Christmas Bells

Christmas Magic

by Sheri

Disclaimer: The song is Beautiful Star of Bethlehem by the Judds and is used without permission.

She had been sneaking into the back of the concert hall for weeks now. She told herself it was only a place out of the cold, but she knew that there was so much more to it than that. Something or, more to the point, someone seemed to draw her to the hall night after night. There were always different groups practicing for the Christmas season and she didn't really consider herself a big fan of Christmas music, so that left only one person. Only one person was there night after night, the choir director. From the shadows in the back of the hall she watched as the light appeared as enchanted with the golden-haired woman as she was. It followed and highlighted her every move at the front of the hall.

Tonight the kids were practicing. Their antics always made the dark woman smile; a glimmer of white in the darkness. The only other color visible in the shadows was the blue of the dark woman's eyes. The choir director had an infinite amount of patience with the children. Calmly talking to them, answering their incessant questions, and somehow she even managed to get them to rehearse the three songs they would perform over the next few weeks at the various programs being held in the community.

Then the rehearsal was finally over that the children were bundling up in their coats and being collected by parents grateful for the reprieve provided by the young choir director. The hour and a half she kept their children occupied was time they could spend getting their shopping and other things done that are just too hard to do with children along. One of the children reached up to tug on the edge of her sweater.

"Miss Lynne?" the child whispered.

Lynne kneeled down so she was on eye level with the girl and said, "Yes, Julie?"

"Who is that woman watching us?"

"What woman sweetie?"

"That dark haired woman in the back. She's hiding behind the planter off to the right."

Lynne looked back in the direction the child had indicated and was stunned to see that she was right. There was someone hiding back there. Green eyes met blue and held. Time seemed to slow down and the world stopped as a lifetime passed between them in those few minutes. Lynne's heart flew to the back of the hall and was lost in that pool of electric blue. Of course, she was not aware of this happening, Lynne wasn't aware of much outside of those eyes. It took numerous tugs on her sweater before Lynne was finally able to drag her eyes from the back of the hall and back to the child furiously trying to get her attention.

"Miss Lynne?" There was a touch of fear in the child's voice.

"I'm not sure who she is sweetie, but I'll see if I can find out. Ok?"

"Ok!" The child agreed happily and raced off to her waiting mother.

Lynne watched her go, smiling slightly at the resiliency of the young, and then looked back to the shadows, searching once again for that pair of electric blue eyes. They were gone and so was the woman attached to them.

The woman had disappeared, back out into the cold, as soon as the director's, no... Lynne's, attention had been drawn back to the child tugging on her sweater. The dark woman wandered aimlessly down the street holding her side, shaken by the connection she too had felt when that pair of green eyes locked with hers.

The next night, Lynne couldn't help searching the shadows again and again throughout the rehearsal. Luckily, this was one of the adult choirs. They never needed as much of her attention as the children did. However, no matter how often her eyes searched the shadows in the back the woman was not to be found. After numerous searches failed to uncover the woman, Lynne admitted defeat and turned her full attention to the choir.

I guess she found somewhere else to go. She thought, disappointed.

Actually, the woman hadn't found anywhere else to go. She had just retreated deeper into the shadows. Even though the risk of capture was much greater now that she had been spotted, she was unable to stay away. Something about the dir...Lynne continued to pull her to the concert hall. She had fought with herself all day, in between trying to catch some sleep and trying to find something to eat. She knew it was foolish to return, but when darkness covered the city she found herself on the steps of the concert hall none the less. Every night for the past two weeks she had stood in the shadows risking everything and now even though the risk was almost a physical presence, she was still here. She didn't understand it, but then again she didn't understand a lot of the turns her life had taken in the last month. She also seemed helpless to stop it.

One of the adult choirs was practicing tonight, their voices soaring to the heavens. Occasionally, just every once in a while, hitting a sour note. Oddly enough the sour notes came most often when Lynne joined the group. Interesting the dark woman mused, a choir director who can't sing. She listened to the rehearsal, admiring once again how patient Lynne was with the singers, especially considering the fact that many of them were older than she was. The strange woman relaxed slightly when she saw Lynne give her full attention to the choir, not as worried of discovery when the golden haired woman wasn't searching the shadows for her. As the music flowed around her, she began humming along quietly. All too soon, she recognized the last song they usually rehearsed, gathered her coat closer to her, and slipped back out in the cold, dark night. Lynne felt the shot of cold air when the door opened and looked back just in time to see the strange woman leave the building holding her side.


It had been well over a week since Lynne had locked gazes with the strange woman in the shadows. A week of rehearsals spent fruitlessly searching the shadows for a pair of electric blue eyes. Lynne knew that the woman was there every night, but she could never find her. That one glimpse of her leaving the building a week ago convinced Lynne that she was there somewhere, even if she couldn't be seen. That brief glimpse also caused some things to click together in her mind. For weeks before seeing the woman in the shadows, Lynne had had the unsettling feeling that she was being watched. It had frazzled her already strained nerves. Now that she knew who was doing the watching, the only unsettling thing was the fact that she had been unable to talk to the woman. All throughout the week she had caught herself looking for the woman when she should have been concentrating on the hundred and one things she needed to do to get her choirs ready for their performances, especially the big one on Christmas Eve. Being the chorale director for the entire city, small as that city may be, was a big job. She had two different children's choirs and four adult choirs to direct. She had to put in long hours to accommodate the schedules of the different choirs and usually had to work when most other people were ready to play, so she wasn't involved in many things other than the choirs. Meeting people her own age was especially difficult as most of the people in the choirs were either much older than she was, which created its own set of problems to be sure, or much younger than she was. Not that she really minded. She had never been on to party all the time, much preferring her books and music to the company of anyone she had ever met. Of course, there was much more to her job than just overseeing the rehearsals; and that was another reason for her solitary lifestyle. After the choirs went home the real work began. Lynne had to figure out what music they would sing, how to arrange the parts so they would best utilize the voices she had, and she had to decide who would sing the solos.

The solos were one of the hardest parts of her job. Almost everyone wanted that chance to be singled out, heard without anyone else distracting from their voice. Unfortunately, most people didn't have the voice to carry it off. Even worse was that Lynne always heard the music sung in her head by the perfect voice. It wasn't hers, she was the first to admit, and found it rather amusing, that the director of some of the most popular choirs in the county could only barely carry a tune in a bucket. Ever since she was a child she had heard this voice singing with perfect clarity, pitch, and such emotion that it often made her cry. It was one of the things that made her such a brilliant arranger. If she could just find the owner of that voice, her problems with these solos would be over.

It was the solos that kept her at the concert hall late that night a week after seeing the dark woman for the first time. She sat at the piano playing the song and singing quietly to herself. Soon she quit singing and just let the music wash over her as that perfect voice took the song over and made it hers. Her fingers stilled on the keys and she sat enraptured by the voice she thought was only in her imagination. As the final notes of the song slowly faded into the night Lynne opened her eyes and found herself face to face with the woman from the shadows. After a timeless silence spent gazing at each other Lynne breathed, "It was you."

"Excuse me?" the woman asked.

Lynne shook herself out of her daze and asked, "I mean...was that you?"

"I hope you don't mind. I couldn't help but sing, that is one of my favorite songs."

"It was beautiful."

"Thanks." The stranger turned to leave, one hand unconsciously going to press against her side as she went.

"No! Wait!" Lynne exclaimed, reaching out for the woman's arm, a bit surprised to find solid muscle under her fingertips. "Please don't go."

The woman looked down at the small hand resting on her arm, and then back up to the entreating green eyes. Her mind was screaming at her to leave, run as far and as fast as she could away from this intriguing young woman. "I should never have..." her voice trailed off and she desperately tried to think of what to say next.

"Please." Lynne asked again, "Stay for just a moment." She motioned to the bench next to her, "Sit down and rest for a minute."

The woman glanced at the inviting seat and at the woman who was infinitely more inviting. She felt the warmth of the room that couldn't come close to comparing with the warmth in Lynne's eyes, but was so much better than the cold of the street. With a somewhat rueful smile, she sat down next to Lynne and asked, "What are you doing here so late?"

"Oh, it's these solos. I have to figure out who can sing them well enough to do them justice without showing any favoritism. I've got most of them figured out, it's just this last one that is so hard. It's my favorite song too and none of the singers I direct can sing if half as well as you did a few minutes ago." Lynne looked at the woman sitting next to her shyly and asked, "Would you mind singing it again?" I have to know if she really is the voice of my dreams. Lynne thought as she waited for the strange woman to answer.

"Sure, why not? Like I said, it is my favorite song."

Lynne began playing and right on cue the dark woman started singing. Lynne was so amazed she almost stopped playing.

It is her! Lynne couldn't believe that after almost 30 years she had finally met the owner of the voice she had been hearing all her life! When the last notes faded away Lynne couldn't help but stare into the beautiful blue eyes next to her for a few moments. Finally, the other woman waved her hand in front of Lynne's face, snapping her out of her trance.

"Oh! Sorry..."

"You looked like you were a million miles away. Are you ok?"

"Yeah. I'm fine, but I just realized something."


"I don't know your name."

"Oh." Here it was; the moment of truth. Should she take that final, huge risk and expose herself to this woman? Or should she make up a name and disappear from the young woman's life as quickly as she had entered it? Taking a deep breath the woman said, "Ward."


"My name is Ward."

"What an interesting name. It's very pretty. Is there a story behind it?"

"Not really. It's a family name."

"Oh." In the silence that followed, Lynne looked at her watch. "I don't believe it."


"It's after midnight already."

"You're kidding!"

"Nope." Reluctantly, Lynne began gathering up her sheet music. "I really should be going home."

"Yeah, I suppose you should. I wouldn't want you to turn into a pumpkin or anything." Ward slowly got to her feet and began bundling up as best she could. As she finished Lynne noticed that she was holding her side again.

"Are you ok?" She asked.

Ward followed her gaze to the hand resting against her side and quickly lowered it.

"I'm fine." She stated flatly, and started towards the door. Lynne quickly followed, tugging on her coat as she went. When they were standing outside the hall, Lynne locked the door and turned to meet Ward's eyes.

"It's really late."

"Yes it is."

"I didn't realize how dark it would be."

"That tends to happen when the sun goes down." Ward said jokingly.

"Yeah." Lynne agreed, nervously glancing out at the dark, empty streets.

Ward noticed the glance and asked, "Where's your car?"

"I don't have one." Lynne admitted reluctantly. "I only live a few blocks away." Her eyes darted towards the streets again.

"Which way?" Ward asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Which way to your place? I'll walk with you."

"Oh no. I couldn't ask you to do that. I'll be fine, really. Besides, it's not like this is a big city with lots of crime to worry about."

"For starters, you're not asking, I'm offering. Second, the size of the city doesn't matter, there are punks everywhere."

"I don't want to keep you from getting home though." Lynne protested mildly.

"Don't worry about it. It's on my way."

"Oh. Ok, then." Lynne smiled gratefully and started walking. Ward smiled back and began to follow. They hadn't gone more than 10 feet when Lynne suddenly stopped.

"What's wrong?" Ward asked.

"How do you know it's on your way? You don't know where we're going."

"Reeeally?! Imagine that."

"Ok, I get it. Any way we go is on your way, right?"

"You got it."

Lynne started walking again, then stopped. "Thanks." She whispered, looking Ward straight in the eye, not wanting her to mistake this for an off the cuff show of gratitude.

"Not a problem. Really." Ward replied, just as seriously as Lynne. She held out her arm indicating that they should continue. Lynne took the lead and the walked on in a comfortable silence. A few blocks into the walk Lynne mentioned, "This is the only thing I don't like about where I live."

"Having to pass the graveyard?" Ward asked.

"Yeah, especially at night. The kids around here like to play tricks all the time. If it were Halloween, I would expect it, but you never know when a skeleton or a vampire puppet dripping blood is going to jump out at you."

As if to prove her point, there was a sudden burst of fog to their left and from the ensuing cloud came a witch flying on a broomstick. Lynne and Ward both jumped back.

"I can see how that would be frightening!" Ward exclaimed, and immediately started searching the area where the witch had come from.

Lynne took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart and then walked over to where Ward was kneeling next to a tombstone. "What did you find?"

"Some dry ice to make the fog and a line running from that tree to the one near the street. It looks like whoever rigged it was pretty clever. They didn't even have to release the stuff from here. They rigged a trip line back on the sidewalk. They even have a video camera set up here to catch the reaction." As she said this, Ward walked to the camera, removed the tape, and destroyed it.

"Thanks," Lynne said. "I don't think I like the idea of some kids getting together and laughing at me."

"Yeah, me neither." Ward replied. Not to mention the fact that I can't afford to be on any kind of tape. "Shall we continue?"

"Absolutely." Lynne answered, more than happy to put the graveyard behind them. After a few more blocks Lynne slowed and then turned to go up the walk of a lovely two-story house with a screen porch. The light over the door glowed invitingly. As they stepped up onto the porch Lynne took out her key and opened the door. Then she turned to face Ward.

"Thanks for walking with me."

"You're welcome." Ward turned to go.

"Would you ..." Lynne's voice stopped her, "would you like to come in for a minute?"

"No. I really shouldn't. It's late. You must have things to do tomorrow."

"Actually, I don't. Tomorrow is one of my rare free days. No rehearsals, no meetings, nothing but some housework. I'm really not tired and I have hot chocolate."

Now why did I say that? Lynne groaned to herself.

"Hot chocolate?!" Ward's eyes lit up, then fell as she continued, "I really shouldn't."

But Lynne had seen the sparkle at the mention of the drink so she said the three words that she hoped would convince the woman.

"With whipped cream."

"You are an extremely cruel woman, you know this right?" Ward asked. "How can I turn down hot chocolate with whipped cream on a night like this?"

"You can't, so stop trying. I promise you can leave right after you finish. After all, I need to do something to thank you for saving me from the flying witch."

"Ok, then. I'll stay, but just for the chocolate."

"Great!" I can't believe she agreed to stay.

I can't believe I agreed to stay. I must be nuts. I shouldn't be risking this. Ward thought, shaking her head as she entered the house in front of Lynne.

When they entered the house, Lynne turned on the light in the hall and then reached for Ward's coat. She took the coat, surprised at how light and thin it was. How can she survive out there with just this? Lynne wondered, a plan starting to take shape in the back of her mind.

"Why don't you go on into the living room and sit down? I'll be right out with the hot chocolate." Lynne invited, pointing to a doorway off the front hallway as she moved on towards the end of the hall where the kitchen was located.

Ward walked in the direction that Lynne had indicated, taking time to look at the house as she did so. The house was very comfortable, lived in, was the best way to describe it. There were little areas of controlled clutter in the rooms as well as knick-knacks and collectibles. In the living room, Ward debated about where she should sit. There was a long couch, a loveseat, and a chair in the room; all placed so that no matter which she chose to sit in, conversation wouldn't be a problem.

Should I sit on the couch or the chair? Ward wondered. If I sit on the couch will she sit next to me? Ward was surprised at the thrill that thought gave her, not the fact that the thought was pleasing to her, but the intensity of that thrill.

The loveseat is out; I don't want to scare her by making her sit too close if she does choose to sit next to me. What if I sit in the chair? Will she think I don't want to sit near her? This is ridiculous! Just sit down. She chided herself.

Ward heard Lynne coming down the hall and quickly sat down on the end of the couch. Let her decide where she's going to sit.

Lynne walked into the room carrying a tray with two steaming mugs and a can of whipping cream.

"I wasn't sure how much whipped cream you would want so I just brought the can." Lynne said, setting the tray down on the table in front of the couch. After making sure everything was within reach, she handed Ward her mug, then sat down next her. Lynne put some whipped cream into her mug and then carefully took a sip, sighing with pleasure as the hot liquid warmed her. She took another sip and smiled as Ward put whipped cream into her mug.

"Would you like some hot chocolate with your whipped cream?" She asked teasingly.

Ward smiled sheepishly, looked around furtively, and confessed, "I have a huge sweet tooth."

"I'll be sure to remember that."

Ward finished stirring her hot chocolate and took a sip. As the heat and the sweet taste flowed through her body Ward leaned back and closed her eyes.

"That is truly heavenly." She said to Lynne. "The perfect foil for a cold night."

"I'm glad you decided to stay."

"So am I." And amazingly enough, it was the truth. Ward couldn't remember the last time she had felt comfortable enough in another person's presence to really relax. And that is a shame, she thought.

"So, how does a person who can't sing get to be a choir director?" Ward asked.

"I'm really good at getting other people to sing well. I am also very good at getting groups to compensate for individual weaknesses."

"I've heard the rehearsals." Ward agreed, "Especially the children. You are wonderful with them. I could never be that patient. How do you do it?"

"It's really very easy. The children give so much back to me that it is worth the few times they 'stomp on my last nerve' so to speak. To see those little faces light up when they hear the applause of a crowd for the first time..." her voice trailed off as she pictured the bright, shining faces. The memories giving her face a glow to rival those of the children. Ward watched her, fascinated. Suddenly, the light faded from Lynne's eyes and Ward wondered what thoughts could possibly be bad enough to dim that hope and happiness.

If I ever find out who causes that reaction they will be sorry when I catch up to them! The violence of the thought shocked Ward, almost as much as the initial connection between them had. Where on earth are these thoughts coming from? I can't afford to think like that. Not now, maybe not ever.

Lynne, lost in her own thoughts, suddenly realized that she was neglecting her guest. "Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes, the children. The two children's choirs were the main reason I decided to take this job. I've always loved hearing children sing. Even if they don't remember all the words, can't carry the tune, or wave to their parents from the stage; they always have fun and make a joyful noise."

"How did you end up in this little two horse town?"

"Two horse? I always thought the expression was one horse town?"

"It is, but we are a bit bigger than that!"

"Oh! I get it." Lynne said with a chuckle. "Actually, I grew up in a town not much bigger than this one. I've always liked the little bigness of towns this size. Big enough to get lost in, but small enough not to overwhelm a person."

"Why did you need to get lost?"

"Why do you?" Lynne tossed back.

Ward stared at her for a moment, the need to open up to this woman; to relieve just a bit of her burden, so great that she had to clasp her hands and almost cover her mouth with them to stop herself from doing just that. Those green eyes held such a promise of peace and understanding.

With effort Ward dropped her gaze from Lynne's down to her own clasped hands. "Touchœ. I shouldn't have asked you that. After all, you hardly know me. In fact, you don't even know me at all." She started to stand; "I really should be going. I've imposed on your time long enough. Thanks for the hot chocolate."

"Wait!" Lynne reached out to stop her once again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you leave. I just don't like to talk about my reasons for being here. Please don't go yet."

"It's really late though. Even if you're not working tomorrow you should be getting to bed."

"Can I ask you something first?" Lynne asked gently.

"You can ask me anything." Ward said truthfully, "I can't guarantee I'll answer."

"Fair enough." Lynne took a deep breath and asked, "Do you have someplace to stay tonight?"

"Of course I do!" Ward said quickly, too quickly. "What makes you think I wouldn't?"

"You've been sneaking into a warm concert hall for weeks, you're wearing a coat so thin it wouldn't keep a person warm in springtime, much less the dead of a Midwest winter, and you look like you haven't had a decent meal or a good night's sleep in weeks."

Ward opened her mouth, a lie forming on her lips when Lynne looked at her, a plea for the truth she already knew in them. "No. I don't have anywhere to stay." Ward said, as shocked as Lynne was to hear the truth come out when she had been planning to lie.

"Thank you for telling me the truth. I'm not going to ask anything more, though I would be more than willing to listen if you wanted to tell me. I would like to make you an offer though. I live here in this house alone, and I have a couple of perfectly good guest rooms with wonderfully warm queen size beds in them that you are more than welcome to use."

"How on earth can you make an offer like that? You don't know anything about me. I could be a murderer or something!"

"Ward," Lynne said with a touch of exasperation in her voice, "if that were the case you could have killed me a hundred times by now. I think I'm pretty safe."

Ward just looked at her. Unable to quite believe the woman next to her was real. The thought of a warm bed was too much for her much too tired body to resist, however, so with a sigh, she agreed to stay.

Lynne stood with a smile, and held out her hand to help Ward up from the couch. With a bemused look, Ward took the offered hand and followed Lynne down the hall and up the stairs to the bedrooms.

"The guest rooms are on either side of the hall here. There's a bathroom here. I have a new toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo, and toothpaste in there too. Just help yourself. I take them from the hotels I visit."

"I still can't believe you're doing this." Ward said as she opened the door to the bedroom next to the bathroom. "I don't think 'Thank you' even begins to cover how much I appreciate it, but it's all I can think of to say."

"You're welcome. I swear it is really not a problem." Lynne walked to a door just a few feet down the hall. "My room has its own bathroom, so feel free to take all the time you need. See you in the morning?" She asked hopefully.


"Nevermind. Forget I asked; just know that you are welcome to stay as long as you'd like to. If you are still here in the morning though, I make awesome banana pancakes, if I do say so myself." With a wave and a smile, Lynne said goodnight and disappeared behind the door.

Ward stood in the hall a moment longer, torn between a good night's sleep and the almost overwhelming urge to bolt out the door and away form this woman who caused so many different emotions and feelings in her. One more look at the warm bed only a few feet away and she decided to just 'let go and let God' as her mother used to say, and went into the room.

Once inside the bedroom, Ward began removing her clothes. Curious, she opened the dresser drawers and found a few nightshirts in varying sizes, along with cotton shorts. Why on earth would she have so many clothes that obviously wouldn't fit her? Does she bring derelicts home often? Unable to figure out the strange young woman, she grabbed a shirt and a pair of shorts out of one of the drawers and laid them on the bed. Wandering around the room, Ward noticed a few pictures on the desk. One was of Lynne in a cap and gown, holding a diploma and standing with two older people. I wonder if those are her parents? Ward mused. She looks very happy. There was only one other picture on the desk; in it, the older people from the previous picture were standing with a handsome, young man. He looks a bit like Lynne, her brother maybe? Something about the face nudged at her memory, but she couldn't dredge it up and, knowing that she wasn't going to get any answers from the pictures; Ward decided to just get ready for bed. Maybe someday she would ask Lynne about them; then again, she probably wouldn't see the woman again. Sneaking out of the house in the wee hours of the morning wasn't going to endear her to the young choir director, Ward knew, but she also knew that she couldn't risk staying any longer.

Ward picked up the borrowed pajamas and crossed the hall to the bathroom Lynne had said she could use. When she opened the door to the bathroom her eyes were immediately drawn to the huge, old-fashioned claw footed tub that absolutely dominated the small room. It was easily large enough to accommodate her 6ft. plus frame with room to spare. "Oh my..." Ward couldn't help the gasp that escaped her at the sight. Her mind immediately conjured up the image of her tired body totally immersed in warm water. Her body started clamoring for her to make that image a reality almost before she could finish thinking it. Well, Lynne did say to take as much time as I needed. And everything is here, maybe I should take a bath." Almost of its own volition, her hand reached out and turned on the taps. As water rushed into the tub, Ward reached for the buttons on her shirt. Soon the tub was full and Ward slowly sank into the warm water. Oh my, and I thought the chocolate was heavenly. This is unbelievable!

Down the hall, Lynne heard the water run, then stop, followed by a quiet sigh. She smiled; glad that Ward was taking advantage of the tub like she had hoped. As she closed her eyes she heard another sigh and the movement of the water. Unbidden, an image of that tall, muscular body naked and wet, popped into Lynne's mind and her eyes sprang open. So much for getting to sleep any time soon. She thought ruefully as she flung the covers back. Lynne walked over to her desk and turned on the lamp. Firing up her computer she murmured, "Might as well check my email since I'm up." Half an hour later, Lynne realized that she hadn't heard any sounds coming from the bathroom in a while. "I wonder if Ward is alright? Maybe she fell asleep in there." Lynne shut down the computer, turned off the lamp, and went to the door. She still couldn't hear any sounds from down the hall, so she quietly walked to the door of the bathroom, still nothing. Tapping lightly on the door, Lynne called, "Ward?" No response. Slowly, Lynne turned the knob and opened the door. "Ward?" she said again. Again, there was no response. Really starting to worry, Lynne opened the door a bit further, and stopped short at the magnificent sight before her.

The reality of Ward naked in her tub far outclassed any image her mind could have created. The woman was truly beautiful. Her black cascading over shoulders still tanned by the summer sun's kiss even though it was the middle of winter, those incredible blue eyes closed, cheeks flushed from the heat of the water. Lynne's eyes continued down Ward's body, stopping for long moments on the soft mounds of her breasts just barely visible in the water. Ward had made use of the bubble bath provided, but those bubbles were vanishing quickly as the water slowly cooled; much to Lynne's secret delight. Her eyes continued on down the long, lanky form, stopping again at the mound of dark hair between Ward's legs, before traveling back up towards her breasts. As her eyes made the delicious journey upwards the bubbles parted to reveal an ugly gash in Ward's side. The wound was not fresh, but looked like it was taking a long time to heal. "Oh Ward!" Lynne gasped as her hand unconsciously reached out to the woman.

"What do you think you're doing?" The cold voice that stopped Lynne's hand was so different from Ward's that Lynne's eyes flew to Ward's face to confirm that, indeed, it was she who had spoken. The blue chips of ice looking back at her held none of the warmth that Lynne had come to expect to see there.

"I'm sorry." Lynne apologized, "I heard you start the bathwater while I was checking my email. When I was done, I realized that I couldn't hear anything anymore, and I thought you might have fallen asleep. I just came to check."

"Why didn't you knock?" Ward asked, the coldness still very evident in her tone.

"I did. You didn't hear me."

Ward thought for a moment. I must have been more tired than I thought; there's no way I would let someone to get that close to me. Either that or... I trust her. Nah, I must just be tired. "Well, ... why didn't you call my name or something?" Ward wasn't quite ready to apologize yet.

"I'm really very sorry." Lynne's voice was almost breaking, "I just got worried when I didn't hear any noise in here."

"It's ok, really. I'm sorry." The catch in Lynne's voice and the tears Ward could see shining in her eyes, made her feel like a real witch for not trusting Lynne in the first place. "I guess I'm just not used to people worrying about me, caring about me."

"I'm sorry about that too. You deserve to be cared about."

"Uhm... Lynne?" Ward cleared her throat as a flush threatened to creep over her entire body.


"Now that you know I'm ok; could you leave so I can get out?"

"Oh!! Sure, sorry." Lynne smiled sheepishly and quickly went to the open door. Before leaving the room, Lynne glanced over her shoulder. Ward stood at that same moment the water rushing down the magnificent slopes and curves.

"Oh my..." Lynne gasped again at the sight and left the room on suddenly shaky legs that threatened to buckle under her.

Ward heard the gasp and looked up in time to see Lynne's hand flutter to her chest as she turned and seemed to carefully walk out the door. Hmmm, interesting. Ward could tell that Lynne was attracted to her, hoped she was anyhow, and that it wasn't just wishful thinking on her part. From the first moment when she had entered the concert hall and seen the angel on earth, she had known that she was attracted to Lynne. What else could possibly explain why she kept coming back, risking everything? All for just one more glimpse of those eyes, one more snippet of overheard conversation, and one more moment of the inexplicable warmth that came from merely being in the young woman's vicinity. As she watched Lynne's backside retreating down the hall, Ward smiled and thought, Definitely attraction. Humming softly, she grabbed a towel from the rack and began drying herself off.

A few minutes later, Ward was back in the guest bedroom feeling gloriously clean for the first time in weeks. As she sank back onto the pillows and let the bed envelop her tired, aching body, another groan of pure pleasure escaped her lips. She was asleep almost instantly.

Down the hall, Lynne heard the groan and then the evening out of Ward's breathing. Knowing that the woman was finally asleep, Lynne allowed herself to heed the demands of her own body and surrendered to sleep as well.

Late the next morning Ward was awakened by the smell of something she hadn't smelled in weeks, food. Not just food though, good food. Food that didn't smell like the oatmeal glue they served at the shelters. And... Ward's nose crinkled as she tried to identify the other smell, "Oooh, hot chocolate!" A smile spread across Ward's face as she threw the covers back and headed across the hall to the bathroom. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, Ward went down the stairs; following her nose to the kitchen. At the doorway of the kitchen, Ward stopped and drank in the sight of the woman puttering about the room humming as she prepared breakfast. Ward had the almost irresistible urge to walk over, grab Lynne around the waist, and kiss her senseless. She had actually taken a step towards her when Lynne turned and noticed Ward standing in the doorway.

"Good morning!"

"Just barely, but good morning."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Very well. I think I was actually asleep before my head hit the pillow. I didn't move again after that until I was awakened by the wonderful smell. What'cha making?"

"Nothing special, really, just some scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and the banana pancakes I promised. There's also orange juice and hot chocolate. I'm sorry, but I don't have any coffee. I've never liked it."

"That's ok. I don't really like coffee either. Hot chocolate and orange juice will be perfect."

"Great!" Lynne moved to the stove. "Have a seat then, it'll be ready in just a minute."

Ward sat and watched Lynne bustle around the kitchen, finishing up breakfast.

Before long, breakfast was on the table and Lynne was seated next to Ward. The next few minutes were spent consuming the food.

"This is excellent Lynne, thanks. Ya know, that word seems so inadequate for what you've done for me."

"It really has been my pleasure." Lynne said.

Silence descended again for a moment. "Uhm..." Lynne cleared her throat, "can I ask you something?"

"I thought we covered this last night?"

"You're right, we did. Is your wound healing ok? It looked pretty bad to me."

"My wound? How did you?"

"Last night, in the bathtub. I'm really sorry, but I couldn't help but notice it."

"Oh. Right. Actually, it's ok. I've been taking care of it." 'As best as I can.' Ward finished in a mumble.

Lynne heard the added statement but decided to ignore it for the moment. "I have some bandages and stuff here that might help. You're more than welcome to use them. The stuff is in the closet next to the guest bathroom."

"You really are too much, you know that."

"What do you mean?"

"I just don't understand you. I have been sneaking into the place you work for almost a month; you almost catch me once. Then, when you do catch me, what do you do? Call the cops? Run away screaming? No, you invite me to sit down and sing with you. Ok, I can kind of understand that, it was a public place- even though no one else was there at the time."

"Actually, Fred, the janitor, was still there. He never leaves until I do." Lynne interrupted gently, she didn't add that Fred was in his 60's and deaf as a stone.

"Right. So what do you do next? Leave me to go my own way? No, you invite me into your home for hot chocolate. Then you ask me to spend the night, feed me breakfast, and offer to help me with bandages. I just don't get it."

Lynne sat, stunned for a minute, "Wow."

"What?" Ward asked, confused by Lynne's reaction.

"That's the most I've heard from you at one time since you were singing last night."

"I'm serious Lynne. What is it with you?"

Lynne could see that Ward was being serious, and that made her pause and consider what she was feeling.

"I don't know how to explain it, Ward. Something about you makes me feel safe. Not only from you; but, when I'm with you, from others. Like walking here last night. I know you could tell that I was afraid to walk home last night. When you were walking with me though, I didn't feel that way at all."

"Why were you afraid to walk home last night? I don't think it was just the graveyard."

"Oh boy... that is a long story. Better suited to a more comfortable seat. Shall we move to the living room?"

"Sure." Ward knew that she should be leaving, should have left hours ago, truth be told, but she really wanted to know more about this woman. "What about the dishes?"

"Let's take care of them now, then I won't have to worry about them later."

"Sounds like a good plan to me. I'll wash, you dry."

"I could wash."

"Nah, you know where everything goes, so it makes more sense for you to dry."

The dishes didn't take very much time at all and before long they were seated back on the couch with cups of hot chocolate.

Lynne took a deep breath, "I'm not sure where to start."

"You don't have to start at all if you really don't want to. I would like to know everything there is to know about you. I don't know why I want to know; this has never happened to me before. Most of the people who have come into my life have only been acquaintances, no one I really wanted to get to know. I'm not saying this very well..."

"I understand completely. I have a big family, and I love them dearly, but I've never met anyone outside of them that I really wanted to know. No one I really wanted to know as well as I know my family. I want to know as much about you as I know about my younger sister." Seeing the panic in Ward's eyes, Lynne rushed to continue, "Don't worry, I don't need to know it all today. I just want you to know that I would like to have that happen. I hope that you stay in my life long enough for that to happen."


"Ward... I'm not talking about today, future, ok? No strings."

"Ok, no strings. So, why were you afraid of walking home alone last night?"

"I mentioned that I have a big family. None of them live here though. They live all across the state. The biggest group of us lives in a bigger city, not as safe as it is here. One night when I was walking home from work with my cousin, we both worked in the same store, I had a real scare. It was late, we were probably being careless, and we were attacked."

Ward was almost afraid to ask, "What happened?"

"Luckily, not as mush as could have." Lynne paused, "Some other workers came along and the punks got scared off. But... I haven't felt safe walking anywhere at night since. Until last night that is, walking with you, I felt safe."

"Strangely enough, so did I." Ward admitted.

Lynne laughed, "You? What could you be scared of?"

"You'd be surprised."

Lynne could tell that Ward was growing uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken, so she thought about it for a moment and said, "I'm sure I would be." Standing, she continued, "Let me show you where the bandages and stuff are."

"Ok," Ward agreed, standing as well.

Lynne showed Ward the cupboard with the bandages, then asked once again if she needed any help.

"Lynne, please, I can do it."

"Ok, ok. I swear you only have to tell me a couple hundred times, then I won't ask again." Lynne backed away grinning.

Ward just shook her head, grabbed what she needed from the cupboard, and walked into the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, Ward returned to the living room looking for Lynne. She wasn't there or in the kitchen, so Ward started wandering. Strangely enough, the thought of leaving never occurred to her. She walked down the hall back towards the living room. Across the hall was another room, the music room. Ward couldn't think of anything else to call it. Sheet music was strewn on every available surface, including some of the floor. There were various instruments laying on the chairs and tables as well. Oddly enough there was a sewing machine tucked into the corner, costumes for the children's Christmas pageant partially finished nearby. The centerpiece of the room, however, was the baby grand piano. Its black surface gleaming in the light from the windows. Even more stunning in the morning light, in Ward's eyes anyway, was the woman seated at the piano. Her golden hair was shining in the sun and she was quietly playing the song from the night before.

"Wow." Ward breathed.

Lynne stopped playing and turned to see Ward in the doorway. "Hey. Everything taken care of?"

"Yep. All patched together again."

"Cool." She smiled, and even though Ward knew it wasn't truly possible, the light in the room increased tenfold. "Do you play?" Lynne asked, pointing to the piano.

"No, but I can tell it's a beautiful instrument."

"It was my grandmother's. When she died, she left it to me. It's a real pain to move, so I hope I don't have to do it again; but wherever I go, it goes.

"It's wonderful and you play it well."

"Thanks." Lynne motioned to the bench silently asking Ward to sit.

"Do you write your own songs too?" Ward asked, obeying the motion.

"I try. It's kind of hard when you can't sing. Whatever I write and then try to sing never sounds as good as I hear it in my head. It's strange I guess."

"What is?"

"All my life I've heard the perfect voice. When I write, arrange, direct, whatever I hear this perfect voice singing. It's what makes assigning the solos so hard. No one sounds as good as that perfect voice."

"I can imagine that would be tough."

"It's part of the reason I invited you in last night." Lynne admitted shyly.

"I don't follow."

"Yours is that perfect voice."

"Are you saying you invited me into your home because I can sing!" Ward was truly stunned at the thought.

"No! Not just because you can sing. I know it sounds crazy, but yours is the voice I have been hearing my entire life. Even before I heard you sing, I felt a connection between us. When our eyes met for the first time, I felt something. Then, when I heard you sing I felt it again only so much stronger. When I saw you in the tub..." Lynne stopped abruptly not sure whether Ward was ready, or even open, to hear those thoughts.

"When you saw me in the tub?" Ward asked the question, but Lynne still couldn't tell Ward's thoughts on the subject. She did seem a bit hopeful, maybe, though?

"When I saw you in the tub I wanted to..." Run my hands all over your body, the traitorous thought insisted on running through Lynne's mind, "take care of you."

"Oh." There was a definite note of disappointment in the sound, "I can take care of myself you know."

"I'm sure you can, but something about you just makes me feel..."

"Feel what?"

"Protective and protected."

"Me too." Ward admitted, seemingly against her will.

"I'm glad."

"Me too." This time Ward's tone was resigned and she thought, I don't understand this, shouldn't risk it, but...I don't seem to have a choice. I care about this woman, and I want her to care about me.

They sat together in silence for a few moments, just enjoying each other's presence and the warmth of the winter sun streaming through the window.

"Can I ask you a question?" Ward asked, breaking the silence.

"A wise woman once said, you can ask me anything, I won't guarantee I'll answer."

"Fair enough." Ward smiled when her response from earlier was repeated. "Why do you have clothes in so many sizes, and who's in the pictures?"

"That's two questions." Lynne teased gently.

"One at a time?" Ward went along.

"Well, the first one's easy. I told you that I have a big family."

"Yes, you did."

"They come and stay here sometimes. It seems like every time one of them leaves to go home, I find some of their clothes left behind. I've just been keeping them here for the next time they visit."

"That's handy. Do they visit often?"

"Yes and no. I will see them more around the holidays. They are all very supportive of me, so when I have concerts, I can expect to have one or two family members in the audience. Sometimes they stay overnight and sometimes they head straight back.

"It must be nice to have people support you like that."

"It is. When my first girlfriend dumped me, I had 5 aunts ready to go beat her up for hurting me."


"Yeah, does that bother you?"

"No. My last girlfriend dumped me too."


"She said I was too obsessed with my job. She was right though, I spent more time at work than with her."

"What sort of work?"

"I am, I was, a private investigator."

"Wow! I've never met a private investigator before, especially a woman. Is it as exciting as it sounds?" Lynne was practically giddy at the thought of meeting her very own Laura Holt.

"Actually, it's pretty boring. I mainly do a lot of research. It's not like Remington Steele." At least it isn't most of the time.

"Isn't it dangerous though?" Lynne's eyes widened in realization, "That's how you got hurt isn't it! Did someone stab you while you were on a case? Are you still in danger? Is that why you're hiding out?"

"Who said I was hiding out?!" Ward got up and walked to the door.

"Wait!" Again, Ward looked down to find a small hand on her arm. "Don't go, please. I'm sorry I asked. I know you don't want to talk about it. I got a little carried away. Let's go into the living room. We can watch some TV or something. I won't ask you anything more, I promise. I just don't want you to go."

"Lynne, calm down, please." Ward walked across the hall to the living room and sat down on the couch, Lynne following close behind.

"It's not that I don't want to tell you what happened to me, for some crazy reason I do want to tell you. It's just that it could be dangerous for you. And that is not acceptable, but I'm not leaving. Not yet anyway. I will have to go soon though."

"I'm glad you're not leaving." Lynne took a deep breath and tried to slow her racing heartbeat. The absolute terror she had felt when she saw Ward get up and head towards the door was unreasonable but real none the less.

"So, you asked me about the pictures. One is me with my parents and the other one is my cousin, the one that worked with me. My folks raised him after his parents died. He's more like my brother than my cousin; he was seriously injured a little over a month ago.

"I'm sorry to hear that. How did he get hurt?"

"After we were attacked that night, Sean, my cousin, decided to join the police force. He wanted to try and keep what had happened to us from happening to others. The night he was hurt, he walked in on a drug deal. He and his partner were making the arrest and the dealer pulled a knife. He stabbed Sean in the stomach and Sean's partner got knocked out."

"Oh my God." Ward gasped, causing Lynne to stop.

"Ward! What's wrong? You look like you just saw a ghost." All the blood had drained from Ward's face and she looked like she was going to faint.

"I don't believe it. I just don't believe it. No wonder he seemed familiar."

"Familiar? Who? Sean?"

"Yeah, when I saw his picture last night I thought there was something familiar about him. Now I know why. I was there that night. I had been staking out the buyer. Of course I didn't know he was buying drugs at the time. His wife had wanted me to tail him and find out where all their money was going. She thought he had a mistress. Anyway, I tailed this guy to this old, creepy house. It looked like one of those haunted houses you see in the movies. I saw the guy go into the house and knew that somehow I had to follow him. I got out of my car and walked around the back. I found a window that had been busted out and climbed inside. There were cobwebs everywhere and I swear I saw bats flying near the ceiling. I was making my way to the front of the building when I heard the arrest happening. By the time I got to the front room, your cousin was lying on the floor and the dealer was about to stab his unconscious partner. I picked up a piece of wood and hit him. Unfortunately, I only hit him on the shoulders. I didn't knock him out and he turned on me. He stabbed me and I thought I was dead for sure. The guy I had been following took off as soon as the policemen were down, so I knew I wouldn't be getting any help from him. I really thought I was dead, and you know, it didn't really bother me all that much." Seeing Lynne's disbelieving look, Ward continued. "It's true. I've never had a family like you have, and until I met you my life was pretty bleak."

"Until you met me?"

"Does that really surprise you?"

"No, but it does amaze me."

"Yeah, well, it amazes me too."

"So, how did you escape?"

"Your cousin saved my life. He somehow managed to reach his revolver. He shot the dealer in the leg just as he was about to finish me off. He decided to escape himself and limped off. I could see that I had just been grazed by the knife, it was bleeding a lot, but I could tell it wasn't life threatening. Your cousin wasn't as lucky. I could see that he was hurt badly. I tried to stop the bleeding as best I could, then I heard the sirens, so I ran too."

"And you've been hiding all this time? Why?"

"I knew that the drug dealer was still out there. I figured he would be looking for me. Thinking I could testify against him or something."

"You're probably right. He would probably be looking for you. If he wasn't dead."

"Dead? What do you mean dead."

"He was killed in another drug bust about a week later."

"How do you know?"

"Sean. He was asked to identify the man from his hospital bed. He said that a woman saved his life that night, but everyone thought he was delusional from the loss of blood."

"I guess it really is a small world isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess it is. You do know what this means, don't you?" Lynne's eyes were shining.


"You don't have to hide anymore."

A look of wonder spread across Ward's face, lighting her eyes in a way that Lynne had never seen before. If she was beautiful before, now she was just plain gorgeous. "That's right I don't. I can go home finally."

"Right, you can go home..." The light in Lynne's eyes dimmed at the thought.

"It also means I can stay here for a while if I want to."

"Do you want to?" Lynne asked hopefully.

"I think I would."

"That would be great. I think this calls for a celebration. I have some special treats in the kitchen that I was saving for the Christmas party next week."

"What do you have? Caramel apples and some of those chocolate flavored oranges."

"The ones you whack on the table before you open it?"

"That's the ones. I think I even have some other candy here." Lynne said, opening a cupboard next to the refrigerator.

"Why do you have so much candy? I thought Halloween was over a month ago."

"Every year at Christmas I buy a piñata and fill it with candy for all of my cousins. This year I got an orange and green star. I don't think it's going to take all of this to fill it though."

"I think you could fill about 5 stars with this candy."

"Well, I do tend to go overboard."

"I knew that."

"You did? How?"

"You brought me home with you didn't you?"

"But that wasn't going overboard."

"It wasn't"

"No way, that was just following my heart."


One week later, Lynne was standing in front of her most highly praised adult choir. This was the last performance of the season, the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

Ward had spent the whole week with Lynne. She had helped finish the costumes for the children and laughed with Lynne when little Julie, the girl who had seen Ward before anyone else, had waved to Ward during her solo.

Ward also found out what had caused Lynne to get so sad when she spoke of the children that morning. She found out that a former girlfriend had dumped Lynne when she found out that Lynne couldn't have children. That night had been the first night they kissed and Ward remembered it fondly.

It had been just a few days after that fateful first night. Lynne and Ward had gone to the children's concert and were spending the evening at home with cups of hot chocolate.



"I was just wondering something."


"Why did you get so sad when you were talking about the children that morning?"

"It seems kind of silly. I mean, it's not like I'm going to be having kids of my own any time soon. For one thing, I'm in love with you and that means no kids without a lot of extra work in the best of circumstances. And secondly, I can't have children of my own."

"You're in love with me?"

"Very much so. I know it seems kind of fast, but... that's how I feel."

"Wow. But, just because you can't have children of your own, doesn't mean you can't have kids. We could always adopt. By the way, I'm in love with you too."

"We could adopt?"

"Well sure. I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there who need a good home. Lynne? What's wrong?" Lynne had put her hot chocolate down and was crying quietly. Ward set her own cup down and reached for Lynne. She held Lynne and rubbed her hand up and down her back, just letting her cry. Soon, Lynne wiped her eyes and recovered enough to explain.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."

Ward looked Lynne in the eye and said, "I think you do."

Lynne looked down at her lap and quietly said, "You're right, I do."

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"Yeah, after all, it's partly your fault."

"My fault!"

"When I told you I couldn't have kids, you were so non chalant about it."

"Well, why not? There are other options."

"Not for my last girlfriend there weren't."

"I see."

"We had been together for 2 years and were talking about kids. We went to the doctor and found out that I couldn't have kids. She dumped me that night."

"Why didn't she just have the kids?"

"She didn't want to take the time out of her career."

"You're better off without her."

"A week ago I wouldn't have agreed with you, but now... I think you're right."

"You think?"

"I know."

"Good. Do me a favor?"

"Sure, if I can."

"If we ever run into this former girlfriend of yours, will you let me know?"

"Of course, but why?"

"I want to thank her."

"Thank her! What for?"

"For letting you go."

"Oh." A smile covered Lynne's face and she snuggled closer to Ward. "Ok, I'll let you know."

"Thank you." Ward said and tilting Lynne's chin up brought their lips together for the first time.

A few breathless moments later Lynne pulled away slightly and said, "I may have to just send her a thank you card myself." Then nothing more was said as their lips met again.

Ward was brought back to the present as she heard the first notes of her favorite song being played on the piano. Her eyes met Lynne's as she stood and started to sing:

Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem
Shinning far through shadows dimmed
Giving the life for those who long have gone on
Guiding the wise men on their way
Unto the place where Jesus lay
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star the hope of light
Guiding the pilgrims through the night
Over the mountains 'till the break of dawn
Into the land of perfect day
It will give out a lovely ray
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star (beautiful, beautiful star) of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
Shine upon us until the glory dawn
Give us a lamp to light the way
Unto the land of perfect day
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star the hope, the grace
For the redeem of good and blessed
Yonder in glory when the crowd is one
Jesus is now the star divine
Brighter and brighter he will shine
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

As the last notes faded into the night, Lynne joined Ward at the front of the stage as the concert hall erupted with applause. Sitting in the audience were Lynne's parents and her cousin, Sean. When Lynne had told them about Ward, they had insisted on coming to the concert and spending Christmas with them. Sean had finally been able to thank the woman who saved his life and get a look at the woman who was going to share the rest of his cousin's life.

The lights went out and the show was over. Lynne looked at Ward and said, "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." Their lips met and at the top of the tree in the back of the hall, the star glowed brightly into the night.

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