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1049 Club
Kim Pritekel

Part 15

Dark eyes blinked open, then blinked several more times before the light of day shone in through the large window that led out to the fire escape. Mia turned to her back, looking around the tiny, cramped room of her mother. The bed next to her was empty, the covers pulled up neatly. Beyond the closed bedroom door, she could hear humming, and smell the unmistakable scent of Italian sausage frying and coffee brewing. The girl's stomach began to growl, as if on cue.

Gloria was light on her feet, her chest seeming filled to the breaking point with the greatest joy: her little girl was alive! She happily slaved in front of the stove, working back and forth between the sausage, breakfast potatoes and Mia's favorite- pancakes.

She had slept beside her daughter the night before because she was not about to let the girl out of her sight! She woke up every two hours, making sure Mia was actually there, touching her face and hair, before falling back into a restful sleep. The dark-eyed woman wasn't sure what to do as for space now that Lizbeth was in Mia's room. She'd be more than happy to figure it out. Her baby was alive!

"Look at that smile upon your face," Lizbeth Vinzetti teased, walking into the tiny kitchen. Gloria couldn't help but beam at her grandmother with a nod.

"I've never felt so happy in all my life."

"I am glad for you, child." The older woman placed a gentle kiss to Gloria's cheek and a pat to her arm. She was amazed to see her granddaughter that morning. It looked as though twenty years had melted off her overnight, her dark eyes sparkling and filled with life that had been missing for far too long. The day Mia had disappeared had been the day that a part of Gloria Vinzetti had died along with her. But alas, she was alive and well once more, and Lizbeth's heart no longer feared for her beloved Gloria. "I will move in with your cousin, Joseph," she said absently, uncovering the sausage and looking inside, making sure Gloria wasn't burning the patties.

"What?" Gloria blurted in English, shocked. She continued in Italian. "No, Nonna. Why would you do that?"

"Because you and Mia need time to reconnect, Gloria. She has been gone too long."


"Besides," Lizbeth said with a soft smile, placing a dry hand on Gloria's cheek. "There is no room."

"We'll make it work, Nonna. I want you here. I'll worry too much about you if you go back to Milano."

"No, child. You need to focus on Mia now. I am fine."

"Fine with what?" Mia asked, wandering into the kitchen, her stomach making its hunger known more and more with every step she took.

Gloria turned at the sound of the girl's voice, the conversation forgotten as she smiled, big and bright, opening her arms, which Mia quickly stepped into.

"Are you hungry, sweetie?" Gloria asked, nose buried in her daughter's hair. She felt Mia nod, then slowly pulled away, leaving a soft kiss to the girl's forehead. She began to serve up food as Mia gave her great-grandmother an equally warm hug. "Did you sleep well?" Gloria asked, handing Mia a plate, filled with every delight the girl could want. Her eyes got huge as she headed over to the small table tucked into the corner.

"Yeah. My body isn't real sure what to think of the change in sleep accommodations." She grinned. "It's used to the ground and a thin layer of leaves."

Gloria smiled weakly, hiding the unexpected pang that sent to her heart. She sat across from her daughter. "Someday I'd like to know what you experienced there, Mia. Will you tell me?"

The girl nodded enthusiastically. "Definitely." She grew silent as she began to eat her breakfast. It surprised her just how lost she felt without her island family, even though her own mother sat quietly talking to her great-grandmother, not three feet away. Mia glanced up, watching the two women for a moment, unable to keep images of Dean, Denny, Michael, Rachel and Pam from her mind's eye. She saw the six of them sitting around the morning fire, eating fish or bananas and cocoanuts, Dean and Michael bickering or Denny and Rachel lost in deep conversation. She had grown to love and respect each of them for their own unique gifts and personalities they'd brought to the mix. It was amazing how much Mia had learned, just how little the pettiness of the world mattered when everyday was a venture to survive.

Mia thought about some of her friends at school, and her boyfriend Abe. How simple their problems seemed to her now: pimples, dating and boys. What one girl was saying about another girl. Who was going to make the cheerleading squad that summer. Who cares? In the scheme of things, none of that mattered.

"What are you thinking about over there, looking all serious." Gloria chewed on a mouthful of pancakes as she awaited her daughter's response.

"Oh," Mia shook herself out of her reverie. "Nothing. Just thinking."


Will's brows were drawn as he entered the loft, nearly run over by Marguerite, the housekeeper muttering something in her native Cuban as she stormed past. He thought it was something about a crazy white boy. Deeper into the loft was loud tango music, topped by Dean's wonderful singing voice, singing in Spanish.

"Dean?" Will called out, setting his briefcase down next to the entry table and shrugging out of his Prada suit jacket.

"In here, my poco gatito del sexo!"

Will chuckled, though leery. Over the week Dean had been home, he had no idea what to expect each time he walked through the door. Never in all the years they'd been together had the attorney been so free with himself, truly living life each moment. Today was no exception.

"Honey, why did the doorman look at me like I was nuts, and Marguerite look like she was being chased by …" the architect's words faltered, eyes turning huge; Dean was bare-chested, a brightly colored sarong tied around his waist, and his bare feet padding around the Mexican tile in the kitchen.
"a pack of raving banshees. Okay, Dean, why the hell are you wearing a skirt and squashing berries with a dildo?"

"Ah, the misguided," Dean murmured against his partner's lips. "And all these years I thought these things only had one purpose." He held up the purple toy, the tip stained a darker purple from berry juice. Turning back to the counter and the meal he was preparing, he continued. "This is a sarong, my love, and they're amazingly comfortable. You should try one."

"I'll pass," he said into Dean's neck, hugging him from behind. "Mm, you smell good."

"Yeah? Just wait until you smell my berry tart, which will be cooking in five minutes."

"Did Martha Stewart come visit while I was gone?" Will uncapped a bottled water, taking a healthy swig before passing it onto Dean.

"Nope," the attorney said, passing it back after his own drink. "I always wanted to try this, so decided to. Get comfortable, baby, cause I've got plans for you later." He grinned saucily over his shoulder, filling the little tin pans he'd already pressed the dough into with the berry mixture. With another kiss, Will sauntered out of the room to shower and change. Left alone, Dean began to think.

Dean's old job at Wheeler & Ferrell was long gone, and he was fine with that, in all honesty. The thought of going back to an office filled with stuffy, pompous assholes, which he, himself had fit in quite well with at one time, left him cold and feeling empty. Something inside had changed, almost like it had broken. Looking around the ostentatious surroundings of his neighborhood made him sad, wondering if people understood just how useless all the money in the world was if there was nowhere to spend it, no one to love, and no love in return.

The Island Six. That had been a love and a truth that Dean wished upon ever one of those stuffy bastards who welcomed him back to his face, yet knew they were snickering behind his back. He had never realized just how pretentious their world was until he escaped it.

"So, why exactly are you using Big Purple to kill the berries?" Will asked, startling Dean out of his thoughts.

"You see the way it bounces?" the attorney asked, demonstrating. At Will's nod, he continued. "it gives just the right amount of bang but bounced before the berries are totally crushed."

"Please tell me you didn't learn this on Martha?"

"Nope. You hungry?"

"Famished." Will began to walk toward the dining room, confused when all he saw was a beautiful polished table, ready to seat eight.

"Not here," Dean said in his ear from behind. "Follow me."

More confused than ever, Will followed Dean out the front door and toward the staircase at the back of the hall, which he'd never used before. Taking Dean's hand, he allowed himself to be led up the dark, dingy staircase until they reached a solid-looking metal door. Dean produced a key and turned it in the lock, the door squeaking open. The warm, late afternoon air me them as they stepped out onto a tar-covered roof, the Manhattan skyline all around them.

"I think you've lost your mind," Will muttered, brows drawing as he was led around a small grove of skylights, then a chimney, and finally to an island paradise a la New York.

"I'm not surprised that Eddie looked at you like you were nuts. Who do you think I put in charge of finding someone to bucket in all this sand?" Dean grinned, reclining back on his hands in the middle of the scene he'd manufactured for their dinner. Thick, soft sand covered ten feet of the roof, a beach umbrella sticking out of it and a folded blanket, ready to be spread out, a single red rose resting atop it. The attorney grabbed it, placing it between his teeth and rising to his knees, reaching for Will's hand.

"What has gotten into you?" Will chuckled, falling to his knees, and accepting the flower, as well as a kiss.

"Can't a man show the one he loves just how much he loves him?"

"Of course, but, before-"

"Shhhh," Dean whispered, bringing a hand up to silence Will. "Before doesn't matter. That was then, this is now. I've learned a lot over the past year and months, Will. I never knew what was important, or what was right in front of me. I'll never make that mistake again."

Will studied Dean's eyes, seeing the honesty within. He shook his head, speechless. "I love you."

"I love you, too. You stay here while I serve dinner." A quick kiss and Dean was gone, leaving a bewildered architect sitting in the sand.

Will sat on the roof, staring up into the sky, a content smile on his face. His Dean was home. It was still a miracle to him every time he opened his eyes in the morning to see hazel eyes twinkling back at him. For so long Will had cursed the world and all happiness in it for taking his life from him. He'd been merely existing over the past year and some months. But now, Dean was back, and the world was right again.

Even so, Will could see changes in the attorney, things that shocked, and sometimes, delighted him. Most of all, they baffled him. Things Dean never bothered with before were now interesting and new to him. For instance, they were in Central Park two days ago, and Dean had stopped them with a hand to Will's arm.

"Look at that," the attorney breathed, pointing up into the trees. Will had looked, following Dean's finger, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing spectacular enough to stop their stroll.


"Look! The way the sun comes in through the leaves of that tree. Beautiful, isn't it?"

All Will could do was shake his head and continue walking. And this rooftop picnic, homemade food and romance. Another thing Dean had been woefully lacking in their years together. Long ago Will had realized and accepted Dean for the way he was, no longer expecting or hoping for some grand gesture. Now, it seemed Dean couldn't do enough for the architect, and Will was eating it up.

"What are you thinking about, sweetie?" Dean asked, setting down the basket he'd packed to make carrying their food up to the roof easier.

"Nothing," Will said with a smile and shake of his head. "Absolutely nothing."


Hannah turned over with a soft moan, not ready to face another day, but duty called. Or was that her alarm clock? With a slap of her palm, thee annoying beeping was reduced to chirping birds outside the window. Blinking rapidly, Hannah awoke enough to realize that she was alone.

"Denny?" The bedroom was empty, as well as the attached bathroom. "Sweetie?" The researcher's feet hit the floor with a thud, then she pushed herself from the mattress. "Denny?"

"Yeah?" the brunette stepped from around the corner, standing in the doorway to the bedroom.

"Why are you up so early?" Hannah walked over to her partner, taking her in a firm morning hug, placing a soft kiss on her lips. Denny was responsive, kissing her in return, then surprising Hannah by deepening the kiss.

With a happy sigh, Hannah wrapped her arms up around Denny's neck, pulling her closer, reveling in her touch, which had been non-existent in the week since the brunette's return. She had been aloof and somewhat distant. Hannah figured she just needed time to readjust to real life again. Maybe the famine was over and they had weathered the storm.

Denny reached her hands down, cupping Hannah's boxer-clad butt, pulling her closer, trying to lose herself in Hannah's familiar taste and feel. As hard as she tried, as much as her body was responding, she couldn't shake one thought from her head: this is wrong.

"What's the matter?" Hannah panted as Denny abruptly pulled away.

"Uh, nothing. I'm sorry. Guess I just need a little more time." Denny turned away, ashamed and confused. "I've got coffee ready," she threw over her shoulder as she left the bedroom. Hannah leaned against the wall, her chest still heaving, her body on fire. She was trying to shake off the sudden sting of tears that lingered behind her eyelids.

Denny closed her eyes as she leaned against the counter. The past week had been such a roller coaster, filled with emotions and feelings that she wasn't sure how to deal with. It hurt like hell that her coffee shop was gone; if nothing else, while she tried to deal with her feelings and confusion toward Hannah, she would've at least been able to lose herself in her business.

Two days ago Hannah had showed the brunette where all of her belongings had been packed into six boxes and stored in the garage. Denny hadn't had the heart to go through it yet, so it had all stayed where it was. Maybe she'd go through it today, once Hannah had gone to work.

Deciding she needed to do something to make up for hurting Hannah just now, as she knew she had, the brunette began to make breakfast, trying to hurry and have it done by time the water of the shower stopped.

"Oh, thank you, baby," Hannah beamed, admiring the bounty that had appeared while she readied for work. Denny smiled shyly, putting the finishing touches on the table with folded napkins.

"Figured you might want something good to eat to start your day."

Hannah nodded, remembering a time when they had made a choice of food or making love before work. Denny proved to be most amorous in the mornings, so Hannah often stopped at the café down the street from her office for a muffin, nearly running to clock in on time.

"Thanks, baby. That was thoughtful." She smeared a generous spoonful of jelly on her waffle, then squirted some Reddi Whip on top, glad Denny remembered how she liked them. "So what are you going to do today?"

Denny shrugged, playing with a link of sausage. "I may just wander around town for a bit. Maybe do some cleaning."

Hannah's' first instinct was to be offended by the cleaning comment, taking it to heart knowing her cluttered nature was often a point of contention between them, but then she remembered cleaning was something Denny enjoyed, and often did when she had something on her mind. That thought was even more disturbing. For a moment she almost wished it were a slight of her housekeeping abilities.

"Sounds good. Al offered to give me a half day off today." She eyed the woman across the table from her. "What do you think? Maybe we could do something? Get you caught up on what's been happening in good ol' Buffalo?" Why was she so damn nervous?

"Oh, uh, yeah. That would be good. Okay." Denny only half heard what the researcher said, mind a million miles away. It seemed she couldn't hold a single thought for more than a few moments at a time, and even when something stuck, it was quickly eclipsed by something else.



Hannah paused, unsure of what her question was. The brunette's name had just slipped off her tongue. Apparently her mind was more focused than her mouth. "Is," she stopped herself, sipping from her coffee to decide if she wanted to complete the question that had finally materialized.


"Well, during the crash, I mean, were you hurt?" Coward. Hannah couldn't understand the radical change in Denny's behavior and the thought had occurred on more than one occasion that perhaps Denny had hit her head or suffered some sort of head injury that was totally throwing her personality off whack. Or maybe she was just overwhelmed. Either way, Hannah felt ashamed of the thoughts as soon as they had entered her brain. All the same, they plagued her.

"A few scratches. Bruises. Dislocated my shoulder." Denny winced at the memory of Pam setting it for her. It still ached from time to time.


"Yeah. There was this woman, Pam, she's a veterinarian. She set it for me, and damn," the brunette shook her head at the memory. "Hurt like nothing else." She adjusted the wounded arm for good measure.

"I bet. I'm sorry you were hurt, honey."

"Eh," Denny shrugged. "that was nothing next to what could have happened. All of us were extremely lucky."

"Yeah. Did you all get along? Six of you, right"

"Yeah. And at first, no," she cracked a grin, finally cutting the sausage link into three bite-sized pieces, a comfort washing over her as she settled into thoughts of her island family. "We had our moments of fighting like cats and dogs, a few miss-matched personalities But, overall, it wasn't that bad. We formed a family, I guess. It helped get through it, I think."

Hannah listened, hanging on every single precious word, which she'd heard so few of over the past days. She leaned her chin on her palm as she was regaled with a few choice tales, outright guffawing at the attorney, Dean, and his beloved loafers, worn till the end.

"Oh, but the best part was this dildo we found in a suitcase-"

"Oh, shit!' Hannah interrupted, shoving back from the table after glancing at the clock on the wall. "Honey, I'm sorry, but I've got to go. Shit. I'm late." She placed a harried kiss on Denny's lips then gathered her purse and car keys. "We'll finish this conversation when I get home. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure." Denny smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. She watched Hannah rush out the door in a whirlwind of perfume and freshly laundered clothing. Denny marveled at how her sense of smell seemed to have improved during her isolation. Certain smells, wonderful smells- perfume, flowers, candles, all invaded her olfactory senses, sending delicious messages to her brain, making her eyes close and a smile spread. She imagined it spawned from far too many months of unwashed bodies invading her senses.

Sighing heavily, she began to clean up their breakfast dishes.


The same trees lined the street, the same houses and people living in them. Rachel watched a world pass by the held so much familiarity, yet was an absolute mystery to her now. She no longer understood the dynamics the world had put on man and wife, and baby makes three. It was a foreign concept, and something she no longer cared about.

In the time she'd spent with Reenie in New York, she'd kept to herself, trying desperately to refocus her mind and energies into what she knew lie ahead- getting herself reestablished in her life and career. It had been mental gymnastics to keep her thoughts from veering off track, images and memories of Denny never far away.

The meeting with her publisher had gone well, though their every move had been dogged by media, which had nearly turned the blonde's editor into an alcoholic just to settle her nerves. Before the crash, Rachel had been under a newly signed, five book deal, but had only delivered on two, so the other three had been null and void. Her publisher had been good enough to not only not demand the advance from the original contract, but to allot her another smaller amount when the contract was reinstated. The author had been grateful, because once in the real world, she had been shocked to find out she was virtually penniless.

Reenie had told her all about the 1049 Club that she and Matt had established, along with the help of many of the other family and friends of victims of the crash, including Dean's partner, Will. She had been awed by her friend's generosity, even if it was with her money. It was all material, and when it boiled down to it, it was all earth-bound anyway.

"Are you ready for this?" Reenie asked, expertly steering the rental car into Matt and Rachel's driveway. The blonde nodded, taking a deep breath.

"As I'll ever be."

"I'm going to head to the hotel and work on some second edits, give you guys some time alone. Call when you're ready, okay?"

Again the blonde nodded. With a quick hug of gratitude, she climbed out of the car, watching nervously as her husband hurried out onto the porch, then to the driveway, sweeping her up in relieved arms.

Matt had agonized over what to do since he'd spoken with his wife on the phone two days before. He had no idea what the proper etiquette for something like this was, nor what he was supposed to do. Did he break up with his girlfriend and leave the life he'd made for himself, returning to a cold marriage simply out of duty and honor? Did he tell Rachel he was thrilled she was okay, but their life together had ended the day he thought hers had? Gaining no more insight than he had before hearing Rachel's voice, Matt had decided to just let things happen as they would. He'd see her, which he truly was happy about, wanting to make sure she was okay, and alive. And she was. Very much alive.

"Wow, what a crazy dream, huh?" he said, pulling away just enough to look into the beautiful green eyes that had first snagged his attention. Well, that is after he'd stared at her ass for ten minutes.

"Yeah. You can say that again." Rachel smiled, her nerves easing somewhat at the familiarity of Matt, the same face, same color of hair, though it was shorter and neatly styled. She also noted the clean-shaven face, and neatly trimmed sideburns. "You look really good."

"You, too. I can't get over how long your hair is. I've never seen it like this before."

"I don't have the heart to cut it," she said shyly. The detective smiled, then led her inside. "I'm sorry it's messy. I've been working a lot of overtime since coming back from my vacation." Matt grimaced, wanting to take the words back as soon as they were out of his mouth. He didn't want to have to answer questions he, himself didn't quite have the answers to. To her credit, Rachel didn't ask for specifics.

Rachel looked around the house she had shared with the man standing expectantly next to her. It looked the same, not much changing. Messier, but that was about it.

"How are you?" Matt's voice startled her. She turned, nodding nonchalantly.


He wasn't buying it. "I mean, how are you really?"

Rachel couldn't avoid the direct, detective-interrogating-look she was receiving, and chuckled at herself, knowing better than to try. With a sigh, she ran a hand down the length of her ponytail. "I'm coping. That's about the best I can say right now."

Matt understood. From all the disastrous situations he'd seen over the ears, he wouldn't be one bit surprised if post-traumatic stress syndrome followed at some point. "Let's sit down."

"Alright." Rachel did, Matt sitting next to her. "Listen, Matt, um," she looked down at her fumbling hands in her lap, her left hand decidedly bare. The ring hadn't survived the crash. Matt's gaze were drawn to the movement, also noting the missing jewelry. "I think we need to talk. About us." Finally garnering the courage to meet his gaze, Rachel was surprised to see relief there.

"I agree. But can I please say something?"


Matt rubbed his sweating palms over the thighs of his jeans, swallowing hard, not wanting to bring up such a painful day. "About what happened, before you left. I'm so sorry, Rachel. I don't know what I was thinking, I never meant to hurt-"

"Yes you did." She held up a hand to forestall an argument. "It's okay, Matt. We were pretty miserable, and I've had a lot of time to think about my part in that. It was wrong, yes, but it's forgiven. You did me a favor, really."

"A favor?" His relief was momentarily washed away by the sting of pride at what he sensed was coming.

"Yes, a favor. Look at you." She placed a hand on the side of his face, smelling the shaving cologne on his skin. "You look so good, better than I've seen you look in years. You're obviously happy, have made a life for yourself- without me." Again, Matt's mouth opened to protest. This time Rachel placed two fingers over his lips. "It's okay," she said softly. "On that island, I came to realize that it wasn't working, and it was time to more on. For both of us. I think you've done that."

After a moment of looking down at his fingers play with the silver band of his wristwatch, Matt nodded. "Yeah. I have. But I want you to know, thinking you were dead, it hurt like hell, Rachel. Especially knowing that you were on that flight because of my own stupidity."

Rachel couldn't argue with that fact, so didn't try. "I still care about you, Matt. Very much. I want to see your happiness, and the best way I know how is by giving you your complete freedom- no guilt, no worries, no hurt feelings."

"You're asking for a divorce?" he asked, voice somewhat thick as his throat constricted. Matt was surprised by his reaction to the news, though knew deep inside it was the only answer, and was in awe of Rachel's strength and grace in granting it to him. Still, he loved her, and once had so many hopes for them.

"Under the circumstances, I think it's the only way. That is, if the state still even sees us as married. I'm not sure how that works, considering they think you're a widower."

Matt nodding, weakly returning the small smile from the blonde. "You're sure about this?"

Rachel looked at him, surprised by the pain in his eyes. Taking his hand, she held it between both of hers, surprising him. He couldn't remember the last time the blonde had initiated any sort of physical touch with him, even in the most innocent of contexts. "Don't you, Matt?"

The detective sighed, then slowly nodded. "Yeah. It's been on my mind since I found out you were alive, to be honest. I guess thinking about it and talking about are two very different things."

"They are," Rachel agreed. She caressed the back of his and with her thumb. "I think it's for the best."

"Is this," he cleared his throat and tried again, "Is this because of-"

"No." Rachel shook her head. "It certainly wasn't fun, what happened with that woman, but no. It would have happened anyway, I think."

Matt blew out a breath, nodding. "I think you're right." He looked at her, almost like he was memorizing her face, wondering how they'd gotten from that first, electrified glance to sitting on the couch, Rachel basically back from the dead, talking about divorce. "Well, uh, I can be outta here-"

"No." Rachel shook her head. "This is your home, Matt. Besides, I honestly have no idea where I'm going to land right now. I'm still just," she shrugged, looking around the living room, unsure exactly what she was trying to say. "trying to figure things out." It was lame, but the best she could come up with. She still wasn't entirely sure what she meant. Matt didn't fully understand, but from the look on the blonde's face, knew she didn't either.

"If you need to talk, Rach, I'm here. Okay?"

"Thank you. I appreciate that."


"Now, I sure hope you didn't get sea sick on that float this mornin'," Jake Bradshaw's chuckle echoing over the crowd from the giant speakers. He grinned at the guest of honor, Michael looking decidedly shy and uncomfortable standing on the small stage next to the mayor. Jake looked at him expectantly, wanting him to play along with the little joke.

"Uh, no, I'm fine."

The mayor smiled at the gathered crowd, an amazingly large percentage of the population of well over one hundred thousand, turning up to celebrate their local hero.

"The town of Beaumont would like to give you this, Michael, the key to our city." He handed the mechanic a plaque with a giant brass key affixed, as well as his name engraved into a plate beneath it. Michael took it, holding it and a smile along with the mayor, while hundreds of flashbulbs went off. The crowd cheered as he took it from Jake Bradshaw, looking at it in wonderment.

"I really gotta say, I'm shocked. Didn't think I'd done nothin' big enough for y'all to wanna give me somethin' like this," he said, running a hand over the sooth, cool surface of the key. "Can't say I've ever seen a lock big enough for the key, here, neither." This earned him a round of laughter. "Thank y'all. I'm touched. I can't accept this without this belongin' to my wife, Melissa, too. I'd like to ask for a moment of silence for her right quick."

"Everyone, if we could have a moment of silence," the mayor said, his voice low and dramatic. The music from the high school band stopped, everyone falling to absolute quiet.

Melissa, baby, wherever you are, I love you.

After a moment, the mayor raised his hands, indicating festivities should continue.

The parade had been a huge hit, local businesses donating their time and creative efforts to make fun floats, as well as one for Michael and his family to ride on, as they made their slow way through the center of town. Even Walter and Meredith had gotten into the fun, waving and throwing candy from the large bags given to them before the parade had started on its way, pouring into the Burleson County Fairgrounds, where a carnival had been set up over night. Music, food to rot your teeth, and fun awaited the crowd as Michael and Mayor Bradshaw made their way off the stage, engulfed by a sea of well-wishers.

Jennifer stood back, at a loss for words, so proud of her father, yet so deeply sad that her mother couldn't be included in the celebration. Her dad had been home for almost two weeks, and she couldn't allow him out of her sight, a desperate need for him overtaking her. Sometimes she felt like a child, clingy and unsure. Luckily, her father seemed to have the same needs of his kids, always keeping her and Alan close. He had tried with Conrad, but he was still being obstinate and difficult. However, the other night she had caught him laughing at some of the stories their dad was telling the family over dinner, of his time on the island, and some of the Island Six. That guy, Dean, sounded like a hoot. She'd like to meet him someday, even though it sounded like he and her father couldn't be more polar opposites if they tried!

The games, rides and food was free for the Dupree-Adams family, everyone enjoying themselves, and allowing all the stresses and tension of the past year go. It had been a hard time, adjusting without Michael and Melissa, and then adjusting to a huge change yet again, when he resurfaced. It was a good day.


The garage was filled with old lumber from the shed that was built four years ago. The musty smell of dust-covered wood and grease filled Denny's nose. She picked her way past the spot where Hannah parked her car, to the back where she was told the boxes were stacked. Sure enough, under an old quilt, she found what was left of her life. Brushing a few spider webs out of the way, the brunette pulled the box cutter from her back pocket. Taking the first box she came to, she carefully slit the tape along the sides and top, pulling the flaps back. Underneath layers of wadded newspaper, she found a framed picture of the two of them during their trip to Kauai. Denny held it in her hands, looking closely at her own face, studying her eyes and the bright smile on her lips. Where had that light gone? The passion she'd felt for life at that time, where did it go? She had been so content and satisfied with her personal and professional life. Now, sitting in the dark, dank garage, she had never felt so lost or disheartened.

Turning her gaze to Hannah, she saw the love shining in her dark eyes, the happiness radiating off her. S he remembered the day that photo had been taken, the amazing time they'd had together, the way they laughed and truly enjoyed the other's company. What had changed? Why did Hannah feel like such a stranger now? Even her eyes were different. Yes, she was kind, understanding, and was being so very gentle with Denny through the brunette's return home, and readjustment. Yet, something was definitely off. True, it hadn't been very long, and it was an adjustment for both of them, not just Denny. Maybe she just needed to give it more time. Maybe it would all be okay in time.

Then why did Denny keep thinking about Rachel? She tried to keep the blonde out of her thoughts, knowing that what they had shared on the island was simply a product of their circumstances. They had each temporarily filled the void that had been left by the loss of their families and homes, all that was familiar and comforting. That was all, nothing more. If they met today, in the 'real' world, what they felt would soon dissolve into precious memories. So then why did Denny's heart ache so badly? And why was the void the blonde had filled on the island, still there once Denny had returned to her family and home?

Denny fell into the quilt, leaning against the boxes, a hand over her mouth. She stared out the raised garage door into the afternoon, not seeing the woman walking by with the Dalmatian on a leash, nor the souped up Accura that roared by.

She felt tears pepper her cheeks, tasting their saltiness as they slid down over the corner of her mouth.


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