Part 8 & 9

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers, see part 1.

I opened my eyes, feeling soft and warm. For some reason my vision was blurry, and I could only see something pale. I inhaled, husky, spicy scent. I looked around using just my eyes, saw the blue material that met the pale something. I directed my attention to my fingertips and felt softness beneath them, soft and squishy.

Oh my god.

I seemed to be curled up with Dagny. My mind raced to last night. I had stayed here with her for the past few days for a couple of reasons. One, she was still upset and had asked me not to leave. Two, I didn't have a dorm yet for my summer class. We had gotten back here after the show at Gotfry's, and she had been really upset, the song tapping into something very emotional.

We had walked into the apartment, and Dagny had headed straight for her bedroom, and I had headed for the couch to make up my bed.

"Chase?" I looked up, surprised to hear my name, but nothing else, so I wandered into Dag's bedroom to see her sitting on the bed, her head down, hands in her lap. She looked up at me, her eyes red.

"You okay?" I asked, leaning against the doorframe. She shook her head, patted the bed beside her. I quickly sat, putting my arm around her shoulders as she leaned into me. She was so vulnerable, almost child-like. "Do you want me to stay?" She nodded with a quiet "Yeah." So, she had laid on her side, and I had spooned up behind her, trying to give her as much comfort and security as I could with just the heat of my body.

This brought us to my current situation. How did I end up laying on Dagny's shoulder, my body pressed against her side, hand resting on her stomach, when I was supposed to be holding her? Was she awake? Would she freak out like I was when she did wake up? I had to see, had to know.

My head popped up to find myself staring into two very open green eyes. She looked at me, surprised by my sudden appearance. She said nothing, nor did I. I smiled weakly, laid my head back down.

Shit! What do I do? If she had been asleep I could have quietly moved myself away, and she would never have known the difference. Maybe I can go back to sleep, and then she will too, and I can move then. She'll think it was a dream, and never be the wiser.

But I had to admit, this felt wonderful, and I reveled in it. I closed my eyes, a small sigh escaping me. I felt Dagny's arm, that I realized had been around me the entire time, tighten, her other arm coming around to encircle me completely. God, did I die sometime in the night and go to Heaven? Couldn't be. Natalie once told me I was too evil for words, and she seemed to be an expert on this stuff, so perhaps this was hell, and when I looked again the person holding me will actually be Mike.

I grinned at my own thoughts, knowing just how silly they were. In all honesty I didn't think Dagny would freak out. We weren't doing anything wrong, just two friends who are holding each other. Just because one of them thought about the other on an almost illegal basis, and obsessed constantly, didn't mean anything.

I turned my brain off and just enjoyed the feeling. I felt Dagny swallow, and could hear her heartbeat, slow and steady. I cuddled in a little closer, feeling the softness of her breast against my shoulder. I had never noticed just how safe and comforting those things could be. Guess it goes back to the whole mother/child thing. Freud would have a field day with me.

We laid just as we were for a good half hour when I got to wondering again. I popped my head up for a second look and saw the same thing. This time Dagny grinned at me, completely amused.

"Hey," she said. I smiled back.

"Um, hi?" She chuckled, running her hand along my back.

"Thanks for staying with me last night, Chase. I really appreciate it." She pushed some wild strands of hair away from my face, tucking them behind an ear. Though she was smiling, I could tell that the situation of Darrel's death was still having an effect on her. I knew there really wasn't anything for me to do, I'd just do my best to be there for her.

"You're welcome. Um, I'm sorry about this, though." I indicated our present positions. She shook her head.

"Why? Aren't you comfortable?"

"Well, yeah, but,"

"But what?" I'm too comfortable, Dagny. Therein lies the problem. She smiled at me. "You're so cute." She chuckled at my obvious discomfort.

"Thanks, I think." I pulled away, and to my horror noticed a small bit of slobber on Dagny's neck, the edge of the collar on her shirt slightly discolored. Oh my god. I reached toward her, wiping it away. "I'm sorry." She laughed, adding to my hell. I scooted to the edge of the bed and stood. Dagny started to get up, but I turned, putting my hand up. "Nope. You stay." She looked at me, obviously surprised and confused. "I'll be back."

"Ah." She lay back down, piling the two pillows behind her and sitting against them. "Well, can I at least have the text book that's sitting on the dresser over there?" She pointed. I saw the book and handed it to her. "Thank you. I'll read while you do, well, whatever."

I nodded, and headed toward the kitchen. What to make, what to make. I saw the waffle iron on the counter, and thought about it, but I didn't want to burn down the apartment like I nearly did last time. I opened the refrigerator, saw the bag of bagels she kept. Perfect. Grabbing one and slicing it in half, I stuck it in the toaster, and dug out the fat free cream cheese.

"Tray, I need a tray," I looked around again, looking for something that would work. I was making a great deal of noise as I rummaged through Dagny's cabinets.

"You better not be tearing up my clean kitchen!" she yelled from the bedroom.

"Yeah, bite me," I yelled back as I looked at the cabinet that was now in shambles, hearing laughter. An idea sparked, and I went to the drawer under the stove, found a nice big cookie sheet. Hey, it may not be very conventional, but it would serve its purpose.

As the bagel halves toasted, I poured a glass of orange juice and got out everything she could possibly need; plate, knife for the cream cheese, even found a straw for the juice. All my gifts loaded onto the cookie sheet, I headed into the bedroom.

Dagny was immersed in her reading, knees drawn up, hair tucked behind one ear. God, to wake up to that every morning. Shaking the thought out of my head, I walked in.

"Oh, no way. I can't believe you did this!" Dagny put her book aside, and sat up a little straighter, her legs stretching out. I shrugged, embarrassed by her exuberance of what I had done. I set the cookie sheet over her lap, my choice of tray earning me a chuckle. "Oh, this looks good." She looked up at me with shining eyes and a wide smile. "Thank you, Chase. You have been so wonderful."

"Eh, well, you know," I smiled stupidly as I shrugged and shuffled my feet.

"Come here. I'll share."

* * *

Dagny sent Darrel's family flowers and a card, deciding not to go to the funeral. She felt like it wasn't her place, and she did not belong there anymore. She said she didn't want to have to think about, wanting a day to just have fun, so she took me job hunting.

I had never had a quote, end quote, real job before. I had done some babysitting in my early teens, but that was about it. I was nervous, excited and felt like an adult for the first time. I picked up some applications, filled them out, not knowing half of the information I should.

"This is pathetic. I don't know my own damn social security number." I was frustrated, and felt stupid.

"Hey, it's okay, Chase. It's not exactly something you use everyday, you know? Don't worry about it. Do you have a copy of it somewhere? In your wallet, anything?" I dug through it, looking for anything that looked like it may be important.

"Damn, I need to clean this thing out." I grinned, making a small pile of old receipts, movie ticket stubs and even an old gum wrapper. "Nope."

"What's this?" Dagny pulled something out that was hiding behind my school I.D. She grinned at me, holding the blue and white paper card between her fingers. I looked at it, the nation's seal catching my eye. I snagged it from her hand, glaring. She laughed.

I wrote down the information and went on to the next application to re-write the entire thing.

"I am never going to get a job, Dag." I muttered.

"Why not?"

"Look at this. How pathetic is it?" I showed her the mostly blank spaces for previous experience.

"You have to start somewhere Chase. It probably won't be your dream job, but if it pays, it's worth it." She smiled encouragement. "It'll give you at least one more thing to fill in one of those spaces with."

"Yeah, yeah." I grabbed the door handle of Freud, where we sat parked outside of the fast food place I was turning in an application for. "I'll be right back."

"I'll be here."

I gave the application to the sixteen-year-old assistant manager, feeling queasy thinking about having to work for that pimpled face little kid. I felt like such a loser.

"I just got the greatest idea while you were in there." Dag said as I climbed back into the SUV. I looked at her, hoping lightning had stuck in the few minutes I had been gone. "Gotfry's." I drew my brows.

"I'm not twenty-one, Dag."

"So? You're over eighteen." She grinned wiggling her eyebrows.

"Let's go."

"Hell, yeah! Why are you even asking for an application, Chase?" Greg leaned on the bar, a glass of cranberry juice in his hand. "I'll hire you right now."

"Are you serious?" I leaned in a little closer, making sure I'd heard him right. He sipped the drink, nodding.

"You'd be great for business. People already love you, and if you served their drinks, too... Shit, I've found a gold mine in you, kid." He lightly punched me on the arm. I felt proud, and glanced over at Dagny to see she also had an ear-to-ear grin. "Oh, I talked with Doug the other night. I want you guys to be my main act over the weekends this summer. Kill Wednesdays until school starts up again, but do Friday and Saturday nights, instead. You cool with that?"

"Yeah. Sounds great. What did Doug say?"

"He said to talk to you." He downed the rest of his juice, slamming the glass down with a satisfied grin. "Okay, you be here tomorrow night, Chase and we'll get this hiring business over with. For now, you two get lost or spend some money." He smiled, walked further down the bar where a middle-aged, balding man was sitting, looking Dagny up and down. He smiled suggestively, Dagny glared at him, turned to walk out of the bar.

I ripped the other application in half, thrilled that my search was over. The only downfall was I couldn't be totally honest with my parents about it. Sigh. I guess into everyone's life little white lies must fall.

Since we both had the night free and clear, we decided to make the best of it. I was nearly jumping up and down with my excitement. We hadn't been able to spend any really good time together since the beginning of the semester, and now we had the whole summer. Carrie planned to come back a little early so she and I could do some things, too, which I looked forward to. We also had an appointment to talk with her lawyer in mid-July. I knew she was worried and nervous about it, but ultimately she'd be glad to get it all over with.

I bit my lip as I checked out the newest movies that had arrived at Blockbuster, my arms crossed over my chest. As I read the titles, I thought back over the day. It had been incredible. Dagny had been a little quiet compared to her usual enthusiastic self. She had been very touchy and affectionate. I think she needed that human contact, and I certainly didn't mind. She had said she wanted a night to forget and have fun, spending some quality time with me. Of course I got all gooey with that, but I was prepared to do anything in my power to make her have fun.

"Hey, Dagny, come here." I said as I spotted a new movie I knew she had been wanting to see.

"'Kay." She said absently. I glanced over my shoulder to see her reading the back of a box in the Drama section. I waited, she continued to read, then put the box down to pick another to read.

"Hello? Earth to Dagny Robertson."

"I'm coming,"

"Uh, huh, I can see that." I walked over to her, grabbed her from behind and lifted her off her feet.

"Chase! Put me down!" She giggled like a school girl as I carried her over to the New Release wall, setting her down right in front of the movie I wanted her to see. Getting her bearings, she saw the box and with a huge grin picked it up. "Look! Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring is finally out!"

"No shit, Sherlock."

"And they have one copy left!" She snatched the video off the shelf, waving it in the air victoriously. "Why didn't you say something, Chase? We could have lost this." I glared at her, my hands on my hips, toe tapping on the floor. She grinned sheepishly. "Oh, the reason for the, and you set me down in front of, okay. I got it."

"You're such a smart girl." I grinned.

"I try."

Loaded down with three movie rentals, we headed to Dagny's apartment to relax and enjoy. We had picked up a pizza on the way, and spread it all out on the floor, moving the coffee table to the side. Dagny grabbed the comforter off her bed and laid it out so we'd have a nice space to eat and lay down on.

We watched the teasers before Tolkien's great epic began, both nearly vibrating with anticipation.

We scarfed down the pizza, shoving the box aside, and I sat back against the front of the couch. To my surprise, Dagny scooted next to me, putting her head on my shoulder. I smiled, putting an arm around her shoulders, and sighing. If this was the way summer was going to be, I didn't want school to start.

* * *

I ran over to the dorm today, finally getting my key for my summer room. I was thrilled to see I had managed somehow to get a single. I think it was a mistake, but wasn't about to say anything. I was glad to have somewhere to put my stuff again, but in the same token, I hated having to leave Dagny's apartment. I had been staying there for the last week, and it had been wonderful. It was her place, however, and I really didn't want to encroach upon her space, so I went to find out about my dorm as soon as I was notified.

I had started up at Gotfry's two days ago, and so far absolutely loved it. Greg had me do whatever needed to be done from clearing tables to covering waitress's breaks to standing at the door last night. Oh, that had been great fun. Never in my life did I think I'd be a bouncer, nor any good at it. I had a guy come in who was already drunk, and I had a bad feeling about him, so kept an eye on him. It didn't take long for me to be proven right. He tried to start a fight and I got to be the lucky girl to throw his ass out. Next, Greg was going to start teaching me how to tend bar. I wasn't sure if that was legal, but whatever.

It was coming upon Friday, and time for rehearsals. Doug went over some new songs with the guys in the band, and Terrie and I sat on the grass in Doug's front yard, catching some sun. It was late May and beautiful out. The sky was blue as a robin's egg, and the temperatures were warm, but not scorching.

I rubbed suntan lotion on my legs as Terrie leaned back on her elbows, ankles crossed. She watched me.

"You have nice legs, Chase." I glance back at her to see that she had lowered her sunglasses a bit, looking over the tops.

"Thanks." I smiled shyly. I didn't take compliments well, and wasn't real fond of them.

"Do you work out?" She sat up, running a hand over my left shin.

"Uh, well, no. Not really. Dagny and I swim every morning, but that's about it." She nodded, taking in what I said.

"That's good exercise, but I bet you're one of those people who are just lucky, and don't need to do a thing." She smiled at me. "Am I right?"

"Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I've been pretty lucky, I guess."

"I'll say." She patted my leg and leaned back again, her head back, neck arched to the sun. "God, it's blissful out here." She sighed. "I must say, this is one thing I missed when I left, the sun. Where I went back east, oh, it was cold and dreary or simply hot and humid. Miserable."

I set the suntan lotion bottle aside, laid back, my hands behind my head. I stared up at the clouds, seeing what I could find in them. I felt her presence as Terrie scooted over, putting her head next to mine so we were touching.

"How is your summer going?" I turned to find she had moved to her side, holding her head in her hand.

"It's going well, I guess. I start my summer class here in a couple weeks."

"Really? What are you taking?"

"Just a literature class, you know, knock another of my core classes down." I smiled. I felt strange about what I was taking, almost like I had to hide the fact that we'd be reading lesbian erotica, and literature. It wasn't a bad thing, and I was looking forward to it, the curiosity nearly killing me. But, all the same, I didn't want this to be common knowledge. I wasn't quite ready for the questions just yet.

"I loved literature in college." Terrie smiled at me. "All the great classics. This may seem strange, but one of my favorite authors was always Rand." My head popped up.


"Yes. You know her work?"

"Well, actually I just read Atlas Shrugged last semester." I grinned sheepishly, remembering why I had read it. My mother had yet to ask where that book had gone.

"Are you a fan?" Terrie sat up, pulling her legs in Indian style, her hands resting in her lap.

"Well, I actually read it at a friend's urging."

"That's wonderful. I read Atlas Shrugged many, many years ago. Fountainhead was always my favorite. Ayn always wrote such strong female characters, so far ahead of her time for a woman in the fifties. Especially the main character in Shrugged. Oh, what was her name,"

"Dagny Taggart."

"Yes! That's right." She stopped, cocking her head to the side. "Your friend, isn't her name Dagny?" I smiled, nodded.

"Yup. She was named after Taggart. Dag's why I read the book in the first place."

"Well that's wonderful that she could influence you like that. She's very cute." She turned to look toward the garage. "It looks like we're being called back into the den." Surprised by her comment about my friend, I got up to follow her into the garage.

* * *

Dagny had offered to help me move into the dorm, and I was grateful. I had a lot of stuff, and only two arms to carry it. This would be our first night apart in seven days, and I was not looking forward to it. I would miss her, and felt too childish to admit this to her. Big girl Chase afraid to stay alone. Well, afraid wasn't the right word, I just wanted to be around her. I had been having odd dreams almost nightly, now, and though they all centered around Dagny and I enjoyed them immensely, I was confused by them.

A heat was starting in the pit of my stomach whenever I was around her, or just when I thought of her. When we went swimming every morning and I'd see her in her bathing suit, I felt like a twelve-year-old boy seeing a nude picture for the first time. She made my body burn, and I ached for something so foreign to me. I understood, yet I didn't, but I had the feeling the explanation was just around the corner.

My clothes were spread out over the unmade bed, all dresser drawers open as I carefully re-folded the garments, sticking them in their appropriate place. Dagny watched me, an amused smile on her face.

"I had no idea that you were such a perfectionist, Chase." She leaned against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest. I shrugged, carefully smoothing the wrinkles out of the Henley I was folding.

"Well, you know, I don't have the greatest amount of clothing, so I should take care of what I have, right?"

"I suppose so." She pushed off, walked to the desk that was piled with stuff; notebooks, books, CD's and my tiny movie collection I had at school with me. "What is this?" She grabbed an old, ratty notebook off the pile. I glanced at it.

"Oh, I've had that since I was ten. If you can't tell by all the doodling." I pointed at it, grinning. She nodded, smiling.

"Yup, I can tell. I can't imagine a college-aged Chase would be drawing Rainbow Brite."

"Hey, I was ten. You do stupid things at ten." I pushed the drawer closed as I finished with my shirt drawer. Time for the shorts.

"Why do you still have this?" Dagny sat on the bed, looking at all the doodles, turning the notebook this way and that to read all the goofy messages that were written in every direction. She chuckled a few times, shaking her head.

"Well, I started writing when I was about nine. I started with simple poetry, not quiet getting the idea of writing a song until I saw a documentary on Elton John that summer." I leaned against the dresser, remembering the day the light bulb went off. I had run upstairs immediately, and had written my first song. "My parents bought us a whole bunch of school supplies for that year, and I liked the color of that notebook, thought the aqua was cool." I smiled. "It quickly became my writing notebook. Kind of like my diary, I guess."

"May I?" I suddenly felt a sick feeling in my stomach at the though of Dagny reading my work. No one had ever read a word. "If you don't want me to, Chase, I understand." She put her hand on my arm. I hated being so damn easy to read.

"No, it's okay. Go ahead." Dagny looked back down at the notebook, then over at me. I think she knew the significance of my letting her read those, that she was the first.

"Thank you."

She moved from the bed to the floor, resting her back against the side of the mattress, slowly opening the cover, trying to be careful as the flimsy cardboard was already pulling from the spiral wiring. She ran her hand down the smoothness of the first page, filled with more doodles and written in really bad cursive:

Chase's Award Winning Writings

She chuckled. "That so?" She looked at me, trying to hide the grin that was begging to get out.

"Yeah, yeah. I told you I was stupid when I was ten."

"Come here, you goof. Sit with me." I tossed the shorts I had been folding to the dresser, and plopped down next to Dagny. I was so nervous, my heart about to pound right out of my chest. But at the same time, I was curious to see what she would think of the songs. She'd get to see a special part of my insides that no one had ever seen before.

Dagny turned the first page to my first real song. It was short, didn't make a whole lot of sense, obviously written by a child who was trying her musical wings. Dagny read it, smiling the entire time.

"This is so adorable. I can just imagine you as little Chase, laying on your bed on your stomach, chewing on the eraser of your pencil." She looked at me, mirth twinkling in her eyes.

"That's about it, too." I smiled back. Dagny continued to read, eventually turning herself so she had her back to me, leaning against me. I could read over her shoulder, and put my hand on her upper back, trying to get those kinks out.

"Oh, yeah. Keep it up," she breathed, her head leaning back for a moment as she enjoyed it, then turned her attention back to the page before her. "Misfit." My stomach clenched when she read the title. This song meant a great deal to me, and it would kill me if she didn't like it. I hoped she could understand it, and not find it strange or stupid. I read over her shoulder:

Tarnished and tattered
Stained colors battered
Why don't I seem to fit in?

Diff'rent as night and day
Never seem to go their way
Someone's got to be kidding

Chorus: Maybe the postman's
         That could explain a lot
         Or left on their doorstep
         And they decided to adopt
If that's the case,
         I wish they'd left me instead
         In a family of crystal, I am lead

Young and too jaded
Can't play the part they expect

Too independent
Don't have a remnant
Of their so-called great intellect


Chipped and abused
Worn out, too, and used
I feel too old for my years

Rags to their dress clothes
Stale to their fresh loaves
I don't let them see any tears

Chorus: (repeat last line)

Dagny said nothing, and I waited, holding my breath. She slowly moved away from me, looking at me. I was surprised to see her eyes shiny.

"How old were you when you wrote this, Chase?" she whispered.


"Sing it. Please?"

I looked at her for a moment, then nodded. I stood, grabbed Melo from the corner where she was tucked in with Than, and set her up. I sat on the edge of the bed, took a deep breath as I found the tune in my head again, and softly began to sing, talking of the confusion and pain from my early years, that had not gone away.

Dagny watched and listened from her seat on the floor, hands in her lap as she studied me, her eyes traveling all over my face. I wondered what was going through her mind, what was she thinking? I was thinking that finally I had found someone to accept me for me, and not expect me to create the moon from a rock on the beach.

It hit me in that moment, as I saw a tear slide down Dagny's face, lazily making its way to her mouth. I saw those green eyes looking at me, at who I was and what I was capable of. This was what I wanted in my life, what I needed to keep me going and keep wanting to try and be me. I needed this I my life, I felt like I needed her.

I nearly stopped playing as it hit me, but I kept going. I couldn't think about it anymore, couldn't let it seep into my conscious thoughts quite yet. I filed it away for further processing.

I ended the song, looked at my friend, not sure what to say or ask.

"God, Chase. You are, I had no idea. I'm blown away." Another tear managed to squeeze its way out of her left eye.

"Why are you crying, Dag?" I asked quietly, putting Melo aside.

"I feel so sad." She stood, gathered me into a huge hug. "I had no idea you felt this way, Chase. No idea." I put my arms around her and held her to me. God, what was I going to do? I knew there was no way in hell this would ever work. Dagny would have to stay my friend, and I'd have to figure something else out. For now I'd have to play it safe, keep everything locked inside. That wouldn't be a problem. I've been doing that my entire life.

"Is there more?" Dagny asked when she pulled away, her hand still on my shoulder as she looked down at me. I nodded. I stood, grabbed the leather journal from the desk.

"There's really only one in this journal. Well, one that's finished, anyway." I didn't want her to read Comfortable In My Skin. That song was just for me, it was my heart and feelings splayed out there in black and white, and I didn't want the humiliation of Dagny reading it, seeing right through me. I flipped through the pages. "Here. This one's called Confusion Abounds."

Dagny took the journal from me. "Thanks." She began to read, again with me reading over her shoulder.

What is this feeling
That gnaws at my heart
What does this mean then
Now that we're apart

Why can't I see quite
What is chaining me
Why can't life be right
And just let me be?

Chorus: I can't understand
What's going on inside
But it's a feeling I won't deny

I can't seem to find
A word for this ache
But I'm not about to break

So many questions
So many things I don't know
Part of me wants to run
But I'll never let you go

Though it can't be identified
I don't know where to start
True meanings always seem to hide
From head but not from heart


Dagny softly shut the journal, smiled at me. "Wonderful, Chase. Really, really great." She ran her hand over the soft surface of the cover. "What were you talking about in that one? What inspired you?" I stared at her, trying to come up with something to say. How could I tell her she inspired all of my more recent songs?

"Well, um, just life, I guess." I smiled nervously. "You know, things happen to you, and you put them away in your brain until they all spill out in one form or another." Dagny handed me the journal, and I put it back on the desk. I suddenly felt very nervous, my palms sweating. I didn't know what I was afraid of. "So, we've worked hard today. Want to get some dinner?" I smiled, hopeful that she would take me up on getting out of here, and her away from my writing.

"Yeah, that sounds good." She sniffled one last time, and we left the room.

Magpie's was quiet, after all it was the middle of the week. Dagny and I sat at the table that had become ours, always seeming to be seated in the same place. She looked at the menu, and I looked at her.

My small revelation tonight had felt strange yet exhilarating. I didn't fully understand the importance of it, yet, I knew. Part of me felt sad, however. I knew chances were good that Dagny would never see me the same way I saw her. What could I possibly offer her except a good friend? Someone to watch movies with, and eat pizza with. That was it, nothing more. Fifteen years from now, when we had both graduated college, gone our separate ways, she would not think of me. Would not wonder what I was up to. But I knew the same would not be true of me. Dagny would always be with me, the woman who changed me and my perception of myself.

I was snapped out of my thoughts by the waiter asking for our drink orders. I got the same thing every time, drink and food-wise, so there wasn't a big hurry for me to figure out what I wanted.

"So what started you writing?" I looked at Dagny to see her staring at me, resting her chin on her hand. I shrugged. Grabbed the little glass shaker filled with Parmesan cheese.

"I guess I had so many thoughts and feeling running through me as a kid, and I really didn't know how to deal with them. I wasn't creative like Carrie, couldn't just draw it out on a piece of paper, and I couldn't talk to my parents, really, so one day I sat down, and wrote that poem, figured out it was helpful, didn't stop. Whenever something, good or bad, would happen in my life, I'd write about it. There you go."

"You're wonderful. I must say, I'm truly impressed. You wrote with more clarity and intelligence at thirteen than I do now." She smiled, thanking the waiter for bringing our drinks. I sipped from my soda.

"I don't know. I enjoy it. I would never want to do it for a living or anything, but nothing works better for me to get things out."

"That's good, Chase. We all need something."

We had walked to Magpie's from the dorm, and started to walk back.

"What do you say we just walk?" Dagny asked, looking up into the clear night. I nodded my consent, and we turned left at the end of Magpie's parking lot, began our stroll. The night was beautiful, summer turning out to be warm, but mild, the nights perfect. I glanced down, seeing Dagny's hand, her thumb tucked into the belt loop of her shorts. I wanted to reach down and grab it, hold her hand, feel connected.

I tore my eyes away, tossing the thought out of my head.

"I have to confess, I've tried to write a time or two." Dagny's voice surprised me, caught my attention. She looked at me to see what my reaction was. I looked at her, letting her know she had my attention. "It sucked. I think I'm too analytical to be poetic." I smiled, nodding.

"Well, then am I screwed?" She laughed.

"No. I think you're one of those people who make me sick, who are good at just about anything they try." I smiled, liking the sound of that, even though it was just not true. As we walked, Dagny went on to tell me of different friends she had had through the years who had been writers, and even a good friend from high school who had been a sculpture. "She was fascinating, saw things in the strangest of ways."

"Artists can be interesting, can't they? Carrie can be quite the eccentric, sometimes."

"So she's finally made up her mind, huh?" Dagny took a sharp left and I followed suit without much thought. I nodded.

"Yeah. I'm thrilled about it, too. She decided on painting. I think she'll do well with it."

"Do you see much of her?" I shrugged.

"Yeah, for the most part. This is the first summer that we didn't spend together." I said, suddenly sad at that fact. Things change, but I didn't like change.

"Oh, Chase. I'm sorry. Here you are stuck with me." Dagny turned to me, her brows drawn.

"Hey, no, this is not a bad thing, Dag. Really." I tried to reassure her. The look on her face told me I wasn't doing a very good job of it. "Really. I'd rather be here, you know?" I looked down at the sidewalk, which needed some work. I was feeling very shy right now. I knew Dagny didn't quite understand the impact and depth of my words, but I sure as hell did.

"Aww, Chase. That's so nice. I'm really glad you're here." She entwined our arms as we walked, a smile on her face. I mirrored it, stayed quiet as we walked up on her building. "Want to come in for a bit?" I nodded. Definitely. Dagny pulled out her keys and took us toward the back of the building's first floor to grab her mail before we made our way upstairs. She looked through a pile of stuff, stopping on the Alumni Newsletter that was sent out to all graduates of the university. We made it to the bottom of the stairs when she stopped, I nearly running into her.

"What are you doing?"

"It's Darrel," she said quietly, turning toward me. "They have his obituary in here." She showed me the page. A black and white picture was set next to it. I stared at Darrel, the man who had managed to get next to this incredible lady. He was very good looking, hair that looked to be brown or light brown, clean cut and well kept. He had light colored eyes, and a nice smile.

"He was cute." I commented as I began to read. He had graduated from UA last year with a business degree with emphasis on foreign affairs. He was fluent in Japanese and had worked for a large corporation in San Diego where he was in line for a promotion. As I read all the things that Darrel had accomplished in his twenty-four years of life, I couldn't help but think what a waste it was. He was so intelligent and driven, and there probably was no end to the things he would have done.

"Come on." Dagny began to start up the stairs, and I silently followed. We reached her apartment, and she walked in only to head for the couch, flopping down hard.

"You okay?" I sat down next to her, setting the newsletter on the coffee table. "Can I get you anything?" She shook her head. "Why don't you tell me about him, Dag? Tell me what you liked about him, what you guys used to do. You know, talk about it." Dagny sighed, her shoulders slumping, but said nothing. "Come on, Dag. Talk to me. Please?"

She looked so alone and vulnerable sitting there two feet away from me. I had the immediate sense that she needed to be touched, so I put my hand on the back of her neck, pulled her toward me. Within seconds, she fell over sideways and laid her head in my lap, tucking her hands up by her face, her legs curling.

"Well, we met the first day of our freshman year here." She began, wiping at her eye. "He was so good looking and made me so nervous." She smiled at the memory. "I wasn't really all that interested, worried about my studies. He would not leave me alone, and to make matters worse, we had some classes together." I smiled my understanding, bringing my hand to Dagny's hair, running my fingers through it. "He kept asking and asking until finally I agreed to go out with him. He was so cute. On Christmas Eve he took me to dinner at this really expensive place. Oh, man did they have good steak." She smiled again.

"What made you go with him?" She shrugged with a sigh.

"I think mainly so he'd stop. I got so tired of being inundated with calls from him, he even went so far as to get his friends involved. I knew a few of them from classes, and they talked to me constantly about him. I was about ready to start opening fire." I laughed. "Anyway, he was a complete gentlemen, and my parents absolutely loved him. He was smart, driven, treated me like a queen."

"Why did it break up?" I asked softly, staring down at Dagny's profile as she laid in my lap, her soft hair tickling my fingers as brushed it back.

"It wasn't what I wanted. You know it's funny." She turned to her back so she was staring up at me. "I have asked myself this so many times. I mean, don't get me wrong, the guy wasn't perfect, but he was a good guy. Why didn't I try and make it work?" She took a deep breath, staring up at the ceiling. I stared down at her, studying her face and features. The delicacy of her astounded me, yet she had so much strength. "Money and success was so important to Darrel."


"It was how his father had made it. His father, Rob, is a heavy hitter in the business world, the type who has his finger in just every kind of pie you can think of. Darrel was on his way to being the same way. He was smart, sharp as a whip. He knew what would work and what would drop out. I think that's why he called me again." She looked at me. "He thought that his success and money could get me to go to him."

"That's really sad," I said, stroking Dagny's arm. She held her arm out straight to give me more access to it.

"It is, but that's what he knew. He was always so supportive of my undergrad degree, and my love for psychology, but when it came down to it and he was headed off for California, he could not understand my need to finish. He thought that I had my BS, so why did I need to go on? I could always find work out in California, after all, his father knew just about everyone, and could get me in some lucrative job." She shook her head. "Not for me. I want to get someplace in this world on my own." She sighed. "Life is interesting."

"Yes it is." I ran my fingers through her hair again as I stared down at her, smiling back as she smiled up at me.

"I remember Darrel used to take me to this little totally hole-in-the-wall café called Jillian's. Man, this place was hard to find, and had the cheapest food you've ever seen. I'm talking like a dollar fifty for a hamburger."

"Damn! I want to go." I laughed. She laughed with me.

"God, he was such a wonderful listener. I really have to say, until you I had never met anyone who heard so much of what I said. We used to talk all the time. He was like no other guy I'd come across. You know, most feel the need to play the big, bad strong stud." She grinned. "Not Darrel. He was sweet and sensitive."

"Why did you let him go, Dag? You sound like you really loved him." She drew her brows as she thought about that for a moment, sucking her bottom lip in to chew on it.

"You know I really did. I loved Darrel very much, still do, actually. But I think the problem was I never was in love with him. It just wasn't right for me. Sometimes I see myself as quite defective for it." She looked at me. "Do you think I am?"

I shook my head vigorously. "God, no. It just wasn't the right time or person for you, Dag. It happens, and it does not make you a bad person for it." She smiled, bringing her hand to my face to gently caress my cheek.

"Thanks, Chase. What would I do without you?" She winked. "You may be right, but I still have to live with the guilt that I never apologized to him, was never totally honest with him, and now it's too late." I saw tears forming in her eyes, and I leaned down to gather her head in my arms, holding her close, letting her know she wasn't alone. She cried silent tears, her body shaking slightly with the sobs. I stroked her hair, whispering comforting words to her.

Within a few moments Dagny had calmed, and was wiping at her nose. I reached across her to the coffee table and grabbed a Kleenex.


"Thanks." She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, took a deep breath. I smiled at her.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry. I didn't expect to react that way." She sat up to grab another Kleenex, wiping her face off.

"Don't you dare apologize, Dag. You do that anytime you want to." With a sigh she laid back down, her head in my lap again. I looked down at her. "Want a pillow?" She nodded with a smile. I grabbed the black throw pillow that sat next to me on the couch and put it under her head as she lifted it.

"What do you look for in a relationship, Chase?" The question threw me for a moment, but I quickly recovered.

"Well, I don't know."

"Oh come on. Tell me."

"Okay. Well," I looked away, staring at the entertainment center across the room. I couldn't dare look at Dagny as I answered this question. "I want someone who loves me for me, you know?" I felt her nod. "I want someone who can be fun yet serious, who listens to me when I talk and is willing to talk to me in turn." I glanced down at her, her eyes were on me. When she caught my gaze she smiled. I smiled back. "I want to be able to build a life with someone, have all the great things in life, a house, a dog and a pool table." She laughed. "You think I'm joking, but if whoever doesn't like to play pool, I'm sorry, no sale."

"Okay, okay. Each to his own. What else?"

"Um, let's see." I bit my lip as I stared up at the ceiling trying to think of all the things I'd ever wanted for myself. "I want someone who respects what I do, and may even enjoy it a little."

"Like your music?" I looked down at her and nodded.

"Or whatever else I decide to do."

"Mm, I know what you mean. If you think I'm crazy for continuing on for my doctorate, deal with it."

"And if you think I'm nuts for not wanting to go to college at all, it's my choice." She smiled up at me.

"We're not bitter or anything, are we?" I grinned, shook my head.

"No, not at all. What about you?"

"What about me," she sighed. "Hmm. Well, I know I certainly don't want to be my parents." I said nothing, just listened. I really knew nothing about her family. I had met them once when I had been a kid, but that was it. I definitely couldn't pick them out in a lineup. "My parents love each other very, very deeply. They met in high school, the whole high school sweetheart thing. Been married forever."

"Then what's the problem?" I asked, confused.

"My parents love each other very deeply, are still in love, but they didn't have enough to go around." I looked at her, understanding hitting me. "I was a very mature kid, as I wasn't really allowed to be a kid. My parents treated me as an equal once I was able to communicate and do for myself. I was bright and could figure things out on my own, so I didn't really have to be helped out with things. My parents took full advantage of this, enrolling me in classes on the weekends since I was of school age. I loved the extra challenge, but had very little time with them, you know?" I nodded, sad for a young Dagny who didn't understand. She looked so matter of fact about her childhood as she explained it to me.

"Wow." I shook my head. So much about my friend was coming into focus.

"I never had anyone else, Chase. That's why I've always depended on me and only me. You accused me of not trusting you when I first heard Darrel died." She smiled, understanding filling her eyes. "I understood where you'd feel that way, but that wasn't the case. I just really don't know how to lean on someone else." I nodded. I got it now.

"Do you think you'll ever be able to learn? I mean, that would be pretty important in a relationship. People need to feel needed, Dag." She stared up into my face, studying my eyes, her gaze trailing down my nose to my mouth, then to my cheeks, and back to my eyes.

"Yeah, it is important. It's something that I think will come in time, it'll come with ultimate trust." She sighed. "I do have to say, I also want the Norman Rockwell picture. I want kids and to be happy, and my career."

"Sounds good." I grinned. I wished I'd be able to see her happiness unfold as time and life went on.

"Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you." She sat up, running a hand through her hair. "I have a convention to go to that Levy invited me to. It lasts for two days, but, well, if you'd like to go I figure we could stay an extra day and sight see." I looked at her, stunned.

"Um, yeah. When, where?"

"It's next weekend and it's up at a little town near the Grand Canyon. Go figure, huh?" she grinned. "Have you ever been there?" I shook my head. "Chase! You live so close and you've never been?"

"Yeah. Guess I just haven't gotten around to it." I said, trying to hide my sadness. I would have gone years ago had my mother ever taken me with her.

"Cool. There's supposed to be some speaker coming in from the University of Washington. Her name is Jen something, Carlson?" She asked, sucking on the inside of her cheek as she thought. "I don't remember for sure, but anyway, I figure you could either go with me and listen, too or just do your own thing until I'm done." She looked at me closely. "You interested?"

"Definitely!" I was excited. I knew Greg would give me the time off, and my class didn't start for anther week. "Actually, um, well is it possible for me to listen in?"

"Absolutely!" she smiled, clapping her hands. "This will be so much fun."

* * *

I laughed as I pushed away from the bar, tray in hand. I had just talked to Greg about the upcoming trip, and he had been kind enough to give me the advice of not falling over the guardrail of the Grand Canyon.

As I turned to head for the table that had ordered the Bud and a Grateful Dead, I nearly ran smack into Terrie. She smiled.


"Hi there. You nearly added a few more colors to that shirt you've got on, there." She looked down at the jigsaw puzzle pieces that littered her shirt, each one a different color. She grinned.

"I wouldn't have had to go home to change, at least."

"This is true. What's up?" She followed me as I headed for the table that the drinks belonged to.

"Well, I came by to get a drink and see my favorite cocktail waitress." She grinned.

"Call me that again and I'll have to deck you." She laughed.

"My deepest apologies." The drinks delivered, I held the tray to my chest with my arms crossed over it, and turned to the drummer. "So what's this I hear you'll be gone this weekend?"

"Dagny invited me to a psychology convention with her this weekend. We'll leave Friday and come back in late Monday night."

"That sounds like fun." She crossed her arms over her chest, taking a defensive stance. What's up with that?

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Get away a little bit, see the Grand Canyon. You know. I think it'll be great."

"I hope so. You know those types of things can be a real drag. Take it from me. In my job before, I had to go to these all the time. I hope you're not bored out of your mind." She put her hand on my arm, moving in close to me. "I have to go. But you keep what I said in mind. If you get bored, give me a call." With a smile, she was gone.

* * *

The town of Domer, Arizona was small with a population of about ten thousand. I wondered why the convention was to be held here, and Dagny explained it was because it was a good mid point for the universities of Washington state and Illinois, which was the furthest coming. The rates to hold it were cheap, and the scenery beautiful.

We pulled up to our motel, a quaint little place with a pool and hot tub. UA was only willing to pay for two rooms; one for Levy and one for Dagny, so we figured it would be stupid to spend the money for a second one. Dagny and I could easily share.

The room was small, the double bed's headboard against the center wall, a table with two small chairs to the left, and the bathroom to the right. A motel room was a motel room; not a whole lot of change there.

"The first presentation starts at eight." Dagny said, sitting on the bed and reading the schedule that had been sent to her two weeks ago. "That lasts for about an hour or so then we have a getting to you know you kind of thing with refreshments in the main hall. Um, that lasts until ten, then another presentation that will take us till lunch, get an hour for lunch, then another presentation starts at one that lasts until four. Sunday is pretty much the same way." She looked up at me. "Are you going to be bored out of your mind, Chase?" She looked worried. I smiled, shook my head. I found it amusing that Dag and Terrie were thinking along the same lines. They really must think that I can't entertain myself. I smiled internally at the thought.

"No, I don't think so. I've never been to anything like this, so I'm looking forward to it." I sat next to her on the bed.

"Really? I hope so. I'd hate for you to wish you hadn't come."

"I wouldn't worry about that. Besides, I've only had one class so far dealing with my major, so I may actually learn something."

After getting settled in we decided to tour the town. That didn't take long. Domer was actually a beautiful little place with a main street filled with nothing but local shops carrying everything from tobacco to clothing to swords. We walked along going into just about every store there was, stopping into a bakery for a hot cinnamon roll and something to drink. The old couple that owned the place and made everything from scratch, were some of the nicest people I had ever met.

"So what are you two ladies doing around here? I've been here for over sixty-two years, and I know every living soul in Domer." The man said, leaning over one of the glass cases. "What're your names?"

"I'm Dagny and this is my friend Chase." The old man looked at Dagny for a moment, dressed in her loose-fit jeans and tee. He rubbed his chin.

"I'd be willing to bet you was here for the convention this weekend." He looked at me. "Not so sure about you, though." We looked at each other and grinned.

"Well, we're both here for that."

"Hm. You never can read people."

"Do I look that delinquent?" I asked as we headed back out into the warm night. Dagny laughed.

"I guess. Personally I think I look younger than you do, but each to his own."

* * *

I dressed in the only pair of khakis I owned, feeling stupid. I hated to dress up, but I knew this was not a casual affair. I puttered around the room, trying to get comfortable and loosen up. I wasn't a big fan of large events with lots of people. I waited not so patiently for Dagny to finish up in the bathroom.

A few minutes later the door opened, and Dagny stepped out. She looked gorgeous in a dark green skirt that reached to just above her knees and a sleeveless satin top that was a lighter green. She walked out into the bedroom, and all I could do was stare. Her hair was pinned up, a few strands falling around her face.

Dagny stood in the doorway, looking at me. "What?" she asked, looking down at herself to see what was wrong. I couldn't close my mouth. "Is something wrong? Am I stained somewhere?"

"Uh, no. God, no. You just look so beautiful. That's all," I finished softly. She took my breath away. Dagny smiled, walked toward me.

"Thank you, Chase. You look beautiful yourself." She took in the black chinos and blue cotton button up shirt I wore, black Docs on my feet. "That shirt really brings out the color of your eyes." She looked up at me, staring into them. "I'm so glad you came with me. Thank you."

"Anytime." I smiled, so did she. "Shall we?"

The convention center was wall to wall people, and I felt like a child. Just about everyone in the room had some sort of sheepskin on their wall for some high-level psychology degree. Here I was, barely a sophomore in college, only having taken one psychology class in my entire life. Talk about small potatoes.

"Come on." Dagny saw my distress and took me by the arm to the room where we were to see Jen Carlson presenting about the inner workings of the memory. I was excited, however. I was interested to hear what she had to say.

Dagny found us two seats near the middle as the place was already filling up fast. The podium was set up at the front, a woman with dark hair standing at it looking over what I assumed were her notes. She was dressed in a nice suit, navy blue, the skirt reaching to just below her knees. Her hair was a bit below her shoulders, and as I watched she tucked some strands behind her ear.

"That's Jen Carlson." Dagny pointed out, leaning over to whisper in my ear. I nodded. "She's fantastic. I read some of her works last year. She's really into the memory, and has done numerous studies on it."

"Wow. I won't need to listen to this at all, now." I smiled; she smacked me playfully on the shoulder.

"This year she published a paper on nature vs. nurture with homosexuality." I looked at her, this catching my attention. "Fascinating stuff, from what I've read, anyway."

"Please be seated, everyone. I'm about to start." Jen took the microphone from its holder and began to walk around, looking at her audience, smiling at those sitting near the front. Within a few moments everyone had found their seats and were quiet. "Hello. My name is Jen Carlson and I'm pleased to be here. I must say, it's a bit warmer than I'm used to back in Seattle." She smiled, and people in the audience chuckled. "So, let's get started."

I listened, completely fascinated by what our speaker had to say, my eyes and ears glued to her every word and exhibit. Dagny glanced over at me from time to time to make sure I wasn't bored, and chuckled under her breath each time.

"I'm so glad you're enjoying this, Chase. I was worried," she whispered.

"No need to be. She's great," I whispered back.

I was absolutely mesmerized by Jen Carlson, hanging on her every word. She even went into her newest research, the nature vs. nurture thing. I was amazed at the evidence she had gathered of the possibility of nature being more prevalent than nurture.

I turned to Dagny, curious to see if she found this as interesting as I did. Of course, I had my own reasons. She was listening intently, almost as intently as I was.

The first seminar was over, and it was time to head to the get to know you thing. Dagny and I made our way to a wall, trying to get out of the way of the rush of people getting out of different rooms with different speakers. You were allowed to choose where you wanted to go and who you wanted to listen to.

"I can't believe how many people turned up for this." Dagny smiled, turning to me, her back on the masses. "So what did you think of that?"

"I thought she was fantastic," I gushed. "It was so interesting, and she was so intelligent and knew so much about her stuff. I especially liked what she had to say on young kids and their tendency toward homosexuality." Dagny cocked her head to the side.

"Really? Why?" I shrugged. Step lightly, Chase.

"I don't know. It's just something I've always wondered, I guess. You know,"


We both looked down to see a little guy tugging on Dagny's hand. She turned to look down at him, and he recoiled, the confusion obvious.

"Well, hello there, little man." She said, kneeling to his level. "Are you lost?" He nodded.

"No you're not." The boy was picked up and brought into a woman's arms. The little boy looked at her, his face brightening like the sun through the clouds.


"I'm sorry." The woman looked at us, her green eyes smiling. I understood his confusion. Dagny and this woman resembled each other quite a bit. Close to the same color of hair, the woman's a little lighter blonde, and a little shorter. She wore a green shirt and black pants. "Hi. I'm Joie, and this is Nathaniel. He normally doesn't try and take everyone home to be his mother." She smiled at Dagny. "You should feel honored."

"And I do. Hi." Dagny smiled, shaking the woman's hand. "Hey, Nathaniel. You're so cute I may have been tempted to take you home, you know." He smiled, bright blue eyes twinkling. He had blonde hair, a smidge darker than his mother's, and he was dressed in a pair of tiny black dress pants and a white dress shirt with a yellow tie. "He is adorable." She smiled.

"Thanks. Careful, though, he knows it already." We all laughed. Joie looked at me. "Hi."


"This is Chase." Dagny supplied when it was obvious I wasn't going to say anything else. I was captivated by this woman, especially when Jen Carlson walked up to her.

"Hey, honey." She kissed Joie soundly on the lips. Dagny and I stood, surprised. I had liked these two immediately before, but now, wow. The presenter turned to us.

"Hi there."

"These two were nice enough to find Nate, here."

"Ah. I see. Sorry." Jen put her arm around Joie's waist and took Nathaniel from her. As I looked from one to the other I realized that the boy was probably Jen's son, and not Joie's. But Nathaniel had called Joie 'Mamma'... I was getting a headache.

"You were great, babe." Joie said, picking a small piece of lint off of the speaker's jacket.

"Thank you." She smiled at her obvious mate.

"Yes, incredible. I had to study your work on memory last year," Dagny said, looking at the woman with ultimate hero worship. Jen laughed.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. That must have been awful." She grinned at me. I smiled shyly back.

"No, no, it was very enjoyable. I did a paper on it, actually. Extremely informative." Jen smiled, obviously very pleased.

"Would you two care to join us?" Jen looked from one of us to the other, indicated the hall where everyone was headed to eat.

"Oh, yes."

We found a table for four, and got Nathaniel settled in before the four adults began to talk. Dagny and Jen got lost in a world filled with psychology, theories and schools of thought. These things left Joie and I in the dust, so we started our own conversation.

"No, Nathaniel is biologically Jenny's, but he's my boy." She looked with pride on her son, and he grinned at her, offering her his half-eaten doughnut. "Nope, you eat it, Natey." He laughed and stuck the entire thing in his mouth. She shook her head as she wiped his chin and face.

"Are you in psychology, too?" I asked, taking a drink of my orange juice. She shook her head.

"Nope. I wouldn't have a clue about it, other than what I've learned from Jenny in the last eight years.

"So, you guys have, um, been together that long?" I asked, curious beyond belief if these two were lovers.

"Yup. We met during our junior year at the University of Washington. We played hockey together."

"Hockey?" I smiled, not able to imagine Jen Carlson anywhere near a sport.

"Oh, yeah. This one here was a force to be reckoned with." She indicated her lover with her thumb. "I now coach the hockey team up there, the Panthers. My girls are the best in college hockey today." Her smile was radiant. I couldn't help but be jealous of their life. "So are you here just to be with your girl, there?"

"Oh, well, um, we're just friends, actually." She looked at me, the surprised evident in her eyes.

"Oh. I'm sorry." She smiled. I shrugged.

"It's okay. She studied me for a moment, her brows drawn, then with a slightly cocky grin, punched my arm playfully.

"Hang in there." She sipped from her juice. "So what do you do?"

"I'm a student at UA, also. Just starting my second year."

"What are you going into?" She took Nathaniel from his chair and heaved him into her lap. The boy tried to reach for everything that was in front of Joie; she absently stopped tiny hands from grabbing her breakfast, her juice, her wallet or sunglasses. I was absolutely charmed and amused.


"Ah, shit, am I keeping you from their conversation? I'm sorry."

"Oh, no, no. I just started, kind of getting into it late, so don't worry." I grinned. "I have no more of an idea what they're talking about then you do." Joie grinned. I liked her.

"What area do you think you want to go into?" she helped Nate sip from her glass, making sure the juice didn't dribble down on his tie. "Jenny will kick my butt if he gets dirty," she mumbled. I chuckled.

"To be honest, I really don't know. I'm finding that I do enjoy children, though." I proceeded to tell her about my Thursday night jam sessions I did for Natalie, and how inspirational I found them.

"That's wonderful, Chase. Maybe you could go into hospitals or schools, or something. Kids and music go hand in hand. You really should try and keep both your passions together, you know? It makes things more interesting for you and who you're working with."

The visiting time came to an end and it was time to head into another session. Jenny and Joie had invited us to attend the cognitive learning presentation with them, and we had happily agreed. The couple walked in front of us, looking every bit the happy family. I found it amazing that they had been together for so long yet looked so happy and in love still. I couldn't take my eyes off of them. Neither could Dagny.

* * *

The weekend conference went well, and I enjoyed every minute of it, especially spending time with Joie and Jenny. They were so interesting to me, and the fact that they were lesbian partners blew my mind. To see them together was amazing; they lived like nay other couple you'd think of. They obviously loved each other and their two-year-old son very much. They owned a house together, had a dog and a cat. No different. Huh, it could work.

I had found it very interesting and strange that Dagny seemed almost obsessed with those two, especially Jenny. I mean, I understand that Jen did exactly what Dag wanted to do, but she couldn't get enough of them, and the dynamics of their relationship.

Monday afternoon we decided to head to the Grand Canyon, and I was so excited. We walked around, amazed and awed by the sheer size of it, trying to think of what could possibly have created such a huge monument to nature and her capabilities. I had seen my mom's pictures from when she used to take her summer jaunts here, but no picture could ever get you ready for actually being here, seeing the depth of it, imagining what would happen if you were to fall in.

We stopped in front of one of the rails and looked down into the canyon. Earlier we had stopped a couple and asked them to get a picture of both of us, standing in front of the rail, goofy smiles on our faces. That would be a good picture.

"Turn around, Chase. I'll get a picture of you," Dagny said, hurrying a good distance away, bringing up the disposable camera we had picked up before leaving Tucson. I posed, smiling, hopefully looking happy. I hated pictures and saw cameras as evil creations.

"Your turn." I grinned evilly. Dagny handed me the camera with a smile, her fingers brushing against mine as the camera was passed. I took several of her, wanting to have this trip saved forever. I had had the most wonderful time with Dagny. She had cracked me up constantly with her comments on everything from the town to the speakers to the cloud formations. She seemed happy. That made me happy. Mostly. I was having the most intense dreams now. Almost every time I closed my eyes images came to play that left me breathless and sweaty when I woke. It was always Dagny, and she was always doing what I was yearning for more and more in the light of day.

Dag turned to look out at the expanse of the canyon, and I walked up behind her. I felt guilty now when we touched, knowing what was behind my caresses, but I could not deny myself the guilty pleasure of the innocent touches. I hugged her from behind, resting my chin on her shoulder. She put her hands on my forearms and leaned back into me.

"You know, when I was a kid my mom did a lot of amateur photography, and would come out here during her summer breaks. She always left me home, with the babysitter." I grinned, and Dag lightly slapped my arm. "I always used to ask if I could come. I wanted to see it, spend that time with her. She would tell me I was too young, so I stopped asking. As I got older, I still wanted to go, but she never offered to take me." I looked down at Dagny. "I'm glad my first time was with you." She didn't say a word as she turned her head up and back and stared at me for a moment, then turned in the ring of my arms and hugged me, her head resting against my shoulder. I held her close, breathing in the smell and feel of her. Everyday it was getting harder and harder to be around her. My feelings were growing, and I didn't know what to do with them or about them. Who was there to talk to? I was feeling more and more frustrated daily. I didn't know what to do.

* * *

The drive back to Tucson was underway, Dagny pushing Freud along the roads, music playing on the radio. I looked over at her, her fishing hat in place. I told her earlier that she looked like all she needed was a pole with some bait. I had gotten a pinch for my observation.

"I love my hat, so bite me." Tempting.

I reached up and grabbed the brimmed hat, swiping it off her head.

"Hey!" she batted at my hand blindly, trying to keep her eyes on the road. "Give me that back, woman."

"Nope. You shouldn't cover this." I ran my fingers through her hair, only to really dig in, ruffling it. She squealed in surprise. I stopped, not wanting her to crash and kill us, but could not stop laughing.

"God that was too good!"

"You're evil, Chase Marin!" She laughed, trying to flatten her hair.

"You have no idea."

"Neither do you."

* * *

We had been back from the convention for a couple days, and I had to start getting ready for my upcoming class. I was looking forward to it, my curiosity piqued. Especially after meeting Joie and Jenny. I had met lots of Carrie's friends, and her girlfriends over the years, but I never really took them that seriously. It seemed for them it was all about lust and rebelling. The couple at the convention were all about love and making a life together.

Dagny talked about Jen Carlson often, and how much she respected her work and liked her as a person. I almost felt jealous of Jen, though I knew how stupid that was. I mean, Jenny was basically married, and Dagny, well, that wasn't a problem there.

I sat on my bed, back against the wall and stared up at the ceiling as I thought about her. Yesterday morning we had gone swimming, and I had turned to head toward the bathroom while Dagny took a shower to get all the chlorine off her body. The flimsy curtains do not close all the way, and I caught sight of her naked back, muscles moving under smooth skin as she washed herself, then she turned slightly, and I caught just the barest glimpse of her left breast, the nipple taut from the cold air and hot water.

I felt like a pervert, and it was definitely not fair to Dag. I quickly hurried to the bathroom, squeezing my eyes shut tight as I locked myself into the stall. I tried to get my breathing under control as I saw it in my mind over and over again. I imagined my hands on that breast, touching that nipple, feeling the hardness of it.

I swallowed as I felt stinging behind my eyes. Why did I have to be this way? Think this way? I just wanted to, hell, I didn't know anymore. I didn't know what I wanted, but did know that Dagny was in there somewhere.

I took a deep breath as I sat in my dorm, all by myself. Night was falling quickly, and I needed to head out to work soon. I needed to calm myself as I could feel my pulse beating in my head, fast and hot. Every time Dagny touched me, which was often, I felt the sting of her fingers, like fire licking across my skin. God, help me.

Dagny was to meet me at the bar as we had plans after my shift was over. I hurried back to the employee lounge where we kept our personal stuff and quickly untied my apron, exchanging it for my wallet. The bar was loud and rowdy as I headed out, dodging dancers and drunk people until one didn't let me pass.

"Hey, you." I saw that it was Terrie, and wasn't too surprised. She had started hanging out here on a semi-regular basis.

"Hi." I smiled. "Great rehearsal today."

"Thanks. You, too. Want to join us?" I looked to see a table full of people staring at us. I shook my head.

"No can do. Dagny's supposed to be here any time." I ran a hand through my hair, knowing it smelled of smoke. The only thing I hated about working here.

"Too bad." She put her hand on my back, turning me to introduce me to her friends. As she did so, her hand began to rub my back, slipping low to just above my ass. I wondered what was up with that. The strange thing was, I didn't mind so much.

I said my hellos and thank yous as people told me they loved the band, then felt like I was being watched. I turned to see Dagny standing about five feet away, and she didn't look happy.

"Hey!" I grinned from ear to ear. She smiled at me, giving Terrie a hard look. "I have to go. It was nice meeting all of you." I pulled away from Terrie and walked to my friend. Dagny's eyes were still on the drummer, a look on her face like I'd never seen before. "You okay?" Startled out of her thoughts, she looked at me and nodded.

"Yeah. Let's get out of here."

After a good pizza at Magpie's, we headed back to Dagny's place for some relaxing time. Neither of us were in the mood for a movie, so we planned to just sit back and shoot the shit.

"So are you ready for your class to start?" Dag asked as she pulled into the parking lot of her building.

"Oh, yeah. I'm looking forward to it."

"What is it, anyway?" She pulled the parking break, and we got out. I had a bag with me of fresh clothes as Dagny always let me take a shower to get rid of the smells from Gotfry's.

"Oh, uh, English 273." I said, eyeing her. For some reason I felt strange talking about it, almost guilty. She drew her brows and glared at me.

"You wanna tell me what that is?" she drawled.

"Well, it's a class on lesbian literature." She stopped, just shy of taking the first step up the stairs. She looked at me over her shoulder, her face unreadable.

"Really?" I nodded. "What made you want to take that?" She began to ascend, I followed, enjoying the view in front of me.

"Well, it just, I don't know. It just looked interesting." I stammered. She didn't seem to notice, or just didn't say anything.

"I thought about taking that at one point," she said absently. I looked at her, surprised. But then, when you're as avid a reader as Dagny was, you'd read anything.

I stepped out of the shower, feeling so much more alive then when I'd stepped in. As I dried myself off, the image from the other morning came back to me. I saw Dagny's body again, so beautiful. I was getting hot allover again. I glanced down at the towel I was using to dry myself off, and realized that Dagny also used this towel, the soft material draping across her nakedness, worshiping the curves and soft skin.

I squeezed my eyes shut as I held the towel to me, trying to calm myself. It didn't seem to take much these days.

I opened the bathroom door, dressed in a pair of sweat shorts and tank. Dagny was laid out across the couch, one leg hanging off, so I planned to sit on the matching chair.

"No, come here." I looked at her as she scooted herself up a bit, more into a sitting position. She beckoned me to her, to sit between her legs. I did, leaning my back against her chest. She wrapped her arms around me as I laid my head back against her collar bone, and sighed. God, I could sleep like this. "Did you have a good shower?" I nodded.

"Very good. Thank you."

"What did you think of Jenny and Joie?" she asked, playing with the hem of my shirt, running it through her fingers.

"I thought they were great. Very interesting. Especially Joie. She was so great with Nathaniel." I smiled at the memory of the little blonde boy, so obviously loved.

"Yeah." Dagny smiled, too, laying her head against the side of mine. "I had no idea that Jen Carlson was gay. They made such an adorable couple, though. So happy. God, I'd love that." She sighed. "I think it's great you're taking that class, Chase. You'll have to tell me all about it." I laughed.

"Sure. Want to take it for me? Then I can sleep in." She chuckled, I could feel the rumbled against my back.

"Yeah, right." She was quiet for a moment. "You know Terrie is after you, right?" I drew my brows, surprised buy the mention of my band mate's name.


"Yeah. She's been after you for a while, I think." She laughed, moving her head away from mine, taking the intimacy of before with it. I said nothing. Could that be true? If so, how had I been so blind?

* * *

We were getting set up on stage at Gotfry's for our performance, which I was looking forward to in particular. We had been back for a week now, and I was about to pull my hair out. Dagny touched me constantly it seemed, though I wondered how much of that was my imagination. I hated the fact that I could touch her any time I wanted to, but it meant nothing to her, for her. It was just me being an affectionate friend.

"Hey, you. Ready for a rocking night?" I turned to see Terrie standing behind me, like right behind me. If I moved forward an inch we'd be touching.

"Hell, yeah. I wish so bad that Greg would slip me a drink." I said with a grin. She raised an eyebrow.

"Hold that thought." She hurried off the stage to the bar, leaning over it to talk with Greg. I needed a distraction, something to fuzz my head up for a bit. Melissa Etheridge's song, I Want You came to mind often. "Here you go." I looked up to see the drummer standing next to me with a glass in her hand.

"What is it?"

"Tequila Sunrise."

"Sounds good to me." I took it and downed the entire thing in two drinks.

"Damn, girl!" Terrie smiled. "Got some problems there? If I didn't know better, I'd think you were having some nasty frustrations." She leaned close to me. "If you need help, let me know." I looked at her, surprised as she walked to her drums, got herself situated, winking at me. I shook my head and turned toward the audience as I grabbed Than.

"Hello, hello out there!" I could feel the alcohol already traveling through me. I had little tolerance anymore as I rarely drank now. But, on the upslope, my head was definitely fuzzy.

We began the night hard, playing some of the classics from the sixties and seventies. The place was rocking and I was loving it. Doug and I did a duet again, then I was all on my own once again. It was beautiful, and helped to push Dagny out of my mind completely. She wasn't here yet, having to work late tonight. She was going to try and make it for the second set. I almost felt free, like I could act and think however I really felt, not having to hide it or protect it because I was so afraid of Dagny seeing through me. I put my heart into my music tonight, wishing that somehow Dagny could hear it wherever she was.

We finished out our first set, and I put Than on the guitar stand and headed straight for the bathroom. I wasn't feeling well, and I needed some peace. Now that I worked at Gotfry's, too I was well known all across the board, and couldn't get away from people wanting to chat.

I sat on the toilet, my head in my hands as I tried to relax. No one would bother me in the bathroom stall. I hoped. After sitting there for about ten minutes, I took a deep breath, ran my hands through my hair, and opened the door, startled to see Terrie standing there, leaning against the sink. She had her thumbs in her pockets, her head slightly cocked to the side, the slightest hint of a smile on her lips.

"You okay?" She asked.

"Yeah. I think so." I walked up next to her, turning on the cold water to splash my face.

"Did that drink give a little too much punch?" she looked at my reflection in the mirror. I nodded with a grin. "Poor baby." She brought her hands up to my shoulder, and began to rub them, digging her thumbs into the tense muscle. I closed my eyes, nearly moaning. "Feels good, doesn't it?" I nodded, my mouth open as my head fell back. Slowly I felt myself being turned, pushed gently until my back was against the wall. I opened my eyes to see Terrie standing in front of me, looking into my eyes. "Beautiful, beautiful Chase." She whispered. I said nothing, not sure what to do. She brought a hand up to brush the side of my face, her eyes following the trail of her fingers.

I felt frozen to the spot, not sure what to feel. Should I leave? Yell at her? Be upset or sit back and enjoy? Part of me was needing touch so bad that I'd take it from Terrie, who was willing, even though I truly wanted and needed it from Dagny who I knew would never.

"You've been so uptight and tense lately, Chase. I was very serious when I said I'd help you out." Terrie said, her voice soft and seductive. She leaned in close to me, breathing me in. I could feel the heat of her body, merely inches from mine, getting closer with every word.

I could take her up on her offer, try to forget about Dagny in that way. Just be friends, good friends. I didn't want to be friends. I felt a pressure in my hands that were against the wall, a pressure to reach up and push Terrie away, but I couldn't get my body to respond. I was lost in the sensations.

"Let me help you, hon." I opened my eyes to see Terrie's face half an inch from mine, her warm breath against my mouth. She placed one hand on the wall next to my head, the other on my waist. "Let me," her voice trailed off as she moved in.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard the bathroom door open, and felt I should look. This was not the place for this. But what really caught my attention was the sound of breath being sucked in.

My eyes shifted from Terrie to the door. Dagny stood frozen, her hand still on the door. Her eyes were huge, mouth open. She had the strangest look on her face, like she wanted to cry, scream or laugh. She swallowed once, then without a word, she turned around and hurried out.

"Dagny!" I pushed Terrie away from me, intending to follow.

"Chase, what are you doing? Let her go,"

I turned on the drummer like a vicious dog.

"I can't!" I calmed down for a second. "I love her. I'm in love with her." Terrie looked at me, struck dumb. She released my arm, looked down. Without another breath, I hurried out of the bathroom, running into the bar. I had to find her, had to talk to her and make it right.

She was nowhere to be found. I burst out into the hot night air, just in time to see Freud's tail lights disappear.

Part 10 & 11

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