A Place Called Home


d a m n a t i o n


For all disclaimers, refer to Part 1.


"No, you have to go back," Flick said in what she hoped was a stern voice, glaring at the puppy that had been following her for about five blocks down the road now.

The black pup did not move, his dark eyes gazing imploringly at her, his equally black tail wagging continuously.

Flick sighed and squatted, intending to check if the puppy had a collar on but ended up getting licked instead. "Eww. . ." She pulled her hand back as if it was scalded. Who knew what else he had licked before licking her hand. Trying to block out that thought from her over active mind, Flick tried to reach for his neck again without getting ambushed by the pink, wet tongue that was sticking out of the puppy's mouth.

The puppy did not have a collar. He looked cared for, so that must mean that he was not a stray -- at least not yet -- so the collar must have either dropped off or something else must have happened to it.

"What am I going to do with you?" Flick glanced around helplessly. No one seemed interested in her predicament. She gazed at the puppy again, which, by this time, was sitting on his hind legs. "Ugh, you look disgustingly cute. Stop looking at me like that," the blonde demanded to no avail.

She stood up, causing the puppy to imitate her movements. Shaking her head, she picked the small animal up and walked home. Her plan to go down to the video store and rent a tape to watch was dashed. Now she had to go home, find the address of the nearest vet and bring the puppy down for a check up, or to see if anyone had reported a missing dog.

The sky was darkening and the wind was picking up. Flick rubbed her arms unconsciously, trying to keep herself warm in her blue T-shirt unsuccessfully. The weather was so unpredictable; the last few days being so hot that she had settled for tank tops and shorts, and now it was almost as though winter was coming. She groaned inwardly at the journey home, wishing that she could fly instead of having to take the public transport that was as untrustworthy as the weather.

"Hey, Flick!" At the sound of her name being called out, she turned to see Daphne and a few other girls sitting on the bench outside the library, smoking. She quirked up a small smile and did not make any attempt to stop and make small talk, but Daphne came up to her anyway. "How's it going?" she asked with a smile.

Flick nodded, "Good, I'm just on my way back," she replied, hoping that she would be allowed safe passage. She caught sight of a familiar figure walking towards them and her heart lurched a little when she recognized who it was.

"Hey Daph," a smiling Corben greeted before fixing his gaze on the blonde she was talking to. He had recognized her from afar, wanting to take the opportunity to ask her out. "Hello, Felicity, it's been a long time," he greeted casually.

Flick could only nod dumbly with a small smile on her face, her heart doing double time. The activist looked so cute with an unshaven look and ruffled hair, like a small boy who had just woken up -- safe for the stubbles, that is.

"Listen," Corben was not used to doing this, but he did not think that he would get a chance as good as this to ask Flick out again, so he trudged on, "there's going to be a Thanksgiving party at my place this weekend, and it would be cool if you guys could make it." The offer was extended out to everyone who was listening but he was only concerned with one answer.

Flick looked around nervously, not sure what to say. She probably would not know a single person at the party, but it was an invitation to Corben's place! The activist took the hesitant look on Flick's face to mean that she did not want to go but did not know how to say no, and his heart fell a little.

"How do I get there?" Flick spoke up finally, not committing herself to anything.

A smile lighted up Corben's face -- something that did not go by unnoticed by Daphne who was eyeing the exchange with interest -- as he gave Flick his address. "We could meet somewhere and I could take you there if you want," Corben offered.

Flick looked at him in surprise, a heated flush building steadily on her face as she wondered if it was possible that her crush had a crush on her. The idea seemed so hilarious that she had to fight off the smirk that was threatening to overtake her face any moment. "All right," she blurted without thinking, just eager to have a chance to get to know Corben, making the smile on his face stretch wider.

"Great, how about this, I'll give you my mobile number and you give me a buzz whenever?" Flick nodded, taking down her crush's number on her palm and promising to give him a ring. Daphne took the chance to ask for Flick's number, which the blonde politely rendered, wondering at the speed her social circle was widening.

"I have to go now," Flick said after all the appropriate digits were exchanged and taken down, anxious to go home to her new companion.

She had brought the puppy to the vet that day and was told that it was a cocker spaniel. Because it had not been micro chipped, he could not be traced back to his previous owner. Flick had the choice of keeping him or leaving him at the pet shelter. She had decided to leave him with the shelter and was about to go home when the puppy started making those heart-wrenching whines. He was probably whining just about now, wondering where she was.

Several 'see ya's and 'bye's were called out to her as she started walking away, and Flick found herself smiling a little. It felt nice to see people more than once outside of class, and more than nice to actually be invited to a party. Flick shook her head lightly, thinking about her old friends back home and her mood became melancholy.

It had been a while since she called any of them. In fact, she had only called Penny once ever since she came here, when she was still living at the motel that Rei had dropped her off. She had promised to call her again once she got a permanent number, but it never happened.

Sure, there were times when she felt like talking to a friend, but she did not like the thought of talking to people from her not so distant past. It made her feel connected to it, somehow, like she was still a part of what happened, never to get away from it all.

Flick sighed as she boarded the train to go back to her apartment. She should call Penny soon, just to wish her a happy Thanksgiving if nothing else.

"Hello?" The receiver was clasped between Rei's right ear and shoulder as she continued stirring the bowl in her hands. She mouthed a thanks to her daughter who had helped the phone with its journey.

Lisha went back to her room with a huge smile firmly planted on her face. It was her Aunt Kezia on the phone, and she was coming to visit. The little girl could hardly wait! Her father's older sister was a walking storage bank of her father's childhood escapades, and she loved hearing about the man she only knew from her mother and a little from her grandparents. Now, Aunt Kezia, she was different. Whilst her mother, grandpa and grandma knew things about the older version of her daddy, Aunt Kezia knew everything that her dad did since he was old enough to walk, and boy did some of the stories make her laugh.

She could hear her mother squealing excitedly outside into the receiver, and her smile widened. Mom loved Aunt Kezia as much as she did, and they had always been very close, even more so after daddy's death, mum had told her. Somehow, his death drew her mother and her father's family closer, each helping the other deal with his death. She never got to know her paternal grandparents who had passed away when her father and auntie were still kids, leaving Aunt Kezia alone now that her daddy was gone as well.

Not alone, she corrected herself, she remembered her mother telling Aunt Kezia that she would always have them. Her thoughts turned to Flick. Mom had told her that Flick had lost both her parents and was living on her own. At least Aunt Kezia had them, what about Flick?

The young face became serious as she thought about this, and decided that Flick was not going to be alone either.

"Sweetie! I presume you've heard the good news," Rei went into her daughter's room after she hung up the phone. Lisha nodded, beaming, her serious mood evaporating quickly. "Wanna help me do up the guest room?" Dancing blue eyes addressed her daughter who said yes and scrambled off her bed immediately.

"Aunt Kezia said she would be here the day after tomorrow. Are we gonna pick her up at the airport?" Lisha asked excitedly, wondering what her aunt would get her this time.

"I am, not you. You have to be in school," Rei said, stripping the guest bed of its sheets, planning to replace them with new ones. She could sense before she even saw her daughter pout as she continued, "However, we'll go pick you up together after school. How's that?" Lisha's face brightened up again when she heard that and she started going off about what they could do during Aunt Kezia's visit.

"Maybe we could ask Flick to come over for Thanksgiving," Lisha suggested suddenly, causing Rei's brow to arch in surprise.

"Don't take this the wrong way, sweetie, you know that I like Flick as well, but what brought that on?" Rei fluffed up the pillows and stood back with her hands on her waist. In actual fact, she had already considered inviting Flick over for Thanksgiving. "There," she said softly to herself, pleased at their efficiency.

Lisha jumped on the nicely made bed and glanced at her mother. "Well, I was just thinking about what you said about Aunt Kezia never having to be alone because she's got us. . . and I remembered that Flick doesn't have her mum and dad anymore. I don't want her to be lonely as well," Lisha explained, "Not on Thanksgiving, especially."

Rei felt her chest swell in pride. This was her daughter speaking -- someone who was constantly finding more ways to make her proud each and every day. "Of course, I'll ask her," the brunette gave her daughter a hug. "I love you, sweetie. You make me so proud."

Lisha returned the hug. Not knowing the appropriate reply to that, she mumbled an "Okay," causing her mother's chest to vibrate a little against her face as she chuckled.

She was glad that she called Penny. Her friend had sounded overjoyed to have heard from her, and had given her a sound scolding for not contacting her for so long. It made her feel tingly all over to know that there were still people who cared about her.

Penny had asked if it would be all right if she came over to spend Thanksgiving with her. It had surprised and touched her greatly that her friend was so thoughtful. Her first reaction was to object to it, saying that Penny would be better off spending Thanksgiving at home, but her childhood friend had insisted, saying that she had nothing better to do anyway. Her mother would be over at her stepfather's family, whom she did not care for, and her father would be holidaying somewhere with his latest girlfriend.

Flick grinned. It would be like old times again. Forcing herself not to think about her own parents, the blonde went to the kitchen to cook herself a packet of instant noodles.

She had forgotten about Thanksgiving until Corben brought it up, really, and even if she did remember it, she would have thought to spend it alone. Now, she could have a nice dinner with her friend and maybe bring her down to Corben's party. She wondered if Rei would want to go along as well and decided not to ask her; the students at the party may not like it.

The unfamiliar sound of her phone ringing made her new companion whom she named Terror bark. He had earned himself that name when she returned home from university to find her house in a state of mess. Shaking her head, Flick told her puppy to quiet down. She had gotten so mad at him, but after a while, his eyes that were full of what she thought was repent and sadness just made her heart melt.

"Hello?" A free hand stroked a small black head that was attached to Terror as he stretched himself out at her feet on the carpeted floor.

For no reason, Flick began grinning unconsciously when she realized that it was Rei on the other end. She had been invited over to Rei's for Thanksgiving. What was she now, Miss Popular? Suddenly everyone wanted to spend Thanksgiving with her. Flick found herself chuckling.

She told her friend that a friend of hers was coming down to spend Thanksgiving with her, and Rei immediately invited Penny along as well. An unexplainable ball of emotion choked up within the blonde when she thought about how great Rei was to her. She surely did not expect that when she first met the woman on the coach.

"I. . ." On the other end of the line, Rei could hear that her friend's voice was slightly muffled. "Thank you," Flick finally said in a soft voice, making Rei smile, glad that she had called her friend.

"Don't be silly," Rei replied lightly, "that's what friends are for."

They had hung up shortly after that, both thinking in their hearts that they had a lot to be thankful for that year. Flick gazed at her new puppy and felt tears prickling her eyes when she looked into the still bluish eyes of the two months old cocker spaniel. The love and devotion that the small animal had entrusted her was evident in those eyes, not to mention that little black stump of tail that never seemed to stop wagging.

Closing her eyes, Flick tried not to miss her parents and not to think about what was going to happen in the future. She was going to adhere to Hume's philosophy that the future is uncertain and thus cannot be observed.

A loud noise emanated from the kitchen made Terror bark and her eyes pop open. Her noodles! Rushing to the kitchen, armed with a pair of chopsticks in her hand, all thoughts of Hume left the Flick's mind as she tried to save her dinner.


"Ohhhh look at the little cutie!" Penny exclaimed, her dark round eyes widening and her lips forming a little pout the moment she saw Terror. The little cocker spaniel jumped up and down, his tail wagging so furiously that Flick thought that it might drop off one day. "You didn't tell me you bought a dog!" Penny looked at her friend accusingly, dropping onto her knees to give the dog a thorough petting.

Flick lugged her friend's bag into her apartment and mumbled something about how some people can make themselves at home so easily.

"So?" Penny had settled herself on the couch at the corner of the room with Terror in her tight grasp. The poor dog was valiantly trying to get out of her embrace to welcome his master, but the small girl was surprisingly strong when she saw the need to be.

"So what? He followed me home and refused to leave me alone after that," Flick said as she shot a look of mock disgust at the puppy. She dumped the bag onto the carpeted floor beside her bed and padded over to the kitchen to fetch her friend and herself a drink. "Terror, come here!" Flick frowned at her naughty dog that knew exactly when to turn on his 'poor puppy' look.

"What is it?" Penny asked, following her friend into the kitchen. "Oh my. . ." She chuckled, watching her friend spank the dog. A helpless cushion was by his makeshift bed, savagely gutted. She looked as her friend sent the puppy on his way, his tail firmly lodged between his hind legs.

Flick finally plopped down on her bed and endured the 'forgive me' licks on her face by Terror. "Go away," she said, not meaning it at all. "You've been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at my friend's," Flick said to Penny, her hand stroking Terror's furry chest absently.

Penny felt a funny stab of jealousy and quickly brushed it off. It was weird to think of her lifelong best friend having another best friend. "Okay. Although I thought we were gonna spend some time alone catching up. But it's okay if you really wanna."

Flick turned to face her friend who was sitting on the couch, drinking a can of Pepsi. "I met her on the way here, actually. Her name is Rei, and she is a professor at my university," Flick grinned.

"Wow, a professor?" Penny felt her insecurities slip away when she heard that. Flick would not want an old woman as her best friend now, would she? Flipping her long, straight hair out of her face, Penny leaned down to pet the dog.

Flick nodded, telling her friend how great Rei had been, how well they got on together, and how nice her family was. Penny and she had been friends ever since she could remember, and they had always told each other everything. Even though she was afraid that seeing her best friend again would bring back memories, she was glad that Penny had made an effort to spend Thanksgiving with her. She started telling her about Corben who had invited her to a party and how she would like to get to know him.

"Okay," Penny moved onto the bed where her best friend was sprawled across and demanded, playfully, that she tell her every single thing about the boy that she was interested in. "I want every single, dirty detail." Her dark eyes twinkled at the familiar groan that was emanated from her friend, eliciting a small "woof" from Terror.

Kezia sipped her coffee slowly, listening to the banter going about in the room. Visiting Rei and her niece had always been the only thing she looked forward to. They were her only family, and she loved them dearly. She had wanted to get pregnant, but her doctor had told her that she could not have any children of her own. That had made her spoil her niece even more, frequently sending her gifts and coming over to visit her sister-in-law whenever her work allowed her to.

Her marriage had ended in a divorce shortly after her brother passed away, and she had not been interested in anyone ever since. Instead, she had concentrated on her catering business and it had paid off. She had made enough profit to expand her business and was considering moving to the state where her sister-in-law and her favorite niece was living in so that she could see them more regularly.

Now, sitting here in the Conrad's living room after a hearty Thanksgiving meal, listening to Penny and Lisha playfully vying for Terror's affection and attention, Kezia felt more at home than she ever did in her own barren apartment.

Penny, Flick's friend, and Lisha had gotten on like a house on fire, and was now trying to seduce Terror with the piece of pie that she was waving in front of the puppy. Penny was a little taller than Flick, her skin a nice shade of bronze, contrasting completely with her best friend's golden girl look. Kezia shook her head at the small dog that was rushing to and fro between Lisha and Penny, taking their small offerings with great relish.

"So, when do you think you would be able to move over officially, Kezia?" Rei asked, tucking the bit of her hair that could not be tied back in the ponytail behind her ear. She just came out of the bathroom, and her eyes were scanning the cosy living area. "Where's Flick?"

The non sequitur made the older woman smile. She had noticed that Rei got on really well with her new friend, and was glad that her sister-in-law finally found a friend outside the circle of friends that she and Vince normally mixed around in.

Kezia had met Vince several times and found him to be a rather pompous man, but that fact was overlooked once she saw that the dark man only had eyes for Rei. At least he was sincere, and Kezia could think of worse candidates for the tall beauty.

"She went out to the porch for a cigarette," Kezia offered. Rei nodded, returning her attention to her sister-in-law. Kezia placed her cup of coffee on the table and turned to face Rei. "Where's Vince?"

Rei shrugged, "He's over at Roger's." Roger was a senior doctor in the hospital that Vince was working in, and he was also Vince's mentor. Vince had wanted Lisha and her to join him, but she had gotten out of it because of Kezia's sudden decision to drop by and spend Thanksgiving with them.

Vince had offered to skip the dinner party at Roger's, unwilling to go without Rei, but she had insisted that he attended it. Vince's request for them to move in together had renewed her doubts towards their relationship. It had forced her to evaluate the reasons why she was so hesitant about committing herself to a man whom she claimed to love so dearly. That line of thought led to a crossroad -- commit herself fully or leave Vince. She found herself leaning towards the latter choice.

She could not see herself married to Vince; if she could not bear to take that next step with him, she failed to see where their relationship would take them. It would not be fair to Vince. He was more than ready to settle down with her and start a family with her. Who was she to deprive him of a family? The more she thought about it, the more she came to the conclusion that they should just be friends.

Actually, they were already like friends. She had always known that it was what his occupation required, but recently, she would rather do things without him than miss him when he was not with her. That was what bothered her; she did not miss him anymore. Sure, they were still close when they spent time together but more and more she felt that she did not need to kiss or hug him anymore. It was as if. . . they had gotten too used to each other.

Her chest constricted in pain when she remembered the day she received all the roses from him. That was the sweetest thing he had done for her in such a long time, but ironically, it made her see that it was time for them to move on with their lives.

Kezia noticed the frown on Rei's face and reached out to rest her hand on the brunette's arm. "Missing him?" She asked, getting a negative shake of head and a small smile in return.

"Actually," Rei did not know if she should voice out her thoughts to her sister-in-law -- not that she did not trust her, but they had company. "We'll talk about this another time," she said finally, turning her head slightly to give Flick a smile when her friend returned.

Kezia nodded, pushing a hand through her chin length brown hair. Rei studied the older woman and wondered why she never remarried after Hank. Her sister-in-law was still in her early thirties, and was considerably attractive, her smiling blue-green eyes so much like her younger brother's. Having her move over would be good. She might be able to fix her up with someone.

Terror immediately ran towards Flick when she entered, ignoring the persistent duo with the unlimited goodies in their hands, making Kezia and Rei chuckle at their crestfallen faces. They had not succeeded in swaying the dog's loyalty to his mistress.

Flick was made to go over to where Penny and Lisha was sitting so that the puppy would be within their reach. Rei smiled when Flick turned her head in her direction to give her a mock pained look, shrugging her broad shoulders to indicate that she could do nothing about it.

The evening was turning out wonderfully, Rei thought, pleased. Kezia and she started talking about where would be a good place for her to live. She would look occasionally over at her friend with Terror on her lap and two ardent fans of his on either sides of her, cooing and coaxing him to get off Flick's lap. Rei shook her head, knowing that her daughter would be wanting her to get her a puppy now. Oh well, Rei thought to herself, maybe Flick would need someone to baby-sit her dog.

"Wow, he really is cute," Penny commented after they got home from Corben's party. Flick shrugged her shoulders, more anxious to hit the shower and the sack.

The party at the activist's place was good. It was a nice house, shared by three guys and a girl, and they did it up really nicely. Daphne and her friends were there as well. Apparently, Daphne and the only female tenant of the place used to date.

Penny was the more outgoing one of the two of them, and she had managed to know more people than Flick did in the one month that she was here. Flick was sure that she had made more than a few people go home with broken hearts when they found out that Penny was not going to be staying after Thanksgiving. Shrugging, Flick pulled her sneakers off whilst Penny continued with her evaluation of the people in the party.

"Daphne's so into you," Penny commented, chucking her dress into the laundry basket, causing a blonde head to swirl around so fast the owner almost fell to the floor.

"What are you talking about?" Flick asked, her eyes wide with confusion.

Penny gulped down some water and replied, "Just that. She likes you. It's obvious. Corben likes you too. They sorta have this rivalry thing going on between them, it's so funny to see them go at it." Penny chuckled at the memory.

Flick choked back a laugh and shook her head. Her friend must be mental. Corben and she were chatting for a while back at the party and she must admit that she was quite disappointed with how it had turned out. Corben and her seemed to have nothing more than "hi" and "bye" to say to each other. And to actually have him sit with her with a beer in hand, she found that they had absolutely nothing in common.

He did tell her about some campaigns that he was involved in, and how the school system needed change and stuff, but it all sounded foreign to her. She was never into politics, and to have someone who was so totally into it for a conversation partner was rather intimidating.

"You're crazy," Flick said, finally, locking the bathroom door. She could hear her friend's protests outside, saying that she should let her guest use the bathroom first, and ignored her.

"No I'm not. You are just plain blind," Penny said on the other side of the door. "Hey, c'mon, let me in. How can I talk to you like this?" The knob turned and Penny let herself into the bathroom, lowering the cover of the toilet bowl and sitting on it, averting her gaze from the shower stall.

She related how Daphne would shoot daggers Corben's way during the party and how Corben would glare at the brunette, telling her to back off once in the kitchen.

Flick was duly amused.

"She told him that you were gay," Penny smirked, remembering what she overheard when she was getting herself a drink from the fridge. "She said that you and Professor Conrad had something going or something like that," she continued, looking at the shower stall in concern when funny noises starting coming out of it. "You okay?"

Flick finished snorting and turned off the water. "Yeah," she chuckled, "I'm all right."

"So, are you?" Penny asked from her seat, crossing her tan, slim legs.

Flick raised her brow at the tiled wall as she applied shampoo to her hair. It was getting a little too long. Maybe she should have a haircut soon. "Am I what?" she asked deliberately, incredulous that her friend of God knows how many years could ask her that.

"Are you gay?" Penny rolled her eyes, caught sight of the mirror, and got up from her seat.

"I don't believe you're asking me that." The water came back on as the blonde scrubbed the shampoo off her head.

Penny started removing her light make-up. "Why not? I'm not one to judge. If you're gay, you're gay. No biggie." She paused in her task, adding, "To tell you the truth, Rei is quite the catch." This time, she was sure that Flick was laughing under the pattering of the water.

"She's taken. Plus, she's straight," Flick said a little loudly so that her friend could hear her.

"So what? Her boyfriend wasn't even there at Thanksgiving. They're not married. If you like her, go for it."

Flick stepped out of the shower stall with a towel wrapped around her, a stunned look on her face. "God, listen to yourself, Penny. I don't like Rei that way, if that's what you're talking about. I mean. . . she'll never look at me me that way. She's beautiful, smart and funny, and her boyfriend's a surgeon, for Heaven's sake. Why would she have me if she could have someone like him? Besides, I'm too young." Flick could not believe that she was actually saying that. It sounded like she was actually interested in Rei.

Penny turned around, a gleam in her brown eyes. "Ah. That doesn't sound like what someone who has no interest in her would say, eh?" Flick shook her head. She let herself out of the bathroom, hoping that Penny would take the hint and let go of the subject. Her best friend had gotten her confused enough already.

A voice floated out of the bathroom when she was putting on her pajamas, causing her to wince. "You never did deny it when I asked if you're gay, Flick! That speaks louder than words!"

Flick groaned, covering her face with her blanket, determined to fall asleep before Penny came out of the bathroom.


"How long has this been going on?" Kezia stared intently at her sister-in-law, concern etched on her face. Rei had locked herself in the toilet for about an hour after her meeting with Vince, and had announced their break-up to both Lisha and her. To say that it had taken them by surprise was an understatement.

Rei brushed an invisible tear from the corner of her eye and sniffled a little. "I've been thinking about it for a while. I don't know what's wrong with me. . . to think that I'm the one who initiated it. God, I think I look like the one being dumped." Blue eyes rolled and a hand reached out to pull at a Kleenex.

Lisha was sent to her room with the promise that Rei would talk to her after speaking with Kezia, and she had obediently gone upstairs. She wanted to call Vince anyway.

"It's just that. . . I feel bad for hurting him. I do love him, regardless, but I don't think I'm in love with him anymore." She was not sure if she ever was, but that would be a very mean thing to say. They had good times together, and the break-up affected her just as well.

Kezia nodded gravely, determined to give Rei as much support as she could before she had to fly back home. She hoped that the moving would not take more than a month -- she wanted to be able to spend Christmas with Rei and Lisha without having to worry about moving.

"But I'm glad I did it," Rei sighed, throwing the crumpled piece of Kleenex into the bin under the table and pulling out another one. "You should have seen him. . . Oh God, I really hurt him. He actually begged me. . ." Her voice trailed off as tears started coming out of her eyes again. "Kezia, tell me I'm not a bad person?" She needed to hear that she did the right thing. The look on Vince's face made her heart break.

"As long as you think you did the right thing. . ." Kezia started, patting Rei's back, "I don't think you're a bad person. It's better to end it than to have it drag on."

"He's a good man and he loves me and Lish, but something's just missing from our relationship. I don't know what it is, but the feeling's growing stronger by the day. I don't know how Lish is taking it. She adores Vince." Rei looked to her sister-in-law, adding, "Five years. We've been together for so long and I'm breaking it off because of some stupid thing that I feel is missing. I'm such a bitch."

Kezia sighed. "No you're not. Stop beating yourself up over it. You've done it, so move on with your life. Time is not everything."

Rei nodded, pushing herself up from her seat. "I'm gonna have to talk to Lish now. She's going to be upset." Kezia looked at Rei sympathetically and told her good luck, eliciting a slight smile from Rei who replied that she would need it.

Vince stared numbly at the screen before him, willing himself to wake up from his nightmare. Rei had called in that morning, to his pleasant surprise, bringing breakfast with her. They had sat down to enjoy bagels and coffee -- at least he was, Rei was looking all nervous and twitchy -- when she said the dreaded "We need to talk" line.

It was not working out for her, she had said, her eyes downcast. She had not been able to look up at him. Guilty, he surmised. She ought to be. Anger surged up within him before he squelched it, forcing it down so that he felt numb again.

After so many years, that was all she could say.

He had loved her longer than she loved him, that was why it was easier for her. She was the only woman that he loved, ever since high school. Frank and he had fallen for the same girl, but it was Frank who got a date with her first. He had waited patiently for the relationship to end so that he may get his chance with her. But it never did. Before he knew it, they were talking about marriage.

Marriage, he had scoffed. He never thought that Frank would be serious with the dark beauty, but apparently, he was. He should have stepped in before it had gotten this far between the two of them, but it had never occurred to him that they would actually get married. It was ridiculous to settle down when you were that young. How could you be sure that the person was the one?

But Frank was sure, and so was Rei. Vince kept his feelings to himself, and had gotten dead drunk on the couple's wedding night. The hardest thing was to be the man standing beside the groom, watching the woman he loved marry another man.

Then Frank passed away and suddenly, everything seemed hopeful again.

Now, she wanted it to end. Why? What did Frank have that he did not? Why couldn't he make it last?

"Jackson," he growled into his mobile, keeping his emotions from pouring out. His voice soften when he realized that it was Lisha calling. She sounded nervous, but it was evident that the small girl was worried about him.

Vince almost laughed at that. His ex-lover's daughter probably cared more for him than she did.

"I'm all right, chipmunk, your mother and I just need some time to work things out," he reassured Lisha, wishing that it was true. Maybe Rei needed some time to realize that she loved him. He would not give up that easily.

"I love you too. Take care, I'll see you soon, sweetie," Vince said, his voice almost breaking. He needed to think. Get himself together. All this vulnerability was not going to do him any good. Tucking his mobile into his pants pocket, the surgeon took his car keys and headed out of his apartment.


Flick tossed a yellow Frisbee to the empty air, smiling absently at the vigor in Terror's bounce as he ran after the disc.

It was a week to Christmas, she noted with a start. Rei and she had spoken once after the Thanksgiving dinner at her place, but she had not heard from the professor ever since.

Rei was probably busy with her work, Flick rationalized. After all, she must have tons of papers to correct.

I miss her, Flick finally admitted. At that, she frowned. Stupid Penny. It was all her fault, making her think of Rei that way. They had such a good arrangement before. Rei and her had gotten on well and hanging out with her and Lisha was so fun. But now, it made her heart race just thinking about the possibility of seeing her friend.

Was she gay? God, she did not know. It had never crossed her mind that she might be, though. She had better stay away from Rei. Her friend might find out about her feelings -- whatever they might be -- and that may spoil their friendship. Moreover, she had Vince.

A rich, handsome, charming, successful boyfriend.

Green eyes rolled.

Terror's barking snapped her out of her rumination and she turned to see what the matter was. Her line of sight collided with a familiar tall figure, making her heart race. This was not good. Having a harmless crush on someone she did not care about was different from having a crush on a friend.

"Heya, short stuff." Flick's brow hitched up as she stood with one hand on her waist, giving her friend a mock glare.

The back of Rei's white T-shirt had smudges of grass all over it, and the seat of her light denim jeans was slightly damp. Even her long dark hair had bits of grass in it -- but all that made her look even more beautiful than usual.

Stop it, Flick warned herself, and looked away when her friend got a funny look on her face. She had been caught staring. "Hey there," she greeted, sounding funny even to herself.

"Don't you ever get sick of wearing that sweatshirt?" Rei smiled at her friend in the Adidas sweatshirt, puzzling over the different vibe that she was receiving from the normally indifferent blonde.

It was a nice surprise to see Flick at the park near their homes. She knew that Flick would be busy doing her assignments previously and did not call her up for fear of disturbing her studying. Then, the papers for her to mark poured in so fast that she had to start marking them now so that she would have more time to laze around later on.

Flick blushed a little, to Rei's surprise, but green eyes met blue ones readily. "You just happen to see me every time I wear this shirt," she said softly, flopping down on the grass next to Terror.

"Now I know what to get you for Christmas," Rei joined her friend on the slightly damp grass, teasing her lightly. In fact, she really liked how Flick looked in her yellow sweatshirt. Her friend did not reply, making her worried that she had unintentionally offended Flick.

"It's a gift from my dad," Flick said in the same soft voice.

Rei remained silent, not knowing what to say. It was the first time Flick volunteered any information about either of her parents. She wanted Flick to know that she would lend a willing ear if she wanted to talk about anything, and to say anything might lead her off track.

"It reminds me of him," Flick said with a small smile, her eyes taking on a faraway look. "Mum always said that dad looked like Alec Baldwin, though I never made the connection." She tried to keep her voice light, and not let the pain in her chest show. "They don't even have the same coloring. But yeah, my dad was a real looker when he was younger."

"He gave it to me the Christmas before. . . it was the last thing he gave me before everything. . . everything turned bad," The pain in her voice was evident now.

Rei glanced anxiously at her friend, angry that she had caused her anguish. She wanted to tell her that it was all right if she did not want to say anything, but she did not want to stop Flick if she wanted to unload her chest. Torn, Rei could only let Flick lead the conversation.

"He killed her, you know?" Flick was openly tearing now. Rei put a comforting arm around Flick, allowing the golden head to rest on her broad shoulder. Green eyes looked up in surprise but allowed herself to relax in the makeshift embrace.

"He killed her accidentally, I hope, and then he killed himself." She had never said that out loud, and she could not believe how light it made her chest feel after she did. She heard her friend's sharp intake of breath.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry to hear that, Flick," Rei started saying.

"Why? You didn't do anything." Flick gave her friend a watery smile to let her know that it was not a malicious statement. "I guess a part of me still hates him for doing what he did. He not only made me motherless. . . he made me an orphan. But I. . . he's my daddy, and I miss him, so much."

The arm around her tightened as she sobbed into the white T-shirt, further staining it. "Ssh. . . it's okay. I know how you feel. When Frank died, and when everyone said that he committed suicide, I felt angry too. I was angry that he killed himself without telling me his problem, angry at him for leaving me behind." Rei recalled her own experience vividly. No tears came now -- not after so long -- but the memory still caused her pain.

Slowly, the sobbing subsided as the sun slanted into the horizon, retrieving its dying glow from the lands. Neither spoke as they sought strength in the shared embrace, with Terror fussing around them.


She knew that it was a bad idea, but her stubborn streak did not allow her to give up. Now, sitting on the gravel pavement for the umpteenth time after losing her balance on her Rollerblades, Flick was sure her butt was going to resemble a baboon's by the time she got home. Terror, on the other hand, was having heaps of fun running ahead of her, sniffing at the grass and shrubs, sometimes straying too far but always running back to his mistress.

"Why do they make it look so easy when it's so darn difficult to balance on the darn things?" she muttered to herself, her hair slightly damp from perspiration on the sunny summer morning. She was going to call it a day and strip herself of her knee and elbow guards when a well worn pair of Rollerblades skidded to a halt in front of her.

Squinting, Flick looked up to see a lean girl cocking her head down at her. "Hi," she said stupidly, not knowing what else to do in a situation like this. The greeting sounded more like a question; she was not a circus freak, thank you.

"Need help?" The voice that accompanied the casual question was cool, but the hand that reached out to help the fallen girl up proposed sincerity.

Surprised, Flick took the offered hand and tried to scramble up. "One leg at a time. Try to balance. Time is not important," came the advice which Flick took after a deep breath and attempted to regain control of her slightly wobbly limbs.

"Thanks." Finally standing, Flick dusted herself and swiped an arm across her damp forehead. She was slightly shorter than the other blader who was donned in a black spaghetti strap top and denim shorts. Inquisitive eyes traveled down the length of the newcomer and noted that her Rollerblades, though well worn, were well kept with minimal scratches.

A quirky smile grazed the composed features of the object in her vision, making the owner look both mocking and sincere at the same time. "No worries. I've been watching you fall. . . I mean blading, and I thought maybe you'd appreciate some company. And some tips too, if you like." A wisp of hair blew onto the taller girl's face and was immediately tucked behind an ear by a long, slender finger.

The words were said in a kind tone, not meaning to insult, and Flick appreciated that on top of the company.

Voicing out the latter part of her thoughts, Flick gave the other blonde a smile and introduced herself. Her mum, like most mothers, did tell her not to fraternize with strangers but it was in the broad daylight, she was near her home, she had her dog with her, and the other girl looked rather harmless. Well, maybe not exactly harmless; she did have an air of restless energy around her.

"Hello, Flick. I'm Eugenie -- you can call me Jean. C'mon, let's get you blading, shall we?" Brown eyes dealt out a challenge that green ones instantly accepted. Sore butts to hell. She was going to master this art even if it would make her bedridden for a week.

Flick stretched her arms out to form a T-shape, letting the blades roll on the level ground. She had taken a couple more falls before she could actually exert a semblance of control over the pair of wheels, but it had all been worth it. The wind swept through her ruffled hair, making her feel as if she was flying -- that being the reason why she had her arms stretched out beside her. A scene from 'Titanic' came to her mind and she quickly pulled her arms back to her sides, not before she lost her balance and proved Newton's law again. The distant sound of laughter reached her ears, and despite herself, Flick looked up at her new friend started laughing.

"Oh Jack, I'm flying!" Jean flung her hands out the same way Flick did a few moments ago, making the fallen blonde blush whilst laughing in embarrassment. Busted. Terror was barking at the commotion, his ever-wagging tail on the move again. The cocker spaniel was full-grown now, and his handsome black coat shining in the afternoon sun.

The day had gone past in a flash, and Flick had to admit that even though every part of her body hurt, she was having a good time. Jean had a dry sense of humor that hit Flick just right, and Flick had to admit that it did not hurt that Jean was spunky looking. In fact, Jean lost her seriousness more and more as the day progressed, making her look younger and more carefree to Flick than when she first stopped to talk to her. She was sure that the girl would be interesting to know; already she felt some sort of connection between the stranger and herself, but what it was she had yet to pinpoint.

"Hey, you all right?" A concerned voice brought her back to reality of the hard ground against her butt. She realized that she was gazing at the pole behind Jean for some time without speaking.

"Yeah, just drifted off," Flick replied with a shrug. She had settled down pretty nicely in the small apartment, and it was getting to be easier to wake up and not expect breakfast waiting for her in the kitchen, alongside her mother's cheery voice. Hard as it may be, she had gotten used to the idea of a new life. Rei had been a great help, and their friendship had grown so much stronger over the last few months. Just thinking of Rei made Flick sigh inwardly. As if on cue, all her body parts started aching at the same time, making her grimace.

"I should go. It's been great fun, but I think I really need a bath." Her hands reached for her blades and she started pulling them off so that she could get home in one piece, and not have her individual aching body parts forming a trail back to her apartment.

Jean shrugged, her brown eyes showing neither disappointment that their day was coming to an end, nor a wish for the possibility of another meeting. Her smile was warm when she said that she enjoyed Flick's company, though, and all that intrigued the blonde even more: so near, yet so far.

Green eyes flickered for an instant as she considered planning the next meeting but the moment passed and the blonde turned, calling out for Terror who was investigating another interesting pole by the side of the path. Attaching his leash to his collar, Flick gave her new friend a final smile. "Thanks for taking the time help me with this, Jean." She held up her pair of Rollerblades.

"Time is not important. . ." Jean repeated what she said to Flick earlier in the day, causing Flick's smile to widen. "I'll see you when I see you, Flick." Jean drawled out Flick's name, curling her mouth into a playful sneer before she gave her a wink and bladed off, leaving Flick in the dust behind her wondering if Jean's appearance had been a figment of her imagination.


The temperature was fair, just as the weather report said it would be; the sun was shining but not too strongly, there was a breeze and it was just right. Everything seemed, felt and looked so. . . perfect. It was the kind of day that made you hum your favorite tune whilst you carry out your daily chores; a day where all the activities were repetitions of yesterday's and you could even pinpoint the exact moment and place a particular someone says good morning to you.

Rei Conrad felt as if she was in the set of The Truman Show. When Dr. Tucker, the professor of Medieval Studies nodded his head to greet her, she almost replied "Why, good morning, Mr. Tucker! And in case I don't see you today, good afternoon and goodnight!" in a syrupy voice and a big, fake smile. Not wanting to cause a scene, Rei returned the nod instead.

It was the second week of the new semester, and things were starting to calm down just a little. There would still be students filtering in and out of the course that she was taking that semester, but it would not be as crazy as it was the previous week.

Rei let out a small sigh at the noise in the small theatre that was imminent before the start of every lecture and focused on rearranging her notes instead. That done, she wrote some numbers on the whiteboard, turned around to face the almost full theatre that seemed to be buzzing with activity, and cleared her throat into the pin on microphone on her blouse.

The students in the theatre looked quizzically at the numbers on the board and snickers floated around when somebody asked if that was the striking looking professor's number.

Rei grinned and arched her brow at the student who made that remark. It was Brandon Kent, someone who had been in her class the previous semester. "You wish," was her amused and rather sultry reply. The snickers grew louder, and hooting could be heard from the back of the theatre.

"All right, guys. Settle down. I noticed that many of you have mobiles. If you do, you can participate in this. . . ice-breaker, if you may." The class fell silent as they waited for the professor to continue.

Rei smirked to herself when she saw that she had gotten their attention. "The first student who calls this number will get $100," she announced, her arms crossed in front of her.

Multi-colored mobiles appeared instantly, rivaling the speed of a quick-drawer in the wild west. Rei gave everyone a moment to start dialing the bogus number that she had written on the board before dropping the bombshell. "Okay everyone, please switch your mobiles off for the class. There won't be a reward because this number does not exist."

Groans bounced off the walls of the small theatre and Rei started chuckling. It was an idea that Flick had suggested when she was complaining about the number of times mobiles went off during her lectures.

She glanced around the theatre as she waited for the students to keep their mobiles and caught a pair of amused green eyes. Her brow arched; Flick did not tell her that she was going to take her course this semester. Heart raced for an irrational instant before her lips curled into a warm smile directed at Flick alone. It was going to be an interesting semester.

After the episode in the park more than half a year ago, where she had opened up to Rei, Flick found herself vulnerable to almost anything that her friend administered; her smile, her laugh -- one look would make Flick avert her eyes in case she started blushing for no reason. What she thought was a mere crush became something so much more. She would be walking down the park with Terror, and part of her would be hoping that Rei would appear. Every single person who had the vaguest resemblance to Rei would make her heart flutter and she would get all self-conscious until she realized that it was just another stranger enjoying their evening walk.

When Rei told her about what happened with Vince and herself, Flick was surprised and found herself feeling guiltily pleased. But when she thought about the long line of eligible men that would probably stand more chance than herself with Rei, the sentiment vanished.

Signing up for Rei's course had caused alarm bells to go off in her head. But her heart sang at the unlimited opportunities of looking Rei without having to shy away or be afraid that she was going to get caught: it was perfect.

She did not have time to think about what was going to come out of it all or what she wanted to achieve from it all. A relationship with Rei seemed almost too good to be true, and things like that did not happen to ordinary girls like her. They were good friends, and got along very well -- that was all. It seemed over the top to think that her older friend would actually be interested in a twenty-one year old college student. Telling her would just destroy it all, and she would rather keep her feelings to herself than have their friendship compromised.

Yet, deep inside her, there was a small sense of hope; hope that maybe one day Rei would look at her the same way -- her heart wrenched at the thought -- the same way her mum used to look at her dad. No, she shook her head vehemently, causing the lanky fellow who was waiting to get past her look up at her in surprise. She offered him a small embarrassed smile. No, she frowned slightly, she was not going to compare her relationship with Rei with the one her parents had.

Moreover, she analyzed as she moved out of the way for the students to get past her, she was sure that it was the romantic in her that was up to its mischief; it made her see Rei as something else than who she really was, and it did not help that Rei was such a looker. Sighing to herself, Flick picked up her backpack and, after few moments of contemplation, headed towards the front of the theatre.

"Great lecture," Flick commented whilst her friend packed her notes into her briefcase. "I'm amazed that there were hardly any drooping heads at all." Her eyes twinkled at the slight blush that grazed her friend's face. Rei was so modest sometimes; it never amazed her how much Rei took to compliments.

"So, how come you didn't tell me that you were going to take my class this semester?" The older woman changed the topic as they exited the theatre. She was pleased that her friend had approached her after the lecture ended; she could get used to this each time she had a lecture -- wait a minute -- get used to this? Shrugging the odd thought away, she returned her attention to Flick instead.

"I told you I found Post-Modernism boring. I haven't really joined your class yet, I was just testing it out to see if it was interesting," Flick explained while readjusting the strap of her backpack that did not need adjusting.

"So. . . what's the verdict?" Was she boring? No, Flick did say that her lecture was great, that should count for something. Why was she feeling so jittery about what her friend thought of her lecture anyway? She admitted that she felt a little self-conscious during her lecture today; she reckoned that it would be the same if she had to conduct a lecture in front of her other friends. Would it?

The student grinned. "As a matter of fact, I'm on my way to the library computer to variate my subjects. You'll be seeing more of me now, Rei. . . or should I start calling you Professor Conrad?" Flick joked as they walked towards the open courtyard, towards the library.

The second last statement pleased the Rei immensely for no reason. "Ugh, it'll be Rei to you. That's what I tell most of my students to address me as, even though not many of them are comfortable enough to do so."

"Okay," Flick smiled, enjoying the easy manner they share with each other. It would be weird to address her friend as Professor Conrad; she much preferred Rei -- that is, as a form of address, but then she did prefer Rei. To anything. Oh stop, she thought with a mental roll of eyes.

"So when's your next class? Do you have time for some lunch before you go down to the library?" Rei glanced at her sporty looking companion who was donned in a gray Nike tank top and fitting denim jeans. Kezia had commented that she had not dated anyone for quite some time since her break-up with Vince, and she had given the reason that no one had caught her eye. Now she wondered if that was really the case, or if the opposite was true.

Rei shook her head mentally, aghast at the thought that she had just entertained. It seemed almost familiar to her, now that it had been voiced out loud in her head. Maybe she had always known it to be true but never wanted to see it?

"Hey, you all right?"

Flick's voice broke into her thoughts, and blue eyes blinked rapidly a couple of times. "Yes, I was just going through my schedule for today," she lied easily, thinking it unwise for her to voice out her thoughts. It was too confusing, even for her. "So, do you have time for lunch?"

"Yup. As I was saying before someone went wool gathering, I'm actually done for the day. That was my only lecture," Flick said, pleased that her timetable was rather light that semester.

"Lucky me, then. I've got someone to keep me company for a couple of hours before my staff meeting. I could even give you a ride home." Rei flashed her friend a smile before adding hurriedly, "That is, if you want to. You don't have to. . ."

Flick threw Rei an amused glance. "I'm not stupid enough to reject a ride home." An afternoon, with Rei, talking. In the car, with Rei. Close proximity. It was going to be a great afternoon, Flick thought, pleased.


"Eugenie Dwyson."

Flick started and looked around the small class to see a serious looking blonde raising up her hand in acknowledgement. Hazel eyes met hers, and for an instant, Flick wondered if the brief encounter that she had with the taller girl had already been forgotten.

A half smile grazed the other girl's lips and Flick smiled in reply; Jean did remember her. She was in a tight-fitting white shirt and a pair of faded denims. A worn looking, leather jacket was slung on the chair beside her, underneath a motorcycle helmet. Flick raised her brow at that -- this girl was too cool; her mother would nag her to death if she even entertained the thought of riding pillion.

"Felicity Mitchell?"

Hazel eyes met hers again, this time in amusement. The tutor had obviously been calling out her name several times.

Flushing slightly in embarrassment for reasons not exactly known, Flick choked out, "Here." She forced her eyes down on the book that she was looking at, determined not to be caught staring again. The next time she snuck a glance at the person who had distracted her, she found Jean gazing in her direction with a lazy smile.

"No, I think you should go. You've had enough." The voice was firm, and what it was saying sort of made some sense to her in her jumbled state. Giggling a little, Flick nodded and stood up momentarily before falling back into her seat.

Shaking her head slightly with a lopsided smile on her face, Jean bent over and helped her friend up. Expecting to be pushed away with the familiar, "I'm not drunk" phrase that was so common with people who were drunk, the sinewy blonde was rather surprised when Flick mumbled, "Thanks," with a wry grin and unfocused eyes.

They had gone to the bar in the campus for some drinks and a few games of pool after class with a couple of people in the tutorial. The rules were simple: whoever lost had to drink. Flick happened to be a little lacking in the skill of pool.

A little lacking, Jean rolled her eyes mentally as she re-thought her statement, was an understatement. Flick had lost four games straight, and on top of the beer that she was consuming above her forfeits, it was imminent that they would reach this point in time.

"Bye, you all! See you when I see you," Flick blubbered, using a phrase Jean liked unconsciously. Jean kept her arm around Flick's waist as she maneuvered them out of the bar into the cool night air. It was only nine at night, but Jean was already feeling a little sleepy.

"Would you be able to hold onto me if I put you on my bike?" Jean asked seriously when they reached her vehicle. Flick swayed a little but took a deep breath and placed her hand on the seat of the motorbike, her eyes closed in what look like deep thought.

She should be all right, Flick gathered, just as long as the taller girl did not go too fast. "What I'm worried about is me puking on you if you go too fast," she added with the same degree of seriousness.

Jean studied the flushed face, and her lips curled up slightly to form an affectionate smirk. It was so funny to see Flick drunk, certainly a different experience from their first meeting. She was not loud or boisterous, nor did she start crying and get all moody when she drank. Rather, it was as if Flick's more. . . innocent side came out to play; not that the girl was cynical or anything when she was sober. Alcohol just seemed to take all her cares away. Yes, she was more carefree when she was intoxicated, and her behaviour was more endearing than offending, unlike some drunks.

"I'll go slow, I promise. And you have to promise to hold on tight, okay?" This was one passenger she did not want to lose along the way.

The night was cool and the traffic was thin. The road was slick with rain that had stopped a while ago, making it more slippery than usual. The arms around her waist and the warmth on her back told her that her passenger was still hanging on, and it gave her a strange sense of security rather than the expected sense of discomfort.

It was a pleasant surprise, seeing Flick in her class. Even though she knew that they were in the same university from one of their conversations during their first meting, she did not think that they would actually meet again. In fact, their meeting came as a surprise to the usually reticent Jean. It was not in her character to approach a complete stranger and offer them help. Usually, people just passed her by. She had little time for others, needing only the company of one to keep her entertained.

Yet, there was something about Flick that made her look twice -- not only for the reason that she was attractive, that was secondary. Rather, Flick looked like she had lost something, or was missing something; and that look, that loss, mirrored her own. It gave her the strangest feeling.

It was as if she herself could be whole again if she helped Flick find what she lost.

Jean glanced down briefly at Flick's hands around her waist and smiled to herself. If everything happened for a reason, she could not wait to find out the reason for meeting Flick.

Mm? The birds were making a hell lot of noise -- something that she never had to go through previously. When did they shift their nests? An eye opened a crack to investigate. Her other senses woke up one by one, and they combined to tell her that wherever she was, she was not home.

"Not home?" She sat up in a rush, glancing around her warily and curiously. She needed to get home; Terror would not appreciate going hungry from last evening at all. She just hoped that most of her apartment was still intact.

The taste in her mouth was awful, she decided, making up her mind not to go to bed drunk if she ever got a partner; she might just scare whoever dumb enough to fall for her away. Chuckling to herself at the mental picture that thought elicited, Flick almost screamed in fright when what she thought was a bolster beside her moved.

Familiar hazel eyes peeked out from under the covers. That, and the blonde hair sticking in all directions told Flick that she had just spent a night at Jean's place.

"Hey," the slim girl's sleep induced voice croaked out.

"Morning," Flick returned, remembering the state of her breath and was careful not to lean too close. "Um, thanks for letting me spend the night," she smiled, running her hand through her not so tidy hair.

"No problem." Jean sat up, stretching and yawning loudly. "I didn't take you home cos', if you can recall, you were really not in the mood for giving directions when we were leaving." The sardonic smile that accompanied the statement made Flick feel a little embarrassed. Truth was, she could only remember bits and pieces of the night before, and was not sure if she had made a fool out of herself. She smoked a lot, but her tolerance for alcohol ran rather low.

"Are you okay? Need an aspirin? Coffee?" Jean offered to the tousled looking blonde beside her.

Surprisingly, Flick felt fine. All she needed right then was some mouthwash. "I'm one of the lucky few that doesn't have to go through the morning after." Flick grinned. "I'd like to use the toilet, though."

A few moments later, Flick dried her face on the sleeves of her black shirt and stepped out of the toilet. Jean was already up and about making coffee, from the look of it. The house looked familiar, Flick thought with a frown as she padded over to where her friend was. "Hey," she smiled softly at the grouchy looking blonde.

Jean took a huge gulp of the steaming hot coffee in her hand and sat down on the couch. "Mm. . . Sure you don't want one?" Flick shook her head. Jean had offered to make her a cup of coffee earlier, but she had declined.

"I don't want to seem rude, but I gotta go. Terror. . . my dog -- you remember him don't you? -- well, he's alone in the apartment, and I have to get back." That is, if the apartment is still there. Damn, she should not have thrown away that insurance leaflet the other day.

Jean stood up. "Sure. You want a ride?"

Flick considered the offer, but declined it. She had troubled Jean enough, and should let her go back to bed or get on with her business rather than imposing on her any longer. Moreover, a walk would clear her head a little, and get rid of the slightly uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.

"I'll see you when I see you then, Flick. Have a good day," Jean said with a small smile before showing her to the door. That was when she realized why the house looked so familiar.

"Hey, what a surprise!" Corben greeted, a little startled at someone being up and about at that time in his house. He himself had just gotten home from a party the night before, and was ready to go up to bed and sleep the alcohol in his system away.

Green eyes widened. "I thought this place looked familiar," she mumbled to herself. It was Corben's house, the same place where the Thanksgiving party was held. She had not seen Corben since the semester ended before summer. Her ex-crush had been one of the last things on her mind throughout the three months of holidays.

"Hey Corben." The activist looked from his housemate, Jean, to the girl in front of him, and his face fell a little, as if he finally understood something.

"I'll see you around," he muttered, brushing past Flick, who was slightly confused at his rapid change of attitude. It was much too early for anyone, especially someone who had been drinking the night before, to detect and explain mood changes.

Jean shrugged at her friend's puzzled look. "Looks like someone just branded you a lesbian," she said in an amused tone.

A blonde brow rose, unsure how to receive that piece of information.


It was amazing how much pleasure one could derive from driving. The wind in your hair, the stereo on full blast, an empty road. Well, almost empty. Rei sighed and almost pouted when she had to pull up at a red light with numerous other waiting vehicles; so much for the empty road bit. She even had to reach over and turn down the volume of the car stereo a little because the people in the vehicles beside hers were looking at her in a strange way. She looked over to her passenger and the grin that she had whilst speeding along earlier came back in full wattage.

"You can let go of the car seat now, Lish. It wasn't really that fast, was it?" She chuckled at her daughter's whitening knuckles. It was a weekend, and she had no work to catch up, no scripts to correct; she was deliriously happy.

Lish threw her a look. "A hundred kilometers an hour, mum. If that wasn't fast, tell me what is?"

The light changed and Rei pushed down the handbrake. "You know, you're such a spoilsport for your age. Which one of us is the mother here?" she teased. Lisha merely stuck out her tongue at her. Rei flickered a glance at her daughter before returning her attention to the road. "I saw that, young lady."

Lisha leaned over with a look that could only be described as wicked and licked the side of her mother's face, making the tall woman squeal wildly before wiping her face with the sleeve of the shirt that she was wearing. The small girl laughed hysterically on the passenger seat.

"How have you been?" Vince looked as if he had not slept for days. After the break up, Vince had disappeared for a couple of months. When he called her out of the blue the other day, she had been very concerned and somewhat relieved. He needed to think things over, he had explained, and he needed to be alone. That was why he had left immediately after the hospital found a replacement for him.

Since he came back, they had met up once or twice, but never on a personal level. He had requested to bring Lisha out, however, and her daughter saw him almost every weekend. Vince did not discuss the break up at all, to Rei's relief, and it seemed to her that he was moving on.

"The hospital's a madhouse the last few days. You heard about the building that collapsed the other day? Well, the bulk of the casualties came to my department."

Rei flashed him a sympathetic look. "Maybe you should change your working environment." Vince looked at her, as if startled at her suggestion. "What? Come on, you have the adequate credentials and connection to open your own clinic. Weren't you talking about it with Roger the other time? What came out of that?" She normally stayed out of Vince's work related matters, but her friend -- she could safely call him that now -- really looked washed out.

"I. . . yeah, we did. But I just. . ." He looked over to see what Lisha was doing and was answered with the vision of a small girl enraptured with his medical equipment. "She's gonna be a darn good surgeon when she grows up, huh?" He smiled tenderly at the little girl who had a special place in his heart.

Rei followed the tilt of the surgeon's head and smiled wistfully. "Yeah, like the doctor Frank would have been if he's still here." The analogy came out unconsciously, and when Vince turned back to face her, he looked as if he had been struck. The pain in his eyes laid open for her to see for a split moment before he composed himself. The haunted emotion was gone, but Rei knew how much she had hurt him with the simple statement. She reached out to clasp his hand. "And like you, Vince. You can see for yourself how much you mean to her." That managed to get a smile out of him.

"Yes. Rei. . ." He flipped his hand over and held Rei's hand in his. The look in his eyes clued her in as to what he was going to say, and she felt slightly uneasy. "Rei, I can't do this. I can't be without you. My life is like an empty shell, and I feel so alone. I've never felt so alone in my life as I do now, Rei. I love you. I have never stopped loving you. From the day I saw you in high school with that silly hat you loved to wear so much. Even when you started to date Frank, I never stopped loving you. Please, give us another chance," he pleaded.

If Rei had to pinpoint the exact moment of her life that she acted most cruelly, this was it. The break up was nothing compared to this; at least then, he had retaliated with anger. She tried to catch her breath, and formulatewhat she was going to say in her head. It had to come out right the first time, she knew, or else this would get worse. How did the conversation escalate out of control so fast? They had been talking about his work, had they not?

"I'm sorry, Vince," she started softly, her hand still in Vince's grasp. "I'm sorry for all the pain I know that I've caused you." In truth, she had never known that her ex's feelings went so far back. "But I know that we are not meant to be. I do love you, and still care for you, but only as a friend would another. I hope we can still be that. Friends, that is."

His eyes were sad, but he let go of her hand. "Yes, we can still be friends," he said in a resigned tone. "But if there's ever a chance," he looked up, "that you change your mind, don't forget that I'll be here. I'll be waiting, Rei. There's no one else for me but you."

Rei looked away and wiped away a tear. She saw that Lisha had snuck off, probably to her room in Vince's place, to give them privacy. "Vince, please don't make this harder than it already is. I want you to move on, to find someone who loves you and take care of you."

"I can't." The anguish in his voice was evident. "I can't. I tried to forget you, forget what we had. I hated you, cursed you, swore at you, in attempt to stop loving you. But I can't, and I don't think I ever will. Is there really no chance at all?"

Rei shook her head. Even though she was tempted to say yes, to give him some hope, she knew that she had to be cruel to be kind. Any little hope that she gave him would blow up in both their faces, for she knew that she would not be able to hold up her end of the bargain.

"Is there someone else?" He asked, his voice still, as if bracing himself for an impact.

She was going to say no immediately. There was no one else. She had not seen anyone ever since they had broken up, and frankly, no one really interested her now. At that moment, a half smirking face framed with golden hair appeared in her mind's eye and her breath caught in her throat. "No," she said, anyway. However, she was not prepared to feel guilt -- as if she had lied to her friend. What was wrong with her?

"No," she repeated herself, in a stronger voice than before. "There isn't anyone else. I told you before, Vince. The problem lies with me. I just, I don't think I love you the way you love me anymore." The image in her head refused to go away. "And even if I do have feelings for someone, it only started after the break up. I've never cheated on you, Vince." What did she say that for?

"Who is it?" He sounded so tired, so defeated.

"It doesn't matter, Vince. I'm not seeing anyone at all -- that's what matters, right?" Why was she explaining herself to him? She could see anyone she damn well pleased if she wanted, but now that she admitted to herself who she really wanted to see, she knew that the former statement did not hold true. She could not see anyone she damn well pleased. . . could she?

"I'm just, asking as a friend," he said, smiling in a pained way. "Since, that is what you want us to be, I might as well get started, right?"

A bit of the Vince she once knew came back to the man sitting beside her on the couch, and she smiled. "Yes, I do very much want us to be friends. But everything takes time, and it's going to be the same for us." She was glad that this was going to work out better than she had hoped for.

"All right then. I believe my other guest is feeling neglected. Are you sure you don't want to stay for the movie with us?" The surgeon rose up from the couch.

"Yes, I'm sure. I have. . . other plans." Rei looked back with a smile, her heart racing slightly when she thought of who she had plans with. Whoa, what was that?

Vince bit back the joking remark about him being her free babysitter while she went on her date when he saw the expression that flitted across her face. He knew that look; he had seen it too often in the past when Frank used to talk to him about Rei. It was the same kind of look, the kind of look that he was never at the receiving end of. His heart chilled and his chest ached. Was it going to end this way? Was he out of the fight just like that?

"Well, I'll see you tonight when I send Lisha home," he said instead.

"That was such a good show," commented Flick as they strolled out of the cinema with a million other people. The butterflies in her stomach had settled down when they had gotten out of the theatre, but she knew that they would start up again soon if she did not distract herself.

Catching the movie Chocolat had been her idea, something that she had regretted the moment they sat down in the dark room with the soft padded chairs. It was dark, and Rei was sitting too close to her. When Rei turned to make a comment about the show, her heart would race at the proximity of her friend's face. If Rei had noticed a weird thumping sound that was constantly in the background, she did not let on.

"It was incredible, yes. I love the way the storyline included a little of everything. And ooh, the chocolate looked positively decadent," The sides of Rei's eyes crinkled as her lips rounded in a pout.

"Mm, I thought Juliette Binoche looked fuckin' A in the stilettos," Flick said off-handedly and saw the look on her friend's face.

"Fuckin' A? What the hell do you mean by that?" Rei was amused at the weird phrases that slipped into Flick's language and wondered where she picked them up from.

Flick grinned sheepishly. "Um, I picked it up from my friend. It's just. . . well, it can mean a lot of things and in this case, it just means really good." She chuckled sheepishly. She was starting to talk like Jean a little and her reticent friend found it amusing.

"Ahh, I see. So, who's this new friend of yours? I mean, you've only started talking like this recently, right?" Rei felt slightly jealous that Flick was hanging out so much with another person to pick up his or her way of speaking. A sudden worry came over her when a thought came to her: what if Flick was seeing someone?

"It's this girl I met in the park in the summer." Flick gave Rei an account of her meeting with Jean and them being in the same tutorial, oblivious to what her friend was thinking. "What a coincidence, huh?" She ended after telling Rei that Jean and Corben were actually housemates.

Corben. "I remember that name. So, do you still have a crush on him?" Rei asked with a cheery smile that she did not really feel. Something screamed out 'stupid!' in her head, but she went ahead with it anyway. She was going on instinct now, not really thinking over what she was going to say or do next.

Flick chuckled at the irony of it all; her present crush was asking if she still had a crush on Corben. Except that this thing with Rei was hardly just a crush anymore, she acknowledged. "Nah, that went six-feet under a long time ago. Haven't I mentioned that?" At Rei's shake of head, she continued, "Well, isn't not talking about him an obvious clue?" She raised her brow at her friend with a smirk.

"So, are you seeing anyone right now?" Rei inquired, trying to sound casual about it. They were at a pedestrian's crossing, waiting for the light to change. It was still early, and they were going to get dinner before going home.

Flick glanced at her friend, amused. "Why, you interested?" She gave her friend a suggestive look, expecting Rei to burst out in laughter and was not prepared to see the "deer caught in the headlights" look. That awoken the butterflies that were lying dormant in the pit of her belly and she told herself to stop imagining things.

She saw that the light had changed, but Rei was not about to budge anytime soon. So she reached over and grabbed Rei's hand, wondering if she had imagined her companion's slight intake of breath. "Let's go," she said, tilting her head towards the direction of the road. She was not sure what, but she was certain that something between them had changed.

They managed to reach the other side of the road intact. Both women were silent as they walked along the road of shops and restaurants, their thoughts racing and their hands still linked.

Part 3

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