Chapter Thirty-Two

I felt my body start to awaken. I was afraid to open my eyes in fear of not knowing where I was going to wake up. I could hear music in the background of wherever it was and a beautiful voice calling my name.

"Frankie? Can you hear me sweetheart? Please wake up." She said sweetly.

Oh my God, Crystal!

I struggled to open my eyes. I felt drugged and sluggish and wanted to stay asleep. It was much nicer asleep. Then she called to me again.

"Please, baby. Come back to me. I'm really afraid here by myself." She softly whispered in my ear.

That's Crystal's voice all right. Why would she be afraid? Oh my God, it's Annie! She's afraid. Hell I'd be afraid if I were her as well. I AM afraid.

I made an effort to try to open my eyes. It worked. I woke up in the parlor of Nonnie and Crystal's apartment. My eyes darted around looking for Nonnie. I couldn't find her. I could feel pressure by my arm so I looked down. A curly brown head was lying on my arm and hand. My hand felt moist from warm tears. She must have been crying.

The next words I spoke would be forever branded in my brain.

"Annie, is that you?" I asked tentatively.

I wasn't sure if I really wanted to know that my best friend really had sacrificed herself for me. A dark head slowly raised itself from its earlier position and beautiful green eyes looked up at me.

"Oh, Frankie, yes it's me. Thank God!" She said as she laid her head down on my chest. I brought up my hand and started to stroke her hair with gentle movements. I felt tears welling in my eyes. It wasn't a dream. She's here with me, this time it's for good. I let out a shaky breath and let out the tears that started to come of their own volition.

Annie looked up at me with her eyes shedding tears of her own. We locked our stare and it lasted for many moments. Neither one of us really knew what to say. So much had happened in a matter of minutes, really.

"Are you okay?" I said with emotion filling my voice.

"I think so." She slowly nodded. "Physically, I'm mostly here; mentally, well, I think it's gonna take a bit for me to digest all of this." She stated matter of factly.

"You and me both." I looked around. "Where's Nonnie? Have you seen her yet?" I hoped their first meeting wasn't hard for either one of them.

"Yes, we did meet. It was very awkward for both of us. I know the sacrifice that Crystal made for our happiness. I've never known a friend like that, Frankie. She really was an amazing woman, just like you said. I think Nonnie went out to absorb all of this as well. She didn't seem upset actually. She greeted me with a large smile and gave me a huge hug. It was really comforting being in her arms. I guess that comes from the bond between them. I hope that never goes away. I've never had that kind of nurturing from family before, and I'd hate it if she felt like she couldn't do that since this isn't Crystal's body anymore. I mean it's still Crystal's body, it's just mine now. Oh God… this is so strange!" She put her head in her hands and started to rock.

"Shhh… baby, it's gonna be okay. We'll make it through all of this. Come on, I wanna take you home." I said as I stood on shaky legs. I quickly found a pen and paper and scribbled a note to Nonnie letting her know where we were. I knew she was gonna need some alone time. As much as she'd say she was alright, I knew she was hurting over Crystal and would for a very long time. I know my life would never be the same without her in it.

I hope you can hear me, Crystal, because I'll be talking to you very often. I miss you already. I still can't believe what you have done for me. I'll love you forever, babe. I promise to look after Nonnie.

My thoughts overwhelmed me as I looked at Annie in Crystal's form. I took Annie's hand and led her up the back stairs to my apartment. She couldn't help but stare outside at all the newness of the neighborhood. It was going to be fun showing her all that had changed in the last twenty-six years or so. Kingsley Avenue was definitely a different place than it used to be. Rogers Park had changed almost completely since the time she knew of. It was undoubtedly going to be a time of rediscovery for Annie. I just hope it wasn't going to be too hard for her to adjust to her new life.

We walked into my kitchen from the back door and moved inside. The air seemed a bit thick so I turned on the air conditioner.

"Have a look around. Whatever I have is yours, Annie. Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?"

"Yes, I would love a glass of iced tea." She paused to look at me with a confusing stare. "I'm just gonna chalk it up to one of her likes because I have never liked tea." She smiled.

"I'm gonna have to agree with you. Crystal was an avid tea drinker. She didn't drink much else actually. I have some of her favorite blend in my cabinet. I'll be right back." I smiled and wondered how many other things we were going to find that were Crystal's likes and new to Annie altogether.

"Thanks, Frankie. I really apprec… " I heard her stop and gasp from the other room.

I immediately went to her and wondered what had happened. I saw her in the hallway looking at her reflection in the mirror.

Oh God! I bet she is really freaking out right now.

I walked up very slowly trying to register her reaction to her new physical attributes. I couldn't describe the look she gave her new body. She was definitely intrigued by it. She went from having medium length straight blonde hair to having mobs of long curly brown hair. She just kept touching her face and neck with total disbelief etched in her expression.

I rested my hands on her hips and looked into the mirror over her shoulder and never said truer words in my life.

"She was always incredibly beautiful to me, Annie. Now with your spirit in there, I've never seen that body more beautiful. I couldn't have asked for a better mixture of people to love, Annie."

She turned in my arms and looked deeply into my eyes. I saw so much love reflecting back at me I felt a warmth spread throughout my entire body.

"I love you, Frankie. I love you more than I can say right now. Would you kiss me, please? Let me know that this is real." I could see the tears begin to pool in her eyes and knew she needed to feel the connection that only we shared.

I slowly leaned down and gently pressed my lips against hers. The kiss was different than what I'd felt before. These were Crystal's lips. I could feel Annie's emotion getting the best of her. I felt the sob that escaped her lips as I pulled back.

"Annie? Are you alright?" I asked with concern on my face.

"You aren't going to love me the same way now are you? It's her body not mine. These are her lips you are kissing, not mine. I could feel it, Frankie." She stopped and put her head in her hands and continued crying.

This was breaking my heart. I wonder if Crystal had the ability to read minds and just never told me. I never thought about the fact that I would be loving Crystal's body. I would see it everyday. Was it guilt that I was feeling? I wasn't sure. I knew that Annie couldn't know the doubt I had otherwise it would break her. That wasn't what this was about. I just needed to get used to this. It was so new for all of us.

"Annie, please believe me when I tell you I love you. It is just gonna take a little while to get used to this. I've known this body almost all my life, and loving it with the passion that you and I share, never really crossed my mind. Let's just allow this to absorb a little, Ok? I'm still a little whacked from the journey home." I said honestly. I really wasn't allowing Crystal's death to sink in yet.

"Oh, Frankie. I'm so sorry. I'm being so selfish. You have just lost your best friend. God I'm such an asshole. Forgive me, please?" I really thought that Crystal had those abilities after all. I think when the emotions are high, she can feel what I am thinking. Maybe Annie was just really in sync with what I was going through. "Frankie?" She stared at me. I guess I checked out for a second.

"Yes, baby?" I whispered.

"I love you." She said as she wrapped her arms around me.

"I love you, too." I replied in soft tones. "Can we take a rest? I really think I need to lay down." It dawned on me how exhausted I was.

"Let's, I'd love to lay in your arms." She smiled through unshed tears.

"Good because there is no better place I'd like to have them right now, then wrapped around you." I winked and led her into my bedroom.

"This is lovely, Frankie." She said looking around.

"Thank you." I smiled. "Come in here." I said as I pulled down the sheets and slid to one side of the bed. She took her bracelets off and placed them on the night table. Annie slid into the bed and snuggled close to me. She pulled up the sheets and rested her head on my shoulder. My arms wrapped around the familiar frame. I kissed the top of her head out of habit and held her close as we drifted off.


Chapter Thirty-Three


I woke up in darkness. I checked my clock and it flashed nine twenty-one. We must have been tired. I haven't taken a nap like that in forever. I felt the weight of Annie's head on my shoulder. We hadn't moved since we layed down. The light from the street lamp shone into my room. It illuminated Annie's features beautifully. She looked so at peace now. I just marveled at what had taken place in the last day. I was so heartbroken just yesterday and now I had the love of my life laying in my arms, but in the form of my best friend.

"Jesus." I whispered.

I felt her stir on me and her leg flipped over onto my own. She snuggled closer and breathed a deep sigh of contentment. I held her tightly and kissed her head once more.

"How long have you been awake?" She mumbled with sleepy edges in her voice.

"Not long. How did you rest? Okay?" I asked as I brushed her cheek with the back of my knuckles.

"Yeah, I did. It really felt great laying in your arms, Frankie." She said as she leaned over and gently kissed my chest, which was the closest thing to her mouth.

"It was great to hold you and not worry about not being here when I woke up. I think I'm gonna get used to that." I said as my mind raced back to Crystal. "I still can't believe what she did for me, Annie. For us."

"I know, sweetheart. She was really special. In fact she came to me in my dreams."

I adjusted myself to look into her green eyes. "Really? What did she say?" I knew it wouldn't be at all crazy if she had. It's just like Crystal to try and get the last word in.

God I'll miss that feistiness.

"She wanted me to tell you not to be sad for her since she would be with you every single day. She did what she did out of her love for you and your friendship. You meant more to her than anyone, Frankie, well except for Nonnie. She said to be happy. Your happiness is all that mattered to her."

"She really said all of that? I wonder why she didn't tell me that herself. Well, I guess she did that night." My sadness was gripping at my heart and Annie picked up on that right away. She squeezed me tightly and I felt all of my defenses go down. The unchecked tears streamed down my face and onto my ears and pillow.

"It's okay to cry, Frankie. I'm right here for you. Let it all out. Please don't hold it back." I heard those sweet words from the mouth of the woman I was mourning. God it was confusing to me. I knew one day it would all work out, but right now I didn't know whether to accept this or not. I had no choice, it had already been decided. I just wished I had a say in the matter. If asked, would I have really known which answer to give? I think I should thank Crystal for not asking that of me. I wouldn't be able to answer. She took that option away from me and did what she thought she had to do. She felt my love for Annie and knew how important that love was to me. God she was an amazing woman, indeed.

My sobbing got louder as the realization that my friend was gone soaked deeper and deeper into me. I felt my body shake with each breath I took. Annie just held me as I cried. She said soothing words to help me grieve. She knew what kind of loss this was to me. This was a close second to me losing my father. At least I was with Crystal as she died. For that I will be eternally grateful.

I felt my sobs lessen and my body relaxed into Annie. She kissed my face and wiped my tears as they tried to escape my eyes. She was a very loving woman and I knew our lives together would be very special. I looked down at her with swollen eyes and smiled weakly at her.

"Thank you, Annie. I didn't see that coming and I'm glad I had you with me. I knew eventually it would happen, but…" I stopped as Annie placed her finger on my lips.

"Shh… it's ok, Frankie. You don't ever have to apologize for mourning someone you loved. I'm so sorry that I was the reason for her death."

"Now wait… she did this for us, Annie. Please don't take this on alone. She knew how much I loved you. She saw me when I would return from seeing you and I was an absolute wreck. I couldn't breathe without you, Annie. She saw all of this and made her own decision about this. Apparently she and Nonnie had talked about this before it even happened. I went into the parlor that day to stop the accident. I couldn't bear the thought of you dying the way that you did."

"You knew about the accident?" She looked at me with wonder.

"Yes, I did. I needed to know if you were really real, Annie. Crystal and I went to City Hall to look up the record of your death. I was really just looking for any clue that would tell me that you were a real person and not someone from my dreams. We went into the Hall of Records and a woman there typed in all of your information into the computer and then the year, 1974. She pulled up a car accident involving you and Billy. A fatal car accident."

She just stared at me.

"You got this information from a computer?" She asked.

"Oh my God… there is so much that you don't know." I smiled. "But yes, I found out this information and went back trying to stop Billy from killing you. Unfortunately, you tried to avoid hitting me on the street and you crashed anyway. I saw the truck going into the oncoming traffic and all I could think of was that I was the reason you crashed!"

"Frankie, Billy was the reason we crashed. He was drunk as shit and had no business driving at all. Please don't blame yourself for his actions. I'm just glad he can't hurt anyone ever again. The bastard. I hope Crystal kicks his ass." She smiled.

"Believe me, Annie, where Billy went, he'll never even see Crystal. She's in a much better place. I'm sure of that."

"You're probably right." She smiled back at me as her stomach made it's presence aware.

"You hungry?" I asked with a smirk.

"Oh God yes! I was just waiting for the right time to let you know." She said looking down almost embarrassed.

"Well, I need to warn you, Crystal had one hell of an appetite. Look out. You're gonna eat more than you ever imagined. Count on that!" I laughed. God that felt good to laugh with her again. I knew it was only the beginning.

"Really?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Really. Let's test this. How about some Chinese?"

"Oooh, yes, please."

"God, that was easy. That was her favorite food in the whole world. She would set the table and I would be doing something and then the food would arrive. She had this little jingle she'd always sing if I wasn't getting to the table fast enough. Let me see how it went..."

"If you’re too late… you know I won’t wait… and you’ll get nothing but an empty plate." She smiled and finished the jingle without me. I just stared back at her and immediately embraced her as hard as I could.

Crystal didn't really leave. Just her soul. I guess every part of her is the same minus her eyes and spirit. Her heart is the same her brain, maybe she can remember some of the things that Crystal knew. This is amazing. I have been given a gift that I can never repay. Crystal and Annie are one person.

"You know the song?" I asked with a teary smile as I pulled back from the embrace.

"I guess so. I don't know where it came from, but I knew it." She smiled with a bit of confusion on her face.

"I don't think I'm gonna question anything anymore. I'm just gonna let things happen and see where they take me." I said in awe.

"Frankie?" She called my name.


"Can we eat now? I got a craving for some egg rolls." She laughed.

"Yes m'lady, let's feed that beast of yours." I said as I kissed her cheek and got up from the bed.

She got up as well and asked if she could take a shower first.

"You want me to run downstairs and get you some clothes?" I asked.

"That would be great. I wouldn't even know where to look for them."

"I bet you would." I smirked. "Now there are towels in the linen cabinet in the bathroom and there's shampoo and whatnot in the shower itself. I have an extra toothbrush in the medicine chest as well."

"Thanks, Frankie. Thank you so much for loving me." She beamed.

"No thanks necessary. I'd be a fool not to." I said as I gently kissed her lips with my own. "Like I said, that toothbrush is in the medicine chest." I winked.

"You know… just for that, I might not brush till after we eat!"

"I'm only teasing. I would kiss you even if you hadn't brushed your teeth at all."


"Ok, so I exaggerate a bit. You'll get used to it."

"Get out of here!" She jabbed at my stomach playfully.

"I'll be right back, Annie. Just be careful, I put a new razor in there, don't go and play Psycho in the shower."

"I won't. See you soon."

"Bye now." I almost had the door closed when I poked my head in again as she started to undress. "Any preferences for underwear?" I smirked.

"Frankie! Just grab anything, I don't even know what she has!" She was clearly blushing and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

"All right, all right, I'm going! Jeez!" I laughed as I shut the door to my bathroom.

I knew Nonnie would be downstairs when I got there. I just didn't know what I was going to say to her. It was because of me that her grandchild gave her life to someone else.

I have no idea what I'm going to say. Sorry about that Nonnie. Sheeyaaa… that'd go over like a sword through the chest. It'll come, Frankie, just go down and talk to her.

I walked down the back steps and walked towards their back door. I saw Nonnie in their kitchen. I softly tapped on the window and she smiled and motioned for me to come in.

"Hi Nonnie." I said unable to meet her eyes.

"Come here, child." She took me to her and I fell into her arms. I started to cry and she rubbed my back as she always did when I was upset about something. "You know neither of us had the will to stop her from doing what she did. That girl had a stubborn streak a mile long." She calmly stated.

"I know, but still." I sobbed.

"Shh… you and I know that what she did, she did from her heart and she only wanted you to be happy. She knew when she was a little girl that her gift would help you somehow." I sniffed and looked into her eyes with my own.

"Really?" I sniffled again and she embraced me again. I could tell it was easier for her to talk to me about this while she had something or someone to hold onto. She wasn't fooling anyone, least of all me. I knew she was hurting.

"Yes. When she was about eleven or so she came to me and said, 'Nonnie, one day my spirit is gonna give life to someone. It's gonna make Frankie real happy.' I didn't really know what she meant by that. We had always known her gift was strong, sometimes it was stronger than mine.

"She came to me after your last encounter with Annie and she told me what she needed to do. Not wanted, but needed. She knew that I could help her with the power of my own gift. We talked about it for hours. I didn't want to let her go, but more than that, I knew she needed to do this for herself as well as for you. She loved you so much, Frankie. When she saw the pain you were in, she knew there was no other way. This was the ultimate sacrifice that anyone can give to someone. She did it without hesitation. That's how much she loved you. She came to me today after she had spoken with Annie. She knows how upset you are, but she knows how happy you'll be."

"Annie told me that Crystal came to her in her dreams. I knew it was true." I whispered.

"Yeah, she'll be with us always, Frankie. You have to know this. I know you never really believed in any of the things that we did, but you never made fun of her or me. In fact I remember a few occasions of you coming to her rescue when people would make fun of her for her gifts. You were her knight in shining armor. She'll always be here, trust me. As much as I'll miss her, she'll actually be within sight all the time. It's just going to be hard to keep reminding myself that it's not really her. It'll be a great reminder of who she was though. I'm thankful for that. Did Annie tell you we spoke a little before you woke?" She asked.

"Yes, she did. She said she was so happy when you didn't shun her for what had happened. She really felt the bond between you and Crystal and it brought tears to her because she'd never had that from any family member before. She's hoping that it doesn't end." I explained hoping that I didn't break my confidence with Annie.

"It won't, child, and you tell her that. I knew she was someone special. The minute she entered Crystal I could feel how special. I knew that instant of your love for each other. Crystal was right for doing what she did. I gave her my blessing and I want you to know that too. I'm not angry nor bitter. I will always have my grandchild in here." She said as she pointed to her heart as we separated. "She'll always be with us, Frankie."

"I love you, Nonnie." I said as I hugged her one last time.

"I love you too, Frankie. You've always been a blessing to me. You've been like my own child. That will never change." She had such love in her expression that I knew then things were really going to be okay.

"I have to get some things for Annie. Do you mind if I get them from her room?"

"Not at all. I'm gonna assume that she's gonna spend a lot of time upstairs with you then?" She smirked.

"If that's ok."

"I wouldn't have it any other way. I think it'll be nice to have this place to myself. She was getting too old to be here anyway." She winked.

"Uh huh." I winked back and set off to Crystal's room.


Chapter Thirty-Four


I walked into Crystal's bedroom and her scent was everywhere. I sat down on her bed and just looked around for a moment. She was such a special person. She had nothing but love to give to anyone that would give her the time of day. She didn't really have any friends other than me. I'm still not sure why that was. She was incredible. I'm very honored to have been her best friend.

I stood and walked over to her dresser. I never really went through her underwear drawer before. Never really had a reason to. I picked up a pair of black lacy panties and smiled.

"What were you going for with this look, eh babe?" I said to myself. "Very nice."

I picked out a bra to match and I knew I was going to get swatted from Annie for my choices but I know she was gonna look awesome in them. I grabbed a shirt and a skirt that I saw Crystal in a lot. They were comfy for her to wear. Hopefully Annie would like what I chose for her.

I closed the drawers and the closet and made my way back into the living room. Nonnie was reading while the news played in the background.

"You have everything you need, child?" She asked looking at my arms.

"Yeah, I think I got what she'll need for the rest of the night. We'll be back tomorrow. Would you like to have breakfast?"

"I would love that. See you in the morning." She said with a smile.

"Good night, Nonnie." I said as I leaned down and kissed her cheek.

I walked out of the kitchen and back upstairs to my place. I found Annie on the couch staring at my entertainment center with eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon. She was wrapped in a towel with her hair slicked off her face. God she looked beautiful.

"What on earth do you call this?" She asked as she saw me come in.

"Paradise." I smiled.

"No, really. This is amazing. I'm only going to assume that is a TV but Jesus, it's huge!" I smiled with pride. I had always loved my home theater.

"Well, get dressed and I'll treat you to all the toys that I have."

"Cool!" She stood and her towel gave way. Her face darkened a bit from embarrassment and she held the towel to her body. "Sorry, I'm usually not so modest. It's just a new um… "

"Body?" I finished.

"Yes, I guess for lack of a better word, body would be about right." She smiled.

"Well I got some things for you to cover that beautiful body up with." I said as I handed the clothes to her. "If there is something you don't like, we can always go to the store to get you something else."

"Thanks, Frankie, but I'm sure these will be great."

"You're welcome. I'm gonna order some dinner for us. It should be about thirty minutes or so. I'm just gonna order our regular. I'm sure you'll like it."

"OK, Frankie. I'll be back." She said as she walked towards the bedroom.

I took the phone and hit speed dial number five, which was the Haw Moy Restaurant. I heard Ellen's lovely voice and gave her my order.

"Thanks, Frankie. It'll be about a half-hour or so, ok? Say hi to Crystal for me." She finished as my throat constricted.

"I will. Bye, Ellen and thanks." I choked out and clicked off the phone.

A little while later Annie emerged from the other end of the house. She looked radiant. Her hair was still wet but she was dressed and looked so refreshed.

"You look beautiful, Annie. Do you feel better?" I asked as I went to her and gave her a tiny kiss.

"Mm… I do. I have to give her credit. She had a great body. It'll take some getting used to, but it feels so much more alive than mine did. I think mine was just so tired. It wasn't the best of lives that I led, Frankie." She sadly said.

"I know, baby. Crystal said something to the effect of your body being tired when she entered it. I’m so sorry your life was so hard."

"It's ok, Frankie. We can't changed the past. Just the future."

"Well, we did kind of change the past if you think about it. The actual events might be the same, but the people involved are just a little bit different." I smiled.

"Very true." She agreed.

"Dinner will get here in about thirty minutes, just as I thought. Ellen is really quick with deliveries."

"Good, cuz I'm starving!" She said motioning over to the TV. "Are you going to show me how this contraption works?" She said with her hands on her hips.

"Of course. Let me show you the remotes."

"The whats?" She said as she raised her eyebrows.

"The remote controls. They work the system so you don't have to get up. Things got very accommodating in last twenty-six years. We've become very lazy. Just wait till I show you the microwave."

"Should I be afraid?"

"Nah, there's just been a lot of changes in technology to make our lives easier. I know you're just gonna be amazed at some of the things now." This was better than anything. Being the gadget queen that I was, it was gonna be so great to show off all these things to her. I couldn't wait.

God she's gonna freak when she discovers the Internet. Slowly, Frankie, you don't want to freak her out even more!

I pressed the power button on the TV and it came to life. I turned the other decks on as well so she could feel the power of the home theater.

"So many things came and went that you didn't even get a chance to see. As far as music goes we have compact discs now and not albums, we have digital videodiscs to replace videotape, which you never even saw so don't worry about that. We still use videotapes, but I prefer the quality of the DVD. Umm… here I'll show you. Let me grab this Batman movie to show you."

She waited patiently as I popped in the disc and waited for the credits to blow her away.

"Wow! This is just like the movie house! This is incredible!" Her eyes were as big as saucers as she looked at the screen and tried to follow the sound with her eyes. Surround sound is an amazing thing.

The movie started and I pressed stop to end the demonstration.

"Hey! What did you do that for?" She pouted.

"We have plenty of time to watch movies. I have so many you'll be bug-eyed before you get a chance to watch them all." I promised.

"You're right. I was just so into it, I couldn't help but pout when it was over so soon." She explained. "Hey Frankie? Do you have one of those computers?"

"Yeah, I do. Do you want to see it?" I smiled.

"Yes, I wanna see what kind of thing can give you information like what you found at City Hall."

"Sure, but I think I hear the delivery people. Can I show it to you after we eat?"

"Of course. I'm just so curious about all the things I missed out on."

"You haven't missed out, Annie, they're just better now than when they first came out." I tried to make her feel better.

"I bet that's true."

Sure enough the delivery was at the back door with hot food for us to ingest. It smelled wonderful. Annie was at the door in a flash grabbing the bags from my hands. Ernie the delivery guy smiled at her hunger.

"You'll never change will ya, Miss Crystal?" He smiled and waited for an answer that never came. She didn't realize she was being spoken to.

"She actually goes by Annie now, Ernie." I nudged.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Miss Annie, you have a great night, you hear?" He smiled.

"You too, Ernie." She smiled not looking up from the contents in the bag. She was absolutely priceless.

I closed the door and just watched her instincts play out at the table. She knew exactly where my dishes were and placed them the way we always did when we ate together. It was truly amazing. I just sat down at my usual place and waited for her to settle.

"You know so much about her, yet you never even met." I said in awe.

"What?" She asked stopping abruptly in her tracks.

"I've been watching you for the last few minutes. You have set the table exactly the way Crystal used to. I'm sure you had no idea, either." I sat in bewilderment.

"No, I had no idea. Wow, this is really wild."

"You know, I'm gonna try not to compare what you do with the way she did things. I think that's gonna be easier for you if I don't. I don't want you to think that I'm gonna be comparing the two of you all the time."

"It's ok, Frankie. That's completely natural. I really don't mind. She was an incredibly person and I'm honored to be compared to her. I've never been so lucky in my whole life." She beamed.

"God, I love you so much, Annie." I said as I stood to embrace her. I leaned into her caress like it was bath water. I pulled my head back and looked deeply into her eyes. I could feel myself leaning closer until I felt her lips upon mine. The kiss was tender and gentle but most of all filled with love. That was Annie through and through. Her mouth opened slightly and our kiss deepened as well as our passion. Our tongues danced with each other's taking in all of the love that we shared for each other. I heard Annie moan into my mouth and it was the sweetest music I'd ever heard. I got a tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach and it was intensifying with each moment that had passed.

She pulled away breathlessly and looked into my eyes with passion written all over her expression.

"Dinner." She said.

"Hmm?" I asked clearly dazed.

"Food, dinner, then this, later." She breathed out.

"Ok. Dinner first, necking later." I smiled and managed to find my chair as I stumbled from lack of oxygen.

"I like that." She said.

"You like what?" I asked.

"I like the fact that you get all fuzzy headed after we kiss. I'm just glad I'm not the only one."

"You'll never be alone in that category. My knees would have given out next if you hadn't stopped that kiss." I smiled.

"Mine too, I think that's why I stopped." She said with a saucy smile on her lips. "Let's eat, this looks delicious." She said as she looked over the entrées.

"Dig in. And I know you will." I grinned knowing I would be right. And I was. She ate with abandon. It would have looked like she hadn't eaten in weeks to any stranger watching. I just looked on with adoration. I loved her more and more with each passing minute. This wasn't Crystal eating before me, it was Annie, my Annie.


Chapter Thirty-Five


As the credits rolled, I watched her face as the tears cascaded freely down her cheeks. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen from the story that had unfolded. I knew she was gonna love that movie. It told our story only ours was a happier tale.

"I can't believe that." She sniffed. "It was like me and you up there. I think we have it better though. He had to die to be with her again. God, my heart aches right now. I'm so glad I'm here with you, Frankie." She leaned into my body and wept. She wept for the sadness in the film we'd just watched, but I also knew she wept in thanks for Crystal and what she gave us.

It was nearly two in the morning and I hadn't even shown her my pride and joy. There was no better time like the present.

"Wanna see my shop?" I asked as I rubbed the head resting on my chest.

"Your shop?"

"Yes, the one my Pop left me. It is the one thing that I have that will always bring me close to him."

"Lead the way!" She said excitedly. She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her shirt and reached down and offered her hand to me. I took hers and pulled myself up. I walked her down the steps and opened the door leading into Technicolor Classics. I flipped the light switch and the fluorescence came to life.

I watched with pride as she walked through my shop touching almost everything as she passed by. She looked at me with such love it made my heart swell.

"This place is incredible, Frankie. I bet you make some people really happy with these things. There is so much paraphernalia from every movie of old and new. This is so cool! I love these costumes! Are they originals?"

"I used to have a few originals, but mostly these are replicas. I go to auctions and places like that to make sure I get whatever I can. People really get a sentimental feeling being here. I'm just glad I get to be a part of that. My Pop taught me how wonderful that can be. I've made so many people's days with the things I sell here. It's what makes me love what I do."

"You are a remarkable woman, Frankie Camarelli. I'm so glad you came back to me."

"Me too, Annie. Me too." I said as I wrapped my arms around her. It was a feeling I couldn't get enough of.

"Are you ready for bed?" She asked softly into my shoulder.

"Are you tired?" I asked not really feeling any fatigue at all since our nap.

"No, actually I just wanted to feel your body next to mine again. I really loved laying with you today."

I felt my body get very warm at her suggestion. "I loved it, too. Sure, come on." I said as she looked around one last time and smiled back at me.

"This place is wonderful, Frankie."

"Thank you. It means so much to me." I said as I turned off the lights and went back upstairs.

"You can tell." She beamed as we walked wrapped around each other.

We made it back upstairs and went into my bedroom. She went to the bathroom and I sat and stared out the window. So much had happened in my life in the last month or so. It was hard to believe it all, really. I was waiting for my alarm to wake me again. It never rang.

Annie came out of the bathroom and I turned to meet a radiant sight.

I knew she would look gorgeous in those underclothes.

She saw the look on my face and smiled very seductively. I slowly walked towards her while running my eyes up and down her body with a new desire.

"Annie, you look absolutely breathtaking. You are truly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." I breathed out.

She placed her hands on the sides of my cheeks and pulled my head down for a kiss. I felt myself moan into her mouth at the contact. She felt so damn good. I pulled her slowly down onto the bed with me. I lightly stroked her petal soft skin with my fingertips. She smelled so good. I breathed in her scent as her hair fell onto my face. She straddled my body as she had in front of the lake. She moved against me with a desire that matched my own.

Her hands found the buttons on my shirt and slowly worked them open until they were no more. She pulled the shirt off of my body as well as the bra that had no use to me anymore. She slid down to unbutton my shorts and slowly unzipped them while looking directly into my eyes. I knew she saw the wanton hunger in them. I'd never wanted someone so badly in my life as I wanted her then. She returned that stare and licked her lips sending new pulsations down between my legs.

She put the heel of her hand at the apex of my legs and I moaned deeply. She pressed into me and my body started to rock on its own. She shook her head and started to play with the waistband of my underwear.

"These have to come off." She said in a tone I'd not heard before. It thrilled me to no end.

I nodded because I found that I had no voice. She had charged me so high, I couldn't even function.

I raised my body to assist her in taking off the unwanted apparel. I looked at her to let her know that her clothes needed to be removed as well. She understood my stare and preceded to undress slowly in front of me. She unhooked her bra with a sway in her hips and gracefully let it fall down her arms and onto the floor. Her breasts were perfect. Her nipples were taut with a need to be touched. She moved around sensually and playfully and removed her panties by working them down her thighs and calves with a painful slowness.

"Come here." I husked. "Please." I needed to feel her body on me again. I needed the connection we shared only a few days ago. It seemed like a lifetime to me.

She climbed back onto the bed and straddled my body once again. I felt the wetness between her legs and it excited me more than she had already. The contact of our skin brought sighs from both of us. It just felt so right. I kissed her slowly and deeply like never before. I wanted to make this last. I could feel her body responding to my kiss. She began to rock her hips and press her sex hard against my stomach. I could feel each movement as if she were inside of me. I was so aroused I couldn't think. Her movements intensified as I brought one of her breasts to my mouth. I began to lick and suck the nipple on her right breast as my hand fondled her left.

"Oh, Frankie…" She whispered into my ear sending my passions even higher.

Her hips moved harder and faster into my belly. Her wetness was covering me completely. My hips had matched her movements pressing our sexes together and occasionally I would feel the wetness of hers touching mine.

"God, you feel incredible." She said breathlessly as I heard her sighs begin to get louder. She was getting close and so was I.

She took my earlobe in her mouth and quietly said things to make my skin shiver with gooseflesh. She brought her tongue into my ear and I almost came on the spot. She knew my weakness with one tiny action. I squeaked out a moan and said her name softly. She responded in kind with more attention to my ears. She would be my undoing shortly. I felt my body move into hers with a grace and synchronicity that felt so natural. It was like we had been making love for years.

She ground her hips faster and faster as I heard her whispering my name over and over again.

"Oh God, Frankie, I'm so close." She sighed.

"Let it go, baby. Let me feel you." I whispered back. I knew once she started to go I would follow right after.

I felt the perspiration on her back as I dug my nails into her. She began to shake as her orgasm took full control.

"Ahhh…" She ground out.

"Yessss…." I could feel my own orgasm reaching it's peak and I let my body shake with each breath I took. Our bodies ground into each other as our sweat soaked skins heated up with the friction.

As the last of our spasms ceased, Annie collapsed on top of me panting hard into my ear. I had to move her head or I would start all over again. She moved her body so half of it was on me and half on the bed. She rested her head in the crook of my arm and shoulder.

"That felt wonderful, Frankie. You are an incredible lover." She sighed.

"As are you, my love." I kissed her head as I let my own breathing return to normal.

We stayed like that for many moments just loving the feel of each other together once again. This time I wasn't going anywhere.

She lazily started drawing designs on my chest with her fingertips. I'd hold her closer and I would feel her smile into me. She moved her fingers lower and started to play with my nipple on my right breast.

She watched in fascination as it grew with attention and shrunk from the warmth of her palm. She played this game until I couldn't handle it anymore. I held her hand as she began to play again.

"I can't take much more of this teasing."

"Who's teasing?" She said as she rolled over to take my nipple into her mouth. Her thigh moved to rest between my legs and press against my sex.

"Ohhh…" I breathed out.

"You are so beautiful, Frankie. Do you have any idea?" She said in between kisses to my breast.

I just smiled and let the feeling wash over me. Before I knew it she had put her body between my legs and was licking my torso down to my navel. I looked down to see her dark expression as she continued to go further.

"Oh my God…" I whispered.

She kissed my inner thighs slowly and let her tongue linger as she got closer to the heart of my passion. She teased me incessantly until she read total frustration on my face. I was breathing erratically and as I felt her tongue on my clit my legs opened voluntarily. She reached to up to hold my hips and brought her tongue down again on my swollen flesh. She licked and tasted all that I offered. The sounds of gratification were coming from her loudly with each stroke of her tongue. She entered me slowly with one of her fingers and my body tilted upwards to meet her hand. The pressure building inside of me was one I was learning to love. I had a few lovers in my past, but nothing that compared to what I was feeling at that moment.

Her tongue began to move quicker with each thrust of her finger. My body was responding like it never had before. My hands had found my nipples and were playing with them intensifying the stimulation I was receiving.

"Ahhh…. " I breathed out. I needed to touch her. "Please, Annie."

"Please what?" She asked as she looked at me with deep emerald eyes.

"I need to touch you… please."

I felt her nod against me and without breaking any contact she had moved her body one hundred and eighty degrees. I had everything that I needed right in front of me. I grabbed the back of her hips and lowered her incredibly wet sex down to my mouth. God I had missed tasting her. Even though it wasn't the same physical body, it was still Annie, my Annie. I found her clit and sucked it completely into my mouth. I felt her body tense and her hips press against my face. Her tongue had started to move faster and I knew I wasn't going to last long at all. I sucked hard at her tip and brushed my tongue against it with quick determined strokes. Her body shook with fervor as I felt the start of her climax. I reached over to put my thumb inside of her. Her moans intensified with each thrust of my hand. I felt my body begin it's climb to it's precipice. Her tongue felt so incredible as did the rest of her body. I heard and felt her climax begin. Her breathing came in spurts and her body shook wildly. I held on as my own body betrayed all signs of normalcy. I felt my body quake and my moans were frequent and loud. I cried Annie's name more times than I can remember. She sighed mine again and again until no more words could be spoken.

When we were able to expel any amount of energy, Annie turned to curl up in my arms once again. She was all that mattered right now. I loved her more than I can remember loving anything. I will always love Pop and Crystal, but Annie was the other half of my soul. There were many forms of love and I think I had discovered quite a few of them.


Chapter Thirty-Six


The morning came abruptly as the sun that shone through the window landed directly in my eyes. I flinched at the light and turned to look at my clock.

Nine forty-five.

We had breakfast plans with Nonnie. I had almost forgotten.

"Hey, sleepyhead." I whispered into her ear.

"Hmm…." She murmured and sunk deeper into my body.

"Wake up lil one. We have a date with Nonnie for breakfast. I'm sorry I forgot to tell you that last night."

"Mmm…" She said as she stretched and rubbed her eyes with balled fists, just like Crystal used to do. That made my heart smile warmly and I held her even closer.

"Are you hungry?" I teased knowing she would be just at the sound of the suggestion.

"I am now." She said with a sleep filled voice. Her stomach soon made it's voice heard as well.

I smiled down at her and caressed the face that would look at me for many years to come.

"Do you want to take a shower with me?" I asked knowing we smelled like sex and Nonnie would know it in a heartbeat.

"Ooh, do you always start your days this way?"

"Showering?" I giggled.

"No, showering with a partner." She smiled.

"Not as of late, but it's a tradition I'd like to start as soon as possible." She smiled.

"Let's get going. We don't want to be late." She said as she darted out of the bed and into the bathroom. Crystal definitely didn't have her morning spirit. I laughed to myself with that realization.

We made it down to Nonnie's around ten thirty. She had made a full breakfast including pancakes and scrambled eggs. Annie's eyes got really big and a smile washed over her face as soon as she saw Nonnie.

"Good morning, girls." Nonnie said.

"Good morning, Nonnie." I said as I walked over to her and placed a kiss on her cheek.

"Good morning." Annie said almost shyly. Nonnie picked up on her trepidation and approached her directly. Annie's face was looking down and Nonnie took her chin with her finger and lifted it to face her.

"You have beautiful green eyes my dear. You shouldn't give your shoes all of their attention." She smiled. Annie couldn't help but smile back at her.

Nonnie took Annie into her arms and gave her a long embrace. I could tell she was whispering something into Annie's ear and Annie just nodded as her eyes welled up with tears. My heart was bursting with the sight in front of me. There was so much love between them and they were practically strangers.

Some bonds just can't be broken.

"So, how was your first night in the future, my dear?" Nonnie cheerfully asked.

"It was really nice, Nonnie, thanks for asking. We had a delicious dinner and we watched a great movie and Frankie showed me her shop and then we fell into an exhausted slumber. It was bliss." She beamed. I applauded her for keeping out the other parts of our night together.

"So you had a good night then?" She smiled.

"It was wonderful, Nonnie." I chimed in.

"Good, now let's eat." She happily said.

Breakfast was so comfortable. Nonnie and Annie spoke of Annie's life before now. They spoke of her returning to school in the future. She was almost finished with college when all of this happened. I would love for her to get her degree in journalism. I knew she really loved writing. It would be hard to explain to the school of who she was when she didn't even look like Annie anymore, but I'd move the earth for her if she asked me to. We'll make it happen if she wants it to, somehow.

We said our good-byes and thanked Nonnie for a wonderful meal. I could tell they were going to be great friends. That alone made this all worthwhile. We walked back upstairs and headed for home.


That word held so much more meaning to me now.

Annie had so many questions about what had happened in the last twenty-six years. I hoped I answered them all correctly. She seemed pleased with the answers I gave so that worked for me for now.

"What about that computer thing you were talking about. Something like that must be really incredible." She said with a little amazement to her face.

"It is." I agreed. "About fifteen years ago computers would fill a whole room because of their size. Well now, computers are so compact you can put them in a briefcase.'

"You've got to be kidding me." She said with disbelief.

"No I'm serious. Here let me show you." I took her into the family room and showed her my PowerBook Laptop.

"This is a computer? It looks like a small typewriter with no ink." She giggled.

"This little baby has lots of power and it's all in this tiny casing. It's pretty incredible. Here let's get on the Internet."

I dialed in to my server and my main page came up.

"What do you wanna know? Give me a topic. Anything."

"Anything? Can I be naughty?" She laughed.

"Yes, you can. There are plenty of areas with porn. Believe me." I laughed at her.

"You've got to be kidding. Ok. Ok… Umm.. look up say I dunno… what did you call this? PowerBook. Look up PowerBook."

"Ok," I said as I typed PowerBook into the search engine. "Boom, here are all the places that tell you about the PowerBook. I'd recommend going here though since they were the ones that created it."

"Apple Computer. What a funny name."

"That's what Bill Gates thought too." I said.

"Who's Bill Gates?" She wondered.

"Only the richest man in the industry. He used to work for Apple, now he has his own billion dollar industry called Microsoft."

"Wow. Billion dollar? That's crazy."

"I know, you'll see how much inflation has changed the cost of things. Coffee at your shop was what about a quarter or something?"

"Yeah, about that."

"Well we got coffee houses like Caribou Coffee that only sell coffee and they get a buck fifty for a cup." I said outraged.

"You're kidding! For a lousy cup of coffee??" She couldn't believe it. I still can't.

"Nope sorry to say. It's pretty crazy what people will pay for these days." I shook my head. "Oh and by the way, there is Diet Coke now." I smiled.

She laughed remembering our discussion at the café about Diet Pepsi and Sprite.

"This is a program I think you will like. It's called Microsoft Word. It's a word processing program that works just like a typewriter only you don't have to white out every mistake you have. You can just hit the delete key. You can use this whenever you want."

"Wow, it's like an electronic journal." She said in awe. "You wouldn't mind if I used this? Of course, you'll have to show me how to use this damn thing." She laughed.

"Of course! I know you kept a journal at school, and if you want you can do that here if you'd like. I know how much writing means to you."

"Thank you, Frankie. That means a lot to me."

"You're welcome." I said by kissing her face as she looked down at me. "It's really easy to start too, here give it a whirl."

I watched as she maneuvered the cursor like she had been doing it all her life. She got the hang of it and I couldn't get her off the Internet for almost three hours. She was amazed at the amount of information available just by typing in a topic. I do have to admit, I was the same way when I started to use it.





The next week or so was filled with Annie making discoveries about the things she had missed out on in her journey. She was like a little child absorbing every ounce of information I could offer her.

I found her many times typing frantically at the keyboard. One day she said I could read it all. She was really coming into her own groove in Crystal's body.

Oh, Crystal.

I missed my friend terribly and Nonnie and I had decided that we would have a service for her passing. It wouldn't have been right not to have one. We held a small ceremony in their apartment with candles and incense burning throughout their home. I had placed a picture of Crystal and myself in the middle of two candles. It was a picture my Pop took when the three of us had gone to the zoo. He said he'd never seen two better friends than Crystal and I. He was right. She was the greatest friend I would ever have. I would miss her greatly in my life. She gave me the greatest gift a friend could ever give. She sacrificed herself to give me the gift of love. I, to this day had never known a greater cause. I doubt I ever would.


The End




As Frankie closed the book in her hands her eyes welled with such tears. She slowly fingered the wording on the cover. "A Sacrifice for Friendship" by A.C. Parker. She glanced up at Annie who was waiting with such anticipation.

"Well?!" Annie exclaimed waiting for a response.

"Umm.." Frankie couldn't find the words.

"Say something, Frankie. Please, I gotta hear what you think!" She said excitedly.

"Well, it's not Shakespeare…" She stopped and noticed the look of hurt in her lover's eyes. "But I never liked him anyway." She smiled. "Annie this is wonderful. I can't believe you hid this from me until now. Well until several hours ago."

"It was a surprise. I wrote it as soon as I'd figured out how to use that damn laptop." She paused to read the expression on her face. "So you liked it?" She said shyly.

"I loved it. I'm so proud of you!" Frankie exclaimed as she picked up Annie and spun her around. "You are so incredible! You have a book! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I can't even believe it!" She put her down and examined the book one more time. "A.C. Parker?"

"Annie Crystal Parker. She helped me write this as much as anyone. She deserved to be on the cover somewhere. I hope you don't mind."

"Annie, you are the most wonderful person in this world. No, I don't mind at all. I know Nonnie would love to see this as well."

"I can't wait to show it to her."

They both just looked at the book as their arms encircled each other.

"I can't believe you wrote this." Frankie said in awe.

"You told me so much about your journey as well. I just wanted you to see what a beautiful story this was. It may fade in time in your mind, but this will keep it fresh in our heads forever. People need to read this. I couldn't wait to start writing it. I'm really proud of it." She beamed at her accomplishment.

"You should be, it's beautifully written, Annie. You did a great job." Frankie said as she kissed her temple. "You'll be the Judy Blume of the Gay Community. People are gonna want more of this romantic stuff." She said sarcastically.

"What, you don't like romance?" Annie jabbed her partners stomach.

"Let's just say I'm more of an action kinda girl." She stated flatly.

"Well, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but you give me the inspiration for all of this 'romantic stuff' as you so delicately put it. You are my romance, Frankie. You're just gonna have to live with that." She huffed playfully with her hands on her hips.

Frankie looked out the window for a brief moment and remembered why Annie was here in the first place. She took a deep breath and smiled down at her.

"I can live with that." She said with a kiss to Annie's lips.






I would like to thank Agatha Tutko for her generous help during the writing of this piece. I will always be in awe of your knowledge. My thanks to you and your gracious willingness to answer all of my questions. I can't tell you how thankful am for that. I'm especially thankful for the fact that because of this story we became friends. That means more to me than I can say. Thank you.

The lyrics used in Chapter Fifteen were used without permission. But listen to these artists, they are really wonderful.

Patty Griffin's "Good-bye" from her CD, Flaming Red and

Prince's "Forever in My Life" from his double CD, Sign O' the Times.

Thank you all for your incredible feedback from this story. You really made me smile and urged me to continue my journey. For those of you that thought I touched you with my words, you did the same for me with yours. Thank you so much for your support.

As always, this is dedicated to the love of my life. Without you, life would be a very scary place for me. You are my inspiration, I love you.

Feedback is the Ruler of All Bards

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