Part 4

Katia N. Ruiz

Copyright 2000

Disclaimers: See Part 1


        Noemí stood by the window in her office, looking out at the street below and smiling to herself.

She'd had a surprise meeting upon arrival to the office; her employees, when she was around, tended to hound her and tell her every single small detail of what happened in the company. She was an efficient leader, and her employees felt insecure when she wasn't around. The meeting lasted no more than ten minutes, with her carefully teasing solution and dismissal of their complaints.

She didn't turn when someone knocked on her door, but she said over her shoulder: "Come in."

Camilla Cortez, the director of finances, stepped shyly in. She carried an envelope in her perfectly manicured hands; her brown eyes looked cautiously at Noemí's back. For the first time in years, she could see that usually rigid back relaxed. She relaxed too. "Ms. Leone, I need you to sign these." She said in her pretty alto voice. Noemí turned to her and gestured to one of the chairs. "Thank you," Camilla said as she sat and handed over the folder. "Those are just some paperwork for the purchases of property in Queens for the new office." She explained as Noemí read the papers inside. "When would you like to go see it?"

Noemí looked up at her as if it had never occurred to her to see the property, which pleased Camilla because that meant Noemí, trusted her decisions. Surprised by the look on Noemí's face, she smiled tentatively; it had been so long since she'd seen her smile. Her white-blue eyes had a new light inside them that looked pleasing and attractive. Noemí shrugged and looked back down at the papers, reading. "How about now?" She asked thoughtfully.

"Now is perfectly fine." Camilla said softly. "And then maybe we can have lunch?" She suggested almost without realizing it.

Noemí smiled softly and nodded thoughtfully. She stood suddenly, and put the folder down. "This can wait," She said, tapping it with a slender finger, and came around the desk to the door. "Let's go see the office."

They decided to take Noemí's car, the more comfortable of the two. At the office space, Noemí nodded thoughtfully as she eyed everything about the space, taking her time with every detail. "I like it." She said, and turned around to smile at Camilla. "You have a good eye, Camilla."

Camilla's cheeks flushed to a pink color. "Thank you, Ms. Leone." She said, self-conscious at the compliment.

Noemí pushed her hands into her pockets and looked around one last time, and then she looked at Camilla and smiled again. "How about that lunch now?" She asked in her low voice.

Camilla nodded, suddenly breathless. "Sure."

They left the office space, talking as they walked to Pizzeria Uno's close by. Inside, they sat directly across from one another, smiling and talking. They ordered, and continued their conversation. Camilla, in awe of Noemí, realized that Noemí barely glanced at her before and said nothing more than a quick hello. Camilla knew of the death of her lover, and of how much Noemí had loved her. Noemí began to ask her about her family life, but stopped herself. "You don't mind me asking you all these questions, do you?" She asked in a low voice as they waited for their orders.

Camilla laughed softly and relaxed against her seat. "No, no, I don't." She said, and in a moment of recklessness met Noemí's startling eyes. She felt breathless by their beauty. "I have always wondered what Noemí Leone was like outside the office."

"You mean because I've been so rigid with everyone all this time?" Noemí asked with a smile, and Camilla flushed at being found out. She nodded, and Noemí looked down at the table. "Many things have happened to me that have caused me to be this way, but now I've decided to move along with my life, and do the best I can." She laughed softly. "I know it's sudden, it feels sudden to me, but I think my eyes have been opened." She paused, and met Camilla's eyes again. "Are you single, Camilla?" She asked suddenly.

Camilla, caught unawares by the question, was speechless. The arrival of the waiter gave her time to recuperate. By the time he finished placing their meals on the table, she had gathered her wits. She shook her head. "Yes, Ms. Leone, I-"

"Call me Noemí," Noemí said with a smile.

"Noemí," Camilla said, and liked the taste of her name in her mouth. "A very beautiful name, how did your parents think of your name?" They were originally from Italy, that much Camilla knew, and she wondered at the Spanish sounding name.

Noemí's smile grew. "They didn't." She said and laughed softly at the look Camilla gave her. "Actually, my nana René thought it up. She has been with my parents since before I was born. Her mother's name was Noemí, and she had taken care of my mom before René. My mother absolutely adored the woman, and she loves René too."

Camilla smiled and they began to eat; she noticed how slowly Noemí ate. They chewed in comfortable silence; at times their eyes met, and Camilla couldn't stop attraction to Noemí from growing. She felt a response from Noemí also, and she grew bold. "I have something to say to you, Noemí." She said in a low voice.

Noemí's eyebrow arched, and she looked at Camilla with question in her eyes.

"I have had an attraction to you since I came into the company two years ago." She said softly, and looked down at her plate, expecting a rebuttal. She looked up at her when she didn't say anything.

Noemí, sitting back on her chair, stared at her through unreadable eyes. Her smile teased Camilla, but then it was genuine. "Okay." She said with a nod.

Afraid, Camilla asked softly: "Will this cause a problem?"

Noemí seemed surprised by the question. "Why should it?" She said simply, and Camilla felt that everything was fine. Noemí reached over and stroked the back of her hand with slender fingers, then pulled back.

Camilla felt a shiver run through her body from where Noemí's fingers touched her. She kept her eyes connected to Noemí's. "I- I don't know, because we work together?" She said in an uncertain voice.

Noemí laughed softly, and pushed her plate away. "I don't think there would be any problem with that." She said in a low voice. "Occasional dinner and/or movie wouldn't hurt our working environment. I don't know about you, but I don't mix pleasure with business."

Camilla shook her head and smiled. "Neither do I." She asserted.

Noemí sat back on her chair, relaxed. She looked Camilla over slowly as she ate and smiled softly when she saw her flush red. Camilla, an attractive woman in her early thirties, had caught her attention. She was tall, though not as tall as Noemí, her body slender and attractive; she had sandy blonde hair picked up into a soft bun. She looked even better in dark blue slacks and a silk beige shirt that fell softly over her thin shoulders and full breasts. The muscles at her graceful throat were working as she chewed on her steak and Noemí wanted to kiss them. Camilla seemed to be in deep thought, and she looked up at Noemí. "Are you single?" She blushed.

Noemí's smile turned sensuous. "I am single." She said huskily, her look heavy-lidded. She'd been horny before, but blush that spread across Camilla's cheeks reminded her of other kinds of blushes, and her body suddenly felt afire.

Camilla's breath caught in her throat from the look in Noemí's eyes. She suddenly had nothing to say.

Noemí realized that the ball was in her park. "Do you really want to return to the office?" She asked, and underlying beneath that question, lay an invitation. A dam was broken when she and Melanie had made love, and now it couldn't hold back the torrent of desire that now ran free.

Camilla heard the underlying question, and breathless, she replied: "No, I really don't."

Noemí's expression didn't change. "Do you live on your own, Camilla?" She asked, getting to the point.


Oh, Camilla never expected this; this heat, this desire in this self-controlled woman.

Noemí lay above her, strong and sweaty and her nude body moved along Camilla's nimbly, fast. Her kisses were hot fire on Camilla's lips, her soft tongue a kindling for the heat. Her hands were in Camilla's hair, loosening it, pulling it from the weak bun. Her moans were low, feral, her desire savage. Camilla's body couldn't help but respond to hers; her wetness came forth in great gushes. When Noemí touched between her legs, she was slick and ready for entrance. She spread her legs and cried out when Noemí entered her smoothly. Her perfectly manicured nails were scraping at Noemí's back; her teeth were sinking into her shoulder as her back arched. Her orgasms were quick, hard, stunning in their strength.

Her back straightened as the tension of orgasm left her body; her impassioned cries seemed to echo off the walls in her bedroom. Noemí kissed her breasts, starting all over again, and she forgot once again about everything but Noemí's lovemaking.


        Terri sat on her bed, and began to draw. She glanced at the clock, realizing that it was almost nine o'clock and the dinner she had prepared was getting cold. She already ate, and now waited for Noemí to get home; she feared that she had gotten drunk again. Her drawing this time, that of a sleeping Noemí, caught the detail of the long lashes resting against her cheeks, of her tousled hair falling over her forehead, of her lithe body curved like a child's sleeping on her side. She laid her head against the headrest and wondered why she couldn't get Noemí out of her mind long enough to draw something else.

        She started as she heard the sound of the key in the lock, and she went to the living room. Noemí smiled as she walked in and walked up to her. She kissed her forehead tenderly. Terri smiled up at her, but didn't fail to notice her wrinkled clothes or the smell of another woman's perfume that clashed with her usual cologne. Her shirt, open three buttons, had a lipstick stain at the collar; Noemí had pulled it out from her trousers, rolled the sleeves up carelessly. Her wet hair smelled of Herbal Essence. "I made dinner for you." Terri said in a low voice.

        Noemí threw her keys on the coffee table and turned to smile at her. "Great, because I'm starving." She said, to Terri's surprise, and made her way to the kitchen. She began to serve herself, but Terri urged her to sit and let her do it, since she made less of a mess.

She placed the plate in front of her and sat to talk with her. Noemí dug into her food immediately, and moaned with satisfaction. Surprised, Terri watched as Noemí ate her dinner of mashed potatoes, corn and meatloaf hungrily. "How are you?" She asked Noemí, getting up and pouring her the agreed nightly glass of brandy.

"I feel good," Noemí said between mouthfuls, and nothing more. She finished her dinner quickly and washed her own dish. She turned to Terri and smiled gratefully. "Thank you, it was delicious, and I'm sorry I came home so late."

Terri nodded and left the kitchen; ignoring the glass, Noemí went after her and stopped her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. Terri spun around to face her, an unreadable expression on her face. "Are you angry because I missed dinner?" Noemí asked.

Terri shook her head and smiled at her again. "Just call me when you're going to be late, Noemí, so that I know if I should cook for you or not." She explained, and Noemí nodded.

"Okay, I'm sorry, I mean it." Noemí said softly, and smiled that endearing smile of hers again, her eyes crinkling a little at the corners. She looked around at the living room. "I need to get you a television, so that you don't get bored here by yourself."

Terri shook her head and laughed. "No, no, I don't want to be a couch potato." She responded; she reached up and cupped Noemí's face gently with her hand, then turned to walk away.

"Terri." Noemí said softly, and Terri turned around with question in her eyes, hearing something in Noemí's voice. "Can we talk?" Terri sighed softly and went to sit on the couch, looking up at her with silent question. Noemí sat beside her and half turned on her seat to look at her. "We're friends, right?" She asked, and Terri nodded, looking a little confused by the question. "Be honest with me, now." Again, Terri nodded. "I went to bed today with an employee of mine," A slight pause as she looked away from her to the window. Her eyes returned to Terri and she continued. "Do you think it is wrong, you know? I still love Amelia so much, and I feel so guilty beneath it all." She looked at Terri.

Terri smiled, and couldn't stop herself from reaching out and touching Noemí's soft face again. She couldn't seem to stop touching her lately. "I don't want to sound insensitive, Noemí, but Amelia is dead." She said softly, and Noemí looked away, swallowing hard. Terri's eyes moved all over her face, and she took a deep breath, trying to stop the shaking inside her. "Amelia wouldn't have wanted you to suffer for her in the way that you have been for the past few years, I'm sure of it. From what I hear from every body, specially you, she was a wonderful person, and she wasn't selfish." Noemí nodded and looked at her again. "Do what you have to do." She grinned as she met her eyes. "So who is this woman?" She asked, punching her playfully, very lightly on the chin.

Noemí smiled, reaching for her hand and holding it gently in hers. "Her name is Camilla Cortez, and she is the director of finances. Very smart and attractive." She answered, and then shrugged. "I don't know what else to say about her, maybe I should get to know her."

Terri smiled, and stifled a yawn, pulling her hand from the warmth of Noemí's. "Well, like I said, do what you have to do," She said, and stood up. "And have fun doing it." She stepped over Noemí's leg and made her way to the bathroom, a hand on her lower back. "God, my back hurts!" She said softly to herself.

Noemí remained sitting on the couch, staring at her reflection on the darkened window. After a few minutes, she could hear Terri come out of the bathroom and go into her bedroom, she didn't close the door; seconds later, the light in there went off. Scratching at the scar on her thigh, Noemí stood, turned off all the lights, and went to the bathroom also, closing the door behind her. The bathroom, still warm from Terri's shower, had a lingering scent of strawberries that Terri smelled so beautifully of.

Shaking again, unable to sleep, Noemí lay on the couch. Blinking rapidly, she trembled as flashes danced behind her eyes. She moaned softly, and turned over on her side. Darkness surrounded her, and she unwillingly remembered the night of the accident as if it were yesterday. It was as if she dreamed with her eyes open, and her surroundings blurred...

They are returning home, the light of Victoria's car behind them a comfort and companion. They are holding hands, talking away and listening to music. Amelia smiles and she feels her baby kick; she puts Noemí's free hand on her stomach to feel too. Ecstatic, Noemí can't wait until that baby comes out so that they can hold it, and snuggle it, and spoil it. The already love it so much, they're already making plans for its life, for when the baby grows old enough to go to college...

And suddenly the big bright lights come at them, already trying to swerve towards the correct side of the road, and hitting them on the side, sending them flying off the road, into a ditch...

The next images made her moan with fear.

Noemí comes to, finding her right arm crushed between something hard on one side, and something sickeningly warm, soft and wet on the other... Amelia's groan, her face turning to Noemí with frightening certainty, her voice hoarse and wet with the blood coming from within her body... "Our baby-" Our baby! Her last words, her eyes remaining fixed on Noemí, dead, dead... Our baby! Noemí screaming loudly, frantically; she can't move, pinpricks of pain all over her body... Victoria's voice screaming her name from far away, almost insane with fear and anxiety. Unable to move her face, pain when she tried, having to look at Amelia's dead face and eyes. Unable to close her eyes either, feeling that death would come if she did... Stench of blood, blood! And then her eyes closing without her wanting them to, and the cold... cold unconsciousness!

Noemí sat up with a jerk, her forehead wet with sweat. She fought the urge for a drink, knowing there remained only one bottle in the house; the one Terri had hidden somewhere to control her hunger for the alcohol. Wishing she had taken the drink Terri had poured for her before, she stood up and paced the room, groaning and stumbling when her toe crashed against the coffee table. She breathed hard, running her fingers through her hair; she could feel the sweat breaking out from her pores, drenching her shirt, her hair. She moved towards the hall, needing the closeness, the comfort. "Terri," She whispered softly, unable to move into the hall, not knowing if Terri would welcome her again.


She felt along the wall as she finally walked down, feeling past doors, touching the only open one. She stood at the door, staring into the darkness towards where the bed would be, breathing harder, her body shaking more as she came closer to tears. By then, her hair had matted against her forehead, the sweat ran in rivulets down her face, and she didn't know what to do. She turned to the bathroom door, and opened the door softly. She turned on the light, and staggered to the sink. She turned on the cold water, and cupped her palms beneath it, bringing them to her face. The cold water didn't do anything to help her anxiety attack, and she shut it off, almost hyperventilating now.

She straightened her back and looked into the mirror; someone stood behind her. She cried out, and lost her footing, ending on her buttocks on the floor, back against the wall. Then someone knelt besides her, touching her face, saying something in a soft sweet voice. She couldn't recognize the voice, and she looked up at the kind face. "Terri." She wheezed, and reached for her frantically. "Help me! Help me!"

Terri held her tenderly, telling her to hang on, to relax, to breathe in, and breathe out. Slowly, Noemí. Breathe in, and breathe out. Soon, Noemí felt her breath relax, her face pressed against Terri's chest, her arms wrapped around her. "Why didn't you come to me, Noemí?" Terri asked her softly, touching her hair over and over. Noemí shook her head, and pulled back to look at her. She couldn't answer, and Terri pulled away from her and stood up, helping her stand also. "Come to bed."

Terri tucked her into bed, covered her from shoulder to feet with the covers, uncaring of her sweat. Noemí still shook. Terri lay down beside her and Noemí reached frantically for her, pulling her close. She brought her legs under the covers and wrapped her arms around Noemí's neck, holding her tenderly close. "You know you can talk to me. Tell me, what's the matter?" She whispered softly.

She felt Noemí shake her head, felt her bury her face against her neck. "I can't." She whispered against her skin, her hand at the lower plane of her back pulling her growing stomach tightly against her own flat stomach. The baby kicked its complaint against the pressure, but it didn't move again. Terri's hand moved lower along Noemí's long back, and she pulled her shirt up a little to allow the tips of her fingers to trail softly along the smooth skin of her lower back. The caress seemed to comfort Noemí and she lay still, her shaking stopping, and her breathing slowly deepening into that of sleep.

Terri decided she had to talk to Noemí's parents, to at least let them know what was happening with their daughter, who seemed to be so at peace in the daytime, but at night, her nightmares took claim of her sanity.


        Beaming, Natalie began to open her presents. They all sat in the living room; her family and close friends surrounded Natalie. She lifted the cover from a box and grinned, lifting the two pairs- one red and one blue- of stockings Renee hand knitted for her. She grinned at Renee, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Thank you." She said, kicking off her shoes and slipping on the red stockings. Everyone knew that Natalie loved walking around the house in stockings.

        The next present she picked up was the one Noemí brought for her. Flashing a smile at her daughter, she opened it quickly. Grinning, she pulled out the bottle of her favorite perfume, Oscar De La Renta, and threw a kiss at her across the room.

        Noemí smiled at her mother from her place at the door. She stood there, arms crossed, leaning against the frame. Her eyes searched for Terri and she found that Terri had been looking at her, for some time. Noemí grinned softly, thinking about how beautiful she was, how her lustrous hair framed her face so becomingly, and how the peach colored maternity gown added to the beauty of her pregnant body.

        Terri, noticing the intensity with which Noemí gazed at her, felt herself feeling warm and blushing. She looked away, feeling her face grow hot. The truth was that she had been staring at Noemí for some time, and she could not get enough of seeing the aggressive beauty, the self-possessed pose with which she leaned against the doorframe. Her eyes, with their intensity, made her feel trapped when they gazed at her. Glad to see that face smiling, she thought about the past few weeks.

        Noemí had slowly stopped drinking, and she had spent more and more time in the house with her after work. Working only seven hours, she drove herself more gently and allowed herself to enjoy the house again. In the evenings, she had taken to listening to music while working out in the gym, something she never did before. After that, she came out and sat with Terri, even playing board games with her and talking about nonsensical things. She never touched the bedroom she had shared with Amelia, though, and just the thought of changing anything in it would scare her.

Sometimes on the weekends, Camilla came over and spent time with Noemí. Terri could tell Camilla didn't like her, by the way Camilla looked at her when Terri walked around the house. Mostly, to Noemí's consternation, Terri tried to keep herself in the bedroom, out of Camilla and Noemí's way, but nevertheless, the looks Camilla gave her when she was around made her cringe. But what bothered her most was when Noemí left with Camilla and would not come back for hours, or until early the next morning. She could not bear to imagine what they were doing all that time.

She snapped back to attention when everyone laughed and clapped at Victoria's outrageous gift for Natalie: a red silk lingerie nightgown. She couldn't help but feeling like she belonged as she joined in the laughter.

        Days turned into weeks. Terri had been introduced as a new addition to their family successfully. Everyone present at Natalie's birthday party, other Leone's that knew the circumstances of Terri's situation, were graceful enough to not talk about it with their friends or anyone present. They liked Terri and they knew that her baby would be a beautiful one, proudly carrying the Leone blood and Terri's beauty.

Weeks turned to months. Christmas was almost here, and Terri's stomach kept growing and growing. She had taken the pregnancy beautifully; her stomach looked so big because she was so small, her dark hair had acquired that sheen of health, her skin a healthier color, even her eyes brightened and she was so obviously happy. No one knew, but Noemí had taken to sleeping in her bed with her every night; when she had tried alone, her anxiety didn't allow her to sleep. Even now, when Terri couldn't hold her, because she was so largely pregnant, Noemí slept with her. She slept across the foot of bed, sometimes, because Terri moved so much now and needed space.

        The second Friday before Christmas Noemí made it home early and found Terri sketching in the living room. She wore shorts and a T-shirt that strained against her bulging stomach; her hair wet and picked up in a ponytail. Her bare feet were tucked under her on the couch. Opening her suit jacket, Noemí sat beside her and peered at the drawing. She recognized the trees in her backyard and smiled. The way Terri brought things to life on paper was a little unnerving to her. Especially because Noemí knew Terri hadn't really had art classes other than the one in High School.

Terri paused and looked up, smiling shyly at Noemí. "Hi," She said.

Noemí smiled back. "Hello. Have you eaten yet?" She inquired, knowing that when Terri began to draw she forgot about everything.

Shaking her head sheepishly, Terri said: "No."

Sighing, Noemí stood and removed her jacket, draping it over her shoulder. "You need to stop doing that, Terri." She admonished, stretching. "It's not only you that you have to think about anymore." She grunted.

"I know, I just forgot." Terri said.

Noemí smiled softly, and touched her shoulder as she walked past the couch and made her way down the hall. "I'll order out." She said, unbuttoning her shirt as she went into the bathroom to shower.

"You don't have to." Terri called after her, standing and following her. "I can fix something up." She stopped at the still open bathroom door.

Removing her shirt, revealing a sports shirt underneath it, Noemí met her eyes and smiled. "Don't worry about it." She said gently, and turned away, kicking off her shoes, and beginning to remove her belt.

Terri fought to look away from the well-defined arms and back. She cleared her throat and forced herself to turn away.

As they ate the Fettuccini and veal Noemí ordered, Terri thought about her drawings. She was wondering if Noemí would ever let her really paint her by modeling for her. And if she did, how would she go about bringing Noemí's coppery hair color onto canvas. She was brought out of her thoughts by Noemí's voice. "What?" She said, shaking her head.

Noemí smiled. "Tell me about your family." She said slowly, her eyes looking penetratingly into Terri's. Terri seemed flustered, and Noemí reached over and patted her hand reassuringly. "You seem to know a little more about us than we do about you." She explained. She knew there had been some sort of abuse when Terri was younger, and she need to understand why Terri allowed Anthony to return even after he did what he did to her that first time.

Terri's shoulders hunched around her ears protectively, and she stared down at her food.

Noemí was about to tell her to forget it when Terri began to speak.

"My mother's name was Imogene." Terri began haltingly, swallowing hard. "I don't know how she and my dad met, he never wanted to tell me. I only have a picture of her." She stopped, her shoulders falling away from her ears as if with defeat.

"You didn't know any of her family?" Noemí asked incredulously. She couldn't imagine not knowing her whole family. It was hard enough realizing she had made hardly any contact with them in three years. "So it was only you, your brothers and your father?"

Terri nodded, looking up at Noemí. "My mother died when I was born, that's really all I know." She said. "My dad no other family, so it was just us. My brothers always blamed me for my mother's death, and they beat me. Dad didn't really do anything to help me, he used to hit me a lot too." She laughed humorlessly. "Sometimes I wonder how I made it." Her eyes watered, but she held back the tears and clenched her jaw.

"I'm so sorry." Noemí said softly, reaching for Terri's hand.

Terri clenched her fist under Noemí's hand, unable to take the gentleness in Noemí's hand and eyes. "No, it wasn't your fault." She said between clenched teeth.

"My brother did the same to you, didn't he? Except for the hitting part." Noemí said gently, and her gentleness sent a shiver through Terri, was unused to it.

"I didn't want him that way." Terri whispered, meeting Noemí's eyes.

Noemí knew the truth of that statement through Terri's eyes. She almost hated her brother for doing this to this young woman, who had to leave her home because of all the abuse she endured as she grew up. That he could take advantage of her situation angered her beyond tears.

Noemí was almost finished with her Christmas shopping. Most of the time during the long weeks before Christmas, Camilla had accompanied her, doing her own shopping also. "I haven't enjoyed Christmas in such a long time." Noemí said.

It was December twenty-third, and Noemí and Camilla went to finish the last of their shopping.

"So how is Terri?" Camilla asked Noemí, knowing that Terri, already seven months pregnant with Anthony's child, had Noemí's attention wrapped around her finger.

"She is fine," Noemí responded as they strolled around the Queens Center Mall, looking around at the stores. She had a smile on her handsome face.

Camilla slipped her hand into Noemí's, and they walked in companionable silence into JC Penney's. "When is she due?" She asked, trying to keep up the conversation.

Noemí shrugged and her hand tightened slightly around Camilla's. "Our doctor says sometime in February, which is unbelievable, because she is so big already. I would think she'd be ready now." She said, and laughed softly, her eyes falling momentarily on Camilla. "She's getting cranky already, which is why she didn't look at you twice when I took you to the house. I guess she's used to the peace, or something." She shrugged her wide shoulders again.

Camilla couldn't take her eyes off Noemí. She looked so good in light brown corduroy trousers, a black turtleneck and black steel-toe boots. Her coat, a waist length, light brown thick Columbia, fit loosely around her torso. She had her hair tucked comfortably into a black winter hat, still glistening with droplets of melted snow. She shifted the numerous bags on her other hand and turned her head to look at Camilla again with a soft smile that brightened her eyes. "I think we've done enough shopping, don't you?"

Camilla smiled and nodded. She trembled when she saw Noemí's eyes do an once-over on her body, and knew she looked good in the clothing she chose specifically to impress her. Wearing tight blue jeans, black boots, and a red knitted sweater hanging off her generous breasts, she knew Noemí desired her; over it she wore a black shearling jacket. They passed a jewelry store, and she smiled, as Noemí seemed to be pulled like a magnet inside. "Whom are you buying jewelry for?" She asked.

Noemí's eyes were on the pearl chains and earrings. "Terri." She said absently, putting the bags down and moving along the display case counters. The attendant, standing close by, walked over to her with a friendly smile and she asked him to pull out this and that combination. Camilla could see the soft smile on her face. Noemí had already bought Terri more than three presents, and Camilla couldn't help but feel jealous.

They weren't in a relationship, but Camilla hoped that Noemí would finally realize that Camilla had fallen in love with her. Everyone at the office already knew of their liaison, and they said nothing, having already been warned by Noemí that if anyone insults Camilla's integrity, they would be fired. No one had anything to say, really, work continued at the same pace regardless of the relationship between Camilla and Noemí.

Noemí turned to face her, pearl necklace and earrings lifted in her large hands to display for Camilla. "What do you think?" She asked. "It's a present for her, for the Christmas party tomorrow. They'll look perfect with that maternity gown mom bought her for the party." She explained.

Camilla didn't smile, but Noemí didn't notice, because she had already turned to talk to the shopkeeper, pulling out her credit card.

"Terri," Noemí called, walking into the house with bags on hand. She didn't even notice the much warmer temperature in the house; she couldn't wait to give her the earrings and necklace. She dropped the bags next to the door. "Where are you?" She called when she went to the kitchen and didn't find her there. As she returned to the living room, Terri walked in, large stomach bared, tight T-shirt pulled up above it, and shorts pushed down beneath it. Barefoot, she padded her way towards Noemí, a wide-eyed look in her eyes. Noemí could see that she had been sleeping; her hair was a mess over her shoulders. Noemí smiled at her, thinking she looked adorable, and reached into the pocket of her jacket, looking excited. "Look at what I bought you, for tomorrow's party." She said, and walked to her.

Terri looked at the palm-sized velvet box uncomprehendingly, still not fully awake. Then she smiled uncertainly at Noemí and took the box. "What is it?" She asked with a hoarse voice.

Noemí grinned, and guided her to the couch with an arm around her shoulders. "Look at it, I think you'll like it." She said gently, helping her sit down without dropping on her weight.

Terri did, and gasped, her eyes fixed on the pearls. Speechless, her jaw dropped. Her eyes shifted from Noemí back to the contents of the box. "I-"

Noemí touched a finger to her lips, realizing just how soft and smooth they were. "Don't, I know you like them by the look in your eyes." She said gently, and looked down at the jewelry. "I saw them and I knew they were perfect for you." She leaned forward and kissed Terri softly on the cheek, taking a deep breath and inhaling that sweet fragrance she associated with Terri.

"It's beautiful, Noemí," Terri whispered, and sat quietly as Noemí's fingers worked nimbly on her tiny studs, removing them and replacing them with the pearls. She watched as Noemí reached into the small box and pulled out the chain of pearls, clasping it around her neck.

"Lets go see it in the mirror." Noemí said softly, and helped her stand, holding her hand as they walked to the bathroom. Terri gasped softly as they stood under the white light of the bathroom, admiring the way the chain and earrings made her graceful neck even more beautiful. Noemí stood tall behind Terri, her hands on her shoulders, gazing at her reflection in the mirror. "You're beautiful, Terri," She whispered, pressing her lips tenderly against the back of her head, her eyes closed with emotion.

Terri's lips curved softly into a tentative smile. "Thank you." She whispered, aware of Noemí's body pressed behind her, of her hands on her shoulders, then moving up to trail fingers along her neck. "I love it." She stifled the tremble that began from deep inside her, and met Noemí's incredible eyes in the mirror. Her heart skipped a beat, and she moved away from her, leaving the bathroom and returning to the living room to retrieve the box. Her hands were shaking as she took off the jewelry, and she didn't know what to do to stop it. For weeks now, she had been fighting her intense and growing attraction to Noemí, and she could feel herself loosing the battle. She blamed the pregnancy for this; the raging hormones of pregnancy could be her only explanation for this.

For the past few weeks, while Noemí hadn't been in the house, she had imagined herself kissing her, had wondered what it would feel like to touch her lips with her own. She had talked to no one of this, not even Victoria, who had become a close friend to her, who visited her almost every day and sat with her and played board games with her to keep her from getting bored. She went with her every other day to the Lamaze classes because Noemí seemed to shut down and freeze even when just the name was mentioned. Sometimes she had been tempted to talk about it, and she knew Victoria sensed something needed talking about, but Terri clamped her mouth shut and said nothing.

"I made dinner, take your jacket off." She said shortly, and went towards the kitchen.

"Terri, are you okay?" Noemí asked innocently, following her into the kitchen, removing her jacket.

"Fine." Terri said shortly, plate in hand, serving her dinner. She gestured her to sit down and placed the plate in front of her.

Noemí stared at her, confused. "Did I do something wrong?" She asked, and felt foolish when Terri laughed at her, saying that no, she did nothing wrong.


        Camilla, already there when Noemí and Terri arrived, talked with Victoria and Michaela. Victoria and Michaela's eyes lit up at the sight of Terri, who was dressed in a graceful green maternity gown that fit her perfectly. Camilla looked her over, and went to Noemí, who took her hand and kissed it softly. "Hi," She whispered.

        Noemí pulled back and looked her over, making a show of licking her lips just for her. "Beautiful," She breathed, and took her into her arms, kissing her softly. "Gorgeous." She whispered against her lips, then pulled back and looked at her again.

        Camilla, pleased that her dress had the effect she desired, grinned. It was low cut, a few inches above her knees, and some cleavage showed, flowing freely from there down. She found the highest heels to accentuate her shapely legs. "I've met most of your family," She said with a smile. "They are wonderful."

        "I'm glad you like them." Noemí said, realizing Terri had left her side. Her eyes found her across the room; talking with her cousin, who introduced her to his teenaged children; he and his family had not been there at Natalie's party. He gestured to her stomach and said something, to which she grinned, patting it proudly and saying something in return.

Noemí turned to Victoria and Michaela, whistling softly in admiration, and hugged them both. She pulled back and looked them over. Michaela wore a classy and impossibly tight red gown; red lipstick made her sexy lips thicker and sexier. She had her hair picked up in a bun behind her head, with strands dropping out prettily over her cheeks. Victoria sported a two-piece suit, almost like a tuxedo, without the bow. She had just cut her hair into a short curly mass and looked very handsome. "You two look great!" Noemí said with a smile.

"So do you." Camilla said, fingering the sleeve of her sweater. Noemí's sweater, a loose beige V-neck, fit her torso perfectly; she wore it over a white round-neck T-shirt, pleated black trousers and black shoes. Her hair fell over her forehead, like usual, and shone. She looked comfortable and handsome at the same time.

Noemí smiled at her and pulled her close to plant a kiss on her forehead. "I have to find my parents." She said, pulling away. "Be right back."

Natalie and Thomas stood together in the center of his studio, surrounded by their family and friends, speaking with Natalie's older brother, Daniel. "Hi, uncle!" Noemí said when he took her into his arms in a bear hug, happy to see her smile again. She had always been his favorite niece, because unlike his own daughters and other nieces, she had always liked to do things he liked to do. As she grew up, he used to take her fishing with him, and they used to play football with his sons and other nephews.

With the promise that they would go fishing after the winter was gone, he left her to talk to her parents. Natalie wrapped her arms around her daughter, grabbing her face and pulling her down, kissing her tenderly on the forehead. "Hi, mom." Noemí said with a big smile and her felt her dad touch her back gently.

"How are you, my love?" Her mother asked, smiling up at her tall daughter and wrapping her arms around her waist to pull her into an embrace. "Where is Terri?"

Noemí nodded and hugged her mother, beaming a smile at her father. "I'm great, merry Christmas." She answered and kissed them each. "And Terri is somewhere in the living room with Joseph."

        She left them to find Terri and went back to look for Camilla, wanting to dance a little; the softly playing music felt nice. She ran into René, who bustled about bossing around the caterers, and wrapped her arms around her ample waist, pulling her off her feet and spinning her around. René slapped her on the arm when she put her down and kissed her cheek lingeringly, the expression of pure motherly love unmistakable in her eyes. She dragged her into the kitchen, gave her one of her delicious biscuits and sent her on her way with a tender pat on the behind. Still chewing the ends of her biscuit, Noemí found Camilla, who nursed René's famous eggnog. She looked like she was enjoying the conversation she had been having with Noemí's cousin Martha.

        Noemí, with a silencing wink at Camilla, came behind her cousin and wrapped her arms around her, lifting her off her feet and kissing her neck. Her cousin laughed delightedly, having realized that the only one who would greet her like that was Noemí. "Noemí, Noemí!" She called out loudly, happily. She was the wild one in the family, with spiked red hair and a large ring on her nose. She was also a lesbian, and she was in the circle of friends that Noemí and Amelia used to hang with before the accident. The way her cousin had greeted her could only mean that she had come back from that deep depression. When Noemí put her down, she spun around and they hugged tightly. Her eyes resembled Noemí's, only that hers were not as luminous a light blue as Noemí's. Her father had been Thomas' late brother, Theodore.

        "Hi, Mart!" Noemí said onto her shoulder, hugging her tightly. She pulled back and looked Martha's attire over, shaking her head and laughing. She had always been outrageous. Tonight, she wore a deep red velvet dress and black combat boots over very white stockings; her nose ring had a chain that was attached to one of her numerous earrings. "You look wonderful." She said with a laugh.

        Martha posed, her very red lips pursed sexily. Pretty in her outrageous way, Martha attracted enough male and female attention with and without the weird garb. "Why, thank you!" She said, and jumped into Noemí's arms again, kissing her cheek lingeringly.

        Camilla watched with a smile, sipping from her drink. She looked around, thinking. The whole family seemed to be pleasant, they obviously loved each other very much, and she wondered that the whole family didn't say anything or look at Martha strangely, as if her dress were normal. Camilla mused that her family would be whispering behind her back if she dared to dress like that. She caught Terri looking at her with expressionless eyes, and cocked her head to the side, arching her eyebrows cynically in question. Terri looked away and continued to talk with Victoria and Michaela. Camilla forgot about her when Noemí took her into her arms and began to dance with her.

        "She loves Noemí." Terri said to Victoria, looking away from Camilla and meeting her eyes.

Victoria's eyebrows arched. Well, well! "There's nothing wrong with that, Terri." She said softly, giving Michaela a glance; Michaela seemed to be thinking the same thing. She stood with arms crossed and eyebrows arched.

Terri nodded and then shrugged, sipping from her glass of orange juice slowly. "I know," She said, looking at the dancing couple again; they were dancing, very slowly, as if oblivious to the fast-paced music. Camilla's arms were thrown over Noemí's shoulders, Noemí's arms around her waist holding her close. They talked in hushed tones, whispering close to each other's ears and occasionally kissing. Their bodies seemed to be synchronized, their hips moved against each other very slowly. Terri got an image of them making love, and she couldn't bear it. "I don't want Noemí to love her." She blurted, and then looked away from Victoria and Michaela's surprised eyes, blushing.

"You don't?" Victoria asked breathlessly, and she reached over to touch Terri's shoulder gently. "Why?" She said softly. She suspected something like this was what Terri had seemed so preoccupied with these past few weeks.

Terri shook her head, and seemed confused. "I have no idea." She said softly.

"Do you love her?" Michaela asked gently.

Terri's gray-brown eyes met hers with thoughtful indecision. "I love her, yes." She whispered and shook her head. "She's done so much for me."

"No," Michaela said looking into her eyes deeply. "I mean, do you love her?"

"I don't know." Terri said, comprehending her question. She looked down at their feet, struggling with her feelings.

Victoria moved closer to her and wrapped an arm around her, looking over at Noemí, whose eyes met hers with question over Camilla's shoulder. She shook her head and winked.

Noemí came up behind Terri, leaning a little over her shoulder and looking at her face. "Are you enjoying yourself?" She asked Terri, smiling down at her.

Terri returned her smile and avoided her eyes by looking at everyone except her. "Yes." She responded. "Your family, they're great people, specially your cousin Martha. She's fun."

Noemí wrapped her arm around her shoulders from behind and pulled her close. "I'm glad you like them, they like you too." She said tenderly, placing a kiss on her temple and squeezing her gently.

Terri laughed to hide her nervousness at her nearness, she reached up and squeezed the arm that embraced her; it was muscled and strong. The body pressed against her back wasn't doing much to help her heart start beating either. "Yes, I noticed," She replied. "Some of them want to cut off Anthony's weenie, others wish it would fall off already, etc, etc."

Noemí laughed softly close to her ear, never removing her arm from around her. Terri felt as if her nerves were connected to the warm and strong body pressed against her back. "We all love him dearly," Noemí said seriously. "But he's a bastard. What he did to you was really irresponsible, to take advantage of you being alone; most everyone here thinks you are the sweetest thing to touch this planet."

Terri couldn't stop the flush that stained her cheeks. "Really? You think so too?" She asked meekly.

Noemí turned her to wrap both arms around her waist, smiling at her and pulling their stomachs together. "Yes, even though I know how bossy you can be." She said in a low voice and chuckled softly, her eyes traveling the soft planes of Terri's face as if really noticing her for the first time. The slender eyebrows arched naturally, her nose was small and straight, her pinkish lips were slender too, and the lower lip pouted softly. She wanted to kiss them. She liked the feel of her flat stomach pressing against the protruding hardness of Terri's. She looked up above them, smiled mischievously and looked down to meet her eyes. "Do you believe in mistletoes?" She asked, and Terri looked up above them also and saw the little green leaves twirling there. She hadn't noticed them the whole night.

"Are you drunk?" She asked breathlessly, her hands tightening on the muscles of Noemí's arms. Her heart was beating out of control.

Noemí chuckled softly, and shook her head. "Well, do you?" She asked softly, her eyes moving back and forth from Terri's eyes to her lips.

Terri could see the nervous pulse of Noemí's throat, could see her jaw working softly. Noemí swallowed hard, her neck muscles bobbing. "And Camilla?" She asked, avoiding the subject, because she could see in Noemí's eyes that if she said yes, she would be kissed like she'd never been kissed before. She wouldn't know how to deal with that.

Noemí's arms tightened around her gently, and she laughed softly, and a little nervously. "Yes or no?" She asked, her voice husky, her eyes narrowing as she swallowed hard.

Terri closed her eyes and swayed. "Yes." She whispered, before she could stop herself.

She heard Noemí whisper softly, brokenly. "Merry Christmas."

It was like her heart stopped when she felt Noemí's warm lips press against her own for a brief moment, her heart threatened to beat out of control. She staggered back when Noemí pulled her lips away, looking down at her for a long time. A slow smile crossed her lips, and Terri looked around at the people around them. No one seemed to have noticed the kiss. Except for Camilla, who stood on the other side of the room, arms crossed over her chest, an angry look in her eyes. Terri turned away from her and said nothing to Noemí as she walked away, leaving her looking after her with a confused expression.

Terri was in Thomas' study when Noemí finally found her, the lights off, and only the fireplace sending gentle warmth throughout the room. She sat on his chair, head leaning against her hand as she dozed. Noemí crouched beside the chair, gazed at her for a long time. She then touched her thigh softly. It was almost three in the morning, and already, people were leaving with their sleepy children.

Terri sat up and yawned, Noemí touched her stomach gently. "Lets go home." She said when Terri noticed her.

Terri nodded, and then paused. "What about Camilla?" She asked hoarsely.

"She had to go; her family was having a reunion too." Noemí answered with a smile, and stood to help her stand up. "Let's say bye to mom and dad, and then we go. Michaela and Victoria already left, but they send their kisses. They're coming over to the house tomorrow anyway."

Terri nodded, and allowed her to help her stand. They left the study together.

To be continued in part V

Katia N. Ruiz

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