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 7


Claire sat on the couch in her living room, flipping absently through the channels on the TV. How was it that nothing in 900 channels could keep her attention? Food Network, HBO, A&E, NBC… Nothing was interesting, nothing made sense. With a heavy sigh, she turned off the TV, her hand still running down the soft body of Lily, her eyes staring off into Never Never Land.

It had been eight hours since Sam had left in the box truck with the snow globe tucked safely inside. It had been nearly sixteen hours since they had gone to sleep, spending the six hours before that making love. Making love. That was a foreign concept to her; something she'd never done before, yet, she'd spent so much of her time – nearly an entire work day – doing just that, with Sam.

She rested her head back against the couch, staring off into space. Her skin still tingled from where it had been touched, her body alive for the first time in her life. What now? The weight of that question was nearly crushing. She had a bad feeling in her gut. She feared she may have just pushed the first person in many years that she'd cared about, away. Her own words came back to haunt her:

Be with me tonight, Sam. You make me feel, and god I need to feel. I don't know what'll happen tomorrow, but please just be with me now.


“It's tomorrow,” she blew out, “and I certainly don't know what'll happen now.”

She glanced over at her cell phone which rested on the coffee table, chewing on her bottom lip as she considered calling Sam to see how the drive was going. The trip wasn't horribly long, but too long and far to do in one day, so Sam would be staying overnight and driving back the next day. Even still, Claire missed her and had visions of them cuddling on the couch again. Or making love.

Claire squeezed her eyes tightly shut and shook her head. “No,” she whispered, fighting against rising emotion. She didn't understand it and didn't know what to do with it. It made her feel restless and antsy, like she was about to vibrate out of her skin, meanwhile her heart hurt.

Claire pushed up from the couch, startling Lily from the meditative state Claire had put her in from the caresses. Claire walked into the kitchen, roaming aimlessly around the space like a caged tiger. She wanted nothing: wasn't hungry, wasn't thirsty, but didn't know what to do with herself. She opened random cabinets, looking at the contents within. Nothing sparking her interest, she turned to the fridge, only for the same outcome.

With a heavy sigh, Claire decided to go to bed.


Sam's head bobbed along with the beat of the song that played on the radio. She wasn't particularly fond of the song or the artist, but was just grateful that a radio station had come back on, as she'd traveled through the middle of nowhere, all signal lost. It had been a very long four hours of silence. It had also given her way too much time to think, which was something she didn't exactly want to do at the moment.

The delivery of the snow globe went without a hitch, other than the fact that Sam was drooling at the opulence of the client. No wonder they were able to request such an extravagant piece of art. Driving away from the massive home of the client – who knew such rich people lived in Kansas ? – Sam thought about the drive home. She could easily make it back home, even if it did get her home sometime early in the morning. Even so, she wasn't ready yet. She didn't know what she'd face, and she wasn't sure what she wanted.

Spotting a hole-in-the-wall bar off the main strip, she decided to get some dinner and a beer. Maybe she could ask someone there about a good place to crash for the night. She could sleep… and think. She pulled into the parking lot, taking two spaces to try and ensure the truck wouldn't get dinged or hit by another car.

As the sun began to slide further down the sky, the temperature was falling with it. Sam snagged her jacket from the bench seat of the box truck and headed inside, finding herself a booth in the back near the bathrooms, wanting to stay away from the loud music of the juke box as well as the smattering of other patrons in the small establishment.

“What can I get'cha?” the waitress asked, at the table before Sam could even get her jacket completely off.

“Can I have a cheeseburger and a beer?”

“You got it, honey,” the blonde said, scribbling the order before turning and heading back towards the bar to place Sam's order.

Sam sat back against the cracked vinyl of the booth and blew out a breath. She was tired, as they hadn't gotten a tremendous amount of sleep the night before. The night before. Sam's eyes slid closed for a moment as s warm wave of sensation passed through her, leaving pleasant chills in its wake. She could still feel Claire beneath her, could still hear her soft moans and cries of pleasure. Could still recall the look in those beautiful blue eyes, filled with so much tenderness and need. It had been something that was strange and frightening to Sam, as she'd never known a loving relationship in her life with another person. Her sexual relationships were just that: sexual. She'd never really had a boyfriend and certainly not a girlfriend.

Sam smiled her gratitude to the waitress who quickly set her cold mug of beer down then left. Sam drank deeply, blowing out a long, satisfied breath as she fell back against the seat behind her. She'd needed that all day. Hell, she'd need that for the past three days. So what now?

“Fuck,” she muttered with a heavy sigh. She didn't have a lot of time to consider that very important question as her cell phone chirped to life. Glancing at the caller I.D., she felt her heart flutter. “Hello?” she said into the tiny phone.

“Hey,” Claire said, her soft voice difficult to hear above the rowdy bar crowd.

Sam looked around the bar, flagging down her waitress. “Can I get that food to go?” she asked. With a nod, the waitress hurried into the growing crowd.

“What?” Claire asked, confused.

“Sorry,” Sam said, weaving her way through the crowd towards the bar and cash register, already digging her wallet out of her pocket. She had the feeling this conversation with Claire wasn't going to be a short one. She knew they needed to talk about what had happened. “I'm ordering food, so…”

“Oh. Is this a bad time?” Claire asked.

“No, you're fine. I'll head out where it's quieter. It's fine.”

“Okay. Good.”

Sam was presented with a Styrofoam container and a paper cup, which her beer had been poured into. She paid her bill, grabbed her dinner then left, heading out into the cool night. As she jumped into the box truck, she blew out a breath, her heart beginning to really pound now that she was in a position to talk.

“All clear?” Claire asked.

“Yeah, we're good now,” Sam said, glancing into her mirrors as she carefully backed out of the space then got the big truck going into traffic. She headed toward a local hotel.

“How did the delivery go?” Claire asked at length, her voice sounding far more friendly than she actually felt.

Sam could hear it in her tone. “It went great. The client was thrilled and I got the check to prove it.”

“Excellent. I'm glad to hear it.” Claire was quiet for a moment. “You sound tired.”

“I am.” Sam pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. She grabbed her dinner and the small bag she'd packed, then headed out. “Can I call you back in like five minutes? I need to get checked in and settled.”

“Of course.”

Ten minutes later, Sam sat on the single bed in her room, her cell phone lying on the scratchy comforter next to her. She stared at it for a long moment before picking it up and hitting the call button. It only took two rings for Claire to answer.

“Settled?” she asked.

“Settled,” Sam agreed, quickly untying and removing her shoes before she piled the two pillows against the wood headboard and rested back against them with a contented sigh. “Man, what a long day.” For some reason she was finding it easier to talk to Claire over the phone. In person, there were just far too many questions. Maybe this way there was the comfort of the distance between them. Nothing could happen that way.

“I've made my fair share of deliveries like that. It's always amazing to me just how tiring it can be to sit on your butt during travel.”

Sam smiled, nodding. “I second that.” She fell silent for a moment, able to hear the soft breathing on the other end of the line. She felt it needed to be discussed, but wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be the one to bring it up. Would she sound desperate if she did? Childish? Unsure and insecure? Hell, she wasn't even sure what was supposed to be said.

As though able to read Sam's mind, Claire spoke, her voice soft and unsure. “What are we supposed to do, Sam?”

Sam wanted so badly to play stupid and say, About what?, but she knew that wasn't right and it wasn't fair. What they had shared had been so beautiful, and to lie would diminish it. “I'm not sure, Claire,” she said instead, letting out a heavy sigh. “I'd like to say, ‘it happened and that's that', but I guess we both know it's not that simple.”

“No, it's not.”

Sam could hear Claire getting settled and wondered where in her house she was. Was she in bed like Sam? Was she on the couch? Was she naked? Sam squeezed her eyes closed, rubbing her forehead with her fingers. “Why do you think it happened?” she asked at length.

“I can't answer for you, Sam, but for me, I don't know…” Claire was quiet for a long moment, almost convincing Sam she wasn't going to continue, but she did. “You know my story, my background and certainly my history with sex. It's not something I use or typically need. I…”

Sam could tell something was bothering Claire, and felt the need to reach out as a friend, and not just the woman Claire had fucked the night before, and now appeared to be struggling with. “What, Claire? You, what?” she asked softly.

Claire sighed. “I think that yes, I needed to be close to someone last night, I needed to be touched and most importantly to feel, as I explained to you then. But,” she sighed again, “more than that. Not to say I expect anything from you Sam, because I don't,” Claire said, her voice hurried and unsure. “But, I do think this has something to do with you as well. Not just a moment of weakness on my part. Do you understand?” she asked, her voice little girl-quiet.

Sam felt her heart reach out to Claire as her stomach fell in nervous panic. “I understand,” she admitted, even as she struggled to catch her breath. What do I do?! “I guess my question from yesterday is still valid then. What do you want from me, Claire? Do you want me to stay on as the live-in who works for you that you can occasionally bring out as your toy? Get your fill then put me back on a shelf-“

“Whoa!” Claire exclaimed. “Where did that come from?”

Sam buried her face in her hand. “I'm sorry,” she whispered, forcing her anger down. She knew that sudden anger had been simple and childish fear. “What do you want to come out of this?” she whispered into the phone.

“I don't know, Sam. I really don't know. I mean, technically, we don't even know each other that well. It sounds like we both are woefully lacking in the relationship arena and, on top of all that, I don't have the foggiest why suddenly I'd want somebody in my life.”

“Do you? Want somebody in your life, or is this just simply physical attraction?” Sam asked, reaching over to where she placed the paper cup of her beer then re-settled against the pillows. She took a long drink, hoping the brew would begin to numb her somewhat. She hated to feel and she was certainly feeling. “I mean,” Sam continued, her fears beginning to get the best of her. She'd never been in a relationship and was scared to death of them. She'd lost everything in life that she'd ever cared about. Never again. “I don't do relationships, Claire.” Her tone was far bitchier than she'd intended and regretted it immediately.

“Well, I supposed that's a plus considering I wasn't asking you for one,” Claire spat, her voice hard. “It was just a good fuck, right? We both got off and can now move on. Thank you for the clarification.”

Sam was stunned then really pissed as the line went dead and she realized she'd been hung up on. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she yelled, throwing the cup of beer, not caring that it made a huge mess as it splattered across the wall and dumped across the worn carpet. Instead, she shoved off the bed and tugged her shoes back on, barely getting them tied before she was back out the door.

She stormed over to the truck unlocking the door and throwing it open. “Fuck this,” she growled, climbing inside. “I quit. I'm driving back tonight and getting the fuck out of that mad house.” She started the engine and was about to pull out of her space when she realized she'd left all her stuff in the room and quite frankly, was acting like an idiot.

With a heavy sigh, Sam rested her head back against the seat, her heart beginning to slow in her chest. She tried to understand why she'd let her anger get so out of control so quickly and why she'd taken it out on Claire. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair.

Sam climbed out of the truck and locked it up, heading back to her room. She closed and locked the door behind her, noting her cell phone that still lay on the comforter and then the mess of her beer. The entire room smelled like Coors. She wrinkled her nose.

“I just acted like a four year old.”

Hands on hips, Sam looked around the room, trying to decide what to do. She knew there was no way in hell she was going to be able to sleep in that room that smelled like a brewery. She grabbed up her stuff, left the motel key on the dresser and left, checking out before hopping into the box truck and heading out.

She wasn't sure where she wanted to go: find another motel: park in a truck stop somewhere and get some sleep: drive all the way home throughout the night: call Claire back and apologize. None of her options were hugely appealing, so she found herself a Denny's instead, as she hadn't eaten her dinner, instead leaving it in the motel room trash.

By request, Sam was seated in a booth in a less-populated area of the dining area of the busy restaurant, close to the bathrooms and entrance into the kitchen. She sat in the booth, sipping the coffee she'd ordered as she waited for her meal. She glanced out the window into the parking lot beyond. Cars drove on in a constant stream on the highway beyond, their headlight and taillights colorful and bright in the darkness. That was certainly one thing she'd learned since working with Claire: watch for the natural art all around, be it in nature or the mundane that was never meant to be beautiful.

“Here you go,” the waitress said, setting Sam's chicken fried steak dinner in front of her.

“Thank you,” Sam said with a grateful smile then began to dig in.

As she chewed and swallowed, she allowed her mind to float back to her earlier conversation with Claire. Despite what Claire had said, which Sam felt was solely based upon her own childish responses, she felt Claire was flirting with the idea of them seeing where – and if – this obvious attraction between them could go anywhere. Maybe, maybe not. At the end of the day, the thought downright scared Sam stupid. Was it in her to do that? Could she give Claire what she needed? Did Sam even know what she needed?

Sam sighed, cutting off another bite of meat and sticking it into her mouth. The opposite side of her coin of thought was that maybe she should just pack up and leave Claire's life altogether. Neither of them seemed to be in any sort of emotional place to take on something like this. So, would it be easier-

Sam cut off her own train of thought with a heavy sigh. “I'm such a chicken shit,” she muttered.


Claire took several deep breaths, trying to get her emotions under control. To her utter shock, after she hung up on Sam, she burst into tears and hadn't been able to stop in more than an hour. Lily sat on the bed next to her, looking bored and completely uncaring. Typical cat, Claire thought as she blew her nose and wiped at her eyes. She glanced at her kitten, who was growing so quickly.

“You have it so easy, you little rat.” She rubbed Lily's head, one blue eye opening to glare up at her and make Claire laugh. “As I was saying…”

She got out of bed and padded into her bathroom. She flicked on the light and looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were red and swollen, her hair a mess. She'd spent a large portion of the day being grumpy and irritable, her indecision of what to do leaving her depressed and insecure.

“I look like absolute shit,” she told her reflection with a heavy sigh.

Claire washed her face with cool water and soap then padded her way into the kitchen, warming herself up some leftovers from dinner. She carried them and a bottle of water back to her bedroom and settled in for a long night of watching movies in her bed by herself with Lily curled up close by.

She was probably a fool anyway, thinking there would be anymore to her life other than her work and her art. She'd lived more than 30 years that way, so why change now?


Sam woke with a start, nearly frightening the poor waitress that had tapped her on the shoulder, rousing her from where she sat, head resting on her folded arms which rested on the table.

“I'm sorry to wake you ma'am, but you can't sleep here. Vagrants aren't allowed.”

Sam glanced up at the poor woman who looked like she was about to sprint away. “Not a vagrant,” Sam muttered, shocked to realize the sun was beginning to come up outside. “Oh shit.” She looked around, noting a small puddle of drool on the smooth surface of the table, as well as her coffee cup, its contents long ago gone cold.

She grabbed her jacket, keys and phone then slid out of the booth, leaving a couple bucks for a tip, even though her waitress was likely long gone from her shift. She made her way towards the exit, still in a bit of a sleepy haze when a waitress rounded the corner, a tray loaded with coffee cups and water glasses cleared from vacated tables. The collision was loud and utterly embarrassing.

Sam found herself sitting flat on her butt on the berber carpet, along with the waitress who sat amongst broken mugs, glasses and ice cubes. “Oh my god! I'm so sorry!”

Sam quickly scrambled to her knees, hurrying to help the flustered young waitress clean up the mess, both tossing shards of ceramic and glass pieces onto the tray she'd been carrying.

“It's okay,” the young woman muttered, her blonde hair falling into her face as she scrambled to clean up the mess.

Another waitress hurried onto the scene, glaring at Sam before falling to her knees with a dustpan and handheld broom. “Careful, Tanner. Don't cut yourself,” the older woman muttered, again glaring at Sam.

Sam backed away, sensing she wasn't welcome by the second waitress. Her eyes flickered to the blonde, who's hands were trembling. “I'm really sorry,” she said, feeling like a complete idiot.

The blonde waitress looked up and smiled. “It's okay. It happens.”

Sam's breath caught as she looked into familiar blue eyes, unable to look away. She could tell she was making the waitress uncomfortable with the intense study but Sam couldn't help it. Her gaze swept down to the nametag pinned to the blonde's work shirt. TANNER. She'd heard the older woman call her that, too.

“No way,” she whispered, her gaze returning the Tanner's face. The resemblance was unmistakable and she felt like she was caught up in some sort of strange dream. “Do you have a sister?” she blurted, the words out of her mouth before she even realized she'd spoken.

Tanner looked up at her, blue eyes wide. “Excuse me?”

“Do you have a sister?” Sam asked again, squatting down next to her, getting a closer look into her face and eyes.

Tanner was obviously uncomfortable and moved away, pushing to her feet. “I don't know what you're deal is, but I'm not interested.” With that, Tanner quickly headed towards the kitchen, leaving her older co-worker to continue glaring at Sam.


Claire glanced at the clock on the wall again, noting it was nearly eight a.m. She knew it was entirely too early for Sam to return but couldn't help but hope. She sighed as she returned to the detailed paint work on the buildings of the Christmas project.


Sam snorted then coughed as she jerked to wakefulness. Blinking several times, she looked around only to realize she was still sitting in the box truck in the parking lot of a random Denny's. The parking lot was nearly two-thirds full as the breakfast crowd made their way in. The clock on her cell phone told her it was just after eight-thirty in the morning.

“Shit, I need to pee,” she muttered, scooting up straighter in the seat and running a hand through her hair. She wrinkled her nose at the greasy feel, desperately wanting a shower. It took her a moment to remember why she was there, but once she did, she prayed she wasn't too late. “Shit!”

The hostess gave Sam a strange look as the blonde hurried in, eyes wide and wild, hair and clothing not looking much better. “Can I help you?” she asked, taking a slight step back, not sure what the strange woman would do.

“Is Tanner still here?” Sam asked, looking around the restaurant with a turn of her head.

“Uh, no. She's left for the day.”

Sam wanted to break down into tears, her heart stopping. “No,” she breathed. “Do you know when she works again?”

“I can't tell you that ma'am-“

The hostess was cut off as someone hurried inside. “Maria, is James here? I need a jump again.”

Sam turned to see who stood next to her, shocked to see it was Tanner. She felt like she was trapped in some bizarre episode of Twilight Zone. She grinned, wanting to grab the woman and hug her. “You're here!” she said instead.

Tanner turned and looked at her, fear immediately filling her eyes. “And I'm leaving.”

Sam hurried after the blonde woman who burst out into the bright morning day. “Wait! I need to talk to you.”

“Lady, you're really fucking creepy, okay?” Tanner said, turning on Sam and looking at her with death in her eyes. “I'm serious, you are a really freaking scary person, so leave me alone, okay?”

“I know Claire! I work for Claire!” Sam exclaimed, pointing over at the box truck with the Creative Mayhem name and logo painted on the side.

Tanner looked at her, baffled. “Who are you?” she whispered, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

Sam felt like she was sitting in the middle of an interrogation, which essentially she was. Her gaze flickered from Tanner, who sat at the small kitchen table across from her, to Mike, her police officer husband, who stood at the counter studying her.

“So that's it, then?” Mike asked, a finger running along his chin.

“Yes. That's it. That's all I know.”

Mike and Tanner exchanged a glance – the silent communication of the truly connected - Mike apparently seeing all he needed to see as he nodded then kissed Tanner goodbye before leaving for his morning shift, leaving the two women alone. Tanner continued her husband's study of the blonde woman sitting across from her.

“This just doesn't seem possible,” she said softly, sipping from her coffee.

Sam nodded with a shrug. As she looked at Tanner, she was stunned by just how much she looked like Claire, yet how vastly different the two women seemed to be. “It's all true, I promise.”

“Do you have a picture of her?” Tanner smiled shyly. “It's been so long, I don't know if I really remember what she looks like anymore.”

“Just look in the mirror, Tanner,” Sam said softly. “Give yourself black hair and you've got it.”

Tanner's smile broadened, then her attention was taken as little feet ran in the room, topped by the cutest little boy Sam had ever seen wearing Spider Man footie pajamas. “What are you doing still in your Spidies?” Tanner oomphed, as the little boy launched himself in her lap.

In lieu of answering, the little boy cuddled in close, his blue gaze focused on Sam as he stuck a finger in his mouth. Sam was utterly charmed and delighted to know that Claire had a nephew.

“Who's this?” she asked, holding up her hand and waving a few fingers at him. He grinned but buried his face further into his mother's chest.

“This little monster is Sebastian.” Tanner kissed the boy's light brown hair then glanced over at Sam, seeing her stunned expression. “What?”

Sam shook her head in shock. “Weird. Nothing. He's adorable, Tanner.” She'd let Claire share if she wanted to. Sam turned away as she tried to hide a face-splitting yawn. “I better get going before I fall asleep on your kitchen table. I gave you all the information, right?”

Tanner nodded, standing as she heaved Patrick up onto her hip. “Why don't you crash for a bit in the back bedroom, Sam? I don't think you'll get very far in your current state,” Tanner said with a small smile.

“Are you sure? I don't want to disrupt-“

“You won't be disrupting at all. Pretty soon Mike's mom will come get Patrick and I'll be resting myself.”

“Alright. Thank you.”

Sam woke, disoriented as she looked around the tiny bedroom she lay in, her body nearly hanging off the twin bed. It took her a moment before she remembered she was at Tanner's house. She sat up, feeling groggy and wiped out, the late afternoon sun blaring in through the one window. She wasn't sure what had woken her until she heard it again: crying.

Pushing out of the bed, Sam padded through the bedroom to the hallway of the small apartment, listening to see what direction it was coming from. Straight ahead was a hallway, the other two bedroom doors on either side with the one bathroom setting the short hall off balance to the left. The hall opened up to the living room with the kitchen beyond.

The crying continued, and it seemed to be coming from the living room. A small whimper got Sam moving again, headed towards the sound. She found Tanner curled up on the couch into the tiniest ball possible, though her legs jerked even as she tried to curl herself up tighter.

“No,” she whimpered with another cry.

Sam stood in the middle of the room, not sure what to do. She chewed on her bottom lip as she looked around, hoping to maybe see Mike come in through the front door or something. Turning back to the crying woman on the couch, she took a slight step closer.

“Tanner?” she called out softly.

Tanner's body jerked again, more tears falling even as she remained asleep. “Claire,” Tanner whimpered, “no, Claire. Don't let ‘im hurt you…” her voice trailed off, sounding small and much younger than Tanner's twenty-eight years.

Sam's heart lurched, wondering if she'd done the right thing. Had she brought back a whole slew of memories that maybe Tanner didn't want? She started as Tanner's entire body jerked, the action bringing the older woman into the world of consciousness. Her wide blue eyes took in the room around her, including Sam.

Sam wasn't sure what to do or say, so she said and did nothing.

“I'm sorry,” Tanner murmured, pushing up into a sitting position. She brought her long legs up and wrapped her arms around her shins. “I haven't had that one in a really long time.”

Sam moved over to the couch and sat down, never taking her eyes off Tanner. “Are you okay?”

Tanner nodded, giving Sam a brave smile. “Yeah.”

“I'm really sorry, Tanner. I feel like maybe I've brought back some bad stuff for you. I mean, maybe I shouldn't have-“

Tanner stopped Sam's words with a hand covering Sam's. “No. You've brought Claire back to me, Sam, even if I haven't seen her yet,” Tanner said with a soft smile. Sam couldn't get over what seemed like huge differences in the sisters. “I have to admit to you though, I am slightly terrified.”

Sam saw the tears beginning to gather in the brilliant blue eyes. She turned the hand Tanner covered over and wrapped her fingers around those of the older woman. “What are you afraid of, Tanner?”

Tanner let out a long breath. “What if Claire doesn't want me in her life? I know you said she told you about me, but what if, you know?”

Sam couldn't help but laugh as she shook her head. “Not even, Tanner. You are still her life. She loves you with everything she's got.” She grinned. “She'd kick my ass if she knew I told you this, but she even has a bedroom set up for you with all your favorite colors and dolls.”

Tanner's eyes saucered and filled even more. “My dolls? “

Sam nodded. “Yeah. Lots of them.”

Tanner broke then, her thin body shaking with the intensity of her emotional release, which took Sam by complete surprise. She shook herself out of her stupor and took the crying woman in her arms, doing her best to comfort her. She had to wonder if Tanner had ever truly released any of the emotions from the past, just as she suspected just how little of that Claire had done. For some strange reason, as she sat there with Tanner, holding and rocking her, she felt like her entire life had led her to that moment, to the moment when she'd reunite the sisters.


Claire ran a forearm across her forehead, her chest heaving with the exertion of her activities. Hands on hips, she looked around her work area, which was the back of the warehouse at Creation Mayhem. She had been reorganizing since the previous evening, only stopping to get a few hours sleep on the couch in her office. She felt antsy and agitated and knew the only relief would be hard physical labor.

Richard stepped into the cleared space, eyes wide as he took in the amazing amount of work Claire had completed in a twelve hour period of time, all on her own. He'd offered to help, but she refused, preferring to do it on her own.

“Looks good, boss,” he complimented.

“Thanks,” Claire said, grabbing her bottle of water from a nearby shelving unit. She guzzled half of it, panting as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Not done yet.”

“Still nothing from Sam, huh?” Richard asked, eyeing her.

Claire glared at him. “I told you she was on a delivery.”

Richard nodded as though she'd just reminded him of something he'd forgotten. Though he may not have realized just how many particulars there was to the situation, he did know Sam's absence had sent his boss into a bit of a tailspin. “Well, you've got company.”

Claire looked at him, brows drawn. “Did that representative from Disney finally show?”

Richard shook his head. “Nope.” He headed back towards the door that would lead to the store front part of the ware house. What he hadn't told her was that Sam had called earlier in the afternoon to find out if Claire was there, and if she were to keep her there. Richard knew with the cleaning spurt Claire was on, that wouldn't be an issue.

Claire blew out a breath and finished her water. She tossed it into a recycling bin as she made her way to the bathroom for a quick visual inspection. She didn't want to meet with a client or vendor looking like hell. Good thing she checked: her face was smudged with dirt and the doo-rag she had wrapped around her hair was askew. She wiped her face and washed her hands then straightened the bandana, ready to face her “company”.

The store was busy, which made Claire happy. She could hear Richard speaking with someone, so headed in that direction. She could see him standing at the end of an aisle, whomever he was talking to – a woman – was hidden from sight. She did, however see an adorable little boy pop out around Richard, his bright blue eyes filled with the wonder and awe of a three year old.

“Sebastian!” the woman said, also popping out from around Richard, grabbing the toddler's arm to stop him before he knocked over a display.

Claire's attention was grabbed by the sudden appearance of the boy's mother, then her attention was grabbed as the woman stopped and looked at her. Claire's breath caught, her heart stopping as did time: suddenly she was faced with the face of her beautiful seven year old sister, which morphed before her eyes into that of a twenty-eight year old woman.

Tanner couldn't breathe, her chest expanding to a point of pain as she felt the emotions and need for her big sister build to a point of explosion. Claire met her half way, their bodies slamming together as they grabbed each other in a painfully tight hug, which neither felt as they clung to each other, their tears mixing.

Richard stood back and watched, stunned. He had no idea what was happening, but he'd never seen his boss like that before. He noticed the man he'd been introduced to, Mike, also had tears in his eyes. Richard looked back to the two women and suddenly something struck deep inside him.

“Oh my god!” he exclaimed as realization dawned, a hand to his mouth. He looked at Mike again, who was looking at him and nodding.

Claire's emotions began to calm as her need to protect and comfort Tanner came immediately back into play, as though twenty-one years hadn't passed at all. She held her sister close, rocking her as she smoothed her hand over her back. “I've got'cha, baby sis,” she whispered, just like she did when they were children. “I've got'cha.” She looked past Tanner's shoulder trying to see if she could spot Sam, who she'd been so worried about.

Tanner pulled away just enough to be able to look into Claire's face. “It's so strange to be your same height,” she mused through her tears, making Claire smile. She cupped her sister's face, unable to look away. “I can't believe I'm here with you.”

“I've missed you so much, Tanner,” Claire whispered, brushing locks of long blonde hair out of Tanner's face. “I love you so much.” With those words, she broke down again, pulling Tanner tightly to her. “So, so much. God, I missed you.”

Tanner allowed herself to be engulfed in the comforting warmth, which was so much like a mother's love for her. Claire had been the only mother-figure during their entire childhood together, until Tanner had been adopted by wonderful people.

“I missed you, too. I never thought I'd ever see you again.”

Claire pulled back, taking the tissue Richard offered them both with a grateful smile. She wiped Tanner's face free of tears before she wiped her own. “You're so beautiful. How did you find me? Did the adoption agency-“

“Your wonderful employee, Samantha. She was so wonderful, Claire. So nice and understanding.”

Claire was stunned, her eyes widening in shock. “You met Sam?” she breathed.

Tanner nodded vigorously, a large smile spreading across her face. “She literally ran me over at work,” she laughed.

Claire couldn't speak. How was this possible?

Sam wiped at her own tears from where she leaned against a wall, hidden in an aisle. She had planned to stay away, using the time to drop off Claire's truck and check, then gathering her gear and heading out, but she just couldn't miss what she knew was so important. While she knew everyone was so emotionally involved, she quietly let herself out of the store.

To be continued


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