Chapter 41

Noooooooo… not again… please… not again. Tina moved unsteadily to the couch before her legs gave out completely. Car accident… no… no… no. She collapsed onto the soft surface as everything became dark and white dots danced in front of her eyes. After blinking a few times, the room slowly started to come back into focus and she became aware of a voice that sounded very far away calling her name. It took a moment for her to realize it was coming from the telephone that had dropped into her lap. She picked it up with a trembling hand.

"TINA… TINA… TINA!" Lisa was shouting into the phone.

"Y… yes?"

"She's all right! The doctor ordered some x-rays to be sure, but he doesn't think there are any major injuries."

Tina began sobbing uncontrollably.

Lisa was surprised at the emotional outburst from the normally cool, calm and collected accountant. I guess this answers any questions I had about how much she cares for Sam.

Tina fought to regain her composure so she could speak. "I… I'll be there as soon as I can."

"I think I should warn you. My mother is here."

Uh oh. "Maybe I shouldn't… I mean… umm… what does Samantha want?"

"Oh, she's been quite adamant," Lisa chuckled. "She wants YOU."

"Then I'm on my way."

"Okay… I'll tell her."

"Umm… Lisa?"


"Thanks for calling me."

"You're welcome."

Tina hung up the phone and made her way to the bathroom. She splashed some cold water on her face and looked in the mirror. C'mon, T… don't fall apart. Samantha needs you. The dark-haired woman pushed aside her own feelings as she concentrated on the important matter at hand. Samantha needs me. Energized with that single-minded sense of purpose, she went into the living room, grabbed her backpack and ran out of the condo. She didn't bother waiting for the elevator, instead choosing to gallop down the stairs at breakneck speed. Jumping into her car, she zipped through the streets of downtown Tampa, relieved that it was Sunday and traffic was light.

Once on the interstate, she had to use a substantial amount of restraint not to press the accelerator to the floor. Not that the car couldn't handle it. The BMW could go well over 100 mph with ease. She was more concerned about being pulled over for a ticket, causing a delay in her trip. Given what had happened in her past, Tina was a careful driver who rarely speeded or took unnecessary chances. She decided to set her cruise control to15 mph over the posted limit and hoped she didn't get caught.

Thirty minutes later, Tina arrived at Sarasota Memorial. After parking in the visitor's garage, she raced to the hospital entrance, stopping abruptly when she got there. She stared at the automatic doors. I swore I would never set foot in this place again. An ambulance siren wailed in the distance. Memories of the day ten years ago when she and Steven were brought here flashed through her mind. She took several deep breaths to calm her thundering heart. I can do this… for Samantha.

Hesitantly, she stepped into the busy lobby. People were coming and going, brushing past her as she tried to get her bearings. Tina rubbed her temples to try to alleviate the pounding in her head. Aspirins… I need aspirins. Spotting a water fountain, she went over and leaned against the wall next to it. She unzipped her backpack and pulled out the bottle of extra strength aspirins she always carried with her in case her back pain flared up. This should help. She took a sip of water to wash down two of the tablets before glancing around for a sign indicating the way to the Emergency Room. A flash of blue in her peripheral vision caught her attention. What's that? Tina peered through the large glass window of the gift shop and smiled at a cute teddy bear sitting on one of the shelves. She went inside the store to examine it more closely. The stuffed toy was approximately a foot tall and somewhat unusual because it had dark black fur rather than any of the more typical shades of brown. A sky blue ribbon was tied in a bow around its neck. I bet Samantha would like this a lot. She lifted the bear off the shelf and headed to the cashier.

"Will that be all?" the clerk asked.

"Yes." Tina paid for her purchase and borrowed a pen to sign the heart-shaped tag dangling from the animal's ear.

Armed with the bear in hand and directions to the ER from the cashier, she walked out into the lobby with a bit more confidence. She went past the elevators and turned right, following the hallway until it ended at the Emergency Room.

The place was full and very noisy, with the TV blaring, babies crying and people talking. A nurse's station was positioned near a door that apparently led to the treatment area. Tina approached the counter and waited impatiently for the sole employee manning the station to acknowledge her.

"May I help you?"

"I'm here to see Samantha Whitwell."

The nurse picked up a clipboard and looked at the top page. "Yes, she's here."

"I KNOW THAT. Can I see her?"

"Are you a relative?"

"Umm… no."

"According to this," the woman tapped the clipboard with her finger, "Ms. Whitwell already has two family members with her. You'll have to wait out here until she is released. It shouldn't be long now." The phone rang and she reached for the receiver.

"WAIT A MINUTE!" Frustrated, Tina attempted to bang her fist on the counter. However, she forgot she was holding the teddy bear and only succeeded in plunking the adorable animal right in front of the employee. "I NEED TO SEE HER." Lowering her voice considerably, she continued, "She's my… umm… partner."

The nurse paused, her hand resting on the still-ringing phone. She smiled at the bear before raising her eyes to the person it very much resembled.


Both women's heads turned toward the doorway to the patient area, where Lisa was gesturing for her sister's visitor to come in.

"Go on," the nurse waved Tina away before grabbing the phone. "Sarasota Memorial, Emergency Room... May I help you?"

Tina nodded her thanks and hurried over to Lisa. "How is she?"

"She came back from getting x-rays a few minutes ago. We're waiting to hear the results."

"The… the accident… what happened?"

"Kathy was driving Sam home after lunch." Lisa led the way through the bustling infirmary. "They were waiting at a stoplight and when it turned green, they started into the intersection. Some guy going the other way ran the red light and hit them. Thank goodness he wasn't going very fast, but he hit the passenger side of the car. Kathy wasn't hurt, but she's pretty shaken up. I took her home a little while ago."

They arrived at the last curtained section in the row and Tina peeked around the cloth. Sam was lying in a semi-inclined hospital gurney, eyes closed and face turned away from her mother, who was sitting in the only chair available in the cramped space. Mrs. Whitwell rose from the seat as soon as she saw Tina and the two women exchanged reciprocally unfriendly looks.

Lisa quickly slipped between them. She gently took hold of her mother's arm. "Let's go get a cup of coffee." She ushered Mrs. Whitwell away, continuing to talk in order to quash any protest that might be forthcoming. "I think there's a beverage machine in the lobby. Maybe by the time we get back they'll have the information about the x-rays."

Tina sighed as she watched the mother and daughter leave. I owe you one, Lisa. She turned to check on Sam and was pleased to see the blonde was awakening.

Sam rubbed her eyes. "Am I dreaming… or are you really here?"

"I'm really here." Tina sat on the edge of the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay. The diagnosis at this point is just some bad bruising to my right side. If the tests come back showing no internal injuries, I can go home."

"I… I'm so glad you're all right. This… it… scared me."

"Hey," Sam said softly, "I'm fine…"

"You could've been…" Tina didn't dare say it out loud. Killed.

"You listen to me, Ms. Mellekas. I may be small, but I'm tough!" Sam flexed her left arm and made a muscle. "See?"

Tina nodded, not sure that she could speak without bursting into tears.

Sam observed the silent woman, who was fidgeting with a stuffed animal. We're going to have to talk about this… but not now. She's barely keeping herself together. "T?"


"Is that for me?"

"Oh… umm… yeah." Tina handed the teddy bear over. "I… I thought you might like it."

Sam grabbed the tall woman's arm and pulled her close. "I LOVE… it."

Only inches apart, blue eyes met green, communicating better than words ever could.

The doctor strode in, skidding to a halt when he saw the couple. He shuffled the papers he was holding. "Ahem."

Tina sprang off the bed.

"Hi, Doc." Sam grinned at the blushing resident. "This is my partner, Tina."

The doctor shook hands with the equally blushing visitor before addressing his patient. "The x-rays show no damage to any internal organs. There are no broken bones, though you do have some deep bruising. You're going to be sore for the next few days, but otherwise you'll be fine."

"So, I can go home now?"

"Yes. I'm going to write you a prescription for medication for tonight and tomorrow. By Tuesday you should be able to use an over-the-counter pain reliever as needed. The nurse will be back with release papers for you to sign and then you're free go."

"Thanks, Doc."

"You're welcome." The resident left, pulling the curtain closed behind him.

Sam grinned at Tina. "See? Just a few bruises. Nothing to worry about." She tried to sit up and the grin quickly vanished. "Ugh!"

"Samantha!" Tina gently pressed the woman back against the pillows. "What are you doing?"

"I need my clothes. I think they're under the bed."

"I'll get them." Tina found the plastic bag of clothes on the shelf beneath the gurney and helped the blonde get dressed.

Sam groaned in pain several times during the exceedingly slow, difficult process. Exhausted from the effort, she had to gather her strength to speak. "Tina?"


"Thanks. I've been so worried today… being in this flimsy hospital gown. I was sure my mom or Lisa was going to see my tattoo."

Tina finished tying the laces on Sam's sneakers. "Anytime." She moved to the head of the bed. "Though I much prefer taking your clothes OFF to putting them on," she whispered as she bent down for a tender kiss.

"I feel better already."

"Good." Me, too. Tina straightened up. "They'll be back soon."

Sam sighed. I am NOT ready for that.

"You okay?"

"My mom… we kind of argued earlier…"

"Here? At the hospital?"

"Yeah… umm… she wants me to go to her house… so she can take care of me. I told her no, but she wasn't listening."

"What do YOU want to do?"

"I.... I'd like for you to drive me home."

"Then that's what we'll do."

"Hello?" Lisa alerted the women before pulling open the curtain. "Any news yet?"

"Yes," Sam answered. "The doctor was just here. No broken bones. No internal injuries. I'm waiting to sign some papers and then I can leave."

"Great! I'll call Mike and let him know."

"Lisa," Mrs. Whitwell's voice stopped her daughter in mid-stride. "After you call, go get the car. We'll meet you outside after Samantha signs..."

"Mom," Sam interrupted. "Tina is taking me to my house."

"We already had this conversation…"

"Excuse me, Mrs. Whitwell," Tina said, "but it's Samantha's decision to make."

"You, of all people, shouldn't be telling ME what's best for my daughter!"

"Mom… please…don't," Sam implored.

"This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion," Tina reasoned. "Anything you have to say to me can wait until after I get Samantha home."

There was an uncomfortable silence as the women glared at each other.

"Hello!" A nurse breezed in with a clipboard. She looked at the patient. "Are you ready to go home?"


"These are the doctor's orders." The nurse tilted the clipboard so Sam could read along. "No work for three days… get plenty of bed rest… medication for tonight and tomorrow. Any questions?"


"I need you to sign here."

Trying to keep her arm as still as possible, Sam clumsily wrote her name.

"Here is your prescription and your copy of the doctor's orders." The nurse gave the papers to the blonde. "I have a wheelchair for you. Is someone going to bring a car to the door?"

Tina spoke first. "I am." She reached for Sam's hand and squeezed it. "I'll see you in a few minutes."


Tina went through the ER waiting room and outside. There was a circular drive where patient drop-off and pick-up was allowed. She jogged along the sidewalk, past the main entrance of the hospital and to the parking garage. By the time she got back to the Emergency Room, the group was already outside. She got out of the car to open the passenger door while Lisa helped Sam up from the wheelchair. After adjusting the leather seat so it reclined a little and the injured woman assured her she was comfortable, Tina fastened the seatbelt. She closed the door and turned to face Lisa and her mother.

They stood quietly for a moment, no one sure of what to say.

Lisa came to the rescue again. "We'll go get the prescription filled and meet you at Sam's."

"All right." Tina walked around to the driver's side of the car and got in. She looked at her partner. "Ready?"

"Yes." The normally cheerful woman was definitely out of sorts and it was evident in her tone. Her side was throbbing painfully and her head ached from the emotional stress. She hugged the teddy bear in her arms. "I just want to go home."

"You got it." Tina put the car in gear. I don't know what's going to happen when we all get there… but I doubt it will be very good.

Chapter 42

It was nightfall when Tina backed the BMW into the driveway, parking with the passenger side of the car closest to the steps of the garage apartment. It had been a quiet ride from the hospital, with the dark-haired woman sneaking frequent glances at Sam, making sure she was all right. "We're here," Tina said softly as she turned off the engine.


"We're home." Despite the somberness of the occasion, a half-grin momentarily graced Tina's features. I like the sound of that. Her expression changed to one of profound affection as she reached over and lovingly straightened Sam's hair with her fingers. Home.

Mike and the boys had been sitting on the steps waiting for them to arrive. They rushed to the vehicle.

"Tina!" The man pulled open her door. "Lisa called and told us you were on the way." His eyes swept toward Sam. "How's she feeling?"

"She hasn't had any pain medication yet," Tina answered as she got out of the car. "She's feeling pretty sore."

"When Lisa phoned, she said they were at the drug store. They're getting the prescription filled now."

Aaron and Joshua were staring at their aunt through the passenger window. Sam managed a weak smile and a wave at her nephews.

Mike looked at the boys and sighed. "They've been terribly worried… we ALL have." He went over to his sons. "Now that you've seen she's okay, I want you two to go in the house. I'll be right there."

The children dragged their feet as they left, grumbling that they always got sent away whenever anything interesting was going on.

Mike opened the door and squatted so he was at eye level with Sam. "Let's get you upstairs. I think you'll feel a lot better once you're tucked into your own bed." He unfastened the seatbelt and scooped the small blonde into his arms.

"I can walk!"

"I'm following orders from Lisa." He stood slowly, making sure he had a secure hold of his precious cargo. "You don't want me to get in trouble with my wife, do you?"

Sam shook her head. The aching in her side had intensified when she was lifted and she gripped her teddy bear tightly, trying not to cry.

Tina pushed the car door shut before bounding up the stairs ahead of them and using her key to unlock the apartment. She turned on the lights as Mike carried his sister-in-law into the bedroom and carefully laid her down.

"Owww… laying flat… not good… owww."

Tina quickly propped several pillows behind the hurt woman. "Is that better?"

The worst of the throbbing pain started to recede and Sam nodded.

"I'm going to get back to the boys…" Mike started out of the room. "If you need anything, let me know."

"We will… thanks." Tina was already removing Sam's shoes and socks. After dropping the footwear on the floor, she lightly massaged her partner's feet.

"Mmmm… you're very good at that."

"You think so?"

"Mmm hmm."

Tina smiled, glad that she was able to take Sam's mind off her injury for a few minutes.



"My mom will be here soon."

Tina tried to keep the irritation out of her voice. "I know."

"I'm sorry she was rude to you. Don't take it personally… it's me she's angry at."

"I'm fine. You just concentrate on getting well."

"I already feel better. Being with you… it makes me feel… stronger."

"Shhh… you should be resting."

"C'mere… please?"

Tina complied, cautiously sitting on the edge of the bed.

Sam took the older woman's right hand in her left. She studied their joined hands as she began to speak.

"Umm… in the past, I was willing to give up part of myself if that's what it took to have a relationship with my mother. She demanded that I come to family functions on the holidays but wouldn't allow me to bring my… anyone… with me. I went along with it because I hoped that, in time, things would improve." Sam sighed. "It hasn't… and I refuse to do it any more. When my mom came over here… that day we were playing soccer with the boys… I told her I wasn't going to her house for the holidays this year." Not without you. "She didn't take it very well."

"Maybe you should reconsider…"

"NO." Sam promptly dismissed the suggestion. "Maybe it's because I'm almost forty." She shifted her attention from their clasped hands and looked at Tina with adoration. "Maybe it's because I want to be brave like you… maybe it's a little of both."

"Brave? I'm not brave."

"Yes, you are," Sam disagreed. "You had so much responsibility heaped on you… and then the tragedy with your brother. But you started over… all alone… always so strong… so brave. And you know what I think is the most courageous thing of all?"

"Umm… no."

"You've risked your heart… for me."

"You," Tina gazed deeply into misty green eyes, "are very much worth the risk."

That got Sam smiling. "You know what else?"


"I think it said on those doctor's orders something about lots of kisses helping to promote a more speedy recovery…"

Any further words were smothered by a gentle kiss… and another… and another.

There was a knock at the front door. "Hello?" Lisa called out as she entered the apartment.

Tina sat back and grinned at the flushed face of her partner. "Was the doctor's advice right?"

"Totally. I see a Nobel Prize in that man's future."

"I see MY future right here." Tina murmured as she leaned in once more for a kiss. "And it's WAY better than any Nobel Prize."

"Hello?" Lisa came into the bedroom. "Oh! Maybe I should come by later…"

"It's okay, Lisa." Tina let go of Sam's hand and stood up. "Now that you're here to keep an eye on our patient, I'm going to take the opportunity to go get my backpack." She went outside, pausing on the top landing as the early evening breeze cooled her heated skin. I may have to send that doctor a thank you note. As she descended the stairs, she saw Mrs. Whitwell coming across the walkway from Lisa's house. Uh oh, round two.

The women met at the bottom of the steps.

Again, they traded icy glares.

"Well? Are you going to let me pass?" Sam's mother didn't make an effort to contain her hostility. "Or are you attempting to keep me from seeing my daughter?"

"There's no need for us to be adversaries…"

"YOU have influenced my daughter to turn against her family. I have every right to be upset!"

Tina thought of all the things she'd like to say… probably WOULD have said in her younger, more impetuous years when her temper got the best of her. But working with Vivian had taught her plenty, not the least of which was how to control her anger. She swallowed the harsh comments she wanted to make and spoke from her heart... for Samantha. "Mrs. Whitwell, you have a wonderful daughter who loves you very much. She's told me how… disappointed… she is that your relationship with her is strained."

"Well, YOU certainly aren't helping in that regard…"

"Let me finish…" Tina interrupted. "I haven't tried to influence Samantha… she's a grown woman who is perfectly capable of making her own decisions. It would make her extremely happy if you would accept her for who she is… but it seems to me… you just aren't willing to do that."

"She's confused. She doesn't really know what she wants."

"Oh-yes-she-does," Tina retorted. "And, somehow or another, I'm fortunate enough to be it."

"We'll see about that." Mrs. Whitwell stepped forward, eliminating any personal space between them.

Tina didn't move. "I'm warning you… if you push Samantha into choosing… you're going to lose her." Blue eyes flashed with anger. "And you'll have no one to blame but yourself."

Lisa came outside and saw the women locked in a standoff. "Mother?" She hurried down the stairs. "I gave Sam her medicine. Do you want to see her before she falls asleep?"

"It's been a long day," Mrs. Whitwell remarked wearily. "She needs to rest. I'll visit her tomorrow."

Without a word, Tina turned and went back up to the apartment.

"It HAS been a long day." Lisa pulled her car keys from her pocket. "But the most important thing is Sam's all right." What the heck happened out here? I can't believe she isn't going in to see her. "Ready for me to take you home then?"


Tina closed the door and leaned against it. That probably didn't help any, but at least I gave it a shot. She walked to the bedroom to check on Sam. The woman was resting comfortably, teddy bear firmly tucked under her arm. I don't think she's let go of that thing since I gave it to her.

As if she sensed the presence of her partner, Sam opened her eyes halfway and mumbled something unintelligible.

In two long strides, Tina was there, kneeling next to the bed. "Go to sleep… I'll be right here. I promise."

"I… I… lo…ve…" Sam's eyelids became heavy and she succumbed to the effects of the medication.

Tina stayed for a few minutes, watching her sleep. I'd do anything to take away the hurt you're feeling. I guess I can't protect you from everything… but that won't stop me from always trying.

Reaching for the plastic bottle of pills on the bedside table, Tina looked to see how often the medicine had to be taken. Damn! Unable to read the small print, she realized her glasses were still out in the car in her backpack.

Several popping sounds were heard as she slowly stood. "Ugh." You're getting old, T. She looked down at Sam. That thought doesn't seem so horrible anymore, though. Not when I have you to grow old with.

Tina took the blanket from the end of the bed and placed it over the sleeping woman. She reverently touched Sam's cheek, almost as if to convince herself that she was real.

She turned off the lights, lingering in the doorway for a moment before whispering into the darkness...

"I love you, too."

Chapter 43

Tina called Vivian to apprise her of the situation and let her know she wouldn't be at work in the morning. Then, after retrieving her backpack from the car, she attempted to relax on the couch by reading a book. Finding it impossible to concentrate on the words, she gave up and tried the TV instead. She flipped through the channels idly before turning it off and sighing. Might as well go in there T, cause that's all you really want to do. She went into the bedroom and moved the rocking chair around to the left side of the bed, where she would have a clear view of her partner. A sense of peacefulness descended over Tina as she sat in the darkened room. This is more like it. This is where I belong.

It was 3 A.M. when the first sound of distress was heard. Tina was out of the chair and next to the bed in an instant. Her eyes were accustomed to the dark and she had no trouble seeing the pained expression on Sam's face. "Are you alright?"

"I'm sliding off these pillows… my side hurts."

Tina carefully helped the younger woman into a more inclined position. "Is that better?"

"Yeah… thanks."

"Time for another pill?"

Sam nodded.

Tina got a fresh glass of water and handed it to the blonde, who quickly took her medicine. "Please… stay with me?"

"I haven't left. I've been sitting right here…"

"No. I mean in the bed."

"I'm afraid I'll bump into you. I… I don't want to hurt you." Never again.


Unable to refuse the heartfelt plea, Tina relented and climbed onto the bed. She lay alongside Sam and carefully draped her arm across the smaller woman's body. "Is this okay?"

"Mmm hmm."

Exhausted, Tina closed her eyes.

Sam heard her partner's breathing immediately deepen. She placed her hand over the larger one resting on her stomach. I know you won't hurt me. Smiling, she watched the beautiful woman slumbering next to her until she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore.


Lisa kissed Mike good-bye. "Have a good day!" She waved to her children and husband as the minivan backed out of the driveway. Climbing the steps to the garage apartment, she hoped her sister or Tina was awake.

She tapped lightly on the door. When there was no answer, she used her key to go in. The morning light poured through the windows revealing an empty living room. They must still be sleeping. Lisa tiptoed to the bedroom and peeked in. Well… isn't this a sight? Sam looked the same as when she had last seen her, propped against the pillows and holding the teddy bear. But now, Tina was curled up beside her with a protective arm wrapped around her waist. They were sound asleep.

They'll be hungry when they wake up. I'd better go get their breakfast ready. Lisa jotted a short message on a pad of paper that was lying on the desk. She put the note under the bottle of pills on the nightstand before quietly slipping out of the apartment.

About an hour later, Lisa's phone rang.


"Hi, Sis."

"Good morning! How are you feeling?"

"A little better, thanks."

"I made some breakfast. Are you hungry?"


"Would you ask Tina to come over and give me a hand carrying it?"


"All right. I'll see you in a few minutes." Lisa hung up the phone. She pushed the switch on the coffeemaker and a fresh pot began to brew while she got busy preparing a breakfast tray. Shortly thereafter, there was a knock on the slightly ajar kitchen door.


"C'mon in, Tina."

"Samantha said you needed help?"

"Yeah. I just have a few more things to do and we'll be ready to go."

Tina leaned against the counter and watched as Lisa buttered some toast. "This is very nice of you. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"I… umm… also want to thank you for yesterday… with your mom."

Lisa turned and faced her former teammate. "It isn't often that I get a chance to intervene on my sister's behalf. Has she told you what's been going on?"

"She said your mother doesn't accept that she's gay… and… umm…she's not going over there for the holidays."

"There's a bit more to it. Would you like some coffee?"


Lisa poured each of them a cup of the steaming liquid. "Let's sit down for a minute, okay?"

"Okay." Uh oh…

The women sat at the table.

"When Sam came out to Mom, they had a huge argument. My sister made me promise not to get involved. She felt it was her battle to fight and didn't want anyone else getting caught in the crossfire." Lisa sighed. "It hasn't been easy."

Tina nodded in understanding.

"Has she told you our parents are divorced?"


Lisa took a sip of her drink. She seemed to be having difficulty deciding what to say next.

"Look." Tina started to get up. "This is really none of my business…"

Might as well take the direct approach. "Do you love my sister?"

Tina sank back into her chair. "Wh… what?"

"Are you in love with Sam?"

After fidgeting for a few moments, Tina stared into her coffee and softly answered, "I… umm… yes."

"Then it IS your business. You're part of the family now." Lisa paused, waiting for the dark-haired woman to look at her, before adding sincerely… "And I'm glad."

They drank their coffee in silence until Lisa continued in a voice shaded with sadness.

"The divorce was arduous for everyone. I'll let Sam tell you the details when she's ready, but what I want you to know is… our mother never really recovered from it. She's become terribly embittered these last few years. She hasn't always been like this."

"I figured as much. Anyone who raised two of the nicest people I've ever met can't be ALL bad."


Tina shrugged. "I know when your life suddenly changes… it can be hard to… adjust."

"Yes, that's true." I'll bet you're an expert on the subject. "Sam had a very tough time dealing with the divorce. On top of that, she's been determined to work things out with Mom on her own… and she's ended up carrying the burden all by herself."

"Not anymore."

"You're right." Lisa smiled. "I was surprised when she asked me to call you from the hospital. I didn't think she'd do that with our mother there. And then, even MORE surprising, was when you arrived, Mom stayed!"

"Yeah. Then things rapidly went from bad to worse."

"Well, to put it in perspective, you're the only one of Sam's girlfriends Mom has ever met. Whenever my sister would visit, she went alone and there was no discussion about her being gay. You are the first flesh and blood personification of Sam's lifestyle she's ever seen. And, I'm sorry to say, you've had to bear the brunt of the years of animosity she's fostered about it."

"I can handle it. I don't care if she hates me… but Samantha… she doesn't deserve to be treated like that."

"Well, whatever transpired between Mom and you has definitely started something…"

"I'm sorry. I never intended…"

"No… I mean in a GOOD way. She asked me about you when I drove her home last night. The fact that she would show any interest in who you are is a big step. It was the first time in ages we've talked about Sam. So, I should be thanking YOU."

"I… I don't want Samantha to miss the holidays with her family." I know what that's like.

"I can tell you, from years of experience, you have a snowball's chance in Hell of changing Sam's mind when she makes a decision."

"She certainly can be obstinate."

"But it some cases," Lisa grinned and looked pointedly at the woman across from her, "that's a good trait, wouldn't you agree?"

Tina felt a blush start to creep up her neck to her face. How much has Samantha told her about us? The phone rang, saving her from having to respond to the question.

"Hello?" Lisa listened to the caller and rolled her eyes. "Yes, Sam. We're on our way." She hung up and chuckled. "It seems we have a hungry patient waiting for us." She used a potholder to take a shallow metal pan from the oven. Pulling back the tin foil, she transferred scrambled eggs and bacon onto two plates. After placing the dishes and silverware on the tray, she covered the whole thing with a clean dishtowel.

Tina rose from her seat. "What do you need me to do?"

"Would you carry the pot of coffee? And grab that trivet so we have something to put it on when we get over there."

Tina picked up the items. She led the way, handling the door duties because the other woman had her hands full with the tray.

"Room service!" Lisa placed the breakfast tray across her sister's lap and removed the towel.

"Thanks! I'm starving."

"You ARE feeling better, then."

Tina put the trivet on the desk and placed the coffeepot on it.

"Coffee!" Sam's eyes lit up. "It smells good!"

"I'll go get the cups." Tina headed for the kitchen.

Lisa looked down at her sister. "I think you're right."

"About what?"

"She's a keeper."

Sam's face broke into a huge grin. "I'm very happy you think so."

Tina returned with the coffee cups and poured everyone a drink. She sat in the rocking chair and balanced her dish on her lap. Lisa stayed and kept them company while they ate, telling funny stories about her sons' latest antics. The hungry women cleaned their plates.

"That was great, Sis. Thanks."

"Yes, it was." Tina put her empty dish on the tray with Sam's.

"Well, as much as I've enjoyed chatting, I need to get to work. I told them I'd be in by 11:00." Lisa got up from the end of the bed where she had been sitting. "Mom called this morning. She said she'd be over around noon to see you."


"Tina?" Lisa lifted up the tray. "If you'll bring the coffeepot and open the doors for me again, I'd appreciate it."


They took the things back to the house and loaded the dishwasher.

"I need to get going." Lisa collected her briefcase and purse from the counter. "Thanks for the help."

"Anytime." Tina followed the woman outside. "I was wondering… I wanted to cook something special for Samantha. Does she have a favorite food?"

"That's easy." Lisa laughed. "If you really want to score points…" Not that you NEED any… "make homemade chocolate chip cookies."

"I was hoping for something a bit more… nutritional."

"She loves the typical Thanksgiving fare." Lisa smiled as she got into the car. "And I believe she's available for dinner on that day."

"Thanks… for everything." Tina jogged up the stairs. Hmm… Thanksgiving dinner…

Having had several cups of coffee, Sam was alert, even though she had taken a pain pill earlier. Tina helped her wash up and put on fresh clothes before shepherding her directly back to bed.

Tina settled into the rocking chair again. "Umm… Samantha?"


"What do you think about going to my place? My bed… I can incline it so you can sleep comfortably. Then… if you want… on Thursday, I could make a Thanksgiving meal."

"That sounds great! Let's go!"

"Hold it." Tina held her hand out like a stop sign. "Your mother is coming to visit you. Remember?"

"Oh… yeah. But will you pack some things for me while we're waiting?"


"There's a duffel bag in the closet."

Tina got the bag and filled it according to Sam's instructions.

"I'd like to take my guitar, too."

"Your guitar?"

"I'll have to have SOMETHING to do when you're at work, right?"

"I wasn't planning on going to work."

"You said it's been very busy," Sam said logically. "Vivian probably needs you there." And you'd go stir- crazy sitting around babysitting me all day.

"I guess so."

"I'll more than likely spend most of the time sleeping. I'll be fine."

"Do you PROMISE to call me at the office if you need anything?"

"I promise."

"All right." Tina took the luggage and strode toward the living room. "I'll go put your stuff in the car."

Sam called after her, "The case for the guitar is in the corner. I'll need the little practice amp, too."

She does NOT know the meaning of traveling light. Tina slung the jam-packed bag over her shoulder and held the guitar case in one hand, the amplifier in the other. She lumbered down the stairs and put the things in her trunk.

As she closed the lid, a car pulled into the driveway.

Sam's mother got out of the vehicle and walked toward the steps to the apartment.

"Mrs. Whitwell…"

The woman stopped, but continued to face away from Tina. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry if I was out of line yesterday. I meant no disrespect."

Mrs. Whitwell turned around. She knew the apology was genuine… she had a feeling this was a person who wouldn't say anything she didn't mean. "The whole situation has been… difficult. I wasn't very pleasant, either."

Tina nodded, acknowledging the return apology, such as it was.

"I'd like to ask you something, if you don't mind."

"Okay." Today certainly is a day for questions. If she asks me if I'm in love with her daughter…

"What does YOUR mother think about… you… and Samantha?"

"My mother and I haven't spoken in a long time…"

"Does she know you're… gay?"


"I see. But you feel qualified to tell ME how I should handle this?"

"Mrs. Whitwell, I don't have any idea what it's like to be a mother. However, I do know what it's like to be a daughter who hasn't fulfilled her mother's expectations. It's hard to live your life cognizant of the fact, each and every day, that you're not what your mother may have hoped or dreamed. Nonetheless, you keep on going… striving to do the best you can under the circumstances. It never seems to be enough, though." Tina looked at her feet. "But a daughter… still needs to feel love and acceptance for who she is. Without it… she carries a hurt deep in her heart. It's not something Samantha should have to endure. She's good, and kind, and… umm… she loves you very much."

"I appreciate your honesty."

Tina raised her eyes and the women regarded each other with a newfound, mutual measure of respect.

Mrs. Whitwell turned and began ascending the stairs.

Tina ran her hand through her hair. Whew… round three has concluded. She sat on the steps to wait. This family thing is WAY too stressful. How in the world do people deal with it all the time?

After a short visit, Sam's mother left, giving Tina a perfunctory nod as she passed.

The tall woman immediately went back into the apartment. I hope they didn't argue again. As she entered the bedroom, she saw her partner wiping her eyes with her shirtsleeve. Oh, no… "Are you all right?" She got the box of tissues from the bathroom and handed it to Sam.


"Why are you crying?"

"My… mom…" The blonde sniffled.

"What about her?" I never should have gotten involved. I've only made things worse.

"She… she told me she loved me."

Relief flooded through Tina as she sat on the edge of the bed. "Of course she loves you." Thank you, Mrs. Whitwell.

"She said she needs some time to process the whole thing, but she doesn't want to become estranged from me."

"Well… that's good news, isn't it?"

"Yes." Sam took hold of Tina's hand. "She said you talked to her."

"Umm… yeah… a little bit."

"What did you say?"

"I don't know. I kind of rambled on about mothers and daughters. I'm not sure I made a whole lot of sense."

"I don't think anyone would ever accuse you of rambling." Sam smiled. "Whatever you said… it reached her. This is the first real progress we've made since I told her I was gay."

"So, are you going over there for Thanksgiving?"

"No. I said I still wouldn't go without you. She's not quite ready for that yet."

"I'm sorry."

"It's all right. I like the idea of us having our first Thanksgiving together alone. Don't you?"

"Truthfully? Yeah. That whole family thing can be a little… overwhelming."

"Then it's working out perfectly, isn't it?"

"Yes, I think it is." She leaned forward and kissed Sam. "Are you ready to head over to my place?"

"Mmm hmm. Maybe one more kiss before we go?"

It was several minutes later when Tina helped the younger woman down to the car and seat belted her in. "Comfortable?"

Sam hugged the teddy bear she had refused to leave behind. "Yes."

Tina pulled the BMW out of the driveway. Sam was resting with her eyes closed and by the time they merged onto the highway, she appeared to be asleep. A familiar song came on the radio and Tina turned up the volume slightly.

She's got a way about her I don't know what it is But I know that I can't live without her She's got a way of pleasin' I don't know what it is But there doesn't have to be a reason, anyway

The dark-haired woman began singing along softly.

"She's got a smile that heals me I don't know why it is But I have to laugh when she reveals me She's got a way of talkin' I don't know what it is But it lifts me up when we are walking, anywhere

She comes to me when I'm feeling down Inspires me without a sound She touches me and I get turned around"

She became caught up in the music and her voice became stronger as she sang with emotion.

"She's got a way of showin' How I make her feel And I find the strength to keep on going She's got a light around her And everywhere she goes A million dreams of love surround her, everywhere

She comes to me when I'm feeling down Inspires me without a sound She touches me and I get turned around

She's got a smile that heals me I don't know why it is But I have to laugh when she reveals me She's got a way about her I don't know what it is But I know that I can't live without her Anyway"

When Tina reached for the knob to turn the radio down, her hand was caught in mid-air by her partner. Surprised, she looked over and saw green eyes full of love shining back at her.

She drove the remainder of the way to Tampa with one hand on the steering wheel, the other entwined with Sam's.

Chapter 44

"Mmmmm…" Sam slowly awakened to the sensation of light kisses along her neck.

"Happy Thanksgiving," Tina murmured into the sleepy woman's ear.

The blonde turned over and hugged her partner. "Our first Thanksgiving." And I love the way it's beginning.

"How are you feeling?"

Sam snuggled a little closer, if that were possible. "Mmm… wonderful."

"I meant your side. Are you sure it was okay last night?" Tina couldn't keep the concern from her voice. They had been reclining the bed a little at a time and the previous evening the rapidly recovering woman had declared she was ready to sleep lying flat again.

"Yes, I'm sure." Sam breathed in the fresh scent of Tina's soap and shampoo. "Hmm… you took your shower already."

"I ran, showered, set the table, and put the turkey in the oven. I'm all yours for the rest of the day."

A wide smile appeared on Sam's face. "I like the sound of that." She had missed Tina terribly the last few days. As she had begun to feel better, she had watched TV, read a book, and played the guitar. But mostly, she had kept her eye on the clock in anticipation of her partner getting home from work.

"Didn't you say you wanted to see the parade this morning?"

"Mmm hmm."

"It's going to start in a few minutes."

Sam's head popped up. "It is?"


"We HAVE to watch that. It's a Thanksgiving tradition!"

"I'll go turn on the TV while you take your aspirins."

"Thanks." Sam gave Tina a quick kiss before getting out of the bed and heading toward the bathroom. "I'll be right there."

They sat on the couch, drinking coffee and enjoying the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tina periodically went to the kitchen to check on the turkey. As the noon hour approached and the parade was winding down, she prepared the side dishes.

"Hurry! It's Santa!"

Tina, smiling at Sam's enthusiasm, hustled into the living room in time to see Santa waving to children and adults alike from his sleigh. "So, you ready for some turkey now?"

"Yes!" Sam had declined a late breakfast, having been told that the Thanksgiving meal would be ready around twelve. More than ready to sample the food she had smelled cooking that morning, she followed Tina into the kitchen.

The women filled their plates and carried them into the dining room. They took their seats at the table, which had been decorated with a colorful cloth and a vase full of beautiful flowers. Tina lit the candles she had purchased for the occasion, thinking Sam would like them.

Sparkling green eyes surveyed the festive setting before coming to rest on her dinner companion. "This is really nice."

Tina took hold of Sam's hand. "I… umm… I haven't had a lot to be thankful for in a long time. But, I want you to know… I'm very thankful to have you in my life."

"It's appropriate that we're spending this particular day together then," Sam lifted their joined hands and kissed them, "because I feel truly blessed to have found you."

"I…" a trace of guilt crept into Tina's voice, "I'm sorry you're missing being with your family, though."

"I AM with my family." Sam pulled Tina close so she could give her a long, sweet kiss.

Both women felt the temperature in the room rise perceptibly.

"Well…" Sam released Tina's hand and picked up her utensils, "we'd better get started on this fabulous meal before it gets cold." Or before I forget about Thanksgiving dinner entirely and drag you into the…



"I was asking," Tina held the gravy boat near Sam's plate, "would you like some of this?"

YES! "Oh… yes."

They ate their meal, spending much of the time holding hands, sharing kisses and exchanging smoldering looks.

"That was fantastic!" Sam helped clear the table. "You weren't fooling when you said you were a good cook!"

"I'm glad you enjoyed it."

They worked together, rinsing the dishes and loading the dishwasher.

"Time for the movie!" Sam exclaimed as she led the way into the living room. She picked up a black, plastic videotape case from the end table.

Tina sat on the couch. "I finally get to find out what it is?" Sam had insisted on getting the video at the last minute when they were leaving the apartment, explaining that it was her turn to provide the holiday movie. She had refused to discuss anything about it, except that they had to watch it on Thanksgiving Day.

"This is my FAVORITE movie."

"Pilgrim's Progress?"


"What is it?"

"Miracle on 34th Street… the original black and white version with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood. Have you ever seen it?"

"Hmm… if I did, it was a long time ago. Something about a man who says he's the real Santa Claus?"

"Yes." Sam put the tape into the VCR. She came back to the couch and cuddled next to Tina. "But there's MUCH more to it than that."

"There is?"

"You'll see."

The movie began and it didn't take Tina long to see why it was Sam's favorite. Underneath the amusing tale of a man who proclaims he's Santa and the lawyer who takes on the task of proving it, was a love story.

Tina immediately became engrossed in the plot, watching as a disillusioned woman's world is suddenly turned upside down when her life becomes entangled with those of the lawyer and Kris Kringle. The two men join together to help the lady and her similarly cynical young daughter learn to trust, have faith in people, and to believe that wishes can come true. In typical Hollywood fashion, it had a happy ending.

"Isn't that a WONDERFUL movie?" Sam used the remote to turn off the VCR and TV.

"Yes." I can see why you wanted me to watch it.

Hearing the emotion in the single word response, Sam glanced up at Tina and was surprised to see traces of moisture in her eyes. She pretended not to notice. "You know what?" she asked cheerfully.


"We're going to live happily ever after. Just like the movie."

"Real life isn't a fairy tale, Samantha," Tina said sadly.

"Life is what you make it," Sam replied with certainty. "And I want to make MY life… with you."

"I… I can't promise you things will be… perfect."

"Living happily ever after doesn't mean things are always perfect." Sam adjusted her position so she could look directly at Tina. "It means you meet the person you know you belong with… the one who makes you feel a love so strong that sometimes you think your heart might burst at the intensity of it." The way you make ME feel. "You commit yourself to living your life with the person, knowing that together, you're better than you ever were apart. And when there are hard times, it's a little easier to bear because you help each other though them. And the good times… well… the good times are even more joyful, because you have someone special to share them with."

"You," Tina affectionately tucked some loose hairs behind the blonde's ear, "you're special."

"You are, too." Sam tilted her head slightly to the side and asked hopefully, "So… do you think you can believe in a happily ever after like that?"

You are utterly adorable. "I… I think… maybe… I can."

The brilliant smile she received for her answer gave Tina courage. "I… umm… I have something for you."

Sam was instantly curious. "A present?"

"Kind of."

"I wasn't aware that Thanksgiving was a gift-giving occasion," she joked, remembering Tina saying the same thing to her on Halloween.

"Well, if you don't WANT it…." Tina teased.

"Yes! I want it!"

Tina reached into the pocket of her shorts and removed a silver key. "I thought you should have this."

Sam stared at the shiny piece of metal. It's the key to her condo. She looked up into loving blue eyes. It's the key to her heart. "Oh, Tina." The younger woman hugged her partner tightly. "Where's my key ring? Did we bring it?"

"No. I locked your door when we left."

"Then let me put it right here, so I won't forget it." Sam took the key and set it next to the video case on the end table. Not that there's a chance in Hell I'd ever forget it. "I… I have something for you, too." She got up, removed her guitar from the case and turned on the amplifier. Sitting on the couch again, she strummed the instrument a few times to steady her nerves. "I've been working on a new song."

"Something you're going to sing with the band?"

Sam shook her head and looked down at her guitar. "This song is intended for an audience of one." And if I can get my hands to stop shaking, maybe I can play it. She took a deep breath, played the chord progression, and began singing with a trembling voice.

"Heart living in the shadows, you've been so all alone Moving through 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, it's only love It's plain to see, yes it's clear to me That it's love, it's only love You… and me… it's love"

Tina was astounded. It's a song about me… about us. She sat as still as a statue, enthralled by the words and music.

"Step out from beneath that big oak tree Stand in the sunlight, stand with me Don't be afraid, don't run away I'm here beside you, you'll be okay

Cause it's love, it's only love There's nothing to fear, it's just you and me here And it's love, it's only love It's plain to see, yes it's clear to me That it's love, it's only love You… and me… it's love

I wanna be the only one The searching is over, let history be done You've got a chance to make a new start I wanna be the one to capture your heart

Cause it's love, it's only love There's nothing to fear, it's just you and me here And it's love, it's only love It's plain to see, yes it's clear to me That it's love, it's only love You… and me… it's love"

The musician played the series of chords leading to the last verse. She didn't dare glance up to see what reaction her song may be causing, afraid that, once again, she'd overstepped the emotional boundaries of her partner. Too late to turn back now…

"Heart living in the shadows, you've been so all alone Moving through 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 And it's love… love You… and me… it's only… love"

Sam continued to stare down at her guitar after the last note had dissipated into the air. "I'm not much of a songwriter. I'm more on the performance end of the spectrum rather than composing. I… I know it still needs work…"

"No. Please… don't change a thing."

"You… you liked it?" Sam finally raised her eyes. "I've never written a song for someone…"

"You HAVE captured my heart. I'm not sure when… or how… but it's yours to do with what you will."

It was the closest the older woman had come to an outright declaration of love and Sam savored the words as they gazed at each other, drowning in the waves of emotion passing between them.

Tina took the instrument from the musician and laid it on the coffee table. She leaned forward and kissed the blonde with a fervor that left both of them breathless.

"We… we have to st… stop," Sam managed to stammer as Tina began nibbling on her ear.


"We agreed to… to wait… until you were ready…"

The resulting growl in Sam's ear made her whole body tingle. "I'm ready."

"You… you're sure?"

"If my back would allow it, I'd sweep you into my arms and carry you into the bedroom…"

"Oh-no-you-don't." Sam scrambled to her feet. "We're not going to take ANY chance of you hurting your back right now." She smiled as she reached for Tina's hand. "Although I do appreciate the sentiment."

They walked to the bedroom in silence. Stopping next to the bed, Sam pressed down gently on Tina's shoulders, guiding her to sit on the edge of the mattress. She moved in close, standing between her partner's legs and looking deeply into blue eyes. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. I want you. I want… this."

Sam grasped the bottom of Tina's tee shirt and slowly lifted it over the compliant woman's head. Dropping the garment on the floor, she leaned in for a kiss, reaching around and unclasping Tina's bra at the same time. She slid the straps off broad shoulders and down lengthy arms. The bra quickly joined the shirt on the floor.

"I've wanted you for so long," Sam said softly.

Hesitantly, Tina slipped her hands under the blonde's shirt, needing to feel the smooth skin she knew she'd find there.

Sam's eyes closed at the contact, her body instantly responding to the familiar touch. How many times have I fantasized about this? Too many to count, probably. And now that we're here and it's really happening… I'm suddenly feeling nervous.

The smaller woman was snapped out of her reverie as Tina grabbed her by the waist and pulled her onto the bed.

They both groaned as the abrupt movement caused a sharp twinge in Sam's side and a protest from Tina's back.

Pushing herself up to her hands and knees, Sam grinned. "Let's see if we can get through this without a major injury, okay?"

The couple laughed, breaking the tension for the moment.

Straddling Tina's hips, Sam tugged her tee shirt off. The cool air in the room felt good on her newly exposed skin. She smiled at the beautiful woman beneath her. "Ohhhh… I LIKE it up here."

Tina tried to calm her racing heart as she looked at her partner. A light sheen of sweat caused Sam's skin to shine and her chest rose and fell in a rhythm suggesting her heart rate had increased significantly as well. Blue eyes moved to still-conspicuous bruises. "Your side… is it hurting?"

"Well," Sam bent down and gently kissed a path from Tina's belly to her neck, "I'm feeling a LOT of things right now… and believe me… NONE of it hurts." She raised her head so Tina could see the truth in her eyes. "I've wanted to tell you for the longest time… I… I love you. I think I have right from the beginning… when I met you at the reunion."

"OUR reunion."

"Yes." Sam smiled. You don't forget anything. "And when we made a wish at the fountain… I wished that you'd let me love you… not just physically… but for everything that you are." She placed her hand over Tina's heart. "Completely."

Tina rested her hand over the smaller one. "I… I guess some wishes DO come true."

With renewed confidence, Sam resumed her tender kisses and caresses, pleased that Tina seemed to be responding to her attentions. So far, so good. As she continued, however, she sensed a tenseness in the quiet woman that she was unable to dispel. What's going on in that head of yours? At a loss as to what else to do, Sam began singing softly, "There's nothing to fear… it's just you and me here…" She hummed the next section of the song, lightly trailing her fingers up and down Tina's body as she did so. In a matter of seconds, she felt a distinct change under her fingertips. You like my voice… I should have known. I've been so busy concentrating on how things are going… I wasn't talking to you.

"I love you, Tina." Sam kissed the woman's neck. "I need you." She started moving the feather-light kisses upward. "I want… to kiss you… to touch you…" she arrived at Tina's ear and whispered, "to taste you."

Tina moaned.

Sam smiled. I think this is going to work out just fine.

She was right.

Chapter 45

Tina cut the turkey sandwiches and put them on a large plate. She smiled when she heard the water running in the bathroom. Samantha's awake… good thing I made enough for two. After grabbing a couple of drinks from the refrigerator, she took the snack into the living room and set it on the coffee table.

"Hi." Sam came out of the bedroom, wearing one of Tina's Florida State tee shirts. As she walked in front of the large patio windows, the fading afternoon light behind her made the white cloth translucent. It was obvious she wore nothing else.

"Hi." Tina looked at the woman approvingly. "Nice outfit."

"You like it?"

"Yes." Tina put her arms around the blonde. "Very much so."

"This is elegant." Sam ran her hands over the smooth, navy-colored material of the silk robe Tina had on. Light blue piping around the edges of the long-sleeved, knee length clothing matched her eyes.

"Vivian gave it to me one Christmas. I've never worn it before." Never had a reason to.

"It's beautiful." Sam untied the belt and slid her hands inside the robe, happy to discover only bare skin underneath. "But nowhere near as beautiful as the woman wearing it."

Tina reacted to the soft touch with a sharp intake of breath.

Sam smiled and looked up at her partner. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

"Umm… yeah… I think so."

"I… I hope I didn't get too carried away for you. It's just that I waited FOREVER to say it… and once I did… I couldn't seem to say it enough."

"It's okay." Tina bent her head to give Sam a kiss. "I couldn't seem to hear it enough, either."


"Yes. I…" Tina paused when her stomach rumbled loudly. " I made some sandwiches." She pointed at the snack. "Are you hungry?"

"I'm starving!"

They sat on the couch, devouring the sandwiches and grinning at each other whenever they made eye contact. Sam noticed that it was beginning to get dark outside and glanced at the clock on the VCR. "I guess I slept for quite a while."

"Yes, you did." A playful twinkle appeared in Tina's eyes. "Though, I must say, your timing wasn't the best."


"Well… as I recall, I had just taken off the remainder of your clothes and was about to…"

"Oh!" Sam felt a blush rise to her face as she realized what had happened. "I'm sorry…"

"It's all right." Tina took the soda the blonde was holding, put it on the table, and pulled her into a hug. "I think maybe you… overexerted yourself," she chuckled. "You have to take it easy. You're still recuperating from your injury."

"I don't want to take it easy." Sam kissed the hollow of Tina's throat. "Now that I've had my nap and sandwich…. I'm feeling… umm…"


"That's one word you could use." Small hands made their way beneath the silky material again. "This has certainly been a memorable Thanksgiving, hasn't it?"

"And it's not even over yet."

"Mmmm… excellent point. What do you say we go back to bed?"

"Good idea." Tina pulled Sam up with her as she stood. "Let's go."

They quickly retired to the bedroom. Sam slid the robe off Tina's shoulders and trailed her fingers along warm skin. "I love touching you."

The tall woman responded with a passionate kiss before lifting the tee shirt over Sam's head. They lay on the bed with Tina propped up on one elbow so she could look at her partner.

Several moments passed and Sam smiled at Tina's expression. It was a combination of love, vulnerability, and a dash of childlike wonder. I'm the only one she allows to see this side of her. I'm the one she's let into her heart. I'm the one she loves… even though she still doesn't seem ready to say it. "T?"


"What are you thinking about?"

"Umm… how beautiful you are… how you stir up so many feelings inside me… how I wish I could put it all into words for you." Tina's voice dropped to a whisper. "How I know you need to hear it."

"That's a pretty good start."

"It is?"

"Yeah." Sam moved her arms up over her head. "It'll do for now."

Tina shook her head at the woman's position. "Y… you don't have to do that."

"It's my choice. I want you to know that body… heart… soul… everything… I'm yours."

"I… I…"

"Shhh… I know." Sam looked into blue eyes full of love. "Show me."

And she did.


Mrs. Whitwell surveyed the group of relatives seated at the large dining room table. So far, everything was going according to plan. She had fielded all the questions concerning Sam's absence and everyone seemed satisfied with her explanation that her daughter was not quite up to the hustle and bustle of a holiday party so soon after a car accident.

Mike kissed his wife's cheek. "You okay?"

"Yeah… I'm just missing Sam."

"Me, too."

Lisa watched as her mother buzzed about the room. She loves this kind of thing. Playing the hostess, a house full of people… except for my sister…

"Mom?" Aaron interrupted the woman's train of thought.


"May I have another glass of milk?"


"I'll get it." Mrs. Whitwell put a hand on Lisa's shoulder before she could move. "I'm already up." She took Aaron's glass to the kitchen.

"Where's Sam today? She never misses these family gatherings."

Uh oh… Lisa glanced down the table at her cousin Frankie. He had arrived just as dinner was being served and evidently didn't hear the story her mother had told the other guests.

"She was in a car accident, but thank goodness, she's all right," Aunt Mary remarked.

"She's in the hospital?"

"She's at Tina's." Joshua smiled, happy to mention his special friend.

All eyes shifted to the young boy, who had volunteered this new piece of information.

"Joshua!" Lisa hissed across the table, trying to stop her son from saying anything further.

"Who's Tina?" Frankie asked.

Mrs. Whitwell stopped in the doorway, glass of milk in her hand. Did someone say Tina?

Joshua, thrilled to suddenly be the center of attention, continued, "She's Auntie Sam's girlfriend."

There was a split second of silence before the glass slipped from Mrs. Whitwell's hand and shattered on the ceramic tile floor. Mike leaped from his chair to catch the pale woman as she fainted.

Then everyone seemed to start talking at once.

It was a memorable Thanksgiving, indeed.

Chapter 46

Less than a mile to go. Tina picked up the pace as she ran toward home. I've only been gone for an hour… but I can't wait to get back to Samantha. She shook her head in disbelief. I'm turning into such a wuss…a silly half-grin cracked her normally serious running expression… and lovin' every minute of it. Long legs continued to move in a steady rhythm and she began silently singing along to the beat of her sneakers hitting the sidewalk. 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… She approached Bayshore Palms and was surprised to see a lone figure standing on one of the balconies on this chilly, overcast November morning. My balcony. A smile sprang to her face and she waved. My girl.

Although Sam was cold, she stayed outside, watching until Tina crossed the street and entered the building through the front lobby. Brrr… how can she enjoy running in this weather? The blonde hurried inside and closed the patio door tightly. She went to the kitchen and got a bottle of water from the refrigerator, thinking it would be the first thing the runner would want.

"Hi!" Tina strode into the condo, her energy filling the room.

"Hi." Sam held the drink out. "I thought you'd want this…"

Tina put her arms around the smaller woman. "You were right." She bent her head and kissed Sam soundly.

Okay… so water was the second thing. Sam returned the kiss enthusiastically. I like this being first much better.

"Now, what was that about a drink?"

"Oh!" Sam handed over the plastic bottle that had been momentarily forgotten. With pleasure she observed the expanse of bare skin that was visible beyond the nylon shorts and sleeveless tee shirt. "Weren't you cold?"

Tina took a large gulp of water. "Nah." She stepped into the living room, sat on the floor, and began her post-workout stretches. "This is the best time of year to run. It's toughest in the summer when it's hot and humid."

"If you say so." Sam settled on the couch. "I don't know much about running." Except that you make it look like an art form.

"All those afternoons you spent at track practice… and you never wanted to try it?"

"I distinctly remember, during my freshman year, being required to run a mile in gym class. I quickly discovered it wasn't something I'd ever do on a voluntary basis."

"Why not?"

"The major reason is I'm inherently lazy," Sam admitted with a chuckle.

"Running isn't for everybody." Tina finished her exercises and joined Sam on the couch. "In my case, it seems very natural to me… it's a big part of who I am. Kind of like music is for you."

"I understand." Sam snuggled against the older woman, nuzzling her neck and kissing the still-damp skin that tasted slightly salty. "Mmmm… I love you."

Tina laughed. "You might love me more after I have a shower."

"I don't think," Sam murmured into her partner's ear, "anything could make me love you more than I already do."

Tina turned her head and gazed into green eyes that were so open… honest… and loving… that her vision became blurry with tears. It took several seconds for her to find her voice. "I… umm… feel like that, too."

Sam was delighted by the emotional response. "You're really getting the hang of this." She slid her hand behind Tina's neck and gently pulled her in for a kiss.

The phone rang.

Tina reached over to the end table and fumbled for the receiver without breaking the embrace. Whoever this is, it better be important. She reluctantly pulled her lips away from Sam's and spoke curtly into the phone. "Hello!"

Lisa paused for a moment, not sure she had dialed the correct number. "Hi… Tina?"


"This is Lisa…"

Tina adjusted her tone to a more hospitable one. "Hi. Samantha's right here… hold on." She gave the phone to Sam, stealing a quick kiss in the process.


"Hi, Sis. Are you all right?"

"Of course I am." Sam tried to concentrate on the conversation while swatting at the large hands that were trying to sneak under her shirt. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Lisa breathed a sigh of relief. Her sister had been calling every day to chat and discuss how her recovery was progressing. Yesterday, Sam hadn't called to say Happy Thanksgiving and when there was no word from her this morning, the older sibling had become worried. "I'm just making sure you're okay. I didn't hear from you yesterday…"

"Oh! I'm sorry. We got caught up in… umm… things… around here and it totally slipped my mind."

"I see. So… you had a nice holiday?"

"It was the best Thanksgiving ever."

Lisa heard the absolute bliss in her sister's voice. Sounds like things are MORE than okay. "Well, I'd better let you go. I didn't mean to… interrupt… anything, but I wanted to remind you about rehearsal tonight."

"Thanks. I had forgotten all about it. I'll be there."

"Okay. See you later."

"Bye." Sam hung up the phone.

"Is something wrong?"

"Not really. I forgot… I have band practice."

"You do? Where?"

"At my house… in the garage. We have two gigs in December and we need to go over our Christmas songs."

"I guess we need to get you packed." Tina started to get up.

"Not yet… please?" Sam grabbed Tina's arm to stop her. "It's been so special here. I don't know if I'm ready to let anything or anybody from beyond these walls interfere with how happy I am right now."

"I… I'm happy, too."

"Then can we stay a little longer? I don't have to be home until six."

"We can stay as long as you want." Tina relaxed against the cushions, smiling when Sam promptly cuddled next to her again. You cling to me like I'm some sort of life preserver… but we both know… I'm the one who's been saved.

They sat holding each other for a while, both of them savoring the quiet time together, knowing that their intimate holiday would soon be over.



"Does that fireplace work?"

"The realtor said it does."

"You've never used it?"


"I was thinking… since Thanksgiving turned out so well… maybe we could spend Christmas here, too? We could have a fire… and a tree…and lights… and…"

"Yes," Tina answered before the woman could suggest a sleigh and reindeer display on the roof. She kissed the top of the fair-haired head that was tucked snugly against her shoulder. "That's a wonderful plan." A real Christmas… it's been a long time. Tina felt tears in her eyes. How come, if I'm so happy… I keep crying? I ought to ask Vivian. She brushed the tears away and cleared her throat. "How about helping me polish off the rest of the leftovers for lunch?"

Sam was not fooled by the less than subtle change of topic. "Sure!" And there's a box of tissues in the kitchen. "Are there any more of those mashed potatoes? The gravy was really good, too. Oh, and the cranberry sauce…"

"Now you're making ME hungry." Tina led the way into the kitchen. She heated up the food and the women shared a second Thanksgiving feast. Afterward, Sam insisted on doing the dishes in return for the fabulous meal.

Having been shooed out of the kitchen, Tina decided it was as good a time as any to take a shower. A short while later, she stepped out of the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel. She smiled with amusement at Sam, who was wrestling with the duffel bag, trying to get a final few items inside the already overstuffed space. "Need some help?"

"Yes!" The exasperated blonde turned and held out an article of clothing in each hand. "How did you get all these things IN there?"

Tina walked to the bag and saw the haphazard manner in which it was packed. She took the shorts and tee shirt from Sam. "We can fix this one of two ways. I can take everything out and start over… or… umm…"

"Or what?"

"Or… maybe you could leave some of it here. I have room in the dresser… Oomphf!" Small arms were thrown around Tina with such force that she was knocked backward onto the bed. The towel, tee shirt, and shorts she'd been holding flew in every direction.

Sam landed squarely on top of the surprised woman. "That's a GREAT idea!"

Tina looked at her partner's happy face. I said something right again. "Okay. I'll show you where…"

"Mmmmm." Sam's hands began roaming beneath the silk robe. "I think I already know where the important places are…"

Tina felt her body react to the soft touches. She reached for the front of Sam's shirt and tugged on the material, bringing her forward for a passionate kiss.

The next thing Sam knew, she was flipped onto her back and Tina was looking down at her with a sexy smile. "I know where the important places are, too."

They were both right.

Chapter 47

There was quite a bit of traffic on the trip to Sarasota, particularly in the vicinity of the large outlet mall in Ellenton. People were out in droves getting a start on their holiday shopping and the cars slowed to a crawl for several miles. Tina became concerned that the traffic jam might cause them to be late. Glancing at the clock on the dashboard as they exited the interstate, she was relieved to see they still had plenty of time.

Sam cuddled the stuffed animal she'd been holding on her lap. "I really like my teddy bear."

"I've noticed that."

"Know what my favorite thing about it is?"

"It reminds you of me?"

"It certainly does." Sam held the bear out and examined it. "It's ALMOST as cute as you." But that's not my FAVORITE thing. "You know what else?"


"The card."


"Yes." The blonde looked at the heart-shaped tag dangling from the bear's ear for what must have been the hundredth time. Love, T.

"I… umm… I'm glad you like it."

Sam grinned at the slight blush that accompanied the answer, amazed that, with just a few words, she could elicit such a response in a woman most people found intimidating. And I love that I'm able to do it.

A horn honked as they turned the final corner. "It's Mike!" Sam waved at the minivan passing in the opposite direction. "He usually takes Josh and Aaron somewhere when we have band practice. A 'boys night out' kind of thing."

Tina pulled into the driveway. The garage door was open and she could see Lisa inside setting up her keyboard.

"Park behind me." Sam pointed at the Toyota that was sheltered under a carport extending from the side of the building. "The guys will need enough space to back the truck in."


The BMW was moved to the designated spot and they began unloading the trunk. Tina slung her backpack over her shoulder before grabbing the guitar and amplifier. "You want these in the garage?"

"Yeah." Sam lifted the duffel bag, which was substantially lighter now, with approximately half of its former contents in one of the dresser drawers at the condo.

"Hi!" Lisa hurried across the driveway to give her sister a hug. "Nice to have you home."

"Thanks, Sis."

"How about some coffee? I can put on a pot of decaf."

"We'll be right there after we put my stuff away."

"Great! I'll get it started." Lisa headed into the house.

After putting the musical equipment in the garage, the couple went upstairs. Tina unlocked the door and pushed it open, letting the smaller woman enter first.

Sam stepped inside and suddenly stopped short, gawking at the living room. "Lisa is a sweetheart!" The area had been vacuumed and dusted, the faint smell of lemon furniture polish present in the crisp Fall air that came from the partially opened windows. She rushed over to peek into the bedroom. "It's all straightened up in here, too!" she exclaimed happily, going in and depositing her duffel bag and teddy bear on the neatly made bed.

Tina followed, chuckling at her partner's excitement. "You ready to go have some coffee and tell her how wonderful she is?"

"Not yet." Sam crooked an index finger and beckoned for Tina to come closer. "We have something VERY important to do first."

"We do?" I don't think we have time for this… Lisa's waiting…

The enticing smile Tina received in reply made it impossible to resist the summons. She set her backpack on the desk and eagerly complied.

Rising up on tiptoes, Sam put her arms around the tall woman's neck and kissed her.

It was one of those tender kisses that always sent Tina's heart racing. She immediately forgot about coffee, sisters and anything other than the pleasurable sensations she was feeling.

Sam broke the embrace, anxious to explain what the important thing was. A flushed face and blue eyes that had darkened a shade gazed back at her. Uh oh…

"Moooore." Tina leaned in for another kiss.

"Wait!" Sam put her hands between them and moved backward a step. "I have a… request."

Tina raised an eyebrow. Well, THIS is interesting. With a rakish grin, she perused Sam's body from head to toe and back again, before replying in a deep, sensuous voice, "Name it."

Goodness, now I know what it means to have someone undress you with their eyes. "It's not THAT kind of request." Sam laughed, reaching into her pocket and pulling out the silver key she had recently acquired. "I wanted to know if you'd put this on my key ring for me."

"Will I get another one of those kisses as a reward?"


Tina quickly plucked the shiny piece of metal from the blonde's hand. "You've got a deal."

They found the key ring on the table near the door. Tina added the condo key, positioning it next to the apartment's brass one. She displayed the completed project with a flourish.

"Together," Sam indicated the location of the keys on the ring, "just like us."

"Yes." Tina wrapped her arms around the younger woman. "I seem to recall hearing something about a reward…"

Lisa looked out the kitchen window, wondering if her sister had changed her mind about the coffee. Just then, Sam and Tina came outside and descended the stairs. Holding hands as they started across the walkway, both women looked euphoric.

Ah… new love… there's nothing like it. Lisa opened the door for her guests. "Come on in."

"Sis!" Sam hugged Lisa. "Thanks for cleaning my place!"

"You're welcome. I know how devoted you are to your housework, but I thought, under the circumstances, you wouldn't mind if I helped a little."

"Yeah, right." Sam good-naturedly accepted the customary teasing about her domestic habits. "Like there are circumstances when I WOULDN'T want somebody to clean my house?"

The women prepared their cups of coffee and sat down, enjoying their drinks as Lisa recounted the events of Thanksgiving dinner with the Whitwell family. "… and then Joshua said, 'She's Auntie Sam's girlfriend.'"

Tina almost spewed her mouthful of coffee all over the table.

Sam was momentarily speechless.

Lisa continued the story, knowing it was necessary for her sister to be aware of what had occurred, even if it was upsetting to hear. "Mom dropped the glass and fainted…"

"Fainted?" Sam asked incredulously, finding it hard to believe that her mother was capable of such a thing.

"Yes, but just for a few seconds. We got her to the couch, gave her some water and she was fine."

"Oh, my God." Mom will be furious with me… my absence ruined her holiday gathering.

"There was a lot of confusion, some people were hovering over Mother, others were cleaning up the broken glass, and the boys got into a fight." Lisa sighed. "Evidently, Aaron had told Josh about you two and sworn him to secrecy."

"I'm sorry," Sam said sadly. " I never …"

"Don't apologize," the older sibling interrupted. "You haven't done anything wrong. And now that everybody knows, maybe we can finally move past this and get back to being a family again."

"Do you really think so?"

"Well, Mom's worst fear was that the relatives would find out. She probably figured sooner or later you'd come to your senses, meet a nice guy and no one would have to know about this 'phase' you went through. That's no longer an issue, thanks to Joshua." Lisa looked at Tina. "I'd appreciate it if you'd talk to him. He's terribly worried that you'll be mad when you find out what happened."

"Mad? At him?"

"He doesn't really understand what all the fuss is about," Lisa explained, "but he knows how angry Aaron is. And Mom… he thought he'd caused her to have a heart attack or something. It took us awhile to convince him that she wasn't seriously injured."

"Maybe not physically," Sam commented quietly, "but emotionally…"

Tina reached for the blonde's hand. "She's a strong woman. She'll get over it."

"Yeah," Sam managed a small grin. "I just hope it's during my lifetime."

"Don't we all!" Lisa, grateful for a chance to change the subject, went to the counter and picked up one of the CDs stacked next to a boom box. "I have a new song for you to sing." She laid the plastic case on the table in front of her sister.

Sam looked at the cover, recognizing the artist from a music channel on television. "COUNTRY?"

"It's not COUNTRY country," Lisa clarified. You're going to love it.

"Which song?"

"Track 7."

Sam turned the case over and read the title. "I guess I can give it a try."

Lisa smiled. "Why don't you take the CD with you and listen to it before practice? We can run through the song tonight."

"Okay. We should get going then."

The couple expressed their gratitude for the coffee and returned to the apartment. They sat on the couch, snuggling together silently.

Tina stroked the pale-haired head resting against her shoulder. She's way too quiet. "Are you all right?"

"Honestly? …No."

"You know what I think?" Not that I have ANY idea what to do in a situation like this.


"Give your mom some time to sort things out. She'll come to the realization that the world didn't end when people found out her daughter is gay. Then, call her to say hi… don't even mention Thanksgiving… and see how it goes."

"I suppose I can do that." Sam raised her head and looked at Tina. "As long as you're with me when I call her."

"I promise." And if she starts reprimanding you… I'll take that phone and…

"I feel better already." Sam smiled, her mood much improved now that she had a course of action.

"Good." Tina felt immensely pleased with herself for lifting the woman's spirits.

"It's almost time for practice. I need to listen to that CD my sister gave me."

"Let's hear it."

Sam went over and put the disc in the stereo. "Country music isn't really my thing," she remarked while advancing the player to the seventh track, "but Lisa has a fondness for it and keeps trying to convert me." The musician was just about to press the play button when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver. "Hello? "

"Hi, Sammie."

"Hi, Dad!"

Not wanting to eavesdrop on the conversation, Tina wandered into the kitchen. We're going to need something for dinner. A quick inventory revealed a nearly empty refrigerator, a freezer containing ice cream and frozen dinners, and cabinets bountifully stocked with microwave popcorn and Ring Dings. I bet there's not a single vitamin lurking among the so-called food items in this house. A trip to the grocery store is in order.

She ambled into the bedroom and got her backpack. Feeling the weight of it, she remembered slipping some clothing in the bag when Sam had been in the bathroom at the condo. Pulling open the top drawer of the dresser, Tina shook her head at the disorderly jumble of garments. She tried each drawer, eventually finding enough space in one of them to place her tidily folded things in the left-hand corner. Well… this is another first. Closing the drawer, she studied her reflection in the mirror above the dresser. I may look the same on the outside, but everything's changed since the day I met her. A smile edged onto her face as she thought about the vivacious blonde flirting with her at the reunion. Though I've learned that change can definitely be a good thing.

"She's wonderful, Dad. I can't wait for you to meet her." Sam grinned as the topic of discussion came into view. "Okay… yeah, I'll call you soon. Bye bye." She hung up the phone and swiftly crossed the room to hug the dark-haired woman. "My dad is coming to visit after New Year's!"

"That's nice." Tina inwardly groaned. MORE family to contend with?

"Yeah, I've missed him a lot since he moved to Atlanta."

Atlanta? "Does he visit often?"

"A couple of times a year… sometimes more when his schedule allows it. He plays in a popular jazz band and they have very steady work. They're booked solid for the holidays, but they have some time off coming up in January." Green eyes were sparkling. "I told him all about you."

"You did?" Let's hope he doesn't own a gun.

"Yes." Sam laughed. "He's a great dad. You'll like him." She looked questioningly at the backpack Tina was holding. "Are you going somewhere?"

"I thought I'd go to the grocery store and get something for dinner." And breakfast… and lunch…

"Oh! I'm sorry. I usually don't have much here."

"That's all right. I don't mind. I just figured I should leave before the guys bring the truck and block me in."

"Okay… but will you come downstairs later and let me introduce you to them?"

"I guess so."

"They're cool. Don't worry."

"I'll… try."

Sam didn't press the subject, knowing that meeting new people wasn't easy for the aloof woman. "Well, I'd better listen to that song Lisa gave me."

"I'll be back in a little while." Tina bent down for a quick kiss. "Bye."

"Bye." Sam went to the window and watched until the BMW had backed out of the driveway before pressing the play button on the stereo. The song began with a twanging guitar and she rolled her eyes as she opened the lyrics sheet from inside the CD cover.

Tina took her time, strolling up and down the aisles of the supermarket, filling the cart with a variety of foods that would keep both women well fed for at least a week. Arriving at the check-out line she instructed the employee to put as much as possible in each bag, realizing she was going to have to carry the ample amount of supplies up the stairs when she got home. Home. Tina smiled. I finally have a home… though I never suspected it would be a person rather than a place.


"Oh, thanks." Tina took the receipt the clerk had been attempting to hand her and pushed the cart out to the car. She loaded the groceries into the trunk, mentally deciding which bags she would carry together when she got back to the apartment. She planned well and it only took three trips to unload the car, which she'd had to park on the street in front of Lisa's house because the driveway was full. Uncapping a bottle of water, she drank a good portion of it before beginning to put the provisions away. Clearly able to hear the band playing in the garage beneath her, she hummed along to the mixture of holiday tunes and top forty songs they were practicing.

It was over an hour later when Tina was finished in the kitchen. Dinner was ready to be heated up and two dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies sat on a large platter, waiting to be discovered. Meanwhile, the band had begun working on some new songs and there was much starting, stopping and repeating of the music. Occasionally, Tina could faintly hear the boom box playing whatever selection it was they were learning. The current one had a catchy melody that sounded a bit country-ish and Tina assumed it was the song Lisa had suggested. Yes, that's Samantha singing… but she's not using the mike. The woman strained to hear the words. I may as well go down there. I need to meet these people anyway. She strode to the door.

"I think we've got it," Lisa addressed the group. "Let's run through the whole thing."

Sam picked up the microphone, holding it in one hand and the lyrics in the other. The band played the introduction and she began singing.

"If I could grant you one wish

I'd wish you could see the way you kiss

Ooh, I love watching you, baby

When you're driving me crazy

Ooh, I love the way you… love the way you love me

There's nowhere else I'd rather be

To feel the way I feel with your arms around me

I only wish that you could see… the way you love me

Whoa oh oh, the way you love me"

Sam glanced up and was so surprised to see Tina standing in the entryway of the garage that she missed the next line.

"………………………. umm

Someday I'll find a way to show you

Just how lucky I am to know you

Ooh, I love the way you… love the way you love me

There's nowhere else I'd rather be

To feel the way I feel with your arms around me

I only wish that you could see… the way you love me

Whoa oh oh the way you love me"

Tina took a seat on the large black equipment box just inside the doorway.

"You're the million reasons why

There's love reflecting in my eyes"

Sam laid the lyrics sheet on her amplifier and slowly walked toward Tina, still singing into the microphone.

"Ooh, I love the way you… love the way you love me

There's nowhere else I'd rather be"

She moved in close and lightly brushed her fingers along the side of Tina's face.

"To feel the way I feel with your arms around me

I only wish that you could see… the way you love me

Whoa oh, oh, the way you love me"

Lisa, Robbie and Bryon joined in for a repeat of the chorus. Sam, who was supposed to be singing several phrases over their lines, sang nothing. Everything faded into the background as she lost herself in the beautiful blue eyes staring back at her. All sense of time and place vanished as she kissed the woman she loved.

At some point, Sam became conscious of the fact that there was no music playing. She pulled back from the kiss and looked in the direction of the band. The group was fanning themselves with CD cases and grinning from ear to ear. They began to applaud, cheer, and whistle at the pair, whose faces reddened in embarrassment.

Sam put her hands on her hips and smirked at the musicians, "All right! I'll admit it. I'm developing an…. appreciation… for country music. Is everyone happy now?"

"Yes!" Kyle replied. "But apparently, not as happy as YOU."

The rest of the band heartily agreed.

"Well, after that passionate… rendition, I think we could all use a cold drink." Lisa led the assemblage over to the patio, where there was a cooler filled with ice-cold beverages. Everyone relaxed on cushioned deck chairs and Sam introduced Tina to Robbie, Kyle and Bryon before turning the conversation to details about the next gig. Tina sat back and listened as the group chatted for a while, the comfortable dialogue and friendly banter plainly showing the affection they had for one another.

"Hi, everyone!" Mike opened the screen door and the boys dashed into the patio.

Joshua ran directly to Tina. "HI!"

"Hi, Josh!" She ruffled his hair. "I've missed you."

"I missed you, too."

The noise level rose as Mike talked with the band members and Aaron animatedly told his mother about their excursion. Tina bent forward and spoke softly in Joshua's ear, "Been having a rough time lately?"

The boy nodded.

"Want to talk about it?"

Big brown eyes became wet with tears. Another nod.


"Dad said we had to get ready for bed as soon as we got home. Will you come up and tuck me in?"

"Sure. I'll be there in a few minutes."

"You won't forget, will you?"

"No, I won't forget." Tina watched the boy go inside. What the heck am I going to say to him?

"He's adorable, isn't he?" Sam asked.

"Yes." He takes after his aunt.

"Sam! Tina!" Mike smiled at the women. "Glad to see you again."

"Thanks." Sam took hold of Tina's hand. "It's nice to be back. How was your evening with the boys?"

"The miniature golf was okay, but I NEVER thought I'd get them out of that arcade."

"Uh huh… and how many games of air hockey did YOU play?"

"Well… there was this teenager in there that thought he was a hot-shot. SOMEBODY had to teach him a lesson, right?"

"Right." Sam grinned as she stood up, tugging her partner along with her. "If you'll excuse us, Mr. Air Hockey Champion-of-the-World, I'm going to show Tina where Joshua's room is. She needs to talk to him before he falls asleep."

Mike nodded in understanding. "Good luck."

The women went through the kitchen and hallway to the staircase.

"It's the first door on the left." Sam gestured to the second floor.

"What do I say to him?"

"You'll think of something. I trust you."

Reluctantly, Tina climbed the stairs. She poked her head in the boy's room and looked around. There were posters of superheroes covering large sections of the walls. Action figures were arranged on shelves over a student-sized desk. A wooden bookcase was overflowing with books and toys.

"Hi!" Joshua came out of the bathroom. He flipped the light switch off, leaving only a small lamp on the nightstand casting a dim glow near the bed.

"Hi." Tina stepped into the room.

"I'm glad you didn't forget." The boy got under the covers.

"I wouldn't forget you, would I?"

"I dunno. I thought you might be… mad."

Tina sat on the edge of the bed. "I'm not angry with you."

"But… Grandma fell down… and Aaron said he's never gonna tell me anything important again."

"What did you do that was so wrong?"

"I… I said you were Auntie Sam's girlfriend."

"You're absolutely correct. I AM your aunt's girlfriend." Tina paused, trying to decide how much more she should say. "Do you know what that means?"

"You kiss and do mushy stuff like Mom and Dad."

Yup… he knows. "Are you okay with that?"

"Sure." The boy smiled at Tina. "Auntie Sam always tells me how special love is."

"Indeed it is."

"Then why did everyone get upset?"

"Well," Tina racked her brains for a tactful explanation. "Remember when we talked about how some people won't agree with your opinions?"


"Well, there are people who don't like that your aunt and I are… together."

"Grandma doesn't like it. That's why Aaron told me to keep it a secret. But on Thanksgiving, I forgot."

"It's all right, Joshua. You should never be ashamed of telling the truth."

"So, you're really not mad?"



"I guess I ought to let you get to sleep…"

"Will you tell me a story first?"

"A story?"


The woman looked over at the bookcase. "Which is your favorite book?"

"I'd rather have a made-up story… like Auntie Sam does."


"She tells the BEST stories. There's usually someone in trouble and a hero comes and saves the day."

Tina smiled, picturing Samantha telling the boy a lively tale that would hold him spellbound. "I'm not sure I could invent one like that."

Joshua tilted his head to the side and asked hopefully, "Please?"

Sighing in defeat, Tina collected her thoughts and began. "Once upon a time…"

Chapter 48

Samantha is going to be SO surprised. Smiling, Tina clicked the website closed and leaned back in her chair. I'm worse than a kid, the way I'm getting all excited about Christmas. But instead of it being just another day… this year, it's going to be special. She shut her eyes for a moment, thinking about what tasks needed to be completed before she could go home. Home… Samantha…


Tina was jolted awake by the sound of her boss's voice. "W… what?"

"It appears you were dozing." Vivian chuckled as she entered the office and sat down. "Strenuous weekend?"

Tina pulled her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. "I… umm… we…" She unsuccessfully tried to keep a blush from rising to her face.

"It's all right, dear," Vivian waved off her employee's attempt at an explanation and winked at her. "So, it's safe to assume Samantha has completely recovered from her injuries?"

"Yes." If the enthusiastic response to finding those chocolate chip cookies is any indication, she's in tip-top shape.

Vivian watched a smile play across her friend's face. "And I take it you had a nice Thanksgiving?"

"We had dinner at my place and then we went to Samantha's for the weekend." The dark-haired woman started fiddling with a credit card that was lying on the desk. "She's brought such joy into my life, Viv. I never imagined that I could be this happy."

"It feels good, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Tina admitted. It feels so damn good it's scary. "How was your trip?"

"Typical Thanksgiving at my sister's. I just got back and wanted to stop by to see how you're doing before I went home."

"Everything's going really well." Tina tapped out a rhythm with the plastic card on the desk's surface. "But… umm…"

"But… what?"

"There's something I don't understand. If I'm so happy, how come I keep getting all teary-eyed lately? I mean… is that normal?"

"Love is a strong emotion. It's bound to bring a lot of different feelings to the surface." Vivian spoke gently. "I'd expect this to be an emotional time for you."

"I guess that makes sense."

Seeing the beginnings of dark circles under her friend's eyes, Vivian suspected there was more to Tina's tiredness than evenings filled with passion. "Are you having nightmares again?"

"Umm… I wasn't for a while, but after Samantha got in that car accident…" Tina shrugged.

"Have you told her?"


"One of the benefits of being in a relationship is having someone to share things with. Especially the difficult things."

"She'll worry. I don't want to upset her."

"She's going to worry about you whether you want her to or not." Vivian smiled. "She loves you."

Tina looked down, suddenly seeming to have a great interest in the credit card she was holding. "It's hard to believe, isn't it?"

"It's not hard to believe at all." Vivian moved around the desk, placed a hand under her friend's chin and tenderly tilted her face upward. "She can see into your heart… just like I can."

Blue eyes filled with tears and Tina threw her arms around the boss's waist, hugging her tightly.

Almost pulled off balance by the sudden embrace, Vivian leaned into the hug, stroking the sniffling woman's hair and comforting her. "You love her very much, don't you?"

It was more a statement of fact than a question and Tina nodded in agreement.

"Then everything's going to turn out fine, dear. You just need to give yourself time to accept all the changes you're experiencing."

Tina let go of Vivian and wiped her eyes with her shirtsleeve. "See what I mean? Crying AGAIN!"

"It's good for you." The older woman patted Tina's cheek fondly. "Cleanses the soul."

"I suppose THAT couldn't hurt me any."

Both women laughed.

Vivian looked at the credit card and checkbook lying on the desk. "Are you taking Samantha on a trip somewhere?"

"No." Tina's expression brightened dramatically. "I ordered her Christmas present on the Internet. I needed to use the corporate card." She opened her checkbook and tore out the check she had already written. "I'll save this for when the statement comes in."

Vivian raised her eyebrows. It must be something very expensive. "Do you mind if I ask what it is?"

"Oh!" Tina quickly grabbed a paper from next to her computer keyboard and, grinning from ear to ear, handed it to the boss.

Vivian opened the tattered-looking document that had obviously been folded and unfolded many times. "My goodness… that's quite a gift. Are you sure that's what she wants?"

"Yes, I think so. I'm going to have it delivered here. I don't want Samantha knowing anything about it till Christmas."

"While we're on the subject of Christmas, please tell me that, for once, you won't insist on working during the holidays."

"I'm going to try to have everything done early. I already have the Y2K stuff taken care of and most of the information for the taxes for this year and…"

"I'm positive you have things covered, Tina." Vivian interrupted, well aware of her employee's conscientiousness. "I'm not the least bit concerned about that."

"Umm… I was thinking, maybe I'd take the week after Christmas off and spend time with Samantha."

"That's a SPLENDID idea!" A week off? If Samantha only knew how much she's influenced this stubborn friend of mine. I haven't been able to get her to take any kind of vacation since Dominic passed away. "Would you like to go somewhere for New Year's? It's awfully late to make arrangements, being the Millennium and all, but I'm sure I could pull a few strings. You just name the place and I'll take care of it."

"Thanks, Viv. I'll ask Samantha and see what she says."

"You're welcome." The boss handed the paper back to Tina and headed for the door. "I'm going to go home and unpack. I'll see you in the morning."

"Bye, Vivian." Tina put her glasses on and studied the printout of the present she had chosen for her partner. It's going to be a special Christmas all right. And the Millennium New Year's celebration to boot. Wonder where Samantha would like to go?


"Hi, Sis!" Sam came flying into the kitchen with an envelope in her hand. "I got the pictures developed!"

"What pictures?" Lisa slid a tray of chicken into the oven, closed the door, and set the timer.

Sam sat at the table and took out the photos. "The ones from when Tina put the FSU flag up."

"Oh, yeah." Lisa laughed and sat down next to Sam. "That's a day Mike will never forget."

"There are some from Joshua's birthday party, too. I'd forgotten they were on this roll of film." Sam handed each picture to her sister as she went through the stack. "He loved getting that bike, didn't he?"

"He sure did," Lisa agreed, smiling at the snapshot of her youngest son sitting on the mountain bike he'd wanted ever since being able to ride without training wheels. "He's so proud to have a big-boy bike now."

"Here we go." Sam giggled as she passed the next photos to Lisa. "Mike is taking the flag down. Look at the expression on his face!"

"He's not a happy guy there."


"This is my favorite." Sam held out the print of herself and Tina smiling at the camera.

"Nice looking couple."

"I think so, too." Sam continued to gaze at the picture.

"Ahem… are there any more?"

"Oh! Just one. It's another really good shot of Tina and me." Sam gave the photo to her sister.

"I remember this. I snapped an extra one." And what a picture it is.



"I… umm… wanted to talk to you about Christmas."

Uh oh. Lisa put the photo down and gave her sister her full attention. "You talked to Mom?"

"No." Sam shook her head. "I'm going to wait a while before I do that. I think she's still in shock from Thanksgiving."

"That's probably true."

"Well… you know I always come over here Christmas morning and we exchange gifts before going to Mom's for the family brunch."

"Yes." Though I have a feeling that's about to change.

"Tina and I will be spending our first Christmas together at her place. I don't want to miss sharing the holiday with you guys, though, so I thought maybe we could visit with you on Christmas Eve. We can sing carols and open our presents…" Sam looked at Lisa anxiously. "What do you think?"

"Sounds workable to me."

"Thanks, Sis! You're the BEST!"

"But what about Mom? Now that the relatives know you're gay… she might invite you and Tina to the brunch."

"Even if she does, we're not going this year," Sam said determinedly. "We've already made plans."

Lisa grinned at her sister. "Apparently, some of your partner's assertiveness is rubbing off on you." And it's wonderful to see.

"Mom!" Aaron ran into the room. "Joshua's bothering me!"

"I am NOT!" The smaller boy arrived just behind his brother.

"Well, this seems to be the perfect time for me to leave." Sam put the pictures back in the envelope and started toward the door. "Tina will be here soon."

"Tina's coming?" Josh's face lit up. "Will you ask her to tuck me in tonight?"

Sam glanced at Lisa, who nodded her approval. "Sure I will, Josh."


"You're such a baby," Aaron taunted. "Still getting tucked in."

"I am NOT!"

"Yes, you ARE!"

"Aaron! That's enough," Lisa warned her son sternly. "Now, I want both of you to bring me your homework so I can check it before dinner."

The boys groaned as they turned and left the kitchen.

Lisa sighed. "Were WE ever that annoying to each other?"

"Yes! You teased me incessantly."

"The way I remember it, YOU bothered ME all the time."

The women laughed at their contradictory childhood memories.

"I just hope Aaron and Josh end up as close as we are when they grow up." Sam hugged Lisa good-bye.

"I hope so, too."

"I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay." Lisa watched from the doorway as Sam walked across to the garage apartment. My little sister is finally coming into her own. She smiled as she closed the door and leaned against it. Who would've ever thought I'd have Tina Mellekas to thank for it?

It's going to be an interesting Christmas.

Chapter 49

Sam looked at the two photos she had attached to the refrigerator with magnets. Tina's going to like these. Hearing the front door close, the blonde rushed into the living room. "Hi." She greeted her partner with a big smile and a kiss on the cheek. "I'm glad you're home."

"Hi." Tina returned the smile. Home.

"What's that?" Sam asked, noticing a red piece of paper in Tina's hand.

"It was on my windshield. It's an announcement about the tree lighting ceremony at Hyde Park Village. I thought you might want to go."

"Christmas tree lighting?" Sam took the flyer and skimmed over the information. Wednesday night. Ohhh… music and carolers…

"Yeah." Tina put her backpack down and sat on the couch. "They have it every year."

"Do you usually go?"

"No, but I've seen bits and pieces of it. You know… walking to the parking garage after work."

Cuddling next to Tina, Sam imagined how lonely the woman must have felt passing by the Christmas celebration year after year. "I'd love to go."

"Okay. Why don't you meet me at the office and we'll have dinner at The Cactus Club? And, if you want, we can stay at the condo that night."

Sam peeked up and saw that Tina had her head resting against the back of the couch with her eyes closed. One less time for you to be driving back and forth to Sarasota, too. You look exhausted. "It's a date."


"T? Let's make it an early evening. I can order a pizza…"

"Uh uh. I promised I'd cook spaghetti."

"We can have that tomorrow." Sam straddled Tina's legs and sat on her lap. "Please?"

Dark lashes fluttered open. Blue eyes regarded the concerned face of her partner. "I'm all right… just a little tired."

"We'll have pizza and then Joshua wanted to know if you'd tuck him in. After that, directly to bed for you and a good night's sleep."

"How about a compromise?"

"Like what?"

"I'll make the spaghetti, tuck Josh in, and we can go to bed early."

WE? Very sneaky, T. "I think I can live with that compromise." Sam leaned forward and gave Tina a tender kiss.

"Mmmm. Keep that up and we won't be getting much sleep at all."

Sam chuckled at the empty threat. I do appreciate the thought, however. "Guess what?"


"I have something to show you."

"Oh?" Tina raised an eyebrow. "Is it in the bedroom?"


"Is it under here?" Tina slipped a hand beneath Sam's tee shirt.

"Noooo." Sam playfully slapped the roaming hand away. "It's in the kitchen." She quickly climbed off the woman's long legs and darted out of the room. "C'mon!"

Tina dragged herself from the couch and followed. She's right. I need more sleep than I've been getting. Those damn nightmares…

"I saw your note and put the sauce on low about an hour ago." Sam stirred the contents of a large pot on the stove.

"Is that what…" Spotting the pictures on the refrigerator, Tina abruptly stopped speaking and stared at them for several moments. The first one was nice, showing the couple posing for the camera and smiling, but it was the second snapshot, a candid of them looking at each other, that Tina focused on. She observed the grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, the arm protectively wrapped around the smaller woman's waist, and the love in her eyes as she looked down at Samantha.

The blonde came over to hug her pensive partner. "Do you like them?"

"Very much."

"So do I."

"May I have this one?" Tina pointed to her favorite.

"If you want it… it's yours."

"I definitely want it… and I definitely want you."

"That's good to hear." Sam smiled up at Tina. "Because I'm hopelessly in love with you."

"I… I look at that picture… and I know you see… it… in my eyes."

"Yes. I've known for a long time."

"I… umm… you've been more than patient with me."

Sam laughed. "Patience is NOT one of my stronger qualities." But pushing you into things led to near-disaster before. I won't make that mistake again. "For you… I'm making an exception."

Tina brushed her fingers along the side of Sam's face before slowly lowering her head to kiss the younger woman.

It was a gentle kiss, meant to convey love rather than passion, and Sam understood. Green eyes were moist with tears as she laid her head against Tina's chest and listened to the rapid pounding of the heart below her ear. She's trying so hard. Whatever it is that's holding her back… ultimately, she'll tell me. I may use up my lifetime ration of patience while I wait, though. "Hey… how about that spaghetti? You ready to cook now?"

"Yeah." The one word reply was choked with emotion.

"Great, because I'm hungry!" Sam busied herself setting the table and getting their drinks, allowing Tina a chance to gain her composure.

Having something physical to do always helped calm Tina and she gladly went about the business of preparing the meal.

Sam chatted away while the other woman cooked, telling her how kind the orchestra members had been when she'd arrived at work that morning. They'd given her a big card signed by everyone and Sam went to get it from the entertainment center in the living room. She smiled at the assortment of cards there, remembering when Lisa had brought over the huge pile of mail she'd collected while her sister was recuperating at Tina's. Sam was touched at the volume of get-well wishes from friends and family.

She showed the card to Tina and then continued to do most of the talking. The cook occasionally nodded or said, "uh huh," to signify she was listening. After describing the busy orchestra schedule for December, Sam voiced her discontent at how little time they would have to spend together before Christmas. "But the good news is," she said cheerfully, "I have from Christmas Eve to New Year's off."

"So do I."

"You do?"

"Yeah." Tina finished filling the plates with food and put them on the table. "I asked Vivian and she okayed it."

Sam pulled the tall woman into a bear hug. "It's going to be a WONDERFUL week!"

"I think you're right."

The women sat down to eat. Sam explained the plans she'd made with Lisa for Christmas Eve and was elated when her partner liked the idea.

Seeing as they were discussing the holidays, Tina decided to bring up the trip her boss had mentioned. "What about New Year's Eve?"

"The band usually has a gig, but because of the Millennium, we all decided to take this year off and celebrate with our families." Sam reached across the table and took Tina's hand. "In my case, that would be YOU."

"Umm… well… Viv offered to send us anywhere we want to go."

"You've got to be kidding."

"Nope. Anywhere in the whole, wide world… you name the place and she'll arrange it."

"Tina, we can't accept a gift like that…"

"She's already made up her mind. Besides, she'd ENJOY doing this for us."

"I… I don't know what to say."

"Why don't you think it over for a day or two? We can't wait beyond that to give Vivian the location, because she needs to make reservations as soon as possible. And, if it's out of the country, we'll have to get you a passport…"

"YOU should pick. You're the one who's traveled and knows the best places."

"I don't care where we go." Tina lifted their still-linked hands and kissed them. "As long as I'm with you."

Sam's heart was about to burst with happiness. "I feel the same way."

They didn't talk much after that, both of them eating heartily and smiling at each other in between bites of their meal.

"You go watch TV." Sam started clearing the table. "I'll take care of this."

"I'll help…"

The blonde shook her head and gave the woman a slight push toward the doorway. "Out."

Too tired to argue and sure she wouldn't win anyway, Tina went into the living room. Settling on the couch, she used the remote control to cruise through the stations, catching a portion of the nightly news before leaving the channel set on an innocuous game show.

Sam rinsed the dishes and put them in the compact dishwasher. When she had renovated the garage apartment, she'd seen no need for the appliance, but her sister had correctly anticipated someone else might actually cook and the convenience would be worth the added expense. Sighing, Sam wondered, not for the first time, why anyone would want to cook when it involved so much work. A hamburger from the drive-through is MUCH simpler. She put the leftovers in plastic containers, washed the pots, and started the dishwasher. "All done!" she declared, joining Tina on the couch. "Umm… I should tell you… I can't guarantee I'll be quite that willing to do the dishes on a regular basis. It's part of my aversion to cooking… having to clean up afterward."


"I mean it's fine for special occasions and stuff, but I wouldn't want to do it EVERY night. Maybe we can order take-out food a couple of evenings a week…"

"It's not a problem. I'll handle the dishwashing duties."

"But if you make dinner, you shouldn't have to…"

"I WANT to cook for you. I… it gives me the feeling I'm contributing something to… us. How about you be in charge of setting the table and keeping me company while I cook? I'll do the dishes. Does that sound reasonable?"

"Is this another one of your compromises?"

"I guess it is."

"It seems I'm getting the better end of these deals."

"No." Tina looked at her partner in total seriousness. "I am."

There were a few seconds of silence as Sam absorbed the words. "You know what?"


"You're getting very good at this relationship thing."

"You think so?"

"Yeah." Absolutely… positively… yeah.

They nestled together, watching TV until the phone rang.

"I bet I know who that is." Sam went to answer it. "Hello?"

"Hi, Auntie Sam!"

"Hi, Josh."

"I have to go to bed now. Is Tina gonna tuck me in?"

"She'll be right over."

"Cool! Bye!"


Tina stood, stretched, and ran a hand through her hair. "I'll be back soon."

"I hope so." Sam gave the woman a lingering kiss good-bye.

"I'll hurry."

Sam grinned as Tina strode out the door. I need to hurry, too. She got the portable stereo from the closet and set it up on the desk in the bedroom. Looking over her extensive selection of CD's, she chose an instrumental, putting it on just loud enough to be heard. Humming to the music, she turned down the bed and lit the candles that were situated around the room.

Getting out a clean towel, Sam laid it on the counter in the bathroom. A quick check of the shower confirmed that there was a sufficient supply of soap and shampoo. Rummaging under the sink, she found the bottle of liquid she was searching for and put it on the bedside table. She brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and sat at the end of the bed.

Tina trudged up the stairs. Damn, I'm tired. Entering the apartment, she was surprised to find the living area dark. "Samantha?" She locked the door before heading for the flickering light shining from the bedroom.

"Hi." Sam smiled when her partner appeared in the doorway. "What do you think?" She waved an arm at their candlelit surroundings.

Blue eyes never strayed from the blonde woman. "Beautiful."

I love when she looks at me like that. "I thought this would be the perfect night for a relaxing massage." Sam went over, took Tina by the hand, and led her to the bathroom. "First, I want you to take a nice, hot shower."


"No. Just you."

Tina put on her best pouting face.

"That's not going to work, Ms. Mellekas. We're getting you to sleep early and that's all there is to it." Sam said, as much to convince herself as the other woman.


Sam knew that Tina agreeing so easily was a telltale sign of how fatigued she really was. "See you in a little bit." She closed the door behind her and sat on the bed again to wait.

It wasn't long before Tina came out. Her wet hair was combed straight back, accentuating the classic bone structure of her face. She was also completely naked. "Do you want me to lay down now?"

Sam was having difficulty articulating any kind of response as she gazed at the statuesque woman standing in the candlelight.

I love when she looks at me like that. "Samantha?"

"Oh… yes." Sam patted the side of the bed where Tina normally slept. "Right here."

The dark-haired woman lay on her stomach and Sam positioned herself above her. Reaching for the bottle of liquid, she unscrewed the cap, and let a few drops fall onto Tina's back.

"What's that?"

"Body oil… by the same company that makes my soap. Do you like it?"


Alternately kneading tight muscles and trailing her fingertips lightly over soft skin, Sam tried to concentrate on something… anything… other than attacking the tantalizing woman below her. And Tina's periodic moans of contentment were NOT helping in the least. Let's see. New Year's. That's something to think about. It's like a Fairy Godmother granted us a wish to go anywhere. Paris… London… where did T say she liked? New Zealand… maybe we could go to Australia for their big celebration and then visit New Zealand.

The combination of the massage, soothing music, and mildly scented oil soon had Tina on the edge of sleep.

Sam moved next to her partner and pulled the sheet over her. "How was that?"


"I'll take that as a vote of approval."

"Mmmm hmmm."

The blonde propped herself up on an elbow and watched as Tina fell asleep. She stayed for a time, assuring herself that the woman was slumbering soundly before she rose to turn off the music and blow out the candles.

I know where I want to go for New Year's.

Continued in Part 10

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

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