For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:

Note: Alexa was a very sick girl when she bettaed this, so if there are any problems, that’s why.



Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 13

I could feel Haley’s eyes on me, and for a moment I couldn’t believe I’d said it. No one knew. Not even Erin. Well, it was out now, so might as well go with it.

Slowly I looked up, running a hand through my hair. I felt like an idiot, not a huge fan of showing my emotions so bluntly as I was now; my cheeks felt tight even as tears continued to run down and drip off my chin.

"What?" Haley finally said, her hand frozen on my arm. I nodded.

"She’s my daughter, I’m her mother, well, biological mother, anyway."

Haley sat back on her heels, staring at the floor as she tried to digest what I was telling her. Finally she took a deep breath, and seemed to get herself under control, ready to start asking questions.

"How did it happen?" Her voice was quiet, low, reminding me of the church voice your mother tells you to use. I took in a deep breath, feeling my lungs fill with air, and my body fill with courage. I let out the breath, and ran a hand through my hair again. A nervous gesture on my part.

"When I started at Dartmouth, during the first week I met a guy named Scott Pachowski. Nicest guy in the world. Well, we hit it off immediately. Good friends, and study buddies." I smiled at the memory. "We used to make ice cream runs at two in the morning when we’d study." I smiled at her, and she smiled back, squeezing my arm in support and encouragement. She pulled herself up to sit next to me.

"Then what?" I took a deep breath.

"Well, at that time, as an eighteen-year-old kid, I was so confused, you know?" I looked at her, she shook her head.

"I don’t understand."

"About myself. You figure what my sexual experiences had been before that." She looked down, nodding.

"Yeah." She looked at me again. "I see."

"So, one night, after half a day of studying, Scott and I decided to rent a couple movies, get some junk food, and chill out in my dorm room. Scott had never had any kind of experiences at all." I grinned, looking down at my hands, which fidgeted with each other. "In fact, he had a condom in his wallet that he’d been carrying around for like a year. I used to tease him about that all the time." I took a deep breath, glancing again toward Kendall’s room. "Anyway, as we watched the movie, we started talking about sex. Talking about it turned to kissing, and kissing turned to him being able to finally use that condom." I smiled sadly at Haley.

"Which, of course, was old?" she asked, her voice very quiet. I nodded, feeling my eyes begin to sting again.


"I think I can guess the rest." I tucked my lower lip in, trying to hold myself together, keep in the emotion, but I felt a tear slip out, making a cold, lazy trail down my cheek. "Why didn’t you abort?" I looked up at her, my brows drawn.

"I could never do that, Haley. Kill an innocent, unborn child because of my own irresponsibility? Never." She nodded in understanding.

"How did the Torrini's get involved in all of this?" I felt Haley’s hand moving on my arm, petting me, always letting me know she was there.

"My mom. Through the hospital. She knew a woman who knew a couple wanting a child. At that time they had been married for something like seven years, and couldn’t conceive. So, we all met, and an arrangement was made."

"Why didn’t you keep her?" I sighed, a rueful smile coming to my face.

"Now there’s the million dollar question. But, it’s an easy answer. I was far too young, Haley, and I knew it. And, to be honest, with you and with myself, I was very selfish. I had a dream my entire life, as you know, of going to college, moving on, reaching my dreams. A child did not fit into that plan very well. I knew it was the best thing for everyone involved. Ultimately, especially for Kendall. She deserved parents that could give her everything emotionally that she needed. The time and love."

"So, you left Dartmouth?"

"Yes. My mom assured me that if I came back home, I could go to school locally, and she could help out. I could live at home, and get excellent medical care. So, I left Dartmouth, and enrolled in Carlton."

"Did you see Kendall when she was born?" she asked, running her hand down my arm until she held my hand. I squeezed her fingers, she squeezed back. I nodded.

"Yes. My mother and the Torrinis were in the delivery room that day. I was given Kendall as soon as she was born, held her, kissed the top of her head," My voice broke, and my hand came up to hide my face as the tears came anew. I thought back to that day. It was three-thirty in the morning, and I was so exhausted, and my body hurt, and so did my soul. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I was giving up my child, my flesh and blood. Holding her to me, seeing the thick, dark hair she had, and the wail, it was almost too much. My breasts had began to hurt immediately, responding to the call of my hungry child.

I felt arms encircle me, and I fell into them, letting the pain of nearly eleven years finally come out, me never really dealing with it, or letting it out.

"I’m so sorry, Andi." Haley whispered into my ear, her hand stroking my shoulder, my head against her neck.

Hating myself for letting something that was beyond my control get the best of me, I took all that pain, all that guilt, and all those emotions and shoved them back into their dark little cabinet where I could put the lock back on the door.

I swiped at my eyes, trying to eat the sobs.

"Are you okay?" I nodded, pulling away, but still needing the warmth of human contact. Haley kept her hand on my shoulder, massaging the skin through my shirt, and waiting for me to continue.

"Anyway, a deal’s a deal. So, the Torrinis took Kendall home, and the rest is history."

"Does Kendall know?" I nodded, using the hem of my shirt to wipe at my eyes. "Hold on," Haley stood, and walked away for a moment, returning with a box of Kleenex.

I smiled my gratitude, and blew my nose, dried my eyes.

"Is Scott still in the picture?" I shook my head.

"Oh, no. I told him about the baby, but he wanted no part of it. He signed his rights away. Believe it or not, he was even more determined than I was." Haley smiled. "I imagine he’s some huge, successful neurosurgeon somewhere." She sighed quietly, slowly letting the breath out.

"Has she ever said anything like that before?" She sat next to me again, putting the box of tissues on the coffee table, and turning back to me. I shook my head.

"No. Never." I looked toward her room again, then at my old friend.

"I don’t think she meant anything by it, Andi. Kids say things that they don’t even realize. They don’t know the damage they can do."

"Yeah. I think she was embarrassed when I told her not to curse. You know, she was in front of adults. She really likes you, you know." I smiled at her. She smiled at me.

"Well, I like her, too. She’s a good kid, Andi. I don’t think she meant to hurt you." I took a deep breath, feeling like a kid as I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes to try and stop the burning.

"Do many people know about this?" I shook my head.

"Nope. You’re the only one other than family." Haley sat back, her arm running along the back of the couch.

"So Erin never knew about Kendall?"

"No." Her brows drew in surprise.

"Why?" I shrugged.

"Good question. I guess mostly because Erin didn’t like to be around Kendall. She never tried to understand what Kendall meant to me. Even if I really were just her mentor." I blew my nose again, tossing the Kleenex aside, and grabbing another one. "I never felt that I could fully trust Erin in that way. Not that she’d go and tell the entire hospital about it, but that she’d never understand the importance of Kendall to me, never respect her as my child. You know?" Haley nodded.

"I understand, and I’m sorry. That was wrong of Erin."

"Yes. Well, Erin wanted to settle down, that was true. But she never really tried to get to know me, the real me." I pointed to myself. "She was always more intent on knowing where I was, and what I was doing, than what was inside me." I ran a hand through my hair, and sighed. "It pushed me away further than I pushed myself away."

"I’m sorry, Andi. It sounds like Erin wasn’t what you needed." I nodded.

"You can say that again. She’s a good woman, and I know that she’ll find what she’s looking for, but I’m glad it’s over." I looked at Haley, feeling so vulnerable, but feeling like I needed to talk with Haley. "Haley?"

"Yes, Andi?"

"Why do I push people away like I do? I mean, it’s not like I had this horrible childhood where I wasn’t loved and had to fight on the streets. I don’t get it."

"Well, before I answer, do you mind if I get some water?" Haley pointed toward the kitchen. I smiled, nodding my head. Haley stood, then looked down at me. "Want anything?"

"Yeah. Get me an OJ, will you?"

"You know, Andi," Haley said as she made her way to the fridge. "I think you don’t feel you’re understood, and because of that lack of understanding, you shut yourself off so you can’t be hurt that way." She handed me the 10 ounce plastic bottle, and sat again, opening her own bottle of juice. "No one has bothered to try and look deeper than the puddle that you allow to be seen, Andi. Let’s face it; you’re quite intimidating when you want to be. Which," she chuckled. "Is most the time, unfortunately." I looked at her, brows drawn.

"But you’re not intimidated by me." Haley shook her head, taking a long drink of her juice, and setting the near empty bottle aside.

"Not at all. I see you. The real you." I stared at her, unsure what to say, what to think, what to feel. My head was far too mottled with thoughts to even attempt dissecting what she was telling me. We both sat quietly, lost in our own thoughts. I’m not sure how long we sat there, perhaps it was two minutes, maybe two hours. It just felt good to be, and know that someone was with you that understood, and could offer the kindness and understanding that I needed.

Finally Haley spoke.

"It’s getting late, Andi." I felt a warm hand on mine again. I looked into her eyes. She smiled at me. "I think you’ve had enough thinking for one night." I smiled back, nodding. "You’ll be okay?" I nodded. She patted my hand. "I’ll see you later, okay?"

"Yeah. Thank you so much, Haley."

"Sure." She stood, standing before me, her arms out to the side. I looked up at her. "Come, come." Shaking my head with a grin, I stood, and stepped into her arms. The hug was tight, warm, and brief. She stepped back from me. "You’ll be okay, Andi. You’re a strong cookie." She grabbed her juice, finished it, and headed back into the kitchen to throw it out. She looked at me one last time, smiled, then headed out.

I stayed where I was for a moment, feeling so exhausted, and near empty, as if I had just purged everything that was in me tonight. How on earth did Haley get me to admit to all this crap? It was her job, after all. Guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.


I turned again to the door that I knew she slept behind. Almost as if they had their own mind, my legs began to move, carrying me toward it. I put my hand out, slowly, quietly turning the doorknob, and pushed the door open.

The dim light from the lamp in the other room shed some light into the darkness. Kendall lay on her side, her back to me in her bed, the blankets tucked under her arm. I stood there in the doorway, watching my daughter as she slept. My daughter. Rarely did I ever let those words enter into my mind. That way I didn’t have to think, or have to feel. I was missing out.

There was so much love inside me at that moment, filling me, making feel so lucky to still have this wonderful, precious gift in my life. How would my life have been without her?

I started when I heard movement. Kendall had turned over, laying on her back, her eyes open. She was looking at me. I didn’t know what to say, or if I should say anything. Suddenly her arms opened, and her head cocked to the side slightly, hope in her eyes, so much like my own.

Without a word, I went to her, sat on the edge of the bed, and gathered the little girl in my arms, holding her tightly to me.

"I’m sorry," she cried, the sobs wracking her small body. "I didn’t mean it."

My eyes closed tightly, my hand going to the back of her head, holding her head to my chest.

"I know. It’s okay, Kendall." The sobs began to subside, small fingers digging into the material of my shirt, until she had a handful to hold onto.

"I love you, Andi." A smiled spread across my lips, and I hugged her tighter.

"I love you, too, Kendall."

* * *

My brows drew as I watched the computer screen, the levels of the equipment, set up to show right in my office. I grabbed my bottled water, sipping as the levels evened out.

"Yes," I smiled, finally satisfied. I shut the program down, and turned to my daily log, writing the information down.

"Hey." Looking up, I saw Haley standing in the doorway of my office, a wrapped sandwich in her hand, and a carton of orange juice. I smiled.

"Hey, yourself." Leaning back in my chair, I ran a hand through my hair. "What’s up?" It had been three days since our talk, and she had come in every morning to say hello. I was surprised to see her in here during lunch, though.

"Well, I figured since you never go to the cafeteria anymore, you probably don’t eat. I can’t imagine you bring more than your normal apple." She nodded toward the piece of fruit sitting on my desk. I grinned.

"Busted. However, I did bring some water." I showed her the half-empty bottle. She stepped into the room.

"Yeah, well that’s still no lunch. Here." She set the sandwich down. "I remember how much you love fish, so I figured you’d enjoy this. Here’s some juice, too."

"Aw, for me?" I grinned at her, grateful for such a thoughtful gesture.

"Yes, ma’am. All for you. You can’t just lock yourself up in this lab, Andi. You need something substantial to eat."

"Thanks, mom."

"You’re welcome, daughter." She smiled. "I have to run. Catch you later." She turned to go.

"Yeah. Actually, um, Haley?"

"Yeah?" She looked at me from the doorway, her hand on the frame.

"Well, I was wondering if maybe you’d like to get together tonight. You know, maybe we could catch a movie, or dinner or something?" She turned, facing me fully, a huge smile on her face.

"I would love to. Thanks for asking." She looked at her watch. "I have a session at four-fifteen, and I expect that to last for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Why don’t I give you a call when I finish?"

"Yeah. Sounds good."

"Great. Talk to you then." She hurried out of my office, and the lab. As I sat there, a through occurred to me. With a wicked grin, I grabbed my keys, and headed out.

* * *

With a sigh, I looked into the microscope again, seeing if my eyes deceived me, or if maybe, just maybe it had actually worked.

I looked at the numbers again, and,

"Yes!" I stood, arms above my head, as I twirled in a circle, doing my happy dance, only to stop, mortified. Haley was still laughing as she clapped.

"Nice. May I have an encore?"

"Hi." I grinned sheepishly. "What I was working on, well, worked."

"Well, then I guess your little jig there was justified." She smiled again. "I just came by to tell you that my client canceled, so I’m free now."

"Oh. Well, I need about another half hour." I wrote down the results, scratching my head with the back of my pen. "Maybe forty-five minutes."

"Well, how about I head home, get changed, then make my way to your place around five-thirty? Is an hour enough?" I nodded.

"Yeah. Should be."

"Great. See you then."

I watched her leave the lab, then turned back to my work.

* * *

"Hello, my baby." I picked up my boy, and tried to avoid little Pug kisses as I hurried to my bedroom to change my clothes. Haley would be here any minute, and I wanted to be ready to go.

Ding dong.

Just in time.

I pulled the tank over my head, and buttoned my cargo shorts as I walked toward the front door.

"Hey." Haley smiled when I pulled it open. I opened my mouth to speak when it snapped shut. Haley’s head went up, and her nose began to work. I watched, my hand still on the door as she began to sniff the air, taking small steps, following the smell. "Brownies," she murmured as she went. I looked down when I heard a whimper.

Bunsen sat on his haunches, looking up at me as through he were completely confused about why the fun lady totally passed him up. Picking him up, I turned to Haley again. She was turning the corner into the kitchen, still sniffing. I hurried to catch up.

Haley was headed straight for the counter by the stove where a plate of her favorite brownies, baked this afternoon, waited for her. She turned to look back at me, a huge smile on her face.

"May I?" I nodded. Like a piranha, she dug in, moaning happily as she did so.

"So, um, still interested in a movie?" I muttered, shaking my head as I watched.

* * *

The week had passes so quickly, a lot of that due in part to Haley. We had seen each other nearly every night to some degree, whether it was to grab a movie, or to get some coffee after work. I had even pulled myself out of the lab for lunch Friday.

As Bunsen and I walked the bike path, headed to the park Saturday morning before my nine o’clock Tae Kwon Do class, I thought about the time spent with her, and how refreshing and, well, needed it was. Her friendship was bringing me out of my haze, much as it did over a decade ago. What was it about her that made the world around me brighter? Almost like she threw the curtain I’d thrown around everything back so that the brightness could come in, and make me see life again. What an amazing gift she had.

I turned us away from the park, and began to head left on an offshoot of the path, Bunsen strutting his stuff beside me.

As I walked on, I thought more about her. I thought about her marriage, however brief it was, and wondered what her husband was like. What had she seen in him? What sorts of things did she look for? Why was she back here? I wasn’t much for coincidences. I was far too logical for that, but it was so odd that she was back, from the span of half the country away.

I looked up, surprised to see that I was in Haley’s neighborhood. Looking around, I felt almost scared for a moment, wondering how the hell I’d gotten here. Then, thinking about how far from this my house was, I looked down at Bunsen.

"Oh, baby." He laid on the sidewalk at my feet, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his pants coming out in snorts. I was this far, may as well go on. I picked up the tired Pug, walked down the street, seeing Haley’s townhouse coming up. I hurried up the stairs, suddenly finding myself at her door, and feeling like a kid again. My stomach was doing flip flops, my palms beginning to sweat, sticking to Bunsen’s short fur.

What the hell was it about Haley that made me feel like I was 17 again?

Rubbing my hand on the side of my shorts, then pulled my fingers into a fist to knock. I rapped three times, and waited, petting Bunsen’s head, his panting slowing, but he still needed some water. We had walked nearly two miles; far too much for a little guy.

I heard movement inside the townhouse, and my butterflies came back full-force. Would she be mad that I had just shown up at her place unannounced? God, grow up, Andi. You’re not a kid.

The door opened, and Haley stood before me, her hands grasping the ends of her robe together, her hair wild, eyes droopy. I glanced down at my watch, mortified when I saw it was only seven-ten in the morning.

"Andi?" I looked up at her again, putting a smile on my face to attempt to cover my embarrassment.

"Hi, uh, good morning. We were taking a walk and," I looked down at my dog, then up into confused, tired eyes. "Got any water?" She looked at me, a brow raising. "For Bunsen. He’s not used to such a long walk." Oh yeah, I felt really stupid now.

"Sure. Come on in." Haley stepped back from the door, letting us to pass. "Can I get you some water, too? Juice maybe? Unleaded?" I looked at her over my shoulder.

"Unleaded? You’re offering me gasoline?"

"Well, no," Haley walked by me, leading me to the kitchen. "It is an unnatural color, has an unnatural taste and smell, but this one is produced from beans. Coffee beans, to be exact." She grinned at me, and I smiled back.

"Alright. Unleaded it is."

As she set to work on the coffee, I looked around. The place was nice, spacious and open. These townhouses were relatively new, only going up in the last five years or so. The vaulted ceilings in the kitchen led up to a skylight, the early morning sunlight coming in to light up the room, reflecting off the egg-shell colored walls. The black appliances were spotless, as were the hanging pans and utensils mounted on the wall.

"Nice place you’ve got here."

"Thanks. Care for a tour as that brews?"


"Will Bunsen be okay down here by himself?" We looked down at my dog who had found a comfy spot right in the middle of the living room to lie down. "Oh. Water." She grabbed a cereal bowl, and filled it from the tap, then brought it over to the Pug. "Drink, little guy," she said quietly, gently lifting my dog’s head. Bunsen drank greedily, then plopped back down, falling asleep with a snort.

Haley led me through the living room, then back to the small second bedroom toward the back of the place, which was where she had her computer and bookshelves, though it was only about half full. There were a few pictures here and there, but overall, the decorations were sparse.

The main bathroom was good-size, with a nice, big bathtub in the corner, and a separate shower stall. The narrow flight of stairs led to the loft, which was the master bedroom. A beautiful four-poster bed was the room’s centerpiece, and a single dresser.

"What a beautiful set." I said, running my fingers across the smooth, dark surface of the cherry wood.

"Thanks. My grandmother died a few years back, so my parents had it in storage. They’re letting me use it."

"Oh." I glanced over at the bedside table, and grinned when I saw the familiar orange Koosh ball sitting by the table. "It’s like an American Express, can’t leave home without it." I grinned at Haley who looked at me. She nodded, grinning.

"I’ve sent many a date running scared from that little guy."

"I imagine so."

"If they can’t accept my Koosh, they can’t accept me."

"Oh, I see how it is. Planning on staying single for a while?"

"Ha ha. Funny girl. Come here and meet my bunnies."

I walked over to the small rabbit pin in the corner by the closet. There were two rabbits in there, but they had a little bunny palace.

"Those are two very spoiled little Bugs’."

"You’re telling me." She smiled at me, and unlatched the cover on top, lifting it. I looked down at the two. "This one here, the friendly one, is Oreo." She lifted one out. He had the long, floppy ears, and his entire body, including his ears, were black and white splotches.

"I didn’t know rabbits made the Dalmatian variety. Hey, little fella." I tentatively reached my hand out, stroking his soft back, his dark eyes ever watchful, whiskers twitching. "Wow, he’s so incredibly soft."

"Aren’t they, though? That’ s probably the thing I like about rabbits the most. Here." She handed the furry little beast to me. I took him, holding him close against my chest. It always amazed me how fragile little things like this felt to me; like their bones were made out of mere paper, and could snap or tear in an instant. "This little one is Peggy." I looked up to see a pure white rabbit, with one brown leg in Haley’s arms.

"Why, pray tell, is she called Peggy?" Haley indicated the brown leg.

"Peg Leg. Peggy." I looked up into Haley’s eyes. She was smiling.

"Please don’t have children." She grinned, kissing the top of the rabbit’s head.

"Nah, she loves me. Just no one else." The rabbit was shaking in her owner’s arms, her whiskers going fifty miles an hour as she sniffed this new scent. "So, what do you and Bunsen have planned for today?" I shrugged as I continued to pet Oreo’s head and ears.

"Well, I have to teach my class at nine. I imagine we’ll leave soon so I can get us home, and I can get changed."

Haley glanced at her alarm clock. "Andi, it’s only seven-thirty."

"Yeah, but it took us a while to walk here."

"Oh, hell. I can drive you."

"No, that’s okay. I don’t want to be anymore of a nuisance than I already have been." I kissed the top of Oreo’s head, taking his ears in my fingers, running them through, amused as the ears flopped back into place.

"Nonsense. Besides, I think I’ll go to class with you, if you don’t mind." I looked up at her, brows drawn.

"Don’t you still go to Wednesday’s classes?"

"Sure. But I’ve been too busy this week to do any workouts here. So, I’ll do them there while you teach." I smiled.

"Works for me."

My head turned as I heard my baby’s barking downstairs, shrill and scared.

"Uh oh. Someone woke up." Haley grinned at me. I quickly put Oreo back into his cage, and hurried downstairs. Bunsen sat in the middle of the living room, looking around desperately for me. When he heard the noise of me plowing down the stairs, he stood, tail going nuts, his barking turning to whimpers and snorts.

"Hey, big fella. Did you get scared?" I picked him up, and brought him up so we could look eye to eye. He pushed forward, trying to lick my nose, but only managed to lick his own. I kissed his forehead, and turned to see Haley making her way down the stairs, the ends of her robe flapping behind her, showing bits of long, tanned leg as she took each step. At one point I could see all the way up to her knee.

Tearing my eyes away, I turned my attention back to my dog.

"Is he okay?" I nodded.

"Yeah. He’s fine. Just didn’t know where either he or I were." Haley headed into the kitchen.

"Coffee’s ready."

I put the Pug down, and headed into the kitchen, the smell coffee filling the air. Bunsen followed, his nails clicking on the tile.

"How do you like it?" Haley handed me a mug.

"Thanks. Sugar." She opened a cabinet door, taking out a small dish with a lid, and a silver handle sticking out of a hole to the side of the life. I took the lid off to find a tiny spoon inside. I lifted it out, and brought it up to my eyes. "How cute is this?" Haley looked at me like I was nuts.

"You’ve never seen a sugar spoon before?" I shook my head. She shook her head, smiling as she sipped her black coffee. I put in my usual amount of sugar that would make a fly happy for months, and sipped, letting the warm fluid wash through me.

"Good stuff." Haley walked toward the small round butcher-block table, and I joined here. There my wallet and keys laid. Haley looked down at them.

"Oh, what have we here?" She grinned, her eyes filled with mischief as she picked up my wallet. She looked at me for a moment, I guess seeing if I’d mind. For just a moment my dander was raised, feeling as though my privacy were about to be invaded, but then it all went away, and suddenly, though nervous, I didn’t mind so much. For the most part.

"Having fun?" I asked, sitting back in the chair, drinking my coffee. She nodded vigorously, taking my credit cards out, setting them aside, and continued to look through all the pockets, as well as at my checks that had their very own little compartment on the side.

"Andi, tell me you don’t have checks with beakers on them?" She eyed me, showing me her find. I grinned sheepishly. She shook her head, and continued to look.

Yip, yip, yip!

With a sigh, I stood, seeing what was Bunsen’s problem. He stood on his hind legs at the window, barking at some kids riding by on their bikes.

"What’s up with that, little dude? You’ve seen kids before." I picked him up and headed into the kitchen. "You know, I was thinking."

"You weren’t?" Haley grinned.

"I was. Maybe we can hit the dojang early, then we can get some good sparring in." Haley’s face lit up.

"You’re so on. I still need to pay you back from last time." She began to quickly put everything back in my wallet. "Let me grab a quick shower, and we’re off."

* * *

The days flew by, Haley and I together so often, our friendship growing stronger day by day. It felt like the early days when were young and carefree. Well, mostly. Oh, to go back to those days. Everything had seemed so intense then, worrying about getting into college, and the Biology test next week, and what sort of stupid comments I’d hear from some popular asshole at school.

A lifetime ago it seemed, now. None of that mattered anymore, all of it gone. Well, almost all of it. I had a very huge reminder, but I didn’t mind so much.

After I had had that dream of what had happened between Haley and I earlier in the summer, I had thought about it often, wondering what would have happened had we both not freaked out, and if we would have had the maturity to deal with it. Would it have mattered? Haley headed off to college not long after, anyway. Would she just have gone off to school, met other people, older, more sophisticated people, and forgotten about me? I like to think that wouldn’t have been the case, but when you’re young, you see the world through such different eyes.

Things were different now. I was different now. So was she. Her days of experimentation long over with, and my days of confusion long over with. Or were they?

I found myself thinking about Haley all too often these days, sitting on my back porch, watching the squirrels run up and down the huge tree I had back there, Bunsen barking up a storm, and I, staring off into space. No, not into space, into the past. Into my memories, stealing from them to feed my present.

What was I doing? Who the hell was I kidding? Certainly not me; that was the problem with being so damn logical.

The sky was gray as I headed to work in early September. A lot of rain was expected today, and none too soon. It had been unseasonably dry over the last few months, and I was excited to see the moisture come. I hated all this dry crap. I felt sorry for the folks in the west with their droughts and wildfires all summer.

There was a bit of a pep to my step as I headed toward the lab. Today was an interesting milestone for me, though it was kept top-secret quiet. Only me and the woman who bore me knew about it.

"Good morning, Dr. Littman." Samantha Torres smiled as I walked in.

"Hey there. How goes it?" I smiled back, feeling rather swell today.

"Great. You?"

"Can’t complain. Well, I could, but to what end?" My colleague stared at me as through I’d grown an extra nose. "What?"

"Nothing. You’re just in rare form today. I wondered if you’d run over a small child on the way in." I pretended to laugh, my hand on my stomach.

"Oh, Sam, you’re killing me! You are so in the wrong profession. Paula Poundstone, watch out." She chuckled, waving me off as she turned back to her work. I chuckled all the way into my office.

Yeah, it was a good day.

The day began to speed by, lunch coming quickly, though I hardly noticed as I immersed myself in my work. We were so close to a major breakthrough. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to leave the lab at all. If not for Bunsen, and my self-proclaimed mother, I wouldn’t have to leave.

"Hey, you. Ready?"

Speak of the devil, and she shall appear, with horns in tact. Well, more like a pen behind her ear than a horn.

"Yup." I noticed the brown bag in Haley’s hand as I stood from my desk chair. She had managed to coax me out of the lab for lunch, and to doctor’s lounge on my floor. "What’cha got there?" I asked, indicating the bag.

"Lunch. Come on."

We got ourselves settled in, and Haley handed me the bag, setting her own on the table. She had resorted to bringing me a lunch everyday because she knew I’d never remember to bring my own, and rare was it that I’d actually venture out to the cafeteria to get something. Truth be told, I didn’t care enough about food to bother when I was working.

I walked over to the vending machine and bought us our sodas- Dr Pepper for me, and Coke for Haley.

"Thanks. Now eat. I don’t have a whole lot of time today."

"Oh? Why’s that?" I sat, grabbing the brown bag, and reaching inside. My brows drew as I felt two individually wrapped sandwiches.

"Eh, I just have some stuff to take care of after work."

"Oh. What the," I drew the sandwiches out, and was struck to see that they were cut into two shapes. One was round, and the other an odd, humpy-shape. I turned it around and realized it was the number 3. I put it with the circle, and realized Haley had cut my sandwich into what looked to be the number 30.

"Mo." Haley grinned, turning my hand so the 3 looked like a curvy M.

"Are you saying I’m a cow?" she chuckled, chewing on her own sandwich.

"Maybe ‘om’?" she asked, sipping from her Coke.

"Yeah, maybe. How did you know?" I asked, turning the 3 the right way.

"Know what?"

"That today was my old day."

"Old? Andi, you’re only 30."

"Yeah, old." She sat back, putting her hand on her hip.

"Excuse me, honey, but I’ve been 30 for nine months."

"Okay, so you’re old and nine months." She glared, I grinned, taking the sandwiches out of their bags, and slowly peeling the edge of the bread up.

"It’s your favorite, though after that it should have been tuna and cyanide." I sniffed. "Eat, woman!" I grinned, and took a bite.

"Thank you." I mumbled around the food. "How did you know?"

"Well, you know about a month back or so when I was being nosey and looking through your wallet?"

"Ah, damn. You know, I had told the lady at the driver’s license place to not put that on there."

"Your old date?"

"That would be the one." She smiled, then reached across the table and squeezed my hand.

"Happy birthday, Andi." I smiled at her, truly touched.


"Are you free tonight?" I nodded as I finished off the 3. "Good. Come by my place around six. I’m making you dinner."

"Thus, the after work thing?" She grinned, nodding. "I see. Pretty sure I’d accept, huh?"

"Of course."

"Good. Cause I do."

* * *

I looked down at myself as I stood on Haley’s front porch. I had decided to look a little nice, wearing khakis and a button up shirt. I reached out my hand, and knocked. Within a few seconds I heard her walking toward the door. I put a smile on my face.

The door opened, but only a crack. Haley stared out at me. I stared back.

"Um, hi?" She smiled, and swung the door open.

"Surprise!" I took a step back, my heart pounding at the chorus of voices that quickly went into a rendition of Happy Birthday, led by Haley. I looked at her, not sure what to do, then looked back into her place, seeing my mother, Clive, Chris and his wife, Kendall standing with the Torrini’s, Samantha.

"What did you do? Okay, I came, I saw, I left," I turned to start walking away when Haley reached out, grabbing the back of my shirt.

"Oh, no you don’t!"

I turned around and was herded into the house, suddenly surrounded by those that meant the most to me. My mom was laughing. I pointed a finger at her.

"You knew about this, didn’t you?" She grinned. "Busy tonight, my ass."

"Happy birthday, sweetie." She grabbed me in a huge hug. I made my rounds, hugging everyone, even a very surprised Samantha.

"Thanks for coming, though you know I’ll get you fired for this." She laughed.

"Dr. Littman, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Curtis." A good-looking guy was smiling at me, his hand extended to me.

I looked at Dr. Torres.

"Call me Andi, Samantha." She smiled, putting her hand on Curtis’ back.

"Nice to meet you, Curtis." I said. He smiled, wishing me birthday wishes. The next thing I knew, I was being nearly bowled over by a very excited ten-year-old.

"Happy birthday to you, you look like a monkey, and smell like one, too!" I hugged the girl tightly to me.

"Yeah, you should know, you little beast." She giggled, looking up at me with her gap-toothed grin.

The party got going until Haley called everyone to sit at the long table she had brought in from somewhere. It nearly took up her entire living room. I, of course, was sat at the head of the table, and Haley tied a plastic bib around my neck that read Birthday Girl.

I was shocked as she served everyone lobster, and all the fixings. She sat to my left.

"Oh, Haley. You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble." I felt so guilty. I knew this had to cost her a fortune. She smiled, patting my arm.

"You’re worth it. Besides, how many times does your best friend turn 30?"

I just smiled at her. Yeah, life was good.

We all got a good laugh as the cake was served. It was chocolate with gray icing, a large candy tombstone sticking out of the top with Over the Hill written on it with black icing.

"You are going to die, you know." I told Haley as she lit all 30 candles she’d put in it.

"Sure. We all will someday." She smiled sweetly, then once again, led everyone in Happy Birthday.

"I can’t thank you enough for this, Haley." I told her as we stood together, eating cake. She looked at me for a moment, then smiled.

"You’re very welcome, Andi. You are worth all this. I know you; did you have any plans for tonight?"

"Hell no."

"See that? I could not stand by and let you just let your 30th birthday slip by. Any birthday, for that matter."

"Thanks. This is, by far, the best birthday I’ve ever had."

"Aw," Her face crumbled, and it looked like she’d cry. "Thanks."

"Gift time!" someone yelled, which of course got everyone into a ruckus. I looked at Haley again, and she grinned, that little mischievous look that got me worried.

I got lots of wonderful gifts, gag and real. One of the best was from my daughter. I opened up the red and blue Koosh ball that she was obviously so proud of.

"Since it’s your favorite toy," she said, a huge smile plastered on her face. Everyone just thought it was adorable, but I could hear the evil chuckle coming from Haley.

"Thank you, honey." I knelt down, taking the girl into my arms, and squeezing her tight.

"This is from me, Andi." I looked up to see Haley handing me a wrapped gift, shaped awfully funny. I took it, and tore into it, staring blankly at a stainless steep potato masher. I looked at her, confused, when it all came back to me. I gave her a crooked grin.

"Gee, thanks."

"Well, I figured after all this time, you might need a new, sturdier model."

"But Andi doesn’t cook," Kendall chimed in, obvious confusion on her face. Oh, boy. How to explain this one.

"Well, I love mashed potatoes, hon."


It took a while, but finally everyone filed out, leaving me with hugs and best wishes for a good new year. The place seemed so quiet and empty now.

"Wow. Some party, huh?" Haley said, picking up some trash off the floor. I began to help her clean up.

"Yeah. I still cannot believe you did that, Haley Corregan."

"What’s not to believe? Oh, hang on." She hurried to her office, coming out with a wrapped box, small, maybe six inches high by four inches wide. "Here. This is my real gift to you."

"Oh, Haley, no. This was enough." I said, indicating the party decorations, and what was left of dinner and cake. She smiled, saying nothing. Just holding the gift out to me. With a sigh of guilt, I took it, bringing it up to my ear to shake it.

"No! Don’t do that."

"Oh, okay." Carefully peeling the wrapping paper off, I saw the edge of something hard and clear, plastic. I tore a main section of paper off, and sucked in a breath.


Quickly, but carefully, shredding the rest of the paper, I stared in disbelief at the Beanie Baby that had been so beloved to me before my ex’s dog had torn it to pieces. I looked up at an expectant Haley. "How did you, where did you find this?"

"Oh, a website or three billion." She smiled, I stared in awe. He was tucked safely inside a hard plastic keepsake box, the top part of it able to lift off when two small latches were unsnapped on the bottom. "You like him?" I nodded dumbly.

"God, yes. This is way too much. My god." I set the box on the table, and rushed her with a huge hug, knocking the wind out of her.

"Whoa. Guess you do like it." I smiled as I hugged her tight.

"Thank you," I whispered in her ear.

"You’re welcome," she whispered back.


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