Redemption Song

by BlondeBard

Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA and Universal Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story contains fairly graphic violence. It also contains a consensual relationship between two women. If this is not legal where you are, or you are not of age, then read another story.

The characters contained in this story are mine, and mine alone. Do not copy or distribute this story without my consent. Characters within this story bearing resemblance to persons dead or alive are unintended.

I would also like to thank my beta readers Buxxer and Mercury for their support.

All comments can be sent to

Part 4

They continued their journey, heading towards Nashville. Toni drove for the first few hours while they talked.

"So," Toni inquired, "did you get along with all your brothers and sisters?"

"Well, I only have the one sister…that I was raised with, I mean, and we get along okay, I suppose. I don't guess we had what could be considered to be a normal sisterly relationship. She was into all that girly stuff and I think it pissed her off that I wouldn't let her experiment on me. You know, fussing with my hair, dressing me up, and putting make-up on me," she told Toni making a face.

Toni laughed as she tried to picture it. "I know what you mean. I had a lot more fun hanging out with the guys, playing basketball or whatever."

"I bet they loved having you on their team," Megan said, teasing Toni about her height.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to be in the 8th grade and towering over most of the boys? It sucked. The girls hated me and the guys were intimidated by me."

"Well, I can definitely see why the girls hated you," Megan said openly admiring Toni's classic good looks, "they were jealous."

"Give me a break. They hated me because they knew I would kick the crap out of them if they even looked at me wrong." Toni paused and looked at Megan. "What about you? Did you get along with the girls?"

"Some of them. Mostly the other brainy nerds. Sara, who I told you about…the shy one," she prompted.

"Oh yeah…married with 2.3 kids," Toni remembered.

"You make it sound horrible."

"If it's not, then why aren't you married and settled down?"

Megan looked at Toni as if she had sprouted two heads. "Um, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not the marrying type," she offered suddenly shy.

"Megan, lots of women settle down together and raise a family. Are you saying that you've never considered it?"

Megan was startled at first. She thought that maybe Toni had misunderstood her feelings. Then she realized that Toni understood perfectly and wasn't really sure how to respond. "I've…well…I've never found the right person," she told her. 'Until now," she thought. "What about you? Do you want to settle down and have children?"

"Not really, I mean children. I've never really considered that. But finding someone, yeah, that would be nice."

Megan couldn't stand not knowing any longer. "Toni," she started, a little unsure of how to ask, "have you ever…I mean…had a relationship…with a woman?" Finally it came out of her mouth. She waited anxiously for Toni to respond.

Toni hesitated before answering; knowing what Megan was fishing for. Megan was wondering why she was hesitating at taking their relationship further. She didn't want to mislead Megan and tried to put her answer as truthfully as possible. "I've never really had a relationship with anyone. I've had sex, if that's what you're asking, with both men and women. But never what you could call a relationship. I've never really cared about anyone…until now," she finished, looking at Megan.

Megan felt a lump form in her throat and swallowed trying to clear it. "You mean…that you've never been in love? With anyone?" she wondered. After all Toni had told her that she loved her, hadn't she? That wasn't just some elaborate dream she had had? Was it?

"Not until I met you," Toni stated simply as she reached out her hand and took Megan's giving it a gentle squeeze. "Have you? Ever been in love?"

"I thought so, once. But when I look back on it, it doesn't seem real. I was in college at the time. It was more intense than a crush, but the feelings were one-sided I guess. I figured then, that maybe I wasn't capable of maintaining a real relationship. It lasted less than a year. She left me for someone else, though I didn't find that out until several months later when someone admitted that they had been seeing each other when we broke up. It was so hard. My friends had become her friends as well, and after it was over, I had to practically pencil myself in to be with them when she wasn't. I suppose it was a lot like being divorced. I got the friends on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every alternate weekend. So I just kind of dropped the social thing and buried myself in my courses."

"I'm sorry," Toni told her looking away because her eyes had suddenly filled with tears.

"Why? It's not your fault. Besides, it was a long time ago."

"How do you know it wasn't real?"

Megan looked at Toni and smiled, "Because now I know what love really feels like."


They stopped for lunch outside of Nashville and decided to head towards Memphis on I-40. Megan took a turn at driving so neither would get too tired.

"Tell me about your family," Toni asked of Megan.

"What do you want to know?" Megan asked her, not sure what she wanted to hear about.

"Anything. Tell me about your brothers. Who are you closest to, that sort of thing." Toni simply wanted to hear Megan talk. Her childhood sounded so happy and full whereas her own had been so solitary.

"I guess I'm closest to Sean. He's younger than I am by 4 years. I guess mom took a break," she laughed. "Okay, Patrick, he's the oldest, he's 33, married to Susan, who I don't really like. They have two boys, Thomas who is 11 and Jeffrey who is 8. Patrick is a Broward County Sheriff's Officer. Colin is 31, married to Diana, who I adore; they have one little girl Shannon who is 6. Colin works for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Colleen is 29 and married to Steven, who also works for the Broward County Sheriff's Office and they have 3 kids, soon to be four as Colleen is about 2 months shy of motherhood once again. Mostly because she thinks it is her duty, and I think she is trying to beat Mom's record. They have two girls, Lucy who is 9, Maggie who is 6 and one boy Tyler, who is 3, and a boy on the way. I think they've decided to name him Austin, though I'm not sure why. Then there is me. And then Sean who is 23. He's a senior at the University of Florida. He's studying computer programming. And he's not the marrying type either, if you get my drift. That's one of the reasons we are so close. So obviously Mom took a couple of extra years off before having him. And then came Duncan who is 18.Yet another break for Mom. He graduated high school last year and is currently attending UF on a football scholarship. He is a starting tight end even though he is just a freshman. And finally Ewan. He's 16 and a junior in high school."

Megan stopped speaking and looked over at Toni. 'Just as I thought,' she laughed, 'she is completely stunned, but she asked.'

"God, is that all Megan? How do you keep them straight at the holidays?"

"It's not easy. We don't really buy presents for each other anymore, well, except for Duncan and Ewan. Mostly we just get lots of stuff for the kids. Of course, Mom and Dad always find something for all us kids. The adults do a secret Santa thing so we only have one present to buy besides what we get for all the nieces and nephews."

"I take it then, from what you said, that your brother Sean is gay?"

"Yeah, I think we both knew about each other before we knew about ourselves," she admitted to Toni.

"What about your parents?"

"I'm pretty sure they're not gay," Megan quipped trying to be funny and hoping to get off the subject.

"Oh, then they don't know about you? Or Sean?" Toni asked, ignoring Megan's attempt at drawing her away from the topic.

"No, I don't think so. But I think they suspect since Sean keeps finding these hunky football players to be his roommates."

"Have you ever wanted to tell them…about yourself, I mean?"

"Sure. Lots of times. But I just can't. Whenever they want to know if I'm seeing anyone, I make up stories about some lousy dates I've had, then I tell them how full my life is with my job and all, and I just don't have time. I wanted to tell them about Laura…"


"Ex…college…broken heart…"


"That was one of the things we fought about. I wanted to be honest with my family. Maybe she did do one good thing for me. She talked me out of telling them. Probably because she knew it wasn't going to last and there was no sense in alienating me from my family over her."

"Do you think telling them would shun you?"

"I don't know. I'm too scared to find out. So is Sean. They really are conservative in that way. I think my Mom would get over it, but I think my Dad would flake. I mean…they're not prejudiced, not really, but no one in my family ever dated a black person or someone of the same sex. So I don't know what their reaction would be. Trust me, Sean and I tried to lay the ground work, but something would always bring us off the subject, and it always felt like…you know…that's them…not us. It was always okay for others to be like that, but to bring it home…no, we weren't able to do it," Megan told her. This was something she had never really shared with anyone else, aside from her brother Sean who was in the same predicament. "What about you?" she asked Toni, "Did your parents know?"

"Yeah…well…my Mom did. She was the best. She told me there was nothing to be ashamed about. That I could feel love towards anyone I wished and that would be fine with her…then she died." Toni turned away, her eyes filling with angry tears. She choked them back as she continued. "But Pop, no way. He's the only reason I ever even went near a man…because I knew it would get back to him in our tight little family," she told Megan, the contempt dripping from her voice. "I loved him, and nothing I ever did, aside from working for the Ribisis ever pleased him. My writing, that was a stupid little hobby to him. It didn't matter to him that I had some talent at it, he was so sure I wouldn't be able to make a living doing that. I took business courses in college just to please him. He had this natural instinct for the stock market and made a lot a money playing with stocks…buying…selling…and they killed him for it," her tone was now angry, "they thought he was stealing from them because he could suddenly afford a nice house, an expensive car and all of life's luxuries that he had always wanted, and they killed him," her voice trailed off as she wiped the angry tears away.

"Is…Toni? Is that why you're doing this? I mean…testifying against the Ribisis?" Megan questioned. She had never seen Toni so hurt and angry. Mostly she kept her emotions in check. But the last couple of days had been a trying time for both. She knew that Toni had to have a personal reason to give up the only life that she had known and put herself in such jeopardy.

"Yeah. Partly. I knew when he was murdered three years ago that it didn't happen the way they told me. They said that the Baldaccis put a hit out on him because he ran a con on one of their own. When I caught the bastard that did it…Megan…I…I did terrible things…I don't know if I can tell you about them," she explained.

"It's okay," she assured Toni, although she wanted to know everything. Even the bad parts. She knew that Toni had killed people. She herself had killed, what? Three people in the last two weeks, four if she counted back in her five years as a Deputy Marshall. Of course, the people she had shot and killed were trying to kill her. What about Toni? Had she killed people for reasons other than self-defense? Probably. After all, she was a known mob hitman? Hit person? Christ. She killed because they told her to. Suddenly she wasn't sure if she did want to hear it.

Toni watched for Megan's reaction and saw the conflicting emotions race across her face as she concentrated on driving. As far as most people knew, family or not, Toni "The Blade" was actually, Tony, "The Blade", and she never had cause to let anyone know otherwise. Only a few within the family knew that "The Blade" was a woman.

Finally Megan spoke, "Tell me," she said, her voice still a little unsure.

"When they brought in Frankie DiBono, one of the Baldacci family, they told me that he was the trigger man in my father's hit. They wanted me to be there. He had already been beaten so badly that he could hardly speak. I convinced them to let me have a few minutes with him. They didn't care. He had nothing to say that would turn my head, so they saw no harm in leaving me alone with him. I knew there was something suspicious about my father's murder. You see, even though we didn't agree on most things, he was always honest with me. I watched him make a killing in the stock market and I thought nothing about it, beyond the fact that he wanted me to learn how to do it. So I took courses in college to learn. I assumed that the family knew where he was making extra money. So when I got Frankie alone, I questioned him. I mean…he knew he was going to die…so what difference did it make what he told me, right? But he told me that the Baldaccis were curious as to how Pop was making so much money working for the Ribisis as a bookmaker. So they had approached him. He told them that he made his money playing the stock market. They tried to buy him over, but he was loyal. He wouldn't be bought is what Frankie told me. That's when I knew that the Baldaccis didn't take him out. Then a bunch of the Ribisi goons came in. It was all a big game to them. They insisted that I kill him. I knew that if I didn't, I would be next. So when they handed me a switchblade knife, I did it. I took Frankie DiBono's life. Immediately I had this reputation inside and outside the family as being Tony "The Blade". At that point, all I really cared about was finding out the truth. It took me three years, but finally I found someone to talk. Dave Falcone. I got him drunk and went back to his place. He admitted in his drunken state that the Ribisis suspected my father of skimming off the top, and instead of asking him, like the Baldaccis did, they simply murdered him," she finished.

She left out several of the murders she committed at the order of Leo Ribisi and several she had committed in pursuit of the truth. She expressly left out the murder of her best friend Sal Mancuso, at her own hand. In fact, she had been the one leaking information to a FBI informant, and Sal had somehow been accused. They set her to the task of killing him. And she had been faced with a decision. Tell them that she was the leak, and they would both be killed. Or pretend otherwise and survive to tell the tale. Now she wasn't so sure it was the right decision. Sal was dead, at her hand, and now she had dragged Megan into the mess. She knew that if it came down to a choice between exposing the Ribisi family and sparing Megan's life, there would be no choice…the Ribisis would remain in power.

Megan was stunned at the revelation from Toni. She knew there was something Toni was holding back, but she didn't press. This was enough to chew on for now. She took into account that Toni had been searching for the truth for three years and stood in the middle of a hostile situation while doing so. 'That took guts,' Megan realized. 'More guts than I have. I simply need to tell my family something personal about myself that doesn't change who I am in the least bit, except that I can be completely honest with them, and I can't. Why? Because I'm terrified that they will turn me out? So what if I did, and that was their reaction? At least I wouldn't be on the run for my life. And I would still have Sean. He understands.'

"Toni…" she found her voice finally, "I can't even pretend to understand what you are going through…but I want you to know something. I'm here for you." This time she reached for Toni's hand and gave a reassuring squeeze.

"Thanks," Toni replied gently squeezing back, "That means a lot to me," she smiled sweetly at Megan.

They passed Memphis in time for dinner and found a little motel on the outskirts. They were both still uneasy and exhausted and fell asleep almost instantly in each other's arms.


They headed west on I-40 out of Memphis and a little over 2 and ½ hours later they were in Little Rock Arkansas. They decided to stop for an early lunch and found a place called Juanita's Mexican Café and Cantina. They ordered lunch and debated whether or not to have a margarita. Toni suggested that one wouldn't hurt and if they felt as though neither could drive afterwards, they would simply hang out for a while. Megan ordered an Iguana. It was a traditional margarita with Midori Melon liqueur in it. Toni opted for the traditional version. When the waitress brought their drinks, they began to realize their mistake; the margaritas were huge. They laughed at the absurdity of the situation.

"Tell me more about your family," Toni requested of Megan.

"Well…I guess we're just your average oversized brood. When Duncan was born, I guess I was 9 then, Dad realized that our little three-room house just wasn't going to do it for us. Plus he had been promoted to sergeant, so he moved us from Miami to Hollywood. It's a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale. Well more like a city unto it's own now. It's grown a lot since we moved there. Anyhow, this house was bigger; it had four bedrooms, but only two bathrooms, which was a bitch. The one bathroom was for our parents. The other we all had to share. But Colleen and I would use our parent's bathroom as much as we could. It was usually a lot cleaner."

"You said you don't like your oldest brother's wife, how come?" Toni asked.

"I'm not really sure. Patrick and I were never really close when we were kids, mainly because he is six years older than me and couldn't stand to have his little sister tag along after him. When he got a little older, he tolerated me better. But when he started dating Susan, I don't know. His other girlfriends were just so likeable and she wasn't. It was if she had this thing against sharing him with his own family. She never came over and just hung out like his other girlfriends. And I think he married her because he got her pregnant, it's a fairly close call. But Susan just strikes me as one of those rather two-faced types. She likes you just fine when you're doing something that pleases her. I used to baby-sit for them and she would be so nice to me, but now that we're older, I just have this feeling that she doesn't really like me, my brother, or being a mother in general. I feel so sorry for Tommy and Jeff, their boys, because she doesn't seem to show them any affection. That was one thing that was never lacking in my family. My mother is extremely affectionate. And Dad, well, he's not one of those, 'I can kiss my sons' types, but there were always plenty of hugs from him. He certainly was macho in his way, but my brothers got as much affection from him as Colleen and I did. And Pat hugs his boys a lot, the same way, but Susan…it's as if they're not even hers. When they come near her, she treats them as if they were someone else's ill-mannered children. And they're not. They are very well behaved. Whenever I see them, I shower them with hugs and kisses, and they love it," Megan told Toni. She halted as their lunch was placed in front of them and they began to dig in.

"This food is awesome," Toni remarked, "what is it I'm eating again?" she asked Megan.

"Pork tamales," Megan told her, "and they are delicious, aren't they?"

"MMmmm, yeah," was all Toni could manage between bites. Finally after stuffing themselves Toni delved further. "What about your other sister-in-law, Colin's wife? You said you liked her."

"Diana? She's great. She fit right in to our family the first time he introduced her. She calls my parents Mom and Dad. And she helps coordinate things for family holidays. Her parents are another story. They thought she was too young to get married…she was only 19 when she and Colin got hitched…so they refused to pay for the wedding. They even refused to attend. Colin and Diana saved up and paid for their own wedding. Then when they decided to have children, it took them nearly five years before Diana got pregnant. They have one daughter, Shannon, and she is the most precocious thing going. Probably because she is an only child. Of course, now that they are grandparents, her mother and father just adore Shannon and my brother."

"I still don't understand how you keep up with all these relations," Toni told her. She was fascinated by Megan's tales, but far from understanding what it was like to be a part of such an extended family. They sipped their margaritas, having finished their lunch.

"Trust me, it's not easy. Sometimes I'll be talking to Mom on the phone and she'll tell me some cute thing that one of my nieces or nephews did and I'll have to stop and take inventory…you know…figure out whose kid she's talking about, but I wouldn't trade it for the world."

"It sounds like you really enjoy your life," Toni remarked.

"Yeah, I do…don't you?" Megan asked her and the felt suddenly foolish for asking.

Toni hesitated before answering. "I did…I mean…I didn't have a bad childhood, in fact I loved it. But it hurt a lot when Mom died. She had a lot of trouble having me. She suffered two miscarriages before I was born, and one after. My earliest memory was of my mother reading to me. She told me that she would read to me when I was just a baby, and she kept doing it. When I started coming up with my own stories, she would sit for hours and listen to me tell them. She bought me my first journal. She liked my stories so much, she asked me to write them down for her. I wrote just for her. I felt as though…I mean…" Toni wasn't sure how to put just how special her mother's encouragement was for her. She knew that her mother was the most forthright and honest person she had ever known, and that she wouldn't just sit and laugh at her tales if she didn't find them funny. "My father…he loved me…I know he did…but I think he was disappointed because my mother never gave him a son. Most men want a son to carry on the family name. I suppose that's why I was named after him. My mother told me that it was the only way she had been able to honor him, since having children was not something she was able to do. We always went to Saturday night Mass together and she insisted that I attend Catholic school. When she died, I stopped. I made my father put me in public school and I've never laid foot inside church since. I stopped believing in God when he took her from me," she finished.

Megan was at a loss. She had no idea how to make Toni feel better. In fact she had no basis for comparison since she still had all of her family intact. And here Toni sat, no parents, no siblings, an outcast from the only other "family" she knew, and she had no idea what might take this pain away.

Megan reached across the table and took Toni's hand in hers. "I love you," she told her, having nothing else to offer.

Toni, fighting the tears in her eyes, squeezed Megan's offered hand, "Thank you…I…thank you," was the only thing she could think of to say. Her emotions were at war. She was still deeply angry at her mother's untimely death. Angry at her father's lack of faith in her. Angry that the Ribisis had molded her into one of their own. And angry that now that she was doing the right thing, for the first time that she could remember, that she felt guilty for enjoying the one relationship in her life that had come to mean anything to her. Megan was the first person she had ever met that didn't expect anything from her. And Megan was the first person she had met that she wanted to give everything to…her heart…her love…her devotion. She wanted to share everything with Megan, but was sure that if she told her all the things she had done, that Megan would be horrified and wouldn't want to come near her. It wasn't as if she didn't know the things she had done, the acts she had committed were wrong. And she had no justification for them. She had murdered several people simply because she had been ordered to. She had killed several in an act of pure self-preservation. And she had killed several out of pure misguided vengeance.

Megan simply held Toni's hand as she watched her for several minutes. Toni had her eyes closed, but Megan knew she was remembering the bad parts of her life. She only wanted to be there for her. So she waited until Toni calmed and opened her eyes.

"Sorry," Toni told her, "I…guess I went away there for a minute."

"It's okay. I'm still here…no matter what," Megan assured her. Toni smiled at Megan's easy assurance of her willingness to stand by her. It eased her to see the honesty reflected in Megan's eyes. And somehow it made her feel whole. A feeling she hadn't had since her mother had died.

"How do you know what to say to make me feel better?" Toni wondered aloud.

"Um…I don't…I want to know how to make you feel better, but I just say what makes me feel better…that I want to be with you…that I'm here for you…and I hope that it's what you need…me…that is."

"You are exactly what I need. Who I need. Just being with you is worth everything I've been through," Toni said. She paused as she considered her next words, but she couldn't stop from voicing them out loud. "Have you? I mean…I wonder sometimes…whether one thing leads inevitably to another," she hesitated again realizing that she wasn't saying this thing the way she wanted to. "Do you think that things happen whether we want them to or not, or whether every little choice we make determines the next event in our lives?"

Megan considered this for a moment before answering. "I think it's a little of everything. Luck…fate…destiny…kismet…conscious choices. I guess I don't believe that there is some higher power that has so little to do as to direct my life so minutely. I believe that there is some higher power…not necessarily God or a god, but that if there is, she has better things to do than to decide that if I wear my blue underwear today it will be the end of me. I think that we all have a certain control over our lives. If I had no control over my life, then I would probably have ended up a lawyer, married with 2.3 children. But I chose otherwise. I want other things, and I make conscious decisions to that end."

"I like your philosophy. But I was kind of hoping that something drew us to each other."

"It did. Your choices and mine. They put us in the right place at the right time."

"You think that if we had met each other years ago, that we wouldn't have recognized…this attraction?"

"Probably not. I mean…we would have been attracted to each other…well…I definitely would have been attracted to you…but I think that sometimes circumstances have to occur before we are in the right place."

"I see what you're saying," Toni acquiesced. They had finished their huge margaritas and had been just talking for a long time. "Um…maybe we should get going," Toni suggested. They paid their tab and left.


They took Highway 338 until they hit I-30 west towards Shreveport. Toni drove and after a little while, Megan dozed off. The signs directed Toni towards US 71 when she approached Texarkana, if they wanted to continue to Shreveport. Shortly before they entered Shreveport, Megan awoke, uncomfortable and embarrassed at having fallen asleep. Toni pulled them into the nearest hotel she saw which was a Holiday Inn. Before they entered, Megan armed herself with yet another credit card and ID. This one identified her as being Linda Willingham from Omaha Nebraska. She figured that her last credit card purchase had them heading towards Houston. This one was fresh and since they were just passing through, probably no one would take notice. Toni remained outside in the car, so the hotel clerk noted only one person checking into the room. They ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and then retired to their room.

They got ready for bed. Megan in her Harvard nightshirt and this time Toni wore a T-shirt instead of her sports bra. They climbed into the bed settling next to one another comfortably. Megan switched on the TV. The news showed that Hurricane Irene was heading towards the Florida Keys, but would probably not hit them directly. Still, it was causing lots of rain and a few tornadoes had touched down, this before the storm had even hit Cuba. It was possible that they were going to be bogged down in New Orleans because of the storm. They spoke of small things. Toni was still delighted with her lunch of pork tamales. It was another first for her, and Megan found Toni's discovery of something new and enjoyable to be as exciting for herself as it had been for Toni.

Megan turned to Toni and kissed her softly on the lips. She looked at Toni and waited for her reaction. Toni's reaction was to return the kiss. Megan was delighted and continued with light, playful kisses to Toni's lips and neck. Toni responded in kind, playing back. They continued trading kisses, exploring each other slowly. Neither of them going too far, although both wanted and needed more. After nearly an hour of playfulness they were both breathing raggedly. They both stopped by mutual consent, again, though neither of them really wanted to.

"Toni," Megan spoke breathlessly, "I don't want to stop…please."

"I…don't either, Megan…but…I…" she didn't know how to finish, how to tell Megan that if they went any farther it would ruin everything. This she definitely knew from experience. "If we keep…going," she tried, "it won't be the same anymore."

Megan drew away from Toni a little, so she could look into Toni's eyes. She composed herself and tried to understand what it was that Toni was so afraid of. It wasn't sex, Toni had told her so. And then it hit her. Intimacy. It suddenly became obvious to Megan that Toni, by her own admission had never loved anyone, and had only had sex with others. And for Toni, sex and love had nothing to do with the other.

"You're right, it won't be the same, it will be better. Don't you want to make love to me?" she asked.

"Yes," Toni breathed, "but…I…I…don't know how."

"Yes you do. But I want to wait too. Until it's special. But Toni," Megan continued placing another gentle kiss on Toni's lips, "you do know how to make love to me." Toni began to protest Megan's revelation, but Megan stopped her with her fingers to Toni's lips. "Toni, the only difference between having sex and making love to someone is the feelings you have for them. If you don't love someone, then it's just sex. If you love them…then it's magical, and you find yourself making love. And you and I, we will make love to one another. It will happen. Because I love you and you love me. And I will wait until you and I both feel comfortable. And it will be so natural that neither of us will know it's happening until it does," she revealed.

Toni was awed. She felt as though Megan was reading her mind. How could she know how precisely she was feeling, unless she felt it too? Then she realized that Megan did feel it too. Her heart melted at the thought. A wonderful feeling washed over her. She looked into Megan's bright green eyes and saw her own feelings reflected right back at her. "You're right Megan, it will be special, because I love you…beyond life…I love you…and I trust you…and when it's right…well…it overwhelms me to even imagine what it's going to be like when that moment comes."

"Toni…I already know that it is going to be the most special moment in my life."

"Damn, you're not expecting too much," Toni mused. They laughed, and the held each other. And it was already the most special moment either had ever experienced. They settled next to each other and contentedly fell asleep.


The next morning, Friday the 15th of October found them both in pleasant spirits. They both woke and snuggled for a long time, happy just to be with one another. They took turns in the shower and checked out of the hotel. They took I-49 south, which they hoped would take them towards New Orleans. Some three and half-hours into the trip the came to Opelousas and the signs pointed them to highway 190 towards Baton Rouge. They stopped outside of Baton Rouge at a truck stop for lunch.

Toni had been trying to reconcile what Megan had told her. Sex had, for her, always been a rather unfulfilling act. And Megan was telling her that sex, with the right person was not only fulfilling, but might even enhance the relationship they currently had. She had had 'good sex', but it carried no meaning for her beyond the event. But she knew that her relationship with Megan was already deeper and more meaningful than any she had ever had. She was worried that adding sex to this incredible relationship would diminish it somehow. But Megan had assured her that adding sex into the equation would enhance their connection, not take from it. She wanted to believe this, but her personal experiences had taught her otherwise. Sex was just that…sex. It held no meaning, it didn't make her happy, and it certainly had not made her want to be with someone for more than just one night. And she wanted to be with Megan every night…from now on.

Megan's thoughts had been running along the same line. She knew that for whatever reason, Toni viewed sex as an event totally other from the participants. She had made a first step in that direction. Now it was up to Toni. She knew that she shouldn't push for a physical relationship, especially if Toni wasn't ready for one. She didn't want to ruin things between them anymore than Toni did.

Megan was driving and Toni had one of her ever-present legal pads resting on her knees and was busily writing. 'I hope she'll let me read some more of her stories,' Megan thought. 'Maybe I should ask her. That's probably what she's waiting for dummy. She hasn't offered to let me read anymore, but maybe it's simply because I haven't asked.' She mentally chided herself for being so dense. Tonight she would ask Toni if she could read something else she had written and hopefully Toni would say yes. They had purchased a Fodor's guide to New Orleans when they passed through Baton Rouge and had decided to try and find a bed and breakfast to stay in, instead of a hotel. The sun was sinking low when they found an exit to New Orleans. They stopped at a gas station and purchased a street map and Megan asked the clerk if he knew of any good bed and breakfasts to stay in.

"As a matter of fact I do. My Aunt Gwen owns a bed and breakfast on Magazine Street. If ya wanna wait a minute, I'll call her and ask if they got any vacancies," the clerk whose name was Jack told them. Megan agreed happily. She hadn't considered the fact that there might not be any vacancies. Jack got his aunt on the phone after talking with her for a couple of minutes he explained that a couple of visitors needed a place to stay. He held his hand over the receiver, "She wants to know how long yer stayin' and how many beds you would need?"

Megan blushed as Toni answered. "At least a couple of weeks and only one bed," she replied getting no objections from Megan. Jack relayed the information to his aunt and then hung up the phone after a couple more minutes.

"She said to send you on over," he smiled at them, "she's making up the room now." Megan relaxed. Obviously Jack had no problem with the fact that they were 'together' and she hoped that this was a prevalent opinion in New Orleans. He took his wallet out and handed them a business card, which simply read Garden District Bed and Breakfast, Ben & Gwen Bradley Proprietors, 2418 Magazine Street. "Here let me see that," he indicated the street map they had just purchased. Megan handed it over and he spread it out and used his pen to mark the easiest route for them to take to get there.

"Thanks Jack," Megan told him shaking his hand, "we really appreciate your kindness."

He smiled a lopsided grin at them, "T'aint nothin'. You'll find most folks around here are pretty nice. But there are some places ya shouldn't go even in the daylight, but Aunt Gwen will give ya the rundown."

They followed Jack's course and found themselves outside of a large two-story house with a wrought iron gate and rail, which surrounded the upper balcony. The place had sort of a tilted look to it, but was extremely charming nonetheless. They parked along the curb and found themselves at a screen door, which looked into a living room. Toni rapped on the screen door. A middle-aged woman with graying blond hair appeared at the other end of the living room, drying her hands on a dishtowel.

"Come in…come in," she beckoned to them grinning widely. "You must be the gals Jack sent over?"

They entered they living room and Aunt Gwen greeted them. They used their fake names, as they planned on using them while they were here. Megan introduced herself as Linda Willingham and told her Toni's name was Sophia Martin. Aunt Gwen welcomed them to New Orleans and proceeded to show them their room. Beyond the living room was a large comfortable kitchen and at the other side was a door, which led through a rather narrow hallway, lined with what appeared to be closets. At the end of the hallway was another door, which aunt Gwen used a key to unlock. She opened it giving the women entrance into a spacious bedroom with a large king-sized bed and a small bathroom beyond, which held a claw footed tub. The room also had another door that Gwen explained led to the side yard. She told them that they would have to come in through the outer door if they arrived back after 11pm at which time they locked the front entrance. She held the key out and Toni took it from her with a smile.

"Thank you," she told Gwen, "for taking us in on such short notice."

"Well we're empty right now except for you two, but come the end of next week we fill up."

"Oh?" Megan inquired hoping Gwen would offer them more information.

"Aren't you two here for Halloween?"

"Um…no…not exactly," Megan stammered.

"We're here celebrating our anniversary," Toni offered.

"Well, why didn't you say so? Congratulations. How long has it been?"

Megan hesitated. She figured Toni would answer the question since she offered up this bit of trivia.

"One year," Toni told her, "on October 31st as a matter of fact. We met at a Halloween party," she told her hostess, pulling the date out of her head at random. "Does it usually get busy here around that time?" she inquired.

"Yeah it does. The only things that rival the tourists in size is Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival," Gwen told them. "And since you met on Halloween, I can't think of a more fun place for you to be to celebrate."

"I'll go get our bags," Toni told Megan leaving her alone with Aunt Gwen.

"Gwen," Megan began, "Jack told us that there were some places we shouldn't go, not even in the daytime. He said you would explain it to us."

"He's right. Even though most folks around these parts are friendly, we have more than our fair share of thieves and muggers, because of the tourist trade. But I've got plenty of brochures that will lead you to places where you will be safe and have fun. Have you gals had dinner?"

"Um…no, we haven't eaten since lunch. Can you recommend a good place for us to go?" Megan asked.

"Well, Ben and I would be happy if the two of ya had dinner with us tonight. I made plenty."

"You're so kind, but we don't want to impose."

"Nonsense, you won't be imposing. After all, I invited ya."

"Okay, we'd be honored, thank you so much," Megan told her as Toni came in with their bags.

"Dinner's at 7," she told Toni and Megan as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

"What was that all about?" Toni asked as she set their bags next to the large armoire.

"Gwen invited us to dinner with her and her husband. I didn't want to seem ungrateful, so I accepted."

"That was really generous of her," Toni responded rather touched by the friendliness that had greeted them since their arrival.

"Yeah, she's really sweet. And so are you," she told Toni as she drew Toni close and kissed her gently.


"Yeah, you. That story about it being our anniversary…"

"Oh, that, well I didn't know what else to say…"

"It made me feel really special," Megan admitted as she laid her head against Toni's chest and hugged her.

Toni held Megan against her, stroking her beautiful, straight, strawberry-blonde hair. "I'm kind of hoping that by next Halloween we will be sharing our one year anniversary," Toni said, revealing her innermost thoughts.

A lump formed in Megan's throat. She was again overwhelmed by Toni's sentiment. She felt her eyes water but held the tears back, knowing that it disturbed Toni. "Me too," was all she could manage without falling apart again. They held each other for a few minutes. Finally Megan pulled back and consulted her watch. It was 6:30 already. "Hey…" she said drawing Toni's cobalt blue eyes to her own, "we've only got a half-hour before dinner, maybe we should hang up our clothes to get some of the wrinkles out."

"Good point," Toni smiled, hoping they would stay here long enough for Halloween. They reluctantly broke their embrace and each grabbed their bag and started to take out their jumbled clothing. After hanging most of it up, Toni found Megan's high-top Converse in her bag and handed them over.

"Wow, where did these come from? I thought we had left them behind."

"I must have shoved them into my bag when I panicked," Toni told her, still a little embarrassed at her outburst.

"Cool, I'm glad they're not lost after all."

They finished unpacking and each took a turn getting cleaned up in the bathroom. 'Even the bathroom is charming,' Megan noted. The wooden floors and the claw foot tub, which was surrounded on an oval rail by a shower curtain, held an Old World mystique. Megan instantly decided that she was going to like this place very much. And this time, they would explore something new together.

Ben, it turned out, was just as charming as his wife. They told the women about the places they should not go, even during the daylight. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was one of them. Other places included the darker, less traveled streets of the French Quarter, especially after dark. Megan and Toni found out that they wouldn't have much need for their car, as the St. Charles streetcar would take them into the French Quarter for a dollar apiece, and that there was not much in the way of parking anyway. Gwen excused herself and returned with a handful of brochures. She pointed out that one of the better tours was a walking tour of the French Quarter, which left Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop at 8:30pm and ended sometime after midnight.

After dinner, Megan insisted on helping Gwen with the dishes, much to the older woman's chagrin. They chatted easily as Toni and Ben retired to the adjoining living room. They had decided before they joined their hosts for dinner, that they should have a cover story in case they were asked.

"So where are you two from?" Gwen inquired.

Remembering what they had agreed upon, Megan told her that they lived and worked in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

"What brought you to New Orleans?" she asked next. Megan found her charming, and didn't for once think that she was nosy, just curious.

"Well, we'd never been to New Orleans, and had contemplated coming during Mardi Gras, but we had heard that if you didn't make reservations at least a year in advance, that there was no possible way to be here then, so we opted to spend our first anniversary here."

"I hope I'm not being nosy, but I noticed that when Sophia told me why you two had come, that you seemed a little uneasy."

"Well…yeah. I mean…not too many people are receptive to the idea that two women would want to be together…so I usually don't say anything. I'm a bit more reticent than, um…Sophia when it comes to telling others about us."

"Well, I understand that. But you'll find that most people 'round these parts couldn't care less one way or t'other whether you're together or not. And I certainly don't mind. In fact, most of our best guests were same sex couples. If you two hadn't taken that room, it would have sat empty, seeing as how most of the tourists flock here in packs on Halloween."

"Thanks again for your hospitality," Megan offered.

"Think nothin' of it. You're the first guest I've ever had that insisted on doing the dinner dishes," she laughed. Megan joined her.

"Well, my mother brought me up right. Doing the dinner dishes for four sure beats doing the dinner dishes for nine."

"God child, how many siblings do you have?"

"Six and my parents, so this is just a drop in the bucket compared to what I'm used to."

They carried on their chatter while Toni and Ben relaxed in the living room. Ben had put the news on to see if Hurricane Irene was coming their way. The storm was about to hit the lower West Coast of Florida and had amazingly picked up speed as it passed over land. But at least it didn't appear to be a threat to New Orleans as other past hurricane's had.

"Don't envy them none," Ben commented.

"Me either," Toni told him, knowing that the bulk of Megan's family lived in that general area.

"Didn't y'all say that's where you're from?" he inquired.

"Yeah, I guess we left just in time to miss it," she told him, "hope the house is okay when we get back," she embellished.

"Didn't ya prepare your place before ya left?"

"Um…well…no…not really," Toni hesitated to make sure she had the information correct. "When Hurricane Floyd was coming at us, businesses closed, people boarded up and prepared for the worst. Then it didn't really effect us. We had a bit of rain and some winds, but other than that, nothing…so I guess we were expecting the same from this storm."

"Yeah, it's always that way. You think you're safe and damned if it doesn't hit ya."

When Gwen and Megan joined them from the kitchen, they watched the rest of the news, most of which was taken up by the damage caused thus far from Hurricane Irene. Both women were tired from the long car ride and soon begged off, thanking their hosts for their hospitality and the lovely dinner of seafood chowder that Gwen had prepared. They retired to their cozy room.

"I'm really liking it here," Megan told Toni as she donned her nightshirt.

"Yeah," Toni agreed, "they seem pretty open and comfortable."

"It's a nice change," Megan told her and then hesitated before speaking again. She watched Toni as she changed into a sleeveless T-shirt and underwear. She almost hated the way her body reacted at the sight without her conscious consent. "Toni?" Megan asked, "how did you know that Gwen would accept us admitting that we were…well…together?"

"Just a hunch. Mostly it had to do with Jack's reaction. If it didn't disturb him, I couldn't see any reason why his aunt and uncle would react any different. Besides, we needed a cover, right?"

"Right," Megan readily agreed. Getting to be herself with Toni while they were here was going to be exciting. They wouldn't have to hide their feelings, at least from Gwen and Ben. Megan giggled.

"What's so funny?" Toni asked looking at the bemused expression on Megan's face.

"Gwen and Ben…it's so cute, don't you think?" Megan asked continuing to giggle.

"Yeah. Actually I hadn't really thought about it until you brought it up," Toni replied, a light laugh following her as she climbed into the huge bed. Megan scooted herself over until she was next to Toni, and fitted herself against Toni's side. Toni reached over and turned off the light next to the bed. They snuggled together and exchanged tender kisses. They both knew their relationship would move forward and probably pretty soon. But for now they were comfortable with this gentle display of affection that neither of them could get enough of. Soon, both were happily asleep.


Morning greeted them. Gwen had told them before they retired, that breakfast would be at 8am. If they arose later, they would have only coffee and pastries; otherwise, she would make eggs and bacon. It was 7:30 when they awoke. Again they took turns in the bathroom. Toni was first; she took a shower, and was finished in less than ten minutes. Megan went next and was called out of her leisurely bath by Toni, admonishing her that they wouldn't get a proper breakfast if she didn't hurry.

They had a large breakfast that included a very dark coffee. Gwen was amused at the look on 'Linda's' face as she contemplated the dark coffee. Gwen told her that it was from the Café du Monde and had chicory in it, which gave it the dark, full-bodied flavor and look. Mollified, Megan added her usual two spoons of sugar and a dash of cream. She sipped the pungent brew and was shocked at its rich, delicious flavor. The table's other three occupants watched and then laughed at Megan's reaction.

"This is fantastic coffee," Megan informed them. As she looked around the table, she began to blush furiously, because they were all watching her.

"Well," Gwen told her, "when you visit the French Quarter, make sure to stop at the Café du Monde and have a café au lait. You won't get a better cup of coffee than that."

After breakfast, Megan insisted on helping to clean up again. Toni and Ben retired to the living room and chatted while waiting for the two of them to finish. They went back to their room armed with maps and suggestions from their hosts.

Megan wore a special belt pouch designed to hold her gun because the weather wasn't cool enough for her to wear her jacket, which concealed her shoulder holster. They traveled on foot up a couple of blocks; a route designed to take them past Anne Rice's house. When they approached the house that Gwen had described in detail they stood, like every other tourist and gawked. Sure enough, the wrought iron fence, which surrounded the house, appeared upon initial glance to have skulls as decorations. But upon closer inspection the "skulls" were actually fluer de lis. Rather ironic they both agreed.

"Do you suppose she is in there right now?" Megan pondered.

"Well, it is her home, so…probably."

"This is so cool, damn, I'm getting chills," Megan shivered as the sensation raced up her back.

They walked along, through the Garden District, each finding a house that they liked in particular. Megan preferred the houses that had wrought iron running along the second story, especially if it wrapped around the house. Toni preferred the ones with lots of old trees in the yard. They continued on to St. Charles Avenue where they waited by a streetcar sign. Within ten minutes the car appeared and they paid their toll and climbed aboard. As they rode, the streetcar operator pointed out sites that might be of interest for later exploration.

They exited the car at the edge of the French Quarter. Crossing the street they noted that the architecture had changed from urban modern, to something out of a typical period piece. They saw that most of the buildings had at least two stories and quite a few seemed to be houses or apartments set above the storefronts.

They wandered aimlessly through the French Quarter darting into shops and bars as the mood struck them. They found several shops dedicated to Voodoo charms and talismans. Toni could tell that it was all Megan could do, not to buy everything in sight. After wandering for hours, they decided to get lunch in a place called the Crescent City Brewery. As you sat at your table, you could see the huge vats that they used to brew their own beer. Megan ordered the full-bodied dark brew, which reminded her of Guinness. Toni drank the lighter pale ale. They ate their lunch and soaked up the atmosphere that surrounded them.

They continued to explore and came to Jackson Square. Here one could see lots of artists plying their wares. Everything from dancing to caricature drawings. They saw that there were horse drawn carriages, which would take them on a tour of the Quarter. As Megan questioned the driver as to the prices for a tour, Toni spotted a flower vendor. She quickly walked over and decided on a single white rose. When she returned to Megan's side, her eyebrows raised in question, Megan asked her if she would join her for a carriage ride. Toni happily agreed, hiding the rose nonchalantly behind her back.

They climbed into the carriage and the driver started off. He told them some of the history of New Orleans as the path led them around the French Quarter. Finally, Toni brought the rose out and presented it to Megan. "Here, this is for you," she said, suddenly realizing how awkward her gesture was.

"Thank you," Megan replied as she took the flower and sniffed its fragrance. She was touched at the sincerity of the gift. Again, she fought the overwhelming urge to burst into tears. She had no idea why she felt that way every time Toni expressed her feelings, but she liked the feeling, despite the onrush of tears. She snuggled against Toni's side and they rode in the carriage, hardly hearing a word their driver said. She held the rose to her nose so that every breath she took, she would smell it, the petals brushing like silk against her lips.

They spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area on their own. As the sun began to set, Megan pulled Toni into a tourist shop. She had insisted that she wanted a T-shirt as a momento. She found a very colorful, abstract, shirt depicting people enjoying themselves. The shirt had a logo, it said: Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler. She asked the shop clerk what the expression meant. He told her that it meant, "Let the Good Times Roll."

Toni, at Megan's urging, purchased a sweatshirt with the same logo. When they returned to the bed and breakfast, letting themselves in through the side door as not to disturb their hosts, Toni asked Megan for her scissors. Megan produced them and watched as Toni cut the sleeves off the sweatshirt she had purchased, throwing the unwanted sleeves in the garbage can. The act of mutilation on a newly purchased article of clothing made Megan wince, but she quickly got over it, envisioning Toni in the sleeveless garment.

They dressed for bed, climbing in and settling next to one another. Megan had found several books in their room, and had carefully placed her rose between a couple of the heavier ones so that it would be pressed. She wanted to save it as a remembrance of their first day in New Orleans. Although she was unaware, Toni had observed her action and was pleasantly delighted that Megan had wanted to keep the rose she had given her. They snuggled next to each other and traded light kisses.

"Hey, tomorrow, let's go on one of those nighttime walking tours," Megan suggested.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Toni agreed happily. It was quite obvious to both women that New Orleans had an amazing history that simply begged to be explored. They lay together, exhausted from their busy day and both were soon asleep. Their last thoughts were of how easy it felt to be in one another's arms.


The next morning they slept in missing breakfast. There was a pot of the fresh, strong coffee waiting as well as assorted pastries and beignets, the French version of a powdered donut. Toni poured them both a cup of coffee and selected a cheese danish. After considering her options, Megan decided to try a beignet.

"Mmmm, this is good," she proclaimed after several bites. Toni had tried to contain her laughter, but was no longer able to. "What?" Megan asked, "do I have powdered sugar on my nose? What?"

"How did I know you were going to pick that to eat for breakfast?" she managed controlling her outburst somewhat.

"What? This?" she asked holding up her beignet. "It's just a…" then she realized why Toni was laughing and she felt her cheeks turn red, "donut…okay…okay…don't say it," she warned as she left her seat and advanced menacingly towards Toni.

"Or what?" Toni inquired teasingly.

"Or this," Megan told her as she dropped into Toni's lap, stifling her laughter with a passionate kiss. They lingered for a few minutes savoring the playfulness.

"Remind me to tease you more often," Toni told her, somewhat breathless. She moved in for another kiss, a few moments later Megan sprang from her lap as if she had been bitten. Then she saw what had caused Megan's sudden embarrassment; Gwen had entered the kitchen.

"Now don't you gals be gettin' shy in front of me. I told you, it don't bother me none," she reminded them. Megan resumed her original seat, still blushing at having been caught in a rather intimate moment.

"She's adorable when she blushes, don't you think?" Toni asked Gwen, who then regarded Megan as if to make an assessment. This only caused Megan to blush harder.

"You sure do got yourself a cute one," Gwen agreed smiling at the two women.


They decided to spend the day exploring more of the French Quarter. They exited the St. Charles streetcar at Canal and Royal St. Crossing Canal street into the French Quarter proper was like stepping back into the 17th or 18th century. They walked along the French Quarter side of Canal St. to Decatur St. and then turned down Decatur St. towards Jackson Square and the nearby Café du Monde. They talked as they walked through the picturesque town.

"Tell me what you were like when you were a kid," Megan requested of Toni, taking Toni's hand as they went.

Toni shrugged, "Just your average kid, I suppose. I mean, nothing out of the ordinary, at least for me."

"Well…what did you do during the summer?" Megan tried pointing her towards something more specific.

"Hung out like everyone else in the neighborhood. Shot hoops, or hung out on the stoop listening to the housewives trade gossip. Sometimes we would take the subway into New York City or the Village, sneak into clubs…stuff like that."

"Oh," Megan said, trying to hide the disappointment at Toni's reluctance to share the details of her life. Toni stopped and as they were still holding hands, she pulled Megan to a stop with her. She looked at Megan and found her staring at her shoes. Gently she tipped Megan's face up towards hers.

"Hey," she said softly, "what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," Megan tried, but Toni wasn't buying it.

"Is it something I said?"


"But something is wrong. Tell me what it is," Toni begged leaning her forehead against Megan's. "Please," she added sweetly brushing her lips against the smaller woman's.

Something about this gentle-hearted entreaty kept Megan from being hurt at Toni's reticence. "It's more the things you don't say," Megan told her.

"What do you mean?" she inquired softly.

"I…don't know how to explain it," Megan told her.

"Could you try…for me…please."

Megan realized there was as much hurt in Toni's voice as she currently felt. So she tried to explain as best she could. "Whenever I ask you about yourself…well…you just kind of shrug and you don't really tell me anything."

"Oh…I see," Toni replied even though she wasn't really sure she understood. "I suppose…I mean, I just…I've never shared certain parts of myself with anyone other than my mother. And I've never been the talkative type…so…"

"But…you express yourself so beautifully when you write…I just…"

"Megan, when I write, I'm not writing about myself…I guess I'm just not comfortable talking about myself…"

"Is it me?"


"Is it just that you don't want to share that part of yourself with me?"

"Megan…" Toni was stunned, of course she wanted to share herself with Megan, "I want you to know everything…and I want to know everything about you…I've…this is new for me…" she stammered.

"Okay…I understand."

"Do you? Or are you just saying that?"

Megan looked at her shoes again, Toni interpreted that to be Megan's response and she was disappointed in herself. She had been practically grilling Megan about her life, her family and now that Megan wanted the same in return, she simply didn't know what to say. "I'll tell you what. Let's get over to that Café, and I'll tell you anything you want to know…in excruciating detail…okay?" she offered, placing yet another tender kiss on Megan's lips.

Megan's eyes lit up at the prospect of learning anything she wanted to know about the intriguing woman who had just kissed her lips and set her heart on fire. "You're on," she agreed cheerfully taking Toni by the hand and setting a brisk pace for the Café du Monde.

They quickly settled at a table outside so they could watch the other tourists. There weren't as many about on this brisk Sunday morning. They placed their orders for café au lait and beignets and were served within minutes.

"So," Megan began quickly, "tell me everything," she smiled at Toni, "start from the beginning and don't leave out a single detail."

Toni's jaw dropped open for a few seconds before she noted the teasing look on Megan's face. "Okay…I was born on February 14th, 1968…"

"Wait…you were born on Valentine's Day?" Megan asked excitedly.

"Hey, are you going to let me tell my story, or are you going to keep interrupting me?" Toni joked in response.

"I…just…sorry…go on," Megan told her, looking sheepish. After all, she did ask Toni to tell her everything and she let her get just one fact out of her mouth before she cut her off. She supposed if she wanted to hear she would have to just be patient and listen…not one of her stronger traits.

"Where was I before I was so rudely interrupted," Toni chided Megan, "oh yeah, that illustrious Valentine's Day in 1968. I was the apple of Mama and Papa's eye." Megan knew she was being teased, but she loved it. "Ah…those lovely halcyon days. I never cried, was toilet trained by the end of the day and was walking by early the next morning."

Megan found herself laughing despite the fact that Toni said this all with a poker face. Having fun, Toni continued.

"I had composed my tenth piano concerto by the age of 2…won the Nobel Prize for Science by the age of 4…and had published several successful novels under the pseudonyms Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Patricia Cornwell by the age of 7…" at this point, Megan was laughing so hard, Toni couldn't help but join in. She reached across the table and took Megan's hand in hers until their giggles subsided.

"Seriously…tell me what you want to know and I will be happy to tell you."

Megan thought about this and figured to start off with something easy. "Is your birthday really Valentine's Day?"

"Yeah…wasn't that in you file about me?"

"No, it just said how old you were."

"When is your birthday and exactly how old are you?" Toni asked Megan.

Megan blushed before answering. "I turned 28 on October 6th," she told Toni.

Toni hesitated for a minute before the realization hit her. "We…we were together on your birthday…and you didn't say anything?"

"Well…we weren't…you know…really involved…at that time…" she finished lamely.

Toni did the math. The day after Megan's birthday was the day they went to Mammoth Cave…the day they first kissed. Toni was a little hurt at the idea Megan didn't share this with her that day.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I…it didn't seem important at the time…and as the days passed…I just thought it would be kind of self-centered of me to bring it up…you know…like I was expecting you to do something…"

"Damn right I would have done something! Jesus Megan…" she stopped, suddenly realizing that Megan had been behaving no differently than she had. Just as she was reluctant to share things with Megan, it appeared Megan was just as hesitant. Toni knew she was tight-lipped because she thought no one really cared and it hit her then just how much Megan cared to want to know these details of her life. Mostly because it hurt to know that Megan had kept such a simple fact from her. Maybe Megan shared her outlook. Maybe she thought Toni wouldn't care and that's why she didn't mention it.

"Wow," Toni said out loud, "I suddenly have this strange insight into how you're feeling. I'm sorry. Ask me anything…really…and I'll answer it as truthfully as I can…okay?"

"Okay," Megan smiled, "and you can ask me anything and I'll do the same."

"Deal," Toni agreed raising Megan's captured hand to her mouth and bestowing a gentle kiss.

They sat with each other for several minutes, their hands clasped, already enjoying the warmth that this honesty would bring to both of them.

"Okay…" Megan ventured, "who was your first crush?"

"Hmmm…I guess I would have to say Bobby Robinson. He was two years older than I was. When I was twelve I first started to have those…you know…awkward adolescent feelings. He was absolutely gorgeous. His skin was the color of cocoa and flawless. He kept his hair really short and he had the most sensually thick lips. He was such a gentle soul and he gave me my first kiss."

Megan was a little thrown off balance to hear that Toni's first crush was a guy. Toni revealed that they lived a couple of blocks apart and would walk to and from school together and had been friends since they were 8 and 10 respectively. They had attended Catholic school together after she had told her father that she wouldn't go to Catholic school any longer, he pulled her out and she attended a public high school until she graduated.

"Did you keep in touch?" Megan asked.

"Yeah," Toni chuckled mirthlessly. "After my mother died I went a little crazy. Bobby had been pressured to join one of the gangs in the neighborhood. You almost had to belong to one and be against the other gang; otherwise you were tormented by both for being a coward. So he joined the Skulls, and when I hooked up with him again, so did I. About two weeks later, the Skulls and our rivals, the Piranhas got into a scuffle over territory…you know…that "you're on our turf now" sort of crap. It was just a bunch of kids with knives and broken bottles trying to out-asshole one another. By the time it was over and everyone had run at the sound of the sirens, I was sitting with Bobby's head in my lap…" she paused, overwhelmed for a moment, she squeezed Megan's hand for reassurance. "He had been stabbed 14 times. I tried to hold all the holes closed…" she paused again to clear the lump from her throat and brush the unwanted tears away. "The cops called an ambulance, but by the time they got there…he had bled to death. I got slashed with a broken bottle across my forearm…see," she indicated a mostly faded scar, "it took 12 stitches. Pop had to pick me up from the hospital because I was a minor and God as my witness, I've never seen him so scared or so pissed off. I thought he was going to beat the living daylights out of me, but he knew that Bobby had been my friend. So instead, he dragged me up the stairs to his room and forced me to stand in front of the full-length mirror. I was covered head to toe in blood. He just raged. "The next time Antonia…the next time…it will be your blood and not someone else's. Don't let me ever catch you with that bunch again, or God help me…I'll make sure they are all dead if it means keeping you alive."

Toni stopped her narration. Megan was shocked at the violence. Not that she hadn't experienced similar incidents…one group deciding to punch it out with another; she had never experienced this type of loss, especially of such a young friend.

"I'm sorry," Megan said softly. "It must have hurt a lot to lose such a good friend right after losing you mom."

"It did and it didn't help. It made me see that joining that mindless gang was wrong, but it just made the pain…the separation…even worse. Not only did God take my mother from me, but he took my only friend."

"Toni…I'm sorry that I asked you to tell me these things. I thought that maybe I would get to know you better…I didn't mean for it to hurt you and to bring up bad memories."

"Hey…it's okay. I told you that I would answer your questions as truthfully as I could. How were you supposed to know it wasn't one of my more treasured memories? I went to his funeral. My Pop insisted on coming as well, so that the gang crap didn't interfere. I spoke to his mother afterwards. One of the reasons Bobby and I were so close…his dream in life…was to be a poet. He wrote such beautiful poetry. He and I would share stories and poems. I told his mother that he had several journals filled with his poems hidden in his closet in an old gym bag. A couple of weeks later, Pop moved us from Brooklyn to Long Island. He had been saving his money and had wanted to surprise Ma with the kind of house he thought she deserved, but he waited too long. Her illness took her only a couple of months after she was diagnosed. But after the incident with Bobby, he knew that we needed to leave. We had lived there about 3 months when a knock came on the door. I opened it and found Bobby's mother and his two younger brothers. She told me that she had finally found the strength to clean out Bobby's room. She had found the gym bag and his journals, which were filled from back to front with poems. She gave me one of them and insisted I keep it. She hugged me and thanked me for giving Bobby back to her. When I opened the journal," Toni choked up, trying to relate the events, "it was dedicated to me," she couldn't help herself at this point. Tears were running aimlessly down her face. She squeezed Megan's hand again, just so she could feel her presence. She had never related this event to anyone in her life before this moment. Not even her father.

Megan's eyes were overflowing as well. She hated herself for bringing up such a hurtful memory, and at the same time, she was intrigued by Toni's obvious display of emotion. She knew that Toni had a darkness within her that she was reluctant to share, and now she knew why. She realized that Toni had a hard time bonding with others because they had been taken away in such alarming manners. Toni composed herself and apologized.

"You have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who should be sorry…making you relive those awful times."

"You're wrong Megan," Toni said with a tear-filled smile. "They weren't all bad. Some of them were the happiest days of my life. Spending time with Bobby, talking. Listening to my Ma play the piano. Telling them stories and having them listen and enjoy. There are some fantastic memories tangled up with the bad ones. Sometimes I lose sight of that. So, I'm sorry. I could have told you only the good memories, instead I burdened you with the sad ones."

"I'm glad you told me. I mean…I'm glad you shared with me," Megan smiled hopefully. Toni took another moment to collect herself. Just then the waitress came by to see if they wanted more coffee, they glanced at each other and both nodded yes. Toni, wanting to get off the rather painful subject turned the tables on Megan.

"Tell me about your first crush."

"Well…when I look back on it I can see who was my first crush, but I didn't know it at the time. My best friend in the fourth grade was Lisa. When she and I met, we clicked immediately. We had the same sense of humor and we spent a lot of our time together despite the fact that we lived quite a distance away from each other. We were inseparable. When summer came we would take turns riding our bikes to each other's house. We slept over and all that kind of thing. When fifth grade started, I was perplexed as to why Lisa wasn't in my homeroom class. Then I realized she wasn't even attending my school. It happened so fast and I was heart-broken. I had lots of other friends, but none as close as Lisa. I spent an entire year and the summer following engaging in the game…Starlight…Starbright. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"No, not really," Toni admitted.

"It was an old superstition, that if you went outside when the stars were first coming out, you would wish on the first star you saw. You had to say a little poem and then make your wish." Megan closed her eyes remembering the feeling. "Starlight, Starbright, first star I see tonight…wish I may…wish I might…have this wish…I wish tonight. Then I would wish for Lisa to come back."

"Well? Did she?"

Megan smiled happily at the memory. "Yeah…she did. It seems her mother; her parents were divorced, got a job in Key Largo that year. She spent her fifth grade year at Key Largo Elementary School. But the same sort of offer brought her mother back. And we spent our sixth grade year together. It was after my sixth grade year that my parents moved us to Hollywood. We continued to do the sleepover thing when we could, eventually we lost touch. But she was my first crush," Megan finished.

"So you didn't know then that you liked girls?"

"Not really. I thought I was just desperately missing my best friend. It wasn't until years later, that I made the connection."

"That's a really nice story. Thank you. I'm glad you shared it with me." Toni leaned across the little table and kissed Megan. Megan blushed and Toni giggled. She felt as though she were a teenager. Kisses making her giggle, how absurd. But nonetheless, that's how she felt. At this point, both of them felt rather drained. They decided that they needed something more substantial than caffeine and sugar to keep them going and consulted their guidebook for a nearby place to eat.

It turned out that most of the grander restaurants were closed on Sunday, so they wandered down towards Bourbon Street and found a little Mom and Pop establishment that was open. They each had a generous portion of red beans and rice and were happily stuffed when they left. Since it was only 2pm, they decided to return to the bed and breakfast and rest until evening. They had already purchased their tickets for the Vampire and Ghost Hunt, which left Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop at 8pm. They figured to return at about six which would give them ample time to have a drink and then go with the tour.

Continued in Part 5.

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