The Heart of the Matter


Author's Notes:See Part One

Part Three

Chapter 11

The days seem to pass uneventfully for Lauren. Work was progressing on her thesis, the job was no more stressful than usual and her friendship with Crystal was growing. Lauren continued to call their relationship a friendship, but all indications were that the feelings of trust, comfort and closeness were present on both sides.

Crystal was also having a run of good luck. Davey was stable on his medications and there had been no recurrence of the problem leading up to his angioplasty. Work was going well and her yearly performance evaluation was glowing enough to have netted her a very welcome five percent raise. Spending time with Lauren was becoming as necessary as it was enjoyable. The nights Lauren worked her twelve-hour shifts, and then slept during the day, just seemed longer to Crystal. It was a rare day though that went by when they didn't talk, e-mail or see each other.

Lauren was lying on her couch contemplating calling Crystal when the phone rang. The nurse had finished three nights in a row and was now looking forward to having the entire weekend off. She had no specific plans yet, but hoped whatever she did, she would be doing it with Crystal and Davey.


"How was the last shift?" Crystal asked. They had moved beyond the point where preliminaries were required. Lauren smiled just hearing the other woman's voice.

"It was just the usual fresh hell, nothing really too bad. What's up?"

"Well, I happen to know a fabulous friend of mine has the next few days off and I am calling with an irresistible offer for her," Crystal stated.

"I don't know why, but I have the feeling this offer is going to be anything but irresistible. Call it my naturally suspicious nature," Lauren said in a wary tone.

"Oh, I'm wounded by that, I really am. Would I let you do anything horrible?"

Lauren rolled her eyes. "Just spit it out, Crystal. You can save the snow job."

"I need your body."

Lauren sat bolt upright on the couch, nearly choking in surprise. "Okay, I suppose you're going to explain that in short words and terms I can understand. It sounded like you said you wanted my body."

"Nope, I needit. Wow, has it been that long since you've heard those words? It sounded like you were going to swallow your tongue there. Don't worry; I just need you to go with me to chaperon a school party for Davey. Saturday afternoon at two o'clock for about 3 hours. We need one adult for each six kids and I know kids are your area of expertise."

"Flattery will get you nowhere, but I might do it anyway, just because I have a soft spot for Davey, mind you. So, where are we going? The zoo, the museum…?" Lauren ventured.

"Roller skating," Crystal supplied.

"Roller skating?" Lauren asked. "You mean put wheeled boots on your feet and go around a rink in circles, roller skating?"

"That would be the one. C'mon, it'll be fun. Davey and I go roller skating every once in a while and we always have a good time."

"I have a question for you, Crystal. What about me have you learned that would lead you to believe I would strap unstable wheels of death to my feet and risk life and limb to have the pleasure of the company of a pack of six year olds? Does it say 'sucker' on my forehead?" Lauren inquired.

"No, it says 'best friend' there," Crystal replied. With that statement, Lauren knew she was sunk.

"Fine, if you put it that way, I'm in. Let my demise, or at least my total humiliation, be on your conscience."

"It'll be tough, but somehow I'll find the will to go on. Come by tomorrow at about one and we'll go together, okay?"

Lauren agreed and they hung up.

Now what have I gotten myself into?the nurse thought.


"Can I tell you how bad an idea this is?" Lauren asked the woman who was tightly lacing the skates on her feet. Crystal looked up at her in amusement.

"Will you give it a rest? You've been predicting gloom and doom for yourself since you got to my house. May I point out the kids?" Crystal jerked her head in the area of the rink where several children, including Davey, were making their way effortlessly around in a large circle.

"It's a scientific fact that children are closer to the ground than adults and therefore have a lower center of gravity, making activities like roller skating much easier for them," Lauren said in an officioustone.

Crystal laughed at her friend. "Where did you learn that…The Journal of American Nonsense? Let's go, oh intrepid one." Crystal stood and let Lauren make her way to her feet. The brunette wobbled from the bench she had been sitting on to the rail circling the rink.

"Why can'tI just watch them from the bench?" she asked as Crystal skated up to her.

"You could, but where's the fun in that for me?" She snickered and motioned for Lauren to follow her. "Besides, I am an expert skating teacher. You're going to be my star pupil."

"Sure I am," the nurse mumbled, but followed along anyway. With stiff legs and jerky, short movements Lauren entered the rink. Her uncertainty increased as several small children seemingly raced around her at breakneck speed. The nurse looked behind her to see if she could make it back to the entrance to the rink safely, but an oncoming group of skaters made that impossible. Once around and I'm out of here.

She shuffled forward awkwardly, her mind set on surviving the circuit and getting out of the circling mass of people.I'll never make it, she thought. I'm going to get knocked on my ass and be run over by these rolling dervishes. At that moment a warm arm wrapped around her waist from the left and a hand was placed on her right arm. The calming effect of the touch was accompanied by an even more calming voice.

"Hey, relax, okay? I'm right here and I'm not going to let anything happen to you, but you need to work with me. Let's just stop a second and go over a few things." Lauren was willing to do anything as long as Crystal kept her arm around her. "Let me just look a minute, alright?" Crystal did a quick survey of the children. "Everyone present and accounted for. Now, let's deal with you."

Lauren had closed her eyes, enjoying the steadying presence of the blonde, but she opened them now and glanced down at the hand still on her arm. She looked over and into the calm green eyes of her friend. It was enough to bring the situation back into perspective and she smiled for the first time since they arrived at the rink.

"First, calm down," Crystal instructed. "Loosen up a bit. Let your arms swing naturally and bend your knees a little." Lauren tried to do as she was told and felt better once her body wasn't as taut.

"Good," the blonde said, feeling Lauren relax. "Now, let's try to move a little. I'm going to be right with you the whole way. Push off with your left leg and move your right leg forward at the same time." Lauren had her doubts about the process, but did as instructed. She felt the movement and quickly looked over at Crystal.

"That's right, just like that," the blonde praised. "Now the other side. Keep going." Lauren moved much more smoothly than she had before and her pleasure at not feeling so vulnerable to a fall was followed by the dismay of having Crystal remove her arm from around her back. The dismay was short lived though as the blonde moved away just enough to slip her hand in the nurse's.

"I'll hang on as long as you need me, okay?" she offered. Lauren wondered if that included forever. The pair began skating slowly but surely and had completed one trip around the rink before she had even realized it.

"You're getting the hang of it," Crystal said as they headed for a second circling. "Try and time your skating to the music." It was only at that point that Lauren even realized there was, and had been, music playing. She listened as they kept moving hand in hand. Madonna was singing "Crazy for You" and Lauren found it easy to keep time to the ballad. She was skating much more smoothly, but Crystal hadn't suggested they go solo yet. Lauren wasn't about to suggest it.

Crystal, like all moms, had a million things on her mind at once, but the one thing that kept popping up to the forefront was how nice it was to have Lauren's hand in hers. She wasn't sure how long she could get away with hanging onto the nurse now that the skating was going more smoothly. She can skate forward, but how about backward?

Crystal moved ahead of her friend and spun around to face her. "Now you need to learn to go backward. I want you to watch what I do." She glanced behind her to make sure the path was clear and then reached out for both of Lauren's hands. Guiding her friend, she showed her how to move her feet and legs to generate the backward movement.

Lauren stared at the gentle undulations Crystal was doing to skate backward and her mouth went dry at the sight. Her grip on Crystal's hands tightened. Crystal responded to the increased pressure by looking directly into Lauren's intense blue eyes. She slowed her backward movement enough so that Lauren's forward movement closed the small gap between them. Continuing to move fractionally backward, Crystal brought their joined hands to her sides and came almost flush up against Lauren.

"Mrs. O'Brien," a young girl said directly behind Crystal. Still moving, the blonde was unable to stop completely and fell over the small child. Her grip loosened on Lauren's hands andshe waved her arms in a failing attempt to maintain her balance. She hit the floor of the rink, first with her backside and then with the back of her head. The second contact produced a dull thud and a brief cry of pain.

"Crystal!" Lauren called as she moved to her friend's side. The little girl who had made an effective roadblock was unharmed, but Crystal didn't respond to the nurse's words. Lauren dropped to her knees and cradled Crystal's head. She felt a wet warmth on her hand as she checked her friend's wound. A small amount of blood and a large knot was present on the back of the blonde's head. Almost immediately, Crystal's eyes fluttered open.

"Oooh, was that the westbound or eastbound train?" she asked when she realized it was Lauren holding her. Davey skated up to them then. He saw the blood and his lower lip began to tremble.

"She's fine, Davey," Lauren said in her most calming voice though she felt anything but that on the inside. "She's just got a bump on her head. I'm going to make sure she's okay." The little boy looked at the nurse as if trying to read the truth in her eyes. He nodded. A crowd of parents, teachers and students was forming around them.

Lauren took charge. She got their skates off and assisted Crystal to her feet slowly after the blonde insisted she was fine. Making arrangements for the monitoring of the children at the party, Lauren drove Crystal and Davey to the hospital's Emergency Room despite the blonde's protests.

"I tell you there's nothing wrong with me," Crystal continued as Lauren ushered her inside, one arm wrapped around Crystal's waist and one hand in Davey's.

"And I'll believe that and be totally relieved when the doctor agrees with you." Lauren was not taking no to an exam for an answer.


"You've got a concussion with a very tiny bleed in the back of your brain," Dr. Patel, the Emergency Medicine resident, told Crystal. Lauren and Davey were sitting in the cubicle with her,listening to the test results. "The blood in your brain will reabsorb, but as with any case of loss of consciousness, however short, we would like to keep you in the hospital overnight for observation." Dr. Patel made some notes on Crystal's chart. She had placed three small sutures in the back of Crystal's head to close the tiny gash there and had supervised the neurological work-up.

"I appreciate your offer, Doctor, but I can't stay. I have a son and he needs me at home." Crystal turned and winked at Davey.

"I'd be happy to call your husband, Ms. O'Brien, if that would help. Most cases like yours resolve uneventfully, but do you really want to take the chance on being in that tiny percentage of people who have complications from a relatively minor head injury?"

Lauren knew her friend well enough by this time to see she wouldn't be talked into staying if she didn't want to. She tried to find a solution that would work for them all. "I could keep Davey with me, Crystal. I think we could get along fine for one day."

Crystal was uncertain and Lauren knew she had to try another track. "Dr. Patel, what would be involved in Crystal's observation in the hospital?"

"No pain medication except Tylenol, no sleeping medications, hourly neurological checks and Glasgow Coma Scale assessments. She would need someone in constant attendance who would have the ability to pick up neurological changes and notify an attending doctor immediately."

"I can do that; I'm qualified," Lauren stated. "I'm an RN here in the PICU. If I stayed with Crystal until tomorrow and did all those things you just outlined, would that be okay with you?"

Dr. Patel considered the offer. "Being in the hospital would be my preference, but if that is not an option…" She looked at Crystal who shook her head slowly. "Then I suppose it's the next best option. I'll get the paperwork finished and you can go. The nurse will bring everything in for you. Good luck, Ms. O'Brien."

"Lauren, if you take Davey to the waiting room, I'll be out as soon as I get dressed and get my instructions." She watched as Lauren rose and took Davey's hand. "Looks like we have a guest tonight, kiddo," Crystal said to him.

Davey looked up at Lauren and then back to his mom. "That's okay," he said simply. Lauren only heard acceptance, but Crystal knew her son a bit better. It was a tacit welcome and she echoed his feelings exactly.

Chapter 12

Lauren, Crystal and Davey stopped briefly by Lauren's apartment to pick up a set of clean clothes and Lauren's toothbrush. The nurse was surprised to see Ram come out to greet them even though she wasn'tputting food in his bowl.

"That's Ram, short for Rambunctious, although today that's a cat I don't really know." She watched in amazement as Ram immediately went up to Davey and walk around his legs, rubbing up against them as he went. Davey reached down and scratched the cat on the head. "Fine, I see how things are now, Ram. Maybe I'll have to hirea boy to come over every now and again and entertain you. You interested in the job, Davey?"

The small boy's eyes widened in surprise. "Sure," he breathed. "I'd do it for free." Lauren fetched her things and joined Davey in the living room. He was sitting on the floor with Ram, the cat's purring machine running on high.

"We need to get back down to your mom, but I promise you I'll have you and Crystal over for a barbecue real soon and you can play with Ram as much as you like." Davey accepted that and they went back downstairs to where Crystal was waiting in the mini-van. A mild throbbing headache had started and all the blonde wanted to do was get home and relax for the evening.

The group arrived at Crystal's home and Lauren followed the other two inside, watching Crystal's gait and steadiness. Once inside, Lauren directed Crystal to the couch. "I'll make dinner," Lauren said in a tone that made it clear it was a foregone conclusion and not an offer. "How about if I whip up some soup and sandwiches for us? I think maybe you should stick to soup though, sometimes you can get a little nauseated with a bad bump to the head."

"I don't think I want much more than soup anyway," Crystal said as she lowered herself to the couch. "Do you think you could get me some of that Tylenol the doctor said I could have? It's in the medicine cabinet."

"Sure, I'll be right back." Lauren got the requested medicine along with a glass of water. "I'll start the soup now." She headed for the kitchen.

"Can yougive Davey his medicine too? The list is on the inside of the far left kitchen cupboard along with the bottles."

"No problem. Davey!" she called to the boy who had taken his skates back to his bedroom. "Come on, dude, time for your meds." Davey came up the hall and followed Lauren into the kitchen. After Lauren dispensed them, he sat at the kitchen table, taking his small pills one at a time with a glass of juice.

"Is mom going to be okay?" he asked without looking up from the two pills remaining in front of him.

"Sure she is," Lauren said and stopped gathering the things for supper to go over to Davey. "I promise you, I'm going to watch her like a hawk tonight. By tomorrow she will be as good as new." Davey took his last two pills.

"Can I have peanut butter and jelly?" he asked, letting the subject change. Lauren was starting to get an insight into the child and knew he was trusting her.

"Absolutely. I'll give you a call when it's ready and we'll bring your mom into the kitchen and all have supper together, just like always." Davey moved away from the table, heading for his bedroom. He seemed satisfied with Lauren's plan. He left the kitchen as Crystal came intoit. She ruffled his blonde hair as he passed her and he smiled up at his mom.

"Hey, you don't need to be up right now," Lauren protested as Crystal took the seat at the table that Davey had recently vacated.

"I'm not up…I'm sitting right here. I just need a distraction until the Tylenol kicks in. So what's this Glasgow Scale thing you're supposed to do to me?" Lauren emptied two cans of vegetable beef soup into a pot and added water. She placed it over a low flame and went over to sit next to Crystal.

"It's a composite score of your neurological function. First we assign a number to your eye opening. It's a one up to four score. You open your eyes spontaneously and without needing any prompting so you get a four. Four is normal. Next you get a number for your verbal response. Tell me who the president is," Lauren instructed. Crystal made a rude noise with her tongue.

"Okay, a raspberry…that's correct. You get a five on a one to five scale for being alert and oriented appropriately. Lastly we check your motor skills. Can you squeeze my hands?"

Crystal reached out and grasped Lauren's extended index and middle fingers. "Squeeze hard. You can't hurt me when you just squeeze the first two fingers on each hand." The blonde did as instructed.

"Good, you get a six for that. Six is best. Four plus five plus six is fifteen and that's the best you can get. Congratulations." Lauren stood up and went to stir the soup.

"What's the worst you can get?" Crystal asked.

"Three. A turnip can get a three so I much prefer you have a fifteen." The nurse got bread, peanut butter and jelly from the cabinet.

"I see Davey put in his request," Crystal observed. "So is that the whole neurological assessment that the doctor talked about?"

"No, I need to check your pupils and I want to take your blood pressure too. If the gap between the top number of your blood pressure and the bottomnumber gets bigger, it could indicate a problem." Lauren spread a generous amount of peanut butter and grape jelly on a slice of wheat bread. "Iguess this is ready. Are you going to be able to eat?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. I think I'm going to want to lie down on the couch after supper though. I just want Davey to see I'm fine." Lauren nodded and sped up her preparations.


Lauren finished the few dishes they had used and went back to check on Davey. He was in a warm bath loaded with Mr. Bubble. Lauren spoke to him through the door, not wanting to embarrass him by looking in too much. Satisfied he was happily splashing away, she went back to the living room.

"Is Davey making little motorboat noises in there?" Crystal asked.

"Yeah, he is. How did you know that?" Lauren asked.

"That's his signal that he's just about done with his bath. He gets cleaned up first, then plays with his frogmen and then the boat. He's usually out and tracking water on the floor shortly after that. He has some clean pajamas in his top drawer. Can you set them out on his bed for him?"

"I sure can. Anything else he needs before he heads off to bed?" Lauren asked.

"No, he occasionally likes me to read him a story, but most times he gets in some practice with the video games and then he is ready to sleep. I always tuck him in though, it's our routine."

"I think you're healthy enough to keep up with that part of the routine this evening, but not a whole lot more than that, okay? I might be a little overprotective here, but humor me just one evening and I swear I will go back to normal tomorrow," Lauren pledged.

"Okay, that's a deal. You're my nurse tonight and back to normal tomorrow." Crystal closed her eyes and relaxed back on the pillow Lauren had fetched from her bedroom. My nurse,she thought. I wish.She sighed, knowing she had wanted Lauren in a wayfarbeyond friendship for a while now. She had no clue though how to let her know that she was receptive to something more.

Louder splashing was heard coming from the direction of the bathroom. In a minute Davey appeared, a large towel adorned with Spiderman wrapped around him. He hurried across the hall and into his room.

"Mom!" he called from his room. Lauren moved to go see what Davey needed, but Crystal stopped her by placing a hand on her arm.

"It's okay, I'll get it." She rose from the couch and moved slowly up the hall. Lauren watched the day's news on the television while she waited for Crystal to come back. Fifteen minutes later she did. "He's exhausted. I guess the day finally caught up to him." Crystal smiled. "That's the first time in a very long time he's volunteered to go to bed."
Lauren got up from the couch to let Crystal stretch out.

"You might have noticed I'm not that tall. There's plenty of room for us both on here. Sit back down," Crystal said.

"I'll take you up on that offer as soon as I check your pupils and your blood pressure." Lauren brought thefirst aid kit she normally kept in her car out from where she had placed it in her backpack. Pulling a tiny penlight out of the kit, she shined it briefly in her friend's eyes, flicked it away and then back again.

"The pupils look good?" Crystal asked under the brunette's scrutiny.

"The pupils look great and the green part is gorgeous too," Lauren complimented. Her friend blushed. Lauren proceeded to take Crystal's blood pressure. "One eighteen over seventy-two."

"Not too bad," Crystal assessed. I'm surprised it's not higher with her so near,she admitted to herself. "You think I'll live?"

"To a ripe old age, lucky for me." Lauren was serious as she continued. "I mean that you know. I'm really lucky to have found you." Crystal said nothing and Lauren felt she might have embarrassed her. "Well, let me put my things away. I'll check the pupils and blood pressure again later. I'm going to have to wake you up every hour too. I'll apologize for that now…I'll try not to keep you awake long enough to do that later." Lauren stood and returned the items to her backpack.

"That's okay, I know it's business," Crystal said. Lauren stiffened when she heard that.

"It's anything but business, Crystal," Lauren said. "Just so you know that." She looked directly at her friend. "I'm going to grab a quick shower and then I'll be right back."

Crystal nodded and after Lauren left the room she rubbed her arms trying to banish the chills of excitement she felt at Lauren's blistering look. She didn't fully understand why she was so attracted to Lauren, but she had finally accepted she was. Would Lauren think I was just experimenting? I wouldn't want her to think that. I suppose the idea of being attracted to a woman never bothered me, but that's different than having concrete feelings…loving and warm feelings…for a specific person. I do have those feelings for her though. For all the good that does me.

Crystal eased back onto the couch and closed her eyes. Just forget about it, Crystal. It's not possible.

In the back of the house Lauren was having similar thoughts about Crystal. Looking into her eyes and sitting so close to her that the warmth of her body had almost been a palpable thing, had tortured her. How can I tell her how I feel now after being just her friend for all this time? Would everything I ever said be taken out of context? Would she think I only pretended to be her friend? Lauren wasn't willing to take the chance of losing Crystal completely. Better friends than nothing at all.

She left the shower, toweled off and slipped into lightweight sweats. She looked in on Davey as she made her way up the hall. He was sleeping quietly while holding loosely to a small stuffed dog. Lauren came up the hall where the television was still on the news channel she had been watching earlier. Crystal was as sound asleep as her son. She had curled up on her side and seemed perfectly comfortable. Lauren checked her watch; there was another 20 minutes before she would need to wake Crystal again for her check. Lauren set the alarm on her watch in case she dozed off and, after turning the lamp in the living room off, settled in to watch TV until it was time to disturb her friend. Twenty minutes later she gently called Crystal's name and was relieved when the blonde responded quickly.

"Move your right foot," the nurse instructed and Crystal's right toes responded appropriately. "Can you name the Vice-President?" Lauren asked. Crystal replied with a grimace and two raspberries. "Correct again."

"Score?" Crystal asked sleepily.

"Fourteen, but only because I had to wake you up. That's normal for night," Lauren assured her. Crystal sat up slowly.

"God, I love this couch. When I bought it I actually stretched out on it in the showroom. It was the eighth sofa I tried and when I put my body on it, I was sold. I've slept more than one night right here. I'd really like to take a shower, but the doctor asked me not to get the stitches wet until tomorrow. For tonight I'm going to get into something clean to sleep in, but first thing tomorrow a shampoo is in order. I'll be back in a minute."

"I can come to your room if you'd be more comfortable in your bed," Lauren offered.

"No need, it will be easier for the hourly checks if I'm here." She frowned. "Maybe I should have stayed in the hospital; this doesn't seem fair to you."

"It's fair if I volunteered and I did," Lauren reminded her. Crystal nodded and went to her room to change. She returned in a nightshirt that came just above her knees and moved back onto the couch. "Let the vigil begin."


It was four in the morning and Lauren was doing what she had been doing most of the night. She was dividing her time between watching an old movie and watching Crystal. The blonde had dozed most of the night except for the times that Lauren had woken her to do the neurological assessments. They had remained perfectly normal as did her pupil checks and blood pressure.

The movie featured the beautiful Greer Garson trying to get the amnesiac Ronald Coleman to remember he was her husband. Lauren thought she had seen the movie before, but it had been a long time ago. She glanced at Crystal; it was time to wake her up again. Lauren had almost decided she didn't need to wake her this time, but knew that it wasn't what was in Crystal's best interests. She would wake her, but she would make it quick.

"Crystal?" she called softly, trying not to startle her friend. Crystal slumbered on heavily. "Crystal?" she tried again. She moved from the chair she had taken up residence in to the couch where she crouched by the blonde. "Hey you, I..." Words failed her as Crystal opened up her eyes and just looked silently at Lauren.

The flickering black and white images from the television cast Crystal in starkly beautiful shadows and Lauren was mesmerized. The urge to speak her heart warred with the caution her rational mind knew she should take. Blanketing both feelings was the need to just look at Crystal and this was the course that won out.

Long moments passed as the women neither moved nor spoke. Then Crystal raised her hand and lightly placed it against Lauren's cheek. She gently stroked the soft flesh under her fingertips and the brunette closed her eyes and trembled at the touch.

"Look at me," Crystal said. Lauren opened her eyes and met the blonde's gaze again. "I just want you to know this isn't a dream and I'm not going to say it was in the morning." Without any further words, Crystal slipped her hand around to the back of Lauren's neck and urged her forward. She met no resistance.

Lauren leaned forward and placed her lips against Crystal's. In that instant, Lauren felt something click into place inside her. It was something she never realized was out of place at all.

The reaction inside Crystal was no less profound. It was as if she had been trying to fill up an empty space the size of the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon and never knew it. That space was filled by one simple kiss from a remarkable woman in a dark room in the middle of the night.

The kiss broke, but neither woman pulled back. They remained close, their breaths mingling and hearts marveling.

"Can this be slow, Lauren?" Crystal asked in a whisper. "I think I'm going to need this to go slow."

Lauren nodded slowly. "Slow is good. We can do slow." Lauren moved her head so her cheek touched Crystal's. "Does slow mean I can't have one more kiss now?" she said softly into Crystal's ear.

Lauren felt Crystal's cheek move up in a smile. "I said slow, not stationary." Both hands moved to Lauren's head and lifted it, allowing another long kiss. When this one ended Lauren slid down to the floor completely and placed her head on the couch. Crystal slowly stroked the dark brunette hair.

"Twenty-five," Lauren said, basking in the glow of a very right thing in her life.


"I said twenty-five. Your Glasgow score is a fifteen and you are definitely a ten. Twenty-five," Lauren said as she closed her eyes and relaxed completely under Crystal's touch.

Chapter 13

The smell was unusual and Lauren opened her eyes immediately to investigate. A quick glance at her watch showed it was after ten in the morning. She recognized Crystal's living room, but the blonde, who had been resting on the opposite end of the couch, was nowhere to be seen.

How did she get off the couch without waking me? I'm never that heavy a sleeper. Lauren's thoughts were interrupted by an olfactory recognition. The scent was bacon and it was close. Drawn as if by a siren's song, the nurse left the couch and followed the enticing aroma. Entering the kitchen, she found Crystal at the stove and Davey sitting at the table, racing small cars across its surface.

The teller looked up as Lauren entered. "Good morning. How'd you sleep?"

"Better than usual, I must confess," Lauren replied. Davey and Crystal were both still in their night clothes, though Crystal had added a pair of fuzzy slippers with Tweety on them. "How is your head this morning?"

Crystal followed Lauren's line of sight to her footwear. "My head is a bit sore, but no real headache anymore and these…" she turned her feet to better display the yellow slippers, "…were a wonderful Christmas present from my boy over there." Davey blushed and hid his face under his arm, but Lauren could tell he was pleased by the compliment.

"On Sunday morning Davey and I usually just chill out. Unless we have somewhere we have to be it's PJ's until noon. We also make a bigger breakfast. Today's menu features pancakes, bacon and hot chocolate if you're interested."

Lauren's stomach growled just then. "Apparently I am interested." She moved to the stove where an empty cup awaited her. She poured a generous amount of steaming hot chocolate from the kettle on the stove and was going tosit down when Crystal instructed, "Wait! Where's my assistant chef?" Lauren was about to volunteer her services when Davey lifted his head up.

"Oh yeah!" He slid out of the chair and went to a nearby cupboard. He pulled out a bag and reached into it, producing a small fistful of miniature marshmallows. Hemotioned to Lauren to lower hercup to him. "Bam!" he said as he gently dropped each marshmallow to the liquid.

Lauren laughed at their clowning and went to sit at the table afterCrystal assured her one assistant chef was plenty. The blonde put the last of the bacon between paper towels to drain and started on the pancakes.

"She'll make you a mouse one if you ask," Davey confided to his tablemate. "They're better than regular ones."

"I'd like to request a 'mouse one' if I may," the nurse said to the cook and received a thumbs up sign in return. She expected Crystal to pour the batter in a manner suggesting the head and ears of a mouse, but she was wrong. Crystal poured a large round pancake and dotted it with chocolate chips she took from a plastic container in the freezer.

"One mouse pancake coming up!" Crystal announced after flipping the cake. She put two pieces of bacon on a plate with the pancake and slid it in front of Davey. "With droppings." Davey laughed and Lauren appreciated being let in on what was obviously a long-standing joke.

"How many strips of bacon?" Crystal asked.

Lauren considered the question and decided to be conservative in her request. "Two." Crystal looked at her in disbelief.

"Okay, suit yourself, but I'm having four. To start," the blonde said as she poured more batter into the pan.

"Two? Did I say two? I'm sure I meant four," Lauren amended. "Are you positive I'm not the one who bumped my head yesterday?"

Breakfast was consumed in short order. Lauren carried herdishes to the sink and began rinsing and placing them in the dishwasher.

"I had a strange dream last night, Davey," Crystal said to her son. He looked up at her from his activity of dredging designs in the excess syrup on his plate. Lauren looked up immediately.

"I dreamed we're going to see a lot more of Lauren coming up than we have before. What do you think about that?"

Davey glanced at Lauren who was seemingly absorbed in her task of continuously rinsing the same plate. He shrugged. Leaning toward his motherhe said something in a low voice. Crystal chuckled and told Davey it was time to get dressed. He left the kitchen.

"What did he say?" Lauren asked as she wiped her hands and moved to the table.

"He said we could do anything with you but go skating. He thinks you might be bad luck there."

"He could be right," Lauren agreed. "By the way, thank you for breakfast." She leaned over and kissed Crystal. The same warm feelings rushed over her as had the night before. It just gets bettershe thought. Lauren's eyes flew open and she pulled back quickly. "I'm sorry," she apologized, putting distance between them. "Davey…"

Crystal stood up and followed Lauren as she backed away. "The only thing you have to apologize for is that it was way too short." Crystal moved closer and brought her arms up and around Lauren's neck. She pulled the nurse to her and initiated a long, and for the first time, exploring kiss. "Now that's a thank you kiss," Crystal said, trying to draw sufficient air into her lungs. "And you're welcome." The blonde remained leaning against Lauren, enjoying the feel of arms around her and the remnants of the brunette's cologne that faintly clung to her clothes.

"As far as Davey goes, yeah, I'd like to keep it from him for a bit. I guess I never thought I'd have to deal with telling him about mom's girlfriend." She stopped here. "Girlfriend. That's even a bitof a foreign concept to me still." She looked at Lauren. "You're not going be my dirty little secret or anything like that; I want you to know that. You've been a great friend to me and my feelings are…I don't know if I can describe them right now. I just know I've never had anything like them before."

"So we take it slow with us and with Davey too. That's okay by me," Lauren said. "To be honest, I'm a bit overwhelmed too. Now I know how Sleeping Beauty felt with that kisslast night. It feels like I've just woken up."

Crystal smiled at the tender words as she recalled the fairy tale. I wonder if she even realizes she was talking about 'love's first kiss'? "Knowing Davey's snail-like workings, we have about twenty minutes before he comes back from getting cleaned up and dressed. What do you want to do to pass the time?" Crystal asked in a saucy tone.

Lauren's eyebrows rose. "Well…"

"Right, cleaning up the kitchen it is," teased the blonde.

With an exaggerated and forlorn sigh, the nurse moved back to the sink. "From Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella…story of my life."


A little over a week later Crystal, Lauren and Davey were headed to the monthly support group meeting. Davey was suggesting to Lauren that she should skip the meeting and go with him to play video games instead.

"It's just boring talk and stuff," he maintained.

Lauren glanced at Crystal briefly as she drove. Looking into the rearview mirror, she told the boy, "Well, there are other attractions for me at the meeting and I wouldn't want to miss them." It had been three long days since she had seen Crystal and she didn't want to waste a moment of their time together.Crystal smiled and turned her head to suddenly become fascinated by the scene outside the window.

"You mean Mom?" Davey asked.

Simultaneously both women's heads turned toward one another. "Your mom?" Lauren asked innocently.

"Yeah, Mom made some sugar cookies for the meeting. I'd even go to the meeting for those!" Relief etched the faces of the women in the front seats.

"You got me there, Davey. I'm definitely interested in something sweet," Lauren said with another quick look at the teller. Crystal's cheeks pinked and she wished she and Lauren were alone so she could demonstrate how much she appreciated the words.


The support meeting was scheduled to begin about fifteen minutes after the time Crystal and Lauren arrived. Patsy was already there, arranging the seating. She had set up the table that held the latest information she had gleaned from her many sources. She turned from her activity and greeted Crystal with a hug, then noticed Lauren standing behind her.

"Ms. Cook, it's nice to see you again. How is the thesis coming?" Lauren shook Patsy's hand.

"Better than I could have hoped," Lauren said. She looked to Crystal. "I'll be over checking out the latest information."

"Nice woman," Patsy said, observing the look Crystal sent after the brunette. "You two are becoming close friends," she noted in a tone of understanding. Crystal looked at Patsy quickly, but was met only with a genuine smile of happiness.

"You could say that," Crystal confirmed. She debated about confiding in Patsy and decided to risk it. "She's been such a good and understanding friend. I'm having feelings I never expected…never thought existed, to be honest. I'm…drawn to her. It's hard to explain." The blonde was mildly frustrated by a lack of words to describe her response to Lauren.

"Do you think this might be something serious? You never mentioned any relationships like this in the past." Crystal knew what Patsy was referring to.

Crystal ran a hand through her short hair. "There never has been. This has been a huge surprise for me, but it's a wonderful one.She's very special, Patsy, and yeah, it might be serious.You don't have any problems with that, do you?" she asked a little anxiously.

The redhead gave Crystal a quick hug. "No, and you're not getting out of watching my grand-daughter for the next two days either."

"Will two be enough?" Crystal asked.

"Should be…it's just the preliminary hearing for the trial. I probably wouldn't go up for it, but I have somepapers for Candy to sign regarding Sydney." Patsy seemed to deflate as the conversation continued and Crystal changedthe subject.

"Good turnout tonight," she observed.

Patsy looked around. "Yeah, we better get this thing going. Oh, I almost forgot something." She opened a large notebook and took out three pieces of paper stapled together.

"I found this on the Internet earlier and I thought it might be something you'd want to know." She handed Crystal the papers. It appeared to be a research study of some kind. The blonde was very familiar with those.

"Thanks, I'll take a look at it later when we have refreshments."


Lauren wasn't sure what the problem was, but Crystal had been sullen and uncommunicative since the support group meeting. Davey apparently hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary as he was wrapped up in gloating to Sydney about his video game victory during the meeting. Lauren had noticed though and was at a loss to know how to handle it.

This is one of those things that you learn about the people you care aboutas you go along. Do I let Crystal tell me when she's ready or do I ask her what's wrong? Well, if I mess it up this time I guess I'll know better the next.She walked into the kitchen to talk to the blonde after making sure the kids were in bed and asleep. Crystal stood at the stove waiting for the teakettle to come to a boil.

"Long day, huh?" Lauren ventured. Crystal shrugged in reply and removed two cups from the cupboard. The brunette chewed her bottom lip and decided to just ask the question.

"What's the matter, Crystal? You've barely said two words since we came back from the meeting. Is it something I did or something I can do something about? If I'm pressing you here, I apologize, but I haven't seen you this upset since the night I first met you in the hospital when Davey…" Lauren stopped here as Crystal turned to her with tears brimming in her eyes. The nurse moved to immediately take the blonde into her arms,but Crystal stopped her with a raised hand.

"Don't, okay? I just don't feel like being comforted right now," she said. She turned back to turn off the flame under the teakettle that had started its shrill whistle. Lauren could see a single tear slip down Crystal's cheek and it broke her heart.

"Crystal, please…" The blonde looked over to Lauren whose expression showed nothing but concern for her. It was something she hadn't seen much of from Sean, but had seen frequently from this remarkable woman. She set the cups on the counter and moved rapidly into Lauren's arms.

Crystal sniffled a few times, but didn't cry anymore than the single tear Lauren had already seen. Exercising the same self control she had used time and time again since Davey's birth helped her clamp down before her emotions got out of hand. She stood back from Lauren, but took her hand and led her to the living room and the couch. She sat across from the nurse and kept her eyes on the folded hands in her lap as she began to speak.

"When Davey was five months old he became very sick. I had only had him home for two months and I was scared. He became listless and wouldn't eat. His breathing started going faster and I took him in to the Emergency Room right away. He hadn't been sick long, but he was already dehydrated because of his system being so fragile. Lauren, he was breathing ninety times a minute. Ninety! That terrified me, but what terrified me even more was when thatninety started dropping fast. I heard the doctor tell the nurse he was 'crashing'. By the time they decided to intubate him and put him on a respirator, he was only breathing four times a minute.He was too critical to even take him to do a heart catheterization and see what was going on." She paused momentarily to take a deep breath and let it out slowly.Lauren knew she was seeing the scene as it was in the Emergency Room that night.

"He had already had a major and dangerous operationin his first month of life and he was only given a fifty-fifty chance to survive thatone. Sean had skipped on me right about thenand I had to make all the decisions after that. Everything that happened to Davey from that point on was up to me and because of me. Davey's pediatrician wasn't very hopeful and he told me in not so many words that I may need to decide on whether to end life support if he didn't improve." Lauren couldn't fathom what grief that must have entailed.

"He advised me to wait twenty-four hours and see what happened before any decision needed to be made. They would support him in the meantime in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The next day Davey had stabilized and they did an echocardiogramon him. It showed his aorta was narrowed and they were able to take him to the Cath Lab and do an angioplasty. It was another close call."

"Like the one he had when I met you in the Peds ICU." Lauren still couldn't see why Crystal was so upset this evening.

"Yeah, just like this last angioplasty." Crystal reached to her bag which was sitting on the table next to the couch. She pulled out the three pages Patsy had given her at the meeting."I gotthis tonight at the support group; Patsy found it on the Internet. The latest study shows that kids who have these angioplasties, especially at a young age, are much more likely to develop both aneurysms and scar tissue in that area."

Lauren's medical mind pushed into high gear and she saw at last why Crystal was tortured. By deciding to allow the angioplasty when Davey was an infant, Crystal might have set up her child for something even more devastating and potentially fatal.She knew an aneurysm is a weakening of a vessel wall that canballoon out and eventually break open or dissect. If an aneurysm developed on Davey's aorta and it wasn't caught in time, he would bleed out and die. Lauren wanted to pull Crystal to her and hold heras a friend, but had the feeling what she would say from a nurse's point of view might be more important. She reached out to take Crystal's hands in hers.

"Crystal, you did what you had to do at the time. You went with the best medical advice you had. These surgeries haven't been around that long that we can know everything that will happen down the road. You made the same decision that I would have then. The very same one." Crystal looked at the brunette for any signs that she was hedging the truth or humoring her. She found none. For the second time in the span of a few minutes, she moved into Lauren's arms. This time Lauren could feel a dampness where Crystal's face made contact with her shoulder.

"Hey, hey, why are you crying? Nurse Lauren must not have done a very good job of showing you that your decision at the time was right." Lauren pulled Crystal closer and turned her head just enough to place a small kiss on Crystal's wet cheek.

Crystal held tight and said in a small voice. "I think I made the right decision at the time; I see that now. It's just that it reminds me of the decision I never had to make. Never had to make formally anyhow."

Lauren was confused. "What decision? What do you mean?"

"When Davey was on that respirator and he was so sick…I had made my decision. He had been through so much already." Lauren felt Crystal tremble a little in her arms. "I never had to say so, but I was going to pull the plug. God help me, I was going to pull the plug." The trembling changed to wracking sobs as Crystal, safewithin Lauren's embrace,let the emotion of that day out. Letting it out, Crystal was finally able to let it go.

Chapter 14

That night sure broke the dam,Crystal thought as she began to look for the discrepancy in Mamie Sinclair's account. The teller was pretty sure she knew where the missing eighthundred and thirty eight dollars from the elderly woman's checking account had gone so she was working with just half her attention at the moment.

I never thought I could open up to someone like that.Crystal had kept her emotions bottled up for so long that she had been surprised at how simple it was now to say what was on her mind and reveal what was in her heart.It just had to be the right person…the right woman,she mentally grinned.

"What's funny?" Mamie asked good-naturedly. Crystal blushed as she realized her grin might not have been completely internal, but covered nicely when she discovered what she expected to find in Mamie's computerized records.

"I think I might have found the problem, Mamie. Your automatic debits for the mortgage and car payment…did you happen to deduct them at the beginning of the month?" Crystal knew she hadn't; the gray-haired woman had forgotten each of the last two months and the combined total of the two payments came to exactly eight hundred and thirty eight dollars.

Mamie consulted her checkbook and realized she hadn't remembered at all. The look on her face was one of mixed annoyance and dismay as she made the appropriate entries and corrected the balance. "Silly me," she said in a small voice.

Crystal looked up and saw the only other customer in the bank at the moment was being taken care of by Trish and she decided to give something a try. "Mamie, can you give me just a moment. I have an idea." At the woman's nod, Crystal went back to the word processor behind her and selected a label making program. It took just a minute to type in and print the label she wanted.

"Can I see your checkbook?" the teller asked as she returned to the counter. Mamie handed over the requested item and Crystal peeled the label, sticking it on the front of the checkbook. "This is just a way to be reminded of the automatic deductions every month." The older woman read the label which indicated the amount, to whom it was paid and the daythe funds would be deducted. "I have one on my checkbook too to remind me of my monthly deduction for my medical insurance." It was a lie; Crystal did all her banking online, but if it helped Mamie Sinclair then she thought thelie was all in a good cause.

"That's very clever. I should have thought of that myself," Mamie said as she replaced her checkbook into the large black pocketbook she carried. "Thank you Crystal, you're a dear," she said and exited the bank. Crystal consulted the clock and saw it was time for her lunch break. She glanced at Trish who nodded and then to the assistant branch manager who would act as herand Trish's relief. Crystal loved working at the neighborhood branch; with the automatic teller machine outside, four employees could run the operations inside without much of a problem. There was a part-time teller on Fridays who worked only onthat day as the bank was much busier on what was most people's paydays.

Crystal locked her cash drawer, the assistant manager had her own, and went through the door to the right of the vault that led to the employee's break room. She pulled a frozen meal from the freezer compartment of the small refrigerator and popped it into the microwave as she thought about Mamie. Richard Sinclair had come into the bank a month before and talked to Crystal. He was a co-signer on all his mother's accounts and revealed she had been diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He wanted his mother to retain as much independence for as long as she could, but asked them to notify him if there was any problem with her accounts.

Crystal was shocked. She knew Mamie hadn't been as sharp since her husband's death two years previously, but had no idea it was Alzheimer's. Mamie was a brilliant musician and had played first violin with the San Diego Philharmonic for years and it saddened the teller to hear the news. She debated on whether to call Richard Sinclair now,but decided to give the new system a try first. She felt sorry for Richard, she understood what being a caregiver involved and he was just starting out on his long path in being one.

Crystal consciously changed the subject in her mind, determined not to spend her break on a situation she couldn't change and turned her thoughts to a more pleasant topic. As it always seemed to be lately, the more pleasant topic was Lauren. Once again the feeling of how warm and comforting it had felt being held in the nurse's arms washed over her. Not much had been said and Lauren left soon after the last of Crystal'shiccoughing sighs had subsided, but both of them knew something was different now. Barriers had been breached and walls had been knocked down and there was no putting them back up.

The blonde removed her Salisbury steak entrée from the microwave after the beeping indicated the cooking was done. She ate absently as she reflected on the time they had spent together since that night. The fledgling romance was blossoming and what had beententative gestures and kisses on both their parts hadevolved into the kind of relationship Crystal had thought never really existed, but now knew did. It was as if she was tasting full-bodied wine instead of watered down lemonade.

The mere thought of bodies sparked another issue in her mind. Neither she nor Lauren had spoken of it, but there was definitely a sexual tension building between them. The blonde had learned it was completely possible to want something and be absolutely petrified of it happening at the same time. Her mind went back to two nights previously.


Lauren carried Davey in from her car. He had fallen sound asleep at the bowling alley and was hanging limply in her arms. Crystal walked ahead of them, unlocking the door and turning on lights. The nurse deposited the small boy on his bed and watched as Crystal removed his outer clothing and pulled the covers up over his underwear clad body. She kissed the top of Davey's head and led Lauren out into the living room.

"I'd try to get him into his pajamas,but it's like trying to nail Jell-o to a tree. It won't hurt him to sleep in his underwear tonight," she said as she sat down on the sofa. Lauren sat beside her and slipped her left arm around Crystal's shoulder. Immediately the blonde snuggled in closer.

"He sure fell asleep fast," Lauren commented. Her right hand came up and started a gentle stroking of Crystal's cheek.

"He's like that," Crystal responded. "One minute he's going like a house afire and the next moment he's down and out for the count. The bowling really wore him out."

Lauren chuckled. "I can see why. The ball he picked out was as big as his head and that fourteen step delivery must have had him walking miles tonight. He did pretty good for his first timethough."

"High score of eighty-four," Crystal said proudly. "Even with the bumpers that's not bad. Remind me to put the printout of his score on the refrigerator door; he'll be bragging about it tomorrow and begging to go back."

"Anytime," Lauren affirmed. "I had a lot of fun too, you know. I always do when I'm with you and Davey." She leaned over and kissed Crystal gently. She didn't move back when the kiss broke,but leaned forward to place a firmer and more intense kiss on the woman in her arms.

"If you give lessons in that you're going to make a million," Crystal whispered as the second kiss broke. That made Lauren smile.

"How about a lesbian kissing booth at the San Diego County fair? That would go over big with the general public, I'm sure." This time Crystal smiled with the nurse.

"Only if you give me time to save up my money and be first in line," she teased.

Lauren moved closer to Crystal again and told her in a low voice, "You'll never need cash with me, your card will work just fine. Care to start establishing a line of credit?" Lauren's blue eyes had darkened in the muted light of the living room, but the blonde could see the passion in them nonetheless.

"Oh yeah," she mumbled as she moved to capture Lauren's lips before the brunette could do the same to her. Mouths opened with this kiss and tongues convened in a most cordial meeting. The velvety texture of Lauren's tongue against hers caused the now familiar need to start in areas no longer dormant. Crystal's hand came up behind Lauren's head to press her even closer. Both women were slightly panting when the series of deep kisses ended.

Crystal breathed rapidly and could feel her pulse thrumming through her system. "My heart is beating so fast. God, the things you do to my system." To illustrate her point she picked up Lauren's hand and placed it over her wildly beating heart. The touch of Lauren's hand only served to make the rate even more rapid. She trembled slightly.

"I can take your pulse in other places,"Lauren said, concernedthey might be moving too fast for the blonde.

"Don't you dare," Crystal said as she moved Lauren's hand directly to her breast."Don't you dare." Lauren knew an invitation when she heard one and almost reverently began a soft caressing of the breast under her hand. She could feel the nipple firm up even through the bra and t-shirt Crystal wore. Moving to the other breast, Lauren gave it the same attention as the first. She looked up and watched as pleasure became visible on Crystal's face. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was just slightly open. The lips were too tempting and Lauren took possession of them swiftly as she continued her touching of Crystal's body.

Lauren was becoming as lost in the sensations as Crystaland it was only with a supreme effort that she brought her excitement under control. The blonde moaned when the nurse removed her hand from her highly stimulated nipples. They both lay back on the couch struggling to return tonormal breathing.

"It's late and you have to work in the morning," Lauren said, not really giving a damn about Crystal's employment schedule. She neededan excuse, any excuse, not to push the blonde too quickly.Crystal wasn't helping her regain her composure though.

"I want to touch you too," she stated plainly as she lifted her hand toward the brunette's breasts.

"Oh God, no! Crystal, if you touch me right now I don't think I'll be able to stop and I'm not sure either of us is quite ready for that." The level of Lauren's excitement was clear to the blonde now and she decided that this time she agreed with the nurse. It wouldn't be tonight, but it would be soon.


Crystal realized most of her lunch hour was gone and she hurried to clean up the remnants of her mostly uneaten meal. A quick trip to the restroom to freshen up and she would need to get out and let Trish take her lunch break. She stood and felt the rush of moisture between her legs.

Memo to self,she thought as she moved toward the small bathroom.Speak to Davey very soon and stop thinking about Lauren at work.


Davey was playing an action adventure game on his X-box when Crystal walked into his room. She stood watching as her son nimbly maneuvered a masked hero around an intricate maze of booby traps and villains. When Davey had his protagonist do a double backward somersault and bounce off the head of a dragon-like creature to capture a reward, she had to admit he had a flair for the game.

"How's it going?" Crystal asked, taking a seat on his twin-sized bed..

"I just got another life. That's good because you never know when you'll need an extra one," he said.

Life philosophy from a videogame,Crystal thought."Can you put that thing on pause for a minute? I want to talk to youabout something."

"Okay." He pushed a button and all action on the television screen froze. Davey turned expectant eyes to his mother.Crystal wished she had been able to come up with a great way to tell Davey about herself and Lauren, but in all the thinking she had done there hadn't seemed to be the right words. She decided to wing it and hope that something would guide her as she went along.

"Um, you know that Lauren has been around here quite a lot lately and I think that's really great because I like her a lot." More than a lot."I think you kind of like her too, right?" Davey nodded.

"Well, Lauren and I have come to have a very close friendship…it's more than a friendship really…it's kind of like…"Crystal's fumbled explanation ground to a complete halt, her winging it failing miserably.Davey stared at his mom for a moment. Crystal made several more attempts to speak, but no words other than "um" and "uh" came forth.

"Mom, if you kiss somebody, do you love them?" Crystal stopped mid-stammer and opened her mouth to reply followed in quick succession by scrunched eyebrows and then an astonished expression.


"I said, if you kiss somebody, do you love them?" he repeated. Crystal shook her head to get her thoughts to adjust to a new track.

"Why are you asking?" Crystal questioned. Davey shrugged.

"You kissed Lauren." Panic surged through Crystal's veins until she remembered this was the very thing she came to talk to Davey about…sort of. That knowledge renewed her shattered confidence.

"Yes, I did kiss her. I didn't know you knew that."

"Sydney saw you. She said when you kiss somebody, you love them."

Crystal considered Davey's words. "Well, even though Sydney is a nine year old woman of the world, maybe she doesn't know there are many kinds of kisses and just as many kinds of love. I can kiss you like this…" She stopped and kissed Davey on his forehead. "…and it means goodnight." She kissed him on the cheek. "And this kind is for when you go to school or stay overnight with grandma and grandpa. Lots of different kisses, right?" Davey nodded. "Every kissI give you means I love you and sometimes when grown-ups kiss it means the same thing." Davey fidgeted a little and looked around, trying to figure the complicated thing out. Crystal didn't know if she was making matters better or worse. She decided simple honesty would be the only way to deal with things.

"I kissed Lauren because I like her very, very much. I think she feels the same way about me. I think I might love her, but with grown-ups it's a little tougher to figure things like that out. How about if I tell you as soon as I'm sure?" Davey considered the offer.

"Okay."Now that Davey's question had been answered, he was rapidly losing interest in the conversation. His eyes strayed back to the frozen images on the television screen. Crystal knewshe needed to wrap things up if she wanted him to understand at all what she was saying.

"We're going to be seeing a lot more of Lauren and sometimes she might be staying overnight here." If things go right,she added internally.

"Like a sleepover?" he asked. When Crystal nodded he said, "She's too big to stay in here with me."

"Don't worry, I think I can take care of that," she assured him. "Hey,don't you have some monsters or something to destroy?" she asked, indicating the X-box.

"Oh yeah, I forgot," he said, though she knew he had not. He turned back to the game and restarted the action.

"Hey, can I have one of those 'I'm going to be in the kitchen making supper while you finish the game' kisses?" Crystal requested. Davey rolled his eyes, put the game on 'pause' again and gave his mom a brief kiss on the cheek followed by a hard hug around her neck.

She rose from the bed and watched him resume his playing. Once again the masked hero was vanquishing foes and reaping rewards. He doesn't quite get it all I think, but that's okay.He never even batted an eye about me kissing another woman.She raised her eyebrows, amazed at the pure goodness of the human spirit before the world could ruin it with stupid and pointless prejudices. I think I laid out a foundation for more talks if we need them down the roadthough and if I need to speak to him about anything really serious…Maybe I'll have Lauren here with me for that. Satisfied, at leastfor the present time, Crystal turned and headed to the kitchen.

Chapter 15

"You're sure you have everything? Davey's meds and his sleeping bag and…"

"We've got it all," Patsy assured her. "Don't worry about his medicines; I've got a little one on heart pills too, remember? I'll give Sydney hers and then Davey will take his. Patsy's Pill PitStop…hey, I kind of like that." Crystal laughed and some of her nervousness dissipated.

"Are you positive this isn't going to be too much for you?" Crystal asked one last time.

"I wouldn't have volunteered if it was. Look, you kept Sydney for me so many times duringall the stuff I've been going through with Candy. It's been a godsend not to have to worry about who's looking after my girl and if they would understand her routine and medicines and… Let's just say I owe you more than taking Davey camping with us for these two little days.Besides, two's company, three's a weenie roast; we're going to have fun."

Crystal gave Patsy a brief hug. "You don't owe me a thing; it was our pleasure. Davey would never admit it to us of course, but he likes when Sydney is here. It's the closest he'll get to having a sister anytime soon."

"Well I hope Sydney isn't counting on me to give her a little brother! That would be an Immaculate Misconception," Patsy laughed.Crystal smiled with her and turned as Davey and Sydney came racing out of the house.

"Shotgun!" Sydney yelled.

"Guess again, Tonto, the Lone Ranger is riding up front all alone," Patsy said to her granddaughter. "All you pilgrims can ride in the back seat. There's no way I'm going to have you two yelling at each other back and forth across the seats. Climb your backsides in and let's get this show on the road." The kids piled into the backseat and Patsy slid in behind the wheel.

"We'll see you in two days, Crystal. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" The older woman winked and Crystal blushed. She waved at the group of campers until they disappeared out of sight.

Guess I have a phone call to make,she thought as she turned and headed into the house.


Lauren was scooping out a generous portion of Ram's food into his bowl. Liver-n-Bits…oh my God, can this get any more repulsive? Like always though, Ram attacked the bowl like he hadn't eaten in days. Lauren shook her head and wondered what the "bits" consisted of, but resisted the urge to read the label. What I don't know can't nauseate me. She double wrapped the empty can and deposited it into the trash.

She hadn't been up long. It was the same questionon every day off; should she sleep for an hour or two and then get up to be on the rest of the world's clock or sleep as long as she really wanted and then be up all night?Having worked three nights in a row, she had opted for the second one. Maybe I can spend a few hours with Crystal and Davey before they head off to bed and I do something exciting like washing my scrubs.

As she reached for the phone, it rang. Checking her recently installed caller ID let her know it was Crystal and not the hospital calling.

"Hey there," she answered.

"How's my favorite nurse?" Crystal asked.

"Tell me her name and I'll find out for you. What's up? I was just going to call you," the brunette said.

"I was wondering if I was going to be seeing you this evening."

Lauren smiled. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to invite myself. I've fed Ram the Ravenous and I can head out shortly. How about if I pick up a pizza on the way there?"

"Sounds good to me. I like ground beef, black olive and mushroom," Crystal said.

The nurse made a mental note. "That's fine by me too. What does Davey like?"

"Just pepperoni and cheese, but don't worry about ordering for him. Tonight it's just dinner for two." Crystal's voice took on a sensual tone and Lauren was momentarily speechless. "He's on a two day camping trip with Patsy and Sydney. Two whole days," Crystal repeated for emphasis."Now, why don't you call and have that pizza delivered to my house and just worry about getting yourself over here…fast"

"Yes, ma'am. No problem. I'm on my way," Lauren said quickly, not quite believing her good fortune.

"And Lauren? This is going to be a pajama party, but don't feel obligated," Crystal instructed.


"To bring any."

"Jesus," Lauren breathed. "Thirty minutes or less," she vowed and hung up the phone.

Crystal replaced the hand set in the phone's base and found her hand was trembling a little, whether from excitement or trepidation she couldn't tell.

I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.She shrugged off the thought and went to make her preparations for Lauren's visit.


Lauren arrived at Crystal's house exactly twenty-six minutes later. She checked her look quickly in the rearview mirror and headed up to the door. It waspulled open before she even had the chanceto knock.

"Hey there, that was fast," Crystal said as she opened the door wider.

"As requested," Lauren said, entering the living area. "You might want to plug your ears though; the sonic boom I created by exceeding the speed of sound should be here any second." The blonde chuckled at Lauren's playfulness.

"So this camping trip…I don't remember you mentioning it," Lauren probed.

"I didn't," Crystal replied. "Patsy called and said she was takingSydney up to their favorite campground and did Davey want to go with them. I couldn't have kept him from going ifI'd tied him to a tree." She paused for a moment. "Patsy knows about us, that we're…involved I mean. I wanted to be honest with her. I'm the first back up for her childcare and if she had a problem with it, I felt she had a right to know."

Lauren nodded. "I can understand that. So this invitation to Davey just isn't blind luck?"

Crystal shook her head. "I'm pretty sure not. Patsy wanted us to have a little 'alone time' I think. She's an awfully sweet person."

"Perceptive too, I've wanted a lot of 'alone time' with you for quite a while now."

Crystal's heart sped up at the words and she swallowed hard. "Me too," she confessed. Lauren moved close to the blonde and gently reached out to touch her cheek. Crystal leaned into the caress, never losing eye contact. Lauren's hand slipped from Crystal's cheek and moved around to the back of her neck where gentle pressure urged Crystal forward. There was no resistance from the blonde.

This kiss was like all the others given between them, loving and considerate, but this time there was an added flavor. It was as if Tabasco had been added to a great entrée. The food was good, but now it was hot and spicy as well. It's mere intensity intimidated Crystal a little. She shivered as the kiss broke.

"Too fast?" Lauren asked, willing to sacrifice anything if it wasn't.

Crystal looked down and shook her head. "Too long in coming," she admitted.

"Well, you won't have long to wait for another." Crystal looked up and saw the passion in Lauren's eyes and met the brunette in a kiss that made the first seem tame. She opened her mouth in invitation and Lauren accepted, exploring Crystal and then enticedthe blonde to do the same with her. The kiss broke and for a few moments they just held each other, trying to regain control of their breathing. Lauren was the first to speak.

"Crystal, I want to…"

The doorbell interrupted her sentence.

"Pizza," they said simultaneously, but without enthusiasm. Their only hunger was for each other. Crystal stepped away and walked reluctantly toward the door.

Lauren had her back to the door, but turned quickly when Crystal exclaimed, "Mom!"

"Glad you recognize me. I wasn't sure if you would; you and Davey haven't been over to visit in quite awhile. Where is my boy?" Georgie Jenkinssaid as she entered. "Your Dad and I were out shopping…well, I was shopping and he was moping. Anyway, we found those denims Davey likes so much on sale so we picked him up a couple of pair." Her soliloquy was halted by the sight of Lauren in the living room.

"Mom, this is my friend Lauren Cook. She's a nurse at Patterson General. Lauren, this is my mom, Georgianna."Crystal's mother reached out a hand to shake Lauren's.

"It's very nice to meet you, Ms. Cook. Crystal has spoken of you of course. She told me what a wonderful job you did with Davey and how good a friend you've become to her."

"I'm glad she feels that way and I'm glad to meet you, Mrs. Jenkins."

"Oh call me Georgie. Georgianna is too Victorian and Mrs. Jenkinswas Dave's mother," the older woman said.

"So Davey was named after your dad?" Lauren asked, noting the connection. Crystal appeared uncomfortable and uneasy. There's the bucket of cold water on us then,Lauren thought. She decided to fill in the gaps for her mom.

"Davey's not here right now. He was invited on a two day camping trip and I guess, like every other little boy, he couldn't resist," Lauren said pleasantly.

"He's with Patsy and her granddaughter, Crystal added.

"He'll be full of stories the next time he comes to stay overnight which I'm sure will be soon. Very soon…hint, hint," Georgia said, poking her daughter playfully. Lauren couldn't help but like the effervescent woman, but wondered if Crystal would have problems with her if she became deeply involved with a woman.

"Yes, Mom, I get your oh-so-subtle hint. I'll let Davey stay over with you one night next week, okay?"

"That's fine, dear, how nice of you to suggest it!" Georgie laughed as she made her way toward the door. She handed over a gray plastic bag bearing the name of a popular department store. "I need to get a move on; you know how cranky your father gets if he misses the Padres' game." As if on cue, a car horn honked out front. "That's Dave, nothing if not predictable. I'll see you when you pick Davey up on Monday, Crys."

"Right, Mom. Hey, Dad!" the blonde yelled to the man behind the wheel of a SUV. He waved back. Crystal waited until the were driving off before she closed the door. "My mom sees Davey for an hour and a half five days a week and that's not enough," she laughed. "They're very close to Davey though and that I like."

Lauren nodded, thinking their earlier mood was completely broken. The doorbell rang again. Neither woman predicted who would be at the door this time.

"Delivery from Capone's," a young man barely old enough to have a driver's license said after Crystal opened the door. "That'll be $16.25." Lauren stepped up behind Crystal and handed the delivery driver a twenty dollar bill while Crystal took the pizza.

"Keep the change," she said.

"Thanks, lady," the youth said as he sauntered back to a beat up Honda. Crystal and Lauren walked to the kitchen where they deposited the pizza on the table.

"I really liked your mom," Lauren said.

"Too bad she has such a bad daughter," Crystal replied despondently.

Here's where she regrets what almost happened between us,Lauren thought dejectedly. "You're not a bad daughter."

"I am," Crystal said. "The whole time she was here all I could think about was how to get rid of her."

The nurse brightened considerably. "You did?"

"Yep," Crystal assured her. "Want to know something else?"

"Sure," Lauren said. A smile was growing across her features.

"Cold pizza is my favorite breakfast." It took a moment for Crystal's meaning to click, but once it did, Lauren's course was clear.

"Crystal, will you come with me to the bedroom?" Crystal didn't speak, but merely took Lauren's hand and they exited the kitchentogether.


Arriving in Crystal's bedroom, Lauren was stunned to see preparations had been made for her visit. This almost looks like a…seduction.Lauren smiled and released the blonde's hand, turning completely around in the room. Candles were burning,giving the room a mutedglow. The bed was turned down and crisp clean sheets were evident. Dried rose petals were placed in small bowls setstrategically around the room and were giving off a soft scent that stimulated Lauren's senses. She stopped turning when she was facing Crystal again. The blonde was blushing.

"Does it seem a little mercenary in here? If it looks like I planned things, I assure you the coincidence is strictly intentional. I've never been as attracted to anybody as I am to you. Sean and I didn't exactly burn up the sheets with our sex life. He liked it and I tolerated it. I was pretty sure it was me and I guess I was right. It was me, but not for the reason I thought. The right man never came along, but I think the right woman has."

It had been a very long time since Lauren had heard such sweet words and never with the kind of honesty she found in Crystal's short speech. Without words she moved toward Crystal and directly into a deep and loving kiss. It was all the reply she needed to give and the mood that had been broken by visitors earlier returned full force.

Crystal loved the feel of Lauren's soft lips on hers. Something very new and veryright was happening to her and she didn't fight the sensations at all. Sean had been able to excite her with kisses and caresses, but beyond that there was nothing in the act for her.Her instincts told her it was going to be completely different with Lauren.

Lauren moved her lips from Crystal'sand trailed them across her cheek and down onto her neck. Shivers of excitement rose in the blonde as Lauren reached sensitive areas and lavished attention on them. Crystal's nipples felt taut and strained for the nurse's touch. Lauren felt the agitated movements and guessed at the need they expressed. She brought her hands up and caressed Crystal's breasts through her thin t-shirt. The blonde moaned in satisfaction.

Lauren moved her lips downthe line of the v-neck shirt and stopped at the meeting of the material. She stood up, moving her hands from Crystal's breaststo her shoulders. Crystal's eyes had been closed, but they openedat the loss of the contact she craved. There was no teasing in Lauren's look though, just undisguised desire.

"I need to see you, Crystal. I need to feel your skin next to mine and touch you to make sure all this is really happening and not just another of my dreams about you…about us being together." Crystal stepped back and looked directly into Lauren's eyes as she began removing her clothes. She had never done that with Sean, always preferring to climb into bed, have sex in the dark and then redress into the nightshirtshe wore to sleep in. It was exciting to see Lauren's breathing increase and her eyes drop to her body as each piece of clothing was slowly and deliberately removed.

Lauren held in check a nearly overwhelming urge to assist Crystal in disrobing. Something inside told her Crystal needed to do this and it needed to be at her pace. She watched as Crystal removed the last of her clothing and stood before her in resplendent nakedness.

"You're beautiful," the nurse said simply. Unbuttoning her simple cotton shirt she shrugged it off and then reached behind her to remove her bra. Shorts and panties followed. Lauren reached for Crystal and pulled her up against her body. Flesh met flesh as they learned to fit their forms together for the first time.

"I've wanted this forever it seems like," Lauren said into Crystal's ear, placing small kisses on the side of her head and face.

They held the intimate embrace until Crystal whispered, "Lauren, I didn't do much with Sean. It didn't take him long to…you know. I want to make love with you, but I…" Crystals words trailed off, but the brunette understood what was being requested.

"Let me teach you, Crystal. Let me show you how wonderful it is to love a woman." From her place against Lauren's shoulder, Crystal nodded. The nurse stepped back, gently tugging Crystal with her to the bed where she lowered them both to the mattress. The sheets felt cool against their heated flesh. Positioning the blonde on her back in the middle of the bed, Lauren reclined on her side to Crystal's right.

"First, we don't hurry. If you never had pleasure with lovemaking it's probably because things went too fast. I'm a patient woman and we have all night. I want to touch and love all of you." Lauren leaned over her partner and began a series of long, deep and exploring kisses and Crystal felt a familiar stirring inside. It was the beginning of the need she felt every time she and the brunette kissed. The need was building more rapidly than usual because Lauren's kisses were now accompanied by touches to Crystal's skin. The nurse stroked Crystal's arms and across her belly, returning to the breasts she had been touching outside the clothing only a few minutesbefore. Trails of muted fire were left wherever the fingers roamed. When Lauren began touching Crystal's nipples, feeling them harden under her ministrations, the muted fire quickly fanned to life.

Lauren broke off her kisses and looked down at Crystal. "You're very sensitive here; I like that." Crystal nodded,her flushed skin testifyingto that fact as well. Lauren lowered her head to Crystal's breasts and took first one then the other into her mouth. With tongue and teeth she teased the nipples into rigid attention. Crystal had been aroused before with caresses to her breasts, but knowing Lauren didn't need to rush actually made Crystal impatient for her to do so. The need between her legs was making itself known and she could feel the moisture gathering there.

"Please," Crystal pleaded, unable to articulate her need more than that. Lauren lifted her head and looked down at the blonde.

"You taste so good. I want to taste you everywhere. I need you to know how very much I want you." Crystal trembled at the words. This was something she had never experienced with Sean, the open and sexual talk. A new world of lovemaking was opening to her.

Lauren began a languid exploration of Crystal's body with her mouth and hands. She stroked, kissed and licked her way inexorably lower. Reaching the silky mass of curly blonde hair between Crystal's legs, she looked up.

"Open for me," she urged as she nudged the blonde's legs apart. Crystal's scent rose as she gladly allowed the access and Lauren felt an answering fire as she moved her hand between Crystal's legs for the first time. Her fingers gently touched the very hot and very wet flesh there and Crystal's body jerked with the initial contact.

"You feel so wonderful, Crystal. I can feel how wet you are for me." Lauren's fingers delved deeper at the words and found the firm nub they sought. "You're hard for me," the brunette said simply. Any embarrassment Crystal might have felt with Lauren's words or touches was lost in the tidal wave of raw sexual feeling. Her hips took up an unconscious rhythm matching the pace of the stroking of her clit.

Lauren wanted to close her eyes and revel in the soft, wet heat, but forced her eyes to stay open and watch as Crystal's body responded to her. Drifting her strokes even further down, she circled the opening there. Crystal tensed up a bit at this point, but Lauren eased her tension patiently.

"Do you feel that, Crystal? Your body is on fire for me. You're so wet and silky down here. This is something meant to give you pleasure." Lauren shifted down on the bed until she was between the blonde's legs. "Let me give you that pleasure." Crystal looked down at Lauren and knew what she was asking. She swallowed hard and smiled slightly, giving her approval.

Lauren almost reverently lowered her mouth to Crystal's wetness. Her tongue slipped by the swollen and open lips to find the clit on the first pass. She felt Crystal suck in a deep breath and knew she was giving the blonde something she had never experienced before. That knowledge fueled her own need and her need for her partner. Holding Crystal open, Lauren used her tongue in a series of short firm strokes that renewed the movements of Crystal's hips, though those movements were more frantic now.

Lauren took Crystal's clit in her mouth and felt the complete arousal there. The blonde could only clutch at the sheets as flames licked their way through her body and sweet juices poured from her. Lauren felt every tremor passing through Crystal's body under her tongue and fingers and moved to bring Crystal to her climax. Her tongue never losing contact with the blonde's clit, Lauren brought a single finger to the opening she had already discovered and slipped it inside easily.

"Yesss," Crystal managed as Lauren set up matching rhythms with her tongue and finger. Coherent thought was lost to the blonde as her hips rose and fell faster and faster.

"Come for me," Lauren insisted, only momentarily lifting her mouth from Crystal's wet center. Those three words, combined with the continuing stroking of Lauren's tongue on her clit and one,then two fingers deep inside her set off a sexual explosion in the blonde. The orgasm that overtook her shattered the last barrier Crystal had and she let herself go with the avalanche of sensation.

The shuddering and cries of completion subsided slowly and Lauren placed a last soft kiss between Crystal's legs. "Thank you," the nurse said. "Thank you for letting me be the one to give you that." Crystal's breathing was still rapid and she licked her lips to reply.

"Incredible," she said. Lauren felt she had never heard a greater compliment.

"Two whole days you said," Lauren reminded Crystal as she placed her cheek on the blonde's thigh. "Get some rest, we'll take up more teaching later." Crystal closed her eyes, relaxing into the sheets. Her eyes opened a moment later when Lauren's hand reached up to hold hers. She smiledand closed her eyes again, a new certainty setting itself up in her heart.

She was completely and deeply in love with Lauren.

End of Part 3

To be continued…

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