Chapter 50

Tina woke gradually. The first thing she was aware of was the deep, steady breathing of her partner in the otherwise quiet room. The air still held the faint scent of candles and body oil. She realized she was on her stomach in the same position as she had fallen asleep. I was so tired I didn't budge all night. Opening her eyes, she studied the woman resting peacefully next to her. How does she always know what I need? Raising her head to look at the clock on the nightstand, Tina was astonished to see that it was almost 5 A.M. Over seven hours of sleep? And no nightmares. She rolled onto her back and stretched, relishing the feeling of relaxed muscles. That massage was worth a MONTH of cooking dinners.

She got up and moved about stealthily, even though it was unlikely any noise she might make would awaken Sam. Retrieving clean underwear from the dresser drawer, she smiled, remembering how excited the blonde had been when she'd found the small stash of clothing Tina had put there. It wasn't long before she had ME all excited, too. After washing up in the bathroom, she dressed quickly and returned to the bedroom. As had become her routine, she stood beside the bed for a minute, saying a silent prayer to anyone who might be listening, asking that Samantha be watched over and kept safe. She placed a feather-light kiss on the sleeping woman's forehead. I love you.

It was the beginning of what would be another lengthy day, but that didn't bother Tina. Knowing she would see Samantha that evening was more than enough to carry her through the ensuing hours. Stopping in the kitchen, she left a note and took the picture she liked so much from the refrigerator. She put a banana, multigrain bar and bottle of water in her backpack and exited the apartment, locking the door behind her.

The road was nearly empty as Tina drove north on Interstate 75. She listened to the radio, ate her breakfast and thought about what she wanted to accomplish at work. Daylight was breaking by the time the BMW pulled into the parking garage at Bayshore Palms. Tina took the stairs to the lobby and checked her mail, happy to find the extra remote control mechanism for the gate she had ordered from the Homeowner's Association. She rode the elevator to the fourth floor, let herself into the condo, and prepared for her morning workout. Examining the training chart that now hung on the wall in the study, she evaluated her progress thus far. The runner had recently increased her distance and it was going well. She made a decision to bump up the mileage again after the holidays.

She ran, showered, and headed to Exclusive Travel. As usual, Tina was the first one there, but soon the others arrived and the office was bustling with activity. Brenda and Vivian were busy going through the list of their client's holiday reservations, confirming with the hotels and airlines that everything was in order. This type of attention to detail had earned the business its reputation as the agency to book your travel with if you wanted an unencumbered trip. Tina had end of the year paperwork to contend with in addition to the large amount of payments in and out due to the number of clients traveling this year. At lunchtime, Brenda brought a sandwich to the accountant, who ate at her desk while she continued working.

Around four o'clock, Vivian knocked on Tina's door. "How's it going?"

"Good." Tina took off her glasses and leaned back in her chair.

"We'll start printing out the finalized itineraries tomorrow." The boss went in and sat down. "The envelope stuffing party will probably be Friday."

"Okay." Tina enjoyed the tradition Vivian had of closing the agency for an afternoon, pulling the blinds, and turning up the music. The women would kick off their shoes and get comfortable in the front office area. Then, they would match all the itineraries with the corresponding tickets, related brochures, maps and any other information the clients could possibly need. Three sets of eyes made sure everything was as it should be before the pre-labeled envelopes were sealed. The mound of mail went into a big cardboard box. Tina and Brenda flipped a coin each year to see who would lug the carton to the post office to get the envelopes weighed and mailed.

They would conclude with a drink, wishing their clients safe travels. From that point on, Brenda and Vivian's workload would slow down considerably. There would be a few calls from people with questions about their itineraries, or one or two last minute arrangements to be made, but the bulk of the holiday rush was over for them. Tina's days would still be very full, with all the accounting responsibilities that had yet to be completed.

"By the way," Vivian smiled, "I just had a call from Samantha. She wanted to thank me personally for the New Year's trip."

At the mention of her partner's name, Tina glanced at the snapshot that was taped to the computer monitor. "I talked with her about it last night."

"She told me where she'd like to go."

"Really?" Tina bent forward expectantly. "Where?"

"I'm not saying. She wants to be the one to tell you."

"Will she need a passport?"

"You'll not get any hints from me, so don't even try."

"Humph!" Tina crossed her arms and sighed.

"Well, I'm going to go home." Grinning at her sulking employee, Vivian stood. "Why don't you walk out with me?"

"I have reports to finish…"

"Samantha also said to tell you she hoped you'd be there soon. She's waiting for you."

"Oh? Umm… yeah… maybe I should escort you to your car."

Within an hour, Tina strolled into the apartment. Sam was sitting on the couch watching a talk show.

"You're home!" The younger woman turned off the TV and went to hug her partner. "You're early tonight."

"I heard you were waiting for me." Tina dropped her backpack and ducked her head for a passionate kiss.

Oh my! Sam tried to catch her breath. "Yes. I talked to Vivian today…"

"Mmm hmm." Still in the embrace, Tina started moving toward the bedroom.

Sam found herself being skillfully propelled backwards. "Where are we going?"

"I thought that's what YOU were going to tell ME."

"I… umm…" Sam felt the bed behind her legs and sat down.

Tina knelt in front of the blonde. "Where are we going for New Year's?"

"You said it could be anyplace I wanted, right?"

"Yes." Large hands slipped under Sam's shirt.

"I was thinking… this will be our first New Year's together, so it should be very special."

"I agree." Tina kissed a path along the woman's neck.

Sam was getting warm and her thoughts were beginning to wander almost as much as Tina hands, which had somehow already unclasped her bra.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"Oh… yes. I want to stay at your condo."

"W… why?" Tina's hands stilled and she pulled back enough to give Sam a questioning look. "Of all the places you could choose…"

"I want to be with you. Only you. Maybe curled up in front of a fire. Watching TV when the ball drops at Times Square. Having a glass of champagne and toasting to our future together. We can make love all night until the sun comes up. And then… I want to greet the new Millennium by seeing the first sunrise of my life… from your balcony... with you."

Sam paused, trying to gauge Tina's reaction, which seemed to be a mixture of bewilderment and surprise. "If you prefer something else…"

"No. It's just that you're passing up the opportunity to go anywhere in the world…"

"YOU'RE my world."

Understanding began to emerge in Tina's eyes. She's telling me I'm more important than the trip… than anything.

"So." Sam smiled at the loving look she was now receiving. "Does that plan sound okay to you?"

"Yes." Tina's voice deepened. "Especially the all-night part." She stood, simultaneously removing the blonde's tee shirt and bra. "But we're not teenagers…"

"My partner is in training for a marathon." Sam lay back on the bed. "I KNOW she has the stamina."

"Well, one has to train appropriately for specific… events." Tina perched above the musician and reached for the bottle on the bedside table. "I really like this body oil." She twisted off the cap and poured a small amount between Sam's breasts. Gentle fingers spread the liquid before soft lips followed the same trail.

"That… oh… feels… ohhh… goooood."

"Mmm. It tastes good on you, too." Tina picked up the bottle again. "I think this requires further… exploration."

Sam closed her eyes as some of the cool oil was applied to her belly. I made the right choice. It's going to be a New Year's we'll never forget.

It was quite awhile later that the women sat down at the kitchen table for dinner.

"This is fabulous!" Sam dug into the chicken parmesan Tina had made to have with the leftover spaghetti from the night before.

"Glad you think so." The cook ate her meal at a slower pace, getting more pleasure from watching her dinner companion's gusto than from the food on her own plate. "How did you persuade Vivian to go along with your New Year's idea?"

"Well, I did have to consent to her springing for a meal somewhere nice and she's going to have champagne delivered to us."

Tina shook her head in amazement. Two women I can't say no to and they get along like gangbusters. I'm in deep trouble.

The phone rang and Sam went to answer it. Bringing the portable receiver back to the kitchen, she gave it to Tina. "Lisa wants to talk to you."


Curious as to why her sister was calling, Sam listened with interest, gleaning not a single shred of information from Tina's series of one-word answers to whatever Lisa was saying.

"Ok. Bye." Tina turned the phone off and laid it on the table.

Sam immediately asked, "What did she want?"

"Hmm?" The dark-haired woman resumed eating her meal.

"Lisa… why did she call?"

Taking her time chewing a mouthful of chicken, Tina enjoyed the look of impatience on her inquisitive partner's face as she waited for a response. "One shouldn't ask too many questions around the holidays… there are lots of secrets…"




"All right." You're going to be SO easy to tease as Christmas approaches. "Joshua and I made a pact. Whenever I'm here at his bedtime, I'll go over and tuck him in. He told Lisa about it and she was verifying his story."

"That's very sweet of you."

"He's a good kid."

"He loves you." Sam hesitated, deliberating whether or not to ask something she had often wondered about. "Does he remind you of Steven?"

Tina thought for a moment before answering. "I guess in some ways he does. Being around him brings back happy memories about Steven when he was little. But mostly, Joshua reminds me of you."


"Yeah. He's a lot like you." Blue eyes met green across the table. "So, how could I not… love… him?"

Sam smiled and said nothing, choosing instead to savor the word she knew was intended for her.

"Umm… speaking of the holidays… would you like an early present?"


Tina chuckled as she went to get her backpack. She returned to the table and instructed Sam to close her eyes and put out her hand. "No peeking."

"No peeking… I promise." The blonde felt an object placed on her palm and she closed her fingers over it. Her face scrunched in concentration as she tried to figure out what it was. "Can I look now?"


Sam looked down at the remote control. "Umm… thanks." She inspected the device more closely. A garage door opener?

Seeing that her partner had no clue as to what it was, Tina explained. "It's for the gate at the condo. You won't have to use the call box…"

"Oh! It's a wonderful present!" Sam sat on the woman's lap. "Thank you." A tender kiss further expressed her gratitude.

"You're welcome."

They cuddled for a few minutes, basking in the love that surrounded them like a comfortable cloak.

"I still have room for dessert." Sam murmured, placing light kisses near Tina's ear.

"Mmmmm… Ring Dings?"

"Nope… something better."

"I didn't think there WAS anything better than Ring Dings."

Sam stood up. "Oh yes… MUCH better." She took Tina's hand and pulled her toward the bedroom.

Chapter 51

Sam walked along the festively decorated streets of Hyde Park Village. She was looking forward to attending the tree lighting ceremony with Tina and there was a pronounced spring to her step. Arriving at Exclusive Travel, she opened the door and went inside. Brenda was busy talking on the phone, but she greeted the visitor with a smile and waved her toward the back of the agency.

Treading quietly, Sam made her way to Tina's office. Her partner was studying data on the computer monitor and the blonde was able to watch undetected for a few moments. Just looking at her still takes my breath away. My dream-come-true. And it's more than I ever imagined it would be.

Tina finished proofreading the report she'd been working on and clicked the print icon. Glad I got that done. Samantha should be here soon. She rolled her shoulders, trying to alleviate the stiffness that had come from sitting and typing for so long.

"Mind if I help?" Sam moved into the room and went behind the desk. Placing her hands on Tina's shoulders, she gently massaged the tense muscles.

"That feels wonderful."

"Good." You deserve to feel wonderful.

The dark-haired woman swiveled the chair around and pulled Sam onto her lap. "Hi."

"Hi." The musician tugged playfully on Tina's denim button-down collar. My favorite shirt! She took notice of the khaki slacks and brown hiking boots that completed the outfit. "No jeans today?"

"Well, I thought I'd put on something different for this hot date I have tonight."

Sam grinned, enjoying the close-up view of blue eyes twinkling from behind the glasses she wished Tina would wear more often. "Hot date, huh?"

"VERY hot." The claim was substantiated with a kiss.

"Mmmm… I see what you mean. I'm beginning to feel warm already."

They kissed again, until a knock at the door interrupted them.

Sam almost fell off Tina's lap at the unexpected sound, but strong arms held her securely as the accountant rotated the chair to face her boss. "Hi, Viv."

"Hello." Vivian smiled at the sight of the women nestled together. "Nice to see you again, Samantha."

"It's nice to see you again, too." Blushing in embarrassment at the circumstances in which she'd been caught, Sam wriggled out of her partner's grip and stood up. "Umm… we were just about to go to the Cactus Club. Would you like to join us?"

"Thank you, but no. I've got a little more work to do here and then I'm meeting a friend for dinner. Perhaps another time."

"I'd like that."

Tina shut down the computer and put her glasses in her backpack. Vivian accompanied the couple to the door where they exchanged good-byes.

As they walked to the restaurant, Sam excitedly commented on the large Christmas tree in the middle of the park and a stage with risers that the musician was sure would be for some sort of choral group. "This is going to be SO cool, don't you think?"

"Yes." Because I get to share it with you.

The Cactus Club was packed and the women had a drink at the bar before being shown to a table. Sam looked at the menu and quickly decided to get the same cheeseburger she'd ordered the last time. "Can we bring my dad here when he visits? He'd like this place."


"He's REALLY going to like you."

"I don't know about that. I certainly hope he does."

"He's always told me he just wants me to be happy." Sam reassured her partner. "And you make me VERY happy."

"He…" Tina stopped speaking as the waiter approached to take their orders. She waited until he left to continue. "Your dad totally accepts that you're gay?"

"Yes. It was one of the things my parents disagreed about before they… divorced." Sam looked down at the table. "I think it might have been the final straw…"

"We don't have to talk about it…"

"It's okay. I… I should have told you. It's been… hard… knowing that I was partially responsible."

"They're adults. They made their own decisions."

"True, but I can understand why my mom is terribly upset with me. First she finds out her daughter is gay, then her husband sides with the kid." Sam sighed heavily. "It's been a big mess."

"We'll get through it…" Tina reached across the table and laid her hand over Sam's, "…together."

Misty green eyes rose to meet pale blue. "I love you."

"You're trying to butter me up so I'll buy you ice cream later."

Sam smiled, appreciative of the attempt to lighten the mood. "Maybe you want to buy the ice cream to butter ME up… so you can have your way with me when we get home."

"I think it's an exceptional strategy." Tina raised an eyebrow. "Will it work?"


They laughed and went on to chat about less serious subjects. By the time they stepped outside, it was dark. There were sparkling white lights in the shop windows, along the walkways and in the oak trees around the park. Holiday music played over speakers located throughout the area. A large crowd had congregated, waiting for the program to begin.

Tina guided Sam to one of the trees on the periphery. She positioned the smaller woman in front of her where they both would have an excellent view of the proceedings.

"This is a great spot."

"Glad you like it." Tina grinned. She had spent the better part of her lunch break checking out the vicinity, trying to determine the best place to stand.

It wasn't too long before a choir dressed in silky red robes and several dignitaries assembled on the stage. The music was turned off and an older gentleman approached the microphone. He welcomed everyone and introduced a local minister who would be leading the group in an invocation. A hush fell over the gathering as the minister said, "Let us pray."

Tina bent her head down slightly and watched her partner, who had her head bowed and hands folded. At the conclusion of the prayer, the blonde joined the majority of the people who said, "Amen."

There were a few short speeches as sponsors of the event were recognized and thanked. The president of the Hyde Park Business Association had the honor of lighting the tree and did so with much fanfare. The spectators responded with thunderous applause.

Sam glanced over her shoulder at Tina. "Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?"

"Indeed it is."

The choir began singing carols and Sam chimed in. She leaned back against the taller woman and was pleasantly surprised when a long arm curled around her waist and stayed there.

Tina surveyed their immediate surroundings, relieved that everyone was focusing on the stage and paying no attention to the two of them standing closely together. She didn't sing, preferring to listen to Sam's voice mingle with those of the choir and audience.

The program ended and the crowd began to disperse. The blonde turned and looked up at Tina. "Are we going shopping now?"

"Shopping?" In this mob?

"Yeah! We're here, the stores are open, Christmas is coming… shopping seems like a good idea."

N…O… two little letters. Put them together and you get… "Okay."

They wandered through the stores. Sam bought some gifts, explaining to Tina why they were perfect for the recipients she had in mind. In the upscale hardware store that was reminiscent of an old general mercantile, Sam had a field day looking at the wide variety of items on display. "Look at this!" She worked one of the metal clasps on a bright yellow raincoat. "Remember these? I had one with matching galoshes."

"So did I. I hated the hat that went with it, but my mother made me wear it anyway."

"I'd like to see a picture of THAT." Sam laughed. "Oh! Isn't this cute?" She picked up a tiny flashlight out of a bin. The top rotated 360 degrees and was designed to fit into tight spaces. "Mike could use one of these." She struggled with it, twisting the handle and top, trying to find the on/off mechanism. "How the heck do you turn it on?"

Tina took the flashlight and promptly twisted the bottommost section of the handle. The light popped on and off. "There you go." She smirked and gave it back.

"Show off." Sam tossed the thing back in the bin. "Let's go to The Sharper Image."

They crossed the street and went into the store. Tina began playing with gadgets while Sam browsed around. The younger woman was absorbed in her shopping when an object hit her neck. She picked up a sponge disk, approximately the size of a quarter, that had landed on the counter next to her. What's this? Looking to her left and right, she could see nothing that seemed out of the ordinary.

Tina chuckled from the end of the aisle. She loaded more disks into the shooter shaped like a starship from a popular television series. Creeping closer to her target, she took careful aim.

"AH HA!" Sam whirled and faced her would-be assailant. "Caught ya!"

"W… what?" Tina hid the toy behind her back.

"I know what you're up to…"


"Yes… YOU." Sam reached behind the woman and grabbed the weapon. "Now it's MY turn."

Tina dashed away with the blonde in hot pursuit. Several shots hit their mark before the couple dissolved into laughter near the door. An employee eyed them warily and Sam laid the toy on the counter. "Umm… we'd better leave before we get in trouble."

Hurrying outside onto the sidewalk full of shoppers, they became part of the flow walking in the direction of the ice cream store.

"So, it's about time we got some ice… " Sam was stopped in her tracks when Tina's arm suddenly extended in front of her. The people behind them crashed into their backs. "Ugh!" She looked up at her partner. "What are you doing?"

Tina was standing completely still, staring at something in the distance. She didn't answer.

"T?" Sam balanced on her tiptoes in an unsuccessful effort to see above people's heads. "What is it?"

"Samantha… I'm sorry."

Something's wrong. "What IS it?"

Tina slowly turned and looked into concerned green eyes. "It's Andi."

Chapter 52

There was a gap in the stream of people, allowing Sam to see a strikingly beautiful woman walking towards them. She was wearing stylish clothing and her dark, wavy hair bounced in time with her long, graceful strides. The blonde couldn't help but be impressed. She looks like she just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine. Sam squared her shoulders and sucked in her gut. This ought to be interesting.

"Tina!" Andi smiled. "What a surprise. I didn't think this was your kind of event."

A shrug. "Things change."

"So I see." Brown eyes shifted to Sam. "Hello. I'm Andi."

"Hi." Steadfastly meeting the gaze, the musician moved closer to Tina and wrapped a hand around her bicep. "I'm Sam." And she's mine.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Andi nodded, acknowledging both the greeting and the possessive stance. "You're a lucky woman."

"I know." The couple replied in unison, looked at each other, and grinned at their like-mindedness.

"Honey," Sam explained, "I think she was talking to ME."

"Oh…" Tina blushed and shuffled her feet. Honey?

Andi watched her ex-lover. Amazing… she's blushing! Evidently, keeping my feelings to myself wasn't the best plan. I was afraid she wasn't ready and I'd scare her away. But I ended up losing her anyhow. "Well, I'll let you get back to your shopping. I'm glad I got a chance to see you and say Merry Christmas." She stepped forward, kissed Tina on the cheek and whispered something to her. Then, taking off rapidly in the opposite direction, she was gone.

Without a word, the accountant suddenly sprang into motion, heading for the parking garage.

"Tina… wait." Sam hurried to catch up.

"Let's go home," Tina, clearly rattled from the encounter, implored. "Please."

"Home it is."

They walked to the garage and rode the elevator to the third level where they had prearranged to park.

"I'm over here." Sam pointed to the left. "I'll follow you." Quickly throwing her shopping bag in the rear of the SUV, she got behind the wheel and trailed Tina's car the short distance to Bayshore Palms. She used her new remote at the gate, impatiently having to wait for it to close after the BMW before being able to open it again. When she pulled into the empty space next to the silver car, her partner was already pacing back and forth in front of the elevator.

Sam jogged over and they went up to the condo. As soon as they got inside, the blonde put her arms around Tina. "It's all right."

"I'm sorry." The taller woman reciprocated the hug.

"There's no reason for you to be sorry. How about we sit on the couch and talk a little bit?"


"I could use a beer. Would you like one?"


Neither of them moved.

"Umm… T? You're going to have to let go of me so I can get it for you."

"I… I don't ever want to let you go." Tina loosened her grasp just enough to duck her head for a kiss. "Ever."

"I like it when you think that way." Especially when you tell me. Sam smiled and backed out of the embrace before they could kiss again, knowing where that would lead. Right now, more than anything, we need to talk. She turned on the lamp by the couch. "Why don't you take off your shoes and relax while I get the beers?"

Tina took the advice and was sitting with her feet propped on the coffee table when Sam returned to join her. They were quiet for a few minutes, sorting their thoughts while they sipped their drinks.

Sam spoke first. "She's very beautiful."

"I guess so. I… it never occurred to me that we'd run into her."

"It's a small world. I'm sure you'll meet an ex or two of mine somewhere along the line."

"I don't think I'll like that."

"It can be an awkward situation, but, if all else fails, you can always give them that glare of yours."

"Uh huh."

"Besides, I don't have anyone from my past quite as… stunning… for you to meet."

"I never loved her."

"I know." Sam gently brushed the trace of lipstick from Tina's cheek. She's in love with you, though.

"She told me she's glad I'm happy… and… umm… she misses me."

"Of course she does." Sam had been extremely curious as to what Andi had whispered and was pleased that Tina had shared the information without being asked. "Do you miss her?"

"I… care about her. I'd like for her to be happy, too."

She'll have to get over you first. "Everybody has to find their own way… in their own time."

Tina put her drink on the end table. "C'mere." She gathered the blonde into her arms. "It may have taken me a while, but I found what I want."

"Are you… sure?" Insecurity crept into Sam's voice. "I mean… you're so gorgeous, it's a given that people… beautiful people… will flirt with you… want you. I don't know how to compete with that."

"I'm VERY sure. And there is nobody for you to compete against. With one look… one word… one touch… you're in here," Tina tapped her chest, "hugging my heart."

An enormous smile lit up Sam's face. "Really?"

"Really." Tina smiled back, delighted her words had helped ease the woman's doubts. I need to tell her stuff like this more often. Pulling the bottom of the polo shirt out of the waistband of Sam's jeans, she slid a hand underneath. "It doesn't hurt that you have a sexy little body, too. Soft… with curves." Her hand cupped a full breast. "For me… you're just right."

The combination of compliments and gentle caresses had turned Sam a rosy shade of pink. "You certainly know how to flatter a girl."

"Only you."

"I'm going to hold you to that."

"Good. I like it when you hold me."

"So do I."

Several minutes of contented snuggling passed.



"I'm sorry if I've been acting jealous. It's not the most endearing of traits. The problem is, anything involving you seems to send my emotions into override."

"I understand the feeling. The thought of losing you..."

"There's NO chance of that."

"I get a pain in my stomach just thinking about it."

"I'll never leave you." Sam kissed Tina tenderly. "I promise."

Blue eyes became moist with tears. "What if something… bad… happens?"

"We can find a way to get through anything."

"I… umm… guess I should tell you. I've been having nightmares again."

Sam was immediately worried. "About the accident?"

"Kind of." Tina took and released a shaky deep breath. "But… it's not Steven. It… I… lose… you."

"That WON'T happen. Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Steven and I said we'd always stick together. I told him I… loved… him."

I bet you've never told anybody that since then. Sam carefully considered how to respond. She decided that, as difficult as it might be, she had to be realistic. "We can't anticipate everything life has in store for us. If, as unlikely as it is, something happened, I'd fight till the end to stay with you. And, no matter what, even if I was physically… gone… I'd be in your heart forever."

"I… need… you. I don't know what I'd do…"

"Promise me you wouldn't run away again and close yourself off from everyone…"

"I can't promise that."

"What about Joshua?"


"Yes. If something happened to me, he'd need you to help him deal with it." Almost as much as you'd need him.

"I… don't think I'd be much help."

"Just being there for him would be enough." Sam used her thumb to wipe the tear trickling down Tina's cheek. "Not that we have to be bothered with such thoughts, because we're going to grow very old together."

"I hope so."

"For now, our main objective should be to get you a dream catcher."

"The Native American thing?"

"Yeah. You hang it by the bed. It filters out bad dreams and lets the good ones through."

"Does it work?"

"It's worth giving it a shot, don't you think?"


"I'll pick one up tomorrow. But for tonight… I think I'll hold you and see if I can keep all the bad dreams away."

"I like that idea."

"Well, it will take both of us to make it work."

"What do I have to do?"

"You have to believe that I love you… that I'll protect you… and I'll never leave you. Can you do that?"

Tina looked into Sam's eyes, seeing only love and devotion shining back at her. How can I NOT believe it? "Yes."

That night Tina slept peacefully, wrapped securely in Sam's arms. The next morning, she told the blonde not to buy her a dream catcher.

She already had one.

Chapter 53

The next few weeks passed in a whirlwind of activity. Between working longer hours and taking care of their holiday shopping, the couple hadn't had a great deal of time together. When Sam learned she would be getting off work early one afternoon, she convinced Tina to do likewise and meet her at the condo for some much needed rest and relaxation.

She's going to be surprised. Sam put her hands on her hips and looked at the cheerfully adorned room with satisfaction. Tiny white lights twinkled from a garland spread across the mantle where two stockings were hung. Large pillows and blankets were strewn about on the floor in front of the fireplace. A three-foot tree was centered on the coffee table, waiting to be trimmed with the decorations lying next to it. Through the sliding glass doors, multicolored lights that were wound around the balcony railing blinked merrily. She should be here soon. Humming to the Christmas song playing softly in the background, the musician went to the kitchen and stirred the contents of a pot on the stove.

Tina unlocked the door and stepped inside. She stood quietly for a moment as she took in the sight of her transformed living quarters. "Samantha?"

"Hi!" Sam ran to the foyer and gave her partner an enthusiastic hug. "Seeing as we're going to be here for Christmas, I thought we should have the proper atmosphere. Do you like it?"

"Yeah…. a lot."

The blonde tugged Tina toward the kitchen. "Here's the BEST part." She stopped in the entryway and pointed up. A red ribbon dangled from the ceiling with a sprig of greenery fastened to the end.


"Mmm hmm." Sam put her arms around the accountant's neck and pulled her down for a kiss. "Good thinking, huh?"

"Excellent, as usual."

"I've got apple cider heating on the stove. Lisa gave me cinnamon sticks to put in it."

"It smells nice."

"Want some?"

"Yessssss." Tina leaned in for another kiss.

"I MEANT the cider!"

"I'll have some of that, too."

"Come on, then." Sam chuckled and led the way to the stove. "I'll pour us each a cup and we can decorate the tree."


As they brought their drinks into the living room, Tina walked to the fireplace and touched the stocking with the Florida State emblem on it. "Where'd you ever find this?"

"At a sports store in the mall. I thought it would make it easy for Santa to figure out which one is yours."

And you knew I'd love it. "I got the fireplace working. Do you want me to turn it on?"

"Can we wait till Christmas Eve? It'll make it extra special."


"Let's decorate the tree." Sam picked up the string of lights and started to randomly drape it on the branches.

"Wait a minute." Tina grabbed the end. "The plug needs to be down at the bottom. We should do this in a logical manner."

The older woman took charge, giving precise directions that resulted in a perfectly symmetrical lighting design. Next, they took turns hanging the ornaments. The blonde would quickly pick an open space to put hers. Tina studied the tree at length before carefully choosing a spot.

Thank goodness it's not a six-footer… it would take a week to decorate. Sam picked up the tinsel. "I bet you're going to put this on one strand at a time, aren't you?"

"Umm… yes."

Sam laughed and gave half the contents of the box to her partner. "I believe in the more tinsel the better." She started tossing the stuff at the tree by the handful. In less than 30 seconds, she was done.

Tina hung single strands on the scant number of bare branches that were left. When she finished, the women sat cozily on the couch.

"Samantha, thanks for doing this. The place looks… wonderful."

"You're welcome. Would you prefer that we stay here this weekend? You do too much driving…"

Tina shook her head. "I don't want to miss tucking Josh in."

"He told me you're quite the storyteller."

"Actually… it's only been one story so far. He always asks for the same thing."

Sam was very familiar with the child's penchant for listening to a tale over and over. "Maybe I can hear it sometime?"


Maybe almost always means yes. Sam smiled and cuddled closer.

They sat silently for a bit, each one lost in her own thoughts.



"I… I think I'd like to call my mom."

"Are you sure?" Tina picked up the portable phone from its base on the end table.

Sam nodded, taking the receiver and holding it against her chest, gathering her emotional strength. Finally, she took a deep breath and dialed, waiting nervously as it rang twice before she heard her mother say hello. "Hi, Mom. It's Sam."

Tina listened to the younger woman's part of the conversation alertly, prepared to intervene if necessary.

"How are you?" … "Yes, I'm completely healed. Even the bruises are all gone." … "Yes." … "No." … "Umm… Tina and I are going to be spending Christmas in Tampa, so I was wondering if we could stop by to see you on Christmas Eve?" … "Probably late afternoon." … "Okay. Bye, Mom." Sam pressed the off button, dropped the phone on the cushion next to her, and hugged Tina. "She said YES!"

There might be hope for you after all, Mrs. Whitwell. "Guess it's a good thing I got her a present."

"You did?"


"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want you to feel any pressure about calling her. I had Lisa help me pick out something just in case."

"I love you." Sam nuzzled Tina's neck and nibbled on her ear. "What is it?"

"That? I'd say it's my ear."

"You're impossible, Tina Mellekas!"

"But that's one of the reasons you love me, right?"

"One of many, many, many reasons… yes."

Tina gently reclined the blonde down onto the couch and gave her a searing kiss.

Wow. Sam suddenly felt extremely warm. "You wouldn't be trying to avoid discussing that present, would you?"

"What present?" Tina murmured as her hands began to roam.

Both women forgot about Christmas for a while.

Chapter 54

The BMW moved slowly along the street lined with middle class homes.

"There it is." Sam indicated a peach colored, two-story house with white trim.

Tina parked in the driveway. She looked at her passenger, who had been unable to conceal her increasing anxiety as the time had come to visit her mother. "Are you okay?"

"I… I've hoped for this for years." The blonde idly picked at the ribbon tied to the gift on her lap. "But …" She shrugged. "I think I'd better apologize in advance… if this should turn into a fiasco…"

"Don't worry. It's going to be fine." Tina said matter-of-factly, even though, if the truth were known, she was feeling as apprehensive as her partner. "Remember what you told me? We can get through anything together."

"You're right." The assertive words calmed Sam's nerves a little. "Plus, I may NEVER find out what that present is if we don't go in there."

That's the spirit. The accountant reached into the rear seat for the gift she had gotten Mrs. Whitwell. "Want to shake it and see if you can guess?"


"You'll have to catch me first." Tina bolted out of the car and dashed up the walkway.

Sam quickly followed, catching the runner by the back of her shirt just outside the front door. "Give me that present!"

"Nope." The taller woman grinned and held the brightly wrapped package high above her head.

"But I caught you!"

"Indeed you have. And it's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"Don't even TRY to change the subject…"

Suddenly, the door was pulled open.

"I thought I heard someone..." Mrs. Whitwell looked at the startled couple. Did I interrupt something? Her eyes traveled up the length of Tina's arm to the still-elevated present.

"Umm… Hi, Mom, I was about to ring the bell."

"Really," Mrs. Whitwell said skeptically, glancing at the neighboring houses to see if anyone was observing them. "Come on in." She directed the guests to the living room. "Would you like a cup of coffee? Or a soft drink?"

The women politely declined and sat down on the couch. Mrs. Whitwell took a seat in the chair across from them.

After a few seconds of tense silence, Sam spoke. "Thanks for having us over. I know this isn't easy for you."

"I can't say I understand the lifestyle choice you've made, nor do I approve of it."

"Mom… please…"

"I wasn't finished."


Mrs. Whitwell looked at her youngest child fondly and softened her tone, "I love you, Samantha. To be honest, I don't know how successful I'll be at accepting this whole thing, but I'm willing to try."

"Would it help if I told you I'm incredibly happy?"

"Yes," Mrs. Whitwell's voice was resigned, "I suppose that helps."

Sam jumped off the couch to hug her mom. "I love you!"

Tina felt her stress level subsiding. We might survive this yet.

"I got you something." The blonde sat on the arm of the chair and handed her mother the gift. "Merry Christmas."

Mrs. Whitwell unwrapped the box and removed the top. "It's beautiful, Samantha." She picked up the luxurious cloth-covered journal. "Thank you."

"Look inside."

"There's more?" Doing as her daughter asked, the woman saw the inscription:

Dear Mom,

This is for all the happy memories you've

given me, and my wish for many more ahead.

Love, Samantha

Christmas 1999

Astounded, the parent flipped through page after page of writing. Memories… all happy memories. "This is so thoughtful of you. I like it very much."

"And here, Mom." Sam showed her the blank sheets toward the end. "This is where you can put new entries… if you want to."

"It's a unique gift and I'll cherish it always."

Smiling, Sam returned to her seat next to her partner. "Oh… Tina got you something, too." I can't wait to find out what it is.

"You shouldn't have…"

Tina passed her the present without further ado. "Merry Christmas."

Sam watched with interest as her mother tore the wrapping from the package, pushed the tissue paper aside and burst out laughing. Taking the set of crystal drinking glasses from the box, she gave Tina a wry smile. "They match exactly! Thank you."

"Well, I felt it was appropriate… it's partly my fault you have an incomplete set."

"Only partly?"

It was Tina's turn to laugh.

Mrs. Whitwell went over to the Christmas tree in the corner of the room, selected a gift, and brought it to her daughter.

"To Samantha and Tina. Love, Mom." Sam read the tag, carefully peeled it off the paper and gave it to her partner. "I want to keep that." Swiftly ripping the decorative wrap, she opened the box and gasped when she saw the silver-bordered photo album inside. The cover had an oval-shaped cutout in the center for a picture and the words Our Life Together in script underneath. Sam had admired the album when her mother purchased it for Lisa and Mike as an engagement present. "Mom? How did you…"

"I got an additional one after you told me how much you liked it. I've been saving it for you, thinking that someday…" There was a discomforting pause. "Anyhow, Lisa explained to me that it would be fitting for your… status."

Sam wiped at the tears in her eyes.

"Thank you," Tina said sincerely. "It means a lot to us."

"Now, don't be getting the notion that I approve of… this. I just couldn't see any reason to let the thing sit and gather dust any longer than it already has. Might as well get some use out of it."

"We understand." Sam lightly ran her fingers over the words on the album before putting the top back on the box. "You've made another happy memory for me today, Mom."

"I won't be forgetting it anytime soon, either." Mrs. Whitwell quipped.

They all laughed at the indisputably true remark.

"We should get going." Sam looked at her watch. "Lisa is cooking dinner."

"And I have baking to do for the brunch tomorrow." The homeowner walked the guests out.

They traded best wishes for the holiday and Sam gave her mother a heartfelt hug good-bye.

Mrs. Whitwell shut the door and rested against it. That was… different. She went to the living room to clean up, but found she was drawn to the journal her daughter had given her. She took the book to the study, sat at her desk and thumbed through it, stopping to read passages here and there. Coming to a blank page, she looked at it contemplatively for a long time.

Then she raised her pen and began to write.


They're here!" Joshua ran into the kitchen. "Can we eat now?"

Lisa closed her eyes. One… two… three. The anticipation of Christmas tomorrow and exchanging gifts with Sam and Tina tonight had caused the boys to be hyperactive all day, testing the limits of the woman's patience. "Shouldn't we at least let them get in the house?"

"I'll carry the presents!" The child sprinted off.

"Slow down!"

"Hey there, pretty lady." Mike came into the room and put his arms around his wife. "How's it going?"

"Do you REALLY want to know?"

Mike chortled, rubbing Lisa's back soothingly. "Maybe after the kids go to bed, I'll pour us some wine and we can sit by the fire…"

"We still have to bring the boys' gifts in from the garage… and get the basketball hoop assembled…"

"I'll take care of that."

"I get to drink wine and supervise while you play Santa?"

"Mmm hmm." Mike kissed Lisa's neck and whispered in her ear. "You can even have the cookies this year."

"Ahem…" Sam stood in the doorway with Tina. "Should we come back later?"

"No!" Joshua struggled past the couple with a large plastic bag full of packages. "Don't leave. We have to eat and open the presents!"

"Come in." Lisa laughed, letting go of Mike. "Dinner is almost ready."

"That's my cue," the man said, getting out the carving knife. "Time for me to slice the ham."

"Josh?" Tina grabbed one side of the bag before the child dropped it. "Let's put this in the family room, okay?"


Sam smiled, enchanted by the scene of the twosome heading down the hallway with the sack between them.

"Sis?" Lisa was setting bowls of food on the table. "How'd it go at Mom's?"

"It went WAY better than I expected! She told me you talked with her. I can't thank you enough."

"It was nice to have a rational discussion on the subject. It's obviously a foreign concept to her so I tried to emphasize the similarities, not the differences. She didn't say much, but she seemed to be listening."

"She was. I can hardly believe it."

"I'm glad it's finally working out." Lisa poured the boys' milk.

"Me, too," the blonde said happily. "Want me to round up the troops?"


Sam went to get Tina and her nephews. Shortly thereafter, they all sat down and enjoyed a dinner full of good food and light-hearted conversation.

"Tina?" Joshua swallowed the last bite of his pumpkin pie. "Did Grandma like her present?"

"Yes, I think she did."

"What?" Sam glowered at the group. "EVERYBODY knew about that but me?"

The adults mumbled non-committal responses, hastily scooping forkfuls of dessert into their mouths to thwart the necessity of saying anything more. Josh and Aaron giggled, nodding yes.

"Ohhh…" Sam pinned Tina with a look. "I am SO going to get you for this."

The dark-haired woman chewed her food with an aura of total innocence that triggered gales of laughter from the rest of the people at the table.

Lisa stood and collected the plates. "Would anyone like coffee?"

"Mom!" Aaron pleaded. "Can't you do that later?"

"You and Josh have to do the dishes…"

"Mommmm…" The boys whined.

"The sooner it's done, the sooner we can open the presents."

Aaron hurriedly got the step stool and climbed on it to rinse the dishes in the sink. He subsequently handed the items to Joshua, who stacked them in the dishwasher.

"No coffee for me," Mike said. "I'll go get the fire started."

Lisa served the drinks and the women had a chance to relax and chat while the children did their chores. Sam filled her sister in on the details of the trip to their mother's. There was agreement that, although progress still needed to be made, it had far exceeded what any of them would have predicted.

When the dishwashing was concluded, they retired to the family room. Mike was in the overstuffed chair near the crackling fire with Beethoven at his feet. The dog trotted toward the newcomers and received plenty of petting before everyone got seated.

Lisa took her place at the piano, tinkling the keys to limber her fingers. They began singing Christmas carols, one after another, with each person suggesting their favorites.

Tina didn't know what to make of it. I thought this kind of thing only occurred in greeting card commercials. She felt Sam pressed tightly against her on the couch. Okay, maybe an alternative greeting card commercial.

"What about you, Tina?" Lisa asked. "Do you have a request?"

"Umm… no."

"You MUST have a favorite," Sam prodded.

"Well… I kind of like The Christmas Song."

Lisa played the introduction and they all sang.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir

And folks dressed up like Eskimos

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe

Help to make the season bright

Tiny tots with their eyes all a glow

Will find it hard to sleep tonight

They know that Santa's on his way.

He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh

And every mother's child is going to spy

To see if reindeer really know how to fly

And so I'm offering this simple phrase

To kids from one to ninety-two

Although it's been said many times, many ways

Merry Christmas to you"

Tina pulled Sam into her lap and sang the ending to her.

"And so I'm offering this simple phrase

To kids from one to ninety-two

Although it's been said many times, many ways

Merry Christmas to you."

Caught up in the moment, she followed the last word with a kiss.

"Eww!" Aaron made a face. "Mushy stuff!"

Mike grasped Lisa's hand and brought her into an embrace. "That seems like a FINE idea." He kissed his wife.

"Eww! MORE mushy stuff!" Joshua covered his eyes.

The couples looked at the boys and laughed.

"Okay," Lisa announced. "Time for the presents!"

There was pandemonium as the children searched under the tree for packages bearing their names. Sam went over as they unwrapped the toys she had given them. Squeals of joy confirmed to the aunt that she had chosen well. The boys insisted she open her gift right then and there and she thanked them for the much-needed guitar strings.

Tina took the opportunity to put a large, rectangular gift in Lisa's hands. "Merry Christmas."

Lisa stripped the paper off of a picture frame that displayed a collage of newspaper articles about the track team. In the center was a photo of Tina and Lisa in their uniforms holding trophies. The caption in dark print stated Mellekas and Whitwell to represent Sarasota at State Competition. "Where on earth did you get these?"

"From my scrapbook. I scanned them on my computer…"

"You have a scrapbook?" Sam went to investigate what they were looking at. The younger woman had badgered Tina to no avail and remained in the dark as to what gifts her partner had chosen. "Oh my gosh! You're so SKINNY!"

Two pairs of eyes stared at her frostily.

"Umm… I… "

Tina shook her head. "It would be wise to quit before you dig yourself any deeper."

Joshua squeezed in front his mother to see. "Is that you?"

"Yes, with Tina. We were on the track team together in high school."

"We can hang that in here." Mike was peeking over Sam's shoulder. "It'll go with our sports theme."

Lisa propped the picture frame on the piano and smiled at her former teammate. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Tina picked up a present and gave it to Mike. "I felt like a traitor getting this, but here's something for your mantle."

The man ripped the wrapping off, looked at the collegiate football ensconced in plexiglass, and then at Tina, dumbfounded. "This is UNBELIEVABLE!" He put the box on the table, grabbed Tina and swung her around. "Thank you!"

"Why is he so excited about a football?" Aaron asked his mother.

"I don't know."

"It's personalized!" Mike had everyone view the writing next to the Gator logo on the ball. To Mike, Class of '77. Underneath, was the coach's signature. "You met him in person, Tina?"

"No. My boss has tons of connections. She got it signed for me."

"Yeah, Vivian is great." Sam held out an envelope. "She helped me with my present for you and Mike, too."

"I'll take that," Lisa said, "because I don't think he's going to let go of that football." She read the information in the packet and her jaw dropped. "Are you serious?"

"Yes." Sam smiled. "And my babysitting services are included."

"Babysitting?" Mike inquired. "What's this about?"

"It's a weekend getaway… some fancy resort on Siesta Beach." Lisa hugged her sister. "What a WONDERFUL present!"

While Sam talked about the vacation with Lisa and Mike, Tina motioned for the boys to come closer. "Hmm… I think I have something here…" She produced two packages and tossed them to Aaron and Josh.

The children decimated the wrapping in a flash and yanked the gifts from the boxes.

"It's just like yours!" Joshua pulled the Florida State shirt, identical to the one Tina was wearing, over his head.

Aaron examined the silky material of his professional soccer jersey. "Awesome!"

"Very nice!" Lisa admired the new apparel. "Boys, did you say thank you?"

"Thanks, Tina!" They chorused.

Mike carefully laid the football on the mantle and got a present from under the tree. "Sam, Tina, this is for both of you." He put an arm around his wife's waist and grinned. "From us."

"You unwrap it, T," Sam urged. "I opened the one at Mom's."

"Okay." Tina took the gift and, cautiously detaching the wrapping at the edges, extracted the object without causing a single tear to the paper.

Sam had to fight the impulse to seize the thing and open it more speedily.

"What is it?" Joshua was on his tiptoes trying to get a look.

The woman didn't answer. Her focus was on the pencil sketch matted in dark gray and bordered with a high gloss black frame. The drawing was of herself and Sam, modeled after the photo Lisa had taken of them.

"So THAT'S why you borrowed those negatives!" Sam accused her sister. "You said you wanted to make copies of the pictures of Josh on his bike!"

"I wanted those, too. But, yes, I had an ulterior motive."

"Did you draw that, Daddy?" Josh asked.

"Yes, and Mom got it framed."

"It's superbly done," Tina said quietly. "Thank you."

Lisa smiled at the reaction. She loves it!

"JOSHUA!" Aaron tussled with his brother. "I wanna give it to her!"

"I wanna do it!" Josh wailed. "Mom? He won't let go of Tina's present!"

Tina gave the sketch to Sam and rushed to the children before the quarrel escalated further. "What do you have there?"

"It's for you," Aaron answered, "but HE won't let go of it!"

"For me?" Tina sat in the chair and, smiling, extended her hand.

Neither child wanted to relinquish his grip on the gift, so they cooperatively set it in her palm.

"Thank you." The dark-haired woman looked at the package, covered with an abundance of tape and an askew bow.

"We wrapped it ourselves." Josh informed her.

"Really?" Tina explored every angle, looking for a possible point of access. Finding none, she wrestled with it until she could wrench the tape free and open the box. Oh no… Lying on cotton bedding was a long silver chain with rubber loops at each end.

Seeing the unreadable look on Tina's face, Aaron clarified, "It's for your glasses!"

"Yes… I know."

"Auntie Sam helped us pick it out." Joshua added.

"Did she? I'll have to thank her personally later."

Mike and Lisa laughed, but Sam sensed the hint of hurt in her partner's retort. Before she could ask about it, the accountant continued speaking.

"The best part is," Tina closed the box, "I'll think of you boys every time I wear it." When I turn 60.

"Joshua? Aaron?" Lisa held a large garbage bag. "It's getting late. Let's throw the trash away."

The children tidied the room, put cookies and milk on the table for Santa, and hugged everyone good night.

"You're gonna tuck me in, aren't you?" Josh asked Tina.

"Of course."

"Cool!" The boy stampeded up the steps behind his brother.

Tina's long arms enveloped Sam. She kissed the top of the blonde's head and said softly, "Would you like to come hear the story?"


"C'mon." Tina took hold of the younger woman's hand and they ascended the stairs.

When they got to Josh's room, Sam stood against the wall near the door, not wanting to interfere with the ritual that had been established. She watched as the woman pulled the covers neatly over the boy and sat on the side of the bed.

There were some preliminary questions about hand washing and teeth brushing before Tina seemed satisfied that the child was ready for the story. Acutely aware of her partner's presence in the room, she cleared her throat and began.

"Once upon a time, there was a very special little girl.

She had hair the color of sunshine and eyes as green as the grass after a spring rain. She was a happy child, who was kind and gentle and good.

She had an older sister and they squabbled, as children sometimes do, but eventually they turned out to be the best of friends.

The little girl had hopes and dreams, like everybody does, and she often thought about what her life would be like when she grew up. Mostly, she dreamed of love. Not just any love, mind you. I mean the kind one hears about in fairy tales… where two people meet and find that they're destined to be together… forever.

Well, time passed… and the girl became a beautiful woman.

She was still as kind and gentle and good as she'd been as a child. She was full of life, with a sparkle in her eyes and a smile that shone so brightly it could light up a room.

Or the darkest of hearts.

She had friends and family who loved her and she loved them in return. So, all in all, things were going pretty well. But deep down inside, she felt as if something was missing. And as the years continued to go by, she wondered if she'd ever discover what it was.

Now… around this same time,

There was a dark-haired woman who was moody and sad. She'd suffered a great loss and was having trouble finding her way in the world.

She was… lonely.

As fate would have it, one night, the two women met. And when they looked into each other's eyes… they both felt something… it was almost… magical.

Immediately, the blonde woman knew the other one needed her. How she knew it… I'm not sure. But she was right.

The dark-haired one… well… she wasn't sure WHAT she felt… except whatever it was… it scared her a lot. So, she pretended like she didn't feel anything.

She was very good at that.

However… the blonde was not the type to give up easily. She worked hard to make friends… demonstrating by example how it was okay to be happy… to have someone to confide in… and to trust.

Now, don't be thinking that this all went smoothly, because there were bumps in the road and mistakes were made. But the fair-haired woman never wavered from her belief that they were meant to be together.

She'd had to believe it for the two of them for a long time… but not anymore.

Because they BOTH believe it now.

So, you see, the hero saved the day. And she didn't need guns or any kind of violence to do it. She used the most powerful force in the universe as her weapon.

She saved the day with love."

Tina hesitated, as she usually did at this juncture, knowing that Joshua would remind her there was more.

The boy smiled. "Don't forget the end, Tina! Tell what happened to them after that!"

"Oh… umm… they lived happily ever after."

The storyteller ruffled the child's hair, kissed him on the forehead, and turned off the bedside lamp. "Sweet dreams, Josh."

"You, too, Tina."

Sam stepped out into the hallway, wiping her eyes with her shirtsleeve. She flung her arms around her partner the instant she appeared. "I love you."

Tina responded with a prolonged kiss. "Is it time to go to my place?"

"Yeah." With a lusty look, Sam grabbed the waistband of Tina's jeans and pulled her toward the stairs. "Let's go."

The tall woman raised an eyebrow, grinned, and followed willingly.

Chapter 55

Tina unlocked the condo door and pushed it open. Sam zipped past her, carrying the two-handled shopping bag her sister had given the couple when they said their good-byes. It contained the gifts they had received as well as a few still-wrapped ones that Lisa said were from Santa and not to be opened until the following day. The musician went directly to the tree, turned on its lights and added the presents to the pile already stacked on the coffee table.

Tina plugged in the strings of lights for the balcony and mantle. She looked at Sam, whose face was softly illuminated by the tree's twinkling bulbs. "With the Christmas lights and the fireplace on, we may not need any of the lamps. What do you think?"

"I think," the musician got up and hugged Tina, "I'm the happiest person on the planet tonight."

"You can't be." The taller woman rested her chin on top of Sam's head. "Cause I am."

"Did I mention that the story you told is the best present I've ever gotten?"

"Hmm… yes, I believe you did." At least three times… but who's counting? "Perhaps I should return the other gifts I have for you. They may pale in comparison."

"Not on your life!" Sam threatened. She smiled at the low chuckle she heard where her ear was pressed against Tina's chest. "Though, as much as I love getting presents, I already have everything I REALLY need right here in my arms."

Tina tilted the blonde's chin up and looked into loving green eyes. "I feel the same way."

"I like it when you agree with me." Sam stood on her tiptoes to give her partner a kiss. "Let's change into our sleep clothes so we can be comfortable while we enjoy the fire."


Sam handed Tina a gift from under the tree. "Here's something you might want to wear."

Tina pulled the paper off and unfolded the silk Florida State University boxer shorts. "These are great!"

"I know you like the Mickey ones at my place, so I thought you might want a pair for here."

"I have something for you to put on, too." Tina chose a package from the table and gave it to the blonde.

Sam ripped through the wrapping, uncovering a tee shirt that had a large S in an inverted triangle embossed on the front. "I… I've never thought of myself as anybody's hero."

"Real heroes never do," Tina said softly. "Thanks for being mine."

"There's one thing you've definitely got right… I'm yours."

"That's the best gift I could ever have."

"So," the musician smirked, "I can return YOUR other presents?"

Tina clutched the silk shorts to her chest. "Not on your life!"

They both laughed.

"I'm going to get changed." Sam gave her partner another kiss. "Don't go away."

"No chance of THAT happening." Tina watched the blonde saunter toward the bedroom. You have it bad, T. She's got you wrapped around her little finger. The dark-haired woman went to the fireplace and switched it on. And I love it. She stared into the flames for a few moments. I love HER.

Sam added an extra sway to her steps, correctly guessing that Tina was observing her exit. After a record-breaking quick shower, she pulled on her superhero shirt. The garment reached the top of her thighs and she decided no further clothing was necessary. She returned to the living area and saw that the blankets and pillows were already spread out and the fire was crackling. Her partner, however, was nowhere to be seen. "T?"

The laundry room door opened and Tina staggered through the kitchen, half-carrying, half-dragging a huge, colorfully wrapped rectangular box that was almost as tall as she was.

"What in heaven's name is that?"

"One of your presents." Tina carefully laid the item on the floor.

"You must be kidding."

"Nope." The accountant traced the S on Sam's shirt. "This looks nice."

"Thanks." The blonde noticed Tina had changed into a button up FSU baseball jersey and the new silk shorts. "How is it that you can make sportswear look so sexy?"

"It must have to do with whose company I'm in." Tina took Sam's hand and tugged her down onto the blankets next to the present. "G'wan, open it." Blue eyes were sparkling with excitement.

"Okay." Sam stripped off what must have been several rolls of decorative wrap to reveal a plain, cardboard shipping carton. She grappled with the box's top, having to pull at one end and then the other before she could remove it. Inside, surrounded by packing material, was a hard shell guitar case. The name of the manufacturer was prominently displayed on the exterior. "Oh… Tina… it can't be…"

"Let me help." Tina moved enough of the packing so she could undo the fasteners on the case. "There you go."

Sam's hands were shaking as she lifted the lid. She gasped when she saw the aged, but exceptionally well-maintained instrument. "My dream guitar."

"Test it out."

The musician cautiously took the guitar out of the case and gently twanged each string, adjusting the corresponding key on the neck to tune it. Then, with a grin at Tina, she strummed a chord.

Both women's eyes widened at the deep, rich sound.

"Wow." Sam looked at the guitar in amazement.

"I hope it's what you wanted. If not, they said you can exchange it…"

"It's exactly like I imagined. Where'd you find it?"

"On the internet. You commented that you liked old instruments, so I found a vintage guitar store…"

"Vintage?" the blonde squeaked. "How old is it?"

"1968. I have the certificate of authenticity…"

"Oh-my-God. It must have cost a fortune!"

"It'll be worth every cent to hear you play it."

"Tina… I love it… but…"

"No buts. It makes me VERY happy to give it to you. You want me to be happy, don't you?"

"You know I do."

"So," Tina smiled broadly, "will you play something for me?"

"Of course I will." Every day for the rest of our lives if you want. It didn't require a second's thought as to what the inaugural song would be. The musician played a familiar chord progression and began to sing.

"Heart living in the shadows, you've been so all alone

Moving though life within yourself, behind those walls of stone

It doesn't have to be that way, that's not how life should be

There's nothing to fear, it's just you and me here

And it's love… love

It's plain to see, yes it's clear to me

That it's love… love

I need you to be, forever with me

Cause it's love… love

Can't you see, it's our destiny

It's love… love

You… and me… it's only love."

"It sounds… you sound… awesome," Tina said. "More… please?"

"Hmm." Sam absently strummed while she thought. "One more… for you. Something fitting for this evening."

As soon as the music started, the accountant recognized the song. It was from the CD of the country artist Lisa had lent Sam. Tina had ended up buying a copy for herself and kept it in her car, listening to it often.

"I can feel the magic floating in the air

Being with you gets me that way

I watch the sunlight dance across your face, and I,

I've never been this swept away

All my thoughts just seem to settle on the breeze

When I'm lying wrapped up in your arms

The whole world just fades away, the only thing I hear

Is the beating of your heart

And I can feel you breathe, it's washing over me

Suddenly I'm melting into you

There's nothing left to prove, baby all we need is just to be

Caught up in the touch, slow and steady rush

Baby, isn't that the way that love's supposed to be

I can feel you breathe

Just breathe"

The couple smiled as the warm sounds of the guitar filled the room during the instrumental section. Sam was surprised when Tina launched into the next verse.

"In a way I know my heart is waking up

As all the walls come tumbling down

Closer than I've ever felt before

And I know… and you know

There's no need for words right now"

The musician joined in for the chorus, her higher voice blending nicely with her partner's.

"And I can feel you breathe, it's washing over me

Suddenly I'm melting into you

There's nothing left to prove, baby all we need is just to be

Caught up in the touch, slow and steady rush

Baby isn't that the way that love's supposed to be

I can feel you breathe

Just breathe

I can feel the magic floating in the air

Being with you gets me that way."

The last chord hung in the air as the women gazed at each other.

Tina took the guitar from the musician's hands and put it in the case. "C'mere." She welcomed the blonde into her arms.

"You're making all my dreams come true." Sam snuggled against the taller woman's body. "And you call ME the hero?"

They stayed like that for a while, content to just hold each other in silence.



"I want to give you a present now." Sam stretched an arm out and got a gift from under the tree. "It's… umm… not very big. But, as the saying goes, good things come in small packages."

"I can't argue with that." Tina carefully peeled the paper off. Inside was a velvet jewelry box with the initials of an established Sarasota jewelry shop imprinted in fancy lettering on the top. Whatever this is, it's very high quality… and expensive.

"Well… are you going to open it?"

"Oh… yes." Tina tossed the excess wrapping aside and opened the cover of the box. "It's beautiful." She lightly touched the silver T and gold S that were intertwined at the base of a silver and gold braided chain.

"I haven't seen you wear any jewelry, but I thought maybe…"

"I love it."

"You do?"

Tina nodded. She continued to look at the gift, even though her vision was somewhat blurred by tears.

"May I put it on you?"

Another nod.

The blonde took the necklace from the box and leaned forward so she could reach behind Tina's neck to clasp the chain. When she finished, she sat back to see how it looked. Her breath caught at the sight of the silver and gold glinting against the tan skin beneath it. And, as Sam had hoped, the letters fell just below the hollow of her partner's throat.

"How's it look?"

Sam pounced on the accountant, knocking her backwards onto the pillows. "Perfect."

"I'll never take it off then."

"It might bother you when you're running, or..."


"Good, because I want people to know," Sam spoke between the kisses she was placing in a path alongside the chain, "that this gorgeous… intelligent… strong… brave… woman," she raised her head to look into Tina's eyes and her voice became husky, "is MY woman." She followed the words with a demanding, passionate kiss.

It took Tina a moment to get her bearings under the unexpectedly intense onslaught. Resisting her own impulses, Tina tried to remain passive and give her partner free reign.

Sam continued the fervent kisses, simultaneously unbuttoning Tina's jersey and caressing the newly exposed skin. A small hand crept downward, slipping under the waistband of the boxer shorts. The heat that met probing fingers was in stark contrast to the cool, silky material above.

Tina was rapidly discovering that letting a highly aroused Samantha Whitwell completely have her way with her was an incredibly exciting thing. She groaned with displeasure when the younger woman stopped to catch her breath.

Sam was panting, trying to pull in some much needed air. "T?"

"Hmm?" Tina realized she was in a wonderful position to observe Sam's heaving chest.

"I… I don't know what's gotten into me… I'm not usually so… umm… so…"



"Maybe it's the shirt."

"Could be." Sam delicately stroked the side of Tina's face. "Or maybe I've just never been this much in love."

"There's a first time for everything." Tina slowly moved her arms up over her head.

"W… what are you doing?"

"I want you to know that body… heart… soul… everything… I'm yours." Tina paused before adding softly, "I… I love you, Samantha."

The blonde smiled. Finally! Looking into the sea of blue that was her whole world at this very instant, she saw no hint of fear or confusion… only love. She listened to the fire crackling, felt where her hands touched warm skin, and took in everything her senses could gather, trying to commit it all to memory.



"I… umm… I'm in kind of a vulnerable position here…"

"So I see." The musician trailed her fingers along Tina's raised arms. "And I'm kind of liking it."

"Me, too." If I keep agreeing with her like this, I'm going to have to run TWO marathons.

"You know what?"

Yeah… I know what. There's entirely too much talking going on here. "What?"

"Your story was right."

"It was?"

"Uh huh." The blonde nuzzled Tina's neck and murmured in her ear, "We're going to live happily ever after."

Two marathons it is. "I… I think so, too."

And indeed… they did.

The End.

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