Miguel was waiting for the shuttles the next afternoon with Rayford by his side. Poppy had commissioned four vessels, each a little different so that they would accommodate different guests’ tastes. You could travel the two hours to the island either in air-conditioned comfort, or you could get there a little faster in one of the open-air boats that fit less passengers. Ginger and Matlin where the only two on board the fastest boat. By the load of luggage they carried, Miguel figured they were there for only a short stay. He had reserved one of the bungalows with a nice stretch of beach behind it for the two friends. It’s a wonder they aren’t wearing white gloves, thought Miguel as he waved to them as the boat neared. He had been at openings when the two had attended, hopefully his prayers from the night before would be answered, and they would stay calm.

"Hi Miguel, it’s nice to see you again," said Ginger as she accepted his help off the boat. "And you Miss Ginger, it is nice to see the two of you again," answered Miguel.

The ladies gave both Miguel and Rayford hugs once they were onshore, and accepted the men’s invitation for an escort to their bungalow. The rest of the guests would be arriving within the hour, and they still had much to plan, but a bad word from these two women would go straight to Poppy’s ear.

Matlin walked slowly behind the group, taking the time to look around. There were so many memories here on this island that she personally hadn’t experienced, but had heard about from Carly. The saddest part of the coming week was that Carly wouldn’t be there to celebrate with them. The three of them had done the finishing touches to the décor of the bungalows; it was one of the last things Carly did before she had died. They had laughed together that month like they had when they were children. May we all go into that good night with as much class and courage as you my friend. I miss you Carly, thought Matlin.

By six that evening the pool area was full, and the staff was doing an admirable job of keeping up with requests. Rayford was busy at the front desk, but had taken the time to escort Julia and Tallulah to one of the tables to meet Ginger and Matlin. The two older women had asked about her as soon as they had seen Rayford, and insisted Julia join them for drinks. It was Julia that first noticed the empty barstool by the pool, and the tall woman with a guitar heading for it. When the old friends looked to see what the young woman was staring at, both their eyes misted it up.

"Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, and welcome to Carly’s Sound. The staff and I hope that you enjoy your stay," said Poppy. She sat down in the stool Miguel had sat out for her and took a moment to get comfortable. There were butterflies in her stomach, so she thought the best course of action was to just get started.

This old guitar taught me to sing a love song

It showed me how to laugh and how to cry

It introduced me to some friends of mine

Poppy looked toward Ginger and Matlin’s table and smiled. It was nice to see them again and to see that they had taken the time to invite Julia. As Poppy headed into the next verse she felt a weight settle onto her back, and her smile grew bigger. Carly was back and had taken the place she had so many times before when Poppy was singing her a love song.

And brightened up some days

It helped me through some lonely nights

Oh what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night

This old guitar gave me my lovely lady

It opened her eyes and ears to me

It brought us close together

And I guess it broke her heart

It opened up the space for us to be

What a lovely place and lovely space to be

This old guitar gave me my life my living

All the things you know I love to do

To serenade the stars that shine from a sunny mountainside

Most of all to sing my songs for you

I love to sing my songs for you

Yes I do, you know

I love to sing my songs for you

She finished the song to strong applause then launched into some livelier rock and roll songs. Two hours later, Poppy’s voice was a little raspier, and the people around the pool were a little drunker. Some of them knew who had been entertaining them and slapped Poppy on the back as she made her way to Ginger and Matlin’s table.

The adoring look on Julia’s face as Poppy got closer, was not missed by Matlin. "She’s hotter than a Rolex in a pawn shop, ain’t she?" Matlin leaned over and whispered in the young woman’s ear. The blush on Julia’s face confirmed Matlin’s suspicions. Poppy stopped behind the empty chair at their table and bowed deeply at the waist. It had bee several months since she had seen Carly’s old friends. After finishing with the New Orleans Ritz, they had taken a deserved vacation through Europe.

"Poppy you must have done something wonderful in your last life girl to get all this wonderful karma. No one is this good looking, talented and charming without being burned at the stake or some other nonsense people used to do to each other. Come over here and give us both a hug," demanded Ginger.

"Hmmm I see being dead has changed a few things," commented Carly. She watched as Ginger then Matlin greeted Poppy with a hug then a kiss on the lips.

"Ladies it’s nice seeing you two again. You have to tell me later how Europe was, but I have a conference call with Lizzy in twenty minutes. Something to do with the Fort Lauderdale location, so I have to run," said Poppy. She cut off any complaints before they began. As she kissed the women again, Rayford walked up and put his hands on Julia’s shoulders possessively.

"How are all my girls doing?" he asked. He directed his comment to all the women seated at the table. The assistant manager seemed almost displeased that the singer was standing at the table talking. "Don’t you have work to do?" Rayford asked Poppy. He wanted Matlin to see how well he handled the employees, before asking for a transfer back to the states.

"Sorry Mr. Johnson, how careless of me to be goofing off on the company clock," said Poppy. With a small nod of her head, Poppy made her way around the table and headed in the direction of the employees’ quarters.

"Ray that mouth of yours will get you in so much trouble one day. Will you all excuse me?" asked Julia. Taking hold of Tallulah’s stroller, Julia followed the path that Poppy had taken. When she got to the last bungalow there was no sign of Poppy anywhere outside, but Julia did notice that the back door was open. She entered holding the baby when her soft knock went unanswered, and found Poppy sitting back in her office chair with her eyes closed and her feet propped up on the desk.

"Hold it Lizzy," said Poppy. Hearing someone come in, Poppy put her hand over the receiver and looked over at her two visitors. "What can I do for you ladies?" Poppy asked without much humor. The hurt look on Julia’s face stopped Poppy from making any more hurtful comments. There was something in the way that Rayford had handled Julia that she didn’t like, but that was no reason to take it out on the small woman. "Why don’t you go and rock the half pint, and I’ll be out in a minute. I got labor problems in Florida, and I want to see if I can solve them over the phone." Julia slowly nodded her head and headed outside.

Julia rocked Tallulah until the little girl went to sleep. She went in and put her down on the blanket that was still on the floor from the previous day. The day had been torturous until she had seen Poppy walk out to the pool deck. The blonde had tried that morning to come and see the object of so many of her thoughts, but the bungalow had been empty since the early morning. It was getting harder for Julia to stay away, and there was some part of her that craved being in the presence of the tall woman. It had nothing to do with their talks or Poppy’s history, but it had to do with the intimacy that they seemed to share without words or touch. The woman that had delivered the fish that night told her to follow her heart, and not fight what was meant to be.

She heard the screen door starting to open and got up from the rocker. Listening to the advice of someone she had never seen again, Julia walked up to Poppy and fell into her. Julia wanted to be held by this woman, to feel her body pulled into the strong one standing in the doorway. It was as if Poppy understood what she wanted when Julia felt the arms tighten around her. The feeling was so right that Julia didn’t understand the tears streaming down her face. Before she could control it, she was crying hysterically as she clung to Poppy feeling as if she would die if the tall woman would let her go, or sent her away.

If Poppy was surprised by Julia’s actions she didn’t show it, she just gathered the crying woman into her arms and provided the only comfort she could. For the first time in two years, Poppy didn’t think about Carly or anything else. She just held the woman who had two fists full of her shirt and rubbed her back in a soothing motion.

When the crying started to calm, Julia’s hands moved from Poppy’s shirt and came to rest behind her neck. Julia pulled down gently trying to get Poppy to bend down a little so that she could reach her lips. Poppy stiffened at the action, and it was like trying to bend a telephone pole. She only relented when the teary green eyes looked up at her and asked, "Please?"

There are times in your life when the universe opens up a small window and shows you the possibilities that are out there for you. What you can do with your life if you choose the right path, or what you can achieve with the right motivation. Poppy had only stood on that precipice three times in her life. The first was on a warm night under an oak tree in New Orleans, the first time she had kissed Carly. The second was the day she signed a contract to buy an old resort in Mexico from an elderly woman. And the third was happening to her right now.

Julia’s lips were soft and yielding, her hands felt so right behind her neck and her body felt at home in her arms. What made it so wrong, was the fact that it felt so right. That’s what made Poppy pull back. Julia was married. Married to someone else, and that made her off limits. That closed the window on the endless possibilities with this woman, and Poppy felt almost cheated at having been shown the glimpse to begin with. You can live your whole life happier not knowing some things. Ignorance is truly bliss, thought Poppy as she leaned her forehead against Julia’s.

"What’s wrong Poppy? Didn’t you like that?" asked Julia. The neck under her hands felt tight with tension, but at least Poppy wasn’t moving away from her.

"Yes I liked that very much, and I like you very much, but we can’t do this. You belong to someone else Julia, and I won’t go through that again," said Poppy with finality.

"But..," started Julia. She didn’t get to finish her comment because someone behind them called Poppy’s name.

"Poppy I hope that you don’t mind, but I asked Miguel where I could find you. I’m so glad I finally caught up to you," said the redheaded woman standing at the end of the trail.

Julia looked at the woman like she had suddenly emerged from a large shell like the birth of Aphrodite. The short skirt and matching bra top hid nothing of the flawlessly tanned body. Her red auburn hair was a little past her shoulders, and framed a face that had to be one of the most beautiful that Julia had ever seen.

"Jillian is that you?" asked Poppy. All that good karma Ginger had talked about was suddenly taking the final shuttle off the island. Poppy dropped her hands from Julia’s body but took hold of one of the small hands.

"Yes it’s me. It’s been a long time, but I would think that you could still come down here and kiss me hello," said Jillian. To press her advantage the redhead dropped her final tidbit meant to get the tall woman moving in her direction. Poppy couldn’t have changed that much in twelve years where her convictions were involved, figured Jillian. "Rayford told me where I could find you and his wife, Julia is it?"

"But..," started Julia again, but Poppy had already moved away from her. Whoever this woman was, she was now sucking on Poppy’s mouth like it contained some life sustaining meal. The only thing that made Julia feel better was that both of Poppy’s hands were up in the air like she were getting ready to start flapping them. Julia could see that the woman was not about to relinquish her hold of Poppy, so she went in to get Tallulah and headed back toward her bungalow. She wondered if Poppy would even notice that she had left?

Poppy watched, as Julia and the baby moved further away, not missing the hurt look on Julia’s face as she walked away. They needed to talk about what had happened between them, before their interruption, but she first had to get rid of Jillian.

"You haven’t forgotten how to show a girl a good time I see," said Jillian as soon as they ended their kiss. The small redhead was still in Poppy’s personal space, running her hands up and down the tall woman’s arms.

"This is the famous Jillian I take it?" asked Carly. She circled the couple with a finger pressed against her lips. Jillian was the one woman that Carly had given thanks to everyday when she was alive. The short redhead was Poppy’s first love, but had taken the easy way out by getting married instead of following her heart and staying with the one person that could have brought her happiness. So Miss Jillian had ended up in the suburbs with a husband that liked to fish more than he liked to make love, and three sons that inherited their father’s love of slimy things. Carly loved Jillian for one simple fact, and that was that the girl had cut Poppy loose opening her heart to the possibility of loving someone else. That someone else, thought Carly happily, had ended up on a tropical island with a spouse that couldn’t keep her hands off of her, and a fairly tale life.

"I give her extra points for waiting this long to track you down, and where does this girl shop?" asked Carly. She stood behind Jillian facing Poppy. They both laughed at the situation.

"Yes baby, I’m happy to see you too. I knew that you would be thrilled to see me," said an oblivious Jillian.

"Why don’t you have a seat Jillian and I’ll get us something to drink," offered Poppy. She pried the woman off the front of her body and headed back toward her porch. Jillian followed and sat in the chaise lounge to one side. "What would you like?" asked Poppy. "Whatever you’re having Poppy."

"This is too much. She’s here to comfort the poor lonely widow that’s worth more than her whole family combined, going back to caveman days. You are not seriously considering entertaining this woman’s delusions are you?" asked Carly. Poppy was ignoring Carly for the moment, as the dead woman ranted in the middle of the kitchen as Poppy pulled two beers out of the refrigerator. "Poppy she is here because you have money, not because she is trying to rekindle the flame, that might I point out she put out, you once shared."

"Calm down Carly, I know what I’m doing. I’m young but not totally brain dead," Poppy told her. It was one of their oldest arguments. Poppy had savvy, but Carly always had her beat on life’s experience.

"Calm? There is a viper sitting out there on your porch looking like an open buffet, and you expect me to stay calm?" asked Carly.

Poppy thought that Carly had gone back into the great beyond when she walked back outside alone. Alone with Jillian, until Carly just walked through the wall behind the reclining woman and sat on the railing next to her.

"Still boring when it comes to picking out drinks I see Poppy," commented Jillian, as she reached up for the green bottle. She had had enough beer to last a lifetime after marrying Philip.

"What did you expect, champagne cocktails?" asked an amused Poppy. She plopped down on the rocker and waited for an answer. The brow over her left eye arched in question, not for the breathing woman but for the transparent one seated on the railing.

"I loved that you never changed much of your true self once you made it honey. It was one of the things I always found most attractive about you. The memories of you that I will treasure most is that you never seemed embarrassed by showing your pleasure in something. It didn’t matter if it was seeing something for the first time, or trying something new. I never had that growing up, everyone always tried to act so cool about everything it stifled my own enthusiasm for things. You gave that back to me," said Carly. Carly looked at Poppy and smiled. Only when the responding smile came back at her did she realize her mistake. The bitch in heat on the chaise thought that the smile, and the eyes filled with love were for her.

Ginger and Matlin saw Julia in a rush to get back to her bungalow. The young woman was coming from the direction of Poppy’s bungalow, and that caused them some concern. Looking at each other they veered off of their original destination, which was to see Poppy, and headed toward the young woman’s home.

"What do you suppose Poppy did to her?" asked Ginger. "Don’t go jumping to conclusions there Madame Butterfly, this could just be a case of hormones," commented Matlin, even though she had a feeling she knew what this was about. You big lug, if you hurt that sweet girl’s feelings, I will personally knock some sense into you, thought Matlin. She was one of the only people who knew why Julian was on the island, and promised both Rayford and Julia that she would keep quiet about it.

Julia came to the door when she heard Matlin calling out to her. At the sight of Matlin’s concerned face, Julia started crying again. Between sobs she told the two older women what had happened, and about the arrival of Jillian. "I’m afraid that I’ve messed things up now, and I’m going to have to leave. She didn’t seemed to thrilled with the fact that both of us kissed her," said Julia. She wiped away her tears again and looked at the two sympathetic faces looking back at her.

"First off, no one is going anywhere, so put that thought right out of your head young lady. Matlin and I are going to do our best to tell you a story, and you and Tallulah are going to do your best and sit there and listen to what we have to say. Julia, when two people meet and fall in love, that usually changes their lives for the better. In this story that holds true, but it also changed so many other lives, that it didn’t make for the smoothest of rides. Not to say that that wouldn’t have happened anyway, but by a chance meeting, it sped things along. This is the story of Poppy and Carly, the way we saw it and lived it," explained Ginger. She began her story in that bar they had found Poppy in and went on from there. They took turns telling Julia about the two women that had shaped this island, and their lives around one another. They were about halfway finished when they stopped and ordered dinner.

"She lost so much when she lost Carly, didn’t she?" asked Julia. She bit into the egg roll in her hand and closed her eyes in ecstasy. The strange woman she had met when she had delivered their cleaned fish had personally delivered a meal that they had not ordered. Picking from the menus of the different restaurants they had ordered a variety of items, but Julia had had a craving for Chinese food. Unfortunately for her it had not been one of the choices to pick from. Marta had laughed at Julia’s expression when she lifted the lids on the dishes and saw all her favorites sitting there. Julia found the laugh, as well as the food, a great comfort. This woman dressed in white had a way of making her feel like everything would be all right, if you had enough faith. For an old Spanish woman with a heavy accent she sure can make a mean egg roll, thought Julia.

"She did, and she didn’t," said Matlin. She scooped some more fried rice into her plate and thought of the best way to explain her comment. "Poppy learned things from Carly, things that will make her next mate very happy." The laughter from the other two women stopped Matlin from saying anything else. "Not that, you two heathens. What I mean is, that Poppy has been properly trained in how to conduct and participate in a healthy relationship. Carly always joked that when she was done training Poppy, making her perfect, some young thing to come in and swoop her away from her. Before she died, she made Ginger and I promise that we would do our level best that that would happen. She wanted Poppy to go out and find someone new and exciting to share her life. People look at Poppy to solve all these problems with the company she founded, but I bet they forget that she is just on the other side of thirty. She still got a lot of living to do before she dies, and Carly wanted her to take advantage of that."

"Yeah, she told us they would work out the logistics of time sharing once they all got to the afterlife. What we are trying to tell you Julia is that we don’t think Poppy rejected you because of the fact she isn’t attracted to you, she did it because she is scared. Get some more of that Imperial Chicken and I’ll explain," said Ginger. "Poppy got all of Carly. She got her love, her family and the problems that came along with that. When it was all said and done, they went on to be happy, but Thomas did not go away quietly. If Poppy thinks that you are married there is no way in hell she’s going to come anywhere near you, even if she thinks you might be the holy grail. I remember this one Mardi Gras season when they had just come back from Mexico, and were invited to one of the more exclusive balls."


The room was crowed with the power brokers of New Orleans. To be there meant that you had made it into the enter sanctum of New Orleans society. This was not one of the large balls that you could buy tickets to, this was by invitation only. An invitation that was delivered to your door by a butler carrying a silver tray, on which rested a linen paper handwritten addressed envelope and a blood red rose. If you accepted then you agreed to mask until midnight, there were no exceptions. That was the only costume required, besides ball gowns for the ladies, and tails for their escorts.

What surprised Poppy the most, beside the fact there had been an older distinguished looking gentleman on their door with a tray in his hand, was that the invitation had come addressed to her and not Carly. Carly was there with her that evening, not the other way around. Her wife had explained on the way over to the large uptown mansion that Poppy was considered to be the head of their family. Carly’s name change had signaled the hostess as to who should get the invitation.

Poppy watched as the slim figure, which had been poured into the black sheath gown she was wearing, walked across the empty dance floor toward her. A quick scan of the room told her that she wasn’t the only one watching. The woman stopped two feet from her, and made a slow perusal of the body in front of her. Poppy could see the green eyes behind the black plumed mask, which matched her own, rake up and down her body. Some of the conversations around them had come to a conspicuous halt as the spectators looked on to see how this tableau was going to play out. This couple was new and they had speculated as to who they might be. The woman in the devastating sexy black dress had come in on the arm of the person in front of her. The only features they could make out of him, or her, was the short ponytail tied with black silk ribbon, and the blue eyes behind the mask. Carly had picked Poppy’s tuxedo with tails as was expected, but had outfitted it with an old fashioned shirt. The kind that had a high collar with a tie that was wider and softer than the customary black worn by everyone else. The look made Poppy seem taller, and more distinguished than everyone else in the room.

"Would it be rude to ask you to dance?" asked Poppy. They had been there an hour and no one had made a move toward the dance floor yet. By the change in her eyes, Poppy could tell that Carly was smiling.

"I just spoke to Emily and she asked if we would get the ball rolling, so to speak. How about we try out some of those dance lessons we took?" asked Carly. With a short nod, Poppy moved away from her and headed toward the bandstand to speak with the conductor. Carly watched as the long fingers reached into the front pant pocket, and removed the money clip that she had given the young woman as a Christmas present. The clip had a poppy flower engraved on the front, and Love C engraved on the back. Poppy shook the man’s hand giving him the money in her hand, and moved back toward Carly.

When she heard the passionate guitar opening, Carly threw her head back and laughed at Poppy’s choice. Emily would probably remove them from the guest list after this, but it didn’t matter to Carly now. Now she concentrated on the strong tall body behind her and looked for Thomas in the crowd. This should blow his little mind right out of the ballpark, thought Carly.

The hands around her waist tightened and Poppy turned her abruptly around when the rest of the band joined the lone guitar in the playing of the Tango. The world fell away as Carly molded her body to Poppy’s and moved with her around the dance floor to the sensuous dance. The Spanish were passionate people, and it showed in the dances they had learned together, but this one was like making love on the dance floor. Poppy guided her through the steps, as all the while, she whispered in Carly’s ear. On the last note, Carly’s chest was heaving, not from the dancing, but from the soft love words Poppy had told her as they danced.

Emily St. Claire stepped onto the dance floor and moved toward the couple with slow deliberate steps. Emily was in her early sixties, and married to Myron St. Claire, the president and CEO of New Orleans’ oldest and biggest banking chains. This party had become a bit of a chore instead of fun in the past few years. It took a tremendous amount of effort and work to ready the third floor ballroom of their large home to host this event every year, but Myron loved it and Emily capitulated. Carly and Poppy managed to put some sparkle back into the evening with a short three-minute dance. As Emily neared them, she took in the tall figure of Poppy Valente, and her hands, one of which was intertwined with Carly’s. Carly sugar, I hope this one doesn’t kill you one night from pure pleasure, thought Emily when she stopped. In an instant, Myron was standing next to his wife as she readied herself to pass judgement.

"Carly would you do an old woman and an old friend a favor?" asked Emily. Carly nodded her head and smiled behind all the plumes covering her face. The tone of Emily’s voice told Carly, she would like whatever was about to be asked by the hostess.

"Lend me your spouse here for the next dance. I promise to return her in the same condition in which I found her," said Emily to Carly. Addressing Poppy she continued, "Only, would you consider a waltz? I don’t think I could contort my body like Carly can. And if I hadn’t had the opportunity, let me give you our congratulations now. Myron and I are thrilled for you both," said Emily softly. She wanted to be heard by only the couple in front of them and no one else. Her peripheral vision told her that most of the other guests were about to fall over onto the dance floor trying to hear their conversation.

"Thank you Emily. Poppy and I got your lovely card and bottle of champagne on our honeymoon. I’ll lend you Poppy, if I can have the next dance with Myron?" offered Carly.

"Please dear be my guest, only watch those big feet of his. They can be lethal."

Millicent Voncleef, the social reporter for the paper, sat in the back of the room and took notes. When the masks came off she would have her lead story for the Sunday edition. Whoever the young buck was twirling Emily around the dance floor, would be Millicent’s quest for the evening. She vowed to get the whole story before the night was through.

When the music started again everyone joined into the merriment, and hit the dance floor. Poppy and Carly enjoyed themselves into the evening, and were on the dance floor as the clock reached the witching hour. Poppy was singing softly along with the band as she held Carly, when the time came to remove their masks. The lights were dimmed and with one quick tug from Carly, Poppy’s mask fell away. Carly had missed looking at Poppy’s face all evening and was grateful when Poppy returned the favor and relieved her of her own mask. Their moment was shattered when Thomas barged up and grabbed Carly by the arm intending to tell her what an embarrassment she was. He didn’t get his chance when a large hand closed around his throat with a vice grip and lifted.

The crowd parted as Poppy walked past them with Thomas attached to the end of her arm, walking on his toes and pawing futilely at her grip. There was a fleeting moment of worry in Carly’s mind for Thomas, as she followed them out to one of the balconies. The calm, low voice that Poppy was using told Carly just how mad she was. Her lover had a way of becoming more controlled in her actions, the more out of control her emotions got.

"Listen to me you asshole. You see that woman there?" asked Poppy. She swung him around to look a Carly. "Do you?" she asked again. There was a slight nod from Thomas as his face got a darker shade of red. "You are never to lay a hand on her again unless she invites you to do so. If you insist on manhandling her, then I will beat you until your mother won’t recognize you. You might not have respected her when you were married, but you will respect her now that she is married to me. Understand?" asked Poppy. She let him go and turned to Carly to see if the woman was all right.

"Hold me?" asked Carly.



"He never messed with them much after that, not to their faces anyway. Thomas is still trying, I think, to ruin their standing in the community but it was all for nothing. I mean catch a clue, Carly died, but he is still bitter. The next day had it been any other hostess but Emily St. Claire, they might have been mighty pissed with Millicent’s article. It was a lengthy article about Poppy and Carly, and the love they shared. The only picture included with the story, was the one of Poppy holding Carly on the balcony. Emily had it framed and gave it to them as a belated wedding present. Thomas and Rita never found the St. Claire butler darkening their door again, and were dropped from a number of other social events as well. Thomas was downright spiteful after that," explained Ginger.

"That was just one of the things he pulled during that time Julia. During the divorce it was just horrible, so you see Poppy’s reluctance to go through that again," continued Matlin.

"But I’m not married Matlin, and you know how Tallulah came along, so I don’t see a problem. My life and how I live it, is only a problem for my parents. I’m perfectly content with who I am, as are the people that are the most important to me. Rayford and Granny have been great through all of this," explained Julia. For once in her life, she felt connected to someone even after a couple of days in their presence. She couldn’t explain it but she wanted to be with Poppy, and get closer to her. The time that they had together already, had been perfect, and not strained like most first dates were.

"We realize that honey, we just have to get the hardhead next door to realize that as well. It would make me and Ginger happy to see you happy, as well as fulfill a promise to a dear friend," said Matlin. She looked at the exhausted young woman and decided that it was time to intervene. Julia, like Poppy, had had a rough life up to now, and maybe they could change that for the better for each other.

"Would you like to go out to dinner?" asked Jillian. Poppy had sat across from her all evening, and answered all her questions in a formal manner. No amount of seductive poses on Jillian’s part was getting the singer to move from the rocker. She had told Poppy about her divorce, hoping that it would prompt Poppy into action but it hadn’t so far.

"No thank you Jillian. If you don’t mind I’m going to call it a night, it’s been a hectic day. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m sure there will be time for us to get together before it’s time for you to leave. Would you like for me to call for a cart to escort you back to your bungalow?" asked Poppy. Three and a half hours of listening to her old girlfriend’s complaints about her life was her limit. For the most part she carried on a private conversation in her head with Carly, only grunting and nodding her head in the appropriate places with cues from Carly.

"No that’s ok, I can find my way back. I was just hoping that we could spend some quality time together while I was here, and I can stay as long as you want me to. With Philip getting custody of the children, I don’t have anyone waiting at home for me." Jillian got up and stretched, putting her body on display for Poppy.

"But if you want me to, I’ll strip right here, right now, and give you a lap dance," chimed Carly from the banister she was seated on. Poppy laughed at the sarcastic remark as she walked Jillian down the steps. She moved quickly back to the porch to avoid any more amorous advances from the new divorcee.

The next morning Julia left the just fed Tallulah in Rayford’s care, and set out toward Poppy’s bungalow. They needed to talk about what had happened between them the day before, and about any future they might have. It was time to set the record straight with the tall woman and there was no time like the present. When she made her way to the back hoping to find Poppy having her first cup of coffee in the rocker, Julia was surprised to find Jillian instead. Wrapped in what she assumed to be only a robe, the woman looked like she had just gotten up from spending the night with Poppy. The thought of this woman sharing Poppy’s bed, made her feel sick. Julia turned around and made her way back to her baby. Her only thoughts were to get off the island, and as soon as possible.

"Thank you Miguel, you’re a life saver. I’ll be at the helipad in an hour. No whatever flight you can get me this afternoon is fine. It’ll be me and the baby," said Julia. She didn’t turn around when she heard the door open and close not caring who it was.

"Where are you going Jules?" asked Rayford. He could tell that she had been crying and couldn’t understand why.

"I’m going home Ray. Even if it is going to be hell, I’m going back, because I can’t stay here any longer," said Julia as she fell against his chest crying again. It hurt so much that Poppy had picked that woman over her.

"What happened Jules? I thought you were going to stick out with me for a while until you decided what you wanted to do?" asked Ray.

"Well there is some stuff that I didn’t plan on Ray, and because of that, I have got to get out of here. Will you help me pack up and get the baby ready?"

It seemed like she had just asked him the question when Rayford found himself standing next to the helipad waving Julia goodbye. He had gotten part of the story out of her while he helped her put her belongings back into the luggage that had brought them there, and now that she was airborne he went in search of the object of Julia’s hurt.

"Miguel who is landing today?" asked Poppy over a cup of coffee. She and the manager had been going over the problems encountered by the staff after their first day with real guests.

"No one is landing Poppy, someone is leaving. Or should I say, two people are leaving," said Miguel in a miffed voice. He knew something had happened between his boss and Julia to make the sweet woman want to leave. The shocked look on her face confused him, and Miguel waited to see what she would say.

"YOU! What did you do to Julia, you big ape?" screamed Rayford. He didn’t care that there were guests milling around them, he wanted answers.

"I didn’t do.." Poppy started but didn’t finish due to the fist connecting with her nose. It happened so fast that she didn’t have time to defend herself from Rayford’s attack. The force of his blow threw her back and into the pool filling the water around her with blood. When she resurfaced, Rayford looked suddenly unsure of his actions when he saw the rage in Poppy’s eyes. No sooner than her hands had hit the pool deck, Poppy was on him like fury. She grabbed his collar and cocked her fist back to retaliate, but hesitated before hitting him. There was something about the guy that she found familiar.

"I didn’t do anything to her, asshole. If you were home more often instead of flirting with the front desk workers, maybe your wife wouldn’t have flown out today," said Poppy. Her fist was about to return the favor of a broken nose, when Poppy heard Rayford, Ginger and Matlin all break out into laughter.

"What’s so damn funny?" demanded Poppy.

"She’s not his wife, you idiot, she’s his twin sister," said Matlin. It was his eyes that she found so familiar, decided Poppy as she let Rayford go.

"She’s your sister? But she had a wedding ring on," said Poppy. When she dropped back into her chair was when she noticed the blood streaming down her face. But the pain of her nose was no competition for the pain in her heart. Julia had left without saying goodbye, which only meant that she didn’t want a future with her.

"The rings belong to our grandmother. She didn’t want people looking down on Julia because she wasn’t married," said Rayford. The people sitting next to them were straining to hear what the altercation was about.

"It’s going to need surgery to set it properly Ms. Valente," said the nurse on the island’s infirmary. She had put two stitches in the cut over the bridge, but didn’t want to attempt straightening Poppy’s nose, less she do more damage. The bruise was starting to set in and Poppy’s nodding head made her resemble an agreeable raccoon.

"You are going after her aren’t you?" asked Matlin from the chair in the corner of the room. Her concern over Poppy’s dazed look was starting to grow. Ever since Rayford had slugged her, Poppy had been acting strangely.

"Considering that she left the island Matlin, should tell you that she doesn’t want anything to do with me," said Poppy. In that instant, it was like she woke up from a three-day stupor and figured out Julia was really gone. Poppy jumped off the table with the intention of going home, when the blackness set in. When her feet hit the ground they were followed by the rest of her as she fell forward.

"Nurse, get back in here," yelled Matlin.

The feeling of someone running their fingers through her hair woke Poppy up. Focusing on her surroundings she could see that she was in a hospital room in Venezuela. Both Matlin and Ginger were asleep on the small sofa across from the bed snoring softly against each other. Carly was the only one awake and keeping vigil over Poppy, and the sight of her sitting on the bed made Poppy smile.

"Look at you my love. You are quite the sight," Carly said softly. The bruise from the broken nose had only darkened with time, leaving Poppy with two perfect black eyes, and the fall had left her with a broken right wrist.

"Tell me that I didn’t have surgery on my nose here?" whispered Poppy.

"No, you’ll have that when we get you home honey, so stop worrying. Would I let anything happen to this face?" asked Carly. She squeezed Poppy’s cheeks together for emphasis and laughed at the picture Poppy made.

"Since we have time, let’s plan your next step honey. Cause let me tell you, you haven’t done so well on your own this time around. That girl loves you, and you let her get away. You know you are suppose to get better with age, not the other way around," chided Carly.

"Please baby, I would rather not discuss my love life with my dead wife, if it’s all the same to you. I just don’t understand why she left?" Poppy mused out loud.

"She left, rock head, because of that barracuda ex-girlfriend of yours. Julia is important to your future honey, so don’t screw this up. Now let’s get a move on."

Poppy looked for the clothes she had been wearing when she left the island but couldn’t locate them anywhere in the room. Moving slowly around the two sleeping women on the sofa, she found one of their cell phones and started making calls.

"Bob this is your commander speaking," Poppy whispered into the phone. She waited for the question he was going to ask, and hoped that her foggy mind could remember the codeword.

"This is eagle one sir, what’s the mission codeword and what’s your position?" asked the pilot.

"The codeword is gypsy lady, and my position is Venezuela. Now get your ass over here and pick me up. I’m being held captive at the hospital, so make it snappy. While you are en route, call in a flight plan for the states. Our destination is Houston, Texas. Got all that soldier?" asked Poppy. She was crammed into the small closet so that she wouldn’t wake Ginger and Matlin.

"Aye aye sir, I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Should I come armed, sir?" asked Bob.

"No! I’ll be out front in the bushes waiting for you. Don’t shoot anyone, do you copy?" asked Poppy.

"Yes sir," yelled Bob before hanging up. He started a fast jog toward Poppy’s plane that had been parked at the Aruba airport since her arrival. Bob had been enjoying some R&R while his boss was on her secret mission on one of the islands.

"Crazy son of a bitch," Poppy muttered into the phone as she waited for her next call to go through. "Miguel where is she? I know you know, and I know that you are going to tell me."

"I can’t tell you that Poppy, she made me promise. Miss Julia is a sweet girl and she was very hurt when she left," said Miguel.

"Miguel I have a broken nose because of that Neanderthal brother of hers, and my wrist is now broken. Do you for one minute think that I am in a good mood? Because let me tell you, my little Mexican friend, I’m dying to hit someone with my good hand and I would hate for it to be you," Poppy whispered menacingly from the closet.

"I’m not afraid of you Poppy Valente, so stop threatening me, and I’m not going to tell you where she is so there," said Miguel with more bravado then he felt. The dial tone on the end the line worried him more than the threat of a beating. He had no doubt that she could do it, but Poppy was all bluster and no action when it came to her friends. A hang up though, meant that she was mad with the outcome of the conversation, and that took a little more doing to get over.

The security guard at the front desk of the hospital rubbed his eyes when he saw a tall woman running across the front lawn toward a waiting jeep wearing a hospital gown. It was open in the back showing off a lovely backside so he figured he must have been hallucinating. An airport worker had the same hallucination when he saw the same tall figure getting into a private plane parked on the tarmac.

"Lizzy get all the information on a Julia Johnson you can find. And before you ask, don’t. Just get it and call me on the plane. I’m on my way back to the states."

"Ok, can I ask why you sound so funny?" asked Elizabeth. From her office in New Orleans, Elizabeth pulled a white pad out of her desk drawer and readied herself to take notes.

"Rayford Johnson punched me in the face and broke my nose," answered Poppy. Her explanation sounded so nonchalant that Elizabeth almost missed what had happened.

"Why that little. Wait till I get a hold of Matlin for hiring the little creep. You fired him didn’t you? And please tell me that he is at least hospitalized after you got through with him?" asked Elizabeth. The answer Poppy had given her had made Elizabeth jump out of her chair in anger.

"Nope, he’s fine and still at work. It’s a long story Lizzy that I’ll tell you when I see you. For now start working on that information and I’ll call you when we touch down," said Poppy from the sofa of the plane. She was lying down trying to get the throbbing in her head and arm to go away.


"Julia honey, you really should eat something. It’s not good for the baby, or for you," said Julia’s grandmother Tallulah. The kind old woman had a sandwich and a glass of milk on the tray she carried into Julia’s old room. Granny, as the two Johnson children so fondly called her, had taken care of the twins from the time of their birth. Her son, Fredrick, and daughter in law, Janice, had traveled so much and had lived out of the country so much with Fred’s job, that his mother had volunteered to keep them. They had brought Tallulah so much pleasure over the years, that she had come to think of them as her own.

"I’m just not hungry granny," said Julia. She was sitting in the box seat under the window looking out into the night. During the day, the window looked out on the green pastures that surrounded her grandmother’s home. In Texas you were either in the oil ‘bidness’ or the cattle ‘bidness’, and her grandfather Fred had been a cattle rancher.

"Well, why don’t you try and take a few bites, and when your mouth’s not full you can tell me what’s bothering you, and what’s brought you back here. Not that I mind having you and that beautiful little girl here with me. It’s been quite lonely here since you and that grandson of mine went off to college," said Tallulah. She set the tray down by Julia’s legs and took a seat across from her on the bed. With her hands folded on her lap, Tallulah waited for an answer.

Julia ate half the sandwich as a delay tactic in beginning her talk with her grandmother. She looked out the window so that she wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the one person whose opinion meant the most to her. "I met someone granny," started Julia.

"Oh Julia, that’s wonderful. I’ve always dreamed of you finding your Prince Fredrick out there. I want you to have the same love in your life that your grandfather and I had. You never got to know him, but your grandfather was such a romantic fella. There were always flowers or something that he would think to get me so that I wouldn’t forget who his favorite girl was," reminisced Tallulah.

"Trust me granny, I’ve been wined and dined plenty in the past two months. Not to mention sailed, and serenaded as well." Julia thought back to the bug song Poppy was always singing to the baby, and a smile broke out across her face. Just as quickly she thought of Poppy in bed with Jillian, and the pain in her heart was evident even to her grandmother.

"What’s his name honey?" asked Tallulah. She was beginning to see what the problem was, and hoped whoever this idiot was, hadn’t used the young woman as a quick fling on his vacation.


"That’s an odd name. Sounds like some kind of cartoon character. If this guy is so wonderful and you love him sweetheart, then why are you not with him?"

"She’s real all right, granny, and I’m not with her because I saw something that makes me think she doesn’t feel the same way about me," said Julia. The blonde head bowed and waited for the outburst that would certainly come from the bed. Her grandmother had never judged her, but Julia had never told her that she was gay.

"I see. What did Poppy do that makes you think she doesn’t feel the same way about you?" asked Tallulah in a calm, sincere voice. The old woman laughed when the blonde head whipped up and green eyes focused on her because of her question. Julia’s eyes had misted over at her grandmother’s approval.

For the next hour Julia told the story of her and Poppy. From their first meeting in the coffee shop in New Orleans, to the singer’s sleeping with Jillian. When she was done, Julia fell into the arms that had soothed away her childhood fears, and cried over the pain in her heart.

"Did you talk to her about this sweetheart? Maybe you are jumping to some big conclusions here, and she does think that you are married to that ornery brother of yours. Though, God help the woman that finally gets that job," teased Tallulah. Julia laughed along with her grandmother as she thought of her brother’s romantic history.

"No, I just left before she would feel like I was in the way. Poppy doesn’t even know I’m gone," said Julia. She hugged her grandmother one more time before sitting up and reaching for her daughter. "Let me get the little princess changed and ready for bed. Mother invited me for lunch at the club tomorrow when she called earlier. I’m not looking forward to another lecture about how I’ve screwed up my life by having a child out of wedlock, but I might as well try to mend fences since I’m home for now. That is if you don’t mind me and Tallulah Jr. here staying with you granny."

"You and your little one can stay as long as you like. Maybe together we can come up with a solution to your Poppy problem. She must be pretty thick headed if she passes up the opportunity to get you two beauties tied up in one neat package." Tallulah kissed both of them on the cheek then headed downstairs to turn in for the night.

"Thanks granny."


"Good evening Ms. Valente. Do you have any luggage on board that I can help you with?" asked the clerk from the rent a car agency. There was a familiar looking bag sitting at his feet, and Poppy knew that Elizabeth was responsible. The closet in the plane had some of her clothing, but not a lot. The hospital gown had been replaced with jeans and a t-shirt since they were the easiest things to put on with her hand being incapacitated.

"Just the briefcase and laptop case if you would. Thanks for meeting me, and I presume that the bag you have there belongs to me?" asked Poppy. She descended the steps of the plane and walked to the sports utility vehicle that stood waiting for her.

"Yes ma’am, I’ll put them all in the back, and the keys are in the ignition. Ms. Stevens wanted me to let you know you and Bob each have rooms waiting at the Hyatt under your name, and the information you wanted is waiting at the front desk.

"Thanks, do you have another car for Bob?" asked Poppy.

"All taken care of Ms. Valente," said the clerk as he disappeared through the door of the plane to get the rest of her stuff.

"Bob I’ll give you a call when I’m ready to go. Until then, have a good time, and call me if you need anything." Poppy jumped into the Ford Expedition and drove off to the hotel. She had figured out on the trip there where Julia probably ended up after her return to the states. Now, Poppy just had to find where the elder Tallulah lived, then see if she could straighten things out with her granddaughter.

The next morning, Poppy headed out of town following the map the front desk clerk had made for her. The vast empty spaces that she was traveling through were new terrain for her. It gave the place a lonely feel to it. As she listened to the Charlie Daniels Band telling the story of the devil fiddling in Georgia on the radio, Poppy wondered what it would have been like to grow up here.

After an hour and forty minutes, a large gate on the right broke the monotonous scenery she had been driving through. The iron structure had a large E on the top that was pierced by long cattle horns. On a smaller plaque at eye level from the car was the name Esperanza Ranch. "Let’s wish that the name bodes well for my visit. Everyone needs a little hope," said Poppy to a cow that was grazing near the front fence.

The house didn’t come into view until three miles down the dirt drive. Its white wood and black shutters reminded Poppy of the house on the show Dallas. While not as big as that one, it was still a decent size porch running along the length of the front. Someone had taken their time with the gardens in front, since they were brimming with flowers and healthy looking trees even in the unbearable heat. Before Poppy’s first foot hit the ground out of the car, a slight looking woman came out of the front door. She shielded her eyes from the glare as she looked toward her visitor.

"Excuse me, I’m looking for Julia Johnson," said Poppy. She closed the car door with her good hand and stepped forward to introduce herself.

"Come on up here Poppy, and have a seat," ordered the old lady as she went back into the house. A few minutes later she walked back out with two cups of coffee and a coffee cake she had baked that morning. She looked at the woman still standing in her front yard and laughed at the shocked expression on her face. "Well come on, I don’t bite."

"How did you know my name?" asked Poppy as she stepped forward.

"My granddaughter did a fairly good job at describing you. I bet if you took off those fancy sunglasses, there would be some pretty blue eyes waiting there for me. Now come talk to an old woman and tell me what you want."

"I came to see Julia and Tallulah. They left without saying good-bye, and I have a feeling I know why. I’m here because, I want her to understand how I feel."

"How do you feel Poppy? I want you to be sure of your intentions. Julia is important to me, and I love her more than life itself. I don’t want her hurt," said Tallulah. She leaned forward and patted Poppy’s knee.

"I want to spend time with Julia and her daughter. The past two months of my life have brought me more joy, than the last two years. Julia is important to me too ma’am, and I want the opportunity to build on that. I’m not out to hurt her," said Poppy. She took the hand on her knee and squeezed it. "Can I see her?"

"She’s not here Poppy," said Tallulah. The slump in the broad shoulders told her that Poppy was disappointed. Julia’s grandmother was about to explain, when a familiar cry broke the quite around them. When Poppy looked at her suspiciously, Tallulah defended herself. "I didn’t say the little one wasn’t here, I just said her mother’s not here. She went in to town to have lunch with her mother."

"May I?" asked Poppy. She was up and moving into the house as soon as Tallulah nodded her head. It wasn’t time for the little girl to eat again, so her grandmother figured she was just crying for attention, or her stomach hurt. She was interested in how this tall imposing figure handled Julia’s daughter.

The screen door creaked again as Poppy stepped out with a now quite baby. She sat on the porch swing and started singing to the little girl. The baby’s great grandmother had never heard the gentle song and didn’t understand all the words since Poppy was singing in Spanish, but she saw the face of the singer soften when she looked down at her charge. It was a touching sight when the baby reached up and put her little hand on Poppy’s cheek like it was something she did everyday. She loves one without even knowing it, let’s see if we can get her to see that about the mother too, thought Tallulah as she watched.

Poppy held Tallulah close to her and inhaled the sweet innocent smell that always clung to the baby. It had only been a day, but she had missed seeing the little person that had become a part of her life. When she looked up, Poppy could see the elder Tallulah staring at her.

"You are dressed appropriately, so why don’t you go and collect her mother. This is just a hunch on my part, but I’ll bet she’ll be happy to see you," said Tallulah. When Poppy smiled the old woman could see what her granddaughter had fallen for. There was nothing you could call feminine about Poppy, but it wasn’t unattractive. It was in Tallulah’s opinion what was attractive about her. Poppy reminded her of her late husband Fred. Not a man of many words but had a look about him that made you want to follow him into hell if necessary. "You wouldn’t happen to have a jacket in that vehicle would you?"

"Yes ma’am I do. If you would be so kind as to direct me in the right direction," said Poppy. She stood up and handed Tallulah her sleeping namesake, and waited for an answer.

As the SUV drove away, Tallulah whispered after it, "Go and get what’s yours Poppy."

The grounds and buildings of the country club she drove up to told Poppy a lot about the people who belonged. They all had money and plenty of it, and they wanted people to know that they money and plenty of it. Poppy was willing to bet that if she took a quick tour of the place she would find no African American, Mexicans or other assorted minorities on the grounds unless they worked there. It all had a formal uptight feel about it, which made her laugh. I thought you came to places like this to relax and exercise, not get your underwear all in a twist.

She followed Tallulah’s directions until she was at the main clubhouse that housed the club’s restaurant. Poppy took the light linen tan jacket off the hanger in the backseat and slipped it on. The light jacket matched the pants she had on, and together with the trademark white cotton shirt, made Poppy blend in with everyone else around her. She opted to take the sidewalk that lead to the back of the building betting that she would find a large pool. These places are all laid out the same, thought Poppy.

Julia was half listening to her mother drone on about everything she needed to do to get her life back in order as she looked out toward the pool. "The first thing Julia, is a trip to the boutiques to get you some new clothes. The fall season will be upon us before you know it and you have to look decent for the circuit parties. I’m sure that you looked fine for life on some island, but you are back in civilization now," said Janice. For the first time in ten minutes the prim woman noticed that she was facing the back of her daughter’s head instead of her face. "Julia, are you listening to me?"

The blonde head shook as she watched the scene unfold outside. When the first woman sat up a little in the chaise lounge she was sitting in, Julia didn’t pay it any attention, but when heads were popping up like fishing corks she looked to see what they found so interesting. A row of faces were lowering their sunglasses discreetly to watch the tall woman pass by. Julia had seen the look before in the coffee shop in New Orleans, when the young clerk had gotten an eyeful of Poppy. Janice watched as a slow smile curled her daughter’s mouth at the sight of the casually strolling stranger out by the pool. The two black eyes and the cast on her arm didn’t take away from the looks this woman possessed, the elder Johnson woman noted.

Poppy walked down the pool deck looking for the back way into the restaurant. As she had predicted, the building had a wall of glass that looked out to where she was walking, and from behind the sunglasses, Poppy looked for her prey. The cold air felt good when she opened the door into the building and walked to the entrance of the restaurant called The Garden Room. Julia watched as the golden money clip made an appearance with one of the waiters blocking Poppy’s path. Just as quickly the man stepped aside pointing toward their table.

"May I join you for lunch?" asked Poppy. She would have arched her brow, but the pain in her face prevented too much movement. Her mouth though, worked fine, and she smiled for the woman she had come to see. It was a relief when Poppy saw Julia smile back.

"Mother would you excuse us for a moment," requested Julia as she stood up. The tall body bowed a little bit and let her walk past as Poppy smiled at Julia’s mother.

"Armando who is that thug?" asked Janice. The waiter placed the shrimp cocktails the women had ordered on the table and looked in the direction Julia had headed in. "I don’t know ma’am, but I’ll try and find out for you."

Julia led them to one of the empty ballrooms on the other side of the building. They walked the whole way in silence, waiting for more privacy before starting their much-delayed talk. When the solid wood door closed behind them, Julia turned to Poppy and fought the urge to fall into her arms like she had the day before. Has it been only a day since that happened?

"What happened to your face?" Julia asked softly. The bruises looked angry and painful, but strangely enough, they somehow brought out the blue of Poppy’s eyes.

"Your brother punched me in the face for hurting your feelings," answered Poppy. She took a step closer, then stopped to gauge Julia’s reaction.

"Tell me that the broken hand doesn’t mean that poor Rayford is hospitalized somewhere in the Caribbean?" asked Julia. She was starting to feel the body heat emanating off Poppy’s body as she moved closer to her.

"No, poor Rayford is just like you left him. I don’t even think anyone has told him yet exactly who he knocked into the pool in his frenzy to protect you."

They stood there looking at each other without saying another word. Poppy knew that she wasn’t married, and with the resort owner’s being here, it told Julia that maybe her grandmother had had a point. Going with her gut like she had so many years before, Poppy took the plunge. With her good hand she reached out for Julia and bent down to reach the lips she had been thinking about since her first taste of them. Julia needed no further encouragement, and fell into the body she visited in her dreams since they had met.

It was slow and soft. The kind of kiss you tell your grandchildren about when you spin tales of how you fell in love with the person sitting next to you fifty years down the line. Julia would remember it that way. The plastered hand that was holding her close and the fingers in her hair belonged to the person she wanted that future with. This was the person that had slowly swept her off her feet, with her gentle manner and sweet soul.

Poppy pulled back just a little not releasing the woman in her arms and said, "Don’t ever leave me again without talking to me first. That’s all I ask of you."

"I just saw Jillian on your porch that morning, and thought I was not wanted or needed."

"Julia never be afraid to ask me what I want or need. I can promise that the answers will always be honest and they will never be Jillian."

"Not that I’m complaining, but how did you find me?" asked Julia.

"Tallulah told me where to find you," said Poppy. She kissed Julia again just because she was so close.

"Smart girl, that daughter of mine. Now tell me why you are here?"

"I wanted to see you and that daughter of yours first off. Secondly I want to take you out on a date. That is if you want to go out with me?" asked Poppy.

"Let’s start with introducing you to my mother, it might change your mind on wanting to take me out on a date," said Julia. She reached for the unplastered hand and walked Poppy back to the table she had been sharing with her mother. "Armando, would you please set up the table to include my friend and bring her a menu?" "Of course Miss Julia, it would be my pleasure."

Poppy pulled out Julia’s chair before turning to face the woman burning holes in her back with hazel eyes. "Mother I would like to introduce you to Poppy Valente. She is Rayford’s boss, and my friend," said Julia. She waved a hand in Poppy’s direction hoping that her mother wouldn’t embarrass her.

"Julia I don’t know what kind of prank you are trying to pull, but this person is not welcome at our table. Just look at her. What will people think?" asked Janice. She had placed her hand at the center of her chest and looked like she might pass out at any moment.

"Mother please, Poppy is my guest," said Julia through clenched teeth.

"Julia let me handle this. Now Poppy is it? My daughter and I are not interested in having lunch with you. I mean just look at you. Are you some drug lord or something?" asked Janice. Poppy watched as Julia’s mouth hung lower as every word came out of her mother’s mouth.

Looking at Julia, Poppy laughed. "What is it with your family and my name? The only one that doesn’t have a problem with it is your grandmother. Ladies, I am sorry to bother you. I’ll leave you to enjoy your meal. Julia take care of yourself." Heads turned as Poppy made her way to the front door. In one moment the heat had swallowed her and she was gone.

Julia watched the door close and it sent a pain right through her heart. They had just been kissing, and now Poppy had given up so easily. Why wasn’t she as willing to fight for her like she had for Carly?

"Julia where are you going? Sit down this instant, or I will be forced to tell your father about this outlandish behavior," hissed Janice. The coifed woman’s admonishments fell on deaf ears as her daughter followed the same trail out of the restaurant that Poppy had just taken.

"You know the problem with families is? You can’t pick them, they are preordained," said Poppy. She was sitting on a bench outside the building waiting for Julia to come out of the doors. Julia stopped in her tracks and turned around slowly. The jacket had come off and was thrown over the back of the bench, and the long legs were crossed making Poppy look like she was just out there waiting for a bus.

"I thought you had left," said Julia. She stood her ground and waited to see what Poppy would do next. The relationship, if they were to have one, would have to be a partnership of equal emotions as well as responsibility.

"No honey. The first rule of business is that you never walk away until you get what you came for." Poppy stood up and started toward the woman that had brought her more than a thousand miles from where she had started.

"Is that what I am to you? Business?"

"No you are something much more than that. You are someone special to me Julia." She walked until they were barely touching and then held out her hand. Without hesitation Julia took it and was once again pulled into a heated kiss. Julia could hear the slowing down of some golf cleats, and knew it would be minutes before her mother would find out about the show she was putting on outside. The problem was she didn’t care.


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