Disclaimers: None. I’m not disclaiming the need for an open mind. If you’re still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you’re getting into.
Author’s Notes: This is because I got several requests asking for a sequel to Three Choices and since Sarabeth and Teagan were kind enough to stop by and give me one, I am sharing it. You might want to read that one first. The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
Option Number Four
Groggy and still half-asleep, Teagan peered at the clock and then glared at the incessantly ringing phone before snatching it out of its cradle to answer it.
“Teag, it’s me.”
“Bethy? It’s four o’clock in the morning. What’s wrong, honey?” suddenly wide awake.
“Nothing’s wrong, Teag. I mean... I just... I need to talk to you. Can I come over?”
Teagan blinked, trying to will away her sleepiness and confusion. “Now? I mean sure, hon. C’mon over. I’ll put the coffee on.”
“Thanks, Teag. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Drive safely, babe. I’m not going anywhere.”
Sarabeth hung up the phone and Teagan just stared at it in an uncomprehending manner until it started bleating out an annoying busy signal. Then she dropped it back in its cradle before slumping back on the bed with boneless gracelessness. Now that the adrenaline rush was gone, she just wanted to catch her breath before she got out of bed. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened that caused Sarabeth to call at four a.m.
Teagan sighed and rolled out of bed. Somehow she doubted this was good news. She shuffled into the kitchen barefooted and pushed her long hair back out of her eyes before reaching for the coffee. Then she let her mind wander back over the last few weeks, realizing that something was going to have to change between her and Sarabeth soon.
She didn’t remember when things changed between them, but Teagan clearly remembered the day she and Sarabeth had met – her life had changed.
Teagan had been tapped for a prestigious position at one of the leading research laboratories in the country. Her own work had brought her attention and it afforded her an opportunity to work with some of the foremost minds in the world.
The guys had been great, welcoming her in like she was already part of the team. Then she had been introduced to Sarabeth Beauregard and Teagan Mitchell had been completely charmed. ‘Beau’, as the guys referred to her, was gorgeous – tall, slim with long, dark hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was also almost unnaturally shy and Teagan decided right away that she coveted Sarabeth’s friendship for her very own. So she started a campaign to make them friends, christening her new friend ‘Bethy’ immediately and watching in delight when Bethy blushed and ducked her head with a shy smile.
That had been the beginning for them and before long they were fast friends. They shared meals and conversation with the guys at work, but outside the lab, it was just them. They went shopping and on picnics; went to dinner and had sleepovers and spent inordinate amounts of their off-time laughing and talking about everything in the world.
Slowly, gradually Teagan realized that what she felt for Bethy was more than friendship – it was completion. She refused to look at it any closer than that, afraid of what it would change between them. But more and more it had been on her mind lately and she was worried it was starting to affect her work. She let her thoughts go back to the eerie dream Bethy had interrupted with her phone call.
Teagan was standing in front of a large classroom writing out a long, complex equation. Before she was finished, the bell rang, signaling the end of class, but no one moved, anxious to learn the answer to the difficult problem. With a flourish, she finished, but to their dismay she didn’t give them the solution. “All right,” she offered with a smile. “Next time, I want to see what you guys come up with... and show your work!!” she added with a chuckle when the expected groan rose from her students. “Now get outta here and I’ll see you on Monday.”
She packed up her laptop and textbooks and headed back to her office. That had been her final class, but she had at least another hour’s worth of work to do if she didn’t want to take it home with her, and even though Teagan didn’t have any plans, she preferred to keep her job at work.
She entered her immaculate office, not sparing a glance around the impersonal space as she settled into grading papers. Teagan kept her focus tight and ninety minutes later was walking out the door, heading for home.
She walked into her small cottage, dropping her bag and kicking off her shoes before heading to the kitchen. Everything here was immaculate as well, as though she was merely visiting instead of living here now. Only her tiny study showed any signs of warmth and hominess and Teagan tended to avoid that room most of the time. Today, however, she was feeling melancholy; maybe it was the rain, but whatever the reason, she made herself a cup of tea, then opened the study door. She crossed the threshold and stood looking at a time in her life when she was genuinely happy.
Across the mantle of the fireplace were a row of memories. There was a picture of the company softball team after they’d won the league championship. Another was of a lab party with all the guys after a particularly successful experiment. Teagan picked that one up briefly, wondering what had happened to everyone once she left. The explosion that had destroyed the lab had also broken up the team and she’d lost touch with them after that. She still kept in sporadic touch with Mike, but the rest.... Maybe she would ask him the next time they talked.
The rest of them were of her and Bethy together and they brought an ache to her heart – a picnic in the park, swimming at the beach, hiking in the wilderness. And then there was her personal favorite... one Teagan had captured unexpectedly. Sarabeth had been reading and Teagan called her name to get her attention and the instant Bethy had looked up, Teagan had snapped the picture. She wondered vaguely if Bethy was happy in her new life; she’d heard something about her and Turk getting together, but that was just too fantastic to believe. Sarabeth barely tolerated the man as it was.
She wondered, again, if leaving without talking to Bethy had been the right thing to do. She had always wondered if it would have been more painful to have stayed and remained quiet. At least then she would still have been part of Sarabeth’s life. Teagan shook her head – she’d made her decision and was now stuck with the consequences. She sighed, then crossed to her desk and sat, turning her attention back to the rain as it came down in sheets and torrents. Teagan wondered at the aptness of the metaphor the sight made for her life now.
The smell of coffee brought her back from the memory of her dream and she shook herself. Even now, she felt the sadness from the dream hang over her like a pall. Teagan reached for her and Bethy’s favorite mugs, smiling when she remembered the art fair they had purchased them at years before. It had become one of their annual rituals together. Then her smile fell as the next part of her dream crowded its way back into the forefront of her mind.
The day was cold, barren, overcast, but Teagan didn’t see it. She hadn’t seen anything outside her mind’s eye in the three days since the lab had blown up, killing Sarabeth. She knew there were questions about what had happened... what had caused ‘Beau’, as the boys referred to Bethy, to lose her focus and trigger such a deadly explosion. The one saving grace, if it could be called such, was that Sarabeth had been alone in the lab when it happened.
They had all noticed the oddness of Beau’s and Teagan’s behavior in the last several weeks. Suddenly they were working opposite shifts, barely speaking to one another. After several years of tight friendship between them, the guys could only imagine the ferocity of the argument that had caused such distance to form between Beau and Teagan so quickly.
They had no way of knowing, and never would, that Teagan had gone to Bethy to confess the depth of love she felt for the other woman, only to have that love rejected as unacceptable by Sarabeth. Oh, she was kind enough about it, but she made it clear that there would never be anything more than friendship between them. Teagan had immediately pulled away from Sarabeth, avoiding her whenever she could – working opposite shifts and ignoring Sarabeth’s phone calls, changing her locks and not answering the door when Sarabeth came over to talk. She overlooked the pain she could see in Bethy’s blue eyes at her withdrawal, unable to get past the emptiness she felt in her own heart from what to Teagan had been a major break-up.
In the back of her mind, she wondered if the accident had been deliberate, but she doubted they would ever know for certain. Bethy was too smart for that.
A knock sounded on her door and she checked her appearance one last time before joining the guys on the short journey necessary to lay Bethy to rest. She would never say it aloud and the boys wouldn’t want to hear it anyway, but Teagan was grateful for their silent support. She hadn’t slept since it had happened and Teagan didn’t see that changing in the near future. When she closed her eyes, all she could remember was that she had refused to allow Bethy a chance to be heard after her rejection and that her last words to Teagan had sounded so lost.
The ride to the graveyard was silent and Teagan sat ramrod straight, eyes focused straight ahead while she concentrated on keeping her breathing slow and even. She could do this – she had too. She owed Bethy this much. She would go home and collapse after it was all over; it wouldn’t matter then. There was no one left to care. But she had to get through the funeral first.
The car stopped, and one of the guys helped her out, then they surrounded her like a shield and made their way to Sarabeth’s burial site. The service went quickly and Teagan spoke her piece without a hint of the heartbreak and guilt she felt seeping through. As soon as it was over, she headed back to the car, unwilling to accept platitudes and condolences from people she didn’t want to mingle with in the first place. It didn’t take the guys long to follow her.
“Mitch?” Mike purposefully did not use her first name. Since Teagan had joined them, they had always called her ‘Mitch’, just as they’d called Sarabeth ‘Beau’. It had been the guys’ way of making the women part of the team and both of them had accepted the monikers as terms of endearment. Now, however, it just made Teagan flinch. She opened her eyes, the green so dead it appeared gray.
“What is it, Mike?” her voice as flat as her eyes.
“Did you want to go to the wake?”
She shook her head, exhaustion rolling over her in waves. “I want to go home and pretend this is all a bad dream.”
“I wish it was, Mitch. We’re all gonna miss her.” He paused and the others kept their focus out the windows, watching as the scenery slowly passed by to give the impression of privacy. “You’re not gonna leave us too, now, are ya?”
“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I’m not sure the company will keep us together after this.”
“God, I hope so,” he said plaintively. “We’ve lost enough already, but that’s not what I meant.”
Teagan didn’t make a reply; when the car stopped, she got out and kept the boys from following. “I need some time alone, guys.” They nodded reluctantly and let her go, their eyes following her until her door shut the world out. She grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured herself a full glass, staring at it for a long time before walking away. She wasn’t going to find the oblivion she wanted in a glass of booze and she didn’t need to bring her bad dreams to life. Teagan dragged herself upstairs, dropping clothes haphazardly along the way until she was naked. Then she fell into bed and wrapped herself around her pillow, closing her eyes and hoping this time, the nightmares wouldn’t come.
Teagan covered her eyes as her body shook, the sobs overwhelming her as pain lanced through her heart and soul. Despite the fact that it had only been a dream, the sense of loss she’d felt was very real and acute in its agony. She forced her breathing under control, knowing Bethy was due at any minute and didn’t want to look like she’d cried a river.
She crossed to the sink and splashed water over her face, taking a deep breath and wishing the coffee would get done already – anything to take her mind off the residual discomfort she felt in her belly. Then she let her mind wander to final scenario that had been interrupted by Sarabeth’s call.
The pain in her legs was sharp and biting and Teagan struggled not to cry out as she finished the last of her therapy. Her trainers had warned her of overdoing, but she wanted so badly to be the person she had been before the explosion. They had cautioned her about the unlikelihood of that as well, but she tuned them out – Teagan was determined not to stay in a wheelchair.
When Bethy came home, Teagan had tamed the pain to a dull throbbing, and she greeted her lover with a smile, some teasing and a wildly passionate kiss. “I missed you,” she said as their lips parted.
“I missed you, but I have a surprise for you.”
“You’re going to let me cover you in chocolate and lick it off slowly as foreplay to a long night of hot monkey sex?”
Bethy’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard. “Uh....” She swallowed again. “Wow,” she said slowly, trying to get her mind back on track. “I think we could certainly work on that,” waggling her eyebrows. “But that isn’t my surprise – this is,” pulling state-of-the-art implants from her bag. “The boys and I cooked these up for you to help with your therapy.”
Teagan took them, torn between gratitude and sorrow. Teagan had gone to Sarabeth and told her she was leaving and why, unable to continue to love her best friend from afar. Then almost immediately the lab had been destroyed and they had gotten together, but in the back of Teagan’s mind, part of her wondered if they were only together because of what had happened. Despite Bethy’s reassurances to the contrary, the truth was she was plagued by doubts.
Still, she couldn’t stop the love she felt and she cupped the deep scar Bethy’s face still bore. She refused to have plastic surgery to cover it until Teagan was able to walk on her own again. “I love you, Bethy,” she said sincerely. “I have for a very long time; the accident didn’t change that.”
“You’re my reason, sweetheart... even when I was too dumb to know it. For now though,” scooping Teagan into her strong arms, “we need dinner, Jacuzzi and hot monkey sex with chocolate foreplay. We can talk about the implants later.”
A knock on the door brought her out of daydream haze and Teagan drew a deep breath and crossed through the living room to let Bethy into the house. Soon she would have to make a decision – choosing what she was going to do about what was... or was not... going on between her and Sarabeth. But for right now, at this moment, Bethy needed her. So Teagan turned on the light and opened the door, staring at Sarabeth whose attention was firmly focused on the welcome mat.
Blue eyes flew up to meet green for a very brief moment before dropping back to the mat. “Hey, Teag.” She couldn’t stop the light blush that covered her face. The ride over had given Sarabeth time to think... and doubt. But she had committed herself and promised her Mama, and she was more afraid what the ghost of her mother might do if she backed out than she was of Teagan laughing her out the door. In fact the only thing that scared her worse than her mother’s wrath was the thought that Teagan might feel the need to be kind. Sarabeth thought she could tolerate anything – even laughter – better than Teagan being kind.
Teagan smiled. Despite the weird dreams that manipulated and twisted every thought she’d ever had about her possible future with Sarabeth, she couldn’t help the way her heart fluttered at her adorable bashfulness.
“Are you going to stand on my front porch all night or would you like to come in and have some coffee with me? Seems like the least you could do since you woke me up to make it for you.” Sarabeth heard the teasing in Teagan’s voice and her head popped up to meet twinkling green eyes. She gave Teagan a crooked smile and shrugged.
“I guess maybe I should,” she said. “I’d hate to make good coffee go to waste.”
Teagan put her hands on her hips and mock glared at Bethy. “Be nice to me. I could make you drink it black, you know,” watching Sarabeth shudder at the thought.
With the bit of banter between them, Sarabeth felt her self-confidence return and she crossed the threshold into Teagan’s home. Tonight she would claim happiness... for both of them.
Teagan watched the change come over Sarabeth like a physical thing and it made a chill skitter up her spine. Then she closed the door and followed Bethy to the kitchen. Sarabeth had already poured both mugs full of coffee and was stirring in cream and sugar before handing Teagan hers and taking a sip from her own. Teagan extended her hand and waited for Sarabeth to take it. Then she led them back to the living room and curled on the couch, pulling Bethy down beside her.
“So,” Teagan asked when her coffee cup was almost empty and Sarabeth still hadn’t spoken. “You going to share with me what’s going on here or did you just need a cup of my special brew?”
Sarabeth put down her cup and turned to Teagan, removing the cup she held and placing it on the table as well. Then she took Teagan’s hands in hers and rubbed her thumbs across Teagan’s knuckles. She kept her eyes focused on their joined hands for a long moment, formulating her words. When she looked up, she met Teagan’s eyes steadily, finding mostly confusion in the eyes that met hers, but also seeing the love that she recognized from her dreams. It settled her heartbeat, and even though her voice wavered, her eyes remained steady.
“I’m going to tell you something and I’d like you let me tell it before you ask questions.” Teagan nodded her agreement and Sarabeth took a deep breath before she started to talk. “Last night I went to bed and I had the strangest dream. Mama came to me and she showed me what the future could be like. She showed me three different choices, but I didn’t like the way any of them turned out. So I decided to make my own future.”
“Bethy, honey? Can you tell me about your dreams?”
“Promise not to think I’m weird or laugh?”
“Pinky swear,” extending her pinky and waiting for Sarabeth to clasp it with her own. So Sarabeth told Teagan everything her mama had shown her and Teagan closed her eyes as she recognized the similarities and the differences of their dreams. When Bethy finished speaking, Teagan sat quietly. Finally, Sarabeth couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“Bethy?” Teagan kept her head down and her voice dropped to a whisper. She gathered her courage around her, hoping beyond hope that what she’d understood was what Sarabeth had been trying to say. Then she looked up into blue eyes and found love, desire and hope reflected back at her. It sent a wash of confidence through her veins, but she still bit her bottom lip nervously. “You said you decided to make your own future. What did you decide to do?”
“This,” Bethy answered in a whisper of her own, releasing her grip on one of Teagan’s hands and sliding it into long, blonde hair. She urged Teagan forward until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart. “If you don’t want me to do this,” she breathed, before Teagan leaned into her and captured her lips in a passionate embrace.
It was slow at first – a memorizing of shapes and textures. But it wasn’t long before Sarabeth grew impatient and traced Teagan’s lips with her tongue, teasing until Teagan opened her mouth with a moan. Bethy swooped in, claiming dominance for the moment it took for Teagan to realize that what she had been afraid to dream about was really hers for the taking. Then they kissed until a distinct lack of oxygen forced them to separate, leaning their foreheads against one another as they tried to recover their breaths.
“God, that was amazing,” Sarabeth said when she could speak again. “Why did we wait so long to do that?”
Teagan untangled herself from Bethy’s grip and stood up, holding a hand out to her. Sarabeth took the hand and rose to stand beside her, looking her unspoken question at Teagan. Teagan smiled brightly. “We are going to call into work today and then we are going to go upstairs and see what other interesting and amazing things we can discover about one another. And sometime around dinnertime or so, when we finally come up for air because we really need food, I will share the dream I had last night. But just for the record, this,” holding up their linked hands, “is something I have waited a lifetime for. This is a dream come true.”
Sarabeth’s answer was a brief, intense kiss. “Mine too,” was her rejoinder, “even though it took me a while to realize it. Thank you for being so patient with me.”
“Worth the wait, Bethy. And the best part is – we still have a lifetime together to look forward to.” That made Sarabeth grin so big, Teagan half-expected to find the sun had popped over the horizon, it lit up the room so brightly. Sarabeth pulled Teagan into her and just held on tight, relishing the new intimacy that flowed between them.
“That sounds so wonderful.” She kissed the blonde head tucked neatly under her chin. “Hey,” she commented, pulling back just slightly so she could look into green eyes. “We fit.”
“We always have, Bethy. We always have.” Then she tugged on Sarabeth and the two of them headed for the stairs, taking the next step in a relationship that had been evolving for years.
And from where she was watching over them from her eternal resting place, Mama looked down on them and smiled.
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