Part 10 & 11 (combined)

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers, see part 1.

Thanks to Linda. You gave me a great place for a birthday.

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

I ran my hands through my hair again, readjusting my body on the top stair where I sat. There was carpet on the stairs, but after sitting here for two hours, it seemed to disappear. Disappear, I thought of earlier again. God, how could I have been so stupid? But then, what did I have to feel bad about? I was so confused.

I had left Gotfry's right then and there, driving around for a bit, but ending up here, waiting for her. I had no idea where Dagny had gone, but I was getting worried. I glanced at my watch to see it was after midnight. I would give it another hour. We needed to talk. I needed to understand.

Downstairs the door opened, I could barely hear it three flights above. Silence for a few minutes, then I heard the stairs squeak as someone ascended. I stared expectantly at the door to the third flight, waiting for the familiar figure, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed, again. Dagny turned the corner, and stopped at the bottom of the third floor flight. She looked up at me, her face expressionless, then began to climb. I said nothing, nor did she. She passed by my little vigil, walked to her apartment door, the only noise was the lock as she inserted her key and turned it. I listened to see what she'd do next; would she say anything? I saw the light shine on the opposite wall when she flicked it on, then her silhouette as she passed under it. She had left the door open.

I stood, my body screaming at me as I did so, headed for the apartment. Dagny stood in the middle of the room, her back to me, keys dangling from her hand before she finally tossed them to the coffee table. I watched her, not sure what she expected of me. I was filled with such mixed emotions, my stomach gurgling as the acids built and died only to build some more.

"You had me worried, Dag," I finally said, finding my voice. She shrugged, turned her head so I could see her profile as she stared at the floor.

"I drove around for a while, stopped in at a coffee shop." I could barely hear her. Please, turn around and look at me, Dag.

"Why?" I asked when she said nothing more. I took a step toward her.

"I needed to think, to clear my head." She took a deep breath, then turned, looking up at me with tired eyes. "I guess...I didn't know, Chase. I should have seen it, I suppose." She looked down again, her hands fidgeting with each other.

"Should have known what? Guessed what? What are you talking about?" I tried to catch her eyes, but she refused.

"About you, you know, you liking, well. Anyway," she ran a hand through her hair, then looked up at me, fire in her eyes. "She's wrong for you, Chase!" Taken aback by her vehemence, I felt the fire beginning to bubble to the surface. The fear had turned to sorrow, which had turned to worry, which had turned to fear again, which was quickly turning to anger.

"How dare you tell me who is or isn't right for me?" I pointed to myself. "You have no hold on me, Dagny!"

"No I don't, but she'll fuck with your head, Chase!" Like the snap of a switch, Dagny was on. She was ready for battle.

147;Who gives a fuck? What business is it of yours what I do or who I fuck, if I so chose?"

"I care!" she screamed. I was stunned, but quickly got myself together.

"Why? It's none of your business, Dagny. The fact that Terrie almost kissed me tonight, yeah, that was a mistake, but,"

"You should have told me! I have a right to know!"

"To know what? What gives you any right with me? We're friends, Dag. We go out and we have a real good time, laugh and all that shit, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to we're just friends!" I could feel the blood pounding in my head. I felt dizzy I was so angry. What did she care? What did it matter? I can't have her, so why should she have any say in what I do? I could never have her! I wanted to scream into the night, but didn't dare.

"God damn, how do you think I felt when I opened that door to see that fucking slut all over you like flies on shit?" She took a step toward me, her voice lowering. "That woman makes me want to scream. I can't stand the sight of her and to see her that close to you made me sick." Her voice and body language was dangerous, reminding me of a tigress, ready to pounce. "You deserve so much better, Chase."

"Oh, yeah? And who have you come up with in your infinite wisdom, Dagny?" I spread my arms wide, palms to the Heavens. "Who!"

She was silent for a moment, some of the tension draining from her body. "Someone else." She turned away from me, giving me her back.

I tried to calm myself down, as well. I took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Dag, like I said, tonight was a disaster waiting to happen, and I'm glad it didn't. There was never anything to tell you as far as Terrie is concerned." I chuckled ruefully. "I can't even say she's just a friend cause she's not even really that."

"Why didn't you tell me about you?" She ran a hand through her hair, still facing away from me.

"I don't know. It wasn't something I've been exactly hiding from you, Dag." I shrugged. "I didn't know for sure, I'm still so confused." Dagny didn't say anything, nor did she look at me. This was pointless. "I'm going to go."

I turned, headed for the door. I sighed deeply as I reached for the doorknob when I heard footsteps coming up behind me.

"Don't," The whisper was right behind me. I closed my eyes, feeling Dagny's presence surround me. "Please don't go, Chase." Her voice was low, filled with sadness. I felt her hand on my back, sliding down and over to my arm. "Please?" I turned, looked into pleading eyes. "Stay?" I stared at her for a moment, amazed at how quickly the anger simmered down to nothing, gone as quickly as it had come. I nodded, she smiled weakly.

Dagny leaned into me, wrapping her arms around me, and I did the same, pulling her to me tightly, wanting her so close, inside of me. I heard her sigh, and I did the same. God, that had been so close. I had been scared that our friendship was over with, it had gone too far. I breathed in her smell, the smell of her hair, her skin, her sweat and tears.

I knew that it was impossible to get what I wanted, so I'd just have to try and be happy with what I had. She was in my life, and isn't that what counted?

I felt my relief stinging behind my eyes, and didn't try to fight it. The tears slipped out from my closed lids, and I held Dagny tighter. How will I ever be able to let her go?

* * *

I laid in the dark, Dagny's cheek against my neck as she slept. My arms were wrapped tightly around her body, hugging her to me. She adjusted her head a few times, still very much asleep. It had been an emotional night, and she had been beat. So was I, but I couldn't shut my brain off.

I thought about earlier, in the bathroom of Gotfry's with Terrie. I had not had much time to think it over and dissect it. How had it happened, how far would I have let her go? She was not what I wanted, and I knew that, knew it then. I think my frustration over this situation with Dagny had driven me to new lows. And then there was what I had said to Terrie just before I'd ran out of the bathroom to follow Dagny-

I love her. I'm in love with her.

It had slipped out without a thought. I don't think the admission surprised me so much as the timing. I was the type that usually thought things through, thought them to death, actually. In short I was a dweller. Those words had slipped out so effortlessly, requiring no thought at all. I did love Dagny, very deeply. But it went beyond that. I loved Carrie, too, and had even loved Mike. But Dagny had my heart, she had my soul and my mind. I was in love with her. How did that make me feel? That was the million dollar question right there.

When you're little and what your parents say means everything, that's what kept coming back to me. Carrie had confided in me that she thought she liked girls as well as boys when we had been in early high school. I had been fine with that, being the open-minded person I was. Not sure where that came from as it didn't exactly run in my family. My mother still did not know about half the crap Carrie had done and who she'd done it with. But I had been fine with it because I had been fine with my own sexuality. I liked boys for the most part, and I didn't worry about it any further than that. So how did this happen?

I really hated labels so I wasn't about to stick one on my ass now.

After the fight had ended nothing had been said. Dagny had just pulled me by the hand to her bedroom, and we both collapsed, emotionally drained. I had slept for a couple hours, but it was restless, dreams and nightmares waking me about twenty minutes ago. I had so much to think about and decide.

What would happen to Dagny's and my friendship? What if she suspected my true feelings for her? I'd try and hide them, do a performance worthy of the Oscar in order to keep her in my life. I could shut myself off, cut all ties with feelings so I wouldn't scare her away. What would I do if she ever started dating anyone? That would hurt, but she had every right. Why should I keep her from happiness just because I was condemning myself to a life of loneliness.

* * *

I tried to squeeze my eyes shut to keep out the determined morning sun. I was losing fast, so decided to give up trying. I slowly opened an eye, turning away so my back was to the window, seeing little flashes of light behind my lids when I closed my eyes. That's pleasant. Finally cranking both eyes open, I realized I was alone. What the? Did she never come home? Where is she? I began to panic in my half dream state when I heard the bedroom door softly close.

With a sigh of relief, I took a deep breath. Within seconds I heard the shower start. All was well in the world. I hoped.

I pulled my exhausted body out of the bed, running my hands through my hair. I wondered what the day would present to me today. How was Dagny doing? Feeling? It was such a creepy feeling to wake up to her gone. I found my jeans and boots from last night, and threw them on, finding one of Dagny's brushes on the dresser. My hair was a mess, all over my head. Apparently I looked as bad as I felt.

Put together I headed to the living room, figuring Dagny would want me to go. I sat on the couch for a moment, trying to get my thoughts and bearing together before I took off when the water shut off. I glanced at the closed bathroom door, not sure what to do. Should I be gone by time she gets out of there? Would she be mad? God, I hated this feeling of walking on pins and needles!

The bathroom door opened and Dag walked out dressed in just a towel tied around her still wet body. Her hair was slicked back, and she looked directly at the bedroom door, saw that it was open, and began to scan the room until she saw me shrinking away on the couch. She smiled, the warmest smile I've ever seen.

"Hey." Her voice was quiet, almost timid. I smiled.

"Hi. Have a nice shower?" God, how lame. I stood, shoving my hands in my back pockets so she wouldn't see them fidgeting nervously. I didn't want her to know that I felt like I could throw up with uncertainty. Then to my surprise she hurried over to me, bare feet padding across the wood floor, and I was nearly bowled over by her massive hug. I took my cue and wrapped relieved arms around her, nearly breaking her ribs with the intensity of the embrace. When she groaned against my squeeze, I lightened up, grinning down at her.

"Sorry." She raised a brow.

"Trying to kill me or something?"

"Uh, no. Just you know, well, I just wanted you closer, I guess." I stammered. Dagny smiled, running her hand down my arm.

"Come on. I'll get dressed, you get in the shower cause you smell like a damn smoke stack, and we'll go get some breakfast. How does that sound?" I smiled so big it felt like my face would split. I got my old Dagny back.

"You're on."

* * *

Life began to get back to normal, and I had a lot of groveling to do to Greg who didn't understand why I had taken off, and Doug who had to take over for me. As I explained to Greg that Dagny had gotten sick, and I had had to go take care of her, he had smiled at me like I was nuts. Yeah, so I lied to the guy. How could I tell him what had really happened?

"Don't let it happen again, Chase," he said, wiping out some freshly washed glasses. I nodded and went to watch the door, taking money from the cover charge. I hadn't seen Terrie since that night and I really didn't want to. I couldn't quite put a finger on how I felt about her. I wasn't angry, per se, maybe some embarrassment could be thrown into the pot. Hell, I didn't know. I would find out soon as rehearsal was tomorrow.

For tonight I sat in my dorm room, back against the wall and read Anaïs Nin's House Of Incest. One thing I had to say about my Lesbian Literature class was we had to read some interesting stuff. I turned the page, just starting to get into it when the phone rang. Absently I picked up the cordless from the bed beside me and clicked it on.

"Hello?" I muttered as I continued to read.

"Hey, girl." I smiled.

"Hey, Car. How goes it?" I put the book down to concentrate on my friend who I haven't talked to all summer.

"It goes well. I have been so busy. Oh my god, I got a job at this art supply store, right?"


"It's like, oh man, artgasm! They have got some of the most incredible stuff there." I smiled, hearing the excitement in her voice. I hadn't heard Carrie excited about much of anything since the rape. "My boss, Doyle, said that I could get whatever I needed for my classes this semester for a third of their cost. Isn't that just awesome?"

"Oh, Carrie, that's fantastic!" I sat up, crossing my legs Indian style and leaning my elbows on them.

"So, needless to say I'll be all set. I plan to come back next week." I shut my mouth, my nutty friend answering the question before it even got out.

"Awesome. We'll have to celebrate." I smiled into the phone, glancing down at the book next to me, tracing the image on the cover.

"Oh, I have a question to ask."


"What do you wear on a date with a boring guy?" I drew my brows, nearly choking on the bottom lip I was chewing on.


"Yeah, this guy called me and he wants to go out tomorrow."

"Are you okay with that, Car?" I asked, my voice low with worry.

"Yeah, I think so. I insisted we go to Conways, you know, where I worked all through high school? Everybody knows me there, so I'll have all kinds of eyes on me."

"Sounds smart. Who is he?"

"Well, I don't really want to say in case it doesn't work, or something. I'm not even sure why I agreed, to be honest. I just think I'm lonely," she admitted softly.

"Okay. I'm sure you'll be fine, but be careful, okay?"

"Yeah. So, what do I wear?"

"Carrie, just how many boring guys do you think I've gone out with?" I was trying to mentally picture in my mind the clothes Carrie had in her closet, putting different outfits together.

"I even thought about raiding my mom's closet." I chuckled.

"Well, if the angelic look is what you're after, then go ahead. But, you'd burn in hell for it." I grinned, she laughed.

"Bitch." I smiled.

The conversation continued, and we finally managed to figure out something for her to wear and look decent without looking like a nun.

I felt secure in knowing that Carrie was learning to be smarter and not so free and trusting. She promised me she would not drink at all tomorrow night, and she hadn't touched pot in months. I hoped this "boring" guy could help her turn around.

Carrie told me all about her summer adventures, going on vacation to Las Vegas with her parents, going out with some of the old gang we used to party with. She swore she stayed sober, but I can't imagine that, especially when she felt so comfortable around them. Carrie and I were the only ones in our little conclave of friends who went on to college, and knew most of them were still heavy partiers. That made me so sad.

* * *

The rehearsal at Doug's went well, though I had been very nervous as I drove up to his house. Terrie's truck was already there, the engine still warm and ticking. I walked up the driveway between the parked cars of the other band members. Usually I was the first to arrive, but tonight I was last, putting it off as long as possible.

"There she is." Doug grinned when he saw me, walking up to me to put an arm around my shoulders. "Where you been?" he asked in my ear as we walked into the garage.

"Sorry. Had some stuff to do," I mumbled.

"Is everything okay, Chase?" He took me to the side so we could talk alone for a moment. I nodded. "You sure? Did Terrie do something?" I glanced out to see the drummer laughing with our bassist, then tore my eyes away. "I told you to watch out for her, kid."

"Yeah. It's cool, Doug. Don't worry about it. It won't happen again." I smiled at him, letting him know I'd never leave the band high and dry during a performance again, but we both also read between the lines on that statement. I glanced at Terrie again, patted Doug on the arm, walked toward the practicing area.

"It's the missing singer. Welcome back, kid." I glared playfully at our keyboardist.

"Yeah, bite me."

"Ohhh, tempting." I flipped him off, everyone laughed. Including Terrie.

"Hey." She said, walking up to me. I unzipped Than's carrying case and took the guitar out.

"Hey yourself."

"Look, um, about last Friday," I looked at her, staring into nervous dark eyes. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't realize." She jutted her chin out defiantly, as if she was waiting for me to attack. I shook my head and shrugged.

"It's okay. No damage done." I smiled weakly.

"Was your friend pissed?"

"We worked it out. Don't worry about it." I plugged the guitar into the amp.

"Oh, I won't. But if you still ever need anything," I shot a glare at her to see she was smiling.

"Hag." She kicked off laughing, and so did I.

"Thank you! Now go to the bar and spend some money." I grinned at my audience as I stepped away from the microphone, took my guitar strap off my body and headed to the bar myself. It had been a good session with a packed house. Greg was eating it up, the biggest smile on his face.

"Here ya go, kid." He slid my ice cold water to me. "I tell you, I may make my million before I'm forty yet." He punched me lightly in the shoulder and walked off to help other customers. I leaned against the dark mahogany, downing half the glass when I saw Terrie's eyes on something, her body almost rigid. She put her drum stick on the seat of the set, and headed off the stage, her eyes still glued. I looked in the direction as her gaze only for my own eyes to nearly pop out. She had her sights on Dagny who was standing talking to Paul. Oh, shit!

I almost threw the mug on the bar as I hurried to try and intercept the drummer.

"Terrie? What are you doing?" I put my hand on her shoulder, but she completely ignored me, hurrying by. "Terrie!"

"Hey," She walked up behind Dagny, tapping my friend on the shoulder. Dag turned around, her eyes bulging then narrowing as she realized who it was. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. "I want to tell you something, Dagny. I don't like you, never did like you, and chances are good I never will. But I want to tell you something about your friend there,"

"Terrie! Stop it." I finally managed to reach them, trying to get between them. Nether woman budged, nearly body to body.

"I won't compete. You better open your damn eyes. You got me?" She stared Dagny down, my smaller friend standing her ground. I wanted to cheer.

"Get the hell away from me, Terrie," she said, her voice a deadly calm. "Don't ever get in my face again, and you leave my friend the hell alone." Dagny gave her the once over, then with a grimace, walked away. "Come on, Chase." She grabbed my arm, me too stunned to move. I glanced at Terrie to see her wink at me, then I turned to follow Dag outside.

The night was already warm, but Dagny's anger made it even hotter. She paced back and forth in front of me, hands balled into fists. I stood back, watching, not daring to get in her way.

Finally Dag stopped pacing and turned to me. "What the hell crawled up that bitch's ass? What did I ever do to her?" She began to pace again. "She doesn't like me, never has, and oh no, probably never will." She laughed ruefully. "There's a kicker. I really can't stand that woman. She's a bitch and a snake." She stopped again, walked over to me to slump against my shoulder. "Why, Chase? Why on earth did you let her get remotely close to you?" She playfully nudged me in the side, making me react as I was extremely ticklish. Dag looked at me, eyes wide with her new find.

"Dag, no. No, please, ugh!" The wind was knocked out of me as she dug her fingers into my sides, my teeth clenched as I tried to fight the little shit off. "Uncle! Stop!" I was nearly crying through my laughter. Finally I got away from her, and looked at her, my body crouching as I got ready to pounce.

"Chase, come on, now. You're bigger than me, be kind, be kind, no!" She took off running as fast as her legs would carry her, which was pretty impressive considering I did have about four inches of height on her. I chased her to the end of the parking lot before catching her and digging my fingers into every ticklish inch of her body. "Truce!" she yelled out, making a dog bark down the street. I stopped, not able to wipe the grin off my face. She put her arm around my shoulder as we started back for the bar. "Oh," she began, still out of breath. "Paul told me he had a fantastic date the other night."

"Oh, yeah?" I ran a hand through my hair, sweaty from the vigorous activity. "With who?"

"I don't know. He won't say."

"Huh. Good for him."

* * *

The summer began to fly by, and the new school year was getting closer and closer. Dagny and I had become inseparable. I stayed at her place most of the time, the couch my new best friend. Either she picked me up or I her after work or my class, and we'd head to her place or once in a while mine. I was fully entrenched in my literature class, now. The material we read was wonderful, definitely nothing I would have read otherwise. But then, that was usually the case with me and books.

Dagny was getting things straightened out for the next semester. Her class load would be cut back slightly, but she would be doing more outside work with her degree, working at the University of Arizona Counseling Center under Dr. Bernard Fantine, as well as seeing clients on a part-time basis. She was looking forward to it as it would be getting her closer and closer to her profession, but it would be taking a lot out of her, and we would have much less time together. I dreaded that.

We were having a quiet night in Dagny's apartment, both of us had our own books to read as we stretched out on the couch. We had just finished off a fantastic dinner of chicken breast and rice with peas that Dag whipped together, and now it was time to relax.

In my lit class we had started on the poetry section, so I was reading Warrior at Rest by Jane Chambers. I was enjoying the poems very much, able to relate to many of them.

"What are you reading?" Dagny asked, changing position so that her head was laying in my lap. I looked down at her.


"Yes, very." She grinned. I showed her the book, and watched for her reaction. "Is this for your class?" I nodded. "Read to me?" She looked up at me with pleading eyes.

"This is lesbian poetry, Dag," I warned.

"So? I told you I had wanted to take that class. I'll take it vicariously through you." I shook my head with a grin and began to read, my voice soft and steady as I read through the stanzas of thought and experiences and ideas. I could feel Dag's eyes on me, like electric heat shooting from those eyes. As I read the author's words, my mind began to wander. It felt so wonderful to have Dagny so close, just a breath away. If I really wanted to torture myself, which I did often, I could almost think of our friendship like a relationship. She was my best friend, my confidante, my teacher and sometimes my student. We shared space and time, often putting our ideas and money together to have fun. We had it all, except one thing. Well, two. The other thing was Dag's heart.

June was long gone, and July was half over. My English 273 was finished, and I looked forward to the new semester, new classes centered around my interest. Carrie and I spent a lot of time together, and I was beginning to notice a change in her, a good change. She was becoming more serious about school, actually buying her books this time. The clothes had started to cover more, the make-up covering less. She still had a ways to go, but I was so pleased with the progress now.

"What has happened to you?" I asked as we stood in line to see a movie. She looked at me with a secretive grin. "Come on, Car. Talk to me."

"It's nothing. I just, I need to try this on my own first, Chase." She looked at me, her eyes serious, searching mine for understanding. "Please? I don't mean to shut you out or not be honest with you, but for the first time in my life there may be something to it, and I'm just afraid of fucking it up." I studied her for a moment, then it dawned on me.

"It's a guy, isn't it?" She nodded. "Will I not approve, or something? Is that why you won't tell me about him?" Despite all of her explanations, there was a part of me that was hurt.

"No. That's the funny thing. I think you'll approve a little too much." She smiled ruefully. My brows drew.

"Boring guy?" She nodded "Holy shit." I smiled a mile wide. The line moved up, and we moved with it, my mind still trying to process this. "How the hell did boring guy manage to tame you, Car?" She laughed.

"Oh, I wouldn't say I'm tamed. That'll never happen, Chase you know that." I grinned.

"How did he do it?"

"He takes me seriously." She looked down, her face filled with pain. Finally she looked up and met my gaze. "He listens to what I have to say and doesn't laugh or make fun of me. Plus, he's cute, and we have the most fun. Completely sober! Who would have thought?" She nudged me with her shoulder, grinned.

"Yeah. No kidding. But, I do understand." I couldn't keep the dumb ass smile off my face.

"So, what's the deal with you and Dagny, anyway?" She gave the guy her money for the movie, and I handed her mine to give to him also. Tickets in hand, we headed for the concession stand.

"She's just my friend." I said, my voice a little sharp. Carrie stopped, looking at me as if trying to read me.

"What's up with that, Chase? What's going on? I rarely see you now, if I do you're usually talking about her. Now, don't get me wrong, I like her. And I still think she's hotter then hell." She grinned and winked. I thought for a moment. This was as close to a heart to heart as Carrie and I had gotten in a long time, and I felt she deserved to know the truth. At least part of it.

"I don't know, Car. I think that maybe my feelings for Dag run a little deep." I looked at her to see if she was catching my meaning. She looked perplexed. Damn, I didn't want to have to spell it out. "They go beyond friendship." Carrie's eyes jerked to mine, open wide with surprise.

"No way, really?" I nodded. "Wow." She turned to the expectant girl standing behind the counter. We ordered drinks and candy for our movie, and headed into the theater. "Does she know?"

"No! And I don't want her to, Carrie. Promise me?" She nodded.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely." We found two seats, and Carrie's feet went right to the seat in front of her. "What are you going to do?"

"What can I do? I'll just get over it." I opened my box of Junior Mints, popping two into my mouth.

"You know, this doesn't surprise me, really." Carrie opened her box of Sour Patch Kids. "I've always wondered about you, Chase. You know what they say, birds of a feather flock together."

"Yeah, thanks, Car. That's going to do me a lot of good right now."

"I'm sorry, Chase." She covered my hand with hers. "I'm here for you, okay?" She turned and took me in a hug. "It'll be okay, Chase. I promise."

* * *

The next few weeks flew by quickly, Carrie spending a lot of time with Dagny and I. We were set to meet with her lawyer at the end of July, which was in a few days, and I could tell it was starting to get to my friend. She was starting to get quiet and withdrawn, and I was worried. Dagny kept telling me that it was natural and to give her time. Once the legalities of it were over with, Carrie would be through with it forever, and could just concentrate on moving on.

Dag and I were in her apartment playing a game of chess on the floor when Dag's phone rang. The pawn she was about to move in hand, she hurried to the phone that we'd left in the kitchen.

"Hello? Hey, Carrie. What's up?" She smiled into the receiver as she walked back into the room to sit cross-legged in front of me again. She put her hand over the speaker and looked at me. "Carrie wants to meet us at," She took her hand off the phone, "at where? Cafe Paraiso? At, okay." She covered the phone again. "At eight." I nodded. "Sure, we're there. Kay, bye." Dag tossed the phone to the couch. "Well, that's interesting."

"Yeah. I wonder what's up. She never goes there." I checked my watch. "We've got about an hour. And, I was in the process of kicking your ass, so if you'd be so kind as to put that pawn down so I can liberate him from you." I grinned, cocky to the core. Don't even try to beat me at chess cause it just ain't going to happen. She stuck her tongue out and looked down at the board to see what her next move would be.

Dressed casually, Dagny and I headed out toward campus to meet my friend. It was a beautiful night out. We decided to walk to the café, breathing the fresh air in deep lungfuls.

"God, it's gorgeous out." Dagny lifted her face to the sky, her eyes closed and a smile on her face. I watched her. I had the urge to stop our walk, take her face in my hands and just stare into her eyes before I kissed her. I clenched my fists as I walked. I had been fairly successful at keeping these kinds of thoughts at bay, but certain times, in certain situations where Dag would catch me all over again, it could be agony. Like right now. I decided to try and send my thoughts north to my brain.

"So this was a bit odd of Carrie."

"Yeah, it does seem odd." Dagny smiled at me, brought her arm up to entwine it with mine. I smiled, loving the contact of her warm skin.

"Who knows."

We reached the little café finally, and I saw Carrie right away. She was sitting at an outdoor table, facing us having a very animated conversation with someone, his back to us. She looked good, wearing a summer dress with spaghetti straps and sandals. Her hair was pulled back and up, her make-up mild, just the touch of fire engine red lipstick to show her unshaken defiance. She saw us over her companion's head, and waved with a huge smile. I grinned back, Dagny waving. My eyes went directly to the guy who had yet to turn around. He wore what looked to be a white tee shirt and cargo shorts, his feet were in Tevas. I thought he looked familiar, but couldn't place him, his dark hair combed back neatly, cut short around his ears.

"Hey, Car. What's up?" Dagny and I sat in the two empty chairs, facing each other. I turned to the guy to see Dag's friend, Paul. "You?" He grinned, nodding. I turned to my friend. "This is boring guy?" Carrie turned bright red, nearly matching her hair. I heard Dagny chuckle, Paul looking confused. I felt really stupid. "Uh, sorry, Paul." He smiled, shaking his head and putting his hands up.

"Hey, doesn't bother me."

"I can't believe you said that," Carrie muttered between clenched teeth.

"I'm sorry. It just came out," I muttered back.

"Anyway, this is Paul, as you both know. And um, well, we're kind of together." She smiled at him in the sweetest way. I looked from one to the other then back to Dagny. Her eyes were already on me. She had a strange look on her face, but it disappeared as soon as she noticed I was looking at her. She smiled, nodded her approval of the pairing. I looked back to my friend.

"We didn't tell you guys before cause we wanted to make sure, you know?" Carrie looked at me and Dagny, then at me. She was looking at me with hope in her eyes. I smiled, communicating with her through that look. I was thrilled. From what I had heard Paul was a great guy, and may be just what she needed.

"I think it's fantastic, guys." I smiled at Paul. He was beaming at his new lady love. I heard Carrie actually let out a breath of relief, and I squeezed her hand under the table.

As we talked with the couple, I began to think, being honest with myself, how fair was it that Carrie, who had lived wild and out of control since she was fifteen, had found her happiness? Here was me, trying to do good for myself, doing what was asked of me, and my happiness eludes me? Well, actually my happiness sat right across from me, but was unattainable.

I felt a hand on my knee under the table and turned to see Carrie smiling at me, understanding in her eyes. She patted me, and joined the conversation that Dagny was having with Paul about school starting up soon.

Paul was a wonderful guy and a great conversationalist. He knew a little about everything and was interesting. He was completely opposite the idiots that Carrie had dated in the past, and I didn't understand even though Carrie had explained it to me. I guess it was just one of those things that I would push to keep up and going. She needed some steady guidance in life, and Paul seemed to be settled on his path and secure in himself. I trusted him.

* * *

The law offices of Ronald McDivitt were nice, with plush carpeting and expensive furniture. I wondered what Carrie's folks were paying this guy. Dagny and I sat on the couch, Paul and Carrie huddled on the love seat. He held her hands, trying to get her calmed a bit. Today Dagny and I were to talk with the lawyer about what we had seen that night, Carrie and the guy on the park bench.

Dagny had her arm on the back of the couch, her hand on my shoulder as I was also pretty tense. I had been dreading this, not wanting to have to go back to that night. We had talked about it a lot lately, trying to jog both our memories, as it had happened nearly eight months ago.

My leg was tapping up and down to get rid of some of my nervous energy. Dagny put her hand on my knee.

"Chase, hon, you're making the entire couch vibrate." She grinned at me, understanding on her face. "This will be over soon, and that bastard will be taken care of." She caressed my lower thigh through the material of my khakis. I looked at her, stilling my leg.

"Sorry. I hope so." I looked over at my friend to see that she had her head on Paul's shoulder. I was glad she had him, but at the same time, that would have been my shoulder. I missed her not coming to me, now. I knew it was selfish, but she had never taken anyone she dated serious enough to lean on. It was a strange feeling; my baby was growing up.

Ten minutes later McDivitt's secretary called us in one by one to Ronald's office, giving a statement of what we had witnessed. It was hard relaying the information. It wasn't that I had seen something that was so horrible, it was a matter of if I had stopped and taken Carrie home with me it would never have happened. That bastard had violated her within two hours of when we had seen her. That was a guilt I would always have to live with.

When I walked in I couldn't help but ask if he was the same guy who had so many damn commercials on TV. When he said it was him, I told him that they drove me nuts, and could he please take them off the air. He laughed heartily and told me to sit down and shut up.

Finished, I was shaken as I left the lawyer's office. He had been kind but efficient in his work, asking good, detailed questions. I felt confident in what I had said, descriptions, etc. I had also told him about the time that bastard had been in Carrie's dorm, so had a terrific up-close view of him to know it was the same guy.

I felt numb as I walked out of the office, Dagny going in next. We passed each other on the way, and she grabbed my hand giving it a quick squeeze of comfort before releasing it and heading into the office.

Carrie and Paul were nowhere to be found. I wondered where they had gone, considering Carrie had gone in to talk with McDivitt first. The door to the lawyer's space opened, and Paul stuck his head in. He scanned the room, stopping when he saw me.

"Chase, can you come here, please?" He sounded rattled. I hurried out to the hall where Carrie was curled up on the floor, crying. "I can't get her calmed down. I don't know what to do," he said, his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts. I knelt down next to my friend, gathering her in my arms.

"Car, listen, I'm here, Carrie. Come here." At the sound of my voice she looked at me, and lunged into my arms, nearly knocking me over backward. I held and rocked her as she cried.

"I was doing fine, Chase. I had gotten over it, you know? Ron showed me a picture of him to make sure it was him, and I saw it all over again. The look on his face as he pushed me to the ground, I heard the sound of my clothes ripping. All over again, god I don't want to have to go through it again."

"Shh, I know, Car. I know. It's almost over. The trial is in a month, then it'll all be behind you. I promise you, okay? They'll put that son of a bitch away for a long time. Okay?" She had calmed considerably, beginning to take deep breaths, wiping at her eyes.

"You okay, Carrie?" Paul sounded like a lost little boy as he knelt down next to us, his hand on her arm, rubbing the skin gently. He looked at me, and our eyes met. I nodded to try and assure him she was okay. He looked back at his girlfriend, licking his lips as he decided what to do.

Carrie told me she had told Paul about the rape a few days ago and he had been wonderful, patient and kind as he held her, listened to every gruesome detail. I gently nudged her away from me and to the arms of Paul. That's where she should be now. Paul looked at me as he took her in his arms, surprise in his eyes. I smiled, he smiled back.

Dagny and I snuggled together on her couch that night, the TV unwatched in the background. I laid between her legs my back to her front as I stared up at the ceiling.

"I should have done something, Dag. Even if it was just hunting the guy down and chopping off his dick. I just feel responsible somehow. I mean, we saw them, Dag." I turned enough to see her face. "Right?" She nodded.

"I know, Chase. Sometimes I think about that, too. We were right there. But you know she's okay. This was a horrible thing, Chase, but Carrie has learned a harsh lesson because of it. Remember, life is filled with lessons. My mom always told me that."

We both started with a knock on the door. I sat up.

"Pizza's here."

"Get my wallet off the TV. I have a twenty." I grabbed it, opened it up to get the money. Dagny's driver's license picture smiled at me. I grinned.

"Nice mug shot, Dag." I showed her the picture. She rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, yeah. So I can't take a picture to save my life. I have never in all my twenty-four years seen a good driver's license picture."

"You haven't seen mine." I went to the door, gave the guy the money and took the pizza. When I went to stick the money back into the money pouch, I saw the birth date on the license. My brows drew. "Dag, why didn't you tell me your birthday is in a month?" I looked up at her. She shrugged.

"Guess I didn't think about it." She took the pizza to the kitchen to grab plates and napkins. I followed her.

"You didn't think about it? What, do you not celebrate birthdays or something?" I grinned, closing the wallet and tossing it onto the counter.

"Nope." I looked at her, surprised.


"My parents stopped doing anything for that years ago, Chase. My mom will call, but that's about it. Here." I took the plate she offered.

"Thanks. That's so fucked up." I was angry. How could anyone not celebrate the birth of their child?

"Yeah, well that's just the way it is." She took out two slices for herself, grabbed the parmesan cheese from the refrigerator. "My mom was gone a lot with my dad since it's at the end of the summer. It's just not that important." I listened to what she said about it, but I sensed she wasn't telling the whole truth, that she was in fact bothered, but just too damn proud to admit it. That's okay. The wheels in my head were already turning.

* * *

Summer was ending, and the weather was cooling off a bit, the monsoon season tapering off to nothing. I loved the night air, cool but nowhere near cold. It was perfect walking weather, and Dagny and I took advantage of that often.

School was to start in a week and a half, and some students were coming back to start moving into their dorms and prepare. I was given my dorm for the semester and was glad to see Carrie's was in the same building this year. We decided before coming to college that we wouldn't be roommates as we knew nothing would get done.

She lived on a co-ed floor, of course, so she could have Paul up whenever she wanted to. I asked her if they were having sex already, and she said no, but it was getting close to that point. Now, I am no prude, but I did worry about her.

It was amusing. As I walked the floor of my dorm, there were all these double-bunked female-only dorms. My entire way of thinking had changed over the last few months, and I wondered how many of those roommates were or would be lovers. Whenever I saw two women walking down the street together, yet again I'm wondering. I laughed about it often, thinking what a pervert I must be.

Dagny was helping me set up my dorm, making sure we left plenty of space for Natalie when she came in a few days. I had enjoyed having my own space in the single dorm over the summer, but at the same time, I had missed her. I wondered if she would be doing the bible study thing again this semester.

"Tell me you are not going to put this back up?" I turned from hooking up my computer to see Dag looking at me over her shoulder, a tattered poster of two Hostess Twinkies posing against a fence. Their faces were drawn on with magic marker, their smiles made from the very cream that filled their bodies.

"Well, yeah. I've had that since I was twelve."

"And it shows. Come on, Chase. This belongs in, I don't know what."

I stood from the desk and walked over to her, taking the poster out of her hands. I held it out from me, looking at it with amusement. It was in horrible shape and I had been thinking of trashing it, but I'd hang it just out of principle, now. I stuck some poster gum to the back, and stuck it above my bed. Dagny shook her head and started on another box.

"You know the other day Greg had me go pick up a shipment of Corona for him, and as I headed out I passed that little place you talked about. Jillian's?" I looked at her briefly before turning back to my computer.

"Uh huh," she said distractedly as she hung clothes in the closet.

"Would you ever go back there?" I snuck a glance at her. She stopped what she was doing for a moment, thinking.

"Well, I'd say yes. I don't believe in dwelling on things and having places or people mean bad things, you know?" she looked at me, I nodded. "So I think so just to get new memories of the place, and relive the good ones I had with Darrel."

"Makes sense."

"God, I haven't been to that place in about two years." She smiled with the memory. "We had so much fun there. There was this woman who worked there named Marty who was a hoot." She shook her head. "She used to flirt with Darrel incessantly just to make him blush. Now, he wasn't the kind of person who was shy or felt threatened or shy about a flirt. So she had some gift."

As I listened, I realized it was really, really hard for me to hear. She was a bigger person than I because Darrel was definitely starting to take on negative connotations for me. I was sad the guy had died for sure, but I hated the fact that he had been such a large part of Dagny's life for so long. I hated the jealous streak that ran through me sometimes, but since Dag was so out of my grasp, I couldn't help but feel insecure about it. I sighed.

"How's my bestest friend in the whole wide world?" I was surprised to feel arms come around my neck, warmth along the back of my head and upper back. I reveled in the hug, and leaned back into it.

"She is fine. And yourself?"

"Can't complain." She set her chin on top of my head. "I got a call from my mom yesterday."

"Really?" I pulled away, turned to look at her, taking her arm in my hands, rubbing and massaging it. She nodded.

"Yup. She's coming up to Tucson for Thanksgiving."

"Really? Oh, Dag, that's great!" It had been over a year and a half since Dagny had seen her mom, and longer for her father. "But she's still going to my father for Christmas." She looked down briefly, then smiled at me, but I could tell it was forced.

"I'm sorry." I brushed some stray hair away from her face. She shrugged.

"What can you do? I can just go to your house." She winked.

"Yes, you can." I brightened immediately.

"Chase, I was kidding." She pulled away to continue unpacking my junk.

"Well I'm not. My parents loved having you there last year, and my sister won't be here. She's going to Todd's family in Oregon."

"Wow. How's your mom dealing with that?" Dagny began folding clothes she was taking from a box.

"Are you kidding? Her little perfect angel is going to be gone and she'll just be left with the oops child."

"Chase," Dagny looked at me from under her bangs, her voice full of warning. "That's not true." I shrugged.

"Either way, I won't be Carla."

"I really hate the fact that you feel this way." Dagny walked back over to me, standing over me, running her hands through my hair.

"So do I, but that's just life."

Sometimes it amazed me just how much alike Dagny and I really were, the things we had to deal with. I had never felt closer to anyone.

* * *

The month marched on, the trial finally arriving. Carrie did well on the stand, managing to hold it together, and Dagny and I both testified as planned. Paul was always there, never leaving Carrie's side. Looking across the court room at that bastard that sat so smugly at the defendant's table made me sick. He was a slimy little man, and I had so many things flash through my mind of what I wanted to do to him.

When the verdict was read that he was guilty, we were thrilled, but his sentence was pathetic. He would receive five years in prison with ninety days probation at the end. I looked over at Ronald McDivitt staring down at his legal pad, writing something. He didn't look happy.

This made me turn to my friend. Carrie was looking around, what for I wasn't sure. I think she was just trying to think about it, but I knew it would hit her later. Paul would have some interesting stuff on his hands to deal with. I felt for him. I could hear Carrie's mom crying in the seats behind Dagny and I.

"How did it go?" Natalie asked when I opened the door to our room. She was putting some new posters up on her side of the room, a roll of tape in her mouth. I shrugged, flopping down on the bed.

"The guy got a slap on the wrist. I mean, he did get time, but I doubt he'll serve much of it." I watched her, her Got Biology poster going up next. Natalie had chopped her hair over the summer and had highlighted it, which had surprised me when she'd walked through the door last week. She looked good, but different.

Every summer my roommate went to a retreat with her parents, this year being her first to actually teach some classes herself to kids ten years old and younger.

"That's really too bad." Natalie sat on her bed across from me, her hand on my knee. "At least it's over, Chase. Think of the positive."

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't think Carrie is doing too well. Her lawyer asked her what she wanted to do and she told him to leave it alone, it didn't matter anymore. I think she had it in her head that this son of a bitch would be put away forever. The justice system is just so fucked up."

"Yes, it is. I'll keep her in my prayers."

* * *

"Okay, now you have to keep your eyes shut, Dag, or I'll staple them shut."

"They're shut, they're shut. I only saw which highway we were on, jeez." I grinned, turning the wheel in the opposite direction. I knew she would peek, so I had taken off the wrong way on purpose. I had called ahead of time, and the staff had remembered Dagny well, sorry to hear about Darrel's death. We had discussed what I wanted done for Dagny, and they had happily agreed to help out. Greg had been a godsend, me saving nearly every dime I made since I had found out about Dag's birthday.

The scenery flew by, and Dagny sat in the passenger seat of my little black car affectionately named after my favorite character in a musical, Phantom. Dagny had laughed at my explanation for the name. Not only was Phantom of the Opera my favorite musical, but the car was black and had two white hubcaps on the front tires serving as the mask to make my Phantom complete. The originals had been thrown off in a little fender bender I had the first day I got the car.

"You're a nut," Dagny had said after I had told her this tale.

"Yeah, and?"

As I glanced over at my friend now, I was amazed that she was twenty-five today. I used to think of that as so old, even though it was just six years older than me. But, Dagny had taught me that age is a state of mind. You can be old and used up at nineteen, or young and vibrant at ninety.

"Okay, we're almost there." I pulled into the parking lot, mine the only one there as I had rented the place out for two hours. A huge banner was strung across the front that was colorful, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAGNY printed in different colored letters surrounded with confetti and balloons. I hoped she'd like it. I pulled the car to a stop and got out, hurrying to the passenger side to help her out. I took her hand, closing the door behind her.

"Can I look yet?"

"Nope." I knew this was torture on her as she hated to be out of control. I led her to the front door, which was opened by Marty who had a mischievous smile on her face. She mouthed a hello to me, and I smiled with a little wave.

The inside of the café had been transformed into a birthday toy land. Inflatable birthday candles the size of small children were strung up everywhere as well as colorful streamers. A table was decorated with confetti and coned birthday hats with the rubber band straps and noisemakers. A birthday cake sat on the counter, a picture of Dagny decorated the center of it, made out of rice paper. Her smiling face looked radiant against the purple frosting, purple being Dag's favorite color.

Dagny was taking deep breaths, smelling the air.

"Smells familiar. Are we in Magpie's?"

"Nope." Her brows drew as she concentrated. The staff of three, the cook and two waitresses, stood behind the bar-like counter, smiling wildly. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," She began to bounce, her excitement and curiosity reaching a new level. I tuned and spied the juke box in the corner.

"Oh, hang on."

"Come on, Chase!" I hurried over to it, looking at the selection when I found it. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel. I slipped my quarters into the slot and pushed play, then hurried back to my friend.

"Open your eyes." Without further delay green eyes opened to look around. She knew instantly where she was, and her mouth fell open.

"Oh, Chase." She looked at the counter. "Marty! You're still here?" The waitress came out from around it and gave Dag a huge hug.

"Happy birthday, hon," she said, patting Dagny's back.

"Rick and Mary. My god you guys are loyal." She laughed as she hugged the other two. Then she turned to me, wagging her finger at me. "You," she smiled, grabbing me into a warm, full hug, laying her head on my shoulder. "Thank you, Chase."

"Happy birthday, Dag."

After a wonderful lunch with Dagny's every need met, sometimes before she even asked, Dag looked at me from across the table, her unfinished piece of birthday cake still before her, and smiled.

"You did good, Chase. You really didn't have to go to all this, but you did good."

"You didn't mind? I wasn't sure if you'd be upset, or,"

"Oh god, no. I was so stunned, and so grateful. This is the best birthday I've had in a good ten years."

"Really?" I couldn't the smile off my face. She smiled and nodded. I was so charmed by that smile, absolutely captivated by the look in her eyes, the way the light shined in making the green nearly translucent. "Well, the day isn't over yet."

"What? Chase, no. You've done more than enough."

"Nope. Just tell me when you're ready to go, cause we have somewhere to be." I leaned back in my chair, patting my stomach. "I have to say, that was the most awesome cheeseburger I've ever had." I sighed, content.

"I told you. I love their food here. And I can't believe Marty remembered my favorite meal and had it ready for me." She looked at the pile of our dishes on the counter. "Meatloaf and me usually don't get along, but oh man theirs is good."

I stood by the door, the uneaten cake in its box under my arm, as I watched Dagny say her goodbyes and thanks to the folks at Jillian's. I had a good feeling, like I had done something really good.

We dropped the cake off at Dagny's place on the way out to our next and final destination, and I suggested Dag grab a pair of jeans. It might get cold later.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum was a bit of a drive, but so worth it. The look on Dagny's face was priceless.

"Oh, Chase. Is this where we're going? I've always wanted to come here!" her excitement was infectious, and I found myself nearly vibrating out of my seat. I had been here several times as a child, but being with Dagny as she experienced it for the first time would be better than any of my previous visits.

I paid for out tickets, and watched closely as Dagny looked around, her mouth open. We walked along the paths, starting at the Cactus Garden. Dagny read the little map we were given at the gate.

"Wow. More than a 140 different species are grown here," she read. We looked at them all, taking pictures with the disposable camera I had picked up.

Hours and hours went by, looking at everything from Cholla and Beavertail cactus to hummingbirds and Coatimundi in Cat Canyon. It was beautiful, and as the sun began to fall we made our way up to the overlook to see out over the Sonoran Desert. I knew this was the most awesome place to be as the sun set.

We got settled, Dagny sitting next to me, her face lit up with happiness.

"Did you enjoy this, Dag?" I asked quietly, almost feeling shy. She turned to me, staring into my eyes with the slightest bit of a smile on her lips. She searched my entire face as she nodded, her arms hugging her knees to her chest.

"Oh, yeah," she nearly whispered, her eyes still on me. People climbed up behind us, and at the sound of their voices, Dagny looked away, looking out over the scenery.

"Look at that," one of them said to someone in their party. So I did. Off in the distance storms were raging in the sky, and were vibrant as they lit up the velvet-like sky. It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen. The undersides of the heavy rain clouds could be seen as lightening flashed, spreading across the sky in a web of electricity. I reached out and put my arm around Dagny's shoulders, she laid her head against mine and watched the show of nature.

* * *

This semester was my busiest yet. I was hopping between bible study on Tuesday and Thursdays for Natalie, working or playing at Gotfry's on Friday and Saturday nights. And then my load of classes. I didn't know which way was up. I rarely saw Dagny as her load had increased ten-fold. She went to class on Monday and Wednesday and Fridays, then worked at the counseling center on Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. The University of Arizona Counseling Center was basically a place where students of the university or poor in the community could go for counseling help from doctorate students, supervised by professionals. On one of the rare mornings when we were able to swim at the same time, Dagny gushed about how much she loved it, and how frustrated she was with a little boy who she could not get through to.

"He is so adorable, Chase. He is nine years old, has these great big black eyes that always look like they're searching for someone to help him." Dagny's client was a full-blooded American Indian who had seen his father murdered over the summer. His grandmother, who was raising him on a nearby reservation, was extremely worried about him, as he had stopped talking after that. She had brought him into the counseling center for help.

"He won't say anything? What is he into?" She shrugged, splashing the water with her feet as we sat at the edge of the pool after our swim.

"I don't know, and I'm not real sure how to find out. I've talked with Levy about him, and he's given me some pointers, but I'm just a little frustrated, feel useless, you know?" She looked at me, her face filled with sadness. "I care about this little boy, and can't stand the thought of him being so traumatized for the rest of his life. He's destined for trouble if no one can get through to him." She sighed. "But I don't want to talk about that. How are your classes going?" I couldn't stop the grin that came to my face as I thought about all the fascinating things I had learned in my psych classes. For the first time in my life I looked forward to school. I told Dagny this, talking at breakneck speeds about my professors and what I thought of the information and project I had to do. Dagny watched me speak, my hands animated to try and get my point out there all the faster. She had a smile on her face.

"God, you're so cute, Chase," she said. I looked down, suddenly feeling really stupid. She seemed to sense this as she put her hand on my arm. "You're enthusiasm is wonderful. You shouldn't be ashamed of that. And trust me, Gilder will love you more for it. Don't hide it in her class. You'll be her class pet in no time." I grinned, nodded.

Before long the weather began to change and shorts were replaces with jeans and sweatshirts tied around the waist. Midterms came and went, and the holiday break loomed before us. I hadn't seen Dagny in over two weeks, and I was starting to feel the withdrawal. She wasn't even able to go to CID's shows on Friday nights, and that bothered me more than I ever thought.

I sat on my bed, back against the wall studying. I had been keeping to myself, Carrie was not available as she was so wrapped up in Paul. Other friends I had made in my classes invited me places, and sometimes I went, mostly I didn't. I appreciated the offers, but there was only one person who could take me out of my slump, and she didn't have the time.

The door to the room opened and Natalie walked in, dropping her heavy backpack to the floor before flopping down on the bed. She looked over at me, hands behind her head.

"Wow. I think you're in an even worse mood than you were in yesterday." I looked up and glared at her. "What is it, Chase? Dagny?" She sat up. "You've been moaning and groaning about her lack of time all semester." She stared at me, but still got no response. "At least Christmas break is coming up." Nothing. "You know, it amazed me when I got back from summer break that you guys had gotten impossibly closer than last year." She studied me, sizing me up. I didn't want to talk about it. I knew I was being childish, and that it was out of Dagny's control, but I still hated it. I managed to find time for her whenever I could, and even skipped a class or two when she had time off. Yeah, she had done the same for me, but I wanted more of her. I missed her.

Something was going through Natalie's head as she studied me. She tucked her bottom lip into her mouth as she though, the wheels smoking.

"Cheer up, kid." She stood and patted my knee. "Come on, come get some dinner with me." I shook my head.

"No, thanks."

"Chase, get up off your ass and come down to the cafeteria with me." I looked up, surprised by the forceful tone in Nat's voice. She usually reserved that for our bible study kids who were getting out of hand.

"Did you just curse?"

"Yes I did, so get up." Amused, I shook my head as I stood.

"I'm telling."

"Yeah, right. As often as you pray I'm sure God wouldn't even bother listening to the message you left." I smacked her as we both laughed.

Friday night came around, and so did another performance for out local barflies. Terrie and I had actually managed to start a friendship based on trust instead of lust on her part.

"So what did you ask for from Santa?" she asked as she got settled behind her drums. "Would it be a little blonde?" I glared at her.

"Fuck you."

"Okay." She laughed, whacking me on the butt with a drum stick as I strapped Than over my shoulder. I glared again before I flipped her off.

As the first set wound down to an end, I saw Dagny walk in. She smiled up at me as she walked by. I nearly jumped off the stage right then and there to give her a hug. Instead I kept the pace of the song I was singing slow, true to form, trying not to rush it just to finish. Finally, seeming like an hour later, the song ended.

"We'll be back." I threw Than's strap off me, and set her down in the guitar holder, headed down the stairs. I heard Terrie's laughter behind me.

"Hey, you," Dag said as she stood from her table to hug me. "You sounded great."

"Thanks." I sat down, a few of Dagny's friends already there. We chatted a bit, but my eyes were on Dagny. I felt like I was getting a hit of the drug I was most addicted to.

"Okay folks, I'll be back." Dagny stood up grabbing my hand. "Come on, Chase." I stood, confused. We walked outside where she stopped, leaning against Freud. "I needed to get out of there," she said, looking at me. "I wanted some time with just me and you." My heart began to soar.

"I was shocked to see you come in."

"Yeah, I gathered. I wondered if you were going to forget the words to the song you were singing." She grinned evilly. God, was I that obvious? I just chuckled.

"Yeah, well."

"So are you excited about Tuesday?" I nodded vigorously. That was the day we headed out to my folk's house for Christmas break.

"God, yes." I leaned back against the SUV next to Dag. "I am so tired."

"Oh, yeah. I hear ya. I'm looking forward to a Calgon vacation." She grinned at me, I smiled back.

After we finished up, Dagny and I went out to get something to eat and talk. We had to play catch up. She told me all about working with that little boy still, not making much progress.

"I got him to tell me his name the other day. I was so proud." She smiled. I patted her on the back.

"Go you!"

"Thank you, thank you." I kept my hand on her back, rubbing.

"You'll get it, Dag. I have faith in you."

When I got back to the dorm, Natalie was already asleep, her back to me. I undressed and was about to get in bed when I saw a piece of paper laying on my pillow. Taking it and holding it under the moonlight at the window, I saw it was a clipping from a scientific magazine. The article was titled: New Scientific Information On Why More And More Teens Are Coming Out Of The Closet.

I looked at my roommate, she hadn't moved. Curious, I read on. When I asked her about it the next day, she said she had found it interesting, and thought I might, too. This said with a wink, of course.

* * *

Christmas managed to go off without a hitch even though Carla was in Oregon. I think my parents were just as glad to have Dagny there as they would have been for Carla. The holiday went over even better then it had last year. Even I enjoyed it. We played teams in board games such as Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. Dagny and I nearly won, but alas, my father was too much for us. It was great fun.

Dagny and I swam daily, which shocked and pleased my mother to no end. Christmas morning my parents surprised me by having nearly as many gifts for Dagny as they did for me, all of Carla's gifts waiting in the corner to be opened when she came home next week. I received a music system that helped me to make my own songs and compose my own music. Dagny looked at me intently as I looked it over, seeing and imagining all the wonderful things I could do with this. God, I just wanted to be able to be open and honest with my parents, show them what I was doing with my life and how much I loved it.

We were all surrounded by a forest of wrapping paper. I started to clean it all up when Dag stopped me with a hand to my arm. I stopped and looked at her questioningly.

"I have a surprise for you, Chase." She said. My parents were smiling, holding hands. Okay, so they knew about it.


"I'm taking you to a cabin in the Rockies that belongs to a family friend. Last year you said you wished to see a white Christmas, so I want to hopefully grant your wish." I looked at her, was she serious?

"Are you serious?" She nodded.

"Yup. You interested?"

"Hell yeah!"

"Chase, your language." My mother chastised.

"Sorry. When do we leave?"

"Two days." I couldn't keep the smile off my face. I would actually be able to see and touch snow in person. I had only seen it on TV, or the few times we had a flutter or two in Tucson. I was beyond excited.

* * *

We started out on our drive early in the morning, wanting to reach the cabin by mid-afternoon. Dagny's SUV was packed with warm clothes and some toys we'd bought; a sled, snow shovels and provisions to make a snowman.

I was giddy like Dorothy, off to see the Wizard.

"So were you surprised by this?" Dag asked as she navigated the roads.

"Hell, yeah." I grinned.

"Watch your mouth, Chase." Dag said, her voice low and stern, her face breaking out into a wide smile.

"Yeah, bite me. Anyway, yeah, I was shocked. What made you do this?" she sighed.

"I don't know. I guess over Thanksgiving my mom and I talked about when we used to come here when I was a kid. I took my first step in this cabin." She turned to look at me. I smiled, imagining a tiny little Dagny taking that first wobbly step to the awe and amazement of her parents. "I haven't been here in years and years. I wonder how small it will look to me now. You know, when you do something as a kid, it seems so huge to you." She smiled. "Then when you do it again as an adult, it's almost disappointing."

"Yeah. I doubt this will be, though. I mean, it's memories that keeps you endeared to the cabin, not the grandeur of it."


The weather became noticeably colder as we headed out of Arizona and over the Colorado state line. I looked around in amazement, the huge rock formations that lined both sides of the road were not new to me, Arizona filled with the likes of this, but these were frosted in a thick layer of snow, little rivulets of ice hanging off the edges. I looked out the window wide-eyed and open mouthed at the beauty of it all. The sparse grasses on the side of the road were also tipped with ice and snow, the sky gray but not foreboding.

We turned to head toward the huge Rockies that loomed up ahead. They looked as if you could run into them at any given moment, but they simply fell back away the closer you got until suddenly, and without warning, we were surrounded by barren, snow-covered trees and narrow, windy roads. I was impressed with the way Dagny was able to maneuver the curves and twists, as if she'd done it thousands of times, turning off to more flat land, higher up, the road dropping out from the road on Dagny's side. I looked over, looking down into a snow-covered valley.

"Wow," I breathed.

"Incredible, isn't it?" I nodded, not able to say much else.

We had made good time, reaching the cabin at just past noon. Unpacking everything into the small structure, we headed to the nearest little town of Bud to pick up some supplies for our week long stay. The story was tiny, filled with about five rows of shelving packing as much merchandise in as possible. We got food, candles and matches as well as some batteries.

Back at the cabin, I was able to explore more. The cabin had two bedrooms, though only one had a bed in it, the other storage, one bathroom, the living room, and a small kitchen with a small round wooden table in it, large enough for four. The floors were wood, but large area rugs were scattered everywhere to keep feet warm on those cold winter nights. A large stone fireplace took up the entire right hand wall.

"This is just too awesome," I said, standing in the middle of the room with my hands on my hips. I looked at the furniture made of logs, very rustic. My only beef was the pair of antlers hanging over the fireplace. What on earth is so decorative about that?

"Well, I'm glad. Are you going to help me or not?" Dagny had been zooming back and forth putting stuff away, and getting started on dinner. With a final sigh of contentment, I jumped in.

Walking around the cabin that night was magnificent. The snow was not too deep, yet, maybe six inches. From what Dagny told me, it was usually three times that deep, but with Colorado's drought, the snow was just not as plentiful. I didn't care, it was snow.

I picked up a handful, rubbing the cold wetness between my fingers, reveling in the beauty of the whiteness. There was so much brown and red in Arizona, this was definitely a nice change. I stared up into the sky, the snow falling lightly, just enough to tickle your face then make it wet.

"Come on, you. Let's go in for tonight. We'll come back out tomorrow when it's a bit warmer."

The cold was something for me to get used to. I hated having to wear so many layers of clothing, but Dagny made me, nearly dressing me each time we went out. We made a fire in the fireplace every night, Dagny cooked some fantastic meals, though I tried to help her, she did most of it. She definitely had a talent in the kitchen. I had brought Melo with me, and sometimes would play for her, singing popular songs that would pop into my head.

We read to each other, took walks, waiting for that big snow that was promised by the end of the week. I waited for it, so excited I nearly bounced.

It was the most incredible week of my life. Dagny was so much fun and interesting. We had needed some good bonding time after the hectic last semester, and the one we'd go back to school with in a few weeks. I wanted to savor this time, revel in it. I had Dag all to myself, and it spoiled me thoroughly. She was so affectionate with me, always rubbing my shoulders or laying with her head in my lap as we listened to the radio and watched the fire dance. There was no television, so we were totally cut off from that sort of intrusion, instead making our own entertainment. We played endless games of chess and cards.

My favorite part was playing in the snow. I was amazed at just how creative you could be with it. I made three snowmen, each with their own distinct personality and attitude. Dagny stood back watching me finish my latest masterpiece, covering her mouth as she laughed. I looked at my creation, loving the bulge in his arms. I knelt down, working on the legs, getting them just right before standing to work on the face a bit more. He had to be just right.

"Oh my god! Never in my life did I think I'd see a buff snowman." She laughed. I grinned, standing back from him to see my Arnold Schwarzenegger look alike. He stood, legs spread wide, arms pressed to his sides because of the limits of snow. He was good, his icy muscles pronounced and obvious.

I stood in front of my creation, taking the same pose, my face hard and drawn. Dagny laughed harder when I brought my arms up to flex for her, my biceps lost in the impossibly large amount of material in the coat I wore.

I had never felt so close to another human being in my life. Dagny looked at me like I was so special to her, like I was the only person in the world, which I was in our little part of the woods. I felt my heart beating just a little bit faster that week. But the thing that I found interesting was, though yes, my body burned for her, it was mostly my heart that was calling out, not my hormones. My chest actually hurt, as if my heart were being pumped up too large for the space it was allotted. I wondered how she felt. I knew it was nothing like that, but I hoped. I wanted her to feel it, to want it.

I shoved those thoughts away, sticking them in the recycle bin in my brain.

We lay in bed, the bright light from the full moon shining in. We both lay on our backs, talking about the coming semester. I looked out the window, to my delight seeing the snow begin to fall.

"Dag, check it out." I pointed, she looked.

"Holy cow!" She got out of the bed and padded over to the window, followed by me. The snow was coming down, like a feather pillow sliced open, large flakes, and lots of them. She turned to me. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

Giggling like school girls, we ran outside dressed in sweats, sweatshirts and boots. It was cold, but we didn't care. There was already a thick layer of old snow on the ground, but all of our tracks were already nearly covered with the new snow falling. We played, throwing snowballs at each other, pushing each other into the cold blanket of white. Finally an all out snowball war. We pelted each other, hiding behind trees, trying to dodge icy missiles.

"Wait, wait!" Dagny cried out, laughter following each breathy word. "Truce! I'm so soaked." I laughed when I saw her peek out from behind her hiding place. Her hair was plastered to her face, water dripping down her nose. Her normally light gray sweatpants were nearly black from being so saturated.

"Oh, Dag. Come on." We hurried back inside, me quickly getting a fire going. Dagny stood on the thick rug in front of the fireplace, stripping out of her wet clothes. I did my best to not look, to not notice the incredibly beautiful, toned body from years of swimming. The smooth skin, glowing from the firelight.

To try and occupy my mind, I hurried to the cabinet in the bathroom and grabbed a large, thick towel to help dry her off with. When I returned to the main room, Dagny stood in just her soaked bra and underwear. I could see nearly every detail of her body through thin material. I felt guilty for looking, but couldn't help it. She was just so beautiful. Clothes could never do her justice.

"Here." I walked up behind her, wrapping the towel around her shoulders. She took the ends of it in icy hands, her entire body shivering. "I'm sorry, Dag. God, you're going to get pneumonia." I began to rub her arms to try and rub some warmth into her body and get the blood flowing.

"It's okay," she said, her teeth literally chattering, her speech slurred. "Ittt was mmy idea, annnyway." I smiled, amused by her attempt at speaking. She turned in my arms, burying her face in my neck, moaning at the warmth her ice cold nose found there.

I was wrapping my arms around her, pulling her into me for more full-body warmth when it occurred to me that Dagny's half-naked body was pressed against me. I could feel her breasts against mine, the softness and fullness. My body was suddenly lit on fire, like a match to a wick. My stomach began to do flip flops as my body responded to the contact. She was so close. This must be what it feels like to be with her, to hold her and touch her.

Dagny's arms were around my waist, but they began to move, her hands sliding around my body to y hips, her face leaving my neck. Green eyes looked into mine.

I stared down into Dagny's face, searching her gaze for some hidden message that I felt was there. Her eyes looked into mine before trailing down my nose to my mouth, my lips slightly parted to bring in more air as I was having trouble breathing. I noticed the way the firelight caressed her skin, turning it a bronze color, the side of her face that was away from the fire in shadow.

My eyes were drawn to Dagny's mouth when it opened slightly, the tongue licking along the inside of her bottom lip. My gaze flicked back up to hers as I felt myself moving. It was like a dream, her eyes getting closer just before they closed, or did mine close?

Softness pressed against my lips, Dagny's lips. The barest touch before they were back, slightly pressing harder, but just as soft. So amazing as the fullness gave in to the pressure, making you feel like you're lost in it. The softness parts just slightly, just enough for my lips to fit perfectly, like the pieces of a puzzle, drawn together as a match, but then torn apart when the puzzle is shaken.

My eyes opened as I felt the softness leave. Dagny was looking at me, bringing her hand up absently, her fingers touching her own lips. I could not read her expression beyond surprise, and I was afraid. I said nothing, just stared, waiting for her next move.

Dagny took a step back, her eyes dropping to the floor.

"Um, I'm going to take a shower," she said quietly, then turned and headed to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her with a soft click.

I felt the familiar stinging behind my eyes that had been so prevalent lately, and turned to stare into the flames. What had happened? Had I done that? Had she? I had no clue, one moment I'm standing there trying to warm Dagny up, the next I'm kissing her. How had that happened? I didn't understand. My heart felt so heavy, my lips still tingling from where Dagny's had been moments before. God, I wished they were still there. Stop it, Chase! Haven't you done enough?

Taking a shaky breath, I headed for the bedroom, slowly changing into dry clothes, my mind in a haze, my body on autopilot. I couldn't help but dissect how I felt about what had just happened. I couldn't deny that I had wanted that for so long, and now that I had it, I felt sick. Never would have imagined that.

I turned to look at the wall that the bedroom and bathroom shared. I tried to imagine what Dagny was thinking, what was she doing in that shower stall? Washing herself and warming up with no thoughts, blocking it out? Or was she leaning against the wall as stunned as I was?

It didn't matter. I felt so empty, like some part of me had been ripped out, taken away from me. I had treaded on ground that was strictly forbidden. The line had been crossed, and I was sure the friendship had been tarnished because of it.

I plopped down on the mattress, trying to lay as close to the edge of the bed as possible, giving Dagny more than enough space from me, as I was sure she'd want that, when she finally came to bed. I stared up at the ceiling, my hand behind my head, the stinging still very present. I was holding it back. She didn't need to see my pain or sorrow or frustration.

The water was turned off, and after a while, the bathroom door opened. My stomach lurched, like a kid awaiting her father's wrath. I tried to control my breathing, but it didn't do a whole lot of good.

Minutes went by, then more minutes. I started to get confused. Where was she? I quietly slipped out of bed to stand at the doorway of the room. Dagny was sitting on the couch, her back to me as she stared into the fire. I had the feeling she was not coming back tonight.

I crept back to the bed, laid down, pulling the comforter to my chin as I let the tears come.

Part 12

original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com