(Turning Tides, cont’d.)


"We don't like you, we just want to try you

I'm tired of runnin', the feeling ain't comin'

It all could be different, it all could be different

But all this is sickness, the feeling ain't in this;

'Cos we don't know where to stop

We don't know where to stop

I try and I try, but I can't get enough

I won't fail you, but you won't bleed for me." - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club




Alli cried and cursed M.J. as she drove home to her apartment. At one point, she had to pull over and sit for several minutes, needing to gather herself and stop the onslaught of blinding tears. Her body continued to quake and tremble beneath the fury of overwhelming emotions and sensations. She had come so violently that her ovaries ached. She felt so many conflicting emotions - shameful regret, incredible anger, agonizing guilt - her mind ran the gamut of twisted, painful feelings. She wanted to scream and cry out loud; she was so tired of feeling pathetic, foolish, dirty, and angry. She cried the rest of the way home, and when she reached her apartment, she collapsed on her bed and cried some more.

She kept reliving the scene in her mind. The dangerous, all-consuming look that M.J. had pinned her with... the desire plainly written on the beautiful face... the smell of her body, of her passion... her lust. It turned Alli inside-out and made her lose control completely, hopelessly. She had nothing to combat that type of erotic seduction... that type of magnetic, lustful need. She was helpless against its overpowering force. She could not make herself stop.

She recalled the words of devotion and praise that had spun wildly inside her head as M.J. knelt in front of her. She wanted so badly to speak the words, but she was afraid to. She was afraid of what M.J.'s reaction would be to them... afraid that all M.J. wanted was this - just sex; just casual, lust-driven, no-strings-attached, sex. Granted, it was fabulous, but it seemed it was all the dominating brunette would ever allow them to share. M.J. remained, still, in complete control.

So again, Alli had allowed it to happen... again, she had let herself succumb. And again, she hated herself for it. For losing control... for being weak and pathetic... for being the prey to the predator. She hated that she had no power, and she hated the fact that M.J. had it in spades. Power to seduce her... power to manipulate her... power to take what she wanted while giving nothing in return. Power to walk away.

Why does she walk away? Alli asked herself mournfully as still more tears leaked out of her puffy eyes. But more importantly, why do I keep coming *back*?

She wanted to understand M.J.'s distance and reluctance, she really did, but she couldn't. She wondered if she ever would. Part of her wanted to ignore M.J.'s claim of 'I can't'; she wanted to push and shove and demand an answer from the frustrating beauty. But another part of her wanted to be gentle and tread lightly on M.J.'s apparently damaged soul. It had to be damage from some past romantic trauma - what else could it be? What else would keep her from opening the door and allowing Alli inside?

She said 'beautiful'... she thinks it's beautiful... that I'm beautiful... or that *we* are. How can she say that and then just run away from it?! Alli wondered, feeling her frustration multiply. No one had ever uttered words like that to her before, and she desperately wanted to think that M.J. was talking about her, rather than the sex act itself. But she would probably never know for certain.

She couldn't fathom what it might be that prevented M.J. from exposing her feelings... from just *talking*. The brunette always held Alli - and everyone, really - at arm's length, keeping them at bay for some reason, but what? What could the reason be? Maybe it had something to do with their work/professional situation - maybe M.J. thought that she'd compromise herself somehow? Maybe she didn't want to get involved in anything serious or long-term? Maybe the tall temptress only wanted someone to fuck around with? Maybe this was all they were ever destined for - occasional, lustful sex in strange places...?

No... no way! I will NOT do that! I will not let myself be weak and pathetic like that, goddammit! *Never*! *Never again*! Alli shook her head, crying to herself in a mixture of confused rage and heart-wrenching sorrow.

She didn't know what to do... where should she go from here? As hard as she prayed, no answers dropped magically from the sky. All she knew, at that moment, was that she had to swear she would not allow herself to fall prey to M.J. again. No matter what. She could not, and *would* not, give in... ever again. If she were to wrest control of herself from M.J., she had to make the break, and make it now.

God... am I strong enough to do that? Again?!

Even though she knew that severing the tie was absolutely necessary to save her self-worth and resurrect her dignity, she also knew the pain and sadness that it would bring. Aside from all the twisted games and sexual manipulation, she had really liked M.J., deep down inside. They had a good working relationship once upon a time, and now that would be gone too. She already felt the pain of the impending loss.

After awhile, Alli finally drew enough strength to force her sorry ass up off her bed so she could get changed. She made her way into her bathroom, coming to stand in front of her mirror, where she stood and took a critical look at herself. The face she saw was the same one she saw every day, but now, somehow, it seemed different. It seemed like a stranger was looking back at her. This was a person who no longer felt that the promise of a better life lay ahead of her... who no longer had hopes and dreams... this was someone who was incredibly confused, and so unbelievably unhappy.

How could this have happened? I was supposed to be making a change for the *better* when I moved here, not worse! Alli thought dejectedly as still more tears slid down her fair cheeks.

Later, as she eased her overburdened body into her soothing bed, Alli's jumbled mind continued to whirl in a maelstrom of thoughts, refusing her body's plea for sleep, which it so desperately craved. She continued to think and play back the events of the evening... all the emotions... all the feelings and sensations... all the confusion.

Nothing about her 'relationship' with M.J. met her expectations. None of it had gone the way she thought it would; this latest encounter was just further proof of that. She had always hoped and wished and thought about many things when it came to her first big, serious, sexual and emotional relationship with a woman she truly cared about and wanted. Her mind had conjured plenty of ideals, and she'd dreamt-up many fantastical scenarios, just like everyone does. However... being seduced and taken so blatantly while fully clothed and pinned against a bathroom door, and then cornered in an elevator car...? No, none of these things had ever played into her chimeras. They would more likely qualify as nightmares.

Still, she shamefully felt a warm blush creep up her skin as she remembered the feel of M.J.'s warm, wet tongue on her and in her as it probed and penetrated and devoured her with hedonistic greed. Even though she had technically had sex with other women, she had never allowed one to pleasure her orally in her most intimate spot. M.J. had been the first. She wondered if that would mean anything to the arrogant beauty. It certainly meant something to Alli. Granted, the whole thing hadn't happened the way she had hoped it would, but it still marked a significant turning point for her. She had, in an old-fashioned sort of way, been 'saving' herself for the 'right' woman. But now her precious gift had been opened... and she feared that it hadn't been unwrapped by the 'right' woman at all.

She wondered if perhaps she was just making a bigger issue of it than necessary. Thinking back to her sexual experiences with her ex-husband - the only man she'd ever slept with - she also recalled her experiences with other women. She'd always figured that those experiences were her representations and guidelines of 'good sex', and she'd convinced herself that they were as good as it would ever get. Tonight's experience, however, had blown all those theories right out of the water. She had been dreadfully, dreadfully wrong... about so many things.

Whatever it was that transpired between her and M.J. all those months ago in that office bathroom, and again this evening in the elevator, changed her in some way... a way that she didn't understand. It was as if something sleepy and dormant had been roused and was awakening deep inside her... like a long-buried creature had been unearthed and was clamoring to break free from the depths of its dank prison. Alli couldn't fully comprehend it, and she didn't know how she felt about it. Was all this rebirth and new discovery a positive thing, or a negative thing - especially now, in light of her crushed feelings and her vow to never give in to her lust for M.J. again?

The conflicting feelings just added to her already overwhelming frustration. Part of her was thrilled to find that her naive ideology of what constituted 'good sex' had been smashed to smithereens, and yet another part of her felt a sense of emptiness and desperation deep inside. It was as though she had been starving for so long, and then suddenly, someone dropped a cornucopia in front of her, spilling forth such luscious, succulent food. But the delight only lasted for a brief, fleeting moment; for as soon as she reached for the sustenance, it was snatched out of her grasp. She was given a glimpse and afforded a whiff, but she wasn't permitted to touch it... she couldn't hold it in her hands nor sink her teeth into any of it. She remained hungry and malnourished.

That's how she felt about M.J. The dominating brunette was just out of reach and always in control, and probably always would be. But truthfully - and perhaps pathetically - Alli thought that she could probably deal with that, as long as M.J. allowed her to have some say-so and catered to her needs and demands from time to time. But obviously, M.J. was unwilling to capitulate to her in any way, shape, or form. That was the part that frustrated Alli the most. She had thought that her frustration was borne out of the abruptness and impropriety of their encounters, but now she realized it was much more than that.

The fact that the tall beauty never gave Alli the opportunity to touch her, or pleasure her in return, told her a lot. M.J. would never relinquish her control, and she would never open herself up.

If she really cared about me, she wouldn't need to be so in control... she would trust me. And that was really what it was all about: Trust. She doesn't trust me at all... she won't even kiss me, for chrissake!

Alli squeezed her eyes closed, trying to halt the tears that she knew would come again. She had cried so much tonight. She cried over her own feelings... she cried over M.J.'s... she cried because her heart ached so badly, it was just too much for her to bear.

"Oh M.J. ...if only you would let me in ...things could be so different." She whispered aloud to herself as the tears began to track down her cheeks and seep into her pillow. Her head throbbed painfully and her eyes were horribly swollen. She would look like utter hell in the morning.

She finally cried herself to sleep, her thoughts hopelessly wondering what trauma the next week would bring, and how she would ever get through it.


M.J. had driven home in somewhat of a trance, the events of the elevator incident replaying themselves over and over inside her head like a scratchy, broken record.

So many things stood out in her mind, but the predominant ones were the sensations that had assaulted her during the frantic encounter. The deepness and intensity of Alli's lustrous eyes... the smell of need that emanated from her pores... the feel of the hot, molten lava that gushed from the center of her lithe little body... the sweet, succulent taste of her arousal... the sound of her strangled cries and gasps for breath when she climaxed... M.J. remembered every little detail. Her body tingled and goosebumps erupted on her flesh when she thought about how it felt to have Alli's body clinging to hers while she came, trembling so severely in her arms.

And then, of course, there were the bad thoughts. The look of absolute devastation when she had turned down Alli's request to accompany her home... the feeling of Alli pulling away from her, both physically and emotionally... the rage that came from the blonde when she shouted at her with such vehemence.

M.J. had always fancied herself as a person who felt no pain, and feared very little. She knew now that this was no longer true. She felt the pain of what she had done to Allison, and she feared the reason why it hurt.

It would be so much easier if we just hated each other, M.J. reasoned to herself as she finally reached her house and trudged inside. She carelessly tossed her briefcase on the kitchen counter and immediately headed back to her bathroom to change for bed.

She stood at her sink, quickly rushing through her nightly routine and skimping on the details... she was too exhausted for details. As she brushed her teeth, she stared into the mirror, her mind still reeling and her tongue still aching for more of Allison's sweet ambrosia. In her mind's eye, she could see the two of them touching, their bodies pressing together so intimately... she felt the raging desire that so easily boiled her blood... she saw the dark stormy depths of Alli's sea-green eyes. Her own eyes fluttered shut, and she felt her nipples tingle their involuntary response.

Ohmygod, stop! Just STOP! ...I'm going completely insane, she thought to herself, shaking her head.

Rinsing out her mouthful of toothpaste, she raked her fingers haphazardly through her hair, trying to erase all thoughts from her head. Her body felt hot and agitated, like it was ready to explode all over again. She hurried out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, determined to forget about everything and shut herself down... at least for a little while.

She lay naked on her bed, staring up at the ceiling fan as its subtle breezes cooled her overheated skin. Barely able to make out the fan blades as they whirred around in the darkness, she thought - again - that they were a perfect representation of her life at the moment. Spinning around and around... turning in circles and getting nowhere... stuck in a mindless, meaningless rotation that only had two options: on or off.

But no... that was no longer true. Her life was suddenly *not* two-dimensional at all. There was now another very large, very complex, and very frightening other dimension... the dimension of deep feelings and emotions. She stared up at the fan again, realizing for the first time, in a very long time, that she had absolutely no idea what to do.

She had no idea what to do with the feelings and emotions that were now, undeniably, running rampant inside her, screaming and clamoring to be heard. And, she had no idea what to do about the person who had caused all these feelings to come bubbling to the surface... a person who, she knew, would haunt her every moment of every day.


M.J. eventually managed to fall asleep, and as she slumbered, she dreamt. She dreamt of the mystery woman who always made passionate love to her, only this time, the woman had a face... and the visage was one of a familiar fair-haired beauty, with perfect bow-shaped lips, and eyes as soothing and warm and beckoning as the gentle pull of the ocean tides.



"I'm holding on,

Waiting for your call, It's simple but I can't explain this; I'm sinking down,

I feel like I could die, I'm falling off,

I don't know why." - American Hi-Fi




The next day passed, and Allison did very little. Since it was Saturday, she thankfully didn't need to leave her apartment for any reason, so she decided not to. She opted to stay in bed nearly the entire day, behaving like a total couch-potato, watching television and doing absolutely nothing. Her emotions alternated between small crying jags of feeling sorry for herself, and wishing she could drive over to M.J.'s house so she could strangle her... or at least bite her again, only harder.

She was just contemplating hauling her lazy butt out of bed to take a nice, relaxing stroll on the beach when the phone rang. Not really wanting to talk to anyone, she debated with herself for a moment before finally picking it up on the fourth ring. "Hello?"

"Alli! Hey hon! How are ya? I thought you were gonna call last night?" Kaitlyn's soft southern drawl immediately soothed Alli's troubled mind, but it made her feel a sudden resurgence of emotion also. She knew that she could talk to her sister and unload all her feelings, and the prospect of possibly releasing all the pent-up sadness and misery inside her made her chest constrict painfully.

"Yeah, uhm... I'm sorry... I guess I forgot." Alli mumbled sheepishly. Because of last night's drama, she forgot that Kait had called her at work yesterday, wanting to talk to her about 'something important'.

"Oh you big-wig business types are all the same! Too wrapped-up in work to remember us little people!" Kait chided and teased her younger sister with a chuckle, but Alli wasn't laughing. All Allison could think about was that she had indeed been 'wrapped-up' in something last night, but it hadn't been work - it had been 5'11" of untamed, hard-core, lust-driven carnality. She sighed audibly.

"Alli? You there?" Kait's voice interrupted Alli's melancholy trip down memory-lane.

"Yeah... sorry."

"You okay, hon?"

"Yeah... just... tired, I guess." Alli rubbed her eyes and tried to get ahold of herself before Kait figured out that something was amiss. As much as she wanted to spill her guts and tell her sister everything, she also wanted to just get the conversation overwith so that she could disappear back to the safety of her comfortable, non-confrontational bed. "So what's this big important thing you said you needed to discuss with me?"

Kait drew a deep breath, "Well... I wanted to tell you first, before anyone else in the family...," she drew another nervous breath as Alli waited in patient silence, "...I'm pregnant!"

Alli's mouth dropped open and she couldn't utter a sound. "Alli...? Are you there?" Kait's voice called out tentatively. She had been afraid to relay the exciting news to her baby sister, after what she had gone through years ago. She wasn't sure if Allison would be happy for her, or upset, or jealous, or what, but she just couldn't contain it any longer. She was pretty sure that Alli would be happy for her and Josh... but you never know.

Alli shook herself back to reality, "Yeah, yeah... I... I... oh my *god*, Kaitlyn!" She really didn't know what to say. She was surprised and taken off-guard, but she was happy for her sister.

Kait chuckled lightly in her ear, "I know, I know! I can't believe it either!"

"Congratulations! I mean... had you and Josh been trying?" Alli asked, wondering why Kait wouldn't have told her before.

"Well, I guess sort-of, but not really, y'know?" Kait rambled a little nonsensically.

"Well, but... you're happy about it though, right?" Alli asked, suddenly worried.

"Oh yeah! Yeah, Alli, we're ecstatic!"

"Well... that's wonderful, Kait, I mean it... *really* wonderful. Congratulations." Alli said the words with absolute sincerity, but deep inside, she couldn't help but feel a small twinge of jealousy at the joy her sister was experiencing. Joy that a couple *should* experience in moments such as this.

"Thanks hon! I couldn't wait to tell you... I wanted you to know first, before Momma or Erin, or anyone."

"Thanks Kait... I appreciate that." Alli was honored that Kait made a point of telling her first, but she also knew that it served another purpose - the purpose of protecting her from finding out second-hand from someone besides Kait; namely, her mother and her eldest sister. They both would have taken great pleasure in throwing such information in Alli's face. After all, Kait would be succeeding where Alli had failed.

"Alli, honey, are you alright? You seem sad. Are you upset? I didn't tell you this to upset you, hon-"

Alli interrupted Kait's nervous rambling, "No, no - I'm not upset. I'm happy for you, Kait, I really am." She almost let out a sob, but fought to restrain it. The last thing she wanted to do was to start crying and ruin her sister's good news. "It just... it... brings back memories... y'know? I'm sorry! I'm being stupid! God!" She covered her face with her hand as her voice cracked a little, and she felt really bad for being such a wet blanket.

"Oh Alli! Baby, don't be sad! Please? I don't want you to be sad!" Kait implored, feeling her own voice tremble as tears quickly made their way to her own eyes.

"I'm not! I'm not sad about it - I'm *happy* for you, honestly! I think it's *wonderful*... and I think you and Josh will make the *best* parents ever, and...," her voice broke and the tears began to fall, "...and I think you're the luckiest person in the world right now!" She sobbed, feeling so conflicted inside and hating that she was ruining a moment that should be filled with glee.

"Oh Alli!" Kait's voice cried in the phone. "I'm sorry, honey!"

"No! Don't say that! Don't you apologize because my life is fucked-up!" Alli asserted through angry tears. "You shouldn't give a damn about *me*! You should be thrilled! Overjoyed! This is something wonderful and miraculous, Kait... it's a precious gift... and you and Josh deserve it!" She insisted.

The two sisters cried and talked for a long time, finally coming to grips with their emotional outbursts and talking everything through. Alli felt better about her sister's news; it had thrown her for a loop at first, and because of her already-heightened emotional state, she had reacted badly. As always, Kait understood, and everything was fine now. They continued to talk, but when the conversation steered toward Alli's work, she suddenly clammed-up and became unresponsive to Kait's questions. The older woman was immediately suspicious.

"Allison? ...Baby, what's goin' on?" Kait drawled softly.

Of course Kait would see through me and confront me about this, Alli thought ruefully. Her initial instinct was to deny everything and push it all away. She didn't really want to get into it, not after she'd just gotten done crying and acting like a complete fool. Still, her heart pounded and her eyes immediately burned with the threat of more tears when she thought about getting it off her chest. She was so tired of feeling confused and desperate and pathetic and uncertain and, mostly, of having to go through all of it alone. She bit down on her lower lip to stop it from trembling.

"Alli?" Kait repeated.

Alli laughed with chagrin, "Oh Kait... there are so many things 'going on', I don't even know how to begin describing them to you." She said through a veil of sorrow.

"Try, honey," Kait persisted. She knew something was troubling her little sister as soon as she picked up the phone tonight. Even though Alli lived farther away these days, they were still close enough that Kait could read her little sister quite well. "Does it have something to do with work? Orrr... maybe some*one* at work?" Kait ventured delicately, already having an idea of what - and more importantly, who - might be the problem.

Alli snorted softly, "Both, I guess... I don't know," she answered cryptically.

"Alliii...," Kait drawled, "Come on... what's going on?"

"God, Kait... my life is *such* a mess!" Alli said, dropping her head into her hand and letting the tears come freely.

"Why? What happened?" Kait pleaded, wishing she were there to console her sister in person.

Alli was silent for a moment while she reigned-in her tearful outburst. Finally she stammered shakily, "It's... it's M.J."

Ah-ha, Kait thought. I knew she had a crush on that woman. "M.J.? What's going on with her? Things not going well, working with her, I mean? I know you said you really liked her, but that she could be a pain sometimes-," Kait began to prattle on, but Alli stopped her.

"No, it's not that... not really."

Kait's brows drew together in confusion. "Well then... what is it?"

Alli drew a deep sigh, closing her eyes and steeling her nerve, "Things have gotten a little more... uhmm... *complicated* between the two of us." She said tremulously. She was suddenly uncertain she was doing the right thing by blabbing all to her sister.

It only took a minute for Kaitlyn to interpret the feeling behind those nervous words and work out what her little sister meant with that simple statement. "Oh no... oh Alli," Kait breathed out softly, trying very hard not to sound disappointed or reproachful.

Alli immediately felt like she wanted to curl up and die again. Now, she not only felt like a pathetic slut, she felt like she had somehow let her sister down. The one person who still believed in her and loved her, no matter what, and now she'd screwed that up too. Her body deflated and she immediately started to cry.

Kait heard Alli's sobbing and wished so badly that she could be there for her. She whispered soft words of comfort to the younger blonde, trying to soothe and console her obviously fragile emotions. After a few moments, Kait ventured forth again, "Is it serious?" she asked carefully.

"What?" Alli rasped.

"This thing between you and M.J. - is it serious?" Kait rephrased.

Alli let out a rueful laugh, " 'Serious'?! God... 'serious' is definitely *not* how I'd describe it!" She said sarcastically. She knew she needed to explain, but she honestly wasn't sure how. "It's... confusing, and frustrating, and so complex, and... Jesus... I wish it were simple, really, but it isn't... it's *anything* but simple." She trailed off, shaking her head.

Kait frowned, not understanding one bit of what Alli was saying. "Okay - you're totally losing me here. Did you *sleep* with her, or what?" She asked in an impatient, straight-forward tone.

Alli cringed and rubbed her temple, "Sort-of... but not really," she answered, furrowing her own brows.

"Alli!" Kait said emphatically, "Would you stop being so damn vague! Did you screw your boss or not?!"

Alli pursed her lips nervously, "Well... I guess, technically, she screwed *me*... I just... I just let her... do it." She admitted, closing her eyes in anticipation of the chastising she knew was forthcoming.

"What?!" Kait spat, as expected. "Allison... are you telling me that your boss is *forcing* you into something?!"

Alli interrupted before Kait could go any further, "NO! Jesus! Why does everyone automatically assume the worst?!" Alli cried out angrily.

"What? What 'everyone'? Who else have you discussed this with?" Kait demanded.

"Nobody - just a friend at work... it's not important." Alli didn't want to explain how she had discussed some of this with Liz; she knew Kait would be miffed.

"How could you discuss this with someone from *work*? Why didn't you come straight to *me*!?" Kait said, sounding hurt.

"Kait, please... could we just focus on the more important issue right now? Please?!" Alli said, her voice laced with impatience.

"Yes, you're right... I think we should focus on why in the *hell* you would screw around with your boss." Kait quipped in a harsh tone. Alli released a choked sigh and slumped backwards on her sofa as silence fell over the phone line.

Kait could hear her sister's mournful sigh and defeated countenance, and she immediately felt bad for kicking her while she was down. "Alli...," she started quietly, "Shit... I'm sorry honey."

"It's okay." Alli said quickly. She understood her sister's disappointment; she was disappointed in herself. They both sighed loudly and regained control of their emotions.

"What are you gonna do? I mean, where do the two of you stand with this?" Kait delicately asked after a moment.

"That's just it... I have no idea." Alli said honestly.

"You mean you haven't talked about it or anything?" Kait asked, sounding incredulous.

Alli sighed loudly, "No, we haven't. We don't... I mean... I *can't* talk to her about it." She stumbled.

"What?! Why the hell not?" Red flags were popping up all over the inside of Kaitlyn's head.

Alli only sighed loudly again. She didn't know how to explain the complexities that were uniquely M.J., and she didn't know to explain the 'hold' that the overwhelming woman had on her. She was also afraid to admit that she was somewhat scared of confronting M.J. because she was so domineering and in control. Kait would be supremely disappointed in her. She would automatically think that, once again, Alli was allowing someone to use and dominate her. She would never understand that Alli had simply fallen under M.J.'s mysterious spell.

"It's just... it's complicated Kait, okay? It's all so... so fucking complicated." Alli said, drifting off quietly.

Silence reigned again, neither sister knowing what to say. Finally, Kaitlyn spoke quietly, "Alli... do you have feelings for this woman at all? Does she have feelings for *you*?"

Alli laughed wryly, "Oh hell, Kait... I don't know. I don't know anything anymore." Her voice wavered and she fought again to contain her tears.

Kait could hear her anguish, and she wished so badly that she could gather her sister up in her arms and hold her tight. In lieu of that, all Kait could do was encourage Alli to be strong. "Baby... you need to figure out what you feel for her, if anything, and then you need to *tell* to her about it."

Kaitlyn made it all sound so simple and straightforward, but it wasn't. Not at all. Alli knew she didn't understand... how could she possibly understand?

"I told you, it isn't that simple."

"Yes it is, Alli - it is. Don't let her have control over you!" She didn't know how she knew, but in the pit of her stomach, Kait was sure that that's exactly what was going on. "You are not a weak person, Allison; you are *strong*! Use that strength to your benefit!"

"You don't underSTAND, Kait!" Alli cried emphatically.

"Yes I do, Alli!" Kait yelled back. "You want someone, and you want to feel needed and loved - and that's okay, and I *do* understand that - I do!" The older woman continued, "But you shouldn't have to sacrifice your dignity and your self-worth for that, hon! If M.J. really cared for you, she wouldn't feel the need to keep you under her thumb! And that's what's going on... isn't it Alli?"

Alli couldn't speak... she couldn't tell Kait that she had already told herself this exact same thing... she could only sit there with her hand covering her eyes as they filled with tears and spilled down her cheeks.

"Allison?" Kait called out quietly. A heart-wrenching sob was the only answer she received. "...Oh baby!"

Several minutes passed as Alli wept and Kait again whispered soft words of reassurance to her. Finally, after getting herself mildly under control, Alli spoke, "You know, the fact that we did what we did isn't even the worst part." She said in a soft, scratchy voice.

"What's the worst part, baby?" Kait asked gently.

"The worst part is that I'm so crazy about this woman," Alli said, tears unmercifully filling her eyes once again, "I'd probably do it again." She finished shakily, grimacing wryly, tears slipping out and rolling down her fair cheeks again.

"Oh honey," Kait sighed, her eyes closing and her heart breaking for her little sister. "Baby, I don't wanna tell you what to do, but this just does *not* sound like a good situation for you." She said, not wanting to injure her little sister, but feeling the need to force Alli's eyes open a little. It seemed to her that Alli was being blinded by lust, or some such monster, and seeing the younger woman hurt - again - was the last thing she wanted. "If she were the right person, you'd know it... you'd *feel* it. There would be no hesitation... there would be no doubt." Kait said.

"I know." Alli muttered quietly, her eyes still closed, her head still in her hands. She did feel something for M.J., but she couldn't ascertain what it was. There were too many clouded issues... too many unasked and unanswered questions... too many uncertainties.

"I think that you need to really think about this, and then make some decisions, honey." Kait added.

"I know that too." Indeed, Alli knew her sister was right, and she'd already gone over all this with herself a hundred times. The truth was, she *wanted* M.J. to be the right person for her, but the longer things dragged on, and the more bizarre twists and turns the relationship took, the less likely it seemed.

M.J. had somehow become toxic to her, and her presence weakened Alli, silently brain-washing her and impairing her judgment while sapping her strength and crippling her resolve. The stability and independence she had fought and worked so hard for was in serious jeopardy of being lost. As much as she wanted M.J., she knew, deep inside, that Kait was right. She would not, and should not, sacrifice herself just so she could continue being M.J.'s play-thing.

The only answer was to escape. And the only way to completely escape was to leave Whitton, Inc.

This was the decision she had reached. And the thought made her positively ill.

The two sisters finally ended their marathon phone call a short while later. Alli was relieved that she had gotten things off her chest, but she was troubled now by a whole new set of worries and problems. She now had to seriously contemplate leaving a company and a job that she truly enjoyed, despite the entanglements with its maddening Commander-in-Chief.

She suddenly dreaded Monday morning and what it might bring. She thought about how she needed to handle her emotions and behavior with the utmost care - if John caught wind of anything suspicious, her ass would be caught in a sling again. And as far as M.J. was concerned, she planned on NOT seeing her for a very long time.

But... she also knew full well that things sometimes didn't go as planned.



"Come into these arms again, and lay your body down The rhythm of this trembling heart is beating like a drum It beats for you, it bleeds for you, it knows not how it sounds

For it is the drum of drums, it is the song of songs;

Once I had the rarest rose that ever deemed to bloom Cruel winter chilled the bud and stole my flower too soon Oh loneliness, Oh hopelessness To search the ends of time For there is in all the world, No greater love than mine." - A. Lennox




On Monday morning, M.J. buried herself deeply in her work. She had come to her office early, determined to work like a madwoman and keep her mind completely occupied. She was successful, not leaving her office all day, not even for lunch. Tuesday arrived and she happily continued in the same fashion - that is, until she received a phone call that turned her world upside-down.


M.J. and Madison sped along the same Pennsylvania country roads that they had been on just a few months prior. Only this time, it was the middle of the night, the feeling was a bit more urgent, and the mood a lot more dire.

Their Stepmother, Virginia, had called Madison on Tuesday afternoon, distraught and tearful, telling her that Mark was failing rapidly. Apparently Hospice told her that she should gather the family around, because it was doubtful he'd last more than a few days, or a week at the most. The two sisters dropped everything they were doing and flew to be with their father immediately.


They arrived at the Whitton country home around midnight. Virginia met them at the door and tried to explain everything that had been happening. They made their way to Mark's room with much trepidation, not sure of what to expect and frightened about how they might feel or react.

The room was quiet, except for the sounds of the inflating and deflating air mattress their father was lying on. The Hospice nurse had brought it in to aid in preventing him from getting bed sores since he was no longer able to get out of bed. Madison and M.J. stood and watched him as he lay flat on his back, drifting in and out of fitful consciousness, his breathing heavy and raspy, his mouth hanging open in gaping silence. His once robust frame was now withered pitifully, and his hair was almost completely white. He was indeed failing fast - even more so than they imagined. He could no longer talk sensibly, and they wondered of how much he was aware. When he would awaken and they'd try to talk to him, he would look at them in confusion and try to talk back, but it was inarticulate. He moaned and groaned constantly and squirmed around on the portable hospital bed that had most likely become his deathbed.

Virginia looked completely washed-out. Raiford was there as well, having apparently arrived a few hours before the girls, which pissed M.J. off, despite her best efforts to not give a damn.

Virginia told them that she and Ray had been fussing unsuccessfully with Mark, trying to get him to stay propped on his side. The Hospice nurse had told them that Mark needed to stay turned on his side so that he didn't choke on his tongue. As Ginny explained all this, she just stood there, hesitant and uncertain, twisting her hands as if to say, 'I don't know what to do'. She seemed overly frightened and confused about this simple thing that needed to be done for her dying husband, and it made M.J. angry. Virginia was not a woman who was easily overwhelmed, and she just didn't picture her playing the poor, helpless soon-to-be-widow. Mark needed help - so why wasn't she just DOING it? M.J. didn't understand the hesitation.

Having no patience for the silly standing-around-and-waiting, M.J. looked at everyone and finally snapped, "Well let's just TURN him on his side, for chrissake!"

She quickly took charge, barking out instructions for the three of them - M.J., Madison, and Ray - to pull the hospital bed away from the wall and turn him. Even though he had lost a tremendous amount of weight and was not much more than skin and bones, Mark was still a very large man. They slipped their arms under his tall, thin frame, working and struggling to shift him again and again, earning them several noises of disapproval. Whenever he would let loose a moan, Madison and Ray would stop their movements, fearing they were hurting him, M.J. supposed, but she insisted they continue to lift and shift. After much complaining and sliding and wriggling, they got the sickly man satisfactorily situated on his side.

Somehow, through some strength and depth of caring that she did not even realize she possessed, M.J. calmly reassured and comforted her father - and everyone else - the whole time by simply taking control and talking to him. She would get down close to his face and speak calmly to him, explaining what they were doing, while gently touching his cheek to reassure him.

Madison couldn't help but watch in awe as her sister worked her magic. M.J. was the one who always seemed to be the most distant and least caring when it came to their father, and yet here she was, stepping in and aiding him in his most desperate hour. Maddy knew that M.J. was a natural born, take-charge leader - she saw that every single day - but to see her aloof, bristly older sibling display the depth of caring and concern and - dare she think it? Love - that she was displaying right now... why that was nothing short of miraculous. Then again... Madison always had faith that M.J. was capable of great and wondrous things... and she wasn't talking about anything work-related.

Mark valiantly kept trying to twist himself so that he could lie on his back, but when he realized that wasn't possible, he then insisted on bending his legs and trying to prop them up. They shook and trembled so badly, however, that he couldn't control them.

"What are you trying to do with your legs, old man, hmm?" M.J. asked him in a gentle tease, taking some of the extra pillows that were lying around and positioning them between his knees so that he'd hopefully settle down. "Just relax and stop squirming, okay?" She patted his bare leg and Mark answered her with a noise that sounded very much like a whine. She quirked a small grin, leaning down close to him again, "I bet you wish I'd just go the hell home, don't you?" She was teasing, of course, but when Mark answered her by shaking his head slightly and looking directly at her with glazed, deep gray eyes, her countenance faltered, and she nearly lost it. She held it together, however, forcing a quick smile back at him and then turning her attention to arranging more pillows around his head to ensure he would stay in a sideways position.


When they checked back on Mark later, he was thrashing his legs again, kicking his bed sheet off and exposing his naked body repeatedly. M.J. thought it was quite appropriate that he would remain belligerent until the very end, but Virginia was thoroughly exasperated. Apparently, in the days just leading up to this, Mark kept taking all his clothes off, not wanting anything touching him, including an adult diaper. The room smelled vaguely of urine, but M.J. knew that Mark was probably delirious and didn't realize what he was doing. None of it bothered her, personally, and every time Ginny would squawk about his antics, Madison and M.J. would tell her to let him go. The poor man was half out of his mind and doped-up on morphine - couldn't everyone just deal with his odd behavior?

It was now stretching into the early hours of the morning, and everyone was exhausted, except for Virginia. The woman was high-strung, nervously hawking about and fretting over her husband's nakedness time and time again. As much as she tried to understand what her stepmother was going through, M.J. found herself growing more and more irritable with each passing minute. She sat in a recliner in the corner of the room as they all watched Ginny fuss with the sheet again, scolding Mark for kicking it off and insistently pulling it up over him.

Finally, M.J. couldn't take it anymore, and she snapped, bolting upright out of her chair, "He's DYING! Let him be fucking NAKED if that's what he wants, for chrissake!"

Everyone stilled, and Virginia turned to regard her with indignant shock. Impatience and fury burned blue and hot in M.J.'s eyes, and she glanced at Maddy, who was looking at her with a mixture of surprise, sorrow and understanding. Ignoring the stunned looks of the others, M.J. walked up to her father's bedside one more time. Ginny stepped back, giving the angry young woman a wide berth.

M.J. reached out and rested her hand on Mark's bare chest, his scraggly salt-and-pepper hairs rough and scratchy against her soft palm. He had his eyes closed and seemed to be content, and she breathed a deep sigh of mixed relief and frustration. She touched his cheek reverently, then walked out of the room, leaving everyone behind without a care.



"We're mere human beings,

We die;


It's destined." - Seal




Virginia insisted that the girls stay at the house, and they all decided it was best to be close by. But they didn't get much sleep. Mark kept making strange noises all through the night, and he was breathing in loud, heavy rasps. The next day he moved much less, and in fact he wasn't really awake or making noises at all. M.J. saw this as a bad sign, but didn't say anything to anyone. In the meantime, Madison had talked Virginia into letting her tidy-up the house and help with the laundry and other things - it would help Ginny and it gave Maddy something to keep her preoccupied. While this was going on, M.J. decided to venture out under the pretense of picking up some groceries, since they'd be staying there indefinitely.

She had rented a sporty, bright red BMW, and for a brief shining moment, she had a glorious time cruising around the winding back country roads of her childhood homeland. She sought out either the more twisting roadways, or the wide-open straight-aways, gleefully tramping the pedal to the metal and pushing the randy little car to its German-engineered limits. It was a tiny little highlight to her otherwise glum visit, but she was glad for it nonetheless.


Later in the afternoon, after M.J. had returned, the Hospice nurse came to bathe Mark and change his linens, and so on. Everyone stood around watching with baited breath as she worked, some asking pertinent questions, some saying stupid things in an attempt to alleviate the tension. The nurse didn't come right out and say that Mark didn't have much longer to live, but when she took off his socks while washing him down, she pointed out that his feet had turned blue. She explained that this was an indication that his circulation was failing, and M.J. knew then that it was just a matter of time.

Right after the Hospice nurse left, Virginia's only sister, Rose, showed up at the front door. This was yet another thing that pissed M.J. off, but it was only because she never liked the woman, even though they'd met only a few times before. Rose was a duplicate of Virginia, and that more than doubled the annoyance level, in her opinion. She and Maddy were now out-numbered by Ray and his flesh-and-blood, and that seemed, somehow, terribly insulting to her.

After a very brief and stilted visitation, the extended Calhoun clan went out to the living room to sit and chat. M.J. in the meantime, noticed that her father's respiration had become quite labored and loud again, and his bodily movements seemed few and far between. But he was still breathing and was in the safe sideways position, so she left him alone. Wanting to avoid the presence of *the intruders* as much as possible, M.J. wandered about the house for a little while, reminiscing and fondly recalling as many good memories as she could. Eventually, she made her way back toward her father's bedroom. As she approached the room, Madison peeked her head out into the hallway, and, seeing her older sister's approach, motioned frantically for M.J. to come.

With a dreadful feeling curling in the pit of her stomach, M.J. darted down the hall to the room. She walked in and saw Madison standing at the bedside, staring wide-eyed. The younger woman turned to M.J. with watery, frightened eyes, "I don't think he's breathing." She spat out nervously.

M.J. walked closer to her father to see for herself. Indeed he was not breathing. He was just laying there, partially on his back, his mouth agape, and his eyes glazed and stuck wide open. M.J. knew he was dead. She looked back at Maddy in shock, horror, disbelief, sadness - everything that goes hand in hand with realizing that the person lying in front of you, the person who took part in making your human life possible, was dead and gone.

Not having any idea what to do, M.J. reacted purely out of instinct, reaching a trembling hand out to feel for a pulse at his jugular. He was cold already, and the feeling jolted through her fingers and her arm, making her stomach lurch painfully.

Oh God... I think I'm gonna be sick, M.J. thought in a sudden panic. Feeling no pulse, as she knew she would, she then leaned her ear down to his chest to see if she could hear a heartbeat - a futile last-ditch effort, she knew, but she figured she should try. Of course, she didn't hear nor feel anything. She only felt the cold, clammy skin of her father's lifeless body. Straightening herself up, she turned to look at Madison, who was standing there, wide-eyed and aghast, ready to burst into tears.

"H-He's gone," M.J. whispered quietly, incredulously.

Madison brought a hand up to cover her mouth as the tears welled-up and spilled out. Both girls stood there motionless, staring at their now-deceased father for a long time. M.J.'s mind was overcome with shock and grief, and she felt strangely numb and blank. The feel of her father's chilled, lifeless corpse still had not left her, and wouldn't for a long time. The image of his gray face, gaping mouth, and glassy eyes open and staring, burned itself into her mind, and she knew it was something that would haunt her for an eternity.

She turned and looked at Madison again, who had now begun to sob quietly. M.J. reached an arm out and pulled her little sister into a tight hug, not saying anything, just holding her securely for as long as she needed. As shocked and saddened as M.J. was, however, she did not cry.

After they consoled each other for awhile, they panicked at the thought that they now had to go tell Virginia and Ray. The girls walked back to the living room, and as soon as Ginny saw the teary looks on their agonized faces, she knew. She ran past them, back the hallway to the bedroom, and they all followed. M.J. had to admit, as she stood and watched her stepmother weep while laying her head on her father's chest, she actually felt sorry for her.


The rest of the day was a blur. M.J. and Madison had to call Hospice, they had to call their father's doctor... the funeral director... the relatives that they barely knew and rarely saw... anyone and everyone they could think of. They were both in a daze and operating on nothing but adrenaline. M.J. felt like she wasn't really there, going through all of it... it was more like a dream... a surreal, other-worldly dream. She wondered what the long-term effects would be.

When the undertaker and his staff came to get Mark, Virginia hid in her bedroom with Rose; she didn't want to see the body taken away. M.J. understood Ginny's feeling, but for some reason, she decided to stay. She stood motionlessly and watched while the funeral director and his black-suited henchmen bagged and zipped-up her father's body, wheeling it away on a litter and placing it inside a green Ford Expedition-cum-hearse. This struck M.J. as a bit odd; she knew it was a new millennium, but there were some things that really should stick with tradition, weren't there?


That evening, the house was stilted in alternating moments of commotion and silence. Everyone stayed up into the late hours of the evening while arrangements for the funeral were discussed and made. Feeling the need to get out of the house at one point, Madison persuaded M.J. to take a walk with her outside. The two sisters walked and talked and reminisced while trying to come to grips with the fact that their father was truly gone. They remained outside for awhile, and by the time the late-night hours arrived, they were completely exhausted.

M.J. collapsed into bed that night, physically drained and emotionally spent. It was eerily quiet as she lay in the old-fashioned canopy bed that had once belonged to her paternal grandmother. The only noises were the scritch-scratching sounds of tree branches as the wind rustled them and made them scrape against the stone of the old house, and the loud bonging of an ancient clock as it struck off the hours in some room someplace. The noises were hollow and made the barren house echo with emptiness. It suited the way M.J. felt perfectly.

She had attended the funerals of her grandparents and brother, but she hadn't handled nor organized any of the details directly; she hadn't dealt with them up-close and personal like this. She didn't know if she was making the right decisions or what, and she hated the fact that she felt like she was constantly pitting herself and Madison against Virginia and Raiford. She and Madison thought that the service should be small and family-oriented only... Virginia and Ray wanted it open to the whole wide world. She and Maddy liked the cherry wood casket... Virginia liked the blue steel. She didn't think Mark would have wanted a graveside military salute, even though he had been in the service... but Virginia and Ray argued that he would. The discrepancies were minor, but constant.

M.J. felt horrible for thinking it, but she just wanted it all to be over with so she could go home. She was tired of thinking and making decisions and acting as everyone else's support system. As she finally began to drift toward sleep, her thoughts took the form of wishes... wishes that she could just disappear to someplace quiet... where she could let go and be by herself. Better yet, she wished that she had someone who would support *her* for a change.

As the darkness pulled her under, her final thought was of a certain blonde-haired, jade-eyed angel. An angel whom she fantasized would support her and give her the peace and serenity she craved. And she so desperately craved it. She knew what she was admitting now, and she no longer cared.

She was tired of playing around; she was tired of the head-games and the mind-fucks. She was tired of being miserable. She wanted Allison. She wanted things to at least be the way they used to be. If there was any chance for anything between them, she knew that she needed to remedy the situation as soon as she returned home.

I just hope I'm not too late, she thought as her foggy mind at last succumbed to the peaceful darkness of sleep.


It was Thursday morning when Alli reached her office and immediately began preparing for an afternoon meeting with John, Ray... and M.J. She had been dreading it all week, fretting and trying to find any excuse not to be there; but alas, she couldn't weasel a way out.

God forbid, I'm becoming like John, she thought ruefully. It was much too soon to be face-to-face with her frustrating, alluring nemesis, especially in light of the difficult decision she'd recently made, but she had no way of getting around it.

She was also afraid that she would handle herself badly, like she had after the 'bathroom incident'. She always had trouble hiding her emotions, and she knew that, as always, John would be watching her interaction with M.J. closely. If he sensed anything, he would undoubtedly confront her again, which would be disastrous, because she wouldn't be able to lie to him.

Oh God... imagine if he found out what we've done... again!? ...Christ! Alli thought nervously. The ringing of her phone interrupted her thoughts.

"Allison Phillips," she answered in her customary, professional tone.

"Ms. Phillips, this is Rachel. I'm calling to cancel your meeting with Ms. Whitton this afternoon," the young woman said.

Oh thank God, Alli thought immediately, rolling her eyes skyward. She wasn't too surprised, really; surely M.J. didn't want to meet with her either. They'd avoided each other successfully for several days - why mess with a good thing? She thought sarcastically.

She sighed in relief but tried to sound annoyed, "Alright; when can we reschedule?" She asked as she retrieved her appointment book.

"Uhm, I'm not sure... Ms. Whitton was called out of town unexpectedly, and I'm not sure when she'll be returning." Rachel said rather ominously.

Alli stiffened in response, "Why? Is something wrong?" She asked quickly, her disdain and anger toward M.J. mysteriously evaporating.

"She didn't give me any other information, Ms. Phillips. I'm sure Ms. Whitton will be in touch when she's able." Rachel explained in a mechanical, pre-recorded manner.

Alli wanted to be annoyed that M.J. would disappear without somehow informing her, but she knew, realistically, that she was being absurd. They had crossed into forbidden territory - again... they had argued and painfully cast each other aside - again... she had been busy scanning the classified job ads in the newspaper while trying to decide whether or not she hated M.J.'s guts - again... and yet here she was, pissed-off because she wasn't on the brunette's 'call first' list?

Jesus... get a grip, Allison! She scolded herself.

It had been firmly established, in Alli's mind, that M.J. didn't want her and didn't trust her, so *why* would the tall woman let her in on any details of her life? More importantly, why should Alli give a damn where she'd gone?

Alli quickly pulled herself from her thoughts, "Uhm... okay... thank you, Rachel." She mumbled, hanging up the phone. Despite her determined effort not to give a shit, she couldn't help but sit there and wonder what could be going on. Actually, she had an idea of what might be happening. Debating with herself for little more than five minutes, she picked up her phone and quickly punched some numbers.

"Good morning Karen, this is Allison Phillips in Human Resources - is Ms. Whitton available this morning?" Alli asked, baiting Madison's assistant.

"No ma'am, Ms. Whitton was called out of town and I don't expect her back for several days." The young woman answered. Well, that confirms my suspicions, Alli thought.

"Alright, I'll just catch up with her later... thank you, Karen." Alli hung up the phone and sighed as she sat back in her chair, drumming her fingers against her desk in an impatient gesture. There could only be one reason for both women to be called out of town at the same time... their father.


On to Chapter 40

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