"So, are you going to tell me what happened to your arm?" asked Julia. The seat of the rented vehicle Poppy had gotten was so comfortable that the blonde was enjoying the trip back into the city for their date. Poppy had shown up with a bouquet of flowers for both her and her grandmother. The two arrangements couldn’t have been more different, and Julia wondered where Poppy had gotten her information, as to not only what her favorite flowers were, but also her granny’s. Julia smiled as she watched the sunset over the land she had grown up on, and thought about her granny’s face when she saw the bunch of yellow daisies tied together with a silk ribbon. Tallulah had accepted them with a shy smile and was more than willing to kiss her benefactor for thinking of her. The flowers were on the mantle before they had left the house and sat next to the dozen yellow roses Poppy had brought for Julia.

"If you promise not to laugh, I’ll tell you," answered Poppy. She was driving them a restaurant in Houston that was owned by Marta’s daughter. Unlike her mother, who had learned her cooking skills at her mother’s side, Grace had refined her culinary skills in Paris.

"I promise," said Julia as she turned in her seat to face Poppy.

Poppy told her how she had added the second injury, and was greeted by peels of laughter from the other side of the car. When she turned into the heavily landscaped grounds of Valentine’s, Julia’s laughter stopped and her eyebrows climbed into her hairline. In the middle of the Houston metropolis was a perfect replica of a French countryside bistro.

"You got reservations here? My parent’s have been trying to get in for months with no luck," said Julia. The valet opened her door and helped Julia down from the high vehicle so that she could join her dinner companion.

"Welcome Ms. Valente, it’s nice to see you again. If you would step inside, your table is ready," said the doorman. When the man opened the front door, they stepped inside to the most romantic setting Julia had ever seen. The space was small and intimate, and illuminated only by candlelight. There was a harpist in one corner plucking out some soothing music that muffled the conversations of every table. In reflex, Julia put her hand on Poppy’s arm and walked further into the bistro along side her.

"Poppy we have been waiting on you, your table is ready," René the maitre d greeted them. He led them to a side door that led back outside to a private table in a gazebo in the back gardens. The table bathed in candlelight was surrounded in flowering plants as well as fruit trees. Poppy didn’t know how Grace did it, but no matter what time of year it was, the space was always a comfortable climate and was bug free.

"Can I borrow her for a moment Julia?" asked the feminine voice from the darkness of the garden. When the blonde turned in the direction of the sound, a beautiful young woman dressed all in white stepped up to the space where they were standing. She was almost as tall as Poppy, with gorgeous light brown skin and pale blue eyes that reminded Julia of ice.

"Hello beautiful," said Poppy. She opened her arms and the young woman fell into them as if they were a place she had been before. Julia looked on as the two friends exchanged a brief kiss on the lips. It took all her self-restraint to not go and separate them. Hey remember me, I’m the date here. Any kissing to be done on tall, dark and sexy should be referred to the blonde.

"Poppy has my mother finally beaten some sense into you? Look at you, all dressed up with a beautiful woman on your arm, and the most romantic table in the city," said Grace. She stepped back so that Julia could take her place back by Poppy’s side, and waited for her old friend to introduce her.

"Julia Johnson, may I present Grace Rojas, the owner of this fine establishment. Grace this is Julia," said Poppy. She could see the critical eye in which Grace cast Julia, sizing her up much like her mother would do. "I believe you met Grace’s mother on the island, Marta Rojas."

"Yes, mami mentioned it when I spoke with her this afternoon. Please sit, and Julia don’t let her fool you, shy and humble here owns the paperwork on this fine establishment. It will take me another two million glazed ducks to pay her back in full. I hope you both don’t mind, but I took the liberty of cooking the meal for you tonight, one that’s not on the menu," said Grace. When she stepped back toward the kitchen, four waiters appeared out of nowhere and started their dining experience with a bottle of chilled white wine.

"Aren’t you just full of surprises," said Julia. She watched as Poppy swirled the almost clear liquid in her glass before taking a small sip. When Poppy nodded her approval the waiter came and filled Julia’s glass half way before he poured more into Poppy’s glass.

"What?" asked Poppy. Poppy’s smile was hidden behind her wineglass as Julia continued teasing her.

"You know what. You own this place. If you had met my mother before today, I would know why she hasn’t been able to get a reservation. Are there any more assets in the state of Texas I should know about?" asked Julia as she raised her glass to her lips.

"Ah shucks ma’am, you are giving me more credit than I deserve. Grace and I grew up together, so it was only right that I help get her started on her first business venture. Her mother could have financed her, but you know what it’s like to go to the folks for money. With me, she has a silent partner that only comes into town for a good meal every so often. Her glazed duck is to die for, and as long as she keeps making it for me, I don’t care if she ever pays the mortgage. Grace is a true visionary when it comes to design as well. All this you see came from her talented mind," explained Poppy.

"No, I don’t believe that I have begun to give you the credit that you deserve Poppy. I want to thank you for flying all this way to take me to dinner, I have never had anyone go through that kind of trouble for me before," said Julia. She reached across the table and placed her hand over Poppy’s. Julia felt the familiar comfort she always did when she touched Poppy. In the back of her mind, Julia tried to ignore the face that the platinum wedding band was still on Poppy’s ring finger.

"Julia you are a special woman who deserves no less," said Poppy. The soft music from inside was drifting out through the speakers that were hidden in the shrubbery filling in the only missing piece of the romantic setting. "Dance with me?" asked Poppy. She stood up and extended her hand in invitation to the blonde, who didn’t pause in taking it.

"You look beautiful tonight Julia," said Poppy. She lifted the small hand covering her and kissed it. The white thin-strapped dress that the small woman had chosen to wear looked good with the little bit of sun she had gotten in the past two months.

"Thank you," whispered Julia. As she was led around the gazebo by Poppy, Julia felt like they would start floating at any moment. The few times that Julia had been close to Poppy, she was drawn into the warmth and smell of the tall woman. Poppy always smelled crispy clean and Julia had tried to figure out what the scent reminded her of. When she placed the side of her face against the pale pink shirt that Poppy had on it finally came to her. Poppy smelled like the ocean. It was a fresh salty scent that made you want to bury your face into Poppy’s neck. Why had no one ever made her feel this way, thought Julia? It was as if a higher power had given Poppy a manual that listed all the right things to do to make a woman feel like the center of the universe.

The rest of the evening was just as special for Julia. They sat down to a wonderful meal served by Grace and her staff. The good looking chef told Julia some stories of Poppy’s adolescent years during dessert that made her want to kiss away the pout on Poppy’s face. Julia fell asleep on the drive back to her grandmother’s, and was almost surprised when Poppy gently shook her awake.

"I’m sorry I fell asleep on you."

"Not to worry. It wasn’t the company I hope," said Poppy before she got out to open Julia’s door. She lifted Julia and carried her to the front porch, so that she wouldn’t ruin her heels in the dewy grass outside her grandmother’s house, and only put her down reluctantly.

"Thank you for a wonderful evening Poppy. When can I see you again?" asked Julia. Her arms were still lightly draped around Poppy’s neck. Standing two steps higher than her date, Julia could see into the blue eyes that looked darker than usual. One of her hands played idly with the short ponytail at the back of Poppy’s head.

"Anytime you want to Julia. Maybe tomorrow I can find a place closer to have lunch, and we can see where we want to go from here?" said Poppy. With Julia so close Poppy had to kiss her. She willed her hands to stay still on the blonde’s hips, but Poppy felt the tie of her ponytail come loose and gentle fingers run through her hair.

"What do you want Poppy?" asked Julia. Her lips were still so close to Poppy’s that the tall woman could feel them moving against her own when Julia asked her the question.

"I haven’t wanted anything in so long Julia, that it’s hard to answer that question now. What I do know, is that you are slowly bringing light to the dark places in my heart, and I want to thank you for that," said Poppy. The time on her watch told Poppy that it was close to Tallulah’s next feeding so she kissed Julia again. "Good night Julia. Kiss the princess for me."

Julia slumped on the other side of the door until she couldn’t hear the crunch of Poppy’s tires on the road outside. Was Poppy ready to move forward? She didn’t know, but she would give the tall woman as much time as she needed to make a decision.

On her ride back to the hotel, Poppy drove letting her mind wander back to the past. She had to let that go before she could give Julia and her daughter better answers as to all of their futures. But could she let Carly go?

"You don’t have to let me go silly, you just have to learn to put me where I belong. I will always love you Poppy, and I know that you will always feel the same way about me, but it is time for you to follow your heart honey. You need to find your way back to the here and now, it will be the only way you will find your clear path to the future," said Carly. Poppy couldn’t see her, but heard the admonishment loud and clear. Carly had always been a clear talker no matter what the subject. It was nice to hear that things hadn’t changed, even after she was gone.


Poppy could feel the gentle fingers drawing circles on her back. It was early Monday morning and the light was just coming through the windows in their New Orleans home. She could feel Carly’s nipples pressing into her back, and the tangle of sheets around her legs. They had spent a lazy Sunday at home knowing that their week was going to get hectic with business. The crews had started to clear away the areas the bungalows were going to go up on today Carly’s Sound, and they were expected to join them by the next week. Their bungalow had already been completed and was completely furnished with the stuff Carly had sent down.

"Good morning sexy," said Carly. She had been awake for a while thinking of her doctor’s appointment late that morning. It was a small thing really, but it was something that hadn’t been there before the previous month. Carly had found the lump in the shower, and was surprised Poppy hadn’t done so before her considering how attached she seemed to be to that part of her body. "What are you thinking about this morning?"

"How happy I am, and how tied into that you are," said Poppy. She flipped over so that she could hold Carly and kiss her good morning. The kiss was slow and knowing, after ten years it was hard to surprise each other during sex, but it didn’t diminish the feeling behind it.

"I have a doctor’s appointment this morning honey, so I’ll have to meet you and Lizzy at the restaurant for lunch," said Carly. She could already feel the slow burn between her legs as the large hands caressed her back. After years of plucking guitar strings Poppy had calluses on some of her fingers that gave Carly the best sensations when she felt them.

"Want me to come with you?" asked Poppy. Her hands urged Carly to lie completely on top of her. Carly had other ideas as she rolled to the side, pulling Poppy on top of her instead.

"No I want you to make me come first, then we’ll see about you," said Carly as she pushed the dark head lower down her body. Poppy’s sensual mouth wasn’t only good for singing love songs. Carly heard the familiar laugh before her world narrowed to Poppy’s mouth, and the point it was now sucking on.


It was the last time they made love without a sense of urgency to it. For a year they had had to settle for just cuddling because of Carly’s chemotherapy. After they had accepted that it wasn’t working, they had tried to cram a lifetime of loving each other into six short months. Poppy almost had to pull over when she relived the phone call that had brought her to Carly’s doctor’s office.


"I’ll tell you when you get here, she just wants to talk to the both of us together," said Carly for the third time. The horns blaring in the background told her that Poppy was not taking her time getting to the medical complex on Tulane Avenue.

A nurse was waiting for Poppy when she came crashing through the front door of the doctor’s office, and lead her back to where Carly and Dr. Susan Jackson were waiting.

"Nice to see you again Poppy. Have a seat and we’ll begin," started Susan. She waited until the two women had kissed hello and had reached for each other’s hand. "I wanted you here Poppy because I feel that it’s important for Carly’s spouse to hear what is going to be happening in the next few weeks." The doctor explained about the lump they had found and what it might mean. Susan wanted to stay optimistic because of Carly’s past health and family history, but unfortunately for all of them, the cancer wasn’t that caring.

They walked from Susan’s office to the hospital for Carly’s biopsy, and three days after that life stopped being normal. Susan had looked so calm when she said, "Carly you have breast cancer and we have to remove your right breast." Poppy sat on the bed with her and felt like someone had turned the lights out on her world. This couldn’t happen to them. They had plans, they had money, but most importantly they had each other.


Poppy did pull over and get out of the car when she thought of the treatments, and the pain they had involved. Carly had explained it as liquid fire going into her veins from the IV drip. Carly had lost her hair and her appetite, but thanked God everyday that she was going through this with Poppy and not Thomas.

In that year and a half Poppy never cried or talked about anything but hope and optimism in front of Carly. In private, she cursed God for what Carly was going through. Never a really religious person, Poppy finally turned her back on any form of Supreme Being she might have believed in, when Susan told them that the chemo wasn’t working. They could try new experimental treatments, but it was up to them. It was December by that time and Carly asked her for one gift.


"Honey, I want to stop all this madness. I want the rest of my days to be filled with loving you, not medicine and doctors. I want quality of life, not quantity of it. But this has to be a joint decision. Let’s take Lizzy on a trip, and then go back to where we started and finish the resort. Please honey, I want to enjoy the time I have left," said Carly. They were sitting naked in front of the fireplace wrapped in a light blanket enjoying a night at home. It broke Carly’s heart to feel the big teardrops falling on her back. Her rock wasn’t so stoic after all.

They took two months off and headed to Europe to see all the things on Carly’s list, then went back to Carly’s Sound. The next four months their lives were filled with paint colors, fabric swatches and construction crews. Ginger, Matlin and Elizabeth moved into some of the adjacent bungalows and never left Carly’s side during the day. Two months before she died, Carly tried to reconnect with her other two children with no luck. It hadn’t been the deciding factor in the terms of her will, since a New Orleans law firm had drafted it with the help of Elizabeth three weeks prior to that, but they would never know that.

At the end of a beautiful day in early June, Carly asked Poppy to carry her out to the beach. It was another beautiful sunset in a string they had witnessed since moving to the island, but tonight’s was significant.

"Promise me something?" asked Carly. She was weak and had had trouble breathing all day. The disease that had started in her breasts was now in her lungs and bones.

"Anything," answered Poppy. They sat with Carly on Poppy’s lap on one of the chaise lounges Poppy had put out by the water.

"Promise me that you will find someone that makes you happy. You have given me so much in the past eleven years, that I want you to be happy again. You deserve nothing less. There is someone out there waiting for you my love. Promise me you won’t turn away when they find you," said Carly. The arms around her tightened tentatively not to cause her any pain. There was no answer from Poppy, but Carly could feel the nodding of her head.

"I love you Poppy. Think of me, and I’ll always be there for you," said Carly. Her strength was ebbing, but she hung on until she heard the words that had sustained her one more time.

"I love you Carly, with all my heart." Once the words left Poppy’s mouth, Carly took her last breath. Elizabeth watched from the porch as her mother and Poppy said their good byes. She and Carly had done so before the sick woman asked her lover to take her out on the beach. For a good while after the sun went down, Poppy just sat there holding Carly, knowing that it would be her last opportunity to do so. Poppy choked out all the tears that she had stored up over Carly’s illness until she had no emotion left. The pain that was left was the pain she still carried with her.


She screamed into the night until her throat was raw, with only the cows as witnesses to her torment. Why she would think about this all now after the wonderful evening she had spent with Julia, Poppy didn’t know.

"You are thinking about it honey because it is time to let me go. We have come as far as we can, you and I, and I can’t go the rest of the way with you. Poppy you are this close to finding what you have looked for your whole life, only you might not realize it if you don’t start following your heart. You need the other half of your soul sweetheart, and she is waiting for you in the opposite direction than you were just headed," said Carly. She stood next to Poppy in the field bathed in a brilliant light.

"You were the other half of my soul Carly," said Poppy. Her head hurt and her arm was killing her, but it didn’t compare to the despair in her heart.

"No Poppy, we taught each other to love, but your soulmate is still out there looking for you. Open your heart Poppy and you will see her looking back at you with open arms and a lifetime of love. Trust me," said Carly. Carly was getting dimmer as she finished talking, but Poppy could still feel the love that surrounded her.

"Don’t leave me again," pleaded Poppy.

"I’m not leaving honey. I’ll pop back somewhere even you won’t suspect." With that she was gone, drawn back into the heavens leaving a shooting star as proof she was there.

Poppy walked back to the car slowly thinking about what Carly had said. She looked up and followed Carly’s path, then looked inward and put voice to her wishes. There was only one answer that she could come up with.



The elder Tallulah was pulled out of a pleasant dream when she heard the soft footsteps on her porch. Whoever it was paused at the door before knocking, as if hesitant of doing so because of the hour. Poppy looked at her when the old woman opened the door, and gave her a disarming smile.

"I’m sorry to disturb you but I have to see.." started Poppy. Tallulah held up her hand and gave the flirt at her door a smile of her own. It was nice when you got to see young love take flight, the old woman thought.

"Go up the stairs, and it’s the second door on the right. Be real quiet though, the baby’s in there too."

"Thanks Mrs. Johnson, I owe you one," said Poppy. She opened the screen door and stopped to give Julia’s grandmother a kiss on the cheek.

"A nice vacation at some exotic location might be an even trade," quipped the old lady.

"I’ll keep that in mind."

The next morning Poppy woke up to feel someone running a finger slowly across her eyebrows. There was a weight on her chest, as well as along the rest of her body, and after the cobwebs cleared she realized who it was.

"Good morning," Poppy whispered. The burr of her voice got the blonde head to look up at her and smile. Poppy kissed Julia hello as she caressed her cheek, loving the feel of the soft skin under her fingertips.

"I’ll have to wish on shooting stars more often," said Julia when they broke apart.


"After you left last night, I was feeding Tallulah and saw a shooting star from the bedroom window. I wished that it would bring you back to me and it did," said Julia. She moved in and kissed Poppy again before she asked for an explanation as to how the woman had gotten into her bed without her knowing it. "Now as much as I would like to give the star all the credit, how did you get here?"

"I saw the same star. It told me to look into my heart, and make my wishes come true," said Poppy. Julia put her head back on Poppy’s chest and just soaked up the warmth of the body beneath her.

"I asked you last night what you wanted. Does your being here this morning mean that you’ve figured it out?" asked Julia.

"Yes I have. With a little help, I sure have."

"What do you want Poppy?"

The question was so like the one Carly had asked at the beginning of their relationship, and she had given an honest answer then. Now would be no different. "I want you. I want a life with you and Tallulah, and I want to make music in the sun. I want to take care of you, and have you two take care of me. And when all is said and done, I want you to feel like you have lived a good life." Poppy just spoke from the heart and told the woman she had fallen in love with what she felt.

"I want that too," Julia told her. Julia stroked the inside of Poppy’s left hand before moving to her fingers. She stopped when she came across the ring finger and almost cried. The wide banded ring was gone, in its place was a prominent tan line as the only sign it had ever graced her finger. Poppy knew why Julia had stopped and just curled her fingers around the smaller ones in her palm.

The significance of the gesture would have to wait for another time to savor as the soft sounds coming from the bassinet interrupted their morning. Julia rolled onto her side so that she could watch Poppy get up to retrieve Tallulah. Poppy had kept her shirt from the night before on, but had taken off her pants and shoes. The sight of the rumbled looking woman wearing only the shirt and boxer shorts made Julia laugh.

"I see that your mother is not a boxer woman," said Poppy to the baby. The cooing baby turned her green eyes to her tall savior and reached out for her face again like she had the previous afternoon. Poppy walked back to the bed with her and asked Julia, "Got milk?"

Julia’s grandmother heard the laughter coming from upstairs and went back to sleep. She had obviously made the right decision in letting Poppy in. The couple upstairs settled back into bed and with Poppy spooned up against her back Julia fed the baby. By lying Tallulah on her back and feeding her that way, it gave her mother the opportunity to look down on her and see the changes the baby was undergoing. It would be wonderful to have someone to share this with now.

"Her hair is starting to lighten up, don’t you think?" asked Poppy. With her arm around Julia, Poppy used one of the fingers poking out of her cast to rub the baby’s head. "Yeah, Ray and I both had almost white hair until we were like five then it became more of the color we have today."

There was only one other question that Poppy hadn’t asked in the whole time they had known each other, and that was who Tallulah belonged to? Who had fathered the baby that Poppy had come to love? "I got drunk at a party one night and one of Ray’s friends decided he liked me. It was stupid, but I woke up the next morning naked and in bed with this guy who didn’t want another thing to do with me. I thought about the alternatives, and tried to drown out the objections of my parents, but in the end I wanted her. She was growing inside of me and I wanted her. I figured I would find someone that would love her as much as I do, and want to help raise her, so the decision was easy," Julia offered up the explanation. It was best, her granny always told her, to start on anything with no secrets.

"Doesn’t he want to be involved in her life?" asked Poppy. She hadn’t moved away from Julia, so the young mother took it as an encouraging sign.

"No, he said he would fight paternity so I didn’t push it since I don’t want anything from him. When the time comes I’ll have to explain that to her, and hope that she understands."

"When the time comes we’ll face that together, won’t we Tallulah?" said Poppy as she picked the little girl up to burp her. Julia held the sheet up to her chest and watched her daughter give Poppy a milky smile. She wants a future with the two of us, thought Julia. Thanks Ray for knocking some sense into her. Julia had fallen in love with Poppy almost from the beginning and it was nice to know that the feelings were mutual.

The night before when Poppy had crawled into bed with her, Julia had felt right at home next to the big body. If Poppy was expecting an argument, she was surprised when the blonde just rolled over and pressed herself into her side and pillowed her head on Poppy’s shoulder.

"What’s the game plan Poppy?" asked Julia.

"It’s simple really. We find a place to live, and then head back to Carly’s Sound to finish up the opening activities. Where would you like to live?" asked Poppy.

"Anywhere where you are," was Julia’s answer.

By late that afternoon Poppy had Julia and the two Tallulah’s seated in the Expedition. They were headed back to New Orleans before heading back to the island. There was a suite at the Ritz waiting for them, and Tallulah was looking forward to hitting the casino in town. On the nightstand next to her grandmother’s bed, sat the wedding ring Tallulah had lent her. Julia didn’t need them anymore, and figured her granny would want them back. The only time it had been off Tallulah’s finger since Frederick had given them to her, was when she had lent them to Julia.

Bob was waiting for them at the private airport they had landed at, wearing his usual pressed clothes. The two Johnson women looked at each other when the man snapped to attention once Poppy was out of the car. Maybe that’s why they call the rich eccentric instead of crazy, thought Tallulah as she watched Poppy salute the man back.

"Commander we are ready whenever you give the word."

"At ease soldier. There are some people I want you to meet. Bob meet Julia, her grandmother Tallulah, which is also the name of the baby. Ladies this is Lieutenant Bob Wallis, our pilot today."

"Pleasure to meet you ladies, if you would step on board I don’t want any trouble like we had in Venezuela. Why I had to break the Commander out of an enemy hospital, where they were interrogating her," explained Bob.

"Yes well I don’t expect anyone is after us here Lieutenant, so let’s bring it down a notch," said Poppy. She was hoping Julia and her grandmother had a sense of humor.

"Would you like me to frisk them Commander?" asked Bob, taking a step closer to the three Johnson women.

"Not if you value your life little man," said Tallulah with conviction. The rest of the flight progressed without another word from Bob.

"Where was this taken?" asked Tallulah. She was standing in the opulent lobby of the Ritz in New Orleans looking at the picture hanging on one of the post. The old woman had never seen such a commotion in a hotel staff, than when their car had pulled into the covered drive. They treated them like they owned the hotel, thought Tallulah. Julia was standing next to her grandmother holding the baby as they waited for Poppy to finish her conversation with Elizabeth and for their luggage to make it up from the car.

"Somewhere in the hotel I would imagine granny. That is a view of Canal Street and a section of the river," answered Julia. The long legs and the rocker in the picture were almost identical to the one hanging on the island. The only thing that was different was the scenery the person looked out on. Julia laughed when she saw that the feet were bare even though this hotel was much grander in scale than the resort on Carly’s Sound.

"Canal Street is actually one of the widest streets in the world, second I believe only to the Champs Elysees in Paris. The building you are standing in was once one of the premiere stores in the downtown area. I think this was the house wares department we are standing in now. The floors that host guestrooms now were once office space, but I bet they didn’t fetch the rent they are getting now," teased Poppy. She turned slightly so that Elizabeth could join their group and meet Julia and her grandmother.

"It is a pleasure to meet the three of you. Welcome to our city, and to the Ritz. I hope you enjoy your stay, and I will see you all at dinner this evening," said Elizabeth. Her feelings were warring between jealousy and happiness. Would Poppy cut her out of her life now that she had found someone, was the question that weighed most heavily on the young attorney’s mind?

The group of porters arrived with their luggage and escorted them to the bank of elevators. Julia and Tallulah watched as Poppy shook hands with all of them and complimented them on a job well done. When the doors slid closed, Poppy removed a golden key from her pocket and inserted it into a slot on the control panel. The initials RPV were engraved into the brass plate above the key slot. The numbers above the door started climbing until they registered the same initials, instead of numbers.

The doors slid silently open to the top floor of the hotel. The suite that was located there took up a majority of the summit and had a homier feel to it than an average hotel room. Julia looked at Poppy with an arched eyebrow, to which the tall woman just shrugged her shoulders.

"The picture downstairs Tallulah was taken right over here," indicated Poppy as she slid the glass door open. The balcony did indeed capture a wonderful view of the street below all the way to the river.

"We have put away the luggage Ms. Valente. Will there be anything else?"

"No Eddie that’s it for today thank you," said Poppy. The three young men refused to take her tip as they boarded the elevator back down. It was the first time either of them had been in the private apartment everyone knew was there.

"I must say that was the best service I’ve ever gotten in any hotel I’ve been in," said Tallulah. She stepped back into the living room and sat on one of the chairs that overlooked the bar in the room.

"Maybe Poppy would like to tell us why we received such excellent service today Granny?" asked Julia. She waved her hand palm up toward Poppy and walked over to where Poppy was setting up the baby’s blanket on the floor.

"You never asked if I owned anything in the city sweetheart," said Poppy. She laid the blanket out and got out of Julia’s way.

"I thought when you said home, you meant you had a house here. The Ritz isn’t really what I had in mind," teased Julia. She walked up to the bar that Poppy was leaning on and put her arms around her waist. The baby was comfortable on a blanket on the floor playing with her feet, so Julia wanted to reconnect with Poppy.

"I do have a house here. Well I did. I just gave it to Elizabeth, so we are homeless at the moment. I just thought since her mother put so much into the decoration, Lizzy whould enjoy it. I want us to start fresh and find a space that we can share and be happy in."

"Wait a doggone minute, you own this place," said Tallulah. What had Julia gotten herself into? "How old are you?"

"I just turned thirty one, and own is relative," said Poppy. She answered the question without taking her eyes off Julia’s face.

"You don’t own the place?" persisted Tallulah, leaning forward in her chair.

"Valente Resorts Inc. owns the property Tallulah," said Poppy wiggling her eyebrows at Julia.

"And who is Valente Resorts?"

"You are looking at her granny. Poppy is in the hotel business," said Julia.

"Well at least we have a place to stay when we come to the city," said Tallulah. She had a twinkle in her green eyes, and Poppy could see the feisty nature of the woman come shining through.

"Ladies if you will excuse me for a little while, I have some business that I have to take care of downstairs. Just call down for Monique at the front desk if you need anything," said Poppy. She kissed Julia, then went and kissed her grandmother on the cheek. Her last stop was to get down on the floor and kiss the baby goodbye.

"Julia I think that we need to go shopping," said Tallulah. She had watched the spark that was growing by the minute between the two young women, and she could see that the tall charmer that had just stepped into the elevator truly cared for her granddaughter as well as her great granddaughter.

"For what granny?" asked Julia. The elevator doors had just closed and she missed Poppy already.

"A rod and reel."

"Excuse me granny what would I need that for?" asked Julia. She turned and faced her grandmother with a confused look on her face.

"To reel in that big fish that keeps making kissy faces in your direction girl. That woman is so gone on you it’s down right fun to watch."

"She has never said she loves me though. I can feel that she does, but a girl likes to hear it. You know what I mean granny?" asked Julia. "She told me it took her months to admit that to Carly. I just don’t know if I can wait that long, and I’m afraid of scaring her away if I tell her how much I’ve come to care about her. Is it wrong to want her to fall on one knee and pop the question? To have a little romance in my life," confessed Julia.

"I think that in the end you will get what you most want my love, but I can’t tell you how long that road will be," said Tallulah. She took her granddaughter into her arms and debated silently on whether she should have the same talk with Poppy.

All of the Johnson women took a nap for the rest of the afternoon. The three-bedroom apartment had been set up with the middle room as a nursery. The baby was sleeping in the most beautiful baby bed that the staff had set up, and the monitor next to the bed in the master suite let her hear if the baby was crying.

"Well she certainly thinks of everything," Julia said out loud into an empty room.

"Maybe she was a girl scout in a previous life," teased Poppy from the doorway. The deep voice interrupted the fantasies Julia was spinning in her head while Poppy was out. Now that the subject was back in the room, she could concentrate on making them come true. "How would you like to have dinner with me? I know a great place that is quiet, romantic and you can go just like you are now," asked Poppy.

Julia was wrapped in one of the big fluffy robes she had found in the bathroom, so she waited for the punch line. "I’m sure my grandmother would drag me back inside by an ear if I try to leave the hotel looking like this," said Julia. She drew her knees up and rested her chin on them giving her an innocent air.

"Your grandmother is out for the evening. There is a gentleman waiting at the casino for her with a couple of buckets of coins for her entertainment, after she finishes her dinner downstairs."

"She’s eating by herself?" asked Julia.

"No baby, I wouldn’t do that to her. Bob flew her friend Crystal in a little while ago. Last I saw of them they were sitting down to some big steaks and were talking a mile a minute. If you want I can arrange to have us meet them if you don’t want to have dinner with just me and the butterbean in the next room," said Poppy.

"I’m sorry, I just didn’t want her to be alone in a strange city. I would love to have dinner with you," said Julia. She kneeled on the bed and walked over to the edge of the bed and held her arms out in invitation. It was getting easier to lose herself in the sensual haze that Poppy seemed to put her in effortlessly.

"Was there another one of these in there for me?" asked Poppy. She pulled lightly on the robe tie that Julia had on.

"It’s your hotel, don’t you know?" teased Julia. There was still that niggling self-doubt in the back of her head that this would be old territory for Poppy. The places that they would eventually make love, would they be places that Carly and Poppy shared already? Let it go Julia, the woman is gone.

"It’s the first time I’ve stayed up here so no, I don’t know. I thought you might like the apartment while we are in the city until we find a house," said Poppy.

"Thank you sweetheart that means the world to me, and yes there is one of these great robes in there for you."

Poppy took a quick shower then donned the same outfit Julia had on. From the phone in the bathroom she called down to have dinner brought up. The time she had spent with Julia on the island had given her insight into the young woman’s likes and dislikes. One quick look in the foggy mirror showed that the bruises around her eyes were still dark and ugly, but hopefully the love in Julia’s heart would see past that tonight.

"You got me ribs and baked beans?" asked Julia. She looked under the domes the room service people had left and squealed in delight.

"No I got you a salad, the ribs are for me," teased Poppy. They ate their way through two racks of perfectly grilled ribs, and the best baked beans Julia had eaten since leaving her grandmother’s. As Julia was on her last rib, Poppy looked across at her and smiled.

"What do you want Julia? You asked me that back in Texas but I have never had the opportunity to return the favor," said Poppy. She leaned back in her chair with Tallulah. The baby had woken up when the meal had been brought up, and they had taken turns holding her while they ate.

"I don’t want or need much. I mean it’s great that you have all this stuff, but I just want you. That’s all, it doesn’t matter what we do, or where we do it, I just want you."

Poppy stood up and went and put Tallulah back in her bed. The little girl had fallen asleep again on her favorite pillow giving the couple some privacy. When she stepped back into the room, Poppy was surprised to see Julia crying. She kneeled next to the blonde’s chair and pulled her close.

"What’s the matter baby?" asked Poppy. She could feel Julia’s hot breath through the front of her robe as she held the blonde tightly against her.

"I said too much didn’t I? If this is too much for you just tell me, and I’ll try and back off? I don’t come without some baggage huh? I never thought about if you want to be a parent to a baby, or just be a part of her life," rambled Julia.

"Honey could you do me a favor and shut up for a minute," said Poppy. Poppy put her palm on Julia’s cheek and with her thumb dried some of the tears away. "I’ve been as clear as the Mississippi River when it comes to my feelings, haven’t I? I’m sorry about that."

Julia shook her head to protest but the finger pressed to her lips stopped her from doing so. "I went out this afternoon and got you something that might put things into perspective for you as to how I feel," said Poppy. She never stopped caressing Julia’s face. When she had gone downstairs earlier to meet with Lizzy and inspect the progress of the shopping area of the first two floors, Poppy passed one of the places that had actually been opened for business. One look at the window display had brought her life into focus.

She had lived well up to now. Her success was there for everyone to see in the bricks and mortar that she had laid over the years. There had been joy and overwhelming pain because of that joy, and now it was time to live and take chances again. All that her life had taught her up to now, had brought her to this place, with this woman. Poppy’s future laid in the green eyes of Julia, and those of her daughter Tallulah. There were still lessons to learn, and things to build, but now she didn’t have to face that alone.

"Julia I know that to commit to you means a bigger commitment than if I were to pick someone else, but what sets you apart is the fact you have Tallulah. The thought of helping you raise her to be whatever will make her happy doesn’t scare me. I love Tallulah, as much as I love you," said Poppy. At hearing the words, Julia’s tears started again.

"I love you too," said Julia.

"I know you do baby. Julia, would you do me the honor of sharing your life with me? Would you be willing to share Tallulah with me? If you say yes I will spend my life making you two happy, and working hard to make us a family," asked Poppy. Julia followed the path of Poppy’s hand as it dipped into the deep pocket of the robe. When it came out again there were two small boxes in her hand and Julia could feel her heart hammering in her chest.

"I saw this today and I thought it would be perfect for my yellow rose of Texas. Wear it as a sign of my love and commitment," said Poppy. When she popped the ring box open there was a beautiful round yellow diamond in a simple but elegant band. The other box was a duplicate of the stone, only smaller and on a small pendant for Tallulah. "I thought you two come as a package, so you should both get a diamond."

With the ring on her finger Julia slipped her hands into Poppy’s hair to pull her forward. She slipped her tongue into the open mouth and savored the taste of Poppy’s. It was their beginning, here in the clouds of a magic city. Breaking their kiss, Poppy stood up and pulled Julia up after her. Hand in hand they walked into the bedroom to experience more new beginnings.

Julia put her hands on the tie of Poppy’s robe and pulled. When the garment fell open she could see that the tall muscular body was unencumbered by clothes. It looked as good as it did that night she had watched Poppy walk into her bungalow after getting out of the outdoor shower. Poppy felt Julia just stop and stare.

"We can take our time Julia, we have all the time in the world."

"I’ve waited all my life for you Poppy. Make love to me."

Poppy pulled off Julia’s robe and let it drop to the floor. With a slow touch she ran her hands along the smooth creamy skin of Julia’s body, loving the goose bumps she raised as she went. When Poppy stepped back to look at her, Julia stood nervously under the scrutiny of her soon to be lover’s gaze. For Poppy, the sight of the full and heavy breast and the small patch of blonde hair flooded her passions. With a quick flick of her wrist, Poppy turned down the bed and pulled Julia to her. She wanted to feel the smaller woman against her with no barriers.

Julia couldn’t wait anymore so she settled herself on top of Poppy. She moaned when Poppy closed a big hand over her right breast and arched her back to push herself harder against the contact. When the hand let go, Julia was about to protest when she felt Poppy’s hand move between them until it settled between her legs.

It was Poppy’s turn to moan when her fingers encountered so much wetness that it had painted Julia’s thighs. When her middle finger slid across Julia’s clit, the blonde broke off from her mouth and pushed her upper body up and off Poppy’s chest. The move put Julia’s nipples right in front of Poppy’s face, and pushed the blonde’s center harder into Poppy’s hand.

"Don’t move your hand baby," demanded Julia. It was such a delicious sensation to let go with someone you loved, thought Julia as her body became more urgent in its movement. She practically screamed when Poppy moved her head up a little and sucked one of the hard nipples into a her hot mouth. That combined with the pressure of her hand, sent Julia over the edge.

Julia stopped moving all together and Poppy thought that she had done something wrong. After an intense moment Julia just slumped bonelessly into Poppy knocking them both to the mattress. The relaxed woman was about to make a comment about how perfect that had been, when they both heard the soft whimpering coming from the monitor on the nightstand.

"Don’t move baby, I’ll be right back," said Poppy. Rolling Julia off of her and onto the bed, Poppy got up and padded into Tallulah’s room. Julia expected them both to come back into the room, but after a few minutes Poppy hadn’t returned. She was about to get up to see if there was a problem when she heard Poppy’s voice coming out of the little plastic box on the nightstand.

"What seems to be the problem sweetpea? Wow, from that smell, I wouldn’t be too happy either," said Poppy. Julia smiled at the comment and waited to see if her assistance would be called on.

"Let’s see if we can find you some new pants Tallulah girl." Julia eavesdropped on the one sided conversation Poppy was conducting in the other room, and wondered if the big goofball remembered that the monitor was in there.

"Guess what princess? What you say? Well, we are officially engaged. Your mama accepted on your behalf but you’re stuck with me now pumpkin. I am going to enjoy a lifetime of spoiling you rotten," said Poppy. Picking the little girl up off the changing table, Poppy headed for the rocker by the window. Julia hugged her companion’s pillow in the other room when she heard the soft lullabye song that Poppy had sung for them the first day they had met her. Two sets of identical green eyes fluttered closed with the help of their own pied piper.

"Hey why didn’t you wake me?" asked Julia. The warmth pressed up against her back pulled her from a pleasant dream. It was nicer to indulge in the real thing.

"You looked so cute curled up around my pillow that I didn’t have the heart to wake you," said Poppy. She had been propped up on her hand watching her blonde bedmate sleep, and had laid the other on the Julia’s hip. Her fingers on the plastered hand hurt a little bit from stretching them to change Tallulah’s diaper, but Poppy’s relaxed back onto the bed when Julia started running her finger gently over her face.

"You’re so sweet to me and my baby girl, and you made me feel, so good I’d like to return the favor. But, before we do that I have a confession to make," said Julia. Poppy’s eyes opened and looked at the woman leaning over her. "When we first met and you took us out for the first time on the boat, I went to your house that night to make sure you had made it back all right. I knew that you were going to swim back to shore once you had anchored the Piper, and I was afraid something might eat you or that you’d get a cramp, so I walked over. When I got there you were getting out of the outdoor shower and walking naked into the house. Marta caught me staring, but even then I couldn’t look away from you. Poppy you woke something up in me that night without even touching me, and I have been dreaming of nothing else but touching you ever since. I guess that’s why it hurt so much when I saw Jillian on your porch that morning and I thought what she wanted me to." Poppy pulled Julia down so that she was lying on top of her.

"I guess this can only mean one thing," said Poppy. She kissed the top of the blonde head and pulled Julia closer.

"What?" asked Julia.

"We need more bushes around that damned shower." Julia struck quickly giving Poppy no chance to defend herself from the hard pinch to her bottom. With equal quickness Poppy rolled them over so that she was pinning Julia to the mattress, and with her one good hand she captured the two smaller ones of her tormentor.

"You’ve got me you big brute. What are you going to do with me?" asked Julia. She pulled her head up and bit down on Poppy’s neck before sucking it into her mouth.

"I think I’ll keep you."

"Oh honey, you ain’t getting rid of us now. I love you Poppy," said Julia. At the words Poppy let go of her hands and kissed her. Free, Julia let her hands wander over the broad back and down to the place she had only seen from a hundred feet, Poppy’s butt. She had to sit up a little to reach it, but the hard perfect cheeks were worth the uncomfortable position. Julia felt Poppy’s breathing start to quicken at the massage she was getting, so she moved her hands running her fingernails slowly up the broad back applying enough pressure that it left some light red marks.

The muscles in Poppy’s left arm and her chest were standing out in vivid relief from the exertion of holding most of her weight off Julia, but it was getting more difficult as the blonde kept changing the direction of her hands. It had been so long since Poppy had felt like this, Julia made her free. Poppy bent her head so that she could join their lips in a kiss. Julia opened her mouth and her legs to her. Poppy’s panting and the jerking of her hips were turning her on.

Opening her legs wider to accommodate the big body on her, Julia squeezed her hand between their bodies and opened herself up feeling the new flood between her legs. The evidence of Julia’s excitement mingled with Poppy’s equally drenched folds. With the same hand, Julia reached up and spread Poppy apart so that they could slide against one another. With the first deep moan from Poppy, Julia locked her legs around Poppy’s waist locking them for the ride.

"That’s it baby, let it go for me," said Julia. She could feel the raw power in Poppy’s body as she pumped harder and faster. They had both started to sweat which made their movements that much easier.

"Oh Julia, I’m coming baby," panted Poppy. She could feel Julia’s nails dragging up her back and it was driving her crazy.

"Come on love, we’ll do it together," encouraged Julia. When her hands moved down to Poppy’s butt again and squeezed, it was the final catalyst. Poppy pumped faster but Julia was there to meet her thrust for thrust until there was no turning back. With one final push, Poppy brought them both over the edge.

Poppy didn’t know how long she lay in Julia’s embrace or why there were tears streaming down her face. The hands that only moments ago were all over her were now rubbing her back slowly and holding her in place. Julia hadn’t even moved her legs from around her waist, making Poppy feel like the small woman was using her whole body to reassure her.

"I’m sorry baby, I must be crushing you," Poppy said with a small crack in her voice. She tried to roll off but only met with resistance when Julia tightened her hold.

"I like you just where you are love, don’t move. Are you ok?" asked Julia. She had felt the hot tears on her shoulder when Poppy came crashing down on her after they had made love. Julia just knew that her heart wouldn’t be able to take it if Poppy regretted they had moved their relationship forward like this. The blonde knew that Poppy loved her and found her attractive, but it was hard to fight the perfect image of a dead woman.

"I’m great as a matter of fact, just got a little intense there for a minute. It’s a little embarrassing really, but it’s been a long time for me baby. I don’t usually cry after sex as a rule, but this time I just felt so happy I went with it."

"Well I think that it’s great that you trust me enough already to do that. You don’t ever have to be embarrassed Poppy, for showing your emotions, especially if it’s because I’ve made you feel good about something. I want us to always be honest with each other even when you think I might not like what you have to say. We have a lifetime to look forward to so a few spats here and there will only make it interesting," said Julia. The tie of Poppy’s ponytail had come undone so she was running her fingers through the thick curly hair wondering what it would look like shorter. The pensive look on her face made Poppy look up to see if Julia was ok.

"How are you doing baby?" asked Poppy.

"Wonderful, I was just wondering how your hair would look if you cut it."

"It looks a lot curlier than it does now. The length tends to pull the curls down a bit, but when it’s short it’s downright springy. Why do you ask?" inquired Poppy. Poppy was enjoying the afterglow with Julia, but she was starting to get distracted by the smooth skin stretched out underneath her.

"I was just thinking how it would feel curled around my fingers if it was short. Have I told you that I love curly hair?" asked Julia. The mouth sucking on her neck made Julia lose her own interest in the conversation, and her mind wrapped instead around the hand that was burning a path up her body. Julia moved her legs to straddle Poppy’s sides as the brunette rolled them over again.

"I have my own confession to make to you beautiful," said Poppy. She could almost feel Julia’s moans, they were so deep.

"What…What is it?" asked Julia. Poppy’s hand was doing interesting things to her body that were impairing her ability to form coherent sentences.

"Ever since I got in this bed with you, I have been wondering what you might taste like. Is that part of you as sweet as the rest of you?" asked Poppy. Because of her broken wrist, and broken nose Julia opted for the only safe alternative to what Poppy had in mind. Taking two fingers, Julia ran them through her sex, thoroughly coating them, and then pressed them to Poppy’s mouth. When the warm tongue came out of Poppy’s mouth, Julia pushed Poppy’s good hand down between them. Knowing that Poppy was right handed, Julia placed the long fingers into position so that she would be doing all the work.

"God baby that’s so sexy," said Poppy. She watched as Julia reached her third orgasm of the night. When the walls around Poppy’s fingers clamped down, Julia stopped moving. Once she had reached the pinnacle of her excitement it was her turn to drop onto Poppy’s chest bonelessly. In the hall Tallulah stopped momentarily when she heard her granddaughter scream, but kept going when she registered what was going on. It was past time, the older woman decided, to have a talk with Poppy and her intentions toward Julia. There would be no free rides with her family, so she hoped Poppy was in for life or she wouldn’t look all that good when she hit the sidewalk outside. She only thinks she’s got bruises now, thought Tallulah as she headed into the bathroom in her room.

The next morning Poppy had almost made it to the elevator when the icy voice of Tallulah stopped her. Julia was still sleeping with the baby next to her in their room after Poppy had retrieved her for her four o’clock feeding. "Where do you think you are going?" asked Tallulah. She was sitting at the table next to the bar, having a cup of coffee room service had just brought up with a basket of croissants.

"I’m off to get a surprise for Julia, if you must know. Is there something you needed?" asked Poppy. A quick look at her watch told Poppy that she still had some time before she was due at the appointment she had just made.

"You sure you’re not sneaking off after what you did last night are you?" asked Tallulah. Poppy looked at the old rancher and wondered if she would consider working for her. With a stare like that she could come in handy at land negotiation deals.

"Well now Tallulah, I’m here to tell you that I consider Julia to be a lady. Because of that fact, I’m not going to discuss with you or anyone else what we may or may not have done last night."

"All I’m saying is that my granddaughter is not giving away any free milk, to you or anyone else. I was married for thirty years Poppy, I believe in commitment. All I’m asking is that you do the right thing by that beautiful girl." Tallulah stood up and crossed her arms waiting for Poppy to contradict her in any way.

"I was married for almost eleven years and the only reason you are sitting in my living room drinking coffee, is that she past away. The only way someone else’s grandmother will get to do the same thing is if the same fate befalls either Julia or me. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the fact that Jules has someone looking out for her and loves her enough to stand up to me, but I am interested in commitment too Tallulah," said Poppy. She put her hands out to her side and smiled at the old pit bull. "I’ve only known your girls for two months, but I love them. I promise you on all that I hold sacred that I will make them happy and keep them safe."

"I’ll hold you to that Poppy. On another subject, what’s going to happen to my boy Rayford?" asked Tallulah. Poppy could see where the twinkling green eyes all these blondes seemed to have had come from.

"That is another subject for another day, old girl. Don’t worry though, we’ll see how I feel after the surgery to fix my nose goes before I make any rash decisions. I have to go if I’m going to make my appointment this morning. If my two rays of sunshine wake up before I get back, tell them I won’t be long."

The elevator doors slid shut before Poppy saw the sleepy form in the first bedroom doorway. The smile on Julia’s face after hearing the conversation could have been interpreted as a ray of sunshine had the tall woman seen it. Tallulah was about to explain herself when the young woman she had taken care of since she was a baby came up and gave her a tight heartfelt hug. If she had had any lingering doubts after waking up alone, Julia had them answered and reassured after hearing the talk the two women had on her behalf.

True to her word, Poppy walked back in an hour later looking a little different. The baby was still sleeping and Julia was enjoying breakfast with her grandmother. When Poppy stopped in front of her by the table, Julia would have done a mountain climber proud when she scaled the tall body with quick and precise moves. When she reached the full lips, Julia claimed her prize. Tallulah looked on in amusement and wondered what looked different about the woman that had stolen Julia’s heart. There were no answers forthcoming out of either young woman as Poppy walked with Julia still wrapped around her to the bedroom and closed the door behind them.

"Well, maybe Crystal’s up and wants to go and do something with me," said Tallulah to an empty room. She shook her head at young love. Hell she wasn’t that old that she couldn’t remember the excitement of it. Whatever Poppy had done, Julia sure had acted like it beat the big rock she was sporting at breakfast that morning.

An hour later they were naked again and in need of a nap. Poppy had her hand propped up on a pillow, and Julia draped over the top of her. "In case I haven’t told you baby, your hair looks great," she told Poppy. Gone was the ponytail, and in its place the kind of hairstyle that made you want to run your fingers through it all day.

"If I’m going to get this kind of reaction, then hell, is there something else about me that you would like changed?" asked Poppy.

"Nope you are perfect now. I hope that I didn’t push you into cutting your hair if you really loved it, but something about short curly hair does something to me. Is there something about me that you would like for me to change?" asked Julia. The fingers of Poppy’s left hand where reeking havoc with her senses, and Julia was having trouble concentrating on their conversation.

"Well there is something, but it’s more like a favor than it is something I want you to change. Would you have dinner with my parents tonight so that they can meet you?" asked Poppy. The inevitable would have to happen sooner or later, and Poppy could only hope that Isabelle was in a good mood when she met the new woman in Poppy’s life.

"Of course I would baby. What should I wear?" The question was a stall tactic on Julia’s part. What if the older Valente couple didn’t like her?

"Great you can meet them in the restaurant down stairs at eight tonight."

"You’re not coming?" asked Julia. She pushed herself up a little so she could look into Poppy’s face.

"No, I thought I would give you the opportunity to get to know them without me," said Poppy. She almost laughed at the look on Julia’s face. Not having the heart to keep up her joke, Poppy kissed the tip of Julia’s nose and tried to wink up at her.

"That was mean Valente, just be prepared for my revenge."


"Where are you?" asked Julia through clenched teeth. Poppy had gone to her office after they had gotten up that morning to get some work out of the way. She had called around three to say that she was running late and would meet Julia in the restaurant before her parents arrived. Julia had now been sitting at Poppy’s private table in the bistro entertaining Poppy’s parents, and there was no sign of her tall lover. When the waiter showed up with a phone instead of her blue-eyed date, Julia just smiled and took the phone.

"I’m upstairs changing. Sorry I so late but I finally got that labor dispute settled so that we don’t have to go to Florida, and the time just got away from me. Where’s the princess?" asked Poppy as she stripped off clothes in the bedroom.

"She’s with granny for the afternoon, but they hadn’t gotten back when I came down here. I left her a note telling her that if she had plans with Crystal tonight, to just bring her down to us."

"Is Isabelle behaving herself?" asked Poppy.

"Nothing that having you down here wouldn’t cure. I miss you and I love you. Now get dressed and get that cute butt of yours down here."

"You know, my Poppy, what she need is a good person to settle her down and give me grand babies to spoil. My husband and I live a good life because of her, but all my friends they are talking all the time about their children’s children and I have no pictures of cute babies to show them," said Isabelle. There had been an instant chemistry between the two women when they sat down. Raphael looked on in amusement as the two women planned his daughter’s future. As he signaled the waitress for another drink he spotted the subject of the women’s conversation enter the eatery.

Poppy looked good to her father. He was glad to see the sullen defeated appearance was gone, and in its place was the confident young woman that had conquered her world. Like all the members of the Valente clan, Poppy had inherited the trademark looks that set them apart. Even Julia had commented on how similar Poppy was to her father.

"Papi, look what I found in the lobby," said Poppy as she walked to the table. Raphel got up and took the cooing baby out of Poppy’s arms so that his daughter could say hello to her mother. As he looked at the cute little girl in his arms, Poppy dropped a kiss on his cheek before moving around the table and giving her mother a big hug. Before she made introductions, Poppy gave Julia a soft kiss on the lips and handed her a beautifully wrapped gift.

"I believe my mother has been waiting for this moment from the day I was born, so why don’t you do the honors love," Poppy told Julia. Not being able to control herself, Julia ran her fingers through the freshly washed locks before taking the box out of Poppy’s hands. When she looked at Isabelle, the woman had tears in her eyes as she watched her husband play with the infant he was holding.

Julia had an idea of what was in the box from their early conversation about Poppy’s parents. She had waited to tell the couple about Tallulah until Poppy was there. Wanting grandchildren, and accepting one that was no blood relation to you was something else. "Mami, a little something for the next cocktail party you host," said Poppy as Julia handed her mother the box.

Inside was a framed picture of the three of them coming into Aruba’s port aboard the Piper. The harbormaster’s wife had taken the picture, in an unguarded moment, and had captured the beginnings of a family. Poppy’s head was thrown back in laughter as Julia leaned against her holding the baby.

"May I hold her?" asked Isabelle. For the rest of the evening Poppy and Julia talked with her father while her mother fussed with Tallulah. They returned to the room early so that Julia could feed the baby with her soon to be mother-in-law looking on. It filled her heart to know that at least Tallulah would have one set of dotting grandparents.

"Are you mad that I didn’t tell you about her sooner?" asked Julia. She was sitting in the rocker in the room breast feeding and talking with the woman who had once done the same with Poppy.

"No that was a sneaky Julia, but I forgive you if you let me spoil that little girl. I never a thought that Poppy would have a family that would include a baby. Carly, well let us say that I did not agree with that choice, but who am I, but just the mother. We grew to be friends, she and I, but it was a long road. I promised myself when she died, and I saw the suffering in my child’s heart, that I would accept Poppy’s choices for her life. Why not, she plays life as well as she plays music on that old guitar of hers. But now look at what she has found. Raphael and I welcome you to our family Julia. You, and your daughter, will never want for anything."

"We just want Poppy Mrs. Valente, and we promise to always take good care of her," said Julia. She reached out and took the older woman’s hand in her own and squeezed. She liked this woman that had helped shape Poppy into the person she was today.

"You’ve lost her now, baby. Once my mother gets her claws into her, Tallulah will have more stuff than we do," teased Poppy from the door. If she expected a snappy comeback from her mother, Isabelle surprised her by walking up to her and hugging her. Isabelle walked out to sit with her husband, leaving Julia and Poppy alone.

Poppy held Tallulah while Julia adjusted her clothes back into place. By the middle of the second song she sang softly, Tallulah was sleeping and Julia was dressed. They both stood by the baby bed and watched the baby sleep for a minute before rejoining Poppy’s parents.

"I never thought this kind of happiness could exist for me. When I was pregnant with her, I was always so sad because my parents were giving me such a hard time about the situation. I used to think that they should be happy because they would be grandparents, but that never happened. Instead I have to travel to another place then come back home to find the people that will give my daughter the kind of home she deserves. I love you Poppy, and I want to thank you for introducing me to your parents," said Julia. She felt the strong arms encircle her from behind and the rest of her bad thoughts just disappeared.

"Your welcome my love, but just remember she’s our daughter now. You have to learn to share." Poppy kissed the top of Julia’s head then walked her to the outer room. With promises made to see each other before the young couple left the city, Poppy’s parents left for the evening. As they were lying in the dark getting comfortable for the night Julia asked Poppy a question that had been on her mind.

"What was your wedding to Carly like?"

"It was a simple matter really. Carly had had the big wedding, with all those trappings before, so we did ours on the beach. It was a real casual affair with all of our friends and family that wanted to attend. It was on the same beach she died on." Poppy answered her as she twirled a piece of blonde hair in her fingers. Julia thought that conversations like this were important since Poppy wouldn’t forget her first wife ever. It was to her benefit to learn why Poppy had loved the woman. Relaxing into Poppy’s touch Julia continued their talk.

"Did you want a big wedding?"

"I remember the day I got married, and I remember the things we said to each other which made what type of ceremony it was unimportant."

"That didn’t answer my question baby," said Julia. She pinched Poppy in the thigh to encourage her to answer the question.

"Honey, let me ask you something. Do I look like the kind of person that puts a whole lot of thought into things like that? I’m more like a guy when it comes to stuff like weddings and clothes. I concentrate more on the outcome and how it will change my life. The secret to thinking like that, is to try and make more decisions that will affect you to the better than not. I think my mother was the most disappointed with the whole affair."

"What type of wedding do you want us to have?" asked Julia. The buttons on Poppy’s pajama bottoms had all of sudden become fascinating to Julia, Poppy noticed.

"That was a round about way into that conversation," said Poppy teasingly. "By way of Toledo I think." Julia stopped playing with the buttons and slapped Poppy’s leg over that comment.

"That is not why I asked you that, so don’t be mean. I know that before me there was Carly. I know that you loved her and have mourned for her all this time. I want what she had with you, and because I want that, I need to know what makes you happy. Is that wrong?" asked Julia. The voice in her head was screaming at her to be quiet and not rock the boat. Two months ago this woman she was in bed with, was crying over the death of the perfect woman, so reminding her of that fact might not be such a good idea.

"We will never have what Carly and I had honey," said Poppy. Before she could say anything else, Julia was up and out of the bed. The sight of the small woman standing next to the tall windows holding herself like she was cold was breaking Poppy’s heart. Moving slowly so that Julia wouldn’t bolt again, Poppy came up behind her and put her hands on her shoulders.

"Let me finish sweetheart. I don’t want with you, what I had with Carly," said Poppy. In trying to begin to explain, her first comment out of the box earned Poppy a sob from the shrinking body in front of her.

"Jules, look at me honey," tried Poppy. Julia turned but kept her head down. How had an evening that had started so wonderfully turn out so badly, thought Poppy?

"I met Carly when I was not even twenty, and over the course of eleven years she was my teacher. I didn’t resent her for it; I appreciated what she had to offer me. I loved Carly because of the woman she was and what she meant to me. Carly made me happier than I had ever been, and you’re right I will never forget her. There is a piece of my heart that will always belong to that time we shared, and to her, but then I met you." When Poppy said that Julia finally looked up at her. It was the look in Poppy’s eyes that made her start crying again. The look told her without words that she never had to compete for Poppy’s affections. Julia would be loved with the same intensity, if not more, as Carly had been before her. Poppy would see to that.

"You didn’t replace what I had lost honey, you brought me back to life. Without trying Julia, you made me fall in love with you. I know that you don’t want me because of the money or the lifestyle that comes with it. I know that you love me for just me, and that is what I see in you. Julia you are a wonderful person, a wonderful mother so it only stands to reason that you will be a wonderful wife. I know because you can’t hide that forever. If Carly had lived to meet you, she would have liked you. I think that you would have been friends," said Poppy. It was a relief when Julia moved in and grabbed hold of her.

"What would she have thought when I fell in love with you?" asked Julia.

"She would have had a bit of a problem with that I’m afraid, just like I will if you decide to fall in love with someone else. I’m not into short-term relationships when I find perfection, Julia. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, don’t ever doubt that. I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t serious. Now tell me what type of wedding you want?" asked Poppy. Julia looked out the window to the busy street below while she thought of her answer. She could hear Poppy’s heart beating under her ear and she felt comfortable answering the question.

"I want something more formal than standing on a beach, that is if you don’t mind. I know that is probably where you feel most comfortable, but I want Tallulah to look back on our day, and dream of her own fairytale wedding. But most of all I want you to think back on it and feel like you made the right choice. Am I making any sense what so ever?" asked Julia from her warm cocoon. She was guessing that the staff from downstairs would not be so quick to jump to attention if they could see Poppy now standing by the window holding her wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants with hearts all over them. Julia had seen them in the gift shop earlier in the day and couldn’t resist.

"How about, if I make you a deal sunshine. You pick out a dress, or whatever outfit you want to wear, and I’ll take care of the rest. If you trust me, I promise not to disappoint you. You have to give me at least three months to prepare though, but when I’m done, I promise memorable," suggested Poppy. She moved them back to the bed and laid them down. Susanna would be one busy person for the next few months.

"You don’t want any help?" asked Julia.

"Well I know what your favorite flowers are, I know what you like to eat and I’m sure your grandmother will fill me in on the rest," said Poppy.

The shadowy figure standing in the corner listening nodded her head in approval. Poppy had done admirably in Carly’s opinion, in putting to rest Julia’s fears. She and Poppy’s hearts were spiritually connected still, which meant that until Poppy moved on, Carly couldn’t either. She would be able to take the love they had shared with her into her next life, just as Poppy had said she would carry Carly in her heart for the time she had left. It wouldn’t diminish the love Poppy had for Julia, it only make it stronger and deeper because of her previous experiences.

Carly vanished from the room, knowing that she was no longer as needed as she had been in Poppy’s life. There were new lives waiting for the both of them, and it was time to start the journey.

Part 6

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