Part 7

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers, see part 1.

Thanks to Linda and TL.

All original songs by Alexa Hoffman.

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 gathered my gear to follow Natalie out the door to Tuesday night bible study. I had to admit, I had missed these during the holiday break, and was glad to get back into it. This was the third Tuesday since school had been back in session, and we had had two Thursday nights with the kids. Those were my favorite.

"How's your friend doing, Chase? Poor thing." Natalie held the door open to me so I could lug Melo through it.

"Yeah, she's okay, I guess. She finally told her parents, and wow, were they not happy." I looked at her to emphasize my point. "Her dad wanted to go hunt the guy down and pull off his, well, you know." Natalie grinned at my attempt to be polite.
She nodded.

"If it had been my daughter I would have wanted to pull his dick off, too." I stared at her, my mouth hanging open. "Well, it's true." I shook my head in astonishment. That girl never ceased to amuse me.

"And now they're starting up court procedures. Carrie's parents found a lawyer like the next day, and started everything." I butted the door to the building open, holding it open for Natalie with my foot.

"Thanks. At one point you had mentioned that you and Dagny may have to testify. Do you?" I nodded, unlocking my car.

"Yup. I got my subpoena the other day. Not looking forward to this, let me tell you."

"Bless your heart. Okay, see you there." My roommate smiled at me as she got into her car so I could follow her. We always drove separate cars as I left way before she did. I was not in the mood to be converted and stay for the actual lessons. Natalie was great and respected that.

As I drove to the Y I thought about Carrie. She had kept a pretty low profile for the last couple weeks. I saw her often, but mainly because I went to her dorm on a daily basis, though she did call me often, usually around two in the morning when she woke from a nightmare during the "anniversary time", which she had started to call it. From what I had heard from her other friends, she still went out periodically to have fun, but avoided bars and parties. They said she rarely drank and had stopped doing pot altogether. I wondered how long that would last.

Dagny had been so busy with her school schedule I barely saw her. I missed her so much, and felt the weight of that all the time. I sighed. At least she'd be there tomorrow night at Gotfry's for the underage night. Well, I hoped, anyway. She had told me Sunday that there were no guarantees with that. She would do her best. I sighed again. My birthday tomorrow night, and I may not be able to spend it with her.

The usual group was at the YWCA when Natalie and I walked into the room, Melo slung across my back like, as Natalie put it, "My sword to do battle for God." I set up, looking over the music for tonight, and getting myself mentally ready.

As I played I thought back to last nights rehearsal at Doug's. We had just run through our music for the next night and were packing up to go. Terrie walked up to me, a smile on her face.

"Hey," she said. I smiled back but kept packing up Melo and Than. "What are you doing tomorrow night?" I looked at her, my brows drawn.

"Well, I have plans to help a friend out, but other than that," I shrugged.

"Good. What time do you finish up with your friend?"

"Whenever I decide to leave." I grinned.

"Wow, you don't make this easy on a girl, do you?" I just stared at her. "What do you say to getting something to eat with me? You know, when you're done. I'm free all night, so you could just call whenever." She leaned against the wall, her hand on her hip. I looked at her, her jeans tight as usual, the shirt she wore also tight, low-cut, but not slutty. She looked good. I looked back at her face, the long earrings she wore brushing against her neck.

"Well, um, I guess. We could grab something, yeah." Her smile widened, looking almost predatory.

"Great. Do you have a heavy day on Wednesday?"


"Even better." She pushed off the wall, grabbed her sticks off the seat behind the drum set. "Give me a call." As she passed by she handed me a little card. It was her business card with her name, work phone and address, as well as her home phone. I glanced up, watched her leave.

"Hey," I turned to see Doug standing next to me, also watching his cousin. "Be careful, Chase. I don't want to see you get hurt."

"What do you mean?"

"Just watch yourself. I love my cousin, but she's dangerous. I think you're friend from the bar knows that, too." He patted me on the shoulder and walked away.

Shaking my head, I grabbed my guitars and headed to my car. I didn't understand why people felt the need to warn me. I could handle myself, and I could certainly handle Terrie.

* * *

I really needed to study because I'd be at home over the weekend and wouldn't have much of a chance if my mother had anything to do with it. I decided go to dinner with Terrie anyway.

I buttoned up my jeans and slipped my sweatshirt over my head, then looked into the mirror behind the door. I looked good, my hair was down, freshly washed and brushed. If it had been Dagny or Carrie I wouldn't have bothered. I mean, I had taken a shower that morning, but I felt the need to make a good impression tonight. I didn't know what it was about Terrie, but she intimidated me.

We had planned to meet at Gentle Ben's at eight, and as I glanced at my watch I saw it was five till. Oops. I grabbed my wallet and keys, headed for the door when the phone rang. With a growl, I picked it up off my bed.


"Well, that's unusual." I could hear the smile in her voice, and the smile on my face was instant.

"Hey, Dag. What's up?" God, I wanted to stay and talk. I hadn't seen her for two days, and I missed her so bad.

"Not much. I got a break in my paper, so decided to see if you wanted to grab a bite to eat." My heart sank, and my stomach felt like it was filled with razors. I could cancel with Terrie, just not show up. What would be the big deal? That would make me a total bitch, that was the big deal. I sighed into the phone.

"I'm sorry, Dagny. I've already got plans."

"Oh. Uh, I'm sorry." I could hear the disappointment and surprise in her voice. "I guess you do have other friends." She laughed quietly, but I knew it was forced. "Well, I hope you have fun."

"Yeah. Damn, I wish I would have known." I lightly smacked my wallet against my leg. I felt guilty somehow.

"What are you going to do? I mean, hell I'm sorry. It's none of my business. Forget I asked."

"No, it's okay. Terrie invited me to dinner during rehearsal yesterday." The line stayed silent. "Dag?"

"Sorry. Really? How nice." I could hear something in her voice, but couldn't quite figure out what. I knew she was trying to hide it, and was doing an exceptional job.

"Listen, I can cancel,"

"No! No, you go out and have fun, Chase." There was a genuine smile in her voice. "I'll catch up with you later. Okay?" I nodded, realizing how stupid that was, considering I was alone.

"Yeah. Okay. Hey, maybe I can stop by after we're done? It's not far from you, we're going to Gentle Ben's."

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Oh, wait. I have a meeting with Levy at seven in the morning."

"Oh. Okay." My hopes fell again. "Okay. I guess I'll see you. When are you free? This sucks." I felt like a pouting child, not getting my way. She chuckled softly.

"I know, Chase. I'm sorry. This year and the second are the worst. If we can get through these,"

"Yeah. Okay, well I have to go. I'm already late."

"Okay. Talk to you later."

"Bye." As I pushed the off button I felt horrible. I knew Dagny was bummed, and I sure as hell was.

I parked in the lot of Gentle Ben's, seeing Terrie's truck already here. The microbrewery was busy, but I saw Terrie waiting for me by the door.

"Hi." She smiled warmly. I smiled back.


"You look nice." She looked me over, making me feel a little uncomfortable.

"Thanks." I looked at her, well-fitted black jeans and a button-up top, the top three buttons open. I feared if she bent over, she'd fall out of it. "Um, you, too."

"Come on, I already got us a table." I followed her through the place, all eyes on her as she made her way through tables of people to an empty table near the wall.

We sat, me across from her at our three person table.

"Have you ever been here before?" Terrie asked as she smiled at our waitress who handed her a menu. I shook my head as I took mine, thanking the woman.

"Can I get you something to drink?" The waitress looked at us in turn.

"Yeah, get me the house brew," Terrie said. They both looked at me.

"Um, I guess just a Dr Pepper."


"How old are you, Chase?" Terrie asked once the waitress had walked away.

"I'll be nineteen soon." I didn't want her knowing my birthday was tomorrow for some reason.

"Well, a little birdie told me you turn nineteen tomorrow. The day before Valentine's Day, huh?" She leaned her cheek on her hand, smiled at me. "So I guess you were a love baby."

I was surprised she knew that, and realized how stupid I must have sounded since she already knew. But if she did, why did she ask?

"Yeah, I guess I was." I smiled. "My best friend Carrie's birthday is actually on V day."

"V day? Victory day?" She smiled again.

"Well, victorious for a high-paid delivery room doctor, anyway."

"This is true." Terrie sat back in her chair, opened her menu. "I am so hungry. I had the longest day today at work. I'm telling you, there are some really stupid people in this city. Don't know a damn thing about computers." She looked at me over her menu. "What about you? Know much about them?"

"I got my first computer the day I left for college." I grinned. "I've learned a lot about them since I've been here, tell you that. Some trial and a lot of error."

"I'm surprised at you, Chase. Aren't you supposed to be part of this new generation of kids born with a computer chip implanted in their brain?" I chuckled.

"I guess. I kind of missed that boat, I'm afraid. My parents didn't want us raised by technology. We weren't allowed to watch much television, either." The waitress came back with our drinks, and took our dinner orders.

"That's good, smart. Do you watch much now?"

"No. But I do love movies. I used to sneak over to Carrie's house, she lived a block away, and we'd watch movies until the wee hours of the morning. Still do that."

"I also love movies." Terrie ran a hand through her hair, the dark strands falling perfectly back into place. She really was an attractive woman. "Maybe we should go sometime." I shrugged.

"Sure." I sat back in the chair, trying to figure the drummer out. I sensed something about her, but wasn't sure what it was, it was almost predatory. That was the feeling I was getting. It didn't matter, but it just made things a little more interesting.

As the night went on I found Terrie to be intelligent, funny and a good listener. I talked about my family, school and my thoughts on the subject, and what I wanted out of life. Terrie was very insightful, telling me about her own childhood growing up not far from where my parents live now.

"My mother was very demanding, but I really don't think it was because she wanted the best for me, more of a 'If I have to be miserable, so do you', sort of thing." She smiled, as did I, nodding my understanding. "So, after college, I ditched this place, and made a new life for myself, away from Tucson."

"So why are you back?" She smiled as she sipped from her beer.

"Good question. My mother used to tell me that no matter how far I went or what I did, this would always be home. Well, she was right. Again, I don't intend to stay here forever, but a great job offer came up that I just couldn't refuse." She smiled.

"I bet she was glad."

"Well, she's a mom, forever protective and controlling. Yes, she was happy about it." She put the beer down, pushed her dinner plate away, a few bites of her steak left, mixed with some loose peas. "So how about you? Get along with your parents, even for all their demands?"

"Eh, I guess. I find now that I spend a lot less time there than I figured. To be honest, when I left for college I was afraid. I really hadn't spent much time away from home, or away from them. I figured I'd be home every single weekend." I smiled. "I've been home twice since school started last fall. I'm rather proud of that fact." I smiled, so did she.

"You're growing up, Chase."

"Yeah, tell my family that. They just think I'm being rebellious."

* * *

I sat in my car for a moment, thinking about the dinner. It had gone so much better than I figured it would. Terrie was an interesting person, and I didn't understand her. I think that was the point, though. Stay mysterious and an enigma. I could handle that.

She had insisted on paying for dinner, saying it was my birthday gift from her. I reluctantly accepted, hating when people paid for me, even Mike. He used to get so irritated at me because I'd fight him every step of the way.

With a sigh I put the key in the ignition and pulled out of the space. It was just before ten, and I was wide awake. I drove around for a bit, no particular place in mind, but one particular person on the brain. I wondered what Dagny had done with her night. I hated that I had had to pass up an opportunity to see her, spend time with her. We hadn't even been able to swim for the last week because of her schedule. I understood, but it didn't mean I had to like it.

I turned right, and to my not so surprise, saw Dagny's building right in front of me. I felt like a stalker as I pulled to the curb, stared up to the third floor. Lights illuminated one of the two windows of her apartment that lined this side of the street. I took a deep breath, my hand caressing the steering wheel as I thought of what to do. I knew she had an appointment with Levy early in the morning, but she was still up.

I put the car in gear and swung around to the parking lot, parking right next to Freud. There was a bit of a spring in my step as I made my to the stairs that would take me to the second and third floors. The door that I knew so well loomed before me, and I knocked softly. On the other side I could hear music, and a muffled "Hang on!" I smiled as I waited. Finally I heard the locks disengaged, and the door opened. I chuckled at what stood before me. Dagny, dressed in baggy sweat shorts and tank, bare feet, and a face covered in white gook. Her hair was slicked back as if wet from a recent shower. She looked up at me, surprised.


"Hey." I waved with a grin. "New look?" She grinned, slightly embarrassed as she shuffled her feet.

"Yeah. Night mask."

"Cute." I grinned, leaning against the door jam. "I hope it's not too late. We just finished with dinner."

"No, not at all." She moved away from the door, motioning for me to enter. "So what's up?" She sat on the couch, moving some text books and notebooks to the floor so I could sit. I sat down, shrugging.

"Well, um, to be honest, I just really miss you." I avoided her eyes, looking everywhere but at her. I felt a hand on my arm, my eyes went to it, then trailed up to Dagny's eyes.

"That's so sweet. I've really missed you, too, Chase." She rubbed my arm, then took her hand away to my definite dismay. "I have my own little confession to make. I was really bummed when you told me you were going out to dinner with that drummer." She looked at me, a sheepish grin on her face. God, she was so beautiful, even with all that pore cleansing crap on her face. I was surprised to hear the bitter tone in her voice about Terrie, though.

"I know. I'm sorry." I looked down.

"No, no, Chase. Come on, you have other friends, just like I do. But, you know," she shrugged.

"Yeah, I do." More than you think, Dag.

"Come on, I have to take this stuff off." I followed her to the bathroom, plopping down on the toilet lid. "Hold," she handed me a washcloth, and I played with it, looking at the embroidered duck, faded yellow, as Dagny scrubbed her face, splashing cold water on the red skin. I watched in fascination; I felt my heart pounding in my chest, just to be next to her. I think I had really started to take my time with her for granted, so now that it was taken away, I missed her immensely. I wanted to be with her all the time, and hated when we had to hang up or when I had to leave her. Every morning that I had to swim alone was terrible. I decided I should keep it up so I wouldn't want to die when Dagny started up again. She had told me she was proud of me. That had been enough incentive to keep it up.

"Thank you." I was startled out of my little world when Dagny took the towel out of my hands, dried her face with it. She smiled at me. "Bet you didn't think I needed a nightly regime to keep my utterly beautiful perfection, did you." She grinned. "Yeah, right, huh?"

I smiled. She didn't need anything; nature had done enough.

"I was just about to have some hot tea. Want some?" Again I followed her as she walked through her apartment, heading to the kitchen.

"Sure." Dagny went on talking about her advisor, and her classes, and how she was looking forward to when she finished classes and could concentrate more on client experience and working on her research full-time for her final thesis. I watched her work, her hands strong, as she fixed her cup of tea, stirring the sugar in, then bringing it up to her mouth to blow on the hot liquid, finally sipping. She looked at me, curious.

"Are you okay?" I shook myself out of my direction of thought.

"Yeah. Sorry." I grabbed my cup off the counter and poured myself some.

"So are you still going to play tomorrow even though it's your birthday?" Dagny leaned against the counter, holding her cup between her hands. I nodded.

"Yeah. It'll give me something to do. I think Carrie is going to come in to finally hear me play."

"Great." She smiled. "I know she'll love it." She looked down, seemingly bothered by something.

"Are you okay, Dagny?" Her head jerked up, eyes wide.

"Huh? Yeah. I just got an interesting call tonight."

"Come on." I nodded toward the living room. Dagny pushed off the counter, following me to the couch where we sat, facing each other, our knees nearly touching. I waited for Dagny to continue. She sat for a moment, sipping her tea, but I knew it was just a ploy to avoid talking.

"Darrel." She looked at me, and I knew the call probably bothered her. Her ex-boyfriend who had gone on to California for his job. He had been completely in love with her, wanting her to keep up the relationship even across the miles. She had refused. "He wanted to see what I was up to, and how I was." Dagny set her coffee cup on the table, sitting back against the arm of the couch, running a hand through her hair, which had begun to dry.

"Were you okay with that?" I also set my cup aside wanting to put all my attention and energy into her. She shrugged.

"What could I do? I would have loved to stay friends with him, but we all know that it's just usually not possible. Especially when you hurt the other person so bad." She sighed. "God, I felt so strange talking with him. Apparently he's doing well with his job, moving up in the company quickly. He just bought a condo and a new car, a BMW." She smiled. "He used to talk about getting a Beemer all the time."

"Well, then it's good he finally got one." I was confused, why was she upset about this? My stomach fell as something occurred to me. She must still have feelings for him. I swallowed, trying to hide my emotions.

"He wants me back, Chase." I swallowed again. I knew it. She was going to go off to California, leave Tucson, finish her degree over there somewhere. "I felt so bad having to let him down again."

My thoughts stopped mid-sentence. What? Let him down again? That meant she didn't want him back, he didn't win, and she wasn't leaving. Right?

"He was so disappointed. You know I think he really thought that the money and success he's gotten for himself is what I was after. It's not. There's so much more to it than that, you know?" I nodded as I didn't trust myself to say anything. "I want love, and I want to be happy. Is that too much to ask from life?" She ran her hands through her hair again, almost as if she was nervous about something. She was getting agitated, and I didn't understand why.

"Dag, it seems like he loved, or loves, you, right?" She nodded, staring down at her hands in her lap. "Isn't that what you just said you want?" Stop! Why was I trying to help this guy out? But then, I cared more for Dagny and her happiness than my own. I loved her friendship, and she meant so much to me, but if she was unhappy... The thought made me feel sick. How on earth did I get so cheesy in just a few months?

"I don't know, Chase. I'm wondering that, myself. I ran from him at every turn, always have. Hell, why not. Running is my specialty, right?" Her voice was so bitter, and I didn't understand it. My brows drew as I looked at her, so wanting to help, take her in my arms and make her feel better. I just wanted to touch her but couldn't bring myself to do it. I hated myself for it, too.

Dagny took another drink from her tea, which seemed to calm her some. She smiled at me, reaching out to touch my hand. I took that opportunity, and grabbed her fingers. Better late than never, eh?

"I'm sorry. I just feel really bad, I guess. I wish I wasn't put into this sort of situation, but I can't blame it on him. He always said that I never could commit. Is that my problem? Or was he the problem?" She looked at me as if I could give her the answers. I just didn't know what to say. She smiled again, shaking it off. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to lay all this on you."

"Hey, after what you've had to go through with me and my friends? Shit, don't worry about it. Keep talking if you want to. I honestly don't mind."

"Nah. I'm done ranting. For the moment." She smiled. "Oh, about tomorrow." The smile left her face. "Bad news. I can't go, Chase. I'm sorry." My shoulders fell, though I tried to hide it.

"Hey, I understand. You know, I know you're really, really busy right now. It's not a problem." I smiled, hoping she believed it, and didn't see right through it.

"Are you mad?" She put her hand on my leg. I shook my head vehemently.

"God, no. I totally understand, Dag. Really, it's okay."

"Okay." She paused. "Unfortunately, now I have to go to bed." I glanced at the VCR clock to see it was pushing midnight.

"Ah, jeez. I'm sorry." I stood, grabbing my keys off the table, and heading for the door, followed by Dagny.

"Look, um, I may be able to come into Gotfry's on Friday night. I'm really pushing for it." I smiled.

"Cool. I hope you can." I opened the door. "Well, see you later."

"Good night, Chase."

Dagny closed the door slowly behind me, the light in the hall getting smaller and smaller as the door-shaped beam turned into a sliver then finally just darkness.

* * *

I was bummed as I set up my equipment, getting Melo and Than ready for another night of rocking. Dagny had never missed a performance, even before we became friends. I knew it couldn't be helped, but that didn't make me feel any better.

"What gotten into you? You look like your dog just died." I turned to see Terrie settling herself behind her drums, smiling at me.

"Nothing. I'm fine." I smiled, quickly turning back to the mic. I didn't want to have to try and explain something to her that I didn't fully understand myself.

Greg had the place decked out for Valentine's Day tomorrow, red paper hearts hung on fishing line overhead, pink and red balloons decorating the walls and helium-filled ones bobbing around the ceiling. There was a special on strawberry daiquiris or any other red or pink drink, too. It was nice.

The crowds had already begun to gather as we started our first set, playing a number of old rock songs as well as modern. We had started to tone down the teeny-bopper stuff immensely, which I was forever grateful for. It was hard to make myself sing it.

I finished off a duet with Doug of "You're the One That I Want", a fun song that got the crowd going. Doug put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me when we finished.

"Great job," he whispered in my ear. I smiled at him. I moved toward the center of the stage again, ready to start the next song when he took the mic out of its holder, and turned back to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, as you know today is Chase's birthday." He grinned at my stunned expression. "So, one, two, three," The band began to play the traditional song, and sixty drunk patrons began to sing along. I think my face matched the hearts on the walls as I looked around. How the hell had they found out?

Doug, still singing, put his arm around my shoulder and lead me down the stairs of the stage to the main floor when I saw a huge cake being carried toward me, nineteen lit candles. The stunned expression on my face turned to a smile when I saw who held the cake, followed by Carrie. Dagny winked as she sang, the candles throwing eerie shadows on her face as she carried the cake to the bar.

"Make a wish!" Doug said when the song ended. I glared playfully at Dagny, she smiled. I leaned over the cake, my wish made a long time ago, and blew out the candles in one blow. The crowd, which had completely surrounded us at the bar, clapped and cheered. I turned to Dag, wagging my finger at her.


"Yeah, drop the innocent act." She smiled and hugged me.

"Happy birthday, Chase." She said in my ear as we hugged. I closed my eyes, hugged her tight. When we parted, Carrie was there, holding something behind her back.

"Chase, Dagny and I got together to get you something you can really use. We wanted to add to the family, so here you go. Happy birthday." She brought out a life-size blow up electric guitar, colored bright pink with a red bow tied around it. I threw my head back with laughter, my arm going around Dagny's neck, pulling her into me.

"You guys are bad." Dagny hugged me again, laughing along with everyone else.

We cut the cake, and Dagny dragged me over to the table where all her friends had gathered, plus one that I didn't know.

"Hi. I'm Paul Reilly." He stood, shook my hand. "Happy birthday." He smiled. He was a good looking guy, dark hair nicely cut, casual dress but very well put together.

"Chase, Paul is a transfer student here, so I thought I'd bring him along to meet everyone." I nodded with a smile.

"Thanks for coming, Paul." I indicated Carrie who stood next to me, looking around. "This is my friend, Carrie."

"Carrie." He shook her hand as well, once she turned her attention back to us. She said a quiet hello. This was one of the first big public outings for Carrie, and I could tell she was nervous, constantly looking around to see if that bastard was near.

"Chase, come with me." Dagny grabbed my hand, pulled me toward the door, and out into the night. We walked to her car, and she opened the door to grab a wrapped gift, handing it to me with a smile. "I wanted to give you your real gift... alone," she finished shyly. I took the gift, a card in a red envelope laying on top. I put the gift on top of Freud, and opened the card. Normally I would have waited to do this until I was in the dorm, hating to have to react in front of expectant people, but I couldn't wait.

On the front was a picture of an old woman jamming on an electric guitar, her legs spread wide, wearing a long house dress. Her face was pale and covered in a street map of wrinkles, excited, with her mouth open. In large, black letters it read:

You know you're getting old when...

I grinned at it, opened it.

You get your guitar chord mixed up with the oxygen hose.

I laughed heartily at that. "Oh, Dag, you are bad. What's gotten into you?" She laughed with me, shaking her head.

"Who knows." I read what she had written in her neat, small hand writing.

You have truly made a difference in my life and made me remember what life is all about. I never forgot the precocious eight year old who made my summer one of the best I've ever had. Now, eleven years later, that same person is in my life yet again. What power had the foresight to bring us together and turn you from my charge to my best friend? Whatever it is, karma, divine intervention, or sheer coincidence, I'm grateful.

Happy Birthday, my friend.



I looked up from the card, speechless. I took a step toward Dagny, grabbed her for a massive hug. I said nothing, and neither did she. There wasn't room for words. I felt, more than heard, her sigh as she held me. I wanted to second that with my own contented sigh. Standing there, being so close to Dagny, there was nowhere else in the entire world I wanted to be. She embodied everything I strived for, to be. Nope, my hero worship hadn't gone anywhere.

"Don't forget this." Dagny pulled away from me, handed me the wrapped gift. I smiled, shy, ripping into the paper, tossing it aside to be yelled at by Dagny for temporary littering.

The paper all gone, I looked down at the leather-bound notebook in my hands. My name was stenciled in gold dead center. I looked up at her, confused.

"Someone told me you're quite the song writer and poet." I was shocked, my open mouth making that plain. She chuckled. "You have a brilliant mind, Chase, and I want you to write all those wonderful thoughts and songs in here." She placed her hand over mine that rested on the book. "Someday this will be worth something. I hope I'm around to see it."

I just looked at her. I could feel my throat tightening up, but didn't want her to know just how touched I really was. No one had ever taken my writing seriously, certainly no one who had never read or heard anything I had written.

"Thank you, Dagny," I finally said, my voice quiet. "I don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything." She brushed back some hair from my still-astonished face. "Happy birthday, Chase." She squeezed my hand, turned toward Freud. "Oh, um, I can start swimming again."

I grinned, huge and excited. "Really?"

"Yeah, but," She paused. "It has to be at five."

"In the morning?" I squeaked, she laughed.

"Yes, in the morning. I would love to see you, but I do understand if that's too early."

"I'll see what I can do." I smiled, so did she.

"Great! Well, I do have to go."

"I can't thank you enough for coming, Dag. You really didn't have to." I held the notebook to my chest as I leaned against the car next to Freud. Dagny looked at me for a moment, her head slightly cocked to the side.

"Yeah, I did. See you." She stepped in, closed the door and started up the engine. I watched her until the SUV disappeared, then with a sigh, headed back into the bar.

* * *

Sitting on my bed with my back against the wall and my knees drawn up, I transferred the song I was writing from various pieces of notebook paper to the journal Dagny had given me. With careful strokes, the song came to life, and I even managed to add a few stanzas in there, until I realized that it was finished. I read my handiwork:

Comfortable In My Skin

Lessons learned, as days go by
I test my wings, learn I can fly
I test my heart, find I can soar.
Everyday you believe in me
I can do more.

Chorus: You touch my hand, you touch my soul
            You touch my heart, I am all yours
            You make me strong, tell me I can win
            I'm comfortable, in my skin

I'm now aware of who I am
My place in this world, I can understand
It took your faith in my ability
To open my eyes and allow me to see


All my life, I didn't have a voice
Others made decisions and left me no choice
Then someone listened to what I had to say
And made me realize I could make it my way

I was too young to truly know
The ache in my chest when you let me go
But now I have you to hold me near
And the ache I once felt has disappeared


I read and re-read, singing in my head. This was my anthem, my theme song.

The door to the room opened, and Natalie strolled in. She had a vase full of flowers, three balloons bobbing off the ceiling and doorway and a white box under her arm. She smiled when she saw me.

"Happy birthday!" She walked to me, handing me the gifts that she bore. I smiled up at her.

"Aw, that is so sweet." I put the journal aside, grabbed the flowers, what looked to be a summer bouquet of a little bit of everything, and the balloons that were tied to it. "Mm, they smell good."

"And, this is from the kids. They are so bummed that you won't be there tomorrow at the bible study, but they do understand. I mean, Carrie is your best friend, and all." She handed me the white box. Intrigued, I opened it up to see a small cake in the shape of an old country guitar. The words: Happy Birthday Music Lady written in blue icing. I laughed, completely touched.

"This is too much. How did they do this?" I looked up at my roommate who took the flowers from me to set them on the desk and sat across from me on her own bed.

"Well, they wanted to do something nice for you. You give up every single Thursday night for them, and they appreciate it. So do I." She smiled, reached under her bed to pull out a long and skinny wrapped box. "This is also from me." She handed it to me, then sat expectantly with her hands in her lap, legs together. With glee I tore into the paper to reveal a music stand. I looked at the box, reading the multi purposes of it. I was thrilled.

"Oh, Nat. Thank you so much."

"Do you like it?" she asked nervously. I nodded.

"Oh, yeah. Definitely. This will definitely help on Tuesday and Thursdays." I smiled.

"I figured, plus I'm sure as time goes on you'll be doing more and more with music." I put the box aside, leaned across the narrow space between our beds and hugged her.

"Thank you, Natalie. You really didn't have to."

"I know. But I wanted to." She gave me one more smile, then left the room to head to the bathroom and shower before bed.

I picked the journal up again, and re-read my lyrics. It was how I felt. It was good, and I was happy with it. With a sigh, I closed the cover, set it on my desk and re-set my alarm, then laid down, my hands over my head as I stared up at the ceiling.

I had made the room more my own, putting up posters and goofy sayings. I looked over at Natalie's side of the room. So barren. She had a cross hanging on the wall over her bed, and a poster of a beaker filled with different life forms, dolphins swimming around, babies walking and plants and animals. Underneath the beaker, in large white letters, it read: Got Biology? I chuckled, stared back at my water-stained ceiling.

I grabbed the music stand Natalie had given me, very pleased. When I played for her bible study I always had to get creative when laying out my music. This would help.

I thought about tomorrow. I was excited to spend some great time with Carrie. Her nineteenth could be a blessing or a curse being on Valentine's Day. She wasn't dating anyone, thus the curse, but then again, with her birthday, she had something to celebrate anyway. I laughed at my friend's twisted logic. I didn't know what we were going to do, but I did know it would just be me and her. I needed that time with her, time to re-connect without a tragedy being the connective tissue.

The door to the room opened, and I could smell my roommate before I even saw her. Her Herbal Essence shampoo and Irish Spring soap. She never deviated from either.

"Did you have a good birthday, Chase?" I looked up at Nat as she took the towel from her head and dried her hair. I nodded.

"Yeah. It was good. Dagny came." I smiled, so did she.

"Well, good. You were worried about that." She sat on her bed, started to comb through the long brown strands.

"Well, I don't know if worry is the right word. I wanted her there, I mean she's a good friend of mine." Natalie stopped brushing, just looked at me. My brows drew. "What?"

"Nothing." She shook her head with a smile and continued brushing. "You guys have certainly gotten close fast." She flipped her head and began to brush her hair upside down.

"Well, she's cool to hang out with." I stared up at the ceiling again, thinking of my friend's face, seeing her smile before my eyes. I smiled back at the phantom image. "She's so nice and caring. I mean look how she handled the Carrie situation. The woman has the magic touch with people." My roommate was silent, so I looked over at her. She was staring at me, a grin on her face. "What?" I asked yet again, starting to get a little irritated.

"If you speak so highly of all your good friends, let me get in line." I rolled my eyes and stared up again. "Goodnight, Chase."

"Night." I heard Natalie pull out her two towels, plop them on the floor and kneel down on them.

* * *

The image was getting closer, the skin pale and smooth, covering beautiful legs, strong and powerful. The darkness began to part to reveal more, moving up to a flat stomach, shadows dancing and playing as she moved, walking closer and closer. The darkness parted even more, rising up...



I leaned over the desk from the end of my bed, my hand still on the alarm clock. My eyes were heavy, and I just wanted to fall back into the warm bed and go back to sleep. I wanted to finish my dream. My dream.

My eyes shot open as I remembered my dream and where it had been heading. I knew it had been Dagny's body that I was trying to see, that I imagined walking toward me, naked and glorious. My body burned, my fingers itched. Taking a deep breath, I stood, stretching to help wake myself. I glanced over and looked with envious eyes at Natalie's sleeping form.

"Swim. Must swim."

I pulled into the lot, which was empty except for one. I smiled when I saw Freud. The engine was still warm and ticking, so I knew Dag hadn't been here long. The lady at the desk smiled at me then went back to her computer screen.

The place was eerily quiet. I was amazed at how much more traffic it would have in an hour. God, why was I here at frigging five in the morning?

"Chase!" I turned to see Dagny walking toward me, the biggest smile on her face. I smiled in return, my eyes automatically dropping to where my dream eyes had stopped. She looked great in a pair of baggy running pants and a tank. Realizing what I was doing, they popped back up to hers. "What on earth are you doing here so ridiculously early?"

"I could ask you the same question." I grinned.

"Come on. I forgot my towel in the car." I walked out with her, back into the chilly morning air.

"Well, I can't do this real often, but, well, I miss swimming with you." I glanced at her to see a strange look on her face.

"God, you are so sweet." She put her arm around my shoulders. "I am definitely appreciative." She grabbed her towel, and we headed back for our swim.

As usual, I was done in long before Dag, so I waited at the edge of the pool for her to finish her marathon of laps. The only reason I didn't feel bad was she had twenty years of swimming to my couple months.

"God, this is so exhilarating." Dagny gushed as she pulled herself up to sit next to me. She smiled at me, running her hands over her hair to slick it back. "I'm so glad you came, Chase. It's amazing how much you take someone's presence and company for granted, you know?" I nodded. Yup, I knew exactly what she meant. Then to my surprise she laid her head against my shoulder. "I'm so tired. They say this part of the doctorate program ends, but I'm not so sure, anymore. Why am I doing this to myself, Chase?" She glanced up at me with heavy-lidded eyes. I put my arm around her shoulders.

"Because it's your dream, Dag."

"I could just get my masters, and I'd be fine with that." She pulled away with a sigh.

"No you wouldn't. You and I both know that you won't be happy and content until you finish." She looked at me for a moment, her eyes staring into mine. I stared back, wanting to turn away for fear that she'd be able to read me. She'd never understand, hell I barely did. Either way, I couldn't risk it. I stared back out over the water, but I could still feel her eyes on me.

"Oh, Chase. Life is a funny place, isn't it?" I nodded, smiling at her.

"That it is."

"Come on, let's go get a bagel."

* * *

The semester flew by, and I was approaching the end of my first year of college. I saw Dagny rarely during the last couple months. She came to Gotfry's on Friday nights, but had to leave at the break. It was hard but I knew she did what she could. For Valentine's Day I had been surprised by a card and a pink carnation that had been put under my door. I had nearly stepped on it as I came in. It was from Dagny, and I had been cheesed beyond belief.

Carrie and I had managed to rebuild things, and she was doing well. I had caught her going to a party one time, but let her go. It was her life, and she made her own choices. Later that night she had called, crying. She had gotten drunk and felt like she had disappointed me.

"Car, it's your life. There's nothing wrong with having a good time, but it's all a matter of being responsible."

"I know." She sniffled. "It was stupid. I didn't mean to." She sighed into the receiver. "I just feel like shit, Chase. Like I don't really matter anyway, so why bother?"

"Carrie! Don't you ever say that again. You matter to more people than you realize. And you know if you did something stupid you'd have to deal with me killing your ass for you." She laughed quietly. "You have so much going for you. You're so talented and good with art, and there's that class you're so excited about next year. You just have to think, use your head."

"Okay. I can do this." I heard her blowing her nose.

"Of course you can. I never doubted you could, Car."

"Thanks, Chase."

"Not a problem. Get some sleep."

"Okay." I carefully hung the phone up, sighed. What was I going to do with her?

The summer was here, and I was thrilled. I had gone home the day after finals ended, doing one more show at Gotfry's. I promised Greg I'd come back for Friday night shows, but wouldn't start up Wednesdays again until I came back for my summer class in July. My parents had been thrilled at the prospect of my doing additional work, English 273. If only they knew it was a class on lesbian literature. I'm such a rebel.

I got home to be received by happy parents, but also given lists of chores to do while I was on break. I did these, but usually watched soap operas during the day when my mom was gone, quickly vacuuming and dusting minutes before she got home. Ah, just like old times. My mother asked me daily if I'd gotten my report card. I was nervous about it, so I went online to UA's website, and found my grades. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw them, knowing I wouldn't have to try and beat my mom to the mailbox everyday. I had done well, two B's and four A's. Life was good.

I would only be at home for a few weeks, and I was glad about this. My life was now at school, and I wanted to get back to it. Also, I wanted to get back to Dagny. She was class-free this summer, but had gotten a job at Rincon Market, just east of campus. She worked in the market part of it sometimes, and others worked in the restaurant. I also wanted to get a job.

"You don't need a job, honey. Soon enough you'll want to stop working," my mom said as she put her make-up on. I sat on the toilet lid watching her. This was a ritual we had done since I was a child.

"But I want a job. What's the problem?" She turned to look at me.

"We give you a monthly allowance for a reason, Chase. Right now your priorities should be school and school alone."

"This is just for the summer, though. I want some independence!" My mother's eyes bugged at my defiance. I didn't know what to do; I had said it and I meant it, but wasn't sure I was ready for the backlash of it. She stared at me for a moment, her hand on her hip as she sized me up. I managed to keep eye contact, letting her know I was serious. "Mom, I've got to grow up at some point. Do you know how much of a slug I feel like, still living off you guys? I mean, damn, I am pushing twenty, and still live off your money." I shrugged, hoping to take the sting out of my words. "I love you guys, and really appreciate all you do for me. It's just time for me to start helping myself out, you know?"

"Carla never had a job during her undergrad years," she said quietly, turning back to the mirror to apply eyeliner.

"Yeah, well that's Carla. I, however, am not her. We're two very different people, mom." I stood. "When are you going to see that?" I walked out of the bathroom, angry.

I got so tired of my older sister's, the saint, name being added into every conversation that I tried to have about me with my mom. Why couldn't they just take me on my own merit? When would I come into my own?

My mom had managed to get me to go shopping with her. I needed some new clothes, and she was willing to pay for them, so who was I to say no.

We walked the halls of the mall, both of us carrying bags loaded with clothes and a new pair of tennis shoes.

"Your father and I talked last night," she said finally after a while of silence. "I heard what you said the other day, Chase, and you're right. I'm stopping you from trying to grow, and I'm sorry. We've had our problems in the past, but I feel we're getting through those." She gave me that look that mothers are so good at. The look said that I had been a loser and a disappointment before, but now had managed to get my head out of my ass and make them proud. I know there was a compliment in there somewhere, and was willing to take it where I could get it.

"Okay," I said to her prolonged pause.

"You can get a job. I think it would be best if you kept it to fifteen hours or less during the school year, however." I turned to her, stunned.

"You mean I can keep it?" She nodded.

"Yes. You've done so well this year, and I'm proud of you. Your grades were outstanding." She stopped us, setting our packages down on a nearby bench. She hugged me, her voice shaky. "You are so smart, honey. I just never understood why you refused to use what God gave you." She pulled back, her hands still on my shoulders. "The only thing I ask is that you keep your mind open for your future. You still have some time before you really need to be thinking of a career path. Give it the summer. Please?"

I stared at her, my previous glow of pride dimming to a mere 15 watts. "Mom, I like psychology. It's what I want to do. My schedule is already made up for next semester, and I've got a pretty heavy load with psychology classes." She looked at me, her eyes shadowing. She sighed, grabbed her bag, handing me mine.

"Let's go."

I walked on beside my quiet mother. I knew she was upset with me, again. I was proud of myself. I had never disagreed with anything to her face, and I was stunned. I was nervous about it, but elated at the same time.

My father was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when we got home. He smiled at us as we walked in.

"Oh, Chase, your friend Dagny called when you were out. She called twice, actually."

"What did she want?" I asked, my foot on the bottom step of the stairs. He shrugged.

"She didn't say."

I hurried up to my room, anxious to call her back. I almost felt obsessed with her. She consumed my thoughts, and the mention of her name sent chills up my spine.

I flopped down on my bed, dropping my shopping bags on the floor as I grabbed the handset next to my bed. I quickly dialed the familiar number, waiting for her to pick up. The phone rang and rang, finally her answering machine picked up. I even loved the sound of her voice over the machine! God, how pathetic.

"Um, hey, Dag. My dad said you had called, so I was calling you back. I'll be here all day if you want to call back. Um, bye." I set the receiver back into the cradle gently, staring down at it. I missed her.

* * *


The rare words of devils
Tempt me to vicious dreams
There's nothing left to glean
From these visions

Watching with half-closed lids
The recorder of my life
Shows the happy times of strife
That have risen

Chorus: So I think I'm all alone
            Only reaching for the stars
            Never trying for the moon
            Wrapped up in my cocoon

Like the turning of the tide,
Always changing but the same
Try to keep a simple rein
On each day

How can I keep this face
When behind it lies the truth
And everything has moved
Another way


At times I feel my friends
Are all growing around me
They have turned into large trees
And I'm an acorn

Or feel my jagged sides
There's no flow to smooth them over
Sometimes changing, always older
With the storm

Chorus (fade out)

I chewed on my pen as I read what I had written, my hand never stopping until it was all out. A tune popped into my head as automatically I set the lyrics to music.

The sun had fallen, leaving the land in darkness. I sat on my bed, my knees drawn up, back against the headboard, pillows thrown off the bed. I had brought the journal Dagny had given me, home with me. It was like American Express, never leave home without it.

I was making a slight change when I was startled by the shrill ring of the phone beside me. I picked up the receiver.


"Hi." An instant smile spread across my face, and I felt my body relax against the wall, my legs stretching out. "What are you doing?"

"Using the journal, actually." I glanced down at the book lying in my lap, tracing my fingertip over the smooth, cool page.

"That's great, Chase." My brows knitted.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Why?" I knew she was full of it. I could hear it in her voice, the way she spoke, something was wrong.

"I don't believe you, Dag." I set the notebook and pen aside, sat up.

"What's to believe, Chase? Nothing is wrong." She sounded so tired, her voice thick as if she had a stuffed up nose. Either she was sick, or she had been crying. I was worried on either count.

"Okay, Dag. I won't push." I sat there for a minute, playing with the phone cord, twisting it around my fingers. "How are you? I really miss you."

"Oh, Chase, I miss you, too." I could hear her moving around, material being handled.

"What are you doing?"

"Laying down."

"That sounds good." I pushed myself down the bed, grabbing a pillow from the floor. I curled up on my side, listened to the sound of Dagny breathing. "How's the job going?"

"Believe it or not, I actually love it." I smiled.

"I do believe it. You love people, and well, there's about as many people there as you can ever want." She chuckled softly.

"This is true. How is it going there? Are you ready to kill the parents, yet?"

"No. But I'm close. They're going to let me get a job."

"Oh, Chase that's great. I know how much you wanted to get one." She was quiet for a moment. "Do you have regrets, Chase?" I drew my brows again.

"Some, yeah. Why?" I pushed myself up on an elbow.

"I don't know. Life is so short, and sometimes I wonder if I've always made the right choices. Could I have prevented things? You know, thoughts like that."

"Dagny, I know something's wrong." I was frustrated, knowing there was nothing I could do from here, wanting desperately to be with her.

"I'm just tired. In fact, I'm going to go to bed. Talk to you in the morning?"

"Yeah. Okay. Sleep well, Dag."

"You, too, Chase. Oh, and Chase?"


"Don't let yourself have too many regrets. They come back to bite you in the ass."

I stared at the dead receiver in my hand. What was the deal? I was really worried now. I got up, threw some clothes on. I was going back to school.

My parents were as understanding as they could be, not wanting me to leave any earlier than I already was, but liking Dagny enough to care.

I packed my little car as quickly as possible, and sped away toward the university. It was a short drive, but it felt like it took forever. Finally Dagny's building came into view in front of my headlights, and I whipped into the parking lot, hurried out.

I knocked, knowing Dagny was awake as the light could be seen under the door. Silence, then I heard the muted footsteps of someone walking in socks. The locks clicked as they were undone, and the door opened. Dagny stood there in flannel shorts and a tee. Her face was flushed, her eyes red, which made the green stand out all the more.

"Chase," she whispered, a mixture of disbelief and relief in her voice, but quickly pulled herself together, wiping all expression off her face.

"I came as soon as I could. I was really worried. Still am."

"Come in." She walked toward the couch, leaving the door open for me. I closed it softly behind me, following. When I had myself settled next to her, she took a deep breath. "Darrel's dead." I was stunned, the air escaping me in a sigh.

"Dagny," I reached out to touch her, but she put her hand up. I was stung, but let her talk.

"It happened yesterday, on his way to work. Some asshole wasn't paying attention, and well, he died a few hours later at the hospital." I could tell she was trying to hold it all inside, trying not to let it out. "I just talked to him, Chase. He called me again last week, begging me to go out to at least see him." She swallowed. "I told him no, I had too much to do."

I watched the incredible struggle she was having, the battle raging between her heart and her brain. Why was she fighting it?

"Let go, Dag." I said as gently as I could. She looked at me, shaking her head.

"No, I'm fine." She smiled weakly. "I have to stay strong."

"For who?" Her eyes narrowed as she looked at me.

"For me! I have to stay strong for me, Chase. No one else will get me through this." She stood from the couch, beginning to pace. Feeling like I was watching a tennis match, I ran my hands through my hair and stood as well.

"Dagny, why won't you trust me to get you through this?" An impatient hand swiped at her eye, and I knew she was cracking. I walked over to her, tentatively reaching out to her. "Please? You have helped me through so much, and my friend through the hardest thing she'll ever have to go through," I pleaded, my eyes saying it all.

"I can't Chase," she said softly, her voice cracking. She looked longingly down at my hand that rested on her arm. I sensed the yearning, and took a step closer.

"Please? Let me help." The closer I got, the softer and more gentle my voice became. "Trust me?"

"I," A tear began to slowly make its way down her cheek. "Why, Chase? Why did it have to happen this way?" A small sob escaped, though she tried to ignore it.

"I don't know, Dag. Things just happen, and we have no idea why. Come here." I put my hand on her shoulder, easing it around her neck until I pulled her to me. She rested her head against my neck, her body relaxing against mine, her arms going around my waist. We had issues to talk about, but not right now; they could wait. I needed to know why she wouldn't trust me and let me in as I had her.

I felt the tiniest bit of wetness against my chest, through my shirt. I put my hand on the back of her head, stroked her hair as I held her, everything in the world disappearing except Dagny and her pain. Finally the dam broke, and she really began to cry.

"Shh, I know, Dag. We'll get through this."

* * *

I slowly ran my fingers over the right chords of my guitar, feeling the music in my soul. I wanted her to know just exactly how I felt, and what I wanted to be. I wanted to sing this for her, just for her.

The words of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" were written by Paul Simon, but they said everything I ever felt for Dagny, they said what I wanted her to know. Just me, Melo, and my promise to Dagny.

I kept my eyes closed as I sang, never singing so purely before. The song built, and so did my emotions, nearly seeping from my eyes. I held myself in check as I continued:

Sail on silver, girl.
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine,
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

I put my entire soul into the song, letting my voice and the music die off, my eyes still closed as I took a breath. Thunderous applause brought me back to reality, and I finally looked around. The bar's patrons were on their feet, but I was only looking for one. I saw her, at her usual table, her hands gripping her drink like a vise. I noticed the tears on her cheeks, and I smiled. She smiled back.

Part 8 & 9

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