Zero Ward Part 2 by Kim Pritekel

Chapter 30

 

San Jose, 1960

 

Danni looked over the stack of order pages she’d been mailed, meanwhile she sat on the hotel room bed with the phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. “Yeah, Allison I got the orders from Carl, as well as the names of the men I have to meet with Tuesday.” She listened to her business partner’s questions, as Danni was representing F&H Industries for the opening of their newest warehouse in San Diego. “No, I’m already in California, in San Jose. Yes, I realize San Diego isn’t in San Jose and is in fact a couple hours away, Allison.” She rolled her eyes. “I’ve got something I want to do before I meet with the warehouse manager.” She tossed the orders to the scratchy comforter underneath her and reclined back against the stacked pillows. “Just something personal… Yep, dinner with Carol and Frank, too… Talk to you later. I’ll give you a call after I leave the meeting and am at the airport…. ‘K. Goodnight.”

Danni cradled the phone and blew out a breath. She pushed off the bed and walked into the small bathroom, flicking on the overhead light and looking at her reflection. She looked tired, and it was no surprise why. F&H was expanding in a big way, and she’d been on the road for the past two weeks making all the right connections all over the country. California was her final stop before she had to head back to Nebraska for a debriefing with Allison and their attorney, and then she could head home.

“God, I look like hell,” she muttered, turning her face this way and that, noting the dark circles under her eyes. Though it was only nine-thirty at night, she decided to go to bed. After all, tomorrow she had a stop to make before her drive to San Diego.

*****

In her rented ’55 Buick, Danni drove slowly down Peachtree Lane, sunglasses on as she neared the house she was looking for. There it stood, just as she’d remembered it from eleven years earlier. She pulled over curbside a few houses down on the opposite side of the street and watched, a smile coming to her face.

In the driveway, a beautiful 14 year old Megan washed the family car with rag and soapy water from a bucket at her feet. She was doing a less-than-stellar job as she missed spot after spot, obviously just trying to get through it.

“You missed the entire back window, Megan,” Danni chuckled.

Her gaze was caught by sudden movement at the front of the house. As she watched, Kate came out of the house, hands on hips. She wore a light sun dress, her arms and shoulders bronze with a California glow. The two exchanged words, though they were too low and too far away for Danni to be able to hear. To Danni’s utter delight, however, Megan suddenly grabbed the hose and sprayed her screaming mother, Megan’s laughter riding on the warm breeze of the day. Kate braved the spew of water until she’d managed to wrench the hose away from her daughter, immediately turning the tide.

Danni laughed outright as mother and daughter squealed in laughter, spitting out water as the tide was turned once again. Danni longed to be able to go join them, but knew that wasn’t an option. Instead, she got the car started again and pulled away from the curb, headed on her way to San Diego.

*****

San Diego, CA 1968

“I cannot believe this place is still open,” Kate marveled, taking a bite out of her cheeseburger. She wiped at some runaway ketchup before it fell off her chin.

“I know. I come here whenever I’m in town,” Danni agreed, sipping from her chocolate malt.

“How often are you here?”

Danni shrugged. “Every year or so; I have to come to check on things at the warehouse or follow through with problem orders, things like that.”

“You should stop by!” Kate admonished, throwing a wadded up napkin at her friend. “Jeez! All these years.” She tsked her tongue then took another bite.

Danni smiled at that, then used the napkin to wipe her mouth then tossed it back to Kate. “Here you go, you can have your napkin back now.”

Kate rolled her eyes, batting the soiled napkin away. “You’re terrible.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one who drove all the way to San Diego with me,” Danni reminded.

Kate grinned. “That I did. That I did.”

Kate looked around in awe at the giant warehouse Danni led her through. The smell of freshly cut wood permeated the space as stacks of cut lumber lined the walls, as well as metal shelving filled to capacity with stacked blocks, planks as well as cords of uncut and unprocessed material.

“Wow,” Kate marveled, looking around as they made their way across the cement floor to the back wall of the massive space where offices lined a connecting hallway.

“F&H has expanded across the country as builders and materials providers,” Danni explained. “We actually just got a contract with the military for materials to be used in some of their building projects.”

Kate smiled. “Guess you’ve come full circle, haven’t you?”

Danni stopped and thought for a moment, nodding. “Yeah. Guess so.” She led Kate down the hall of offices and out the door at the end. Just beyond that was the bright, sunny day as well as a large box truck. Two men were loading a second one.

“Good afternoon, Miss Felts,” one of them said, tipping his hat at the women.

“Hey there, Rene. In the truck?” she asked, patting the side of the first truck, which had the large back door closed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Excellent. Oh, Rene this is Kate Hannigan, mother of the lucky lady who will be receiving the set.”

“Ma’am,” the older man said.

“Kate, this is Rene Velcour, the warehouse manager.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Velcour.” Kate said, taking the man’s outstretched hand and shaking it.

“Alright, Kate,” Danni said, grunting as she unlatched and pushed the slider door up. “Let’s see this baby.”

Danni stepped up into the back of the truck then reached down to help Kate. Standing in the large, hot metal box truck, Danni moved to the large, tarp-covered object up by the cab of the truck. She grabbed one end of the blue tarp then with a flourish, tugged it off.

Kate was excited to see what Danni had created, and in truth, was slightly jealous that Megan was getting such a thing from Danni and not her. She gasped when the dining room set was revealed. Though a simple design, as was Megan’s tastes, it was unbelievably elegant and beautiful. The intricate woodwork that marked the legs of the table and chairs was breathtaking.

“Oh, Danni,” she breathed, running a hand over the smooth, shiny finish of the tabletop. “This is extraordinary! Megan is absolutely going to love this!” She turned to Danni and threw her arms around her neck, pulling her tightly to her in an almost painful hug of gratitude.

Danni hugged her back, relieved that Kate approved. “I was hoping you’d like it,” she chuckled. Pulling away she smiled down at Kate. “I was nervous, I have to say. Now I just hope Megan will approve, too.”

“Oh my god yes, she’ll approve.” Kate turned back to the set. “Now I want mine.”

Danni smiled and looked over every single piece, making sure nothing was chipped, broken or scratched. “It’s in great shape, so that’s good. I figured she and Rob would have a modest-sized place for now, so I only brought the four chairs, but if and when they want it, I have six more back at my workshop as well as additions that can be slid into the table to expand it to seat ten.”

Kate helped Danni secure the tarp then they headed out of the hot box truck. She hopped down from the back then turned, grabbing Kate at the waste and lifting her down. “Alright, Rene,” she called out to the warehouse manager. “It looks beautiful. I need this delivered today.” She looked to Kate. “Is that okay?”

“Yeah, perfect. Probably good, since Megan and Rob will be gone for a week after the wedding.”

“Perfect. Hang on a sec.”

Kate watched as Danni walked over to Rene, assuming they were discussing the delivery details. Kate watched Danni as she dealt with her employee, so filled with confidence and poise. She was truly striking. She returned the smile Danni gave her as the taller woman walked back over to her.

“Ready to head out?” Danni asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Waves washed up to the shore only to recede once more, then do it all over again. Danni and Kate walked along the warm sand, each carrying their shoes. Danni looked out to sea, utterly content. The sand between her toes, the cool breeze brushing her skin and the warm sun caressing her face: it was a plethora of sensations. The one sensation, however that was slightly distracting and somewhat disturbing was Kate walking beside her. This very beach had been the backdrop to so many of their moments together long ago. It was both gratifying and painful to be back in their stomping grounds.

“What are you thinking about?” Kate asked softly, looking up at Danni as they walked. “You seem so far away.”

Danni glanced at her before returning her gaze to her surrounds. “I guess I kind of am,” she admitted. “I was just thinking about some of our time here before. We spent an awful lot of time here.”

“Yes, we did,” Kate sighed. She inhaled the scent of the sea and all the living creatures within. “Some wonderful times here, Danni.”

Danni nodded. “Yes. Wonderful times.”

“You know what I remember most?” Kate said, stopping them with a tug on the hemline of Danni’s tank top. She plopped down in the sand, pulling her skirted legs up to her chest and hugging them.

Danni sat next to her, long legs out before her and crossed at the ankles. She brushed some sand off the leg of her jeans. “What’s that?”

“Making love here after we got married,” Kate said, her voice quiet and wistful. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Danni, afraid of what she might see – or might not see – if she did. “I probably shouldn’t bring that up, but it was so magical.”

Danni pursed her lips together for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, it was. And it truly was magical, not just from distance and time, you know?”

Kate nodded. “Yes. I know exactly what you mean.” Finally she garnered the courage to look over at Danni. She was relieved to see a warm smile aimed at her, Danni’s eyes twinkling with the memory. “Does Mary make you happy, Danni?” She was surprised the question had left her heart and her mouth, but it was out now, so she decided to go with it, even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.

Danni looked back out to sea, her heart immediately closing at the question. “My relationship with her is uncomplicated,” she said. “I don’t have to feel.” She looked over at Kate, expecting to see disapproval in her eyes, but instead saw understanding and sadness.

“Is that what you want? Not to have to feel?”

“I drank for a few years to try and deaden everything. What I was doing instead was slowly killing myself, from the inside out,” Danni explained softly. “Allison helped me to get myself together, and then I numbed myself by throwing myself into work. We created F&H and it thrived. It became my identity and all that I’d allow myself to care about.”

“And now?” Kate asked. “What do you care about now?”

Danni sensed they were beginning to enter dangerous territory and as much as she wanted to stop the conversation before it went any further, she couldn’t. She couldn’t because, not only did she sense Kate needed to talk, to understand and to purge, she realized that she did, too.

“I care about my dogs,” Danni said pitifully. “I care about my home.” She looked deeply into Kate’s eyes, seeing the girl she’d fallen in love with twenty-five years before, and in truth, had never stopped loving. “I care about Megan. I care about you, Kate. I may not want to, but I do.”

Without thinking about person or place, Kate cupped Danni’s cheek and brought their lips together. She closed her eyes at the softness of the simple kiss, which Danni returned. The shocked gasp of a fellow beach-goer made her pull away to see Danni glare at the older couple before turning soft eyes to Kate.

“I care too, Danni,” Kate admitted. “Very much so.”

*****

Danni glanced around the small house that Megan and Rob lived in. It was obviously the space of a young couple, just starting out in life. The furnishings were sparse and mismatched. Brightly tie-dyed fabric hung on the walls in places, a few hung posters of the biggest music stars of the day hung in others. Despite the clutter of a small space, the house was clean and tidy, just like Kate’s.

Kate walked over to Danni, just having gotten off the phone with Megan. “They’ll be here in a few minutes,” she informed. She had used her spare key to let them and the delivery men in. The old ratty and scarred two-person table had been removed by the men, Danni’s work of art replacing it. “Good call on the smaller set,” Kate said, admiring the new table and four chairs that fit, but just barely.

“Well, I remember my first place.” She laughed at the memory. “Place was a tiny pit. I didn’t have room for anything.”

“Yes, well I got relatively lucky with my first place,” Kate grinned. “Remember that house on Shore Lane? God, all of us girls living together.” She laughed. “I’m surprised none of us killed each other.”

“Yeah, try living with a bunch of sailors,” Danni challenged with a raised brow.

Kate scrunched her nose in disgust. “No thank you. I’m sure the smell was lovely.”

Danni raised her arm suddenly and sniffed her armpit. “Ahh, pit juice!”

Kate laughed, swatting at her playfully. “Goof.”

“Yeah, well the only reason it wasn’t messy was because it wasn’t allowed to be.”

The front door opened and Megan and Rob entered. “Hey guys!” Megan called out, giving first her mother and then Danni a hug. She stopped just as she was pulling away from Danni, her gaze caught on the table and chairs. “What’s that?” she breathed, walking over to it. “Come here, babe,” she called to Rob, who quickly joined her after his own round of hugs.

“I wanted the two of you to have something of your own to start out with,” Danni explained. “Your mom filled me on your tastes, so I hope you like it.”

Megan, who had been running her fingers over the smooth wood stopped and glanced over at Danni. “This is from you? You bought this for us?”

“She made it, honey,” Kate explained gently.

Megan’s eyes widened in shock. “You made this?” she whispered. When Danni nodded, Megan hurried over to her, once again taking her in a tight hug. “Oh my god! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart,” Danni said into the hug. She pulled away and smiled down at the girl. “Congratulations to you both. I truly wish you the best life and love has to offer.” She accepted another half dozen hugs from Megan and a few from Rob.

*****

“It was probably wise to give Megan a sedative,” Danni chuckled as she helped Kate lock up the house and turn off lights on their way upstairs.

“My daughter gets a wee high strung when she’s stressed,” Kate said, leading the way up the stairs, Danni following close behind. “As excited as she is to finally marry Rob, I know she’s nervous about everything going off without a hitch.” They reached the upstairs hall and Kate’s closed bedroom door, where Megan was already fast asleep in her bed. “I wanted her to get some good sleep before tomorrow.”

Danni leaned against the doorframe of Megan’s bedroom, where she’d slept the night before. “Kate, I can sleep on the couch,” she offered. “I feel terrible that you two have to bunk together because of me.”

“Not a chance, Danni,” Kate said, shaking her head. “I will not have you sleep on the couch. For one night I can handle sharing a bed with Megan.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Who on earth came up with the ridiculous notion that it’s bad luck to see the bride the night before the wedding, anyway?”

Danni smiled. “Probably some colonial minister who was afraid his daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law would do the nasty before their wedding night.”

Kate grinned, nodding. “You’re probably right.” She walked up to Danni and took her in a warm, lingering hug. “Thank you for today; I truly had a wonderful time with you.”

“So did I.” Danni placed a quick kiss to Kate’s forehead. “Get some good sleep; tomorrow will be a very busy day.”

“You, too. If you need anything, I’m just across the hall,” Kate said unnecessarily.

Danni smiled. “Good to know. ‘Night.”

“Goodnight, Danni.” Hesitant to leave Danni, she waited for just a moment, what for she wasn’t sure. Finally, she made her way the short distance back across the hall and entered her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.

Danni sighed, running her hands through her hair. “I really need to get home before I do something really stupid,” she whispered, heading into Megan’s old room and closing the door.
Chapter 31
The house would be utter chaos as three women tried to get ready using two bathrooms and mirrors in only one of the bedrooms, so Kate was up before sunrise to ensure Megan had everything she needed to get ready for her big day, as she knew from experience that Megan’s head would be in a thousand different places, none of which were hugely productive.

She hurried downstairs in the pre-dawn darkness and flicked on the kitchen light, ready to start preparation of a good breakfast. There would be no chance of eating until the reception, which wasn’t scheduled to begin until two-thirty p.m. She opened the fridge and removed a carton of eggs then package of bacon and sausage, followed by loaf of bread and jars of jam and bag of onions and cheese.

“I think you need about three extra arms there, Kate,” Danni said as she entered the kitchen, her hand coming up to cover a giant yawn.

“What are you doing up?” Kate asked, followed by an answering yawn. “Don’t do that!” she admonished, setting her goods on the counter. “It’s contagious.”

Danni grinned. “Then maybe I’ll do it again.” She outright laughed at the glare that received. “Alright, alright: I’ll be good. How can I help?”

Three hours later, everyone was fed and showered. Now, it came down to the ‘getting ready’ part, which often times took longer than anything else. Danny, who wore no makeup, was the first to be totally ready, and so took on all the duties of making sure both mother and daughter had all they needed. She was relieved when someone knocked on the door and she opened it to find Carol.

“Well, good morning and what an amazing surprise!” Carol crowed, taking Danni in a welcoming embrace. “I guess you being here explains why I haven’t heard from Kate in the last day or so,” she laughed.

Danni laughed. “Yeah well, I’ve kept her busy, what can I say? Come on in; I could definitely use the extra hand.” She looked Carol over, dressed in a beautiful white dress with hair and makeup done. “You look beautiful, Carol.”

“Save the compliments for Kate, stud,” Carol chided, “I don’t swing that way.”

Danni chuckled then led Carol upstairs.

Carol and Danni were put through the gauntlet between mother and daughter. Finally, Danni was called into Kate’s bedroom, where Kate stood before her standalone mirror, hair and makeup finished. She stood in her dress, though the back was unzipped as Kate faced the mirror. She watched Danni’s reflection advance to stand behind her own.

“What can I help you with?” Danni asked, doing her best to keep her gaze off the expanse of pale skin that was Kate’s back.

“Zip me, please?” she asked.

No choice but to look, Danni moved up behind Kate and reached for the zipper of the beautiful ivory dress Kate wore. The satiny finish clung to her curves, the halter showing off beautiful shoulders and tasteful cleavage. As she pulled the zipper into place, she looked at Kate’s reflected image. She could only remember one other time when Kate had looked so beautiful.

“I really shouldn’t say this,” she said softly, her words for Kate’s ears only. “This reminds me of the day we got married. Only that day do I remember you ever looking as beautiful as you do today.”

Kate’s heart swelled at the words, her gaze meeting Danni’s. “It makes sense,” she said just as softly. “That was the happiest day of my life and today is the happiest day of my life for my daughter.”

Danni rested her hands on Kate’s bare shoulders, reveling in the feel of the warm, soft flesh. She eyed the smooth skin of Kate’s neck and shoulders before guiltily taking a visual dip into Kate’s cleavage. “Thank you for making me part of this today, Kate.”

Kate reached up and covered one of Danni’s hands with her own. “I never would have wanted it any other way.”

Danni could feel the heat and tension rising in the room and decided to break it. “So, how does it feel that your little baby bird is forever leaving the nest?”

“Danni!” Kate exclaimed. “Don’t make me cry! I just got my makeup finished!”

“And how beautiful it looks,” Danni grinned. “I do, however have something for you. Stay right here.”

Kate watched as Danni hurried from the room, a hand coming up to brush any tears away before they ever hit her mascara. “Damn her,” she sighed with a smile.

“Okay,” Danni said, coming back into the room, something in her hand. “Today is Megan’s day for sure, but today is also your day: it’s because of you that Megan is so beautiful, so loving and so beloved by everyone that will be in that church today. My mom did an awful lot for me, and I know you do an awful lot for Megan and deserve to be treated every bit the queen to your little princess.”

Kate felt even more emotion rising up and fought valiantly to hold it down. “What did you do, Danni?”

“This.” Danni presented a long velvet jewelry box in front of Kate from where she stood behind her. “For you.”

“Danni,” Kate breathed, no idea what was in the green box. She took it in slightly trembling hands, the hinges creaking slightly as she opened the box. She gasped when she saw the beautiful gold necklace inside. A teardrop-shaped emerald was at its center, two diamonds on either side. The stones were modest in size but stunningly beautiful.

“I wanted you to have something to make you feel as special as you’ve made Megan feel.” Danni plucked the necklace from the box and gently brought it up around Kate’s neck, securing it at the back of a graceful neck. Together, they studied the effect of the necklace with Kate’s dress. “Stunning,” Danni murmured, looking into Kate’s eyes.

Kate quickly turned, throwing her arms around Danni’s neck and pulling them together. “Thank you,” she whispered into Danni’s ear. “You are the sweetest woman I’ve ever known.”

Danni smiled into the hug, unable to help herself as she placed a kiss on Kate’s soft neck. “You’re welcome. Come on: let’s go to a wedding.”

*****

Danni was asked to join the family at the front of the church, so she sat in the pew and watched as Kate walked her daughter down the aisle. Megan looked almost as beautiful as her mother: almost. Danni felt a strange sense of pride overtake her as she watched Megan delivered to a newly-shaved Rob, who looked every bit the Navy man he’d be in a few months. Though she’d known this couple for less than forty-eight hours, she felt a kindred to them and a deep need for their future happiness and prosperity.

After Kate had finished her task and had handed Kate off to Rob, she made her way to the pew and Danni, giving Danni a look of so many mixed emotions: pride, sadness and profound happiness. Danni smiled at her, trying to give her all the comfort she could. She immediately entwined their fingers as Kate took her hand into her own, the two joined in that way for the duration of the ceremony.

Danni glanced at Kate from time to time to see her reactions as the ceremony continued, both Megan and Rob pledging their love to the other, touching in their own words. Kate teared up more than once, which touched Danni’s heart.

“She looks so beautiful,” she leaned over and whispered.

Kate nodded, bringing the handkerchief Danni had given her up to blot at her eyes. “Yes, she does.”

Two hours later, Danni stood by Kate’s side – at her bequest – as guests came up to her and congratulated her on how beautiful Megan was, how beautiful the ceremony was, how amazingly sweet Rob was and how incredible Kate looked, for the mother of a 22 year old bride, that is. Kate took it all in stride – as best she could, anyway. It certainly helped having Danni with her, giving her strength and calm. Not to mention, Danni looked amazingly beautiful in a light blue woman’s-cut suit.

When Helen and her husband Jonathon stepped up to Kate, they doled out the regular congrats, but Helen’s gaze kept sweeping back to Danni. “Have we met?” she asked.

Danni and Kate exchanged a quick glance then Danni turned back to Helen. “It’s nice to see you again, Helen,” she said with a bright smile. “Danni Felts.”

It took Helen a moment but then the moment was over and her eyes were huge. A hand came to her mouth as she stared at the stunning woman standing before her. “You’re a -”

“I always was,” Danni supplied.

Helen looked at Kate. “We need to talk.”

Kate smiled and nodded. “Sure. Call me for lunch next week.” Kate managed to keep her amusement in check until Helen and her husband had walked away, leaving Kate and Danni to snicker. “I didn’t even think about this aspect,” she confessed.

“I did. Let’s just hope your parents don’t recognize me,” Danni said, joining Kate as they joined the rest of the people in the reception hall.

“I doubt it. They met you once twenty-five years ago. They’re just going to wonder why you’re here and why they’ve never met you.” She and Danni shared a laugh at that.

The reception hall was filled with friends and family of both sides. Decorations were affixed to anything that would stand still and cloth-covered tables littered half the space, the rest of the floor left bare for people to dance. A stage was set up near the dance floor, six-piece band already set up and playing popular music of the day.

The party began as Rob and Megan danced their first dance as husband and wife, a tearful Kate standing with Danni watching.

“They look amazing together,” Danni commented, sipping from the apple cider Kate had brought in for her.

“Hey, Danni,” Frank, Carol’s husband, said as he and his wife walked up to the pair. He and Danni shared a brief hug. “So good to see you!”

“Good to see you, too, Frank,” Danni smiled, happy to see her friends.

Kate watched, shocked at the familiar interaction between the two. She looked from Danni to Frank: she never even got a hug from Frank, let alone Frank giving one to Danni.

The dance ended and Rob and Megan made their way to the microphone that the singer had been using on the stage. Megan took it in hand, Rob by her side.

“Good evening everyone and thank you so much for coming to our little party, here.” She grinned, waiting for the raucous cheers to end. “This next dance is reserved for our parents, which I want to do one at a time, starting with my side of the family.”

“That’s how it should be, Meg! Lady’s first!” someone yelled.

Megan laughed. “That’s right!” She looked at Rob. “Remember that, baby.” The crowd laughed, even as Rob grinned and blushed. “But seriously, folks. My mom, the dynamic and groovy, Kate is here!”

Cheers went up, making Kate blush and give a small wave.

“As you all know, my father, George couldn’t be with us tonight, but I do want to send out recognition to a very special guest and special person in my mother’s life, Danni Felts. Everyone, Danni Felts!”

Before Danni knew what to do, the spotlight was on her. She raised a hand in greeting, not entirely sure what to do.

“So, all that said, let’s dance, parents!” Megan crowd, once again sending the audience into a volley of cheers and howls. “For this dance,” she turned to the band behind her. “Take a break, guys.” As planned beforehand, the drummer put the needle to vinyl as Moonlight Serenade was piped into the large space through speakers. “Old people music.” Megan and Rob made their way from the stage to the crowd.

“Dance with me, Danni,” Megan said, grabbing a very surprised Danni. “It’s the parent dance.”

Danni was just as stunned as Kate and the gathered, but accepted Megan’s hand and allowed herself to be led to the dance floor, a spotlight shining on the two dancing pairs. “This is a bit unorthodox, Megan,” she said, taking Megan’s hand and accepting Megan’s hand on her shoulder as she placed her own hand on Megan’s back.

“So is the situation,” Megan answered with a smile.

Danni glanced over to see Kate in Rob’s arms, the two obviously in conversation, even as Kate’s gaze found Danni’s. Danni returned her focus to Megan, curious of what she would say, as her eyes held a great conversation within their depths.

“An amazing day,” Megan began, allowing herself to be whirled around by Danni’s dance expertise. “You are a wonderful dancer.”

“Thank you,” Danni said, sending Megan into another spin.. “Not exactly music from your generation.”

“Nope,” Megan agreed, recovering from the fancy dance moves. “As I said, old people music.”

“Be nice. This ‘old person’ can kick your butt.”

Megan threw head back in laughter. “Oh, no doubt!” Megan held on tight as she was spun then dipped, delighted in Danni’s playful nature. Once back up on her feet again, she looked up into Danni’s face, noting the smile in her eyes. “So what is it like in Maine?”

“Cold,” Danni said simply with a smile. “No, it’s beautiful there. Best crab and lobster you’ll ever eat.”

“I’ve never had crab or lobster,” Megan admitted.

“No? Oh, you’re missing out on all that’s good and holy.”

Megan laughed. “I like you, Danni. You have a wonderful energy about you.”

“Do I?” Danni asked as the song began to come to an end. “That’s certainly good to know.” She dipped Megan one final time as the last notes echoed throughout the room. Once she had her upright again, she placed a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you for the dance.”

Megan took Danni in a tight hug. “She loves you, Danni,” she whispered in her ear, just before she hurried over to her husband and mother, leaving Danni to look after her.

Kate hugged her daughter and then walked over to Danni. “That was some fancy footwork you were doing. I have to say, I was almost jealous, considering we’ve never gotten to dance.”

Danni grinned. “You never asked.”

Kate smirked. “Come on; help me start the food preparation.”

*****

Kate’s laughter could be heard from inside the empty house, followed by the sound of a key in the door lock. Danni pushed the door open with one hand while holding Kate up with her other arm.

“We’re home,” she said, chuckling as she saw the stunned look on Kate’s very inebriated face.

“Home?” Kate asked.

“Yes. Home. Come on, let’s get you inside.”

Danni held Kate up with hands on her waist, Kate having drank a few too many glasses of wine and champagne at the reception. She guided her over to the couch where Kate fell onto the cushions with a giggle that Danni found absolutely adorable. To her shock however, Kate pulled her down on top of her.

“Whoa!” she exclaimed, barely catching herself on her hands before she completely flattened Kate. “Hello there.”

Kate grinned up at Danni, snaking her arms around her neck. “Hello.”

“Kate, you’re extremely drunk,” Danni said, attempting to pull away from Kate, but Kate held her firm.

“So what? You’re absolutely beautiful and I absolutely want you.”

A warm shiver thrilled down Danni’s spine at the words and the look of pure lust in Kate’s eyes, but Danni knew this would be a huge mistake for countless reasons. “Don’t do something you’ll regret,” she said softly.

Kate tugged on Danni’s neck until their mouths were mere inches apart. “I won’t, because unlike you, I’ve never regretted loving you.”

Before Danni could absorb her own words thrown back at her, she was engulfed in a searing kiss. Knowing full well that she couldn’t resist Kate, Danni gave in, returning the kiss and deepening it as she lowered her body, pressing herself against Kate’s warmth.

“God, yes,” Kate moaned, her head falling to the side as Danni’s mouth left a fiery trail in its wake. “Danni…” Kate reached down, cupping Danni’s behind as she tried to press them as close together as possible.

Danni groaned at the move, pressing her hips into Kate’s. She kissed and licked her way to Kate’s cleavage, bringing up a hand to cup her right breast as her tongue dipped. She tugged frantically on the low neckline of the dress until Kate’s bare breast was revealed.

Kate cried out as her rigid nipple was tongue and engulfed within the warmth of Danni’s mouth. “Yes,” she moaned, hand coming up to cup the back of Danni’s head. Suddenly, the shrill ring of the telephone broke into the heated haze of the living room. Kate groaned as Danni left her breast. “Dammit. I better get it.” She staggered to her feet as Danni moved off her. “Megan was going to call if Rob’s parents couldn’t give them a ride to the airport.”

The spell broken, Danni got to her feet, running a trembling hand through her hair. She couldn’t believe what she’d just allowed herself to do. “Shit,” she murmured into her hands as she buried her face in them.

Kate grabbed the handset of the phone and brought it to her ear. “Hello?” She listened as the caller spoke, her heart falling. “Sure.” She set the handset down on the counter and walked out of the kitchen and towards the stairs. “It’s your girlfriend,” she told Danni, her voice bitter.

Kate felt the proverbial bucket of cold water that seemed to sober her immediately, as well as brought stark reality to her: Danni wasn’t hers and never would be again. She shoved her emotions down and went into her bedroom, where she quickly changed out of her dress and tugged on her pajamas. From there, she went into the bathroom and began to process of brushing out her hair and using cold cream to remove her makeup.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, the eyes looking back at her dead and remote. She knew the alcohol had given her the boldness to do what she’d wanted to do since Danni had come back into her life, but it was her heart that was paying the price. She turned away from her own reflection, instead focusing on opening the lid to the cold cream jar. She scooped out some of the thick, white cream and began to rub it into her skin.

As she did the mindless work, she knew she had to let Danni go for good. To try and keep her or sway her, or even just to have in her life at all, was crazy. It was far too painful to be so close yet eons away from what she wanted and needed from Danni. She could feel tears wanting to come, but she swallowed them down; it wasn’t worth crying over anymore, as it would do no good. At least while Danni was under her roof, that is. Once Danni left, Kate would deal with this once and for all, and then let her go.

Kate steeled herself as she heard Danni’s footsteps coming up the stairs and down the hall. She straightened her spine in an act of some sort of physical rebellion: you won’t know that I’m destroyed, Danni. She glanced over at the open doorway of the bathroom as Danni stepped up to it. Her face was ashen and she looked utterly shell-shocked.

“Did the phone call not go good?” Kate asked, immediately angry at the sarcastic tone of her words.

Danni stared at her for a long moment. “Allison was killed in a car accident tonight.”
Chapter 32

Skies over Nebraska , 1968

Kate sat by the window with Danni asleep next to her, head resting on Kate’s shoulder. Danni’s hand was tucked into Kate’s. Kate watched the ground get closer and closer, the pilot announcing their arrival a moment before. Kate had to admit, she hadn’t planned to be taking this same flight back to Nebraska so soon, but was glad Danni had asked her to accompany her.

Kate blinked, not sure she’d heard correctly. “What?”

“She’s gone,” Danni whispered, her legs nearly collapsing as her legs gave out from under her.

“No!” Kate hurried the few steps to Danni, catching her before she hit the floor. “I’ve got you,” she panted, heart pounding from panic and exertion. “Oh, baby,” she cooed as the dam broke and so did Danni. Kate slid them to the floor, holding Danni against her as she rocked her. “I’m so sorry,” Kate said, her voice shaky as she tried to hold her own emotions inside: the last thing Danni needed was for her to fall apart when she needed her. “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.”

Kate had taken Danni to her bed and had held her all night. Danni had gone through intermittent periods of crying, sleeping and simply talking about the woman whom she’d known for thirty years, as well as who had made such a profound difference in her life.

“Sweetheart,” Kate murmured, bringing up a hand and brushing some strands of hair out of Danni’s face. “We’re about to land.”

Danni’s eyes blinked open, for a moment looking confused and disoriented. She looked at Kate then lifted her head, scrubbing her face with her hands. “Sorry I fell asleep on you,” she said, words muffled behind her hands.

“It’s okay,” Kate said, squeezing Danni’s hand. “I’m glad you got some sleep; I know last night wasn’t exactly the greatest sleep of your life.”

Danni blew out a breath and glanced past Kate to the window and scenery beyond. The ground was getting closer and closer, details of the airport now recognizable, even if the cars looked like toys.

Within an hour, they were loaded into a rental car and headed to Wayne . Danni was quiet, which Kate expected. She drove the car with silent precision, staring straight ahead and often chewing on her bottom lip. After an hour on the road, Kate decided to break some ice.

“What’s the plan, Danni?” she asked softly, glancing over at Danni, feeling a bit out of her element. Danni had been so quiet, and they had yet to talk about what had happened on the couch before Mary’s call. Despite the issue at hand, that couch incident had never been far from Kate’s mind.

Danni glanced over at Kate then looked back to the road. “We’ll stop by the farmhouse and drop off the bags, as well as you can relax, then I’ll head over to Allison’s house and see what’s what. Her estate attorney told me Allison’s cousin, Markus will be in town to discuss details and her will.”

Kate was silent for a long moment, processing what she’d just been told. Finally, she decided to speak her mind. “Danni, did you ask me here as some sort of comfort food for you, waiting back at the farmhouse?”

Confused, Danni looked over at Kate. “What?”

“I came here because you asked me to, but also because I want to support you and be there for you.” Kate reached across the seat and took Danni’s hand in her own. “Don’t shut me out and don’t treat me like some piece of furniture.”

Danni pulled the car up to a red traffic light, and then was able to give Kate her full attention for a few moments. She studied Kate’s eyes and could see the hurt within their depths as well as the determination. It dawned on her suddenly that she was thinking of Mary, and how Mary would be far more of a hindrance than a help. Finally, she brought Kate’s hand up to her lips and placed a kiss on her knuckles. “Okay,” she said softly, a small smile curling her lips. “Okay.”

The rental car pulled up to a two-story farmhouse, even though the attic area technically made it three. It was painted white with black shutters, the full porch in front inviting with two matching rockers. The farmhouse was situated on hundreds of acres, many of which were grazed by cows and horses.

“This is where you grew up, huh?” Kate asked, stepping out of the car and opening the back door to grab her suitcase.

“Yep. After Mom died two years ago I kept the farmhouse but leased off the land. Share croppers work the dairy and lands, now.”

Luggage dropped off just inside the front door, the two loaded back in the car and headed across the small town to the huge house that was the Hughes’ house and estate. Kate had been there before, and it was no less intimidating as it had been months before.

Danni pulled up in front of the house, two strange cars parked in front. Her stomach was in knots, though she tried her best to hold it together. Likely, this would be one of the last times she ever saw the house as Markus would probably get the house in the will – which was fine with Danni, as she had enough property to worry about. As long as the business was hers alone, she didn’t care where everything else went.

Killing the engine of the rental, Danni glanced over at Kate, who was already looking at her. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Kate said, reaching across the seat to squeeze Danni’s hand in comfort.

The two walked into the house, where Allison’s butler met them at the door, his eyes red-rimmed, though he tried his best to hold it together. “Mr. Smith is waiting for you in the library, Miss Felts,” he said.

“Thanks, Fred.” Against her normal practice, Danni brought a hand up and squeezed Fred’s shoulder, the shoulder of a man who had worked for Allison for more than fifteen years. He smiled in understanding then led Danni and Kate to the library.

Kate’s mouth fell open slightly when she stepped through the tall, double doors into the large library. Floor to ceiling bookshelves were built into the wall, thousands of leather-bound books spined out on them. Ornate molding adorned the ceiling and beautiful, ornate furniture adorned the room, itself. A large, carved desk sat in the center, an older man dressed in an expensive-looking suit sitting behind it with another older man – also in suit and tie – sitting across the desk from him.

Danni led the way in, the man behind the desk standing and extending his hand to her. “Hello, Matt.”

“Danni, it’s good to see you,” he said, shaking Danni’s hand.

The other man also stood, him and Danni sharing a quick hug. “It’s good to see you, Markus.”

“I just wish it were under different circumstances,” he said with a heavy sigh.

Danni squeezed his arm. “Kate, this is Matt Smith, Allison’s personal attorney and her cousin, Markus. Gentlemen, this is my dear friend, Kate Hannigan.” Both men nodded a greeting to Kate. “Alright, let’s get this taken care of,” Danni sighed, pulling a chair over for Kate and then sat next to Markus.

“Alright,” Matt said, taking his seat again. He clicked open his briefcase and removed a bound stack of legality and set it on the desk in front of him. Tugging on a pair of glasses, he began to go over the legalities of Allison’s will.

*****

Later that night, Kate and Danni lay on their sides facing each other in Danni’s bed in her old room on the third floor.

“I’m sorry you’re stuck here with me tonight,” Danni said. “I got rid of all the old mattresses to the other beds after mom died. I wasn’t exactly expecting to come back here now and to have company, to boot.”

“It’s okay,” Kate smiled. “I think I can handle sharing a bed with you.” Kate reached a hand out and tucked Danni’s hair behind her ear. “You look tired,” she commented, brushing Danni’s cheek with her fingertips before she dropped her hand back to the mattress.

“I am,” Danni admitted. “Physically and emotionally exhausted.”

“Allison was really generous; I can’t believe she left everything to you except the house.”

“Yeah. I was glad she gave the house to Markus and not Harvard’s son.”

“Who’s Harvard?”

“Allison’s late husband. He had a son with one of his mistresses, and the kid always hated Allison: felt she kept his father away from him or some crap,” Danni explained.

“That’s too bad. How did Allison feel about her husband having a child with another woman?”

Danni grinned. “Allison has been with more people – men and women – during her marriage than most are in a lifetime. She and Harv loved each other on some level, but the marriage was mostly for show: it gave Harv a beautiful woman on his arm to look respectable, meanwhile they both lived their own lives.”

Kate’s brow furrowed. “I can’t imagine that was very fulfilling for either of them.”

Danni shrugged the one shoulder that wasn’t pressed against the mattress. “It wouldn’t be for me, but I guess it worked for them.” Danni finished her sentence with a jaw-popping yawn.

“Let’s get some sleep,” Kate said, leaning forward and placing a soft kiss on her lips. “Turn over,” she said softly, “let me hold you.”

Danni turned to her other side and Kate scooted up behind her and snaked an arm over her waist. Danni took Kate’s hand in hers and scooted back enough so their bodies were pressed completely together.

“Good night, Kate,” she whispered.

“‘Nite,” Kate replied sleepily.

*****

The sun was out and birds were singing. Kate felt herself rise into the world of consciousness as well as felt Danni still pressed against her. She opened her eyes and saw the back of Danni’s head and realized neither of them had moved the entire night. Other than the fact that her shoulder and hip was screaming at her for staying in the same position, she felt amazingly refreshed and content. From Danni’s heavy breathing she could tell that Danni was still deeply asleep, which was good; she knew Danni needed the rest.

As quietly as she could, Kate slid out of bed and made her way downstairs to use the restroom, brush her teeth and wash her face. She made her way into the kitchen and set about to make coffee. The night before they had stopped at the town grocery store and picked up supplies.

She found the percolator and filled it with water when Danni stepped into the room. “Good morning,” Kate said with a bright smile.

“‘Morning,” Danni said, walking over to Kate. “This is the first time I haven’t seen a sunrise in way too long.”

“Is that a good thing?” Kate asked, turning to face Danni once she had the percolator ready to go.

Danni grinned with a nod. “I love sunrises, but not because I see them with insomnia.”

Kate beamed. “I’m glad you slept so well, then.”

Danni reached out and gathered Kate into her arms. She held her for a long time, neither speaking, just holding on. She rested her cheek on the top of Kate’s head, which was tucked under her chin. “Thank you for being here,” she said at length.

Kate could have stayed where she was forever. She felt like she had come home and never wanted to leave. “Of course,” she said. “There’s nowhere else I want to be right now.”

Danni felt her heart begin to pound so hard she wondered if Kate could feel it. She knew she had to get some distance between her and Kate. With one final squeeze, she stepped away. “I’m glad you got the coffee going, ‘cuz I could sure use a cup.”

“Well, you sit yourself down and talk to me while I make us some breakfast.”

“Kate, I don’t expect you to wait on me.”

“I know that, Danni.” Kate looked up into Danni’s eyes and could tell Danni was going to argue this one. “Honey,” she began, hands on Danni’s arms. “Let me do this for you. I know you don’t expect it, but I’d really like to make you breakfast. Okay?”

Danni sighed and nodded. “Alright. But I got dinner.”

“Fine. Scoot.” Kate playfully swatted Danni’s behind as she turned to walk over to the kitchen table. “Do you have a waffle maker? I can make us homemade waffles.”

“Yeah. Mom kept it in that corner cabinet on the bottom,” Danni pointed.

Kate found it and tugged the heavy maker to the countertop then began to gather all the ingredients she’d need. “My daughter absolutely loves my waffles,” she explained. “The true secret of a good waffle, though is using topping them with jelly instead of syrup.”

“Jelly?” Danni asked, brow raised.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Danni watched Kate work, but her mind went back to the reason she was back in Wayne. “You know I knew Allison for more than thirty years?”

Kate turned and looked at Danni, who looked to be on the verge of tears. “Sweetie,” she whispered, walking over to her. She hugged Danni’s head to her chest, stroking her hair. “I know this is hard.”

Danni wrapped her arms around Kate’s waist, reveling in the softness of Kate’s breasts, which her head was pillowed against. “Yeah, this pretty much sucks. I need to go to F&H today and talk to everyone; I’m sure they’re wondering what the fate of the company is.”

Kate was startled when suddenly she was pulled down onto Danni’s lap, straddling her hips. She recovered quickly and returned the hug she found herself enfolded in. She sensed Danni’s need to be close and for comfort, and she was certainly willing. She ran her fingers through Danni’s hair, once again Danni’s head resting against her breasts.

“You scare me, Kate,” Danni admitted, her words muffled into the hug.

“Why?” Kate pulled out of the hug just enough to look at Danni. She brushed some strands of hair out of Danni’s face.

“Because I’m starting to need you,” Danni said, her stomach ready to revolt at the realization.

Kate smiled, hand cupping Danni’s face. “Danni, what we had never ended. It was savagely interrupted, but it never ended. If George hadn’t done what he did, I’d wager we’d still be together.”

Danni looked into Kate’s eyes and she knew that though Kate was her past, she wanted her to be part of her future. She brought her hands up and cupped Kate’s face and brought it down until their lips met. She quickly deepened the kiss, wanting Kate to know what she was so afraid to say.

Kate was surprised at the move, but recovered quickly. She wrapped her arms around Danni’s neck and gave herself fully to the kiss, which was slow, deep and exploratory. It wasn’t a kiss meant to enflame, but rather to water the seed that had been planted so long ago. She sighed into the kiss, enjoying the feel of Danni’s tongue caressing her own, as well as Danni’s soothing caresses across her back.

The kiss came to a natural end, Danni and Kate both left breathless. Kate rested her forehead against Danni’s. “Let’s just take it a day at a time, okay?” she whispered, caressing the soft skin of Danni’s jaw and neck. “Give us a chance, Danni.” She placed a lingering kiss on full lips. “Please. Give us a chance.”
Chapter 33
Kate stood back, leaning against a wall as Danni climbed a makeshift stage in the main area of production at F&H Industries. She had a microphone in her hand and was waiting for everyone to settle down, as she’d called the entire force in for a mandatory company meeting, including those who had the day off. Once she had silence, Danni began to speak.

“Good morning, everyone. I truly appreciate you coming in today. God, you have no idea how much I wish it were for different reasons.” Her voice clipped on the last couple words so Danni cleared her throat, trying to get her emotions back under control. Looking out over the crowd, she could see the red-rimmed eyes and some people who were opening crying. “You all know what happened a couple nights ago, and that Allison is no longer with us. I’m here today because I’m sure many of you have questions, and I’d like to answer those. So, let me start by assuring you that F&H isn’t going anywhere, and your jobs are safe. Nothing will change here, except possibly expansion. That was already in the works even before Allison’s accident. I’m sure some of you had already heard about that.” Danni felt her heart expand with pride for F&H and a deep, profound grief that Allison was no longer there to enjoy the fruits of their tremendous labors.

Kate brought a hand up and swiped at a tear. She could literally feel the grief and sadness rolling off Danni in waves. Danni glanced over at her and she gave her a brave smile. You can do this, Danni. I love you.

Danni took a deep breath and turned back to her workers. “Okay. Who wants to start with questions?”

Forty-five minutes later, Kate still leaned against the wall, but she watched as Danni interacted with her employees. There were hugs and tears shared as she talked to people, listened to people, and was just an overall amazing presence. It could be felt all around, the energy and calm Danni brought to the room and to her people.

Finally, Danni made her way to Kate. “Hey.”

“Hey there. How are you?”

Danni sighed and shrugged, glancing out over the room that was clearing out. She’d given her employees the day off. “I think that went well. I hope I was able to assuage their fears.”

“You were amazing today, Danni,” Kate complimented. “So good with everyone. I can tell you love each and every one of those people.”

Danni looked down at her shoes and nodded. “Yes. I do.” She met Kate’s gaze. “They do good work for me, and are true to all my designs. It’s pretty incredible, really.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Kate smiled. “You are truly amazing.”

Danni laughed. “I think you’re a bit biased, but thank you. So, are you hungry? Want to catch some lunch before our next stop?”

“Sure. What’s the next stop?”

Danni let out a deep breath. “Well, as you know, Markus asked me to organize the service, so…”

Kate nodded. “Okay.”

Sitting at a table in Carson’s Diner, Kate dug into her spaghetti lunch special as Danni sampled her rib sandwich. “You know,” Kate said, wiping her mouth of excess sauce. “This very cafe was the beginning of the road to how I found you in Maine.”

“Oh?” Danni asked, brow raised.

“Absolutely. I sat right over there,” she pointed to the counter with filled stools, “and flat out asked two very creepy old men who sat next to me. They and the waitress pointed me in the direction of Allison’s house.”

Danni grinned before she sipped from her iced tea. “Perhaps I should leave a massive tip.”

Kate laughed. “May not be a bad idea.”

*****

Danni stood outside the solid wood door that led to Holts’ Family Funeral Home. She felt Kate’s hand on her arm, and that alone gave her the strength to open the door and enter. Inside, she found a long hallway which led to an open area where various models of caskets were displayed: a showplace for the dead. A man in a black suit hurried up to them.

“Can I help you?” he asked, his beady dark eyes darting from Danni to Kate and back.

“I’m Danielle Felts, here to see Allison Hughes.”

“Of course!” the man said, far more ass-kissing talent than was necessary.

Kate and Danni were led to a separate room where a form lay on a stretcher. Kate held her emotions in when she realized that the form was not only a human being, but that the human being was Allison. She glanced over to Danni, trying to read her emotions.

“I have to warn you,” the man said, hand on the sheet that covered Allison’s body. “It was a really bad accident.”

Danni nodded and gave the man an appreciative smile. “Thank you.”

Danni took a deep breath as the man pulled the sheet back, revealing Allison’s head to the top of her shoulders. Danni felt Kate step up beside her and heard her gasp, which she could tell Kate tried to stifle. Instantly tears sprang to Danni’s eyes, though she held them in check.

Allison’s eyes were closed and her face unbelievably pale and ashen. Deep bruising marked the entire left side of her face, the skin a deep purple on her jaw. Allison almost looked like Frankenstein’s monster as she had a roadmap of stitched cuts all over her forehead and down her nose, which was obviously broken.

“Oh, Allison,” Danni whispered, bringing up a hand and smoothing back dull, blood-encrusted hair.

“What would you like to do, Miss Felts?” the man asked softly. “Open casket or closed? Makeup can be used, but these horrible bruises will be very difficult to cover.”

Danni looked at the bruises in question then turned to Kate. “What do you think?”

Kate sighed, bringing up a hand to swipe at a tear. “I think Allison deserves the dignity of a closed casket. Look at her, Danni; she was so deeply physically injured from this accident.” She turned to Danni. “What would she want?”

Danni smiled, even as tears fell silently down her cheeks. “She would die before she’d let anyone see her like this. Pardon the pun.” With those words, she fell apart.

Kate took her in her arms and held her close. “Please give us a moment,” she asked the funeral home worker, who quickly left the room, closing the door behind him. Kate let her cry, knowing it was best to let her get it all out and then move on to finish with the funeral arrangements.

Several moments later, Danni got herself back under control. She accepted the tissue Kate handed her with a quiet word of thanks. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“Don’t apologize.”

“That guy must think I’m a complete idiot.”

“Not likely in his business,” Kate said, helping to wipe away tear streaks. “So, what do you want to do, sweetie?” she asked softly, getting them back on track so Danni could get it over with.

Danni sighed and looked over at Allison. “You know, it’s so strange: I keep expecting her to sit up and yell at me for being indecisive.”

Kate smiled and took Danni’s hand, Danni entwining their fingers. “I’m sure she’s shouting a few words to you from her cloud.”

Danni chuckled. “Yeah, drinking a scotch.” She blew out a loud breath. “Okay, let’s do a closed casket.” She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “So much to do.”

“So let’s double fist it,” Kate suggested. “Tell me what you need done and I’ll do it.”

Danni looked at Kate, relieved by the offer and the help. “Okay. How about this: I’ll take you back to the house and you can make some phone calls. There are a few of Allison’s friends and colleagues that I know she’d want to be told personally. While you do that, I’ll go to Allison’s house and get her an outfit to be buried in and finish up with all the details for the funeral and make arrangements for a reception afterward.”

“You’ve got it. Give me the phone numbers and I’ll get going on it.”

*****

“Yes, it is terrible, and I’m sorry to have break the news to you,” Kate said into the phone. “The service will be next Tuesday at two p.m.” She marked a check next to the woman’s name on Danni’s list. “You’re welcome. Danni will be in touch soon. Goodbye, now.”

Kate cradled the handset and was about to pick it up again and dial when she heard the front door of the house open and someone enter. She was startled when an attractive young woman stepped into the kitchen.

“Who are you?” the woman asked, looking just as startled. “Where’s Danni?”

“My name is Kate and Danni is out running some errands. “Can I help you?”

The woman snorted and shed her lightweight jacket. “I doubt it, and I’m Mary.”

Kate felt her stomach fall, realizing she was looking at the woman Danni called her girlfriend: the woman Danni had sex with, spent time with and, presumably loved.

“You’re the California friend, right?” Mary asked, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table where Kate sat, and sat down. “The one with the daughter who just got married?”

“Yes.” Kate returned Mary’s gaze: Mary looked as though she were picking Kate apart, her lips pursed and dark eyes burning a hole through her. “Can I get you something to drink?” Kate asked, feeling uncomfortable.

Mary grinned. “You’re not the lady of the house, and no. I’m fine, thank you. I’ll just wait for Danni to come home.”

Kate felt her ire rising, though said nothing as she knew Mary was right. So, instead she returned her attention to her list. She picked up the receiver but stopped when once again the front door was opened and someone entered the house. Kate was beyond relieved when she saw Danni step into the room. Danni met her gaze then saw Mary sitting there.

“Hi, baby,” Mary said, getting up and walking over to Danni, where she took her in a tight hug and lingering kiss.

Kate looked away, unable to watch the display.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get her sooner, but I had a case I had to finish up first,” Mary explained, arms wrapped loosely around Danni’s waist.

“It’s okay,” Danni said, not sure what to do. Mary was the last person she wanted to see, though knew she’d show up sooner or later.

“Why’s she here?” Mary asked, indicating Kate with a nod of her head.

“She came to help and has been incredible,” Danni said, immediately starting to tense up, as she could tell Mary did not like the fact that Kate was there.

“That’s great, but I’m here now.” Mary pulled away from Danni and turned to look at Kate, a possessive hand on Danni’s arm. “You can go on home to California now, Kate. You’re no longer needed here.”

Danni was stunned. “Mary! What the hell did you say that for?”

“Because it’s true. She’s no longer needed here.”

” I need her here, and I w ant her here,” Danni raged.

Mary looked into Danni’s face and suddenly it all made sense. She looked back and forth between the two, finally setting on Danni again. “Are you fucking her?” she asked, her own anger building.

Kate could only stare, shocked by the woman.

“Get out of my house, Mary,” Danni growled. Part of her anger was because of how Mary was talking about Kate, and part of it was from guilt.

“Fuck you, Danni! I came here to be with you during this. Who the hell do you think you are?” She turned on Kate. “What the hell have you done with my girlfriend, you bitch?”

“That’s enough, Mary!” Danni grabbed Mary by the arm and tugged, dragging her to the front door.

“I hope you’re getting a good fuck out of it, Kate,” Mary yelled, “Danni’s a cold-hearted bitch so you won’t get nothin’ else!”

“Out!” Danni slammed the door and rested against it for a moment as she tried to get herself under control. She knew she needed to do the right thing and break it off with Mary officially, but right now was not a good time.

Pushing off the door, she headed back to the kitchen where she saw Kate standing at the counter, back to Danny and head down.

“Are you okay?” Danni asked, walking up to Kate and hugging her from behind. “I’m so sorry she did that and said those horrible things.”

“I’m okay,” Kate said, though she sounded as shaken as she was. She leaned back into Danni, placing her arms over Danni’s. “Why did she act that way?”

Danni tightened her hold on Kate, pressing her body more firmly against her. “I think she figured it out,” she said into Kate’s ear.

Kate shivered at the soft voice. “Figured what out?”

“That I’m in love with you,” Danni whispered.

Kate’s heart quickened at the admission and Danni’s closeness. “Danni,” she sighed.

“Yes?” Danni whispered against the side of Kate’s neck just before she nuzzled it, leaving a kiss there.

“I love you,” Kate said, eyes closing as her head tilted, giving Danni access. She reached back and buried her fingers in Danni’s hair, encouraging the soft kisses.

Danni knew it was absolutely pointless to try and deny her feelings or resist Kate any longer. The dam had been broken, and now she wanted nothing more than to bring Kate fully into her heart and her life. As she continued to kiss Kate’s neck, her hands went on the move. The slid down Kate’s stomach and to the waistband of her broom skirt before moving back up and finally cupping Kate’s breasts.

Kate let out a soft sigh, back arching at the touch. She’d waited so long for this, so long it almost felt like she was dreaming. “Yes,” she whispered. She whimpered as Danni squeezed her breasts, her kisses on her neck becoming hotter and wetter.

Suddenly, Kate was turned around and lifted until she was sitting on the counter behind her. Once seated, she immediately grabbed Danni, pulling her into a passionate kiss as Danni moved to stand between Kate’s spread knees. The kiss was primal as both women let go of any restraint.

Danni broke from the kiss and returned to Kate’s neck, her fingers tugging at the buttons on Kate’s blouse. When it was finally open, she shoved it off Kate’s shoulders and unsnapped her bra, dropping it to the floor with Kate’s shirt.

“Oh god!” Kate moaned as her nipple was surrounded by the wet warmth of Danni’s mouth. She clutched the back of Danni’s head, pressing her deeper into her flesh.

Danni gave both breasts attention before she returned to Kate’s mouth. “I want you so bad,” she whispered into the kiss.

“You’ve got me,” Kate assured, wrapping her legs around Danni’s hips and pulling them as close together as possible. She wanted Danni to crawl inside and stay there forever.

“Okay, let’s see if I can do this,” Danni said, taking hold of Kate’s behind and lifting with a grunt.

Kate giggled, tightening her legs around Danni and holding on as Danni stumbled through the house and up the stairs and finally into her bedroom. “Your bedroom would be on the third floor,” Kate laughed as they both fell down on the bed, Danni on top.

Danni grinned, her back screaming at her for doing something so ridiculous, but she was glad she had. “I know. Thank god we haven’t had dinner yet or I may not have been able to do that.”

“Hey!” Kate laughed, giving Danni a playful swat on her behind. “I want this off,” she said, tugging on Danni’s shirt.

Danni pulled her shirt and bra off then was surprised when a deceptively strong Kate shoved her to her back and laid on top of her. She moaned into the kiss at the feel of their naked breasts pressed together.

Kate insinuated one of her thighs between Danni’s, both moaning at the contact. She left Danni’s mouth and moved to her neck, one of her hands coming up to cup one of Danni’s breasts. “I love the fact that you don’t have to hide these beautiful breasts anymore,” she murmured, running her palm in a slow circle over the rigid flesh.

Danni groaned, pressing her breast further into Kate’s touch. She ran her hands down the smooth plain of Kate’s back until she reached her behind. She palmed the flesh in both hands and pressed Kate harder into her, both their hips beginning to move, rocking gently against the thigh of the other.

Kate moaned, leaving Danni’s neck as her hips began to rock a bit more, pleasure spreading through her. Quickly she lost control of herself, her hips rocking desperately against Danni and her moans breathy whimpers.

Danni held on, her own pleasure secondary as she felt Kate’s need. It didn’t take long before Kate cried out, her face buried in Danni’s neck. Danni caressed Kate’s back and hair, her own release just on the edge but not quite tipping her over.

After a long moment Kate came back to earth and chuckled. She lifted herself to her elbows and looked into Danni’s flushed face. “God, what is it with you? I can never control myself and turn into a 14 year old.”

Danni grinned. “I thought I was the boy?”

Kate grinned. “Do you still have that little contraption?”

Danni grinned and nodded. “It’s back home. I was going to toss it after I came back to the US, but it had been part of me for nine years so I couldn’t just let it go.”

“Well,” Kate said against Danni’s lips. “Maybe we’ll have to bring it out one of these days.”

Danni accepted the kiss and quickly deepened it. Her body was thrumming and alive. She reached down and took handfuls of Kate’s skirt, bringing the garment up until she felt the satiny smoothness of Kate’s panties. Kate sighed into the kiss when Danni wormed her hands inside and cupped Kate’s bare flesh. Immediately she could feel the moist warmth and had to feel the source.

Kate gasped and broke from the kiss as Danni’s fingers trailed through the saturated folds of her sex. “Oh yes,” she whispered, resting her forehead against Danni’s shoulder.

“God, you are soaked,” Danni murmured, reveling in the slickness. Even in the somewhat awkward position, she easily found Kate’s hard, engorged need. Using two fingers, she began to caress and rub.

Kate’s hips moved with Danni’s fingers, all thought gone until finally she cried out, her hips lurching with the power of her release. “My god,” she panted. “I’ve had more orgasms in the last ten minutes than I have in the last twenty years.”

Danni grinned. “And one of those I gave to you.”

Kate grinned. “That you did.” She gave Danni a quick kiss then pushed up to her knees. She quickly untied and removed Danni’s shoes, followed by her socks and finally her jeans and panties. Looking down at the incredible body that was Danni, it literally made her mouth water. “Your turn.”

Danni watched as Kate finished undressing herself then happily accepted her as Kate lay herself back down. They shared a deeply passionate kiss before Kate moved down to Danni’s breasts, humming into the flesh as she took as much of Danni’s left breast into her mouth as possible.

“You know,” she said, raising her head and swiping at the hard nipple with her tongue. “Before I met you, I never even gave breasts a second thought.” Another swipe. “But after,” Kate lowered her head and began to feast once more, Danni moaning and burying her fingers in Kate’s hair. “Your breasts are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you,” Danni panted. She felt like she was about to explode. She grabbed one of Kate’s hands and thrust it between her legs. “Please,” she begged.

Understanding and sympathetic, Kate abandoned Danni’s breasts and moved further down her body, settling between spread thighs. She took her hand away and replaced it with her mouth.

“Oh, baby!” Danni groaned, her head flopping uselessly to the side.

As Kate worked, she brought a hand up to rest on Danni’s stomach and felt her hand engulfed in Danni’s. She loved that, as at that moment, she felt so completely connected to her. The feeling was intense and almost made her want to cry.

It didn’t take long before Danni cried out, her body finally able to release, and it did, hard. The bed vibrated slightly under the intense shudder than ran through her entire being. She tugged Kate by the hand, wanting to feel her against her, even as Danni tried to come back to the land of the living.

“My god,” was all she could say.

Kate grinned, quite proud of herself. “You know, I haven’t done that in two and a half decades; I wasn’t sure how I’d do.” She lay on top of Danni, just like she used to do, cuddling in the warmth of Danni’s body.

“Just like riding a bike,” Danni quipped, hugging Kate to her.

Kate laughed. “A tasty one, too,” she purred, rising up to deliver a scorching kiss.

Danni groaned, returning the kiss with relish. After it ended, Kate tucked her head back under Danni’s chin. “I can’t help but feel like a lazy fat cat.” Kate purred deep in her throat, making them both laugh.
Chapter 34
Danni sat on the park bench, patiently waiting for Mary to speak. She glanced over at the younger woman, who was staring over at the duck pond, watching a family of ducks swim. Finally, Mary turned to Danni.

“Twenty-five years is a long time.”

Danni nodded. “Yes, it is.”

“Why am I hearing about all of this for the first time now? Why didn’t you ever mention Kate before, let alone the fact that you’re in love with her?” Mary asked, anger and hurt in her voice, though she was trying to keep it under control.

“I never told you about Kate – other than heading out there for the wedding – because she was no longer in my life, nor did I think she ever would be again. And as for being in love with her, Mary I haven’t allowed myself to feel anything for her in nearly two decades.”

“You haven’t allowed yourself to feel anything for anyone, Danni,” Mary accused.

“You’re right, I haven’t. I never lied to you about that fact, Mary. When we got together a year ago, we agreed that we would keep things casual. That being said, I never intended to hurt you, and I’m sorry.”

Mary looked down at her hands, which rested in her lap. “I want to wish you and Kate luck at this second run, but I’m sorry.” She looked at Danni. “I can’t.”

“It’s okay. I understand.

“Well, I appreciate your honesty.” Mary pushed up from the park bench, ready to walk back to her motel, which was across the street. “Please leave a message at the motel office to let me know the time and place Tuesday.”

“I will.” Danni also stood. She wanted to give Mary a parting hug but knew it wouldn’t be welcome. “Take care, Mary.”

Mary nodded and walked away.

*****

“I’m glad it went well,” Kate said. She and Danni sat in the large, claw-footed tub, Danni reclining back against Kate’s chest. “I think you did the right thing by asking her to meet and talk.”

“I feel good about it,” Danni said, running her hands up and down Kate’s thighs, which cradled her body. She rested her head back against Kate’s chest and closed her eyes, absorbing the warmth of the bubble bath and her new-found emotions. “God, this is absolute bliss,” she murmured.

Kate smiled, bringing up a hand and smoothing Danni’s back from her face. “How are we going to do this?” she murmured against the side of Danni’s head, then left a kiss there.

“Do what, baby?” Danni asked softly.

“Now that I’ve got you back, I don’t want to lose you again.” She tipped Danni’s head up and leaned down, placing a lingering kiss on her lips.

Danni pulled away from Kate, sitting on the opposite side of the tub from where Kate sat. “Come here.” She pulled Kate over to her to straddle her lap, resting her hands on Kate’s hips. Kate got herself settled and snaked her arms around Danni’s neck. “What do you want, Kate?” she asked softly.

“I want to be with you. It’s crazy; just like when I was 17, being with you gives me so much calm and unbelievable happiness. I want to spend my life with you. I want to wake up with you every morning, and certainly go to bed with you every night.” She grinned and wiggled her brows, making Danni smile. “In short, I want to be with you.” She leaned in and initiated a slow, leisurely kiss.

“I love you, Kate,” Danni whispered against Kate’s mouth. She pulled back from her and brought a hand up, cupping Kate’s jaw. “Come back to Maine with me.”

Kate’s heart swelled. She grabbed Danni in a painfully tight hug. “Yes! God, yes.”

Danni held her tight, love and relief washing through her. Something occurred to her, however. She pulled back just enough to look at Kate’s face. “What about Megan? Are you willing to move so far away from her?”

“I need to talk to her. I know she’ll support me in whatever I do, but you’re right; I don’t want to leave her. I’m going to see if maybe she’d want to come with, make a brand new start. Especially with Rob leaving in a few months.”

“Are you okay with coming to Maine ? I mean, I have to warn you: it’s substantially different than California , baby,” Danni said, caressing Kate’s back.

“Danni, you are the love of my life,” Kate said with absolute confidence. “Knowing what it’s like to love you and to be loved by you, I could never be without you again.”

Danni was touched by the earnest words, and couldn’t agree more. “You know we’re going to annoy the hell out of Megan with our lovey dovey, can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you way, right?”

Kate grinned. “I had to deal with it with her and Rob, so she can suffer a little bit now, too.”

“I do wish Allison were here to see this; she’d be so happy.” Danni sighed, resting her head back against the high wall of the tub.

“I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry. I don’t know, if you think about it, Allison’s death kind of helped to bring us together.”

“That is true.” Danni ran her hands up and around from Kate’s hips to cup her breasts and gently massage them.

Kate’s eyes became hooded, thoroughly enjoying the wonderful sensations Danni was spreading throughout her body. “You are insatiable,” she moaned.

Danni grinned and moved in to kiss Kate’s neck. “I’ve got twenty years to make up for,” she murmured against the warmth of Kate’s flesh.

Kate smiled, head falling to the side to give Danni access. “You sure do.”

*****

Danni watched as the casket was slowly lowered into the six feet deep hole. She held a rose in her hand, as did everyone standing around her and as the casket disappeared from sight, she kissed the petals of the flower then threw it in, where it too disappeared. She felt Kate’s comforting presence next to her and was so grateful for it. She wished it were possible to take Kate’s hand in her own, but knew likely never would be in public. Perhaps someday their love would be accepted.

Silence filled the cemetery other than soft crying from time to time. Thousands of people had shown up to pay their respects to Allison, including the entire town of Wayne . Danni was proud that so many had been touched by Allison’s life and eccentric generosity.

Later that night, Kate and Danni lay in bed face to face on their sides, legs entwined and hips pressed together. Kate ran her fingers through Danni’s hair as she looked into her eyes.

“How are you holding up after today, baby?” she asked.

Danni sighed, her hand smoothing over Kate’s hip. “I’m alright. I’m glad it’s over but it’s going to be tough continuing with F&H, expanding and just doing normal business. I come down here for inspections and meetings every few months.” She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to keep her fading control intact. “It’s going to be extremely difficult now, without her there.”

“It’ll all work out, baby,” Kate assured, running her hand down from Danni’s hair to her back, fingertips running up and down her spine. “I can’t believe I have to go back home tomorrow.”

“I know. This week – despite the Allison situation – has been a little piece of Heaven,” Danni sighed, her hand sliding around from Kate’s hip to cup her behind, using it as leverage to press their hips a little tighter together. “I’ve been thinking about something.”

“What’s that?” Kate asked, responding to Danni’s move by running her fingernails down Danni’s back and across a cheek. She smiled at the small shiver she felt flow through Danni.

“Allison willed me the properties she owns, too,” Danni began, running her hand down Kate’s thigh, which was resting atop her own and pulled it higher on her own hip, opening Kate up a bit more to feel the pressure of Danni’s thigh against her. She loved the small sigh of pleasure that move induced. “There are some houses and apartment complexes up and down the eastern seaboard.

“Oh yeah?” Kate responded, thrusting her hips gently and lazily against Danni’s.

“Yeah.” Danni leaned forward the few scant inches and took Kate’s mouth in a kiss as slow and pleasurable as the movement of their hips. She moved out of the kiss, but didn’t move far. “Megan and Rob graduate in December, right?”

Kate nodded, pulling Danni even closer, their breasts pressing together. “Yes,” she whispered, the word breathy with her rising excitement.

“Just maybe,” Danni said before she worked her hand down between their bodies and entered Kate with two fingers, making Kate gasp and her hips buck slightly. “Maybe it would be even more incentive for Megan to go with you if she had a house of her very own, something to get her life started with Rob, once he returns. Mortgage free,” she added, increasing her thrusts as she could tell Kate was ready to be released.

Kate heard the words and they registered in her brain what an unbelievably generous, kind thing Danni was offering, but her body was too far gone to respond. Instead, she bucked against Danni’s fingers, holding on to Danni’s pistoning arm with a claw-like grip.

“God, I can’t get enough of you,” Danni growled, thrusting quick and deep until finally Kate cried out, her body convulsing around Danni’s fingers.

It took several minutes for Kate to catch her breath, but once she did, she took Danni in a steel-like hug. “I love you so much,” she whispered emotionally in Danni’s ear, knocking Danni to her back with the gusto of her hug. Finally, she pulled away just enough to look in Danni’s eyes. “You’d do that for her?”

Danni chuckled. “I wasn’t sure you heard me.”

“I heard you, but I was kind of on my way to my fourth orgasm of the day at the time,” Kate accused.

Danni laughed full out. “Well, it’s not my fault that you’re so damn sexy and gorgeous that I can’t resist you.”

Kate rested an elbow next to Danni’s head and rested her cheek in an upraised palm. Looking down at Danni, she couldn’t help but smile, adoration in her eyes. “Would you really do that for her, Danni?”

“Absolutely, I would. Even if I wasn’t trying to sweeten the deal for you,” she joked, crying out in startled pain when she was pinched on the side. “Jeesh, can’t take a joke. Yes, baby, I would totally do that for her and Rob.” All joking aside, Danni brought a hand up and brushed some blonde hair out of Kate’s face. “Honey, her husband is heading off to a brutal war; we both know what that’s like. Megan needs to be able to get a life started for her and Rob, but mainly for herself, because…”

“I know,” Kate said quietly with a heavy sigh. “Just ask Carol, right?”

“Exactly. Not exactly something I want to contemplate for either of them, but Megan needs to know that she can have her own life, not only for if – god forbid – something happens with him, but also while he’s gone.”

“It’s tough,” Kate agreed. ” Really tough, to be the one left behind.”

” But, ” Danni stressed, “would Megan and Rob be offended if I offered this to them?”

“Offended? Why offended?”

“Because I’m one of the most stubborn, proud people you’ll ever meet, and I would be,” Danni grinned.

Kate widened her eyes in a faux look of surprise. “You? Stubborn? I had no idea!” She leaned down and gave Danni a quick kiss to ensure no feelings were hurt. “No, I know Megan wouldn’t be offended, and I don’t think Rob would be, either.”

“Alright, so be it. I’ll find out where exactly all the properties are so they can have a choice.”

Kate lowered herself and took Danni in a soft hug, needing to feel Danni against her. “Thank you,” she whispered into her ear. “Thank you.”
Chapter 35
“Mommy!” Megan cried, hurrying over to her mother and taking her in a desperate hug. She’d been separated more from her mother in the past three months than she had in her entire 22 years on the planet.

Kate returned the hug just as enthusiastically, thrilled to see her baby girl. “I missed you!” she cried, placing a loud kiss on her daughter’s cheek.

“Mom!” Megan exclaimed, looking around to see who had seen the interaction at Kate’s gate.

Kate knew better than to take offense. “How are you, sweetie?” she asked, holding her daughter by the shoulders.

“I’m good. Come on, let’s get your bags and head home.”

Loaded into Megan’s car, they headed to San Jose and Kate’s house. Kate looked around, watching all the palm trees that flew by along the road. California was so radically different than Nebraska , and even more different than Maine . She couldn’t help but wonder if she’d miss those palm trees once she left to be with Danni.

“How did the funeral go?” Megan asked, pulling the car to a stop at a red traffic light.

“It went really well. I can only hope that many people show up to my funeral when I die.”

Megan smiled. “I’m glad it went well.” She got the car moving again. “So, did you two have sex or what?”

“Megan!”

“What? It’s a fair question. I mean shit, when she was here for my wedding, the two of you looked like you wanted to eat each for lunch!” She glanced over at her mom. “So?”

Kate turned away, a blush creeping up her cheeks. “Yes. Danni and I are officially together.”

“Woohoo!” Megan crowed, pumping her fist. “‘Bout damn time!” Megan pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant. “Let’s get some dinner.” Once seated, Megan sipped her water as she looked at her mother. “So, what now?”

“Well, she asked me to move to Maine to be with her,” Kate said, worried about her daughter’s reaction. She needn’t have worried.

“Alright!” What Megan didn’t tell her mother was, she was heartbroken at the prospect of her mother moving clear across the country. “Are you going to do it?”

“That depends.” Kate smiled at the waitress who set her Coke down in front of her.

“On what?” Megan asked, sipping her own Coke.

“Megan, I can’t stand the thought of you living twenty six hundred miles away from me.” Seeing Megan in the airport made Kate realize just how much she loved her daughter, and just how much she couldn’t imagine not seeing her, if not every day, then at least once a week. “So, it depends.”

“On what?” Megan asked again.

“Danni has property on the east coast. She’s offered to give you and Rob a house, to both bring you closer to me, and to help you guys get started.”

Megan stared at her, mouth literally falling open. “What? Is she trying to buy her way into your life?”

Kate stared at her daughter, immediately angry. “How dare you say something like that, Megan? Danni has been nothing but good to you.”

Megan felt like a complete idiot and knew she’d hurt mother badly. She was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out exactly why she’d said that. As she watched their waitress put their food in front of them, she realized that perhaps it bothered her more than she’d realized for her mother to leave. She knew there was still a question on the table, but wasn’t entirely sure how to answer it. She sipped her Coke then faced her mother.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “That wasn’t fair.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Kate sat back in the booth, arms crossed over her chest. She was hurt and confused and trying to figure out where Megan’s sudden and surprising attitude was coming from. “Where did that come from?”

Megan sighed and began to ready her cheeseburger. “I don’t know.” She shrugged. She knew in her heart that if she were to be fully honest with her mom and tell her she didn’t want her to leave Kate would stay and walk away from the best thing that had ever happened to her. Megan knew she held her mother’s fate in her hands and hated it. “All I can say right now is, I’m sorry. That was a shitty thing to say and you didn’t deserve it. Neither does Danni.”

Kate knew there was far more to this conversation than what Megan had just said, but decided not to push it. She’d get it out of Megan eventually, or she’d ask Rob. She turned to her own meal, the two women eating in silence.

Megan pulled into the driveway of her childhood home and let the Volkswagen idle as she turned to look at her mother’s silent profile. “Do you want some help carrying your bags in?”

“No, thank you.” Kate leaned over and gave her daughter a curt kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for picking me up.”

Megan watched as her mother climbed out of the car and lugged her suitcase out of the backseat, then headed into the house. She sighed, resting her head back against the seat. “Nice job, dumbass,” she muttered, then got the car moving.

*****

Munson , ME 1968
Danni fell to her knees, Healy and Anicka nearly knocking her over in their excitement to see their owner again. Danni couldn’t help but laugh, even as she tried to escape the doggy kisses. Finally managing to get to her feet, she took hold of her suitcase and walked further into the cabin.

“How did they do?” she asked Tina, the 18 year old granddaughter of one of her renters who would house and dog sit for Danni when she had to travel.

“They did great. Missed you, of course, but other than that, nothing special.” Tina rose from the couch where she’d been watching TV on Danni’s console TV.

“I really appreciate you staying longer,” Danni said, walking up to the teen and handing her a small stack of bills. “I didn’t expect to have to take the second trip.”

Tina took the money, stuffing it into the pocket of her bell bottoms. “No worries.”

Left alone, Danni carried her suitcase into her bedroom and heaved it onto the bed. Though she was glad to be home, the flight back had been long and lonely, after spending every moment with Kate. She flopped down across the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

“It is just not going to be the same cuddling with a husky tonight,” she muttered. The husky in question padded into the room, whimpering softly. Danni lifted her head and met blue eyes, almost similar in color to her own. “Did you miss me, Heals?” she asked unnecessarily, as she knew the more sensitive of the two dogs was usually a mess when she left. “Come.” Danni patted the bed next to her, which was all the invitation he needed. Healy jumped up onto the bed and curled himself up between the small space between Danni and her suitcase.

As Danni absently ran her fingers through Healy’s thick, coarse hair, she thought back to her time with Kate. She had to smile, as her body was actually sore from all the hours they’d spent making love over the past week. Her eyes slid closed as she recalled Kate’s body and the way she felt against her. The passion between them was an awesome experience, and Danni wondered if it would always be that way.

The word always rattled around in Danni’s mind, as always implied a long period of time, if not forever. She’d asked Kate to move in with her and told her she wanted to spend the rest of her life with her. Suddenly Danni felt nervous butterflies beating against her insides. The funny thing was, it wasn’t the always or even rest of her life part that scared her. What scared Danni was the thought of opening her space, her life and most importantly, her heart.

With a heavy sigh, Danni sat up, Healy following her movement with his eyes. “Sorry, boy,” she cooed, leaning down and hugging the large, warm body of her favorite dog. “Gonna get up.”

Danni climbed off the bed and striped out of her clothing, replacing fitted jeans and peasant blouse for sweats and a t-shirt. Padding through the house, she was grateful Tina had a fire started, which was where Anicka lay in front of. As September came to a close, a winter-tinged autumn was already making its presence known.

In the kitchen, Danni made herself some spaghetti, both dogs sitting patiently side by side, waiting for her to either “drop” something or maybe even give them a piece of beef jerky, which was Danni’s special treat for them.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Danni prepared her plate. Glancing over at the two pitiful-looking dogs, she rolled her eyes. “You two are ridiculous.” Even so, she cut up one of her meatballs and tossed two bites out. Happy, Anicka trotted off back to her spot in front of the fireplace, while Healy lay at Danni’s feet.

As Danni ate her dinner, she looked at the three empty chair, the empty space seemingly mocking her. She could easily imagine those chairs filled by Kate, Megan and Rob. Maybe they would be having Sunday dinner? Danni remembered back to her own childhood: when her family had the extra money, they had a good and hearty family dinner, sometimes even a neighbor or two joining them. Danni hated to admit it, but for the first time in her life, she was lonely.

*****

San Jose , CA 1968
Megan lay on the couch and watched as Rob sat at the table Danni had made for them, chicken-pecking on the typewriter for a college paper. Her gaze moved from her husband to the table, itself. She thought about her comment to her mother a few hours before and the reasons behind it. She was bothered, and needed to talk.

“Rob?”

“Yeah, babe?” he responded, cursing softly as he made yet another mistake. He grabbed the bottle of Liquid Paper Megan had bought for him, as he was a terrible typist, and applied the odorous concoction to the page.

“Danni asked my mom to move to Maine ,” Megan said simply.

Hand in mid-stroke with the little Liquid Paper brush, Rob looked over at her. “No shit, really? That’s groovy as hell!” He studied his wife’s face and knew it wasn’t so groovy for her. Setting the bottle and brush on the table, he moved over to the couch where he sat down, placing Megan’s feet in his lap. “Talk to me.”

Megan couldn’t believe it when she felt tears stinging at the backs of her eyes. She tried to blink them away, but instead they came anyway.

“Whoa,” Rob said, pulling Megan into his lap. “I thought this was what you wanted, babe? For your mom to be happy.”

“I do,” Megan muttered, feeling like she was being such a baby. She fingered the neckline of Rob’s shirt, unable to meet his gaze. “I don’t want her to leave.”

“So why not go with her?” Rob asked reasonably.

Megan’s head shot up, her eyes meeting his. “What?”

“As much as you don’t want your mom to leave here is as much as I don’t want to think about you being here by yourself once I go, babe.”

“So, what am I supposed to do, Rob?” she asked, climbing out of his lap. She knew she was getting far more upset than was necessary, but couldn’t help it. “Follow my mother in her little adventures across the country just so I won’t be alone? I’m not four years old, Robert.”

“I know that, babe,” Rob said gently, fully understanding where all of Megan’s emotion was coming from. He knew how close she was with Kate, and knew it was killing Megan inside to think of her mother being so far away. “Think of it as a new start for us, Megan.” He stood and walked over to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. He was glad when she didn’t push him away.

“She said Danni has offered to give us a house,” Megan said, allowing herself to be pulled into a hug. She rested her head against Rob’s chest and reveled in the safety and warmth of his arms.

Rob was shocked but decided to play it cool. “I guess a dining room set wasn’t enough, huh?”

Megan smiled, grateful for Rob’s cool and calm head. “Don’t you think that’s a little weird, though?” She lifted her head and looked into her husband’s face, wanting to see his reaction.

“Is it different? Yes. Is it odd? No. I think it’s a gesture from a very kind and generous woman who really loves your mom and wants her to be happy.” Megan’s silence told him that he’d gotten through to her, at least on some level. “I’m assuming you didn’t tell your mom the news, huh?” he asked softly, caressing Megan’s back.

Megan shook her head, resting her head back to his chest. “No. Unfortunately I really hurt her by saying something stupid, and that was pretty much it. Besides,” Megan sighed as she pulled away from Rob and sat on the couch again. “The last thing I wanted to do at that point was tell her she’s going to be a grandma and make her feel all guilty about wanting to be with Danni.”
Chapter 36

Burbank , CA 1968
Carol and Kate exchanged a glance before returning their gaze to Helen, who had been silent since hearing Kate’s rendition of events regarding Danni. The three old friends sat in Carol’s kitchen eating lunch.

“You know, they say Monty Clift was a homosexual,” Carol said, finally breaking the silence. She ignored the glare she got from Kate.

“He was far too handsome to be involved with anything like that,” Helen said, her first words in five minutes. She turned her attention to Kate. “I don’t understand this, Kate. You knew Danni was a woman back in San Diego , yet you still were with him? Her, ” she corrected.

“Yes.”

“But, why ?” she pleaded, utterly baffled and slightly offended at the entire situation.

“Because I loved her, Helen. I love her now. You know what an amazing person Danni is, or was back then. Nothing has changed with her. She’s kind, caring, compassionate and just a tremendous human being.”

“So be friends with her Kate, but don’t… I can’t even begin to think what you’d do with a woman.” Disturbed, she pushed back from the table and refilled her coffee cup. “I’m sorry, but I really just think this entire thing is wrong.”

“I used to think the same thing, Helen,” Carol said gently, accepting another cup as Helen brought the pot to the table. “Why do you think Kate and I were no longer friends and I moved out?”

Helen was shocked as she replaced the pot and sat down again. “You knew?” she whispered, as though someone might overhear.

“Yes.”

“How? Kate told you but not me?” Helen shot Kate a hurt look before returning her gaze to Carol.

“Nope. I saw them once asleep, and saw Danni’s breasts.”

“I’m getting a migraine,” Helen moaned, bringing a hand up to her forehead.

“You are making far too big a deal out of this, Helen,” Carol commented, amused by Helen’s theatrics. “Love is beautiful, so why shouldn’t Kate be happy, too?”

Kate reached across the table and squeezed Carol’s hand. “Thank you.”

Helen’s eyes landed on the physical touch, suspicion roaming through her brain. “If you’re friendship ended back in ’43 then how are you two friends now?”

“Because I knew I was being an unfair retch twenty years ago. I realized it was stupid to throw away a perfectly good friendship because of my own ignorance.”

“Are you calling me ignorant, Carol?” Helen accused.

Carol shrugged, even as Kate rolled her eyes. “If the shoe fits, Helen.”

“This is outrageous.” Helen pushed back from the table. “I’m going home.”

Carol sighed heavily and sent an apologetic look to Kate before she, too got up and followed Helen to the front door. “Wait,” she said, grabbing Helen’s hand to stop her from leaving. “If you need to go to think about this then do it, but think carefully, Helen,” Carol advised. “Kate and Danni share a love that neither you nor I will ever know. It’s special and so are both of them. Don’t be blinded like I was by what you may or may not think is right. It’s not up to you to judge.”

Helen listened, nodding as Carol finished. “I’ll call you later,” she said quietly then left.

Carol turned to see Kate leaning against the archway that led into the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Kate.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. Thank you for saying all of that.” Kate took Carol in a tight hug. “Thank you.”

Carol smiled at Kate after hug ended. “I’ve got to make amends somehow.” They reclaimed their seats in the kitchen. “How are things going now, by the way?”

The smile that lit up Kate’s face could have lit up the entire city. “She’s asked me to move to Maine with her.”

Carol’s brows shot up. “I take it you two have gotten over the stubborn hump then, huh?”

“Yes.”

“I’m really happy for you, sweetie.” Carol squeezed Kate’s hand in friendship and genuine affection. “Truly, I am.” Carol noted the sadness that suddenly filled Kate’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”

*****

When Kate pulled into her driveway, she was surprised to see her daughter’s car already there. Not sure if she wanted to deal with this right now, Kate sat behind the wheel for a long moment then finally turned off the engine and grabbed her purse.

Megan sat at the kitchen table reading the newspaper when Kate entered. “Hey,” she said, somewhat sheepish.

“Hello, Megan,” Kate said, setting her purse on the counter and shrugging out of the light jacket she wore.

“You know, if you needed a jacket today, imagine how you’ll feel this time of year in Maine .”

Kate kept her back to her daughter as she poured herself a glass of iced tea, more for something to do than because she was thirsty. “I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to Maine , Megan.”

“What? Why?” Megan folded up the newspaper and tossed it aside.

“Because.” Kate sat across from her daughter. “The last thing I want to do is cause problems for anyone.”

Megan felt terrible, as she knew who that ‘anyone’ was. “Mom,” she said softly, reaching across the table and taking her mother’s hand. “I was acting like a child yesterday, and I’m so sorry. That’s why I’m here now. I think the news just hit me hard, and though it truly is everything that I want for you, it’ll definitely be hard to see you go.”

“But that’s just it, I can’t bear to live so far away from my daughter, Megan. I can’t imagine not being able to see you or even talk to you very often.”

Megan smiled. “Guess we’re both kinda suffering from apron string sickness, huh? Think about it, though: you nearly had a coronary when I moved out to go to college.”

Kate smiled at the memory. “Yes, but you at least still lived in the same town,” she reasoned.

“Mom, who’s to say that I’ll even stay here in San Jose , or California for that matter, once I graduate and find a job?”

Kate studied her daughter for a long moment. She hadn’t even considered that, figuring that Megan would stay close by forever. “Am I being selfish?”

“No, but I certainly was last night.” Megan got up from her chair and moved around to her mother, kneeling next to the chair, Kate’s hand still tucked in both of hers. “Mom,” she began, looking up into her mother’s face. “You haven’t had a whole lot to make you happy in your personal life: no matter what you may think, I always knew you weren’t happy with dad. You were always so sad and I never truly understood why until I saw the light in your eyes the day Danni walked back into your life. Well, you walked back into hers, anyway. You are still young, still beautiful and totally deserve to be happy and in love, like I am with Rob. I would be the worst person in the world to ever want to deny you that, just because I selfishly want you here.”

Kate was moved to tears. She grabbed Megan and held her in a tight, grateful hug. “I love you, honey,” she whispered into the hug. “The best daughter anyone could ever have.”

“Yeah, well I love you too, and you’ll make the best grandmother that anyone could ever have.”

It took a moment, but the words finally filtered into Kate’s brain. She pulled away, looking at Megan. “What?”

Megan’s smile was ear to ear, even as tears of sadness shone in her eyes. “We’re having a baby.” Kate opened her mouth to speak but Megan cut her off. “And if you tell me you’re not going now just because of that, we’ll have some serious words, you and I.”

Overwhelmed with such beautiful news, Kate grabbed her daughter in another hug, nearly squeezing her to death. “This is wonderful news!” She finally let her daughter go, realizing she was also about to squeeze her unborn grandchild to death. “Is Rob excited?”

“He’s like a little kid about it!” Megan laughed, pushing up from the floor and plopping down in the chair to her mother’s left. “We’re both thrilled, though it kinda came at a bad time, what with Rob leaving in a few months.”

“When did you find out?” Kate asked, sipping from her tea.

“Last week. I didn’t want to tell you over some scratchy long distance phone line, but then things kinda didn’t go so well last night,” Megan said sheepishly. “Can I ask you something?” Megan asked suddenly.

“Of course, you know that.”

“Why did you and Danni break up a hundred years ago?”

“It was twenty-four years ago, thank you very much. And in truth, we never did break up.” Kate studied Megan for a moment, trying to decide what to tell her. Finally, she decided to settle on the truth. “Honey, for me to be totally honest with you will mean my telling you some unfavorable things about your father. I don’t want to taint your image of him.”

“I want to know, Mom,” Megan said softly. “I’m a big girl and can handle it.”

Kate nodded, knowing Megan spoke the truth. “Alright. Your father was incredibly jealous of Danni, and so he used his position to interfere with the letters Danni and I were sending to each other while Danni was overseas. He created in doubt in us both, as well as fed us both lies about the other.”

Megan could only stare for a moment. “Are you telling me that Dad intercepted your and Danni’s letters, just to break you up?”

Kate nodded. “Basically.”

Megan sat back in her chair, shocked. “What an asshole.”

“He had his reasons, honey, though not to say any of them were good ones.” Kate hated the fact that she was trying to give George some semblance of justification for what he did, but she was only doing it for Megan’s benefit. “You actually met Danni once before.”

“What? When?”

“You were only 2. She’d come back after finally leaving the military and showed up on our doorstep.”

“Whoa!” Megan breathed. “What happened?”

“Your father was furious that she was here, and Danni left. I went to her motel room that night to talk.”

Megan’s brows shot up, seeing something behind her mother’s eyes. “You didn’t just talk, did you?”

Kate smiled slightly and shook her head. She felt guilty and didn’t want Megan to think badly of her mother for cheating. “It was a complicated situation.”

“Wow, this is like some crazy movie or something.” She grabbed her mother tea and took a drink before setting it back down on the table. “I told Rob about Danni’s offer. I really don’t know, Mom. I want us to stay close, but I don’t want to make a move for the wrong reasons, or do something that I may regret down the road. I want you to go, be with Danni and find your happiness. Give me some time to think it over. I still need to finish school, so I’ve got a few months before I can do anything anyway. Okay?”

“Okay,” Kate agreed. “I want you to do what you feel is right for you, Rob and for your child. I’m being just as selfish by wanting to drag you across the country to be near me.” She leaned over and kissed Megan on the cheek. “I’ll respect whatever decision you make and won’t bring it up again.”

“Fair enough.” Megan gave her mother a shit-eating grin. “I do have to say though, the promise of a free house is very tempting.”

*****

Six weeks later:
“That goes over, Rob,” Kate pointed, turning back to her own box as her son-in-law stacked the box into the back of the U-Haul truck.

“Mom, did you say you wanted to keep the holiday decorations or donate them?” Megan asked, tapping the box marked HOLDAY.

Kate stopped what she was doing and contemplated Megan’s box. “Do you want them?” she asked.

“I have no room for these at my house.”

“Damn. Well, I guess go ahead and load them. If Danni doesn’t want them, we can donate them there. I’m sure there are Goodwill stores in Munson.”

“Why on earth would you get rid of Christmas decorations?” Danni asked, cutting across the lawn to where Megan and Kate stood.

Beyond excited, Kate ran the short distance to Danni and nearly knocked her over with the force of her hug. Laughing, Danni caught her.

“Hello to you, too,” she said, keeping Kate on her feet. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier, but business in San Diego took a little longer than I expected.”

“It’s so good to see you,” Kate gushed.

“It’s good to be seen,” Danni grinned.

“Hey, Danni!” Megan enthused, walking over to her and giving her a hug, as did Rob.

“Hey. I hear some major congratulations are in order.” She smiled at the young couple. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Come with me.” Kate grabbed Danni by the hand and led her into the empty house where they wouldn’t have a street full of neighbors watching. “I want to give you a proper greeting.” Kate wrapped her arms around Danni’s neck and pulled her down for a passionate kiss, which was readily returned.

“I missed you so much,” Danni murmured, caressing the soft skin of Kate’s cheek.

“I missed you, too. I think this has been the longest six weeks of my life!”

Danni grinned in understanding. “Are you sure about this?” she asked, indicating the empty house around them.

“More sure than anything. I’m ready,” Kate assured, followed by another kiss.

“Then let’s do it.”

An hour later, Megan held onto her mother for dear life. She was doing her level best to keep her tears in; she didn’t want her mom leaving with any regrets. “You guys be safe,” she whispered into the hug.

“We will,” Kate assured, gently rocking her daughter, who she could sense was barely holding onto her emotions. “If you need anything, and I do mean anything, ” she said, pulling out of the hug but holding her daughter by the arms. “you call me. I’m an airplane ride away, sweetie, and I’ll be here in an instant.”

“I know,” Megan smiled, a tear managing to find its way out. She quickly swiped at it. “Don’t cry, Megan,” Kate said softly, bringing up her hand to gently wipe away a second tear. “We’ll see each other soon.”

Megan nodded, taking several deep breaths as she tried to reign in her emotions. The situation and extra dose of hormones weren’t helping things any. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Danni watched the two and for a moment wondered if she was doing the right thing by whisking Kate off to the other side of the country. Her attention was grabbed when Rob walked up to her and took her in a hug.

“You take care of her,” he said, giving a final squeeze then pulling away.

“I will. You do the same, mister,” she demanded.

Rob chuckled. “You got it.”

Danni pulled away from Rob in time to see Megan walking over to her. She saw the tears in her eyes, though could tell she was trying to hold strong. “She’ll be fine, sweetheart,” Danni said softly.

Megan nodded. “I know. I want her to be happy.” She took Danni in a tight, lingering hug, which was returned. As the hug broke Megan kept her hand on Danni’s arm. “I can’t apologize enough for what my father did to you guys. It was wrong.”

Danni was surprised that Kate had told Megan the truth, but hid her surprise behind a kind smile. “If he hadn’t, Kate wouldn’t have you, so maybe things happen for a reason, huh?” Megan’s smile reminded Danni so much of Kate when she was just a little younger than Megan. “We’re here for you guys, okay?”

Megan nodded. “Thank you. Have a safe trip.”

Kate, Danni and everything Kate owned were loaded into the truck and ready to head out across the country. Danni, who was behind the wheel of the large truck looked over at Kate and took her hand, glad when Kate squeezed her fingers.

“Here we go,” Danni said quietly.

Kate took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She met Danni’s gaze. “Yes. Here we go.”

Danni started the powerful engine then pulled the truck out from the curb where Rob had parked it that morning.

Kate looked into the large side mirror and saw Rob and Megan standing where they’d been left, watching as the truck drove away. She easily see that Megan was fully crying now, and that brought tears to her eyes and slight guilt to her heart. Here we go.

By nightfall they’d made it into Utah . Danni found a motel and swung the large truck into the parking lot. “Baby, if you want to get us a room I’ll secure the truck.”

“Sure.”

Kate hopped down from the cab and made her way into the manager’s office. She secured a room and walked back to where Danni was pulling the sliding back door of the truck closed and securing it with a padlock.

“We’re good to go,” she said, smiling at Kate.

Kate led them to their room and let them in, Danni flicking on the lights as they entered. The room was simple and small with a double bed, dresser and table with two chairs. Kate immediately made her way into the small bathroom, as she’d needed to go for the past one hundred miles.

Danni tossed the overnight bag they’d packed to the bed and flopped down across it herself. She was tired and her butt hurt from sitting for so long. Tomorrow Kate was going to take over behind the wheel. She heard the toilet flush and the bathroom door open, Kate entering the room and lying on the bed beside Danni.

“Come here, stranger,” Danni said, holding out an arm to Kate.

Kate moved over to Danni, for some reason feeling shy. She rested her head on Danni’s shoulder, wrapping an arm across Danni’s torso. “Long day.”

“Yes, very long day.” She pulled Kate a little closer, noting the slight distance. “Is everything okay?”

Kate smiled, figuring Danni would sense something. “Yeah. It’s crazy, but I feel like it’s my wedding night or something.”

Danni chuckled. “What? Why?”

Kate lifted her head and looked down into the bemused expression on Danni’s face. “I know, it’s stupid. I feel kind of shy, like I’m not sure what I’m allowed to do, or what to be comfortable with.”

Danni brought a hand up and tucked Kate’s hair behind an ear. “It’s just me, Kate. The same ol’ Danni.”

“I know. I told you it was stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. I imagine the knowledge that you’re about to start a new life away from everything and everyone is kind of scary.”

Kate nodded. “It is. But,” she held up a finger, seeing the fear begin to creep into Danni’s eyes. “I’m not regretting my decision, nor am I having second thoughts.”

Danni studied Kate’s eyes for a very long moment, searching them for any sort of port in the storm of turmoil that was in her own heart and mind. Kate may have been leaving her state and her daughter, but Danni was about to venture into territory that was beyond foreign. She’d lived alone for a very long time, and had no clue how to truly share herself, her time or her space with another person, even if that person was Kate.

Kate could almost read the story behind Danni’s eyes, even if she couldn’t fully make out the plot. “Are you?” she asked, her nerves kicking up a notch. “Having second thoughts?”

“No,” Danni said immediately, meaning it. “We’ll have a lot to sort through undoubtedly, but no, I’m not rethinking anything. I love you.”

Kate smiled, sunshine flowing back into her heart. “I love you, too.” She kissed Danni. “Want to get something to eat then settle in for the night?”

“I think that’s a brilliant plan,” Danni complimented.

The found a fast food place across the street and brought their bagged food back to the room. Sitting at the table, both dug into greasy burgers and even greasier French fries.

“So, you my love are going to be coming into a winter wonderland in Maine,” Danni said, sipping from her Coke.

“Really?!” Kate enthused. “You know, I’ve only seen snow once in my life and I was 4 years old.”

“Are you serious? Only once?”

“You try living your life in California and see how much snow you see,” Kate laughed.

“Well, where you’re going you’ll see plenty. I’d wager you might even get sick of it,” Danni said before tossing a fry into her mouth.

“I don’t know about that; I actually look forward to something different. San Diego and San Jose were great, but I’ve been in California now for more than 40 years. I’m ready to try something new.”

“You have no idea how glad I am to hear that,” Danni teased.

Looking across the table at Danni, Kate suddenly felt the need to be close to her, to completely break away any distance or discomfort between them. She pushed back from the table and walked over to Danni, nudging Danni to push her chair back, which she did. Kate climbed onto her lap, straddling her thighs and grinning at her.

“Well, hello there,” Danni said, hands going to Kate’s hips.

“Hello.”

“You must really like this seat,” Danni teased.

“Best seat in the house.” Kate rested her hands on the back of the chair, her face no more than six inches away from Danni’s. “Do you realize how absolutely crazy we are for doing this?”

“I do, actually. Almost like a couple of these crazy kids nowadays. All we’re missing is a VW bus.”

Kate grinned, liking the idea. “We could grow our hair out to our waist and wear nothing but tie-dye and long skirts.”

Danni chuckled, moving her hands down along Kate’s thighs until she reached the hem of her skirt. She slid her hands back up the same path they were until they rested on a satin-clad behind. “I like the skirt idea; easier access.”

Kate laughed. “You’re incorrigible.”

“Completely and proudly. I’m not the only irresistible one in this relationship.” She squeezed Kate’s butt to emphasize her point.

Kate wiggled in Danni’s lap, making them both smile. “What do you think your brother Billy would say about all this? Did he know about you?”

Danni nodded. “To an extent. He knew I wasn’t like ‘regular’ girls, but I don’t think either of us really knew what to call it or what to think of it at the time. And as for what he’d think, I think he’d be thrilled that I found someone who can put up with my ass.”

“Oh, because you’re so difficult and all,” Kate said, rolling her eyes.

“I can be. What made you bring my brother up?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m just kind of sad that I wasn’t able to meet any of your family, and even sadder that you don’t have any left,” Kate said softly, running her fingers through Danni’s hair.

“Other than my mom dying a few years back, they’ve all been gone a long, long time. I guess I don’t think about it much, though I have to admit that, as beautiful a picture as you, Megan and Rob make, sometimes it’s hard.”

“Why, baby?” Kate cocked her head slightly, getting lost in the amazing beauty of the woman beneath her. So often she wondered what on earth such a creature would want with her.

“Because I don’t have that,” Danni said simply. “Allison was my family, and now she’s gone, too.”

Kate’s heart broke at the profound sadness she saw in Danni’s eyes. “They say when one door closes another opens, and I’d say another opened with someone who absolutely adores you. Megan and Rob do, too.” She cupped Danni’s face. “If you want my family, Danni, they’ve fully accepted you into it.”

“I think we’re done with dinner,” Danni whispered, bridging the distance and taking Kate in a deep kiss.

Kate responded instantly, pulling Danni even further into the kiss, her passion rising quickly. After a long moment the kiss broke, both breathless. “Come on.”

Kate climbed off Danni’s lap and led the short distance over to the bed. She turned and faced Danni as she quickly tugged her clothes off, watching as Danni did the same. Naked, they came together in a slow, and deeply passionate kiss before Danni was pulled onto the bed.

Twenty minutes later, Kate was cuddled up next to Danni, her head tucked under Danni’s chin, both recovering from the intensity of the moment.

“I hope you’re okay with just one orgasm tonight,” Danni joked, her eyes already drooping.

Kate chuckled, pressing herself even closer into Danni’s body. “You mean as opposed to the usual ten? Yes, I’m very okay with that.” Her jaw cracked with the enormity of her yawn. “I’m tired too, baby.”

“Good,” Danni murmured, beginning to drift off. “I love you and good night.”

“Good night, baby,” Kate whispered, leaning up and placing a kiss on Danni’s lips. “I love you, too.”
Chapter 37

Munson, ME
The excitement of arriving had ended, Healy and Anicka now more interested in sniffing the newcomer than barking and jumping at their wayward owner. Danni leaned against the entryway into the spacious living room, watching as Kate walked from decoration to decoration, running her fingers over various surfaces and just all around reacquainting herself with a home she’d been in for a few short hours months before, and now was to be her home.

Danni’s heart was pounding as she watched Kate. She knew that within the next few days her house was no longer going to look as it did now: Kate’s belongings would be moved in and infiltrate what Danni had spent years creating for herself. On some level that realization excited her beyond compare, but on another level, it scared her to death and made her deeply uncomfortable.

“Are you okay?”Kate asked softly, walking up to Danni. She noticed the deep look of thought on her face and became somewhat concerned.

Kate’s voice and sudden appearance before her snapped Danni out of her thoughts. She literally shook herself out of it and smiled. “Just thinking about how different it’ll be here, having someone here with me all the time.”

Kate immediately felt a stab of fear. “Is that a bad thing?”

“No. It’s a different thing. I have to wonder if maybe the purpose of having Mary in my life for the past year was to get me ready for you.”

Kate wanted to be happy at the words, but she could see the fear in Danni’s eyes. “You’ve been alone for a long time, Danni,” she began, a hand resting on Danni’s arm. “Lived alone, that is. You created this cabin according to your tastes and needs, and created your life according your tastes and needs.” She looked deeply into Danni’s eyes, making sure she had her full attention. “I need to know right now – and the truth – if you can do this. I know I’m here, but I can just as easily go home if that’s what you want or need. It kills me to say all this, but I love you enough to let you go-”

Kate’s words broke Danni’s heart and made her feel a loss greater than anything she could ever know if Kate walked out that door. She knew she had a lot to overcome, but also knew that she needed Kate with her to overcome it. So, she interrupted Kate’s selfless offer with a kiss, cupping Kate’s face in gentle hands, then pulled her into a warm embrace.

“I don’t want you to go anywhere,” she whispered into the hug.

Kate melted against Danni, relieved and at peace. “Danni?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“Can we go play in the snow?”

Danni’s chuckle soon turned into a full laugh. “Come on, child ‘o mine.”

Dressed in enough clothing to keep a person alive and well in Antarctica, Kate followed Danni to the great white wonderland that was their front yard. The snow was piled up against the house and reached to mid-calf on the ground from the recent storm that had fallen two days before.

“This is a ton of snow, Danni,” Kate muffled from around the scarf that was tied around her mouth and chin.

“This ain’t nothin’,” Danni assured, doing her best to not laugh her butt off at just how ridiculous Kate looked. She’d asked Danni to give her enough clothing so she wouldn’t be cold, so Danni had fully obliged. She knew Kate’s California blood would adapt soon enough.

Before that thought was even out of her head, Danni found herself jerking back from the impact of a rather large snowball. Looking down, she saw the splattered white mess on the upper chest of her winter jacket.

Eyes wide, Danni looked at a grinning Kate. “You did not just do that.”

“Yes, I did.” Kate was rather proud of herself until it hit her what she’d just done and the realization of retaliation. “Now Danni,” she sputtered, seeing the look in Danni’s eyes. “I’m a beginner, here. Go easy!” SPLAT! Kate spat out snow, even as she lay sprawled out in it. Bringing up a gloved hand, she wiped the snow curtain away from her eyes only to see a howling Danni five feet away from her, nearly falling herself in her mirth. “So you think that’s funny, huh?” Kate growled, shaking the snow off her face and from her hair. She reached up and pulled the scarf down just enough to fling the snow out that had slid down to her mouth and chin. “I can show you funny.”

And the fight was on.

Danni ran – as fast as she could in a foot of snow – and ducked behind the thick trunk of a tree just before a snowball splattered on the front side. Giggling like a little girl, she fell to her knees and began to create an arsenal of snowballs. “I’m gonna get you!” she called out.

“Ya already did!” Kate called back, making her own snowball arsenal from behind Danni’s Jeep.

“I’m warning you, California girl! You’re no match for a pro!” Danni taunted, throwing a fastball for effect, the snow splattering on the side of her Jeep, which cause a yelp from Kate on the other side. Danni chuckled and turned back to her task.

Healy and Anicka stood on the porch watching, as though knowing that the two crazy humans were about to engage in the snowball fight of all snowball fights.

“Don’t get so cocky, Nebraska ,” Kate called back, making Danni laugh from behind her tree. “Pro,” Kate muttered. Even so, she had to admit that, despite her inhuman layers of clothing, she was already beginning to feel the chill, and her fingers were becoming stiff. Not one to admit weakness, she pushed it all down, determined to beat Danni at her own game.

Feeling she had enough ammo, Kate slowly rose, just enough to peek through the driver’s side window and through to the yard beyond the passenger window. She yelped and fell to the ground again when a giant splat hit the passenger window, followed by a cackle from somewhere out in the yard.

Kate spit out her mouthful of snow and got smart. She remained on her hands and knees but lowered her head enough so that she could see what was going on from underneath the vehicle. Her cleverness was rewarded when she saw booted feet dart out from behind the tree and gallop through the snow to a new hiding spot.

Grinning like a kid, Kate grabbed an armful of snowballs and shot to her feet, pelting an unsuspecting Danni with one after the other. Trying to shield her face and head, Danni dropped most of her snowballs, leaving her open for a ruthless attack.

Giggling like a crazed lunatic, Kate moved out from behind the Jeep, continuing the blitz attack. She gasped when Danni lost her footing as she tried to get away from Kate and fell, hitting her head on a tree.

“Danni!” Kate dropped her ammo and ran over to her, falling to her knees and tugging her scarf down away from her mouth so she could talk easier. “Are you okay?”

Danni lay there, dazed, or so it would seem. As soon as Kate was leaning over her, she grabbed her and reversed their positions so that Kate was flat on her back in the snow, Danni hovering over her. She grabbed a handful of snow and smashed it into Kate’s face.

Leaning down in close, she grinned. “Welcome to Maine, baby.”

Kate brushed the snow out of her face, trying not to choke on snow as she laughed. “You cheat.”

“Yes I do,” Danni grinned, leaning down and placing a sound kiss on Kate’s cold-hardened lips. “I’m also cold and so are you.” Danni pushed to her feet and helped Kate to hers, where they dusted each other off. “Come on, baby. Let’s go get warm.”

A roaring fire warmed the room, but still chilled, Kate and Danni lay spooned on the couch wrapped in a blanket, their naked bodies helping to create body heat. Danni was pressed into the back of the couch, Kate pressed back into her.

“Starting to warm up?” Danni asked, pulling a still-shivering Kate closer into her.

Kate nodded. “Slowly, but yes.” She stared into the dancing flames and sighed. Despite her chilled body, she felt she’d died and gone to Heaven. She took Danni’s hand, which rested on her stomach, and placed it over her right breast, holding the larger hand firm with her own.

“Jesus, woman!” Danni exclaimed. “That thing could cut glass!”

Kate giggled. “Well, I’m cold !”

“Here, turn over.” Danni helped keep Kate from falling off the couch as she did as she was told and now facing Danni. Taking up their favorite position of entwined legs, Danni readjusted the blanket around them, gasping when the cold, pebbled flesh of Kate’s breasts pressed against her own. “Better?”

“Yeah, except now my butt’s cold.”

Danni rolled her eyes, reaching across Kate’s hip and cupping the cold flesh in question. Indeed, it was cold. “So, are ya going to be able to handle this weather, lady?”

“Mmm,” Kate hummed, burying her face in Danni’s neck. “If I can spend my winters right here.”

Danni chuckled, using her hand on Kate’s butt as leverage to pull Kate even closer into her. “Me thinks me lady is warming up,” Danni purred, as she felt Kate adjust her hips even closer to Danni’s. She could feel moisture against her thigh but wasn’t sure if it was sweat from their combined body heat or if her little vixen was also feeling excited.

Kate lifted her smiling face away from Danni’s neck and rested it on the large throw pillow, their faces mere inches apart. “That I am.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Danni asked, tracing her fingernails along the underside of Kate’s raised thigh.

“Of course.”

“I’m actually really surprised I’m asking this, and feel free to not answer. When you and George were together, were you together very often?”

Kate ran her hand up Danni’s upper chest and around her shoulder and to her side. “No,” she said easily. “In truth, when I decided to leave George, we hadn’t been intimate in years. He tried, but,” Kate shrugged a shoulder, “I wanted nothing to do with it.”

“Why not?” Danni ran her hand back up, following the rounded curve of Kate’s behind. She could feel the heat of the moisture between Kate’s legs, and knew it had little to do with sweat, just like her own. The knowledge that her touch excited Kate made Danni’s blood boil all the hotter.

Dealing with her own rising desires, Kate said, “Because he wasn’t you. Because he wasn’t soft and sensuous, like you. Like a woman.” Kate leaned forward the scant few inches and kissed Danni. “But more importantly, I didn’t love him like that.” She kissed Danni again, her hand gliding up Danni’s side and over Danni’s own arm until she cupped her breast. “Not like I love you.”

Danni pulled Kate to her in a deep, passionate kiss as she pushed Kate to her back and slid on top of her, continuing the kiss. After a breathless moment, she lifted slight, looking down at a flushed Kate. “I’ve got an old friend that would love to say hello if you’re game.”

Kate saw the sensuous twinkle in Danni’s eyes and felt it from her toes to her scalp. “I’d love to.”

“Stay here. I’ll be right back.” Danni climbed out from underneath the blanket and tucked Kate in nice and snug, making her laugh.

Danni quickly padded into the bedroom where the air took a decidedly more chilly turn. Shivering slightly, she hurried to gather the old contraption that she hadn’t used since that night in ’49 in a motel room in San Jose, California. Danni always felt silly walking around with the phallus strapped to her hips without pants to hold it down, but she quickly made her way back into the warmth of the living room where the fire still crackled merrily, and back to Kate.

Kate glanced over to the huge fireplace and the fire within, then her gaze scanned down to the two bored-looking huskies who lay in front of it, both of which were looking back at her. Kate had to admit she felt a little strange doing this in front of the dogs, but knew she had to get used to it.

In truth, it was good to be around animals again. She and George had gotten Megan a golden retriever named Molly when Megan was 4, but unfortunately the dog had gotten hit by a car and killed three years later. Megan had been so distraught they’d decided not to get another one. Well, George had decided not to get another one; had it been up to Kate, they would have gotten another dog the next day.

Kate heard Danni re-enter the room, her gaze going first to Danni’s magnificent naked body then to the phallus that bobbed amusingly from her body. Kate’s smile was hidden by the blanket.

Danni smiled as she could just see Kate’s eyes and the top of her head above the blanket. “You are too cute,” she said, tugging the blanket up just enough for her to slide under it, then pulled it back around her shoulders from where she lay atop Kate, where she was readily accepted with a tight hug.

“Welcome back,” Kate smiled, spreading her legs as Danni settled herself between them.

“It’s good to be back,” Danni murmured into Kate’s ear, making the woman beneath her shiver a bit. She reached down between them and adjusted the phallus so it would slide between the saturated folds of Kate’s sex.

Kate let out a soft sigh, her hands running down Danni’s back and to her behind, cupping the flesh as Danni’s hips moved the phallus against her in a slow, lazy rhythm. She could feel herself becoming wetter and wetter with each pass.

Danni held Kate in a lazy, exploratory kiss as she ran the phallus through Kate’s wetness, assuring the phallus was liberally coated with Kate’s own need. She pulled away from the kiss and could feel Kate’s soft pants against her face. “Are you ready?”

Kate nodded, running her hands back up Danni’s back until her arms were wrapped around her shoulders. “Do it now.”

Danni pulled her hips back just enough for the phallus to fall into the right position then slowly pushed her hips forward, the phallus entering smoothly. They both moaned at the familiar feeling.

“I feel so full,” Kate whispered with a sheepish smile. “It’s been a long time.”

“Are you okay? Are you uncomfortable?” Danni asked, stilling her movements.

“God no. No.” Kate buried her fingers in Danni’s hair and pulled her down into a deep, loving kiss. “I love the feeling of you inside me, Danni,” she whispered against Danni’s lips.

Danni rested on her forearms as she slowly moved her hips, stopping the thrusting motion as she rotated them in a slow grind, making them both groan at the new sensation. She left Kate’s mouth and began to nuzzle her neck as she began a slow thrust again, the couch creaking slightly with her movements. Soon her lips and tongue found the warm skin, sucking gently so as not to leave a mark.

Kate’s eyes slipped closed as her head fell to the side, her hands buried in Danni’s hair, pressing her further into her neck. Sure that Danni could continue, she slid her hands down over Danni’s neck then ran her fingernails lightly down Danni’s back then spread her fingers out, feeling the smooth skin and muscle moving beneath it.

From Kate’s beautiful whimpers and rising moans, Danni could tell Kate’s body was building for release. She left Kate’s neck and pushed up to her hands, looking down into Kate’s flushed face. She used the power in her hips to increase her rhythm and thrusts, Kate responding by bringing her knees up a bit higher, allowing for deeper penetration.

Kate groaned deep in her throat as Danni picked up the pace even more, Kate’s breasts moving with the power of each thrust. Kate’s eyes squeezed tightly shut as Danni’s thrusts became even harder and quicker, driving them both to the brink.

“God,” Danni hissed, her hips slamming into Kate now as the pleasure rose to the point of no return.

Kate cried out as her body convulsed, her nails digging into Danni’s back in a subconscious effort to stay grounded, even as she was flying high.

Danni didn’t feel the pain as she, too released, reaching down to cup Kate’s behind to press their bodies tightly together, milking each drop of pleasure out as she ground their hips together, her face buried in Kate’s neck.

After long moments, Kate began to come back within herself, wrapping her arms around Danni’s neck and holding her close. “My god,” she panted, stroking Danni’s hair. “That was unbelievable.”

Danni nodded, her face still buried in Kate’s neck. After a long moment, she left a kiss there then placed one on Kate’s lips. “I love you.”

“I love you.”

“What do you say we move this into the bedroom?” Danni asked against Kate’s mouth.

Kate grinned. “Do you actually think we’ll have the energy for more?”

Danni chuckled. “Baby, I still got nine more orgasms to give you.” She delighted at Kate’s laugh. “But first,” she said, gently pulling out of Kate and then climbing off the couch. “I need to let the dogs out to go to the bathroom one more time and douse the fire.” She snatched the blanket off Kate’s body, grinning at Kate’s grab for it. “Hey, it’s cold and I have things I still have to do. You go warm up the bed for us.”

Kate sighed dramatically, slowly pushing up from the couch, as she was a little sore. “Fine.”

Kate could hear Danni and the dogs moving around in the house as she turned down the bed and climbed in. It was chilly between the sheets, but even as she shivered, she knew they would warm up quickly, especially once Danni joined her.

With only a single bedside lamp on, the room was painted in a buttery glow that was warm and welcoming. Kate looked around the bedroom, realizing that it would be the space she’d be sharing with Danni for however long they lived in the cabin, which she suspected would be a very long time, if not forever. It was a comforting thought, and one that she was shocked at just how much she looked forward to.

“Hey beautiful,” Danni said as she entered the room, quickly dropping the blanket and removing the phallus before climbing under the blankets and scooting over to Kate.

“Your yourself,” Kate murmured, moving into Danni’s open arms. “How cold does it get here?”

“Much colder than this,” Danni warned. “But, it’s so cold in here now because I had the heat turned down because I was gone. I turned it up, so by tomorrow it’ll be a lot warmer.”

Kate looked into Danni’s eyes, turned gray in the lamplight. “Did you ever think I’d be here with you? That we’d be doing this?”

Danni shook her head. “Not in a million years. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Kate. I checked on you a time or two throughout the years, but I was essentially planning to just move on as best I could.”

“You know,” Kate said softly, running her fingers through Danni’s hair. “as I was sitting in Carol’s den, watching the coverage after Bobby Kennedy was shot, I knew in that moment that life was so short and that I had to find you again.”

“What was your intention when you got here?”

Kate shrugged. “I didn’t really have any, I guess. I just wanted to see you again, see if there was some possibility for… I don’t know what for.”

Danni smiled, leaving a kiss on the tip of Kate’s nose. “Well, it only took twenty-five years, but here we are. Welcome home, baby.”
Chapter 38

Bangor International Airport, Bangor ME 1968
Danni was worried that Kate would vibrate right out of her shoes as they watched the plane taxi to the gate. She put an arm around Kate’s shoulders, squeezing slightly to give her calm.

“I can’t wait to see her,” Kate said unnecessarily, bringing up a hand to grab Danni’s, which dangled over the front of her shoulder.

“I know. Look, here they come.”

Kate saw Megan and Rob walk from the plane towards the stairs that would lead into the airport. She nearly bounced her way to the entrance door, waiting, visually sifting through the other passengers until she saw her little girl. With a squeal of delight, Kate grabbed her daughter in a bone-crushing hug, which was returned with equal vigor.

Danni walked over to the two, accepting a hug from Rob, then both watched patiently as the two women reluctantly drew apart. Danni felt her guilt niggle at her once again, seeing the tears of mother and daughter once again reunited after a month of separation.

“Look at you!” Kate exclaimed, putting her palm on the slight baby bump that had begun to protrude from Megan’s midsection. “You weren’t kidding when you said on the phone that you could see a change.”

Megan smiled then took her mother into another hug. She felt her world slide back into place, as she’d missed her mother terribly, far more than she imagined she would. “I’m so excited we were able to come for Thanksgiving,” she said, pulling out of the hug. She looked at her mother, truly looked at her and realized that she’d never seen such a beautiful glow in her mother’s eyes before. “You look so beautiful,” she complimented, touching her mother’s hair, which looked healthy and thick. “I think this crazy cold and snow has done you good.” She leaned in close to only her mother would hear her words. “As well as what I suspect is a liberal dose of lovin’.”

Kate laughed, feeling like she was on a cloud as she hooked her arm with Megan’s and led her daughter over to where Danni and Rob stood. She took Rob into an enthusiastic hug as Megan walked over to Danni.

She looked up into Danni’s beautiful and welcoming face. “She looks amazing, Danni,” Megan said, taking Danni into a warm, lingering hug. “I think you’ve taken very good care of her.”

“No, I think it’s the other way around,” Danni said, patting her stomach. “Your mom can cook like nobody I’ve ever seen.”

Megan threw her head back and laughed, thrilled that she felt just as comfortable around Danni now as she had the first time she’d met her. “Yes, she does have a wicked internal recipe deck.”

“It doesn’t look like I’m the only one who has noticed a bit of a gut bump.” Danni looked down at Megan’s belly, a wide grin on her face. She couldn’t help but feel elated, not just for Megan and Rob, but for herself and Kate as well.

“Yes,” Megan agreed, placing a hand on her emerging belly, which had become habit. “She’s coming along.”

Danni raised a brow. “You already know the sex?”

“I already know the sex,” she grinned.

“Ah. I see. Well,” Danni said to the group. “Are we ready to head out?”

Megan walked with Danni, her hand tucked into the bend of her arm as they headed out of the airport, leaving Kate and walk and talk with Rob. Megan glanced up at what, her stepmother? She had no clue what Danni represented, but it didn’t matter. Her mother seemed beyond happy, and that was what she’d wanted.

“I have to say, it was not groovy flying into this snow,” Megan commented. “Even so, I also have to say that it’ll be beyond groovy to have this colder weather. I’ll tell you, Danni, being pregnant makes you unbelievably hot.”

Danni laughed and instinctively swept her arm over Megan’s shoulders in a gesture that was undeniably maternal. “Well kiddo, you’re in the right place, then.”

Kate watched the interaction between the two and couldn’t help but nearly burst into tears at the sight. The two people she loved most in the world seemed to genuinely get along and like each other.

*****

“Oh my god!” Megan crowed as they climbed out of Danni’s Jeep. “This place is amazing!”

“Wow, bitchin’,” Rob agreed, climbing out after his wife.

“Come on in, guys,” Kate gushed, excited to show off her and Danni’s home, while Danni grabbed the couple’s luggage out of the back of the Jeep. “I have to warn you guys; just inside this door are two very excited huskies.”

“I can hear them,” Megan said, excited at the prospect of meeting Healy and Anicka, which her mother had told her about during many of their nightly phone calls.

Kate opened the door and immediately pushed the dogs back, as she didn’t want them to jump all over Megan for fear of them knocking her down or trampling her. “Get back, guys! Get back! Calm down!” It took a moment but finally Healy and Anicka calmed, though they whimpered as they knew there were new people to greet. “Megan, Rob, come in.”

The two entered the cabin, Megan’s eyes growing huge at the sight of the two large, beautiful dogs. “Oh my god! They’re gorgeous!”

“They’re our babies,” Kate grunted, keeping a tight rein on the dogs’ collars. “They won’t hurt you, they just get super excited.”

Megan walked over to the dogs and knelt down in front of them. “Which is which?”

“This is Healy,” Kate said, indicating the dog in her right hand, “And this is Anicka.”

“She’s the one who follows you around like a little shadow, right?” Megan asked, holding her hands out to the dogs to sniff.

“Yeah,” Danni supplied, stepping in behind Rob. “Anicka doesn’t like anybody, even me sometimes. But man, she fell in love with Kate.”

“That’s because I spoil her rotten,” Kate said to Danni, a twinkle in her eyes.

“Uh huh,” Danni muttered good-naturedly. She continued on through the cabin to drop off the luggage in Rob and Megan’s room.

After the greeting of the dogs, Kate continued her tour of the cabin, Rob dropping off once the talk got into decor and furnishings. Instead, he found Danni, who had made her way to the kitchen to get going on dinner for everyone.

“Can I help?” he asked.

Danni was surprised by the offer, but wasn’t going to turn it down. “Sure, Rob. If you’ll grab that tray of veggies from the fridge and start cutting them for the salad, that would be great.”

“You got it.” Rob did as he was asked, both working silently for a moment before Rob glanced over at Danni, whose back was to him as she mixed the meat mixture for the meatloaf with her hands. “Danni?”

“Yeah?”

Rob chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, not sure how to begin. “As you know, I leave in a couple weeks.”

Danni felt her stomach drop, as she knew what was coming. She could hear the fear in his voice and it brought back a fear that can’t be explained to anyone; it simply had to be felt and experienced to understand. “Yes.” She kept her attention on what she was doing, as she figured Rob probably didn’t want an audience for his fear.

“When you had to ship out, were you scared?”

Danni stopped what she was doing and grabbed a towel to wipe her hands as she turned to face him. “Do you want the truth?” she asked softly.

After a long pause and deep breath, Rob nodded. “Yeah.”

“It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but the proudest moment of my life.” She let that sink in before she continued. “I know this conflict is much different than what I went to fight – far more political and more b.s. – but you’re still serving your country, and you’re helping to ensure that your wife and unborn child will continue to live in the most powerful country on earth. That’s something to be really proud of Rob.”

Rob was quiet for a moment as he looked down at the knife that he held in his hand. “I’m scared out of my mind, Danni. I’m really regretting my decision, now.” He looked up at Danni with tortured eyes. “Don’t tell Megan that. I want her to think I’m strong.”

“You are strong, Rob.” She walked over to him and reached out to squeeze his arm. “You did the right thing. Forget all the mumbo jumbo about patriotism and all that. You would likely be drafted and sent to the front lines in one of those godforsaken jungles.”

Rob let out a heavy breath and nodded. “I keep trying to tell myself that.”

“Just think: you’re a young guy. You’ve got your entire life ahead of you – you and Megan. You’re doing your duty and then you’re done, free to move on and create a life for yourself.” She smiled, taking him in a quick hug. “I know it’s easier said than done, right?”

“Yeah, but you did it.”

“I served for nine years, Rob.”

“I know I couldn’t do that,” he grinned.

Danni returned it. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing you don’t have to, huh?”

Rob gave her a hug of his own then let her go, returning his attention to his vegetables. “Thanks, Danni.”

“Any time,” she said, continuing to mix her meatloaf.

Later that night, Kate lay on top of Danni, the two exchanging slow, lazy kisses and caresses, as they had been doing for more than an hour. Danni hated the fact that she and Kate both wore t-shirts and panties, but understood Kate’s reasoning – for the most part. So, she ran her hands up under Kate’s shirt, reveling in the feel of the smooth, warm skin of Kate’s back.

Kate hummed in contentment as she pulled away from Danni, just enough to look down at her. “God, I love kissing you.”

“I certainly hope so or we’re doomed,” Danni grinned, running her hands out from under Kate’s shirt and over her satin-clad behind where she rested them. “I gotta get some, or I get cranky.”

Kate laughed and swatted playfully at Danni. “So I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with the sex drive you have.”

Danni raised her brows. “Are you complaining?”

“Oh, no,” Kate purred, initiating a quick but deep kiss. “I’m not complaining at all. In fact, you’ve got me spoiled.” She rested her cheek on an upturned palm. “I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to get through the next few days without it.”

“It?” Danni questioned.

“You know, it,” Kate whispered. For some reasons, the moment her 22 year old, married, pregnant daughter had stepped into the house, Kate became the mother of a 5 year old again.

Danni laughed, completely amused. “Honey, Megan is down the hall, not sitting across the room.”

“Are you making fun of me?” Kate asked, a brow raised.

“Yes, pretty much. So, what is it? What do you not know how you’ll get by without?”

“Are you seriously going to make me say it?” When Kate got the vigorous nod from Danni, she rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She leaned in and whispered in Danni’s ear in the most sexy voice she could muster. “I’m going to miss touching your naked body. I’m going to miss rubbing up against you, and I’m going to miss having you inside me.” She did her best not to blush, as she was not one to get overly sexually wordy, but she was determined to pay Danni back for her teasing.

Danni felt her toes curl at the soft purr in her ear, her hands tightening on Kate’s behind. “I’ll miss it, too,” she whimpered.

Kate threw her head back and laughed. “See?”

Danni chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. You know, we don’t have to suddenly turn into nuns because she’s here, baby.”

“There is no way in hell I’m going to make love when my baby is just down the hall,” Kate said stubbornly.

Danni smiled and placed a kiss on Kate’s chin. “Okay. We’ll see how you’re doing in a couple nights.”

Kate hugged Danni close then moved off of her and cuddled up against her, head lying on Danni’s shoulder. She sighed in contentment when she felt Danni’s arms hold her tightly against her. “I’m so worried for Megan.”

“Why?” Danni asked, running her fingers absently through thick blonde hair.

“Because I know what she’s about to go through.” Kate lifted her head to look down at Danni. “When you shipped out, I thought I was going to die.” She caressed the side of Danni’s face, her gaze locked onto Danni’s. “It was the worst day of my life.” Her gaze drifted off into a past that she hadn’t thought of in many years. Hours upon hours of crying and locking herself in her bedroom. “There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to get through it,” she said softly, bringing her gaze back to understanding eyes. “And I wasn’t even pregnant. This is going to kill her.”

“Rob talked to me about it tonight,” Danni said, again running her fingers through Kate’s hair. “Not about Megan, but he’s scared to death. He begged me not to tell Megan.”

“Why wouldn’t he want Megan to know he’s afraid?”

Danni shrugged a shoulder. “He said because he doesn’t want to seem weak, but I know it’s because he doesn’t want this to be even harder on Megan, knowing that he’s so afraid and doesn’t want to go.” She pulled Kate down to rest against her again. “Megan needs to prepare herself, baby; we all do. I was in the safest place I could have been, working with the SeeBees. Rob won’t be as fortunate. He could definitely be in an even more vulnerable spot, but he’s still in danger. This is a nasty war being fought out there.”
Chapter 39
Brenda Lee’s ten year old hit, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree played on the record player, along with backup singers, Danni, Kate and Megan. The seven foot tree had been cut down and dragged into the living room, and now the three women decked the halls.

The living room was full of opened boxes, Kate thrilled that she’d decided to bring all of the holiday decorations with her. All day she and Megan had regaled Danni with tales of each and every ornament: when they got it, where they got it, what grade Megan was in when she made this or that ornament, and the fact that Megan was shocked her mother still had every single one of her grade school crafts.

“Who wants more special egg nog?” Kate called out from the kitchen, able to hear Megan and Danni laughing in the next room.

Though it wasn’t Christmas quite yet, Rob would be allowed to visit for a short time as he had finished basic and would soon be headed to San Diego for more training before he was shipped out in a month. He was set to arrive in Bangor the following day, and Megan was determined to have a holiday wonderland inside to match the winter wonderland outside, for him.

“Ohhh, count me in!” Megan enthused, almost skipping into the kitchen, her long hair slapping against her back.

Kate smirked. “Careful my love, the little miss will not be happy with you.” She placed her hand on her daughter’s growing belly.

“Tell me about it. Your spicy chili kept her up for hours last night.”

Kate smiled, handing her five month pregnant daughter a second cup of the thick egg nog, a touch of rum added. “Here you go, sweetie,” she said, giving her daughter a peck on the cheek. Kate honestly could never remember being happier. The only thing that would have made the day even more perfect would have been if Rob could have been there. At least perfection would start the following day.

“Where’s mine?” Danni asked, walking up behind Kate and wrapping her arms around her middle.

“You don’t drink,” Kate reminded, placing her hands over Danni’s

“You two are worse than rabbits,” Megan teased, laughing when her mother blushed. Danni met Megan’s gaze from over Kate’s shoulder and wiggled her eyebrows at her, making Megan laugh even more.

“I just hope me and Rob are still so ‘active’ when we’re old,” Megan taunted, turning and sauntering back into the living room.

“Hey!” Danni called out, growling playfully at Megan’s laughter. She nuzzled Kate’s neck. “Can you believe such bad language coming out of the mouth of an angel?”

“Angel,” Kate smirked. “Not my kid!” she called out loud enough for Megan to hear, which earned even more laughter.

*****

Kate walked arm in arm with Megan around the property, both heavily bundled up. It was one of the nicer days in the past couple weeks, but it was still bitterly cold. The sun was out and the snowfall had stopped, so Megan decided it was a good time to go explore a bit, and talk to her mom. Healy and Anicka ran up ahead, playing and barking in the snow together.

“It’s so amazing out here,” she remarked, breathing in the cold, crisp air. “So incredibly different than San Jose.”

“Isn’t it, though?” Kate agreed, proud to show her daughter her new home and all that went with it. “I truly love it here, Megan. Granted, I’ve only been here a few months, but I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Somehow hit’s already home.”

“It’s home because you’re here with Danni,” Megan offered, smiling at her mother, who returned it.

“I’d follow her to the moon and back.”

“And I think she would have left Maine and moved back to California if you’d asked her to.” Megan was quiet for a few moments until she got to what she wanted to say. “I’ve given things a lot of thought in the last month, especially with being here with you guys for Thanksgiving a month ago, and being here now.”

Kate tried not to get her hopes up too high as she listened to what her daughter had to say. She stayed quiet and attentive.

“As you know, I’ll be heading back to California with Rob while he goes through his training in San Diego. At least San Jose is only a couple hours away, so I’ll still be able to see him from time to time.”

Kate nodded. “Yes, you will.”

“But, after he leaves…” Megan stopped their progress and made sure she had her mother’s full attention. “Mom, I want to take you and Danni up on your offer. Well, Danni’s offer, technically.”

Kate studied her daughter’s eyes, trying to read if she was hearing what she thought she was hearing. “Are you saying you want to move here?” she asked, her heart beginning to pound with hope.

Megan nodded. “Yeah. I don’t want to be away from you, and definitely not with this little one.” She placed her hand over her protruding belly, visible even with the bulky winter coat she wore. “And, I’d like to make a new start for Rob to come home to.”

Megan didn’t even fully have the words out of her mouth before she was grabbed in a tight hug, Kate nearly in tears of relief. “Oh, sweetie,” she breathed.

“That is if the offer is still open, considering how I acted when you offered it,” Megan said into the hug, her eyes closed as she allowed herself to become lost in the comfort that only the hug from her mother could bring.

“Honey,” Kate said, pulling away just enough to look in Megan’s face, her hands on Megan’s shoulders. “That offer will be open to you forever. Believe it or not, Danni truly loves you guys.”

“I know she does,” Megan admitted. She brought up a hand to swipe at the sudden tears the came to her eyes. “God, this hormone crap sucks,” she laughed, making her mother smile in remembered sympathy. “But, I do know she does. It’s almost like everything just fits together now, you know? You and Dad were always so unhappy, and it really made things difficult sometimes: the arguments or times of the silent treatment from one or the other of you. I don’t know, it’s such an amazing change, the way you and Danni interact. It’s like she’s been her the whole time.”

It was Kate’s turn to tear up. “You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that. I would never try and shove anyone into your Dad’s place in your heart, but I so badly wanted you to accept Danni, and her to accept you.”

“She’s wonderful, Mom. Really and truly wonderful. Rob thinks she’s the grooviest thing since the Stones.”

Kate laughed. “Great. I’m sure Danni would just love to be up there with Mick Jagger.”

“There are worst things in life, you know.”

Kate linked their arms again and got them walking. “The four of us should sit down and talk this out, decide where you guys want to go and see what’s available for you.”

*****

The only light in the living room was from the fire in the massive fireplace and the seven foot Christmas tree, lit and decorated. After a day of opening a mountain of gifts and exchanging hugs, kisses and “thank yous”, Kate and Danni lay cuddled together on the couch. Rob and Megan had gone to bed more than an hour before. Kate, who lay between Danni’s spread legs with her back to her chest, readjusted herself so she was curled up sideways against Danni.

Danni enfolded Kate a little tighter against her, a contented sigh released atop a golden head. “I think that’s the most beautiful Christmas tree I’ve ever seen.”

Kate nodded. “I’d have to agree. I just can’t get over how huge it is. We never had one so big before.”

Danni began to run her fingers through Kate’s soft hair; it was one of her favorite things about Kate. “This is the first time I’ve ever put up a Christmas tree in my adult life,” she admitted.

Kate pulled away just enough to look into Danni’s face. “Are you serious?”

“Very. I never had a reason to, before.”

“But, you do celebrate Christmas, right?” Kate asked, just this side of offended, as Christmas was her favorite time of year.

Danni grinned and nodded. “But, that was usually because Allison would force me to go to Wayne.”

Kate smiled. “Well, you’d better get used to celebrating it at home, because I turn into a great big kid at Christmas.”

Danni placed a soft kiss on Kate’s lips. “I’m game. I also have one more gift for you. I thought about giving it to you earlier, when we were all opening gifts, but I wanted it to just be us.”

“I’m intrigued.” Kate began to move away but was stopped by a hand to her back.

“No, stay here.” Danni reached behind her to a spot on the end table where’d she’d hidden the small, wrapped box behind the lamp. She reached back around and handed it to Kate. “Merry Christmas, baby.”

Giddy like a child, Kate took the beautifully wrapped box of gold and silver paper with matching bow, into her hands. “Thank you.” She gave Danni a quick kiss then got around to the business of opening the package, careful not to tear the gorgeous paper.

Danni was amused, but also sat watching with her stomach in knots. She prayed Kate would like it.

Once the paper was gone, Kate was left with a blue velvet box, which made her heart stop in its tracks before it began to pound double time. She didn’t want to assume, but she knew that was a ring box. Taking a silent breath, she opened it, the tiny hinges squeaking slightly.

A loud gasp escaped Kate’s lips when she looked upon the gorgeous ring inside. It was yellow gold with a gorgeous diamond cut into a hard at its center, two smaller emeralds on either side. “Oh, Danni,” she whispered, looking to Danni for explanation.

“You know, technically we never got divorced,” Danni murmured, taking the ring from the box that Kate held in shaking hands. She took Kate’s left hand in gentle fingers and slipped the ring into place on her ring finger. “I figured almost twenty-six year was enough time to renew our vows, which I still mean with all my heart.” Suddenly she felt a nervous tremor pass through her. “So, Kate Hannigan, if you’ll have me, I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Without hesitation and with tears of joy in her eyes, Kate turned and threw herself at Danni, pulling her against her in a painfully tight hug. “Yes, yes, god, yes!”

Danni let out a sigh of relief as she held Kate tightly to her.

“Only one thing though,” Kate said, pulling back from Danni to look into her eyes. “I don’t want to be a Hannigan ever again. Megan is now a Jamison, and I want to be a Felts, just like I should have always been. I only want your legacy, nobody else’s.”

Touched beyond speech, Danni took Kate in a deeply passionate kiss. “Come on,” she whispered against Kate’s lips. “I want to make love to my wife.” She felt Kate’s mouth open, assuming it was in protest. “We can be quiet.”
Chapter 40

San Diego, CA 1969
The harbor was bustling with sailors, family and friends, the massive ship the men would be boarding awaiting them with a plank greeting. Danni stared up at that ship, different from the one she’d boarded in 1943, but it brought about the same feelings of fear and anxiety. It was surreal that once again Kate stood by her side, her arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. In truth, she needed the contact far more than she figured Kate did.

Kate was filled with her own mixture of emotions as she watched her daughter and husband saying their final goodbyes. They held onto each other – clung to each other, really – just as she and Danni had done the day she’d left.

“It’s so strange,” she said softly, “being here.” She looked up at Danni, catching her gaze. “Brings back a lot of memories.”

“So, so many,” Danni agreed. She wished so badly she had the freedom to hold Kate like she had as Daniel Felts. Would they ever be able to live freely and openly? “Back then, Megan wasn’t even a glimmer in those pretty green eyes.”

Kate smiled and nodded, turning back to her daughter and Rob. “We had no idea what was in store for us then; so young and naive.”

“At least Megan will have you to help her through this, baby,” Danni said quietly, so nobody would overhear the endearment.

Megan felt like she was about to die as she was held by her husband, and held him in turn. She was terrified that this would be the last time she ever saw him. She was trying desperately – and unsuccessfully – to keep the tears in.

“It’s going to be okay, babe,” Rob whispered into her hair. “I’ll be back sooner than you can blink an eye.”

Megan smiled up at him with tear-filled eyes. She knew he was trying to lessen the blow, but nothing he could say would help, unless he flat out said they were moving to Canada and he wasn’t going.

“I love you,” she whispered, leaning up to kiss him. “I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”

“Stay close to Kate and Danni, okay?” he asked, brushing the backs of his fingers along her jaw. “It’ll make me feel a lot better, knowing that you’re being taken care of and looked after.”

Megan nodded. “I will.” She accepted a final, tight hug before stepping away, knowing he wanted to say his goodbyes to her mom and Danni, as well as his own family, who stood nearby.

Kate took Rob in a painfully tight embrace. “You be safe out there,” she demanded into the hug. “You’ve got a baby to come home to.”

Rob nodded. He’d never been extremely close to his own mother, and Kate had definitely stepped in to be the mother figure he’d always craved. He pulled out of the hug and accepted the kiss on the cheek she gave him.

“I love you, Rob. We’ll be praying for you.”

“I love you, too Kate.” He smiled at her, looking so handsome in his uniform with a freshly-shaved head. He looked so vastly different than the easy-going, free-loving hippie he’d been but a few short months before.

Rob turned to Danni. “Here we go, huh?” Danni said softly, pulling him into a quick hug. She held him at arm’s length. “Be brave and write lots of letters. That’s the key to getting through this, Rob. Lots and lots of letters. Megan will respond, and so will we.”

Rob nodded, taking several deep breaths before moving on to his parents. Danni moved back over to where Kate stood with Megan, all three watching the interaction. Danni reached around Kate to stroke Megan’s hair, giving her a comforting smile. To Danni’s surprise, Megan moved in between the two women, an arm around each of their waists.

*****

Megan and Rob had been given the weekend before he left to spend together, so Danni and Kate had put them up in a beautiful beachside resort to enjoy and relax. While they were away, Kate and Danni had packed up Megan and Rob’s life in the house they’d been renting in San Jose, wanting to spare Megan the stress and emotional task. Everything had been boxed and packed away for a moving truck to deliver to the new house Megan and Rob had picked out in Maine, a house that was actually one of Danni’s holdings and not Allison’s.

The flight back across the country was quiet and somber, Megan sleeping the entire way with her head resting on her mother’s shoulder. Once they got back to Munson, Megan immediately went to the bedroom she’d used with Rob and promptly fell asleep.

“How is she doing?” Danni asked when Kate entered their bedroom after checking on Megan.

“She’s asleep,” Kate sighed, closing the bedroom door and walking over to the bed to push the covers down on her side. She quickly undressed down to her panties and tugged on a t-shirt, mirroring what Danni wore.

Danni was already in bed and patted the mattress next to her, inviting Kate to scoot over to her side, which she did. Danni pulled Kate to her, then on top of her, making Kate gasp slightly in surprise.

“Well, hello.”

“Hi,” Danni grinned, her hands resting on Kate’s lower back. The memories of the morning had brought her back to a time she didn’t want to think about, and to a time that was the beginning of the end for her and Kate. It made her heart hurt, and she needed Kate close to her right now. She cupped the back of Kate’s head and pulled her down for a deep, exploratory kiss, which Kate returned.

Kate sighed into the kiss, able to sense Danni’s need for her, which she largely shared. She ran her hand down from Danni’s shoulder over her breast and to the hem of her t-shirt then back up under the thin material, running her fingernails lightly over the smooth, sensitive skin. Finally she reached Danni’s naked breast and continued the light torture, teasing the tip of a hardening nipple with light scratches.

Danni moaned softly, her hands running down to cup Kate’s behind, squeezing. “Kate,” she sighed, the need evident in her voice.

“I’m here, baby,” Kate whispered, moving from Danni’s mouth to her neck. She cupped Danni’s breast, slowly rubbing her palm across the hardened nipple.

Danni hissed, her hands tightening in their hold on Kate’s flesh. She was about to slip her hands under the satin of Kate’s panties when a soft knock sounded on the bedroom door. She froze, looking up at Kate as Kate looked down at her, eyes wide in guilt-ridden surprise.

Kate quickly climbed off the bed and hurried to the door, pulling it open to see Megan standing out in the darkened hallway. “Are you okay, sweetie?” she asked, forcing her breathing to a normal cadence.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Mom, but I kinda… um,” Megan chewed on her bottom lip, feeling foolish. “Can you… would you mind…”

“I’ll be right there, sweetie. Let me get my robe.”

“Okay,” Megan blew out, relieved.

Kate closed the door softly and hurried to the closet to grab her robe.

“Everything okay?” Danni asked, doing her best to keep disappointed irritation out of her voice, her body thrumming.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Kate said, moving around to Danni’s side of the bed. She leaned down and gave her a quick kiss. “She needs me.”

“It’s okay,” Danni, said, though it was obvious to both that she was hurting.

Kate smiled. “You’re the one who said you wanted kids.”

Danni gave her a lascivious grin. “No, I said I wanted to practice trying to get pregnant.”

Kate chuckled and kissed her again. “I’ll be back.”

Left alone, Danni groaned, grabbing Kate’s pillow and tugging it over her face.

Kate walked into Megan’s bedroom, the girl already sitting on the side of her bed. “I’m really sorry,” Megan said, her eyes heavy and red-rimmed. “I didn’t mean to bother you guys; hopefully I didn’t wake you up.”

“It’s okay, sweetie. Come on, lay down with me.” Kate opened her arm for her daughter to cuddle up against her, just like she used to do when she was a young girl.

Megan was so grateful to have her mother there and quickly moved into her arms. She felt silly and like a child, but needed her all the same. She chuckled as she wasn’t able to get near as close as she used to, her belly keeping her slightly at bay.

Kate combed her fingers through long hair, reveling in the soft thickness. “You definitely got your dad’s hair,” she commented. “I wish mine was half as thick as yours.”

“What are you talking about? You have beautiful hair,” Megan said, settling in, her head resting on her mother’s shoulder.

“Not like yours.”

They were silent for a long moment before Megan spoke. “How did you get through it?”

“By keeping very busy,” Kate answered honestly. “Luckily I was going to school, so I drowned myself in my studies. We wrote constantly, too; that helps immensely. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot,” she said softly, remembering all the hours spent alone in her bedroom or at the university library. “You have to hold on, sweetie. It never goes away until they’re safe at home, but it does get easier.”

“I feel like a part of me is gone, you know? Rob and I haven’t spent more than two days apart in four years until he left for basic,” Megan said, her voice shaky. “And now with the baby on the way, I feel so alone.”

“I know, sweetie,” Kate whispered, her heart aching for her daughter, and there was nothing she could do about it. “You’re not alone; Danni and I are here for you every step of the way, as well as Rob’s parents. Bill and Gretta are welcome here anytime, or if you want to go back to San Jose to see them, just let me know.”

“No,” Megan said, shaking her head lightly. “I have no desire to see them. I’ll keep in touch of course, but that’s about it.” More silence, then, “Is Danni pissed that I woke you guys up?”

“No,” Kate said, kissing the top of Megan’s head, an evil smirk crossing her lips for a moment before it disappeared. She could only imagine how Danni was feeling at the moment. Somehow, she didn’t think “pissed” was part of it. “You should get some rest, sweetheart. All this stress isn’t good for the baby.”

Megan nodded with a heavy yawn. She pulled away from her mother and turned to her side, back facing Kate. “Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?” she asked, her voice already heavy and tired.

“Of course.” Kate knew what the position meant. Ever since Megan was a baby, Kate had put her back to sleep after a nightmare or a bad day with back scratches. She turned to her own side and brought a hand up, lightly running lazy patterns all over Megan’s back through the thin material of Megan’s sleeping gown. Megan sighed and murmured something nonsensical, making her mother smile.

After twenty minutes of this, Kate knew Megan was sound asleep. Once again she’d worked her magic. She stopped the scratches and pushed up to an elbow so she could lean over and place a soft kiss on her daughter’s cheek. “Sleep well, my baby girl.”

As quietly as she could, she crawled out of bed, closing the door softly behind her. She made a visit to the restroom then to her own bedroom, where Danni was asleep, lying on her back. Never taking her eyes off Danni’s still form, Kate stripped out of the robe, her t-shirt and panties, then climbed in bed and over to Danni.

She laid a trail of soft kisses alone Danni’s exposed neck, as Danni lay with her head tilted away from Kate. As the kisses slowed, she brought a hand up to slide up under Danni’s t-shirt, resuming its position covering Danni’s right breast.

Danni came to wakefulness with a startled gasp, followed by a moan as her nipple was rolled between two fingers. “Is she okay?” she sighed, eyes closing in pleasure.

“She’s fine,” Kate murmured against Danni’s neck, moving her way to her mouth. “Now shush and let me love you.”

Kate took her time, worshipping Danni’s body as she undressed her, wanting to show Danni how much she loved her, as well as to alleviate any fears or memories of a past gone wrong. She brought Danni to a slow, yet powerful release with her mouth, refusing to let Danni reciprocate.

“This was for you, baby,” she whispered, climbing back up Danni’s body and delivering a deep kiss.

Still out of breath from her intense experience, Danni pulled Kate to her, never wanting to let her go.
Chapter 41
“Megan! Lunch!” Kate called out for a third time. She had just finished making a pot of stew. Danni was helping by setting the table for three. “Have you see her yet today?”

Danni shook her head. “I’ve been in my workshop all morning.”

Kate sighed, concerned with hand on hip. “I think she’s depressed.”

“Well, she’s been in that room every day, all day for the past two weeks. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.”

Kate turned back to her stew. “I don’t know what to do. I’m really worried about her, Danni.”

“Make her come out, Kate. Make her rejoin life.”

Kate turned incredulous eyes on her. “Don’t you have a heart? Can’t you see that she’s in pain?”

Danni sighed, crossing her arms over her chest in irritation. “I can see that she’s letting life pass her by. I can see that her husband is off fighting in a war that no one in this country wants, and there’s not a goddamn thing she can do about it. I can see that you are letting her slip away.” Danni tried to keep her voice low, but was failing. “Go in there, Kate and get her ass out of that bed, make her take a shower and eat something!”

“How dare you!” Kate stormed, her frustration and worry for her daughter spilling over. “You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything you had in the blink of an eye,” Kate snapped her fingers, “and to not know if you’ll ever get it back or if it’s gone for good. To be left behind.”

“Oh don’t I?” Danni asked, her voice low and angry. “If you think that then you’re a fool.”

Megan stepped up towards the kitchen, shocked at what she was hearing.

“That girl is dying inside, Danni!” Kate shouted, choosing to ignore Danni’s words, knowing full well she was right. “How can I be so heartless as to just drag her out of bed and say, ‘Get up kid and get over it. It’s a new day.'”

“That is not what I said and you know it,” Danni accused. “All I said was-”

“What do you know about being a parent, Danni?”

“Hey!” Megan exclaimed, entering into the kitchen, looking from one to the other of the women. “What the hell?!”

Kate turned away, ashamed that Megan had overheard them fighting, considering it was about her.

“I’m not hungry,” Danni muttered, turning and slamming out of the house and back to her workshop.

Dead silence permeated the kitchen for a long moment until finally Megan broke the chiseled silence. “What the hell just happened here?”

Kate slopped some stew into a bowl, her back to Megan. “How much do you want, Megan?”

“Mom, stop.” Megan walked over to her mother’s side and stopped her dishing out food. “Stop.” She waited until her mother spared a glance at her, though she quickly looked away. “What happened? There for a minute it felt like we were back in San Jose and it was three years ago.” Seeing that her attempt at humor had failed miserably, Megan tried a new tactic. “Should I go? I mean, am I causing a problem by being here?”

Kate let out a heavy sigh, her heart even heavier. “No,” she finally said, meeting her daughter’s concerned gaze. “No, you’re not a problem here at all, Megan. I just need Danni to understand how hard it is what you’re going through. I don’t think she gets it, and it just got out of hand.”

“Because of me,” Megan reiterated.

“Honey, it’s not that simple. It’s just two different perspectives that don’t necessarily meet in the middle.” She handed Megan a bowl of stew. “Eat while it’s still hot.”

Megan took the bowl and spoon and sat, watching as her mother scooped her own bowl and joined her. Kate had no interest in eating, but had the feeling that Megan wouldn’t touch hers unless she did. She used her spoon to absently mix the veggies and meat together, her stomach reeling at what just happened.

Megan studied her mother for a long moment, able to see that she was about ready to break down and cry. “I’m not worth a fight, Mom.”

Kate didn’t look at her daughter. “Yes you are.”

“You’re not going to like what I have to say, but I need you to hear me.”

Kate did meet Megan’s tired gaze at that point. “What?”

“I heard a lot of that fight, and you owe Danni an apology.”

Kate’s eyes got huge. “I mostly certainly do not!”

“You most certainly do. Mom, how can you say she doesn’t know about loss? She knows as much about loss as you do, remember? You may disagree with her stance, but everything she said today was said out of love, not malice. You were really unfair.”

“She can’t have a kid in her life for six months and suddenly decide she’s parent of the year.; it doesn’t work that way,” Kate said stubbornly, shoving a spoonful of stew into her mouth.

Megan could only stare for a long moment, stunned. “That’s so not right. You know that’s not what she was trying to do.” She shrugged as she looked down into her bowl of stew. “And who knows, maybe she’s right. Maybe my pity party has lasted long enough.”

Kate slammed her spoon down. “Oh, so now you’re taking Danni’s side?”

Megan rolled her eyes with a growl. “This isn’t about sides, this is about a fight that never should have happened, and now you’re being stubborn about it. I feel like shit because all this is because of me.” Her mother opened her mouth to speak but Megan continued on, wanting an end to all this. “That’s fine, so I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. We’re both going to finish this incredible-smelling stew you made, then I’m going to shower and you and I are going to go look at furniture for the nursery. This kid is coming in two and a half months whether I like it or not, so I may as well get ready.”

Kate could only stare, recognizing her own stubbornness in the set of Megan’s jaw, and knew better than to argue.

*****

Danni hammered the nails into the bottom of the table a bit harder than was necessary, but she got the job done. She turned the end table over, looking at her handiwork and deciding where she wanted to go next with it. She had an overflow of backorders for the store that needed to be created, and she’d already been able to get three chairs and now this table started and near completion.

She heard the door to her workshop open and glanced up to see, to her surprise, that it was Megan. She was freshly-showered and carried a steaming hot bowl of stew on a tray with a bottle of Coke and a stack of Saltine crackers on the side.

“Thank you, Megan, that was sweet of you,” Danni said softly, figuring Megan would turn and leave as quickly as she’d come in.

“My mom’s an ass,” the girl said, nabbing Danni’s attention. “She’s an ass and acted totally out of line.”

“Megan, your mom loves you and is just worried about you,” Danni defended.

“Of course she does and of course she is, but that didn’t give her the right to say those things to you or treat you that way. I can’t apologize for her, but I can be embarrassed for her.”

Danni studied Megan’s face for a long moment then a soft smile spread on her lips. “You’re a sweetheart. I’m sorry about the things I said. Like your mom, I’m worried about you, too.”

“I know that, Danni,” Megan said softly, walking up to Danni and placing a hand on her arm. “I love you for it. And, you were right, and Mom doesn’t want to see that.” She took Danni in a lingering hug. “She will, though,” she said into it. “She’ll come around.”

Danni smiled weakly, not sure how she felt about what had happened hours before. “Yeah.”

“Listen, Mom and I are going to head into town to look at some baby furniture for the nursery. I can see that you’re busy, but two things: a. will you go with us? And, b. if I get pictures of what I like, would you be willing to build them specially for our baby? We’ll pay you, of course-”

“A. I really don’t think it’s a good idea if I go, and b., it would be my honor and you will not give me a dime.” Danni found herself engulfed in an enthusiastic hug, which she readily returned.

“Thank you so much, Danni.” She held her at arm’s length. “For everything.” Megan leaned up and gave Danni a kiss on the cheek, grinning when she saw the happy blush that stained her cheeks. “You are so damn adorable. I have to go, but I just wanted you to know all that.”

Danni nodded. “Duly noted.” She gave Megan a winning smile and returned Megan’s departing wave.

Left alone again, Danni felt some of her anger leave her body, feeling somewhat vindicated by Megan’s visit. She also realized just how hungry she was as she again spied the tray of lunch.

*****

Kate stood back as Megan took another shot with her Polaroid camera. They had been to three different stores in as many hours, and frankly, Kate was getting tired! She saw the non-too happy sales clerk before the old woman opened her mouth as she rushed over to where Megan snapped another picture.

“Can I help you, young lady?”

Kate watched wide-eyed, not sure what to say in explanation: well you see, my female partner at home is going to create handmade furniture using this style as a guide, so wanted to steal images of your expensive furniture for her to follow. Kate brought a hand up to cover her mouth at the ludicrous situation.

“Hello,” Megan greeted, all smiled. “You see, my husband – you know how men are – had no inclination whatsoever to come furniture shopping with me today, yet wants a say in what we get.” Megan rolled her eyes. “Men. Anyway, so I’m snapping pictures of what I like so I can show him.” She leaned in towards the old lady, lowering her voice. “That way I can get his credit card to come back and purchase an entire nursery, and he won’t even know what hit him.”

The old woman smiled and nodded in understanding. “A fine idea, Miss.”

“Thank you. I was rather pleased when it occurred to me as well.” Megan smiled at the old lady until she walked away, then snickered to her mother. “Sucker.”

“My daughter is a scam artist,” Kate muttered, following Megan to yet another part of the store.

Walking through the empty space that was the three-bedroom house that Megan, Rob and the baby would live in, Megan looked at everything, not having been there since she and Rob picked it out over Christmas, more than a month before.

“I think this place is going to look amazing,” she said, her voice filled wonder and hope.

“I think so, too. We can get all your stuff moved in and out of storage,” Kate agreed, bending down and looking up into the fireplace. “This needs to be cleaned out, it looks like, but I really don’t think there will need to be a whole lot of work done.”

“I want to paint,” Megan said, walking into the spacious kitchen. “Do you think Danni will mind that? If we paint?”

“Honey, this is your house,” Kate said, following her daughter. She peeked out the window above the sink, which looked out into the snow-covered backyard. She could easily imagine a dog back there, chasing her little grandbaby around. She smiled as she could almost hear the playful squeals of delight.

“I can’t believe it.” Megan leaned against the counter, hands on the edge on either side of her. She smiled when her mother met her gaze. “Are you going to talk to her?”

Kate sighed, nodding. She knew this was going to eventually come up again. “Yes, I’ll talk to her. Honey, people get into arguments, you know that. I’ve heard you and Rob have a few.”

“I know,” Megan admitted, absently rubbing her protruding belly. “I just hate to see you guys not getting alone; it bothers me.”

“Everything will be fine, Megan. It’ll all be just fine.”

*****

Danni pulled the Jeep up to the mailbox, intending to gather the mail and leave it in the Jeep until she finished her errands around town, then bring it in once she returned. However, when she saw the third piece of mail, she knew she had to turn around and leave this letter on the table for a woman who would be beyond thrilled to find it.

Back jogging from the house back to her Jeep, Danni put the still-running vehicle in gear and headed out into town. Yes, she did have some things that she needed to do, but yes, she wanted to get away and not be home when Kate and Megan returned, which she figured should be soon, as it was already early evening.

She knew she and Kate’s argument was borne of frustration and concern on both their parts, but Kate had really hurt her with her barbed words and accusations. Never in her wildest dreams would Danni have guessed that Kate could be so cruel. She wasn’t sure what to do with that or how to fight back against that. Fighting wasn’t her style, and the fight earlier had really shaken her up.

Kate’s words kept haunting her: What do you know about being a parent, Danni? Absolutely nothing, and she knew it. Had she overstepped her bounds? Had she been thinking the wrong things for Megan? Was she wrong? Megan had said no, but what did Kate, Megan’s mother think?

Danni stopped by Scoops Ice Cream Store to literally lick her wounds with bubble gum ice cream in a waffle cone. She sat by herself in the booth, wishing for anything that Allison could be sitting there with her, telling her what to do.

*****

To say that Kate was disappointed that Danni wasn’t there when they got back was an understatement. She managed to be excited for Megan when they saw Rob’s letter on the table, though. It was late and Megan was tired, so she headed off to bed, leaving Kate alone to ponder her day.

She built a fire, glad to have the company of Healy and Anicka, the latter of which followed her around the cabin as Kate performed her nightly rituals before sitting in front a warm fire. She wished they had a fireplace in their bedroom, as it would be amazing to cuddle up with Danni in bed and watch the flames.

Kate sighed, a hand coming to her face when she remembered Danni wasn’t there. She’d had all day to think about what had happened and ultimately, plenty of time to beat herself up. She was wrong and she knew she was wrong, and now Danni wasn’t there to apologize to!

Anicka jumped up onto the couch and plopped down next to Kate as Healy settled on the floor at her feet. “At least you guys still love me,” she murmured, running her fingers through Amicka’s thick fur. “Can’t say much for your other mommy, though.”

Kate lay back on the couch, her gaze wondering to the flames as her hand continued to absently stroke Anicka. This was the first real fight the two had since Kate had been living with Danni. She wasn’t sure what had set her off so badly, other than the plain and simple fact that she was truly frightened for her daughter. Kate knew how hard it was to pull out of that nasty darkness that can consume if it’s allowed. She had faced the same thing when Danni had left, and selfishly, had assumed Danni would have no idea what that was like.

Selfish, indeed. Danni had told Kate all about the days when she’d been on a road of self-destruction after their encounter in the motel when Megan was 2 years old. Danni knew all too well about loss and about what it can do, but she also knew a great deal about pulling up from the bootstraps and making a new life. Danni had done far more for herself than Kate had; Kate had taken the easy way out by marrying George, and thus sentencing both of them to twenty plus years of misery, ending in George’s death by his own hand. George certainly had his own demons, but had Kate’s weakness added to them?

Kate’s self-recriminations were interrupted by the sound of Danni’s Jeep pulling up to the house. Kate’s heart fluttered as nervous excitement kicked in. She took several deep breaths, repositioning herself on the couch a few times, trying to decide the best way to look when Danni entered the house. How could she best catch her eye?

After long moments with no Danni, Kate’s heart fell as she realized that Danni had gone to her workshop. “Damn,” she whispered. She sat there for a long moment, trying to decide what to do.

Danni unwrapped her new hammer, looking the tool over before she lightly pounded it into her hand, getting an idea of the weight and balance. She hadn’t necessarily needed a new hammer, but had bought one anyway, a way to bring herself a bit of comfort. She set the hammer on the workbench and reached into the hardware store bag to bring out the small containers of various kinds of screws, nuts and bolts and nails of all sizes.

Giddy at her new purchases, Danni walked over to her rolling toolbox, rolling it over to the workbench and began to sort out the new hardware into the drawers where they belonged. She removed the lid off the largest sized nails, about to dump them in the corresponding drawer when the door to her workshop was opened. She glanced over her shoulder to see who it was; when she saw Kate enter, she turned back to her task, her heart beginning to pound and stomach roil with nerves.

Kate walked over to where Danni was messing with her toolbox, stopping just short of what her goal was, and that was Danni. She wasn’t sure what to do or say. “You made Megan really happy by leaving that letter for her to find,” she said lamely, knowing full well that wasn’t what needed to be said, but the best opener she could think of.

“I figured she’d be thrilled,” Danni said quietly, her back still to Kate as she continued sorting and organizing. She was hurt, dammit.

Kate chewed on her bottom lip, uncertain what to do or say after that. With a deep breath and shot of courage, she bridged the few feet between them and wrapped her arms around Danni’s waist, hugging her from behind. She closed her eyes as she rested her head against Danni’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Danni closed her eyes in relief at the physical contact and the words. Even so, she needed more than that. She remained silent, cueing Kate that she needed to hear more.

“I had no right to say those things to you this afternoon, Danni. I was wrong and I admit it. Please forgive me.”

Danni let out a heavy breath then nodded, covering Kate’s hands with her own. “I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have butted in.”

“No.” Kate turned Danni around to face her, her hands once again finding a trim waist. “No. You didn’t butt in. You care about Megan and were trying to tell me that.” She reached up to cup Danni’s face, able to feel the working jaw muscles, as though Danni were trying to keep some emotion under wraps. “Please, baby. Don’t take any of today on your shoulders; it was all me, and I can guarantee you that she lit into me pretty good.”

Danni gave her a half smile but then it was gone. “I need to know what you expect from me, where Megan is concerned. I know she’s not a child, but if I have an opinion or a concern, am I allowed to speak freely?”

Kate hated herself for ever making Danni doubt her place. “I want you to. Absolutely, I want you to. You have wonderful insight and a beautiful heart.”

Danni let out a heavy sigh. She forgave Kate, but she was still hurt. She pushed it aside, knowing it would fade and wrapped her arms around Kate, holding her close. She could feel the tension drain from Kate’s body, and by proxy, her own.

“Come inside with me?” Kate asked softly, rubbing soothing circles on Danni’s back.

Danni nodded. “Okay.”

*****

Danni awoke to the wonderful feeling of fingers running through her hair. She lay on her side, and when she opened her eyes, she found herself looking into beautiful green eyes, as Kate mirrored her position, facing her.

“Good morning,” Kate whispered when she saw that Danni was awake.

“‘Morning,” Danni responded, sighing into the soft touches.

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

Kate gazed into Danni’s eyes, her own scanning over the beautiful face and soft, relaxed smile on Danni’s lips. “I missed you yesterday. It really was a sucky day.”

Danni’s smile grew. “It definitely was a sucky day. I got a lot done, though.”

Kate chuckled softly. “Gee, maybe I should make you mad at me more often.”

Danni grabbed Kate and rolled to her back, pulling Kate with her until Kate was situated on top of her. “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” She leaned up and placed a soft kiss on Kate’s lips before resting her head on the pillow once more, her hands stroking Kate’s back through her t-shirt.

Kate kissed Danni, lingering but not deep. She rested her elbow on the pillow next to Danni’s head and rested her head in an upturned palm, looking down at Danni. “I wish we could spend the day in bed; just being lazy and cuddle.” She kissed her again. “Maybe more,” she murmured against Danni’s lips.

Danni hummed into the kiss. “That would be nice baby, but we can’t. Remember, today is the doctor’s appointment for Megan with that new OBGYN. She asked you to go with her.”

“Ohhhhh, that’s right!” Kate remembered, caressing the side of Danni’s face, looking at her with unabashed adoration. “You should come with us; Megan wants to see if we can see the sex of the baby.”

“I thought it was a girl?” Danni asked, brows drawn.

Kate smiled. “That’s what Megan feels it is. No concrete proof.”

“Do women know?” Danni asked, bringing up a hand and running it through Kate’s hair, feeling the silky strands stroke her skin. “When they’re pregnant?”

Kate shrugged. “Not always. You can get a feeling, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right. I’m not sure what’s actually feeling and what’s actually hope.”

“Did you know? When you were pregnant with Megan?”

Kate nodded. “I did. It was just this deep down in your gut knowing.”

“Would you have preferred a boy, or were you glad to have a girl?” Danni asked softly, her other hand coming to rest just under Kate’s shirt at the dip of her lower back.

“I would have loved a son, of course, but I really wanted a daughter.” As if on cue, there was a knock at the bedroom door.
Danni grinned. “Looks like you got one. Yeah?” Danni called out. Kate began to move off Danni, but Danni held her fast. “Let her see that everything is okay,” Danni said softly, kissing the tip of Kate’s nose.

“Can I come in?” Megan called back, her voice muffled from the other side of the door.

“Sure, honey,” Kate responded. She felt a bit nervous about Megan coming in and seeing her and Danni in such an intimate position, though it wasn’t sexual. Even still, she knew that Danni was right, as well as Megan needed to fully understand and see the extent of the love and affection between them.

It took a moment but finally the bedroom door was butted open but a backwards walking Megan and two excited dogs. Once she was through the door, she turned around to reveal of tray laden with freshly-made waffles, eggs and bacon, as well as two giant glasses of orange juice and all the trappings of a good breakfast.

“Oh my god!” Kate moved to get up to help.

“No!” Megan barked. “You stay there, other than get your butt ready to accept this heavy tray.”

Kate moved off Danni and sat with her back to the headboard, as Danni did. Both looked on with shocked, ravenous expressions. “What have you done?” Kate asked, deeply touched.

“I’ve brought you make-up food,” Megan said simply, setting the tray on Kate’s lap. She grabbed the two napkins with a flourish and tucked one on each of their laps.

“Is that kinda like make-up sex?” Danni asked.

“Danni!” Kate swatted at a grinning Danni.

“Kind of,” Megan laughed. “Now, it looks as though the two of you were comfy cozy when I walked in, so that’s awesome.” She stood next to the bed, waggling a finger at the two. “I want you two to eat every damn bite of this food.”

“How long have you been up cooking?” Danni asked, snagging a piece of bacon.

“Since the little one here wouldn’t let me sleep,” she said, rubbing her belly.

Kate grinned. “I remember those days all too well.” She patted the mattress. “Join us.”

Megan sat on the edge of the bed, stealing the piece of waffle her mother had just cut and liberally jellied. She grinned at the surprised look.

“Okay, you can go now,” Kate waved her off playfully.

*****

Danni stood as close behind Kate as she could without actually touching her. The doctor had already looked at them funny since they’d been in his office. Kate stood by the table where Megan lay, holding her daughter’s hand and watching as the doctor moved the large instrument around Megan’s swollen belly.

Danni’s eyes were riveted to the screen of the monitor and the alien-like images that swam across the screen.

“You’ll see ladies,” the doctor explained, a finger pointing to a blob on the screen. “This is the baby’s head, and this is the spine.”

Kate felt her eyes welling up with tears to see her unborn grandchild, even if it was hard to discern what was what, regardless of what the doctor was pointing out. She’d never had such an opportunity when she was pregnant with Megan. She could feel the comforting presence of Danni behind her, and she so badly wanted to hold her hand.

The doctor moved the wand down a bit further. “Ah, here we are.” He looked at Megan, a smile on his wrinkled face. “You are having a girl.”

Megan’s smile nearly split her face and her eyes welled. “A baby girl,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes from the screen. She felt her mother squeeze her hand, and she squeezed back, wishing for all the world that it was Rob who held her hand.

Sitting at a diner for lunch – Megan off on one of her many restroom trips – Kate looked at Danni, her heart heavy and wistful. “I want to have a baby with you.”

Danni was surprised by the sudden words. Her cheeseburger halfway up to her mouth, she set it back down on her plate and looked at her. “What?”

“I do. I really want to have a baby with you, Danni,” Kate repeated, keeping her voice low so as not to be overheard by the neighboring booth.

“I’d love that, Kate, but it’s impossible.”

“We could adopt, maybe.” Kate reached under the table to grab Danni’s hand. “You’d be such an amazing mother. I feel like I’ve made you miss out on that part of your life.”

Danni squeezed her hand. “Baby, everything happened for a reason. Megan wouldn’t be here if things hadn’t happened the way they were. Besides, it never would have been possible for us to have a natural child together, no matter how much we would have wanted that. I do want a child with you, but what about our ages? We’d be older parents, and I thought you wanted to check in with the university for a teaching position?”

“I do, and we are, but I still want to at least give it some thought and some further discussion, okay?”

Danni smiled and leaned over to give Kate a tight one-armed hug, no matter what anybody watching thought. “Okay,” she whispered into Kate’s ear. “We’ll talk more about it.”
Chapter 42
As the days became warmer and the storms slowly stopped, Megan’s belly grew and she lived on a steady diet of Rob’s letters, often sending him care packages stocked with enough to hand out treats to some of the guys who weren’t fortunate enough to get love from back home. Kate and Danni would add their letters to Rob’s packages, all delighting in hearing back from him, with all his wild stories and anecdotes.

Together with Kate and Danni’s help, Megan had turned the new house into a home, the nursery ready for the birth of her daughter, which was due in less than a month. Kate had talked Megan into holding off on finding a job using her Communications degree until after the birth of the baby, so instead Megan had taken Danni up on her offer to work the books for all of Danni’s financial ventures in Maine, including the store and all her rentals. She was stunned at just how much Danni was involved in, and what a savvy business woman she really was.

Megan sat at the desk Danni had given her in the office in town that Danni sometimes used to operate out of. “Sooo, Danni?” she said.

“Yes, Megan?” Danni replied from her own desk, where she was going over a new batch of orders that had come in.

“Mom tells me you two have been talking about baby shopping.”

Danni’s head whipped up, an automatic smile of amusement on her lips. “Baby shopping?”

Megan grinned with a nod. “Yes. Baby shopping.”

Danni shook her head with a chuckle. “We’ve talking about adoption, yes.” She studied the girl for a moment, trying to read her feelings on the subject. “How do you feel about that, Megan? Would you want a little brother or sister?”

“I think it’s fantastic, really. Gutsy as all hell, but fantastic.”

“It’s something we had actually discussed a long time ago, way back in San Diego,” Danni sighed, tossing her pencil to the desktop and sitting back in her chair.

“But, you’re unsure,” Megan guessed, both from Danni’s pensive expression as well as what she’d been told by her mother.

Danni rubbed her eyes and let out a sigh. “I have some concerns, yes,” she admitted.

“Like what?” Talk of babies brought her hand absently to her own massive stomach, which kept her a good distance from being able to fully sit flush with the desk.

“Like, do I want a child to have to deal with the very unusual situation of having ‘two mommies’. Is it fair to thrust that upon a child?”

“Danni,” Megan grunted as she pushed back from the desk and pulled herself to her feet. She walked over to Danni’s desk, which was across the room. Danni quickly got up and grabbed a chair for Megan to lower herself onto next to her desk. “Thank you. Danni, there are miserable couples – normal – couples who pop out kids like cockroaches, and those kids have to live in that kind of environment: unloved, unwanted, unfed, whatever. The baby that you and my mom raise together would have the best of everything: mainly love. Honestly, I think that alone would make up for any ‘difference’ they have to go through.”

Danni was quiet for a moment, chewing on what Megan had said. Finally, she turned to the younger woman. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“What was it like? Growing up with your mom and George? What was the household like?”

Megan thought about that for a long time, both hands resting atop her belly. “Well, individually they were both great parents, and though I was always closer to mom, I was fairly close to my dad, too. But, together,” she rolled her eyes. “Forget it – not groovy. There was no sync between them, you know? Like, they were definitely both flying different paths. I can’t recall one single time when I saw them think the same or want the same things.” She shook her head sadly. “It was always a fight.” With a shrug she continued, “Eventually they both started living their own lives with me as the one and only common denominator.”

Danni absorbed this information then smiled as she saw the familiar look cross Megan’s expressive face. “I put a fresh roll of toilet paper in there just for you.”

“Thanks,” Megan murmured, getting Danni’s help to lift out of the chair to and her over-taxed legs and feet.

Left alone, Danni considered all that Megan had said and all that she and Kate had discussed over the past several weeks. She wanted so badly to share that joy with Kate; in truth, the short time that Megan had been in her life, and that Danni had acted on some level of parental guide, it had been incredibly beautiful and rewarding. The thought of that with a child who only knew her as one of two parents was certainly an intoxicating one, but on the other side of that beautiful token, she was scared shitless!

Danni had very little time to explore that realization when she heard a scream coming from the bathroom.

“Danni!”

Danni shoved away from the desk and ran at breakneck speed to the bathroom, shoving the door open. “Oh boy,” she swallowed.

*****

Kate nearly ran down the corridor of the hospital, relieved when she saw Danni step out of the elevator, where they met with a fierce hug. “Is she okay?” she whispered.

Danni nodded. “She’s at seven centimeters,” Danni whispered into the hug. She took Kate’s hand and led her back into the elevator, pushing the button for the appropriate floor.

Kate’s heart was pounding. She took the opportunity of the privacy to be held by Danni for the short ride up to the fourth floor. Once the doors opened, Danni led Kate through a maze of hallways and waiting rooms until they arrived at Megan’s room.

“Mom,” Megan whimpered when she saw her enter the room, relief flooding her. She reached out an I.V.’d hand to her, which was immediately taken.

“I’m here, baby.” Kate bent down and gave her daughter’s sweaty brow a kiss. “I called Rob’s parents and Grandma and Grandpa before leaving the house.” She brushed Megan’s hair back from her face. “How are you doing?”

Megan took a deep breath, her eyes closing and face scrunching up as another intense contraction hit. Danni looked at her watch. “Oh god,” Megan bit out, squeezing her mother’s hand painfully.

“I know sweetheart,” Kate murmured. “I know. It’ll pass.”

Megan gasped as the pain began to subside. “Shit,” she panted.

“Three minutes apart,” Danni reported.

“It should be soon then,” Kate said. “You may be lucky and not have to deal with sixteen hours of labor like I had.” She smiled at her daughter, squeezing her hand.

Just then, the doctor entered the room. “How are we doing?” he asked, nodding acknowledgment to Kate then turned his focus to his patent.

“Three minutes apart,” Danni offered. “She just had another one a minute ago.”

“Very good.” He set Megan’s chart on the sliding table. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” Megan’s legs bent and spread, the doctor probed and measured. “Eight and a half!’ he announced with a winning smile to Megan. “We can probably take you pretty soon, Megan.”

“Okay,” Megan breathed.

He looked up at Kate as he got to his feet from the rolling stool he’d used. “Mom, will you be joining us?”

Kate looked to Megan who immediately nodded. “Yes.”

“Alright. Let’s get you suited up, then.”

Ten minutes later, Kate had pulled the scrubs she’d been given over her clothing and hugged Danni tightly to her. “I love you,” she whispered into her ear, then let her go to follow Megan and her team of nurses and doctor down the hall to the delivery room.

Danni watched as her family made its way down the hall, tears in her eyes as she was overwhelmed with love and the strangest sense of acceptance. She turned and made her way down the hall in the opposite direction to the waiting room.

“Push, Megan. Push!”

Megan’s face screwed up in pain and exertion as she once again brought all the strength she had to the surface and pushed with all her might, unable to breathe as she growled in effort.

“Good, sweetheart,” Kate said, her words muffled behind the mask she wore. She held onto Megan’s hand, her own fingers squeezed together in a vice through Megan’s pain. She ignored it, instead trying to stay focused for Megan’s sake.

Megan gasped for air as she fell back to the bed, her chest heaving with the effort. “God,” she panted.

“You’re doing great, Megan,” the doctor complimented. “One more and the head should be out. Ready? Push!”

Again, Megan drew from an inner strength and image of Rob and pushed with everything she had. Tears rolled down her reddened cheeks, stark against the paleness of the rest of her face. She cried out in effort, her voice straining and cracking under the stress. “Rob!” she screamed, which was quickly followed by the sudden cries of a newborn.

Tears sprang to Kate’s eyes at the first sound of her new granddaughter. “Almost there, Megan!” she exclaimed, excited. “Almost there!”

“One more! One more, Megan!”

“I can’t,” Megan panted. “God, I can’t.” She felt dizzy and lightheaded from the exertion and lack of air.

“You have to. One more and she’ll be out…” the doctor exclaimed.

Megan suddenly saw an image of Rob smiling at her, a sob coming to her throat. “Okay,” she breathed. “Okay.” She’d do it for him.

It felt like an eternity since Danni had first entered the waiting room and had taken a seat on the thinly padded couch. She’d made a call to Carol and had read every single magazine the waiting room had to offer, and still she was antsy. She’d resorted to pacing, along with a few other expectant fathers. She looked at them, so young and so filled with anticipation.

“Danni.”

Danni whipped around to see a still-scrub-wearing Kate walk over to her, a tiny bundle in her arms. “I’d like you to meet someone.”

Danni’ s breath caught and instantly tears came to her eyes. She looked down into the tiny, swaddled face of the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen.

“I’d like you to meet your granddaughter, Christian Bailey Jamison.”

Danni smiled through her tears. “Isn’t that a boy’s name?” she asked absently.

Kate smiled. “I said the same thing, but you know these kids today…”

Danni almost held her breath as she looked down at the baby. “Can I… can I hold her?” she whispered, looking like an excited child as she met Kate’s gaze.

“Of course you can. Support her head.”

Carefully they exchanged the baby from one set of arms to the other. “Look at you,” Danni whispered, holding the tiny baby in one arm and bringing up the other hand to gently touch the softest skin she’d ever touched. “She’s so tiny. So perfect.”

Kate leaned up and kissed Danni’s cheek, the best she could do under public circumstances. “Yes, she is.”

“How is Megan?” Danni asked, unable to take her eyes off of Christian.

“She’s sleeping. She did wonderfully.”

Danni looked at Kate and mouthed the words: I love you.

Kate smiled. I love you, too.
Part 18
Danni lay on her back on the narrow hospital bed, Kate in an identical bed five feet away. Megan had asked that her mother help her with breastfeeding, as opposed to the nurse, so the hospital had been generous enough to let Danni and Kate sleep in an unoccupied double bed room. Danni, however was having a heck of a time falling asleep, as she was awakened by every footstep, every sound and every conversation that occurred on the other side of the closed door.

“Danni?” Kate whispered.

“Yeah?” Danni whispered back.

“Are you asleep?”

Danni smiled. “I wouldn’t be answering you if I were.”

“Oh,” Kate whispered. “Good point. Can I come over?”

Danni looked down at the extremely narrow bed, but wasn’t about to pass up a chance to actually touch Kate. “Sure.”

A moment later, Danni could hear the sounds of Kate climbing down from the high bed, then the bang followed by a quiet curse as Kate ran into something before reaching Danni’s bed.

“It’s like an obstacle course in here,” Kate whispered.

“Why are you whispering?” Danni whispered back.

Kate was silent for a moment. “I don’t know,” she said quietly. “Scoot.”

Danni scooted over as much as she could without falling off the other side of the bed. She helped Kate climb up next to her without doing a header into Danni’s stomach, which Kate almost did, sending them both into quiet giggles.

“Why do I feel like I’m being naughty?” Kate asked as she settled in, her body cuddled up to Danni’s and her head resting on her shoulder.

“Because you are,” Danni grinned, thrilled to have Kate against her. “Don’t you know you’re a grandma, now? Grandmas don’t do stuff like this.”

“Oh yeah? What do they do?”

“They sit home and bake cookie and they knit,” Danni informed.

Kate giggled. “I do not knit.”

“Well, you better start learning. One stitch, two stitch.” She laughed as she felt fingers digging into her sides. “Careful baby, or I’m gonna fall off the bed.”

Kate settled in again, but not before tugging down on the open collar of Danni’s button up shirt and placing a kiss on her collarbone. “I feel old. I’m only 42; too young to be a grandma. Grandmas are old and wrinkly.”

Danni smiled. “You’re the sexiest grandma I’ve ever seen.” She reached down and patted Kate’s behind. “Shoot, I wish my grandma had looked like you.”

Kate raised her head and looked down at Danni. “I’m glad she didn’t, ‘cuz that would’ve just been freakish and weird in a not-so-good sort of way.” She loved Danni’s smile and brought up a hand to trace Danni’s lips with a fingertip.

Danni kissed that fingertip, then guided Kate’s mouth down to hers. They shared a deep, leisurely kiss, lips and tongue caressing . There mere seconds to part before the door was pushed open and a nurse stepped through. She was obviously quite surprised to see the unexpected sight of Kate in Danni’s bed, but quickly shook herself from it.

“Kate, it’s time,” the nurse said, Christian held in her arms.

“Thank you, Nurse.” Kate slid off the bed. “Be right back,” she whispered to Danni, then followed the nurse out of the room.

“Hey, sweetie,” Kate said softly as she walked up to Megan’s bed.

Megan turned her head and looked at her mother and baby with sleepy eyes. “Is it time?” she asked, her words slurred from both exhaustion and pain medication.

“Yes.”

Megan winced in pain as she pushed up to a sitting position, Kate helping by piling pillows up behind her back. With clumsy fingers, Megan managed to loosen her gown and pull it down to reveal milk-swollen breasts.

“Are you ready?” Kate asked, sitting on the bed next to Megan. At her daughter’s nod, Kate carefully handed a whiny Christian over. “Careful.”

Megan nodded, adjusting her swaddled daughter to her breast. She waited but nothing happened. She looked up at her mother with expectant eyes.

“Sometimes you have to help them, sweetie,” Kate said softly. “Guide her to your breast… Good, Just like that.” Kate watched, happy to see Christian getting into the swing of her second feeding. During the first, Megan had been half out of it, and Kate doubt she remembered much of it.

“That feels so weird,” Megan whispered, watching her daughter suckle. “Kinda hurts.”

Kate nodded. “I know. But, just when you and your breasts get used to it, she’ll start getting teeth.”

They exchanged a smile. “Is anyone here yet?”

Kate shook her head. “Not yet, sweetheart. Your grandparents are due to arrive early afternoon and Rob’s parents will be here later in the evening.” Kate ran her hand over the baby’s tiny head as she fed. “In a couple days you’ll be able to come home and spend time with everyone.”

“Did Danni go home?”

“Oh no; she’s still here.”

“She was great today. I really need to thank her,” Megan said softly, meeting her mother’s gaze.

“You’ll be able to tomorrow, sweetie.”

“I can’t wait to tell Rob his daughter was born.” Megan’s smile was magical, filled with so much love and wistfulness.

“You can send him the picture Danni took of you and Christian, too.”

Megan’s brows drew. “She took a picture of us?”

Kate laughed quietly. “You were pretty out of it, but yes. Christian was only about thirty minutes old.”

“Jeez. I feel like I’m missing half the day.”

Kate smiled. “Well, you’ve had a wee bit going on today.”

“No lie.”
Chapter 43
Kate made her way through the guests that milled about her home, all eventually finding their way to Megan and Christian, smothering the poor girl with their attention. Megan had been home for a day, after having given birth to Christian four days before. Kate had made a veritable feast for both sets of grandparents, as well as Carol and Frank.

“Danni, can you please grab that tray of finger sandwiches?” she called out, her hands loaded down with a tray of drinks.

“Sure.” Danni did as asked, quickly following Kate through the crowd with the food.

“I must say, Katherine, your friend has a beautiful home,” Kate’s mother commented, a glass of wine held daintily in an even dantier hand.

“Thank you, Mother. I live here, too,” Kate reminded, offering her mother a plate of finger foods.

“Of course.” She sipped more wine and looked at her daughter, whom she hadn’t seen since Megan’s wedding, seven months before. “I must say, I will never understand why you moved to the frozen east, just simply to stay with a female friend. You both are beautiful women, and should have no problem finding a man.”

Kate groaned inwardly, but kept her face pleasant. “I don’t want a man, Mother. I did that and we all see how that turned out.”

Beth nibbled on a finger sandwich. “Yes, well George was a weak man. I never liked him,” she said, knowing full well that she and her husband had essentially forced the marriage.

“I’m happy where I am, Mother.”

Beth looked at her with wide eyes. “Living with a woman in the middle of the woods in Maine ?” she asked, sarcastic doubt dripping from her words.

“Yes. More?” Kate asked, raising the plate to her mother, a deliberate move with her left hand, the light shining on her ring.

Beth studied the ring for a long moment then met her daughter’s gaze. “Where did you get that?” she asked, her voice low as if she had a suspicion.

“Danni gave it to me over Christmas.”

“A ring like that is not some arbitrary thing you gift your woman friends with,” Beth snapped.

“No, it’s not,” Kate agreed, chin raised in challenge. She could see the transformation in her mother’s face, and knew a storm was brewing. “Don’t start anything here, Mother; don’t ruin this time in Megan’s life. You’ve already ruined your relationship with me, don’t ruin your relationship with your granddaughter and great-granddaughter.” She stared into cold green eyes. “Do you understand me?”

Beth pursed her lips tightly closed then walked away from Kate, setting her wine glass on a nearby table. She found Percy and put a talon-like grip on his arm. “Let’s go.” She looked to Megan. “Darling, we’ll be by in the morning to pick you up at your house for breakfast before we leave this place.”

Kate turned away as Megan said her goodbyes to her grandparents, heading back into the kitchen. She heard footsteps not far behind her, then a hand on her back.

“What happened?” Danni asked softly.

Kate took a deep breath then let it out. “Elizabeth Adams is what happened.”

“Baby, I told you it would be better to take off the ring-”

“No,” Kate said, turning to look up at Danni. “No. I’m sick of hiding who I am, Danni. For years I hid my unhappiness, and now I’m not about to hide my happiness. I walked away from my parents long ago. The only reason they’re still somewhat in my life is because of Megan; I’m not about to deny either of them the other. But now, Megan is an adult, and she can make her own decisions. I’m done.”

Danni smiled at Kate with respect and admiration. “You’re one tough lady.”

Kate smiled. “Let’s hope so.”

*****

Kate moaned softly into her kiss with Danni, Danni’s hips moving in a slow, sensuous rhythm between Kate’s legs as she stroked her deep inside. With the new baby, a week’s worth of company and Kate spending the majority of the past two weeks helping Megan settle in as a new mother, Kate and Danni had had little time for each other. So, after hours of kissing and light caresses, they moved together in a slow, steady rhythm that soon had them both breathing too hard to continue kissing.

Kate’s moaning was almost constant now as she ran her hands up Danni’s back. Danni’s mouth was latched onto her neck, licking and nipping at the skin there. Kate was getting close, so she ran her hands back down Danni’s back, over the leather straps of the harness and finally cupped firm flesh, encouraging Danni to speed up.

Getting the idea, Danni left Kate’s neck and pushed up to her hands, looking down at Kate as she increased her thrusts, making them quicker and shorter. She closed her eyes and moaned as Kate brought her hands up to cup her breasts.

“Always a breast woman,” Danni panted.

Kate smiled, but then that smile turned into a loud groan as Danni picked up the pace even more. Within moments she cried out, her hands flying down to cup Danni again, holding them together as Kate was hit with wave after wave of release, Danni’s hoarse cry soon following.

They lay still for a long moment, both trying get their breath back and heart rate under control.

“I wonder if there’s a certain number of orgasms a body can have in a lifetime,” Kate said, her chest still heaving.

“I don’t know, but if there is, we’re screwed,” Danni murmured into the soft skin of Kate’s neck.

Kate laughed, holding Danni close. Danni gently pulled out then moved to climb off Kate. Kate held her. “No, stay.”

Danni moved a bit further down between Kate’s legs so her entire body weight wasn’t on the smaller woman, then rested her head on the softness of Kate’s breast. “Mmm, I’ve missed you,” she nearly purred, feeling better than she had in weeks.

“I missed you, too,” Kate said, running her hands through Danni’s hair. “I can’t believe Christian is almost a month old already,” she said at length, her fingers never faltering in their soothing combing.

Danni sighed at the sensation, her eyes closed in utter contentment. “She’s growing so fast,” Danni murmured. “Soon she’ll be driving.”

Kate chuckled. “And I’m sure you’ll be taking her off road in your Jeep.”

“Of course I will. Doesn’t every good grandma?”

“Nooooo, you said grandmas knit and bake cookies,” Kate reminded.

“I never said that,” Danni teased, flicking her tongue out to swipe at Kate’s nipple, which was mere centimeters away from her mouth. She chuckled at the gasp that caused.

“I’m going to take Megan out tomorrow to get some new clothes for her job hunt. Poor thing can’t fit into any of her old stuff anymore.” Kate laughed at the memory of her own days trying to lose the ‘baby weight’. “That and she hasn’t gotten a letter from Rob in awhile. Her spirits are pretty low.”

“He’s probably moving around,” Danni murmured. “It’s impossible to write when that happens.”

“I can imagine,” Kate said, bringing her hand around to caress the soft skin of Danni’s face. “How on earth is your skin so soft?”

“It’s a family secret,” Danni said, kissing Kate’s palm. “I’m really going to miss her at the office; she was doing a great job there.”

“Why don’t you ask her to stay? I know she was really enjoying what she was doing. And,” she shrugged a shoulder, “maybe you could gear it a little more towards what her degree was in. Maybe she could be in charge of getting advertising campaigns going for your shop.”

Danni popped her head up and looked at Kate. “That is an absolutely brilliant idea! Why didn’t I think of that? Do you think she’d do it?”

“I don’t know. All you can do is ask her.”

“Are you serious?” Megan gasped, eyes wide. She grabbed Danni in a crushing hug. “Oh my god! This is so exciting.”

Danni laughed as she hugged her back. “I’m assuming this is a yes?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s a yes!” Megan gushed.

“Alright. Well, you’ll be starting the marketing end of Felts Enterprises here, so I want you to check around with various marketing and advertising companies and get me a starting rate of pay for someone with your credentials and we’ll go from there, okay?”

“Danni, you’re amazing!” Megan said, plopping a loud kiss on Danni’s cheek. “Here, take Christian. I want to go tell mom.”

Danni took the baby and watched as Megan almost skipped off to find Kate, who was getting ready for their outing. Danni brought the baby up to her eye level. “I think it’s just you and me, baby girl.” Danni smiled at the raspberry she got in response.

After the two women left, Danni changed Christian’s diaper, talking to her and making googly faces at her the entire time. Danni discovered there was nothing better than a baby’s smile, because no matter how stupid Danni acted, Christian seemed to love it.

“Are you ready for our little adventure?” she asked in the goofiest voice she could. The baby was freshly changed and dressed back in her one piece outfit. She lifted her high above her head, the baby’s green eyes growing large. “Are you ready for our adventure?” Danni asked again, grinning as the baby bubbled drool from tiny puckered lips. “Come on then.” She got to her feet, holding Christian to her. “Let’s go explore.”

Danni glanced out the window, smiling at the beautiful late May day beyond. The snow was long gone and the sun was shining brightly. “Come on, guys!” she called to the dogs, who quickly bounded for the door. The huskies weren’t quite sure yet what to make of the miniature human, as they’d never seen one before.

Danni grinned, thinking that it would be loads of fun for them once Christian was able to chase them and pull their tails.

*****

“So do you think you guys will do it?” Megan asked, sipping from her diet Coke. She was determined to fit back into her old jeans by Labor Day.

Kate shrugged as she chewed the bite of salad in her mouth. “I don’t know.” She sipped her lemonade. “Are you going to eat that pickle?”

“No, go for it.” Megan offered her mother her plate, then set it back down in front of herself once the pickle was plucked. “Have you talked about it since before Christian was born?”

“A little,” Kate admitted. She smiled and waved a familiar face that entered the restaurant. “But, with Christian and everything, we just haven’t had much time to get back to it.”

Megan nodded in understanding. “I never realized just how much time a baby really takes up.”

Kate smiled. “Pretty incredible, isn’t it? So small but so needy.”

Megan blew out a breath. “You can say that again. But, at least she’s starting to sleep longer through the night. The other night, she slept for six straight hours!”

“Not bad,” Kate complimented. “But, back to a baby for us, there’s just a lot to consider.”

*****

“This, little Christian is what’s called a rose.” Danni held the fragrant flower up to the baby, the baby’s eyes growing wide at something new presented before her. “I know you don’t know what this is right now, but you make every boy you date give you these. Okay? And, if they don’t, you call me and I’ll make sure they don’t forget the second time.”

*****

“Mom, there is no way on God’s green earth that dress will fit me,” Megan said, hand on rounded hip.

“Well, maybe not right now, but eventually it will,” Kate insisted, checking the price on the beautiful garment. “Or, maybe not.” She placed it back on the rack and walked away.

They continued on back outside to the gorgeous late spring day. “In a way I’m glad Rob isn’t here, “Megan said, stopping in front of a shop window to look at the dress the mannequin was dressed in. “I look like a damn blimp.”

“You do not,” Kate insisted. “And honey, you just had a baby a month ago. You cannot expect to bounce right back to your pre-baby body. And,” she said, linking her arm with Megan’s as they continued on. “You might as well get this through your head right now: no matter how much weight you lose, your body will never be the same.”

Megan groaned. “I was afraid of that.”

*****

“You see this beautiful piece of pine?” Danni asked, holding up a recently-shaved piece of wood that would one day soon become a chair leg. “This is my favorite wood to build with,” she explained to Christian. Putting the wood down, Danni continued her tour around the shop. “Your grandma would kick my butt if she knew I had you in here close to all these dangerous tools.” She kissed the baby’s forehead. “But we won’t tell her, will we? No, siree. We sure won’t. Trust me, you don’t ever want your grandma Kate mad at you. Come on, Christian, let me show you a table saw!”

*****

“Come on, Megan. You have got to try this ice cream,” Kate moaned, shoving the little plastic spoon into her mouth. “Mm!”

“Mom! How am I supposed to lose this weight if you keep trying to get me to eat crap?” Megan complained, nearly grinding her teeth to not accept her mother’s offering. She loved ice cream and her mother knew it!

“Oh come on, live a little.”

*****

“Hey there, Danni! Ain’t seen you in awhile,” diner owner, Merytle called out from behind the breakfast counter, where Danni and Christian headed.

“Well, been kinda busy, Meryt.” Danni set Christian’s carrier onto their counter then slid onto a stool.

“Who we have here?” the old redhead cooed, hurrying over to Danni.

“This is my granddaughter, Christian,” Danni stated, never so proud to say five words in her life.

Merytle drew painted-on eyebrows. “Granddaughter? Since when you got kids?”

Danni grinned. “Long story, Meryt. I’m on babysitting duty today, so I figured I’d introduce Christian to the best place to eat in Munson.”

“Well, just for that you eat on the house today.” Mertyle handed Danni a menu with a broad, red smile.

“I’m liking this grandma stuff,” Danni muttered as she looked over the menu.

*****

“How do you think Danni’s doing with Christian?” Megan asked from inside the curtained off dressing room. She studied herself in the mirror, looking this way and that, seeing how her new, larger body looked in the skirt.

Kate laughed from the next dressing room over. “She probably has her out in that damn workshop showing her all of her toys.”

Megan laughed. “God help us when she’s older. I wonder who she’ll be more like: me or Rob?”

Kate ran her hands down the smooth lines of the dress, which was a bit shorter than she normally wore. She tried to picture what Danni’s reaction to it would be, as it was fitted and more befitting of the younger women, but she was thrilled that her body actually looked fantastic in it. “I don’t know,” she said absently, admiring her reflection.

“I miss my baby, Mom.”

Kate smiled. “Then why don’t you call Danni and see how it’s going? I saw a pay phone down the street from this shop.”

“Ohhh, good idea!”

*****

“I know, baby. I know,” Danni cooed, rubbing the back of her crying granddaughter. She hipped her way into the house, her arms full of baby, baby baggage and mail, which she’d picked up on the way in.

She hurried inside, leaving the door open so the dogs could go outside and do their business, dumping everything but the baby on the couch. “I know you’re hungry and tired, sweetheart.”

In the kitchen, Danni grabbed one of the bottles that Megan had prepared that morning. Danni warmed it up, testing the temperature on her wrist before giving it to a very angry Christian, who she still carried in her arms.

Danni sat in the rocking chair that she had made – a twin rocker in Megan’s living room – and got down to the business of feeding a very hungry baby. “Don’t tell your mommy I kept you out too late,” she cooed, running soft fingers over Christian’s reddened face as the baby sucked contently on her lunch. “She’d string me up for sure, let alone what your grandma would do to me.”

Letting out a tired sigh, Danni watched Christian for a moment, then decided to kill two birds with one stone. She glanced over to the couch, which was a few feet away. Trying not to disturb the baby, she stretched with a grunt until she was able to grab the small pile of mail. Getting settled back in the rocker and making sure Christian was comfortable, she set the mail on her available thigh and began to sort through it, tossing the junk to the floor and the important stuff that could wait until later, to the couch.

Christian made a small whimpering sound, which caught Danni’s attention. She glanced at her to make sure everything was okay then turned back to the mail. She tossed a piece of junk mail to the floor then gasped at what lay beneath. Her blood froze, her breath stolen.

“No.”

*****

Bags of newly-purchased clothes in hand, Megan inserted her coin into the public phone then waited as it rang. On the third ring, Danni answered.

“Hey,” Megan said into the receiver. “I’m being a pesky mom, wanting to know how my daughter is.”

“She’s doing great,” Danni said, forcing a smile into her voice. “She’s been changed, fed and is now napping.”

“That sounds like Heaven,” Megan teased. “What did you guys do today?”

Danni squeezed her eyes closed, wanting to cry, but she couldn’t dare. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat of the rising emotion, trying to sound as normal as possible. “We discovered what roses are, and we met some locals at the diner.”

“Did you take her to your workshop?” Megan teased. “You can tell me, I won’t tell.” Megan grinned at her mother, who stood a couple feet away.

“Would I do that?” Danni gasped, hand to her chest.

“Yes.”

Danni smiled. “Maybe. That’s as much as I’m willing to say.”

“Fine. Fair enough. Want to talk to mom? She looks like she desperately needs to hear your voice.” Megan grinned at her mother’s wide-eyed expression.

“Yes!” Danni said, realizing she sounded desperate. She sighed in relief at Megan’s laughter. She could hear muffled conversation in the background, then Kate’s voice on the other end of the line.

“I guess you must have missed me today, huh?”

“Kate, I need you to get Megan home right now,” Danni said, her voice shaky, the sound of Kate’s voice pulling it to the surface. “Don’t let on that anything is wrong.”

“Is it?” Kate asked, her heart beginning to pound.

“The baby is fine, it’s nothing like that, so stop worrying. But, you really need to get Megan home, baby. Now.”

Kate glanced over at Megan, who had wondered over to a storefront to look at the display. “What do I tell her?” Kate asked quietly, so Megan wouldn’t hear.

“I don’t know. Tell her anything.”

“Alright.” Kate paused, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment. “Danni, is it really bad?”

“I’m not sure. I just know that it’s likely not good.”

“Oh god,” Kate whispered, suddenly feeling very nauseas. “Okay. I’ll think of something. I love you and we’ll see you soon.”

“I love you, too. Bye.”

Kate took several deep breaths before she plastered a smile on her face and turned to face her daughter. “Well, sweetie, I’m beat. You ready to hit it?”

“God, yes,” Megan sighed. “Definitely ready.”

*****

Danni stood at the crib that was kept at their house for when they watched Christian. She watched the baby sleep, lost in the world of angels and puppy dogs, where she knew nothing of pain or sadness. Danni brought a hand down and gently rubbing the baby’s stomach, the baby splayed out on her back with her head to the side. Her little arms were raised above her head, bent at the elbow.

“Little angel,” Danni whispered, leaning over to place a kiss to Christian’s head.

Danni’s attention was caught when she heard the sound of Kate’s car pull up in front of the house, and the sound of muffled talking and laughter as the two women made their way to the front door.

Danni walked to the living room to meet them, not entirely sure how to proceed. “Hey guys,” she greeted, all smiles.

“Hey!” Megan gushed, setting her purchases on the floor next to the door and walking over to Danni to give her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. “Is she still napping?”

“Snug as a bug in a rug,” Danni assured. Megan smiled then hurried to check on her daughter. Danni turned to Kate, immediately taking her into her arms and holding her. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered into Kate’s hair.

“What happened, Danni?”

“A letter came from the Department of Defense.” Danni pulled away from Kate and led her into the kitchen, where Danni had set the unopened letter on the counter. She handed it to Kate, who took it in slightly trembling hands.

Kate remembered the look of the envelope far too well, as too many of her friends had received such letters during the war. “Oh Danni,” she breathed. “God, I don’t know.” She looked into Danni’s eyes. “Does this mean…”

Danni shook her head. “Not always. There’s just no way to know until Megan reads it.”

“What’s up, guys?” Megan asked innocently, walking into the kitchen. She looked back and forth between Danni and her mother, her smile slowly sliding from her face. “What’s wrong?”

In a moment of silent communication, Danni nodded to Kate. Kate held the letter in her hands, taking a deep breath as she turned to her daughter. “Honey, something came in the mail today, mailed here to our address.”

“Okay,” Megan said, searching first her mother’s then Danni’s eyes, trying to find any clue to what was happening. “What is it?”

Kate took another deep breath, then handed the letter over.

Megan accepted the letter, her eyes scanning the typed print and the sender’s address and title. A small gasp escaped her lips as her fingers ran across the smooth paper, her heart stopping in her chest. She felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, and no matter how many times she blinked them away, they always came back, blurring her vision once again.

“I don’t want to open this,” she whispered, shaking her head. “I don’t want to open this.” Her hand began to tremble so badly, she almost dropped the letter.

Danni quickly took it from her, again meeting Kate’s gaze. Kate nodded, her own eyes welling. “Please,” she whispered.

Danni nodded, looking down at the envelope as though it were a snake, ready to strike. “Okay.”
Chapter 44

Chicago, IL May, 1969
Danni and Kate followed slower behind, as Kate held Christian to her chest, as Megan nearly sprinted down the hospital corridor to the nurse’s station in the ICU Burn Unit, where they’d been directed to go.

“Can I help you, miss?” the nurse behind the counter asked, making no secret of her disapproval of Megan’s actions.

“I need to see Robert Jamison,” Megan panted, out of breath from both the exertion and anxiety.

The nurse flipped through the patient log until she spotted his name. “Are you family?”

“I’m his wife, now where is he?” Megan boomed, no patience for delays.

“He’s in room 307, but miss, you’ll have to tone it down. This is a very serious ward.”

Megan didn’t stick around to hear what the woman had to say, instead flying off down the hall in search of room 307. Her heart was pounding in her chest and tears were ready to fall at the slightest provocation.

After Danni had read the letter aloud, they had learned that Rob had been burned badly when his ship had been hit and fire had broken out. Danni had immediately made some phone calls and had found out that, though he’d survived the transport to a hospital in Chicago, he still wasn’t out of the woods and was in the Burn Unit in Intensive Care.

Megan arrived at the door and stopped short, her heart in her throat. She had no idea what she’d see, and wasn’t even sure on any of the specifics of what had happened, but she did know that Rob was alive, and that was what mattered. Taking a deep, calming breath, she pushed the heavy door open and stepped inside. She was immediately struck by how dark the room was, as well as beeps from the machine’s that monitored Rob’s vitals.

Megan saw the end of the bed first, a white blanket standing out in stark relief against the dimness. She could see the outline of one leg, the other strangely missing. As her gaze roamed further up, she saw a left arm, the hand and forearm heavily bandaged into a mitten of white gauze. What brought tears to Megan’s eyes, however was when she saw his head, which was as heavily bandaged as his arm, the smallest opening for his eyes, nose and mouth visible.

“Oh, Rob,” she breathed.

As she moved closer, she could see the heavy bruising under his eyes, the other parts of his face that could be seen also looked bruised and swollen. She looked across his body and noted that his right arm wasn’t as heavily bandaged as his left, but what was visible was also covered in deep bruising and what looked to be singed skin.

She turned her focus back to Rob’s face as she moved around to the other side of the bed and his un-bandaged hand. “Baby?” she whispered, taking his hand in her own. His fingers were cool to the touch and nonresponsive. “I’m here, Rob.” She felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, part relieved to be with him, and part devastated at his condition.

“He sustained third degree burns to forty-five percent of his body, the majority of which was along his left side,” Dr. Elkins explained to Danni and Kate at the Nurse’s, Kate hugging Christian to her as she bounced her lightly to comfort the somewhat cranky baby. “We had to take his left leg at the knee, the limb too badly burnt to salvage.”

Kate buried her face in the soft hair atop Christian’s head, her eyes filling with tears. She felt Danni take a step closer to her, her body heart comforting. “Will he survive?” she asked quietly, looking at the doctor.

The older man shoved his hands into the long white doctor’s coat and sighed. “He’s not out of the woods quite yet, but as long as we can keep infection down – that’s our biggest enemy right now – I think he’ll pull through.”

“Is there a possibility of transferring him to a facility in Maine?” Danni asked. “His family lives there.”

“Well, I’d like to get him a bit more stabilized before I entertain any sort of option like that. I know of a couple good facilities and doctors over there, as well as in New York City, so he may be able to at least be a bit closer to home,” the doctor advised. “I’m not going to give any promises on that quite yet; let’s just see what comes of all this.”

Megan turned when she heard the door to Rob’s room open. “Hey,” she said quietly, her voice thick with emotion, as Kate and Danni walked in. Megan stood from the chair she’d pulled up beside Rob’s bed and walked over to her mother, taking her daughter in her arms. She needed to be close to her. “He hasn’t woken up since I’ve been here.”

Kate nodded, her gaze trailing over all that was the boy she’d known for four years. “The doctor said he’s heavily sedated right now. They want to try and give his body a chance to heal.”

Megan kissed Christian’s head, holding her close. “How is he going to survive this, Mom?” she whispered, eyes brimming with fresh tears. “He’ll die when he finds out they had to take his leg.”

“We’ll just have to be there for him, sweetheart,” Kate said softly, caressing Megan’s hair and back. “We’ll get him through it.”

*****

Danni tossed her jacket to the bed then followed it to lay across the double mattress. “God, what a day,” she sighed.

“I second that.” Kate crawled up next to her, trying to get comfortable on the scratchy motel bed comforter. She wiggled a bit against the cheap material. “Why do motels always use the cheapest and ugliest of all decoration and materials?”

Danni smiled, running her fingers through Kate’s hair. “Because they’re cheap and ugly.”

Kate smiled but said nothing. A heavy silence filled the space between them until finally Kate broke it. “What’s going to happen with Rob, Danni?”

Danni stared up at the ceiling, not seeing the tiles there but a Naval base from twenty-four years before. If she closed her eyes, she knew she’d be able to see the face of every single man in her unit. She hugged Kate closer, needing to feel the warmth and comfort of today to pull her out of yesterday. “It’s going to be hard, Kate,” she said quietly. “Very hard. My guess is Rob’s ship was hit; those things are floating fortresses and a hit can cause a fire like nothing else. His physical injuries are the least of his worries, I’m afraid.”

Kate lifted her head and looked down at Danni, head resting in an upturned palm. “You think he’ll be traumatized?”

“Oh, I know he will be. He’s got a rough road ahead of him, but thank god he has Megan and Christian to pull him through.”

“George would never talk about the attack you guys went through. I’d ask him questions about it and he’d always blow me off,” Kate said, running a finger along Danni’s jaw, which was tense.

Danni met Kate’s gaze. “I don’t blame him; it’s not something anyone wants to relive. To talk about it is to be there all over again.”

“But, to talk about it gets it out, doesn’t it?” Kate asked. She sat up, startled as Danni pushed up from the bed and walked towards the bathroom. “Danni?”

“It’s not that simple, Kate,” Danni said, flicking on the light in the bathroom and turning back to look at Kate, who stared at her from the bed. “You can’t understand it unless you were there.” She turned away, entering the bathroom. “I’m going to take a bath,” she said, closing the door with finality.

Kate was left sitting there, surprised and stung. It wasn’t like Danni to shut her out like that, and she wondered what she’d done. For a moment she considered going in after Danni to try and make her talk about it, but something told her not to.

*****

Danni felt the strong ocean breeze against her face, a few strands of short bangs dancing in front of her eyes. A deep intake of breath filled her lungs with the salty sea air. Each step was work as the sand of the beach collapse under the weight of her shoe.

“Man, them was some crazy dog fights today, huh?” Mike said as he walked beside her. “Damn. Crazy dog fights, crazy flyin’.”

Danni looked over at him, a smile slowly spreading across her lips to see the handsome young face of her best friend. “Those were some crazy dog fights,” she agreed.

Mike gave her a devilish grin. “How’s your lady, Danni?”

“She’s real good, Mikey. Real good. How’s yours?”

Mike shrugged wide shoulders. “Eh, you know how it goes. She’s beautiful and thousands of miles away.” He laughed, shaking his head. “Man, I sure do miss her.”

“I’ve missed you, Mike. I’ve missed you a whole lot,” Danni said suddenly, stopping Mike with a hand to his shoulder.

“Aw, Danni I’ve missed you, too guy. Just ain’t the same without you, ya know?” Suddenly Mike stopped, looking up into the sky as suddenly the drone of an airplane engine could be heard. Eyes, wide, he grabbed Danni, roughly shoving her back forward. “Run, Danni, run!”

Danni followed Mike’s gaze then she saw it, a glint of metal in the sky. Suddenly, they were surrounded by fellow sailors and chaos. 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 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…” She hugged his head to her chest. “God, no!” When she pulled away she found herself looking into the face of Rob, his eyes wide and unseeing, blood, like drool running from an open mouth.

“No!” Danni screamed, shooting up in the bed, her eyes wide and unseeing as she thrashed with the constraining sheets.

“Danni!” Kate exclaimed, her heart pounding as she was nearly startled to death by Danni’s sudden outburst. She reached over and reached for Danni’s face, but was shoved away by a terror-stricken Danni, who looked through her with wide, glazed eyes. “Danni! Danni, baby, it’s me, it’s Kate. You’re okay…”

Somewhere in the frazzled haze that was Danni’s brain, Kate’s words penetrated, and as images of Rob and Mike faded, a darkened motel room in Chicago emerged, Kate’s frightened face as the centerpiece. “Kate?” she gasped.

“Yes,” Kate panted. “It’s me, Kate. It’s okay, Danni.”

Danni felt her heart rate begin to calm a bit. She ran her hands over her face and through her hair, trying desperately to lose the images that still haunted behind her eyes.

Through the wall into Megan’s room, which was connected to Danni and Kate’s by a door, the scream of a frightened baby could be heard.

“Shit,” Danni sighed.

“Shh,” Kate whispered, placing a kiss on Danni’s cheek before she climbed out of the bed and walked to the door, which she could already hear Christian’s cries getting closer to. Megan pulled the door open a crack, peeking in.

“Is everything okay?” she asked softly, cradling the baby’s head to her shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, honey. Danni had a nightmare,” Kate explained.

“Is she okay?” Megan asked, peeking around Kate to see Danni sitting on the bed, her head buried in her hands. She turned frightened eyes back to her mother.

“Yeah. She’ll be fine.” Kate gave Christian a kiss on her head then Megan one on the cheek. “Go back to bed. We’ll see you in the morning.”

Megan nodded then turned back to her own room, Kate closing the door softly. She turned and looked at Danni, a hand going to her still racing heart. Pushing away from the door, she climbed back in bed, her gaze never leaving Danni, who looked over at her with sheepish eyes.

Kate brought up a hand and caressed Danni’s pale face. “I wish you’d let me in, baby,” she whispered. “I wasn’t able to be there for you then, but I want to be here for you now.”

Danni turned her face to kiss Kate’s palm before grabbing Kate’s hand in both of hers and holding it in her lap. She sighed heavily. “Maybe someday, but not right now. Okay?” she asked, looking at Kate with pleading eyes. “Not right now.”

Kate knew better than to force the issue, so she nodded. “Okay. Come here.” She lay down and pulled down Danni down to rest against her, cradling her head against her shoulder. “Let me hold you.”

Danni settled in, wrapping an arm around Kate’s middle and adjusting her head until she found the perfect spot. “Let’s get some sleep,” she murmured, hoping against hope that she would be able to.

Kate nodded and placed a kiss on top of Danni’s head before she closed her eyes, willing her body to calm enough to fall back to sleep. She could feel how tense Danni’s body still was and began to stroke her back, trying to use soothing touches to get Danni to relax. She was surprised when, after several minutes, Danni’s soft voice cut through the stillness.

“I could smell his guts.”

Kate said nothing, continuing her soothing touches and letting Danni say whatever she would.

“I could smell his guts and gunpowder; a strange combination.” Danni stared into the darkness that was their motel room, but she saw Mike lying in front of her. “I swear to god, I was afraid his guts were going to fall out right there on the ground, he was filled with so many holes.” She was silent for a moment, a shiver running through her at the memory. “I never knew that’s what someone’s insides would look like.”

Danni’s words had become no more than a whisper that Kate had to strain to hear. She could tell that Danni was in another time, reliving a nightmare that few could even dream off, let alone live with. She never stopped her stroking, placing a kiss to Danni’s head from time to time, just to let her know she was there and she was listening.

“I think what got me the most though,” Danni continued, clearing her throat as she felt emotion begin to rise. “I think what got me the most was his eyes. You know, you can literally see when they’re gone. Can literally see when the soul or whatever it is, leaves the body.” She was silent for a long moment, once again seeing the eyes of the dead and dying scattered all over the ground. The eyes of her friends and fellow sailors: sightless eyes looking right at her. “Just gone,” she whispered.

Kate felt Danni’s body begin to shake and felt wetness against her neck as Danni’s silent sobs began. Kate held her tight in protective arms, her own tears threatening to fall as she could feel Danni’s pain flow from her in waves. Kate held on, as the sobs built into loud, soul-wrenching cries of release, pulling Kate’s own tears from her eyes.

Finally, after long moments Danni’s tears began to slow until they stopped altogether. Danni felt drained, emotionally and physically. She raised her head, looking down at the neckline of Kate’s t-shirt, which was completely soaked from the broken dam that was Danni’s emotions. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, using her own shirt to dry off Kate’s neck.

“Shh, don’t you dare apologize.” She cupped Danni’s face and brought her down for a soft kiss before pulling away and looking deep into Danni’s eyes. She saw such a profound sadness there, it broke her heart. She also saw fear and surprise in the blue depths. “Have you ever cried over this before, Danni?” she asked gently.

Danni sat up and crossed her legs Indian style. “No.”

“Why?” Kate asked, mirroring Danni’s position.

Danni let out a shaky sigh, using her shirttail to wipe her face free of a flood of tear streaks, her eyes burning and red. “Because everything happens so fast, and then when it slows down and you get to a place where you can cry, you’re either too numb to feel or you’re in a place where you’re expected to stay strong, so you push it all down so deep inside, it’s almost like it didn’t happen.”

“Seeing Rob today brought it all back, didn’t it?” Kate asked, rubbing a soothing hand over Danni’s bare knee.

Danni nodded with a sigh. “Yes.”

“Listen baby, tomorrow, Megan and I can go-”

“No,” Danni said, shaking her head. “No. I need to do this and I need to be there for Rob. He’s going to go through hell before this is over.”

“Okay.” Kate pushed to her knees and pulled Danni to hers, then pulled her into a tight embrace, resting her head on Danni’s shoulder. “I feel there’s more inside you, and I want you to know that you can talk to me anytime, okay?” she murmured into the hug.

Danni nodded. “Thank you, Kate.”

Kate smiled, knowing the gratitude had nothing to do with her offer. “Can you sleep now, do you think?”

Danni nodded and kissed Kate’s temple. “Yeah. I’m beat.”

Kate pulled away to lay down, tugging Danni down to once again rest against her. “Close your eyes and dream of rainbows, unicorns and puppy dog kisses.”

Danni chuckled as she closed her eyes. “Maybe I’ll just dream of naked yous,” she murmured then fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Chapter 45
“I have to warn you,” Dr. Elkins said, leading the way to Rob’s hospital room door. “I started easing him off the sedation after you left last night, as I feel he could greatly benefit from knowing his family is here. He’s going to be very groggy, and likely won’t stay awake for any long length of time.”

Megan nodded her understanding. At door 307, she watched as the doctor pushed it open and then as her mother walked into the room. Megan decided to take a moment with Danni alone, and stopped her with a hand on her arm. Danni looked at her. “Danni, my mom filled me in a bit on what happened last night, that seeing Rob kind of brought back some memories for you. I just want you to know how much it means to me that you’re here.”

Danni smiled softly at Megan, bringing up a hand and stroking it gently down Megan’s long hair. “There’s nowhere else I want to be, Megan.”

Megan gave her a brilliant smile – so much like her mother – then kissed Danni on the cheek before heading into the room, Christian tucked into her arms. Danni took a moment in the hall to smile to herself before she too joined the other women in the room.

Rob was laying much the same way he had been the day before, the room dim and filled with mechanical beeps and life-assuring pings. “Let’s get some light on the subject,” Megan said cheerfully, doing her best to keep her emotions on an even keel as she moved Christian into one arm as she tugged on the bottom of the shade, holding it in her fingers to control the speed at which it flew up.

Turning back to the bed, she gasped lightly as the natural light coming in brought even more stark contrast to the deep bruising and singing of Rob’s skin. She pushed that aside, knowing that was surface and would heal. For now, she just needed to know he was alright and to let him know she was there.

The baby held tightly to her, she walked up to the bed and grabbed Rob’s “good” hand. “Baby?” she said softly, rubbing her thumb against the back of his hand. She studied his face, hoping against hope to see those eyes open and focus on her.

Danni and Kate stood back, Kate wrapped in Danni’s from behind. They both were nearly holding their breath. Danni couldn’t take her eyes off all of Rob’s injuries, her mind spinning as she wondered what the permanent damage would ultimately be to his psyche.

For Megan, nothing existed in that moment except her husband. “Rob?” she said gently, setting his hand back down on the bed, instead stroking the visible skin of his arm. “Wake up, baby. Open your eyes.” She was encouraged when she noticed one of his fingers twitched, then twitched again. “That’s it, Rob. Come back to me.”

It took several more minutes of nothing happening until finally a small groan escaped Rob’s throat, his eyes moving under the closed lids before they slowly opened, hooded and unclear.

Megan tried hold back a sob, but wasn’t entirely successful. “Hi,” she whispered, again taking Rob’s hand in her own. Tears slipped from her eyes as his fingers wrapped around hers in a weak grip.

Rob stared up at her, blinking several more times, his eyes becoming more focused with each blink until he saw a somewhat fuzzy figure standing before him. Within a few moments his vision cleared, and Megan came into focus. He looked up into her face, unable to speak as his throat was dry from breathing tubes and lack of use. He swallowed reflexively, never taking his eyes off her face.

“I love you,” Megan whispered, leaning down to place a gentle kiss on chapped lips, which responded, though delayed. Megan wanted so badly to be able to run her fingers through his hair, but the thick bandaging all around his head made that impossible. “I want you to meet someone, baby.” Megan held Christian up for her father to get a good look at her.

Rob studied the squirming baby, tears coming to his eyes as he feasted on the sight before him. Questioning eyes returned to Megan, glancing at the baby then back up to her.

Understanding, Megan nodded. “This is your daughter, Christian. She’s just over a month old now.” Megan watched as his eyes returned to his child; it seemed he was looking over every single detail of Christian’s face, her tiny little body and flailing arms. “Look who else is here to see you, sweetie.” Megan looked over at her mother and Danni, giving them a smile and a nod.

Kate walked over to stand next to Megan, Danni just behind her. “Hi, sweetheart,” Kate said softly, taking Rob’s hand. She leaned down and gave him a small kiss on the small bit of his cheek that was visible around the wrappings. She smiled down at him even as more tears gathered in his eyes.

Danni rested her hand on Rob’s remaining leg. “Hey,” she whispered, giving the leg a small squeeze before removing her hand.

The door to the room was suddenly opened and a nurse stepped in, looking at Rob’s guests. “Hello,” she said cheerfully then turned to her patient. “Well, hello handsome.” She beamed. “Looks like you’ve got yourself some company today, huh?” She checked the machines and wrote down her findings on Rob’s chart, which hung in a metal bin on the wall. She glanced up at everyone. “Will one of you folks be taking care of Robert, here?” she asked.

“Yes,” Megan said. “I’m his wife.”

“Oh good. Well, why don’t you stick around. I have to give Robert his daily scrub bath for his skin, and it’s something you’re going to need to know how to do.”

Megan nodded, eager to help. She gave Christian a kiss then handed her to Kate. “I’ll see you guys in a bit.”

Danni took Christian from Kate and led the way out of the room and into the hall. “Want to go get some coffee?” she asked.

Kate let out a heavy sigh and nod. “Sure.”

Sitting across from each other at a small table, Danni bouncing Christian in her arms, Kate sipped her coffee. “How are you doing?” she asked gently, smiling at the interaction between Danni and the baby.

Danni gave the question some thought then looked at Kate. “I’m okay.” She gave Kate a lopsided grin. “I am loathe to admit this, as I know I’ll never hear the end of it, but I think you were right last night. I think finally letting a lot of that go – which I hadn’t realized I’d been holding in, by the way – helped. It’s almost like a pressure cooker: let some of the steam out or the pot will blow.”

“I’d say the pot did blow,” Kate said gently. “You never did tell me what your dream was about.”

Danni sighed and sat back in her seat, bringing Christian up to rest against her shoulder as she gently rubbed the infant’s back. “I saw Mike shot to hell all over again. It was kind of neat at first, though. Mike and I were just walking and talking; it was so vivid, Kate. It was like he was really there again, still only 20 years old.”

Kate reached across the table and squeezed one of Danni’s hands. “Who knows? Maybe he came by to say hello.”

Danni returned the smile and squeezed Kate’s hand back.

*****

Chicago, IL June, 1969
Megan’s heart was racing in her chest as she sat on the edge of the bed, a sleeping Christian in her arms. She watched as Dr. Elkins carefully snipped away all the remaining gauze and ointment layers that surrounded Rob’s head and left arm.

“How are we doing?” he asked Rob.

Rob nodded slightly. “Okay.”

“Alright. Last snip,” the doctor said, making the snip. “Now we can unwrap.” He smiled down at the man whom had been his patient for a month. “Just like The Mummy.”

Rob smirked at the lame joke but sat still as the gauze was slowly unwrapped from around his head and face. The gauze was removed for cleaning and re-medication purposes, but today it was to be removed for the last time. He felt Megan’s cool fingers around his own, and responded by squeezing them weakly.

Megan watched, never having seen Rob without all of his bandages before, no matter how much time she spent with her husband in his room. The Navy had put her and Christian up in a small apartment close to the hospital so she could be close to Rob. Dr. Elkins hadn’t felt it was a good idea to transfer him to another facility in Maine until he was convinced Rob was fully out of the woods for infection. Kate and Danni had headed back home three weeks before, as Kate had summer classes she was going to start teaching, and Danni had to return to her own businesses.

It had been a scary experience for Megan: in a new city with just her and Christian, Rob stuck in a hospital room. She was thrilled that they would be heading home to Munson the following day.

“Okay, here we go.” Dr. Elkins finished unwrapped Rob’s head and face fully, the doctor’s trained eye looking for any problems. “Everything looks good, Robert.” He smiled, patting his patient on the shoulder. “A lot of this scarring will fade, though it’s likely the scaring on the left side of your neck will be a bit more prominent. Nothing debilitating, though.”

Rob looked at Megan. “How bad is it?” he asked quietly.

Megan reached over and finally touched Rob’s face for the first time. Her gaze trailed over his familiar features, though into eyes that were foreign. She smiled with a reassuring nod. “Handsome as ever.”

Rob leaned against his crutches, eyes riveted to his reflection in the mirror above the sink in the tiny bathroom in the apartment. His hair was singed off the left side of his head and shaved down even over the rest of his head by hospital personnel. He ran a hand over his head, fingers able to feel the different texture of his burned – but healing – skin and that of his regular scalp.

Even so, what got him the most were his eyes. Yes, they were bloodshot with dark circles under them, but it was more than that. Looking at his own reflection, he wasn’t sure he recognized himself anymore; something was missing.

“Hi, baby,” Megan said softly, moving up behind him and wrapping her arms around him. “I got Christian fed and down, hopefully for the night.” She rested her head against Rob’s back, eyes closing at the wonder of being able to hold him again. What she wanted the most, however, was for Rob to hold her.

“Mm,” Rob murmured, turning away from his own reflection. “Good.”

“Come to bed,” Megan said softly, squeezing him before letting him go and walking to the one bedroom.

Rob stayed where he was for a moment, eyes closing as she tried to get the courage to go to bed with his wife.

It took Rob several minutes to get himself to the bed and finally settled in it. Megan was already lying there, waiting patiently. He glanced over at her before looking shyly away, sinking down into the bed and pulling the sheet over his t-shirt and boxer-clad body. He felt like a little boy, new to the world of a woman lying so close by, as he gave Megan a side glance.

Megan studied him for a long moment, surprised he didn’t pull her over to him as he used to do. Taking a deep breath, she decided to initiate contact, as they’d done little more than hold hands in the past month. She scooted her body over to his, unsure how she’d be received. Keeping an eye on him, she gave him a soft smile then placed her hand on his stomach.

“You’ve gotten so thin,” she said softly.

Rob smiled. “You try surviving on rice and rations.”

Megan’s smile widened. “I can’t wait to cook a nice, fat steak for you when we get home. Nice and juicy, just how you like it. Maybe some mashed potatoes, stuffed with lots of cheese,” she smiled, giving Rob a soft kiss on his cheek. She could sense that he was nervous, and in fact, seemed to be scared to death. She brought a hand up and caressed his head. “I’ve really missed you, Rob,” she murmured, looking into his eyes.

He swallowed audibly. “I’ve missed you, too.”

Megan’s brows drew slightly. “Are you afraid of me, baby?”

Rob shook his head, but refused to meet Megan’s gaze.

“Baby,” Megan whispered. “It’s just me. I love you, and I see you as I always have.” She brought her hand down to caress the side of his stubbled face. She lowered her head, placing a soft kiss to his lips. Lifting her head, she gave him the most loving smile she could.

Rob felt his body respond; he hadn’t been touched by a woman, let alone his wife, in more than five months. He brought his hand up underneath Megan and to her back, gently pulling her towards him. Their lips met again, this time Rob reaching up to cup the back of Megan’s head as the kiss deepened.

Megan was in just as much need for the physical as Rob, but more than that, she needed to feel close to him, needed to feel that the man she loved and married was still the same man whom she was climbing on top of to straddle his narrow hips. As the kiss continued, she groaned when Rob squeezed both of her breasts.

Rob began to get into the familiar feelings of desire and need, though something inside him was struggling with being touched. He couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that his body wasn’t whole, nor was his mental state. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the doubt and embarrassment. He pulled out of the kiss.

“What’s the matter, baby?” Megan asked, moving to his neck, leaving wet kisses.

“Stop,” Rob said quietly, turning his head away from her.

“Just relax, Rob,” Megan murmured, her hand running down his body, her intended destination stopped short when Rob grabbed her hand in a firm grip.

“Stop!”

Megan was startled by Rob’s demand and the stranger in his eyes. She tried to pull her hand away from his, but he held it in an iron-like grip for a long moment before sliding his fingers away from hers, his eyes filled with shame as he looked away. Megan slowly climbed off him and moved to her side of the bed, curling herself up in a ball as she turned her back to him.

“I’m sorry, Rob,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Rob brought his hands up and covered his face, his guilt and anger at himself making him want to lash out. “I don’t want to be touched,” he muttered. “I’m sorry.”

*****

Munson, ME June 1969
Danni bent down low over the table top she’d just finished cutting, blowing off the excess sawdust. She stood and examined the piece from different angles, putting her keen eye to the test to find any nicks or any imperfections.

“I think you’ve got another winner on your hands, beautiful.”

Danni glanced up and smiled as Kate walked towards her, her hands tucked behind her back. “Thank you. This is that table for Mayor Gavin that was ordered.”

“Ah.” Kate set down a metal Doctor Doolittle lunchbox on the workbench, an eyebrow raised. “So, it would seem that some 9 year old child snuck into the house last night and brought their lunchbox to put into my bag for work. It would also seem that said 9 year old made the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever, a bag filled with cleaned and cut carrots – just how I like them – and some fruit and crackers. And then said 9 year old filled the Doctor Doolittle thermos with freshly-made coffee.” She put a hand on her hip. “Did you happen to see any 9 year olds around?”

Danni gave Kate a grin that could very well have come from a 9 year old. “My guess is that said 9 year old thought it would be a nice touch, considering you’re back in school – so to speak.” Danni crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Kate. “The best peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kate grinned, walking around the table to stand next to a grinning Danni. She leaned up and left a soft kiss on her lips. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Danni returned the kiss. “How did it go?”

Kate leaned back against another work table as she watched Danni go back to her work. “It went well. It feels absolutely fantastic to get back in the classroom. Even though it’s only part time right now, I’m loving it.”

“Good.” Danni gave her another, lingering kiss. “I’m glad.”

“Did Megan call with the details today?” Kate asked, pushing off from the work table.

“Yep, she sure did.” Danni scraped away at a few details in the table’s decorative design, blowing the excess pieces of wood away. “The plan is set to land at one forty-five.”

“Okay, sounds good.” Kate let out a tired breath. “I’m going to go in and start dinner.”

“I took some chicken out earlier,” Danni informed, wiping her hands on a rag. “I’ll be in in about fifteen minutes to help.”

*****

Kate watched as Megan stepped off the military flight and onto the tarmac, Christian cradled in her arms. She was followed by Rob, who was on crutches and was being helped down the narrow flight of stairs by a uniformed Marine.

“He’s so thin,” Danni commented softly from where she stood next to Kate. “And Christian has nearly doubled her size, it seems.”

“Babies grow so fast at this stage,” Kate agreed, looking at her granddaughter, who was now more than two months old. A wide grin broke out on Kate’s face when Megan spotted her, her cries of happiness reaching out to a mother and drawing her in.

Danni quickly followed as Kate ran to meet Megan halfway from the plane to the stairs leading up to the airport.

“Mom!” Megan cried, accepting the tight – though careful – hug that her mother gave her.

“I missed you two!” Kate exclaimed, eyes closing as she hugged her daughter, Christian securely between them. She pulled away and looked into very tired eyes. “How are you, sweetie?” she asked softly, brushing a few strands of Megan’s hair out of her daughter’s face.

Megan gave her a brave smile. “I’m glad to be home.”

“Hello, my baby!” Kate cooed, taking Christian from Megan’s arms and hugging her, then covering her small face with kisses.

Rob finally made his way to the reunion, partly glad to see everyone, but in truth, wanting nothing more than to just go home and shut out the world. “Hey, Danni,” he greeted, extending a hand out towards her.

Danni looked down at Rob’s formal greeting of a handshake then dismissed it, grabbing him in a careful hug. “It’s good to have you home.”

Rob gave Danni a small squeeze then pulled away. “Thanks.”

Danni studied Rob’s eyes, concern clouding her own.

*****

Munson ME, August 1969
Megan sat back in her chair, a satisfied smile on her face and hand on her stomach. “Mom, that was absolutely fantastic. I haven’t had a good, home cooked meal in way too long. Having an infant definitely takes up your time.” She drained the rest of her Coke. She glanced over at Danni, smiling as she watched her making crazy faces at Christian, whom she held in her arms, making her smile.

“I’m glad you liked it, sweetie,” Kate said, turning her gaze to Rob, who sat quietly, his fork wandering around his plate as he picked at his food. She exchanged a quick, knowing glance at Danni then turned her attention back to Megan. “I heard from one of my students that the newspaper is looking for someone.”

Megan’s eyes lit up. “Are you serious!?”

Kate nodded. “I’m not sure what they’re looking for, but I know it’s a reporter of some sort. I don’t have class tomorrow, so if you want, I can watch Christian if you want to go down there.”

“Rob can watch her, Mom,” Megan said, tossing a glance to Rob, who stared down at his plate.

Dinner finished, Danni helped Rob carry Christian’s diaper bag out to the car while Megan and Kate said their goodbyes. Megan squeezed her mother tightly to her before pulling away.

“I’ll see you later, Mom.”

Kate nodded then tucked her bottom lip. Finally, she decided to speak her mind. “Honey,” she began. “I need to know that everything is okay. With you and Rob. I know it’s not my business, but-”

“We’re fine, Mom,” Megan assured, though she was unable to look her in the eye. She shrugged, twisting her wedding ring on her finger before meeting her mother’s eyes. “He’s just having a hard time right now.”

Kate didn’t speak for a moment, reading Megan’s eyes. “Okay,” she said finally, giving her daughter a comforting smile. “Okay. I’ll see you later.”

Megan hurried out to the car, where Rob had already gotten himself settled in and was waiting. “See you later, Danni.”

Danni accepted the hug and returned it. She looked down into Megan’s face. “If you need anything, anything at all, just let us know, okay?”

Megan nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”

Danni watched Megan climb into the car and then the car drove off. She felt before she heard Kate’s presence beside her. She draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her up against her side. “Something’s wrong,” she said quietly.

Kate nodded. “I think so, too.” She let out a heavy sigh. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

Kate turned and headed back into the house, her mind busy with unspoken worry. She’d seen her daughter just about every single week, sometimes several times in a week. Megan had become quiet and reserved, their conversations somewhat stilted and, it seemed, secretive from Megan’s end.

Kate walked to her study, which was a guest bedroom Danni had turned into somewhere Kate could work. She pulled her chair out from her desk and sat down, staring blankly at the papers she still had to grade. She folded her hands together as she rested them on the desktop,

“Hey,” Danni said softly, stepping into the room and over to Kate. She rested her hands on Kate’s shoulders. “You okay?”

Kate sighed and nodded. “Yeah.”

Danni smiled, placing a kiss on top of her head. “No you’re not. Talk to me.” She began to run her fingers through Kate’s hair, which she knew Kate loved.

Kate sighed again, this time in pleasure, as she rested her head back against Danni’s stomach, eyes closed. “I’m just worried, Danni.”

“About what?” Danni asked, continuing her ministrations.

“Ohhhh, you have exactly four hours to stop that,” Kate purred, making Danni smile. “What’s happening between Megan and Rob.” She opened her eyes and looked up at Danni. “I look at him and it’s like looking at someone else. More than once I’ve wondered if it’s a doppelganger who came back, and not the Robby Jamison that I’ve known for almost five years.”

Danni placed a kiss on Kate’s lips then moved around to the side of the desk, pulling up a chair to sit in. “Because he’s not.”

Kate met Danni’s gaze. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t spoken to him yet about what happened, but from the severity of his injuries, I can promise you they were life-changing. It’s not his physical differences Rob is facing right now, Kate; he’s facing all the ways war messes with you mentally and emotionally.”

“But you’re fine. Yes, you had a bit of a setback in Chicago, but you’re fine.”

Danni gave Kate an understanding smile but shook her head. “After we were attacked and I was let out of the hospital, I had to get back on duty; we had an entire base to rebuild from the attack. After that, I re-enlisted to go help rebuild Europe after the war ended. After staying busy with that for five years, I came back and drowned it all in an alcoholic haze. Once I got myself together, my world became building F&H Industries. I’ve never sat idle, Kate. Right now, and for the past three months, that’s all Rob has done. He’s had plenty of time to dwell.”

“So, why doesn’t he make something of himself? Why doesn’t he use his business degree? Why does he allow this to continue to stew?” Kate asked, her eyes pleading.

“Why did you stay married for twenty-two years?” Danni asked evenly.

Kate wanted to be angry at the question, but she realized the anger would be at herself. She remained silent for a moment as she looked down at her hands, which fidgeted in her lap. She took a deep breath, letting it out as she looked back up at Danni. “Because I was caught up in stagnation; it was what was easier to do.”

Danni nodded. “Exactly.” She leaned forward and kissed Kate on the lips. “I’ve got a few dishes to finish up in the kitchen.”

Kate nodded absently at Danni’s words, her mind still reeling over their conversation about Rob. She sat in her office for a long time, her heartbreak and fear for her daughter very real. Finally, she ran her hands through her hair, realizing she was tired. She pushed up from the chair and headed out of the office, switching off the light on the way out.

The dogs were lying at the foot of the bed when Kate entered the bedroom, Danni already undressed and in bed, flipping through a magazine. She glanced up when Kate entered, setting the magazine onto the bedside table. She watched as Kate stripped out of her clothing and, naked, moved to the bed. She was amazed that even now, after the almost full year they’d lived together, she still thought Kate was the most beautiful woman in the world. Every day Kate amazed her a little bit more, and made her love her a little bit more.

“What?” Kate asked, turning to face the bed as she pulled down her side of the covers.

Danni smiled and shook her head, though the desire and adoration was more than clear in her eyes.

Kate chuckled, flicking off the overhead light as she climbed into bed, immediately pulled in to cuddle next to Danni. She sighed in contentment, placing a kiss on Danni’s neck before she settled her head against her shoulder. “You know it’s funny,” she said softly.

“What’s that?” Danni asked, trailing her fingers up and down Kate’s back.

“There are still times that I can’t believe we’re finally together. I think I had pretty much convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen, you know?”

Danni chuckled. “Oh yeah; I know all about that.”

“It reminds me of when I was sharing that house with all those girls back in San Diego. There were times – months and even years after I moved out of my parents’ house – when I’d be sitting there, and it would suddenly hit me all over again: oh my gosh, I’ve got my own place!” She smiled at Danni’s laughter at that. “I think it’s the same thing with us: oh my god, I’ve actually not got Danni, but we’re living together!”

“Do you have any regrets?” Danni asked, running her hands over every part of smooth flesh she could reach, just because she loved the feel under her hands.

“No,” Kate answered honestly. “Even George, though I wish I hadn’t stayed married to him for so long. But, I’m so grateful to have Megan, and I know my life wouldn’t be the same without her. So, no: well, other than the not-married-to-George-so-long part.”

Danni kissed her lips. “It all worked out, and it’ll all work out with Megan and Rob. Either he’ll come around and stand up to be a man in his own life, or he’ll walk out and leave. I’m not saying that’s a wonderful option, but at least it’ll leave Megan free to have a life, and not be forced to live with the incredibly unstable person Rob is right now.”

“Do you think it would help if we talked to Rob?”

Danni shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know. He may just feel like a caged animal if we do. I think Megan needs to lead this dance, baby. She’s a smart girl and a strong girl; she’ll decide what to do when the time is right for her.”
Chapter 46
Dr. Ronnetta Wilson looked at the bared stump of Rob’s leg, dark brows drawn. She looked up from where she sat on a low stool to examine the limb. “Have you been using the prosthetic that was fitted for you?” she asked, using gentle fingers to touch the un-calloused flesh.

Rob, who sat on the end of the examination table in a hospital gown sighed with irritation. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Of course it is, Rob. It will be until you get used to it. It’s no different than a builder who uses tools all day; the skin of the hand isn’t meant for hard labor right out of the box, so eventually calluses form.” She patted his leg. “It’s no different than this situation here.”

Megan sat in a chair in the corner but said nothing. She watched, absently bouncing 7 month old Christian in her arms, who wanted to get down and try and crawl around the new territory. She was often amused at how fearless her daughter was.

“Let’s get this on you,” Dr. Wilson said, pushing to her feet. She grabbed the prosthetic leg from the table where Rob had set it upon entering the office. “For the benefit of the doubt, let’s make sure the fit is still perfect.” Once again she resumed her seat on the stool. “Sometimes,” she explained as she strapped the leg on, “as flesh and bone heals from such deep trauma as an amputation, things can resettle as new flesh grows.” What she didn’t tell Rob was that she knew damn well the discomfort was solely from lack of use.

Rob watched as the doctor attached the fake leg. A pirate. He felt like a goddamn pirate with his peg leg. All he needed was an eye patch and a really good scowl, which wasn’t so hard for him to come up with these days.

“Alright,” Dr. Wilson said. “Go ahead and stand.

Megan had only seen Rob use the prosthetic leg a few times since he’d gotten it three months before. It was amazing to see him up on two legs again, even if one was as big around as a broom stick. She turned Christian in her arms so the baby was looking out at the examination room.

“Look at daddy,” she said, pointing. “Look how tall he is!”

Christian blew raspberries and cooed, small arms waving uselessly in the air.

Rob heard Megan and Christian behind him but didn’t turn to look at them. Personally, he wished Megan had gone to work today rather than babysitting him at the doctor’s office.

“The fit is fantastic, Rob,” Dr. Wilson commented, rolling the stool around to see it from all different angles. She looked up at him. “The problem here is you. You have got to utilize this opportunity for normalcy. I don’t want to hear about you being crutch or wheelchair dependant, do you understand? There is absolutely no reason for that.” She stood and walked over to Megan. “He needs to be using this prosthesis for at least one to two hours a day, Megan. At least until he gets used to it, then it can be worn for several hours in a day before fatigue sets into the bone and muscle. Alright?” Long ago in her practice Ronnetta had learned that if she wanted something to be done, she went to the wife.

“Yes, Doctor. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She smiled down at Christian and tweaked her nose. “What a beautiful baby.”

“Thank you.” Pride shone in Megan’s eyes, as in her mind, Christian was the most beautiful child who ever walked the earth. Left alone with Rob, who shrugged the gown off his shoulders and was reaching for his clothing, she sighed. “Want some help?”

“Nope.” Rob managed to get the right leg of his pants on, but was struggling with the left. “Dammit! Can you get this goddamn pant leg on, please?” he barked.

Megan pushed up from the chair and handed Christian to him. “No need for the language, Robert. Your daughter is right here.”

“Yeah, and my daughter can’t even say her own name. I’m not worried about her picking up on a bad word.” He watched as Megan carefully tugged the pant leg over the prosthetic leg. “See why it’s easier to not have that damn thing on?”

Megan looked up at him. “Rob, you put your pants on exactly once in a day. You walk around and are mobile all day. I hardly see the comparison.” She patted his thigh. “All done.” She walked over to the chair where she’d been sitting and grabbed all of their coats and Christian’s diaper bag. “Get her bundled up, will you?”

Rob did as he was asked as Megan shrugged into her own heavy coat. She took the baby from him when he was finished, giving him a chance to get himself ready.

Rob said nothing as he slid off the exam table, tugged his jacket on then followed Megan out of the office. “Are you going back to the paper today?” he asked as they stepped out into the cold, November day. Luckily the shoe that had been attached at the end of the prosthetic had good tread, because the snows had already started.

“No,” Megan said, tugging her coat tighter around her as a harsh wind washed over her. “Damn, it’s cold. Mom, Danni and I are going to look for some Christmas decorations today.” She glanced at Rob over her shoulder. “Do you want to go?”

“Not particularly,” Rob muttered.

Megan stopped suddenly, Rob nearly running into her. “This is Christian’s first Christmas, Rob. Tell me you’re not going to be an ass and ruin this for her?”

“Watch your language, Megan,” Rob warned sarcastically. When he got nothing from Megan in return but the hard, expectant look she’d already been giving him, he sighed, his breath crystallizing instantly. “Megan,” he began, voice quiet. “She is 7 months old and will never remember this Christmas anyway; what does it matter if I’m there or not?”

“What does it matter?” Megan asked, deeply hurt. “Rob, Christmas used to be our favorite time of year. Don’t you remember when we used to talk about it all the time, the things we wanted to do with our kids over Christmas? All the traditions we wanted to introduce them to and even start new?”

Rob couldn’t look into Megan’s pleading eyes, so he looked out into the parking lot. He knew he was hurting her, and though that wasn’t the purpose, he couldn’t help it. It just didn’t matter to him. Nothing did.

“Megan,” he sighed, “I’m not really into it this year, okay?” He made himself look at her. “I’m sorry and I don’t mean to hurt you, but I’m just not. Being around all that shit is the absolute last thing I want to have to deal with. Seeing Kate and Danni and their lovey dovey bullshit makes me want to hit something sometimes.”

Megan brought a hand up to swipe at a tear that was beginning to fall. “Yeah? Well, being around their ‘lovey dovey bullshit’ makes me want to cry because once upon a time we were like that, too. I still want that with you, Rob. I want my Rob back. I want the guy who cared about me, and who would have cared about his daughter. The guy who wouldn’t allow hid infant daughter to lay around in soaked diapers all day.”

“I said I was sorry about that,” Rob muttered, feeling like the asshole that he knew he was. He could feel his own guilt and self-hatred begin to burn.

“Yeah you did, but you still don’t give a damn about us.” Megan turned and headed towards the car as her tears really began to come. Christian was getting cranky in her arms.

Rob followed, albeit at a slower pace due to the inexperience with the prosthetic. “I’m not perfect, Megan,” he called to her.

“Neither am I, Robert,” Megan called back, getting Christian buckled safely into her car seat. She closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side, knowing Rob wouldn’t be able to drive with the prosthetic. “And I don’t expect you to be, either. What I do expect out of you is for you to be a human being with a heart.”

Rob slammed the door once he was settled into the passenger seat. “This is ridiculous and is going nowhere,” he muttered, staring out the window as Megan got them on the road.

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, because you know what?” She glanced over at him to see his stubbled profile. “You’re the only one who is giving up on you and your life. Everyone else here: me, my mom, Danni and even Christian, love you and want you whole again. You are the only one who is stopping the healing process, Rob, and I’m not going to let you blame me for this anymore.”

Rob looked over at her. “What do you mean?”

Megan pulled up to a red traffic light then met his gaze. “I mean take responsibility for your own life. You want to shut me out, fine. You can try and figure this out on your own, then. When you’re ready to deal with things and to be a man about it, I’ll be here.” Rob continued to stare at her, shocked. “You have an excuse for everything, Rob. Today: you try and tell Dr. Wilson some lame crap that the prosthetic is uncomfortable, blaming and inanimate object for your own stubbornness! You won’t go get a job because you say there’s no one to watch Christian. Well, Danni has offered, my mom only teaches part time, so she’s offered. Hell, Mrs. Sherman down the street has watched the baby for us before when I’ve taken you to the doctor, and even she has offered! Dammit, Rob!” she exclaimed, slamming her hand on the steering wheel, months of hurt and frustration coming to the surface.

Christian began to cry in the backseat, startled and frightened by Megan’s sudden outburst of anger.

“Shit,” Megan whispered, pulling the car off to the shoulder of the road. She reached around from the front seat and stroked Christian’s foot. “It’s okay, baby,” she cooed. “It’s okay.”

Rob stared out the window. “Nice one.”

Megan glared at him. “Fuck you, Rob.”

He looked at her, shocked. Never, in all their time together had Megan spoken to him that way. “You think you’re so perfect, Megan; the perfect mother, the perfect daughter, the perfect goddamn reporter. Oh, and let’s not forget the perfect wife.”

Megan could only stare, her stroking hand stilling. “I never said that,” she whispered. “I have never once said I was perfect and I sure as hell am not perfect in this situation. I’m living with a man I don’t recognize, don’t know and don’t really want to know. I don’t know what to do with you, Rob. I don’t know what you want from me or what you need from me because you won’t talk to me. You won’t let me in. Hell, we haven’t even made love since before you left to ship out. You’ve been home for five months.”

Rob said nothing, his jaw muscles clenching and unclenching.

Knowing that this wasn’t over but Christian was finally calmed down, Megan got the car back on the road and headed home. Quietly they unloaded the car of both baby and all the baby’s gear. Megan got Christian fed, changed and set her on the floor, as she had begun to crawl in earnest over the past couple weeks.

Rob flopped down in the recliner that he’d practically lived in for five months, immediately un-strapping that damn fake leg.

“Danni has offered to help you find something where you can use your degree, especially since it’s in business,” Megan muttered from where she’d thrown the freshly-washed and dried clothing on the couch before they’d left for the doctor. She began to fold the clothing and place it neat piles.

“Of course she did,” Rob sighed. “Danni is, after all the all-knowing Oz.”

Megan looked at him. “What?”

“Come on, Megan. According to you, Danni is the end all be all to life as we know it. After all, she gave you a job when times were hard. Hell, she gave us this house,” he said, arms opened wide to indicate the living room where he sat. “By golly, she has even played wifey to Kate, mommy to you and grandma to Christian.” He turned hard eyes on her. “She’s perfect, Megan. She can do any and everything, including leap tall buildings in a single bound. I bet if she put her mind to it, she could probably grow a cock and play husband to you, too!”

Megan was stunned, literally taking a step backwards as she felt she’d been punched in the stomach. “I can’t believe you’d talk about her that way,” she breathed. “I can’t believe you, period.”

She threw down the shirt she’d been folding and walked to Christian’s bedroom. She quickly shoved clothing in the diaper bag, as well as extra diapers. Storming back into the living room, she dropped the bag by the door then went in search of the baby, finding her over by the archway that separated the kitchen from the living room.

“Come on, baby,” she cooed, trying valiantly to keep her anger in check so as not to upset the baby. Christian whined as she was picked up, but Megan ignored it as she got her ready to go.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Rob yelled from his chair, now regretting that he’d removed the prosthetic, because his crutches were on the other side of the room and it would take some time and effort to get over to them.

“Away from you,” Megan muttered, buttoning Christian’s coat and tugging her own on. Grabbing the diaper bag and standing at the door, Megan turned back to where he still sat in his chair. “I need time away from you to decide what’s next for me and for Christian.”

With those cryptic words, Megan was gone, leaving Rob to curse at the empty house.

*****

Danni set the lid down on the crock pot, smiling at the fragrant aromas that escaped with the steam. She’d put on a pot of chili that morning, intended for dinner. She lowered the temperature slightly then stood in the center of the kitchen, hands on hips as she tried to think about what else needed to be done.

“Okay, let’s see,” she said, “I’ve done laundry, made chili,” she ticked off on her fingers, “finished the Olson project and headed to the store.” Nodding in satisfaction of a production day, she headed through the living room, intending to stop in the bathroom for a shower when the doorbell rang.

A glance at the Grandfather clock told her it was too early for Megan and the baby, but was surprised all the same to see that was exactly who it was. “Hey, sweetie!” she greeted, giving Megan a tight squeeze then taking the baby from her arms. “I hope you don’t mind just hanging out for a bit.” Danni led them into the living room. “I stink and need a shower.”

“That’s fine,” Megan said quietly, walking past Danni to set Christian’s bag on the couch. Danni?” she said, back still to the older woman. “Is it okay if the baby and I stay here for a few days?”

Danni felt her stomach drop. She gave Christian a kiss on the forehead then set her down on the floor to crawl around to her heart’s desire. All her favorite toys were already waiting for her.

“Of course you can,” Danni said softly, walking over to where Megan stood. “What happened?”

Before Megan could stop herself, she turned and buried her face in Danni’s neck, the tears hot and fast.

Danni was stunned, but recovered quickly, wrapping Megan in a tight, comforting and protective hug. She cupped Megan’s head in her hand and placed a soft kiss on top of her head, saying nothing as she sensed Megan really needed to get this initial burst of upset out. After a few moments, she began to calm down. “Are you okay?” Danni asked softly, rubbing soothing circles on her back.

Megan nodded, but didn’t pull out of the hug. She felt so warm and comforted. “You give the best hugs, Danni.”

Danni smiled, squeezing her a bit tighter. “Well, when you grow up with brothers, you learn the art of the bear hug.”

Megan chuckled as she finally pulled away, her face red and, eyes and nose wet. “God, I’m a mess,” she sniffled, voice thick from her upset. She snagged a tissue from the box on the table and cleaned herself up.

“Come sit down with me and tell me what happened,” Danni directed, patting the cushion next to where she sat down on the couch. Megan plopped down next to her, glancing over to see what her daughter was doing before she rested her head against Danni’s shoulder, an arm enfolding her own.

“How is it that after you came back from the war, you managed to become something great, Danni? Why didn’t you wallow in self-pity and b.s.?”

“Who said I didn’t it?” Danni asked softly. “The truth is, I remained in the Navy for another five years after the war ended. Why? I was hiding. I’d already lost your mom, so figured I’d stay awhile.” Danni smiled at her own 22 year old’s reasoning. “When I got back, I wallowed alright. I was a gutter drunk, Megan. I didn’t care about anything or anyone except myself and self-destructing.”

“Was that before or after you saw my mom when I was a baby?” Megan asked softly, calmed by the soothing tone of Danni’s voice.

“After,” Danni admitted. She wanted to add that that was what sent her into an emotional downward spiral, but didn’t feel it was pertinent to where this conversation was going. “Rob is in the middle of that blackness right now, sweetie.”

“But you fought it!” Megan protested, looking up at Danni.

“I did. But it took time and determination. And,” she added, holding up a finger for emphasis. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret that folks – especially the menfolk – don’t like to admit or talk about. Women are inherently stronger creatures emotionally. We have to be. In my opinion, a woman can handle ten times what a man can when it comes to the heart or ego. I think it’s hardwired in us to bounce back and move on. For men, it’s not so easy.”

“And, you think that’s what’s happening to Rob now?”

Danni nodded. “I do. I saw it a lot with the guys that were in my unit during the war and after.”

Megan let out a long breath. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this, Danni. I just don’t know. We got into a horrible fight today, and he said some truly horrible things. I don’t want Christian to grow up in that kind of environment. My mom and dad may not have fought like Rob and I are, but it was still extremely unpleasant. I promised myself I’d never ever do that to my own child.” She sighed, dropping her hand on her lap in exasperation. “Look what I’ve done.”

“Stop.” Danni hugged Megan to her side. “You’re trying to do what’s best for all three of you and should be commended for it, not condemned: especially by you.” She gave Megan an encouraging smile.

“So, you’re saying I should leave his stupid ass?”

Danni chuckled with a shrug. “That’s up to you, Megan. Nobody can make the decision but you. Personally, I think you should beat the crap out of him with one of his crutches, but that’s just me.”

Megan laughed at that, and it felt good. “You’re terrible!”

“You know, your mom tells me that all the time.” Danni sighed dramatically. “I’m telling you: between the two of you, my ego is taking a bruising.”

Megan grinned. “Yeah, but you’re a woman and can take it, remember?”

Later that afternoon, Kate arrived home, surprised to see Megan’s car in the driveway. She walked into the house, only to be intercepted by Danni.

“Come with me,” Danni said quietly, taking Kate by the hand and leading her to their bedroom, where she closed the door.

“What’s going on?” Kate asked, able to see the concern in Danni’s eyes.

“Megan has been here for a few hours, now. She’s pretty upset still, though has calmed down considerably. Her plan is for her and the baby to stay here for a few days while she sorts some things out.”

“What happened?”

“Rob,” Danni said simply, knowing that said it all.

“I’ll kill him,” Kate growled, irritated when she saw Danni’s smile. “This isn’t funny, Danni.”

“No baby, it’s not. But, calm down, Mamma Bear. Megan is upset enough and doesn’t need your anger on top of her own.” She studied Kate’s eyes for a long moment, waiting until she saw the understanding in them that she needed. “Okay?” she clarified once she did.

Kate sighed and nodded. “Okay.” She accepted Danni’s hug and kiss. “Where is she?”

“Feeding Christian in the kitchen.”

Kate left the bedroom and went to join her daughter and granddaughter. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said, kissing Megan on her forehead and caressing Christian’s soft blonde hair. “Bad day, huh?”

Megan sighed with a nod. “You can say that.”

“I’m sorry. You guys are welcome to stay as long as you need to, Megan. If you need anything from us, just ask.”

“Well,” Megan grinned, a little sheepish. “I was so angry when I left that I didn’t even grab any clothes for me. Do you think Danni would mind going back to the house and picking some up for me? I don’t want to see him right now.”

“I’m sure she won’t mind, sweetie. I’ll ask her.”

Danni drove slowly through the storm-covered streets of Munson, a fresh batch of snow due later that night. She saw that Rob’s truck was parked outside the Jamison’s house, and was filled with a mixture of relief and dread. Megan had given her a key, unsure if he would be there to let her in or not.

Parking at the curb behind Rob’s snow-blanketed truck, she let out a deep breath then pushed out of her Jeep, bracing against the cold winds that met her. She made her way up the walkway and to the front door, raising a gloved hand to knock firmly. Nothing. She knocked again and then a third time. She was beginning to become concerned when finally the door swung open, a beer-scented Rob standing on the other side.

“What?” he slurred.

Danni stood straight, wanting to use her height to let Rob know he was no threat. “I’ve come to get some things that Megan forgot,” she said evenly. She wanted this to go as smoothly as possible.

Without a word, Rob hobbled away from the door on his crutches, leaving the door open for Danni to enter or not. He sank back into his chair and grabbed the bottle of beer he’d been drinking when she knocked.

Danni entered the living room, shocked to see the collection of empty beer bottles that littered the coffee table and floor. “Having yourself a little party?” she asked.

Rob smirked. “You could say that.” He eyed her, unsure if Megan had told her what he’d said earlier. Probably; after all, it was like Megan to run home to her two mommies.

“Would that be a pity party?” Danni asked, standing at the center of the room with her arms crossed over her chest as she looked over at him.

“Fuck you, Danni. What the fuck do you know about fucking anything?” Rob threw back the last of the beer then tossed the bottle to the floor, a half-drank six pack next to him.

Danni felt the anger that she’d had all day, but had kept down for Megan’s sake, boil to a dangerous level. “What the fuck do I know?” she asked. “What the fuck do I know about what?”

“About anything!” Rob barked. “About this!” he indicated his leg, the useless lower part of the pants leg tied off at the end the stump. “You have this perfect life, the perfect fucking life. What the fuck does some SeeBee know about real fighting? On a real ship, no less.” He snorted, opening another beer. “You built fucking roads on Paradise-fucking-island.”

Danni’s jaw muscles clenched and unclenched as she fought a losing battle inside herself. “I know plenty,” she growled, her voice low and dangerous. She met narrowed eyes. Without another thought, she tore her winter coat from her shoulders, letting it fall to the carpet at her feet. Turning her back to Rob, she tugged her sweater over her head, leaving her standing in only her bra.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Rob asked, shocked by the move. Suddenly, he was presented with Danni’s back and the gnarled, white and red flesh that covered it. He was struck silent for a long moment, unsure what to say.

Danni said nothing as she tugged her sweater back on and grabbed her coat. Turning back to Rob, she swallowed, pushing the shame of her own scarred body down. “I know plenty,” she said again. “I got that when a bomb went off one hundred feet away from me as I covered the body of my best friend who had been riddled with bullets so badly that his guts were sliding out of the holes.”

Rob stared, suddenly feeling very sober. “Oh,” he said stupidly.

“So, don’t sit there and think you’re the only person who’s ever been affected and changed for life by war, Rob. You’re a selfish son-of-a-bitch who is drowning in your own pity. You’ve got what most people would kill to have when they go through something like that: a wife who loves and adores you and who would die for you. You’ve got a mother-in-law who sees you as her own son, and a daughter who would love to know her own father, rather than cry whenever she’s in his arms.”

Rob glared, the only thing he could do in rebuttal to Danni’s truths.

“Now, I came here to get some clothes for Megan. You’ve got the time it takes me to get those clothes and load them in my Jeep before I expect an answer from you.”

“An answer for what?” Rob asked.

“An answer on whether you’re going to be man enough to pick yourself out of the gutter and be a husband, father and productive member of this world. Or, whether you’re going to be man enough to give Megan the freedom to find happiness again. Either decision you come to, I’ll support, as long as you’ve got the balls to back it up.”

Rob was left stunned, feeling cold and very alone as he sat in his chair.

Danni stormed into the couple’s bedroom, closing her eyes and leaning back against a wall as she tried to get her heart to stop racing and her anger to calm. When she’d walked in and saw Rob sitting in that chair, covered in beer bottles, she saw herself twenty years before. She couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been different had Kate been in her life and could have given her strength, just as Megan had tried to do for Rob. Was it better in the end that Kate hadn’t been there? Hadn’t had to see Danni at her lowest? Would she have lost Kate as Rob was in danger of doing with Megan now?

Blowing out a heavy breath, she quickly went to the drawers Megan had instructed her to go to, pulling out enough outfits for three days. Clothing slung over her arm, she headed back outside, not even giving Rob a second glance as she did. She loaded the clothing into the back of her Jeep then went back into the bedroom for the pair of boots Megan had asked her to grab. This time, however, before she hit the front door, she heard Rob say her name.

Stopping, her hand on the knob of the front door, Danni turned to Rob, who hadn’t moved a muscle. “Yes, Rob?”

Rob stared straight ahead at the wall across from him. “Will you tell me what happened? Why your friend was shot?”

Danni was surprised by the quiet request. “Of course. But, why don’t I tell you about that after you tell me what happened to you?”

Rob’s head snapped over to look at her, his eyes wide with fear and panic. He swallowed hard, sweat suddenly breaking out across his forehead. He could see the determined look in Danni’s eyes and knew there was no way out of it. “Alright.”
Chapter 47

USS James, 1969
“Come on, boys. Are you telling me you don’t have nothin’ more than that?” Walt asked, grinning at his fellow poker players.

“Shit, I fold,” the sailor on his right said.

“Same here.”

Walk turned to the man sitting across from him, a newbie named Russ Rosenburg. “Come on, Rosie. You gotta have somethin’.”

Rob lay in his top bunk reading a magazine that Megan had sent to him in her latest care package. He glanced over at the poker game the guys were playing from their bunks. From his perspective he could easily see over Walt’s shoulder and to his hand of cards. “Don’t trust him, Rosie,” he tossed out. “I’d toss in another bid.”

“Fuck you, Jamison!” Walt bellowed, making the other guys laugh.

“I up you,” Rosenburg grinned.

“Asshole,” Walt muttered, tossing a glare over his shoulder at a grinning Rob.

“Hey, that’s what happens we get sick of losing to you all the time,” he prodded.

“Yeah, yeah,” Walk muttered, taking the cigarette out from where it was tucked behind his ear and tucking it between his lips without lighting it. “What’cha got, kid?”

Suddenly, the ship was rocked, some of the cards from game sliding off the bunk and to the floor. The men looked around the room then at each other. Another jolt followed by the shrill scream of distant alarms.

“What the hell?” one of the sailors said, rising to his feet. Like most the other guys, he was dressed in only an undershirt and boxers.

The loud speaker out in the hall squawked to life. “All hands on deck! All hands on deck!”

Rob felt his heart lurch, but tossed the magazine aside and jumped down from his bunk that he was nearly tossed off of during the last jolt. He joined his fellow sailors in the mass chaos as all men rushed for the stairs to the upper decks. The higher they went, the louder the shrill alarms became and the more yelling and screaming they heard.

As Rob made it to the top deck, he gasped when he saw half a man’s torso lying in a pool of blood and internal organs on the deck. He quickly tossed the image from his mind as he grabbed a weapon and ran to find the alarm.

Fighter jets swarmed overhead like bees, with pretty much the same sting and sound. He raised his weapon and fired at the low-flying planes, screaming with the power of the weapon as he did. He was gratified to see some of his hits spark on the metal of the planes, but none went down, unfortunately.

Magazine empty, he tossed the gun to the deck and grabbed a weapon from a man, his head nothing more than a pin cushion for bullets, then ran on.

“Jamison!” one of the superior officers bellowed above the engines and chaos when he saw Rob. “I need you to go man the gun aft!”

“Yes, sir!” Rob yelled in response then took off, trying to avoid both alive and dead sailors, as well as the splintering trail as the jet’s bullets tore up the wood. Just in front of him, a man’s head literally exploded like a melon as firepower ripped through it. “Fuck!” Rob cried as he slipped on the gore that followed, landing hard on his side. “Jesus,” he gasped, picking himself up from the mess.

Back on the run again, Rob ignored the pain in his hip and leg from the fall, sliding in behind the gun and training his sights on the best place to start firing. He held the powerful gun in both hands, his entire body a quaking mass under the incredible power and his ears ringing as the huge shell casings clattered on the deck around the gun.

He yelled out in victory as he saw one of the fighter jets explode in mid-air from his attack on it, the heat of the fire actually caressing his face and lit up the night. “Die, fucker!” he yelled, quickly returning his attention back to the other planes, swiveling the massive gun to follow their progress and fire upon them.

He helped another sailor bring down a second airplane, the two men meeting gazes for the briefest of moments before they each turned back to the enemy. Something inside Rob told him to turn back in the original direction he’d been shooting. When he did, his eyes grew huge. A fighter jet was coming right at him, obviously out of ammo, as the guns were silent.

“Oh shit,” he muttered, realizing the man was going to use his own plane as a weapon. “Shit!”

Rob jumped out from behind the gun and ran with all his might, the engines of the approaching plane deafening. Time slowed down as his legs and arms pumped hard, his lungs burning with terror and exertion. The plane plowed into the deck, right where Rob had been sitting seconds before. A giant fireball lit up the night, it’s heat and flames licking the deck behind Rob’s feet and finally under them, encasing Rob’s body in its deadly embrace seconds before Rob threw himself to the right, into a stairwell. The wall of fire whooshed by the opening of the compartment, but not before igniting Rob’s entire left side, sending him tumbling down the metal flight of stairs and into blackness.

*****

Munson ME, 1969
“I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” Rob whispered, pale and trembling as he relived it. “God, so terrified…”

Danni, who sat on the coffee table in front of the recliner held Rob’s hands during the telling of his story. She felt her own tears bubbling at the surface, but when Rob’s eyes began to shine as his own tears welled, her own fell. “It’s okay, Rob,” she whispered.

“No,” Rob whispered, the words breaking as the tears fell in earnest. “No.”

Danni moved to kneel in front of the chair, taking Rob in strong arms. Rob let it all go then, sobs shaking his entire body as he clung to Danni, finally allowing himself to feel the pain, terror and loss. Danni held on tightly, her own sobs joining his.

“They never had a chance!” Rob cried. “Jesus!”

“I know,” Danni murmured through her tears. “I know.”

After a long moment, Rob began to calm down, his tears drying and eyes feeling heavy and filled with sand. He pulled away from Danni, sniffling and wiping his face on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, feeling foolish.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Danni said, handing him a napkin she’d grabbed from the dining room table, using the second to wipe her own face and blow her nose. “You need to get this stuff out, Rob.”

Rob nodded, blowing his nose. He finally met Danni’s gaze. “I know. It’s just…”

“I know. It’s a nightmare you don’t want to relive, but you have to. Especially with Megan.”

Rob let out a heavy breath as he sat back in his chair. “She probably really hates my guts, huh?”

Danni shook her head. “Nope. She thinks you’re a bit of an ass right now, but nothing that can’t be fixed. If you want it to be, that is.”

*****

“We had a bath, yes we did!” Megan exclaimed to a freshly-bathed Christian, who giggled in her arms. “We did, we did, we did!” Megan bounced with every declaration.

Kate chuckled as she let the dogs in from a long romp outside. It also gave her the excuse to scan the horizon; no sign of Danni. She wondered exactly how long it took to pick up a few items of clothing. Unless, she grinned to herself, Danni had taken her advice and had beaten Rob with one of his crutches.

Her musings were short-lived when she saw headlights bouncing over the snowy terrain in the distance. She smiled, recognizing the sound of Danni’s Jeep. “She’s back,” she called to Megan, closing the door and heading over to the living room where a warm fire had been built.

“Good. I was beginning to worry,” Megan admitted, setting Christian on the floor on her butt in a sea of her favorite toys. “The roads out there are nasty ugly.”

Within moments, footsteps could be heard on the front porch, as well as boots kicking the top step to loose all the snow from the soles. The door opened and Danni stepped through, followed by Rob, who walked on two legs, uncertainty in his eyes.

Megan stood from where she’d been squatting in front of Christian, her face taking on a cold mask of anger as she looked at him. “What’s he doing here?” she asked Danni coldly.

Danni said nothing, instead grabbing Kate by the hand and leading her to the kitchen, wanting Rob the privacy he deserved. Kate didn’t fight Danni, but she did shoot Rob a disapproving glare before leaving the living room.

Feeling like he was on enemy territory again, Rob blew out a breath. He took his time removing his jacket, wanting to give himself a chance to think of the perfect thing to say to Megan, who still stood staring at him, fire in her eyes. Finally, he knew there was no more time to stall, so he walked over to her, a slight limp in his gait.

“Hey,” he said quietly, his voice contrite. Megan said nothing, so Rob knew this was all his to fix. Any and all impassioned speeches he could have prepared would have not been as effective as the simple words he finally managed. “Megan, I’m sorry. I love you and Christian more than I can ever tell you, and I want to fix this.” He cleared his throat as emotion tripped him up on the last few words. He tried again. “I want to fix this.”

Megan looked into his eyes and she saw it: she saw the man that she’d met so long ago when they were both still in school. She saw the vulnerability within those eyes, and she saw the fear. “Rob,” she said softly, a hand reaching up to touch his cheek when she saw those very eyes fill with unshed tears. “Rob.” She pulled him into a hug, Rob returning it immediately, nearly crushing her to him.

“I’m sorry,” Rob blew into her hair. “I’m so sorry.”

Megan squeezed her eyes shut, holding onto Rob so tightly her arms ached. “I love you.”

Those three words made him hold her even tighter. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” He pulled back just enough to give her a hard, lingering kiss before pulling her back into his arms again. “Please be patient with me,” he whispered. “I’m going to try as hard as I can. But please, be patient with me.”

Megan nodded. “I’m not leaving you, Rob. Just don’t leave me again.”

He shook his head. “No. Never again.”

Finally, they pulled apart, sharing a knowing smile between them then a soft kiss. Megan noticed her mother and Danni peeking around the corner. “Get in here you two,” she laughed, bringing a hand up to wipe at the tears that were in her eyes.

Kate hurried over to Rob, taking her in her arms and squeezing him tightly. “Welcome home, Robby,” she said into the hug.

Rob accepted the hug and returned it, nodding. “Thank you.” He left a kiss on her cheek then hugged her again.

Danni watched, feeling like she’d never felt before. There was so much love that filled the room and the house, and her life. She’d never known it was possible. Even as Megan rushed over to her, thanking her over and over again, Danni couldn’t believe that this was her life, this was what all that pain had led up to. Life was a strange thing.
Epilogue
Munson ME, 1970
The sun shone brightly down on the June day, the skies clear and blue, not a cloud in sight. The property around Danni and Kate’s home had been turned into a wedding dream: bouquets of flowers were strung all along the lattice archways that had brought in, satin ribbons blowing slightly in the soft breeze. Rows of chairs were set up on either side of the ivory carpet that had been rolled out to lead up to the altar, where Danni stood waiting, dressed in an ivory-colored woman’s cut suit.

As she stood next to the man simply called The Minister, her heart was pounding in her chest, palms sweating as she waited. She felt someone nudge her shoulder and glanced at The Minister, who was a hippie friend of Megan and Rob’s from California. His long hair flowed down his back and the round-lensed sunglasses he wore were perched on his nose. He was dressed in a tie-died priest coat replete with Roman collar.

“Pretty groovy, man,” he murmured, bumping Danni’s shoulder again.

Danni grinned with a nod. “Pretty groovy.”

Another of Megan and Rob’s friends sat on a stool off to the side, a guitar in his hands. He looked out over the seated crowd, including Carol and Frank and Helen and Jonathon, waiting for his cue.

Kate stood just inside the house, her own heart beating wildly in her chest. She was dressed in a simple but beautiful ivory dress that reached to mid-calf and showed off beautiful shoulders and arms.

“Are you ready, Mom?”Megan asked softly, her hand resting on her six-month pregnant belly. She, too was dressed in a simple but beautiful dress.

Kate nodded. “I think so, yes.”

“Good, ’cause here we go,” Rob grinned. He held out his arm to Kate’s right hand while Megan held hers out to Kate’s left. “Here comes the bride.”

The door to the house was opened, which was the cue for the musician, who immediately began to play the familiar tune. Megan leaned down a bit and whispered into her 14 month old daughter’s ear.

“Remember what I said, Christian. Walk slowly to Grandma Danni.” With a kiss to her head, she patted the toddler’s behind and sent her waddling down the aisle on baby-bowed legs, ribbons in her blonde hair.

When the gathered crowd saw her, they cooed at her adorable dress and adorable nature. The little girl was to lead the wedding party into the ceremony, though halfway down the ivory carpet, she decided it would be better to plop down on her diapered butt.

Danni watched, amused, as was the chuckling crowd. “Christian!” she called softly. “Come here, baby. Come to Grandma Danni. Come here…”

Christian wasn’t going to budge, so Danni quickly hurried out to get her. She was just about to reach the baby when she spotted Kate, escorted down the aisle by Megan and Rob. She stopped, breath catching in her chest. Absently, she reached down and grabbed Christian under the arms and pulling her to her hip, her gaze never leaving the beauty that was making her way to her.

Kate returned Danni’s gaze, her heart racing for a whole new reason, now. They had decided that neither would show the other what they were wearing for the wedding, but only what color to get.

“She’s so beautiful,” she whispered.

Danni hurried back to her place by The Minister, Christian still in her arms. Her face fell into a soft smile of adoration as finally, Kate reached her. Rob took the baby from Danni’s arms so Danni could take Kate’s hands in her own, Rob standing up for Danni, Megan for her mother.

“What it is, cats,” The Minister grinned at the wedding party. “Welcome to this most groovy of events for these two foxy ladies I got before me who want to make the ultimate in hitchin’ proclamation!” He grinned as the crowd cheered. “Alright now. The Universe gives me the power and pleasure of uniting Danni and Kate, so that they may live on in this fab crib they got here, and be happy and in love. It’s all about love, cats.”

Danni and Kate, who were facing each other smiled at his words, Danni’s thumbs caressing the backs of Kate’s hands. I love you, she mouthed, which made Kate’s smile grow.

“So, with all that said, let’s get down to business.’ The Minister turned to Rob. “Kate’s ring.” Once Rob had handed it to him, he handed it to Danni. “Repeat after me.”

Danni nodded then slid the ring halfway onto Kate’s ring finger.

“I, Danni take foxy Kate to be my wife, lawfully said so by the Universe and love.”

Danni smiled at the vows. “I, Danni take foxy Kate to be my wife, lawfully said so by the Universe and love.” She slid the ring on the rest of the way.

“Lemme have Danni’s ring.” The Minister accepted the gold band with inlaid diamonds from Megan, and handed it to Kate. “Repeat after me. I, Kate take foxy Danni to be my wife, lawfully said so by the Universe and love.”

Kate slid the ring halfway onto Danni’s ring finger. “I, Kate take foxy Danni to be my wife, lawfully said so by the Universe and lots and lots of love.” She grinned up at Danni, the collective crowd chuckling. She slid the ring on the rest of the way.

“By the power divined in me, I now pronounced you two as Mrs. and … well, I guess Mrs. Felts! Kiss your bride, you two!’

The crowd cheered as Danni took Kate and dipped her before leaving a lingering kiss on her lips. She righted a laughing Kate, who took her into a tight hug.

“Let’s party, baby!” The Minister proclaimed.

“You think you can handle me?” Danni asked quietly as they turned to face their cheering guests.

“Ohhhh, yeah,” Kate assured, taking Danni’s hand in hers.

They began to walk back down the aisle, the crowd throwing wood shavings at them from Danni’s workshop, making the two laugh. “Let the games begin, woman!” Danni grinned.

 

 

The End

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