We Do What We Can
Part 15 (Conclusion)
By: Girl Bard
Disclaimer: No one reads these, but Ill humor myself. I dont own LL or ROC, but if I did, Im sure Id be off doing more .er entertaining things rather than writing about some fictional characters by the name of Jaden and Grace. So dont get all legal on my ass because Im a very poor college student with no money to my name. So anyone trying to sue me will get a lot of art supplies and an ornery Jack Russell Terrier.
Subtext: yes, Yes, YES!! This story starts out with a G rating, but will eventually proceed to NC-17. This means explicit sex between women. If this offends you, why are you reading alternative fan fiction? Huh?
Summary: This is the sequel to the sequel of I Know This Bar. It would really help if you read that story, followed by Houdinis Box. This is the third (but not final) story in the series.
Author's Note: These two lovable characters blossomed into an actual story after driving on a rainy Massachusetts day listening to Ani Difranco's incredible song, "I Know This Bar." Henceforth, Houdinis Box was inspired by Jill Sobules equally incredible song "Houdinis Box." Because Im a strict believer in following tradition, this story is named after the lovable Sheryls Crow haunting song "We Do What We Can."
Feedback: PLEASE! Thats all I need to say. firstname.lastname@example.org
Dedication: My betas, you rule. My dog rules too. My girlfriend really rules. Life is good.Journal Entry:
August 13, 2000
Today is my birthday.
I'm 23 today.
23 years, 8,395 days, 201,480 hours.
An entire lifetime, to some. To others, just a beginning.
A new beginning for me.
My journal entry from exactly one year ago today has me wishing myself a happy birthday and pining over the fact that I was "stuck in a crappy backwoods Ohio town going to a college I hate and being settled and bored like my mother." I was wishing for excitement, and had only met Jaden once, three months prior.
I had no idea what a major part she would play in my life. And I think that even if I did know, I wouldn't have believed it.
I'm a new person. Not exactly new, but improved. That isn't even the correct term. I've finally discovered who I really am. Now, at the age of 23, I can do whatever I want with my life. I'm no longer stuck in a crappy backwoods town, I'm here, with Jaden, and everything is just beginning.
I'm going to Pressman in the spring. I am going to major in psychology and try to help people make a difference in their lives.
It feels right. I'm excited by the fact and so is Jaden. She seems thrilled with my choice and supports me fully.
She's finally feeling better, the poor thing. It took her almost an entire week to beat her chicken pox and still has the lingering red marks that mar her otherwise beautiful skin. But even covered with red dots, she's still beautiful to me.
Along with Steele, she is finishing up on the Aron case. It seems that there were a few people leftover from Aron's followers that were hanging around. Steele, and a few of the more trusted officers, have seemingly put the word around that the police are watching them.
Not that I think it's really going to get rid of them for good, but so far it's seemed to work and I finally feel that I can breathe again.
So right now, I want to begin life again. Jaden is feeling better and took this next week off of work. I guess she has more vacation time coming to her than she could ever use, so she wants to take advantage of it now while the weather is beautiful. I know she's anxious to get back to work, but she's agreed to take a trip to Ohio with me to visit my uncle and Lydia. Hopefully my parents will want to speak with me, but I'm not holding my breath.
So we're leaving tomorrow morning and driving all day. We talked about flying, but I didn't want too. The thought of driving halfway across the country with her by my side is irresistible. Of course, she's making us take her car but that was to be expected. We'll take our grand old time, stopping overnight if we feel like it.
I can't wait. Obviously I'm nervous to see my family. I feel like I have to come clean and tell them the truth about Jaden and myself, and while a part of me is scared to do that, I don't want to keep secrets anymore.
Never again. I mark this day, August 13th, 2000 as the day when I have come full circle in my life. I know what I want to do, and nothing will stop me.
Happy birthday to me. And many happy years to come.
I close my journal as I hear the front door open. Bean's toenails scatter lightly over the floor until she drinks from her water bowl. I muffle a giggle as I hear her greedily slurp up her water, sneeze and bolt into a run as she heads for me in the bedroom.
"Hiya princess!" I greet my dog, finding her panting and excited from her run with Jaden. "Did you have fun?" Bean continues to pant as she covers my face in kisses. "Do you think your mother is a lazy slob for never coming with you?" I ask her, giggling as her small pink tongue tickles my neck.
"Nah. She respects the fact that you like to sleep in." A sultry voice remarks from the doorway. Jaden is casually leaning against the frame, looking downright sexy in her biker shorts and tank top.
"Hey gorgeous." I greet her, stretching my arms above my head.
"Hey yourself. Happy birthday." Jaden answers, her full lips curling into a smile. "Would you like your birthday spanking now, or later?"
"What?" I ask, outraged.
She looks surprised. "You've never had a birthday spanking? Well, maybe we should add on all the missed ones from years past. That would be, what, like over 200 spanks, right?" Jaden adds seriously, but I detect a faint smirk on her lips.
"You're not serious!" I tell her, getting out of bed with Bean trailing my heels.
She crosses her arms in front of her chest, flexing her muscles. "Sure I am. And look how perfect, you're already dressed for the occasion in your birthday suit!"
Staring at her in disbelief, I try to think of how I can talk my way out of this. I know she's expecting me to get all flustered and shriek about how it's not fair, and she'd just chuckle and continue to threaten, eventually giving in and forgetting about it.
Or, I could do something completely out of character and call her bluff. Deciding, I climb back in bed, kneeling on my hands and knees facing her and turn my head over my shoulder.
"Okay, go ahead." I tell her coyly. "Just don't make it hurt too much."
"Huh?" She squawks, her face turning a bright crimson, as she looks at me incredulously. "I didn't really mean it, Jesus Christ, Grace!" She sputters.
"Put your money where your mouth is, spots." I add, unable to keep the smile off my face now. She looks around the room nervously as if she's deciding between bolting and retorting with some remark.
"Calm down, I'm just kidding with you." I finally say, and the look of relief on her face is priceless.
She rubs her face with her hands and sighs dramatically.
"That's what you get when you tease me." I tell her, smiling as I cross to her and wrap my arms around her waist.
"Hmm, we'll see." She answers, returning my hug. She smells like damp cotton from her run, but clean. I stick my tongue out experimentally and lick her neck. Yep, just as I thought, it's salty.
"Hey!" She says in surprise and I giggle as I give her another lick. This is fun.
"You know how horses like their salt blocks?" I ask in between licks.
"Yeah?" She says cautiously. Lick.
"Well, you're my own personal salt block." I answer succinctly, continuing to lick and kiss her neck and shoulders.
"Thanks?" Jaden responds uncertainly. "You're weird."
"Yep." I tell her, pulling her toward the bed. "Are you complaining? Because I can either stop licking you or keep doing it." I add, waggling my eyebrows.
"No! You don't have to stop." She interjects quickly and I chuckle. I fall back in bed and pull her on top of me, my lips never leaving her salty skin.
"You wanted to give me a birthday spanking? How about a birthday fuck instead?" I whisper seductively in her ear and I feel her shiver against me as she begins to return my kisses with unrestrained passion.
Happy birthday to both of us.
Lying in bed, I revel in both the coolness of the sheets and Grace's warm body draped across mine. Her breathing is even and deep and I assume she's fallen asleep, tired from the hours of what she dubbed to be "birthday sex."
She's nuts. I wrap my arms around her more tightly and pepper her soft blonde hair with little kisses. I'm thrilled she's having a wonderful birthday so far, but I'm even more thrilled with the thought that I want to be around for every birthday she has yet to come. I can't wait to watch her turn 80 years old and sit on the front porch of our home and grow old together.
I want her to know that. I'm just not sure how to tell her. I kind of tried to put it on the table, so to speak, in the letter I wrote her when she was going up to the cabin. But I don't even know if she read it. I need to tell her again.
Her journal is laying on the nightstand, well within reach from where I am now. Part of me wants to take it and write to her how I feel. But I know I won't be able to put in words what I want to say to her.
How do I make a huge commitment to her? What do I say? That I want to love and cherish her for the rest of our lives? That I want to feel her sleeping next to me throughout the night and wake up and greet the morning reflected in the aquamarine of her eyes?
It all sounds so cliché and silly. I want to make a big romantic gesture to her, but I know she needs for me to just come clean and admit it.
I want to spend the rest of my life with her. The thought doesn't scare me as much as it used to. I know seeing Miranda and dealing with a lot of my issues has already helped, and the more work I do on myself, the better I'll be.
I need to do something that makes her realize my commitment to her. Something big, not just a ring and a promise.
The wheels in my mind start turning and I sort out various ideas. I already have flowers being delivered to her, a piece of jewelry I sought out a few days ago hidden in my sock drawer and a wonderfully romantic dinner planned for the beach.
But there needs to be something more, something not so, well, normal.
Something that's ours. To make her see that I really am planning on being here forever. With her. And that's where I keep getting stuck. I have no idea what to get.
Sighing in frustration I glance at the clock and discover it's already late morning. Grace hasn't stirred and I gently unwrap her strong arms from around me and gingerly remove myself from her entangled body.
She frowns and murmurs something unintelligible before rolling over and hugging my pillow. I smile fondly at her before leaving the room.
I pour myself a glass of juice from the fridge and sit on the couch. Bean has made herself comfortable on a pillow and seeing me, wags her short tail and climbs onto my lap.
Scratching behind her ears I giggle at the little grunting noises she makes. "Whatcha think, girl?" I ask. "What would your mother like for her birthday?"
Bean lays her head down on my leg and looks at me, her brown eyes seemingly contemplating my words.
"You're no help." I tell her and she hops down and trots to her toy box, rooting through it to bring me her stuffed monkey that she and Herc so enjoyed tugging. I play halfheartedly with her until she loses interest and hops back up on the couch.
She lies down again on my lap, looking incredibly forlorn. I know she really misses having Herc around. They got along so well.
Maybe that's the answer I'm looking for. I thought about getting Grace another dog, but the timing didn't seem right. Why not now? Wouldn't that prove to her that I'm serious about our relationship?
"What do you think? Would you like a brother or sister?" I ask Bean who cocks her head at me. "Maybe a big dog to wrestle with?"
I swear she knows what I'm saying. She wags her tail and looks at me so intently as if she can really understand.
"Yeah." I tell her, pulling her into my arms and planting a kiss on her doggie head. "I think that's it."
"Birthday girl, up and at 'em." The voice orders. I groan and pull the sheet over my head.
Jaden laughs, her voice low. "Come on, get up lazybones. We have to get somewhere in about fifteen minutes."
This wakes me from my stupor. "Where?" I ask, opening my eyes and grinning at her. "A birthday surprise?"
She rolls her eyes. "Maybe." Jaden answers and I grumble as I get out of bed.
"I'll shower and then you can tell me." I remark as I hurry to get ready. She just smiles enigmatically and heads for the living room.
"Don't wear anything too nice." Jaden calls before I turn on the water.
I break all land speed records showering and getting ready. Taking her word for it I throw on some jeans and a favorite t-shirt. I put my beat up running shoes on and run some gel through my damp hair.
"Ready." I tell her, appearing from the bedroom. She is dressed similarly to me, with olive green cargo pants and a faded shirt. She looks cute, her tanned feet in sandals and her long hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"Let's go." Jaden says as she slings her worn leather satchel over her shoulder and clips Bean's leash onto her collar.
"We're taking the dog?" I ask needlessly as we head down the hall.
"Yep." Jaden answers over her shoulder.
"Where?" I question, descending the stairs.
"Where what?" She responds, her voice confused.
"You promised you'd tell me!" I argue.
"No I didn't. When you asked if it was a birthday surprise I said that maybe it was. Then you said that you would shower and I would tell you. I never promised." She counters, her voice teasing.
I sigh. "Fine. But just remember that the last time you had a surprise for me, we ended up on a sinking boat in the ocean."
"We're not going anywhere near the water." She returns. "Patience, my dear." Jaden adds.
"I don't do well with patience." I tell her and she laughs as we get in the car.
Bean hops in the back seat of the Explorer and Jaden buckles her in the doggie seatbelt. I watch amused at their interaction.
We went to get ice cream a few weeks ago with Bean in the back seat and some idiot pulled out in front of Jaden, causing her to slam on her breaks. Bean fell onto the floor and Jaden was so upset that we went to Petco that night and bought a doggie seatbelt for her car. Now Bean has one regardless of what car she's in. It makes me feel safer, and Jaden too.
I wait until we are out of the neighborhood before peppering Jaden with more questions. "Are we going on a picnic?"
"No." She answers.
"A hike?" I try.
"Three strikes, you're out. In these clothes?" Jaden adds, motioning to her sandals.
"Oops, no riding is out. So tell me where." I demand and she smiles.
"Really?" I ask, surprised she'd give in so easily.
"Really." She affirms. I sit and wait anxiously, waiting for her to begin. She doesn't.
"Well?" I finally blurt and she chuckles.
"I will." She responds and I resist the urge to strangle her.
"WHEN?" I ask, my patience wearing thin.
"Oh, you didn't ask when before. When we get there." She says, turning to glance at me.
"You're infuriating." I mutter, crossing my arms in front of me.
"Aw, poor baby! I think you can handle it. We are almost there." She answers.
"Where?" I respond and she just laughs in response. I roll my eyes and sit back in the seat, trying to endure the agony of not knowing the surprise. It's killing me.
Pulling into the parking lot, my stomach does several flip-flops. I'm really nervous, not about anything else but trying to tell Grace what I want to say. She looks around curiously before looking at me.
"The pound?" She states, glancing back at Bean who is happily looking out the window. "What, has she been a bad dog or something?" Grace jokes.
"Nah, but I thought we'd bring her to show her what will happen if she becomes one." I kid and Grace smiles. I clear my throat nervously.
"Um, listen, we have to talk." I tell her and her eyes immediately take on a guarded expression. "Nothing bad, I promise. I'm just not really sure how to say this and I'm more than a little nervous."
"It's okay." She tells me, her voice calm. She is my anchor. I look up to her sweet face, her eyes so completely green with trust. Her pink lips are slightly parted and fair cheeks flushed from the summer sun.
I take her hands in mine and turn my body toward hers. "I love you." I begin.
"I love you." She answers, and I see the love so evident in her eyes.
"Before I met you I felt as if I was just living by rote. I would wake up, go to work, come home by myself and go to bed. My life didn't have any meaning in it, no passion, no fun. From the moment I first saw you I knew that you would become someone important to me. Now, having you in my life and my heart, I can't imagine being without you. I was never so scared when Aron hurt you. I had no idea what I would do if you had killed. I want us to cherish every minute we have together. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want you with me all the time, everyday and forever."
I stop speaking to gauge her reaction. She looks stunned, but not upset, so I take that as my cue to continue.
"I've been trying to think of ways to show you how I really feel. I want to commit to being only with you for the rest of my life. You are my light, my safe harbor from the storm. Not only does being with you make me realize how much I love you, it makes me realize how much I love myself. It's incredible; I never thought I would trust myself enough to be so completely taken by someone, but I do. You've changed everything that I am and will be."
Her eyes are wide with surprise, and I see the faint beginning of tears gathering in the corners. She is smiling, but still looks speechless so I keep talking before I lose my nerve.
"I cherish every second we've spent together. I will cherish every memory to come. Please give me the honor of spending the rest of my life with you." I squeeze her hands, waiting for a reaction.
Grace swallows audibly, her eyes a swirling mixture of colors. She nods her head weakly. "Where you go, I go." She answers simply.
I fumble to unbuckle my seat belt and fall into her arms, burying my face into her hair. I'm crying and she's crying and all I can feel is her in my arms.
When I have no more grateful tears to shed I pull away, wiping at my eyes. I'm smiling brightly like an idiot, but so is she. My crying turns to laughter and the melodic sound of our combined joy fills the car.
We laugh until our stomachs hurt. Grace's hair is mussed from my embrace and I affectionately run my hands through it, straightening the short locks. I cup her face in my hands and plant the softest kiss on her lips.
"Forever." I whisper against her mouth.
"Not nearly long enough." She whispers back and returns my kiss.
There is nothing more I'd like to do than kiss her for hours, but we sort of are on a time crunch. I reluctantly break away and smile at her, wiping the remains of her tears from her eyes.
"You want to know why we are here?" I ask and she nods eagerly. "Well, Bean and I were talking this morning." I begin, and Gracie giggles. "And we thought that the perfect birthday gift for our favorite girl would be to adopt a dog. It's not just a new pet, but it is the symbol of my commitment to you. I want to start a family with you Grace, even if it is a couple of dogs. I don't know if you want kids or have even ever thought of it, hell knows I don't know anything about them, but anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I see us as a family now and I want to extend our family. Does that make sense? I mean.." I babble on until Grace thankfully stops me.
"Yes." She answers. "Thank you." Gracie says sincerely. "I do know what you mean and I see it the same way. I've been thinking of getting a dog for you lately too."
"Really?" I ask, surprised.
"Yep." She confirms.
"Well, I called and they are expecting us. They told me to bring Bean so we can make sure the dog we choose will get along with her." I open the car door and prepare to step out when Grace's sweet voice stops me.
"Jaden." She begins, and I turn to look at her smiling face. "I know how difficult it must have been for you to say that. Speaking your feelings isn't the easiest thing for you and I am so in love with you that I can think of nothing else. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to become myself. You've showed me how to find the courage I've had inside myself all along. I want nothing more than to be with you."
I swallow the lump in my throat, moved deeply by her words. "Happy birthday." I tell her weakly, unsure as to how to respond.
"Yeah." Grace answers, taking my hand in hers and kissing each finger. "It is."
I smile and gently stroke her face with my palm. "Let's go get a dog." She smiles excitedly and we get out of the car, trailed by a prancing Bean, and head for the door of the animal shelter.
Bean is going insane, sniffing every available inch of the floor as Jaden and I wait our turn to be helped. It's busy in here today, Jaden mentioned that they are closing in less than an hour and it seems like everyone is either getting a pet or getting rid of one. I try not to look at the people standing in line with the pets they are leaving here with contempt. I know that sometimes people get an animal on the spur of the moment and then have no way to care for it. But it really burns me up when people treat animals as commodities and act as if they are expendable.
My dog is family to me, and I would no sooner give her up than I would Jaden. I muffle a giggle at the imagined sight of me waltzing in here with Jaden at the end of a leash.
"What's so funny?" Jaden asks, raising her eyebrows at me. I look at her innocently.
"Nothing, Spots." I answer and she frowns.
"You know, Gracie darling, I know that me being covered with chicken pox was a humorous sight, but do you really have to keep using that annoying nickname?" She whines and I giggle again.
"Yep." I respond firmly. "But, according to several relationship therapists, the use of a pet nickname for each other increases the feeling of intimacy."
Jaden rolls her eyes. "Where did you learn that, Jenny Jones? Or perhaps it was Maury. And please, we need no help with intimacy." She adds, grinning slyly.
"Actually, it was Montel, if you really need to know." I admit. Jaden just laughs to herself as we step ahead in line.
"Hi, can I help you?" The woman behind the counter asks, looking only a little frazzled. "Another drop off? Jesus, I can't believe how many we've had today. Here, fill out this form and attach any vet records you have for the animal. Reason for surrender?" She pauses to ask.
"Um, we're not here to give Bean away." Jaden says firmly. "I called earlier, we are coming in to adopt a dog. I talked to a woman named Sam." She adds and the woman shakes her head warily.
"Jesus, I'm sorry. I'm Sam and I spoke with you. Hang on a sec." Sam orders, disappearing from behind the counter. An older woman takes her place and calls the next people in line.
Sam appears through a door next to the counter and ushers us inside. She hums brightly as she leads us down a well-lit hallway and into a small office. We sit and she takes her place behind the desk.
"Sorry for all the commotion. It's a nuthouse here today and I forgot you were coming in. I'm Samantha Riley, head of the shelter." She says, extending her hand.
"I'm Jaden Phillips; and I spoke with you earlier. This is my partner, Grace." We both shake Samantha's hand, and I smile over Jaden's possessive term for me. I can definitely get used to this.
"Yes, I remember now. Happy birthday." Samantha mentions to me and I blush and murmur my thanks. "And this is?" She adds, motioning to Bean who is sitting at Jaden's side.
"Our dog, Bean." Jaden says proudly. "She's a Jack Russell and is, what, 8 months now?" Jaden questions, looking at me and I nod in agreement. Samantha reaches down to pet Bean, who is very well behaved and calm despite the strange circumstances.
"Well, I don't need to tell you that adopting a pet is a big step. From the looks of Bean I can tell that you are responsible owners and I am sure you will be able to provide any dog with a loving environment. What kind of dog are you looking for?" She asks.
Jaden looks at me and shrugs her shoulders. I smile and take the initiative to begin. "Well, our first concern is to find a dog that will get along well with Bean. She is a very bossy little dog around other dogs, like most Jack Russells, so something with a more laid back personality."
"I'd like a bigger dog, one that is playful and intelligent like Bean." Jaden pipes in. "I run in the mornings and take Bean with me and would like to take the other dog too." She adds.
"Something very sweet and affectionate." I continue. "Oh, and one that doesn't mind to traveling in the car."
"That about sums it up." Jaden finishes. "Do you have anything in mind Samantha?"
"Please, call me Sam. Only my partner calls me Samantha and that's reserved for when she's mad at me." She and Jaden laugh at the joke and I join them, after pausing for a moment. What, do they grow lesbians on trees out here? Holy cow, I've never met so many lesbians in my life. I look at Sam, finding her to be very pleasant and warm. She is probably in her late 30's and is pretty, her curvy body and round face reminding me almost of Diana.
"I know that same-sex aggression is common in the Jack Russell breed, so probably a male dog would be better suited for Bean. I have a few that match that description, as well as a lovely little female that has been here quite a while. Let's have a look at them and you can tell me what you think." Sam stands and we follow her outside of the office. "I'll take Bean here to the dog play area and then we can introduce her to any of the dogs you like." Jaden hands Sam the leash for Bean. I must look nervous about giving her to Sam because she smiles and puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, no one will walk off with her."
I smile and take Jaden's hand as Sam walks down the hall trailed by Bean. My dog keeps looking over her shoulder, confused about where she's being led, but obeys Sam nonetheless.
"Poor thing, she probably thinks we're leaving her." Jaden mentions.
"I know. I feel so bad even though I know it's just for a few minutes." I respond, looking around the long hallway. "It's so sad here." I murmur and Jaden looks at me curiously. I shrug as I try to find the words to explain myself. "These animals have no idea why they are here. Maybe their owners died or gave them away, but they don't know that, you know?"
"Yeah." Jaden replies. "I always wanted to open a big no-kill animal shelter after I retired. I thought it would be really rewarding to rescue animals who were minutes away from death's door and give them another chance at life."
I look into her blue eyes, constantly amazed at how wonderful she really is. "I think that we should. I would love to rescue all kinds of animals, not just dogs and cats, but horses and farm animals too." I pause. "I just don't get it. To me, a pet isn't just a pet, but a member of the family. It's forever."
"Forever." Jaden agrees, squeezing my hand. "That's how I feel too. I guess that's why we're here."
I smile at her as Sam comes back, still humming. "You have a wonderful dog already." Sam remarks and Jaden and I beam like proud parents. "Let's find you another one."
Sam leads us into the area where dogs are kept, the cages small but immaculate. The information for each dog is located on the outside of its cage and a part of me wants to stop and read every tag, but I can't. It's breaking my heart to look at each dog's face, knowing we're not going to be taking him or her home.
I clench Jaden's hand in mine and she strokes the back of my hand with her thumb in response. I know this must be just as hard for her; she loves animals as much as I do.
"Here is June Bug." Sam remarks, stopping in front of a cage housing a gorgeous dog. "She is just over a year old and a Border Collie/Irish Setter mix." Sam stands back to allow us to see the dog. I immediately kneel in front of the cage, and June Bug comes up and sniffs my hand through the bars. She regards me warily but goes right up to Jaden, wagging her tail and licking her fingers through the bars.
"She's beautiful!" I tell Sam, watching the dog and Jaden interact. June Bug is a tall dog, her nose delicately long and slender like an Irish Setter's, but her short ears more true to her Border Collie heritage. Her coat is medium in length and multi-colored, black and white with hints of auburn. But her eyes are what make her stand out; one is brown while the other is blue.
"She's very special. Her owners gave her up because they couldn't stand her antics. It seems she is very intelligent and can get into cabinets as well as let herself outside. They weren't willing to put her through obedience and thought it would be easier to give her to us. She's been here almost two months now and needs to find a home soon. I've taught her quite a lot in obedience and she is responding well, but she's very shy. We all feel that she's been abused and doesn't have much trust in people."
"She doesn't seem shy." Jaden remarks as she scratches the dog's floppy ears through the bars.
"Not with you, that's for sure." Sam comments and Jaden looks at me, her eyes hopeful.
"Do you like her?" She asks and I smile fondly at the picture she and the dog make.
"I do." I tell her, squeezing her shoulder as I stand and face Sam. "Can we see her outside of the cage?"
"Sure. I'll take you to a private room and you can get to know each other better. Would you like to see any of the other dogs first?" Sam asks.
"No." Jaden says quickly before looking at me sheepishly. "Do we?" She adds, her eyes hopeful that I'll decline.
"I think she's the one." I tell Sam who nods happily. Opening June Bug's cage, Sam attaches a leash to her collar and leads her out and into a small room. When we all are in, Sam frees the dog who bounds up to Jaden.
"Hiya sweet girl!" Jaden greets her, bending down to pat her. June Bug's tail wags happily and she covers Jaden's face with kisses.
"Hey June Bug." I greet her quietly after she's done with her assault on Jaden's face. June allows me to pat her head and moves in closer to sniff my face. She pulls back and regards me before coming back closer and giving me an experimental lick. Jaden laughs as I wipe the doggie slobber off my face.
"June Bug!" Jaden calls, standing up and walking to the other side of the room. The dog doesn't turn her attention from my pats and I look at Sam curiously.
"Doesn't she know her name?" I ask.
"I'm afraid not." Sam answers. "I don't know why, but she's never responded to it. I started calling her Bella because she's so pretty and she will sometimes listen to that. But if you take her, you can name her whatever you want."
"Bella's a pretty name." I tell Sam, pausing to regard the dog who is now again at Jaden's side. "It fits her."
"I thought so." Sam agrees. "Do you want to introduce her to Bean?"
"Yeah." I decide, knowing that Jaden is head over heels infatuated with this dog. I have to admit, I am also. If she and Bean are okay together, I can't think of why we wouldn't take her. I know she'll need work and time to adjust, especially if she's been abused in the past, but I can't think of anyone better to nurture her than Jaden.
"Come on Bella." Sam urges the dog who reluctantly leaves Jaden's side. "The best way to do this is for you to keep Bean on her leash and we'll let them sniff. If they are well behaved after a few minutes we can let them go inside the play area. Then we just have to make sure there are no acts of aggression or anything." Sam instructs us as we head to get Bean.
Jaden and I enter the room first and put Bean on her leash. She looks rather relieved to see us and is excited to smell the unfamiliar scent of June Bug on our hands.
"Ready." I tell Samantha who opens the door and comes in with June Bug, or rather, Bella.
I know Jaden is nervous as the two dogs sniff for the first time. Bella is shy and Bean can sense that, so she makes a pest of herself by sniffing poor Bella in the most intimate of all places. Bella takes her abuse, looking at Jaden and I with her intense brown and blue eyes. After Bean sniffs her completely, Bella takes a nervous turn. They seem to be okay, not hating each other immediately.
"That's a great start. Let's see what they do off leash. If they begin to fight, follow my directions, okay?" Sam instructs as we unfasten the dogs. They sniff each other again and Bean begins exploring the rest of the room, Bella shyly at her heels. When Bean begins to run around and Bella gives chase, I know that it's a done deal.
Jaden looks at me happily as the two dogs frolic, seemingly enjoying each other. Sam smiles at the sight of Bella and Bean playing.
"Shall I go and get the final paperwork?" She asks Jaden and me. We nod eagerly and she excuses herself.
"Are you sure about this?" Jaden asks, putting her arm around my shoulder.
"Yeah. Are you?"
"Absolutely." She says firmly, kissing my temple. "I love you."
"I love you more." I respond teasingly.
"I love you most." She answers and I giggle.
"I love you infinity." I tell her.
"I love you infinity squared." Jaden retorts.
"You can't square infinity." I answer, sticking out my tongue at her.
"Can so." She argues.
"Can not." I emphasize. "Nothing is bigger than infinity."
"Except my love for you." Jaden says sweetly.
I roll my eyes. "You're one big cheeseball, Spots."
"Am not." She counters.
We are still trading remarks when Sam returns.
We have a dog. No, scratch that, we have two dogs. But we, meaning Grace and I deciding together, have a dog.
It didn't take long to finalize the adoption for Bella. Sam seemed happy to see her go to us, and we promised to return after our trip to Ohio for Bella's obedience classes. I'm going to take her and Gracie will tag along with Bean, putting her through the class also.
She's a great dog. So is Bean, don't get me wrong, I love the little mutt, but she's Grace's dog. Bean worships the ground that Grace walks on, just like I do. But it's nice to have a dog adore me too.
After we left the shelter we went to Petco and took both dogs in. That was a riot. We spent a fortune on all sorts of things for them, Bella needs a food bowl and we need a big water bowl for the both of them. We had to get Bella a bed and a collar and leash, dog food and lots of toys. And of course, a dog seatbelt for her, one for my car and one for Grace's.
Coming home, I was surprised how good Bella was in the car. She sat in her seat belt next to Bean and looked out the window, her interesting eyes observing everything in sight.
We let her and Bean run around the back yard for a while before taking them upstairs. Bella didn't seem fazed by anything and trotted curiously around the apartment exploring.
She doesn't like loud noises or sudden movements. We're trying to be really calm around her, but she is adapting really well. We've only had her home for a few hours and she and Bean played with their toys together for a while and now are each munching on a nylabone.
"You almost ready?" I ask Grace who is in the bedroom getting ready. I told her I wanted to take a sunset walk on the beach with her so she went to change. Hefting the picnic basket I have stocked with our dinner I set it outside in the hall.
"Jaden?" She calls, coming from the bedroom. I reappear back inside the kitchen to find her standing here, looking amazing.
"You're beautiful." I tell her, admiring her sundress in colors of swirling blue. It hugs her breasts and hips lovingly before flowing gently down to her mid-calf.
"Thank you." Gracie blushes, ducking her head. I tilt her chin up and her eyes meet mine. I'm lost in the mesmerizing mix of green and aqua as I softly lean in to kiss her lips. She smells like peppermint. Sighing in happiness I take her hand and lead her to the hallway.
"Be good dogs!" I call as I shut the door behind us. Grace looks at me nervously.
"Do you think they'll be okay?" She asks.
"They will be fine. They've peed, played and have treats. What else do they need?" I respond and she laughs, her voice soft and melodic.
Pretending not to notice her curious stare, I pick up the basket containing our dinner and walk hand and hand with her down the hall.
It's quiet out tonight, the warm summer day slowly fading into a breezy evening. A lone bird chirps in the distance as the grass softly bends beneath our feet. I chose to walk barefoot, as did Grace. The path from the apartment to the beach is rolling and smooth and I enjoy feeling the hard ground as we walk.
Reaching the beach I lead Grace over to a smooth stretch of sand. I set the basket down and open the top, pulling out a large blanket.
Grace smiles at me and shakes her head, helping me spread it evenly across the warm sand.
"You're just full of one surprise after another." She mentions as I sit beside her.
I grin, shrugging my shoulders as I start to unpack the dinner. I have everything a picnic should have, fried chicken and fruit salad, bottles of lemonade and my homemade potato salad. We have carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for desert, complete with 23 candles and a box of matches.
"This looks wonderful!" She exclaims as I fix her a plate. "How did you do this?"
"Ask your uncle, this is actually his birthday present to you too. He taught me how to cook this." I mention offhandedly.
"What? You cooked this?" Gracie asks, holding up a piece of chicken. "How?"
"Lots of early morning phone calls to Ohio." I answer, grinning like an idiot.
"What can't you do?" She responds, smiling at me like I'm freaking Mother Theresa.
"Grace, not to sound like that crappy Bryan Adams song, but everything I do, I do it for you." I answer.
She cocks her head at me, her eyes glowing like the ocean around her. Her face remains frozen in a smile, and I know she doesn't know what to say. That's okay; I'm not expecting her to say anything.
"You know what?" She begins. "I think that we all just do what we can. And sometimes, someone makes you feel like you can do so much more, so you do. Other times it feels like you can't do anything."
I nod my head at her, understanding completely what she means.
"It feels so incredible to know that you would do anything for me Jaden. And I would do anything for you in return. Being with you makes me feel like I can do anything and I like that feeling." Gracie finishes, her smile revealing her straight teeth.
I raise my lemonade bottle in a toast and we begin our dinner.
We sat at the beach until the sun had long set, just holding each other and enjoying the quiet night. Now, reluctantly, we set about packing up the used dishes and containers leftover from Jaden's wonderful dinner.
As we shake the sand out from the blanket and fold it back up I am once again startled by the surprising weight of the ring on my left hand.
Jaden's full of mystery today, first by her admission of undying love in the parking lot of the shelter, bringing home Bella, the flowers she had delivered this afternoon, and the picnic dinner. I thought the day was perfect and complete. And then she brought out the ring. A beautiful array of emeralds and diamonds in a silver band.
She explained it was her grandmother's engagement ring from her grandfather. Jaden hasn't spoken much on the subject, but has told me a few times that her grandmother lives in a care facility now, and is in the late stages of Alzheimer's. I know it hurts Jaden terribly to visit because her grandmother acts like she doesn't know her.
I know this ring must mean a lot to her, and for her to give it to me makes my heart ache.
She wants to spend the rest of our lives together. There is nothing more that I want than to be with her forever.
This night has been magical. The gentle roar of the waves are nothing compared to the waves of love pouring out from my heart into Jaden's. Our love is as timeless as the ocean. I can't wait for forever.
We haven't spoken since she put the ring on my finger. We haven't needed to, all our emotions and thoughts easily interpreted through our eyes. And even now, as we walk back up the soft beach cushioned with sand, we don't speak. An occasional glance and small smile is all we need.
Crickets chirp and lightning bugs pulse with color. Our walk is over much too soon, the small lamp in our living room now visible to us below.
Our feet are dusty from our walk, but we don't care. The smooth wood of the stairs creak their protests as we climb, both of us tired and needing our sleep for the long drive to Ohio tomorrow morning.
Jaden's keys jingle as she opens the door, pushing it to allow me to enter before her.
And at once, the peaceful perfection of our night is shattered.
"HOLY SHIT!" I scream and Jaden bursts through the door behind me.
"What?" She asks in alarm. I can't say anything; I am unable to do anything but stare at the destruction that is our apartment.
"What the fuck?" Jaden questions, looking around at the mess. There is stuff everywhere. "Gracie, get in the hall and shut the door." She says, going into policewoman mode.
"No. I'm not leaving you." I tell her, my voice a hushed whisper. She glares at me but doesn't protest, instead silently reaching into the cabinet on top of the refrigerator and taking out her gun. She retrieves the ammunition from another cabinet and effortlessly loads it. I can't help but shiver at the sight of the gun and Jaden looks at me sympathetically.
"Please go. I want you safe." She begs, her blue eyes wide.
"What part of 'where you go I go' didn't you understand?" I respond as I tuck myself in behind her. She sighs and begins to stealthily explore the apartment. The living room and kitchen are empty, leaving the bathroom and the two bedrooms. Jaden creeps down the hall and I follow, my stomach queasy. What if someone is in here? What if Jaden gets hurt?
The spare bedroom door is shut, just like we left it. Jaden passes it by, looking at it warily, and heads into our bedroom, the door wide open.
"Fuck me." She exclaims suddenly, dropping her hands to her side. "What?" I ask, unable to see anything from behind her.
She steps aside and I gasp in horror when I see the bedroom. It is destroyed, just like the living room and kitchen. The bed sheets are torn and ripped, stuff is knocked off the dresser, and the closets have been emptied, their contents strewn around the room haphazardly.
"Have we been robbed?" I ask and Jaden shakes her head.
"Nope. I think we have our criminals right here." She exclaims, pointing to the pile of bed linens on the floor where several pairs of doggie feet are sticking out from.
I look at her curiously as she gently lifts the sheets up to reveal two sleeping dogs. They are covered in what appears to be baby powder as well as a variety of food products.
"Oh Goddess." I exclaim before bursting into fits of laughter. Jaden soon joins me and this causes the dogs to wake up suddenly, surprised to see us standing there. Bean ducks her head and trots over to her dog bed, averting our gaze. Bella just sits there and regards us with her intelligent eyes, trying to decide what to do.
I don't know what to say. I look at Jaden, and see that she's speechless too.
All we can do is laugh. So we do.
It's 1:42 am. I collapse on the bed, exhausted, and wait for Grace to join me. The apartment is now clean, or as clean as it can be. It took hours to clean the food from the raided refrigerator off the carpets and other flooring. Besides the food, the bathroom cabinets were ravaged and things such as hair gel, baby powder and toothpaste littered the apartment.
Both dogs have had baths and are sleeping peacefully in their beds. They actually didn't destroy much of anything besides the stuff in the cabinets and the bed sheets. They didn't tear up the couch or tables or anything.
They just had a blast trashing the place. I guess Grace and I didn't think that Bella would do that, even though we should have listened to Sam about the dog's former bad habits.
Oh well. It was funny, and we took lots of pictures. Bella is a smart dog and I'm sure it didn't take much to convince Bean that tearing up the place was fun. At least they're getting along.
We have to figure out a way to dog-proof the place after we get back from Ohio though, that and train Bella that this is unacceptable behavior.
"Do you know that they unraveled the entire roll of toilet paper and dragged it through the house?" Grace comments as she turns off the bedroom light and falls into bed tiredly.
"Bet that was fun to clean up." I mutter as my eyes adjust to the dark.
"Oh yeah, buttloads of fun." She responds and I laugh.
"Come here." I tell her and she slides into my arms, her bare skin heated against mine. "Did you have a nice birthday? Other than the destructive duo, that is."
"It's perfect." She whispers, stroking my bare stomach with her hand. I feel the cool band of the ring on her finger and smile widely, delighted that she didn't take it off.
"You looking forward to going to Ohio?" I question and she shakes her head against my shoulder.
"Don't want too." She murmurs, already on her way to falling asleep.
I kiss her head. "I know you don't, but it will be good. You can say your peace and put it behind you."
"I know." Gracie answers slowly. "I'll do what I can." She yawns and snuggles into my arms.
"Go to sleep, we have an early start tomorrow." I tell her, closing my eyes. "Happy birthday."
She doesn't respond, her deep breathing gently blowing my hair. I squeeze her close to me and allow sleep to claim me.
Look for the next installment in the Jaden & Grace series, called "A Thousand Kisses." Coming soon!!!
Thank you to everyone who has kept a valid interest in this series. I really appreciate all those who have read as well as e-mailed feedback!
As always, thank you to my wonderful betas. You are all an integral part in this machine and I couldn't do it without you.
You're the best.