~ AN INNOCENT HEART ~


Story by

Heike Freudenmann and G. S. Binkley

aihfgsb@yahoo.com


written by

G. S. Binkley

xxgsb@hotmail.com

ã 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann


Sexual ContentF/F partners
Code:
L:  Love between two people with kisses, embraces and tender moments.
LS: Love scenes described in more detail, involving scenes of lovemaking.
ES: Explicit love scenes.
7. This story is rated: LS
Fiction (Alternative)

Language:  Expletives spoken within the character's personality, mood and circumstance.

Acknowledgement:  Lyrics to the song "Just A Little" by Liberty X

This is copyrighted material, ã 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann……all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please contact xxgsb@hotmail.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter One

     "Robin! Get over here."

     Robin Hart held up her hand as she finished her conversation on the telephone.  "Okay, Peter.  I'll be right there."  Returning the phone to its cradle, she pushed back her chair as she stood then took two long steps toward one of her colleagues.

     Marion pushed the telephone at Robin.  "Some kind of an emergency."

     Grabbing the telephone, Robin touched the older woman's shoulder and asked.  "Where's Daniel?"

     "He's in a meeting with Mr. Hermann."  The thirty-eight year old woman returned to her shipping documents.

     Sucking in a deep breath after a long day in the office with one crisis after another, Robin answered the telephone in her usual professional manner.  "Hermann & Company.  This is Robin Hart. How may I help you?"

     Desperate, Kostas Patakas let out a concerned sigh.  "Where's Daniel?"

     "He's in a meeting right now but I can help."

     Robin's calm voice didn't relieve the frustrated man's demeanor.  "I certainly hope so."  Kostas' mind ran over the recent events that led to the emergency facing him.

     While watching the operator of the machine change the end mill   holder against a collet chuck, Kostas let his thoughts drift over the pending shipments that had to be ready for the same day. Suddenly his thought process was interrupted when the grinding sound of a tool being handled wrongly in the machine reached his ear. The operator had already sprang into action in order to stop the machine as the emergency halt was the only possibility to save the spindle and the rest of the tools without having too much damage done.

     "What's going on?"  Kostas yelled as he immediately headed toward the machine to check for himself what kind of damage had been done to the spindle.  He was somewhat relieved when he discovered that only the collet chuck had been broken while being used.

     Mehmet, the operator, was already on his way to the stock department to get an exchange tool as he knew that the order he was working on was extremely urgent and had to be finished and shipped before the end of the day.  "I'll be right back."

     Kostas, who followed him to the department, nearly had a heart attack when he heard the words from the stock person.  "Nope.  Last tool was taken out two weeks ago, and our supplier still hasn't delivered any replacements."

     Taking out his cell phone he dialed the phone number he knew by heart, knowing that this particular company could solve his problem because they usually had the same tools on stock.  Although the prices were higher, the quality spoke for itself and thinking about his urgent order made him forget about the upcoming costs for the needed tool.
 
     As soon as he heard the company's name, he asked for the sales manager but ended up getting someone else. He was temporarily distracted when he heard her name.

     "Mr. Patakas, I assure you I can help."  Robin glanced quickly at her watch.  She needed to see Peter in the production department before he could proceed with an order.

     "I need one of your tools.  A collet chuck." Kostas ran his hand through his thick gray hair.  "Please tell me you have it."

     Wanting to please her customer, Robin whipped through the computer's stock list, checking for the specific part and found they had one in stock.  "We have it."

     Relieved, Kostas shifted gears from desperation to urgency. "I need it now.  I have this order that has to go out today."

     "No problem."  After Robin hung up, she ran her hand through her short brown hair.  Seeing that Marion was on the telephone, Robin turned to another colleague.  "Karin."  Robin scribbled something on a piece of paper.  "Put this in the computer. I'm going to pick it up myself."

     "But…"  The pretty young woman was a bit confused at the irregularity of the office procedures.  "That's not the way…"

     Robin leaned down and took the time to smile at the new employee. "Sometimes you just have to improvise."

     Karin quickly inserted the order into the computer and hit the enter button.  Since coming to work for the tool company, it didn't take long for the dark haired girl to realize that Robin was the heart and soul of the organization.  She was the hub by which all spokes were connected.

     Grabbing her car keys and her light jacket, Robin yanked the printout of the order from the printer before she headed to the stock floor.   Before leaving, the twenty-eight year old Export Expert informed her colleagues about her plans.  With focused determination, Robin strode through the production department on her mission.  She briefly stopped to talk with Peter regarding the production schedule before proceeding.  Upon arriving at the stock department, she immediately grabbed the manager and told him what kind of tool holder she needed to have checked out right away.

     Running alongside Robin, the manager just barely kept pace while heading over to the section where the tool could be found.  Josef stepped up the ladder and retrieved the tool for Robin.  He added his own personal comment regarding the computer system with a little smirk. "Didn't think that this computer system of yours would be right that we would still have one of those tools on stock?"

     "Just because some guys in the production department forget to tell you to change the stock quantity when they need something for their own machines doesn't mean that the information in the computer is always right or wrong." Robin replied.  It was an ongoing playful bantering between Robin and Josef that kept working at the company both interesting and entertaining.

     Shouting a hasty "thank you" over her shoulder after she wrote a delivery note for the tool holder, Robin headed out to her car in order to drive to Hechingen straight away.

     A short ten minutes later, a very relieved Kostas Patakas saw an oriental blue BMW turning into his parking lot.  When the person who was driving got out of the car, he recognized her immediately.

     While Mehmet used the tool to work the machine, Robin studied the broken tool.  "Do you mind if I take this with me and try to find out why it broke?"  Although it wasn't one of her company's tools, Robin was keenly interested about why it failed.

     Distracted, Kostas readily agreed when Robin said she would get back with him with the results.  His mind was very much focused on getting the order out before the end of the day.  "Sure, sure.  Let me know."  He asked the machine's operator.  "Mehmet?  Do you need some help?"

     Before Kostas got any kind of answer, the shipping manager came running up.  "Mr. Patakas!  Horst got hurt.  He's okay but we need help right away or else we won't get the order out."

     Stretched to the limit due to several important last minute orders, all of Kostas' employees were busy.  Frustrated, he wiped his sweaty brow.  Knowing he had a mountain of paperwork to finish and several phone calls to place, Kostas started to roll up his sleeves.

     "I can help."  Robin announced to the shipping manager then turned to Kostas.

     Relieved, Kostas asked.  "Are you sure?"

     "No problem."

     It only took a moment to accept the kind offer.  Kostas gratefully patted her on the arm, noting the muscles beneath his hand.  "You're a life saver."

     Robin followed the shipping manager to the docks when she heard another employee frantically yell for their boss.  The five foot seven woman smiled knowing it was good not to be the boss.

************************

     The little girl was crying when Kimberly Patakas noticed her.  "Hey."  Kim stooped down.  "What's the matter?"

     Wiping her eyes, the small child sniffed.  "Nuthin."

     Kim blotted a few errant tears from the child's face then let the small girl blow her nose into her handkerchief.  "Sure doesn't seem like nuthin.  Tell me.  Maybe I can help?"

     "Anke!"  The child's mother came up from behind her.  The mother soothed her daughter by running her hand through the child's blonde locks.  "She's upset that you don't have her favorite book.  You see her older brother somehow managed to use the pages for a school project and….."

     The little girl managed to whimper louder.

     "Well, let's see what we can do about that.  Okay?"  Kim took the child's hand and led her a short way down another aisle.

************************

     The older woman dropped her purse on the counter.  She quickly glanced around the store, looking for some help.

     When Amanda, the storeowner, noticed the waiting woman, she immediately stopped what she was doing to assist her customer.  "May I help you?"

     "You most assuredly can.  I placed an order over a week ago for a book.  No one has called so I thought I would stop in.  My name's Mrs. Wilhelm."  The customer pursed her lips tightly as if expecting that the book should have been ready and waiting.

     Amanda rubbed her temple as she scrounged around for the order.  She could see the customer was becoming increasingly impatient.

***********************

     While the child's mother browsed for other reading material, Anke and Kim were sitting on the bookstore's floor.  "And then Hawk…"

     "…our hero…."  Anke inserted with a huge smile.

     "Yes, our hero, morphed into a high flying raptor…" Kim extended her arms outward as if flying, which caused Anke to mimic her actions.  "…. and swept through the valley protecting all of the people from the giant forever."

     Clapping her hands, Anke giggled.  "Yippee… the giant gone and Hawk save the day."

     "Yes she did."

     Overhearing the last bit of the story, Anke's mother asked.  "Do you have that book in stock?  She certainly seems to like it."

     Kim helped Anke up, dusting themselves off.  "No.  Actually, I wrote it and it's not published yet."

     Grabbing her daughter's hand, the mother smiled.  "Put me first on the list when it is."  She looked down at Anke.  "How bout we get a Happy Meal from McDonalds before we head home?"

     Anke eagerly nodded.  She wiggled her tiny fingers at Kim as she was led away by her mother.  "Bye, bye."

     Kim waved and smiled as the little girl retreated off in the distance.  It was then she overheard a loud and angry voice being raised.  The five foot six young woman turned the corner to see her boss and a customer in a heated exchange.  Actually, the customer was the only one yelling to a very fatigued Amanda.  When Kim walked up next to her boss, she asked.  "Amanda?  Is there something I can do?"

     Before the sixty-five year old storeowner could answer, Mrs. Wilhelm spoke sharply.  "Yes, there's something you can do… find my book."

     Kim's green eyes surveyed the shaking Amanda before turning to the customer.  "And the name of the book?"

     Amanda handed Kim a piece of paper.  After the auburn haired woman studied the book order, Kim smiled and made her apologies.  "I'm afraid I took this order and failed to place it."  That piece of information met a disgruntled look. "And I apologize wholeheartedly.  Let me make it up to you though.  I'll put this on rush order and even pay for it myself.  Okay?"  The customer finally relented when Kim added. "Please."

     After Mrs. Wilhelm left, Amanda grabbed the order from Kim's hand.  "You didn't place this order, I did.  Or rather I forgot."

     "It doesn't matter, Amanda.  She'll get her book and all will be right in the world again."

     Amanda wearily sat on the chair behind the counter. "I should just give all this up.  I'm getting too old to run this business by myself."  Amanda briefly thought of her partner who had died several years earlier.  It was their dream to start the bookstore and they spent many happy years there together. "Besides, my heart's not in it."

     "What are you talking about?"  Kim lightly stroked Amanda's shoulder.  "Why this place wouldn't be the same without you?"

     "I don't think I have it in me anymore."  Amanda shook her weary head.

     "Now that I'm out of school and working here full time, I can take over all the things you don't want to do."  While attending the university, Kim worked part time at the bookstore on the weekends and during the school breaks.  She loved working there because being surrounded by books made her feel secure.

     Clasping her young friend's hand, Amanda spoke sincerely.  "Okay.  If you do one thing for me?"

     Smiling, Kim nodded.

     "Bring in your stories.  Don't even think about shaking your head.  I know someone in the publishing business and she's very interested."  The sweet smile on Amanda's face was hard to resist and it was a dream of the young woman.  But it was the added.  "Please."  That did the trick.

     "Okay.  I will."  Kim was hesitant about sharing her stories.  Something that Amanda didn't understand at all.  Kim knew that her boss was the only one who had really shown any interest in her stories.  Not her boyfriend or even her parents gave much pause to consider it a serious venture.  She briefly thought of another person that had encouraged her.  That was so long ago though.  She was distracted from that pleasant memory when she heard her name.

     "Kim?"  The firm voice tried again to get her attention.  "Honey."

     When Kim looked at the handsome man in front of her, she offered a reluctant smile.  "Hi.  I wasn't expecting you."

     Sandro Fischer reached across the counter, grabbing her hand in his.  "Just wanted to see how my favorite girl is doing."  His smile was charming and seducing all at once until he added with an underlying sarcastic tone.  "You gonna be ready on time tonight… for once?"

     She withdrew her hand.  "Amanda?  Why don't you go on home and I'll lock up.  Okay?"

     Amanda patted her graying hair ensuring it was in place as she stood.  "Hello, Sandro."  She hugged Kim then turned her full attention to the strapping young man before her.  "You take real good care of her…. or else."

     He winked at the older lady.  "Gotcha."

     After the store's owner went upstairs to her apartment, Kim started gathering the daily receipts together.  "You don't have to wait, Sandro.  I have my car."

     "That beat up old thing."  He chuckled.  "Actually, I didn't stop by to take you home."

     "How nice."  He didn't notice the sarcasm in her voice.

     Sandro dug his hand into his pocket and threw some money at her.  "Could you stop by and pick up a gift for my mom's birthday?  You know what she likes.  I would but I'm meeting Sebastian and a few others on the soccer team before I pick you up and…."

     Kim interrupted him or he would have gone on forever.  "No problem."

     "Thanks honey.  You're a life saver."  With that, Sandro gave her a quick peck on the cheek before strolling out of the bookstore.
 

Chapter Two

     Robin flipped her bedroom light on.  She was in a hurry to change and get to her second job as a projectionist at the local movie theater.  As she changed into cutoffs, Robin fired up her laptop in order to check her email.  While waiting for it to connect to the Internet, she selected a book to take with her to the movie theater.

     When her cell phone rang, Robin twirled around and nearly took a nasty tumble after stumping her socked foot against a chair's leg.  She reached for the window's ledge, preventing her from falling.  "Robin Hart."

     Noting his younger sister was somewhat short of breath, Ross Hart asked. "Robin? You okay?"

     "Yeah."  She straightened up but remained at the window.  "Just getting ready to go to work."

     "If you need money…"  Ross didn't want his sister to have to work all the time and he felt she deserved half of the family business left to him by their mother's father.

     "Ross…"  Robin adjusted her stylish wire-rimmed glasses to get a better view of the Hohenzollern castle off in the distance, a top a hill.  "I love working at the movie theater.  It's not like I need the money or anything.  I just get a rush when I'm there… seeing all the people coming in."

     "Well, I'd worry less if you moved here to Dallas.  We have lots of movie theaters you could work at and you know you'll always have a job here with me."  Ross attempted again to bait his sister into moving to the United States.

     Robin sighed heavily as her brown eyes gleamed at the castle.  "No.  I'm home here.  It's where I belong."

     "You and that damn castle."  Ross fumed.

     "That's not the only thing that keeps me here.  Mom and dad are here."

     "Only because you insisted on taking them back to Germany after they… died."  It had been six years since their parent's death but it was still hard to acknowledge.

     "It's where dad wanted to be buried and mom… well…"  Robin crossed her room to her desk.  It was filled with pictures of her mom and dad along with some of her brother, his wife and four children.  Robin ran a finger across the frame of a picture of her parents sitting on a stone bench near the castle where they first met so many years ago.

     "I know… mom never was far from his side."  Ross briefly reminisced about growing up in Germany.  While he was born in the USA, his sister was born in Germany and they lived there for nearly 20 years before their mother's father had a heart attack. Upon returning to his mother's home country, their father along with Ross managed his grandfather's security business where Ross now wrote security programs for companies in the Dallas area.

     Robin, too, took a short stroll down memory lane.  She stared intently at the picture of her mother in her uniform.  Michele Blair was serving in the United States Air Force as a flight surgeon while based in Germany when she met their father, Hans Hart.  "Anyway, Ross, why'd you call?"

     "Do I have to have a reason to call my little sister?"  Robin could hear Ross smile from the tone of his voice.

     "No… but something's on your mind.  Give."

     "Jessica and the kids wanted to know if you were coming over soon."  Ross tried to be nonchalant in his probing before he finally revealed his own feelings. "Oh, and me, too.  You know how much I miss you."

     Cradling her cell phone between her shoulder and her chin, Robin said. "This fall?  Maybe."  She punched in a few commands on her laptop to check her inbox.

     "Maybe… nothing! Or I'll bring my whole brood over and you know how rambunctious the twins can be."  Ross warned with a mock threat.

     "My godchildren are only two, Ross.  How rambunctious can they be?"  After reviewing her new email, Robin closed the program then began to shut off her computer.

     Ross laughed.  "One day, Robin.  One day you'll have kids of your own and you'll see exactly what I mean."

     That thought depressed Robin. It wasn't that she didn't love children, quite the contrary.  But her hope of ever being with the girl of her dreams was shattered a long time ago.  The future prospect of love in her life looked rather bleak.  "Maybe."

     Sensing the melancholy in his sister's voice, Ross insisted.  "Christmas then.  Promise me you'll be here for Christmas at least."

     Robin's demeanor brightened.  "I wouldn't miss it.  Now, I really got to get going."

     "Hey, hold on."  Ross commanded.  "Did you get it?"

     "Yep."  Robin reached for the jar of salve after she tore off her T-shirt.  Replacing the phone to her ear, she started to rub in the healing salve against the sensitive skin on her upper left arm.  "Looks great, too."

     "I don't know why you had anything added to it.  I liked the hawk and that snake thing."  Ross referred to Robin's tattoo.

     "That snake thing around the hawk stands for eternity."  Robin informed her brother as she screwed the lid back on the jar.  "Now, if you don't have anything else… I've gotta get going."

     "Alright.  At least call me next week though."  Ross said his goodbyes.

     "No problem."  After Robin ended the call, she climbed into a fresh T-shirt and grabbed her book before heading out the door.

***********************

     Kim rushed through the kitchen where her mom was fixing supper.  "Hi, mom."  She popped a couple of grapes in her mouth. "Bye mom."

     "Hold on a second, Kimberly."  Her mother's stern voiced stopped her in her tracks.

     Kim shifted from one hip to the next.  "What?  I'm in a bit of a hurry."

     Elena Patakas continued to stir the pot while eyeing her daughter.  "Are you eating here or going out with Sandro?"

     "Going out."  Kim chanced a glance at her watch.

     "Did you have to work late at the bookstore?"  The young woman rolled her green eyes because it seemed to Kim that her mother was only making idle conversation.

     When her dad walked into the kitchen, he kissed his only child.  "Hi, honey.  How was your day?" He asked before placing a sweet kiss on his wife's cheek and covertly squeezed her backside.

     "Kostas!"  Elena scooted away.  "Stop that."

     Kostas winked at his daughter before he grabbed the newspaper and sat at the table. Kim just shook her head.

     "You're in a good mood."  Elena noted to her husband.  "When I talked to you this afternoon, you sounded like you'd be home late."

     Impatient, Kim softly touched her father's shoulder, seeking his support.  "Mom? If there's nothing else, I need to get ready."

     Elena gave her petulant daughter a stern look.

     Clasping his hand over Kim's hand, he spoke to his wife of twenty-five years.  "Elena….."  Kostas cajoled his wife.  "Young people have things to do. Let her go."

     Before her mom could reply, Kim flew out of the room.

     "Oh, by the way, Kim.  I saw someone today that…" Kostas turned in his seat only to find his daughter long gone.

     Elena placed a glass of wine in front of her husband.  "Too late."

     Kostas put the paper down and smiled.  "She meeting Sandro tonight?"

     Elena sat down in the chair next to her husband and took a sip of his wine.  "Yes."

     "Ah… young people in love."  Kostas closed his hand over his wife's hand.

     A concerned look did not stray from Elena's face.  "Hmmmm… so why are you home early?  Well, earlier than you thought."

      "We got that big shipment out today." Kostas smiled proudly.  "Even with all the pandemonium going on at work today and then the collet chuck breaking…"  The gray haired man threw his hands in the air.  "But we got a replacement and that…"  Kostas snapped his fingers together.  "… you know, Hans' daughter she brought us another tool and when Horst got hurt…"

     Elena wiped her hands on her apron.  "What happened to Horst?"

     "It was a busy day for all of us and he was stacking the boxes onto the truck and somehow smashed his hand."  Kostas shook his head.  "Anyway, Hans' daughter…"

     "Robin?"

     "Yes, yes, Robin… stayed and helped load all of the boxes for the shipment."

     "So what are you going to do with the extra money from that big order?"  Elena went back to preparing the evening meal.

     "Johann has some property around Market Square he wants me to invest in."  Kostas recounted the call from Sandro's real estate father about a spectacular investment that just came on the market.

     Elena twisted toward her husband in order to observe him.  "And?"

     "I think it's a good deal, Elena."  Kostas rubbed his chin.  "It's in the same block where Kim works.  And you know that property has always had high return value."

     "Whatever you think, Kostas."  Elena removed the pan from the stove.  "Silvia and Johann have been good friends for years and now that our children are practically married…"  She let the end of that wishful thought dangle in the air.

     Kostas slapped the table.  "Done then."  He scooted his chair back from the table and patted his lap. "Now… come here. Sit.  I want to give you a proper hello."

     "Kostas, you are so bad."  Elena giggled.  However, Elena's verbal protest didn't stop her from doing just as her husband requested.

*************************

     Kim dashed into her room and headed straight for the old box at the bottom of her closet.  Even though she was running late, she took the time to dust off the top and open it.  Peering into the deep box, Kim withdrew some of its contents.  She studied the typed pages briefly. "I wonder if…"

     She briefly allowed herself a reprieve from getting ready to meet her boyfriend as Kim recalled the many happy and sad times during her teenage years.  Kim scanned her stories, delighting in the memories of when she got to hang out with her older cousin and the gang.  Being four years younger, Kim was considered the tag along.  But not everyone treated her that way.  And that one person was eulogized in her stories.   Kim propped her hand under her chin.  "She was always my hero."

     The auburn haired young girl was deep in thought when her mother knocked on the door.  "Oh, hi, mom."  Kim stuffed the papers in the box before shoving it back into the closet for safekeeping.

     "I thought you were in a hurry?"

     "I am." Kim began to change her clothes.  "Thought you were fixing dinner?"

     "You're father's making his special dessert."  Elena leaned against the doorway.  "We'll save you some."

     "Danke."  Even being of Greek heritage with a little bit of Irish thrown in, Kim easily learned the German language.  When her family lived in Greece, they would visit Kostas' brother and his family in Germany.  Being an only child Kim loved to visit her older cousin, Yasmin, every chance she got.  Then when she was around fourteen, her uncle made her father a business offer and they moved to Germany.

     "So… how are things between you and Sandro?"

     Kim slipped into her tight blue jeans and snapped them.  "Okay."  It took less than a minute to select a pretty green top.  Turning, she slipped it on only to see her mother's dismay at her laconic answer.  "What?"

     "I was just wondering about your plans… the two of you.  Sandro graduates from law school in December."

     "So?"

     "It's just that Silvia and I were talking and a Christmas wedding would be… nice."

     Kim finished buttoning her shirt.  "I really wish you and Sandro's mom would stop charting out my future."

     "And Sandro's future."

     "And Sandro."  Kim sighed as she put on her shoes.  "Mom, we've only been going together for less than a year."

     "Your dad and I met and married and had you all within a year." Elena pointed out this fact proudly.  "And it turned out pretty good I'd say."

     Kim's shoulders dropped.  Studying her mother for one brief moment, Kim finally walked over to her mom and kissed her on the cheek.  "I love you.  But I'm not you, mom. I want my own career.  I have plans… dreams…"

     "Ah ha… your stories."  Elena crossed her arms.  "Honey, you know I love your stories…"

     "But?"  Kim was increasingly getting frustrated.

     "No buts… your father and I both enjoy your stories very much.  I'm just saying that you can be married… and give us grandchildren…" Elena held up a halting hand to her daughter's impending protest.  "… and write your stories at the same time."

     Kim took her mom's hand in hers.  "And live happily ever after, right?"

     "Does that sound so bad?"  Elena didn't understand her daughter sometimes.

     "No.  It sounds perfectly wonderful."  Kim bit her lower lip.  "I'm just not sure… Sandro is the one I want to do all of that with."  There I've said it.

     "Kim.  You've known Sandro and his family… we all have for the last six years.  They are wonderful people and we want you to have all the advantages in life and be happy."

     "I want to be happy, too, mom."  Kim hugged her mother.  "Can we talk about this later?  I'm going to be late."  And on that note, Kostas called from downstairs announcing that Sandro had arrived to pick up his date.
 

Chapter Three

     Robin yanked open the door to the movie theater.  "Hi. Mrs. Franz."

     The sixty-five year old cashier studied at the computer in front of her.  "You're late."

     "You're early."  Robin teased her. "Got that thing figured out yet?"

     Mrs. Franz glared at the projectionist before returning to her guide sheet on how to operate the computer.  "Klaus left you a message."

     Robin leaned against the counter.  "And?"

     Nodding at the note on the counter, Mrs. Franz grunted.

     Picking up the note, Robin began to read it when Mrs. Franz said.  "He had to go out of town to check on one of his other movie theaters.  Guess you're in charge."

     Robin watched Mrs. Franz go over the computer instructions once again.  Even though Klaus had installed the new computer system well over six months ago, the cashier reviewed the sheet step by step.  "Need any help?"

     The older woman slapped Robin's hand away.  "Go get your movies ready."

     "Okay, okay."  Robin placed her book on the counter before taking off.  "By the way, who's scheduled to work tonight?"

     As the cashier completed step number three, she said.  "Nicole and Sascha."

     "Alright.  I'll be back to help you when I'm finished.  The crowd should be arriving about then."  The cashier completely ignored Robin.

     Robin crossed the lobby and found two movies already assembled on their respective reels with a little note from Klaus telling her which one had to go to which projection booth. Taking the first one in her right hand, she started to carry it to projection booth #2 and had to wonder about such a movie that could be so heavy while transporting it upstairs. After arriving in the booth, she placed the reel right in front of the machine so she could hoist it up on the upper 5'8" high axle and started to set the movie so it was ready to play.

     Hurrying back to the lobby she took the second reel into her right hand and marched back but had to climb another set of stairs in order to reach the final destination for the second movie where she proceeded to repeat the same actions in order to place the reel on the machine. Making sure that everything was set perfectly, Robin headed back to check on Mrs. Franz.

     When Robin opened the door to the cashier's room, she saw Sascha waiting for her.  "Hey, Sascha."

     Not taking the time to welcome the projectionist, Sascha turned around and lifted her shoulder length blonde hair and commanded.  "Robin, do your thing."

     Mrs. Franz ignored them as she intently reviewed step number five.

     Robin knew exactly what the green-eyed young girl was requesting.  She started to give Sascha an impromptu massage.  "Your muscles are tight.  What have you been doing all day?"

     The eighteen year old sighed with relief as Robin's hands worked their magic.  Sascha rotated her neck freely before replying.  "School.  You wouldn't believe all the papers I have to do."

     "Did you bring them with you?" Robin asked as she continued loosening the tight muscles with her nimble fingers.

     "Yeah. I thought I'd work on them while the movies are playing."  Sascha said.

     Finishing off the massage, Robin checked on the cashier who had yet to complete the final step on the computer.  "There you go, Sascha.  Let me know if you need another one."

     "Thanks."  Sascha let her hair drop down on her shoulders before running her fingers through it. "I better get the popcorn started.  Who's working with me tonight?"

     "Nicole."  Both Robin and the cashier answered in tandem.

     "Oh, yuck."  The young blonde was already preparing the popcorn machine for the first batch of the night.  The machine was located just outside the cashier's office. "You better be ready to help us tonight then, Robin.  The lines will be backed up cause we all know she flirts with the customers like crazy."

     "I'll be around."  Robin assured the popcorn girl.  Guess there'll be no time for reading tonight.  Returning her attention to the cashier, Robin couldn't stop herself as she punched in the remaining sequence that would ready the computer.

     Slapping at the invading projectionist's hand, Mrs. Franz scooted closer to her computer in a protective nature.  "Stop that."

     Robin smiled a bit at the cashier's dismay with her.  The projectionist turned to flip on the three showroom movie monitors.  Klaus installed the system in the cashier's office so the projectionist could be readily available should there be a problem at the cashier's window or the candy counter. When everything was set, Robin walked out into the empty lobby waiting for that inevitable rush when all the people started to show up for the movies.

     Hurrying through the opened door, Nicole saw Robin standing there and the dark haired girl sighed in relief.  "Good. You're working tonight."  Nicole knew with Robin at the helm she would be able to lollygag.

************************

     "Honey? Have you made up your mind yet?"  Sandro Fischer tried to harness his impatience with Kim as she perused the menu.

     Dropping her menu, Kim rubbed her temple trying to ward off the beginnings of a headache.  "Why don't you just order for me?"  He smiled before she mumbled.  "Like you do every other time."

     Sandro searched for the waitress but directed his question to Kim.  "What?"

     "Nothing."  Kim said with a tight smile.

     After her boyfriend placed their orders, Sandro eased back in his chair and flashed a very lascivious grin as he watched the pretty waitress sashay away.  It did not go unnoticed by Kim.

     "You could at least wait till I went to the restroom."  Kim said.

     "What?"  He leaned forward and reached across the table, taking Kim's hand in his.  Sandro offered his girlfriend an unapologetic smile.  "I can look, can't I?"

     Kim withdrew her hand.

     "What's wrong with you lately, Kim?"  Sandro huffed.  "Nothing I do seems to be right anymore."

     "Funny." Kim returned the insightful observation. "I could say the same."

     "You've changed."  Sandro took a gulp of his drink. "And I can't say I like it.  You used to be so…so…"

     "What? Docile? Placating?"  Kim demanded he pick one.

     Sandro winked as he showered her with his most charming smile.  "Understanding… accommodating."

     Kim crossed her arms.

     "You used to care."

     "And so did you."  Kim shot back.

     Sandro reached across the table and grabbed her hand again.  "Let's not fight.  Okay?"

     Kim was relieved when the waitress returned with their food.  For a few quiet moments, both of them concentrated on eating.  The uneasy tension between them was temporarily broken when both Sandro and Kim started to speak at the same time.

     "No.  You go ahead." Sandro insisted.

     "I was just going to say that Amanda knows someone who might be interested in publishing my short stories."  A genuine smile came to Kim's face as she spoke.

     "That's great, honey."  Sandro swallowed a bit of food before he continued.  "But we won't need the money.  You're looking at an up and coming hot shot lawyer."

     "Money?  Is that what you think this is about?"  Kim asked in disbelief.

     "Besides, you'll be busy entertaining after we're married.  It's important to make the right contacts."  Sandro shot her a wink.  "And then there's the kids you'll be having."

     Kim dropped her fork.  "I guess both our moms and you have our life all planned out for me."

     Sensing an impending argument, Sandro tried to placate his increasingly obstinate girlfriend.  "I don't want you to have to worry your…"

     Kim interrupted him by finishing his sentence.  "Pretty little head?"  She fumed.  "I can think for myself and even make a decision or two.  After all, I got through the university without any help from you or anyone else."

     He softened his voice.  "Kim. Could you keep it down a bit?  People are starting to stare." Sandro quickly scanned the area around him before he continued.  "I know you graduated with honors and I'm really proud of you, honey.  All I'm trying to say is that I can take care of both of us.  You don't need to work."

     Kim started to say something but Sandro furrowed his brow and spoke first, revealing his own insecurity.  "A man has to be needed."

     The auburn haired woman dropped her shoulders in frustration.  "Sandro? Just exactly when did we come to that fork in our relationship where we stopped wanting the same things?"

     The dark haired young man looked perplexed when Kim asked that question.  Realizing their conversation was heading to a dead end, Kim just shook her head.  She had to admit that Sandro was dashingly good-looking with his deep penetrating dark eyes and considered him a great catch.  Didn't everyone say so?  She tried to remember what first attracted him to her.  Protective.  He was very protective of me.  But somewhere along the line that protectiveness morphed into some sort of domineering control.  "Do you remember when we first met?"  Kim wanted desperately to recapture that first encounter and all the associated feelings that came with it.

     "I sure do."  His charming smile was intoxicating.  "You were in that cute green tiny bikini."

      "And a bunch of rowdy guys decided I was going to be their next target in the midst of their water fight."  The memory of Sandro coming to her rescue made her smile.  "You came charging in…"

     Sandro drowned the last of his drink.  "Yeah, I beat the shi…"

     "Sandro!" Kim frowned at his language before continuing.  "I want it to be like that again… between us."

     Sandro withdrew some bills and placed them on the table. "Nothing's changed, honey.  We're still the same."

     But they weren't.  While Sandro's idea of their relationship stagnated in time, Kim knew they were heading in completely opposite directions.  She decided to change the subject as her head started to pound again.  "I thought we'd go shopping tomorrow for your mom's birthday present."

     "You haven't got anything yet?"  Sandro shook his head.  "I can't anyway.  I have that soccer game tomorrow and then I'm meeting Sebastian and the guys. You remember?"

     "How could I forget!"  Kim surrendered once again, realizing she wasn't making any headway in the serious talk she knew they would eventually have to have.

     "Come on."  Sandro jumped up, grabbing her arm.  "Don't want to be late for the movie."
 

Chapter Four

     Robin hovered over the cashier, as the line to the movie theater grew longer.  "Mrs. Franz? Why don't I help?  I'll take over the computer and check the reservations."

     The gray haired cashier glared at Robin. The ringing of the telephone offered a reprieve between the two from the inevitable confrontation.  "Blue Bridge Theater."  Robin assisted the customer on the telephone as Mrs. Franz finalized a transaction.

     Kim rubbed her temple as Sandro grew impatient while waiting in the snail moving line to the cashier's window.  Stretching his neck up and over the heads in front him, Sandro tried to see what the hold up was.  "Damn it. I have a reservation. You'd think we would get in right away."

     Robin turned away from the noisy crowd in order to hear the person on the telephone.  She jotted down the customer's reservation request for the next day.

     When the line moved forward, Sandro stepped up but Kim remained in place.  "Kim?  What's wrong?"

     "My head." Kim sighed, closing her eyes for a moment.

     "I'm not the one that wanted to go to this movie.  Sebastian and the guys are seeing 'Rapid Fire'."  Sandro whined.

     His attempt to make her feel guilty did the trick.  She tugged on his shirtsleeve and said.  "Why don't I wait in the lobby?  Maybe I'll find someone who has an aspirin."

     When Robin replaced the telephone on the cradle, she heard the familiar voice.  Searching through the crowd of people lined up, Robin tried to locate the owner of that voice.  It was coming directly from behind the tall dark haired man standing second in line.

     When Sandro moved up to the counter, Kim had disappeared.  "Fischer.  I have a reservation."

     Mrs. Franz punched in his name but nothing appeared on the screen. "I don't see your name.  Are you sure…"

     Fuming, Sandro leaned forward.  "Yes, I'm sure." He stretched his neck, trying to see the screen for himself.  "I called earlier today."

     "Well, it's not here."  The cashier insisted, pushing her glasses securely up on her nose.

     Seeing the customer's face contort in anger, Robin interceded. "Here.  Let me see."

     Mrs. Franz reluctantly shifted over but refused to give up her seat.

     Tapping his fingers on the counter, Sandro barked. "Any time now."

     "Here you go." Robin quickly issued the tickets to the increasing irate customer.  "I'm sorry.  I hope you enjoy the show."

     Sandro huffed as he threw some money on the counter then smirked.  "I shouldn't have to pay for… incompetence."

     Mrs. Franz reclaimed her position as Robin's keen brown eyes trailed the man into the lobby.  She recognized potential trouble when she saw it.  She watched Sandro maneuver his way through the crowd as he greeted a young woman.  All Robin could see was her back when Sandro placed a hand on her shoulder.  The two engaged in a short conversation before he walked off toward the candy counter, leaving the auburn haired woman behind.  Robin was about to return her attention to the ticket counter when the young woman turned.  She was struck by the woman's mesmerizing verdant eyes.  "I knew I recognized that voice."  A broad smile emerged on her face upon seeing the very familiar face of her friend.  Robin was going to say hello when the casher called her name.

     "Robin! Can you get the phone?"  The irritable cashier mumbled.  "I could use some help you know."

     "Yes, ma'am."  The movie theater's jack-of-all-trades was on the job.

     As Kim stood alone in the lobby while Sandro purchased a couple of soft drinks and candy, she saw Sebastian Stauss approach with several other people.  She greeted her boyfriend's best friend.  "Hi, Sebastian."

     The nearly six-foot blonde leaned down to offer Kim a peck on the cheek.  "Hey, Kim.   Where's Sandro?"

     Jerking a thumb over her shoulder, she said. "Getting us something for the movie."

     The blonde man searched for his friend who was now standing at the counter talking with a very young and lean girl with long dark hair.

     After Sandro gave his order to the candy girl, he spared Kim a hasty look and saw his friend.  Sandro wiggled his eyebrows before throwing a nod of his head in the direction of the girl behind the counter then smiled.

     Sebastian nodded knowingly.  Another one bites the dust.

     Kim turned to the young pretty girl with Sebastian.  "Simone, I didn't know you'd be here."

     "I got back in town from school early."  The lean red-haired girl replied.

     The two other guys with Sebastian made their excuses.  "We'll meet you inside."

     Sebastian nodded as Kim asked Simone.  "You wouldn't happen to have an aspirin?"

     "Let me look." Simone dug threw her purse.

     When Kim started to check on her boyfriend, Sebastian diverted her attention. "Kim? What movie you going to see?"

     "Here Comes Jordan."

     "Aw…. forget that one and come with us."

     "No, thank you.  I don't think my head could handle all the machine gun noise and explosions."  Kim noticed that Simone had come up empty-handed.

     "Sorry, Kim."

     Closing her eyes, Kim rubbed her forehead again.  "These lights are hurting my eyes. Would you tell Sandro…"  Before she could turn to look in Sandro's direction, the blonde man placed a halting hand on her shoulder.  "…I'm going to go on in."

     "Sure thing."  Both Sebastian and Simone watched Kim disappear into the crowd before returning their eyes to Sandro at the counter, openly flirting with the candy girl.

     Nodding, Sebastian said.  "Some things never change."

     Simone bumped up against him.  "You could warn her."

     "Oh, no. Not me."  Sebastian grinned.  "And you better not either."

     "You just don't want to get on his bad side.  He's going to be your free ride into the business world."  Simone hit the nail on the head.

     "Come on."  Sebastian grabbed her arm, escorting her off to the movie showroom.  All the while thinking of the bright future he had with Sandro as his partner in their future law office.  With his money and my brains, we'll make a dynamo team.

     Meanwhile back at the candy counter, Sandro wasted no time chatting up the cute candy girl.  "Nicole.  That's a lovely name.  Maybe I could call you Nikki?… Nic?"  He leaned over the counter and whispered in her ear.  "How bout I just call you?"

     Leaning over the counter, Nicole giggled as she ignored the long line of waiting patrons.  "Well, it is my job to please the customers."  She was well aware that he came from a very wealthy real estate family.

     When the last of the customers wanting tickets for the movie had been served, Robin headed to the lobby in search of her old friend.  What she saw caused her eyes to squint in fury.

     "Robin!" Sascha who was manning the popcorn machine yelled.  "Can you give us a hand here?"  The blonde nodded toward her inert co-worker.

     In a flash, Robin assisted the customers and within a few minutes the majority of them had been served.  Sascha was waiting on the few remaining customers.  Robin sucked in a breath as she marched over to Nicole and her overeager customer.  "Can I help you?"

     Sandro ignored the interruption as he ran his fingers lightly over Nicole's arm.  Sensing impending trouble, Nicole hesitantly pulled her arm away.

     Robin cleared her throat. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

     Annoyed, Sandro looked her up and down with his usual smirk.  "Not hardly."  He reached over, grabbing Nicole's hand again.  Pulling her closer, Sandro whispered in her ear.

     Nicole blushed.  "Okay."

     With that, Sandro grabbed the two cups on the counter and headed off to the movie showroom.

     The young girl refused to meet Robin's eyes as she busied herself wiping the counter off.

     Robin contemplated her next move.  Nicole's flirting was an on going problem and the projectionist knew that Klaus had intended to talk with the eighteen year old.  Acquiescing to her boss's wish to be the one to handle the situation, Robin gave the girl the appalling job all the movie theater employees dreaded.  "Nicole.  Someone needs to clean behind the soda machine while the movies are playing and after that…" She pointed to the candy display under the glassed counter. "….why don't you straighten that up? I'll bring out some more boxes of candy you can put in."

     Relieved to not come under fire, Nicole readily agreed.  "Okay."

     She hurried off as Sascha walked up to Robin, shaking her head.  "Slut."

     "Why don't you go ahead and get some of your school work done?"  Robin suggested.  Deep in thought about what to do next, Robin didn't notice Sascha quietly leave.

***********************

     When Sandro wedged in next to Kim, the movie had already started.  "Here you go."

     "Danke."  Kim took a long sip from her soft drink.  "What took you so long?"

     "Shhhh… "  Sandro ignored the question, pretending he wanted to hear the movie.

     The pounding in her head had not subsided.  She desperately wanted to ask Sandro to take her home but she knew she would never hear the end of it since the movie was her suggestion.  Kim closed her eyes, shutting out the glare from the screen as she fell into a daydream.

     The setting sun threw shards of red, orange, blue and yellow lights across the horizon. Lying on the luscious green grass, Kim propped her head up, gazing at the colorful sky. The stillness was broken when a warm body brushed up against her hip.  Kim smiled as she turned and looked at her friend.  The comfort she felt as they shared the waning evening together brought a snug cloth of protectiveness around her.  Kim's friend nudged her when a low flying hawk swooped above them.  It was then the novice writer came up with an idea for a children's story. It would be a tribute to her friend.  Her hero, her protector, her…

     Sandro elbowed Kim, tearing her away from her soothing fantasy. Or was it a dream… no, it really happened.  "What is it, Sandro?"

     Irritated, he asked.  "Did you want to see the movie or not?"

     "I do… it's just this headache won't go away."  Kim acknowledged and was going to ask if they could leave when he interrupted her.

     Sandro scooted up in his seat. "I'll go see if they have something for your headache up front."

     "Danke."  Kim yielded to his offer.

***********************

     Robin stuck her head out of the cashier's office to see what progress Nicole was making on restocking the candy supplies.  The young girl was bent over gathering several bags of candy when a long arm reached over the counter and hooked the top of the revealing thong, snapping it.

     Nicole jumped.  "Hey."  Upon seeing who it was, she smiled.  "Hi."

     When Robin heard the seducing words waft from the dark haired man's lips, she crossed her arms as she leaned against the doorframe.  Sucking in a deep breath, Robin made a command decision to cut short the impromptu flirting session being played out before her eyes.  After two long steps, she came to a screeching halt when her concerned brown eyes caught sight of her old friend.

     Shocked green eyes zeroed in on her boyfriend who was leaning over the counter as he placed a long intimate kiss on willing lips.  "Sandro!"

     Breaking the kiss, his shoulders dropped but he didn't immediately look around at his fuming girlfriend.  Instead, he whispered to Nicole.  "My ex… let me take care of this."

     Robin's keen hearing overheard the request.  Not wanting to intrude, Robin remained in place as she watched Kim storm across the lobby.

     With each advancing step, Kim replayed the picture of Sandro kissing the girl behind the counter in her mind.  She knew he had a roving eye that never failed to spot a pretty woman passing by but Kim turned a blind eye when it came to her suspicions about him cheating on her.  Their relationship that had bloomed brightly in the beginning was now fading rapidly.

     Robin saw Kim position herself in front of Sandro as Nicole quietly slipped away.  With Kim's back to her, Robin stood at the ready, waiting to see what would ensue.

     Sandro casually leaned against the glassed counter.  Sheepishly, he shrugged and offered an unapologetic look.  "Sorry about that."

     "Sorry about what?  That you kissed her… that you were cheating on me?"  Flushing from the anger swelling up inside, Kim knotted her fists.

     "No. I'm sorry you had to see it." Sandro puffed up his chest as he grabbed at her.  "Come on."  Small crowds of people were leaving the movie theater and Sandro didn't want a scene.

     She easily evaded his grasp. "No.  Don't touch me."

     Angered now, Sandro commanded in a low strained voice.  "Don't do this."

     Flailing her arms in the air, Kim yelled.  "Do what?  Make a scene?  You can do as you please but I'm supposed to just sit idly by and play the docile little girlfriend."

     Scratching the back of his neck, Sandro twisted around away from the small crowd that had gathered upon seeing the fighting couple.  "It was nothing.  She was nothing. Let's just get out of here and I'll explain."

     He moved toward her but she backed away.  "No!"

     "How are you going to get home?  You came with me."  He shot an evil look at the crowd causing some of them to disperse.

     After viewing the monitor on the table where she was doing her homework, Sascha ducked her head out of the cashier's office.  "Robin?  One of your movies has ended."

     Robin nodded but didn't turn around.

     Steadying her turbulent emotions for one brief moment, Kim calmly said.  "We're through, Sandro."

     He rolled his eyes at her proclamation.  "What are you saying?"

     "What don't you understand?" Kim crossed her arms.  "It's over."

     "No, it's not."  When Sandro took a slow step forward, Robin bolted up behind the unsuspecting Kim.  "Now come on.  I'll take you home."

     Kim backed up and connected with a solid body behind her, without even turning around, she was covered in a cloth of protectiveness when waiting arms wrapped around her.

     "I'm taking her home." Robin declared in a tone that brooked no argument.  Kim relaxed in Robin's arms upon recognizing her voice.

     Sensing defeat, Sandro was relieved to see Sebastian and his friends.  He grunted.  "Fine by me."  Confidently, he strode among his friends.  "Come on."

     When the lobby had emptied, Kim slapped her hands up to cover her eyes and turned into Robin's comforting arms.  Her chest heaved as tears streamed down her face from the ugly encounter.

     Robin stroked her soft auburn hair and whispered.  "It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay."

************************

     Robin handed Kim a bottle of water and two aspirin.  "Here you go."

     Mrs. Franz watched the young girl dutifully swallow the pills before turning back around to help a customer at the window who was requesting a couple of tickets for the late show.

     "Danke."  Placing the water bottle on the counter, Kim rolled her head around, trying to loosen the taut muscles in her neck.

     "Here let me."  Robin swirled Kim around on the stool, taking up a position directly behind her friend.  Soothing hands began a slow relaxing massage at the base of Kim's neck.  As Robin continued the massage, she increasingly pressed harder to loosen the tight muscles, expanding her reach to include the younger woman's affected shoulders.

     "God….. that feels good."  Kim's eyelids dropped in relief as her muscles were liberated from the stronghold of knots under the ministration of Robin's tender touch.

     "That better?"  A concerned Robin asked.

     Not wanting the massage to draw to a conclusion, Kim at first started to ask Robin to continue until she saw Mrs. Franz checking her watch.  "Yes, that's great. Danke."

     Reluctantly, Robin withdrew her hands, sensing an immediate loss.  She, too, saw the cashier check her watch.  "Kim?  I need to start my last movie for tonight.  Would you mind staying here?  I'll be right back."

     "You go on." Mrs. Franz directed the projectionist.  "She's perfectly fine here with me."  After catching some of the verbal altercation between the pretty young girl and her boyfriend, the cashier wanted to hear the inside scoop.  She loved working at the movie theater and being around all the young people there kept her feeling young.

     Robin checked with Kim to see if that was okay before she headed out the door.  A smile and a nod assured the taller woman that Kim would be fine.  "Be back in a bit."  When Robin walked into the lobby, she saw Sascha cleaning the popcorn machine.  "Sascha?  I know Nicole was supposed to stay late but…"

     "Sure… I'll stay."  Sascha readily agreed.  "I could use the money."

     Determined, Robin approached the longhaired Nicole.  "Nicole.  After you finish wiping down the counter, you can cut out early.  Sascha's staying."

     Happy to hear Robin's offer, Nicole nodded when she briefly met Robin's eyes.  She furiously spun the cloth over the counter.  She held in an inner smile because she had a fair idea where Sandro and his friends would end up that night.  Nicole was not one to miss an opportunity.  And this one was golden.

     In short order, Robin readied her last movie for the night before returning to the cashier's office.  On the way, she advised Sascha that she was going to run Mrs. Franz home and if there would be a need to call her on her cell phone.  "Kim.  I have to take Mrs. Franz home.  Would you mind waiting here?  I'll only be a minute."

     Mrs. Franz grabbed her light coat and purse then insisted.  "I can walk home."

     Looping her hand inside the older lady's arm, Kim said.  "I'll go with you."  Kim and Mrs. Franz shared a knowing smile caused by a shared secret.

     Robin sighed heavily as she watched the two conspirators walk off.  She knew something was up and figured that her name played a central role in the discussion that evidently took place while she was gone.  Robin temporarily forgot that Mrs. Franz was easily able to squeeze even the smallest bit of information from others.  Except me.  Robin guarded her thoughts and feelings with an ironclad fist from others.

     Mrs. Franz called over her shoulder.  "Are you coming or not?"

     Both women shared a stifled giggle to Robin's dismay.

     After the short trip to Mrs. Franz apartment, Robin helped Kim out of her car when they got back to the movie theater.  "I could have taken you home, too."

     "Not on your life.  It's too early to go home and besides we have a lot to catch up on."  Kim heard Robin's stomach growl.  "And you need something to eat… now."

     "I can't.  I need to get back inside."  All evening Robin had resisted the increasing hunger pains since she missed supper. "Sascha's…"

     "Robin."  Kim placed a soft gentle touch on the older woman's arm.  "We can get something right next door at that Italian restaurant.  Tell Sascha we'll be there if she needs you…and we'll bring her back a piece of pizza or something."

     The pleading green eyes were Robin's undoing.  "You go get us a place and I'll be there in a minute."
 
     In less than five minutes, Robin slid into the booth across from Kim.  The younger woman selected this particular location so her friend could have a strategic view of the front of the movie theater.

     "I hope you don't mind but I already ordered your favorite pizza."  Kim smiled.

     "Danke."  Robin sipped her Spezi before settling back in the booth.  "You'll share, right?"

     "Sandro and…." Kim hesitated.  "… we had dinner earlier but I really didn't eat much.  So, yes.  I'm starved actually."

     A few moments of silence passed but neither felt uncomfortable.  When they both started to talk, Kim said.  "You first."

     Not wanting to delve into a serious discussion right off, Robin said.  "I saw your dad today."

     "He didn't say anything to me when I saw him earlier."

     "I'm sure it wasn't worth mentioning."  Robin suddenly shifted, sparing a quick look outside the restaurant's huge front window.  "They needed a tool and I dropped it off."

     "Where are you working?  I heard you moved back here but…" Kim resisted seeking out her old friend upon learning that Robin had returned to Germany.  Too many unresolved feelings still lingered.

     "I know."  Robin offered an apology. "I should have looked you up.  After my parents…"

     Reaching across the table, Kim cupped Robin's hand.  "I'm sorry.  I know how close all of you were."  Wanting to spring alive a lighter subject, Kim asked.  "How's Ross?  Last I heard he was married with several children."

     This brought a smile to Robin's face.  "Four. He stayed in Dallas after…"  Again, Robin refused to say the word.  "He has his own business and keeps trying to convince me to move back there."

     A concerned frown crossed the younger woman's face upon hearing that statement.  "Are you?"

     "No."  Robin said all too quickly then diverted the subject from herself.  "Enough about me.  How are you?"

     The pensive look on Kim's face told only part of the story. As always it didn't take much prompting for the younger woman to open her emotional floodgates to Robin.  "I suppose you want to know about Sandro?"

     "Only if you want to tell me.  I would never…" Robin unconsciously leaned back in her seat.

     This brought a smile to Kim's face because Robin was never one to pressure or make her feel uncomfortable, quite the contrary.  Fond memories of her cousin, Yasmin, and her school friends flooded Kim's mind.

     "What are you smiling about?"  Robin reached across the table, nudging Kim's hand. "Tell me."

     Kim let out a short laugh.  "I was just remembering the time when my cousin, you and the rest of the gang snuck out of the dorm."

     "At the foreign language school?  I remember."  She waited a moment while the waitress served their pizza.  "Danke."  Robin ensured Kim got the first pizza before grabbing a slice.  "Which time are you talking about? There were so many."

     "The time we all got drunk."  Kim took a big bite from her slice of pizza.  "This is good."

     Robin grinned at the younger woman's enthusiasm as she watched Kim devour the whole piece.  Shoving the pan across the table, she said.  "Take another one."  Pausing only briefly before she said.  "Try to save Sascha a piece though."

     With her mouth full, Kim looked up.  "Oh…you!"  The auburn haired woman playfully threw a napkin at Robin.  "You know I like to eat."

     "For be it for me to try and stop you."  Robin teased.  "You always could hold your food…but not your liquor. And just for the record, I never got drunk."

     Kim sprouted a suspicious green eye at Robin.

     "Okay, okay… there was a time or two that I ended up praying to the porcelain goddess but never did I drink too much when you were with us."  Robin insisted.

     Kim turned thoughtful after that statement. "No. You were always the one watching out for us."

     The dark haired woman shook off the compliment as if it was a foreign invader.  She was not used to such kind words spun her way.  "That's not true."

     Sensing that her friend was embarrassed, Kim changed the subject but not before declaring one final thought.  "It is. You were our protector.  And don't you dare contradict me."  Robin acquiesced without a word so Kim continued.  "Now you never did tell me where you're working at?"

     Robin and Kim engaged in idle conversation talking about everything and nothing.  They briefly touched upon where they worked and what had happened to them over the last ten years since the last time they saw each other. It wasn't until the waitress slipped the bill on the table that Robin checked her watch.  "We've been here over an hour. I need to get back."

     As Robin paid the bill, Kim collected the remaining pizza to take back to Sascha.  The taller woman opened the door, allowing Kim to go first.  As she did, she deliberately bumped her hip against Robin.  "Move over.  Remember I had four pieces."

     The couple was still laughing when they walked back into the movie theater.  "Sascha, here you go."  Kim handed the cardboard box to the young girl.  "It took everything I had to make sure there was some left for you."

     "Funny."  Robin nudged Kim causing both of them to share a laugh.  When Robin noticed the strange look on Sascha's face, she immediately remembered her responsibility at the movie theater.  "I'm going to check the movie monitors first but I can give you a ride home now if you want."

     Everyone at the movie theater liked and respected Robin.  She had worked there for over five years and knew every nuance of the place.  Robin was always the consummate professional.  And during the last year and half that Sascha had worked there, she had come to know Robin quite well.  As well as the sometimes stoic Robin would let anyone.  However, seeing Robin with Kim, the young girl noticed something different about the projectionist.  "No, I called my boyfriend.  He should be waiting outside."

     "I'm sorry.  It was my fault." Kim started to explain.

     Sascha waved off the apology.  "Don't worry about it."  She gathered her purse and the box of pizza. "Besides, my boyfriend will love you for this."

     "Bye."  Kim waved before she walked into the cashier's office where Robin was checking the monitors.

     At first Robin didn't acknowledge Kim's presence as she stood next to her.  The strange look on Sascha's face along with the realization that she had fell easily into letting her guard down around Kim somehow made her feel off balance.  She needed to reclaim that steadying feeling that grounded her.

     Kim watched her silent friend unconsciously play with the lone loop earring in her left lobe, as Robin intently seemed to study the monitors.  It was then she noticed that Robin did not have one in the right ear.  "Did you lose an earring?"

     Robin didn't move.

     When Kim touched Robin's arm, it startled her. "Sorry.  I was just asking about your earring."

     The older woman flicked the earring one last time.  "Oh, yeah.  I'm sorry what did you say?"

     Pointing to Robin's right ear. "Did you lose it?"

     "No. Actually, I didn't wear any for awhile then when I decided to start again, this one closed shut."  Robin shrugged.  "I only wear one now."

     Kim studied her friend for a long moment before declaring. "I like it."

     Shyly, Robin reluctantly accepted the compliment.  When her down turned eyes raised to meet Kim, the younger woman smiled.  "Danke."

     Kim stared deeply into Robin's fluid brown eyes where they both shared a moment of familiarity and something else that the older woman couldn't describe and the younger woman recognized.

     Out of the side of her vision, Robin noticed the movie credits on the monitor running. "Show's over."  Kim's green eyes held onto her friend's eyes for a second longer than Robin could withstand.  "I should go… I need to get… my movie's finished."

     Over the next twenty minutes, Kim acted as a tag along as Robin closed up the movie theater.  When they were ready to go, Robin opened the door for Kim. "Time to take you home."

     Kim pouted.  "What if I don't want to go home?"

     Robin checked her watch, noting the late hour.  Recalling part of their conversation about where Kim worked, Robin reminded her friend. "I thought you told me you have to be at work at ten in the morning."

     "Okay.  You can take me home… if you promise me, you'll stop by and see me tomorrow."

     Robin looked at her watch again and seeing the midnight hour had passed, she kidded.  "You mean today?"

     Kim crossed her arms and offered yet another pout at being teased by her friend.  "Is it a deal or not?"

     Robin extended her hand.  "Deal."
 
 

Chapter Five

     As was her habit every weekend morning around seven Robin got up and went to the living room where she opened the blinds.  "Don't want the neighbors to think I'm lazy and sleep in."  Peeking outside, she could see the sun shining in the clear sky, bringing a smile to her face.  She briefly stopped by the bathroom before crawling back in bed.  She slept until eight-thirty.

     Her first stop on her weekly excursion was a visit at the cemetery where her parents were buried.  Robin lovingly sorted through the few weeds that had sprouted up since her last visit then carefully planted her mother's favorite flower and lit a candle.

     Standing, she sucked in a deep breath.  For the last six years, Robin made her weekly vigil to see her parents and talked with them.  Sometimes the talks were long and other times a simple 'hello' would suffice.  Today, she felt somehow elated and at the same time unsure about things in her life.  She scraped the ground with her shoe several times, trying to cast off this uneasy feeling inside her.

     "Mama… I miss you.  Both of you.  I know…" She hesitated, looking around to see if anyone was near. "You're somehow always there… watching over me.  Making sure I don't do anything I'm not supposed to."  Robin knew without a doubt that her mom would give her a little tap on the head if she was out of line or needed that extra nudge in order to stay on the right course. "You remember Kim Patakas?  She's Yasmin's little cousin… from school.  Anyway, I saw her last night.  We talked.  It was good to see her again.  It brought back a lot of memories."  As if stuck for words, Robin fell silent.  "Well, she wants me to stop by and see her today.  I think I will."

     As Robin walked away, she knew her mother was smiling.

     The next trip was to the butcher shop at Market Square.  Robin hurriedly selected several sausages before crossing the street to the bakery where she added some rolls to her shopping bag.  When she came out of the bakery, Robin spied the local tourist information office where she knew Kim's cousin Yasmin Patakas worked.  Dietrich now.  Robin updated Yassi's last name as she had married right out of school.  That memory tore at Robin's heart.

     But a smile came to her face, as she looked further down the street to see the bookstore where Kim worked.  Checking her watch, Robin hurriedly dumped her foodstuff in her car and walked the short block along Market Square.

     When the doorbell chimed, Amanda looked up to greet the first customer of the day.  Vaguely recognizing the young woman that entered, she asked.  "May I help you?"

     "Amanda?  It's me. Robin Hart."

     "Oh, yes." Amanda tapped her face upon recognizing the younger woman.  "You haven't changed much.  Other than your hair's shorter."

     Robin ran her hand through her very short hair. "My summer cut."

     The sixty-five year old woman touched Robin's upper arm as she guided her further inside the store.  "Been working out?"

     Robin shrugged.  "Not in a while.  Lifting those big movie reels keeps me…"

     "Hello."  Kim greeted her old friend.

     "Hi."  Robin smiled.

     Amanda's gray eyes shifted between the two women.  "You two know each other?"

     "Robin and my cousin went to school together.  We were all pretty close back then."  Kim explained her relationship to Robin.

     Robin stepped up next to Kim, wrapping her arm around the shorter woman's shoulders.  "Yep, she's just like my kid sister."

     With that declaration, Robin beamed, as the light in Kim's eyes seemed to dim.  Only Amanda took note.

     Looking around the old bookstore that housed books of every kind and lined every wall from floor to ceiling, Robin said.  "The place hasn't changed much."

     "Ha.  Not in the last thirty-five years."  The storeowner shuffled off as she continued to speak.  "Why haven't I seen you in a while?  You used to be in here every week.  Sometimes two or three times a week."

     Robin was a voracious reader, which could be easily verified by the thousands of books that lined her bedroom walls.  But over the last few years, she spent more and more time alone buried in her books.  Not even venturing to the local bookstore.  "I'm pretty busy with work and everything and I guess …"  A bit embarrassed, she finally admitted.  "Ever since I got my computer I download stories from the internet or order online."

     "Mmmmm hmmmm…"  Amanda sifted through some paperwork.  "Sometimes I guess the old ways die out."

     Wanting to make amends, Robin spoke up.  "Actually I've been looking for several books and can't find them anywhere.  I was wondering if maybe you…"

     "Kim?"  Her employee looked at her.  "Will you take care of our customer here?"  Amanda sucked in a deep breath.  "If you two will excuse me?  I think I'll go upstairs and get some tea."

     Kim hugged Amanda before she turned to leave.  The older woman headed toward the back of the store to the stairs leading to the second floor where she lived.  Over her shoulder, Amanda instructed her employee.  "Don't let her leave before she buys something."  Robin and Kim laughed then the storekeeper added.  "And make sure you give her a special store owner's discount.  Bet they don't do that over the Internet."

     Kim grabbed Robin's hand, pulling her behind her.  "I'm glad you came in today."

     "I said I would."  Robin said a bit tersely.  After all, she was a woman of her word.

     Kim swung around and stared at Robin. "Yes, you did."  She smiled remembering all too clearly one day years ago when Robin promised she would wait up for Kim and her cousin ensuring that a window was left open at the dorm so they could sneak back in.  Robin covered for the missing girls when the dorm mistress did her nightly bed check.  Kim never attended the foreign language school but was allowed to stay there for several days at time when she was visiting her cousin while her parents were still living back in Greece.

     "You mean the night I nearly froze my…"

     "That wasn't my fault."  Kim waved her arms, playing innocent.  "No one asked you to wait outside."

       "Uh…huh.  And if I had waited inside, you two would still be stuck in that big snow pile near the side of the road… after you slipped and pulled your cousin down with you."

     Kim tapped her finger to her lips.  "She never could hold her liquor."

     Robin fussed Kim's long auburn hair.  "What about you?  You were fourteen and thought you could hang with the big girls."

     "I did."  Kim protested.  "You're the one that had to go home from the party early."

     "I was sick."  Robin countered.

     Kim giggled. "From drinking too much."

     "Food poisoning."  Robin gave Kim a stern look before playfully tapping the younger woman's arm.  "I'm telling you there was something in that food."

     "Anyway, you promised you'd be waiting for us…"

     "Which I did."

     "Which you did.  A good thing to… we were so late…"

     "And drunk."

     "And drunk."  Kim conceded.  "You saved us."

     Robin quickly looked away.

     "The one thing I remember about all of that was the next day when Yassi couldn't believe you waited up for us.  I remember her saying that she didn't know if she would have done the same.  Not out in the freezing cold."  Kim knew her cousin would not have done the same as Robin did for them.  "I knew then when you said something you meant it."

     "Of course."  It seemed so foreign to Robin that anyone would go back on their word.  Especially when it came to being there for the people you cared about.  When Robin said something, she only had to say it once for it to be true forever.  "What are you doing later today?"

     Kim's shoulder slumped.  "I work all day. Amanda's not been feeling well and tonight I'm having dinner with a bunch of my family… my aunt, uncle and Yassi will be there.

     "Oh…"  Robin seemed frustrated with the news but offered a small smile. "Tell her 'hi' for me."

     "I will."  Kim nodded.  "What about tomorrow?"

     "I have a soccer game at one.  On the castle grounds."

     "I see." Kim waited patiently to see if Robin would ask her to come by.  When Robin just stood there, Kim finally said.  "I've always enjoyed watching a good game of soccer."

     "You should come then."

     Kim smiled.  "Okay."

     "And maybe Yassi would like to come to." Robin's face brightened. "When you see her tonight, maybe you could ask her."

     "Yeah, I will."  It was as if the sun had set on Kim's face.  Changing the subject quickly as not to reveal the sullen feeling inside, Kim said. "Before you go, you have to buy a book. Which one do you want?"  Kim bent down, poised with pen over paper ready to take the order.

     "The Woman I Love."

     Temporarily dazed, Kim's heart skipped a beat.  Thinking she didn't know if she heard correctly, she asked. "What?"

     "It's the name of the book."  Robin said innocently.  "You know it?"

     "Yes."  Kim assured Robin she would order the book and call her when it had arrived.  As Kim watched her friend leave, the younger woman revisited a dream she had so long ago and wondered if the fading fantasy ever had a chance of becoming reality.  From a maelstrom of emotions, Kim shuddered under the onslaught of cherished memories.

************************

     Robin and Michael Helleis scrambled for the soccer ball.  Being a few inches taller than his teammate, his foot snatched the ball from under Robin's grasp.  "Hey, we're supposed to be on the same team."

     The muscular man smiled broadly as he bounced the ball with his foot.  "We're only practicing."

     "You better be that good during the game."  Robin playfully poked him in the chest before she snagged the ball and kicked it across the field to another teammate.  Michael walked to the sidelines with her.

     Dunja Helleis clapped and yelled.  "Did you win yet, daddy?"

     Whisking his six-year-old daughter up in the air, he laughed.  "Not yet but give us time."  Then Michael pulled his son closer.  "You two want to get something to drink with me?"

     Phillip Helleis nodded as he walked along side his father, pausing only long enough for Michael to give a quick kiss to his wife.

     "Bring me a drink, too, honey." Sarah Helleis requested.

     The slightly shorter redhead felt Robin's arm fall over her shoulder as her friend pulled her in for a hug.  "I'm glad you came."

     Sarah's blue eyes met Robin. "Are you kidding?  The kids wouldn't miss it."

     "Yeah but I thought you weren't feeling too well."  A concerned Robin asked.  "Thought maybe we'd even miss our usual Wednesday evening play night."

     "Come on."  Sarah tugged at Robin as she led her over to their cars.  "We're still on for Wednesday.  And I'm feeling much better.  Michael took care of the kids yesterday… so I had all day to rest.  If you can call it resting with them checking on me two or three times an hour.  I swear I love them but sometimes…"

     Robin knew her friend was only kidding.  She secretly envied Sarah's seemingly blissful life with her husband of ten years and two children.  Sarah's only real complaint was that Michael worked too much.  He volunteered to help friends when they needed assistance of any kind.  "If they ever get too much for you… I'll take the kids but…"  Robin bumped into Michael.  "You have to keep this big lug.  I'm not taking him."

     "Here." Michael handed first his wife then Robin a bottle of water.  "Talking about me again?"

     Dunja yanked on her dad's blue soccer shorts then said innocently.  "Dad, mom always talks about you."

     "You're not supposed to say, Dunja."  Her brother of eight corrected her.

     "Why not?"

     "Because."  Phillip eyed his sister warily.

     "Because why?"

     "Because it's not polite."

     Dunja sipped on her drink.  "What's not polite?"

     "Not you."  Phillip glared at her.

     "Okay… you two."  Michael mussed his son's short dark hair.  "Why don't we all kick the ball around before the games starts.  Okay?"  Both his children eagerly nodded.  "Then your mom can talk about me in secret."  He gave his wife another quick kiss before he trotted off with their two children.

     "See what I have to put up with."  Sarah smiled.

     Swallowing the last of her water, Robin smiled when she saw two women get out of a car.  She immediately recognized one of them. Nudging her friend, she asked.  "Did I tell you who I ran into Friday night?"

     Following Robin's pointed finger, Sarah recognized both women.  "It can't be.  I haven't seen her in a couple of years."

     "It's Kim…"  Robin said then upon recognizing the other woman, a huge smile rose on her face.  "And Yasmin."

     Sarah detected the excited tone in Robin's voice.  "Yassi Dietrich?"

     Waving them over, Robin yelled her greetings. "Over here."

     Kim received a hug from Robin before she greeted Sarah. "Hi."

     Shaking her head, Sarah smiled at the younger woman. "You look great."

     "You, too."

     Yasmin Dietrich hesitantly accepted the hug from Robin but offered a cooler reception toward Sarah.  "Hi."

     Sarah smiled as she nodded her welcome to her old schoolmate.  "Came to see the big game, huh?"

     There was no love lost between Sarah and Yasmin.  They went to the same foreign language school but generally ran in different groups.  In an odd sort of way, Robin was the connecting link between the two.  Robin was never part of any one group.  Since she arrived at school a couple of months after the semester started and by that time most girls had divided up into their own groups, she was more of a loner.  She more or less drifted between the groups.  Robin always considered herself the outsider. However, it was Sarah who was the first one to welcome her and offer her friendship.

     Yasmin shrugged.  "Well, Martin's out of town so…"

     Excited, Robin beamed.  "I'm glad you could both come today.  Can I get you anything to drink?"

     Both Kim and Yasmin declined.

     When Michael dropped the kids back to their mom, he informed Robin the game was about to start.  "Robin, let's get out there."

     Quickly glancing at Kim then Yasmin, she said.  "Wish us luck?"

     Both Phillip and Dunja cheered Robin and their father.  "Go Hawks."  It was short for 'Castle Hawks', the name of their team.

************************

     Kim, Yasmin and Sarah along with her children watched the game until Dunja informed her mother she had to go the bathroom.  "Okay, honey.  Right after your father…"  Sarah jabbed her hand in the air upon seeing Michael make a goal.  "Yes!"

     Phillip jumped up and down as did Dunja but for different reasons.  "Mom… I have to go to pee."

     "Alright… let's go."  Sarah made her excuses to Kim.  "We'll be back in a bit."

     "Sure."  Kim smiled. Turning to her cousin, she said. "It's great seeing Sarah again.  And her kids… wow. They have grown."

     Yasmin didn't seem to notice as she checked her watch once again, mumbling.  "He's supposed to call."

      "Maybe he got tied up with work."  Kim said as her eyes were glued to Robin who was guarding the net.

     "On Sunday?"  Yasmin huffed.  "I'm telling you Kim breaking up with Sandro was the best thing for you.  Men! Who needs them? They're just a pain in the ass."

     Kim kept a close eye on Robin as she tended the goal, preventing the other team from getting another goal.  "She's good, isn't she?"

     Yasmin ignored Kim when her cell phone rang.  Noticing the caller ID indicated that it was her home phone, Yasmin demanded even before she said hello. "You just get home?  You were supposed to come back yesterday."

     The younger woman took a few steps away in order to try and give her cousin some privacy.  She knew Yasmin and Martin had been having marital problems with all of the traveling he did for work.  To add to the tension was her cousin's suspicion that Martin was cheating on Yasmin.  Kim was temporarily distracted from her thoughts when the crowd cheered because Robin had deflected another attempt at a goal from the other team.  "Way to go, Robin!"

     Upon hearing Kim yell, Robin took a brief moment to wave back.  That's when she saw Yasmin look at her causing the goalie to wave again. This time with an even bigger smile.  Then in no time, her mind was back on the game at hand.  She glanced once more to the sidelines before she took three long steps, kicking the ball nearly the length of the field.

     "He just got back in."  Yasmin informed her cousin.  "You want me to drive you home or do you think you can catch a ride?"

     "Go on."  Kim figured she could get a ride with Robin.  "I'll be fine."

     Yasmin started to leave as Sarah and her kids returned.  Suddenly, she stopped and leaned in to Kim. "I'll call you later… if not, call me tomorrow."

     Over the last couple of months since Kim was now living back in Hechingen, Yasmin used her as a sounding board regarding the problems and suspicions about her husband.

     Their attention turned back to the play on the field just as Michael was volleying for the ball with an opposing player.  They were locked in a heated duel with their feet when another player rammed right into him, knocking him down on the ground.  The loud thud heard by everyone was from the colliding heads.

     Robin rushed to his side as a worried Sarah looked on from the sidelines.  "Michael?" The goalie snapped her fingers. "Mike?"  Robin lightly slapped him on the face a few times.

     Shaking his head and groggy, Michael squinted his eyes open.  "How long you gonna kept hitting me?"

     Relieved, Robin joked.  "Until you can stand up on your own two feet and wave to your wife so she knows you're okay… or else she'll kill me for talking you into being on the team."

     "Okay…okay."  Robin helped her teammate to his feet, giving him one last look square into his brown eyes, checking for anything unusual.  Once given the okay by Robin, Michael dusted himself off and waved to his concerned family. "I'm okay…. really."

     Sarah let go of the breath she was holding.  "Thank God."

     "Good thing daddy has a hard head.  Right mom?"  The curly haired blonde girl said innocently.

     Sarah tried to hold in a laugh, remembering that her daughter probably had overheard her say those very words to her husband only yesterday.  "That's right, honey.  That's right."

*************************

     After Robin's team won the game, Kim noticed Sandro drive up in his sporty black Mercedes SLK 260.  She felt a moment of apprehension bundled with a sense of anticipation.  The auburn haired woman was in one way glad to see Sandro but in quite another wished to avoid any potential confrontation.  Her emotions teetered on edge until a lean young girl with long dark hair stepped out of his car.

     The winning goalie gathered the game ball and walked over to where her friends were standing on the sidelines.  At first, she saw Kim's apparently anxious attention diverted toward some approaching cars then noted a definite change in the younger woman's deflated stance. Robin walked up behind her, wrapping an arm around her.  "Everything okay?"

     Nodding in Sandro's direction, Kim shrugged.

     "I see."  Robin squeezed Kim harder, wanting to comfort the young woman.  "Just remember… I'm here."

     Kim leaned into Robin, speaking quietly.  "I don't want to talk with him."

     "Okay."  Looking around, Robin noticed Yasmin's car was gone.  "You want me to take you home?"

     "Yes."  Kim sucked in a deep breath.  "But not home."

     Sensing her friend's somber mood and wanting to cheer her up, Robin said. "First we get something to eat then maybe take a ride.  Okay?"

     Robin said her brief goodbyes to Sarah and her family then to a few teammates all the while carefully avoiding Sandro or any of his friends.  Quietly, Robin guided Kim to her car.

     From a distance, Sebastian Stauss ribbed his friend.  "You gonna let her get the better of you?"

     After a hard glare from Sandro, his friend's laughter died quickly.

     Hanging his arm around Nicole's neck, Sandro asked.  "We're on the schedule to play them right?"

     A now more subdued Sebastian just nodded.

     Sandro let out a wicked laugh.  "I'll grind her ass in the ground."
 

Chapter Six

     As usual, Robin was the first to the office.  Juggling her water bottles in her left hand, she unlocked the door then clocked in.  After a short stroll through the lobby, she entered the small break room adjacent to the sales areas.  Robin dropped off her water in the fridge and unloaded the dishwasher, placed the mugs and small plates back in the cabinet.  Then she walked into the sales office where she opened the blinds on her rounds throughout the office, turning on all the computers.  Next thing on her list was to check the fax orders that had come in overnight.

     Her mind was not on work even though she smiled a couple of times as thoughts of Sunday's soccer game came to mind.  Robin called Sarah later that night after taking Kim home to check on Michael.  Apparently, Dunja was right.  He does have a hard head.  Her thoughts then turned to the unexpected visit of Yasmin.  Robin wished she had had more time to talk with her old friend. The export expert smiled at the vision of Yasmin in her head.  Then for some reason an even wider smile crossed her face when she remembered Kim teasing her about showing off while playing goalie.  They debated that statement until Robin finally yielded to her young friend and reluctantly admitted maybe she was showing off an itty bitty tiny little bit.

     She was drawn from her happy musings when Josef popped his head in the office.  "How'd that part work out for you?"

     Robin leaned back in her chair as she stared briefly at the stock manager debating whether or not to give him a hard time before he did that to her.  Deciding to give him a reprieve, Robin's brown eyes beamed brightly. "Perfect."

     "Must have." Josef smirked.  "You never came back from what I hear. Have a hot date?"

     "Met an old friend." Shaking her head, Robin knew she shouldn't have let him have the first shot.  But instead of offering a smart retort, she grabbed the collet chuck. Holding it up in the air, Robin deliberately walked toward the older man.  Her bluff was called when she realized he stood there unfazed by her mock striking pose as she held the tool.  "Here.  I told Mr. Patakas that we'd try and find out why this broke."

     "Oh, now we're in the business of analyzing our competitor's tools."  His bearded face was serious as he kidded her.

     "Josef… will you check it out or not?" One of Robin's eyebrows cocked up as she glared at him.

     "Alrighty." Josef took the tool before he turned to leave, mumbling.  "Must be one of those days."  They both knew to what 'those' days he was referring.

     Robin yelled out after him.  "No, it's not one of those days but I'll be sure to look you up when it is."

************************

     When she woke, Kim stretched luxuriously in her bed.  A very satisfied smile bloomed on her face that equaled the sun's rising outside her window.  Spending the day with Robin made her feel wonderful enough so that it overshadowed the slight queasy feeling in her stomach.  So many happy thoughts assaulted her mind, she didn't know which one brought more happy feelings to her.  Then the tapping at her door drew her out of her musings.

     "Honey?"  Elena stuck her head through the door.  "You going to sleep all day?"

     "Amanda's got a doctor's appointment late this afternoon so I'm going in later than usual."  Kim scooted up in bed to get comfortable.  Running her fingers through her long hair, Kim smiled.

     Noticing the serene look on her daughter's face, Elena winked.  "Had a good weekend… I take it."

     "Very."  Kim brought her knees up to her chest then wrapped her arms around her legs.

     As Elena sat on the side of her daughter's bed, she asked.  "What'd you do?"

     "Mmmmm… well, after watching the soccer game, we went for a long drive, got something to eat and… talked."

     "What'd you talk about?  Anything special?"  Elena's inquisitive nature had to be held in check, waiting to find out more about what caused the almost blissful look on her daughter's face.

     "Everything and nothing."  The smile on Kim's face remained steadfast.

     Elena grabbed at her daughter's foot, pulling on it before she practically pleaded for the details.  "Come on. Tell me."

     "Well…" Kim sat up straight. "We talked a little bit about the game.  You remember Sarah… Yassi's friend from school."  Kim pursed her lips thoughtfully.  "Maybe not exactly friends but they are civil to each other…"

     "Kim! What about the game?"  Elena recognized the mentioned name but couldn't place the person Kim was referring to.  Years ago, it worried her that her daughter seemed more pre-occupied with her cousin's friends than with making any of her own.  When they finally decided to move to Germany, their daughter was ecstatic.  It seemed to them that Kim left Greece behind without giving it a second thought.

     "Her husband cracked his head during the game.  And you know they have two adorable kids who have grown…"  Kim's arm raised up two feet.  "…since I last saw them.  It was nice seeing her again."

     "Who dear?"

     "Sarah."

     "Oh… what else happened? Anything special?"  Elena was getting frustrated that her daughter wasn't taking the hint.  She waited on baited breath to hear the impending news she hoped was coming out of her daughter's mouth next.

     "Yassi drove me there but Martin called and so she left."  Kim looked at her mother seriously.  "You don't even want to know about that.  That reminds me I should call her later.  She never did call me yesterday."

     Elena really didn't care to hear about Yasmin's woes but she did spare a moment to wonder why her niece was the one to drive Kim to Sandro's soccer game.

     "Then after the game…"

     "Who won?"

     "We did."

     "How many goals did our champion make?"  Elena asked proudly about hopefully her soon to be son-in-law.

     Confused, Kim stared blankly at her mom.  "None."

     "None?"

     "Mom, it's kinda unusual for the goalie to make any goals."  Kim declared.

     "Guess I don't know as much as I thought about this game."  Elena scratched her head.  Sandro is always the one chasing around trying to kick the ball in that little net.

     "But the best part of the day was later…"  Another smiled graced her adoring face.

     Elena practically rubbed her hands together hungrily.  "Now we get to the good part."

     "Yep.  We drove around the castle after getting some ice cream.  And talked." Kim capped her statement abruptly as if that should be enough.

     As if hanging on the edge of a cliff, Elena waited.  "And?"

     "And it was wonderful."

     "Kimberly Gayle, if you don't tell me right now everything and I mean everything… your mother just might …"

     Kim pressed her hand on her mother's arm, calming her.  "Okay, precisely what do you want to know?"

     Finally getting her daughter's undivided attention, Elena posed her question carefully.  "Was there a special question you were asked yesterday?"

     Shifting her greens eyes back and forth, Kim couldn't remember any special question.  "No…"  Then quickly added.  "…not yet."

     "Okay… is there a question you would like to be asked."  Elena didn't know why she had to play this cat and mouse game with her daughter but if it yielded the information she desired, she would.

     "God, I hope so."

     "And what will you say should this particular question come up?"

     Clasping her mother's hands in hers, she exclaimed.  "Yes."

     "Wonderful." Elena leaned over and kissed her daughter on the cheek.  "Now, I think I'll make a call."  Silvia will want to hear about this.  Neither woman wanted to be the last to know when their children finally got engaged.

     Kim overheard only bits and pieces of what her mother was mumbling as she left.  Something about plans and all the things she had to do.  Perplexed, Kim wondered out loud.  "I wonder why she's so excited about whether or not Robin will ask me to come to her next soccer game?"

***********************

     After lunch, Robin decided to see if Josef made any progress on why the collet chuck broke.  Maneuvering her way through the production department, she noticed a small crowd gathered around Josef and the production manager.  "Hey, what's going on?"  The whole group was studying the broken chuck as if it was an alien from outer space.

     Scratching his head, Josef disagreed with Peter.  "That wasn't a good test.  Do it again?"

     "Don't take it so personal, Josef."  Peter gave the tool back to the stock manager. "It's not even one of ours."

     "I've been here over forty years.  Worked every part of this place more than once.  And I'll only say this once for all you young whipper snappers… an intelligent man learns from others' mistakes…"  Josef closely eyed those standing around.  "… but it's a wise man that learns from others mistakes."

     Robin interrupted the standoff between the production manager and the stock manager by taking the tool from Josef. "Peter, try it again."

     Upon taking the broken tool, he nodded before proceeding with a third and hopefully final test.  Once again, the test yielded the same results.  "Good enough?"  Peter asked Josef.

     "Just what I thought."  Josef grabbed the tool, studied it for a brief moment before handing it over to Robin with his conclusion.  "Substandard material."

     "A low grade of metal, huh?"  Robin affirmed.  "Thanks guys.  I'll let Mr. Patakas know."

     A cough interrupted the gathering.  "Ah… Robin? You holding some kind of impromptu meeting?"

     All their surprised eyes shifted to the sales manager, standing patiently as he waited for an explanation.

     "Nope… got everything under control."  Peter waved his men back to work.

     Nudging past Robin, the stock manager whispered.  "Someone's in trouble."

     Robin stood alone with only the broken collet chuck for a crutch.  Somehow that thought made her stand straighter.  "What can I do for you, Daniel?"

     "Mr. Hermann wants to see you?"  Daniel turned around then jerked his thumb over his shoulder.  "And bring that thing with you?"

     Several production employees smirked at Robin's impending meeting with the big boss.  And it didn't help when she walked through the sales office and Marion taunted her.  "Guess we'll find out now what happened to you Friday afternoon when you didn't come back to work."

     The gossip around the water cooler that day centered on the mysterious smiles that peeked up unexpectedly on Robin's face all morning. No matter how hard Marion and several other employees tried, Robin refused to divulge any information.

     Once inside the office of the owner of the company, Daniel sat down after Gunther Hermann offered both of them a seat.  The gray-headed man propped his elbows up on his large desk.  He took a long moment to collect what he was going to say.  "Robin…"

     "Yes, sir."

     "Kostas called this morning."  Gunther rubbed his chin before continuing.  "He just gave us all of his business… thanks to you."

     Inside, Robin was beaming but she shunned the credit.  "I didn't do anything special… just delivered the tool he requested."

     "Nonsense… although we do have the best tools in the business."  Gunther leaned back in his leather chair.  "And Kostas agrees we do… even glad to pay the small extra price for them.  No, it was more the fact that you helped him in his time of need.  You're the one that brought all of his business to us."

     Daniel delighted in the fact that Robin seemed to grow uneasy under all the accolades she was receiving.  "He's right, Robin.  You get the credit for this one."

     Robin shrugged. "The customer's the king."

     "Is that the tool?"  The boss asked.

     Handing it to him, Robin said. "Yes, sir."

     Mr. Hermann studied it a moment before he announced his own assessment regarding the failure of the tool.  "Inferior grade of material." He scooted up on his chair.  "See here."  Pointing to the break point on the tool, the boss explained.  "Ours will never break here because we use the best raw materials."  He handed it back to Robin.  "Kostas said you'd get back with him?"

     Robin nodded.

     "Daniel, we need to do something special as thanks to our good employee."  Gunther rubbed his chin before he winked at his sales manager then asked. "Do you think we could slip a bonus in Robin's next paycheck?"

************************

     Amanda glanced over one of the stories Kim had written.  "Yep, this one's my favorite.  We'll send it off first and see how the publishers like it."

     Peeking over her boss' shoulder, Kim smiled. "That's the first one I ever wrote."

     "I know."

     "Well, did you know that story was inspired by someone very special?"  The glow in her green eyes twinkled brightly. "That was my first big crush."

     "Robin?" Amanda asked but figured she was right on the money.

     Taken aback somewhat, Kim swallowed.  "Why would you say that?"

     "I'm an old woman, Kim, but I'm not stupid…"

     Placing a hand on Amanda's arm, Kim started to clarify the intention of her question.  "I didn't mean that at all."

     Amanda patted Kim's hand.  "I know you didn't.  I was just teasing you.  I'm right though."

     Kim sucked in deep breath before the smile that rose on her face gave her away.  "Yes."

     "I knew it."

     "How?"

     Amanda glanced at her watch before she sat on the chair behind the counter.  "The other day when Robin came in…"  Kim nodded.  "… you had that same look in your eyes as you just did a minute ago."

     "Oh!"  Kim said, not realizing her feelings reflected so easily in her expressions.

     "And then there's this story…" Amanda waved the papers in her hand.  "Most stories with heroes in them are male and your hero, Hawk, is female…. and she looks strikingly like Robin… come to think of it."

     "I guess she does."

     "You like her, don't you?"

     Kim realized that a straightforward question deserved a straightforward answer.  "Yes."

     "Then my next question is how much?"  Again, Amanda figured she knew the answer to her question.

     The younger woman shrugged.  "I don't know."

     "More than Sandro?"

     The auburn haired woman turned to Amanda.  "That's all together different."

     "How so?"  Amanda wasn't letting her young charge off the hook.

     "Aren't you supposed to have a doctor's appointment?"

     "They can wait. This is more important."  Amanda set aside Kim's story and crossed her arms.

     Kim shuffled back and forth on her feet.  "I don't know that's…" The young woman was concerned about revealing her true feelings regarding Robin Hart because she didn't know what Amanda would think but she was soon relieved when her boss spoke again.

     "You remember Sadie?"

     "Of course. Your partner."  Kim stated the obvious as everyone knew Amanda and Sadie ran the bookstore together for years.

     But it was the not so obvious that Amanda now declared.  "Yes, she was my partner… in every way."

     Looking into the storeowner's gray eyes was all it took for Kim to realize full well what Amanda was saying.  "I… I'm sorry. I know it was hard when she died but…"

     "It's okay, dear. We had many wonderful years together."  Amanda allowed only a brief moment to remember her beloved.  "In a town this small, we thought it better not to advertise."

     "I guess not but it is getting better these days.  Not so many raise their eyebrows about it anymore."  Kim expressed her own wishful thinking on the matter.

     Amanda conceded to only part of Kim's statement.  "Perhaps.  Still… it has a long way to go."  Touching Kim's arm, Amanda offered her sage advice.  "Don't let anyone else's opinions on it keep you from doing what's in your heart."

     "What do you mean?"

     "That crush you had on Robin…"  Amanda's discerning gray eyes easily penetrated the thinly veiled shield of denial Kim held in place. "…apparently never went away."

     Kim dismissed Amanda's observation with a short wave.  "Oh… it doesn't matter anyway."

     "Because of Sandro?"

     Kim thought about it for a minute. "No, it has nothing to do with him… you see, Robin liked someone else.  Oh, she liked me too… just not in that way.  You heard what she said the other day.  She thinks of me like her little sister.  I'm afraid it's hopeless.  Robin never got over her."

     "Her?"

     Just then the door chime rang and in stepped a curly haired blue-eyed woman.  Pointing to the woman in question, Kim nodded.  "Her."

*************************

     "Robin, are you going to tell us what's been going on all day?"  The very inquisitive Marion asked for the third time.

     Like a cat that just swallowed the canary, Robin simply smiled.

     Marion tried to rally the other employee sitting across from her.  "Karin, what do you think?  You think Robin had a date over the weekend?"

     Mild and meek Karin wanted to stay clear of the teasing the older woman was giving Robin as she was relatively new to the office.  "How would I know?"
 

*************************

      Amanda gathered Kim's stories and stuffed them in her satchel.  "I'll mail these off after I go to my doctor's appointment."

     "Thank you, Amanda.  I really appreciate it."

     "You can thank me when you get published and have a book signing here."   The storeowner winked before she collected her purse and headed out the front door but first offered a knowing greeting to their customer, causing Kim to giggle.

     "What's with her?"  The curly haired woman said, referring to Amanda.

     Ignoring the woman, Kim asked.  "What are you doing here?"

     Sighing, Yasmin Dietrich complained.  "It's been busy as hell at the office.  I'm lucky to even get this break as short as it is.  You got something to drink?"

     Kim pulled out a soft drink from the small fridge behind the counter.

     "Thanks."  Yasmin sipped it before saying.  "I thought you were going to call me yesterday.  When I called, your dad said you still hadn't gotten home."

     "Robin and I went riding around."

     "That's nice."  Yasmin leaned against the counter, her mind clearly on her problems.  "I know he's cheating.  Had some cock and bull story about having to go out of town again on Wednesday."

     "Have you asked him about it?"

     "What!"  Yasmin acted as if her cousin's suggestion was ludicrous.  "I can't just bring it up… I need to know for sure first.  You have an awful lot to learn about relationships Kim.  If I ask him and don't have any proof, he'll just feel justified and act like I'm some kind of jealous wife."

     Kim did everything she could to stifle herself from asking the obvious question on her mind.  But in the end, she found herself saying.  "You are… jealous."  Seeing the fury rise on her cousin's face, Kim added.  "Sometimes… but aren't we all?"

     "Kim."  Yasmin stared hard at her cousin.  "I know half the family says that I'm always jealous of what others have…"

     "Like the time cousin Tamara had a clown at her birthday and you…"

     Glaring at her younger cousin, Yasmin admitted.  "That was different."

     "Come on, Yassi.  You've always been that way. But…" Kim winked at her favorite cousin.  "… you have so many other great qualities."

     Yasmin grunted.

     "Why else would I have wanted to hang around you all the time when I was little?"  Kim nudged her cousin.  "For vacations, I always wanted to come and visit you."

     "Come on, Kim.  It wasn't me you were so keen to see all the time.  It was Robin Hart.  It was always Robin this Robin that.  Whether you admit it or not you had a crush on her."  Yasmin smiled when she remembered her little cousin tagging along everywhere she went and Kim kept asking where was Robin.  It stood to reason that Kim would gravitate to Robin because when the other older girls at times ignored Yasmin's little cousin, it was Robin who gave her the attention she sought.

     Shyly, Kim admitted. "That might be true but you were the one she liked."

     Yasmin laughed.  "Yeah, she certainly tried to show off.  You remember that time on the bike when she fell?"

     "She was trying to impress you, Yassi."

     "I know."  The older cousin smiled.  "She was cute."

     Kim leaned her chin on the edge of her hand. "Mmmmm Hmmmm."

     Yasmin leaned over the counter coming within several inches of Kim's face.  "So?  What did you two do yesterday? Is it serious?"

*************************

     Robin slapped the broken tool against her hand for the hundredth time as she gazed out the window to a bright sun shining day.  Her thoughts turned to the drive around the castle with Kim the day before. "Wish I was out there?"

     "What'd you say, Robin?  Something about last weekend?"  Marion pushed some papers across the desk to Karin.

     Oblivious to her colleagues kidding, Robin just smiled as she swung around in her chair in order to answer the telephone.

**************************

     Kim slapped her cousin's arm.  "Oh, get serious. She still thinks of me as a kid sister."

     For some reason that comment relieved Yasmin.  Since her love life wasn't in full bloom, she wasn't eager to hear about others that were. "Okay then what'd you two talk about?"

     "The old days at the dorm mostly and the soccer game."  Kim had wanted to bring up the subject of her boyfriend but didn't know if Robin would want to hear her woes.  "Speaking of games… they have a play night every Wednesday at the Old Brewery."

     "Who?"

     "Robin and Sarah."

     Yasmin checked her watch.  "Are you going?"

     Kim slumped her shoulders. "Wednesday is Silvia's birthday.  I was supposed to buy her a gift from Sandro."

     "What are you going to do?"

     She shrugged. "I really like Silvia.  She's always been nice to me and I really don't want to hurt her feelings."

     "Maybe Sandro already told her the two of you broke up?"

     "I doubt that he even thinks it's really over between us."  Kim noticed the customer enter the shop.  "I don't know what I'm going to do."

     "Well, let me know because I was hoping you'd spend Wednesday evening with me…" Yasmin's voice dripped with loathing when she continued. "…. since Martin is going out of town."

     Kim gathered the two empty bottles on the counter. "I'll let you know."

     "Guess I better get back."

     For a long moment, Kim stared off in space wondering what the week would bring.  It didn't help that she had a sick feeling in her stomach.
 

Chapter Seven

     As every Wednesday night, Robin picked up Sarah and drove to the Old Brewery for their play night. The place was buzzing with the usual crowd as the couple strode into the pub.

     The bearded thirty-four year old owner of the establishment waved to them and asked.  "The usual?"

     Robin saddled up to the bar as Sarah secured their usual booth.  "Thom, how's everything goin' tonight?"

     Thom Weber popped open a bottle of beer along with a bottle of Spezi then handed them to Robin.  "Busy as ever."  A broad smiled beamed on his face. "Just the way I like it."

     After putting the drinks on a tab in order to pay later, Robin maneuvered through the crowd on her way back to where her friend was seated.  "Hi, Pietro."

     The tall blonde wrapped his arm over his teammate's shoulder and said with a slight slur.  "Helluva game Sunday.  Maybe you should be goalie full time."

     Shaking her head, Robin dismissed the idea.  "Nah, I like to get out in the mix of it all."  The Castle Hawks had played together for the last four years and during that time Robin only substituted whenever Michael wanted a break from being their goalie.  He was a natural at it but every once in a while wanted to get out on the field and stretch his legs so Robin complied with his wishes.

     When the young man leaned closer, Robin easily detected the alcohol on his breath.  "Since we don't have a game this weekend… what about practice?"

     "I work Saturday afternoon at the movie theater…. how bout after that?  Check with the guys and let me know."

     Pietro pointed an approving finger at the team captain.  "You got it."

     Robin watched him wobble off before her attention turned back to her friend, patiently waiting for her drink.  "Here you go, Sarah."

     "What'd Pietro want?" She took a sip of her beer as she scanned the pub for anyone she recognized.

     Robin slid into the booth before replying.  "Wanted to know about practice this weekend?"

     Getting Sarah's full attention, she said.  "Not Sunday!"

     Robin was checking out the crowd, too.  "I told him maybe Saturday evening.  Why?"

     "It's Dunja birthday.  Did you forget?"

     Robin rolled the bottle between her hands.  "No. I didn't forget.  She pulled me aside at the soccer game and reminded me that it was okay to bring gifts for her party."

     Sarah laughed. "That's my girl."

     "She's just like you alright."

     Reaching across the table, Sarah tapped Robin's hand.  "Hey, I've got an idea.  Why don't you ask Kim to come along?"

     The dark haired woman shrugged as a far away look came over Robin.  "I don't know. She might want to be alone."

     "Come on, she'd enjoy it. And it can get very lonely after a break-up."  This time Sarah nudged her friend's arm.  "She won't be lonely with my two kids there.  Besides, she loves kids."

     A doubtful look met Sarah's statement.  "How would you know?"

     "I'm a mother… we know these things."  Sarah grinned.

     "Hmmmmm…. Michael does complain…"  The mock shocked look on Sarah's face brought a smile.  "I mean… he can attest to the fact that you're always one step ahead of him."

     "A mother's intuition goes a long way."  When it came to knowing what her husband was thinking even before he did, Sarah always had the edge.  It also extended to having a good idea what was on her friend's mind even though Robin guarded her feelings fiercely.  Taking a chance, Sarah asked.  "What's on your mind?"

     Without hesitation, Robin responded.  "Nothing."

     Sarah decided to let her friend's evasive answer go for the moment.  "You ready to play?"

     Relieved for the reprieve, Robin drowned the last of her drink. "Come on.  Tonight I feel lucky."

     Over the course of the next hour, Robin and Sarah combated against the machine in a game of Shanghai.  And it was their lucky night as they racked up enough points to win several free games.  Nearing the end of their last game, Robin was suddenly sidetracked from their mission to win by the entrance of a woman into the pub.

     Without having to look up from the game in front of her, Sarah elbowed her distracted partner.  "Robin!  Come on.  The time's running…"  The lights and bells sounded on the machine.  "…out!  Darn."

     "Hi."  Sarah heard Robin say.

     When she finally looked up, Sarah saw Yasmin standing next to Robin.  "Hi."

     Relieved, Yasmin said.  "I'm glad to see you guys here."  She scouted the room briefly before asking. "Kim didn't show up earlier, did she?"

     "No." Robin answered. "Can I get you something?"

     Sarah bumped her friend.  "We were getting ready to leave."

     Yasmin frowned.  "Oh, don't go.  Martin's out of town and I…  well, I don't want to be alone.  I was hoping Kim would be here."

     "No problem."  Robin smiled before turning to Sarah.  "Do you want me to take you home… then I could come back?"

     Sarah pursed her lips together.  "Get me a beer and I'll get our place.  Come on, Yassi."  The redhead wasn't about to leave Robin alone with Yasmin.  Robin was naïve enough not to realize she was swimming in shark waters when it came to Yasmin.

     Touching Robin's arm, Yasmin said.  "I'll have a Kir Royal".

     Robin hurried to place the order and get back to the table and join her friends.  She was ecstatic with the surprised arrival of her old friend.  As Robin waited for the drinks and with rose-colored glasses, she gazed at Yasmin.  The jubilant feelings never failed to rise whenever the thought of Yasmin came to her mind.  The dark curly haired woman with electric blue eyes wielded their magic on Robin ever since they were ten years old.  Watching Sarah and Yasmin interact, she hoped her two old friends would get along.

     "So, how have you been?"

     "Wonderful… Michael and the kids are great."  Sarah eyed Robin at the bar as her friend's eyes remained glued on Yasmin.  "And you?"

     Thinking that Sarah was rubbing in the fact that her life was terrific, Yasmin said sarcastically.  "I'm glad everything's going so peachy for you."

     Sarah redirected her attention fully at Yasmin before she said.  "Yasmin, I know we didn't exactly get along that well when we lived at the dorm but we did have some good times and I don't know why you've always resented me."

     Surprised by Sarah's abruptness, the slightly older woman said.  "Straight to the point?  I can appreciate that.  So I'll do you the same favor.  Toward the end of our school year when I… became pregnant…"  Yasmin wished hard for a drink about now.  "I know you and your friends laughed behind my back."

     "That's not true."  Sarah staunchly denied her old schoolmates accusation.  "Yasmin, I had a boyfriend then, too.  Most of the girls did.  And even though the head mistress lectured us on the virtues of being good Catholic girls we all… participated in… well, let's just say some intimate situations."

     The thought of Mrs. Hansen, the headmistress, brought a smile from both women as they laughed in unison.  When Robin came back, she asked. "What's going on?"

     Through their laughter, they said.  "Mrs. Hansen."

     Placing the drinks on the table, Robin sat next to Yasmin.  "Don't tell me.  Was it the lively discussion about sex or the clip clop of her heels down the corridors late at night?"

     "Sex."  Sarah and Yasmin said loudly then quickly realized that it had drawn several other patron's attentions. "Shhhh…"

     Eager to join in the fun, Robin exposed one of their secrets.  "What about the time we all went skinny dipping?"

     "Hey now."  Sarah protested.  "We were only half skinny dipping."

     Yasmin took a huge gulp of her drink before confessing.  "Not me… when we were in the water… I took off my panties."  She grinned before adding.  "Never did find them."

     Oh! A thought popped into Robin's head. That's who they belonged to.  When Robin found them washed up on shore, she was too embarrassed to ask her friends who they belonged to.  Besides her mind was stunned from the kiss that she had just shared with Yasmin a few minutes before in the water behind the dock as they were swimming.  There was a long dock that led out over the water and most of the girls were swimming along the sandy beach where the water was shallower.  Robin had decided to show off and make a big splash on the other side of the dock where the water was deeper.  When she came back up to the surface, Yasmin was treading water, waiting for her.  The kiss was over and done with before Robin even knew what was going on.  For a moment, she thought she would drown.  When she had recovered slightly, Yasmin had already swum away and that's when Robin made her way to shore and found the bright red panties.

     Both her friends were curious about the mysterious smile on Robin's face.  "What is it?"  Yasmin bumped up against Robin.  "Was it the time we all snuck out and hitchhiked to the next town so we could see the concert?"

     "Yeah… that was it." Robin agreed, not wanting to reveal what was really on her mind.

     But it was Sarah that corrected the blue-eyed woman. "You're the one that did that, Yasmin. Not us."

     "Mmmmm…"  She took another swig of her drink. "Well, there were so many times we'd sneak out.  But it was a lot of fun."

     The memory of that kiss weighed heavily on Robin's mind and she temporarily withdrew from the conversation.  Sarah keenly observed her friend's sudden silence but Yasmin didn't seem to notice.  That was not news to Sarah though.  Yasmin paid little notice to those around her.  The curly haired girl always had to be the center of attention.

     Shaking her head, Yasmin recalled another story of when they were in school together.  "You remember the time Kim stayed over a few days and we thought she was asleep when we snuck out.  Fourteen and she thought she could do anything we did."

     As Yasmin related the story of when Kim woke up later that night and then crawled out the window in search of her older cousin and her friends only to be nearly accosted in one of the local pubs, Robin remembered that night well.

     "Good thing Robin decided to go back and check on her."  Sarah said.  "Or who knows what would have happened."

     "She shouldn't have tried to follow us."  Yasmin countered.

     "But she did… and if not for Robin…"  Sarah left the part out about Kim searching every pub in town in order to find them.  In one of the rowdier pubs, three nasty boys whose sex drives were in overload cornered the frightened Kim.  If not for Robin's timely intervention, Kim would have met with an ugly fate that night.

     "I'm just glad I followed my hunch."  Robin stared at the drink in front of her.  "I knew if she woke…. she'd be determined to come after us."

     "Yeah, she was a fireball even then." Yasmin finally acknowledged.

     "You should've known she would."  Sarah shifted slightly to get more comfortable.  "She always looked up to you Yasmin.  If you were doing something, she'd be right there."

     Yasmin laughed at the truth of those words. "Yeah, but she had a crush on…"  The curly haired woman grinned before she said.  "…Robin."

     Suddenly straightening up, the somewhat surprised Robin asked.  "What do you mean?"

     "Come on Robin.  After that night, she worshiped you.  You were her knight in shining armor."  Yasmin couldn't believe Robin was oblivious to what was being said.

     When Robin looked at Sarah for confirmation, the redhead agreed.  "She did."

     Stammering for words, Robin said.  "I… well I… I didn't do anything really. She was my friend.  There was no other possibility. I couldn't just let her get hurt."

     Seeing three men walk into the pub, Sarah whispered.  "Speaking of getting hurt." She nodded toward front door.

     Sandro along with his friends Sebastian and Benno stood at the entrance of the pub.  The taller man stood in front of his two friends as he scouted out the room, deliberately searching for one individual.  When he saw that person, Sandro quietly whispered to his friends before he headed straight for her.  Sebastian and the stocky man next to him took their places at the bar.

     Sandro pursed his lips, nodding at the three women in the booth.  "Yasmin.  Didn't think I'd see you here?"

     "Just having a night out with the girls."

     Turning all of his attention to Robin, Sandro totally dismissed Sarah. "Where's Kim?"

     Throwing up her hands, Robin said. "I don't know."

     "It's our play night, Sandro."  Sarah interjected.

     "Tonight was my mother's birthday.  She was supposed to be there."  Even though Sandro hadn't talked to Kim since the weekend, he simply figured she would show up for his mother's birthday with gift in hand.  When Kim called his mom and offered her apologies, Sandro was angry.  "I called her home and her dad said she was out with a friend."

     Yasmin tried to intervene.  "Maybe she was looking for me.  We talked about getting together tonight."

     "Yeah, right."  Sandro's dark eyes drilled into Robin.

     Coming to a defensive posture when she stood, Robin suggested. "Maybe she just wanted some time alone."  Running rampant through her mind was where her friend could be at this time of night.  Robin knew Kim was probably in a vulnerable state and kicked herself for not paying more attention to the young girl's plight since breaking up so recently.  And to such a jerk.  What did she ever see in him?

     Seeing the volatile situation about to unfold before his glassed over eyes, the inebriated Pietro stumbled over to where Robin stood.  "Hey, what's goin' on?"

     The alcohol on his breath forced Sandro to step back.  "It's none of your business."

     "Oh, yeah." Pietro said defiantly as he tried to right himself.

     "Oh, yeah."  Sandro spat then turned to Robin. "You better take care of your drunken friend."

     Pietro called after him as he left with his two friends in tow.  "Drunk my ass!  In two weeks, we're going wipe your asses in the ground when we beat the hell out of ya."  Swinging his head around back at Robin, he spit out the next words.  "Right, Robin?"

     Slapping his face lightly, Robin grinned.  "Right Pietro."

     Before she left that evening to take Sarah home, Robin ensured that Pietro had a ride home and made sure Yasmin was okay to drive.  When Robin parked her car in her garage, she briefly thought about calling Kim's home to check on her but it was very late.  Grabbing her cell phone, Robin got out of her car and went into her home.  "Next time I see her, I'm gonna get her cell phone number."

************************

     "What's your number?"  Robin demanded.

     Twisting around, Kim practically jumped out of her skin when she saw Robin.  "I didn't hear you come in."

     With her two hands firmly attached to the counter, Robin sternly asked again.  "What's your cell phone number?"

     "Are you asking or demanding?"  Kim adjusted the flowers in the vase that sat on the counter.

     The full head of steam in Robin suddenly deflated.  "I'm sorry.  I'm asking."

     "That's better."  Kim used a pen to write her number down on a piece of paper before handing it to Robin.

     "Thank you."  Robin wanted to explain her actions but somehow was at a loss for words.  She barely slept the night before and her day at work went painstakingly slow.  As soon as she could, Robin headed directly over to the bookstore.  She didn't know what was going on other than the fact that Kim was ever present on her mind and the memory of that ugly pub incident from so long ago replayed in her mind over and over again.  She was relieved to see Kim safe.

     Kim studied her friend's fluid brown eyes carefully.  It was as if just below the surface she could see Robin's mind working out something and her friend was unable to get a handle on it.  "Is there something wrong?"

     "No."  Robin answered all too quickly.  "Yasmin stopped by the pub last night.  I thought you might show up. She thought you might too… since you weren't home."

     Kim shoved a box in front of Robin.  "Want some?"

     The older woman glanced at the box full of chocolates.  "No, thank you."  Even though she hadn't eaten all day, the chocolates did not appeal to her at all.

     Kim picked at a piece of chocolate.  "I was here late last night and…. Amanda needed someone to talk to…. we both did…. I guess."

     "Oh."  Suddenly, Robin's appetite was back.  She selected a piece of candy out of the box.

     "How'd you know I wasn't home?"

     Robin started to say something then stopped.  She elected to say it straight out. "Sandro stopped by the pub last night looking for you… he must have thought you were with me."

     "He's been a busy boy.  See all these flowers…"  She waved at the six- dozen different colored roses placed around the shop.  ".. and the candy… he sent them."

     Upon hearing that, the piece of chocolate's assent into Robin's mouth came to an earth shattering halt.  "Oh."  She replaced it in the box.

     The younger woman laughed.  "I know what you mean… kinda poisons the whole thing."

     "He's trying to buy your affection."  Robin zeroed in on Sandro's method of operation when it came to getting what he wanted.

     "That's about right."  Kim grabbed the vase on the counter and moved it to another table.  "Can't say it hasn't worked in the past but….not anymore."

     Dying to ask the same question that was on her mind last night at the pub, Robin declined to voice it.  "Good for you."

     "So what are you doing here?"

     "Did my book come in?"

     Somewhat disappointed, Kim said.  "And here I thought you came to see me?"

     "I did."  Robin said quickly then slowly smiled.  "That, too."

     "Good answer.  And, no, your book's not in yet.  They're having a hard time keeping it in stock.  But I'll see what I can do."  Kim walked around the counter to stand in front of Robin.  Grabbing her hand, Kim said.  "Come here.  I want to show you something."

     Robin did not hesitate to follow.  Even as Robin was well acquainted with the store, there had been some changes since the time that she used to spend hours in the store perusing for new books to read.

     "Amanda's talking about selling this place."

     "What?"

     Kim sighed heavily.  "I just wish I could buy it.  It's always been kind of a dream of mine."  Kim stopped near the back of the store.  "I'd start right here."

     "Start what?"

     "The office is through that door and I'd make another entrance and barricade off this section…."  Kim beamed as she waved her arms around excitedly. "… where I could have a children's story telling area.  The kids could sit on the floor… and I'd have a rocker right there and tell them stories."

     "Sarah said you loved kids."

     "She did?"  Kim smiled.  "Well, I do.  I think it's important to introduce reading to small children."

     Robin nodded.

     "What could be more exciting than reading a good story?"  The innocent look on Kim's face turned thoughtful when she looked at Robin's sheepish grin.  "Get your mind out of the gutter, Ms. Hart."

     Surprised by that comment, Robin said innocently. "I didn't say anything."  If Kim really knew what was in Robin's mind, she would have found a wonderland of innocence.  For all of her twenty-eight years of living on this Earth, Robin Hart was just that… innocent.  The grin on her face was produced because of Kim's overwhelming excitement as she spelled out her dream.  Robin was touched that the young woman would share it with her since the older woman was very reluctant to share her dreams with anyone.

     Kim brushed her fingers along Robin's cheek.  "Robin Hart… you're teasing me."

     A light tingle ran through the taller woman's body.  Maybe if she can share her dream with me I can do the same with her. All of a sudden Robin was excited.  "Kim, do you want to go to the movies with me Friday night?"

     That came out of nowhere for Kim.  So much so that she hesitated in order to digest the invitation.

     "I can get you in for free."  Robin started to feel as if the ground had come out from underneath her when Kim just stood there.  "I work there… you know."

     That made Kim smile.  "Yes, I know."

     When it dawned on Robin that's where she ran into Kim last Friday night, she felt embarrassed.

     "And, yes… I'd love to go."

     "It's a date then."  The words were out before Robin even knew what she said.

     I only wish it were. Kim realized what Robin really meant by her statement.  For Robin, it was just two friends getting together but for Kim she had always wanted more.  "It's a date and I'm holding you to it."

     "No problem."  Robin followed Kim to the front of the store just in time to see Sandro enter.  Just like a bad penny.  Robin hung back in order to give Kim the privacy she may want.

     At first, Sandro didn't see the tall woman when he leaned over the counter and tried to kiss Kim.  "Hey, honey."

     Kim stepped back and instinctively searched for Robin, drawing in a calming breath when she saw that Robin was only a few feet away but out of Sandro's view.  "I'm surprised to see you…. here."

     "Can't a guy stop by to see his girl?"  Noting the flowers, Sandro said.  "They look great if I do say so myself.  Cost enough."

     "Sandro…. maybe you're hard of hearing but I'm not your girl."

     "What are you talking about?  Last Friday?"  Sandro dismissed the thought.  "That's said and done with, honey.  I've forgot all about it.  Though missing my mom's birthday party… and me with no present."

     Digging in her purse, Kim returned the money he had given her.  "I've got her a present from me. You'll need to get your own."

     Frustrated, Sandro marched a few steps in order to go around the counter but was stopped in his tracks by the stonewalled Robin standing in his way.  "Well, well, well… who do we have here?"

     "I don't think the lady wants to talk with you today."

     Sandro backed off only because he had an ace up his sleeve.  When he leaned against the counter, a smirk rose on his face. "What time do you want me to pick you up Friday night?"

     Robin's heart stopped a beat waiting for Kim's answer.

     The only reason Kim hesitated was because she couldn't believe he still expected them to go out. "You won't be picking me up.  I'm not going out with you."

     "We always go out on Fridays?"  Sandro's dark eyebrows hiked up in disbelief at her initial rejection.  "It's our date night."

     "Not anymore."  Kim rubbed her temple as a sinking feeling began rumbling in her stomach.  "How can I make you understand that it's over… we're over?"

     His initial response was a smirk that he held for a long moment.  "Maybe you better worry about what your mom understands.  According to a call my mom got from yours, we're practically at the altar."

     "What?"  Shocked, Kim couldn't fathom why her mother would make that leap of assumption regarding her relationship.

     "Said she got it from you."  Sandro stood straight up.  "Something about a special question I'm supposed to ask you and your answer apparently was a resounding yes."

     "Oh, God."  Kim recalled the conversation and tried to figure out why her mother had misunderstood what was said.

     Sandro knew he could pour on the charm and seduce Kim back into his arms but didn't want an audience so he elected to wait for the perfect opportunity to knock.  And it would be assured because Sandro was the kind of man who made his own opportunities happen.  "Why don't I call you later?" Again, he attempted to kiss the auburn haired woman but to no avail.  Plastering a smile on his face, Sandro bid his goodbye.

     Pleased that Kim kept their date, Robin eased up a few steps to stand near the shorter woman. "You okay?"

     "Yeah."

     "Want to talk about it?"  Robin gently asked.

     "That's the last thing I want to do.  Talking got me into this in the first place."  Kim's mind ran the gamut of things her mother and Silvia could have talked about on the phone.  She knew they were anxious to see the couple paired off and now it would be even harder to explain her feelings about the whole affair.

     At first, Robin was taken aback by Kim's unintended dismissive comment.  However, she recognized that the young woman had a lot on her mind.  "Are you hungry?  I know I am."  When Kim's green eyes met hers, Robin added. "If you want to that is."

     With a welcomed smile on her face, Kim simply said. "I'd love it."
 

Chapter Eight

     When Kostas answered the knock at the door, he found Robin standing on his porch.  "Robin! Come in… come in."

     Smiling, the export expert entered and feeling a little awkward decided to talk business. "I wanted to get back with you about that collet chuck. To be honest with you, Mr. Patakas, they're using cheap material."

     "That's why you're here?"  Kostas grinned.  "Call me Kostas. And I thought Elena told me you and Kim were going to see a movie."

     "We are…. if that's okay with you."

     Kostas wrapped an arm around her shoulder as he guided her into the living room. "I'm glad to see Kim going out with her friends."  Upon seeing his wife sitting on the couch, he introduced the young woman. "Elena, you remember Hans' little girl."

     Getting up quickly, Elena welcomed their guest.  "Of course I do.  How are you, Robin?  How's Ross?  And your grandmother?"

     The tall man laughed. "Why don't you ask her if she wants something to eat while you're at it?"

     Seriously, she turned to Robin.  "Do you?  We have plenty left over from dinner."

     "No, thank you, Mrs. Patakas.  I grabbed a bite earlier."

     Taking Robin's hand, she pulled her to the couch to sit beside her.  "That's what you young kids do.  Grab a bite here and there.  I hope you're eating healthy.  Kim never eats as much as she should."  Elena paused a moment to acknowledge a recent revelation regarding her daughter's eating habits.  "Although lately, she's eating a lot better."

     Again, Kostas laughed.  "Must be all those years of you nagging her finally kicking in."

     "I do not nag." Giving her husband a stern look before turning back to Robin.  "What about you?"

     "I always eat healthy food.  Ross and his family are doing great as well as my grandmother.  I'm going over there around Christmas and…. " Robin wanted to reassure Kim's mother.  "I'll keep an eye out on Kim and make sure she eats properly."

     "Oh, you will, will you?"  Kim asked from the doorway.  She walked up to her father, giving him a hug.  "What have they been plotting about me, dad?"

     "You know your mother."  Kostas winked then kissed his daughter on the cheek.  "But she only has your best intentions at heart."

     "You better have added that last line."  Elena threatened him teasingly.

     When Robin observed all the smiling faces of the Patakas family, a lonely feeling dwelled up inside.  She missed her family and sometimes on a rare occasion did consider moving to the United States to be near Ross, his family and her grandmother.

     Kim noticed the heavy sigh run through Robin's body as she sat on the couch quietly.  "Robin?  I'm sure mom's already asked but do you want something to eat before we go?"

     Standing up, Robin shook her head. "We should get going though."

     "Let me get my jacket."  The September days were warm and sunny but the evenings served up a slight chill from time to time and Kim wanted to be prepared.

     Robin joined Kim at the door as they said their farewells.  Kim kissed both her parents then walked through the doorway with Robin right behind her.  Robin opened the car door for Kim then hurried around to her side and got in.  "Ready?"

     Smiling at her friend, Kim simply nodded her head.

     As Elena stood silently at the doorway watching her daughter of twenty-four years, she worried that something was wrong.  Ever since their last talk, Kim hadn't mentioned a word about Sandro and he hadn't been by to take her out in the last week.  Instinctively, she felt something was amiss.

     Kostas walked up behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her.  "What's on your mind?"

     "It's what's on her mind that worries me."  Elena confessed.  "She's changed somehow this last week."

     "I don't know.  She seems happy to me… even happier, I'd say."  Kostas shrugged.  "Maybe it's that big question you told me about the other day."

     "I don't think that's it."  Elena closed the door.  "Maybe I should talk with Silvia again.  See what she can find out from Sandro."

************************

     When Robin and Kim entered the movie theater, it was bustling with people on their way to getting tickets, drinks or heading to one of the showrooms.  She whispered to Kim.  "I always find it so exciting when things are like this.  Would you like something to drink?"

     Kim inched closer to Robin as several patrons passed quickly by her.  "No, thanks.  Maybe later."

     "Okay.  Do you mind if I check in with Mrs. Franz?"

     Grabbing Robin's vacant arm, Kim smiled.  "I'd love to see her."

     Robin guided Kim through the crowd to the cashier's office.  "Hey.  You busy?"

     Handing out several tickets to a tall young boy, Mrs. Franz thinly veiled her sarcastic comment to Robin.  "What does it look like to you?"  Then she smiled easily at Kim.  "Good evening, young lady."

     "Hi!"  Kim stood out of the way as Robin grabbed the phone, answering it while she sold several tickets.  Finally, when the line died down, she asked.  "Is it always this hectic?"

     "We got a sneak preview showing tonight and that brings them in."  Every once in a while the movie theater would get a movie in that is not set to be released for a month or so.  And even though the patrons didn't know what would be shown, the fact that it was free was enough incentive to draw a huge crowd. "Problem is…."  Mrs. Franz looked at Robin.  "Mitch called in sick and Klaus is short handed."

     Ordinarily, Robin would have not hesitated volunteering but she had to consider Kim's feelings.  Her brown eyes shifted quickly back and forth between the two other women in the room.

     Sensing Robin's inherent sense of obligation to assist, Kim insisted.  "Go ahead Robin…. see what you can do to help."

     Reaching up and touching Kim's arm, Robin asked sincerely.  "Are you sure?"

     Before Kim could answer, Klaus ducked his head through the doorway.  "Oh, thank God, Robin…. you're here."  Never having failed any request that the movie theater owner had, Klaus didn't hesitate asking his loyal employee for help.  "Could you put together the movie we have for the sneak preview?  I've got to get the other two movies started."

     Again, Robin glanced at Kim for her approval.  When the younger woman smiled, the projectionist eagerly agreed.  She whispered to Kim before she started to leave.  "I'll make it up to you…. somehow.  And we can still go to the late show."

     "Do you mind making it up to me now?"  Kim asked seriously.

     Garnishing her full attention on Kim even as Klaus waited patiently for her, Robin asked.  "What can I do?"

     "Show me how you put a movie together."

     That put a huge grin on Robin's face. "Come on."  Robin grabbed the movie case with her right hand that Klaus pointed out.  And even though it weighed close to seventy pounds, the projectionist took hold of Kim's hand with her left one and guided her through the lobby.

     After arriving at the projectionist room, Robin reluctantly let go of Kim's right hand in order to put down the movie case, trying very hard not to show how hard it really was to carry it from the cashier's office to this particular room. Seeing the astonished look on Kim's face, Robin couldn't hold back the smirk that wanted to appear, "You didn't really think that we just put in a DVD or a CD in order to show a movie, didn't you?"  Kim just stood a little bit outside of the room and watched with a very curious expression when Robin opened the case and took some round objects out of it.

     "These are the reels in which the movie is transported to each individual movie theater. What I have to do is sorting them according to how many reels there are, putting them in the correct order, checking out if all of them show "Head" or "Foot" and when I have this information I know if I have to rewind down or up." Robin began to explain while opening each round object and checking the reels by opening a little bit and looking for the words "Head" or "Foot".

     "Actually, it's quite easy to put the movie together as soon as you know in which direction you have to go you just sort of cut off the start or the end and tape two reels together. For example, the end of reel one with the beginning of reel two and so on ….but you always have to check that the tone signal is always in the direction of your body so the audience can hear the sounds when you let the movie run. Otherwise there would be just some sort of scratching noise. While we're putting the movie together we also have to see if it's Cinemascope or the regular frame so that the projectionist knows which lens he or she has to choose."

     While describing the whole handling of the movie Robin already worked on those reels and a fascinated Kim just watched how those separate reels looked more and more like a movie when put together with tape and the expert skill of someone who had done this for quite some years. Within forty-five minutes, an awed Kim could see a movie rewind from the bottom reel to the top reel.

     "Robin, it seems very complicated to me but you make it appear quite easy."  The younger woman reached for Robin's hand.

     Beaming from Kim's compliment, they walked back to the cashier's office.  "Surely you're thirsty or maybe even want something to eat."

     "You did all the hard work. I just watched."  Kim jumped up on the stool in the cashier's office.  "But maybe a soft drink and a candy bar would be nice."

     Robin thought about what Elena Patakas had said earlier that evening.  "How bout a fruit drink… and some popcorn?"

     "Okay."  Kim easily agreed.

     When Robin turned to leave, Mrs. Franz grunted.  "What about me?"

     Startled momentarily because the cashier never indulged in the delights of the concession stand because she considered it all 'junk' food, Robin asked politely.  "What can I get you, Mrs. Franz?"

     Seemingly thinking for a long moment, the cashier finally said.  "Nothing…. but thanks for asking."

     "Be back in a minute."  Robin noticed Kim trying to stifle a laugh that nearly erupted from her after Mrs. Franz comment.

     After Robin was gone, Mrs. Franz turned her full attention to Kim.  "So what's going on between you and Sandro?"

     Kim scooted closer as she leaned in.  "Absolutely nothing."

     The cashier seemed to mull that over in her mind for a bit before she asked.  "And between you and Robin?"

     Feeling slightly unnerved by Mrs. Franz poignant insight, Kim leaned back and said in rapid-fire succession.  "Nothing.. I don't know what you mean… we're just friends."

     Astutely, Mrs. Franz let the matter drop.  "Of course you are."

     Kim suddenly felt she may have revealed way too much to the older woman last weekend when they talked briefly in the cashier's office as Robin changed out the night's movies.  Mostly she remembered them talking about Sandro and how he had become less attentive to her and had increasingly dismissed her wishes and desires. They had only touched upon the fact that Kim knew Robin years ago when they were teenagers.  Maybe she noticed the almost giddy feeling I get when I'm talking about Robin.

     The cashier finally broke Kim from her musing when she said.  "Good friends are hard to come by."  Touching Kim on the knee, Mrs. Franz added.  "And Robin is one of the best… just don't let her know I said that."

     As if sharing a secret, Kim smiled before she agreed. "It's just between us."

     "Uh huh…. what's going on here?"  Again, Robin became suspicious of the covert talks her friend and colleague had every time she left them alone together. Handing the food items to Kim, Robin eyed the older woman.  "Up to no good again?"

     Somehow Robin and Kim never got to see a movie that night.  Instead they opted to talk with Mrs. Franz and Robin helped Klaus the rest of the evening as Kim tagged along, getting a crash course in the operation of a movie theater.  Kim never complained as she enjoyed the evening immensely.

     When Robin and Kim offered to take the cashier home, Klaus insisted that he could hold down the fort for the rest of the evening and the two young people should enjoy what was left of their night.

***********************

     After ensuring Mrs. Franz was safely in her apartment, Robin reluctantly asked. "Do you want me to take you home now?"

     "You have to be kidding, right?"  Kim hoped that Robin wasn't getting tired of her already.  She wondered whether becoming the tag along tonight like she did when Robin was at school burdened her friend.  Quietly, Kim said.  "If you want though… I guess I could go home now."

     "No!"  Robin grinned.  "I was hoping you'd say no."

     "Well, it couldn't be a bigger no then."

     Robin started her car.  "Are you hungry?"

     "Nope."

     Wondering what they could do that would be fun, Robin suggested a drive around the countryside since there was a full moon.

     "That sounds wonderful."

     For the next half hour, Robin drove through the center of town, checking out what was going on and finding nothing of interest.  Unconsciously, she found herself driving the short distance to the castle on the hill.

     Wanting some time to talk and have her friend's full attention, Kim made a suggestion.  "Do you think there's someplace…. private where we could just talk?"

     "I know just the place."  Robin steered her car in the direction of her favorite spot, located just below the castle grounds.  She positioned her car that overlooked their small town of Hechingen and they could clearly see the castle lights.

     Suddenly feeling slightly awkward, they both adjusted several times in their seat before both speaking at once.  "What do you want…."

     Robin was first to offer.  "You go ahead."

     "Just wondering what was on your mind."  Kim had lots of things she would have loved to talk about but she knew expressing all of growing feelings wasn't the best idea.  Not yet.

     "The truth?"

     Kim nodded.

     "I was wondering what was on your mind."  That made them both laugh.

     Kim elected to go first.  "Life…. everything."

     "Sandro?"

     "Yes… and no."  The moonlight shone on her friend's face and it was easy to detect the concern written there.  "Finding a way to tell my parents that it's over between Sandro and I."

     "They won't like it?"

     "It's not that… really."  Kim sighed.  "Our families have known each other for years and when Sandro and I started going out… they were ecstatic. I guess I can understand why.  Everyone just seemed to think it was the perfect thing to do… us getting together."

     Scratching her head, Robin debated whether she should ask the questions that had plagued her mind ever since she found out Kim was dating Sandro.

     It was obvious to Kim that Robin was itching to say something.  "Tell me. And don't say nothing… something's bugging you."

     "I … guess it's just… hard to figure you and him…. together."

     "Yeah, I can see that."  Kim conceded after realizing that Robin had only seen the nasty side of her ex-boyfriend.  "But it didn't start out that way.  Most couples don't. In the beginning, you're considerate and thoughtful.  You can't stand to be away from each other…. let alone stop thinking about each other.  Then after a while, I guess the newness wears off and you start to take each other for granted."

     Completely foreign to Robin's experience, she contested that thought.  "I would never do that. You should put the other one first.  It's about what you give to the one you care about… not the getting back."

     Nodding her head, Kim agreed.  "I think so, too.  But to tell you the truth…"  She stared directly into Robin's caring brown eyes, lit by the moonlight.  "… both Sandro and I stopped putting each other first for a long time now."

     "Then why…"

     "Did I stay with him?"  Robin nodded.  "Like I said everyone thought we'd make the perfect couple … I did too at one time.  It was easier to just go along.  Besides, with school and all, Sandro and I only spent one day out of the week together during the last six months or so. Oh, we'd talk on the phone but… it wasn't like I was dying for the phone to ring either."  Kim watched Robin for a long moment and when she didn't say anything, the younger woman finally said.  "Pathetic, huh?"

     "No."  Robin reached over, touching Kim on the knee.  "Things happen and time goes on whether we like it or not.  I can understand it being hard to recognize what's going on around you…. and before you know it seems as if…"

     When Robin refused to finish the sentence, Kim encouraged her. "And what?"

     "Nothing."

     "Tell me…. please."  Kim placed her hand over Robin's hand.

     The connection she felt steadied her but Robin had long since built up the emotional walls surrounding her deeply guarded feelings.  "I can't…"  Seeing the hurt expression on Kim's face, Robin tightened her hold on the younger woman's hand. "It's not you."

     "You don't trust me?"

     "No, it's me."  Robin knew she had hurt the younger woman and she felt compelled to make her understand somehow.  "It's just so hard for me to … open up.  I don't know why."

     "Maybe you should practice… it might get easier."  Kim suggested.

     "I don't know how."  Robin withdrew her hand.  "I just take things as they are.  I don't analyze it… or even think much about the way I feel."

     "I see."

     "Do you?"  Robin was anxious for Kim to understand.

     "You're the kind of girl that sees something needs to get done and does it….. going about your life and taking what it has to offer you."

     "Right… exactly."  Robin sighed with relief, happy Kim understood until she asked the next series of questions.

     "But what about your dreams?  What about the things you want in life?  Isn't there something so important to you that you just have to have and you'd do whatever it took to get it?"

     Pondering those deep probing questions for a long moment, Robin finally said.  "It's too late for that."

     "It's never too late."

     But to Robin her dream had shattered the day Yasmin announced that she was getting married after graduation from the foreign language school.  Some would call what she felt for the curly haired girl a crush but to Robin her feelings ran so much deeper.  For eight long years, Robin did everything she could to get Yasmin's attention.  Her mind flooded with tons of things Robin had tried to win Yasmin's heart from giving her little gifts to trying to impress the girl of her dreams.  It was then the bike incident came barreling to the forefront of her mind.

     Grabbing for Robin's hand, the younger woman held it tightly.  "Just tell me one thing that's going through your mind right now?"

     Kim's imploring look prompted Robin to share one embarrassing thought and she was very surprised that she did.  "Okay… you want to know about one of the most embarrassing times in my life?  There was that time I fell off my bike."

     The younger woman held back the small smile on her face upon recalling that incident.  Robin was about ten and Kim had been staying with her cousin Yasmin.  One day as she was walking behind her cousin and one of her friends, Robin came whizzing by on her bike so fast she was like a streak of lightning.  The trio kept walking until they came to the end of the street where they saw Robin on her bike propped up against the metal railing.  When Robin saw them, she leaned back trying to act cool and promptly fell off her bike.  So embarrassed by the whole event, Robin jumped on her bike and zoomed past them again without a word.

     Robin grunted.  "And I avoided Yasmin for a week after that."

     "You were cute."

     "What do you know?  You were only six at the time."  Without realizing it because she was still reeling from that embarrassing time, Robin unintentionally hurt Kim's feelings with her words.

     Kim withdrew her hand.  "I may have been six but I still know what I thought when I saw you."

     "I'm sorry.  That was thoughtless of me."  Beating herself up even more, Robin admonished her actions.  "I'm a total jerk."

     "You are not!"  Kim protested.  "I know it was traumatic for you.  Trust me, there were things in my life that were equally just as hard."

     "Really?  Who would ever hurt you?" Robin asked innocently.

     Kim stared at Robin for what seemed like a lifetime.  Someone who didn't have a clue. Someone who was too wrapped up in their own fantasy that she couldn't see past her to me.  I was always just some tag along little kid.  Considering that last thought, Kim disagreed with herself.  "That's not true."

     "What's not true?"

     "It's just that sometimes people can hurt each other without knowing it.  We're too busy trying to sort out our own lives and feelings."

     "Are you talking about Sandro?"

     Sandro…. you. Wanting to change the sad and disturbing subject, Kim asked.  "You remember that time we all snuck out…"

     "I think you spent more time at the dorm than we did because every time I can recall us sneaking out you were there, too."

     "Well… this was the time we were so drunk…."

     Robin nudged Kim.  "It only took a couple of sips of beer for you to get that way."

     "Hey… are you listening to my story or not?"  Kim frowned at her friend.

     "Yes, I am.  Go on."

     "Remember when we came back to the dorm and tried to crawl up the wall to the open window and I had a hard time reaching it?"

     "You mean when two guys were also there and eagerly volunteered to help you up?"  Robin's frown was sincere.

     "I thought they were nice for offering."

     Robin's smile did not reach her eyes as she spoke the next words.  "That's because your jeans were so tight you couldn't hike up your leg high enough and so…" Robin glared at the young woman sitting next to her and said sternly.  "… you took off your pants.  Of course, they jumped to your rescue."
 
     "Please…"  Kim slapped lightly at Robin's arm.  "What are you so upset about?  You stepped in between them, practically knocking them over and helped me up…. safely back in…. I might add."

     "They were four years older at least and believe me where they wanted to put their hands wouldn't have been safe."  Robin's voice carried grave concern still to this day over the incident.

     "Safe for whom?  Me or … you?"  Kim detected just the slightest bit of jealousy in Robin's reaction to the incident from so long ago.

     "Them." Robin insisted. "After that, I had to watch you like a hawk."

     Cocking her head to the side, Kim smiled.  "You did, didn't you?"

     Robin's only answer was silence.

     "Robin?" The older woman gazed at Kim.  "What's the one thing you really, really want?"

     "My soulmate."

     Sighing, Kim leaned back against the leather seat.  "Don't we all."
 
 

Chapter Nine

     When the alarm sounded at eighty-thirty, Robin dragged herself out of bed.  The tiredness she felt was easily outweighed by the thoughts of talking with Kim the night before which brought a smile to her face.  After getting dressed, she went about her usual Saturday morning activities.

***********************

     When the alarm sounded at eighty-thirty, Kim's drowsy eye spied the time and she immediately flipped the switch off her clock radio then curled back up in bed.  Her thoughts of the late night talks with Robin brought a smile to her face.  She figured she had plenty of time to catch a bit more sleep before she had to go to work that afternoon.

************************

     Robin knelt down on her knee to light a candle at her parent's grave.  Standing, she glanced around the cemetery and saw several visitors that morning.  Wishing for some time alone to talk with her mother, Robin fidgeted back and forth.  It wasn't only the nearby people that prevented her from expressing what was on her mind.  The events of the last week not only plagued her thoughts but she somehow at the same time felt elated.  Robin sighed heavily. Seeing Kim that Friday night after all these years brought a smile to her face that quickly turned to a frown when she thought of Sandro and his involvement with her young friend.  Not knowing exactly how to sort out her feelings, Robin silently said hello to her parents before she walked away.

************************

     Kim tossed and turned as she clutched her pillow.  The pleasant dream she was having quickly turned to one where Kim was standing in a dark valley between two imposing mountains.  Knowing she was lost, Kim saw two paths leading out of the valley. Each mountain offered her the hope of escape but she was torn between which road to take. On one side of the valley stood a tall spectacular white-capped mountain framed by a brilliant glow but the path was narrow and jagged.  The other mountain offered a pleasant grassy sloping trail to its peak. However, the top of the mountain was cast in a low-lying dark and brooding cloud.  Kim shuddered upon having to make a decision.
 

************************

     Even Mrs. Franz couldn't get a rise out of Robin as the projectionist automatically went through her afternoon duties at the movie theater.  "You alright?"

     Glaring off in space at one of the movie monitors, Robin didn't hear her name being called.

     "Robin!" Finally, the cashier popped her on the shoulder but Robin's eyes did not stray from the monitor.   "You alright?  What's wrong with you today?"

     "Uh…. oh, nothing."  Robin's whole body shuddered from a deep sigh.  In her daydream, the projectionist braced herself for the impending fight as she faced the two-headed monster.  After several attempts to gain advantage over the monster, Robin found herself poised to end the confrontation but hesitated because she couldn't determine which head to slice off.  She realized that one head represented good while the other evil.  Not only the daydream disturbed her but the fact that she had to choose between the two and not knowing which one was which, the young woman froze, unable to decide.

     Mrs. Franz stood next to Robin and stared at the movie on the monitor.  "Must be an interesting story."  She leaned in closer as she adjusted her glasses, shaking her head she said.  "That's an ugly dragon.  The things you kids watch these days."

***********************

     "You alright?"  Amanda asked her oblivious employee.

     "Mmmmm?"  Kim had her chin propped up on her hand.

     Shaking her head, the storekeeper rubbed Kim's back.  "Everything okay?"

     The younger woman let out a deep sigh.  "Just thinking.  Oh, by the way, Mrs. Wilhelm was in and picked up her book."

     Amanda stared at Kim with a serious expression on her face. "Did she give you a hard time?"

     Kim thought about it for a moment but vaguely remembered the transaction and the few unkind words the customer used.  "I don't think so."

     "You got a date or something?  Because your mind is definitely on something else."  Amanda shelved a couple of books but still kept a close eye on her favorite employee.

     Kim shrugged.  "Nothing really."

     "Is it Sandro?"

     Shaking her head, Kim knew that the thought of her ex-boyfriend was on her mind but she was more focused on another person.

     Amanda slapped her hands together after she placed the last book on the shelf that was behind the counter.  "Robin?"

     Kim immediately glanced toward the front door, which didn't go unnoticed by the older woman.

     "I see."  Amanda said to herself before she addressed Kim.  "Want to talk about it?"

     Kim felt her friend come and stand next to her and she contemplated exactly what she was feeling.  Finally, Kim shrugged again.  "Oh, I was thinking about stopping by and watching Robin practice soccer later today."

     "Why don't you?"

     "She didn't exactly ask me."

     "And you think she'd mind if you did?"

     Turning toward the older woman, Kim said quickly.  "No.  Just that…. well, I don't want to…"  She let that thought meet silence and instead said.  "She did invite me to one of her friend's house tomorrow.  There's a birthday party for her little girl."

     Amanda noticed Kim's facial expression brighten considerably.  Testing a theory she had been mulling over for days regarding her friend, Amanda then asked about Kim's ex-boyfriend again. "Did you and Sandro make-up?"

     A hard glare rose on Kim's face.  "No.  Why would you ask that?"

     Well that look just told me the whole story. "No reason."  Amanda opened the cash register and withdrew a couple of book orders.  "Could you order these books?"  Kim nodded as she took the order forms.  "Kim?"

     The young woman looked up from the forms in her hand.  "Yes?"

     "What are you going to do about him?"  When Sandro couldn't reach Kim at home, he called her place of work and then sent another dozen roses.  "I don't think he's going to give you up without a fight."

     Pursing her lips and deep in thought, Kim nodded.  "I should have told him a long time ago how I was feeling… about us.  I wanted to."

     Amanda was about to prompt her young charge even further when several customers walked into her store together.  "You need to talk with someone about all of this.  Just remember… I'm here if you need me."

     Touching Amanda's arm, Kim said. "Danke."

************************

     When the soccer ball easily rolled through Robin's legs, Michael jumped on it, gathering it up quickly to prevent the goal. Michael dusted himself off before he threw the ball back into play. "I know it's only practice, Robin, but come on."

     "Sorry."  Robin ran to the other end of the field and was vaguely aware of her movements.  Her focus was way off when Pietro kicked the ball her way and she missed it by two feet but ended up on the ground anyway.  Staring up at the sky above, Robin yelled.  "Sorry."

     Both Michael and Pietro came to stand over her.

     "You two just going to stand there or help me up?"

     "You need more help than that?"  Michael reached down and with Pietro's help yanked their playmate up.

     "Do you have to be so rough?"  Robin complained.

     "Sorry."  Pietro mocked.  "I didn't know this was a sport for pansies."

     Grabbing the ball from the tall blonde, Robin dared him.  "Come on. You want to go again?"

     With a wave, he dismissed her challenge. "Not today. I just hope you're back to your old self by next weekend."  The young man snagged the ball easily from Robin before sneaking his head around to give her a quick peck on the cheek.

     "Hey!  Stop that." Glaring at her friend, Robin wiped her cheek.

     As Pietro ran off, he yelled.  "See you next week."

     Knocking off the clump of dirt from her shoe, Robin used one hand to lean on Michael.  "Ready for the party tomorrow?"

     "He's right… you know."

     Cocking her head to one side, Robin asked. "About what?"

     "You play next weekend like you did today and we won't have a chance."  He nudged her.  "Come on."

     Robin followed him quietly.

     "I don't suppose you want to talk about it."  Michael figured he had to ask but secretly hoped it was a conversation his friend would rather share with his wife.

     To his complete and utter surprise, she said.  "Yes."

     They walked the short distance to Michael's car.  He reached in the cooler and offered Robin a drink, which she took.  Then grabbed one for himself.  "Okay… shoot."

     Robin leaned up against the car.  "How'd you know?"

     Figuring she wasn't talking about soccer, Michael asked.  "That you were thirsty or…. what?"

     "That Sarah was the one."

     Uh oh.  Damn.  I wish I would have paid more attention to what Sarah was saying the other night.  Before they had retired for the evening last Sunday night, Sarah went on and on about how Robin was smitten with this girl.  I just wish I remembered which one she was talking about. Was it Yasmin or Kim?  Figuring he had a fifty-fifty chance of being right, he asked.  "We're talking about Kim right?"

     Startled by the question, Robin jacked her head around. "I was talking about Sarah.  Why would you ask about Kim?"  Michael felt totally out of his league and when he didn't answer Robin, she shrugged. "Oh, never mind."  Robin emptied her water, tossed the bottle back to her friend then said. "See you tomorrow."

     "Damn!"  He could hear his wife now reprimanding him for losing the rare chance to hear Robin open up about her feelings.  Guess I don't need to mention it. But he knew that would get him in even worse trouble.

***********************

     Instead of going straight home, Robin drove around the grounds of the castle until she came to the stone bench that brought back many memories, some happy and some sad.  Slamming her door closed, Robin walked the trail to the bench and just sat there for a long time.

     This was the place that her father proposed to her mom and was the setting for the picture of her parents that Robin had sitting on her desk in her room.  "Why would he want to know if I was talking about Kim?"  It was kind of odd talking out loud to herself but Robin for some reason felt the closeness of her mother.  And thoughts of Kim did not stray from her mind.  "If I had my dream girl, I'd do everything in the world to keep her."

     When a small squirrel ran down the tree's trunk, snatching a nut then stared at her, Robin added.  "Well, I would.  And I'd be faithful… completely."

     As if agreeing, the squirrel scratched its head a couple of times then secured the nut before making his assent back to the top of the tree with his treasure.

     "And I'd protect her, too."  But Robin figured all of her vows regarding her dream girl were a mute point.  "She's taken."  For the next lonely half hour, Robin walked the castle grounds before deciding to go home and lose herself in a good book.

***********************

     Glaring at her computer screen, Kim pressed the down page button again.  She was reading a new story that had just been posted at her favorite website.  It was a mystery romance called 'Murder at Bardcon'.  Thinking out loud, Kim asked.  "I wonder if Robin would like this story?"

************************

     "I wonder if Kim would like this story?"  Robin wondered as she read the same new story that she had just downloaded from her favorite website.  "I do love a good murder mystery."

     For both of them, the day held an unsettling premise, each wishing they had acted upon their own desires.

************************

     When Robin arrived with Kim the next day to her friend's house, she carried with her a large present.  And before she could even wish the little girl a happy birthday, the six year old had grabbed the box and opened it.

     "Wow!"  Dunja's blue eyes widened upon seeing all the pretty colors.  "Danke, Robin…." She said to her mom's friend then looked at Kim.  "And you, too."

     Kim had brought her own present but Robin was thoughtful enough to add her name to the gift full of crayons, colored pencils and markers along with glitter glue and stick on tattoos.  "Here's another one."

     Grabbing at it, Dunja tore through the paper revealing several books.  "These are my favorites.  Would you read them to me now?"  The little girl stood in front of Kim with a pleading look on her face.

     "Come on now, Dunja.  Let's have some cake and ice cream first."  Sarah guided her daughter toward the kitchen.

     Phillip hurried past his mother and sister.  "I get to blow out the candles."

     Letting go of her mother's hand, Dunja scrambled after him.  "No, you don't."

     "Michael?"  Sarah motioned for him to take care of the kids before they got into a fight.  Her husband quickly ran after their two children, joining in on the impromptu mock battle over who was going to blow out the candles on the cake. She turned back to properly greet her guests.  "It's been like this all day.  Their grandparents were here earlier and brought candy and…. "  Sarah sucked in a breath.  "Anyway, I'm glad you're here."

     "Thanks for inviting me.  It was very kind of you."  Kim smiled.

     "Are you kidding?  I could use another pair of hands with four kids in the house."

     At first, Kim was clueless until Robin said. "Very funny, Sarah.  Hey! Guys, wait up for me."

     Kim watched Robin join in the fray with Michael and the two children as they each took their turn blowing out the candles on the cake. One by one after Michael relit the candles, each made a wish then blew hard.

     "See what I mean?"  Sarah placed her hand on Kim's back, nudging her along as they walked down the hall to the kitchen.

************************

     After cake and ice cream had been served and Dunja coaxed Kim into reading one of the books she had bought the young girl, Michael suggested a game of soccer out in the backyard.  His two kids eagerly grabbed their father's arms, trying to pull him outside.  "What about you guys?"  Both Sarah and Kim declined.  "Robin?"

     Not wanting to leave Kim's side just yet, Robin said.  "I'll be out in a minute."

     Kim placed a hand on Robin's arm.  "I'll be okay.  Why don't you go on?"

     "Nah.  I will in a bit."  Robin shrugged.  She was still amazed at the beautiful serene picture of Kim reading to Sarah's children as Dunja claimed her place in the storyteller's lap while Phillip sat close by, both listening intently.  Then out of the blue, she said. "You're going to make a great mother."

     It took a moment for Kim to absorb the compliment her friend gave her.  "You will, too."

     "No… I don't… not me."  Robin stuttered.

     "You don't want children?"  Kim questioned.

     "It's not that…. I love kids."  Robin squirmed uneasy in her chair.  "It's just that I can't see me having any… you know."

     "Oh…. you don't want to go through the hard part."  Kim referred to the nine months of pregnancy.

     Sarah grunted. "It's all the hard part.  The pregnancy's just phase one.  After they're born, you start phase two and if you're lucky, you have someone to go through it with you."  The redhead gazed out the back sliding doors, watching her husband play with their two children.

     "I'd be there."  Robin said seriously.

     "You would?"

     A concerned expression came over Robin's face.  "You don't think I would?"

     "No…no…"  The younger woman grabbed Robin's hand, taking it in hers.  "I know you would and…. she'd be one lucky person to have you there with her through all of it."

     A brief moment of silence passed between the trio.  Sarah knew of Robin's sexual preference but since her friend never dated, that discussion rarely ever came up.  The other topic that all three of them were aware of to varying degrees was the incredible torch Robin carried for Yasmin since she was around ten years old.  But that flame paled compared to the blaze that burned in Kim's heart for Robin.  And on this particular subject, Robin was nearly clueless while Sarah had an intuitive inclination about just how much Kim cared for her friend.

     "I guess I should get out there and help Michael.  I can see he's no match against those two."  Reluctantly, Robin slipped her hand from Kim's.

     They both watched Robin leave and join the already in progress and hotly disputed soccer game outside.  Silence reigned for a few long moments until Sarah spoke up.  "How's Yasmin and her husband doing?"

     In a small town the size of Hechingen, it wasn't surprising to find out that everyone knew a little bit of what was going on with each other around town.  "Oh, it's all that traveling he does.  Yassi gets lonely."

     "It's none of my business, Kim, but if you're interested…. you've got your work cut out for you."

     Kim was ready to play innocent yet something inside her told her she could trust the redhead sitting next to her. "I am.  And I know.  She's so hung up over Yassi… it's like she can't see what's right in front of her."

     "Robin's an enigma."  Sarah offered Kim a drink before getting one for herself.  "When her parents died, she barricaded up her feelings behind that emotional wall around her."  Thinking for a moment, the redhead clarified her statement.  "Even before that though…. when we were in school, Robin never did really hang with any one group…. and that includes Yasmin and her friends." Nodding at Kim, she continued.  "You were the exception to that rule."

     "What do you mean?"  Now very curious, Kim sat up straight.

     "Whenever you came to visit your cousin there, Robin made sure she was around."

     "As my protector… she only thought of me as a little kid."  Kim grimaced at the next thought on her mind.  "Still does."

     "She doesn't have to." Sarah suggested.

     "I wish.  But eighteen years of pining away for someone isn't easy to get over."

     "No, it isn't, is it?"  Sarah threw out her suspicion regarding how long Kim did her own pining over Robin.

     The penetrating question hit its target.  "How'd you know?"

     "Come on."  Sarah smiled.  "I can still remember the stories you told about Robin when you first met her you were …. what?"

     "Six."

     "How she climbed the tree to save that little tiger cat for you?"

     Kim laughed.  "He was a tiger alright.  Robin still has that scar on her chin."

     "And the bike incident and the time you were all playing up by the castle one evening when some boys tried to scare you and Robin…."

     "Suddenly she was there… rescuing us."  Kim sighed.  "I used to think she was my personal savior…."

     "Used to?"

     Kim ignored Sarah's insinuation. "Until I realized she was just following Yassi around… and I just happened to be her little tag along cousin."

      "Listen, Robin's faithful and that's part of the problem."

     "I thought being faithful was a good thing?"

     Sarah scooted closer to her friend.  "It is… and it's only my opinion but it's like Robin got stuck in some kind of time warp and can't get out.  Yasmin kissing her that day at the lake, didn't help either."

     "What kiss?"

     "Oh, we were all skin…. swimming one day and on a bet from some of her friends, your cousin kissed Robin."  Sarah crossed her legs.  "There were rumors that Robin liked Yasmin… which was true."

     "I didn't know….. about the kiss."

     "Yeah, and to make matters worse… Robin found out.  One of Yasmin's sick friends thought it would be funny to tell her."  Sarah stretched out, trying to relax after her long day.  "Now Robin's never told me this… she's like Fort Knox to get information out of…. but after that, she changed."

     "Closing herself off emotionally even more."

     "That's my guess and that's exactly where you need to start."  Sarah glanced at Kim.  "She's not going to be an easy safe to crack but what's behind that iron clad door is a wealth of…."

     "You don't have to tell something I don't already know."

************************

     On the ride home, Kim had a lot to think about and her silence caused Robin to be concerned.  "Are you mad at me?"

     "What?  Oh, no."  Kim slid her hand along Robin's arm and was rewarded with a smile from her friend.  Kim knew Robin loved to be touched. "Thank you for taking me with you."

     "No problem."  Robin turned the engine off.  "You're home."

     "So I am."  Reluctant to get out of the car, Kim asked.  "What are you going to do the rest of the week?"

     "Work mostly.  Wednesday night Sarah and I will be at the pub… as usual.  I don't suppose you'd maybe stop by."

     "I don't see why not.  I was going to last week but Amanda needed someone to talk with."

     "Good then."  Robin's smile grew.  "We can play some games together."

     "I've never played those things much."

     "No problem…. I'll show you."

     "Okay."

     Kim started to open her door when Robin hurriedly asked.  "What about next weekend?"

     "What about it?" Hoping that Robin would want to spend some time with her.

     "I work Friday night at the movie theater but maybe we could see that movie Saturday night since we didn't go last Friday."

     Kim used all the strength in her not to reach up and touch Robin's cheek.  "It's a date then."

     "Good."

***********************

     The happy look on Kim's face soon disappeared when she walked through the front door of her house.  Seeing her mother come running from the kitchen, Kim knew something was wrong.  "What happened?"

     "Elena!"  Kostas followed his overexcited wife. "You don't have to run around like the world has ended."

     "What is it?"  Kim grew even more concerned.  "Mother?"

     Calming herself, Elena spoke precisely. "Silvia called earlier… shortly after you left.  Kim, is it true?  You and Sandro have broken up?"

     We're broken up all right.  "I know I should have told you earlier but…"

     "So it's true?"  Elena had become suspicious earlier in the week when her daughter missed the couple's usual Friday night date and when Sandro had called several times searching for her daughter's whereabouts then there were the flower arrangements that arrived yesterday.

     "Yes, mother.  It is."  Kim decided to face the music since she wasn't in the mood to dance around this subject any longer.

     "Let's go to the kitchen." Elena commanded.

     The kitchen was the hub of all of their serious talks and it didn't bode well for the young woman as she knew this discussion might take a while.  "Hello, dad."

     Kostas hugged his only child and kissed her then whispered.  "Your mother just wants your happiness."

     "I know."

     Settling down at the table, Elena approached the delicate subject.  "This is all so sudden.  Just last week, you were hoping he would ask you to marry him.  What happened?"

     "No, I wasn't."  Reaching over, Kim touched her mother's hand. "I was talking about something completely different.  It was nothing about marriage."

     "Isn't that what you want?  Both you and Sandro?"  Elena was truly confused.  The couple had been going together for nearly a year.  And both families assumed that after Sandro got out of law school, their children would get married.

     "I guess somewhere along the line I considered it."  Kim sucked in a deep breath before proceeding.  "Mom… daddy, for a long time now I haven't been…. we've… Sandro and I…. Oh…. we don't talk.  It's like he's thinking one thing and I'm coming from a whole other place."

     "Then sit down and talk with him."

     Kim had to smile because to her mother that was the cure all.  And why shouldn't she think that.  It was exactly what they did as a family and it generally worked.  "To tell you the truth, I didn't even notice that we had this problem until after I got out of school.  I guess with both of us in school, we …. I didn't have time to think about our relationship and where it was heading.  Though the last month or so I've tried to talk with him."

     "You should try harder then."  Elena looked at her husband for support.  "He's a good boy.  So is his family.  We've known each other for years and your father and Johann are in business together now."

     Kim gave her father a sad look.  "I'm sorry if this causes problems for you, daddy."

     "Nonsense. Business is business. It has nothing to do with this.  Does it, Elena?"

     "Honey, that's not what I meant at all."  Completely at a loss about the whole situation, Elena tried to convey her feelings.  "We were all so happy when the two of you got together.  You seem so happy and you make a very cute couple.  I want you to be happy but… I thought you were. And Sandro obviously wants to make up with you. He's called a hundred times today and he sent you all those pretty flowers."

     Kim's temper flared at that statement. "Mom, the flowers don't make up for the way he treats me."

     Fists clenched instinctively when Kostas heard his daughter.  "Has he hurt my little girl?"

     "No, daddy.  Not like that.  It's like …it's all about him and what he wants.  His future, his dreams, his children….."

     "His children?" Elena didn't know to what her daughter was referring.

     "Mom….. I have dreams. I want a career and I…. it may sound old fashioned but I want my relationship with someone to be like what you and daddy have."  Kim confessed.

     "But I don't have a career. I'm just a housewife."  To Elena, her daughter wasn't making any sense at all.

     "That's not the part I mean."  Kim replied.

     Kostas had a funny look on his face from his wife's earlier statement.  "What do you mean by that?"

     Kim realized her father directed his question to Elena so she remained quiet.

     "Kim? Your father asked you a question."

     "No…. Elena.  It's you… I want to know what do you mean you are just a housewife."  But Kostas didn't give his wife time to even contemplate the full scope of his question.  "It's nonsense. You are not just a housewife.  You are my partner and I am what I am because of you.  All of this, what we have… our home… our business…. "  Kostas smiled sweetly at his daughter.  "Our daughter…. everything is because of you. You are my wife…."  Kostas enfolded his wife's hand in his. "You are my life, agapi mou."

     With her free hand, Elena caressed her husband's cheek.  "I love you."

     Kostas kissed his wife.  "And I love you."

     "See! That's what I want.  Exactly what the two of you have."

     "We want that for you, too."  Still holding her husband's hand, Elena smiled at her daughter.  "But I want you to think about something.  You said that you and Sandro haven't really talked lately and that you wanted to."  Kim nodded.  "Then at least give him a chance to explain and you a chance to make sure what you want and… who you want to have it with."

     Kim remained silent so her father said. "Whatever you decide, we are there for you…. always."

     "At least think about it?"

     Acquiescing to her mother's sound suggestion, Kim said. "Okay."
 

Chapter Ten

     As Robin sat in their usual booth at the pub sipping her Spezi, she thought about how the place hadn't changed much since she had been stopping by every Wednesday night for the last five years.  The one exception was the addition of several small placards announcing next week's celebration of the Old Brewery's tenth year anniversary of opening.  It promised live music with dancing.  Nodding at the poster, Robin said.  "We still on for next Wednesday night?"

     Sarah sipped the last of her beer. "Sure.  I'm even thinking of inviting Michael if I can get his mother to watch the kids.  It'll give me a good excuse to make him dance with me."

     "And here I thought you'd make me."  Robin grinned.  She learned to dance in school and was very good but rarely had the chance.

     Noticing the young woman that just entered the pub, Sarah said.  "Oh, I think it wouldn't take much to get you out there on the floor…. with the right motivation."

     "I like to dance."  Robin said.

     "Do you like to wash walls?"

     Robin had no idea where that question came from. "Huh?"

     Seeing Kim approach before Robin did, Sarah welcomed her.  "Hi, Kim.  Here sit down."

     "Hi."

     Robin jumped up to let Kim slip into the booth between her and Sarah.  "I'm glad you came."

     "Me, too."

     "I was going to call you earlier but this week's been a mad house at work."  Robin explained.

     "I know what you mean."  Kim pushed her purse down in the seat between her and Sarah.  "Amanda hasn't been feeling well and I've been working overtime.  As a matter of fact, I almost didn't come because I'm a little tired."

     "I'm glad you did."  Robin grinned at Kim.

     Closely observing her friend, Sarah quipped.  "You already said that."

     Ignoring Sarah, Robin asked.  "Can I get you something?"

     "Just water…. I guess."

     "How bout some fruit juice?"  Robin stood when Kim nodded then leaned on the table and directed her comment to Sarah.  "And don't think I forgot about that washing walls question."

     After Robin left the booth, Sarah smiled at the younger woman.  "Dunja decided her bedroom walls needed pictures on them…. lots of them actually.  She just had to go and get her all those colored markers.  Robin doesn't know it yet but she gets to help clean them up."

     Hesitating a moment, Kim decided to voice her opinion on the matter.  "Actually, I think it's good for a child to freely exercise their creative expressions."  She remembered painting a few pictures on her own walls during her childhood years.

     "I couldn't agree with you more."  Sarah admitted. "And I don't mind so much her coloring her walls… it's the walls in the living room, dining room, our bedroom. Need I go on?"

     "Got carried away, huh?"  Both women laughed.

     When Robin arrived back to find her friends sharing a laugh, she wondered whether she should even inquire as to why.  Opting to remain silent for the moment, she placed Kim's drink in front of her.  "Here you go."

     "Thank you."  Kim took a drink.  "So what do you do every Wednesday night?"

     "Play games."  Robin said at the same time Sarah said. "Talk."

     "So.. which is it?"

     "Both."  The duo chimed in together.

     "What about dancing?  I see there's going to be a band next Wednesday."

     "That's only for the special anniversary."  Sarah's blue eyes glanced from Robin back to Kim.  "You're coming, right?"

     "I…."  Kim shyly chanced a quick look in Robin's direction.  "Yeah, I'd love to."

     "Well, we'll be right here as usual."  Robin seemed genuinely glad to hear the younger woman would be attending.

     Suddenly, Kim thought she may be getting in the way of their usual routine and said.  "Don't let me stop you from whatever you two usually do."

     Robin nodded toward one of the machines along the wall.  "We usually play together."

     "I see." Kim felt like a third wheel until Sarah spoke up.

     "Actually, it's a good thing you're here, Kim.  Michael wanted me to talk with Pietro."  Sarah motioned toward the other end of the pub.  "He's doing some extra work at Pietro's house and Michael wanted me to ask when it would be convenient to come over." It wasn't unusual for her husband to take on odd jobs in order to help friends and make a little money on the side.  "Kim, if you don't mind, would you partner up with Robin while I talk with him?"

     Kim clasped two hands on her drink.  "I'm afraid I don't know much about it."

     Taking the lead, Robin gently grabbed her arm.  "Come on, I'll show you."

     Mission accomplished, Sarah smiled as she watched Robin guide Kim to the computer game.  "I might as well go over there and talk with Pietro… make it more convincing."  Although, Sarah didn't think either of her friends would be paying much attention to her for the rest of the night.

     Robin sank some coins in the machine.  When the lights and bells alarmed warning of the impending start of the game, Robin ran over a few of the rules.  "This is just a test of general knowledge. We read the questions and push the correct button for the answers."

     "That's it?"

     "Yeah…"  The first question popped up and Robin quickly hit the correct answer button.

     But even before Kim could congratulate her partner two more questions popped up and Robin had already answered them correctly as well.

     Glancing at Kim, Robin grinned. "And then there's of course the time limit we have to beat."

     Kim's green eyes popped open.  She hadn't even been able to fully read several of the questions before Robin had answered them.  "I'm never gonna get this."

     The first round was over before Kim knew what really hit her.  And Robin felt bad when the younger woman let out a deep sigh.  "I'm sorry.  I'll put it on a different level.  Guess I'm used to it."

     "You mean the lightning speed?"

     "Yeah that… and I read fast."  Robin nudged Kim with her hip.  "But I'll slow down."

     "I don't know, Robin."  Kim didn't want to look bad in the taller woman's eyes.

     "Don't worry.  You should have seen Sarah and I the first time.  You'll get the hang of it."

     "But you're used to playing at a much faster pace.  I don't want…"

     Placing a hand on Kim's shoulder, Robin garnished the young woman's full attention.  "I can be very patient.  Play with me?  Please."

     For the next hour, Robin and Kim played Shanghai and on three occasions, they scored enough points to win free games.  Neither woman thought of Sarah or anyone else for that matter the whole time.  They were having so much fun that Robin nearly lost track of the time and finally Sarah interrupted the duo.  "You two finished giving that machine a run for its money?"

     At first neither woman looked up, as they were so intent on answering as many questions as they could before the final few seconds ran out.  When Robin was stumped on a question, Kim was right there with the answer.  During their session on the game, they naturally fell into the habit of bumping each other against their hips if one was not sure of the answer and wanted the other one to take their best guess.  It worked to their advantage more than once. They were a natural together.

     When time ran out and the bells rang, they saw their score and cheered. It was the highest yet.  Slapping their hands together in a victory salute, Robin dropped her arms only to reach around and pull the young girl into a big hug.  "You did great."

     "Thank you." Kim said.

     Finally, they noticed Sarah standing patiently by.  "Did I just get replaced?"

     With an arm still draped over Kim's shoulder, Robin grinned.  "No.  But I promised Kim I'd take her to a movie if we beat one of our old scores."

     "I can't believe it."  Sarah eyed the list of high scores and sure enough right above one of the high scores she shared with Robin now was overshadowed by one Robin had won with Kim.

     "It was just luck.  Believe me, Sarah.  Besides, Robin did most of it."

     "Hey! That's not true.  We both did."  Robin turned back to her redheaded friend.  "Why don't you get a sitter and we'll all go to the movie Saturday night and get something to eat.  My treat."

     "I'll see what we're doing and get back with you." Scrunching her eyebrows at their high score on the list, Sarah grunted.  "I can't believe that… her first time."

     When Kim's beat up old VW bug that she absolutely loved wouldn't start, Robin offered to drive her home and she did right after dropping off Sarah.  The ride to Kim's home was mostly taken in silence as both women had something on their minds but elected to temporarily avoid the subject since it was very late and they both had to work the next day.

     Kim wanted to talk with Robin about Sandro and what her mother wanted her to do and the older woman was interested in getting Kim's opinion on the reoccurring dream she had been having lately. Actually, it was the same dream that haunted her nearly ten years ago for about a six month stretch.  And Robin hadn't experienced that dream again until two weeks ago.

     It all started with Robin standing alone on the railroad depot's platform as she waited for the train to arrive.  She was expecting someone special to meet her.  When the train finally pulled up and a young beautiful woman stepped off of it, Robin's heart jumped in her chest. The woman's face was not fully in focus yet was familiar nonetheless. But before she could take her first step to greet her visitor, a shadowy figure wrapped its arms around the woman and they both got back on the train.  Stunned, Robin stood there alone on the platform as the train pulled away, unable to move.

     Shaking her head from that disturbing imagine, Robin said.  "I'll call tomorrow and make sure we're still on for Saturday night."

     "Okay."  Staring into Robin's eyes, Kim sighed but she couldn't find the words she wanted to say.  "Goodnight then."

     "Goodnight."

************************

     Robin anxiously waited for the time to leave her house and go pick up Kim before she headed over to gather up Michael and Sarah.  Grabbing a lightweight jacket, she headed to the door when the telephone rang.

     "Robin Hart."  She said in the usual German way of saying their full names when answering the telephone.

     "How's my little sister?"

     "Ross!  Hi.  How's Jessica and the kids?"  Robin wished her brother had called her on her cell phone.

     "Rowdy as usual.  Not Jessica… the kids."

     "I know who you meant, Ross."

     He grunted. "Yeah, well, my wife just gave me the evil eye and I figured I better clarify my statement.  We're all doing great and you?"

     "Couldn't be better.  As a matter of fact, I was just heading out the door.  I could call you back on my cell phone."  Robin checked her watch.  Even as she allowed herself plenty of time, the anxious woman didn't want to be late.

     "Nah…. don't do that."  Robin somehow felt the smile on her brother's face even before he teasingly asked.  "You got a hot date?"

     "Yeah, sure."

     "Seriously.  You should go out more." Ross often thought of how lonely his sister must be with only a few distant relatives left in Germany and the fact that his sister never dated.  "Hey, I've got a great idea.  When you come over next time, I'm going to introduce you around."

     "Ross…. don't play matchmaker."

     "I just worry about you."

     "I have plenty of friends here and then there are the people I work with and… you remember Kim.  She was……"  Robin started to describe her friend but Ross interrupted his sister.

     "Ah…. the little girl that had a crush on you?"

     "Why does everybody say that?"  Checking her watch again, she ended their conversation.  "I'll call you tomorrow. It may be late though, I've got a big soccer game."

     "Sure…. and good luck."

     "Thanks.  We'll need it… they're a pretty decent team."

     He laughed.  "I meant with your date."

     "Would you knock it off?  Call you tomorrow."  With that, Robin replaced the phone on its cradle and flew out the door.

***********************

     When the foursome arrived at the restaurant, Michael took his wife's jacket and Robin did the same for Kim.  Michael and Robin followed the two other women being led to their seats by the waiter.  Upon seeing Michael grab Sarah's chair, Robin did the same for Kim.  When they were all seated, each looked around the fancy eatery expectantly.

     "This is nice."  Sarah placed her hand on her husband's hand, squeezing it.  "Thank you."

     Kim stared at Robin for a short moment before adding her appreciation.  "It is very nice. Danke."  Reaching the short distance between the two, Kim lightly touched Robin's arm.

     "You're very welcome."  Robin scooted her chair closer to the table.  "I'm hungry.  How about everyone else?"

     They were all nodding their heads when the waiter arrived with the menus.   For the next several minutes, they debated back and forth as to what looked the best on the menu.

     "I don't get it." Kim said.  When the others gave her their undivided attention, she said. "This menu only lists what they have.  There's not one picture on it but here we are practically grazing over it and saying 'oh, that looks good'."

     "It's just a figure of speech." Robin informed the young woman sitting next to her.

     "I know.  I was just remarking on how…."  When Robin's brown eyes innocently gazed at her, Kim smiled.  "Never mind."

     Confused, Robin shot her friends a quick look.

     "Don't worry about it.  I don't know what she means either.  All I know is I'm hungry."  Michael dropped the menu on the table.

     "Do not pay any attention to them, Kim.  What can you expect from two soccer heads?"

     After they ordered, Sarah asked.  "Kim? Would you mind going to the restroom with me?"

     "Oh… sure."

     When the two ladies stood up, Robin came up out of her seat just seconds after Michael did.  They waited till Sarah and Kim walked away before being seated again.  "What is it with women always having to go in pairs?"

     "I don't know."  Robin shrugged.  It was a mystery to her and she never did it herself.

     "We shouldn't fill up too much… with the big game and all tomorrow.  One drink and that's my limit tonight."  He raised his glass to his lips.

     "You go ahead…. I'm driving."

     As the dinner proceeded, the foursome engaged in light conversation about the married couple's children and the upcoming soccer games.  Robin mentioned her call from Ross while Kim confessed she was worried about Amanda's health.

     After Robin paid the bill, she walked the short distance to the door where Michael was helping his wife on with her jacket.  Seeing Kim about to wrap her coat around her, Robin jumped into action. "Here.  Let me help."

     "Danke."

     Curiously, Sarah watched the couple but said nothing of her observation.  She decided to make a game of it that night.  As Sarah deliberately prompted her husband to assist her with getting her something from the candy counter and opening doors for her, she closely watched Robin instinctively do the same for Kim.  As they both stepped into their destined roles naturally, neither realized what they were engaging in.
To a trained eye, it looked as if Robin and Kim were on a real date as the taller woman nearly mimicked everything on how Michael was treating his wife.

     Then after the movie, Sarah whispered to her husband.  "Put your arm around me."

     "Huh?"

     "Just put your around me… now."  Michael immediately complied with his wife's request.  Waiting on a brief moment, Sarah spared a glance behind her to see Robin turn to Kim and grin then reached across to gather the younger woman in her arm and pulled her close for a hug.  Sarah watched as Kim's head fell to Robin's shoulder but stayed only for a brief moment before turning up to smile at Robin.

     The ride home was spent mostly in silence until Robin stopped in front of the Helleis' home. "Thanks, Robin. We had a great time.  See you tomorrow Kim?"

     "I wouldn't miss it."

     Robin ducked down slightly and leaned over toward Kim who was sitting in the passenger's seat.  She called out to her friends through the open window.  "Make sure he gets some sleep."  Robin eyed Sarah dangerously with her command. Robin was well aware of the amorous couple in her backseat on the ride home and suspected Michael attempted a few covert advances on his wife as he whispered to her several times and kissed her once. It didn't go unnoticed by Kim either.

     Neither Robin nor Kim said much on the way to the younger woman's home but both shared the same satisfying and content feelings that the night together had offered them.
 

Chapter Eleven

     Kim climbed the viewing stand so she could sit next to Sarah and her kids as Robin's team, the Castle Hawks, warmed up.  The young woman noticed Sandro and his friend Sebastian talking on the sideline with several girls when her ex-boyfriend turned his head to see her watching them.  He nodded his head once before taking the field with the rest of his team.

     "Should be an exciting game, huh?" Sarah asked Kim.

     Feeling a little anxious, Kim nodded.  "I just wish it was over already."

     Robin and Michael came running off the field and leaped onto the viewing stand.  "Hey, glad you're here."

     Kim smiled.

     Michael took a long drink of water from his wife's water bottle before handing it back to her. "Wish me luck."  For that he received a kiss from Sarah then turned to his children. "You gonna wish daddy good luck, too?"

     Both Phillip and Dunja spared a moment from playing with the toys they had and said.  "Good luck, daddy."

     Robin watched the whole exchange between Michael and his family and it caused a sense of longing inside her.  She wanted to have that same kind of connection with her own family.  Forlorn and distracted from the game at hand, Robin offered a tight grin. "Well, we should get going."

     Sensing uneasiness in her friend, Kim leaned over and hugged Robin.  "Good luck, Robin.  I'm rooting for you."

     That kind gesture brought a smile to the older woman's face. "Thanks." Pulling off her glasses, she asked. "Would you mind holding them for me?"

     Taking the glasses, Kim assured her friend.  "Okay.  And make sure nothing happens to you."

     With that encouragement, Robin and Michael joined their teammates for the start of the game.  As goalie, Michael took his place in front of the net.  Robin along with Pietro positioned themselves near the center of the field for the start of what was going to be a very hard fought rivalry between the two teams.

     With the ball in play, Robin got her foot on it first and guided the ball down the field.  She passed it to Pietro who ran into a little problem with Sebastian.  When Robin hurried to help her teammate out, she was bumped from behind. "Hey!"

     With a malicious grin, Sandro said.  "Sorry." Then ran after the ball and intercepted it from one of Robin's teammates.

     The woman in the blue and white jersey sporting the number eight was not going to let Sandro get away with trying to intimidate her.  Robin sped down the field, crossing in front of Sebastian as she slid on her side but was able to flick the ball over to Pietro. Unfortunately, Sandro was already near Pietro and snatched the ball again.

     Scrambling to get up and back into the action, Robin headed to Sandro who was now on a direct path to their goal. Sandro bumped the ball back and forth between himself and Benno until they were within twenty-five feet of the net.  Michael stood at the ready when Benno knocked the ball back to Sandro who got a solid foot on it, kicking it hard. Michael jumped long, stretching out the full length of his body to save Sandro's team from making a goal.

     Pietro and Robin gave each other a high five.  "Way to go, Michael."  Their jubilation lasted only seconds as Michael kicked the ball down field, putting it back into play.

     "Yeah, daddy." Dunja yelled after seeing her mom jump up when her husband stopped the ball from making a goal.

     "That was close."  Kim patted Sarah on the arm.

     "Thank goodness he got it.  He can make ten great saves in a game but if one of them gets past him that's all I hear about the rest of the night."  Sarah confessed.

     Kim was about to respond to Sarah when she heard a loud roar from some of the crowd near the sidelines. Quickly she knew why when she saw Robin and Sandro in a heated battle to secure the loose ball. Pushing and shoving, both players did everything they could to retain possession of the ball.

     Robin came out the victor in this duel when she was able to get a foot on the ball and flick it to Pietro.  The blonde player quickly seized control and headed down field. He never saw Robin get an elbow to the back by Sandro and neither did the referee.

     Pietro did everything he could to protect the ball with his body and deflect the other players as his teammates got into position.  When Robin crossed in front of the net, he lobbed the ball high into the air.  Ercan, another player for the Castle Hawks, knocked the ball down with his stomach. It dropped in front of him and he took a quick shot at the net.

     The ball was still alive even after the opposing goalie knocked it down.  On pure instinct, Robin spied the ball and jabbed at it with her left foot, sending it into the net for a goal.

     Kim and Sarah leaped up upon seeing Robin score the first goal of the day.  "That was great.  Did you see that?  Way to go."  The young woman yelled.

     The next fifteen minutes of the game was vicious as several impromptu fights broke out and a couple of the players received yellow cards.  Pietro drew a penalty kick but was unable to get it past the defending goalie.  "Damn it."  He flew past Robin. "They're out for blood…. watch it."

     Robin drove the ball down field when three defenders emerged on her all at once, like hungry bees on honey.  Unable to keep control of the ball, Robin watched Sandro steal it away from behind her. She twisted around quickly in hopes of stealing it back when Benno pounded her from the side, knocking Robin to the ground.  The whistle blew and Benno was rewarded with a yellow card.

     Michael called for a quick strategy meeting near their end of the field.  "Robin they're all over you."

     "Yeah."  Pietro agreed. "Let me and Ercan take it up field."

     Not wanting to relinquish her contribution to the game, Robin had to concede for the moment that even though they were ahead she was being targeted and that impeded their game plan.  "Okay. But we have to keep the pressure on when we get in range."

     Michael threw the ball back into play and it landed just a few feet in front of Ercan.  The agile young man kicked, pushed and chased the ball down field as he bounced it over to Pietro several times.  Robin, for her part, tried to get in a good position in front of the net only to be shoved around by several passing players.

     After Ercan lobbed the ball to Pietro, he made a quick chip shot over two defender's head. Seeing the loose ball in the air, Robin ran then leaped up and was able to get her head on the ball knocking off to the left but the goalie's quick hands prevented it from crossing into the net.

     Now the Castle Hawks scrambled back down the field as Sandro drove the ball hard. He passed it several times to Sebastian and then once to Benno who kicked it right back to him. Robin was hot on Sebastian's heels when he ran down the center of the field, trying to get in position for a pass.

     When Sandro saw his teammate open, he lobbed the ball over Pietro's head and it fell right in front of Sebastian.  Seizing the opportunity for an easy goal, he snapped his leg back for the kick when Robin charged at him and got her foot on it before he could.  The ball bounced around a couple of times before Michael slammed his body over it.

     "Damn it!" An angry Sandro cursed his teammate.  "What the fuck's wrong with you?  You had it right there."

     But there wasn't much time for the heated exchange to manifest into something more since Michael kicked the ball back into play. This time Robin was at the lead tossing the ball back and forth between Ercan and Pietro before it came back toward her.  However, Sandro slipped up next to her and kicked it out of bounds.  Robin stood at the corner of the field ready to kick the ball back onto the field.

     "Come on, Robin." Pietro and Ercan positioned themselves in front on the net.

     Encouraging her on, Ercan yelled.  "No one can bend it like Robin."

     Benno bumped up against Ercan, laughing because he thought several members of the other team were way out of position.  "You're fucking nuts."  But even Benno had to stand in admiration when Robin kicked the ball high and it somehow turned and twisted until it made this perfect bend in the air and came barreling down exactly over Pietro's head.  He took the shot and since the opposing goalie was off balance, it landed safely within the net for another goal.

     Sebastian nudged Sandro.  "Did you see that bend?"

     Shoving against his teammate, Sandro yelled.  "Would you shut the fuck up?"  Determined now, Sandro sped down the field with only one thing on his mind.

     Benno gave a good show of footwork as he guided the ball down field.  After several short passes across the field to several other players on his team, he was driving the ball hard when suddenly Robin was right in front of him.  With a bit of fancy footwork, he was able to hook the ball past her to Sandro.

     Sandro juggled the ball as he tried to maintain control giving Robin enough time to come up on him from the side. He wasn't prepared for her approach due to her exceptional speed and the fact that another player diverted his attention.  "Sebastian!  Get over here."  So intent on blaming his friend for not being in the open, Sandro's lapse of attention on the ball at his feet was enough for Robin to steal it from him.  She headed quickly down field, leaving him standing in her dust.

     "Fuck!"  In a mad dash, Sandro chased her.  He saw his opportunity when Benno slipped in front of Robin causing her to slow down her progress.

     Robin tapped the ball back and forth, keeping it away from the defender while her teammates got into position for a pass. Seeing Pietro get in the open, Robin pounded the ball hard his way.  She allowed a brief smile as she watched her blonde teammate set up for a shot at the goal.  Sensing something behind her, Robin turned slightly.

     Sandro came barreling down field and even after seeing Robin make a clean pass to one of her teammates, he slammed into her, head butting her in the chin.  Several whistles blew followed by a red card from the referee.

     Jumping up and out of her seat, Kim's green eyes slammed wide open.  Unable to remain on the bleachers, she ran toward the two downed bodies on the field.  As she hurried across the open area, pandemonium broke out among the players.

     Michael rushed down field to help his teammates as the referees tried to maintain some kind of order on the field.  "Robin!"  He had a clear view of everything and even yelled out in warning to his fellow player but Robin never heard him.  He reached Robin before Kim did and tried to protect the young woman from the bloody scene before him.

     Robin's face was covered with blood and the red liquid continued to spurt out unimpeded.  Hovering over his friend, Michael yelled for someone to call for an ambulance. When Kim heard this, she forced her way through the crowd.  Seeing Sandro lying unconscious next to Robin, Kim stepped between them.  First she leaned over Robin as her heart pounded in her chest, she screamed.  "Robin? Robin, can you hear me?"

     Vaguely aware of her surroundings, Robin's opened her dazed eyes.  The blurry vision before her seemed somehow familiar yet she was confused.  Robin reached up to touch the face staring at her and she was surprised to feel the soft smooth skin beneath her fingers.  "Is it you?  Is it really you?"  When she spoke, she felt the throbbing pain near her mouth.

     "I need something to stop the bleeding."  Frantic, Kim yelled.

     Michael tore off his red goalie jersey and handed it to her.  "Did anyone call for an ambulance?"  When everyone just stared at him, the goalie turned to Kim.  "Wait here.  I'll get an ambulance."

     Immediately, Kim made a command decision. "Pick her up and put her in my car. I'm taking her to the emergency room."

     Without a single rebuttal, Michael along with Pietro and Ercan lifted Robin up while Kim turned her attention to Sandro.  She was happy to realize that he just had the wind knocked out of him.  "Sandro, are you okay?"

     He nodded.  But Kim wanted to make sure so she placed her hands on the sides of his face and stared into his brown eyes.  They seemed normal, both the same size.  Kim asked him to count from one to ten and checked to see if his breathing was normal.  "You seem okay but someone should check you out."

     Happy to hear the concern in her voice, Sandro tried to sit up.  "Kim, would you……"  But the auburn haired woman left his side quickly when she heard Robin moan.

     "I can stand by myself."  Robin complained to her friends.

     "Robin Hart!"  Kim slipped under her right side while Michael still held on to Robin's other arm.  "I'm taking you to the doctors and I don't want to hear another word."

     Robin quietly complied with the small woman next to her as an upset Sandro pounded his fist into the ground.

************************

     Michael and Sarah along with their kids followed the whizzing red VW down the road and through the streets of Hechingen on its way to the emergency room.  "Do you think she knows what a stop sign means?" Michael wondered.

************************

     As Kim rushed Robin into the emergency, her concern over her friend had not subsided in the least.  The goalie's already red jersey was soaked with blood and Robin's lip showed no sign of stopping from bleeding.  Even Robin had to admit to herself that she was feeling faint headed from the loss of blood.

     Upon arriving at the emergency room and seeing the first nurse that came into view, Kim demanded. "We need some help here."

     The nurse immediately assisted the injured woman to a table.  She quickly surveyed the injured area and applied some bandages to alleviate the bleeding.  "We need to get this stitched up right way."

     "Hurry please."  Kim pleaded.  She wasn't at all happy about the bleeding lip that wouldn't stop or by her friend's uneven pupils.

     In short order, the doctor arrived and made her assessment.  "Let's do it."

     When the nurse, Margit, reached for the anesthetic, the doctor stopped her.  "We don't have time. She needs the sutures now."

     Robin wasn't about to protest as she clamped onto Kim's hand when the doctor reached down to make the first stitch followed by four more.  As excruciating as the pain was, Kim making soft gentle strokes against the side of Robin's head distracted her somewhat. And once when Robin grunted as the needle slipped through her skin, Kim leaned down to kiss Robin on top of her head and that made the pain worth it somehow.

     Once the doctor was finished and surveyed her work, she ordered a test to check their patient for a concussion.  That got Robin's attention and she was about to protest when she heard Kim agree with the doctor's decision.  "Robin, I'll wait right here till you get back.  Okay?"

     All the older woman could do as she looked up into very caring green eyes was to comply with Kim's wishes.  "Okay."

     Kim patiently waited with Michael and Sarah outside the emergency room.  Phillip and Dunja watched the television quietly while they munched on their candy bars.  Pietro had stopped by briefly while Kim was inside with Robin and informed Michael that Sandro was okay.  As a matter of fact, Sandro was crying foul to the referees and trying to blame Robin for the smash up between the two.  Michael assured his teammate he would call and let them know how Robin was doing once they got word of her prognosis. Pietro volunteered along with Ercan to go get Robin's car and drive it to her home.

     When the doctor came out to talk with Kim, she rushed to her side.  "How is she?"

     "Other than her injured lip, she has a slight concussion and I'd like to keep her overnight."

     "Okay."  Kim mentally prepared to stay all night with her friend.

     "However…. she's refusing." The doctor hesitated.  "I'd feel better if she had someone to stay with her tonight."

     "She can stay with us."  Sarah offered.

     "I'll get the paperwork ready."

     Before the doctor turned to leave, Kim asked. "Can I see her now?"

     "Sure."

     Kim entered the emergency room and saw Margit standing outside a small patient's assessment room.  "Is she…"

     Pointing at the curtain, Margit said. "She's right in there."  Speaking to Robin, the nurse said.  "I'll be right back."

     Slowly, Kim walked the short distance to her friend.  She was reluctant to touch Robin since her friend looked so fragile.  "Are you…. are you okay?"

     A crooked smile crossed Robin's face.  "Yeah… my lips a little sore and I got a hard head so I'll be okay."

     "I was worried about you."

     "I'm fine…. Margit's …. by the way she's Klaus' girlfriend."  Robin started to explain when saw the confused look on Kim's face.  "My boss at the movie theater."

     "Oh."

     "She's getting me something for the pain then I get to go home."

     Lightly touching Robin's arm, Kim stepped even closer. "Sarah said you can stay with her tonight."

     "Huh?"

     "Because of your concussion."

     The pain in her lip made it hard for Robin to speak but she was prepared to protest.  "I'm fine…. really."

     When Margit came back in with the medicine, she frowned.  "Your friend is right.  The doctor won't let you go unless you have someone with you tonight."   She watched Robin pop the pills into her mouth then gently suck on the straw and swallowed some water.

     "I'll be okay.  Besides, I don't want to be any trouble."  Robin protested.

     "You need someone to watch you tonight."  The nurse stated adamantly.  "Or the doctor won't release you."

     "I'm used to taking care of myself."  Robin argued.

     Brushing the back of her hand against Robin's face, Kim said.  "It's just for the night.  Is it so bad that someone else wants to take care of you?"

     This was so foreign to Robin and no one had showed this kind of concern since her mother.  "I'd rather be home."  Robin pouted.

     "Alright then.  I'll stay with you.  I'll go tell Sarah."
 

************************

     After being fussed over for the last half hour, Robin was getting dizzy just from watching Kim.  "Hey, would you sit down for a minute?"

     "What?"  Kim perched herself on the edge of Robin's bed.  "Do you need something?"

     "Yes."  Robin grabbed Kim's hand when the young woman was just about ready to stand up.  "I need you to sit here a minute and just rest."

     Relaxing a bit, Kim complied.  "Okay."

     Robin held on to her friend's hand and Kim was not about to protest.  The injured woman briefly closed her eyes, noting that the pain had eased quite substantially since she was now resting in her own bed.  "Listen, Kim, you don't have to stay."

     "Oh, yes, I do." Kim grasped Robin's hand tighter.  "I said I would and I am.  I've already called home and mom wanted to know how you were doing.  I told her you seemed okay but she said I should keep you up all night and not let you sleep. And, of course, you have to stay home from work tomorrow. Oh, that reminds me I need to call Amanda…."

     "Kim… hey, Kim?"  Robin finally got the younger woman's attention.  "Besides a bit of a headache lingering around… and my lip…. although the pain is much less now. I'm fine.  Really?"

     Kim placed her other hand over Robin's hand, which was holding hers.  "Good."

     "And I have to go to work tomorrow.  Karin's off for a few days and we're going to be shorthanded as it is."  Robin said a matter of factly.

     "But the doctor said…"

     "She said if I felt well enough in the morning, it would be okay."  Robin smiled at her friend. "And you don't have to stay here all night."

     "Oh, but I am and there's no more discussion on that matter."

     Sighing, Robin agreed.  "Okay.  Let me help get a room ready for you."

     When Robin started to get up, Kim pushed her back down on the bed. "Oh, no, you don't.  I'll just get a cover and pillow and sleep here."

     "Here?"

     "On the floor…. just in case…."

     "You can't sleep on the floor."

     "Well, how can I be here to help you if I'm in the other room?"

     "You can't sleep on the floor."  Robin glared at the woman with eyes that brooked no argument.

     "Then you'll just have to scoot over because I am not leaving this room."  The young woman's green eyes flared in a no nonsense way that meant business.

     Robin did as she was ordered, leaving plenty of room for Kim to slip in next to her.  The expected uneasiness Robin knew would be there with someone else in her bed never arrived.  As Kim settled herself in Robin's big bed, the tops of their legs brushed together.  They both felt a connection that was calming, reassuring and somehow familiar.

     "You're not supposed to go to sleep for at least another six hours so I thought I would tell you some of my stories."  Kim yawned as she relaxed up against Robin.  "Did I ever tell you about Hawk?  She was always my hero… and everyone else, too."  Kim regaled her patient for the next fifteen minutes before her words slurred into a sleepy state.

     Watching the young woman out the side of her eyes, Robin saw Kim's eyelids flicker heavily until they succumbed to the long and tiresome day's events, falling to sleep easily.  She smiled at Kim before she said, barely above a whisper. "I'm glad you're here to keep me awake."
 

Chapter Twelve

     It was a festive mood at the Old Brewery and the ten-year anniversary party was in full swing when Robin walked in with Sarah.  "Too bad Michael didn't want to come tonight."

     "Hey, this is our play night. It's his night to watch the kids. Besides his mom had something to do tonight."  Sarah surveyed the crowd of people who were watching the band make their final preparations for the night's entertainment. "Why don't you get us something to drink and I'll get us a place to sit?"

     "Okay."  Robin headed off to the bar while Sarah secured their usual spot.  "Thom?"

     "The usual?"

     Nodding, Robin said.  "Full house tonight."

     Placing the bottles on the bar, Thom agreed. "Yep, this ones on the house."  The bar owner enjoyed the brisk business he was doing tonight which would bring in lots of money; however, he preferred the easygoing atmosphere of his regular customers.

     Grabbing the bottles, Robin negotiated her way through the crowd of people.  There were quite a few people she had never seen before along with the regular Wednesday night pack which included several of her teammates.  "Pietro. Ercan."

     Clicking their beer bottles together, Robin's teammates yelled back at her. "Robin!"  Their attention returned quickly to the tall lean woman setting up the microphone on the stage.

     Robin paused briefly, watching the woman flip her long dark hair back several times before testing the microphone.  Remembering her mission, Robin tore her eyes away from the makeshift stage and walked over to where Sarah was waiting. "Here you go."

     "Thanks."  Sarah took a quick sip of her beer.  "Thought you said Kim was going to be here."

     After settling back in the booth, Robin nodded. "She is… had to work late."

     As if on cue, Kim entered the crowded pub. It was quite the contrast from the previous week when she was there.  The noise level was louder and she heard the band tuning their instruments but none of that distracted her from finding the one person she came to see.  Spotting Robin and Sarah in their usual booth, Kim hurried over to them.  "Hi."

     Scooting over so Kim could slide in the booth, Robin asked.  "Can I get you anything?"

     "A beer, I guess."

     Before Robin could extract herself from the booth, Pietro had spied the auburn haired woman enter and followed her.  "I'll get it."  He was off before anyone could say a thing.

     Over the din of the crowd, Kim practically had to yell. "The place sure is busy tonight."

     While Sarah was up for the extra bit of excitement, suddenly Robin wished the whole party hadn't fallen on their play night.  Their usual routine was disrupted and she doubted that they would have even been able to get in a good game of Shanghai.  Then there was the quiet moments they spent talking and with the noisy crowd that was now out of the question.  And there was plenty Robin wanted to talk about with Sarah. During the last two days, Kim practically lived at Robin's house, taking care of her.  The young woman's invading presence was odd and comforting all at once.  Robin was confused and in a rare decision, she had elected to share some of her feelings with Sarah.  However, that, too, seemed out of the question now.

     When Pietro returned with Kim's drink, he slipped in the booth next to the young woman.  "Here you go, Kim."

     "Thank you, Pietro."  Kim said before taking a swallow of her drink.

     He smiled then winked at her.  "Will you promise me a dance later?"

     Surprised, Kim nearly spit out her beer.  Wiping her chin, she asked.  "What?"

     "They got a band tonight and I'm not going all night without one dance from you.  Okay?"

     "Ah…. sure, I guess so."  Kim shrugged then looked from Sarah to Robin who sat eerily silent throughout the whole conversation.

     "Cool."  He stood up.  "I'll catch you later."

     "Wow."  Sarah teased the younger woman.  "I think he's got a thing for you."

     "I doubt that Sarah.  He probably just likes to dance."  Kim nervously started to peel at the bottle's label.

     Nudging her friend, Sarah asked.  "What do you think Robin?"

     "How would I know?"  Robin dismissed her friend's observation. Her brown eyes tracked Pietro as he made his way around the bar.  The young man stopped several times to talk with both men and women before perching himself up on a barstool.  Absent-mindedly, Robin lifted her bottle to her lips and bumped it hard against her bottom lip.  "Ouch… darn it."

     "Are you okay?"  Kim asked, reaching up to check the stitches on her friend's lip.

     Robin pushed Kim's hand away.  "I'm fine.  Just forgot about my lip."  For the last two days, Robin had to be careful when she drank or ate anything due to the five stitches in her bottom lip.  She briefly thought about changing her drink to beer, thinking it might help numb the pain.

     "She's not been a very good patient, has she?"  Sarah nodded toward Robin who sat between them.

     "Yes and…. no."  Kim agreed to a certain extent.  "She doesn't complain much at all but she won't let me help her that much either."

     "Why don't you two talk about me as if I'm not even here?"  Robin said sarcastically.

     "Okay, we will."  Sarah teased her.

     But seeing the sour look on Robin's face, both Sarah and Kim remained silent, giving their friend a reprieve. It was then the sound of the drums beat loud and as the guitar player strummed away, the tall and lean singer belted out her first song of the night.

     It wasn't long for Pietro to stake his claim on Kim for a dance.  The music was fast and furious as the reluctant Kim joined the tall blonde muscular man on the dance floor.

     As Sarah watched the frenzy of dancers gyrate to the music, she wished Michael had joined them tonight.  Bumping Robin, the redhead figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. "Wanna dance?"

     It even surprised Robin when she immediately said.  "Yes."

     In no time at all, they were in the midst of the crowd, swaying carelessly to the music.  The heavy beat of the drums and the sultry voice of the lead singer offered a hypnotic trance for anyone who wished to fall under its spell.  When one fast song led right into another, Robin and Sarah remained on the dance floor while Kim made her excuse to Pietro.

     He quickly found another partner as Kim reclaimed her seat.  Taking a long swig of her beer, Kim fell back against the booth and watched Robin as she danced with Sarah.  The rhythmic sway of the taller woman's hips mesmerized the young woman.  Green eyes surveyed the length of Robin's tall body and soaked in every curve and lascivious movement.  God, she's so sexy. Kim downed the last of her beer and let the hard hitting pounding of the music carry her away from her usual inhibitions.

     Kim fell under a hazy spell as she listened to the music.  With her green eyes stapled to Robin's sexy form, Kim mouthed the lyrics of the song 'Just a Little'.  Sexy, everything about you is so sexy. You gotta learn to let go.  Robin spun around, facing Kim but had her eyes closed as she continued to dance. Just a little bit… give me just a little bit more. I'll do anything if you just let me. Kim's own body now swayed to the music, mimicking Robin. Gotta find a way to make you smile, I know you wanna break down those walls.  And it's so challenging, getting close to you is what I'm imaging.

     Unconsciously, Kim rose and stepped forward. You gotta let it all out. Baby, won't you work just a little, hot just a little, meet in the middle, give just a little bit more.  When Robin ran her hand down along her side and over her hip as she danced, Kim licked her lips then continued mouthing the words to the song.  It's so exciting the way you're inviting me. Can't get enough, won't you satisfy my needs. It took a moment once the song ended for Kim to shake loose from the sexual haze that had been cast over her at the sight of Robin dancing.
 

     When the next song started and neither Sarah nor Robin appeared to be leaving the dance floor, a determined Kim strode across the floor. In a daze, Kim made a beeline for the couple and when she approached them, Sarah noticed her first.

     The redhead watched Kim stand stock still as Robin twisted and turned around without realizing the young woman was next to them.  Sarah tapped Kim on the shoulder bringing her temporarily out of her haze.  Leaning close, she said. "Why don't you take over?  I need to sit for a bit."

     Kim didn't even realize Sarah had left them alone.  Her eyes were glued to Robin and her heart thumped up against her chest.  When Robin turned back around, she smiled upon seeing Kim standing there.  Happy to see Pietro was nowhere in sight, the taller woman grabbed Kim's hand and yanked. "Come on… let's dance."

     As their bodies moved to the beat of the music, Robin and Kim intermittently brushed up against each other with each pass of an arm or a leg.  Perspiration glistened on their foreheads in a delicious glaze.  Lost in the moment, Robin twisted Kim around and pressed her body close to the young woman's back.  Together their bodies and the music became one and for that moment in time, no one else existed as the music ended only for the band to immediately break into a slow song.  Kim swung around and before Robin could move, she slung her arms around the taller woman's neck.

     Sucking in a swift intake of air, Robin settled easily, enclosing her own arms around Kim's small waist.  Staring into each other's eyes, they simply smiled at each other.  As if under a spell, both women moved to the slower beat completely oblivious of the surrounding dance partners.  Drowning in a green pool, Robin involuntarily opened the draw gate to her heart ever so slightly.

     The next words were spoken before she even knew they left her lips.  "God, Robin, you are so damn sexy."

     Shocked back to the present moment, Robin stiffened. "I… what….you can't be talking about me."  She blushed at the compliment, turning her head away.

     Kim hooked Robin's chin to bring her face back around.  "Don't take this wrong…."  Kim chose her next words carefully.  "… but you're a bit innocent."

     Again, a confused Robin tried to move her head away, not knowing what to do against the onslaught of complimentary and unexpected words from her friend.  Robin was sensitive about her lack of experience and didn't know if Kim's reference to being innocent was meant as an insult or teasing.

     "Robin?"  The taller woman shyly returned her dark brown eyes to meet Kim. "Believe me… it's a compliment."

     Relieved, Robin offered her dancing partner a tight smile.  "Thank…. you."  It was still very hard for Robin to equate such words as 'sexy' to herself and it made her very self-conscious.  But deep down she knew Kim would not be so cavalier with her words and would never hurt her intentionally.  Grateful for having such a wonderful friend, Robin felt compelled and ducked down to kiss Kim on the cheek.  "Thank you."

     A thrill shot through the young woman's body as Robin's lips touched her skin.  Kim stepped in closer, wishing for the moment to never end and she basked in the warm feeling of Robin's nearness.  Kim's eyes automatically closed and she tilted her head up in hopes of sharing a much more intimate kiss.

     Robin gazed at the young woman in her arms and she questioned what she would have done next if it weren't for someone persistently yanking at her shirt.  Turning around abruptly, Robin yelled.  "What?"

     "You making time with my girl?"  Sandro sneered.

     Sighing, Robin mumbled.  "I don't need this."

     Unglued at the sound of Sandro's voice, Kim groaned.  "Great."  Her head fell to lean against Robin's strong back.  "Just great."

     Reaching around the imposing woman, Sandro tried to get a hold of Kim.  "Out of my way."

     Robin sidestepped in front of him, preventing Sandro from touching Kim.   Robin jacked one hand on his chest as the other one reached behind her to keep Kim safe.  "Just back off, Sandro.  There's no need to do this here."

     "What are you fucking afraid of?"  Sandro challenged her.

     Pietro pushed his way through the crowd.  "You need any help, Robin?"

     "No…. "  Glaring at Sandro, Robin said sternly.  "There's not going to be any trouble here."

     A Mexican standoff between the two ensued until Thom intervened.  "Come on everybody… the drinks are on the house."

     While the rest of the crowd cheered and most of them lined up at the bar, Sandro continued to glare at Robin but directed his next whispered words to Kim.  "Do you mind if I talked with you for a moment… privately?"

     Robin was unwilling to let that happen but she knew it was Kim's decision.  Sliding her arm back as she turned slightly, Robin placed a hand on the shorter woman's shoulder.  Her raised eyebrows asked the unspoken question.

     Hesitant, Kim remembered the promise she made her mother about talking with Sandro and in the end it was his pleading brown eyes that swayed her.  "Wait outside… I'll be there in a moment."  Kim remained half shielded by Robin.

     Knowing that his friends Sebastian and Benno stood directly behind him, Sandro didn't want to show a sign of weakness so he leaned forward and gave Kim a quick peck on the cheek. "Sure, babe, I'll be outside."

     It took all of Robin's strength not to belt the over obnoxious guy but her concern was squarely focused on her friend.  Turning around, Robin placed both her hands on Kim's arms. "Are you sure about this?  You want me to go with you?"

     The anxious woman wanted to melt into Robin's arms right then and there yet she steadied herself even as she had this sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.  "No.  I…. I'll be okay."

     Still gripping Kim's arms, a frantic Robin rushed out her next words demanding some kind of assurances. "Promise me before you do anything… or say anything that we'll talk first."

     Not quite sure what Robin was getting at, Kim quickly agreed.  "Okay. I'm just going to hear him out….. nothing's changed."

     Relief upon hearing Kim's words washed over the concerned woman.  "I'll be right here if you need me."

     Kim stood on her tiptoes to hug Robin before she headed out the door for the long awaited talk with her ex-boyfriend.

     The tall blonde nudged Robin.  "I think I'll go around out the back and keep an eye on her."

     Stopping her teammate, Robin grabbed his arm.  "No, Pietro… she'll take care of it in her own way."  The worried woman shrugged off the invading nervousness nagging at her.  Never before had Robin ever felt such tension as she waited for the confrontation between Kim and Sandro to end.  Turning to her friend, she spoke barely above a whisper. "I shouldn't have let her go."

     Grabbing Robin's arm, Sarah drew her back to their booth.  "Sit down." Then turning to the tall blonde, she ordered.  "Pietro.  Get us a couple of beers."  Soothing Robin's arm with long strokes of her hand, Sarah leaned up against her friend. "It's times like these that you have to have faith….. have trust in the ones you love."

     Hardly hearing the redhead's words, Robin felt she was on the precipice of losing something and the last time she felt like this was when her parents died.  She didn't understand the feelings welling up inside.  All she knew was that her innards were being twisted into knots and she had this sick sinking feeling in her stomach.
 

Chapter Thirteen

     When Kim called Robin at work early the next morning, the export expert was upset.  Not only did Kim have to suddenly fly back to Greece for her aunt's funeral, the young woman never did explain what happened during her discussion with Sandro the night before.  Robin desperately wanted to find out but when Kim returned to the pub not fifteen minutes later, she said she wasn't feeling well and stated she wanted to go home.  Robin insisted on taking her home after she dropped off Sarah.

     Robin started to write several quotations for tool orders but her mind was definitely not on the task at hand.  She nearly jumped when her cell phone rang.  Recognizing the caller, Robin answered. "Hallo."

     "Hey, Robin, can you talk?"  Sarah knew approximately when Robin took her mid-morning breakfast break.

     "Yeah… hold on a sec."  Robin entered the last few digits in her computer and hit the save button. Getting up from her desk, Robin said to Sarah. "Walk with me."

     With her socked feet propped up on her desk near her computer, the redhead said.  "Sure."

     Robin talked to her as she walked through the lobby and out the front door.  "Kim called this morning. When she got home last night, she found out that one of her aunts died. She's probably already on a plane to Greece by now."

     "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Sarah paused briefly before continuing.  "Well?  Did she say anything to you last night after you dropped me off?"

     "Nope.  She wasn't feeling well… and she's been kinda tired this last week."  Frustrated, Robin wished she hadn't stopped smoking several years ago.  I could sure use one now. It was her only vice and one she took up after the death of her parents.  "And it's no wonder she's tired… taking care of me all week."  Robin felt a little guilty about that since she knew very well she was capable of taking care of herself and had done just that for the last six years.  But truth be known, Robin secretly relished the attention the younger woman gave her even though it was a bit hard for her to accept.

     "When's she getting back?"

     "Saturday sometime she said."  Robin ran her hand through her short hair. "She's been under a lot of stress and now with her aunt dying… I promised her I'd take her to the castle this Sunday.  Hopefully, it will help her relax."

     "I see." The way Sarah said it somehow seemed to have a hidden meaning behind her words.

     "What do you mean by that?"

     "Nothing." Sarah denied any double meaning. "Listen, I've got some more research to get done today on the internet.  This is the time of year when it gets busy."  The redhead worked part time searching the internet for several professors at the nearby university.  Sarah's multi-lingual language skills came in handy for this particular task.

     "Talk to you later then."  With that, Robin punched the 'end' button on her tiny cute cell phone.  Tapping the phone against her leg, she pondered how she was going to keep from worrying herself to death until Kim returned and they could talk.  "I'll just keep myself busy. It's always worked in the past."

     The next few days went painstakingly slow for Robin.  She wished Kim would have called and several times started to call her young friend but didn't want to intrude.

*************************

     The plane ride with her parents to Greece was hurried, as was the rest of the afternoon on Thursday.  When her cousin Yasmin arrived later that evening, Kim was relieved.  "I'm so glad you came."

     Yasmin looked around the room filled with numerous members of the Patakas family.  It was actually their great-aunt Sigrid that had died and neither Kim nor Yasmin had spent much time with her since they now lived in Germany.  "Yeah, well, Martin had business out of town so I thought… what the hell."

     "Yassi?  Are you okay?"  Concerned green eyes studied her cousin closely.

     Glad to be in a secluded corner away from the rest of the family, Yasmin confessed.  "No."  Then broke down crying.  "I know he's cheating on me."

     Kim wrapped her taller cousin in her arms.  "Oh, Yassi. I'm so sorry."

     It was then a couple of distant relatives walked up, patting Yasmin on the back.  "There…there dear.  She lived a long life. These things happen."

     That last statement sent a shudder through the curly haired woman.  Kim politely nodded to her relatives then whispered to Yasmin.  "Come on, let's go outside for a bit."  Leading her cousin through the back door, Kim waved to her father to let him know where she would be.

***********************

     With the funeral and gathering of family and friends all the next day, it took a toll on the young auburn haired woman.  And having to console Yasmin drained Kim to the edge of exhaustion.  A very worried mother noticed her daughter's pale complexion and sent Kostas to intervene while she collected her daughter.  Elena led Kim to an empty bedroom and promptly sat her on the bed. "Honey, you don't look so good.  How are you?"  Elena ran a soothing hand through her daughter's shoulder length hair.

     "I'm fine…. really.  Just tired."  Kim leaned against her mother when Elena wrapped an arm around the younger woman.

     "You don't sound fine."  Elena knew her daughter was under a lot of stress from worrying about Amanda's health to her recent break-up with Sandro then with her aunt dying.  And now with Yasmin attaching herself to Kim like a leech, Elena astutely recognized her daughter was near the breaking point.  "I want you to get to bed early tonight.  You father changed our flight back home…."

     Jacking her head up, Kim asked.  "What?  But I have to be back tomorrow."

     "Kim.  You told me Amanda knows you won't be back to work until Monday…. "

     "But I'm supposed to meet Robin Sunday."  There was a distinct frantic note in her voice.

     That brought a surprised look from Elena.  "Then don't worry. He changed it to late Saturday afternoon instead of in the morning.  You can sleep in and besides your father needs to meet with his brother and he won't be in until late tonight."  Yasmin's parents were vacationing in the United States and unable to make it back in time for the funeral.  However, when Kostas found out his brother would be arriving later that evening, he changed his family's flight plans in order for them to go over a few family matters that were best settled while they were in Greece.

     "I guess it is a good idea to go to bed. I don't know what's wrong with me lately."  Kim began to get undressed while her mother walked into the adjoining bathroom.

     "I do."  Elena gathered a few of her daughter's nightclothes together.  "With everything you have on your mind… Amanda….Sandro…" The older woman studied her daughter for a brief moment from the doorway of the bathroom.  "And with Yassi pouring out her heart about Martin.  That man was no good from the start."

     "Mom!"  Kim whined, not wanting to hear what she would have readily agreed with.

     "Now the funeral and everything else. It's no wonder."  It was quite obvious to Elena that her daughter was full-grown but as she gazed at Kim all she saw was her little girl.  "Here you go."

     Taking her nightclothes, Kim slipped into them.  "Thank you.  And really mom… I'm just tired.  It has nothing to do with Amanda … and surely not Yasmin. I'm used to that. And as far as Sandro is concerned… actually… I'm more relieved than anything."

     Stepping back into the bathroom, a distracted Elena began to straighten a few items on the counter.  "Well, if it's not that then there's only one other thing I can think of…. maybe you're pregnant."  She said offhandedly.  Stunned by the realization of her own words, Elena slowly turned around to stare directly at her daughter.  "You're not…. are you?"

     "No!"  Kim adamantly protested then turned briskly around. Though it's not out of the realm of possibilities.  Mentally she calculated back to her last period and deduced that she was late. But I've always had irregular cycles.  With everything going on in her life, Kim simply didn't think about when she was supposed to start again.  Mumbling to herself, she said. "And we used protection."

     Elena walked up behind her daughter, placing both her hands on her Kim's shoulders.  "Honey, maybe when we get back you should see a doctor."

     Kim sighed heavily and not wanting to address the potential issue, she simply agreed.  "I will."

***********************

     The smile on Robin's face couldn't be denied as she walked around her car and opened the passenger's door.  She helped Kim out before grabbing her hand.  "Come on."  Robin tugged at the young woman's hand.

     They walked in silence across the castle grounds under the sun shining sky.  It was shortly after noon when Robin picked Kim up at her home. Even though Sunday morning was Robin's day to sleep in late, she was up early packing a lunch and counting the minutes until she was to meet Kim.

     For her part, Kim was eager to spend the day with Robin and relished the thought of just soaking in the sun and relaxing.  There were too many loose ends running around in her mind and she desperately needed a reprieve, a safe haven away from her troubles.  So it was natural that Kim sought out the protective umbrella of Robin's company.

     As they crossed the last few yards to the stone bench that stood as it did many years, Robin gave a small tug on Kim's hand, guiding her to the bench.  "Sit."

     The younger woman did as she was requested, relaxing under the peaceful shade of the nearby huge beech tree.

     Soaking in the breathtaking view, Robin remained standing. "This is one of my favorite places."

     "I can see why."  They were not far away from a small brook and she could hear the running water.

     Turning to look at the younger woman, Robin took a few steps then sat down next to Kim. "It is beautiful." Her eyes never left Kim.  "But it's much more than that to me."

     When Robin turned her head, Kim studied the older woman's profile. Strong, proud and…. very secluded in her thoughts.  Kim decided to be the crowbar that would unleash the strangle hold Robin held on her deepest feelings.  Remembering that Robin had told Kim that she visited this place often, the shorter woman asked. "What is it about this place that calls to you?"

     Brown eyes turned to gaze on Kim for a long moment before Robin looked away.  "This is where my parents met."  She recalled the loving stories her mother and father told of their initial meeting. "Well, actually, it's about a half mile from here." Pointing in the direction of the road, Robin continued. "Up that way.  You knew my dad worked here."

     "Mmmmm…." The young girl recalled some of her visits to the castle when she was a lot younger.  "He ran the place."

     Laughing, Robin agreed.  "Yeah.. and there was a time I thought it belonged to us.  I remember coming up here everyday… at least in the summer.  Dad had full run of the place and so did I."

     Placing her hand on Robin's shoulder.  "Do you remember that time those boys tried to scare us?" Robin nodded.  "You came out of nowhere and chased them away. I thought you were larger than life."

     Robin laughed again.  "I guess I was big for my age."

     "That's not what I meant." She lightly slapped Robin across the arm.  "I was little for my age."

     "You mean short…."  Robin decided to tease her friend even more.  "Still are."

     "Hey!  Enough of that."  Kim stood up and walked over to the tree, leaning against it, she sighed.  "I pretended that you were my…. our knight in shining armor that day."

     "Hardly."  Robin slipped her leg over the bench to straddle it.  "I came to work that day with dad and from one of the castle windows I happen to see you and Yasmin… and who else was with you that day?"

     "Her best friend, Anita.  Until Yassi went off to the foreign language school."

     "Oh, yeah." Robin took a quick detour down memory lane. The reason she was sent to foreign language school was because her grades weren't that good in high school and the fact that Robin had a natural aptitude for language.  She was taught both English and German from birth. However, only she knew the reason her grades sank quickly that last year was because Yasmin had left school to attend the foreign language school and Robin wanted to be close to her.  "I just came down to say 'hi' when I noticed those guys giving you a hard time."

     "You know, I always wished that….." Kim stopped suddenly.

     "What?" Robin stood and walked closer.

     "Oh, nothing."  Wanting to change the subject, Kim said.  "So your parents met here.  I thought your mom was in the Air Force.  What was she doing here?"  The United States Air Base was quite a ways from the castle.

     "Mom had a few days off and had heard about the castle.  She was driving up the main road to the castle when she came upon an accident.  The place I pointed out earlier."  Kim nodded. "Some guy ran my dad off the road and my mom stopped to help."

     "I bet being a doctor came in handy.  Was he hurt badly?"

     "No… mostly scratches but they spent the weekend together." There was utter joy on Robin's face at that memory of her parent's stories.  "He showed her the castle and all of Hechingen."  Robin sucked in a deep breath.  "This is the exact spot he proposed to her."

     Kim was well aware of Robin's fascination with the Hohenzollern castle and now she knew one of the reasons why.  "That's a lovely story."

     Robin shrugged, reaching for Kim's hand, the taller woman said.  "Let's walk."

     As they strolled across the castle grounds over the small hills and valleys, Robin debated upon bringing up the subject of Sandro while Kim wanted to ignore that issue altogether. For the next half hour or so, they talked about Aunt Sigrid's funeral and Robin briefly recounted her last couple of days.  But in the end, Robin was compelled to ask.  "I was wondering…. did your talk with Sandro go okay last Wednesday? I know you didn't want to talk about it then and maybe you don't now and that's okay. I was just wondering…"

     Squeezing her friend's hand, Kim smiled.  "It's okay.  It's not my favorite subject but…. he did most of the talking.  He tried to explain why he flirts and that it doesn't really mean anything."

     "And you believed him?"  The way Kim's cavalier attitude appeared caused Robin concern.

     "Yes… sorta.  It doesn't really matter though."

     "What do you mean… sorta?"

     "Robin, it's like this…. Sandro was always so charming and he even charmed me there..."  Pausing briefly before adding. "… for a while.  He's a young man who wants to sow his wild oats, so to speak, before he settles down.  Don't get me wrong… I don't agree or quite understand it. I think when you find that… someone, why would you ever want anyone else?"

     Quietly, Robin said.  "I know."

     In her own thoughts, Kim barely registered what Robin said before she continued her train of thought. "Unless, of course, you thought there was no hope for being with who you…"  Yasmin. She's thinking of my cousin.

     "What's the point in that though?"  Robin slowed her walk.  "There can only be one."  Robin's concept of soulmates didn't allow for any flexibility.

     Coming to a complete halt, Kim wondered whether she would ever have a chance at being with the love of her life.  "Sometimes I wonder if we really know or would recognize that … one… who is meant for us."

     For some reason, the reoccurring dream Robin had popped into her mind.  The face of the beautiful woman in her vision was always blurred but she knew it was her soulmate.  And Robin had reason to believe that Yasmin was the one.  When Robin came back fully to the present, she saw Kim staring at her. "Did you think Sandro was the one?"

     A direct question deserved a direct answer.  "No."

     "Then why?"

     "Then why did I go out with him and end up practically engaged if you heard my mom and Sandro's mom talk?"  Kim started to walk down the path.  "Did I tell you about when I first met him?"

     "You were swimming."  Robin jumped into action, quickly catching up with Kim.

     "I had just graduated from high school and going to head off to the university that fall.  It was a hot summer day.. perfect for a day at the pool.  Anyway, he stopped a bunch of bullies from harassing me."

     "And you fell in love at first sight?"  Robin spat sarcastically.

     "No, silly.  But I was enamored by him."  Kim bumped up against Robin. Even though that first meeting between her and Sandro sparked a romantic interest, they didn't get together until nearly a year ago. "And it's all your fault."

     "What? I wasn't even here then."  For the life of Robin, she knew she would never have set Kim up with the egotistical Sandro.

     "He reminded me of you."  The shocked look on Robin's face caused Kim to explain further.  "You spoiled me, Robin… when I was little."  And when I got a little older, too.  Old enough to know it wasn't what everyone else would describe as puppy love… it was the real thing. "Always coming to our rescue.  Of course, I only received the residual benefits of your actions."

     "Huh?"

     "Yassi… Yasmin."  Kim had opened the unpopular can of worms and decided to go fishing so to speak.  "I know you always liked her.  It was her you were showing off for when you speeded past us on your bike… acting like you were all that.  It was her that you came to our rescue time after time again… watching over us… her."  But I was the one that noticed while Yassi was totally oblivious to what was going on around her… too much centered on her own self.

     Not being able to deny what Kim was saying, Robin remained quiet.

     Noticing her silent friend's uneasiness, Kim returned to the course of their conversation's subject.  "Sandro rescued me that day.  He offered the same kind of protectiveness you did.  We didn't go out then or anything.  That wasn't until much later. Our parents became good friends and over the course of the next few years, we got to know each other better and…."  I didn't think I'd ever have a real chance with you. "Last year we started dating.  It was okay and we had a lot of fun."

     "And now?"

     "We want different things…."  Kim sighed.  "… and I'm not willing to settle."

     Relieved, Robin wrapped an arm around Kim.  "Good for you. You deserve the very best."

     The next fifteen minutes were met with silence and when they found their way back to Robin's car, she grabbed the packed lunch basket.  "Ready to eat?"

     "Like about an hour ago."  Kim was hungry all the time lately.

     "Why didn't you tell me?"     But even before Kim could answer, Robin said.  "Come on.  I know the perfect place."

     Down by the babbling brook, Robin flipped the light cover over the ground.  Kneeling down, she straightened out the cover.  Reaching up, Robin took Kim's hand. "Here.  Come sit with me."

     The younger woman quickly unpacked the food supplies and her green eyes grew wider with each item removed. "All this looks good."

     Grabbing a nice red juicy apple, Robin bit into it. "Mmmmm… here."  She offered it to Kim.

     Kim took a big bite out of it herself.  Crunching on the apple, she spied a bit of apple juice escape Robin's mouth since the older woman was struggling with chewing her apple.  Kim wiped the drop away with her hand.

     "Thanks…. it's still kinda hard to chew with my stitches."

     "Next time, don't take such a big bite."  Kim crinkled her nose.  "More for me."

     Robin offered a small crooked smile because a wider one would have pulled too much on her stitches.  "Do you want something to drink?  We have several kinds of juice."  Robin searched deeper in the basket and retrieved the long thin item.  "And straws."

     Nodding her head, Kim laughed.  "When do you get those out?"

     Robin carefully bit off a piece of roll.  "Tuesday…. I hope."

     That reminded Kim of the doctor's appointment she promised her mother she would get.  Not wanting to be distracted due to the wonderful day she was having, Kim tucked that unpleasant thought aside.  "Well, I'm famished…. so I'd advise you to stay out of my way."

     "Go ahead."  As Robin carefully scouted out the food she could eat, she watched Kim tear into what the younger woman described as the mother lode.  In the blink of an eye, Kim had selected two kinds of meat, three different rolls and claimed several pieces of fruit.  It pleased Robin to see her friend so happy and relaxed.

************************

     After their stomachs were full, Robin cleared the area and lay down on her back.  She studied the clouds in the sky, easily falling into a drowsy sleep.

     Kim finished the last of her juice before sitting the empty bottle aside.  She turned back to see the sleepy Robin turn toward her on her side.  As Robin turned, she gathered up a small pillow, resting her head on it. Kim noticed a tattoo on Robin's left upper arm, which was slightly covered by her sleeve.  The younger woman carefully lifted the sleeve to completely reveal the tattoo.  Scooting closer, Kim traced over the tattoo with her finger.  On Robin's arm was the head of a hawk framed inside the circular eternity sign symbolized by a snake.  Her finger felt a raised area on Robin's arm at the base of the hawk's chest.  Kim leaned down to take a closer inspection of the tattoo.  Something's not right.  Not quite able to put her finger on it, Kim noticed a small shaded area in the feathers of the hawk.  "I wonder what that's all about."

     Robin let out a satisfied moan in her sleep.

     Gazing lovingly at her friend, Kim's finger trailed up along Robin's arm and over her shoulder when she saw the small looped earring dangling from the sleeping woman's ear.  Kim couldn't stop herself from playing with it.  Smiling, Kim then traced the edge of Robin's ear and then slid her finger along the neckline.  Kim was content in that moment, a moment she wished would last a lifetime.

     Still asleep, the only thing Robin felt was this overwhelming sensation of being completely loved.

*************************

     When Robin finally awoke, she noticed curious green eyes staring at her. "Oh, sorry." Robin lifted herself up. "Guess I fell asleep.  I don't usually do that unless I'm comfortable around…"

     "It's okay."  Kim bumped Robin against her shoulder.  "I enjoyed it… watching you sleep. Oh, and I saw your tattoo."

     Instinctively, she rubbed her upper arm.  "Do you like it?"  Not quite sure what Kim would think.

     "On you?  It fits… somehow." While Robin slept, Kim had plenty of time to think and she figured there was no time like the present. "What was it about Yassi that you liked so much?"

     Shifting uneasily upon hearing that question, Robin shrugged.

     "Okay. How do you know you like someone… that way?"

     For Robin, it was easy.  She had only liked one person that way and her stomach told the whole story. "Butterflies."

     "Where?"  Kim searched the immediate area.

     Pointing her belly, Robin said. "Here.  I get butterflies when they're around."

     "Butterflies, huh?  Yeah, I guess that's one way to know."

     Kim didn't seem convinced to Robin so she elected to expand on a subject she had never really broached with anyone else.  "It's a feeling in the pit of your stomach when that special person is around.  You just… I don't know.  I just feel it." Finding it difficult to explain, Robin asked her friend.  "What about you? What do you feel?"

     "Hmmm…….. the smile on my face."  Kim beamed at Robin.  "When they're around.  All of a sudden I realize I've got this huge silly grin and…. everything falls into place.  I feel safe and sorta like invincible." Kim gave that last thought some serious attention.  "Yeah, invincible… because that person is there protecting me."

     Leaning over to bump up against the smaller woman, Robin noted.  "Kinda the same thing."

     "That warm tingling feeling inside when you touch…"  Kim returned the bump.  "…. when you accidentally brush up against each other." The memory of Kim dancing with her arms around Robin's neck suddenly popped up in the younger woman's mind.

     Dazing off to nowhere in particular, Robin let out a breath.  "You just want to wrap them in your arms and never let go."

     Turning to look at her friend's profile, Kim would swear she felt Robin's arm encircle her waist just as they did at the dance last Wednesday night.  "Robin?"

     The older woman turned and her fluid brown eyes locked onto green.  "Mmmmm….."

     The moment of truth jumped into focus and Kim seized it.  Leaning over, Kim's trembling lips brushed against Robin's mouth. Her lips lazed there briefly, lounging in the sweet nectar of a forbidden love until suddenly it was gone.

     Startled by the innocent kiss, Robin jerked back. What just happened? Did I just kiss my friend?

     Dragging her eyelids open, Kim prepared for the worse but prayed for a miracle.  "Robin?"  Seeing the stunned look in Robin's eyes, Kim's heart sank.  "I… I'm…."  Words failing her, Kim buried her face in her hands.  Oh, my God, what have I done?  She's going to hate me now.

     Confused and upset that Kim was nearly on the verge of tears, Robin wrapped her arms around her friend. "Hey… it's okay.  Kim? It's okay."

     Shaking, Kim refused to look at Robin.  I saw it in her eyes… she's disgusted.

     "Kim?"  Trying to get her friend to look at her, Robin was having no luck.  "Come on now.  It's okay. You've had a rough couple of weeks and….. hey, I understand.  You just need some comforting.  That's all."  The older woman continued to hug Kim. "We're friends, right?  What are friends for?" Robin knew she was rambling and finally lamented.  "We're practically like family… you and me."

     Tearing eyes jolted wide open as Kim sniffed.  "Like a little sister?"

     Thinking she was making progress, Robin was quick to confirm that question. "Yes… exactly."  Robin brushed her lips against the auburn haired woman's head.  "Just like my little sister."  The comforting words Robin offered to her friend did anything but comfort the younger woman. As a matter of fact, this was the day Kim would always remember as the day her heart broke completely in two.
 

Chapter Fourteen

     After calling the bookstore and finding out that Kim wasn't there, Robin dialed her friend's home number.  When Elena answered, Robin asked to talk with Kim.

     "She's already left for work, Robin."  Elena said as she picked up a few items off the floor and shoved them in the wash basket.

     Frustrated, Robin closed her eyes.  "I already called there.  She wasn't in yet."

     "Mmmmm…."  Elena sat down on the edge of her bed.  "Kim's has a lot on her mind….."

     "I know."  Robin quickly ran over an array of issues her friend was facing to include the 'kissing incident' from yesterday.

     "Did you try her cell phone?"  Elena suggested and if Robin wasn't going to, she would.  Elena was worried about her daughter. When her daughter arrived home late last night, she astutely recognized that something was wrong with Kim.  "Robin, tell me…. I know Kim spent some time with you yesterday.  Did she talk to you about anything?"

     Trying to decipher exactly to what Mrs. Patakas was referring to, Robin gave a general answer to the question.  "We talked about lots of things."

     "Sandro?"

     "Yes, that… and her stories. Her aunt dying and Amanda."  Robin wasn't going to mention the kiss if Kim's mother didn't.  "Things like that.  I know she's been under a lot of stress."

     Not wanting to delve into the touchy subject on Elena's mind, she said.  "I'm glad you've been there for her, Robin.  She needs a good friend to listen to her.  In the past, she's talked with Yassi about things but since she's….. hey, maybe Kim stopped by to see Yassi on her way to work."

     Since the tourist office Yasmin worked in was cattycorner from the bookstore, Robin figured Mrs. Patakas' assessment was logical.  "Okay, thanks then."

     "Robin? Thanks for being Kim's friend."  Then Mrs. Patakas said goodbye.

     "Bye."  I'm not sure how much of a friend I've been to your daughter though. Robin resisted the idea to call Kim on her cell phone since she didn't want to disturb the young woman.  "Maybe I'll try the bookstore later."

     Robin practically jumped out her skin when Daniel tapped her on the shoulder. "Robin."  He sat on the edge of her desk.  "You okay?"  Nodding, the sales manager continued.  "I might have to go to Paris later this week and as you know we have that exhibition.  So, I'll need you on stand by to take my place at the exhibition. Okay?"

     Nodding reluctantly at the unwelcome idea.  "Sure."  Her tool company had about four to five exhibitions every year and Robin hated them so she always volunteered to stay at the company and hold the fort down.

     "Great.  I should know one way or the other by Wednesday."  Daniel patted her on the shoulder as he left.

     Grabbing her headset again, Robin returned to her quotations.

************************

     Yasmin Dietrich hung up the telephone then returned her attention to her younger cousin.  "Do you want my advice?"  Kim nodded.  "Go back to Sandro."

     Green eyes widened in surprise.

     "Why are you so shocked I would suggest that?" Yasmin walked around the counter.  "You want something to drink?"  Declining the offer, Kim sat in the chair next to Yasmin's desk and watched her cousin fill her cup with coffee.

     "You know I don't love him." Kim finally admitted.

     Yasmin stared at her a moment before sitting down behind her desk.  It was a slow morning and there was no one else in the office.  "Kim.  The way I see it… one, you and Sandro make a cute couple."  The frown on Kim's face caused Yasmin to expand on that statement.  "I'm not saying it's a basis for a good marriage… doesn't hurt though.  Two, he's rich and both of your parents get along well. Having in-laws that like you can't be discounted."

     Watching Yasmin sip her coffee, Kim slumped down in her seat. "No.. and I like them a lot, too.  But I'm not marrying my in-laws.  And why are you so hot on marriage anyway?"

     Thinking about her cheating husband, Yasmin admitted.  "I'm not… not really.  Kim…. Sandro's not like my husband. Heaven knows I would never have married Martin had I not been pregnant.  He cheated on me even then."

     "I'm sorry."

     "It's not your fault.  I knew what I was getting into…. but I thought with the baby and all, he would change… settle down."  However, Yasmin lost their baby and Martin never did stop his cheating ways.  He did like the aspect of marriage as it kept a few of his female wolves at bay.  "I've tried to make the best of my marriage and I came to love him….. and that's the problem now."

     "He doesn't deserve you."

     "You're right."  Yasmin leaned back in her chair and found herself saying something she realized during the last few years.  "But then again, I guess I'm not such a prize either."

     That shocked the younger woman.  "That's not true."

     Scooting up, the curly haired woman shook her head. "Kim… ever since you were just that high….."  Yasmin held up her hand.  "You've had this idealistic picture of me as some kind of role model."

     "You were very popular in school and no one was prettier.  Everybody loved you."

     "I don't deny that."  Yasmin let out a wicked laugh.  "I was always pretty cocky about it." She rubbed her temple.  "But that was such a long time ago. Things change.  We get older and we realize we weren't all that."

     "Yassi….. I know that sometimes you're still…."  Kim struggled to find the best word to use in describing her cousin.

     "Vain?"

     "Not exactly the word I was looking for…"

     "But true?"

     "You were… very sure of yourself. I liked that about you. I looked up to you because you seemed so confident."

     "So that's why you always hung around me.  Wanting to be like me?"  Yasmin offered a brief smile before it turned to a frown.  "Now look where I am. Wanting someone to validate that I still have what it takes to turn a head or two and make me feel desired."

     "You shouldn't let Martin's stupidity make you think less of yourself."  Kim sat up.  "I wanted to be just like you.  I even pretended you were my sister."

     Yasmin laughed then reached over to caress Kim's arm.  "Well, I always wanted a little sister."

     And that was the crux of Kim's problem.  "You're not the only one."

     "Hey, now. What's with the frown?"  Yasmin cupped her mug in her hand.  "You're bright… and very pretty.  College educated girl… who wouldn't want you?  Sandro still does from what you tell me."

     Pursing her lips together, Kim sulked even more.  "If only he was the one I wanted."

     Studying her young cousin, Yasmin asked.  "You sure you don't want something to drink?"  When Kim declined the offer again with a short nod, Yasmin continued. "You gonna tell me exactly who has you all upset?"

     Not sure that she wanted to reveal her heart's desire, Kim hesitated.

     "Come on…. you can confide in me.  Just think of me as your big sister."  Yasmin winked at the obviously upset younger woman.

     With a deep breath, Kim said.  "Robin."

     "Oh…… I see."  Remembering how a much younger Kim went on and on about Robin this, Robin that, Yasmin asked.  "And she doesn't feel the same I take it?"

     "No."  Kim crossed her arms.  "Seems she's obsessed with someone else."

     When Kim refused to look up, Yasmin pressed on.  "You know who it is?"

     "Uh… huh."  Her greens eyes carefully avoided her cousin.

     Yasmin scooted all the way up in her chair and nudged Kim's arm.  "Look at me."  When Kim did, Yasmin asked.  "Who is it?"

     "You!"

     Completely surprised, the curly haired woman asked in wonder. "Me?"  Yasmin knew Robin hung around her a lot during grade school and then again at the foreign language school but she was clueless about the taller woman ever liking her that way.  And in some way, Yasmin was elated by the news.

     "She never did get over you… never."

     "Wow."  Yasmin sat back in her chair. "I never realized.  I knew you had a hero worship kinda crush on her."

     "It was much more than that."

     Eyeing her cousin, Yasmin said.  "Have you told her?"

     Kim shrugged.  "Sorta… not really directly."

     "Maybe you should."  Yasmin suggested.

     "I don't want to lose her friendship."  Kim wondered if she already had after the unfortunate kissing incident the day before.

     Wishing she had the gall to confront her own husband about his affairs, Yasmin said.  "You'll never know until you ask."  Of course, Yasmin was too cowardly to directly ask her husband the question that was ever present on her mind for if she did and learned the truth that would be something she would then have to face.  It was much easy to suspect than know for sure.

     "Then there's one other little thing."  Kim confessed.

     "Hmmmm…"  Yasmin leaned her head forward, anxious for Kim to continue.

     "I might be pregnant."

     This stunning revelation changed the whole complexity of the matter.  When Yasmin found out she was pregnant every learned social behavior prompted her to marry the father of her baby and she still felt this was the way it was supposed to be even as it did not turn out exactly as she had hoped.  "You need to go back to Sandro."

     "Why?" Kim jumped up out of her seat.  "And have a miserable life just because I'm pregnant… our unhappiness would affect our child."

     "It's the right thing to do, Kim."

     Turning around, Kim pinned her with glaring green eyes.  "Do you think it was the right thing for you to do… now?"

     Yasmin stood up and sat on the edge of her desk.  "If the baby would have….."  The older woman didn't want to think of her miscarriage.  "I think… no, I'm sure things would have been better between Martin and me."

     Rubbing her temple, Kim refused to accept her cousin's logic. "No.  Baby or not, I wouldn't be happy with Sandro not when I feel so strongly about Robin.  I wish she could….." On a precariously emotional edge, Kim sighed heavily. "There's just more to me than she can see."

     The rest of the day Robin and Kim attempted to contact each other but fate was against them.  When Kim called Robin, she was out of the office or busy in the warehouse and when the export expert tried to return Kim's calls, the younger woman was not available.

************************

     Early the next morning, Kim rushed out of the house in order to get to her doctor's appointment. To her surprise, she ran into Amanda at the medical complex.  "Amanda… hi."

     The older woman eagerly accepted Kim's hug.  "Why you're up and out early?  What brings you here?"

     "A doctor's appointment."

     Knowing that her employee hadn't been feeling well, Amanda suggested. "Then why don't you take the rest of the day off… but first you let me know how you're doing."

     "Oh, no. It's nothing like that."  Kim felt she could share her concern with Amanda but wanted to be sure about the results of her test before she did.  "How are you doing?"

     Sighing, Amanda shrugged. "The doctor says I'm fine.  He thinks I'm letting running the store and the pressures get to me."

     "How can I help?"

     Amanda lovingly stroked the younger woman's face.  "You do more than your share at the store already.  He thinks I should maybe sell the store."

     "What?"

     "Do you have a minute?"  Kim nodded before Amanda looked for a couple of chairs.  "Here… over there." When they were seated, the bookstore owner continued.  "I've been thinking about it myself.  The everyday working part isn't bad… I actually enjoy it.  It's the business end of it that's getting to me.  My partner used to do all of that."

     "I see."  Kim held Amanda's hand.

     "Problem is… I don't want to move from my upstairs apartment and if I sell the place the new owner might not let me stay."

     Adjusting herself in her chair, Kim sought a solution for her friend's problem.  "I love that store and…

     "Sweetie, don't you fret about it. If I do sell, I'll make sure you get my highest recommendation."

     "That's not it, Amanda." Kim quickly ran through a couple of financial scenarios that would help her secure her dream.  "Maybe I can buy it.  Then you could live in your place as along as you want… and even work there, too.  If you wanted… that is."

     Amanda had to admit it was an excellent idea.  "There's no one I'd rather have own the store.  But are you sure?"

     "I need to think about it."  Kim brushed back a few bangs from her forehead before she said out loud. "I'd rather not ask but I know my dad would loan me the money."

     "Kim, if you're serious, I'm sure I could work out some kind of deal that would be good for both of us."  Amanda was taking to the idea more and more.

     "I'd still need some upfront money."  Kim smiled.  "I have some ideas for the store already."

     "Hmmmm…. put a new facelift on the old place, huh?"

     "Not much… just a few things." Kim admitted.  The old world charm of the bookstore appealed to her and she didn't want to change that part but she had always dreamed of carving out a place in the store where she could tell stories to kids.  And now that I may be having one of my own.  But the young woman refused to entertain that thought for the moment. "Guess I better get to my appointment."

     Amanda kissed Kim on the cheek.  "Let me know how it turns out."

     "Oh, I will… and I'll be into work later."

     Amanda watched Kim dash off to catch an elevator when she noticed Robin Hart enter the building.  "Robin?  Is that you?"

     "Hello Amanda."  The tall woman walked over to where the bookstore owner was sitting. "How are you today?"

     "Maybe I should ask you that?"

     "Ahh… these stitches get to come out today."

     "Kim told me about that." Amanda stood.  "And how you were a hard customer when it came to being a patient."

     That made Robin smile.  "Well, I have to admit I'm not very good at it. But Kim was great."

     "Yes, she is." The older woman studied Robin for a long moment. "And she's lucky to have you as a friend."

     Shyly, Robin shrugged when she looked away.

     Patting Robin on the arm, Amanda advised the younger woman.  "You take good care of her."

     Jerking her head around to look at Amanda curiously.  "I will."

***********************

     Robin was in a dark mood come play night on Wednesday and Sarah was quick to notice.  "Your mind's not in the game."

     Frustrated, Robin banged the machine when the time ran out.  "Not my night, I guess."

     "Want to talk about it?"  Sarah gathered her change and headed back to their usual booth.

     Obediently, Robin followed. However, she wasn't really in the mood to talk either.  "How are the kids?"

     "Fine… and Michael's good, too." The redhead inserted before Robin decided to play twenty questions about Sarah's life instead of talking about herself.  "I want to know what's on your mind."

     "Nothing."

     "Listen, Robin.  I know you're reluctant… a real mule sometimes about sharing what's going on in there."  Sarah pointed at Robin's head.  "But I am your friend.. and I want to help.  Okay?"

     "Yeah, sure."  With Daniel out of the office at the exhibition, Robin's workload was busier than ever.  Twice she started to call Kim earlier that day but then the company' telephone rang and distracted her.  Then right before she left for the day, Daniel called to say he needed her at the exhibition for the next two days. "I got to go out of town till Friday."

     "Work?"

     "Yep."  Robin was happy to be able to drink her Spezi out of a glass instead of the straw she had been using.

     "That all I'm going to get out of you tonight?"

     Robin offered her friend a weak smile.  "If you don't mind, I think I want to go home."

     "Okay…. but you remember… I'm here if you need me."  Robin nodded.  "I mean it, Robin. You've been a great friend to me and Michael and I want to be able to return the favor."

     "Alright."  As much as Robin wanted to share what she was feeling even she didn't know exactly what was going on.  Analyzing what she felt was not one of Robin's fortes.
 

Chapter Fifteen

     Shocked, Kim stared at Sandro's dad after he made a toast to the invited guests at his party.  Even when Sandro grabbed her arm, hugging her, Kim was still reeling from the announcement.

     Sandro ducked down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Are you happy?"

     Kim didn't have time to answer the question or ask several of her own because a few people were congratulating her. I knew I should have begged my way out of coming here.  I had plenty of excuses… headache, not feeling well…. stressed.  I am that. And the one person she desperately wanted to talk with had to go out of town on business for two days.

     When the young couple was left alone for a moment, Sandro asked.  "Honey, can I get you something to drink?  Champagne?"

     "Yes…. something to drink… yes, I could use it right now."  Then it hit her.  I'm pregnant… I can't drink.  She yanked Sandro back to her.  "No!"

     Sliding his hands on her hips, he cooed. "I know you don't want me to leave but I'll only be gone for a minute."

     "I don't want anything to drink." Thinking quickly, Kim said.  "You go ahead."  She shoved him away from her quickly only to hear him give a small laugh.  Just as Kim was set to search for her mother, there she stood next to her.  "Thank God, you're here."

     "I was inside when your dad came and told me about Johann's toast."  Elena wrapped a supportive arm around her daughter. "Don't worry, honey.  Your father and I will straighten this out."

     All Kim wanted to do was go home and crawl up into a ball in her bed and sleep.   Hoping that when she woke, all things would be righted in her world and this night would have never happened.  But she nearly loss it when Sandro's mother approached the two.

     "Kim, darling.  Isn't this wonderful?"  Silvia Fischer gave a conspiratory wink to Elena then said.  "We are all so happy for the two of you."

     Clearing her throat, Elena smiled.  "Silvia…. Kim's not feeling well.  Kostas and I are going to take her home."

     Concern crossed Silvia's face as she asked sincerely.  "Are you alright? Is there anything I can do?"

     Nodding her head, Kim was unable to express her jumbled feelings.

     Elena motioned for her husband then said to her good friend.  "Silvia… it seems this announcement is a bit pre-mature."

     "What?"  The older woman was totally confused.  "I know our young couple had a…. misunderstanding recently but….."

     Handing off her daughter to Kostas, Elena pulled Silvia aside.  "They haven't worked things out and to be quite frank with you….. I don't think they will."

     "Elena, this is all…. even you told me Kim was wanting my son to ask her to marry him."

     "Apparently, I was mistaken about..… we both were so much hoping they'd get together.  It seemed quite natural."

     Nodding, Silvia agreed wholeheartedly.  "Absolutely…. they make such a lovely couple and my Johann and I love her like our daughter already."

     Sighing, Elena decided to lay the cards out on the table since she had had a long talk with her daughter earlier that day.  "It would have been great… perfect even since we all get a long so well.  But it's not what Kim wants and I'm afraid Sandro kinda blindsided her tonight."

     Silvia's gray eyes scanned the small group of guests before coming to rest on her laughing son as he joked with Sebastian and several other friends.  "So that's why Sandro put together this little party."

     "They've talked about it and Kim ended the relationship for good over a week ago.  I'm afraid I kinda insisted Kim come tonight because I want us all to still be friends….and she cares a great deal about you and Johann."

     Silvia's eyes never left her son. "I knew something was up….but I guess I didn't want to see it."  She turned back to Elena and touched her friend's arm. "Take Kim home….hopefully she'll feel better.  I think I need to talk with my son before this night is over."  Silvia's kissed her friend on the cheek.  "I'll call you tomorrow."

***********************

     Kim sulked even more so the next day when several friends called and congratulated her on her engagement to Sandro.  She wasn't up to explaining the truth so she said nothing.  Finally, she refused to take any more calls and crawled back into bed.  She would have spent the rest of the day there except that Amanda needed her at the bookstore.  Finally, a couple of hours later as she was about to leave for work her only wish was that she would get through the day without anymore complications because tomorrow Robin would be back in town.

***********************

     Since Robin didn't get home until very late Friday night, she called Kim's home the next morning.  After finding out that Kim had a late night also and was still sleeping, Robin advised Kostas that she would call back later.  She went about her usual Saturday morning routine going to the cemetery then to several stores before going home and checking her email.

     When Kim learned Robin had called, she immediately called her friend's home number and it was busy so she called Robin's cell phone but there was no answer.  Frustrated, Kim hung up the phone and told her father.  "I'm going to the movie theater before I go to work.  When mom gets back, will you tell her I'll be home late?"

     "Okay, glikiamou, bye."  Kostas kissed his daughter then returned to his newspaper.

***********************

     "Damn!"  After she got offline, Robin searched her room for the third time before she checked the bathroom and kitchen.  She used her home phone to call her cell phone and not hearing any ringing in the house, Robin realized she must have lost the phone between the cemetery and the butcher shop.  She rushed out the door to her car in order to try and find it since she had an early afternoon showing at the movie theater.

     Robin raised the garage door, got in her car and backed out then she closed the garage door before getting back in her car.  As she was about to put the car in gear, she heard a phone ringing.  Robin practically tore the car apart only to find her phone under the passenger's seat.  "Hallo?"

     The twenty-five year old projectionist Mitch said.  "Robin… I'll be back in town in about an hour so I'm going to work my regular shift tonight at the movie theater."

     "Good…. I wasn't looking forward to working all afternoon and night."

     "Well, now you don't have to and thanks for working this afternoon for me."  Mitch smiled.  "Talk to you later."

     "Bye."  Robin maneuvered her car down the road on the way to work but the only thing on her mind was Kim.  As soon as I get to the movie started, I'll give her a call.

***********************

     Robin was just about to relax after starting her afternoon movie when Yasmin approached the cashier's office.  She heard Yasmin order two tickets for the evening show from Mrs. Franz.

     The cashier accepted the money and gave the young woman the tickets.  "There you go, honey."

     "Danke."  Seeing Robin standing in the background, Yasmin waved.  "Hey…..did you hear the news?"

     Robin motioned Yasmin inside.  The curly haired woman stood in the cashier's office doorway.  "It's about Kim."

     Upon hearing that name, Mrs. Franz interrupted. "That reminds me.   Kim stopped by just before you got here."

     When the cashier didn't say anything else, Robin asked.  "And?"

     "She was looking for you."

     "And?"

     "I thought Mitch was supposed to work today."  Mrs. Franz shrugged.

     Frustrated, Robin nodded. "I'll try and call her in a little bit."  Returning her attention to Yasmin, Robin asked. "What about Kim?"

     Suddenly, Yasmin recalled the conversation she had with her cousin earlier in the week but now it was too late to avoid the subject. Hesitantly, she said. "The word is that she and Sandro got engaged Thursday night."

     Stunned, Robin was unable to move even when the candy girl, Nicole yelled for her to help out.  Finally, she said.  "That's crazy."

     Nicole yelled again for Robin to assist her at the candy counter.

     Completely ignoring the young woman, Robin glared at Yasmin.  "Do you know where she is?"

     "I don't know.  Home or at the bookstore, I'd guess." Yasmin studied her old friend from school carefully as did the cashier.

     When Nicole complained again about needing help, one of her customers decided to take matters into his own hands.  He walked directly up to Robin and asked.  "What do you have to do around here to get some service?"

     That voice certainly got Robin's attention.  Nodding at Nicole, the projectionist smirked. "Isn't the special service you're getting from her enough?"

     "Oh, I'm getting all the special attention I want from a very special lady."  Sandro crossed his arms.  "Or maybe you haven't heard about my engagement yet."  After being scolded by his mother regarding the mock engagement announcement, Sandro knew eventually the truth would come out but for now he was going to play it for all it was worth.

     "Excuse me."  Robin whipped past both Yasmin and Sandro in order to assist the many costumers standing in line.  Her emotions raged from irritated, insulted and irate to an inferno brewing up inside. But Robin was the consummate professional as she assisted the customers diligently without giving away even a trace of the turmoil raging in her.

     When she finally had a spare moment, Robin realized both Yasmin and Sandro had disappeared.  She walked into the cashier's office and closed the door.  Sliding on the stool, Robin gazed off into the distant as her mind wandered aimlessly.

     "Robin?"  The cashier tried to get the young woman's attention.  "Robin!"  Finally, she shook Robin and got the projectionist's full attention.  "Hey, what are you going to do about it?"

     "I'm going to call Kim."

     "And?"

     "And what?"

     Jerking her thumb over her shoulder, Mrs. Franz said.  "She's not going to marry that jerk."

     "Oh, and just how do you know?"  Robin crossed her arms.

     Shaking her head, Mrs. Franz sat back in her chair.  "You young people… don't you ever talk to each other?  She's not in love with him… she's in love with you."

     "That's not true… about her being in love with me.  We're just friends."  Robin was naïve about all the clues Kim had dropped regarding her feelings.

     "You can't be that blind."

     Feeling insulted, Robin protested as she adjusted her glasses.  "What makes you think she's really in…. love… with me?"

     "We talked.. that night."  Mrs. Franz never heard Kim say those very words but it was obvious to the woman that had lived sixty-five years on this green Earth.

     "She said that?"

     The cashier pursed her lips.  "Are you…. you can't be that naïve… that innocent not to see it.  Especially with you feeling the same way."

     That last comment hit Robin like a ten-pound hammer.  "You've got it all wrong.  Why she's …. she's like my …. sister."

     "Uh huh….. then the next time someone tells you Kim's engaged maybe you ought to be looking in the mirror at your face."  The cashier turned around and pressed a few buttons on the computer and mumbled.  "You'd see the green eyed monster raise its ugly head."

     "I am not jealous."  Robin declared.  But something was tearing at her insides.  Something she had never felt before not even when her heart pined for Yasmin all those years.

***********************

     A nervous Robin pulled up in front of the bookstore.  She attempted to settle her upset stomach by pressing her hand on it.  "Feels like a bunch of busy butterflies inside me."  Instead of going inside the bookstore, Robin waited in the car.  After Mrs. Franz refused to talk with her any more, Robin called Kim at the bookstore and asked to see her after she got off work.  Kim agreed and Robin said she would pick her up.

     When Kim opened the door to the bookstore, an anxious Robin jumped in her seat before she hurried out of her car in order to meet her friend.  "Hi."

     "Hi."  Kim smiled.

     Robin opened the passenger's door for Kim.  "How are you? Good?"

     Once settled into Robin's BMW, Kim said. "I'm fine…. sorta."

     Hurrying back around to her side, Robin slid in her car.  She started it up and then realized she didn't know where they were going.  "Ah…. you hungry?"  When Kim shook her head, Robin suggested.  "Want to go for a ride or how about my house and if we get hungry later, I'll fix something."

     That made Kim laugh.  "Or order out…. since you can't cook."

     "Hey… I can make sandwiches… with some help."  Robin shyly looked at Kim.  "Okay, we order out."

     "Sounds good to me."

     They drove to Robin's house in silence since neither woman knew where to start even though Kim had a lot on her mind and Robin had one burning question eating away at her insides.

     Upon entering her home, Robin slipped off her shoes and Kim followed suit.  Robin's one steadfast rule…. no wearing shoes in the house. But for Kim she would have made an exception. "Come on… why don't we sit on the couch?"  The older woman grabbed Kim's hand and guided her to the living room.

     Settling on the comfortable sofa, Kim relaxed a bit.  She took a moment to really study the room and noticed a large glassed case that housed numerous limited edition dolls. On the sideboard that ran the length of the wall sat several commemorative plates decorated with fairy tale characters.  Robin had a lot of family pictures spread throughout the room and one interesting black and white picture of a large hand holding a baby. "This is nice.  I like the way it's decorated."

     "My mom did it.  It was one of the last room's she redecorated before…. I'm never going to change it."  She added, matter of factly.

     Kim sensed Robin's melancholy mood so she touched her friend's arm.  "I wouldn't change a thing either."  Then a thought slammed to the forefront of her mind.  "Unless you had a bunch of kids running around…. they'd get into everything I'm afraid."  There's no sense putting it off.  "Robin… I'm pregnant."

     Brown eyes opened wide as she stared at Kim.  "So…. you're really going to do it?"

     Now quite understanding what Robin meant but thinking she was referring to the baby, Kim assured her.  "Yes, I'm going to have the baby."

     "I mean…."  Robin's mind was reeling.  She couldn't believe she was going to ask the next question or that Kim would actually contemplate it.  "Marry Sandro?  You're going to marry him."

     "No!"  Kim searched her friend's eyes, trying to read them but she couldn't decipher what was on Robin's mind. "Is that what you think I should do?"

     "No!"  Robin yelled, nearly coming off the couch.  "Sorry…. no. I know it may be hard to raise the baby alone but your parents will help, I'm sure and….."  Then it really hit Robin. She's pregnant.  That's why….

     Kim's green eyes welled with tears.  The logical thing to do was marry the father of her baby at least according to society and her cousin.  Kim was glad her parents confirmed to her that they would be by her side no matter what she decided.  But then again, she needed to think about what would be best for the baby and finally confessed.  "I don't know what to do."

     Robin wrapped her arm around Kim, pulling her closer. She gently took hold of the younger woman's hand.  "I'll always be there for you."

     Kim's head dropped safely on Robin's strong wide shoulder.  But will you be there like I want you to be?
 

Chapter Sixteen

     "Mrs. Franz says that Kim is in love with me and that I'm…. in love with her."  Robin's brown eyes refused to meet her friend.

     "The cashier?"

     Clearly confused, Robin's head popped up.  "Not the cashier… Kim."

     Shaking her head, Sarah stifled a laugh.  "That's not what I meant."  The redhead regrouped before continuing.  "First off, let me say I'm honored that you're talking with me about this subject… let alone ever bring it up."

     Feeling very uneasy, Robin shifted in her chair and again refused to meet her friend's caring eyes.

     Reaching across the table, Sarah placed her hand on Robin's arm. "It's okay…. really."  But that didn't do anything to relieve the unbridled tension building in Robin.  "Are you asking me what I think?"

     Robin gathered her hands together and started fidgeting before she shrugged her shoulders.  "Maybe…. I don't know.  I can't see it."

     Sarah relaxed in her chair in order to study the dark haired woman a moment.  "Then perhaps you should."

     "What do you mean by that?"  Robin chanced a quick look at Sarah.

     "Robin…. you take life as it comes.  Not asking why or what and especially not looking at the deeper levels behind it all." She could tell Robin was about to protest so she quickly cut her friend off.  "I'm not criticizing you for it.  It's worked for years for you.  But are you really getting out of life what you want?"

     Robin briefly thought about Yasmin.  "I can never have what I want."

     "Really?"  Sarah crossed her arms.  "And why's that?"

     Robin bolted upright in her chair.  "It doesn't matter.  I've never been with a woman…. or anyone."

     "I know that."   Even though Robin never shared much of her personal feelings or heaven forbid anything intimate, Sarah correctly guessed about the absence of anyone in Robin's love life.  But now it was time to bring out the big guns since Robin offered her this rare opportunity to discuss something personal in her friend's life.  "If you ask me, you've been so… obsessed with Yasmin all these years that you've never giving anything or anyone or even yourself a chance to consider others."

     "You mean Kim."

     "Kim, yes…. or anyone else for that matter." Sarah moved forward, resting her arms on the table.  "I'm here for you, Robin…. anyway I can to help."

     The reoccurring dream Robin had about the love of her life held in her check.  Since she always believed the woman in that dream was Yasmin, Robin rebuffed any other scenario and now Kim along with her friend was asking her to think differently about what she really wanted.  And that request scared Robin. Her world as it was became a safe haven away from feelings that could end up hurting her even more.  "I don't even know what a woman would want."

     Interested in that comment, Sarah smiled. "Now you're talking.  I can give you a pretty good idea."

     "But you're a woman."

     Sarah quickly scanned her body.  "Nice of you to notice."

     Pursing her lips, Robin frowned. "That's not what I meant."

     "I know what you meant, my dear friend."  Sarah winked at her uncomfortable friend.  "You mean, what does a woman want from another woman."

     Robin shrugged, acting nonchalant.

     "Well, I'll tell you.  She wants the same thing a woman wants from a man. Yet, in a different way."

     "Different way?"  Robin quizzed. I don't even know the traditional way. And that was the problem Robin faced.  She never explored her own feelings beyond the initial one she had held so long in check regarding her first love.

     "Come on, Robin.  People all want basically the same thing…. to be loved for who we are, appreciated…. and supported.  We want the kind of love that speeds our heart up… takes our breath away." Sarah smiled.  "Same thing goes for when you're having sex."

     Robin did not want to think about that for the moment.  Robin knew how she felt when she thought of Yasmin those many years but even she had to admit those feelings had faded through time.  "How did you know you were in love with Michael?"

     Now we're getting to the crux of it. Sarah was careful to traverse this emotional minefield.  "Besides what I said earlier, I imagine that you and I shared some of the same feelings.  What you felt toward Yasmin…. I had those feeling about Michael… along with a few other boyfriends."

     "How did you know he was the one?" Robin insisted.

     After thinking about it a moment, even Sarah was surprised with her next words.  "I changed…. I was willing to compromise.  You remember Frithjof?" Robin nodded upon recalling one of Sarah's old boyfriends.  "Well, I thought I was in love with him, too.  And, in a way, I was but when he wanted to quit school and travel all over the world …. as exciting as that sounded and I did consider it for a moment or two, I wasn't willing to do that. That's when I realized I wasn't willing to follow him to the ends of the earth or anything like that."

     "And you would for Michael?"

     "Yes."

     "But…"

     "Robin, I've seen you with Kim.  You remember that night we went out to eat and then to a movie?"  The taller woman nodded. "It was evident then to me how much you cared about Kim.  It was like you were a couple… just like Michael and me."  When Sarah saw the confused look on Robin's face, she suggested. "Think about it."

     Frustrated, Robin slid down in her chair.

     "Let me ask you something.  You never told Yasmin how you felt, did you?"  Robin shook her head.  "Why?"

     "She was in love with Martin. Besides, she was pregnant."  Robin countered.

     "But if you loved her so much why not tell her?  Sure she may have turned you down."

     Robin grunted. Or laughed at me.

     "Why weren't you willing to fight for her?  And don't tell me because she was in love with Martin or she was pregnant.  You felt that way about her a long time before Martin ever came into the picture."

     "It doesn't matter.  Kim may get back with Sandro anyway."  Robin pretended that thought didn't bother her.

     "Why in the world would she do that?"

     "She's pregnant."

     "Oh….."  Sarah thought it was ironic that her friend was now facing nearly the same dilemma Robin encountered ten years earlier with Yasmin.  "So what are you going to do about it?"

*************************

     "She wants to know what I'm going to do about it." Robin stood at her mother's grave. "What does she mean… what am I going to do about it?  It's not up to me."  Robin was glad that there wasn't anyone else at the cemetery.

     Robin kicked at a chunk of grass on the ground.  "Momma, what should I do?"  An internal whispering invaded her thoughts asking 'what do you feel?' "I don't know how I feel." The voice then suggested firmly… 'then I suspect you should find out'. The tall woman stuffed her hand in her jeans pockets.

*************************

     Yasmin rubbed her temple as she talked with her husband on the telephone.  "Why do you have to go out of town again so soon?"

     Gruff and not in a very patient mood, Martin nearly growled at his wife of ten years.  "It's my job. And if I don't stay on top of things then I won't be considered for that promotion."

     The curly haired woman sighed.  "When do you think they'll decide about that?"

     Straightening his tie, Martin quipped.  "Who knows…. but it won't be me if I'm late getting out of here.  Listen, I gotta go."

     "Call me tonight?"

     Just before he hung up, Martin said.  "I'll try."

     Sadly, Yasmin dropped her phone back on its cradle and stared out the huge front window of the tourist office.  She was feeling totally unloved and unappreciated.  Even the weekend had not gone as she had hoped.  Martin was home but too preoccupied with a big deal coming up that he evaded her sexual advances the whole weekend.  When she saw Robin cross the street in front of her office, Yasmin jumped up from her seat.  Opening the door, she waved. "Robin! Hi."

     Upon seeing Yasmin, Robin smiled and waved back.

     "Come here."  Yasmin called.

     Robin hesitated, giving one quick look toward the bookstore just cattycorner to the tourist office then she elected to spare a moment to talk with the one who had crushed her hopes of love.  "Hi, Yasmin."  Robin situated herself where she could see across the street to the bookstore.  She thought she saw Kim inside.  "How are you?"

     "Great."  Yasmin flashed a counterfeit smile at Robin.  So you were in love with me. The tourist office worker studied the taller woman.  She is quite nice looking.

     Feeling uneasy from the hard stare her friend was giving her, Robin shifted back and forth and kept sneaking a few peeks toward the bookstore.  Robin came to Market Square to talk with Kim about the baby and her future.

     Thinking about her husband's cavalier attitude toward her and his seemingly lack of sexual interest, Yasmin stepped closer.  "You know Robin…. you're a good person."

     That got Robin's attention.  "What?"

     "No… I mean it. You've always been a very good friend to me.  Oh, I know we haven't really seen each other much in these last few years but when we were in school… you were…. very much so."  Yasmin touched her arm. "Would you like to come in?"

     "Well, I…." Robin started to follow Yasmin but it was then she saw Sandro drive up in front of the bookstore and get out of his car.  "No….. thank you."

     Yasmin had to slam on the brakes, wondering why Robin changed her mind.  The curly haired woman noticed the intent look on Robin's face and followed her line of sight.  Oh, no!  All of Yasmin's insecurities came screaming to the surface and her competitive nature reared its ugly head.  She slid her hand along Robin's arm.  "I owe you an apology, you know."

     "Huh?" Absent mindedly, Robin nodded as she stared intently at the closed bookstore door that Sandro had just entered.

     "About that kiss." Yasmin wasn't having any luck getting Robin's attention as yet. "Robin?"  The taller woman spared Yasmin a look.  "I admit it was a joke…. on a dare. But…." Yasmin squeezed Robin's arm. "I did enjoy it… very much so."

     Robin swallowed hard.  "You did?"

     "Absolutely."  Yasmin stepped even closer and shyly looked up at Robin, tugging on her arm.  "Why don't you come inside?"

     Mesmerized, Robin watched as Yasmin licked her lips. Her dream was standing before and willingly offering herself to Robin.  She tried hard to capture the woman's face in her reoccurring dream but it was still fuzzy and for some reason when Robin consciously put Yasmin's face on the woman, it somehow didn't fit there.  Then when she heard a door slam, Robin jolted from her thoughts.  Jacking her head around toward the bookstore, she was unable to get Kim off of her mind. Wondering if her young friend needed her, Robin made a decision that would change her life forever.  She turned back to Yasmin.  "I thought that kiss was nice, too.  But that's all it was… just a kiss."  Letting go of her long held fantasy forever, Robin removed Yasmin's hand from her arm.  "I've got to go now."

     Yasmin watched Robin hurry across the road toward the bookstore.  "Damn…."  She stomped her foot on the ground.

************************

     Robin rushed into the store and when she saw Kim standing behind the counter, her stomach filled with nervous butterflies.  But when she heard Kim laughing at Sandro's joke, she retreated quickly before they saw her.

     "Just a moment."  Kim quieted her laughing.  The young woman leaned around to see who had entered the bookstore and upon seeing no one there, she turned back to Sandro.  "Did you see anyone?"

     The dark haired man shook his head. "It's good to hear you laugh again.  Reminds me of all the good times we had." Sandro leaned up against the counter.

     "We did, didn't we?"  Kim sighed when she easily detected Sandro engage in his usual and all too consuming charm that had seduced her in the first place.  "Sandro, we enjoyed spending time together and both of us going to school kept us from really examining what we really wanted.  I know it did for me.  You're not ready to settle down… not with me or anyone else for that matter."

     Sandro waggled his eyebrows at her. "So you want the beast to be tamed.  What's the fun in that?"

     "What I want is…."  She thought of Robin but wondered if even Robin would be able to give her what she craved in a relationship.  "…someone who's going to be there for me.  Someone who wants me… and no one else." She thought of Yasmin with that last comment.

     "Kim…. I do care about you.  I just want to taste all of life before I…" Sandro spit out the next two words.  "…settle down.  Why don't we just take a break for a while and see how it goes for us?"

     "You might as well accept it, Sandro. There is no us."  Kim said without a condescending tone. It was simply a fact.

     His usual cocky self-confidence reared its charming head as Sandro vowed before he left the bookstore.  "I'll never give up."

     She watched him leave, get in his sports car, rev it up and then speed off.  "Oh, yes, you will…at the first sight of a pretty girl."

************************

     Robin slammed her car door then muttered.  "I guess she doesn't need me any more."

     Another couple standing near their car in the parking lot looked up.  "Did you say something, miss?"

     Noticing them for the first time, Robin shook her head.  "Sorry." Fuming, Robin marched along the castle's well-worn trail and found herself near the huge beech tree where she had shared an afternoon with Kim.  The sullen woman plopped down on the ground.  She jacked her hand up under her chin after she propped her elbow on her crossed legs.  Staring out at the wide expansion of the castle grounds, Robin made a concerted effort to examine her feelings.

     The rest of the afternoon, Robin wandered aimlessly through the castle grounds and even went inside the castle.  She tried to reclaim the safe and secure feelings that the place held for her as she spent many a day at the castle with her father.  Remembering her childhood and the numerous stories told to her by her parents, Robin wished for the kind of love they shared.

     She later found herself out near the stone bench where her father proposed to her mother and sought comfort in their spiritual presence.  "I want that…. what you two had."  Robin heard her mother talk so often of finding her soulmate in Germany at this very spot.  Near tears, Robin slipped down off the bench onto the ground.  Even the babbling brook in the distant offered no soothing comfort to her yearning soul.

     When a low flying hawk caught her attention, Robin thought of Kim's children story.  It was a story about a hero that saved the village.  But she remembered something more about it. The subtle undertones of the story came clearly into focus.  Kim wrote her story from the perspective of a young girl in the village who had a crush on the hero.  The young girl yearned to gain the affections of the hero and the hero, even after saving the village, felt something missing from her heart.  After contemplating Kim's story for a while, Robin finally leaned her head on the cool bench and drifted off.

     In her dream, Robin stood as she did so many times on the train depot's platform, waiting for the train.  When she heard the whistle blow, she saw the train in the distant.  Nervous, Robin stood stock still in great anticipation of meeting the love of her life…. her soulmate.

     When the train finally eased to a stop, a beautiful woman stepped down from the train.  Robin's heart opened up and the butterflies in her stomach pranced in delight.  Suddenly, her heart lurched when she saw the same shadowy figure approach the young woman.  Unable to move, Robin blinked in an effort to make out not only the woman's face but also the face of the shadow that had whisked her love away so many times before in this same dream.

     The shadowy figure touched the woman's arm and redirected her back to the train.  As usual before the woman took that first step back on the train, she turned her head and looked directly at Robin.  Only this time, the vision of the woman's face who was staring at her snapped into focus.  Shocked awake, Robin bolted up.  "Kim!"
 

Chapter Seventeen

        Robin raced to the bookstore, not caring if the local police were patrolling the streets of Hechingen.  She seemed to catch every red light and several pokey drivers on the road, impeding her progress.  When she finally arrived at the bookstore, Robin came charging through the door.  "Kim!"

     From the back of the store, Amanda welcomed her guest.  "She's not here."

     "Where is she?"  Robin demanded.

     "It's nice to see you, too, Robin."

     "I'm sorry."  Anxious, Robin rushed her next words.  "Where is she?"

     Amanda placed a book back on the shelf.  "Her shift was over.  I imagine she went home for the day."

     On her way out, Robin yelled back over her shoulder.  "Thanks, Amanda… and I'm sorry but I have to go."

     Shaking her head, the older woman smiled.  "I can see that."

***********************

     Robin pressed the doorbell over and over.  "Kim!" Just when she was about to hit the button again, the door opened.  "Is Kim here?"

     Elena studied the overwrought woman before her.  "She was earlier… after work then she left.  Hold on…."  Elena turned. "Kostas? Did Kim say where she was going?"

     Scratching his head, Kostas walked up behind his wife.  "Hi, Robin." The young woman nodded a hello.  "I asked if she was going to be home for dinner but she seemed pre-occupied with something."

     Elena grunted. Of course, she is…. she's pregnant and just broke up with the father of her baby.  "Maybe she went to visit Amanda."

     "No, I was just there."

     Realizing that her daughter had been spending a lot of time with Robin lately, Elena asked. "Do you work at the movie theater usually on this night?"

     "No." Robin was confused. "Why?"

     "If you did, I just thought that maybe she would go there."

     Maybe!  Robin started to turn.  "Thanks.. maybe she did go there."

     As Robin rushed off, Elena yelled.  "Try her cell phone."

     Robin never answered as she was already seated in her car and driving off.

     "I wonder what that was all about?"  Kostas slipped his hand on his wife's waist.

     "I don't know." Elena pondered several scenarios.  "I think I'll try and call Kim."  When there was no answer on her daughter's cell phone, Elena sat down next to her husband. "Dear… we need to be more aware of what's going on with Kim."

     "I'm sorry, agapi mou."  Kostas put down his newspaper and wrapped his arm around her. "She didn't seem upset or anything."

     "I know… but she's got a lot of things on her mind, I'm sure."  Elena leaned against her husband's shoulder.  "Sandro, being pregnant…… "

     "She knows we love her and even though she doesn't want to marry Sandro, she will live here and we will help with the baby."  Kostas kissed his wife's cheek.  "You're going to be a beautiful grandmother."

     "Kostas!" Elena playfully shoved against her husband.  "And, yes, Kim knows we're there for her… but a young woman wants someone to share her life with… someone special."

     "Like we do."  Kostas winked.

     Kissing her husband first, Elena agreed. "Yes, exactly like we do."

************************

     On her way to the movie theater, Robin stopped briefly at her friend's house.  "Sarah, you don't happen to know where Kim could be, do you?"

     "Come in."  Sarah insisted.  "No, why would I?"

     Robin refused to sit down, walking aimlessly around the room.  "I don't know."

     "Robin, would you stop pacing and tell me what's going on?"

     Michael walked in the door when Robin was about to leave.  "Hey, what's your hurry?"

     "I gotta go."

     But he held onto her after seeing his wife motion for him to stop their friend.  "Hold on."

     Standing up, Sarah grabbed Robin's arm.  "You're not leaving until you tell me what's going on."

     A bundle of nerves was a lot calmer than Robin was at the moment.  "It's Kim.  I…. I… oh, I don't know."

     Crossing her arms, Sarah smiled.  "So you finally figured it out?"

     "Figured what out?"  Michael asked.

     "Go ahead, tell him, Robin."

     Michael stared at his friend but she refused to talk.  "Okay, Sarah, maybe you're going to have to clue me in."

     "She finally figured out how she feels about Kim."

     "Oh…."  Michael sat on the edge of the chair.  Being a man of action, he asked.  "What are you gonna do about it?"

     "I don't know."  Robin started to pace again.  "I don't even know where she is."

     "I'd say you need to find her first."  Sarah suggested.

     "Then what you gonna do?"  Michael asked again.

     Waving her arms about, Robin said.  "Tell her, I guess…. somehow."

     "Do you have a ring?"

     That question sent shock waves through Robin.

     "Michael, they're not that far into it yet.  She has to tell her first."

     Robin corrected her friend.  "Find her first."

     Rubbing his chin, Michael insisted.  "You have to take something to let her know you're serious."

     Sarah stared straight at her handsome husband.  "Telling Kim is serious."

     "That's true."  Michael conceded that point.  "However, I know women and they always like something…. material."

     "Michael! Not all women are like that."  Sarah glared at him.

     "Just listen… from what you've told me."  He then looked at Robin.  "And you…. this will be a surprise to Kim… how you feel now. Right?"  Robin nodded. "She might not think you're serious or you're just saying it out of friendship."

     Again, Robin nodded but didn't say anything.

     Michael turned back to his wife.  "And by material, I mean something symbolic and since you think giving a ring is too soon… I'd suggest something else."

     "But what?"  Robin was clueless.  She knew she would have a hard time saying the words and now she had to come up with some kind of symbolic show of love.  It was beginning to be too much for her to handle.

     "Hold on a second."

     Both women waited patiently until Michael came back into the living room carrying one of their old baby car seats.  "Here."

     "What is she supposed to do with that?"  Sarah stuck her hands on her hips.

     Robin was eager to hear the answer, too.

     "Nothing says I love you like a sign of permanency." He looked at both women as if his explanation was self-evident.

     And for the logical Robin it was.  "You're right."  She immediately remembered Sandro's vain attempts at wooing Kim back with flowers and candy that had failed miserably.  Robin grabbed the car seat.  "Thanks."

     Sarah stared at her husband long after Robin had left.  "You know, honey, sometimes you take my breath away."

     Michael wrapped his arms around his lover.  "And I'm gonna take your breath away again….."  Sarah smiled at the prospect of that proclamation.  "…later.  First, I'm going to fix dinner."

     Feeling as if she was recipient of some special reward, Sarah followed her husband into the kitchen.  "Now you're talking."

*************************

     At the movie theater, Robin learned that no one had seen Kim.  Slumping up against the cashier's door, Robin quickly ran over every possible place that Kim would be.  It wasn't until Mrs. Franz asked her about where would she go if she needed time to think that a light popped on in Robin's head.  Robin gave a hasty peck on the cheek to the startled cashier then disappeared before Mrs. Franz could register a good comeback.

************************

     Retracing her path back to the castle, Robin was nearly oblivious of the on coming traffic on the road.  Her mind was reeling with the possibilities and myriad of emotions spinning out of control in her body.  The sight of Kim's old VW bug brought relief and at the same time spun her overexcited body into a nervous knot.

     Robin had to suck in several deep-calming breaths before coming face to face with the woman that held the key to her heart and future.  Just the thought of that nearly forced the on edge woman to run. But Robin steadied herself and vowed that she would never again hide or run away from her feelings.  This chance came only once in a lifetime and she was going to seize the day.

     Sitting serenely near the stone bench, Kim was a picture perfect beauty.  Upon seeing this lovely sight, Robin's heart pounded against her chest.  She found it hard to take those last few steps and face her destiny but for Robin there was no other option.

     "Kim?"

     The sweet sound of that voice broke Kim from her musings.  Angling her head around, Kim gazed at Robin.  "Hi."

     Shyly, Robin took one more step forward.  "Hi."

     "Won't you come sit?"  Kim patted the ground next to her.  "It's such a beautiful day."

     Robin did as she was requested and when her arm brushed against Kim, she shivered.  "You look…. peaceful."

     Folding her hands together, Kim stared off into the distance.  "I am."  For the last hour, Kim had been contemplating her life.  She ultimately resolved within herself the situation she was in.  Having somewhat settled her differences with Sandro and coming to a decision, Kim next focused on the fact that Robin didn't share the same feelings she did.  It was then Kim decided that no matter what Robin did or didn't feel, she wanted to remain friends with her first and only true love.  "Robin?"

     Robin edged closer to the young woman, giving Kim her undivided attention.  It was a bit hard since her body was on full alert and the butterflies in her stomach acted like they were in a feeding frenzy.  "Yes?"

     "We're friends?"  Robin nodded. "Good.  I want that….. forever."

     "I know."  Preparing herself for the worse news possible, Robin vowed this time she would tell the person she loved of her feelings even if Kim elected to go back to Sandro.  "Kim…. I….."

     Kim cocked her head slightly as Robin looked away.  "What is it?"

     "I…." Robin refused to look at Kim, knowing she would lose it.

     Cupping Robin's chin, Kim gently pulled her friend around to face her. "Tell me…. what's on your mind?"  It was evident to Kim that Robin was frantic with worry and she had never seen her this way before.

     When Robin's fluid brown eyes locked onto Kim's calm and reassuring green ones, she felt her whole body settle.  "I love you."

     The words she heard soared through her heart yet Kim wondered about the depth of their meaning.  "I love you, too, Robin.  We're friends."

     "No!"

     "We're not friends?"

     "No."  Robin shook her head adamantly.

     "Then I'm at a complete loss."

     Feeling that she had somehow screwed it all up, Robin repeated her heart's desire in a rush to get out the words.  "I love you and we're friends and….. oh, Kim, I love you." Robin tried to clarify what she felt.

     Shaking her head, Kim sat back. "You love me…. that way?"

     "Yes."  Robin nodded emphatically.

     Reeling from this startling revelation, Kim tried to grapple with Robin's sudden change of heart.  "Why?  I mean…. how?"  Then it occurred to Kim that she had declared her feelings about Robin and her friend was just trying to be a good friend since she was now pregnant.  That's what a hero would do and you've always been that to me. But I won't accept your pity. "Robin, you're great friend and I know you said you'd be there for me.  I appreciate that and I'm going to hold you to it." Kim smiled. "But…. I don't want you to feel sorry for me."

     Realizing Kim did not take her proclamation seriously, Robin stood up, grabbing for Kim's hand.  "Come with me."  When Kim seemed reluctant, she tugged on her friend's hand.  "Please."

     "Okay."

     Robin led Kim back down the path to her car.  Opening the back door of her BMW, Robin pointed.  "See."

     Stepping up, Kim leaned down to get a clear view.  "It's a baby's car seat."

     "Exactly."  Robin crossed her arms as if she had just made her point.

     "So?"  Kim shrugged. "Are you giving me an early gift for the baby?"

     "No."  Robin pointed again at the baby seat.  "It's for the baby."

     "I got that, Robin.  Since we're both just a little bit too big for it."

     Kim was totally confused and Robin knew she had to take a different tact.  Stepping closer to Kim, Robin reached for her. "Sandro….."

     "This isn't about Sandro."

     "I know.. it's about us."

     "Us?" The nearness of the one she loved was unsettling.

     "Yes, us."  Robin placed her hands on Kim's waist. Licking her lips, Robin's eyes flickered back and forth between Kim's lips and eyes.  "I knew candy and flowers wouldn't get your attention."  Robin smiled.  "It didn't work for Sandro…. and I had to make sure you knew I was serious when I told you."

     "Uh…huh."  Kim's heart raced with every word Robin spoke.

     "So…. there."  Robin nodded toward the car seat. "I love you Kimberly Gayle…. and I love your baby and I love you."

     In a complete daze, Kim was barely able to whisper. "You already said that."

     "And I'll say it again and again…. until you believe."  Robin slowly ducked her head down and kissed the lips of the woman she loved.  The kiss was tender and innocent but held such sweet promise of passion that it ripped through any lingering doubts either woman had.

     Sucking in a much-needed breath, Kim said.  "Oh, I believe you."

     "Good."

     Laying her head on Robin's chest, Kim spoke softly.  "Robin?"

     "Hmmmmmmmm?" Falling easily into the wonderful feeling of having the woman of her dreams in her arms, Robin sighed.

     "What does this mean for us?"

     Robin gently moved Kim back so she could see her love's face.  "It means that you're everything to me… you and the baby.  And that I love both of you and about us…." Robin smiled.  "I like the sound of that.  We're forever."

     Once again, Kim dropped her head on Robin's chest as she let her whole heart freefall into the depths of love that only soulmates shared.  "I love you."
 

Chapter Eighteen

     It was nearing noon at the bookstore on Tuesday and Amanda waited patiently all morning for the mail. When the special delivery package arrived, the bookstore owner smiled like a cat that had just swallowed a canary.  "Kim?"

     Kim's head popped around the bookshelf.  "What?"

     "Come here."  Amanda slipped behind the counter so Kim took up residence on the other side.

     "You have something else for me to do?"

     Amanda giggled.  "Buy the bookstore from me and let me work here ….. part time."

     The younger woman sighed, dropping her head. "I wish I could. I mean I want to and…."  Kim pursed her lips together.  "…. with the baby…. and all."

     "Kim…."  The auburn haired woman looked up.  "What's with the sad face?  Why all morning you've had this silly grin on your face and we both know why."  Amanda winked at her friend.  "Robin's one lucky girl."

     "I agree wholeheartedly with that."

     Both women turned to see Robin nearly float on air as she entered the store.  Robin immediately stood next to Kim, brushing against her but didn't know if she should hug her love or not.  She was glad when Kim took the initiative and wrapped her arm around the taller woman.

     "Good morning." Kim smiled.

     Looking at her watch, Robin said.  "Good afternoon….. you mean."

     Kim teasingly glared at Robin.  "Are you glad to see me or not?"  Robin nodded quickly.  "Then who cares what time it is?"

     Robin smiled and hugged the smaller woman before shifting her eyes toward Amanda.  "How are you?"

     "I was just talking with Kim about buying me out."  Amanda fiddled with the package. "It's her dream… you know."

     Recalling this news from when they talked before, Robin stood back to look directly into the green eyes she loved.  "I know you want to write and get your stories published and…. you want to buy this place…. so, are you?"

     Kim nodded before she turned away.  "That's not possible now."

     Both Amanda and Robin asked simultaneously.  "Why?"

     Kim fidgeted in place so Robin steadied her love with a calm reassuring touch.  "The baby…. money…." She looked up at Robin.  "Us."

     "Why would 'us' keep you from buying this place?"  Robin didn't see the correlation.

     "I…we… haven't even discussed things.  What we both want…. our future."  Kim shyly looked away.  "It was only yesterday that…."

     "Kim?" Robin hooked the younger woman's chin, bringing it back to face her.  "If this is what you really want, then you should go for it."

     "Here….here."  Amanda agreed.  "I'll give you a great deal."

     Looking at the storeowner, Kim smiled.  "I know… but I still don't have the money and I don't want to ask my parents."

     Amanda waved that notion off without a thought.  "I'll make it a loan."

     Kim shook her head.  "I can't."

     "Maybe you don't want me to work here.  Is that it? Or would want the apartment upstairs?"

     "No…not at all."  Kim adamantly rejected that thought.  "That's the point …. I would need you here to help…. especially now that I'm pregnant."

     "Kim?"  Robin got Kim's undivided attention and said sincerely.  "I'm here for you."

     "Robin, I can't expect…."

     "What? What can't you expect?"  Robin swallowed hard.  "We're…. partners…. right?"  Kim nodded.  "And if this is what you want, I'm here for you whether it's money or whatever."

     "You don't need any money, Kim."  Amanda assured her young employee.  "We can switch over the ownership of this place and you get a loan."

     "Thank you, Amanda.  But even a bank would want some kind of reassurances that I was worth it."

     "Then it will be a loan directly from me."  The older woman insisted.

     "Again, thank so very much but I…." Kim looked around.  "…would like to make some changes."

     "How much money do you need?"  Robin asked.

     "I don't know but I can't…."

     "Kim… we can get the loan."  Robin assured her.  "You and I together.  And I have some money in savings."

     "I can't use your money."

     "Our money."  Robin corrected her then she winked. "I grew up in the old Swabian tradition of saving money…. we have enough for whatever you have in that smart mind of yours."

     "Listen, both of you… I appreciate it… really I do."  Kim sighed.  "And I know you will be there to help me Amanda but running a business will take lots of time and now…" Kim looked down.  "…being… having a baby on the way.  I don't know if I could do it by myself."

     "Kim….."  Robin's serious brown eyes stared at Kim.  "I guess I haven't done very well of making you know that I'll be there for you… we're in this together…. you, me and the baby."  When Kim started to protest, Robin vowed.  "I'm here for you no matter what… and I'll even quit my job and work here with you if that's what it takes. Heck…."  Robin shrugged.  "I've spent many hours here years ago and I love this place myself."

     "I love you, Robin."  Kim gazed at her love causing Robin to shyly look away upon that declaration while standing in front of their friend.  "I do.  But it's not fair really…. I've nothing to give."

     "Oh, yes, you do."  Amanda pushed the envelope toward her young friend.  "Open it."

     Robin watched Kim slowly open the package and pull out several bounded papers.  Kim studied it a moment.  "Oh, my God… it can't be true."

     Robin stretched her neck over to get a good look.  "They want to publish your stories.  This is great, Kim."

     Kim gladly accepted the warm hug Robin gave her. "Amanda… this is all your doing, isn't it?"

     Smiling, Amanda winked.  "I only sent it off.  It was your stories that got their attention and my friend told me they're willing to give you an advance although it won't be much."

     Kim skimmed the contract and saw the amount they were offering upon signing the contract. Hopping up and down in Robin's arms, Kim squealed.
"Who cares?  I'm going to be published."

     "Congratulations, Kim." Robin gave into her desire and kissed Kim on the cheek.  It was going to take some getting used to for Robin to show this kind of affection in public.  Robin always found it easy to hug or touch her friends and thought nothing of it.  But now it was different since where Kim was concerned, the drawbridge to Robin's heart was wide open and vulnerable.

     "This week keeps getting better and better." Kim grabbed a pen, ready to sign the contract.

     "Kim… maybe we should read it first." Robin suggested.

     "Okay."  Leaning over the counter, Kim kissed Amanda on the cheek.  "Thank you so very, very much.  And yes…."  Kim gave a quick look to her partner before agreeing.  "… we'll buy the store."

     "Thank goodness."  Amanda exclaimed.  "Now why don't you two go to lunch.  I'm sure that's why Robin stopped by today."

     Robin agreed. "Shall we, Kim?  I'm kinda hungry."

     "Sure… let me grab my purse."  Kim hurried back behind the counter then caught up with Robin on their way out.  "But don't eat too much…. mom's got a big dinner planned for tonight."

     The taller woman had just opened the door for Kim and the young girl walked out without seeing Robin's face pale at the thought of meeting her love's parents.  Suddenly, I don't feel so hungry.

************************

     Robin was on edge all afternoon at work and when she arrived at Kim's house nothing she had done was able to settle her stomach.  When Kim greeted her at the door, Robin considered asking the younger woman to run away with her right then and there.  But the bright green eyes smiling at her as Kim took her hand seemed to shove the impending meeting with Kim's parents away long enough for Robin's plan of retreat to go by the wayside.

     After reacquainting themselves again, Elena served a wonderful Greek meal that Robin would have normally enjoyed except for the fact that her nervous stomach was rebelling with every swallow.  So apprehensive was Robin that Kim slipped her hand over to steady her love's nerves.

     Both Elena and Kostas kept the conversation light as they talked of business and Kim's mom even asked Robin about her brother and his family.  That topic was enough to make Robin ease somewhat.

     When they walked into the living room, Robin again insisted on cleaning up the kitchen or at least helping in some way.  "I feel I should do something."

     "Oh, please, Robin, sit down.  You hardly ate to make any kind of mess."  Elena sat down next to her husband on the sofa.  She motioned for Robin to sit across from them, next to Kim who literally had to grab Robin's hand and pull her down next to her.

     Being sensitive to Robin's position of having to meet her future in-laws and after his daughter warned him not to make Robin anymore nervous than she already was going to be, Kostas figured he had waited long enough before asking the question he felt was his fatherly duty. "So you love my daughter, do you?"

     Robin's head jerked up.  "Yes, sir."

     "Daddy?"  Kim glared at her father.

     "And you're going to take good care of her?"  Kostas was unimpressed with his daughter's attempts to keep him quiet.

     "Yes, sir."

     "And the baby?"

     "Daddy?  Robin doesn't need to be in….."

     Placing a hand on Kim's hand, Robin assured her love the question was not only okay but also expected.  "I'm going to do everything and anything I have to do to take care of both of them and I will protect them with my life… sir."  Kostas was about to say something but Robin quickly continued.  "I have a good job and I have saved some money and… Kim and I have decided to buy the bookstore where she works and if needed I'll quit to work there … depending on the money situation…. and then if…"

     "Hold on there."  Kostas interrupted the young woman.  He was quite pleased that she had already made plans and he knew of Kim's desire to buy the bookstore. He was prepared to loan her the money himself.  "I have no doubt about your work ethics…. you're a hard worker, Robin.  My only concern is the love you have for my daughter."

     "Our daughter, dear."  Elena leaned against her husband but looked at Robin.

     Having to declare her love to Kim was hard enough as she had never done that before and thought she never would but now facing her was something that had to be done.  "I can assure both of you… I love your daughter with every ounce of my being.  I loved her even before I knew it…"  A faraway look came over Robin's eyes.  "I've loved her all along."  She smiled as she thought of her reoccurring dream and seeing Kim standing on the train platform.  This time in Robin's dream she swept Kim off her feet before the love of her life could get back on the train.  Holding Kim close, the train melted into the distance.  "She's everything to me."

     Elena smiled when Robin gazed into her daughter's eyes and declared her love before them.  "Kostas?  It seems our family is growing very fast."  Her husband's eyebrows shot up.  "We have Kim and soon a grandchild…. and…" Elena reached over to place her hand on Robin's knee.  "Welcome to our family."

     Relief spread through Robin's body quickly but was soon encased in huge bear arms as Kostas hugged her.  "I always wanted another daughter."

     Kim hugged her mom and then her dad as Robin received a very warm welcome from Elena.  "Isn't this wonderful?"

     They all had to agree that it was until Kostas said.  "Don't get too relaxed, Robin."  Robin cocked an eyebrow.  "Kim still needs to tell Sandro about the baby."

     Once again, Robin's face paled and Kim followed suit.  This was one exchange neither of them welcomed.  But Robin vowed to her love that she would be there for her.

***********************

     Since Sarah was unable to go out for their usual play night on Wednesday, Robin and Kim agreed to stop by the pub for a drink or two and maybe play a game of Shanghai then go to Robin's place before she took her love home.

     They were sitting in their usual booth discussing their future when Thom, the pub's owner, placed a couple of non-alcoholic drinks in front of them.  "This one's on the house."  When Robin looked surprised, Thom just winked and said.  "I have my sources."

     "Do you think everyone knows?"  Kim asked.

     "I'm not sure.  Does it bother you… us?"

     "Oh, no. It doesn't bother me at all."  Kim assured Robin as she moved closer then whispered. "I was talking about the baby."

     Nodding her head, Robin wrapped a comforting arm around Kim.  "The baby's going to be beautiful… just like you."  The older woman was increasingly surprising herself as she easily spoke those words to Kim.

     Leaning against Robin, the younger woman smiled.  "Thank you."

     Crossing his arms, Sandro walked up to stand directly in front of their table.  "Well, well…. well…. what's this I hear?"

     Kim closed her eyes.  They had discussed telling him this weekend but had yet to decide exactly when and where but now the decision seemed to be made for them.  "Sandro…. why don't you join us?"

     Sandro jerked his head back, indicating for his friends, Sebastian and Benno, to move on before he slid in the booth.  "Is that what this is all about… you and her?"

     Kim knew instantly Sandro was talking about her relationship with Robin and knew nothing about her pregnancy.  "Maybe we should talk somewhere more private."

     The glazed over look in his eyes indicated that the dark haired man had been drinking.  "What the hell for?"  Sandro slumped against the back of the booth.  "Now I know why you were so frigid all the God damn time."

     Robin jumped forward, reaching across the table to grab at Sandro upon hearing that insulting comment.  "Shut up!"

     "Robin, please…"  Kim held tightly onto Robin's arm.  "This isn't about my …. sex life."

     "Could hardly call it that."  Sandro smirked.

     Sucking in a deep breath, Kim gave it to him point blank.  "It was enough for me to get pregnant."

     It took a while for that bit of information to wind through his alcohol infested mind but when it registered, Sandro's eyes flew wide open.  "What the fuck!"

     Trying to ease the moment, Kim said. "That's one way of putting it."

     "Oh, no…"  Sandro crawled out of the booth.  "You're not putting this on me.  How the hell do I know it's mine?  It could be anybody."

     That did it.  Robin flew out of the booth before she grabbed Sandro, pushing him back.  Robin positioned herself between the drunken man and Kim.  "Just stay back and there won't be any problems."  Robin was not willing to subject Kim to Sandro's foul mouth or accusations but she didn't want to get into a fight either and risk Kim getting hurt.

     When Sandro regained his balance, he charged at Robin who was ready to hold her ground. Sebastian grabbed his friend's arm. "Come on, Sandro.  Calm down."

     "Fuck you."  Sandro yanked his arm back and pointed at Kim.  "Fuck you and her.  That's it…. is that it?  You two?"  The tall dark haired man let out an evil laugh.  "I wouldn't doubt it.  You two together… you always did take up for her."

     "Sandro… there was never anything between Sebastian and me."  Kim shook her head at the outrageous suggestion.

     "You should leave, Sandro.  You're only making a fool of yourself."  Robin said calmly even though every bone in her body was ready to rip him apart.

     Sebastian grabbed Sandro's right arm just before he took a swing at Robin and with Benno's help, they dragged their drunken friend out of the pub.

     Robin waited till they had left the pub before sitting back down next to Kim.  Taking Kim's hand, she joked. "I think that went well, didn't you?"
 

Chapter Nineteen

     Over the next couple days, Robin and Kim spent every spare moment together.  They went shopping Saturday afternoon and Robin decided on the spur of the moment to buy a small circular earring.  She immediately placed it in the same hole as the bigger round earring, dangling from her left ear.  Kim found it curious but didn't say anything at the time.  She was just so happy being with Robin after all those long years of yearning and wishing for her dream to come true.

     Clutching Robin's hand after they left the Italian restaurant, Kim declined her love's suggestion to go to a movie.  "Why don't we go back to your place?  I just don't feel like a movie tonight.  Is that okay?"

     "Sure."  Robin agreed reluctantly.  "We can do that."

     But on their way to Robin's home, the older woman suggested. "Want to go for a ride up around the castle?  Or get some ice cream?"

     "No… and no."  Kim slouched back in the BMW's leather seat.  "I just want to go to your place and crawl up on the couch…"  Kim gave a sly look at Robin.  "…and you hold me."

     "I can do that." Robin's eyes returned to the road.  It's the other things you might have on your mind that scare me.

     Earlier that day before she picked up Kim, Robin had called Sarah for some advice.  While Robin was convinced it was too soon to become that intimate with Kim, Sarah assured her friend that the young woman had simply waited years to be with Robin and may not want to wait much longer.

     To Robin, their embraces and kisses were steamrolling down the track much too fast and it worried her.  Of course, if she really knew how Kim felt about her, all her insecurities would dissolve like snow at the equator.

     Earlier that afternoon, Robin reluctantly shaved her legs as Sarah suggested.  She knew that was the final barrier that would keep her from making love with Kim that very night and it scared her to death. How will she see me?  My body?  What will she think? Will she think I'm a total jerk because I never made love before?  That and other questions plagued her mind.

     "Robin? Robin?"  Kim touched her love's arm.  "We're here."

     Awaken from her musings, Robin realized she was home and it scared her even more to know she didn't remember the last few miles.  I have got to get my act together now.

     As soon as they entered the house, Robin asked. "You want anything to drink or eat?"  She was so preoccupied with what she thought would happen that night that Robin forgot to take offer her shoes when she entered the house.

     "Robin… please.  I don't want anything."  Kim sat on the couch then turned to her love.  "Except you.  Come here."

     Robin took two steps then remembered. "Oh, my shoes."  She rushed over to the door and methodically took them off, placing them carefully next to the door.  Satisfied, she stood.  "There."

     When Kim realized that Robin wasn't going to move from her spot at the door, she encouraged her.  "Why don't you come over here and sit down?"

     Scratching the back of her head, Robin tried to think of anything that would buy her some time.  "I should check my machine.  Ross may have called.  He wants me to come over there for Christmas."  Robin stopped in her tracks then turned to Kim.  "Would you want to go, too? I mean… can you with the baby and everything?"

     Mentally Kim counted before replying. "Sure, I'd love to.  I'll only be just over five months along."

     Standing in place, Robin seemed frozen in time.

     Kim licked her lips as she studied Robin. She's as scared as a baby rabbit lost in the woods. "Robin…. please just come over here… and we can talk.  Okay?"

     Robin nodded absentmindedly. "Sure."  I can talk. I think.

     Once Kim was able to settle Robin down next to her, she carefully extracted Robin's arm and put it around her shoulder.  "There… that wasn't too hard.  Now was it?"

     Shaking her head, Robin braved a small smile.

     Kim gently leaned her head against Robin's shoulder and just allowed the silence between them to conjure up a wave of relaxation over both of them.  When she felt Robin's breathing settle, Kim recalled a few of their adventures together from many years ago.  "We sure were crazy a few years back."  Kim laughed but Robin didn't join in.  "Do you remember when we came home drunk and I couldn't climb back up in the window to get back in the dorm?"

     That brought a smile to Robin's face.  She remembered that they had talked about before and figured Kim had her reasons for bringing it up again.

     "Because my jeans were too tight and….."

     Robin's smile melted into a frown.  "I remember…. those guys were all too eager to help you up after you took your jeans off."

     "And you came to my rescue and helped me up yourself."  Kim concluded.

     "I had to.  They were like hungry wolves." Robin grunted, realizing the reason Kim may have brought up the subject.  Ahh….  I guess I was jealous back then and didn't have a clue..

     "And the hawk swooped down and drove them away."  Kim recalled a theme from one of her children stories.  "You were always my hero."

     "I wouldn't say that."  Robin shifted uneasily.  "I'm not perfect or anything." Robin figured it was better for Kim to learn about all of her flaws now before it was too late.

     "None of us are."  Sensing her partner was tensioning up, Kim nudged Robin.  "Why don't you lay down?  Go on."  Kim had to coax Robin the whole way through before the dark haired woman finally dropped her head on Kim's lap.  "See?  That wasn't too hard."

     Robin turned on her side toward Kim without saying a word.

     Unconsciously, Kim allowed her fingers to brush across the length of Robin's left arm.  "I shouldn't really admit this but… do you remember when you put that decorated tree on top of Yassi's roof?"

     Robin's brown eyes flew open.

     "I do."  She continued to run her fingers along Robin's arm that now had goose bumps on it.  "Yassi's boyfriend at the time had already been up on the roof putting up his own tree when I heard someone else climbing around." Kim was referring to the German tradition of decorating a small tree and sitting it up on top of the roof nearest his girlfriend's room. The annual event took place the night of April 30th and it was called a May tree.  The tree symbolized to everyone that the girl in question had a beau.  "It was you. You took his tree down…."

     "Well, it was ugly."  Robin finally confessed.

     "And put yours up there."  Kim stared down at Robin.  "I… I pretended that you put it up there for me."

     Robin jacked herself up on her elbow.  "I'm sorry."

     Running her fingers through Robin's short hair, Kim placed a sweet kiss on her love's lips.  "It's okay.  I always knew you had this thing for Yassi."

     Robin's eyelids fell down.

     "Robin?"  Kim calling her name made Robin look back up.  "I have you now and that's all that matters."

     The older woman replaced her head on Kim's lap.

     The silence brought a comfort between the two as each reflected upon their feelings for one another.  Kim resumed her finger's journey and was now tracing Robin's tattoo.  She closely studied the shaded outline nearly hidden in the feathers of the hawk.  She remembered that she had seen it before but forgot to ask Robin about it. "What is that?  It kinda looks like…."

     "What?"

     "In the feathers on the hawk.  It looks like the letter 'y'."  Kim traced over it.

     "I just got that not too long ago.  It's the Greek letter for 'G'."

     "But your middle name is Sean and I don't think it stands for Robin or Hart."  Smiling, Kim scrunched her eyebrows together and crinkled her nose.  "The snake is a sign for eternity.. I get that. Heck, I can even guess why you got the hawk.  But what's up with the 'G'?"

     Robin turned just enough to see Kim's face clearly.  "Maybe it stands for Gayle."

     "Oh, yeah, sure.  I would have sworn you didn't even know I existed until just recently."  Kim joked.

     Seriously, Robin countered.  "I always knew every minute you were around…. always."

     That was music to Kim's ears.  "I love you."

     Robin snuggled closer.  "I love you, too."

     "So are you going to tell me why you got that Greek 'G'?"  Kim pursued the line of question.

     "Maybe it stands for a great Sappho writer who's name began with 'G'?"  Robin teased her love then winked.  "Then again… maybe it was you all along… after all, you're a writer."

     "I write children's stories."  Kim corrected her.

     Robin shrugged. "Doesn't mean you can't expand."

     That thought intrigued the younger woman as her hand absentmindedly ran the length of Robin's neck to her ear.  There she felt the two round earrings together and played with them for a moment.  She saw how the smaller one naturally slipped into the larger earring.  "I meant to ask… why did you get that smaller earring?"

     "Ah…..the smaller one…. well…."  Robin unconsciously felt the two entwined earrings, brushing against Kim's hand.  "I put that there for you.  The bigger one protects the other one."

     Excited, Kim asked. "Does it have a match?"  Robin nodded.  "Can I have it please?  I want to wear it… if you don't mind that is?"

     Robin smiled at the idea.  She secretly wished that Kim would agree to her request of wearing the identical small earring.  "Absolutely.  Hold on."  Robin dug into her pocket and brought out the small box. She climbed up on her knees, took out the earring and placed it in Kim's left ear.

     "Does this mean we're going together?"  Kim teased.

     "It means so much more than that."  Robin tentatively leaned down to kiss Kim gently.

     When Robin's lips began to retreat, Kim chased after them.  She was successful in pulling Robin's lips back to her own for a long, luscious and languid kiss.

     Robin's head was spinning and her heart pounded against her chest.  The woman was on fire and her instincts demanded satisfaction but Robin's insecurities raised their ugly head as she withdrew from the wonderful exchange.  "I…I…." Robin sucked in a deep breath.  "Can we go slow?"

     The overheated auburn haired woman knew it was the best course of action but her body was also demanding to be satisfied.  "Okay."

     Robin started to ask again if Kim wanted anything to eat or drink but figured that would only meet with rejection.  "You want to watch a movie?"

     "No."  A movie was not on Kim's mind.

     "You want to take a walk or something."  Robin desperately wanted to cool off.  Her nerves were causing the inside of her stomach to churn.

     "No…. maybe another time."  Kim was doing all she could to ease her love's fears.  "Robin?" Robin could do nothing but stare at Kim.  "I want us to be… together …. tonight."

     "Tonight?" Robin squeaked.

     "Robin?  I…."  Kim scooted closer.  "I don't want to rush you…us.  But it feels so right between us."  Then Kim realized that maybe Robin didn't feel the same or was having second thoughts on their union. "Unless of course you…"

     "No."  Robin shifted so their bodies were touching.  "I feel… I know this is right.  I do.  I just that…. I've never… you see…."

     Shyly, Kim leaned against Robin's chest.  "I know."

     "How?"  Robin was completely surprised.

     Kim sat back so she could look at her love.  "You… what you just said and how you're acting…"

     "I'm sorry."

     "Don't be."  Kim hugged Robin.  "I also kinda got the impression from Sarah that you've never been with anyone.  Robin? I know this is your first time… our first time…. and there's a certain amount of trust…. love that….."

     Robin was near tears when she quickly wiped them away. "Do you know how much I will treasure this experience with you? Will you….."

     "Yes."  Kim didn't give Robin time to respond as she found purchase with her love's lips.  The younger woman put all she could in that kiss to reassure Robin that her love was forever and she would always treasure their time together.  "I'll wait for as long… when you're ready."

     I'm ready.  That's the problem…. my body is so ready, it's screaming. "Kim."  Robin wrapped her love in her arms and held her tight.  "I want you… I do.  I…need you but…. I'm not sure… if you'll ….. when you see me…. " Naked. Robin found it hard to even say the word.

     "When I see you…. with or without clothes, I will always see the woman I love… who means more to me than life itself.  You're my dream, Robin.  I will always see you through the eyes of love."  Kim's green eyes filled with tears that Robin gently wiped away.

     "Will you…. will you show me?"

     Kim stood and took Robin's hand.  She gently tugged at her love, pulling Robin up off the couch.  As Kim maneuvered through the living room and up the stairs to Robin's bedroom, the nervous woman followed.  This would be a night Robin would remember forever and she was determined to break through all of her fears and insecurities.  The one thing that gave her strength in that moment was the touch of Kim's hand on hers and the love she felt through that connection.

     Robin stood on an emotional precipice as the back of her legs touched the bed behind her.  Kim moved closer, placing a hand on Robin's arm.  "Do you trust me?"

     Nodding, Robin said.  "Yes…. completely."

     Kim's other arm snaked its way up Robin's side and curved around her love's neck.  She kissed the panicky woman before her. The kiss was slow, tantalizing and very delicious, sending both women even higher on their road to ecstasy.  However, Kim was smart enough to know that Robin would require time before any explosions would rock their world before the night was through.  She was confident that they would get there by morning.

     "Darling…."  Robin's brown eyes were dazed after that last kiss.  "Why don't you sit back on the bed?"

     Robin did as she was requested.

     Kim slowly unbuttoned her shirt, one button at a time.  With the last button undone, she stripped open her shirt to reveal a white lace brassiere.

     Robin swallowed hard.  The completely smitten woman's eyes glazed over the firm breasts then fell lower to Kim's abs. Robin unconsciously licked her lips and simultaneously felt her center twitch. When Kim popped open the snap on her jeans, Robin nearly lost it.  Her hands dug into the mattress in an attempt to steady herself.

     "Robin? Look at me."  Kim smiled because she was well aware of what she was doing to Robin.  "Up here… I want you to look at me."

     Robin used all the strength she had to drag her eyes from the newly revealed belly button of her love up until they finally locked onto Kim's green eyes. "I love you."

     "That's nice."  Kim placed both hands on Robin's face before leaning down and kissing her love.  "Now don't move."

     I couldn't move even if I wanted to. Robin simply nodded.

     Kim lazily turned around; running her fingers along the inner waistband of her jeans then pushed them down past her backside.

     Robin sucked in a heavy breath when it became clear to her that Kim was wearing a pristine white thong.  Oh, God, I'm dead. I'm going to die right now.  Robin would swear later that was when the dam broke, completely flooding her entire being. She had passed the point of no return.

     Kim wiggled out of her jeans.  As they dropped to the floor, she stepped out of them then turned back around to face Robin. "Do you like what you see?"

     Scanning the length of the most beautiful body she had ever seen, Robin's head nodded up and down like one of those moving dog heads drivers have in the rear window of their cars.  She had to check herself to make sure her tongue wasn't hanging out.

     "Good."  Kim slipped off her shirt and let it drop to the floor.  "Spread your legs."

     "Huh?"  Literally, the whole bed was shaking from Robin's nervousness.

     Wanting to calm her love, Kim stepped closer and began placing small butterfly kisses along her love's cheek as she whispered.  "Spread your legs."

     Robin's body fulfilled her love's command even as she did not consciously realize it.  Without knowing it, Robin's hands automatically found their way to Kim's hips.

     Kim reached down and tugged at the bottom of Robin's pull over shirt. "Please?" Robin's hands temporarily left Kim's hips to lift up as the woman above her relieved her of her shirt.  Kim was pleased that Robin replaced her hands back on her hips.  "Now stand up… please?"

     As Robin stood, Kim's lips traveled along her love's neck and over her chest that was covered with a sports bra.  Kim nipped at the bra.  "That will have to come off…. in a minute."  Robin was relieved upon hearing that last part but her body was on full alert when Kim's fingers unsnapped the button to her jeans.  Looking up at Robin, Kim asked.  "That wasn't too hard now was it?"

     Robin's hands slid up along her love's side, coming to rest near the edge of Kim's breasts.  Her eyes fell to the suddenly cumbersome bra. That's got to go. Robin was so intent upon finding out for herself what was under that bra that she didn't notice as Kim slipped her fingers under the waistband of her jeans and pushed them down.  It was only when Kim ran her hands along the top of the backside of her legs that Robin jerked.

     "I love you."  Kim kissed her love in order to ease the worried woman in her arms.

     Robin remained steady as Kim's hand traveled up on over her backside, taking all the time they needed to explore the edges of the French high cut panties.  I don't think I can stand much longer.

     Sensing the vulnerable woman before her was nearing a perilous edge, Kim suggested.  "Why don't we lay down?"

     "Okay."  Robin was happy to comply as her weak knees barely accomplished the task before her.  Robin slid over to the far right of the bed, allowing enough room for Kim.

     Kim smiled at her reluctant love but was careful not to let out a little laugh.  Reaching over to Robin, she tugged at her hand.  "Over here."  Kim gently directed Robin to the center of the bed.

     Robin was lying on her back with Kim propped up next to her love's side by an arm.  Looking down at Robin, Kim considered carefully her next move.  The anxious look in her love's eyes foretold her to go slow…. real slow.  "Robin?  Do you mind if I just lay next to you?"

     I can do that. "No."  Robin opened her arms to greet her love and immediately felt the warmth of love surge through her overexcited body. This is nice … holding you. Then she realized she should say it.  "Kim…. I like holding you like this."

     "It fits ….. we fit."  Kim agreed before slowly scooting herself up closer to Robin.  After a bit, she slipped her leg over Robin.  The smooth skin she met felt good as Kim glided her leg up and down the length of Robin's legs.  "This is nice."

     "Mmmmm…hmmmm…."  Robin's fingers were sweeping over the side of Kim's back.  "Very nice."

     Kim realized that every step of their lovemaking would have to be her initiative but at Robin's pace.  She always considered herself a quick study and put that talent to immediate use.  With her eyes and hands, she took in every nuance of Robin's body from her breathing to the slightest tremor of motion.  Anything that would indicate that she was moving too fast.  Kim nuzzled Robin's neck as she slipped up and over her love's body.

     Robin was so delirious from the tiny kisses and exploring hands that she was surprised to find Kim on top of her. However, it was a position she would come to relish through the years.  Robin liked the fact that Kim was in control and felt comfortable enough to show her the way she felt.  Though feeling out of control was something Robin abhorred, with Kim it somehow felt different even comfortable.  "How did you get up there?"

     Leaning down, Kim kissed her love.  "That's my secret."  She resumed the kiss as her tongue asked permission with the lick of Robin's lips and received it when the woman below her opened her mouth.  They slowly explored each other, soaking in the delicious taste of each other.

     Robin's mind was reeling and her body hummed with the feel of Kim on top of her.  Her hands had a mind of their own as she became aware of them freely traveling up and down Kim's body.  "I want you so much."

     While Robin was surprised she said that out loud, Kim was delighted and it gave her the green light to speed up the seduction.  Kim leaned back on her knees, pulling Robin up with her.  "Let's take these off."

     Robin waited for Kim to undo her brassiere.  But when Kim didn't move, Robin asked. "Are you going to?"

     "You do it."  Kim gently commanded.

     Her eyes flickered between Kim's face and her love's breasts.  Robin's hands were unable to move from Kim's thighs.

     Finally, Kim reached down taking Robin's hands in her and directed them to the front hook.  Robin somehow was able to undo the hook, revealing what the selfish brassiere was holding.  Two wonderful treasures fell into Robin's hands.

     With her brown eyes glued to Kim's chest, Robin said.  "Oh, my God, they're beautiful."  Realizing what she just referred to, Robin tried to make amends.  "I mean you're beautiful."

     "But you don't think they are?"

     "No!  I mean, yes, they are…. I just…"  Robin's head dropped.

     Kim reached down to lift Robin's chin back up.  "I like it that you love to look at me… and you think both me and my breasts are beautiful.  Believe me, Robin it's okay.  As a matter of fact, it's wonderful."  Kim placed her hands over Robin's and held her soon to be lover in place, caressing her breasts.

     Both Robin's eyes and hands were mesmerized from the sight and touch of Kim's firm yet soft, silky breasts that held her captive.  Robin was willing to explore the treasures forever. However, Kim had another idea. Kim slipped her fingers under Robin's sports bra.  "May I?"

     Immediately dropping her hands, Robin shrugged.  "You will probably be disappointed."

     "I don't think so, love."  Kim kissed Robin as she slowly removed the bra, breaking their lips only long enough for the bra to go over Robin's head.  With their lips still interlocked, Kim tentatively reached down, cupping both of Robin's breasts.  Kim knew she struck gold when she heard the hitch in Robin's breath.

     Robin's body was strung tight and she was near explosion when Kim pushed her gently back down.  Now it was time to remove Robin's panties. But when Kim tried, Robin grabbed her hands, preventing her.  "I…. " Nervous brown eyes looked everywhere except at Kim.

     "Do you want me to turn the lights completely off?"  Kim had dimmed them earlier.

     Shaking her head quickly, Robin declined the suggestion.  "Let me… you go first."

     "Okay."  Again, she guided Robin's hand to remove her thong.

     Robin's hand delighted in the task even though they were shaking like leaves in a tree being slaughtered by a hundred mile an hour wind.  Somehow Robin completed her task and vaguely remembered flipping the thong on the floor but only after having a very brief lascivious thought of holding them close to her face, inhaling the aroma of her love.  Summoning her courage, Robin looked at Kim and swallowed hard.  "My turn?"

     Nodding, Kim asked. "May I?"

     "You're going to have to… I don't think I can."  Robin grabbed the sheets below in order to stop her shaking hands.

     With ease and such love, Kim looped her fingers in the waistband of Robin's panties, sliding them down the length of her love's long legs and then tossed them carelessly aside.  Gazing down at her completely naked love, Kim smiled.  "You're beautiful."

     Not believing Kim, Robin reached for the top sheet.  It never made it across her body because Kim was there first.  And it felt so good. Skin on skin.

     "I want to make love to you, Robin."  Kim gazed at the woman below her with unadulterated love in her eyes.

     "Kim?"  Robin was hesitant to express her thoughts.  "I want this, too."

     When Robin didn't continue, Kim coaxed her love to share what was on her mind.  "Tell me, please."  Kim smothered her with sweet, gentle kisses that fanned the flame of fire burning inside Robin.

     "I love you and I want this to be…. it's special…. "  Robin had to stop when Kim kissed her and she eagerly returned the kiss.  Feeling much love by the woman on top of her, Robin mustered the courage to continue.  "You're special and this…."

     "So are you, my love."  Kim rubbed her body up against Robin, causing the poor woman below her to shiver.

     "I'm giving you… not only my…."  Robin hoped Kim would get her drift.  "…. my first time but my heart…. "  She drew in a very deep breath.  "My very soul."

     "Oh, God, sweetheart….. Robin…." Kim faced the final gateway to Robin's heart and she knew her next words would be the key that allowed entry or deny it.  "You're my breath, my heartbeat…. you are my very soul."

     The sweet, gentle and innocent lovemaking they shared in that first time was etched in their memories forever.  It was framed as a treasure in their minds and would be remembered with each glance, each touch, each 'I love you' and nothing would ever tarnish the brilliance of their first night together.

************************

     They shared a passionate night of love and by morning Robin was a woman possessed and she loved it.  In one single night, most of her inhibitions were slowly peeled away and Kim could attest to it when Robin met her in the bathroom.

     Kim woke up early in the morning wrapped inside of Robin's arms, feeling safe and secure something she had never experienced before when she was with Sandro. Looking at the small smile playing around her lover's lips, she couldn't help and smiled back in response. Slowly turning her head to her left side, she checked the time on the stereo that was conveniently placed beside the large bed and after seeing what time it was Kim decided to get dressed. Kim put on her panties and Robin's T-shirt in order to open the blinds. She knew about that little quirk of her lover and while finding it quite amusing she wanted to let her sleep in and do this favor.

     After her task was completed, Kim decided to take a quick shower but before she could get in the shower, suddenly Robin wrapped her arms around her lover.  The passion inside exploded as their tongues clashed in a war of dominance.  The taller woman's hand glazed up along the curve of the woman in her arms.  Heat and fire flickered, spiraling upward… like a raging inferno sizzling from her touch.  Breaking breathlessly from the enticing lips of her lover, the smaller woman grasped for a much needed breath.  "I love you."

     Again, her lover claimed her mouth, probing deeply, needing to feel, needing to be inside the woman who held her heart.  The dark haired woman pulled her lover closer.  They could not get close enough.  Perspiration trickled, bringing a very heady sexual scent that aroused both over heated women.

     "Take me." The auburn haired woman demanded.

     With fierce intensity, fluid brown eyes pierced into green, saying the words she never thought she would.  "I love you."  A shudder ran through the older woman before the walls around her heart crumbled at the woman in her arm's feet. "With all that I am… from the very depths of my soul… by God, I love you so much."  Claiming her lover's lips, the dark haired woman poured all of her love into every kiss.

     "Now…. take me now!"  Breathless, the shorter woman commanded.

     Lifting her woman up, Robin carried her lover back into the bedroom and crossed the floor.  Gently, she placed Kim on the bed they would share for a lifetime. With such loving devotion, Robin tenderly stripped away the clothes of her lover and with each piece of clothing shed, the stoic woman cast years of doubt and fear from her heart forever.  Opening it at last to the only woman she would ever love, Robin surrendered to Kim the key to her innocent heart.
 

Epilogue

     Perspiration beaded up on the auburn haired woman's forehead so once again Robin gently wiped it away.  "You're doing great, Kim."  Robin brushed her lips against her lover's head.

     Kim was in the final stages of giving birth and with the pain nearing more than she felt she could handle, the about to be mother squeezed Robin's hand.  Huffing, Kim barely whispered.  "Robin…. "

     Drawing even closer to her partner, Robin tried to reassure Kim.  "I'm here."

     "Robin…."  Then the doctor ordered her to push again.

     The doctor looked up at Kim and smiled.  "There's the head…. one more ought to do it.  Wait till I tell you."

     Robin didn't think it was possible but her hand felt like it was in a vise under Kim's strong grip.  "You hear that…. one more."  When the doctor gave Kim the go ahead for the final push, Robin wrapped her right arm around Kim, helping her sit up.  The older woman felt her own stomach strain with Kim's labor pain.

     With one final grunt, Kim pushed out the baby.  Breathing heavily, she relaxed.  She tried to see over her still inflated stomach but couldn't see the baby yet so she searched Robin's face.  "Is the baby okay?"  Kim didn't hear any crying.

     Concerned, Robin jerked her head up and around in order to get a better view of what was going on but felt sudden relief when the doctor held the baby up for both of them to see.  It was obvious the baby had healthy lungs but to Robin the baby seemed very small.

     "It's a girl."  The doctor smiled.

     The doctor was about to hand the baby up to Kim when the new mother felt another labor pain.  "Doctor!"

     The doctor handed the baby over to a nearby nurse who took her and immediately cleaned the baby up.

     "Don't worry….Kim.  Go ahead and push it's just the……"  But what she expected wasn't what she received since it had a full head of hair.  "Uh oh…"

     Frantic, Kim cried.  "What do you mean 'uh oh'?  Robin!"

     Trying to calm her love, Robin moved to see what was going on down there.  She was still holding Kim's hand and it was a good thing because what she saw made her pale.  "It's… it's…."

     Kim didn't hear much as she was pushing hard when the doctor ordered.

     Holding on to her only lifeline by way of Kim's hand, Robin froze at the sight of another baby being born.  Dizzy, Robin loosened her hold on Kim's hand.

     In the midst of giving birth to a second baby, Kim was astute enough to see Robin's dilemma.   "Robin."  Her calm and steady voice shored up her partner's shaken resolve.  "Come here."

     Robin returned to her place by Kim.  Sucking in breath after breath, Robin started hyperventilating.  "Kim…. there's another…. "  Robin nodded her head.  "…one in there."

     The doctor spared the delivering mother a look before she said. "Okay, Kim …. another push should do it."

     "Robin… "  Feeling the onslaught of another labor pain, Kim quickly grabbed Robin's chin, swinging it back to her.  Green eyes locked onto Robin as she said.  "Honey, I need you… okay?"

     Shaking her reeling mind from the unexpected arrival of another baby, Robin closed her eyes briefly, gaining her composure.  When she reopened her brown eyes, Robin smiled.  "Ready?" Kim nodded as they waited for the doctor to give the final command to push.

     When the order came, Robin shifted around Kim for the last push that brought another little girl into this world.  Kim fell back in Robin's arms and gained some much needed rest before another smaller pain shot through her, releasing the afterbirth.

     Robin placed a gentle kiss on Kim's lips.  "I love you so much."

     "I did good, huh?"

     Smiling, Robin's eyes gleamed.  "You did good, all right…. twice!"

     Two nurses brought the tiny girls over to Kim, handing one to the new mother and one to Robin.  Staring at the new life in their arms, Robin and Kim's hearts exploded with love for their daughters.

     The doctor asked.  "I hope you have two names picked out."  It was not only a complete surprise to both Kim and Robin that she was carrying twins but the ultrasounds didn't reveal this fact either.  The doctor grinned as she watched the young couple with their children.  "Sometimes it happens."

     "Robin?"

     The older woman carefully held the bundle of joy in her arms.  "Mmmmm…."

     "I want you to name them."  Kim nodded.

     Feeling a heavy weight of responsibility in this honor Kim was bestowing on her, Robin drew in a deep breath.  She stared intently at the first born in her arms and said.  "Maike."  Then looked to her twin sister that Kim was holding and added. "Megan?"

     Smiling, Kim agreed.  "Maike and Megan….."  The new mother looked up at Robin before adding.  "Patakas Hart."

     By adding Robin's last name to their children's name, Kim's words sent a rainbow of love through Robin's heart, capturing it again completely.  "Thank you."  Robin leaned down and kissed her lover.  "I love you."

     With both her children nearby, Kim winked at Robin.  "And we… love you."

     The doctor and nurses left the couple alone for a while so the new family could get acquainted.  Robin edged further up on the bed, handing Maike to Kim as she still held on to Megan.  Sliding slightly behind Kim, Robin wrapped her arm around her partner and leaned her cheek up against Kim's head.  "I'm going to remember this day forever.  Kim, I just never knew I would ever feel this way."  Robin brushed her lips against her partner's head.  "You gave this…. all of this to me."  Unshed tears began to build in her brown eyes as Robin lovingly gazed at the three women in her life.

     Kim leaned down to first kiss Megan's head then Maike before turning upward locking onto the brown eyes of her lover.  "You…. you're the one that gave all of this to me.  Our family."

     Squeezing her lover gently, Robin chuckled as she thought about their future with their……twins.  "Guess I'll have to stop by Sarah's and see if she has an extra car seat."

     The End



Thank you for taking the time to read this story.  Feedback is greatly appreciated at aihfgsb@yahoo.com     *** Please take the time to let us know what you think.  We would love to hear from you!!!

Here is the web addy for anyone wishing to check out the Hohenzollern castle in the story:
www.burg-hohenzollern.de

An Innocent Heart is the first in a series of stories about Robin Hart and Kim Patakas along with their two children, Maike and Megan.

This is copyrighted material, ã 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann…all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please contact xxgsb@hotmail.com


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