Disclaimer: Although these characters are my own, I am adding this in case someone would see any resemblance of the characters of Xena and Gabrielle, who belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringements on their rights are intended.
The song, If I Never Met You is sung by Barbra Streisand and on her CD, A Love Like Ours. Again, no infringement on anyone's rights is intended. It was just too
perfect for this couple not to be shared.
Subtext disclaimer: Anyone against two consenting adult females in a loving relationship? Bye-bye. Under age? See ya later, like when you're old enough. Illegal where you live? Sorry, but again back out. Anyone left? WELCOME
And thank you for your time.
Thanks April-for everything-it means a lot.
SCARS -- PART II
It was a perfect day for flying with clear skies and only a light breeze. Samantha sat back in her seat and closed her eyes. Only a couple more hours and she'd finally meet Kate. How could it be that in a little over three months, she had become such an important part of her life? Sam had managed to keep the rest of the world at arm's length all this time, but not this one. Kate wouldn't let me-she just burst in and made herself to home! And oh how lucky it was for her that she'd done just that. She smiled thinking over the fun they'd had together, 1,000 miles apart! Can I handle all that energy and zest for life in person? Her new friend had been able to reach through the phone lines and seize the moment; cheer me up, make me laugh, help me think and make me smile. I do have a tendency to take myself too seriously, and she is just the right counterpart to balance me out. Sam also knew that in a couple of hours she would have to put Kate at ease. Yes, Samantha was nervous about putting Kate's fears to rest. We all have scars, whether they show on the outside, or if we carry them on the inside. She had her share of the inside kind, and lived with them daily.
On the ground, Kate kept glancing at the clock-any clock: the one on the computer, the one in the kitchen, the one in the living room and the one in the hallway. Plus, she had watched the one in her bedroom half the night as it crawled forward, hour by hour. Arrangements had been made for her Dad to pick Samantha up. He had seemed a little disappointed that she couldn't do it herself, but understood when his daughter explained about not being ready to face the public on top of meeting her friend for the first time in public. He just smiled, cupped her face and said that on the ride home, he'd try to get some free accounting advice from her.
"Oh Dad, " she laughed, her eyes full of tears, "You're always looking for some free advice."
He grinned at her as he responded, "That's what helps keeps the business in the black-always looking to cut corners."
So now Kate was at the mercy of the passing time. 12:00 landing-an hour to pick up the luggage, and another 45 minutes to get home. So by 2:00 it will begin. "I know she'll act like it's nothing, being too kind to gag or anything like that. But if she can't meet my eyes after seeing me, or changes the subject right away, I'll know. The woman was talking to herself and slowly pacing the house. Her leg had taken quite the workout today, not being able to sit still for very long. By tonight it would hurt like a toothache, but knowing that didn't stop her. She tried to finish up some work on the computer for business, but it was hard to concentrate when her eyes kept straying to the clock.
A smooth landing at the airport brought Samantha to the terminal gate. She had tried to describe herself so they could pick her out: average height, short-ish sandy brown hair, green eyes and average size. Kate had laughed and said that she'd probably just described a quarter of the women on the plane! But Kate's Dad had picked her out easily by the way Sam had looked around a little lost, as she entered the building.
"Hey Samantha!" he called out. Yep, he was right, he thought as the woman he'd picked out snapped her head towards the sound of her name. But as he looked at her, she was more than just average-in everything. Not a beauty, but pretty, and an honest pretty, not made up. Walking over to her, he introduced himself.
"Hi. I'm Kate's Dad" shaking her hand in his big meaty one. "Just call me Dad-everyone does. I already feel like you're part of the family." He put his arm across her shoulders, took the carry on bag, and led her to collect the luggage from the baggage claim. Then they made their way to his truck for the ride to Kate's.
Dad kept up a running chatter, though later Samantha couldn't have repeated much of anything they discussed. She must have answered appropriately as the drive went smoothly until they pulled into the driveway of a modest suburban gray ranch style house. Dad jumped out opening the door for her, and waited for her to walk in ahead of him. Grabbing her stomach as it tried to stay inside the vehicle, she got out to look around the area. Seems like a quiet neighborhood, she thought and noticed the shade trees lining the street. When her inspection was done, she turned to find Dad waiting for her by the front door and smiled. Well, nothing left to do but go forward, she told herself and took a deep breath to steady her nerves, then made her way to join him. "Nice neighborhood." She said with a voice that sounded more confident than she felt, and glanced over her shoulder for one last look around.
"Usually, but on the weekend it can get a little rowdy." He answered with a smile and opened door. Holding it open, he stepped back to let her walk in ahead of him and smiled again. "Ladies first."
"Thank you." Giving him a smile right back, Sam took another deep breath and then stepped inside to a cool but dimly lit room waiting for her. Once inside, she turned back to help Dad with her luggage and nearly got her hand slapped when she reached for one of the cases. So she let it alone and waited until he'd brought them inside, before she turned back around to find Kate standing across the room from her. Or a shadow of Kate, she thought, because the woman's features were indistinct in the low lighting. But despite the dimness, she knew it was hr friend by the cane in her right hand, the brace on her left leg and the outline of her ponytail. Standing for several moments in complete silence, she realized it was up to her to take the initiative and break the ice, so she turned to Dad and gave him a wink. "Well, thank you kind sir. I'd give you a tip for the delivery, but somehow in talking to you, I think I already gave you several!" As his deep chuckle broke the spell, she laughed with him and heard a soft chuckle from behind her, which calmed a nerve or two, as Kate joined them by the door.
"Kate-I'll leave you two to get caught up and will talk to you later." Opening his arms, he waited for his daughter to fill them.
"Thanks Dad." Kate smiled and gave him a hug good-bye.
Giving her a healthy pat on the back, Dad smiled then turned to head down the sidewalk.
"Yes, thanks...Mr.....Dad" Sam called out and laughed at herself for being tongue tied, and knew she was blushing. As soon as the door closed, the awkward silence came again, so Sam smiled and walked up to Kate. "You look just like I pictured: tall, dark, athletic and full of...mischief. I'm very glad to finally meet you in person my friend-so very glad." She then gave her a big hug-holding her close. It was the first time in quite a while that she'd held someone else-and it felt good.
This was not one of the scenarios that Kate had pictured in her head for them meeting, but only hesitated a moment before closing her arms around Sam's shoulders murmuring, "It's wonderful to finally have you here too Sam." And they stood like that for a few moments, savoring this first contact.
For Sam, it was like nothing else she had ever experienced-the comfort at holding her. There was a sense of ease at being so close to her.
For Kate it was like a 20-pound weight off her shoulders and heart. But her friend still hadn't REALLY looked at her face yet, so she was the one to pull away first. "I'm sorry I didn't get to the airport to meet you, but with this..." Turning her head sideways, she purposely showed Sam the scar, "...I still feel a little reclusive yet."
Unfazed by the sight, Sam smiled. "That's OK Kate, I understand how you feel. But please don't think that it means anything to me. You are so much more than just a pretty face-your beauty runs deep-where true beauty counts. And to me you are truly a beautiful woman, and one that I count myself lucky to call friend. OK?" Looking intently into the pair of blue eyes, slightly above hers in height, she made sure Kate heard every word, and showed her sincerity by keeping her hand on the wrinkled skin to prove she didn't mind touching the scar. Not having a clue where all this sudden bravery was coming from, she was glad it was there and thought that maybe helping ease her friend's fear was more important than her own.
Kate just stared as Samantha spoke. Then her eyes filled with tears and she held Sam close again while trying to regain her control. All this time of worrying for nothing. Again she said thank you for whoever brought this person into her life. Taking a steadying breath and then smiling at the other woman, her voice came out thick but clear. "Thank you Sam, that means more to me than I can ever express. I think we're going to have a wonderful time together."
Samantha gave her a squeeze and then stepped back. "I KNOW we're going to have a wonderful time together. Now how about a tour of this place. It's so much bigger than my apartment!"
With the introductions complete, and the uncomfortable silence out of the way, they were quickly settling into the easy, natural rapport they'd developed over the phone and with the computer. The connection between the two women was reaffirmed now that they were face to face and as Kate began her self titled '50 cent tour,' it was becoming apparent that the pair enjoyed the simple pleasure in each other's company.
Starting with the living room, Sam took a look around and got an instant homey, comfortable feel of the room with it opening into both the kitchen and dining room. Taking a closer inspection, she smiled at the walls covered with family pictures and noted that the table tops were well stocked with frames containing smiling faces. That was something missing from her own apartment and she got an idea of the importance of what Kate's family meant to her by the number of photographs littered around the room. "It's really nice, you've managed to make it look classy and casual at the same time. I love the colors of the couch and the pillows and blankets-it really brightens up the place. You obviously like the southwest colors, and it looks nice. I've got mostly earth tones at my place-solid colors-kinda boring next to yours. I never noticed it before. This is a lot more lively!" Sam complimented sincerely as she turned in a circle to see the living room, when the tour ended where it had begun.
The hostess smiled at the comments. "I have a confession to make. Mom stopped in yesterday and cleaned the place up. It usually looks a bit more 'relaxed' than this. I have a tendency to leave things where I lay them down.
Mom threatened me with my life if I messed it up before you got here." Both laughed with the confession and Kate continued leading her guest around the house.
Next came Kate's bedroom, with its queen-sized bed and oak nightstands and dresser. Again nothing fancy, Sam thought, but good quality, and gave an appreciative nod. Across the hall was what to be her room. It had the computer in it for any work Sam wanted or needed to do, she was told by her guide, who made another confession about the double bed and dresser, which apparently had been borrowed from her parents' for the occasion.
Standing in the doorway of the spare bedroom, Kate hesitated a moment before offering to bring in Sam's luggage. "This is where I picked out for you to be, but there is another bedroom with bath downstairs if you think you would be more comfortable there, and have more privacy. It's not really finished down there as far as furniture, but the pullout bed is really comfortable. Either would be fine." Her voice was low and quiet. She really didn't want her friend so far away, but wanted her to feel comfortable, and gave Sam an option if she wanted more privacy.
Sam smiled at the thoughtful gesture. "No Kate, this one is perfect. The computer will be handy, and I really don't want to be that far away from any action that you might get into. It's best I stay close to keep an eye on you. Not that I don't trust you, or anything like that." she commented dryly with a poke to the taller woman's ribs.
The only other room upstairs was a converted bedroom into an exercise room with a weights set, stationary bike and tread mill. Sam eyed the tread mill up as maybe something Kate would let her use instead of jogging in unfamiliar territory. That pretty much finished the tour as Kate had trouble doing the steps to show her the down stairs--all in all a really nice home-not just a house. It was filled with love and family momentous of her past. The typical kids' pictures and drawings on the refrigerator held up with magnets. The little things that changed it from cold to warm-just like the owner. There was also a deck and a pretty green back yard leading out from French doors out the dining room.
They spent the rest of the afternoon just talking-sitting on the couch, with Sam at one end and Kate sprawled out on the rest, resting her leg on the opposite armrest for comfort. Her head was propped against Sam's lap and as Ma Bell suffered major profit losses, they let the conversation wander from subject to subject at random, sharing stories about themselves or the stories they had worked on, or future things they had ideas about. It was a lovely and relaxing afternoon for both of them, and just what they both needed. Both seemed fine with the seating arrangement and after the pizza delivery guy came, Sam went back to her end of the couch to let a dark head rest against her thigh.
As the afternoon wore into early dusk, Samantha noticed that Kate was paying extra attention to her injured leg by rubbing it and became concerned, which came across in her voice. "Kate, is your leg aching from being up on it too much today?"
Wondering if she's missed the memo making today a confession day, Kate kept her blue eyes away from the curious green she knew were staring at her and looked rather sheepish when she answered. "Well, I guess I did wear down the carpet some today with a little pacing this afternoon. I'm sure it will be fine by tomorrow." Adding the last with a quick look upward and a confident smile.
Seeing right through the smile, Sam put a pillow under Kate's head as she got up to walk to the other end of the couch. "Let's get the brace off and I'll give you a good, but gentle rub down. I jog, so I know about tight muscles." She said casually. Making sure not to startle her friend and impose.
The aching was starting to become annoying, so Kate nodded and complied by removing the brace and letting Sam work on her leg. It was just a gentle massage that soothed the tense and tightened muscles in her leg. And she could hardly keep the groan of relief from her voice when Sam asked if that was better. "Oh, ask me again in an hour, and I'll know for sure." She moaned and then chuckled. "Oh yeh--that helped a lot. Thanks so much. I can't really do that by myself."
Sitting on the arm of the couch, Samantha kept her eyes on her hands as she spoke. "Well, for the next week you don't have to try. I'll be your personal masseuse. Might as well earn my keep while I'm here. Besides having my brain picked by your Dad." Glancing up, she saw a smile on Kate's face and smiled back, then worked the leg over once more, before placing it gently back down. Returning to her end of the couch, she resumed her place, and tucked the pillow beside her.
One step beyond relaxed, Kate snuggled her head down to get comfortable again and murmured. "With any luck, tomorrow that brace will be a thing of the past. I have a Doctor's appointment and maybe can go without it from now on--though the cane may still be needed. Think you can find something to do while I'm gone? I couldn't reschedule to an earlier date."
Tapping her fist against Kate's forehead, she nodded. "Well sure I can find stuff to do, but would it be OK if I go with you, if you wouldn't mind the company?"
Surprise registered on her face and in her voice as blue eyes looked up. "You'd voluntarily go to a Doctor's office with me? I don't want to go!" she said with a great deal of surprise in her voice, and face.
Sam just smirked at her. "Number one--I'm not the patient. Number 2--I came here to spend time with you. It doesn't really matter to me what it is we're doing, as long as I get to harass you in person!"
Tilting her head for a better look, Kate saw a twinkle of mischief in a pair of green eyes. "It's a deal. And if I get the brace off, we'll celebrate--your choice, OK?"
Nodding her agreement, a smile replaced the smirk on Sam's face, and she thought that this evening alone was a celebration to her. It had been so long since she had shared this kind of time and herself with anyone. Someone who seemed to enjoy her company too, first smiling, and then sighing at the warm sensations flowing through her. She wanted to memorize the moment in her head and heart, and so always remember this time.
By now it was late, and both women were starting to droop from the physical and emotional stress of the day. It had been tough on them both in very different ways, but they were also both very pleased with how the day had ended--very pleased. Their friendship intact, and the whole week to spend together. Kate locked the front door and Sam took the pizza box and paper plates to the kitchen garbage. Oops, thought the dark hostess-knew I forgot something. Oh well, I warned her I'm not good with that kind of thing, Walking to their bedroom doors they said goodnight with a hug and retired to rest.
The next morning Kate got up quietly, threw on a robe and walked out of her room to start some coffee for her guest. Her breakfast was usually a protein shake or blended something, but borrowed the coffee maker from her Mom remembering Sam needed 'help' in the mornings! She smiled at the sight that greeted her. There was her friend, sitting on the couch, with headphones on and a folder open on her lap--asleep. The taller woman slowly walked over and sat down next to the unconscious body, only to have her weight on the couch roll a lolling head onto her shoulder and sigh. The movement also caused the folder to slide towards her, which she caught so it wouldn't fall onto the floor. The tab on the folder was typed "Maggie and Darby", and inside were two chapers of a story she'd never seen or heard about so, Kate being Kate, couldn't resist 'browsing' through the first part. It was another great story, which was not unusual, but the basis was two people finding each other through the computer. Smiling at that, she must've sat there 20 minutes, reading the first part, as usual; lost to time and place as Samantha wove her magic on the pages. She laughed out loud at one point, and the sound or movement woke her visitor up.
Slowly raising her head and looking around at her surroundings--at first unfamiliar to her, Sam turned her head and smiled at Kate. Then her eyes lowered to the papers in the other woman's lap-then they got big, and her head swung back to her friend's face. "Uh...." was all that came out of her mouth.
"Kate just smiled. "Holding out on me huh?" Tapping the papers lightly.
Caught red handed and half awake, she stammered. "W-Well, I didn't want to send this to you, since it starts out a little familiar, so I thought I'd wait until I was here and talk to you a while before deciding if I'd show it to you." Lowering her eyes, Sam waited for the fallout.
Reaching over, Kate tapped the other woman's nose. "DECIDE if you'd show me? What I've read so far is a wonderful story. And I thought reading your writing was part of my job." Placing her hand under Sam's chin, she lifted it until their eyes met.
At that moment looking into each other's eyes, something passed between them--it almost felt physical. It was another step closer to each other emotionally, and another wall that crumbled in Sam. Neither one really caring why--just enjoying the moment as they smiled at each other. Kate finally tapped the headphones that had slipped around the smaller woman's neck. "What ya listening to?"
Again Sam looked a little chagrined at getting caught. "Ever since I heard this one song, I can't get it out of my head for this couple. I guess it's kind of their love theme, if you want to put a corny title to it. So when I'm writing about them, I listen to it and it brings them closer to me, and helps me write about them. First time that's happened to me--sounds silly huh?" Giving her friend a side long glance.
Kate shook her head at that idea. "No, a song can tap into all the same emotions as a story, especially with the added bonus of the combined music and lyrics. Can I hear it?" Tapping the headphones again.
"Yeh sure. I've written it into the story, so when you get to that point, I'll play it for you for the effect. If-if I was still singing, I'd sing along with it for you. But I haven't done that in a long time." Evidently confession day had passed to her, as she surprised herself with sharing such personal information with someone else, but she let it roll off her back and attributed it to the way Kate made her feel comfortable enough to relate such details.
Kate's voice was soft as her head lowered to Sam's ear. "I don't care--if it's coming from you--it'll mean more to me than any other way of hearing it."
Feeling like she'd been hugged, without the physical part, Sam stored away another precious memory, though on the outside her reaction was a mere shake of the head. "We'll see." Smiling she sat up suddenly when she realized she'd been resting on Kate's shoulder the whole time. A little embarrassed, she cleared her throat and changed the subject. "What time is our Doctor's appointment?"
Noting the use of the word 'we', Kate smiled at the plural. "WE have to be there by 10:00"
Laughing as the word was thrown back at her, Sam picked up the folder and stood. "You get dressed and I'll make you some breakfast. What's that powder stuff you drink instead of human food?" Smiling big, putting her hands on her hips just as a pillow hit her in the face! "Hey!" Catching it before it fell, she brought it menacingly above her head. "Can I help it if I'm the only one in this room that eats normal food?" Throwing the pillow back in Kate's face, she nailed her hostess...quite by accident of course! "You want anything to go with it?" Chuckling, she started to laugh harder when a very surprised face appeared from under the pillow.
"No, that will be good" Kate answered calmly, as she also got up slowly, pillow still in hand. I'll pour a bowl of cereal maybe when I come out. How'd you sleep last night?" She asked, making her way towards her room, before turning to launch the pillow back with a direct hit to the derriere of her friend! So much for being a polite hostess. She thought, though Sam didn't seem to feel like a guest to her!
Picking up the pillow and making an exaggerated show of setting it back on the couch, she stuck her tongue out. "Slept fine, thanks--I just woke up early with things running through my mind, so I thought I'd get up and put some ideas down--must have dozed off. I'm not an early morning person-so I guess I just made myself to home!" Finishing with a laugh.
"Sounds good--glad that you did that. I want you to feel like this is home to you."
Then the hostess poked her head around the door jam to add, "Also glad you dozed, or I'd never gotten the sneak preview!" Retreating into her room laughing. From inside the room Sam heard Kate add, "I'm going to hit the shower now."
"Don't hit it too hard--the Doctor's appointment is only for your leg--we don't need to give them anything else to work on." she called out slyly.
Poking her head back out her doorway laughed "Oooo--and so early in the morning. Just remember about pay backs, my dear" Lowering her voice into a mock threat, and then they parted company laughing to themselves.
Samantha was in the kitchen getting her coffee started when the phone rang. She could hear the shower running, so knew that it would not be heard above the water running, but felt uncomfortable letting it ring. She picked it up hesitantly and said hello.
"Kate?" Questioned the woman on the other end.
"No, she's unavailable at the moment, may I take..."
"Oh--this must be the infamous Samantha I've been hearing so much about." The woman interrupted. "You know I've got all the kids on speed dial, and for a second I thought I'd hit the wrong star!" Laughing at her own joke which didn't
help Sam in her confusion at all. Her silence must have sunk in to the stranger.
"I'm sorry--this is Kate's Mom, just checking in. I usually call her in the morning after I know she's up and around. So how was your flight dear? Dad said you are just a gem. I can't wait to see you, though I feel like I already know you. Imagine having another daughter without having to go through labor--" Again she laughed at herself. By now Sam was having a hard time not laughing out loud at this seemingly totally outrageous woman. Unsure how to reply to her comments, but feeling like she should say something, she started to say, "Thank you Mrs."
"Oh no--just call me Mom--everybody does. You call me Mrs. anything and I look around thinking I'm going to see grandma--which would be difficult as she's
been gone a number of years! If nothing else, call me Mrs. Mom like you did Mr. Dad. He was still laughing at that when he got home."
"OK, Mrs.....Mom. Kate's in the shower, but I'll tell her you called. Do you want me to get her, or call you back?"
"No, no, that's fine. Just tell her I called and that I'll be waiting to hear about the...appointment later on. What are you going to do while she's gone? You can certainly stop off here and we can have a nice chat--not that you need a baby sitter or anything at your age!"
Sam rolled her eyes at that comment--this woman was just too much! "Actually
Mrs. ...Mom, I'm going to go with her. Keep her company in the waiting room and stuff like that. She said that was OK."
There was a slight gasp from the other end of the phone line. "Kate's letting you go with her? Well, that's a first, and good for her. She's been doing as much of this as possible on her own--such an independent little cuss. I can't imagine where she gets it from. Sam, you're so good for her. We've seen so much of the old Kate coming back since she's gotten to know you. You have been a blessing to all of us--not just her, and I can't wait to meet you. Well, I'll let you go now--have a nice day--keep her in line. Though I hear you do that quite well." And with another laugh the older woman hung up. Sam just stood there for a few moments looking at the phone. That had to have been one of the most bizarre but enjoyable conversations she'd had in a long time. A lot more flamboyant than Kate, but still having the ability to reach through the lines and touch her. About that time Kate came out of the bathroom and gave Sam a strange look because the sandy haired woman was still holding the receiver in her hand.
Sam looked back at her and smiled--"Your Mother called-didn't want anything. Will talk to you later." She repeated and replaced the phone to the wall.
Kate just smiled back and murmured, "That explains everything. Don't worry--I'll protect you from her. She is a little overpowering at times, but has a good heart." Then they finished getting ready and with a cup of coffee and protein shake to go, headed out the door to the Doctor appointment.
Of course they had to wait for her appointment--when didn't she? Well at least this time, there was someone to help pass the time. Sitting next to each other
they looked at the outdated magazines and whispered. Two hours later, the two women left the medical building with silly grins on their faces and the tall dark one, brace-less. Kate grumbled at first about having to promise her life away with precautions and restrictions, but Sam just told the Doctor that for this first week, the patient would be following the instructions to the letter--as she was playing watchdog. The way they played off each other's sentences and mannerisms, the Doctor was sure they had known each other for years, so agreed without hesitation.
"About time someone keeps this young lady in hand. She's been driving me crazy wanting to do more than she should. I was beginning to think a 'body cast'
was starting to seem like the best solution!" Both Sam and the Doctor laughed at the look Kate gave them. But hey--the brace is gone, so the patient figured she was getting the last laugh in the end.
As they walked down the sidewalk together towards Kate's car, the hostess turned to her friend. "Well, I promised you a celebration if I got the brace off. What's your heart's desire? Just name it."
Now Sam had no idea anything like this would slip out of her mouth, since she was usually very much in control of thought, word and deed. But seeing her friend's face so lit up with happiness and her blue eyes just sparkling, she spoke without thinking. "Kate, my dear, meeting you, seeing you so happy right now and this whole week with you is a continuous celebration. I don't have to DO anything special, as long as I'm with you--that's about as special as it gets." As soon as the words were out, Sam's eyes got big and her face lost at least two shades of color. Oh God--how can your guard slip like that after all these years?! She didn't even know what to say to balance it out. "Uh--I mean. A celebration doesn't have to be DOING something. It can be just be enjoying the moment."
Kate stopped walking and took hold of the smaller woman's elbow. In height, there wasn't a lot of difference, just a few inches, but she still looked down at her slightly, and grinned. "You don't have to amend that speech with anything Sam. That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. And I feel the same way too. This time with you is like a whole bunch of holidays rolled up in one. And I'm enjoying every single minute of them." She threw her free arm around a sagging shoulder and gave her a hug, not really caring if anyone looked. Then she said with a little arrogance, "I'm so glad I thought of us meeting. I have such good ideas sometimes."
Sam just busted out laughing--for sure causing stares. "YOUR idea! Let me tell you Ms Kate, I take full credit for that--along with two glasses of wine and a large swig of liquid antacid."
On their way back home, they stopped to see the 'family'. Samantha was immediately the star of the show and anyone there was laughing and joking with her as if they'd known her for years. A sense of belonging and comfort seemed to permeate the house and all that lived there. Kate sat back and enjoyed watching her friend surrounded by the people she loved, and had wanted to share her with. Mom took her around the room and showed off pictures of her family, including Kate as a child with grass stained jeans holding a football. Then came the photo album so Sam was sandwiched in between Mother and daughter.
"Now this is when Kate was about 8 and decided she could jump from the top of the staircase to the bottom without getting hurt. As you can see by the cast on her arm and black eye, she didn't quite make it."
Sam looked over at her friend and saw a slight blush creeping up her tan face.
"Mom--I keep telling you, I was pushed."
"Kathryn Elizabeth, quit trying to blame your brother! He wasn't even home at the time. You were just copying something you'd seen on television."
Again Sam looked to her left. "Kathryn Elizabeth, huh? Hmmm, that might come in handy in an emergency. Thank you for that little tidbit of information Mrs Mom." Still a little uncomfortable calling her friend Mom. She didn't even call her own Mother by that. Not that the opportunity came by that often.
Dad dragged her off to his office 'almost' as soon as politely possible, asking about some graph or list of numbers that he wanted her to look at, and Sam followed, rolling her eyes at Kate and Kate grinned back. "Don't worry my dear, I'll come rescue you in a little while. And don't forget Dad, she's on vacation, or she may start charging you a consulting fee!" That should shorten up the visit!
Mom looked over at her daughter as they sat on the couch. "Well, how's it going? She seems like such a nice young lady, and you certainly look like you're enjoying her being here. I see she keeps a close eye on you whenever you're in the same room."
Kate lowered her head and almost blushed. "Yeh, probably to make sure I behave myself. Little does she know that's impossible! And she completely ignores my face...not like on purpose or anything, but like it just doesn't matter."
Mom turned to look at her daughter more closely. "Well honey, we've been trying to tell you all along, that it doesn't change who you are, unless you let it. We all love you just the same, if not more, considering we could have lost you. A scar is a small thing compared to never seeing any of you again." This she finished with a catch in her voice. It was the same thing they'd tried to say before, but somehow having someone fresh come into the situation made Kate actually listen to the words.
"I know Mom, and I don't know how to explain how I've felt about it. I'm not a vain type of person, primping and slowing down at every mirror, but this did something to me inside somehow. When I do look in a mirror it's all I can see, and I don't recognize myself. But Sam, well she's helping me put it into perspective by just living with me and facing me every day and still looking pleased to see me, and be out with me. She's just the most wonderful person I've ever met."
Sam listened from the doorway with tears in her eyes. More walls began falling in her chest as she compared Brandon's words to what Kate had just said. Maybe, just maybe, it hadn't been her fault, or some flaw in her all these years that had kept her away from people. Maybe she just hadn't met the right person. Maybe there was hope to find the love that had always eluded her to a point of wondering if it was impossible for her to feel. So even with tears in her eyes, she smiled at the dark haired woman in front of her. Just the sight of Kate warmed her--heart and spirit. Discreetly coughing before entering the room as an announcement, both heads turned to her and smiled. The visitor whispered very loudly to them--"I think Kate, it's time to make our escape. I told your Dad...Mr. Dad", taking in the raised eyebrow of Kate's Mom, "about something he could try and he's just punching away." She walked over to 'Mrs. Mom', "It was very nice to meet you, and hopefully I'll see everyone again before I leave." Immediately Mom got up and enveloped her a big hug and kiss on the cheek. Not knowing how to act with physical affection from someone she'd just met, stood there and clumsily patted her on the back.
"Now have a nice afternoon you two. And we'll see you later." The older woman said kindly.
Sam looked questioningly at her friend. Mother and daughter looked at each other and smirked. Then Kate said as she got up slowly from where she'd been sitting too long in one place. "Oh hey, you'll see everyone again. Tonight is the weekly family supper gathering. There will a chair with your name on it."
"Oh" was all Sam could murmur. How can they take her in and accept her so unconditionally? HER family didn't even do that with their own daughter, much less a stranger! But that was a book she had closed long ago. She did the best she could with her family and left it at that.
As Kate got up and grabbed Sam's arm for balance she hugged her Mom. "Well, we're off. She's been here a whole day and hasn't given me any work to do yet. I imagine there are pages just waiting for my unique abilities and expertise." Was the comment with a poke to the shorter woman's arm.
As they got back in the car, Sam turned to Kate. "You're so lucky--they are wonderful people. But please don't feel I have to come tonight. Like you said, I brought all kinds of things with me, and an evening to work on them is no big deal." She was surprised when Kate's smile faded and an almost hurt look replaced it.
"Well, I won't force you to go if you don't want to, but we're all looking forward to having you with us, but that's OK if you'd rather stay home."
Sam reached over and placed her hand on Kate's shoulder. "Sorry Kate, I was just trying to give you some space and not monopolize your time. I'd love to come tonight. I just didn't want you to feel obligated in asking me is all." Squeezing the shoulder as she finished. Then she said softly. "You see, my family isn't anything like yours at all. We were just three people who happened to live in the same house. The housekeeper pretty much raised me, because my parents were busy with their social schedule and keeping up appearances. I really don't know how to act around a real family."
The driver had a hard time keeping her eyes on the road, wanting to pull over to side of the rode and just hold her. How could anyone treat such a wonderful person like that! Were they blind or what? Her eyes filled with angry tears thinking about what growing up must have been like. "I'm sorry Sam. I didn't realize things were so strained with your family. You never talk about them and I just figured you aren't close. It must have been tough growing up like that." Holding her hand on Sam's as they drove along.
Samantha sighed before replying. "I guess you don't miss what you've never had. I didn't know that things were different for a long time. And by then I didn't really care anymore. I'm not even sure they noticed when I moved out." Laughing, but not in a humorous way. "Now your family is what I would imagine a family should be like. I'd love to come and spend some time with them tonight if they don't mind me tagging along."
Kate's smile returned, and for Sam the sun came out again from behind a small cloud. "Good, then it's settled--it's a date. You, me, and the family. I was kinda scared to show up on my own--I think they want you there more than me!" And so they continued their drive towards home laughing.
Samantha would describe supper as nothing less than an 'event'. Conversations flew in all directions-questions asked, but never given time for a full answer-and so much teasing and laughter. Not to mention when some rolls literally flew across the table when asked to be 'passed'! Sam was the star. Everyone making sure she had everything and anything she could possible want or need-the VIP treatment. Everyone wanted her attention and she had to consciously try not to just sit back and stare at them all. Kate caught her eye every so often and winked, letting her know she understood about the commotion. On the way home Kate pouted to her friend. "I don't get this. I get my brace off today and I don't think anyone hardly noticed. I told you they wanted you there more than me!" But couldn't hold off the laughter very long. Watching Sam through the meal had made her look at her family sa how her friend would see them, and again could appreciate how lucky she was in their unconditional love and support.
"Poor thing," Samantha commented, her voice dripping with false sympathy. "You certainly could have fielded some of those questions everyone was throwing at me. I didn't know which way to turn sometimes! And Mom-sending all this food home-why don't you weigh 300 pounds? And did you see how I had to avoid getting dragged into Dad's study for more 'lessons' on the computer?" Then joining Kate's laughter-what a marvelous evening. The 'Mom and Dad' that slipped from Sam's mouth did not escape Kate's notice and she smiled while driving them back home.
"You were definitely the star of the family tonight. Someone new to pick on!
Now Mom sends that much home every week, so I usually hardly have to grocery shop.' Laughing when she saw the look her friend gave her, knowing she was about to get a lecture.
"I saw the inside of your refrigerator this morning. You need to visit the
Grocery store cause your protein powder looks pretty lonesome in there. How about some fresh fruits and vegetables, Ms healthy lady? How about something that doesn't come in a box or can with no expiration date till 2002?" Not understanding why Kate continued to laugh at her, she was saved anymore taunting when they pulled into the driveway.
They spent the rest of the evening the same as the evening before-on the couch, talking. They never seemed to run out of things to talk about-it was like they were making up for years of separation and then being reunited. They tried comparing things from their childhood, but since Sam didn't have many really pleasant memories, they didn't talk long about that, but it made Kate understand a little better how hesitant she was around strangers. Never learning how to interact with people growing up stays with you forever. After a while, Kate fell asleep with her head on Sam's lap. Looking down at the other woman, Sam couldn't help but smile. Any more than she could stop her fingers from stroking the dark hair or lightly touching that face so relaxed in slumber. Yes, she was real-needing to physically reassure herself that this wasn't just some wonderful dream, and then wake up in her apartment alone. If Kate hadn't woke up on her own, Sam would have had no problem staying with her there all night-not wanting to break the magic she was feeling. But Kate did stir and wake up.
"Uh-sorry. I must have dozed off. Your lap is just too comfortable," She mumbled with a lazy smile.
Without thinking Sam stroked Kate's hair as she had done while her friend had been safely asleep. "My lap is all yours-any time." Replying softly, still caught up in her magic spell.
Smiling at both the response and the gentle touch of her friend. "Well then, it's a date then for tomorrow-same place." They both grinned and slowly got up and shut off the lights.
Again Kate hugged her firend good night, only this time Sam held on a little longer and a little tighter. "Good night Kate-and thank you."
"Thanks for what?" She asked without releasing the woman in her arms-not wanting to let go just yet.
Sam just said softly, "For more than you'll ever know." And without explaining herself any further, looked up into the still sleepy blue eyes and kissed her cheek. Only then did she end the hug and walk into her room without looking back.
Standing very still, she watched Samantha disappear before reaching up to touch the spot where warm lips had left an indelable impression. Not only was it very brave for the visitor to reach out that way, but she had kissed her on the scarred side of her face. Half stunned and half elated, Kate retired, and as she crawled into bed, she began thinking about the day's events. The kiss was the main thing keeping her awake, but as she lay in the darkness, she also thought about her life as a whole and how some pieces she didn't know were missing suddenly seemed to be falling into place. Wondering over this notion, she'd never considered her glass half empty before, because she had a full life before the accident, but with the addition of the woman across the hall, she was slowly discovering that her glass had been lacking until Sam had come along to fill it. With that revelation and a smile, Kate rolled over and closed her eyes, as sleep finally came. As did her dreams.
The next day was warm and sunny. Again Sam started breakfast as Kate took a shower. Unfortunately she filled the coffeepot with water in the middle the shower, not realizing what she had done until hearing a scream coming from the bathroom.
"Uh oh" The guest murmured turning off the faucet as quickly as she could. The shower got quiet and a very wet woman came out of the bathroom wrapped in a big towel. First Sam couldn't speak because how beautiful her friend looked even when wet. The towel covered up the essentials but left a lot skin and long legs out to be admired, which of course she did. Having to literally shake her head, the offender held up both hands in surrender. "I'm so sorry--I forgot about what happens when two things are going at once with the water." Using her best 'don't kill me' voice, she tried and failed to keep a soft chuckle from sneaking in.
Slowly the unamused woman advanced into the kitchen. "Oh, so you think a cold shower is funny huh? Well let's see how you like it." Reaching out, she tried to grab the still laughing hussy, but missed when Sam took off into the living room. Smiling, Kate started to run after her and then grabbed her leg. "Ow--that was a stupid thing to do." Letting out a loud moan, she winced and bent over to grab her injured leg.
Hearing the loud groan, Sam turned on her heels and returned to check on her friend. "Oh dear, are you OK? What can I do?" And for her concern, she was grabbed by the actress and thrown on the couch.
Kate shook her long dark hair in a grimacing face, giving her friend a mini shower of cold water.
The victim screamed and started laughing as she was also tickled.
"OK I give--Uncle--Aunt--Cousin--I surrender!"
To which the faker got up and walked into her room to dress, but turning with a very arrogant look on her face. "I hope that teaches you to mess with me, injured or not." Then quickly stepped into her room to avoid the flying pillow heading her way.
The playful mood set the pace of their morning, as they worked on material that Samantha had brought with her. About midmorning, the hostess with the Oscar for best performance looked at her friend a little sheepishly. "Uh, Sam can I ask you a strange question?"
Still putting everything away Sam didn't look up. "Yeh, sure. You know you can."
"Do you know how to drive a manual transmission?" Almost blushing with asking it.
Non pulsed by the question, she shrugged and answered as if it were a normal question. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I can."
"REALLY?! Oh boy-I mean OK." Now Kate was almost dancing-her eyes shining and a silly grin on her face. "Would you like to go for a ride with me? I can't drive her yet, and I'm going crazy. Would you mind driving her for me, please?" Begging in the voice she'd used as a child to get quarters from her Father for gum.
Now completely confused, Sam finally looked up and gave her excited friend a puzzled look. "Her, who?"
"Come and see." Virtually giggling, Kate took Sam's hand and led her out to the garage.
Hurrying to the other side of the SUV, Kate pulled the tarp off with a dramatic flare and did her best Vanna imitation. "Samantha, meet Baby Girl. Baby Girl, this is someone really special-her name is Sam and she's going to be behind the wheel today so behave yourself." Giving her pride and joy a soft pat.
Sam had just been introduced to jet-black 1969 Ford Mustang convertible with leather bucket seats-a real beauty. "Wow" was all that came out of her mouth.
Kate was already climbing into the passenger side-carefully getting her healing leg in without bumping it. "Well, can we go now? Are you ready?" Pulling on her cap with her ponytail sticking out the back, she looked at Sam with such excitement that she looked about 12.
Sam went back into the house and shut it up and grabbed her purse and then returned to get behind the wheel. As she sat down, the jubilant owner started to tell her about everything, but was interrupted by an upheld hand.
"Gas-brake-clutch-shifter-ignition. Don't worry-I'll be fine. We're going to have fun, aren't we Baby Girl?" The driver said patting the dash, and then smiling at Kate.
For the next couple hours, the two women drove out into the countryside and enjoyed the day. Kate pointed out some scenic landmarks, but mostly just sat back and enjoyed the wind in her face and the radio blaring. She loved this car and the low growl it had when roaring down the back roads. Looking over at Sam, the feeling seemed to be mutual.
Feeling Kate's eyes on her, the green eyes turned to her and she smiled ear-to-ear. The passenger reached over and lay her hand on the other's shoulder, and they drove that way till they pulled back into the garage. After turning off the ignition, Sam handed the keys back to Kate, still smiling. "That was so much fun! I've never been in a convertible before-it's such a free feeling with all that openness."
Nodding in agreement, Kate smiled at how her friend seemed so relaxed and happy, with her eyes just snapping with color.
That evening Sam brought out the second section of 'Maggie and Darby' for Kate to read. It was dark and they only had the one reading light on, giving the room an intimate feeling.
Kate once again 'assumed the position' on the couch sprawled out while reading and Sam looking over her shoulder. When the page came with the love song on it, Sam moved to the entertainment center and turned it on and inserted the CD. Moving back to the couch, she saw that Kate was now sitting up and patting the space beside her, so she took the seat indicated and got comfortble.
"Will you sing it for me please?" Asked Kate gently, sounding like it was very important to hear the words come from Sam, and not just the CD.
Sam took a deep breath and just nodded.
Kate hit the remote that started the song.
Their eyes met, and the spell was again upon them. Sam couldn't have looked away if she had wanted to, which she didn't. The music started and the second singer closed her eyes for a moment before the words started. Then she again locked green eyes to blue.
If I never met you-if I never saw your face
This world-- this world would be a colder place I bet
If we'd never met
If I never met you-if I never knew your love
My life-- my life might be a sad song of regret
If we'd never met
But we said one hello, and look at how the world begins to spin
Look at how the shadows disappear-now that you are here.
If I never met you-if I never felt your kiss
My days--my nights would not be filled like this it's true
I don't know who I'd love-I don't know what I'd do
If I'd never met you
As the last strains of the music played out, Kate leaned forward to Sam.
She spoke very quietly, and it was only then that Samantha saw the tears rolling down tthat beautiful face.
Smiling warmly, Kate reached over and cupped the singer's face. "You saw my face. You know my love." Then, ever so gently, she pulled Sam's face just that little bit closer and very gently kissed her on the lips-nothing to scare her. But longer than just a friendly gesture. "And now you've felt my kiss. I think that not only is this their song, but our song too. You sang it beautifully-and it meant so much more for me to hear your voice."
Then they just looked at each other in silence. Sam was speechless-her heart was pounding, her breath was shallow, and wanting nothing more than to meet those lips again. The feelings that washed over her when they kissed were beyond words. This was what she'd been writing about, but had never felt herself-the feelings inside her certainly not to be described as a hollow shell or empty. At the moment she was so full of emotions, they threatened to overwhelm her. Kate still held her face in her hand, and Sam also reached over and wiped the tears from the beautiful face in front of her. Then they smiled, snuggling back into the couch, Sam resting her head on Kate's shoulder, and Kate holding her close.
They didn't feel the need to talk about what had just happened-they just wanted to savor this moment-this first. After an hour like that, they knew they should try to get some sleep, but couldn't bear to say goodnight. Kate finally brought up the subject. "It's getting awfully late, but I don't want to let you go. Do you think you could sleep here on the couch with me? I want to hold you all night and wake up next to you tomorrow." She asked this shyly and hesitantly, not wanting to push, but not being able to resist at least trying.
Samantha sat up enough to look at her friend and just nodded. So they pulled a blanket off the back of the couch and laid down next to each other, spoon shaped-Kate behind Sam, laying on her good side with her arm holding her friend close to her. Sam reached up and turned off the light and they lay there quietly relishing this time-it felt so right, and they fit together so perfectly, that there was no question of how they felt about each other. They fell asleep with smiles on their faces, and hearts full of love and promise.
Samantha woke in the early morning light feeling the sleeping woman behind her, and an arm wrapped around her waist. Sometime during the night, they had laced their fingers together loosely and now the smaller woman slowly caressed
the hand holding hers. She had spent so much time alone, that now she felt like a starving person-never getting enough of the other woman's touch. To be able to feel this way about someone was nothing short of a miracle, and she didn't care that it was another woman who showed her how to love. Being able to love,
and finding someone to love, and be loved back was all that mattered.
"What are you thinking about?" Came the voice behind her. She could hear concern in the sleepy timbre. The smaller woman rolled over to face her partner, the width of the couch keeping them close together. She looked into half open blue eyes that showed so much care and love that her eyes filled with tears. "I was thinking how lucky I am to have found you-and how happy you make me, every day by just being by my side."
"Same here, my dear-same here. Do you think we can spend the rest of the week right here?" A silly smile on her face, Kate gave her a wink.
"Sounds wonderful to me..." But before she could continue the phone rang, and she laughed when Kate groaned. "Sounds like a Mom ring to me. I'll bring it over to you." So she did get up and bring the phone to the still reclining woman. Yes, it was Mom, and Sam watched Kate as she talked. Did her friend have even a clue how beautiful she was? Those blue eyes that could drown her, the smile that made her breath catch, the classic lines of her face that made Sam ache to touch her again. But it was more than looks that Samantha loved-her friend has gotten better looking everyday that they were together and as Sam learned more about her-the beauty on the inside came shining through. The gentle spirit, her sense of fun, her devotion to her family was all traits that made the inner beauty radiate. Kate looked up then and motioned for her to join her, which Sam did without hesitation-taking up their usual position of Kate's head on her lap. Only now, Sam didn't have to wait until her friend fell asleep before she touched her-stroking her hair and running the back of her hand down her cheek and jaw. All this attention was making it hard for the recepient to concentrate on what her Mother said, so she ended the conversation as quickly as possible, and captured the hand to kiss the palm, which made it very hard for Samantha to think at all! There was no hurry to move from this comfortable position, so they simply didn't-talking quietly about simple things and holding hands.
The rest of the week flew by at an amazing rate. Mornings were spent doing any separate things needed: Kate checking in with the family about work, and Sam keeping caught up on her accounting clients. That way she wouldn't be backlogged when returning home. Neither woman spoke of this time ending. It was too painful to even contemplate. So they made the most of each day, living it to the fullest. Afternoons would be spent driving Baby Girl out into the country, and even having a picnic lunch at a quiet wayside once. It was a toss up who enjoyed the car more, the owner or the driver! Sam loved to make the big engine rumble and was even a little of a lead foot. Not that she speeded-she just got to the speed limit a little quicker than necessary!
Evenings were quiet-the couch being their sanctuary, where they talked, or worked on stories, or listened to music, or even watched a movie together.
Kate's music collection was eclectic--a little big band, some light classical and of course a good share of pop rock. Sam told her about some new age music, but
Kate had never heard of that, so was told to watch her mail, as she'd be getting some CDs to try out. "Maggie and Darby" was almost finished with a happy ending in sight, but not without a little struggle, of course! After the first night of sleeping together on the couch, that also became a ritual that was never questioned. Neither wanting to cross an invisible line of sharing a bed, but not able to be apart-this was the best of compromises. Another 'baby step' forward in their relationship.
Inevitably the last evening arrived. They turned down supper with the 'folks'. Kate grilled steaks, and Sam made a salad that neither was really hungry for. After cleaning up they 'retired' to their favorite spot and just listened to some music-sharing a bottle of wine. There was so much going through their minds-but unable to voice them. The biggest question--where do they go from here? The relationship was something they both wanted desperately, but it had been only three months, after all, though it seemed so much longer. A long distance relationship would take some planning and effort, but anything worthwhile took that.
After changing into nightshirts-Kate, a 'one size fits all' athletic long T-shirt, and Sam in a more silky but conservative one, they snuggled close again. They sat like that for a couple hours, and then Sam did her nightly massage of Kate's leg-not so much because she needed it, but it was something they both enjoyed. Then she sat back down for a while longer, both enjoying the company and trying to memorize the sounds and feelings and even the smells around them.'
It was finally getting very late, and Sam's flight left early the next morning. Kate hit the CD player remote and stood up-holding her hand out. Sam looked up with a smile, but took her hand and joined her without question. Her eyes widened as the strains of 'their song' began, and Kate gently took her in her arms and began swaying to the music. Samantha closed her eyes and leaned into the embrace, giving herself up to the sensations around her: the music, the lyrics, the feel of Kate's arms around her, and their bodies pressed close together. It was the perfect ending to a time she couldn't have written about, even as pure fiction.
The song ended, but the whole CD was slow love songs, so they continued to dance together through the whole disc. When the last song ended, Kate drew back and looked into Sam's eyes.
"I want to kiss you Sam, really kiss you, but we'll wait if you're not ready. I'll wait as long as you need-you're worth it all and more to me. You know I love you very much." Her voice almost a whisper at the end.
Sam closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again. What she saw reflected in those blue eyes was everything she'd ever dreamed of-but thought wasn't possible for her. Her only doubt was that she could please Kate, knowing from that last brief kiss, her feelings for this woman ran very deep. FEELINGS-not numbness or emptiness, but all the things she'd written about and more. This was the last barrier Sam needed to break free of, and it was the hardest-reaching out physically and taking that risk. But this was Kate, and not just anyone, and so she would take that leap of faith. "I love you too Kate-so much. And I want to-to kiss you again too," Struggling with the unfamiliar words as they left her mouth.
Kate had been holding her breath and saying a prayer that this would be OK. They had never discussed the chemistry between them, and what it could mean. It never seemed important at the time. So in slow motion they each leaned that small distance till their shallow breathing mixed. As soon as their lips touched, gently and lightly, Sam moaned softly. God, this was bliss. She needed more, more than the need of mere air to breathe. Wrapping her arms around Kate's neck and drawing her closer, she deepened the kiss-wanting it all at once like a child on Christmas morning-touching, kissing, tasting, and feeling each caress that she gave, returned to her in kind. Kate filled every empty space in her-an emptiness that had seemed unfillable, for so long.
As for Kate-she was lost. After holding onto her control for days, Sam's responses overwhelmed all her senses. Finally able to hold her, taste her skin, breathe in the essence of her, and whisper words of love into her ear. But before they both went too far too fast, Kate slowly drew back, with one last stolen kiss. She reached and stroked Samantha's face with the back of her hand-so soft and silky. The green eyes were darkened with passion, and were the most precious things the blue eyes had ever seen.
"Oh God Sam, you're so wonderful, but we better take a breather, as much as I hate to," Kate's voice deep as she grinned at her friend.
Sam was still trying to focus her eyes-feeling in the middle of a dream that she didn't want to end. But Kate's words reached her, and she nodded in agreement. It would be so easy to take Kate's hand and go to her bedroom and let her partner teach her what making love was-much easier than to not! But this was too important to rush-they had laid the foundation of their relationship in friendship, and they wanted to continue building the rest as slowly and surely so it would last forever. Kate was more than worth the wait.
They walked back to the couch and curled up in each other's arms-not able to stop touching lightly and gently. After hearts and breathing slowed to a more normal level, Kate lay against the back of the couch and pulled Sam close her-throwing the blanket over them. They would spend this last night as they had almost every night before-in each other's arms. They would be pulled apart soon enough.
To be continued.