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“That is the ugliest set of sheets I’ve ever seen,” Becca complained, looking down at the purple material with red, green and yellow spirals all over them. “It looks like someone threw up on a grape.”
Jae snickered. “Guess that’s why you’re not the artist, huh?” she said, brows raised in challenge. “They’re a wonderful mix of color, shape and texture.”
Becca rolled her eyes, walking further along in the department store, running her fingers over the soft material of folded bath towels that came in every color under the rainbow. A beautiful candle caught her eye and she walked over to it, running her fingers over the sculpted wax, marveling at the art. Her head popped up when she heard soft crying. More like a soulful moan than all out sobs.
She turned to look at Jae over her shoulder, the makeup artist still involved in looking at sheet patterns. “Do you hear that?” she asked, looking around, trying to locate the source.
Jae looked up, did a quick sweep over the department with her eyes, then turned back to the sheets.
Becca walked over toward the house wares area, looking down each aisle before she spotted a little girl curled up on the floor in the dishes aisle. Walking toward her, Becca’s breath caught when she realized it was Grace.
“Hey, sweetie,” she said softly, kneeling in front of the girl. Big, tear-filled green eyes looked hopefully up at her. “Are you okay?”
Grace’s bottom lip trembled. “I can’t find my Mommy,” she sobbed, arms reaching up to Becca.
A tenderness flowed through Becca that she’d never experienced before as she grabbed the girl and lifted her. The thin arms wrapped tightly around her neck. “Shh. It’s okay, sweetheart. We’ll find your Mommy.” As Becca said the words, she looked around, heart hammering in her chest as she knew this meant she’d be coming face to face with Braxton.
“What happened?” Jae asked, walking up to them.
“She’s lost,” Becca said quietly, pushing up to her tip toes to see over the displays, trying to locate the familiar blonde.
One of the store clerks walked down the main aisle, her head looking down each one she passed. She saw the small group and walked over to them. “You guys seen a little girl?” She looked at Grace. “Is this her?”
Becca nodded. “Yeah. I know her. This is Grace.”
The clerk was relieved as she brought a small walkie talkie to her mouth and muttered into it. “Good. Her mom was freaking out pretty bad.”
Within moments there was a commotion heading their way. Braxton was panicked as she entered the aisle, taking Grace from Becca without even realizing who she stood next to.
“Don’t you ever do that again,” she lectured, holding Grace to her, hand on the back of the girl’s head.
Becca almost felt as though she were intruding upon something very private between mother and daughter. She was about to turn away when green eyes were focused on her, and they weren’t Grace’s.
“You found her?” Braxton asked quietly. At Becca’s nod, Braxton physically relaxed, swaying gently with Grace’s head resting on her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“She draw’red with me,” Grace said, pointing at Becca.
Braxton looked between the two with a bemused smile on her face. “Honey, you weren’t lost long enough to have done that.”
“Alec brought her to my house for a get-together,” Becca explained, her heart pounding as she took in Braxton’s face. She had calmed, her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail for a lazy day shopping. Her shorts revealed muscled, beautifully shaped legs.
Braxton was utterly baffled by, first of all, seeing Becca holding her daughter, and secondly learning that Grace had been to her house. “You know Alec?” she finally managed.
“He and I have been friends for a long time,” Jae piped up with a wide grin.
Braxton met Jae’s eyes, then back to Becca, silently asking.
“Braxton, this is Jae. Jae, this is Braxton. Grace’s mom.”
Jae looked Braxton up and down, a smirk lifting the corner of her lips. “Damn. Alec was right. You are hot.”
Braxton colored slightly, murmuring a ‘thank you’. Embarrassed by Jae’s behavior, Becca tried to change the subject. “You look good, Braxton. It’s been a long time.” Her mouth was dry as a desert, her heart still racing. She absently wiped sweaty palms on the thighs of her shorts.
“It has. And so do you,” Braxton said, taking in the gorgeous woman before her. She couldn’t help but feel a shrill of jealousy as the colorful woman standing with Becca placed her hand on Becca’s ass, hooking her fingers in the back pocket of her shorts. Braxton’s eyes flicked up to meet Becca’s, which looked away in discomfort. “Well, um, thanks again.” She kissed Grace’s head. Unsure what to do or say, Braxton smiled, then turned and walked out of the aisle. She heard heavy footfalls hurry after her.
“Wait!” Becca called, hurrying to catch up, and leaving a confused, unamused Jae behind. Braxton stopped and turned to face her. “It’s really good to see you, Braxton,” she said lamely, unsure what to say, but knowing that she really needed to say something, anything.
“You, too, Becca. A surprise, I have to admit.”
“You work at the school, then?” Becca asked, knowing full well the answer, but she wanted to broach the subject. After her aunt had lectured her, she realized she had been a coward that day.
Braxton nodded, absently rubbing her daughter’s back. “Yeah. I’m with the Art Department. We were helping out with the Drama Department’s set.”
“It looked great. Really cool.”
“Thanks.” Braxton beamed, as she was particularly proud of her students on that one. “What were you doing there? Are you a student?”
“Oh, no.” Becca smiled shyly. “My brother Brian and I own B&B Prop Shop. That was our chariot everyone was drooling over.”
“I’ve heard of you. That’s fantastic!” Braxton’s eyes danced with her pleasure at hearing of Becca’s success. Everyone in L.A. knew of B&B’s. “So, you keep pretty busy, then?”
“Yeah.” Becca nodded far more vigorously than she needed to, but felt she needed to in some way explain her very sudden disappearing act that day in the theater. “Gotta keep going, you know?” She buried her hands into her back pockets.
“Yeah, I do know. Listen, thank you for finding her. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life.” Braxton rested her cheek against her daughter’s head, which still rested on her shoulder.
Becca shrugged. “It’s not a problem. She get away from you?”
Braxton nodded. “She’s tired. This is her normal nap time. She had plopped down to rest while I was shopping, and I guess I just didn’t realize it until it was too late, and she’d disappeared.”
“She’s a really cute kid. I can’t imagine how afraid you must have been. I’m glad it turned out this way.” Becca smiled at the seemingly lethargic child who was beginning to suck on her thumb. “She’s really beautiful, Braxton,” she said softly, meeting Braxton’s gaze.
“Thank you,” Braxton said just as softly. “She’s the center of my world. I’d be lost without her.” She noticed the other woman beginning to look impatient back in the aisle they’d all been moments before. “Well. Guess I’d better let you get back to your…”
“Jae,” Becca said, for some unknown reason unable to say girlfriend. She didn’t want Braxton to think she had one, and that bothered her no small bit.
“Jae. Right.” Braxton smiled quickly, then turned to leave again. “It was great to see you, Becca. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”
“You, too.” Becca watched Braxton and Grace walk away, and for some reason, she felt an incredible sadness settle over her.
Braxton drove around aimlessly, Grace asleep buckled in the backseat. The blonde’s mind was scattered in a million different directions, all centering on and leading to Becca. Her world had been far more rattled than she was comfortable with, seeing her in the store. She had pretty much boiled that day on the stage to a chance encounter in a huge city, and it was likely never to happen again.
Glancing in the rearview mirror, she looked at her daughter. She could still recall the twinkle and excitement in Grace’s eyes when she looked at Becca, and said that they had draw’red together, which in Grace’s world translated to colored. Why had Becca taken time out for such a kindness? And who the hell was Jae? Braxton was surprised to feel her jealousy return, followed by a wave of anger at the woman’s ogling. Who the hell did she think she was? “Becca’s girlfriend, that’s who,” Braxton answered her own question. It was obvious by Jae’s subtle possession that they had an intimate relationship. How serious was it? How long had they been together? How did they meet? “Why should I care?”
Braxton lead a sleepy Grace into the house, the girl grumpy from her interrupted sleep. Little one tucked safely in bed for her afternoon nap, Braxton headed back out to the car, unloading everything and beginning to put things away. Her cell phone chirped to life, so as she cut tags off the new clothing she’d bought for Grace, she flipped it open.
“Hey,” Alec said, his voice at it’s usual chipper levels.
“Hi. What’s up?” Braxton said absently, using her teeth on a particularly stubborn plastic tag holder.
“You home? I need to talk.”
“Sure. Just got here, actually. Come on over. I’ll make some lunch.”
Becca kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead, one hand dangling out the open window, the other gripping the steering wheel of her Durango. Her thoughts were firmly planted to an hour ago, reliving the events that led her to being once again in the presence of Braxton Crowley. Only distantly did she hear Jae singing along with the radio, or feel the firm hand resting on her thigh. She barely felt the warm air rushing in over her face.
“So, what’s the deal with the blonde?” Jae asked at length, her own thoughts on Braxton. When she got no response, she glanced over at a moody Becca. “Hey.” She slapped her thigh to get her attention. When somewhat-cloudy blue eyes were looking at her, she asked her question again. “Who’s Braxton?”
“I knew her a long time ago,” Becca said, turning her attention back to the traffic before them.
“Were you lovers?”
Becca wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that question, nor if she wanted to share that with Jae. She’d always seen her time with Braxton as special, something she’d tucked away in her heart and hadn’t shared with anyone else. She decided on a half-truth. “We were roommates eight years ago. Lived in a big house with three other people.”
“You liked her, didn’t you?” Jae asked, head slightly cocked to the side. She hadn’t seen her normally stoic girlfriend react quite like that to anyone. It made her nervous.
“Back then, yeah,” Becca answered truthfully. Still only telling a half-truth.
“She’s beautiful.” She studied Becca’s reaction to that comment. She had a strange feeling of jealousy-laced dread lance through her. Something deep inside told her that she needed to grab Becca with both hands and make sure Becca’s attention stayed where it should be. “What are your thoughts on moving in together?” she asked nonchalantly.
Becca’s stomached roiled at the question. She swallowed a few times before answering, not wanting to hurt Jae’s feelings. “Jae, we’ve talked about this before.”
“Yeah, and I want to talk about it again. Now.”
“Why?” Becca spared a glance to the woman in the passenger seat, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. “My thoughts haven’t changed.”
“What if mine have?”
Becca grinned. “Then you don’t want to live together? ‘Cause, if I recall, you were the one who always did.”
Jae sighed, irritated. “Damn it, Becca, what if I want to move our relationship forward? We’ve been together for two years. I feel stagnant.”
Becca felt anger born of guilt start to bubble to the surface. “Well, if you feel so damn stagnant, then maybe you should do whatever it is that will make you happy, Jae.” The makeup artist could only stare at Becca’s harsh words. Feeling terrible, Becca reached down and covered Jae’s hand with her own. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t right.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you over the past couple months, Becca. It’s almost like you’re not interested in anything I do. You don’t join our friends when they come over. When you do, you look like you’d rather be anywhere else. You’re constantly distracted.” She paused, gauging the taller woman’s reaction to her outburst. When there was none, she sighed. “You seem unhappy.”
Becca thought about Jae’s words, chewing on them and trying not to choke on the bitter taste. “Let me ask you then. If you can see this, and you’re obviously not happy, then why would you want to move in together?”
Jae sighed again, looking out her window as they neared her neighborhood. “Because I don’t want to lose you, Becca. I’m trying to do anything that will make you happy and content.”
What if you’re the problem, Jae? Becca said nothing. Instead, she pulled up in front of Jae’s condo. She killed the engine and was about to climb out of the SUV.
“No. I’ll get my stuff out,” Jae said, slamming the passenger door closed after climbing out. She opened the hatch, grabbing her packages, and closing the door hard enough to rock the truck.
“Shit,” Becca muttered, pulling away from the curb and headed home.
Braxton finished off her iced tea, rising to refill her glass and top off Alec’s. He sat at the table, Grace sitting in his lap. They were playing the poking game. Braxton wasn’t sure who was giggling louder, the four year old or her twenty-nine year old father.
Sitting back down, Braxton added sugar to her tea, stirring as she began to speak. “So, what were Mel’s reasons for breaking it off?” she asked, returning the conversation to the whole reason Alec had come over in the first place.
Alec got Grace calmed down, putting her on the floor so she could run off and play. He took a long drink from his own tea, turning his full attention back to Braxton. “He said he didn’t want children.”
Braxton cringed. She could imagine how much that had hurt Alec, as she knew how much he loved his daughter. “Well, I’d say you’re better off without him then, Alec. He obviously doesn’t have the heart you thought he did. I mean, who couldn’t love Grace?”
Alec smiled. “I agree.” He sighed, still hurting from the unexpected blow. “This sucks.” After a moment, he sat back in his chair, running a hand through his thick, dark hair.
“What are your thoughts on Jae and Becca?” Braxton asked, taking Alec by surprise.
“I met Jae today. And Becca,” she said quietly, looking down into her tea.
Something was up. “What about them? Were they rude to you or something? Becca was absolutely awesome with Grace, Braxton. There shouldn’t be-“
“It’s not that. I used to know Becca a long time ago.” Braxton sighed. “I wasn’t expecting to run into her today. I actually saw her weeks ago at school. Guess she was dropping off some props for the production.”
Alec watched his ex carefully. Her usual cool exterior had been shaken. “How did it go?” he asked carefully. One wrong question and Braxton would close up tighter than Fort Knox.
“Good. It was good to see her again.” Braxton traced a wood grain on the table top. “So, how long have Becca and Jae been together?”
Alec hid his smile. Braxton wasn’t very good at attempted subtlety. “Two years.”
Braxton felt a pang of disappointment, and surprise. When she hadn’t known any better, she had thought from the way Becca acted with Jae that their romance was fairly new. “Oh.”
“Becca’s great. Quiet. I don’t know her all that well. Jae is actually my friend, but whenever we’re over Becca’s, she usually disappears somewhere.”
“So, Becca and Jae don’t live together?” Braxton got up and grabbed a package of Oreo’s, suddenly crazing something sweet.
“Nope.” Alec grabbed one of the cookies, swiftly taking it apart and eating it in pieces. “I know Jae wants to, but Becca won’t do it.”
“Why not?” Craving a glass of milk, and knowing that Alec was a dunker, she got them both small glasses.
“Personally I think it’s because Becca knows they’re wrong for each other.”
“Really?” Braxton leaned her elbow on the table, head resting against her hand as she lazily bit into her cookie. “Why?”
“Because Jae is more about having fun in life. She’s spontaneous and can be somewhat flighty. Becca, from what I’ve seen, is more settled. She’s quiet, and I think would rather spend a night snuggling in front of the fire then having friends over.” He shrugged. “That’s just not Jae.”
“If they’re so different, why did they end up together? Why have they stayed together?”
Alec shrugged again. “I think Jae truly cares about Becca. She’s tried to change her, make her more social. As for Becca, I have no idea.” He caught Braxton gaze with is own intense one. “Maybe she just hasn’t found the right woman.” He got the reaction he was after when Braxton’s eyes dropped. Bingo.
Becca glanced down at the piece of paper in her hand, looking at each of the doors that lined the confusing hallways. She glanced longingly at the window that looked down at the campus two stories below. She snapped to attention, almost able to hear her aunt yelling at her and calling her a coward. Taking several deep breaths, she checked her watch, and hoped that she wasn’t busy.
Finding room 212B, Becca glanced in through the rectangle of glass, which allowed her to see inside the large classroom, filled with standing easels. Shelves lined the walls, filled with art supplies. But what caught Becca’s gaze was the figure standing off in the corner at one of the easels, quietly painting.
The door squeaked slightly as it was pushed open, Becca stepping inside the room. She could smell paint and paint thinner, and any number of other art must. The blonde in the corner glanced over her shoulder to see who had joined her.
Braxton was surprised, her heart beginning to race as she watched Becca walk toward her. “Hi.” Braxton set her brush down, wiping her hands on the paper towel that was already paint-splattered. “This is a surprise.”
“Yeah, I know. I, uh,” Becca tucked her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. “I’ve been threatened with my life if I didn’t invite you to dinner with me and Aunt Barbara.”
“Oh yeah?” Braxton said, amused.
“Yeah.” Becca rubbed the back of her neck nervously. “I kinda mentioned I ran into you last week, and B is visiting, so…”
“Ah. I see.” Braxton was amused, and greatly pleased. “Can I bring Grace?”
“I’d personally be really bummed if you didn’t.” Becca grinned.
Braxton studied her, head slightly cocked to the side. She stood in front of a window, some of her golden hair escaping her braid. Becca thought she looked like an angel. “Alright. When?”
“How about tomorrow night? Seven?”
Braxton thought quickly to her own schedule, and nodded, as that would work great. “Okay. Where?”
Becca quickly wrote down her address and directions on the piece of paper with Braxton’s classroom number. “Here you go.” She handed it over, Braxton briefly glancing at it before returning her gaze to Becca’s.
“Alright. I’ll come.”
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