by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        The next morning I felt groggy until Sara brought me a cup of coffee after breakfast. I usually drank only orange juice, but since she'd gone to all the trouble, I figured the least I could do was drink it. Needless to say, it helped. I assume the caffeine jolted my tired system back to life again. The next thing I wanted was her. Of course, she sweetly reminded me that there was a time and a place for everything and this wasn't the time for the lip-lock I wanted to put on her.
        After breakfast, I got dressed for our morning therapy in the pool. I felt tired, but was determined to make some small progress. Jason again helped carry me into the pool then left us alone. Sara massaged my legs and for the first time in quite awhile, I allowed myself to enjoy it to the fullest. I didn't close my eyes to do so, either, because I could hardly take them off her. I observed the way her arm muscles contracted and the way her breasts jiggled slightly, as she massaged me. I also found myself wondering what she looked like underneath her bathing suit. I had seen female bodies in the buff before, but never really felt anything, other than slightly embarrassed to look directly at them. But now things were different. Or was it just Sara?
        I could tell she was shapely. All the smooth curves were in all the right places. I especially liked the arc of her shapely behind which protruded beneath the backless bathing suit and swayed from side to side when she walked. I wondered what it would be like to have her next to me, my hands wandering over this area?
        This reminded me of my last boyfriend in college, Howard Banks. And how badly he wanted to have sex with me. I can't say he wanted to make love, because Howard was “all hands”. It was as if there was only one thing on his mind: SEX. I remembered we were at a party, this particular night, and I'd had a bit too much beer. Howard had been after me for a long time to at least let him "feel me up", as he called it. Of course, I was curious about sex anyway, so I allowed him to coax me into an unoccupied bedroom, where he laid me down on the bed, toot-sweet. In only a few moments, Howard had my blouse unbuttoned, my bra stretched across my upper chest and my pants unzipped.
I was allowing all of this, even though I didn't feel anything more than curiosity. I'd listened to the other girls talking about how it felt when their boyfriends kissed and fondled them, remarking about the deep, overwhelming urges that prompted them to go even further. Some even went into great detail about the sexual act itself, which was interesting, to say the least. Yet, when I was lying there with Howard atop me, my right hand on his behind and his mouth on my left breast, while the fingers of his right hand fumbled around between my legs, I knew this wasn't right. I didn't want his hand there, much less anything else. So, I made him stop for a moment and then seized this opportunity to get up and leave. I knew I didn't want my first time to be that way, even if I remained the "last virgin on campus", or so my friends called me.
        As Sara worked her way up my left leg and I felt her warm thigh against my skin, my thoughts wandered to just how it would feel to be with her, the way I'd been with Howard. Would it feel different? Better, perhaps? It definitely seemed like it might, since just the thought of having her on top of me made me tingle all over and sent delicious, tantalizing sensations down to my lower abdomen. Are these the urges the other girls had talked about? I wondered.
        "Are you cold?" Sara asked, snapping me out of my daydream.
        "Uh... no… why?" I responded, looking up at her.
        Her eyes fell to my chest. A rather sly smile formed on her lips, while one eyebrow arched skyward. I followed her gaze. My nipples were erect, pressing against the material of the white bathing suit. I was quite embarrassed. And then I realized that for her to notice this, she must have been looking at my body, while I was daydreaming about hers.
        Unlike when guys looked at me, which made me uncomfortable, this gave me a warm feeling inside. Seems I'm not alone with my steamy thoughts. Did she find me as attractive as I found her? I tingled all over again, at the thought of being with her. I wondered if I should tell her what I was thinking. Would it be too bold? Was it too soon? Would she tell me this wasn't the time for such thoughts?
        Damn the torpedoes, I thought, I have to say something or I'll bust a gut. "You have a… beautiful body," I said, hesitantly.
        She looked up at me and smiled. "Thank you. So do you," she added, as she ran her hand slowly up the inside of my thigh.
         I hadn't expected this and it caught me completely off guard. Strange, delicious sensations flowed down to one particular area of my body, setting my toes to tingling.
         She glanced away, then slowly moved over between my legs and started working on the opposite one, as if unaware of what she had instigated. As she made her way slowly up the inside of my leg, she watched me intently, the slight smile on her face making me rethink my previous assumption. She knew exactly what she was doing. And she does it well, I thought, as those same sensations crept down my body and came to rest in that certain area once again.
        She looked around the pool area carefully and even glanced up at the windows overlooking it, before her eyes came to rest on mine. She never broke eye contact with me, as she moved her left hand up my leg, keeping it on top and in plain sight, massaging as usual, while her right hand eased around underneath. She moved the latter hand slowly up my inner thigh. I nearly lost my grip on the pool, when her fingers came so close to that oh so special and now very sensitive region! Things were definitely coming alive down there, like never before! Did the temporary paralysis do this or was it just Sara? At any rate, there was hardly any doubt in my mind now that anything involving her would feel different. Enormously different, in a very pleasing way!
        She eased her hand back when she saw my wide-eyed reaction and then continued to massage my leg in the usual way, all the while staring deeply into my eyes. "You... um... you have a stimulating touch," I finally managed to say.
        "Thank you. You're quite stimulating yourself," she replied, as she arched one eyebrow. "Just watching you... Umph! Well, enough of this. We have work to do." She patted my leg and moved down to my foot, where she started my exercises.
        I sighed heavily. My body was all worked up, seemingly expecting something that hadn't happened. My stomach felt tight with anticipation. Never had I felt this way before. And I didn't want it to end.
        "See if you can press your foot against my hand," she said, moving on with her task.
        How can she just turn it off like that? I wondered. Then again, she was the one doing the touching, not the one being touched.
        "Concentrate, sweetheart... you can do it." I tried to set my mind on moving my foot, but nothing happened. "Let's pretend that... my hand is something you really want, okay?" she said, as she moved her hand an inch or so away. "The only way you can get it is to move your foot."
        I tried, but I couldn't visualize anything I wanted which would involve using my foot to get it. "I guess I'm not good at pretending. I'm sorry."
        She stood there for a moment and I was afraid she'd try making me angry again. But, instead, she positioned her body in front of me. "Touch me," she said, softly, a smile forming near the corners of her mouth.
        I was a little confused as to what she meant, until I noticed that her right breast was directly in front of my left foot.
        "Don't you wanna touch me?" she asked, arching one light brown eyebrow. I wanted to say, Of course I do, but I hadn't planned on touching you there with my foot! Instead, I merely concentrated on doing what she asked. "Well, if you don't want..."
        "I'm trying, okay?" I was desperate for my foot to move, but it just lay there like a knot on a log.
        "Close your eyes," she suggested. "Relax. Think back to a few moments ago. I had my hand on your leg... just like now..." She ran her hand over the calf of my left leg. "Only difference is now you can touch me, if you'd just move your foot." There was a long pause as I envisioned the previous scene again, putting her within reach. "Think of it as your hand... This is your hand," she added, slowly inching her finger down the side of my foot. "Now reach out and… touch me. You're so close, so very... That's it... That's my girl… Little bit more... Yes!" she exclaimed, as I felt the warmth of her body against the bottom of my foot.
        Oh how I wish this was my hand, I thought, opening my eyes to see that my foot was indeed against her breast. She quickly let go of my leg and maneuvered her way between them. She hugged me to her tightly. "You did it, sweetheart. I knew you could!"
        Exhilaration flowed through me, listening to the happiness in her voice. She was more excited than I was!
        She pulled back slowly and I noticed a single tear careening down her cheek. "Can you still stand?" she asked.
        "I... I don't know."
        She quickly swept up my legs in her arms and carried me out into the middle of the pool. I assumed this was to prevent me from hurting myself if I lost my balance again. She gently stood me up. Slowly, still holding my hands, she backed away. Then she finally let go altogether. I could still stand on my own!
She smiled and reached out, taking my hands in hers. "Walk to me, Faith," she urged.
My eyebrows shot up. I was barely standing and only just moving my foot, now she wanted me to perform a miracle and walk?
"You can do it, I know it. Just move each one, slowly," she urged. Nothing moved. I was a statue. "Come to me, sweetheart. Don't think about it, just look at me. Keep your eyes on mine. I want you here… with me, Faith... I... I want you in my arms," she added softly.
        Oh, how I wanted to be able to walk into her arms at that moment, give her what she was asking for. But it seemed impossible.
        "Please... I need you, sweetheart," she prodded. My left leg flinched and jerked, then slowly moved forward. "No-no, don't look down," she admonished. "Look at me… That's right... I need you, Faith... I missed you so much yesterday... I wanted to hold you in my arms last night and..." She paused and bit her lower lip. "Come to me now."
        My left leg jerked and my foot moved swiftly. It scraped across the bottom of the pool, peeling the hide off my big toe, which in turn caused me to lose my fragile balance. I plunged headlong into her waiting arms.
        "I didn't mean you had to do it quite so quick," she said, with a chuckle. "But, I'll take it anyway I can get it," she added, hugging me tightly. "You did it, you really did it! You've taken your first step!"
        Tears trickled from my eyes. I wasn't sure whether I was laughing or crying. I only knew that this meant one day I would walk again. I could only hope when that day came, I would still be able to walk into her waiting arms.
I wanted so badly to kiss her and revel in the joy of the moment, but suddenly the sound of clapping rang out. We both looked up to find Brandon staring down at us, clapping enthusiastically. I could feel Sara tense up, as she loosened her hold on me. How long has he been there and how much did he overhear? I wondered. And what might he do about it? My big toe started to throb and sting, as if my body were suggesting there was more pain on the way.
        "Wonderful, Princess... just wonderful! Soon you'll be walking the grounds with me," he said happily, as he sat down and began removing his shoes. What's he doing? "We'll have to celebrate this momentous occasion," he continued, rising up out of the chair in his stocking feet. He quickly removed his jacket and tossed it over the back of his chair, then proceeded down the steps into the water, fully clothed. "I know! We'll have a party! Yes! We haven't had a big party since your arrival. Splendid idea, don't you think?" He waded through the water towards us, his white shirt gradually darkening as it absorbed water.
        "I... I don't know. I... Why would those people care, if I took my first step?" I asked, remembering the last party and those few dinner parties I'd hated.
        "They'd rejoice at my happiness, of course," he replied, his tone suggesting I had asked a silly question. "I'll have to call Lynn (his secretary) and tell her to get on this right away."
        "But..." I paused, as he reached out and swept my legs up, removing me from Sara's embrace. "But, it's such short notice," I protested, feeling as if he had just stripped me of my happiness.
        "Yes, it is Sunday. You may have a point there," he agreed, as he turned and started carrying me away from her.
        I felt so helpless all I could do was glance over his shoulder. Sara was glaring at his back, frowning profusely, her hands clinched by her sides.
        "Perhaps next weekend then. Yes, that will give everyone plenty of time to prepare," he said, carrying me up the steps. "You're so much like your mother, Princess… so level-headed. I guess I got a little carried away.” He glanced towards the patio doors then seemed to think better of that idea. “Friday… Yes. That would be much better." He turned and eased me down into one of the patio chairs. Then he quickly retrieved my towel for me.
        "I... I won't feel comfortable around all those people, Brandon. I still have to wear this turban and..."
        "Oh that's no problem," he said, handing me the towel. "I already have a solution for that. It was going to be a surprise, but..." His gaze fell to my breasts, as I began toweling off. "Well, it still can be. Just don't worry your pretty little head about anything, Princess. I'll take care of everything. You'll have anything and everything you need to be the bell of the ball." He bowed enthusiastically then quickly turned and left, water streaming behind him from his soaked clothing.
        I turned towards Sara, who was just coming out of the pool. I could see the disappointment written all over her face. "I'm sorry he..."
        She held up her hand and shook her head. "One of those times," she said, walking over to get her own towel off the back of my chair.
        "Sara... I..." I wanted to say something about the events in the pool, how I didn't like him taking me away and how I wanted to thank her, but I knew the mood was broken. And there'd be no retrieving it. This made me angry. “Wonder what the hell that was all about,” I questioned aloud.
        "Jealousy, I suspect.” Sara answered. “He's envious of… You're bleeding!" she announced, rushing over to me and squatting down by my foot. "How did this happen? Did Brandon...?"
        "No." I shook my head, as she glanced up at me. "I did it trying to get to you."
        Her eyes darted back and forth searching mine, as her expression changed from worry and anger to the soft one I had come to know and love. She started leaning towards me, then seemed to have second thoughts, as she glanced towards the house. I knew she was thinking he might appear again at any moment. "We... um... I'll need to take care of that. We can't have you bleeding all over everything." She took the end of her towel and wrapped it around my toe. "Damn," she hissed softly.
        I wanted to reach out and at least touch her in some small way, tell her that I was disappointed too. But, I didn't want to tempt Fate. "I don't want this party," I said instead, changing the subject.
        "You're the only one who can stop it," she affirmed, glancing up at me. "And I don't envy you that task, 'cause he's all puffed up with pride right now, as if he made it happen." She sighed heavily. "To tell him you don't want this party, would be like sticking a pin in a balloon."
        She was speaking of him, as if she knew him well, which puzzled me. Perhaps she's just a good judge of character, though, I reasoned. Either way, this was not my main concern at the moment. Finagling my way out of this party was. I sighed at the thought of having to endure another party. And at the loss of the moment he had ruined, which I'd wanted to savor. How many more times would he do this? Was there more to his coming into the pool after me, other than just his enthusiasm over me walking? Sara suggested jealousy. Why should he be jealous of Sara?

        Back in my room once again, I was struggling to remove the wet bathing suit, when I realized I hadn't brought my clothes into the bathroom with me, in order to change. Rather than have to pull the straps up and back down again, I left them hanging off my arms and buzzed over to the chest of drawers to get a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.
        I just loved the new shorts and T-shirts Sara had picked up for me on one of her many outings. One hundred percent cotton and comfortable as anything I'd ever worn. She said that a friend had recommended them to her and once she tried them, she fell in love with the way they fit. And she just knew I would. And true enough once Sara put them on me, I didn't want to wear anything else.
I pulled out a neatly ironed and folded purple striped T-shirt and plain purple shorts, laying them on top of the chest, then moved aside and was reaching into a lower drawer for a pair of clean underwear, when I heard the door open.
        "Oh great," I said, not even looking up. "Would you help me? This damn thing is sticking to me like glu..." My voice caught in my throat, when I finally glanced up to find Brandon staring at my chest. My hand latched onto several pair of underwear and quickly pressed them to my exposed breasts.
        "You are beautiful.... just like your mother," he said in a dreamy voice, as his eyes lifted to meet mine.
        "Wha…? Don't you ever knock?" I exclaimed, anger apparent in my tone.
        "I... I'm sorry, Princess... I..." He paused as I raised one eyebrow and cut my eyes towards the door. I didn't want to have to tell him to get out; for, I was afraid I'd really lose my cool. "Yes, well..." he said, as he slowly turned around and left.
        I breathed a shuddering sigh of relief and just sat in my chair with my underwear pressed tightly against my chest. I couldn't bring myself to move. I felt exposed, helpless and numb from embarrassment.
        Sara showed up a few moments later, rapping lightly on the door, as she peeked around it. She glanced around, looking for me. Her smile dropped instantly when her eyes met mine. "What's wrong?" she asked, her expression signifying her confusion. "Are you doing this… because of me?"
        I shook my head and bit my lower lip.
        She quickly closed the door behind her. "Then what's wrong? Why are you holding yourself like that, with your underwear...? Why was the door open?" She asked the questions so fast I didn't have a chance to answer. "Wasn't Brandon just...? What did...? What the hell happened in here?" she finished, as she rushed over to me.
        "He... he walked in on me. I thought it was you and..."
        "Is that all?" she inquired, her face an angry visage.
        "He... he said..."
        "What? What did he say?" she prompted.
        "He said, I was beautiful... "
        "Yes, and..." She was prodding for more.
        "He said… you're beautiful... like your..."
        "Mother," she finished for me, as she placed her hand on my arm.
        "He was her lover... wasn't he?" I asked, thinking over the implications. "My mother was… unfaithful to my father... with his own brother!"
        "You don't know that, sweetheart. Listen, he could have walked in on her, just like he did you. You know he never knocks, he just barges in wherever he pleases," she said, as she tried removing the underwear from my tightly clinched hands. "Sweetheart, come on now, we need to get you outta this wet bathing suit," she added, placing her hands over mine and lightly rubbing them. "And I don't think you'll need but one pair of these, hmm?"
        "How could she do that to my father?" I asked aloud, still thinking about how this tainted my mother's image.
        "Faith, listen to me." She turned my face towards her. "You can't blame your mother for something that might or might not have happened. Don't destroy her memory just because of something Brandon said. If… and I do mean if he ever saw her naked, she might have been as innocent as you are now. Sweetheart, don't do this to yourself. Your mother left here, right? She left with your father, didn't she? Now why would she do that, if she were having an affair with Brandon?"
        "He had a wife."
        "Alright, let's stop this right now. There's no sense looking for old skeletons in the closets when there more than likely aren't any. I'm pretty sure Brandon loved your mother, but... I doubt she loved him. Don't you think she'd have to be a fool not to see through him? And your mother was no fool, was she?"
        "No, she wasn't. She... loved my father or... seemed to."
        "Stop second guessing what you know to be the truth. Your mother was still in love with your father, you told me so remember? And you know it's true, right?" I nodded. "Well, then let's forget about it, okay? I don't like seeing you so upset, it just tears me up inside."
        I hadn't really thought about how my state of mind might affect her. More than likely, she was right. Perhaps he had barged in on her while she lived here and she'd mistaken him for father, as I'd mistaken him for Sara.
Out of the blue netherworld of my thoughts the question of what my mother would think of my relationship with Sara jumped up and slapped me in the face. Would she think it vile and disgusting? I pondered the question, as Sara helped me get out of my bathing suit. I had no idea what my mother would think. I could only hope she would be accepting of my feelings for Sara. Once we had a long chat, that is. I had no idea how my father might feel. And I truly wasn't in the mood to ponder either question for very long.
        After I got dressed, Sara helped me into bed. "Feeling better?" she asked, as she took my hand.
        "Yes," I replied. "I shouldn'a questioned my mother's integrity."
        "Nor yours," she added.
        How could she have known what I was thinking? I wondered.
        "Your eyes give you away," she explained, as if replying to a question I had asked. "You do need to take your time, though. Be absolutely sure... I won't pressure you in anyway. Be sure that it's me you want and not just... someone close… in bodily form. Otherwise, we both could get hurt, badly. Believe me, I know. Don't make the mistake of letting sex play the most important role in your thinking. It's only one part of the big whole. And if sex is all you want... it's all you'll get. But, not from me."
        I stared at her, not really sure what message she was trying to convey.
        "Don't get me wrong now, I'm not saying sex is bad, “ she went on. “Far from it, because I think it's the ultimate way of sharing yourself with someone else, when you love them. But, without true love, it's just... empty. Passion is fleeting and lust... well, it can be used in cruel ways. Love... real love, that's what lasts."
        "Have you been with... many women?" I couldn't help but ask.
        "Yes," she replied honestly. "There for awhile, I was pretty wild. That's why I'm telling you this. I don't want to see you walk the same road I did. People can be very cruel, even those who say they love you," she added, ruefully.
        I reached up and touched her face, wondering how anyone could be cruel to someone so kind and loving. "I won't be cruel, Sara," I said, softly.
        "No, I don't believe you would. And I don't want to see anyone hurt you, either." She turned away and looked towards the door. "I'd rather die first."
        We both fell silent. I didn't know what to say and she seemed to be retreating inside herself again. I wondered if she was trying to tell me something with her last comment. Was I in some danger of being hurt? If so, from where? From whom?
        I suddenly remembered the dream I'd had months ago. "Beware of illusions," my parents had said. That was the same night I had noticed Sara's blue contact lenses. I looked into her eyes now, wondering again if she was the illusion. Would she have second thoughts about us and leave me here alone and brokenhearted? Who was the other woman she had been with that night? Was there someone else she wasn't telling me about? Suddenly, I noticed that her eyes were neither green, nor blue.
        "Your eyes they're… they're brown," I said, without thinking. Why was she wearing brown contact lenses?
        "Are they? Yeah, well they change like that, sometimes. That's part of the reason I wear contacts, some people find it rather… spooky, how they change like a chameleon."
        Was she the illusion my dream warned me about, the one with the chameleon eyes? After all, she was a very secretive person, revealing very little about herself. Whenever I asked, she'd always say, "the past is fuzzy. I don't remember a lot before the accident". Yet, she seemed to carry around a lot of deep-seated sadness and anger. Then again perhaps the latter sprang from the fact there were things she didn't remember. I knew I would be lost without my past, like a ship without a sail, cut adrift on a stormy sea.
        I glanced back up at her, feeling sorry for doubting her. She had been nothing but kind to me: always there, always helpful and always loving. How could I even question her? As she gazed into my eyes, I watched them slowly turn back to green again. It was fascinating to watch the change in her expression correlate with the change in her eyes. Those warm green eyes that were so inviting, tempting and filled with mystery, tugged at my heartstrings.
        "Is this the right time?" I asked, so softly I barely heard the words myself.
        She smiled and leaned forward, her face hovering very close to mine. "Sometimes I think you read my mind," she whispered. Her gaze shifted to my lips. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were teasing me, just to see if I can resist you."
        "Can you?"
        Her gazed shifted back to my eyes again. "My body says no, I can't, but... my mind must say yes. Otherwise, I'll... Don't look at me like that,” she murmured, referring to my dissatisfied expression. “I told you to take your time. I know… I lost my head today in the pool. But, you're so enchanting... there's so much innocence in those baby blue eyes of yours... such impatience too... asking for things you know nothing about."
        "I haven't asked you..."
        "You don't have to. It's all right there in your eyes. I know what you want... and when the time is right... you won't have to ask." She quickly kissed me on the cheek. "Get some rest, I'll be back soon." She hesitated a moment before she got up, looking down at my right arm, where I was reaching out to her. "Did I do this?" she asked, quickly turning my arm slightly.
        I peered down to see what she was talking about. "You mean that?" I asked, pointing to the light brown oval shaped mark on the underside of my right arm.
She nodded, guilt written all over her face. I shook my head and explained that it was a birthmark. She commented on how it looked just like a light bruise made by someone's finger. I then told her, as well as showed her, how it always remained about the size of my own index finger.
        "How come you never noticed it before?" I inquired.
She shrugged. “Maybe the same reason you never noticed my eyes changing color?” She had me there. I reached out for her. "Ah-ah-ah," she said, as she moved away quickly. "Like I said, get some rest."

        After lunch she came back with a small bag in one hand and a questioning look on her face. She pressed her behind against the doors, shutting them slowly. "I've got something I want you to listen to. I don't know whether you like rock songs, but..."
        "I do," I said, readily. "As long as its not hard rock."
        "Well, this isn't, believe me. Ya know..." She paused, as she removed a compact disc case from the bag. "I've been waiting for you to ask me for some more… up to date music. But, you never did, so I assumed you didn't like it."
        "I do. I just... didn't wanna bother you… back then."
        "Oh," she remarked, as she put the disc in the CD player and turned the stereo on. "Well, I've got a lot of tapes and CD's at home. I could get them sometime, if you'd like. Or I could buy you some. I mean, whatever kind of music you like, I'd gladly…"
        "Love songs," I interrupted.
        "Excuse me?"
        "Love songs... that's my kinda music." She turned around and smiled. "Well, good. Listen to this song, track number..." She looked down at the case. "…number nine. I'll be back later and you can tell me what you think." She smiled again then walked out.
        "Good, Miss Bennington, glad I caught you," Brandon said from the sitting room. "You can have the rest of the day off today. I'd like to spend more time with my niece."
        I couldn't hear Sara's reply, if she even gave one. But my heart sank at the thought that Brandon had once again ruined something else for me. Doesn't he ever have work to do at home on the weekends? I wondered.
He politely knocked on the door and waited for me to bid him entrance. I turned the stereo off via the remote and then asked him in. He walked through the door as cheerful as ever, acting as if nothing had happened. Through the open door behind him, I saw Sara in the hall watching. I felt better knowing she wasn't eager to run off.
        "Well, Princess, how would you like to go on a tour of the stables? Jason is very eager for you to meet Shane," he said, as he walked over to me.
        I had never been to the stables because it was too far from the house and down a very rocky, gravel road. Wheelchairs were not made for such obstacles, so I had always shied away from going. "I suppose. I'd like to see Shane, but... you might end up having to carry me if the chair won't go over the gravel."
        Brandon smiled broadly. "That would be fine by me. I'd gladly carry you anywhere, Princess, you know that." He placed his hand on the back of my chair.
        "Jason said Shane was once pretty wild, but Ashley broke him. Did she really do that?" I asked, changing the subject as I maneuvered myself over to the side of the bed.
        He gave me a hard look. "Um… well, yes... um… You get yourself together or… whatever it is you females do and Jason and I will meet you downstairs."
        Not even an escort down the stairs? Boy, Ashley's name sure got rid of him fast. I'll have to remember that.
        Right after he left, Sara returned. "What's up?" she asked.
        "Going to the stables to see Jason's horse."
        "Oh, he's a beaut… you'll like him."
        "You know him?"
        "Well, I take walks around the place sometimes when you're asleep. And when Brandon takes over. At night though, I'm never far away," she added, as if this were something I should know. "Need some help with those jeans?"
        "Yeah, all I can get."
        She came over and helped me to my feet. Then she held onto me from behind, as I pulled the jeans up. "Is Brandon coming up to get you?" she asked.
        I could feel her warm breathe on my neck and it made me feel all tingly inside. "No, he said he'd meet me downstairs. Why?"
        She shook her head and shrugged. "Got'em on yet?" she asked, near my ear. Those delicious sensations flowed over me and through me. "This is the first time you've been on your feet, outside the pool, how does it feel?" she further queried.
        "Very good," I replied, enjoying this immensely. "Who's teasing who now?"
        "Payback's hell, itn't it?" she asked, slipping her arms around my waist. "You got those jeans on yet?"
        "You're not helping any."
        "I know. I wasn't trying to be helpful," she admitted, as she lightly kissed me on the neck.
        Basic instinct must have taken over, because my response to this stimulus was moving my head to one side and offering her my neck for more stimulation. She lightly kissed my neck several more times, while her hands roamed over my T-shirt clad stomach, then started moving towards my breasts.
        "Damn," she swore softly, stilling her hands and pressing her lips to my neck. She sighed heavily and withdrew, holding me out away from her body. "I always lose control, don't I?"
        "One day, Sara, it won't be so easy for you to get away from me," I said, teasingly, as I glanced around at her.
        "Ah... now that'll be the day."
        "And you won't have to walk alone, either."
        "I look forward to that," she said, easing me down in my chair.
        "I love you, Sara." The words tumbled out of my mouth with ease.
        "I love you, too," she replied without hesitation, placing a kiss on top of my turban.
        We both heard Brandon's voice in the hallway, so she quickly bent down and helped me put my feet in the footrests. I touched her hair, which was soft, but dry from the hair color she used, I assumed. "What color was your hair?" I queried.
        "Dark brown, why?"
        "I just wondered what you looked like… you know... natural. How come your eyebrows aren't dark then?"
        "I had them done, too. Dark brown eyebrows looked rather peculiar with blonde hair. Gave away my secret too easily," she replied with a sly grin.
        "Princess, there you are. I was afraid you had fallen or... something. What's taking you so long?" he asked, as he glanced down at Sara, as if he knew what the problem was. "I didn't know you needed help with that. I thought you did those things yourself, now."
        "I had to get Sara to help me into these jeans, after I struggled for so long with them," I lied. "She was just nice enough to do the rest while she was here, so I wouldn't keep you waiting."
        He grunted. "Are you ready now?" His tone was bordering on impatience. I nodded and eased the chair forward.
        "Have a good time," Sara said.
        "She will," Brandon answered before I even had a chance to. "And we'll take real good care of her. You really shouldn't worry about her so much, Miss Bennington. Soon, she'll be walking and… she'll no longer be your responsibility."
        I didn't like the way he stressed "your". I could tell Sara didn't either. It made me sound like a piece of merchandise to be handed over to someone else at some point in the future. And I knew he was reminding her that her services would no longer be needed at that time. That was something I didn't even want to think about.

        Brandon had a surprise for me before we reached the stables. It was a blacktopped path, which ran parallel to the gravel drive. Sometimes, he could definitely amaze me.
        I enjoyed the stables with all the beautiful horses. I knew why Jason had picked Shane, the moment I saw him. He was dark brown with a beige mane, where the others had manes of their same coloring or black. I couldn't help but be reminded of Sara and her bleached blonde hair against the dark brown roots.
        Jason fed him and asked if I'd like to do the same. So, I did. Shane bent down to receive the morsels in my hand, his light brown eyes with their dark brown specks perusing me carefully. I found it hard to believe he had once been wild; for, he had kind eyes and such a gentle manner.
        Love, I thought. Love can do this. Jason's love for the horse and Ashley's love for Jason had turned this wild animal into a gentle and loving friend.
        "One day, maybe you'll be able to ride him with me," said Jason. "He's not wild anymore."
        "I wouldn't bet money on that," Brandon remarked. "He's still got that wild streak like his mother. She never lost it."
        "His mother?" I queried.
        "Oh yes, wildest horse I've ever seen. One of my hands Tom Randall, he acquired that horse for me. Bad choice. Never could ride her."
        "Ashley could," Jason interjected.
        "Had to fire that man after working for us many years,” Brandon continued, ignoring Jason's comment. “He turned out to be no better than his choice in horses. People are a lot like horses you know. Some are proud, dignified and respect discipline. Others are wild from the day they are born and you can't teach them a thing."
        I knew he was most assuredly making reference to some person. And I had a feeling it was Ashley.
        "Well, let's finish this part of the tour, shall we, Jason? I'd like to show Mari... Princess here, some other places she hasn't seen yet."
        He'd made a slip and almost called me my mother's name. Why did she still hold such a special place in his heart? I wondered. After twenty-two years and being such a handsome and wealthy man, couldn't he find someone else to give his heart to? I assumed from what I had seen at the first party -women flitting around him like moths to a flame- that he could have just about anyone of them. But perhaps that was the problem, in itself. For, that which we desire most, is often that which we can not have.
        After the stables, Jason left us and Brandon pushed me back towards the house at a leisurely pace. He talked constantly about the businesses he and I owned. The holdings of Neilson Enterprises were so diversified, it was too hard for me to keep track. Plus, my mind was preoccupied at the moment with something far more interesting: Sara.
        We finally made it back to the house. The flowers that lined the pathway leading behind the mansion were beautiful. Brandon noticed the attention I paid them and picked some for me. I thought this a very noble gesture. He pushed me beyond the hedges, around the indoor pool and out towards the beautiful white gazebo. Pink, blue and lavender flowers had been planted in a perfect circle around it. I did so love these colors and remarked about, as he steered me up the ramp he'd had installed when I first began venturing out. The same one I hadn't used very much.
        "Your mother loved this place," he said, as he sat down on one of the benches in front of me. "She called it her thinking place."
        "Why didn't you ever marry again?" I asked, changing the subject. We'd already had this conversation about my mother the first time he brought me here.
        "Oh..." He sighed heavily. "Vivian's death was hard on me. Taking her life like that. Then, there was Ashley to deal with. I couldn't very well ask a woman to come in and take over a house when... I had a daughter with such erratic behavior."
        "You mean she wasn't alright after thr... being in the hospital?" I corrected myself, because I knew he hadn't revealed how long she'd stayed in the hospital, Jason told me that part.
        He glanced up briefly, then back down at his hands, which were intertwined in front of him. "I'm afraid not. Oh, she was fine with animals. Horses, dogs, cats... but not with people. I suppose, she felt she couldn't trust anyone... not after what her mother did."
        "What about now? I mean... you're alone, except for Jason."
        "Oh, I don't know. I've grown too old, I suppose. Too set in my ways, perhaps." He sighed. "And of course, you're here now, so I don't..."
        "But, I won't be staying indefinitely."
        "Why not?" he asked quickly, his expression changing from sadness to concern.
        "I have a home. When I can walk again, and I'm sure that'll be soon, I intend to go back and..." I paused, realizing I hadn't given this much thought, lately. Now that Sara was in the picture, what was I going to do?
        "And?" he prodded.
        "I suppose I haven't given much thought to what I would do after I got there. I've been so busy just taking one day at a time."
        "Stay here, Princess. There's no need for you to go back. I'll give you anything and everything you need," he said, a pleading tone to his voice, as he stared at me.
        "I need to go back. Even if only to settle things and... say goodbye to..." I paused, a lump jumping up in my throat.
        Until now I hadn't wanted to think about my parents' gravesites. When I had first inquired about this, back in the hospital, Brandon told me everything had been taken care of and not to worry, “concentrate only on getting better”. I didn't even know anything about the funeral or where they were actually buried. Had they purchased a cemetery plot? I didn't know and until now, hadn't wanted to think about it. It was easier for me to think of them the way they had been -the way they were in my memories- rather than where their bodies might lie. I suppose I felt that as long as I didn't see a headstone, I could keep them alive. Now, it seemed it was time to think about the inevitable: saying goodbye.
        A tear formed in the corner of my left eye. "I have to go back and say goodbye," I finished.
        "No, you don't, Princess," he said, softly. "They're... not in Jackson Falls."
        "Not…? Where then?" I asked, quite shocked.
        "They're here."
        "In Atlanta?"
        "No, Princess..." he answered a bit hesitantly. "They're here... at Shady Grove."
        My mouth fell open. "You mean to tell me that my parents are buried somewhere on this estate and you haven't told me?!"
        "This is the first time you've asked. I... I didn't think you wanted to know. You never asked before."
        "Yes, I did. I asked about the funeral and everything. You said it had all been taken care of."
        "It was," he said calmly, turning away from my wrath. "If you had asked where, I would have told you. You didn't."
        I sighed heavily. "I'm... I'm sorry. You're… you're right. I should've asked. I... I suppose I really didn't wanna know. Somehow seeing a head... Well, it would seem so final. Maybe it's better that I didn't know. But, I do want to…" I paused. "I'll want to… go there soon."
        "Yes, of course, but... not today, hmm?" he asked, as he touched my hand, seemingly pleading with me.
        "No... not today. Maybe… tomorrow. Where is... this place?"
        "Out there," he said, pointing towards an open field. "Close to those pecan trees you can barely see from here. All the Neilson's are buried there." I merely nodded in understanding. "So you see, Princess, you have no reason to go back," he said, trying to sound cheerful again.
        "Yes, I do. There's the house and..."
        "I can take care of that for you, I know of a real estate agency..."
        "No." I shook my head. "It's more than just selling the house. Sooner or later I'll have to take care of my own affairs. And I'll take care of this one, when I can walk again."
        To hear myself say the last few words felt strange. Everyone around me had uttered these, at one time or another, but not me. I was too scared I never would walk again and all those big dreams would come back to haunt me. Now, however, I was reaching for the future… in order to say goodbye to the past. How ironic!.
        I hadn't realized how much I had changed over the past few weeks spent in my melancholy state. There were only a few tears now, when before I would've cried buckets at the drop of a hat. At the moment, I felt numb. Little did I know this was the calm before the storm.

Part 10

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