For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Come visit me at: www.coloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
The street was quiet, the lunch rush not yet started. Denny knew the time of day well. It was when she and her crew were finally able to relax and breathe after the morning rush, as well as start new brewing rounds, and restock the pastry cases. Denny would often disappear into her office to get the ordering done, or paperwork.
Standing on the corner of Marsh and Clifton, Denny shoved her hands deep into the back pockets of her jeans and stared up at the corner building, its carved stone face and two big windows, where DiRisio's had been prominently displayed. Now that space was filled with the name of the current shop, some sort of bakery.
Denny's face slowly crumbled, her hands coming up to catch her head as it fell, tears streaming through her fingers.
Can you believe Halloween stuff is already out?
Pam chuckled, nodding, then signing her response: Must milk the general public for every penny as quickly as possible. One week before Halloween we'll be seeing Christmas trees.
Tracy grinned, picking up a heavy piece of orange foam, which looked startlingly realistic with its Jack-O lantern face carved into the ‘pumpkin'.
Very cute. Luke would love this, Tracy said, turning the prop over to look at the price tag. Pam tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention.
Wouldn't he enjoy carving a real one better? Her daughter studied her for a long moment, eyes twinkling with amused astonishment. What? I think it would be fun. Pam's grin was contagious as Tracy's face nearly split wide open. She quickly put the foam pumpkin down, heading away from the display with purpose. Pam wanted to pump her fist in the air in victory. The past month had its rough spots, Pam not sure what her place was in her daughter's house or her life. The younger woman had invited her mother to stay with them for as long as she liked, but it was an uneasy truce. Pam tried to keep her tongue in check, and not butt in on Tracy's parenting duties, which was tough sometimes. She was getting to know her grandson, and loved him dearly, but was beginning to realize he could be quite the pistol. She had to smirk as she realized he took after his grandma.
What are you grinning at?
Pam shook her head. "Nothing.
Tracy was quiet for awhile as they strolled down the aisles of the large discount store. She had been pleasantly surprised at how well things had gone since her mother had returned. In all honesty, inviting her to stay had largely been out of obligation. It had been a few weeks now, and though they'd had a couple brief arguments, she could tell that Pam was really trying, and she appreciated it greatly. And, to her shock, was enjoying the time with her mother. It was beginning to help rebuild some of the bridges that had been torched over the years.
Tracy thought about the way her son was responding to the new woman in his life. That alone was a large part of her change of heart toward the woman who had given birth to her almost twenty-eight years ago, and who she had thought of as a cold, heartless person for a long time. Something had happened to Dr. Pam Sloan on that island; it was evident in everything she did, and even in her eyes. They were softer, kinder, and filled with an interest and wonder that wasn't there before.
Pam was looking over their shopping list, so was unaware of the scrutiny she was being put under. The hand on her arm got her attention. She wanted to cry as she heard what her daughter had to say: I'm so glad you're here, Mom.
"So how has it been? Wonderful, no doubt. I just can't believe she's actually alive."
Hannah heard Jill's words, though took a sip from her drink so she wouldn't have to respond. Jill Burbank was a long-time friend of hers and Denny, the tall blonde eyeing Denny as she spoke softly with Jill's husband, Rod.
"How has catching up been? Has she told you what happened on that island?"
The researcher shook her head. "No. Not really. She's told me some, but," she shrugged. "nothing major. It's been… an adjustment."
Jill could hear something in Hannah's voice. She wasn't sure what exactly that ‘something' was, but it wasn't good. "Is everything okay?"
Hannah sighed, shaking her head as she, too watched Denny and Rod, in a heated discussion about something. Turning sad eyes to her tall friend, Hannah sighed again. "No."
Jill was shocked, as Denny and Hannah had always been the golden couple of their small circle of friends, the couple that everyone wanted to be like. After eight years, the woman were still so much in love, it had truly been an inspiration in Jill's own marriage. Setting her coffee down, Jill took Hannah by the hand and led her toward the door.
"Come on, come outside with me while I have a cigarette."
Hannah nodded, settling herself beside her friend on the front stoop. The researcher looked up into the night sky, seeing a few twinkling stars.
"The weather is going to be changing soon," Jill said conversationally as she pulled a smoke out from the pack kept in her purse. Her companion remained silent, but nodded. Lighting the tip of the cigarette, Jill took a drag, then blew out her next question with the smoke. "Talk to me. What's happening?"
"I don't know. It's like something broke inside somewhere. Denny," she glanced behind her to make sure her partner wasn't anywhere near the door. She lowered her voice. "It's like she's not all here sometimes, like she is so distracted, or her mind is a million miles away. Then some days she's like her old self. Those days we can talk, even laugh. You know, at first I figured she just needed to try and readjust to life again," she chuckled ruefully. "Hell, at one point I even wondered if she'd gotten a head injury or something."
"Oh, nice," Jill chuckled, taking another drag.
"Well, that's how different she is. Like I said, at first I was okay with it. Confused, maybe, but alright for the most part, as I figured it would take some getting used to. But now…" she shrugged. "It's been a month, and I still feel like I'm living with a stranger. We haven't made love at all, and it's almost like I'm afraid to touch her in any way, like she'll break or something."
"You guys haven't been intimate?" Hannah shook her head. "At all?" Again, the researcher shook her head, pulling her knees up and hugging them to her chest. "Wow." Jill looked back out into the night, the cigarette dangling from her fingers. "Do you think this has to do with DiRisio's? I mean, you said she didn't take it well, right?"
"Yeah. She was devastated. I've never felt like more of an asshole as I did that day, Jill. I thought I did the right thing for me, hell, I did do the right thing for me, but she was truly devastated. I've never watched Denny shatter into a million pieces until that day. She just seems so lost, and yeah, I do wonder if that has something to do with it."
"Why doesn't she open another shop? Maybe something different this time?"
"I've thought about that. We're still dealing with this insurance company business. They declared Denny legally dead, but now are trying to decide whether they want their money back or not."
"Oh, shit. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. We've talked about going after the airline to get them to pay it back." She looked at Jill. "I paid everything off with that money."
"And DiRisio's sale?"
"Most of it's in the bank. I rolled it into a retirement fund."
Jill blew out the rest of her cigarette smoke, smashing the butt against the stoop and tossing it into the old coffee can Hannah had set out for just that purpose when she knew Jill and Rod were coming over. That was their deal; they could smoke on the front stoop as long as they threw the butts in the can, and not sprinkle them over the front walkway or grass.
"I've thought about talking to her about maybe seeing someone. I don't know. Maybe she's just depressed. I don't know. She's certainly not herself. That's about the only thing I'm at all sure of."
"You know what I noticed the most?" Jill asked, tucking her hands between her thighs. Hannah glanced at her. "Her eyes. Denny has the most gorgeous eyes of anyone I've ever known in real life, and what made them so striking was the life in them, that wonderful mischievous twinkle that always seemed to be there."
Hannah smiled, knowing all too well that mischievous twinkle, and what it was capable of. She nodded.
"Now, I don't know." Jill blew out a cigarette-scented breath. "It's gone somehow. Like the lights are one, burning brightly, but no one is home."
"I know what you mean. I know exactly what you mean." Hannah rested her chin on her knees, staring up into the night sky. "I really hope she'll bounce back out of this. I'm trying to be patient."
"Yeah. It has only been a month."
"Yeah. It has."
Dinner had been fun with Jill and Rod, Denny thought as she got ready for bed. She pulled back the comforter and blanket on the bed, folded it at the end. The nights were still warm enough for the body heat of two to only need a sheet. Glancing across the bed to where Hannah also got ready, Denny watched her partner, noting how quiet she'd been after returning from outside with Jill.
"Everything okay?" she asked, stuffing the clothes she'd worn that night into the hamper.
"Yeah. I'm alright." Hannah smiled, though it was sad.
Denny headed into the bathroom, heart heavy. She knew that sad look, and knew she'd put it there. It had been off and on over the past couple weeks. As Denny brushed her teeth, still smarting at the three new fillings in her teeth, she thought about her behavior over the past weeks. She knew it was hurting Hannah, but she just didn't know how to be the same person she used to be, because when it boiled down to it, she wasn't. Going to see what had once been her baby, her dream, long gone, had effected Denny more than she thought it would. She had been devastated all over again, feeling anger, though surprisingly, not at Hannah. She had come to understand her partner's reasons for doing what she did, but rather anger at life, at the world, at the goddamn airlines. She felt they had stolen her life, and she'd do anything to get it back.
Leaning against the sink, Denny looked into the mirror above it, looking into her eyes, her face, and finally trailing down to take in her upper chest, visible above the low neckline of the tank top she slept in. Bringing a hand up, she spread her fingers out over the warm skin, her palm resting against her collar bones.
Though her heart hurt and she felt empty and lost, Denny knew she had to make the best of things, and enter back into her own life, figure out how to live back in her skin. With steely determination, Denny finished getting ready for bed.
Hannah climbed in between the sheets, sighing as her body relaxed, arranging the sheet and her pillow just so. She heard the bathroom door open, then the lights were turned out as Denny climbed in on her side.
"It was good to see Jill and Rod," the brunette said, settling herself on the soft mattress.
"Yeah, it was," Hannah agreed. She looked over, barely able to see Denny's profile in the darkened bedroom. "Rod said he wants to know the name of the tanning booth you go to."
Denny chuckled, meeting the dark eyes not quite a foot from her. "Well, that's quite a ways away. I don't know if he could do it in a weekend." She smiled at Hannah's laugh. She had to admit it was a good sound. She decided she wanted to hear it again. "Yeah, see there's no little goggles and cool glass to keep you safe from the little bits of sunlight captured in light bulbs. No, no, in my tanning salon, you get a slab of rock underneath you, and a fig leaf over you. You can, however, use cocoanut shells to cover your breasts, cause, you know," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "it hurts to have sunburned nipples."
Hannah giggled as she turned to her side, reveling in the lighter side of Denny, which had been strangely absent since her return.
"Trust me on this one," Denny continued. "found that out the hard way."
"Oh, did you?"
"I did." Denny stared at Hannah's face, pale against the night, and suddenly she felt a deep need to be close to her, to feel normal again. Reaching out, she pulled the researcher closer, their bodies nearly touching. "I missed you," she said, running her fingers down over the soft skin of Hannah's arm.
"I've missed you, too, baby." Hannah felt Denny's hot breath against her face, a shiver running through her body. She whimpered softly when she felt Denny's breasts brush against her own as the brunette scooted closer.
Denny pushed Hannah to her back, covering her body with her own as she claimed the researcher's mouth.
It had taken some maneuvering, but Rachel had managed to escape the prying eyes of the media, needing to disappear for awhile. Only Reenie knew where she was, not even trusting her publisher; after all, it was because of them the media frenzy of the Island Six had started in the first place. They knew how to find her via email or phone, but that was all they needed to know.
Armed with her laptop, a goodly amount of cash and keys to the small cottage Reenie had rented in her stead in Beaver Creek, Colorado- a ski town near Vale- Rachel settled in for an indeterminate amount of time and self-isolation. She needed to think, needed to write, and needed to regroup.
Pulling up to the turn, which led down a densely tree-lined, single lane road, Rachel looked at the computer printout of the directions to the place, going back over her travels since she'd hit town. Deciding she was in the right place, she clicked her left turn signal, and, waiting for a large truck to pass, turned onto the private road, suddenly chilled as the thicket of trees lining the road thrust the inside of her rental car into shade before bursting back into sunlight as she neared the small house.
Charmed, a small smile graced Rachel's lips as she pulled the four-wheel drive Explorer up to the front porch, replete with a porch swing and small round table flanked by two wrought iron chairs. Rachel heaved her laptop bag and suitcase out of the back of the rented SUV and headed up to the small, three room cottage.
The inside was just as charming as the outside- hardwood floors, covered by numerous area rugs to protect against cold feet in the colder winters. A huge stone fireplace, which took up one entire wall, as well as rugged, sturdy wood furniture, and thick, down throws across the backs.
"This is beautiful," she murmured, turning in a small circle, already imagining what she could come up with in the space. She set her laptop down on the couch, then headed into the bedroom, equally impressed with it- massive oak bed with thick, homemade quilts, and large, heavy bedroom furniture. The one bathroom was attached to the bedroom with a door leading back to the living room. The blonde couldn't wait to try out the Jacuzzi that night. In the mean time, she wanted to get unpacked and settled in, a nice cozy fire, glass of good wine, and an open Word document.
Dinner was a leisurely affair, and Rachel sat, curled up in the corner of the couch, sipping her wine and staring into the flames. It was almost too warm for a fire, but enough of the cool, mountain air came in to justify it for her. She loved fireplaces and cold weather- something she'd missed dearly living on the island. She couldn't wait for winter, and had considered staying in the mountains for the duration of the year, watching the covering of the Rockies.
Rachel had thrown away the manuscript she'd written on the island, deciding that her view of the situation had changed, and new ideas had sprouted. She felt far different now than she had when she had started writing it, and needed. She needed to write, vent what was eating her up inside and figure out her feelings through recreating the events that had happened. She saw everyone in a different light than she initially had, and visions were haunting her daily of what needed to be written.
Setting her wineglass aside, Rachel opened up the silver lap computer, letting it boot up as she took her dinner dishes to the kitchen and rinsed them before arranging them in the dishwasher. Walking back into the main living space, she studied the flames once more, wishing with everything in her that Denny was there. She hadn't seen the brunette in nearly two months, and she missed her dearly. Rachel realized that there was literally a hole inside her, one that had always been there, though she hadn't realized it, and Denny had somehow managed to fill it. Then she was ripped away, and the hole was left bigger than it started out being.
Reenie had asked the blonde if she thought she were gay, and Rachel hadn't had an answer to that. She didn't see Denny as a ‘woman' or a ‘lesbian' thing. Denny was simply the person who made her feel whole, and who brought a warmth and joy to her life like no one else; she just happened to have a pair of breasts. Even so, Rachel was more than willing to try out those breasts.
As Rachel sank into the couch, she sighed, closing her eyes as she remembered that last morning, before the plane had arrived. Denny's hands had been so gentle, her mouth hot and driving the blonde to wild heights of arousal. She'd been desperate for Denny's touch, and still was. The beautiful brunette invaded her dreams, and her thoughts, no matter how hard she tried to keep her out. It had been the most embarrassing when she had been down visiting her sisters at Veronica's house in Portland. Danielle had caught her daydreaming, and when she'd asked the blonde what had her flushed, Rachel had been left speechless and flustered.
She had thought about making a trip east, maybe visit Reenie, see a good show… look up Denny. That thought had stopped her cold. Denny was happily married, and their circumstances on the island had made their connection feel that much stronger, and that and that alone made Denny stray. Rachel knew she didn't stand a chance against Hannah, nor did she want to do that to Denny, or put her in that kind of position that may ruin her relationship, that Rachel knew meant so much to the brunette. Besides- she was probably more than busy with getting back into her coffee shop and reacquainting herself with her partner.
The blonde forced her thoughts away from Denny, and back to the novel se planned to start, and not leave Beaver Creek until it was done.
Hannah's breathing was even and slow, her body relaxed and warm. Denny held her, but sleep was far away. It had been nice to give Hannah pleasure, make her feel good, give her what Denny knew she'd been longing for. Even as the brunette had kissed her, touched her, made love to her, she'd felt like she was a million miles away, her thoughts wandering, her heart nowhere to be found. She just hoped Hannah hadn't noticed. She didn't want to hurt her anymore than she already had. She didn't want to make Hannah doubt herself, or her place in Denny's heart.
So why did Denny feel sick to her stomach?
She stared up at the ceiling, Hannah's steady weight all along the right side of her body. Her eyes followed the subtle pattern made by the brush strokes in the paint. Denny hadn't allowed Hannah to touch her or bring her to release, as she knew it wouldn't happen. She felt awful, but deep down Hannah wasn't the woman she wanted touching her at that moment. Shoving that thought aside, she'd told Hannah that tonight it was all about her. Hannah had argued at first, but her body's need finally made her give in. Denny had thought she could do it, thought she could just let herself go, let her body take over, and feel what she used to. Feel the love she and Hannah had at one time, that she knew had to still be there. Somewhere. Sometimes it was so frustrating it made her want to cry. Since when did making love to the woman you'll spend the rest of your life with, had already spent eight years with, become something forced? Denny was confused and very, very sad.
Michael gazed lovingly down at the set of tools that had been given to him, admiring the chrome sheen and steel perfection. He ran his fingers over the cool metal of a socket wrench, inhaling the smell of greased tools. He loved tools, loved what could be done with them, fixed or created. Raising his eyes, he looked around the garage, running a hand over the patch that Meredith had stitched on the left breast pocket, feeling the raised stitches that were his name.
Damn, it felt good to be productive again.
The night was pitch black, sun long since disappeared. The only sound breaking the sound of perfect midnight was the sound of tapping computer keys, the steady staccato beat a lullaby for the night creatures that roamed the forests of Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Mia studied her text book, trying her damndest to not notice the boy and girl sitting at the next table over in the library. He was murmuring some sort of nonsense to her, and she was giggling and asking him to stop, though her tone of voice sent a very different message. Dark eyes rolled for about the tenth time in as many minutes. Finally having enough of the petty flirting, and the fellow students not taking their studies as seriously as they should- after all, they never did know when the chance to learn may end- she slammed the book shut, shoving it into her backpack and storming out of the library. She'd find another place to study, a quiet place.
For the first time in her life, Mia hated going to school. She loved to learn, she loved what she got from the classes and lessons, but hated the pettiness around her. She looked at her peers and wanted to laugh at what they thought was the end of the world. So what, he didn't ask you to the prom? Who cares that her shoes and accessories don't match. And who gives a good goddamn that his fake I.D. isn't as good as his brother's!
Everyday required a pep-talk, if not from Mia herself, then from her mother. Why couldn't she just bypass all of this and go on straight to college? These people had absolutely no idea just how big the world really was, and small their lives were.
Pam ran a hand through her hair before resting her head in the palm of her hand, staring down at the book laid out on the table. She was trying to get certified in Montana for veterinary medicine, and was having a hell of a time. She hadn't been in school for so long, she felt like a complete idiot, wondering how she'd ever done it the first time, baby in tow!
"Because I was thirty years younger," she muttered, testily flipping the page of her notebook, trying to find the notes on the assignment she'd taken in class that afternoon.
After hanging out with Tracy and Luke on the ranch twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Tracy had not-so-subtly suggested Pam try and get back into practice. The older woman knew she was driving her daughter crazy, so had agreed. Besides, she missed her work, loving all the animals like nothing else. The love a cat or dog or even pet ferret, gave was a love like no other. They asked no questions, wanted nothing from you but love and care. Pam seemed to be trying to give that to Tracy and Luke a little too much.
The older woman smiled at the thought, sighing as she found the spot in her notes she was looking for.
"I was thinking that maybe we'd head to Maine, or maybe New Hampshire, see the trees change colors. What do you think?" Will asked, tightening his hold on Dean's arm.
"Mmm," the attorney sighed, "that sounds wonderful. Great idea." He eyed his partner, a smirk curling his lips.
"Maybe I'm converting you into a little tree hugger after all."
Will rolled his eyes, about to pull away when they were stopped, a young girl wearing a green baseball cap stopping them.
"Good afternoon, guys. Care to support your environment?" She held out a flyer to them. "I'm part of the environmentalist group, WorldWin, and we're taking donations right now for our campaign to stop illegal logging, which is destroying out forests at startling rates."
Dean took the flyer, reading the black print as he listened to the girl prattle on about percentages and alarming facts. He could feel Will trying to tug him away, but the attorney was intrigued. Glancing up into the girl's hopeful blue eyes, he smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. "Tell me more."
Hannah had left for work, humming and walking on a cloud. Denny had done her best t play the ever dutiful wife, making Hannah breakfast, though she'd made sure she was up before the researcher, needing time by herself, and not wanting to get cornered in bed. She needed her space.
Now she had it, the house quiet, just the barest lingering scent of Hannah's perfume. Denny showered, then slipped into one of the pairs of jeans they'd bought her. Hannah had kept some of her clothing from before, but much of it no longer fit her much leaner frame. Buttoning her shirt, she looked into the mirror above the dresser, snatching a flyaway eyebrow hair, when she noticed something in the reflected image of the bedroom behind her. Turning, the brunette walked over to Hannah's side of the room, to the researcher's closet, which had been left open in Hannah's haste to leave for work. On the shelf, tucked between a folded blanket and box of their old love letters, she saw a wooden box- a jewelry box.
Denny chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, wondering what to do. She knew she hadn't given that to Hannah, and had never seen it before. Curiosity got the best of her, and she reached up, taking the small, delicate box from the shelf, sitting on the end of the bed to examine it. It was a rich mahogany, and quite beautiful. Denny ran her fingers over the lead glass top, tracing the etched flower pattern. The lid squeaked slightly as she lifted it. Inside was a gold watch, again new to Denny, some ticket stubs that looked like were from Broadway shows. Looking at the names, Denny recognized a couple of the standards- Chicago, Beauty and the Beast, then a couple she'd never heard of. Gingerly fingering those aside, she saw what looked to be upside down Polaroid's.
Yet again Denny was chewing on her lower lip, trying to decide whether to disturb Hannah's privacy, or sate her curious nature. Something inside her told her to close the lid on the box, put it away, and continue on with her day. Her fingers itched to move, to be doing something, though they were frozen in Denny's indecision. Taking a deep breath, Denny plucked the pictures from the bottom of the box, turning them over. The first was some sort of scenic picture, boats and water, some sort of harbor, perhaps. Sliding the picture behind the stack of three, the second showed Hannah, her hair in the pixie cut Denny was getting used to, and a smile plastered on her face. She was standing next to a woman with medium-length red hair, kind brown eyes gazing at the lens of the camera. She was also smiling, though it was closed mouth, more of a smirk.
"Pretty girl," Denny muttered. The two women were standing on what looked to be a dock, maybe the same dock of the harbor from the first photo. Sliding it behind the first picture, Denny's breath caught, eyes glued to the image on the third Polaroid. Hannah held the redhead in her arms, one hand cupping the back of her head, their foreheads resting against each other, both grinning broadly in profile. It looked as though the photographer had just caught them after or before a kiss.
Denny felt her face pale, blood rushing toward her stomach as nausea set in. She couldn't take her eyes off the picture, the still taking action in her brain, the women's lips meeting, Hannah's eyes closed as the redhead plundered her mouth, drawing her close.
The brunette tried to shake the image out of her head, but couldn't. Who was she? Why had Hannah kept the box and pictures? Denny could only guess the redhead had given it to her, as well as the watch, and had gone to the shows with her.
Slowly, she put the pictures back as they'd been, carefully placing the stubs and watch back over them and closing the lid. She caressed its smooth surface absently for a moment, lost in thought. So I'm not the only one who found love. Though it was true, and technically Hannah had done nothing wrong, it didn't help her stomach, nor the hurting of her heart. Denny couldn't help but wonder how Hannah could feel anything for anyone else, when she thought Denny was dead. Would she be able to? If Hannah had been dead for more than a year, could she move on? How long had the relationship gone on? Was it still going on when Denny had miraculously returned from the dead?
The thought sent the brunette to the bathroom, forehead resting against the cool glass above the sink, shoulders hunched as she leaned against the sink. Had that redhead touched Hannah the way Denny had the night before? How long had it been since they'd been together?
Running a shaky hand through her hair, Denny pushed off the sink and headed toward the kitchen, grabbing her car keys off the hook by the door.
"I'm sure you don't want to hear from me, but I need to talk. Please, Tiffany, I need a friend." Hannah placed her hand on her pounding forehead, trying to will the pain away.
"Are you okay?" Tiffany sat back in her desk, more than surprised to hear from Hannah after two months without a word, just as she'd asked it to be. It had been difficult, seeing news of the Island Six's return plastered all over every damn TV screen and channel, and knowing that Hannah was in the same building, just a few floors away.
"Not really. It's Denny. God, I feel like she came back from war or something, shell shocked and changed." Taking a deep breath, Hannah sat back in her chair, wincing as it squeaked. "Last night we made love for the first time-"
"Hannah, I really don't to hear this." The accountant could feel the ache deep in her heart, and roiling of her stomach.
"Please, Tiffany." Hannah heard the heavy sigh and reluctant agreement to listen. "She's not herself. At all. Last night she wouldn't let me touch her, like my touch burned her or something. And even when she touched me, I felt," Hannah paused, trying to remember back, thinking of what she had felt and thought, even during the bliss of sexual release. "I felt like I was being touched by a robot, some sort of drone or something. I don't even know if she was truly there." Hannah whispered the last words.
Tiffany squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the mental images that her brain had conjured up, Hannah's beautiful body in the throes of ecstasy from another woman's hand. Clearing her throat, she spoke. "What would you like me to do about this, Hannah?" She didn't want to sound cold, but had no idea what the researcher expected of her.
"I want to see you," Hannah whispered desperately.
"Oh, no!" Tiffany shoved away from her desk, eyes wide. "I am not going to play that game with you, Hannah. You made your choice."
Hannah nodded dumbly, feeling like a bitch for even suggesting it. "I'm sorry. You're right. I need to go." She carefully replaced the handset into the cradle, tears of confusion stinging her eyes.
"You think I don't realize I sell coffee here? As I told you, I'm out of French Nut Surprise for the time being. You can either chose something else, or go somewhere else." The older woman's icy gaze nearly froze the rude patron where he stood. Without another breath, he quickly ordered something else, then scurried to his seat at the back of Mile. "That's what I thought," Joni Sanchez muttered, hurrying over to the drink station to make the order. She heard the bells above the door jingle to life. "I'm out of vanilla whoever you are, so don't even ask."
"Good thing I'm a chocolate gal."
Joni froze, the hair prickling on the back of her neck. "Goddamn, son-of-a-bitch!" Drink creation forgotten, Joni hurried around the counter, taking Denny into a choking hug. "Wondered when you were going to show up around here." She gave a painful squeeze. "Took you long enough!"
"Yeah, well," Denny had nothing to say as she was led around back, into Joni's office. "You stay. I'll be right back."
The brunette sat back in the space she knew well. Even when she'd already established DiRisio's, she'd come back from time to time for advice or just simply to chat. The office was small, crammed with boxes of syrups and cups that wouldn't fit into the tiny storage room. Joni's desk was covered in papers, purchase orders and packing slips.
"Okay. Had to get Robert from outside to take over," Joni said, breezing back into the office, throwing herself into the squeaky desk chair across from Denny. The older woman sat forward, elbows resting on a small stack of Mile brochures, a few floating to the floor. "Can't believe you're back, Denny. Hot damn, what a story."
"Mm," the brunette agreed, playing with her bottom lip.
"How are you doing, Denny?" Joni asked, her voice growing soft.
"No, I mean, how are you. You don't look good. You look tired and… haunted."
Denny looked into narrowed eyes, which scrutinized her from head to toe. "You see a lot, Joni." Sighing, she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her thighs.
"What's going on, Den? Everything okay? At home."
Was everything okay? Denny saw that picture in her mind again, her eyes closing. Then she felt the cool distance she felt from her own life. Lastly, she saw Rachel's face, felt her touch. No. Nothing is okay. Even so, she didn't want to talk about her turmoil. She wasn't ready to speak about what she didn't quite understand yet.
"I'm just trying to adjust, Joni. I had no idea what a huge feat that would be. I thought I could come back, immediately rejoin the world of the living, and fall right back into my relationship." She shook her head. "Harder than I thought."
Joni had a feeling her old friend wasn't going to say much more, so decided to not push. "Well, what are you doing these days to occupy yourself?" Since your damn wife betrayed you and sold your business.
Denny shrugged, sitting back in her chair, jiggling ankle crossing her knee. "Cleaning the house, bumming around the neighborhood to reacquaint myself with things, neighbors, that kind of thing."
Denny smirked, shaking her head.
"Come work for me," Joni tossed out, eyeing the beautiful brunette, head cocked nonchalantly. Somewhere inside, the coffee shop owner had a feeling that it would be the best thing for her, get out of the house and around something familiar. Joni had no idea what was going on, but could tell her old employee and friend was deeply disturbed by something.
Denny studied her friend for long moments, contemplating her offer. Finally she nodded. "Okay."
Joni smiled big. "Good. I could use someone around here who knows what the hell they're doing."
"Are you sure about this, Michael? Think maybe you should hold off, get through the holidays?" Meredith asked, hands on hips as she looked around the small house, packed boxes stacked high.
"No. I need to try and get their lives as normal as possible as quickly as possible." The mechanic blew out a breath, proud to finally have his own house again, even if it was a tiny three bedroom rental at the edge of town. It was rundown, dirty, but cheap. Michael figured he, Jennifer and Conrad could make themselves a home there, painting, cleaning and decorating for the upcoming holidays.
"Alright, son." The older woman leaned up, giving her son-in-law a kiss on the cheek, then went out to join Walter in the truck.
Once left alone, Michael looked around, trying to decide where to start. The kids were still at school- he hadn't wanted them to have to deal with this, so their grandparents, a couple guys Michael worked with and himself had gotten everything moved into the new house. Jennifer would drive she and Conrad to their new home after school. Over the weekend he'd take them to the store so they could pick out stuff for their rooms, personalize them a bit. Maybe put up some sports memorabilia in Conrad's room, and whatever new actor or singer Jennifer was into.
It still amazed Michael, the way his kids had grown up, seemingly over night. Granted, he'd only been gone for just over a year, but he'd noticed changes in all three. Maybe it was the situation, having to grow up over night. Or maybe his babies truly were just growing up.
He pulled the box cutter out of his back pocket and began to open up boxes, kept in storage over the past year and a half. Meredith had kept much of their belongings, thinking it would help the kids when they got their own houses. In fact, Alan had a set of their dishes, and the downstairs furniture, in his own house. He was coming over later that night to help unpack, and the four of them were going to enjoy a quiet night together, celebrating the new home.
The big Texan got busy unpacking, putting things away and breaking down boxes, getting the kitchen and his own bedroom completely unpacked. He was surprised when he heard car doors slamming outside, and the voices of his two youngest. Glancing at his watch, Michael saw he'd been at it for more than six hours.
"Daddy?" Jennifer Dupree called out, looking around the small living room as she entered the house. The couch had been set against the paneled wall, a few boxes stacked on top of the cushions, a thick pile of broken down ones on the floor next to it.
"In here, guys!" came the deep, disembodied voice of their father, deeper in the house. She followed his voice back to his bedroom, the smallest, at the back of the house, by the back door. "Hey, Angel," he said with a broad smile, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. "Hey, big guy. How was school?" He knew better than to try to hug or touch Conrad, knowing the boy would pull away. As it was, he barely stood in the doorway of the room, hands buried deep into the pockets of his baggy jeans, baseball cap perched cockeyed on his head.
"S'kay," he muttered.
"Good. Well, I left both your rooms alone. Your beds are put together, but you kids can put your stuff away. Alan will be over after work, then we can all sit down at eat some pizza. Wuddya think?"
"Sounds great!" Jennifer gave her dad a quick hug then bounced off toward her own room. She was so excited to have their own place again. She loved her grandparents, but never liked staying with them. Her grandfather was constantly a grouch, always had been, and her grandmother seemed overwhelmed most the time. Jennifer hated seeing her that way.
Conrad followed, trudging his way to his own room.
"It's been announced today that Paramount will be producing a feature film based on celebrated author, Rachel Holt's novel, Willing To Conquer, due out next winter."
Denny turned her eyes away from the book she'd been reading, glancing at the TV screen, only to be met by old file footage of Rachel. She was sitting behind a table, pen in hand, at what appeared to be a book signing gig. It was before the crash, Denny was sure. She sat forward, looking into the green eyes that she hadn't allowed herself to see. Any news footage over the months, she'd refused to watch, not wanting to be reminded. Seeing the author's face, that beautiful, wonderful face, Denny was amazed to look into her eyes, and not see the glowing light she was used to, but rather dull, lifeless eyes. When the brunette thought about it, those were the eyes she'd had when they'd first landed on the island. The eyes of a woman lost. Denny had to smile ruefully, knowing her own eyes looked like that now.
Grabbing the remote control, she turned the television off, trying to return her attention back to her book. She couldn't concentrate, her mind wandering back to the images from the screen, which then morphed into memories from the island. Her eyes, her face, her voice, the way her body felt against Denny's. Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to conjure up that last day on their ledge. The taste and feel of Rachel's skin, the sight of her half-naked body lying there, waiting to be made love to, begging to be touched.
Denny groaned, her body warming painfully at the memory. She was shaken out of her thoughts by the sound of the garage door opening. Pushing herself up from where she'd begun to slouch in the cushions of the couch. Getting to her feet, she headed to the kitchen where dinner was already cooking.
"Hey, baby," Hannah said, coming in through the garage door, setting her purse and keys on the counter just inside.
"Hey. Hungry? Dinner'll be ready soon." Denny had to look away, or see the redhead standing next to her partner. She felt like a hypocrite as she took out a can of peas from the cabinet, using the electric can opener mounted under the cabinet to remove the lid.
"Yeah. Sure am." Hannah hugged the brunette from behind, placing a soft kiss to the bared neck. Hannah closed her eyes, trying to swallow down the sense of guilt from her brief conversation with Tiffany that morning. She pushed thoughts from her mind at what she would have done, or allow to happen, had the accountant agreed to meet with her. Instead she concentrated on the smell of Denny's hair and skin, the feel of her body, taller than Tiffany's, and a very different body type.
"Good. Chicken will be done in about three minutes."
"Smells like cornbread, too. You've been busy."
"I have been. Actually, I went to talk to Joni today."
Hannah paused, her hand on the fridge door handle. "Oh yeah?" Ever since the coffee shop owner had judged the researcher's actions in dealing with Denny's death, she had grown hard against Joni, hurt with her ever thinking Hannah could or would throw Denny away.
"Yeah. She's offered me a job."
Hannah turned, Denny's back to her as the brunette stirred the peas she'd dropped into a saucepan to heat them. "And what did you say?"
"I said yes."
"Honey, we don't need the money. I can support-"
"I know you can, Hannah. And I'm proud of the promotion you got while I was gone." Denny turned to meet Hannah's eyes. "I need this. Sitting around here all day is killing me. I need something for me again."
Though she knew Denny hadn't meant it that way, the statement stung. She nodded, turning back to the fridge, taking out a bottle of water. "When do you start?"
"I'm probably going to go in tomorrow."
Hannah took a long drink, setting the bottle aside. She wasn't sure why she felt sudden anger wash through her. Joni had verbally attacked her character and her love for Denny, yet Denny was going there for a job at her coffee shop.
Perhaps it brought up her own feelings of guilt for selling DiRisio's. "Well, uh, I hope it goes well."
"Thanks." Denny gave her a quick smile, then turned back to the stove.
Rachel gasped, her head thrust back into the soft pillow, eyes squeezed tightly…
… holding her fingers still, Denny tried to catch her breath, her body…
… pulsing. The blonde's hips bucked as her body convulsed, her breaths…
… shaky, her emotions on a shoestring as she tried to push away the image in her mind, Rachel's face before her eyes, the passion shining in her green eyes.
"Wait, wait," she…
… panted. "Oh, Denny," Rachel whimpered, the sting of hot tears behind her eyes at the powerful orgasm that had just overtaken her. She covered her eyes with her arm, trying to get her heaving chest back under control. "Shit."
"What? Are you okay?" Hannah took her hand away, Denny's thighs closing, the brunette turning away. "Denny? What happened? Did I hurt you?" She saw the brunette shake her head.
"No." Denny felt foolish, but couldn't allow Hannah to continue making love to her when all she could see was Rachel's face, her body craving the blonde's touch, not the woman who had just been inside her. Sitting up, she covered herself with the sheet as she reached to the end of the bed for the tank top that had been taken off moments before.
Hannah moved to her side of the bed, the bitter taste of rejection in her mouth. "I'm trying to make this work, Denny," she said at length, unable to look at her partner.
Denny was being consumed by guilt and confusion, her constant companion over the past couple months. She could hear the bitter hurt in Hannah's voice, which made her feel even worse. Denny was ashamed at what she said next, her guilt morphing into anger. "Why? Do you feel obligated?"
Hannah was stunned, her mouth falling open as she watched Denny rise from the bed, snagging her panties from the floor. "No! Because I love you. I missed you."
"Did you?" Denny glared accusingly at her from the doorway of their bedroom, then disappeared into the darkened house.
Hannah sat stunned, wondering where the hell all that had just come from. Her stomach began to somersault as she glanced toward her closed closet door, wondering….
Denny ran her hands through her hair as she stared out of the window in the guest bedroom, her body still humming with adrenaline and un-sated arousal. "What am I doing?" she whispered, hating herself for allowing her own tempest of emotions to let her speak before thinking. Hannah hadn't deserved that.
"Shit." Tugging her panties on, she was about to head back to the bedroom to apologize when she almost ran smack into Hannah. "I'm sorry. That was a real asshole thing to say."
"Yeah, it was. I died that day, Denny, and how dare you question that. But you were dead, and I had to learn how to live my life without you." Hannah felt the hurt and anger that had been building over the past two months rise to the surface. "I'm assuming you were referring to Tiffany?" Denny said nothing, having no idea if that was the woman's name or not. "If I'm wrong and it was just an ugly remark, then yes, there was someone. I fought it, unable to let you go, but then I realized that I had to. Tiffany never had my heart, but she was good to me, and helped me get through the most difficult time of my life. Your death!" She slapped her hands on Denny's upper chest, her anger and grief beginning to trail down her cheeks. "Don't you dare judge me, just like Joni. You have no idea what it was like for me. None!"
Denny allowed Hannah to let it all go, even took the slight beating she was taking, finally grabbing Hannah by the shoulders and pulling her to her. Her heart broke at the woman who was falling apart before her. For the first time, she was able to really see what Hanna went through, and she felt like an asshole.
"Shh. Don't cry. I'm sorry." Blue eyes slid closed as Hannah cried against her, grabbing fistfuls of Denny's tee shirt, clinging to her. "I'm sorry." Denny kissed the side of Hannah's head, cupping the back of her head and rocking her slightly.
"Why did you have to go, Denny?" Hannah cried, finally able to take out her anger on the woman who spurred it. "Goddamn it, why did you have to get on that fucking plane? We were happy! Fuck!" Hannah pushed away, hurrying from the room as realization dawned- it was over. Suddenly she saw it all clear as day. Denny had known, almost from the very beginning. Hannah had been holding onto a ghost.
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