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Braxton felt restless, as she always did when Grace’s father had her. She was glad Alec was able to see her and spend time with her. It was because of him that they’d ended up in California in the first place. When Grace was two years old, he took a prestigious position with one of L.A.’s top celebrity photographers, doing the makeup and hair.
Braxton often laughed to herself, how she didn’t know Alec was gay. He’d been giving her hair and makeup tips since the day they’d met.
A year after he’d left New York, he called her up and told her about the position at UCLA. After a lot of soul searching, Braxton realized that her daughter needed to have her father in her life, and that she, herself was ready for something new after more than seven, almost eight, years in New York. From the moment she’d applied for the position, her life had been on the fast track, the paperwork going through ridiculously fast, giving Braxton just enough time to wrap up her life in New York, let her mother know what was going on, and then move. The university had paid for all her moving expenses, as well as had helped her find the house she was currently prowling the rooms of.
Music on the stereo, she wandered to the kitchen where dishes awaited her from the large breakfast she’d made for herself, Alec and his new boyfriend, and Grace. The trio had left not long after, and Braxton had been restless ever since. She loved the fact that Alec loved his daughter, but she hated being away from the child even though it gave her time paint, uninterrupted. She’d have the whole day and night for that, as Grace wasn’t coming home until the following morning.
Too keyed up to paint, Braxton quickly the dishes, intentionally closing off her thoughts as she cleaned the kitchen, washed down the counters and table. She sprayed deodorizer in the air, as she hated the smell of sausage and eggs when it permeated the air.
Finally, Braxton sat at the kitchen table, legal pad of paper in front of her and a pen in her hand. She glanced over at the stack of drawings Grace had done for the grandmother she’d never seen. Braxton couldn’t wait for the day when Margot would get out, and finally start living. She’d be a wonderful grandmother, and Braxton couldn’t help think she’d like California, too. Her mother constantly complained about how cold it was at the Women’s Correctional Facility in Canon City, Colorado. Though her mother was only approaching fifty, she’d aged tremendously in the last eight years.
Dear Mom she began to write, then glanced out the patio doors that led to the small backyard. She chewed on the cap of her pen, trying to decide what to tell Margot. She couldn’t help seeing the irony in that she and her mother had grown so much closer since her mother had gone to prison, sentenced to ten to twenty years for second degree murder. They said it was likely she’d get out in ten or less. They were both praying for the less.
She settled in to write her weekly letter. Not very good with correspondence, Braxton knew how much her mother looked forward to the letters, so she put aside other tasks just to get one out. Grace also gave her mother messages to tell her grandmother. She was also going to be putting a new picture of Grace in with this letter.
Braxton picked up the snapshot she’d gotten of her little girl at the beach the weekend before. Grace had her father’s thick, dark hair, Grace’s reaching to just below her tiny shoulders. She also had her father’s naturally sun-kissed complexion, though she got her mother’s eyes and her smile. Braxton brandished her own smile as she stared into the clear, green eyes of the absolute love of her life. sometimes she looked at Grace and wondered how she’d ever lived life without the precious little girl, and other times she wondered if she had the strength to teach Grace to be a good person, a productive citizen, and a loving individual.
Braxton wondered more than once if she were doing Grace a disservice but not supplying a second parent for her, a second point of view and opinion. A second perspective for the girl on what life is about, and how it should be lived. Was she denying Grace growth? Love? A second pair of arms to hold her when she fell, or to tuck her in and read to her at night?
Bringing up a hand, Braxton wiped a tear away that threatened to fall. She often thought back to when she was a little girl, back in Ivanwood. She used to dream about what she’d be doing, where she’d be living, and what her life would be at 30, which was just around the corner for her. In so many ways she was further ahead than she ever thought she’d be: she had a good career, which she loved. She had a nice home and a child. But, what she hadn’t counted on was a career in art, and having a child by herself.
Even so, she knew in her heart of hearts that if she’d done what was proper and expected, gotten married – forget the fact that Alec is gay – she would be miserable. So what in her life would complete the picture for her?
Braxton started, hearing something crash upstairs. Heart pounding, she grabbed a knife from the knife block on the counter, and headed up, making sure nothing was disturbed along the way. Everything looked fine. Glancing into her daughter’s room as she walked down the hall, she saw nothing was amiss, so she kept going. The spare bedroom, which held most of her artwork, was next.
Stopping in the doorway, she scanned the room, seeing something gleaming on the floor near the bedside table. Tossing the knife to the bed, she knelt next to the mess, cringing when she saw that one of her paintings had fallen, the glass shattering and the frame in three splintered parts.
“Damn,” she muttered, carefully pulling the painted page from the carnage. She hissed as a small shard of glass jagged her fingertip. Sucking on the small wound, she looked at the painting itself. Intense blue eyes looked back at her from the page, the face beautiful in all its chiseled features. It was an image from one of her many dreams.
She fell back onto her butt, gaze unable to leave that staring back. She had seen that look so many times, that slight lifting of the corner of her mouth as a smirk was sent her way. She knew that face. Knew the body that wasn’t shown in the painting. She knew her.
Becca used her feet to twist her chair to the left, her gaze locked on the game of solitaire on her computer screen. As soon as she was as far left as her neck could turn and still keep the screen in sight, she twisted to the right, the comfortable leather chair squeaking at the turn of direction.
She lazily clicked on the two of hearts, placing it on the three of spades. She could hear the boisterous laughter of her unwanted guests, Jae once again hosting one of her get-togethers. Becca had been out there with them for awhile, stayed through dinner, and even had a beer, but she was tired and just wanted to be alone. Even just a night with Jae wouldn’t have been bad- cuddle on the couch, talk, maybe spend a leisurely night making out.
Becca sighed, half-heartedly smiling when she one yet another game. “Yay. Becca wins again,” she muttered, clicking for a new deal. In the living room, eating her food, were Alec and the new boyfriend, and the guy’s kid. There was another couple that Becca didn’t now, and a woman that Jae worked with. A lighting technician, or grip or something. Ironically, Becca worked for the film industry, but knew little about it. At least, little about the particulars.
She began to play another round of solitaire, but was quickly getting bored with it. She closed the computer card game, tapping her fingers on the keyboard as she stared at the desktop screen on her computer. Chewing on her bottom lip, hand began to work, bringing up a new search screen. It had been two weeks since she’d seen Braxton, and though she’d done a fair job of pushing it out of her mind, she had to admit that the petit blonde was never all that far away.
Glancing behind her to make sure she was alone, she quickly made her way to the UCLA website, and deftly searched through the faculty until she found what she was looking for.
The blonde’s smiling face looked back at her, and Becca lost her breath for a moment. It was indeed the same woman she’d seen that day on the stage Becca noticed Braxton still went by Crowley. What did that mean? Braxton’s hair was long, flowing like spun gold around her shoulders and face. But what got Becca were her eyes. Their color still some of the most beautiful Becca had ever seen, but the acute intelligence and confidence in them struck a chord in her. She remembered well the young girl, so unsure of herself and her place in the world.
So lost was Becca in her reading, she didn’t hear the footfalls come down the hall that halted in the open doorway of her study.
“That’s my mommy,” a small voice said.
Becca whipped around, Alec’s little girl, Grace watching her. “What, honey?” she asked, not sure she’d heard correctly.
The adorable little brunette pointed toward the computer screen, and Braxton’s smiling face. “That’s my mommy.”
Becca looked back a the screen, then at the little girl who was slowly making her way into the room. She studied Grace’s face, a small gasp escaping when she saw Braxton in her. “You’ve got your mommy’s eyes,” she whispered, transfixed by the honest, innocent gaze that looked back at her.
“My Granny says that, too.”
Becca leaned forward in her seat, forearms resting along her spread thighs. Her thoughts turned to Margot, a smile lifting her lips. “Do you see your Granny?” she asked hopefully.
Grace shook her head. “She’s away. I draw’r her pit’ures!” the girl boasted.
Becca chuckled. “You do?” Becca was enchanted. Ordinarily she wasn’t one for kids, not because she didn’t like them but because she had no idea what to do or say to them. “What kind of pit’urs?”
Delighted to be asked about herself, Grace made her way a little closer to the big, tall woman, her fingers grazing shyly on a table she passed in her slow journey. “Sparklies,” Grace explained.
“What are sparklies?” The girl pointed to the ceiling, patiently waiting for the adult to figure it out. Becca followed her finger, a curious brow rising.
“The moon, too,” Grace innocently provided.
“Oh, sparklies!” Becca exclaimed, getting it. “Wanna draw’r me some sparklies and the moon?” Becca grinned when the girl’s eyes lit up.
Within ten minutes, both were splayed out on the office floor draw’ring. Becca had to admit that she was for more enjoying the company of a four year old than she had her living room full of “friends” who were acting much like four year olds, if the rising laughter and voices were any indication.
“Gotta color in the lines,” Grace explained, tapping Becca’s picture, her crayon having strayed ever so slightly.
“Oops.” Becca immediately straightened it out, and continued to color. She glanced over at the little girl from time to tome, taking in her facial features and coloring. She could definitely see Alec in her. The bit of Braxton she saw in the girl was saddening, somehow. She wondered if this was as close as she’d ever get to the blonde again, coloring with her daughter on the floor. “How is your Mommy, Grace?” Becca asked, trying to stay nonchalant.
Without missing a color stroke, Grace began to chatter. “She’s a draw’r! She’s at school.”
“Right now?” Becca teased, earning a goofy grin from the girl.
“Noooo! She’s at home!”
“Ohhhh,” Becca drawled, thoroughly chastised by the four year old’s tone.
Becca smiled, spotting the platinum blonde head as it bobbed above the crowd. “Hey!” she exclaimed, receiving her aunt’s crushing hug.
“Hey, kid!” Releasing a gasping Becca, Barbara grabbed the carry-on bag she’d dropped during their hug, then they headed outside into the warm, California air. “How are things? How’s the shop?”
“Booming,” Becca said, leading them down a long row in the short-term parking lot, and unlocking her ‘Vette with the remote.
“Nice,” Barbara drawled, nearly drooling at the beautiful black car. She stowed her bag in the trunk her niece opened for her, then climbed in, grinning as Becca pushed the button to send the ragtop whirring out of sight. “With a car like this, I’d say I’m in the wrong business.”
Becca grinned, revving the engine to life, chuckling at her aunt’s purr of enjoyment. “You’re too easy, Aunt B.”
“You’ve gotta let me drive this thing while I’m here,” the older woman said absently, taking in the plush interior and all the gadgets and toys Becca had installed.
“Sure. If you make me your stuffed French toast.” With a roar, they headed off into the crazy traffic around LAX.
Barbara was more proud of her niece than she could ever tell her. She walked through the rooms of the small, but very nice bungalow, admiring Becca’s taste in décor. “This is nice, Bec,” she murmured, peeking into Becca’s room before turning and beaming at her niece. “You’ve done well. Very nice.”
“Thanks.” Becca couldn’t help but shine with pride and happiness. Her aunt had been there for her when no one else had, not even her own parents. Barbara’s opinion meant more to her than anyone. “How are your shops going?” she asked, leading the way back down the hall toward the kitchen. Barbara and her partner of three years had opened a second Tortured Soul’s Tattoo shop in Denver little more than a year ago.
“Good,” the tall blonde said, following Becca. “Great, really. I had to hire two more artists. Patty has been back and forth between the two shops.”
“I figured. Too bad she couldn’t come with you.”
Barbara was about to respond to that when she stopped suddenly, eyeing the stainless steel door of the large, Subzero fridge. She glanced at a sheepish Becca with a raised brow.
Barbara carefully removed the brightly, and she had to admit, good drawing from under the magnet that had held it captive. “Got a kid I don’t know about?” she drawled.
Becca snatched Grace’s drawing from her aunt’s fingers. “Gimme that.” Lovingly placing it back on the fridge door, she began to make coffee as she explained. “Last week Jae had a small get-together here and one of them brought his daughter.”
“And let me guess,” Barbara said, leaning against a counter opposite from where Becca worked. “Instead of enjoying the company of the adults, you cloistered yourself away with a five year old.”
“Four year old,” Becca grudgingly corrected. “You know I hate parties, Aunt Barbie,” she said, turning to replicate Barbara’s stance, arms crossed over her chest. “Grace is adorable.” She chewed on her lower lip for a moment, trying to decide if she wanted to tell her aunt who Grace’s mother was. She wasn’t entirely sure Barbara would even remember Braxton.
Barbara studied her niece, and could easily tell something was on her mind. “Spit it out.”
Becca grinned, unable to ever keep anything from people. She’d been told she had an extremely expressive face and wore her emotions and thoughts on her sleeve. “Do you remember the roommate I had when I moved into that house with Carrie, Jared and all them?”
Ookay. So she does remember her. “Yeah. Grace is her daughter.”
Barbara hid her surprise well. She had known since the moment Becca laid eyes on the cute blonde that Becca had been in love. She’d wager that the girl was the only one Becca had ever been in love with. “So you two are in communication again, huh?”
Becca shook her head, grabbing two mugs down from the glass-fronted cabinets. “No. This is a crazy story, so sit down.” Within a few moments, Becca had joined her aunt at the table tucked away in a breakfast nook, cups of steaming coffee in front of them. “Here’s sick irony for you. Grace’s dad, Alec, and Jae have been friends for years, and we’ve socialized with him and his boyfriend at my house several times.”
“And you had no idea who he was, or what he meant to Braxton?”
Becca shook her head. “Not a one. About three, four weeks ago I was dropping off a load of props to UCLA and BAM! There she was. She was painting a flat for the scenery. God, she turned and looked at me…” Becca blew out a breath, amazed that she could still recall the feeling that had washed over her in that moment.
“Did you talk to her?” Barbara asked, stirring a bit more cream into the strong brew.
Becca gave her a sheep grin. “No. I had to get out of there. A swarm of students got between us, so I took off.” Becca expected her aunt to laugh at her, tease her, anything other than the serious look that overtook her strong features.
“Honey, how do you expect to find happiness if you run every time it presents itself?” She set her cup aside and took one of Becca’s hands. Rarely affectionate with her, she knew this would tell her niece just how serious she was. “This girl came into your life eight years ago, and she stole your heart.” Her glare cut off what Becca was about to say. She continued. “It wasn’t the right time, I don’t think for either of you. That much is true. But, you didn’t try for it. Didn’t keep in touch, didn’t even so much as say goodbye.”
Becca looked away, knowing her aunt was right, and angry at her for it. “I was very young, B,” she said, turning burning eyes on the older woman. “I hardly knew my ass from a hole in the ground, let alone what my heart was feeling.”
“I know,” Barbara said conversationally, trying to bring Becca’s rising temper down. “And what about now? You’re thirty-four years old, successful in your business with Brian. Have a beautiful home,” she indicated the room around her. “You’ve got a good life, Rebecca. Don’t you think it’s time to fill it with love, too?”
“I have love,” Becca grumbled stubbornly. She heard her aunt’s snort and met her gaze. “What? I do.”
“With Jae?” Barbara’s skepticism was plain. “Honey, that’s not love when you wait with bated breath until she’s gone on another out of town shoot, as you’ve said in many of your emails.”
“I’ve always needed my space, Aunt Barbara,” Becca said, defensive. “I don’t see looking forward to alone time as a bad thing. Everyone needs their alone time.”
“Alone time is when Jae goes home at night. Alone time is you guys take the weekend off from each other. Alone time isn’t when she goes off for four months to shoot in Prague!”
Becca blushed, picking at the material of her shorts. “Yeah, well…”
“’Yeah, well’ nothing! You need to get rid of the makeup girl, get your damn hair back to its normal color – thank god you didn’t let her go fuschia again – and allow yourself real love.
“It’s not that easy.”
“Why not?” Barbara got up and grabbed the coffee pot, refilling her cup and warming up Becca’s.
“Because. There isn’t anyone in my life that I’d exactly say I was in love with. Or, would you prefer I just step out into town, grab the first woman I see, and declare my undying affections?”
Barbara’s glare stopped Becca in her self-amused tracks. “I can’t believe your eyes aren’t brown, you’re so full of shit.”
Becca could only stare, all amusement gone from her eyes.
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