Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women.
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Geonn Cannon
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
Road Ends, Montana
On her way home from work, Deputy Andrea Tyler stopped by the grocery store to get the things she needed for dinner. Dinner for one, yet again. She loaded her basket with a few boxes of Hamburger Helper, some milk, and a six-pack of beer and headed up to the cash register. Martin, the geriatric clerk who could run circles around most of his teenage bag boys, bagged her things and smiled up at her as she handed over the cash. "Big night tonight?"
"Oh, you know it," Tyler said. She returned his smile and glanced at the front window display over his shoulder. During her patrol, she had noticed stacks of crates holding bags of apples, some of the stacks rising taller than she was. Now, only one crate and a half-dozen bags of apples remained. Her eyebrows shot up. "Jesus. Did people have a sudden craving for cider?"
"Hmm?" Martin asked. He followed her gaze and said, "Oh, that. Yeah, the ladies' auxiliary is having an apple pie contest. You know the way. Had about a hundred of them old biddies in here today. Prob'ly more coming by later, now that the workday is done."
Tyler hesitated and then said, "Why don't you add a couple bags on my tab?"
Martin nodded and shuffled his way over. Tyler would have offered to get the apples for him, but he resented anyone treating him like an old man. He hauled two bags back to the cash register and added them to Tyler's total. "You ain't make pies, are ya, deputy? You're a little young for the aux."
"They're not for me," Tyler admitted. "I thought I would run some out to Kelsey. Uh, Mrs. Quinn. Don't know if she'll make it to town before the ladies auxiliary snatches them all up."
Martin nodded. "Oh, right. She do love her apples. Buys bags and bags of 'em."
Tyler smirked. "Her, uh, horses might have something to do with it."
Martin winked at her. "Right, well, either way. Save her a trip to town. Mighty nice of you. Apples add four bucks."
Tyler handed over the cash. Save Kelsey a trip to town, give me a chance to go out there and see her. Win-win. She took the bags from Martin, assured him that she could get the groceries out to the car on her own, and loaded them into the backseat of her cruiser.
When she straightened and looked over the top of the car, she spotted Toby Ralston's truck down the street at the gas station. The passenger side taillight was still busted.
Tyler slapped her palm against the window and said, "Damn it, Toby." She had given him three warnings over the past month about that taillight. She understood it took time to get to the auto shop in the city, and she respected the fact that he was short on cash. But she could only be pushed so far.
She drummed her fingers on the roof of the car, then leaned through the open driver's side window and grabbed her citation book. Her plan was to threaten him with a ticket, which would cost him twice the expense of simply replacing the light, and then back down if he promised to get it taken care of in the next couple of days. It was the last the last thing she could do before actually ticketing and impounding the thing.
The gas station was at the far end of the street, the last building before leaving town. People who passed her said hello, waved, smiled and tried to strike up a conversation. She was a striking figure, five-eight with her blonde hair pulled into a braid and blue eyes that could either shine or freeze you depending on her mood. But small town politics meant that, badge or no, she was approachable and willing to have a conversation. She politely turned away a handful of people, her eyes still focused on the gas station at the end of the street and that damn broken taillight.
She practiced what she was going to say as she walked. I'm sorry, Toby, but I've given you all the warnings I can. This is it. If you had just gotten the light taken care of, it would have saved you a lot of money. My hands are tied here. I guess I could pretend I didn't see it tonight. But only if it's fixed in the next two days, do you understand me? Otherwise... Otherwise what? Another empty threat? No, this was it. One last warning, then the gloves came off. She had been the Good Cop for too long.
She peeked into the truck as she passed the driver's side door. A stack of mail was spread on the passenger side of the seat; notices with bright red writing, those were never good. She steeled her jaw and tried to harden her eyes so Toby wouldn't see a friend when she threatened him. The front of the store looked more like the front porch of a home, with a small stack of newspapers on one side of the door and a rocking chair on the other.
The bell over the door chimed as she stepped into the store. A tall candy rack blocked her view of the cash register, but she knew that Toby and Bobby, the clerk, were most likely standing to one side of the counter talking about sports. She slapped the citation book against her palm to let them know she wasn't just another customer. "Toby, I've warned you three times about that damn light of yours. I can't..."
The rest of the speech died in her throat when she walked around the corner.
Toby had the business end of a shotgun aimed at Bobby's chest. Bobby's jaw was tight, his eyes bugged out, but he looked angry rather than scared. His hands were flat on the counter in front of him and he was breathing heavily. Toby was the one who looked scared to death. His face was red, beaded with sweat, and his mouth hung open. He was panting like a dog left out in the heat.
"Whoa, now," Tyler said slowly. She kept her voice calm, level, as she tucked the citation book into her belt. She moved her hand to the side, trying to make it look like she was just shifting her weight instead of putting her hand on the butt of her gun. "What's going on here, fellows?"
Bobby shook his head but kept his eyes glued on Toby and the gun. "Not a thing, Deputy Tyler. Just... Toby here was showing me his granddaddy's shotgun."
"Is that right," Tyler muttered. "Well, it's a mighty fine weapon, Toby. But maybe you oughta put it down now."
"Lady has a point, son," Bobby said.
Toby sniffed. He still hadn't acknowledged Tyler's presence. Tyler's heart pounded as she undid the snap on her holster. She eased the weapon from the leather but left it down by her hip, pointing at the floor. "Toby. Toby, look at me, now." His eyes cut toward her, but he kept the gun on Bobby. "Don't do anything stupid. You understand? You're just showing Bobby your grandpa's gun. Okay, I buy that. I do. But if you keep the thing up any longer, I'm gonna start having my doubts. You understand what I'm saying to you?"
"I just needed help."
"We're trying to help you," Tyler said.
"No," Toby groaned. He spun on his heel and aimed the gun at Tyler. She reacted in a heartbeat, her own gun up and aimed between Toby's eyes before either of them realized she had moved. Toby's eyes widened, but Tyler kept the shock out of her own face. She hoped. She had never dreamed about drawing her gun, let alone on someone she knew and, goddamn it, liked. She had a very clear view of Toby's face now; red and sweaty, eyes bugged, the sight of her gun inexplicably trained between his eyebrows.
"Goddamn it, Toby!" Bobby growled.
Toby wailed, "I just needed money!"
Tyler didn't waver. "Put the gun down now, Toby," she said calmly. "I'm afraid you're under arrest for... Bobby, no!" She had caught the motion out of the corner of her eye; Bobby moving to the far end of the counter where his shotgun was stashed.
Toby spun the gun toward Bobby. "Stay put!" Toby screamed. "Don't come any..." Tyler had taken a step forward and Toby turned the gun back to her. "No!" he shouted. All he could see was her badge and the gun, and the knowledge he was going to jail. The double-barrel of the gun was aimed dead between Tyler's eyes when Toby pulled the trigger.
The world went silent, until Tyler's ears filled with the 'click' of the shotgun misfiring.
Everyone froze. Toby's eyes snapped open, his arms went limp, and he dropped the gun ever so slightly as he looked at the barrel with betrayal. Tyler was the first to recover. She reached out with her left hand, keeping the gun in her right trained on Toby, and grabbed the shotgun by the barrel. It slipped easily from Toby's limp fingers and she lowered it carefully to the counter.
Crisis averted, she was suddenly aware of sweat blooming underneath her uniform shirt. She centered her gun on his chest, furious now, and growled, "Get on your knees. Get down on your knees now, Toby."
He held his hands out, dropped to his knees, and bowed his head. By the time Tyler holstered her weapon, Toby was sobbing. She took her handcuffs from her belt, ignoring how hot her face felt, and stilled her shaking hands long enough to secure the cuffs on his wrists. Toby was muttering under his breath, "I was dead broke. Dead broke."
"Shut the fuck up," Tyler muttered breathlessly. Her head was swimming. She could still hear that hollow 'click' in her ears, could still see the barrel twitch with anticipation of murder. She reached up and squeezed the button on her microphone. "Dispatch. I need Sheriff Stevens."
"You got me," the sheriff said a few seconds later. "What do you need, Andy?"
"I got someone in custody at the gas station. I'm going to need a car as soon as possible to take him in."
"All right. I'm on my way."
"I'll be here," Tyler said.
She released the button and looked back at the counter. Bobby had picked up and was examining Toby's shotgun. Bobby felt her gaze and said, "This thing has gotta be from the Civil War. That's probably why it misfired."
Tyler nodded. She didn't trust herself with words.
She hauled Toby to his feet, took a handkerchief from her pocket and used it to take the shotgun from Bobby. He handed it over eagerly and she told him the sheriff would take his statement soon. She led Toby outside and dumped him into the rocking chair. "Sit still and be quiet." All the fight seemed drained out of him and he simply slumped awkwardly in the chair, his hands still behind him, and ducked his chin down to his chest.
"I'm sorry, Deputy Tyler," he finally said. "I didn't... I didn't mean..."
"I said to be quiet," Tyler said. She looked down at him, nowhere near ready to feel pity for the man who had tried to kill her moments ago, and hooked her thumbs in her belt. She leaned against the gas pumps to wait. "Just shut up."
A few minutes later, the sheriff's car pulled up with lights flashing, but no siren. Sheriff Daniel Stevens parked by the gas pumps and climbed out in no particular hurry. He was a tall man, and wide, but not lanky or fat. He was sturdy, Tyler had decided long ago, and had the kind eyes of a preacher. His receding hair was brown, sprinkled with gray at the temples, and laugh lines marked his eyes and lips. He tugged on his uniform shirt as he rounded the back of the car, and did a double take when he saw who Tyler had handcuffed. "Hell, Andy. What's he done?"
She picked up the gun and handed it to Stevens. "He put this in my face and pulled the trigger."
Stevens continued to look at her in shock for a moment, then closed his mouth and furrowed his brow. His blue preacher's eyes became ice cold when he turned his attention to Toby. He grabbed the front of Toby's shirt and yanked him out of the rocking chair. He half-dragged him across the parking lot, opened the back door and practically flung him inside. "Get in the goddamn car," he growled. "Get!" He planted a boot in the seat of Toby's pants and shoved. Toby sprawled in the back seat and Stevens slammed the door on him.
He walked back to Tyler and looked in her eyes for a long moment before he spoke. "You okay?"
"Fine," Tyler said. She nodded, shrugged and said, "Gun misfired. I'm fine."
Stevens continued to stare at her for a long moment before he decided to believe her. "All right. You need to talk, you know where to find me."
She nodded. "Uh, Bobby. Inside. He needs someone to take his statement."
"I'll do that. You're off-duty. Head home, take a breather, and come in late tomorrow. Y'hear?"
Stevens watched her for a moment, unconvinced, but then said, "I'm going to talk to Bobby now, get it out of the way."
"What about Toby?"
"Let the bastard wait," Stevens said. He walked past her into the store and Tyler stared at Toby in the backseat of the cruiser. He was leaning forward, his head against the back of the driver's seat, shoulders racked with sobs. She refused to feel sorry for him, former friend or not, and walked away from the store.
This time, she ignored the greetings of people she passed on the street. A few of them wanted to know what had happened, drawn by the flashing lights outside the gas station, but she couldn't begin to explain to them. She got back to her car and sat behind the wheel for a long time until her mind stopped racing so she could focus on driving. She glanced in the rearview mirror to make sure the road was clear for her to back up, and her eye caught on the red mesh bag of apples she had bought before the madness began.
She stared at the bag, hypnotized by it and what it meant. She again heard the click of the gun and knew how damned close she had come to dying. A shudder raced through her and she had to grip the wheel to stop it. She exhaled, backed out of the spot, and aimed the car out of town instead of toward her small house just south of Main Street. About a mile out, where no one from town would be able to see her, she pulled the car off the road.
The tires chewed up the soft dirt of the shoulder, kicked up gravel, and she ended up canted at a forty-five degree angle. She looked at the skewed horizon and decided that was about right; her world was skewed now. She was alive. If Toby had bothered to grab a newer gun, or if the gun had been taken better care of, she would be dead. The line was just that simple. Click. She shuddered violently, the car shaking around her, and she covered her face with both hands.
When she dropped her hands, ten minutes had passed. Her heart had slowed back to normal, her hands didn't shake when she gripped the wheel. She choked down the bile in her throat and steadied her nerves. She took a deep breath and ran a hand over her hair. She kept it in a tight braid when she was on-duty, but now she tore at the ties with her fingernails until the strands came loose. She finger-combed it so she wouldn't look like Albert Einstein's long-lost daughter, undid the top button of her uniform blouse, and started the car's engine again.
She pulled back onto the road and continued her trek out of town. Kelsey Quinn's ranch was a good ten miles out of town, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. She had one new neighbor, but he was far enough away that his ranch might as well have been in Idaho. The front gate was almost always open, so Tyler drove directly onto the curving dirt road that led to Kelsey's house. She rounded the stand of trees that blocked the house from the road and parked in front of the second gate.
She knew she should get out, open the gate and drive up to the house, but now that she was actually here she had lost the courage. The sun was starting to set and she could see dim lamplight burning in the living room window. Someone passed by the window, casting a shadow on the curtain, and Tyler looked quickly down at her hands and thought about the lamps.
The house was wired for electricity, but Kelsey preferred the light of lamps or lanterns. She only turned on the overheads between nine and bedtime, to save on her energy bills. It was just one of the small character quirks that Tyler loved about Kelsey, like the way she talked to the horses and the way she sang along under her breath when the radio was on, even if she didn't know the words.
Tyler didn't realize how long she had been sitting there until she looked up and saw the front door was open. Kelsey was standing at the steps, arms crossed over her chest, staring at the car.
"Jesus," Tyler said. She felt like a teenager caught staring at her crush's house. She shook her head and got out of the cruiser. She walked to the gate, unlatched it and pushed it open in a wide circle. Instead of driving up to the house, she left the gate open and walked up the gravel driveway to the front porch. It gave her more time to think about what she was going to say, and more time to admire Kelsey.
Kelsey's dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore a green-and-blue robe that was long enough to brush the tops of her bare feet. Her face was pale and shiny, evidence she had just washed off what little make-up she wore, and the robe revealed she had been on her way to bed. She uncrossed her arms and said, "I don't like police officers sitting out on my property like they have bad news," Kelsey said, not unkindly. "Not since Jesse."
"Oh, shit," Tyler said. She hadn't even thought about the night Kelsey's husband died. "I'm sorry. I was just... caught up in my thoughts."
Kelsey smiled. "Well. I've been known to get caught in that trap myself. We didn't have a date, did we?"
"Uh, no," Tyler said. She looked down and smiled. Since Jesse's death, Tyler had been coming out to the ranch infrequently to lend a hand on days off, but more often than not she ended up being a shoulder of Kelsey to cry on, a sounding board for her wandering thoughts. "No, we didn't have plans."
Kelsey seemed to hear something in Tyler's voice, a meaning that went deeper than her words, and frowned. "Andrea? What is it? What's wrong?"
Tyler opened her mouth to speak, but was surprised to hear a sob instead. The reality of what had happened, and the fact Kelsey could look through her so damn easily, had struck a chord. She closed her eyes when she tears started to build.
Kelsey stepped off the porch and went to her. They embraced and Kelsey whispered something unintelligible against Tyler's shoulder. When they pulled apart, Kelsey kept her hands on Tyler's shoulders as if to anchor her to the ground. She looked Tyler over, as if she expected to see a wound she hadn't noticed before. "What happened? Are you all right?"
Tyler's voice was a whisper. "A man tried to shoot me."
"Are you okay?" The question was simple, asked innocently, but there was a quake in her voice and her eyes widened slightly at the thought.
"His gun misfired," Tyler said. "But... the gun was in my face. He pulled the trigger. It was... it was so close. It was the closest I've ever come."
Kelsey stepped back. "Come inside. I'll make you some tea."
"Kelsey, wait. Wait." She gripped Kelsey's hand and squeezed. "I want... I came out here to tell you something."
"I have feelings for you. I'm in love with you. And I swore I would never say anything or do anything about it, but today when that gun... I thought about you..." Once the dam was broken, she couldn't stop the words. They came out in a flood until her voice cracked and went dead. Her throat closed and she had to look away. When she spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper. "I just had to tell you. I couldn't bear... you not knowing."
Kelsey stood stock-still, her hand still tight on Tyler's. She opened her mouth and finally said, "You're... in love with me?"
"Since I started coming out here all the time. I got to know you. I got to see the real you. And, yeah, I fell in love. I didn't mean to. I'm sorry."
Kelsey stepped back and lowered herself to the top step of her porch. She crossed her arms over her knees and looked up at Tyler. Tyler remained where she was, and crossed her arms over her chest. She looked down at her shoes and scuffed the dirt of Kelsey's lawn. Finally, she said, "Oh. Yeah. I got some apples for you, too. For the horses. From the grocery store. They're in the backseat of my cruiser."
The corner of Kelsey's mouth twisted up in a grin. "Apples, huh?"
Tyler smiled. "Yeah. A bushel, I think. Or whatever they call a bag."
Kelsey's smile widened and she smoothed the robe over her thighs. She chuckled, then laughed, and then threw her head back and laughed harder. She held one hand out to Tyler and said, "Help me up, goddamn it. Let's talk about this inside."
Tyler took Kelsey's hand and pulled her up. "Do you want me to get the apples?"
"Forget about the apples," Kelsey said gently. She kept her hand in Tyler's as they went into the house.
Tyler stood in front of the mirror and buttoned her uniform blouse to her throat. She tugged on the collar so it would sit better, then half-turned to make sure the badge was positioned correctly on her breast. Her hair was already pulled back tight in a braid, and she was wearing the touch of make-up that she always wore on duty. She bent down, picked up her shoes, and left her bedroom. It was half-past five in the morning, and she had taken the early shift.
In the living room, she sat on the edge of the couch to tie her shoes. She caught sight of the plain greeting card lying on the table, a purple-and-blue flower painted on the cover. She picked it up and flipped it open to read the sentiment one more time. "Happy Alive Day. I'll see you tonight. X, Kelsey."
One year to the day, Tyler thought, since Toby Ralston put a gun in her face and pulled the trigger. Kelsey had been the one to bring up the anniversary, and Tyler had mentioned "Alive Day" celebrations that some members of the military took part in. Her father had been injured in Vietnam and came back without his legs. He told them he was happy enough with how it turned out - "Better my legs than my life," he had always said - and every year celebrated an Alive Day to remind himself how lucky he was.
Kelsey had, of course, jumped on the idea. So that night, there would be cake and wine at the Quinn ranch. Tyler smiled at the idea, more that Kelsey wanted to put it together for her than anything else. Since her confession immediately after the incident, she and Kelsey had grown closer than ever.
During their talks, Kelsey admitted that she had never considered being with a woman before. But she wasn't turned off by the idea of Tyler being in love with her. Their dates consisted of long conversations, talks about Kelsey's life and her marriage to Jesse, and Tyler never pushed it. Kelsey was the one to institute good-bye kisses. Gently, closed-mouth kisses that never lasted more than thirty seconds. But they were enough of a thrill to keep Tyler walking on air until she got back home.
She stood the card up on the coffee table, smiled at it, and stood up to go to work.
Kelsey opened the door, blinked, and tried not to laugh. Tyler reached up to rub her face, looked at her hand and thought better of it. Mud smeared her uniform blouse, her left check and most of her trousers. Her hands were gloved in brown-black goop and her hair was coming free from its braid. She was soaked, from head to toe, in dirty water. She sighed and looked at Kelsey with eyes that seemed so much bluer surrounded by mud. She cleared her throat and said, "I'm going to be a little late tonight."
"What happened to you?"
"I was just outside of town because of a Canadian BOLO. Happens, from time to time, this close to the border. I see a car that matches the potential smuggler's description, I give chase. Guy pulls over, I get out to talk to him... and some asshole's irrigation sprinklers come on. I figure it's no big deal, just like a little rain, and I turned to get my hat out of the car. My foot slips on some mud, I go sprawling, potential smuggler takes off, and I'm sitting there like Miss Piggy in a tsunami."
Kelsey finally allowed herself to laugh. "And you drove all the way out here to tell me this?"
"Well, it was on the way back to town. I wanted to tell you in person so you wouldn't think I came up with some lame-ass excuse not to have our Alive Day."
"I would have believed you." She turned and looked across the living room. "There's a... bathroom right through there. I probably have some old clothes you could wear while your uniform's being cleaned. I mean, to save you a trip to town."
The prospect brightened Tyler considerably. She hadn't been looking forward to a ten-mile trek with mud drying in her socks. "It's not an imposition...?"
"No, not at all. Just leave your shoes and socks on the porch... I'll get some newspaper for you to walk on."
Kelsey left the doorway and Tyler sat on the porch to take off her mud-encrusted shoes. She wiggled her black-and-brown toes. She waited outside until Kelsey returned and laid down a walkway between the door and the bathroom. Tyler walked carefully to make sure she didn't drip and the papers wouldn't slip out from under her feet. At the bathroom door, Kelsey said, "Towels are there, soap and shampoo... I'll get some clothes for you."
"Thank you, Kelz."
"It's my pleasure." Tyler closed the door and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She was lucky Kelsey hadn't just taken her out to the barn and sprayed her with a hose. She carefully undid the buttons on her uniform blouse, folding it and her T-shirt inside out so she wouldn't smear mud on the countertop. When she was down to her bra and boxer shorts, she walked to the tub and started the faucets.
There was a quiet knock on the door. "Andy? I'm going to leave the clothes outside the door. There are some things I need to do out in the barn, but do you need anything else? Loofah, bubble bath...?"
"Thanks, I'm fine," Tyler said,
"Okay. Come find me when you're done."
Tyler waited until she heard the outside door close, then opened the door just enough to retrieve the clothes Kelsey had left for her. She left the muddy uniform on a newspaper next to the door and examined what Kelsey left for her. She was grateful to see a pair of jeans and a men's work shirt rather than a dress or a blouse. She finished undressing and got into the tub. Dirty eddies immediately began swirling around her foot and leg as she sank into the water, and she used a washcloth from the cabinet to scrub her arms and face.
She had to drain and refill the bathtub three times before she finally decided she was clean enough. She drained the water one last time, and then used the washcloth to scrub down the tub so it wouldn't leave a ring. She toweled off, dressed in her only-slightly muddy underwear, and put on the clothes Kelsey left for her. The shirt was a little baggy, but the jeans fit just right.
She left her hair down to dry naturally and left the bathroom. Her muddy clothes had disappeared and, at the far end of the house, she could hear the washing machine chugging along. She expected to find Kelsey out in the stables but, to her surprise, she was in the kitchen at the stove. She looked up and smiled at Tyler. "Well, now. That's a lot better."
"Glad you agree," Tyler said. She walked to the stove and said, "What are you cooking?"
"Just a quick stew, for lunch. It's not your Alive Day dinner, just a snack. I didn't expect you so early."
"Want me to go?"
Kelsey laughed and turned to face Tyler. She looped her arms around Tyler's waist and pulled her close. "No. Stay here." She rested her head on Tyler's shoulder and closed her eyes. Tyler put her hands in the small of Kelsey's back and held her for a moment. "Oh. Here." Kelsey backed up and reached into the pocket of her jeans. She withdrew Tyler's badge and held it out, the kitchen light dancing off the gold. "I took it off the blouse and washed it in the sink."
"Thank you," Tyler said.
"It gave me some time to think, washing that. About who you are, and what you do. Protection and security. You've given that to me these past two years. After Jesse's accident, I didn't think I would be able to go on. But you gave me that. You were there for me. And since I found out how deep your feelings really go, it... it's given me a lot of food for thought."
Tyler held her breath; thinking could go either way. She said a quiet prayer as Kelsey continued.
"I know you said we would never do anything I was uncomfortable with, and that you would never take advantage of me, but it's been two years, Andrea. I'm ready to move on. And the only person I could be with is someone who made me feel safe and warm. The first person to make me laugh when my world was ending. I don't know if it makes me straight, or gay, or bisexual, but I know that I love you, too."
Tyler had closed her eyes at the beginning of the speech and, by its end, had tears at the corners. "Hey," Kelsey said quietly. She kissed Tyler's cheeks and said, "It's okay, sweetheart. I just wanted to tell you."
Tyler looked into Kelsey's eyes and said, "Can I kiss you?"
Kelsey kept her eyes open through the kiss, mind racing as she compared this to the kisses of the past. Finally, her eyelids fluttered closed and she accepted Tyler's sweeping tongue. They pressed into each other, hands roaming in small, safe areas. When they parted, Kelsey rested her forehead against Tyler's and ran her tongue over her bottom lip. She moved her hand to the back of Tyler's head and fingered the loose strands. "Tonight."
"What about it?"
Kelsey couldn't look up, and kept her eyes focused on Tyler's shoulder. "I-I want you to stay. Tonight."
Tyler's heart stuttered and she said, "Kelsey..."
"I know. I want it. I want you." She finally looked up and said, "I'm ready for you."
Tyler kissed Kelsey again and brushed her dark hair. "Okay," she said, voice shaking. She moved her hands to Kelsey's hips and said, "Do you need any help with lunch?"
"Sure." Kelsey stepped out of the embrace and wiped her hand over her eyes. She turned to the stove and said, "You could get a couple of bowls out. They're..."
"I know where they are," Tyler said, resting her hand on Kelsey's shoulder for a moment before she stepped away.
After the stew, Tyler and Kelsey went out to the barn to work with the horses for a while. One of the horses, Vagabond, had been sold and Kelsey wanted to make sure he was in perfect shape for the sellers when they arrived in a few days. When they returned to the house, Kelsey told Tyler to wait in the living room. Tyler walked to the bookshelf and ran her finger along the spines, anxiety keeping her from staying still.
"Happy Alive Day," Kelsey said.
Tyler turned and saw Kelsey standing in the kitchen doorway with a small cake on a tray. She walked to the coffee table and bent to set it down, and Tyler saw the wine bottle tucked under her arm. They sat on the couch and Kelsey produced two wine glasses from a cubby hole in the coffee table. She poured the wine and handed one glass to Tyler. They tapped glasses and Kelsey said, "Sl‡inte," before they took a drink.
"I've had a lot of time to think it over," Kelsey said. "One year today, in fact. After you left that night, I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking of how lucky you were, and how lucky... I was. I kept thinking that if you had been taken from me so soon after Jesse..." She blinked rapidly and touched one knuckle to her left eye. I guess I didn't realize until that moment how much you truly meant to me. And the fact that you had such deep feelings for me...
"I guess what I'm saying is that... I'm... very selfishly glad that you're alive. I don't know what I would have done if... if..."
Tyler reached out and touched Kelsey's hand. Kelsey looked up and they stared into each other's eyes for a while. Finally, Tyler broke the silence. "Cake?"
"Yes. Cake. Um. We need a knife." She stood up, went into the kitchen and returned a few seconds later with a knife, two plates and two forks. She cut off two thin slices and served them up. "I could have gotten ice cream..."
"This is fine."
They ate in silence for a while, sipping wine as they ate. Tyler said, "Cake and wine. You wouldn't think those two would go together..."
Kelsey laughed and pressed the back of her wrist against her lips. She looked down at her plate and was surprised, when she looked up, to find Tyler leaning in to kiss her.
They kissed slowly, and Tyler gently took the cake and silverware from Kelsey's hands. She placed them on the coffee table and scooted closer. Kelsey turned to face her, one leg on the couch cushions between them. Tyler brought up her hands, fingers lightly resting on Kelsey's cheeks, and broke the kiss to look into her eyes. "Nothing you don't want to happen will happen."
Kelsey's eyes were wet when she nodded. She turned her head until her cheek was resting in Tyler's palm. She kissed the pad of Tyler's thumb, then pulled back and rose from the couch. She took Tyler's hand in her own, pulled her up, and led her through the living room to the stairs.
As they walked up the stairs, Tyler tried to calm herself. She could feel her hand shaking in Kelsey's, and felt like her pounding heart was making her entire left side throb enough that Kelsey could see it even in the dark stairwell. They passed the dark guest room where Tyler had once spent the night during a freak thunderstorm, and the empty room that would have been Jesse's office.
At the far end of the stairs, the master bedroom door stood closed, a white-and-brown barrier of almost sacred proportions. Kelsey stopped at the door and rested her hand on the knob. Tyler wasn't sure what to do, so she stepped close behind Kelsey, put one hand on her shoulder, and covered Kelsey's hand with her other. Kelsey pressed back into Tyler's body and, together, they turned the knob.
Tyler kissed the back of Kelsey's neck through her hair as they stepped into the bedroom. Tyler closed the door and, for the second time in her life, a 'click' reverberated through her every thought.
The bedroom was dark, lit only by a moon filtered by thick curtains. Kelsey stood in front of Tyler, facing her, and they came together in a hungry kiss. Tyler was content to leave it at that for a while, give herself a chance to realize she was making out with Kelsey in her bedroom, but Kelsey moved her hands to the top button on Tyler's shirt.
"Wait, wait," Tyler said, breaking the kiss and wrapping her hands around Kelsey's.
Kelsey rested her hands on Tyler's chest. "Six months ago, when we kissed for the first time, I wondered what it would be like to go to bed with someone who wasn't Jesse. Five months ago, I thought about what it would be like to go to bed with you. I realized I don't want to sleep with anyone else but you, Andrea. I've spent the last four months or so thinking, and thinking, and all I keep coming back to is the fact that I love you, and I want you."
Tyler released Kelsey's hands and, looking at each other in the dark, Kelsey began undoing the buttons of her shirt. By the time Kelsey's palms skimmed over her shoulders to push the shirt down, Tyler was breathing hard and the wetness between her legs was growing. Kelsey stepped close to reach around and undo her bra and, in the process, kissed Tyler's chest. Tyler shuddered and brought her hand up to cover her eyes. Kelsey straightened and said, "Andy..."
"I'm fine. It's okay." She dropped her hand and tears rolled down her cheeks. Kelsey hooked her fingers in the straps of Tyler's bra and tugged them down to bare her breasts. She let the underwear fall to the floor and moved her hands to cup Tyler's breasts. She kept her eyes on Tyler's and sucked in a breath as she felt the hard nipples against her palms. Tyler moved her hands between them and found the catch of Kelsey's jeans. She tugged it open, pushed down the zipper, and hooked her index fingers in the first two belt loops.
"Yes," Kelsey whispered, and Tyler pushed the pants down. They kissed, and Kelsey wrapped her arms around Tyler. "Bed," she said against Tyler's mouth.
They walked to the bed and Tyler gently lowered Kelsey to the mattress. She perched over her and Kelsey finally looked at Tyler's naked chest. She ran her fingertips over the light pink skin and then looked up into her eyes. They kissed and Tyler settled herself on top of Kelsey. Kelsey spread her legs, drawing in a breath as the denim of Tyler's jeans rubbed against the smooth flesh of her thighs.
Tyler kissed her way down Kelsey's throat, and Kelsey lifted her head to give her more room to move. Tyler reached the collar of Kelsey's shirt and began to slowly undo the buttons, kissing each bit of exposed flesh as she went. Under the shirt was a tank top, and Tyler kissed each breast through the thin cotton before moving lower. "Oh, God, Andy..."
Tyler rested her forehead against Kelsey's breasts and closed her eyes. She moved her hands down and felt the waistband of Kelsey's underwear against her hips. She wound it around her fingers and, continuing her downward trek with her lips, eased the flimsy cotton down her hips. Kelsey raised and shifted her hips to help her and, when Tyler pulled the panties off, she kissed the arch of one foot.
"I've been in love with you for so long," Tyler whispered. "I want to make you feel..." She slid her hand down the inside of Kelsey's legs, and Kelsey whimpered her approval. Tyler eased Kelsey's legs apart and lowered herself onto her elbows. She kissed each thigh, ran her hands from knee to groin, and then pushed up Kelsey's shirt to kiss her stomach. She whispered something against the warm skin, tongue circling her navel, and then lowered her head. Her breath blew across Kelsey's pubic hair and Kelsey reached up and gripped the pillow next to her head with both hands.
Tyler hovered for a moment, tongue sweeping her bottom lip for moisture, and then reverently closed her eyes and touched the lip of her tongue to Kelsey's labia. Kelsey grunted and arched her back off the mattress. Tyler, once she had gotten a taste, was hopeless. She curled her tongue and opened her mouth wide, using her lips to part the folds as she worked her tongue slowly deeper inside.
Tears rolled down her cheeks and onto Kelsey's thighs, but neither of them noticed. Kelsey used a brief moment of lucidity to pull her shirts off, yanking the tank top over her head and hurling it across the room. She lay back, dressed only in her bra, and looked down at Tyler's head between her legs.
After what seemed like an eternity, Tyler lifted her head and circled the tip of her tongue over Kelsey's clit. She probed, licked, and sucked the bud of Kelsey's clit and cherished each moan and cry from above. She brought one hand up and brushed the knuckle against Kelsey's folds, getting it nice and wet before she slid it inside.
"Andrea," Kelsey cried. "Yes, Andy..."
Tyler kissed her way up Kelsey's body, traveling slowly. She teased Kelsey's nipples through her bra with her teeth, then settled between her legs. Kelsey looked up at her reverently, her blush evident even in the pale moonlight. Tyler brushed a second finger over Kelsey's folds and eased it inside, this time resting the heel of her hand against her own hip. She put her other arm around Kelsey's waist and pulled her close. "Ready?" she whispered.
"Too ready," Kelsey whispered. "Six months was too long... please, Andrea..."
Tyler kissed Kelsey and slid the second finger easily inside. Kelsey's moan turned into a cry, and she reached down to dig her fingers into Tyler's upper arm. "Harder... please..." Tyler used her hips to move faster, and Kelsey rolled her head back. Tyler took advantage, running her tongue over Kelsey's neck to her ear, nibbling on the lobe as Kelsey rocked against her. When Tyler's thumb flicked up and circled Kelsey's clit, Kelsey whispered, "I'm coming, Andy."
Tyler kissed Kelsey's lips and continued to thrust against her, the cries and whimpers and writhing all combining to form Kelsey's climax. She bowed her head, face against Kelsey's upper chest, and kissed her, tasting the saltiness of her skin. "God, yes, God, Kelsey..."
Kelsey collapsed against the mattress and pulled Tyler down with her. Tyler kissed everything she could reach, and finally she found Kelsey's lips again. Kelsey rolled them until they were lying on their sides facing each other. Kelsey put her hand in Tyler's hair and slowly dragged the fingers down her face, like a blind woman reading Braille. She smiled sleepily and said, "I love you."
Tyler closed her eyes. She kissed Kelsey's lips and said, with hardly any voice, "I love you, too, Kelsey, I love you."
"I want..." Kelsey's voice cracked and she cleared her throat. "I want to... but I'm not going to be good. I want to be good for you, Andy."
"What do you want?" Tyler whispered, though she knew full well.
"To... go down on you..."
Tyler shivered. She took Kelsey's hand and brought it to her lips. She kissed each fingertip, then guided it down to the waistband of her jeans. Kelsey closed her eyes as she undid the button, lowered the zipper, and slipped her hand inside. "I want to make you come, like you made me come. I want to feel you m-move under me..."
"Yes," Tyler whispered. She lifted her hips and spread her legs as Kelsey's hand worked into her boxers.
Kelsey pulled back and, using her free hand, pushed Tyler until she was on her back. They shifted until Tyler was facing away from Kelsey, and Kelsey pressed herself against Tyler from behind. Tyler pillowed her hands under her head and closed her eyes as Kelsey cupped her mound. Kelsey kissed Tyler's neck and whispered, "Is this okay?"
"Mm-hmm. Use your fingers... touch me." She gasped and whispered more instructions whenever necessary. Kelsey tried to work slowly but, within a minute, Tyler was breathing hard. "I'm sorry, Kelz," she breathed. "I'm so sorry, I can't last any longer..."
"It's okay," Kelsey said. "It's okay. Come for me, sweetheart."
Tyler clenched her teeth and came, her legs clamped shut around Kelsey's hand. She reached back with one hand and gripped Kelsey's naked hip, pulling her close until the wave ended and she could relax again. She breathed in puffs through her nose, her face hot, as if she'd just finished a marathon. Her heart pounded, her skin was hypersensitive, and Kelsey Quinn's hand was between her legs, wet with her juices.
She rolled onto her back and pulled Kelsey on top of her. They kissed and, in the process of cooling down, managed to get the last of their clothes off. Tyler ran her fingers over Kelsey's finally-naked breasts and pinched one pink nipple before retreating. Kelsey bowed her head, dark hair mixing with Tyler's blonde, and closed her eyes.
"I never..." She bit her bottom lip and shook her head.
"What? It's all right. Whatever you have to say right now is fine."
Kelsey opened her eyes. "I never want to sleep with anyone else," she said. The words came out in a rush and then she closed her mouth, turned her head away and pressed her cheek to Tyler's shoulder, a blatant attempt to hide.
Tyler ran her hands over Kelsey's naked back and said, "I haven't wanted to sleep with anyone else for two years." She felt wetness on her shoulder and knew Kelsey was crying. She smoothed Kelsey's hair and held her, knowing nothing she would say would improve the situation. When the tears stopped and Kelsey lifted her head again, Tyler said, "Are you okay?"
Kelsey nodded. "Do you think... maybe... we get... two soul mates?"
"I think we get more than that," Tyler said. She brushed Kelsey's hair. "It's the lucky ones who find more than one in their lifetime."
Kelsey smiled. "What did you say?"
"What? Just now?"
"No. Against my tummy." Tyler grinned. 'Tummy' was one of those 'Kelsey-words,' cute because she wasn't trying to be cute with it, and it brought forth a wave of good feelings in Tyler's chest. "What did you say?"
Tyler blushed. "No, nothing."
Tyler looked at a smooth spot on Kelsey's chest, a hollow below her right collarbone just above the swell of her breast. "I said... I said, 'don't wake me up.'"
Kelsey smiled and kissed Tyler's cheek. "I'll try not to," she promised. She moved her hand to Tyler's hair and said, "Will you show me? How to..." She gestured to their lower bodies. "Will you show me how to go down on you?"
Tyler shivered again and said, "Yes." She put her hand on Kelsey's shoulder and gently pushed her down. "Lesson number one..."
Tyler woke alone in Kelsey's bed. She rolled onto her stomach, pressed her face into the pillow, and reminded herself that she was in Kelsey's bed, naked, exhausted from sex. She chuckled, buried her face in the bedclothes, and then laughed out loud. She was giddy, for the love of God, and the realization made her laugh harder.
She finally contained herself and slipped out from under the covers. She wrapped herself in the only robe she could find, Kelsey's green-and-blue one, and headed downstairs. She found Kelsey in the living room, curled in the corner of the couch, holding a mug of coffee with both hands. She was staring out the window into the darkness of her front porch. Tyler stopped on the bottom stair and turned to leave her to her musings. She had only gone up one step when Kelsey said, "Andy?"
She stopped. Kelsey was turned on the couch, facing her. "Hi. I didn't want to..."
"No, it's okay," Kelsey said quietly. She held out one hand. "Please."
Tyler came downstairs and walked around the couch. Kelsey put one foot down on the floor and guided Tyler onto her lap. Tyler let herself be folded in Kelsey's arms, sinking down so her head was against Kelsey's shoulder. Kelsey kissed Tyler's temple and said, "I was thinking about us. And me and Jesse."
"Two soul mates," Kelsey said simply.
Tyler nodded and settled against Kelsey. It was very obvious, to her anyway, that they were both naked under their robes. She reveled in the feel of Kelsey's body against hers, and was sure she could spend the rest of the night just like that. Tonight, and tomorrow night. She made a vow to repeat that every single night she knew Kelsey. Just to remind the gods she was willing. I will always want her tonight, and tomorrow night. Every day.
Kelsey ran her hand up Tyler's arm and rested it at the curve of her neck. She looked at her watch and said, "Your first Alive Day ended two hours ago."
Kelsey bent down and kissed Tyler's throat. "Andy, I'm very happy you're alive."
Tyler's heart skipped and she felt a sob threatening to break loose. Such a simple sentiment. Someone was happy she was alive. Someone loved her. She turned her head and met Kelsey's eyes. They kissed, and Kelsey's hand slipped inside Tyler's robe. She cupped her hand over Tyler's heart and said, "Your heart is still beating."
"You think that's beating?" Tyler said. She looped her fingers around Kelsey's wrist and guided her hand lower. "I'll show you beating..."
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