Part 10 (Conclusion)

by Kim Pritekel

For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:

My love, thank you for all your wonderful ideas and inspiration. It's paying off, eh?

Part 10

I looked around, my hiking boots making thudding sounds against the hardwood floors. The windows in the room were huge, letting in plenty of light. I liked this. I walked over to one of them, seeing what the view would be. Beautiful. The house butted up to a park, filled with trees, green grass and a large duck pond. The park was private, so only residents of the neighborhood used it.

"Oh, that's nice." I turned to see Caden standing next to me, smiling as she looked out at the scenery. She rubbed my shoulder to show her support.

"Isn't it? I just love that." I sighed, a bird landing on a near-bye tree.

"Well?" Caden turned to me, a question in her eyes. The real estate agent stood by the door, watching, rolling a pen between his thumb and index finger.

"God, I just love it." I turned to my friend, my eyes filled with excitement. "I've never done this before." I looked around the large room again, it would be my studio, if I bought the place. "It has everything I need and want. I can afford it," I turned to the realtor. "Bob, would you kill me if I went through it one more time?"

"Take your time." He smiled. He had been so patient, waiting for the last two hours for me to make up my mind.

"Come on." I reached for Caden's arm to tug her along.

Caden followed me back into the spacious living room filled with more large windows.

"I just love the fact that it has a fireplace. I've always wanted one. They're so romantic." I bent down, looking into the dark hollow of the place, smelling just the slightest bit of burnt wood. "They didn't use it much." I stood, running my hands over the carved mantel, looking at the room again. "Do you like it?"

"I think it's beautiful, Laurel. It's a really good price, too." I sighed, swallowing hard as I came to a decision.

"Okay. Bob?" within a second my realtor was smiling at me. "I'm going to take it."

"Wonderful! Congratulations." He hurried over to me and took my hands, wrapping them in his larger ones. "It's a lovely home, Laurel. We'll get dates set to sign contracts and for closing."

"Thank you, Bob. You've been wonderful." We shook hands and he lead us outside. It was a sunny day, a good day.

* * *

I looked around the old apartment, a big part of me not wanting to move. I had so many memories in this place, but it was time. The bigger part of me knew this and embraced the notion.

I planned to rent a U-Haul, but still needed to pack everything. Caden had offered to stay and help, and I was more than willing to accept. We stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up some boxes; I had a lot of crap.

Caden was wonderful. I had so much to do concerning the book, editing, meetings with Tammy and the publisher, plus getting ready for my show that was quickly coming up. Needless to say I was a very busy girl. Caden completely took over. I helped pack up the place, but she organized the movers, labeled boxes, ran around trying to find more. It was wonderful.

"You do realize you're going to need some new furniture?" Caden stood in the middle of the living room, hands on her hips. I looked up from my computer screen where I'd been editing my little blurbs about each woman.

"Huh? Why?"

"Well, the house is much bigger than this." I looked around my sparsely furnished apartment, never really thinking about it.

"Shit, you're right." I took my glasses off and stood, stretching. "So how do you feel about shopping?"

I sat on the edge of Caden's bed, stunned and shell-shocked. She was so matter-of-fact about it.

"Leaving?" I looked up at her, making sure I had heard it right. Caden said nothing, just nodded. She pulled her suitcases out of the closet, plopped them on the bed with a bounce. "Why?"

"It's just better this way, Laurel."

"For who?" I stood, my hands on my hips. I was so confused. Earlier this morning Caden had called home, and it hadn't been a good conversation. I had been sitting on the couch, reading a magazine when I had heard her begin to cry. Surprised and worried, I hurried to her bedroom to see what was wrong. She, who had been sitting on the floor against the end of her bed, had held her hand up, warding me off. Even more confused and a little hurt, I had headed back to the living room. If she wanted to tell me she could come to me. A half hour later I had heard the banging of drawers being open and closed. Curious, I had come back. So now here we were, much later and still nowhere.

"Why won't you talk to me, Caden? I know something is going on," I looked at her with accusing eyes. She wouldn't look at me at all. Walking over to her I put a hand on her arm to try and still her packing. She looked at me briefly. "Why are you doing this?" I asked, my voice quiet, eyes swollen and red from hours of fighting and crying.

"I have to. You don't understand." Caden said, her back to me as she continued to pack, carefully folding every article of clothing, neatly fitting all she owned into her suitcases.

"You're right. I don't understand." I sighed, and stood from the bed, walking to the door. "And I guess our friendship doesn't mean enough to you to tell me? All I want to do is help." Caden stopped for a moment, looked at me over her shoulder, her blue eyes sad and hopeless.

"You can't help me, Laurel. No one can." Then she gave me her back again. I felt another tear begin to slide down my cheek but didn't bother to swipe at it, letting it fall. I decided to try a different tactic.

"What about being a doctor, Caden? That is what you've wanted to do your entire life. Why are you throwing it all away? What is worth tossing your dreams?" she didn't answer. I tried to stare a hole through her, make her see with just the power of my eyes. Nothing. "Okay." I whispered, and left the room.

The vividness of that horrible memory made me stop packing, the box standing open, waiting for more CD's to fill it. I walked over to the window, leaned against the wall to look out. It hurt still, the lump in my throat surprising me.

"Hey, are you okay?" I felt a hand on my back, heat against my arm. I turned to see Caden standing next to me, concern on her face. "You look like you're about to cry." She rubbed my back in slow circular motions, filling me with warmth.

"Yeah. I'm okay." I tried to smile, but she saw right through it.

"What is it, Laurel? Tell me? Please?"

"It's stupid." I tried to make it seem smaller, lessen the impact on me from so long ago.

"Try me."

"I was just thinking back to those days back in school." I smiled at her, turning to face her. "You know, that day you left." The concern fell from her face, being replaced by regret and guilt.

"I know. That was a horrible day. I can't apologize for it enough."

"Oh, no, Caden. That's not necessary. It was a long time ago now, and I think we've made our peace."

"Have we?" Caden looked at me, her blue eyes intense, boring into mine. "Do you really forgive me?"


"Thank you." She reached out to me and pulled me to her, her arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I quickly brought mine up to her waist, holding her. I buried my face into the side of her neck, inhaling her scent, warm and musky. The feel of her body against mine was incredible. She was so soft, warm, wonderful.

I had begun to feel such a pull toward her, just like before. This time was different, somehow, though. I was an adult and could handle my feelings, I figured. I could keep it under wraps and not worry about it.

I sighed deeply, tightening my embrace. I felt her hand on the back of my head, gently stroking my hair, her other hand rubbing my neck, fingers entwining with the short hairs at the nape of my neck, giving me shivers. She chuckled.


"It's okay."

"How is it I feel so at peace?" she whispered into my ear. "Safe, warm." I closed my eyes tight, burying my face deeper, feeling hers against my neck as well. A chill passed down my spine when I felt soft lips caress the smooth skin, hot breath giving me goose bumps. "Like there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," I breathed, unable to do much else.

Slowly Caden pulled away from me, her eyes glued to mine. I couldn't look away, caught in the lure and trance of their electricity. We both stared, lost in a growing feeling, a growing awareness.

"Laurel?" she asked, her eyes trailing down my face to my mouth.


"What is happening to me?" her eyes tore away from my lips, headed back to mine. "What is this?" she brought a hand up, her thumb caressing my cheek, then grabbed my hand, bringing it slowly to her chest. "Do you feel that?" I nodded, feeling the heartbeat, much faster than it should be. "What is it, Laurel? Can you tell me what causes this?" her face was a mixture of confusion, love and a touch of fear.

"I don't know. I'm afraid to say." She smiled, nodding her understanding. "I think we should keep packing. Don't you?" I stared at her, begging silently for her to break the spell, knowing full well I wouldn't have the strength.

"Yes." Slowly she pulled away completely, taking a step back. "The kitchen is finished."

"Okay." Caden looked at me one more time, then turned and walked out of the room. I fell back against the wall, trying to catch my breath.

* * *

The woman had no face, I could only see her body as she closed in on me, her skin looked so soft, smooth. I took her in with my eyes, hungry and desperate. Her breasts were full, legs and arms long and toned, closing around me. With a silent moan, I pulled her to me, the length of her body against mine. It felt so new, yet there was a safe familiarity to it that drove me on. I knew this woman who had begun to make love to me, worshiping every inch of my body with her own. My very soul felt like it was being made love to.

"Caden," I whispered, "don't stop. Please,"

My eyes popped open, drops of sweat falling into them, stinging. I ran a hand over my eyes and through my hair. My god. I sat up in the bed, the sheets nearly on the floor, leaving me cold in the early November night air. I looked around, my nearly empty bedroom as it was three hours ago when I'd gone to bed. The only thing left in it was my bed, which was coming down tomorrow.

The dream came back to me. What am I doing? I could still feel my phantom lover's body and skin. So real, so very real. I looked over toward the door, knowing that just beyond it, in the room down the short hall, she was there. My phantom lover was there.

What was happening? What was going to happen? Why am I even thinking in that way, about Caden like that? If wasn't fair to either one of us. She had made it clear years ago what she wanted, and stated just as clear that it would, could not happen.

"Don't do this, Laurel." That part of me that still had a brain whispered. I can't do it again.

The store was fairly empty, not too many shoppers to ruin my spree. I looked around the showroom, not real sure what exactly I was after. The new house had hardwood floors, stained a medium brown, the walls white. So, it was pretty open with what I could go for. I felt like a child, used to peanut butter and jelly, suddenly being asked to pick the ingredients for a gourmet meal.

"There is so much to pick from and," I glanced at the price tag on a nearby couch, "It's so expensive."

"Yes, it certainly is. Buying furniture has always been a favorite pastime." Caden grinned sheepishly.

"Well, if I made half the money that Troy or your father does, I'd probably much better versed in it." She smiled.

"Well, the thing is, you want to get something that is going to last, something you won't have to replace in a few years, that is, unless you want to."

"I seriously doubt that. As far as I'm concerned, what I get today I can die with."

We continued to look as the dream continued to plague me. I had a hard time looking Caden in the eye when she woke up, afraid she'd see the entire replay in my eyes.

"I want to go back to school." My head shot up, any thoughts of the dream or this morning shot clear out of the sky.


"It's one of my biggest regrets. I'm far too young to have so many. I'd like to remedy as many as possible." She smiled.

"Oh, Caden. I'm so happy for you!" I looked at her, a goofy grin spread across my face.

"Thank you." She reached out and gently cupped my cheek. "I knew you'd be supportive."

"God, yes. So where are you going to go? Back to F&M, Boston U?" I ran my hand over the arm of a beautiful black leather couch, testing the softness under my palm before sitting.

"No, actually I'm thinking about attending a college out here." I looked up at her, stunned. "Getting a small apartment somewhere."

"Really?" I couldn't keep the hope out of my voice.

"Yes, really." She sat down next to me, running her hand back and forth over the cushion next to her. "This is nice." I turned to look at her, my arm running along the back.

"You don't have far to go, you know. You were almost done."

"I know." She smiled. "I just need to finish the last year's worth of credits." She looked down then at me. "I want to go all the way with it, Laurel. Do what I didn't do." I cocked my head to the side, not understanding.

"What do you mean?"

"I want to work with people, help them." My eyes widened with the realization.

"You're going on, aren't you? Dr. Lodge?" she smiled, that twinkle in her eyes as she nodded. "Oh, Caden," I grabbed her, hugging her to me. "That's wonderful."

"It's not going to be easy, but I can't wait to begin." We pulled apart, and I stared into her eyes, trying to give her as much support and show as much pride as I could.

"You can do it. I have every faith in you."

* * *

The house was filled with boxes, nearly to the ceiling in places. I stood in the middle of the living room, hands on my hips and looked around. We had one hell of a couple of days in front of us; I was determined to get completely unpacked over the weekend.

I readjusted the hat the sat backwards on my head, wiping my forehead with the back of my hand, looked at Caden who had collapsed against a wall.

"This is a lot of work." She looked up at me. "I've never moved anyone before. I had no idea it was so much work."

"Welcome." I grinned. Walking over to her, I slid down the wall, plopping down next to her. Caden leaned over and laid her head on my shoulder as I patted her thigh. "Tired?"

"Yes. Amazingly so."

"How about a good dinner? My treat?" she raised her head and smiled.

"You're on."

The Bali Ha'i was crowded, which didn't surprise me that much. We got a good seat next to the window, the round restaurant really not having a bad seat. Caden sat, automatically placing her cloth napkin on her lap, looked out at the ocean.

"This is so beautiful." She smiled at me.

"I don't come here often, only when there's a special occasion."

"Really? What's the occasion?"

"You are." Caden looked at me, her head cocking to the side.

"I must admit, I don't really follow." I leaned slightly forward to emphasize my point.

"The occasion is you being here, starting your life over, going back to school, all of it." A slow smile spread across her face, making her eyes light up.

"Well, then," she grabbed her water glass, raised it, nodding toward mine that I should do the same. "Then here's to us."

Our glasses clinked together with a satisfying, melodic sound. I sipped from my glass, watching her over the rim.

Dinner was wonderful, and it was still relatively light, so we decided to take a walk along the beach. Waves were crashing into shore, seagulls squawking and swooping down for their dinner of fish, flying high above our heads to disappear into the darkening sky.

Caden was silent, looking at the people we passed, a couple sitting on a blanket in the sand kissing. She sighed wistfully. I watched her, wondering what she was thinking. I turned to watch the lovers.

"I miss that." I said quietly, almost more to myself than to her.

"I wouldn't know. Troy had about as much romance in him as a snake." She chuckled ruefully. "How fitting."

"So sad you had to miss out on that part. It's wonderful." I smiled at her.

"I'm sure it is." We walked on for a bit, lost in our thoughts. "Have you ever kissed a man, Laurel?" she looked at me, curiosity in her eyes.


"Did you like it?" I shrugged.

"I can't say it was the most horrible experience in my life." I looked at her. "It just wasn't what did it for me."


"Yes. Women."

"Hmm." I felt Caden take my hand, gently squeezing it before letting it go.

We continued to walk, wordlessly agreeing to stay out until the sun fell into the ocean. We stopped at a small fence that separated the sidewalk from the beach. I leaned against it, my elbows resting on the top rail. Caden came up behind me, wrapping her arms loosely around my waist. It seemed the most natural thing to lean back into her, so I did. The arms tightened, and I sighed.

"I've been all over the world, seen countless countries and villages. But through all that, there is not a single place in the world I'd rather be right now," she whispered into my ear. I closed my eyes, letting the words sink into my brain.

"Me, too," I finally managed.

"There it goes, going, going..., gone." The passing of the day was complete, the stars coming out to take over for a short time.

A song popped into my head, and I began to hum.

"What is that?"

"'At Last'. Etta James. Remember?"

"Oh, yes." I could hear the smile in Caden's voice. "The party my parent's had for me that summer." I nodded. "Can I tell you something, Laurel?"

"Sure." I leaned in a little closer, getting cold as night came down upon us.

"You'll laugh."

"Try me." I smiled at Caden's own words.

"I wanted to dance with you that night, to that song." I pulled away a bit, turned in her arms to look up into her face.

"Really?" I cocked my head to the side. She nodded. "That's funny. I wanted to, too." We stared at each other, our embrace close and warm. God, I just want to kiss you, Caden. Please, just one. "We should get going. It's getting late."

"Yeah," barely a whisper. Did she feel it, too?

I knelt down to turn the knob on the stereo, looking for something good to listen to as we got the house together and unpacked. Caden had already started on the kitchen. I watched her through the wide arched doorway as she put away dishes, set up the table just right. She was so cute, a little Martha Stuart. I smiled and shook my head.

Finding a good oldies station, I stood and looked around the living room, trying to decide what to do with everything. A sea of boxes and furniture and stuff. The delivery guys were due later in the afternoon to deliver the furniture I had bought for the living room and extra bedroom. I had enough bedroom sets for two, but had no idea what to use the third bedroom for. There already was a den, so that idea was out. I almost felt lost in all this space, and was so grateful to Caden for helping to fill it. When she left, everything would seem so empty and big.

"I'm not sure how this vase got into the kitchen ware, but where would you like this?" I looked over my shoulder at the vase Caden held in her hand. She looked at me, tapping her toe on the floor.

"Hey, I didn't put it there,"

"Then who did?" she smiled, I stuck my tongue out. "How about here?" she stuck it on the sofa table, and I nodded.

"Works for me." Caden headed back to the kitchen, and me back to a nearby box. May as well get started. I hummed along with the music until I stopped in my tracks, listening. I slowly stood, reached out and turned the volume up, the entire house being filled with the smooth voice of Etta James. I turned, seeing Caden standing in the doorway of the kitchen, looking at me. I smiled. "Care to dance?" she smiled in return.

"I'd love to."

Caden walked over to me as I nudged the box aside with the toe of my shoe to make room. Caden reached me, putting her hand on the back of my neck, her other hand in mine as my arm went around her waist. Our bodies moved steadily closer until they were flush. I looked into her eyes, thinking how I wished the song were true, that my lonely days were indeed over. She reached up and gently picked a bit of paper out of my hair, newspaper that had been wrapped around some glassware I had unpacked earlier. We smiled and kept moving, Caden continuing to run her fingers through my hair, bodies gently swaying to the music, the slow, sensuous beat.

"You smiled, you smiled, ohhhh and then the spell was cast." I sung along, Caden smiling that wicked little grin of hers. "And here we are, in Heaven." I wish. Oh, how I wish. Instead I swung her around again, reaching up to spin her under my arm as the song came to an end.

We stopped dancing but stayed where we were, looking at each other, deeply inside. I felt Caden's breath against my face, warm, close. I stared into her eyes, trying to figure out what she was thinking. I could feel a palpable heat between us, electricity that was dangerous.

I pulled away, walked to the window, catching my breath yet again. Caden followed, standing next to me.

"Are you okay?" her voice was soft, concerned.

"I can't do this, Caden. I told you ten years ago that I was not a toy for you to play with, figure things out on. I can't do it, not again."

Caden leaned in close, her hands on my hips, forehead against mine. "This isn't again, Laurel." I looked up into her eyes.

"Why now?" I whispered, my eyes trailing down to her lips, slightly open.

"Because I prefer now to later." She smiled. "Having you back in Boston, you coming after all this time and after our history, you showed me something. Coming out here to San Diego showed me something else." She brought a hand up, caressed the side of my face. "I never loved Troy, Laurel. He was an accident, as much as I love my daughter, like Annie. I made my mistake ten years ago, Laurel. I want to fix it now, take it slow."

I felt my resolve crumbling around my feet, my mind being swept free of any sort of rationale.

I felt my chin being lifted, my eyes closed, I went with it. Caden's breath on my lips, tickling the tiniest little hairs on my upper lip, closer still until I felt the contact. Her lips, barely touching mine, tentative, almost asking me to take over. I brought my hand up to cup the back of Caden's neck, pulling her in a bit closer. Our lips pressed together, soft and pliant before I opened my mouth ever so slightly, testing the waters. Caden caught on quickly, and opened for me. I felt the tip of her tongue slide out just a bit, just enough for mine to brush against it, sending chills up and down my spine, followed by Caden's hand. She ran her fingers across my back, smoothing the tee as she went, running her nails back the other way. I sighed, deepening the kiss, bringing our bodies closer together. I pulled back slightly, the kiss slowing until finally my lips slid off hers, and I turned my face into her neck, pulling her close for a tight hug. Caden put her hand on the back of my head, holding me, kissing my neck.

"Oh, Laurel," she whispered. "Thank you."

I smiled, pulling away, looking into her eyes, tracing my fingers down her cheek and nodded.

"Right back at ya." She smiled. "What do you say we finish?" I indicated the room with my head. She nodded, pulling away completely. I watched her as she made her way back to the kitchen.

I looked around, happy with what I saw. The entire living room was finished, and the two beds had been put together for my room and the room Caden was using. The furniture had been delivered just over three hours ago, and the house was beginning to take shape. I liked it.

Caden and I had worked hard all day, trying to get everything together and put away. Caden deserved most of the credit, seemingly tireless. We had decided to order a pizza and had eaten nearly the entire thing within minutes of its arrival, downing cans of soda all the while.

It was time to chill and watch some TLC. Storm had not forgiven me yet for moving him and his bones. However, I do think reconciliation was in the works when he saw the big yard out back that had his name written all over it. With tail wagging 50 miles an hour, he was out and running, letting the neighbors know he was here.

Now the husky stomped on his blanket in the corner of the room near the wet bar, trying to get his comfy spot and bury his bone. Finally with a sigh, he plopped down and rested his chin on his paws, watching me sit, and Caden come out of the kitchen with two glasses of wine. He lifted his head in curiosity, his nose sniffing the air. Satisfied, he laid back down, eyes half closed.

"What a day." She sat, handing me a glass, curling her legs up behind her after kicking her shoes off. "Comfy." She looked down at the brown leather of the couch, patting it.

"It is, and it was. Thanks for the wine."

"Sure." She leaned her shoulder against mine, half of our bodies pressed together. It felt so good. I smiled at her, wishing she could hear my thoughts. She returned it, passing messages with her eyes, I answered.

"I was thinking." I said, after taking a sip of my wine. She looked at me, giving me her full attention. "Why don't you stay here while you go to school?" she just stared for a moment, making me wonder if I'd said the wrong thing. "If you want to, that is."

"Oh, Laurel," she smiled. "I'd love to. I don't want to intrude, you just got into your new house..."

"Stop that. I have more room in this place than I know what to do with."

"Just like old times," she whispered. I nodded.

"Just like old times." Caden leaned in and kissed me lightly. I smiled, content for the first time in my life.

"Is this how it's supposed to go?" I looked at her, pulled from my thoughts, to see blue eyes looking expectantly at me. She looked so young and vulnerable, I smiled and pulled her to me in a hug, kissing the top of her head.

"It's a start." I said, closing my eyes at the pleasure of feeling her against me. How was such a creature made, and how on earth did she want me?

"A good start, I think." She pulled away a bit, just enough to look into my eyes. I smiled and nodded. "I want this to work, Laurel. I hope I'm not frightening you with this sort of talk?" she pulled away completely, but held my hand. I shook my head.

"No. You're not scaring me. Do you know how long I wanted to hear those words from you when we were at F&M?"

"And now? Do you want to hear them now?" I reached out, ran my hand down the side of her face. Caden closed her eyes and leaned into the touch.

"Yes. There was one day when I was in Boston that it hit me, I never really fell out of love with you, Caden. Back then I was just beginning to figure out what the hell I was all about, what I wanted and liked." I looked into her eyes. "You became my standard. I've never been truly satisfied since."

"I did that?"

"Yep. You ruined me." I smiled, she leaned forward.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be." I leaned forward, our faces mere inches apart. She studied my face, my mouth, my eyes, everything.

"I'll tell you a little secret," she said against my mouth.

"What's that?"

"You were mine, too. I've been waiting for you, Laurel. I didn't know it or realize it until it was almost too late. I loved you back then and I love you now." I was stunned, completely taken aback.

"I love you, too, Caden. Always have." I bridged the distance between us, pulling her closer to me, our mouths saying all that we had ever wanted to, caressing each other, desperate for what had been missing for too long.

Caden gently touched my face as we kissed, slow and unhurried. It was a time for exploration, the wait was over. My hand ran up and down her back, sliding lower and lower each time, itching to go underneath her shirt, but didn't dare. Caden would set this pace.

She ran her hand down my shoulder and arm and back up again, losing her fingers in my hair, pulling me in yet further, our kiss becoming deeper, bigger. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, leaving me nearly breathless. I felt almost as if I'd never done this before, a virgin to love.

Caden's hand slid back down my arm and around my back to the hem of my shirt, slipping underneath.

"So soft," she said into my mouth, "warm." She slid her hand up further, fingers tracing the planes of my shoulder blades, my bra strap, down my spine. I moaned into the kiss. My hands traveled all over her body now, over her shoulder, back, arm, side of her neck. "Please touch me." She begged, taking my hand and placing it just under her shirt at her side. I didn't need anymore invitation than that. I slid my hand up, around to her back; my skin was on fire.

Caden began to lean back, pulling me with her. I laid on top of her, slipping one leg between hers as I brought my hand around, gently tracing the underside of her bra, feeling the smooth satin beneath my fingers. She broke the kiss and arched her head back when my hand continued up, rolling across her breast, just barely missing the nipple. I took advantage of the position and ran my tongue and lips up her neck, to her throat, inhaling her smell.

Restless hands slid further up under my shirt until the tee was up around my neck in the back. I sat up, pulling it off, looking down at her. Caden looked up at me, drinking in what she saw, bringing her hands up to touch me. Her hands were tentative, unsure, so I grabbed her wrist and placed her hand on my left breast. Her mouth opened into a silent 'o' as she explored the new territory. My body responded immediately, my nipples becoming hard as excitement raced through my veins at her touch. I ran my hand down her arm to her own shirt, tugging at it to give her the idea. She leaned up a bit, just enough for me to pull it over her head and free. I stared down at the beauty before me. Caden's breasts had fallen into magnificent cleavage when she laid down. My mouth ached to be there. I leaned down, closing my eyes at the first taste of her skin, warm and salty to my tongue.

"Oh, god." She moaned, her hands coming to my head, pushing me further into her. I reached under her, unhooking the bra, freeing her breasts. The bra tossed aside, I cupped the flesh, tasting it again and again, moving steadily to the erect nipples. The closer I got, the heavier Caden's breathing became. Finally I took one of them into my mouth, sucking on the rigid skin, running my teeth over it before sucking again. The hands in my hair became more aggressive, nearly suffocating me as I was pushed further into her breasts. I switched to the other one, giving it the same treatment, becoming high on Caden's moans. God, I wanted this woman so bad.

I left her breasts with reluctance, but there was so much more to be explored. I kissed and nibbled around her breasts, lapping a the skin of her stomach, leaving a wet trail from the top of her waistband to the hollow of her throat, sucking on her neck, leaving a red spot. I grinned, knowing what that would be tomorrow.

I pulled away from Caden's breasts and stood, unbuttoning my jeans, sliding them down my legs, pulling them and my shoes off, followed by my socks. Caden watched with hungry eyes, taking everything I gave her. She sat up, reaching for my hips, bringing me into her. I stood before her in my underwear and bra. She leaned the side of her face against my stomach as she hugged me tightly. I wrapped my arms around her head, gently caressing her hair.

"I have waited so long." She looked up at me, her eyes blue fire. She tried to pull me down, but I stopped, first taking off her clothes. She was undressed within seconds, my remaining clothes long gone. I laid back down, bare skin on bare skin. Caden closed her eyes as my entire length was laid against hers.

I laid between her legs, feeling the wetness against my skin, driving me on even more. I reached down to open us both up, slick and wet we began to move, slow. I wanted to show her how much I loved her and wanted her, with my body. I wanted to make love to Caden in a way that no one else had ever done.

Caden wrapped her arms around my waist, her hands on my back, my butt, roaming up to my neck, raising her legs higher as I rubbed against her, deeper. I leaned my head down, taking her mouth with mine, our kiss slow and sensual, keeping to the rhythm I was keeping with our bodies. She reached down, pulling me impossibly closer, making me want to go faster, but somehow managing to keep the pace slow. This wasn't about climax, it was about love. Even so, it was one of the most erotic moments of my life.

Caden's breathing and moaning began to get faster and higher pitched along with my own. We were both close, but I wanted to stretch this out, not rush it. I began to grind a little harder and deeper into her as we got closer and closer, bringing us both to a slow finish, drawing out every bit we had in us. Caden cried out, digging her fingers into my back, thrusting her hips up into me as she closed her eyes tight, her head arched back. I buried my head in her neck, panting hot against her skin.

Caden wrapped her arms and legs around me, holding me close as we attempted to regain our sense of reality.

We had made up a little bed on the floor in front of the fireplace, the gas flame on low, just enough to spread a bit of warmth and light into the dark room. Caden laid back against me as I leaned against a stack of pillows, our naked bodies glowing in the firelight. I hugged her a little tighter as I stared into the flames. We had spent hours making love, making up for lost time and wasted years. Poor Storm had whimpered out of the room a long time ago, hadn't been seen since.

"I'm so excited to see what San Diego has to offer." Caden said, her fingers tracing lazy patterns on my arm as she also stared into the fire. "I feel like a child, almost as if I just graduated from high school all over again. My life and future ahead of me, for me to chose what to do with it."

"It is. It's right there in front of you, Caden. You've got the world by the tail." I smiled, holding her tighter. "I'll be with you the entire way if you so desire."

"Please?" she turned to face me. "Stay with me?"

"Always. As long as you want me here, I'll be here." She cupped my cheek, kissed me softly then pulled away.

"I'm not letting you go again, Laurel. We have a lot to talk about, but I'm not going again." I kissed the side of her head as she settled back against me again.


* * *

I closed the door to the Xterra with my butt, a wrapped box under one arm, and a large one in both hands. I could not wait to see the look on Caden's face. I made my way up the drive, setting the large box down on the porch as I unlocked the door, pushing it open so I could get through with my packages.


"In here," I followed the distracted reply to my studio where I wasn't surprised at all to find Caden sitting on the floor, books laid out in a perfect circle around her. She was sitting Indian-style writing on a notebook that was balanced on her thigh. I set the larger box down outside the room, Storm immediately running to it, sniffing it after he'd gotten through attacking me. He jumped back from the box with a whimper, looking up at me.

"You'll like it eventually, buddy. I promise." With another whimper, he sat down, staring at it. I turned my attention back to Caden, now reading through a text with her pen in her mouth. "You know that's gross, right?" she looked up at me, pen still firmly in place and smiled around the Bic, then spit it out.

"Hey, plenty of things have been in this mouth that some would say was gross."

"Yeah, your mother perhaps?"

"Stop. Leave her alone. You know she'll never get over it. But maybe someday she'll actually talk to you again and not just refer to you as the heartbreaker." I grinned.

"Maybe. I don't plan to hold my breath."

She stood and walked over to me to give me a giant hug. "I missed you today, baby."

"So did I." To show her how much, I leaned in and kissed her, long and deep. When we parted she smiled.

"Wow. What was that for?" I shrugged.

"I've got something for you." Her brows drew.

"What?" I brought the wrapped box out from under my arm.

"Number one." Caden looked at the gift, then at me with almost childish glee. She took the box and ripped into the paper, throwing shreds everywhere.

"Oh, babe," she breathed, holding the book in her hands. She ran her fingers over the black cover, the black and white picture in the center her own face. "I don't know what to say. It's so beautiful."

"Thank you." I said, my voice quiet with sudden shyness.

"I'm so proud of you, Laurel." She threw her arms around my shoulders. "Thank you so much."

"I'm not done, yet." I put my finger up, and walked to the hall, grabbed the box. "This is number two." I set the box down, opened the flaps, and reached in. Caden watched, nearly standing on her tip toes so she could see what was inside. She put her hand to her mouth when she saw what I had.

"Oh, Laurel, he's beautiful." The nine week old collie whimpered as he looked around. I passed the little puffball to her. She took him, holding him to her chest, kissed the top of his head. "Thank you." She leaned toward me, it was my turn. "I love you, and thank you." She whispered again against my mouth.

"I love you, too, and any time." She kissed me.

* * *

The auditorium was beginning to fill up, the noise growing louder and louder. I sat, excited and nervous all at the same time. Annie sat next to me, her long, dark hair, so much like her mother's gleaming under the bright lights.

"Will you calm down, Laurel? My lord. You are going to bounce us both into oblivion if you keep tapping your leg." She put a hand on me knee to still it.

"Sorry." She smiled at me as she shook her head, turning back to the program to read more of the names. I looked at Caden's daughter, just turned sixteen. She would be starting college in the fall, walking in her mother's footsteps, determined to go into medicine. She reached a hand up, brushing some hair behind her ear. She was a beautiful girl, her mother's hair and eyes, father's business sense. Some have said she got my sense of humor, but I don't see it. We had a few rough years in the beginning, but finally managed to iron out most of our differences. Once Annie realized I was not trying to take the place of her father, she seemed to calm.

I looked around, filled with so much pride and love for my partner of six years. I glanced at my watch again, anxious for the ceremony to begin. I looked around, wondering where Margaret and Michael Lodge would be sitting. I probably wouldn't see them, but hopefully they'd make the effort to find Caden. This was her day, after all.

"Welcome to graduation day at U Cal San Diego." A large round of applause for the speaker.

As I listened to the announcer, the guest speaker and the rest of the ceremony, my mind kept playing back to my time with Caden. After her divorce from Troy was finalized, she turned into an entirely different person, a better person. She gained a strength that I'm still not sure where it came from, and the ambition to do what she most wanted her entire life. I loved her more than I ever could have imagined or dreamed. She was my life. She and Annie. I knew that someday we'd be here with her, too. My little Annigan, as I was known to call her. A slow smile spread across my face, crossing my arms over my chest, sitting back proud. I reached out a hand, rubbing Annie's upper back and neck. She looked at me, the same pride shining in her eyes. We both nodded, our silent conversation finished, looked back to the front.

"And now I will announce the graduates of 2008." I clapped for all I was worth as names were being called. I watched, nearly vibrating in my seat as I waited. It seemed an eternity, but finally she was called. "Caden Margaret Lodge, summa cum laude."

I jumped out of my seat, my hands in the air, whistling and yelling right along side Annie. I watched as Caden walked onto the stage, the biggest grin I'd ever seen on her face, took her diploma, raising it high for us all to see.

Reluctantly I sat down, but only at Annie's insistent urging, my chest puffed with pride, feeling like it would burst. After all the years of school, all the time apart so Caden could study, all the dedication, she had finally done it.

I listened to the culmination of all the voices, chanting in unison the sacred words and promises. I searched the graduates until I saw her, watched her mouth move as she also spoke the words.

"... While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the Art, respected by all men, in all times. But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot."

"You are now doctors!"

The End

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