DISCLAIMER: This story is an Uber romance with a little action. The characters of Chris and Cory may bear a slight resemblance to certain characters found on a show that is copyrighted by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures.  I'm not trying to make any money here; I'm just a newbie bard trying to entertain a mass of ravenous fans.  As far as I know, all my characters are original and are copyright Kelly Aten.  I don't want anyone out there trying to sell this story or profiting from it in any way. (If I can't, you can't!)  I don't mind if you copy if for your own private use or post it on a site but please be sure the disclaimers are included.

VIOLENCE WARNING: There is some violence and bodily injury.  Nothing you haven't seen on TV

LANGUAGE: Fairly mild.  Again, nothing you haven't seen on TV.

SEX: This is a romantic story featuring two women.  There is some sex involved but its not too graphic.  Don't read it if this will offend or if it is illegal where you live!

UNDERAGE WARNING: Just to cover my butt, you should probably be eighteen to read this.  All you kids out there know who I'm talking about so scat!

PERSONAL NOTE: Once again, I would like to thank Helen for being my beta reader.  She always points me in the right direction when I seem to be going astray.  Her help and support have made me confident enough to continue with my writing efforts.  This is dedicated to my first real e-pal and friend.  Thanks Helen.
 
 

Love Thy Neighbor
By Kelly Aten






Moving Day
 

     I'll never forget the first time I ever saw Cory.  It was a beautiful late summer morning and I was busy moving out of my cousin's house and into my new upstairs apartment.  I'd been staying with her since I split with my psychotic ex-girlfriend.  Shannon was my cousin and best friend and she had offered the use of her spare room until I could find a place of my own.

It was 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning and I was already sweating my ass off.  I remember thinking "There's something wrong with this picture" mainly because I usually tried not to do any real work on the weekends.  I had finished loading the rest of my things onto my truck that morning before heading over to the real estate office to sign my lease agreement and pick up my keys.  I'd been busy for the last hour at my new apartment unloading and I'd barely made a dent in the payload.  Of course, some of the problem could have been the little blonde that was sitting in the grass outside the large old house.  She was sitting under a big maple tree with her cheek resting against her up-drawn knees.  Her eyes were closed and the early morning sun was shining through the leaves, reflecting off the red highlights in her short blonde hair.  She was so utterly beautiful that I think my heart actually stopped for a second.  With each trip back to the truck I found my eyes drawn to the petite woman and it was becoming difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

She sat there quietly for so long that I thought she might have fallen asleep.  When I glanced at the truck and saw that a quarter of the unloading was done I decided to take a break; after all, I had no one to answer to but myself.  Besides, I was already feeling ornery because I was missing my cartoons; everyone should be able to watch their Saturday morning cartoons.  As I sat on the tailgate sipping from a bottle of water, I watched her out of the corner of my eye.  I wanted to talk to her, to get to know her but as unbelievable as it sounds, I was too shy.  I have never been one to strike up conversations with complete strangers, especially beautiful ones.  Oh, some people might say I was pretty good looking myself, with my long dark hair and blue eyes but I think my height intimidates most people; striking would be the word that probably describes me the best.  You see I've been 5'11 since the eleventh grade and I've heard every tall joke there possibly is.  If I weren't such a pacifist there would have been a lot of people with my knuckle prints on their faces.  I can't help it if I'm all bark and no bite.

So anyway, there's this gorgeous woman, who I'm guessing is my downstairs neighbor, sitting only a short distance away and I can't even work up the nerve to introduce myself.  Suddenly her eyes popped open and I was struck dumb.  Ok, dumber.  A few feet away from me were the greenest eyes I have ever seen, gazing straight into my soul.

"Hi" She said.

"Hi" I returned.  See, I told you I'm not much for conversation, but then again, I was still partially frozen from gazing into her amazing eyes.

She slowly stood up and brushed off the seat of her jeans then stretched her arms far above her body.  It took all my control not to start hyperventilating.  Not only was she beautiful, but her petite little body was pretty ripped.  Her short tank top rose just enough to give me a good view of some very tight abs.  Don't get me wrong, she was definitely all woman, but you could tell she was in great shape.  I let my eyes wander down her body while she wasn't looking, taking in her luscious curves.  I barely got myself back under control when she walked over and held her hand out to me.  I swallowed hard; man that was close, I was almost busted.

She smiled and said, "My name's Cory Pierce; you must be my new upstairs neighbor."

I smiled back and shook her hand. "Chris Johnson.  Yeah, I just signed a year lease at the agency before I came over here."  For some reason I didn't want to lose her company so I racked my brain trying to think of things to ask her.  Fortunately she beat me to it.

"So, are you from around here?"  She asked as she resumed her seat in the grass.

I sat back on my tailgate and said, "Yeah.  I just moved from my cousin's house across town.  I've actually been looking for a place for a few months and this is the first one that has become available."  I took another sip of my water and nodded towards the apartment house.  " What about you; have you lived here long?"

She nodded, "Yeah, I've lived here for almost ten years now."

I wasn't quite sure what to make of that statement.  I mean, she didn't look any older than twenty-five.  A very sweet looking twenty-five I might add.  Something inside me was driving me to know more so I kept up the questions.  "So... uh, is this a pretty quiet neighborhood?"  Yeah, I know, I warned you I wasn't much of a conversationalist.

She chuckled, "Well, other than Saturday nights at the fraternity house on the end of the block, yes it is.  All in all, its a pretty nice area."  She tilted her head to the side "Would you like some help unloading your truck, you've been out here for a few hours and you still have quite a bit left.  It would go much faster with four hands instead of two."

I pretended to be hesitant while inside I was humming with excitement. I couldn't explain why, but I really wanted her to stick around.  What is it about this woman that has me so fascinated?  I haven't been this attracted to someone since... ugh, don't even go there!  She's the last person I want to think about right now.  "Are you sure?  I mean, I don't want to impose.  You looked so peaceful earlier, I'm sorry I disturbed you."

When she smiled back at me sweetly I knew I was hooked. "It's no imposition.  I only come out here in the mornings because people are usually still sleeping or already gone to work.  I like to sit in the grass and absorb the tranquility."

I couldn't help but tease a little. "Tranquility, in the middle of town?"

She just nodded her head. "I learned a long time ago to block out the noise of everyday living. I like to watch the sun come up and sometimes I stay out here and meditate for a while."

I was impressed. "Wow, that's amazing.  I wish I could do that; it would really help on the nights I can't sleep."

"Well since we're going to be neighbors maybe I can show you sometime.  It's only a simple matter of focus and concentration." She smiled, "It would be no problem to show you the basics.  Besides, you might need it on the nights the frat house has their parties."

When I looked at her to gauge her sincerity I was once again caught in her gaze and was helpless to refuse either of her offers.  "Sure, I'd like that.  And yes, I think I could really use the help unloading.  Maybe with your help getting it inside Ill have time to put it all away tonight."

I had the upstairs of a large house that had been built around the turn of the century and later renovated into two apartments.  Many of the city's historical houses had undergone the same renovations to accommodate the enormous influx of students coming in every fall.  The local University provided a large source of revenue for the community; you just had to put up with the occasional college party.  Lucky for me the apartment was furnished; the only things I had that would be considered furniture were my desk and bookshelves.  My books were my babies; I had over five hundred assorted paperbacks and hard covers.  Yes, reading was my main passion and it showed; there was no way I would move anywhere without them. I suddenly looked up at all the boxes of books sitting in the back of the truck and felt a little guilty.  It was going to be a lot of work, probably more than she expected since she didn't even know what we were going to be hauling up the stairs.  "Um... are you sure you want to do this? These boxes are pretty heavy; more than likely you're going to regret helping me lug them up all the stairs."

She looked at me with twinkling eyes. "I don't think it's going to be a problem.  I could probably out lift you in the gym any day."

I stared at her then grinned, "Well that's probably true, especially since I don't lift weights."

Cory blushed, "Yeah, well its no problem really.  I wouldn't have offered if I didn't think I could do it."  She laughed and winked at me. "Let's just say I work out a lot and leave it at that."

I laughed along with her. "Sure, and thanks again for the help."  Suddenly the perfect opportunity popped into my head. "Hey, why don't you let me buy you dinner tonight for helping me?  It's the least I can do in return for your muscle and sweat, and believe me; you're going to sweat.  Most of these boxes are full of books."

The little blonde groaned, "Now you tell me!"  She glanced at the four six-foot bookshelves standing near the cab." I should have known it was going to be work when I saw the bookshelves.  That'll teach me to open my big mouth."

I couldn't help but laugh; the woman was too much fun.  "So, is dinner going to be enough of a repayment for helping me?"  The gorgeous blonde sitting in the grass got an irresistible twinkle in her eye.  I was momentarily lost and almost missed her reply.   She had the cutest blush on her face when she answered my question.

"Well, you've never seen me eat."  She chuckled ruefully. "I might end up owing you a favor if you're buying me dinner."

Hmm, I could think of a few favors she could owe me... stop it woman!  You're so bad.  But damn, I haven't even been here a whole day yet and I've already got a dinner date with a beautiful woman.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking.  So what if she's my neighbor, and most likely straight, a girl's got to dream, right?  I couldn't help the little happy dance my insides were doing as I grinned at her.  "I'm sure we can think of a good favor if you clean out my bank account on dinner."

She laughed as she stood back up.  While once again dusting off those tight little jeans she said, "I can tell you're going to be a lot of fun to have living upstairs.  Not like the last guy, I think he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal if you know what I'm saying."

Now I had to laugh; where does she come up with this stuff?  Not having anything more to say, I hopped into the back of the truck and started moving the bookcases to the edge of the tailgate.  She came over grinning as she started to help me.  "The sooner we get this puppy unloaded the sooner I get my dinner."  I just laughed again and shook my head.
 
 

    Four hours later found my apartment a partial mess but at least the truck was empty.  We were both sitting on my tailgate drinking ice-cold bottles of water that I'd retrieved from a cooler in the cab.  I looked down at my watch. "It's a little after four o'clock now, how about we both grab showers and meet in a an hour."

She looked down at herself. "What, you won't take me to dinner looking like this?"

I just looked at her.  We were both covered with dirt and sweat not to mention the fact that we probably both stank worse than a pair of teenage tennis shoes.  "Take you to dinner?  I won't even let you in my truck looking like that.  And although I'm not sitting close enough to tell, by the looks of you, you probably smell as bad as I do."

She laughed, low and musical. "Yeah, well you didn't mention the fact that most of those books were hard covers.  And besides, we got a lot of your stuff put away, I saved you some time tonight."

She had a point, and she did seem to handle those boxes of books pretty well.  Did I mention earlier that the girl has got some muscle on her?  So sue me, I was watching a little while we were moving my stuff.  "I really do appreciate the help.  It would have taken me all weekend to do what we did today.  Just to show how grateful I am Ill let you pick where we go for dinner, how does that sound?"

She got that, now familiar, twinkle in her eye and all she said was, "Steakhouse, prime rib."

I had to hold back a groan.  She's not exactly a cheap date, is she?
 

The Dinner
 

    "So, what do you do?"  I asked the little blonde seated in front of me who was half way through a sixteen-ounce prime rib dinner.

She swallowed and licked her lips before answering.  Did I mention she has highly kissable lips? "I'm a kickboxing instructor down at the gym.  I also, occasionally, teach classes in self defense at the college and the community center."

No wonder she was ripped.  "Wow, no wonder you look so good."  Oh shit, did I just say that out loud?  "Um, I mean, you're in great shape."  I knew my face was red but I tried to ignore it.  "I guess you weren't kidding when you said you worked out a lot."  She just laughed at me, I think it was because of the blush that had taken up permanent residence on my, normally tan, face.  I didn't mind it though.  I loved the way she laughed and I knew that I would willingly suffer the embarrassment to hear it again.

Her eyes twinkled and she winked at me. "Yeah well, when you're my size you need any advantage you can get.  In competition, size, muscle and speed can make all the difference.  Since I fall a little short, literally, in the one category I try to make myself as fast and strong as possible."

I nodded stupidly and said, "Makes sense."  I was finding it hard to think after she winked at me.  Something about the thought of this beautiful little dynamo participating in such an aggressive sport really...turned me on.  Yeah, that was definitely the feeling.  I started when I realized that she was talking to me.  For the second time that day I was lost in my lustful musings and didn't quite catch what she was saying.  "Uh, what was that again?  I just zoned out for a second and didn't hear you."  Great, now she was going to think I was a flake.

She chuckled and shook her head.  Meanwhile I wrinkled my forehead, was she laughing at me again?  I was pulled away from my mental indignity when she repeated her question.

"So what is it that you do?"  Did I mention that she was almost finished with her meal by now and kept glancing at the desert menu?  Jesus, where the hell does the woman put it?

I took a drink of my Coke before answering.  "I'm a supervisor at CirTech.  I've worked there for the last eight years."

Once again swallowing she said, "They make circuit boards there don't they?"

"Yeah, we're one of the major manufacturers for this region."  I smiled, "It's not an exciting job but the pay and benefits are good and so are the people."  I looked over at her empty plate. "So, what's for desert?"

Have I mentioned how beautiful her eyes were yet?  Well they positively lit up at the mention of desert.  I had to shake my head in amazement at her never-ending appetite.  Hmm... I wonder if that extends to all arenas?  I mentally kicked myself and thought about baby bunnies until my lustful urges cooled.  Neither one of us could really decide what to get so in the end she ordered the apple pie a la mode and I ordered the cherry cheesecake and we proceeded to split them between us.
 
 

    When we got back to the house she invited me in to watch a movie on cable.  I had told her earlier that I didn't have an antennae for my TV and she informed me that I wouldn't get any channels in without buying one or ordering cable for myself. I thought for a second, let's see, putting stuff away until all hours of the night or sitting down here with Cory and watching a movie.  Yeah right, like its a hard choice!  Anyways, an hour later, we were sitting on the couch with sodas and popcorn watching GI Jane.  Yeah, I know, she was eating again.  We would occasionally comment on the movie and we even shared a few laughs.  I pointed out how fit Demi Moore was and she enthusiastically agreed. Nodding her head she said, "Hair or no hair, that woman's got it going on."  Yup, my insides just did that happy dance again.  However, I was still on the cautious side.

I looked over at her and said, "Yeah, she seems to be everyone's dream girl."  Still looking at her, I cocked my head to the side. "I don't know though, I think you've got at least as much going as she does.  And you're a little more muscular."  I waved my hand at the TV "I think you could probably do all that yourself."

She looked at me with that twinkle in her eye and winked again.  "Yup, I think you're right!"

I stared at her for a minute before breaking into a grin.  Why that cocky little shit!  At least I was pretty sure now that we were playing on the same team.  I threw the couch pillow at her and snorted. "You're pretty sure of yourself aren't yah, little missy."

She caught the pillow easily and gave me an evil little grin.  "Yup I am, and with good reason too!"  When she cocked her arm back, aiming the pillow in my direction I knew I was in trouble.

"Uh, heh, heh, I was just kidding.  You don't really want to do that, do you?"  In desperation I grabbed my soda can, hoping she wouldn't notice that it was empty, and scrambled around the couch. "Uh, you wouldn't want to make me spill this, would you?"

She just kept that grin on her face and continued advancing.  I plastered the sweetest, most innocent smile on my face and held up the can.

She chuckled, "Chris... I know its empty."

Oh shit!  I swallowed and shut my eyes, preparing for the soft projectile.  I waited for a full minute and still no pillow.  When I cautiously cracked open one eye, I felt my knees go weak and my breath catch.  She was standing right in front of me.  Not a few feet away mind you, but standing so close I could smell her.  She had the strangest look in her eyes and I was instantly hit with a wave of arousal when she licked her lips and leaned towards me. Was she going to kiss me?  Part of me was thrilled at the idea but the other part, the practical one, questioned whether I should be doing this with someone I've only known a day and who is my neighbor to boot.  So I guess I didn't know whether to feel relief or disappointment when she leaned in close and said in a husky voice, "Heh, heh, paybacks are a bitch!" before whacking me on the head with the pillow and walking into the kitchen.
 
 

    A few hours later found us sitting on the couch with the TV off while music was playing softly on the stereo.  After the movie had finished we spent most of our time talking about our jobs and different interests.  We found out that we had similar tastes in movies and music.  She admitted that she wasn't much of a book reader; she preferred the more physical activities.  When she said this she winked at me and I, once again, found myself thinking about bunnies.  The more we talked, the more I trusted her.  One thing led to another and I ended up telling her about my ex-girlfriend.

We were both sitting Indian-style facing each other from opposite ends of the couch when she asked why I moved out of my cousin's house.

I answered a tad nervously. "Well I was only staying there temporarily.  She really didn't have enough room for me."

Curious green eyes looked into mine. "Oh?"

I swallowed.  Just bite the bullet and get it over with.  "Yeah, I just broke up with my psycho ex-girlfriend a few months ago.  Shannon let me stay with her until I could find a place of my own."

She didn't react in any way to the news except to look thoughtful.  "Can I ask you a question?"

"Um, sure go ahead."

"I probably don't want to know, but why do you call her psycho?"

I looked at her and grimaced.  "Because she is!  I mean, she was nice for the first few months we were together but then she changed.  She got really jealous and possessive and she would have huge mood swings all the time.  One minute she would be snuggling with me talking about her day and the next minute she was coming at me with a butcher knife.  This went on for a few months before I finally confronted her on it.  I told her that if things didn't change I was leaving."  I laughed and shook my head.  "She said I didn't have the balls to leave her and if I ever did, she would find me and bring me back.  Can you believe the nerve of that woman?"  When I looked over at Cory her expression was unreadable.  I was a little scared that I had frightened her away with the story of my screwed up love life.  I thought I had better break the silence so I said, "What's that look for?"

She looked at me seriously, "She actually came at you with a knife?"  When I nodded she added, "More than once?"

I just nodded again.  She was starting to scare me a little; her green eyes had turned hard with anger.  "Um, Cory, don't worry about it.  She was just crazy, you know?  I don't even think about it anymore."

Green eyes bored straight into my blue ones.  "Did she hurt you?"

I knew I couldn't lie to her, not when she was looking at me like that.  I could only swallow and nod.  "Yeah, a few times I had to get stitches."

I was caught off guard when she stood up abruptly.  "What's her address?"

Huh, why in the world would she want her addr... oh no!  I'm going to have to stop this.  I decided to play dumb.  "Uh, why?"  I can't believe this woman that I'd only known a day was furious over what had happened to me.

She was pacing in front of the couch when she growled low in her throat, "Because, I'm going to go over there and kick her ass!"

How sweet!  Okay, its time to calm her down; I don't want any blood spilled on my watch.  I stood and walked over to her and grabbed her hands.  This stopped the pacing but I could still feel the tension radiating off her body.  I looked straight into those gorgeous green eyes.  "Cor you have to stop.  I'm flattered that you want to protect me but I haven't seen her in over two months.  She was just all talk, I'm sure she's probably found someone else by now."

Solemn eyes looked up at me. "Chris, if she hurt you she wasn't all talk.  Someone should teach her a lesson, give her a little of her own medicine."

I squeezed her hands and tugged her back over to the couch.  "Someone should and someone will but not you, ok?  Please let it go, for me?"

She looked me in the eye then down at our hands and said quietly, "Alright, Ill let it go for you."  When she looked back up at me I couldn't quite read her expression, I think it may have been honest worry and compassion.  "I just hate to see any kind of abuse.  I hate knowing that a friend has been hurt and I consider us friends."

I smiled at her as my heart did a little flip flop.  "Yeah, I consider us friends too."  I leaned over and gave her a quick hug, thoroughly embarrassing her.

With the cutest blush on her face she asked, "What was that for?"

I laughed, "For caring and for becoming a good friend as well as a good neighbor even though we've only know each other for a day."  I gave her my sincerest smile. "Thanks Cor, it was really sweet of you to want to defend me."

She snorted making the mood a bit lighter.  "Someone has to.  I swear, for someone as tall as you are, you'd think you wouldn't be so much of a wuss."

"Hey" I said indignantly while grabbing the offending pillow from earlier and swatting her with it.  "I'm not a wuss, just a pacifist.  Just because I don't express myself physically doesn't mean I can't!"

She got that mischievous look in her eyes and said, "Oh, I'm sure you can."  Dammit!  There was that wink again.  Someday soon I'm going to wipe that cocky little smile right off her face.  When I glanced at the clock on her VCR and saw how late it was I instinctively had to stifle a yawn.

"Thanks a lot for helping me move Cory and thanks for making me feel welcome. I had fun today and it really means a lot to me that I made a new friend.  Any time you need help with something just let me know.  Right now I'm dead on my feet and I've got a lot to do tomorrow if I want to be ready to go back to work on Monday."

She smiled and walked with me to the door.  "No problem, I didn't mind helping out at all.  I hope you like your new apartment and if you need anything else just knock on the door.  That's what friends are for, right?"

Yeah, yeah, call me a happy schmuck but she was so sweet!  "Yup, that's what friends are for."  Before I opened up the door I turned one last time and said, "I really mean it, thanks Cor."

She just grinned and winked at me before I stepped outside.

When I got up to my apartment I cleared a space on the couch and sat down with my feet propped up on a few boxes.  I let out a long sigh and ran my hands through my hair.  The more I thought about my neighbor, the more I knew I really liked her.  She's cocky and charming but also sweet and funny.  I don't like labels but even if I did, I couldn't put one on her.  She's just...Cory.  I drifted off to sleep that night still thinking about my little green-eyed neighbor.
 

A day at work
 

     By the time Monday morning rolled around I had finished putting away most of my stuff.  I wasn't looking forward to going to work but hey, who does?  Things were business as usual with people not showing up and orders not getting filled.  I was sitting at my desk eating my lunch when I was called to the main office.  I really hate being called anywhere when I'm on a break and I especially hate to have my lunch interrupted.  I considered ignoring the page but after the fourth one I finally gave in and headed up front.  When I got there, I was surprised to say the least.  It seems someone had sent me flowers.  I had a brief thought that maybe they were from Cory but then cursed myself mentally for such a stupid idea.  Like she would send me flowers!  Well the secretaries wasted no time in trying to pry the senders name from me.  I suspect the only reason they didn't know before I got there is because the card was sealed.  Can you say nosey?

Sheila, the whiney blonde was the first to ask. "Hey Chris, who's your secret admirer?"

I just narrowed my eyes at her. "I'm surprised you didn't just open the envelope and find out for yourself."

Jane, the other secretary, laughed hysterically at my comment.  I don't know what she thought was so funny; she's just as bad.  Well, I better just open the damn thing; the suspense was starting to kill me too.  Besides, I wanted to get out of the office before I hurt someone.  It was bad enough that it was a Monday but now I have to feel stupid with these flowers sitting on my desk for the rest of the day.  When I opened the card and read it, I felt all the blood drain from my face then just as quickly I got mad. They were from Terri, my ex girlfriend.

"Sooo.... who are they from?" Said the annoying blonde at the desk.

"Yeah, whoever it is, you sure don't look happy about it."  Said the equally annoying redhead next to her.  God, I think I had one nerve left and they were both getting on it.

I just glared at them both and dumped the flowers in the trash on my way out the door.  Just what the hell was that woman up to?  I glanced back at the card when I got to my desk.

Chris,

 I've really missed you baby.  I'm so sorry for the way I acted but you just drive me crazy sometimes.  I can't stand the thought of you with someone else; you have to come back to me.  I promise things will be better; you just need to learn that sometimes I just can't help myself.  If you didn't make me so mad, I would never hurt you.  If you come back to me Ill try not to hurt you anymore, if you don't Ill just have to track you down.  I know you moved out of your cousin's house.  The little bitch wouldn't tell me where you moved to though.  But sweetie, just come back to me and we can make it work.  It's just not the same here without you.  Call me when you're done reading this, that way Ill know how much you love me.

Love,
Terri

Jesus, what a freak!  She's deranged if she thinks I'd come within a hundred yards of her psycho ass.  I still had the scars on my arm from that last incident.  It's a good thing Cory didn't see that when she was helping me move.  Hmm... It was really sweet that she got so protective of me.  I'd never had someone want to beat the shit out of an ex for me.  Well, once I'd made the decision to ignore the flowers I headed back to work.

It was only a few hours later when I got paged to the office again.  I just hate this place sometimes.  When I got to the office I had an unexpected visitor and I wasn't happy about it.  "What are you doing here?"  Of course, the secretaries were all ears so I herded Terri towards the door in the hopes of getting rid of her.

Once outside she latched onto me like a leach.  What did I ever see in her anyways?  I pushed her away and growled, "Keep your hands to yourself!  Now tell me what you're doing here and make it fast; I have to get back to work"

She didn't look too happy about being pushed away but answered me anyways.  "You never called me so I thought I'd stop by and see if you got my flowers."

"Yeah, I got them and I'm not interested.  You just wasted your money and wasted a trip down here."  Well, well, it looks like I finally got her attention.  Unfortunately I think she's going to flip out on me.

She looked absolutely furious when she replied, "You can't turn me down, you love me!"

I just snorted, "Yeah right.  Why don't you get a grip, Terri?  You're nothing but a psychotic bitch!  I don't even know why we stayed together as long as we did but I can tell you it wasn't so you could verbally abuse me and carve me up."

Her face was red when she said, "Psychotic bitch?  You'll be sorry you ever said that, Ill make you regret the day you ever left me!"  I should have been expecting it but I wasn't.  She screamed and lunged at me.  Now where did she get that knife?

"Shit!  What the hell are you trying to do Terri?  Put the damn knife down!"  I was busy dancing around trying to avoid the lunatic when I noticed the secretaries gawking through the door.  I yelled at them while I was dodging Terri's wild thrusts.  "Jane, call the cops before she kills me!"

The little coward peeked out the door just long enough to say, "Already done Chris, they're on their way."

Just then I heard the sirens and they distracted me long enough for her to catch me on the side with her little knife.  I sucked in my breath and hissed; damn that hurt.  I couldn't even get close enough to hit her without risking more bodily injury.  Lucky for me, one of the cops moved up and disarmed her with his nightstick.  They wasted no time cuffing her and stuffing her into the back of the patrol car after reading the screaming woman her rights.  One of the officers walked up to me to get my statement.  When he noticed me holding my side then said, "You should get to a hospital ma'am.  If you want, you can drop by the station later and give us your statement.  I'm sure you'd like to press charges too."

By this time I was furious and in pain.  "Damn right I'm going to press charges.  I want to file a restraining order against her too, I don't want her any where near me!"  Hell, she'll be lucky if my company doesn't press charges for her attacking one of their employees on their property.  Just one of the reasons I like working here, they actually have upper management who cares.

The poor man tried to calm me down. "No problem, once you're at the station we can take care of everything."  He looked back at my side with concern. "Do you need someone to drive you down to emergency?"

He looked so worried that I glanced down at my side.  Wow, look at all that blood.  Hmm... I guess its a little worse than I thought it was.  Suddenly I didn't feel so good.  My last thought before everything went dark was 'Damn, Cory was right.  I am a wuss.'
 
 

    It wasn't that bad, I woke up only a few minutes later.  The EMT told me I probably just fainted from the stress and shock caused by the attack.  Well that was good to know; at least he didn't call me a wuss.  They took me into the triage center that was part of the emergency room where I filled out the appropriate paperwork and received five stitches.  Well that was a relief; at least she didn't hit any vitals.  Because my little adventure at the hospital lasted almost two hours I didn't get back to the shop until about ten minutes before quitting time.  I had to fill out another stack of paperwork then Joe, my boss, called me into his office.  We'd been friends since I started working here; he was a pretty easy-going guy considering he was the manager.  When I walked into his office I could see that he was worried about me.  I sat down in one of the chairs in front of his desk.  "So, what's up Joe?"

He gave me one of his looks; you know the one with the raised eyebrow. "You tell me."

I did feel kind of bad that I had caused such a scene in the parking lot.  "I'm really sorry about that.  I can personally guarantee that it won't happen again.  Hopefully the cops will keep her for a while."

He looked at me and shook his head.  "I thought you broke up with her a few months ago."

Joe knew all about Terri and about the problems I had with her.  He was another one who was glad when I broke up with her.  "Yeah, well she seems to have this idea in her head that I love her and want to come back."  I grinned at him. "I think today might have changed her mind though."

His eyebrows rose to his hairline.  Ok, they would have if his hairline hadn't been receding for the last few years.  "She what?  I can't believe that she thinks you'd go back to her after all she's done to you.  I'm telling you, that woman's not playing with a full deck of cards."

I had to bite back a laugh.  He must have read the same book of euphemisms that Cory did.  "Hopefully I won't have to worry about it now.  I'm going to press charges and request a restraining order against her."  I thought about how today was just a perfect ending to such a hectic weekend and sighed.  "I only just got moved this past weekend.  I swear, sometimes Mondays really suck."

He nodded in agreement.  "So, did you get everything moved alright then?"

Joe had offered the use of himself, his truck and his sixteen-year-old son, to help me move.  I thought it was really nice of him but told him no because I only had enough for one truckload anyways.  "Yeah, it was a piece of cake.  My new neighbor even gave me a hand hauling everything up to my apartment."

"Good, I'm glad to hear you got settled in ok."

He sat there for a minute and I could tell he had something he wanted to say. "I know you've got something to say so just spit it out Joe."

He laughed, "Alright, I just don't want to make you mad."

I looked at him curiously. "What could you say that would make me mad?"

He suddenly got a serious look on his face.  "Look, you've been through a lot this past week.  I know the gash on your side wasn't bad enough for the doctor to write any restrictions but its still going to hurt like crazy for a day or two."  He took a deep breath and continued.  "I know you still have all four of your vacation weeks left for the year, why don't you take a week off to get things settled?"

I gave him my own 'look'.  He knew I hated taking my vacation days and usually saved them up and traded them in for extra money at the end of the year.  Whenever I was single I always thought it was stupid to take a week off work to spend home alone.  And I've never had a girlfriend that I wanted to spend a week's vacation with either.  "Joe, I..."

He interrupted me before I could say no.  "Chris, I really want you to do this.  You know I can't force you to take your vacation but I think it would really be good for you.  Please, for me?"

I didn't like it but I knew he was right.  Besides, I'm such a sucker for my friends and what could it hurt anyways?  "Well... I guess I could take a week off.  Maybe do a little reading and stuff."

He actually beamed at me!  "Great!  Now get out of here, I don't want to see you until next Monday."

I laughed and shook my head. "Ok boss, whatever you say.  Ill see you later."  When I got to the door I turned back around. "Thanks Joe, its nice to know someone cares."

He smiled and all he said was, "You're my friend Chris."

I knew Joe, and that was the only explanation I would get.  He didn't really do 'mushy' very well.  Even though my side was starting to throb, I left work in a slightly better mood.  For some strange reason a picture of Cory popped into my head.  Hmm... maybe having the rest of the week off wouldn't be so bad.

In case I never mentioned it, my orientation is public knowledge at work.  It's not rubbed in anyone's faces but if someone wanted to know all they had to do was ask.  That's one of the things that's so cool about where I work, they don't discriminate at all.  Of course it could have something to do with the fact that the owner of the company is gay.  Either way it works out good for me.  I got my job based on my abilities and it feels damn good to say that.  Well the point is that no one was really shocked that my ex-girlfriend showed up at work.  Because of a little mishap at a company picnic, a few of my coworkers already knew how much of a witch she was.
 
 

    By the time I got home my side was killing me.  I had to stop at the police station to fill out that report and take care of the restraining order request.  I agreed to press charges and they said they were a little backed up but they'd contact me sometime the following week.  My second stop was to the drug store to fill my prescription.  I had to wait until I got home to take any because the label said they might cause drowsiness.  I wouldn't want to get into an accident and have to go back to that damn hospital again.  It's bad enough the triage nurses knew me by my first name.  Did I mention Terri really, really liked to fight with knives?   I probably should have filed a restraining order months ago.  I hope a little time behind bars teaches her a lesson.

It was eight o'clock by the time I trudged up the stairs to my apartment.  I had just enough energy to take a pill, strip out of my clothes and crawl into bed.  It had been a long, busy day ending an equally busy weekend.  I remember falling asleep thinking about how much I hated Mondays.
 

The Warning
 

     Six o'clock the next morning I was wrenched awake by the sound of a telephone ringing; it took me a minute to realize it was mine.  Damn, now why did I plug that thing in?  I failed my first attempt at rolling out of bed mostly because it felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my side.  I stifled a groan; I must have pulled something too, surely a little gash couldn't hurt this much.  All I could think about was smashing the phone and taking another pain pill.  Half asleep, I finally managed to stumble my way out to the living room and answer the phone.

"H'lo."  It was too early for anything more intelligible.

"Hey, Chris.  What's the matter, are you running late or something?  You sound like you just woke up."   Oh goody, it was Shannon.  That meant I could kill her later because she's family.  She must have just got off work; she works third shift over at the meat packing plant.  Every time I think about that place I'm tempted to become a vegetarian.

"Yes you just woke me up and no I'm not running late.  I've got the rest of the week off so what's up, I want to go back to bed."  My side was really throbbing by now so I headed for the bathroom to retrieve my pill; there's just no replacement for a cordless phone.

I winced when Shannon screeched over the phone. "What do you mean you've got the rest of the week off?  What the hell happened?"

Great, now a headache was starting.  "Do we have to do this now?  Can't you just tell me what's up?"  I popped my pill then washed it down with a glass of water.

Shannon mumbled something over the phone that I'm sure I didn't want me to hear before continuing in a normal voice.  "Alright, Ill get to the point.  Jesus, but you're grumpy this morning."  I could hear her take a deep breath then let it out.  Oh great, that means its probably more bad news.  Can my week get any worse?  "I hate to tell you this Chris, but Terri has been asking around trying to find out where you moved to.  She came over to my house yesterday morning demanding to know what your new address is.  I told the bitch to take a hike, that you didn't want anything to do with her psycho ass."  She chuckled over the phone.  "That went over like a ton of bricks, let me tell you.  Anyways, I just wanted to tell you to watch out, she's on the prowl."

I guess it was better late than never.  I would've laughed at the irony but I knew it would hurt too much.  "Thanks for the warning but she already got a hold of me.  She showed up at the shop yesterday and had to be carted away by the cops."

She started in again when I finished talking.  "Jesus Chris, spill it already!  You didn't get in trouble did you?  Damn, I can't believe that woman, she's such a bitch!"

I sighed into the receiver.  If I didn't stop her she would rant for another half hour.  She really hated Terri's guts and never missed a chance to tell me the whole time we were together.  Maybe I should have listened to her.  "If you'd shut up for a minute Ill finish the story."

"Fine, I'm done for now.  Continue the damn story."

"Well, she sent me flowers yesterday with a note saying how much she wanted to get back together.  She wanted me to call her when I got the message.  Anyways to make a long story short, I tossed the flowers in the trash and didn't call.  She showed up at the shop a few hours later telling me why I had to come back to her.  When I told her I wasn't interested she went nuts and came at me with a knife.  One of the secretaries called the cops and they showed up just in time to watch her slice open my side.  Well, she got a trip to jail and I got one to the emergency room.  To sum it up, I'm pressing charges, I filed for a restraining order, and I'm off work for the rest of the week because my boss was worried about me and practically forced me to take a vacation."

Shannon actually had the nerve to laugh.  "Damn Chris, and I thought my love life was bad!  Have you got bad karma or what?"

I couldn't help but laugh this time.  I did seem to have the worst luck with women.  "Yeah, what can I say; maybe I'm a psycho magnet or something; at least this time I only ended up with five stitches.  Have I satisfied your curiosity yet?  My side is killing me and I want to go back to bed."

"Aww, I'm sorry Chris, you should get back in bed.  Do you need anything, because I can stop at the store a little later on?  I know you probably don't have much to eat there since you just moved.  If you want I can stop by this afternoon with some groceries and help you put some of your things away."

God, I'm a year older than she is and she acts like my mother sometimes.  "That's alright Shannon, I've got plenty of food and my neighbor helped me put a lot of my stuff away.  You can always stop by to visit though; Ill even give you the nickel tour."  I knew I probably shouldn't have mentioned my neighbor; my nosey cousin will want to know everything about her.

"That sounds good.  So... tell me about this neighbor."  Did I mention Shannon's always trying to fix me up with someone?

I looked back at the clock and sighed.  I knew that I'd been up long enough now that I'd never get back to sleep.  I might as well chat for a while longer.  "Well, her name is Cory and she lives downstairs.  She helped me unload my truck Saturday and put a few things away and in return, I bought her dinner."  I waited knowing that she'd want more information.  Sure enough, she didn't let me down.

"So... what's she like and what does she do for a living?  Is she cute, and more importantly, is she family?  Spill it girl, you know Ill find out eventually."

You had to give her credit for enthusiasm.  "She's really nice and has an off-beat sense of humor.  She teaches kickboxing and self-defense and she's a five foot four inch, blonde-haired, green-eyed powerhouse.  Any more questions?"

"So... is she?"

Her curiosity drives me crazy sometimes.  Just to be annoying, I played stupid.  Let her work for the information.  "Is she what?"

She growled at me over the phone. "Jesus Chris, sometimes you're so dense.  Is she family?"

Ill just draw it out a little bit longer.  "Well, I've never met her before but she could be on your side.  Maybe one of Aunt Ethel's kids."

"Chris, you know what I'm talking about!  You're such a smart ass sometimes, just answer the question."

I laughed at her and luckily my pain pill was kicking in or else I would've probably regretted it.  "Now who's grumpy in the morning?  And yes, I'm pretty sure she's family.  She's also the biggest flirt I've ever seen."

She laughed at me, why were people always doing that to me?  "I bet you're not even going to ask her out are you?"

"Nooo.... She's my neighbor.  Of course I'm not going to ask her out."

"It's not because she's your neighbor that you won't ask her, its because you're a chicken shit."

Well, she had me there, but I had to defend myself.  "Hey!  I resemble that remark.  Ok, you're right, I'm chicken.  But that doesn't mean I can't admire her from afar and let me tell you, she's got a body to die for.   And those eyes, Jesus Shannon, I don't think I've ever seen eyes that shade of green before."

She actually had the nerve to laugh at me again.  "God, Chris.  You've got it pretty bad, don't you?"

Huh?  What the hell was she talking about?  "What the hell are you talking about Shannon?  Got what bad?  She's just a nice looking woman, that's all.  I honestly don't know where you come up with your ideas sometimes."

"Hah!  Denial is more than a river in Egypt.  Face it Chris, you've got a crush on your new neighbor."

Just who does she think she is?  I snorted, "I do not!"

"Do too."

I swear she does this to me every time.  "I'm not going to argue with you about this, you'll think whatever you want anyway.  Ill be home all day, so anytime you want to stop is alright with me."

She sighed over the phone. "Alright, you're such a spoil sport.  Ill probably be over around five o'clock.  Maybe if you're nice Ill bring you a burger and fries.  Ill see your later, cuz."

I couldn't resist getting the last word in.  Just before she hung up I yelled, "Do not!"  Yeah, I know its childish.  I guess old habits die hard, and we've been arguing since we were kids.

Since the pain pill never did make me drowsy and my TV would only pick up snow I opted to read a book for a few hours.  I had a whole day to kill; hell, I had a whole week!  As I settled down with a good Sci-fi story I couldn't help but hope I'd seen the last of Terri.
 

Meeting the family
 

    I had finished the first book and read another by the time it was four o'clock and was starting to get stir crazy.  My side was feeling a little better so I decided to take a walk around the block to burn off some excess energy.  It's amazing what a little R&R can do for a person.  I didn't want to go too far because I was supposed to be taking it easy.  I really only had to worry about twisting and heavy lifting so I didn't think a short walk would hurt me, besides, I was hoping I might see Cory.  I never did find out what hours she worked, I'd probably ask her the next time I see her.

I managed a quick trip around the block but it didn't do anything to alleviate the boredom.  That's when I decided that a vacation spent by yourself was for the birds.  What's a person supposed to do all day anyways?  I had just come around the corner of the house when I saw Cory pull up in her Jimmy so I walked over and sat on the front steps and waited for her to get out.  She grabbed a large duffle bag out of the back then walked over and sat down next to me.

"Hi" she said.

"Hey" I replied. I smiled internally; here we go again.

When she looked over at me I noticed that her hair was still wet from a shower so I figured she must have just finished teaching a class at the gym.  She grabbed a bottle of water out of her duffle bag and took a large swallow before offering it to me.  "So, aren't you normally working right now?"  She asked before taking the bottle away from me, and putting it back in the bag.

"Yeah, but I used up some vacation days and took the rest of the week off."  Uh oh, I never even thought about what Cory would do if I told her what happened.    I looked down into sea green eyes and knew it was coming.

"Why would you go to work today then suddenly take the rest of the week off?  Are you sick; you didn't pick up a bug this weekend did you?"

I swallowed and licked my lips.  "Uh, no.  I uh... had a little accident at work yesterday and uh, had to go to the hospital.  It's nothing to worry about though, Ill be back to work by next Monday."

She looked at me and chuckled.  "You can't tell a lie very well can you?  So what aren't you telling me; I thought you said that place was safe."

I chuckled ruefully, "Yeah, well it is as long as a certain ex girlfriend doesn't show up"

"Terri was there?  What did she do?"

I sighed and gave in.  I found myself telling her the same story I told Shannon.  When I got done she wasn't happy at all.  As a matter of fact, she was furious again.

She jumped up and started pacing in front of me.  "Christ Chris, that woman's going to kill you!  So how long are the cops going to keep her locked up and when does the restraining order take effect?"

I looked over at her, amazed.  She really was worried about me.  "Well, they told me the restraining order should be good, starting today but unfortunately she'll probably make bail today too.  I guess Ill just have to take the good with the bad."

She stopped pacing and sat back down next to me on the step.  I tried to reassure her. "Don't worry so much Cor, its no big deal.  I've dealt with her in the past, I can handle it."

She looked me right in the eye and I was lost in a sea of green.  "That's not the point Chris; you shouldn't have to handle it.  People like her should be locked up where they can't hurt anyone."  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I want you do be careful, ok?  If you need anything at all just let me know."  She grinned and said, "I don't want anything to happen to the only neighbor I've had in the last four years who I can actually get along with."

She really was a sweetie, no matter how tough she acted.  "Yeah, Ill be careful.  So you don't have any more classes to teach today?"

"Nope, the gym I work at gives me quite a bit of control over when I schedule my classes. Since I hate Mondays I try to limit it to just one class.  Hey, if you're not doing anything right now, why don't I show you those meditation exercises."

Like I had anything else to keep me occupied today.  "That sounds like fun.  I have to try to change this bandage first though.  It's more towards my back and kind of awkward to reach so how about I meet you back down here in twenty minutes?"

She grinned, "Sounds good!  Hey, why don't I give you a hand?  It'll probably be a lot easier for me to change it for you."

Hmm... could I handle her touching my bare skin?  Nope, my brain says definitely not; unfortunately my body had other ideas.  "Sure, help would be great, thanks.  Follow me upstairs, the hospital sent me home with everything I'd need."

When we got upstairs I went to the bathroom to get the supplies then came back to the bedroom.  Once I sat everything down on the dresser I wasn't really sure how to proceed.  See, I'm a little body shy.  I've been told there's no reason for it but I just can't help it.  "So, how do you want to do this?"

She cocked her head to the side and looked at me seriously.  "Well, it would probably be easiest if you just took your shirt off."  She grinned at me; I thought to put me at ease. "We're both women here, its not like you have something I haven't seen before.  Unless it makes you too uncomfortable then we could probably find another way."

She actually raised her eyebrows when she said that last part.  Was she daring me?  We'll just see about that, you'd be surprised how fast my modesty flies out the window in the face of a dare.  I chuckled and started unbuttoning my shirt.  I had on a white, long-sleeved oxford with the sleeves rolled up.  I love button up shirts; they're so comfortable.  Besides, it was easier to put on a button up shirt than trying to pull a t-shirt over my head.  It hurt to stretch my left arm up above chest level; it pulled at the stitches on my side.  Once I got the shirt off I laid it on the bed then walked back over by the dresser.  She already had the bandages and tape ready.

When she removed the old bandage she looked at my side. "Wow, she got you pretty good, didn't she?"  When I nodded she said, "Could you raise your left arm across your chest?  I think Ill be able to do this a little easier."  I did as I was asked with only a slight twinge then held my breath in anticipation of her touch.  I was mentally trying to focus on the task at hand but watching her hands wasn't helping me; the only thing I could think about was how strong they looked.  When her soft fingertips finally touched my side to remove the tape, my breath caught in my throat.

She pulled back immediately with concern written all over her face. "I'm sorry, did that hurt?"

How could I tell her that her touch was anything but painful; Jesus, it even gave me goose bumps.  "Uh, no.  Your um... fingers are cold.  It didn't hurt at all, sorry to worry you."  Oh, man!  Could I have come up with a lamer excuse?

She just nodded and rubbed her hands together briskly before continuing.  I had to concentrate on taking deep breaths.  Thinking about bunnies wasn't working anymore so I thought I'd try to strike up a conversation to distract myself from the feeling of her gentle fingers working at my side.  "So what days do you work anyways?"  Her touch was sending butterflies through my stomach and along the entire length of my spine.  How can she not realize what she's doing to me?  It was like exquisite torture and I was hoping that she'd hurry up.

"Well on Mondays I teach only the one class and Tuesday through Thursday, I teach three classes a day of varying age groups.  If I volunteer at the community center its usually on the weekends because that's the easiest time for the people there to attend classes.  It works well for me, I generally get three day weekends so I can't complain."

She had just finishing doctoring me up when my doorbell rang.  I started toward the door when she stopped me.  "Hey Chris!" When I turned around she smirked and said, "Don't you think you're forgetting something?"

Huh?  "Forgetting something?  What am I forgetting?"

She looked pointedly over at my shirt on the bed.  Whoops, I guess it wouldn't be good to answer the door wearing only a bra.  "Heh, heh, I guess I did forget something."

When the doorbell rang again she laughed and said, "You want me to get that?"

"Yeah, if you would, please.  Something tells me I'm not in acceptable attire for greeting company."

She got that twinkle in her eye and stopped in the bedroom doorway. "Oh I don't know; you look pretty acceptable to me."  Then she winked and left me standing there shirtless and speechless.  Damn, that woman was going to kill me!  I suddenly had a bad thought; what if it was Shannon coming to visit a few minutes early?  Oh great, Ill never live it down if it is.

By the time I made it to the living room I only managed to catch the tail end of the conversation.  Shannon said, "So where's Chris at anyway?"

I felt my face turn red at Cory's reply. "She's in the bedroom putting her shirt back on.  She was almost dressed when I left to answer the door so she should be out any second now."

Just then, both women saw me in the doorway with my face as red as it could possibly get.  Cory was smirking up a storm and Shannon had a one eyebrow raised that said I was going to have some explaining to do.   I groaned quietly and ran my right hand through my hair.  "Uh, hey Shannon, I forgot you were coming.  Um, Cory was just helping me change my bandage because its kind of hard for me to reach.  It's really tender still and I didn't want to risk tearing the stitches."  I wonder if that'll satisfy little miss curiosity.  I looked over at Cory and saw that she was still smirking. For that matter, Shannon still had her eyebrow raised.  Okay... let's try a new tactic.  I walked into the room and stood over by the two women.  "Shannon, this is my neighbor Cory and Cory, this my cousin Shannon."  I nodded towards the couch. "Come on in and make yourself at home.  Either one of you guys want something to drink, I've got soda or water?  Heh, heh, I haven't made it grocery shopping yet so the choices are slim."

Shannon gave me an evil grin and plopped down on the couch. "Gee Chris, I'd have thought you would have at least offered Cory a drink before dragging her off to the bedroom.  You're really losing your charm in your old age, aren't yah?"

Yeah you guessed it, I was blushing again.  Tell me again why its wrong to kill family; I seem to have forgotten since Shannon got here.  "Shannon, don't even go there.  I told you about Cory on the phone already, so give me a break!"

Cory grinned at me and I realized what I had said.  Oh please, someone shoot me now and end my misery.  Cory drawled, "So... you were talking about me on the phone, huh?"  She turned to Shannon.  "She tell you anything good?"

Shannon didn't help matters any when she gave my new neighbor a slow once over and said, "Oh, nothing I can't already see from here."

I groaned and both women turned and looked at me.  When they saw my red face they both burst out laughing.  Lucky me, they're like two peas in a pod.  "I um... I'm just going to get us something to drink."  I turned and walked into the kitchen as fast as I could without running.  I knew it was probably a bad idea to leave them in there by themselves but what can I say?  I'm a coward.  I had my head in the freezer trying to cool the blush when a voice in my ear said, "Hey, need some help?"

I jumped what must have been a foot, and hit my head on the top of the freezer.  In the process I also sent the ice cube trays clattering to the floor.  I whirled around and came face to face with an angel.  Ok, it was a green-eyed, smirking angel but so what?  I stared for a second then tried to cover my lapse with words. "Shit Cory, don't sneak up on me like that!"

She chuckled, "Sorry Chris.  If I had known you were so jumpy I would have warned you or something.  Maybe called out from the doorway and stated my intentions before entering the kitchen."

I just growled at her, "Cor, did anyone ever tell you you're a smart ass?"

She laughed again and said, "Yup."

Hmm, I guess I better explain about Shannon while we're alone.  "Uh, Cory?"

"Uh, Chris?"

Well, she wasn't going to make this easy but somehow I knew that.  "I uh, just wanted to, uh, explain about Shannon.  You see, she uh, likes to jump to conclusions."  Damn, why was this so hard?

She had that perpetual twinkle in her eye.  "Conclusions?  What conclusions?"

"Uh, you know.  Conclusions about us."

"What, that we're neighbors?"

"Uh, no.  That we uh, that we're..." I trailed off, hoping she'd get the hint.  I'm pretty sure by now that she was being purposely obtuse though.

"That we're what?  Just spit it out Chris."

I groaned and ran my hand through my hair again.  "You know, that we uh, have something going on between us."

Finally the little imp cracked up laughing and swatted me on the arm.  "God, you're so much fun to tease.  You should see your face right now, I don't think it could get any redder."  By this time she was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes and Shannon came in to see what all the commotion was about.

She took one look at my red face and the hysterical Cory and grinned.  "Hey girls, are we having a party in here or what?"

I just shook my head and started to bend down to pick up ice cubes off the floor.  Through her laughter Cory told me to sit down and started picking them up for me.  By the time she was finished with the task she had finally wound down and Shannon had already retrieved the sodas.  Cory finished wiping the last of the tears and said, "I'm sorry Chris; I shouldn't pick on you so bad.  Hey, how's the head?  You didn't hit it too hard did you?"

I shook my head. "No, not too bad.  It's just got a little bump."  She still looked a little worried so I put on my best 'good sport' face. "Hey, I've got plenty of ice though, right?"  I managed to get both women to laugh again, even if it was at my expense.  I really love the way Cory laughs.  I looked over at Shannon and changed the subject. "Hey, I thought you said you were going to bring me a burger and some fries?"

"Nooo... I said I might bring you a burger and fries but I didn't so deal with it."

Cory chuckled.  I'm glad she thought it was funny but I was starting to get hungry here.  I put on my best pout face and looked at Shannon.  I must have worked because she stuck her tongue out at me and said, "If you're hungry Chris, why don't we order Chinese?"  She looked over a Cory.  "Unless miss muscles here only eats health food."

I had to laugh at that.  "Yeah right!  Shan, you wouldn't believe this woman's appetite."

Cory winked at me. "You haven't seen anything yet!"

For some reason Shannon thought Cory's comment was extremely funny.  She laughed and said, "You better keep her around; I actually like her!"

I chuckled. "No problem Shan.  I like her too."

She just laughed even harder.  "I wasn't talking to you Chris, I was talking to Cory."

Great, now they were both laughing at me.  "Just go order the damn food Shannon."

"Just as soon as you tell me what you want grumpy."

I just glared at both of them.  "Yeah, well you'd be grumpy too if you were being tag-teamed by a couple of smart asses.  Just get me the Sweet and Sour Chicken and two egg rolls."

My evil cousin looked over at Cory. "And for you?"

Cory thought for a second. "Ill take the Kung Pao Beef, four egg rolls and the Crab Rangoon."

I smirked when Shannon's mouth dropped open.  "I told you so Shan, but you didn't believe me.  Now hurry up and order the food, I'm starving here!"

"Alright already!  Ill be right back so don't do anything I wouldn't do."

She walked out of the kitchen and I mumbled, "Yeah, like that really narrows things down."

Cory smiled at me. "I like her Chris, she's got spunk."

I smiled back.  "Yeah, she's great.  I'm only a year older than her so we've hung out together since we were kids.  She's a great friend to have."
 

We never did get to that meditation exercise.  The three of us ended up eating supper and playing cards until Shannon had to leave for work at eight thirty.  I was feeling pretty tired by then so Cory said she'd be back at ten o'clock the next morning to help me with my bandages again.  She also promised that she would teach me that meditation exercise when it was a little easier to concentrate.  I wasn't sure if she was talking about my wound or about my reaction to her touch; I'm sure she had to have noticed.  I wasn't about to come right out and tell her I was interested in her though.  I mean, other than general flirting, she hadn't given me any indications that she was interested in me.  I decided that I 'd probably think better after a good night's rest so I went to bed and promptly fell asleep, enjoying my green-eyed dreams.
 

Getting to know the neighbor
 

    The rest of the week went pretty well.  I hung out with Cory whenever she was home and in return she took me down in the basement and showed me her exercise equipment.  I swear the woman has enough to start her own gym.  She taught me how to meditate and relax under stressful conditions; that was the really toughest part.  She knows that I'm not much of a fan of exercise but she offered me the use of her gym any time I wanted.  She even changed my bandage for me every morning before she left to teach her classes.

Even though Cory was keeping me pretty well entertained, by Friday I was really bored so I decided to invite her and Shannon over to watch movies later that night.  It was nine o'clock in the morning when I looked out the window toward the front yard.  Sure enough, Cory was sitting under her tree so I decided to go down and say hi.  When I got outside I walked over and sat down a few feet away from her.  I waited a few minutes in silence until she opened her eyes and looked at me.  I swear I could drown in her eyes for as long as I could still draw a breath.  There's just something about her that draws me and I couldn't even begin to explain why.  I suddenly realized I was staring and looked down self-consciously.  "Hi" I said.

"Morning Chris.  What's up?"

I looked back up at her.  We'd become good friends in such a short time; its hard to believe that we'd known each other for less than a week.  "I was wondering if you wanted to come up tonight to watch a couple movies.  I'm going to invite Shannon too since its one of her nights off.  Ill even throw in dinner."

"Dinner huh?  So what are you making?"

I grinned and said, "Lasagna."

She laughed, "Consider me there, I love lasagna!  So when are you going to go get the movies?"

"Well, Ill probably make a run to the video store around two o'clock that way Ill get there before all the movies are rented out for the weekend."

"Do you mind if I ride along when you go?"

I couldn't believe she actually wanted to spend more time with me; I thought for sure she'd be sick of seeing my face by now.  "Sure, no problem."  I stood back up. "Well, I'm going to go give Shannon a call."

My little green-eyed kick boxer grinned. "Doesn't she normally sleep this time of day?"

I chuckled evilly, "Yup, and I'm going to enjoy waking her up for once.  I still owe her for Tuesday.  Don't worry about her though, she'll just roll over and go back to sleep when she hangs up the phone."

Cory laughed and shook her head. "You two are crazy sometimes, you're more like sisters than cousins."

I laughed along with her, "Yeah, I know.  We love it though; she's been my best friend for as long as I can remember.  So, Ill see you around two o'clock?"

She stood up and stretched and you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Why does she have to wear such short tank tops and do stuff like that?  Unfortunately green eyes popped open at that exact moment and caught me staring.  I could feel the blush creep up my face but all she did was wink at me.  "Yeah, Ill be up around two; right now I'm going to work out for a couple of hours."  She patted her delicious abs for emphasis.

Why me?  I've never acted this way around anyone before so why do I do it around her?  I decided the best thing to do was retreat.  "Alright, I uh, guess Ill see you later.  Have fun."  I think I heard her chuckle as I was walking away.
 
 

    When I got back inside my apartment I sat down in the recliner that was next to the couch, and propped my feet up.  I had been trying, since I woke up that morning, to figure out why I was so taken with Cory.  I just didn't understand it though.  I mean yeah, she's good looking and she's in great shape but other than that, she's not my normal type.  Ok, so I don't really have a normal type unless you could count the fact that some of them turn out to be a little mentally unstable.  I think part of my problem with relationships is the fact that all of my girlfriends eventually want a more permanent commitment.  I've never met anyone that I wanted to get really serious with though; I'm talking about the rest of my life kind of serious.  I mean, how do you know who 'the one' is.  Does it hit you all of the sudden or is it a gradual realization?

I shook my head.  If this is the kind of stuff I'm going to think about when I have too much time on my hands I think Ill definitely take cash instead of the rest of my vacation days this year.  My life is simple, barring crazed ex girlfriends, and I like it that way.  I growled in frustration and jumped up out of the chair then grabbed the cordless off the charger and headed for the kitchen.  If I wanted to be able to wake up Shannon I'd have to call now.  I listened to the phone ring on the other end; I counted seven times before the line was picked up.  I had to laugh when I heard Shannon mumble on the other end, "I swear Chris, if this is you, you're dead meat!"

I chuckled, "You can't kill me, I owe you for Tuesday.  I don't know what you're complaining about anyways, its not like you're dealing with five stitches after being attacked by a ex-girlfriend from hell, like I was when you called."

I heard her laugh over the phone, "Yeah, you do have a point.  So what was so important that you had to call me this early?"

"Well I was just wondering if you wanted to come over tonight for lasagna and movies.  Cory already said she'd be here."

"Hmm... Cory huh?  I'm not going to end up feeling like a third wheel if I come over am I?"

I sighed, "Shannon... I told you before, we're just friends.  The woman's not even interested in me anyways, so I can personally guarantee that you're not going to feel like a third wheel.  So are you coming or what?"

She laughed at me, the little witch!  "Well... as much as I'd love to spend the evening watching her flirt with you, and you act clueless as usual, I have a date."

Clueless? What in the hell is she talking about?  "Shannon, I do not act clueless!"

"Do too!"

"I do not... hey, wait a minute, I hate it when you do that!  You mentioned something about a date?"

"Yup."

I sighed again, this time louder. "Sooo... are you going to tell me who it is?"

She giggled. "It's John Fisher.  You know, the guy who owns The Music Centre."

I had to think for a minute then I remembered the small music shop on the corner of Main Street and Elm.  Shannon plays the guitar in her spare time and must have met him when she went in for new strings or something. "Yeah, I know who you're talking about.  I won't grill you for details right now but you can be sure Ill talk to you tomorrow.  You better be prepared to fill me in!"

"Don't worry, Ill give you all the gory details tomorrow and you better be prepared to do the same for me."

Huh?  "The same for you?  What are you talki..." I stopped when I realized what she meant then growled, "Dammit Shan!  How many times do I have to tell you?  There's definitely, positively, absolutely nothing between us but friendship.  You're so annoying sometimes."

She mumbled something about 'protesting too much' then chuckled, "Whatever!  Listen, I'll talk to you tomorrow.  Right now I'm going back to sleep, I need my beauty rest for my date tonight."

Oh, she just fed me the perfect set up.  "Heh, heh, I guess I better let you go then because you'll need all the help you can get."

She growled over the phone at me. "You better watch it Chris.  You might be six foot tall but you're still a wuss and you know I can kick your ass any time I feel like it."

Dammit, I am not a wuss!  What do I have to do, take kickboxing lessons for people to believe me?  Hmm... that sounds like fun though as long as its with a certain kick boxer I know with sea green eyes.

"Uh, Chris are you there?"

Whoops, I guess I drifted for a minute.  "Yeah, I'm still here.  Sorry about that I was just uh, thinking about something."  I think I covered that up pretty well.

"Yeah ok, whatever you say."  She laughed, "I can't believe you didn't even defend yourself at the wuss comment.  You must have been thinking of something pretty good to let that go without a fight."

Oh yeah, definitely something good, but I'm not going to tell her that.  It would just give her more ammunition.  "Uh, I guess so.  Well I'm going to go start that lasagna now and if you're lucky, there might be some left over tomorrow when you stop by."

With a voice dripping sarcasm she said, "Gee thanks; I love you too.  I guess Ill see you tomorrow, maybe sometime around three?"

"Yeah, sounds good.  And Shan...?"

"Yes?"

"Good luck on your date tonight.  I hope you have fun."

That little imp just chuckled at me and said "Yeah, you too!" before hanging up the phone.  I could just kill her sometimes.  I mean, really, where does she get her ideas from, from a Cracker Jack box?  I hung up the phone and looked at the clock.  I decided to make the lasagna now, that way I could just throw it in the oven later on.  Once the lasagna was finished I wrapped it and put in the refrigerator.  I kept busy for the next few hours cleaning the house and working on a list of chores I'd made.  It was one thirty by the time I got everything done that was on my list.  I was feeling a bit grimy from cleaning so I took a quick shower before getting ready to go to the movie store. Luckily the doctor had said I only had to wait a few days before getting the stitches wet and that wait was up yesterday.  I was really looking forward to next Tuesday when I would get them out completely.  It was pretty warm still and my side was feeling a lot better so I decided to throw on navy tank top and a pair of light blue jean shorts.

Cory didn't come up by two o'clock so I headed down stairs to her front door.  There was no answer when I knocked so I just walked in calling out her name.  "Cory!"  I could hear music coming from the basement so I headed downstairs figuring that was probably where she was.  When I got to the bottom of the steps, I was amazed by the sight of her marvelous body dancing around a large punching bag.  She moved gracefully, spinning, kicking and weaving her way around her target.  She'd alternate her kicks with punches and you could tell by the fine sheen of sweat covering her body, that she'd been at it for a while.

Suddenly, her green eyes met my blue ones and both of us froze.  I could now see that she was only wearing a sports bra and a pair of running shorts.  After looking at her nearly naked, perfect little body I was hit by a wave of desire.  It was the strongest physical attraction I'd ever felt.  My mouth felt dry so I licked my lips and said, "Do you still want to ride to the video store with me?"

Her eyes got wide and she said, "Oh shit, I'm sorry Chris!  Yeah I still want to go; can you wait a minute?"   When I nodded she added, "Let me run and get cleaned up.  Have a seat on the couch and Ill be right back, it will only take me a second to jump in the shower."

She was up the stairs in a flash with me following slowly behind.  Upstairs, I sat on the couch and true to her word; she was back within a few minutes.  She was wearing a clean tank top and shorts and her damp hair was barely tousled into some semblance of order.  She was definitely cute; there was no doubt about it.  "All set, let's go."

I laughed "Wow, that was fast!"

She winked at me and said, "Only when I have to be.  I usually prefer to take most things slow that way I can thoroughly enjoy the experience."

I swallowed and headed for my truck.  I had a feeling it was going to be a long night.
 
 

    Since it was so early in the day it was easy finding the movies that we wanted.  We made it back to my apartment in record time so we decided to fix a pitcher of lemonade and sit out on Cory's front porch.  I didn't really have a porch, just a staircase that led up to my front door.  I planned on putting the lasagna in the oven around four thirty and maybe fixing a small salad but until then we were just going to sit out here and relax.  It was a beautiful afternoon and there was a slight breeze; just enough to keep us cool.  We were both sitting in her hanging swing enjoying the peace and quiet.  I had told her in the truck that Shannon bailed out on us to go on a date and she just laughed.  She said she didn't mind and hoped she had fun.  I started thinking about our past conversations and realized that, while Cory seemed to know my whole life's history, I really didn't know much at all about her.  She seemed to be a pro at avoiding conversations about herself.  Hmm... we're going to have to fix that.  I looked over at the smaller woman, "Hey Cory?"

She looked up at me. "Yeah?"

The swing kept at its gentle rocking motion. "I was just wondering why you don't have anyone special in your life?"

The way she looked at me, I thought for a minute she wasn't going to answer.  After hesitating for a minute she looked away and said, "I guess I've just never found anyone I wanted to keep around."  She suddenly looked back at me and grinned. "Besides, who would want a half-pint kick boxer with a warped sense of humor anyways?"

I laughed at her. "You're kidding me right?  Let's see, you're smart, beautiful and funny.  You have a nice apartment and most important of all, you're not violently insane.  You're practically holding all the aces, you should have people lined up around the block trying to get a shot at you." Oh yeah, I finally made my cocky little friend blush.  I was being careful not to use any feminine pronouns since she never actually said where her interests lay.

She laughed, "Yeah well, other than teaching my classes I really don't get out much.  When I do manage to meet someone..." She looked away for a second then back at me. "Well, I don't usually let them in here."  She said this last part while gently tapping her chest with her index finger, directly over her heart.

I found myself wondering if she'd been hurt by someone in the past.  What could make such a wonderful woman shut people out of her heart?  I looked at her curiously. "Why?"

Her green eyes suddenly looked both, sadder and older.  "It's a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?"

I smiled and reached over to touch the back of her hand.  "Hey, only if you feel like telling me, ok?  I don't want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable."  In only a few minutes, she had changed right in front of my eyes.  The only thing about the woman sitting in front of me that was still the same was her gorgeous green eyes.  Gone was that cocky, self-assured imp that I had come to adore and I would have done anything to get her back.

She took a long swallow of her lemonade and began her story. "My parents were killed the year I was fifteen and my brother was nineteen.  In order to celebrate their twentieth anniversary they decided to go on a second honeymoon.  My dad was a pilot and a flying instructor and he owned the small plane that he used to give lessons.  He loved to fly and would go on short trips whenever he had the chance so they decided to fly instead of drive to their honeymoon destination."

She stopped to take a long breath, and I wanted more than anything to move over next to her on the swing.  I wanted to be close to her but I didn't know if it was to comfort her or me; I hated the thought of her hurting.  After another drink of lemonade she began again.  "I don't really know what happened exactly but apparently there was something mechanical wrong in the rudder section of the plane.  My dad always did thorough checks before every flight but the investigators' said there was no way he could have known there would be a malfunction.  Anyways, in the middle of the flight my dad lost control of the plane and they crashed and my brother and I were told that they'd both died on impact.  We had no other family and since my brother was legally an adult and he had a full time job, he became my custodian rather than splitting us up and having me become a ward of the State.  Neither one of us could stand to live in our house because it held too many memories, so he used a portion of the life insurance money to buy the house I'm in now."  She stopped again for another drink then looked away.  I had a million questions but I managed to limit myself to only one for now.

"So, you and your brother own this house?"  She never mentioned before that she had a brother but then again, she never mentioned that her parents were killed when she was still so young.  My heart went out to the young girl that she had been and still was even now.

When she looked back at me to answer my question she had tears in her eyes.  It was then that I decided I didn't care what it looked like; she needed a friend and someone to hold her.  I held out my arm, hoping she would move over next to me.  It was an open invitation with no strings attached and I hoped that she would see it that way.  She hesitated for a minute before sliding over and laying her head on my shoulder.  It felt good to have my arm around her, like I could protect her from the world and vise versa.  When she finally relaxed, she answered my question.

"No, I'm the only one who owns it; my brother Greg died four years ago."

I continued gently rocking the swing; she now had her feet tucked up underneath her on the bench.  "How?" I said.

"When my brother was younger, my dad got him interested in kick boxing to give him something to do after school and to keep him out of trouble.  When I got old enough I started too.  We both took to it like ducks to water and by the time Greg was eighteen he was making a name for himself by winning quite a few of the amateur tournaments.  He was four years older than I was so I was only competing in the junior classes but I was doing really well too.  The year my parents died he had an offer made to him to join a local fighting circuit.  There was fierce competition but also a lot of money involved.  He had agreed to do it but almost changed his mind with the death of our parents."

She stopped again and swallowed hard, I could tell she was fighting the tears.  I wish she would just let them come; she needed the release that they would give her.  I just held her tight and tried to will support and understanding into her through my arms.  She took a shuddering breath and went on.

"I... I was the one who convinced him go ahead with his plans.  I told him that mom and dad would have wanted him to be happy.  He did join and was one of the best fighters around.  By the time I was twenty, I was just as well known on the circuit because I went to every one of his fights.  When I got the same offer he did I was ecstatic but he forbid me to even think about it.  He said it was too dangerous and that if I really wanted a career in kickboxing, I should become an instructor.  I had been helping our instructor for the last three years with the younger classes and was really good at it.  It wasn't what I wanted though, I wanted the glory and fame that my brother had and we ended up getting into a huge argument over it.  He was still furious when he left to go to his fight that night and I was so angry with him that I stayed home.  It was the first fight of his that I'd ever missed."

I felt something wet on my arm and when I looked down I realized she had tears running down her cheeks.   She was crying silently the whole time she was telling her story.  I reached up and gently wiped the tears away with my fingertip then grabbed her hand and lightly squeezed it to show her I was here for her.

"I... I was home alone that night when I got the phone call that said, due to a freak accident, my brother had been killed in his match.  Apparently he had been distracted throughout the entire fight and his concentration wasn't what it should have been.  He made a foolish move and a blow to the head from his opponent snapped his neck but it was the sheer force of the blow that actually killed him.  I was devastated.  The last member of my family died and it was my fault.  I knew he had to fight that night and if I hadn't pressed the argument he might still be alive."

I shook my head 'no' though she couldn't see me.  "No Cory, it wasn't your fault.  Anything could have distracted your brother in the ring.  He knew the risks involved with every fight and lived with them.  You can't blame yourself for something that was ultimately his decision."  I tenderly stroked her short hair and kept rocking the swing.  "Is that why you became an instructor, because your brother wanted you to?"

"Well, yes and no.  I really did like being an instructor but I also idolized Greg and I stubbornly wanted to follow in his footsteps.  I guess it made it even worse when I realized he was right all along and I had argued with him over nothing."

I gently touched the bottom of her chin, bringing her face up so I could look her in the eye.  "It wasn't over nothing Cory, it was something you thought you believed in.  Don't ever regret standing up for what you believe in.  I'm sure your brother would have told you the same thing if he were here today."  She looked me right in the eye and the sight of those watery green pools cut straight through my heart.  It was right then when I realized I had fallen for my little blonde neighbor.  Damn, how could I let this happen?   She's my friend and she's in need.  The last things she needs to deal with right now are my feelings for her.  Shit!  The baggage from my love life alone would be enough to send her away screaming if she knew I was interested in her.  I sighed and had to look away.  I didn't want her to see the truth of my emotions written all over my face.  More than anything, I didn't want to make her uncomfortable.  I felt a gentle hand on my cheek and I was forced to look back into endless green eyes.  My gaze was caught and I knew my secret was out; all I could do was swallow my heart back down into my chest.  All she said was two words.

"Thank you."

An eternity of heartbeats later she pulled me down and gently kissed me on the lips.  At first I was in shock but the tingling sensation that had suddenly made an appearance along the length of my spine made me respond.  I laid one hand on her cheek and tentatively responded to her kiss.  It started slow but began to escalate when I felt her tongue caress the length of my lips.  I opened myself to her, allowing entry to her questing organ.  A slow fire was building low in my body and by the time we broke the delicious contact our hands were buried in each other's hair.  We were both flushed and breathing hard.  I rested my forehead against hers but looked into her eyes to voice my doubts.  "Are you sure about this?"

She actually chuckled at me.  "God Chris, how could you even ask that?  I've been flirting with you since we met."  She shook her head and mumbled something about 'being clueless'.  Hey, wasn't that what Shannon said too?  This thought made me groan aloud.  I hate it when my cousin was right.  When I got a curious look from the blonde wrapped in my arms I had to elaborate.  "I... I never knew."  I looked down at her seriously.  "Why me?  I mean, I'm just a factory rat with a screwed up love life and the baggage to prove it.  You're a beautiful woman, you could have anyone you wanted."

My heart dropped to my feet when she looked up at me and said, "Do you really mean it?"

"Uh, which part?"

She smiled, "All of it, especially about me having anyone I wanted."

I swallowed and looked away then looked back.  "God yes!  You're wonderful, anyone who didn't want you would be crazy."

She leaned in closer until our lips were almost touching again and I had to fight to control my breathing.  The control I had maintained over my desire was fading fast and my emotions were spinning out of control.  Her next words nearly stopped my heart.

"Good, I'm glad to know I can get anyone I want."

Oh great, once again I said the wrong thing.  Here it comes; she's going to tell me thanks but no thanks and then go find someone better.  My self-pitying thoughts couldn't have been farther from the truth though.

"That's good to know Chris, because right now I want you."  She finished her declaration by closing the remaining distance between us and once again, claiming my lips.  All I could do was moan into her mouth as I ran my hands down her strong back then up along her sides.  When we broke the second kiss I couldn't bear to lose contact with her so I buried my face against her neck and held her tight.  She had a spicy, outdoorsy scent that reminded me of cedar and berries and I took a deep breath trying to capture as much of it as I could.  I raised my head a little and marveled at the texture of her silky hair against my cheek.  As I slowly came out of my little bliss I could hear the sounds of life increase throughout the neighborhood.  It was late enough in the day now that people were just coming home from work and school.  I personally didn't care what anyone else thought of us but I really wanted to explore what we had here, and I felt that the bonding we needed to do was best done in private.

I slowly untangled myself from her body and stood up.  She looked up at me confused until I held my hand out to her.  "Come on, lets go upstairs and talk."  I grinned at her, "We've got all the time in the world but right now I'm getting hungry.  What do you say to some lasagna?"

She smiled back and allowed me to pull her to her feet.  "Sure, sounds good to me."  As we were waking side by side towards the stairs she leaned over and bumped her shoulder into mine.  "This lasagna better be as good as you say it is or you're going to owe me another prime rib dinner."

I leaned down next to her ear and whispered in my sexiest voice, "Oh, I can guarantee you won't go away unsatisfied."  I had to chuckle when I saw the blush creep up her face.  Oh yeah, turning the tables on her was so much fun.
 

Not so idle threats
 

     When we got upstairs she went to the bathroom to wash her face and I put the lasagna in the oven.  I had just got out the ingredients for the salad when she walked into the kitchen.  The tear tracks had been scrubbed from her face and from the smile she was wearing, I'd say she washed some of the sadness away too.  "Hey, Ill bet you feel a little better; I like to see you smile."  I went back to the refrigerator to root around a bit.  "What kind of dressing do you want, Ranch or Italian?" When she didn't answer I looked back at her and saw she had that twinkle in her eyes.  It was good to see that my little imp was back but I was also a little worried too.  I wrinkled up my brow, "What's so funny, you don't like salad?"

She grinned at me, "Um Chris, did you know you have a little alligator head that holds your soap in his mouth?"

I smiled back at her.  "Yup, that's Sam.  I got him for my eighth birthday along with the snail toothbrush holder that's in the medicine cabinet."  Sam was a little green plastic cartoon alligator head who's mouth opens and closes and the soap sits inside.

The little blonde just looked at me for a second then burst out laughing.  "I can't believe you've kept those since you were eight years old.  Ok, maybe I can.  That would be so 'you' to do something like that."

I think she's making fun of me.  "Hey, I love those guys!  Besides, they're highly functional and there was no sense buying a new soap and toothbrush holder when I already had perfectly good ones in my possession."

She looked skeptical at best.  "Ok, whatever you say.  Of course you wouldn't keep them around for sentimental reasons and because they were cute and funny."

I grinned at her, "No, that's why I keep you around."

She laughed again, "I see once someone gets to know you, you come right out of that shell of yours.  If I would have known a kiss was all it would take to wake up your inner turtle, I would have kissed you the day you moved in."

Inner turtle?  Dammit, why was I blushing now?  Maybe because I'd been having similar thoughts since the day we met too.  I chuckled, "Yeah well, I would have definitely let you.  Why do you think it was taking me so long to unload my truck?  I kept watching you when I was supposed to be moving and you were a very distracting sight."

She shot me a mischievous grin. "I knew that, why do you think I offered to help?  I saw you sneaking peeks so I thought if I was a little more up close and personal that you might give in to temptation.  Besides, I wanted to show off my muscles a little and get on your good side by helping you."

I looked straight into her eyes. "I almost did more than once.  Didn't you notice how I always let you walk in front of me going up the stairs?" I chuckled, "I had an ulterior motive."

She laughed and started setting the table with the dishes I had laid out on the counter.  I had just finished tossing the salad when the doorbell rang.  I looked over at Cory, "Ill be right back.  Maybe that's Shannon bringing her date over so I can meet him."

She nodded, "Okay, I'm just going to find us something to drink."

When I opened the door I saw a deliveryman from the local flower shop holding a long narrow box.  He looked up at me, yes I said up. I'm tall; remember?  Anyways, he looked up at me and said, "Are you Chris Johnson?"

"Yes."

He handed me the flowers and said, "These are for you.  Have a nice day."  When I took the box, he turned around and trotted back down the steps towards his van.

Cory came out of the kitchen just as I finished shutting the door.  "Hey, it looks like you've got an admirer.  Who are they from?"  She didn't have any expression on her face and I was worried that she might be mad at me.

"I don't know; I haven't looked at the card yet."  I sat the box down on the coffee table and opened it.  Inside, nestled in paper, were a dozen black roses along with a small card.  When I opened it and read it I felt my legs go weak and had to sit down on the couch.  "Oh shit!"

Chris,

 I know where you live now but you won't be there long.  You'll come back to me, Ill make sure of it.  Don't worry baby, everyone knows restraining orders aren't worth the paper they're printed on.  Ill be seeing you soon.

P.S.  I hope you enjoyed the flowers.  If you know what's good for you, you won't throw these ones away.  Ill be watching.

Love,
Terri

Cory came over and sat down next to me.  "Chris, what's wrong?"  She reached down and picked up the card that I had dropped on the floor.  When she read it she was ready to go ballistic.  Her lips were nearly white with anger.  "Shit Chris, she's gone too far now!  You've got to go to the police with this, the woman needs to be put away."

"No!"  She looked at me in disbelief.  So I amended, "I mean no, not right now.  Ill do it tomorrow morning; I don't want to ruin a perfectly good evening at home just because of her.  That's exactly what she wants; she lives to make people afraid of her.  Believe me, I've been on the receiving end plenty of times.  I won't live like that anymore, she won't control my life."

She looked at me for a second then her features softened.  "Alright Chris, we'll do whatever you want.  I just want you to know that Ill be here for you, you won't be in this alone."  She wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me to her.  In a quiet voice she said, "I just couldn't bear the thought of something happening to you; I really like you Chris."

After her quiet admission I turned my head and looked down at her.  Our eyes met and our lips were soon to follow.  The kiss lasted until both of us were panting in desperate need of air.  We groaned as our tongues lost contact with each other.  I couldn't help the words that came out of my mouth.  "God Cor, I don't think I've ever felt this way from just a kiss."

She looked deep into my eyes.  "I know exactly what you're saying, I feel the same way."  Just as she leaned in for another kiss the timer went off on the oven and we both jumped.  We looked at each other and started laughing.

I shook my head. "What a mood killer.  As much as I hate to move I need to rescue the lasagna if I want it to be edible."

Cory opened her mouth to protest but when her stomach growled she snapped it shut again.  She laughed. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea."  She stood up and reached down to pull me to my feet.  "Come on, let's go feed the beast."

Over dinner we talked and laughed but carefully steered clear of any conversations about my stalking ex-girlfriend.  Supper was excellent if I do say so myself.  Cory had just finished her third helping of lasagna and leaned back in her chair with her glass of milk.  I looked over at her with a smirk on my face.  "Satisfied?"

She grinned and patted her stomach.  "For now."

"What do you say we clean up these dishes and go watch a few movies?"  I didn't want things go too fast and I was hoping she'd feel the same way.

She looked at me and smiled, "I think that sounds like an excellent idea."  She hopped up and grabbed her plate.  "Come on, Ill wash since I don't know where your dishes go." I laughed and started clearing the table.
 
 

    Twenty minutes later we were seated in the living room.  I was leaning against the corner of the couch, with my legs stretched out along its length and she was seated between my legs with her back against my chest.  At first she thought she might hurt me but I convinced her that my side hardly hurt anymore.  The little gash was healing nicely and the last few days off must have given my muscles the rest they needed.  My arms were wrapped around her and we had a blanket thrown over both of us.  I reveled in the physical contact, she felt so good in my arms.  I couldn't believe what I was feeling.  I hadn't known Cory for nearly long enough but I was crazy about the woman and just couldn't get enough of her.  The first movie we watched was The Sixth Sense.  It was a great movie that really had us thinking at the end.  When it was over, we sat in silence for a minute until Cory made me rewind it to watch a certain scene over again.  She broke the silence by saying, "Wow, I never even guessed."

I had to agree with her.  "Yeah, me too.  What a fantastic ending."  She nodded and I said, "So, are you ready for the next one?"

"Yeah, bring it on.  Are you sure this is a good movie?  I don't ever remember seeing any previews for it."

I laughed. "Trust me, its a great movie.  It's an older movie but its still worth watching."

She looked over at me and wrinkled her brow. "You've seen it before?"

"Yup, about ten times."

She shook her head, "Well why did we get it then?"

I grinned at her. "Because you haven't seen it, that's why.  Besides, I love this movie and I'd watch it ten more times if I could."

She laughed. "You're just a big kid sometimes, you know that?"

I just nodded and we settled in to watch The Never Ending Story.  What can I say, it was about books and I love books!
 
 

    When the movie was over we stayed snuggled on the couch, content.  Her strong hands spent their time caressing my long fingers before moving up to my forearms.  I could feel her chuckle where she leaned against my chest.  "You're right, that was a great movie.  I still can't believe you've seen it ten times though."

I chuckled. "That's eleven now."

She laughed and swatted my thigh. "Don't you ever change Chris; I love you just the way you are!"

We both froze when we realized what she said.  My stomach had those butterflies again and my mouth was suddenly dry.  This is usually the part where I want to head for the hills but strangely enough, this time I was comfortable right here.

I couldn't see her face but I felt her reach down and twine her fingers with mine.  She cleared her throat, "Chris?"

I could feel my heart start racing and I was sure she could feel it too.  "Do you really mean that?"

She brought my hand up to her cheek then kissed my palm.  "Yes."

With one word she opened the doors to my heart.  I wrapped my arms around her tight and hugged her to me as hard as I could.  "Good, because I'm crazy about you too."

We stayed that way for a while.  I was afraid to let her go, afraid that I would wake up and find that it was all a dream.  I was conscious of the scent of her hair and its softness against my cheek, where her head rested.  I could feel the heat of her body against mine; I could even feel the muscles of her back where they rested against my stomach and chest.  She was hard and soft all at the same time.  I couldn't resist the urge to run my hand through her short, silky hair and kiss the side of her head.  I thought she was asleep until I felt her start to turn around.  I scooted down on the couch so she wouldn't be bent backwards while she was facing me.  I looked into her eyes, the ones that had first stolen my soul.  "Hey, what are you doing?  You won't be comfortable like that."

The look of desire she sent me caused my stomach to do flips.  She pressed her short muscular body along the length of mine and said, "Won't I?"

I moaned at the sudden pressure and heat against my center.  I ran my hands down her back until I came to a pair of firm cheeks then gave in to my desire and pressed her tight against me.  I nearly passed out when she began a slow grind with her hips.  I knew right then I had completely lost myself to her and that there was no going back.  My hands pulled her tighter as my own hips joined in her rhythm.  We both moaned at the increased contact and I looked up into eyes that had turned deep green with passion.  I could feel her smooth legs up against my own; the fact that we still had our shorts on made our motions seem that much more erotic. It was like it we were engaging in a forbidden act.  "God Cor, you feel so good I don't want it to ever stop."

She leaned down and sucked on the lobe of my ear before whispering, "I know."  When she moved her lips and tongue down to my neck I couldn't help the shiver that raced through my body.  Her lips finally moved up to capture mine as she began to increase the pace.  With our mouths locked in an intimate embrace the only sound that escaped was that of my nearly constant moans.  God!  I've never felt anything so good in my life.  I felt a fire begin deep inside me and I knew I was close.  I had to force myself to speak in real words.  "Uh, god Cory, don't stop.  Please don't stop, I'm so close."

She ran her tongue along my jaw line then down my neck to my pulse point.  "Never love.  Ill never stop, I'm taking you with me."  I was nearing the edge when she recaptured my lips and increased the pressure and pace.  The increased contact was too much and my body went rigid with release.  When I went over the edge calling her name it only took a few more thrusts for her to follow.  She collapsed on top of me and we both lay there spent.  When my breathing finally calmed I ran my hands through her hair.  "Cory, I love you so much.  I've never felt this way about anyone before."

She looked up and gave me the gentlest of kisses.  "Chris, I never thought I could love someone again; I never thought I would ever feel this kind of love at all.  I love you too Chris, more than anything."  She smiled, "I think I finally found someone I want to keep around."

I smiled down at her.  "And I think I finally found someone I want to stay with."  We both chuckled and settled back in to the comfort of mutual touch.  After a few minutes she started to get up.  I didn't want her to move so I pulled her back down in an embrace.  "Where are you going?"

She looked sheepish. "I just remembered your side and I didn't want to hurt you."

I just held on to her even tighter and winked. "Did I sound like you were hurting me?"  She shook her head no.  "I'd tell you if you were hurting me and right now you definitely aren't.  As a matter of fact, you feel so good I could fall asleep just like this."

She relaxed back into my arms when I pulled her down and kissed her.  I knew I was too tired to move for a while so I retrieved the fallen blanket off the floor and pulled it back over us.  All the weeks' troubles were forgotten as we fell asleep in each other's arms, satisfied with our newfound love.
 

The Morning After
 

     The next morning I was awakened by an unidentifiable sound.  I turned my head and looked over the back of the couch to the clock on the wall; it said ten o'clock.  Jesus, where did the morning go? I couldn't believe Cory was still sleeping but I was going to have to wake her soon.  Her body lying on top of mine was causing the most unpleasant pressure in my bladder.  I turned my head back toward the TV and the sight of a smirking Shannon kneeling a foot away almost made me pee my pants.  I jumped and inadvertently woke Cory.  "Shit Shannon, you shouldn't sneak up on people like that!  I thought you weren't coming over until 3 o'clock."  I narrowed my eyes, "How did you get in here anyways?"

She kept right on smirking but added a laugh for good measure.  "I thought I'd stop on my way home.  And for your information, the door was unlocked."  She looked at a sleepy tousled Cory and smiled. "Must have been too busy to lock it, huh?"

I could feel myself blushing.  I'm going to kill her!  Family or no family, she's gone too far this time.  Before I could say anything Cory drawled, "Yeah, I had her pretty occupied last night.  Poor Chris was so exhausted when I was finished she must have forgot all about it."

Poor Chris?  What was I, some charity case who couldn't fight her own battles?  I was ready to protest my exclusion to the conversation when the fight was suddenly taken out of me by the feeling of warm breath against my neck.  Cory's tongue caressed the ridge of my ear and she said, "Right Chris?"

I momentarily forgot about my cousin and the pressure on my bladder as I moaned my response.  "Uh huh."

When I managed to open my eyes, the sight of my blushing cousin was the icing on the cake.  I knew I made the right choice with Cory; anyone that can make my cousin blush can't be all that bad.  Shannon threw herself into the chair next to the couch.  "God you two, I wish my date had gone like that!"  She smirked at me.  "I guess I don't need you to fill me in on the details, do I?"

I threw the pillow at her that had been resting behind my head and growled, "Don't you have someplace else you have to be?"

She settled back into the chair and put her feet up.  "Nope, not at all, why?"  She looked at Cory who was still half asleep.  "Got someone, I mean, something you have to do today?"

Suddenly I remembered the night before and the flowers.  I looked down at a, now wide awake, Cory and knew that she had remembered too.  "Shit!"

Shannon put her feet down and sat on the edge of the chair with concern written all over her face.  "What?  Chris, what's going on?"

As Cory and I untangled ourselves from the couch my full bladder reminded me again of its presence.  "Uh, Cory could you fill her in?  I really need to use the bathroom."

She patted my knee.  "Sure Chris, go ahead.  Ill bring her up to speed."

On the way back from the bathroom I grabbed a glass of water for Cory just in case she was thirsty.  Shannon looked up at me and I could tell she was worried. "Chris, what are you going to do?"  She ran her hands through her dark hair.  "Shit, I always knew that woman was trouble.  I wish you would have listened to me in the beginning."

I sat down next to Cory and handed her the water; she smiled in appreciation.  I looked over at Shannon and sighed.  This was the last conversation I wanted to have.  "Dammit Shannon, I don't want to go into that right now.  I can't change the past, only deal with the here and now."

She looked down. "I'm sorry Chris, I didn't mean to go off on you like that; I'm just worried about you.  I know how crazy that bitch is and I don't want to see you hurt."

Cory reached over and took my hand and looked at Shannon.  "No one's going to hurt her Shan, I promise you!"  She turned to look at me and her fierce expression softened a little.  "As long as I'm here, nobody will hurt you Chris."  When I saw the love shining in her eyes, I knew my protector was back.

"I know Cor, thank you."  I leaned down and kissed her to show I meant it.

We were interrupted when Shannon cleared her throat.  "As much as I hate to disturb your little love fest, don't you have to go down to the police station?"

I looked over at her and smirked. "What's the matter, jealous?"  I had to laugh at the look on her face.  "Aw, poor Shan.  Your hot date with John wasn't all that hot, huh?"

She sighed and shook her head.  "Another dud.  I swear you can tell we're related Chris.  You get all the psychos, with the exception of Cory of course, and I get the minute men."  She suddenly looked over at a grinning Cory and licked her lips.  "Hmm, maybe I should switch to women."

Hey!  What's she think she's doing?  I growled, "Don't even think about it you little cock-blocker."

When both women looked at me with raised eyebrows I felt my face turn red.  "I uh, ah, I mean, its uh, just a figure of speech I picked up from the guys at work."  I glared at my cousin when I heard her snicker.  "She's mine, find your own."

Cory started laughing.  "God Chris, calm down.  What am I, your chew toy?"

I wiggled my eyebrow at her. "That depends, do you want to be?"  Of course this set Shannon off as well and I couldn't help but join them.  It felt good to laugh, especially with the two people I cared about the most.

When everyone finally calmed down Shannon stood up.  "As much as I'd like to stay Chris, I really need to go home and get some sleep."  She came over and gave me a hug and looked me right in the eyes. "I want you to call me as soon as you know more from the police, ok?"

"Yeah Shan, I will.  You have my word on it.  Now get home and get some sleep."

She walked over to Cory and hugged her as well, much to Cory's chagrin.  She leaned down and whispered, "You take care of her for me, ok?"

Cory gave her a serious look.  "You can be sure of it.  I told you I wouldn't let anyone hurt her and I meant it."

She smiled "Thanks Cory, I knew I could count on you.  It really means a lot to me, she's my best friend you know?"

Cory reached up and gave her shoulder a little squeeze.  "You don't have to worry about a thing, she's got me to watch out for her now.  That bitch doesn't stand a chance."

My cousin nodded, "I know and thank you."  She gave me another hug and walked back to the door.  "Ill see you two later."

When Shannon was gone I looked back at Cory.  I was a little nervous because I knew I had to go down to the police station but I didn't want to go alone.  Everything was so new between us though, I didn't know what to expect.  "I uh, have to get ready to go."  I felt my shyness come back full force.  This must be part of that 'inner turtle' thing Cory was talking about.   "Uh, did you want to come with me?"

She walked over and took my hands, kissing them both.  "Do you think you could stop me?"

I looked down at her, "Do you think I would want to?"

I don't think I'd ever had anyone look at me with as much love in their eyes as Cory was showing me right at that moment.  I was at a complete loss for words so I did the only thing I could think of, I pulled her close and kissed her.  I wanted to tell her how much I loved her and needed her but most of all, how thankful I was that we had found each other.  When the kiss ended I kept just kept holding her tight and laid my cheek against the top of her forehead.  "Thank you."

She was rubbing my back in slow circles when she turned and kissed my neck.  "No, thank you."  She looked up at me. "Chris, I never knew how lonely I was until I met you.  You came in and filled the hole in my heart that I didn't know even existed, and I don't know what I ever did to deserve you."

I looked at her and smiled, "Ha!  I think we deserve each other, don't you?  After all who else is going to put up with a cocky little kick boxer and a six foot bookworm?"

She tilted her head to the side and tried to hold back a laugh. "Well... when you put it that way." Finally she couldn't hold it in any longer and burst out laughing.  "Its no wonder I love you, you always know what to say to make me feel better."

Was she talking about me?  No way, I never know what to say!  I looked down at her with wrinkled brows and when I saw her beautiful face with tears of laughter coursing down her cheeks, I knew what I thought didn't matter.  As long as she liked what I had to say I would be happy.  I smiled, "I love you too Cor.  Now come on, we both need showers before we go."

She looked at me and wiggled her eyebrows.  "Want a little company during your shower?"

I froze and knew I had that deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.  Did I mention I was a little body shy?  Well I lied; I'm a lot body shy.  I managed to squeak out, "Uh, naked and everything?"

She laughed, "Well... that's usually how it works."  She must have read the panic in my face because she put her hand and laid it against my cheek.  "Hey, what's the matter?  I was only kidding."

I knew I couldn't lie to her and now she was going to think I was some kind of head case.  I had to look away.  "I um, I'm really shy."

She turned my head back to face her.  "Even after what we did last night?"

I nodded, "Especially after what we did last night."  When she looked confused and had to explain.  "Before, I wouldn't have cared but now I really care about what you think."  I made a face. "Last night happened so fast we never even got our clothes off.  I guess I'm just really self-conscious of my body and I don't want you to be disappointed.  I mean look at you, you're in great shape!"

She chuckled at me and pulled me down for a quick kiss.  "Believe me Chris, you have nothing to worry about.  Looks are only part of the package that draws people together, part of the attraction.  But if I didn't like what I saw, last night would have never happened."

Huh?  Was she only using me for my body? I pulled back a little. "I don't understand.  Are you saying that looks mean so much to you that if you didn't like mine we would have never made love?"

She shook her head and laughed again before pulling me back towards her.  "Come here you!  Of course that's not what I'm saying!  What I meant was that last night I wanted you so much I couldn't keep my hands off you.  If I had had a little more control I would have preferred to wait until after we'd known each other a little longer."

Mollified, I smiled at her. "Thanks, Cor."

"For what?"

"For knowing what to say to make me feel better and for wanting me so much."  I pulled away and looked over at the clock on the wall.  "Come on, now we definitely have to get moving."

Right at that minute her stomach growled and she laughed.  "Do you think we'll have time to stop for lunch before we head to the station?"

I looked down at her, still growling, stomach and said seriously, "I think we better.  That sounds dangerous."

Her eyes twinkled and she swatted me on the arm.  "Get in there and take your shower smart ass.  Ill be back up here in half an hour."
 

The Hero In You
 

     By three o'clock that afternoon we had finished all our errands and found ourselves back at the house.  We had dropped off the movies and grabbed a bite to eat before heading over to the police department.  Once there, we got an hour's worth of run around before leaving disappointed.  Apparently the note was too vague for them to justify bringing her in and since she hadn't actually come near me, she didn't break the restraining order.  Lucky me, because the hospital had evidence of her past violence against me, they said they'd look into it.  What it boiled down to though was that she was still going to be out there running around.

As consolation for a useless trip we stopped for ice cream and a walk through the park before heading back to the house.  Once there, we decided to go our separate ways.  She said she wanted to work out for a few hours and I wanted to do some laundry.  That was one of the perks of this apartment, it came with a washer and dryer as part of the furnishings.  Hey, I wasn't about to complain.  After a few minutes of heavy kissing we separated.  I was breathing hard and it took me a minute before I could speak.  "Cor, if you don't leave now, Ill never get my laundry done.  Besides, I thought you wanted to go work out?"

She winked at me, "Sex is the best work out there is."  We came together and kissed again before she pulled away groaning.  "You're right, we've got to stop or we'll never get anything done today."  When I laughed and walked her to the door she sighed and grinned ruefully.  "It looks like I've got some excess energy to burn off."  The door was opened and another quick kiss was exchanged.  Cory looked back at me.  "Ill see you in a few hours?"

"You'd better!"

She grinned at me before turning and trotting down the steps and heading into her apartment.  God, I love that woman!  She's everything that I never knew I was looking for and I never planned on letting her go.  I went over and turned on the stereo, knowing that Cory would be doing the same in her basement.  Then I remembered seeing her working out the day before and I almost lost my resolve and went down stairs to watch her.  Stop it woman, you've got work to do and so does she!  Give the woman a little breathing room.  After mentally chastising myself I sighed and headed off to call my cousin and start the laundry.
 
 

    After ranting to Shannon about the uselessness of the justice system I got to work on my laundry.  I had just started my last load and was busy hanging clothes in my closet when I heard something behind me.  I started to turn around thinking it was Cory but all I saw was a glimpse of Terri's face before I felt excruciating pain on the back of my head and everything went dark.

When I woke up I found myself on my back, tied to my bed with duct tape. A quick glance at my clock told me I'd only been out for about twenty minutes.  I heard a voice and looked over to see Terri talking to herself while carving on my dresser with some sort of hunting knife.  For one stupid second I was worried about my security deposit since the dresser wasn't really mine.  I shook my head trying to clear away the cobwebs and groaned when I became aware of the sharp pain at the base of my skull and the throbbing that had begun.  Jesus, what the hell did she hit me with, a sledgehammer?  My groaning finally got Terri's attention and she walked over to the bed.

She grinned at me and it gave me the shivers.  "So, my love is awake I see.  Good, I wouldn't want you to miss anything." She reached down and caressed my hair, "I'm sorry I had to hurt you but you gave me no choice.  You never give me a choice; sometimes I think you like it when I hurt you."

I jerked my head away from her touch and groaned again at the pain.  I managed through gritted teeth, "Go to hell!"  All I could think about was Cory and I suddenly wished, more than anything in the world, that she were here.  When I felt the cold knife against my throat, I knew I was going to die.

The woman actually giggled maniacally.  I didn't know anyone, outside of the movies, really did that.  "Uh, uh, uh... you shouldn't talk like that to the one you love."

I knew she'd fallen off the deep end so I forced a smile and tried to play her game.  "I'm sorry Terri, I didn't mean it."  I tried to get on her good side.  "You don't have to tie me up, really.  I realize now how much I love you and would never leave you again."  For a second she pulled the knife back and I thought she was going to believe me.  Then she narrowed her eyes and the knife came back against my throat, harder than before.  Hard enough that I could feel a little trickle of blood run down my neck.

"You're lying!  I saw you kissing your little bitch this morning in your doorway.  I know she stayed here all night too."  She laughed then crawled up on the bed and straddled my hips.  The knife never even wavered through all of her movements.   She began grinding her center into mine and said, "So, was she as good as me Chris, can she satisfy you as well as I can?  I guess Ill just have to prove it to you so don't move an inch, this won't hurt a bit."

I don't know if it was the knife or the hip motions but the freak was actually getting herself off.  All I could feel was fear and loathing so I shut my eyes trying to block it out.  Suddenly I felt the knife press harder into my skin and I gasped and looked at the woman looking down at me.

She was furious, I could see it in her eyes.  "No!  I want you to look at me so you know who it is that gives you the most pleasure."  She viciously ground against me and I involuntarily winced.  This only seemed to turn her on more and she laughed at my discomfort.  Between the throbbing in my head and the stinging at my throat, I could barely think anymore.  I just wanted it to end and to be held in Cory's arms again.  I felt disgusted and used and I couldn't help the tears that started to run down my cheeks.  Both of us froze when we heard the stereo shut off and Cory's voice calling my name.  The knife pressed harder against my throat.

Terri whispered, "One word and you're both dead, I mean it.  She grabbed the duct tape off the nightstand next to the bed; she'd set it there after tying me up with it.  After ripping off a large piece and covering my mouth she went over and hid behind the door.  I was frantic, I knew Cory would come in any second and there was no way to warn her.  I pulled at my bonds desperately trying to get free.  When Cory walked through the door and saw me she immediately started forward; my eyes went wide when I saw Terri sneaking towards her.  When Cory saw the look on my face and heard the noise behind her she spun around and kicked outward.  Terri was fast though and danced back before the kick could do anymore than graze her stomach.

She laughed again and I knew she was crazy.  "So, you're the feisty little bitch that thinks she's good enough for my Chris.  Well you're not!  She's mine and when I take care of you, Ill prove it to her."

I was scared for Cory's life but all I could do was watch helplessly.  Cory tried to reason with her, I think for my sake.  She slowly moved forward with her hands held up in front of her, palms facing out.  "Come on Terri, you don't really want to do this.  Think of Chris, do you really think this is what she wants?"

Terri screamed, "I don't care what that little slut wants!  I knew she was cheating on me and now I'm going to end it."  She lunged forward and managed to slice Cory across her left forearm.  Cory just danced back and narrowed her eyes.  "Believe me Terri, you don't want to start something that I guarantee Ill finish.  Put the knife down and I won't hurt you."

My ex laughed, "Yeah right!  You and what army, little girl?"

Cory moved so fast, all I saw was a blur and I knew that Terri wasn't expecting in.  She kicked out and knocked the knife from Terri's hand before landing another in her stomach.  She then proceeded to pummel the woman until she lay moaning on the floor.  I could see my love standing over the fallen woman, trembling with barely controlled rage.  "You won't ever hurt her again or I swear Ill kill you!"  All I could do was whimper around the gag.  When she heard me she ran over to the bed and knelt beside me.  She stroked my hair and carefully removed the tape covering my mouth.  "It's ok Chris, everything's going to be ok."  It was all too much for me and once again the tears started to fall.

She went over and got the scissors off my dresser and cut the tape on my wrists and ankles.  As I gingerly started removing it from my skin I remembered the woman on the floor.  Cory was busy tying her up with the same tape she used on me; it was fitting I guess.  "Cory, we have to call the police."  I looked down at her and swallowed.  "Could you do it please?"

She stood and walked over to me and gently touched my cheek.  "Of course I will."  She had tears in her eyes when she saw the cut on my neck.  "I broke my promise Chris, I let her hurt you."

I grabbed her hand and kissed her palm.  "You didn't let her do anything Chris.  You saved my life and don't you ever forget it."  I pulled her down and kissed her for all I was worth trying to make her believe me.  When the kiss ended and she looked in to my eyes, I knew she saw the truth there.  "Now go on, make that call.  I don't want her near me any longer than she has to be."

She just gave me a little smile and said, "Alright, I'm going."  When she got to the doorway she turned around.  "I love you Chris, don't you ever forget it."

I smiled back at her. "Never."
 

The Ever After
 

     One month later found everyone safe and happy.  The only downer was that Terri had been sent to an institution under the insanity clause rather that be sentenced to prison where she belonged.  Oh well, I could always hope she became a candidate for electroshock therapy.  After all, another person couldn't possibly be more deserving.  Terri left us with a few small reminders of that Sunday.  Cory only received the small cut on her forearm and it didn't even need stitches.  I, on the other hand ended up with a concussion and more time off work.  It was time well spent with Cory though, so it was ok.

I was singing along to the radio on my way home from work.  It was Friday night and Cory said she would have a surprise for me when I got home.  We'd been seeing each other the entire time and I knew she was 'the one'.  We didn't want to rush things so we slept alone throughout the week.  Friday, Saturday and Sundays we took turns staying at each other's apartments.  Like they were that far away from each other.  Cory had been hinting that someday she would like to remodel the house back into a single unit.  I guess she had it made into two separate apartments when her brother died because it was just to big for her and it gave her extra income to play with.  I wasn't really sure what to think about her idea.  I mean after all the running I'd done in my life I think I finally found someone I wanted to make a permanent commitment to.  I was just a little bit insecure though; worried that Cory wasn't ready for such a big step.  When I pulled into the driveway I saw Cory's Jimmy in its parking space and smiled.  I grabbed my lunch box and ran up the steps to my apartment.  When I was walking through the kitchen I saw a note on the table.

Chris,

 Don't forget about your surprise tonight.  Go ahead and grab your shower then come down stairs.

Love,
Cory

I smiled at the note.  She was so thoughtful and caring sometimes that it amazed me that I'd ever found someone like her.  I put my lunchbox away before heading into the bathroom and stripping out of my clothes.  I had just gotten under the hot water when I felt a cold draft from the bathroom door opening.  For a second, fear coursed through me but it immediately disappeared when I heard Cory's voice.  The incident with Terri still shook me up a bit but I was getting better.

"Chris?"

"Yeah, Cor?"  She didn't answer so I wasn't sure what she wanted.  I had just closed my eyes and stuck my head under the spray when I felt a pair of strong arms encircle my waist.  At first I jumped then I moaned when I felt her muscular body pressed up against me.  My breath caught in my throat when I felt her hands begin to wander.  "Co...Cory, what are you doing?"

I felt my knees go weak when she licked along my spine and said, "What's the matter, don't you like it?"

I moaned again when I felt her hands move up to caress my breasts.  "God yes!"

 By now I was really turned on, no one had ever been able to get me this hot as fast as Cory could.  I was surprised at my own reaction this time though, I was still dealing with my modesty issues and until now, had balked at bathroom encounters or anything well lit for that matter.

I was rapidly getting lost in the sensations but was still able to move my hands back to her hips and pull her against me even harder.  By the time she started to grind into me I was practically whimpering.  Her hands continued their sweet exploration and I was helpless with desire.  I leaned my head back against the top of her shoulder and she whispered seductively in my ear.

"I love the way your body feels against mine Chris.  I love the feel and taste of you and the little whimpering sound you make when I'm loving you."

I couldn't take it any more, I had to turn around and see her.  With extreme effort and will power I stilled her hands and moved them away from my body.  I slowly turned around in her embrace and we both moaned at the feeling of our wet bodies sliding against each other.  By now I was so turned on that I didn't care anymore that I was naked.  I stepped back and looked down at her gorgeous body.  Licking my lips I whispered, "I want you Cory."

Smoldering green eyes looked up at me with desire and we stepped together once again.  When our lips met in a sensuous caress I felt like I'd come home.  I knew this was where I belonged for the rest of my life and all I could do was hope she felt the same way.  When I slowly pulled away from the kiss it was Cory who whimpered.  Time seemed to stand still while we were under the healing spray of hot water.  We continued back and forth in our loving ministrations, both giving and receiving pleasure.  In the end, we went over the edge together, collapsing into the bottom of the tub.  I gently pulled her on top of me and whispered my love into her ear while our breathing slowed. "I love you Cory, Ill always love you.  You're my life now and the center of my happiness."

Sated green eyes looked at me. "I love you too Chris and Ill always be here for you."  She chuckled, "I don't think I can move but we have to get out of this shower before the water gets cold."  She slowly stood up on wobbly legs and reached for my hand to pull me up.  "Come on, let's get finished here.  I've still got a surprise waiting downstairs."

I grinned at her, "Oh, I don't know... I kind of liked the one I just got."

She shook her head ruefully and swatted me on the butt.  "That didn't go at all the way I planned.  I was supposed to seduce you, not have us seduce each other."

I caressed her cheek and kissed her softly on the lips.  "There's nothing wrong with seducing each other Cor.   We're partners in this, where you go, I go."

She smiled, "Sometimes I just like to take turns leading the dance."  I felt my desire start to rekindle when she winked at me and said, "And next time it'll be my turn."  I groaned and licked my lips.  It was a good thing the shower was getting cold because I'm definitely going to need it.

We managed to finish the shower and I was amazed how at ease I felt now around Cory.  It was like that one act of intimacy in the shower opened up a side of me that I didn't even know I had.  I didn't feel quite as shy and awkward standing in front of her while I was getting dressed.  Any lingering doubts I may have had concerning Cory's appreciation of my body were washed away by the smoldering looks she was giving me.  By the way my body was responding to the heat of her gaze, I'm really not sure how we ever made it back down to her apartment.

When we got downstairs she led me to the living room and and sat me down on the couch before looking at me and smiling.  "Wait here for a minute, Ill be right back."

Of course I was going to lean back against the couch like the patient little girl that I was, not!  I got up and prowled around the living room, trying to figure out what she had planned.  I suddenly realized how hungry I was and hoped her surprise had something to do with dinner.  Cory came back out a few minutes later with a huge grin on her face and a handkerchief in her hand.  "Ok, all set."

I looked down at the handkerchief suspiciously.  "What's that for?"

She smirked, "You're going to wear it."

I raised my eyebrow; I learned that trick from my cousin.  "I am?"

The little imp kept smirking; the eyebrow didn't even faze her. "Yup, or else you don't get your surprise."

I sighed, I knew when I'd been beat.  "Alright, let's get it over with."  When she came over to put on the blindfold I mumbled under my breath, "This better have something to do with food, I'm starving!"

She chuckled, "You'll see!"

When she walked me through the door into the dining room, the first thing that hit me was the smell of food.  Ooh, goody!  I took a long, appreciative sniff. "Hmm... Chinese.  Ok, can I take off the blindfold now?"

She laughed, "You're so impatient!  Ok, hold still."  She reached up to remove the blindfold but before she untied it she caressed my cheek with the palm of her hand.  I felt her lean in close and kiss me before finally taking it off.  It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust but when they did I was speechless.  She had set the dining room table for a romantic dinner for two.  She had candles lit around the room in wall sconces and two sitting in the middle of the table.  Our seats were across the corner of the table from each other and she had Sarah McLachlan playing softly on the CD player in the corner.

I turned to her amazed.  "You did all this for me?"

She smiled. "Yeah, I wanted to do something special and romantic."

I grabbed her hands and brought them to my mouth, lightly kissing her fingers. "Thank you."  Then I grinned at her, "Can we eat now?"

She laughed, "You'd think you're the one with the bottomless stomach!"  She walked over and pulled out a chair for me.  She can be so romantic when she wants to be.

I walked over but before I sat down I winked at her.  "Yeah well, since I met you my appetite has increased by leaps and bounds.  I just can't seem to get enough."  Hah, got her again!  My little imp is blushing; what's good for the goose is good for the gander.  Now where did that come from?  I mentally shook my head and looked at the selection in front of me; my mouth was already starting to water.  She had all my favorites mixed with her own and it provided a nice balance.  It was almost like she was creating a tribute to the way we complimented each other as a couple.  We'd only had Chinese a few times in the last month so she must have called Shannon to find out everything I liked.  I looked at all the food in front of me and sighed.  "I don't even know where to begin."

She stood and picked up my plate. "That's what I'm here for, just think of me as your waiter for the night."  She proceeded to put a little of everything on my plate then sat it in front of me.  "Now, what would you like to drink?"

I looked at the romantic setting in front of me and knew my request would be foolish.  I mean really, who drinks milk when they're eating a candlelit dinner for two?  "Ill just have whatever you're having."

She smiled at me, "Ill be right back."

When she disappeared into the kitchen I couldn't help but wonder what she was up to.  We'd been seeing each other for a month but I knew it wasn't that.  We both agreed that we weren't going to celebrate stupid things like one-month anniversaries.  My curious musings were cut short when she returned carrying two cobalt blue wine glasses.  When she sat them down on the table I realized they were both full of milk.  I looked up at loving green eyes.  "You know me so well, don't you?"

She looked at me seriously for a second and said, "I'd like to think so."

I smiled at her, "Oh you do, trust me.  We've shared so much with each other over the last month that I don't think anyone knows me as well as you do, including Shannon."

She winked at me, "That's good to know.  Now come on, let's eat before the food gets cold."
 
 

    Dinner was excellent; I don't think I've ever had so many different Chinese dishes in one sitting.  She even had homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for desert.  This actually surprised me; I just never quite pictured her as a baker.  "You never told me you baked!"  I managed to mumble around my second heavenly bite of cake.  Yeah, talking with my mouth full was bad manners, so what.  It tasted so good I didn't care about manners; I was ready to make a pig of myself.

She grinned at me after washing down her own bite with a swallow of milk.  "Yeah well, I wanted to surprise you."

All I could do was keep eating, occasionally moaning my pleasure.  So sue me, it was the best carrot cake I've ever had but best of all it was made by my little green eyed imp.  I think I finally found a winner in the girlfriend department.  I still shudder when I think about Terri but I make myself feel better by imagining her wrapped in a straight jacket, watching Loony Tunes on a little black and white TV.  One could dream, right?

When I was done eating I tried to help her clear the table but she wouldn't let me.  "No, you just sit right there and let me get everything cleaned up.  Let me just put this stuff in the dishwasher then Ill be right back."

Now I knew something was up so I just sat in my chair and fidgeted.  I was kind of worried; why was I getting the royal treatment?  My insecurities kept whispering to me that she was getting ready to dump me but I knew Cory, and she wouldn't do that.  Five minutes later she came back into the dining room and knelt down in front of me.  When I saw a little box in her hand I suddenly got a clue.  My heart started racing and those damned butterflies had taken over my entire body.  She sat the box down on the floor and took my hands into hers.  I knew she was nervous as soon as she touched me; I don't know whose hands were shaking more, hers or mine. She looked up at me with shining green eyes and cleared her throat.

"Chris, since the death of my family I never really gave much thought to my life and what I wanted out of it.  I never really thought about being alone.  About a year ago I finally realized how empty my life was but didn't know why.  Six months ago I realized how empty my heart was but didn't know why."  She kissed my hands and I saw tears in her eyes.  "Chris, a month ago I finally figured out why.  When you came into my life I felt complete and I never want to lose that feeling for as long as I live."  When she let go of my hands and reached down for the box, I felt a lump form in my throat and knew I had tears in my eyes too.  She opened the box and took out a delicately engraved gold band with a pair of inset diamonds.  "Chris, you have gained a permanent place in my heart and now I want you to have a permanent place in my life.  This ring belonged to my mother and I want you to have it, knowing you'll always have my love."

I didn't know what to say.  She was waiting expectantly for some sort of answer but I could only sit there stunned.  Now is the time that the urge to flee would normally be rearing its ugly head but that urge disappeared a month ago.  I looked down into pools of love and devotion and knew I'd never go anywhere.  Through my tears, I managed to nod my head and say, "Yes."  When she finished sliding the ring on my finger I grabbed her and pulled her into my arms.  We both held on as tight as we could until I pulled back to look deep into her eyes. "I love you so much Cory, I'll never go anywhere.  You're my heart, my soul and my future."  When my lips touched hers I tried to convey every emotion that was coursing through me.  Through that small connection, I tried to show her everything I am, and all that we could be together.

When we finally pulled apart for air Cory grinned at me and stood up. She held out her hand and said, "We're in this together; we'll hold each other's futures.  When I let her pull me to my feet she chuckled and I got that familiar head tilt.

I looked down at her and wrinkled my brow.  "What?"

She smirked and said, "Kind of gives new meaning to the saying 'Love Thy Neighbor', doesn't it?"

I laughed and swatted her on the arm.  "Somehow I don't think that's what they meant."  Then I grabbed her hand and we walked out of the dining room, and into whatever our future together might hold.
 
 

The End
11/12/00
 
 

    Any comments, questions, gripes or suggestions can be sent to nikita@netonecom.net.  I hope everyone enjoyed my latest attempt at short fiction.  Sorry folks, this is a single story and there will be no sequels.  Now that I've finished with this one I can work on one of the others I've got started.  I can only go where my muse leads me; hopefully it'll be in the right direction.

Kelly


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