The Librarian

by JS Stephens

Disclaimer: all original characters, not meant to represent anyone living or dead or even undead.

Copyright © 2008, 2011 by JS Stephens. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1

Kelly Moore walked nervously into the public library, trying to convince herself that someone could help her. She wasn't quite sure where to start, wishing she had paid more attention in school when they had the annual "Here's how to use the library" lecture, but now she was determined to find the answers to her questions. She wandered aimlessly through the stacks, then went to the center of the building, nearly literally running into the woman who would change her life.

"Good evening, may I help you find something?" Kelly swallowed hard, nodding, looking up at the tall, slender, dark haired woman in the sensible brown suit. "What would you like to find, miss?"

Finding her voice, Kelly whispered, "I need to know how to speak and write better." She ducked her head, red hair tumbling around her face, staring at her ragged nails, then swiftly looked back up into the amused brown eyes of the librarian. "Can you help me with that?"

"Certainly," the woman stated confidently to the younger woman, "come with me and we'll narrow your question down a bit. I'm Miss Temple, reference librarian."

"Kelly Moore, bookkeeper at Tom's Cafe." Kelly followed Miss Temple to a small office, awkwardly seating herself, smoothing her yellow cotton skirt over her knees. "You can really help me?" she asked cautiously.

The librarian nodded affirmatively. "I need to ask you some questions, Miss Moore. What type of speaking or writing do you need to improve? Have you finished high school?"

Kelly took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh, gathering her scattered thoughts. "I graduated this spring, but didn't do so good. I did real good in my math and bookkeeping courses, not so well in shorthand, English, history, that sorta stuff. I can key numbers good, and scored A's on all of my double-entry bookkeeping tests."

Miss Temple pulled out a pad of paper and uncapped a fountain pen, taking short notes while Kelly spoke. She asked, "Do you wish to improve your skills to pursue additional opportunities?"

"Opportunities? Oh, like do I want another job? Yeah, I have an aunt who's a legal secretary over at the law offices downtown, she makes real good money. I can type good, and I can read pretty good, but I never did make above C's in English and stuff like that. Are there any books that can help me with all this?"

The dark haired librarian made a few more notes, then pulled out a file from her desk, extracting a few pages. "You are in luck, Miss Moore, the library co-sponsors night classes with the local business college. Some of the classes offered are created for adults with poor language skills in mind, and I believe that this is where you should start. They will cover basic grammar, composition, and even some speech courses. I'd also recommend the introduction to literature course, which I'll be teaching in the next session. If you'd like, I can copy down the information so you may sign up for some of the courses. They are all taught here, in our new public conference rooms, usually from six until eight or nine, twice a week. The fees are very reasonable."

"Thank you, Miss Temple, I'd purely love to take these kind of classes." Kelly watched as Miss Temple carefully copied the information on to a series of index cards, then took them from her, stashing them safely in her battered purse. She stood up to leave, then shyly offered, "If you'd like, we can meet at the cafe some time, have breakfast or lunch."

"I'll keep that in mind, Miss Moore," the librarian replied warmly. "Do you have everything you need?"

"I reckon so, Miss Temple. Thanks a million, I really mean it."

"You're very welcome, Miss Moore. I hope to see you in the classes."

Kelly threw herself into the classes, taking basic grammar and business communication the first session, then public speaking and introduction to literature the second session. She focused all of her energy and free time on the classes, much to the chagrin of her occasional date, Charles Green. "Honey, why can't we go to the movies tonight?" Charles grumbled as he visited Kelly in her tiny office at the cafe.

"I've told you, Charles, I'm busy with my classwork. I have to go to the library tonight to finish my research for my paper on Pride and Prejudice. I'm sure you understand."

Charles made a face. "No, I don't, Kelly. You've already finished with high school, and have a good job here. I'd just like to spend more time with you. Come on, let's go have some fun, we can take in a movie."

Kelly shook her head. "Charles, I just can't."

Charles stood up, angrily spluttering, "If you don't go with me tonight, I'm not asking again. You'll wind up being a dried up old maid, mark my words."

"Good-bye, Charles." Kelly watched as he grabbed his hat from the coatrack and stormed out of her tiny office, wondering if what he said was true. She liked him, he was cute in a Donald O'Connor sort of way, but not enough to set aside her studies, and certainly not enough to date seriously. She turned back to the ledger, entering in the latest expenses in her precise handwriting. Charles was not the only fish in the sea, she told herself, not by a long shot.


"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I will present a contemporary social problem, that of the influence of rock and roll on the youth of America, and what we might to do correct this problem." Kelly frowned at the copy of the speech she held, asking, "So why is rock and roll such a problem, Miss Temple? I listen to it on the jukebox all day, and sometimes buy records. Is it really that evil?"

Miss Temple gave Kelly a withering look. "Miss Moore, I allowed you to come to my apartment to rehearse this speech, not to debate the content of the speech. Please continue." Kelly stared at the page, then dutifully recited the speech. Miss Temple took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose, a gesture that Kelly now recognized as frustration. "Miss Temple, I just don't agree with the speech. I'm glad you're willing to help, so could you help me find a better speech to give?"

"Something along the lines of, 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears'? If you wish, I will help you look up a different speech in the library tomorrow."

"But I have to deliver the speech tomorrow night in class! It's the final!"

The librarian slid her glasses back into place, looking thoughtfully at the slender young woman. "I suppose I could help you find something from my personal collection." She rose smoothly from the rocking chair, drifting over to the floor to ceiling bookcase, touching various books until she came to one. "Try this, Miss Moore, turn to the last page."

The young bookkeeper opened the book and smiled. "It's Scarlett's last speech, after Rhett has left her and she decides to think about everything tomorrow."

"Precisely. The assignment was not to give a factual speech, but rather to speak on a topic of great feeling, correct? What speech has more feeling than Scarlett's last speech? It will give you a chance to show your improved diction and rhythm, as well as your flair for the dramatic. I believe it will be an excellent match."

"Thank you, Miss Temple." Kelly accepted the book, hefting it gently. "Do you mind if I keep this for a little while? I've seen the movie, but never had a chance to read the book. I promise to take good care of it, really." She reached across, laying her hand on Miss Temple's arm. "I'd consider it a great favor."

Miss Temple laid her tanned hand over Kelly's lighter one, patting it, then abruptly pulling away. "You may borrow it, provided that you discuss it with me afterwards."

"You'll get a thorough report from me, Miss Temple. Thanks!"

"The overall theme is loss and rebirth, with additional subplots running through about how some people are able to accept the loss of the world they knew and other unable to cope with this loss. There are also themes of love imagined and love lost." Kelly handed the book over to the tall librarian, looking into the other woman's dark brown eyes for a clue about how her summary was taken.

"Very good, Miss Moore." Miss Temple slipped the bulky book into her satchel, then asked, "Do you have plans this weekend? If not, I thought we might go to a movie, your choice."

"Really? I'd love that! No, I don't have any plans, not since I broke up with Charles last spring." Kelly drummed her fingers on the librarian's desk, green eyes squinting thoughtfully, then asked excitedly, "Can we go see 'Rebel without a Cause?' I've seen the trailers for it, and it sounds quite exciting. I'll even cook dinner for us before or after. Say, Saturday night?"

"May we go," Miss Temple corrected without thinking. "It does sounds like a possibility. Let's do this: I'll pick you up at your apartment, we can take in an early show, then we go back to your apartment for dinner. Do I need to bring anything for this dinner?"

"No, leave it to me."

The days before the movie seemed to drag forever, but Kelly managed to get through them. She called Miss Temple Friday morning as soon as she saw the newspaper to confirm the movie time. Since there was an 8:00 showing, they decided to eat before going to the show, since neither had to work on that Saturday.

Kelly dusted and mopped twice, and scrubbed every surface Friday night and Saturday morning. She walked to the grocery store in the early afternoon, picking up simple fare; pork chops, French bread, side dishes, and a cake mix. She nervously scheduled the dinner preparation time down to the minute, proud that everything was ready at the precise moment that Miss Temple rang her doorbell. "Dinner smells very good," Miss Temple commented, handing her wrap to Kelly. "I'm impressed already." Kelly smiled as she hung up the coat in her tiny entry closet.

"Thank you. Would you like iced tea, lemonade, or wine with dinner?"

"Lemonade, please. We might try the wine after the movie. Where did you find the flowers?"

"The Corner Flower Shop, just a short walk down the block." Kelly poured the lemonade, then sat down. "Is there anything else you need?"

"No, no, this is scrumptious. Miss Moore." She cut a bite of pork, chewing thoughtfully. "Very moist. I must confess, I am not the best cook, it always tastes bland."

"You?" Kelly spluttered, shocked. "But I thought you could do anything!"

"I'm sorry to burst your bubble," Miss Temple replied, humor lurking in her voice. "Oh, this is delicious. I have a weakness for creamed corn." She closed her dark brown eyes, obviously enjoying the flavor of her food. "My dear, you have made my taste buds very happy."

The movie was more wrenching that Kelly expected. They sat in the balcony, surrounded by teenagers, watching as the impromptu family of Jim, Judy, and Plato spiral into destruction. Kelly's eyes welled with tears at the end when Plato was shot, and Jim knelt beside him, crying out his anguish. She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and was surprised to note Miss Temple blinking rapidly, as if she were also keeping tears at bay. Kelley reached over, briefly squeezing the librarian's hand, noting how cold it was. Miss Temple turned and offered a tremulous smile, squeezing back before dropping Kelly's hand, just as the credits started rolling.

"My, that was quite a sad movie," Kelly commented as Miss Temple unlocked the car door for her. She leaned across the seat, unlocking the driver's door for Miss Temple before buckling the seat belt. She had never seen a car with seat belts before, and Miss Temple insisted that she wear it. As they were underway, Kelly continued with her analysis of the movie. "I've seen characters like the gang when I was in high school. Miss Temple, why do men think they have to be so destructive in order to show how manly they are? What's the point of playing chicken? Why couldn't Jim just walk away?"

"I do not know, Miss Moore, I do not have a background in psychology," Miss Temple answered dryly. "However, I could venture some of my personal opinions. " She turned in to the apartment parking lot, killing the engine and the lights before turning to Kelly and asking, "Do you wish to hear them tonight?"

"Oh, yes, I do. We can open the wine, or we can have coffee and cake, your choice. Let's go up while you are deciding." Kelly sprang out of the car, waiting for Miss Temple to follow her up the stairs. "I might even have some strawberries that are still fresh."

"That sounds good," Miss Temple commented as she followed the bookkeeper into the apartment. She handed her coat to the young woman and watched her hang it up as she asked, "May I use your restroom?"

"Yes, first door on the right down the hallway. I'll get out the dessert and wine." Kelly hung up her own coat, adjusted her sweater, then started pulling the dessert items out of the small refrigerator. A moment later, Miss Temple reappeared and Kelly smiled at her, asking, "Would you mind opening the wine while I freshen up?"

"Not at all," Miss Temple replied, taking the bottle and opener from Kelly. She deftly opened the bottle, pouring the wine into the waiting glasses.

As they ate and drank, Miss Temple laid out her opinions in her usual logical manner. "Men no longer have any specific rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. The 'good boys' will often go through an organization such as the Boy Scouts to prepare themselves for adulthood, or go into a branch of the military, but other than graduating from high school, there is no defined rite of passage any longer. Boys are not expected to have a job during high school right now, so they do not necessarily learn responsibility, but still crave something to mark themselves as men. Thus, they turn to other rites, such as the ones depicted in the movie tonight, to mark the 'men from the boys'." She sipped her wine. "I like the wine, good choice, Miss Moore."

"Could I ask you a favor? Now that we're no longer student and teacher, would you call me Kelly?"

The tall librarian looked surprised. "Yes, I'd be glad to call you Kelly." She took a strawberry, bit off the tip, laid it down. "You may call me Elizabeth. I had not considered that we have become friends and could start using our Christian names."

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Kelly said, feeling a shiver of delight run through her. "Would you like some more cake, or more wine?"

"Not right now, thank you, Kelly. Did you notice the theme of family in the movie? How Jim, Plato, and Judy made their own family?"

"Yes, I did. I also noticed that Plato seemed to be attached to Jim, like Jim was attached to Judy. I can't explain it, except it seemed almost like Plato had a crush on Jim."

Elizabeth swirled her wine in her glass before swallowing it. "It is possible. Young people sometimes have a very powerful attachment to their friends, similar to a crush. It is perfectly normal, and usually fades when they fall in love with their first boyfriend or girlfriend." She hesitated, as if about to say more, but abruptly changed the subject. "It was a very pleasant evening, Kelly, but I should start home. It is late, and I usually go to the early church service. Thank you for the dinner, it was quite delicious."

"You're welcome, Elizabeth," Kelly answered, jumping to get her coat. After the other woman left, she started cleaning up the leftovers, wondering why her friend left so quickly. Yes, it was getting late, but Elizabeth had suddenly seemed uneasy. She really hoped it would not keep them from going to another movie together, or from having supper together. No matter, at least she knew where Elizabeth worked. Kelly smiled as she recalled the compliments on the dinner, and the genuine smile that Elizabeth had bestowed on her while complimenting the dinner. At least there was that to remember.

Chapter 2

Several days later, one of the waitresses stuck her head in the tiny office and called out, "Kelly, there's a man here to see you. Want me to send him back?"

"Yes, please, did he say what he wanted?"

"No, he didn't. Hang on and I'll fetch him," the older woman said as she disappeared. Minutes later, she announced, "Mr. Edward Ross to see you, Miss Moore." She winked as the well dressed man leaned over the tiny desk, holding out his hand.

"I'm Edward Ross, and I take it you are Miss Kelly Moore?"

"Yes," Kelly said, at a loss as to who he was. "Do we know each other, Mr. Ross?"

"Not yet, miss, but your friend Miss Temple at the library speaks quite well of you. I'm on the library board, and Miss Temple mentioned that you were looking for a position as a legal secretary after our board meeting last night. She said you worked here, so I decided to come meet you."

"Oh," was all Kelly could think of saying.

"Let me tell you what the job entails," he said, settling back in the chair, placing his gray hat in his lap. Ross gave her a brief outline of the duties and ended with, "I sure hope you are not planning to get married and leave any time soon. I really hate hiring a woman who is about to marry and have her husband forbid her to work."

Kelly was able to relax a bit and smile. "No worries there, Mr. Ross. So, should I come in for an interview?"

"I need is for you to take typing and shorthand tests at my office, and if you pass those, you have the job. Just call the office manager at this number to arrange the tests." He stood up, picking up his hat, and holding out his other hand for her to shake. "If all goes well, you can start as soon as you pass the tests."

"But you really don't know anything about me!" Kelly spluttered.

Mr. Ross chuckled, a pleasant rumbling sound. "Oh, but I do, Miss Moore, Miss Temple gives you high recommendations, and the owner of the cafe also recommends you highly. Well, I need to get back to my coffee and donut before they throw them out. I look forward to working with you." With that, he showed himself out of the office.

"Miss Temple, a Miss Moore to see you," one of the pages whispered as she poked her head in the librarian's office.

"Thank you, Betty, please show her in." Elizabeth was a little surprised to see her friend during the afternoon, but schooled her face to her usual calm expression. "Kelly, what a pleasant surprise to see you this early. What may I do for you?"

"You may help me celebrate, Elizabeth, I start at the law firm Wednesday morning!" Kelly blurted out excitedly.

"I see that congratulations are in order," Elizabeth said, a slow smile breaking across her angular face. "What would you like to do to celebrate?"

Kelly thought for a moment, then answered thoughtfully, "Something I've never done, spend a weekend in a cabin in the woods. Lots of books I've read makes it sound so inviting, so fun."

"I believe I can arrange that, my family owns a cabin at the lake an hour from here, and I believe that the caretakers have already cleaned and aired it out for the spring season. Perhaps we can go this weekend."

"That would be swell! I mean, that would be wonderful, Elizabeth!" Kelly hugged herself excitedly. "Does it have a fireplace? Could we roast marshmallows?"

"Yes, it does, and yes, we may. Why don't we meet for dinner tonight, work out the details? I'll call the caretakers and ask them to stock some groceries for us. I'll warn you, it is modest, but it does have electricity and indoor plumbing."

"It sounds heavenly. Ok, why don't you come to my apartment tonight around seven, and I'll have a quick meal for us. Thanks, Elizabeth."

"You are most welcome, Kelly." The librarian smiled. "Now, I have some work to attend to, but I will see you tonight."

Friday evening finally came. Kelly had an early farewell dinner with her co-workers at the cafe, then went took the bus back to her apartment and surveyed her suitcase. Jeans, underwear, shirts, a sweater, toiletries, extra socks, sturdy walking shoes. She kept glancing at the clock, Elizabeth was supposed to arrive at six o'clock and had never been late before. It was 5:55, and Kelly found herself pacing and peeping out of the window. At six on the dot, she heard the gentle knock at the door that she associated with her friend. "Come in, I have all of my things ready," she said excitedly.

"Good. Shall we go then?" Kelly picked up her suitcase while Elizabeth grabbed the picnic basket. "I've already bought groceries, and thought we could go directly to the cabin. I'd rather not stop tonight since it's nearly dark."

"Ok," Kelly replied, trying to contain her excitement. She followed Elizabeth down the stairs and to the car. "Where's your car?"

Elizabeth smiled. "I borrowed my father's Jeep, sometimes the road to the cabin is a little rough on my car. I hope you don't mind. It's over there." Kelly walked slowly over to the green Jeep, commenting, "Well, at least it has a top on."

The cabin was magical, Kelly thought as she stared at the honey colored interior and large stone fireplace. Elizabeth quickly stowed their gear and laid out a simple cold dinner as Kelly explored the cabin. It had a new bathroom, a large living room, a large kitchen with walk in pantry, two bedrooms on the ground floor, and a large sleeping area in the loft overlooking the living room. "This is beautiful," Kelly said, awestruck. "Has that wagon wheel chandelier always been there?"

"Yes, but it used to have candles. My parents had it converted to electricity recently," Elizabeth answered as she stood up from the fireplace, where she had just coaxed the wood into a steady blaze. "It had a chain to let it down previously, and my brother and I were always the ones to be in charge of lighting the candles and making sure they didn't burn out completely when we had family reunions here. We always enjoyed getting to play with fire," she added with a mischievous grin. "I didn't ask, do you prefer to sleep upstairs or downstairs? The beds are quite comfortable in the downstairs bedrooms, but we also have one double bed and several cots upstairs. I believe they all have clean sheets and blankets."

"Would you mind sleeping upstairs? It seems like more fun," Kelly answered.

"Upstairs we shall go. Let's eat before we take our suitcases up, however."

The next day was wonderful. Cool, sunny, light breeze, just perfect for jeans and a sweater over a flannel shirt. Kelly noticed that Elizabeth seemed more relaxed out here than she did in town, smiling and laughing as she told stories of how she and her brother would get into trouble regularly when they were children.

"When you are eight, it seems perfectly logical to keep the catfish in the old claw-foot tub," Elizabeth explained, laughing. "We did a lot of fishing at this lake. In the summer, we'd swim over there, at that little pool under the trees, with a little beach. After my father returned from the war, we'd bring the Jeep up here and he'd let us drive through the trails in the woods. Mother was quite tolerant of me running around in shorts when it was just the immediate family. Some summers, Mother, Brian and I would spend all of our time here and Dad would join us for the weekends. Brian taught me how to shoot, fish, chop wood, and skin fish. He was in Scouts and would come home and teach me everything he learned."

"It sounds like you had a wonderful childhood, Elizabeth."

"I did. Mother was a school librarian, which is why I decided to be a librarian. Dad was in the Army Corp of Engineers and served in the war, then joined a local engineering firm when he came home. Brian is now an engineer." Elizabeth leaned over, picking up several flat stones and skipping them. "Do you know how to skip stones?"

"No, could you show me?"

Elizabeth handed Kelly a few stones, then showed her the motions. "No, not quite. Here, let me get behind you," she said, moving behind the other woman and taking Kelly's smaller hand lightly in her larger one. "You pull back like this, and flick it off your finger so that the stone is moving at a flat trajectory across the water." She helped Kelly through several tosses until a stone sailed low, skipping three times before sinking. "Excellent!"

Kelly almost didn't hear the last comment, she was concentrating too much on the unexpected warm feeling of her friend behind her, bodies almost touching, arms lined up together as Elizabeth guided her hand. Her thoughts were a jumble, wondering why she wanted Elizabeth to just fold her arms around her and hold her there while they soaked up the sun. She'd never felt this way with Charles, or any other man, for that matter. Too soon, the librarian moved away. "Are you ready to keep moving?"

They elected to eat their supper on the front porch, watching the sun set, lending fire to the sky. "It's so beautiful out here," Kelly said softly, twisting her wineglass in her hands. "Thank you for bringing me out here, it's been a lovely way to celebrate my new job."

"You're very welcome, my dear, and there's no one I would rather share this with, " Elizabeth replied, reaching across their chairs to squeeze Kelly's hand. "I've enjoyed taking you around. I assume you never had this growing up?"

"No," she answered sadly, "my father was killed in the war, and my mom and my grandmother raised me. My grandmother sewed for the public and Mother worked at the cafe until she died from a heart attack just before I finished school. I don't think we ever had a real vacation, we never were able to just take off. I do remember watching the fireworks one summer with friends at the park, but I didn't even get to do much running around with my friends. But I've enjoyed this weekend so much." She swallowed the last of her wine and set the glass on the porch. "You seem different here, more relaxed."

Elizabeth set her glass down, scooting her chair closer and taking Kelly's hand again. "It's my favorite place to relax. I do have some news, I have recently applied for a position at a university library. It may take a while before I am interviewed and find out if I am hired, but I thought you'd like to know."

"You'd move from here?" Kelly blurted out, fear suddenly constricting her chest.

Elizabeth squeezed her hand. "My dear, I wish I could take you with me, I've become quite fond of you." Her eyes glowed with emotion for a moment, then in her practical voice, "It is starting to get rather chilly out here and the sun has set. Shall we go in and start the fire?" Kelly picked up her glass and followed her friend in. "I'll start washing dishes," she volunteered.

A bit later, dishes washed, fire going, blankets and cushions spread in front of the fireplace, the women sat, watching the flames. Elizabeth finally cleared her throat and reached under the blankets, pulling out a small package, handing it to Kelly without a word. Kelly took the package, carefully unwrapping it to reveal a silver Cross pen and pencil set. "Oh, my goodness, you shouldn't have spend so much money on me," she said in a hushed voice, "they are beautiful."

"And they last forever," Elizabeth said, "and you are worth every penny. Please, Kelly, don't cry."

"No one's ever given me such a nice gift," Kelly said, wiping her eyes. She tilted the box to catch the firelight on the silver surface, then leaned over to lay it on the coffee table. "I'm just overwhelmed, I guess." She wiped her eyes again, scrubbing her sleeve across her face.

"I'm glad you like it," Elizabeth replied huskily, reaching for the other woman and pulling her into her arms. "I wanted to give you something useful, yet beautiful." She leaned them against a pile of cushions, wrapping her arms around Kelly, nuzzling her neck.

Kelly closed her eyes, enjoying the feeling of her friend's arms around her, her face against her neck. She sighed happily, tears drying in the firelight. After a minute, she sat up, her green eyes looking deeply into the librarian's brown eyes. "You are so good to me," she whispered, touching her friend's angular face gently. Elizabeth's eyes closed, a gentle smile appearing on her lips. Kelly was overwhelmed by the feeling of love and peace at that moment, trembling with joy. She leaned over, intending to kiss Elizabeth's cheek, but somehow missed, landing on soft lips.

Before she could react, arms reached around her, pulling her down on a soft body, kiss deepening. Kelly sank into the delicious feeling of being wrapped in Elizabeth's arms, the kiss causing all sorts of strange and wonderful feelings to course through her body. She gave herself over completely to the sensation, kissing back with passion she'd never felt for Charles or any other man she had dated.

Kelly pulled back after an indeterminate time, drinking in the sight of her friend in the firelight. Overwhelmed by deep emotion, she sank down, tightening her grip on Elizabeth, seeking something. She felt hands slowly stroking her hair, her neck, and shivered with the renewed jolt of pleasure shuddering deep in her belly. "God, that feels good," she groaned. She heard a soft chuckle, then felt Elizabeth shift under her. "Roll over," the librarian whispered. Kelly complied as Elizabeth loomed over her, reaching shakily for sweater, pulling it over her head, unbuttoning the shirt underneath. "Yes," Kelly whispered, unsure what she was agreeing to. A lazy smile crossed Elizabeth's face before she leaned down, gently kissing Kelly's neck.

"Oh, God," Kelly moaned, feeling fire spiking hard in her belly. "Please, please."

"Please what?" Elizabeth purred.

"Just keep going," Kelly answered raggedly. Lips and fingers started a path from her neck to the top of her bra, teasing her as she started wiggling with pleasure and something else. Jolts of pleasure were rolling through her entire body now and her clothes were too much to bear. She sat up abruptly, stripping off her shirt and bra as Elizabeth mirrored her actions. She stared, wide-eyed, at the other woman's small, beautiful breasts, then hurriedly shucked the rest of her clothes. Elizabeth joined her, lowering her naked body on top of hers, creating a most delicious pressure against her mound. She groaned again as the other woman started kissing her again, making her way to her nipples and taking one in her mouth and the other in her fingers. The twin sensation sent Kelly into a spasm of intense feeling, wanting more contact. "Yes, God, yes," she cried out as Elizabeth switched breasts.

A new sensation was added when Elizabeth slipped her hand between them and started stroking her intimately between the legs. Kelly didn't know that it could get better, but now the fire was reaching a fever pitch, and she wrapped her legs around Elizabeth's body, trying to force even more contact. The whole world had contracted to what Elizabeth's lips and fingers were doing until the most intense feeling yet started rocketing from her toes through her entire body. She started shaking hard, squeezing the other woman in her arms and legs, until she felt fingers suddenly invade her deepest wetness as her world exploded into the most beautiful sensations.

She arched her back, jerking, rubbing hard against the hand trapped between them. She vaguely felt the hand withdraw and sensed her friend hanging on hard, rocking with her. The feeling was so intense that she nearly blacked out, barely hanging on as Elizabeth stroked her damp red hair, crooning softly in her ear, helping her come back to earth gently. She laid back on the blanket, panting with exertion, heart racing, breathing hard. When Kelly could finally speak, she croaked, "Thank you."

Elizabeth smiled, rolling on her side, keeping one hand on her stomach. "You are very welcome, my love." She rolled on her back, the fire painting her body. Kelly's breath caught at the beauty of her friend as she tentatively rolled over, laying a trembling hand on Elizabeth's breast. A soft intake of breath encouraged her; she leaned over, mimicking her friend's earlier motions, taking a taut nipple in her mouth. It was as wonderful as receiving. She greedily sucked the nipple, her hand wandering over her friend's body, feeling the other woman starting to jerk with pleasure. "Oh, quickly," Elizabeth groaned, guiding the hand between her legs into the wetness.

Kelly was a quick learner, she slid her fingers around the nub, marveling at how much pleasure it gave both of them. She slide over until she was mostly on top of Elizabeth, alternating between breasts with her mouth and moving her fingers around in the wet heat, feeling the intensity building again. It seemed like seconds passed before Elizabeth was bucking hard and she found herself riding her friend's leg, building up to another wonderful peak. They both screamed out seconds apart, squeezing each other, rocking hard to milk the last of the sensations racing through their bodies.

Kelly finally rolled off, hearing Elizabeth whisper, "I love you." She lifted Elizabeth's hand, kissing her fingers, whispering, "I love you too, my darling." She knew no more after that, surrendering to sleep.

The next morning, Kelly woke up disoriented for a moment, wondering why they were sleeping together. Naked. Very naked. The previous evening rushed back into her mind and she started smiling, stretching languidly, rolling over to kiss Elizabeth good morning. She was rewarded with a low hum of pleasure and a sleepy voice saying, "You're still here."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Kelly replied, trailing fingers along an arm. "That was amazing last night, I've never felt like that before."

Elizabeth opened one eye, then slowly followed with the other eye. "We do need to talk about this, but after showers and breakfast." She kissed Kelly briefly, then exited the bedroom. Puzzled at Elizabeth's abrupt change of mood, Kelly just sat in the bed until Elizabeth's head popped around the door frame. "Shake a leg, Kelly, there should be enough hot water for both of us." She disappeared, and Kelly reluctantly left the warm bed to fetch her clothes and toiletries from upstairs.

After breakfast, Elizabeth led Kelly into the living room, asking her to sit on the sofa with her. Kelly did so, wondering what they needed to talk about. "First, I do not regret last night," Elizabeth started,"but you need to be aware that what we did together is considered illegal and immoral, probably in every state in the union. We can't continue this type of relationship, no matter how much we want to, something will happen and we will forget."


"Kelly, I should have kept you at arm's length, I nearly got caught in college in a similar relationship. My roommate and I became very close, and were in a lesbian relationship for several months. We decided to request different roommates the next year to avoid further temptation. I'm sorry, I do love you, but for your sake and mine, we need to make sure that no one catches us. Not only could we be fired, but arrested as well. You've heard of the blacklist?"

"Elizabeth, are you saying we can't even be friends any longer?" Kelly asked, trembling.

The librarian shook her head emphatically. "No, honey, we just have to be really careful. No overnight visits, no loud screams, no touching in public, no declarations of love." She pulled Kelly to her, wrapping her arms around the other woman, kissing her gently. "We can see each other as friends, we just can't make love very often."

"I don't like this."

"I don't either, Kelly, but one wrong word or gesture and we're history."

Kelly buried her face in Elizabeth's chest, trembling, willing the tears away. She'd had the most fabulous experience of her life, only to have it dashed apart by warnings of the direst kind. She finally looked up, seeing a hint of moisture in her friend's eyes, mollified a little by knowing her pain was shared. She gently kissed Elizabeth, not pushing, just affirming love. She sat up and said raggedly, "I guess we'd better pack and go home."

"I am sorry," Elizabeth answered softly, "but you must understand how life is."

"I do," Kelly said miserably, "I do now."

Chapter 3

"The new marketing professor is here to see you, Dr. Green."

"Please send her in, Helen. Thank you." Dr. Green pulled off her glasses, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. On top of her duties as assistant director in charge of all technical services, she had recently been asked to fill in for the librarian who was supposed to be faculty liaison for the business college. Jamie could not help being on maternity leave, but still.

"Good morning, Dr. Green, I'm Dr. Moore," said an amused voice. "My God, Elizabeth, you still look fantastic!"

Elizabeth Green stood up, shocked beyond words for several seconds, until her manners automatically kicked in and she offered her hand. "Please, have a seat, Dr. Moore, would you like anything to eat or drink?"

"Not right now, but I'd love some coffee later, if you have time," Kelly Moore responded, shaking the librarian's hand warmly. She closed the door behind her before lowering herself into a chair, adding softly, "You really do look fantastic, Elizabeth, the years sit well on you."

"On you as well," Elizabeth choked out, drinking in the sight of the beautiful woman before her. Her red hair had darkened to a deep auburn shade and was cut in a short, clean style. The lingering baby softness she remembered had melted from her cheeks, revealing more of a heart-shaped face. Her green eyes were practically dancing with mirth, a self-confident air settling on her slender shoulders. She was dressed casually in khakis, green and white pinstriped button down shirt, loafers, and a deep green wool blazer. "So, you did go to college after all," she said, immediately wishing she hadn't.

The professor leaned forward, arms on the desk, smiling disarmingly. "Yes, I spent a few years at the law firm, saved up, went to college, eventually built and sold a marketing firm, then went back for my graduate degrees so I could teach. Here I am, teaching marketing research this semester, so naturally, I am begging for your most kind assistance once more." Kelly crossed one elegant leg over the other, amusement flitting across her face.


"I'm sure you can conjure a list of what we have in no time saving me valuable time in which I can figure out the politics of my department and the university. So, what have you done with yourself in the past twenty some odd years?"

Elizabeth cleared her throat, gathering her wandering thoughts back in to some semblance of order, suddenly angry that she could be so rattled by the past appearing so unexpectedly. She turned around two framed pictures and explained, "This is my husband, Nathan, and this is our daughter, Joanne. Our daughter has just started college and Nathan is on the engineering faculty here."

"Well, now that we've trooped down memory lane and back, shall we move to the boring business at hand?" Kelly's eyes were still reflecting amusement, and Elizabeth wasn't quite sure why her old friend was so amused. "Are we a depository library? Good, then I'll need to see the government reports on the following subjects..."

Elizabeth sat in her study later that night, lost in thought while pretending to be working her latest journal article on the use of computers in libraries. Kelly, back in her life just like that. She was so deep in thought that she didn't hear Nathan enter the room.

"How was your day?" her tall, red-headed husband asked, bringing in two glasses of wine with him, stooping to kiss her forehead before sitting in the chair next to her desk.

"Interesting. I met the new marketing professor today." She took a sip of the wine and leaned back in her chair. "Afterwards, I had to defend our computer budget yet again. How was your day?"

"Same old, same old. I'm starting to feel like a dinosaur at times, no one uses slide rulers any longer, they all have these wonderful calculators from TI. So who is he?"


"New professor, who is he?"

Elizabeth sipped her wine again and set the glass down carefully. "A she, Kelly Moore."

"A woman? Is she pretty?"

She had to suppress her first inclination to say, More beautiful than I remembered, but settled for her usual dry, "Nathan, you know that I don't believe that beauty is the measure of a person's talents."

"I'm sure she's not as beautiful as you," he murmured, green eyes lighting up with desire.

Elizabeth continued, "It was a bit of a surprise to see her. I knew her from the classes I taught at the public library. Quite intelligent, but I must confess I never expected to see her here."

"Then we should invite her for dinner one night, since she's an old friend." He took a sip, then mused, "You never mentioned her before."

"We didn't know each other that long, just about a year or so," Elizabeth answered stiffly.

Nathan reached for her hand, rubbing his thumb along the side of her hand. "You're not getting anything done on this article tonight, love, so why don't we call it an early night? No being quiet for Joanne's sake," he said, a slow smile spreading across his face.

"We should," she agreed, bowing to the inevitable.

Elizabeth stepped out of the shower in the women's locker room and was greeted by a low whistle. "My goodness, woman, you are still so beautiful," Kelly said, handing her a towel. Elizabeth took the towel and started drying off, trying not to blush at the compliment. "I'm so glad I decided to start swimming again," Kelly continued, unabashedly watching the tall librarian drying off, "this is quite a bonus."

"Why are you here?" Elizabeth asked coldly, trying to ignore the curiosity roused by Kelly's sudden appearance.

"Truth? I was checking the campus facilities, I heard we had a good indoor pool, and it was available in the early mornings. I thought I heard you singing, so I stopped by the cubical just as you stepped out of the shower. Not very private quarters, eh?"

"They are a little more private when people don't just open the curtains and stare at other people," Elizabeth countered.

"Touche, love. Shall we start this whole conversation over again?" Kelly asked, green eyes flashing with mirth. She pulled herself up to her full height, almost eye to eye with Elizabeth. "My dear Dr. Green, would you consent to joining me for breakfast this fine morning? We could go to the small cafe off campus I saw yesterday, it seemed cozy."

Elizabeth started smiling in spite of herself. Kelly had definitely gained self-confidence in the intervening years, and it sat well upon her. "The cafe, I think. It is closer to the library than the union building, and fewer students will be up at this time of the morning. Now, if you will excuse me, I really need to get dressed." Kelly flashed a wicked smile as she complied.

A little while later, the women were finishing their breakfasts as they discussed research sources for marketing. "One of these days, we'll be able to combine data from multiple sources and get a more complete picture of our markets, therefore be able to spend our advertising dollars more effectively," Kelly explained, stopping to sip her juice. "But I don't think computer time is cheap enough yet to be able to do this yet. I can generally tell my students to check census reports and property tax records to get an idea of where different economic groups live, but I can't tell them how to combine all sorts of data to be able to target the best potential customers. Thank God for bulk mailing rates!"

A small smile quirked Elizabeth's mouth up. "Ha. So you're one of the people responsible for my receiving so many catalogs in the mail? And who in their infinite wisdom decided that because I am a librarian, that I need catalogs for children's books? I haven't ever been a children's librarian."

"Luck of the draw, I suppose." Kelly glanced at her watch. "Crap, time to go already, my first class is at 9:00 and I need to look over my notes again. This was fun, Elizabeth, let's do it again."

"Yes, it was," she reluctantly agreed. "By the way, I mentioned you to my husband, Nathan, the other night and he said he'd like to meet you. Would you be free for dinner one night, perhaps this Saturday?"

"I'd love to, Elizabeth. I accept your kind offer." Kelly's green eyes gleamed with delight.

"I will call you with the details later today. I must go as well, my day starts shortly and I have meetings this morning." Elizabeth picked up her briefcase and extracted her billfold. She glanced at the check and pulled out enough money to cover her half plus the tip. "Do you mind if I leave now?"

"'Parting is such sweet sorrow / I could say goodnight until good morrow.' Romeo and Juliet, I believe."

"Humph. I'll call you later. Have a good class." Elizabeth stood up and managed to walk away without tripping over anything. She walked swiftly to the library, forcing herself to think about the endless round of meetings this morning instead of the way Kelly's heart-shaped face lit up when she smiled,revealing deep dimples, the way she laughed unrestrainedly, the way she engaged one so completely in conversation. "This may not be a good idea," she muttered under her breath as she strode rapidly. Kelly had plenty of charm as a young woman, but with the addition of self-confidence, she was utterly irresistible. And that spelled trouble.

"Come in, Nathan's out back at the grill," Elizabeth said as she ushered Kelly in the door. "I'm glad you could make it. Would you like a drink of some kind? Tea, lemonade, beer, wine?"

"Lemonade sounds good for now, maybe something stronger later. I brought some fruit, as promised, where would you like it?"

"In the cooler for now. Make yourself at home, I'll be back in a moment." Elizabeth took the bags from Kelly and hurried to the kitchen. She took a long swig of wine to calm herself before stashing the fruit and pouring the lemonade for her guest. She smoothed her denim skirt, then walked back into the living room with the wine and the lemonade.

"Thank you," Kelly said, accepting the glass from the librarian. "How recent is the family portrait on the wall?"

"We had it taken just before our daughter's high school graduation this spring. It was a struggle to get Joanne to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt, but we managed."

"I see. She's very beautiful, Elizabeth, she has your dark hair and eyes."

"And her father's engineering mind, I believe. She's planning to major in either mathematics or engineering." Elizabeth set her glass down on the coffee table. "Would you care to sit for a few minutes?" Kelly nodded, following her hostess to the couch. Elizabeth sat, uncharacteristically nervous, twisting her wedding band around her ring finger. "I must admit that I never expected to see you again," she finally admitted.

"I must confess I never thought I'd see you again, but I'm glad I have," Kelly answered, green eyes softening. She started to reach out, but withdrew her hand. "Tell me, how did you meet Nathan? You certainly weren't dating any men that I knew of when you left."

Elizabeth relaxed somewhat, she was on firmer territory. "I met Nathan through my brother, Brian. This was shortly after I'd come to work for the university, and we started dating. He was kind and intelligent, so we married fairly soon and had Joanne the first year we were married. I was able to defend my dissertation shortly before Joanne was born, and I've been here every since. How about you?"

Kelly smiled, tucking her auburn hair behind her ears. "After you left, I worked at the law firm, then went to college, as I told you the other day. I did date a few women, most not seriously. But my Margo was a different story, I met her at church choir, sitting next to her in the alto section. I'll spare you the details, but we kept quiet by living in different apartments until she found out she had breast cancer. Then I didn't give a damn what anyone thought, I moved in with her and took care of her until she died."

"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth said, reaching for Kelly's hand, "how long ago was this?"

"Nearly ten years," Kelly answered, lacing her fingers through Elizabeth's, "and I haven't dated since. Two strikes at love, I'd rather not have strike three." She smiled sadly. "I also never stepped foot in another church after her funeral. I was commended for staying with her, but if the good Christians knew that she was my lover, it might have been different."

Elizabeth started to say something, but heard the back door opening. She dropped Kelly's hand guiltily, rising from the couch. "Nathan?" she called out, "we're in the living room."

Nathan entered, and Kelly stood up to greet him. "Kelly, so good to meet you, Elizabeth's mentioned that she knew you before she met me. Good to have you here." Nathan shook hands with her, a smile creasing his handsome face. "You getting settled in at the university?"

"Yes, thank you, Nathan. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see Elizabeth at the library, I'd given up on ever seeing her again. This is a nice house."

"Wait until you see the grill outside, it's awesome!" Nathan enthused, his whole face lighting up. "Say, honey, if you don't mind, I'll take Kelly out back to see my monster grill. How's the rest of the preparations coming?"

"I just have to unpack Kelly's contribution," she answered, "are we eating inside or outside?"

"Outside. I have the heaters ready to go in case it gets nippier."

Elizabeth watched Nathan lead Kelly outside as she walked into the kitchen to finish preparing the food. She washed and sliced the fruit while watching Nathan show off his home built grill through the window over the sink. The sun was just low enough to catch the encroaching silver in his fading red hair, and to catch golden highlights in her auburn hair. She mulled over their conversation, unwillingly remembering how it felt to love the younger version of Kelly, She forced her thoughts back to the present, admonishing herself not to go down that path again.

"I really enjoyed dinner, you and Nathan have such a lovely home," Kelly commented as she slipped into the pool several mornings later. "That was the most awesome grill I've ever seen."

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, we enjoyed having you over," Elizabeth replied automatically. "Nathan was happy to meet you."

"Oh, he was, eh?" Kelly asked, grinning. She started to say something else, but just shook her head instead. "I'd love to chat, but I need to get my laps in before my first class. Do you have lunch plans today?"

Elizabeth mentally reviewed her calendar, then shook her head. "No plans, would you like to meet for lunch today?"

"Any chance I get," Kelly tossed over her shoulder as she spurted down the lane. Elizabeth kicked off the wall and barely managed to catch the professor before the other end of the pool. "Caught me, that's damn good," Kelly commented, treading water. "How about I call you when I get out of my morning classes?"

"It sounds like a plan," Elizabeth answered, suddenly pushing off. Kelly laughed and raced after the librarian, just pulling abreast when Elizabeth flipped and raced off the opposite direction. "I had no idea you were so competitive," Kelly murmured as she followed her friend.

They met at an off campus pizza place for lunch, each opting to go through the buffet line. "You should have seen their faces when I announced that their first project would be a trip to the library," Kelly laughed as she unloaded her tray, "you'd think the poor little dears had never seen the inside of a library before."

"Sad, but true, Kelly, many of them have not seen a library, nor do they wish to see a library. They seem to forget everything they were supposed to learn in orientation." Elizabeth unloaded her tray, arranging her plate and glass precisely on the table. She took a sip of water, then asked, "I'm curious, why are you seeking me out so often?"

"Don't you like me?" Kelly mock-pouted.

Elizabeth frowned, dark eyes serious as she marshaled her thoughts. "Yes, of course I do, you are an intelligent woman who is able to converse about many subjects. You are strikingly attractive, and very self-confident. So why choose to spend your time with me?"

Kelly smiled gently, answering, "Did it occur to you that maybe I still like you? Maybe I'm curious to see what you've done in life?" She grew serious as she continued, "This isn't the place for this conversation, hon, we should really speak of this in private. Is there some time we could meet away from campus, just the two of us?"

Elizabeth took a large bite to give herself time to think before responding to Kelly's question. "Nathan and my brother Brian will be leaving for their annual hunting trip one weekend in November. If this can wait until then, we would have the entire weekend to ourselves."

"Just tell me when, and I'll invite you to my house that I just bought. On to lighter topics, have you watched much TV lately, or do you shun it as being too lowbrow for your tastes?" Kelly asked mischievously.

Chapter 4

Elizabeth took a deep breath before raising her hand to knock at Kelly's door. Once she decided that they should meet at Kelly's house, it was easier than she expected to follow through and actually show up at the designated time. She knocked sharply and was rewarded by the door opening almost immediately.

"Welcome to my humble abode," Kelly said, green eyes dancing with mischief. Elizabeth simply followed her friend into the house, cataloging the artwork on the walls as they passed through the formal living room into the den at the back of the house. The den was cozy, dominated by a large stone fireplace on one wall and a large television on another wall. The furniture looked comfortable, like one could sink into the couches and snooze happily for hours. The coffee table had crackers, cheese, fruit, and wine already laid out, along with boldly colored Fiesta ware plates. "I bought the plates at a garage sale recently. I know they don't match the rest of the décor, but I thought, what the hell. Do you want the full tour now? It might take up to five minutes."

"Yes, a tour would be nice," Elizabeth agreed.

Kelly took Elizabeth's hand, leading her first into the kitchen. "Kitchen, pantry, breakfast nook here. Step through this door and we are in the living and dining room, which I use more for displaying my Southwestern artwork than for living. On through the hallway, we see the den again, then down the hall, we have three bedrooms, a hall bath, and in the master, a master bathroom. The other bedrooms are a guest room and a home office, respectively." Kelly smiled, leading her friend back to the den, and ushering her to an overstuffed couch. "I haven't had a chance to work on the backyard yet, but I love the idea of a huge grill and deck like you and Nathan have."

"It's lovely, Kelly," Elizabeth said, reaching for the food and dropping Kelly's hand. Kelly leaned forward, picking up the wine bottle and pouring into two glasses. "Thank you," Elizabeth said as she took one of the glasses.

"A toast to good times and friendship," Kelly proposed, lightly clinking her glass against Elizabeth's. They both sipped, then Kelly asked, "So, may I ask a very rude question?"

"I suppose."

Kelly looked at her wine, then set the glass down, turning to face her friend. "How could you marry a man? I really loved you, and thought you loved me too. Why did you run out on me?"

Elizabeth turned the wine glass in her hand, corralling her thoughts before answering. "You frightened me, Kelly," she finally answered quietly, staring at the glass in her hand, "it was easy to push Betty away, but you touched something else, something deep. I found myself falling in love with you so deeply that when the job offer from the university came through, I jumped on it and never looked back."

"But?" Kelly asked quietly, watching her friend intently.

Elizabeth sighed, running a hand through her dark hair, finally looking at Kelly. "Being here with you is dangerous, Kelly. I love my husband, but seeing you again stirs up old feelings I thought I had extinguished. So what about you?"

"Other than Margo, I never had another long term relationship. I dated a few women, but no one ever fired my imagination like you. In fact, Margo would sometimes ask if I were seeing someone behind her back. I think she sensed that I wasn't fully with her. I never stopped loving you, even when I had someone right there."

Elizabeth tentatively reached out, unable to resist stroking Kelly's soft cheek. "What should we do?

"Eat the snacks I spent so much time fixing," Kelly answered, smiling. "Or..." She slithered closer to the other woman, boldly reaching for her. "We could just say the hell with being nice and admit we still desire each other. Kiss me, Elizabeth."

The librarian started to protest but had it smothered by insistent lips. Her resistance crumbled unexpectedly; she kissed back, wrapping her arms around the other woman, pulling her as close as humanly possible. God, it felt good to kiss Kelly again, she thought incoherently. She pulled back suddenly, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Kelly, if we don't stop this right now, I won't be able to quit. I'm married, remember?"

Kelly pulled back reluctantly, a little angry. "I guess you're right. Damn it, woman, you're always right. We really shouldn't, but it's you I've always wanted, dreamed about."

Elizabeth sat back, wrapping her arms tightly around her body. "I know," she answered miserably, "I thought I was over you, but with you here, it is almost impossible to resist you. But I can't wreck my marriage just to be with you."

Kelly curled her long legs under her, looking like the uncertain young woman she used to be. "Do you think we can still be friends, though?"

"We can try," Elizabeth sighed, giving in against her better judgment. "So, how are your classes going?"

"What did you do this weekend?" Nathan asked as Elizabeth handed him a glass of wine. "Brian and I didn't get any deer, but he managed to shoot a tree stump."

"I went over to Kelly's house," she answered smoothly, sitting next to him on the couch. "We talked, ate supper, watched a little TV. Nothing too exciting."

"Well, I'm glad you had someone to spend some time with," Nathan said as he pulled his beautiful wife to him, rubbing his stubbled-covered cheek over her face. "What's her house like?"

"It's a 1950's ranch style, large fireplace, Southwestern art on the walls. She's interested in adding a grill and a deck like ours."

"Think she wants some help with those projects?" Nathan asked excitedly, "I'd be glad to help her draw up the plans. We could help her build it, we did a great job building our deck and grill. You're pretty handy with power tools, my dear."

Elizabeth laid very still, thinking, no, I don't want to share Kelly with anyone, but forced herself to relax. "She liked your grill, Nathan, so she might appreciate our assistance."

Nathan sipped his wine, then leaned over, setting it on the coffee table. "I'm pretty tired, love. Mind if I just take a shower and head for bed?"

"Not at all," she answered. When she heard the shower start, she drained her wine, then laid back against the couch. God, I'm in a mess, she thought, pondering she almost let happen the night before. The feelings for Kelly were coming back stronger than ever, like she had woken up from a long nap. Still, she had pledged her life with Nathan, and that should be the end of it. But it was nice to have Kelly back, even just as a friend, she argued with herself. She heard the shower stop and reluctantly pulled herself off the couch, neatly tucking her thoughts into the back of her mind, donning her mask of loving wife again.

Chapter 5

It was increasingly difficult to be around Elizabeth as just a friend, but Kelly tried to respect the librarian's marriage. It didn't help that Nathan was so nice to offer their help with building the deck and grill, or that he was enthusiastic about the three of them being friends. The trio worked hard on the back yard additions every weekend for the next month, finally finishing it before the first big snow of the season.

The women both kept their end of the bargain by not spending any time together alone, other than occasional lunches on campus. Kelly reluctantly decided to change her swim time so as not to be tempted by the sight of Elizabeth's body slicing neatly through the water in the pool. It sucked, she decided, being so good. The worst part was that she was also getting very tempted to start visiting bars again, something she had not done for many years.

"I'm insane," Kelly declared to the walls as she marinated the steaks, "for inviting them both over to grill. It's cold outside, I can hardly stand to be around Elizabeth, and I really like Nathan as a friend. It's just not fair." Just as she finished grumbling, the doorbell rang. "Coming!" she sang out, walking to the door.

"Hey, how's it going?" Nathan asked, leaning over to peck her cheek. "Happy end of the semester, Kelly! Where do you want the goodies?"

"In the kitchen, just on the counter, thanks," Kelly replied. She took a deep breath, looking at Elizabeth's face. "Well, come on it," she said, "while Nathan unloads your contribution to supper."

"Thank you," Elizabeth said, fatigue underscoring her words and her eyes. She shut the door behind her, looking at Kelly. "You're looking fine."

"Good makeup. I'm crazy."

"I know." Elizabeth shrugged out of her coat and Kelly took it, walking over to the entry closet to hang it up. Elizabeth started to say something, but instead, turned on her heel and walked into the kitchen to retrieve her husband's coat. Kelly followed slowly, steeling herself for the evening.

Nathan was already making himself at home, chopping vegetables and popping a loaf of garlic bread in the oven. "Kelly, how long have you marinated the steaks? I'm starving!"

"Long enough," she answered, "I'll go light the propane, and Elizabeth can follow me out with the steaks." She pointed to the fridge. "They're on the bottom shelf." She turned and went outside, knowing that Elizabeth would follow her in a moment.

"It's cold out here," Elizabeth grumbled as she followed seconds later with the steaks. "I should have taken a moment to get my coat." Kelly bit her lip to keep from replying, busying herself with the grill. She took the plate from Elizabeth's hands, carefully placing the steaks on the grill before closing the lid. Elizabeth reached out, forcing Kelly to turn around. "I know this is not the time or the place, but you've been avoiding me since we finished the deck. Why?"

"Why not?" Kelly mocked, crossing her arms. "Honey, if I can't have you, I shouldn't be around you at all. I am taunting myself by being around you, I should not have invited you guys over here. And you're looking thinner than the last time I saw you."

Elizabeth just shrugged. "I guess I'm not eating enough," she said quietly, "or, more accurately, I'm desperately torn between what I know is right and what I want, I shouldn't be here. But I can't seem to say 'no' when you call." A fleeting smile crossed her face. "So, I spin my wheels and try to avoid you while ruthlessly shoving thoughts of you away. Nathan thinks that since Joanne has gone to college, our marriage has gotten that much closer, I'm using him to drive away thoughts of you."

"I'm sorry," Kelly offered sincerely, reaching out to touch Elizabeth's cheek. Elizabeth instinctively leaned into the hand, then pulled back abruptly. Kelly cleared her throat, then turned to check on the steaks. "I'm really sorry, honey," she whispered. Elizabeth watched for a moment, then turned on her heel and went back in the house.

Several hours later, Kelly grabbed her courage as Nathan took the ice chest out to the car. "Come here," she demanded, reaching for the Elizabeth's hands, "it's our only chance."

"But-" Her reply was lost in a fierce kiss that threatened to overwhelm her senses. All too soon, Kelly broke off the kiss and simply enveloped Elizabeth in her arms, holding her loosely. "God," the librarian whispered, "you'll drive me insane."

"Take it out on Nathan," Kelly answered bitterly as she stepped back. Hearing the door open, she said louder, "Thanks for coming over, maybe we can do this again some time."

"It was terrific," Nathan agreed, rounding the corner, glancing around the kitchen to make sure he wasn't leaving anything. "Great supper, Kelly, we'll have to have you over soon." Kelly made agreeable noises. "Good, Elizabeth will be in touch," he concluded as he leaned over, pecking Kelly on the cheek. "Come on, sweetheart, let's go home," he said to his wife.

The two women exchanged a quick agonized glance as Kelly led the couple to the front door. She quietly locked it behind them when she heard the car take off and slid down the wall until she was sitting on the floor, staring off into space. She sat like that for several minutes, then looked up at the clock in the living room. Not too late to go out, she decided.

The only lesbian bar in the county was on the outskirts of town, almost completely hidden, which she appreciated. Kelly pulled in to the parking lot and cut her engine, pocketing her keys. She sat in the dark, listening to the sounds of the cooling engine while trying to convince herself to go in, to find someone to help her forget her obsession with Elizabeth. "Come on, don't be a coward," she admonished herself as she opened the door and forced herself to walk into the building and took a place at the bar, ordering a beer.

"Hello, Professor," a smoky voice tickled her ear, "don't tell me that you visit this den of iniquity!"

Kelly turned around slowly to face the speaker, a beautiful, voluptuous blonde with smoky gray eyes. "You. Marketing research." She reached into her memory, pleased that she matched a name to the face. "Julia Stiles, I believe. You showed excellent leadership skills in the group project."

"Good memory, Dr. Moore." Julia flashed a predatory smile as she leaned both hands on Kelly's thighs. "Or, shall I call you Kelly?"

Kelly smiled lazily. "Call me anything you like," she purred, deliberately ignoring the warning bells going off in her head. Damn, it had been too long, and Elizabeth at least had Nathan in her bed! "Would you like to dance, my dear?"

"I thought you'd never ask," Julia answered, taking Kelly's hand.

Kelly followed Julia back to her apartment later, but refused the offer of spending the night. "I'm sorry, dear, but I shouldn't have an affair with a student. You might have me again in the future, and that would be messy."

"But I want you now," the young woman exclaimed as she slipped her hands under the sweater, "what harm would it do?"

Kelly groaned as she summoned all of her resolve, pulling away from the enticing young woman. "Julia, please, I led you on and I regret it," she said, peeling Julia's hands off her stomach. "I just can't do a one night stand."

"Sure you can," Julia purred, trying to pull the professor to her. "It's easy, and I promise you'll remember this night for a long time."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Kelly replied wryly, "but let's quit while we can. Besides, I'm almost old enough to be your mother, dear." She stood up, cursing the wobbly feeling in her legs as she tried to make a dignified exit. God, she was horny as hell, and wanted nothing more than to turn back and take Julia hard and fast, just to satisfy this ache, but she knew that she didn't desire Julia, she really wanted Elizabeth. She'd just have to take care of the ache when she got home, then take a cold shower. A very, very cold shower.

Chapter 6

The holidays were a torment this year. Elizabeth and Nathan had their usual Christmas party, inviting friends from engineering and the library, as well as a few of Joanne's friends. Nathan insisted that they invite Kelly, and Elizabeth could not say no without a reason. Kelly was unusually withdrawn during the party, chatting politely with different people, but to Elizabeth's worried eye, too quiet. She didn't have the chance to ask for several weeks, since she, Joanne, and Nathan took their annual ski trip with her brother and his family between Christmas and New Year's.

Once they were back, Nathan had to leave almost immediately; his father had a heart attack and was near death. "Don't worry about me," Nathan said as he rapidly packed, "you just take care of yourself. I know you're in the midst of interviewing people for that new position, so I'll just go by myself. Besides, I know how much you hate hospitals."

"But Nathan, suppose something happens? Won't your family think it odd for me not to be there?" Elizabeth asked anxiously.

Nathan stopped to gather his wife in his arms, kissing the top of her head. "No, baby, they won't. I'm not sure Dad even knows anyone right now. Mom says he's pretty delirious, so don't worry about coming. Besides, you can have the whole house to yourself!"

"It will be so empty without you," she said sincerely, surprising herself. She clung to him for a moment, then stepped back. "Call me when you know something."

"I will. Love you," he said as he turned back to his packing.

A day turned into three, and Nathan called every night. "I think Dad's not going to make it," he admitted. "Can you come now? Maybe get a flight out tonight?"

Elizabeth sighed. "I checked, no flights until late tomorrow and my car started acting up tonight, I'd need someone to run me to the airport."

"Then call Kelly and see if she'll run you to the airport tomorrow. Just call and let me know, Mom finally bought an answering machine last week and I have it working. You can leave a message about when you'll get in."

"Ok, Nathan, I will. I'll call the airlines back right away."

"That's my girl. I've already made arrangements for Joanne to come out. Call me back in a bit."

Elizabeth hung up and immediately called the airlines, arranging for the flight the next day. She called her husband back, telling him which flight it was, then steeled herself to call Kelly. Why did Nathan keep throwing them together? she wondered inanely, certainly one of their other friends would be able to take her to the airport. No, she answered herself, the rest of them had 8 to 5 jobs, and Kelly wasn't teaching tomorrow. Damn. She took a steadying breath and picked up the phone.

"I know you, you probably haven't eaten," Kelly explained as she arranged the food on the kitchen table, "right?"

"Right," Elizabeth answered listlessly. Kelly not only agreed to take her to the airport, but insisted on coming over immediately to bring supper. "You didn't have to do this, Kelly."

"Of course I did, that's what friends are for, to look after each other," she said calmly. "Sit. Eat. Then we'll talk." Elizabeth obeyed, amused that her appetite was good for once. The burgers were a rare treat, the fries crispy, just like she liked them.

After they cleared away the dishes, Kelly led Elizabeth to the sofa in the den. "Nathan's father is dying," Elizabeth started quietly, "and I'm not sure if I'm grieving or not. His father has always been quite distant, polite, but cold toward me. Nathan, however, was always the perfect son."

"I'm sorry, babe," Kelly said, rubbing a comforting hand along Elizabeth's arm, "so how about Joanne?"

"She's never like Nathan's family, but has always gotten on well with mine. It's too bad that she never got to know my parents, but Brian has been a very good uncle to her." Elizabeth sighed, staring blankly at Kelly's hand on her arm. "You didn't have to come over, I would have been fine until morning."

"Yes, I did, you've been looking like a scarecrow recently," Kelly countered tartly. "What's going on?"

"I miss you," Elizabeth said bitterly, "I miss talking to you, I miss eating with you, I miss seeing you at the pool. I can't eat, I can barely concentrate, I have visions of you with other women. Kelly, I can't keep you out of my thoughts. I have no regrets for the choices I've made, but the love I feel for my husband is not the same passion I feel for you."

Kelly sat back, stunned with the sudden emotional outpouring from the normally reserved woman. She tried to think of how to reply, finally admitting huskily, "You stay in my thoughts too. I nearly had a one night stand a few weeks ago, but couldn't go through with it."

"What will we do?" Elizabeth asked, reaching for Kelly's hand. "We're both stuck here at the university. I can't ask you to leave, I can't leave, and Nathan certainly can't leave. I don't want a divorce, I'd have to explain why, and I can't tell Nathan that our marriage is a sham and has been for twenty years."

"We'll just have to figure it out," Kelly said soothingly, reaching up to stroke Elizabeth's cheek. Elizabeth leaned into the warm hand, closing her eyes. It would be so easy to just lean forward, she thought, so easy to take advantage of this rare opportunity. She didn't realize that she was doing just that until her lips met Kelly's, and the gentle kiss quickly flared up into one of raw passion.

Elizabeth stood up abruptly, pulling Kelly up with her, leading her to the guest bedroom, and silently closing the door behind them. "I can't stand it any longer," Elizabeth growled, reaching to unbutton Kelly's shirt, who gasped as the cool air hit her skin. Elizabeth threw caution to the winds, guiding Kelly's shirt over her shoulders. "So, so beautiful," she said, awed, as her trembling fingers traced the edges of Kelly's bra.

Kelly willingly laid down with Elizabeth as they rapidly divested their clothing, until they were skin to skin, tentatively exploring each other, remembering how to make love to each other. Slowly, carefully, they touched and kissed until memory and passion overwhelmed them, finally collapsing in a heap of tangled limbs.

Elizabeth knew she should be ashamed of herself for breaking her wedding vows, but she couldn't bring herself to feel the shame or guilt. She felt anxious, excited, nervous, and angry all at the same time, furious that she had to leave Kelly so quickly this morning, still feeling the passion surging through her veins from the night before. She took a deep breath as Kelly drove to the airport, ready to say something, but afraid to speak for fear of smashing their rare bubble of happiness. It wasn't fair that they finally had passionate night only to be torn apart again, but she was married, damn it, her father-in-law was dying, and her husband needed her.

"We're here," Kelly's voice broke into her reverie, "time to disembark."

Elizabeth nodded, turning to face her friend. "Thank you for bringing me to the airport, Kelly, I appreciate it so much." Her dark brown eyes met Kelly's green eyes, trying to convey what she dared not say or show.

Kelly smiled sadly. "You're welcome, sweetheart. Call if you need anything." Her smile faded. "And tell Nathan I'm thinking of him. Losing a parent is tough, no matter how old you are, or how ready you are to give them up. Now get out of here, your husband is waiting for you."

The librarian nodded, suddenly choking with emotion as she exited the car, gripping her overnight bag tightly. She whispered, "Thank you, Kelly, " straightened up, squaring her shoulders as she turned to walk into the terminal, determined not to cry, refusing to watch her lover drive away.

Her lover. It was true, she had taken advantage of Kelly, had broken her vows, just when Nathan needed her the most. But damn it, she needed Kelly. She continued to mull over the situation, mechanically going through the motions of getting her boarding pass and going through security and finding a seat near her gate. Nathan needed her to be strong, and yet she wasn't strong enough to resist Kelly.

The flight was over before she knew it. She steeled herself to meet whichever family members had been dispatched to fetch her from the airport, gripping her overnight bag and purse tightly, following the rest of the slow-moving passengers. She uncharacteristically wished for the line to move even slower, to delay the reunion with her husband.

"Mom, over here!" Elizabeth turned, surprised to see her daughter waiting for her in the lines of people greeting the passengers. She walked over to her daughter and dropped her bags long enough to fold Joanne in a firm hug. When she stepped back, Joanne smiled, explaining, "Dad sent me since everyone else was busy. Grandmother said I could borrow her car, so here I am. How was your flight?"

"Uneventful, thank you," Elizabeth answered as her daughter took her luggage from her. "You cut your hair," she blurted out, approving of the neat cut.

"Yeah, I was afraid you wouldn't like it. Dad says it's too short, but it's the style right now." She glanced at her mother's haggard face. "It's good to see you, Mother, but you're still looking too thin. Aren't you taking care of yourself? I think Dad's worried that something is wrong with you and that you're just to stubborn to go see a doctor."

"No, I'm in reasonably good health," Elizabeth responded, "but thank you for your inquiry. I have been very busy at work lately. So, how is school?" Elizabeth was able to go back on autopilot, knowing Joanne would ramble on and fill the silence by herself. She was chagrined to discover that she already missed Kelly intensely. She gave herself a mental shake as they approached the hospital. "Have you investigated how much additional education you will need to be a professor of engineering or mathematics?" she asked as Joanne parked the car.

"Probably all the way to my doctorate, Mom, but I might be able to teach for a few years as an adjunct after I get my master's. Ok, here's the deal," Joanne said as they got on the elevator, "Granddad still doesn't know anyone, and it's tearing Dad up, even though he won't admit it. Personally, I don't think he's long for this world." She paused. "Did that sound too callused?"

"No more callused that I sound sometimes," Elizabeth said ruefully, "I'm often compared to an emotionless robot."

Joanne looked at her mother critically, then grinned. "No robot, Mom, but you could make a pretty good Vulcan. Let's go."

Paul Green looked much smaller than Elizabeth remembered, but that could be the illness, or just laying in a hospital bed. She swallowed hard, forcing herself follow her daughter into the room, eying the various tubes and machines crowding the room. She looked at the small man on the bed for a moment, then turned to her husband, wrapping one arm around his sturdy waist and gently kissing his cheek. "I came as quickly as I could," she whispered.

Nathan wrapped his arms around his wife, laying his cheek against hers, then pulled back to look at her. "Thank you, Elizabeth. How was your flight?"

"Uneventful," she said.

"The best kind," Nathan said, a ghost of a smile flitting across his handsome face. "No change, the doctors think it's a matter of time. I doubt he'll live much longer than a day or two."

"I hate to ask this, but have funeral arrangements been made?" Elizabeth queried.

"My sister and my mother have already started making arrangements, and we've contacted the minister at their church." Nathan rubbed his chin with his free hand. "I think Mom's in shock, and Betty is just angry that Dad chose now to die."


Joanne jumped into the conversation. "Aunt Betty finally got Alvin to propose and they were planning to get married this weekend, so it's a complete crisis, Mother. God, how selfish can someone be? It's not like they were having a big blowout or anything, just a small wedding at the country club."

Elizabeth resisted the temptation to agree with her daughter's assessment. "Now, Joanne--"

"I know, I'm being rude. Sorry, Dad, I don't mean to rag on your sister that way, but it's true."

Nathan just shook his head at his daughter. "Regardless of how true it is, Joanne, we need to be polite to everyone." He dropped his arm from Elizabeth's shoulders and walked over to the bank of machines next to his father. "It's amazing what they can do with modern medicine," he mused, watching the lines representing his father's vital statistics.

Late that night, Elizabeth was woken by the shrilling of the telephone. She sat up quickly, disoriented for a moment, then managed to extract herself from the tangled covers and make it to the hall phone before it stopped ringing. "Green residence," she announced crisply. She listened intently even as she reached for the paper and pencil next to the phone. "I'll tell her, Nathan. Should we come to the hospital?" She listened again, then answered, "I'll wait, then. I'm sorry, Nathan. Are you sure you don't want me to come? All right, I'll bring Joanne to the funeral home in the morning. I love you too. Good bye." She carefully replaced the receiver on the phone and finished her notes.

"Mom, who was that?" Joanne asked sleepily, poking her head out of the other bedroom.

Elizabeth turned to her daughter and motioned for her to follow, leading her into the kitchen. "It's early, but we might as well have some breakfast," she announced as she started gathering ingredients for the meal.

"It was Dad, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Your grandfather died a few minutes ago, and we're to meet your father and grandmother at the funeral home later this morning."

"How's Dad taking it?"

She stopped, setting the egg carton on the counter before turning around to answer the question. "Right now, he's holding together just fine, but I don't know about later. Grief sometimes sneaks up on you," she explained, thinking about her own parents for a moment. "Let's eat some breakfast and get ready for the day."

Chapter 7

Elizabeth had called Kelly shortly after she and Nathan returned from the funeral, then dropped completely out of sight. Oh, Kelly knew she could find the other woman at the library, but chose not to torment herself by looking for her. Sometimes she let herself think about their last time together, not sure if she should be pissed at Elizabeth for using her, accept it as an emotional reaction to a bad situation, or cherish it as a rare gift. She found herself visiting the bar nearly every weekend, just sitting for hours and nursing one or two beers, watching the mating dances greedily, wishing she was on the floor with them. At least she could congratulate herself for not succumbing to temptation, no matter how difficult it was.

But life must go on. Kelly stared sightlessly out her office window, trying to drum up the energy to finish the article she was writing. Tenure race, rat race, same difference. It didn't matter that she had built a business from scratch and sold it for a tidy sum, she was still the lowest man on the totem pole, and had to prove herself by getting published in dry and dreary business journals.

She usually enjoyed wrestling with words, pulling together mountains of statistics and data, but today, she didn't enjoy it at all. She ran a hand through her auburn hair, cursing under her breath. It also didn't help that Julia Stiles dropped by from time to time, hinting that she was still open to a one night stand. Frustrated, she glanced at the clock on her desk, and decided it was safe to go to the library, figuring that Elizabeth had probably left for the day.

Kelly had just started flipping through the Wilson Business Periodicals Index when she sensed someone behind her. She turned, half expecting to see Elizabeth, but was surprised to see Nathan instead. "Kelly, good to see you," he whispered, "do you have a minute? I've parked my stuff in the of the study rooms." She nodded, shelving the volume before following him to the small room. He closed the door and motioned her to a seat. "Thank you for the flowers and the donation to my parents' church, that was very thoughtful of you," he said.

"You're welcome," she said simply.

Nathan rubbed a hand over his square jaw, as if deciding how to start. Finally, he said, "You see, I think someone needs to talk to Elizabeth, and you're the only friend she's really had in years."

Alarmed, Kelly asked, "What's wrong with her?"

Nathan leaned back in his chair and blew out a breath. "I don't know. She's barely eating and has dropped more weight since the funeral. I don't get it, she always just tolerated my father, but since his funeral, she's gone into this deep depression. I've tried to get her to talk to me, talk to a minister or counselor, anything, but she quietly refuses. I am at my wit's end now, I don't know where to turn next, and I'm afraid that if she continues this downward spiral, it will start affecting her job performance. You know how much pride she's always taken in her work, but lately, I've heard that she's skipped staff meetings and sometimes disappears during the day. Her director is worried enough that he just had a meeting with me to see what I can do."

Kelly felt a cold finger of fear touch the back of her neck. Elizabeth, shirking any duties? Unheard of! "What can I do, Nathan? She hasn't exactly beaten down my door lately," she admitted.

"The good thing is that spring break starts on Monday, and I've talked the director into letting Elizabeth have the entire week off, use up some of that vacation time she has accumulated. Her brother, Brian, says that the old family cabin is still in good shape, he just took his family there last week. I know this is a lot to ask, but maybe if you took her there, away from everyone, you could find out why she's so severely depressed? Please?"

It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse, but she couldn't. The reality was that she still loved Elizabeth, and would do anything for her. "Ok," she finally said, "I don't think it will be a problem for me to be gone all week."

"You're the best," Nathan said, body sagging in relief. "I'll call you tonight with the details and the directions. Can you pick her up from our house Sunday?"

"Yeah, sure," Kelly agreed, wonder what she had gotten herself in to.

Brian let them borrow his Jeep, commenting that the roads were still rough. Kelly was grateful for the loan of the vehicle, for the roads were even more rutted than she remembered from nearly a quarter century ago. Had it really been that long? She wondered to herself. No sense in asking Elizabeth, she had not said a word since they left the city. It didn't help that Kelly was feeling hung over, she'd gone to the bar the night before and drank way too much, but managed to tear herself away before she did anything truly stupid.

"We're here," she announced as she shut off the engine. For several long moments, the only noises were from the birds, insects, and the cooling engine, then Kelly repeated, "We're here, Elizabeth. Come on, grab your stuff and let's get inside." She grabbed her duffel bags and headed toward the door, not waiting to see if the librarian followed her.

Bittersweet memories flowed over Kelly as she walked into the cabin, noticing that little had changed except for new cushions for the couch and chairs. Same wagon wheel lights, same faint odor of wood smoke. She noticed that Elizabeth had followed her in and was now walking slowly to one of the downstairs bedrooms with her bags. Kelly waited to see which room she took before claiming one for herself. She quickly unpacked her clothes and toiletries, then went back into the main room and started building a fire. It was getting cooler since the sun was almost down, and she wasn't sure if the cabin had heat or air. She didn't remember, and she'd forgotten to ask. As soon as the fire was blazing nicely, she took Elizabeth's hand and let her to the comfortable armchair near the fire and gently pushed her down in it, then went into the kitchen to fix them some supper.

"Come on, it's time for breakfast," Kelly said the next morning as she knocked gently on Elizabeth's door. "Waffles, eggs, coffee."

"Thank you," Elizabeth answered, voice a bit rusty. "I'll be there momentarily." Kelly went back to the table, relieved that Elizabeth actually spoke. Maybe something good would happen today.

"Delicious," Elizabeth pronounced as she scraped the last scraps from her plate. Brown eyes finally met green eyes. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Elizabeth," Kelly replied. "Let's get these dishes washed up, then go take a walk. Are you up for that?"

"I believe so, Kelly." Elizabeth stood up to start taking dishes to the kitchen.

A few hours later, the women stood looking at the lake shore. They had been slowly hiking around the property, sometimes talking, sometimes not. Kelly didn't push, she just let Elizabeth talk if she felt like it, but was silent when Elizabeth was silent. She picked up a few flat stones, skipping them across the water.

"I remember teaching you to skip stones," Elizabeth suddenly said. "It was when we came here before, before I deserted you."

"You said didn't desert me, you just left for a job."

"No, I deserted you, Kelly, and I apologize." Elizabeth rubbed a cheek, searching for words. "I don't like myself right now."

Kelly came over, wondering if she dared touch the other woman, aching to do nothing more than wrap her up in her arms and take away the hurt. But that might be too close too soon, she decided, so she picked up another small handful of stones and started skipping them across the water. "You left for a better position, and it spurred me on to going to college," Kelly admitted, "if you had stayed, I might not have gone on to get my degrees."

Elizabeth edged closer to the water, slowly leaning over to pick up a few stones. "When you first appeared in my office last fall, I was confused and angry. I wanted to push you away, but I could not, and you kept showing up. I hoped we could be casual friends, but then Nathan insisted on meeting you. My husband thinks you're wonderful, and the supreme irony here is that he pushed us together, and we cannot be together. Damn the man, he's entirely too nice," she groused, skipping another stone. She watched the stone skip across, then turned away. "No matter what I do right now, it will be wrong." She abruptly walked off, leaving Kelly to scramble to catch up.

"Don't you dare turn away like that," Kelly snarled, forgetting her plan to be calm, "you will stay and finish this discussion like an adult!" Kelly waited for an eternity before Elizabeth stopped and slowly turned around. "That's better. Yes, I feel that we've been pushed together as well, but I'm not going to whine and cry about it. Damn it, woman, first we have to get you out of this depression, then we need to decide at some point whether or not we can remain friends. Do you understand? I completely fucking understand that you're married and should be off limits, but admit it, you want me too, and you're playing as many games as I am."

Elizabeth's eyes widened at the blistering tongue-lashing from Kelly, eyes slowly filling with bright unshed tears. She stood, staring at Kelly, finally wiping at her eyes and slowly walking back to the shoreline. Kelly was conflicted, she wanted nothing more than to take Elizabeth into her arms, but she knew that if she did, they would both lose any possibility of friendship over lust. "You're right," Elizabeth finally said brokenly, "I've been an ass. Shall we start over?" Kelly nodded. "Hello, I'm Elizabeth Temple Green, and I'd like to be your friend." She tentatively stuck out her hand.

Kelly took her hand, shaking it. "I'm Kelly Moore. I would be happy to be your friend."

They gave themselves the rest of the afternoon off to wander the place and not talk. Kelly cooked a light dinner and they played chess in front of the fire that night, not daring do more than make light conversation about books and music. Kelly found herself being drawn back to the qualities that initially attracted her to the librarian, the quick, insightful mind, the range of knowledge, the ease of discussing anything from autobiographies to zoology. A thought popped in her mind, "Elizabeth, do you get to teach these days?"

"No, why?"

"I was just thinking of that literature course I took when you were in the public library, and how much I enjoyed it."

Elizabeth studied the board, then moved a piece. "Checkmate. I enjoyed teaching the course. I miss the contact with students sometimes, stuck away in the technical side of the library system."

Kelly stared at the neat trap that Elizabeth had set and started laughing. "Damn, woman, you beat me while I wasn't paying attention. Remind me to find a different game to play with you."

"I shall," Elizabeth replied loftily, a small twinkle of mischief in her eyes.

"I concede the game and bow to your superior chess skills, but you must admit, I have superior cooking skills." Kelly stuck her tongue out.

Elizabeth nodded. "Indeed, I will concede your skills in the kitchen. I cook merely to live, but you and Nathan cook and grill to share experiences with friends."

Kelly finished putting away the game and went to sit on the rug with Elizabeth in front of the fire. "I think you're on to something," she said slowly," and maybe that's why you married Nathan. He reminds you of me. Oh, I admit I'm more flamboyant and don't care about engineering, but we both enjoy creating meals for friends, building things ourselves, and loving you. We even have similar coloring, did you notice?"

"I did, but not until the first time you came over to the house," Elizabeth admitted quietly. "I'm not ready to go any further with the thought process, though."

Kelly reached over, taking her friend's hand. "That's ok for now, honey, but we do need to settle this limbo soon."

"I promise, we will have a serious discussion this week," Elizabeth agreed, "but for now, would you mind just sitting with me?"

"No, I don't mind," Kelly answered, "not at all."

Over the next few days, Kelly and Elizabeth found that they still had interest in common, and started the process of rebuilding their friendship. Kelly realized that she may have fallen in love with Elizabeth a long time ago, but hardly knew her now, despite the time they had spent together during the past semester and a half. She also realized that she was very much to blame for their current situation, for allowing her passion to overwhelm her common sense.

"Kelly, we should talk now," Elizabeth said, breaking into her thoughts.

"Oh? Now?"

"Yes." Elizabeth took Kelly's hand, leading her to the blanket they'd spread on the beach for their picnic. They settled on the blanket, and Elizabeth reached out, stroking Kelly's cheek with gentle fingers. "No matter how much I love you, I made a commitment years ago to Nathan, and I have to honor that commitment. It's hard, I admit, because I do love you, and being with you has made me face the fact that I'm really emotionally and sexually attracted to women, not men."

"So, if you're attracted to women, why stay with Nathan?"

"After all these years, I feel I owe him," she answered logically.

Kelly blew out an exasperated breath. "You feel you owe him, but do you love him?"

Elizabeth nodded slowly, taking her hand away. "I do love him, maybe not as I should, but he's been a good friend, a good husband. He didn't complain when I got pregnant and we had to get married, even though his father told him bluntly that I'd trapped him."

"I'm curious, did you trap him?"

Elizabeth's face darkened. "I was being whispered about, and rather than ignore them or tell them to mind their own business, I deliberately went to bed with Nathan without any protection, hoping to get pregnant so we'd have to marry. I didn't think about the consequences, I was still missing you so much that it hurt. If I couldn't have you, I'd make sure you couldn't have me."

Kelly laid down, laying an arm across her green eyes. "God, Elizabeth, I can't believe this. Talk about a dog in a manger!"

"Precisely." Elizabeth dropped her dark head in her hands. "Kelly, I have hurt us, and I have hurt Nathan. Going to his father's funeral stirred it all back up, combined with my impulsive decision to take advantage of you, just swirled up and left me in a deep depression. I am sorry, Kelly, but it was like I suddenly plunged into a deep dark hole, and I simply could not get up the energy to try to escape. I usually manage to hide it better, but I just could not this time."

"So you've been depressed before?"

"Ever since I decided that I could not have you in my life. I realize now that I was making decisions without your input, and I apologize." She laid down, rolling on her side so she could look at Kelly. "What would you have decided, if I had not taken the decision away from you? Would you have stayed with me, knowing how cruelly we could have been treated, or would you have left as well?"

Kelly rolled over onto her side, gazing into her friend's earnest brown eyes. Up close, she could see the start of fine lines around her eyes, and a few streaks of gray threading the dark hair. She reached out, slowly tracing Elizabeth's sharp cheeks with a single finger, trying to marshal her thoughts. Finally, she answered, "Honey, I would have followed you to the ends of the earth. I was angry and depressed for months after you left, then decided to make something of myself, so you'd be proud of me. I've told you that I never found anyone like you, never really loved any other woman the same way. As much as I hate to admit it, we're both trapped by your marriage."

"True." Elizabeth closed her eyes, then opened them again. "It's getting late, we'd better get back to the cabin."

Kelly accepted the change of subject, agreeing with her. She felt completely drained, but in some ways, more at peace than she had been in years. At least she knew now that Elizabeth really did love her, despite the paths they'd taken.

Chapter 8

Elizabeth watched Kelly closely as they put away the last of the dishes that night. In some ways, she felt like a veil had been ripped from her sight, in others, she felt boxed in more than ever. Over the past few days, she had opened up more than she had to any human in her life, and she realized how unfair she had been to everyone in her life. The fact remained that not matter how hard she tried to forget, she could not get Kelly out of her thoughts, out of her heart. She allowed herself to wonder for a moment what would have happened if she had been brave and had stayed with the younger woman rather than running away. She did not regret marrying Nathan and having Joanne, but she did regret not giving Kelly a choice in the matter.

They silently built a fire and sat on a rug before it, each lost in her own thoughts. Elizabeth remembered making love with Kelly for the first time, how right it felt. She could count on one hand the number of times they'd made love, yet each time was more distinct than any time with Nathan. She could no longer deny to herself that she was primarily emotionally and sexually attracted to women. She frowned, contemplating the consequences of telling Nathan that their marriage was a sham, that she wanted her freedom, even if Kelly did not want her.

"A penny for your thoughts?"

Elizabeth turned, blinking, wrenching her attention from her dark thoughts to Kelly's face. "I was thinking about us," she blurted out, "about if I had the courage to tell Nathan the truth."

Kelly stared, dumbfounded. "Us? As in you and me?"

"That us," Elizabeth responded dryly, "what other us is here tonight?"

"So, what about us?"

Elizabeth turned to face Kelly, aware of the other woman's closeness and the insistent desire that rippled through her belly. Ignoring the desire for the moment, she answered, "I was thinking about telling Nathan that we should consider a separation, if not a divorce. Question is, how honest do you want me to be? If I do go through with leaving him, are you willing to be with me, willing to make a commitment to me? Do we love each other enough to make it through any rough times, through the gossip, through the potential harassment and possible loss of jobs?"

"Boy, when you change your mind, you make a 180," Kelly observed, trembling hands belying her light tone. "I just know that I haven't felt complete in years, and I want to love you."

"Fair enough," Elizabeth replied, allowing herself to scoot closer to Kelly. She was sure that Kelly could hear her heart pounding with fear and desire, afraid she shouldn't make a move, but wanting to with all of her heart. "But should we stay celibate for now?"

Kelly swallowed hard, croaking, "We really should."

"But we won't, at least, not here," Elizabeth completed the thought. She could hear her blood roaring in her ears, like that night so many years ago when they made love in this very spot. She leaned forward, abandoning all pretense of civility, suddenly pushing Kelly down on the rug, aggressively straddling her body. "I'm tired of being proper, I'm taking what I want!" She completely gave in to her emotions and passion, nipping Kelly's neck and earlobes, tasting her. She pulled back long enough to shuck her own clothes as Kelly followed suit and undressed quickly. "Mine," Elizabeth growled uncharacteristically, dipping down to nibble Kelly's beautiful collar bones.

"Oh, God," Kelly groaned as Elizabeth worked her way over her body, "yes, but slowly, please." Elizabeth slowed down, savoring Kelly's skin, feathering her belly with kisses, allowing Kelly to switch and roll them over. Kelly started nibbling her way down Elizabeth's body, taking care to kiss everything, to lick the inside of Elizabeth's wrists, laughing when Elizabeth shivered with delight. They traded back and forth, finding each other's most sensitive erotic zones, finally bringing each other to splendid climaxes and collapsing on the rug, arms and legs still loosely tangled. "Oh, my dear Lord," Kelly whispered as she drifted off.

"Nathan, we need to talk," Elizabeth finally said several days after she came home from the cabin.

"What about?" he asked, stomach clenching with fear. Elizabeth had been avoiding him since her return, and he'd been dreading learning why, sensing something dramatic had happened.

She sighed, curling up in the armchair rather than on the couch, a very bad sign. "I confess I am having difficulty starting this conversation."

"So, start at the beginning," he suggested, trying to calm his nerves.

She looked across the room at the bookcase, avoiding his gaze. "It concerns Kelly."

Confused, he asked, "What does Kelly have to do with this?"

She finally turned to meet his gaze. "Nearly twenty-five years ago, I met Kelly when I was at the public library, met her through classes I taught, and from there we became close friends. More than close, we fell in love. Things went too far one weekend, and I decided it would be best for both of us if I took the job here and moved away from temptation."

"You fell in love with her?"


He sagged in his seat, putting together the pieces with swift, gut-wrenching accuracy. "And you were reunited and have fallen in love again, is that what you're trying to tell me? My God, woman, did you know this before you went on this trip?"


He buried his face in his hands, unable to look at her. His wife, a queer? But she loved him, she'd been married to him for twenty years! "You don't mean it. No, please, Elizabeth, don't say it's true."

"I do not lie, you know that," she said gently, "and I did my best it forget all about her, tried to be a good wife and mother, but the feelings would not go away. I've been torn up inside for months, trying to ignore the fundamental fact that I'm emotionally and sexually attracted to women."

"God, you really know how to hurt a man, don't you?" he lashed out, looking up to glare at her.

She took a measured breath, then said calmly, "It is not deliberate. I propose that we should separate for a few months, decide what to do."

He looked up, unreasonable hope lighting his face. "Maybe we should get counseling, see if we can work this out?"

She gave him what he interpreted as a pitying look. "Maybe we should, but I do not believe it will change my feelings for Kelly."

"Damn," he said, running his hand through his fading red hair, "Please tell me what you are going to tell our daughter? Had you thought about that?" He snorted angrily. "I can see it now, 'Dear Joanne, our family life has been one big lie for your entire life. Love, your mother.' Jesus, Elizabeth, have you thought this thing through? I mean, how will this reflect on both of us?â His voice rose harshly, yelling, âYou fooled me, and for that matter, maybe my father was right, maybe you did trap me into marriage by deliberately getting pregnant!"

Elizabeth's face turned very white, as if Nathan had physically hurt her. "Nathan, please, let's be civilized. I will go to counseling, even go with you, but I'm just telling you that no matter how much I love you, it has never felt completely right to me."

"Are you trying to tell me that you fake it every time we have sex?"

She shook her head, face still very white. "No. I do not know how to explain it, it has always felt satisfying, but vaguely wrong at the same time." She suddenly stood up, swaying. "Nathan, would you mind if we stopped this argument in favor of taking me to the hospital?"

"Oh my God," he whispered as she fainted before he could get across the room. Trembling, he reached for her, noting her pulse was extremely high and irregular. He lowered her gently, sprinted across the room to grab the phone from the wall, first dialing 911, then dialing Kelly's number. Without preamble, he announced, "The ambulance is on the way, Elizabeth fainted and we're going to be at the ER. Please meet us there." He gave her directions, then hung up just as the EMTs arrived.

Chapter 9

Nathan felt a hand on his shoulder and pulled his face out of his hands, looking up to find Kelly looking down at him, a quizzical look on her face. He didn't think, he just reacted, reaching for her, burying his face against her as emotion threatened to overwhelm him. He felt her arms wrap around him while a hysterical thought flashed through his brain, "She's Elizabeth's lover, not my friend." He wasn't sure if they stayed like that for several seconds or several minutes, but he managed to gain tenuous control over his emotions and relaxed his grip on Kelly. She pulled away and sat by him, taking his hand, asking quietly, "What's happening, Nathan?"

"I hate to tell you now," he started, gripping her hand firmly, "but we had an argument following Elizabeth's little bombshell about the two of you." He turned and saw Kelly's eyes widen in horror, and gave her a shaky smile. "I'm not worried about that right now, we'll face the consequences of the discussion later. I was just asking if we could get counseling or something, grasping at straws, when she stood up and announced that she didn't feel well and her pulse was racing. She fainted before I could get to her, so I called 911 and then called you."

"Nathan, I appreciate you calling me, especially after what happened. How is she doing?" Kelly asked.

He sighed deeply. "The doctors took her back and haven't come out yet. I don't even know if she actually had a heart attack, and if so, if they're doing surgery or what. After they took her back, I called Joanne's room, but I guess she's out, and they don't have answering machines in her dorm."

Kelly started to ask something else, but was interrupted by the appearance of a man in green scrubs coming toward them. He asked, "Nathan Green?"

Nathan stood up, automatically holding out his hand for the doctor to shake. "I'm Nathan Green." He motioned to Kelly before the doctor could ask. "This is Kelly Moore, a friend of the family's."

"Very good. I'm Dr. Paul. Would you please be seated?" he asked gruffly, sitting in a chair at an angle from them. "First, the good news, your wife did not have a heart attack. My best guess is that she does not have any clots or significant blockages, but we're treating her with anticoagulants. Since her heart sounds fine and all tests are negative, I'm making a tentative diagnosis of premature ventricular contractions, or arrhythmia. Her electrolytes are on the low side, so we have her hooked up to an IV to bring her levels back up. I'm recommending keeping her overnight for observation."

"Thank you," Nathan said, "so, can I see her?"

"For a few minutes, she's rather groggy." Dr. Paul nodded abruptly at Kelly. "If you'd like, you may both go back, but after your visit, I recommend that you just go home and try to rest until morning. If you'll follow me," he said, standing and turning without waiting to see if they followed him. Nathan glanced and Kelly, who looked unsure of herself. Nathan simply took her hand again, indicating that she should go with him.

Nathan had never seen his wife look so vulnerable, even immediately after giving birth to Joanne. She was laying on the gurney, very pale and drawn. "Hey, honey," he said quietly, leaning over to kiss her forehead, "I hear that you did not have a heart attack."

"Yes, silly me, I confused arrhythmia with a heart attack. I apologize for causing so much trouble." She made a face, tired eyes moving to the IV. "I hate needles."

"Hi, Elizabeth," Kelly said quietly, walking to the other side of the gurney.

Elizabeth's eyes widened as she looked from one to the other. "Oh, my," she said weakly. "Kelly? How did you know?"

"I called her," Nathan explained, "I figured she should know. And yes, I told her what happened already."

"I'm sorry," Elizabeth mumbled, "God, when I screw up, I do it royally."

"Now is not the time to be thinking of our peculiar situation," Kelly admonished gently, "just concentrate on getting better. We can sort everything else out later." Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Wait, you confused arrhythmia with a heart attack? Does this mean you've had these episodes before?"

"Yes," Elizabeth admitted, closing her eyes, "all of my life. When I'm in an intense situation, my heart rhythm sometimes starts racing as if out of control. If I stay absolutely still for a minute or so, it usually goes back to normal. I guess this time I didn't still myself soon enough."

Nathan was floored. His wife had a heart condition that she never bothered to tell him about? "I don't understand, why didn't you tell me?"

Elizabeth answered, "No need, it was seemed severe enough to worry about. My doctor knows, and he never thought it was serious." She opened her eyes. "I am sorry, Nathan, it just never seemed important."

He glanced at the clock. "Our alloted visit is almost up. We really need to talk after this, but now is not the time. I'll see you in the morning," he said, leaning over to kiss her. He straightened up, then looked at Kelly significantly, then deliberately turned his back.

Kelly ran a hand over Elizabeth's dark hair, then leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Take care of yourself. I'll take Nathan home." She rested her cheek against Elizabeth's for a second, then whispered, "I love you."

"Me too," Elizabeth murmured, relaxing against the pillow.

Kelly walked over to Nathan and took his arm, leading him out of the room. He did not resist, shoulders slumping as they walked down the corridor to the exit. "I'll take you home," Kelly said, "and you have to promise me to get some rest if at all possible."

"I will try," he answered as they approached her car. "Ironic situation, don't you think?"

She didn't answer until they were in the car and had turned out of the parking lot. "You could say that. We're both in love with her, and I wind up taking care of you. "

Nathan leaned against the door and signed. "I think she loves both of us, just in different ways. I should hate you, but the first thing I thought after I called the ambulance was that I needed to call you, even after she had just asked for a divorce because of you. Can't ask for a much weirder situation."

"Not really." She pulled into the driveway and parked. "Do you want me to come in with you?"

"Would you? Just for a few minutes?"

"Sure, Nathan." Kelly killed the engine and got out of the car, thinking how strange it was to be so concerned about Nathan. Elizabeth could pull through anything, she was convinced, but right now, it was Nathan who worried her. She watched as he fumbled with the key, finally opening the door.

Nathan led them to the den and slumped down on the couch. Kelly tentatively sat by him, waiting for him to say something. Finally, he stirred and mused, "Hell of a way to spend a Sunday night, don't you think?" He quirked a grin that faded quickly. "I'm sorry, Kelly, this is just such a shock to me, the whole thing. I guess I should have suspected something since Elizabeth has never really had any friends in the years we've been married. I don't know which hurts most, though, knowing that she's in love with you or that she didn't bother to tell either of us about her heart condition."

"I think arrhythmia is fairly common, Nathan, and shouldn't be that much of a concern. It sounds like she's had it under control. It would explain why she tends to keep so low key all the time," Kelly offered, thinking of her lover's logical way of thinking.

He nodded, dropping his head in his hands again, then turned to look at Kelly. "I should be really angry with you right now, but I can't bring myself to feel that now, I'm too worried about my wife. So, will you go back to the hospital with me in the morning?"

Kelly shook her head. "No, I have classes first thing, and I think it would be better right now if you were with her. Just give her my love, will you?"

"Sure thing." Nathan stood up and led Kelly to the front door, stopping to hug her tightly before opening the door. "Thanks for picking me up, Kelly." He kissed her cheek and let her go as he opened the door. "I'll have plenty of time to be pissed at this whole fucked up situation later."

"Yeah, I know," she replied, pulling her keys out of her purse. "Try to get some sleep, Nathan, and don't hesitate to call if I can do anything for you."

"Will do. Good night." He watched until she drove away, then slowly closed and locked the front door.

Elizabeth was discharged late the next day and told to stay home from work at least one more day. Nathan was not very surprised to find that she had spent the day looking for a counselor and had already scheduled their first appointment. They agreed not to talk about the upcoming appointment until the following week, but Nathan found himself brooding over the situation over the next week.

He still remembered falling in love with Elizabeth when her brother introduced them, pleased to find such an intelligent, beautiful woman who did not downplay her intelligence. He still remembered the unexpected passion between them, never once regretting the quick marriage or having a child so soon. The only thing he regretted was that they were unable to have another child, with Elizabeth's unexpected hysterectomy two years after Joanne was born. No, he thought he'd had a good life, and he thought that Elizabeth was happy with him, but with her, it was difficult to accurately gauge her moods.

They were both quiet as they waited for the counselor to open the door and admit them. Nathan continued to brood as he flipped idly through a magazine, finally looking up when he heard their name called. Out of habit, he reached for Elizabeth's hand as they entered the office, and was surprised when she squeezed it gently. They settled in comfortable chairs and waited for the counselor to begin.

"I'm Dr. Maria Estefan," she started, "Now, in your own words, would you please tell me why you are here?"

Elizabeth just stared vacantly for several more seconds, then managed to finally pull herself together. "It's me," she finally said. "I did the unthinkable and fell in love with a friend and believe that the most honorable option is to ask for a quiet divorce so I can be with this friend."

"Where did you meet this friend?"

"Her name is Kelly, and I met her several years before I met Nathan. We fell in love, but I broke it off and left, hoping to find a more normal life. I believed that I had managed to completely get rid of my feelings for women until Kelly showed back up, this time as a professor on the same campus where Nathan and I both work. She pursued taking back up the friendship and I allowed it to happen. The worse part is that I allowed her in our life, allowed her to come in our house, to become a mutual friend. God, it is pure agony to find that my feelings for her had not changed in the intervening years, that I did not want to resist her." She spoke rapidly, voice growing increasingly unsteady as she rushed through the explanation.

Nathan stared at his wife, unnerved by the absolute agony written on her face, watching as tears started sliding down her cheeks. She grabbed tissues from her purse, mopped her face, then suddenly doubled over, hugging her knees as the sobs wracked her body. He had never seen her this way before, and his first fear was that she was experiencing another arrhythmia episode.

Before he could ask, she suddenly sat back up and snarled, "It's bad enough to lose control once and wind up in the emergency room, but to have to tell a complete stranger that I'm a god damed lesbian is just insufferable! There, I've said it, I'm a complete screw up, I can't control my feelings, I tried so hard to convince myself that I desired you, Nathan, but Kelly came back and I just fell hard for her all over again. I want her, but I want my old life back!"

The room seemed to ring with her last sentence. The counselor waited for a moment, then finally asked, "My dear, if you could have your old life back, would you be happy?"

Elizabeth took several shaky breaths before she could answer, "I do not believe so. I have tried so hard for so long not to react to women, but it just does not work."

"You mentioned the emergency room. What happened?"

Elizabeth shook her head, suddenly overcome with sobs again. Nathan scooted chair closer, taking one of her hands in his while replying, "Several months ago my father died. Elizabeth was very depressed after the funeral, and I didn't know why, she wouldn't talk about it. I suggested that she and Kelly take a week at Elizabeth's family's cabin to sort through things, to give her a chance to deal with her depression. Several days after Elizabeth came home, she announced that she wanted a divorce because she was in love with Kelly, then said that I'd better get her to a hospital, that she felt ill. She fainted, I called 911. It wasn't a heart attack as feared, but an irregular heartbeat."

"Premature ventricular contractions," Elizabeth corrected, sounding a little less strained.

Nathan rolled his eyes. "Whatever. At any rate, she had never mentioned to me that she had this arrhythmia problem. So here I was, having just argued with my wife over her announcement that she was in love with a woman, a friend of ours, and the next thing I know, I was calling Kelly to come sit with me in the waiting room while I waited to see what was the matter with my wife."

"I see." A long silence drifted over the room until the counselor spoke again. "I think we need separate sessions for the time being, one, to deal with your sexual orientation, and two," she nodded at Nathan, "to deal with your reaction to her sexual orientation. You are both with the university, so I assume that you wish to keep this quiet and continue to meet at night, correct?"

"Yes," they chorused together.

"Fine. I'll call you both to set up appointments. Thank you for coming, and for being so honest."

Chapter 10

Kelly and Elizabeth had come to an uneasy agreement that they could not meet privately until the whole situation was resolved, but they did continue to meet for breakfast or lunch once or twice a week. They couldn't bear to not see each other, and dared not see each other in private.

"Dr. Estefan has me conducting research on the history of gays and lesbians," Elizabeth commented at breakfast once morning, "fortunately, we ordered some materials for one of the women's history courses and I have been able to see them." She smiled. "Being head of technical services does have advantages, I was picked to do the cataloging since they were 'sensitive materials.' I was aware of some history, but have learned that in the early 1970's, homosexuality was taken out of the diagnostic manual as a mental illness."

Kelly simply asked. "So, what else does the good doctor say?"

Elizabeth took a sip of juice while framing her answer. "That my orientation is not a product of my upbringing and that it is not a choice. I have confirmed this with additional research of the professional literature suggests that it may be genetic rather than a choice. We have also discussed my unwillingness to have friendships outside of my marriage as a way of avoiding sexual temptations."

"So, this is why you were so reluctant to resume any sort of friendship with me last year," Kelly said.

"Yes. Kelly, how do you feel about our situation?"

Kelly played with her coffee cup for a moment, finally answering, "It's very difficult, I really like Nathan, he's a good guy and I'd like to consider him a friend. God, it's so hard, I want to be with you so bad, but I don't want to hurt Nathan. It's really pathetic."

"Agreed." Elizabeth waited as the waitress approached to refill their coffee cups and leave the check before continuing her thoughts. "Nathan and I have started sleeping in different rooms now. We haven't told Joanne yet, but figure we will have to eventually. The hardest part will be deciding what to tell people when they ask why we are divorcing. We haven't worked that explanation out as of yet."

"Ouch." Kelly buttered a biscuit, while trying to figure out how to ask what she had been dying to know for the past two months. "When you divorce, will you move in with me?"

Elizabeth pondered the question while finishing her eggs. Kelly knew not to interrupt the thought process, even though it drove her nuts at times. "I believe that we should resume dating before moving in together." She glanced around and determined no one could overhear before finishing, "We have to be absolutely sure that this is the right thing for both of us before making a commitment. I know that I jumped into marriage, and have regretted it. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I think I do, Elizabeth, I'm no longer the naïve young woman I was when I fell for you," Kelly said bitterly. "So, how is Nathan taking the whole situation?"

Elizabeth said quietly, "He vacillates between acceptance and anger, between depression and mere resignation. I do not blame him, we have a lot of our identities tied up in being a couple. I can only hope that we can remain friends, I do care for him a great deal. Kelly, how are you coping?"

Kelly abandoned her breakfast, pushing the plate out of her way. "I'll be completely honest, it's hell for me. There are days I can hardly wait for you to be free, there are other days that it comes crashing down on me that I've broken up the marriage of two dear friends. Since we've decided to wait, it's been quite tempting to go pick up women at the bar. To sum up, I'm elated, depressed, resigned, and fearful all at the same time."

"You would take someone else to bed?" Elizabeth asked sharply.

Shit, Kelly thought, I've done it now. "Honey, I said I'm tempted, not that I'm going to jump someone's bones any time soon. You know, this is not really the time or place to talk about this. Well, I have some work to do before my 8:00 class, shall we meet again later this week?"

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth answered as she looked at the ticket and started pulling out bills. "Have a good day, Kelly." With that, she stood up and laid money on the table, walking off without another word. Kelly watched her leave, emotions in turmoil as they usually were when she saw Elizabeth. God, she loved that woman, but waiting was killing her. It was more tempting every day to give in and just find a warm body for comfort, or turn to drinking herself into oblivion. She had this vague idea that either would kill a chance for a real relationship with Elizabeth. Sighing heavily, Kelly pushed herself up, picking up the ticket and the money and headed for the cash register.

"Do you love Kelly as she is now, or as an image from the past?"

Elizabeth sat in the armchair, pondering the question from Dr. Estefan for nearly a minute before replying. "I am not one to express my emotions openly or lightly," she finally started, "but when it comes to Kelly, it is difficult to not say anything. When she reappeared in my life, I was shocked by how strongly I was attracted to her, so much so that I had a very hard time resisting the temptation to be with her, both as a friend and as a lover. Should I love her? No. Do I love her now? Absolutely, without question."

The counselor templed her fingers, resting her chin on them. "You are quite certain of your answer."

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. "I am a realist, I cannot survive any longer without acknowledging that I am primarily attracted to women, and that even at the price of losing my husband and my child, I cannot continue to live this lie. It has already hurt me for many years. Even if Kelly ultimately rejects me, I must proceed with the divorce."

"What about Nathan?" Dr. Estefan prompted

Elizabeth shrugged. "What about him? I do feel guilty leaving him, and lying to him all these years, but I felt trapped by what was expected of me by society. I am sorry that I could not be strong enough to ask Kelly to live with me, but that is the past, we must focus on the present and the future."

"You don't strike me as a woman who shares her emotions easily, yet you proclaim your love for Kelly readily enough. Why do you suppose that is?"

Elizabeth's face lit with a rare smile. "Kelly makes me feel complete in a way Nathan never did. I cannot help but feel drawn to her like a moth to a flame, not caring if I get burned. I cannot qualify my love for her, I simply love her with my entire being. I never felt that type of all consuming love for Nathan."

"For you, that is saying a great deal," Dr. Estefan observed.

"It is," Elizabeth acknowledged simply.

Chapter 11

Nathan sat in his office, staring out at the beautiful day, knowing he should be working on final exams, but unable to bring himself to do so. Elizabeth had found an apartment within walking distance of campus, taking very little with her. She left everything else for him, left him with the big empty house full of memories. He continued seeing Dr. Estefan, not sure it was doing him much good, but she was the only one he could talk to about the whole strange situation.

He knew talk was swirling around the engineering school about the separation, and the only thing that made him feel a little better was that apparently Elizabeth was sticking firm to her resolution to rebuild a friendship with Kelly before moving in with her. Strangely enough, he and Kelly had started going to lunch sometimes, avoiding all conversation about Elizabeth whenever possible, but providing each other a tenuous link to Elizabeth and happier times. It was ironic that his wife's would be lover was such a good friend of his. Golly, he thought sarcastically, if they could get married, which woman would he give away? Which would he be a best man for?

"Dr. Green, Dr. Cook is here to see you," Janet announced, poking her head around the doorframe. "I don't think he wants to take no as an answer."

"Fine, send him in," Nathan sighed.

The engineering dean came in, shut the door, then dropped into one of the visitor's chairs and stared hard at Nathan before growling, "What's this rumor about you and Elizabeth breaking up? Is it because of that marketing professor, what's her name, Dr. Moore?" Before Nathan could respond, Dr. Cook continued, "You've been seen having lunch with her, and I don't like it. Are you two having an affair? Is that why your wife left you? You do know, even though you are tenured, something like this could affect your promotion to full professor."

Nathan had a momentary desire to giggle over the mistaken assumptions, but kept a straight face. "Dr. Cook, I assure you there is nothing between me and Dr. Moore other than friendship. Kelly is a good friend of Elizabeth's, so sometimes I go to lunch with her."

"So why have you and Elizabeth separated? She's not seeing another man, is she?" Dr. Cook asked primly.

"God, no, sir," Nathan answered fervently, relieved at the assumption that Elizabeth was seeing a man. "We're going through a rough patch. Frankly, with our daughter gone, we've both found we don't have as much in common as we thought. I don't want to say any more, it's very personal, sir. I can assure you, I'm not having an affair."

"I can't imagine your wife in an affair." A flash of crooked teeth. "She's always struck me as a bit of an ice queen, if you don't mind me saying so."

Nathan flushed angrily, resisting the temptation to deck his boss. "Sir, she may be cool and collected, but she's no ice queen. I have hopes of a reconciliation after we've been separated for a while."

"Well, whatever you do, don't drag the college down, Green. If you do divorce, do it quietly. We can't have any drama or scandal, now can we?" Dr. Cook abruptly stood up and slammed out of the office without another word.

"Nathan, what's going on?" Janet asked, tentatively standing in the doorway after Dr. Cook left the suite.

"Come in and shut the door," Nathan said wearily. She looked puzzled, but did as he said. "Dr. Cook left me a thinly veiled threat to get back together with Elizabeth, or be passed over for promotion."

"Could he do that? I'd heard that you two were separated, but didn't think it was any of my business to ask."

"Thank you, and yes, he could. He could sway the committee if he's pissed enough. Thing is, I've heard rumors that his wife threatened to leave him a few years ago, when we first started accepting women in the college of engineering. I'm not sure if he was having an affair with one of them, or was just being sexist, but he's been very, ah, strident in his support of the sanctity of marriage since then."

Janet made a face. "In other words, if he couldn't play around, no one else is allowed to either. That reeks, Dr. Green. Anyway, if you don't have anything else for me, I need to scoot, I have a date tonight."

"Go on, Janet, have fun. Thanks again for not saying anything to anyone."

"I wouldn't dream of it. Good night."

Nathan was depressed as he pulled into the garage that night, surprised when he saw Elizabeth's car in her accustomed spot. For a brief moment, he allowed his heart to soar, to hope that Elizabeth had come back home, but knew that she'd probably just forgotten something. By the time he unlocked the kitchen door, his mood was black again. "Elizabeth, are you in here?" he called out as he dropped his briefcase on the floor.

"I'm in the study," she called back. He followed her voice to the study, rounding the corner to see her with photo albums piled in the floor, ensconced in her favorite armchair. She looked up at him, tears glistening on her cheeks. "I just came to get my files that I forgot and started looking through the photo albums. Nathan, what have I done? We were so happy, Joanne was such a beautiful girl. What are we going to tell her when she comes home for the summer?"

Nathan sat down in the matching armchair, picking up one of the discarded albums, idly flipping through it. "I don't know what to tell Joanne. When I've called her, or she's called me, I just say you're in meetings. Have you told her anything?"

"No, I haven't. I've talked to Dr. Estefan about it, and she says we should tell Joanne that we are separated and may not reconcile. She says that Joanne will most likely figure out the truth about me and Kelly, so I should come clean about that too. Yet, I hesitate to do so. I did not want to be attracted to women, I tried so hard to be in love with you, Nathan."

He looked at a picture of them taken at the bridge over some deep chasm. He remembered holding tight because Elizabeth was trying hard not to show her vertigo. Joanne had just turned twelve and was fascinated with cameras and was taking quite good pictures by then. The sun was glinting off his hair, turning it almost crimson, and Elizabeth was holding on to him for dear life, looking vulnerable for once. "Remember this trip? Where were we?"

"Outside Taos, I believe, on a suspension bridge, one of the longest in the country. I'd have to check, but..." Her voice petered out, a wry smile creeping up. "There I go, being the stereotypical librarian. I can't just state something, I have to back it up with sources and citations. Nathan, I still love you, but I can't live with you, and I want Kelly. I feel like I am being torn apart, wanting to go back to the way we were, yet knowing it would not be right for either of us. My director has not said anything, but I can feel the whispers going on. People do not understand why I have moved out, but at least they are not asking me. Being known as an ice queen has some advantages."

Nathan put the album back on the floor and suck back into the chair. "Elizabeth, I had a visit from Dr. Cook tonight. He was giving me thinly veiled threats that if we go through with this divorce, he'll make sure I don't get the promotion to full professor. He can't fire me, I'm tenured, but he can stop any advance, and he can assign me only undergraduate classes instead of the graduate classes I've been enjoying so much the last few years."

Elizabeth wiped her face, sniffing hard. "God, Nathan, I am so sorry. You have been so supportive all this time, I do not deserve you."

"We can stop the whispers and threats, you know, just by getting back together." Nathan knelt in front of her, hands on her knees. "Honey, I love you still, I can't imagine life with any other woman. Are you so sure you want to throw away our life together? Please, let's give our marriage another try!" He stood up, holding out his hands to her. "Just one night, honey, let's try just one more time. You can still be friends with Kelly, just be with me tonight."

She stood up and took his hands, allowing herself to be drawn into his arms again. She breathed in his scent, felt the scratchiness of his wool suit jacket, the warm reassuring bulk of his warmth surrounding her. It would be so easy to give in, to let herself be pulled along with the tide, to reclaim a normal life. Staying with Nathan would mean no more whispers, no more questions about what to tell their daughter, but it would also mean going back to stifling her desire for Kelly. Guilt tugged at her, guilt for not telling him that she'd already broken her vows of forsaking all others.

"Are you going to stay?" Nathan finally asked, pulling away to look at Elizabeth's face.

She took a deep breath and answered, "Just this once." He smiled. She added, "It was the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge."

"What?" Confusion rippled across his face.

"In the picture. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just outside of Taos, second highest suspension bridge in the country."

Nathan laughed. "That's my girl. That's the librarian I know and love, you just had to dig until you remembered the answer. Come on, let's go to bed."

Chapter 12

Kelly paced back and forth, stopping to glare at her phone every few minutes. Elizabeth had promised to call tonight, and had not done so. It was already 10:00, and she had said she would call at 8:30. Damn her! Kelly glared at the phone one last time, then made her decision. She grabbed her purse and keys and headed out the door, slamming it viciously in her fury. Elizabeth wouldn't come over, refused to let Kelly come to her apartment, wanted everything to stay platonic until the divorce went through and they had dated a while. Well, Kelly was tired of waiting. "I've waited my entire life for you," she growled as she jerked the garage door back down, locking it with a hard twist of the knob. She flung herself in her car, and roared off down the street.

Gravel spewed as she slung the car into the spot, braking just short of the fence line around the bar parking lot. She pulled her license and money from her wallet and locked it and her purse in the trunk before going in the bar. Kelly slithered through the crowd to the bar, calling out for a shot of whiskey and a beer chaser. It arrived, and she held the shot glass, savoring the deep color of the liquor before slamming it home with practiced ease.

The whiskey burned a satisfying trail through her insides, causing her to smile before picking up the beer bottle. Kelly turned from the bar, watching the mass of women dancing, flirting, playing pool, or just drinking. She sipped the beer, looking for her prey for the night. God, it felt good to be on the prowl again. She knew she'd had a few one night stands after Margo died, but they were in such an alcohol fog that she honestly couldn't remember the women, their names, or even if she'd had sex. But now she was ready. If her lover wasn't ready to give her what she needed, she'd take it from someone else.

After another beer and another whiskey, Kelly stiffened. A dark headed woman was walking her way, oozing sensuality from every pore. God, that's what Elizabeth would look like if she let herself feel anything, Kelly thought. "Hey baby," she crooned, "you coming to see me?"

The woman smiled as she reached over Kelly. "Not really, just came for my drink, but I could come to see you. I'm Jordan."

"Kelly." They shook hands, then laughed. "So, Jordan, huh?"

"Middle name, but I like it better than my first name. Care to sit at a table? I see one freeing up over there."

"Sure," Kelly said. She reached for her next beer, taking care to walk steadily as she followed Jordan to the recently deserted table. She sat down and sipped her beer before asking, "So, you come here often?"

"What a line. Just when I feel like a little action," Jordan answered. She sipped her drink, then asked, "So, what about you?"

"Just when I feel like having some company." She grinned at the woman, reaching over to place her hand on Jordan's arm. "Do you feel like company tonight?"

An hour later, they crashed into Jordan's apartment, groping each other and kissing fiercely. "Bedroom," Jordan managed to gasp, steering Kelly through a door, pushing her on a queen sized waterbed. "Oh God, take off your clothes!" Kelly complied, shakily unbuttoning and unzipping, head swirling with desire and alcohol. She heard herself groan as Jordan stripped off her clothes efficiently, revealing a good body.

Jordan pushed Kelly down on the bed, covering her with her body, making her dizzy with hard kisses and roaming hands, pulling her clothes off with practiced ease. God, it felt so good to just let go, to let someone take her hard and fast, to give in to her desires. Jordan was driving her crazy, bringing her up, then backing off until Kelly begged for release, howling when Jordan took her over the edge.

Hours later, Kelly woke up abruptly, head and heart pounding hard as she tried to figure out where she was. She was sore, sticky, and in bed with a beautiful woman who reminded her of Elizabeth. She sat up, trying to remember the woman's name. Gordon? No, Jordan. Kelly carefully swung her legs over the undulating waterbed, wondering where the bathroom was. She slowly stood up, trying the most likely door, rewarded by a small bathroom. Immediate needs taken care of, she poked around until she found fresh towels and stepped into the shower. She watched the water sluice over her bruised and battered body, starting to remember some of what occurred last night, blushing when she remembered some of the things they'd done. She washed gingerly, wondering if she could walk or sit normally until her battered body healed. She'd better not let Elizabeth see her naked for a while.

Elizabeth. How was she going to explain to her that she'd gone on a one night stand with Elizabeth's double? It's not like they'd made any vows, but she felt guilty anyway. Kelly turned off the water, looking for her towel as she pushed back the shower curtain. "Looking for this?" a voice snapped.

"Yes," Kelly answered, avoiding looking at Jordan's naked body, "thank you. I should be on my way soon." She pushed past the woman, drying as she padded back into the bedroom, scooping her clothes up from the floor. Her nose wrinkled when she smelled the mixture of smoke, sex, and beer on her clothes, but she had no choice. Kelly dressed quickly, sitting to shove her shoes on as Jordan stood in front of her. "What?" Kelly snapped, suddenly just wanting to get away.

"Fuck me and leave me, huh? I guess you really did want just a one night stand, darling. Please don't tell me that you're cheating on a man."

"No," Kelly answered tiredly, "nothing like that. Thank you for last night, Jordan, it was delightful, but I need to go home." She stood up, waiting to see if Jordan would move. Jordan suddenly moved aside, letting Kelly leave the bedroom.

"Want breakfast, at least?" Jordan called out as Kelly reached the door.

"No, thanks just the same," Kelly answered. She let herself out, barely able to walk, angry that she let herself into the situation.

Chapter 13

Elizabeth felt unaccustomed anger as she woke up the next morning, feeling like she'd been tricked into staying with Nathan. She slipped out of bed early, showered, then went to the study to call Kelly. After a number of rings, Kelly finally answered, sounding terrible. "Good morning, Kelly," Elizabeth said briskly, "would you like to meet for breakfast somewhere?"

"God, I can't even think about food," Kelly groaned, "can I take a raincheck? I really feel rotten today, my head is about to kill me, and my stomach doesn't feel so hot either."

"Would you like for me to come over and check on you?" Elizabeth asked, concern lacing her voice.

"Maybe you'd better not, honey, I can take care of myself. I do want to see you, but I thought you didn't want to see me."

Elizabeth glanced at her watch, then made her decision. "I want to see you. I have many personal days coming, I will simply call in sick myself and come over to take care of you."

"You would do that for me?" Kelly asked, astonished, "I mean, you'd really take a day off to come over here?"

"Yes. It will take a bit before I can come over, but I should be there within the hour." She paused, then concluded, "It's the least I can do. Good-bye." She carefully laid the receiver down, reaching automatically for paper and pen to start making a list of things to take over to Kelly's. She was so absorbed in her task that she didn't hear Nathan come up behind her until he put a hand on her shoulder. "Nathan, you startled me!" she exclaimed, dropping her pen.

"Sorry, honey. Who were you calling this early?"

"Kelly. She sounds very sick, so I'm going to take the day off and take care of her. I was making a list, soup, crackers, ginger ale, aspirin, anything that a sick person might need."

"I see," he said coolly. "I thought you might have remembered that we were going to pick Joanne up from college today, that you were taking half a day off for that. You do remember our daughter, don't you?" he asked sarcastically, anger simmering near the surface. Elizabeth sat, frozen, horrified that she had forgotten her own daughter's homecoming.

She looked up at Nathan's face, trying to read it. After all these years together, she suddenly felt like she'd lost the key to reading him. She was torn between acquiescing and calling Kelly back and simply saying no, Kelly needed her worse. "Oh, don't worry, I can get her myself. Go to your girlfriend's side, take care of her. I just thought after last night that we'd started over, were going to try to put our marriage back together again. Well, take your little bag and get the hell out of here, and don't fucking bother to come back until Joanne calls you. Why don't you just move in with her and get me out of my misery? Get out!" he roared.

Elizabeth turned absolutely white, but managed to control the shakiness that she felt as she stood up. "I am sorry you feel that way," she said quietly, "but I will leave now. I will be at my apartment or Kelly's, so please have Joanne call me when you get in." She cleared her throat, but knew she couldn't say anything else without breaking down, so she opted to leave as gracefully as possible.

Elizabeth let herself into the house with the key Kelly had given her recently. "Kelly, where are you?" she called out.

"In the den, watching TV," Kelly croaked.

Elizabeth walked into the den, leaned over to kiss Kelly's cheek, then headed into the kitchen. "I have soup, crackers, ginger ale, various medications, and extra blankets. Would you like to start with ginger ale and see how your stomach reacts?"

"Sure," Kelly answered. She got up and weaved her way to the TV and turned it off, snapping on the stereo, tuning to a soft rock station before wobbling back to her nest on the couch. She had just sat back down when Elizabeth came with a tray of ginger ale and crackers. "Oh, goody, the sick child plate," she said, trying for levity.

"How are you feeling?" Elizabeth asked, feeling her forehead and cheeks. "You do not seem to have a fever. Did you eat something strange or different last night?"

Kelly reached for her drink and sipped it, relishing the cool liquid sliding down her throat before admitting, "Well, not really, it was more how much I drank." She tentatively nibbled a cracker, it seem to settle okay, so she sipped more ginger ale, delaying what she didn't want to discuss.

Finally, she set the cup back on the tray and turned to face Elizabeth. "I'm afraid you won't like this, but I tried to call you last night and got really pissed that you weren't there, so I went to the bar. I drank a lot, and picked up a woman named Jordan and followed her back to her apartment. I screwed up, Elizabeth, I was so angry at you, so angry that we can't be together, that I decided I needed to get laid in the worst way. I wish to God I hadn't done it, but trust me, I'm paying for it now."

Elizabeth sat very quietly, then turned to look at Kelly. "You picked up a woman? Just for sex?"

"I was drunk. I was pissed at you. Yeah, I've been tempted a lot, but this was the first time I fell off the wagon and followed a woman home."

"But you had a one night stand. Sex with a stranger."

Kelly sat up, anger seeping into her voice. "Don't go all high and mighty on me, woman, you were the one who seduced me in 1956 and then tossed me aside. God, I don't know why the hell I was so excited to see you, you're nothing but a cold bitch who only thinks of herself."

Elizabeth stood up abruptly, cold fury in her voice. "Don't forget, my dear, that I left for your own good. I did everything for someone else's own good, I nearly decided to get back with Nathan for his own good, for the sake of his career. Nathan has been warned that he could lose his promotion to full professor if I don't come home to him and stop the divorce. I'm not tenured, and neither are you. If I lose my job, Joanne could lose her chance to complete college. If you lose your job, I suppose you could get another marketing job, but the academia would turn against me. Damn it, I'm sick of it all! I've thrown away my life for you, Kelly, so don't you dare call me a cold bitch!"

Kelly sank against the cushions, shocked by the outburst from her lover. She'd never seen Elizabeth so angry, so passionate. Part of her wanted to slap the woman, part of her wanted to drag her off to bed now. It didn't help that her head was throbbing with renewed pain, or that the bruises were still very tender all over her body. She stood up slowly, swaying, and dropped the blankets. She saw Elizabeth staring hard at her, so she deliberately pulled off her pajamas, displaying her bruised and battered flesh. "You're right, I'm very bad. I don't remember much of what happened last night, but these bruises will testify to my stupidity for quite a while." She choked back an unexpected sob and whispered, "I need help. I'm scared I'm going to go off on the deep end again."

"I'm sorry, I did not know," Elizabeth said, shoulders slumping. "Kelly, I can get you help, but you have to promise me one thing."


"That you will do it for yourself, and not as a way to get me back. I promise to take care of you today, but I think we both need more help before we can be together."

"I'll take what I can get," Kelly said softly. "In the meanwhile, I think I'm going to sit back down before I pass out."

Chapter 14

Joanne hugged her father when he walked into her dorm room, saying, "Boy, what a long semester, I thought it would never end. I'm glad to see you, Daddy. I've already packed up, just need to lug this stuff downstairs to the car. How's Mom?"

Nathan said carefully, "Your mother is fine, just taking care of a sick friend today. Boy, you are organized, it looks like you have less than what you started with at the beginning of the year."

"I send a few box of clothes and junk home through the mail yesterday." Joanne picked up a box and started out the door. Nathan shrugged to himself and picked up a box, following his daughter down the stairs. He was still mad at Elizabeth for deserting him for Kelly today, of all days, when they were supposed to pick up their daughter from college. For the thousandth time, he pondered at what point their marriage had died. Was it when Kelly moved to town? Or was it when he pushed them together so Elizabeth could get over her depression?

"Dad, you're standing still," Joanne said, waving a hand in his face. "Come on, we still have quite a bit of stuff to carry down."

"Ok, sorry, honey," Nathan said contritely. Damn, he was woolgathering like an old woman! He determinedly hoisted another box and started down the stairs.

A few hours later, Nathan and Joanne were on the road back home. Joanne was excited about going home, she had a good semester and was pretty sure she hit a 4.0 for the semester. It occurred to her that her father was very distracted, enough that after lunch he simply turned the keys over to her and asked her to drive while he napped. It didn't look like he was sleeping, but rather staring out the window, not talking. Of the two parents, it was her father who usually was the more social one, the one who asked how her day went, how she liked her classes, what her friends were doing, but now it was as if he had shut down. Joanne wondered if she should ask what was going on. Finally, she decided to go with her gut instinct and make him talk. "Hey, Dad, can I ask you a question?"

Nathan roused himself. "Sure, honey, what's on your mind?"

"What's on my mind is what's going on with you. You're usually not this quiet. I mean, Mother is quiet, but you usually talk to me."

Nathan sighed heavily. "I guess I'd better tell you sooner rather than later. Your mother and I are separated, we've been having some rough patches." He turned to face his daughter. "That's about all I can say, really. I'm not even sure what's going on, maybe you'd better ask your mother when we get back."

"I thought you said she was taking care of a sick friend. Mother's not usually the good samaritan, so who is this mystery sick friend, or was it just an excuse for you guys not being in the car together?"

"You're too damn smart, Joanne," Nathan said ruefully. "Ok, truth. Your mother has gone to take care of Kelly, who seems to have some sort of stomach bug or something, I think." He rubbed his eyes, unsure what else to admit. Gee, Joanne, your mother went to take care of her girlfriend. No, not the best thing to say. "Kelly called early this morning. I got pretty mad, accused her mother of forgetting that we were picking you up today. It just seems like we're arguing a lot lately. I'm sorry, honey, it feels really weird telling you all this."

"It's ok, Dad, I'm an adult now, I can handle it, although it's weird to think of you two arguing. Mother rarely raised her voice when I was living at home, even when I accidently broke that vase of her mother's."

"You're right."

The two drove on in silence for another twenty minutes before Joanne asked, "Do you think Mother will be home tonight?"

"Baby, it's to the point where I don't know anything about your mother any longer," Nathan said sadly.

Kelly woke up, feeling very stiff and bruised. At least the nausea and headache were gone, thank God, and she was starting to feel a little bit human. She wondered if Elizabeth was still here somewhere, or if she'd left during the hours that she was asleep. Only one way to find out.

Kelly struggled free of the covers and gingerly walked to the bathroom to take care of immediate needs, then carefully walked down the hallway, poking her head in doorways. Sure enough, there was Elizabeth, uncharacteristically sprawled across the guest bed. Kelly cocked her head, just observing her friend. She'd always thought of Elizabeth as reserved, closed off, except when making love, so it was interesting to see her sprawled like a teenager.

What was it that was such a powerful draw to the woman that she would risk her job to be with her? Kelly tore herself away from staring at Elizabeth and shuffled into the kitchen, rooting around until she came up with ginger ale, crackers, and leftover soup. She was grateful that she'd bought a microwave, it was so much faster to reheat soup in it than on the stovetop. She smiled as she remembered Nathan's amazement at the new appliance when she demonstrated how quickly food could be reheated. Her smile faded as she set her plates and glass down at the kitchen table, sitting heavily in her chair. She ate slowly, making sure that her snack wasn't planning a return trip, continuing to think about Elizabeth. Maybe some things defied explanation, like how much she loved the woman.

Intelligence, beauty, fire and ice. Maybe that was the draw, especially the contrast between Elizabeth's normal icy reserve and the fire in bed. She just knew that even when she tried to forget Elizabeth over the years, she always measured every woman she met against that impossible yardstick. Even Margo never measured up, although she was lively, wonderful to be with, and passionate. There was just something about the way Elizabeth looked deep into her soul, when she let herself relax, drop the mask. Kelly shivered involuntarily, thinking of the fire and ice over the years. Was the fire worth the ice? That was the question to be answered.

Elizabeth woke abruptly, sensing someone in the room with her. She sat up, staring at Kelly watching her from the door. "Kelly," she said, her voice croaking from sleep. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Kelly, how are you feeling?"

"Starting to feel better. I had some more soup and crackers a while ago, and they've agreed to stay down. I didn't know that you were still here." Kelly walked into the room, tentatively sitting on the bed next to Elizabeth. "I appreciate you coming over to take care of me. No one has done that for years. Correction, I'm not sure anyone has taken care of me when I was sick since I was a child."

Elizabeth turned to face Kelly, gently cupping Kelly's face in her hand. "Someone needed to take care of you." She lightly stroked Kelly's face, tracing her cheekbone down to her jawline. "I really didn't mean to fall asleep back here, I thought I'd lay down to rest for a moment. I'm glad you are feeling better, but we do need to face a question. Or two."

"They are?"

"One," Elizabeth said, holding up a finger, "are you going to attempt to press charges against this Jordan who brutalized you, and two, you need help. I have been going to a counselor for several months now, maybe she can see you or find someone to see you."

Kelly leaned against Elizabeth's shoulder, sighing heavily. "No, I don't want to press charges, and have no desire to give our boys in blue on campus something to talk about. Yes, I need to see someone, and if you're comfortable with your counselor, I'll at least see her once. I'll be honest, I'll do anything to keep you in my life." She lifted her head, staring directly into Elizabeth's eyes. "Let me put you on the spot, if I get help, will you go ahead with the divorce and live with me?"

"Yes," Elizabeth answered quietly. "I will." She glanced at her watch, frowning. "Of course, I just realized that Nathan and Joanne should be home by now. I should go see my daughter."

"Call her from here. Didn't Nathan toss you out?"

"He did. Should I get this over with now?"

Kelly laid back on the bed, fatigue crawling over her. "Whatever you want."

Elizabeth turned to look at Kelly, aching to just curl up with her lover and ignore the world. She compromised by leaning over to kiss Kelly lightly, reluctantly sitting back up after several seconds. "I hate to leave," she said wistfully.

"I know. I'll be fine now, the worst of the hangover is over."

"But the bruises?"

Kelly sat up, folding her robe over her chest. "Nothing broken, so I'll survive. Go to your daughter. I'll catch up with you later."

Elizabeth nodded, standing, but not moving. "I am sorry I got so angry with you earlier. I have never been so afraid of losing someone before." Deep breath. "I love you, Kelly."

Surprised, Kelly answered, "I love you too, Elizabeth." She got up and followed Elizabeth to the front door, kissed her goodbye before she left. "She loves me," Kelly repeated to the empty house. "She actually spoke the words. Hot damn."

Chapter 16

Joanne stepped over the threshold of her mother's apartment, not sure what to expect. What she didn't expect was a long hug from her normally reserved parent, but it felt very nice. She finally drew back and asked, "So, this is your pad, huh?"

Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow at her daughter's description. "Yes, it is. Please, come in, Joanne, allow me to show you around." She smiled as she noted the look of surprise on her daughter's face as she took in the sleek, modern furnishings. "I picked out new furniture," she added unnecessarily.

"Wow, Mother, it looks fantastic! Where's the old Ethan Allen look?"

"With your father. I decided to be completely different. I did rent a two bedroom just in case you wanted to stay here part of the time this summer." She gestured toward the rest of the apartment. "Shall we?"

After a brief tour, Joanne helped her mother carry the snack trays to the living room. She perched on the edge of the sofa, still taking in the bold colors and sleek furniture as she juggled a plate on her knees. She nervously nibbled on her crackers and cheese, then laid the plate on the coffee table and took a deep breath. "Mother, it's pretty obvious that you and Dad are separated, but the look of this apartment says you're planning a permanent separation. Are you guys getting a divorce? And why?"

Elizabeth quirked a brief smile. "You are getting right to the heart of matters immediately, you must be my daughter. Yes, we are separated, and plan to divorce. To forestall any guilt, it has absolutely nothing to do with you, and nothing to do with your father, who is a wonderful man. I am the one asking for the divorce, it caught your father off guard."

"And the reason is?"

Elizabeth leaned back forward, hands pressed on her knees to keep them from trembling. "When I decided to ask for a divorce, Nathan requested that we go through counseling to make sure we could not resolve our differences. The short version of this regrettably long tale is that even though I love Nathan very much, I love him as a friend more than as a husband."

Silence for several seconds. "Mother, you're avoiding telling me the real reason. Okay, you say you still love dad, but as a friend. So what gives? You love him, he loves you, isn't that enough?"

"No." Elizabeth cleared her throat, sipped her tea, started again. "Joanne, you know I am a private person, and always have been. This is difficult for me, but the reason I am leaving your father is that I can no longer avoid the fact that I am attracted to women, not to men."

Joanne leaned forward, staring at her mother, emotions churning. "Wait a minute, Mother, you're telling me that you're a lesbian? Is that what came out of your counseling?"

"No, it came out when I was your age. I had an affair with my roommate, so we opted for different rooms to avoid temptation." Elizabeth sipped her tea again, uncharacteristically nervous. "I fell in love with Kelly in 1956, but found the job here the next year and left her. I thought I was doing what was best for both of us. I hoped that marriage and having a family would cure my attraction to women, but it has just been submerged."

Joanne sat back, stunned. Her mother, in love with someone other than her dad? She shut her eyes for a moment, thinking. "Are you still in love with Kelly?"

Elizabeth sighed. "Yes. Joanne, I hoped that counseling would give me the keys to going straight, so to speak. Instead, through research and counseling I have found that sexual orientation seems to be innate, not something that can be changed or wished away. I hate that I am involving everyone in this drama."

"Mother, I don't know what to say. I'm not sure if I should be angry at you for deserting Dad or if I should support you." Joanne frowned, then asked, "So what are you going to do about Kelly? I mean, I've met her a couple of times and like her, but are you going to..." She trailed off, then commented wryly, "It's not like you can marry her and make an honest woman of her. And what are the ramifications? Could you lose your job? I really don't know much about this sort of stuff."

"I've been doing some research-" Elizabeth started.

Joanne interrupted, "Like that's any surprise." Elizabeth shot her daughter a quelling look. "Hey, it's true, Mother, you always research any issue. God, can't you just go with your feelings?" Joanne growled.

Elizabeth snapped, "My damned emotions that got me into this mess, my dear. I didn't want to fall in love with Kelly, no matter what a wonderful friend she is, I had no intention of ever seeing her again when I came here. Do you know how hard it is to deny your feelings, day in and day out? God damn it, I am so sick and tired of people either assuming I don't have any emotions or that I don't pay any heed to them. If I followed my emotions, I'd be living with Kelly right now rather than trying to keep up appearances of being normal, just going through an ordinary separation. I didn't want to be gay, it is illogical!"

Joanne sat back, astonished. She'd never, ever, seen her mother so angry. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get you mad," she said brokenly.

Elizabeth dropped her head in her hands, covering her face, embarrassed to have completely lost her temper in front of her daughter. What was worse was were the sobs fighting their way to the surface. She lost the fight, caught up in the maelstrom of emotion swirling around her.

"Mom?" Joanne called softly, frightened by her mother's sobbing. She scooted over, unsure how to proceed, tentatively laying a hand on her mother's shoulder. Her mother swayed a bit; Joanne bit her lip and pulled her mother to her, wrapping her in her arms. She felt her mother's arms snake around her, holding on tightly as sobs wracked her body. "God, Mom, I'm sorry to have upset you. I don't understand this whole situation, but I still love you."

"Thank you." Elizabeth said after several moments. She sat up, reaching for the tissue box on the end table. "I apologize for losing control there."

Joanne sat for a moment, then asked gently, "Does Kelly make you happy?"

Elizabeth looked at her daughter thoughtfully, finally answering, "Yes. It's just the circumstances that are making me unhappy."

Chapter 16

Kelly sat nervously in the armchair in Dr. Estefan's office, explaining she felt about Elizabeth. "I still remember meeting her for the first time, telling her how I wanted more out of life. I would look forward to our dinners where we discussed books and ideas, it just opened up my world so much. I can remember so clearly going to see 'Rebel Without a Cause' and holding her hand during the climax to the movie. I think that's when I really fell in love with her that night. The funny thing is that she was being so level, so rational, yet there was this brief moment of vulnerability when we talked about Plato's crush on Jim." Kelly twisted her fingers together before forcing her hands apart.

Dr. Estefan laid her pen down, asking, "How did you feel when you first saw Elizabeth at the university?"

"To be honest, I was nervous and delighted. I had gained so much self-confidence, so I thought I could handle anything. It's funny, when I first went to talk to her about the library collection here, all I knew was that the assistant director's name was Elizabeth Green, so I didn't connect it with my friend Miss Temple. But when I rounded the corner, led by her secretary, I felt nervous as a boy on his first date for a moment. I'd tried to forget her for twenty plus years, yet there she was, and I fell in love with her all over again."

"Did you have any serious relationships between the time she left and the time you arrived here?" Dr. Estefan prompted.

Kelly sat back, propping up one ankle on her knee. "Yes, but none ever matched Elizabeth. There's just something so irresistible about a woman who is so intelligent, so cool, and yet so passionate. The only way I can describe her is fire and ice, and I crave that combination. Dr. Estefan, I can't forget her, and I can't not have her, but if she told me tomorrow that she was going back to Nathan, I'm afraid I could not sit back quietly. I'd have to fight for her. I have to have her as my lover, not just my friend."

"That's very interesting, Dr. Moore. Tell me, what would happen if she rejected you?"

Kelly uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. "I guess I'd have to move. I can't be in the same town without having her by my side. She's one of the very few people whom has challenged me intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually. And I know I can't use this as an excuse, but I started drinking heavily after she left me the first time. It was easy to do, bars were the only places a woman could meet other women. I had a few flings, but when I decided to go to college, I was able to stop drinking and having one night stands immediately. After she rejected me again, I used it as an excuse to start drinking and going to bars again."

An uneasy silence stretched for several minutes before Dr. Estefan asked softly, "What happened in the bars? What brought you here to me?"

Kelly felt the fury welling up, but managed to get it under control enough not to shout. "Well, let's see, Dr. Estefan, I found myself getting angry that I was waiting on her to make up her mind about leaving Nathan or not. I know that she's already living separately from him, but there's still this sense I have that they're not completely separated. Anyway one night I was furious and horny, so I gave in to temptation. I went to the bar and started drinking and picked up a woman and had rough sex with her, but that was a complete disaster, and I still have the bruises to prove it."

She paused, surprised to find her hands and voice shaking. Kelly swallowed hard, continuing. "I think I was trying to punish both Elizabeth and myself by going to bed with a complete stranger. It was exciting at first, but then I passed out at some point, just barely remembering very rough sex. I was horribly bruised, sore, and had several bite marks. I left, and when Elizabeth called the next morning, I tried to fend her off, but she came over anyway. She was pissed as hell because I wasn't understanding her situation, that we could all lose our jobs. She was yelling at me, which is so unlike her, and I just blurted out that I'd had the one night stand and called her a cold bitch. Somewhere in there, I showed her my battered body, and I think it scared her. She made me promise to get help, so here I am."

"So what do you want the outcome of this counseling to be?" Dr. Estefan probed.

Kelly leaned forward, hands on the desk. "I want keep from sabotaging my relationship with Elizabeth. I want to find ways with coping with disappointment so I won't start drink heavily and have one night stands. I usually can manage a glass of wine with dinner, or a cocktail at a party and then quit, but when it comes to arguing with her, that's when I want to get plastered and forget that we fought. When she tries to reject my love, that's when I want to find another body to have sex with."

The counselor cocked her head, asking, "When you drink and pick up women, are you punishing Elizabeth or yourself?"

"I-" Kelly slumped in the chair, not expecting the question. "Good question." She was silent for a short time, thinking. "Maybe myself. I kept pursuing Elizabeth even though I like Nathan too. Maybe I feel guilty for breaking up their marriage and am trying to give her a reason to go back to Nathan."

"Perhaps. I'd like for you to consider the same question I posed to Elizabeth. Do you love her as she is now, or as the image from your past?"

Kelly stood to leave, contemplating before answering, "As tempting as it is to say that I must just be in love with the image from my past, I find that despite the difficulties of our current situation, I love her more today than I ever did. See you next time."

"Uncle Brian!" Joanne called out happily as she opened the door, "what a great surprise! We didn't know you were in town, come on in."

Brian Temple hugged his niece, then stood back, looking at her and grinning. "Joanne, you are more beautiful every time I see you. I can't decide who you look more like, your dad or your mother." He followed her into the study. "Hey, Nathan, good to see you, buddy," Brian said as he grasped the other man's hand firmly.

"What brings you our direction? Would you like a drink? Tea, soda, beer?"

"Beer would be great, thanks." Brian said as he sat in the guest chair next to Nathan's desk. Joanne volunteered to get the drinks. "So, not to pry, but I hear you and my sister are separated. I'm sorry to hear that, man."

Nathan thanked Joanne, who had just come back with the bottles. "Yeah, it sucks. Joanne, why don't you-"

"Stay and hear what I have to say, it concerns you," Brian said. "Actually, I'm glad to get you both here at the same time. Joanne, are you still thinking of majoring in engineering?"

"Yes, Uncle Brian, I am. I'm taking my engineering prerequisites right now. Why do you ask?"

"Because my firm is thinking of starting a summer intern program, and I thought I'd see if you'd like to apply. You could stay with me and Nancy, our boys have flown the coop already, so we have extra rooms. Interested?"

Joanne beamed. "You bet!"

"Good, I was hoping so, I have the paperwork with me." He opened his briefcase, extracting a thick envelope. "Here, this ought to keep you busy for a while." Joanne kissed his cheek and skipped out of the study. Brian and Nathan watched her leave, then Brian opened his briefcase again and pulled out another fat envelope. "We also need someone who can coordinate our new intern program, and I proposed that we get an engineering professor for that position. IBM does it, so why can't we? That envelope has an offer, your salary and perks, and what we expect you to do. The catch, of course, is that you'd have to leave the university, which I know is an issue since you have tenure here. Do you think Elizabeth would have a problem with trying to find a job in another library?"

Nathan winced. "When was the last time you talked to your sister?"

"I don't know, a month or two? Why?"

"Brian, I hate to tell you this, but we've separated. We tried to reconcile, but it didn't work," Nathan stated bitterly.

Brian stared at his brother-in-law. "You're not shitting me, are you? What happened?"

Nathan stared at the bottle, unable to look up. "She left me."

"She left you." Brian let it sink in for a moment, then asked, "Just leave you, or leave you for someone?"

"Brian, would you believe that she left me for a woman? A marketing professor at the university, a woman who had become a family friend."

Brian took another long pull on his beer, then set it down carefully. "I'm really sorry, man, that's got to be rough."

Nathan concentrated on peeling the label off his bottle, uncomfortable with the conversation, but had to ask. "Brian, did she ever, well, show any signs of liking women when you guys were young?"

Brian sat back, thinking. He answered slowly, "Well, she was quite a tomboy the whole time we were growing up. She was only fifteen months older than me, so we were almost like twins instead of siblings. I do remember that she would sometimes abruptly drop friends, never mention them again." He took a swallow, then grinned. "Let me guess, she's already moved out, found a lawyer, and has most of the paperwork drawn up and is just impatiently waiting for you to sign."

Nathan grinned ruefully. "Almost, buddy. She has moved out, but we tried counseling first. I don't think much about my feelings and all that, but when Kelly came into the picture, it hit Elizabeth like a ton of bricks. We were all three friends at first, but I guess it was too much for them to resist. Hell, Kelly's a beautiful, intelligent woman, so I don't blame Elizabeth for falling for her in some ways. And Joanne knows too. Elizabeth told our daughter a few days ago."

"So, getting back to my original question, it wouldn't be an issue for you to move. I know it would be rough to give up tenure and all that, but would you consider the job?"

"Hell yes. This divorce is costing me a shot at promotion anyway, so why not?" Nathan drained his beer and slammed the bottle on the desk. "Screw Elizabeth. You know, Brian, I'm gonna call her bluff, and sign those damned papers." His shoulders slumped, anger draining as rapidly as it appeared. "The weird thing is that I still love her, and I want her to be happy, so I'll make sure everything is even. Am I a wuss?"

Nathan slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "No, you're not a wuss, it takes a big man to be fair."

Elizabeth felt unprepared for the library conference for the first time in her professional life. Her secretary had made all of her reservations months ahead of time, but she still was surprised when she handed over the itinerary and told her to go home and pack. Now, several days into the conference, she remember why she disliked Dallas as a convention city. No hotels nearby, had to rely on a bus to get you to and from the convention center, so much traffic. At least she remembered to look over the pre-conference materials on the flight to D/FW Airport. It was hot, though, and more humid than she was accustomed to, but not as humid as New Orleans. At least the conference would be over soon and she could go home to Kelly.

This was a new thought, going home to Kelly. Nathan had surprised her signing the papers, then asking if she minded him selling the house so he could go to work for Brian. Kelly had been attending counseling sessions, and they had been talking more lately. She was sometimes shocked by how much she wanted Kelly physically, but their mutually declared celibacy was forcing her to concentrate on Kelly as a person, and she found that she was delighted by this person. Joanne was enthused about the offer from Brian to join their fledgling intern program, and didn't seem to be too bothered by having her mother in love with another woman.

So why did she still feel uneasy? Nathan had dodged a bullet by quitting the university, which angered his dean, but Dr. Cook couldn't do a thing. Brian knew the truth, so Dr. Cook's crude insinuations backfired. Elizabeth glanced at the bedside clock, almost 10:30 p.m. Her feet were aching from standing in pumps all day, and from standing even longer at the reception tonight. She slipped off her jacked, kicked off her shoes and was about to start taking off her skirt when her phone rang. She just stared at it for a ring, then picked it up. "Hello?"

"Ah, you're still up, I take it. Would you do me a favor and come join me for a drink? I haven't seen you the entire conference, and wanted to run a few things by you."

Elizabeth slipped her feet back into her pumps as she said, "I'll be down shortly, Dr. Billings." She hung up the phone, irritated that her director would choose now to talk. She picked up her room key, her purse, and her notepad, and left the room.

Several minutes later, she walked into the bar, finding Grant Billings sitting at a table for two, sipping a glass of wine. "Ah, Dr. Green, please, have a seat," he said, half standing as she approached. She sat tentatively, starting to open her notebook. "No, let's not talk business," he said, "I'm sick to death of business right now. I just want a chat, that's all. Would you like a glass of wine? Something to eat?"

"A glass of wine would be fine," Elizabeth answered.

Dr. Billings waited until the waiter had brought the wine and some appetizers before asking, "So what do you think of the conference this year. Isn't this the first year you've not presented in a decade or so?"

"The first time for twelve years, actually," Elizabeth corrected without thinking. "The educational sessions are fine, just tiring."

"I see." He took another sip of his wine, then set it down. "Do you mind calling me Grant? After all, we've worked together for fourteen years, since I came to take the director's position. If so, I'll call you Elizabeth."

"I do not mind," she answered, curious about the informality. "Grant, I hate to be blunt, but I was about to go to sleep."

"My apologies, Elizabeth." He tilted his glass, then looked at her directly in the eye. "I understand you're going through a difficult time right now, that your husband has left you for another job."

"Nathan has resigned to go to work for my brother, this is true."

"Ah." He swirled his wine, then downed the rest of it in one gulp, glancing around. Satisfied, he asked, quietly, "I'm thinking of retiring soon, and would like for you to take over my position. My, ah..." He trailed off for a moment, then continued. "My friend, Scott, has recently retired and we'd like to do some traveling while we're still young enough and healthy enough to do so. I've already put in a very good recommendation for you, and know that most of the deans would back my recommendation. Are you interested?"

Elizabeth gulped her wine, playing for time while her mind whirled. His "friend" Scott? She take over as director? "Grant, I'll consider it," she said slowly, "and thank you for trusting me." She nervously lined up the silverware just so, then bold declared, "I originally asked Nathan for the divorce, not the other way around. Does that have any bearing on the decision?"

The director smiled broadly. "No, Elizabeth, it does not." He laid one hand lightly over hers. "You didn't hear this, and I didn't say it, but I'll just say that being true to yourself is freeing, even with having to wear a mask. Perhaps one day we can have the picture of our true love on our desks, not just a pet or other family members, if you get my drift."

"Drift received, Grant. May you and Scott have many good years together," she said, lightly clinking her empty glass to his.

"Thank you, Elizabeth. Now, I am rather tired, so I will take my leave. Good night."

"Good night, sir," she answered absently. His friend, Scott. The possible promotion. It was all too much to think about at one time, she decided as she gathered up her belongings and paid for her wine. What she really wanted to do was to call Kelly, but it was too late in the evening to do so. Tomorrow, she promised herself, she'd call tomorrow. Or, maybe she'd just surprise her.

"Dr. Estefan, I think I'm ready to fly on my own," Kelly said as she sat down in the counselor's office. "I've been going to AA meetings and haven't touched a drop or set foot in a bar in months. I haven't seen Elizabeth since last month, something we both agreed to until we could finish our sessions. I've had a good review after my first year, and I'm ready to get on with life."

"You have made considerable progress," Dr. Estefan agreed, "but are you ready to ask Elizabeth about a commitment?"

"Yes. Even if she says no, I can handle it. I can hardly wait to see her, to tell her that I'm ready to share our lives."

Dr. Estefan smiled. "Then why don't you go ask her?"

Kelly jumped up. "Ok. Just bill me for this session!" She jumped up and practically ran out of the office.

Chapter 17

Stacy had trouble concentrating on the wedding service; she was rather distracted by the closeness of her friend, Angela. She couldn't believe that Angela agreed to come with her, but here they were. Did she dare move just a touch closer, brush shoulders?

"To have and to hold, forsaking all others, until death us do part."

Who'd believed that her great-aunt was finally getting married? They'd been living together for, what, something like thirty years or so? Did Angela like her the same way she liked Angela?

"For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health."

They made a handsome pair up there, although they were old, really old. Like close to seventy, or older?

"In token and pledge of the vow between us made, with this ring I thee wed; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Stacy had dragged her attention back to the ceremony, knowing it was rude to think about the girl beside her rather than the couple in front of the minister. It became much harder when she felt a hand slip into hers. She squeezed, feeling a squeeze in return, dared to turn and look at Angela, who was smiling at her. She smiled back, feeling her soul soaring high above the earth. Well, Angela liked her after all!

"You may kiss."

Stacy restrained herself from following the minister's instructions, but she was shocked at the passion in the kiss. God, you'd think after all these years they could restrain themselves in public.

"I present to you our newly legally wed couple, Kelly Moore and Elizabeth Temple. The reception will follow in the great hall. Kelly and Elizabeth will meet you there, following the traditional pictures."

Stacy and Angela were still holding hands as they shuffled through the line. Angela finally commented, "That was a beautiful ceremony. Some day, I want to have one just as beautiful."

"Maybe you will," Stacy answered, squeezing Angela's hand. There was hope after all.

the end


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