Chapter 36

Sam pulled into the driveway. What in the world is that? A large blue flag hung from a pole attached to the garage. Getting out of her car, she looked up at the cloth fluttering in the wind. It was a University of Florida banner with a big Gator on it. She marched directly to her sister’s house and entered the kitchen. "Hello?"

"Hi, Sam!" Lisa was unloading the dishwasher. "What’s up?"

"Where did that flag come from?"

"Mike got it on the way home from work. You should’ve seen him putting the flagpole up," she chuckled. "Mr. Handyman, he’s not."

"Couldn’t you have put it on the front of your house?"

"I told him it was the garage or nowhere. I’m not having that thing hanging on my house."

"Oh… well, it’s awfully… big."

"Speaking of big," Lisa regarded the oversized FSU sweatshirt the blonde was wearing, "I see you’re still a Seminoles fan."


"How’s it going?"

Sam sat at the kitchen table. "We have some stuff to work out, but it’s going to be okay."

"Are you sure you’re all right? If she did anything…"

"I’m fine. Really. I’m the one who caused the problem, not Tina."

"You? What do you mean?"

"I pushed her too much. I got us into a physical relationship before she was emotionally ready. She tried to tell me any number of times, but I didn’t listen."

"So, what’s going to happen now?"

"We’re kind of starting over." Sam smiled. "It’s just a matter of slowing down a little bit and talking a lot more. She wants to be with me, Lisa… in a serious relationship. I can hardly believe it."

"Of COURSE she wants to be with you! Do you think she actually stood a chance against the Whitwell charm?"

They both laughed.

"Sam!" Mike came into the kitchen. "Did you see the flag?"

"It’s pretty hard to miss."

"Isn’t it great?"

"Yeah, it’s... great." Sam sounded less than enthused.

"Wait a minute." Mike rolled his eyes as he noticed the FSU sweatshirt. "You’re not going to cheer for the Seminoles this year, are you?"


"You CAN’T! Not after all these years you’ve been a Gator fan with me."

"I’m sorry." Sam could see the disappointment on her brother-in-law’s face. "I didn’t go to either school, so it doesn’t matter to me WHO wins. I was happy to cheer with you before, but now I think I should stand by Tina and support her team."

"It won’t be the same without you though."

Sam got up and hugged the downcast man. "I don’t think things will ever be the same again... but in a GOOD way. I’ve found the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with!"

Mike looked over at his wife, who smiled at him and nodded her head. "Then I guess you can be a Seminoles fan," he grumbled, "but I don’t have to LIKE it."

"I even promise not to tease you after the Gators lose…"

"WHAT?" Mike picked up the small woman and slung her over his shoulder.

"Hey! Put me down!"

"Which team is the best?"

"Florida State!"

"Wrong answer." He jostled her up and down.

"They’re BOTH good."

He spun around in a circle. "Which team is BEST?"

"Ugh… I… just… ate…"

"Michael," Lisa admonished, "put her down. Honest to goodness, this is precisely why I went to a college that didn’t have a football team."

The man gently returned Sam to her feet. "We were just kidding around." He gave his wife a kiss on the cheek before grabbing the leash from the hook on the wall. "I’d better take Beethoven for his walk." The dog came charging into the kitchen when he heard his name and Mike attached the leash to the animal’s collar. "I’ll be back in a few minutes."

"Sorry, Lisa." Sam sat back down. "I know you hate football."

"I find it amazing that grown people can get so crazy about a game. Every year this rivalry gets all blown out of proportion."

"That’s part of the fun of it."

"So it would seem. I take it this means you won’t be at Mike’s party?"

"Tina and I haven’t talked about it yet, but I doubt it."

"You’re going to leave me alone with all those maniac Gator fans?" Lisa sighed. "At least in the past, you were here to help me keep my sanity."

"It’ll be so different… not being with you guys for the game."

"But a good kind of different, right?"

"Yes." Sam’s face lit up. "VERY good."

"I’m glad to hear it’s working out." Lisa opened the refrigerator and removed a large pan covered with aluminum foil. "I made extra lasagna tonight."

"For me?"

"Yes. No mushrooms, no vegetables, just meat and cheese."

"Thanks!" Sam took the pan from her sister. "I can invite Tina to dinner tomorrow night."

"You’re welcome."

The women walked to the door together and exchanged good-byes.

Lisa watched as Sam crossed the walkway to her apartment. I hope you’re right that it’s what both of you want. Maybe I should have a chat with Tina myself and find out.


"Argh." Sam put her pillow over her head. The doorbell rang again. Throwing back the covers, she got out of bed. 9:05 Who could this be so early in the morning? She shuffled to the door and looked out the window. A deliverywoman was standing there holding a cardboard box. Opening the door a crack, Sam asked, "Yes?"

"Samantha Whitwell?"


"Hyde Park Courier Service. I have a delivery." The woman held out an electronic signature pad. "Please sign that you received it."

Sam blinked in the bright sunlight and tried to see where she was supposed to sign.

The woman pointed to a blank gray area on the pad. "Right here, Ma’am."

Ma’am? That’s a first.  Sam signed on the spot indicated and traded the pad for the box. "Thanks."

"You’re welcome. Have a good day."

The musician closed the door and looked at the return address on the box. Exclusive Travel… it’s from Tina. She went into the kitchen and put a mug of water in the microwave to heat for coffee. She got a knife, cut through the tape on the box and looked inside. A portable CD player?  There was a note and she smiled as she read the script.

      A good friend once told me that a song can say something better than plain old words.
      As usual, she was right. Track three is from me to you. T.

She put on the headphones and pressed track three. I wonder what this is going to be? The first few notes of the top forty hit reached her ears. Oh, I know this. She turned up the volume.

"You tell me you’re in love with me
Like you can’t take your pretty eyes away from me
It’s not that I don’t want to stay
But every time you come too close I move away

I wanna believe in everything that you say
Cause it sounds so good
But if you really want me… move slow
There’s things about me you just have to know

Sometimes I run
Sometimes I hide
Sometimes I’m scared of you
But all I really want is to hold you tight
Treat you right… be with you day and night
Baby all I need is time."

Sam held the CD player to her chest and swayed to the music.

"I don’t want to be so shy
Every time that I’m alone I wonder why
Hope that you will wait for me
You’ll see that you’re the only one for me

I wanna believe in everything that you say
Cause it sounds so good
But if you really want me… move slow
There’s things about me you just have to know."

She sang along with the chorus:

"Sometimes I run
Sometimes I hide
Sometimes I’m scared of you
But all I really want is to hold you tight
Treat you right… be with you day and night
Baby all I need is time.

Just hang around and you’ll see
There’s nowhere I’d rather be
If you love me… trust in me
The way that I… trust in you"

The chorus repeated several times before the song ended. Sam pressed track three again. After the fifth time through, she finally turned off the CD player and removed the headphones. If I didn’t have to go to work, I’d drive to Tampa right now and hug her… kiss her… look into her eyes…

Sam reheated the mug of water in the microwave for a minute before preparing her coffee. Picking up the phone, she dialed the number for Exclusive Travel. Brenda answered the phone and Sam sipped her coffee while she waited to be connected to Tina’s office.

"Hello, Samantha."

"Hi! Guess what?"


"I got a package this morning."

"You did?" Tina glanced at the clock. I hope they waited till after nine like I requested.

"Yes. I was wondering… are you the jealous type?"


"It seems that I have an admirer."

Tina gripped the phone tightly. "Really?"

"Yes. Some person named T. First, I got flowers and now… a lovely song."

"Oh." Tina relaxed. "Yeah, that’s me." I signed it T? I wasn’t even thinking…

"Is that shorthand? Or a nickname?"

"Umm… how about I explain it next time I see you?"

"Okay. I have lasagna here. Would you like to come over for dinner?"


Sam smiled at the tone of the one word answer. A response so brief, yet filled with emotion. I’m starting to get the hang of this. "I was going to stop and pick up some Italian bread on the way home from work. Do you want salad?"

"I can get the salad on the way. I might as well get the bread, too, while I’m there. Anything else?"

"Just you."

There was a pause before Tina responded in a soft voice. "For as long as you want me."

"That's going to be a LONG time."

"I think I like the sound of that."

"Me, too."

"I’ll see you tonight, then."

"Okay... Bye."

"Bye, Samantha."

Sam hung up the phone. She listened to the song three more times before rushing to get ready for work.


Chapter 37

Tina walked up the driveway with a plastic grocery bag in each hand. She frowned at the Gator flag hanging from the garage.

"Stop it!"


The shouting drew her attention to Lisa’s yard where she saw Aaron and Joshua fighting.

"Hey!" Tina put the bags on the steps to Sam’s apartment and ran to the children. She pulled the boys apart.

Lisa came out of the house. "What’s going on here?"

"He… he… hit me." Joshua was crying.

"Aaron, we’ve talked about this," Lisa scolded her older son.

"I TOLD him to stop that stupid tomahawk chant. He likes the Seminoles, Mom. We’re supposed to cheer for the Gators! He’s never even been INTERESTED in football before and now he wants THEM to win!"

Lisa crossed her arms and looked at Tina, who was standing there guiltily in her FSU tee shirt. "Any bright ideas, Ms. Florida State?"

"Umm…" Where is Samantha? "I’m sure we can get this straightened out. How about I talk to Joshua?"

"All right." Lisa took Aaron by the arm. "YOU come with me." They went into the house.

Tina looked down at Josh, who was still sniffling. "Let’s go sit on the steps, okay?"

The boy nodded and followed the tall woman. She moved the grocery bags out of the way and they sat down.

"What happened?"

"We were just playing around and then Aaron… he started saying, ‘Gators rule! Gators rule!’ I said the Seminoles were gonna win and did the FSU chant. He got mad and he hit me."

"Hmm…" What do people tell children in situations like this?

"Tina? You want the Seminoles to win, right?"


"Then it should be okay for me to want them to win, too."

"It’s perfectly all right for you to cheer for any team you choose."

"Aaron doesn’t think so."

"Joshua, during your life, you’re going to meet people who want you to think the same way they do. They get an idea into their heads and believe they are so right that they try to make everyone else think the same thing." She looked at the confused expression on the boy’s face. I’m not doing very well here.

"I don’t care what Aaron thinks. I want the Seminoles to win."

"That’s good, Josh. You should stick to what you believe in. But…"

The door opened above them and Sam poked her head out. "Hi there! I thought I heard someone talking out here. Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." Thank goodness… help has arrived.

Sam sat on the step behind Tina. "What’s up?"

"The boys got into an argument. We’re trying to sort things out. I’m glad you’re here."

"Aaron hit me!" Joshua piped in.

Tina sighed. "What we need to discuss is how to handle it when you disagree with someone. Fighting is NOT the solution."

"Aaron started it."

"Well… let’s look at that. Your brother was expressing his feelings about the game. You kind of challenged him by doing the FSU chant. He took that to mean you didn’t respect his opinion."

"He doesn’t respect MY opinion."

"Well, that’s something you have to learn to deal with. What happens is… when you tell people what YOU think, sometimes they’ll respect your opinion and sometimes they won’t."

"Aaron won’t."

Tina glanced over her shoulder. "Feel free to jump in here anytime." Please.

 "Joshua," Sam looked affectionately at her nephew, "your mom and I used to argue a lot when we were kids. Now, as adults, we’re the best of friends. That’ll probably happen with you and Aaron, too. But for the time being, you should try to get along with him as much as you can. Let the little things go, rather than arguing with him… and if you think it’s something important, you may want to wait till your mom or dad are around to talk about it. They can help you two work out your disagreements without fighting."

"Auntie Sam, he picks on me because I’m younger! He does stuff on purpose to make me mad."

"Your mom did the same thing to me. I guess it goes with being the oldest."

"That’s true," Tina agreed. "And I should know because I had a younger brother."

Joshua was immediately interested. "Did you tease him?"

"Yes. But he found a way to get me back."

"What did he do?"

"Well, sometimes he would ignore me and keep doing whatever he was doing. But the thing that REALLY got me was when he would just smile… like whatever I was saying didn’t bother him at all… or like he knew something I didn’t."

Josh giggled. "I could try that."

"Well, it certainly worked for my brother. I usually gave up and stomped off. It was no fun annoying him when he didn’t get upset."

"Are you friends with him now that you’re grown up?"

"He… he… died a while ago. I miss him very much."

Joshua threw his arms around the dark-haired woman. "I’m sorry."

"It’s all right." Tina spoke softly. "What you need to remember is that Aaron loves you… even though he may tease you and make you miserable sometimes. Having a brother is a special thing." She pulled back from the embrace, so she could look in his eyes. "Can you remember that?"

The child nodded solemnly.

"You feel a little better now?"

"Yeah… thanks."

"Joshua!" Lisa called from the patio. "Time to come in!"

"I have to go… bye!" The boy ran across the yard and into the house.

Sam moved down a step and sat next to Tina. "You were very good with him."

"I was sweating bullets. If you hadn’t shown up…"

"You were doing fine." Sam looked out at the driveway. "Where’s your car?"

"It’s on the street in front of the house. There was no way I was going to park it under that flag."

Sam shook her head. "You’re as bad as my nephews."

"I promise not to get in a fistfight with Mike."

"I’m happy to hear that."

Tina’s face brightened. "The Seminoles are going to win!"

"You think so?"

"Yes." A big smile.

"I LOVE the Seminoles," Sam said enthusiastically.

"You do?"

"Oh, yes." The blonde leaned in close. "Because they make you smile like that." She gave Tina a quick kiss before standing and picking up the grocery bags. "C’mon, let’s get dinner started."

The women went into the house. Pleasant chatter filled the kitchen as they began preparing their meal. Tina talked about the New Zealand trip she had organized for Vivian’s clients and Sam discussed the busy holiday schedule the orchestra had coming up. Once the salad was made and the lasagna was in the oven, they went to sit on the balcony.

"We missed the sunset," Sam said disappointedly as she sat in her chair. "I like it much better during daylight savings time when the sun sets later."

Tina stretched out on the other lounger. "Yeah, but look at all the stars. It’s a beautiful sky tonight. See the constellations?"

"Yes." I never figured you for a stargazer. There’s so much more to you than you let people see.

They relaxed quietly for a while, until Sam’s curiosity about their earlier phone call prompted her to speak. "Tina?"


"Will you tell me how you got your nickname?"

"Oh… sure. Why don’t you come over here?" She patted the space next to her on the chair. I’ll need you near me for this.

Sam happily fulfilled the request. She laid half in the empty space and half on Tina, resting her head on a strong shoulder. They snuggled for several minutes, both of them enjoying the physical closeness. Strengthened by the presence of the small woman, Tina began.

"My given name is Christina, though for as long as I can remember, people have called me Tina. My brother… umm… as soon as he was able to make sounds, he would try to talk to me. You know… babbling… like babies do. Then, when he started to walk, he toddled after me everywhere I went, jabbering away."

She paused, suddenly aware of the lump in her throat. After all these years… why is it still so hard to talk about him? She kissed the top of the blonde head tucked against her. She makes it easier, though.  "I… umm… he… followed me around… calling to me… ‘T’… he couldn’t say my whole name, but he sure had the T part down. And as we grew up, it just kind of stuck. It was a special thing between us. He… he was the only one who ever called me T."

Sam lifted her head and looked into blue eyes that revealed pain, sorrow and the vulnerability that was usually kept well hidden. "That’s a wonderful story and such a nice memory for you to have. I’m so glad you told me."

Tina lightly brushed the back of her hand against Sam’s cheek. "I was thinking. If you want to… you could call me T."

"I…I…" Overcome with emotion and unable to string any words together, Sam used a tender kiss to convey the depth of her feelings.

Tina tried to catch her breath after the kiss. Wow. "I assume that means yes?"

"Y… yes." The barely audible response was accompanied by an emphatic nod.

"I’ve missed… this." Tina pushed a few stray hairs behind Sam’s ear and let her fingers linger along the side of the younger woman’s face. I need this.

"Me, too."

Hearing the words of agreement that had become a frequent part of her life lately, Tina smiled. "Is there some name you prefer… other than Samantha?"


"Okay… I was just asking."

"I love the way you say my name."

Not half as much as I love saying it. "Really?"

Sam laid her head back down and nuzzled Tina’s neck. "Mmmm hmmm."

The oven timer buzzed.

The women reluctantly got up from their comfortable place on the lounge chair. Moving to the kitchen, they fixed their plates and brought their dinner into the living room. They watched a popular new game show on TV while they ate, having fun trying to pick the correct answer out of the four choices given for each question. Both of them did well in certain categories like current events, old TV shows and pop culture from the 60’s to the present. Tina knew all the math answers and anything to do with world or ancient history.  Naturally, Sam was a whiz at anything related to music and she was also quite knowledgeable about movies. Between the two of them, they got most of the questions right.

"If they allowed team competition, we’d win a million dollars!" Sam exclaimed as the women went into the kitchen and put their empty plates in the sink.

"I doubt that."

Sam got the tin foil from the cabinet and began covering the leftover food. "Can you imagine what it would feel like to win that much money?"

Tina came up behind the blonde and wrapped her arms around her. She murmured into the shorter woman’s ear. "I think it would feel like… when I’m with you."

Sam dropped the foil on the counter, leaned back against Tina and placed her hands over the larger ones that were holding her. She closed her eyes, allowing herself a quiet moment to absorb the words. "Do you remember the first time you held me like this?"

"When I caught up with you at the beach."

"Yeah… you run pretty fast. I had a big head start!" Sam tried to turn and long arms loosened their grip so she could. She looked at Tina’s grinning face. "And then, when we stood like this… I wanted… hoped… you might kiss me."

"Would you like me to do that now? You know what they say… better late than never."

"I GUESS I can give you a second chance."

Tina slowly bent down to give Sam a gentle kiss. However, once she started, she found it difficult to restrain her feelings. It became lengthy… and passionate.

It took Sam a minute to recover enough to speak coherently. "If you had kissed me like that on the beach, I probably would’ve fainted!" In fact, I’m feeling a little weak in the knees right now.

"I’m sorry. I didn‘t mean to get so carried away."

"I’m NOT complaining. Let’s just make sure that this time, we’re BOTH ready before we take it any further. Does that sound okay to you?"

"Umm… okay."

Sam turned toward the counter to finish covering the food and put it in the refrigerator. "Would you like to come back tomorrow night and help me polish off these leftovers?"

"Wild horses couldn’t keep me away."

"You are FULL of it tonight!"

"What can I say? You bring it out in me."

"Yeah?" Sam moved to the sink. "Well, how about bringing yourself over here and helping with the dishes?"

Tina willingly assisted with the kitchen duties. When they were done, the women cuddled on the couch and watched TV until the news came on.

"I should get going." Tina got up and stretched.

Sam walked her to the door. "I’ll see you tomorrow night."

"I’ll be here."

They shared a hug and a kiss before Tina left.

Sam closed and locked the door. Then she went to the phone and dialed a number she knew by heart.


Tina sang along with the car radio all the way home. As soon as she let herself into her condo, the blinking light on the answering machine caught her attention. Who could that be? She thought about the last time there had been a message and the disastrous results when Sam heard it. She walked over, reached out a shaking hand, and pressed the button.


Tina smiled. Samantha!

"It’s Sam. Umm…I just wanted to tell you I miss you already. Also, I thought maybe I’d give this nickname of yours a try. So, good night, T. Bye."

She replayed the message and saved it. Seemingly unable to remove the smile from her face, she prepared for bed. Shortly after pulling the covers up under her chin, Tina was sound asleep.

She was still smiling.

Chapter 38


Sam closed her book. It was getting dark and difficult to see the print anymore. Tina should have been here by now. I hope nothing’s wrong. Hearing the chirp of the BMW’s alarm, the blonde smiled. She’s here! She must have parked in front of the house again.

Sure enough, Tina appeared, walking up the driveway slowly, backpack hanging off one shoulder. She saw Sam sitting on the steps to the apartment, waiting for her. I’ve been looking forward to seeing that smile all day. "Hi."

"Hi. I was getting worried."

"Traffic was terrible."

Sam heard the weariness in Tina’s voice. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah… just tired."

They went upstairs. Tina headed straight to the couch and dropped down on it with a heavy sigh.

Concerned, Sam sat next to her. "Are you sure you’re all right?"

Tina pulled the small woman into a hug. "It’s been a long week. We’ve been swamped at work. It seems like every one of Vivian’s clients has decided to travel somewhere for Thanksgiving. Then, rush hour was a mess…"

Sam realized that a large part of Tina’s fatigue was probably due to the emotional turmoil that she had been through since last Sunday. And she’s driven to Sarasota and back every night after work.  "T?"


"Would you like to rest for a little while? I’ll let you know when dinner’s ready."

"No. Really… I’m fine." It was an unconvincing, half-hearted protest.

"A short nap and you’ll feel much better." Sam got up and took Tina’s hands, helping her from the couch.

"Well… maybe just for a few minutes."

"Uh huh." Sam walked the accountant to the bedroom.

Tina went directly to the bed, slipped her sneakers off and lay down.

Sam closed the drapes and then sat on the edge of the mattress. "Do you want a blanket?"

Tina’s eyes were already shut. She shook her head.

Sam watched the drowsy woman as her breathing deepened and she drifted into a peaceful slumber. You are totally exhausted, but you drove here anyway. Yet another case of you showing me how hard you’re trying… how much you want this. She lightly brushed the dark bangs from Tina’s forehead and placed a kiss there. I love you. Carefully, she eased off the bed and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Entering the kitchen, Sam tiptoed around, making the dinner preparations. First, the lasagna went in the oven to heat. I’d better turn the temperature on low…I don’t know how long she’ll sleep. The Italian bread was buttered and put on a cookie sheet, ready to be warmed up just prior to mealtime. Some of the leftover salad was transferred into a small bowl for Tina and then returned to the refrigerator to remain cool.

Sam looked at the dinette set in the corner. Hmm… maybe a quiet, relaxing dinner is in order. No eating in front of the TV tonight. After ten minutes of searching, she found the white tablecloth that was seldom called into service. She gathered several candles and set them in the center of the table, arranging the plates, utensils, and condiments neatly around them. She crossed her arms and proudly surveyed her efforts. I hope Tina likes it. Wandering into the living room, she was drawn to her guitar. She turned the amplifier on its lowest level and played, sometimes singing along softly.

Tina woke and glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Damn! I’ve been asleep for almost two hours! She hurried into the bathroom to freshen up before opening the bedroom door and peeking out. Where’s Samantha… I’m going to get her for letting me sleep that long. The kitchen was dark, so she stepped toward the living room, stopping suddenly when she saw Sam playing the guitar. Leaning against the wall, Tina smiled as she watched and listened to the musician. I love to hear her sing.

"You’re awake!" Sam was surprised to see the tall woman in the doorway. She put the instrument in its stand and went over to give Tina a hug. "Are you ready for dinner?"

"It’s late. You should have woken me." Tina tried to sound angry but the warm body pressed against her made it impossible. Her voice softened. "You must be starving." So much for being mad at her.

"Well," Sam released her from the hug and led the way into the kitchen, "I had a couple of Ring Dings to tide me over." She turned on the light and pointed toward the table. "What do you think?"

Tina looked at the nicely decorated area. "It’s perfect." She leaned down and kissed Sam. "Mmm hmm… perfect."

"I think so, too."

The women busied themselves getting the meal served. They sat at the table and Sam lit the candles. "Oh… wait." She quickly went and flipped the wall switch, turning off the overhead illumination. Returning to her seat, she smiled across the flickering candlelight at her dinner companion. "That’s more like it."

Extremely hungry at this late hour, both women ate heartily. They didn’t talk much, preferring to gaze at each other instead.

"This was a nice idea." Tina commented as she stood and collected the empty plates.

"Thanks." This was a FANTASTIC idea… candlelight reflecting off those beautiful blue eyes…

"I’ll take dishwashing detail, seeing as you did all the cooking."

"I don’t know if reheating lasagna is actually cooking, but the dishes are all yours." Sam chuckled as she headed into the living room. Sitting on the floor in front of one of the bookcases, she rummaged through the bottom shelves and selected several photo albums. She put the books on the coffee table and then turned the stereo on, finding a radio station that played soft rock.

She went back into the kitchen to check on the progress of the dishwashing. "How’s it going in here?"

"Almost done."

Sam opened the refrigerator and took out two beers. "Would you like a drink?"

"I’d better not. It’s late and I have to drive."

"You don’t HAVE to drive."

Tina wiped her hands on the dishtowel and hung it over the handle of the stove. "I don’t think…"

"What I’m saying is," the musician put the beers on the counter and wrapped her arms around Tina, "you could stay…  just to sleep. I miss you holding me at night."

"I miss it, too."

"Then, will you stay?"

As if I could say no to you. "Okay."

"Great!" Sam grabbed the drinks. "C’mon, I want to show you something."

"Oh… THAT sounds like an offer I can’t refuse!"

"Ha, ha… very funny."

They sat together on the sofa. Sam picked up one of the large photo albums. "I thought maybe it was time I shared a little of MY history."

Tina put her feet up on the coffee table, getting comfortable. "I’d like that."

The women looked at baby pictures, with Sam supplying explanations and funny stories about some of the shots. Many of the photos included other family members, so Tina got an introduction to the extended Whitwell clan. They went through a couple of the albums, with school events and family gatherings highlighted on the pages, ending with pictures of the senior prom. They laughed when they saw the teenagers dressed in the style of the day.

"I can’t believe the clothes… and look at my hair!"

"Hmm… this blue ruffled shirt your boyfriend wore with the tux… very hip."

"Oh, yeah?" Sam poked Tina in the ribs. "Wait until I get to see YOUR prom pictures!"

"You can’t, because I didn’t go."

"Why not?"

Tina shrugged. "Too busy with other stuff. I never dated in high school. But," she pointed to the handsome boy in the photo, "Who is this hunk YOU were dating?"

"That’s Bobby Jacobs. He was in the band with me."

"So, you dated boys in high school. You weren’t gay then?"

"Well, back in those days, I wasn't even aware there was such a thing as gay people. Nobody ever talked about it. All I knew was… something wasn’t right. All my friends were swooning over boys… talking about how they felt when they kissed them. I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t feel like that. I really had no clue until I went to college and fell head over heels in love with one of my female classmates. It was all very confusing. It took me a while to come to terms with the whole thing."

"I see."

"What about you?" Sam closed the book and put it on the table.

"Me? Umm… I don’t know."

"You said that you were with men, too. I thought maybe you were implying you were bisexual."

"Truthfully, I’ve never felt like I fit into ANY group. I didn’t have time to hang out with a gang of friends because I had school… track… work… and Steven." She paused, not sure she had made any sense at all. Try to explain it, T. She wants to understand.

"What I mean is… in high school, I concentrated on my classes and track because I needed a scholarship to go to college. I was also holding down a part-time job, putting away money for books and expenses. So… my attention was not on boys, or parties, or proms. Then, in college, the pressure was enormous. I carried a heavy academic load and I had to do well in track to retain my scholarship. The athletic talent at that level is phenomenal. It was very hard work just keeping my spot on the team. Completely focused on school and track, I didn’t have the time or inclination for socializing and dating."

"You MUST have had offers."

"Yes. Every now and then, someone would ask me out. But the other things were more important. My family was counting on me to do well."

"So much responsibility for one young girl," Sam said sadly. You never did have a childhood.

"Nothing I couldn’t handle. Anyhow… it wasn’t until after college that I started dating and met the guy I got engaged to."

"Did you love him?"

Tina pondered the question for a minute before answering. "I liked him a lot. We got along well." A wisp of a smile crossed her features. "He made me laugh."

"He sounds wonderful."

"He was a good guy. I… I guess I THOUGHT I loved him, but I had no frame of reference… he was my first serious relationship. Then… then the accident happened and well… everything changed after that."

At the mention of the accident, Sam reached for Tina’s hand, entwining the longer fingers with her own. "And at some point, you started seeing women…"

"Yes. Do you really want to know about that?"

Sam nodded into the shoulder she was leaning against.

"Let’s see… after I had worked for Vivian for a while and my back had healed sufficiently, I started traveling. I would scout out new places for vacation packages and unique ways to sell the typical big-ticket tourist locations. During that time, I went through something of a wild period. I… I drank too much. And, I discovered that, when I was in the mood for it, I could lure people into my bed without too much effort. I began going after more and more challenging men… it didn’t matter if they were single, engaged, or married… " Her voice trailed off. This sounds awful… it IS awful.

"When you were in the mood for it? How often was that?" Sam didn’t realize she was holding her breath while she waited for the answer.

"I was still grieving. There was so much… pain. I… I pretty much kept to myself. But on those trips when I was so far away… sometimes I’d feel …" The accountant’s voice trailed off again.

"Horny?" Sam supplied helpfully, "Lonely?"

"Yeah." Tina sighed and was quiet for several moments.

"It’s okay," the blonde said with compassion. "Keep going… tell me everything."

"Umm… one night… a woman caught my eye. I felt a very strong physical attraction to her, which surprised me. It was something I hadn’t considered before. But I talked to her and I was… intrigued. I… I slept with her."

"Then what happened?"

"I… I liked it. And I found a whole NEW territory to conquer."

"Did you still sleep with men?"

"At first, yes. But as time went along, I found I… I liked being with women. So, now that I think about it, I guess I’d fall into the gay category."

"I’m not asking you to put a label on yourself. I was just wondering… that’s all."

"Hey," Tina tilted Sam’s face up so she could look into her eyes. "If wanting to be with you means I’m gay, then I’m gay. I don’t care what label people put on it. Umm… though… maybe you don’t want to be with ME anymore after listening to THAT part of my history."

"Of course I still want you."

"How can you, after hearing… that?"

"What I heard about was a woman who felt… lost. She latched onto something she had control over and she used it. It gave her some semblance of power over her life. She traveled all over the world searching for something… not knowing what it was… until she found it. And it was right here at home all the time." Green eyes radiated love. "I was right here all the time."

Tina shook her head. "I was a b…"

"WAS… that’s the operative word. It’s not who you are NOW. At some point, you have to quit beating yourself up about the past and start living in the present."

"I… I know."

"I’m sorry. I wanted to talk about me tonight… give you a break. And here we are, dredging up painful memories of yours."

"I needed you to know all of it, but... I’ve been afraid of what you’d think of me."

Sam traced the curve of Tina’s cheek with her fingertips. "Those things happened a long time ago. I have things in my past I wish I’d done differently, too... everybody does. But I have NO regrets for a single minute I’ve spent with you." She slid her hand behind the dark-haired woman’s neck and pulled her into a kiss.

 They came up for air with faces flushed and pulses quickened.

"Oh… listen!" Sam smiled as a song on the radio began. "Remember this?"

"Yes." How could I ever forget it?

Sam laid her head on Tina’s shoulder and sang along with the chorus:

"I don’t care who you are… where you’re from
What you did… as long as you love me
Who you are… where you’re from
Don’t care what you did… as long as you love me"

They listened to the remainder of the song and Tina fought back tears as the emotion of the moment overwhelmed her. I’ve told her the worst of it and she still wants me. "Samantha?"


"You called Kimberly… your girlfriend…"

Sam was busy kissing Tina’s neck. "Mmmm hmmm." This is no time to be talking about my ex…

"What other terminology do couples in gay relationships use? I mean… I’m kind of old to be somebody’s girlfriend."

"You’re not old." She’s saying we’re in a relationship… a couple!  "There are a number of expressions… girlfriend, lover, partner…"

"Partner? I like that… two people together… partners in life…"

Sam’s head snapped up and she looked into serious blue eyes. "Really?"

"Yeah… umm… would that be okay with you?"

The answer was a kiss that left no doubt as to how the younger woman felt. It left both of them breathing heavily.

"So," Sam smiled at the lustful look on Tina’s face, "I’d say it’s time for dessert."


"I hear the ice cream calling to us."

"Ice cream?"

"Yes." Sam laughed. "Nice, cold ice cream. It’s gotten a little warm in here… wouldn’t you say?" She gave Tina one more kiss before getting up to go in the kitchen. Wow! That look of desire on her face… I bet she needs this ice cream as much as I do! One thing is certain…she wants this relationship… even though she’s still scared. She trusted me enough to tell me about her history. Slowly, but surely, she’s letting me past those walls she’s built around her heart.

Tina picked up the TV Guide from the coffee table and fanned herself with it. A LITTLE warm? She’s got to be kidding. She hastily dropped the magazine when Sam came around the corner of the living room carrying a large bowl of chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate syrup on it.

"That’s not for me, is it?" Tina’s eyes grew wide when she saw the amount in the bowl.

"No. It’s for both of us. You don’t mind sharing, do you?"

"Sharing?" That sounds… interesting.

"Yes." Sam sat sideways on Tina’s lap and rested her back against the arm of the couch. She took a spoonful of the dessert and fed it to her partner.

"Mmmm… that’s good."

Sam had the next spoonful. "Yum… it sure is!" She continued her serving duty, thoroughly enjoying her task. When the ice cream was almost gone, she announced, "Last spoonful… and it’s always special to get the last one." She acted as if she was going to eat it herself before giving it to Tina and then swiftly leaning in to taste the sweet dessert on the woman’s lips. After the kiss, she pulled back slightly, so she could see Tina’s face. She was pleased at the open look of love in her partner’s eyes. "I take it you liked the ice cream?"

"Yes, and the server, too."

The blonde put the bowl on the table so she had both arms free to hug Tina.

They sat like that for a few minutes.

Sam yawned.

"Oh, it’s late. Let’s get you to bed."

"You’ll stay? You said you would."

"Yes, I’ll stay."

Sam turned off the stereo and made sure the door was locked. Tina took the empty dessert bowl into the kitchen and rinsed it out.

"I’ll shower in the morning." The musician yawned again as they went into the bedroom. "I’m too tired to do it tonight." She handed Tina her neatly folded pajamas. "All washed and ready for you."


Feeling somewhat awkward, they changed silently and took turns in the bathroom.

Sam climbed into bed first. "C’mon." She held open the covers to encourage the nervously pacing woman to join her.

"I… are you sure this is all right?" Tina asked as she laid down on the farthest edge of the bed.

"Yes." Sam immediately sprawled across Tina’s body. "We belong together. Don’t you know that yet?" The blonde rested her head on her partner’s chest and the sound of the steady heartbeat beneath her ear lulled her to sleep.

A feeling of contentment settled over Tina as she gently caressed the woman dozing in her arms.  I’ve missed this so much. She’s right… we belong together. And the way she makes me feel…is this what love is? It must be. I must be… in love.

Once again, she fell asleep smiling.


Chapter 39

Tina closed the newspaper, took off her glasses and placed both items on the coffee table. She’d been awake for quite some time and had already made a trip to the neighborhood 24-hour store. She had bought eggs and bacon so she could make breakfast when Sam got up. She’d also purchased the all-important paper, which had a detailed analysis of the Seminole/Gator game to be played that evening. Walking over to the front window, she stood for several minutes, looking out at the college flag flapping in the breeze.

Smiling, she went into the bedroom to check on her partner. Lying down next to the sleeping woman, Tina propped herself up on one elbow, watching as Sam slowly wakened and pale lashes fluttered open.

"Good morning."

"Mmmm." Sam snuggled against Tina. "I’m glad you’re here."

"Me, too."


Tina rolled onto her back, pulling Sam with her. They lay quietly, their breathing matched in a slow, steady rhythm until a commotion outside disturbed them.

"What’s that?" Sam raised her head and listened. "It’s Mike… something’s wrong!" She jumped out of bed and headed for the door.

Tina followed the blonde through the house and down the steps to the driveway. Mike was screaming and yelling and waving his arms at no one in particular. Lisa and the boys came running from the house.

"What IS it, Mike?" Lisa asked as she got to the driveway.

"LOOK AT THAT!" He pointed at the flag hanging from the garage.

The assembled group obediently looked up.

Sam gasped.

Tina smiled.

"Oh my!" Lisa exclaimed.

"YES!" Joshua yelled.

"How did THAT happen?" Aaron questioned.

Suspended from the flagpole was a gigantic Florida State Seminoles flag.

The furious man resumed his ranting. "DO YOU BELIEVE THIS? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? I AM GOING TO…"

"MICHAEL!" Lisa hastily moved closer and began whispering to her husband.

As he listened to his wife, Mike’s eyes shifted to his two sons who were watching him curiously. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. "Oh, well… umm… heh… it looks like someone has played a prank on me."

"What’s a prank?" Josh asked.

Tina bent down on one knee to answer the child. "It’s like a joke… a way to tease someone."

"Someone is teasing Daddy?"

"Yes, it certainly seems that way."

Mike turned his attention to Tina. "YOU wouldn’t know anything about this, would you?"


Sam burst out laughing at the attempted look of innocence on Tina’s face.

"It’s a pretty red flag," Josh commented.

"It’s not red... it’s maroon," Aaron said haughtily.

"Actually, it’s garnet. Garnet and gold are the FSU colors. It is pretty, isn’t it?" Tina gave Joshua a quick hug and spoke into his ear before standing up.

The boy smiled and went to retrieve a plastic bag from beneath the steps to Sam’s apartment. "Look, Daddy! Here’s your flag!" He ran back and handed the package to his father.

"I’ve got people coming over here today." Mike opened the garage door. "If they ever saw that…" He scowled at the object in question before going inside.

Sam looked at Tina, who was grinning from ear to ear. "You sure started this day off with a bang. How did you put that up there without a ladder?"

"See how close the flagpole is to your window?"

"It’s not THAT close." Sam tried not to think about Tina precariously extending her body from the window to the flagpole in the middle of the night.

"I have long arms."

"Uh huh."

Mike came out of the garage lugging a wooden ladder.

"I’ve got to go get my camera." Sam dashed up the steps. This is definitely a scene for the family album.

"Let me help you." Tina held the apparatus steady while Mike climbed to the top.

Sam snapped pictures as the Seminole flag was removed and replaced by the Gator one. Mike put the things in the garage and closed the door. "Come on, boys, I want you to help me decorate for the party."

"COOL!" The children scampered after their father.

Lisa sighed. "Well, I’d better get moving. I’ve got a ton of stuff to get done before the guests arrive."

"Wait!" Sam handed the camera to her sister. "Will you take a picture of us first?"


The couple hugged each other and Lisa took the picture.

"Thanks, Sis!" Sam said before looking up at Tina.

Lisa snapped once more, catching the two gazing into each other’s eyes. "One for good measure." She smiled as she handed the camera back and the women said their good-byes.

"What’s this about a party?" Tina asked as they returned to the apartment.

"Oh." Sam went to the kitchen, filled two coffee mugs with water and put them in the microwave to heat. "Mike invites a bunch of his friends to the house to watch the game every year." She opened the refrigerator to get the creamer and saw the bacon and eggs. "You got stuff for breakfast!"

"Yeah, but if you have people coming over, maybe I should get going."

"I don’t have anyone coming over. It’s Mike’s party and it doesn’t even start until this afternoon." She put the breakfast things on the counter. "Don’t you dare try to leave so soon." She grabbed Tina around the waist and held her tight.

"I’ll stay for a little while, but I’d rather not be here when those Gator fans show up, okay?"


The microwave beeped.

Sam ignored it, maintaining the embrace for a few more moments before letting go to prepare the coffee.

They had their breakfast, with Tina excitedly discussing the upcoming game. Sam smiled as she listened to the woman go on and on about the Seminoles.

As she finished her meal, Tina realized that she had monopolized the conversation. She looked across the table. "What are you smiling about?"


"Me? What about me?"

"You’re… happy." Sam went over and sat on Tina’s lap. She put her arms around the dark-haired woman’s neck and looked into her eyes. "I like seeing you happy."

"You… you’re what makes me happy."

"Hmm." Sam couldn’t resist leaning in for a quick kiss. "I think that Seminole football team of yours might have a bit more to do with your disposition today than I do."

"No… it’s you." Tina paused, trying to calm the emotions that seemed to surface so easily when she was with Sam. "I… I never thought I could feel like… this. You… I…" The words escaped her and she was unable to continue. She pulled Sam close, resting the blonde’s head against her shoulder and stroking her hair.

The phone rang, startling both of them. Sam went into the living room to answer it.

Tina cleared the table and began washing the dishes.

Sam returned to the kitchen and picked up the dishtowel. "That was my friend Kathy. She e-mailed me last weekend asking if I could get together with her tomorrow for lunch. It’s a good thing she called to remind me or I would have forgotten all about it." She dried the dishes as they were placed in the drainer and then put them away. "She was teasing me… saying I must have met someone, because I’ve disappeared recently."

"I’m sorry. I’ve been keeping you from your friends…"

Sam laughed. "You’re not ‘keeping’ me from anybody."

"You have friends. You should be spending time with them. I’ve…"

"Listen to me for a minute… please." Sam took Tina’s hands from the dishwater and dried them with the towel before kissing them softly. "There’s nowhere else I’d rather be… no one else I’d rather be with… than you."


"When people first start going out, it’s kind of all-consuming. My friends know that because they’ve been through it themselves. That’s why Kathy was teasing me. She knows I must be seeing someone." Sam studied the large, strong hands she held in her own. "My friends are going to want to meet you sometime… especially after I tell Kathy how wonderful you are at lunch tomorrow." And word will travel fast. I wonder if Lisa told Kimberly I’m dating someone?

"I… I don’t think I’m ready for that yet."

"I know… but there’s no hurry, right? We have the rest of our lives."

The rest of our lives? Tina removed one of her hands from Sam’s grasp so she could reach under the smaller woman’s chin and tilt her face upward. Green eyes full of love looked back at her.

Sam, realizing what she had said, tried to explain. "Oh… umm… I mean…"

"It’s okay." Tina took a deep breath, willing her voice not to shake. "I… not too long ago, hearing words like that from someone would have sent me running in the opposite direction as fast as I could go. But now… with you… it just sounds… right." Tina bent down to kiss her very surprised, very happy partner.

Someone knocked on the door.

Sam, who had been about to throw caution to the wind and kiss Tina for everything she was worth, groaned. "I’d better go see who that is." She went to the door and opened it to find Joshua standing there, hands full of orange and blue crepe paper.

"Hi, Auntie Sam! Daddy gave me a job. I have to put this on your railing. Can Tina help me?"

"Let’s ask her." Sam turned and called into the apartment, "T… someone is here to see you."

Tina came to the door and smiled when she saw Joshua. "What’s up?"

"Will you help me?"

Tina stared at the brightly colored paper. He wants me to decorate for the GATORS?  "Umm… I don’t know." How can I get out of this? "I was doing the dishes..." She looked to Sam for corroboration.

"That’s all right." The blonde grinned. "I’ll finish the dishes."

"COOL!" Joshua beamed. "Thanks, Auntie Sam!"

"Yeah… thanks, Auntie Sam," Tina said sardonically.

"No problem." Sam playfully nudged the woman out on the landing. "Have fun!" She chuckled as she shut the door.

Tina looked down at a delighted Joshua, who promptly gave her the decorations. She grimaced at the offending collegiate colors in her hands. When was it that I totally lost control of my life?


"Yes." Resigned to the fact that she now had a job as an assistant decorator, Tina managed a half-grin at the child. "So, Boss…  what’s the plan?"

The two worked together, winding the streamers around the railing, culminating in a big blue and orange bow at the bottom. They stood out in the driveway, admiring their work.

"It looks awesome, Tina. Thanks for helping me."

"You’re welcome."

"You’re not going to be here for the party, are you?"


"I didn’t think so," he said disappointedly. "Neither is Auntie Sam."

"She’s not?"

"Nope. I heard them talking. She told Daddy she wants to cheer for the Seminoles."

Mike and Aaron came from the backyard and joined them in the driveway.

"Hey! That looks great, Josh!" Mike ruffled his son’s hair. "You do good work."

"I had help, Daddy."

"So I see."

The two adults eyed each other for a moment. Tina held out her hand. "Truce?"

Mike shook the offered hand. "Truce. Good luck tonight."

"You, too."

"All right, boys," the man took the car keys from his pocket and jingled them, "time to go get the balloons."

"Yay!" The children ran to the minivan where they immediately got into an argument over who was going to sit in the front seat. Mike settled the dispute by announcing that Joshua would ride in front on the way to the store and Aaron would on the way back.

Tina waved good-bye and ascended the stairs. I remember having the exact same argument with Steven when we were kids. I guess some things never change. Stepping into the apartment, she heard singing. Following the sound, she went to the doorway of the bedroom and saw that Sam was finishing making up the bed.


"Hi there! All done decorating?"

"Yes. Thanks SO much for volunteering me."

"You’re welcome." Sam laughed at the expression on Tina’s face. "You’re not pouting, are you?"

Tina shrugged.

"Aww…" Sam went over and hugged the sulking woman. "You poor thing… forced to put up decorations for a Gator party." Suddenly, strong arms grabbed her and propelled her backwards. "HEY!"

They fell onto the bed and Tina began tickling Sam. She continued until the blonde begged for her to stop.

"I feel MUCH better now," Tina said smugly.

"Oh… you…" Sam’s words were cut off by a searing kiss from her partner. My goodness…what was I saying?

"I was wondering," Tina smiled at the somewhat dazed look on Sam’s face, "I usually just watch the game alone at my place… but… umm… would you like to come over?"

"Yes!" I thought you’d never ask. "I’d REALLY like that."

"Maybe you could bring Josh along, too? He’s going to have a rough time of it if he stays here with all those Gator fans."

"I think that’s a terrific idea. I’ll ask Lisa and Mike if it’s okay."

"I need to get going then." Tina stood and helped Sam off the bed. "I’ll stop by the store and get hot dogs and chips."

"I was going to go to Lisa’s for a while and help her. How about I come over later this afternoon?"

"All right."

They hugged and kissed good-bye. When Sam walked Tina outside, she pointed to the railing. "Nice job with the Gator orange and blue."

Tina reached toward her, wiggling her fingers as if she were going to tickle her.

Sam ran away. "Okay! No more talk about the decorations… I promise!"

"You know I can always catch you," Tina bantered.

"Oh… I’m counting on it."

Tina laughed as she got into her car. As she drove away, she looked in the rearview mirror and saw Sam there, waving.

I love you, Samantha Whitwell.


Chapter 40

"Are we almost there yet?"

"Yes." It was at least the fifth time Joshua had asked the question and Sam was relieved that she could finally answer in the affirmative.

The boy had been positively beside himself with excitement ever since his parents had given him permission to go to Tina’s with his aunt. He hugged the Seminole flag he’d been holding in his lap. "She’ll be glad to get this back."

"I think you’re right. It was nice of you to ask your dad for it." And Mike was thrilled to get rid of the thing before anyone arrived for the party. She turned the car into the driveway of Bayshore Palms. Stopping at the call box, she pressed the code on the keypad and Tina answered.


"Hi! We’re here!" Josh shouted across Sam and out her window.

A low chuckle rumbled from the speaker. "Come on up, you two." The gate opened, allowing them to pull into the garage and park.

"Wow! She has an elevator!" Josh ran ahead of his aunt. "Can I press the button?"


The elevator came and they got in.

"What floor, Auntie Sam?"


The boy pushed the appropriate number and then danced around happily in the confined space until the doors opened.

Tina was standing there waiting for them.

"Hi!" Joshua handed her the flag. "Look what I brought for you!"

"Thanks." She bent down and hugged the child. "You ready for the big game?"


"Good." She straightened up and smiled as she reached for Sam’s hand. "Hi."


Josh took Tina’s other hand and they walked down the hallway to the condo. "This is cool!" He exclaimed when they got inside.

"Glad you like it."

"Can I use the bathroom? It was a LONG ride here."

"Yes." She showed her small guest the way through the kitchen to the bathroom. Striding back to the living area, she almost bumped into Sam, who was slowly making her way around the edge of the room, eyeing the answering machine warily.

"Whoa!" Tina wrapped her arms around the distracted woman.

"Oh! I… I’m sorry," the blonde sniffled as she leaned into the embrace. "It’s hard seeing that… and remembering the last time I was here."

"It’s… we’re… going to be all right," Tina murmured in her ear. "I promise."

"Tina?" Joshua yelled from the bathroom. "Is it okay to use the towel that’s here? My mom says sometimes towels are only to look at."

"Yes, you can use it," she called back to him.

Sam wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "You’d think at my age I’d have a better grip on my emotions. I just need a minute…" She hurried out onto the balcony.

The boy returned and Tina quickly tried to think of something to occupy him. "Would you do me a favor, Josh?"


"I don’t have many pictures around my place. Do you think you could draw something for me?" She moved the large chart she had been working on from the dining room table and put it on the kitchen counter. "You can sit right here." She patted a chair that faced away from the balcony.

"Oh, yes! I can make you something NICE!" He smiled as he sat down.

"Thanks, I’d like that." She placed the markers and paper that were strewn about the table closer to him. "Meanwhile, I need to talk to your aunt for a few minutes, okay?"

"Okay." The child had already started on his artwork.

Satisfied that Joshua was engrossed in his project, she stepped outside and stood near Sam, who was resting her arms on the railing and looking out at the water. They both were quiet for several minutes.

It was Tina who eventually broke the silence. "I… I want you to know. She… was never here."

"W… what?"

"C’mere." Tina gently guided her partner to the inner corner of the balcony, away from view of the street. "I’m saying that Andi… has never been here. Umm… no one has ever slept in that bed but me… and you."

It took Sam a moment to find her voice. "Why didn’t you tell me? Were you afraid I’d think it meant something?"

"No. I wanted you to know it did… does… mean something. I just didn’t get a chance…"

"Oh, Tina." Sam hugged the tall woman. No wonder you waited so long to ask me to stay over. It was a huge step for you. And then, I stormed out of here in a huff… now I see that I wasn’t the only one who got terribly hurt that day. "I will NEVER, EVER leave angry again. No matter what happens, we’ll resolve it together. Does that sound good?"

"Yes." Tina glanced through the patio door and saw that Josh was still busily working. She bent down for a kiss.  "I… I love…it… when you’re here."

That got her a big smile.

They gazed into each other’s eyes, oblivious to everything around them, until a high-pitched voice rang out from the condo.

"I’m done!"

"Whose bright idea was it to bring that child with me today?" Sam teased.

"Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Tina whispered as she followed the blonde into the dining room.

"Look at what I made!" The boy waved a colorful paper at them.

"Let me see." Tina took the artwork and held it at arm’s length. "This is VERY nice." It was a drawing of the three of them standing under a big yellow sun. Tina was in the middle with Josh and Sam on either side of her. They were all smiling and holding hands. It was a picture brimming with happiness. "I like it a lot. Thank you."

"Are you going to hang it up?"

"Of course!"

Sam watched with amusement as Tina held the paper in various locations throughout the condo and Josh offered his opinion on whether it was the perfect place to put it. In the end, they decided to hang it from the fireplace mantle.

"It’s almost game time!" Tina turned the TV on and they all piled onto the couch. The FSU graduate hung on every word as the announcers discussed both teams at length. Sam was paying attention to the Gator band in the background, performing the pre-game show on the field. It didn’t take long for Joshua to start asking questions.

"How can they play football in a swamp?"

"It’s not A swamp… it’s THE Swamp. That’s the name of the Gators’ football stadium," Tina explained. "It’s much harder to beat a team when you’re at their home field."

"That’s a BIG band. What instrument do you like best, Tina?"

"Hmmm…" She paused so she could finish hearing what the broadcaster was saying about the quarterback rotation the Gators would be using. "I think I like the drums best."

"What does he mean… the Seminoles are top-ranked?"

Sam interrupted the inquisition. "Josh, she’s trying to listen to the TV. Don’t ask so many questions." She likes the DRUMS?

"It’s okay." Tina smiled. "I don’t mind." And, true to her word, she patiently answered every question the child asked. When the first quarter started, she described the basic concepts simply enough that he quickly gained an understanding of the flow of the game. In no time at all, the two of them were hooting and hollering at the action on the screen.

Sam was enjoying their unbridled enthusiasm much more than the game itself. I love seeing her happy…

"It’s GOOD!" Tina yelled as they saw a field goal attempt sail between the uprights. "How many points is that worth?" she quizzed Josh to see if he remembered what she’d told him.


"Right!" They slapped hands in a high-five motion.

And so it went throughout the first half, as they watched the teams move up and down the field. At halftime, FSU was ahead, 13-6.

"We ready for some hot dogs?" Tina took a long drink of beer to soothe her throat, which was hoarse from all the cheering she’d been doing.

"Yes!" Joshua answered. He got up and looked out the large sliding doors. "Can I go on the balcony for a while?"

"Sure." Tina headed into the kitchen as the boy scurried outside. "Samantha?"

Sam went to see what her partner wanted. "You called?"

"Uh huh." Tina pulled the surprised woman into the laundry room and kissed her. "I’ve been wanting to do that during the whole first half."

Sam laughed. "I didn’t even think you were aware I was here, you were so involved in the game."

Tina’s voice became deeper. "I ALWAYS know when you’re around. You make me feel…" Her words trailed off as she ducked her head down again for a long, lingering kiss.

"My goodness!" Sam felt her body tingling from head to toe. "What’s gotten into you today?"

"I… umm… I’m trying to tell you more… stuff."

"So I see… and you’re succeeding wonderfully." The blonde ran a shaky hand through her hair. "We’d better get back in there before Josh comes looking for us." Or before I barricade the door and attack you right now.

"Okay. I need to hurry up and cook those hot dogs." Tina led the way into the kitchen and began getting the food ready.

Sam saw the large chart lying on the counter. It had horizontal and vertical lines, with dates in some of the columns. "What’s this?"

"I’m making a training schedule."

"For what?"

"The marathon."

"You’re SERIOUS about doing a marathon?"

"I thought it would be kind of a challenge… test my abilities."

"Should you push yourself that much with your back condition?"

Tina turned from the stove where the hot dogs were sizzling in the frying pan and faced Sam. "I want to try. I think I can do it."

"But… why?"

"Well, after graduating from college, I didn’t run for over a year. There had been so much pressure on me to get, and keep, that scholarship, I was totally burnt out. Then one day, Steven talked me into going to the track with him. I actually had fun… running for no other reason than my own enjoyment. I’d almost forgotten what that was like." Tina turned around to resume her cooking duties. "I never ran competitively again, though."

"Does it have to be a marathon?" Sam walked over to Tina and looked up at her. "It’s so punishing on the body. I’m worried about you getting hurt."

"I’m pretty tough for an old lady." Tina stacked the hot dogs on a plate and filled a large bowl with chips.

"You are NOT old!" Hmm… some of this evidently has to do with that age thing. "And if you want to do this… I’ll support you one hundred percent." Even though I have reservations about it.

"Thanks. That means a lot to me." The tall woman bent down and gave Sam a quick kiss before handing her the bowl of chips.

They arranged the food on the coffee table, refilled their drinks, called Josh from the balcony, and settled in for the second half. Tina almost choked on a potato chip when the Gators intercepted a pass and ran for a touchdown in the third quarter. Consequently, she didn’t snack for the rest of the game. The teams battled on and with three and a half minutes remaining, the Gators scored to make it 30-23 with the Seminoles still in the lead. But FSU couldn’t move the ball on their next drive, giving the Gators a final attempt to score. Tina was pacing the room and directing all sorts of advice at the television, as if the coaches and players could hear her. The orange and blue team moved the ball down the field until there was only enough time left for one more play.

"It’s going to be a Hail Mary." Tina mumbled, still pacing back and forth.

"They’re gonna say a prayer?" Josh asked.

Sam grabbed the boy and pulled him closer to her. "Shhh… now is NOT the time to ask questions."

The three of them watched the ball leave the quarterback’s hand and arch very high in the air. It came down in the end zone and a crowd of players from both teams jumped up to try to catch it. It bounced off the fingers of a Gator player before falling to the ground. The game was over. Bedlam ensued as Seminole players shouted  "We’re number 1!" and stomped all over the Gator logo painted on the grass at midfield. The FSU band played the music for the tomahawk chant and the contingent of Seminole fans that were in the stands cheered wildly.

After a little jumping around and yelling herself, Tina joined her guests on the couch. "Pretty exciting game, huh?"

Sam and Josh whole-heartedly agreed.

"We’re still undefeated… next we’ll play for the national championship." She looked at Josh and explained. "That’s like the Super Bowl for college teams."


"Yeah… it’s WAY cool." Tina stretched her legs out, putting her feet up on the table. "Let’s see what the coach has to say."

As Josh and Tina watched the post game interviews, Sam took the dishes into the kitchen and washed them. She put the leftovers away and wiped off the counters. Before leaving the room, she took a moment to examine the marathon training schedule more closely. There were already numbers in some of the spaces indicating how many miles had been run on those days. What are you trying to prove? Whatever it is, it must be important or you wouldn’t be doing this. She looked at the dates that extended well into spring and sighed. There’s still plenty of time for her to change her mind… not that I think she will.

The football program ended and Tina shut off the TV. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. I had more beers than I should have. I’ll pay for that in the morning when I have to get up and run.

Sam returned to the living room to find one adult and one small boy practically asleep on the couch. "Joshua," she called softly. "It’s time to go."

"Umm… hmm." He yawned. "I need to use the bathroom first." He got up and groggily walked past his aunt.

Sam sat down next to Tina. "Are you okay?"

"VERY okay." Blue eyes opened and regarded her. "When you’re here."

Sam took a large hand in her own and kissed it. "I need to get Joshua home." She entwined her fingers with Tina’s.

"I wish you could stay."

"Me, too."

"I’d drive to your place but… umm… I’ve had a few beers."

"Yes, you certainly did." Sam smiled at the slightly drunk woman. "I’ll call you after I have lunch with Kathy tomorrow. Maybe you can come over then?"

"I’d like that."

The women shared a few quiet moments holding hands and sneaking kisses while they waited for Joshua.

"I’m ready." The boy was standing at the door, smiling.

"How long has he been there?" Sam whispered.

"I don’t know."

Tina escorted her guests to their car. In between yawns, Joshua expressed his thanks for being invited over and for the football lesson.

"He’ll be asleep before we get to the interstate," Sam commented.

"You’re probably right." The tall woman chuckled.

Tina watched them get in the car and drive away before heading for the elevators.

The next morning, the former track star forced herself to go running even though she felt sluggish from her beer drinking the night before. No more overindulging until after the marathon, T.  She did some housework and a load of laundry before having a light lunch. Glancing at the clock for the umpteenth time, she decided to sit on the balcony and read a book until Sam called. When the phone finally rang, she quickly jogged inside to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hi… Tina?"


"This is Lisa… Sam’s sister."

Tina immediately heard the stress in the woman’s voice. "What… what is it?"

"Today Sam went to lunch with a friend of hers."

"Yes, I know." Tina felt her stomach twist into a knot. "WHAT HAPPENED?"

"I’m at Sarasota Memorial Hospital… she’s been in a car accident."

Continued in Part 9

(to see the rest of the story in its unedited version - continue to chapter 41)

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