Tyler Bradshaw was laid to rest on the twenty-eighth day of November. After a brief memorial service, his body was moved to the cemetery would he would spend the rest of eternity in peace. The scent of roses and carnations mingled on the cold air with the smell of freshly dug earth. It was a gray, bitterly cold day. The perfect day for burying a four-year-old.
She watched tiny white snowflakes drift down to melt against the impossibly small mahogany casket. It took every ounce of courage she possessed to stand next to his grave, to listen to the minister inadequately explain why this child was taken away so young and innocent. She knew why he was gone. She knew who to blame.
The ministers quiet words faded away. In her mind, she saw the bright-eyed little boy with the infectious grin. He came to her attention the way all children came to her attention-through a phone call in the middle of the night. An intern at Eglestons called the police when Robert Bradshaw brought his son into the ER. The parents claimed the little boy fell from their car, but his injuries were inconsistent with that kind of fall. The intern called the police, who called the Domestic Violence Intervention Team, who called Dr. Michala Cary.
He was simply another case at first. She saw hundreds of children, all abused on some level, and had long ago built a wall to protect her sanity. She could not do her job if she allowed herself to become personally involved. With most of the children it was easy to stay uninvolved. They were the ones whose spirits had been beaten and defeated by parents who didnt care and a system that could not afford to. She did her best for these children, but she wasnt haunted by the fact that her best wasnt always enough. Then there were the others, they ones who werent quite so defeated yet, not quite ground down by their lives. These children kept her awake some nights, then they were gone from her life when their cases were resolved.
And then there was Tyler. A bright, cheerful boy who ran to her for hugs and kisses when he came to her office, who chatted constantly about his friends and his preschool, who was remarkably untouched by the violence his father first directed at him when he was two months old. Perhaps it was because he did not live the same life of poverty and drugs that marked most abusive homes. His father was a successful executive for a computer firm. He went to a private preschool, wore tiny Nikes, romped in Osh Kosh overalls, and never went to bed hungry or dirty. None of that protected him from becoming a memory in one horrifically violent second.
Dark, shattered eyes watched the cool blonde on the other side of the coffin cry delicately into a lacy black handkerchief. The grieving mother. Why she was here instead of sharing a cell with her husband was almost more than Michala could stand. Maybe Rebecca Bradshaw never laid a hand on her son, but the fact that she never tried to stop her husband made her just as culpable for her sons death. Depraved indifference to human life. What else could it be called when a mother watched someone deal such a vicious blow to her child that it was almost instantly fatal? Depraved indifference was the least of Rebecca Bradshaws crimes.
Reporters rushed forward as they made their way from the burial site. Uniformed officers corralled them and kept microphones and cameras out of their faces. She paused on the edge of the lawn. The photo that would grace the front page of tomorrows paper was of her looking back, the heartbreaking expression of loss so clear on her pale face.
Now she only saw the media and the police. She used one, relied on the other and both had let her down in the end. She turned away from the small, flower laden casket.
Tyler was dead. Nothing else mattered.
Kelly Pryce looked at her watch in growing frustration. She would give Randa seven more minutes before she trekked back through the lunch rush to her office. All in all shed wasted an hour she didnt have to spare. She was more than frustrated. She was getting angry. What kind of an emergency could Randa be having if she could leave someone sitting in her office for almost thirty minutes? Apparently not the kind that required immediate attention.
For the third time, she stood up to roam the spacious office. Dr. Miranda Cary is a Psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents. Her office reflects the interests of her teenage patients. The larger right side of the room was a casual conversation area with comfortable navy canvas backed painter chairs and a table covered with popular teen magazines. One wall was a white board with typical teenage graffiti written in a rainbow of dry ink. The remaining walls were a soothing sky blue.
Randas glass topped desk and leather wing chairs were tucked unobtrusively on the smaller left side of the room. Lush green plants were a discreet demarcation between the teens side of her office and her personal space. Kelly thought it odd her degrees were not hung with pride behind the desk. There was little to denote the success Randa has achieved in her profession.
"Im sorry to keep you waiting, Kelly."
Kelly turned to the doorway. Instant concern replaced her frustration. Anger furrowed Randas usually smiling face and narrowed dark brown eyes. She raked fingers through tousled short blonde hair.
"Come with me. I dont want this to be overheard."
The Cary Center is set up on the spacious ground floor of a gracefully refurbished Victorian house. Kelly followed her down several narrow hallways, through several large conference rooms, to the reception area. Shed only known Randa a few months, but Kelly thought she knew her well enough to know Randa Cary is a remarkably calm and poised woman. As she followed her though the Cary Center, she wondered how the bright yellow envelope crumpled in her fist featured in her loss of composure.
A man and a teenage girl flipped through magazines as they waited for their appointments. Randa walked to the reception window. "Is she here?"
The brunette behind the glass shrugged. "I havent seen her."
"Lt. Pryce and I are going up to talk. Call there the second she walks in."
The second floor of the Cary Center, like the Center itself, belongs to Randas twin sister Michala. A curved oak staircase in the center hall was blocked at the top of the stairs by locked sliding wooden doors. Kelly was endlessly fascinated by those doors and cast a long stare up every time she visited. She kept hoping for just a glimpse of her or for a tiny view into her life. Since coming to Atlanta to take over as the police liaison for the Domestic Violence Intervention Team, she has developed a silent obsession over Michala Cary.
Randa paused long enough to unlock the doors and push one side open for them to enter the inner sanctum. "Im sorry I made you wait, Kelly. I was looking for more of these."
She slid the door shut. "I guess she threw them away."
"Whats wrong?" Kelly asked, deciding she no longer cared why she was left waiting in her office. Randa was angry and that was the more intriguing puzzle. Kelly was willing to bet Randa Cary didnt get angry very often.
Randa reached for a dimmer switch located just inside the doors. Kelly blinked in surprised at the casual room revealed by scattered floor lamps. This is not how she imagined Michala Cary lived. She followed Randa across the large room to facing black leather couches. The second floor resembled a very spacious studio apartment. One end of the room was a small kitchen and the other end was an office area with desk and computer. The couches, glass coffee table and an oak dinette table were the only other furnishings. The white walls and dark hardwood floor were both bare.
She was disappointed. Michala Cary has taken on a mythical aura since her abrupt, though not unexpected resignation from DVIT last year. Her name, when spoken, is mentioned in hushed tones of awe. This room was much too prosaic for a goddess.
"I opened this by mistake. It could be read either Michala or Miranda. Cayla gets very little mail at the office these days." She held out the crumpled yellow envelope.
Kelly reluctantly took the envelope from her and sat. She pulled out the single sheet of matching paper and quickly read the note.
I saw you today. Pretty roses from the pretty lady. Too bad hes still dead.
The words were written with a low end laser printer in dire need of toner. Randas dark gaze never left her as she read the brief, creepy note. "Did you get this today?"
Randa nodded. Her brow was creased in worry. "Yes. When I realized what it was, I asked Lynne about it. She said it came with the rest of the mail this morning. She also said Cayla receives about one a week and has for months."
Kelly flipped the envelope over. The letter was addressed to Michala Cary in care of the Cary Center. The canceled stamp bore an Atlanta postmark. The handwriting was scratchy. "Why didnt you call the police?"
Randa stared at her blankly. "I did. I called you."
Her earlier frustration returned with a vengeance. She held the letter out to the other woman. "Im not a detective, Randa. Im the police liaison officer for DVIT. I dont handle stuff like this."
Randa looked down at the letter in her hands. She sighed and looked up, her eyes dark with worry. "Are you suggesting I take this to Jim Bates? Regardless of how Cayla feels about the department, the police think of her as one of their own. The police cannot protect those who do not want to be protected. Trust me, Cayla wont cooperate with an investigation."
Kelly knew only the bare facts about Michalas resignation from DVIT. The other officers dont talk about Tyler Bradshaw or the legal nightmare that became Michalas life before his death. What little of the story she knew, she learned from Randa.
"Go talk to-" She broke off to stare at the rumpled robed woman who silently appeared out of the darkness behind Randa. As she walked into the ring of light, Kelly knew she was about to meet Michala Cary. They were identical twins and there was a startling similarity in the heart shaped face framed by shoulder length honey blonde hair. Her dark eyes were sleepy and annoyed.
Randas eyes widened and she jumped to her feet in surprise. "Cayla. What are you doing here?"
Michala arched both eyebrows and said, "Hmm, let me see. Im in a robe and I just woke up. Perhaps I live here?"
She walked around the couch. Her short white silk robe was loosely tied and fell open to reveal the tanned curve of full breasts. Kelly tensed as she walked across the room. She smiled and held out her hand. "Im Michala."
Before Kelly could frame a reply, Randa answered for her. "This is Dr. Kelly Pryce. Shes consulting on a sensitive case. We came up here for privacy. Wheres your car?"
Dr. Pryce? Kelly did have her doctorate in Criminal Justice, but she never used the title. She preferred Lieutenant. Dark brown eyes slid over Kelly with the warmth of a physical touch. Behind her, Randa crammed the letter and envelope into the pocket of her slacks.
"Body shop, I think," Michala answered absently after a pause. As she met Kellys eyes, panic set in. She wasnt out at work and her blatant appraisal, as extremely flattering as Kelly found it, was unwelcome. Randa was sure to read something into her gay twin staring at her. Michala read her mind. She winked, amused at the panic. She turned to Randa. With both hands, she ran her fingers through her hair. "Do you often bring people up here?"
"No, this is a special case. Very sensitive." Randa sat and she shrugged when Kelly looked over at her. Their conversation was over here; they would have to go somewhere else. Kelly hoped Randa would not make excuses for them too quickly.
Michala walked into the kitchen. She flipped a switch and the tiny kitchen was brilliantly lit by a single row of track lighting. "Anyone want some coffee? I didnt realize I was having company so I cant offer you anything else."
Randa turned to watch her. "Sure. Both of us. What time did you get in last night?"
Michala moved around the kitchen measuring water and coffee grounds. "Fourish. When I came out of the club last night my windshield was shattered. After the report was made and a cab was called and one more drink with my concerned friends, it was four or later when I got home."
Randa and Kelly looked at each other. Was it a coincidence that her car was vandalized last night? Randa asked in a conversational tone, "Who all was there?"
Cups rattled in the kitchen. "Um, well, Leigh. Valerie. Brenda left after a few drinks. Robbie came later. She and Gaye had a big fight over something really stupid. The garbage I think. Of course she wanted to cry on my shoulder so I pretended to care."
Pretended to care? That wasnt the caring, sensitive response expected from the vaunted Dr. Michala Cary. Randa was good, Kelly knew from her own experience, but Michala was supposed to be an exceptionally perceptive Psychiatrist.
"And you made a report?"
A slight pause, her voice edged when she answered. "While I was checking out the damage, Val called on her cell phone. It must have been a slow crime night last night because that squad car was there in mere minutes. Val is on the top of my hit list."
"Why? Youll need the police report to make a claim."
Michala walked over with a tray of slate blue stoneware mugs, coffee pot, and containers of cream and sugar. She poured the coffee and handed out mugs as she talked. "If I was carjacked and raped before being left for dead on the side of the road, I still would not call the police. I didnt give the report actually. Val did. I went back inside and had another drink."
She shot her twin a wicked grin. "I mean since I was coming home in a cab why leave sober?"
Randas answering smile was faint. "Yes, why leave sober."
They drank the coffee in silence. Kelly felt Michalas eyes drift over her several times and she refused to meet her interested gaze. She was not going to confirm anything for her with Randa here. She chanced a glance over at her. She seemed very much at home, which of course she was, but few people could carry that off while entertaining guests in only a robe. She caught Kellys eyes and winked over the rim of her mug.
"Are you coming to dinner tonight? Mom and Dad ask about you every week." There was a chastising tone to Randas voice.
Michala turned away to focus on Randa. Her tone was chiding. "Subtle. When the guilt doesnt work, are you going to try to elicit sympathy? That might work better. Im fresh out of guilt."
Randa covered her hand and leaned forward. "Theyre worried about you. Im worried about you. Hell, Cayla, everyone is worried. All you do is go clubbing all night and sleep all day. This isnt you. This isnt your life."
Michala stood, her eyes cool. "My life is what I want it to be. Id apologize for not measuring up to your standards, but I dont seem to care if you approve."
Randa said calmly, "You dont seem to care about much these days."
"Oh I care Miranda, just not about the things you want." She smiled down at Kelly. "Its been a pleasure meeting you Dr. Pryce. Come back any time."
She didnt look at Randa as she walked away from them. "Leave your key on the table Miranda. This isnt part of the Center."
Kelly watched Randa stare at her as she went to her bedroom and closed her door. The frustration she felt at being shut from her sisters life must be a special kind of hell. Its difficult to reach out to someone who isnt reaching back and you cant save those who arent asking for help. This someone was her twin sister.
"Do you still think I should talk to Jim?" She asked, standing. She leaned down to pick up the tray.
Lieutenant James Bates, like everyone who speaks of her, adores Michala. Kelly shook her head. If she didnt want to report a busted windshield, she would abhor an investigation into the letters. "I think that would be the worse thing to do."
"Are you hungry? Theres a Ruby Tuesdays near here."
They took the tray of coffee mugs back to the kitchen before they left. Kelly could hear Michala taking a shower as they left the apartment. Randa locked the doors and pocketed the key. It seemed that not caring about certain things ran in the Cary family.
Kelly got back to her office at two-thirty. The afternoon was shot, but she didnt regret the lost time. They spent lunch forming a plan to protect Michala without her knowledge. They didnt have a lot of options. They decided that talking to Jim Bates would effectively open an investigation and without Michalas cooperation it would be a battle of iron wills. The first course of action was to intercept the letters. Randa would arrange that with the office manager, Lynne. Randa was also going to talk to Michalas friends and quietly suggest the family was concerned about her and would appreciate her friends keeping close tabs on her for them. Randa was of the opinion that her friends, just as concerned as the family about her, would gladly join the conspiracy.
There wasnt anything for Kelly to do, either officially or unofficially. She wasnt in Michalas circle of friends and Randa didnt want her to know about Kellys association with DVIT. She apologized for the "Dr. Pryce" introduction and explained that Michala refused to talk about DVIT or to the members of the team. If she explained that Kelly was the new police liaison officer, they would have been outside her door within in seconds. Michala would have assumed they were discussing a DVIT case. Certain things are not discussed in her home.
Kelly gave up trying to do paperwork. It was Friday. This week, her week on call, was long and difficult. She received calls five out of seven nights. Three of the calls were after midnight. One of the children was DOA at Egleston. They added six new cases to an already crushing case load of abused children in need of state protection.
When she joined DVIT three months ago, it was with excitement and a sense of renewed hope in law enforcement. She was burned out from dealing with a system that only picked up pieces after the lives were shattered. The Domestic Violence Intervention Team was formed, by Michala, to respond to any domestic call where children were present. DVIT brought together the police department, Cary Center associates, and case workers from the Department of Family and Children services. They had an unprecedented power to protect these children. Kelly would have preferred the power to change their lives.
Michala Cary. She gave up the fight and let her mind wander. Kelly heard her name for the first time during the initial interview for the police liaison position. Randa and Samantha Jones, the DFACS caseworker assigned to the program, gave her a thumbnail background sketch. Michala conceived the idea for DVIT, talked Fulton County and the state into a partnership, and headed the program for five highly successful years. She resigned last year and Randa stepped in to fill her place.
Kelly was led to believe that Michala resigned because of her demanding private practice. It was after she was on the job a few weeks that she noticed no one, save for Randa, mentioned Michala. She was their founder and leader for five years and her name was rarely mentioned. Kelly found this odd and asked Randa about her resignation from the program. In a tone that warned questions would not be answered, Randa told her about the death of four-year-old Tyler Bradshaw and its devastating effect on her sister. The nightmare began when Tyler was returned to his parents over Michalas strongly voiced objections. She believed the childs life was in jeopardy and took her fight against the system to the press. The Bradshaws civil suit for slander never went to trial because ten months later Robert was arrested when his son was admitted to Piedmont. Michala resigned from DVIT three days later after the little boy was removed from life support. Four months after Tylers death and Michala still has not stepped foot into DVITs office or her own in the Cary Center. She has effectively retired in the middle of a highly acclaimed career.
How could anyone not find a woman like her fascinating? The fact that she is gay has only made her all the more intriguing. She was a woman who did not bemoan the sad state of affairs or wish she could do something, but had pulled together a program that actually did something. She built the Cary Center into a successful mental health clinic. Kelly had to admire a woman who has the power to make her dreams a reality. So few people have that ability.
Kelly realized unhappily that as much as she would love to get to know her, it was never going to happen. Whatever interest Michala may have had of her in the apartment would vanish the second she knew Kelly was with DVIT.
Dark, soft wavy hair cut chin length. Eyes midnight blue fringed with long, thick lashes. Body both feminine and athletic under oatmeal colored slacks and hunter green shirt. Michala opened her eyes when she was sure that Dr. Kelly Pryce was worth the pain she was currently suffering. She nodded once, satisfied the woman was as sexy and attractive as she thought.
"Darling, will you get the rolls out of the oven?"
Michala plastered a smile to her face. "Sure Mom."
She walked around the butchers block in the middle of the kitchen and pulled on a pair of oven mitts. She cast a quick glance over the kitchen. Miranda was tossing a green salad while their mother was carving a golden roasted chicken. She was really here, having dinner with family. She opened the oven with the thought that later, she would be at the bar with friends. This night could not last forever, regardless how much it might feel like it.
"Mm, these smell great. Is this the new recipe you were talking about?"
Miranda looked up from the tomatoes she was slicing to stare at her in question. Michala simply grinned and slid the rolls into a wicker basket. She knew Miranda was wondering when shed talked to their mother. As far as Paige Anderson Cary was concerned, the one phone call she made every Thursday night was a non-call. She wanted several calls a week on different nights that werent made in guilt. She wasnt going to admit she ever heard from Michala until she got what she wanted.
Paige came over and hugged her from behind. She was taller than both her daughters. Her sleek auburn hair was cut in a short, crisp style. Warm dark brown eyes were her genetic gift to the twins. "Yes. Do you want it? Its very easy to make."
Michala smiled at her sister. "Its been years since youve gotten me confused with Miranda. Im Michala, the one who can cook. I dont need easy."
Paige laughed and kissed her cheek. She caught Mirandas less than amused expression and kissed her as well. She patted her shoulder as she left the kitchen. "Im sorry darling, but its true."
"If had known you were coming, I wouldve stayed home. You said no this morning." Miranda dumped the tomatoes over the shredded lettuce in the bowl with a little more force than necessary.
Michala slid over next to her. This was just the opening shed been waiting for. "About this morning. I noticed you didnt leave your key. Planning to bring her back when Im not there? Susans not going to like that. You do know, dont you, that shes a very good shot with her gun?"
She watched in amusement as Miranda cast a frantic glance to the doorway. Michala knew she would. For reasons only her sister understood, she wasnt ready for their parents to know both their daughters were gay. Michala came out in junior high; Miranda only admitted her true feelings two years ago when she started dating one of Michalas best friends.
"Kelly is a colleague. That was a professional discussion. Besides, shes not gay."
Michala grinned. "Oh honey, you should have that fixed. Youre missing out on a whole world."
"What fixed and what world?"
"Your gaydar. When you have a woman as sexy as that around and you dont know shes gay, its time for a tune-up. I knew the second I saw her."
Miranda turned to her with a smirk. "You think every woman is gay. You want every woman to be gay. Kelly isnt gay. I think I would have noticed by now if she was."
Michala laughed. "You didnt even know you are. Why do you think she isnt?"
As her sister launched into a list of why Kelly Pryce couldnt possibly be gay, Michala barely kept the smile off her face. This was so easy, she should be arrested. She buttered the rolls and made little noises of agreement. When Miranda was finished, Michala knew Kelly lived with Dr. Danielle Barrett, had just moved from Seattle, wasnt seeing anyone yet, and hated sports. The most telling point for Miranda seemed to be that Kelly had not picked up on her. Michala didnt bother pointing out to her sister that she was so far back in her closet, she didnt see the light of day when Susan slipped in with her. Michala was as shocked as Miranda when she realized she was gay. The fact that someone else didnt pick up on it didnt surprise Michala in the least.
She said with a smile, "I guess youre right. I dont know what I was thinking."
Dr. Danielle Barrett, the orthopedic surgeon of choice for the lesbian community, was a friend of Shannons, whose girlfriend just happened to be Michalas other best friend. She knew from Jess that they were all meeting at the bar later that night. If Kelly wasnt with them, she was sure Danielle would be. She would get the rest of the information she wanted from her.
"Will one of you go get your Dad?" Paige asked as came back into the kitchen. "Were ready."
Miranda said she would, leaving Michala to help their mother take the dishes into the dining room. Paige launched into more questions. Michala followed her into the dining room with the rolls and salad.
"No," she said and the smiling face of Kelly Pryce popped in her head, "Im not seeing anyone right now."
Paige smiled at her over the table. "I met this nice young woman at PFLAG last week. Remind me to give you the number before you leave. She was just gorgeous."
Michala closed her eyes briefly. Why, she wondered not for the first time, couldnt she have parents who took a less personal interest in her private life? Didnt they know they were supposed to ignore her orientation, pretend she was happily celibate? She would have to get parents who were comfortable enough with her life to ask those embarrassing questions and try to fix her up with other women. Thank God her mother wasnt giving her number out anymore. That was something.
Paige smiled at her over the table. Michala returned the smile, hoping that hers was at least half as bright. "Her name is Tiffany. Shes twenty-two, but thats not really that young any more."
Tiffany? Twenty-two? Dark, soft wavy hair cut chin length. Eyes midnight blue fringed with long, thick lashes. And once again, she reminded herself this night would end soon. If Kelly was at the bar, she had high hopes that when it did, Kelly Pryce would be in her arms.
Dani was already there by the time she got home that evening. Kelly parked next to her white BMW and thought, as she did every Friday, that soon she was moving to one of the suburbs north of Atlanta. With teams in all four major sports and other entertainment not offered anywhere else in the state, it seemed that half of Georgia was driving into Atlanta on the weekends. If she lived in the suburbs, she could cruise home instead of sitting in traffic jams.
Dr. Danielle Barrett and Kelly had been friends forever. Legend has it that their friendship, frequently mistaken for a continuous game of one-up-woman ship, began in the hospital nursery when Kelly was a whole day older. Their mothers bonded over a shared terror of new motherhood. They came out together, graduated from Syracuse University together, and then parted for the first time in their lives for graduate school. Dani came south to Emory and Kelly went west to Stanford. Dani remained in Atlanta after getting her medical degree. Kelly began her law enforcement career in Seattle. Three months ago, for reasons that had everything to do with constant rain, she finally made the move to Atlanta. Dani has graciously shared her townhouse without once mentioning that Kelly agreed to live with her "temporarily."
"Hey, come in here," Dani called as soon as she walked in the townhouse.
Kelly found her upstairs in her bedroom. She wore a pair of black slacks and nothing else. Kelly leaned in the doorway with a smile. What is it about a best friend that made them so unappealing as a lover? Objectively, she could admit that Dani was quite a catch. Short jet black hair and piercing blue eyes, toned athletes body and a thriving career as an orthopedic surgeon. The flip side of objective is knowing everything she ever did.
She reached into her closet for a red shirt. "Youre not on call tonight are you? Jessica and Shannon have invited us to dinner. Then were all going out."
Dani and her friends have been trying to get Kelly out for a night on the town since she moved. Kelly wasnt the party animal they are and shamelessly used her job to ward them away. Kelly decided as she watched Dani dress that tonight she wanted to go out with Dani and her friends. A night on the town in the company of beautiful women was just what she needed.
"Sounds great. Do I have time for a shower?"
Dani shot her a look of surprise. "Sure, of course. Were not meeting them until seven-thirty."
Kelly nodded and walked down the hall to her room. Yes, a night out filled with wine, women and song. Was there a better way to end what had been a particularly bad week? She was used to the late night phone calls because the middle of the night was the time people seemed to lose control of their anger most. What made this week so bad was that the DOA at Egleston was her first fatality. One little girl would never be older than eight for the rest of eternity. That was a hard one for her to pass off as just part of the job.
After her shower, Kelly stood in front of her closet door and debated about her attire for the night. Danis slacks were dressier than her usual bar clothes. Kellys seen her leave in faded blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She took her cue from Dani and passed over jeans in favor of black linen slacks and blazer over a white silk shirt. If Dani was dressing up, they were either going to a very nice restaurant or she was trying to impress a date.
The Otherside was crowded by the time they arrived at ten. While Dani and Shannon pushed their way to the bar for drinks, Jess and Kelly scouted the bar for the table of friends they were meeting. They found the rowdy group in the back near the dance floor. Jess left her with the five other women while she went to tell Dani and Shannon where they were sitting.
Dani and her friends play in softball leagues and have tailgate parties before UGA football games. They were Braves fan before the team became winners and they go to every Hawks game in the belief that their faith will do for the basketball team what it did for the boys of summer. Kelly has resisted all attempts at assimilation. She used to think that being gay meant she had to play sports, but she realized that one is not automatically inclusive of the other. Now she limited her sports watching to the World Series and Super Bowl games because those are the only games that count.
Kelly returned welcomes with the other woman and tried to remember their names. Susan was easy for her to remember because she was a homicide detective on the force. Gaye was equally as easy because a gay woman named Gaye is memorable. Gaye was cuddling her young lover, Robin or Robbie or something as equally cute. Next to her was a boyish brunette whose name was a total blank. She was talking about the Falcons with Susan.
Depression hit with a vengeance. So she was out for a night on the town with some people she kind of knew. She only had Dani in common with them. They were strangers and the longer Kelly lived with her the more she realized the same was true of Dani. What they had in common was a lifetime eighteen years ago. They were very different from the young women who set out to conquer the world from Syracuse.
Two beers and a half of bowl of cold popcorn later found Kelly ready to call a cab. She listened politely to the heated conversation over the Braves, tried to care about the Falcons, but drew the line at even pretending an interest in the basketball team. She was trying to catch Danis attention when silence fell over the table. Suddenly chairs were scrapping and she was pushed to the side to make room for someone else.
Kelly slid her chair closer to Dani and leaned over to whisper, "Im getting tired. I think Im "
Dani wasnt listening as she smiled brightly at someone over Kellys shoulder. Kelly sat back in her chair, resigned to the fact that she was stuck here for a little while longer. Why did she think coming here would make this miserable week end on a better note? She closed her eyes and consoled herself with the thought that tomorrow she would sleep until noon.
"Dance with me," a very soft voice purred in her ear. Expensive perfume wrapped itself around her.
Kelly turned to the warm voice and was astonished to look into dark amused eyes. Michala had her arm along the back of her chair. She was dressed all in black and the combination of her blonde fairness against the black made her dangerous and sexy. She took Kellys hand and kissed her palm. Her half smile was intimate and intriguing. "Dance with me Kelly."
Kelly never took her eyes from Michala as she was led to the dance floor. She went willingly into Michalas arms. They were surrounded by couples swaying against each other to the slow beat of a popular love song. Michala felt wonderful. Kelly had not gone out with anyone since the move, but she knew that wasnt why Michala felt so good against her. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to enjoy this unexpected pleasure.
"Ive thought about you all day," Michala whispered in her ear.
The words raced through her blood like an electric current. Kelly tried to step back, but the hands on her hips slid around her waist to pull Kelly tight against her. Her thighs brushed Kellys as they rocked in a slow circle, breasts pressed against breasts. Kelly could smell the exotic scent of her perfume, feel the warmth of her body. Michala Cary was dancing with her. Michala Cary had thought about her all day. Feeling bold by her thoughts, Kelly slid her hands under her oversized black jacket.
Just when she thought nothing else could surprise her, Michala reached up to brush her hair away from her neck. Soft lips began a slow, hot trail from her chin up to her ear. Kellys breath caught with the first touch of her lips. Swallowing became a conscious act of will. The only sound she heard was the hammering of her heart.
"Come home with me," Michala whispered. Before Kelly could answer, Michala took her ear lobe in her mouth and sucked gently. Kelly was lost. She was hers to take on the dance floor if Michala wanted.
She turned to press a soft kiss on Michalas throat. "Im ready to leave when you are."
She was wrapped in a pleasant sexually charged daze as they left the dance floor. Michala stopped by the table long enough to retrieve their coats. Kelly dimly heard Michala tell Dani not to worry, she would see Kelly home. Neither mentioned that it was her home and that Dani should not expect Kelly back tonight. She hoped Michala wasnt the type to let a woman leave before sunrise.
Her black Lexus was parked near the front door. She was glad they didnt have far to walk in the cool March night. Michala opened the passenger door for her. Before Kelly could slide inside, she was pulled tight against Michala and cool lips claimed hers in a soft, teasing kiss. She was breathing again when Michala slid under the wheel.
As Michala drove competently through the dark streets, Kelly realized where she was, who she was with and where she was going. She was stunned by how easily and quickly Michala got her in her car on the way to her house and her bed. She turned in the seat to explain that was happening all too fast. They only briefly met that morning. She did not go home with women she had only briefly met.
Michala reached for her hand and her smile was amused. "I had dinner with my family tonight. I thought Miranda deserved a reward for bringing you to my attention. I would have been spared that excruciating experience if I had only known you know Jess."
Kelly remembered their conversation. It was hard for her not to be impressed that Michala had gone to the trouble to find out more about her. Kelly summoned a smile and shook her head. "I dont know Jess. My roommate, Dani, knows her."
"They arent friends of yours?"
"No. Dani is the only friend I have here. I moved here three months ago from Seattle. Ive borrowed her friends instead of trying to make my own."
As she spoke, Kelly realized the dangerous path she was leading them down. The last thing she needed was for Michala to ask about her life. One little slip was all it would take and Michala was bright enough to put the truth together from just a few facts. Michala kissed the back of her hand. "Well Im not a friend per se of Danielles so I guess that makes me your first friend in Atlanta. I shall do my best to make you feel welcome."
Kelly stared at her and their eyes touched before Michala returned her gaze to the empty street. She was going to this beautiful womans house. That became the only clear thought in her head. Everything else receded to a dark corner. She moved closer and slid her hand slowly up her thigh. "I feel very welcome."
Michala braked for a red light and reached for her. This kiss was long and deep. They broke away when a car honked from behind. Kelly rested her forehead on Michalas shoulder. She didnt know it could happen this fast, be this scorching. She felt electrified, with every nerve ending tingling in anticipation.
She slipped her hand inside Michalas jacket. With one button open, she was able to move her hand inside her shirt. She felt Michala tense under her soft strokes, smiled at the quick breath she took. That she could do to Michala what Michala was doing to her was astonishing.
Michala flashed a quick glance over at her. "If you go any higher, Ill have to park the car right here."
Kelly laughed and pulled her hand from her shirt. "I better be good."
Michala turned into the back parking lot of the Cary Center. The look she tossed Kelly made her anticipation jump a few degrees. "Oh, you are."
Michala watched Kelly wander through her apartment as she opened a bottle of wine. Shed remembered her perfectly. She looked even better in black slacks and white shirt than she had in her earlier outfit. She was taller than Michala would have thought, a few inches over her own five four. She rarely chose to be the shorter partner in a couple. She wondered idly if it wouldve made a difference if shed known before going to the club. She caught a shy glance of midnight blue and knew that it wouldnt have. She was too taken to let a few inches change her mind.
"You dont give a lot away, do you?" Kelly was standing at her desk.
Michala walked over and handed her a glass of golden wine. "Away as in?"
Kelly tossed her a curious smile and her gaze skimmed over the room. "You can usually tell a lot about a person by what they have on display in their homes. Its the one place people are free to be themselves. You must be an incredibly private person."
Michala sipped her wine and used the time to frame a reply. That pause, she knew, pretty much confirmed Kellys impression of her. She shrugged. "I suppose I am. Or maybe I was an incredibly busy person who didnt spend enough time here to make it a home."
She knew by the thoughtful expression on the other womans face that she gave away much more than she intended with that ill-thought out remark. She pulled her close, ready to move them back to the reason Kelly was here. She turned her head to trail small, light kisses across her throat. "Shall we dance some more?"
She felt Kelly glance over the room. "Can you sing?"
Michala stepped back with a laugh. "Only in the shower."
She linked one hand with Kellys and led her down the hallway to her bedroom. She turned off the living room lights with the flip of one switch and turned on her bedroom light in another. Kelly tugged her hand free. Michala put her wine glass on her bedside table and walked to the oak Armoire across from her bed. She opened both doors to reveal an expensive television and stereo system. The stereo was preset to a channel that played soft rock songs.
"Nice," Kelly said behind her. Arms came around her waist and pulled her back. "This is the real you."
Michala turned to face her. Kellys lips were inviting. Slowly, she pulled Kellys shirt from the waist of her slacks. With a gentle sway to the music, she moved them to the middle of the room. She leaned over to kiss the soft skin above her shirt collar. "Youve seen the real me, Kelly. Thats all youve seen."
Her skin was warm and carried a faint scent of vanilla. She pressed a soft kiss to that skin as she undid each button. Kelly raked fingers through her hair, then down her back to tug on her shirt. "I keep telling myself that this is too fast. We dont know each other. But my body doesnt seem to care."
"As a doctor you know how important it is to listen to your body."
Michalas breath caught in appreciation as she saw the lacy white bra she wore. She pushed the shirt off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She looked up into Kellys eyes. They were dark and wanting. She slid a finger under each strap. "My body wants this off."
With one motion, she touched her lips to Kellys and reached behind her to pop the snap. Kelly opened her mouth and Michala deepened the kiss. She tasted the cool, fruity wine on her tongue. She stripped the bra away without breaking the kiss. Her breasts were warm in her hands, the nipples hard against her palms. Kelly gasped against her tongue. All thoughts Michala had entertained of taking this slow, to enjoy this beautiful woman and her wonderful body, fled with Kellys low, sensual moan. She broke off the kiss. "My body wants this all off."
They tore at each others clothes until they were standing in a pile of silk and linen. Michala pushed Kelly back to the bed and tumbled down with her. Hands roamed to stroke and caress, lips sought sensitive places to tease and torment. Michala kissed and caressed her way down with Kelly stroking her back and shoulders before all that was left for her to touch was Michalas face and hair. Gentle fingers in her hair became fists as she tenderly, slowly opened Kelly with her tongue.
"Oh yes," Kelly breathed, "Yes."
Michala smiled, a slow satisfied curving of full lips. Kelly watched without breathing as she reached out to touch her with the tip of her tongue. Her dark brown eyes stared into Kellys, watching Kelly watch her. She held Michalas gaze while her tongue moved up and down in light, teasing strokes. She could not watch and feel at the same time. The sensations were too strong, she would explode if she had to watch. She fell back to the bed to only feel what Michala was doing to her.
She heard a low, satisfied chuckle. Michala was the kind of woman who would enjoy making her beg, would want to hear her ask for release. Without an audience to torment, she turned to press hot kisses on the inside of Kellys thigh. Long fingers held her in place as she squirmed in anticipation.
"No," she groaned when Michala sat up on her elbows. Michala felt so good, it had been so long, and Kelly was willing do more than beg if she moved away now. There wasnt much she wouldnt do if Michala asked it of her right then.
Michalas answer was to slip her right hand over Kellys leg to gently stroke her stomach. She gasped when a finger slipped inside her. She was so wet, Michala went deep in one smooth stroke.
"Yes. Oh yes," she moaned. Her fingers were slow and steady. "Yes."
"Yes," Michala agreed, pulling out only to push deep and stopped to move her fingers inside.
Kelly moved under her hands. She was so close. She reached down to touch herself. She was so close to that edge she could see over. She wanted to come, to feel Michala pushing in and out pulling out of her with quick, urgent thrusts.
"No," Michala said firmly and shot a hand out to catch her. When Kelly didnt try to push lower, she let go of her hand. Her hot, wet mouth made Kelly too weak to try again. The thoughts she had of Michala needing her help were washed away in the pounding of blood. Her fingers and tongue found a rhythm and Kellys hips moved of their own accord to meet her.
She wanted to touch her, hold her as Michala pushed her over the edge.
Kelly heard herself groan over and over again. Michala pushed deeper and sucked harder until she grabbed her hair in a fist and arched off the bed one last time.
When her breathing slowed and the blood flowed back to her head, she was being held. She draped herself over Michalas body and closed her eyes, enjoying the warm, soft body under her hands. Kelly trailed her fingers across her stomach and smiled when Michalas breath caught. She was empowered by the knowledge that she could do to Michala what Michala had so expertly done to her.
"Tell me what you want," Kelly whispered. Full, perfect breasts were tantalizing close to her face. She leaned into the kiss the soft, shallow skin between her breasts.
Michala pulled her face down. "You," she said, in voice husky with desire.
Kelly woke with a start several hours later when the phone rang. She blinked in the darkness and felt the wonderful warmth around her roll away.
"Yes?" Michala answered, calm and professional. This was the voice she had perfected over years of answering middle of the night phone calls for DVIT.
Kelly moved behind her to slip hands around her waist. She laid her head against her back. Michala. She was in her bed. The last few hours played over in her memories like a wonderful movie. She never thought Michala would be interested in a woman like her. She thought the elegant blonde was cool and poised. Kelly felt herself to be none of those things. She slid one hand higher. She felt very alive, very awake and wanting. She was going to sleep until noon anyway.
Her eyes shot open when Michala stiffened under her hands. She stared at her back as she tossed the blankets aside and with deliberate calmness replaced the receiver.
"Are you hungry, Kelly? I think I have food of some kind here."
The phone rang again. She turned on a bedside lamp. The phone continued to ring, but she made no move to answer it. She walked to where her robe hung on the back of her bedroom door. She looked over at Kelly with one eyebrow arched. "Well? If there isnt anything edible, well find somewhere open. Im starving."
She left the bedroom without once looking at the ringing phone. Kelly stared at the open bedroom door in disbelief. Without thinking, she reached for the receiver.
"Hello?" She asked hesitantly.
"You bitch! Dont ever hang up on me again! I will kill you. I-"
Michala took the receiver from her hand and hung up the phone without listening to the screaming bitter voice. "That was rather rude, dont you think? Do you often answer other peoples phones?"
Kelly slipped from the bed. Michala was cool and remote. She pointed to the phone. "Who was that?"
Michala sighed and shrugged. Kelly could almost believe she expected the call, or least didnt seem as surprised as Kelly thought she should be. Then she remembered the reason she met her today and she remembered that Michala was being harassed. She was willing to bet that no one in her life knew about the phone calls. She knew Randa didnt or the letter would have been a little more worrisome for her if she had.
"Does it matter? It was nothing. A prank phone call."
The phone began to ring again. She reached down and turned off the ringer. Kelly grabbed a dress shirt from the floor and followed her from the bedroom.
"Prank callers dont usually call back."
Michala glanced over her shoulder. "Really? I didnt realize prank phone calls was your specialty, Doctor. Your dissertation must be quite a page turner."
She walked into the kitchen and began to open empty cabinets. Kelly stood at the bar and watched her with mounting frustration. "Youre not going to take this seriously are you?"
She found a box of Corn Flakes on the top shelf. "I dont remember buying this."
She looked over in annoyance. "Why are you making a felony case out of this?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her she knew about the letters. She was sure the calls tonight were not her first. The calls and letters meant she had a more serious problem than Randa knew. They stared at each other and Kelly realized she would not see this as a chance to burden her family and friends with her problem. Kelly could very well find herself outside waiting for a cab.
"Im sorry. Youre right. Its not my problem." It was Randas and Kelly would make sure that tomorrow she knew about it.
Michala stared blankly for several seconds before saying in a dismissive tone, "Its no ones problem actually. I really should get an unlisted number. There isnt a reason for mine to published any more."
Kelly watched her pour two bowls of Corn Flakes. She meant there wasnt a reason since she was no longer connected with DVIT. Since she was no longer a practicing Psychiatrist with patients who needed her at all hours of the night. Since she was a woman who spent her days sleeping and her nights bar hopping.
"Arent you a Psychiatrist? Like Randa?" she asked, playing dumb. Kelly wanted to see how much she would tell of her own accord. It would be interesting to know her side of the Tyler Bradshaw case.
She took both bowls to the dinette table. Kelly followed her and sat across from her. The only sign that what she was saying still haunted her was the emotionless tone she used. Her eyes did not reveal the nightmare her life became before and after the four-year-old died.
"I dont practice anymore. Im...retired." The pause was slight, only someone listening closely to her would have heard it.
"Arent you a little young for retirement?" She was in her mid-thirties.
Her smile was bemused as she stared at Kelly. "Not really. Most people retire when they reach the pinnacle of their career. I reached mine earlier than most."
"Finished?" she asked and took her bowl when Kelly nodded. She watched her go to the kitchen and thought how sad it was for someone that talented to think she had nothing left to offer.
She came back to where Kelly sat and opened her robe so that she could sit on her lap. Without a word, she put both hands behind her neck and brought their lips together. Kelly felt bold. She wanted to take her breath away. With her left hand she held Michala on her lap and slid the right up her thigh to the wet place between her legs. Michala took a quick breath and pushed her tongue deep.
Kelly broke the kiss. "Lets go back to bed."
Michalas answer was to press herself deeper on Kellys fingers. Her right hand reached for Kellys left hand and guided her inside the robe. Michala clenched around her fingers as she touched her breast. A low groan came from her throat and she pressed herself closer, driving her fingers inside until Kelly was buried. Kelly opened her mouth, sucked the tongue Michala pushed into her mouth. Movements were restricted, but she pulled away only to plunge herself on Kellys fingers. She gave in, losing the control that always kept her from going to this place where a little bit of pain only heightened the pleasure.
Michala drew away abruptly, tossed her head and held herself on her fingers with hands that dug into Kellys shoulders. Her eyes were closed. She came in bruising waves. Kelly watched her eyelids flutter, saw her name cross her lips on a whispered cry, and felt that first tumble into the big fall.
She held her trembling body close. This time her kisses were slow and gentle, the hands on her T-shirt seeking.
"Now Im ready for the bedroom," she murmured.
"Good morning," Dani called as soon as she opened the door. Kelly stood in the doorway for a second. She knew should have expected Dani to be laying in wait. Did she really think she could spend the night with Michala Cary and Dani would not be waiting for her? No, she didnt think that. What she did think, or hope, was that Dani wouldve spent the night with someone and was still sleeping. So much for that.
Kelly gave into the inevitable. Whether now or later, it really didnt matter. Dani was not going to let this pass without comment. She crossed the living room with a longing glance to the stairway and her bedroom. She was sleepy. Michala was a considerate, inventive lover. The most sleep she got all night was before the phone call. She walked to the kitchen reminding herself to call Randa that afternoon. She decided to skip figuring out how she knew that did not include outing herself for the moment. She had to use what active brain cells she still had for Dani.
Dani was reading the morning paper over a brunch of herbal tea and plain toast. Kelly bit back a grin. Dani had stayed too late at the bar, drank too much, and then left alone. She poured a cup of tea and sat across from her. "Good morning."
She continued to scan the paper. "For one of us anyway. So?"
Kelly sipped her tea thoughtfully. Michala wasnt just some woman she had picked up at last call. She was the woman Kelly obsessed over for months. Last night was a dream come true. It felt callous to discuss her like it was just another one night stand. Even if thats all it was.
Kelly shook away her thoughts. She sipped the tea and looked across the table in question.
Michala. Kelly closed her eyes. What a night. The woman was simply gorgeous. The night was beginning to take on an unreal, did-it-really-happen dream quality. She stood up with a yawn. "You know I spent the night with her, Dani. Thats all Im going to tell you. Now, Im going to bed because I am very tired."
She knew Dani would follow her. She was dying to know the details and Kelly knew she was not going to get off this easy. She unbuttoned her shirt as she walked up the stairs. She could feel the soft bed under her. In her high school and college years, she could go to class all day, party all night, and crash for only a few hours before revving up to start it over again. Those days were a distant, rapidly fading memory. Now there was a price to be paid for staying up all night.
She threw her shirt near the vicinity of her hamper. She unzipped her pants. "What do you want, Dani, a blow-by-blow? Im not going to do it."
She looked over at her. Dani was leaning in the doorway. "You spend the night with Michala Cary and Im not supposed to be curious? I didnt even know you knew her,."
Her pants and bra soon joined her shirt on the floor. She thought about searching for a T-shirt to sleep in, but decided against it. Her skin felt incredibly sensitive. "I didnt know her. I met her briefly yesterday through Randa."
Dani was silent for a beat. She asked cautiously, "She doesnt know youre with DVIT, does she?"
"No, but I dont think it matters," she lied. It mattered. She knew it mattered a lot more than she wanted it to. Michala never would have spent last night with her if she knew Kelly was with DVIT.
"It matters Kelly. You better tell her before she finds out herself. Or last night will be the last night you spend with her."
She glared at Dani. She was right and Kelly wanted to hate her for it. "Ill tell her, when the time is right."
Dani frowned and then shook her head. "There wont be a right time. The best you can hope for is that shes still willing to tolerate you in her home if you tell her yourself. If someone else does, I promise you wont get past her front door. She rarely sees Randa as it. Dont think just because you shared her bed youll be treated any better."
With that, Dani left her alone. Kelly sat on her bed and stared dully into space. Danis point hit home with all the sharp precision of a laser. She would deal with this later. If there was a later. Right now she had to sleep. And if she chanced to dream about Michala, who did it hurt?
For the first time ever, Michala skipped Saturday brunch with Jess and Susan. It was the one commitment in her life she had not broken over the last year. She made herself believe keeping that one thing constant in their lives reassured her family and friends that she wasnt drifting too far away. They needed the reassurance desperately and unfortunately, it was all she had left to give.
She skipped the brunch for two reasons. The first was that she had no intention of sharing details of last night with her best friends. She really liked Kelly. She didnt want to spend several hours dodging first the blunt questions she wouldnt answer and then the subtle probing that might trip her up in the end. Better to skip it all and face their wrath later. The second, and more important reason, was that she had every intention of inviting Kelly over for dinner and more that night. Her cupboards were bare. If she wanted to wine and dine her, she would have to brave the market on Saturday afternoon. She was positive her efforts would be rewarded later.
Michala dressed in the only pair of jeans she owned, which Miranda dismissed as not real jeans because they were white, and a white sweater. She left the Center through the spiral stairs in her bedroom that led to the kitchen. She was steeled to find her rental car damaged in some manner. When she made the mistake of answering her phone and hanging up on him, he usually retaliated. She was paying a great deal for total coverage because of that.
The black Lexus sat untouched in the parking lot. Perhaps because this was the first time she got a rental car, he didnt realize it was hers. She didnt bother hoping he was bored with her. Shed given that hope up months ago. He would retaliate, in his way, in his own time. She was just glad that she didnt have to deal with it then. She didnt mind later, as long as it wasnt later that night.
As she drove to the shopping plaza near the Center, her thoughts drifted to Kelly. She was an intriguing mystery. Which of her friends could she hit up for information? Susan might know something. Shannon would be a good source since her best friend was Kellys roommate. Between the two of them, she should be able to fill in a few blanks. She could always tag Miranda again. The only person she was not going to ask a lot of questions was Kelly herself. If you ask questions, you have to answer them. Michala had no plans in that direction. Kelly could pump her own friends.
She wandered up and down the aisles, selecting the perfect foods for a romantic evening. Her last romantic evening was before and with her ex-girlfriend. She hadnt cared enough to make the effort for candles and romance since. They came home with her anyway, stayed until she politely offered to call a cab, left with the promise of calling later. Why make a production of it when to do so made it seem more than a roll in the sheets?
She wanted it to be a production tonight. A long seduction of kisses, touches, and glances that led to her bedroom. She stood in the florist section of the store and thought about adding a bouquet of roses to her cart. She wanted the night to be special. She didnt want it to look like she was trying to send some message. She liked Kelly. She would like to get to know her better. She did not want her moving in next week. She shook her head and decided to skip the roses. Too much, too soon. Shed let the fact that she was cooking be message enough.
By the time she was back home and had the bags brought up, she had four messages on her machine. She stared at the blinking light for a full minute. She pushed the button and let the messages play while she walked back to the kitchen. The first two were from Jess and Susan, each demanding to know where she was that morning. She grinned, thinking about all the questions they were dying to ask her and how very annoyed they were when she didnt show. The third call was from her mother. Shed slipped away the night before without getting Tiffanys number. Paige happily left it on her machine. She tensed, standing with frozen shrimp in her hand as the fourth message began to play. The last chance for him to have called her.
"Hey, give us a call when you get in. Susan said you were all over Kelly Pryce last night at the bar. Is that why you were asking me about her? Call, soon."
Michala grinned at the curiosity in her sisters voice. Now she had three people who were dying to ask her questions. Shed have to be creative to put off all three of them. Miranda would be the easiest. She wouldnt ask any questions she didnt want to answer herself. Jess and Susan would ask anything because they would answer anything.
She finished putting away the rest of her groceries before going to her bedroom to return the calls. She sat on her bed and punched in the most important number. If she wanted her days preparations to be worth her time, shed better call the guest of honor. Kelly was sleeping, Danielle told her, and Michala took that as a wonderful compliment. She left a message for Kelly to call when she woke.
Michala held the phone and thought about calling her sister and her friends. She knew from experience that if she didnt call them, they would call only one maybe two more times before they came over to check on her. She bit the bullet and called Jess first. She left a quick reassuring apology for skipping the brunch when she got their answering machine.
"Where were you?" Susan demanded before Michala could say more than hi.
She shouldve known her luck would run out with Susan. Judge Jessica Newhouse knew how to be tactful. Detective Susan Reid only knew interrogation tactics. Michala hated dealing with her when she was in police mode. "I slept in. That is allowed isnt it Detective?"
"Sure," Susan said through her teeth. Michala stared at the phone in surprise. She could see Miranda standing beside Susan with her hand squeezing a warning on her shoulder. "You sleep in every other morning. You might as well make it seven out of seven."
Michala decided her mood was much too good to let Susan ruin it. "Im not going to do this, Susan. Youre angry, thats fine, be angry. Just not on my time. Ill talk to you later, when youre calm. Bye."
She walked into her bathroom with the phone a demanding shrill in the background. She wondered, idly, if it was Susan or Miranda calling. Probably Miranda she decided. Susan would be livid, too busy ranting to make another call. Shed be more likely to come over to finish the talk in person. She also had a key that she wasnt above using. The answering machine kicked on, but she cut off her own voice with the shower spray.
Whoever it was would leave a message. They always did.
Her room was shadowed and the townhouse silent when Kelly woke later that day. Her first thought was that shed spent the night with Michala. Her second was that she needed to call Randa. The second thought wasnt as pleasant as the first so she went back to that one. Few times in her life has reality surpassed fantasy. The first time she saw the sun set over the Pacific. Walking across the stage to receive her doctorate. And spending last night with Michala. She wanted more nights like that. Kelly wanted weeks and months like last night.
She wanted to damn Randa for bringing the letter to her. She was honest enough to admit she wouldnt have met Michala any other way. Fate hated her. There was no other excuse for the position she was in now. She was egotistical enough to hope that Michala wanted more nights with her. She was realistic enough to believe she would know how her sister suddenly knew about the phone calls.
Hunger forced her from bed. She glanced over to her bedside, surprised to see that shed slept until three. She should be hungry. After last night, she should be starving. She threw on her robe and went to the kitchen. She glanced outside the windows to the bright sunny Saturday. She knew it would be warm and decided she would eat her late lunch on Danis tiny patio.
She found Danis note taped to the fridge. She was at the park and Michala had called. She was at the phone punching in her number before she had time to wonder when it was that shed memorized Michalas phone number. She waited through three seemingly eternal rings.
"Hello." Her voice was the cool, professional tone from last night.
"Hi, its Kelly." She felt like a high school freshman calling the most beautiful senior girl.
"Did you just wake up?" Michala asked in a warm, deliciously intimate voice.
"Yes. I didnt get much sleep last night."
Her low, rich laugh sent shivers across Kellys skin. "How would you like to not get much sleep tonight? I thought I would stay in and cook something that goes with candle light, wine, and you. You dont have plans do you?
It wouldnt have mattered what shed planned. She would have canceled anything and anyone after an invitation like that. "What time?"
"Now. Bring whatever you need for staying over."
"Give me thirty minutes."
Kelly could hear the smile in her voice. "You arent hungry now, are you?"
The quick electric shock of desire didnt surprise Kelly as much as it did last night. She knew before Michala showed up at the club that she was attracted to her. The fact that Michala was attracted to her added fuel to the fire. The last time shed wanted someone as much as she wanted Michala was in college. Her name was Emily and she teased Kelly for months. "No and Ill be there in twenty."
She laughed, sending Kellys normally cautious tendencies up in flames. "Ill be waiting."
Her late lunch on the warm patio was forgotten. She dashed upstairs and changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. She didnt plan on being in her clothes long enough to ruin the romantic meal Michala was planning. By the time they were sitting down to eat, they would be wearing robes. She packed an overnight bag without any real thought to what she needed for staying over. She could always borrow what she forgot. She was throwing her bag in her car when she remembered Dani. She ran back in to write her a note telling her where she was and to call only if 911 was busy.
She pushed away thoughts of Randa and the phone call. She would deal with that tomorrow. Or Monday. For now, she wanted to enjoy every second of this last unexpected pleasure. Besides, how better to keep an eye on her than to be with her? She was a trained police officer. She could be her personal body guard. And she planned to guard her body intimately.
Kelly parked in the Center parking lot behind the house. The black Lexus was the only car in the small private area. She noticed the rental plates and remembered that hers was at the body shop. As she stood on the back porch waiting for her to answer the doorbell, she wondered what kind of car a woman like Michala would drive. Something classy and expensive.
"Youre late," she said with a warm smile. She wore only her robe. She reached for Kellys overnight bag with one hand and slid the other around her neck. The kiss was brief and effective. She drew back a step. "Im glad you came."
Kelly followed her down the dark hallway. "I would have been here sooner, but I didnt want to get a ticket."
She tossed a grin over her shoulder. "Next time dont worry about the ticket. I have friends in high places."
Kelly had to agree with her on that. Lieutenant Bates adored her. Shed only heard him speak of her to ask Randa about her and his whole demeanor changed when he said her name. Her best friends were a State Court Judge and a police Detective. Her mother was a city council member.
The apartment was lit by a single floor lamp near her desk. They walked past the dark kitchen to the bedroom. The bedroom was darkened by mini blinds and lit by several candles. Soft, instrumental music played from her stereo. She put Kellys bag down by the bed. Kelly slipped her arms around her waist before she could turn and pulled her close. Michala leaned back, her head resting on her shoulder. Michalas greeting made Kelly bolder. She trailed kisses over the soft, exposed skin of her neck.
"Mm, I think youve got me," she said in a low voice. She reached back to run her left hand through Kellys hair.
"Not yet," Kelly whispered in her ear. She pulled the sash on her robe and reached into the silky folds to cup her breasts. Her nipples grew hard under her caresses. Michalas breath was uneven against her ear. "But very soon."
Kelly wanted to be the one in control this time. She wanted to feel Michala groaning under her hands and lips. With Michala still pressed against her, with her left hand teasing her breast, she slid her right hand down her flat stomach to the soft, blonde curls. She couldnt reach as far as she wanted, she wanted to be buried inside her, but she knew Michala was wet. She knew from the quick breathy gasp when her fingers touched her.
Before Kelly could stop her, Michala turned to her. Her dark eyes were half closed and hot with need. She pushed Kelly back on the bed and fell on top of her. "I dont know why I thought you were shy. You take my breath away, Kelly."
Kelly learned very quickly that she was never in control. Whatever control she thought she had was an illusion Michala allowed her to entertain. She laid back on the bed and gave herself up the demands of her hands, the teasing of her lips. She found that giving up control opened a door to new pleasures.
The candles were flickering in melted wax hours later. Michala was flat on her back staring up at the ceiling. She wasnt sure she could move. Kelly leaned over her, her half smile pleased by the way Michalas breath caught when her fingers brushed over her stomach. Michala enjoyed Kellys delight in arousing her. She seemed surprised that she could.
She reached up to run one finger between Kellys breasts. "I should have asked this before. Are you seeing anyone else?"
Surprise crossed her face before she smiled. She took Michalas finger and kissed it. "No. Are you seeing anyone else?"
"No." Since Melissa, there was no one shed brought home more than once. She told herself it was because she didnt want to be in a relationship. It was true to a point. The last thing she wanted was to put herself at the mercy of someone elses feelings again. To love was to hurt and she was tired of hurting. Kelly wasnt different, she told herself. Kelly didnt know her well enough to want more from her than what she was getting right now. To prove her point, she pushed her back and laid between her legs. Kelly wrapped her legs around her, opened her mouth for another long, deep kiss.
See? All Kelly wanted was her body. Michala could give her that. As long as Kelly didnt have designs on her heart and soul, they could play together quite happily for as long as they wanted. She broke away to stare into her eyes. "Hungry? I have a wonderful dinner planned."
Kelly took a deep breath. She slid her legs from around Michala. "I do remember you mentioning something about providing food."
Michala rolled off of her and to her feet in a single motion. Now that one hunger was satisfied for the time being, she was ready to satisfy the other. She grinned at Kelly. "Not just food. Food that I will prepare myself."
"Am I supposed to be impressed that youre cooking?" Kelly asked.
Michala watched her bend over and rummage through her overnight bag. The view was lovely. "Yes," she said, with a quick caress on her backside. "I hope you like pasta."
She was in the kitchen organizing their meal when Kelly came to lean in the doorway. She glanced over to see the self-satisfied smile on her face. She grinned, reading her thoughts very accurately. "You look very pleased with yourself."
"You would be pleased with yourself if I made the sounds you did when I was touching you."
Michala filled a pan with water and set it on the stove to boil. If that was the benchmark they were using, she was incredibly pleased with herself. She cast Kelly a sideways glance. Her pleased expression faded, to be replaced by nervous speculation. She was realizing very late that she had issued a challenge of sorts. She went to her slowly, excited that Kelly took a step back with every step she took forward. Michala tugged on the sash of her robe and caught Kellys gaze when she let her robe fall open. Kelly backed herself into the wall. Michala was pressed against her, pulling Kellys robe open before she could move. She made her kiss gentle, her hands tender as she held her against her wall. She wanted Kelly to come hard and fast. She didnt want her to feel taken or used. She lowered her head the pulse beating in her neck. Kelly fisted her hands on her robe and pulled her closer.
"When you do this, do I do that?" She asked, sliding her leg between Kellys
She looked up into her eyes, watched her struggled to breathe. Michala stepped back enough to move her hand down, over hip, across her stomach, into the wet curls. Kelly gasped and nodded.
"Say my name, Kelly," she demanded softly, teasing with the tip of one finger.
She tried, she might have succeeded, if Michala didnt push two fingers deep inside. Her name was groaned out in a gasp of air. All thoughts of toying with Kelly left her head. She lowered her head to lick her nipple and push her over in a rush of sensation. Later, they could torment each other. Now, she wanted to satisfy this gorgeous woman again.
She held her until Kelly lifted her head from her shoulder and took a shuddering breath. She kissed her with small, gentle kisses. "Youre right. It is very pleasing when you moan my name."
Pleasing and arousing. She retied her robe and walked back into the kitchen. They were going to have to keep their hands to themselves if they wanted to eat that night. The water was boiling for the pasta. "Ive got shrimp chilled in the fridge. Will you get it?"
"Sure," Kelly said in a delightfully husky voice. Michala watched her tie her own robe before pushing away from the wall. The kitchen was small. Kelly paused behind her, lifted her hair away to press a single kiss to the back of her neck. Michala supposed she owed her that.
"Here you go."
Michala looked over and reached for the jumbo shrimp with red cocktail sauce. Kelly held it away from her fingers. She moved closer, her eyes bright. "Open up."
Michala hesitated before opening her mouth. Kelly let her bite off half and ate the other half herself. She selected another one, dipped it, and took the first bite herself. Michala let her feed the second bite to her and caught her hand to lick her fingers.
"Youre dangerous," she said, her own voice husky.
Kelly stared at her in disbelief. "Im dangerous? Who had who pinned against the wall?"
Michala smiled with the memory. "Mm, I had you. And if you dont behave yourself, Ill have you again."
She picked up a shrimp, dipped it in the sauce, and popped it in Kellys open mouth before she could say a word. Michalas grin was wicked. "Behave. Im starving."
Kelly watched her move around the kitchen. Shed prepared the chicken and Alfredo sauce that afternoon. She didnt think it was egotistical to think Kelly would accept her invitation. She popped the broiled chicken in the microwave to heat. The noodles were ready quickly and she poured the sauce over the noodles, letting them simmer in the pan.
"Do you know what they say about payback?" Kelly asked, feeding her another shrimp.
Michala could only grin at the image that came to mind. "And I can hardly wait."
There was a lot to be said for pay back, Kelly decided. Especially when the person wanted to be paid back over and over again. Michala was laying on her stomach, hands over head, eyes closed. Kelly leaned over to kiss her shoulder.
"Why," Kelly wondered out aloud, "dont you belong to someone?"
Michala didnt move, only asked in a mild tone, "Excuse me?"
"Whats wrong with the women of Atlanta? Why are you just wandering around, getting picked up in bars?"
After the question was asked, Kelly realized she really wanted to know the answer. Michala laughed and turned over to look up at her with merry eyes. "I dont get picked up in bars, honey. The same cannot be said for you."
Kelly opened her mouth to deny that, but Michala jerked her down for a hard, deep kiss. The truth was stunning, and just a little humiliating. Shed allowed herself to be picked up in a bar, in front of her friends, by a stranger. Dani wouldnt need to know anything else about their time together. It was enough that she knew that. She draped herself over Michala. Small, soft hands slid down her back in a slow caress. So what if she was picked up in a bar? Thank you God.
"Do you often let women pick you up in bars? Let them take you home and have their wicked way with you?" Michala whispered the words in her ear.
She laid between Michalas legs. "Oh yeah. That wall thing? Been there, done that."
"Really?" Michala asked softly. Before Kelly could reply, she flipped them. She was astonished by how quickly she found herself trapped against the bed by Michala, with her hands held in vice grips at her side. She could only stare up into Michalas dark eyes. A slow smile spread over face. "Ive been gentle with you. I didnt want to shock you with all the things I wanted to do to you, but if youve been there, done that "
Michala watched her reaction as she reached out with her tongue to lick her nipple. Desire hit hard. She gasped as heat spread down her body. She struggled to free her hands, but the fingers wrapped around her wrist clamped her tighter to the bed.
"Ill have to punish you if you do that," Michala whispered, dark eyes flashing.
Kelly tried to swallow as Michala slowly lowered her head down. She thought Michala would suck on her and was prepared for the rush she would feel. She wasnt prepared for the shock of Michalas teeth closing over her nipple, or the wave of desire that crashed over her. Without warning, she arched off the bed. Michala held her hands down, kept the pressure on her nipple until Kelly thought she would explode. She barely recognized herself as she pleaded, "No more."
She let Michala pull her close. She was boneless against her warm body. She wished she had the strength to open her eyes. "I think Im gonna die now."
Michala took her hand and slid it down. She said in a voice low in need, "Not until you take care of that you arent."
Kelly opened her eyes. Michalas eyes were closed and her breathing was ragged. With the tip of one finger, she stroked Michala. She wanted to do to Michala what Michala had done to her. She wanted to make her come in a crashing wave that pounded her against the bed until she was breathless. She sat up on her elbow and slowly pushed two fingers inside Michala. She was hot, tight and very wet. "This? Is this what you want me to take care of?"
"Yes," Michala groaned as she went in deep and hard.
Kelly leaned against her, licked the shell of her ear. "Lift up." She slid her hand under Michala and heard the catch to her breath when she moved her finger up to get wet. Her ass was tighter and Kelly didnt give her any time to not want what she was doing. She went in gently. She matched the rhythm of her hands with her tongue on her nipple. Michala came slowly in spasms Kelly felt deep inside. She held on as Michala groaned and came off the bed. She stayed inside, feeling the aftershocks. She laid her head on her stomach and enjoyed the power she felt. She could make Michala Cary scream in pleasure.
Michala laid her hand on her head. "You can come out now."
Kelly sighed and pulled the bottom hand out first. She turned to look up into Michalas sleepy eyes. She wiggled her fingers a little and smiled as Michala gasped. "I dont want to. Ive got you right where I want you."
"Please Kelly," she whispered. "I want to hold you."
How could she say no to a plea like that? She eased her fingers out and laid her head on Michalas shoulder. Michala pressed a tender kiss to her forehead and pulled her against her body. "We should take a shower," she said in a drowsy voice. "Were sweating."
"Later," Kelly promised. She nestled close and relaxed in her embrace. She closed her eyes. Michalas heart beat a slowing rhythm under her ear. Kelly listened to her easy breathing until Michala dropped off into sleep. She stared at the beautiful face relaxed in slumber. Without those dark knowing eyes, she looked incredibly young and vulnerable.
Again, Kelly wondered why she was alone. Someone this beautiful, this talented in bed, should not be picking up women in bars. She knew from Dani that her girlfriend had stayed with her only a few weeks after Tylers death. Michalas friends were surprised Melissa Davies stuck it out that long. Apparently her main attraction to Michala was her friends envy. They werent very envious when Michala was shattered.
Kelly stroked her hand over Michalas cheek. Why would she want to be with someone like that? Was it the shallowness? Her professional life was demanding, Kelly knew that from personal experience. Melissa wouldve been uncomplicated in her demands and desires. Michala would have had to give her little to make her happy. And now? Kelly backed away from the question. She laid her head down on Michalas shoulder and closed her eyes. She didnt want to know the answer anymore. She didnt want to know what it meant for her being here.
Michala snuggled closer, mumbled something in her sleep. Kelly kissed her on the cheek. She was going to enjoy where she was for as long as it lasted.
Kelly was sprawled over her the next morning. Michala looked down at the arms and legs pining her to the bed. The sheets and comforter were twisted at the foot. She gently nudged Kellys head off her shoulder and inched her way off the bed. She grinned as Kelly reached blindly for the covers. She hadnt cared about blankets when she was using Michala for warmth.
She pulled on her robe and walked down the hall to the kitchen. Shed start tea and if she felt human after that, she would think about food. While the water was heating, she walked downstairs for the Sunday paper. Shed only just starting reading the paper again. She got bored reading about herself every other day.
She was in the living room reading and sipping hot tea when she heard the click of her answering machine. Sighing, she got up to face the inevitable. Shes gotten through last night without it clicking. She turned up the volume before she pressed the play button.
"All right fine. Were coming over and youd better have food. Bye."
Well that was just great. She assumed that "were" were Miranda and Susan. What did they want? She sighed and knew what they wanted. Shed skipped yesterday with Susan and Jess, skipped giving Susan a chance to corner her at the bar last night, and now she going to pay for it. Michala guessed she had about twenty minutes before they arrived, less if Susan used her police light.
In an automatic gesture, she lowered the volume again. Damn, she wasnt ready to let Kelly go. She was half way down the hall when she stopped. Why did she have to let Kelly go? Susan was at the bar when she left with Kelly Friday night. Miranda knew about it. Why shouldnt Kelly know about Miranda? She turned around and walked into the kitchen. Shed bought a few basic breakfast items when she went shopping. She went to work on making three cheese and mushroom omelets. When she thought they were close, she started coffee for Miranda.
She was setting the table when she heard them coming up the stairs. She frowned and tried to remember just how many people had keys to her home. Miranda had to have one to the Center; it was Susans right as best friend. Too many people, really. She made a mental note to begin a collection of the keys. Perhaps it would be easier, and more amusing, to simply change the lock.
"See? I told you shed be here," Miranda said as they walked into her apartment. They wore blue jeans and white T-shirts under sweatshirts. Susans strawberry blonde hair was caught in a jaunty ponytail.
Michala didnt smile at them or wish them a good morning. She didnt invite them over for breakfast. "Coffees on the stove. Butter the toast when it pops up."
Kelly was laying in the middle of her bed, flat on her back and covered from the waist down. Michala sat on the bed and leaned over, and ignoring her more basic instinct, pressed a single kiss to her nipple. Kelly jerked awake, eyes wide and disoriented.
Michala kissed her, keeping it short and sweet. "Your presence is requested for breakfast. Were having omelets."
Kelly woke slowly. She yawned and stretched, raking fingers through her short tousled hair. She dropped her hands in Michalas shoulders. "You could bring it in here."
Michala kissed her shoulder. She wished she could do that. She probably would have if the choice had been hers. She stood up and shook her head. "Wear your robe. Susan and Miranda are here."
She left the bedroom before Kelly could voice the question she could see in her eyes. Miranda and Susan were sitting at her table, eating the omelets she made for them. She sat down and reached for her tea. She looked across the table at her sister. Her smile was a little evil. She should feel bad for not warning her sister. Miranda so hated to be caught outside her closet.
"Can I take this to mean that youve forgiven me?" she asked Susan. "Or didnt you want to brave Mirandas scrambled eggs?"
Susan tossed her a quick glare. "No. Yes."
Michala grinned at her sister. "I would ask how youve kept her for two years, but I dont think I want to know."
Miranda looked up, her fork pointed at Michala and simply stared behind her. Michala smiled. Kelly had perfect timing. She stood up and walked into the kitchen. "I believe I can skip the introductions. Coffee or tea, Kelly?"
She looked over at Kelly. She was disappointed to see that Kelly had skipped the robe in favor of jeans and a T-shirt. Oh well, nothing else about this morning was going her way. She would be expecting too much for that to change. She brought Kelly her plate with a mug of coffee. The silence over the table was thick and embarrassing. The lesson here, should Miranda and Susan want to learn it, was dont invite yourself to someone elses house.
She placed the plate and mug in front of Kelly. While she was leaning over her, she said in a stage whisper, "Theyre lovers, have been for years." She kissed her on the neck before moving away.
Having Miranda and Susan glare at her and Kelly staring at her plate was not how Michala planned to spend Sunday afternoon. She sat at the table. She glanced over the women sitting at her table in amusement. She reached for her tea. "All right Susan, whatever it is, say it. I have plans for today that dont include you or your girlfriend."
Susan sat back in her chair, her hazel eyes cool and distant. "You always have plans that dont include me or my girlfriend or any of my other friends. Every time I call, I get your answering machine. I think you must flip a coin to decide if youll call me back. You say youll be somewhere and you arent. You dont even have the courtesy to call to say you wont be coming. I dont know who you are anymore. And I dont like who youve become."
Michala sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. She stared at Susan over the rim of her mug. "Im touched. You miss me."
"I miss my friend," Susan said simply.
Their gazes met, held. Michala saw in her friends eyes the confusion, anger and pain she saw all too often in the eyes of those who loved her. She wanted to care that she was hurting them. She wanted it to matter. She just didnt have it in her anymore. It was taking all she had just to keep herself together. She wanted to tell Susan her friend was gone. She went away and Michala didnt want her to ever come back again. She might have told Susan the truth if Miranda wasnt sitting across from them, watching every word. If Kelly wasnt pretending not to.
She ordered a bright smile to her face. She held up her hand as if taking an oath. "I promise to never miss another Saturday as long as I shall live. Barring a bona fide emergency. Forgive me?"
"Maybe. You owe us. If you pay up, Jess and I might forgive you."
Michala stood up. She wanted to take a shower. Shed prefer Kelly join her, but she accepted they needed to talk. She leaned over to drop a kiss on the top of Susans head. "Okay, but I want to do more than hold the camera this time. Ill even let you call me Randa."
Susan merely laughed. Michala grinned over at her twins dark glare. Miranda was a prude when it came to sex and she despised sexual references to their being identical twins. She and Susan had a lot of fun teasing her. It was one of the brighter spots to Michalas life these days. Or had been until she found a better way to spend her time. She smiled at her newest diversion. "Im going to take a shower. If they leave before Im out, come join me."
Kelly watched her walk down the short hallway to her bedroom. Well that certainly added a layer of tension to the silence. She wasnt sure that shed ever felt as exposed as she did at that moment with Randa and Susan. She picked at her omelet and sent up a prayer that Miranda would choose to ignore this.
"Im sorry Kelly. Cayla takes a perverse delight in me. That was solely to out me to you. I knew about you Friday."
Kelly glanced over in question at her last remark. Randa slid a quick look at Susan. She said, her voice curious, "Legend has it that youve turned down every woman whose asked you out and that you left with Cayla less than ten minutes after she came into the bar. Apparently there was a floor show."
Kelly wished she could deny it. She wouldve tried if there werent so many reliable witnesses. She shrugged inwardly. She left with Michala, had obviously spent more than one night with her. She could hardly claim it was private now. Kelly looked across at her colleague. "I was going to tell you myself. I thought we could have lunch tomorrow. I have something to add to the case we were discussing Friday."
Randas eyebrows shot up under her bangs and she frowned. "You cant tell me now?"
She should tell her now. Michala was her sister. It was because of Randas concern that she had spent the last few nights in her sisters bed. Kelly listened to the sounds of Michalas shower. They probably had just enough time for her to relate the phone call. Kelly admitted the truth reluctantly to herself. She didnt want to tell Randa now because she was sure Randa would confront Michala. Was it a jump for her to think Susan, her best friend, would join in? And from that, Kelly would find herself packing up and getting out. She didnt want to leave yet. She wasnt ready for this to end.
She shook her head. "No. Lunch tomorrow? Thats if you dont have other plans." She let her gaze move between them in suggestion.
Susan caught her implication and shook with her with a regretful smile. "Shes yours Kelly. Ill have to settle for dinner tomorrow night."
"Settle for dinner with who?" Michala asked as came back into the room. She wore her robe. Her wet hair was combed back away from her face.
Susan stood up with her mug. "Randa. Theyre having lunch tomorrow. Want to have lunch with me? We can...compare."
Kelly turned away from Michala to see Randa grab Susans arm. Her face was stubborn as she looked up at her lover. "No, you wont."
Michala laughed and sat at the table. Kelly was surprised when she took her hand and linked their fingers. "Dont worry Miranda. That wasnt much of an offer. Ill admit Ive lived vicariously through Susan with one or two of her other lovers. You, my dear, are quite safe from my prurient little fantasies."
Susan planted a quick kiss on Randas open lips. "Maybe I should have lunch with Kelly. You two are so different, Id be interested to see how alike you are behind closed doors."
Kelly bit down on her smile when she saw Randa eying Susan with distrust. Michalas fingers tightened on hers and she hoped her face was bland when she looked over to her. Michalas smile was wicked and her eyes danced with glee. "Dont mention what we did in her office, okay? Shell never use her desk again."
Randa was speechless. Kelly felt sorry for the brief flash of fear she saw in her eyes. "We never left the apartment, Randa."
Susan came back with her cup refilled. "So, can we take that to mean you have left the bedroom?"
This time it was Kelly who was speechless. Susan smiled at her expression. She looked over and saw that Michala was going to be no help to her. The grin on her face was too merry to be sympathetic to her position. She glanced to Randa, afraid she would have the same delighted expression on her face. Randa picked up her fork and shrugged. "Welcome to my hell, Kelly. Its about time I had a companion down here."
Michala laughed and squeezed her hand before letting go. "Were not that bad, Miranda."
But they were, Kelly soon discovered. The teasing was nonstop and there wasnt a line Susan or Michala wouldnt cross. Kelly chose Randas position of saying little, and watching all. Their friendship was enviable. It must be nice to know you can say or do anything and it will be understood, forgiven and oftentimes both. She might have had something like it once with Dani.
When Randa and Susan got up to leave, Susan slipped her arms around Michala and pulled the smaller woman tight against her. She whispered something in her ear that made Michala laugh. Their kiss was brief and friendly. Randa made a lunch date for twelve-thirty and they left.
"Well that was fun," Michala remarked in a tone that said she thought otherwise. She began to clean up their breakfast.
Kelly realized for the first time that Michala hadnt eaten anything. She picked up glasses and silverware and joined her in the kitchen. She thought about being diplomatic. She was after all a guest in Michalas home. Michala cleaned up efficiently. Within minutes, the kitchen counters were spotless and the only sound in the apartment was the whirl of the dishwasher.
She followed Michala down the hall to her bedroom. "You didnt eat anything."
Michala turned in the doorway of her bedroom and put both hands on the doorframe. A small frown marred her forehead. Cool eyes met Kellys. "The people who are allowed to do that just left. If you want to do it, you can leave, too."
Kelly almost asked do what just to hear Michala explain it. She didnt because she saw something weary and resigned in her eyes. People who worried and cared about her were all over her life. She didnt like it, but she understood she had to accept it. Kelly understood she would not accept the same from her. She was just someone Michala picked up in a bar. The fact that they met in her own apartment through her sister didnt change the reality of that. She wasnt ready for the weekend to be over. She didnt want to end like this.
She stepped into Michalas raised arms, slipping her own around her waist. She ignored how stiffly Michala stood in her embrace and began to lightly kiss her neck. When she reached her ear she whispered, "Just remember later that you had your chance for food. Dont think Ill take pity on you."
Michala melted against her. She lowered her arms and brought their faces together for a long, slow kiss that took Kellys breath away. When the weekend was over, she wanted it to be because they ran out of time. She wasnt going to be the one to let it end any other way than it began. She walked Michala backwards to the bed and fell with her to continue the kiss.
"Ill remember," Michala promised on a whisper and moved on top of her, erasing every thought in her head.
Later, Kelly watched from the bed as Michala tugged on her robe. She looked over and asked with a smile, "Want something for the road? Im almost positive theres something suitable for lunch in there."
For the road? Kelly sat up among the tangled sheets and realized that she was being asked to leave. Michala left the bedroom without waiting for an answer. Kelly stared at the empty doorway. So the weekend was over. She glanced around the room and saw from the clock on the VCR that it was a little after six. She supposed that wasnt an unreasonable time to ask someone she picked up from the bar on Friday night to move along. She wouldve thought Michala Cary would do it with a little more subtlety, but this was Sunday after all.
Michala was sitting at the table finishing one half of her sandwich. She grinned as she picked up her second half. "I hope you like tuna."
Kelly stood at the table. A plate was waiting for her. Michala saw her hesitation. "You dont like tuna? Oops, tell me what you do like, and next Sunday, thats what itll be."
"Next Sunday?" She repeated, sitting at the table. It was pathetic, but the dark mood she felt descending down on her began to lift away. She didnt want to be someone Michala was trying to brush off.
There was a can of Coke next to Michalas plate. She poured the rest of the can into a tumbler and pushed it across the table Kelly. Her smile was slow and warm. "If you have plans, I hope you let her down gently."
Kelly wanted to ask if she only meant Sunday. It was on the tip of her tongue and she took a bite of the sandwich to make sure she did not ask the question. Where was her pride? So shed spent the weekend with Michala Cary. So.. Oh who was she kidding? Shed spent the weekend with Michala Cary and she wanted to spend more weekends with her. Her pride was for sell if it was going to keep her from that. Her pride, ego and self-respect could all take a hike for all she cared.
"Actually next weekend Im free." She wasnt completely free. Randas week would begin on Saturday and that would put Kelly on call as her backup if there was an emergency. It was rare for a situation to call for two DVIT members, but it could happen. Kelly refused to dwell on how she would explain that if it came up.
"I know youre there. I know shes still there. Tell her to leave."
The voice came from the answering machine without warning. Kelly jumped and dragged her startled gaze from the phone to watch Michala cross the room in quick, ground eating strides.
"Pick up the phone Cayla. Youve been very bad. I havent pun-"
Kelly wasnt sure what she thought Michala would do, especially after Friday night. She thought she would do more than turn down the volume on her machine as she waited for the call to end. Kelly sat back in her chair, watching and waiting. Michala popped the tape out and wrote something across the top. She put the tape in her desk drawer and slid a new tape into her machine. Her movements were efficient and practiced without hesitation. It was a familiar routine for her.
Michala came back to sit across from her. Kelly stared at her in disbelief as she calmly reached for the rest of her sandwich. Obviously, there was not going to be an explanation. "What the hell is going on here?"
She was one hell of an actress, Kelly thought with admiration. She looked up in a very good imitation of surprise. She seemed genuinely startled by the question. Kelly knew she was bright. The act was good, but not that good.
"Excuse me?" She asked in her cool tone.
"You dont seriously expect me to believe that was another prank call, do you? Dont insult me that way."
They stared at each other in a battle of wills Kelly was determined to win. Michala sighed in annoyance. "I dont expect you to believe anything, Kelly. This doesnt concern you. Its not your problem."
"Isnt it? He says he knows Im here. He wants me to leave. Who is he Michala? An old boyfriend? Someone who wants to be a new boyfriend?"
Michala stood up and threw her napkin on her plate. "I dont know who it is. I dont care who it is. This is not open to discussion Kelly. This is my home. You can respect that or you can leave."
Frustration welled up inside Kelly and she gripped the table to keep from shaking some sense into Michala. She stared up at her in the silence. Michalas eyes were black, her hands clenched into fists at her side. When she was sure she wasnt going to grab her, Kelly stood up. She was taller than Michala. Those few inches gave her a feeling of power. "I thought you were smarter than this. The brilliant Dr. Cary. I bet you want me to think these are all just coincidence dont you? That these phone calls have nothing to do with your car being vandalized Thursday night. I bet you can give me a convincing story about how one has nothing to do with the other, cant you? Come on Michala, impress me. Convince me that Im stupid to stand here and be concerned for you."
Because she was watching, she saw doubt flash across her face. Kelly knew then that it was worse than threatening phone calls, creepy letters, and petty acts of vandalism. Michalas nonchalance was too conditioned for this to be something new in her life. Kelly was willing to bet shed been living with this for a while now. Her frustration leapt over anger into fury. Michala was an intelligent woman with, as shed said herself, friends in high places. She was living with this because she had chosen to live with it. Kelly wanted to know why. She knew Michala wasnt going to offer the reason willingly.
Michala picked up and drained her glass. "Is that your answer? Are you choosing to leave?"
Kelly was torn. She wanted to go to Randas. She needed to go to Randas so that something was done before Michala became a statistic. On the other hand, she felt obligated to stay. She had a gun which she was trained to use. She wasnt sure what Michala had for protection other than a mouth that needed to be licensed and a killer glare. Neither of which would actually protect her if someone wanted to hurt her.
"I guess I am." If Randa was truly concerned about her twin, Michala would not be alone for long.
Michala waved her empty glass toward the bedroom. "Bye." She walked into the kitchen.
Fury carried Kelly into the bedroom and had her dressed and packed in minutes. She cast one sweeping glance over the bedroom, saw that shed left nothing of hers behind. Michala was sitting on the couch sipping wine when she came from the bedroom. Kelly wanted to say something to her, but words failed. What else could she say? She didnt know Michala well enough to know how real her anger was or how unforgiving she might be when crossed.
Michala cut her off with a single glance. Her eyes were cold, remote. She wasnt a lover standing in her living room. She was a stranger Michala had asked to leave. "Goodbye Kelly."
It was over that final and fast. She shouldered her overnight bag. "Bye."
She left the Center with only one clear thought in her head. Randa had to be told and the sooner the better. She didnt think that Randa may not be home or that she and Susan would not be up for company. She couldnt forget the bitter, taunting voice and she couldnt shake the feeling that the danger Michala was already in was about to get worse.
Michala stared across the room and frowned at her answering machine. If she had to pick the person who turned up the volume, she would choose Susan. Her very best friend who apparently detested her machine and resented the fact that she didnt return her calls with Gods speed. She raised her wine glass in salute. He wanted Kelly gone; Kelly obliged him. She drained her glass and slipped from the couch. Her night was not going to end this way, she decided. She quickly cleaned up their plates and had the kitchen spotless. She didnt want dirty plates on the table or stacked in the sink if she brought someone home.
After a long, hot shower, she dressed in black slacks and red silk shirt. She threw an oversized jacket on in deference to the cool nights. She felt no fear as she locked the door to the Center and crossed the empty parking lot to her car. She refused to give into the terror he was trying to bring to her life. He was going to have to do much better than phone calls if he wanted to scare her.
It was only when she was walking to the bar that she thought of her friends. She really didnt want to deal with anything else tonight. She steeled herself to blow off more questions and sly remarks and continued inside. Atlanta had other bars and she had other friends. She was not going to spend any more of this day soothing someone elses feelings.
The Sunday crowd was thin. She ordered what passed as white wine. She sipped her first glass while waiting for her second and scanned the bar for friendly faces. She saw Jess blonde head bent over a pool table in the back corner. She left the empty glass on the bar, taking the second with her as she moved through the crowd to them.
"Hey you," Jess said with a happy, surprised grin. Michala slipped her arm around her waist and returned the tight one armed hug. She guessed Jess was on her fourth beer. "You owe me big, Cary. I had to eat Susans Surprise yesterday. I dont love you that much."
Michala shot her a grin. "After last night, I couldnt move until this afternoon."
Jess arched both eyebrows in question then laughed at Michalas single nod. "Val hates you. Shes been trying to go there since Kelly moved here. You waltz in and waltz out with her in five minutes flat. Nobody even knew you knew her."
"I dont know her. Im just that good," she said. She owed Val one for calling the police Thursday. This was an excellent way to repay her. Regardless of whom Kelly went onto next, Michala had her first. She moved away from Jess and dropped four quarters on the table. "Ill play the winner."
Jess closed one eye and looked down her pool stick. "Thatd be me. Ill have this game finished by the time you get back with my beer."
Michala stared at her half glass of wine. How much did she drink before she came? She couldnt remember and decided it didnt matter. She would drink as much as she wanted. She didnt want to leave the bar too sober. She let her gaze drift over the room as she walked to the bar. Maybe shed let one of these women take her home. Maybe shed call a cab. It would matter little later how she left, who she left with, or how sober she was when she did. Sobriety hadnt mattered longer than she wanted to remember.
She played pool with Jess, won three of the five games they played. She brushed off two women shed brushed off before and hailed down a cab after she failed to take two steps in a straight line. She didnt mind hurting herself, but she wasnt drunk enough to mind hurting others. The cabbie let her out in the back parking lot of the Center. She hurried through the chilly dark night to the back door. The Center was dark. She was annoyed with herself for not leaving a light on inside. She wasnt usually that careless.
She felt restless, deflated as she entered her bedroom. She shed her jacket and draped it over the bed post before she walked back to the living room. Her answering machine was blinking. She let it blink. It had to be him. Who else was left to call her today? She doubted it was Kelly.
Feeling more tipsy that she wanted to be, Michala went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of milk. Her fridge was depressingly bare of real food. She stared into the blinding light and tried to remember the last time the shelves were stocked. Before, she realized. The answer to most questions she asked herself was always before. She shut the door, and blocked the flood of memories that threatened to remind her of just what she was before.
She paused with the glass at her lips. Did she hear something downstairs? Straining, she shut her eyes to listen. She almost convinced herself that she was imagining things when she heard it again. And she knew who it was. Without conscious thought she moved to her bedroom. She picked up the portable phone on her night stand and was relieved to hear a dial tone.
"9111. What is your emergency?"
Glass shattered. She thought it came from the front of the house, but from the second floor it was hard for her to know where he was in the Center. She opened the drawer on the night stand and took out the 9mm Glock. The loaded gun felt heavy in her hand. She was glad for the lessons Susan nagged her into taking. She hoped she wouldnt have to fire the gun. She felt better knowing that if she had to, she could.
Her voice was calm. "Someone is inside my house."
She walked back into the living room and stood in the stance Susan had taught her, the gun trained on the sliding doors. She answered the operators questions and stayed on line with the woman until she was told the police were outside her home. She took her eyes from the sliding doors long enough to glance over at the windows that overlooked the front yard. Blue lights flashed in the black sky.
She unlocked the sliding doors and walked into the middle of the room to wait on the couch. Someone would come soon, she knew. Did they know who she was yet? Would they care that she was Dr. Michala Cary, former head of the Domestic Violence Intervention Team? She was fooling herself if she thought it wouldnt matter. They would care. It would be personal.
The door slid open slowly. Michala watched the uniformed officer edge into her home, service revolver held out in front of his body in rigid anticipation. She had to smile at the irony. Even an hour ago, she would have been furious to have a cop in her home. That part of her life was over; she never wanted it near her again. But then an hour ago, she believed her home was her last safe haven.
"Im over here officer," she called. She laid the Glock on the coffee table before she stood up. "Im all right."
The young cop didnt lower his gun. His narrowed gaze moved cautiously over the spaciously open apartment. When he was certain she was alone, he relaxed the gun. "Lieutenant Bates is on the way, Dr. Cary. He said I should ask to call someone for you."
She shook her head. She would make her own calls. She owed them at least that. "Ill be fine, thank you."
He swept his eyes over her apartment one last time. "Ill be out in the hallway if you need me."
"Thank you." She went down the hall to her bedroom. She sat on the bed and stared at the floor for a minute. She knew what she had to do, knew she should have done it months ago. Knowing that she should have done it did not make it easier for her to do it now. With a deep breath, she reached for the phone on her bedside table. She punched in the number quickly before she could take the cowards way out one more time.
Kelly was relieved to see Randas Grand Cherokee parked in front of her townhouse. She used the time on the drive over trying to find an easy to tell Randa what she thought was happening to her sister. She didnt want to scare Randa because all she really had as evidence was a few threatening phone calls, one letter, and a busted windshield. But neither did she want Randa to dismiss the fear she felt for Michala. In her heart, she knew without doubt that Michala was being stalked. How did she sugarcoat that?
Randa was surprised to see her. Kelly brushed past her without waiting for an invitation inside. "Do you have coffee? I need caffeine."
Kelly walked an unerring path to Randas kitchen. Shed been a guest here countless times since she joined DVIT. She down at the table and waited for Randa to come into the kitchen. "Are you all right?"
"No. I stopped being all right when you showed me that damned letter. Thanks Randa. I owe you one for that." Kelly didnt know what angered her more, that she had the time with Michala or that someone that beautiful and bright could be so stupid. Both were enough to make her blood boil.
Randa walked around the kitchen counter and stared at Kelly for a few seconds. Kelly returned her stare with impatience. She needed coffee and the sooner the better. "Youre angry. Why? Did you have a fight with Cayla?"
Sighing, Kelly stood up and walked into the kitchen to pour the coffee herself. She moved around the kitchen until she held the steaming mug in her hand. Randa had turned and was leaning against the counter, watching her. Kelly mimicked her and took a sip before she answered. She had a hope the caffeine would calm her turbulent emotions.
She met Randas concerned gaze. "Shes getting threatening phone calls. Very scary threatening phone calls. Ive heard two of them." She paused as Randa stood straight, her eyes wide with shock. "I think shes being stalked Randa."
"Stalked?" Randa repeated dumbly. She shook her head to clear away the daze in her eyes. "Thats a jump, dont you think? Why would you even think that?"
Kelly sighed and walked around the counter to sit at the small dining table. "Sit down and Ill tell you."
She finished off two more cups of coffee as she told the whole, ugly scene. Randa was silent over her own cup of cold coffee. Shed taken a sip, maybe two while she listened to Kelly. She didnt ask questions. Kelly was surprised she was silent and now had a moment to wish she could have prepared her better. She had already accepted there wasnt easy way to do this, it didnt stop her from wishing there was.
"Im sorry Randa." As the other woman continued to stare at her in silence, she was truly very sorry. She reached over her and laid her hand over Randas. "Im sorry."
Randa nodded slowly. She blinked several times and the fog began to lift from her eyes. She stood up and walked to the phone. Kelly was surprised when Randa merely punched in another number before hanging up the phone without ever saying a word. That was it? She frowned and took a closer look at Randas face. She was pale, her mouth set in a firm line, but her eyes were clear with purpose. Why then did she only leave a number?
When the phone rang, she snatched up the receiver. "Is Cayla there?...Damn...When did she leave?...Was she alone?...Well, do you know if she was going home?...Dammit Susan. I thought you cared more about her than that...Okay, Im sorry. Can you come here? I need to talk to you. I have something to tell you...If you love her, Susan, youll come."
Kelly listened openly to Randas side of the conversation. She knew her twin well it seemed. Why call the Center when Michala wasnt home? So it was Sunday night. Why sit home alone when she could go wherever shed been. She pushed away the tiny shaft of her hurt. They werent lovers. She didnt have a right to feel betrayed because Michala wasnt pouting in her home over the fact that she left. To her own mind, Michala must think she gave her a very reasonable choice. Why should she feel bad that Kelly chose wrong?
"Susans still angry with Cayla. She wont talk to me about it. We try to keep our relationships with her out of ours. Its been incredibly hard since Tyler. Susan and Jess are closer to her than I am. Susan wont tell me things I think she should. If she knew about this "
She looked up, her eyes bleak and desperate. "Its over. Itll be over if she knew. I could forgive that she didnt tell me. Im used to that. I wont forgive her doing nothing. I cant."
Kelly bit down on the useless reassurances. Michala wanted to pretend nothing was happening. Would her friends, who knew just how far shed fallen over the months, push her on something she really didnt want to face? She wanted to think they would, because it was the right thing to do, but she just didnt know. She didnt know Michala before Tyler. She didnt know how much of herself shed lost with the little boy. Her best friends would know. And they would know how close she was to losing it all.
Kelly reached and linked her hand with Randas. "Youll do something now."
Wishing for a glass of Chivas, Michala closed her eyes. The phone was answered on the second ring. "Hi Miranda. Is Susan there?"
Her sister paused and her voice had a suspicious edge when she spoke. "Yes. Hold on and Ill get her."
Michala shook her head. "No, dont. Someone broke into the Center. Bring her with you when you come."
"Where are you?" Miranda demanded, the suspicion was gone now and she heard fear in the voice so like her own. "Are you all right?"
Michala opened her eyes to glance around her bedroom. "Home. The police are here. Bates is on his way. I think its bad, Miranda. There are a lot of cops."
"Well be there soon, Cayla."
She nodded. "Thanks Miranda. Bye."
She sat on the bed, watching the blue lights slash arcs around her bedroom. Curious she went to the bay window and stared down on the scene playing out on her front lawn. Police cruisers were angled up and down the street in front of the Center. Two officers were busily draping yards of yellow police tape around the perimeter. This is what her life had come to, she thought with only a little shock. Police cars outside her house, calls to 911.
She turned away as another police car and another unmarked car came to a screeching halt outside. Somehow, from somewhere, she had to find the words to explain how her life came to this. She wished she had a clue where to start. She wandered back to the living room to wait. The beginning was always the best place to start, she supposed. If only she could remember when that was now.
"Are you scared? You should be. You really should be Cayla."
The low male voice came without warning from the answering machine. She didnt jump or turn to look in the direction of her phone. Shed stopped jumping at the sound of that voice months ago. She hoped hed go away. She let that hope die when she heard him inside the Center.
Michala closed her eyes and rested her head in her hands. The door she wouldnt open earlier swung free. It was too easy to go back. She sat back against the couch, letting the memories rush into her mind and it was so much easier than she thought it should be for her slip back into time. To go back to those months when Tyler was alive and she still believed. So very easy to lose herself in the grief those memories brought. The guilt crashed down on her in unforgiving waves and it was so easy to once again let herself drown in the agonizing truth that her best wasnt good enough when it counted most. After all this time, after how hard shed tried to move on, it really shouldnt have been so easy to go back.
Of all the things she remembered of those months, the only thing she can recall with no effort was her desperation. Shed wanted to keep him from his family, then keep him in the system, then merely keep him alive. Shed done none of those things. She used every resource she had, called in every favor owed, and still in the end, Tyler was dead. Everyone assured her that she had done her best. That was a cold, bitter comfort on those winter nights. She didnt want to know there was absolutely nothing she could do or could have done differently. If that was true, why in hell was she wasting her life in a program that let little children die? What difference did it make what she did if they were going to die anyway?
And somewhere, in all that, he was lurking. How was she supposed to remember when he became part of her life? When your life is turned upside down, when everything is crashing down on your head, how do you know when something begins or ends? She couldnt clearly remember a single day and weeks were passing blurs of activity. Time could be marked not by her own memories, but by the pages in her calendar.
She looked over at the phone as she remembered why she bought the answering machine. Some time in September or October, she had to have DVIT call her beeper when she was on call because of the dozen or so hang-ups she was getting every night. She thought it was Bradshaw, his childish way of interfering with her life the way he imagined she was interfering with his. The messages started when she got the machine.
She stood up and walked to her desk. He was angry about the machine, furious that she was screening his outlet to her. She opened the middle drawer on her desk and stared down at the little box filled with mini cassettes. Each bore a date across the top. She ejected the tape in her machine and wrote the date on it before adding it to her box. His messages grew longer with time, less angry and more conversational as if he enjoyed his one-sided conversations with her. She might not be listening when he left the call, but he believed she would be hanging on his every word later. That seemed enough for him. He would never know that she cut his calls of without listening to his words. Even now, standing with the box in her hands, she couldnt explain why she saved the tapes.
The letters were harder to pin down. She reached into the drawer and took out the stack of letters she never opened. She opened the first few, but quickly caught onto the gist of the letters and simply threw them into the drawer when she got them. Michala never thought the letters were from Bradshaw. It lacked the personal touch of the calls. She dropped the letters into the box of tapes and walked back to the couch. She placed the box next to her Glock. Susan would want the tapes and letters. She was grateful to be able to give her friend something.
Susan. Michala sighed as she realized how much she was about to hurt her. Susans identity was a cop. It was the first word she would use to describe herself. How betrayed was she going to feel when she was told this and realized that Michala never once asked for her help? She shrugged away the guilt. She couldnt change what she did or didnt do now. She knew all to well the past was beyond change. There wasnt a power on earth that could turn back time. She was going to hurt a lot of people before this over. She couldnt change that either.
The rest was something that would have to be guessed at. There was the first windshield at New Years. As she recalled, it was the first he knew of her sexual orientation. He was angry over that, too. Miranda would know about the vandalism committed against the Center. She was certain her sister had the police make reports over every incident. The windshield Thursday was her fourth. Her car had also spent weeks in the body shop to repair broken tail lights, head lights and repaint long, deep scratches. There would be a record of the damage and the dates of occurrence with the shop. From that, surely the police could get an accurate picture of what happened to her and when. She would help with what she could remember.
Michala decided to have that glass of Chivas after all. If she was going to have to remember more, she wasnt going to do it as sober as she felt right then. She wanted to feel in control. She wanted to at least give the illusion of poise. She took the glass with her to the couch. She closed her eyes and took her first sip, praying to God that the memories would go back to that dark corner in her mind when this was over.
She prayed it would be over soon.
Kelly stood shoulder to shoulder with Randa. Susan flanked her girlfriend on the other side. Light spilled from every ground floor of the Cary Center. A single light burned in an upper floor window. Men and women crawled over the wide porch that circled the Center, dusted window sills and door frames, swept the neat lawn and flower beds with flash lights. They would be buried in evidence.
"Are you sure she said she was home?" Susan asked in a voice hoarse in shock.
Randa had not spoken since her single "Oh my God" when Susan turned down the street. They were speechless as they stared over police cruisers, crime scene van and various other unmarked cars parked around the Center. They knew, before they ever saw the house, that it was more than a simple break-in, that it was much worse that Michalas "bad."
"I think so," Randa whispered.
In unison, Kelly and Susan took out their badges and clipped the gold shields to their jeans. The initial shock was fading, leaving Kelly feeling numb and empty. She had felt Michala was in danger and she left her alone to this. Her eyes drifted over the scene cast in neon blue. Did telling Randa really mean more than staying here to protect her from this?
Yellow crime tape warned the curious not to step over the line. The three of them ducked under the tape without hesitation. The warning didnt extend to them. Long strides propelled by fear carried them over the yard to the steps, where they could see up close what they had only glimpsed from the street. The tall windows that washed every room in the Center with warm, comforting sunlight were smashed. Dark red graffiti screamed Dyke and Lesbo among other obscenities from the white wooden walls. The railing around the porch was broken and jagged pieces of wood hung precariously over carefully cultivated rose bushes. The double front doors, with their beautifully etched oval glass, were laid out on the lawn.
Large clay pots that held colorful, blooming Geraniums were shattered, leaving black potting soil and petals scattered over the porch. Broken wood and twisted brass hinges underlined the reason the front doors were laid on the lawn. Her eyes slid over the graffiti. Kelly wanted to believe it was a hate crime. She wished to God it was nothing more than a right wing extremist. She could understand that. They could fight that. She knew in her heart, just as she had known earlier that Michala was in danger, that it was hate, but not because Michala slept with women.
"Lieutenant Pryce, Detective Reid."
They nodded to the technician dusting the door frame as they passed to enter the Center. The inside was worse. The long central hallway was littered with large chunks of plaster. Paintings were shredded in their frames. Kelly glanced into the reception area as they walked up the stairs. The perfectly appointed waiting room was destroyed. She saw leather couches and chairs ripped open, magazines ripped apart and thrown around the room like confetti. He had been in the Center for a while, she realized in sudden dread.
Kelly looked up the staircase to where Michala waited. Her eyes slid over the guard standing outside in the hall to the open sliding door. She sought some sign that her stalker made it this far and let out a deeply held breath when she saw nothing marring the satin wood finish of the wood. She took comfort from the fact that Michala would not still be here if she had been physically hurt. Someone would have taken her away if she had been harmed.
"Cayla?" Randa called as she hurried over the threshold. Kelly followed more slowly. She was suddenly uncertain that her presence was wanted. Michala asked her to leave; it was her sister and best friend she called. She would wonder why Kelly was here, how Kelly knew when she wasnt on the short of list of people Michala allowed to care.
Lieutenant Bates was standing across from where Susan and Randa held tightly to Michala. He watched them over the rim of his coffee cup. His face was grim as he watched Kelly walk to the couches. He nodded his head once. "Lieutenant."
"Lieutenant," she returned, just as coolly. She didnt come under his control and she knew that bothered him. He believed that she had been handed the title without having to earn it. She didnt care what he thought as long as he stayed out of her way.
She looked over to find Michalas eyes on her. She watched her gaze slide slowly down to rest on the gold shield snug at her waist. She braced herself when those dark, condemning eyes snapped back to her face. "Shouldnt you be downstairs?"
Kelly took off her jacket and tossed it to the couch. She shook her head. "No. Im with DVIT, not the department."
Michala took a step back and her face turned a paler shade of white. Kelly ruthlessly shoved the guilt she felt away. Michala had to know everything, she might as well learn it now. Michala closed her eyes and sank down to the couch. She reached for the tumbler on the table and tossed down the amber liquid with the flick of her wrist. She jumped to her feet. "Anyone else want one?"
Bates followed her into the kitchen. He put his cup into the sink. Kelly could see that he was talking to her in a soft voice. He reached out to stroke her hair as she held her glass between them like a shield. She nodded carelessly at what he said, smiled that coolly polite smile and let him kiss her cheek. Distaste flashed over her face as she watched him leave her home.
She sat on the couch Bates had vacated, facing the three of them. Kelly wondered if she felt they were united against her. She noted that Michala still wore her dress clothes. She was dressed as she was Friday night at the bar. Kelly decided she went to the bar that night, that it was from there Susan called Randa.
Michala caught her gaze and said, "He was inside when I came home. He probably watched me come upstairs."
"Who was inside?" Randa demanded. "Do you know who this is?"
Michala shook her head, took a sip from her glass. "No, I dont know who it is. I used to think it was Robert Bradshaw. Then I knew it wasnt him. By then I didnt care any more who it was."
"When did it start?" Susan asked. They had given her a short version of what had happened since Thursday night. By her shocked reaction, Kelly thought it was a safe bet to assume Susan never knew what was happening to her best friend.
Michala sat back with a small laugh. The amusement didnt reach the darkness of her eyes. "Ive been wondering that myself. You have to understand that when it began, I had other things on my mind. But Ive been thinking and I really do think it was in September. Yes, Im sure it was then."
Kelly didnt expect the flip answer. She was prepared to learn it was months. Michala was too conditioned for it to be brand new. She never would have thought it was at least eight months. She stared at Michala in disbelief. At least eight months and she had said nothing to those closest to her. She had done nothing to protect herself. Was she that devastated over Tyler? Did she really fall that far that fast?
Susan stood up slowly, her hands clenched into fists at her side. "September? Youve been stalked since September and youre just now telling us?"
"I had to Susan. This is going to be in all the papers. Bates would have called you himself if I hadnt. I could hardly keep this from you, too."
Randa grabbed Susans arm before she stepped over the table. Kelly narrowed her eyes at Michala and saw the glaze of alcohol behind her carefully indifferent poise. Randa pulled Susan down to the couch. "What she meant is-"
Michala waved her sisters sharp words away with the hand that held her glass. "I know what she meant, Miranda. You forget, I know Susan much better than you do. I know she wants to know why, over these past eight months, I never said a word to her about this. The answers simple. I didnt want to deal with it."
"Didnt want to deal with?" Susan repeated in disbelief. "So you just waited until he was in your home before calling the police. What in the hell were you thinking?"
Michala looked down into her glass and watched the golden liquid swirl in the light. Kelly braced herself when she looked up. Michalas face was expressionless, her voice empty as she said, "I guess I was thinking I deserved it."
The words echoed in the silence. The soft words, words Kelly didnt doubt Michala meant absolutely, sucked the anger from the room. Randa didnt try to stop Susan as she stood up and walked around the table to sit next to Michala. Michala allowed herself to be pulled against Susan and held. She allowed Susan to take her drink and finish the alcohol. She laid her head on Susans shoulder.
"I killed him." She spoke in a voice so full of uncomprehending hurt it tore at Kellys heart. Her eyes stared sightlessly over their heads into nothing. "I shouldve walked away. Hed be alive if I had. He would be a little more battered, a lot more bruised. But alive. God, if I had just walked away "
Susan squeezed her eyes shut and rested her head against Michalas. "Im sorry you believe that honey. I wish I had the words that could change your mind. I wish to God I could take this away for you."
Michala nodded her head slowly. "So do I."
Susan pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. "You know this head in the sand routine is over, dont you?"
Michala sighed and nodded. She snuggled deep in Susans arms. "Yeah."
"Okay then. Tell it all now. Maybe you wont have to say it again." Susan caught Kellys eye and made a writing motion with her hand. Kelly understood. She reached for her jacket and pulled out the notebook shed grown accustomed to keeping on her. She sat back and propped her foot over one knee, hiding the notebook from Michala.
Susan held the glass up in front of Michala. "Do you want another on?"
Randa stood up and took the glass from her hand. She walked into the kitchen without a word. Michala peeked over her shoulder and watched her sister move around her kitchen. She turned around, saying in disappointment, "Shes making tea."
"Pretend its scotch," Susan advised. She crossed her feet on the coffee table. "Now, start at the beginning."
Michala put her feet next to Susans and laid her head against her shoulder. Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap. With a voice low in remembrance, in a tone that conveyed more than her words the anguish she still felt all these months later, she took them down the road that brought them to this night and her call to 911.
They might as well have been alone, Kelly thought as Michala talked. Randa did nothing more than refill their cups. Kelly unobtrusively wrote down the story Michala told. Susan asked some questions, but mostly she did what best friends have been doing since the dawn of time, she simply listened. The telling was hard as Michala stumbled over the memories. Her voice faltered as she used the words before and after as euphemisms for Tylers death. She never said his name. When she reached the end, Kelly understood why this bright and beautiful woman allowed this to happen to herself. She was devastated over Tylers death, more Kelly knew, than even her friends and family realized. The letters and phone calls began during the worst time of her life. Her memories of one necessarily meshed with her memories of the other.
Michala sat up and carefully placed her tea cup on the table. She picked up the box from the table and handed it over to Susan. "These are the messages hes left. Theyll be the last ones on the tape. Some of the other messages are personal. Use what discretion you can."
She stood up and yawned, raking her fingers through her hair. Susan held up the sealed envelopes. Michala shrugged carelessly. "I read the first few. They were all the same. Short and not very sweet."
Kelly palmed the notebook as Michala stepped over Susans legs. She said in a weary tone, "I have to pack. I dont want to stay with my parents, Susan. Anywhere else but there."
They watched her walk down the darkened hallway to her bedroom. Kelly was amazed by the cool poise, by her calm acceptance. Could she really be this steady? Was she really this strong? Kelly didnt want her to be either. She would have preferred tears to her stoicism, jumpy fear to her poise.
She reached for the Glock on the table. The gun was heavy with a full clip. "Who bought her this?"
Susan turned to see what she held. "She did. A Christmas present to herself."
"Does she know how to use it?"
"Yes. Shes very good with it." She reached into the box and began to search the contents. Kelly felt better for leaving Michala earlier. She had not left her unprotected and at the mercy of her stalker. Michala could protect herself. Maybe she could be faulted for some of the decisions she made, but when it counted most, she armed herself and she called the police. She didnt just sit and wait to be taken. Kelly took that as a positive sign.
"Mom and Dad are going to want her," Randa said. She sat beside Susan. "They have a right, dont you think?"
"Theyre certainly welcome to stop her allowance," Susan said archly. "Or ground her."
Kelly bit back a grin at Susans none to subtle reminder that Michala, for all her very wrong decisions, was still an adult. She looked down the hallway. Light fell from the bedroom to the hallway floor. She didnt stop to think that Michala wouldnt want to talk to her right then, if ever. She slipped from the couch and walked toward the light. She didnt know what she would say when she got there. She only acknowledged the possibility that Michala would not let her say anything at all.
Time is supposed to heal all wounds. Michala knew that for the comforting lie it was, but she hoped for her friends and family that it would be true for them. She hoped to never sit with her sister and her friends and do what she had done that night. She disappointed them. They expected better of her than this. There was a time when she would have expected better of herself. As she listened to herself, some part of who she used to be was appalled. How could she wait until he was inside her home before she said enough? How could she let it go so far? Why did she let it go so far?
A movement in the doorway caught her eye. She wasnt surprised to see Kelly standing one step inside her bedroom. She was too tired to be surprised by anything else. Her gaze rested briefly over the shiny gold badge. Kelly was a cop. Thats what she got for not asking questions.
Kelly held her Glock in one hand and the ammo clip in the other. "Im not sorry I didnt tell you Im with DVIT or that Im a cop. I could say it, but I wouldnt mean it."
Michala dropped the shirt she was folding. "Then say what you mean."
Kelly walked the few feet to her bed and leaned over to slip the gun and ammo into the side of her suitcase. Michala watched her and recognized stall tactics when she saw them. Kelly crammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans. The eyes that met hers were steeled with defiance. "I didnt know. I mean, I knew who you were. I knew what happened. Dani told me Saturday that it would make a difference with you that Im an officer. She said Randa is barely welcome in your home and that you wouldnt make an exception for me. I didnt think it mattered because I was just someone you picked up in a bar."
Michala would have smiled at the unpleasant truth if she had the extra ounce of energy the effort required. She reached for the shirt and began to carefully fold the soft silk. Even now, after she knew all the steps that brought her to where she was standing, she was still stunned by the place she found herself. How? It was the one question her friends wanted to know more than anything and it was probably the one she would never be able to answer to anyones satisfaction. Certainly not her own.
"And later, when you did know?"
She thought for one moment that Kelly would give her what they both knew was the truth. By Saturday, Kelly didnt want it to make a difference. By Saturday, Michala wasnt so sure that it would have. She couldnt remember the last time someone had caught her interest so quickly. She sighed and laid the shirt in her suitcase. She couldnt remember the last time anything caught her interest at all. Because Kelly couldnt take that step, Michala moved them away from it.
"Im sorry you got pulled into this Kelly. If I had known he was so close, I would never have had you here. I never meant to involve anyone else."
"You didnt involve me. You made the fact that it didnt involve me very clear. Randa brought me into this. She got one of your letters Friday. She opened it before she knew it wasnt for her. You were the sensitive case we were discussing up here."
It would be ironic later. Tonight was going to be her last night of living with it whether he did anything or not. Kellys behavior over the phone calls made sense once she knew Kelly knew about the letters. She said with a small smile, "You were at Mirandas when I called. You told her about the phone calls didnt you?"
Kelly nodded without hesitation. "I was afraid for you. I was almost sure you were being stalked. I never would have guessed to this extent, or for this long."
Michala laughed at the censure in her tone. "Ah, Ive disappointed you. The line is long for that right now."
And not all the people who were on it knew it yet. Most of the people who were on it didnt know it yet. Her parents, who were sleeping snug in bed without a clue the plunge their life was about to take. Other friends, those kind souls who had left her alone and would now bitterly regret that kindness. Her colleagues, people who had trusted her professional judgment and who now would question her sanity. The line was long and would only grow longer as the word spread.
Susan walked into the bedroom. "Ready? Jess is waiting for you."
"Waiting, hmm?" She zipped her suitcase shut and watched in amusement as Susan reached around her for the bag. She turned to face her friend. "Why do I feel that this isnt voluntary?"
Susan gave her a light kiss on the lips. "Its as voluntary as you make, babe."
The four of them left the house through the spiral stairs that led from her bedroom to the back of the house. Susan led the way, Miranda fell in behind her and Kelly took up the rear. Michala was aware, as they hustled her from the house, that they were a shield around her. The quick trip down the back stairs left her no time to see what exactly he did to her home. She was grateful to be spared that right then. She was also grateful for their solid support as they stepped out into the pale light of dawn. Her brief hesitation on the threshold was known only to Kelly.
She let them talk around her on the drive over to Jess. She couldnt remember how long shed been awake. She closed her eyes and let go. It would all be waiting for her in the morning. And she knew nothing would change.
Less than an hour later, they were driving back to Randas. Michala was tucked safely behind the security controlled walls of Jessica Newhouses gated community, snug and hopefully asleep in her guest room. Kelly shook away the image of Michala, pale and exhausted, being led upstairs like a little child. After the night she had the fact that she walked into the house under her own power said much about her strength. Kelly harbored no illusions that Michala would be pale and exhausted the next time they saw her. She would be the poised, arrogant Dr. Cary.
Kelly wished for her sunglasses as she blinked from the rising sun. She shook her head as she realized it was officially Monday morning. They had a staff meeting planned for ten. She glanced over at Randa. Her head rested against the seat. Her eyes, if they were opened, stared out of the passenger door window. Kelly made a mental note to call Sam and bring her up to date. The meeting would have to be canceled. There was no way Randa was in any shape to handle other peoples problems right then.
She closed her eyes against the glaring sun. God, but shed give almost anything to already be in her bed. She could feel her own exhaustion weighing her down. The last thing she wanted to do was make the drive to Danis. She knew she wasnt alert enough to negotiate the NASCAR race that masqueraded as morning rush hour traffic in Atlanta.
"Wake up, Kelly."
She snapped awake and stared up into Susans solemn face. Susan held out her hand. "You were sleeping. Come on, you can crash in the guest room."
Kelly shook her head to clear her jumbled thoughts. "No, I need to go home."
Susan pulled her from her car and caught her as she swayed slightly. She slipped her arm around Kellys waist. "The only thing you need is sleep. Youre staying here. Itd be criminal to let you drive like this. You cant even walk a straight line."
Kelly opened her mouth to argue and closed it when she stumbled. Susan held on to her to keep her from falling on the sidewalk. She tossed her a wan smile. "Thanks. The citizens of Atlanta owe you one."
Michala woke quickly. One second she was in a dark, blissful void and in the next, her eyes were open and she remembered. She wasnt even given that one second of time to wonder where she was and how she came to be there. She was at Jessicas. She was here because he destroyed the Center. She closed her eyes and wished for more time in that black void. She wanted more time to find answers to the questions she knew they would ask. Answers Michala was afraid she would never have for them.
She was given a reprieve of sorts last night because the break-in happened so late. Miranda, Susan and Kelly knew everything. Jessica and Shannon knew only about the break-in. She sat up and sighed with the knowledge that she was going to relive the last of her year life too many more times. She had people in her life who would want to hear the tale from her. They would want to ask her their questions, want to hear her defense for themselves. It wasnt going to end any time too soon.
She threw the blankets to the side. Frowning, she saw she had slept in her clothes. She didnt remember doing that. She supposed that was a sign of how thrown she was last night. If nothing else, she wouldve expected herself to shuck the slacks.
She heard a car door slam downstairs and got up to see who was arriving. Her parents. Miranda was busy. Her gaze skipped over the other cars parked in front of Jess house. They were circling the wagons. Michala was impressed. The people who were downstairs waiting for her were all busy professionals who surely had important business waiting for them on this Monday. She wondered idly how long she could hide out in the guest room. The knock on the door brought a faint smile to her lips. Apparently, she was already here too long.
She turned when the door opened. Jess poked her head in the room and her eyes widened when she saw the empty bed. She came fully into the room and stopped when her panicked eyes fell on Michala by the window.
"Am I missing a party?"
From the way Jess was staring at her, Michala knew the few hours of sleep had done little to erase the night from her face. She cleared her throat. "I suggest the first person you go to is your mother. Paige looks worse than you."
She was angry. Michala turned to lean back against the window sill. Jess clear blue eyes were narrowed in her pale face. Her jaw was clenched. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared across the room with cold anger brewing in her eyes. No, Michala thought, she was furious. One of the cars below was Susans. Obviously, Jess knew more than the bare details. Is this how her day was going to be? Did she have that unforgiving icy anger to look forward to?
She said in her patented calm voice, "Im sure Susan made it sound worse than it is."
Jess stared at her in silence. She nodded slowly. "I want to believe that. I want to believe you havent been silent while some maniac has been stalking you. Tell me that last night someone did not break into the Center and demolish the ground floor while you were upstairs. Tell me that your car hasnt been vandalized countless times. Please tell me that you have not been receiving those letters since before the civil suit."
She stopped and seemed to bite down on her anger. She shook her head when Michala would have gone to her. In a slow, measured tone, she said, "If you tell me that everything Susan said is a lie, Ill believe you. Because I know you would have gone to the police before it came to this. I know you would not have waited until you were almost killed."
Michala shut her eyes once again. It was awful and having it laid out like that, she heard how horrible it sounded. She would have sought help before it went that far, right? She knew without a doubt that last year she would have gone to the police. But this year was different and this year she did not want to need the police. This year she did not want to need anyone. She opened her eyes when she was sure her mask of professional poise was firmly in place. "You dont understand. I-"
Jess took two quick steps forward, the anger she fought surging back into her voice. "Do you understand? If you do then it explain it to me. Explain how you waited until that maniac was inside your house before you called the police."
"I know I let it go too far. I didnt want to deal with it. It was just more than I could handle." It was more than she wanted to admit, but it was as close to the truth as she could get. She was a Psychiatrist. She knew problems like this did not go away by ignoring them. She knew problems like this usually got progressively worse until it ended in tragedy. Her excuses were pathetic and she could have done better if only it was the truth. She didnt want to deal with it as long as she wasnt hurt.
"Honey what were you thinking?" Jess asked softly. The anger was gone, replaced by concern.
Michala flashed onto Susans face when she asked that same question. Susan was devastated by her honesty. They were going to be hurt. No matter what she said or did, they were all going to be hurt. The very least she could do was inflict as little pain as possible. She shook her head and met her friends troubled gaze. "I dont think I was. I think Ive just been getting by."
She tensed as Jess crossed the room to pull her into a bruising embrace. She whispered, "You dont know what it wouldve done to us if you died. You just dont know."
Michala didnt try to comfort away the dark thoughts. She knew it would come down to the what-ifs and a lot of self-blame. The thought that she could have been killed would cross every mind. The recriminations of who should have done what would start sometime after that. She patted Jess back in a useless gesture and knew she could not help them with this. She should have never put them in this position, but now that she had, there wasnt any way she could get them out of it.
"We need to go down. Its all over the news."
Michala caught Jess arm before she could turn away. She said the words she would be saying to them for a very long time. "Im sorry Jessica."
They stared at each other for a moment. Jess nodded and turned away. "So am I."
Michala watched her leave the room. God, how was she going to survive this? She pushed away from the window and quickly followed Jess. The low murmurs died away as she walked down the stairs. She thought about smiling. People who were fine smiled. She was glad she didnt attempt the charade when she saw the pale, drawn faces that watched her every step. As she neared the bottom, they stood as one and waited. She paused and forced herself to meet every grief-stricken gaze head-on. She deserved to see just what she had done to the people who cared the most about her.
Her father stood behind her mother with his hands on her shoulders. Tortured. It was the only word she knew to describe the look in their eyes. They were drained. The vital energy that carried them through their action packed days was gone. They seemed older and frail. She hated herself most for that.
Miranda stood by their side. She, too, had lost something in the night. The arrogance maybe, or the defiance that was her treademark. What, she wondered sadly, did she take from her sister simply by not turning to her? How betrayed did she feel that Michala did not turn to her when she needed help?
Susan stood close enough to Miranda to be supportive. Michala could recall with little effort the dazed expression on her friends face when she realized it wasnt a simple hate crime.
She went into her mothers arms without a word. She felt her father wrap them both in a crushing embrace. Her mothers tears burned an acid trail down her skin. The weight of guilt pressed down on her painfully until she was struggling to breathe. She heard her mother whisper the single question of why and she couldnt answer. She knew even if she could make her friends understand, she would never make her parents. There wasnt an answer that would take away the pain and disbelief from their faces.
It seemed an eternity that she stood there, giving them all the time they needed to assure themselves that the horror of the night wasnt evident on her in anyway. Their small kisses and warm caresses were tiny grains of salt in the wound. She saw it then, really saw just how close she had come to devastating them. In a flash of clarity that left her weak and shaken, she saw their faces over the last months. How could she not see what she was doing to them? How could she so easily ignore their concern and fear? The pain they felt now wasnt new. This pain was only a fresher, deeper cut in a wound she had been slicing into them for months. God, what did she do?
The pain of that one thought jack hammering in her head was more than she could bear. She fell into the black void of unconsciousness the way a drowning woman reached for a life line.
By noon, Kelly was ready to call it a day. Sams weekend added four new kids to the caseload. Two, a brother and sister under the age of six, were eyewitnesses to the stabbing death of their father by their mother. Another was offered by his mother to an uncover cop in exchange for drugs. He was eight and the mother twenty-one. Kelly closed the next file and set the stack on the corner of her desk. For today, it was more than she could take.
Her thoughts kept circling back to Michala. Was she awake yet? Did she sleep the dreamless sleep of the exhausted? Or did the terror in her life invade her dreams? Kelly sat back in her chair and rubbed tired, gritty eyes. She slept little herself. Randa was already gone by the time she stumbled into the kitchen only a few hours earlier. Susan was sitting at the table, wearing a robe and sipping a cup of hot tea. Their eyes met briefly before they both looked away. They kept words to the bare minimum when Susan drove her to Randas for her car.
Kelly gave into the inevitable and reached for her jacket. She wanted to go to the Center. She needed to see every room in all its Technicolor horror. She stuffed her pager into her jacket pocket and left the office. If something came up, Sam could track her down. She wasnt doing any good in the office anyway.
The drive to the Center passed in a blur and too soon she was parking across the street. Yellow police tape was wrapped from tree to tree around the perimeter. A single police cruiser was parked on the street in front of the Center. A young officer sat on the front steps. Kelly sat for a moment, her eyes drifted slowly from left to right over the Cary Center. The bright sunshine brought out in stark relief the extent of the destruction that was hidden in the black of night. She slipped from her car and slowly walked across the yard. She wasnt sure why she was here. Officially, she shouldnt be here. Personally, she knew Michala wouldnt want her here.
She nodded at the young man and stepped around him to walk onto the porch. Her gaze skimmed over the bloody graffiti sprayed over the white walls. Kelly didnt think he just discovered her orientation. The placement of it, on the front of the house and facing the road, pointed to a desire to out her to the world. He wanted everyone to know. Kelly had to wonder how he was close enough to know Michala was gay and yet far away from her life to not know everyone around her knew it. Whatever edge of her life he was on, it wasnt personal.
A giant yellow X covered the front entry. The front doors were propped against the railing. Kelly ducked between the tape and stepped into the foyer. Her first instinct was to glance up the staircase. Michalas doors were shut. Kelly wasnt sure if she looked up to make sure the doors were shut or if it was habit whenever she was standing in this hallway. She didnt have to wonder any more what Michalas life was like behind the locked doors.
Steeling herself, Kelly moved forward to see for herself what was done to the Center. The old Victorian house was cut neatly in half by a long hallway. Conference rooms, offices and shorter hallways branched off left and right. She crammed her hands into her pockets and walked to the first doorway.
The waiting room was large and heavily damaged. She remembered how the room looked before it was destroyed. Michala had favored the traditional medical office furniture of wine red leather couches and chairs grouped around corner tables laden with magazines. Large, leafy plants and windows streaming with sunlight had added life to the dark, somber room. One corner of the room was a play area for the smallest of the Centers patients. Child-sized plastic picnic tables held crayons, coloring books, trucks, dolls, colorful Lego blocks and wads of neon Play-doh. Kellys eyes skimmed slowly over torn couches, broken tables and potting soil mixed with broken toys and ripped magazine pages. Gaping holes, possibly made by baseball bat, marred every wall. Glass glittered like diamonds under the windows. Hed spent a lot of time in this room.
Turning away, Kelly stared down the long center hallway. She knew a beautiful blue and gold oriental rug lay under the chunks of plaster, broken tables and vases. The paintings shredded in their shiny wooden frames had been soothing prints of snow capped mountains, spring flowers, and sun splashed beaches. She could seem him moving methodically down the hallway, viciously lashing out at Michala with every swing of his bat.
The back of the Center was a large, homey kitchen. Kelly didnt want to disturb whatever evidence was still buried along the hallway. She detoured through the larger conference room across the hall from the waiting room. She glanced over the room as she walked through it. The damage here was light. Kelly guessed that Michala heard him in the waiting room, made the call to police and he heard the sirens while in the conference room. He wouldve had one or two minutes at most to get to he back door.
Kellys glance to the small corner office that bore the small gold nameplate of Dr. Michala Cary was as instinctive as her glance up the stairs whenever she was in the foyer. The door was always closed. But today, when she tossed the quick look over to her right, she saw the door was open. She came to a stunned halt in the hallway and stared at the hardwood floor covered with leather bound books, papers spilling from open folders, pens and pencils. Somehow, this assault on Michalas personal space seemed more of a violation of Michala than what he had done to the rest of the Center. The Cary Center was hers, the name it bore was hers, but this room had belonged to her exclusively. He had committed a sacrilege by stepping across the threshold of that office.
Without thinking, she took the few steps that would take her across the same threshold. He should have spent a great deal of time in here. She braced herself for what she would find.
"Oh." She paused in mid-stride and stared at Susan sitting behind the cherry wood desk.
The surprise she felt at finding Susan in the office was mirrored on Susans face. She sat up slowly and linked her hands together on the desk. "Hi."
"Hi." Kelly looked away from the speculation she saw in the hazel eyes. Instead, she chose to give the office the same skimming glance she had given the rest of the rooms. She felt a jolt of shock when she realized the damage was far different in here than what he had done to the rest of the Center. The desk top was empty of all typical office items. The bookshelves behind the desk were as bare. Leather bound books were thrown all over the small office, some open, but none destroyed. The only decoration on the unmarked wall was a large cork bulletin board with dozens of Polaroids. Each picture was pinned to a drawing done by obviously childish hands. She was drawn to the pictures.
Her breath caught. Each photograph was of a smiling Michala cuddling a small child. The name of the child matched several of the sloppy signatures of the drawings. Others were signed with an adult, very feminine hand.
"She did this," Susan said in a low, somber tone.
Kelly turned around to face her. "What?"
Susans eyes swept over the room. "This. Someone called the day Tyler was hurt. We dont know who. Randa said everyone could hear her screaming. This is how it looked when Randa got here. Michala was already gone. We looked for her for hours until she finally showed up Jess. We still dont know where she went that day. Its not exactly something any of us question her about."
Her shocked eyes fell to the thick medical books Michala must have thrown, over the folders and pens she might have swept from her desk with one swipe of her arm, to fall onto the one thing in the office Michala had left untouched. She was right. The damage in here was different. There was anger here, but this was borne of pain instead of rage. And even while she was destroying her own office, this collage of photos and drawings was something she could not bring herself to lift a hand against. It meant something to her when nothing else did.
"How is she?" Kelly asked when she could speak. Surely Susan would have seen her today or called. Those were the rights of a best friend.
Susan pushed away from the desk and came to stand beside her in front of the bulletin board. Her voice was hoarse from a pain she didnt try to hide. "Not good. She was so together last night. I went over there with the idea that we were going to have to shake her to make her see the light. At least, to me, she didnt seem to get the whole picture last night."
When she broke off, Kelly turned to face her. Susan blinked away her tears. "She collapsed when she saw her parents. She was out for maybe a minute. Shes been withdrawn since. I called Jess about an hour ago. Shes not speaking if she doesnt have to and if she does, shes saying just a few words. I hope its just shock."
Kelly wanted to ease her guilt and pain, but knew that was only something Michala could do for her friends. Theyd been losing her for the past year. Theyd given her time and space and love in the hope that it would be enough to heal her wounds. Kelly didnt need Michalas degrees to know it would destroy her friends if they lost her now. They would blame themselves because they stood on the shore and watched as she slowly drowned under the weight of her own guilt.
Kelly was saved from mouthing useless clichés by the beeping of a pager. They both reached into their jacket pockets. It was Susans. Her eyes widened in fear of the number she saw and she cast a frantic gaze over the office. She saw what she was looking for in the corner. The tell tale line was lying next to the receiver. "The apartment."
They hurried through the conference room, down the hallway and up the stairs. Susan barely paused as she used her own key to open the lock. Kelly followed her into the dark, silent apartment at a slower pace. She stood just inside the door and watched Susan run to the kitchen wall phone. They stared at each as she punched in the number. Kelly knew who she was calling.
"Hey its me," she said, her voice betraying how shaken she was by the page.
Kelly tensed, waiting for Susan to close her eyes, to slide slowly down the wall at what must be horrible news. It was the only kind they were getting these days. She let out the breath she was holding when Susan did the same and watched the other woman lean weakly against the wall for support. She tossed Kelly a relieved grin.
"Sure, I can do that. Is she up for it?"
Everything was fine. Kelly reached out to flip on the lamps. She deliberately forced Susans voice into the background. She didnt want to overhear her end of the conversation. She was only just realizing what a horrible mistake she made by coming over here. When she thought no one would ever know that she was here, it was all right. But now Susan knew and would read whatever she wanted into the visit. That she would tell Randa was a given. Kelly wasnt sure who else she would tell, however, she was very sure she didnt want others knowing it.
The flashing red light on the answering machine caught her attention. She stared at the small blinking light and knew with a cold dread that it was from him. No one else in Michalas life would call her here. Everyone who mattered and probably a few who didnt knew Michala wasnt in her apartment. Only those who mattered knew she was hidden behind the airtight security of Judge Jessica Newhouse.
Without turning around, she tuned into Susans conversation. "Good...I hope so, Jess. I really hope so...Okay, so if you need anything else just call. Ill be there soon...Okay, bye."
"Were having supper at Jess. Just friends. Ive been given the job of finding you and bringing you with me. Consider yourself found."
Kelly nodded without thinking. Her eyes never left the message light. "Theres a message. Its probably him."
The sound of Susans shoes on the hardwood floor was deafening in the small, suddenly airless apartment. They stood side by side and watched the light flash in accusing red. Susan reached down with her left hand to clasp hers and with her right, she reached out to play the message.
"You can run and you can hide. Ill find you. You know I always find you Cayla. And this time youll be mine. Forever mine. I can wait, but I wont wait long."
Kelly wasnt sure if she was disturbed more by the threatening content of the call or the chillingly calm, pleasant tone in which it was delivered. He seemed positive Michala would hear the message. Did he really think she was going to be allowed anywhere near this place after last night?
Susan squeezed her hand briefly and let go. "Want some coffee? Id offer something stronger, but I dont think she has anything stronger than white wine."
"Sure, thanks." Kelly went to sit at the bar and watched Susan move with familiarity around the small kitchen. She turned to stare at the answering machine. Something was wrong with the message. She could almost place her finger on it. With the sounds of Susan rustling through the cabinets as background noise, she mentally replayed the message inside her head.
"Oh," Susan said in a softly shocked tone.
Kelly looked over her shoulder. Susan was staring at the almost empty bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch. She put the bottle back on a shelf. "I guess things change."
The sad note of loss in her voice escaped Kelly. She had finally realized what was wrong with the message. "Susan," she asked and turned to face her, "why does Randa call her Cayla?"
Susans smile was sweetly amused. Her eyes sparkled briefly with laughter. "Because she can. When they were small, they were called Randa and Cayla. Paige says they were too mischievous for such serious names as Miranda and Michala. Randa doesnt like Miranda. Michala doesnt like Cayla. So of course, they call each other the names they dont like."
"And no one else is allowed to call her that?"
Susan laughed. She poured steaming coffee into cups and handed one over the counter to Kelly. "Well, the children do because she thinks its easier for them to say. Ive heard some of the staffers call her Cayla. Maybe a few of the parents. Its not something she allows easily. She detests the name. I think she was still in grade school when she stopped answering to it."
Kelly wrapped her cold hands around the warm mug. "So only people who are connected to the Center call her Cayla?"
Susan brought her mug around the bar and sat next to her. "None of us call her that. I would think that, yes, only people connected to the Center call her Cayla."
"Susan." she said and waited until Susan was facing her with a silent question on her face. "He calls her Cayla. On the message he calls her Cayla."
Susans face went blank for a moment and she turned to stare at the answering machine. Kelly watched her and could almost hear Susan replaying the message in her mind just as she had done. Slowly, she turned wide eyes on Kelly. "He does, doesnt he? He calls her Cayla."
Kelly nodded. "Hes connected to the Center. One of the children who call her Cayla could be his."
Susan paled. She swallowed and closed her eyes. She shook her head in denial. "God, no. Itll kill her. If this is connected to another one of her kids, this will kill her."
They were watching her. Michala wasnt sure just who they were, but she felt eyes on her. She was sitting on the patio sipping honey-sweetened tea. She was drinking the warm tea to ward away the chill that seemed to go down to the bone. She knew she was pale. She saw how she looked reflected on the faces of her friends.
"Thats rude, you know," she said. She sipped the tea and waited.
The door slid open and a kiss was pressed against the top of her head. "You sound better anyway."
"Im fine," she said automatically. She angled a smile up at Susan.
Narrowed hazel eyes searched her face. Michala met the concerned gaze. "Really, Im fine."
Susan didnt answer. Instead, she held out both hands. "Well, Im not. I was invited here for food and Shan says we cant eat until you come in."
The last thing Michala wanted was food. Shed eaten lunch because, as Jess reminded her forcefully, she had not eaten breakfast. Shed eaten a few cookies later for the same reason. How many times did she have to force food down today just because she missed breakfast? She sighed and put her hands in Susans. Apparently, at least one more time.
"Cool. I havent had food offered to me in at least an hour."
She was caught off guard when Susan pulled her up into a hug. Susan laughed and pulled away just far enough to smile at her. "I love you."
"Right. Youre just saying that so Ill come inside."
"And because I love you," Susan said and gave her one last hug before letting her go. "And because Im hungry."
Michala allowed herself to be pulled inside the house. She knew Susan wasnt the only friend shed find inside. As the clock crept close to four, she began hearing car doors slam. Some, she knew, belonged to neighbors, but some, she knew, belonged to her friends. She wasnt going to be given any more space. She wasnt getting any more time to pull her life back together. They were going to have a been there, done that, didnt work kind of attitude. She had to let them because they were so obviously right.
"What are we having anyway? I hope Shannons making those veggie ka-bobs. I love-" She broke off and stared in surprise at Kelly accepting a glass of iced tea from Randa. She wasnt sure if the day just better or worse. Susan was staring at her and Michala forced her gaze away from Kelly. "Her ka-bobs. I love them."
Susan grinned. "Then were having them. Everything you love is here."
Michala frowned at Susans back. Everything she loved was here? Worse, she decided. Her day just got worse. Sighing with frustration, she turned her back on the room to shut the sliding glass doors. She closed her eyes and forced herself to believe she was here because she wanted to be here. She didnt have a car and there was no way in hell that she was getting past these determined women so she had better believe she wasnt a hostage. Otherwise, she was going to make a break for it and someone, she wouldnt take bets on who, would take great delight in taking her down.
Michala turned at the voice and saw a flash of bright cooper hair before she was caught in a bruising, breathtaking hug. She wrapped her arms around Gaye Moreland, another friend who was probably kicking herself. It was Gayes article in the newspaper that brought her the press attention Michala was so sure would save Tyler. Gaye would now know it had brought her another kind of attention as well. As her friend held her tightly, Michala searched for some words to make everything all right again. Sorry just wasnt enough anymore.
"I cant believe youre okay. I mean, after I saw the Center and "
Gaye pushed her away and stricken blue eyes stared down at her. Michala smiled and wondered who gave the orders not to mention last night or the last year. This was supposed to be a fun night. "Am I the top story again? Im not allowed to watch the news or read the papers."
Gaye cupped her face in warm, soft hands. "Nah, youre old news."
"All right, you had your turn." A frizzy brown head ducked under Gayes arms. Valerie Martin put her hands on Michalas shoulder and stared down at her with solemn green eyes that were trying hard not to cry. She forced a lopsided grin to her face. "Guess who barged into my office today? She demanded I tell her where you are. I was so touched when she squeezed out a tear. Almost broke my heart."
"What heart?" Michala asked, her tone completely serious.
Relieved laughter broke the tension in the room. Michala grinned and linked arms with Val. "Which number did you give her? Strip club or Dial-A-Porn?"
"Psychic Network. I thought, what the hell, lets see how good they really are."
The tone was set. Her friends were determined to laugh and be merry and only the need to touch her when she was near betrayed their anxiety. She quietly held hands and leaned into covert hugs while laughing at every hilarious remembrance they could dredge from their collective memories. A few she had even forgotten. When she didnt feel the weight of Kellys gaze on her, she was watching her. If she felt uncomfortable here, she didnt show it. She looked very much at home. Michala was glad Kelly seemed comfortable with her friends. She hoped Kelly found herself surrounded by her friends a lot.
Michala was fighting yawns by eight. She curled up on the couch and laid her head in Susans lap. She was pleasantly exhausted. She would have to remember to thank them for this when it was all over. She wanted them to know how grateful she was for their friendship. With Susan softly combing her hair with her fingers, she let the conversation drift over her as her eyes slowly closed. Sleep had slammed down on her like a hammer that morning. She felt it descending on her like a warm, safe blanket.
This was how her life could have been all along. From the beginning, when it was only hang-ups in the middle of the night, Susan would have checked into it for her. When it progressed to letters, Miranda would have intercepted them for Susan. When he raised the stakes by vandalizing her possessions, they would have raised the stakes by opening an official investigation. If she had only turned to these women, she would have been shielded and protected. The Center would be whole and they would not be living now with the knowledge of just how close he got to her. She sighed and accepted that her life became what it was not because of him, but because of her. He had the power to do what he did because she gave it to him.
Everything was her fault. Tyler was dead because of her. The Center was destroyed because of her. Her friends and family were shell shocked because of her. What did it say for her that she had allowed it all to happen? What kind of person was she that she simply watched as her life shattered at her feet?
Michala pushed away from Susan and got to her feet. Her eyes skipped over the surprised faces staring up at her. "If its not too rude, I think Id like to take a hot bath before I go to sleep. Its been a long day."
Susan stood up and caught her from behind. "Yeah, sleeping late and being waited on hand and foot can be so tiring."
"Exhausting," Michala agreed with a brief smile. "Its been very nice though. I have wonderful friends."
Jess slipped from the floor and walked to stand in front of Michala. She slid her arms around Michala to rest them on Susans shoulders. "Im glad you remember. You sort of forgot that lately."
Michala pulled Jess closer and slid her hands into Jess back pockets. She rested her head back against Susans shoulder. She could feel tension in the bodies pressed against hers. She met Jess hurt gaze. "Im sorry Jess. I know its not enough. I know it doesnt even begin to make amends, but I am so sorry. I would do everything differently if I could."
It was the only thing left for her to say. She wasnt sure she really meant it. After Tyler died, so little mattered anymore. She lived because she didnt die. She woke up each day and it didnt matter if she worked, saw friends, or buried her head under the covers because she always woke the next day. She did the best she could for her circumstances and her state of mind. But now, staring into Jess bruised blue eyes, with Susans arms clamped around her, she knew she had to make them think she would do things right if she could do it all again. People felt better when they heard that and it was an easy lie.
Jess leaned in for a quick kiss. "Easy to say that now, isnt it? Go take your bath. Well stay down here and talk about you."
Michala laughed and asked, "Is there anything left to talk about?"
Susan tightened her arms briefly before letting her go. "Oh sure. I think we can drag up another story or two for Kelly."
Michala smiled and walked to stand in front of Kelly. Kelly looked up at her with a smile playing around her mouth. "Dont believe everything they tell you. They lie. You might think, because they are respected professionals, that theyre honest. Theyre not. Especially Susan and Jess. Those two tell the tallest tales outside of Texas."
"Says the Queen of Tall Tales," Jess said with a laughing snort.
Michala shot her friend an amused glance. "All I ask is that you make me look good."
She laid a hand on Kellys shoulder. She wanted to kiss her and might have if every pair of eyes in the room wasnt shamelessly focused on them. She squeezed lightly. "Im glad you came tonight. Can I call you tomorrow? Id like to talk to you without an audience."
Kellys eyes never left her face, although she did grin at the lewd comments cast in their direction. "Yes. I have a feeling Ill be in the office all day."
"Tomorrow then. Goodnight all."
They sat in silence until they heard the water come on upstairs. Susans decision was to not mention anything about the message on the answering machine in front of Michala. Kelly didnt like it. She thought there had been enough secrets kept between this particular set of friends. She deferred to Susan because she one upped her as best friend. Kelly could only top that as girlfriend. Weekend lover didnt have the same clout.
"We have a problem." Susan said in the no nonsense tone of a homicide detective. She walked to stand at the foot of the stairs and stationed herself so that while she talked, she could keep one eye on the stairwell. "Kelly and I went to the Center this afternoon. I returned your call, Jess, from her apartment. He left a message. He calls her Cayla, which can only mean hes connected to the Center."
Because she knew the bomb Susan was about to drop on them, Kelly was able to sit back and watch the reactions. It was quite a show. They all jerked as if a wire had been pulled and mouths dropped open, eyes reflected shock. Randa recovered first. She pushed herself to her feet. "So he calls her Cayla. Big deal. Lots of people call her that."
"Who else, besides you and people at the Center call her Cayla?" Kelly asked quietly. Randas gaze was yanked from Susan to Kelly. As she only stared, Kelly raised her eyebrows in question. "Who else Randa? According to Susan, she despises the name."
The truth was a hard blow. Randa shut her eyes and shook her head slowly as she dropped blindly to the couch. "He doesnt have to be a patient. We have lots of people who come to the Center who arent patients. Vendors are in and out all day."
"Were not saying hes a patient, honey," Susan said in a gentle tone that surprised Kelly. She watched Susan cross the room and sit next to her lover. Her smile was tender. "For whatever reason, he knows her as Cayla. The Center is the only place he could do that. It helps that we can narrow him down like that. Really, honey, it does. We dont want his only connection to her to be that he subscribes to the paper or watches TV."
"Do I need to ask why you didnt tell her?" Jess asked. She walked over to take over Susans place at the foot of the stairs.
Susan shook her head. "I think thats obvious. One of her kids could be his. I dont think she can handle that right now."
Jess shut her eyes and nodded reluctantly. Kelly shoved down on the frustration she felt as they lined up to share in the conspiracy of silence. Michala belonged to them. She had to accept that. She didnt have to like it.
"We have another problem," Jess said with a frown. "She wanted to call the insurance company earlier. She wanted to get the paperwork on the repairs started. I held her off by saying the Center is still a crime scene. Shes going to want her car next."
"Ill take care of the insurance company," Randa said. She looked upstairs. "Too bad she got her car to the body shop before we knew all this. Its part of the crime scene, but Im sure whatever evidence was there is gone now."
"Ill talk to Jim tomorrow," Susan added. "Whoevers in charge of this investigation needs to know about the Center connection."
Jess sat down on the stairs. "Youve missed my point. We cant keep her here until this guy is caught. She may stay put for a day or two. Guilt might work for a few days after that. But shes going to want to go home."
"She cant go home," Susan said in an angry voice. "Go take a look at the Center. Its not damaged Jess. Its demolished. She doesnt have a home to go home to."
Jess leaned forward and her eyes glittered with the same anger Susans did. "Weve all seen it. Youre not the only one who went over there today. But thats not the point. The point is this, what the hell do we do with her until this guy is caught? Do you really see her sipping tea quietly on my patio until this is over? I dont. Im surprised she did it for a day. What are we going to do when she wants to leave? How do we stop her?"
"We dont let her," Susan said, her tone final. She looked around the room. "Shes safe here. She stays here. Against her will if need be. Even if he finds her here, he cant get to her."
Kelly could only stare as they looked at each other and nodded slowly in agreement. While their intentions were laudable, what they were proposing was quite criminal. She cleared her throat and smiled when they turned to her as one. "I may not know her very well, but I feel confident in saying that friends or not, she will press charges for kidnapping and false imprisonment for every second shes forced here against her will."
Susan slumped back against the couch. "I think youre right."
"She is very right."
Jess jumped and spun to stare up the stairwell. Kelly watched Michala come down the remaining steps, her eyes raking over the women looking up at her. She stepped over Jess legs as she came down into the living room. She stood in the middle of the room with only her bathrobe on, her hands on her hips as she moved from one gaze to the next.
"Whats happening here?"
Susans gaze was steady. "We were just wondering how long youre going to be a good little girl. Knowing you, we decided it wouldnt be long. We want you here. We want you safe. We wont let you leave."
"I see. So Im a hostage?"
Kelly didnt like the calm tone of her voice. Her eyes flashed over the room and watched them nod. No one said a word. Her friends and her twin sister met her eyes and nodded. To keep her safe, they were willing to cross any line. She watched Michalas eyes narrow. Michala nodded her head once and Kelly was surprised to find those dark eyes on her.
"You seem bright. You certainly saw the flaw in their plan faster than they did. Heres your chance to score points by telling me the truth,"
Kelly didnt care for the clipped tone in Michalas voice. She didnt agree with her friends, but Michala was seriously mistaken if she thought Kelly was going to take her side over theirs. At least their actions were understandable. "What truth would that be?"
Michalas smile was neither friendly nor amused. "Be careful before you align yourself with them, Kelly. Them I may forgive."
Kelly kept her eyes on Michalas without flinching. She wasnt going to be threatened. She shrugged and said, "Thats good. They might say theyre sorry."
Michala turned slowly away from her. Kelly could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she made a circle in the middle of the room. She crossed her arms over her breasts. "Last chance to tell me the truth or we will see just how serious you are in keeping me here. And I promise you, Kelly only started the list of charges Ill make."
Only silence greeted her as her eyes moved over the room. When no one crossed over the line she had drawn in the sand, she turned away and headed for the stairs. Jess caught her by the arms. "Dont do this. Were trying to protect you."
"I know Jess," Michala said and stepped around her friend. She walked up the stairs. "Ill play hostage for a while."
Kelly decided now was as good a time as any to make her goodbyes. She thanked Jess and Shannon for dinner, was hugged by one and all, and escorted to her car by Randa. She leaned against the car to give Randa her full attention. She was one of the two women in the house who did not need someone to walk her to her car.
"Youre good for her," Randa began when they were both leaning against Kellys car. They faced the house. Kelly stared at the upstairs and wondered which of the two lit rooms was Michalas. And how long it would be hers before she tested her determined friends.
"Im going to ask a favor."
Kelly didnt say anything. She turned her head to meet Randas troubled gaze. She nodded her head once and braced herself. She didnt think she was going to like granting this favor.
"Shes not going to be good for long. Shes going to get a cab or get her car and shes going to be out and about. Well try to stop her and well use every weapon we have, but it wont matter in the end. I cant see Jess handcuffing her to the bed every morning."
Kelly smiled at the picture of Judge Newhouse and Dr. Wade struggling to handcuff a furious Michala to the headboard. How would either explain the bruises and scratches to their colleagues? Kelly was willing to bet that before they got back home, Michala would have picked the lock. "I can, but shed get to do it only once."
Randa grinned and glanced up to the second floor. "Shes coming to you, Kelly. She likes you and she wants to know you better. The favor is that, when she does come to you, just be there for her. Let the rest of us rail at her for putting herself at risk. Let us be the ones who get angry with her. Ill talk to Sam and well cover for you with DVIT. She needs someone to go to and right now she wants that someone to be you. So do the rest of us."
She was wrong. This favor wasnt going to be so hard to grant after all. "Okay. I dont know that youre right. If she comes to me, Ill just be there."
"Shell come. Thanks, Kelly."
Only one room was lit now on the second floor. Michala was snuggled in warm covers hopefully to have a night of peaceful sleep. Kelly wanted Randa to be right. She wanted Michala to come to her, to want to get to know her better. She certainly wanted to know Michala better. She wanted a second chance with her. If she got it, she wouldnt be as self-sacrificing as she was the first time. Randa wanted them to be the ones who worried about her and Kelly was more than willing to let them shoulder the burden. Her sole responsibility for Michalas safety was to keep her eyes open and her gun very near.
With the image of Michala sleeping, Kelly left for the drive home. She didnt think about the fact that she was wearing clothes shed thrown on Sunday for a casual day with Michala. She didnt think about the fact that she hadnt slept in her own bed since Thursday night. Her sleepy thoughts centered on Michala. She wondered how long it would be before Michala came to her. She said shed play hostage. For how long? How long would her ego allow her to bend her will to others? Kelly smiled. Not long. If Randa was right, Michala would be in her office before the week was over. All she had to do was wait and remember she wasnt supposed to be annoyed.
The condo was dark. Dani left a note saying she was spending the night with someone named Sandy. Kelly was grateful her best friend was gone. All she wanted was to take a hot shower and fall into bed. Because sleep was more important, she made the shower quick. She thought about finding a T-shirt to sleep in, but brushed the thought away. The minutes she spent doing that were less minutes she would have to sleep. She barely had time to think about tomorrow when she was sleeping the peaceful sleep she had wished for Michala.
"If you cant reach me, Shans number is right here."
Michala was silent as she looked over her coffee cup at Jess. Shannon left for her work an hour earlier. Shannon left for her job as a Forensic pathologist as if today was the same as any other day. She showered and dressed, had a quick breakfast of coffee and blueberry bagel while she read the paper before she kissed Jessica good-bye. Jess was behaving as if today was the first time she was leaving her newborn child in the care of a someone she didnt quite trust.
"Im not sure what we have in here for lunch. You can order in if you want. Well bring dinner home. Any requests?"
"Your shirt is buttoned wrong."
Jess stared at her blankly before looking down at her buttons. She sighed and looked back up with a frown. "I can stay home."
Michala clamped down hard on her smile. Jess was not in the right mood to see the humor in the situation. "Or you can just button it up the right way."
"All right. Okay. I know Im being overprotective. I cant help it."
Michala reached out and laid her hand on Jess. "Ill be all right. Life cant be put on hold because of this. Yours cant and mine cant. Ill be all right."
"I know," she said but didnt sound convinced. Michala slipped from the bar stool and walked around the counter to wrap her worried friend in her arms. Jess leaned her head against Michalas. Michala didnt say anything. She let the fact that she was close and safe make the argument for her. Jess wanted to go to work or she wouldn't be torn between going and staying. Michala wanted her to go.
"Promise me youll be here when I get home."
Ah, that was it. Michala kissed her on the cheek. "I promise on our friendship that I will be here when you get home. Ill even make dinner."
Jess turned to look at her. Hope sprang to life in her eyes. In a true sign that life wasnt fair, Michala, along with all her other gifts, was an excellent cook. "Yeah? Thatd be nice."
Michala let her go. "You have to go to work first. Otherwise, you can cook dinner."
Fifteen angst ridden minutes later, she waved from the front door as Jess backed down the driveway. She had to promise again she would be here when Jess came home. Michala refused to feel guilty about the fact that while she had every intention of being here when Jess returned, she had no intention of sitting around this house waiting for her. She hurried through a shower and called a cab before she selected a wardrobe for her day. She dressed carefully in dove gray slacks and shirt with a black blazer over the outfit. She wanted to look professional and in control. Even if all it was just an illusion, it was one she needed.
She drove through the gates less than an hour after Jess. Her first stop was at the body shop for her car. She walked around the red and white 1959 Corvette convertible. She shook her head at the thought that her car looked brand new. It should. There was very little on the outside that wasnt new and that included the paint. She paid the deductible and left the body shop a little happier. She was glad to have her car back. She had a little more control over her life than she did an hour ago.
Her next stop was at the offices of her insurance company. She wasnt left long in the spartan waiting area. She was grateful for the short wait. In addition to not wasting money on soft leather chairs and ambience, they elected to forgo magazines. The agent who greeted her was as descriptive as the waiting area. The time spent in his office was also pleasantly short. She answered his questions, he took notes, got some names and told her they would take care of everything. It was the one thing in her life she would gladly turn over to someone else.
Michala began her morning with a short list of things she needed to do. The two things on the list were done and it was only eleven. That left the rest of her day to do what she wanted. Her want list was shorter than her to do list. Long lunch with Kelly. While she shopped for lunch and picked up a few items she was sure Jess and Shannon didnt have in their kitchen, she thought about possible answers to any argument Kelly could make against her plans. The best response she could make was to point out how safe she was in the protection of an armed police officer. It was the one place her friends would like to keep her. Michala wanted her friends to be happy.
The big hand was inching towards the twelve when she parked close to the police station near Underground Atlanta. She was taking a chance that Kellys office was here. Will had his office here before he resigned from DVIT. Michala didnt know what was his breaking point. She almost cared enough to ask Kelly.
Michala knew her unexpected presence would cause a few heads to turn. She was once a familiar sight around the station. Wills and Sams offices were both downtown near the Federal and state buildings while hers was at the Center. It was easier for her to come to them. The reason she was no longer around was common knowledge. She smiled at a few of the brave souls who stared at her. Others tried to pretend it was nothing to see her strolling through the desks towards the wall of offices. She used their hesitation to her advantage. By the time someone worked up the nerve to talk to her, she hoped to be closed behind Kellys office door.
She walked through the room to the office that used to be Wills with a calm assurance she wished felt. Why wouldnt the new police liaison officer use the office of the old police liaison officer? It made perfect sense. She knocked on the solid door and waited for the muffled order to enter. She stepped into the cramp, cluttered office with a smile.
Kelly was sitting at a battered gray metal desk with an open file spread over the surface. She stared up in surprise. Michala watched anger ignite in her eyes and be doused just as quickly. She glanced around the office. "Im shocked Kelly. This place is just as dreary as it was when Will was here. You should girl it up."
Kelly leaned back in her Government Issue green faux leather chair. "I dont think I could do a girl office justice."
Michala sat uninvited. "Are you free for lunch? Im looking for a playmate."
"Yes, Im free."
"Good," Michala said and stood up. "Ill drive. Dont forget your beeper."
Kelly shook her head, but clipped the beeper to her jeans. She reached into a drawer for her hand gun. This she slid into her shoulder holster. "Where are we going?"
"Its a surprise." She paused at the door and giving into desire, she turned and pulled Kelly to her. Kelly leaned into her and their kiss was scorching. Michala broke away and met her dark blue eyes. "And private."
"I like private."
"No matter what, we dont stop," Michala said and threw the door open. The people in the squad room had recovered. She acknowledged the hellos with a smile and a name if she could remember or a nod if she couldnt. Kelly kept up with her brisk stride. They were outside without a pause.
"You know, some of those people wanted to talk to you."
Michala nodded as she walked up to her car. "I know and maybe if I wasnt close to ripping off that T-shirt, I wouldve stopped."
"This is your car?" Kelly asked sounding surprised as Michala unlocked the passenger door.
"Yes, I picked it up this morning."
"What else have you done this morning?"
Michala spent the next few minutes concentrating on merging with the traffic on Peachtree. Once she was headed to the Center, she shrugged. "Grocery shopping. Jess didnt want to go to work this morning so I bribed her with dinner. Im sure they dont have the things I need."
"Do your friends know youre not locked safely away?" Kellys tone was deliberately casual. Michala grinned at the attempt.
"I said Id play hostage. I never said I would be one. I told Jess this morning that life cant be put on hold. Ive got responsibilities. Im not pushing them off on Miranda anymore."
She was grateful to her friends and family for giving her the last year to do absolutely nothing with her life. They allowed her to pull the covers over her head and heal. She knew with a dead certainty that if she had not taken this time, if she had tried to pretend life went on as normal, the first child she lost who have been the end for her. She didnt know when she lost her faith in the program, but she knew it didnt begin with Tyler. However, life did go on regardless of how much one tried to pretend it didnt. Lives had details that someone had to handle. Miranda had handled hers for too long now. Michala was ready to at least take the next few steps that would begin to put her life back together. She didnt know what steps to take after that, it was enough that she took the first few. The rest would come with time.
"I dont think Randa looked at it that way."
Michala laughed. "No, she didnt. For the first time in our lives, she got to be the responsible one. Shes taken to it quite well. Mom has her problems dealing with it. I think she just pretends that weve switched names. The other night she offered to give me a recipe that was easy. Miranda really can burn water."
When Kelly laughed, Michala reached for her hand. "Thank you for having lunch with me."
The fingers linked with hers tightened. "Thank you for asking me. I was afraid I was persona non grata with you."
"You wouldve been. Like too many other things over the past year that would have required a little time and effort on my part." Michala frowned as she realized she was admitting more than was wise. Kelly wasnt just a one night stand she picked up at last call. She was a close friend with someone who was a close friend with Michalas best friend. She didnt think Kelly was taking notes to share with Danielle Barrett. But who knew what could slip out in a how-was-your-day conversation.
"What kind of time and effort on your part do I require?"
"Oh, today the time will hopefully be the better part of the afternoon. As for effort, Im not using any."
Michala turned down her street. The Center was the most private place she could bring Kelly and still have lunch. She realized her mistake as soon as she saw the front of the Center and no longer heard Kellys voice. She slowed to a stop on the street, unable to tear her eyes away from the stark destruction. She had known it was bad by the pale faces of her friends when they came upstairs that night. Some part of her had dismissed the number of police officers as a sign. She was Dr. Michala Cary. The police could have overreacted. The reality was shocking. She drove around the corner to the back parking lot.
She jumped when Kelly laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You dont have to do this."
Michala slipped out of the car. The back of the Center was pristine. Her stalker either did not care about the back porch or never made it this far. Michala was inclined to believe her interruption stopped him. He would have done something back here eventually. She opened the trunk for the bags of groceries she bought earlier. Some of the perishable items were for dinner that night.
"I do have to do this," she said. She cleared her throat when her voice came out faintly above a whisper. "I need clothes. I thought everyone would be happier if I came with an armed escort."
It was lie. Kellys gun and presumed skill with it had nothing to do with wanting to come here. Michala wanted the privacy. No one would think to look for either of them here. The only possible intrusion was Kellys beeper. Michala wanted to recapture the intimacy of the weekend before it was ruined by his phone call.
Kelly took one of the bags from her and walked beside her to the back door. Michala bit back a laugh when she turned the key in the lock. Why lock the back door? The front doors were gone. She doubted anyone would be deterred by the giant yellow X over the doorway if they really wanted to come inside. The hallway wasnt dark enough to hide the debris heaped from end to end. She took a moment to stare down the long hallway to the square of light where the front doors should have been. Her eyes adjusted to the light and she saw the gaping holes in the walls. "He was certainly thorough. Ill need to find new office space until this is repaired. Come on."
The apartment felt different. The air, though cool, smelled of emptiness and rooms closed for too long. Michala mentally added cobwebs and thick layer of dust to go with the abandoned feel of her home. She wondered if she had changed or if it was the knowledge that this would never be her home again that made the studio apartment feel different. Then she wondered when she made the decision not to come back. This was her home, and could be again once repairs were made. No, she thought and sent her gaze from one blank white wall to the others. This was never a home. Sadly, she realized she had never wanted it to be.
"Have a seat at the bar. I hope you like deli sandwiches. I wanted something quick and filling. I have turkey and ham on wheat. I thought if I got one of each, you were sure to like one. Which do you want?"
While she spoke, Michala quickly stowed the bag of groceries for the meal later in the fridge. The other bag held their sandwiches, several sliced cheeses, tomato, and large bag of Lays Potato Chips. "Well?" She asked when everything was laid on the counter top. "Turkey or ham?"
Drinks, she remembered suddenly and turned to see what the fridge held. Which wasnt much. The only thing she had to offer that wasnt alcoholic was water.
"Ill take the ham." Kelly said. Michala brought two glasses of iced water to the counter. Kelly was peeking into the empty bag. "Any onions?"
Michala felt her dark mood lighten as she watched Kelly. This is why she came here today. She wanted to be alone with Kelly, to make love with her. She didnt come here to become depressed over her life. Shed been doing that for months and she had months more to mourn her losses. She moved close to Kelly and leaned over her shoulder. "I have onions. You can have them or you can have me."
Kellys surprised expression was a delight to see. Michala laughed and leaned in for a quick kiss on her open lips. She was the one surprised when Kelly pulled her closer and deepened the kiss. They were both breathless when they broke away. Kelly whispered, "If we eat later, I can have both."
Michala smiled and moved away. With quick efficiency, she stowed their lunch in the brown paper bag and put the bag in the fridge. "Im all for later."
Kelly was fascinated. She followed Michala down the short hallway to her bedroom and wondered if she should be impressed by or worried for her carefree companion. She wanted to be impressed by the core of steel that allowed Michala to live her life as if nothing was happening. Her poise wilted at her first look at her house since she left in those pre dawn hours after the break-in. She became a little quiet, a little withdrawn for a moment, but she didnt sit down on the doorstep and cry.
She wanted to be worried Michala didnt cry. She didnt know Michala well enough to know if she was really this strong or if she was still in the denial that allowed her shrug off eight months of violence. Did she ever cry? For herself, for Tyler? Kelly didnt think so. To cry, Michala wouldve had to accept the loss of both and Kelly knew she had yet to accept the loss of Tyler.
Michala was standing at the stereo when Kelly walked into the bedroom. She set the music to a low, background volume. Michala shrugged off her jacket and hung the black jacket on the bed post. Without a word, she came to Kelly. She lifted her face to Kelly and brought their mouths together in a gentle kiss. Slowly, tenderly, they kissed without touching. They opened their lips as one, tongue sliding over tongue. They both jumped apart and stared at each with startled eyes when a shrill beep pierced the air.
Kelly reached to her side and angled her pager to see the display. The number was all too familiar. "Your sister."
"You can use mine," Michala said neutrally when Kelly yanked her cell phone from the pocket of her jacket. She took several backward steps away from Kelly. The emotional distance was much farther.
Kelly shook her head while she punched in the numbers. "She has Caller ID. We dont want her to know where we are."
Michala leaned back against the wall. She didnt pretend that she wasnt listening to the call. Kelly wished she had the choice to turn the pager off. Michala didnt need reminders like this and Kelly wasnt certain how many she would overlook before the connection was too obvious for her to ignore. She made a mental note to talk to Randa. If they wanted Michala to come to her, they had better make sure they didnt remind her of where Kelly worked.
"Hi Randa," she said by way of greeting. Usually, she would wonder why Randa was at home. She didnt now because she wasnt sure where else Randa should be. Her office was closed for the foreseeable future and Kelly wasnt sure where the Cary twins would relocate.
"Is she with you?" Randa asked by way of greeting. Her tone was too cool to be calm.
"Yes, she is. How did you know shes not at Jess?"
A small smile flashed over Michalas face before she looked down at her feet with a shake of her head.
"Jess went home for lunch. She called me when she couldnt find her. I told you she would come to you."
"So you did. Is this the only reason you called?"
Michala glanced up at her question. Kelly nodded yes at the silent inquiry. Michala pushed away from the wall and without taking her eyes off Kelly, began to slowly unbutton her shirt. Kelly smiled in a appreciation of the striptease.
"Let me talk to her," Randa said.
Kelly shook her head. "No, no I dont think so. Shes in an incredible mood. I dont want your anger to ruin it."
Michala grinned and let her shirt fall to the floor. Kellys eyes were riveted to her hands. She unbuttoned and unzipped her pants and helped them slide down her legs with a sensuous wiggle of her hips. Kelly swallowed hard. She whispered "What?" to Randa.
"God, Kelly is she naked on the bed or something?" Randa demanded.
"Not yet," Kelly said before she realized what she was saying. She turned away from Michalas floor show. She snapped, "What Randa? What do you want?"
"She made a promise to Jess. If she breaks it, Jess and Susan are going to kick her ass. I may just let them. Give her that message please." She hung up without a goodbye.
Kelly flicked off her phone and would have turned if not for Michala catching her around the waist. "How did they know I was gone?"
Kelly looked down at the fingers busily unhooking her belt and pulling her T-shirt from her jeans. "Jessica came home for lunch. Randa said if you break the promise you made to Jessica, she might let them make good on a promise to beat some sense into you."
Michala laughed and Kelly tilted her head to one side when warm lips pressed against the back of her neck. "I shouldve known. She really didnt want to leave me alone this morning."
Kelly turned in her arms. She was delighted to discover Michala nude and pressed against her. She slid her hands down her warm back. She bent her head to the soft skin of her neck. Her mind cleared of every thought except for those that centered on how she wanted to spend the next hour or so. Michala stepped back a step to lift her T-shirt over her head. Kelly stared down into her face, into the eyes hot with desire. "God, youre beautiful."
Michala was startled by the compliment, though Kelly knew it wasnt the first time Michala was told that. Maybe tomboyish Randa didnt hear it often, but elegant Michala surely did. Michala gave her a rakish smile and slipped her hands into Kellys jeans at her waist. She stepped into Kellys arms and lifted her face. "Really?" she asked in a throaty whisper. Her eyes zeroed in one Kellys mouth as she brought their lips closer together. "Show me."
"I would love to," Kelly whispered back and lowered her head to meet her open lips.
Later, with Michalas warm body draped over her, Kelly opened her eyes. The sun had shifted across the room and she wondered idly how much time they had left. Michala was expected back at Jessicas. Kelly had to go back to her office. She accepted their responsibilities in the same instant she acknowledged that she didnt want reality to intrude on this time. She was quite willing to put Randa in the position of having to physically defend her twin against her two furious best friends. She was even willing, if need be, to offer Michala sanctuary for however long she needed it.
Michala stretched next to her. "Ready for your onions?"
Kelly graciously bowed to the inevitable. They couldnt stay in this room forever and she didnt think Michala would want to even if it was an option. She wanted a quick afternoon romp before she went to back to the warm safeness of her friends. Kelly watched her quickly pull on her clothes before leaving the bedroom. She sighed. Michala was eager to get back to her friends. By the time she wandered into the other room, Michala had her lunch waiting on the counter. The lady herself was sitting across the room at her desk.
"Thank you," she tossed over her shoulder and sat down at the bar. She was surprised Michala wasnt standing in the doorway with the bag in her hands. Kelly selected one half of her sandwich and turned to watch Michala. Her lunch sat ignored at one end of her desk while she shuffled through a drawer at the other end. She ate her sandwich and watched Michala compile a slender stack of manila folders.
"What are you doing?" She asked when curiosity got the better of her. If Michala could be rude enough to ignore her, she could be rude enough to ask personal questions.
Michala didnt glance her way. She flipped open a folder and scanned the contents. "I was at my insurance agents earlier. I wouldve liked to have had my policy with me. I thought, while I was here, I would get important papers." She tossed over a wry smile. "Who knows? He could burn this place down tonight."
Kelly was irked by the off-hand comment. It was a continuation of her casual acceptance of the whole thing. If she couldnt be terrified, if she couldnt be intimidated, at the very least she didnt have to be amused. "Its not funny."
"No, its not," she agreed and closed the folder. She glanced at Kelly before she dropped her gaze to another folder. "Its also not the tragedy everyone wants to make it. So my offices were demolished. Would you prefer I was physically attacked?"
"Of course not," Kelly snapped. "No one wants that."
Michala closed the folder and selected another one to scan. "Kelly, if you want me to be sorry, I am. If you want me to grovel for forgiveness, I wont."
"Dont you think you owe your friends a little groveling?"
Michala froze, a folder open in her hands. With deliberate calm, she laid the folders on her desk, pushed herself up from her chair and crossed the room with silent footfalls. Kelly was braced for the fire burning in her eyes. "For what?"
Kelly felt the ground slip under her feet. "You were almost killed."
Michala stared at her for a moment. "No, I wasnt. I was never touched."
"It was his choice that you werent."
Michala shrugged. "That doesnt change the fact that I wasnt hurt Kelly. I refuse to live in an alternate universe where he does attack me. I wasnt hurt. I am not going to live like I was. Dont ask me to. The hard, cold truth is that anything less than what happened would not have gotten my attention. I needed a wake-up call. Forgive me if I like the one I got."
The cold, hard truth was an icy dose of unwelcome reality. Michala wasnt scared, intimidated or angry because she was relieved. She was breathing a sigh of relief that all she lost was her deductible. She could have lost so much more. She knew what could have happened, but she wasnt going to live as if it did happen. Kelly suddenly understood her cool poise so much better.
"Im sorry, I didnt understand."
Michala moved between her legs and slipped her arms around Kellys shoulders. "Now that you do, are you going to stop this campaign of guilt? I cant undo the past. Im on guard now. I know hell hurt me the first chance he gets."
The confident, assuring words sent a chill down Kellys spine. She was on guard for strangers and men who looked like the boogeyman. The clean-cut, friendly man who knew her as Cayla would be welcomed into her life with a smile. She laid her hands on Michalas waist and looked into her eyes. Michala deserved to know and Kelly accepted that she was the only one willing to risk telling her.
"I want to tell you something. Your friends dont want you to know. Can you keep it from them that you do?"
Surprise crossed the lovely face. "Probably."
Kelly shook her head. "Probably isnt good enough. They really dont want you to know this. I dont want Susan coming after me."
"Okay, I promise."
Now that the moment of truth had arrived, Kelly searched for the best way to say it. Simply would be best, but simply had a way of making bad news seem not quite as bad as it was. Kelly wanted Michala scared without pushing her over the edge her friends were so sure was right next to her feet. She didnt want to find out the hard way they were right.
"Kelly?" Michala cocked her head to one side. "Whatever it is, I can handle it."
Kelly searched her eyes, making herself believe in the strength she saw in the warm, dark brown. She had to believe Michala was as strong as she appeared. She nodded and tightened her hands on Michalas waist. "Hes not a stranger. We dont know who he is yet, but hes not a stranger. On your messages, he calls you Cayla. He knows you from the Center."
Because she was watching, she saw her pupils dilate from the shock. The hands on her shoulders tensed reflexively. Michala squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her jaw. Kelly waited in silence. Would Michala accept this? Could she accept it? The next few moments were the longest of Kellys life. She wasnt prepared when Michalas eyes popped open and for just an instant, Kelly saw only anguish in the dark eyes. Michala leaned into her and Kelly held her close, smoothing one hand over her tense back.
"I dont think this will ever be over," she whispered with her head on Kellys shoulder.
Kelly tightened her arms in a reassuring hug. "Its over for you. All you have to do is keep yourself safe until hes caught."
Michala moved back a half step. Just a she had earlier, Kelly searched her eyes and was relieved by what she saw. Michala was handling it. Soft hands cupped her face. "Thank you, for trusting me. I love my friends, but lets face it, Im not the only one who made bad decisions this year. I wouldve trusted anyone I knew from the Center."
Kelly nodded. "I know. Can you keep your promise?"
Michala sighed deeply and moved away. She raked both hands through her hair. She walked back to her desk, saying, "That you told me, yes I can keep that part. But I need to listen to the tapes. If hes with the Center, I may know his voice. I dont want to get six months down the road and find out that we could have caught him now."
By the time they were ready to leave, Kelly realized Michala was moving out. She finished off her lunch watching Michala stuff folders into a dark brown leather attaché case and bring two suitcases from the bedroom. Kelly wanted to say something to her, but the words failed to form themselves in her head. Michala couldnt live here now; she had decided she wouldnt live here again. Kelly hoped that one had nothing to do with the other. She wanted the decision for this not to be Michalas home to be Michalas. He didnt deserve to win this round.
"Do you want to drive?" Michala asked in the parking lot. She held the keys up.
Kelly stared enviously over the little sports car. "Are you serious?"
Michala tossed her the keys and slid into the passengers side. Kelly settled herself carefully behind the wheel. "Are you sure? This car is a classic."
"Im sure. If I cant trust a cop, who can I trust?"
Jessicas car was behind hers when she reached the security gate of their subdivision. Michala grinned as they wound their way to the house. She may have only beat her by less than a minute, but she was in the house before Jess. In the most stringent interpretation of her promise, it met the legal requirements.
Jessica asked coldly as they faced off over the threshold. "Where have you been?"
"Help me unload my car and Ill tell you."
"Why have I never realized just how amazingly stupid you are? Weve been friends forever and Ive been walking around under the erroneous belief that you are incredibly intelligent. How did I miss that youre stupid?"
Michala was known for her iron poise. She was feared for her lethal temper. Jessica took one involuntary step backwards when Michala tensed. Michala felt the rage building without making even a token effort to rein it in. She had taken all that she was going to take from the people in her life. Granted, she made stupid mistakes, but by God they were hers to make. She was through placating, apologizing, and reassuring. She advanced on her friend slowly, her anger fueled by Jess retreat.
"Thats it, Jessica," she warned, her tone icy. "Thats the last shot you get. Do you understand? That is positively, absolutely, the very last shot Im taking from you."
They glared at each other over the two feet that separated them. "Youll take whatever I dish out. You deserve it."
"No, I wont. No, I dont. I can only be sorry Jessica. Dont want more than that. You will be very disappointed."
Jessicas fist caught her square on the nose. Michala doubled over as the pain exploded in her head. She felt the blood on her face in the same instant she tasted it in the back of her throat. She saw a flash of color and then she was on her back with Jess straddling her waist. She dodged one punch, but wasnt quick enough to keep the next from landing with a burst of stars on her left eye. Michala struck out with her fist and connected solidly with Jessicas mouth. Blood sprayed over both of them.
Neither of them heard the car come to a screeching halt in front of the house or the shouts as Susan and Randa rushed over to them. They were focused on blocking fists and landing their own satisfying punches. Randa caught Jess from behind and yanked her to her feet. Michala scrambled to her own and threw the last punch. Like the first one thrown, the last one connected with Jess nose. Susan pushed Randa and Jess away and shoved Michala back a few steps.
"Stop it!" Susan yelled at both women. Randa was holding Jess at bay. "What in hell do you think youre doing?"
Michala wiped blood away from her mouth. She cast a searing glare at the three of them. "Pass this on. The Making Michala Miserable crusade is over. I am not doing penance for this for the rest of my life. Im not going to be punished. Im not going to be threatened. I most certainly am not going to be beaten up. If I missed anything, ask yourself Will Michala leave without a forwarding address if I do this?. If no is not your first thought, dont do it. Im not taking this crap from you anymore."
She spun on her heel and marched to the house. She turned once to tell them someone needed to bring in the groceries and she was taking a shower. She stripped in the bathroom and stepped under the stinging hot water. She was stunned Jess actually hit her. She was astonished they were rolling around on the ground like grade schoolers. She watched the pink water circling the drain. How badly did they hurt each other? She hoped Jess hurt at least as much as she did. Her face was throbbing. Most of Jess hits made contact with her face. God, how were they going to explain this?
She left the shower when the water was clear. She toweled off before bracing herself to look in the mirror. She didnt need to look to know her left eye was swelling. She leaned close to the mirror, deciding her nose only felt broken. Her bottom lip was split and swelling. The rest of her face was streaked with scratches and angry red marks she suspected would be bruises by morning. She wrapped the towel around herself and went to her bedroom. They were waiting for her in the kitchen when she went down dressed in white jeans and black sweater.
"Where have you been?" Jessica asked. She had not taken a bath or changed clothes. She had taken the time to wash the blood from her face. Her nice white silk shirt and maroon slacks were ruined. Her face looked as bad as Michalas felt.
Michala noticed her voice lacked the anger it had when she asked the same question earlier. Susan placed a glass of iced tea on the bar in front of an empty bar stool. Michala took the hint and sat. She picked up the tea and held the cool glass to her eye. She closed her eyes and said in a monotone, "I picked up my car. I went to my insurance agent. I talked Kelly into spending the afternoon with me. I wanted some things from the Center and she was nice enough to go with me to get them. I came back here."
"We would have gone with you to the Center." This from Susan.
Michala chuckled and opened her good eye to look at her friend. She didnt have to say a word for Susan to understand. Susan grinned and shook her head.
"We would have gotten your car. We would have talked to the insurance agent," Jess said. Michala felt her sit down next to her. "Theres no reason for you to be out on your own."
Michala kept her eyes shut and enjoyed the cool glass against her face. Because of Kellys admission, she understood her friends fear a little better. If her stalker was someone she knew, that made the danger to her too close for comfort. But understanding did not mean she was going to meekly sit in this house until he was caught.
She turned to Jess. "Ill leave if this is too hard for you. There are other places I can stay. I dont want to hurt our friendship. I dont want to lose you. But I wont live like this Jess. Im not going to be abused, by you or anyone else anymore. Youre angry with me and you have every right to be. But you do not have the right to do what you did today. I didnt deserve that."
"No, you didnt," Jess whispered and reached out to tenderly touch her face. "God Im so sorry. I cant believe I did this to you."
"One of you was going to," Randa remarked into the silence. "Im glad it was you, Jess. Although, Id be a little more understanding than Shannon is going to be. You can stay with us if she throws you out Cayla."
"Deal," Michala winched and agreed readily. She wasnt Shannon Wades favorite person on a good day. She deliberately ignored asking how Shannon felt about her living here for an undetermined amount of time. Of all the places she could be, here was her first choice. How was Shannon going to feel about her staying here after she saw what Michala did to her lovers face? Shannon wouldnt care that Jess threw the first punch or that Michala was defending herself. Why start defending herself now? After the last eight months, what was one more day? Sadly, Michala saw that point all too clearly.
Jess leaned in to kiss her on the forehead and stood up. "Shans not going to tell you to leave. She wants you here just as much as the rest of us. Shes going to be upset with me. I was so angry when you got here that morning. I think I could have killed. She told me that whenever I got angry over the next few months and wanted to hurt you for never turning to me for help, I should remember how you looked when we tucked you into bed and put my anger away because you didnt need that in your life anymore. Shes not going to happy with me that I forgot that."
Michala watched her walk into the kitchen and begin to unpack the grocery bags they brought in from her car. She smiled. Jess must be feeling very guilty to tell a lie like that. She joined her in the kitchen and put her arm around Jess waist. "Why dont you go take a shower and change clothes. Ill have dinner ready by the time you get back down here. Okay?"
Jess pulled her into a bruising hug. Michala laid her head against her shoulder. Could they get past this? Could they forgive her? Michala felt the first doubts begin to stir. If they couldnt get past this, if they couldnt forgive her, where did they go from here? Jess let her go slowly and stepped back to smile down at her.
"I love you."
"I know." Michala turned away to begin their meal. Three little words and she was tired of hearing them. Not the words, but the intensity of them. They were living in the same alternate universe Kelly thought she should be living in. They were too busy remembering what could have happened and what almost happened to see that it didnt. She didnt like being almost dead.
As she battered chicken strips, she wondered how long you let someone mourn an almost loss before you could tell them to knock it off.
Kelly closed her eyes and sank chin deep into the hot, bubbly water. The water felt wonderful and she had every intention of soaking until the water was cool. Her next pleasure was crisply clean clothes. The roller coaster ride her life became since Friday had left her little time for the little pleasures of life. On the other hand, she wasnt complaining about the compensation. There wasnt a lot she wouldnt trade for time with Michala.
Randa knew her sister well. Kelly was grateful for Randas warning. She wasnt sure she would have been so calm and agreeable when Michala popped into the office. For an instant, shed been angry that Michala was walking around without a guard, but then she remembered Randas words. She wasnt supposed to get angry. She was supposed to just be there. Kelly thought she got the better part of that deal. Just being with Michala was a lot more fun than trying to keep the headstrong woman in line. Not to mention easier.
"Hey, you planning to stay in there all night?"
Kelly didnt have to open her eyes to know Dani was standing in the doorway. She could tell by the clarity of her voice. "No. Just until Im a prune."
She heard Dani come close and felt the water ripple next to her thigh. "Im in the mood for pork chops. Do you want them baked or barbecued?"
Kelly sighed and forced one eye open. "Why are you in here?"
Dani stared at her for a moment. She looked away she as asked, "How is Michala? Shannon said she was all right, but she and Shannon arent the best of friends."
"Shes all right. Shes a tough lady. I think her friends are a lot more shaken than she is." The truth of that statement surprised Kelly. She wished, briefly, that she had met Michala when she was still whole. She only wished it briefly because Michala belonged to someone then.
"Theyre in shock. Its not fair. Losing Tyler wouldve been enough. She wouldnt have been any more devastated. She would have done anything to save him. I think she would have traded places with him."
Not for the first time, Kelly had to wonder what was so special about this child. He wasnt her first. He wasnt her worst. There was no reason for him to be special. In fact, the only thing that made Tyler Bradshaw any different from all the other children who came before him was the fact that none came after him. He was her last. Was it the cumulative effect? Was it all the children who came before him that made him different? Was he simply the last child she could emotionally afford to lose? Kelly stared at Dani and knew she was right. Michala would have traded places with Tyler. It would have been so much easier for her to die herself than it was to watch him.
Dani frowned and reached down to check the water again. "Im going to bake them. Hurry up. We have a lot of catching up to do."
Kelly brushed her thoughts away. She grinned at Danis retreating back. "Yes we do. Beginning with Sandy and how you met her."
"Id prefer we start with Michala." Dani called over her shoulder.
Kelly slipped from the cooling water. Dani wasnt going to leave her alone for long. As soon as she had the chops in the oven, shed be back. She wanted to start with Michala beginning with Friday and Friday felt so long ago. So much had happened. Kelly grabbed a towel from the closet and dried herself off briskly. She decided to let Dani ask her questions instead of hitting the high points of the weekend. Not to mention all the lows.
Dani was sitting at the table chopping tomatoes and cucumbers for a tossed salad. Kelly poured herself a glass of white wine and sat across from her. "Anything I can do to help?"
Dani shook her head with a quick smile. "This, the chops and toasted French bread is it. Unless you want something else?"
Kelly sipped her wine. "Sounds great."
The last real meal she had was Saturday night with Michala. She was glad for a meal that included plates, silverware and a table. She watched Dani quickly reduce the vegetables to bite size chunks and waited. She didnt have to wait long. She was watching in fascination as Dani missed her fingers with the sharp blade. Kelly knew that she would have had at least a few nicks by now, if not an actual severance of a finger.
"Is she really being stalked?" Dani never looked up from her hands.
"Yes. Im positive she caught his attention from the publicity of Tyler."
Blue eyes flicked up. "For a while there she was on the front page of the paper every other day. Gaye did several articles on her. Val got her on the stations noon talk show a few times. I guess with that kind of coverage she was bound to catch a lunatics attention."
"Actually, hes connected to the Center. We dont know how yet."
Dani abruptly stopped slicing and dicing to stare at her in shock. Kelly nodded at her unspoken question. "Start at the beginning."
The beginning she was talking about wasnt Friday. This beginning began eight months earlier. Kelly finished off two glasses of wine as she related as much of the story she knew. By the time they were stacking dirty dishes into the dishwater, she was winding down the night of the break-in.
"I can see why Jessica and Susan are furious with her," Dani said. "Shan says Jessica feels betrayed. They were supposed to be best friends."
They went to the living room and sat on opposite ends of the couch. Kelly could understand why they would feel that way, but she was beginning to wonder how, if they were really her best friends, they could let her drift so far away without trying to pull her back. Maybe they had the kind of friendship where it was understood that if someone didnt ask for help it wasnt wanted. Maybe they would have pushed her if she wasnt a highly regarded mental health expert. Maybe they would have reached out to her if they had not been afraid of being frozen out. Her best friends would know exactly how Michala dealt with people who stepped over the lines. Kelly doubted she was gentle or kind when she pushed them back over it.
"Are you disappointed?" Dani asked, breaking into her thoughts.
Kelly looked over at her. "At what?"
"Michala. I know you had this fantasy of her in your mind. Are you disappointed now?"
"No," Kelly answered immediately. "Im not disappointed."
She looked down at Dani and smiled at the speculation on her face. They grinned and Kelly knew she only a few seconds to divert Danis attention away from her. She still wasnt ready to share Michala. "Your turn. Who is Sandy?"
Danis attention was easily turned to her new friend. Actually, Dr. Sandra Mitchell was a new orthopedist in Danis group practice. Sandy was called to the hospital following a car accident. She called in Dani for a nine year old girl. Dani was surprised to see Sandy waiting for her after surgery. A cup of coffee to talk about the case became breakfast and a chance to get to know each other. Dani was in her office doing paperwork when Sandy came in to ask her if she wanted to go to dinner.
"That was fast," Kelly remarked with a smile. She met the woman before dawn on Monday morning and was in her bed Monday night.
Dani laughed and stared down the couch at her. "I followed your example."
Before Dani could launch into more questions about Michala, the phone rang. Dani picked up the extension and answered in her Dr. Barrett voice. Surprise crossed her face. "Yes, she is, hold on," she handed the phone over saying in a whisper, "Susan Reid."
Kelly all but snatched the phone from her hand. There could only be one reason Susan was calling her. Her anxious tone was noticed with interest by both women. She cleared her throat and tried to make her voice sound casual. "Hi Susan. Whats up?"
"Im sorry to call so late. Were just getting in and I didnt want to call you from Jess. I-hold on," Susan turned away from the phone to mumble to someone in the background. Kelly forced herself to relax while she listened to Susan talk to Randa. Susans tone was too weary for there to be anything wrong with Michala. She smiled as Susan snapped at Randa, "Get it started and Ill be there in a minute!"
Kelly bit back on a teasing question about trouble in paradise. She didnt think Susan would see the humor or appreciate it coming from her. Susan sighed heavily and said, "I know they have to have something in common since they are identical twins, but I hope for your sake Michala doesnt act like a cranky two year old when shes stressed and tired."
The image of elegant Michala stamping her feet and whining made Kelly laugh. "I rather doubt she does."
She heard Susan smiling. "So do I. Anyway. Michala wants to hear her answering machine tapes tomorrow. Wed like for you to be there. Were meeting at ten at the Center. I dont know why she wants to do it there, but I didnt want to argue with her about it. Can you come?"
Michala was a fast mover. Kelly already knew that about her. "Sure. Do you know why she wants to listen to them now?"
"She wants to see if the voice is familiar to her. Randas going to do the same. If he is someone who comes to the Center often, one of them should know his voice."
"Sounds reasonable," Kelly said. Michala had told the truth without revealing how she came to the decision. In fact, the whole Center needed to listen to them. Her stalker had to be known to someone.
"One more thing," Susan said, hesitant. "I dont want you to be shocked when you see her tomorrow. She and Jess had a knock down fight when they got home tonight. Shes all right, but its not pretty. Neither of them are right now."
Kelly wasnt aware that she was standing. She fought down her rage by reminding herself that she didnt have the right to be angry. Michala didnt belong to her. She blinked away the red when Susan said her name. "Im here Susan. Im reminding myself that Jessica is a state court Judge."
She thought she heard Susan choke back a laugh. "Ill see you at ten at the Center. Good night Kelly."
"Yeah, you, too."
Kelly handed the phone back to Dani. She swallowed down the bitter words burning the back of her throat. Slowly, she sat on the couch. She saw her clenched fists on her thighs and very deliberately opened her hands. Dani leaned forward to look at her. She turned her head sideways to meet her friends eyes. Dani raised her eyebrows in silent question.
"They had a fight. Michala and Jessica."
Danis smile was understanding. "Jessicas really angry with her right now. Shan was afraid Jess was going to start throwing punches."
"Shannon was right. Susan said it was ugly." Kelly stood up. "She said that neither are pretty."
Dani stared at her in wide eyed shock. She reached for the phone. "Jess actually hit Michala?"
"Yes, she actually hit her. Im going to bed." She left the living room before she could hear Danis side of the conversation. She knew who Dani was calling and the last thing she wanted to hear was Shan defending her lovers actions. She would never agree that Jessica had any right to strike Michala. She just hoped that when she saw Michala tomorrow, she remembered that she didnt have any right to strike Jessica.
Kelly lay awake for a long time. Admitting she wanted to go to Michala was easy. If she had any reason to go to Jessicas, she would. She couldnt even come up with a legitimate reason that she could sell to herself. There was only one reason why she wanted to rush to Michalas side. Admitting the why was harder. She wanted it to be because Michala was hurt. She was a cop. Rushing to the aid of damsels in distress was her natural instinct. This particular damsel wasn't really in distress and it didnt sound like Michala needed a knight rushing to her aid.
The truth was stunning in its simplicity. She was in love with Michala. She wasnt in lust, though Michala was a breathtaking lover. She wasnt obsessed, though she would admit that she was before she met Michala. She was in love. She wanted to hold Michala close and promise her that no one would ever harm her again. She wanted to stand in front of her and shield her from the good intentions of her friends. She wanted to go to sleep at night with Michala safely at her side.
The timing couldnt be worse. Michalas life was in shambles. The last thing she needed in her life was for a woman she picked up in a bar falling in love with her. Kelly rolled over and buried her head under her pillow. The last thing she needed was to fall in love with Michala. How was she supposed to keep her distance now? She was biting her tongue to keep quiet as it was. The only way she could keep silent was to keep away. And after tomorrow, thats what she would have to do.
Michala smiled as she heard the patio door slide open. She was waiting for Jess to get ready so they could go to the Center. For reasons unknown, Jess wanted to hear her answering machine tapes. She flipped the page on the newspaper she was pretending to read. "Are you going to be ready soon?"
"Im ready now," Shannon said, "If Jess isnt soon, well leave without her."
Michala lowered the paper and peeked over the top at Shannon. Shannon wasnt dressed in her usual business attire. She wore Levis and a pale blue oxford. "Youre going, too?"
"If you dont mind. I think we all need to know whats happening."
Shannons whole attitude had changed towards her. She was always polite and had never been less than to Michala. Now there was a solicitous overtone to her voice and actions. Michala was still stunned by the furious glare Shannon had sent Jessica the night before when she came home and saw their faces. Michala was the one ordered into a chair so that Shannon could assure herself that nothing was broken. If Shannon did the same to Jess, she did it behind their closed bedroom door.
"I dont mind if you come. I can use all the support I can get."
Shannons bright smile was beautiful. Michala stared at her and didnt know what to say. This was the longest conversation she could remember having with her. She jumped as arms closed around her from behind and pulled her into a light choke hold.
"Your girlfriend is mad at me."
Jess kissed her cheek before dropping into the chair next to hers. Brown eyes sobered and the smile on her face faded. "I cant blame her. Im not happy with myself right now."
"You dont look any better," Michala reminded her. When they looked at each, they were looking into a mirror. They both had a black eye, split lip and bruises. "And why is Kelly mad at you?"
Jess grinned. "I could be coy and ask how you knew I was talking about her, but I wont. Susan called over there last night and Dani called here. She said shed never seen Kelly that angry before. She was reminding herself that Im a Judge. I hope she remembers that when she sees you."
Michala leaned forward and put her hand over Jess. "Stop it. Miranda was right. You and Susan wanted to hurt me because I hurt you. Im glad it was you. Susan wouldve kicked me all over the yard. You did it, we survived, and its over. I forgive you. Soon, youll forgive me."
Jess squeezed her fingers. "Are we ready?"
Michala looked over the patio table at Shannon. "Weve been ready. Were waiting for you."
Jess wanted to drive. Michala slid in the back of her Mercedes, glad to let someone else concentrate on the traffic. She had to concentrate on shoring up her walls. This was not going to be fun. This was going to one of the most trying afternoons in her life.
Michala wasnt really ready for what the afternoon held for them. She would have preferred to listen to the tapes by herself. Susan would have preferred that she never listened to them at all. They compromised and agreed to meet at the Center. Michala thought it would only be her, Jess and Susan. Actually, she thought only Susan would want to hear the tapes and wasnt all the surprised when Jess added that she would come. They were best friends. She wasnt at all prepared for Miranda and now Shannon being there. Just how many needed to hear how badly she screwed up her life over the last year? She cringed inwardly when she thought of what they would hear. If this wasnt her idea, she would not be doing this.
"Later, lets all go to lunch and get drunk."
Michala glanced over at Shannon, who was looking back at her with worried green eyes. Michala wanted to smile and show she was all right. She wasnt up to the act. She looked away. "Sure. Itll be on me."
Just when Michala thought this could not get worse, they turned into the back parking lot of the Center. Kelly, dressed in blue jeans and thin red sweater, was talking to Susan and Miranda. She frowned and wondered which of her friends invited her. Michala would have never invited Kelly here for this. The last thing she wanted was for Kelly to hear the tapes. She wasnt keen on any of them hearing the messages Melissa had left for her, but definitely not Kelly. She slipped from the car and walked a straight line to her back door. She didnt pause to exchange pleasantries. She wanted this over. Lunch and the promise of alcohol could not come soon enough.
While the others settled themselves around her table, she went to the kitchen to make coffee for six. She barely listened as Susan explained how she wanted to do this. By the time Michala had a tray ready to take out, Susan had the tapes lined up by date. The room was silent as she handed out mugs to the group. Susan, Jess, and Kelly were sitting at the table. Miranda and Shannon had pulled bar stools over to sit behind their lovers. She sat in the in the empty between Susan and Kelly.
"Any time Susan," she said. She crossed her legs and leaned back in the chair, staring down at her hands. "When this is over, Im buying lunch for everyone. Shannon wants us all to get drunk."
The first tape was boringly ordinary. Most of the calls were from colleagues. Susan and Jess each called once to remind her about an anniversary party for Jess and Shannon. Her mothers perky voice calling to say hello. Melissas husky tone asking where she wanted to do for dinner that night. Michala couldnt recall if they ended up here or Melissas.
The final call was his, the first of his messages she kept. She closed her eyes when she heard his low voice speak. She concentrated on the deep timbre of his voice and not the words. "Dr. Cary, you disappoint me. You are not fighting the good fight. Remember, what God put together let no man put asunder. Dont stand in Gods way or he will move you."
Michala remembered how perplexed she was when she first heard the message all those many months ago. Until she thought about Robert Bradshaw and his preoccupation with God. She dismissed the message with the thought that it was him. She didnt like that he brought the case into her home, but thought he would probably believe it was poetic justice.
The next three tapes were along the same lines. She realized absently that most of the calls were professional. Her private practice shrunk as DVIT consumed more and more of her time. When she stepped down from DVIT, she wasnt taking new patients and was selective in taking referrals. In fact, her role at the Center was mostly administrative at the end. DVIT was never supposed to be her sole focus. She never envisioned the program taking over her life as it did.
His calls were blessedly short with the admonishment that she was disappointing him and God. She closed her eyes when he spoke and tried to place his voice with a face from the Center. She didnt know him. She didnt even have that nagging feeling that she should know him.
The fifth call took place on Halloween, her thirty-sixth birthday. Mixed in with DVIT and Center calls were birthday messages from family and friends. As the messages played, Michala looked over at Miranda and they shared a smile. Their birthday was always a Halloween costume party thrown by their parents. Michala began to hate the parties when she was in college, but Paige refused to have any other kind of party for the twins. Michala was enjoying them more now that Paige no longer forced them to come as a duo. Last year she was Marilyn Monroe.
"Hi, its me," Michala looked at the recorder as Melissas throaty voice came on, "I cant make the party. Barb called in sick to the station and Im filling in. Come to my place when its over. Bring the teddy. I bet youre gorgeous in black, babe. Happy birthday. I love you and Ill make this up to you tonight."
Michala felt all eyes shift to her. She turned her hand palm up and curled her fingers over to inspect her nails. She flipped her hand over and held her fingers out to inspect the nails. Finally, as the silence stretched, she flicked her gaze over the women. She allowed a smile small to cross her face. "I do actually. Black is my color."
He sang Happy Birthday to her in a surprisingly good voice. Michala thought now, as she did then, that he was Top 40 caliber. She remembers wondering if Bradshaw had taken voice lessons.
They were now less than a month away from the day Tyler died. Michala found herself tuning out the tapes as those days before that one came to her in blinding flashes. She saw herself careening like a pinball from interviews, to DVIT calls, to overseeing the Center, and meetings with her attorney. Melissa was growing impatient by then. Their careers had always come first and they were used to taking second place to last minute obligations. Melissa did not see Tyler as her obligation. She saw him as just another abused kid. "You cant save the world," she lashed out during an argument. Michala didnt want to save the world. She was willing to settle for this one little boy.
She would have done anything to save him except walk away. It was the one thing she could not do. It was now the one thing she believes would have saved him. She put too much pressure on Bradshaw. He was a hot head when his life was running smoothly. Did she really think if she put him under the harsh glare of publicity he wasnt going to snap? When he finally snapped, he rained so many savage blows on his small sons head that Tyler died from massive brain hemorrhage. She went to his bedside after she got the call. His face was unrecognizable. Blood was matted in his white blonde hair. His tiny hand lay lifeless in hers and she knew he was dead. She knew she killed him. She wasnt there three days later when life support was terminated .
Michala squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to block the image of that beautiful little boy lying mortally wounded in that hospital crib. She was haunted most by that image. She accepted she would see it in all its bright horror for the rest of her life. She failed him and her failure cost him his life.
She could never forget that.
Kelly realized quickly that she was not there by Michalas invitation. She was stung at first by Michalas cool attitude. She didnt expect Michala to greet her with a kiss, but she did think a simple hello was in order. Michala didnt even look at her in the apartment. By the time they were seated around the table, Kelly was taking it all very personally. Michala was the one who sought her out, who called her, who came to her office. How she could she now act as if they were strangers?
During the first few tapes she was able to ignore Michala and concentrate on the messages. The first time she heard Melissas voice was a shock. She knew the Channel 2 anchors husky southern drawl. Her obsession with Michala briefly extended to a curiosity about the beautiful news anchor. She should have expected to hear messages from her girlfriend on the tapes. Didnt Michala say when she handed the tapes over to Susan that some of the messages were personal?
Kelly wished they werent so frankly sexual. And it was more than just the words, it was the intimate tone Melissa used. Kelly was astonished that she was jealous. She was childishly jealous over a woman who was no longer in Michalas life. Slowly, Kelly began to wonder if Michala didnt want her there because the messages were so frank. People like to keep that aspect of their lives private. Michala had to be uncomfortable her friends were seeing into that side of her life. Kelly knew she would not want Michala to hear what some of her old lovers said to her in private.
She stopped ignoring Michala when she decided to believe Michalas attitude wasnt personal. She began to watch her and was impressed by how intensely she was listening to the tapes. Her head remained bowed, her face hidden behind a curtain of blonde hair. The only time she looked up was to joke briefly at the black teddy comment. Kelly wondered, as the multitude of calls came in from colleagues, how Michala was able to keep up with all her commitments. There were dozens of people who wanted some of her time including a sexy girlfriend. No wonder Michala could not exactly pinpoint when he entered her life.
Kelly sensed the change in Michala before she saw it. She narrowed her gaze over the woman sitting inches away from her and sought some reason for her sudden anxiety. Michalas head was bowed, face still hidden. She was slouching in her chair with her hands folded across her lap. One leather clad foot tapped to a beat only she heard. Kelly watched her and waited for a sign. She didnt wait long. Michalas hands clenched slowly into fists. Her foot tapping stopped. She sat perfectly still. Kellys heart stopped as she realized Michala wasnt listening to the tape, she was trying not to hear it. How close were they to the day Tyler died? Kelly frantically searched her mind for a date, but came up blank. She didnt know when Tyler died. Michala did and she knew they werent far from that tape.
Without thinking, Kelly reached over and turned the recorder off. She ignored the startled protests from the other women. Her attention was on Michala. She knelt in front of her and took Michalas ice cold fists in her hands.
"Michala?" There was no response. Kelly leaned closer and gently shook her. "Honey?"
Kelly flinched when terror filled eyes snapped open. Michala stared at her without blinking. She shook her head in small jerky motions. Soft, stricken words stumbled over each other as she spoke. "I thought I could do this. I cant. I cant do this."
Kelly stood up and pulled Michala into her arms in the same motion. Michala came willingly. She buried her face against Kellys chest and fisted her hands in her sweater. "Its over," Kelly said in a soothing voice. "Its over."
"I thought I was stronger than this," Michala whispered.
Kelly smiled and kissed her on the temple. "You are strong. Youre the strongest woman I know."
Michala trembled in her arms. "I cant relive this. I thought I could. I cant lose him again. I just cant."
Kelly tightened her arms around Michala. "Thats not why youre here. Youre here to see if you know his voice. Do you?"
Michala shook her head slowly. "I was so sure I would recognize him."
"Its all right that you dont." It was a long shot. He was on an edge of her life. After listening to the tapes, Kelly knew her life had many edges. They just had to find his. She looked over the top of Michalas head to where the others watched them anxiously. She was furious with them and she hoped they saw it in her eyes. They would have done what theyve done all along and sat there while Michala struggled to save her sanity. What kind of friends did that?
"Were leaving," she said gently to Michala, but her eyes moved from woman to woman. She stepped back to look down into her bruised face. "Anything you need from here or from Jessicas car?"
Michala closed her eyes as she shook her head. Susan stepped forward with her hand outstretched and Kelly stopped her with a single glance. She put her arm around Michalas shoulder and pulled her away from her friends. She cast them one last condemning glare. "Ill call you later."
Kelly led Michala quickly from the Center. She would call them much later. She didnt care how worried they would be or what rights they had. Kelly was taking a few rights of her own. The first one was the right to protect Michala. She settled Michala in her car and left the parking lot without knowing where they were going. She wanted to leave before they came out to take Michala away. Kelly wasnt sure Michala would go with her if they asked her to choose.
"Where do you want to go?" She asked. She looked over to where Michala sat staring out the window. "Are you hungry?"
"I dont care where we go," Michala replied in her soft, stricken voice.
Now that Kelly had her, she wasnt sure what to do with her. She didnt want to take her back to Danis. They would look there when they started searching for Michala. Jess was out for the same reason. She didnt want to drive aimlessly around for hours. She made the decision quickly and drove towards I-75.
"Can we get a drink? Scotch,"
"You can get anything you want," Kelly said and began scanning the stores lining the street for a liquor store. She saw one within minutes. She parked the car in front of the plate glass window. "Chivas?"
Michala opened her eyes and stared blankly at the store. She turned confused eyes on Kelly. "Um, yes, I like Chivas. With ice."
Because she looked so pale and lost, Kelly leaned into her and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Ill be right back. Stay right here."
Michala nodded and watched her leave the car. The hotel would have an ice machine, but Kelly bought a bag of ice anyway. She didnt want to leave Michala alone while she wandered down hallways trying to find ice. She added plastic cups to the fifth of Chivas. When they were close to a hotel she liked, she would find something for lunch. She was hungry even if Michala wasnt.
"Where are we going?" Michala asked once they were again driving to the interstate.
Kelly smiled at her. "To a hotel. You can get as drunk as you want."
She was rewarded with a brief smile. "You might not like me drunk."
Kelly reached over and placed her hand around Michalas. "Do you wear lampshades and sing really badly in your underwear?"
Michala looked away. "No. That would be a loss of control. Dr. Cary doesnt lose control."
No, Kelly agreed, Dr. Cary doesnt lose control. Dr. Cary simply bowed her head, closed her eyes and told herself she was strong. She balled her hands into fists instead of pounding them against the wall. She gritted her teeth to keep from screaming. She was always poised and controlled.
She spoke her next words carefully. "I wont tell if you lose control. You dont have to be strong all the time."
Kelly wanted her to lose control. Michala was trying so hard not to fall apart. As long as she refused to bend, the closer she came to breaking. She was using her iron will to hold back the memories. She didnt want to grieve for Tyler. She refused to mourn for the little boy who should not be dead. Both required a pain she would pay any price not to feel and an acceptance of something she would sell her soul to change. She was in denial over his death and if she had her way, she would never move onto the other steps in the grieving process.
Michala sat with her head resting against the seat and her face turned to the window for the rest of the drive. Kelly took comfort from the fact Michalas hand was waiting for hers every time she returned her hand from the steering wheel. Michala wasnt shutting her out. Kelly didnt know what she would do if Michala did. They were still new enough for Kelly to be uncertain of where she could tread. The last thing she wanted to do right then was push her away. Michala had been left alone too long as it was. She wasnt willing to let her drift now.
They were given a second floor room at the La Quinta Kelly found a half dozen exits north. She left Michala alone with the Chivas while she went across the street to McDonalds. Michala passed on lunch with a silent shake of her head. She was pouring her first glass of scotch when Kelly left the room. Kelly bought her a cheeseburger and fries anyway. Hopefully the smell wafting from the bag could do what the offer alone could not.
Michala was propped up in the middle of the king sized bed staring at the blank television screen. Kelly glanced at the Scotch bottle. The glass resting on her thigh wasnt her first. Kelly sat on the bed and placed the bag on the night table.
"Im starving. I skipped breakfast." She took the food from the bag and turned to Michala with one of the cheeseburgers. "Are you sure you dont want one?"
Michala leaned over and reached around her for a container of fries. "Im sure. Ill take these."
Kelly settled next to her on the bed. She glanced over at Michala and followed her empty stare to the television. "We can turn that on. If you dont like whats free, we can check pay-per-view."
"Thank you for getting me out of there." Michala rolled her head to look at Kelly. She looked down at the bed. "I thought if I just blocked it out, it would be over and I could leave. I didnt want to hear it all again."
Kelly knew she wasnt talking about his messages. She reminded herself to tell whoever answered her call later that she wanted to hear the rest of the tapes. "Why didnt you get up and leave?"
"Theres nowhere for me to go."
Kelly was confused. "Your bedroom was down the hallway."
Michala made a sound like she was laughing. "And do what Kelly? Sit in there while they listened to the tapes? Do you really think not hearing the words wouldve changed anything? Do you think being here now changes anything?"
Michala crawled off the bed and walked to the table to refill her glass. She turned to Kelly angrily. "Nothing ever changes. Hes dead and I killed him. I know that every night when I go to sleep. I know it every morning when I wake up. I killed him. Do you really think not hearing the words would make it less true?"
Kelly moved slowly off the bed. This is what her friends feared. They didnt want her to lose control. They didnt want her to fall over the edge because they were afraid she could not make her way back. Kelly knew she was strong, but now with the sheen of tears in her eyes, she hoped she was right.
Michala emptied her glass with one flick of her wrist. She stared down at the glass and said vehemently, "I dont want to remember. I dont want to remember!"
As she began to sink slowly to the floor, Kelly went to her and pulled her into her arms. They ended up on the floor with Michala sitting between Kellys legs. Michala laid her head against her breasts. Kelly searched for the right words. Finally, she bent close to Michalas ear. "You will always remember him. He was important to you. But you can choose how you remember him. You have good memories of him Michala. Doesnt he deserve for someone to remember him as something other than a tragedy?"
Michala stiffened in her arms and Kelly steeled herself for her reaction. Did she go too far? As much as she wanted to, she could not hurry Michala through her grief. She held her breath, waiting to see if the next step was one Michala could take.
"He was a beautiful little boy," she whispered in a low voice Kelly almost didnt hear. "He was such a beautiful little boy."
Kelly pulled her closer as Michala relaxed in her arms. Kelly leaned back against the bed. She stared down on the blonde head resting on her shoulder. She couldnt see Michalas face. She wasnt sure she wanted to at that moment. She didnt want to watch her finally let go of the hope that somewhere, somehow he wasnt really dead.
"I think I fell in love with him the day he came to my office with chocolate on his face." She spoke softly of the blonde haired, blue eyed child who stole her heart. In her memories, he was an exceptional child. She had a smile in her voice as she recalled his many visits to the Center. The first time she said his name her voice broke. Kelly kissed the crown of her head and wondered if this was the first time she spoke his name since he died.
"His name was Tyler," she said in a fragile tone. Kelly felt the tears fall on her arm. She closed her eyes. Please God, she prayed, dont let me hurt her. Please let this be good for her.
"His name was Tyler and I loved him."
She cried silently. Kelly held her close and kissed her as she drained herself weeping for him. She didnt try to comfort her with words. There was nothing she could say that Michalas friends and family hadnt been saying to her since he died. She would rather hold Michala in silence than offer comfortless platitudes.
"Im tired Kelly. Will you hold me until I fall asleep?"
Kelly let her get on the bed first. Her face was pale and tear streaked. Kelly laid next to her and stared down into her face. Dark eyes met hers. Michala reached up and pulled her down for a gentle kiss. Her lips were salty. Kelly broke the kiss. "I have to call them soon. Do you want to send any messages?"
"Tell them Im all right. Ill see them later."
"No," Kelly said and kissed her on the forehead. "Im keeping you tonight. Ill tell them youre all right. You are you know."
Weary eye lashes fluttered closed and Michala rolled onto her side. "I think I will be. I havent thought that in a long time."
Kelly waited until her breathing was slow and even before she took her cell phone from the room. She sat down on the steps a few doors down from theirs. She wasnt sure who to call. She expected they would all be together somewhere. But where? She punched in the one number she knew would find someone. Randa would have her beeper. Her phone rang within seconds of her punching in her code.
"Is she all right? Where are you?" Randa demanded anxiously. "Its been hours."
Kelly stared into a clear blue sky just beginning to streak with orange. The sun was drifting down to the horizon. Kelly was briefly sorry she had worried them. She also felt it was past time for them to worry over Michala.
"Shes fine Randa"
"Where are you?"
"Were at a hotel. Were staying the night here. Shes sleeping and I dont want to wake her up. Ill bring her to Jess tomorrow."
Voices spoke in the background. Kelly tuned them out as Randa repeated her words to the others. She was feeling drained herself. She stood up and walked slowly back to their door. She leaned against the railing. She would be in there very soon. She was going to curl herself around Michala and fall asleep with Michala in her arms.
"Is there anything else Randa?" She asked, breaking into Randas conversation. They had all night to talk to each other.
"I want to talk to her."
"No. Shes asleep. Im not waking her up." Kelly wasnt giving in to them anymore. Michala was hers.
"Kelly, shes my sister. I want to know shes all right."
Kelly saw the line Randa was trying to draw and stepped right over it. "Shes my girlfriend. Get used to me telling you shes fine. Get used to me taking her away when she needs a break. Shes mine Randa and I will do whatever I have to do to protect her. When she wakes up, if she wants to talk to you, she will. If she doesnt, she wont. This is how its going to be from now on. Shes not doing anything she doesnt want to do and if I have to stand between her and the rest of you so be it. Goodbye."
The lines were drawn. Kelly pushed away the fear that Michala would not appreciate her grand gesture. She would just have to make Michala see her point of view.
It was after ten the next morning before they left the hotel room. Michala didnt want to chance running into Jess or Shannon. The last thing she wanted to do today was rehash yesterday. It was enough that she was staggered by the memories when she finally remembered why she was waking up beside Kelly in a hotel room. Every time she thought it was getting easier to live with the past, she was slapped down. Every time she thought she was coming to terms with her grief, she was reminded. And every time she thought it was never going to end, she was proven right.
She lifted her head and stared out the window at nothing. How did her life become this? Even now, looking back, she could not see how her path veered so horribly wrong. She wasnt sure which of the decisions she made took her from her perfect life to the shambles laying around her feet. She hadnt lost everything, but what she had left wasnt much. She was stunned that she could lose so much in such a short amount of time without noticing it was all slipping away. She looked down at her open hands as if the answer lay in her palms. How could she not see her life slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach?
Everything was gone. Her life was an empty room with bare shelves and echoing with silence. Everything was gone and she was no closer to getting it all back than she was to knowing how she lost it all. The decisions she made were ones she would make again. Given the same circumstances, given the same choices, she would make the same decisions again. Even knowing what she knew now.
Michala was terrified by her thoughts. She didnt want to know that if she had to do it all again, she would. What did it say for her that she would take all those steps that led her here again, foot step by foot step? How could she accept that? If the decisions were right, if the choices were right, why was the outcome so wrong?
"Are you sure you dont want me to hang around for a while?"
Michala glanced over at Kelly. She saw worry in her eyes. She heard it in her voice all four times Kelly asked if she was all right. She turned back to her view. If she hadnt eased her fears by now, there was nothing left for her to say. "Dont take it personally, Kelly. I just need some time alone."
She needed time alone to gain perspective. She was seeing everything in shades of black. She needed to step back and look over her life objectively. She had a job if she wanted it. She had a home if she wanted it. She glanced over at Kelly again. She had a girlfriend if she wanted her. Everything wasnt gone. She just felt like it was.
"Have dinner with me tonight." Kelly reached her hand. "Well have a real meal."
Michala smiled at Kellys none too subtle reference to their three am meal from Krystals. She squeezed her fingers. "Come over and have it with us. Im not going to be able to slip away tonight. I should have called them last night. Ive got to give them a chance to talk to me."
And she was dreading the discussion. She was lucky to be able to put it off until later tonight. She hoped that by then she felt balanced again. She could answer their questions without faltering over the memories. Time. She just needed time.
As Kelly turned down their street, she saw that she was out of time. Three cars were parked in front of the house. Her Corvette. Jess Mercedes. Susans BMW. She closed her eyes. Shed had all the time she was getting. She turned in the seat to face Kelly. "Please dont come in. Call me later."
Kelly stopped next to the sidewalk. Her blue gaze flicked indecisively between her and the house. "I feel like Im abandoning you."
Michala leaned over and kissed her. She laid one palm against her cheek. "Thats the last thing you should think. Thank you for everything Kelly. I owe you one."
Kelly waited until she was inside before driving away. Michala closed the door as silently as possible. She was half way up the stairs when Susans cool voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
"Did you really think we didnt hear you?"
"Hope springs eternal," she said and continued upstairs without looking back at them. If she could only have one thing this morning, she was willing to settle for a hot shower followed by clean clothes.
They walked into her bedroom without knocking. She heard them sit on her bed and knew they didnt care she was stripping down to her skin. Michala turned to face them, covered only by her shirt. She slowly undid each button as they stared at each other. "Yes?"
"Well you look better," Susan said, her tone doubtful.
Michala dropped her shirt to the floor. She almost grinned when both pairs of eyes veered off to look at other things. She reached for her robe and took her time pulling it over herself. "I am better. Yesterday was hard. Yesterday is over."
She didnt even consider that would be the end of this little talk. Her friends should be at work. This was the second day in a row they had taken off. This was going to be the no holds barred talk they had yet to have over all that happened in the last few days, and months. She closed her eyes briefly. She owed them this, she reminded herself. For all their sakes, she owed them this.
"Do you mind if I take a shower first? I feel sticky."
Jess stood up and shook her head. "Nope, as long as its fast. Do you have a preference for lunch?"
"Anything that isnt fast food." The thought of food wasnt as repelling as Michala thought it would be. She wasnt hungry, but thought she could be if the next hour wasnt too unpleasant.
"How about delivery? Chinese?"
Michala narrowed her eyes at her friends carefully casual tone. She had known Jess too long to be fooled. Tension rolled off the slender form framed in the doorway. Anxious blue eyes met hers before closing as she turned away. Her casual tone was gone as she said in a strained voice, "I know what to get us."
Susan sighed and got to her feet. "What do you want to drink?"
"Scotch," Michala said, thinking only about the day stretching out in front of her endlessly. She dreaded what lay in the hours ahead. Of the confessions she would make. Of the truths she would reveal. Of the next inch of her soul she would strip bare in amends.
Shock was swiftly covered on Susans face with a painfully bright smile. "Okay, scotch it is. Id be snappy about it if I were you. Shannons not here to keep Jess out of the shower with you."
"You are." Michala kissed her on the cheek as she walked by on her way to the bathroom. Susan fell in step behind her. Michala turned in the doorway. Words died on her lips as she saw the vulnerable expression of loss on her friends face. Susan looked like she had just lost her best friend. Michala moved to her. Susan threw herself at Michala, stunning her with the force of her hug. Of all the things she had done to apologize over the last week, standing there in Susans bruising embrace was the easiest. Her words lacked the tangible assurance provided by her physical presence.
Susan squeezed her close one last time. "Dont count on me keeping her out. That shower fits three."
Kelly walked into her office, shut the door and promised herself that she wasnt leaving until she was current on their cases. Unless it was five-thirty in which case she had a date. While she sorted the files on her desk, she pushed away all thoughts of Michala. She had already spent the time driving home, getting ready for work and the drive to work wondering what was happening to Michala at Jessicas. She hoped they were gentle with her.
As the red tagged files began to pile up on her desk, Kelly felt guilty for abandoning Sam for the last few days. Any team leader could keep the program running, but for it to run smoothly without people falling through cracks, all three leaders needed to keep up with their end of the paperwork. Red tags were new cases that had not completed the initial evaluation. Once all of them had read the case and made recommendations, they were tagged by priority. Green tags were Sams, yellow tags were Randas, and blue tags were Kellys. If a case needed the immediate attention of more than one of them, it was kept red. They were all working towards a time when the case was given the inactive white tag.
Kellys responsibility was to help the victims through the legal maze. Their clients were mostly battered woman and children. They were terrified and all too often felt that it was them against the world. Kelly was their advocate. She explained what legal services were available and was there to help them make the hard choices. Sometimes she was the first person they saw. Sometimes they never met her at all. Kelly liked those cases best.
With determination, she worked steadily through the red cases without a break. She added her recommendation and moved the case into another pile. Some were ready to be assigned and some still needed to cross Randas desk. Briefly, Kelly wondered where Randa was working. The Center was closed for the foreseeable future. Someone needed to make temporary arrangements for the Centers patients.
She was debating about a late lunch when her door opened without notice. She glanced up reflexively and then sat back to give Randa her full attention. Neither smiled at the other. Randa shut the door and sat across from her. Dearly familiar eyes stared at her with anger warming the dark brown. Kelly steeled herself. She didnt even bother to wonder why Randa was here.
"Whats going on between you and my sister?"
Kelly thought about being flip. Randas attitude demanded a sophomoric reply. She went with honest. While Randa deserved to hear she only wanted her twin sister for the sex, Michala deserved better. "Im in love with her."
Randa sat back in her chair with a sarcastic smile. "In love? You havent known her a week. How can you possibly be in love with her?"
"Why shouldnt I be in love with her? Shes everything Ive ever wanted in a woman."
"Everything?" Randa repeated. "In less than a week you know shes everything youve ever wanted?"
Randas disparaging tone annoyed Kelly more than the question itself. She didnt care why Randa didnt believe she could be in love with Michala in less than a week. Some people didnt believe in love at first sight. Some people thought love could only grow over long periods of time. What she did care about was that Randa thought she come into her office and imply that she hadnt known Michala long enough to love her.
"You dont believe I know her very well. Like you do. Like Susan and Jessica know her. Is that it?"
Randa nodded without hesitation. "You dont know her."
Kelly thought about asking just what it was they knew that she didnt that would change her mind about being in love with Michala. She didnt for one minute believe Randa would give her a laundry list of her sisters worst faults. But she had to admit to being mildly curious at what Randa would say if she asked. Instead she sat forward in her chair and met her determined gaze.
"Then tell me, since you know her so well, and maybe you can answer the same question for her best friends. Just how long would you have sat there letting her listen to those damned tapes before you realized something was wrong?"
Kelly watched without emotion as shock robbed her face of color and bled the anger from her eyes. She should have stopped then. She had drawn blood with her point. "I dont understand how all of you let her fall so far. You almost lost her, Randa. How could you not know you were losing her?"
Their eyes met and Kelly forced herself not to look away from the pain she caused. Randas gaze slowly dropped to her desk. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. Kelly squeezed her own shut in regret. She knew she went too far. She would have given anything to erase the last few minutes from their memories.
"I dont know," Randa said softly. "Yesterday. Her voice. Ive never heard Cayla sound like that."
Damn. Kelly flinched from the soft, broken words. She rounded the desk and knelt in front of her. Dark, tortured eyes slowly lifted to face her and Kelly flinched again. For the first time, she saw them as identical twins. "Im sorry Randa. That was over the line."
Randa shook her head. Those anguished eyes scanned her face. She reached out to gently play with her hair. "How is she, Kelly? I mean really? When its just you and she doesnt have to be Dr. Cary?"
Kelly wasnt sure how to answer the question. She didnt believe that technically she had met Dr. Cary. She didnt want to give Randa the truth about yesterday. She told Michala she could lose control and no one would ever know. It was a promise she meant to keep. Randa wasnt going to find out she fell apart from her.
She gave her the truth that protected both sisters. "Shes finding her way back. She said yesterday she thought she was going to be all right. She said she hadnt thought that in a long time. Give her time."
Randa fought a brief smile to her face. "As long as its some time in the next fifty years, she can have all the time she wants."
Kelly smiled with her. "Are we all right now?"
"Unless you hurt her," Randa said as she sat back in her chair. The menacing attitude she was trying to affect was destroyed by her hurt, teary eyes. "I wont have to do a thing you understand. Jess and Susan will take care of you for me."
Kelly stood up and leaned against her desk. She smiled. "I think I can take them. Are you hungry? I was thinking about lunch before you came in."
Randa glanced at her watch and frowned. "Its late. Were all having supper at Jessicas. Theyve spent the day with her. Its supposed to be very low-key, though Shannon and I were not allowed to know their plans. Caylas cooking."
Remembering the kind of meals Michala planned, Kelly lowered her expectations of lunch. She held her hands out to Randa. "Sandwiches? Theres a deli around the corner."
"Sounds light. God, how many red files on are your desk?"
Kelly grimaced and reached for her jacket. "Too many. Some need your recommendation."
Randa fanned the files over her desk. "Ive got to talk to Cayla about getting new office space. I need a desk."
Kelly locked her door behind them. "You can always use a corner of mine. We need to get those cases assigned."
Kelly was relieved when the conversation centered on DVIT. The program was her first connection with Randa and she was most comfortable dealing with her on that level. Michala was a mine field. Kelly wasnt sure of her own relationship with Michala. She didnt want to have to defend it to Randa.
They took their sandwiches back to her office and ate at her desk. They worked in a companionable silence broken only by case file questions. By the time they left for Jess, Kelly felt she was back on familiar ground with Randa. While she wanted her relationship with Michala to move onto a more personal level, she didnt have that same hope with Randa. For the time being, she didnt want to bring more people into the circle.
Her friends were talking quietly at the bar when Michala came down after her shower. She paused in the hallway and steeled herself for what she was sure would be a long, emotion filled afternoon. Please God, she prayed desperately, please let this be the last time I have to do this. Please. Because if she had to keep doing this, scotch just wasnt going to be enough.
Conversation stopped dead as she stepped into the room. They stared at her as if waiting for another head to sprout. They each had a glass of iced tea with a wedge of lemon. She sat down in front of the chair with the tumbler of melting ice and a half bottle of Chivas. She drained the glass of water before filling it with scotch. "Go on. Dont stop talking because I came into the room. Are we talking about the stalker or yesterday in the apartment? I hope its the stalker."
Michala sipped the scotch, watching them trade concerned glances with each other. Suddenly, for reasons she would never know, it was all too much. She tried to reach deeper inside herself, searching for the cool poise that was her trademark. She wasnt too surprised to find herself empty. She truly had nothing left to give. Carefully, she placed the glass on the table and pushed herself to her feet.
"I cant change the past. I cant change what I did. I cant change what I didnt do. I cant keep saying that Im sorry." She turned to leave the room. "Just add that to the list of all the other things I cant do."
Slender arms closed around her from behind and stopped her before she could take more than a few steps. Warm lips brushed against the nape of her neck. "This isnt for you to be sorry," Susan said, "this is for us to be sorry."
Michala stiffened at the soft words. She tried to turn to face Susan, but her friend tightened her embrace. "You dont have anything to be sorry for."
Jess came to stand in front of her. Her gaze was centered over Michalas shoulder as she sought strength from Susan. Michala felt Susan bow her head, resting her forehead on Michalas shoulder. Jess sighed and shifted her gaze to Michala. "We have a lot to be sorry for. We should have known."
Michala asked the question even though she knew the answer. "Should have known what?"
Susan lifted her head and rested her chin near Michalas ear. "That you were in trouble. That you were floundering. That something was very, very wrong."
"No, you should not have known. I did everything I could to make sure you didnt know." Michala had a feeling where this was going and she was going to end it before they could start down the road. The last few months may be sketchy to her. There were things she should have done, but didnt. There were things she did that she shouldnt have. She may have forgotten more about the past year than she would ever remember. But there was one thing she had no doubt about. She made sure those she loved did not know what was happening in her life.
Jess laughed without humor. She crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her head in challenge. "Do you really think that we didnt know something was wrong? God, Michala, you ripped your life apart. You walked away from everything you love. We knew you were falling apart. We just didnt know how to reach you."
"I didnt want to be reached, Jess. I pushed yo-"
Susan plowed roughly over her words. "No, we allowed you to push us away. You got away with the things you did because we allowed it. Dont think for one minute you had the time and space you had just because you wanted it."
"If you had tried to force the issue, you would have lost me," Michala stated firmly. On this one issue, she wanted things clearly understood. "Dont you think for one minute I would have chosen you over the denial. I did not want to face my life and there is nothing you could have said that would change that."
Jess cupped her face with warm hands. Bright blue eyes bore into hers. "I know if our places were reversed, you would have reached me. I know you would have done whatever you had to do to get my attention. There wont be a next time, Michala. You can deny and hide all you want. You can lock all the doors, change all the locks and not even have a phone and I promise there will not be a next time. One way or another, Susan and I will get to you because I just cant do this life without Saturdays."
Michala searched for words to make them understand that there was nothing they could have done differently. Nothing she would have done differently.
Susans voice was soft in her ear. "I want to ask you something and I want an honest answer."
Michala acquiesced with the barest nod of her head. She forced herself to keep her head up and her eyes open. The days of facing her life with her eyes closed were over.
"Is Kelly as hot in bed as she looks?"
The off the wall question caught Michala completely off guard. She blinked slowly as her mind tried to follow Susan. Of all the questions her friend could ask, that one didnt even make the list. She turned her head to peer over her shoulder. "What?"
"We want to talk about Kelly now," Jess said from her seat at the table. "Here youve got this gorgeous new girlfriend and we dont know how you met her."
"I dont want to know that," Susan disagreed. Her grin was evil as she passed Michala to sit in her own chair. "I want to know how she is between the sheets."
Slowly comprehension dawned on Michala. As far as Jess and Susan were concerned, it was over. Apologies were given and received. Hurt feelings soothed. The slate was clean. All she had to do was move forward. She gave up a brief prayer of thanks to whatever benevolent being gave her these two women as her best friends. She didnt deserve them, but she was glad she had them in her life.
"And if we ever make it under the sheets, Ill let you know."
Kelly was frankly nervous. After yesterday, she wasnt sure what kind of reception to expect from Michalas friends. After today, she wasnt sure what kind of reception to expect from Michala. Did they tell her about the phone call? Everything that had happened aside, Kelly was still the woman she picked up in a bar. She was still the woman Michala threw from her apartment when Kelly dared to overstep the line Michala drew in the sand. She wasnt sure of her place in Michalas life or even if she had one. She was uncomfortable with the thought that she wanted one.
"Hey, theres Shannon. Honk. She can let us in with her."
Kelly fell in behind Shannon as she blew the horn. Shannon waved her hand to show she understood and instead of driving past the guardhouse, she stopped and spoke briefly to the young male guard. Cars without resident tags were usually stopped and if not on the owners approved list, were forced to wait to the side while the guard got approval for them to enter the community. This time, they were waved through the gate without stopping.
Randa sighed. "I dont know about you, but Im almost afraid to go in there. Susan and Jessica are so angry with her over this. I understand they feel betrayed. I know I do. But Caylas been as sorry as shes going to be about all this. Im not sure anyone will be left standing if they try to push it."
"How long have they been friends?"
Kelly was curious about the women who inhabited the center of Michalas world. She knew they were best friends. Now she wondered if they were ex-lovers. Lesbians seemed the most determined to convert ex-lovers into lifetime friends. It was hard sometimes to sort out who was merely a friend and who had been more. The passionate, sexual side of Michala was one Kelly didnt want to share with her friends. She wanted a part of the beautiful blonde that wasnt ever theirs.
"Jess family lives across the street from our parents. I dont think either of them remembers a time when the other wasnt part of her life. Theyre more twinish than Cayla and I are."
Her voice was matter-of-fact. Kelly had to wonder if she was jealous and outgrew it or if she was never jealous at all. She didnt sound as if it bothered her someone had taken her rightful place in Michalas life. Curious, she asked. "Did you ever resent that?"
Randa laughed and her dark eyes were clear when she looked at over Kelly. "No. They are way too girlish for me. I was playing softball and football with the boys. When Cayla came out, in junior high might I add, Mom and Dad were more surprised that it wasnt me who was gay."
Randa grimaced and sighed again. "For my own sanity I have to believe theyve never been lovers, but to be brutally honest, Im not sure. I do know they were set up on a blind date by Jess. She and Susan were Criminal Justice majors together. Jess thought they would be perfect. The official story is that they met, went to a bar and left with other people. Theyve been a triad since."
It was a story Kelly wanted to believe. They were friends. Best friends since pre-school and college. They shared and cared, they saw the best and the worst, they accused and they forgave. But they did not know each other as lovers. Kelly thought, as she followed Shannons car onto their street, it was a story Shannon and Randa wanted to believe, too.
The three cars were parked as they had been that morning. Shannon drove up the sloping drive to take her place next to the Mercedes in the open garage. Randas car was still in the MARTA parking lot. When she took up Kellys offer of a lift she did so with the expectation that Susan would take her to MARTA the next morning. Kelly came to a halt behind the little red Corvette. She was still surprised Michala drove a racy sports car.
Shannon waited for them on the porch. She raised her eyebrows as they mounted the steps. "Should we be concerned that its dead silent?"
They traded glances. Kelly shook her head. "Lets not. I cant take anymore this week."
Shannon nodded and turned with her key in hand. "Agreed. But if its not innocent, I get first dibs on your gun."
Kelly laughed as she admitted, "Its locked in the trunk of my car."
"Lucky for them," she replied and opened the door. They were hit with the tantalizing aroma of something Italian cooking and uncontrollable laughter Silently, the three woman removed their coats and laid sunglasses and keys on the cherry wood table in the foyer. They moved as one to the room which was the source of both the smell and noise.
"God, Suz, youre drunk," Michala announced, her slurred voice betraying her own inebriation. "Can you get up?"
"Hmm, probly not. Jus feed me down here."
Laughter echoed across the kitchen. "Only if you let us call you Fluffy. And roll over on your back so we can rub your tummy."
The three woman walked unnoticed into the darkened dining room. From the shadows, they surveyed the tableau before them. Jess was sitting on the counter, her legs swinging. Michala was trying unsuccessfully to pull Susan to her feet. She was perilously close to being pulled down on top of the giggling blonde. Three empty wine bottles were lined up across the bar.
"Um, no," Susan disagreed and tugged on Michala. "I don wanna splain that to them. Who do you think will be maddes? Randa, Shan, or Kelly?"
Michala lost her footing and tumbled to sprawl across Susan. Jess howled with laughter and rocked so hard on the counter she slid off to land with a thud on the floor. Susan and Michala were laughing so hard Susan wasnt making a sound and Michala had tears streaming down her face. She was struggling to sit up, but Susans fumbled attempts to help her only added to the difficulty.
Shannon looked over her shoulder with a wry grin. If any of them had harbored any doubts about the three of them being left alone for the day, they werent thinking about them now. Yes, they were drunk, but of all the things that could have happened, it was by far the most innocent. Without a word, each woman went to her girlfriend.
Kelly slid her arms around Michalas waist and brought her upright. Surprised brown eyes swung around to look at who was holding her with such familiarity.
"Well, hello," she greeted, a sexy smile settling over her face. Michala turned in her arms when Kelly set her down on her feet. To her surprise, Michala slid her arms around her neck and pulled her head down for a deep kiss. Kelly gave into her desire without much of a fight. If Michala didnt care that her friends and sister were only a few steps away, Kelly wasnt going to let it bother her.
Michala leaned back in her arms with a sensual smile. "How was your day?"
Kelly stared deep into the dark brown eyes, searching for lingering signs of hurt or anger from the afternoon. All she saw in the dark depths was happiness. Whether from a good day spent with her friends or the amount of alcohol consumed, Michala was feeling only good things right then. Kelly wasnt going to rock the boat by reminding her of DVIT, Tyler or her stalker.
She pulled Michala against her. Whispering in her ear, she said, "Ive been fantasizing about getting you alone. Any chance of that happening?"
Michala nestled her face against Kellys neck. "Oh yeah. As long as by alone, you mean here in my room with Jess and Shannon across the hall."
The thought of making love with Michala in someone elses home did not appeal to Kelly very much. She liked the adventuresome, vocal lover she knew Michala to be. She liked hearing her name moaned by Michala as she thrashed against her hand or face. She was, however, willing to make concessions to the circumstances. She kissed Michalas ear, saying, "Whenever, wherever."
This time Kelly was the one to initiate the kiss. Slowly their mouths opened and kissing lips became stroking tongues. Hands wandered to the soft skin of the neck to caress. Legs slid between legs . Kelly only remembered where she was when Michala brought one hand to her left breast. She grabbed the hand before Michala could do anything more than touch.
"Theres a bedroom upstairs," Shannon teased, "You can join us for dinner later if you want."
Michala jerked away. Her eyes were black with desire and she was breathing faster than normal. Kelly closed her eyes. She would never rein in her emotions if she could see her own need reflected in Michalas eyes.
Michala stepped around her and walked into the kitchen. "Gee Shannon, that was almost worthy of Jess. I guess couples who live together do start to sound alike."
Kelly turned around when she felt she was no longer blushing like a sixteen year old virgin. She already knew Michala and her friends were merciless. She would have to expect the same from their lovers. Jess and Susan were grinning like the drunken woman they were. Shannon was following Michala into the large kitchen. Randa was staring at her Nikes.
"Randa and Kelly, could you set the table please," Shannon asked. "I hate to put you to work, but I dont think its a good idea to give breakable dinnerware to people who cant walk a straight line."
"Hey," Jess protested and promptly fell sideways from turning to fast. "Yeah, okay. But why does she get to help?"
Michala slid a bubbling lasagna from the oven. "Because Im sober. Weve got salads to go with this. Who wants garlic bread?"
The day wasnt ending the way Michala feared it would when it began. When this was all over, when they were all past everything that had happened and that would, she would have to remember to thank them. She knew she was lucky to have them as her friends before, but now she was truly grateful. More grateful than she could express that for today the three of them pretended the last year never happened.
Blinking, she looked up at Jess and the carafe of coffee she was holding. Michala accepted a refill with a smile. While she normally didnt drink coffee this late in the evening, she doubted the caffeine boost was going to keep her awake later. If anything, she thought the coffee was the reason she hadnt already excused herself for the night.
She didnt want the day to end yet. She wanted to see stay in the warm company of her friends, held against Kelly as the conversation drifted around her. She wished they could stay like this forever. Wished the outside world never had to intrude on her life again.
"Hmm?" Michala looked up from her cup to find concerned eyes on her. She was sitting in front of Kelly on a chaise lounge while the others sat in patio chairs or on the grass. "What?"
"Where were you?" Miranda asked. From the tone Michala could guess where her sister thought her thoughts dwelled.
Michala took a deep breath and leaned further back against Kelly. "Can you meet me at the Center tomorrow at eleven? I rented some office space in that Medical plaza down the street. Lynns meeting me there to help get patient files boxed and moved over. We could use some extra hands."
Michalas first clue that something was wrong was Kelly tensing behind her. Before she could turn to see what was wrong, she saw tension on the faces of the others.
Jess was the first to speak. "Are you insane? Youre not going near the Center until this guy is caught."
Kelly caught her as she moved to stand up. "At least not without an armed escort."
"Not even with," Jess replied angrily. She got to her feet. "This guy could be anyone."
"Hes not stupid Jess. And I will have an armed escort. Kendall Reynolds is the detective assigned to me. Shes meeting me there to go over everything. My past actions aside, I am not an idiot. Im not taking chances. But I do have a responsibility to Center patients."
A responsibility she had all but shirked over the last year. She owed it to the patients and staff to get everything back to normal as quickly as she could. She knew she could hand tomorrow off on Lynn and Miranda. She knew the two would do the job just as capably as they had all along. It was for herself that she had to be a part of it. For her own sanity and ego, she needed to be an active part of the Center again. Her vacation was over.
"Sit down Jess," Susan snapped when Jess would have continued. "Hell have to go through Kendall, Kelly and me if he wants to get to her tomorrow."
Michala opened her mouth to refuse their presence, but stopped when she saw the steely resolve in Susans eyes. There wasnt anything she could say that would keep them away. In truth there wasnt anything she wanted to say. She snuggled back against Kellys chest. "The more the merrier."
They would never know just how much she meant those words. The more people she had to help her move to the temp offices the less time she had to spent there. She knew from her afternoon there with Kelly just how deeply she was affected by the destruction of the Center. She did not want to walk through the rooms only to compare them to how they were before. Until the Center was restored, Michala had no desire to go there again. Anything left after the weekend, would either be left until the restoration was over or would have to be collected by someone else.
"What time do you want me to pick you up?" Susan asked and stood up to stretch. While the day had been relaxing, the night before had not and she was ready to go home. "Do you want to do an early lunch?"
Michala didnt even think about offering to drive herself over the next day. That suggestion would fly like lead balloon and she would have no one on her side. She smiled at her friend. "Ill catch a ride with Kelly. As for lunch, Ill either have something delivered or someone can go pick up something."
Susan looked at her strangely before a grin crossed her face. "So are you spending the night with Kelly or is she spending the night with you?"
Michala returned the grin. "Does it matter? Either way I get her in bed."
"It matters," Miranda replied, surprising them all. Sex and her twin were two subjects she never discussed at the same time. "Dani doesnt have the security that Jess has."
"Shes right," Kelly said into the silence. "Do you mind if-"
"No," Shannon cut her off. "You can move in if you want."
Michala felt her bottom jaw drop and clenched her teeth before her mouth fell open. She stared at Shannon in surprise. She struggled to find the right words to say. She couldnt believe Shannon said that. Yes, she liked Kelly a lot. Yes, she wanted to see where the relationship would go. But her life wasnt in a place would she felt she could bring someone else into it. How could she say that so Kelly wasnt either offended or trapped?
"I, uh, thanks, but I, ah " Kelly sputtered behind her.
Michala turned in her arms and kissed her softly on the lips. She looked into her eyes. "You took the words right out of my mouth. I should have asked you first. Will you stay tonight?"
Kelly reached up to brush a few stray strands away from her face. "I think I should keep a suitcase in the trunk of my car. I seem to end up without clothes when Im with you."
Michala laughed in delight. "Oh baby you can keep all the clothes in your trunk that you want, but I promise youll still end up without clothes when youre with me."
She leaned forward to kiss her when Kelly closed her eyes in embarrassment. She heard the others moving around behind her. The night was drawing to a close. Michala was torn between wanting it to go on forever and wanting to already be upstairs in Kellys arms. She slipped one hand behind Kellys neck and brushed her tongue over her soft lips in an invitation to deepen the kiss. Kelly didnt disappoint. The voices around them faded away as Kelly became her sole focus. Her world shrunk until it encompassed only them. The embers burning since their kiss hello burst into flames, burning away all inhibitions until their raw desire was all that was left.
"Does Randa kiss you like that?"
The amused question washed over them like a bucket of cold water. Kelly jerked away from her and stared over her shoulder with dazed eyes. Michala closed her eyes as she fought to bring her desire back under her slippery control. When she was sure she was collected, she turned to her smirking friends.
Susan grabbed Miranda from behind and pulled her back against her. Miranda was too surprised to fight the intimate embrace. "Oh yeah. Its like looking in a mirror."
"What dreams have you been having that you think that?" Miranda asked archly.
"We can go home and see," Susan suggested and slid her hand inside the waistband of Mirandas jeans.
Michala watched them in fascination. The only reason she believed they were together, besides Susans admitting it, was the rare display of affection Miranda allowed in front of others. A small kiss here, hand holding there, but nothing overtly sexual. They were the most chaste couple on the planet. She knew there was something there for Susan to still be with Miranda. Before Shan and Miranda, the three of them were serial daters. In fact Michala thought her relationship with Melissa lasted longer than it would have if her friends werent in long term relationships. She wanted what they seemed to have.
Miranda put her hand around Susans wrist. She didnt pull Susans hand from the top of her jeans. "Best idea youve had all year."
With that, the party broke apart. Ten minutes later the patio was orderly and the dishwasher was whirling away in the spotless kitchen. Susan and Miranda left after Susan got the time they were meeting at the Center in the morning. The other two couples turned off lights as they went upstairs.
"Kelly, which would you prefer for sleepwear, T-shirt and shorts, or a gown?"
They were standing in the hallway between the two bedrooms. Michala leaned over to hug her ever helpful friend goodnight. "Dont worry about Kelly, Jess. Ill make sure she stays warm tonight."
Michala shut the door on Jess before she could comeback with a witty remark. Now that she could have Kelly to herself, she was eager for the day to end. Tomorrow was another chance for Jess to tease her about Kelly.
The closer they got to the Center, the quieter Michala became. Kelly reached for her hand. Her fingers were cold. Kelly didnt want to ask, it was obvious Michala wasnt as poised about this as she wanted to appear, but the other gambits didnt sound any better in her head. And Kelly didnt want to step around the tension as if it didnt exist. That plan had not worked out too well for Michalas friends over the last year.
Michala glanced over from her intensive study of the passing scenery. "Do you understand why I didnt do anything? Why I just ignored it as if it wasnt happening?"
Did she? Kelly thought on some level maybe, just maybe, she could. It wasnt so much Tylers death and its devastation on her life. It was the fact that she blamed herself for his death. She was the one who fought for him. She was the one who crossed lines for him. And she was the one who failed him. She told Susan the night of the break-in that she never did anything because she thought she deserved it. Her stalker did what she herself could not. He punished her, tortured her, and took parts of her life away. She deserved whatever he wanted to do to her.
But the level of her understanding was very low and she didnt understand it to a degree that counted. She would never see this from Michalas point of view. She would never be able to tell her that it was all right that she did nothing. Kelly would never be able to go there with her. And the truth of the matter was that she never wanted to understand. Michala had gone to a very dark place. Kelly didnt want to visit it.
Michala nodded as if she understood. Her fingers tightened briefly. "Sometimes neither do I. I look back at the last year and the decisions I made. So many were so wrong. I wonder why I didnt see it at the time. Then days like today happen, and I remember why they seemed right. I know precisely why I just sat back and let everything happen."
This was that dark place. Kelly stood at the edge of it and knew with certain dread that she was going to go as far inside as Michala was willing to take her. If Kelly could only give her one thing, she wanted Michala to know she could always talk to her. That more than anything brought Michala to where was she was now. Just one friend to share with last year would have saved her. "What about today reminds you?"
The day was actually beautiful. Warm with clear, cloudless blue skies, cooled by a breeze that was a touch chilly in the shadows. A perfect day for only good thoughts and good things.
"The fear. I have given everything that meant anything to me not to have to deal with this. I was willing to die not to have to deal with this. I guess its only fair that now thats all I do is deal with this."
"Fear of what?" Kelly asked even as every instinct she had screamed at her to stop this now. She didnt want to follow Michala down. She didnt want to know. She didnt want to understand
Michala withdrew her hand. Kelly glanced over to see her staring out of the window. She hoped against hope that Michala would ignore her. She had asked the question because she had to not because she wanted to know the answer.
Her voice was whisper soft in the still quiet of the car. "I hope you never know. I hope you never find out."
Kelly would wonder later if she would have questioned Michala had they not arrived at the Center at that moment. If she would have pushed her for more of an answer. She didnt want to know. And she did. Michala had nothing to fear, without exception she had nothing to fear. Every demon that haunted her would have to breach far more than Michalas fragile defenses to reach her now. Whatever this was that she feared, she was not alone in facing it.
The parking area behind the Center was amazingly full for being closed. Michala smiled and shook her head as her eyes drifted over the car lot parading as her back yard. The dozen or so women were standing in groups around the back door. "Unbelievable."
She got out of the car laughing. "Who called you guys?"
The women laughed and pointed fingers at each other. Kelly stood back and watched as Michala was swallowed in a group hug. While the group caught up with Michala, Kelly let gaze wander. Her first instinct was to get Michala inside. They were too exposed here. He could be out there watching even now. He had to know she would come back. If he was smart, he would wait and then follow her. He needed contact with her. He needed to find her.
"He wont get to her," Susan said, appearing at her side. Kelly glanced over to find Susans eyes searching the same area she had early. "He had his chances."
Chances. Kelly shivered in the slight breeze. Yes, hed had his chances. Hed had all the time in the world to hurt her. Why didnt he? What kept him from crossing that last line? When he was here, inside her home, and he knew she was there, why didnt he go upstairs? Was he in love with her? Or did he hate her? Kelly frowned, remembering something. "Susan, where are the answering machine tapes? I want to listen to the rest of them."
Susan stared at her for a moment without expression. "Kendall probably has them. You should ask her."
Kelly was irritated with herself for forgetting them. Now she had to finagle a way to listen to the tapes now in official custody. God help her if she had to get permission from Bates. He would make sure she never heard them even if Michala herself demanded it. Even though Kelly knew if that was the only way, she would never ask Michala.
"Shes the one in the red blazer," Susan said before moving away to follow the group inside.
The woman in the red blazer wasnt hard to miss. She was the one with her hand on Michalas elbow leading her inside the Center. Kelly cast one last lingering glace around the perimeter before following the crowd. She wasnt sure who everybody was, but Michala had brightened and laughed when she saw the assemblage. Kelly hoped there would come a time when they would be as important to her as they were Michala.
Kelly walked into the Center and stared. The long hallway that ran through the length of the Center and was waist high in debris the last time she saw it was now clear. She could see all the way down to the brand new double doors now closed at the front of the Center. Obviously someone, and not Michala from the stunned expression on her face, hadnt been sitting on their hands over the last few days. Kelly watched Michala lead a small group down the hall to the front of the house. She slipped into the kitchen in search of the coffee she could she smell.
An older woman with chin length auburn hair was setting out boxes of donuts. She smiled as Kelly came into the room. "Good morning."
Kellys eyes skimmed over the kitchen. The room was spotless and orderly. Either he never made it this far or the cleaning fairy had taken care of this room also. She returned the friendly smile. "Good morning. That coffee smells great. Do you mind?"
A quick grin dashed across the womans face. The skin around her warm brown eyes crinkled. "Help yourself. Theres milk in the refrigerator. Creamer and sugar on the counter next to the coffee."
Kelly nodded and walked to the back counter. She poured two Styrofoam cups and added milk to hers and sugar to both. She nodded to the woman as she passed. "Thanks."
Kelly was two steps from the hallway when the woman asked, "Are you Kelly?"
Surprise nailed her feet to the floor and she turned slowly. "I am, yes. And you are?"
A bright grin came to her face as she came to Kelly. Her dark eyes were curious. "Do you have your gun?"
Kelly blinked at the unexpected, softly asked question. She paused before answering. She didnt know this woman, though she had a suspicion circling in her head. "Yes."
The very familiar eyes went to her shoulder, to the place where her gun was strapped to her side. "Do you wear it all the time?"
"Only when Im on duty." Kelly took a sip of her coffee, thinking, wondering if the limb she was about to step out on would hold her. She shrugged mentally. The only way to find out was to step out there. "Ive never taken a life Mrs. Cary, but I can. For her, I will."
Their eyes met and whatever Paige Anderson Cary saw caused the older woman to visibly relax. She reached out and touched Kelly on the wrist. "Im glad youre here. I was hoping you would be so that we could meet. Michala rarely lets me meet her girlfriend. I cant understand why."
A warm hand slid under her blazer and rested against the small of Kellys back. "Is your memory fading, Mother? I can name off a list of reasons if you need reminders."
Michalas voice was warm and teasing. Kelly handed her the cup in her left hand. "For you."
"Mm, thank you." Michala took a healthy drink from the cup. She leaned forward to kiss her mother on the cheek. "And thank you. I dont know how you did this. I was dreading coming in here. I hope you didnt have to call in too many favors."
Paige reached out to tuck an errant blonde strand behind her daughters ear. "I didnt have to call anyone, honey. Ive had to turn down offers of help. Im beginning to think the people in Atlanta who dont feel they owe you something are few in number."
Kelly watched a shadow darken Michalas face for an instant. She shrugged and stared down in her coffee. "It was just a job."
Paige lifted sad eyes to Kelly and Kelly knew they shared the same thought. It was never just a job. If it had been just a job, Michala would never have been destroyed by it. Tyler really would have been just another kid. Kelly would never say DVIT was her life, but she would say that it did become Michalas definition of herself.
Someone called for Michala from the front of her house. She sent them a smile and quickly left.
Kelly was startled when Paige looped an arm through hers and led her into the hallway. Voices punctuated with laughter came from various parts of the house. Kelly assumed assignments were handed out and the women were getting busy. "Where are you from, Kelly? You dont sound southern."
"Originally Syracuse. I moved to Seattle after college. My best friend came here. I think I complained about the rain one time too many because Dani really started pushing for me to come here. Im glad she did."
Really, very glad. Shed have to reward Dani for her constant nagging. She owed her one. Kelly had lovers in Seattle and a few she had even loved. None were Michala. None took her breath away, or made her heart race, or erased all thoughts in her head with just a kiss. She had loved and been loved, but until Michala, Kelly knew she had never been in love.
Paige patted her arm. "Randa said youre with DVIT. Can you stay awhile?"
Michalas laughter came from her right. Kelly glanced into the reception area to see Michala standing in the file area. She was dressed in olive green slacks and the sleeves of her navy shirt were rolled to her forearms. She grinned thinking this was probably dressing down for Michala. She had yet to see the woman in a pair of jeans. She said absently to Paige, her thoughts on what Michala would look like in a pair of tight, faded 501s. "Ill be here as long as she is, Mrs. Cary."
"Call me Paige."
Kelly tore her eyes away from Michala to smile at her mother. Her smile became puzzled at the bright grin directed at her. "Um, thank you."
Paige squeezed her arm briefly. "No, thank you."
Before Kelly could ask why she was thanking her, Paige disappeared into the conference on her right. Michala laughed again and Kellys attention was pulled from the mother to the daughter. Paiges cryptic comment was forgotten. Kelly wandered into the reception room, wondering if she offered to help, what job she would be given. She stopped in the middle of the room and cocked her head to one side. Yeah, tight, faded 501s and nothing else.
Finding a quiet room away from her friends was proving an impossible task. They had broken from work for lunch and now as Michala wandered through the Center with her sandwich and chips, with Kelly trailing behind her, she wanted a quiet corner to be alone with Kelly. Since their brief talk in the car, they hadnt really spoken. Every time Michala got close to her, someone came up to them or called for her. She smiled, thinking Kelly was never hard to find. Kelly was wherever she was, a solid warmth giving her a feeling of peace she hadnt had in too long.
"What are you looking for?" Kelly asked when she stopped in the hallway between the reception area and the conference room. She looked right and then left, saw her friends settling down to eat their lunch. God knew she loved them. But right then, she wished the lot of them anywhere but here.
She sighed and looked back at Kelly. Kellys smile was puzzled and her eyes were steady as she returned Michalas stare. Michala dropped her eyes and let her gaze slide up Kellys blue jeans, over her black blazer and linger on the white T-shirt before moving back to her face. She got the desired reaction. Blue eyes darkened with desire flicked up to the locked door of the apartment. They smiled and fled up the stairs.
"Theyre going to look for you," Kelly whispered when Michala threw the lock on the doors. "Your mother and sister have keys."
Michala frowned, wondering if either would use the key if they thought Michala was making love with Kelly in her bedroom. She sighed as the image of her mother knocking discreetly on her door came to mind all too clearly. She could see Miranda fleeing the Center if she thought they were having sex. Paige accepted her sexuality and that meant everything that came with it. Michala having sex with Kelly in the middle of the day in her own apartment was not something that would raise her mothers eyebrows. It was also not something that would keep Paige on the first floor of the Center.
"Let them come. I just want to have lunch with you."
It was almost the truth. When Michala began her search it really was for a quiet place where they could eat with the illusion of privacy. They had been getting amused glances all day. But once she looked Kelly over, other possibilities came to mind. Like how it felt to have Kelly pressed against her body.
Kelly grinned and stole a potato chip from her plate. "You shouldnt look at me like that if all you want is lunch."
Michala laughed and walked to the table. "Well, it was all I wanted in the beginning."
Lunch was subs, chips and sodas from a local sandwich shop. Michala was knee deep in files when her mother announced lunch was ready. Michala was astonished to realize the morning was gone. They had most of the files boxed and someone, who Michala wasnt sure, was already trucking stuff over to the temp offices. Another hour or two and they should be finished.
"I hope my mother didnt make you uncomfortable. I didnt know she knew about you yet." She would corner Miranda later. Remind her that Michala wasnt the only daughter with a girlfriend. Actually, if they were being strictly honest, Miranda was the only daughter with a girlfriend. Michala wasnt sure where she was with Kelly. She was sure she didnt want her family to chase her off before she found out.
Kelly shook her head. "She didnt. I like your mother. She loves you very much."
"Dont like her too much, Kelly. My mother has one agenda when it comes to me. She wants me to be happily married with children. Every woman I date becomes my potential soul mate. Ive learned to keep my mother far away from my relationships. She tries to make them a lot more serious than they are."
"How serious is this one?"
The question, and the somber tone in which it was asked, caught Michala off guard. Shed been speaking lightly, laughingly about her mothers quirky outlook on her life. She didnt mean to make this into "the talk". Kelly was staring at her, waiting for an answer. Her face was closed and Michala couldnt get a read on her feelings. Michala wanted her to want them to be serious. She wanted them to be serious. She didnt want to step out on that ledge by herself.
Hedging she said, "It could be very serious."
It could be the most serious relationship of her life. Kelly could be the first one to come before anything else. She could matter. She could count. She could be the one. Michala watched Kelly carefully, hoping for some clue in her reaction to how this was going.
"Could be? Like Melissa?"
Annoyance shot through Michala at the mention of her fickle former lover. She raked fingers through her hair. "God no. Melissa did little more than share my bed. She didnt share my life. She didnt want to. I love you more now than I ever did her. If I ever did her. Melissa was nothing, Kelly. I was never hers. I-"
Michala trailed off as the soft adoring expression on Kellys face caught her attention. She was about to launch into reasons why Kelly shouldnt feel she had to compete with Melissa. She stared at her as Kelly stood up and came to pull her to her feet. The kiss was slow and deep and took her breath away.
When Kelly broke the kiss, she laid her forehead against Kelly. "What was that for?"
She felt a light kiss pressed to the top of her head. "I love you. I think I fell for you the first time I saw you, here. Its funny that I should know one twin for months and fall for the other in minutes."
Michala glanced up with a grin. "Were identical twins, Kelly. Its okay if you thought Miranda was hot."
Kellys gaze traveled slowly over her face before she shook her head. "You know that youre not identical. You could cut your hair, dress identically and Susan and I could tell you apart. Dont misunderstand, Randa is a beautiful woman. In that All-American tomboy way. I was never interested in her. I never even wondered if shes gay."
Michala understood the sentiment. No one who knew them every mistook them for the other. They were different not only in dress and appearance but in movement and expression. Kelly was right. They could look like a mirror image of the other, but those who really knew them could tell them apart. It was why Susan could be her friend for years and fall for Miranda. It was why Kelly could know Miranda and be interested in her.
"How long before they start looking for you?"
"You mean us," Michala corrected and then laughed as someone knocked firmly on the locked door. She slipped away from Kelly and went to slide the door open. She bit her lip to keep from smiling at her sisters frowning face. "Yes?"
Mirandas eyes darted past her, to where Kelly was standing and over the table with the remains of their lunch. She visibly relaxed and allowed a brief smile when she looked back at her sister. "Mom wants you where she can see you. I caught her half way up the stairs."
Michala leaned against the door jamb, grinning. "Oh, Miranda, thats so sweet. That youd throw yourself in front of her that way. I wish we had been doing something for you to stumble in on."
"That lie might come off better if Kelly wasnt wearing your lipstick. You can finish whatever it is youre not doing tonight."
With that, Miranda turned and moved swiftly down the stairs. Michala shook her head. She laughed as she imagined the psyching her sister must had to do before she knocked on the door. There was a hundred unpleasant things Miranda would rather be subjected to than seeing her twin kiss another woman. Michala didnt understand it. Its not like they were mirror images of the other.
She turned when she heard the unmistakable sound of bags crunching. She watched Kelly quickly clear away the remains of their lunch. Yes, this could be the most serious relationship she ever had.
As much as she wanted to, Kelly turned down an invitation to spend another night with Michala. The details of her own life needed attention. She had clothes to wash, bills to pay, a friend of her own, be on call for DVIT. It was the clothes and bills that sent her away from Michala. She could do without her friends curiosity. The last thing she wanted to do was come out of her blissful rose colored world. She didnt want to examine anything too closely right then.
So of course Dani was home. There was a chance she could have been spending the night with her new girlfriend. Kelly parked next to her BMW and wondered what the odds were that Sandy was spending the night. That would be nice. An occupied Dani was just as good as an absent one. Kelly would take either. The way her luck was running, she didnt hold her breath.
The bottom floor of the townhouse was lit by the second floor hallway light. Kelly stood in the foyer and smiled. She was surprised how much this felt like coming home. As much as she loved sleeping with Michala in her arms, she really did miss her own home. Even if it was just a home she was borrowing for a while.
"Dani?" She called and headed for the stairs when she received an answer.
Dani was standing in the doorway of her office, still dressed in the slacks and shirt she wore to her office. "I didnt think I would see you tonight."
Kelly grinned at the happy expression on her friends face. "Are you busy? Im starving. How about we go to Traders for dinner?"
Dani glanced into her office and obviously debated over something before she tossed the pen she held onto her desk. "Its a date. I could use a good meal."
"Been eating at the hospital?"
While Dani related her heavy work load, Kelly changed clothes. They moved onto talk of girlfriends on the drive. By the time they had eaten their way through the seafood platter and shared a pitcher of beer, they were caught up on each other. Kelly was happy that Sandy was still in Danis life. She had seen too many women make the short trip from lover to friend. This was the first woman Dani seemed to be connecting with since Kellys arrival. She was glad for her friend.
By the time they were back at the townhouse, Kelly was pleasantly exhausted. She was ready for a nice hot shower and a warm, soft bed. They parted for the night at the top of the stairs. Once she was dressed for bed, she picked up her mail from the bureau where Dani stacked it for her every day. She took the thick bundle to bed with her. She hadnt done her laundry, but thought she could get by with sorting out her bills and getting them ready to mail tomorrow. She wanted to feel like she had accomplished something was this night away from Michala.
It was the color of the letter that caught her eye. The bright yellow color was out of place among the business class white. But it wasnt the color per se that draw her attention, it was the memory of that same color clenched in Randas fist that fateful Friday morning. Carefully she isolated the envelope from the others. Although she wouldnt make any large bets on it, Kelly thought the thin sketchy handwriting matched the one on Michalas letter. She barely caught herself from reaching for the envelope. Damn, she really wanted to open the letter.
She reached for the bedside phone instead. It took four calls before she finally had to the home phone number for Kendall Reynolds. The fact that Michalas stalker was able to get her address concerned her. Its not supposed to be easy to get the address or phone number of law enforcement officials. How had he found out who she was and gotten hers so quickly?
Kelly glanced at her clock belatedly and was glad it was only a little after ten. She wasnt calling too late. "Detective Reynolds, this is Kelly Pryce. We met at the Cary Center today."
Their introduction had been very brief. Kelly was never given the chance to ask about the tapes. She didnt want to make the request with Michala nearby and she didnt want Michala out of her sight. She had planned to call Kendall tomorrow.
Kendalls voice lost the brisk official tone. "Hi Kelly. Youre with DVIT, right?"
Kelly stared down at the yellow envelope. "Yes. I dont know if you picked up on it, but Im also dating Michala."
"No, I didnt pick up on it," Kendall said with an obvious smile. "I might have tried my own luck if I wasnt straight."
At any other time, Kelly would have been amused by the admission. "On the letters she got, have you found any prints?"
"Several and all on the outside. Hers, different staff members of the Center and the mailman. Nothing inside the envelope. No DNA on the flap or the stamp."
"Im not sure Kendall, but I think I got one of his letters. I only saw the one, but the colors the same and the handwriting looks familiar."
Now Kendall was brisk and official again. "Have you opened it?
"No, but not because I dont want to in the worst way. I dont want to screw up catching this guy."
Kelly heard rustling in the background and doors opening and closing. "Where do you live Kelly? Ill come over and take possession and open it."
Kelly gave her the address. She didnt think about telling her she could do that tomorrow. Kelly wanted to know what the letter said. She wasnt sure she would sleep if she had to wait and she knew shed never be able to resist if she had to sit up all night. After the call, Kelly threw on her robe and went down the hall to Danis bedroom. Her door was half open and the room dark. Kelly listened to her friends even breathing and decided there was no reason for Dani to be awake for this.
She had coffee made and the letter downstairs waiting on the table when Kendall knocked on the door. Kelly checked to make sure it was the tall brunette cop before she opened the door. Kendall was wearing blue jeans and what looked like a dark blue mans pajama top. She had evidence bags and latex gloves in her hands.
Kelly nodded. "Anxious. It might not be from him. You could have came over here for nothing."
In her heart Kelly knew it was from him. She wasnt sure how he found her so fast. She didnt hope that she would attract his attention away from Michala. "Do you want some coffee?"
Kendall snapped on the gloves as she walked to the kitchen. "Sure. With milk and sugar if youve got it."
While Kelly made her cup, she watched Kendall lean over the table. "Good call, Kelly. It looks like youve been invited to play."
Over the next few minutes, Kendall carefully opened the letter. She dropped the envelope into its own bag as soon as she had the letter out. Next she opened the letter before sliding it down into the second evidence bag. She read the few lines Kelly could see before she stepped back so that Kelly could read it.
Enjoy her while you can. She wont be yours for long.
Kelly was disappointed. She had hoped for something a little more dark or taunting or at least threatening. "Im glad I didnt have to sit up all night for this."
Kendall laughed and sat down at the table. "Hes been a cool customer so far. Hes only lost it once on one of the tapes. When he found out shes gay."
"How did he find out?"
Who the hell was this man? How was he in her life? They had to find out what edge he was hanging on and flick him off.
"He followed her to a bar. It was the first he knew of it. He smashed her windshield. I think it was New Years Eve."
Kelly quickly did the math in her head. By Michalas calculations, his first contact with her was in September. So for four months hes writing her and calling her without a clue to her sexual orientation. How many of those months was she with Melissa? They break up and she goes to a gay bar. Then for the next four months hes writing her and calling her but also vandalizing her car and the Center. What happened for him to escalate now? Did her presence over the weekend push some button for him? Was she the reason Michalas home was destroyed?
"Are you going to tell her about this?"
Kelly thought of Michalas reaction if she didnt tell her and she found out later. She laughed and nodded. "Yes. This concerns her."
Kendall nodded in agreement. She took a sip of her coffee and stared down at the letter. "Kelly, if its not too personal, how long how have you two been dating?"
Kelly watched Kendall frown as she read the few lines. She knew Kendall wasnt asking for social reasons. "We met the Friday before he broke into the Center. Randa had gotten one of the letters and wanted me to look at it. While we were talking Michala came into the room. We didnt tell her about the letter, but she told us about her windshield being broken the night before at the bar. Randa and I left and talked about it. We werent sure then if anything was going on."
Here she paused the story and wondered how much to tell. The fact that they met later at the bar and spent the night together didnt paint either of them in a good light. For her own self, Kelly knew she would have left with Michala on any night. She thought for Michala it was just a continuation of the risky behavior that was becoming a habit of hers. She wasnt ashamed of how they met and got together. Neither did she want it to be a story told around the water cooler at work.
She looked over at Kendall. "I was with her later that night when he called. She hung up on him. He called back and I answered the phone. He was screaming, saying she better not ever hang up on him again. He said he would kill her. She refused to talk to me about it. Got annoyed when I pushed. I let it go and decided I would tell Randa. I started thinking then that the problem was more serious than we thought."
Kelly smiled in remembrance. If Randa and Susan had not come over that morning and if Michala had not outted Randa to her, how would she have finally told Randa the truth? She never did work that out in her head. She wondered now if it had come down to outing herself to Randa or not telling her about the phone calls, which she would have chosen. She had to believe in her own mind that she would have protected Michala.
She sighed and shook the thoughts away. That was a road she would never have to travel.
"I spent the weekend with Michala. I dont think he called Saturday night. I never heard the machine come on. He did call late Sunday afternoon. He said he knew I was there and he wanted me to leave. We argued over the call. She refused to talk about it all. I left and went straight to Randa. I was pretty sure then that she was being stalked. We were talking about what to do next when Michala called to say he had broken into the Center."
Kendall frowned and sat forward. "Youre new to town arent you?"
The question came from left field. "Yes. I moved here right after the new year."
"Youve been here almost four months. Youve known her less than a month. How did he zero in on you so fast? He shouldnt have been able to find you."
"I thought about that when it took me about twenty minutes to get your home phone number."
"You know, we dont have a single suspect," Kendall rubbed her forehead tiredly. "This guy could be anybody."
Kelly was shocked by that statement. She knew that wasnt true at all. "No, hes not anybody Kendall. Hes connected to the Center. Didnt anyone tell you that?"
Kendalls expression matched the one Kelly knew was on her face just a minute earlier. Anger flashed across her face. "How do you know hes connected to the Center?"
"On the tapes, he calls her Cayla. Michala hates that name. The Center is the only place he would hear people call her that and have her answer to the name. Randa is the only other person in her life that calls her Cayla."
Disgust wiped the anger from Kendalls face. "Dammit, I knew there was something odd about those tapes. I even remember thinking how weird it was that he called her that. I just thought he was giving her a nickname."
Kellys smile was brief. "I only picked up on it because I noticed Michala is the only one who calls Randa Miranda. I asked Susan about it. She said it was a twin annoyance thing, but that Michala allowed it at the Center because it was easier for the kids."
Kendall stood up and reached for the evidence bags. "I hate to say this, but Im glad you got this. Youve given me my first lead."
Kelly followed her to the front door. "Then maybe youd be willing to do me a favor. I want to hear the tapes."
Kendall turned with her hand on the door knob. "You said on the tapes he called her Cayla. How do you know that if you havent heard them?"
She was quick. Kelly was glad. She wanted a sharp detective on this case. "Michala was listening to the tapes to see if she recognized the voice. We were getting close to the day Tyler died. I could tell she wasnt handling it very well. We left and I didnt get to hear the rest. Id like to."
A very good question. It was late. A long day was ending hours later than should have. Otherwise Kelly knew she would have censored herself better. "I love her. I need to know what hes been saying to her."
Kendall stared at her for several moments, pale blue eyes sweeping over face before she nodded slowly. "Okay. Maybe youll pick up on something else that I didnt. Call me."
Kelly watched through the window as Kendall got into her car and drove away. She had a lot to do tomorrow. She should go upstairs and go to sleep. If she could turn her mind off she would. Thinking she wandered through the downstairs double checking the locks on the doors and windows. Her only concern with him targeting her was that this wasnt her home. It was Danis. Kelly knew all to well that no security system was completely fail safe. Especially if someone was determined to get in.
She would deal with this tomorrow. There wasnt anything she could do tonight. Shed let everyone get a goodnights sleep before she dropped this newest bomb. She wasnt sure of Danis reaction. She was afraid to even wonder about Michalas.
Tomorrow. She would deal with the fall-out tomorrow.
"Its my turn."
"I dont think so. I know we had Belgian Waffles last time. Dont try to convince me I choose that."
Michala watched her friends bicker like five years over the rim of her first cup of coffee. She shook her head and pushed away from the counter. Today was Saturday, the day they got together for brunch and gossip. Today wasnt the typical Saturday. For one thing, they werent at Michalas. Since she was the one who cooked, she choose to do so in the comfort of her own kitchen. Second, and more important, Shannon was also sitting at the bar. As a rule girlfriends werent allowed.
"Shannon, what would you like?"
Her question ended the argument between Susan and Jess and had both of them staring at her in shock. Michala ignored them. Shannons head lifted cautiously from the newspaper she was reading. Michala smiled at the deer caught in headlights look. Shannon hadnt wanted to join them. She had protested the break in tradition. Michala had insisted, saying they could go back to tradition when things were back to normal.
"Um, whatever you make is fine with me," Shannon said and dropped her gaze back to the paper.
Michala leaned on the counter in front of her and summoned her brightest, most persuasive smile. "Come on Shannon, you can have whatever you want."
"She wants a western omelet. With toast." Jess voice was smug. Her girlfriend, her choice by proxy. Michala was willing to give Shannon that, if thats what she wanted.
"Really, I dont want to play. Let them decide and Ill have whatevers made."
Michala inched closer and was about to do her best to cajole Shannon into "playing" with them when the phone rang. Because she was so close, she saw the sheer utter relief that came to Shannons eyes at the interruption. She slid hastily from the bar stool. "Ill get that. You guys decide."
Michala frowned as she watched her hurry to the phone. Was Shannon really that uncomfortable? Was it just the break in tradition? Or was it her? Was Shannon that great an actress that Michala didnt realize just how uncomfortable she was with Michala in her home? Jess had said Shannon wanted her there as much as the rest of them did. What else was Jess going to say? She wasnt going to tell Michala that Shannon would rather run naked through the stands of Turner Field than have Michala in her home. You just didnt say that to a friend.
"Lets do pancakes. We both love those," Jess offered to Susan.
"Before I agree to that, what do you have to put in them? I dont want plain."
"That was the gate. Kellys here," Shannon said coming back to the bar. "You can let her decide."
"Too late." Jess said. She was standing in the kitchen, searching the fridge. "Strawberries. How does that sound?"
Michala reluctantly shelved her thoughts about Shannon for another time. She had too many other things to do now. She would pull out her thoughts at a later time when she could give them the attention they required. She took the green basket of plump strawberries from Jess. She had a big breakfast to make.
With the addition of Kelly to the group, Michala noticed that Shannon loosened up considerably. The four of them sat on the other side of the bar and kept a running commentary while she made strawberry pancakes, bacon and toast. They ate the meal on the patio. The sun was bright in the clear blue sky. A cool breeze brought the light scent of Kellys perfume. Michala was watching her and wondering how long her friends would want to continue the morning. Kelly looked sexy in dark green T-shirt tucked into blue jeans. Of course, she thought Kelly looked sexy in anything.
"Is Randa coming over?" Kelly asked, the change in tone a warning bell for Michala. She sounded serious.
Susan laughed. "No. Actually you and Shan shouldnt be here. Its Saturday. Michala needs to explain that to you."
Michala caught Kellys eyes when she glanced over. She grinned at the perplexed expression. "The three of us get together on Saturday mornings. We do brunch and catch up. No girlfriends."
Kelly darted a look over at Jess and Susan. Michala blinked as she caught the flash of anger in her blue eyes. There was something about that that Kelly didnt like. Was it the brunch with no girlfriends? Michala mentally sighed. Kelly wouldnt be the first girlfriend to dislike the tradition.
"Ill try to remember that," Kelly replied, her smile too amused for her to be really upset about it.
Their gazes met and the warning bell sounded louder. Michala put her cup down and braced herself. Kelly hadnt just dropped by to see her. "All right Kelly. Whats wrong?"
Michala was prepared for Kelly to say she wanted them to talk in private. She told herself she was ready for Kelly to tell her that this had gone too far too fast. She had tried not to be hurt when Kelly declined to spend the night with her last night. She tried to believe it wasnt because she had scared Kelly in her apartment that afternoon. It was hard to sell it to herself.
She wasnt prepared for Kelly to reach for her hand, to slide her chair closer. She didnt know what to think when Kelly sat forward and met her eyes in a direct gaze. "I love you. I never thought I would find you and now that I have, Im not letting you go. Do you understand? No matter what I am not letting you go."
Michalas world stopped. She stared into Kellys determined eyes and her world came to a screeching stop. The hands holding hers tightened when she would have pulled away. She searched Kellys eyes and saw the truth. "What did he do to you?"
Her heart thundered painfully in her chest. She wasnt sure if the buzzing in her head was from lack of oxygen or only a prelude to her fainting. This couldnt be happening. Whatever it was, and she knew with every cell in her body that he had done something, it could not be happening. She tried once more to pull away from Kelly. Kelly shook her head.
"He sent me a letter. At Danis. Kendall already has it."
So many questions. Michala fought to sort out the questions bombarding her mind. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Okay, he sent Kelly a letter. A letter to her home. He knew who she was and where she lived. "What did it say?"
She opened her eyes when Kelly remained silent. "What did he say to you Kelly?"
"He told me to enjoy you while I can, you wont be mine for long. I was disappointed. I thought I would at least rate my own threat." She tried to smile.
Michalas own smile was bitter. "Sounds like a threat to me. If he kills you, hell be right. I wasnt yours for long."
"Thats not how he meant it Michala." The words were sharp and angry. "This wasnt directed at me."
Michala stood up. Kelly followed her. Michala tried to take a step back, but Kelly held her next to her with a vice grip on her hands. "Dont tell me what he meant like you know. You dont. Unless youre channeling him, youre just trying to spin this so I wont freak out. He knows who you are. He knows where you live. Im not going to just sit here and nod while you try to convince me hes not coming after you."
"Hes not coming for me. He doesnt want me. He wants you."
"Let go of my hands Kelly. Now."
"You arent pushing me out of your life over this Michala. Dont even try it. Im not losing you over this. Nod that you agree and Ill let go."
Brown warred with blue. Michala saw the steely resolution in Kellys eyes and believed she would stand there forever if Michala didnt agree with her. Michala reached for the cool poise that was her trademark. When she felt calm and in control, she nodded her head once. She could say whatever she had to say. She needed space to think. To get that, she could promise anything and feel no remorse when she broke it.
Kelly released one hand. She pulled Michala against her and used her free hand to cup Michalas face. "Im not that stupid." The kiss was soft and gentle, an oddly comforting contrast to the brute force Kelly had used to keep her next to her.
Once free, Michala walked to the edge of the patio and wrapped her arms around herself. How could she have been so stupid? Any one of the women she brought back home could have been targeted. How could she not have realized that? Behind her she heard Susan speaking. She deliberately blocked out the words. She didnt want to be reasonable. She didnt want to be rational. She knew her friends were going to be both. Let them. This wasnt their life flaming down around them. It was hers.
It was her life and she was tired of having to deal with it. She sighed and dropped her head as the thought came to mind. She knew that feeling all too well. It was the feeling that got her where she was today, exiled to live in someone elses home. Standing in someone elses yard while her life was discussed like the soap opera it was. Decisions made by a committee she was on only grudgingly.
"I need a drink," She announced to no one in particular. She moved quickly to the kitchen and went through the motions of taking down a glass and standing at the sink. When she was certain no one had followed her inside, she headed for the front door. She had to go somewhere else, be anywhere but here. Her keys were on the hallway table along with her sunglasses. She snatched up both and shrugged away the consequences of her actions.
She was a grown woman. She was single and over twenty-one. She could always say "Im sorry" later.
Well that couldnt have gone much worse. Kelly watched Michala flee the patio and her heart sank because she knew Michala was running away from her. She wished many things right then, but chief among them was a wish to have had a choice in telling her about the letter. Absolutely nothing was gained and way too much had been lost. It was a perfect Saturday and Kelly hated him for making her the one who ruined it.
She walked to the table for her coffee. The cup was halfway to her lips, her eyes on Michalas place setting, when realization hit. "Son of a bitch."
With the others trailing behind her in confusion, Kelly moved quickly through the house. She knew the kitchen would be empty. Just as she knew Michala wasnt upstairs. She went to the front door and slung it open already knowing she would see an empty spot instead of a shiny red Corvette. Susan and Jess pushed past her with violent oaths to stand in the yard. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. If she hadnt been so busy beating herself up, Kelly hoped she would have seen Michalas leaving the patio for the ruse it was. She should know by now that running away from her problems was how Michala coped with them. The lesson was hard to remember because it was such an immature attitude coming from someone like Michala.
"Any ideas where she went?" she asked them. She didnt expect them to know. For best friends, they were astonishingly clueless when it came to Michala.
Susan turned to stare at her. "None. You?"
Several places flitted across her mind. The new offices, her parents, the Center, Georgia, the Eastern seaboard. She shook her head as no place stood out in her mind. Michala could literally go anywhere. She had the money and the time to go on an extended vacation anywhere in the world she wanted. Would she leave without saying anything to anyone? "Call Randa. She cant leave without telling her. Theyre expecting Michala to be working Monday."
"Then Ill call Lynne. Michala can leave without telling Randa. Its Lynne she cant leave without telling. Lynne isnt going to demand anything from her."
"Fine." She turned to Jess. "Is there anything you can do officially?"
Jess shook her head and walked over to stand next to her. "But I can do a lot unofficially. So can Paige."
"Come on," Shannon said when they were the only ones left, the only ones with no one to call or anything to do. "Lets go inside."
What Shannon really meant to say was "Lets go inside and wait on the patio". And thats what Kelly did. She sat on the sun washed patio and waited as phone calls zipped around the city. An APB was out on Michalas car. Police cars added more patrols around the Center and the new offices. Someone called Michalas cell phone every ten minutes. Her credit cards and bank card were being monitored for activity. Theoretically Michala couldnt make a move without them knowing. The actuality of not knowing where she was six hours later was wearing on Kellys nerves. She wanted to do more than sit and wait.
Kelly had gone through all the emotions. From thoughts of killing Michala to save them all the trouble of him doing it to making a deal with God that if he brought her back soon she would not strangle her. Now she just wanted her back so that this day could end. She knew when it started that it wasnt going to be one of the better days of her life. She had no way to know it would be this bad. She wasnt sure if she had known she would have told Michala about the letter. She would have preferred for Michala to be angry with her for keeping something like this from her.
"Shans calling for pizza. Any preferences?"
"Say Supreme extra cheese no mushrooms."
The voice tried to be cool and controlled. She sounded weary and defeated. Kelly stood up and turned to face her. Michala, her clothes rumpled, stood a step onto the patio. Her eyes were huge and black in a face drained of color.
"Oh God," Jess said and rushed to envelope Michala in a full body hug. "Oh God."
Michala allowed herself to be held for several long minutes. Finally Michala pulled away and reached to wipe away the silent tears on her friends face. "Go order pizza. Well be in a minute."
Kelly wanted to follow Jess lead and simply hold Michala. Everything in her wanted to pull Michala tight against her, to reassure herself that Michala was as unmarked as she looked. Michala came over to stand in front of her. The uncertainty in her eyes almost broke down Kellys resolve.
If only she had said anything else. If only she had said nothing at all. Kelly would have pulled her close. Those two words were the last two words Kelly wanted to hear. She stepped away from Michala. "I cant do this. I wont do this. What you did is inexcusable and so is saying youre sorry when you know youll do it again. Im not your friends Michala. I dont want a ringside seat to watch you self-destruct. If you get your act together call me. Otherwise Ill keep vigil with the newspaper. I know your murder will make the front page."
She didnt touch Michala as she left her standing on the darkening patio. Her iron will kept her voice calm and even as she told Jess she was leaving. She saw the questions on their faces, saw their eyes dart to the open patio door. Let Michala explain. Let her tell her friends whatever she wanted to tell them. She paused by Randa long enough to tell her she would be at her office tomorrow working and Randa should come by at some point to pick up files.
"Were way behind," she said pointedly. "Sams been holding down the fort long enough."
The silence she left in her wake was tangible. She forced all thoughts of Michala and the day from her mind as she drove away. She believed every word she told Michala. She also knew she would not be able to keep her end of it if she allowed herself to think about Michala. Work, she would think about work. She had a lot to do before Monday. She wanted to be up to speed by the time they met at ten Monday and she was going to have to put in a lot of hours for that to happen.
By the time she reached the dark townhouse, she was calm. Whatever happened tomorrow could never be as bad as today. And as bad as today had been, she was still standing. She could do this because it was the right thing for her to do. The other option was to be a silent witness as Michala destroyed herself. Kelly didnt love her enough for that.
Kelly spent the rest of the night finishing up the tasks she had neglected. She felt like her life had been on hold and was now moving forward again. Yes, whatever happened tomorrow had to be better than what happened today. She lost Michala today.
"Im fine Miranda. Ill be in soon."
What a day. Michala dropped down onto a chaise lounge and stretched out. It neither started nor ended the way she would have chose, but if had to start the way it did she was grateful for the way it ended. Her only thought when she left here was to get as far away as she could. She drove aimlessly, her thoughts wandering from plan to rejected plan. Leaving Atlanta wasnt an option. She was just getting her life back on track. She refused to let him run her off now. Once she knew she was staying and dealing, the rest of her time was spent on what to do with Kelly. She wanted Kelly as far away from her life as she could get her. It was the how that kept hanging her up. Even when she came back and walked onto the patio, she still wasnt sure how she was going to arrange it.
She smiled her first heart felt smile of the day. Thank you Kelly. Remind me that I owe you one when this is all over. Providing of course when this was all over that Kelly was still speaking to her. She had to acknowledge at least the possibility, however unlikely. Kelly wanted more with her. She was sure of that.
Absently she turned to look up at her sister. "Hmm?"
"Are you all right?"
Michala pushed herself to her feet and looped her arm with Mirandas. "Is that pizza here yet? Im starving."
Miranda resisted her tugging. Michala stopped and faced her. "What?"
Eyes identical to her own searched her face. The mirror image of her face frowned in confusion. "What happened with Kelly? She wasnt out here long enough for you to have a fight."
Michala was astonished her sister chose to tackle that subject, and by herself, too. She thought Jess and Susan would be the ones asking her questions. She forced the amusement she felt at the situation down deep. "She said Im childish and selfish. She told me to get in touch with her when I grow up."
Mirandas reaction was comical. Her eyes popped open, her mouth opened and from that expression, Michala guessed her brain was frozen. She laughed and reached over to close her mouth with one finger. "She was right. And I will call her, when its over."
"When its over? You mean when hes caught?"
The seconds ticked by as Miranda stared at her without expression. Finally she nodded and crossed her arms over her chest. "You planned that didnt you? You wanted her out of her life and you wanted it to be her idea."
"You give me too much credit Miranda. Yes, I wanted her out of my life. But I was more than willing for it to be my fault. This way is better. This way she doesnt come back until I let her." This way was so much better than any she would have planned.
Miranda laughed and slid her arm around her shoulders. "Dont count on that, Cayla. I think youve met your match with that one. Kellys told me shes in love with you and that you belong to her. I doubt very much this is going to keep her away for long."
Michala shrugged and followed her sister inside. "Theres always my righteous anger. I get to say How dare you and You have a lot of nerve. Not to mention a few pointed silences. Whatever it takes." She grinned at Jess. "Youll give me a restraining order if I ask for one wont you?"
Jess looked up from her slice of pizza. "Sure. I wont even ask for who or why."
Michala went to the counter. She was starving and her tummy was getting vocal now that it could smell food. Shed had only one priority over the day and getting food wasnt it. She grabbed a slice, dropped it on a paper plate and reached over to pour herself a glass of Coke.
"You should. Its for Kelly."
Michala threw her sister an exasperated glare, but gave into the inevitable without a fight. She had to tell them and this worked. They finished off the two medium pizzas, several liters of Coke and rehashed her day from the moment Kelly left until Kelly mentioned her letter. By that time it was several hours later. Michala was never so happy to see one day end.
Later, when the probing was over and she had been hugged by one and all, she was allowed upstairs for a hot shower. She slipped away gratefully. She wanted nothing more than to wash away this day and start over fresh tomorrow. Or rather, start over on Monday. Her sabbatical from life was over. The absence had its purpose and she was stronger for it. She was ready to move on.
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