Part 4

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers see part 1.

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

I sat at my desk, my heart beat finally starting to slow as Dagny collected the last of the papers. That was just not nice. My first finals experience, and it was a so-so event. It could go either way for me. I exhaled for the first time in nearly four hours. I felt faint, but in general just damn glad it was over.

I looked around to see everyone else either looking around, too, or burying their face in their hands. But as everyone did their own thing, there was almost a community sigh of relief, a quiet that was part worry, happiness, and exhaustion. Almost like a tomb.

I looked to the front of the room to see Dagny getting all the tests in order, stacking them neatly as she looked out at all of us. She found my gaze and smiled with a slight nod, and wiped her hand across her forehead with a smile. I nodded and smiled in return.

The class was over, and students were trickling out, some talking with Dagny, shaking her hand, thanking her for a great class. I sat where I was, trying to get my bearings again. My mind felt like mush.

"You still breathing?" I looked up to see a very amused Dagny looking down at me, arms crossed over her chest. I nodded, mouth slightly open. She laughed. "Come on. You look like you could use a drink. Coke okay?"

We found a small restaurant off campus, sat in a booth near the back. I hadn't eaten in two days, so worried about finals and too busy studying for the first time in my life. I had Bordeux's yesterday, and it had been just as mind boggling as Dagny's.

"So what do you think of college now?" she grinned as she prepared her cheeseburger. I glared.

"It sucks. Why did you make that test so damn hard?" I put some salsa on my taco salad. She laughed again, shaking her head.

"Ain't them just the breaks." I shrugged.

"All in all I have to say that these weren't all that hard, really." I looked at her, fork poised to my mouth. "It was actually quite interesting. I'm thinking I really like this psychology stuff." I looked at her from under my bangs. She was smiling like a kid at Christmas.

"Really?" she put both hands flat on the table, slightly leaning forward. "I'm so glad." I smiled at her enthusiasm.

"Me, too." I wondered what she'd do if I told her I was thinking of going into it. I mean, hell, I thought it was interesting and I seemed to be good at it. We'd see how my finals turned out.

"So what are your plans for Christmas?" I asked, wiping some cheese from my lip as I took a bite. Dagny looked down at her lunch, dipping a French fry in her special sauce.

"Well, since my father is still overseas, my mom is going over to be with him." She looked up at me with a small smile. She popped the fried potato into her mouth.

"Oh. So, you get to have a foreign holiday?" I put my taco down, wiping my hands. She shrugged.

"No. It's really not worth it to me to fly all that way for just a few weeks anyway. Probably just hang out here. That's what I did last year." She smiled. "I bought this beautiful little tree, it's about three feet tall. Decorated the little guy, and stuck him in the corner of my apartment." She sipped her Coke. "I go all out."

"But you're alone." I said, incredulous.

"What can you do? I just make the best of it. And I'll have you know I make a mean turkey." I looked down at the remains of my taco mess, and without much thought, and certainly without talking with the folks,

"Why don't you come home with me?" I swallowed as the realization of what I've just done smashed into my brain.

"Oh, I couldn't intrude on your family like that." She smiled. I shrugged.

"It wouldn't be an intrusion at all. We usually just end up fighting each other anyway. I mean, at least now I'd have someone in my corner."

She looked at me, cocking her head to the side as she studied me. I just stared, not wanting to lower my eyes because I didn't want her to think I'd changed my mind or didn't mean it. She smiled, covered my hand with her own.

"You got yourself a dinner guest."

I sat on my bed, phone up to my ear. I watched Natalie as she knelt by the side of her bed on the folded towels, hands pressed together. She had been that way for nearly thirty minutes. What did she do? Shoot someone? I leaned back against the wall as I listened to the ring of the phone. Ring number three, number four. I was about ready to hang up when my mother's voice was suddenly there.


"Hello, honey. How did finals go?" I rolled my eyes, my fingers playing with the chord of the phone.

"Fine. I have one more to go. But the others weren't so bad." I wiggled my toes, watching them for something to do to keep my mind busy so I wouldn't tell my mom what I really thought as I listened to her babble on and on about Carla, and the special mentions of her in the newspaper in Berkley. "That's great. And I'm glad you mentioned her coming home for Christmas because that's why I'm calling."

"Why's that?" her voice hardened a little. I think she was afraid I was going to tell her I was either indeed running away with that circus, or worse, dropping out of school to move back home.

"I've invited a friend to come with me." The line grew silent for a moment though I could hear her breathing.


"Dagny." Like the sun bursting through the clouds, my mother's voice lightened.

"Really? How nice." I could hear the smile. "Why isn't she going to her own family?"

"They'll be out of the country."

"Oh, what a shame. You bring her along, and I just can't wait! She's such a nice girl, so polite, and so ambitious." I closed my eyes. Somehow, to my amazement, I was not jealous of the fact that Dagny could provoke such excitement. Perhaps because I understood. I could just imagine Dag in the middle of my family. The large table that my mom would put leaves in to extend it to its full length, large enough to accommodate twelve people. "Your grandparents will be there, and Carla is bringing Todd of course." I grimaced at the thought of my sister's boyfriend. He was about as interesting as a field post.

After another half hour of listening to my mom run on and on about her plans for the holidays, I hung up with her, running my hands through my hair. I turned to see my roommate had finished her prayers and was lying in bed, hands behind her head. She was staring up at the ceiling. I drew my brows, a realization suddenly coming to my mind.

"Natalie?" she looked at me, raised eyebrows in question. "What is your major?"

"Biology." I looked at her, shocked. "I know what you're thinking. It definitely goes against my beliefs." She shrugged. "I love it." I shook my head with a smile as I flipped off my desk lamp to get some sleep.

* * *

The scenery whooshed by as I drove along the highway, headed home. I turned to my right to see Dagny looking out her window, arm resting along the door, window open to allow the breeze from unusually warm seventy-five degree December day, in. The wind was blowing through her hair, blowing it away from her face, her sunglasses mirroring the sun high above us.

"Such a beautiful day." She said, smiling at me. I nodded.

"Too hot, though. I want snow. Never had a white Christmas in my entire life. Hell, I've barely even seen snow." She looked at me, pulling shaded down to look at me over the rims.

"You're kidding me." I shook my head. "Well, we'll have to take care of that." She put the glasses back in place, turned up the radio. I couldn't keep the smile from my face at her energy and exuberance. She was such a different person away from school, away from all the stress and responsibilities.

All classes and the semester had officially ended Monday, so I was also like a kid in a candy store, all smiles and laughter. I wasn't expecting to be so excited to go home for Christmas, but then I wasn't expecting to be bringing home my Psychology teacher either.

There was only one car in the driveway, and it belonged to my father. I wasn't sure if they were home or not. Dagny smiled, taking her glasses off and putting them on top of her head.

My dad had put up the Christmas lights all around the place already, the little plastic Santa with the light in him was set next to the front door, his hand up to wave at all the kids. Eight plastic reindeer followed by Santa and his sleigh were positioned on the roof.

"Looks just like it always did." She stared out at the adobe-style house that I had been born and raised in. "It was always such a beautiful place. I love the decorations." I tried to look at it through the eyes of someone who hadn't seen the house for ten years, and I did realize that it was a nice home. I had just taken it for granted for so long that I only saw the cage, not the shelter.

We grabbed our bags and headed inside. It was nice and cool, a lot of the house furnished in hard wood flooring and Mexican tile as opposed to carpet to keep things comfortable. Rugs were scattered here and there, especially in the bedrooms.

"Hello?" I called out. No answer. I looked around to see the house was empty. I figured they were probably out in the pool or hot tub. "Well, come on." I lead Dagny upstairs to the room she'd be using. It was small, but had a nice big bed, an arm chair in the corner and a dresser as well as her own bathroom.

Dagny dropped her bag on the bed, turned in a slow circle to take in the entire room. "Do you remember that weekend I stayed with you when your parents went skiing in Colorado?" she looked at me, a smile on her face. I thought for a moment, then my smile matched hers. I nodded.

"Yeah. I've never eaten so many S'mores in all my life. And, I'll have you know, I haven't touched them since." Dagny threw her head back and laughed. She put her arm around my shoulder.

"Come on, Chase. Let's go find some trouble."

We hurried down the stairs, giggling like school children. I was thrown back in time to an eight year old who liked her babysitter better than her own parents.

The weekend my parents went on their get away, at first I had been so upset with them for not taking me, afraid I would be stuck staying with my grandma Carol. She always took me to the nursing home when she took care of her mother, and wanted to show me off to all my great grandmother's friends. I always got so bored.

I stomped my foot on the floor, my arms crossed over my chest as I pouted.

"I wanna go." I didn't want to cry, but could feel the sting behind my eyes, trying to blink it away, which was the wrong thing to do. When I blinked it forced the tear out of my left eye. Impatiently I wiped it away.

"Now stop that, Chase." My father said, his finger in my face. "Your mother and I are going, and you're not. That's final." He went outside to load the car. My mother came down the stairs, heavy coats folded over her arm. She looked at me.

"Honey, you'll have fun." She kissed me on the forehead.

"I won't! Grandma will make me go to the nursing home." I stomped again. I was a bit of a brat as a child. My mom smiled, running her hand through my hair.

"You're not going to Grandma Carol's, honey. Dagny is coming to stay with you." I stared up at her, ready for her to tell me she was only joking and Grandma would be there in a few minutes. She held her smiled, understanding in her eyes.

"Really?" I squeaked out weakly. She nodded, kissed my forehead again. I was thrilled, but didn't want them to see that, so I continued to pout. Maybe if I acted sad long enough they would take me and Dagny both with them. It never worked, but it didn't hurt to keep trying.

My mom leaned down to my ear. "I don't blame you, honey. I wouldn't want to go with Grandma Carol, either." She stood, smiling down at me. I looked up at her, incredulous. She'd say something like that? I grinned. She put her finger to her lips for me to be quiet. I nodded. Our little secret. I liked it when mom trusted me with little secrets.

An hour later Dagny had rode up on her bike, a smile on her face. She had a grocery bag on her handlebars, and brought it in with her to show me after my parents left.

"Do you know what S'more's are, Chase?" I shook my head. "Well this weekend you're going to find out."

That night we had set everything out on the back patio, a jar of marshmallow cream, a small stack of Hershey bars, and a box of Graham crackers.

"Okay, this is what you do." She then began to build the treat, my eyes opened wide as I watched her intently. A smiled spread across my face at the complete creation, and I couldn't wait to get that thing in my mouth. "Here you go." I took the S'more most willingly from her, took my first bite, my eyes closing as the different tastes mixed together in my mouth. Oh, yeah. I could definitely handle a weekend of this.

Dagny went out with my father to put more Christmas lights up on the roof, and my mother and I worked on the dinner. It was Christmas eve, and I was excited. Tonight, as was always our custom, we'd have a simple dinner and cookies, everyone opening one gift each, the rest to wait for tomorrow morning.

"So how is school going?" My mom asked as she took all the innards from the turkey. I watched in warped fascination.

"It's going good. I'm starting to like it more, I think."

"You'd better." She looked at me over her shoulder. "College isn't cheap, Chase." She turned back to the bird in the sink.

"Yeah, I know." I started on chopping vegetables for the salad for tonight's dinner.

"Have you given any thought to a career?" my mom finally found the bag of discarded turkey goodies that the dogs would find most yummy.

"Well, um, actually I'm thinking about psychology." Her hands stopped, pulling out of the bird to rest on the edge of the sink. She looked at me.

"What can you possibly do with that?" she continued with the turkey. I shrugged, at a loss of what to say. I had been excited and feeling better since I'd found something that had caught my interest. I hadn't necessarily been excited to tell my parents about it, maybe because I expected just such a reaction.

"Well, there's a few things. I plan to go talk with my advisor after break." I shoved my sliced tomato slices to the side, and started on another one. I could feel my blood beginning to boil a bit, but holding it down as much as possible.

"I don't know, Chase. Your father and I were hoping you'd find something that could be very lucrative for you in the future, something that would have a future." She looked at me again, but I couldn't return the look. My chopping had slowed down to barely anything as I tried to keep my emotions in. I felt my hopes dashed, crumbling around my feet.

"Aunt Shelly is a counselor." I said, my voice quiet.

"Yes, and Aunt Shelly is crazy. Of course she'd go into something like that, she understands those people. You, Chase are not crazy." I looked up at her. You people make me crazy! In my mind I yelled it, yelled it loud, then ran from the room. In reality I nodded, and continued to cut up vegetables.

When dinner was finished, I wandered off to find a book. I kept thinking over and over again about what my mom had said, and her rejection of my idea. I felt my confidence in it slipping more and more. Was it the right thing to do? I hated law, had no interest in cutting people up. I could barely balance my own checkbook let alone run a business or do someone else's checkbook. I sighed. I just did not know.

"Hey." I looked up from Stephen King's 'The Talisman' to see Dagny walking into the room. "I've been looking for you." She sat down on the couch next to me. "And here you are in the living room, all snuggled up with a book." She looked over at the bookshelves that lined the entire wall. She got up and walked over to it. "My mom was an avid reader, still is, actually." She picked a book out, flipping through its pages. "This book right here?" she showed me Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'. "This is where I got my name." She opened up to a page, showed me. "This character right here." She tapped it with her finger for me.

"Dagny Taggart?" I looked at her, she nodded.

"Yup. My mom's favorite character. You should have seen how I was teased for that when I was a kid." She shook her head with a small smile. "So how are you?" she plopped down beside me again, taking the book from me. I shrugged.

"I'm okay." I stared down at the book in my hands. I wanted to talk to her about my conversation with my mom, but didn't know how. I had never been very good at opening up to people. Would she laugh at me and tell me I was being childish? Overly sensitive?

"You sure? You lookdown." She leaned her head down to see my face. I smiled, looking up at her.

"Yeah." Maybe I'd talk about it later.

* * *

My sister, Carla stood at the sink of the main bathroom in our hall near our bedrooms. She was removing her makeup with some sort of white cream. She saw me pass by in the mirror.

"Chase?" I stopped, backtracked to lean in the doorway.

"Huh?" she smiled at me, patting the toilet lid.

"I haven't seen you in so long." I looked at my sister. She really was a beautiful girl, her long, flowing hair, chestnut like my mom's, and her gray/blue eyes. She was not as tall as I was, but taller than our mother. Good height.

I sat on the seat, my legs spread, elbow on both so I could split at any given sign of trouble. We weren't the closest of sisters.

"So how have you been? How is everything?" she continued with her before bed regimen, face mask to unclog your pores, followed by an abrasive cleanser that was left on for an additional ten minutes. Right now as she looked at me, she looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost, her hair pulled back into a ponytail to keep it off her face mask-white face.

"I'm okay. Just glad to have a firm foothold now that the first semester is over." I grabbed a tube of her gunk and read the back.

"I'm sure. It's not fun to start." She smiled at me, I smiled back.

"Yeah." I put the tube back, grabbed another one.

"I'm proud of you, Chase. I think it's fantastic that you're going, and doing it. Mom and dad haven't always been easy on you." She brushed some hair off my forehead. I was stunned. Who is this person, and where's the pod she came out of ?


"You'll do good, Chase. You're a good egg." She ran her hand from my bangs to the top of my head, messed up my hair like I was a four year old. I giggled as I slapped her hand away.

"Thanks, Carla." I stood, smiled, and walked out.

* * *

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the living room, the star nearly reaching the ten foot ceiling. Lights were wrapped around it in abundance. Tinsel, little silver and gold balls and bells adorned it, making the tree glow when the lights were all off save for the tree's lights. Underneath presents were piled up, covering the bottom half of it, and spread out into the room. My mom told me they had run out and gotten Dagny something, which shocked me to no end, but it was a very nice gesture, and made me feel like crap since I had nothing for her.

Christmas eve came, and we sat around the tree drinking homemade eggnog and laughing. I have to say, this was the most fun I'd had with my family in so long, and I knew it was because of Dagny. She was funny, interesting, and everyone in the room just fell in love with her.

I watched her, the way she interacted with my parents, and could match Carla point for point on just about any subject she brought up. Even the stiff Todd got into the action as they discussed the pros and cons of cloning. I looked at my parents, wondering if my father would get involved, but he just sat back, arm on the back of the couch around my mom's shoulders, ankle crossed over his knee. He had a smile on his face, looking proud. My mother looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.

I sighed, a feeling of satisfied peace washing over me.

"You have the most wonderful family." I looked at Dagny as we walked off to bed. I grinned, shook my head.

"You can have them." She laughed, rubbing my shoulder.

"Be glad you're all together, Chase." She smiled again, turned to head into her bedroom.

* * *

I laid in bed, the night drug on and still sleep eluded me. I glanced out the window to see the moon was high and bright. Perfect night for Santa. I smiled, remember the days when I was a kid, nearly having to tape my eyes shut to get any sleep. Christmas had always been a huge deal in my family. My mother's parents were long gone, so it had just been my father's folks, my folks and Carla. My mom's sister, Shelly had been the black sheep of the family for so many years, I couldn't even remember what she had done that was such a sin, now.

I shook my head to clear it. It didn't matter.

Dagny was in the room next to mine, we shared a wall at our heads. I wondered if she was asleep, if so, was she dreaming? What about? She was so different here, away from school. So relaxed, almost like a kid. She was fun and interesting at UA, but nothing like now. Today she had wadded up some wrapping paper and thrown it at me, ending up in an all out paper war, most of the make-shift snowballs being recycled as ammo. Even my parents had gotten into the action.

I couldn't keep the smile off my face when I was startled by a knock on the wall just above my head. My brows drew until the smile returned. I brought my hand up, quickly knocking five times. Within a few seconds the appropriate two knocks were returned. I chuckled to myself, knocked again, which was quickly followed by matching disembodied knocks. I felt like a little kid, giggling as our game continued, careful not to knock too loud and wake the rest of the house. The knocking stopped, and I was disappointed. Then I barely heard my name being called. I repositioned myself so I could put my ear to the wall.

"Chase? Can you hear me?"

"Yes," I pushed my ear as close to the wall as I could without pushing it inside my head. "Barely, but yeah."

"Merry Christmas." I looked at my alarm clock: 12:04 a.m. I smiled.

"Merry Christmas."

"Good night." I was a bit bummed, but I knew we both needed sleep.


I rolled over, a smile on my face as I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.

Light was streaming in, right into my eyes, no less. I squeezed them shut as I rolled over to give the sun my back. Too late. I was awake. I groaned as I pushed myself out of bed, grabbing a pair of boxers and tank to wear downstairs.

Everything was quiet as I crept down the stairs, feeling like I was nine again, not sure if I should be up. I made my way to the kitchen to put on the coffee, knowing it would be The Grench Who Stole Christmas if I didn't. Every year my mom bought a special blend of coffee from a specialty store, and this year was no different. I saw the brown bag folded and taped shut, next to the maker, picked it up. Chocolate Burst. Sounded good.

Coffee going, I turned to head to the living room, but sucked in a breath as I nearly ran smack into Dagny. I put my hand to my chest.

"God, you scared the crap out of me." I looked at her grinning face to see that her hair was wet. I was confused as my eyes drifted down to see her standing there in a bathing suit, towel wrapped loosely around her shoulders.

"Sorry." She put her hand on my shoulder. "You mom said I could use the pool. I go for a swim every morning."

"You still go out there and put your life in Poseidon's hands, huh?" she grinned.

"Yup. Every chance I get." She turned, sniffing the air. "Is that coffee brewing?" I nodded.

"Yup. Chocolate Burst. You're amongst drinkers here, my friend." I turned headed back into the kitchen, followed by Dagny.

"And that's bad because why again?" I stood at the counter in front of the maker, waiting for it to perk it's last perk so I could pour us some. She stood next to me, slightly leaning over me to get a better smell. "Oh, that smells good." She took a step back from me. "I'm going to go get dried off and changed, then you can warm me up with a cup of that stuff." With a smile, she was gone. I watched her, watched everything about her. The way the towel clung to her body, the material wet from her wet suit and skin. He calves, muscular from years of swimming. The way her hair stuck up just a little in the back where it was starting to dry, turned a dark blonde with random streaks of darker color. She was beautiful.

Finally everyone managed to get their butts out of bed, and somewhat presentable, gathered once again in the living room. The laughter was a bit more muted as my family tried to fight the sleepiness, and get into the groove for a long day. My mom had brought out a tray loaded with homemade cookies, cakes, patzels, you name it. The one day of the year that she actually encouraged junk food before noon.

Within moments the room was filled with the sounds of paper being ripped and crumpled, and the oohs and ahhs of happy gift recipients. Dagny sat on the floor next to the couch I was sitting on, her back resting near my legs as she watched a look of pure delight on her face. After a bit, Todd stood from the loveseat he and Carla were sharing.

"Um, if I could have everyone's attention?" he ran a hand through his close-cropped brown hair, his shorts and tee baring the name of he and Carla's shared school. Everyone stopped what they were doing, giving him their full attention. I looked at my mom to see she was nearly vibrating out of her seat. Looking back at Todd, he had turned back to my sister, bending down on one knee. My eyes got wide, and I held my breath. Todd picked up a small package he had set near his pile of gifts.

"Carla, this is for you." He handed it to her, and a curious Carla took it, turning the wrapped packaged this way and that. Finally she opened it, careful not to rip the beautiful ivory paper. She held up a dark green velvet jeweler's box, looking at him, then back to the box. The lid squeaked over so slightly as it was slowly opened.

"Oh, Todd." She breathed, her hand going to her mouth. Todd said nothing as he watched. I could see him sweating, and felt bad for the guy. I looked down at Dagny who was also watching with baited breath.

"Will you marry me, as soon as we both finish school?" Carla looked up into his eyes, which I imagined were so expectant and hopeful. Leave it to them to throw school in there. She nodded, her eyes filling with tears. My mom sobbed quietly across the room, my father looking like he'd already walked my sister down the aisle. He let out a sigh, gathered her into his arms.

"How sweet." Dagny whispered. I looked down at her, and sighed.

* * *

My mom started getting dinner together as Carla showed us her ring. It was beautiful, white gold band with a larger diamond in the center, and two smaller to either side. Simple and elegant. Dagny caught my eye, and nodded toward the French doors that would lead to the back patio. I followed.

"Some day, huh? Your mom's dinner smells so good." She took a deep breath, exhaling with a smile. "I can't tell you the last really good home cooked meal I had." I nodded.

"Yeah, know what you mean." We walked to the side of the pool, staring down into the crystal clear blue water. "Did you like the satchel my parents gave you?" I finally asked.

"Yes. It came as quite a surprise, I must admit. I really didn't expect anything. But, it was truly a nice gesture on their part." She reached into her pocket, withdrawing a piece of folded paper, handing it to me. "This is for you. I guess you could kind of say it was my gift to you." She smiled at me. Curious, I took the paper and unfolded it to find a computer print out of my records for her class. I scanned the page until my eyes found my final grade. 96% A. I looked up at her, my eyes wide.

"Is this my grade?" she nodded. "No shit?" I looked at it again. She put her hand on my arm to get my attention. I looked into beautiful green eyes.

"I want you to know that you earned that grade, Chase. You and I may be friends, and have a past, but I gave you no extra favors. You pulled that off all on your own." She pointed to the A. I smiled, nodded my understanding. "Merry Christmas." She grinned. I smiled back.

"Merry Christmas. Oh, I guess this will be my gift to you; I've decided to go into Psychology." Her eyes lit up as she looked at.

"Really?" I nodded. "Oh, Chase, that's wonderful. I think you'll do great things with it. What made you decide to do that?"

I shrugged, beginning to walk along side the pool again. "I don't know. Great teacher, I guess." She nudged my shoulder playfully with hers.

"Thanks." We were both quiet for a few moments. "So you never learned to swim, huh?" I shook my head. "Hm. Interesting."

I smacked my lips, comfortable in my own bed, arms wrapped around my pillow. I hadn't slept so well since before finals. Eager for my dream to continue, I sighed.

"Chase?" my brows knitted as I felt my body being shaken. Deciding to ignore it, I smacked my lips again. "Chase, wake up." My eyes slowly open, my very happy to be thus. Dagny was standing over me, her hand on my shoulder. I looked up at her wondering what the hell the deal was. She smiled when she saw that I was awake. "Come on. Come with me." I saw she wore her bathing suit with a pair of shorts on, her towel around her neck.

"Why? Where?" I mumbled, trying to tell myself that it wasn't still dark out, that I wasn't being pulled out of sleep during my vacation.

"Just come on." She grabbed my arm and tugged. With a groan I finally got up. "Get your suit on." Were her last words before she sauntered out of my bedroom. Was she serious?

I followed Dagny down the stairs, and out the back door where she took off her shorts, and tossed her towel onto the lounger at poolside. She pushed some lose hair back behind her ear, her suit molded to the perfect shape of her body. I could not take my eyes off of her. Her breasts, slightly pushed together from the tight fitting Speedo, her legs muscular and gorgeous. Her butt-

"Come on." Shaken out of my reverie, and feeling guilty for getting caught, I laid my towel next to hers. I had noticed that spending this one on one time with Dagny over the last week had sent my mind into outer space. My confusion grew daily, my attraction grew hourly. I stopped for a moment, staring at her as she dipped her toe into the pool to test the water. My attraction? What did that mean? Did mean like girl/guy attraction? As in physical, what Carrie felt for every single person she came upon? What did that say for me? Was it possible that I, that I,. I shook my head. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted to find out why the hell Dag had drug me out of bed at five in the morning.

"Is there a point to this?" I pouted.

"There sure is." Without further ado, Dagny dived into the deep end, disappearing beneath the surface of the lit water, her body black in silhouette before she broke through the surface, eyes squeezes shut, hair plastered to her head as she shook the water off, and smiled. "Oh, that felt good." I just stared at her, arms crossed over my chest, feeling very uncomfortable and vulnerable standing on the edge of my parent's pool in a bathing suit. I hated those things, and had to dig for it as I didn't really have a use for them. I thought about the last time I had worn it. Why I had I bought the suit again? Like lightening, my thoughts evaporated as I came back to earth. Why did Dagny want me in it? I turned my attention back to my old TA, and was surprised to see her looking at me. She wasn't looking in to my eyes, or looking at me like I was a moron like she usually did when I got lost in my own world. She was actually looking at me, as if for the first time. Confused, I suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

"Dagny?" shaking her head, she looked up at me with a smile. Seeing I had her attention again, but still wondering what was up with that, I knelt down as she swam to the edge of the water, resting her forearms on the cement surrounding the pool. "Why did you drag me out here?"

"I'm going to teach you to swim finally." I was taken aback.

"You're going to do what?"

"Yup. So, come on in. The water's great." She smiled at her own joke, pushed off the wall to float on her back toward the middle of the pool.

"No, Dagny. I don't think that's such a good idea." I stared out over the water, thinking about how much of it could be in my lungs in a matter of seconds.

"Come on, Chase. I felt so bad I couldn't teach you when you were eight. Let me teach you now." I shook my head. "Please?" hearing the pleading in her voice and seeing the hope in her eyes, reluctantly, I nodded. "Yay!" she clapped her hands, swam to the edge of the pool again by the ladder. I walked over to it, slowly stepped down into the water, holding my breath as I got used to the cold water. This would definitely wake you up in the morning.

"So do I get the little orange float things again?" I muttered, my words slurred as my teeth rattled against the cold. "God, this is cold."

"I know. You'll get used to it, I promise. And, no. You're taller than I am now, so you'll do just fine in the five foot." I grinned. How things change.

"Okay, I'm in. Now what?" I looked at her for help. She made her way over to me in that slow-motion walk that always amused me.

"Okay, now first of all you have to trust me." She looked into my eyes. "Okay?" I nodded. "Good. Know that I'm not going to let anything happen to you, and we can stop at any time." Again I nodded. Good to know, thought I seriously doubted I'd take her up on it. I didn't want to disappoint her.

Dagny went over the ways to breath, different strokes that I could do, ways to not panic. Just as in the classroom teaching her love of Psychology, her passion for the water was easily and clearly conveyed to me. She made it seem less scary and easy to conquer the world of swimming.

"Okay, are you ready to try?" she asked, her hand on my arm.

"I think so." I looked down into the depths of the water, glittering gold with the rays of the rising sun.

"You sure?" I nodded. If I didn't try this now, I'd never do it. "Okay. Want to copy me, what I do?"

"Okay." I watched her as she pushed off of the bottom of the pool with the ball of her foot, and let her body be submerged, her head above the water as she looked back at me, nodding that I should follow. I did. I felt the air in my lungs seem to harden as my body took on the burden of the pressure on it, and for a second I wanted to panic. But then all of Dagny's instructions and words of advice came back to me. I can do this, I can do this. I can, I can.

I kept Dagny in my sights, seeing her was my source of strength, knowing I was doing this for her, and that she could save me should anything go wrong. Then suddenly, as if by a divine blow, I felt my drive coming from inside, not from fear. I wanted to do this, and I knew that I could. I threw myself into it, letting my head turn to the other side as I came up for air, pulling myself through the water with a grace I had never experienced before. I put my hand out, just as Dagny had taught me, and felt the wall. I stopped, putting my feet down, and turned to find a proud Dagny standing by the wall, watching me. She had the most beautiful look on her face, her eyes shining, arms crossed over her shoulders. I smiled, so mirrored it.

"I did it." I whispered. She nodded.

"Yes you did." She walked over to me, grabbed me in a monster hug, her body pressed to mine. It nearly knocked the wind out of me with its force, which wasn't good since I was kind of short on wind, anyway, but I went with it. I wrapped my arms around her, holding her tight, grateful for her faith in me. She always made me feel I could do anything.

"Thank you." I said in her ear, hugging her tighter. After a few moments, Dagny slowly pulled away, her hands on my arms. She looked up into my eyes.

"I'm proud of you, Chase. For so many reasons. You have turned into such a wonderful woman, and I'm proud to have been your babysitter ten years ago, and I'm proud to have been your teacher last semester, and I'm proud to be your friend now." I stared at her, stunned.

"Thank you, Dag. Um, I don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to be said." She patted my arm with a smile. "Just keep being you. You're doing one hall of a job." I chuckled.

"You, too. You're a pretty cool chick." It was her turn to laugh. "Care to swim a lap with me?"

"You're on."

* * *

I closed the trunk of my car, the last of our stuff put in. I know my folks would be alright with Dagny and I leaving now because they had so much to discuss with Carla and Todd's wedding plans. I'm sure they would be glad to not have any distractions.

My mom came outside, a box that had once held a case of soda loaded with Tupperware dished of Christmas dinner leftovers.

"You two have a safe drive." She said as she hugged me.

"Thanks, mom. We don't have far to go,"

"I know, but I just miss you." She kissed my cheek, and pulled away. "Dagny, honey, it was truly a pleasure to have you, and you are welcome here anytime." She hugged Dagny to my surprise. Carla and Todd stood at the front door watching out goodbyes, waving to us. I waved back as my father hugged me.

"We'll see you on your birthday." He said, patting my shoulder.

"Oh, honey, I nearly forgot to ask. Are you coming home for your birthday?" I shrugged. I really didn't want to, but knew my mom would absolutely devastated if I didn't.

"Sure. Tell me a time."

"Okay, love." She hugged me again. "Don't forget what we talked about with your future, honey. You really have to think these things through." She said in my ear. I squeezed my eyes shut, but nodded.

I got into my car, thrilled to be going back to school. Who would have thought I'd ever say that?


Part 5

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