” she whispered, unsure what else to say. She’d never experienced such a kiss before, and felt herself falling deeper and deeper where Danni was concerned.

Danni pulled Kate to her in a warm and strong embrace, both simply absorbing the other for long moments. Finally, Danni spoke. “Will you write to me when I go overseas?”

Kate felt a strange combination of thrill at the request and dread at the reason. She pulled out of the hug just far enough to be able to look into Danni’s face. “Of course I will. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Danni leaned down and delivered another breath-stealing kiss, though this one shorter, as she knew they’d be missed soon, considering she was making out with the guest of honor at the party. “Let’s get back,” she whispered against Kate’s lips. She gave her a final hug then pulled way altogether, taking Kate’s hand in her own as she led the way out of Kate’s bedroom.
Chapter 10

San Jose, CA 1968
Kate lay in her bed in the guest room of her house, having lain awake for hours. She stared up into the shadow-ridden ceiling, her mind a long way away. She’d spent the day cleaning out the bedroom she’d shared with George, long ago abandoned. Carol had come over in the afternoon, and together they’d carried out every single item that had once belonged to her husband, and had gone through all of it.

During the search, she had found the green dress that’s she’d worn for her graduation party back just before she’d turned 18. This of course, brought her mind right back to Danni. Kate blew out a breath, running her hand down between her t-shirt covered breasts to rest on her stomach, slightly rounder than it had been that night. She remembered the kisses in her bedroom the night of her graduation party and just how much Danni had taught her: she’d taught her everything she ever needed to know about sex, but more importantly, love.
San Jose, CA 1949
Kate lay on the motel bed, the cheap, scratchy comforter chaffing against her bare lower back and behind, as her dress had been shoved to her waist, the remnants of her torn underwear on the floor. None of that mattered as Danni lay atop her, buried deep inside her. Kate looked up into Danni’s eyes, so filled with pain and sorrow. Her alcohol-laden breath washed over her face.

“Why didn’t you come?” Kate asked, her hands buried in Danni’s hair as they exchanged desperate kisses, both lost in a sea of emotion.

“I was there,” Danni whispered, stealing a deep kiss. Tears glittered in her eyes. “I was there, and I saw you.” A sob tore through her throat as she buried her face in Kate’s neck.. “I saw you with him.”

Kate’s eyes squeezed tightly closed, even as she held Danni to her. A wave of dread washed through her. “I waited for you. Damn it, Danni. I waited for you for so long.”
San Jose, CA 1968
The memory came to Kate so fast and so unbidden it nearly took her breath away. She could still hear Danni’s words echoing in her head:
“I still love you, Kate. I still love you…”

Kate turned to her side, the tears streaming from her eyes faster than she could wipe them away. Soon, an all out sob tore from her throat and the pain and sorrow that she’d been holding in for 19 years let loose. She slammed a fist into the mattress beneath her, regret so heavy she thought she might choke on it, filling her and making her cry harder.

*****

San Diego, CA 1943
Kate lay in her bed, the box Danni had made for her lying beside her. She couldn’t take her eyes off it, so touched by what he’d done and his creativity. After the party, they’d headed out to Mike’s car where Danni had presented the wrapped gift to her. Not only did she receive the beautiful box, but Danni had filled it with three red roses, as well. It was the most amazingly wonderful gift she’d ever received.

Kate’s excitement over the graduation gift Danni had made for her became a distant second as she remembered the kiss they’d shared outside of Mike’s car. She sighed, taking the wooden box in her arms and holding it to her chest as she moved onto her back. The wooden box – as wonderful as it smelled – was no replacement for Danni, who she so wished to hold in her arms, but for now, it would do.

With a smile on her face – and in her heart – Kate set the box on her nightstand and went to sleep.

*****

Kate was showered and dressed and headed downstairs, ready to meet Danni for breakfast when she heard a familiar voice in the foyer, talking to her father. She froze, dread sweeping through her. She contemplated turning back around and hurrying back up to her room to escape out the window, but knew that wasn’t a viable option. Taking a deep breath and trying to figure out what to say, she continued down the stairs where she was met by her father and George Hannigan, dressed in civilian clothing. Admittedly, it was strange for Kate to see him out of uniform.

“Good morning, Kate,” Percy Adams said, a hand on George’s shoulder. “Look who’s here to see you.”

Kate walked over to her father and gave him a peck on the cheek and a wish of good morning, though for more of a stall tactic than because it was routine. Finally, she turned to George. “Hello, George. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Good morning, Kate,” George smiled, eyeing Kate’s dress quickly before his gaze returned to her face, which he took in eagerly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your party last night, but I had some training I had to complete.”

Kate froze a smile on her face, though inside she was enraged. She hadn’t invited him to her party, so who had? She’d spoken to her mother about George at one point, which had been a mistake, as once her parents found out he was an officer in the Navy, as well as son of a wealthy attorney, that was it: they were sold.

“Oh,” she said, unsure what to say to this. “That’s alright.”

“I invited George over today to spend the day with you, Kate,” Percy announced, one hand on George’s shoulder the other on Kate’s, almost as though trying to make that connection for his daughter, trying to become the bridge.

Kate’s heart fell. “I have plans today, Dad,” she said, her face growing pale.

“They can wait. George was kind enough to come all the way here to see you, and you’re going to return that kindness and spend some time with him.” Kate’s father made it clear there was no room for argument.

Kate lowered her eyes in deference and nodded. “Alright.” She fought back her tears of frustration and deep disappointment and put a smile on her face. She turned to George. “Let me just grab my handbag and I’ll be right down.”

Kate hurried back up the stairs, her stomach in knots. She was supposed to meet Danni and spend the day with him. The disappointment was palpable and she had no idea what to tell him. She ran into her bedroom and threw herself across her bed and reached for the phone on the nightstand next to it. Handset in hand, she took several deep breaths then dialed Danni’s dorm.

Eyes closed, she felt the sting of tears behind her eyes and did all she could to hold them in. She knew she only had a few moments before her father would come up to drag her downstairs and into the arms of George Hannigan.

“It’s not fair,” she whispered. Just then, someone picked up on the other end of the line. “Hi, can I speak with Danni Felts, please?” She waited while the man on the other end of the line went to see if Danni was still in his room, as Danni had explained that all the guys on that floor had to share one phone placed in the hall. “He’s left already?” Kate squeezed her eyes shut. No! “Alright. If you see him, can you tell him that Kate called and have him call me? … Thank you.”

Kate sat up on the bed, burying her face in her hands as the tears came.

*****

Danni, dressed in civilian clothing with baggy slacks and a button up shirt, stood outside Puck’s Diner, her palms sweating and heart pounding. She glanced again at her grandfather’s pocket watch, which she’d taken with her for good luck. The plan had been to meet at 9 a.m., and it was nearly 10:15 a.m. With a nervous sigh, she closed the pocket watch and stuffed it back into her pocket, continuing her vigil lookout.

*****

Kate sat at the table of the restaurant, a nearly uneaten breakfast in front of her. George sat across from her, his omelet packed away in a voracious appetite. Kate listened as he spoke about his childhood in San Jose, which in truth, she could care less about. Her mind kept leaving the table and heading in the direction of Danni. She prayed that Danni got her message, as ambiguous as it was. At the very least, Danni would know that she’d called him and had tried to talk to him earlier that day.

*****

As the minutes ticked away, Danni’s heart fell more and more. She shoved her hands into her pockets, her gaze scanning the cars that drove by and the people who wandered. At first she was concerned then flat out worried and now she was beginning to get angry. As the hour approached 11 a.m., she let out a defeated sigh and started to head back to the base.

*****

Kate looked out the window of George’s car, feeling like a prisoner as he drove them to the beach. The car came to a stop, which grabbed Kate’s attention. She smiled politely at George and allowed him to help her out of the sleek vehicle.

“What a beautiful day,” George commented, looking out over the beach with its white sand that nearly glowed in the late morning sun.

Kate said nothing and fought from pulling away as George grabbed her hand and placed it in the bend of his arm. As they walked, however, she knew she had to say something, had to stand up for what she and Danni were creating between them. “George?”

“Yeah?” George said, happy as a clam as he escorted Kate. He had been thrilled when Kate’s mother had phoned him the day before, inviting him to the party and assuring him that it would be a wonderful surprise. The only problem was, as his day with Kate continued, he wasn’t so sure about that.

“I enjoyed the letters we sent back and forth,” she began, “but, those were letters between friends.” She looked over at him. “Nothing more, George.”

He kept them walking, not wanting to have to see the rejection in Kate’s eyes. He let out a heavy sigh, watching as a group of seagulls “Your heart belongs to another fella,” he said, more of a statement than a question.

“It does.”

George was silent for a long moment, allowing Kate’s hand to slip back to her side. “Who is it?”

Hand freed, Kate hugged herself, George’s question bouncing around in her brain. She wasn’t sure if she should tell him, as it was likely the two men knew each other, or at least knew of each other. “Does it matter, George?”

“Yes it does,” George said, stubbornly crossing his arms over his chest as he turned to face Kate, stopping their stroll. “I’ve wasted part of a day out here with you, and a great deal of thought in how I’d could get you to be my girl, and now I find out that you’re already somebody else’s, girl, so yes, I think I have a right to know.”

Kate looked down at the sand at her feet, an image of Danni coming before her mind’s eye. “His name is Danni, George,” she finally said, her voice quiet with reverence for the man she was falling in love with. “That’s all you need to know.”

*****

Danni threw open the door to her room, one of her roommates there changing. “Hey, Henry.” She hurried over to her bunk, throwing herself down on the bed.

“Hey.” Hank tugged his shirt over his head, walking over to Danni in her bunk. “Soooooo,” he drawled, eyes twinkling. “Want to earn a few bucks?”

Danni glanced up at him from where she lay, hands tucked behind her head. “Doing what?”

“She’s got an attic she wants cleaned up and she wants me to do it.” Henry walked over to a mirror mounted on the wall, making sure his hair was in place. “I got plans,” he grinned over his shoulder. “So, she told me she’d pay one of you fools to do it instead.”

Danni smiled, despite her mood. “Yeah, I’ll do it.” She figured it would get her mind off Kate, as she desperately needed something. As it was, she felt like crying every other second.

“Great!” Henry was beyond excited, able to get out of his chores. He quickly scribbled a name and address on a piece of paper. “Here’s where she lives,” he explained, thrusting the paper at Danni. “You’re the best, man.”

Twenty minutes later, Danni was headed downstairs, heading out to see if she could hitch a ride to Henry’s grandmother’s house. To her relief – and dread – she ran into Mike as she headed out.

“Hey, Danni!” Mike exclaimed, a smile for his friend. “I thought you were out with Kate all day?”

Danni sighed, nodding. “Yeah, well it didn’t work out today.”

Mike studied Danni’s face, brows drawing. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Danni kept walking, forcing Mike to follow.

“Hey! Wait a sec,” he called out, jogging after his friend.

Danni whirled on Mike, in no mood to be social. “I’ve got somewhere I need to be, Mike.”

“Fine. Let me drive you.”

The two friends piled into Mike’s car, Danni quiet as she watched the scenery go by and Mike glancing over at his friend from time to time, concerned. “So, you gonna tell me what’s up or do I gotta pull it out of you?”

Danni sighed, feeling foolish as she turned to her friend. “She didn’t show.”

“That’s it?” Mike asked, expecting to hear Danni’s father was dead or something.

“That’s it?!” Danni exclaimed, furious. “What do you mean, ‘that’s it’? Kate and I made plans for today and she didn’t show, Mike.” She turned back to the passing scenery. “I should have known better,” she muttered, more to herself than to Mike. Who was she to think that anyone, let alone an incredible, beautiful woman, would want anything to do with her? She was a freak of nature and nothing would change that.

“Yeah, that’s it. Man, there are so many other women around who would love nothin’ more than to make her acquaintance with a young sailor like yourself.” When Mike got no response, he turned and looked at Danni. Suddenly, it hit him. “Uh oh. You fell in love with this girl.” Danni said nothing, just continued to watch the passing scenery. “Did I teach you nothing, Danni? These girls are like the seagulls, looking for a handsome warrior to make them feel special before we march off to war.” Still nothing. “did you really think she wanted more than that? More than to be made to feel special?”

Danni turned her head and faced her friend, her eyes hard and penetrating. “Are you telling me that if Carol stood you up, you’d take it as she was simply looking to be made to feel ‘special’?”

Mike turned away, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to brush it off like that. He certainly wouldn’t after the last couple of nights they’d had together in the rumble seat of his car.

A silent ten minutes later, Mike pulled up in front of the address he’d been given by Danni. He turned to his friend, arm running along the back of the bench seat. “You need anything buddy, you let me know.”

Danni nodded and muttered her thanks, pushing out of the car.

*****

George dropped Kate off at home, at which time she immediately snuck in and grabbed the keys to her father’s extra car, the one that was promised her once she moved into her own house with her friends the following week. Pulling off the property, she wasn’t sure where to head, but decided that outside Puck’s was a good place to start. She knew in her heart that Danni probably wouldn’t be there, but figured it was worth a shot. Besides, maybe she’d run into his friends who could shed some light on where he’d gone.

As she made her way towards Puck’s Diner, her nerves began to pick up speed and volume. She felt like she was about to vomit and her hands were nearly sweating off the steering wheel. She slowed her speed as she neared the diner. There was no one outside waiting for her, as in say, Danni, but then again, it was nearly 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

Kate found a place to park but before she got out of the car, she took several deep breaths and sent a little prayer up to make everything okay. She climbed out of the car and made sure her dress and hair was straight, applying a fresh layer of lipstick before clicking her way up to the diner. As she got closer, her stomach fell when she saw Carol and Mike sitting at a table eating, but no sign of Danni. As she neared their table, the couple looked up at her, a glare in Mike’s eyes and accusation in Carol’s.

“Hey guys,” Kate said, trying to stay as upbeat as possible.

“Hey,” Carol said, but Mike had nothing to say.

“Have you guys seen Danni?”

Mike made a show of looking at his wrist watch and then turning hard eyes on Kate. “He’s long gone, Kate.”

Kate lost her composure. “I know, I know. I need to know where he is.” Mike said nothing, instead made a show of turning back to his lunch. “Mike, please. I know what you must be thinking, I know I’m four hours late, but you don’t know what happened-“

“He doesn’t want to see you,” Mike interrupted.

Kate stared at him with wide, pained eyes. “I don’t believe you,” she finally said. When it looked as if there was nothing more forthcoming, Kate crouched down next to his chair. It was completely unlady-like, but she didn’t care. “Please, Mike. I need to find him.”

Carol glanced at her friend then at her boyfriend. She knew Kate well enough to know that something big must have happened or she would have ran away and hidden in a hole like a scared fox. “Mike,” she said, voice soft.

Mike glared at her but finally relented. “One a you dames give me a pen.” He tugged a napkin out of the dispenser and took the pen Kate dug out of her handbag. He quickly drew out a map to how to get to Henry’s grandmother’s house and shoved it at Kate with a glare. “You hurt him again, sister and I won’t be so nice next time.”

“Thank you, Mike!” Kate enthused, giving him a lipstick mark kiss on his cheek before hurrying from the diner, followed by Carol.

“Wait a second,” Carol called out, stopping her friend.

Irritated at being stopped but knowing she had no room to complain, Kate turned to face her friend. “I know, Carol.”

“No, you don’t, Kate.” Carol walked over to her friend, eyes filled with compassion. “I know you well enough to know something had to have happened, but you really hurt Danni. Mike said he was pretty devastated and confused.”

Kate felt tears prickle at the backs of her eyes. “I know, Carol. My mother called George to the house this morning and I had no choice. My father made me go with him. I tried to call him, Carol. I swear, I did.” Carol only stared at her, arms crossed over her chest. “Forget it.” Kate turned to walk away. “I was there and I had to deal with this creep following my every move.”

Carol watched her friend go, worried as she had a bad feeling where this George guy was concerned.

*****

“You remind me of my son,” Helena Costner said, her voice filled with the wistfulness of a mother missing her dead child.

Danni sat at the kitchen table, having already done three hours of hard work for the old, sweet woman. She stuffed her mouth with the endless courses of food that had been prepared and sat before her. She studied the picture that Helena set before her, indeed seeing a few similarities.

“Byron,” she supplied, standing beside Danni’s chair. “He died in the war, the Great one, that is.” She sighed. “Nineteen seventeen, all the way in France.” They were both surprised when the doorbell rang. Helena looked down at Danni then headed off to the door, her shuffled footsteps heard on the old plank hardwood of her old house.

Danni continued to eat, her appetite nearly sated when she was stunned to hear a familiar voice. She finished the bite of scalloped potatoes she’d just shoveled in, leaning back slightly in her chair to see if she was right. Sure enough, walking behind Helena’s short stature – and headed her way – was Kate.

“Danni,” Helena announced. “This lovely young lady has come to see you.”

Danni pushed to her feet as she finished chewing the bite in her mouth, her gaze unable to meet Kate’s. “Let me help you with this, Helena,” Danni offered.

“No,” Helena batted Danni’s hands away. “You young people go talk.”

Danni sighed, hoping for a bit of stall time in helping, but now knowing she had to face Kate and the bad news that likely Kate brought with her. Without a word, she left the room, Kate following silently behind until they’d reached the front porch, Danni’s hands buried in the pockets of her pants. With one final deep breath, she turned and faced an uncertain Kate.

“Mike didn’t make it easy to find you,” Kate began.

“No, I’m sure he didn’t. I’m sure he knew I didn’t want to be found.”

Kate looked down at her feet. “He said something along those lines,” she murmured, then garnered her courage and met Danni’s gaze. “But, I was determined and here I am.” She felt she had a very small window to convince Danni of her sincerity before all would be lost. Looking into his eyes, she saw a very lost soul, which confused her as Danni was such a proud, good person. There should be no reason for him to doubt anything. She stepped up to him and cupped his proud jaw in her hands. “Danni?” she said, her voice soft.

“Yes?”

“Please spend the rest of the day with me. Please let me make it up to you. I swear, I wanted nothing more today than to spend as much time with you as we possibly could.”

Against her better judgment, Danni placed her hands on Kate’s waist, her soul breathing a sigh of relief at the physical connection, as well as that made when she looked into Kate’s eyes. “I have to finish what I’m doing here.”

“Then I’ll help you. Together we can knock it out,” Kate begged, beginning to feel a bit of hope fill her heart.

Danni grinned, unknowingly filling Kate with sunlight with its brightness. “I don’t know… Helena is a slave driver.”

“Oh, I think I can handle it,” Kate said, taking on Danni’s playful tone. “I bet I can out work you.”

“You think so, huh?”

“I think so.”

Danni smiled, her world righting itself. She knew that she would find out what had happened that morning, but at the moment it didn’t even matter. All that mattered was that Kate was there with her.

“Fine. Let’s go to work.” Danni turned towards the house but was stopped by Kate’s hand on her arm. She turned to look at her.

“Danni,” Kate said softly, all teasing aside. “I’m not joking with you: I really want our day together.”

Danni looked into her eyes and saw nothing but the truth. She turned to Kate, so badly wanting to take her in her arms but she stopped herself for reasons she wasn’t sure about. “Alright,” she finally replied. “Then we’ll have it.”
Chapter 11

San Diego , CA 1943
Kate pulled her father’s car onto a lonely dirt road, the car taking the bumps hard, jostling its occupants inside. Danni looked around, taking in the unfamiliar scenery they passed: dense trees, rutted and pitted road and an endless sea of wild and planted flowers. The air outside the car was alive with the sounds of bees and other nectar-gathering creatures.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“This is my parents’ property. The house is about five miles over that way,” Kate explained, pointed off to the right. “My mother had this created years ago and then just kind of abandoned it. I’ve been coming here by myself for years.” She glanced over at her passenger, whose hand she held. “It’s kind of a place for me to be alone or think. It’s special to me.”

She pulled the car into a natural crescent-shaped niche in the way the flowers grew and killed the engine. She smiled over at Danni and squeezed his hand before releasing it so they could climb out of the car.

Danni followed, enjoying the warm, late afternoon sun that shone down on her head. She had to admit: having short hair made it much cooler during the summer. Even so, there was certainly a part of her that missed how she looked before. She often wondered what Kate would think, if she saw her as a woman and not who she appeared as now. Would they be friends? If she and Kate had met a year before, back in Nebraska , would Kate want anything to do with her? Would they ever have even spoken?

“Hey, handsome. What’s on your mind?”

Danni was shaken from her thoughts by Kate’s voice and her fingers entwining with Danni’s. Danni looked into the beautiful, expectant face, a soft, curious smile curling Kate’s lips. Danni shook her head, her own smile appearing. “Nothing. Just glad to be here with you.”

Kate stopped them and let go of Danni’s hand, snaking her arms up around his neck, bringing them together. Her fingers played in the soft hair at the back of his head, her gaze boring into his. “I love your eyes,” she said, her voice the soft tone of a woman falling in love.

Danni returned the gaze, getting lost in all that she felt for Kate. “You know, for the first time in two years, I wish I weren’t going off to war.”

Deeply touched by Danni’s words and the intense emotion in his eyes, Kate pulled his head down until their lips met, the kiss starting with a brief touch of lips before it quickly deepened, mouths opening as tongue caressed.

Kate felt herself becoming more and more lost each time she saw Danni, wanting so badly to create a deeper bond with him. Danni was everything that she could ever possibly want in a husband, which was amazing, considering she’d never wanted a husband. She sighed into the kiss as she felt his arms encircle around her, pulling her closer into the tight embrace.

Needing more, Kate broke the kiss and took Danni by the hand, leading him into the field of wild flowers that stood more than three feet tall. It was easy to get lost in their tall beauty. She found a spot in the middle of the field and turned to Danni, looking into the magnificent blue color as she lowered herself to the ground, pulling Danni on top of her.

To say Danni was surprise would be a massive understatement. As she was pulled down, she barely managed to catch herself on her hands before she crushed Kate, who grinned up at her. Danni raised a questioning brow but said nothing. In response, Kate once again wrapped her arms around Danni’s neck and pulled her to her. As they began to kiss again, Danni marveled at the feel of Kate’s body pressed to hers, the heat of Kate’s body nearly burning her through her clothing. Bracing herself on a forearm, she used her other hand to explore, running down along Kate’s side to her hip then running back up, her thumb coming dangerously close to the side of Kate’s right breast.

Kate gasped at the close contact, her body nearly burning her alive from the inside out. She instinctually pressed her breasts up against Danni’s chest, needing to feel him and wanting so badly to be touched. She knew she was coming to a fateful decision, and though a part of her was fighting it, another part of her was begging for it. She truly had no idea which side would win. What she did know was that one side was certainly losing fast.

Danni was surprised when Kate grabbed her hand and placed it just under her breast. She wasn’t entirely sure what Kate meant by the gesture, so decided to take it slow. She left Kate’s mouth and began to kiss along her jaw and finally to the incredibly soft skin of her neck. From Kate’s soft sigh and the arching of her neck, Danni knew she’d at least made the right move there. She moved her hand up just a tad, just enough so that the rounded underside of Kate’s breast brushed against Danni’s hand.

“Danni,” Kate moaned softly, Danni’s hot, wet kisses along her neck were driving her wild. Her body was near screaming now, though Kate had no idea what to do about it, or how to precede to give it what it so desperately wanted and needed.

Danni could tell by Kate’s restless movements that she was extremely aroused, which only added to Danni’s own physical dilemma. She moved back up to Kate’s mouth as her she boldly cupped Kate’s breast, squeezing slightly.

Kate cried out softly in surprise and pleasure, burying her fingers in Danni’s hair as she crushed their mouths together before pulling away, both panting from the breath-stealing kiss. She looked in his eyes, her own pleading and filled with desire. “Danni,” she whimpered. “I want more.”

Danni met Kate’s gaze. “What do you want?” she whispered, her thumb brushing over an erect nipple.

“I want it all.” Kate kissed him again, claiming him. “I want you now.”

“Now? Here?” Danni asked stupidly, surprised.

“Yes.” Again, Kate delivered a devastating kiss, never so ready in all her life.

Danni knew what she was about to do was incredibly stupid and even perhaps dangerous, but she could never go overseas in a month and possibly die, never knowing what it was like to be with Kate.

“Okay,” she whispered against Kate’s lips.

The kiss quickly deepened, turning into a desperate passion that hadn’t been present in their earlier kisses. As the kiss continued, Danni reached down, gently nudging Kate’s legs apart and tugging up the skirt of Kate’s dress, moving so she was cradled between Kate’s thighs.

Kate wasn’t sure what to do, so she left it all to Danni, her heart beginning to pound anew with the slightest bit of nerves that crept up to niggle at her heart. She didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t matter, because it was Danni.

Danni managed to get her belt unbuckled and pants unfastened and zipped, tugging the lie she bore free and guiding it to the immense heat between Kate’s legs. She knew this was all new to Kate so tried to be as gentle as she could as she moved Kate’s panties aside and slid herself inside the warmth of Kate’s body.

Kate gasped and broke the kiss, her eyes closed as she concentrated on what was happening to her body. There wasn’t a great deal of pain – as she’d heard from many of her friends – but there was discomfort as her body was completely inexperienced with such a thing. The slow process of entry stopped and she could feel Danni’s eyes on her. She opened her own and looked up at him.

“Are you okay?” Danni asked, lowering herself to her forearms and using the tips of her fingers to caress the side of Kate’s face. “Am I hurting you?”

Kate shook her head, unable to speak for a moment as she fully realized what they were doing. One look into Danni’s eyes and she knew it was the right thing. She brought a hand up and cupped the side of his face. “I love you, Danni,” she said, her words soft. “I know it’s crazy; we hardly even know each other. But I do, I really do love you.”

Danni leaned down and placed a soft kiss of promise on Kate’s lips. “I love you, too,” she whispered, placing another kiss before she pushed up to her hands and slowly moved her hips, drawing a small gasp from Kate. Danni watched her face closely, looking for any sign of pain or discomfort. She kept her strokes long and slow, hoping she’d be able to give Kate pleasure.

Danni’s time with Allison had been wonderful for sure, but it could in no way compare to what she was feeling as she was with Kate. The emotion that lay behind what she was doing was fierce and truly frightening in some aspects. With Allison, it had all been about pleasure and learning, but now with Kate, it was about giving and showing how she felt in a way that words just couldn’t express. As Kate had said, it was crazy, as they barely knew each other, but the love Danni felt for Kate was real and strong.

She leaned down and kissed Kate, a long, leisurely kiss to match the gentle thrust of her hips. “I want to marry you someday, Kate,” she whispered into the kiss.

Kate wrapped her arms around Danni’s neck, holding him to her. “I’d marry you in the blink of an eye.”

There was still some slight discomfort as unused walls and muscles were put into service, but there was definitely an overlying pleasure that was beginning to grow as Kate surrendered to the act, itself. There was part of her that could not believe what she was doing. She’d actually more feared the act of making love than she had looked forward to it. Never hugely curious about sex or men in general, sex wasn’t something that was high on her list of priorities in life. But now….

Kate’s eyes fell closed and her head to the side as her knees raised a bit, her body moved slightly with each stroke of Danni’s hips against her. Her hands wandered from Danni’s hair down his back a bit, able to feel the play of muscles with his movements. She was still a bit shy to explore too much, but knew that would come in time. Her breathing was becoming more shallow, her mind blurry as the pleasure built inside of her.

Danni felt her own pleasure building and could tell by Kate’s breathy whimpers that hers was, as well. She added a little more power to her thrusts, quickening her pace as she studied Kate’s flushed features. Her own eyes slipped closed as her release began low in her belly, building with each press of the phallus against her own body and into Kate’s. She opened her own legs a bit, allowing the base of the contraption a firmer push against her.

Kate began to moan and whimper almost constant as her body and instinct took her. She had no idea on an intellectual level what was about to happen, but her body knew on a primitive level exactly what was about to happen and braced for it.

“Danni,” she whimpered, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt in her hands as her back arched and body exploded in an array of pleasure that sent a violent tremor through her body and left her breathless.

Danni quickly followed, her cry muffled into Kate’s neck, her body convulsing with the strength of her climax. She held Kate to her for long moments, riding out the wave and desperately wanting Kate as close as possible. It took long moments before her world began to come back into focus, and she realized she must be crushing the smaller woman beneath her.

“No,” Kate whispered, pulling Danni to her as she felt him move away. “Stay for a moment. I need to feel you.”

Danni did as asked, though first gently pulled out and quickly tucked the ruse away. She straightened Kate’s panties and dress, then lay back down, cradling Kate against her, though held most of her weight on her own forearms. As Kate clung to her, Danni almost felt like she could cry, a feeling of absolute fulfillment and completeness nearly overcoming her. After a long moment, Danni rolled over onto her back, pulling Kate with her until the smaller woman lay atop her, head cradled under Danni’s chin.

Kate let out a happy, contented sigh, her hands curled up under Danni’s shoulders. She could hear the strong, steady beat of Danni’s heart and it made her smile. She could also still feel the strange, though not entirely unpleasant, slight burning in her sex, almost as though Danni was still inside her.

“So did you think this is where your day would end up?” Danni asked at length, running her fingers through Kate’s hair, picking out a few sticks and dirt clumps in the process.

Kate smiled. “No. Definitely not, but I’m glad it did.” She raised her head and looked down at Danni’s relaxed face. “Can you guys spend any nights off base?”

Danni felt a slight panic set in, but quickly pushed it away. “If we request it and put in notice, yes.”

Kate gave her a blinding smile. “Good. Me and the girls are moving into our house this week,” Kate explained, toying with the collar of Danni’s shirt. “Maybe you can stay with me sometimes.” She shyly met Danni’s gaze, searching his eyes.

Danni did her best to hide the growing panic and instead flashed a wide smile and a nod of her head. “I’d love to stay with you.” She cupped the back of Kate’s head and pulled her down for a kiss, one that was filled with the laziness of a sated afternoon, as well as promise of a future.

The kiss came to a natural end and Kate braced her head with an upraised palm as she looked down into Danni’s face. “Speaking of my own house,” she grinned. “Are you willing to help us move?”

Danni grinned back. “Absolutely! Tell me where to be and when, and I’m yours.”

Kate leaned down again, her lips a hair’s breadth from Danni’s. “I thought you already were mine.”

Without verbal response, Danni pulled Kate to her.

*****

Wayne , Nebraska 1943
Allison accepted the mail from the postman with a flirtatious smile then carried it inside and up to her bedroom. She saw she had a letter from Daniel Felts and was excited to see what adventures her little Danni had gotten herself into now. She plopped down on the padded bench seat in front of her vanity and tore into the envelope, pulling out the thrice folded page.

Dearest Allison,

I’m sure you’re as beautiful as ever. I must say, I’m so grateful for that last day and night together, before I left for boot camp, and then again before I left for San Diego . You taught me so much and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve met a girl out here that I’m falling deeply in love with, and am in a bit of a pickle. We’ve been ‘together’, but now she wants me to spend the night and Allison, I’m scared! I know I’ll have to tell her the truth, and I don’t know how to do that. She’ll hate me, I just know it.

Allison dropped the letter onto her lap, her eyes closing in sympathy for her friend and former lover and employee. “Oh, Danni,” she sighed. “What have you gotten yourself into?” She picked up the letter and continuing to read further about Danni’s training and those around her. After finishing the letter, she removed a couple pieces of personalized stationary from her vanity drawer and began a return missive, much like she’d done many times before.
Chapter 12

San Jose , CA 1968
Carol had hoped this day would never come, but knew that it had to if she and Kate were ever to find some peace and true friendship again. She sat at Kate’s kitchen table, a cup of coffee cupped between her palms as she stared down into the brown depths of the liquid within. Clearing her throat, she glanced up at her friend and one-time best friend.

“You never told me that story,” she said softly. She blew out a breath as she sipped her coffee. “What a beautiful way to lose your virginity.”

Kate sat across from Carol, her own cup of coffee in front of her. “You never gave me a chance, Carol. We moved into the house and then things happened so fast. I wanted to tell you, but…”

“I know,” Carol admitted, shoving the unwanted drink away from her. “I was an ass and I can’t apologize enough for it.” She blew out a breath and grabbed her pack of cigarettes, tugging one out before lighting it. “Definitely an ass,” she blew out, along with smoke from her lungs. She flicked some ash off the end of her smoke for something to do rather than actually needing to do so. Finally, she met Kate’s gaze. “Tell me more. The two of you made love in the flowers and then what?”

Kate let out a long sigh, staring into a yesterday that she had had regrets about for far too long. “And then I fell in love and then I was stunned.”

*****

San Diego , CA 1943
Danni quickly finished her letter to Allison, forgetting the exact address, so grabbed one of Allison’s old letters to her so she could plug in the rest of the address later. She knew she and Mike had to hurry, as they were supposed to be at Carol’s house within minutes.

“You read or not, man?” Mike asked, tugging on a white t-shirt after his shower.

“Yeah, just about,” Danni said, finishing her salutation to Allison and stuffing the letter into an envelope, to be addressed later. She pushed up from her bunk and grabbed her sunglasses. “Don’t let me forget to drop these off at the Post Office later,” she said, hurrying out the door after Mike, letters in hand.

“You got it, man,” Mike said. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, producing a bottle of whiskey, tossing an evil grin at Danni.

“You’re bad, guy,” Danni chuckled.

Mike pulled up in front of Carol’s house and shoved the unopened bottle of liquor under the seat, glancing at Danni before they headed out, ready to help.

*****

Mike, followed by Danni, carried in the last of the boxes that contained the possessions of the four young women who had moved into the house on Cherry Lane, each of them college students in a matter of weeks. It had been an all day affair, each woman seeming to have an endless supply of things, all packed in heavy parcels, the men expected to lug the brunt of the move.

Danni made her way into Kate’s room, which was filled with stacked boxes and crates, so glad that it was the last of a long day’s worth. She was dressed in loose pants and a white undershirt, sweat plastering her bangs to her forehead and making her smell like a Navy barracks. A giddy Kate didn’t seem to mind as she stepped up behind her and wrapped her arms around a slender waist.

“I’m so happy,” she said, head resting against Danni’s upper back.

Danni set her load on top of the dresser then turned in the embrace and hugged Kate to her, reveling in the contact. “Do I smell good?” she teased, knowing full well she was sweaty and gross.

Kate took a deep breath then pushed away, teasing as she wrinkled her nose. “Ew!”

Danni laughed, tugging Kate back to her and burying her face in a sweaty armpit. She laughed outright as Kate pushed her away, truly disgusted now. “Hey, it’s because of your stuff that I smell this way, woman!”

Kate wiped at her nose, trying to get the smell out even as she glared at Danni, who continued to laugh. “You are not a nice person.”

“Oh, but you love me anyway,” Danni laughed, leaning in to give Kate a quick kiss on the lips. She grabbed the box she’d set down and looked at Kate for direction. “Is there any particular stack of boxes this one should go onto?”

“Ha ha, very funny.” Kate pointed to a random stack. “You can put it there, thank you very much.”

Danni did as asked then turned back to Kate, hands on narrow hips. “What’s for dinner?”

“Oh, I see. I tell you I love you and you’re already barking out orders like the happy hubby, huh?”

Danni laughed, loving Kate’s feisty spirit. “You got it.”

Kate sauntered over to Danni, giving her a look that would melt the coldest of hearts. “Well,” she purred, wrapping her arms around Danni’s neck. “I guess you did work hard today.”

Danni lowered her head and they shared a deep kiss, only interrupted by someone clearing their throat at the doorway of the small bedroom. They both looked up to see an amused Carol watching them, arms crossed over her chest.

“Yes, Carol?” Kate asked, not moving away from Danni, as she planned on continuing where they’d left off before the interruption.

“We’re all thinking about grilling some steaks and making some drinks. You two love birds interested?”

“Sure,” Danni nodded, “only if I can take a shower first.”

Carol smirked. “Take a number. Mike beat you to it.”

“We’re such slave drivers,” Kate quipped, popping a quick kiss to Danni’s lips before letting her hands slide down his chest. She stopped, brows furrowing when she felt something there. “What’s this?” she asked, fingering some sort of material that was wrapped around him under his shirt.

Danni grabbed Kate’s wrists, trying to keep her panic out of the movement and out of her eyes as she did her best to play it off. “I got hurt during training so the doc has me all bandaged.” She shrugged, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. “Bruised ribs.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Kate leaned down and placed a kiss just under Danni’s left breast, no idea that she was sending Danni’s heart pounding for a variety of reasons. “All better.” She smiled, completely unawares, up at Danni then walked away from him, digging out a towel for him out of one of her boxes.

Danni closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths as she tried to get her heart rate under control. She knew in her gut it was only a short matter of time before she’d have to either come clean with Kate or leave her life, which for Danni, wasn’t an option. Yes, she’d be leaving in a month, but the way things were speeding along, she wouldn’t be able to resist Kate for long, and the truth would have to come out.

“Here you go, love,” Kate said, returning to Danni with a towel in hand. She looked up at Danni’s troubled face, a splinter of worry piercing her happy bubble. “Everything okay?”

Danni studied Kate’s face for a long moment, contemplating her options. Should she invite the blonde into the bathroom with her and show her? Get it over with, and come what may?

“Danni?” Kate said, becoming more concerned by the moment. “You’re starting to scare me. What is it?” She reached up and cupped the side of Danni’s face. “You look like you’re about to cry.”

Danni could see that she was causing Kate concern and pain, and she decided she couldn’t cause her more. She forced a smile and took Kate in a tight hug. “I’m sorry,” she said into her hair, leaving a kiss behind her words. “I’m gonna go shower, now.”

“Okay.” Kate watched him go, a tickle of dread in her gut. She walked out of her bedroom only to nearly run smack into Carol.

“Come with me,” Carol said, tugging on Kate’s hand and hurrying them outside. “Go to Mike’s car and grab the bottle of booze hidden under the seat,” Carol barked, running over to her own car to grab a little stash of her own.

Kate did as she was asked, opening the passenger-side door, her gaze immediately landing on a folded letter and sealed envelope that sat on the seat. Curious, she unfolded the letter, brows furrowing when she saw Dearest Danielle written across the top in beautiful, flowing script. She perched on the seat as she scanned the letter’s contents:

… our night together was incredible …

… if I were a little younger, I could easily fall in love with you …

… most beautiful breasts I’ve ever seen …

… When are you coming home to me for more?

The letter was signed, Allison. Kate felt sick to her stomach. She picked up the sealed envelope and saw that it was addressed from Danni Felts with Danni’s base address written beneath. It was addressed to Allison Hughes, though the address was missing. Kate glanced over the letter’s contents again, baffled and feeling in her gut something was very wrong.

“Did you get it?” Carol asked, interrupting her friend’s dismay.

“Huh?” Kate asked, startled.

“Did you get it?” Carol asked again, studying her friend’s face. “Geez, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. You okay?”

“Yeah!” Kate said, forcing a smile. She had no desire to tell Carol what she’d found. “Sorry, here.” She blindly reached under the bench seat, quickly feeling the smooth glass of the bottle and handing it to Carol.

“Great. Let’s have some fun!”

The four roommates, Mike and Danni ate the steaks Mike had grilled for everyone, and the alcohol flowed freely. All were having a great time, except Kate and Danni, who had no idea their mood wasn’t so very far apart. Danni did her best to force herself to be social and not dwell on her upcoming decision where Kate was concerned, but in truth, it was all she could think about.

The evening began to come to wind down, Helen leaving to go out on a date with her new boyfriend, Trudy heading off to bed and Carol and Mike heading to Carol’s bedroom, Kate and Danni were left, as they agreed to finish cleaning up the night’s mess. Danni glanced over at Kate several times, noting the blonde hadn’t looked over at her once during the entire night.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, stepping over to where Kate was rinsing the last washed plate of soap. “Kate?” She reached out and touched Kate’s shoulder, only to have Kate move away from her. Danni’s heart was pounding, fear popping up in a cold sweat down her spine and between her bandaged breasts.

Kate was literally biting her tongue, trying to keep the rage in that had been building since she’d found the letters in Mike’s car. Finally, she knew she couldn’t keep it in any longer. “Who’s Allison, Danni and why the hell does she call you Danielle?”

Danni’s jaw nearly hit the floor, as this was the last thing she was expecting to hear come out of Kate’s mouth. “What?”

“I saw the letter she wrote to you when I went to get the whiskey out of Mike’s car. “Who is she, Danni?” Kate nearly yelled, her rage, jealousy and confusion fully hitting the surface.

Danni swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat. Here we go. “Let’s go outside, okay?”

“I don’t want to go outside! I want to know who she is!”

“And I’ll tell you, but outside.” Not waiting, Danni slammed out the front door. There was no way in hell she was going to talk to Kate about this in a house filled with their friends. There may be a chance one of them could overhear and a small chance that Kate wouldn’t tell them.

No other choice if she wanted to know the truth, Kate followed, the front door slamming shut behind her. She stormed over to where Danni stood in the driveway, crossing her arms over her chest, almost to protect herself from what she might hear. She glared up at Danni, who was pale and visibly shaken. For a moment, Kate wanted to go to him and comfort him, but something inside told her to stay put and to stay strong.

“Allison is a family friend back home,” Danni said softly, dropping any and all pretense. The deeper voice that she used as Daniel Felts was gone, leaving behind a frightened, vulnerable woman in his wake.

“A family friend?” Kate said, incredulous. “One who comments on what an amazing night the two of you shared, and that she could fall in love with you?”

Danni nodded, eyes downcast. “There’s nothing there, Kate. We did share that time together before I left for boot camp and then before I came out here.” Sad blue eyes met angry green. “Nothing more.”

“Who’s Danielle and why did she call you that? And why did she talk about these amazing breasts that Danielle has?”

Danni swallowed more rising bile and took a deep breath, making herself meet Kate’s fiery gaze. “Danielle is me, Kate.”

Kate stared up at Danni blankly, the information she’d just been given not computing. “What?”

“My name is Danielle Felts, the only daughter born to William and Ruth Felts of Wayne, Nebraska.” Danni was shocked at the feeling of relief that the truth was out, but was terrified of what consequences that may bring down upon her, worst of which Kate would never want to see her or speak to her again.

Kate felt as though she’d just been punched in the stomach and literally had to take a step backwards or fall to the ground. A hand came up to her chest as she tried to catch her breath. “I think you should go now,” she whispered, taking another step back. “Please.”

Danni nodded, grateful Mike kept his keys under the visor in his car. “Okay.” She turned towards the car then stopped, turning back towards where Kate was headed to the house. “Kate?” she called out, intending to tell Kate she loved her, one last time. The profound sorrow she saw in Kate’s eyes told her not to go there. “Tell Mike I’ll be back for him in the morning.”

Kate nodded, then headed inside.

Danni climbed in behind the wheel and started the engine, glancing over at the letters and blowing out a heavy breath. “I guess that’s that,” she murmured to the empty car, then pulled away from the curb, finding a spot near the beach to spend the night in the car.

*****

Unable to sleep, Kate sat in the window seat in her small bedroom and stared out into the moonlit night. She brought her legs up, hugging them to her chest as she rested her chin on her knees. She had been sitting there for several hours already, pretty much since Danni had left. Danni. Daniel. Danielle. Kate let out a deep sigh, her eyes stinging from tears that had fallen earlier. Though they had stopped, the hurt and confusion and sense of betrayal had not.

She knew in her heart that she did deeply love Danni, and no one had ever made her feel as he … she, did. Danni was kind, generous and deeply loving. Kate sensed all of that was the true Danni Felts, man or woman. Woman. That word kept bouncing around in her brain over and over again. Danni was a woman. In so many ways it made sense: Danni’s incredibly beautiful face, only made handsome by the mere fact as a male, she was supposed to be handsome, not beautiful.

She felt like such a fool as she thought back over all the red flags that had been there since day one. She thought about Danni’s hands: though strong and roughened from a lifetime of hard work on a farm, there was something decidedly delicate and feminine about them. Even her build spoke of the woman beneath the façade. And then there was the bandage wrap that Kate had discovered earlier that very day. Bruised ribs, Danni had said. Kate had decided to ignore the fact that ribs were actually lower, and now realized that likely that bandage was actually helping to keep Danni’s secret, and were flattening those very breasts that Allison spoke of in her letter.

“Breasts,” Kate whispered, burying her face in her hands.

That, of course led her back to the most amazing moments of her life, spent with Danni in that field of flowers. They had made love, and there was no way to deny or fake that fact. How could that have been? What on earth had Danni done in order to achieve that? Suddenly, she felt the tears return anew, feeling as though a piece of her very soul had been ripped away, a piece that had been filled the night she’d met Danni Felts.
Chapter 13
Danni woke up with a painful pop in her back. She groaned and pushed up from where she’d curled up – as best she could – in the front seat of Mike’s car. Her back hurt, her neck hurt, but most of all, her heart hurt. She’d lain awake for most the night until finally she’d drifted off from sheer exhaustion. Now, she had to head back to Kate’s house and pick up her friend.

She blew out a breath and looked at herself in the rearview mirror. She had heavy bags under her eyes and she was pale. In truth, she felt like she could vomit, but knew she had to continue on, and whatever would happen would happen, no matter what she might think or want.

The house was quiet when Danni pulled into the drive. She noticed Carol’s car was gone as she turned off the engine and sat behind the wheel for a long moment, trying to decide what to do. She could simply toot the horn, letting Mike know she was there, but then that would lead to questions of why she hadn’t just gone in to get him. There would be enough questions on why she’d left at all.

She reached for the door handle and was about to push open the door when she saw the front door open and Kate step out onto the stoop. She met Danni’s gaze through the windshield and gave Danni a ghost of a smile before stepping back into the house, leaving the door open behind her.

“Here we go,” Danni breathed, then climbed out of the car.

She made her way to the front door and stepped inside, looking around the box-filled living room, expecting to see Mike waiting for her. All she saw was Kate, dressed in a belted bathrobe with her arms hugging herself. Danni met her tired gaze. It didn’t seem Kate had had any better luck sleeping than she had.

“Is he ready to go?” she asked softly.

“Mike isn’t here,” Kate said, letting out a heavy sigh. “Nobody is.”

“Oh. Alright.” Danni turned to leave but stopped at the sound of Kate’s voice.

“I sent everyone away so we could talk.”

“Okay.” Danni stayed where she was, not sure what she was supposed to do.

After a moment of awkward silence, Kate spoke. “Can I get you something to eat? Some breakfast?”

“No,” Danni said softly. “I’m not so sure anything would stay down at this point.”

Kate gave her a very small smile and nodded. “I understand. Okay, then let’s talk, I guess.” She made her way over to the couch and sat down, careful to make sure her robe stayed closed and that she was covered, even though she wore her nightgown beneath the green garment.

Danni sat next to her, making sure there was adequate space between them. She had no desire to make Kate feel anymore pain or discomfort than she already had. “What would you like to start with, Kate?”

“Good question,” Kate said, followed by a heavy sigh. “I guess first and foremost is, why?”

“That’s a very simple answer. I wanted to do something important with my life, and what I wanted to do, I couldn’t do as a female.” She met Kate’s gaze, as she had nothing to hide in her answer. “I did it out of necessity, not to fool anybody or cause anybody pain.”

“Why did you never tell me the truth?” Kate asked, feeling more emotion threaten to rise, so she did her best to push it down. She needed to get this all out, not cry again. “You made me fall in love with a lie, Danni. Or, should I call you Danielle?”

“I’ve been Danni all my life, Kate. It had nothing to do with any of this. And, you weren’t the only one who fell in love.” Danni’s eyes fell now, no longer able to meet Kate’s demanding gaze. She felt like her heart was breaking, and didn’t want Kate to see that. “I never meant to hurt you, and never meant to lie. It just… happened.”

Kate flopped back against the couch, her gaze fixed on the front window, even though all she saw was various memories of her time with the woman sitting next to her. “All night all I could think about was the time we spent together.” Her laugh was rueful. “And how I think I saw it all along, though I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly I was seeing.” She looked at Danni, who still looked down at her own hands. “I called you beautiful, Danni.” Danni looked up and met her gaze. “And I meant it. Guess I should have known.” Kate’s gaze wandered over Danni’s face, seeing her for what and who she truly was, for the very first time. “God, you are so beautiful,” she whispered.

Danni wasn’t sure what to say, so she said nothing, just continued to meet Kate’s gaze, though she had to force herself to do it.

“Do you love her?” Kate asked, her voice small and insecure.

Confused, Danni’s brows drew. “Who?”

“Allison.” Kate studied her fingers as they picked at non-existent lint from her robe.

“No,” Danni said, without hesitation. “I’ve known her since I was 15. She’s helped my family out over the years, and I used to work for her.”

“Doing what?” Kate asked, surprised at her own curiosity.

Danni shrugged. “I took care of her yard, did things around the house for her. She was good to me and helped me pull this off.” She indicated her male alter ego.

“And you… were with… her in gratitude?” Kate asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“No. It wasn’t like that, Kate.”

“Then what was it like?” Kate demanded, stunned as jealousy began to eat at her.

“After I got the clothes and my hair was cut, she told me she wanted to show me how to be with a woman. She said she knew it would come up, and wanted to give me that gift.”

“But, you’re a woman, Danni! I don’t understand.”

“I know.” Danni blew out a breath. “To be honest, Kate, my whole life I knew I’d never be like other girls. I had no desire to get married, no desire to give birth to children, and no desire to be some housewife.”

Kate was stunned, as she heard her own heart repeated back to her. It made her pause and think for a moment.

“I’ve always thought women were incredibly beautiful, and knew that my big brother, Billy and I had some things in common. I mean, before he went off to war, we used to sit up in his room and talk about the really pretty actresses we saw in picture shows. Nobody but him knew that.”

“And Allison, apparently.”

“To my surprise, yes. Allison, too.”

Kate was quiet for a long moment, chewing on her bottom lip as she tried to wrap her mind around all that she was being told and felt. Finally, she stood and reached her hand towards Danni. “I need to see something,” she said, taking Danni’s hand and tugging her off the couch. She led Danni to her bedroom, where she closed the door behind them.

Confused, Danni stood in the middle of the room and waited. She watched as Kate, obviously unsure herself, stepped up to her and looked into her eyes.

“Looking at you, I can absolutely see that what you say is true. But, so much has happened, Danni. I need to see for myself.”

Danni got a pretty good idea what Kate needed to see as Kate’s fingers found the buttons of Danni’s shirt, deftly releasing one button after another until the short-sleeved shirt was pushed off Danni’s shoulders and dropped to the floor. What was left was the white undershirt. Kate met Danni’s gaze briefly before reaching for the hem of the shirt and tugging it over Danni’s head.

Looking over the pale, smooth skin of Danni’s torso, Kate’s breath was taken as the body of an absolutely amazingly beautiful woman was revealed. Her eyes found the white bandaging that she’d felt the day before, and she felt butterflies in her belly as she realized that she was about to see what was beneath it.

Danni’s heart was beating so loud, she worried Kate could hear it. She felt lightheaded and more vulnerable than she ever had before. She knew Kate needed this, for whatever reason, and felt she was in no position to deny Kate anything at this point. She tried to keep her breathing under control as she felt gentle fingers unclasp and began to unwrap the bandage from around her chest, her breasts at last free.

Kate’s gaze was fixated on those breasts, which Kate had to agree with Allison, were beautiful. “It’s amazing,” she said, her voice quiet and reverent. She brought up a hand and touched the soft skin of Danni’s side, running absent fingertips over slightly pronounced ribs. “looking at you like this, it seems this is the person I’ve known these past weeks.” Kate was surprised to find her own breathing hitched slightly, as she felt utterly drawn to Danni’s exquisite beauty. “I feel like I’m finally getting to see and know the true you, Danni.”

Danni’s eyes closed for a moment as she tried to get her body to behave, as Kate’s touch was making her react in ways that she wasn’t so sure were all that appropriate. “You’re seeing all I have,” she responded, her words slightly breathy, which made her angry at herself for her lack of control. “I have no more secrets from you, Kate.”

Kate let out shaky sigh, her breath rushing across Danni’s nipples, making them pucker in reaction. “I guess I should be totally honest with you now then, too,” she whispered, her other hand now drifting up and over Danni’s side and muscled stomach, her gaze riveted to Danni’s slightly-heavy breasts. She pulled her gaze away, meeting Danni’s hooded eyes. “I still love you, Danni. I don’t understand all this, but I still love you.”

“I love you so much, Kate,” Danni whimpered, cupping her face and pulling her to her, their shared kiss desperate and all-consuming.

“Danni,” Kate breathed into the kiss, her arms wrapping around Danni, pulling her as close as possible. She couldn’t control her need for Danni, and somehow, finding out that she was a woman made Kate feel like she had some semblance of control and power: a feeling that was strange but not unwelcome.

Danni felt herself being pushed backwards, so she went with it, falling back onto the bed, Kate falling with and on top of her. The kiss never broke as Danni used her superior strength and rolled them over, breaking the kiss as she attacked Kate’s neck with lips and tongue.

Kate moaned as her eyes fell shut and head fell to the side. Her hands roamed restlessly on Danni’s naked back, reveling in the feel of smooth flesh beneath her fingers. She maneuvered Danni between her legs, bracing her feet on the mattress as she pushed herself up into Danni, needing pressure between her legs.

Danni knew this time was no holds barred: she wanted to see all of Kate and feel their naked skin pressed together. As she worked her way towards the neckline of Kate’s nightgown, visible in the ‘v’ of her closed robe, Danni reached down and frantically tugged at the belt of the green robe, shoving the ends apart once it was free.

Kate cried out as her right breast was cupped over the thin material of her nightgown, her back arching into Danni’s touch. “Off,” she whimpered, nearly knocking Danni off the bed as she sat up, shrugging out of her robe then tugging her own nightgown over her head.

Danni, who stood next to the bed, could only look on in awe. Her eyes fixed on Kate’s naked breasts and her mouth watered. Quickly, she stepped out of her shoes and fumbled with her pants until they fell around her ankles. She stepped out of them and then reached for her underwear, tugging them down, too.

Kate watched, again mesmerized by Danni’s body. What caught her attention however, was what was strapped to Danni’s narrow hips. “Is that what you used in the field?” she asked, getting to her knees and crawling over to Danni.

Danni looked down at the phallus, protruding obscenely from her hips. “Yes.”

“Is that what you’re going to use now?”

“No,” Danni shook her head. “I want to be with you as myself, Kate. I don’t want anymore lies between us.”

Kate smiled, reaching up and pulling Danni down for a quick, but deep kiss. “Good.”

Danni unbuckled herself from what had become part of her daily uniform, relieved to let it drop to the floor. She climbed onto the bed, pushing Kate back against the pillows as she went. They both moaned as Danni pressed their nakedness together, nothing between them this time but love.

Kate ran her hands down Danni’s back until they reached the swell of her behind, then ran them back up, still a bit shy. She looked up into Danni’s face. “I have no idea how two women make love,” she admitted.

Danni smiled. “I’ll show you.”

Danni gave Kate a quick kiss before she began to kiss her way down Kate’s body, leaving a fiery trail down along her throat and between her breasts before she gave each breast undivided attention.

Kate had never experienced anything like it as she got lost in all that Danni was doing. She buried her hands in her hair, holding her to her breast. “Danni,” she whimpered, near tears at the overwhelming sensations.

“I’m here, my love,” Danni murmured into the flesh of Kate’s stomach. She kissed her way down until she gently lifted Kate’s legs to rest over her shoulders.

Kate didn’t have a clue what Danni was doing, but at the moment it didn’t matter. Her brain wasn’t in charge of her right now, her body taking over. She gasped loudly as she felt suddenly wet warmth between her legs. She looked down the length of her body and saw Danni’s dark head moving before blue eyes met her own gaze. Danni quickly returned to her task, her tongue once again gliding along Kate’s folds, causing Kate’s eyes to close and her head to fall back to the pillow. Never in her wildest dreams could Kate have created such a scenario, let alone in reality.

Danni was enjoying what she was doing immensely, for the first time feeling love in her actions, and not just pleasure, as was the case with Allison, and the only other person she’d ever been with sexually.

It seemed that the pleasure couldn’t build anymore until Kate’s body erupted – to her shock- as she cried out so loud that her voice echoed within the walls of her bedroom. She clenched her thighs around Danni’s head, holding her in place as she instinctively rode out the waves of release.

Danni held tight, allowing Kate to lead this dance. After a few long moments of captivity, Kate released her and Danni climbed back up Kate’s body, hugging her to her and sending comforting strokes of her hand to her hair and face, along with a trail of kisses. After several moments, Kate calmed and returned the kisses.

“I love you, Kate,” Danni whispered, finally getting Kate’s gaze.

Kate pulled her to her, as though her life depended on it. “Oh, Danni,” she cried, her grip painfully tight. “I love you so much.”

****

Carol pulled up to the house, surprised to see Mike’s car sitting in the drive. She grabbed her handbag and headed inside. The house was completely quiet as she made her way to her bedroom, which was next to Kate’s. She tossed her keys and handbag to the bed then stepped back out into the hall and walked up to Kate’s door. She listened, hearing nothing. It was nearly three in the afternoon, and she wondered if Kate was even home, despite her car being parked outside.

Carol raised her hand to knock but then decided to take a peek and make sure Kate was alright. What she saw at first made her want to giggle, but then true realization dawned. Kate and Danni were asleep in Kate’s bed, Kate’s head resting on Danni’s shoulder. Only a sheet covered their naked bodies. Kate’s upper back was visible, as well as the arm she had slung across Danni’s naked torso. The picture was beautiful, except for the fact that Danni had breasts.

Carol’s hand came to her mouth as she realized: Danni was a woman!
Chapter 14

Burbank , CA 1967
Carol sat at her kitchen table, her eyes red and tight from the hours she’d spent crying with Kate the evening before. She ran her hands through her hair, gaze fixed on the slip of paper that sat on the table in front of her. She debated for several minutes before pushing up from the table, paper in hand. She grabbed the handset of the wall-mounted telephone and dialed. Her heart pounded as the phone rang on the other end, hoping she was doing the right thing.

“Hi, it’s Carol,” she said to the voice on the other end of the line. “I have some bad news. First, let me start by assuring you she’s okay, but last night George killed himself and she found him.” She listened to the questions that came at her. “Yes, I spent the evening with her and Megan. Megan’s devastated, and yes, I’ll let you know.” She snagged a tissue from the box on the countertop, the soft voice on the other end of the line sending condolences, ending with a quiet, thanks for letting me know.

*****

It was a sunny day, the sun shining warmly down on the gathered group, the Minister’s words quietly washing over the gathered mourners. Kate stood numbly, Megan sobbing quietly next to her, Rob’s arm around her shoulders as she leaned against him. Kate stared down at the coffin, an American flag draped over it. There was a part of her who couldn’t wrap her mind around what was happening, couldn’t believe it, yet another part of her was screaming inside, so much guilt eating at her.

Carol glanced over at her friend from time to time, worried about her. Kate was a naturally petit woman, but today, dressed in a black dress and looking beautiful, she seemed so tiny and fragile. Though she worried Kate would shatter at any moment, she knew deep down that Kate was one of the strongest women she knew and that she would survive this and come out even stronger on the other side.

Movement caught Carol’s gaze and she looked up to see a tall figure step up beside a tree about twenty yards away. Her long, dark hair was caught on the gentle breeze, blowing back from her still-flawless face. Carol nodded acknowledgment then returned her attention back to the services.

The crowd began to disperse after hugging Kate and Megan and wishing them well. Kate held the folded flag she was given by the uniformed soldier after the gun salute George was given, in honor of his years of service in the Navy. She and Megan walked to the waiting car, her heart heavy.

“I’ll be right back, baby,” Carol said to her husband, Frank, then made her way over to the figure by the tree. “I’m glad you came, Danni.” she said, sharing a quick hug.

“How is she?” Danni asked, looking over Carol’s shoulder to see Kate climbing into her car.

Carol blew out a breath and followed Danni’s gaze. “She’s holding up but I worry about her.” She turned back to Danni. “I think she’ll be glad to see you.”

Danni chewed on her lip for a moment before shaking her head. “I’m not staying, Carol. Would you give this to her for me, please?” She handed Carol a thick sealed envelope with Kate’s name written in bold lettering on the front. “Hopefully it will help her and Megan.”

“Of course.” Carol took the envelope and tucked it into her purse. “I wish you would change your mind, though. I think you could probably do her some good.”

“I can’t.” Danni gave Carol one more hug then turned and walked away.

Carol watched her go, unable to shake the feeling that Danni was making a huge mistake. With a sigh, she turned back to join Frank and the others as they headed to Kate’s house for a small get-together, where she planned to discretely leave the envelope for her friend.

*****

San Jose , CA 1968
Kate taped up the last box, marking the top with GW so Carol would know which stack it went to. She was giving away the majority of George’s things to Goodwill, where the current box was headed. The others, marked S for storage, were in case sometime down the road if Megan wanted her father’s things for herself or even for her children, they would still be there and available to her.

“Is this the last box?” Carol asked, entering the house after stacking more boxes in the back of Frank’s truck, which she’d borrowed for this purpose.

“Yep. Last one.” Kate got to her feet and let out a tired breath. She looked around the living room and saw what a difference it made. She’d removed the pictures of George as well as had gotten rid of his old recliner: something she’d been wanting to do for years, but he wasn’t about to let go of it.

“How do you feel?” Carol asked, watching her friend closely.

Kate contemplated the question for a long moment before she turned to her friend. “I feel good,” she said, meaning every word. “I feel like I’m about to enter a new phase of my life and it really feels right.” She led the way to the kitchen where she poured them both a glass of iced tea and joined Carol at the kitchen table. “I’m considering selling the house, Carol.”

Carol was surprised. “Really? Why?”

“This is a lot of house for one person. Besides,” she sighed, sipping from her drink, “lots of memories here that I don’t know if I want.”

“I can understand that.”

“And, I figure now that it’s paid off, I could maybe make a good profit and get something smaller and have a nice nest egg besides.”

“It was definitely a good thing you go that money last year.”

Kate looked at Carol, stunned. “So that was you.” A wide smile spread across her face. “I had no idea being a plumber could be so lucrative. Five thousand dollars was too much, Carol-“

“That money wasn’t from Frank and I, Kate. And I assure you, Frank doesn’t bring home enough to have an extra five grand lying around.”

Kate was baffled. “Then who was it from? I always thought it was you.”

Carol finished her tea then pushed up from the table, setting the glass in the sink. “You know who it was from, Kate.” She leaned down and gave Kate a kiss on the cheek. “You’ve always known,” she said softly. “I better get home; Frank will be cranky if I don’t have dinner ready when he gets home.”

“Okay. Thanks for your help.”

Left alone, Kate sat at the table, her mind reeling. Carol’s words played over and over in her mind:

You know who it was from, Kate. You’ve always known.

She pushed up from the table and hurried upstairs to her closet and pulled down the accordion filer she kept important papers in. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she set the filer on her thighs and fingers through the papers held within. After a few moments, she found what she was looking for.

She removed the thrice-folded paper tucked into its original envelope from the slot in the filer reserved for special birthday cards and the like. Her name was written in bold letters on the front, and the short missive inside was written in the same handwriting.

Everything will be alright. Wishing you well.

She read it again then one more time. She sucked in a breath, hand coming to her mouth. She jumped up and hurried back to her closet, grabbing the wooden box from the top shelf then hurried back to the bed, digging through it until she found one of Danni’s letters. Grabbing the page with the simple message on it, she gasped, tears springing to her eyes.

“Danni,” she whispered. “Oh my god. Danni was there.”

*****

Carol hummed to herself as she prepared breakfast for her and Frank, who would be home soon after working the graveyard shift. She turned off the stove when she heard a loud knocking at her front door. She was surprised to see Kate standing on the other side.

“Good morning.”

Kate pushed past her and turned on her once inside, angry. “How did you know Danni gave me that money?” she demanded.

“Because she gave it to me to give to you.”

Kate’s mouth fell open, shocked and hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me she was there?” she asked, her voice small. “Why didn’t she?”

“I don’t know, sweetie,” Carol said, surprised by the profound hurt she saw in Kate’s eyes. “I think when it came down to seeing you again, she couldn’t do it.” Kate looked as though she were about to cry. Carol took her in a hug, holding her for a long moment. “What happened between you two, anyway?” she asked into the hug.

“It went so wrong,” Kate whispered, feeling the tears sting the backs of her eyes. “God, how did it go so wrong?”

“Come on, sweetie. Let’s go sit down.” Carol guided her friend to the kitchen and sat her down, getting her a tissue, which Kate used to wipe her eyes and nose. Once Kate was calmed down, Carol spoke. “You know, I remember the day I realized Danni was a woman,” she began, her voice quiet. “You two were asleep in your bed and I peeked in: I didn’t know Danni was there,” she defended when she saw the shocked look on Kate’s face. “Anyway, I saw Danni.”

“Was that why you began to back away from me and our friendship?” Kate asked, hurt.

Carol looked away and nodded. “I have to admit it, yes. I didn’t know what to think.”

Kate watched as her fingers played with the tissue as she decided what to say. “I guess I can understand that but I really wish you would have talked to me, Carol. Instead, you threw away a close friendship for nearly twenty-five years.”

“I know,” Carol admitted with a heavy sigh. “She really is a good person, Kate.” Kate nodded, the tears coming back. Carol reached across the table and took Kate’s hand. “When did you see her last?”

Kate sniffled and wiped her nose. “Megan was 2.”

*****

San Jose , CA 1949
Kate hipped the fridge door shut, her arms full of ingredients to make George his favorite sandwich. She was in a rush, as she’d come home late from class then had to pick Megan up from the babysitter’s house. Now, she was rushing around like a woman with hair on fire. She spared a glance to her daughter, who sat on the floor with some building blocks, chattering to herself as she played.

“Do you want one or two?” Kate called out to her husband, who had just stepped out of the shower.

“Two!” he called back. “I might be working a double tonight.”

“Two, it is.”

Suddenly, the doorbell sounded, causing an overly-friendly Megan to get to her pudgy little feet and hurry off towards the door.

“Megan!” She ran after her daughter, as she knew the toddler had a bad habit of opening the front door, as she’d figured out how to a few weeks before.

A 2 year old Megan on her hip, Kate hurried to the front door after George had yelled for her to get it, as he was getting ready for work. Irritated at the interruption, as she’d been getting George’s lunch packed, Kate finally reached the door, tugging it open. Her breath caught, eyes wide as she looked at the ghost who stood on the other side.

“Danni,” she whispered.
Danni stood tall and proud, dressed in full dress uniform, cap cocked slightly on her head and beautiful as ever. A hard blue gaze turned to Megan. “I assume she’s not mine?” Danni asked, a quip in her voice.

Kate’s heart was pounding in her chest, a protective hand automatically coming up to cup the back of the toddler’s head. “I…” her voice trailed off, not sure what to say. She took a deep breath then tried again. “Come in.” She stepped aside to allow Danni to enter, her heart in her throat.

Danni stepped inside but waited for Kate to lead the way, which she did, heading into the kitchen. She knew if she looked in a mirror right now she would see a pale, shaken woman looking back at her.

“Please, sit down,” she said, taking her time to put Megan down and gather herself together. She took a deep breath then turned to face a very painful ghost. When she did, Danni was looking at her, her cap removed and set on the table before her. She leaned on the counter behind her, looking casual even as the counter was keeping her from collapsing.

“How have you been?” Danni asked. She studied Kate, the beautiful teenager she’d once known now grown into a mature and even more beautiful 24 year old woman. A mother.

“Good. I’ve been good.” Kate hugged herself, a sure sign that she was feeling entirely too vulnerable at that moment. So many emotions were rushing through her: shock, anger, disappointment and deep guilt, though she really had no reason to feel guilty. “Yourself?”

Danni nodded, her eyes downcast. “I’m doing good as well. Finally left the Navy.”

“Congratulations. I hope it was a good run.”

Danni nodded but didn’t look at Kate. She realized that perhaps this had been a mistake. She was about to say so when George Hannigan walked into the room, his hair slicked back from a recent shower and freshly shaved. She noted he’d put on a few pounds since the war. Danni felt like she could throw up.

“Who’s here, hon?” George asked as he entered the room, nearly choking on his tongue when he saw Danni Felts sitting at his kitchen table. He stared at him, frozen.

“George, you remember Danni, I assume,” Kate said, her voice nearly a whisper.

“Can I talk to you for a second, Kate?” George asked his wife, never taking his eyes off Danni.

Kate followed George out of the room, leaving Danni sitting by herself. George led her to the living room then turned on her, his face already turning red as his anger and jealousy rose.

“What is he doing here?” he demanded.

“He showed up at the door, George,” Kate said, having to make a conscious effort to refer to Danni as a ‘him’. “I have no idea why.”

Danni felt extremely uncomfortable, as she could hear George’s words and knew he wasn’t happy. Kate was speaking quieter, so she couldn’t understand fully what she was saying. “This was stupid,” she whispered, pushing back from the table. She grabbed her cap and was about to put it on when she noticed a pad of paper and pen lying on the counter next to the radio.

“I want him out of my house, Kate,” George growled. “I don’t want him around my daughter.” With that, he slammed up the stairs, leaving a shaken Kate behind.

“Mamma?”

Kate looked down and saw Megan staring up at her, a handful of the skirt of Kate’s dress in her tiny fist. “It’s okay, sweetie pie.” She picked up her daughter and headed back towards the kitchen, trying to think of what to say to Danni. To her surprise, she wasn’t there. It was almost as though Kate had imagined the whole thing, and Danni had never even been there. She might have believed that if not for the note she saw lying where Danni’s cap had been.

With a kiss to the side of her head, Kate placed Megan on her feet and walked over to it, taking it in hand:

I’ll be in town for one more day. I’m staying at the Woodsman Inn, room 212. D

*****

Danni winced as the burning liquid scorched its way down her throat. The strength of the liquor sent a shiver all the way down her spine. She staggered over to the dresser and set the bottle of Jack Daniels down before she dropped it.

“That stuff is disgusting,” she muttered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She looked at her reflection in the mirror above the dresser: her bangs hung in her eyes and her face was flushed from the alcohol she’d already consumed. She still wore her uniform pants but had lost the shirt long ago, leaving her in only her white undershirt. She was now officially finished with the ruse and would have to start the long journey of figuring out who Danielle was again.

She grabbed the bottle and took another swig before slamming the bottle down once more to the scarred dresser top. She turned and faced the room, noting her suitcase, which had been tossed to the bed. She decided to cast off Daniel right then and there and change into something more comfortable. She reached down with fumbling fingers and unbuckled her belt. She was about to unbutton and unzip her pants when she heard a soft, almost timid knock on her room door.

Danni staggered over to the door, tugging the lock free then pulling the door open. She found herself standing face to face with a very uncertain Kate on the other side. She reached an arm over so her hand braced her weight on the opposite side of the doorframe, effectively blocking Kate’s entrance. They stared at each other for a long moment, Danni almost challenging Kate with her eyes. Finally, she pushed away from the door and walked deeper into the room, leaving the door open for Kate to follow or not.

Kate felt shaky and unsure as she stepped inside the room, taking a deep breath before closing the door behind her. She looked around the room, noting the half-empty bottle of alcohol sitting on the dresser top before her gaze found Danni who looked back at her.

“I’m sorry George was so rude today,” she finally managed, not entirely sure why she’d come to see Danni.

Danni shrugged, grabbing the bottle of Jack and taking a swig. She offered it to Kate, but Kate waved it away. “Can’t say as I blame him,” Danni muttered, setting the bottle back down. “After all, you are his little wifey and he is the man of the house.”

“Please don’t, Danni,” Kate said softly, her heart breaking at the mess of a woman who stood before her.

“Don’t what? Speak the truth?” Danni could feel her anger of the past four years rising to the surface after she’d shoved it down for so long. “You are the little wifey, aren’t you?”

Kate began to get upset, as her anger and confusion grew, as well. “I may be the little wifey, but at least I’m not a mess.” She scanned Danni, shocked at the shell of a woman she saw. Danni had dark circles under her eyes and she looked tired and thin. Amazing how different she seemed after seeing her briefly a few hours before. She met Danni’s angry gaze, amazed at the chips of ice that looked back at her. She was almost frightened. “This was a mistake,” she muttered, whirling around to head for the door.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Danni was on her like a tiger, grabbing Kate and turning her around to face her, Kate’s wrists grabbed in a vise-like grip. “Why did you come here?”

Kate’s chest heaved with each breath she took, her heart racing and fear running like ice through her veins. “Let go of me, Danni.”

“No. Not until you answer the question. Why did you come here? Huh? You’ve got what you want: the hubby, the nice house and even a kid. Why did you come here!?”

Kate couldn’t answer the question as in truth, she didn’t know why, either. Their time was over and it was likely for the best. “Danni, please…” she whispered, tears just under the surface.

Danni wouldn’t allow herself to be touched by the obvious fear and pain in Kate’s eyes. Her heartbreak had long ago turned into rage and that rage was unleashed, now. “I know why you came,” she growled, almost carrying Kate over to the bed, where she was thrown down and pinned by Danni. “One more, huh?” Danni said through clenched teeth.

“Danni, let me go,” Kate whimpered, trying to tug her wrists free of Danni’s strong grip. “Please, let me go!”

In lieu of a verbal response, Danni took both of Kate’s wrists in one hand, holding them above Kate’s head, then used the other to shove the skirt of Kate’s dress to her waist. The rip of material followed as Danni literally ripped Kate’s panties off of her. She was losing control of herself, the ache that had lain dormant for so long now blooming into a rabid beast.

“Danni!” Kate cried. “Don’t do this. Please!” There was nothing Kate could do, as Danni seemed to possess superhuman strength, and was beyond determined.

Danni reached down and unbuttoned and unzipped her pants, reaching inside to pull the phallus out, one last time. “Don’t do what?” she demanded, shoving Kate’s legs apart. “Don’t do what?”

Kate gasped as she was entered, her back arching in surprise. “Don’t do something you’ll regret,” she breathed.

Danni slammed into Kate. She lowered her face until it was mere inches above Kate’s. “What I regret is ever loving you.”

Tears of a new kind sprang to Kate’s eyes. “Don’t say that,” she whispered. “Please, Danni. Don’t say that.”

Kate’s tears broke through Danni’s drunken fury and suddenly realization of what she was doing hit her. She stopped her movement as her own tears came and suddenly the ignored pain of four years all came out, shattering her into sobs.

Kate’s wrists were released as Danni fell apart. She immediately wrapped her arms around Danni’s neck, holding her to her as they both cried.

“I’m sorry,” Danni cried, crushing Kate to her. “I’m so sorry.”

“Shh,” Kate comforted, even as her own tears continued to fall. She cupped Danni’s face and forced her to look at her. “It’s okay. It’s okay…” She brought Danni down to her and placed a shaky kiss on trembling lips. “Don’t cry. Please don’t cry…”

Though the tears still came, Danni kissed Kate back, able to taste the saltiness of their mingling tears on Kate’s lips. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered again.

Kate knew deep inside that this moment would be all they ever had, as it would never be possible for them to be in each other’s lives: she loved Danni too much for that. She held Danni’s lips to her own, forcing the kiss to deepen. It was now or never, and Kate just couldn’t handle never.

Danni was surprised by the kiss, but immediately responded. Like Kate, she knew this was their last moment to shine together. She hugged Kate to her, a whimper escaping her throat as she claimed Kate in that kiss. Kate had claimed her heart the moment they met, and right now she was going to claim Kate’s body, if for no other reason than the memory.

Kate gasped as Danni began to slowly move inside her as her mouth stayed on Kate’s. She wrapped her arms around Danni and held her to her, soft sighs of pleasure escaping into their kiss. She realized that she wanted to feel part of Danni, the real Danni. She tugged at the white undershirt Danni wore, wanting it gone and to be able to touch her.

Danni stopped her movements just long enough to shrug out of her shirt. She immediately returned to Kate’s mouth, moving her hips in slow, long strokes as Kate blindly tore at her bindings, releasing Danni’s breasts. She moaned into the kiss as Kate wormed her hands between them, reaching for Danni’s breasts. Danni pushed herself up to her hands, giving Kate plenty of room.

Kate could feel the pressure beginning between her legs, but wanted to be able to touch Danni before she released. Once Danni lifted her upper body, she cupped Danni’s breasts, squeezing the fullness and feeling rigid nipples against her palms.

“Kate,” Danni whimpered, claiming Kate’s mouth in a demanding kiss as her hips sped up, her thrusts becoming short and quick.

Kate held Danni to her as Danni fell to her elbows, needing to feel Kate against her as they both fell over the edge in a duet of cries that echoed in the small room. “Danni,” Kate whispered as her world came back into focus. She shoved her guilt of what she’d just done to George down; there wasn’t a place for that right now. “I love you,” she whispered into Danni’s ear.

Danni kissed Kate, a soft, tender kiss. “I love you, Kate. I still love you.” She brushed some strands of blonde hair out of Kate’s face. “I never stopped.” She took Kate in a rough kiss, all her need and want in that kiss. Looking into Kate’s eyes, Danni felt the heartbreak return, as she knew that their time together was coming to an end.

Kate lay on the motel bed, the cheap, scratchy comforter chaffing against her bare lower back and behind, as her dress had been shoved to her waist, the remnants of her torn underwear on the floor. None of that mattered as Danni lay atop her, buried deep inside her. Kate looked up into Danni’s eyes, so filled with pain and sorrow. Her alcohol-laden breath washed over her face.

“Why didn’t you come?” Kate asked, her hands buried in Danni’s hair as they exchanged desperate kisses, both lost in a sea of emotion.

“I was there,” Danni whispered, stealing a deep kiss. Tears glittered in her eyes. “I was there, and I saw you.” A sob tore through her throat as she buried her face in Kate’s neck.. “I saw you with him.”

Kate’s eyes squeezed tightly closed, even as she held Danni to her. A wave of dread washed through her. “I waited for you. Damn it, Danni. I waited for you for so long.” Kate grabbed Danni’s face and made her look at her, to see and hear her. “Where were you?!”

“I was there,” Danni whispered again. “I was there, Kate.” She moved away from Kate, sitting on the edge of the bed. She ran her hands through her hair, pushing it out of her eyes. She scrubbed at her face and eyes, trying to get rid of all her tears. “I saw you kiss him, so I left.”

Kate sat up, staring at Danni’s back, incredulous. “You gave up our future because of that ?”

Danni pushed to her feet, tugging up her pants as she glared down at Kate. “Somehow seeing you kissing someone else after not hearing from you for months was plenty of reason for me to leave.” She buttoned and zipped her pants, not caring about the fact that she stood before Kate topless. “Just like I want you to do now.”

Kate was speechless. “What?”

“Please leave,” Danni said, heading towards the bathroom. She turned to Kate, a hand on the door. “Please. Leave.”

Kate sat there, stunned. After a moment, she climbed off the bed, adjusting her dress as she stood. She found her ruined panties and realized they were unsalvageable, so she left them, but did grab Danni’s discarded undershirt, bringing it to her nose and inhaling the scent. She could smell all that was Danni, and knew in her heart that she’d be glad she took something with her.

She walked to the door of the room and pulled it open. Taking one last look around the room, ending on the closed bathroom door, she stepped out, pulling the door closed softly behind her. Later, she would fold and tuck the shirt into the wooden box Danni made for her six years before.
Chapter 15

Burbank, CA 1968
Carol sat silently in the den, where she’d taken Kate to talk after Kate had joined she and Frank for breakfast. Kate had just finished her tale, and Carol was stunned. She glanced over at her friend, Kate staring out the window into the bright morning beyond, but somehow Carol didn’t think Kate was even aware of the time.

“I never heard from her again,” Kate whispered after a long moment.

“Why did you take her shirt?” Carol asked softly.

Kate sighed and turned her attention back to Carol’s den. “I don’t know. I guess I wanted something of hers, something that smelled like her: almost like that shirt was my taking a piece of her with me somehow.”

“What a story.”

“Yes,” Kate agreed. “You’d think after all this time it would just be part of my history, you know? Something that happened long ago and I’ve since moved on: I’ve got the career I’ve always wanted, a beautiful daughter that I adore.” She let out another sigh. “I don’t know, Carol.”

A soft knock sounded on the door, Frank peeking his graying head inside. He was pale and looked shaken. “I’m sorry to bother you, ladies. I thought you’d like to know that Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed last night.”

Carol and Kate looked up at him in shocked silence. Carol pulled herself together first. “What?”

“God, not again,” Kate whispered, hand to her mouth.

Frank nodded, tears glistening in his eyes. “Yeah. Again.”

“What is this world coming to?”Carol asked. “Life is so short.”

Kate heard her friend’s words, her gaze returning to the past and the woman who haunted it.
Chapter 16

Munson, Maine 1968
The day was cool for early June and the evening even cooler, but the two huskies were thrilled as they ran through the woods, their barking echoing in the trees. Their owner walked far behind them, sending off a sharp whistle to bring the brother and sister from getting too far ahead and ultimately in potential danger.

“Anicka! Healy!” she called out. “Get back here!”

The barking stopped as the two dogs turned around and ran back the way they’d come. Two pairs of stunning blue eyes met those of their owner.

“You guys are goofy mutts, I tell ya.” Danni led her pack back the way they’d come, back to the cabin. The dogs, realizing where they were headed, ran off ahead, excited at the prospect of home and dinner.

The two story, three-bedroom cabin loomed large in the early evening. It was a good day, Danni having spent the majority of it out on her property with her ‘babies’. She pushed open the back door, standing back as she’d learned long ago that her dogs would knock her over in order to get inside.

“Come on, you two.” She walked through the kitchen and to the pantry, stepping inside to scoop out two cupfuls of dog food, dumping them in the individual dishes, though she wasn’t entirely sure why she bothered with two bowls: the two siblings would eat out of one bowl and then move on to the second, doing everything together. It always reminded her of Little Anne and Old Dan from the novel by Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows, which had come out about seven years before.

Danni set the bowls down, hurrying to get out of the way of the ravished dogs and headed back into the kitchen to make her own dinner. It had been a wonderful day, wandering out in the wilderness of the eighty acres of the four hundred, that she kept for herself. The remainder of the land was rented out either to house renters or to wilderness enthusiasts who camped or bird watched. Either way, it was quiet and peaceful: just how Danni liked it.

As she chopped up vegetables for her salad – grown in her own garden – she noticed the car that pulled up to park next to Danni’s Jeep at the back of the cabin. She was filled with a mixture of slight happiness and slight annoyance. She would rather spend the night alone, rather than having to entertain Mary’s somewhat demanding personality.

“Hey,” Mary said, breezing in through the kitchen door, her red hair somewhat windblown from her drive up from the City. She gave Danni a quick kiss on the lips then looked to see what Danni was making. “Oh, looks good. I hope you made enough for me.”

“I can make more,” Danni quipped, grabbing another tomato and began to expertly chop it.

“Great. Long day and I’m hungry as hell.” Mary dumped her purse and overnight bag on the couch in the living room then headed toward Danni’s bedroom, leaving a trail of discarded clothing as she went. “I’m staying until Sunday then I’ll drive back to the City so I can hit work Monday morning,” she called from the bedroom.

Danni sighed, irritated. Why was it that Mary could never run her plans by Danni? It was Thursday night, and that meant that Danni was essentially stuck to the cabin for three days. “Alright,” she called back, her irritation evident.

Mary, nearly ten years younger than Danni, sauntered back into the kitchen, wearing little more than the skin she was born in. She pulled Danni away from her task, demanding with her action that Danni look at her. She grabbed Danni in a heated kiss, her hands tugging at Danni’s clothing.

“Wait,” Danni said, trying to push a determined Mary away from her. “I said, wait!”

Mary, panting heavily from her growing passion, glared up at Danni. “What?”

“I’m hungry Mary, and I’d like to eat.” She turned back to the two salads she was making. “If you want to have sex, work for it.” She pointed towards the fridge. “Grab the chicken breast in there and cut it into cubes, please.”

Mary sighed, less than happy, but did as she was asked.

*****

Danni lay awake, the cool early morning air washing over her naked body. She glanced over at the woman who she had been seeing for just over a year and sighed. Mary was beautiful, no doubt. She was young and intelligent and was certainly sexually exciting. She worked as an attorney in New York City, and her drive and ambition could sometimes be scary.

Danni climbed out of bed, knowing sleep wasn’t about to call her back into its embrace once Danni had awakened. She tugged on a sweatshirt and pair of jeans, snagged a pair of socks out of the drawer then padded out of the bedroom, Healy raising his head from his place on the bedroom floor and watched her walk out, soon to follow.

Allison had introduced Danni and Mary, as Allison was looking to bring Mary on as the new attorney for F&H Industries, which she had financed fifteen years before, and Danni had turned into a gold mine as her partner in business. Danni’s unparalleled talents with her hands and Allison’s unparalleled talents making money, had been a pairing made in Heaven.

Danni thought about that as she sat in her recliner and tugged on her socks and boots. Healy sat nearby, waiting patiently for Danni to head outside so he could have some extra time with his beloved owner and the outdoors.

“Come on, boy,” Danni said softly, Healy not needing a second invitation as his claws tapped excitedly on the tiled floor of the kitchen as he hurried after Danni to the door.

Outside in the somewhat chilly, clean early morning air, Danni felt alive and free. She began to walk her property, Healy trotting beside her, her ever-loyal friend. She could just see signs of the new day at the horizon and stopped, hugging herself as she watched the brilliant colors began to sprout across the sky. Not for the first time, she wished she had someone who could truly appreciate the magical moment to share it with.

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it, Healy?” she said, squatting down next to the husky, who sat on his haunches, watching. She gave him a good rub down and a kiss on the nose before standing and continuing her walk.

Insomnia had been a constant companion for Danni for nearly twenty-five years, now. The shocking events and trauma of years past haunted her dreams and sent her screaming back into wakefulness more often than not. Now, hearing about the horrid events over in Vietnam didn’t help any, the images bringing back memories that Danni would prefer to forget.
Chapter 17

San Jose , CA 1968
Megan stood back, arms crossed over her chest and her tongue nearly in tatters from biting to keep from lashing out at her mother, who was packing a suitcase. “What about my wedding?” she finally asked, feeling selfish to bring it up, but it had to be brought out in the open.

Kate glanced over at her daughter, who leaned against the doorframe of her bedroom. “Megan, I’m going to be gone for a few weeks at most. I hardly think in that time I’m going to miss either your wedding – which isn’t until September 10 – nor any of the preparations that need to be made.” She grunted as she used her body weight to close the full suitcase.

“I don’t understand this,” Megan huffed, flopping down on the edge of the bed, refusing to help her mother snap the case closed.

“What’s to understand?” Kate asked, finally latching the clasps. Out of breath, she brushed her hair out of her eyes and met her daughter’s angry gaze. “Megan, I’m 41 years old, have a daughter who is about to graduate college in six months and a son-in-law that I adore and will inherit in three months. I’ve lived a good life, created a fulfilling career and family, so why can’t I do what I need to do for myself.”

“But why ?” Megan exclaimed, exasperated. “Mom, you won’t even tell me who you’re going out to find! I really think you’re going through a mid-life crisis.”

Amused, Kate smiled. “That may be, sweetie. That really may be.”

*****

San Diego , CA 1943
Danni and Kate lay naked in Kate’s bed, facing each other on their sides, legs entwined and hips pressed together. After an evening of making love, they basked in each other and the incredible love that had developed between them. They shared a slow, lazy kiss before Kate lay her head on her pillow, Danni’s face not more than six inches away.

Danni ran her hand up the side of Kate’s thigh, which was placed over her hips – her own thigh pressed gently between Kate’s legs – and ran her hand up the smooth skin of Kate’s side, up over her shoulder and down between her breasts before heading back the way she’d come. To her, there was nothing more amazing than the feel of Kate’s body: it was beautiful and incredibly intimate.

“And you’re sure you two haven’t had some kind of argument that she hasn’t gotten over?” Danni asked, responding to Kate’s frustration and confusion that her best friend seemed to be pushing away from her.

“None,” Kate said, followed by a sad sigh. She rested her hand on Danni’s behind, so glad she had all of Danni now, and not just the illusion of two weeks ago. “I don’t understand it. It’s like Carol doesn’t even want to be friends anymore.”

“I’m sorry, my love,” Danni said, seeing the sadness in Kate’s eyes. “Maybe she’s just trying to deal with the fact that Mike will be leaving in a week.”

Kate’s eyes fell closed, her tears nearly choking her as she swallowed them down. “So will you,” she whispered.

“Oh Katie, girl,” Danni whispered, resting their foreheads together. She was the only one in Kate’s entire life who dare call her Katie. She loved it. “I’m sorry, baby.”

Kate took several deep breaths, finally getting herself under control. She didn’t want to squander their last week with tears. “There are so many things I want to do with you, Danni.”

Danni gave her a sexy little smile. “And I think we did about half of them tonight.”

Kate delivered a playful slap to Danni’s arm. “I’m serious!”

Danni laughed, pulling Kate to her in another loving kiss. “What do you want to do with me?” she whispered against Kate’s lips.

“I want to have our own house,” Kate began, running her fingers through Danni’s hair. “I want to see your farm in Nebraska , and that bedroom you slept in with the crazy diagonal ceilings. I want to know you’re there every night and every morning when I wake up.” Her voice fell to a whisper as her emotions began to take over. “I want you to come back from the war, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Danni. I want to marry you.” She could no longer hold her tears back, and they flowed freely down her cheeks.

Danni’s own emotions caught up with her, and soon she and Kate were clinging to each other, both shedding their fears as she rolled onto her back, pulling Kate with her, so the blonde lay atop her. “I love you so much, Katie,” Danni whispered into her ear. “So much.”

After long moments, Kate got herself under control, using the edge of the pillow case to wipe her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, placing a soft kiss to Danni’s lips. “I promised myself that I’d keep it together this week.”

“It’s okay, love,” Danni said, hugging Kate to her. “Let me get up for a second, because I have something for you.”

Kate moved off Danni, sitting on the mattress and watching as Danni got up and walked over to her clothing, which was strewn on the floor. Danni pulled something from her pants’ pocket and returned to the bed. Kate gasped when she saw that it was a red satin ring box.

“Let’s do it,” Danni whispered, ring box held in her hand, the gold band inside glinting from the lamp light.

Kate smiled, her heart in her throat as she nodded. “Let’s do it.” In her excitement, she bowled Danni over, knocking her to her back and landing on top of her. “Yes,” she whispered against Danni’s lips. “Yes, yes, yes, yes!”

*****

Kate was dressed in her best dress, standing across from Danni – joined by the hands – dressed in her best dress uniform. She was nearly lost in the June skies of Danni’s eyes as the minister spoke to them.

“I do,” she said, her voice soft, but never had she meant two words more than she meant those two. “Forever.”

Danni smiled, mouthing the words: I love you.

The minister smiled. “I now pronounce you as mister and misses Daniel Felts! You may kiss your bride.”

Danni leaned in, taking Kate in a deep – and totally inappropriate – kiss. The small audience, made up of Herb and others in Danni’s regiment, clapped and whooped. Danni pulled back, a huge grin on her face, eyes only for her beautiful bride. Kate gave her a look that made Danni melt. She knew that their wedding night would be far more than either of them could have imagined mere weeks ago. The only thing missing was Carol and Mike.

Later that night, Danni and Kate stood on the beach, the ocean roaring beside them. Kate looked down at her gold band, which glinted so beautifully in the moonlight. “I can’t stop looking at it,” she grinned.

Danni also looked down at it, her own a gold twin of Kate’s. “I just can’t believe we actually did it.”

“Me, neither.” Kate met Danni’s gaze, holding her hand in her own. “What are we going to do?” she asked, all mirth leaving her face. It was something they hadn’t discussed. “When you come back, Danni, you’ll have no reason to be Daniel Felts anymore. We can’t…,” Kate sighed, dropping Danni’s hand and turning to the waves that gently lapped at the beach.

“No, I won’t have reason to be Daniel anymore,” Danni said, coming up behind Kate and holding her. “But I’ll do it if it means we can be together.”

Kate turned in Danni’s arms, stunned. “You’d give up who you are to be with me?” she whispered.

“In a heartbeat.” Danni brushed the side of Kate’s face with the backs of her fingers. “Don’t you get it, Katie? You are who I am. Without you, I’m nothing.”

Kate kissed her then backed away. “I can’t do that to you, Danni. You have every right to be the woman that you are: the woman that I love. ” They shared another kiss. “I can’t strip you of that. It’s not fair.”

Danni knew Kate was right, as she had no desire to live the rest of her life as a lie. But, what choices did they truly have? “Tell you what,” she said, once again taking Kate’s hand. “Let’s deal with this when I get back. FDR says the war will be over in six months, then I’ll come home, your hero on this big ol’ ship, and we can decide from there where we want to go and what we want to do.”

Kate smiled, liking that idea. She snaked her arms up around Danni’s neck, bringing them close together. “Okay,” she whispered against Danni’s lips. “Now make love to your wife.”

*****

Danni stared down at her wedding band, the whipping waves far below as the ship made good progress across the ocean. They’d been speeding across the Pacific for nearly three months now, and she felt her heart becoming a little more distant each day. If she allowed herself to live in a desired past, she’d never be able to face her battle-filled future. She looked out over the expanse of the ocean, not for the first time amazed and awed by what she saw. The sheer majesty of it all left her speechless.

As she looked out over those beautiful blue waters, her mind raced back to that day on the harbor, Kate clutching her for all she was worth.

“I love you so much,” Danni whispered into Kate’s ear, needing her to understand just what she meant to her soul.

Kate could only cry, words escaping her. She held on to Danni, never wanting to let her go, but knowing that this was it. Was this it for six months? For a year? Forever? “I’m going to miss you,” was all she could come up with to say.

“I’ll be back, my Katie girl,” Danni whispered. “I swear. I’ll be back.” Danni looked up over the top of Kate’s head to see George Hannigan, her superior officer, watching them. The two sailors met eyes then George mounted the gang plank that led to the ship, soon disappearing from Danni’s gaze. “Be strong, baby,” she pleaded. “Please, be strong.”

Kate pulled out of the intense embrace just enough to be able to place a firm kiss on Danni’s lips. “Go find your destiny,” she whispered, before pulling totally away, hurrying off to disappear in the gathered crowd.

Danni watched, lifting herself onto her tippy toes, trying to get one last glimpse of Kate, but was unable to. With a sad sigh, she turned, duffel bag heaved over her shoulder, and headed towards the gang plank and into her world for the next six years of her life, unbeknownst to her.

Danni took several deep breaths, shoving the emotions down. They were set to arrive at their destination within seven hours. Truth be told, Danni should be asleep, but she was wide awake and just wanted to get her current world going so she could forget about her previous world.

*****

Kate finished unpacking the final box in her bedroom. Now that Danni was gone, she had the time and sort of, energy to unpack. Danni had been gone for three and a half weeks and classes were set to start within a few days. She knew she’d be a rarity among her fellow rare female classmates: there to get a degree, not a husband.

Things hadn’t improved where Carol was concerned, no matter how many times Kate asked what was wrong. Carol was distant and non-responsive. Ultimately, Kate decided to fully concentrate on her studies as well as letters from Danni. Whatever was going on with Carol would work itself out, she was certain.

Plopping down on her bed, Kate grabbed her pen and paper then rolled over onto her stomach, ready to write another letter to Danni. What she’d found helped was that whenever she was so lonely for Danni that she wanted to die, she’d pen her a letter, even if she’d just sent one out to her the day before. She didn’t get as many letters back from Danni as Danni got from her, but Kate knew she did the best she could. Danni wasn’t allowed to tell her where she was in the world, but she did fill her in on the day-to-day routine of building an airstrip, roads and currently, a new mess hall.
August, 1943:

My sweet Katie girl. We have finally docked, and what a journey it’s been! I didn’t think I be sea-sick, but I definitely had my moments! I can’t tell you where we are, but I can tell you that it’s beautiful and we’ve got a lot of work to do. I can also tell you, I love you.
October, 1943:

Hello my handsome sailor. I was worrying for nothing, as I got perfect scores on my mid-terms and am very excited. I beat out almost all of my male classmates! Ha! Goes to show what a woman can do when she sets her mind to it.

I know you said you may be able to get home for Christmas, and I know I said I’d be as patient as I can. I miss you so much! You would be the ultimate gift from Santa.
December, 1943:

To my love. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to come home. No one is more disappointed than me. I miss you with everything in me, and it’s so hard to face everyday when the guy who was your friend yesterday doesn’t come home tomorrow. Oh, and if you thought you were surprised that George is my commanding officer, you have no idea how I feel about the situation. I guess it is what it is and I’m making the best of it that I can. In all honesty, so far so good.

We’ve finished our work here and are set to be shipped out to the next within a week. I miss you like crazy and would do anything to hold you. I love you and know that I wish you the Merriest of Christmases.
June, 1944:

Happy Anniversary, love! When is this godforsaken war going to end and bring you back to me?
Chapter 18

Wayne, NE 1950
Allison Hughes laughed with her dinner guests, a glass of red wine clutched in beautifully manicured fingers with long, painted nails. She and her husband, Harvard were having their end-of-month client dinner, which Harv insisted on having, as he felt it bonded him with his clients’ money down at the bank all the more. It was only the high rollers who were invited, however: owners of successful businesses, stakeholders in the bank and prominent people within the town and surrounding communities.

Allison, looking stunning in a new red dress, her hair coifed perfectly, saw one of the servants headed her way, a telephone placed on the silver tray the young woman carried. Allison politely dismissed herself from the conversation she’d been having with the Post Master’s wife, and met the servant halfway across the dining room.

“Phone call for you, Mrs. Hughes.”

“Thank you.” Allison picked up the handset, which had been set down on the tray so as not to disconnect the call, and placed it against her ear, the heavy plastic of the phone clicking against her large, diamond earring. “This is Allison Hughes.”

An hour later, Allison strode into the Wayne Police Station with purpose and grace. She walked up to the front desk, every person in the building knowing exactly who she was, and – on this night – why she was there.

“Come with me, Mrs. Hughes,” a uniformed officer said, quickly hurrying to meet Allison in the lobby.

Allison was led through the darkest corners of the inner workings of the police station until finally she found herself in the holding cell area. Looking through the bars, she smiled, shaking her head. In truth, she was relieved to see the drunken figure splayed out on a bench. Outwardly, she was amused, yet disgusted.

“She’s yours, Mrs. Hughes.”

“Yay!” Danni exclaimed in a slurred, sing-song voice. “They called you!”

“They sure did. Come on, vodka breath.”

Allison bailed Danni out after she’d been arrested for drunken and disorderly charges. Her shoulder-length hair was greasy and stringy, her breath measuring a solid ten on any drunken test. She paid the two hundred dollars in bail and secured a uniformed officer to help her load a very drunken – and singing – Danni, into her Cadillac.

About two minutes into the ten minute drive to Allison’s house, Danni fell into a deep, near-comatose sleep. Once Allison had pulled into the yard, she called for a couple servants to help her get Danni quietly into the house via the back door, the dinner guests inside non-the-wiser.

Allison got her tucked into a guest bedroom in an unused portion of the house, silently marveling at the length of Danni’s hair, as the last time she’d seen her, she was far more a ‘he’ than a ‘she’. She was just as shocked at the state Danni was in: no longer was she the quiet, yet assured teenager from seven years before: now she was a woman of 27 years old and a complete mess. What had happened? As she tucked Danni in then closed the bedroom door, she knew she’d get all of her answers the next day.

*****

Danni groaned as the world began to swirl back into focus. She was in a bed, the covers wrapped around her to the point of turning her into a human burrito. It took her fuzzy brain a moment to figure out how to free herself.

“How’s the head?”

Danni was startled by the sudden voice, and in her haste to free herself, she tumbled right off the side of the bed and to the hard, wood floor below. “Shit,” she muttered, picking herself up and flopping back onto the bed. She turned to an amused Allison, who sat knitting in a chair in the corner of the room.

“Good afternoon, Danni,” the older woman said, putting her knitting aside and pushed up from her chair with her usual grace and elegance.

“Good afternoon,” Danni responded, “and I feel like something is squeezing my head like a lemon.” Danni closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands, hoping the pressure would stop. She felt like throwing up and like a waste of space.

“Well, in the condition I found you in last night, I can understand why.” Allison walked over to the bed, standing in front of Danni. “You have two options: you can either eat now then clean yourself up, or you can clean yourself up then eat. What’s your poison?”

“I don’t want any food.” Danni sniffed herself, grimacing at the stench. “Bath.”

Danni sat in the hot water, the steam rising up all around her, making her sweat. Even her sweat smelled like alcohol. “Jesus,” she muttered. “It’s coming out of my fucking pores.” Water sloshed as Danni pulled her knees to her chest, startled as the bathroom door opened and Allison stepped inside. “Allison!”

“Danni!” Allison sat on the closed lid of the toilet, unmoved by Danni’s irritation. “Nothing I haven’t seen before, honey.” Her gaze traveled over what she could see of Danni’s body. “Jesus, you’re thin.” She noticed the heavily scarred flesh of Danni’s back and wondered what it was from. Allison move to the back of the free-standing, footed tub. “Rinse your head: I’ll wash your hair for you.”

Danni did as asked, and nearly moaned in pleasure as Allison began a slow, steady massage of her scalp with the floral-scented shampoo.

“What happened to your back?” Allison asked, her voice soft.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Danni murmured, eyes closed and ready to purr.

“Alright, fine. Let’s talk about something even more pleasant. What’s your plan? Lie back.”

Danni lay back in the hot water, holding herself up as Allison rinsed the soap from her shoulder-length hair. “To get the stink of the gutter off me then get a drink.”

“And your other plan?” Allison asked, the disapproval clear in her voice.

Danni smiled, amused, but it quickly slid off her face. “I don’t have one.”

Allison tapped Danni’s shoulder, letting her know she could sit up. “Then let’s get you one. I can’t have you going home like this, Danni; it would kill your mother.”

Danni’s head fell as she hugged her knees to her chest again. “I know,” she whispered, her shame stabbing behind her eyes.

“Aw, sweetie,” Allison murmured, moving around the tub so she could look into Danni’s face. “I think you’ve lost your way a little.”

“Just a little,” Danni blew out, her words laced with sarcasm.

“You did good by having them call me, Danni.” Allison took the scented bar soap in her hands, dunking it in the water and then rubbing lather before she began to wash Danni’s back and shoulders. “It’s good to have you back. To be honest, when your letters stopped nine months ago, I figured you were dead somewhere.”

Danni said nothing, but felt like she truly has been. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to enjoy the touch. She hadn’t been touched in a very long time. Truth of the matter was, she felt cold and hollow, not real sure what her purpose was anymore. Maybe that’s why she drank so much: to make it all go away: pain, emptiness and perhaps ultimately, her life.
Chapter 19

Omaha, NE 1968
The Douglas DC-8 came to a stop at the gate, the passenger sitting in seat 17B extremely grateful. Kate grabbed her purse from where it was tucked under the seat in front of her and unbuckled her seatbelt. She waited patiently for her turn to step into the aisle and finally out of the giant metal tube of death. Not a fan of flying, Kate did it rarely, and in fact, this flight to Nebraska was only one of three times she’d ever done it.

As Kate walked into the terminal, her nerves hit her full force. Her nervousness and fear of flying had kept her mind plenty occupied during her travels, but now… She took a deep breath and followed the crowd to the baggage claim, trying to concern herself with finding her suitcase then renting a car and finding a map of the area. After that, well, that’s where she didn’t want to have to think.

Kate climbed the wheel of her rented Austin Mini Cooper S, her suitcase tucked into the tiny backseat. She turned the engine on and was rewarded with The Doors’, Hello I Love You on the radio. Letting out a heavy breath of courage, Kate got the little blue car moving.

*****

Somewhere in the Pacific, 1944
The island base had been taken over by the Navy eighteen months before, and the SeaBees crew had been brought in to turn it into a Naval post, replete with airstrip, hospital and barracks. Danni had just finished a challenging twelve hour shift and was on her way to the Post Office, where she was going to check for mail as well as send out a letter to Kate.

She was glad to get out of the glaring sun as she stepped into the fan-cooled Post Office, which was a small structure with the main room nothing more than a small, square space with a wood counter that separated the customer from the worker.

“Evenin’, Danni,” the man behind the counter said with a welcoming smile.

“How goes it, Dave? Got anything for me today?”

“Hang on and I’ll check it out.”

Dave made his way into the backroom, leaving Danni standing at the counter, leaning on her elbows, as she was exhausted. She glanced over her shoulder when the door opened and someone stepped inside. Immediately Danni stood erect, giving her superior officer the respect his position deserved, regardless of how much Danni did not like him.

“Good evening, LT,” she said.

“At ease, Sailor,” newly-promoted Lieutenant George Hannigan said, stepping up beside her as she returned to her former position at the counter. “Got some mail, Felts?”

“I hope so, Sir.” She gave him a polite smile. For a moment she was tempted to pull her letter to Kate out and set it on the counter, just so George could see who her girl was.

George glanced over at Danni’s left hand, which rested on the countertop. He noticed the shininess of the gold band on his finer, which stood out in stark contrast to the deeply tanned skin. Brow furrowing, he looked at Danni’s profile, about to ask who the “lucky bride” was when the postal worker returned, setting a large box down in front of Danni.

“Here ya go, Danni. Guess the wife felt the need to send you a care package.” He gave Danni a knowing grin, completely unaware of the man stewing across from him.

“Thanks, Dave.” This time Danni did pull out the letter and slid it across the smooth wood. “Send ‘er off, if you would.”

“Will do. Have a good ‘un, Danni,” Dave said, taking the letter and setting it on a small table behind the counter before turning his attention to Hannigan. “How can I help you, Sir?”

Danni was nearly doing a jig as she took the box and hurried from the Post Office, beyond excited to see what Kate had sent her. She was able to totally forget about Hannigan, her focus fully on her prize.

George Hannigan, on the other hand, was livid. His jaw muscles clenched as he set his own mail on the counter. Jealousy, deep and dark began to climb its way to the surface. He looked at the clerk. “Let me talk to your superior officer.”

Danni entered the room she shared with Mike. The great thing about their assignment now was it was only two men to a room, and they were roomed by rank. She and Mike were the exact same rank – to the day – so were roomed together. Mike was sitting at the desk, reading over the manual for some training they had coming up.

“Hey,” Mike greeted, glancing at his friend and roommate.

“Howdy do.” Danni walked over to her bed and plopped down, the box set down in front of her.

Seeing what his buddy had, Mike hurried over to the bed. They’d always shared the contents when their respective families or girls sent them packages. “What’cha got there, guy?”

“Not sure.” Danni sliced into the tape on the box then tugged open the flaps, revealing a dream of candies and cookies from home: all of Danni’s favorite kinds. She nearly swooned: so did Mike.

The two junked out on all of Kate’s offerings, nearly emptying the box, other than the letter and picture Kate enclosed, which of course Danni kept to herself. One of the picture was of a nearly naked Kate, smiling at the camera with purpose and seduction. It would certainly give Danni sweeter dreams than any candy could offer.

“So, I finally finished my letter,” Mike said, his gaze not meeting that of Danni.

“Oh yeah?” she asked, shoving a sweet into her mouth.

“Yeah.” Mike climbed off the bed and walked over to the desk, producing a folded piece of paper wrapped in plastic wrap.

“Good. Then we’re both ready.”

“Remember man,” he said, “you promised.”

Danni smiled at him. “So did you.” Danni found herself pulled into a brief, but tight hug, borne out of the bonds of fear and camaraderie.

*****

San Diego, CA 1944
Kate leaned in to see her reflection better as she applied the clown makeup she would sport to the Halloween party she and her other three roommates were planning to attend together. Edna, the newest roommate after Carol had moved out, stood next to her, applying her own scary witch makeup.

“I sure hope this party isn’t a drag like the one last year,” Edna murmured, her eyes open wide as she applied a dark layer of mascara.

“I agree.” Kate took a step back and examined her face, liking what she saw. “Now I just have to get dressed.”

“Girls!” Helen called from the living room. “Mail!”

Edna squealed in delight, hurrying out of the bathroom, followed by Kate. Helen stood within the circle of her three friends and began to dole out letters and parcels. Kate’s heart was pounding and leapt into her heart when Helen handed her a letter. Just as quickly, her heart fell as it had George’s name on it and not Danni’s.

“Anything more?” she asked, unable to keep the hope from her voice.

“No, sweetie. Just the one from George.”

Trudy looked at Kate with drawn brows. “I thought that whole thing was over with George Hannigan.”

Helen rolled her eyes. “It never even started.”

“He needed a friend and asked if I’d write him to help ease the loneliness, Trudy,” Kate said quietly then turned and walked to her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.

“What’s with her?” Edna asked.

“Danni hasn’t responded to her last three letters,” Helen said quietly, her gaze on Kate’s closed door.

“He’s not…?” Edna’s question trailed off.

Helen shook her head. “According to George, he sees Danni often.”

“Oh no,” Trudy blew out, glad her Kenneth was a good guy.

Kate tossed George’s unopened letter to her bed and sat down heavily next to it. She was frustrated, hurt and confused. Why wasn’t Danni writing to her? George said she was just fine, and often saw her at the canteen with friends and some of the nurses. Kate’s head fell and her shoulders sagged as she felt the sting of tears start.

“Please God,” she whispered, “don’t let her be seeing someone else. Please.”

*****

Somewhere in the Pacific, 1944
Mike stepped into the Post Office, dropping off a letter to Carol as well as dropping off one for Kate on Danni’s behalf. Lieutenant Hannigan was at the end of the short line, which put him in front of Mike. Mike glanced down at the LT’s hand and noticed a handful of letters he held. The one on top was addressed to Kate Adams.

Arms loaded down with Christmas gifts, he headed back to the room he and Danni shared, eager to see what his family had sent him, though he e ager to relay the news that someone else was writing to his girl. Danni was combing his hair when Mike entered the room.

“Ho ho ho and all that,” he said, laying the gifts on his bed. “Santa came.”

Danni turned and walked over to Mike’s bed, excited to see what goodies they’d have. “Any mail for me?”

Mike shook his head, “Sorry, guy. But!” he said, trying to take some of the sting away. “I got cookies from Aunt Margaret!”

Danni put on a brave smile and sat down next to his friend, digging into the delicious baked goods, slightly stale from the time it took to reach them. “I don’t get it,” she said at length, looking out the window of their small room with a sigh. “Why isn’t she writing me back?” She looked at her friend, who wore a sympathetic expression. “I haven’t gotten anything back from her in months.”

Mike chewed on his bottom lip, trying to decide if he should tell Danni what he’d seen at the Post Office. Finally, he decided Danni deserved to know. “Look man, when I went to drop off your letter, I saw Hannigan in the P.O. He was waiting in line to mail somethin’, and that somethin’ was a letter to Kate.”

Danni could only stare, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. “What?”

Mike shrugged. “It may not be anything, but,” he shrugged again.

Danni felt her heart stomach drop and blood freeze. Fingers of dread tickled down her spine. “No way,” she said, more to herself than to Mike.

Mike felt terrible, and like maybe he’d done the wrong thing. He didn’t have long to contemplate that before suddenly the world seemed to roar to life. The shouts of men could be heard outside as well as the shrill whine of alarms and the engines of fighter planes.

Mike and Danni’s door was slammed open, one of the men on their floor barging in. “We’re under attack!” he screamed before storming back into the hall, his voice heard the next door down with the same alarming message.

Letters and cookies forgotten, Danni and Mike ran out of their room, the entire building shaken when a bomb was dropped and exploded nearby. Danni’s eyes were huge as she ducked through falling debris, the lights in the hallway flickering before going out completely.

“Come on!” Mike yelled above the chaos, “We gotta get to the armory!”

Danni and Mike finally got through the chaos of the attack and men, who were trying to get to weapons and airplanes, and finally took off at a dead sprint. Danni spared a glance up above as a low-flying German Arado AR 240 spraying bullets, as well as a Dornier Do 335 higher up, bombs moments away from being dropped.

“Christ!” she cried, diving behind a Jeep as bullets pelted the ground at her feet, the sound of them hitting the metal of the Jeep almost deafening. She barely scrambled away from the vehicle before it exploded, the gas tank hit, igniting the Jeep.

Heart pounding so hard Danni worried it would pop out of her chest, she continued on, noting Mike running just a bit ahead of her. The doors to the armory had already been flung open, men running out with weapons in their hands and a man standing at the entrance, literally tossing weapons to men as they neared the building.

Danni caught a Colt M1911A1 pistol, which she tucked into the waistband of her pants so she could focus on the M50 Reising submachine gun. As men fell dead around her, she pulled herself away from human mode and instead took herself to a place of rage and survival.

“Fucking Nazi’s!” she yelled, finding a hiding place behind a small storage building and taking aim on the low-flying planes, landing a few good shots. With the combined effort of her gun and those around her, the fighter plane crashed in a fiery explosion, which was deeply satisfying for Danni. The celebration was short-lived however, as she had to move on.

She and Mike ran along, Mike just barely missing being shot by the gun of a fellow sailor who was shot down, his finger letting loose on the trigger as he died. They took a dive as the whine of a ruined engine warned them of a plummeting plane. Sure enough the German pilot, shot down, was heading straight for them.

“Run!” Danni screamed, Mike following as they both gave all they had, their legs pumping to get distance between them and the doomed plane.

The plane crashed with an impressive – though amazingly non-fireball – landing. Within a few moments, the pilot came out firing. Though bleeding heavily with likely-fatal wounds, he spotted Mike and Danni and opened fire.

Danni grunted in burning surprise as she was shot in the arm. Mike stopped and turned, his weapon at the ready to open fire on the Nazi when he was cut down, the bullets of the German’s pilot’s submachine gun tearing into Mike’s midsection, sending Mike to the ground.

“No!” Danni yelled, raising her own weapon and letting loose. The German pilot tried to fire, but he was mowed down by a full magazine and a screaming Danni, his body nothing more than a broken, bullet-riddled hunk of meat when she was done.

Magazine empty, Danni threw her gun down and turned to Mike, who was gasping and gurgling on the ground at her feet.

“Mike,” she breathed, falling to her knees, pale and stunned. Mike’s entire front was meat, his insides threatening to pop out of the patchwork of holes through his body. “Oh god…”

Mike was conscious, his eyes huge and mouth opening and closing like a dying guppy. He focused on Danni’s face, the pain overwhelming yet numbing at the same time. His mind wouldn’t focus on any one thing, the inevitable chipping away at his mental state. “Danni,” he managed, blood dribbling with the simple declaration.

“I’m here with you,” Danni assured, keeping her tears in check as she cradled his head in her arms. “I’m here.”

“You promised,” Mike whispered, barely audible. He reached a hand up, just barely able to touch his dog tags.

“Yeah, I did.” Silent tears fell from Danni’s eyes as she nodded. “I won’t let you down.”

Something inside Danni told her to look up. As she did, she saw – as if in slow motion – a bomb coming down far enough away that the blast wouldn’t be directly on them, but they would definitely feel the blast. The bomb hit, people disappearing in the explosion as a wave of destruction and devastation made its way towards them. Instinctively, Danni covered Mike’s body with her own, the blast showering her back, imbedding fire and shrapnel in her flesh.

All went black.
Chapter 20

Wayne, NE 1968
As Kate pulled into the tiny town, now population 3,013, she looked around, shocked at its size – or lack thereof. The main street of the town – 1st Street – wasn’t hard to find or figure out. She pulled her little car to a stop in front of a diner, which was called Carson’s Diner, and cut the engine. As she climbed out of the car, it wasn’t hard to imagine hitching up a horse in front of the small eatery, then sauntering in wearing a Stetson.

Instead, she walked in wearing a summer dress, as the heat was oppressive, the many fans blowing in the small café appreciated. Standing at the door, Kate saw a breakfast bar to her left that ran along the entire length of that side of the restaurant and then red vinyl booths to her right. Deciding on the breakfast bar, she climbed onto a stool, covered in the same red vinyl material.

“What can I get for ya?” the waitress asked, a pencil behind one ear even as she clutched a second in her hand.

“Oh,” Kate stammered, grabbing a grease-slathered menu from where it was housed between the sugar shaker and the napkin holder. “Why don’t we start with an ice water?”

The waitress looked at her for a long, hard moment then began to move away. `You ain’t from `round here, are ya?”

Kate scoped the menu, not sure what she was going to get from the greasy spoon once she ordered. The two old men who had taken stools next to hers – even though the rest of the diner was practically open for the taking – didn’t help curb her doubt very well.

The waitress returned with a giant glass of iced water then looked at Kate expectantly. “Um,” Kate said, her gaze returning to the menu more out of nervousness than because she needed to review it. “I’ll have the steak and eggs. Eggs scrambled and steak medium well.”

“Hashbrowns or country potatoes?” the waitress smacked, the pink of her gum making a cameo appearance from the corner of her mouth.

“Uh, country potatoes.”

The waitress said nothing more, simply scribbled down what Kate had said then headed to Kate’s neighbors, sweet as pie as she serviced `Joe’ and `Pecker’. Once the two men had ordered, Pecker, who sat next to Kate, looked over at her, studying the stranger.

“Welcome to Wayne,” he said, blindly reaching for the cup of strong, black coffee that the waitress had put in front of him.

Kate gave him a polite smile. “Thank you.” She turned back to her water, but then something occurred to her. “Excuse me,” she said, getting the old man’s attention. “Do you happen to know Danni Felts?”

“Oh heck, I sure do. Used ta farm with her daddy years back.”

Kate felt nervous excitement build in her stomach. “Does she still live here?”

Pecker turned to his friend, who was shaking his head. “She ain’t lived here for goin’ on about ten years now, I’d say,” Joe said, leaning forward so he could see Kate on the other side of his friend.

Disappointment fell hard at that. “Oh.”

“I’d ask Allison Hughes,” the waitress interjected, setting Kate’s breakfast in front of her. “She’d know.”

*****

Wayne, NE 1953
Allison tugged up her slacks, buttoning and zipping them before reaching for her bra. Danni lay naked in her bed in the tiny apartment she was living in that was over Brockman’s Bar. She watched the older woman dress, hand cradled in her hand.

“What time is Harv getting home today?” she asked, eyeing the luscious breasts that were just now being covered by the satiny cups of Allison’s bra.

“Sometime around six, then we have a dinner with that obnoxious business partner of his.” Allison sighed, sliding her arms into her silk blouse and slowly buttoning it from the button up, purposely leaving tantalizing flesh for Danni’s eyes to devour.

“I’m surprised he’s not going to take Marilyn,” Danni muttered, falling over to her back and tucking her hands beneath her head.

Allison smirked. “Somehow I don’t think that slut of a mistress would be all that interested in business. Speaking of,” she sat on the edge of the bed to pull on her shoes. “I really like your idea for F&H Industries and I think we should do it.”

“So, you finally read my business proposal, huh?”

“I did, and it’s brilliant.” She leaned over and placed a kiss on Danni’s lips. “Just like you.” She pushed to her feet and grabbed her handbag. “I have to go. Let’s meet up for dinner this week and discuss it further. Chow.”

“See you later.” Danni watched her lover of three years walk to the door of the one-room apartment, then stared up at the ceiling, her mind whirring with possibilities for their business.

*****

Wayne, NE 1968
Kate sat in a Queen Ann chair in a lavish sitting room in the massive and beautiful house of Allison Hughes. She had been waiting for five minutes, her heart pounding. She couldn’t believe where she was, and wasn’t sure what exactly she’d find out: if anything. What if Danni had a family of her own somewhere? Someone like Danni, it was likely she did. What if Allison wouldn’t tell her where Danni was? What if Danni didn’t want Kate to know where she was?

“Good afternoon, Kate,” Allison said as she walked into the room, startling her guest from her thoughts.

Kate got to her feet, riveted by the lovely woman who walked towards her. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Hughes. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“First of all, call me Allison, and second of all, I was quite surprised you called.” She indicated Kate should reclaim her seat, Allison sitting in the matching on across a low-slung table. “Would you care for a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

Allison crossed one elegant leg over the other and studied the beautiful woman who sat across from her. Head slightly cocked to the side, Allison measured Kate’s worth in a matter of seconds. “Hmm,” she said absently, “I can see why.”

“Why, what?” Kate asked, somewhat uncomfortable by the scrutiny.

“What can I do for you, Kate?” Allison asked, ignoring the question. “Why have you come all the way to this tiny little town to speak with me?”

“Well, I was actually hoping you could tell me where Danni is. At the diner, they said you two are close friends.”

“Among other things,” Allison said. She pushed up from her chair and walked over to a small bar placed in the corner of the room. She poured herself two fingers of scotch as well as a tumbler for Kate. “Here you are,” she said, handing Kate her drink before taking her seat once more and sipping from the strong, expensive liquor.

“Thank you,” Kate said. Not much of a drinker, she sensed it wasn’t a good idea to deny this woman’s hospitality. Or, to deny this woman anything.

“What do you want with her?” Allison asked, the crystal tumbler resting on her knee.

Kate looked down into the liquid in her glass for a long moment. “In truth, I’m not entirely sure how to answer that question, Allison.” Finally she met the older woman’s penetrating gaze. “I guess I just feel the need to reconnect.”

“And you believe Danni will want to reconnect with you?” Allison took another sip, careful to keep her expression blank. In truth, there was a part of her that was somewhat jealous of the woman sitting in her sitting room. Though Allison had loved Danni for years, she knew in her heart that the only woman Danni had ever loved was the woman who sipped her scotch now.

A slight tremor flashed down Kate’s spine at the strong, burning taste of the liquor. In truth, she was glad Allison had given her a glass; it was already somewhat calming her nerves. “I can’t know that until I talk to her. There is certainly a chance that she’ll want nothing to do with me, but-”

“But there’s a chance she may want to?” Allison interrupted.

Kate nodded. “Yes. I hope so.”

Allison set her glass aside and stood suddenly, looking at Kate for a moment before turning and leaving the room, leaving a confused Kate behind. After a moment, Allison returned, a piece of paper in her hand. She resumed her seat. “My first inclination is to protect Danni, but I’m not her mother, and it’s certainly not my place to make decisions for her. She’s a big girl.” She set the paper on the table and slid it across to Kate. “If you can find it, I’d say you will have earned the right to at least speak with Danni, though I can’t guarantee how she’ll take such a surprise.”

Kate picked up the paper and read an address in Munson, Maine, written in beautifully scrolling handwriting. “Thank you,” she said softly, almost reverently. She tucked the page in her purse for safekeeping.

“Good luck to you, Kate,” Allison said, again standing, obviously asking Kate to leave.

“Thank you again, Allison. I truly appreciate this.”
Chapter 21

Burbank, CA 1949
Danni stood on the front porch, butterflies swarming in her belly and sweat soaking the underarms of the uniform shirt under her uniform jacket. Taking a final deep breath, she raised her fist and knocked on the door, waiting for what seemed like forever before she heard movement on the other side. The door was pulled open and a large man looked back at her.

“Can I help you?” he asked, large hands covered in paint that he was wiping on a rag.

“Yes, sir. Is Carol here?”

“She sure is. Come on in.” The man stepped aside, allowing Danni to enter the house. “Honey!” the man called out. “Someone here to see you!”

“Who is it?” called back a female voice from deep in the house.

The man looked at Danni for an introduction. “Sorry, Danni Felts,” Danni said, holding out her hand to the man.

“Good to meet you, Danni. Frank, Carol’s husband,” Frank took Danni’s hand in a firm shake.

Carol appeared from upstairs, also covered in paint splatter. She hurried to the door, her steps slowing when she saw who it was. “Danni.”

“Hello, Carol.”

Frank looked back and forth between the two, able to see the shock on his wife’s face. “I’m gonna get back to painting, honey.” He placed a quick kiss on Carol’s cheek then disappeared up the stairs.

“I’m sorry to bother you, it’s pretty obvious you guys are busy.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s good to see you; been awhile.” Carol was stunned, but shook herself out of it, inviting Danni into the kitchen, where she washed her hands as Danni took a seat. “We just bought the place so are doing a little remodeling,” she explained, pouring them both a glass of apple juice. She sat down across from Danni, feeling nervous and uncertain. “What brings you by?”

“Well, actually fulfilling a promise I made a long time ago.” She reached into her jacket and produced two small boxes, one containing a Purple Heart medal and one containing dog tags and a folded piece of paper. Carol looked at the medal, confused. Setting that box aside, she opened the other box and gasped, hand going to her mouth. “He wanted you to have these things.”

Tears sprang to Carol’s eyes as she took Mike’s dog tags into her hands, running a thumb over the bumps of the letters of his name. “Oh, Danni,” she whispered.

“Listen, I see you have a new life and a new family, and I really didn’t come here to upset you-”

Danni was interrupted as Carol pulled her to her feet and into a crushing embrace. “Thank you.”

Carol hugged her back, feeling like she’d finally come through for her long-dead friend. “You’re welcome.”

After a long moment, Carol pulled away from Danni, feeling foolish as she swiped at her eyes. “It’s been five years, you’d think it wouldn’t affect me like this anymore.” She resumed her seat, Danni doing the same.

“Mike was a good guy, Carol. He affected us all.”

Carol nodded, grabbing a napkin from the older and blew her nose. “You are so kind to bring this stuff to me. I can’t believe you did this. Especially after…” her words trailed off, shame causing more tears to come.

“After, what?” Danni was confused, and almost dreaded whatever she might hear.

“I know about you, Danni,” Carol blew out, relieved to finally get this off her conscience.

Danni stared at her blankly for a moment, her heart stopping. “Did Kate tell you?”

“No God no, she never would have betrayed you.”

Danni nearly threw up at those words, but said nothing.

“No, I saw you two together once. To say I was shocked is an understatement.” She gave Danni a rueful smile. “You do `guy’ real well, Felts.”

Danni’s smile was small. “Thanks, I think.”

“Listen,” Carol said, reaching across the table and covering one of Danni’s hands with her own. “I will never forgive myself for how I acted and for turning my back on Kate. It’s not a proud moment for me.” She squeezed Danni’s hand then released it.

“It’s never too late, Carol. Do you know where she is? You can always talk to her; I’m sure she’d understand.” Danni couldn’t believe she was actually defending Kate! What the hell is wrong with me?

“Helen keeps me up to date on Kate and her family. Honestly, I’d be afraid she’d slam the door in my face: not that I’d blame her.”

“Maybe someday you two can reunite, Carol. Don’t give up hope.”

*****

Munson, ME 1961
Danni walked into the house, gathered mail in her hands, including a square box with a return address of the United States Navy. Curious, Danni tossed the other mail on the kitchen counter and grabbed a knife from the knife block and sliced open the tape. Pulling the flaps of the brown box apart, she saw first a type-written letter with the official seal of the Navy and a bundle of envelopes beneath it. Turning to the letter, Danni read, her mouth falling open with each word.

The letter fell from her hands as she braced herself on the counter, head hanging. “No way.”

Blowing out her rising emotion, she turned the box’s contents. Banded together were more than thirty letters that had been found tucked away in a storage closet six months before. The letters were postmarked from Kate Felts to Danni Felts and from Danni Felts to Kate Felts. Danni’s letters had never left the base and Kate’s had been stashed away, with Danni’s outgoing mail.

*****

Munson, ME 1968
“You lie to me!”

“No, you lie to me!”

“No-”

“Okay, okay!” Danni interrupted, moving between the elderly couple that had been tenants in one of her houses for four years. “It doesn’t matter who lied to who, okay?” She looked to her right. “Gertrude?” The old woman crossed her arms over a heavy bosom, a stubborn set to her mouth. Danni looked to the man on her left. “Horace?”

He mirrored his wife’s position, head turning away in defiance. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“See?!” Gertrude erupted.

The front door of the house opened and the couple’s daughter hurried inside. “Mamma, Pappa, what are you doing torturing Danni again?”

“It’s her fault!” Horace accused, pointing a crooked finger at his wife of sixty years.

“You lied!” Gertrude yelled.

“No, you lied!” he fired back.

Danni turned to the daughter. “That’s the most I’ve gotten out of them in an hour.”

“I’m sorry, Danni. Thanks for calling me. I’ll take it from here.”

Relieved of her duty as babysitter, Danni headed out of the small house and out into the warm day. She tugged her sunglasses on and hurried to her Jeep, a lot of work that still needed to be done. She’d already fixed a leaking toilet in one of her rental houses, mowed a lawn, weeded a garden, finished staining a group of four dining room chairs that she had been commissioned to make, and was finally going to get to the woods to chop up the three trees that had been felled over the past week, to begin her wood stock up for the upcoming fall and winter.

Four hours later, Danni’s Jeep pulled up to the back of her cabin and a very tired Danni climbed out, ready for a nice, hot bath, good dinner and then bed. She got to the door, hearing her dogs barking like mad inside. About to insert her key into the lock, she noticed a note tucked into the heavy metal and glass screen door.

*****

Kate paced as far as the phone cord would reach. The hotel room was simple but comfortable, but at the moment it felt like a cage. “I don’t know if I did the right thing by coming here, Carol. I really, really am not sure.”

“It’ll be fine, Kate. Whatever is meant to happen will happen.”

“I know.” Kate blew out a breath, a hand running through her hair. “I should go. This call is costing me a fortune, I’m sure.”

“Undoubtedly. Hang in there, lady and let me know how it goes.”

Right then there was a knock on Kate’s door. She gasped, her heart flying to her throat. “Oh god,” she whispered, panicked. “She came.”

“Go! Go!” Carol encouraged. “Call me!”

Kate hung up the phone and wiped sweaty palms on her thighs as she walked to the door. Hand on doorknob, she took a final deep breath before pulling it open. On the other side stood one of the employees of the hotel, an armful of folded towels.

“Did you order for more towels?” he asked, hopeful.

“What?” Kate asked, thrown completely off guard by the unexpected visitor.

“Clean towels. Did you order more clean towels?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Are you sure?” the man looked at the number on Kate’s door. “You didn’t order towels?”

“No! I did not order clean towels; I haven’t even used the ones I have yet.” Irritated and profoundly disappointed, Kate slammed the door closed, the employee barely having enough time to move out of the way. She walked back into the room, head hung and hands on hips. “Damn.” A knock sounded again on the door. Really irritated now, Kate stormed over to it and flung it open. “I did not ask for more towels!”

“Well, I had considered bringing some, but since your note didn’t mention that you needed any, I changed my mind.”

Kate stared, wide-eyed at a smirking Danni who stood out in the hall. It took her a moment to snap out of her shock, and then a new kind of shock hit her. Standing before her was the single most gorgeous woman she’d ever seen in her life: where once a beautiful young woman had been was replaced by a mature, confident and almost cocky, mature woman of 43. She took Kate’s breath away.

“Hello, Kate,” Danni said, smirk gone.

“Hello.” Kate shook herself from her reverie. “I’m sorry, please come in.” She stepped back, allowing Danni to enter. Danni was dressed in hip-hugging jeans that showed off a slender build with muscular thighs, and a casual, flowing shirt that added an element of femininity to Danni that Kate had never seen. The long hair that fell around Danni’s shoulders was also a shock, but a beautiful one.

Danni entered the room and looked around, hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans. Her stomach was doing flips and her palms were sweating. She had to do her best to not show it. She knew Kate was beautiful, but seeing her now, after so many years, she was blown away and trying not to stare. When she’d found Kate’s note, to say that she was struck dumb was one of the biggest understatements of the world! She had considered ignoring it, not sure if this was a can of worms she wanted to open. Ultimately, she knew she’d regret it for the rest of her life if she didn’t at least come see her.

Taking a final deep breath, she turned and faced Kate, who was already watching her. “How are you?”

“I’m good.” Kate didn’t know what else to say. Even though she had flown across the country to find Danni, now that she stood six feet away from her, she was lost.

Seeming to understand that, Danni graced her with a smile. “Listen, I had enough time to change before I raced over here after a long day working. I’m starving, so would you like to grab something? I saw there’s a restaurant downstairs.”

“Yes!” Kate exclaimed, happy for some semblance of a distraction from the situation. “That would be good.”

The two headed down the hall of Kate’s floor, each sparing glances at the other, smiling shyly the few times their eyes met. Danni, for her part was scared to death. Though she’d never forgotten about Kate – and never would – she couldn’t help but feel a mixture of thrill that Kate had found her and fear, as no one had been able to damage her like Kate, regardless of what she’d found out years later.

The elevator ride was made in silence, the two walking across the lobby and finally into the small, attached restaurant where they were immediately seated. Sitting across from Kate, Danni smiled at her, trying to ease some of the tension. She could tell Kate was so nervous, she was ready to bolt.

“Kate?” she said, her voice soft and understanding. “You look so frightened right now. What do you think I’m going to do?”

Feeling foolish, Kate’s head fell for a moment. She took a deep breath then looked up at Danni. “I’m sorry. I’m acting like a child. I don’t know what my issue is.”

The waitress came and took their orders, leaving them once again alone in the nearly-empty restaurant. “Alright. Well, I’ll start by saying that I can’t help but notice the irony that I came to your hotel room.”

Kate smiled, nodding. “I know. Not exactly how I planned it, but I guess it worked.”

“It did,” Danni agreed, sipping from the glass of water the waitress had left for them. She turned her water glass around and around before finally speaking again. “What do you want from me, Kate? Why are you here?” Her words were not at tall unkind, but simply from a woman who had tried to put a past behind her that she had no control of.

Kate sighed, sitting back in her seat. “What a question, Danni. I don’t know, to be honest. After George died,” she shrugged, meeting Danni’s pained gaze. “I felt compelled to find you. To understand, maybe.”

“That was a terrible thing that happened with your husband,” Danni said softly, having to force herself to say the word `husband’. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.”

Kate leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Why didn’t you stay and say hello to me?” she asked, finally able to ask what she so desperately needed to know. “Why did you come?”

Danni smiled, amused. “Carol told you.”

“No, it took a bit of Cloak and Dagger, but finally I got it. She never told me at the time.”

“I don’t know. I guess I figured you had a lot to deal with and didn’t want to make things worse for you. And,” she shrugged with a heavy sigh. “I guess I was a little afraid to see you.”

Kate smiled, nodding. “I understand that. The entire time I was trying to find your cabin, I thought I was going to throw up.”

Danni smiled. She waited for the waitress to set their food in front of them and walk away before she spoke. “How long are you in town?”

“My flight leaves Wednesday morning,” Kate said, pouring ketchup on her cheeseburger.

“Not very long.”

Kate smiled, sheepish. “Well, I figured if you didn’t want to see me, at least I wouldn’t have to suffer for long.”

“Good plan.” Danni cut up her chicken fried steak. “If you like, I can pick you up in the morning and bring you out to my property, show you around, that kind of thing.”

Kate’s stomach flipped in nervous excitement. “I’d love to.”
Chapter 22

San Diego, CA 1945
Kate was nervous. She was excited, she was relieved, but she was nervous. She’d been waiting with the hundreds of other people at the harbor for an hour. She ran her hands down the front of her dress to smooth it out, hoping that her hair and makeup still looked good under the August heat. At least it was cooler by the water. Her heart began to really pound as the ship came closer and closer, once a dot on the horizon and now a moving city.

She blew out a breath. “Here we go.”

The noise level was immense, people screaming and cheering, arms and hands waving to the tiny specs on the decks that were sailors. The closer the ship got, the louder the cheers and crying got. Kate did all she could to hold her own emotions in check. She hadn’t heard from Danni in ten months, and wondered if she’d even want to see her. Kate knew she had to try.

Finally, the ship docked, the excited sailors on board yelling and waving down from its impressive heights, the men trying desperately to make out any of the hundreds of faces below, seeing if any of them were there for them.

Kate tried not to get trampled by the excited crowd, which grew as the sailors joined the numbers. All around her sailors were engulfed in the arms of crying girlfriends, wives and family members. It was touching, and Kate found herself choked up more than once. She made her way towards a car, climbing onto the bumper to try and see above the crowd, looking for one sailor in particular. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Suddenly, Kate felt two hands grab her at the waist, and she was being lifted down into strong arms. Her shock and profound disappointment didn’t have long to fester as George took her in a bruising kiss, leaving Kate unaware of the pair of devastated blue eyes that watched on before disappearing into the crowd.

Kate pushed George away from her, delivering an angry slap. “What are you doing?!” she demanded, immediately feeling bad for the violence.

“I’m sorry,” George said, contrite. “I’m just so relieved to be back and couldn’t wait to see you.”

“George, I’m a married woman,” she sighed, “and I’d really like to find Danni.”

“Married woman,” George said, glaring down at her. “A married woman who hasn’t even heard from her husband in how long?”

Angry and hurt at George’s all-too-true words, she walked away, still on the lookout for Danni.

*****

Munson, ME 1968
Danni lay in her bed, staring up at the ceiling with hands tucked behind her head. Sleep had been elusive, as per usual, though tonight it was for a very specific reason. Tomorrow morning she’d be picking Kate up at her hotel and bringing her back to Danni’s home. She wasn’t sure what the day would bring, but could only pray that it wouldn’t dredge up what had taken Danni so many years to let go of.

With a heavy sigh, she pushed out of bed and pulled on her clothes, Healy following her outside, where Danni looked up into the early morning sky. The sun would be in an hour or more, which was disappointing for Danni, as she would love to watch the new day dawn. She hugged herself and once again, her thoughts turned to Kate.

As they’d sat at dinner together the night before, she could see just how confused Kate was, very unsure of herself and her motives. Danni could feel the familiar pull to Kate, but knew that pull would lead to nothing but more pain, and she wasn’t sure if she’d survive it this time; she barely survived it last time. She’d spent a year drifting from town to town, trying to drink herself into oblivion. She had relied completely on Allison’s strength and tenacity to get her through it, once she’d landed back in Wayne.

It had been eighteen long years since those days, and Danni had given all she had to make her life worth something, and felt she had succeeded. So why had Kate come back? Why now? Why ever? Healy’s whimper pulled Danni from her thoughts. She looked down at him, meeting an entirely un-dog gaze. With a loving smile for him, she put her hand on his head.

“Can I have your life, Heals?”

*****

“So, there you have it,” Danni concluded, leading Kate back to the living room, where the tour had started thirty minutes before.

“This place is absolutely stunning, Danni,” Kate breathed, walking over to the giant stone fireplace. “This must be amazing when it’s lit.” She smiled back over her shoulder at Danni, who stood in the center of the room, hands tucked into the back pockets of her jeans. Kate noticed this was a new stance for Danni, and seemed to indicate when she was nervous.

“It’s beautiful. What I love most though, is during the holiday season, I have a massive seven foot tree that I deck out to all get out. At night, I turn off all the lights in the cabin except for the tree lights and light a fire.” She smiled, feeling warm at the memory. “Truly magical.”

“Oh, I bet.” Kate ran her hand over the rough, natural stone. “You built this place yourself?”

“Well, I had help,” Danni chuckled. “But yes, I did build it.”

Kate cocked her head slightly to the side, a peaceful smile on her face. “I guess working with the SeaBees was a really good thing for you, huh?”

Danni’s smile was brilliant. “Let me show you.”

Kate followed Danni out of the house and into the warm, early afternoon air. She was led across the dirt and wild grass yard, and to an outbuilding, made of the same logs that were used to build the large, beautiful cabin. Danni pushed open the door and held it open for Kate, allowing her to enter before her.

The smell of freshly-cut wood met Kate’s nose, as well as glue, stain and many other woodworking materials. Once the lights were turned on, Kate found herself in a woodshop wonderland. The area was large and very neat, with the wooden shelves full of materials and equipment, all well-maintained and clean. A huge work table sat at the center of the room, the top dusted with wood shavings.

To the left, Kate saw stacked pieces in various stages of completion, from a gorgeous, finished dining room table to four raw wood chair, just needing to be sanded and stained. She walked over to them, running her fingers over the various pieces, amazed and beyond impressed. The styles went from rustic to simple to elegant and elaborate.

“My god, Danni,” she said, wonder in her voice. “You are so talented.”

“Thank you. It’s what I love to do. F&H Industries builds houses and buildings, but this is my true passion.”

“That’s certainly easy to see. Do you create on commission, or sell in some local store somewhere, or…?”

“Both. I have a small storefront in town as well as people place orders with me directly.”

“Plus you’re part owner of F&H Industries, plus you rent out houses and land.” Kate shook her head. “My, my, you’ve become quite the entrepreneur.”

“Yes I have,” Danni smiled. “It’s kept me out of trouble, in the lap of luxury and out of trouble.”

“Well,” Kate said, glancing back at the works of art called furniture. “I think I might just have to completely re-do my entire house with work done by you.”

Danni laughed, the sound utterly charming to Kate. “Well, before you do that, let me show you more.”

They headed back to the cabin, just long enough for Danni to grab Healy and Anicka, who Kate had already been introduced to. The four began to walk the land, Danni taking them towards the woods. The two dogs ran ahead, barking their joy into the afternoon.

Kate laughed, amused at the dogs’ antics. “They must love it out here.”

“You have no idea,” Danni agreed. “If I wasn’t worried that a bear or mountain lion would get them, I’d let them run free all the time.” She glanced over at Kate and laughed at the look of horror on the blonde’s face. “We’re fine,” she assured her. “I think.”

“Danni!”

Again, Danni burst into laughter, laughing harder when Kate delivered a playful swat to her arm.

Kate allowed herself to really enjoy her surroundings. Living in and around the ocean and beaches her entire life, she hadn’t spent a great deal of time in any sort of wooded area or mountains. “You must get the most incredible sunsets and sunrises here,” she said, her voice wistful as she looked up at the sky through the leaves of the dense tree cover. Danni looked over at her, unable to answer for a moment, her heart leapt. “What?”

Danni shook herself out of her reverie. “Nothing. I come out here all the time to see either sunrise or sunset; it’s truly magnificent.” She smirked ruefully. “My girlfriend thinks it’s pretty ridiculous that I `waste time’ with it.”

Kate’s heart stopped and ice gripped her blood. Girlfriend. She knew this was a possibility when she’d come, and had been very pleasantly surprised when she’d seen no hint of anyone else in Danni’s life at the cabin: no pictures, no mention of anyone else. She was suddenly filled with hot jealousy, which she knew she had to rid herself of. Danni had just as much right as anyone else to be happy.

“Well,” she said, her voice a bit shakier than she’d like. “I guess she just doesn’t know what she’s missing, then.”

Danni knew the moment those words had left her lips that they would hurt Kate. Though that hadn’t been her intention, there was a part of her that was glad they had: now maybe Kate could know just a hint of what it had felt like to find Kate married, and married to George Hannigan.

“Yeah. Ironically, she’s not much of the outdoors type,” she said, plowing ahead with the unintended conversation topic.

“Then why does she live in Maine?” Kate bit out, far harsher than she’d meant. She silently cursed herself.

Danni heard it, but let it go. After all, she understood. “She doesn’t. She’s an attorney in New York and makes the eight hour drive to come here a couple times a month.”

Kate looked over at Danni, stunned, and perhaps… relieved? “That’s an odd arrangement.”

Danni shrugged. “It works for us.” She was ready to drop the topic, as Mary was the last thing she wanted to talk about with anyone, let alone Kate. As an excuse to drop it, she whistled between her teeth, indicating to her dogs to stop and not go any further.

*****

Kate sat with a cup of coffee, belly full of the best steak she’d ever had in her life. The sun had fallen and she was a happy camper. “So, you build houses that will make you cry, they’re so beautiful. You build furniture that will make you want to sell everything you own just to re-furnish with your creations. And now I find out that you cook like some of the best chefs my parents ever could have hired.” Kate studied with Danni with a raised brow of accusation. “Where do you keep your cape and boots?”

Danni burst into laughter, delighted. “Safely hidden away in my closet. Oh and by the way, I sewed the cape, too.” Kate’s giggle made Danni continue. “And, I personally cured and dyed the cowhide to make the boots. See, at first they didn’t fit, so I had to call on my good friend, Batman for helpful advice and tips.”

“Stop!” Kate begged, her stomach hurting from a large dinner, and her laughter not helping matters any.

“Oh, I guess that’s another hidden talent I forgot to tell you about over the past twenty-five years: I’m a comedienne, too.”

“You are so bad, Danni. If I explode from too much food and laughter, you get to clean up a rather icky mess.”

“Alright, alright. Well,” Danni said, pushing up from the table. “You stay here; I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Left alone, Kate also pushed away from the table and gathered their empty plates and mugs, carrying them to the kitchen sink. As she ran hot, soapy water to begin cleaning up, her mind went back to the day she’d spent with Danni. Despite a few uncomfortable or difficult moments – such as Kate having to adjust with the fact that Danni had very much moved on with her life – she’d had the most beautiful day of her life. The amazing thing was, despite the many weeks they’d spent together during the war, it seemed that their connection with each other had matured, taking on a new facet than the rampant lust and need for each other that had bonded them together so many years before.

“What are you doing?” Danni asked, stepping into the kitchen. “Hey! You’re my guest, therefore you are not allowed to do any manual labor.”

Totally thrust from her thoughts, at first Kate was nearly surprised enough to drop a plate. She managed to keep hold of it in wet, soapy hands. “Yeah, well I’m not about to leave all this mess for you. Besides, you cooked.”

Danni was touched, and in truth, she liked seeing Kate standing at her sink, washing dishes: it felt natural, somehow. Even so, it wasn’t something she could contemplate. So, instead she walked over to Kate, handed her a towel then led her out of the room. “Dishes later. Come with me.”

Kate was led into the living room, with its twenty foot high, raftered ceilings. She gasped, as the lights had all been turned off and the fireplace lit. Though it was June, there was a definite chill in the air as night had settled in, and she imagined that fire would be amazing: it certainly looked amazing.

“Oh, Danni,” she breathed, walking towards the incredible sight. She’d never seen such a large fireplace before, let alone one that was aflame. “It’s so amazingly beautiful!”

Danni stood back, pleased that Kate liked it. She knew in her heart that she would, but also didn’t want Kate to take it the wrong way, or worse, think she was silly and plain. In truth, though there was a slight chill in the air, there certainly wasn’t enough of a chill to start a fire, but she wanted Kate to see the beauty. God, why does she make me feel like a teenager again? Danni tossed the thought out of her mind as she met Kate’s gaze.

“Can we stay here and talk?”

“Of course.”

Moments later, the two had fresh mugs of coffee – dishes forgotten – and sat in the comfortable couch and loveseat, all created by Danni. The fire burned and snapped merrily in the fireplace, the two women staring into the flames.

“So,” Danni said at length, “How is your daughter doing? She’s got to be twenty years old by now, right?”

Kate smiled, the mention or thought of her only child always making her heart sing. “She’ll be twenty-two next year.”

Danni could see the joy in Kate’s eyes and it made her smile. “That’s so wonderful, Kate,” she said softly. “To have a child, what a wonderful thing.”

“You don’t have any?”

“No.” Danni sipped from her coffee. “After I left the Navy,” she shrugged, “I already knew what my preferences were, and those preferences didn’t include the natural ability to have children.”

“Danni?” Kate asked, a question entering her mind that she’d never even considered before. “How did you know? I mean, when you came to San Diego, and we met: did you already know you liked … women?”

Danni studied Kate for a moment, trying to see where Kate’s question was headed, or the source of it. She wasn’t in any mood to be judged. Seeing nothing but pure curiosity, and perhaps some of Kate’s own confusion, she decided to be honest. “I knew when I was younger that boys did nothing for me. My brother Billy and I used to talk about girls before he left for war.”

“In a sexual way?”

Danni smiled, shaking her head. “In an, `aren’t they beautiful?’ sort of way. I knew that the life of a husband and children wasn’t for me.”

“I understand the husband part, but the children part, was that because you knew it wasn’t possible or because you never wanted them?” Kate found herself leaning slightly forward in her seat, wanting so much to hear Danni’s responses.

“Because I knew it would never be possible. For me. I gave up on that dream long ago, Kate. I am, however, glad that you were able to be given that, even if it was from George. I can see how much you love Megan, and that she is a gift for you. That’s beautiful.”

“She was. Is. Has been.” Kate smiled, looking down into the black depths of her coffee. “The greatest moment of the past twenty-one years.”

Danni studied Kate for a moment, sensing so much more than Kate’s words divulged. “She’s beautiful, Kate,” Danni admitted. During George’s funeral, she had watched the girl, noting the closeness between mother and daughter, and feeling somewhat envious of both Kate, as well as that dynamic of a child and a family.

“Thank you. She’s getting married in September, can you believe it?” Kate sighed, running a hand through her hair. “God, some days I feel so old, Danni.” She studied the flames. “I remember the day she was born, the day she began to talk, walk, all of it. And now, my baby’s getting married.”

“Do you like the fiancé?”

“I do, actually.” Kate met Danni’s gaze. “Megan met Robert in college. They both finish school this December, then Rob’s off to,” she smirked, “the Navy. He enlisted, rather than being drafted. He figured at least this way he could choose where he went.”

Danni left Kate’s gaze, no longer able to stand the intensity. “Déjà vu, huh?”

“Yeah. Déjà vu.” Kate set her coffee cup aside on a nearby table. “I worry for his safety in this mad war, Danni.”

“An understandable fear.”

There was a long silence, though not uncomfortable, before Kate spoke. She met Danni’s gaze, questions of so long ago surging to the surface. “Where were you?” she asked, her voice soft, almost frightened. “Where did you, Danni?”

Danni looked deep into Kate’s eyes, and there she saw her own torment of so many years ago. “For a long time I wondered the same thing,” she said, setting her own cup of coffee aside. She made a decision in that moment, and pushed up from the couch. “I think you should see something.”

Kate watched, surprised, as Danni left the room, only to return a few moments later, a cardboard box in her hand. Danni stopped in front of Kate, handing her a piece of paper and advising her to read it.

Kate did as asked, and was baffled until she was handed the box. As she fingered through the thirty or so letters, realization dawned. “Oh god,” she whispered, taking one out and seeing her own handwriting as well as post-mark date of 1944. She looked up at Danni, who wore a grim expression.

“I felt you deserved to know,” Danni said softly, resuming her seat on the couch.

Kate didn’t know what to say, what to think or what to do. “There’s so many,” she whispered, noting that there were at least ten letters posted from Danni to herself, none of which had reached her. She saw that all of her own letters to Danni were opened, and assumed they’d been read. “I wrote you, Danni.”

“I know you did. I wrote to you, too. And,” Danni moved to sit on the coffee table in front of Kate. “I want you to take these with you. I want you to know that I never abandoned you, mo matter what you were told.”

Kate looked down at the letters again, tears coming to her eyes. “Who did this, Danni?” she whispered.

Danni sat there for a moment, not sure what to say. She knew exactly had sabotaged their relationship, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to put voice to those views. “Read these. I really need you to read these.” She sighed, her own emotions rising to the surface. “Just so you’ll know,” she whispered.

Kate knew in her heart who had done this, and suddenly, it all made sense. All that she hadn’t realized, or hadn’t wanted to know, fell into place. The tears came strong and fast, her heart breaking. “So many wasted years!’

“Don’t cry,” Danni whispered, falling to her knees in front of Kate. She took her in a desperate hug, bracing the back of Kate’s head against her shoulder. “Please don’t cry.”

Despite Danni’s whispered pleas, Kate couldn’t stop herself. For so many years she’d been so angry and hurt with Danni, never understanding. Now, what sat on her lap explained it all, and it all pointed to the biggest mistake of her life: marrying George.

Danni held Kate to her, letting her ride out her wave of grief. Danni had her chance to deal with this years before, but even so, it tore her apart now to hear Kate’s reaction. “I know,’ she whispered. “I know.”

After a long moment, Kate’s tears came to an end, and she found herself in Danni’s arms, Danni’s kneeling body between her legs pressed against her. She felt her own breath bounced back to her against Danni’s neck, and suddenly realized that she had found the closeness she had craved for nearly two decades.

Kate pulled away slightly, just enough to look into Danni’s own tormented face. “Danni,” she whispered, just before she brought their mouths together.

Danni was surprised by the kiss, but quickly recovered, responding as she felt the softness of Kate’s lips press into hers. She buried her fingers in Kate’s hair, holding them together. Even so, the feel of Kate’s tongue demanding entrance rocked Danni back into reality. She pulled away and stumbled to her feet. “No.”

Kate, shocked by the sudden loss of Danni could only stare up at her. “What?”

“No,” Danni said again, trying to get herself under control as she moved away from the couch, running a hand through her hair. “No.” She finally met Kate’s tortured gaze. “That ship has sailed, Kate,” she whispered, even as her soul begged for her to return to Kate. “I can’t do this.”

Kate felt the rejection like a dagger to her heart. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, begging her heart to slow down. Finally, after a long moment she pushed to her feet. “Can you please take me back to my hotel?”

Danni said nothing, only nodded.

Outside Kate’s hotel, Kate and Danni sat in Danni’s Jeep. Kate glanced over at the brunette, who stared out the large windshield. “I’m sorry, Danni,” she said softly. “I know you offered to take me to the airport in the morning, but I’ll call a cab.” Danni said nothing. “I think it’s best.”

Finally, Danni looked at Kate. “Sleep well, Kate,” she said, her voice soft but cold. Kate gave her a weak smile then climbed out of the vehicle, not looking back as she entered the building. Danni watched her go, watching until Kate disappeared inside the building. After, her eyes fell closed and her head rested against the seat. “I did the right thing,” she whispered. “I did the right thing.”

*****

Kate glanced at the bed, noting her packed suitcase, ready to head back west to California. She’d done the right thing, and now it was time to go home. Her flight took off in two and a half hours, and she’d already called a cab. A knock at her door denoted the arrival of said cab. Kate walked to it, unlocking it and pulling it open, shocked – for a second time – to see Danni standing in the hall.

“Your chariot has arrived, madam,” Danni said, with an elaborate bow.

Though wanting to smile, Kate resisted. “I’ve already called a taxi, Danni.”

“So cancel it,” Danni said simply. She entered the room without Kate’s admission, grabbing Kate’s single suitcase and the box she’d given her the night before. “Ready?”

Kate stared at Danni, shocked. “Uh, I guess.”

A call to the cab company and two and a half hour later, she and Danni stood at Kate’s gate, the plane ready to board when they arrived.

Kate looked up at Danni, unsure what to say. “Well, I guess this is it,” she said, after her flight had been announced.

“Yeah.” Danni took Kate in a tight hug, holding her close. “Please take care,” she whispered into Kate’s hair, leaving a kiss there.

Kate nodded, pulling away. “You, too.” She smiled, backing away towards her gate. “Give Healy and Anicka a kiss for me.”

Danni smiled with a nod and a wave. “Of course.”

Kate headed to her plane, her cardboard box of letters held to her chest. She found her seat and buckled herself in. Something felt wrong, but she wasn’t in a mood to reflect on that. Right now, she knew she was headed back to California, and that was all that mattered. Right?

Danni waited until all passengers had boarded, then headed back through the eight year old airport and to her Jeep. She felt in her heart that she had finally found some closure to the earlier part of her life. Now, it was a time to move on, find new horizon, and perhaps find some new footing with Mary.

Chapter 23

San Diego, CA 1945
Kate sat in the formal living room of her parents’ house, feeling as though she were sitting in front of a firing squad. In fact, she’d rather be sitting in front of a firing squad instead of her parents.

“We’ve called you here today, Katherine because I’m unhappy,” Beth Adams said, arms crossed over her lap and lips tight. “And so is your father.”

Kate looked back and forth between the two. “Why are you unhappy?”

“Because it would seem you have no interest in your future,” Percy explained, lighting his pipe, fragrant smoke swirling around him. “You’ve finished two years of schooling, yet have not brought home a single young man for us to meet.”

“I haven’t met any, Dad. I’m trying to concentrate on my studies.” Again, she looked between the two of them. “I thought you’d be happy about how well I’m doing. I don’t understand.”

“What’s to understand?” Beth asked, getting angry. “We sent you to school to find a future for yourself.”

“That’s what I’m doing, Mom. With a degree, I can take care of-”

“A husband will take care of you!” Percy roared. “I will not be humiliated by a daughter who works like some common girl with no better sense!”

Kate was floored and devastated. “What do you want me to do?” she asked, resigned.

“You have until the end of this year to be engaged, or I will pull the plug on your schooling. If after you marry you wish to finish your degree for the sake of finishing, fine, as long as your husband permits it. But, beyond that Kate, your future is to be a wife and mother, and to make your mother and I proud.”

Kate nodded, trying to keep her tears in. “Yes, Father,” she whispered, feeling as though her world had just fallen out from underneath her. She wanted her career so bad, and she was fighting hard for it. As it was, being the only girl in most of her classes, and certainly in her major in history, was extremely challenging. She knew there was far more pressure on her from her professors, as many of them didn’t want her there. And now this.

Not wanting her parents to see her cry, Kate pushed up from her chair and left the room. As she drove home, the tears began to flow. She swiped angrily at them, but they kept coming. A bitter laugh escaped as she wondered what her parents would say if they knew she was already married.

*****

Helen refilled their cups with coffee before sitting down next to Kate on Kate’s bed again. She studied Kate’s profile, her friend staring blankly out the window into the darkness beyond. “What are you going to do, sweetie?” she asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Kate admitted, wrapping her hands around the mug.

“How can you marry again when you’re already married to Danni?”

Kate was silent for a long time, as she had been wondering the same thing all afternoon. She then realized that their marriage wasn’t legal, anyway because not only was Danni a woman, but Daniel Felts, who signed the marriage license, doesn’t even exist. She couldn’t tell Helen that, though. Nobody knew the truth about Danni, and she just didn’t know who she could trust.

“Maybe I can divorce him on grounds of desertion.” She looked at her friend to get her thoughts. “What do you think? I mean, I don’t even know where he is to even ask for a divorce.”

“Wow,” Helen blew out, sipping from her coffee. “What a mess.” She was quiet for a long moment before she turned to her friend again. “What about George?”

Kate’s eyes slid closed, dread gripping her heart. “I don’t love him, Helen.”

“But he’s awfully fond of you. Besides, anyone you marry right now is going to be someone that you aren’t necessarily in love with, Kate.” She waited until Kate met her gaze. “At least you know him and you know that he’d marry you in a heartbeat.”

“That’s so unfair to do to him, though.”

Helen shrugged. “It’s going to be unfair no matter who you do it to, because in the end, you will be essentially using the guy.”

“I guess I could divorce him once I finish with school,” she reasoned. “God!” she cried out, raising her face to the heavens. “Why do they have to be this way, Helen? All I want to do is finish school and move on with my life. I’d really rather be doing that with Danni, but I guess it just showed me what kind of person he really is.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I guess I did only know him for a little while.”

“I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening a lot, Kate. These boys were so desperate for that connection while they were away from home, and then when they came back…” she cut her finger across her throat, accompanied by a sound effect to emphasize her meaning.

Kate picked at the comforter beneath her. “I thought it was so much more than that, Helen. I really did.” She set her coffee mug aside on the bedside table and plopped back onto the pillow. “I thought Danni was different, you know?” She looked at her friend, seeing the sympathy reflected in her eyes. “I thought he loved me.”

“I’m sure he did, Kate.” Helen set her own drink aside then lay beside Kate, on her side with her head cradled in an upturned palm. “Maybe something happened, I don’t know. I hope someday he’ll find the courage to contact you again and you can find out. But for now, if you want to finish school, I really think George is your best bet.”

Kate squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. “I think so, too,” she whispered.

*****

San Jose, CA 1968
Kate sat on her bed, legs crossed and the cardboard box in front of her. She’d been sitting there staring at it for ten minutes, trying to decide what to do. Like a wad of cash, the box and its contents had burned a hole in her pocket since the night Danni had given it to her. Even so, she knew that likely to read all those letters Danni had written her that she’d never received would be bitter/sweet at best. In all reality, it no longer mattered what was in those letters: it was done. As Danni had said, that ship has sailed.

Kate reached out and ran a finger over the smooth cardboard flap at the top of the box, wondering if Danni had touched it in the same place. She wondered why Danni had never contacted her to let her know. Why? Why had she let Kate go on, thinking that Danni had abandoned her, when in fact, Danni had been as heartbroken as she was?

Anger filled Kate as she slammed a fist into the bed. “Dammit!” she yelled, the echo bouncing around the walls of the small bedroom. “Dammit, dammit, dammit!”

She sent a foot out, sending the box of letters flying across the room and hitting the wall. The letters spilled out across the floor, a fan of memories. She began to pace back and forth next to the bed, her gaze straying to the letters often.

“My life could have been so different,” she muttered. “So fucking different!” Angry tears spilled down her cheeks. “Why, George?” she demanded, staring up to the heavens. “Why? Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone? We were happy, goddamn you. Happy!”

Kate threw herself down on the bed, her body trembling with the sobs that tore through her. She’d never known such acute devastation, realizing that her life was a lie. It had been altered out of pure malice and jealousy, and now she’d never know what it could have been. What would it have been like to share a lifetime with the one person who always truly understood her? The one person who was the absolute love of her life and the one person who she craved like a drowning man craves a life jacket.

*****

Burbank, CA 1968
Carol sat with Frank, watching the evening news when the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” she announced, pushing up from the couch and heading into the kitchen to grab the connected attached to the wall. “Hello?”

“That bastard did this!” Kate cried on the other end. “He knew, Carol. He fucking knew!”

*****

San Jose, CA 1968
Carol rang Kate’s doorbell, and within seconds the door was yanked open, startling her with the ferocity of the action as well as the look in Kate’s eyes. “He knew all along,” she growled, storming away from the door and leaving it open for Carol to follow, which she did.

Carol had no idea what had happened, as before Kate called her with those few words at her house, she hadn’t spoken to her since that first night in Maine. They ended up in the kitchen, where Carol spotted an open bottle of wine and a half-empty glass. “What’s going on here, Kate?”

Kate was quiet for a moment. She reached for her wine glass and took a sip. With a sigh, she got herself under control and turned to Carol. “George did this on purpose, Carol,” she said, her voice low and dead. “He orchestrated everything in my life, like a puppeteer and me on his string.” She drained her glass and refilled it, raising the bottle in offer to Carol.

“No, thank you.” Carol plopped down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table. “But I’d really it if you’d sit down and talk to me.”

Kate did just that, setting her glass down in front of her and running a hand through her hair. “Seven years ago a box of letters were mailed to Danni with a letter from the Navy explaining that they’d been found in a storage room. Carol, they were all the letters that Danni and I had sent, but neither of us received: nearly a year’s worth.”

Carol could only stare for a long moment, stunned. “And, you think George arranged this?”

“Yes. Well, Danni does. She believes he used his rank to make it happen. It makes perfect sense, Carol: about a month after I got my first letter from George, all letters stopped from Danni. Danni told me about a time in the post office there on base where George saw the letter Danni was sending to me. I don’t believe in coincidence.”

“Wow.” Carol pushed away from the table and grabbed the wine bottle, uncorking it and pouring herself a glass. Sitting down across from Kate again, she sipped. “This is terrible, Kate. Absolutely terrible.” She met her friend’s tormented and angry gaze. “All this aside, how did it go?”

Kate smiled, despite her pain. “She’s amazing, Carol. Just like I always knew she was. She’s unbelievably beautiful.”

“I know. To see her last year, an actual woman, wow. Very beautiful indeed. Did you two get along?”

“Yes,” Kate said quickly, but then put some thought into it. “Yes, but it was strained at times, to be sure. I mean, it’s been almost twenty years since the last time we saw each other, and you know that story.” She studied her friend for a long moment, trying to decide how much to disclose to her. Finally, she decided she needed, really needed to be able to tell someone the entire truth. “It’s over, Carol.”

Carol could hear the profound sadness in Kate’s voice. “Why? What happened? And, did it ever even start again?”

“I wanted it to. I think.” Kate sighed, sipping more wine, fully feeling it go to her head and fuzz her judgment. “I kissed her. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of happened.” She looked down into the golden depths of her glass and said again, “I kissed her.”

“It didn’t go well? What, is she not a good kisser anymore? I certainly remember enough stories about Danni from you back when.”

Kate gave a weak smile at Carol’s attempt at humor. “No, she simply backed away and told me that our time was past and it would be no more.” She downed the rest of her wine, slamming the glass to the table top. “‘That ship has sailed’, she said,” Kate recited bitterly.

“Ouch,” Carol muttered, sipping her wine. She studied her friend. “Maybe it’s for the best, Kate. Maybe it’s just time to move on. You’re a free woman now that George is gone. You’ve got a home, a career that you love and are free. Hell, sometimes I wish I was in your shoes.” She smirked. “But, let me ask you this: now, with all this crazy stuff these kids are doing, and ‘free love’ and all that b.s., where do you stand? You were with George for over twenty years. You know damn well that Danni is a woman, and now she even looks like a woman, yet you still have a thing. So… ? Where does that leave you?”

Kate grinned, quite tipsy. “Are you asking me if I’m a lesbian, Carol?”

“Is that what they’re calling Danni’s type these days?”

“Yep. Work in a university and you hear it all. And, in response to your question: hell if I know. Want some more wine?”

“No, I can’t stay, Kate.”

Kate nodded, understanding. “I’m sorry to drag you out so late.”

“Don’t be.” Carol got to her feet and took her friend in a tight hug. “It’s going to be okay,” she said into it. “Truly, it’ll all work itself out.”

Kate returned the hug, grateful Carol was back in her life. “Thanks.”

Kate walked Carol to the door, accepting one more hug before turning back to her glass of wine, downing it and glancing at the bottle. After only a slight pause, she poured herself another glass and grabbed it and the bottle and padded to the living room. Setting them down on the coffee table, she made her slightly-staggering way upstairs to her bedroom and gathered the letters that had fallen on the floor, putting them back in the box and carrying it downstairs.

Making herself comfortable on the floor next to the coffee table – and her wine – Kate once again found herself staring at the box, looking at it as though it would bit her. Chewing on her lower lip, she contemplated the contents, and tried to decide if she should even delve into it or just let it go. She absently reached for her wine glass, taking a sip before setting it back down again and taking a deep breath.

Kate gathered the thick stack of letters in her hands and began to sort them out by postmarked date: one pile for Danni’s letters and one pile for her own. Her own letters and cards that she’d sent to Danni had all been opened, and Kate assumed, read. All of Danni’s letters, however, sat sealed, unread for nearly twenty-five years. She took the top letter, which had the oldest date, and stared at Danni’s handwriting: bold, simple lettering, very straightforward, just like her.

Suddenly, Kate set the letter down and pushed to her feet, nearly going ass over appetite in her haste to get to the stairs and her bedroom. She pulled the wooden box from the closet and set it on the bed, opening it and looking down at the unopened letter.

*****

San Jose, CA 1954
“Come on, Megan,” Kate called out to her 7 year old, who was taking her sweet time climbing out of the car, her favorite stuffed dog tugged by the ear behind her.

“Can I get the mail, Mamma?” the girl begged.

“Sure, honey.”

Kate was actually glad for the help, as she was juggling two bags of groceries, her books from school and Megan’s jacket. Kate got the door unlocked and dropped some of her load on the couch that immediately inside the front door, then headed into the kitchen to put groceries away and start dinner.

“Mamma!” Megan called out, little feet thudding on the floor as she ran into the house and into the kitchen. She presented her mother with six pieces of mail, proud of her achievement.

“Thank you, sweetie.” Kate gave her a daughter a kiss on the cheek and took the mail. “Go change out of your school clothes, honey.”

“Okay!”

Kate heard the girl storm up the stairs as she sifted through the mail she’d been given. The letter on the bottom of the small stack made her breath catch. She stared down at Danni’s name and Wayne, Nebraska address, unable to move. She was startled by the sound of the front door opening.

“Hey, honey,” George called out. “What’s for dinner? I’m starving.”

Panicked, Kate shoved the letter into the pocket in her dress, knowing that George would have a fit if he caught her with it. “Hi,” she said, shaky as she quickly pulled out pans and random items, her brain too stunned to even think clearly about what she was doing. She accepted George’s kiss, though her mind was fully on the letter that seemed to almost burn her skin through the material of her dress.

****

Later that night, Kate lay in bed next to a snoring George. She glanced over at him, making sure he was sound asleep. He was, so she carefully pushed out of bed and pulled on a robe. She grabbed the letter out of her dress pocket and snuck out of the room, heading into the guest bedroom, where she closed the door with a soft click before heading over to the closet. Inside on the top shelf was the wooden box Danni had made for her graduation present. She brought it down and set it on the bed, opening it. Her heart was pounding at both the thought of seeing Danni’s things again, as well as the fear of getting caught with them: George had no idea she had it.

She picked up Danni’s shirt that she’d snagged from the motel room five years before. Bringing it to her face, she closed her eyes and inhaled, just barely able to still detect the slightest bit of Danni left on the material.

“Oh, Danni,” she breathed.

She re-folded the shirt and placed it back in the box, but not before placing the letter under it. She decided it was best to leave it in Danni’s box for now, and would go back and read it when she more time alone.

“Kate?” George called out from their bedroom.

Panicked, Kate shoved the lid onto the box and slide the box under the bed, hurrying to the bedroom door before George went looking for her. She scurried back to the bedroom she shared with him. He sat up in bed and looked at her through sleepy eyes.

“Sorry, honey,” she whispered, “Megan had a bad dream.” She hated lying to him, but knew she had no other way.

“Oh. Okay.” George reached for Kate and pulled her to him, holding her against him as he fell back asleep.

Pinned by a strong arm, Kate lay awake for a long time, thinking about the box and the newly-arrived letter. She knew George watched her like a hawk under normal circumstances, but after Danni had arrived on their doorstep five years ago, he’d watched her even closer. Kate decided that it was for the best to just keep the letter buried where it was, under Danni’s shirt and under Danni’s memories.

The next day she hid the wooden box in the trunk in the attic, and intended to never dig it out again.

*****

San Jose, CA 1968
Kate stared down at the letter that she held in her hands, her chest heavy as a sense of dread overcame her. Her eyes fell closed and she swallowed her emotions down, the numbing effects of the wine temporarily lifting. Blowing out a breath, she opened her eyes and headed back downstairs, sliding the letter underneath the pile, saving it to read for last.

With a long swig of wine for courage, Kate took the first letter in hand again and tore it open. As she read through the words, a soft smile spread across her lips, memories of another time flooding her. Danni’s mention of music and events of ’43 and ’44 made her think back to her own days in undergraduate school: the people she knew, that crazy house she lived in for three years.

Wine forgotten, hour after hour passed as Kate read, her eyes burning as sleep demanded her attention, but she pushed it away. As she lay on her stomach amidst a pile pages and envelopes, her eyes feasted on all that Danni had to say to her, tears coming sporadically at the confusion she could see in Danni’s world.

****

… Where have you gone? …

… What have I done? Did I do something wrong? I don’t understand! …

… Why don’t you write anymore? …

… Do you not love me anymore? …

****

Kate set the letter down, Danni’s final words in it cutting her to the core. It was the second to last letter in the stack, and Kate could feel Danni’s anguish and rising anger. She buried her face in her hands, tears streaming between her fingers to dampen the carpet below. All of Danni’s emotions and hurt had so very mirrored her own. She thought all the same things, as well as the fact that she was being fed lies by George that entire time.

“Dammit!” she exclaimed, pounding her fist into the floor beside her head, ignoring the jarring pain that spread throughout her hand. “Why did this have to happen?” she whispered.

Pushing to a sitting position, she grabbed the last of the war years letters, leaving only the one mailed to Kate’s house. Grabbing yet another tissue from the box, Kate wiped at her eyes and face, which felt tight from the stream of salty tears. Looking at the date, she knew this one was written after the attack on their base, and after Mike had died.
February, 1945

Dear Kate.

I can see that you no longer wish to hear from me, so I’m sorry to bother you with this letter now. I so desperately need a friend to talk to, and right now, you’re the only person I can really write this to who can understand. I hope.

Mike’s dead. God, it hurts so bad to even write those words. Were attacked just before Christmas, and it was a doozy. I won’t go into the bloody details or bore you with military talk, but just know that it was bad. A lot of good men lost their lives that day. They say the war is almost over, but I guess not soon enough for Mike. When they brought us into the hospital together, I heard a doctor declare Mike be taken to the Zero Ward: that’s where all the bodies go that are gone and soon will be gone. I tell you, I wish I could have gone there right along with him. I don’t feel like I have much to live for anymore, so they really might as well just toss me in.

I did find one act of kindness from a doctor here, real good fella. He found out about me while picking out all the shrapnel that was lodged in my back. When I asked him why he hadn’t turned me in, he smiled and said: “You’re a brave soldier and I’m not going to let anyone take that from you.” I was real surprised and touched by that.

Ah hell, Kate: what was all this for? So many people are dead or dying. You and me… well, I’m still not sure what happened there, but I guess what’s done is done. Maybe I’ll see you when we come home. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re scheduled to leave here in about six months. Will you be there? I really would like to see you, even if it’s just so we can say goodbye.

Take care of yourself, Kate, and I hope your studies are going good.

Danni
Kate wiped at the silent tears that had fallen during the entire read of the letter, her vision blurring sometimes to the point where she could no longer see the inked words. She set the letter down and ran her hands through her hair. With loving fingers, she refolded the page and slipped it back into its envelope then set it aside. With a deep, sad breath, she grabbed the final letter, her heart pounding as she opened it.
September, 1954
Kate,

Hello. I’m sure you’re pretty shocked to hear from me, and I would be, too if I were in your shoes right now. I again want to apologize for my actions the last time we saw each other. No matter what I was feeling or how angry I was, I had no right to attack you like that, and it’s always weighed heavily on me.

I’m not really sure how to say this, so I’m just going to say it: I love you. More than anything I want us to have a chance together. I know so much has happened and there is a whole lot of water under that bridge, but I can’t stop thinking about you. I want us to be together, Kate. You, me and Megan. Allison Hughes (remember her?) and I have begun a business together that I think will do really well. I can take care of you. The only hitch is, you’d have to leave California.

Oh, Kate, can’t you see it? The three of us together? We could get that house we always talked about, and even a dog! I’ve always had my eye on huskies, personally, so I’m sure one day I’ll have one. I’d really like that someday to be with you, though. Please give this some thought. I know it’s sudden and certainly out of the blue, but we loved each other enough once to get married, and I have to believe in my heart we can love each other that much again.

Please think about it and let me know. My phone number is below. I’ll wait to hear from you, either way. No matter what happens, know that I love you with all my heart and always will.

Danni
Chapter 24
Megan pulled her yellow Volkswagen bug into the driveway of her childhood home. Cutting the engine, she hurried up the walkway to the front door, anxious to see her mother after her week-long trip. They’d never been separated for that long before, and she had missed her mother dearly.

“Mom?” she called out, letting herself in. The house was quiet, which was unusual, considering it was already after ten in the morning, and her mother was always up by a most un-groovy time. “Hello? Are you home?” She looked in the kitchen, seeing an empty wine glass on the table as well as an empty wine bottle on the counter. “Whoa,” she muttered, concern gnawing at her gut now. Her mother was not a drinker.

Megan made her way into the living room, surprised to see her mother lying on the floor with a pillow from the couch under her head. She was surrounded by what looked to be letters and their envelopes. Another empty wine glass and bottle sat on the coffee table.

“Mom?” she hurried over to the prone woman and knelt down beside her. She was relieved when she found her arm warm. “Hey? Mom?”

Kate started, pulled from a very deep sleep. Immediately a pounding headache joined the morning sun. “Oh, god,” she groaned, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and bringing a hand up to her forehead.

“What happened?” Megan asked, brushing some hair back from her mother’s tear-stained face. “God, you look awful! What happened?” She looked at all the letters. “What is all this?”

Kate sat up with the help of her daughter, immediately regretting the action as her head began to pound even harder. “Ugh.”

Quirking a small smile, Megan jumped up and ran from the room, returning with two Aspirin and a glass of water. “Take these. It’ll help.”

“How would you know that?” Kate grumbled, irritated by her daughter’s most amused grin. “God. Help me up, honey.”

Megan got her mother to her feet then pulled her into a hug. “I really missed you. I’m sorry I didn’t get here last night, which was the plan.” She pulled out of the hug, studying her mother’s red-rimmed eyes. “The concert went late.”

“It’s okay, sweetie. I missed you, too.” Kate made her slow way towards the kitchen. “Want some breakfast?”

“Yeah, but let me make it. You, Mommy dear, take a load off.”

Kate did as she was asked, watching as her daughter flew around the kitchen, whipping up some breakfast for them. “Did you have fun?”

“Oh my god, yes! Janis Joplin is like the best singer ever!”

Kate was happy for her daughter’s excitement, even if it did hurt her head. “Well, somehow I doubt that, Megan.”

“Here, drink this.” Megan slid a mug of strong coffee in front of her mother. “And, she may not be Billie Holiday or those other old people you listen to, but she’s the grooviest thing I’ve ever seen.” Megan sat across from her mother with her own cup of coffee, keeping an eye on the sizzling sausage. “So, you have a lot to answer for, missy. Where did you go, who did you see, and what’s up with all the letters? And, why on earth were you crying? Were you thinking about dad, or something?”

Kate cringed at the very mention of George. “I went to see a friend in Maine, and the letters are from her-” she cut herself off, letting out a heavy sigh. She studied her daughter, with her big, open and trusting eyes. She saw so much of herself as a young girl in her daughter, and it made her wistful for a time that could never come again. She felt like she owed it to Megan to be honest with her. Besides, maybe she could offer up some advice. “Do you remember that box you found that day in the attic, when we were looking for Grandma’s dress?”

“Yeah, that Danni Felts guy.” Megan popped up and turned the sausage, cursing softly when she was popped by the grease.

“Yes, Danni Felts.” Kate was silent for a long moment, sipping her coffee and brain spinning. “Honey,” she began, once her daughter had taken her seat again. “I loved Danni very much, as you saw in that picture.”

Megan’s eyes burned with curiosity. “You went and found Danni!” she crowed.

Kate stared at her for a long moment, then finally nodded.

“Whoa! Far out! Is he married and shit?”

“No, but does have a girlfriend. And, I have to tell you something about Danni.” Ignoring her headache, Kate got to her feet, needing to busy herself with the normalcy of life as she dished up food for both of them. “Danni is a woman, Megan.”

Megan was silent for so long that her mother actually turned to look at her. “You found that out when you went to Maine?” she breathed, utterly intrigued. “Does the girlfriend know?”

Kate set their plates down and sat across from Megan. She stared at her food then met her daughter’s unwavering gaze. “I knew it back when we were together,” she said, her voice soft.

Megan was stunned, and could see her mother was terrified of her response and reaction. She carefully wiped any expression off her face. Of course she had friends that dabbled in digging the same sex: heck, it had even been rumored that Janis was into women sometimes. “So,” she began, her voice calm and conversational. “When you and Danni were all lovey dovey back a million years ago, you knew he was actually a she?”

Kate nodded. “Yes. I didn’t at first, but I found out.”

“Is that what broke you two up?” Megan asked, beginning to prepare her breakfast.

Kate shook her head, also preparing her breakfast, though she didn’t have much of an appetite. “No. That’s a very long, complicated story that I’m just now beginning to find answers to.”

“Whoa,” Megan said again, sitting back in her chair. “So, does she still look like a guy now?”

Kate shook her head, an involuntary smile curling her lips at the mental image of Danni that she saw before her mind’s eye. “No, she’s a very beautiful woman, Megan. She only did what she did so she could fight in battle. They would never let a woman do that.”

“Of course not,” Megan muttered. “The Man would never let that happen. Probably never will.”

Kate knew better than to let this become a debate on modern culture, as she wasn’t a huge fan of a lot of what was happening nowadays. “Either way, she did what she did and it happened the way it did.”

Megan studied her mother for a long moment, Kate’s eyes fixed on her plate though Megan suspected two sausage links wasn’t what had her so enthralled. “You still love her. Don’t you?” she asked softly.

Kate blew out a breath, not sure how to answer that question for her daughter. She didn’t want Megan to know just how much her father had done to hurt Kate and Danni, and didn’t feel she should ever know. Why muddle the image of a man who may have been a real bastard in a lot of ways, but was truly a good and loving father?

“Our time is long gone, Megan,” she said carefully. “I made my choices.”

“Did dad know about Danni?”

“The ironic thing was, your father was Danni’s direct officer. So yes, he knew her.”

“Did he knew about you two? And, did he know about Danni?”

Kate nodded. “He knew Danni and I were in love, yes. And, no. He never knew about Danni’s true identity.”

“So, Danni was in the Navy too, then, right?” Megan asked. At her mother’s nod, she grinned. “Well, then I guess my old man has two legacies to live up to.”

Kate looked at her daughter with adoring eyes. “None of this bothers you?”

Megan shrugged. “I’m not real sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Am I gonna flail you and call you names? No way. But, it’s not every day you find out your mom has banged another woman.”

“Megan!”
Chapter 25

Wayne , NE 1968
“What the hell are you doing!?” Danni demanded, rushing over to a man named Roger who was cutting eight foot beams for an upcoming project. She hurried over to him just as he screamed and pulled his bleeding hand away from the table saw. “Someone get a doctor!” she yelled, ripping off her woodworking apron and quickly wrapping the mangled hand within it. “You should know better!” she growled.

“I’m sorry,” the man whimpered, in deep pain and concern for his job.

“I’ve told all of you a million damn times how to do this right!” Danni roared to the room at large. “Now, because none of you seem to feel it’s necessary to follow orders, a man may lose his hand!”

“Danni!” Allison yelled, her face the mask of rage. Danni’s attention was grabbed by the angry older woman. “Roger, are you okay?” she asked the injured man, who nodded. Allison turned to a close-by employee. “Watch him. The doctor is on the way.” She turned to Danni. “You, come with me.”

Danni followed Allison to the offices of F&H Industries, finding herself shoved down into a chair while Allison perched on the desk nearby, glaring at her. “What?” she asked, feeling like a rebellious teen.

“What, what?” Allison spat, pushing away from the edge of the desk and heading around to plop down in the chair behind it. She opened a drawer and brought out a bottle of scotch, pouring herself a tumbler and one for Danni.

“I don’t drink anymore, Allison: you know that,” Danni said, pushing the offered glass away.

“Right,” Allison sighed, slamming hers. “Sometimes I wish you did; perhaps it would remove the stick that has become permanently shoved up your ass.” She took Danni’s drink and drank it, too. After, she studied Danni with hard eyes. “What the hell is wrong with you? Since when do we treat our employees like the hired help?”

Danni had no response, as she knew she was wrong, but wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat. After a long moment, she glared up at Allison. “Only you would know how to treat hired help, Allison.”

Taken aback, Allison kept her immediate response in check. She suspected there was a great deal more behind Danni’s actions than just a controlling, bitchy boss. She sat back in her chair, fingers steepled under her chin as she studied the woman sitting across from her. “I’ve known you almost you’re entire life,’ she began, her voice soft but firm. “I saw you through puberty, I saw you through your first orgasm, and I saw you after walking through hell and surviving to talk about it.” When there was nothing forthcoming, she continued. “You showed up on my doorstep two days ago, three months ahead of schedule of any inspections, with Mary in tow, which is great as I’m thrilled to have you both for our July 4 th celebrations. However, Mary now sits at my house, by herself and bored. You, on the other hand, are spending your every waking moment here, and are pissy as I’ve ever seen you.” Still nothing. “What’s wrong, Danni? Did your visit not go well? You’ve never bothered to tell me about it.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Danni muttered, pushing up from the seat.

“Sit down!” Allison demanded, her patience at an all-time low.

Danni met the glare bestowed upon her, and knew she was no match for Allison Hughes. She took her seat once more and prepared to divulge her soul; she knew Allison would accept nothing less. “What?”

“What happened?”

“What happened with what ?”

Allison again studied Danni, staring her down. “What happened when Kate came to see you a month ago?” she asked, her voice soft and filled with understanding, yet her eyes very well showed her growing irritation at Danni’s behavior.

Danni stared at her, baffled. “What does that have to do with the cost of grapes?” She was slightly amused at the searing glare that got her. “Okay. Look, it doesn’t matter what happened, what didn’t happen or anything else. Allison, I’m grateful that you gave Kate my address and all that, but I think you two live in the same fantasy world.”

“How so?” Allison asked, elegant brow raised as she sipped her scotch.

“Because what happened between she and I happened a very long time ago. Hell, we barely even knew each other!” Danni slammed out of her chair and paced over to the window where she looked down at the parking lot below. Running a hand through her hair, she pushed images of Kate out of her mind. She turned to face Allison. “In truth, how do we even know we would have ever made it? When we met, it was a time of unbelievable stress and fear for everyone, not just sailors, soldiers and Jews. I think we turned to each other out of that fear, and I have to wonder if she’s doing it again. I mean, isn’t it ironic that her husband blows his head off a year ago, and now she finds me again? How convenient.”

Allison was stunned, but kept her expression deceptively calm. “For someone who has convinced herself of all this bullshit, you sound awfully bitter.”

“I am not bitter,” Danni growled, taking a menacing step towards the desk.

“No?”

“Go to hell, Allison,” Danni spat, shoving away from the desk and towards the door.

“I’ve already been there, honey,” Allison sighed. “Why do you think I drink so much scotch?” She glanced at Danni, who already had the door handle in hand. “That’s right, Danni, run. Just like you always do.”

“Dammit, Allison!” Danni raged, storming back over to the desk. “What do you want from me? What do you and Kate both want from me?”

“I can only guess what Kate wants, but what I want for you is for you to be happy. Hiding away in your little mountain castle up there in Maine , so far from anything or anyone that might hurt your fragile little self. You say you don’t drink anymore, well sometimes I wish you did, because at least then there would be a reason for you to be numb and detached.”

Danni could only stare, stunned. “I can’t believe you’re saying this to me.”

“Why? Because finally someone’s telling you the truth?” Allison set her tumbler down and crossed one shapely leg over the other. “You weren’t happy at home on the farm, so you completely change your identity and ran away, off to the Navy. You got tired of it, so you ran straight to the gutter, where you wallowed in whiskey for a year, and why? Because you couldn’t take the pain of losing the one goddamn good thing in your entire miserable life!” She slammed an angry fist on the desk, making her tumbler jump. “And now that you have a second chance, you literally drive Kate out of your life!”

Danni stared, wide-eyed and deeply hurt. “I can’t believe you’re saying all this,” she said again, her voice quiet.

“You need to hear it, Danni,” Allison assured, rising to her feet. Though her tone softened, the frustration still burned hot in her eyes as she walked over to Danni. “Things aren’t going well with Mary, as you told me, and so where are you? Here, with me, hiding out in Wayne .” She snaked her arms up around Danni’s neck, an action she’d never stopped doing, even after they’d stopped their affair. “Danni,” she said softly, running her fingers through her hair. “Oh, Danni.” She leaned up and placed a soft, comforting kiss on Danni’s lips. “Don’t force yourself into emotional solitude for the rest of your life. Harv did the same thing, and I had to stand by and watch until it literally killed him with a heart attack.”

Danni pulled Allison into a warm hug, needing to feel the warmth of another soul.

“The argument you put up where Kate is concerned is filled with all sorts of logic, honey,” Allison said into the hug, “but don’t logic yourself out of what could even end up being a cherished friend.” She left a noisy kiss on Danni’s cheek before pulling away.

*****

San Diego, CA 1943
The night was warm and the show spectacular. Danni sat with her back against a wooden post on the beach while Kate leaned back against her chest, cradled between Danni’s legs. Together they watched the fireworks high in the sky, the brilliant colors and patterns reflected in the sea below. A loud BOOM startled Kate, making her laugh at herself, even as Danni pulled her closer.

“God, this is amazing!” Danni whispered, unable to take her eyes off the brilliance before them.

“Absolutely incredible,” Kate agreed. She wiggled further back into Danni’s warmth, a sigh of utter contentment escaping her lips. “I love you, Danni.”

Danni brought a hand up and tilted Kate’s face to the side, tilting her own so she could look into Kate’s eyes. “I love you, back,” she murmured, giving Kate a soft, slow kiss. “Always and forever.”

“Always and forever,” Kate murmured against Danni’s lips. “No matter what.”

*****

Wayne, NE 1968
Danni’s focus was far from the extravagant fireworks display that exploded over the Hughes’ mansion. She slowly was pulled back from a warm night on the beach and back to the “Oohhs” and “Ahhs” that surrounded her. Allison had fed the entire town in an earlier barbeque and now was entertaining the masses with the brilliant light show that lit up the entire night sky.

“What do you think?” Allison asked, sitting in a chair next to Danni’s. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“You’ve outdone yourself yet again, Allison,” Danni smiled, the blue and purples of the fireworks above them reflecting in her eyes. “Really beautiful.”

“Glad you like it, and glad you stuck around long enough to join me this year.”

“Yes, well…”

Allison smiled, squeezing Danni’s hand. “I know you’re leaving tomorrow Danni, and I want you to know that regardless of how I may have been a bitch earlier today, you know you’re always welcome here. With both your parents gone, I know you don’t have any real family to speak of.”

“No, I don’t and I do know that, Allison.” She met her friend’s gaze again. “I appreciate your loving me enough to be a bitch and kick me in the ass. I truly do.”

“And I do love you, you little shit.” Allison leaned over and placed a quick smack to Danni’s cheek.

“I love you, too. And don’t worry, I promise I’ll do what’s right for me, okay?”

“No more running? No matter what stroke of brilliance you find?” Allison asked, brows raised in challenge.

Danni shook her head. “No more running.” She let out a heavy, tired sigh. “I’ll figure something out.”

They were quiet for a long moment, watching the expensive fireworks show before Allison again turned to Danni. “She’s quite lovely, you know.”

“Yes, she is.”

“What did you think, when you opened that door and POOF! There stood Kate.” Allison smiled, wishing she could have been a fly on the wall to see Danni’s reaction to such a surprise.

“Well, actually it was the other way around. She left a note on my door.” She met Allison’s curious gaze. “I wasn’t home.”

“Deal with the crazy old couple again, huh?” Allison smirked. “I tell you, you should evict them.”

Danni shrugged. “They’re harmless. Anyway, I went to her hotel room that night and yes, she was quite stunned when she opened that door. I don’t think she thought I was actually going to show.”

“Why did you?” Allison asked, accepting a drink from one of her servants who wandered around with a tray filled with mixed drinks. “I just love the fruity ones,” she commented, sipping from the thin straw then popping a skewered cherry into her mouth. “I mean, after your diatribe earlier today, why on earth would you show?”

“You know, sometimes I really hate you.” Allison threw her head back and a bark of laughter escaped. Danni couldn’t help but smile. “I do! Sometimes I really, really hate you!”

“Yeah? Well, I love you!” Allison grabbed Danni’s face and placed a noisy peck on startled lips. “Now let’s watch the five grand I put into fireworks, shall we?”
Chapter 26

San Jose, CA 1968
Kate stood back, fingers tapping on her chin as she studied the samples before her. Her gaze rested on the three final choices, Megan and Rob standing by, awaiting her response. After all, she was paying for all the nuptials.

“I like the second one,” she finally said, taking her time to decide.

Megan let out a breath, sending an ‘I told you so’ look to her fiancé. “Thanks, Mom.” She gave her mom a kiss on the cheek then gathered the three samples. “Do we have a comprehensive list of guests to send these bad boys out to?”

“I don’t know; do we?” Kate asked, challenging brow raised. “I know you were considering sending out invitations to your dad’s family. Have you made a decision about that?”

Megan sighed, leaning back against the kitchen counter. “I don’t know. It’s not like Grandma and Grandpa Hannigan have ever really been around much.” She looked at her mother. “What do you think?”

“Honey, it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s your day, so who do you want there to share it with you and Rob?” Kate felt a bit uncomfortable as she saw a bit of mischief enter Megan’s eyes. “What?”

“Are you going to invite Danni?”

Irritated, Kate turned away from the two love birds. “Megan, this isn’t the time for this.”

“No, you’re right; it’s not.” Megan kissed her mom on the cheek then took the three sample invitations from her. “I’ll get these ordered and then we can get invitations out.”

“Okay.” Kate smiled at her daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law, then walked them to the door. “I’ll see you two for dinner this weekend.”

Left alone, Kate walked back into her house, enjoying the lovely late July breeze that swept through the house with all its open windows and screen doors. She headed into the kitchen and began to search through the cabinets, trying to decide on what to make for dinner when the phone’s shrill ring interrupted her contemplation.

Kate picked up the receiver that was attached to the wall-mounted phone and brought it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hi, Kate. This is Danni.”

Kate stopped dead in her tracks, her voice shocking to her system. “Hi, Danni. How are you?” she managed. They had not spoken for nearly two months, and she hadn’t expected to hear from her again.

Danni chuckled. “I’m good. How are you? And, why do I feel like I should tell you I’m holding a stack of freshly laundered towels?”

Kate smiled, which came through in her voice. “Are you?”

“I’m not, but if you want, I can run and grab some.”

Kate couldn’t help it; she giggled like a schoolgirl. “I give you five seconds.”

Danni ticked off five seconds, not entirely sure why she was playing along. Finally, she uncovered the phone. ‘Okay, we’re good.”

“Excellent! I won’t have to wash towels tomorrow then.”

Danni laughed, truly amused. “Okay, well that out of the way, I called to ask a question.”

“Alright,” Kate responded, leaning against the counter. “I hope I have an answer for you.”

“If you don’t, I’m afraid it’ll call mothering abilities into question,” Danni assured.

“Excuse me?”

Danni laughed again. “I want to create a dining room set for the newlyweds, but I need your help to understand their style and preferences.” Danni paused, silence following. “Ideas?”

Kate’s hand floated to her chest, shocked and deeply touched. “Oh, Danni,” she breathed. “I can’t believe you’d do something like that. Well, I guess I can , but wow. That’s a great deal of work.”

“Yes, but I want to do it. Are you okay with that?” The uncertainty was plain in Danni’s voice.

“I’m very okay with that, Danni. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.” Kate took hold of the phone cord to keep it from tangling as she made her way to the kitchen table and sat down. “I think Megan would really love that. After all, she really wants to meet you.”

“She knows who I am?” Danni asked, surprised. She, too maneuvered the phone cord so she could sit down at her desk from where she’d been pacing nervously in front of the window. “I mean, other than meeting me when she was 2.”

Kate smiled at that. “My daughter is very bright, but an eidetic memory she does not possess.”

“Hmm, too bad. I was hoping she could tell me just how old I’ve gotten,” Danni joked, unable to keep the smile off her lips. She had to admit, she was enjoying their small banter immensely. How was it that to speak to Kate for the first time in two months – after not speaking for nineteen years – seemed to melt away the time?

“You are not old, Danielle, nor do you look it.” Kate smiled at the laughter on the other end of the line. “Besides,” she continued, “if you’re old than so am I. You are, after all only a year older than I am.”

“Okay, okay, point taken. So, about this table.” Danni grabbed a tablet of paper and pencil, tip at the ready. As Kate described Megan’s tastes and special availability, Danni began to sketch and jot down notes. “Is she into lighter or darker woods?” she asked, waiting to write down the information.

“Darker,” Kate said, visualizing all the different pieces of furniture that she and Megan had looked at together. A wide grin spread across her face. “You have no idea how excited she’s going to be, Danni.”

“You can’t tell her, though. I want this to be a surprise,” Danni said, tossing the pencil to the desktop and sitting back in her chair.

“How am I supposed to keep quiet?!” Kate whined.

Danni laughed. “I have no idea, but you have to.” She was quiet for a moment, then, “So, how have you been? How is everything?”

“Everything is good, busy. With the wedding coming up next month, Megan is running around like a chicken with her head cut off, worrying over every single tiny little detail. I’m telling you, Danni, I’m so glad I only had the one child; if I have to do this wedding thing, mother-of-the-bride again,” she rolled her eyes and sighed. “No way.”

Danni chuckled. “I can imagine it’s stressful, especially having to do it all on your own. I’m sure everything is probably already taken care of, but if you need anything, just let me know.”

Kate knew there was a chance that Danni was just being kind and supportive, but she decided to latch onto the offer. “You want to know what you can do for me?”

“Name it.” Again, Danni picked up the pencil, ready to jot down anything Kate might need from her.

“Alright. Come to my daughter’s wedding.”

Danni tossed the pencil back to the desk, a hand coming up to her eyes. “You play dirty, don’t you?”

“Yes I do.” Kate waited with baited breath, hoping beyond hope that Danni would do this for her.

“Alright, Kate. I’ll be there.”

“Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you,” Kate said, her voice soft and filled with affection.

Danni’s eyes closed, the softness of Kate’s voice and words filled with far more gratitude than words could convey. They reached in and touched a deep part of Danni that she truly thought was long dead. “I should go.”

“Alright.” Kate could hear it in Danni’s voice, and could somehow sense the turmoil within her. For a moment she considered taking back her request, but something stopped her. No, she wanted to see Danni, and really wanted to share the moment with her. It felt somehow right, as though it was where Danni had belonged the whole time. For Megan’s sake she wished George were there, rather than taking the coward’s way out, but in her own heart, it was Danni that she wanted there, sitting beside her. “Danni?”

“Yeah?” Danni said, her voice quiet, almost a whisper. She really needed to get off the phone with Kate, needed to distance herself from what she’d just agreed to do.

“I can’t wait to see you.” Kate couldn’t keep it in. “Thank you for calling and thank you for … well, just thank you.”

“Goodbye, Kate,” Danni said softly, then placed the handset in its cradle. “Shit, oh shit, oh shit,” she whispered, face buried in her hands. “What did I just do?”

Kate hung up the phone on her end as well, her heart pounding with nervous excitement. She badly wanted to tell Megan about her surprise, but decided to keep her word to Danni and bit her tongue – literally. The other gift – Danni’s arrival – was for her, and she couldn’t wait. Though they weren’t in San Diego anymore, it would be surreal to spend time with Danni in California again.

Danni sighed and pushed up from the chair, grabbing the tablet of paper that she’d drawn the sketch on. She didn’t have a tremendous amount of time before the wedding, so knew she had to get going on the dining room set. She headed out to her workshop, Healy and Anicka following behind, each going straight to the big, fat floor pillows Danni had made for them a few years before.

She set the page down on the worktable, her elbows resting on either side of it as she studied the lines of the design. In her mind she saw the finished piece so now just had to figure out the best and quickest way to get the job done.

Three hours and a lot of sawdust later, Danni was well into the third chair. The radio blasted the newest Jimi Hendrix song, which Danni barely heard, as she was focused solely on her work. She was so focused, in fact that she didn’t hear Mary enter the workshop and come up behind her to hug her.

Startled, Danni nearly shoved Mary to the ground. “Jesus!” she gasped, hand to her racing heart.

Mary grinned. “Sorry, baby. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Be glad I wasn’t using the table saw.” She accepted the kiss she was given. “I thought you weren’t coming this weekend,” Danni said, turning back to her work. In truth, she was somewhat irritated that she’d have to entertain Mary, as she had planned to bury herself in Megan’s gift.

“Change of plans. My parents decided not to come up for the weekend, so I did instead.” Mary watched her girlfriend work, always turned on by the power in Danni’s hands. “Who’s this for?”

“A friend of mine has a daughter that’s getting married,” Danni explained absently as she hand-sanded a bit of a chair leg. When it was perfect, she blew off the sawdust and set the leg down.

“Which friend?” Mary asked, brows drawn.

“An old friend from California.”

Mary crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t think Carol had any kids.”

Danni could hear the rising accusation in Mary’s voice. She looked at the younger woman, trying to keep her patience intact. “It’s not for Carol, Mary. My friend Kate’s daughter Megan is getting married next month, so I’m making her a set as a gift.”

Mary’s brows shot up. “An entire dining room set as a wedding gift , Danni? That’s quite a lot, don’t you think? I’ve never heard of this Kate woman, so I can’t imagine she’s that great of a friend.”

Fully irritated now, Danni rested a hand on her hip. “Why do you have to do this every time you ask a question and then don’t get the answer you expect?”

“Do what? Get pissed that you hide things from me?” Mary spat angrily.

“What did I hide? You asked me a question and I gave you an answer, end of story. Don’t try and dig because you’ll find nothing but dirt.”

Though Mary wanted to fight back, she could tell Danni was in no mood, and would likely send her home. She’d done it before, after all. “I didn’t come here to fight, baby,” she said, her voice dropping to a tone that told Danni exactly why she’d come. She ran her hands up Danni’s muscled arms and then down over Danni’s chest, stopping at her t-shirt-clad breasts. “We don’t get to see each other that often, you know.”

Danni was very tempted to push Mary away and indeed, send her packing. Even so, she thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to get Kate out of her head, and Mary seemed to be the perfect way to do that. She brought her hands up and began to unbutton Mary’s blouse.

“Then don’t question me all the time,” she purred, leaning down and laying a trail of kisses along Mary’s neck.

Mary bit her lip to stop any retort, even as her hands moved up and under Danni’s shirt, her fingers gliding over the soft firmness of Danni’s stomach. “There are so many layers to you, Danni,” she murmured, head falling back as a tongue ran up and over her throat. “I don’t feel like I have access to all of them.”

“Nobody does,” Danni said against Mary’s neck. “I like it that way.” Her fingers pushed the blouse off Mary’s shoulders, revealing the younger woman’s beautiful upper body. All that was left to do was unclasp her bra, which she did, releasing soft fullness.

Mary moaned as she was cupped, her own hands finding their way to Danni’s breasts. “I don’t like it, though,” she sighed, warm sensation moving through her.

“That’s too bad,” Danni murmured, grabbing Mary by the waist and lifting her the short distance to sit on the edge of the worktable. She ran her hands up and under Mary’s skirt, pushing the material up as she went, Mary’s legs spreading in the process. Mary grabbed Danni’s hips and pulled her closer until Danni stood between them. “There are parts of me that I locked away a long time ago, Mary,” Danni whispered against Mary’s lips.

Mary accepted the deeply passionate kiss, her fingers entwined in Danni’s hair. When the kiss broke, she pushed Danni just far enough back so she could look into her eyes. “I do wish you’d let me in sometimes, Danni,” she said softly. She tucked long strands of hair behind Danni’s ear. “We’ve been together for more than a year and yet I don’t feel like I know you at all.”

Danni’s fingers trailed between Mary’s legs, able to feel how saturated Mary’s panties were already. She used the pads of two fingers to press against Mary and rub in a slow, torturous circle. Mary groaned and clung to her. “You know as much of me as anyone, Mary,” she whispered against Mary’s lips. “I can’t give you anymore than that.”

Mary gasped as Danni pushed her panties aside and entered her with two fingers. “I feel compelled to try, though,” she moaned, her words breathy as her body succumbed to Danni’s touch. “Oh, fuck!” she cried out, taken by surprise that her orgasm happened so quickly.

Danni held Mary to her for a moment, allowing the younger woman to catch her breath. “I just need you to understand that about me, Mary,” she said softly, stroking Mary’s back and hair. “I’m giving all that I can or am willing to.” She placed a soft kiss on Mary’s forehead then walked away, her huskies following her out of the workshop.
Chapter 27

San Jose, CA 1967
Kate stood at the kitchen sink, water sloshing to the floor as she aggressively washed the glasses from that night’s card game with friends. Her anger was like a simmering pan inside her, but the heat had been turned up and she was ready to boil over. It didn’t help when the glass she was washing slipped and broke on the edge of the sink, a shard of glass stabbing her in the palm.

“Dammit!” she exclaimed, throwing the dishrag down and grabbing a dry dish towel to wrap around her hand.

“What happened?” George asked, hurrying into the room. “What did you do?” he asked, reaching for Kate’s hand.

She snatched it away from him and glared up at him. “Get away from me, George. You are the last person I want to see right now.”

George was taken aback, his eyes wide with surprise. “What the hell did I do?”

“What the hell did you do?” she repeated. “Are you seriously asking me that question? What the hell did you do?” The pot had officially hit the boiling point. “You insinuated in front of Jay and his wife that I’m having an affair with Bill at work! That’s what you did!” She shoved past him and to the stairs where she climbed to the second floor. In the bathroom she pulled out the First-Aid kit.

“Well, aren’t you?” George spat, following her into the small room where he stood in the doorway, blocking her exit.

“Get out of my way,” she snarled, kit in hand. “George, I’m warning you, get out of my way!” She shoved at his chest, but he was nearly a foot taller and outweighed Kate by nearly a hundred pounds; it was like trying to move a mountain.

“Not until you tell me the truth. Are you fucking him?” George demanded, his face turning red, the veins in his neck standing at attention. “I know you are! I know you’re fucking that guy from work.”

Kate stared up at him, half in shock and half rattlesnake angry. “Who the hell do you think you are to speak to me that way?” she growled. She was still bleeding, so she set the First-Aid kit on the bathroom counter and began to clean out the deep cut.

“I’m your husband! ” George roared. “This is a small detail that I think you’ve forgotten over the years, if you ever knew it at all!” When Kate didn’t respond, George’s fury reached a dangerous level. He grabbed her and whipped her around, making her look at him. “Just like you fucked Danni when he came back into town, huh?” Kate wasn’t able to mask her shock in time. “I knew it.” He shoved her away from him, making her topple back to the tub, where she fell over the edge and landed on the cold porcelain hard. “You fucking slut. You think I didn’t know you went to him that night? Huh? Do you think I’m stupid!?”

Kate pushed out of the tub, even as her lower back screamed at her. She knew being caged into such a confined space wasn’t good. Using every bit of her strength and fear, she shoved past George and out of the bathroom. He followed as they headed downstairs.

“You went and you fucked him! You left my daughter with the goddamn neighbor lady so you could go whoring with that gutter trash!”

Kate clenched her jaw as she delivered a vicious slap to George’s face. “Don’t you ever talk about me or about Danni like that again. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

George knew his temper was about to get out of control, and he didn’t want to risk hurting Kate. Without another word, he storm out of the house and into the cold, January night.

Deeply shaken and her back and hand hurting, Kate finished cleaning her hand then finished with dishes and cleaning up the card game mess. Turning lights off throughout the house, she made her way to the bedroom where she changed for bed and climbed in. It was a chilly night, but she felt even colder and numb. She truly had no idea where George got the idea that she and Bill had anything even remotely resembling an affair, but it was in George’s head, and it wouldn’t go anywhere, regardless of what Kate said.

Then she thought of Danni. All these years and she had no clue George knew the whole time. She had no idea why he’d never said anything, other than perhaps he wanted to try and keep the marriage intact. She couldn’t help but remember her less-than-enthusiastic acceptance of George’s marriage proposal twenty-one years before. She always suspected George knew her heart had never been in the marriage, yet he’d always stayed with her and then Megan, who came almost immediately.

Kate tugged the covers up to her chin as she turned to her side and curled up. The pang of guilt that had gnawed at her for years was unreasonably strong tonight. She felt strong jaws and sharp teeth ripping at any semblance of happiness and contentment that she’d managed to get for herself, mainly through her daughter and her career.

Eventually Kate was able to drift off to sleep, only to be awakened a few hours later when George stumbled into the room, drunk and clumsy. She raised her head and watched as he tugged his clothing off, leaving them strewn all over the floor for her to pick up the next morning. Dressed in only boxers, he climbed into bed.

“Where did you go?” she asked, voice quiet and slightly timid.

“To Ralph’s,” George explained, which wasn’t a huge surprise as the small bar was a favorite spot for him. “Can I ask you one question?” he asked, lying on his side with his back to her.

“Of course.”

“Did you ever love me, Kate?”

Kate thought about her answer for a moment. Finally, she sighed and responded. “It’s hard not to love the man you’ve been married to for twenty-one years.”

“Not really an answer, but I’m sure it’s the best I’ll get.” He turned to his back and glanced over at her. “I’m sorry about your back. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She sighed and stared up at the ceiling. “We can’t keep doing this.” She met his shadowed features. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I think this marriage has run its course.”

George sighed and stared up at the ceiling. “You are sleeping with Bill, aren’t you?” he asked quietly, though it was more of a statement rather than a question.

“George, dammit, no.” She sat up, pulling her legs to her chest and facing him. “Bill is a friend, though more of a colleague than anything else. And no, it has nothing to do with Danni, either. I haven’t seen him in eighteen years, George.”

George looked up at her. “Than what does it have to do with?”

“Me. Plain and simple, me.” Kate thumped herself on the chest. “I’m not happy, and neither are you, if you’re honest with yourself.”

Without warning, George pushed up from the bed and padded out of the bedroom, slamming the door to the guest room after he entered it.

“Dammit, George,” Kate sighed.
Chapter 28

San Diego , CA 1943
Danni ran her fingers through Kate’s hair as Kate lay cuddled up with her in Kate’s bed. It was late, and after an active night making love, the two struggled against sleep, wanting as much time together as possible. Luckily the tears had dried up a couple hours ago, as it killed Danni to see Kate so upset.

“Maybe we could start over in another state,” Kate offered, adding to their conversation of life after Danni came home. “We could boycott California and Nebraska and start over.” Kate lifted her head, resting her cheek in an upraised palm. “What do you think? Go somewhere where nobody knows you and who you truly are.”

Danni grinned, caressing the side of Kate’s face for no other reason than she needed to touch her. “Either that or I can go back to being who I am and we can be ‘old spinsters’ together.”

Kate grinned, thoroughly amused. “Oh yes, there you go. We can claim that we’re sisters and just – sigh – never found the right man to marry.”

“Do you think there are other women out there?” Danni asked, trailing her fingers up and down Kate’s naked back, smiling when she saw a shiver run through Kate. “You know, women who love another woman?”

“You mean besides Allison?” Kate asked, her voice slightly bitter. “She’ll come after you when you come back home, you know that, right?”

“Stop.” Danni delivered a playful yet firm slap to Kate’s buttock. “She’s no threat and you should know that.”

“You never loved her?” Kate asked, her own fingers tracing lazy trails over Danni’s stomach, the muscles twitching beneath the soft skin.

“No,” Danni said, no thought required. “I care about her: she was good to me and was especially good to my family, but that’s as far as it goes. And, I just think Allison is a woman with entirely too much money and time on her hands, so dabbles in a little of this and a little of that.”

“You mean, she didn’t love you?”

“No, I don’t think she does or did. I was a distraction for her, Kate. Fun. Nothing more.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Kate asked, surprised.

“Very. She helped me and taught me some very valuable things.” She grinned and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

“That much is true,” Kate laughed, dropping a quick kiss on Danni’s lips. She studied Danni for a long moment. “Can I tell you something really crazy?”

“Of course.” Danni cupped Kate’s face, suddenly overtaken by deep emotion and affection for her. She placed a soft, meaningful kiss on full and startled lips. “Sorry. I had to do that first.”

Kate nearly swooned, as she could feel how much love went into that rather simple kiss. “You’re forgiven,” she smiled, brushing Danni’s jaw with gentle fingers.

“What do you want to tell me?” Danni asked, trying to keep her focus as she felt stirrings not only in her heart but also further south.

“I wonder what our children would look like,” Kate admitted, feeling stupid the moment the words were out of her mouth. It was completely impossible for one, as well as quite presumptuous that Danni wanted children, or wanted them with Kate.

“Well,” Danni said, her voice soft and wistful. “I’d imagine they’d be absolutely beautiful, as long as they looked like you. I’d want them to have your heart,” she continued, placing her hand over Kate’s chest, “your intelligence and drive, and they’d have to have your eyes. Baby, those eyes can burn me to the spot!”

Kate smiled, charmed and even more in love. “Oh no. They would have to look like you ! Danni, you belong on the movie screen.” She traced the features of Danni’s face with a fingertip. “I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful before. Even looking like a man, you are truly stunning. I wonder what you looked like before. Do you have any pictures?”

Danni chuckled and shook her head. “That would be a great big, giant no. Not here. Could you imagine if I got caught with them?”

“You could say you have a twin sister.”

Danni rolled her eyes. “You’re a goof.”

” Your goof.”

” My goof,” Danni agreed, pulling Kate down for a deep kiss.

Six hours later, Danni and Kate stood at the harbor, Danni’s giant duffel bag at her feet. She held a crying Kate to her, fighting with everything in her to not cry: she had to stay strong both for Kate and for herself.

“Please don’t cry, baby,” she whispered into Kate’s ear. “Please.”

Kate hated herself for breaking down. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t, that she’d be strong for Danni, but once they’d arrived at the harbor, she’d lost her tenuous control of her emotions. “I’m sorry,” she sniffled, using the kerchief Danni had given her to wipe her eyes and nose. “God, I’m sorry.” she laughed ruefully. “I swore I wouldn’t do this to you, but I just can’t stop.”

Danni leaned down and placed a lingering kiss on tear-salted lips. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Kate hugged Danni to her so tight it hurt them both, but she needed to feel Danni, needed Danni to feel her. If she could, she would have opened Danni up and climbed inside.

“I have to go, baby,” Danni whispered, a lump forming in her throat. She cupped Kate’s face and delivered a hard, possessive kiss. “Please write me.”

“I’ll start as soon as I get back home,” Kate promised, knowing that was ridiculous, considering she had no idea where Danni would be.

Danni pulled away, Kate’s hand still held in her own. She reached down and grunted as she heaved her duffel onto her shoulder, keeping Kate’s hand even as she continued to back away. When finally neither of their arms would reach anymore, Kate’s hand fell from her own.

“I love you,” she said again, unable to think of anything else to say. Seeing Kate standing there, fresh tears running down her cheeks, her heart broke.

“Come back to me,” Kate called out. “Please, come back to me!”

“I will.” Danni blew her a kiss then turned and headed towards the gangplank, knowing that it would be better to rip off the bandage rather than a slow peel. She blinked several times, blinking back her own emotions, knowing she had a job to do and a duty to her country and herself.

*****

San Jose , CA 1968
Kate sat on the front porch, a cup of morning coffee in her hands. She stared out at the burgeoning day even as she studied the past. When she’d gotten back to the house that fateful, painful day, Carol had been sitting on the couch, her own face covered in tear and makeup streaks. She took one look at Kate’s own face as she entered the house and the two hurried to each other, meeting in a tight hug of tears and understanding. It was the last time the two exchanged any type of gesture of friendship. Until George killed himself, that is.

Kate shook herself out of her memories, surprised to find her cheeks wet with tears. She swiped at them as she rejoined the world of the living, in time to hear her phone ringing inside. Pushing up from the porch swing, Kate hurried inside.

“Hello?” she said into the phone. She paused as she listened to the caller on the other end. “Hello, Steve, how are you?” she asked the Chair to her department at the college. “Today? Um, sure. I can be there in an hour.” She listened, her fingers toying with the phone cord as slight nervous energy gripped her. “Okay, see you then.”

Kate hung up the receiver, looking at it for several moments as though it were a snake that would bite her. Finally, she let out a heavy sigh and hurried up the stairs to get changed and head out to the school.

*****

Munson , ME 1968
Danni set the last washed pan out to dry on the spread towel, her dinner of spicy burritos still coming up in quiet burps and heartburn. “I know better,” she muttered to herself, knowing full well that she’d suffer all night for her insatiable lust for all things hot and spicy. With little time to lament her cravings, she dried her hands on a towel and headed to the ringing phone. “Hello?”

“Hey Danni, it’s Kate.”

Danni sat in the nearby chair, brows furrowing. “What’s wrong?” she asked immediately.

Kate, who was curled up on the couch smiled. “How do you know something’s wrong?”

“Possibly because you sound like you’re about to cry,” Danni said simply. “So, what’s wrong?”

Kate sighed heavily into the phone, swiping at her tears. “You got me. I lost my job today.”

“What?!” Danni shot up in her chair, panic seizing her heart.

“Yep. Steve – our department chair – said with the ‘boys off to war, our numbers are down’. I can’t help but find it interesting that the only three people let go from my department were the two women and one black man. Know what he said when I brought this fact up?”

“What’s that?” Danni asked, her voice soft and understanding.

Kate sighed, resting a hand to her forehead. “And I quote: ‘I have enough of those damn hippie types preaching. I don’t need a professional like yourself joining the parade’.” Kate rolled her eyes, even as she swiped at more tears. “Can you believe that?”

“Ah jeez, I’m sorry.” Danni stretched to reach the pad of paper and pencil that rested on the table: something she kept for sudden inspiration of artistic ideas. Grasping the pencil between her fingers, she poised the tip above the pad. “How much do you need?”

“What?” Kate shot up, thoroughly insulted. “Danni! I didn’t call you to ask for money. I called because I need a friend. “You were unbelievably generous in your help with the money last year and I thank you for that, but if you think for a second that all I want is your money then you can kiss-”

“Whoa!” Danni interrupted. “Whoa. Wait, I’m sorry.” Quickly, she thought back over what she’d just said compared to what Kate had said and realized in an instant the two were nowhere near the same spot. “I’m sorry. I never meant to offend.” She ran a hand through her hair, tossing the pencil to the tabletop. She watched as it rolled off the table and to the floor where Healey sniffed it before continuing on his way to his water bowl. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

Kate forced herself to calm down, realizing that perhaps in her panic and upset, maybe she’d reacted far more strongly than needed. She let out a heavy, stressed sigh. “I’m sorry, Danni. You didn’t deserve that attack. I’m just really upset and stressed right now. Maybe I shouldn’t have called-”

“No!” Danni closed her eyes, a hand coming up to cover them. “Damn,” she whispered. “No,” she said again, her voice once again soft and soothing. “I’m glad you did. Do you need anything?” she asked, trying a different tact. “Anything at all?”

“Just somebody to tell me it’s going to be okay,” Kate said, her words coming out as a sob at the tail end.

Danni stroked the phone cord, wishing for all she was worth that it was Kate’s face she was stroking. “It’ll be okay, sweetheart.” The endearment came out before she could stop herself, but she let it go. Hopefully in this stressful situation Kate wouldn’t take it for anything more than it was intended to be. “I promise you; everything will be okay.”

“How could they do this to me, Danni?” Kate cried, swiping at more tears. “I’ve been at that school for ten years! I know I’ve been there longer than some of those other guys. It’s so unfair!”

“I know. I know it is,” Danni sympathized. “Why do you think I opened my own business?”

Kate smiled through her tears. “I think you’ve got the right idea.”

“You can always come work for me, you know. You can be the Professor of Industry Mumbo Jumbo.”

Kate laughed outright, grateful for Danni’s humor. “Sure. Maybe I can throw a history lesson or two in there about your company.”

“See?” Danni enthused, grinning at the idea. “Now you’re thinking!”

Kate laughed again, but soon the tears hit her again. “I love what I do, Danni. I really, really love what I do. And, on top of that, classes start in two weeks!”

“I know and I know it hurts. You know Kate, sometimes the Universe has a different plan for us than we thought we’d ever do. Honestly, do you think at 5 years old I ever thought I’d end up running my own corporation? Hell, no!”

“What did you think you’d be doing?” Kate asked, sipping from the cup of coffee that rested on the coffee table in front of the couch.

Danni shrugged, even though Kate couldn’t see it. “I figured I’d end up married and running the dairy farm,” she said simply. “It made the most sense at the time. Now, my life couldn’t be more different.”

“Are you saying that I’m not meant to teach?” Kate asked, heart breaking all over again.

“No, sweetheart, I’m not saying that,” Danni said softly, her voice taking on a soft, comforting tone. “I’m saying that maybe you were at that school as long as you were meant to, and perhaps it’s time to move on to another one now. Who knows: maybe you’ll be moving on to a private college for women where you’re forward thinking ideas can truly be appreciated and understood. We live in difficult times right now, Kate, and a woman such as yourself – with your intelligence and determination – is nowhere near as appreciated as you should be. Maybe this school would have stunted that. Perhaps it already has.”

Kate took a moment to take in Danni’s words, and realized that she was absolutely right. “I’m so glad I called,” she smiled, wiping away the last of her tears. “Truly. You make so much sense.”

“I’m glad you called, too though this call is going to cost you a fortune, and a fortune you don’t have.”

“I don’t care,” Kate sighed.

“I do. Let me call you back so it’s on my dime.”

Kate had no say as suddenly the line went dead. Within moments of Kate cradling the handset, it rang to life. She lifted the handset back to her ear. “Hello?”

“Did you order fresh towels, miss?” Danni’s voice asked on the other end.

Kate’s smile was immediate and huge. “You are such a goofy woman.”

“Indeed, I am. But, back to our previous conversation. Don’t hurt me for asking this, but are you truly okay? I would never let you be in trouble or go without, Kate.”

“I know,” Kate sighed, resigned to Danni’s kindness. “And yes, I’m okay. I’ll be paid for this semester and then that’s it. I’m sure in that amount of time I can find something else.”

“Alright. If you’re sure, I’ll let it go. But,” Danni held up a finger, even though Kate couldn’t see it, “if you need anything at all, I’ll be deeply insulted if you don’t call and ask. I do have spies here, you know.”

“Yes, I heard all about the fact that you and Carol have been in contact for years,” Kate said, a bit more anger shining through in her words than she’d intended. “I’m sorry. I’m being a child.”

“No, it’s okay. Yes, we have been in contact, and yes, she has been my spy. Call me a snooper, but I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

Kate smiled but said nothing. She didn’t want to waste their time on the phone talking about the past; she’d lived far too much of that on her own. “So, are you excited to come out here for the wedding in two weeks?”

Danni’s stomach immediately twisted in knots at the reminder. “I’m … ready. I already have my planet ticket. If it’s okay, I’ll be coming two days early. I already sent out Megan’s dining set to the warehouse we have out there in San Diego. I want to head out there and make sure it shipped alright before Megan sees it. Before you see it, for that matter.”

“I got your sketches, Danni and it is so beautiful. Megan and Rob will absolutely love it,” Kate assured, laying back on the couch, her head resting on a throw pillow.

“Good, I’m glad,” Danni said softly, her fingers running along the phone cord, restless and lonely.

“You have to go to San Diego, huh?” Kate asked.

“Yeah. It’s the closest warehouse to San Jose.”

Kate was quiet for a moment, mentally deciding if it was a good idea to put voice to her thoughts or not. Finally, she decided: why not? “Just a thought. How about you and I both head out to San Diego and make a day of it? We can hit some of the old haunts we used to. Maybe get some lunch at Puck’s. If they’re still open, that is.”

Danni digested Kate’s words, her eyes squeezed shut at the idea and rush of memories. “Okay, Kate,” she said softly. “We can do that.”
Chapter 29

San Jose, CA 1968
Megan finished with the lunch dishes, her mother up in the bathroom “getting ready for the mystery guest”. Megan had no clue who that was, but suspected it was her Great Aunt Maddie, considering how crazy her mother had gotten about making sure the house was clean and perfect. Then again, her mother never got so excited over Aunt Maddie before. It was three days before her wedding, and she’d been hanging out with her mom to help out as much as she could and try and take some stress off her mother’s shoulders, especially with the loss of her job. Guilt gnawed at her, as her mother still insisted on paying for the bulk of the wedding, though she knew in her heart her mother couldn’t afford it.

Megan finished the last of the kitchen clean up when she heard a knock on the front door. Tossing the dish towel to the sink, she made her way to the door, seeing an absolutely stunning woman standing on the other side of the screen. She can’t take her eyes off the tall woman with long, dark hair and vibrant blue eyes. Her fitted jeans speak of a flair of the modern yet her bearing obvious confidence speaks of a woman who has seen much and survived it all.

“Can I help you?” she asked, trying to place the face. Somewhere inside she feels as though she’s seen this person before.

The woman stared into Megan’s face, a soft smile spreading across full lips. “You look so much like your mom,” she said, her voice soft and somewhat wistful. “It’s nice to see you, Megan.”

Something inside Megan snapped into place and her eyes bulged and hand came to her mouth. “Danni?” she breathed.

Danni was surprised, even as Megan pushed the screen door open for her to enter. “She told you I was coming?”

Megan shook her head. “No. She said some mystery guest was coming, but that was it. I just…” She felt terrible for staring but couldn’t help it. Not only was Danni striking, but just the knowledge that her mother loved this woman, had loved her for a quarter of a century, hit her. “I recognized you from the picture I saw of the two of you, back during your war days.”

Danni was very surprised Kate had told her daughter about their past. She wondered just how much of their past she knew. “Is she here? I came a day early.”

“Yeah, she’s here.” Megan hesitated for just a moment, and then felt compelled to hug Danni, a woman who she suspected meant more to her mother than anyone, except perhaps herself.

Danni was surprised by the hug, but accepted it, giving the girl a quick squeeze before stepping back from her. She was still in awe at how much of Kate she saw in her: her fire and curiosity for life. She saw Kate’s intelligence and undeniable beauty. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Megan.” She gave her a kiss to the cheek. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Megan beamed. “Go on up the stairs; she’s in the bathroom on the left putting her makeup on.”

“Thanks.”

Megan watched Danni disappear up the stairs, her steps quick and obviously anxious to get to their final destination. Megan grinned and shook her head, heading back to the kitchen.

Kate leaned over the counter to examine her eye makeup close up in the mirror. Satisfied, she backed off, checking out the whole picture. She was trying out some new, more modern styles for the wedding. And perhaps, for Danni, though she refused to admit that to herself. About to call for Megan to see if she’d done it right – as Megan had been teaching her – she nearly choked on her words, seeing Danni leaning casually in the doorway of the open bathroom door, an amused smile on her face.

“Oh my god!” she blurted, turning to see Danni in the flesh, and not just a reflection. “Danni!” Without thinking, Kate launched herself at the mirage, happy when she was caught in strong and very real arms. Kate had no idea that her daughter was listening downstairs, amused and happy.

“Hey,” Danni said, barely managing to stay on her feet at Kate’s excited greeting. “I decided to surprise you a day early.”

“I’m so glad you did!” Kate stepped back just enough to look up into Kate’s face. Though she’d seen her but a few months before, it was far too long now that Danni was back in her life. “It’s so good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Kate.”

“Oh my god!” Kate gasped, eyes wide. “The house is a disaster! I wasn’t expecting you-”

“Stop!” Danni laughed. “The house is beautiful and you don’t need to go to any extraordinary measures for me, you crazy woman.”

Kate blushed, looking away. “I know I’m being silly. I just want things to be perfect.”

“Tell you what: I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time here the last time I showed up, so why not give me a bit of a tour?” Danni suggested, more to calm Kate than because she really wanted to see the house Kate had shared with George.

“Okay,” Kate smiled. “I can do that.”

Megan made her way up the stairs and down the hall until she stood just outside the bathroom, feeling guilty as she listened to the conversation between the two women. When she heard the suggestion of a tour come up, she tried to hurry back to the top of the stairs but didn’t quite make it before the two emerged from the bathroom.

Kate glanced at her daughter, surprised to see her hanging out at the top of the stairs. “Megan,” she said, a bit of accusation in her voice. “You met Danni, I take it?”

“I did,” Megan nodded, smiling big to keep her guilt down and out of her very expressive face. She smiled at Danni and then at her mother. “I think I’ll leave you two be. Mom, I’ll be back Friday.”

“You’re not coming back tomorrow? We still have more to do, Meg,” Kate complained.

“If you need me, let me know. But, as far as I know, everything we have to do is done. So, wedding is Saturday, and it’ll give you two time to catch up.” She turned to Danni. “Danni, it was amazing to meet you and I’m so glad you came to my wedding.”

“It was a pleasure, Megan,” Danni smiled.

“Great!” Megan grabbed her mother in a quick hug then grabbed Danni in a similarly quick hug. “See you two crazy chicks later!”

Both Kate and Danni were left stunned by the whirlwind departure that was Megan. Kate turned away from the spot where her daughter had stood and turned to Danni, a sheepish smile on her lips. “Well, I guess that’s that.” She left the bathroom and headed across the hall to Megan’s bedroom. “This is Megan’s room, though it hasn’t been for almost four years.”

Danni took a look around, noting the various posters that lined the wall, all of popular singers and bands. “She’s into music, I take it. Or was.”

“You have no idea. I think her first word was ‘concert.” Kate returned Danni’s smile at that. “She’s actually a music major, set to graduate in December, though she won’t actually walk until next May.”

“That’s great.”

“This is also where you’ll be staying, if you’re okay with that,” Kate said, leaning against Megan’s dresser.

“Oh no, I don’t want to intrude, Kate. I can get a hotel-”

“Are you seriously going to insult me that much by not staying at my house?” Kate accused, brow raised in challenge.

Danni met her gaze, mind reeling. “Um, no?”

“Very wise.” Kate pushed away from the dresser and walked out of the room. “Let me show you the rest of the house.” She led her across the hall to her own bedroom. “This is where I sleep.”

Danni looked around the small, simple room. There was very little that denoted anyone lived there or slept there: no personal items, pictures or anything on the walls or furniture tops. Her gaze fell to the neatly-made bed and she felt a small twinge, thinking that every night this was where Kate slept. She had a quick flash of just how much Kate liked to cuddle, even during the hot, California nights.

Shaking herself out of dangerous territory, she followed Kate back out of the room and to the hallway. “What’s in there?” she asked, regarding the closed door at the end of the hallway, considering everything else was open and inviting.

Kate glanced at the door, then led them towards the stairs. “That used to the bedroom I shared with George,” she said quietly, “and where he killed himself. I have no use for that room anymore.”

Danni said nothing, but filed that information away for another time. “How long have you guys lived here?” she asked instead, led through the living room and into the kitchen, which did remember somewhat from her brief visit there nineteen years before.

“This was the house George and I bought after we got married,” Kate answered. “I’ve lived here for almost twenty-three years. This,” she said, indicating the kitchen around her, “is the room of the house that I have spent the most time in.”

Danni looked around, noting how clean and tidy everything was. The house, itself was obviously older, but it had been well maintained, the self-pride of its owner apparent. “It’s a nice house, Kate. Good for you.”

“Thank you. Come on out back, I’ll show you my garden.”

They stepped out into the warm, September air, met by a landscaper’s dream. The small patch of lawn was well-kept and green, just like the front. Bordering the entire small yard were flowerbeds, colors and fragrances popping from every corner.

“Oh wow, Kate,” Danni breathed, a smile curling her lips. “This is absolutely beautiful!”

“Thank you.” Kate beamed, glad Danni was appreciative of all the time and hard work she put into her newest hobby. “I actually just started the garden a couple years ago, finally having some time to work on it. Also,” she grinned, sheepish, “once Megan moved out, I had to have something to fill the empty nest void.”

Danni smiled. “I’ve heard that’s difficult. It looks absolutely amazing.” She walked over to the flowers, reaching out to brush her fingertips over the soft petals of the blooms. “I can throw together a magnificent piece of furniture in five minutes, but I can’t keep even weeds alive.”

Kate laughed at that. “Well, anything I would try and put together would fall apart the moment you sit down, but I’ll keep your yard colorful and vibrant all year round.”

Danni laughed. “I’d like to see you try that in Maine!”

Kate stuck her tongue out at Danni good-naturedly before moving over to the patio and sitting down. She watched as Danni went from flowerbed to flowerbed, bending over and sniffing all the beautiful scents, her eyes closing and lips smiling in appreciation. It made Kate smile just to watch her, just to see Danni in her yard, touching her flowers.

“Maybe you can help me start my new garden on the patio of my new home,” she offered.

Danni glanced over at her. “New home?”

Kate nodded, watching as Danni walked over and sat in the chair to Kate’s left. “I don’t want to live here anymore. This part of my life is very much over and I want to close that chapter.”

“Where are you going and when are you moving?”

“Not sure,” Kate blew out. “I haven’t started looking yet, but I think – especially now that I have a lot more spare time than I anticipated – I’ll start repainting and that sort of thing. Make this place as buyable as possible.”

“Do you plan to stay in San Jose?” Danni asked, surprised at the sudden announcement.

Kate thought about Danni’s question for a long moment, staring out into the yard. She watched a squirrel bounded up along the top of the fence before it disappeared up a neighbor’s tree. “I don’t know, Danni. You know, I thought a lot about what you said that day, after I lost my job.” She looked over at her friend. “Things do happen for a reason, I believe that. So,” she shrugged, “maybe everything is happening for a reason right now: George doing what he did, getting the house paid off,” she reached across the glass-top of the patio table and squeezed Danni’s hand in silent gratitude, “and now this job situation.” She met Danni’s kind gaze. “Maybe it’s time for something new.”

“Maybe it is,” Danni agreed, squeezing Kate’s hand back before letting it slide away. “Can I ask you a question?” she asked, voice soft.

“Sure.”

“Why did George do it? Kill himself, that is.”

Kate sighed. “Would you like something to drink or eat? I just realized I’m being a terrible hostess.”

Danni smiled, wondering if that’s truly how Kate felt or if she was trying to either get off the subject or stall. “Kate, if you don’t want to talk about it -”

“No,” Kate said, shaking her head. “No, I do. I guess I’m just a little afraid of what might come out if I answer your question, but I do feel it deserves an answer.”

“Alright. I’m fine right now, so I don’t need or want anything.”

“Okay.” Kate let out a breath and looked back out into her yard. “I’m not real proud of some of the choices I’ve made, Danni, and moreover, why they were made. I’ve never said this out loud Danni, but I don’t think I ever loved George.”

Danni listened quietly, admittedly surprised by Kate’s disclosure, and – selfishly – somewhere inside it made her happy on some level.

“He knew that. He knew why I married him and he knew why I stayed with him, but I don’t think he knew why I was leaving him.”

Danni stared at Kate’s profile. “You were?”

Kate met her gaze, sadness radiating off her in waves. “Yes. Danni, I married him to give my chance at an independent life.” Her laugh was rueful. “Boy, sure got that, didn’t I? My plan was to get through school and then go off on my own so I could concentrate on my career.”

“What happened?” Danni asked softly, though she thought she knew.

“I got pregnant the night of our wedding. It was not at all intended, and in fact my goal was that would be the first and only time I ever had to be with him.” She met Danni’s steady gaze for a long moment. “You must think I’m such a terrible person.”

“No,” Danni said simply. “I think you are a woman who had a goal and a dream but very limited measures in which to make it happen.”

“You make it sound so easy and far less devious than it really was,” Kate sighed, returning her gaze back to the yard, unable to handle the understanding she saw in Danni’s eyes; she didn’t deserve it. “Anyway, I knew he’d never let me take his blood, or he’d get my parents to help him take her from me, so I stuck it out. Eventually,” she shrugged, “it just became my life and I had to deal with it. As hard as it was to go to school all those years and be a mom and wife on top of it, I’m so grateful to have had Megan. Somehow she made it all worth it.”

“Did George know all this? All of what you just told me?”

Kate nodded. “On some level I absolutely believe he knew.” She brought up a hand to swipe at a sudden tear that edged its way out. “We had a horrible fight after New Year’s the year he died. He first accused me of having an affair with a colleague at the school.” She shook her head with a heavy sigh. “I never wanted to sleep with my husband, so why on earth would I want to sleep with some other man?”

“Perhaps because you didn’t want to sleep with your husband,” Danni said gently. “He may have known Kate, but it doesn’t mean he understood.”

“He knew about us, Danni,” she said quietly. “That night when I went to see you at the motel: he knew. Well, he knew that I went, and assumed the rest.”

“Oh Kate,” Danni breathed. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. On some level I do feel guilt, but finding out all that I have these past months,” she shook her head, “he made his bed, Danni. George was a bastard and then ultimately a coward. I don’t think he could handle the total loss of control or me. I’m not a possession and I will never be anyone’s possession again. I went from being owned by my mother to being owned by George.” Her anger was rising and a sense of self-worth was making its way to the surface. “He took away the one person and the one thing that meant the most to me and by god, I will never let anyone do that to me again. Twenty-five years wasted, Danni. Wasted!”

Danni was shocked by Kate’s sudden outburst and tears. She pushed up from her seat and grabbed Kate from hers. Taking her in her arms, she held her, Kate’s floodgates finally bursting fully open as she sagged against Danni. “It’s okay,” she whispered, her own tears coming. “It’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Kate clung to Danni, her face buried in the warmth of her neck as she cried, able to feel the cocoon of protection Danni put around her, deeming it safe for her to let go. As her tears slowed, she felt a calm fall over her, as well as Danni’s own emotions seemed to be calming. She tightened her arms around Danni’s back, her head resting against her shoulder. It felt amazing, unlike anything she’d felt in nearly twenty-five years.

Danni relished in the warmth of Kate’s body pressed against her own. She cupped the back of Kate’s head, her cheek resting atop a golden crown. “I hate to see you cry,” she whispered, her other hand rubbing soothing circles over Kate’s back. “It kills me every time.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate murmured, eyes closed as she absorbed Danni into her very being. “I’m not sure what happened there.” She smiled, even though Danni couldn’t see it. “Guess things just got bottled up.”

“It’s okay. You can always tell me how you feel, Kate. And yes, you can even cry.” She smiled at the light chuckle that earned her. “I’ll always be here to listen, no matter what it is that you have to say. Alright?”

Kate nodded, no need to verbally respond. “Danni, do you ever look at your life now and think about where you thought it would be by now?” she asked softly, running a hand up and down Danni’s back. “Did you think you’d be where you are?”

Danni closed her eyes as she inhaled Kate’s scent, filing it away for after she left California and returned to her life an entire country away. “No,” she finally said. “No, it’s not what I thought it would be.” It hurt to admit it, but she couldn’t lie, not to Kate.

Kate pulled away just enough to look up into Danni’s face. She could hear something in Danni’s voice and was trying to place exactly what it was. Was it sadness? Was it resignation? “Are you happy, Danni? I mean, truly happy?”

Danni met Kate’s gaze and brought up a hand, brushing her knuckles across Kate’s soft cheek. “I have to think I’m where I’m supposed to be,” was all she could say. She didn’t have the answers Kate sought and was afraid to find them.

Kate didn’t have a chance to question further as the back door to the house was opened and Megan stepped out with Rob in tow. “Hey guys,” she said, bringing up a hand to swipe at the last of the tear streaks on her face and moved away from Danni, who moved away at the same moment.

“Hi.” Megan looked from one woman to the other. “Rob wanted to meet Danni before the wedding, so we decided to come by for dinner.” Megan again studied the two women before turning her focus to her mother. “Is that okay?”

“Yes!” Kate said with a beaming smile. “I think that’s a wonderful idea!” She so badly wanted her daughter and son-in-law to get to know Danni, as she knew they’d fall in love with her if they did. She turned to Danni. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah. Let’s do it.”

Where Danni had been nervous to spend an evening with the entire family, she shouldn’t have been. She was immediately embraced by both Megan and Rob, who’s long-haired and shaggy appearance belied incredible intelligence and great humor within them both. She could definitely see why the couple were together: their love and strong bond was easy to see and made Danni extremely wistful.

As the four sat around the table eating the dinner of baked chicken and rice pilaf that Megan, Kate and Danni had made, she found herself glancing over at Kate often, most the time finding that Kate was already looking at her. They’d exchange a smile then return their attention back to the conversation.

Megan watched her mother’s reactions to Danni, the way a soft smile played on her mother’s lips throughout the entire meal. The way her mother would watch Danni’s every move, listen intently to any and everything Danni had to say. She noted the quick looks the two would share, their connection total in that one, quick moment before it was broken. She glanced at Rob, catching his eye. In the silent communication of those who love deeply and who have been together for a long time, Rob got what she had to say: they’re still in love with each other.

 

 

To be continued in Chapter 30

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