Just another short piece while I'm working on a Brig and Tress story.

Disclaimers: the characters are mine, it is a work of fiction and a product of my imagination.

Some implied violence but nothing graphic.

Subtext but no sex.

Thanks for reading, live well, laugh often and love much. I can be reached at IrishRed1855@cs.com, please feel free to contact me. Irish

By Irish
Copyright, September, 2004

God doesn't intend for us to all be rich, beautiful or great; but she does intend for us to have friends.

Cass O'Shea looked out over the bow of the ship. Steady in its speed, the ship plowed through the aquamarine water of the Caribbean. This was the third day at sea. She was on this trip alone not that she wanted to be, her mother had arranged to accompany her but last week there was in a car accident and her mother had broken her leg. It was her mother who was the most excited about the cruise. She was a country-western fan and this cruise would include a few county-western headliners for photos, autographs and mini-concerts and her mother's favorite, for this year, Nell Hunter, was one of the headliners. Cass was on the cruise because the art auction house that conducted the auctions onboard had contracted with her to be available a few days to sign autographs and talk with buyers and potential buyers and in exchange the auction house agreed to feature Cass' work. Cass really didn't want to go but when her mother learned whom else would be aboard she insisted on Cass accepting the contract. Now with her mother's injury Cass was on her own, contracted to attend a few art auctions and commanded to get Nell Hunter's autograph.

The table to which she was assigned for dinner included a newly retired couple from Wisconsin, a young couple on their honeymoon and two college graduates whose families treated them to a cruise after graduation. The first night she settled in and ate in her room, last night, despite the older couples offer to play bingo, she'd excused herself to go to her cabin. She watched a movie on TV, read and fell asleep. This morning she'd gotten up and did what she did yesterday, leaned against the railing by the bow and watched the water.

"Oh well," she thought as the breeze blew against her, "at least I'll get some reading done." She was wearing a tank top, shorts and sandals, the usual wear for a cruise. The deck was pretty much empty, "must be something else going on," she thought as she looked out toward the horizon then turned to walk toward the lounge chair, settled in and began to read.

"Hi", she heard to her left and turned seeing a woman with shoulder length hair wearing a white baseball cap and sunglasses.

"Hi," Cass said shading her eyes from the sun.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" the woman said motioning toward the ocean and the horizon.

"Yes it is."

"I saw you here yesterday," the woman said, "are you doing the 'Titanic' thing?"

Cass smiled, lowered her head, put her book down and looked back up, "Nope not climbing the rail and don't have any jewelry to drop, I just like to watch the water and read."

"It's calming."

"Yes, it is."

"I'm Nell," she said holding out her hand.

A little apprehensive at first Cass finally took it, "I'm Cass."

"Is anyone sitting here?"

"No, help yourself."

Nell sat in the lounge chair, took off her sunglasses, perched them on the top of her hat's bill and looked over at Cass. She'd seen Cass in the same spot yesterday and for some reason felt compelled to meet her but by the time she'd reached the lounge chair Cass had gone. Nell wasn't taking any chances today and this spot was the first place she headed for that morning.

Cass felt a little uncomfortable noticing Nell's gaze and hastily covered her scarred left hand and wrist, Nell hadn't really noticed it but Cass thought she had and turned to her, her tone harsher than she'd intended, "Is something wrong?"

"No," Nell said immediately focusing on the vivid blue and green swirled mixture of Cass' eyes and becoming instantly captivated by them. She'd seen those eyes before and they'd struck her then as they did now but knew she'd never met Cass in person that she wouldn't have forgotten.

"Cass O'Shea," her mind shouted and she snapped her fingers, pointing her forefinger at Cass who looked slightly startled, "Cass O'Shea, you're the artist whose show the Leland Gallery in Nashville is hosting later this month." Cass smiled shyly, lowered her head then raised it. "I also saw your name on the ship's schedule for this week's auction as their featured artist, I wondered if it were one in the same. Anna Leland let me preview your paintings at the Gallery since I was coming on the cruise, I'm afraid one will be sold before you're show opens."

Cass smiled and her eyes sparkled brilliantly, the colors flickering in the light and Nell decided she liked it when she smiled. She was smiling on the flyer Nell had seen when she'd visited the gallery a few days before they'd left. She'd thought then that Cass' uniquely colored eyes in the photo were striking but after actually meeting her Nell decided that the camera could in no way capture the true depth and intensity of the original. Cass' eyes seemed to look right through her touching her very soul.

"Thanks for your patronage and that's OK I have more paintings to replace that with," she paused, "I'm sorry Nell did you mention your last name?"

"Hunter," she responded.

"Nell Hunter," Cass said repeating Nell's name in her head finally remembering where she'd heard it and her eyes widened, "you're one of the headliners."

"Yep, guilty," Nell smiled.

"My mom loves your music, you're the reason she picked this cruise, it's nice to meet you," she stuck her hand out again, "and I'm really sorry if I sounded a little curt earlier."

Nell held the offered hand, "No problem I just figured you weren't a fan," Nell said as she smiled reluctantly releasing Cass' hand.

"No, it wasn't that," she casually glanced down at her left hand, "but to tell the truth I'm more into light jazz and Celtic music, sorry."

"That's ok at least your mom will appreciate your meeting me, I'll give her an autograph, is she around?" Nell said as she swiveled her head.

"No, a week ago she was in an automobile accident," Cass sighed.

"I hope she's all right?" Nell asked concerned.

"Minus a broken leg she's fine but couldn't make it, although insisted I go."

"By yourself, what about other family or friends?"

"No one else was able to make it, my only sisters eight months pregnant and," she paused, "I don't have many friends."

"How come?"

"How come what?"

"How come you don't have many friends?"

Cass took a deep breath, "I'm an artist and keep to a mostly solitary life, when I'm painting I like to be alone with no distractions."

"I know what you mean," Nell said.

Cass laughed, "I'm sure you have plenty of friends, you being a star and all."

Nell chuckled, "I don't know about the star thing but you'd be surprised at the number of real friends I have. Oh don't get me wrong, I have a lot of acquaintances and hangers-on, but true friends are rare in my line of work, if I stopped singing tomorrow I'm not sure how many would still be there for me."

They both smiled, each understanding the other.

"Can I get you ladies anything?" the waiter asked startling them both.

Nell looked at her waiting for an answer and when one wasn't forthcoming she responded, "Your drink of the day, is that OK Cass, if I can call you that?"

"Sure," Cass nodded shyly, "and that's fine." The waiter wrote it down and went to fill their order.

"Oh," Nell called to the waiter, "could you use those souvenir refillable cups."

"Yes maam," he said heading toward the bar.

A few moments later he returned, "Excuse me ladies, I have your drinks, the rum drink of the day," the waiter smiled and handed them two tall pink plastic cups on a pedestal that included a straw, a small umbrella and fruit on a toothpick.

"Here," Nell said handing him her card.

"No," Cass responded, "I can get my own."

"Next round OK?" Nell said.

Cass could see the waiter was anxious, "Thanks," she nodded taking it with her left hand and as it shook she quickly grabbed it with her right.

Nell noticed her left hand shook badly, "Are you all right?"

"Fine," she said somewhat tensely.

Nell clenched her jaw shut to stop the question that her mouth was forming around after seeing the great efforts Cass was making to try and take the attention from her hand so Nell asked Cass more about her work and they entered into a lively conversation.

Three hours, two drinks and lunch later Nell and Cass were still engaged in conversation when Kim, Nell's assistant walked up. After introductions were made Kim reminded Nell that she had an autograph and photo session with guests in an hour. Nell nodded and said she'd be there soon.

Nell looked at Cass, "Come with me, you paid for it you might as well get that autograph for your mom."

Cass smiled, "My agenda doesn't include this, it's for a special select group of people, I'm not sure I'll fit in."

"Sometimes I don't think I fit in but I do it anyway, come on it will be fun, we'll have dinner afterwards and then I have a mini concert to perform."

"Nell you have plenty of people who'd love to spend time with you, why me?"

"I don't know," she pulled her hat and sunglasses off and ran her fingers through her hair, "we've just had such a good time this afternoon I sorta don't want it to end," she looked up shyly, "I just have a feeling that, uh, that we connected somehow and well I think we could be friends and besides my mama always taught me to get mad."

Cass looked at her with a funny expression on her face, "get mad?"

"Yeah," Nell said, "mad, make a difference, besides I have wine," she smiled at her.

Cass laughed not wanting their time to end either, "Well in that case," she said as she began to pack up her things, "let me change into something a little more presentable and I'll meet you," she turned to her, "where should I meet you Nell?"

Nell put her two fingers in her mouth and whistled as Cass cringed. Before she could say anything a muscular man approached them. "You called," he said in a 'Lurch, Addams Family' accent.

Nell laughed as she introduced them. "Jeff Moore this is Cass O'Shea." Cass shook his hand, "Jeff is my unofficial, official bodyguard. Jeff I'd appreciate it if you would escort Cass to her room, wait, and then escort her to my suite to meet me before we attend the autograph session."

"Sure," Jeff answered, "you'll be OK?"

"I'll be fine thanks," she touched his shoulder and looked at Cass, "I'll see ya in a little bit."

"What should I wear?"

"Well, my usual outfit is cowboy hat, jeans and jacket but khakis and a nice shirt should be fine."

Before Nell left Cass called out, "I don't have a cowboy hat, will that matter?"

Nell turned and smiled as she walked backwards, "I'm sure I can come up with one, don't want you to be a sore thumb," she called to Cass and Jeff and as she turned she heard their laughter ring in her ears and felt the best she'd felt in a long time.


Forty minutes later Cass and Jeff arrived at Nell's suite. Jeff knocked and Kim answered, "Hi Ms. O'Shea, Nell told me you'd be attending tonight, I'm Kim."

"Yes I remember you're Nell's assistant and please call me Cass."

"Cass it is, come on in," Kim said holding the door guiding her inside.

Cass turned and thanked Jeff who stayed outside the suite but before Kim closed the door she leaned toward Jeff and kissed him.

Cass looked at them both, "We're married," Kim said and Jeff nodded both holding up their ring fingers and wiggling them, "it's our anniversary."

"Congratulations," Cass said as Kim gave Jeff another kiss before closing the door.

"Nell," Kim called out, "your company's here," turning to Cass she asked, "Would you like a glass of wine?"

"Sure," Cass said.

"Kim," they heard Nell yell, "I promised her wine."

"Already on it," Kim called back and turned to Cass, "Shiraz OK?"

"Great," Cass replied as she accepted the wine glass and took a drink, "Ummm," the wine was smooth and warm, "this is good stuff," she sighed.

"Life's too short to drink cheap wine," Nell said as she rounded the corner, "and you must drink it from a glass, no plastic." She was dressed in black jeans, boots, black silk shirt with a flower-embossed rhinestone-studded soft buckskin, waist-length jacket and on top of her head sat a black straw cowboy hat.

"Wow," Cass said, "you look great, very country."

"Thanks," Nell said, "so do you," noticing the light colored Dockers, lacy white v-neck tank and long-sleeved Polo sweater she had loosely tied around her neck.

"More preppie than country," Cass answered.

"Then let's fix that right now," Nell said as she reached into the closet and pulled out a light tan straw hat with a low brim. A silver concho accent shimmered in the center of the brim and a leather-corded band encircled the hat then looped down around Cass' neck.

"This should work," she said turning to Cass, putting it on her head and adjusting it. Cass lifted the brim a little with her fingers and looked up at Nell smiling, "Howdy pardner," she drawled, "what's the strings for?"

"They're called stampede strings in case it falls off," Tress explained, "you can let it hang or put it over the back like this."

"I like the strings better in the back," Cass said adjusting them, "what about now?"

"Hmmmm," Nell encircled Cass, "what do you think, Kim?"

"Hmmmm," Kim crooked her head shaking it back and forth, "something's missing."

Cass looked from side-to-side at them.

"Yeah," Nell said, "what about this?" she asked as she turned to the closet, pulled out a waist-length washed denim blue jean jacket, untied the sweater around Cass' shoulders, removed it, handed it to Kim, held out the jacket, helped Cass into it, rolled the sleeves up a couple of times and then she and Kim stepped back.

"Now I see country," Nell said nodding her head and turned to Kim.

Kim smiled also nodding, "Says country to me."

"See," Nell jostled Kim with her elbow, "add a hat and a blue-jean jacket and you've gone country, sounds like the basis for a song," she paused a moment thinking, then shook her head, "hey Kim how about a picture of our masterpiece?"

Kim reached for the camera as Nell draped her arm loosely around Cass' shoulder. Cass adjusted her hat and turned toward Kim smiling. Kim saw light and dark standing together, one the opposite of the other yet both seeming to fit exactly together like matching bookends. Cass' eyes sparkled even in the low light of the room and Nell's hazel eyes mimicked Cass'. Kim thought they looked like a great couple and couldn't get that out of her mind as she snapped several shots of them.

Nell removed her arm and reached for the wine, "More?" she asked Cass.

"OK," Cass said and held up her glass as Nell poured the red liquid into it then filled up her own glass.

The door opened suddenly and a man walked in. "Ready Nell?" he called out.

"Cass, this is Cutter Jones, my manager," Nell said.

"Hi," Cass said, "nice to meet you."

Cutter looked at Nell then at Cass and held out his hand, "My pleasure," he said as he kissed her hand.

Cass looked to Nell who explained, "Cutter's of the old-fashioned variety." Cass smiled and shook his hand, "Nice to meet you Mr. Jones."

"Cutter's good enough maam," he said.

"All right, Cutter it is," Cass replied, "Cass O'Shea."

"My pleasure and I hate to break up this session but the natives are getting restless."

"Then let's get to it," Nell said as Cutter held open the door for all of them.


The forward lounge was filled with a select group of passengers and fans, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder and there was little room to maneuver. Some were dressed casually, some were in suits and dresses, either way Cass felt underdressed and underclassed but Nell assured her that she fit right in.

Champagne and wine was liberally served to everyone, except Cass and Nell. Nell had arranged for Shiraz for both her and Cass and every time either glass was empty a waitress refilled it.

After the glass in Nell's suite and two here Cass decided to order soda for a while. Nell had finished with autographs and CD's and walked toward Cass. "Soda already?" she asked.

"Just wanted to slow down a bit, got the whole night ahead of me," Cass replied.

"Me too," Nell leaned to her, "been drinking Coke since the first round."

"Oh, thanks and here you let me think I'm a lightweight."

"Not you, me," she laughed.

"Nell," a man yelled raising his fist in the air, "yee ha."

Nell smiled and raising her fist repeated the phrase the man had shouted to her. Cass looked at her with an amused expression, "Yee ha?"

Nell cocked her head and shrugged her shoulders, "It's sorta my theme, fans yell it out when I perform," she paused a moment, "and I yell it back."

"And this guy coming up behind you is a fan."

Nell turned around, "No, this is one of the other headliners Cort McCoy," Cass had to lean in to hear for her voice trailed off at the end.

Cort was dragging a shapely blonde behind him as he made his way through the crowd. "Hey Nell," he called upon reaching her and after giving her a hug placed his arm around the blonde next to him, "you remember Corrie, my fiancée," he said emphasizing all the wrong syllables on the last word.

"Yes," Nell said tonelessly, "Corrie."

"Oh hi Nell," Corrie said barely glancing at her, face and voice void of emotion, immediately turning her full attention to hugging Cort's arm.

"We finished our tete-to-tete and were on our way to the casino and thought we'd drop by to see if you all wanted to come along."

"Maybe when we're done here Cort," Nell said, "Oh, by the way," she pulled Cass around, "this is Cass O'Shea she's an artist, her works are being highlighted during the auction on board."

"Hi Cass, if I may," Cort replied taking her hand as Cass nodded, "have you drawn any pictures I would know?"

"I'm not sure Mr. McCoy, the pictures I draw," she glanced at Nell, "are mostly of children and landscapes."

"I'm more into velvet, if you know what I mean," Cort replied laughing.

Cass smiled and Nell chuckled her eyes remaining fixed on Cort. "Well," Cort said, "gotta go now, maybe I'll see ya later Nell, Cass. Come on baby let's win us some money."

After they walked off Cass looked at Nell, "Velvet?" she asked.

Nell grinned, "He's a genuine good old boy straight from the country, he may lack sophistication but he's a good man."

"And Corrie?" Cass asked.

"She's been with him since last year, they're getting married in April," she replied flatly.

"They make a good looking couple."

"Yes, they do," Nell said distantly.

"Excuse us," a man said and Nell and Cass turned their attention to him, "I'm sorry to interrupt but did I hear you say your name was Cass O'Shea?"

"Yes," Nell said almost proudly, putting her hand behind Cass and pushing her forward, "this is Cass O'Shea."

"The artist?" the man said.

"One in the same," Nell replied.

"Then I'm honored to meet you this is my wife, Ava."

"Nice to meet you too," Cass finally got to reply.

"You're one of our favorite artists, we own one of your prints, 'Emerald's Child'," Ava said, "it's our favorite."

Cass smiled, "It's my favorite too that's why I wouldn't sell the original."

"Have you seen it?" the man asked Nell.

"No, I don't think I've seen that piece but I bought one she's showing in Nashville later this month."

"Cass O'Shea is becoming synonymous with other children's artists such as Lucille Rabb and Mary Cassatt," Ava said.

Cass tried to deny it but the man persisted, "No, you are a great talent, if you change your mind about selling 'Emerald's Child' I'd appreciate being given first chance," he handed her a card.

"Thanks so much and I'll keep that in mind."

"You'll be at the auction later this week?" Ava asked.

"Yes," Cass replied.

"Great, we missed the first one and are looking forward to purchasing more of your work."

"I really appreciate that," Cass said clearly overcome.

"It been a pleasure meeting you Ms. O'Shea, Ms. Hunter," the man said, "and thanks for the notice about your show, we'll hopefully be able to make it."

"That was nice of them," Nell said as they walked through the door.

"Yes," Cass finally looked at the name on the card, "that was nice of," she paused, "Mr. Rockefeller," she said in astonishment.


The crowd began to thin out and Cass decided it was time for another drink, she was feeling pretty good at the moment and smiled at Nell as she finished up talking with some of her fans.

Nell walked over to her, "You all right?"

"Sure," Cass said taking another drink of wine, "I'm great and you?"

"I'm good," Nell said laughing, "let's change into something more comfortable, there's gotta be something on this ship to do."

Nell led her to her suite and Cass sat and waited for her to take a shower and change clothes. In the meantime Cutter knocked and walked in.

"Nell around?"

"She's in the shower and changing clothes," Cass said as she laid her head back and closed her eyes.

"Need a drink?"

"Naw, I'm fine," Cass said as she took a breath and wiped her eyes.

"Ya know," Cutter said, "I'm surprised you're still hanging around with Nell's preference and all."

Cass pulled her head up, "Preference?" she asked grabbing onto her hat before it fell off.

"She likes women," Cutter said in a lowered voice.

Leaning forward with both forearms on her thighs, Cass stared at him as his words registered in her brain, then she reached for her drink, took a big gulp and put it down. She was shocked, not that Nell liked women but that her manager would come out and tell someone who was practically a stranger something so personal as this.

"That doesn't bother you?" Cutter asked.

Cass looked up, eyes meeting his, "No, not really, in my line of work I meet people with many different preferences."

"Good," Cutter said as he stirred his scotch and water and took a sip, "because Nell needs a friend who will stick by her no matter what, not like that gal last year, what was her name, Courtney, Carrie, damn, sometimes I think I'm losin my mind, she was at the party with McCoy"


"Yeah that's it the blonde, her and Nell were good friends for about a year then she met Cort and Nell was like yesterday's news."

"Nell must have been hurt."

"Yeah she was but wouldn't talk about it said it was no big deal, that she had her family and Kim and Jeff and me, made me feel sorta good."

Cass nodded.

"You see I try and protect Nell, I told her that girl was no good but she wouldn't listen and got hurt but luckily not much made the paper and there were few questions, that's why I can't let you get close to her so I'm askin nicely for you to leave."

"Excuse me," Cass said trying to focus on Cutter.

"I had a detective agency investigate you for Nell's sake, she can't be in the limelight with people questioning her character. Her single's close to hitting the top ten and for the first time in two years she's on the charts, any hint of a scandal and she'll be outside looking in." Cutter threw a manila file folder on the table in front of Cass.

Cass saw the printed pages as they fell out of the folder, "'Artist Questioned In Death': 'Getting Away With Murder'; 'Religious Revenge'; 'Art, Money and Madness', among many others headlining what had happened.

Cass' breath began to quicken, she reached for her glass emptying it and set it back on the table. Her jaw tightened along with the muscles in her neck and her head started to shake.

She looked up at Cutter, a hard look in her eyes, "They're not true."

"Maybe not," he said, "but I have a client to protect and she just met you today. I'm askin you to leave her alone, to walk away, she doesn't need to be associated with any wrongdoings no matter who did them."

Cass sat still for a moment, the alcohol she'd drank today was beginning to affect her, she hadn't had much to eat, "I need to get some air," she said to herself, "something to eat, I need to get away for awhile."

She stood up and shook her head as if to clear it, took the hat off, set it on the table and walked out of the room.


"Where was she, godammit," Nell said to herself. She'd searched the ship from Cass' room to the other end. After she confronted Cutter when she'd returned from her shower she'd searched for Cass. When Cutter told her that Cass had left Nell asked what had happened and Cutter showed her the folder of the news clippings. Nell read them in silence then turned to Cutter and asked him what he'd told her. When she found out what Cutter said and did she turned on him in a rage, "This stuff is crap Cutter and you know it, gossip rags."

"Here's the original police report, read it for yourself," Cutter yelled back and pulled a paper out of the pile and handing it to her.

Kim and Jeff came back to see if they were needed and heard angry voices through the door, looking at each other they decided they needed a drink and left for the bar without knocking.

After a few moments, Nell threw the paper back on the pile, "So what, she was never charged."

"I don't get you Nell," Cutter exclaimed in frustration, "it's right in front of your face, don't you see what she is, why are you so protective, you just met her today, don't you realize hanging out with her can hurt you."

She practically snarled at him, "I don't give a damn what people think, I found someone I could be friends with it's that simple, you had no right to confront her, stick to what you're good at bookings and promotions and leave my personal life alone."

"Listen here young lady," Cutter voice rose, "contrary to your thinkin your personal life is yours and yours alone, you better remember all the fancy footwork, talkin and money, which by the way I helped you make, it took to get that other broad to sign a nondisclosure agreement and she sure didn't have a problem accepting the money and just whose idea do you think it was to release that single to divert attention from your so-called personal life," he emphasized the last two words. "Oh," he said nodding in understanding, "this is like that other gal isn't it."

"This is nothing like Corrie," she said, voice cold.

Cutter's voice gentled, "you've known me for a long time now Nell, you know I don't give a damn who you sleep with and I do want you happy but regardless of what you think it does involve those who work with and for you, I'm just trying to protect you," he paused, "what is it about this girl that makes you so interested?"

"I don't know," determination filled her eyes and she straightened her body as she spoke, "I just know that she's a part of my future."

Cutter had seen Nell is many moods but this was the first time he'd seen her so certain and resolute. He knew from her tone there was no changing her mind and he knew he'd do what he'd done for the last twelve years, support her and do whatever he could to make sure she's happy.

"She's that important to you?" he asked.

Nell looked up with tears in her eyes and nodded.

"All right," he blew out his breath as he picked up the phone, "go find her and I'll apologize,"

Nell walked over and hugged him, "Who ya callin?" she asked.

"The detective agency I hired to investigate her and cancel the job," he hugged her back, kissed her forehead then gently pushed her toward the door, "go on Nell I've gotta think about what the press release will say when this gets out," as Nell reached the doorknob Cutter called to her, "and don't do nothin to cause no more problems, this ole heart can only take so much."

Nell crossed her heart, "No more problems," she promised then mumbled, "this trip," as she left the room.


Nell finally walked to the front of the bow where she'd met Cass that morning and saw Cass lying curled up on the chaise lounge, "Cass," Nell said relief evident in her voice, "Cass," she said again lightly shaking her.

Cass forced her eyes open and rolled her head in the direction of the voice that called her name. Blinking several times she reached up and wiped her face with her hand, "Nell," she murmured and pushed herself up.

Nell sat on the lounge chair directly across from her and looked eye-to-eye at each other.

"Hi," Cass smiled.

"Hi," Nell smiled back.

Cass took a breath and wet her lips, "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you?"


"Why not," Nell smiled.

"You couldn't find nothing better to do," Cass said.

"Not really," Nell replied.

Cass rubbed her face with her hand.

"Cutter told me what he said," Nell replied anger evident in her voice as she moved from the lounge chair to sit next to Cass.

Cass turned to look at her, "Don't blame him he was just trying to protect you."

"Yeah he was and we came to an agreement, he wants to apologize."

"Was that your idea, he said being around me would hurt you."

"No it was his, he wants me happy, he knows a happy client will make more money for him,"

"Maybe this time he's right," Cass said holding out her left hand and watched as the moonlight made silvery shadows on the scars on her palm, "I'll just cause trouble and questions for you Nell, those news clippings," she looked at Nell, "they're true, I killed him, I did get away with murder," her breathing started to quicken and her face tightened.

Nell quickly covered Cass' left hand with both hers, "I'm here Cass," she said gently.

Cass closed her eyes and tightened her grip on Nell as much as she could, "I was working in my studio in the back of the house. I found out he'd had affairs with other women so we separated. I didn't hear him come in. Shoulda changed the locks," she snorted, "not very smart of me huh," she started to shake and Nell tightened her grip with her left hand and removed her right to put it around Cass' shoulders. She could feel Cass' muscles tightening, her voice hitched and Nell pulled her closer as she continued, "there, there was an exacto knife, you know one of the small round ones, about the size of a pencil, I used it to cut the edges of my paintings. He grabbed it from my workbench and forced me down on my back. I fought but he sat on me, put his hand around my throat and kept hitting my head against the floor. I tried to get his fingers loose but he kept calling me names and hitting me, over and over," she fought for control as Nell kept her grip tight, "then he held my arm out and slit my wrist, I was barely conscious and images swam back and forth but I remember wondering why there was so much red. When I didn't cry out enough for him he drove the knife into my palm." She paused as her whole body shook, her breathing increased, her voice trembled and stuttered, "I screamed and tried to p…pull up but he hit me again and all I remember is a pressure against my hand, they told me later that he used my mallet to pound the knife in till it stuck in the floor," she closed her eyes, "he was yelling and I had a hard time making out the words, he just kept hitting me in my head and stomach, I think I was unconscious for awhile cause when I woke up I remember feeling cold and slowly realized I was naked. I had a hard time focusing, but his face was right in front of me and I knew what he was going to do but had nothing left to fight back so I closed my eyes and tried to picture myself somewhere else while, while, he rape, raped me." She turned her head and sobbed into Nell's shoulder.

"Oh darlin," Nell said tightly wrapping her arms around Cass as Cass' left arm reached around Nell's back and her right reached up and gripped the front of Nell's shirt at her shoulder. Cass cried for several minutes and Nell moved her hand up to hold Cass' head against her shoulder. Rocking her slowly Nell spoke, voice soft and low, "You don't have to tell me the rest."

"No, it's OK," Cass said wiping her eyes and straightening a little, "my therapist and mom say I should talk about it, that is if you want to hear it."

"Tell me," Nell replied and Cass nodded against her, "When, when I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was the mallet lying on the floor, he was still on top of me so I concentrated all my efforts, grabbed it and swung it at his head, hearing a thump," she hiccupped, "and of all the things to think, I thought that it sounded just like you were testing a watermelon, strange huh," she shuddered and Nell tightened her hold. "Then he fell on the side of me, there was so much blood, his, mine, I couldn't tell the difference, his eyes were half open and he lay across me, staring at me, I couldn't move but I felt something vibrating in my pocket and found my cell phone. It was my mom and she called 911 and the police. They were there before her, thank god, so she didn't have to see most of what happened, but I remember trembling on the cold wood waiting for them to cut a part of my floor up, the part that my han…han…hand," she started to breath quicker, "Oh god, oh god…" she groaned and curled into Nell holding her stomach. Nell held her whispering soothing words of comfort, as much for herself as Cass.

"Cass," Nell eventually said after she felt Cass' body settle down, "honey if you want to cry for yourself or what you suffered then you go right ahead and I'll hold you all night but," her voice hardened, "don't you cry for that bastard, you hear me Cass, don't you shed one tear for him."

Cass sat up to look at Nell, tears dripping down her cheeks. Nell cupped her hands around Cass' face and used her thumbs to wipe them away. "But," Cass stammered, "I murdered him."

"You stop right there Cass O'Shea, you are not a murderer, it was not your fault, you understand me, it was not your fault," she emphasized, "you have a right to protect yourself, you would have died that night unless you'd done something. You should be proud of yourself, what you did takes a lot of courage, I'm not sure I'd have been able to do it," she paused as she rubbed her thumbs along the bony ridge under Cass' eyes, "why'd he'd give up his chance with you I'll never know."

Cass' eyes sparkled in the moonlight and several moments passed, "Nell I can't be to you like Corrie was, right now in my life I can't have that kind of relationship with anyone, man or woman."

Nell smiled and removed her hands from Cass' face and wrapped them around her scarred hand, "I know and you're not like Corrie," she paused, "you're so much more than she was."

Cass looked at her surprise covering her face.

"Look at me," Nell said as she held her arms out, "what you see is what you get, I don't have any hidden agendas," she took both Cass' hands in hers, "I just want to know you Cass, be your friend, someone you can count on, someone you'll feel safe with, OK," she paused, "and if sometime in the future the nature of our relationship should change then well that will be up to you. I won't pressure you to do anything you don't want and I promise I won't hurt you. I'm very loyal to my friends and regardless of the type of relationship we have I'll always be thankful to God in her wisdom in allowin us to meet," she stood and held out her left hand.

Cass took it and Nell pulled her up and Cass engulfed her in a hug, "Thanks Nell."

"My pleasure," she hugged her tight then gently pushed her at arm's length, "now it's time you got to bed."

"OK, let me find my key," Cass said and began to rummage in her pockets.

"Keep it where it is, you're spending the night with me."

Cass looked at her.

"I don't mean with me, well I do, no I mean in my suite, its got two queen beds besides I'm not leavin you after all that happened tonight, I don't want you gettin sick or chokin on your vomit or something."

"Nice thought," Cass said then began laughing and lost her balance for a moment. Nell caught her, put her arm around her back and with Cass leaning into her for support they walked toward the cabins.

"Hey," Nell heard a familiar voice and looking up seeing Jeff and Kim on the deck above having a drink. Cass followed her gaze and smiled at them.

"Need any help?" Jeff said.

"Nah we're going to try and make it," Nell said smiling at Cass as Cass smiled back, "I think we'll be all right."

"OK," Kim said, "if you need us just call, oh and don't forget, first port is tomorrow."

"Get us up around ten," Nell said, "OK Cass?"


"Be prepared to shop," Kim yelled after them.

"Nell?" Cass asked.


"Do you think they have cowboy hats and boots on Jamaica?"

Nell's laughter soon mingled with Cass' and as it floated up they missed the sound of two glasses clinking together from the deck above and high in the night sky two new stars, one right next to the other, burst to life and joined the others in shining just a little more light and warmth through the darkness to whatever they touched.

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