by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        I had a light dinner that night. I didn't feel very hungry. Brandon stayed with me most of the evening. He was quiet and subdued, which was unusual, because he normally talked incessantly about the business. I was relieved at the change. Matter of fact, he was pleasant company. Considering I was stuck with him. Unlike the previous night, when I saw his mischievous side, tonight, I was treated to quite the opposite. He was quite kind, gentle and loving in his tone and manner. He did nothing to make me uncomfortable.
        His about face, made me wonder about us all. I, too, had different sides to my personality. I surmised, after being around him. I wasn't exactly the same to every person I met. It seemed everyone reacts to the stimulus around them, more often than not. And he must have been reacting to our trip to the gazebo. I knew it had reminded him of my mother; for, he brought her up several times on the way back. I also knew that I had inadvertently reminded him of how alone he was with my questions.
        I felt sorry for him, as I watched him staring out at the darkness many times over the course of his stay. What was he looking for? I wondered. Or was he even looking out there? Perhaps he was looking inside himself. The private thoughts of a lonely man, who had everything, accept the woman he wanted most. To love someone for so long, without ever having them, must be pure torture, I thought.
        After he left, my thoughts turned to my own private world. I flipped on the stereo and started the CD player. The intro to track nine was beautiful: the sound of tinkling chimes and an organ. Then the young woman began to sing. Her song was about a love that was new. She was telling her lover she wanted to take things slow, asking that her lover wait awhile, before they went to far. She promised she'd be worth the wait.
        As I sat there listening, I could see why Sara had chosen it. At times, during the song, I almost felt like she was in the room with me, saying these things to me. I understood now, what she was trying to say this afternoon. What she could not get across easily in her own words, the song could.
Thinking back over the past few months: how I'd started out feeling towards her like a mother, sort of; that mind-set changing to recognition of what these feelings actually were; fighting those same inner demons for all I was worth; then just yesterday… Bang! Releasing them all, setting them free to be expressed! I assumed, I'd more than likely been letting those once pent up and suppressed emotions rule my better judgment, the past few days. Now, I understood why so many young girls became pregnant too soon. Sexual desire is a driving force, one that takes time to learn to control. This was something I hadn't given much thought to before, since I'd never really had that many overt sexual feelings. Was that perhaps one reason why they were so intense now? Or was it just because the guys had been pushy and Sara was being anything but? Was pulling away from me, causing me to chase her? Isn't that what I needed to control, the instinct to chase that which kept trying to elude my grasp. My, oh my, how things had changed in a few short months.

        I had to struggle to get my jeans off, but finally managed. I changed into my pajamas and got into bed, waiting for Sara to say goodnight. I didn't think Brandon would be back, he'd already kissed my cheek, rather chastely and expressed that nightly sentiment.
        A few moments later, the door slowly opened and Sara walked in wearing a thin blue nightgown. I wondered why she wasn't wearing her robe, as usual, but didn't inquire. I liked the view too well to spoil it. She backed up against the doors, shutting them. "Did you like the song?" she asked, moving towards me.
        "Yes. And I understand. I'm sorry that I've been so..." She stopped me by putting her finger to her own lips.
        "Don't apologize. There's nothing to be sorry for. I only wanted you to understand why it would be better to wait… not to make you feel guilty. So… no more I'm sorrys, hmm? Now how was your day?" she asked, sitting down on the bed.
        I amazed me sometimes how fast she could change the subject.
        "Fine. I... I'll be visiting my parents... grave, tomorrow."
        She looked surprised and quite concerned. "How will you get there? Isn't that a long trip?" she asked, her concern showing in her voice, as well.
        I explained about the cemetery beyond the west wing. I still felt numb talking about. As if I had no feelings.
        "Are you sure you're ready for this?" she asked, still sounding apprehensive.
        "I… I don't know. I don't feel... anything. I'm just numb. I feel as though I should be sad… tears should be flowing, but... I mean, I'll be saying goodbye tomorrow and..."
        "Not necessarily," she said softly, as she fiddled with my fingers.
        "Whaddaya mean?"
        "Well, you have no memories of them here. What I mean is... sometimes it takes a long time for a person to let go of loved ones, especially in your case. You've been taken out of the environment where you would normally confront your memories day after day and therefore come to terms with it gradually. Back there... in Jackson Heights, is it?" I shook my head, but didn't offer to correct her. "Well, you know what I mean. Back there is where you'll most likely say goodbye. Because, in your mind, they're still there, aren't they?"
        I nodded. "Yes, that's… that's how I remember them."
        "Don't feel guilty about feeling nothing. People handle grief in different ways. And they say there are stages you go through. Being numb is one of them."
        Looking into her eyes, I knew she was right. Perhaps this was a stage I was going through. And perhaps inside I knew I would not be saying goodbye tomorrow; for, to me, they weren't here.
        "How'd you get to be so smart?" I asked, taking her hands in mine.
        "Didn't you know... it comes natural," she teased, obviously trying to lighten the mood.
        "I missed you today."
        "So did I, but... I brought back some tapes and CD's. You'll be dancing before long and I knew you'd need some music to boogie down to."
        "Will you dance with me?" I queried.
        She smiled. "Every chance I get. I'll make sure I fill in my name on every line of your dance card."
        "What dance card?" I questioned, thinking this sounded like something out of the stone-age.
        "Oh, I'm sure as old fashioned as Brandon is, he'll give one of those gala affairs commemorating the old South, somewhere around Labor day and by that time you'll be on your feet and the men'll be lining up to dance with the pretty Southern Bell."
        "What put you in such a good mood?" I asked, obviously changing the subject.
        "Oh, I don't know. Could be because you took your first step. Or... because Brandon goes back to work tomorrow and I can have you all to myself," she said, her voice dropping an octave or so on the last sentence, while she leaned in closer. Her eyes seemed to glow with happiness.
        She looked so beautiful. I wanted to kiss her. Instead, she kissed me, very lightly and then pulled back. Her eyes darted from my lips to my eyes and back again.
        "Before I came in here, I told myself I wouldn't do this and yet... I find it very hard to resist you," she admitted, her tone deep and sultry. She kissed me again.
        One kiss led to another and another. Each one growing more intense, until I felt my pajama top being lifted and her hand unexpectedly surround my left breast. I gasped. The suddenness of it sent a million sensations rushing downward, where they hit bottom and exploded outward like fireworks.
        "Damn!” she cursed softly, “I gotta get outta here.” She pulled away, got up and left me laying there, breathing very heavily and longing for her to come back.
I hadn't meant to scare her off. Not in the least. I wanted her to continue. I would've given her complete control over my body without a moment's hesitation. And that was one thing I'd never done before. I was always in control, at least in this area. There had been no melting beneath a male's touch. But, I had definitely felt as if I were soft butter and she, a warm knife. And wanted to experience that again! I tingled from head to toe, desiring more. Much more! I wanted to get up and follow her. Breeze into her room and crawl into bed with her; give up my long held virginity; experience the wonders of my sexual awakening; touch, kiss, caress, fondle... whatever seemed right at the moment.
        I inhaled a shuddering breath and then let it out slowly, resigning myself to merely remembering what had happened tonight. After all, she's the one who wanted to take it slow, so she was the one in control. All I could do was follow her lead. Well, most of the time, that is. It wasn't as if I didn't have a few ideas of my own.

        We spent all the next day together. I took another step forward, slower and a tad more confident. She informed me the next stage would be daily trips to the hospital in order to use their therapy equipment. I needed to work on exercising my upper and lower body and learn to walk all over again, using parallel bars for support. The idea of getting out and about with Sara was intriguing. We could truly be alone. And I definitely liked the sound of that! I also liked the idea of what would come after I was able to move better: a walker. This represented freedom from the chair and also meant Sara wouldn't be able to walk away from me as easily.
        The incident the night before was never mentioned by either of us. Somehow, I think we both knew that soon enough, perhaps sooner than she expected, we'd be together. We played a few of the tapes and CD's she had brought from her house. During the love songs, we would stare at each other from across the room. If anyone else had been in attendance, it would've been quite obvious how we felt. But no one could know; it had to be our secret.
        Dinner came far too quickly and Brandon came up as always. He said he had informed the servants we'd have a small memorial service for my parents this evening. In a way, I appreciated the gesture, but I would've preferred only Sara and myself in attendance. I didn't want a big production. The funeral had been months ago. But, he insisted. And with Brandon, there was no arguing, most of the time. He liked making a production out of the simplest things.
        Sara helped me into a plain black dress. No words passed between us, until Brandon arrived. Then all was quiet again as we made our way to the gravesite. We took the limousine of course, taking it slow down the narrow dirt track. It was quite a good ways across the field, much farther that I had assumed. It turned out to be a fitting place for a cemetery. The black wrought iron fence surrounding the site and its matching archway over the entrance, emblazoned with the name NEILSON, blended in well with the pecans and oaks, whose branches overhung the oldest of the headstones. One of these dated back to 1829, when Jackson David Neilson died. I assumed he was the one who started it all. The wrought iron fence had been freshly painted, or so it seemed and as Brandon opened the gate, it squealed a minor protest. I glanced up at the archway and wondered how many who weren't born Neilson's were buried here? As he wheeled me over to the left side of the graveyard, I perused the headstones as we passed. Some were green and weathered with age, exuding a sense of history.
Brandon stopped abruptly, which brought my attention back to the fore. In front of me, were two new headstones: "Jonathan David Neilson, Beloved Father and Husband, Marion Renee White Neilson, Beloved Mother". There it was… carved in stone. There was no denying the fact now. They weren't still happily going about their lives back in Jackson Falls, as I often wanted to believe. It had just been easier on me to think that one day they might walk through the door and everything would be all right again. But, here it was before me, in big bold letters saying, "They're not coming back!"
        I started to tremble and Sara placed her hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I could hear a voice, which sounded like Brandon's, but I didn't understand the words, nor did I care to. I gripped the chair and stared at the headstones, closing out everything except the memories that flooded my mind. Quick pictures of happy times we'd shared, their laughter ringing in my ears… my mother tucking me in at night… my father in his study, pecking away at his typewriter…
        Hands were touching my arms on either side, as blurred images moved past. Whispered words mingled with the hot breeze, sighing in and out around me. I offered no response. I was as still as a statue, completely numb from head to toe, my eyes as dry as any desert.
        "Perhaps we should leave now, Princess," I heard Brandon say, as he kissed my cheek.
        "No," I finally managed to utter. "I... want to be alone."
        He seemed to accept this and started away. "Miss Bennington," he called as if asking her to leave.
        "Sara... stay," I requested.
        She squeezed my shoulder letting me know she wasn't going anywhere. "I'm sure she'll be alright, Mr. Neilson. Give her some time," she offered. "I'll... push her back to the house when she's ready."
        "I'll wait," he countered.
        "No, Brandon... I'm sure you have more important things to do," I stated.
        The silence that ensued when he left was deafening. "I… I can't cry!" I finally said, growling out the words like a mad dog. I could feel rage building up inside me. I knew this should be sorrow, but what could I do about it? What's wrong with me?!
        "Don't punish yourself. Remember what I told you," Sara said, as she bent down beside me.
        "Punish myself!" I exclaimed, in disbelief. "They're the ones who've been punished! And for what? What did they ever do to deserve this?" I screeched.
        "Why do you think death is a punishment?" she inquired, serenely.
        "Because their life was cut short!"
        "I don't know, but I've heard it said: 'only the good die young'."
        "Bullshit!" I shouted.
        "Then… tell me how you feel, Faith."
        "Feel?” I growled, gritting my teeth. “I feel cheated, that's how I feel! I feel angry! I feel so much ang-ger!!! It just doesn't make sense! Why were they taken and not me? Hmm? Why my little brother and not me? Can anyone answer me that?"
        "No… Least of all, not me."
        "I just wanna know why? Why them? Why now? Why the hell did we ever get on that plane?!!” I screamed, not caring who heard or how it may sound.
And then the dam burst. The Sahara of my eyes finally gave up the water just beneath the surface and tears poured down my cheeks like torrential rain. My heart felt like it would burst wide open at any moment. "Oh God... why?!!!" I blubbered.
         Sara held my hand as I wailed in agony from the pain I felt inside. My stomach literally ached, as some force within pushed to relieve all the emotional pressure that had been building up for the past few months. My body was a pressure cooker; my mouth the steam escape valve, venting all those pent up emotions; my eyes the lid, bubbling over with excess liquid!

        It took over half an hour before the tears subsided, but afterwards, I felt especially serene and peaceful. Just like a summer thunderstorm, which brought the rains that cleansed the earth, the storm inside me had been a cleansing experience. As Sara slowly pushed me towards the house, I asked that she take me around to the gazebo. We sat silently side-by-side -Sara on the floor by my chair- until the sun descended behind the trees, its bright red glow highlighting the underbelly of the clouds to the west in an array of ever decreasing shades of pink. The crickets began chirping, the cicadas commenced their eerie trill and the tree frogs soon joined the late evening chorus that would carry on throughout the night. The cooing of a mourning dove, somewhere close by, filled the air with a lonesome sound. A few minutes later, the call of a chuck-will's-widow drifted up to us, from the direction of the stables.
        "Shane is a beautiful horse," I commented, finally breaking the silence. "I know why Jason picked him."
        "He's different. That lovely beige mane of his and those eyes... it's hard to believe he was ever as wild as they say."
        "Don't we all have a wild streak?"
        "Whaddaya mean?"
        "A rebellious side that… wants to do something... even though you know it's probably the wrong thing to do."
        "Hmph. Yeah, I know about that side. It's... hard to control sometimes."
        "You can say that again," she remarked, holding out a piece of pine straw: the three separate strands had been braided together.
        "It's hard to control sometimes," I repeated, admiring her handiwork.
        She glanced up at me and we both snickered. It seemed to ease the tension between us considerably. Even though the references had been vague in those previous few lines, we both knew we were discussing our relationship, in an indirect manner.
        "Hey, look," she said, pointing to the east. I followed her gaze and saw a bright orange moon barely peaking its head above the tree line. "Isn't that beautiful?"
        "Um-hmm, very," I agreed.
        In silence we admired one of Mother Nature's most mysterious wonders: the moon. It seemed to be an enormous fireball in the sky, but I knew it had no light of its own. It was merely a reflection of its counterpart and benefactor, the sun. All the folklore that had grown up around this changeable nocturnal reflection of the sun was amazing to me. Some people even feared it when it was full. But not me; just like the ocean's tide, I could feel her working her magic on me.
        How many lovers had been seduced by this illusion and its magical pull? I wondered. A full moon was considered romantic, but did anyone ever stop to wonder why? Was it because of her gravitational pull on the earth, more so than her light? If she could move an ocean, what force must she exert on us, as individuals, without our awareness of it?
        A cool breeze floated up the little rise where we sat. I looked over at Sara, wondering what she was thinking. The breeze tossed short strands of her hair, which had slipped out of her coif, to and fro. They danced around her forehead and flitted around her ear. I wondered again what she had looked like with her natural color. Her olive complexion against the blonde hair, gave the appearance of someone who spent a good deal of time in the sun. And of course, our time in the pool had only darkened her skin to a richer hue. I tried to imagine what she would look like with dark brown hair.
        This reminded me of my own hair. Day by day, it was slowly growing out. But, I still had only enough to make me look like a boy with a crew cut. The scars still stood out against the light brown stubble, winding its way across my forehead to my right eyebrow. Of course, the turban I always wore now -in place of the bandage: removed the last time Dr. Rosemund came out- still covered this up. But I still couldn't image how Sara could think I was beautiful. The phrase, "love is blind" seemed to be whispered in my ear, by the incoming breeze.
        "Princess, what are you… two doing out here?" Brandon asked, as he quickly ascended the steps of the gazebo. From his tone of voice and the expression on his face, I knew he'd assumed I was alone, at first; from the path, Sara would have been out of sight sitting on the floor beside me. "Shouldn't she be inside Miss Bennington?"
        "Just a little while longer. I want to stay until the moon climbs above the tree tops," I requested, giving him what he seemed to expect from me: my best whiny brat impression.
        "Moon?" he muttered, as if not understanding why I would want to see this.
        "Yes... over there." I pointed towards it.
He sat down on the bench behind us with a heavy sigh. Sara seemed quite uneasy about his presence and got up a few seconds later, walking over to the rail at the entrance. Why did Brandon make her so uncomfortable? I wondered. Was it just because of their mutual dislike? I had thought Sara stronger in character than that. Or was it that she felt our closeness in his presence might reveal our true relationship?
        "I suppose I should have known I would find you out here," Brandon began in a soft voice. "So much like your mother you are."
        I gritted my teeth. I wanted to scream, I am not my mother, can't you see that? Yet, again, I held my tongue.
        "Oh yes, I nearly forgot," he added, "I've arranged for a hairdresser to come out tomorrow."
        "A hairdresser?" I repeated. "Brandon I hardly think I need…"
        "Ah-ah-ah, let me finish, Princess. I know it was supposed to be a surprise and I was planning to be here, but... things came up down at the office and I have to take care of it. I just wanted to let you know he would be bringing several wigs for your approval."
        "Yes, of course, for the party this weekend. You remember you remarked about your turban? Well, here's your solution."
        That damn party again! I hadn't been able to persuade him not to give the party, without coming right out and telling him I despised his friends. So I'd relented. I'd reasoned that he didn't ask a whole lot of me, usually, and just because he'd interrupted my new love life on a few occasions was no reason to deprive him of his happiness; I'd just slip away early. But now, however, he wanted me to do something else for him. I'd never worn a wig before. Matter of fact, I'd never even seen one up close; at least, not that I'd been aware of. The thought of wearing one had never crossed my mind. Now that it had, I couldn't help but wonder what I'd look like? An old lady was my first impression.
        "I don't know what your hair was like before," he continued, "but I assume it was as beautiful as your mother's. So I picked out several that reminded me of her... for your approval, of course," he added.
        Of course is right, I thought. If I do wear a wig, which I doubt, I sure ain't wearing anything I don't approve of. Matter of fact, this whole idea would take some getting used to. I looked over at Sara, who was merely staring off into the distance, while she twirled a piece of pine straw around her fingers. Perhaps if she liked it, it might be alright.

        After I changed for bed, Brandon came up to say goodnight and brought another glass of milk. I wasn't thirsty and knew how it affected me the last time I was tired, but I drank a few sips to let him know I appreciated the gesture. His goodnight kiss lingered longer than usual, as he rubbed his face against mine. "Get well soon, Princess," he whispered.
        A few minutes after he left, I took another sip of the milk. It didn't taste like ours at home, but of course no two dairies are the same. As I lay there waiting for Sara, I could feel sleep silently creeping up on me on little cat's feet.
        Finally, she appeared in the doorway, wearing her robe. "I think I'd better say goodnight from here," she said, as she held onto the side of the open door and twisted the knob nervously.
        "Is that what you really want?"
        "No," she replied, twisting the knob back and forth, her eyes scanning the room like a fly searching for a place to land. "But, I think it'd be better if...." She paused, her gaze coming to rest on the nightstand. "Who brought the milk?" she asked, frowning.
        "Brandon. Why?"
        She shrugged and shook her head. "I… I don't know." She rested her forehead against the door. "There's just something about... a glass of milk. Every time I see it... I wanna get rid of it. But… I can't say why," she added, shaking her head. "There's so much I've lost."
        “Whaddaya mean, lost?”
        She sighed heavily and glanced up at the ceiling. “I've been meaning to tell you this for a while now, but… I just… Well, it never seemed the right time or…” She paused, looked down at her feet and tapped her forehead against the edge of the door.
        “What is it, Sara?” She had me worried.
        She sighed again, her forehead merely resting against the door's edge now. “Remember I told you that I didn't recognize my own face when… I woke up in the hospital?”
“Well… that wasn't just because it was such a mess, which it was.” She looked over at me and lifted her head from the door. “It really was. Much worse than yours by a long shot. But, that's not the real reason I didn't recognize it… ya see, Faith… I had amnesia.”
That explained a lot. “Amnesia? You mean you couldn't remem…?”
“Still can't,” she interrupted, fidgeting with the doorknob. “And that's why I kept saying everything before the accident was fuzzy. Truth is… I don't remember.”
“You mean you don't remember anything about your past?" I asked, aghast.
        "Not really. There've been a few flashes… a few things that… I don't know… feel familiar or somethin', but… nothing I can clearly say is a memory.”
“What flashes? What things feel familiar?” I was intrigued.
“Oh it's just… little things like… the milk and… this house for instance... I feel like I… either visited here before or... maybe lived in one similar or somethin'."
        "Maybe you knew Ashley," I interjected, trying to make some sense of her familiarity. “Maybe you attended one of Brandon's parties?”
Her eyes took on a faraway look, as if she were trying to remember something. "I doubt it. But, I don't know. And that's the worst part, I just... don't know." She was fiddling with the latch now.
        "What about your father, can't he tell you anything?"
        "He said I lived with my mother until the accident."
        "You mean she was killed too?"
        She nodded. "He said she... died instantly. But… I have no memory of her. Unlike you... I couldn't even mourn her properly. She was a stranger to me. I... I don't even know where she's buried."
        "It must be hard on you... not knowing, I mean." I wanted to keep her talking. Although I felt sorry for her, I was still fascinated with the amnesia.
        "Sometimes, like now, when I remember little flashes of things..." She paused, as she crossed the room to the vanity. "I often wonder what she looked like. My father said I look like her, except for my... hair and eyes. That's another reason why I changed them. I guess I thought if I looked more like her, it might trigger some memory, but… I suppose my face changed a great deal after the accident."
        "Didn't your father have a picture of her?"
        "Just a small faded snapshot. You can't tell much about her."
        "What about pictures from your home, surely..."
        "The house burnt down while I was in the hospital. Vandals broke in and...." She shook her head sadly. "All the memories I might've recalled through familiarity, they all… went up in smoke, I guess you could say." She seemed to be trying to dismiss her sadness with humor.
        "Can't he tell you anything about her? I mean surely there are relatives or..."
        "They were never married.” She sighed heavily. “She left home because she was pregnant. Didn't keep in touch, though he said he tried to find her." She frowned at her reflection then looked away. "She had no relatives… No husband."
        "Where was the accident?"
        "Outside of Atlanta."
        "You mean you were living around here, close to him and he didn't know?"
        "No, he lived in south Georgia. Down near Columbus."
        "I thought you said you lived here in Atlanta?"
        "I do. I have an apartment in Smyrna. And no, I didn't go live with him," she added, as if anticipating my next question. "I spent a lot of time in the hospital. Then he rented me an apartment so I could be close to the doctors, plastic surgeons and everything. After that I started school here and... You have to remember I… I didn't know him very well."
        "How often do you see him and your little brother?" I inquired.
        She ran her index finger over the vanity top, as she stared into the mirror. She frowned at her reflection. "I... I don't have a brother, Faith. I... I don't even have a father now. He died... not long before this job came up."
        I sighed heavily. She had lied to me!
        "I know there's no excuse for lying to you. It... it was just easier somehow than telling the truth. Especially when I'm not sure what the truth is… for me." Her frown deepened.
        "Whaddaya mean?" I asked, as I crossed my arms over my stomach. I realized as soon as I did this, it was a defensive posture, designed to ward off any blows to my solar plexus, where she had already, figuratively, hit me only moments before.
        "There's... there's just a lot of things he told me that… Well, they don't add up."
        "Are you saying you think he lied to you about something?"
        She quickly turned away from the vanity, then walked over to her chair and plopped down in it. "Perhaps... I'll let you be the judge of that," she finally responded, glancing over at me. "Sara Bennington, this is your life. Or at least according to my father."
        She then related her history as it had been told to her. Her mother had run off to Atlanta, because she didn't want to marry her father. The birth certificate Sara had to produce for her new social security card listed her as being born in Atlanta on December 14, 1960, to Amy Jackson. The father was listed as Leon Bennington. According to her real father, Leon was nowhere to be found at the time of the accident and her father had no idea who he was or if he even existed at all, since her mother had never changed her maiden name.
        Her father knew nothing about her previous life, other than the fact that she had lived in a rundown house on the south side of Atlanta. Her mother had no living relatives and no friends that he could find. As she had mentioned before, vandals had broken into the house and somehow set fire to it. Sara had never seen it because by the time she was up and around again, the lot had been cleared and another house erected on the site.
        It was obvious Sara was disturbed over the fact that she hadn't known her father at all, even before the accident and then suddenly he walks into her life and takes over. She didn't know him from "Adam's house cat". When she'd asked how he found out about the accident, obviously suspicious, he explained that he'd read an article in the paper about her mother dying in the crash. But, he could produce no proof that he was indeed her father, other than the picture of her mother and a small black and white snapshot of a little girl on horseback, which he said had been sent to him many years ago, with no return address, after he'd snooped around looking for her. He reasoned that Amy had wanted to appease him with this. But the snapshot was so worn Sara had no way of knowing whether it was her or some other little girl.
        I sighed heavily when she finished. "Lot of unanswered questions, hmm?"
        "A lot," she agreed. “And I know this gave me no right to lie to you, but... I didn't want you feeling sorry for me. And I didn't want that... analytical mind of yours going to work on me and my Swiss cheese of a life history. I wanted you to concentrate on yourself."
        "Well, at least you've told me… finally. But would you, if I hadn't pried?"
        "Eventually, I suppose. I mean... how do you just come out and tell someone something this... odd? What if what I'm telling you now isn't the truth? I have no way of knowing if I'm lying to you right now or not."
        "You're telling me the truth as you know it, right?"
        She nodded. "But, do you see why I didn't tell you before?"
        I frowned. "Why the little brother, though?"
        She shrugged. "I don't know." She was staring out the window. "I guess maybe I've always wanted one. But see… I don't even know if that's true. I have no way of finding out what I was like before the accident or... or even if it was my fault," she added, as she got up out of the chair rather quickly. "I'm sorry, I think this conversation has deteriorated into... something I don't like at all. And I'm sure you'd rather not have a liar for a... friend." She started for the door.
        "Sara…" She stopped at the door, her hand already on the knob, but she didn't offer to turn around. "…you've helped me put my past behind me. Helped me get through... so many things." I paused and nibbled on my bottom lip. "Maybe it's time for me to return the favor. We... we can both put our past behind us and... walk into the future… together." Tears welled up in my eyes and I tried to will them back. Through my watery vision, I saw her hand slip from the doorknob; her shoulders start to shake. I knew she was crying, too. "Are you coming over here or... are you gonna make me get up outta this bed and come to you?" I asked.
        She turned around slowly, looked at me through tear filled eyes, then covered the distance between us in only a few strides.

        "What did you do after you got better?" I asked, when we both had stopped crying.
        "I enrolled in college," she responded on a sigh, as she leaned her head back against the pillow propped beneath it. "I wanted to be a psychologist like you, but... I couldn't hack it." She reached down and fiddled with the sheet between us. "I mean, I didn't even know who I was, how could I help anyone else find themselves? Anyway, my therapist talked me into trying this. And five years later... here I am. I love the job… don't get me wrong. It's very rewarding to help people. Especially, someone like you," she added, as she cut her eyes over at me.
        She was so very close, lying only a few inches away and yet, I knew nothing would happen between us. "Where did all the women come in?" I queried, feeling a smile forming at the corners of my mouth.
        "Ah… I wondered when you'd get around to that one. Well..." She paused and turned her fidgeting fingers to the belt of her robe. "I… umm… I had a crush on my therapist to begin with." She cut her eyes over at me. I grinned. "But, she was straight as an arrow. Then I met this girl in college and we had a thing for a couple of months. My first… I suppose. And then let's see... there was a… succession of 'em. Ones I met at bars or through mutual friends."
        "You mean none of the relationships lasted?"
        "No, not more than a couple of months; some... not that long. I... I just couldn't commit to anyone for very long, or either... they didn't wanna stick around."
        This frightened me a bit, because I wondered if I was letting myself in for heartbreak. I hadn't given much thought to the future of the relationship. I'd been too busy reveling in my newfound feelings to think past losing my virginity.
        "That's why I want you to think about this carefully, before we go too far," she continued, as she turned over on her side to face me. "I feel more for you... than I have for anyone, but... who knows what will happen later on." Her eyes darted back and forth searching mine.
        "What's that saying, I'd rather have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?" I remarked, softly.
        "You're incorrigible, you know that?" she asked, as she reached over and touched my hand. "No matter how I try to keep my distance, you still end up luring me in."
        "Could be because I want you here," I responded, searching her eyes now.
        "Such innocence," she remarked, as she reached up and touched my face. "It scares me to think I might hurt you, unwittingly."
        "If I do get hurt… it'll be my own fault, right?" I heard myself say. “I started this, after all.”
        "Well, I better go," she asserted, withdrawing her hand. "It's getting late and..."
        "Stay with me awhile longer, please." I reached out for her hand, but ended up grabbing one side of the belt to her robe.
        "No, that wouldn't be a good ide... Hey, let go of that."
        "Stay," I pleaded, tugging on it.
        I hadn't meant to untie it. Hadn't even thought about this happening when I tugged on the belt. But her robe suddenly gaped open. Underneath, she wore nothing but a pair of blue underwear. A lump formed in my throat, as I gazed upon her naked torso.
She slowly pulled the end of the belt from my hand. "You didn't expect this, did you?" she queried.
        I slowly shook my head, unable to take my eyes off her breasts. She started to put her robe back together and I reached out again, this time, catching hold of her hand. "Please, don't..." She gazed down at me, her expression saying that she wasn't sure about allowing this intimate perusal of her body. "You've seen mine," I reminded.
        The sides of the robe slipped from her hands and fell back to their previous positions. She then laced her fingers in mine, seeming a bit embarrassed about this. My eyes perused her body, taking in every curve, every line and every freckle of her shapely form; at least, every one of these within my view. And the view was beautiful! Her breasts were firm and round; light brown aureoles just starting to tighten; darker nipples becoming erect beneath my gaze. I tried to get my hand free, but she held on tightly and shook her head rather slowly. I wanted to touch her so badly I felt as if my fingertips were itching with desire. But, I knew she was right. This would have to wait.
        My gaze met hers again, searching for something, anything to change the subject or else I felt I would go crazy with desire. "So, did your father have chameleon eyes?" I queried, shattering the moment to hell and back.
        "Chameleon eyes?" she repeated with a chuckle, slowly letting go of my hand, in order to put her robe back together. I recaptured one of her fingers, not wanting to lose this enticing and intriguing sight just yet. The back of my hand brushed against her stomach. "Umm...” she moaned and squeezed my finger. “I don't really know actually,” she continued, answering my question, while at the same time letting go of my finger and pulling her robe back together. “I never noticed. I guess so, since I don't have my mother's eyes, why?"
        I cleared my throat. And fought to clear my mind and proceed with the conversation I'd started. "Umm… isn't there anyway to find out more about her? I mean… surely someone knew her?" I was still staring at her robe, knowing now exactly what lay beneath it and just how very beautiful that was.
        "My father said he couldn't find anyone."
        This got my attention. No one knew this woman? That didn't sound right. "Well, did you see the article about the accident? Maybe that might tell you something."
        "No, I never did. That's an idea. Leave it to a clever mind like yours to think of that," she replied, as she patted my hand, which was lying by her naked leg. "I suppose, I didn't really wanna know a lot at the time. Like you, I had enough to do just recovering. I guess I always hoped someone would recognize me or..."
        "Do you want to find out now? Try to fill in the holes in the Swiss cheese, so to speak?"
        "Yes and... no. I guess I'm afraid of what I might find. I mean these flashes... they're not... Well, they make me feel... angry and scared like… like the milk, there," she said, as she looked over at the nearly full glass. "To you, it's just a glass of milk, but to me…there's a… foreboding feeling associated with it. I… I'm afraid my life wasn't a happy one, to be honest. I often wonder if it's best that I don't know. Maybe I can't remember, because I don't want to."
        "But won't you always feel empty inside? I know I would. Maybe that's why you can't make a commitment to anyone. You scare yourself away, because you don't truly know who you are, without your past."
        Several moments passed as she considered this. "You'll make a fine psychologist one day, sweetheart. Mark my words, a fine one," she said, as she touched my face again.
        "You would've, too. The way you manipulate people."
        "Manipulate?" she repeated, removing her hand. "Who have I manipulated?"
        "Let's see…" I pulled myself up straighter in the bed. "There's Jason for one. Getting him to come around, take part in helping me. Then there's me, of course. You manipulate me all the time."
        "When?" she asked, with a sly grin.
        "In the pool. And ya know, you're pretty good at it, too." My eyes traveled downward, coming to rest at the top of her robe, which was still slightly open. "You accuse me of teasing you, when you do the same thing to me," I added, referring to the fact that she had been nearly naked underneath her robe. My eyes traveled back up to meet her gaze and gage her reaction.
        "You think you have me all figured out, don'chu?"
        "Not yet, but I'm working on it." I reached over and ran my fingertip along the collar of her robe.
        "You're quite a challenge, you know that? You're truly testing my resistance, aren't you?"
        "I wouldn't say testing." My finger proceeded down to where the two sides joined. I knew what lay underneath that robe and I was dying to get my hands on… all of it.
        "Oh, right... it's more like you're wearing down my resistance." She removed my hand and intertwined her fingers with mine. Gazing into my eyes, she rubbed her thumb back and forth over my fingers. Then slowly she leaned over and kissed me ever so lightly. “Goodnight Faith." She quickly got up from the bed.
I wanted to reach out and pull her back, but she was too quick. I fell back against the pillows frustrated and exhausted. I started to reach for the milk, then remembered her foreboding feeling about it and decided against it. I turned off the light instead and settled back.
        Once again I had let those feelings lead me. And like the night before, I was left frustrated. I couldn't help but wonder what I would do if I ever pushed things too far and she suddenly stopped playing this little cat and mouse game? I was being very aggressive and selfish in this situation and I knew it. But, it was so hard to resist, once those feelings took over. I felt like I was rapidly turning into a Howard: all roamin' hands and rushin' fingers, with one thing on my mind. And I didn't know the first thing about what I was rushing into.

Part 11

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