Hidden Identity

By JS Stephens

Disclaimer: these characters exist solely in the universe that is my head. I have never been a minister or a music producer, so any mistakes or misconceptions in representing these professions are strictly mine.

Copyright 2009, revised 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Harriet swung the microphone in a wide arc, let go briefly, then caught it again just as she launched into her most famous song, "Heartwreck Express". The audience screamed its approval as she strutted across the stage, belting out the anthem of anguish and determination that launched her career nearly two decades ago. Chords crashed, voices raised and growled, and the drums kept a primal beat, spiraling up to the final line. The lights flashed, then blanked for a moment, with a single spotlight suddenly picking out Harriet's figure, flashing off her signature mirrored sunglasses. "Good night everyone! Thanks for riding the Heartwreck train!"

A short time later, Harriet and the Heartwreckers were mingling at the after concert party. Harriet was talking to her boy toy of the moment, posing with him for pictures, swigging her drink. Suddenly the world tilted and a hand reached into her chest and tried to yank her heart out. She gasped and started sliding down, pain intensifying until it overwhelmed her universe. Voices and faces surrounded her, but she had trouble saying anything. A vortex of darkness swirled around and over her, tugging her under with fierce swiftness...

Rev. Rose Grant glanced at her watch before going into the last room, thankful it was the last visit before she left the hospital. It was a bad day, ten church members in the hospital for ailments ranging from a simple broken leg to the last stages of cancer. She looked at her list one more time before walking into the semi-private room; Mrs. Brown was supposed to be in, recovering from knee surgery. "Good evening, Mrs. Brown," she called out as she entered the room.

"No, sorry, just me," a woman called out from the other bed. "Mrs. Brown was dismissed an hour ago. Are you a friend of hers?"

Rose looked at the figure on the other bed. Heart monitor, IV drip, the usual medical paraphernalia was placed around the single bed. "I'm from her church and thought I'd catch her on my rounds. I apologize for disturbing you, would you like for me to leave?"

The dark haired woman shook her head slowly. "No, it's okay, I haven't had any company since early this morning. By the way, I'm Caitlin Grant. I thought I had a heart attack, but it was an allergic reaction to rum."

Rose smiled, white teeth showing against mocha skin. "I'm Rev. Rose Grant, no relation, I suppose. I'm one of the ministers at Victory Church. I've never heard of an allergic reaction to rum before."

Caitlin explained, "It seems that if you're allergic to sulfa based drugs, you can be allergic to rum as well. It seems I picked up a rum and coke by mistake at a party last night."

"Interesting." Rose cast about for something to say as her fatigue started catching up with her. Finally, she asked, "Caitlin, do you have any family or friends around? I'd be happy to contact them for you, let them know you are in the hospital."

Caitlin's face clouded over. "No, I'm here for work, and any friends are back in California. I'll just get a cab back to my hotel when I'm dismissed."

Silence descended, and Rose was again at a temporary loss for words. She was tired, and wanted nothing more than to go home and prop up her feet, but this stranger intrigued her. Not so much what she said, but the feeling of bravado, of hiding something. "Would you like for me to pray with you?"

"You'd pray with an agnostic? Worth a shot, I suppose," Caitlin answered, flashing a quick smile, dark eyes showing her fatigue.

Rose reached for Caitlin's hand and offered a brief prayer for healing and peace. As she concluded the prayer, the doctor walked in. She started to withdraw her hand to leave, but Caitlin asked quietly, "Will you stay?" She nodded yes, lightly chafing Caitlin's cold hands between her own.

"I'm Dr. Robin Kennedy," she said. "You must be Caitlin Grant. And hello, Rose, making your rounds?" The minister nodded as the doctor looked over Caitlin's chart, scribbled a few comments, then announced, "It looks like you had a bit of a scare, Ms. Grant. You were lucky that you had a fairly mild reaction, it could have been much worse. However, if you continue to do well tonight, you should be able to be dismissed tomorrow. Unless you have any questions, I'll let you get some rest." She nodded, replaced the chart, then left the room.

Caitlin leaned back, exhaustion flitting across her face as she turned to face the minister. "Thanks for being here," she said in a near whisper, "I guess I shouldn't keep you any longer."

Rose squeezed Caitlin's hand gently, then stood up. "You hear Robin, you should rest. But if you need anything, I'll leave my card so you can get in touch with me."

"Hey, thanks. Wasn't there a verse about being a stranger or sick and visiting me? Well, Reverend Rose, this stranger appreciates you visiting." Caitlin smiled wanly.

"You're welcome, and God bless. Call if you need anything," Rose said as she let go of Caitlin's hand.

"I will." Caitlin smiled briefly, eyelids already fluttering closed.

Rose was surprised at her reluctance to leave the room, something about Caitlin tugged at her. Ah, but the senior pastor warned her many times that her soft heart would get her into trouble, she was rather impulsive about offering help. Still, the Lord had led her to help others in need, usually people needing food or other assistance. She waved at the dark haired woman, then walked slowly through the corridors back to the parking lot.

"You what?" Beverly LaClare spluttered, staring at Caitlin. "Wait a minute, you can't just quit now, there's hundreds of people who depend on you for their livelihood! You are the voice and soul of Harriet and the Heartwreckers!"

Caitlin continued to sort through the clothes she'd bought earlier in the day. "Beverly, I know there's hundreds of people who depend on me, but all I owe the record label is one more album, and we've never had a greatest hits album. Call it a retrospective, and I'll even toss in a new song or two to make people think they're really getting something special. Extensive liner notes, toss in a DVD of concert highlights, stuff like that, but I'm done for. I'm drained and I want to take a sabbatical before I decide which way I want to go." She carefully packed the new khakis and polo shirts in her suitcase, pointing at the boxes on the floor. "I've already arranged to ship my costumes back to Los Angeles, and am going to look for a place to stay here. I'll start working on the new album after I've taken off a few weeks."

"But why now?" asked her manager.

Caitlin ran a hand through short brown hair, zipped the suitcase shut, then slumped down in an armchair. "Beverly, you've been a wonderful business manager for the last few decades. But, you've had time off, you have a husband and stepchildren to go home to. I don't have anyone to go home to, and the last time I took any vacation time was when my parents died. Even then, I barely had enough time to clear the house and wind up the estate before we went back into the studio for another album."

"But, you're not always recording or touring," Beverly pointed out.

Caitlin shook her head at her manager. "Beverly, when we're not touring or recording, I'm overseeing production. When I'm not overseeing production, I'm either writing songs or finding new writers. Any spare time is taken with reviewing research on the latest pop music trends so we can catch the next wave. I'm just exhausted, and need time off."

Beverly walked around the room, anxiety creating furrows in her broad brow. She tugged on her dark auburn bangs out of habit, hazel eyes jumping from object to object, avoiding looking directly into Caitlin's dark brown eyes. Finally, she picked up her briefcase and said, "Call me when you're ready to go back to work on new music."

Exasperated, Caitlin said, "I told you, I'm just going to produce this last album."

The manager worried her lower lip with her teeth, for a moment, then asked, "What about the band?"

"I'll talk to the band," Caitlin replied. "I'm sure they can get gigs with other groups or as session musicians in a heartbeat." She sighed, rubbing her head distractedly. "Besides, I'm tired of pretending to be the party airhead who only wants to show off her latest boy toy. I've enjoyed the ride, but I'm ready to get off the roller coaster."

The manager traced a slender finger along the edge of her briefcase, staring at the floor. "If that's how you feel." She looked up. "But what about me?"

Caitlin got up and walked around restlessly, finally saying, "I'm sorry, Beverly, but I'm sure you can find another group to manage." She looked over at her manager, then allowed a crooked smile. "I'm sure that Ted will be thrilled to have you at home for more than a few weeks. Just consider this a vacation from me." She walked over Beverly and hugged her quickly. "Are we cool?"

"I guess. Call me in a few weeks?" Beverly asked.

"Sure thing." Caitlin squeezed her manager again, then let her go, walking back over to the pile on her bed. "Hey, don't worry, I'll survive. Just think of it as me getting back to my roots as a ordinary person."

Beverly stopped, looking back at Caitlin. "Sweetie, you'll never be ordinary. You'll always be extraordinary."

Caitlin's lips stretched in a rare wide smile. "You're too kind. I'll call when I get settled, I promise. Meanwhile, think about what you'd like to be when you grow up."

"Brat. Behave." Beverly let a small grin out.

"Never. Now go had fun without me," Caitlin replied, laughing.

Rose Grant leaned back in her office chair, wishing for a distraction from writing the sermon she was to preach in a few days. She had been an associate pastor with Victory Church for several years now, and thankfully did not have to preach more than every other month. As if on cue, her phone rang, displaying an out of town number. "Victory Church, this is Rose speaking," she answered.

"Hi, Reverend Rose, this is Caitlin Grant, remember me?" the voice on the other end said.

The minister smiled, leaning back in her chair. "Yes, I certainly do remember you. What can I do for you, Caitlin?"

"It's like this, I'm hungry, about to get lunch, and would like some company. How about yourself?"

"Considering I was just wishing for a distraction, I'd say you have excellent timing. I'm trying to write a sermon and am stuck, hungry, and have no lunch plans," she explained.

"Maybe I can unstick you," Caitlin offered.

"Perhaps you can," Rose replied, smoothing her cap of black hair as she spoke. "Where are you?"

"At the extended stay hotel downtown," came the answer. "If Google Maps is correct, I'm just a few blocks from you, and there seems to be a popular Italian place between us."

"Yes, Moore Pasta, that's Moore with two o's. Ok, I'll meet you there in, say, fifteen minutes?" Rose asked as she consulted her clock.

"Sounds good," Caitlin said, "and I think you'll find me an excellent distraction."

Rose laughed. "I sure hope so." She hung up the phone in a much better mood than when she had answered it. She logged out, stacked her books neatly, then grabbed her purse and jacket. On her way out, she said to her secretary, "I'm headed out for lunch, Velma. I should be back in an hour or so, but I'll have my phone on vibrate if anyone needs me."

"Have fun," Velma answered, waving distractedly. "I'll hold down the fort."

During college, Rose had made money as a quick sketch artist at the mall. She still found herself memorizing faces as if to sketch them, which came in handy for recognizing people she'd seen briefly. She saw Caitlin standing in the foyer of the restaurant, quickly assessing her as if for a sketch. Dark brown hair, cut shorter on the sides and longer on the top, bangs, dark wide open brown eyes, broad rounded cheekbones, slightly crooked nose (broken in the past?), thin lips, Kirk Douglas chin. Broad shoulders, medium height, nipped in waist, slightly rounded hips. Strong restless hands that were straight, not tapering. A silver band ring with an open Celtic weave. Large black sports watch. Dark olive khakis, blue and orange striped rugby shirt, light tan penny loafers. iPhone holstered on her wide tan leather belt. "Hey, stranger," she called out.

Caitlin turned to see the minister walking in and allowed a smile to flit across her lips. "Glad you could make it," she said, reaching out to shake Rose's hand. She took in the minister's appearance at a glance. Medium height, black short hair, dark eyes, beautiful mocha skin, nice figure. No rings, but small tigereye stud earrings, a small cross necklace, and a slender gold watch. Would the minister be insulted if she knew that Caitlin was comparing her looks to Jinx from the James Bond flick, Die Another Day? "I've already put my name on the list, so we should be called any moment."

"Thank you, I'm usually pressed for time. What have you been doing since you left the hospital?" Rose asked as she took off her jacket and draped it over her arm.

"Oh, this and that." Before Caitlin could elaborate, she heard the hostess call her name. "That's us." They followed the hostess to their table and placed their drink orders. Caitlin looked at the bread basket longingly, wondering if she should have any bread.

"How appropriate, we can break bread together," Rose said impishly as she picked up the loaf. "Shall I?"

Caitlin smiled as she grabbed the other end, tearing off a hunk of bread. She mimicked Rose's actions, tearing a smaller hunk and dipping it into the olive oil dip and tasting it tentatively. She immediately dipped it again, savoring the warm crusty bread and the oil mixture. "Oh, wow, that's good," she moaned after swallowing. "Ok, maybe there is a heaven after all."

"What, you never had bread dipped in oil before?" Rose asked, licking the oil from her fingers.

"Would you believe me if I said no? I haven't eaten out much, usually live on delivery," she said. She reluctantly laid the rest of the bread down on the plate, then picked up the menu, automatically counting calories and estimating exercise times as she perused the options. So much to choose from. "So what are you getting?"

"We could split the tour plate. It has several options, and is plenty for two," Rose said, laying down her menu. She smiled mischievously. "If we're really bad, we can split the chocolate decadence cheesecake for dessert."

"I like the sound of that," Caitlin replied, voice deepening slightly.

Rose smiled playfully, tapping Caitlin's arm. "So, we never finished our introductions. I'm Rose Grant, associate pastor at Victory Church as the campus minister at the university. I have been at Victory for four years now, previously serving stints as youth minister, music minister, and associate minister at other churches. Sometimes I work with the community theatre, when I have spare time. Your turn."

"Ah," Caitlin stammered, wondering how to explain being a rock star in disguise. Before she could answer, the waiter came to take their order. During the slight pause, she marshaled her thoughts and answered the question. "I am a music producer for Heartwreckers, Inc. Oh, here comes our waiter."

They talked steadily throughout the meal, Caitlin starting to relax. Maybe it was possible to have a friend outside of the music business, but a minister? She tried to remember when she had voluntarily gone to church other than weddings and funerals. Probably college, but by then, it was more of a social activity for her than serving any spiritual needs. "Earth to Caitlin," Rose cooed, "where are you?"

"Sorry, just thinking. Yes, let's get that cheesecake." Caitlin signaled the waiter and placed their order.

"You never did finish telling me about your background," Rose pointed out. "And I'm sorry if I hogged the conversation, telling you about the programs we have for the college students. How long are you on vacation at Brook Center?"

"At least a month, then I have to go back to the studio," she replied. "My background? I'm boring. I'm a single child, no close relatives, no spouse, all I do is just work. Tell me about your involvement with the community theatre."

Rose narrowed her eyes, sensing evasion, but maybe Caitlin had a reason. "Sometimes I act, but I usually only have time to help construct the sets. Great for community relations. Ah, here comes our dessert."

A little while later, Rose reluctantly announced that she needed to get back to work. She protested when Caitlin grabbed the entire check, but Caitlin said, "I invited you, so I'm paying. You invite me, you can pay." She calculated the tip and laid the money on top of the ticket. "I'll bid adieu now."

"Want to walk me to work?" Rose invited impulsively. "That way you'll know where it is if you wish to attend services this Sunday."

Caitlin contemplated a few seconds, then answered, "Why not?" They started strolling down the sidewalk, both reluctant to end their time together, but they finally arrived at the church building. "I guess I'll take my leave here," Caitlin said reluctantly. "I'd love to get together again, this was fun."

"It was fun," Rose agreed. She impulsively handed over her phone, saying, "Put your number in here so I'll have it." She watched as Caitlin deftly navigated the menus and inserted her name and number into her contact list. "Early service at 8:30, late service at 10:45," she added, laughing at Caitlin's uneasy expression. "It's okay, dear, you don't have to attend. I'd best go back to wrestling with my sermon."

"You're preaching Sunday? Maybe I will attend," Caitlin blurted out without thinking. "Um, if you don't mind a white girl at your church."

Rose laid a warm hand on her shoulder. "If you come, you'll find we're rather diverse, so you will fit right in. All colors, creeds, backgrounds, economic status welcome."

Caitlin shoved her hands in her pockets. "I'll think about it. Hey, have a good rest of the day, and good luck with the sermon."

"Thank you." Rose watched Caitlin turn and walk away until she was out of sight. "Maybe I'll be able to finish that sermon now," she muttered under her breath as she glanced at her watch. "Two hours? Oh, Lord."

Rose finished her sermon and printed it out for final review, then gave in to her curiosity and Googled Heartwreckers, Inc. She found the web site, and browsed it, seeing that it was devoted to Harriet and the Heartwreckers, which, according to the promo copy, came into existence after winning a talent contest and mushroomed from there. She recognized a few songs, but it wasn't the type of band she usually listened to on a regular basis.

She kept reading, finding that Harriet had been in and out of rehab, smashed up multiple hotel rooms, and had been involved with quite a few men, who seemed to be younger with each passing year. She looked at the photos, seeing the progression of hair and fashion styles, with one distinctive element: Harriet always wore mirrored sunglasses. She frowned, looking at Harriet's pictures and thinking she looked familiar.

The minister gave up on making the connection, switching to looking for information about Caitlin. That was sparse, just acknowledgments of her role as music producer. No pictures, nothing more. Rose closed the browser and picked up her sermon, thinking she'd much rather talk to Caitlin than Harriet.

Across town, Caitlin surfed aimlessly, looking for information on the minister. She found some reviews in the local newspaper web site of her recent involvement in the community theatre, and a short interview before she came to Victory Church. She finally landed on the church's web site, looking for anything about Rose. She had to chastise herself for being so, well, voyeuristic, but there was something about the woman that made her want to pursue a friendship.

She found a good picture of Rose taken at the front of the church, arms raised, probably inviting people for an altar call or something. God, the woman was radiating beauty, and not just outer beauty. Caitlin chewed her lower lip nervously, then saved the picture to her laptop. She justified it to herself, it wasn't a company laptop, it was a personal one she'd bought the day before.

Caitlin drummed her fingers on the desk top, looking around at the apartment. Small, efficient, fit any long term businessperson's needs, but it lacked character or warmth. A daring thought slipped into her brain. Suppose she liked it here? Suppose she decided not to live in Los Angeles any longer, but bought a small house here? Put down roots? She snuck a look at Rose's picture again. Did she like the town, or just a particular person in the town? Only way to answer that would be to explore the town of Brook Center for the answers.

Caitlin managed to sit through the entire service without feeling too uncomfortable. She got up early and went to the 8:30 service, assuming it would be more lightly attended. She was surprised by how full the sanctuary was at that time of the morning. She managed to get by with the minimum of conversation, telling the others on the pew that she was on vacation.

Finally, Caitlin was rewarded by getting to concentrate solely on Rose. The light streaming down from the ceiling was kind to her, almost making it look like she had a halo. Rose's speaking skills were excellent, pulling the congregation along on the journey. Once the service was over, Caitlin slipped out of the church, figuring that Rose would probably be too busy to see her. At least she had Rose's card, and could check with her later about getting together again.

Rose greeted people after the service, then hurried to the college Sunday School classroom. She thought she'd seen Caitlin in the back of the sanctuary, but couldn't be sure. She did know that Caitlin did not stick around to greet her, which made her a little disappointed. No time to dwell on what did or did not happen, she had a class to lead. "Good morning, class," she said, walking into the room.

After the late service, Rose accepted an invitation from the college group to join them for lunch. She hurried to hang up her robe in her office, then raced to meet the young people just as they were arguing about where to go. A decision was finally reached, and the folks scattered to their various vehicles. Rose followed them in her car, her mind wandering back to Caitlin. It wasn't so much that she wanted to convert the woman, but wanted to talk to her. Just the short time during their lunch let her see a glimpse of a funny, intelligent person who made her feel relaxed and warm. She forced herself to drag her attention back as she pulled into the parking lot and rejoined the group. Soon, Rose was involved in a deep discussion of the various waves of "great awakenings" in United States history, and whether or not any recent times could be classified as a great awakening.

Rose finally returned home shortly that evening shortly before ten o'clock, having spent all day with first services, then with the college students. She was exhausted, but found herself thinking about Caitlin. She changed into pajamas, then picked up her cell phone, flipping it open. Should she call this late? Or maybe just send a quick text? She grinned at herself, thinking she sounded like the young people she worked with. "Next thing you know I'll be wondering if she really likes me or not," Rose grumbled out loud.

She stared at the phone, almost talking herself out of it before finally sending her first text to Caitlin.

It's Rose. How r u?

A moment later:

Better, now that I hear from you.

She smiled.

Not fair – u have iPhone.

Your point? Good sermon, btw.

Thnx. Worked 4 hrs.

Four hours?

Rose laughed out loud as she hit the speed dial. When Caitlin answered, she said, "No, Cat, I worked for hours and hours, not the number between three and five."

"Got you to call me." Caitlin's voice held a hint of laughter.

"True," Rose conceded. "I was busy all day with the college kids, how about you? And thanks for coming, I saw you in the back, but didn't get to talk to you."

"You're welcome." Caitlin paused for a second, then said nonchalantly, "I looked for an apartment today, but there was not much open on Sunday. A little different from LA, where nothing seems to close."

"I'll say. I was there once for a conference and never wanted to go back." Rose tucked her feet under her, getting comfortable. "Say, a friend of mine, Amber Dawson, works for a leasing agency here. She can help you find an apartment, if you'd like."


"I'm sorry, Cat, am I pushing?" Rose asked worriedly.

"No, Rose, I'm actually thinking of renting a house instead, see how I like it here all year," Caitlin explained. "Spring is great, obviously, but how's summer? How's winter? Can your friend help me find a house to rent? I may want to stay here longer, see if I can telecommute more."

Relieved, Rose answered, "Yes, I'm sure Amber can help you find a place to rent. What about furniture, cookware, a car?"

"Hm. Guess I need to go shopping. Tell you what, how about you call me in the morning to give me Amber's contact information and I'll take it from there." Suddenly she brightened, figuring out more reasons to see the minister. "Once I find a place, you can help me go shopping. That is, if you want to help me go shopping."

"I'd love to help you shop, Cat," Rose replied, delighted for a reason to see Caitlin again.

Laughter came over the phone. "So you don't mind spending my money, eh? Ok, Rose. As much as I enjoy talking to you, you sound tired, so I'd better let you go to bed. Call me in the morning, I should be up and caffeinated by eight or so."

"It's a plan," Rose affirmed.

"And Rose?"


"Thanks," Caitlin said shyly. "No one has ever given me a nickname before. I like it."

"You're welcome, Cat. Sweet dreams." Rose grinned, a warm glow stealing through her heart.

"Patsy Cline." Caitlin smiled into the phone.

Rose frowned for a moment, then smiled. "Oh, the song. Okay, good night, my friend."

"Good night, Rev. Rose."

Rose closed her phone, a huge smile crossing her face. "Dear Lord, thank you for bringing Cat into my life," she prayed quickly.

Amber Dawson was a great agent, Caitlin decided. She asked a lot of questions, then took her to a select number of houses available for rent. By afternoon, Caitlin had decided on a three bedroom, two bath 1950's style ranch house. It was just a short distance from downtown and recently updated. She especially liked the large den in back that could easily be turned into a media room. Amber gave her all the information she needed to contact the utility companies, adding that the neighborhood had recently been upgraded to fiber optic TV and Internet. Caitlin realized that she would not have thought to ask about high speed Internet since she took that for granted.

Caitlin spent a couple of days getting utilities turned on and fiber optic connected, finally calling Rose back Wednesday evening. "Sorry I'm calling so late," she started, "but I wanted to let you know that I'm officially in the house and have everything connected. I guess I need furniture and a washer and dryer now. When's your next day off? Or do you still want to help me with my shopping?"

"I'd be delighted to help," Rose replied, "and it just happens that I have tomorrow off. Do you have transportation yet?"

"No, still trying to decide," Caitlin admitted. "Been too busy getting everything connected."

"I can come pick you up, then," Rose offered.

"I'd like that," Caitlin said. "Tell you what, why don't you pick me up around 8:30. We can eat breakfast, then go shopping. I think furniture is number one on the list since right now I have a few boxes, a sleeping bag, and a couple of leftover lawn chairs for my furniture. Amber said she has a cousin who can arrange to rent me and install a washer and dryer for now, so I don't have to worry about that."

"Sounds like a plan," Rose agreed as she wrote down the directions to Cat's house.

They reluctantly said goodnight, and Caitlin looked at her watch. Should she call Beverly now, or wait? She knew she had plenty of money in her personal account to buy the house, car, and furniture outright and pay utilities and groceries for a few years, but she wanted to get some other business details hammered out. She chewed her lip for a moment, then decided that later in the week was good enough.

Rose watched her friend test every couch in the store, trying to make a decision. Finally, Caitlin called over, "Come sit with me, tell me what you think about this one." Rose walked over and perched on the edge of the black leather couch, then slowly sank backward. "Comfy, huh? It's supposed to be durable and clean easily. Can't you just see it across the room from a big TV? It's also low enough in the back that I can lay my arm across the back," she noted, hoisting her arm across the back, fingers just touching Rose's shoulder. "See?"

"Yes, I do. How about a few matching ottomans for your legs?" Rose asked.

"Sounds reasonable." Cat bounded up, holding out a hand to help Rose up. "I like it. Let's add it to the list. At this rate, I'll have to pay for delivery, but I'd rather get everything now instead of piecemeal."

"If you can afford to do so, it's easier," Rose agreed.

Cat's brown eyes twinkled as she leaned forward, whispering, "Don't worry, Rose, I've saved lots of money over the years. I can easily afford all this and take you to dinner too." She squeezed Rose's hand before letting go. "Do you want to help me find a bed?"

"I guess," Rose answered slowly, wondering if Caitlin knew how it sounded. She followed her broad shouldered friend to the bedroom furniture, intending just to be a sounding board, but found herself looking wistfully at some of the furniture. She still had secondhand furniture from some of the church members in her apartment. Generous gifts, but the furniture was really starting to show its age.

"Hey, Rose, look at this," Cat said, breaking the minister's reverie, "real Mission style furniture. Simple, elegant, sturdy. Think a queen or king will fit into the master bedroom?"

Rose pulled out the sheet with the measurements from her purse and handed them to Cat, who compared them to the dimensions of the beds in question. "Oh, yeah, at least a queen bed. That will give room to walk around and still have a chest of drawers, maybe a dresser, and a small TV stand. I ordered another cable box for my bedroom." Rose looked at the dark honey oak furniture and agreed that it looked wonderful. "And you have to try out this mattress. Memory foam, very comfortable."

"But-" Rose started to argue that it wasn't her bed, but gave in. Cat looked so excited that she had to humor her. She laid down on the bed, slowly relaxing. "Very comfortable," she agreed. Before she could get up, Caitlin bounced on the other side of the bed, exclaiming that she could bounce and not disturb Rose. Rose knew she was blushing, but the saleswoman didn't turn a hair.

Over dinner, Caitlin asked Rose what kind of car she should buy. "Will you be primarily driving around town, taking long trips, hauling around a lot of things, or what?" Rose asked sensibly.

"I don't know, and the freedom to choose is almost overwhelming," Caitlin admitted. "The last car I actually bought was a Nissan Stanza, back in college. Can you believe it only cost me about five thousand?"

Rose smiled. "Well, that must have been a lot back then. I drove whatever family car was handed down by my parents. Are there any cars or styles that catch your eye?"

Cat mused for a moment, taking a few bites of her fish before answering, "I'd love a small BMW convertible, but I have a feeling it's not practical for me. Maybe a small SUV or crossover? I'd go for a truck, but don't want try to park anything that large in the garage. I don't suppose you know any really good car salespeople around here, do you?"

"No personally, but there's family that belongs to our church who owns a fairly large dealership. Maybe you can start there." Rose offered.

"You'll have to give me their address. Say, thanks for going shopping with me, I thoroughly enjoyed it." Caitlin smiled shyly.

"My pleasure, Cat." Rose beamed at her friend, feeling warmth for the other woman rushing through her. "It was fun to shop for new furniture, I've never shopped for new furniture."

"Really?" Caitlin stopped herself from suggesting that she buy new furniture for the minister's apartment, instead, continuing, "I guess it's not much different than having to live in hotels most of the time."

"So what exactly do you do?" Rose asked, reaching for her drink.

Caitlin's mind blanked for a moment, trying to figure out a plausible explanation for constant travel. She cleared her throat and started, "Well, I oversee music-" Her explanation was interrupted by Rose's cell phone.

"Rose Grant," the other woman answered. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she listened even as she reached into her purse for a small notebook and pen. "I can be there shortly, I'm a dinner with a friend. I'll meet you in the waiting room. See you in a bit." She closed her phone and dropped it back in the purse, smoothing her hair in a gesture of frustration. "I'm sorry, Cat, but one of our members has been in a serious wreck and I need to meet the family at the emergency room."

"Oh." Caitlin wasn't sure how to respond, settling for, "Don't worry about the bill, you'll just owe me. Be careful driving, it's getting late." She stood as Rose gathered her belongings.

"I'm sorry to run out on you. I'll call you tomorrow," Rose promised, reaching for Caitlin's hand, briefly squeezing it. "I had a wonderful time today, thanks for letting me tag along."

"The pleasure was all mine, Rose," Caitlin responded, squeezing her hand back. "At least text me when you get home, so I'll know you're safe."

"That's sweet of you, but I do this all the time." Rose shrugged on her coat with Caitlin's assistance. She caught a worried look and relented. "I'll text you when I get back, oh mother hen. Say prayers for the family."

"Will do," Cat promised, watching Rose striding quickly out of sight. She finally sat back down, feeling unaccountably lonely. She pushed her food around dejectedly, finally signaling the waiter for the check. It was the least she could do.

The two women started meeting for a meal or coffee frequently, enjoying their time together. Caitlin finally explained that she was a very hands on producer, not only overseeing the albums, but also the concerts, which explained her heavy travel schedule. Rose asked about Harriet, and Caitlin just shrugged. "She's a self-involved performer," was all Cat would allow.

But the month that Caitlin had promised herself seemed to fly by, and Beverly started calling, asking when she would come back to Los Angeles. Caitlin finally gave her a date and left her manager to make the travel arrangements. She had bought a gently used Jeep Wrangler soft top, enjoying the sensation of the wind in her hair as she explored the city and surrounding suburbs. She considered volunteering at the community theatre when she got back from L.A., partly to be near Rose, she had to admit, but also because it sounded so fun. But first, she had to break the news to her friend that she was leaving for a while.

Rose arrived at the house a little early, carrying a sack of groceries with her. She smiled as Caitlin opened the door, holding a bottle of marinade. "Come on in, Rose, I'm getting the steaks ready to grill."

"Thanks, Cat," Rose answered, following her friend into the house. She let Caitlin take her sack as she hung up her coat and purse at the coat rack in the entry hall. "What's the occasion?" she asked, noticing that the formal dining room had been set, instead of the kitchen table.

"You'll see," Caitlin said mysteriously.

A short time later, the women seated themselves at the table and Rose offered thanks for the meal. She noticed the fresh flowers, the candles, the wine glasses and wine bottle ready to pour. "Dig in," Caitlin said as she poured the wine, handing one of the glasses to Rose.

They ate in near silence for several minutes, then Caitlin finally said, "I'm enjoying your company so much, but I have to go out of town for a while. The band is ready to get back to work, so I have to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, probably a few weeks at first. I'll go back and forth until we pick the music and the new songs are recorded, then I can come back here to work on the actual production."

"I see," said Rose, "this is going to sound so high school, but will you call or text me from time to time?"

Caitlin smiled. "Of course." She ducked her head for a moment, then lifted it back up, saying shyly, "I can't imagine not talking to you several times a week. I don't think it's too high school." She reached across the table, taking Rose's hand, saying, "You're very precious to me, Rose. You're the most genuine person I've met in a very long time, and I appreciate it more than you'll know."

"Thank you," Rose said, tightening her hold on Caitlin's hand.

"There is one more thing," Caitlin said, "so let's go to the living room and sit on the couch for our dessert."

"Let me help you carry the dishes into the kitchen first," Rose quickly offered.

With both working, the table was cleared in a short time and they were curled up on the couch, sharing a piece of cheesecake. "Oh, God, this is good," Caitlin purred. Rose loved how her friend would close her eyes, sensually licking the fork clean between bites. "I'll pay on the treadmill tomorrow morning." She grinned at Rose, taking their empty plate a slowly licking the remaining cheesecake off.

Rose found herself following the slow swipes of Caitlin's tongue, taking pleasure in her friend's obvious enjoyment of the food. Caitlin sighed contentedly, reaching for Rose's hand. "I have a favor to ask. Would you check on the house every few days while I'm gone? My mail goes to the post office, so I'll give you a copy of that key, and the landlord pays for yard maintenance, so you don't have to worry about that. I just need someone to come check on things, make sure nothing's gone wrong. Would you mind?"

"Of course not!" Rose answered.

"Thanks." Caitlin grinned at her friend, relieved.

"Supper was wonderful, but I should be going," Rose announced reluctantly after glancing at the clock.

"Ok, if you must." Caitlin stood up, pulling Rose up. She led her to the office, which she handed the dark skinned woman copies of the house, garage, and post office keys. "I really appreciate this so much. God, I'm going to miss you, Rev. Rose," she blurted out.

"I'll miss you too, Cat," Rose answered, surprised at the huskiness of her voice. She stepped forward, hugging her friend.

They stood there, embracing, just enjoying the warmth and joy of the the hug, until Caitlin finally pulled back slightly. She smiled, an echoing smiled appearing on Rose's lips. Without thinking, she leaned forward, placing a light kiss on Rose's lips. Rose returned the kiss, adding pressure, wrapping her arms more snugly around Cat's waist, enjoying the building sensation of love and heat building within her heart. She finally pulled back, seeing a beautiful glow on her friend's face. She laid her head against Caitlin's shoulder, wishing she didn't have to go. "I'll miss you so much," Caitlin whispered.

"I'll miss you too, sweetheart." Rose managed to tear herself away, pocketing the keys. "Thank you for tonight."

"You're welcome. I'll be back as soon as I can," Caitlin promised.

"I'll count the days," Rose answered, leaning forward for another quick kiss. "I'll better leave now, or I won't."

"I understand," Caitlin said, sighing. She led her friend back to the door, helping her on with her coat. "Be careful."

"I will. I'll pray for you, Cat," Rose said.

"I'm sure God will listen to you," Caitlin teased. "Be good."

"Always!" Rose laughed. Caitlin watched her friend until she started her car and drove away. She turned off the porch light and locked the door, touching her lips and smiling.

Beverly met Caitlin at the studios a few days later, still anxious about the singer's decision to retire from the band. "There you are," she said as Caitlin walked into her office, "I was starting to wonder if you would show today."

"Caitlin Grant is always on time. You must have me confused with my alter ego," Caitlin teased, leaning over to ruffle Beverly's auburn hair. Beverly automatically smoothed it, frowning at Caitlin. "Okay, I'm chastised, Boss. Here's what I thought we'd do today. I'll talk to the band, tell them I'm out of the business, then we can decide how to do the album. Do you have the meeting set up?"

"Yes, the guys are here in studio two," Beverly stated flatly.

"Great. Let's go." Caitlin stood up, waiting for her manager to join her. Beverly sat quietly, and Caitlin asked uneasily, "What's up?"

Beverly sighed heavily. "Nothing. You've threatened to leave before and never did. I guess I'm having a hard time with you being serious about retiring."

Caitlin dropped back in the chair. "Hey, it's going to work out, you know. I've been thinking about this for a couple of years now, Beverly, and decided it would be best to retire on top and at the end of our contract with the label. We had a great tour, and the last album was probably our best in terms of artistic content. Hadn't you also noticed the other bands we've been signing to use the studios?"

"I thought that was just a way to bring in some more money to justify building our own studios."

"Nope, part of my grand scheme, so I really can drop back and be producer. The only thing we have to do is to decide if Harriet merely retires or goes out in a blaze of glory. I'd rather not fake my own death, but we've got to make this realistic," Caitlin said simply.

Beverly got up and slowly walked with Caitlin to the studio. "Okay, brainiac, how do you plan to explain where Harriet was for the past six weeks? And you promised a month, not six weeks."

"Sorry about that. I have a grand idea – Harriet went into rehab." Caitlin grinned, proud of her idea. "It's perfect, since I went into the hospital, we can say I had a wake up call over my drinking and went to a very private rehab spa or something. It will be great, I swear."

Beverly thought it over, starting to get excited. "I'm sure we can swing it, Caitlin. Yes, that sounds like a great way to explain Harriet's retirement. Okay, here we are."

Caitlin took a deep breath, then opened the door to greet her fellow band members. "Greetings and hallucinations!" she called out.

"Hey, look, it's Caitlin!" called out Paul, the drummer. He bounded over and grabbed the singer up in a big bear hug. "We've missed you, babe. You've never been gone so long!"

"My wife didn't mind," smirked James, the keyboardist as he took his turn hugging Caitlin.

Hank, the bass player, looked at her coolly, then allowed a huge grin to split his face. "Welcome back to the City of Angels, sweetheart," he said, taking his turn. "You look very rested for a change."

"I am. Guys, I have a little announcement," Caitlin said as they seated themselves around the conference table. "You know we owe one more album under our contract. I'd like to make that a retrospective theme album, taking songs from our other albums, maybe toss in a new song or a cover, tell the story of a great love found, lost, and found again. We don't necessarily have to use our actual singles or hits, but the songs that would tell this story best. What do you think?"

A few minutes of hashing out possibilities and the band agreed. "It would be different," said James.

"And I do have one more announcement." Caitlin turned serious and looked at the faces of her band mates. "After we release this album, I'm retiring from the band. I'm tired of being Harriet, and would like to turn to something different. As I envision things, you guys have a couple of choices. You can find another Harriet or lead singer, or you can go your separate ways and strike your own paths."


"I tried to talk her out of it," Beverly stated abruptly.

Paul turned to Caitlin, asking quietly, "Was it getting too confining to play the role of Harriet?"

She turned to him and replied, "Yes." She faced the rest of the band and said, "I was talking to Beverly and said we could announce it by saying Harriet had gone into rehab and wanted to start a new life."

"So what will you do?" asked Hank.

"For now? Finish this album, make sure all the legal ends are tied up, make sure you all are taken care of financially, and get the hell out of the city. I want to disappear for a while, maybe try my hand at some other music genre." She stopped for a moment, clearing her throat, blinking rapidly as her dark brown eyes unexpectedly misted up. "Damn, boys, I'm getting all sappy here!"

James reached across the table, patting her arm. "Babe, it's okay, you've had a very long road. Me? I can find plenty of session work, and my wife and daughters would be thrilled to have me home every night."

"We're in agreement? Great. Now," Caitlin said, pulling a sheaf of papers from her messenger bag, "I've already done some thinking about which songs in what order would be perfect for this project. Of course, we start off with 'Heartwreck Express'..."

"No, it's not too late, Cat, I just finished supper. Long day, I went to rehearsals after work," Rose said, suppressing a yawn.

"Rehearsals?" Caitlin queried.

Rose curled up on Caitlin's sofa, tugging the throw off the back to toss over her legs. "Yes. The community theatre is doing 'The Wizard of Oz' and I'm the Wicked Witch."

"You? Talk about typecasting!" Caitlin teased.

"Cat!" Rose blurted indignantly.

Caitlin laughed, then asked, "So what are you doing right now?"

Rose answered shyly, "Sitting on your sofa. The power is out in my part of town, we had a big storm blow up and I thought you might not mind me staying here for a bit."

Caitlin smiled. "I don't mind a bit, dear. You can stay as long and as much as you like." She sighed. "Rose?"

"Yes?" Rose asked.

"I miss you." Caitlin stated, sighing a little.

Rose tucked the throw a little tighter around her legs and leaned back against the arm of the sofa. "I miss you too, honey. I know it's late here, but I have a question."

"Sure, ask away." Caitlin said, wondering what Rose was about to ask.

Rose toyed with the fringe nervously as she asked, "Are you okay with the fact that we kissed before you left? I mean, I've kissed friends on the cheek, but that felt different. Wonderful, but different. Like, more than friends different."

Caitlin doodled on a notepad, silent for a few seconds before answering, "It was wonderful for me too, Rose, and to be honest, I'd like to do it again. I didn't know we were going to kiss, but I certainly don't regret it. Rose, it took me by surprise, but I find myself in the unexpected position of falling in love with you. Does this bother you?"

"No, it doesn't, but there are some things we'll have to face eventually," Rose said slowly, unsure how Cat would take the serious discussion.

"Like, different skin tones? Same gender?" Caitlin asked, puzzled.

"No, more important than those, I'm a minister, and you profess to be an agnostic. That's a huge hurdle in any romance I could ever enter into. We just have to be honest with each other and take this a step at a time." She thought a second, then added, "This is pretty new for me too, I haven't dated anyone in forever. I've never dated a woman, but I can see myself dating you."

Caitlin smiled into the phone. "That's good. Listen, babe, it's late where you are, and I need to get an early start tomorrow. Stay at the house if you'd like."

"No, the storm is over, and the power should be back on soon, but I appreciate the offer."

"Okay." A comfortable silence stretched between them for a short time, then Caitlin broke it by saying, "Okay, okay, goodnight, sweetheart."

"Goodnight to you too, dear Cat. Talk to you soon?" Rose asked hopefully?

"Count on it." They were silent again, and Caitlin laughed. "God, we're so high school, not having anything else to say, but not wanting to hang up."

"All right, then, on the count of three." Rose said.



"Three! Sweet dreams!"

"Patsy Cline!"

Laughter floated in the air as they disconnected the call.

The band had worked together very hard, finding a surprising mix of Heartwreckers tunes that described the arc that Caitlin had proposed. They came up with an unusual ending tune: "Leaving on a Jet Plane," by John Denver. It would be a little different in that it would be a cappella instead of backed with instruments, and the chorus would be four part harmony with the band.

Beverly arranged an interview with Harriet and a reporter from a major music magazine the next week to announce the forthcoming album and to announce her retirement. Caitlin wanted the entire band in on it, but they said they didn't mind. So Caitlin reluctantly donned ripped jeans, a garish t-shirt, sunglasses, and heavy hair product for that special spiked look. "This is my last interview as Harriet," Caitlin warned.

"No problem," Beverly promised as her phone rang. She answered it, then turned to Caitlin. "He's here."

A few minutes later, Peter Cross, well-known music reporter, entered the conference room where Beverly and Harriet sat. "Good afternoon, and thanks for letting me come interview you," Peter started.

"Yeah, whatever," Harriet said. Beverly shot her a hard look. "I mean, thanks for coming, Peter. Let's get this show started."

"Mind if I record the interview?" he asked.

"Be my guest," Harriet answered nonchalantly, "as long as you don't mind us recording it as well. Insurance, you know."

Peter looked a little startled, then reposted, "All right, that's a new condition, but I'll go along with it." He pulled out a small digital recorder and sat it on the table, then took out his well worn folio and pen, opening it and flipping to a new page. "Ready?"

"Sure," Harriet said, pulling out her own digital recorder and turning it on. "Interview between Harriet Benson and Peter Cross, with Beverly LaClare as referee." She added the time and date, then smiled fiercely. "Lob those questions, dude."

Peter turned on his recorder, recorded the who, what, when, where, and then launched into the interview with, "You've rarely out of the public eye for long, yet you disappeared for two months. What gives?"

Harriet leaned forward, laying her arms on the table. "Dude, I had a near death experience, so I checked myself into rehab. Last party at the end of the tour was wicked, man, and I wound up in the hospital. I had alcohol poisoning, so I had Beverly find me a place to dry out."

"Where did you go?" Peter asked, expecting the usual comment of "Betty Ford clinic."

Beverly interjected, "Privacy laws, Peter. And we signed a confidential agreement with the facility. Anyone talks, lawsuits fly."

Peter scratched a note, then ran a hand through his dark blond hair. "So what can you tell me?"

Harriet and Beverly exchanged glances, and Harriet answered, "Let's just say that I was forced to be quiet and still for the first time since college. I got to thinking, realized that I've used alcohol, men, and drugs as a way to avoid being alone, to avoid myself. Lots of issues to cover, but not in public."

Peter made a note, then looked across at the rocker. "Let's be honest, Miss Benson, you're well known for your self-destructive actions. Do you think you can really be rehabilitated?"

Harriet looked at him for a long time, succeeding in making Peter squirm, making him wonder if he'd gone too far. Well, damn it, he was known for asking the tough questions, so she'd better answer. "Ok, Peter, I'll be honest. Hell, it will be a tough road, and I'm sure I'll backslide, but I'm tired. I'm tired of waking up in a fog, not knowing where I am, or what I've done. More than that, I'm tired of constantly reinventing myself just to sell an increasing number of albums to prove that Harriet and the Heartwreckers are still a viable band."

Peter stared at her openly; this was not going as he anticipated. He blurted out, "If you're not reinventing yourself, then who will you be?"

"I don't know." She glanced at Beverly, who nodded. "You might as well break this news too, Peter. I'm hanging up the microphone. I don't know what I'll do or where I'll go, but after this next album, Harriet and the Heartwreckers will be no more than a memory. I've informed the band, so they're already working on new deals for post-H & H careers."

Now this was out of left field, Peter thought. "Don't you owe one more album?"

Beverly answered this one. "Yes, the band is contractually obligated to produce one more album, and it will be the greatest ever. Look for it to hit the stores within six months, but no tour. We're going to add a bonus DVD of live performances, plus a special video."

"Okay," Peter said. Silence stretched out for a moment. "Um, what about your lover, Tom?"

One eyebrow crawled above the sunglasses. "Is that his name? No, sorry, poor taste. Tom and I parted ways before I went to rehab. I wish him the best of luck." Harriet stood up. "You have your money quotes," she said casually, "so feel free to leave now. We'll want to look over the copy before you turn it in, of course."

"That's not how I work." Peter crossed his arms, defiant.

"No, but that's how we work," Beverly reminded him, "and you knew that as a condition for conducting this interview." She smiled sweetly. "Thanks for your time."

"Right." Peter stood, turning off his recorder and quickly repacked his things. Beverly started to open the door, and Peter looked at Harriet and asked, "One last question: what's been the deal with the sunglasses all these years? Drugs?"

Harriet laughed and slapped him on the shoulder, leaning over to say quietly, "On the record, alcohol and drugs. Off the record? It's just my look."

Peter shouldered his pack, then stuck out his hand. "Thanks for the interview."

"You're welcome," Harriet said quietly, "and thank you for coming over."

He peered into her face, seeing a trace of sadness under the mocking expression that she usually wore. "Good luck finding your dreams," he responded softly. A quick round of handshakes and he was gone.

Beverly followed Caitlin back to her office and waited until the door was shut to ask, "Did it go how you wanted it to?"

"Yeah," Caitlin said, pulling off her sunglasses as she dropped into one of the chairs in front of Beverly's desk. "I can just see the headlines, 'Harriet out of rehab!' or 'Harriet's Lost Her Mind!' Which do you think?"

Beverly drummed her fingers thoughtfully, offering, "Or, how about, 'Harriet's Finally Grown Up'?"

Laura Wilson caught up with Rose after the college class Bible study Thursday night. "Rose, care to grab a cup of coffee? Please?"

Rose was exhausted, but she smiled at the freshman and said, "Sure, but mine may have to be decaf. What's on your mind?"

Laura tugged at a sleeve anxiously. "It's silly, so I really don't want to talk about it here."

"Let me gather my things, then," Rose answered. "Do you need a ride? The coffee shop is a little far for you to walk back to the dorm at night."

"Okay." Laura followed Rose out of the campus ministry center and waited as Rose unlocked the doors on her small SUV. Once she was buckled in, she blurted out, "Harriet and the Heartwreckers are calling it quits!"

"Really?" Rose asked politely as she steered into traffic.

"I told you it was silly," Laura said, staring at her bright purple fingernails. "My friends always teased me about her, about having posters of the band all over my room. But their music always spoke to me, and it's just a little weird that she called it quits so abruptly. It's like Mick Jagger quitting the Rolling Stones or something."

"I see," said Rose, not seeing at all. She pulled into a spot in the coffee shop parking lot. "Let's talk about it inside."

Several minutes later, the two were comfortably ensconced in overstuffed armchairs in a dark corner of the shop, sipping on their drinks. Laura continued with, "I know it's silly, but I am in shock. I picked up my mail and started reading my magazine and saw this interview with Harriet. She said she went into rehab and came out deciding to break up the band. See?" Laura thrust the magazine at Rose, nearly spilling Rose's coffee in the process.

Rose took the magazine and opened it to the interview. She skimmed it, then looked at the pictures of Harriet. Something clicked when she saw one profile photo of the singer; she looked just like Caitlin. A weird feeling skittered across her chest as she stared at the picture. Before she could ponder too much further, Laura broke into her thoughts, wailing, "I'm just so depressed!"

Rose snapped to, asking, "Why?"

"Well, I know it sounds really weird, but it's like I grew up with her, like she could see into my soul, she'd sing what was going on. I know, I sound like a gushing fan girl, but it's true. I mean, when she sang about the dark abyss of the soul, I knew what she meant," Laura wailed.

Rose looked at the pale girl in the other chair, asking carefully, "What dark abyss are you referring to, Laura? Are you depressed now?"

Laura toyed with a string on her cuff, not looking at the minister as she answered in a small voice, "A little."

"Why? Care to tell me about it?"

Laura heaved a great sigh, then slowly looked up and said, "Rose, did you ever wonder why I always wear long sleeves?"

"A little last fall, but then it turned cold. Is there a reason?" Rose felt like she was not following this conversation well.

Instead of answering, Laura slowly pushed up her sweatshirt cuff to reveal angry, barely healed cuts. "When the pain gets to be too much, I cut a little to relieve the pressure. I know it's wrong, and I've prayed to God to make me stop, but I can't. What should I do?"

Caitlin stretched as she got off the plane, thinking how wonderful it was to be back in the heartland instead of Los Angeles. Despite the widespread coverage of Harriet and the Heartwreckers breakup and forthcoming album, she was not recognized by any of the passengers. Maybe she'd surprise Rose by simply showing up at her office. Or maybe Rose would be at her house, taking advantage of her entertainment center. She smiled as she imagined the reception she would get from the woman who had captured her heart.

What she didn't expect was to not find her in any of the places she looked. She called Rose, but got her voice mail. She hesitated for a split second, then merely said, "I'm home," and disconnected the call. She drove to her house, hoping that Rose would call back so she could meet her, but no such luck.

Finally, her phone rang in the night. Caitlin groped for the phone and the beside light, managing to answer the phone without dropping it. "Hi, what's up?" she asked sleepily, glancing at the clock. "Good Lord, woman, it's four o'clock in the morning!"

"I know," Rose said in a strained voice on the other end, "I just got home after a little emergency. One of the girls in my college group tried to commit suicide and had the nurse call me from the emergency room. It was a long night. I'm sorry I missed your call."

"I'm sorry too, babe, it sounds like it was a really rough night." Caitlin sat up, the enormity of what Rose was trying to cope with washing over her. "Do you need me to come over?"

"No." A strangled sob. "Yes. Come here, please."

"Are you home?" Caitlin asked, alarmed.

"Yes," Rose croaked out.

"I'll be there in a minute. Let me just get some clothes on." Wide awake now, Caitlin started grabbing clothes as she talked. "Do you need anything else?"

"No, just you."

"Okay, Rose. I'll be there shortly. I have to hang up so I can dress," Caitlin said, jeans in hand.

"All right. I'll turn on the light for you. See you in a few," Rose choked out.

Caitlin disconnected the call and dressed, running out to her Jeep, nearly forgetting her keys in the process. She went back inside, grabbed the keys and her wallet, then raced back out. When she arrived at the minister's apartment, she raised her hand to knock on the door but nearly fell in as Rose opened the door quickly. Without saying a word, Caitlin stepped in, kicked the door shut, and grabbed Rose in a tight hug, kissing her neck and face. "Oh, baby, what can I do?" she crooned, feeling the dark skinned woman shaking in her arms.

"Just hold me, please, hold me," Rose sobbed hoarsely, gripping Caitlin hard.

"I've got you, babe," Caitlin whispered, stroking the minister's back. "I'll be here as long as you need me." She rocked Rose lightly, holding on as the other woman sobbed into her neck, wondering what had happened. Finally, Rose pulled back, looking gray with exhaustion. "What happened, honey?"

Rose took Caitlin's hand and led her to the ratty sofa, waiting until they were both seated to say, "One of my college girls wound up in the hospital tonight and I went to sit with her. She had been cutting her arms, and this time she cut too deep and nearly died. I sat with her until her parents were able to get there."

Caitlin reached out, cupping Rose's face in her hands. "I'm really sorry, Rose, I wish I could help. How long have you know she was cutting herself? Did she say how long she's done this?"

Rose reached up, covering Caitlin's hands with her own, rolling one hand so she could press a gentle kiss on the palm. She leaned back against the back of the sofa, looking into Caitlin's brown eyes and seeing concern and love there. "We talked a few nights ago, after she read an article about Harriet and the Heartwreckers breaking up. She was really upset, saying she'd been a fan for years, felt a connection to the lead singer. She showed me the article, then showed me her arms where she'd been cutting herself."

"Oh my God," Caitlin blurted, turning pale.

"She's very thin as well, so I'm thinking anorexia, and her parents were shocked at her appearance. Anyway, it just hit me hard to see one of my college kids so unhappy that she would want to take her own life. She claims she's never had a bad home life, and after talking with her parents, I tend to agree, but she said she's always walked on the edge of an abyss of depression." Rose took a deep breath. "I guess I just don't understand. I can where there's cause, but this being depressed over a group breaking up is beyond me."

Caitlin was quiet a moment, then said, "I can understand," she said quietly, "I've starved myself for years to fit in to the business. I did a little cutting before you heard of it in the popular press. And yes, I've experienced depressions so deep that I thought I'd never see the sunshine again."

"I had no idea," Rose said, searching Caitlin's face.

Caitlin got up and started pacing like a tiger across Rose's living room. "Yeah, I was cutting early on. Starving has been popular for decades. Just think of Karen Carpenter. It shocked me when she died, but I kept starving and exercising excessively."

"Honey, would you please sit? I'm getting dizzy watching you pacing back and forth."

"Sorry, Rose," Caitlin said, as she sat next to her, taking her hand. "I forgot. Now, you said Laura was upset over Harriet and the Heartwreckers breaking up?"

"Yes. Not what I'd expect from a college student, but maybe there is more to her story than she is willing to share at the moment. Her parents were baffled, so I'm wondering if something has happened since she's been here at college." Rose laid her head on Caitlin's shoulder. "So, tell me, what is so special about this group you work for, dear Cat?"

Caitlin shifted a bit to get more comfortable. "Classic American fairy tale, rock and roll edition. Band tries out for a talent show, wins first prize, gets a shot at fame and fortune, spends the next few decades near the top of the charts. Songs and publicity always aimed at appealing to the dark side. After all, teens and college students, even young adulthood, is rife with perils, with pits of despair, of heightened emotions and relationships, romantic follies. Tap into this vein, make the lead singer appeal to both genders and their fantasies, and you have success," she concluded.

Rose was puzzled by the bittersweet tone in Caitlin's voice. "Cat, I still don't understand, maybe I'm just exhausted, but it sounds to me like Harriet is more of an archetype than a real person."

"Bingo, dear reverend." Caitlin shifted a little, gently pushing Rose off her shoulder. "Please sit up and look at me." Rose did, still puzzled. "You know the stories of superheroes? Always having a secret or hidden identity? I guess you could say that I'm the hidden identity of Harriet. The whole concept started out as half a joke, to be honest. Some of my buddies at college had a band called the Heartwreckers, and when they signed up for the talent show, they needed a lead singer. Harriet sounded great, so alliterative, we went with it. I wore the mirrored sunglasses the night of the show because I had a splitting migraine, and it became my trademark."

"Oh." Rose sat back, staring at her friend. "So why the secrecy? And why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"Because I've used Harriet as my foil, my alter ego, for years, just so I could move about without being recognized on the street," Caitlin explained.

"And the stories? I read the article about the boyfriends, the trashed hotel rooms, the alcohol abuse. What's that?" Rose searched Cat's face, confused and a little alarmed.

Caitlin ran her hand through her brown hair nervously. "Just stories, Rose. I did drink to excess but sobered up when I had a pregnancy scare. The boyfriends? Usually models or actors who needed a boost in their careers, never actually lovers. They got the publicity, I got the reputation as a heart wrecker. Perfect, but all just lies leaked to the press." She reached for Rose's hand again. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I've hidden for so long, it's pretty difficult to come out. You're the first person outside of my manager and the band who I've told."

"So why now?" Rose asked softly

Caitlin took a deep breath, summoning her courage to say, "Because I'm in love with you, my dear, and I don't want any falsehoods between us."

Rose twined her fingers with Caitlin's, looking at the difference in color. "I appreciate it, Cat. So, may I ask one more thing?"


"Do you believe in God?"

Caitlin smiled sadly. "You would have to ask the toughest one. I'm really not sure. I told you I hadn't attended regularly since college, and it's hard to really believe that some old man or woman is up there worrying about the little details of our daily lives. Yet, I see the good you do, and it's hard not to believe that some force doesn't work through you. I've been attending your church, and I enjoy the music, so maybe we should leave it as I'm agnostic, with slight leanings towards deist."

"Fair enough." Rose suddenly cracked a huge yawn. "I'm sorry, but the day and night is catching up with me."

"Maybe I should leave," Caitlin offered reluctantly.

Rose looked at her wistfully. "Or maybe you should stay. I'm not ready for that level of intimacy, but I need sleep, and I am just selfish enough to want you near. And I want to talk to you more about how to reach Laura, to understand the cutting and the anorexia."

Caitlin stood, pulling Rose up with her. "I'd be honored, honey." She kissed the minister lightly, then said, "I can take the couch."

Rose shook her head. "No, it doesn't make into a bed. Just come lie down with me, please?"

Caitlin ran her fingers through Rose's dark hair. "You are very persuasive, my dear. Okay, I'll lay down with you for a while."

Beverly paced, nervously running her fingers through her auburn hair as she talked to the real estate agent. "Yes, I understand the market is bad, but Harriet said to sell the place. I think she's willing to take a loss if need be. I'm also arranging to auction off most of her costumes, so maybe we could combine it with an open house? No, everything is in good shape, I always have inspectors go through while we're on tour."

She listened for a moment, finally smiling. "Great. I have power of attorney to sign for her, so I'll meet you this afternoon in your office. No, Harriet does not attend to little things like this, as she calls them. I have no idea where she's planning to live now, but I have a feeling it will be in a hotel under an assumed name. Thanks again, George." She clicked the off button, tossing her phone on her desk before dropping in her chair. "God, Caitlin, what are you doing, trying to kill me?"

Her phone rang, and she wearily picked it up, answering, "Beverly LaClare, how may I help you?"

"Hey babe, it's me," Caitlin's voice came through, "can we get that monstrosity sold?"

She sat up. "I just got off the phone with George. We're arranging an open house next weekend, and I'm going to try to line up an auction for your costumes and other memorabilia. That's what you wanted, right?"

"Yes, just box up my entertainment and ship it out here. Listen, do we have any preproduction CDs yet?"

"No, not yet." Beverly tapped her pen against the desk, wondering why Caitlin wanted to know.

"Hmm. Any legal issues if I slip one to someone?"

Beverly reached automatically for aspirin and water, shaking out the pills with practiced ease. "Suppose it gets out? I don't recommend it."

"Damn," came the reply.

"Caitlin, I can hear the gears turning, why do you ask?"

"Because Rose has a student who is a huge H&H fan, and she's been in the hospital recently."

Beverly shifted the phone to her other ear, swallowed a couple of aspirin, then asked, "Do you know how much trouble I have to go through to get you set up for a personal visit?"

"Lots. And you know I've snuck in and out of places merely by changing clothes. Okay, I'll just print out a publicity photo and sign it and take it with me. How's that?" Caitlin wheedled.

"Just be careful." Beverly hesitated, then asked what had been bothering her for weeks now. "So, what's keeping you in the midwest?"

Long silence.

"You still there?" Beverly asked, wondering if they'd been disconnected.

"Yes, but I'd rather talk in person. I should have told you when I was in L.A. Listen, I need to split. I'll come out next week to work with the guys on the arrangement of 'Leaving on a Jet Plane'. I've been working on the rest of the album, tweaking the sound some. It's amazing what I can do with just a laptop these days."


"Bye, honey."

Beverly laid down her phone, wondering what had happened in the six weeks that Caitlin was away.

Laura Wilson sat in Rose's office at the university ministry center, wondering why the reverend had asked her to meet there rather than at the church. She peeked at her wrist again, trying hard to resist the temptation to take off the bandages and look at the slowly healing cut again. She stood up and drifted around the small office, running a finger along the bookshelf of bibles and commentaries, wondering what it was like to be sure of God's love.


Laura turned, startled. She tried to speak, but it came out as a squeak. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Um, hi. Rose Grant is supposed to meet me here."

"Yeah, I know." The woman gently shut the door and took the chair behind the desk. "Have a seat, Laura. I'm Harriet Benson."

Laura dropped into one of the visitor's chairs, staring openly at the woman across from her. "Really?"

A small smile. "Yes. Listen, I'm doing Rose a favor by talking to you, but you have to swear to silence and non-disclosure about this conversation. Cool with you?"

"Yeah, of course. You're really Harriet? Oh my God." Laura forced herself not to bounce in her excitement.

Harriet nodded briefly, slowly unbuttoning her sleeves and pushing them up. "I hear you've been pretty self-destructive lately, Laura. Something like this?" She pointed to faint scars crossing the inside of her forearms.

Laura nodded slowly, touching her own bandaged wrist. "I don't know why, but it helps the stress."

"I get it. Listen, you don't want to end up like me," Harriet said slowly, "it took me a long time to understand why I cut myself, why I let everyone talk me into a constant routine of diet and exercise. I bet you are either anorexic, bulimic, or both, right?" Laura nodded slowly. "I had to stop cutting because I was afraid it I'd wear a t-shirt or something and forget that my arms had angry lines on them. I kept eating as little as possible for years to keep in control, but it was a false control."

"So, how did you do it?" Laura asked, curiosity aroused.

Harriet leaned forward, tapping restless fingers on the desktop. "Sheer willpower. The reports of my bad behavior over the years? Highly exaggerated, but that's a secret between you, me, and my manager. Let me ask, why do you feel out of control? Classes? Boyfriend or girlfriend problems? Uncertainty with the economy? Family?"

"It's going to sound silly." Laura rubbed her bandaged wrist slowly, unsure whether or not to tell Harriet the real reason.

"Babe, I'm all ears," Harriet said, leaning back and cocking her head. "Trust me, I've heard and done worse."

Laura twisted a blonde lock around her index finger, trying to decide how to say it without sounding like a whiny child. "Well, my family life was pretty good. Good parents, nice upbringing, but it was a smaller town, and my graduating class was only 100 students. So college has been a bit of a culture shock, especially avoiding temptation."

She took a deep breath, then continued, "I try to be good, I'm active in the church and fellowship here, I study hard and make good grades, but I don't feel like I know what I want to do or who I want to be. I always sailed through my classes in high school, easily making the best grades, but I'm struggling in my statistics class right now. I don't know how to deal with making a B. And I'm always hiding parts of me. I mean, I love your music, love the darkness, but I've never done drugs and alcohol, and I'm still a virgin. So what's wrong with me?"

Harriet leaned forward again and said quietly, "You're expecting too much of yourself, Laura. Trust me, I understand. My case was worse, I went from valedictorian to making all C's my freshman year until I figured out how to study. We don't all figure out what or who we are the first few years of college. What are you studying?"

"Right now, accounting, but my heart isn't in it." Laura replied slowly.

"What do you really want to do?" Harriet asked intensely.

Laura rubbed her face tiredly. "You'll laugh."

Harriet lifted a single eyebrow. "Try me."

"I really want to be a music producer. I play with my laptop, mixing different tracks, sometimes record the choir at church and add instruments to it. It's not practical, I know, but that's where my heart lies." Laura said this in a rush.

Harriet smiled, transforming her face from stern to beautiful. "Honey, you came to the right place." She hesitated a moment, then said, "I can get you an internship this summer with Heartwreckers Express Company. It would be a way to see if you really want to get into this line of work or not."

Laura bounced in her chair excitedly. "I'd love it, Harriet!"

"Okay, I'll send it via Rose. Just one condition," Harriet said, holding up a finger.

"Anything," Laura said breathlessly.

Harriet took a deep breath. "Get help. I don't care if you go to the student health center, get Rose to counsel you, find a private counselor, just get help now. Promise?"

"I promise," Laura solemnly agreed.

"Good." Harriet stood up, walking around to the other side of the desk, holding out her hand. "Shake on it."

They shook hands just as the door opened. "Am I interrupting?" Rose asked, poking her head in.

"Naw, we're done," Harriet said, "and I was just leaving." Without another word, she left.

Laura looked after her, then turned to the minister and said seriously, "Rose, I promised Harriet I'd get help."

"Really? That's good. Before we talk about who can help you best, Harriet left something for you." She pulled a package out of her bag and handed it to the student.

Laura sat down again, quickly unwrapping it, and looked up, amazed. "It's a preview copy of their new album, and it's signed!" She jumped up and impulsively hugged the minister. "Wow, this is great!"

"She thought it would be," Rose agreed. "Now, let me see about getting you a list of counselors."

Caitlin reluctantly flew back to Los Angeles after Beverly called to say that they had someone who wanted to buy the house. "But you have power of attorney to make the arrangements and to sign the paperwork," Caitlin argued.

"True, but we do need one last set of publicity photos for the new album. And we need to talk about how the hell you plan to be a producer still while living halfway across the country. It's very difficult, you know," Beverly said gruffly. Caitlin reluctantly agreed, and flew out to meet with her manager.

After the photo session was over, Caitlin ducked into the shower at the studios and washed Harriet out of her life for good. She came out of the shower into the changing room to find Beverly waiting for her. "Damn, can't you wait for me to get dressed before barging in?" she grumbled.

"I wanted to get your attention," Beverly said firmly, as she handed Caitlin her clothes. As Caitlin started dressing, Beverly asked, "I asked who was keeping you in the midwest, and you said you'd tell me later. Now, the only thing I can think of is that you've gone and actually fallen in love, so who the hell is he?"

Caitlin zipped her pants and started buttoning her shirt as she casually replied, "Her name is Rose. She's a minister at a local church, I met her when I was in the hospital. She's a wonderful person, and I'm really happy for the first time in my life. Now that we have that little confession out of the way, can I bring an intern into the studio next summer?"

Beverly stared at Caitlin for a moment, then said slowly, "Could you go back to her name is Rose? Honey, you haven't been to church in years! And a woman?"

Caitlin looked at Beverly as she grabbed her dirty clothes and stuffed them in her duffle bag. "Beverly, I know religion is an issue, and frankly, I'm not sure how to cross that bridge. But I love her with all my heart. And you know, the bathroom isn't the best place to have this discussion, so let's adjourn to my office."

"If you insist," Beverly answered, realizing how rude she'd been to barge in on Caitlin. She followed her into the office and dropped into an armchair as Caitlin poured them each a tumbler of water before seating herself. As soon as Caitlin sat down, Beverly burst out, "So is Harriet also going to get a girlfriend? It would answer some questions, you know."

"Dearest Beverly," Caitlin said quietly, "remember that as far as I'm concerned, Harriet is dead. Those pictures I posed for today are the last ones ever. No reunions, no 'where is she now', none of that sort of publicity in the future. I came here to wrap up loose ends."

"Honey, that's great, but-"

Caitlin interrupted impatiently, "Beverly, you're a fantastic manager, and a great friend, but you'll find another singer or band to nurture after Harriet has her swan song released. And rest assured, I'm not tossing you out of my life, I'm just getting a life of my own. Yes, it will be difficult, neither Rose nor I have had a serious relationship before, but I really want this to work. I'm going as slowly as I can stand, just to make sure she is really the one I want to spend my life with."


Caitlin moved her chair closer, reaching for Beverly's hand, gazing into her hazel eyes. "You have been best friend, manager, sounding board to me for twenty years. I told you after the last concert that you have Ted and his children, but I have no one. I'm enjoying my time off, enjoying being myself again, but now I really need to see how this journey with Rose will turn out. I'll still produce, don't worry about that."

Beverly absently rubbed her thumb across Caitlin's knuckles before she spoke. "Honey, I still have concerns. I'm very worried about the religious aspect of your relationship with Rose. I've never tried to get you to accept the Lord into your heart, but if Rose is a minister, shouldn't she have a partner who can share that with her?"

Caitlin got up and started pacing the room. "Beverly, I don't know the answer to that. I've been attending Rose's church, and I confess that I love the music, the rituals, yet can't bring myself to believe that some supernatural being is interested in my every move, and pushes events and people around to make my life a little easier."

"Then how do you expect this relationship to work?" Beverly persisted.

Caitlin paused in her pacing, turning to look at her manager. "I don't know, maybe my faith in the human heart instead." She smiled impishly. "Lord knows I need some sort of faith in my life!" She walked back and sat down in her chair again, abruptly changing the subject. "So you have a buyer for the house lined up?"

Beverly accepted the change, knowing that she would have to finish this conversation another day. "Yes, I do, and he's willing to pay our asking price. I have the paperwork with me, if you'd like to look it over." She reached into her bag, pulling out a thick red rope folder, handing it over to Caitlin, who took it and started pulling out papers.

Carter Pierce had been called to Victory Church nearly ten years ago after a stint as a Navy chaplain. He had grown up in this historically African-American congregation, and was proud to return to his roots. When he first came back, he was shocked at how dead the church was, so he made it his mission to breathe new life into the church.

Carter's first step was to hire a new music minister, Camilla Hopkins, and his second step was to hire an associate pastor with university ministry experience. He eventually married Camilla, and worked with Rose Grant to open the church to the nearby mixed ethnic neighborhoods and to the university. Carter was pleased that the Lord had chosen him for this task of rebuilding Victory to live up to its name.

He had been well pleased with Rose's contributions, but was finding a reason to be concerned. She was still doing a fine job with her ministries, but he had noticed her spending a lot of time with her new friend, Caitlin. He sensed that this friendship was deepening into more than a friendship, and felt it was his duty to find out more about this woman. So a few days after Caitlin had left for Los Angeles on business, Carter called Rose into his office for a chat.

"Good morning, Sister Rose," he started after shutting the door behind them, "how is life treating you lately?"

"Well enough, Brother Carter," she replied uneasily.

"Excellent." Carter considered several approaches briefly, then just plunged in with the most direct path. "I've noticed you spending a fair amount of time with one particular woman. Anything I should know about her?"

Rose shifted in the chair, trying to recall any particular teachings about homosexuality at Victory. "We've become close friends," she admitted, but it sounded lame in her own ears.

Carter said soothingly, "Rose, I hired you four years ago, and found you an excellent fit here. We've welcomed all kinds of people into our collective arms, so don't think I'm worried about you having a romantic relationship with a woman. If you are, however, I need to know what kind of woman she is, her morals and her character. You understand, sister."

Relieved that one hurdle had been passed, Rose sat back and casually crossed one elegant leg of the other. "Carter, she is the most amazing woman I've ever known. She's intelligent, great sense of humor, and works in the music industry as a producer. Caitlin is very easy to talk to."

Carter nodded, coming to the most important question. "What is her religious background, Rose? How is her relationship with our Lord?"

No wiggle room for this question. She laced her fingers together in her lap, trying to stay calm. "I'll be honest, Caitlin is well read in religion and theology, but she's not a professed Christian. She grew up in a mainline church, but fell away, as many do. She does attend this church when she is in town."

The pastor steepled his broad fingers under his chin for a moment, then asked, "You're telling me that you've fallen in love with someone who does not share your faith?"

"Yes." She met his eyes unflinchingly.

He looked at her steadily for several seconds, then laid his hands on the desk. "Any chance she'll accept Jesus into her heart? Walk the path of faith with you?"

"I honest do not know, Brother Carter," Rose admitted.

"Fine." Carter stood up and moved around to the other side of the desk, perching on the edge, looking at her intently. "But before you get too close, think about how loving a non-believer could negatively impact the good you've done in this ministry. Just think about it, Sister Rose. Now, unfortunately, I have another appointment coming up."

Rose accepted the gentle dismissal and got up to leave. He flashed a smile, saying, "But do bring her around when she gets back in town. Camilla and the children should met her if she's that important to you."

"I promise, Brother Carter," Rose said. As she left the office, she thought, Oh, Lord, what have I done?

Caitlin was a little surprised at the pang of regret as she walked through her old house one more time. Beverly had packed and shipped her personal collection of music, movies, and books the week prior, and Rose had assured her that all of the boxes had arrived and were waiting for her to come home to unpack.

Home. Interesting concept, since she'd never thought of this monstrosity of a house as home before, it was more a prop for Harriet. Yet, she had lived here between tours for the last sixteen years, and would miss the pool, the cabana, the huge music room. Was she that ready to move to the midwest, to take up a new life? In some ways, it was fun being Harriet, she could do and say anything without real repercussions. The wilder Harriet was, the more albums and tickets they sold.

It was nice having a house so close to the studios, but she was committed now to trying to work remotely as much as possible. The rest of the band had already lined up session work, all saying they were tired of touring. James was the most relieved, he was happy to play all day then go home to his wife and children. Caitlin smiled as she remembered seeing James walk in with a short haircut for the first time since college, simply saying it was time to look like an adult. Paul and Hank still had longer hair, but had both agreed that it was nice to go home at night. Hank was trying to reconcile with his estranged wife, and Paul expressed a wish to find a girlfriend.

She finally flipped off the last light switch and locked up for the last time. Beverly waited patiently in her car, watching Caitlin slowly walk down the stairs to the car. "Honey, are you okay?" Beverly asked as the musician slid into the seat.

"Yeah, I think so," she said, busying herself with the seatbelt.


Caitlin looked over at her manager, then slid her sunglasses on. "Absolutely. Let's go back to the studios and get some work done." She stared out the window, watching her former house slide out of view. Her head was full of jumbled thoughts, swirling around, each jockeying for prominence. She knew it was the right time to step away from her old life as Harriet, and into her new life as producer, and hopefully, partner to Rose. What projects should she start on next? The last Heartwreckers album was in the final mixing stages; the copy she'd given to Laura was the initial mix, almost complete. "What?" she asked, startled out of her reverie.

Beverly repeated, "I asked if you wanted to keep staying at the hotel or if you wanted to rent an apartment here. If you'll be flying back and forth, you might consider having an apartment here. Save time checking in and out of a hotel. I don't mind making the arrangements, if that's what you want."

"I'm sorry, Beverly, I hadn't even thought that far. I guess I really do need a place to stay here. I was really hoping to avoid being here that much, to be honest. Old temptations, you know."

"Yes, I do know." Beverly pulled up in front of the fancy hotel. "Would you like for me to come up with you a while, or do you need time alone?"

Caitlin glanced out at the doorman approaching the car and said softly, "Please come up."

Several minutes later, the two friends were seated in the living area of the suite, sipping coffee. Caitlin set her cup down and said, "I've been thinking about what you said, that it might be unfair to Rose for me not to be a Christian. Should I pretend just to make her life easier?"

Beverly set her own cup down. "Honey, as much as I'd love for you to have a real relationship with our Lord, you can't fake it. Rose will spot it in an instant, I'm sure. You'll just have to seek your path, or not, on your own, for your soul, not for your relationship with Rose."

"I knew it wouldn't be that easy," Caitlin grumbled. "And yes, I told her about the pregnancy scare. Damn, I find myself being more honest with her than with anyone I've ever known, except you."

Beverly let a smile blossom. "Caitlin, if you're being that honest with her, maybe this can work out." She hesitated, then said, "I really don't know how I feel about you being gay. I don't know if it's really a sin or not."

Caitlin smiled. "Well, if I don't believe in a Christian god, I don't have to worry about that."

"You know what I mean," her manager responded.

"I do. No, my view is that it's not what you are that's sinful, it's what you do or how you act. I can't see being gay as sinful, but if I ran around and dated other women on the side, especially if I made a commitment to Rose, that would be sinful. Do you understand?" Caitlin asked seriously.

Beverly pondered for several seconds before slowly answering, "You know, Caitlin, I think I do."

"Good." Caitlin fiddled with her cup for several minutes before laying it on the table.

"So when do I get to meet her? I'm the closest you have to a family, so I need to meet Rose," Beverly chided.

Caitlin looked up in surprise. "Um, I guess you can fly out with me when I return, meet her then. That good enough? I was planning to return in a few days."

Beverly pulled out her Blackberry and consulted the calendar. "I can for a few days, but in a week, Ted and I were planning to take the kids on vacation."

"Okay. Tell you what, you make the arrangements and I'll call Rose to see when she can meet with us."

"Sounds good to me." Beverly said, making a note on her phone. "I'll start the arrangements as soon as I leave."

Caitlin grinned, standing up and holding out her hands. "I'll help you up, then."

Beverly grinned fondly. "Brat," she said as she allowed Caitlin to help her up from the couch.

Caitlin shut the door behind Beverly and commented to Rose, "I think that went rather well. You two got along like a house afire." She locked the door before going back to the couch and sitting next to Rose, kissing her cheek lightly. "What did you think of Beverly?"

Rose leaned back against the arm of the couch, pulling Caitlin with her. "I liked her, Cat. She cares about you a lot, and is a little protective of you."

"Really? I thought she was just protecting her long term investment," Caitlin smirked.

Rose squeezed Caitlin, rubbing her cheek against her girlfriend's affectionately. "Honey, you're not just an investment to her, you're her best friend. She worries about you." She sighed, closing her eyes, enjoying the feeling of the singer in her arms. "I missed you while you were gone."

"Ditto, Rose. So, what did you do while I was gone?" Caitlin pulled out of Rose's arms, turning to face the minister.

"Oh, worked, the usual. I saw Laura a couple of times, she's making progress. She hasn't gained any weight, but she's making a concerted effort to eat a little more now. I haven't seen any fresh cuts on her arms recently, and she pushes her sleeves up to show me every time I see her." Rose laced her fingers through Caitlin's. "I also had a brief chat with my senior pastor. He is concerned about you not being a professed Christian, and wants you to come to his house for dinner, take your measure."

"So no problem with you dating a woman?" Caitlin asked.

"Not right now, just concerned about me being connected to a non-believer," Rose answered reluctantly.

Caitlin grimaced. "Beverly is concerned about that too. Maybe they should talk amongst themselves and tell us what they decide."

Rose dimpled briefly at the image of Beverly and Carter sitting down to decide their future. "I will be honest, Cat, when I found myself starting to fall for you, I didn't even consider your spiritual state. Will it eventually drive us apart?"

Caitlin frowned, picking her next words carefully. "Rose, you are a wonderful minister, and that's what you are destined to do in life. What I believe in is love, and I do recognize that we need a strong moral code to follow."

"I guess that's a start," Rose acknowledged. "So, when can you meet with Carter?"

Caitlin snuggled back in Rose's arms before answering, "I suppose any time."

"Okay." Rose trailed fingers through Caitlin's thick brown hair. "I'll find out when Brother Carter wants us to come over. Meanwhile, I'm seriously deprived of cuddle time."

"Oh, I think that can be remedied," Caitlin purred.

Carter and Camilla were very gracious, Caitlin decided, even if they did have obvious reservations about her relationship with Rose. She had been truthful about her ambivalence toward religion, but also about her deepening love for the minister. "I'll be honest, I was pretty wild in my younger years, but have not done much more than an occasional glass of wine with dinner for the past twelve years," she said as Camilla brought in dessert, "I had a few scares, and was determined to be clean and sober. I never did partake of illicit drugs, I didn't want to ever take anything that I wasn't sure of what it might do to me."

Rose had helped Camilla bring in the dessert and the coffee as Carter and Caitlin continued to talk. Camilla asked, "So what do you do? I'm not very clear on that."

"I'm a producer. For years, I produced all of the music for Harriet and the Heartwreckers, and now that they have disbanded, I'm taking a short break before working with other groups," Caitlin explained. "To be honest, I'm torn between trying to do as much from here as possible and moving back to Los Angeles, where most of the bands are that I would be working with."

"When do you return to Los Angeles?" Carter asked. "And will you have time to see Rose? I'm a little concerned about you spending so much time apart."

"I'll have to go back in a couple of weeks, and spend about half of the summer." Caitlin shrugged. "Demands of the business, and demands of the project I'm working on right now. But, I'll be taking Laura Wilson with me as a summer intern, and she'll stay about six weeks." Caitlin smiled shyly, taking Rose's hand in hers. "I'd like for Rose to come out to visit during that time, see where I work in LA."

Camilla asked, "But is there any way you can work more from Brook Center?"

Carter quickly added, "Have you ever thought of working with the university here? One of my friends is a professor in the school of music, and says they need an instructor on production and the business side of music. I could give her a call, if you'd like."

"I never thought about teaching. Hm. Could you get me in touch with your friend?" Caitlin asked the pastor.

"Certainly. If you're going to get serious about our Rose, you need to find a way to live here, not apart. Nothing wrecks a marriage faster than the couple being forced to live apart."

"I appreciate the sentiment," Caitlin smiled, rubbing Rose's hand in hers.

Rose squeezed her girlfriend's hand, adding, "It would be nice to have her here, or at least for us to coordinate our out of town schedules a little better. For example, I'm going with a group on a mission trip in a few weeks while Caitlin is in California."

Carter nodded. "That is a step in the right direction. Now, I know you've only been seeing each other for a few months, but do you think you have any plans toward marriage?"

Both women started to speak, but Carter interrupted, "Before you answer, I want to know this. Caitlin, if you do get serious about marriage with Rose, will you at least go through the adult confirmation class to make up your mind as to whether or not you can believe in God? Believe me, I'd rather you be walking with the Lord already, but I'd be happier if you made an effort before dismissing religion altogether."

Caitlin and Rose glanced at each other before Caitlin answered, "Yes sir, I will. But we're still a ways from making any sort of commitment."

"That's all I can ask," Carter replied, a broad grin splitting his face. "Now, Camilla, I've been very good, may I have another piece of your pound cake?"

A few weeks later, spring was definitely in the air, and classes had let out for the summer. The church hosted a graduation party at the ministry center on campus for the graduating students, and Caitlin promised to set up the music for the dance following the reception dinner. Laura volunteered to help with the equipment, eager to learn anything about the business possible.

While Caitlin and Laura worked with the equipment, she noticed that Laura seemed a little too quiet. Caitlin watched, puzzled, until she realized that Laura kept tugging at her sleeves, which were loose enough and long enough not to generally be an issue. After they finished setting up, she asked quietly, "Are you stressed about something, Laura?"

Laura's eyes got big as she replied nervously, "Why do you ask?"

She glanced around, making sure no one was listening. "Because I'd say that you're cutting again. You keep pulling on your sleeves like they are catching, and I suspect you've hastily bandaged your arms. Let's go in the restroom, I want to see them."

Laura didn't argue, she just led Caitlin to the restroom and locked the door before carefully unbuttoning her sleeves and pulling them back. Caitlin whistled when she saw the hastily applied bandages, some sticking to her arm in dried blood. "Honey, have you talked to Rose about this? When did you cut, and why?"

The college student's eyes brimmed with tears as she choked out, "I did it last night after my date."

"After your date. What happened?" Caitlin asked, concern growing.

"Mike was a little too forward for me. He stopped when I asked him too, but I'm ashamed that I let him get so far. It helped for a little bit to cut, to let the pain take over. I didn't think Rose needed to be woken up at midnight just because I was worried about going too far. I promised myself I'd stay a virgin until I was married, but it's pretty hard with Mike."

Laura watched as Caitlin carefully examined the cuts. "You know, Caitlin, I really like him, and it's frightening how good it feels to kiss him, to let him do things. He hasn't pushed me, but I'm conflicted because I don't always want to stop, and when I'm conflicted..."

Caitlin nodded, her ancient scars throbbing in sympathy. Too bad Harriet wasn't here, the girl already knew about those scars. Instead, Caitlin asked, "Is there a first aid kit anywhere that you know of?"

"Yes, usually in the credenza in the secretarial bay, in the unlocked side."

"Wait here." Caitlin unlocked the door, snuck down the hall, found the kit, and slipped back into the restroom. She carefully washed and treated the cuts, wrapping Laura's arms with gauze and taping the ends carefully. "Better?"

"Much. Um, silly question." Laura looked down at her shoes, embarrassed.

"Yes?" Caitlin responded.

"Will I see Harriet when we go to Los Angeles?" She asked, still staring at her shoes, a blush crawling up her cheeks.

Caitlin resisted sighing. "Probably not. I think Harriet is leaving for a long vacation."

"Too bad. She's pretty cool. Not that you're not cool, no, I think it's wonderful how you've become part of Rose's life. I'm babbling, aren't I?" Laura asked in a rush.

Caitlin smiled as she finished repacking the first aid kit. "Yes, dear, you're babbling a bit. Come on, it's about time for the party to start, and we need to get the first playlist going." She helped Laura button her cuffs, then followed her out of the restroom.

Several hours later, the party finally wound down to an end, and a few of the students helped clean up the party debris. Laura helped Caitlin pack up the last of her gear, then gathered her courage and went to find Rose. She found the minister in the kitchen, putting away the last of the leftovers. "Hey, Rose," she said nervously.

"Hey, sweetie, what's on your mind?" Rose asked, shutting the refrigerator door. "You look pretty tired."

"Yeah, well, Caitlin said I needed to talk to you."

Rose groaned internally as she washed her hands, afraid of what Laura was about to say. "It's pretty late, but I can stay a few minutes more. We need to leave the building in a bit, so do you want to adjourn to the coffee shop?"

"No, this won't take long." Laura tugged on her sleeves, then unbuttoned the cuffs and rolled them up, holding out her arms. "Caitlin bandaged my wrists for me."

"Oh, dear God," Rose said, gently taking Laura's wrists in her hands, examining the bandages. "Laura, why didn't you talk to me before you did this?"

"Because it was midnight, and I was afraid to wake you," Laura answered, hanging her head. "I'm sorry, Rose, I know it's wrong, but it felt good at the time."

"How deep did you cut yourself?" Rose asked, concerned.

"Not deep enough for damage, and the wrong direction for suicide," Laura answered anxiously, "I'm just trying to keep things lined up. Maybe we should go to the coffee shop after all."

"Perhaps. Do I need to call your parents about this?" Rose questioned.

Laura shook her head vigorously. "No, we don't, I promise I won't do it again," she said, starting to sound panicky.

Rose heard the rising panic in the young woman's voice and sighed mentally. She pulled Laura into her arms, feeling how stiff the woman was until she started rubbing light circles on her back. "I won't say anything this time, but you know it's dangerous to keep cutting yourself, Laura," Rose said. She felt Laura relax fractionally in her arms. Rose continued the slow rubbing motion until Laura relaxed more. "That's better, honey." She pulled back, looking intently into Laura's hazel eyes. "Remember, I'm here for you, you can call me any time. Let's get some coffee and you can tell me about it, okay?" She stroked Laura's long dark blonde hair soothingly. "Give me a minute to grab my purse and keys, and we'll be on the way."

Laura nodded, following the minister and grabbing her own backpack from the coat closet. A short drive later, and they were at the all night coffee shop, sharing an apple fritter and decaf coffees. Laura had already surveyed the shop, relaxing when she didn't see any of her classmates or friends from the fellowship there. Rose's dark brown eyes bored into her soul, it felt like, willing her to tell the truth. She set her cup down and tried a little humor first. "Hey, I ate my share of the pastry."

"That you did," the minister acknowledged.

The student fidgeted, then laced her fingers tightly across her stomach. "I'm sorry, Rose, but it's been tough again. I've been dating a guy named Mike, and I don't know if I'm in love with him like you are with Caitlin. You guys have the real deal going on."

Laura fidgeted, trying not to start picking at her bandages. "Anyway, I let him get too frisky last night, and we removed a few clothes before I came to my senses and asked him to stop. He did, but it scared me. I felt like I was losing control of my discipline, so after he left my room, I thought about calling you, but it was midnight. My roommate already left for the semester, and I was all alone. I felt so guilty about what I'd done that I was punishing myself by cutting again. I know we're supposed to wait until marriage, but it felt so good, I just wanted to continue. What should I do?" she finished in a rush.

Rose almost lost the thread at Laura's assumption of her love for Caitlin, but managed to hang in. She stalled for a moment, trying to decide how honest she should be. She, too, had been shocked at the strong urges she'd been feeling toward Caitlin, especially since she'd come back from LA the last time. Gathering her wits, she answered, "I'll tell you the truth, it's different for everyone. The official line is don't do anything until you're married, but sometimes I think the church fathers didn't understand the strength of the sexual drive. Let me ask you this, do you think Mike is the right man to share this profound gift that God has given us? If so, then be careful and use birth control, otherwise, find a way to reign in your impulses." Like I do oh so reluctantly, she thought.

Laura laced her fingers tightly to avoid picking at the bandages, to reopen the wounds. She looked into Rose's sympathetic eyes, knowing the minister really did understand. "Okay, I'll think about it. At least Mike is gone for the semester, and I'll be going to Los Angeles with Caitlin in a few weeks." She sipped her coffee, then detailed the plans for her internship. Rose listened intently, wishing she could go as well. "You know, I think you ought to come out too, at least for a few days," Laura said, as if reading her mind. "It would do you a world of good."

"Maybe I will. Will you be okay for a few days?" Rose asked tenderly.

"I think so. Thanks for talking with me, Rose. You're super." Laura acknowledged.

Rose smiled, suddenly tired to the core. "You're pretty super yourself, Laura. I need to get you back, so you can sleep before your folks arrive tomorrow." She stood up, stretching protesting muscles. "Come on," she said, grabbing her purse.

Caitlin stretched, working the kinks out of her back after leaning over the sound board for the last few hours. "Laura, you're doing a great job, but I need a break. Let's take fifteen minutes, then start again."

"Oh, I hadn't noticed the time," Laura said a little sheepishly. She followed Caitlin out of the control booth, saying, "See you in fifteen." Caitlin nodded absently, thinking she should not have drunk so much coffee this morning. Several minute later, she went to her office and pulled out her phone to call Rose. She smiled, thinking how happy she would be just to hear Rose's voice.

"Victory Church, this is Rose," the minister's voice came across the line.

"Good morning, love, this is your Cat," the producer said, leaning back in her chair. "How's life?"

"Oh, better that I hear from you," Rose answered, "How's Laura doing?"

"She's fine, she's a natural at hearing the subtle differences between settings on the sound board. She calls her folks every few nights, lets them know how she's doing. I've tried to be subtle in encouraging her to wear short sleeves by giving her some Harriet and the Heartwreckers t-shirts and Heartwrecker Productions polos." Caitlin leaned forward, picking up a pen to doodle with. "She's also calling Mike nearly every night, and I'm not sure I like it. Since she decided to take me up on my offer to live in my apartment with me during her internship, it's hard not to overhear conversations. I don't think he likes her here with me, from the gist of her side. Her parents are fine with it, since you vouched for me, but I don't know, honey, he sounds a little controlling."

"Sometimes I've gotten that impression too. Oh, change of subject, Brother Carter approved my vacation request. I get to come out to see you!" Rose exclaimed.

"Hey, that's terrific, Rose, you'll have to email the details later." She thought a moment, then asked, "Where do I put you to sleep? I guess you'll sleep in my bed and I'll take the couch."

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." A small ding sounded in the background. "Sorry, Cat, but I have to go now, my meeting reminder just popped up. I love you."

"I love you too babe," Caitlin said. She reluctantly disconnected the call, leaning back in her chair with a smile on her face. "My sweetheart is coming to California," she murmured out loud.

Laura sat on the edge of her bed, clasping her phone tightly to her ear as she talked to Mike. "Really, it's okay, Mike, I'll be back in a week. Rose is out here now, and Caitlin is taking us to Disneyland tomorrow morning. Look, I told you, Caitlin has not made any passes at me, where do you get that idea? I'm being paid for a six week internship, and we've been working. No, I am not turning into a dyke."

She ran her fingers through her short blonde hair, wondering briefly if he was going to be angry about her cutting it while she had been in California. "Mike, I really do love you, but that doesn't mean we have to spend every waking moment together." She sighed.

"Yes, I'll call you tomorrow night, let you know how it went." Laura made a face at the phone. "Listen, I need to get off the phone now, I promised Caitlin I'd help get supper ready. I'm sure Rose is starving, since it's nearly supper time here, and she probably feels like it's practically bed time there." She held the phone away as Mike yelled something, waiting for a break before putting phone against her ear again. "Listen, Mike, I really have to go now. Yes, I love you, and for the last time, there is nothing untoward going on here. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight."

Laura stared at the phone for a moment, then slid it into her pocket. "On second thought," she muttered, placing the phone on her night stand. She didn't need any more calls from Mike while she was fixing dinner and enjoying Rose's company. "Hey, Rose, sorry I was holed up so long," she said, reaching out to hug the dark minister.

"It's all right," Rose said, hugging the student. She pulled back after a moment, still holding Laura's arms. "How has Los Angeles been?"

"Great! I'm learning so much from Caitlin, and so much from the bands we've been working with here. I think I'm so lucky to get this chance." Laura beamed. "And see, no cuts!"

Rose looked closely at Laura's arms, then gave her another quick hug. "That's terrific, Laura. I should let you go help Caitlin, I think I heard some grumbling from the kitchen, and I'm not supposed to help since I'm the guest of honor."

Several hours later, full of good food and drink, the three women sat in the living room, listening to soft jazz swirling from the entertainment center. Laura was in the armchair, watching as Rose tried to stay awake while laying securely in Caitlin's arms on the couch. They made such a good looking couple, she reflected, Rose's darker tones blending with Caitlin's lighter ones. She had carefully brought up the topic with her parents, and they had no problems with her being around gays and lesbians, but Mike was so against her being in Los Angeles because he said, "You'll be hanging out with goddamned queers and become one of them." He accused Caitlin of trying to lead her into "depraved practices", even when she tried to explain that Caitlin had never done anything wrong.

"A penny for your thoughts," Caitlin called out softly.

Laura jumped, wrenched out of her blue study. "Sorry, I went away. I was just thinking about Mike."

"I see. Do you always look so down when you think of your boyfriend?" she asked gently.

"No" Laura said automatically, then amended to, "Well, lately, yes."

"I see. Tell you what, let's get Rose off to bed, I think she's fallen asleep on me, then we'll talk a few minutes." Caitlin replied softly.

"Not asleep," Rose mumbled, trying to snuggle deeper into her girlfriend's arms.

"Baby, you are crashed. Let's get you to bed, you need to be nice and lively for our fun tomorrow." Caitlin carefully pushed the minister off of her, leading her into the master bedroom. She came out several minutes later, sitting down on the couch, looking at Laura. "What's Mike saying that is causing you to be so unhappy?" she asked abruptly.

Laura rubbed her hands up and down her arms absently, feeling the scars from old cuts. "Mike isn't happy about me being here," she finally said.

"Yes, I gathered that from the earlier conversations I overheard. Sorry, not eavesdropping on you, but the place is not exactly soundproof. Go on." Caitlin urged.

The student sighed unhappily. Picking a thread from her jeans hem, she said bitterly, "Mike claims that I'm going to turn into a dyke from being here. I mean, most people realize you and Rose are dating, but he's got it in his head that you've led Rose astray and you're doing your best to lead me astray, even though I tell him that you've never done anything inappropriate with me. If anything, I've noticed you nearly bend over backwards to be completely correct around me, not to touch me or stand too close to me."

"I hadn't noticed I was doing that," Caitlin reflected, "but go on."

Laura lifted her head and looked into Caitlin's eyes. "Do you think Mike is going overboard? I'm getting pretty bad vibes lately, and I don't really remember him being this possessive before the semester ended. I wish Rose was awake, I'd ask her if my memory is correct or not. Or maybe he was, but not to this extent."

"If you're feeling weird about him, there must be a good reason." Caitlin reasoned. "Tell me, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to let him continue to try to dictate, or will you ask him to knock off the possessive caveman attitude?"

Laura considered for a bit before answering, "I don't know. I mean, on the one hand, I think I am in love, but on the other hand, I don't want to be a victim like you see in movies. And why is he so hung up on me sharing an apartment with you?" She shook her head, genuinely puzzled. "I don't care that you're gay, it's a non-issue, but it sure seems to be an issue with him. Mike seems to think that it's all your fault that Rose is 'thinking that way' as he put it."

"Do you feel safe with me?" Caitlin asked quietly.

"Duh." The girl rolled here eyes. "Yeah, I mean, you're a great person, and I see why Rose is so totally in love with you. You're nice looking and all that, but I'm not the one wanting to tear your clothes off."

Caitlin winched slightly at the bluntness of Laura's language, and at the memory of some of Harriet's earlier antics with men. "Thanks, I think. Listen, it's getting late, and if we're going to make it to the park tomorrow, we need an early start. Okay?"

"Sure. I'm off to bed now. Sleep well." Laura said, pushing herself out of the armchair.

"You too, Laura." Caitlin watched Laura go into her bedroom, then started pulling out the couch. She really wanted to just slide in the bed with Rose, but didn't want any misconceptions going on. "Damn, I hate being so good," she grumbled under her breath.

The day was perfect and pleasant, high temperatures in the mid-70's. Rose surprised Caitlin by taking her hand a few times as they strolled along, and sitting just a little tighter than necessary in most of the rides. Caitlin finally relaxed, noticing that no one paid the least bit of attention when they were walking hand in hand. The only time they were noticed was when one woman in line with them asked if their daughter was there willingly or not, that her college age son tried to pretend that he was doing it just for her benefit. Laura overheard and said, "I'm loving it, glad both moms could make it." They all three had quite a laugh later, until Caitlin pointed out that they really were old enough to be Laura's parents.

The last ride they went on was Space Mountain, and all three had a blast rocketing through the dark, with "starlight" flashing across their faces. They debated briefly about staying for the evening parade, but decided against it. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm exhausted," Laura declared when the subject was raised. She grinned impishly, thinking about the earlier conversation. "So do I call both of you 'Mom' or what?"

Rose laughed and slung an arm around Laura's shoulders. "Sure, call us both 'Mom', we don't mind. It is rather startling to realize that you could be our daughter. How'd I get to be that old?"

"I don't know, but who did she get her coloring from? Neither of us have blonde hair," Caitlin added as she took Rose's hand. "I think the car is in this row." As they found the car and piled in, it occurred to Caitlin that Laura really was the right age to be her daughter, had she really been pregnant. "Any requests for dinner, or are we still full from the junk food we consumed today?"

"I'm pretty full," Rose admitted, "but I'll go along with you guys. Laura, what's your vote?"

"That last corny dog did me in," Laura chimed in. "We can get something later, but for now, I think I'm ready to put my feet up. Why didn't someone tell me to wear better shoes?"

Caitlin laughed, glancing in the rear view mirror. "As I recall, you decided those sandals were just too cute. I tried to tell you that sneakers would be better, but no, you wouldn't listen to your mother!"

"Humph." Laura stuck her tongue out, then settled back into the seat. She'd had such a good day, enjoying just hanging out with Rose and Caitlin. She loved her parents, but wondered briefly what it would be like to have two moms instead of a mom and a dad. Probably no real difference, except maybe being more cautious on how to talk about them, she decided. She loved the way they looked at each other when they thought no one was looking. Would they get married eventually? She thought about it as they cruised back to the city, decided that if they did, she'd like to be a part of the ceremony. Best person?

A little while later, they were back at the apartment, each doing their separate thing for a little bit. Laura went in to shower, Rose checked her email, and Caitlin summarized the day in her diary. Caitlin had gotten into the habit years ago of summarizing the day, it often jogged her creativity and proved to be a wellspring of song material. As she capped her fountain pen, she realized that she never would use her experiences for Harriet's songs ever again. The realization threw her for a moment, making her unexpectedly sad.

"Hey, babe, what are you thinking?" Rose asked, coming behind her, wrapping her warm arms around her.

Caitlin leaned back into the dark haired minister, laying her pen on the table. "Just things."

Rose kissed her cheek, then pulled up a chair and sat next to her. "Such as?"

"Today was such a good day with you and Laura, and I'm wondering if I missed anything by not having children. Not that I think I'd have been a good mother or anything. And thinking that I'll never write another song for the band again." She paused, rubbing her cheek distractedly. "Other melancholy thoughts – all summer, I've found myself listening at the bathroom door to make sure Laura was not tossing up her dinner. As far as I can tell, she's not resorted to bulimia while she's been with me, but some are pretty sneaky. I know she's working out on the treadmill over there, but not going overboard. I'm a little worried about Mike escalating, getting more possessive and trying to cut her out of her social circles. Wishing I had the courage to crawl in bed with you rather than making the couch. Stuff like that."

Rose reached for Caitlin's hand, taking it in hers. "Oh, honey, you've got so much going on in that brain of yours, don't you? Let's take them one at a time. Yes, today was wonderful, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. To be honest, I've never heard that biological clock ticking, but I've always been around college age or youth, so I've had quite a bit of parenting anyway. I can understand why you've felt like you needed to keep an ear and eye on Laura, it still scares me that we might have lost her earlier this year. I'm baffled by Mike's behavior, he's been in and out of the group since he started college, and never acted so possessive that I could see. Last, I'd love for you to crawl in to sleep with me, but worry about us setting a bad example. Besides, I worry that I couldn't behave myself, it's getting hard not to just take our relationship a step further."

"I know, honey. At least with Laura here, she can act like a chaperone," Caitlin pointed out.

"True," Rose laughed, leaning forward to kiss Caitlin. "Sad, but true."

The rest of the stay in Los Angeles had gone without incident. Laura finished her internship, and Rose stayed an additional day with Caitlin. Caitlin reluctantly left Rose at the airport, then went for a meeting with Beverly before packing up to make her own return the following week.

"Good morning," Beverly said as she sat down next to Caitlin in the conference room. She pulled out a folder, spreading out papers as she continued speaking. "I've been busy, as have your former band mates. Business is up with new bands renting studio time, and with your former band mates have all found gigs. I just signed a more established band to record here, and they want to talk to you about producing their next album. Best of all, that work that Laura did with The Gospel Crashers was far better than anyone expected. They'd like to work with her again if possible."

"Good morning to you," Caitlin replied, reluctantly pulling out reading glasses to look over the paperwork. "Why do these contracts have to be in such a small font? Very difficult to read."

"Dearheart, your arms are too short, that's the problem," Beverly teased. "I don't have a problem, but I've worn bifocals for a couple of years too. Any chance that Laura will come work with us again? Or work with you from Podunkville?"

"It's not Podunkville, Beverly, it's Brook Center," Caitlin answered indignantly. "It's civilized, we are within driving distance of IKEA."

"I don't understand the fascination with the store," Beverly countered. "Anyway, are you planning to work more from here or there?"

Caitlin stacked the papers and handed them back to Beverly. "If I could work completely from there, it would be perfect. Real seasons, okay, too much snow, but thousands of lakes, beautiful scenery, and best of all, Rose."

"I see." Beverly took the papers, shuffling them as she pondered how to say what she had been mulling over for several weeks. "Caitlin, if you're not going to work here more than a few weeks here and there, we may have to hire more producers to work with these new bands coming in, which would add to our expenses. Even if we do, you'll need to be here more for a few years to get them up to our standards." She laid the papers down, coming to the heart of the matter. "Or, you need to pull back more and be a silent partner, and let us hire someone really experienced to do your job."

Caitlin sat back, tilting her head to look into the extremely serious face of her manager and friend. "So you're basically pulling the rug out from me, eh? Or is this a power play?"

"No, I want these studios to make money, dear. Look, we've been friends a very long time, but I feel like I should warn you that the studio may not continue to do as well if you're not here to oversee productions. I know you're in love with Rose, but maybe it's time for you to make a decision. Either you come back here, or you stay here. This in between is not good for the business."

Caitlin turned it over in her head, running fingers over faint scars on the undersides of her forearms. She sat up abruptly, decision made. "To hell with it. Beverly, you know I think the world of you, and usually defer to you in business decisions, but I just can't stay here. Let's do this: I'll keep coming back every month for the next year while we find some really good producers, and I start working on building a studio in Brook Center. Lots of local bands there, multiple colleges and universities, and churches with excellent choirs and bands. Yes, it's cold there, and yes, it snows a lot, but Rose is there, so my heart is there. So quit trying to force my hand when we can easily compromise."

Beverly rolled back a little, stunned by the usually easy going Caitlin questioning her analysis. She realized that Caitlin was completely serious about trying to live in the midwest instead of eventually moving back to California. "Okay, we'll try it your way. Just be aware that I don't have any real contacts there for studio work."

"That's the beauty of dating a minister. She has her fingers on the pulse of the city, and can find all sorts of professionals. This meeting is over." She stood up, grabbing her backpack.

"Wait." Caitlin turned, one hand on the door. "Hey, I'm just trying to do what's best for you."

Caitlin set her pack down, walking back to Beverly. "I know, honey. But it still feels like you're talking to me as Harriet, not as Caitlin. It's time for me to live my own life." She reached out, tenderly cupping Beverly's cheek. "I don't want to get crossways with you. I want to be able to call you next year and invite you to my wedding, if it happens. Friends?"

"Friends." Beverly reached out, hugging Caitlin tight. She finally pulled back, saying quietly, "I just want you to be happy."

"Believe me, I am happy," Caitlin replied. She kissed Beverly's cheek, then left the room. Beverly watched her leave, then slowly gathered up her papers. Maybe the real issue, she thought reluctantly, was that she was a little jealous of Rose.

The rest of the summer went well. Caitlin found and rented space for a real studio, small, but large enough for two recording booths. Rose put out the word that a new studio was open and Caitlin was almost immediately overwhelmed with requests. Laura emailed and texted both women frequently, letting them know that she was doing well at home with her parents and that she had asked Mike to stop contacting her until school started again. Her parents had found a counselor for her, and Laura reported that she was seeing her counselor twice a week and felt she was making progress. Mike had reluctantly agreed to stop contacting her, but swore he would see her when she returned to classes.

Rose and Caitlin enjoyed what time they could spend together, exploring the area around them. Just before school started, Caitlin surprised Rose with a long weekend trip to the North Shore area, renting a two bedroom cabin not too far from Gooseberry Falls and the Split Rock area. They hiked along the path to see the lighthouse at Split Rock on the shores of Lake Superior, resting on some rocks overseeing the lake. "Who'd have thought that a lake would have tides and waves like this?" Caitlin mused, shading her eyes with her hands, looking over the huge lake. "It looks like an ocean!"

"It surprised me the first time I came here," Rose said, smiling at her companion's observations. "It is so beautiful up here, and not too many hours from the city. I like to take the fellowship group to this area in the fall, when the leaves are at peak color."

"Maybe you'll let me tag along when you do that," Caitlin mused, turning to face the minister. She fell silent, enjoying the feeling of the wind and the sun playing over her face. "Rose, I have a question."

"Sure, honey, what is it?" Rose had leaned back, holding her face up to the sun.

"When is the next confirmation class for adults at Victory Church?"

Rose sat up abruptly, eyes snapping open. "Why do you ask?"

Caitlin looked at her intently, slowly removing her sunglasses. "Because I am falling in love with you more every day, my dear, and we need to completely share our lives. I'm still not sure about the whole God thing, but I'm willing to learn more so I can share that part of your life. I've been doing some studying on my own, but I need a more structured class, and that usually Brother Carter leads the adult classes. This would show him that I am serious about you, and would let me share your life more fully. Who knows? I might even become a believer and join the church."

Rose reached for Caitlin's hand, squeezing gently, heart too full to say anything immediately. Finally, she cleared her throat and said, "As soon as we get back, I'll check the calendar and let you know. So you are that serious about us."

"Yes, and I've already made arrangements for Beverly to hire replacements for me so I can stop going to Los Angeles so often. I want to spend my life here, with you. Rose, I love you more than I've ever loved anyone before." Caitlin looked deeply into Beverly's deep brown eyes, declaring simply, "I want to honor you, love you, make a life with you. If we could get married here, I'd offer to marry you. As it is, I'd like to sign the domestic partnership registration with you in the city. Do you think that Brother Carter would be willing to do a ceremony for us, maybe later this fall or next spring?"

Rose stared, unable to speak for several minutes, finally gathering her wits enough to say, "I don't know, I'm not sure we've ever had a same sex ceremony at the church. I've done a few small ones at the ministry center on campus, but don't think Brother Carter has even conducted one. We'll have to talk to him when we get home." She swallowed hard. "So are you ready to take these steps? Learn about being a church member? Making a lifetime commitment to me?"

"Yes. Are you ready?" Caitlin countered.

"I honestly don't know. I do love you, I know that, but I'm not sure I'm ready to really come out of the closet yet," Beverly explained slowly. "Will you give me a little time?"

"All the time you need, baby," Caitlin said fervently. She stood up, holding her hand to help Rose up. "For now, let's go explore some more."

Several hours later, they had dined and retired to their cabin. Rose was still pondering Caitlin's offers, turning them over in her mind. She enjoyed the producer's company, appreciated the sacrifices Caitlin was willing to make. Was she willing to make any sacrifices in return? Give up living by herself, be willing to completely share her life? Be willing to acknowledge that she preferred women? Some in the congregation might take issue with a lesbian minister, true, and Brother Carter was not very warm toward the idea. Or was it just Caitlin he wasn't warm to? And was she ready to make a lifetime commitment to Caitlin? The questions seemed so easy when she asked others, but not so easy when she was trying to answer them herself.

"Penny for your thoughts," Caitlin said, dropping a shiny penny in Rose's hand. Rose looked up, smiling at her lover. "It's chilly, want me to start a fire?" Rose nodded, watching as Caitlin picked up the fireplace matches, striking one and lighting the tinder, slowly coaxing the flames along until she could start feeding the logs. Rose got up and turned off the lights, then sat on the cushions near the fireplace, watching as the glow started enveloping Caitlin, picking out gold highlights in her dark hair. If they pledged their lives together, would they have quiet nights like this, with a warm fire and a peaceful feeling? She thought of Caitlin's work with Laura, even sacrificing by appearing as Harriet to get Laura to start therapy. Yes, she realized, Caitlin would make the perfect partner.

"I'll marry you," she suddenly announced. Caitlin turned, surprise flitting across her face. "I don't want to face the rest of my life without you there, Cat."

"All right, then," Caitlin said, a slow, sensual smile crossing her face. "We'll decide on when later. I'm curious, what tipped your decision?"

"Your being able to connect with Laura, to help her," Rose answered promptly. She held out her hands, pulling Caitlin down on top of her, "and your sexy smile."

"I see," Caitlin said, leaning over the minister.

"And I love you with all of my heart, soul, and being," Rose continued, staring up into Caitlin's face, "and now I desperately need a kiss to seal our engagement."

"You got it, my Rose," Caitlin said, carefully laying on top of the minister, gently kissing her. Gentle kisses soon became passionate, and hands roamed freely.

Soon, Rose rolled over, taking charge and tugging Caitlin's shirt out of her jeans, sliding hands over the smooth warm skin. She leaned over, kissing Caitlin more firmly, then impatiently sat up, tugging off her own top and bra. Caitlin's eyes popped open as she scrambled to mirror the action, then to roll them over, watching her tan hands roaming over dark skin, circling Rose's nipples for the first time.

Their breathing was getting ragged with desire, and the warmth of the fire encouraged the pair to shed the rest of their clothes. Rose got up for a moment, dashing into one of the bedrooms, coming back with sheets and blankets, tossing them on the floor by the fire, pushing Caitlin down with erotic intent. She grabbed Caitlin's arms, holding them down as she started kissing and nibbling her way down her lover's body, letting go as she reverently held a breast before lowering her mouth over the nipple. Caitlin groaned with pure excitement, feeling her excitement shoot up as the warm mouth worked over first one nipple, then the other. Nothing had prepared her for this, none of the men she'd been with had ever made her this excited this quickly.

Rose found herself wanting to lose control, but she managed to keep enough control to slow the pace, to enjoy each sensation. They mapped out each other's bodies, learning as they went, paying close attention to what stroked the fires with each other. Time lost all meaning as they made love to each other, drawing it out, then finally giving in to the fierce rivers of desire and giving into their climaxes. They stared at each other for several minutes, panting, glassy eyed with aftershock, then pulled back together, wrapping the sheets around themselves, dozing until they cooled off.

"Need to stroke the fire," Caitlin finally observed as the room cooled off.

"I thought we did a great job of that," Rose purred, wantonly rubbing against the other woman. Caitlin grinned, kissing her soundly before pushing away long enough to poke the logs to bring back the flames. "We did," she answered, laying back down beside the dark woman. "Oh, God, did we ever." She kissed Rose again slowly, murmuring, "I can't seem to get enough of you."

"I'll give you a few days to stop that," Rose agreed in a sultry voice, trailing her fingers along Caitlin's back. Caitlin dipped her head, lavishing lazy attention to Rose's skin again. "I could really get used to this," Rose sighed, wrapping her legs around Caitlin's waist. Caitlin merely growled in agreement.

Caitlin enrolled in the adult confirmation class, and was hired to teach music production at the college for the fall semester. Rose relaxed and eager to share her new status as an engaged woman with her college kids, hoping they would understand. Caitlin had Amber Dawson, her original housing agent, look for a suitable house for them to share, preferably within a short drive of the church and the college, but large enough for both a home studio and a minister's study. Caitlin announced their engagement to Beverly, who was not real surprised, and was reluctantly supportive. Life was good.

Rose was nervous about announcing their engagement to her college group, so she convinced Caitlin to go with her. It was the second Sunday of the semester, and after the short service, Rose led the group to the dining room for their evening meal. She offered thanks, then opened up to the topic of the evening. "I thought tonight we would talk about relationships," she said casually, "since it is common to meet your future spouse at college. The Bible is full of examples of relationships, both good and bad. Would someone like to offer some examples?"

A pleasant hum arose as the students called out different examples of relationships found in both testaments. Rose let the hubbub wash over her as she passed around the dishes, taking some as each each went by, acutely aware of Caitlin's presence next to her. She tossed out questions about how you knew someone was the one, what marriage meant. Finally, she asked, "How many here think they have found their future spouse?"

Several hands shyly raised. She smiled, turning to Caitlin and nodding slightly as they raised their hands in unison. "Oh my God," Laura called out, "you two are engaged!"

Stunned silence for a moment, then loud voices raised in congratulations. Rose was quickly mobbed by well wishers as Caitlin laughed in delight at the sheer happiness of the moment. Laura was practically dancing for joy behind their chairs. Rose found herself pulled out of her chair and hugged by the mob, as some shyly offered congratulations to Caitlin as well. Laura pulled Caitlin out of her chair and hugged her hard, whispering in her ear, "My wish for my moms came true." Caitlin hugged back, feeling her smile take over her entire face. "Thanks," she whispered in Laura's ear.

Rose finally managed to get through all the well-wishers and to turn their attention back to dinner. She and Caitlin answered questions about when the wedding would be (some time in the next few months), where they would live (working on it), what they would wear (undecided) and if either would wear engagement rings (hadn't considered it yet.) "I think it's so cool that you've found your future wife," the typical comment ran. A few of the students seemed to be taken aback by the idea of a same sex couple, but most treated is as perfectly ordinary to have two women announce their engagement.

After the evening was over, Caitlin followed Rose to her apartment for a few minutes before going to her house. "That went better than we hoped," she commented as she took off her coat.

"It did. So what did Laura tell you that made you smile so much?" Rose asked as she unlocked the door and let them in.

Caitlin laughed, then repeated, "She said, 'My wish for my moms came true.' It's a bit weird to hear her say that since she could be my daughter, age wise."

Rose looked at her thoughtfully as she kicked off her shoes and sat on the couch. "Really? Either we're pretty old, or she's younger than I thought. It must be that Laura is really too young for college and came in under early admission."

Caitlin laughed again, making Rose smile. Rose delighted in Caitlin's laugh, so different than the hoarse growl of her former alter ego, Harriet. "Too bad it's so late, or I'd suggest we celebrate our telling the group."

Rose playfully swatted her arm. "Woman, I'm still worn out from last night! I didn't dream that I'd become engaged to a sex manic."

"Funny, I was about to say the same thing," Caitlin drawled.

"Go on with you. Maybe we should get married on St. Paddy's Day, even though neither of us are Irish. Lots of blarney going on here."

"How do you know I'm not Irish?" Rose asked in a perfect Irish lilt.

Caitlin looked surprised, then relaxed as Rose started laughing. "You got me, girlfriend. Seriously, we need to set a date soon, love. Oh, that reminds me, Amber has a couple of houses for us to look at this week. How about Tuesday night? Isn't that your free night?"

"Yes."Rose yawned, stretching her arms, then admitted, "Okay, getting tired now. I wish you could stay, but I need my sleep."

"Understood." Caitlin leaned over, lightly kissing her fiance. "Sweet dreams, dearest Rose."

"Sweet dreams, my Cat," Rose echoed, standing to show her girlfriend out the door. "And God bless."

"Turnabout is fair play," Rose announced one Sunday evening as she entered Caitlin's house.

"What? What turnabout?" Caitlin mumbled through a kiss. Rose pulled back to take off her coat as her sweetheart repeated, "What turnabout, Rose?"

"Well, I have met Beverly and the guys in the band, who seem to constitute your family. It's only fair that you meet my family now." Rose showed a flash of white teeth in cocoa skin.

"But I met Carter and Camilla," Caitlin said, really confused. She hung up Rose's coat in the entry closet, then followed her beloved into the kitchen, where dinner was starting to come together. "So who is left?"

Rose grinned, kissing Caitlin again, then announced, "We've been invited next weekend to Katie and Alan's house. Katie is my cousin who is a year younger, and was as close to as sister as I ever had. We grew up in houses on the same block, and spent lots of time together. I've told Katie that she needs to meet someone special, so she's chomping at the bit to see you."

"Oh Lord," Caitlin groaned, "please just take me now. I guess I thought since your parents and my parents are all dead, we didn't have to deal with the meeting the family routine." Rose pouted until Caitlin relented. "Okay, if Brother Carter is fine with you skipping church, I'm fine with meeting your family." She walked over to the stove, stirring the gravy, then checking on the rolls before turning back to face her beloved. "So, do you think they will be okay with me being the wrong skin color and the wrong gender?"

"Dearheart, Alan is paler than you are, so the skin color is not an issue. I hadn't thought about gender." Rose's smile faded for a moment, replaced by a concerned look. "I've just gotten used to people accepting us as a couple at the church and the college."

Caitlin and Rose smoothly finished pulling dinner together and sat in the dining room. After Rose gave thanks, Caitlin said quietly, "It's only fair I should meet your family. When do we leave?"

Rose grinned. "Friday night. It's just a two hour drive. Thank you, Cat."

"You're welcome, Reverend Rose." Caitlin sighed inside. What she gotten herself into this time?

Caitlin nervously shut off the Jeep engine, girding herself to meet Rose's beloved cousin Katie. She really wasn't prepared for Katie, a stocky, dark skinned woman just a little taller than she was, to come bursting out of the house and flying down the steps. "Rosie!" Katie bellowed. She grabbed her cousin as Rose barely had time to step down from the Jeep.

"Katie bear!" Rose yelled, squeezing her cousin around the waist. They kissed each other soundly on the cheek, then hugged each other firmly, swaying back and forth. "Oh, it is so very good to see you," Rose said, pulling back so she could look at her cousin. "How is Alan? How's Derek and Amy?"

"The rapscallion husband is fine, just running a little late from the hardware store. He went to get a new knob for the back door since his son managed to break the other one." Katie squeezed Rose again, then finally noticed Caitlin. "So who have we here?"

Caitlin came around the Jeep and held out her hand. "Caitlin Grant, ma'am."

"Ah, the mystery woman. Well, girlfriends, get yourselves in the house. Amy's decided to become a chef, so I should really supervise." Katie flashed a huge grin. She slung an arm around both women, ushering them into the comfortable brick home.

After a leisurely dinner, Katie sent Derek out to get their bags and to install them in the guest room. "We'll catch up more tomorrow," Katie promised, "but you two look beat, and it is after eleven. Fresh sheets on the bed, fresh towels laid out. We'll send Alan and the kids out to the park for the day and have a day to catch up. Good night, sleep well. Don't hesitate to let me know if I can do anything for you." She hugged and kissed Rose, then said, "Stand still," to Caitlin. The musician stood stock still, then relaxed as Katie simply hugged her gently, without the bone crunching intensity she'd used on Rose.

Door shut and pajamas on, Caitlin finally asked, "Is it always this much of controlled chaos?"

Rose slipped under the covers, snuggling into Caitlin's waiting arms. "Oh, no, dear, sometimes it is much more. Good night, Cat." She kissed her beloved quickly, then snuggled down again, dropping off to sleep. Caitlin was prepared to wait for sleep to come, and was surprised to find herself drifting off so soon.

The next day started out loudly as the two teens of the house ran through, yelling for clothes, breakfast, and anything else in their heads. Alan rounded them up quickly and managed to get them off to the state park before they drove everyone too crazy. Finally, the house was relatively quiet, and Katie poured them each another cup of her excellent coffee. "Time flies, I remember when those two brats were born," Katie harrumphed as she led the other women into the comfortable den. "Have a seat and let's have a good chin wag."

Caitlin quirked an eyebrow as she sipped her coffee, wondering if Rose was going to stay on script. They had agreed that Rose would gently lead the discussion to the subject of their engagement, reassuring Katie that it was okay for them to be together. "Nice house," Caitlin commented, still waiting for Rose to begin.

Katie grabbed the conversational bull by the horns and asked point blank, "How did you two meet?"

Rose found her voice and answered, "Caitlin was in the hospital while I was making rounds. She was in the room one of my parishioners was supposed to be in, but Mrs. Brown had already been dismissed."

Caitlin glanced over fondly, taking up the tale. "Let's just say I was intrigued from the start. I was in town on business, and was amazed that someone really would pray over me."

"What were you in for?" Katie asked point blank.

Caitlin chuckled, leaning forward to set her mug on the table. "Allergic reaction to rum. I was at a party and thought I'd grabbed a soda, but it was a rum and Coke instead."

Rose said, "I was exhausted that night, but there was something about Caitlin that drew my attention." She found herself sighing contentedly without thinking. "Since she didn't have anyone in town, I gave her my business card and told her to call if she needed anything."

Katie murmured, "Sounds romantic."

"It-what?" Rose spluttered, coughing as the coffee went down wrong.

"Girl, we've known each other since we can remember, and I know you. You went and fell in love with this woman." Katie chortled, pleased with herself.

Caitlin laughed as Rose kept just staring at her cousin, then took pity. "It wasn't completely love and first sight, but pretty close. So, I have to ask, am I really Rose's first girlfriend? I'll come clean, I had some fleeting attractions in college, but never acted on them."

Katie chuckled. "Oh, Caitlin, honey, Rose never pursued, but she'd get to be close friends with a girl, then the girl would fall for a boy, and I'd have to help her pick up the pieces. Now, how long have you two been dating? More importantly, what's your status?"

The lovers glanced at each other. Rose took Caitlin's hand in hers, and said, "We've been dating since late spring, and just announced our engagement."

"Yes!" Katie yelled. "Rose, it's about damned time you got hitched!"

"So, no qualms?" Rose asked.

Katie came over and plopped on the couch between them, slinging an arm around them both. "I married Alan, so why should I care if you marry a white girl?" She turned to Caitlin. "You treat my cousin right, or I'll come after you."

"Oh, yes ma'am!" Caitlin agreed quickly, "I'll treat her with kid gloves."

"A likely story," Katie said. "This calls for a celebration. We're going shopping! So when is the happy date?"

"Okay, it's going to be rather quick, since we have less than two months, but how about Saturday, December 12th? The church will already be decorated for Christmas, you will have finished your confirmation classes, and it will be right before finals, so the college group will still be here. And, Brother Carter said I could have the whole week off after as our honeymoon. What do you think?" Rose finished anxiously, searching Caitlin's face for an answer.

Caitlin made a big production of checking her calendar, then grinned. "Great! I'm not giving finals anyway, just grading final projects, and I should have that done before the 12th. Did Brother Carter agree to perform the wedding?"

"Yes. He has come so far in such a short time, he said that if he didn't, Camilla said she would do it herself. So are we both wearing dresses, tuxes, or what?"

Caitlin tapped her chin thoughtfully, then said, "At risk of sounding so cliched, how about you wear a dress and I wear a tux? Our Realtor has a cousin who is a wedding planner and just had a cancellation for December, so we can get her to do it quickly. Just have to change the names on the cakes and invitations and such. Unless you'd rather be up there in your minister's robe."

"No, silly." Rose kissed her beloved on the nose, then continued. "I'm just so excited I could burst. I never understood the excitement of planning a wedding before, but now I do." She sighed, deeply content. "Oh, which one of us should Laura stand with?"

Caitlin answered immediately, "Me. I can't see Beverly being my best man, or best person, and your cousin Katie would have kittens if you didn't ask her to be your matron of honor. And I quote, 'Girl, it's taken you long enough to get yourself married off, and to finally announce the date! I must be there!'"

Rose burst into peals of laughter at the dead on impression of her favorite cousin. "Yes, I was her matron of honor when she married Alan, so it is high time to return the favor." She pondered the question of clothing while still chuckling over the imitation of Katie. Finally, she announced, "Okay, I'll do the dress, you do the tuxedo. What about-"

"Shush. Let Katie, the wedding planner, and me take care of everything. You always take care of everyone else, let me do this for you." Caitlin reached out, gently stroking her beloved's dark face. "Oh, I have a surprise for you." She pulled out two rings from her slacks pocket. "Think these will say, 'engaged'?"

Rose gasped at the beautiful rings. Caitlin slid the warm yellow gold ring on Rose's finger, classic square cut diamond surrounded by two smaller diamonds. She let Rose slide the matching white gold ring on her own finger. "Oh, Cat, these definitely say engaged. I suppose the bands go with them?"

"Yes, but you don't get to see them until the wedding. Would you believe that Beverly was the one to pick these out for us?" Caitlin asked proudly.

"I'm shocked. Will she come to the wedding?" Rose asked hopefully. Beverly's waffling, especially with Katie's wholehearted acceptance, was grating on Caitlin's nerves, Rose knew.

"I don't know yet." Caitlin rubbed her face, tired of wondering if Beverly would or would not attend. "Oh well, she'll miss a damn good party if she doesn't come."

"That's right." Rose kissed her Cat deeply, then pulled back reluctantly. "I guess we should look over the vows, since Brother Carter will want to know which ones we pick, or if we want to write our own."

"Huh. Maybe we should adapt more traditional ones, make them work for us. Ok, I'll grab some pens and paper and we can get to work. This should be interesting." Caitlin rose to get pens and paper.

The rest of the semester seemed to fly by for the couple. Once the confirmation classes were over, Caitlin took the big step of joining the church. She privately still had some reservations, but figured it was better for Rose's career to be a member. She also threw herself into planning the wedding and the honeymoon, as well as the class on music production at the college. Rose felt like she was in a dream, sometimes wondering if she would wake up to find it all gone.

The couple visited house after house with their Realtor, never finding the right one until Caitlin finally suggested that she offer to buy the house she'd been renting. "After all," she told Amber during lunch one day, "there's still plenty of room in the master closet for Rose's clothes, and I can move my big electronics to the studio. We can have two offices there, and it's fairly close to the church and the college. What do you think?"

"Let me make an offer. I have a feeling the owner will agree quickly, she's recently retired and wants to move closer to her children in Oregon. I should have an answer soon. What range are you looking at?" Amber asked.

"You know I'm good for it. Just offer market rate or a few thousand higher. I want to get this settled soon, it's almost Thanksgiving. I appreciate it, Amber." Caitlin said.

"Any time, Caitlin. My best to Rose."

Caitlin grabbed the ticket for lunch, knowing Amber would not resist. She settled the bill, then drove back to campus for office hours. She had just unlocked the door to her office when Laura appeared. "Hey, honey, how's life?" Caitlin asked the younger woman.

"It's okay, I guess," Laura replied slowly. Caitlin threw a sharp look at her as she took off her coat and moved to log in to the network. "Can I hang with you for a little bit?"

"Sure, Laura, you know my door is open to you. What's on your mind?" Caitlin asked, a little concerned about her friend.

Laura dropped her backpack beside the chair and shrugged out of her coat. "I'm a little worried. I asked Mike to stay away after this summer, and he has for the most part, but recently I've seen him hanging out in the common area of my dorm. He caught up with me after lunch today and asked to talk, just talk, so we went to the student center for a while. He claims he's changed, and that he wants to start seeing me again, that it was wrong for him to be so possessive. I'm torn, Caitlin, part of me still loves him, but part of me is wary of him. What should I do?"

Caitlin looked intently at the young blonde, noting that her face was thinner and drawn again. "Laura, are you eating enough?"

"I thought so. I may have skipped a few meals here and there, I'm carrying sixteen hours this semester and working with you at the studios." Laura replied quietly.

"You have my permission to tell me if I'm causing you to skip meals," Caitlin stated. "Back to Mike, has he had counseling? Have you told this to your counselor?"

Laura squirmed uncomfortably in her seat. "I stopped going to counseling, Caitlin, I'm sorry. I ran out of hours in the day and I'm not sure it was doing any good. I'm not cutting any more, so that's good. I talk to my parents once a week, just like Rose made me promise to do."

Caitlin ran her hands through her dark hair, wondering how to proceed. Damn it, she didn't have a degree in counseling! Taking a deep breath, she said gently, "Laura, you really need to get back to counseling. If you don't like the one at school, we'll find you someone else, I know Rose knows a lot of good folks in town. If you're worried about money, I'll pay for the sessions. Just please get help. Now, about Mike, I'm not sure what to advise you. Has he had counseling?"

"He said he did. He didn't even try to hug me, so maybe he's learning," Laura said hopefully.

"Okay. So the only advice I have is only see him in public places around a lot of people."Caitlin rubbed her hands through her hair. "I wish Rose had time to talk to him, get her take on the situation."

"Me too. Speaking of Rose, have you decided on your wedding colors? Am I wearing a dress or a tuxedo?" Laura asked, still overjoyed to be in the wedding.

Caitlin smiled, relaxing and leaning back. "Either way, just let me know what you'd like to do. The wedding planner has us using red, green, white, and black. I'm in a black tuxedo with a dark red tie and vest. Rose is wearing a white silk gown, very formal, with lace and a formal train. Her cousin is wearing a green dress with a dark red sash. So you could either wear a green dress or a tuxedo to match mine. I just haven't decided on tails or not. Maybe you should go with me to the shop, I'm supposed to get fitted this week. You have any free time?"

"Tomorrow morning, my accounting class is canceled. The professor is presenting at a conference."

"Great, I'll pick you up at your dorm, say, 9:00? We can grab breakfast before going to the store."

Laura nodded, reaching into her bag for her calendar. "I'll be ready. Hey, thanks, Caitlin, for everything."

"Any time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some projects to grade." Caitlin made gently shooing motions at the student, then turned back to the stack of projects. Not her favorite part of teaching, she had decided.

"How was Thanksgiving?" Mike asked casually as he followed Laura to a table at the coffee shop. "Mine was great, saw the folks, watched football with my brother and dad, got caught up on homework."

"It was fine, Mike," Laura answered, setting down her coffee and bagel. "My folks are great, saw a few friends from high school." She sipped her coffee, looking at Mike's friendly, open face. Can I trust him? she wondered.

"How are the wedding plans?" he asked, spreading cream cheese on his bagel.

She relaxed a bit. Mike had initially blown up when he found out that she was in Caitlin and Rose's wedding, but said he understood now that just because she was in the wedding did not make her gay. "Great. Caitlin and I are wearing tuxedos with red vests and ties, and Rose is wearing a beautiful white dress. I got to see the dress, it is just amazing. Rose's cousin Katie is wearing a green dress with a matching red sash. The church will be decorated for Christmas already, and they're having the reception in the great hall at church. Rose is so popular that I think they'll more than fill the church. We may have to give out tickets."

Mike laughed, a very pleasant sound. "Tickets, eh? Think they'll mind if I come?"

"I don't see why not. The entire fellowship from is being invited, you should receive yours in the mail this week. I'm so excited, Mike, this should be the highlight of the season."

"I guess so." He sipped his coffee, looking at her over the lid, appraising her. She looked damned good, even if she was a little on the skinny side. He wanted to badly to run his fingers through her hair, although he really wished she'd grow it out, like a proper woman should. The short cut was practical, he supposed, but she would look so elegant with a loose knot at her neck, and a flowing dress. A little makeup would help. "So you're wearing a tuxedo? That should be different." And wrong, his mind supplied.

"Yes. It was a little weird getting fitted, but I guess more women are wearing tuxes for events, because they didn't blink an eye," Laura reported excitedly. "Caitlin will look great, very elegant. She found some really onyx stud earrings to go with the cufflinks and shirt studs. Katie is bringing their grandmother's diamond drop necklace and earrings for Rose to wear. Mike, I can hardly wait, it should be grand."

The continued to chat about friends and school until it was time to leave. Before they parted, Mike leaned over and gave Laura a light kiss on the cheek. "It's good to talk with you again," he said. "Hey, there's a group of us going to the movies tomorrow night. Want to join?"

"Sorry, I have a big paper due at the end of the week, and need to finish it. Can I take a raincheck?"

"Sure," he said, visibly disappointed. "See you."

"Bye, Mike," she said, starting off for class. As she walked toward her next class, she wondered for the thousandth time if he had really changed, or not. It was nice to talk to him, and he was very handsome, and sweet. Maybe they could start dating again. She'd have to talk to her counselor about it.

Brother Carter initially had reservations about both Caitlin and the wedding, but had slowly become convinced that Caitlin was the best choice for Rose. She had been respectful during the confirmation classes, but had asked difficult questions, pushing him to delve deep into his own studies for the answers. She had joined the church, and the church finance committee mentioned recently that they had been informed of a fairly sizable anonymous donation, which he suspected was from Caitlin. Now, standing in the front of the sanctuary, waiting for the music to start, he was filled with joy for the two women he was about to unite. He was so glad that by and large, the congregation had easily accepted this new development, and only a few had departed in protest.

Neither Caitlin nor Rose had living parents, so Rose asked her aunt and uncle to stand in for her parents. Caitlin had Beverly and her husband Tim stand in for her parents. Carter nodded to Camilla, who lifted her baton to start the string quartet playing. It's not every day that you see a wedding party of all women, he thought as Laura escorted Katie down the aisle. They were followed by Caitlin escorting Beverly, then the music changed to the traditional strains as John and Shirley majestically escorted their niece down the aisle. Carter's heart swelled with happiness and love for his sister in Christ as she kissed her relatives before they sat and she continued up to the altar to join Caitlin. "Dearly beloved," Carter started, "we are gathered here in the sight of God to join these two women in the holy estate of marriage."

The wedding went beautifully, and the reception was even better. Caitlin and Rose stood for some time in the reception line, then led the charge to the dance floor. Laura commented to Beverly, "They look so beautiful together."

"Yes, they do," Beverly reluctantly agreed. Before she could say more, Caitlin came over and asked her to dance. Beverly turned to Tim, who merely smiled, and followed Caitlin to the dance floor. "So you're married now," she said, unable to think of anything more brilliant to say.

"That I am," Caitlin agreed, "and I appreciate you coming to my wedding. I was starting to think you wouldn't come, especially when I asked you to stand in as my parents."

"Well, we've been friends a long time, and I just have to trust your judgment sometimes," Beverly acknowledged reluctantly. "By the way, the album has just been certified platinum."

Caitlin laughed as she swirled her manager around. "Only you would think of business during a wedding reception. Beverly, I adore you, I truly do, but please, no more shop talk." The song wound down to an end, and she kissed her friend on the cheek. "Now go dance with handsome over there before I go ask him to dance." Beverly hugged her friend tightly, then released her to go dance with her husband.

Rose took Katie out to the dance floor, saying, "I guess all those summers of practice will pay off now. Remember how we used to watch those shows and dance in your living room?"

"Girl, I do, but I was starting to think I'd never have the chance to dance at your wedding. I must say, you and Caitlin look so good together, and I can tell that she absolutely adores you. My parents were so happy to have you ask them to stand in for your dearly departed parents, I tell you." Katie elegantly swung her cousin in time with the music, overjoyed that she was finally married! "Alan has been teasing me all week about was I going to dance with the bride or the groom, so I informed that husband of mine that I'd dance with both!"

Rose laughed happily, hugging her cousin. "All right, Katie bear." She released her matron of honor as the song ended. "If you want to dance with my other half, you'd better hurry up, it seems that she has a long line of partners tonight!"

"But you're the only one that counts," Katie fired back impishly. Rose just smiled as her cousin pushed her way over to Caitlin, demanding a chance to dance with her.

"Rose, may I dance with you?" Rose turned to see Laura standing there, holding out a hand.

"You certainly may," Rose replied, taking her hand. "I saw you dancing with Mike earlier, are you guys okay now?" she asked as they started moving to the music.

"I think so. He seems a little upset that I'm still in a tux and didn't change into 'a proper dress' for the reception, but I told him he could just stuff it if he didn't like it. We've been seeing each other for coffee lately, and he says he's been to a counselor. Anyway, I just wanted to say that that is the best wedding I've ever been to, hands down." Laura rushed through her speech, waiting for Rose's reply.

"Why, thank you, sweetheart." Rose beamed at her young friend. "I enjoyed it myself."

"In fact, if I ever get married, I want you to do my wedding," Laura said boldly.

"Will do, Laura, just find the proper groom." She smiled, teeth dazzlingly white against her dark face. "Or bride."

Laura laughed as she twirled Rose around. "I love the tux, and you and Caitlin are perfect together, but I think I'll stick with looking for a groom, not a bride." The song ended, and Rose kissed Laura on the cheek before taking off to find her partner for another dance.

Caitlin surprised Rose with a trip to San Antonio, Texas, for their honeymoon. "I thought about romantic places like Paris, but this was my favorite city to visit on tour," she explained when they walked into their hotel room. "There's just something about the city that I love, with all the history, the old churches, the Riverwalk, just a great place. I hope you don't mind."

"Me? No, as long as I'm with you," Rose answered, tossing her coat on a chair. "Remember, where you go, I go, your people are my people."

"Yes, who thought that passage from Ruth would be so darned appropriate?" Caitlin said, smiling.

"Shall we become one flesh?" Rose asked, smiling wickedly as she trailed a hand down her partner's breast. Caitlin shivered with delight, taking the hand and kissing it. Rose took the lead, pushing Caitlin down on the bed, kissing her deeply.

Several days later, they had just left Sea World, after a full day of fun, intent on finding a place for dinner. Rose's phone rang and she fished it out of her pocket, looking a little troubled as she noticed who the caller was. "Rose Grant," she said as Caitlin unlocked the car. She listened to the caller, her face growing still, then horrified. "Mr. Wilson, we'll catch the next flight back," she said in a shaky voice, "don't worry, you did the right thing. We'll come home immediately." She closed her phone, holding it as she buckled her seatbelt. "Just go back to the hotel, please," she pleaded as Caitlin looked at her.

A short time later, they arrived in the room and Caitlin asked, "What's going on, Rose? Was that Laura's dad?"

"Yes. She's in the hospital, beaten pretty badly, and is in the ICU, just out of surgery. God, honey, we need to get back immediately, is there any way we can change our flights?"

Caitlin took her in her arms, holding her partner close, feeling her trembling. "Don't worry, baby, I'll take care of it. Go take a hot shower, and let me make arrangements. I'll order room service."

"I don't feel like eating," Rose mumbled distractedly.

Caitlin looked at Rose seriously, and said, "I know, but you need to, lunch was nearly over eight hours ago. Now go and let me take care of things." She waited until Rose disappeared into the bathroom, then pulled out her phone and looked up a number. "Hey, Roxanne, do you still do chartered flights? Yeah, I need a big favor and will pay anything you need. I need a jet for two from San Antonio to the Twin Cities airport pronto. I can get us to the airport in a couple of hours. Great, I owe you." She disconnected the call and picked up the room phone to order dinner.

After flying back to the Twin Cities and retrieving the Jeep, they drove immediately to the hospital. A gentle snow was falling, painting a peaceful picture at odds with their moods. Caitlin and Rose grimly walked through the snow that was starting to blanket the hospital parking lot to the building, going through all too familiar doors. Rose led the way to ICU, walking to the nurses' station and speaking with them for a moment before coming back to Caitlin. "The Wilsons are in the waiting room," she said quietly. Caitlin took her hand, walking down the hallway to the waiting room with her, only dropping it when they went through the doors.

"Reverend Grant," Liana Wilson said, rising from her chair, "she's still in surgery."

Ray Wilson added, "We're glad you were able to make it so quickly. I thought you'd just get getting on a plane now."

"I called in a favor and got us on a private plane," Caitlin stated, "so what happened?"

"Laura called us just after her last final, saying she was going back to her room to finish packing and would drive home, hoping to beat the snow. The phone rang again in a few hours, this time her roommate in near hysterics saying she'd just called 911 because she came in to find Laura in a pool of blood, with her clothes torn. The police have already detained Mike since Eliza told the police that Laura had a sketchy history with him. Her mother and I hated to interrupt your honeymoon, but we knew Laura would want you here."

"It's okay," Rose said, pulling on the familiar role of spiritual comforter. "Shall we pray?" The four stood in a small circle, holding hands while Rose offered their concerns and fears to God, asking for comfort and guidance through the next few days. "In Christ's name, amen," she concluded just as the surgeon walked up.

"I'm Dr. Allan Springer. Are you the Wilsons?" he asked.

"I'm Ray Wilson, this is my wife Liana Wilson, and this is Reverend Rose Grant and her partner, Caitlin Grant," Ray said, pointing out each in turn. "How is our daughter, Dr. Springer?"

"Only time will tell," the doctor said. "She had massive internal injuries, broken ribs, bruised spleen and kidneys, internal bleeding, and some swelling in the brain. One of the ribs missed her lungs by a whisker, so at least she didn't have that to deal with. I'm off to talk to the police in a moment, document the extent of the injuries." He hesitated, then said, "It looks like she was raped as well, so we had to do a rape kit before we could prep her for surgery. I'm sorry to give such bad news, but at least she was found fairly quickly. I'm sure the police will talk to you soon as well."

"How soon until we can see her?" Liana asked, trembling hands belying her steady voice.

Dr. Springer glanced at the clock on the wall, then said, "I'd say at least an hour before she wakes up and is able to receive visitors. And then only two at a time, for a few minutes. She looks pretty terrible, but we'll take the best care of her humanly possible." He glanced down the hall, spotting a uniformed officer and another woman. "Excuse me, I need to go give my statement to Joan Harris, the detective over there. She's good, handled lots of cases for the university." He briefly shook hands with everyone, then left.

Over the next hour, Caitlin kept busy fetching coffee and granola bars, and quietly arranging with the accounting office to bill her for the charges not covered by insurance. The Wilsons spoke with Detective Harris, and Rose found Dr. Springer and talked with him for several minutes. "Rose, I'm honestly not sure she will make it, and if that boy did this, I'd love to strangle him with my bare hands," the surgeon said with quiet intensity. "No reason to beat her nearly to death, and he did it with his bare hands. My God, I don't understand these monsters. We're also having her tested for STDs, but you don't have to let her parents know. She a member of your church?"

"Yes, and she was in our wedding," Rose answered.

"Ah. Bad timing, but congratulations on your marriage." The doctor smiled tiredly. "You deserve the best, and I sincerely hope she is the best for you."

"Thank you, Allan. I guess you noticed Laura's scarring?" Rose asked anxiously. "She's been cutting her arms, and Caitlin and I got her to go to counseling, it was a little out of my expertise."

"I did notice, but since they were old scars, I didn't dwell on it. I'll order a few tests to make sure she doesn't have any nasty bacteria from the cutting going through her system as well. I need to get back. I'm glad you're here for the family." Dr. Springer patted her on the shoulder, then strode away quickly. Rose watched him walk away, then slowly went back to the family.

After a bit, the Wilsons had talked with the detective, then were able to go see Laura. They came back to the waiting room, looking ashen, but insisted that Rose and Caitlin go see her now. Rose gratefully took Caitlin's hand as they walked into ICU, following the nurse into Laura's room. As they entered, Rose nearly lost her balance when she saw just how badly her young friend had been beaten. Laura turned her head and croaked, "You're here."

"Yes, baby, we're here," Rose said, regaining her composure, taking Laura's free hand in hers. "We flew back as soon as your dad called."

"Good." Laura paused, eyelids fluttering for a second before wearily opening back up. "I told the detective everything. Mike came to my door, said he wanted to wish me Merry Christmas, then started kissing me. I resisted, and he beat me, saying I was turning into a dyke just like you. That's the last I remember before waking up here." She stopped, sucking in several painful breaths before continuing. "If I die, will you do my funeral?"

Rose had to swallow the sudden lump in her throat before promising, "I will, but let's hope I don't have to."

Laura nodded once, then shifted her gaze to Caitlin. "No new cuts."

"Good," Caitlin replied, laying a hand on Laura's shoulder. "I'm glad your roommate found you when she did."

"You came back from your honeymoon," the student mumbled through a yawn.

"Sweetie, you're important to us, so of course we came back." Caitlin said soothingly, leaning down to kiss Laura's cheek. "We'd better go before we get tossed out."

"Okay." Laura managed to open her eyes, looking directly at the minister. "Rose, please pray for me, I'm too tired to do it for myself. I love you guys."

"We love you too," Rose said softly, leaning to kiss the student's cheek. "We'll check on you in the morning. In the meanwhile, we'll take care of your parents."

"I'd appreciate that," Laura said, closing her eyes again.

The minister and the producer walked slowly back to the waiting room, each lost in her own thoughts, each wondering if they could have done something more to keep Laura safe. They paused before entering the waiting room, seeking each other's eyes, seeking any sort of comfort. Rose asked quietly, "What more can we do?"

Caitlin answered, "I'm not sure. I've already arranged to pay anything the insurance doesn't cover. I wonder if they have a hotel room? There's a good hotel next to the hospital, and I could go reserve a room. What do you think?"

Rose rubbed her face wearily. "I guess so. We'll ask them, and if they resist, we'll say the church has a special fund or something. I just can't believe this is happening, Cat, but we'll have to deal with it later." She kissed her wife lightly on the lips, then asked, "Ready?"

"I suppose so."

They walked back into the waiting room and went to sit with the Wilsons. Rose asked, "How are you two holding up?"

Liana answered, "I guess as well as can be expected. Ray and I were just talking, we were in such a rush that we didn't think about a hotel. Are there any nearby?"

"Yes, next door," Rose answered smoothly, "and Caitlin was just asking if you had a reservation."

"Tell you what," Caitlin interjected, "Ray, why don't you and I go get the room squared away. Did you bring any luggage?"

"Yes, a couple of overnight bags," Liana answered. "Ray, go with Caitlin. You two are a blessing to us."

As soon as Caitlin and Ray had left, Liana turned to Rose and asked, "What did we do wrong, Rose? I thought that Laura had convinced Mike to stay away. Why would she let him get so close?"

"I don't know, Liana, and I'm heartsick too," Rose answered wearily. "All I know is that she's been to the counseling center on campus, and has been seeing me for additional counseling. She was doing so well this summer and this fall, and Mike had been staying away. He was supposedly getting counseling as well, but I can't verify that. What did she tell you about the beating?"

Liana sat back in her chair, rubbing her forehead distractedly. "She said that he came to her room to wish her Merry Christmas, then started ranting about her turning into a dyke because she was hanging around you two. The boy must have a screw loose, if being around gay people made you gay, then it would stand to reason that being around straight people would make gays go straight." She paused, then continued. "Rose, I'm sorry we interrupted your honeymoon, but we figured Laura would want to see you when she woke up from surgery."

"Liana, don't worry about it. God called me to minister to His children all of the time, not just when it is convenient for me. Anything we can do for you, just let me know."

Liana smiled faintly. "I will. I still can't even figure out when Laura started all of these behaviors, she was such a quiet child and teenager. Never gave us any trouble. Of course, our hometown is small enough that it's easy to keep track of your children. I don't remember seeing her with strange cuts on her arms before she graduated."

"Caitlin says that sometimes when the pressure overwhelms her, she still has to remind herself not to cut. It's a control issue, as I understand it." Rose explained.

"Oh?" asked the girl's mother.

"Caitlin did some cutting and flirted with anorexia when she was college age, so she's a good one for Laura to talk to."

Liana mused this over, then finally said, "Well, Ray and I do appreciate you being here for her. Oh, I didn't have a chance to say earlier, but your wedding was beautiful. You and Caitlin are very lucky to have found each other."

Rose smiled slowly. "Yes, we are blessed." She started to say more, but Ray and Caitlin walked up and announced that the room was ready. After a brief discussion, the two couples decided to take turns sitting in the waiting room, just in case there were any changes. The Wilsons left to go to the hotel, and Rose turned to her wife. "Cat, thank you so much for making the arrangements to get us back. I guess having someone with connections is handy."

Caitlin smiled. "I have connections here, but you have connections upstairs." She leaned over, brushing a light kiss on Rose's cheek. "And you need to use those connections, as I'm pretty worried about Laura. I hope she comes through okay."

"Me too." Rose was caught by a jaw splitting yawn. "Sorry."

"Long day. Come on, honey, let's go sit on the couch over there so you won't fall asleep in a chair." Rose stood wearily, following Caitlin to the couch. Minutes later, the minister was snoozing peacefully on her wife's shoulder. Caitlin sat, gently stroking Rose's arms as she let sleep claim her as well.

Laura's recovery was slow and fitful. She was moved out of ICU after several days, but had to stay in the hospital until Christmas Eve. While Rose reluctantly left to assist with the Christmas services, Caitlin helped the Wilsons move Laura back home until she fully healed. The doctors wanted her to stay out of school for the spring semester to make sure she fully recovered from her injuries, while the police continued to build the case against Mike.

Caitlin and Rose went to visit the Wilsons after Christmas. "We appreciate you asking us to stay for a few days," Rose said to Liana and Ray as the two couples sat around the kitchen table for breakfast. "How is Laura?"

Ray answered, "She's not recovering as fast as she should. Her doctor here is ordering additional tests tomorrow, says he thinks she may have an infection. She keeps running fever and is so weak, and isn't able to eat much. Liana and I thought that maybe having you two here would help her spirits at least."

"We're happy to help," Caitlin chimed in.

"We do appreciate it," Liana said. "More coffee, anyone?"

After breakfast, Caitlin insisted on helping with the dishes while Rose went back to Laura's room. "Knock, knock," she called out, lightly rapping on the doorframe to the girl's bedroom.

"Oh, hey, come in," Laura said weakly. "So the folks rousted you out again? I told they didn't have to do that. You and Caitlin should be finishing your honeymoon, not hanging out with me."

"Shush, dear," Rose said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Laura sighed, shifting to a more comfortable position. "We're here for your parents as much as we're here for you." She laid a hand on Laura's cheek, sighing quietly as she felt the girl's hot, dry skin. "I hear you have more tests coming up."

"Yeah, I think that Dr. Harrison is more worried than he's letting me know. He's called back to the hospital in Brook Center to get copies of my tests there. I just know I feel awful, sick, and weak. I haven't told anyone else, but I'm having trouble remembering things at times. I guess it's from the head injury, I seem to remember something about closed head injury, but it could be an episode of CSI that I'm remembering. I never thought that my mind would play tricks on me like this." She shifted again, laying her head in Rose's lap. "Rose, what happens if I die? Will God let me into heaven, even though I let Mike beat me? And while I'm confessing, I think we had sex. Will God make me go to hell for sex before marriage?"

"No, sweetheart, you won't go to hell for that. Besides, from what the doctors said, Mike raped you, which is different," Rose explained gently.

Laura frowned. "But I think I had sex with him before he came to my room. Or I dreamed it. I'm pretty confused. I want to get better so I can go back to the studio with Caitlin."

"I know, Laura, we want you get better too." Laura nodded sleepily, eyelids fluttering. "I should let you get more sleep now."

"Okay. One more thing." Laura concentrated on keeping here eyes open, looking directly into Rose's deep brown eyes.

"Yes, dear?" Rose asked, stroking Laura's arm soothingly.

Laura struggled to sit up. "If I die, will you preach my funeral?"

Rose stared into Laura's hazel eyes, seeing fear in them. She wrapped her arms around the college student, hugging her gently as she answered, "I hope you will outlive me, but if now, I promise to preach your funeral. You need to concentrate on getting well, Laura. Okay?"

"Okay. I love you guys." Laura declared.

"We love you too," Rose said, helping Laura lay back down. She smoothed the blonde hair out of Laura's face, then leaned over and kissed her forehead. "God bless your healing."

"Thanks," Laura said, snuggling back under the covers.

Caitlin and Rose went back home after a few days. Laura's test revealed an infection, but the doctors thought they would be able to cure it with a heavy dose of antibiotics. Caitlin started worrying about Rose, who was acting listless and despondent whenever no one else was around. Finally, she asked her about it at supper.

"Babe, what's going on? I've never seen you like this, so down," Caitlin started as they sat in front of the fire with their after dinner wine.

"Nothing's wrong," Rose said evasively, taking a sip to forestall another question.

"Something's wrong," Caitlin countered. "You're moping, you're listless, you're jumping every time your phone rings. Remember, through good times and bad, which means you need to share, love."

Rose stared into her glass, then downed the contents before carefully setting it on the coffee table. She took Caitlin's glass and set it beside hers on the table before answering, "If you insist. Yes, I'm out of sorts. While we were at the Wilsons', Laura asked me to preach her funeral if she dies. Cat, I'm worried about her, she's not herself. She's worried about her memory, and says she's forgetting things. And she's so weak, I'm just worried."

"I see." Caitlin kissed Rose lightly, then continued, "Honey, I'm pretty worried about her too, but we're doing all we can. It's up to the doctors and God to see the rest through. Remember, she did take a pretty hard hit on the head, so she could be having memory problems for a while. That happened to me a number of years ago on tour. I ran into a concrete wall in the theatre, just missing the stage door from sheer exhaustion. I had problems with short term memory for a while, but it got better. Anyway, we can get through this. If the unthinkable happens, just let God speak through you and you'll be able to do right by her. Okay?"

"No, but I guess I'll have to deal anyway." She leaned over, kissing her wife gently, then with sudden urgency. "Take me to bed, make me forget this for a while."

"Oh, yes, ma'am!" Caitlin answered, standing up and helping Rose stand. "Glad to. We'll pretend we're still on our honeymoon." Rose smiled, leading Caitlin back to their bedroom.

"No, Beverly, this would not be a good time for me to come back to California for a few days," Caitlin said, slumping into her rocking chair, holding her phone close to her ear. "We just got some really bad news, and I need to be here with Rose."

She listened for a moment, then interrupted Beverly. "You remember Laura? Well, she was beaten badly while we were on our honeymoon, and is still pretty touch and go. Plus I'm having my real estate agent looking for additional studio space here, we're overbooked. Yeah, I know, that's the only good news I have for you." She listened to her manager for a moment, quietly wiping away a few tears as she strove to keep her voice steady. "Give my love to Ted and the kids, will you?"

"What? No, I remember you saying the album was nominated for a Grammy, but I didn't think anything of it. When is it? Two weeks?" Caitlin sighed. "No, I don't want to appear, I told you that as far as I'm concerned, Harriet is dead." She listened, for a moment, then declared, "That's dirty pool, honey. Okay, I'll ask. I'll tell you what I decide tomorrow morning. Yes, I promise I'll talk to Rose about it. All right, what time tomorrow? You'll be at the office by nine your time? Okay, I'll call you shortly after then. Right. Bye for now." Caitlin pushed the "End Call" icon and returned her phone to the holster, thinking and rocking slowly, drumming her fingers on the arm of the rocker.

Rose found Caitlin several hours later, sitting in the media room, strumming her acoustical guitar, so lost in thought that she didn't hear her come in. "Cat? What's up?"

Caitlin looked up, surprised that Rose was already home. "What time is it?"

"Nearly six. How was your day?" She leaned over, kissing her wife briefly before sitting on one of the chairs.

"Interesting. I'd forgotten that the last album was nominated for a Grammy. Beverly called to say that the band was asked to come play at the Grammy awards. I'm not sure I can do that, Rose, I kept telling her that I'd never appear as Harriet again. And we don't know how Laura will do."

Rose ran a hand over her face, trying to rub the fatigue out of it. "If it makes any difference, I talked to Laura today. She's finally getting better, and her parents said the doctors are encouraged."

"Really?" Caitlin placed her guitar back on the stand, then stood up to hug and kiss the minister. "That's fantastic!"

"It is," Rose agreed. She looked at Caitlin thoughtfully and asked, "Would it be so bad to appear as Harriet once more? Just to appear at the awards show? I'm sure Laura would think it was a good idea."

"Laura doesn't know that we're the same person, so does that really matter? Then again, I can't very well appear as the producer and play with the band, since Caitlin never sang." She stood up and started pacing the room, deep in thought again. She finally stopped and turned to Rose. "Okay, since you and Beverly both think it is a good idea, I'll do it. So Laura is doing better?"

"Yes, thank God. She sounds stronger, and said she is back in counseling."

"Probably the best place for her right now. Looking back, I don't know how I managed to stop my self-destructive behaviors with very little help. Maybe it was just sheer luck."

"Or," Rose countered softly, "maybe God had a purpose for you, and lent you the strength."

Caitlin cocked her head, looking at Rose intently. "Perhaps She did. So, one last question, do you want to be in the audience? If so, we blow my entire carefully constructed persona and reveal that Harriet has been a lie for years."

Rose crossed the room, taking Caitlin in her arms. "No, I don't need to be there as Harriet's wife. I'd love to be there, but as tempting as it is, I shouldn't be visible to the cameras, especially since you are determined to protect your hidden identity."

"That would help," Caitlin mused, kissing Rose. "But for now, I have better ideas," she said, running her hands up and down Rose's body, causing her wife to shiver with delight. "Let's adjourn to the bedroom, shall we?"

Caitlin flew back out to the West Coast a few days later to rehearse with the band for the awards show. At first she thought they didn't have a shot in hell of getting any award, but Beverly assured her that the chatter on the streets was that the band had an excellent chance of winning album of the year. They had the chance to do two songs, so they chose "Heartwreck Express" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane", with a back up song. "I've always wanted to do 'Over the Rainbow'," Caitlin explained to the band. "I know it's been done to death, but let's rehearse it for grins. No hard beat, just maybe a slight jazz feeling, slow and blue." They agreed.

The night of the Grammy arrived, and Caitlin nervously donned her disguise for the last time. Sunglasses, spiky wig, artfully ripped jeans, garish Western style shirt, and scuffed Red Wing work boots completed her look. She was amused that the rest of the band looked very clean compared to her outfit, since all of the guys had cut their hair and were clean shaven. They all wore jeans and t-shirts or denim shirts, but very toned down from their touring days. Caitlin paced nervously, waiting for the signal to go on stage.

About ten minutes before they were supposed to go on stage, Beverly found Caitlin and pulled her aside. "Hey, honey, I'm sorry to break the news, but Rose just called. Laura went back to the emergency room a short time ago, she was feeling very ill and has a fever of just over 102. So far, no other news."

Caitlin stared at her, then said, "Thanks. God, poor kid just doesn't catch a break, does she? Okay, I'll call Rose after we're done to see if she's found out any more." She turned to the band and said, "Change of plans, alternate second song." They nodded, a little puzzled, since they couldn't hear the conversation with Beverly. Caitlin saw the signal, and squared her shoulders. Time for Harriet to appear.

They took their places, and the announcer introduced them. Harriet glanced back at the band, then turned to the audience. "Hey, long time no see!" she hollered. Thunderous applause. "I'm Harriet Benson of Harriet and the Heartwreckers, and boy, I'm just as surprised as y'all to be up here one last time. Who'd of thought our unintelligible screaming would be up for a Grammy?" More applause. "All right!" Harriet screamed, launching into their most famous song.

As the last notes died off, she grabbed the microphone again, waiting for the noise to die down. A curious silence descended as she stood still, the audience wondering which song would come now. Harriet finally spoke. "I met a college student a while ago who is a huge fan of mine. Nice young woman, so why is she a fan of mine?" A knowing leer, and laughter from the audience. "But seriously, she revealed that my lyrics touched her soul. So now we'll sing a song that touched my soul when I was a young woman." She nodded to the rest of the band, and they launched into a haunting rendition of "Over the Rainbow".

The audience was silent for a brief moment after the last notes died away, the erupted into a huge wave of applause, surging to their feet. Harriet bowed her head for a moment, then waved and walked off the stage. Several minutes later, the audience finally sat down. "Well," said the host, "I never expected that. Now on with the the awards." She read off the nominees for best album, then finally opened the envelope. "And the award for best album of the year goes to Harriet and the Heartwreckers for their album, Retrospective."

The band bounded up on the stage to accept their awards. The host hugged each member, then turned over the microphone to Harriet. She looked out at the audience, then simply said, "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this award, and for being faithful fans for so many years. The ride was terrific, but now it is time for me to walk off the stage. May the good Lord bless and keep each of you." She started to turn away, then paused and turned back. "And Laura, hang in there, I've got your back." With that mysterious message, the band walked off the stage.

As soon as they got backstage, Caitlin found Beverly and asked, "What's the next flight I can get back to Minnesota?"

"Already booked. I have a car waiting to take you to the airport, I had to charter a plane, but I figure that will be easier than commercial. And Caitlin?"

"Yes?" Caitlin stopped, turning to face her manager fully.

Beverly touched Caitlin's shoulder. "I apologize for trying a power play to get you back to California more often. I know your heart is with Rose now, and I've seen the first statements from your studio in Brook Center. It looks like you're close to breaking even now. Now go, you have family there who needs you."

Caitlin nodded, then hugged her friend hard. "I appreciate everything you've done for us," she murmured, brushing a quick kiss on Beverly's cheek. "Love you."

"I love you too. Keep me in the loop about Laura."

"Will do." Caitlin squeezed her again, then let go to hurry out to the waiting car.

Caitlin was grateful for the chartered plane as it enabled her to shower, change clothes, and catch a short nap before they arrived. She silently blessed Beverly for her ability to arrange transportation on such short notice as she descended the steps to find a driver waiting for her to take her directly to the hospital. She was met at the doors of the waiting room by Rose, who was very pale. "What is it?" Caitlin asked fearfully.

"She's barely conscious, Cat. I just spoke with her parents, the doctors told them that Laura seems to have some sort of infection or sepsis, and they're pumping her full of antibiotics right now. On the bright side, the television in her room was tuned to the show, so she did get to see your performance and award. Now I'm supposed to take you back there." Rose reached for her wife, and the women clung to each other for a short time, then finally parted to check in at the ER admitting desk.

The clerk buzzed them in, and they slowly walked back to Laura's room and were greeted by Ray. "She's no better, but no worse," he said, pulling back the curtain to admit them. "Thanks for coming on such short notice."

"It's the least we could do," Caitlin said before turning to the bed. "Hey, Laura," Caitlin called softly, leaning over to kiss her cheek. "I hear you're not feeling so well."

Laura opened her eyes and looked up. "Caitlin," she whispered. "Harriet won."

"Yes, she did."

Laura looked puzzled for a moment, then asked, "Where were you?"

Caitlin pulled up a chair as Rose, Liana, and Ray left the room for a moment. "I would tell you I was backstage, but that's not true. Rose knows, Beverly knows, and the band knows, I'm really Harriet. Beverly gave me the news just before we went on stage, so I decided we'd play your favorite non-Heartwrecker song."

"So, you kept this from me? But that's how Harriet knew to talk to me? I'm confused." The student looked at Caitlin, waiting for an explanation.

"Yeah, it can be confusing. Talk about your multiple closets to come out of." She tried to smile. "No, when I talked to you as Harriet, I told the truth, Laura. I've been through it, I've cut my arms, been an anorexic, and went through a period of drinking too much. I also once thought I was pregnant, and that scared me so much that I was able to rein in my destructive behaviors. It also made keeping two identities more necessary, since Harriet's misdeeds kept us in the spotlight."

"Oh." Laura closed her eyes, then opened them again. "Do you believe in God?"

Caitlin sat very still, trying to figure out the best answer. Finally, she said, "I'm still struggling with that, I won't lie to you. Do I believe that the love I feel for Rose is a gift? Yes. Maybe there is a god, and she gave me the gift of the love I share with Rose. I've been through confirmation now, and joined the church, although I'm still struggling with the whole idea of giving up my life to some supernatural being. How about you?"

Laura reached for Caitlin's hand, wrapping weak fingers around her callused ones. "I hope you can believe, because even with everything that has happened, I believe in God's unfailing love and support." She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at Caitlin. "You have to be strong for Rose now. I know God is calling me home very soon, and I want Rose to preach my funeral. I don't want to leave you guys and my parents, but I know it will happen. Will you sing a song for my funeral?"

Caitlin rubbed her thumb across Laura's knuckles, clearing her throat. "Yes, anything."

"The song on your third album, 'Path Through The Woods'. Sing it."

"Okay, I promise," she said as Rose and Laura's parents walked back into the room.

The sanctuary was crowded. Laura's parents decided to have a small funeral for family in her home town, then a larger memorial service in Victory Church so her college friends could attend. Rose and Caitlin prepared their individual parts for the service, with Caitlin frantically rehearsing the fellowship choir in an arrangement of Laura's requested song.

Rose Grant stood up and walked slowly to the lectern to deliver the eulogy. She gripped the sides, praying she would get through it without breaking down. She finally spoke, telling of Laura's blossoming from unsure teenager to beautiful young woman, of her struggles with her self-destructive behaviors to her participation in the wedding ceremony. She finished with, "She lit our lives like a brilliant star, one that flamed out too soon, but helped shed light and warmth in our lives. God has called her to be with the angels. Amen."

Caitlin took over at the lectern. "I've known Laura for a short time, but grew to love her as the daughter I never had. She made me promise that I'd sing her favorite song, but since I'm afraid I'd break down, I asked the Victory Fellowship Choir to sing it instead." She turned to face the choir, signaling for them to stand.

It's a long dark path through the woods I trod,
A well worn path through darkness and despair,
Seeing only the darkness that swirls around my head,
Unable to seek the light.

It's a long dark path I take,
Wondering if it is worth the pain and sorrow,
A well worn path I seek,
Only this time I seek to stop.

Something flutters in my vision,
Something light and bright and pure,
I look and now I see,
A path never seen before.

My mind summons Frost and his fork in the woods,
As I see a branching path through the woods,
I can see a dim light at the end,
But the path is narrow and hard.

The path may be narrow and hard,
Yet my heart is strangely warmed,
It may be my salvation,
The path never seen before.

I am weary and lonely,
Even when surrounded by people and things,
I know I am seeking a new path,
The path through the woods never seen before.

My feet reluctantly move,
And I take the new path,
Unlike Frost, this path never taken before leads to light,
And it will be many years before I sleep.

The path never seen before is narrow and hard,
Yet as I slowly trod,
I am aware that another waits,
And it is the path that is true.

I start running down the path,
Eager to seek the light and another,
My soul soars to meet my unknown love,
And to shed the darkness of my soul.

I seek the path not taken,
The path hard but true,
I must turn from the old path completely,
To find my love, my light, to find you.

Caitlin motioned for the choir to sit, then went up to the lectern. She looked out at the gathering said simply, "Laura, I commend your spirit to freedom, to love, to light, and most of all, to the music of the spheres." She turned and walked away, fighting tears as she took her place back in the pews.

Laura's untimely death hit Rose and Caitlin hard, then they were hit with another blow. Mike had been freed on bail, and had promptly gone home and committed suicide. Rose commented that at least she didn't have to preach that funeral, that suicides were the worst. Caitlin reacted by spending more time in the studio, and Rose reacted by studying her theological texts over and over. Time spent together was strained, punctuated with loud arguments or angry silences, only to come together for frantic sex to dull the pain.

Things came to a head when Brother Carter insisted that they take the week of spring break to finish their interrupted honeymoon. After some listless discussion as to where, they chose to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a week. They booked a suite in a downtown hotel near the plaza, and settled in for their honeymoon. The first night after dinner, Rose reluctantly opened up a discussion she knew they needed to have, but had been avoiding. She steeled herself as they sat in front of the fireplace in the room, watching the flames cast light and shadows around, creating an intimate setting. "Cat," she started, "we've been at odds lately. I know I've been very angry, angry and grieving for losing Laura."

"Oh, so you acknowledge that you are grieving? For Laura, or for the fact that we couldn't save her?" Caitlin lashed out. "I thought she was coming along just fine, but then that asshole stalked her, beat her, raped her, and fucking left her for dead! Then he had the audacity to kill himself and deny justice. We tried to keep her safe, but failed. She let him in, Rose, she let the bastard in, and sealed her fate. Don't go talking to me about a loving God, how the hell can a loving God allow this shit to happen? I tried to believe, honey, I really did, but it is so hard when she was taken away like that from us!"

"Don't go blaming God," Rose spewed heatedly. "Yes, there is evil in the world, but we just have to believe that-"

"Believe what? That it is part of the plan to make us better? Is that what you believe, Rose, that Laura's death serves a higher purpose? Then what does Mike's death serve? Why couldn't he just fucking leave her alone? She wasn't gay, and we weren't going make her gay, no matter what that Neanderthal thought. Who died and made him judge? If this is your religion, honey, I don't want any part of it!

Caitlin caught her breath, then continued in a ragged voice, "I can't even catch my breath properly in that overstuffed, overbearing sanctuary of yours. I feel like that damned walls are about to collapse on me, but I stay just for you. I stay so your boss will see that I'm a proper little minister's wife, supporting you. Well, maybe I don't want it any longer. Maybe you made a mistake marrying me. Maybe I should just go back to California and be Harriet again and lose my soul in drink and random sex with strangers." While she was ranting, Caitlin jumped up and started pacing the floor, gesturing wildly. She spat the last sentence out while picking up the empty wine bottle and striking it against the edge of the desk.

"NO!" Rose yelled, dashing to Caitlin's side, grabbing her wrist. "Don't you dare do that, Caitlin!" She gripped Caitlin's wrist with all of her strength, forcing her fingers away from the broken wine bottle. She managed to wrest the broken piece away, tossing in into the waste basket. "Yes, I hurt too, love, but we have to work through this together. Remember, you're not the only one who is angry with God, I am too. All of my life, I've prepared for or been in the ministry, but losing someone in your flock never gets any easier. Don't you think I'm suffering? Don't you think that I'm wondering where my God is in this? If I lose you, I lose everything."

Caitlin started to crumple, with Rose staggering to hold her upright long enough to move her away from the shattered glass. "I need you," she whispered, "I need you, Caitlin." She buried her face in Caitlin's shoulder and started sobbing, finally letting loose the agony and fury from losing two of her flock. "I need you," she mumbled brokenly as Caitlin slowly wrapped her in shaking arms.

When Rose's hard sobs trailed off, she pulled away from Caitlin's arms and cleared her throat. "We need to clean up the glass," she said hoarsely.

"Okay," Caitlin agreed, standing on shaky legs. "I'll call housekeeping." Rose walked back over to the fire, sinking down on to the rug, letting her exhaustion overwhelm her as she half heard Caitlin speaking on the phone, arranging for the cleanup. She didn't even move as the maids came and thoroughly swept and vacuumed away the glass shards, studying the flames in the fireplace until she felt Cat's hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," Caitlin said. "I'm exhausted, and you look exhausted as well. Shall we just go to bed now?"

"That sounds good to me," Rose agreed as she followed Cat into the bedroom. They crawled into the luxurious bed, holding each other for dear life, eventually drifting into a deep sleep.

The next morning, they woke to several inches of snow blanketing the area. Caitlin started the coffee, then stared out of the window for a long time, wondering where they would go that day. Rose finally woke up and slipped behind her, wrapping her arms around Caitlin's waist. "Good morning, dear," Rose murmured, planting a light kiss on Caitlin's shoulder.

Caitlin turned around, embracing her wife, burying her face in the crook of Rose's neck. "Morning," she mumbled, breathing deeply. They stood like that for a moment until the gurgle of the coffee pot made Caitlin start laughing. "Sorry," she said, "but it sounds like a very hungry stomach. Shall we?"

After showers and breakfast, they went to explore more of the plaza area, winding up at the San Miguel Chapel, the oldest continuously used church in America, according to the literature. They paid their donation and walked into the small chapel. Rose walked to the bell in the back, with the myriad of small silver pendents tacked to the frame. Caitlin walked to the front, comparing the simple painted buffalo hides on the walls to the ornate altar screen in the behind the altar area on the front wall. She backed up, sinking onto one of the pews, gazing at the different paintings.

Rose saw her wife sitting on a pew and went forward to join her. "What are you thinking?" she asked quietly.

Caitlin took her hand and said, "This place feels holy. It's said the chapel was built on a site revered by the natives as holy ground, and I'm just soaking in the peace of the place. Rose, I've been inside many churches, but this is the first to touch my soul. Just think of the centuries of worshippers kneeling, receiving the sacraments. I've been running so long, hiding behind various guises, but this place speaks to my soul."

Rose turned, looking into Caitlin's deep brown eyes. "I agree, it is a very quiet place, peaceful." She cast her eyes down on their joined hands, light and dark, continuing, "Why couldn't you find that at Victory?"

Caitlin reached with her free hand, lifting Rose's chin so their dark eyes could meet. "I don't have anything against your congregation, Rose, but it is busy all of the time. No quiet time for reflection, and it is so large there is no intimacy. It's a little out of context for the rest of the psalm, but I think of the phrase, 'Be still, and know that I am God' comes to mind. I can't find that at Victory, but sometimes I can find it at my studio, going over a few songs that Laura produced. A small group of music students came in to record a few pieces of classical music for a class, and the way Laura worked the controls, it made the pieces feel like meditations. I miss her."

"I miss her too, Cat." Rose looked slowly around the chapel and said quietly, "I can understand. This is a quiet holy place, not like Victory Church, which is full of life and loud hosannas." She sighed. "Is this what you need? Quiet and contemplation?"

"More so than the last chapel we were at. Very commercial!" Caitlin smiled to soften the critique. "Let's go, sweetheart. We still need to go to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum." She leaned over, lightly kissing her beloved before standing up and offering her hand to help Rose stand.

Later that evening, they ordered room service to have a quiet dinner in their suite. Rose stroked the fire as Cat arranged the dishes and opened the bottle of wine, pouring a glass for each of them. They ate slowly, enjoying the calm, recapping the day. "I'd never seen O'Keeffe's later works," Rose said as she sipped her wine.

"I had, but briefly. The band played in Albuquerque about five or so years ago, and we found out that our next destination was cancelled, so we decided to split up and play hooky for a couple of days. I rented a car and came here, enjoying the scenery and going to the museums. It was one of the few times during those years I was just myself, not Harriet."

Rose held the glass up the catch the light of the fire. She examined the deep red color and mused, "I can see why wine was always used to represent the blood of Christ." Rose sipped her wine, contemplating the taste, the symbolism of the sacrifice. "I enjoyed our day, honey," she said quietly, looking at her beloved, "and I would not want to lose you."

Caitlin set her wine glass on the table and turned to gaze at her beautiful wife, enjoying how the firelight danced over Rose's face. "I should be the one apologizing," she replied, "I completely lost my temper, and I apologize for that. I don't know what else to say, other than thought I could help Laura, but I couldn't save her either. I've lost my identity as Harriet, and lost a close friend. I didn't realize what I was losing. I don't want to lose you as well."

"I understand, but there is one thing I need to bring up, and I thought I could avoid it." Rose asked.


Rose gazed into the fire, gathering her courage. "I need to either have your complete support, or we need to think about separation. I know it's early in our marriage, but either we need to rediscover God together, or separately. I am hurting, true, and am very disappointed in God, but I still think God watches over us, and gives us the talents and the strength to deal with what comes our way."

"So explain what just happened." Caitlin spat.

"I said we are given talents and strength, but God does not force us to take advantage of them. Laura coped the best way she knew, and was starting to turn around, but obviously Mike refused to cope with losing Laura. You lashed out last night by reverting to your old coping skills, not the ones I thought you'd learned. I thought we could make a go of it, even if you could not let Jesus into your heart fully, but I think I was wrong."

Caitlin stared into Rose's dark brown eyes, wondering what to say to make things right. She had the awful feeling that her beloved was rapidly slipping away from her, but she couldn't be true to herself and just announce that she had accepted Jesus, hallelujah, in order to keep Rose. She hung her dark head and said softly, "I'm sorry, I can't just pretend for you. I have to make that commitment on my own, and for real." Dejected, she traced Rose's broad cheekbones, sighing heavily. "I'll leave, spare you the agony." She stood up, walking back to the bedroom.

"Now wait a minute-" Rose burst out, following Caitlin, "what are you doing?"

Caitlin jerked out her suitcase and started tossing clothes into it. "Packing. You don't want me. I'll go. The suite is paid for, as are the plane tickets, so you might as well finish your vacation. You can get in touch with me through Beverly. Good-bye." A terrible blankness covered Caitlin's eyes as she rapidly packed and zipped the suitcase shut.

"You can't just leave-"

"You don't want me here, so don't make it any worse." Caitlin shoved her feet into her shoes and grabbed her coat. "Go with God, dear Rose." She brushed a soft kiss on Rose's cheek, then slammed out of the suite. Rose stared at the door, heart swirling with agony and disbelief. She stood, staring, for a time, then finally slunk back to the fireplace, sat on the cushions, and cried herself to sleep.

It was ironic that Santa Fe was where Caitlin had left Rose, and where Rose returned to for her next step in life. After several months of going through the motions, she called Beverly and told her she was moving out of the house, and she needed to send someone to pack and store Caitlin's belongings. Shortly after the house was emptied, a call came from one of Rose's former parishioners, who now had a small but thriving legal practice in Santa Fe, saying he was at the head of the board looking for a new pastor for their medium sized church. Would she be interested?

Rose pondered this as she went over a few last details with her lay leaders Christmas Eve, just before the midnight service. Snow had fallen and the stars twinkled in the clear, cold sky. Rose thought she would never feel the magic of the season again, but as Advent had started, she felt the old excitement and anticipation of the coming of the Christ child once again. "Remember," she finished, "lights go off as we start signing 'Away in a Manager' and pass the light from candle to candle throughout the congregation. Any questions?"

"No," said Roy, the head elder, "none." He waited for the others to leave and turned to Rose. "Thank you again for coming to head our church. God has blessed us richly."

"She does work in mysterious ways," Rose responded with a smile. It was nice being with another very diverse congregation of all colors, races, professions, backgrounds, even creeds. "And thank you for giving me a chance."

"Hey, you helped me in college, so I'm returning the favor." He smiled, reaching to hug the pastor. "And you are the first to know, Gail and I are expecting a child in seven months."

"Congratulations!" Rose smiled hugely, hugging him back. "Is that why she's not here tonight?"

"Yes, very tired, and we have family in. All right, I hear the piano and guitars, so we need to make our grand entrance." Roy picked up his Bible and songbook and led the way into the sanctuary.

The lay leaders took turns reading the passages, the choir sang, and Rose finally stood in front of the people, beaming at them. "Good evening, dearly beloved. As the choir sang, 'love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine.' God blessed Mary, a simple, pious young woman with the greatest gift of love the world has ever known. She bore God's only son, who came to express love in human form, a love so powerful, it wiped away the sins of the world." She continued to preach, turning, pacing, looking in all nooks of the sanctuary.

And saw her.

She almost faltered, her heart screaming, "It's Caitlin!" while her mind countered, "No, it has to be someone who looks like her." She managed to regroup and finish her sermon without missing a sentence, inviting all to the table. "Now let us rise and join in this simple bread and wine, remembering the baby and the man, who embodied love divine." She motioned for the ushers to start guiding the members as she and the leaders started passing out bread and wine for the communion service.

The last to arrive at the rail was the woman. Head bowed, she refused to look up at first until Rose laid a hand on her shoulder, whispering, "It is okay, God loves you."

The head finally lifted, revealing the face of her own angel, thinner, but at peace. "Rose, I believe," she whispered. "I believe in love divine, and I want to come home." She took the bread from Rose, dipped it in the cup, and offered it to the minister. Rose took it, then dipped bread in the cup and offered it to Caitlin, who took it with solemn joy. Rose had to tear herself away, first whispering, "Please stay after the service."

"Always," Caitlin promised.

The sanctuary was bathed in the gorgeous glow of candlelight as the users started one candle on each row, and each person passed the light to their neighbor. The entire gathering sang "Silent Night," accompanied by a guitar, as the light filled the room. The last strains died away as Rose came faced the congregation and lead them in a brief benediction, then announced, "Christ is born! Love is born! Go, celebrate the birth of love in the form of Christ the Lord!" The lights came up, the candles were blown out, and the noise level went up as the people started greeting and mingling on their way out of the sanctuary.

Nearly an hour later, the last person had left, and Rose and the lay leaders were checking all of the locks and lights. Rose wondered if Caitlin was really there, or if she had imagined her during the service. As she set the security system and went out to her car, she saw a familiar figure standing in the light of the streetlamp. She felt a grin covering her face as she walked rapidly to the figure, which opened arms to receive her. She gratefully rushed into her beloved's arms, feeling Caitlin wrap her up in a warm embrace. They stood like that for a time, then Rose pulled back, examining Caitlin's face. "Merry Christmas," she whispered.

"Merry Christmas, beloved."

"Do you want to come home with me?" Rose asked, uncertainty suddenly flooding her heart.

Caitlin responded by kissing her lightly, then saying, "You are my home, and it took me too long to figure that out. I hope you'll let me come back, let us start fresh." She kissed Rose again, more deeply, then pulled back and recited, "My dear Rose, where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I'm finally really to make both commitments, to you, to Christ."

Rose felt like her heart would burst with happiness as she grinned so hard her cheeks hurt. "Thank you. Let's go home, together, where we belong." She took Caitlin's hand, leading her to her car.

To home.

And love.

The End.


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