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I stared at her, my cheek resting against my knuckles. She tucked in her lip, let it out, then tucked it in again as her brows drew, dark bangs in her face, sticking her lower lip out as she blew them away.
"You know, Kendall, the piece isnt going to move on its own." I smiled, eyes drifting down to the backgammon board. "Just remember what I told you; use your role to your best advantage."
Finally, with a sigh, she reached out a small hand, and moved one of the white pieces to land on one of my brown ones that was by itself. She smiled triumphantly as she moved my piece to the center of the board.
She grinned up at me. "I got you."
"That you did, you little turd." She giggled. We both looked up at the sound of a knock on the front door. She looked at me, I looked at her. "Whos that?" Bunsen, whod been laying on the floor under the coffee table where we were playing, stood, began to bark.
"I dont know." I stood, but Kendall beat me to it.
"Can I answer it, Andi?"
"Go for it." I sat again, staring at the game before me, trying to see what the best way to get back into the game would be. I could hear Kendall flipping the locks, and the front door squeak open.
"Hey there." I brows drew as I looked up, knowing that voice.
"How are you, Kendall?"
"Im fine. How are you, Haley?" I smiled, stood.
"Im doing great. Is Andi here?"
"Hello, Haley." Her eyes darted up from the girl, and she smiled.
"Hey, stranger." It always amazed me how her entire face lit up when she smiled. "Where have you been?"
"Around. Were pretty busy in the lab, so Ive been spending my entire day in there." Haley tsked at me.
"All work and no play? Thats not good. So," she smiled down at Kendall, "I had come by hoping to snag you, and head shopping. But," she smiled at me, "I can see youve got company, so Ill leave you two alone."
"Can we go, Andi?" I looked down, surprised to see hopeful eyes staring up at me. "Please?"
"What about our game? And what about piano, missy?"
"She can do it later." I looked up, incredulous. Haley was grinning evilly, and I couldnt stop the smile from spreading across my face. I nodded.
"Okay. Well do it."
"Yay!" Kendall jumped up and down. "Ill get my wallet!" she bellowed, and ran to her room, footsteps stomping all over the house. I smiled, shaking my head.
"Cute kid." Haley crossed her arms over her chest, leaning against the front door. I sighed, nodding.
"Yep. That she is."
* * *
I have to admit, it was odd, driving the twenty minutes or so to the Rochester Mall, Haley sitting at my right, Kendall behind me. Who would have thought? My two passengers talked excitedly about summer break, and how excited Kendall was, not having to go back to school until late August.
"Well, what do you plan to do for another month and a half?" Haley asked, turned in her seat so she could see the girl. I looked at Kendall in the rear-view mirror. She shrugged.
"Im not sure. Ive already read all my books for the summer reading club at school."
"Yeah? Tell me about it."
"Well, the kid who reads the most books wins a prize."
"Shes won the past three years." I glanced over at my old friend, a smile of pride on my face. Haleys brows raised in surprise.
"Really? Wow. Im really impressed, Kendall."
"Tell her what your prize was last summer, Kendall." Our eyes met in the mirror, and I saw the smile spread across her face.
"I got to pick out ten books from Barnes & Noble."
"Wow! Thats quite a prize. Good for you." Haley turned to me. "You must be proud, obviously youve done a good job." I looked at her, my brows drawn. "Well, youre her mentor, right?"
I saw Kendalls mouth open to speak as she sat forward a bit on the leather seat.
"Hey, look. Here we are." I pulled the Jeep into the parking lot.
"Shes already quite the little shopper." I explained to Haley.
"Ah. I see youve taught her a great deal, eh?" She grinned, I glared, which got me an even bigger grin.
I parked outside of Dillards, knowing it was the easiest place to find your car, and I was horrible at that. I never paid close enough attention to where I had left my baby, no matter how much I tried to drill it in my head.
Kendall walked between us, her dark hair bouncing as she nearly skipped. Her childish excitement always amazed and grounded me, never allowing me to get too serious. Lord knows I have that problem enough as it is. I sometimes wondered where my fun side had gone. I know I used to have one, and Haley was always good about dragging it out of me. I remember that.
"So, where to first?" I turned to see Haley staring at me as she reached for the large, glass door of the store, holding it open for Kendall and I.
"I dont know. Youre the one who had the shopping idea, so what are we here for?" She looked at me like I was crazy, following us into the expensive department store.
"Andi. Im disappointed in you. Do you really ever classify shopping as an event where youre trying to find needed items?" She grinned, and I heard Kendall chuckle.
"Alright, alright. Guess Im not up on my shopping etiquette."
* * *
I had no idea a ten-year-old could be so much fun, and with that added Haleys kid-side, I was in stitches. All day I heard "lighten up, Andi," as Id roll my eyes at their antics, and childish conversations. They picked out ugly clothes that people had on, or hairstyles.
"You know, Haley, youre really not teaching her much."
"Well, thats what her parents are for." She grinned. "Thats the great thing about taking kids out; you can be a nut with them, get them all wound up, and then drop them off at home."
"Do it often, do you?" She put her hand on her hip.
"Listen, lady, I had a very dear friend back in California who had a four-year-old son. Dillon and I had more fun than his mom and I did." I smiled, knowing that was probably very true.
"Come on, you two nuts. Lets go to the toy store."
"Really?" Kendall smiled huge at me, her eyes shining with hope. I nodded.
"Yes!" She jumped up and down, yelling.
"Kendall, not so loud."
"I can if I want to." I stared at her, shocked at the change of expression; from pure joy to total discontent. Not sure what to say to her increasing back talk, I looked at Haley. She was already looking at me. Mrs. Torrini had told me that she was getting worse. She thought it was the kids at school, and also the fact that she was growing up.
I sighed. "Kendall, please dont talk to me that way." She looked down, ashamed.
"Im sorry," she said, looking up at me with her puppy-dog eyes.
How could I ever stay angry?
"Come on. The toy store awaits." The smile returned to her pouting lips, and so did mine.
Haley and I followed behind her as she looked at everything, exclaiming how shed seen this or that on television, and how she was asking for that for her birthday, or for Christmas.
"Ah, to be so young and carefree again." I turned at Haleys voice, seeing the soft smile on her face, thumbs tucked into the back pockets of her shorts. As I looked at her, I realized just how beautiful shed gotten. When I thought of her back in school, I had always thought she was the most beautiful person Id ever seen, and quite frankly she was, but I had no idea how much more her genes were capable of. She had matured, her facial features had lost the softness of being just barely out childhood, all the softness growing into fine, chiseled lines, making her almost look like a sculpted piece of art.
Haley had always been taller than me, and she hadnt grown much since last Id seen her, if at all, but her legs somehow looked longer, more defined, incredibly shaped. Her voice was still the low, smooth tone it always was with a smoky quality to it.
I turned back to see Kendall walking toward us, the newest Barbie in her hands.
"Bet you ten bucks shell want me to buy that for her," I muttered to Haley. She chuckled.
"Andi?" Here it comes. "Please?" She held the pink box up to me to examine. I took it, looking at the doll, her surf board and bathing suit included. I looked at the girl, chewing on my bottom lip.
"How much you got, kiddo?" She reached into her pocket, tongue barely sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she felt around, then her eyes opening wide.
"What is it?" I asked, immediately concerned.
"I cant find my house key! Mom will kill me."
"Hang on. Before you get upset, check all your pockets." Kendall shoved her hand into every pocket, including the smaller coin pockets at her hips. She blew out a breath, placing her small hand over her chest.
"Found it." She brought it out of her back pocket, just a single key.
"Kendall, why dont you put that on a key chain? It would be a lot easier to keep track of." She shrugged.
"I forget to buy one."
"Here, Kendall. My treat." I looked up, as did the girl, and immediately my brows drew. Haley held a key chain in her hand, which is all fine and good, but at the end of it was a brightly colored Koosh ball. She grinned and winked at me. "Come here," she beckoned Kendall to her, which of course she went, and whispered something in her ear. I watched, suspicious.
"Cool. Thanks, Haley!" Kendall looked at the key chain, rubbing the soft ends on her cheek. "So? Can I get this, Andi?" She held the Barbie up.
I sighed, looking at the girl again. Without a word, I dug into my pocket and got my wallet out, grabbing a twenty, and handing her the money and the doll. "Yay!" She took it, a double treat as she was getting to the point where she loved to buy things herself, feeling like an adult to hand the clerk "her" money.
Haley and I followed her up to the register, standing back to give her room to do business.
"What did you tell her?" I asked, glancing at Haley.
"Oh, nothing. Just that Koosh balls used to be your favorite toy as a kid." I turned fully to her.
"What? You didnt." She grinned, evil. I shook my head, tucking my bottom lip into my mouth.
"Youll pay." She grinned wider. "I need to get her home." I checked my watch.
"Mind if I come along?" I looked at her, smiled, shaking my head.
"Not at all."
* * *
I watched from the car window as Kendall ran up the walk, her Toys R Us bag in hand. The front door opened, and there was her mom. She waved at me, and I waved back, then pulled away from the curb.
"That is one smart kid." Haley looked at me, and I smiled at her, nodding. "How did you start seeing her?" I shrugged with a sigh.
"My mom knew of her parents, and we met."
"Shes great. I love the time Im able to spend with her. She keeps me young." I smiled at Haley. She chuckled.
"Well, someones got to." I glanced over at her as I pulled to a stop at a red traffic light.
"Meaning?" She shrugged, then looked at me.
"It seems like your life is your work. You need some fun." She punched my arm. "Want to have some fun with me tonight? Grab some take out and watch a movie, or something?" I just looked at her for a moment, trying to decide if I wanted company or not. Finally I smiled, put the car in gear, and we drove on.
"Yeah. Sounds great. Have you eaten at Wongs yet?"
"Are you kidding? Anyone with any sort of taste for Chinese food has."
"Okey doke. Wongs it is."
* * *
I pushed the garage door open, holding it open for Haley who followed with a brown paper bag in hand, oozing incredible smells that made my mouth water. I set the packages of things Id bought today down on the kitchen counter, and turned lights on throughout the house as I went, headed toward what had become Bunsens room.
The Pug came running out of the room, doing his little happy dance at the sight of me, and especially of Haley. He loved company, and expected them all to love him.
"Whos this?" Haley asked, kneeling to grab the puppy up in her arms, trying to keep the squirming body from falling back to the floor, yet avoid puppy kisses at the same time.
"That would be Bunsen." Haley looked at me, her head cocked to the side.
"Bunsen?" I nodded. "As in burner?" Again I nodded. She chuckled, staring at the dog. "Only you, Andi." Getting the dog to calm down, she held him close to her chest, petting Bunsens head and back. "So, mind if I look around?" She wiggled her brows, eyes mischievous. I nodded.
Haley walked to the living room, and I flipped the lights over the fireplace on, revealing the sculpture I had on the mantle.
"Oh, thats beautiful." She walked toward it, taking it in. "Its two women, isnt it? Their bodies entwined." She looked at me, I nodded. "Its gorgeous. Very sensual, yet tasteful."
"I picked it up in New York a few years ago. I was there for a conference." She turned away from the fireplace, and looked at the rest of the room; the wood floors, brown suede furniture with rustic wood accents. Wood and glass tables.
"You like knick knacks, dont you?" She asked, picking up the glass figurine from the coffee table. I stuck my hands in the pockets of my cargo shorts, suddenly feeling very shy. She smiled, and headed into the kitchen. "Oh, a whole wall with hanging utensils." She said, her voice excited. Putting Bunsen down to better examine things, she grinned at me, holding a utensil, pointing it at me. I looked at it, confused, then it came back to me.
Haley busted out laughing.
"I had no idea you could turn red, Andi." She hung the potato masher back in its little nook, and turned to the appliances. "Oh, I like your stove." I had a butcher block island, the stove was built in, just a stove-top.
"Yeah, its great. Saves on counter space." Suddenly Haley looked at me, a grin on her face.
"You know, this makes me feel so old."
"Us, standing here talking about appliances, and me going through your house. This was the furthest thing from our minds when we were friends, you know? Back in Winston? Hell, at that time we were talking about where wed go to school, so excited to get away from that town." She chuckled, shaking her head, then headed out of the kitchen, patting my shoulder as she passed. I followed her down the hall, the main bathroom to the left, the three bedroom doors to the right. The first of the three doors was my home office.
Haley flicked on the light, and looked around, then burst into laughter. I looked around, trying to see what was so funny.
"You still have those?" Haley pointed to the cabinet that I had built into the wall, large, glass doors protected my collection. She walked into the room, headed straight for the Beanie Babies. "Do they even sell these anymore?"
I shook my head. "No. Theyre a real bitch to find now."
"Do you have more?" I nodded, feeing the excitement inside bubbling at my near life-long hobby.
"I have to find most of them on the internet now, or even in antique shops. Imagine that. Talk about feeling old!" We both chuckled.
"May I?" She asked, her hand on the handle of one of the doors.
She opened the door, and carefully handled the toys, reading their individual labels, each one kept in its plastic cover to protect it.
"These are just too cute. How many do you have?"
"Oh, jeez. Let me think. Um, at last count I think three hundred and thirty."
"Wow!" She looked at all of them, then her brows drew. "Wheres the Kung Fu one?"
"Oh, Suki?" She nodded. I sighed. "I was dating a woman once years ago who liked to bring her golden retriever over, and well, Barney liked to chew." Haley looked at me, her face the portrait of pity.
"Oh, Andi. He didnt."
"He did." I sighed, shrugging.
"Im sorry." She put the Beanie she had in her hand back, and closed the cabinet door, turning to me. "Well, how about dinner? Hungry?"
A pile of knick knacks on the couch cushions, the closed backgammon game on the floor, open containers of Chinese food scattered, an uncorked bottle of wine sat on the table, nearly empty plates next to it.
"Its certainly been an adjustment to get used to these cooler nights again."
"I bet." I sipped from my wine glass, the bitter liquid filling my mouth before sliding down my throat. We both sat on the floor, across the table from each other. "Tell me about your life in California." I grabbed the bottle of wine, filling my glass half way, and offering it to Haley. She handed me her glass.
"Well, I own a very small condo at the edge of the city. Everything is so expensive in L.A., plus just beginning, well," She smiled. "Doesnt make for much money." I smiled, nodding.
"I understand that. Tell me more."
"Well, I live alone, well, except for my bunnies." I stared at her.
"Bunnies? As in Bugs?" She nodded.
"Just like. I have lots of friends still from college, as well as now from teaching. I stay pretty busy with them."
"Do you miss them?" She nodded.
"I do. Ive been out there for so long, coming home just feels," She chewed on the inside of her cheek as she thought. "I dont know. It just feels weird. Seeing all the places I used to hang out at, and I even saw Kelly recently. It just feels like Ive grown up."
"You have grown up, Haley." She looked at me, smiled.
"I know. I cant quite get used to the idea of being grown up at home."
"Do you mind if I ask about your marriage?"
"Not at all." I sipped from my wine, then put the glass aside.
"Well, tell me about Lonnie. What was he like? What did he look like?" Haley sighed, staring up at the ceiling for a moment, then looked at me.
"Hes very sweet, one of the most generous people Ive ever known. He had considered the priesthood at one time."
"Wow. Not someone Id imagine you with." She laughed.
"Yeah, me either. But, we started out as good friends. I could trust him, plus he was brilliant. He used to help me with my homework. After all, I didnt exactly have your brain at my disposal." I smiled, resting my cheek on my hand. "We began to date, and it was a lot of fun. Then things started to get serious, though I dont know how because we were both completely swamped with school. I lived in an apartment with a couple girls, and they loved to party and drink, and they both loved their men. It was horrible. Id come home from class in the middle of the day, and one of them would be with some guy, right there in the middle of the living room!" Her eyes opened wide to emphasize her point. "It was horrible. So, I decided Id had enough, and Lonnie suggested we get married. See, he wouldnt live with a girl in sin." She smiled, so did I. "So, I agreed, we did. It was not fun. As wonderful as he was, we had very different personalities, and he hated how independent I was. Not that he tried to control me, he just didnt like the fact that I wanted to take on the world on my own merit, and not that of a man."
"Oh, not fun."
"Yeah. So, eventually we realized that it just wasnt going to work, so we got a divorce. I was always so ashamed that I was twenty-four, and already divorced. Some record, huh?" I shrugged, sitting back against the arm chair.
"I dont know. I think everything in life happens for a reason. There had to be some purpose in it."
"I agree. But, still its not one of my more shining moments."
"Oh, I hear ya." I smiled, stretching my legs out in front of me, crossing them at the ankle.
"Yeah." She scooted back until her back hit the couch. "So, Andi,"
"Youre a lesbian?" I looked at her, surprised at her choice in topic, but I nodded.
"That I am."
"How did that come about?"
"College." We both laughed, she nodded.
"Yeah, that would certainly be the place to do it. How did it happen?" I felt a panic for just a moment, but took a deep breath, and let it out.
"Well, it was my second year of undergrad. It just hit me. I knew guys werent it, no matter how many nice ones I met. It just did nothing for me, yet women I looked at did. I could get more from a womans stare than I could from a mans caress." I sighed again. "So, one day I decided to try it, to see if I could actually go through with dating one."
"And you did?" I smiled.
"Erin." I looked down at my hands that were folded in my lap.
"If you dont want to,"
"No, its okay. Its time I admit to someone other than myself that I was a schmuck. I just wasnt ready for what she wanted."
"A family, settling down. Cohabitation."
"And youre not?" I ran my hands through my hair, shaking my head.
"I guess not. Sometimes I would think that I was, that I could do it, you know? I mean, she was kind of like Lonnie; very sweet, kind, and full of heart. But something was just missing for me. I could never put my finger on it." I looked at her. She was looking at me intently, her full attention focused on my words. I looked down again. "Sometimes I think Im defective, or something." I looked up, giving her a weak smile. She smiled back.
"I dont think youre defective, Andi. She just wasnt the right person at the right time. Its not a crime."
"No, maybe not. But stringing her along for three years was."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I had told her so many times that I didnt want what she did, and tried to let her go, but she kept insisting that we keep going, that she could protect herself, and wanted me with her. So," I sighed, "I stayed. But, then when Hannah died, and everything, I knew life was too short. And just because Im fucked up doesnt mean she has to be, too. She deserved better."
"Thats very kind of you, Andi." I looked at her, expecting sarcasm, but only saw understanding. "Erin will understand and realize that you did her a favor. If shes as wonderful as you say, someone will pick her up, and they will be what she needs."
"Thanks. I hope so." We were both quiet for a moment, digesting the food and the conversation. Finally Haley spoke.
"So, how did your mom take your coming out? She knows, I assume?"
"Oh, yeah. She was wonderful about it."
"Im not real surprised." She smiled, resting her elbow on the cushion of the couch, her temple against her fist. "Im also not surprised by this revelation." She sighed, looking at me. "Andi? Why didnt you go to my graduation? You always said you would." I stared at her for a minute, bewildered, then it hit me.
Without a word, I stood, headed into my bedroom. I opened the closet door and brought down the large boot box I kept things in, digging through until I felt the hard material of the cover.
I hurried back out into the living room, sitting down next to Haley, opening the brown cover, laces with gold designs around the edges.
"Whats that?" Haley asked.
"Any picture I took during those years, I stuck in here."
"Listen to you, those years. Youd think you were in a concentration camp."
"Just call me Rebekah." She chuckled. "Here we go." After flipping through the pages, I found what I was looking for. Haley took the album from me, looking closely at the picture, then up at me.
"Thats me. In my graduation gown." I nodded, sitting back and supporting myself on my hands. I watched Haleys face as she took it all in; the crowd, the stadium, all her fellow classmates. She smiled, bringing a hand up to swipe at her eye.
"You were there," she whispered. I nodded.
"For a short time, yes." She looked at me, and I could see the tears in her eyes, and the look on her face, part pain, part surprise, part wonder. She closed the photo album, and ran her fingers over her eyes, then opened her mouth in a yawn. I glanced at the Grandfather clock.
"Wow. Its already almost eleven."
"I know. I really have to get going." I stood, stretching my arms over my head, my own yawn following.
"This was so much fun, Andi. We have got to do it again." She smiled at me, genuine pleasure on her face.
"Thank you. I liked it, too, and I agree."
"Well, let me help you get this cleaned up." She bent down, about to grab our dishes. I stopped her.
"No, Haley, I can get this." She stood, looking at me.
"Andi, no. I helped make the mess,"
"And Ill clean it up. Come on. You still have to drive home, and its late." I pushed her toward the door. "I know that look on your face; youre exhausted."
"Okay, okay. Let me pee first." She headed toward the bathroom, then stopped. "You have a piano?" I nodded, smiling sheepishly. "But you dont still play, right?"
"No. I just figured that when I finally do get lessons, Ill be set." She smiled, running her hands along the shiny wood top, her hands stopping at a CD that was laying there. She looked at me, eyes opened wide in surprise.
"This is Linda Eder," she breathed, picking it up, and looking at the back of it.
"Yes it is." I stuck my hands in my pockets, suddenly feeling very shy.
"You listen to her?" I nodded. "I am so impressed." She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "Youre just full of surprises tonight, arent you?" I smiled, looking down sheepishly. "You know, when I was driving here, my little U-Haul hooked up behind my car, I made sure I got here just in time for her concert."
I stared at her, mouth open. "The one in Indianapolis?" She nodded, looking at me.
"Yeah." A smile began its journey.
"You were there, Andi?" I nodded.
"Its the fifth time Ive seen her in concert."
"Oh my god! I was there, too. God, how crazy." I had a full-out grin on my face, now. "I wish I had known. That would have been fun with you. Certainly better than being by myself."
"You were there alone?" She nodded, running her fingers up and down the edges of the jewel case.
"My mom couldnt really get away then. Dad wasnt doing too hot."
"Oh. Well, next time Linda comes home to Minnesota, were there." She smiled, nodding.
"Youre on. Okay, about to pee my pants." She hurried back to the bathroom. I shook my head, began to clean up the mess.
* * *
Blue eyes fell to my mouth, then looked into my eyes again. There was something there that I couldnt quite read, but if I had seen that look in my dreams, I would have taken it for desire.
"Okay." She said quietly, still looking at me. Was she worried about the same thing I was? Did she worry Id be cruel? Before I could ponder that question any further, I saw her leaning in a bit closer, her arm reaching across me to balance her self on her hand, placed near my shoulder. My body was vibrating, for so many reasons. I was nervous, could not believe what was about to happen, and oh yeah, I really wanted this.
Soon there was barely any space between us at all, the tip of her nose teasing mine, then teasing my cheek as she got even closer. I could feel her breath, so hot on my face, her body heat immense. I felt just the barest touch of her breast against mine as she adjusted her body, not fully laying on mine, but resting against it, her arm still taking the biggest brunt of her weight, her other hand playing with the hair that laid around my head on the carpet. My arms stayed glued to my body, my hands clasped on my stomach.
Soft, almost tickling me, her lips teased, almost shy in their advance. I tried holding my breath so I wouldnt all out pant. I didnt dare want her to guess my excitement level, or my nervousness.
"You can breathe, Andi," she whispered against my mouth. It sent shivers through my body, and I exhaled in a small, quick puff of air. The lips came again, softer than I ever imagined theyd be, almost stroking mine, her bottom lip pushing against mine. My fingers began to dig into themselves, craving the feel of her skin, her hair, anything.
Both lips were on mine now, pushing, yet gentle, tentatively seeking the best place to rest. I didnt know what to do, should I move my lips to kiss back? Should I just lie still? The lips pulled away a bit, and my mind screamed out in protest, my lips trying to hold on to what they craved, but the softness quickly returned, bringing with it a little more pressure.
One of my hands found its way out from between our bodies, and rested on Haleys shoulder, warm and soft next to the scratchy material of the cheerleading outfit. My fingertips barely touched the skin, rubbing, just brushing. I felt a shiver run through Haleys body, and I smiled inside with satisfaction. This gave me a bit of confidence, and I pushed back with my mouth, opening my lips just a bit, just enough to capture her bottom lip between mine.
Haley lowered her body a bit, lowering her weight to rest on her elbow now. I could feel her breasts against mine completely. My god, they were so soft. I had no idea. She moved her head a bit to the side allowing more room for exploration, her lips following mine, opening to capture more inside, and to allow the softest, warmest, most sensual feeling of her tongue, barely touching my top lip, tasting. At the sensation, my fingers dug into her shoulder a bit, messaging the skin, and moving up, along the cheerleading shell, and then the warmth of her neck, so soft and smooth.
No wonder men loved women so much.
Finally my fingers found themselves in her hair, brushing it from its dark halo around us, pushing it behind her shoulder, running my fingers down its long length.
This seemed to get Haley going as I felt that tentative tongue from before finding its way into my mouth, searching, soft, gentle caresses. To my surprise, and arousal, Haley moaned, long and unbelievably sexy. God, I wanted to moan, too, but didnt dare. My tongue met hers, and they slid against each other, Haleys breathing coming faster with each caress.
I bolted awake, arousal coursing through my body, my breath coming in short bursts. Looking around, I tried to orient myself, glancing at the clock. It was 3:14 a.m. I ran a hand through my hair, then stopped, eyes popping open.
"Oh my god." Realization dawned on me. That was no dream.
It was a memory.
It all came flooding back to me. Spring break, the final weekend. Minnesota had been hit by a massive storm, everything closed down, and Haley had stayed at my house.
I scooted until my back hit the headboard of my bed. Bunsen whimpered from the end of the bed, stood on tired legs, dragging himself up to plop down next to me, falling asleep again with a snort.
Running my hands over his soft fur, I thought back. Haley bringing up her graduation tonight, and seeing that picture, and all the intense emotions that had been attached to it at the time.
God, how had I forgotten all of this? How could I not? It had all been ripped from a young, insecure girls hands and heart so quickly, the sting was just too much. When Id left Winston initially, I had made the decision right there and then that everything prior to college was void, and my life was about to begin again in college, where things mattered.
What a fool Id been. Look how that turned out.
I looked down at my dog. Why couldnt life be as easy as his?
* * *
I squeezed my hands into fists, trying to garner the courage to actually go into the room. I hadnt seen Erin in about two weeks, and hadnt spoken to her since I had left her house that night, after... things.
I didnt know if this was a good idea or not, if shed care, or even whose benefit I was doing this for. Deciding I didnt care, it needed to be done, I prepared myself for any response.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open to the break room for the nurses on her floor. She was sitting on the couch, her feet up on a chair, reading a magazine. I swallowed, and cleared my throat. Erin looked up, her eyes narrowing as recognition filled them.
"Hi." I said, my voice quiet.
"Mind if I sit?" I indicated the arm chair across from the couch. She nodded toward it, so I sat.
"What can I do for you, Andi?" she asked, once I got myself situated. She sounded as though she were talking to any colleague, as if I were about to ask her about a chart or something.
"Well, um, damn."
"You never seemed to have problems speaking before. Whats the problem now?" I glanced up into her eyes, and smiled. I could understand her attitude toward me, and didnt blame her. I had hurt her.
"Listen, Erin, I dont know if any of this will matter, or mean a thing to you, but I still think you should know." She said nothing, just sat, arms crossed over her chest, listening. "What happened, between us, it wasnt your fault." She raised her chin a bit. "Erin, you are a wonderful person, absolutely incredible; generous, kind, so much to give." I cleared my throat again, running my palms on the thighs of my slacks. "Im the one whos broken. Not you." I looked up at her, wanting her to know that I was sincere, and meant every word of it. "And, I wish you the best. I know that what you need is out there for you, and I know shell find you, Erin."
She looked away for a moment, taking a deep breath, then looked down at her hands that played with the magazine on her lap. Finally she looked up at me.
"Thank you, Andi. That means a lot." She smiled, though it was sad. I smiled back, feeling like a weight had just been lifted away. I just hoped I hadnt hurt her more by coming to her like this.
"Well, okay. Um, good. I have to get going." I stood, stared down at her for a moment. "Take care of yourself, Erin. You want to be ready for when she comes riding up on her white horse." I smiled at her, and was glad to get a smile in return. I turned to head out, but stopped when I heard my name. I looked at her over my shoulder.
"Why?" I turned to fully face her, and shrugged.
"I guess time and distance give you perspective. You deserve so much more than I ever gave you, and it would be understandable if youd take all this on your own shoulders. Thats just the kind of person you are, selfless like that. I wanted you to know, now, that emotions have cooled, that it wasnt your fault. You just were in the wrong place at the wrong time to be hit with a train wreck like me." She nodded and took a deep breath.
"Ive been hearing about the fund you started in Hannahs name. For her little girl." I nodded, sticking my hands in the large, deep pockets of my lab coat.
"Why should that little girl pay for something that was out of her control?"
"Yeah. Well, its an amazing thing youve done. You should know that."
"In fact," she grabbed her purse from the side table, bringing out her wallet. "Ive actually been meaning to give this to you." She grabbed a folded up check, handed it to me.
"No, I want to donate this." I looked at the amount, surprised to see it was a thousand dollars.
"Youre very generous, Erin. Thank you." I stuck it in my pocket. "Well, I better get back to the lab."
As I headed toward the elevators, I felt good. No, I felt damn good. The smile just shot from one corner of my mouth to the other, my steps feeling lighter, more spring in them. I felt at peace with Erin for the first time in three years, like I had finally done right by her, and like she would be okay. And maybe, just maybe, so would I.
I thought of my time with Haley the other night, and what I had learned after shed left. Life was so funny in the way it threw things at you, and then sat back, watching with glee as you tried to figure it all out. Life certainly had one sick sense of humor.
* * *
With a contented sigh, I stretched my arm along the back of the park bench, watching, completely amused, as Haley and Kendall played with Bunsen. He was totally eating it up, too. Who wouldnt? Two beautiful ladies giving you their undivided attention?
I smiled at this last thought, and leaned my head against my hand. It had been a week since I had had the dream, and I had decided that there was no reason to do anything about it, talk to Haley. She knew what had happened, and kids do stupid things.
These new realizations made so much else make more sense, well, make sense at all. My feelings toward the Linda Eder CD and certain music from her. The feeling of sadness Id get at times when Id listen to her music. I used to equate it with Erin and I, or with whatever relationship I was in at the time. Much of Lindas music is about love, and the things she wants in life, and I felt sad that I wanted many of those things, too, but they just seemed so far out of my grasp.
At one time they were. As a teenager I had thought that Haley was the end-all of my existence, and I hadnt even realized it. But we were all grown up, now, and reality takes on such a different look when the lights are turned on.
"Come on, Andi!" I looked up to see Kendall running toward me. When she reached me, she grabbed my hand, tugging at it. "Come play with us."
"Nah, you guys go ahead." I smiled at her. Hell, I was thoroughly enjoying watching them.
"No, come on. Please?" Then I saw Haley running toward us, Bunsen barking at her heels. She reached us, and grabbed my other hand.
"Yeah, come on, Andi. Come play," she pleaded, the cutest pout on her face.
"Kendall has taught you well." I grinned, so did she, nodding vigorously. "Okay, okay." I stood, both girls excited. Bunsen even jumped at my legs until I grabbed his rope out of his mouth, and threw it, sending him off in a barking frenzy to grab it. "You did a good job teaching him fetch, honey." I put my hands on the girls shoulders as I watched the Pug grab the rope, and happily run back, the toy tripping him up every few yards.
"How often do you get to see her?" Haley asked, watching as Kendall ran out to meet the puppy.
"Pretty much as often as I like. I try to get her at least every other weekend."
"Youre so good with her, and I imagine for her."
"I hope so." Taking a deep breath, I clapped my hands together. "Come on, you two. Lets go home and get some pizza." Kendalls head immediately shot up from her playing. The "p" word was like magic.
"Pizza? Really?" She jumped up from her knees, and ran over to us, grabbing my hand, staring up into my face. "We get to have pizza?"
"Yup. Go get Bunsen and his toys, and well go."
"Woohoo! Bunsen, we get pizza!"
* * *
"Anyone want another slice?" Haley asked from the kitchen. Kendall and I still sat at the kitchen table, almost trying to race in how many pieces we could eat. Of course a ten-year-old girl had no chance against the notorious stomach of Andi Littman.
"Yes," we said, almost in unison, then we both giggled.
"Jinx!" Kendall yelled, pointing at me. I stuck my tongue out at her, which got her giggling again. "I really like you, Andi. Youre so much fun." I looked at her, my heart melting. I smiled.
"Well, I like you, too, Kendall." She smiled, and dug in to the fresh piece that Haley had just put on her plate.
"Thank you ladies for letting me be involved with your day, yet again." I turned to Haley, and smiled.
"Youre welcome here anytime, Haley. Right, Kendall?" She could only nod, her mouth full of pepperoni. "I want to know when I get to see these bunnies of yours."
"Me, too." Kendall said around her mouthful.
"Well, maybe you two can come over to my house next weekend." She took a drink from her soda.
"Yay! Oh, wait. I have to go see my grandparents next weekend." Kendall looked down, obviously bummed.
"Well, then well do it another time. Okay?" Haley said, smiling at the girl. Kendall looked at her, nodding.
"Okay. What are your bunnys names?" She took a big bite from her piece of pizza.
"Peggy and Oreo."
"Peggy?" I asked. She grinned at me.
"Ill explain it when you see them."
"Andi? When I finish this, may I be excused to watch TV?" I nodded.
"Sure, hon." She smiled, and continued to eat.
* * *
I leaned against the wall, arms crossed over my chest as I listened. Haley sat at the piano, her eyes closes as she let the music pour from her. I had been amazed when shed told me that she had bought a used upright when shed moved back to Minnesota. She said that she couldnt live without a piano. For some reason hers was back in California.
The song came to an end. And she looked up at me. I met her gaze with a smile.
"That was beautiful. Youre such a wonderful pianist, Haley."
"Thank you. When I was in college I found that it was a wonderful stress reliever, as well as the Tae Kwon Do. Im surprised you havent gotten Kendall into it."
I looked down, playing with my fingers. "She cant. Kendall was born with heart problems, and cant take that kind of activity."
"Oh. Thats too bad." I smiled, wanting to change the subject.
"So, teacher, want to give me some more lessons?" I nodded toward the piano. Haleys face brightened immediately.
"Really?" I nodded. "Oh, absolutely. Im so excited that you asked."
"Andi!" I turned to see a bouncing ten year old heading toward us.
"Yes, Kendall?" I grinned, always completely charmed by her enthusiasm for life.
"You should see this show on TV. Its really hot shit." I stood there, mouth open in shock.
"What did you just say?" Kendall looked away, realizing what shed just said. "Kendall, you dont use language like that." I was stunned. The girl looked back up at me, her young face contorted in anger and embarrassment. She looked at Haley, seeing if she was noticing.
"You always tell me what to do." Kendall looked at me, small fists on her hips. "Youre not my mother!" she shouted, and ran toward her bedroom.
I stood there, feeling as though Id been slapped in the face, or punched in the heart. As if in a daze, I walked toward the living room, my legs feeling like they belonged to someone else, and I wasnt sure how to use them. Sinking down into the couch, I covered my face with my hands, feeling the lump that was suddenly super-sized, try to make its way to my eyes.
"Andi?" I heard Haleys soft voice near my ear, and knew she was kneeling down next to me. "Are you okay?" I could hear the confusion in her voice. I took a deep breath, knowing my face was red from the upset that was waiting to burst from me. I looked into concerned blue eyes. "I know kids say some stupid things sometimes, but,"
"I am her mother, Haley."
She only stared.
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