Hand in Hand Part 4: Halloween


October 15, 1975

"No trick or treating?" Ella's eyes went wide with horror and her mouth opened in a gasp. "But mom, I was going to be Isis." Her brown eyes narrowed, crackling with anger. "You said I could be Isis."

Gin sighed and tried to reason with her seven-year-old daughter. "I said you could be Isis. But that was before we were invited to the wedding. We're going to Canada and you and Lou get to be flower girls. Isn't that more exciting than trick or treating?"

"No, it's not! I won't get any chocolate and I won't get to stay up late."

Ella's whine stomped on Gin's last nerve, causing a buzzing in her ears.

"You're going to the wedding," she said, managing to speak firmly but not raise her voice. "And that's final, young lady."

"No, I'm not!" Ella folded her arms across her chest and set her jaw.

Gin opened her mouth to answer, knowing the control over her voice would soon be lost, when Louise entered the room. The dark-haired woman's blue eyes quickly took in the situation, sweeping between her best friend and the little girl.

"Oh no!" Louise cried in mock horror, "There's an angry jelly bean on the loose!"

Ella scowled, but she lowered her arms. "Weez, I don't want to go to the wedding. I want to stay here for trick or treating."

"Oh," Louise replied, sitting down near the little girl. "That really upsets me, sweetheart. I haven't seen my brother in a long time. Now he's getting married and he's invited all of us to take part in the wedding. I was so excited about him meeting my favorite young lady." She paused, watching guilt travel across Ella's face. "But I can understand if Halloween is more important to you."

"No," Ella said, shaking her head back and forth. "It's not more important. I don't want to upset you, Weez."

"I appreciate that, sweetie."

"I guess·" Ella paused as she struggled with her decision, and then she nodded, her mind made up. "I guess I can be Isis next year."

"Sure you can." Louise grinned, catching Gin's relieved expression out of the corner of her eye.

"Love you, Weez." The little girl bent to give Louise a kiss on the cheek.

"Love you too, runt." Louise reached a finger over and gave the little girl a quick poke under the ribs, eliciting a giggle.

"I'm gonna go tell Lou to put away her cowgirl outfit." Ella ran from the room and Gin and Louise smiled as they heard her feet pound up the stairs.

"How the hell do you do that?" Gin asked, shaking her head in amazement. She walked over and sat down next to her friend.

"Do what?" Louise asked.

"Turn her from a spoiled brat into a sweet, cooperative little girl. Whatever your magic is, please teach me."

"You're her mother," Louise said with an understanding chuckle. "I'm just her Weez. It's a mother-daughter thing. You both know how to push each other's buttons."

"I don't try to push her buttons," Gin replied, rubbing the back of her neck, which was still tense from the argument with her daughter.

"I know you don't," Louise said, pushing Gin's hands aside and taking over the massage. "It's just the way it is. But next time she starts pushing your buttons, just take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember in a little over five years she'll be a teenager."

"Oh god," Gin groaned. "Don't say the 't' word."

Louise chuckled and moved her massage down Gin's shoulders.

"Oh," Gin murmured, "that feels wonderful."

"Good," Louise murmured back. The feeling of Gin's skin beneath her fingers and her friend's gentle moans elicited a tingle that traveled down Louise's spine and ended at her·she shook her head, trying to erase the knowledge of where the tingle had traveled.

She's your best friend, Louise scolded herself. You've vowed never to hurt her.

But how could loving her hurt her?

The thought glittered in her mind, but she couldn't examine it directly. She looked at it askance for a moment, and then turned her attention back to her friend.

"I can't wait to see Michael again," Louise said to the back of Gin's red gold head.

"I'm so excited," Gin replied, turning her head slightly. Her profile was bathed in muted light from the tiffany lamp in the corner. Sitting this close, Louise could see the golden flecks in Gin's green eyes.

"Not as excited as Mom, I'm sure."

Gin smiled, her face beaming. A little wrinkle developed at the top of her nose. Louise became transfixed by her beauty, and then tried desperately to remember what they were talking about.

"No twick or tweating?" A red-haired, green-eyed little angel appeared in the doorway. A very unhappy, red-haired, green-eyed little angel.

"Time to do your magic, Weez," Gin whispered.


October 29, 1975

"Oh, Michael, your house is beautiful." Verna glanced around her son's home. "I'm so proud of you."

"The house has been in Fee's family for a hundred years," Michael said with a smile.

"Then I'm proud of you for getting married to a woman with a beautiful house," Verna replied with a mischievous grin.

"Yep, that's my brother," Louise agreed, "always working the angles."

"Hey," Gin interrupted, "you two leave him alone. I want to see the rest of this gorgeous home."

Michael continued "the nickel tour" of the house he and his bride-to-be shared. It was located in a comfortable suburb outside Toronto. Michael had struggled when he first arrived in Canada. Most of the people he encountered welcomed him to their country, but not all of the Canadians were as pleased to have a draft dodger living nearby or working for them. He'd eventually been lucky to land a job as a printer's assistant, and over the years he'd risen up rapidly through the ranks. He now managed a small printing business and had been discussing buying it from the current owner. He was proud of his business accomplishments, but much prouder of the fact that he'd found the woman of his dreams and she'd agreed to be his wife.

"And this is the back garden," Michael said, pointing out French doors into a large, beautifully landscaped yard.

"Mom!" two little voices shrieked at once. "A dog!"

"That's Ronan." Michael laughed. "Fee's family raises Irish wolfhounds. He was a stud, believe it or not. Now he's retired."

Ronan spotted the little girls and rolled on his belly, his long grey feet raised in the air and his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth.

"He loves kids," Michael added, raising an inquiring eyebrow at Gin before opening the doors to the yard.

"Does he bite?" Gin took an instinctive step back from the door, bumping into Louise, who put her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders.

Gin relaxed almost immediately when she felt Louise's comforting hold. After six years, touching each other had become second nature to the two women. But lately, Louise's gentle touches were making Gin feel different. They sent goose bumps racing across her skin and made her yearn for impossible things.

"No, I promise you he won't bite," Michael said sincerely, but still waited for Gin's confirmation that the girls could go in the back. "He's the most non-aggressive animal I've ever met."

"Please, Mom," Ella pleaded. "Can we play with him? Please?"

"Pwease, Mom," Lou chimed in.

Gin took a deep breath and pushed her personal fears to the back of her mind.

"Sure, if Michael says it's OK." The two little girls jumped up and down, pent up excitement finally escaping. "But don't you dare get mud on your clothes or shoes."

"I'll go out with them," Verna said, taking Lou's hand to keep her from running headlong at the dog. Even the most easygoing animal might take offense at a bundle of energy barreling toward it.

"Thanks," Gin said, breathing a sigh of relief that the kids would have a little extra protection.

"We'll let the kids play and I'll show you to your rooms," Michael suggested, picking up the nearest suitcases. Louise and Gin grabbed the rest and they struggled up the stairs.

"Remind me never to let my children pack on their own again." Gin groaned as she lifted what felt like a bag of bricks, but was most probably a bag full of books. Ella never seemed to go anywhere without a book in her hands, which made Gin very happy - until she had to carry a bag full of them up a long staircase.

"The kids can sleep in here," Michael said, opening the door to a small bedroom. It was obviously a nursery, but bunk beds had been moved where a crib would normally sit.

"Well, dear brother, is there something you're not telling us?" Louise said with a grin.

"No, it's not what you think." Michael blushed and rubbed the back of his neck in an embarrassed gesture. "This room was a nursery since Fee was a baby. But I have been fixing it up. We want to start on a family as soon as possible."

"That's great!" Gin said. "You'll make a wonderful father."

"Thanks." Michael blushed a deeper red. His ice blue eyes, which matched his sister's exactly, stood out starkly in his red face.

"I've put Mom next door, where the nanny used to sleep." Michael moved to the next room, which was situated at a corner of the house. There were windows on two walls, making it wonderfully sunny and light. Louise dropped her Mom's bag on the bed.

"And you guys are across the hall."

They followed Michael into the guest bedroom. The room was large and beautifully decorated. Fresh flowers had been placed on the pine dresser. A handmade quilt adorned the bed.

"I hope everything's OK," Michael said, not noticing the quick glances that Gin and Louise had exchanged.

"It's great, Michael," Louise quickly replied. "Absolutely perfect."

"Great," Gin echoed, nodding and smiling.

"Fantastic," Michael said. "Well, I'll let you guys get settled. Fee is due back any minute. As soon as she gets here, we'll start getting something together for dinner."

He nodded and left his sister and Gin alone in the room.

"I guess he assumed·" Louise looked at the bed.

"That we sleep together." Gin completed the thought, her lips lifting in a tentative smile.

"Look, I can sleep in one of the bunk beds and Lou can sleep in here with you," Louise offered.

"No," Gin said.

"OK, then I'll sleep with Lou in Mom's room and Mom can sleep in the bunk bed, and·" Louise was trying to work out the logistics in her head and was starting to get confused.

"No," Gin repeated. "We can sleep in the same bed. It's fine."

Louise opened her mouth to suggest another combination.

"It's fine," Gin said firmly.

"OK. It's fine with me, too."

My God, I hope you know what you're doing, both women warned themselves simultaneously.


Louise wasn't sure what had woken her. She opened her eyes slowly and felt instantly disoriented. Then she realized she wasn't in her own bed. She watched ghostly light move across the wall - headlights from a car passing far away up the road. She listened to the sounds an old house makes at night, shifting and groaning and creaking, like an old woman in a rocking chair.

"No." The word was a soft moan, barely spoken.

Louise realized it was the same sound that had woken her. She turned to Gin, who had fallen asleep as close to the far edge of the bed as possible, her back turned to her friend. Louise reached toward Gin, but paused, her hand hovering over Gin's shoulder.

What will she think if she wakes up with my hand on her? She wondered.


Gin's stuttered cry made up Louise's mind, and she placed her hand gently on the smaller woman's shoulder, trying to softly shake her awake.

"Shh," Louise murmured. "It's all right, sweetheart. It's just a dream."

"No, please, no." Gin began to thrash her arms, protecting her face from her nightmare tormentor.

"Gin," Louise said more urgently. "Wake up, it's just a dream. You're all right."

Louise began to panic, not sure how to wake her friend without causing even more terror. Finally, Gin gasped, sucking in a huge lungful of air.

"Gin, it's all right," Louise said, stroking Gin's arm and hair, trying to calm her friend as her own heart felt like it was going to pound it's way out of her chest. "It's all right."

Gin let out a small moan and turned to Louise. Her eyes glowed in the moonlight, and Louise could see the terror glittering there. She opened her arms and pulled Gin close, rocking her in comfort as the smaller woman began to cry.

"Shh," Louise murmured. "It was just a dream."

Gin didn't say anything, just clung to Louise with all her might. Eventually, her tears slowed and then stopped.

"I'm sorry," Gin whispered, taking a shuddering breath.

"Don't be sorry," Louise said. "Everyone has nightmares. I'm glad I could be here for you."

Gin pulled back from her arms and Louise sighed, missing the warmth of her friend almost immediately. She tried to ignore the other things she missed - Gin's warm breath on her throat, Gin's breasts pressed against hers, Gin's hand rubbing tender circles on her back.

"Well, thanks, buddy," Gin said, fluffing her pillow and resting her head down again. Louise was glad that her friend didn't pull back to the edge of the bed or turn over.

"No problem," Louise replied.

"I don't usually have anyone to grab onto after my nightmares. It was wonderful."

Louise paused, wondering just how many nightmares Gin suffered from. Her friend had moved in with her and Verna right after Lou's birth, but the two women slept at different ends of the house. She thought about the many nights that she'd heard Gin in the kitchen, and the times she'd gone down to share some warm milk or a little snack. She'd assumed Gin had a touch of insomnia. She never mentioned nightmares.

Jeez, Weez, some friend you are, she scolded herself.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Louise asked, resting her hand on Gin's arm. Seemingly of its own volition, the hand lifted to Gin's red hair, which looked silver in the moonlight. She trailed her fingers through the soft, fine strands.

Gin opened her mouth to say "no" and started to shake her head. Then she stopped and closed her eyes. After a moment, she began to speak again.

"Do you remember John's dog? It was called Cupid. The most inappropriate name in the history of dogs."

"I vaguely remember," Louise replied softly. "I think he got it when we were seniors in high school."

"Yeah, that's about right. It was a mutt, part German shepherd, part demon dog from Hell." Gin let out a little laugh, but there wasn't a shred of humor in the sound. "It was just born mean, and John treated it badly, making it meaner than it already was. It killed Mrs. Beaumont's poodle Bubbles. I saw it happen. Cupid just picked up Bubbles in his jaws and shook her to death."

Gin shuddered and Louise pondered pulling the woman into her arms again. But Gin seemed to want her distance, so she settled for taking Gin's hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

"That must have been horrible," Louise said.

Gin nodded. "I was terrified of that dog. John knew that and·" Her voice trailed away, her mind going with it, back to those horrible years.

"Gin, it's over now." Louise tried to reassure her friend.

"You don't know what it was like," Gin whispered, her eyes reflecting the torment she had felt. "John would play tricks on me. Putting Cupid behind a bush near the fence, so that when I walked by, the dog would jump at me before I knew he was there. Or he would tie Cupid on a chain that was just long enough to make me think he would reach me."

"Why didn't you tell anyone?" Louise asked, continuing to hold Gin's hand.

"I tried to, but John was too smart. He always managed to explain things away, make me look like I was lying or just being overly sensitive. Eventually, I just gave up trying."

Gin paused, and Louise waited, knowing there was more.

"He still had the dog after we were married." Gin eventually said. "I begged him to get rid of it, give it away. But John just laughed at me. Then one day, I went outside to put out the garbage, and Cupid got loose and ran after me. I tripped and he bit my hand before John heard my screams and pulled him off of me. He told me he was sorry, and took Cupid behind the shed and shot him."

Louise heard a low growl, and realized it came from her own throat.

"Later," Gin continued, "I went past the place where Cupid had been chained up. The chain wasn't broken. Someone had let the dog loose on purpose."

"God damn son of a bitch," Louise snarled. "If Johnny wasn't dead, I swear I'd kill him with my own hands."

"Shh." It was Gin's turn to calm her friend. "It's over now. It was a long time ago."

"I'm so sorry, Gin," Louise said. Deciding holding hands wasn't enough, she opened her arms. "Come here."

Gin obeyed, burying her head once again under Louise's chin.

"It wasn't your fault," Gin whispered. "You don't have to apologize."

"I should have been there for you," Louise replied, echoing her life's biggest regret.

"Like I said, it's over," Gin said softly, snuggling against her friend. "You're here for me now. You're helping me raise two beautiful little girls. And you're making the nightmares go away. What more could I ask?"

"Nothing, I guess," Louise said, softly rocking the smaller woman.

She lay quietly, listening to Gin's breathing grow deeper and slower.

And I will do nothing to risk our friendship, Louise vowed, tamping down her mutinous libido. Nothing.


October 30, 1975

"Fee, I want to thank you again for making us feel so much a part of your wedding." Gin held out a garbage sack as Fee pushed in a bundle of wrapping paper.

"Aw, I was just being nice so you'd help me clean up after my bridal shower." Fee's eyes twinkled merrily. She was a small woman, the top of her head only reaching Gin's chin, which made her no more than five feet tall. She had masses of mahogany curls and a riot of freckles across her nose. That, along with her sparkling emerald eyes, made her Irish heritage pretty obvious.

"Well, I still appreciate it," Gin said, gathering all of Fee's cards into a pile and placing them on a side table so they wouldn't get lost. "I had a blast. Your friends and family are a hoot."

"Yeah, they're something else all right." Fee leaned down and picked a box up from the floor near the sofa. She pulled out the lingerie, which was more lace than anything else, and carefully refolded it again, closing the box top securely.

"That is absolutely beautiful," Gin said.

"Yeah, trust my sister to get me something sexy and revealing."

"Well, everyone needs sexy and revealing now and again." Gin grinned and raised her eyebrows suggestively.

"Hmm, maybe I should find out where she got it," Fee teased back. "I'm sure Louise would appreciate seeing you in it."

Gin blushed dramatically, the red rushing from her cheeks and spreading down her throat. She was immensely grateful that Louise and Verna had gone up stairs to make sure the kids were in bed and asleep.

"Fee, Louise and I·we aren't·I mean, we don't·It's not like·" Gin gave up, having no clue what her mouth was trying to accomplish.

"Oh my." It was Fee's turn to blush. "I thought·I mean, Michael and I just assumed·um·"

"No, it's OK. I mean·one could assume·I mean, it's not that I·"

Gin's mind froze in mid-stutter. My God, was I just going to say 'It's not that I don't want to be her lover'?

"And we gave you the guest bedroom with that one bed." Fee looked horrified. "We'll get everyone moved around right away."

"No. Please, Fee, it's not a problem. We're used to being close·I mean, it's nice to share·" Gin blew out a frustrated breath, sending her bangs flying into the air. "Man, I'm not making any sense, am I?"

"Gin, I know we just met," Fee spoke carefully. "But maybe it takes someone from outside the situation to see things differently."

"Uh huh." Gin wasn't sure where her new friend was going with the conversation.

"So let me ask you something. You can tell me to mind my own business if you want."

"OK," Gin agreed warily.

"Are you in love with Louise?"

"I·uh·in love?·uh." Gin's mouth failed her again.

"I'm sorry," Fee said hurriedly. "It is really none of my business."

"No," Gin said, taking a deep breath. "Yes." She paused, realizing that she'd just made no sense whatsoever. "I mean, yes, I love Louise. And before you ask - yes, I do mean 'love' as in 'romance', as in·" her mind flashed an image of Louise in lacey lingerie, and she shook her head to clear it away. "Well, anyway, the answer to your question is 'yes'."

"And have you told her?" Fee asked, taking a seat on the sofa and patting the cushion next to her. She smiled when Gin joined her.

"I can't," Gin said softly, shaking her head. "No way."

"Why not?" Fee waited and watched a thousand emotions cross Gin's face.

"I'm not sure how much you know about us," Gin replied. "How much you know about our lives. Louise was my best friend growing up. Then she left for college and traveled to India and I made a lot of horrible mistakes."

"Michael told me a little about that," Fee said, placing a comforting hand on Gin's knee.

"Anyway, Louise came back to me. She's welcomed me and my children into her home. She's helped raise my girls. She's given us so much. Sometimes I'm afraid she's sacrificed her own happiness. I can't ask her to give any more."

"Look, Gin, what if I tell you she's already given you her heart? I can see the way she treats you, the way she looks at you."

"I want that to be true." Gin turned pain-filled eyes toward Fee. "But if it's not·If I spill my guts to her, tell her I love her and want to become more than just friends, and she doesn't·I can't risk losing her."

"I understand," Fee said, patting Gin's leg. "You two have to follow your hearts. They have a way of calling their own shots and setting their own pace. But do me a favor?"

Gin nodded.

"Listen to your heart," Fee said firmly. "When it says to do something, then do it. Don't think about it or second guess it."

"I'll try," Gin said with a tentative smile.

"Good." Fee stood up. "Now get up off your arse and help me clean up."


October 31, 1975

"How do I look?" Michael walked out of the dressing room, holding his arms out for his sister's inspection.

"Excuse me," Louise said. "Have you seen my brother? I saw him go into the dressing rooms. He was wearing torn jeans and a ratty Pink Floyd t-shirt·"

"Oh very funny, Weez. You're a regular comedian. Michael grinned. "Seriously, does it look all right?"

Louise took a close look at her brother, eyeing the cut of the tuxedo. It fit perfectly, and the burnt orange cummerbund looked gorgeous with the black material of the suit and her brother's black hair.

"You look fantastic, Mikey," Louise said, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

"Oh no, not the waterworks, Weez. Save some for tonight."

Louise laughed. "I'm just proud of you, Bro."

"Well, I'm proud of you, Sis. Look what you've done with your life. You're a famous author, living with a beautiful woman, helping to raise two adorable children."

"Well·uh·Gin and I·"

"Uh, yeah, Fee told me last night that you two aren't...um·I mean that 'living with' is literally·well·" He rubbed at his neck, pulling at the tight collar. "Listen, let me get this monkey suit off and then I think we need to have a little chat."

Louise tried not to gulp as she waited for her brother. He soon came back out of the dressing rooms carrying his new clothes, looking much more normal in his jeans and t-shirt.

"Let's grab a cup of coffee," Michael suggested as he handed the clothes to the shop assistant to place in bags and boxes.

"Don't you have errands to run?" Louise cast her mind to the list that Fee had made her memorize, not trusting Michael's memory at this anxious time. "We have to drop off the ring with your best man and then pick up the champagne."

"It can wait," Michael said, waving his hand dismissively. "This is way more important."

"OK." Louise wasn't sure that her messed up emotions were more important than a wedding, but she knew better than to argue with her brother when he had his mind set.

They carefully put the clothes and shoes in Michael's truck, and then walked up the street to a little coffee shop. They took their coffee to a table by the window. It was cold outside and the window was steamed around its edges. Louise looked at the marks of moisture, knowing that if Lou where there, she'd be drawing faces in the steam.

"OK, tell me why you haven't told Gin you love her?" Michael began with no preamble.

"Jeez, you like getting right to the point, don't ya?"

"We don't have enough time," Michael said, smiling to put his sister at ease a little bit. "But, Weez, it's been six years since you've been home and she moved in with you and Mom. I think that's long enough, don't you?"

Louise didn't answer, just gazed into her cup of coffee, stirring it in one direction and then the other, watching eddies flow through the light brown liquid.

"You do love her, don't you?"

Blue eyes instantly raised to pierce his own. "I love her with all of my soul. I would give her my last breath. I thrive on her smile, her laugh. When I'm separated from her, I feel weak, as if I'd lived without food or water, walked for miles up a steep hill."

Michael thought about his feelings for Fee. Yeah, Louise had summed it up. But oh, so much more elegantly. Louise grinned and blushed, realizing that her passion had gotten away from her a little.

"I guess that's a yes," Michael grinned as well. "So, what's the deal?"

"What do you mean?"

Michael sighed. "Why do you guys spend your lives making google eyes at each other? Why won't you just take Gin by the hand, kiss her knuckles, and tell her you love her with all of your soul and all of that other crap you just said?"

"It's not that easy." Louise looked down, studying her coffee again.

"Oh, I beg to differ, my dear sister." Michael tilted his head down to capture his sister's gaze. "It is exactly that easy."

"She's been hurt, Michael. By people that should have loved her." Louise lifted her head, her eyes blazing. "And I've sworn that I will never let her be hurt again."

"How will your love hurt her?"

Ah, that's the million-dollar question, isn't it? She mused.

"I'll continue to love her in the way I've been loving her," Louise replied, "by being a supportive friend. I won't risk everything by pushing things any further than that."

"I think you're making a big mistake."

"Well, it's my mistake to make," Louise snapped. Then smiled apologetically and patted her brother's hand. "Sorry."

"At least think about what I've said. OK?" Michael peered at his sister, waiting to see agreement in her expression. He grinned when he saw the faint nod.

"I will," Louise said, gulping her coffee. "Now, we better get moving. We have a wedding to prepare. If you're late, Mom will tan your hide."

Louise chuckled at the look of panic that crossed her brother's face.


"Mom, you were right," Ella said, stuffing a huge bite full of wedding cake into her mouth and managing to smear frosting halfway to her ear. "This is way better than trick or treating."

Gin smiled at her daughter and wiped at her face with a napkin. "I'm glad you're having fun, sweetie."

"I'm havin' fun too, Mama," Lou piped up from her other side. "Are you?"

"Yes, I sure am," Gin replied, watching the dancers twirl and spin in front of her. One dancer in particular, with ebony hair and crystal blue eyes, captured her attention. Louise was wearing a gold dress, which was slinky and low cut, showing off every curve and quite a lot of skin. Her hair was long and loose, traveling down her bare back in a black wave. A simple gold choker sparkled at her throat, catching the light as she moved back and forth across the dance floor.

"Weez is dancing with her brother" Ella said, peering at the moving mass of adults.

"Yes," Gin said, her voice dreamy, still mesmerized by Louise.

"And Nana's dancing with Fee's Dad," Ella reported.

"Yes." Gin was still lost.

"When this song is over, can I dance with Uncle Michael, Mom?"

Michael dipped his sister playfully, and she bent backward, giving Gin a view of beautiful breasts, swelling over the bodice of her dress. Gin's mouth felt suddenly dry. If she could have moved, she would have reached for the flute of champagne. Unfortunately, she was frozen.

"Mom, can I?" Ella repeated, shaking her mom's arm. "Can I?"

Gin finally realized that her daughter was speaking. "What?"

"Can I dance with Uncle Michael when this song is over?" Ella said, louder this time for her obviously hard-of-hearing mother.

"You can ask him," Gin replied with a smile.

"Can I dance with Weez, Mama?" Lou asked.

"Girls can't dance with girls, silly," Ella stated, shaking her head at her sister's crazy comment.

"Of course they can," Gin said, finally managing to focus her attention on her daughters. "In fact, you go dance with Weez, Lou, and when you're done, I'll dance with her."


The little girls dashed from their seats and stood near the edge of the dance floor until the music slowed. Dancers began to separate, looking for new partners, and the little girls made their move. Gin watched as brother and sister were politely asked for the next dance, and then she laughed as she watched the unlikely pairs begin a jig.

"It looks like I have competition for Michael's affections." Fee chuckled and took a chair next to Gin.

"You may be right." Gin smiled and then looked around the reception hall. "Everything about this wedding is magical, Fee. I'm so glad we could be here to share it with you."

"Not as glad as we are to have you."

The wedding had been beautiful. The chapel had been lit with only candles. Michael and Fee had exchanged traditional vows combined with modern and Celtic extras. The reception hall had been decorated in muted tones of orange, gold, brown, red, and black. As in the church, candles provided the light. Hundreds of them, large and small, were placed around the hall. The entertainment was a four-piece band, playing tradition Irish music.

"I have to admit, having a wedding on Halloween was a tough sell to my girls." Gin shook her head, remembering the arguments. "But as I suspected, it's been a big hit."

"Well, my mother was married on Samhain, and her mother before her, and probably many before that," Fee replied.

"Sow- what?" Gin asked, tilting her head in confusion.

"Samhain," Fee replied with a grin. "It's spelled s-a-m-h-a-i-n, but it's pronounced 'Sow-in' in Irish. It's a Celtic holiday, also celebrated by pagans and others. It's where Halloween really started."

"Really?" Gin's eyes twinkled and she sat up, excited about learning something new.

"The Celtic people separated the year into two halves: summer and winter. Samhain is the last day of summer - or the last night before the first day of winter."

"So it's sort of like the Celtic New Year's Eve?"

"Yes," Fee replied with a nod. "Exactly. Traditionally, it's a night to honor your dead ancestors. It's said that the dead come to visit the living. The candles are a way of showing our ancestors the way. I'm hoping that they're here tonight with me."

Gin looked around and felt a shiver spider-step its way up her spine.

"Don't worry," Fee chuckled, recognizing Gin's apprehension. "The candles also ward off the bad spirits that you don't want to show up."

Gin let out a relieved sigh.

"In order for our ancestors to come visit us," Fee continued, "it's said that on this night, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. Because of that, it also becomes easier to see into the future. It's a night to make decisions and commitments. And, as my ancestors obviously believed, it's a great night for a wedding."

"That's a beautiful tradition," Gin said. Her eyes were caught once again by Louise, who had danced toward her. She held Lou's hands and moved her carefully around in circles. Lou was swaying her hips and Louise was gazing down at her, a stunning smile sweeping across her face. The music ended and Lou clapped her hands, hopping on her white paten leather shoes. Gin sighed when Verna intercepted the kids, leading them to the punch bowl.

"I think this is your dance," Fee whispered conspiratorially.

"Yeah, I told Ella that girls can dance together, and·" She stopped speaking when Louise turned toward her. Her eyes were smoldering sapphires, and Gin felt them reach out and caress her. She felt her legs lift her, though they felt like they belonged to someone else. And then she was moving toward her soulmate.

"Follow your heart." Fee's words seemed to be whispered directly in her ear, even though Gin had already taken a half dozen paces toward the dance floor. And then the words were echoed by a thousand soft voices.

"May I have this dance?" As with her legs, her mouth seemed to belong to someone else. But as before, she went with it.

Louise smiled and nodded, taking Gin's hands in hers. They danced in silence, the rest of the people fading from their sight. The room had no walls; their feet floated above the floor. The music was a wave, and they rode it.

They became one as they danced, skin melding into skin, muscles expanding and contracting, breath mingling, pulses beating to the same rhythm. And for one timeless moment, their souls collided in a fireball so bright that anyone looking had to turn away and shade their eyes.

And then the music ended. They stood together still, their arms around each other, a small hand clasped within a larger one.

"Mom, Lou lost her glove." Gin shook her head, as if waking from a dream, and looked down to her daughters. Lou frowned and tried to hide her bare right hand.

"Sowey," Lou said, bending her head down contritely.

A memory rose to the minds of both women. Of a haunted house and a snowy afternoon.

I vowed then that I would never hurt her, Louise remembered.

That was the day she began to make sacrifices for me, Gin thought.

"I need some air," Louise mumbled, moving quickly off the dance floor and toward the doors behind the stage.

"Louise, wait." Gin began to follow her friend, but remembered her girls. She knelt down next to Lou and lifted her chin gently. "It's OK, Little One, someone will find it. Why don't you go find your Uncle Michael, and tell him to make an announcement? Tell him you'll give a big, giant hug to whoever finds it."

Lou smiled and Ella laughed, taking her sister's hand. Gin watched her daughters skip away.

Well, that was easy, she mused. Now comes the hard part.

She followed Louise outside and found her sitting on a bench beside a small tree, gazing up at the stars.

"It's our star," Louise said, not needing to turn around to see who had come through the doors. "Do you remember?"

"Yes," Gin replied, sitting beside her friend. "I looked at it every night when you were away."

"So did I." Louise smiled, remembering the nights, how looking at the star had always grounded her and settled her mind.

Gin reached out and took hold of Louise's hand, reveling in its smooth, warm strength. They sat hand in hand for several minutes, looking up at the night sky. The band had started up again and they could faintly hear a tenor singing a ballad.

"Louise, I·" Gin felt her throat tightening around her words, and she swallowed reflexively. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. "I have something to tell you."

Louise nearly flinched, waiting to hear that she'd already pushed too hard, crossed a line that she shouldn't have crossed.

"I know I'm being selfish," Gin said, "I know I've already asked so much from you. And if you can't give me this, then I'll understand. I hope it will mean that nothing will change between us, that we can just forget about it and go back to the way things were."

Louise's guilt twisted Gin's words, and a horrified expression crossed her face. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I never wanted things to change between us. I'm sorry I hurt you."

"Oh, Weez, you can never hurt me." Gin knew the conversation had gotten away from her, although she wasn't exactly sure how. "Please, listen to me."

She waited for Louise to take a deep breath and meet her eyes steadily.

"Since we were little kids, you've treated me like I was a priceless crystal vase," Gin explained. "You've never let me drop, never let me break. And that has made me feel so very, very special."

"You deserve to be treated like that," Louise said, nodding her understanding.

"And it makes me feel wonderful," Gin agreed. "But, sweetheart, I'm not crystal. I'm a diamond. I won't break. And despite your careful treatment, I've fallen."

"Fallen?" Louise looked confused.

Gin sighed and looked up to their star for inspiration.

"I love you." The words hadn't come out exactly the way she'd practiced, but they were out nonetheless.

Gin closed her eyes, not daring to look at her love. Then she felt her hand gently lifted and lips brushed lightly against her knuckles.

"I love you too," Louise whispered. "With all of my soul."

Neither woman dared to breath. They looked into each other's eyes, and lost themselves. They thought of words that could be said, tried to phrase them in their minds, and then gave up. Instead, they moved as one to share a long, lingering kiss.

They finally moved apart, breathless, feeling the pulse through their interlocked fingers.

"I've been wanting to do that for so long," Louise whispered.

"So have I."

Gin let the words sink in.

"You mean you wanted·but you didn't·"

"Yeah," Louise grinned, "I think everyone else figured it out a long time ago. We really are a couple of numbskulls."

"But I think Fee was right. She told me that the heart sets its own pace."

"Yeah?" Louise chuckled. "Well, I'm having words with mine. It's tortured me for years."

"Years, huh?" Gin couldn't tease, since her own had done the same. She looked up at the stars again. "Do you think someone up there is laughing at us right about now?"

"No, not laughing," Louise said, pulling Gin into a hug. "Smiling." She bent down to nip playfully at Gin's ear, feeling the smaller woman tremble in her embrace. "Definitely smiling."

To be continued in Hand in Hand 5: Valentine's Day

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