Disclaimers: Mine, mine, all mine! *insert evil laugh here*

Sex: Duh!! J

WARNING: I do NOT give permission for this story to be reposted in ANY changed form: change of character names, title storyline, etc. That is considered stealing and I will seek legal action.

Note: For my precious Sebastian “Bubba” : September 1999 – March 2010. I love you with all my heart, my baby boy. Thanks for coming back to see me.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com .


Lost And Found


Kim Pritekel



Part 5

Sam started, her heart nearly popping out of her chest in fright as she was awakened by something landing on her head. Her eyes flew open, only to see Lily's tail in her line of sight. She reached up, grabbing the kitten – who felt Sam's head was the perfect place to perch – and tossed her to the floor.

“That was not nice, Lily,” she muttered, groaning as she turned to her back, trying to figure out why her back was screaming at her so bad.

As she found her way further into the world of the conscious, she realized she was lying on a couch: Claire's couch. Her brows knit as she pushed herself up to her elbows, wondering why the hell she was sleeping on her boss' couch. She looked down at herself, her body covered by a throw. Peeking under, she saw that she was dressed – kind of. Her skirt had ridden up her legs to expose the black thong underneath. Suddenly it all dawned on her as memories flooded back.

Sam's eyes saucered as she had flashes of her and Claire on the very couch where she lay: flashes of her and Claire kissing: flashes of her and Claire having sex.

“Oh, fuck,” she hissed, flopping her head back to the pillow, hands covering her face. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck!” Sam opened her eyes again, only to see that Lily had jumped back up onto the couch and perched on the back, staring down at her. “You know that I'm totally screwed, don't you, you rat?” she muttered, reaching up and petting the kitten, who immediately began to purr.

Sam pulled her legs out from underneath the throw and stood, tugging her skirt down as far as it would go. In the light of day – and sober – she felt like a total prostitute in the tiny strip of fabric. She folded the throw and left it on the couch, fixing the pillows in the way she thought she remembered them being. From the light coming in through the windows, she had to figure it was mid-morning, yet she heard nothing coming from further into the apartment.

Deciding it might be best to just leave, Sam collected her shoes from the floor, petted Lily one last time and made her way to the door. Before she left, she stopped and listened one last time: nothing. With a heavy sigh, she opened the front door, making sure the doorknob was locked before she left, closing it behind her.

Exhausted, Sam made her way down to her own apartment on the floor below, her steps slowing when she noticed a piece of paper taped to her closed door. For a moment, she wondered if it was an eviction notice. She smirked at the idea as she plucked it from its taped moorings.


I've got some things I need to do at the shop this week, so please continue on the project. Attached is a list of things that need to be done. I'll be in touch later in the




Sam read the note twice more before crumbling it up into her fist – saving the attached to-do list - and tossing the rest to the ground. “Coward,” she muttered as she let herself into her apartment and slammed the door shut. A moment later the door opened again and Sam marched out into the hall, snatching the crumpled paper from the floor. “She's not worth littering over,” she muttered, her apartment door slamming shut again.

Sam threw the crumpled note anew once inside the safety of her place, muttering to herself as she made her way into the bathroom. After relieving herself, still muttering, she tore her clothes off and ran herself a nice, hot shower. As the water cascaded over her skin, she let out a heavy sigh.

“God, what do I do now?” she asked the bar of Dove.

Though she had been drunk the night before, she had been in no way drunk enough to justify what had happened or why she'd done it. Why had she done it? Why the hell had she shown up on Claire's doorstep, Sam knowing full well what was on her mind as she had. The nuts and bolts of it was simple: Samantha wanted Claire in the worst way. There was a pull to the older woman that left her defenseless.

Sam washed her hair, her stomach beginning to roil with nerves. Her thoughts raced back to all the things Claire had told her about her past: all the ways she'd been used, all the ways she'd been abused. Sam showing up on her doorstep the night before and essentially taking from Claire what she'd wanted, was that much different?

“But she responded to everything,” she sighed, grabbing the blue container of face cleaner and smearing some of the goop on her face. “She totally responded to everything.”

Face rinsed, Sam moved on to wash her body. An image of Claire's face just before she came popped into Sam's head, a groan escaping the blonde as her body immediately flared to life. Sam reached for the water temperature knobs, gasping as a burst of cold water hit her, shocking her out of the pathway her body and thoughts were beginning to head down.

Finishing her shower, she stepped out, drying her body with a towel before wrapping her hair up in it. Naked, she padded into the rest of the apartment, her mind still buzzing with worry and regret. She couldn't help but wonder what would happen now. Would she be fired? Would she be kicked out? Would she be arrested?

Rolling her eyes at that last one, Sam grabbed herself some breakfast of a bagel and apple slices and a glass of orange juice. She flopped down on the couch, bare feet resting on the coffee table. She stared out the wall of windows as she ate, sighing heavily.



Claire sat at the desk in her office staring blankly at the computer screen and Excel spreadsheet on it. She had been working on payroll for the past two hours, and hadn't gotten past the first name on the list. Instead, she stared at the sixth name on the list: Samantha Reiker.

It had been three days since the fiasco on her couch, and Claire wasn't entirely sure what to make of the whole deal. All she did know was that time and space were hugely needed. Or so she kept telling herself. Time and time again her mind had gone back to that night and all the feelings and emotions it had stirred up. The ironic thing was, the past she could deal with, it was the present that was leaving her confused and somewhat angry. Though, who was she most angry at: Sam for instigating or herself for allowing it?

Claire sat back in her chair, reaching for her coffee and sipping from it. Grimacing as she realized it had gotten cold, she pushed away from her desk and dumped it in the small sink next to the coffeemaker then poured herself another cup. As she did, she allowed an image of Sam to creep into her mind. She saw the beautiful green eyes, so filled with caring and kindness. Then she saw those same eyes filled with passion and intensity so hot it nearly burned Claire's memory, let alone what it had done to her body that night.

As she sat back down at her desk, Claire set her coffee down and let out a heavy sigh. What had happened with Sam on the couch – what exactly was it? – was the first time Claire's body had been touched because she'd wanted it to be in more than – Claire did some calculating in her head – ten years. Physicality and sexuality weren't something that she'd ever much subscribed to. Her exposure to it had been violent and cruel, so had never had much of a need or want for touch or any semblance of intimacy. Truth be told, she wasn't entirely sure what intimacy was. Was that what she'd been sharing with Sam over the past weeks? Is that what they'd shared in Sam's apartment, when Claire had woken up cuddled up to her?

Claire buried her face in her hands, confusion abounding in her head and heart. “What am I doing?” she muttered, the words muffled behind her hands. A knock at the door sounded, dragging her from her thoughts and confusion. “Come in,” she sighed, sitting back in her chair and trying to look as casual as possible, her face becoming a blank canvas.

Richard stepped into the office, closing the door behind him. He sat down in a chair opposite Claire's desk. “I'd say ‘hello stranger', but I know you've been here every day this week,” he began, crossing an ankle over the opposite knee. He looked into his wayward boss' face. “What's up?”

Claire blinked at him. “Excuse me?”

“Well,” he indicated the coffee pot with a nod of his head and question in his eye. At Claire's nod, he got up and poured himself a cup. “You haven't been around here much in the past few weeks, and when you were, you looked happier than I've ever seen you.” He sat down again, eyeing his boss. “Now you're back hiding out here and I have to say, you're looking quite… sad. ” He sipped his coffee, wincing as he burned his tongue. “So I say again, what's up?”

“I am not hiding here, Richard,” she growled, leaning slightly forward. Again Richard raised a questioning brow, nodding towards the blanket that was draped across the couch. Claire looked away: busted. “I've had work to do here which has been ignored because of the large project I've been working on at home.”

Richard shook his head. “Forgive me, Claire but bullshit.” He swallowed at the death stare he got, but knew he had to plow on bravely. He felt in his gut that Claire needed to talk, so he was going to do what he could to get her to open up to him.

Claire studied her employee - amused as he squirmed under the intense scrutiny – trying to decide what to do. She knew she had a chance to truly talk it out and get another perspective on what she didn't fully understand herself. She wasn't sure Richard was exactly who she wanted to talk to about it, but in all honesty, there was no one else. The only other person – the only person she wanted to talk to – was Sam, and that wasn't possible for obvious reasons.

“Alright, I'll level with you,” she said at length, but stalled for a moment as she sipped from her coffee, though made it look as deliberate as she could. “She and I had – I guess what you would call sex – on my couch the other night and I don't know what the hell to do about it.”

Richard was shocked by Claire's candor and couldn't help but glance over at the couch in Claire's office.

“At home, Richard,” Claire sighed, annoyed.

Richard focused his attention back on his boss then took a drink from his coffee to clear his throat. So stunned by the revelation that had just come from the Ice Queen herself, he burned his tongue a second time. “Damn it!” he exclaimed, coffee spilling down the front of his shirt in his haste to remove the hot liquid from his mouth.

Claire laughed, pushing away from her desk and wetting a towel at the sink, which she tossed in Richard's lap. She sat down again as he cleaned himself up. “So, are you shocked?” she asked, sitting back in her chair. She felt remarkably relieved to have actually vocalized what had been haunting her for days.

“About which part?” Richard asked, scrubbing at the crotch of his pants, which now looked like he'd peed himself. He certainly hoped Claire was willing to settle in for the long haul so his pants would have a chance to dry before he had to face the public. “The part where you had sex with some ‘she' person on your couch at home or the fact that you told me that at all?”

Claire chuckled despite herself. “Either.”

“I'm not shocked about the ‘she' part, as truthfully, Claire? I know nadda about your personal life. For all I know, you've had a husband and six kids stuffed into that giant warehouse of yours this entire time, or you've had a harem of female lovers. Not much would surprise me because I have absolutely no basis for comparison where you're concerned.”

For some reason that statement made Claire feel very sad. She knew it was all too true, and though she didn't have a huge urge to change it, fact was still fact. “Well,” she said, clearing her throat, “that's what happened. I'm not sure what to make of it or what to do.”

“I'm going to go out on a limb here and surmise the ‘she' in question is Samantha Reiker.” He knew he got it right when for a moment Claire wasn't able to hide the shock and near frantic fear from penetrating her baby blues. Just as quickly it was gone, but he'd seen it. “I say that because I know she's living there in that palace, and since you're hiding here, I have to assume it's because you don't want to be there.”

Claire sighed, realizing that maybe she wasn't as clever as she thought. She nodded as she ran a hand through her hair. “You are correct. So, what do I do?”

“I have no idea as I don't know what the problem is. Is it because you boinked an employee? Somehow, the sadness I see in your eyes doesn't jive with that theory.”

Claire glared at him. “My eyes are not sad.”

Richard smiled and shook his head. “Fine, whatever. Anyway, I need to know more about what the problem is for you or I can't help you at all.”

Claire knew he was right, but she also knew she didn't have a clue what the problem was. She sighed, sipping from her coffee. “Fine. Richard, I haven't been involved sexually with anyone in…” she stopped herself, deciding it wasn't necessary to go into too many private details with him, “a long time. I'm not sure why I allowed it to happen in the first place and I don't have a damn clue how I feel about it now.”

Richard studied her for a long moment, his mind working. From what he thought he knew of Claire Hobbs, she would have no problem whatsoever with a casual situation, and certainly wouldn't be kicking herself in the morning if it were simply a casual situation. He just couldn't see her putting that much emotional energy into it, especially considering he wasn't entirely sure if Claire Hobbs even had emotions. No: he mentally shook himself. This was all about emotion, or Claire wouldn't be struggling with it.

“You have feelings for this girl,” he said softly. “Don't you?”

“Well for one, girl is extremely accurate. Richard, Sam is nearly ten years younger than I am, and I'm only thirty-three!”

“So?” Richard said. “My wife is seven years older than I am.”

Claire looked at him, mouth hanging open. “You're married?”

“Three years in October.”

“Why didn't I know that? And why wasn't I invited?”

“You were invited. You told me, and let's see if I can get this right: you'd rather rot in tax season hell than sit through a ceremony celebrating a bullshit state of mind and waste of human emotion.”

Claire felt shame suffuse her face and neck so she looked away. “And you continue working for me?” she said quietly.

“Let's deal with one issue at a time, Claire,” Richard said, his heart reaching out to her. “What is it exactly that you feel for Sam? Is it purely physical or is there more to it?”

Claire sighed, grateful to be back on track. “I've shared things with her that I've never shared with another soul on this earth, Richard. Things that even Tanner didn't know about.”

Despite himself, Richard couldn't help but feel a bit jealous, as he'd worked for and had been loyal to Claire for six years and yet he knew nothing about her. Sam Riker had been in her life a month and knew the private places of Claire's soul. “Why her?” he asked. “Why did you allow her inside?”

Claire blinked at him. Good question. “I don't know. Something about her just reached out to me. She's a very kind person, and instinctively I trust her.”

“So then what's the problem?” Richard asked, taking a drink from his coffee, this time carefully so.

“That instinctively I trust her.”

Richard chuckled, resting his cup on his thigh. “You've got to make a choice, Claire. Is what she does for you worth the risk? I mean, if you look at your life before she came along, things were pretty bleak at camp Hobbs .” He ignored her glare of warning. He was being completely honest with her, so figured in for a penny… “You've been easier – a term I use loosely – to get along with, quicker to smile and just more overall pleasant in the past couple weeks. I have to assume she's responsible for that.” He shrugged, standing and walking over to the sink. He rinsed out his cup, knowing he had to get back to inventory, as well as knowing he'd soon wear out his welcome. “To me, there is no other choice.” He stopped by her desk on his way out the door. “Give it a chance. You just might like what happens.” He stopped just short of opening the door then turned to his boss once more. “I honestly never would have guessed you were into women.”

Claire glared at him. “I'm not into any one, Richard.”

“Right.” He gave her a fond smile then was gone.

Left alone, Claire mulled back over their conversation, digesting all that she'd been told as she tried to pair it with her own thoughts and feelings. She knew that on so many points Richard was right, but wasn't entirely sure how she felt, and more importantly, how Sam felt about the situation.

Something hit Claire cold in the gut: to Sam, all of this could simply be nothing more than physical, a way to get a cheap thrill. The more that thought settled in Claire's gut, the more it made sense. In fact, it seemed to be the only thing that made sense. Looking in the mirror was not an easy thing to do, but as Claire did just that mentally, she knew she was difficult, complicated and hard to understand. She had hurt Sam's feelings on a fairly regular basis and had been anything but a friend to her.

These were not the seeds to grow any type of emotional attachment on Sam's part. Hell, she was surprised it had been enough to grow a physical attachment or attraction. “Reap what you sow,” she sighed, turning back to her computer to finish her payroll.



“She must be a total tiger in bed,” Leon grinned just before sipping from his beer.

Sam glared at where her friend was perched on a stack of pallets watching her work. “It wasn't like that, Leon . I didn't tell you that so you could start forming your own fantasies in that empty head of yours.”

“No, but that's exactly what I'm gonna do.”

“Of course it is.”

Leon finished the bottle then tossed it into the recycle bin Sam had pointed out to him after he'd finished his first. “You know, I thought John was full of shit when he told me about you two.”

“John is full of shit about most things, so why should this be any different?” Sam grunted, heaving her newly-constructed building onto the wooden foundation, letting Claire know it was ready to paint.

For the third morning in a row, she'd awoken to find her work from the day before completed, almost like the Shoemaker's elves had paid her a visit. It pissed her off royally that Claire felt she had to sneak around at night and work. Sam could only presume it was because she was too chicken shit to face her.

“Apparently not this time.”

Sam glared at him as she gathered the materials for the next structure. “The reason I kissed Claire at your party was to get that asshole freak to leave me alone, Leon . Nothing more. Nothing was going on then.”

“Okay, okay,” Leon said, raising his hands in surrender. He could tell he was pissing Sam off more than she already was. “So, what's got your ass, then? I mean, I only saw her the one time, but the woman is hot as hell. You nailed her, got a sweet deal here – I mean, shit, the boss isn't even around half the time, right?”

“Not anymore,” Sam muttered.

Leon studied her for a minute as she worked. He'd never seen Sam so moody and down before. “Oh wait,” he laughed, the wheels turning in his head. “You like this chick. You miss the boss, dude!”

Sam sighed, turning to him. “I feel bad, Leon ,” she said softly. No, she wasn't about to explain the details to her friend, but she did need to talk. It had been a full week since it had happened, and a full week since she'd seen or talked to Claire, other than for the damn notes she left on her door from time to time. “I feel like I pushed her into something that was totally spontaneous and stupid, but that hurt her.”

“But she responded, you said,” Leon asserted. “You can't have done nothin' wrong if she responded. Did she say ‘no' at any point?”

Sam shook her head. “No.” She knew to Leon it was as cut and dried as that: Claire didn't say no, hadn't pushed Sam away, so it must all be okay. Then on the flip side of that same coin, Sam was pissed! Was it more of a matter of Claire not having the guts to face up to what she, too had wanted?

Leon had no idea of the battle waging inside his friend's head, so was absolutely baffled when she erupted in a frustrated growl, her hammer hits cracking the board she was working with, the jagged edge snapping back up and slicing Sam's hand.


“Aw dude, you're bleedin'!” Leon jumped down from his perch and hurried over to his friend, taking her hand in his. “You got it pretty bad, Sam,” he warned. “Bleedin' like a bitch.”

“Hurts like a bitch, too,” Sam growled.

“You guys got a First-Aid kit somewhere? Or you want me just to take you to the hospital? Or,” Leon thought for a moment, “there's one of those emergency clinic places not hugely far. Nah, the hospital would probably be better.”

“Can we debate this later?” Sam exclaimed, watching as the blood drained down her arm and onto the floor.

“Shit! Right. First-Aid?”

Sam opened her mouth about to speak when she heard someone enter the room. She turned in time to see Claire enter the workshop, her blue eyes growing huge when she saw Sam's hand.

“My god!” she cried, hurrying over to her. “What happened?!”

“Leon, that cabinet over there,” Sam said, nodding in the general direction.

“Come on,” Claire said, quickly leading Sam to the restroom and holding her hand under the tap. Sam hissed as the powerful spray stung like hell. “I know, I'm sorry.” Claire glanced at Sam's face. “What happened?”

“Wood splintered and reached back and bit me,” Sam muttered around clenched teeth. She didn't feel it was wise to divulge the fact that it was because she was thinking and cursing about Claire at the time.

“I think this is going to need stitches,” Claire said, getting a better look at the wound with the blood rinsed off, though more immediately flowed. “I'm going to take you in.” Claire grabbed a thick wad of paper towels. “Press this against the cut.”

Sam was led out of the bathroom by a near-frantic Claire, who almost ran Leon over, First-Aid kit held in his hand. “I gotta get stitches, Leon . I'll call you later,” Sam called over her shoulder as she was hurried out the door.

The waiting room was full, Sam and Claire sitting shoulder to shoulder in two of the last three seats available. Claire flipped through a magazine while Sam held the blood-soaked paper towel to her hand. She was feeling feint from the tremendous loss of blood and was for some reason crazing a great big steak. She rested her head against the wall.

Claire glanced over at Sam, whom she hadn't seen in a week. Sitting next to her now – even if it was in the emergency room – she realized that she really had missed her. “How are you feeling?”

Sam rolled her head to the side to look at her. “Weak. And I want a steak.”

Claire smiled. “You've lost a lot of blood. Your body is probably screaming for the protein. Maybe you should have that steak rare, then you can get the blood, too.”

Sam wrinkled her nose. “That's gross.”

“Samantha Reiker?” the nurse called out, standing in the entryway to the lobby, clipboard in her hand.

“Go get ‘em tiger,” Claire said.

“What, you're not going to come in and hold my hand?” Sam teased.

Claire glanced at the blood-soaked paper towel enshrouded hand then up at Sam's grinning face with a raised brow.

“Okay, the other hand?” Sam laughed and walked towards the nurse when Claire's expression didn't change.

Left alone with a room full of strangers, Claire tried to turn her attention back to her magazine, but it wasn't working so well. She glanced towards the door Sam had just disappeared through and felt a strange skip in her heartbeat. When she'd entered the workshop and had seen Sam standing there bleeding like that, she felt her heart drop, terror seizing her. Yes, she knew the cut would likely not be a huge deal, a handful of stitches and it would be over with. But what if it had been something far more significant than a deep cut to the hand? What if Sam had had an accident with the table saw? What if –

Claire made herself stop. There was no place for “what ifs” in life, only what actually was. What was was that Sam had had a simple accident and was fine. But –

Annoyed with herself, Claire pushed up from her chair, dropping the magazine on the scarred table she'd gotten it from and walked over to the heavily-tinted windows that overlooked the well-manicured lawns of the hospital complex.

“Good news,” Sam said from behind Claire, startling the brunette.

“Oh yeah?” Claire said turning around, trying to cover her embarrassment at be startled.

“Yep. Doc says I'll live.” Sam held up her hand, which was heavily bandaged.

“That is good news, and that was damn quick, too.”

“Well, I guess they figure it's best to push the girl out with nine stitches to save a bed for someone who's been gutted or something.” Sam grinned, no idea that she'd just voiced one of Claire's own fears of what could have happened. “Hey, you okay?” Sam asked, watching as Claire's face paled before her eyes.

“I'm fine,” Claire smiled. There was no way in hell she was going to share her ridiculous and unfounded fears with Sam, who would likely think she was crazy. “Still want that steak?”

“Well, I'll tell you what. If you have a barbeque grill I know a mean recipe.”

Admittedly Sam wasn't sure what to say as she sat on the back patio with Claire at the warehouse, incredible smells coming from the closed lid of the barbeque grill. She sipped a beer while Claire sipped water. They sat on the wrought-iron and glass patio table, each lost in their own thoughts. She glanced at the brunette who seemed to be studying the way her ice refracted the light of the dying sun.

“Thanks for taking me to the emergency room,” she finally said, more for something to say than actual gratitude.

Claire met her gaze, a small smile gracing her lips. “Sure. I'm glad you're okay, though I guess I'll be losing you for a little bit, right?”

Sam shrugged, busying her hands as she peeled the label off the brown bottle in her hands. “I just can't get it wet for a few days. The doctor said for me to use common sense as to what I do. If it hurts or could bust a stitch, don't do it.”

“Yeah but I doubt that doctor knows you very well. I know you'll do what you want to do, and that will inevitably lead to you breaking a stitch or nine.”

Sam grinned devilishly. “Probably.”

“Well, hopefully you can get back on the horse soon. We have a new project that came in, and this one has to be done in three weeks.”

Sam stared at her, brows raised. “What about the Christmas one?”

“We've got that one, too. But, this snow globe will take priority. I had actually come in to talk to you about it when you cut your hand.”

Sam looked away, sheepish. Maybe someday she'd tell Claire why it had happened. “What are the details?”

Claire set her water glass down on the glass tabletop and leaned back in her chair, enjoying the warm evening. “The client wants a giant snow globe.”

As Claire explained the details of the project, Sam listened, but her mind began to wander, her gaze taking in the beautiful face and graceful throat, Claire's lips full and naturally pink. Her mind reeled back to another time, another place and an entirely different activity than talking shop and waiting for dinner to be done. She felt anger beginning to build, anger for emotions that had lain dormant for a week, unsatisfied and ignored.

Without a word, Sam shoved back from the table, slamming her bottle onto the table and storming into Claire's third-level apartment from the deck-like patio, her anger overtaking any logical thought. She was angry at herself for letting herself get out of control and ruining what seemed to be a semi-good friendship that they'd been building. She was angry with Claire for being too weak to face her with whatever it was Claire was feeling, instead staying gone or covering it with shop talk. Damn it all, she was angry !

Claire was struck dumb in mid-sentence. For a moment she wasn't sure what to do, or what was even wrong with Sam. Finally after a moment of looking like a dying guppy, she hurried after the blonde. She barely caught her before Sam had reached the front door.

“Wait!' she called out, hurrying after her, stopping her with a hand to her arm. When Sam met her gaze, “What's wrong?”

“When are we going to talk about this, Claire? You've avoided me all week, and then when we're finally in the same damn room, all you will talk about is work.” She stared at Claire, unable to hide her hurt and anger.

Claire took a step back, hugging herself in protective arms. She studied the floor at her feet for a long moment, wishing Sam had been able to just let it go. She knew in her heart it wasn't fair how she'd handled the situation, but at the same time, knew no other way. She truly wasn't sure what to do; even her conversation with Richard hadn't helped shed a great deal of light on things.

“Sam,” she began, but just didn't know what to say. She looked away in shame.

Completely misreading Claire's tone, Sam felt her hurt overwhelming her anger. Powerful arms crossed over her own chest as she clamped her teeth together, jaw muscles working. Finally she let out a heavy breath. “I see. Well, I'm sorry I did what I did. It was wrong and it will never happen again.”

Claire turned back in time to see the door slam shut, Sam gone. She felt a strange numbness infuse her body, leaving her feeling cold and deeply alone. She let out the breath she had no idea she'd sucked in and looked around her living room. Lily studied her from her perch on the back of the couch, then she too disappeared out of sight.

Claire brought a trembling hand to her chest, feeling her heart pounding beneath. She felt a tightness in her chest which spread up to her throat, eventually pushing a sob out. She was shocked by the sudden attack of emotion, the numbness from moments before released in a torrent that left her shaken and confused.

Sam threw an empty duffel bag onto the bed then shoved her closet door open, grabbing a group of hung clothes and threw them to the bed. She went back for a second round when she felt a sharp pain in her hand.

“Fuck!” she cried out, looking down at the bandaging, checking to see if there was any blood. She didn't see any, but knew she needed to be careful, as she didn't have the money to go back to the E.R. for more stitches, and she was hardly going to ask Claire to pay for a second bill.

Just the thought of the older woman made her anger burn brighter, her head pounding with the unleashed emotions that raged inside her.

“Why won't you fucking talk to me!?” she yelled out, her voice echoing off the brick walls of her apartment.

She left the bedroom area and made her way over to the wall of windows in the living space, running a hand through her hair. Her blood boiled with a tempest of emotions, most of which were the ugly nigglings of rejection. She had a bad feeling in her gut and everything was telling her to continue packing and leave, hurt hand be damned.

Sam turned to look back over at her bed across the large space, the bag and pile of clothing waiting for her. Her first instinct was to run for sure, but she knew that she was acting no better than she was accusing Claire of acting. Hell, even storming out of Claire's apartment had been less-than-stellar behavior. What was it that bothered her so much? She'd had casual situations before, so what was the big deal with this? Claire had made it obvious she had no desire to talk about it, so maybe Sam should just let it go, too.

With a heavy sigh, she walked back over to her bed, slowly and carefully – as she didn't want to hurt her hand again – she hung her clothing back up and stowed the bag away again. Once she had calmed down, she began to get a sense of what was eating at her: though drunken and sloppy, their couch encounter had meant something to Sam, and her feelings were deeply hurt that Claire seemed to be either avoiding the issue or wasn't remotely moved by it. Though she felt leaving would be the wisest course of action, Sam knew she had a good thing going with an amazing place to live and a job she loved with dream wages.

She sighed again, making her way into the kitchen and looking for something to eat. Despite everything, she still craved a damn steak! She'd stick it out for now and just let it all go. It wasn't worth driving herself crazy over or hurting herself physically. Hell, she figured next time she cut her damn hand off!

“Screw it,” she muttered, making herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “And screw you, Claire.”



Claire took a slight step back, head cocked to the side as she studied her work. The huge block of dense foam would look like a huge block of dense foam with some weird edges to the average bear, but to Claire, it was a good beginning to a work of art. There were no pictures pinned to the corkboard at the workstation in her home studio, as she didn't need one. This would be a work of art done from memory.

It was after two in the morning, and Claire – unable to sleep – had decided to come down to her second-floor studio and work. This morning's work had nothing to do with deadlines or paid projects; no, this one was for her and it was very personal. As the hours ticked by and the sun began to flirt with the horizon, Claire worked, unaware of anything around her, not even Lily, who slept nearby.

Her hands worked the woodworking tools to carve her creation out of the dense foam, which was nearly like working in marble, which Claire had worked before. Finally, after hours and hours of work, a face was looking back at her. Claire used her fingertips to brush some foam dust away, but then looked into the eyes, satisfied that she'd captured the essence.

Sam stilled her hands as much as possible as she glued tiny pieces of crafted decoration to the outside of the fiberglass bas of the giant snow globe, which Claire had already treated and painted. She had been given tasks that were less likely to tear her stitches open throughout the entire week.

The entire week. She'd shown up for work in the workshop on time and ready to work, but conversation had been little to none between she and Claire. Claire had stayed remote and often gone, though in her studio in the warehouse working on the carving of the family that would be inside the glass dome of the snow globe. It was fine with Sam, as she was able to fully concentrate on the work she'd been given instead of the unresolved issues that was the elephant in the parlor. After the fit she'd thrown the day she'd cut her hand, she decided it wasn't worth it as it was painfully obvious Claire wanted to just forget about what had happened. Who was Sam to demand anything from her?

She stood back, head cocked slightly to the side as she studied her work. She'd come into the workshop that day to find a tray filled with three to six inch tall decorated sculpted out of clay and baked in a kiln, ready for her to adhere to the base. The decorations were symbols and things that had special meaning to the client: their prized show dogs, horses, various items from their lives, such as beloved cars and even a brilliantly crafted two dimensional creation of their house.

Sam was about to get started on the next set of decorations when she heard the sound of a diesel engine pull up outside the warehouse. She wiped her fingertips free of glue as she walked towards the front doors, Claire beating her there by a few steps, having come down the stairs.

At the door was an older man - large in stature on short on hygiene – with a clipboard. He looked at Claire then at Sam, who stood slightly behind. “Claire Hobbs?” he asked.

“That's me.” Claire took the clipboard and scribbled her signature where she was asked to sign. “You guys were supposed to be here two days ago,” she commented, handing the clipboard back. “Follow me.”

Sam stood back, figuring the men were simply delivering more supplies. She was surprised to see that Claire led them – and their huge boxes – into the service elevator and to the second floor.

Claire hurried up the stairs, ignoring Sam's confused glance. The equipment she'd bought had finally arrived, and she was hurrying to meet the delivery and set up crew upstairs on the second floor. The second floor had Sam's apartment and her studio, but there was also a great deal of unused space on that floor, which she felt was perfect for a home gym.

“That can go over there, that over that and that right here,” she barked out, quickly showing the men where various pieces of exercise equipment needed to go.

Sam, curious, crept up the stairs to see what was going on. She was shocked to see a treadmill being set up in one corner while various other types of machines that made her drool were being set up in other spots. Other men were hurrying around, working on the electrical aspect of so many machines while two others were piecing together a massive mirror along one wall. Claire stood in the middle of it all, unaware that she was being watched by the blonde.

Sam ducked back into the shadows and to the stairs, admittedly thrilled to have the home gym so close but also wondering why Claire was doing it at all. It didn't matter. She decided to get back to work.

Later that night Sam sat on her couch watching TV as she at her dinner of salad and baked chicken. She was ravenous as she'd put a long work day in and hadn't stopped for lunch, simply so she could try and finish the base of the giant snow globe so she could get back to the Christmas project.

She felt her stomach drop at the knock on her door and set her dish aside as she pushed up from the couch. She padded over to the door, tugging her tank top over her sports bra as she went. She didn't think it would be wise to answer the door in just mesh shorts and bra. Pulling the heavy door open, she saw Claire standing on the other side.

“Hi,' Claire said, feeling her own nerves bite at her. She looked at Samantha, taking a quick inventory of her features before her gaze returned to her eyes. “May I come in for a minute?”

“Sure,” Sam said, stepping aside. “It's your house after all.”

The comment stung, but Claire let it go. She took a cursory glance around, always so surprised – and thrilled – at how clean Sam kept things. She noted her dinner half-eaten dinner plate sitting on the couch. “I'm sorry to interrupting your night. I can come back if-“

“Nah, it's okay.” Sam walked over to the couch and flopped down, tugging her plate back onto her lap. “Have a seat. Want some?” she held up her plate in invitation.

“No, thanks.” Claire sat down on the opposite end of the couch. Her gaze made a surreptitious mapping of Sam's body before turning her gaze away. “The home gym is set up and ready to go. I'm sorry it took longer than I'd expected, but it's finally here.”

“I saw that today,” Sam admitted, taking a bite of her salad before realizing she'd basically lost her appetite and set her plate aside. “Why did you go to all that trouble?”

“Because I told you I would. Besides,” Claire smiled sheepishly, “it wouldn't hurt for me to start working out, too.”

“Well, I look forward to using the gym. It seems like a good addition to this palace you have here.”

Claire smiled, pleased that Sam was pleased. “Speaking of good addition: I've seen the work you've done on the snow globe, and it's fantastic. Your placement is dead on and your technique is stellar. I know you're limited because of your hand, so I do appreciate all you've done.”

“Thank you,” Sam said quietly. She knew Claire was a tough customer, so her praise meant a great deal. “I finished with everything you gave me today, so I think the base is all but finished. Tomorrow I planned on getting back to the Christmas project while you finish up with the insides of the snow globe.” Guarded green eyes met blue. “Is that okay?”

“Yes, that's perfect. Just please Sam, be careful. I don't want you to do any permanent damage to your hand.”

Sam gave her a sheepish smile, which Claire found absolutely charming. “Fair enough.”

“Good. Also, once the snow globe is finished, which should be in the next day or so – the glass dome has been ordered and should be here tomorrow – I need you to drive it to the client. This thing would just be too much of a bitch to ship.”

Sam nodded, actually liking the thought of a bit of a road trip, as she knew the client was out of state somewhere. “No problem.”

Claire quieted for a moment, contemplating whether she should finally be open and honest with Sam about what had happened on her couch, but she decided not to, her courage leaving her cold and vulnerable. Feeling acutely uncomfortable now, she stood. “Well, please help yourself to the equipment whenever, after all,” she smiled, “it's basically right next door, so…”

Sam nodded with a small smile. “Thank you.” She stood and walked with Claire to the door. “I'll see you when I see you then, I guess.”

Claire turned and looked down at her, wanting so much to be able to reach out to her with words of friendship and understanding. For a moment, she had actually found a friend and person she trusted. Thought brief, it had meant a great deal to Claire, and now she wasn't sure what to do now that it was gone.

“Well,” she finally said softly, “thanks for all that you do here, Sam. You've been wonderful.” With that, she turned and left, closing the door softly behind her.

Sam sighed, resting her forehead against the door. She could tell something had been on Claire's mind, but knew it wasn't her place to get it out of her. Claire was a big girl and made her own choices – for better or for worse.

To be continued


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