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“Aunt B, you are so full of crap!” Becca said, arms crossed over her chest. “You did not kiss Joan Jett in a Dallas hotel lobby.”
The older blonde stared her niece down. “You wanna bet?”
Braxton was far too amused. She looked back and forth between the two. “Come on, Barbara, tell us what happened.”
”Sure, honey, I’ll tell ya. But first this one’s gotta stop glaring at me.”
“Becca, behave,” Braxton said, her “Mommy voice” in full swing, which sent Barbara into another peal of laughter. She hadn’t had this much fun sober in years!
Knowing when she was outnumbered, Becca grunted an intelligible agreement, then gave her attention back to her aunt. “Come on, oh wise one. Fill us in.”
“Careful or you’ll find out just how wise I can be” Barbara warned, pointing a finger at Becca. Braxton grinned at the exchange, wishing so badly that her mother could be with them. “Okay, so here’s the story. It was me and my cousin Frank, and we’d gone to the concert. Now, I had told him I was gay, but did he believe me? Hell no. So, I says, ‘okay, let’s go to the hotel where Joan is staying, and I’ll prove it to ya!’. Well, Frank is dumber than a stump, but he agrees.”
Braxton sat forward slightly in her seat, spellbound. She could see the doubtful expression on Becca’s face from the corner of her eye. She threw her balled up napkin at the brunette, getting a glare in return.
“Thank you, Braxton. I knew I liked you for a reason,” Barbara said with a charming smile before returning to her story. “Anyhow, so we’re there, and lo and behold! She comes in, and I swear I’ll never forget this: black leather pants, one of them shredded shirts, and red high tops.” Barbara’s eyes closed with a soft moan. Both Becca and Braxton laughed. “I walked right up to her in my nineteen year old stupidity, grabbed her and laid one on her!”
“No!” Braxton exclaimed, thoroughly amused.
“Oh, yes!” Barbara assured.
“Did she have you tossed out on your ass?” Becca asked, words dripping with sarcasm.
“No, as a matter of fact she kissed me back.” Barbara’s tone was proud and victorious. “She was chewing gum, which I was nice enough to let her keep.”
Braxton burst into laughter, nearly falling out of her chair, which sent the other two off. Wiping her eyes, she looked at the older blonde, shaking her head in wonderment. “Damn, that took guts.”
“It sure did. Can’t believe I wasn’t arrested.”
“What did she do after?” Becca asked, entranced now.
“She kept going the way she was headed when I grabbed her. Probably wasn’t the first or the last time that happened to her.”
Braxton quickly sobered when she saw the time. “Becca, let me help you clean this up. I need to get Grace home and in bed. She’s already fallen asleep in there.”
“How do you know?” Barbara asked, beginning to help clear the table.
“Because she’s not singing with Belle anymore.”
“Braxton, you’re my guest. I don’t want your help,” Becca said, meeting the blonde by the sink and trying to take the stack of plates from her.
“Don’t touch,” Braxton said, swatting at Becca’s hand. “Mine.” She placed them in the sink and promptly began to rinse them before loading them into the dishwasher.
Barbara watched, amused as she caught her niece’s gaze. Her grin widened at the look of frustration she saw there.
Becca walked Braxton and Grace out, carrying all of Grace’s coloring books and packs of crayons as her mother carried the sleeping child. Braxton got Grace tucked into her car seat and closed the car door as quietly as possible.
“Thanks,” she said, taking all of Grace’s things from Becca.
“No problem. Thanks for coming. You’ve saved me from a beating.” Becca grinned, hitching a thumb back toward her house and her aunt.
“Oh, I’m sure you could take care of yourself.” Braxton leaned back against the side of her car, thumbs hooked in the belt loops of her jeans.
“Yeah, well. Thanks for bringing Grace, too. She’s a really precious little girl.”
Braxton beamed. “Thank you, Becca. I’m so glad you can appreciate and enjoy a four year old. Few can.” She grinned.
“I’m sure. Guess it helps still being a child myself.” They both chuckled softly, then were silent, not sure what to say as the night chirped around them. Finally Braxton broke the silence.
“You’ve seen where I work- twice. When do I get to see this amazing warehouse of yours? I’ve heard it’s quite the place to be.”
“It’s an experience, that’s for sure,” Becca agreed, tucking her hands into the back pockets of her shorts. “It’s taken us a long time, but I’m really proud of what Brian and I have managed to do.”
Braxton’s smile was genuine and soft. “I’m so proud of you, Becca. You’ve really done something special with your life, and the fact that you’ve reconciled with your family. It’s truly wonderful.”
Feeling shy and more than a little sheepish, Becca kicked at the ground with the toe of her shoe. “Thanks. My father and oldest brother still won’t speak to me, but for the most part,” she shrugged, “I’m happy.”
“Where was Jae tonight?” Braxton blurted, immediately feeling stupid for it. “I’m sorry. That’s absolutely none of my business.”
Becca wasn’t sure whether to be embarrassed or jump for joy that Braxton cared enough to ask. She was surprised by the seemingly embarrassed coloring of her cheeks, though it was hard to tell if it was even really there from the darkness surrounding them. “I didn’t invite her,” she said simply. It was the truth, though she wasn’t ready to tell Braxton that she hadn’t invited her girlfriend because Braxton was going to be there. She did need to offer up some sort of explanation, though. “I wanted to have a nice, quiet dinner with you, Grace and my aunt. When Jae’s around, it’s never quiet.”
Braxton didn’t miss the somewhat bitter note in Becca’s voice, but decided not to comment. “Well, then you must have done the right thing, because it was a lot of fun. And quiet.” The twinkle in Braxton’s eyes told of her teasing.
“Yes it was.” Becca looked up into the night sky and knew it was getting late. She didn’t want Braxton to go, but she could see Grace passed out in the backseat, her head at what looked to be an uncomfortable angle. “I guess I should go in. Grace looks like she’ll have one hell of a kink in her neck tomorrow.”
Braxton followed the taller woman’s gaze an briefly looked at her daughter, yet again overcome with tenderness and love. “I suppose so. Again, thank you for tonight. It was a blast.”
Becca was surprise when suddenly she found herself with an armful of Braxton. She hugged her back, squeezing tightly before letting her go in the time that propriety set. She watched as Braxton walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side, gave her one final wave, then disappeared inside the car. The headlights flicked on followed by the engine. Within moments Becca was watching as the red taillights disappeared into the darkness.
Margot brushed heavily graying hair out of her face as she shuffled back towards her cell, a correctional officer by her side. She felt numb, her emotions still trying to reconcile with what was just told her. She looked around her, seeing the stark, painted cinderblock walls around her, the dull gray paint that covered the railings and tables scattered around her pod.
“You doing okay, Crowley?” her guard asked.
Margot nodded dumbly, not sure really. She slipped inside her cell, glad that her cellie wasn’t home. She needed time to think and time to absorb. Looking around her side of the small space, she saw all of the drawings her granddaughter had done, including all the photographs of Grace and Braxton that Braxton had sent. A smile came to her cracked lips at the images, and tears began to sting behind her eyes.
“I’m going home,” she whispered.
Braxton looked up at the massive structure before her as she stepped out of her car. She couldn’t help but smile, pride warming her when she saw the big, bold: B&B PROP SHOP sign above the door.
Inside a security guard stood when she walked in, waiting for her to state her business. “Hi. My name is Braxton Crowley. I’m a friend of Becca’s. I’d like to see her.”
“Just a moment, Miss Crowley.” The officer grabbed the receiver of a phone and dialed, speaking into it. After a moment he cradled the receiver, and pointed toward a large, heavy metal door, which he buzzed for her. Stepping through the door was like stepping through into a fantasy land.
Walking further inside, she turned in a small circle, taking in the horseless carriage that looked like something from Cinderella to her left, the mannequins standing guard, dressed in full military uniform from all four branches, then uniforms that drifted back in time from that of a Civil War era soldier, to the Revolution, to a knight in shining armor.
“You like it?”
Braxton whirled, seeing Becca leaning against the railing of the second floor, watching the blonde with an amused expression on her face. “This is incredible, Becca.”
Becca quickly made her way down the metal flight of stairs until she reached the awed blonde. “Good. Glad you like it. What are you doing here?” She couldn’t suppress her joy at seeing Braxton.
“I’ve come to say hello and to see your prop shop. So, hello.”
Becca nearly melted at the charming smile she received, and couldn’t help but return one of her won. “Howdy. How has your day gone?”
“Good. I have no afternoon classes today, so figured it was the perfect time to drop in.”
“And I’m glad that you did. Come on- I’ll give you the grand tour.” She led the way toward the office where Brian was sitting behind the desk, chicken-pecking away at the keyboard. “Bri, I’ll be out of commission for a little while,” Becca said, leaning in the doorway.
Her younger brother looked up, mouth still hanging open from his seconds ago concentration. “Huh? Oh, okay.” He eyed Braxton behind his sister. “Who’s this?”
“Brian, I’d like you to meet Braxton, an old friend of mine. We’ve just recently re-connected. Braxton, this is m brother and business partner, Brian.”
“Great to meet you, Brian,” Braxton said, taking his offered hand in shake.
“Right back at’cha.” Brian gave her the Steiner grin that had melted many a woman’s heart.
“I’m going to show her around the place, and we may grab some lunch, so…” Becca said, her brother nodding in full understanding. She turned back to Braxton. “Ready?”
“Let’s do it.”
They wondered through the aisles of wigs, accessories and shoes, Becca pointing to various ones and explaining which film they’d appeared in, or which actor and actress had donned them. She showed her the row upon row of various types of facial hair pieces.
They had worked their way up from the bottom floor, where all the larger pieces were: chariots, carriages, cars and building parts. Now, they made their way up to the third floor, which was a particular favorite of Becca’s.
“This is where we keep all of our costumes. I keep them together by era. So,” she clapped her hands together, shall we take a little trip in a time machine?”
Braxton nodded vigorously, absolutely charmed by what she’d seen, and by Becca’s obvious excitement to show her around, and what she’d accomplished.
The space was massive, but it was broken up by hanging black material that separated the various eras, almost creating their own place in time. The first one consisted of more of the ancient, stone-age costumes. Lots of fur and animals skins, a more raw leather look. Boots, hats, fur capes and leggings.
“Oh wow, Becca,” Braxton said, walking along the racks and items that were hung or draped over mannequins. “This is amazing.”
“Thanks. It’s kind of creepy up here at night, though.”
“Oh, I bet!” Braxton said, holding up a caveman club and waving it menacingly. She saw the free-standing mirror and jumped in front of it, grunting and pounding her chest dramatically, waving the club. She could hear Becca’s laughter from behind her, which only spurred on her behavior. “Me Tarzan!” she exclaimed. “Booga, booga!”
Becca hurried over to one of the racks and grabbed a fur throw, placing it over Braxton’s shoulders, adding to the experience. Braxton turned back to the mirror, looking at herself, face scrunched up in a fierce “caveman” look.
“Alright, Caveman Joe. Come on, there’s lots more to see.”
Braxton, relieved of her furs, was led deeper into the labyrinth of clothing and costumes. She was frozen in time when they hit the dresses, coifs, wire circlets, tunics, hose and rolled hats.
“Wow,” Braxton whispered, running her hands over the fine material of the dresses. “These are incredible. I’m surprised most productions don’t just make their own costumes.”
“Many do,” Becca said, straightening a couple dressed on hangers that had gone askew. “But, it gets expensive to make them for any extras or more minor characters. A lot of times productions will either sell or donate their made dresses to us, and then we rent them to either productions with smaller budgets, or for extras. It works great.”
“How wonderful for you guys, Becca. You should really be proud of yourself.”
Becca met Braxton’s gaze, and for a moment felt lost in the green depths. She quickly turned away, afraid of the intense emotions that were flooding her. She was afraid to feel them, and afraid that Braxton would see them. “Well, I hardly think I’ve accomplished as much as you have.”
Braxton smiled. “I don’t think it’s a race, Becca. We’ve both come a long way. Just know that I’m proud of you.”
Becca was touched, and she wanted Braxton to know that. She walked over to her and hugged her. Her eyes closed when she felt the petit woman return the embrace. They stood like that for a long time, neither ready to relinquish the exquisite warmth and softness of the other.
Braxton was amazed when she felt her world right itself. She inhaled the fragrance that was Becca, which was so familiar to her. It filled her with memories and warmth. How was it that she felt so safe with Becca? She always had. She could remember back when she had the nightmares after the accident, and how many times Becca had come into her room to wake her then hold her. It was only then that Braxton knew everything was truly going to be okay, and that the monster couldn’t get her anymore.
“I really missed you after you left,” she said softly, her cheek resting against Becca’s shoulder.
Becca’s eyes squeezed shut at the memory of her own loss. “I’m sorry. I had to go.”
“I know.” After a moment, “You know, after you were gone, the nightmares started to come back again. I think they knew that you weren’t there anymore to protect me.”
The words were spoken so softly, so wistfully that Becca felt her heart break. “I’m so sorry, Braxton. I didn’t mean to let you down.” She wanted to pull away, but something compelled her to stay put. Instead of pulling away, she gently caressed the long, cool strands of gold that flowed down Braxton’s back.
Braxton relished the affection, something she so rarely got, except from her daughter. “You didn’t let me down. It was a difficult time for both of us, Becca. I know that, and I knew that then.”
As much as Becca wanted to hold onto Braxton forever, she knew that wasn’t possible. She let her go with an encouraging smile, which Braxton returned. “Come on. Let me show you more.”
As they wandered through the myriad of outfits and centuries, Becca decided to ask questions. “So, how did you and Alec end up together? Well, at least sharing a child, anyway.”
Braxton smirked. “It’s funny, actually. I met him pretty much right away in New York, and we hit it off. I was alone in a very big city, and he was great. We became friends, decided to date, and then became parents.”
Becca glanced at her with raised brows. “You didn’t know he was gay?”
“I know, I know. Trust me, I know. I guess it just didn’t really dawn on me. He was so wonderful and sweet, very sensitive. Had great ideas for style.” She laughed. “It’s funny, but I guess I just didn’t think in those terms. I did, however, notice that when we were ‘dating’,” she brought her fingers up in quote marks, “it wasn’t all that different from when were just friends. Neither of us seemed to push for anything more, anything physical. When we were finally together, it was a crazy, spontaneous moment that was essentially a mistake, though I’ll never see it fully as one, since that’s how I got my little Grace girl.”
“Wow. Quite the story.” Becca stopped their tour, leaning against a wall, hands buried in her hip pockets. Braxton took a similar pose as she leaned against one of the clothing racks, filled with corsets. “Did you and Alec stay together?”
Braxton shook her head. “No. He finally came out, though I hate to think I drove him out.” They both laughed. “I kept going with school, then had to concentrate on my career and raising my daughter.’
“So you never dated? Had a boyfriend?”
Braxton shook her head. “Too busy. But what about you?”
Becca felt unease settle over her. She didn’t want to talk about her love life, especially not with Braxton. “I dated off and on for awhile, never anything serious. Then Jae.”
“Which is…?” Braxton urged.
Becca smiled. “I don’t know. I don’t think of us as serious, but we’ve been together – which I use in the loosest sense of the word – for two years. She wants to take it a step further, but I don’t.”
“Why not?” Braxton fingers the fine satin lacings of a whale bone corset near her. She felt a bit uneasy talking about this, but wanted to know.
“I don’t know. I think we’re just too different. We don’t want the same things in life. I’ve had my days of fun, and don’t want that anymore. Getting drunk on any given night isn’t something that’s high on my list of priorities, if it’s there at all. She does. Things like that. They’re small things that add up after awhile.”
Braxton was about to respond but the sound of her phone cut her off. She pulled it out of her purse and flipped it open to see who was calling. “It’s my mom, hang on a sec.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
Braxton shook her head as she answered the call. “Hello?... Yes, I’ll accept the call… Mom? Hi. Why are you calling in the middle of the day? I thought you only could on Sunday-“ Braxton listened, her face telegraphing everything she was feeling from what she heard. Her eyes grew big, mouth falling at the same time. She looked as though she were ready to smile, laugh and cry all at once. “Okay. I’ll be there.”
Becca waited while Braxton snapped her phone shut, her hands trembling as she slipped it back down into her bag. “Everything okay?”
Braxton’s gaze reached Becca’s, her eyes watering. “She’s being paroled.”
Becca felt her heart rate pick up, happiness for Braxton and Margot washing through her. It brought back to mind the day she was released, and the happiness mixed with fear that accompanied such wondrous news. “Oh, Braxton,” she said, her voice husky from her own emotions.
“God, I feel so strange. I’m not sure whether to cry, dance, scream or try and fly,” Braxton exclaimed.
Becca grinned. “Well, you can do all but try and fly here.” She was started as a scream of excitement burst from the smaller woman, followed by loud laughter.
“I can’t believe it. Oh, I can’t believe it.” She hurried over to Becca, throwing her arms around her neck and squeezing almost painfully tight. “I’m so excited!”
“I’m happy for you, Braxton,” Becca gushed. “This is wonderful news!” They parted just enough to look at each other. “You’ve got to celebrate. When do you go get her?”
“She’s out on the twelfth of the month. I need to make flight reservations today. OH god,” she breathed, hands trembling again as she tried unsuccessfully dig her phone out of her bag again. She stopped at the warm touch on her arm.
“Calm down for a second. You look like you’re about to shake apart.” Becca brushed a few strands of gold out of Braxton’s face that had fallen in her excitement.
“I can’t believe this, Becca. She has waited so long for this. And she’ll get to see Grace!”
Becca smiled, the energy pouring from the blonde contagious.
“I need to go. I’m so sorry to cut this short. I’ve had so much fun with you today, and seeing your wonderful prop house.” Braxton took hold of both Becca’s hands. “Thank you. Can we do this again? I want to see the rest of it.”
“Of course we can!” Becca gave Braxton another quick hug then began to lead her back through the maze and to the ground floor. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” she asked, standing outside of Braxton’s car.
“Yeah. I’ll be okay.” Braxton took a long, cleansing breath before letting it go. “I’ll call you soon, okay?”
Becca nodded, watching as the blonde tucked herself into her car and pulled away from the building. Shaking her head with a mile-wide smile, she headed back inside.
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